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Authors: D.L. Carter

Ridiculous

BOOK: Ridiculous
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“A fast-paced and (dare I say) RIDICULOUS romp that will keep you snorting with laughter!”

~Leigh Michaels, Award Winning Author

RIDICULOUS

by D.L. Carter

Corvallis Press

 

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

Bio

Dedication

Although she is no longer with us, I would like to thank Mrs. Fuller, my high school English teacher. Believe it or not, I have a variety of learning disabilities which makes it difficult for me to spell words correctly or consistently. This issue got me placed, briefly, in the Special Learning track at school. It was Mrs. Fuller who noticed that I was carrying Lord of the Rings around with me one day and asked why I was carrying a book for someone else. Obviously someone as disabled as me could not possibly be reading it herself. Ha! When I demonstrated I was able to READ even if I couldn't write she had me bounced back to the regular classes. Even though the rules of English Lit. required her to mark me down for each and every grammatical error and spelling mistake she would write, in some amazement I remember, how impressed she was with the breadth and comprehensive nature of my imagination.
Many years later I still remember her telling me to put the story down on paper somehow. The publishers will hire someone to fix the little things. It was the story that counted.

So, Hi to Mrs Fuller and all her ilk. Thank you from a C+ student.

 

Chapter One

“Dear Heavenly Father, protect us!” came a shout from the master bedroom. “He is dead!”

Millicent Boarder raised her eyes to heaven, sighed, then gathered the clean bed linens more tightly to her chest and ran the last few steps to the upper landing. A loud and sincere wailing followed the shout, but even without that guide, Millicent knew where to go. There was, after all, but one “he” in this household – her second cousin, Mr. Anthony North, now apparently deceased.

Also summoned by the shouting, Mildred emerged from the doorway to the servant’s staircase.

“Whatever is the matter?” whispered Mildred. “I have but this moment soothed Maude to sleep.”

Millicent continued down the corridor, glancing back at her middle sister.

“It would appear that Mr. North has had the bad taste to die.”

“Oh, Lord,” cried Mildred, turning deathly pale and stumbling to a halt, one hand clutched to her chest. “Whatever shall we do?”

“Have the grace to control yourself.” Millicent pushed the oak door open with her shoulder. “I cannot be calming both you and Mother. One of you will have to wait.”

With a shrug Mildred considered this comment, composed herself, and trailed along behind Millicent. Inside the bedchamber their mother, the widow Felicity Boarder, sat on the floor beside the master's great bed, her face buried in her skirts. Millicent left it to Mildred to rush to their mother's side to try to stop the wailing. Instead, with a firm and steady step, Millicent moved to the bedside. The chest of the man who lay there did not rise and fall. His pinched and reddened nose did not flare and the hands so often raised to strike, pinch, or grope lay limp and curled on the counterpane.

“Shake him. Oh, shake him, Millicent,” cried Felicity. “He may be sleeping only.”

“Through this caterwauling?” Millicent cast a disdainful glance at her mother. “I very much doubt it.”

Instead of releasing a fresh wave of tears, Felicity raised her reddened face to her daughter.

“What are we to do?” she asked in a helpless, childlike voice. “Where are we to go? If it were not for Mr. North taking us in…”

“Yes. Yes,” said Millicent briskly, most of her attention directed toward straightening the cooling limbs. “Surely, he was the most generous man in Christendom to take in a widowed cousin and her three daughters and put them to work as unpaid maids, cooks, and housekeepers. If we are very,
very
lucky, we shall never see his like again.”

“He may have been unkind…” began Felicity.

“And cruel and spiteful and heartless,” added Mildred.

“But he gave us shelter when even his brother would not.” Felicity twisted her apron between shaking fingers. “Perhaps … perhaps if I write and say how useful we were to his brother, Perceval would take us in now.”

“I beg you would not,” said Mildred with a shudder. “I do not want to volunteer my labors in yet another miserly relative’s home for no wages and even less consideration.”

“But what else can we do?” Felicity's voice rose; and she sobbed into her apron.

Millicent and Mildred exchanged tired glances. A dull thump came from above their heads.

“Maude must be awake,” said Mildred. “The fever is broken, but she is weak yet. What shall I tell her?”

“Tell her everything will be well,” replied Millicent.

“You cannot lie to her,” cried Felicity.

“Mother, please. If you cannot be composed, at least be silent. I am trying to think.”

