} THOUGHT AND THANKLESSNESS
} Chapter 1
} It was a rather windy evening in Hampshire, but the Alton sisters
} were nevertheless walking along the river Test. They knew that their
} new dresses would not show them to best advantage in the wind, but the
} dashing and wealthy Lawrence brothers, Mark and Zadoc, were in town, and
} were said to be avid walkers. The Altons therefore took every
} opportunity to go walking, in the hopes that they might run across such
} gallant souls as the Lawrences.
} "Perhaps they have already retired to a merriment at the
} Eastleighs'," said Carole. "I am quite tired, and could do for some
} punch myself."
} "Don't be snarky," replied Carla, the eldest, genteelly. "There
} are few enough young men in Hampshire this season, what with the Army
} being abroad, and fewer indeed who possess such beauty and talent as
} Mr. Mark Lawrence. And Zadoc. . .well, he, being the second son, might
} at least get a decent inheritance to support a wife with."
} "I was merely observing," retorted Carole, "that the Eastleighs'
} home is brilliantly illuminated tonight, and that--"
} "Is it? I hadn't noticed as we passed. Perhaps we should drop
} by--I should hate to have poor Mark Lawrence trapped at a ball with
} only the beastly Eastleigh sisters to entertain him." said Carla.
} "Some find Miss Michelle entertaining enough," observed the
} youngest sister, Lisa, and Carole and Carla giggled.
} Alyce sighed. Her sisters had so little sense. It was true that
} Mark Lawrence was a rich man, well respected in society--(even in the
} City!)--but was chance was there that he should marry such girls as the
} Altons, who, though living in the grand estate of Spithead, could not
} inherit it, as it was entailed away to the nearest male relative, who
} happened to be their despicable cousin Paul, who sat about all day
} babbling unintelligently about fish. And such silly girls as her
} sisters would never find anyone to marry them except for their dowries,
} which none but a desperate man indeed would do, as they each were only
} to have a pittance for a dowry.
} Carla, Carole, and Lisa started making an undignified dash for the
} Eastleigh home, while Alyce sighed again, more heavily this time, and
} followed them at a more leisurely pace. She was tired of always looking
} after her sisters, but they had so little sensibility about them that
} they required constant supervision. And with their father ever away on
} business (managing Spithead seemed to require much time in the City),
} Mother always away to where she could enjoy "Proper Society," and the
} servant arranged by Mr. and Mrs. Alton a kindly but erratic and
} ineffectual chaperonethe burden fell on poor Alyce.
} By the time Alyce reached the Eastleighs' home, her sisters had
} already cast themselves into the fray of dancing, and had even managed
} to find available beaux--Mr. and Mrs. Eastleigh had apparently decided
} that there should be a variety of menfolk available to be captivated by
} their captivating daughters, Estelle and Michelle. Even with the
} arrival of the Alton sisters, there were still extra gentlemen milling
} for about. Nevertheless, Alyce took a seat in the corner and decided to
} wait her sisters to tire.
} It was a long wait. Gavotte followed courante, and allemande
} followed minuet, and still Alyce's silly sisters kept dancing. Various
} men rudely came up to Alyce and asked for dances, and she would
} reluctantly comply, in order to pass the time. Sometimes, though, as
} when she danced with the self-important Tom Harrington, whom everyone
} called "Tom," time seemed to pass even more slowly than it had before.
} After a turn with the pleasant-but-somehow-nondescript Leo Schwab,
} whom, Alyce found, lived in Dorset with a large and amiable dog named
} Avedon, Alyce sat in the corner one again. This time, Miss Maria
} Fawley, one of Carla's tiresome friends, sat beside Alyce, along with
} Carla's escort.
} "Hello, Miss Alyce," began Maria. "I don't know if you are
} acquainted with Mr. David Sewell, but he's the man at whom I've set my
} cap this evening." She giggled vapidly.
} "Good evening, Mr. Sewell," said Alyce. "I hope that you are
} "I am indeed, Miss Alyce. Especially now that I am between two
} giggled such exquisite specimens of womanhood as yourself and Maria."
} Maria again, while Mr. Sewell glanced resignedly at her and then looked
} deep into Alyce's eyes. He shrugged, and sighed.
} "Mr. Sewell," said Alyce, suppressing a smile. "Have you met any
} of my sisters?"
} Maria pounced on the question "Oh, yes, he has. I made sure of
} that. He seemed terribly charmed by Lisa, so I hurried him off before
} she could steal him away." Another giggle emerged from Maria, before she
} composed herself and continued, "We chatted amiably enough with Miss
} Carole, and of course we have spent much time with my dear friend
} Carla. By the way," she said and leaned forward, conspiratorially,
} "shall I let you in on a secret?"
