A Drift Out of Time -Excerpt
Copyright 2016 Bruce Macfarlane
Here is an extract from Elizabeth’s and James’ diaries. Elizabeth & James have returned from Mars and find themselves back in the nineteenth century.
James opened the door to the tunnel.
“Oh dear looks like we need the candles”
We lit them and walked along until we came to the corridor to the crypt.
“Elizabeth. I think I can hear singing.”
I listened. He was right. It sounded like a choir practice. We quietly went up to the door. It became louder. I recognised the practice of an evensong.
I was just about to open the door when James suggested a peep through the keyhole might be prudent. I bent down and looked through. He was right. There were half a dozen ladies and gentleman singing from hymn books and dressed in the fashion of my time. Somehow we had returned to the nineteenth century. If this was not worrying enough I realised I was dressed in the fashion of James’ era which although, how should I say was quite modest, it would have me arrested as a strumpet if I appeared in the church and streets here. Sometimes I do feel that men do impose rather unnecessary restrictions on women. I can only conclude it is for their benefit and not ours for I have not found a change of fashion has changed greatly my moral outlook. But maybe that says something about my moral fibre. I will leave that there for my moral integrity was about to be challenged in a different and more serious way , for James’ solution to this problem of clothing involved ‘borrowing’ overcoats from the vestry when the choristers had returned to the nave. This was beyond the ‘Pale’ even by James standards and I am afraid to say I admonished him quite severely for his suggestion. He agreed entirely that seeing a broadsheet with an article regarding a lady of reasonable means arrested and taken to the circuit judge for stealing clothes from good parishioners in a church would banish her from acceptable society for ever. And he also accepted that it would place an unbearable stigma on her family necessitating them packing up post haste and moving ‘up north’ to a God forsaken town in the Potteries where the colour of their character would quickly blend with their surrounds.
I should also note that what he thought was a generous offer to ‘look after me’ if such a brush with the law occurred was not well received either.
Which makes it rather difficult to admit, I am rather appalled to say, and it was a measure of our situation that I eventually acquiesced to his proposal! For I could see no other solution. If anyone ever reads this and comments on my momentary moral dereliction my only defence or excuse was of fear of being seen half-naked so to speak.
Though on second thoughts if these diaries were made public in court I imagine I would be regarded as a mad women and locked up in Bedlam immediately!
And so to the crime. We waited for about half an hour in the tunnel like two felons who felt they were going to be “fingered” as Mr Dickens says. Then when the singing stopped and the crypt was quiet we opened the door. Seeing no one we quietly walked on tip toe to the vestry where I ‘acquired’ a plain burgundy overcoat and James’ a brown one. I had now done the crime. I swear if anyone had entered at the moment the guilt on our faces would have led them quickly to the conclusion we were ‘lifting’ the church silver!
James later said he was so scared by our actions that if we had been accused of stealing the silver and the lead off the roof he would have confessed to them as well.
Unfortunately in planning our crime I realised we had not planned a means of escape. I should record a little panic arose at that moment which brought not a few tears to my eyes.
There were only two ‘opportunities’. The first to walk through the church and possibly meet the owners of the coats where we would attempt to discuss jocularly how common was the fashion for brown and burgundy. The second was to continue to the Inn where we might find our room occupied and try to explain to the occupants how we had lost our way and were surprised as they were. Neither of these plans felt safe. Nor did James help to placate me by saying that after stealing the coats, silver and roof lead, a little bit of burglary would not add a great deal to our sentence. And besides, he added, I should not worry too much as he had been to Australia and found the convicts quite friendly.
Sometimes I do worry about how James deals with adversity.
We decided to go back to the Inn. Luckily there was no one in the chamber so we went out through the door and down the stairs to the Inn. It was quite crowded and the smell of pie made me almost ravenous but we couldn’t afford to be recognised. Unluckily we were spotted by the Inn keeper as we tried to make for the exit.
“Hello again Sir, Madam. Have you enjoyed your stay here?”
Oh what would I give for a stable time world?
“Yes we did thank you very much.” I replied trying to figure out where and when we’d been. And then I remembered just in time.
“How much do we you owe for the lodgings?”
“Nothing sir. That is all payed for by Mr Wells. He intimated you are well known for your comings and goings and how can I say, sometimes forgetful in your obligations and he quite generously ensured everything would be alright.”
“I must thank him. Is he in town?”
“I believe he is in London.”
I had hoped he was in Midhurst because it would have made a perfect bolt hole and also may be answered a lot of questions.
We went out into the street. I spotted a paper boy and glancing at the sheets found it was 1873, the year I first met Elizabeth. So much for Rolleston sending me home. We decided to leave town. I would have preferred the train but Elizabeth convinced me that the sooner we left the better and persuaded me to take a cab or bone shaker as I called it to Cocking which she thought would be sufficiently remote from anyone she knew. On arriving we found a pub and treated ourselves to a well-earned three courser. After we had finished I said.
“So Elizabeth what shall we do now?”
“It’s time for you to meet my father.”
“You will like him James. He is quite witty for his age and has the tolerance of a father who has two daughters”
“Or the intolerance of a father who jealously guards his daughters from all suitors.”
“We will have to see. I’m sure when you explain how you led his daughter into a life of crime he will be quite receptive.”
“That’s not fair. I don’t remember you coming up with anything better.”
“I know James”, she said holding my hand and then with that melting smile of hers, “We do have fun do we not James? And afterwards I always say I would not have missed it for the world. Now drink up it is time to meet him.”