The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 9 Excerpt

The Dechantagne dining room table looked extremely empty this morning. Mrs. Godwin was in her usual spot, as was Mrs. Colbshallow. Professor Calliere was there and his solicitor Mr. Streck was still visiting. Yuah sat to the right of her husband. But there were four empty chairs. Saba Colbshallow had not stopped by for breakfast with his mother for several days and the empty spot so often filled with an ad-hoc dining guest was unoccupied. Little Iolana was sleeping in and so was not in her highchair. But it was Iolanthe’s absence which made the table seem much emptier than it would if anyone else happened to be gone. It was quite a boring meal, aside from Mr. Streck spilling his tea in his lap. Yuah was picking at her eggs, sausages, and white pudding not because of her sister-in-law’s absence, but because of the unpleasant cramping she felt in her abdomen.

After the family had finished breakfast and everyone got up from the table, Yuah took Terrence’s arm.

“Where did you want to go?” she asked.

“Blind man or no, I can find my way around my own house.”

“I’m sure you can. I was just trying to be helpful.” She let go of his arm. “I suppose you are going to the parlor to just sit.”

“I don’t know. What are you going to do?”

“I thought I would go upstairs and lie down for a bit.”

“Do you want company?” he asked, smiling suggestively.

“No I don’t, you horrible, insatiable man.”

“You didn’t want me just sitting around in the parlor.”

“I’m going upstairs to lie down because I have a headache,” said Yuah.

“I don’t think I’m any more insatiable than any other man.”

“If that is true,” she said, leaving him at the bottom of the stairs, “then your whole race is horrible.”

At the top of the stairs, Yuah turned left. It was a short walk past the balcony on the left side and Mrs. Colbshallow’s room and the nursery on the right. Her own room was at the end of the hallway. She thought of it as her own room despite the fact that Terrence shared it with her. Neither was inclined to follow the custom among the upper class of having separate bedrooms for husband and wife. She was already looking at wallpaper and other furnishings, though she had to do so from catalogs brought all the way from Brechalon. She knew she wanted pink with lots of lace and she knew that her brass bed would have curtains around it that matched the curtains on the window. At this moment though the bed was a simple wooden frame holding up a single very simple mattress and the only curtains on the windows were a pair of old sheets that she had cut and hemmed.

She sat down on the edge of the bed and tossed herself back upon it, her arms stretched out above her head. The ceiling above her was smooth white plaster, just like the bare walls. She felt another tug in her abdomen. It was the thirteenth of Festuary. She had been married for twenty-three days. She and Terrence had already been together as man and wife at least fifteen times. Yuah was sure that was more than most people did it in their entire lifetime. Why wasn’t she pregnant already? Who could she ask about it? She could ask Mrs. C or Mrs. G, but then she would have to look at them every day after having asked them. Mrs. Bratihn might be a good person to talk to about it. She’d been married twice and had several children. Or maybe Mrs. Leubking.

The baby started to cry in the next room, and Yuah pulled herself up and walked in to check on her. She turned the corner in the nursery and jumped as she saw the reptilian creature leaning over the crib. But the tiny yellow fringe of a skirt told her that it was one of the nanny lizzies.

“You there. What are you doing? Which one are you?”

The lizzies didn’t seem to startle the way the humans so often did, but even so the creature turned around quickly. As soon as it did, she could tell by the coloring that it was the one called Kheesie. The creature rolled its eyes around in a way that Yuah was beginning to recognize as fear, or at least nervousness. Stepping quickly past Kheesie, Yuah looked down into the crib. Iolana was red-faced with anger at having her diaper changed, but was otherwise unhurt.

“I’ll take it from here,” she said.

Cleaning the baby’s bottom with the washrag, she tossed it and the old diaper into the ceramic chamber pot under the crib, which she then handed to the lizzie. She powdered Iolana and then pinned on a new diaper. Picking up the still crying child, she pressed her to her shoulder and turned around to find the lizardman still there.

“Are you going to stand there looking stupid all day, or are you going to take that out and empty it?”

Kheesie stared blankly.

“Take it out!” and as the creature hurried out of the room, she called after her, “And clean it properly.”

She patted Iolana on the back and bounced her up and down.

“It’s so hard to find good help.” Then she burst out laughing at herself. How quickly she was turning into Iolanthe. My, what a horrible thought.

She pulled the baby away from her shoulder and looked into her face. Iolana was giving her a puzzled look in return.

“Don’t look at me like that. You know Auntie Yuah. I’m your favorite.”

Iolana blew a spit bubble.

“Look at you, you are so advanced. Already walking and now you’re going to talk to Auntie Yuah, aren’t you?”

The child made a valiant effort at speaking by saying “boo-uh.”

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