The reader of fiction becomes like a fly on the wall, part of a risky adventure but without unpleasant real-life consequences. And what do we enjoy doing if we know that we won’t get caught? Eavesdropping, of course!
In other words—to use today’s O letter—Overhearing stuff. Yes, we loves it. The speaker’s lofty opinions are trotted out, things he or she would never dare to say openly. And what we overhear we naturally assume is true. It might not be, as any reader of mysteries knows, but even so we lap up what is said.
For you as writer, overheard conversations are useful. Along with the eavesdropper in your story, the reader acquires information—so much better than the dreary Information Dump. And there is the added bonus of seeing the eavesdropper’s reactions.
In today’s excerpt, what Elizabeth overhears is a lot. Yes, it’s an Information Dump, but the focus is on her responses. She’s forged an unlikely alliance with her sister’s elderly butler, Yee. As for what she thinks of the others, read on …
The dining room was adjacent to the entrance hall, so Estella’s voice carried perfectly. “I must say, this coffee is not at all fresh!”
Elizabeth pursed up her lips. Turst Estella to serve coffee in the middle of the day—and in the dining room of all places! “To whom is my cousin speaking?”
But before Yee could answer, Estella spoke again. “Your Mrs Yee is so inconsistent with her cooking! On some days the coffee is perfectly made, but on others—! Would you like me to ring for a fresh pot, dear Anne?”
Dear Anne? What was this? “Anne,” Elizabeth whispered, “is supposed to be in Shropshire.”
“Mrs Wentworth arrived just after you left,” Yee murmured.
Anne’s reply to Estella was indistinct, but Elizabeth heard the sound of a bell. Was Estella usurping Anne’s role as hostess? What nerve! Elizabeth caught hold of Yee’s sleeve. “Don’t answer that,” she ordered.
“I think the coffee is perfectly delightful,” said another voice. “So refreshing after our journey.”
But this was her sister Mary! What was Mary doing in Bath?
“Mrs Musgrove is also here,” Yee remarked.
“Who else?” Elizabeth demanded.
But Yee could not answer because Mary went on talking. “I happen to know that dear Captain Wentworth brought this coffee especially for Captain Benwick. He likes to sample different sorts; I heard him tell Charles so yesterday. This coffee,” she added, “is from Abbey-sinia.”
“Captain Wentworth and Captain Benwick are here?” whispered Elizabeth. “And Charles Musgrove as well?”
“He comes later in the week,” Yee murmured. “The captains went out. Captain Benwick departs tomorrow. Will you join the ladies for coffee?”
Elizabeth gave Yee a look. “No,” she said evenly. “I’ll learn more this way.
Both of Mr Yee’s brows went up. “As you wish,” he said.
“Do not look at me like that. All servants listen at doors—even you. How else does one learn anything?”
“I,” said he, “have no need for such tactics.”
Tomorrow’s post will focus on Prejudice and Pride.
[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: So Lively A Chase by Laura Hile, 2009]