How to survive the worst novel ever written
As minutes ticked by, the crowd of carriages stationed in the middle of the road dispersed. The incoming guests began to dwindle and journalists soon gave up trying to find another exclusive with which to occupy the covers of their newspapers. Although there were hardly any guests left on the street --except for the usual straggler who was late and hurried to the building without stopping to look around-- it was still as vivacious as when Oscar arrived.
The coachmen and servants of the families, unable to accompany their employers, had been left in the open, waiting like dogs for their masters. Seeing that the wait would go on for a while, some decided to go find a stable in which to leave the carriages or pay a groom to watch the horses while they headed towards one of the taverns that remained open, welcoming all those outsiders.
Unable to afford to rent a stable, Oscar was about to suggest to Bannister going to some tavern while he stayed in the cart. After all, it was a bit chilly tonight, and even though he had no interest in stepping into the crowd just for a couple of beers, that didn't mean they both had to miss out on socializing a bit with other people just to wait for Cornells.
He was going to suggest it, in fact, just before someone approached them.
"Which of you is Mr. Gladwin?"
Oscar turned to the young man, puzzled. No one referred to him as "sir" since he transmigrated.
“It's me. What's going on?”
“An unprecedented crisis, the lady told me. Although with her sobs I could not understand very well what she needed”. The waiter paused here, one could tell from a league that he did know what was happening, other different thing was that he´d lent himself to say it. “Miss Cornell sent me to find you, so if you´d please...”
"Ah?" But can I come in?”
"Maybe, but through the service door"
Oscar's surprise was due to the fact he was unaware that Madeleine had any problems in the original novel. In fact, it could be said that despite her clumsiness there, everything was resolved favorably, considering the protagonist not only noticed her, but saved her from kissing the ground a couple of times.
Oscar looked up at Bannister, still confused, as if asking his permission to withdraw. That was weird at best. Why would the female lead turn to a simple cannon fodder for help when the male lead was so much closer? It could already be important!
The waiter retreated to the front door after showing him how to get to Madeleine using the other entrance, presumably to resume service and not wanting to have to deal with a troublesome guest again. So Oscar had no choice but to go around the block, enter the way he was asked, and walk through three or four corridors, until he was completely lost in a building that was not so big the casual stroller needed the help of a sketch.
No, Oscar was not lost for having entered a maze of corridors. He was not even lost in the sense of not knowing where the exit was: he knew with certainty where he had come from. He got lost in the sense that Madeleine wasn't waiting for him where that damn waiter said she would be… Of course that sure wasn't his fault. Knowing the girl, it was likely she had despaired after waiting a maximum of three minutes and had begun to wander on her own, asking for help and trying to make some gentleman of considerable fortune feel pity for her.
It sounded sad to hear, but that was the image Oscar had of Madeleine.
He asked a couple of people as he passed, but none of them had seen the oldest Cornell. Not only that, they had also looked at him disapprovingly when they noticed how he was dressed; the service could not enter the dance, unless they had been appointed as companions for their masters. And, if this was the case, they would have to be dressed for the occasion. As that was the norm.
The only servants and employees who could remain on the premises wore uniforms and did not look like they had come out of a stable.
Oscar was beginning to get angry, thinking the best thing to do would be to withdraw and let Madeleine fend for herself. If she had done it once, why couldn't she do it again? So he retraced his steps, making sure to avoid the crowds and going through those rooms and corridors where fewer people remained.
Already on the first floor, a few meters from the door that would lead him to the wing where the kitchens were, Oscar saw a teenager in a wheelchair.
It couldn't be someone from the servants, for obvious reasons. No maid would be needed at such a dance with such an impediment! If she was one of the guests, shouldn't she be with her mistress? The discretion of the secluded corner she had chosen to position herself, a few steps from the room where the rest of the people remained socializing and drinking champagne, as if there was no tomorrow, told him that she did not mind going unnoticed.
But even so, she must be a young lady from a good family. Oscar did not understand why she was alone, but neither did she give the impression that, observing as she did the rest of the guests from her position as a spectator, she was having a hard time. Was she waiting for someone? Maybe a relative, a friend or companion.
She was watching everyone in silence, no one seemed to notice her. And, although a slight smile was drawn on her face, it did not give the impression that she was enjoying her solitude to the fullest.
What's with this scene? Oscar wondered. This was not in the original novel.
Perhaps that little girl of no more than sixteen years was such an insignificant character that even the author of that shitty work herself would have forgotten to mention her, as she was busy explaining each grimace and each gesture of that protagonist to whom, for what he was wearing checked, only she gave a damn.
