“Mama,” one young voice was heard to whine, “why must I sit here and play carols when you know I abhor it? Why don’t you do it?”
“Because,” an older female voice retorted with a laugh, “my mother never loved me enough to force me to learn the piano.”
The reply was accompanied by dramatic musical chords of a distinctly antagonistic interpretation of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
“Mama, I wish you loved me just a little … tiny … smidgeon … less!”
Dazed by the general uproar, Lord Westcliff closed the door of his study and handed Sebastian a brandy. “This is the only safe place in the house,” he said. “I’d barricade the door, but there are still a few unfortunate men fighting their way through. I would hate to deny them their last chance of survival.”
“It’s every man for himself,” Sebastian said, taking a sip of brandy and settling into a comfortable chair. “If our sons and sons-in-law didn’t have the good sense to avoid the main hall, they deserve to be trampled.”
“Such a loss,” Westcliff said regretfully, pouring a brandy for himself. “Ah, well … I have some news to share about MacRae and Merritt.”
“I already know,” Sebastian said smugly. “They’re going to arrive tonight instead of tomorrow morning.”
Westcliff, who loved knowing things other people didn’t, smiled even more smugly. “It appears you haven’t been told why, however.”
Sebastian’s brows lifted.
Ceremoniously Westcliff took a folded letter from his pocket. “Lillian shared this with me. After I read it, I told her I had to be the one to tell you. I begged, as a matter of fact. She refused, and then I had to promise … no, we won’t even go into what I had to promise. However, she said I could give you the news as long as we’re able to act surprised when they announce it.”
“Good God, Westcliff, you’re positively giddy. Give that to me.” Leaning forward, Sebastian took the letter. He scanned it quickly, and a grin broke out on his face. “Well, naturally. Keir is descended from my line. Our virility is unmatched.”
Westcliff tried to look severe. “You realize, Kingston, that my first grandchild has been sired by your illegitimate offspring.”
“Yes, yes, who cares about legitimacy. This child will be magnificent. With my looks and your brains …”
“It could have my looks and your brains,” Westcliff pointed out.
“Don’t be such a pessimist. Bring the brandy bottle over here, and we’ll start making plans.”
And the two old friends grinned at each other as they clinked their glasses.
I must confide that my much-adored husband, Greg, will no longer accompany me to Costco. As he points out, no matter how short my shopping list is, I start to wander up and down the aisles in a daze, adding very large boxes and tubs of unnecessary things to the cart.
To my chagrin, this is also a pretty good description of my book-researching habits. While I was writing Devil in Disguise, there were so many fascinating subjects to learn about—Islay!—whisky distilling!—that hours would fly by with too much reading and not enough writing. Helpfully, Greg would occasionally stick his head into my office, perceive my lack of progress and shout “Stay out of Costco!” (Well, maybe he didn’t shout; it was more of a vigorous exclamation.)
But if I hadn’t let myself wander a little here and there, I wouldn’t have found out about Victorian Sippy Cups. I mean, mustache cups. The Victorian era was a time of elaborately styled and curled mustaches that required wax to keep their shape. And when that waxed facial hair came too close to a cup of tea or coffee, the wax would melt into the beverage. Euw. In the 1860s, however, this mortifying dilemma was solved by the British potter Harvey Adams, who invented a cup with a little ledge set inside the rim to shield a man’s upper lip from heat.
The expression “barm-leavened” refers to bread that’s been leavened by foam from ale. Some very old bread recipes call for barm as one of the ingredients. The meaning of the word “frothy” is why silly or not-quite-sane people were sometimes referred to as “barmy.”
In 1853, the Scottish physician Alexander Wood invented the hypodermic syringe with a hollow needle, using the sting of the bee as his model. It was a huge leap forward in pain relief and, of course, has been used in countless other applications, including vaccinations. Thank you, Dr. Wood. (And thank you, bees.)
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