“Miss Willig!” Lady B’s imperious voice hails me from across the ballroom. “Has that Miss Austen written anything new recently?”
“Er—” I scan the Ballroom, trying to remember what year it’s meant to be. The time/space continuum in the Ballroom being somewhat dodgy, it could be 1804 or it could be 1819, which means there’s no way of telling where we are vis a vis the Austen publication schedule. I decide to err on the side of caution and say, “I think so. Shall I go to Hatchards and inquire on your behalf?”
“No, no.” Lady B waves the suggestion aside, which is a pity, since I always enjoy a trip to Hatchard’s, whether it’s 1813 or 2013. She raises her voice and instructs Alfred, “Write that down. Something by Miss Austen.”
Albert squawks in assent. I squint at the ceiling and realize that Albert, perched on the chandelier, appears to be scribbling something onto a sheet of parchment, using a pen he holds between his claws. This not being the most stable situation, the sheet of paper drifts down in my direction, and I catch it before it falls to the ground.
In rather sloppy handwriting—although rather good for a parrot?—there is a scrawled list, which reads as follows: The Children of the Abbey, The Monk, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Castle of Otranto, The Convent of Orsino, and Something by Miss Aus—
The last ends in a blot.
I hold up the paper and look quizzically at Lady B. “Book titles?”
“What else would they be?” says Lady B.
“Are you re-cataloguing the library?” Lord B got rather cross the last time Lady B attempted to recatalogue the library. The fact that she divided all the books into Books I Like and Books I Don’t, and shelved them accordingly, ranked by order of her personal preference, might have had something to do with his annoyance.
“Nonsense,” says Lady B. “That is my rustication reading list.”
“Rustication reading list. For when I retire to the country.” She plucks the paper from my hand and makes a moue. “This will scarcely last me through the first week of August. Do any of our authoresses have any books out?”
“There’s a new one by Miss Dare,” I venture. “And an anthology with stories by Miss Ashe and Miss Neville.”
With her lorgnette perched on the bridge of her nose, Lady B scribbles busily. She looks at me severely from above the lenses. “And what of you, Miss Willig?”
“My next book is out in August.” In fact, it’s about Lady B’s new buddy, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows. The two have been taking fencing lessons together, which should fill any fop’s heart with fear. They’re both dangerous enough when they’re not armed.
“August.” Lady B wafts that away as impossibly far in the future. “Have it sent on to me in Hertfordshire. Or maybe it’s Herefordshire. Or Hampshire. Don’t look at me like that! It’s not as though I’m the one driving the chaise. I just sit there,” she says, with admirably Lady B-like logic, “and the coachman takes me to the country.”
At least she doesn’t claim that the country comes to her, which would be the next logical step for Lady B.
If you were joining Lady B in the country at the end of the Season, which books would you have on your rustication reading list?