As I’m working on getting DEVIL’S RETURN ready for publication (I still have to look up a detail about the historical background and write two more paragraphs for the Author’s Note), I’ll give you a snippet from Chapter 2: Alex attends the staff meeting of ALLAN’S MISCELLANY for the first time and tells them about the archaeological wonders he has encountered in the Near East during a discussion about the contents of the next issue of ALLAN’S:
“I have very fond memories of the Eglinton Tournament,” Beaton said to no-one in particular.
An amused gleam appeared in MacNeil’s eyes. “As you would, Robbie. As you would.—Will we have something on the impending arrival of Jenny Lind?” Of course, they would. Wasn’t all the metropolis aflutter to hear the Swedish Nightingale sing? Mr. Lumley was to be congratulated for the coup he had pulled off.
MacNeil grinned. “No doubt the eager audience with their raptures will take Her Majesty’s Theatre apart in the next few weeks.—What about you, Crenshaw? Anything new from Mr. Wodehouse?”
So Alex told them about Layard’s latest excavations, and their plan to prepare for his visit later this year. He described the alabaster sphinx that had been found in one of the buildings of Nimroud, and the strange creatures in the bas-reliefs: ferocious lions and winged bulls with human heads, dragons and fearsome monsters with heads of lions, bodies of men, and feet of birds. He told them of the quarrels in the workers’ camp—inevitably, those quarrels were about stolen property or women: an older wife objecting to the purchase of another, younger bride and involving her father, brothers, and cousins; a father who sought a greater bride price from his prospective son-in-law than had been bargained for; or a man who repented his decision of a bride and refused to fulfill his side of the bargain.
“In other words, it’s not much different from the state of marriage in England,” MacNeil remarked with a thin smile. “Conjugal relations being ruled by money, and all that.”
Beaton snorted. “Truly, your cynicism never fails to astound me, Mac. May I remind you that not all conjugal relations are ruled by money?”
“Speaking of yourself, are you, Robbie?” The editor’s grin widened and turned a tad malicious. “But then you had to wait three years until you could wed the divine Miss Marsh.”
The other man gave him a dark look. “I will tell the divine Mrs. Beaton to feel free to brain you with our cook’s best frying pan when you next call on us.”
MacNeil threw his head back and laughed. “And here I was thinking I was safe because you had scruples about hiding my dead body!—What do you think, Crenshaw?”
“About hiding your dead body or conjugal rights being ruled by money?” Alex grinned. “From my experience, I say you are absolutely right about the latter,” he added wryly. “What else is marriage in this country, but another form of prostitution?” For a moment, his mind taunted him with memories of exactly how right MacNeil’s opinion on conjugal relations was in his experience. But, ruthlessly he pushed these thoughts aside. He was no longer that youth who had not come up to scratch because he was merely a younger son, and had thus been cast aside for a better prospect.
His statement had caused some uproar among the men, as those who apparently enjoyed happy marital relations loudly objected to such an interpretation, while the others elaborated on the joys of bachelorhood.
“We will not have anything about conjugal relations in our magazine,” Jon Allan cut in, his voice decisive. “It’s crass and indelicate and would only serve to shock my aunt and uncle.” He gave MacNeil a pointed look. “In all likelihood, Aunt Allan would make my uncle throw you out of the premises. Or she would come after you with a large wooden spoon.”
(The comment about marriage being another form of prostitution is a nod to Thackeray’s THE NEWCOMES, where this is one of the themes that runs through the novel.) (Yup, I simply cannot resist inserting Thackeray references into my stories – in DEVIL’S RETURN, we will even meet Mr. Thackeray himself. And my favorite 19th-century artist: Richard Doyle. *fan-girl squeeing ensues*) 🙂