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The Quick and the Undead

This story originally appeared in The Coracle Sky.



WHEN the news emerged that Dr Smyth had died, Mrs Faughmorency did not hesitate to call. Infact, she had gathered her gloves and bonnet almost before Mr Faughmorency finished reading aloud the obituary. 

Summoning her daughters from the upper realms of the house, she ordered them to make ready for an immediate visit. But the daughters, usually glad for any outing, were unenthusiastic. They had met Dr Smyth in the country last summer, and recalled him as a bony, stiff-necked man who always smelled of camphor. 

"He called himself Doctor as if he was calling himself Duke," said Azalea, sniffing with disapproval, as the girls loitered at their preparations.

"He took my hand once, when I might have tripped on the path," said Aster. She shivered at the recollection, and then giggled for no discernible reason, setting Azalea off also. The eldest, Rosamunde, shook her head at them both and began doling out gloves. She was a solemn-eyed young woman whose brunette prettiness was offset by an unfortunate degree of education obtained over the years by sleight-of-hand : history textbooks hidden inside novels; treatises on classical philosophy tucked under her embroidery. Mrs Faughmorency would have been inconsolable at such wilful self-ruin, had she known.

"D'you remember," said Azalea (a properly unenlightened girl), "when the doctor cornered Lady Eskew in the Vaughn-Sempers' drawing room before supper and lectured her on free loggy?"

"Phrenology," Rosamunde corrected. 

"Lady Eskew! And she a friend of the queen's lady-in-waiting's grandmother! I dare say he would have tried palpitating the bumps of her forehead had the major domo not announced dinner at that very moment."

"Maude thought he was half-rats."

"Aster," Rosamunde murmured reprovingly.

"It wasn't my word," Aster argued. "I'm just reporting what Maude told me."

"Nevertheless – "

"Besides," Aster added, "I myself don't believe the doctor was drunk. I believe he was merely a numbskull."

At which they all, even Rosamunde, laughed into their gloves.

The opinion of the Faughmorency girls was not shared by the bon-ton of society. Dr Smyth had been infact a most honoured guest in many fine houses on account of his pre-eminence in the nouveau medecine. Neither his unlanded situation nor his mysteriously institutionalised mother, not to mention his repeated appearance in the newspapers (albeit in celebration of his scientific successes) had deterred anxious mothers of marriageable daughters. And there were many of that tribe, especially since the colonies had lured away such a large number of brave, handsome, eligible men. The doctor, mere resident of Elliott Lane, had been permitted into more refined company by curious gentlemen and calculating mothers. He spent summers at one country house after another, sniffing about the feminine ranks in hopes of acquiring a bride, much to the horror of the Faughmorency sisters (and indeed any girl of taste and prospects.)  But his death now changed all.

Thus Mrs Faughmorency and her girls – much perfumed and ringleted, with the terrible threat of old-maidenhood looming over them – descended in full battle regalia upon Elliott Lane. 

Dr Smyth received them politely in his drawing room.


*** 


"Ladies, I am honoured," said the doctor, his voice as stiff as his neck. He invited them to sit upon a polished leather sofa. Mother and youngest daughters lowered themselves with practiced accuracy, despite their magnificent bulbous sleeves allowing not even half an inch to spare between them. Rosamunde took a chair near the hearth. As her mother and Dr Smyth began an elegant verbal sally, she brought out a small embroidery project and proceeded upon the work. She could think of no good reason to waste the time with merely smiling and nodding her pretty head. Had anyone glanced her way, they would have been scandalised by the delicate stitching of a leaf's cellular structure – but of course why would anyone look at a woman's work, especially when her sweet face and creamy white throat were directly above it?

Tea was brought in and poured, the weather analysed. But Mrs Faughmorency was there on business, and everyone knew it. She had not the luxury of small talk – Rosamunde was already twenty one, and there were two other daughters closing in fast behind her. Urgency was called for, and Mrs Faughmorency's eloquent eyebrows opened negotiations even before she had sampled the shortbread. 

"Yes, a great wealth of sunshine indeed," she said. "Quite remarkable for this time of year. But good for the garden." And the eyebrows arched.

