Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Historical Fiction Excerpt: The Defiant Lady Pencavel

by Diane Scott Lewis

Down another gloomy corridor, Melwyn and her abigail entered a large room that smelled of leather and smoke. The light from the lamp barely touched on the numerous shelves of books. A large walnut desk, a smaller neoclassical desk by Maggiolini, and leather chairs filled out the area.

“Run your hands along the books, to try to find a latch or lever of some type,” Melwyn whispered, the lamp flame flickering in her gush.
“I’m doin’ it, over here in the dark in case ‘ee hasn’t noticed,” Clowenna groused. “Keep your knickers on, m’lady.”

“We don’t wear knickers yet.” Melwyn traced her fingers along the smooth and tooled leather volumes. “Though why is beyond me, and it’s extremely inconvenient at times.” She felt along the shelves, frustrated that she found nothing.

“I don’t feel naught but books an’ more books. Who has time for so much readin’?” Clowenna grumbled, then the sound of tripping and a thud. “La, and damme, I walked into a picture frame.”

“Shhhh. Do you want the wrath of his lordship, or his dragon of a housekeeper down on us?” Melwyn hurried to where she stood, shining light over the maid who rubbed her nose, and a tall portrait of Henry VIII that hadn’t swung on the picture rail. “This seems solidly in place.”

Melwyn pushed on the frame and the picture slid to her left. “Oh, my, I think we’ve found it.” She shone the lamplight on a dark wood panel.
“How do we open it?” Clowenna sniffed loudly, still intent on her nose.

“Find a latch or lever.” Melwyn handed her maid the lamp, and felt along the panel’s grooves and carvings, her fingers dipping into every nook and cranny. Finally, something metallic under her fingertips. She lifted it, and the panel creaked open slowly.

Melwyn grabbed the lamp and shone the light inside a musty, tiny room. “It looks like a priest’s hole. There is even a cabinet where they hid the sacred vessels and vestments.”

“Hope there’s no dead priest in there.” Clowenna gripped her mistress’s shoulder.

“I thought you weren’t a superstitious ninny.” Melwyn stepped in, and soon discovered another latch. The far door squeaked open. The dank smell of earth swept in on her, almost dousing the lamp. “This must be the secret tunnel.”

“Great, we found it. Now we can go home and tell your father.” Clowenna tugged on Melwyn’s arm. “I’m tired; let’s go up to bed afore we’re murdered.”
“I remind you that this was your idea.” Melwyn shook her off and put one foot into the tunnel, her heart racing. She held up the lamp. “This could be a passageway built by a previous ancestor and have nothing to do with Lord Lambrick.”

“That be wishful thinking, m’lady.” The maid tapped her foot in irritation. “Now come back an’ don’t do no too-stupid-to-live act.”

“We need more proof,” Melwyn insisted. She chewed on her lower lip. “How will I take you to the continent if you’re going to be a nervous Nellie?”

The light barely reached down the tunnel with its crude shored-up walls, and the sound of water could be heard farther along. Melwyn shivered in the cooler air. A stack of crates sat a few yards away. She walked toward them, and reached out her hand to touch the top one’s scarred lid.
A shadow moved to her right. A hand grabbed her wrist and she gulped in astonishment, almost dropping the lamp.

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