Either way, it wasn't his problem.
Oscar was about to pass by, but when the girl proceeded to speak to him, he stopped. Ah, that was a dilemma. He wanted to leave, suddenly hanging out in taverns with a bunch of scandalous strangers didn't seem like a bad idea. But at the same time, he was afraid of missing a fundamental step in his plan to get rich and famous, leaving the building where Madeleine was in trouble.
"Could you help me for a moment? I wanted to get to that little room, the one just to the right of the ball room, but it seems that this floor acts as a perfect barrier for those of us who cannot use our legs”
Looking down at the ground one could see that, indeed, right where the two rooms met there was a pothole high enough to stop a wheelchair. Of course, someone who pushed the device could make it through without any problem. But, for the person in the chair, it would be difficult to get around that obstacle.
"How come you weren´t in the room with the others?" Oscar asked as he moved the chair to where he was asked, although the real implication of that question was why the hell a young lady of rank remained marginalized from society.
"Oh, I was there a while ago, until they started dancing. I don't want to get in the way and, besides, it's a bit dangerous for me to walk alone in the middle of all those people.”
If it's so dangerous, why do you go voluntarily to the busiest place in the entire capital?, Oscar wondered, but said nothing.
Perhaps guessing what that waiter was thinking of, she continued:
"Although I can't move like everyone else, I like music and I enjoy watching couples dance, so I decided to accept when Lady Summerfield invited me. On the other hand, do not think that I am alone: I have come with one of my maids. It is, to be precise, that young woman who is dancing in the center of the room, next to the orchestra, the third from the left. Do you see her? Oh, the poor thing didn't want to part with me when they asked her to dance, but I don't see why she should deprive herself. Anyway, I won't move from here”
Oscar took a quick look where the girl was pointing. From that other room to which they moved they had a better view of the living room and it was not very difficult to remain enraptured watching all those people unfolding in such a distinguished environment. Unlike the place where the girl had been standing before, the entrance from which they were watching was much wider and better lit, making it a privileged place for the casual spectator.
“Is it not boring? I would not last the whole evening watching, without being able to participate”
In the face of her silence, Oscar feared that he had spoken out of turn. Could a servant express his opinion so crudely? He was sure that the answer would be negative, at least when he was making those opinions before a stranger. But, to his relief, the girl didn't mind.
"I agree that it is boring, but what remedy is there for me but to endure for the moment? Not only my maid, but also the friends I ran into have joined the dance, so I had no one to talk to”
It wasn't just that. A dinner had been organized shortly before the music and revelry began, and now there were dozens of waiters passing between the tables collecting plates and trays. With a single glance around the room, it was clear it was too chaotic for someone with little freedom of movement to be alone. If she had still been at some point, in the center of the room, it would be better for the young woman to have stayed at her table or chosen a corner close to the walls.
"I was originally coming with my older brother," she continued. “And if he were here, take it for granted that he wouldn't leave me any time alone. What's more, I would spend the whole night talking to people!”
"Still, that brother of yours must be an asshole to let you come alone with your maid," Oscar murmured; He never had siblings, but he was sure that if he had had a little sister with a physical disability, he would not have let her go to a place where there were such crowds... Or, if he did, he would certainly have assigned more than one person to accompany her.
"No, he really is too overprotective," laughed the girl; she had heard Oscar's remark and didn't seem bothered.
Maybe, deep down, she also thought that the brother was an asshole.
“He hates this type of celebration, although he usually makes an effort when I ask him or if it is necessary for the business to be seen in these balls. But today he was busy and, not being able to stay with me, he asked me not to come. I had an argument with him... and won.”
"By the way you put it, you sure win often"
"It's wrong for me to say it, but yes. In any case, my brother shouldn't worry so much, I know how to fend for myself”. Throwing her hands towards the wheels of her chair, she continued. “These, for example, jam less than it seems. I've been using this as a means of transportation for as long as I can remember, so I can handle it perfectly. Ninety percent of the time I ask for help getting around an obstacle, what I was really planning was to have an excuse to strike up a conversation with”
Oscar looked surprised for a couple of seconds, then he laughed as if he'd been told the best joke of the century. It was the first time since he had come to that dismal novel that someone had managed to fool him. And it had not been one of the protagonists! Not even one of the secondary ones! No, it was a simple filler character who managed to outwit him.
In truth, that said a lot about the quality of the books their author wrote.