Dr Smyth himself possessed all the time in the world, having so recently arranged matters in order that he need never worry about death again. But as a man of good fortune he was naturally (or unnaturally, as I suppose his case must be) in want of a wife. Therefore, he was quick (although not literally so) off the mark with a compliment for the Faughmorency girls – your fleurs de couer or somesuch – but sadly no one quite heard it. A low drone filled the room momentarily : there in all strangeness, and then gone.

"Good heavens!" ejaculated Mrs Faughmorency.

"What was that?" said Aster and Azalea.

The doctor emitted a trilling laugh. "Oh, ha-ha, no doubt one of those new-fangled motorised carriages passing by outside. Would you care for more shortbread?"  – This, although no one had taken any yet.

"No thank you," answered Mrs Faughmorency rather brusquely, as if Dr Smyth himself was responsible for the dire invention of the motorised carriage. But she recalled her wits, and the financial – I beg your pardon, marital – needs of her daughters, in the nick of time. With a gracious smile at the doctor, she murmured, "You were saying something about flowers?"

There followed a half hour of sidelong glances, insinuations, metaphors, and mentions, at the close of which Dr Smyth and Rosamunde were engaged to be married. 

The doctor proposed visiting a magistrate immediately in pursuit of a special licence, so they might be wed by week's end. Mrs Faughmorency accepted this plan, but Rosamunde managed to derail it by exceeding her known powers of persuasion, no doubt thanks to sheer adrenaline, and they settled into a fashionably long engagement. 

Over the weeks, Dr Smyth inundated her with roses and candy, but fortunately not his company, as this was in too much demand from all quarters. Reanimism was becoming the New Thing in society (we can only hope that phrase was being used ironically), and Dr Smyth its most famous face. 

In the meanwhile, Rosamunde attempted to position herself in compromising situations,  naughty behaviour, and failing health. But it was to no avail. She persisted in such a state of maidenly virtue and well-being that a wedding was inevitable.

And then she received a visit from Lord Mansfield.



II. 


Mr & Mrs Faughmorency were out, and the younger girls had a music lesson upstairs with Monsieur Leuriac, so Rosamunde was forced to meet the gentleman alone in the drawing room – albeit with the door open and butler lurking. If she looked perhaps a little too closely, wistfully, at this visitor as he entered the room (he was a handsome man, in his prime, with dark hair and perfect teeth and every other sign of being entirely alive) Lord Mansfield politely gave no indication he was aware of her blushing attention.

"Lord Mansfield, how do you do," she said, sitting in a wing-backed chair and gesturing for him to be seated on the sofa. "I am Miss Faughmorency, and – "

"I know who you are," he interrupted, and he leaned back, crossing his legs so that one booted ankle lay upon his thigh. Rosamunde carefully did not raise an eyebrow. 

"It's a fine morning we're having," she said, smoothing her skirts, smiling demurely.

"It's raining," countered Lord Mansfield.

Rosamunde blinked, astonished by his shockingly bold assault on politeness. The gentleman may be handsome, muscular, strong-jawed, blue-of-eye, enthralling, and a lord, but his manner was abominable. However, Rosamunde Faughmorency was her mother's daughter, and could not be conversationally trumped quite so easily. "That will be so very good for the gardens," she said.

"Except it has been raining for a week now, and no doubt the gardens are dissolving." 

"But we shall soon have a wealth of rainbows," Rosamunde replied vehemently.

"If only science worked that way, what a wonderful world this would be."

She drew breath for a rude retort, and he grinned in anticipation of his triumph, but suddenly the maid entered, a saviour in lace-trimmed black uniform, bringing the tea tray. Rosamunde sat staring stonily at the visitor, who smiled back placidly, as the tray was placed and the maid backed away. 

"I'm sure Papa will be home soon," Rosamunde murmured as she clenched the handle of the teapot and began pouring.

"I certainly hope not," replied Lord Mansfield. 

Only years of hardcore training prevented Rosamunde from spilling the tea. "Sugar? Milk?" she asked charmingly.

"Neither. Miss Faughmorency, is it true that you are you engaged to marry a certain Dr Frederick Smyth of Elliott Lane?"

Rosamunde wanted to deny him an answer, but could not see how it would be justified, considering the information had been made public. "That is correct," she said reluctantly. 

