An ongoing series about how to write romantic comedy.
Yes, ‘The Good Life’ has ugly stepsisters. Their names are Dishes, Bathroom-cleaning, and Laundry. Even the most sophisticated heroine struggles with these…especially if she hires out the housework. Our modern appliances give us something we dearly cherish but don’t stop to consider: the precious gift of anonymity.
“Want more problems? Hire a few more people.” So says Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones, and we smile because it’s true. When we have servants, we have less work. We also have less privacy and independence. Hired help can not only quit on us, but even the best of maids have opinions. And they talk. And they give sidelong looks.
I’ll put up today’s excerpt, and then I think I’ll hug my vacuum cleaner. As much as I hate housework, I wouldn’t want someone like Elise watching my every move. And, you know, having opinions.
Elizabeth rang for Elise, but she was no help. “That one,” said she, with a sniff. She shuffled to Mrs Clay’s wardrobe and opened it. “You see, mademoiselle?” she said, pointing to Mrs Clay’s gowns. “The red, gone. The best shoes, gone.” Her eyes crinkled into slits. “And the trinkets?”
Elizabeth pulled open the dressing table. Inside were hairpins and a discarded handkerchief. The jet necklace, a gift at Christmas, was not there. “Father must have put Mrs Clay’s jewelry into the vault, said Elizabeth. “Yes, for I recall her asking him. And very sweet he was about it, for she owns nothing of value.”
Elise sniffed again and pulled open another drawer. There were Penelope’s small clothes, neatly folded. “You see? She goes out for the evening. She does not come home.”
“An emergency?” suggested Elizabeth. “Perhaps one of her children became ill. Yes, and her father sent for her in the night. Crewkherne is not so very far.” She looked past Elise to Wilson. “Were there callers yesterday evening?”
“There was no one, miss.”
“Into the night she go, yes,” said Elise. “But not to her father, mademoiselle. She does not go to her father in the red gown.”
Elizabeth pushed the drawer closed.
But Elise was not finished. She gave Elizabeth a sidelong look. “Always looking at the men, she was.”
Elizabeth found her voice. “Now see here,” she cried. “Mrs Clay is my friend. I’ll thank you not to speak in that snubbing way.”
“Miss Anne, she knows. She sees.”
“Upon my word, Elise! Penelope would never run off with a man. It isn’t as if she is pretty. Who would have her?”
“A woman not pretty has charms, mademoiselle. She has plans, that one. Big plans.”
Elizabeth folded her arms across her chest. “If Penelope Clay had plans, she would have told me. She tells me all her secrets, every one!”
Elise shrugged her shoulders. “How she can lie.”
“There is a reasonable explanation for this,” insisted Elizabeth. “And until I find a letter telling me so, I refuse to believe that Penelope has left me.”
Elise bowed her head. “As you wish, mademoiselle.”
“This room is to be kept ready for her return.” She turned to Wilson. “And a place set for Mrs Clay at every meal. Is that understood?”
Elise laid a work-worn and on Elizabeth’s shoulder. “No letter you will find, cherie, she said. “A great danger you have avoid.”
Next up on the docket is Romcom “i” words. Thanks for reading!
[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: So Rough a Course by Laura Hile, 2009]