"I'm sure you've managed to fool many with that trick."
"Strangers, like my brother, always fall. Those who know me well, like my friends from school, are not so easily entangled”. Having thought of something, the girl changed the subject. “Hey, can I ask you what are you employed on? It's not that I'm demanding that you're here, I appreciate the company, but if you're caught by security men or by the Summerfields themselves...”
"Ah, I was accompanying my employer's daughters," Oscar hastened to say; the truth was, he had almost forgotten about Madeleine. “One of them was supposed to call me on some very important matter that could cause her death if I did not come to her aid promptly". Hinting that he had no intention of leaving the teenager's side, he added. “But she must have died already, so it doesn't matter”
It was probable that, out of education, the girl did not want to continue asking about it. Although with that little nuance on the part of Oscar, it must have been more than clear to him that he had no sympathy for the aforementioned daughter of the boss, and that he only put up with her in exchange for a salary. Then, with her acquaintances still entertained, why not continue chatting with that individual for a while longer?
Oscar did not seem to have any intention of going to look for his mistresses either, for when he saw that the girl did not bother with him for being there, nor did she make any attempt to kick him out, he took a chair and sat next to her, facing the dozens of people going about their business in the room before them. And so they were both, for about fifteen or twenty minutes, talking about the Summerfields, the great number of people the girl knew, the building rented by the dukes and, finally, books.
Finally Oscar was able to find someone who shared his passion for reading and who did not respond to him like a robot, imitating the manners of a boring governess!
By the time the maid and a couple of her friends returned, he was still there. And he was going to retire, thinking that now that she was accompanied again he would no longer be needed. But he was unable to do so, as she asked him as a favor to stay a few extra minutes. A request that Oscar was tempted to comply, since none of the people who had just surrounded the girl in a wheelchair seemed to be against such a suggestion.
Surely those city gentlemen were nice people.
And he would have spent the remainder of the evening there, if it hadn't been for Madeleine turning up, tear-faced and limping, glancing furiously at the young woman in a wheelchair —perhaps out of jealousy, for having held her friend for so long— and out of sheer frustration at Oscar who, as she saw him, had abandoned her again.
“Where were you?” She whimpered, getting a couple of nearby guests to look at her with amused expressions on their faces. “I've looked for you everywhere! I even asked Beverley to help me, but the very selfish woman preferred to go dancing on her own and didn't even offer to call anyone for me.”
"Where were you, I should ask." Oscar stood up, uncomfortable with the attention they were receiving; if things continued like this, there was no doubt that they would end up being kicked out of the place. “I thought you were going to wait for me by the service door.”
"But Oscar! How was I going to stay there?” When she seemed to have calmed down, Madeleine burst into tears again. “I was suffering and the waiter I asked for help ran out as soon as I told him I had my service out! It's cruel you demand explanations from me when you're the one who took the opportunity to sneak into the ball and…! And try to cajole another! Is it that you no longer care about me?”
Hearing this and seeing how many of the guests who were nearby began to observe them without any dissimulation, smiling and making comments among themselves, Oscar hurriedly said goodbye to the people he had just met and dragged Madeleine, who did not stop complaining, towards a corridor where they would be safe and devoid of public.
"Let's see, take a deep breath and tell me slowly what happened," Oscar asked, already getting nervous when he saw how upset Madeleine was.
Was it possible she had offended so much the male lead that he no longer wanted to approach her? No, her blessed main character halo was too powerful for such a thing to happen. And the protagonist had a reputation as a heartthrob. He would accept any woman who proposed to him, whether she was a beauty or an orc.
"I broke my heel and Beverley wouldn't give me her shoes even though we wear the same size!" Madeleine cried and, seeing that Oscar did not react no matter how much she leaned over him, decided to expand her catalog of misfortunes. “What am I supposed to do now? I will no longer be able to talk to anyone, imagine that they see me like that and think I am handicapped! There´s no doubt this would disappoint them. Not to mention that if someone asks me for a dance I won't be able to grant it. It's awful! Besides, no one has noticed me, surely because of this horrible dress! A-and anyway, I can't stand out too much for fear that the dukes will recognize me and throw me out!”
"Put down the drama, Madeleine. Even if the dukes were face-to-face with you, I doubt they´d even take a minute to try to discern who you are”
Oscar said this knowing that many of the guests of these types of events came with family and friends, since the invitations were extended towards them, but without mentioning any particular name.
“The real problem comes down to a shoe, right? No wonder when you came here it seemed you were lame...”