"I see. Miss Faughmorency, I belong to a small, private coterie of citizens who are concerned for the traditional values of our society. Fidelity. Honesty. Respect For The Natural Termination of Life. It has come to our attention that you may be experiencing a certain rather delicate dilemma which may lead you, perhaps against your own conscience, from the path of such honourable values."

Rosamunde stared at him open-mouthed for a moment before managing to recall her power of locution. "I beg your pardon?"

He leaned forward. "I believe you have zombies."

"Oh." She lifted her tea cup automatically, then lowered it again without drinking. Suddenly the fire in her spirit, kept to a mere flicker all these tedious domesticated years, blazed with full heat. "I certainly do not have zombies. They are not some kind of skin ailment. Neither are they a subject to jest about in this uncouth manner, sir. Good people are dying! And – and – coming back to life."

"Precisely, Miss Faughmorency. And your fiancé is one of them."

"Heavens, no he is not!"

Lord Mansfield raised an eyebrow. "It's common knowledge. He does not hide the fact."

"Oh, indeed he is a zombie. He's just not a good person."

Lord Mansfield laughed. "Is it possible, Miss Faughmorency, that you are that rare creature, a genteel young lady of marriageable age possessing real intelligence?"

"You are wrong, sir." She handed him a cup of tea. "We are quite a common breed. The rarity is the man who acknowledges us."

"Touché." He sipped his tea for a moment, during which they regarded each other with narrow eyes and dark thoughts. And then he lay down the cup and plunged headlong into the heart of the matter.

"I hope you'll forgive my earlier behaviour. It was necessary to judge your character and wit. Miss Faughmorency, we can save you from your marriage, if you are so inclined."

"You can?" 

"Yes. We offer ladies in your position a medical certificate to prevent matrimony on the grounds of incompetency, feminine disfigurement (pardon me), or temporary insanity. Although such a course of action is risky and may lead to social ruin or incarceration in an asylum, some feel the risk is worth it. We can also protect a lady through emergency elopement, only to later obtain an annulment on grounds which will clear her of all fault. We can furthermore kill a lady – by way of falsified documents, of course, and a quiet cottage somewhere in the Highlands, where she can undertake (pardon me) a new identity. We can even purchase a ticket to America for the more adventurous gentlewoman."

Rosamunde's eyes were wide, her tea forgotten. "But why would you do this?" she asked. And, suddenly recollecting the reality of her situation – "I can not pay."

With a wave of his hand, Lord Mansfield discarded that concern. "The only payment desired is the successful protection of this country from the pernicious threat of the undead. His Majesty's law forbids discrimination against them, a law which we believe was enacted as compensation for enormous gambling debts the king had to a particular undead associate. Consequently, we have no other recourse but to private, secret action in order to assure the continued fertility of our noblest young ladies."

Rosamunde blushed at his frank language, but was not so innocent as to miss his point.  "Goodness, do you mean - ?"

"Let's not beat around the bush, shall we? I can see you are not the simpering ninny you appear to be."

"I do?" Rosamunde was horrified.

"Just out of your teens, adorably pretty, with an over-flounced dress and far too many ribbons in your hair."

"Which description fits most of the ladies of my generation and class."

"Precisely."

She shook her head. "You don't seem to be much of a gentleman, Lord Mansfield."

"Thank you for the compliment." He gave her an intense, ironic look; she stared right back at him unflinchingly until he laughed. "Miss Faughmorency, I'd love to dally with you all day, but your Papa will be home soon. And worse, your Mama. So I'll get to the point. These "born-again gentlemen," as they call themselves, are growing in number. They are rich (as only the wealthy can afford to cheat the Reaper) so they make good marriage material. They are snapping up all the well-bred, well-connected girls they can for pretty and profitable wives. But a man without vitality can not reproduce. It seems incredible no one speaks of this but – "

"Who would be so uncouth as to discuss such a thing?" Rosamunde said sardonically.

Lord Mansfield bowed his head to her.  "Just so. I imagine wealth is a happy alternative to children for many women. Certainly some would be all too glad to avoid the dangers of childbirth. But it gets worse. We believe many of these undead men are murdering their wives and then reanimating them to ensure for themselves a perpetually young, beautiful – and soulless – spouse."