} Alyce demurred. "I don't think that--"
} But Maria was oblivious to this determined statement, and
} whispered, "Carla's been dancing with two men all evening--taking turns
} with Mr. Otis Viles and Mr. >."
} Alyce was surprised by the latter name; she had never heard it
} before. She therefore inquired, "Mr. >?"
} Maria beamed at knowing this fresh gossip. "Yes. He's a tall and
} dark man, and no one has known him long. He came into town immediately
} after the Lawrence brothers, and his carriage came from the same
} direction. Isn't it quite an exciting mystery?" She giggled yet another
} time. Alyce could not tolerate all this giggling much longer.
} "Well, Miss Maria, it has been a pleasure talking to you, but
} another minuet is starting, and I should hate to keep you from the floor
} for two dances."
} "Oh, you're very kind, Alyce. I shall talk to you again soon."
} "Good evening, Alyce, you poor creature!" muttered Mr. Sewell,
} and, looking deep into Alyce's eyes, kissed her hand.
} Alyce's cheeks flushed, and she felt dizzy. As soon as Mr. Sewell
} and Maria Fawley had turned about, she stood up and rushed to Carla.
} "Excuse me, Carla, but I must go home now."
} "Oh, it's just as well," replied Carla, without missing even a
} step of the minuet which she was dancing with Mr. Otis Viles. "All you
} do is sit in the corner anyway. Go home, return to your poetry."
} "Good evening, Miss Alyce," said Mr. Viles suavely.
} "Good evening, sir," said Alyce, and began walking to the exit.
} As she approached the door, it opened for her as if by magic, and
} a tall, dark man with whom Alyce was unacquainted nodded as he held it
} open and said, "Good night, Miss Alyce."
} Alyce found his forward style strangely attractive, but still went
} out into the night without saying a word to him. She could feel his
} eyes watching her until she was half way to Spithead.
} Chapter 2
} The next morning, Alyce rose at dawn, and after a bit of tea,
} went out to the garden to sit and write some poetry. Spithead was
} usually quiet until midday, when her sisters characteristically awoke.
} Alyce was thus much surprised to see a carriage pulling up to the estate
} after she had been out only a short while.
} She proceeded towards the carriage, and her surprise turned to
} astonishment when she saw the Lawrence brothers, along with two more
} men whom Alyce had never seen before, got out.
} The less-than-dashing Mr. Zadoc Lawrence emerged first, and began
} to walk to Alyce. She curtsied, and said, "Good morning, Mr. Lawrence.
} To what do we owe the unexpected pleasure of your visit?"
} Zadoc Lawrence bowed stiffly and said, "I have come to ask for the
} hand of Miss Carole, but unfortunately a Mr. Ucko, from Kent, appeared
} at the party last night soon after Miss Carole had left, and claimed
} that the two had been conducting an affair via correspondence for
} months, and that he wished to ask for her hand, and did anyone know
} where she was?
} "I explained that she had gone home, to Spithead, to retire for
} the evening, and that anyway I had the superior claim to her affections.
} After some heated discussion, we agreed that we should both come to
} present our claims in the morning."
} "I see," said Alyce. "So this gentleman is Mr. Ucko?"
} "No, Miss Alyce. That," continued Zadoc contemptuously, "is Oracle
} Oracle, who has come along with Mr. Ucko to act as a sort of character
} witness. I have brought my brother along for the same purpose."
} "Ah. Welcome to Spithead, Mr. Oracle. And you, too, Mr. Ucko.
} Carole has not yet arisen, but if you'd all care to follow me to the
} drawing room, we could have some tea as we waited." She sighed as she
} turned towards Spithead, as she knew she would not get to write more
} poetry that morning.
} Once they reached the manor, Alyce surveyed the four men. They
} all sat, sipping their tea and glaring angrily at one another. On the
} purple damask davenport sat the distinguished-looking Mr. Oracle, who
} had dark eyes and whose hair was just beginning to turn grey about his
} temples. Next to him was Mr. Ucko, who sat looking blankly about--to
} Alyce, in fact, he seemed a complete nonentity. Across the room sat
} the dashing Mr. Mark Lawrence, and next to him sat his fidgeting brother
} Zadoc. Alyce was pleased by the silence (as she was a sensible girl) and
} was thus somewhat annoyed when Mr. Oracle began to speak.
} "At what time does Miss Carole usually arise?"
} "It varies greatly; do you wish me to wake her?"
} "If it would not be inconvenient."
} Alyce was grateful for the opportunity to escape from the drawing
} room, which had a colour scheme of which she had never approved, and
} go to pester her elder sister Carole. She opened the door of Carole's
} boudoir without knocking, and said, "Carole, there are some beaux here
} to call upon you."
