The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 15 Excerpt

Looking back on it, Senta thought that Zurfina had done exceptionally well in providing her with a white dress. As she walked to Egeria Lusk’s house though, all she could think about was how it made her look even younger than normal. It was a white lace knee-length dress that fit over a white ankle-length underdress. She had matching white stockings and white boots, and she carried a lace parasol. She met Graham, his sister Gaylene, and their parents in front of Finkler’s Bakery, where they were waiting for Aalwijn.

“That’s a nice dress Senta,” said Gaylene.

She was about a head taller than her younger brother, whom she greatly resembled. They both had light brown hair and very large teeth. She was dressed in a lovely white day dress that must have just been purchased from Mrs. Bratihn’s, trimmed with yellow lace and small yellow hearts. Mrs. Dokkins, who was wearing a similar, grown up version of the dress, as always was smiling pleasantly, despite the fact that she had been unable to get her husband into the proper clothing for the occasion. Mr. Dokkins had on a clean white shirt, a pair of dungarees, and a straw hat.

Aalwijn, in his best shrine clothes, soon joined them. He looked from one girl to the other, not sure to whom he owed his attention.

“Come on,” said Mr. Dokkins. “Let’s get this over with.”

Graham stuck a finger into his stiff collar and tugged. “There’s an idea.”

They met Hero and Hertzel in front of Miss Lusk’s house. They were both dressed in their usual grey and white clothes, simple, unadorned, but well-maintained.

“Good morning,” said Hero, glancing shyly at Aalwijn, who was completely oblivious to her presence.

“Keep moving,” said Graham.

Egeria Lusk met them all at the step and guided them in. The front door opened into a foyer, and then led through a large arched walkway into the parlor. Both rooms were exquisitely decorated with hand-carved wooden moldings, golden drapes, and beaded chandeliers, but were sparsely furnished. In the center of the parlor sat several pieces of rattan furniture. Lawrence and Etta Bratihn and Laird and Dora Luebking were already seated, sipping tea. Mayor Korlann entered from the back, carrying a tray filled with another pot and two stacks of teacups.

“Zeah, stop that,” demanded Miss Lusk. “The lizzies are supposed to be serving, not you.”

“Chunny,” she called to a big lizzie following him into the room. “Keep the mayor out of the kitchen.”

The lizzie nodded.

“Come along with me,” she said to the new arrivals. “The Bratihns and the Luebkings have already had the tour.”

She led them through the two-story mansion. It was more richly decorated than anything any of them had seen, and while the rooms downstairs were still mostly devoid of furniture, the upstairs was filled with antiques and finely crafted birch and cherry wood furnishings. By the time they had returned to the parlor, the rest of the guests had arrived, so Miss Lusk led the Parnorshams, the Darwins, the Wissingers, the Dechantagnes, and Professor and Mrs. Calliere on a similar excursion.

Once everyone had been shown around and had been fed finger sandwiches and biscuits, games began. Miss Lusk had invited only couples so that they could play table games, and the games had been arranged around the room. They played draughts, dominoes, fox and geese, and boiler fancy. A good time was had by all, and in the end, they all agreed that Miss Lusk was the most skilled, defying at every turn the mayor’s apparent attempts to let the other teams win.

Afterwards, more tea was poured and the older guests fell into small conversational groups, while the children continued playing. Iolanthe found herself with Egeria Lusk, Mrs. Bratihn, and Mrs. Luebking.

“I do believe that Yuah is avoiding me,” said the red-haired hostess. “She hasn’t said a word to me since she arrived.”

“Don’t take it personally,” said Iolanthe. “I believe she’s under too much stress. She’s constantly complaining of a headache.”

“Married life will do that to you,” said Mrs. Bratihn.

“It’s not for everyone,” agreed Mrs. Luebking.

“Maybe I’ll send her around for another dress,” said Iolanthe. “A new dress or a new hat always makes me feel better.”

“She’s bought quite a few dresses lately,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “But…”

She and Mrs. Luebking looked at one another and said at the same time. “Shoes.”

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