"Good God!" Rosamunde blasphemed in horror.

"Not evidently," Lord Mansfield replied. 

"But surely the police – "

He shrugged. "It's impossible to convict wealthy men, protected by the law, whose wives are ostensibly still alive."

Rosamunde attempted to pour herself more tea, but there was no hope for it. Her nerves were shot. She set the pot down with a clatter and smiled at Lord Mansfield. "Would you care for some gingerbread?"




 III. 


It transpired that choosing a manner in which one might escape wedlock (and consequent zombification) was not as simple as Lord Mansfield made it sound in the minutes before he was driven to climb out the drawing room window by the return of the Faughmorency parents. Rosamunde wrestled with her options all week. As a result, she was so much the wilting flower at Mrs Clay-Sterlinghouse's afternoon tea party on Wednesday that gossip ignited : Julia Montrose swore her maid's sister had seen a man clambering from Rosamunde's bedroom window in the early hours of Sunday; Philadelphia Reece passed on a report, with some delicate words and many expressive eye movements, that Dr Smyth had failed to recover a certain part of his body upon rebirth, and had finally confessed thus to his betrothed, leading her to be fagged. Rosamunde was informed of such gossip by her sisters, who had lost all their revulsion of Dr Smyth in the excitement of wedding plans, and were dismayed that Rosamunde herself had not done so.

"They say the king will knight him any day now," Aster enthused in a whisper one afternoon while the girls played cards and their mother snoozed on the settee. "For services to the medical field."

"They say the king is considering suicide," Azalea added cheerfully – "so that he may be settled into a perpetual state of youth and vigour."

"You mean middle age and corpulence," Rosamunde countered. She was in a sour mood,  having decided finally that America was her best recourse, despite its dust and buffalo. Lord Mansfield had not visited her again, but she passed him once on the street during her morning walk, and caught the look of assurance he gave her, and also the small folded note which promised she was unforgotten. She knew she ought to be heartened by the existence of such noble gentlemen who were bent on preserving the decency of the kingdom – but she did rather wish she'd never been in a position which forced her awareness of them.

On Thursday morning, she sent a letter with her maid to Lord Mansfield's city mansion. Her maid returned with the gentleman himself. Flustered, Rosamunde could but meet him in the drawing room along with her mother, who was inconveniently at home just then. 

Lord Mansfield bowed to Mrs Faughmorency and decorously kissed the quivering air above her outstretched hand. She was lost, charmed, thoroughly enchanted, before he even called her "Madame," and bestowed a flirtatious smile upon her. Blood pumped excitedly to her cheeks; her breath danced.

"Welcome to our humble abode, sir," she said. "This is my daughter, Miss Faughmorency, soon to be Mrs Smyth of Elliott Lane." 

Lord Mansfield glanced briefly at Rosamunde, and his smile deepened just enough that she too found herself unexpectedly blushing. 

Mrs Faughmorency sat, and indicated that Lord Mansfield follow suit. "I beg your pardon on behalf of my husband, he is out just at present – "

"Infact, I came to see you, Madame," Lord Mansfield replied. "I am a friend of Dr Smyth. He is terribly busy with his important work, and sent me to ask your permission that I may escort Miss Faughmorency to a certain jeweller, as he has in mind that her loveliness must be honoured with a string of diamonds and pearls."

"Oh," said Mrs Faughmorency – and, "Oh," said the miss – although in quite a different tone. Lord Mansfield went on smiling.

"Well, how typical of our dear doctor," Mrs Faughmorency said, gleaming at her daughter and ignoring the scowl she received in return. "Rosie, put on your coat and bonnet, and fetch your maid as a chaperone."

"No need," Lord Mansfield cut in smoothly. "My own sister is waiting in my coach outside." Mrs Faughmorency's brow creased a little – "Lady Augustine de Havilland," said the lord. "You may have heard of her? Wife to Viscount Rowley?"