“How can you say that?! You don't have a shred of compassion! You don't even care that because of what happened today I get a bad reputation and no gentleman dares ask me in marriage!”
"True, true, I´m a very cruel person." Pointing to a nearby sofa, he indicated. “Sit there, I'll see that you stop limping.”
Madeleine, her face full of tears and red with anger by now, decided to put what little faith she had left in Oscar and did what was asked of her. As soon as she had done so, the boy did something unexpected. He pulled the shoe that was still intact from her foot and, holding it by the toe, slammed the heel part against a wall until it too came off. Putting it back on Madeleine, he spoke a single word:
"What do you mean, fixed?!" My shoes are ...!”
"Madeleine, believe it or not, today might be your lucky day," Oscar interrupted her and, before she could reply that that was completely impossible, he proceeded to explain himself. “A few days ago I read in the newspaper the only son of Captain Seymour would come.” As in her face you could see that she was not aware of who this guy was, he continued to reel off every piece of information he had. “The Seymours are one of the most prestigious families in Brighton, they often spend long periods in the capital and, of course, are close friends to the Summerfields. They own about three hundred acres of land, two mansions, and Patrick Seymour is said to be collecting an allowance of £ 70,000 a year. It's amazing that someone with these characteristics is single, right?
Madeleine, her eyes lighting up when she heard of the Seymour estates, didn't even realize that Oscar had exaggerated a bit, throwing in astronomical amounts at random.
"If he's still single, it's because he hasn't had the joy of meeting me yet."
"But tell me, tell me, what is he like? Is he handsome?"
“Very much!” Oscar searched the crowd with his eyes until he found someone who matched the author's description of Patrick. “Look, there he is. See for yourself, it´s that man with brown hair and a navy blue suit who is talking to the ladies beside the piano.”
"He´s got a perfect physique!" Madeleine complimented him after a brief glance.
Oscar wondered how the hell could she compliment such conviction when the object of her admiration was twenty yards away, and considering his back was turned, it was impossible to see his features. Anyway, a fixed salary of thousands of pounds would make any monkey look handsome.
"I'll go introduce myself."
"Don't." Oscar grabbed her arm, stopping her.
"Are you jealous?"
Urg, no, thought Oscar, suppressing a grimace of disgust and letting go of the girl's arm instantly, as if he had just discovered that it was giving off poison.
"If you go to him and introduce yourself without an intermediary who knows you both, he'll think you're desperate. It would be different if you were a man, of course, but in this case, I am afraid such an approach would be improper.”
"So what can I do? I don't want to leave today without talking to him”
“Maybe there is a way to get closer and for him to notice your presence, taking the initiative to approach without the need for someone to intervene for you.”
"I could… I could play the piano. He's very close to him, that's why he must like the sound of it.”
“Nah, you're not bad at that, but you're not Beethoven either. We need to give it a slightly more direct approach.”
"In that case ... Uh ... I know! I'll have a drink and pretend to bump into him.”
"You want to seduce him or make him develop an instinct for murder by ruining his suit?"
"Don't be silly," Madeleine laughed, her anger for her shattered shoes seemed to have vanished. “How is he going to be mad at me? You´ll see when he sees me and realizes I am the most beautiful and gentle woman at this event, he will completely forget about his clothes!”
"Still, please trip over him without spilling anything."
Madeleine nodded and proceeded to return to the great hall. She must not understand why Oscar wanted to take such precautions. That is to say, she admitted that she was beautiful, intelligent, and of exquisite manners. No man would have any complaints!
As for Oscar, he didn't want to stare. He'd risked too much already by staying, and it was a wonder no member of the service had approached him with an ultimatum. Adding to that the fact that his anxiety would not allow him to see another gaffe —perhaps in both senses of the sentence— from Madeleine, he resolved that it would be best to return to Bannister. Anyway, if things went as it should, they would not require his assistance again tonight.
Oscar waited a couple of minutes as a mere courtesy, in case the useless Madeleine missed her chance again and had to intervene. It would be a great scandal if she were to call him back or, worse still, run around crying and calling out his name as if he were her knight destined to save her.
Then, seeing the protagonist had made her way through the crowd and reached her destination safely, he turned to the direction where the door that led to the service wing was. He wanted to use it, already thinking of leaving the building from the same place he entered, but never did.
Before he could touch the doorknob, someone appeared from behind, causing him a good scare as soon as his voice was present to reprimand him:
"Shouldn't you be outside? Stable employees are not allowed to attend the dance with their masters, you should be waiting outside for it to end.”
