(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores November 2019.)
All of London has been on tenterhooks, desperate for a glimpse of Crown Prince Sebastian of Alucia during his highly anticipated visit. Windsor Castle was the scene of Her Majesty's banquet to welcome him. Sixty-and-one-hundred guests were on hand, feted in St. George's Hall beneath the various crests of the Order of the Garter. Two thousand pieces of silver cutlery were used, one thousand crystal glasses and goblets. The first course and main dish of lamb and potatoes were served on silver-gilded plates, followed by delicate fruits on French porcelain.
Prince Sebastian presented a large urn fashioned of green Alucian malachite to our Queen Victoria as a gift from his father the King of Alucia. The urn was festooned with delicate ropes of gold around the mouth and the neck.
The Alucian women were attired in dresses of heavy silk worn close to the body, the trains quite long and brought up and fastened with buttons to facilitate walking. Their hair was fashioned into elaborate knots worn at the nape. The Alucian gentlemen wore formal frock coats of black superfine wool that came to midcalf, as well as heavily embroidered waistcoats worn to the hip. It was reported that Crown Prince Sebastian is "rather tall and broad, with a square face and neatly trimmed beard, a full head of hair the color of tea, and eyes the color of moss," which the discerning reader might think of as a softer shade of green. It is said he possesses a regal air owing chiefly to the many medallions and ribbons he wore befitting his rank. — Honeycutt's Gazette of Fashion and Domesticity for Ladies
The Right Honorable Justice William Tricklebank, a widower and justice of the Queen's bench in Her Majesty's service, was very nearly blind, his eyesight having steadily eroded into varying and fuzzy shades of gray with age. He could no longer see so much as his hand, which was why his eldest daughter, Miss Eliza Tricklebank, read his papers to him.
Eliza had enlisted the help of Poppy, their housemaid, who was more family than servant, having come to them as an orphaned girl more than twenty years ago. Together, the two of them had anchored strings and ribbons halfway up the walls of his London townhome, and all the judge had to do was follow them with his hand to move from room to room. Among the hazards he faced was a pair of dogs that were far too enthusiastic in their wish to be of some use to him,
and a cat who apparently wished him dead, judging by the number of times he put himself in the judge's path, or leapt into his lap as he sat, or walked across the knitting the judge liked to do while his daughter read to him, or unravelled his ball of yarn without the judge's notice.
The only other potential impediments to his health were his daughters—Eliza, a spinster, and her younger sister, Hollis, otherwise known as the Widow Honeycutt. They were often together in his home, and when they were, it seemed to him there was quite a lot of laughing at this and shrieking at that. His daughters disputed that they shrieked, and accused him of being old and easily startled. But the judge's hearing, unlike his eyesight, was quite acute, and those two shrieked with laughter. Often.
At eight-and-twenty, Eliza was unmarried, a fact that had long baffled the judge. There had been an unfortunate and rather infamous misunderstanding with one Mr. Asher Daughton-Cress, who the judge believed was despicable, but that had been ten years ago. Eliza had once been demure and a politely deferential young lady, but she'd shed any pretense of deference when her heart was broken. In the last few years she had emerged vibrant and carefree. He would think such demeanor would recommend her to gentlemen far and wide, but apparently it did not. She'd had only one suitor since her very public scandal, a gentleman some fifteen years older than Eliza. Mr. Norris had faithfully called every day until one day he did not. When the judge had inquired, Eliza had said, "It was not love that compelled him, Pappa. I prefer my life here with you—the work is more agreeable, and I suspect not as many hours as marriage to him would require."
His youngest, Hollis, had been tragically widowed after only two years of a marriage without issue. While she maintained her own home, she and her delightful wit were a faithful caller to his house at least once a day without fail, and sometimes as much as two or three times per day. He should like to see her remarried, but Hollis insisted she was in no rush to do so. The judge thought she rather preferred her sister's company to that of a man.
His daughters were thick as thieves, as the saying went, and were coconspirators in something that the judge did not altogether approve of. But he was blind, and they were determined to do what they pleased no matter what he said, so he'd given up trying to talk any practical sense into them.
That questionable activity was the publication of a ladies' gazette. Tricklebank didn't think ladies needed a gazette, much less one having to do with frivolous subjects such as fashion, gossip and beauty. But say what he might, his daughters turned a deaf ear to him. They were unfettered in their enthusiasm for this endeavor, and if the two of them could be believed, so was all of London.