Millicent stared down at the vessel which had once contained her cousin's soul.

Strange, she thought, how small he seemed now. No longer the monster of her day-to-day life since they had come three years ago. No, not now. Instead, he was a withered thing, pitiable and fragile. Millicent stretched her long-fingered hand out beside his.

How odd that she had not realized that the man had been much the same height as she. His hair, the same sandy color. Surely, she had been given ample opportunity for study. As she wrote with the neatest script and possessed the best mind for numbers of her family, her near-blind cousin had dictated all his business letters to Millicent. She was the one who had spent hours in his study, bent over ledgers and documents while he had stood only inches from her chair.

He claimed to be blind, but Millicent suspected he was merely nearsighted and too much a pinchpenny to invest in proper eyeglasses. And after glancing up one morning to see the man smirking at her bosom from a distance of only a few inches, Millicent took to wearing shapeless dresses with necklines up to her ears.

“Perhaps if we summoned the doctor?” suggested Felicity.

“That drunk? To do what?” demanded Mildred. “His visit yesterday did no good. He wanted to bleed all of us, including the healthy. ’Tis his answer for all ills. The last time I checked, bleeding was not the cure for death!”

Millicent's attention wandered back to her cousin's hair and she ran her fingers over her own tightly braided bun as she thought. The idea teasing in the back of her mind was so strange, so audacious that she could not put it to words.

And yet, it could be the only thing that would save her mother and sisters from a return to the workhouse and years of degradation and poverty.

“Mildred, dear,” said Millicent in a soft and absent tone. “Be so kind as to run down to the sewing room and fetch the shears. On the way back, go to our room and fetch my brown gown.”

Their mother's head came up in an instant.

“Millicent? Mildred? What are you about?”

Millicent yanked down the sweat stained and soiled sheets that covered her cousin and began removing his nightshirt as Mildred fled the room.

“Millicent! Stop!” Felicity climbed to her feet. “This is unseemly.”

“He's dead, Mother,” said Millicent. “He cannot be shocked.”

“But … but, what are you doing? I insist you tell me at once.”

Millicent fetched a bowl of cold water and a cloth from the nearby table and began washing the body.

“Millicent!”

“Mother,” said Millicent, as Mildred returned, breathless and burdened. “You best begin referring to me as Mr. North.”

“What?” cried Mildred and Felicity together.

“We will send one of the gardeners down to the village, to the vicar, with the message that Millicent Boarder has just died and Mr. North, concerned about further contagion, wants her out of the house and buried immediately. The vicar, of course, will protest that the grave cannot be dug until tomorrow, what with the freezing rain. He will call to offer condolences and bring his brother the undertaker. By the time they arrive, we will have Mr. North dressed in my gown, wrapped up, and ready for encoffining.”

“Millicent, you cannot be serious,” said Felicity, her shocked voice barely louder than a mouse’s whisper. “This is obscene. You cannot do that to Mr. North's body. God will never forgive you.”

“And being homeless and penniless is not obscene?” demanded Millicent. “Did Mr. North ever, in life, spend one moment's thought on our care or future? No, he did not. And I will not worry one moment about the damage to my soul, what little there might be, if we bury him under my name while I take on his. God has other business more important than me to occupy his time.”

“But you cannot. You are a woman.” Felicity gestured towards Millicent's bosom.

“How kind of you to notice.”

“Millicent? What about the chemise and stays?” asked Mildred.

“Mildred, you cannot be thinking of aiding Millicent in this mad venture!” cried Felicity.

Millicent glanced back at her sister with a frown. “You would want to wear stays once you are dead?”

That thought caused Mildred some confusion, as if the rest of the conversation were entirely normal and ordinary, and the subject of stays the most astonishing thought to cross her mind today.

“Well, I should feel undressed without my chemise at the very least. Besides, the more layers of fabric we dress him in the less likely anyone is to notice he is not a she.”

“Good point,” said Millicent.

“Girls, you cannot do this. It is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Millicent, you cannot impersonate him. Mr. North is known in the neighborhood. Worse, you would have to wear breeches. People will see your lower limbs. You will be found out in an instant and we shall be shunned. Far better to throw ourselves on the mercy of your cousin Perceval. He will have both Anthony's and his own estates now. He can afford to be charitable.”


Worse
I shall have to wear breeches?
Worse
?” Millicent came to her full height and glared down at her mother.

BOOK: Ridiculous
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