Turning around, Oscar ran into a man quite similar to how he had described the protagonist to Madeleine. No, not similar, but identical! Not only the physical characteristics matched, but also the costume described by the author in the original manuscript. Fuck… it had to be Patrick Seymour himself! What kind of cliched coincidence was this?
But wait, then who was Madeleine talking to? Even in this situation, Oscar was one hundred percent sure that he had pointed to the right person. Or well, it was more like it. Despite the fact that the clothes and the structure of the physique coincided, one should not forget that the other grotesque character had only looked at him from the side, without having been able to contemplate his face closely.
Not that those two were related, or anything like that. It is that Oscar had been mistaken for walking in a hurry!
"No, I was leaving already," he murmured sheepishly, wondering at full speed how he could fix this mess.
That was great, the first time hesaw the protagonist and he was already giving off a bad impression. How could he ask his family for a job in the future if this fool remembered him as the sinister intruder at the Summerfield ball? Luckily, he hadn't asked about his patterns, and after excusing himself, Oscar could slip away.
"Wait," Patrick stopped him, seeing his every intention of leaving without giving him any explanation, "before you go tell me who you serve. Someone must be responsible for such rudeness.”
Oscar went blank for a few seconds. Now he was screwed! Should he lie? No, that would get him into more trouble in the long run, if he still wanted to have a cordial relationship with the Seymours. Sell Madeleine? No, that would add mistrust to her… and perhaps to the Seymours, if one day they were on good terms with the Cornells. Of course it was also true that he came in because of Madeleine, and who wouldn't want to hear the truth?
Making a decision, Oscar began, slowly:
"The Cornells are my bosses." Seeing that Patrick looked surprised, perhaps having recognized the name, he went on without getting too far into the subject. “I was outside, waiting properly, but one of the ladies called me on urgent business. I already attended her and the conflict was resolved. Now I´m about to retire, if you don't mind.”
"Wait, when you say Cornell, who do you ...?"
"Patrick, I finally find you!" Exclaimed a girl who, without any sense of personal space, clung to his arm. “You promised that you would grant me the next dance! Or have you already forgotten? Suddenly, noticing the groom's presence, she turned to him with the same look of surprise Patrick had shown just moments ago. “Oscar, what are you doing here?”
"Ah, is he your servant?" The protagonist asked the obvious; His left arm was still prisoned, but it didn't seem to bother him.
In fact, he also didn't seem angry at the familiarity with which they were addressing him.
But seriously, what the hell with Beverley? He had barely met the protagonist and was already treating him as if they were old pals. And the most hilarious thing was that he let himself! Of course, the desire to catch chub in those years of abstinence for decorum must have been intense.
"Yes, he must have come for Maddie. The poor thing was so upset a while ago! But I couldn't do anything for her, unfortunately.”
"Speaking of Madeleine," said Oscar, showing a smile of relief at having found a familiar face and also deciding to ignore the blatant display of hypocrisy he had just heard, "have you seen her?"
"I passed her before I came here and she didn't even notice, she was busy talking to a low-ranking military man. The truth is that I don't even know exactly who he is, but my big sister always has such bad taste for men…”
Beverley laughed, implying that she had won the grand prize by getting Patrick to notice her.
"Well, I was concerned because there was a problem with Miss Madeleine's shoes." But I'm glad that everything worked out, so I can go now.
"Yes, yes, go. We do not want to inconvenience the dukes. Don't worry about Maddie anymore.”
After saying this, Beverley dragged Patrick into the living room, while she was listened to talk about who Oscar was and about the many efforts he had to make to fulfill his sister's whims.
If Madeleine found out that Beverley had stolen all the limelight, she would have given him one of her fits of rage, throwing a tantrum over even the tiniest thing and blaming everyone except herself. But the truth was that Oscar came out of that ball feeling that a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
Bannister even asked him on the way back why he was so happy and, at the vague answer he got, his imagination began to wander down rather indecent paths.
But hey, the point was that Oscar got what he wanted: the bad opinion that Patrick could have about him, without a doubt, vanished with the arrival of Beverley. Besides, what did it matter if the male lead chose another of the sisters to be his wife? Or what difference did it make if there was a real soap opera where all the Cornell girls — except for Theresa— fought over this guy? What mattered was that he had met them and that, towards at least one of them, he had developed a certain degree of tolerance!
Now all that remained was for Patrick to come and live in Snodland, and then Oscar's dream position could be granted.
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