Chapter 3:


How to survive the worst novel ever written

At that time, the small town of Snodland had just over a hundred inhabitants and a street full of shops of all kinds, which seemed to invite the curious passersby to admire each window, each product, until they made the decision to enter a local. 

In his previous existence, Oscar had always lived in cities. Never staying in a village for more than a couple of hours -and this taking into account the field trips he took with his class when he went to high school, as well as his holiday travels with his parents- so he was surprised to find that, even in a place with so few villagers, business districts were as lively as those in large towns.

Oscar, who had been in charge of taking them to the villa, had left the carriage a long time ago in a stable a couple of blocks away. Taking it upon himself now to act as a kind of chaperone, making sure those girls didn't get into trouble, but staying a few feet away and not intervening in the conversation unless someone spoke to him.

"Look at that dress!" exclaimed Eleonore, one of Madeleine's sisters, approaching the window of a nearby store. “Isn't it lovely?”

As if that had been the signal they were waiting for, two of the three remaining girls crowded around the indicated spot.

"Yeah, but it sure doesn't fit." Beverley had replied. “And father wouldn't let us hire a dressmaker to fix it, he's so stubborn saying we spend too much on things we don't need!”

"At this rate I'll never be able to make my debut," Eleonore snorted unhappily. “Life is so unfair!”

At sixteen, Beverley had been the last of the Cornells to introduce herself to society with a gala ball in London. That must have been one of the last whims that the boss allowed her daughters before assuming he was broke. Eleonore, who was a year younger, feared that she´d never enjoy the same privileges as her older sisters.

"Come on, come on, I'm sure everything will be sorted out soon," Madeleine said. “We can still buy fabrics, right? These from this store haven´t the quality we´re used to, but they aren´t bad at all.”

Oscar tried to look away when he heard this, preventing any of them from seeing his mocking smile. Mr. Cornell owned a cloth factory, so wouldn't it be cheaper and easier for his daughters to wear those? But no. Apparently, the patron's own daughters were aware of the dubious quality of their materials and, without thinking twice, sabotaged their own father.

"Besides, the owner is always attentive to what's going on in the capital," Madeleine continued. Surely we can find something modern that satisfies our taste and, with it, ask one of the maids to make us a dress worthy of being worn at the best balls.”

"What balls? All good celebrations take place within the city! The only ones here who can organize something decent from time to time are the Tanners and, even so, only the four usual cats attend. It's so boring!”

"And there are no fancy men in Snodland," Beverley added, "it's not like you can pretend to be complacent at seeing the same old wizened faces. Of course London is something else… If we could go, I mean.”

"We don't need to travel to any city to continue living with our heads held high," Madeleine said curtly. “It doesn´t matter how much money we have or what things are taken from us. Even if we´re unable to find a good match to marry, we belong to one of the most prestigious families in the region and we must not forget the honor that this entails.”

For a moment, Oscar looked puzzled and proud at the same time. Had this young lady´s brain get fixed after several days trying to digest her efforts to be a big city diva were futile?

"Ah, she already gave up," Eleonore said. “Poor dear.”

"It must be a very hard blow to reach nineteen without a single suitor," Beverley continued.

"And without the possibility of traveling as before, things get even worse. Who will appreciate the excellent qualities of my dear big sister if they don´t even have the pleasure of meeting her?”

"I imagine that all that remains is to continue as usual, dreaming of what could have been, but never will anymore. All because of father's inefficiency in providing us with the best of the best.”

"Stop talking nonsense!" Madeleine exploded, ignoring that a young lady shouldn't start yelling ugly things at her relatives in the middle of the street. “Who has given up ?! I'm going to London at all costs before the season is over! And when I come back, I'll do it with a row of suitors. There will be so many that they won´t fit inside our living room!”

Faced with this unusual resolution on the part of the protagonist, Oscar had to withdraw what he previously thought of her. She really was stupid!

Beside him, someone sighed. Accustomed as she was to the temperament of her sisters, Theresa only said in a soothing tone:

"If you have no intention of going into the store, can we go back home? I haven´t finished my book and I´d like to continue as soon as possible, if you no longer have anything to do here.”