And the brow cleared. "Of course, of course," said Mrs Faughmorency. Although she had indeed never heard of the lady (unsurprisingly, as the lady did not exist) she would rather send her daughter off in the hands of dubious strangers than admit she was not au fait with the ranks of nobility. She rose, and Lord Mansfield rose, and Rosamunde, with uncertainty in every muscle, followed behind them. She did not like the light in Lord Mansfield's eye nor the shadow in his smile, and worried what had come to pass since their last meeting. Did he have her ticket for America, and a suitcase of prairie-suitable clothes, in his coach outside, in lieu of an aristocratic sister-chaperone? Was this the last she would see of her mother? 

Pain and panic suddenly filled her heart. Mama had been a traditional parent, offering attention and elegant amusement to her daughters for twenty minutes every evening and otherwise leaving them to the underpaid care of the nursery staff, at least until the girls were old enough to accompany her as a species of walking adornment of her own person – her brooches, she called them, revelling in their prettiness; or, her lovely bouquet. Rosamunde had never shared a confidence with Mama, or a joke, or even a knowing smile. She generally thought Mrs Faughmorency an embarrassment in the manner of mothers everywhere. And yet – oh, she would miss her! 

"Goodbye," she said, spontaneously embracing her mother, to the horror of the latter. 

"Rosamunde!" exclaimed Mrs Faughmorency in a loud, aghast whisper. "What will our visitor think of such extreme behaviour?"

"Miss Faughmorency," said Lord Mansfield. "I admire your filial devotion. However, we must make haste, as the jeweller is only available for another hour."

Mrs Faughmorency detached her daughter firmly and gave her a shove towards the door. And Rosamunde, blinking away tears, hurried to collect her coat, bonnet, and certain small keepsakes that would fit in her coat pocket, just incase she found herself this afternoon on a ship bound for the far side of the world.




IV. 


"We can not wait any longer," Lord Mansfield said as soon as Rosamunde was safely inside his carriage and trying not to blush at the definite absence of any noble married sister, or a chaperone at all for that matter. "You must leave home this very day."

"I felt it," Rosamunde said. "But what has happened to cause such urgency?"

Mansfield took off his hat and ran a weary hand through his heavy dark hair. "Dr Smyth has received in his home an old school friend by the name of Henrison. He is a clergyman. Our spies indicate the doctor intends to marry you this very evening."

Rosamunde's heart leapt. "But why? He has seemed content with a long engagement."

"That is because he has been recalibrating the machine he uses for reinvigorations. Miss Faughmorency, he is ready to kill and reanimate you, just as soon as he has you legally in his grasp."

"Egads!" Rosamunde gasped. "Well, I am grateful you rescued me, although – " She held back a pathetic cry. "I do wish I'd had more time to say farewells. I didn't even see my sisters. America is – "

"Not America," he cut in. She shot him a wide-eyed look. "Pardon, Miss Faughmorency, but Dr Smyth has extended his associations even that far. There is only one solution for you. I'm afraid you must marry someone else at once."

"Oh." She did not know whether to be relieved that she wasn't sailing off into the lonely yonder, or scandalised on her own behalf at the thought of an elopement. "May I be so forward as to enquire into the name of my husband?"

For the first time, Lord Mansfield seemed awkward, and without his usual manly selfconfidence. "Unfortunately, all our agents are busy at this time. It's I you will have to marry."

Noticing the sudden scarlet to her face, despite the shadows of the coach interior, he frowned. "I hope you are not too dismayed."

Rosamunde wondered how she could politely respond to that. Dismayed at marrying a lord? Dismayed at marrying a handsome, youthful, strong, honourable gentleman who was prepared to sacrifice his own freedom to save her – and then his reputation to divorce her, when the coast was clear? "Not at all," she murmured, eyelashes lowered, mouth in ladylike repose.

"There will be no hope of divorce," he went on, biting his lower lip as if anxious. She could almost feel his heartbeat sounding through the small, over-warm space of the carriage – or perhaps it was her own heavy pulse. "However, you will be well-kept, with a substantial purse, and you will be allowed your freedom. That is, unless – I mean to say – " 

He looked at her most intently, and Rosamunde held her breath. "Miss Faughmorency – Rosamunde – allow me to assure you of my admiration, and – and – my ardent love!"

Clutching her suddenly, he demonstrated this ardency, and his own unspoiled vigour, until Rosamunde was swooning against the cushioned back of the seat.

