Here we are with Chapter Three! As Cammy said, things will slow down after school starts. For her it's tomorrow, for me it's next Wednesday. In that week I will try to get artwork up so that I can post it at the same time as the chapters.

Chapter Three: Something To Cry About

It was Victoria's sister's disappearance all over again.

The night outside was cold and rainy, grey and blurred like a newfangled photograph that had been badly developed. The cold seemed almost to seep into the house, infiltrating not only the rooms of the Everglot mansion but the moods of the four people huddled by the fire — and another, small figure, who stood, unseeing, close to the tall window as fat, icy drops of water threatened to shatter the glass.

"Victoria, come away from the window," snapped Lady Everglot, turning from the crackling hearth to reprimand her younger daughter. "I'm sure he'll be back shortly."

In Victoria's mind, made listless by the grey, relentlessly drumming rain, the words her mother spoke in the present overlapped with those from before...

"No! Let me go!" Victoria shrieked, wrenching her arm temporarily free of her father's grasp, before Maudeline assisted him. "I have to find her — it's all my fault—if only you let me go—I know where she went—"

"Calm yourself, Victoria!" yelled Lady Everglot. "You are a lady! There is nothing you can do! You will stay here in the house and wait until your father and the search party return with your sister!"

Left with no company other than her mother, Victoria sank to the edge of the windowsill, her dress and wild hair still dripping with rainwater. Leaning her clammy forehead against the panes, Victoria idly trailed her fingertips across the glass surface as the vague shadows of horses and riders vanished into the Black Forest...

Her mother's voice came, over the white noise of the pattering rain. "Victoria, come away from the window. "I'm sure they'll be back shortly..."

They had never found her sister.

Sighing, Victoria complied with her mother's wishes. She sank numbly into a winged armchair. A cup of steaming tea was put into her hands, but Victoria didn't put it to her pale lips. She would have dropped it absently had her mother not glared at her as if to say, "Drop that cup and I shall never see or speak to you again."

Unlike the night Victoria's sister had gone missing, Victoria had not (yet) attempted to go out into the rain after Victor van Dort. Yet as she managed to swallow the scalding tea, Victoria realised just how much she was shivering.

She did not want to lose Victor van Dort, too.

Victoria had only known him several hours; but those hours had revealed to her that he was amiable, a book-lover, musical, shy, loved to laugh — if there was ever a chance in the world of two betrothed finding happiness with each other, this was it. And what if, like in the case of her sister, they never found him? What if, somehow, his broken body was lying in a ditch somewh —

With considerable effort, Victoria swallowed down the lump rising in her throat, steeled herself against such horrifying thoughts, and tried to concentrate on what Mrs. van Dort was saying.

"He's terrified of the dark. In fact...when he was a boy he used to wet his combinations regularly — " Nell van Dort turned to her husband for supplication " — didn't he, William?"

Mr. van Dort was spared the embarrassing conversation, however, by a knock at the door. When bidden to enter by Lord Everglot, the door swung open and in strode -

"Ah, Lord Barkis!" exclaimed Maudeline Everglot. "I trust your room is to your liking?"

"Thank you. You are a most gracious and mephitic hostess."

Victoria blinked. Did Lord Barkis know the meaning of even half of the grand words he was using? Apparently neither did Lady Everglot, for she accepted "mephitic" with good grace.
Lord Barkis continued his low, drawling speech. "Which is why it pains me..." he leaned towards Lord Everglot " be the bearer of such bad news."

Lord Everglot looked extremely alarmed— but perhaps it was more the fact that Lord Barkis was very close to him, than the thought of bad news. Fortunately at that moment Barkis straightened up and went to the door. In waddled the town crier.

"Would you care to repeat tonight's headline?" Barkis inquired.

Without further warning the cloche-shaped man began to swing his bell about. "HEAR YE, HEAR YE!"
Everyone's teacups rattled with the force of the man's yells. "VICTOR VAN DORT SEEN THIS NIGHT ON THE BRIDGE IN THE ARMS OF A MYSTERY WOMAN! THE DARK-HAIRED TEMPTRESS AND MASTER VAN DORT SLIPPED AWAY INTO THE NIGHT! And now the weather: Scattered showers — "

"Enough!" cried Lord Barkis. "That will be all."

Obediently the crier shuffled out.

Victoria was frozen with shock. Mystery woman? Mystery woman?! Victor had been so kind, so caring, so attentive — and now he had slipped off with someone! Just like her sister! He had made a fool of Victoria! Revenge, perhaps, for what had happened with her sister? Surely not! He had barely even known her name —

Never mind. The important concept was: he had betrayed Victoria. And — at the thought, her grip tightened on the brittle porcelain cup, and a hairline crack appeared— and if Victor van Dort lay in a ditch tonight, it would not be in pain and death; no, it would be because he was with his little —

"'Mystery woman'?" Nell van Dort was repeating blankly. "He doesn't even know any women!"

Never mind Victoria, of course.

"Or so you thought," smirked Barkis. He strode over to the door. "Do call for me if you need my assistance..." his gaze rested upon Victoria for a split second, and she glared defiantly at him, " any way."

As the door slid shut behind him with a soft thud, Maudeline Everglot got up and began pacing back and forth. "Good heavens, Finis, what shall we do?"

It took everyone a few moments to realise that Lord Everglot had stood, as he was so short. "Fetch me musket!"

Nell van Dort got very excited. "Oh, William, do something!"

Mr. van Dort, a bit abashed that he was supposed to come to the rescue, stood. "Uh, the town crier probably just had a slow news day," he explained to Lord Everglot, intercepting the musket from Emil and returning it to the brackets above the fireplace. "You know how it is...when you need a little something to cry about..."

"Regardless," rumbled Finis Everglot, "we are one groom short for the wedding tomorrow! Not to mention the financial implications," he added in an undertone to his wife and daughter.

"A most scandalous embarrassment for us all," said Lady Everglot loudly.

"Oh, give us a chance to find him!" Mrs. van Dort implored her hostess. "We beg of you! Give us till dawn!"

"Mother, please agree!" Victoria chimed in, before she could stop herself.

Lady Everglot gave her an odd look, but turned to the van Dorts. "Very well. Till dawn."