Hearing this, the other three girls fell silent for an instant, thus stopping a verbal fight that had already begun to brew. Then, without bothering to answer, Madeleine was the first, with her usual proud demeanor, to enter to the store without taking a second glance at her sisters. Beverley and Eleonore followed her, narrowly bumping their noses on the door —for Madeleine didn't even bother to leave it open for the others to pass—. Theresa, whom at thirteen must have been the most clever of that family, also proceeded to go after them. Not out of personal preference, because she didn´t look like she wanted to buy anything, but out of obligation; her mother always insisted she should accompany her sisters on their walks.

Oscar, before the youngest of the Cornell girls went into the store, took the opportunity to tell her that he was going to wait for them inside a small canteen located directly opposite the building. Theresa nodded, without criticizing him, before disappearing from sight.

The truth was that Oscar did that on purpose. If he had made such a request to any of the other Cornells, they´d have been outraged, calling him insolent. Then they´d have demanded that he waited for them at the shop´s door. And so, he would have had to stay anchored next to the cloth store for three-quarters of an hour, perhaps longer, even if it rained, he got hungry, or had to go pee.

Theresa, at least, was more flexible in these cases. She didn't care where the service went, as long as he showed up to her when called upon.

So Oscar was able to go to a tavern where they already knew him, as he used to go there frequently during his few days off. Of course, although he was aware of his original character's tastes and memories —which was very useful and saved him a considerable amount of obstacles—, he had no intention of copying his personality or his fondness for something as basic as what to order in a cafeteria.

If it didn´t benefit him for something, he told himself, he wouldn´t imitate the poor behavior of his predecessor. And perhaps this was the excuse to function as he pleased, for most days.

Without giving it too much thought, he ordered tea and a newspaper. Something completely unusual, since usually the original only went to the canteen to empty the beer barrels, tell his sorrows to whoever was attending at the bar and, needless to say, he was never seen reading. However, that morning Oscar went to sit at a table located right next to a window through which the entrance of that little shop where the sisters were still staying could be perfectly seen, without even trying to start a conversation with anyone.

While he was absorbed in his reading, a couple of strangers chatting in a relaxed way at the next table piqued his interest. And, without looking up from the column of events, he focused on listening to what they were saying.

"Looks like they've put Lilac Hall up for sale now the Garnetts have decided to go back to Wales."

"Are they really going to sell it? I thought they were only visiting Lord Garnett, but would be back in a few weeks.”

"I thought so too, but I can attest what I'm saying is true: the other day we passed the mansion on our way to Leybourne and there was a carriage full of suitcases parked by the gate."

“It´d be the stagecoach, don't bother me, those kinds of people go on vacation for two days and feel the need to pack the equivalent of three closets.”

"No, no, I'm not done! There was the stagecoach and two more cars. A couple of porters were carrying some furniture.”

That observation seemed to cause one of the individuals to realize something:

"But they're crazy! Why do they leave the house like this, in such a hurry? That must be worth a fortune, even if some of the furniture was taken.”

“I don´t know, I don´t know. What I'm sure of is that neither you nor I could even pay to spend one night there. Not even with the salary that we´d collect together in a lifetime can be enough!”

Despite how exaggerated that might sound, Oscar believed every word that individual spoke. Lilac Hall, as described in the novel, was the largest and most splendid mansion in the region. Many compared it to a castle because of its imposing architecture and since, it was rumored, one of its first owners was a prince.

Of course, a prince without right to the throne.

The name of that modern palace was what made Oscar remember. This was the house the male lead bought once he settled in Snodland! Ah, that must mean the plot was proceeding as it should. Maybe he just needed to give a nudge or two to finish channeling it.

Without listening again to the conversation that was taking place next to him, he turned the pages of the newspaper until he found the section of social events. Just as he expected, there was a whole page dedicated to the blissful Summerfield event. From indications on the place where it would be held, to a brief interview with Lady Summerfield. But what Oscar was looking for was none of that, but a list of names.

To be specific, it was a compendium of already confirmed guests whose social status was so high that journalists could not resist the exclusive of being able to mention them in their articles.

Oscar found a total of fifteen names and, among them, in his eyes one stood out from the rest: Patrick Seymour. Or, what was the same, the overrated protagonist of that pantomime in which he was trapped.