"Lord Mansfield," she gasped –

"James," he interjected huskily.

"James. I must inform you that I have no particular wish for freedom."

"We shall be married by nightfall!"

"But would you be so kind as to reiterate your assurance regarding the state of your emotions in relation to my – "

He did so, and she found herself satisfied.


* * * 


For days, society was aflame with The Faughmorency Scandal. First they talked over Rosamunde Faughmorency's sudden marriage to Lord James Mansfield, a man of previously impeccable reputation – a man, indeed, who had given no indication that he would ever stoop to snatching a bride from beneath another man's nose. Then they discussed the fact Lord and Lady Mansfield had not emerged from their house since the wedding (and some, with servants well-connected to the belowstairs information network, said they had barely emerged from the bedroom, although this of course was more insinuated than said). Then they had cause to discuss the sudden deterioration in the health of poor Mrs Faughmorency – which health was, at the end of the fortnight, happily restored upon news of the marriage between her second daughter, Aster Faughmorency, to the cuckolded Dr Smyth. 

The bride, they said, was so be-ribboned and be-curled and powdered that it was hard to see anything of her natural self other than the fierce brightness of her smile (and the clenched nature of her teeth behind it).

The nuptials were undertaken in a secret and swift strike, so that by the time Lord Mansfield and his wife learned of them, Dr & Mrs Dr Smyth were already retired to his house on Elliott Lane for a quiet, domestic honeymoon. Society added this unusual choice to their conversation, but Rosamunde and James understood : Dr Smyth would not take his young bride far from the reinvigoration machine which he kept in his spare bedroom.

One of James' fellow agents attempted to invade the house, but was repelled by several security measures installed by the doctor. Another, titled and wildly popular in refined social circles, was informed at the presentation of her card that the Dr & Mrs Dr were not at home to visitors even of such esteemed kind (despite their voices being heard through a slightly ajar door).

Rosamunde came quickly to the only possible conclusion :  "I must go myself."

James looked at her in horror. "Certainly not!"

"I can not leave my sister to be murdered and reanimated into a soulless creature," she argued. "And as I am the only one whose visit can not politely be refused, I am the only one who is right for this duty."

"But the danger – "

"I am a Faughmorency, sir. We laugh in the face of danger."

"No," he retorted dryly. "You wave handkerchiefs in the face of danger, and when that fails, you marry it."

"Perhaps," she said with a haughty tilt of her chin. "But I misspoke myself. I am of course now a Mansfield, and there is certainly none of this great family who would not laugh in the face of danger – then stab it in the heart."

"True. But Rose – "

"Never fear," she said, and she clutched his hand gently, smiling. "I shall pay my dear sister and her husband a visit, and kill said husband, and be back in time for supper."

"You can not kill a man who is already dead!"

"Ah, but how do you think he will proceed without his head?" 




V. 


Rosamunde called upon Elliott Lane at half-past two and was received promptly in the drawing room. Dr Smyth stood stiffly behind a chair, his expression most morbid, but Aster greeted her warmly and offered her a generous slice of lemon cake along with her tea. Behind the lovely manners of the new bride lay a misery which Rosamunde could plainly see. As she poured tea, a familiar low drone echoed through the room – not infact a motorised carriage, but a nefarious device for bring corpses back to unsanctified life. Aster shuddered. Rosamunde smiled at her, glad to see such a sign of vitality. She had visited, it appeared, before the nick of time.

"Congratulations on your good fortune, which I am glad I facilitated, although I admit, in a rather uncomfortable fashion at the time," she said.

Thus the awkwardness of the situation was acknowledged and elegantly put aside. Dr Smyth relaxed (which is to say, he creaked himself down into a chair and leaned one rigid elbow upon its armrest), and thereafter the two erstwhile Faughmorency flowers, now one in full bloom and the other withering, proceeded upon nicely vacuous chat. But after the weather, and the state of the roads, and Dame Elwood-Jones-Montgomery's latest fashion blunder, were all thoroughly canvassed, Rosamunde turned with a smile to Dr Smyth and said,

"I have heard told, sir, that you possess the most marvellous machine for refreshing one's appearance – nay, one's entire existence."