} Carole's giddy astonishment was tempered by an overwhelming
} sluggishness which she always felt in the morning. It was some time
} before she was ready to present herself at the drawing room.
} When she was ready, Alyce escorted her down to the drawing room,
} said "Gentlemen, may I present my sister Carole?" and quickly left the
} room, closing the door behind her. Alyce had no wish to witness the
} scene which followed, and retreated back to the garden and her poetry.
} Alyce could hear the raised voices of the various beaux, even as
} she sat, but steadfastly ignored them. At length, Alyce heard the main
} door close violently and watched as all four men walked silently back
} to their carriage.
} Chapter 3
} Early in the afternoon Alyce returned to the manor, to find all
} three of her sisters dancing merrily about the drawing room.
} "Alyce! There you are!" exclaimed Lisa upon Alyce's entry.
} "We are all three engaged to be married!"
} Alyce's face expressed the astonishment which she earnestly felt.
} Carole rolled her eyes. "You'd know what was going on if you were
} not always sitting in the garden with your verses. But I accepted Mr.
} Ucko's proposal of marriage, whereupon the commotion aroused Lisa,
} and brought her downstairs. Mr. Oracle was so captivated by her that
} he asked for her hand at once! The noise also brought down Carla, and
} when Mr. Zadoc Lawrence realized that he would not get to marry Carole,
} he proposed to Carla in a huff. And she accepted. Isn't it marvelous?"
} Alyce's astonishment grew. "But this is supposed to be a Jane
} Austen knockoff! Why are we all falling in and out of modern diction,
} and why did none of these beaux ask for our father's consent first?
} And how did all four of those men fit in a carriage? And why isn't the
} plot making any sense? And why. . ."
} Alyce was silenced by the icy glares of her three sisters, who
} knitted their brows furiously at her for her impertinence, before
} getting back into character.
} Carla was the first to speak again. "They--all four of them--are
} now heading over to Bishop Jonmon's to see if he will be available for
} a ceremony on Saturday."
} "You mean you're going to be wed on Saturday in Winchester
} Cathedral?" Alyce replied. "How. . .wonderful!"
} Chapter 4
} Alyce did not like the bridesmaid dresses that she, Estelle,
} Michelle, and Maria had to wear. They were olive-coloured, and did
} not bring out her eyes. But she dutifully wore them, all through the
} wedding rehearsal, which was made all the more tedious by being paired
} with Tom Harrington, whom everyone called "Tom." Why could she have
} not been paired, as was Miss Estelle Eastleigh, with Otis Viles? Or,
} like Michelle Eastleigh, with David Sewell? Or, best of all, like Maria
} Fawley, with the dashing Mark Lawrence?
} Suddenly, the dark stranger whom had spoken to Alyce as she left
} the Eastleighs', (who happened to be Mr. >, a fact which never got
} worked into the exposition of this story but which most readers with
} working brain cells could doubtless figure out) burst in to the
} cathedral. "Stop! These are not the best possible matches of everyone!"
} Everyone turned in astonishment to look at him--they were all too
} shocked to speak. Then, Otis Viles said, "True. I think I'd be a
} better match for Carole than Mr. Ucko is. After all, he's kind of
} obscure, don't you think?"
} There was a murmur of general agreement, in spite of Mr.
} Ucko's protests, until Mr. Ucko was pushed aside in favour of Mr.
} Viles. Aaron Ucko, however, was not to be outdone, and thus claimed a
} random bridesmaid as his own, by leaping at her and kissing her deeply.
} The bridesmaid he chose happened to be Maria (whom everyone agreed was
} suitably obscure), which suddenly left the dashing Mark Lawrence without
} a partner.
} He therefore turned dashingly to Alyce and said, "Miss Alyce, my
} love for you has been present and growing throughout all the gripping
} events of the past few days. Will you marry me?"
} Before she had a chance to respond, Tom (but whom everyone
} referred to as "Tom") Harrington protested, "But that leaves me
} unattended!" In order to rectify this situation, he hit Zadoc Lawrence
} firmly about the head, knocking him out and leaving Tom (the Tom called
} "Tom") free to marry Carla. Estelle, consumed with pity for poor Zadoc
} and feeling lonely since being abandoned by Otis Viles, ran to Zadoc and
} cradled him in her arms, which unwittingly caused her to be married to
} him, as no one was paying much attention in all the confusion.
} The seven couples were duly married (Mr. Sewell and Michelle
} Eastleigh, ever slaves to fashion, decided to get married, as everyone
} else was), and nine months later produced seven babies, much like
} septuplets, but with far less fanfare.
} And poor Mr. >, as ever, remained unloved and all alone.