A Most Lamentable Comedy

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About our heroine… you met her first as Lady Caroline Bludge in The Rules of Gentility, in a compromising position with one Inigo Linsley. Now it’s six years later, and she’s a woman in even deeper trouble…

London, 1822
Lady Caroline Elmhurst

Devil take it. I have seen this done a hundred times on the stage and read it a hundred more in novels, yet tying my sheets together proves almost impossible in real life.

“Milady, they’ll break the door down,” my maid whimpers.

“Don’t be a fool. Here, put these on.” I throw some petticoats at her. We have been unable to stuff all my possessions into my trunk and bags, and I am determined to leave nothing behind for that rapacious cow of a landlady to take. I wrench at the sheets and break a nail. “Oh, don’t stand there sniveling. Come and help me.”

Mary shuffles across the room, half in and half out of a petticoat.

Outside, the thunderous knocks on the door resume. “Open up, madam. We know you’re in there,” bellows one of the seething mob of creditors. Heavens, it is like the French revolution! How dare they!

“I am unwell, sirs,” I call in a quavering voice, tightening a monstrous knot that takes up half the length of the sheets.

“She’s a dreadful liar and a whore to boot,” says a female voice, that of my landlady Mrs. Dinsdale. I can imagine how she stands there, mottled arms cradling one of her infernal cats, snuff sprinkled over her shoulders and grubby shawl. My shawl, my precious blue Kashmir, that I gave her in lieu of rent, the dirty, fat, ungrateful thing.

“Send your maid out, then.” The door shudders under their blows, and the tallboy we have pulled in front of it shifts a little on the floor.

“She is very poorly, too, sir. Why, she is covered with stinking sores–oh, horrors, I believe it is the smallpox.”

Is there a pause for reflection? If there is, it lasts but a few seconds. I loop the sheet around the bedpost, tie it in another hefty knot, and sling my rope out of the window. The trunk and bags follow. “Out!” I hiss to Mary. “Oh, sir,” I call out, “I am too ill to move. I beg of you, come back another day.”

“Enough, Lady Elmhurst. We’ve had enough of your tricks and lies. Open the door, if you please.”

“Sir, I cannot. Have pity on a poor widow.” I shove Mary toward the window.

“I can’t. I’m afraid of heights.” She clings to me like a limpet.

I shake her off.

“Oh, don’t ask me to do it, milady.”

“Would you rather I leave you here? Get down that rope, girl.” I long to slap sense into her, but she is my only ally. I peer out of the window. There is a good six feet or so below the knotted sheets, but if she lands on one of the bags she’ll have a good soft landing. “Come on, Mary. We’ll laugh about this later, I promise you. I’ll give you my blue-spotted muslin.”

“Very well. And an inside seat in the coach.”

“Yes, yes, but go.” I shove her out of the window. “I fear I shall swoon,” I add loudly, for the benefit of the creditors outside the door, hoping it explains the silence that results when we have flown the coop.

Mary’s face, like a white, piteous flower in the dark, gazes up at me. Her mouth opens. If she is to scream, we are lost, and she seems set to dangle indefinitely in mid-air like some ridiculous spider.  I look around the room for something to inspire her descent, and dart back to the window with it. She does scream a little as cold water hits her–doubtless she thinks it is the chamber pot, but even I am not so hardened–and then swears horribly as she lands. The china jug rolls from my hand as I fling myself onto the rope, there is a loud scraping sound as the bed moves, and I find myself catapulted on top of Mrs. Dinsdale’s cabbages.

A Most Lamentable Comedy

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