"I do," he replied, his chest puffing out as much as that bony cage was able. 

"May I prevail upon you to show me?" She turned with a charmingly regretful expression back to her sister. "Now that I'm an old married woman, I see all kinds of lines and mars that I'm certain did not exist before my wedding day."

Aster laughed. But she was no longer an innocent; she knew what lay in the spare bedroom and how it was intended for her. The laugh was hollow; the look in her eyes bleak.

Rosamunde leaned forward to pat her hand. "Do you remember old Sir Gobbley from our childhood days?" she asked. (The fellow in question was a bullfrog which somehow made its way into Aster's bed; Rosamunde had evicted it, and calmed her screaming sister, and sent the sheets away to be boiled). Aster's face lit up at the memory and its implication.

"I do believe your husband reminds me of that robust gentleman," Rosamunde said, smiling at the doctor. Pleased, he nodded in return. "I mind to bestow upon him my same consideration."

She rose briskly then from her chair. "Brother, I am indeed keen to inspect your machine."

The doctor seemed delighted at this turn of events. Rosamunde knew that he would try to take this fresh opportunity to have her reanimated, although she was not his own wife – infact because she was not : his motivation being revenge, or sheer spite. She felt no fear, however, as she mounted the stairs behind her murderous brother-in-law and his trembling wife. She had a secret weapon.

Alas for any wicked villain who underestimates a woman in possession of real intelligence.


* * * 


The Special Device for Reinvigoration of the Terminally Indisposed Personage appeared to be a bare wooden bed with coiled copper, dials, switches, and copious amounts of number eight fencing wire attached to its edges.

"But how does it work?" Rosamunde asked with unfeigned interest. 

Dr Smyth would surely have flushed in excitement, were he physiologically capable of doing so. He embarked upon a long and technical explanation, accompanied by much flicking of switches, turning of dials, and widening of eyes at the crackling light that leapt between coils, while Rosamunde watched placidly. Aster cowered in the doorway, gnawing on her thumbnail.

"Heavens," Rosamunde said when the doctor finished his lecture. "That certainly is marvellous. I wonder – "

She hesitated, and fluttered her eyelashes at Dr Smyth in best Faughmorency style (or should I say lack of style?) "Perhaps I would be able to try it a little? Just a pep-me-up? Would you be so kind?"

"Of course, of course!" His glee was untampered by decorum or, for that matter, sensible caution considering the trouble Rosamunde had already put him to. He did not notice Aster flee downstairs. He did not think what Lord Mansfield might say when discovering his new wife had been turned into a zombie. Overcome with desire for revenge on this woman who had spurned his – well, not his heart, for that had become a mere clock; and not any shall-we-say intimate aspect of his being, since, as Aster had learned to her relief, that was harder (pardon me) to reanimate than the general body – but spurned him in general, the wench, the termagant, the – the – bluestocking, he was focussed only on Rosamunde and her upcoming demise. He took her hand to assist her on to the machine.

And with a sharp swivel of her wrist, and a strength imbued in her by years of ballroom dancing lessons, she propelled the doctor instead onto a bed of his own making.


* * * 


An interesting, little-known fact about reanimation is that any further application of the process – any rereanimation, as it were – has a rather explosive effect on the subject body. By the time Lord Mansfield had kicked in the Elliott Lane door and been greeted by a wailing Aster, and calmed her enough that she might provide directions to Rosamunde and Dr Smyth's whereabouts, and then dashed up the stairs in grand heroic style, pistol at the ready, his wife had located a sheet and cleaned the worst of the blood and tissue from herself.

"Good God!" James gasped with horror as he came upon the scene. 

"Evidently so," Rosamunde said, smiling.


* * * 


In months to come, the population of "born-again gentlemen" and their unfortunate wives diminished, even as the social star of Lady Mansfield rose in a golden glory. She and her dashing husband, in the company of their noble friends, were celebrated in the best, most decent houses throughout the city and into the countryside also. Vivacity became the new mode.

Unfortunately, it was too late for the king and his family. But since a gallant gentleman (and his quick-witted wife) could hardly stoop to regicide, that matter was quietly surrendered.

No one noticed.

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