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The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (16th Installment)

July 22, 2018 01:20PM
PART SEVENTEEN

At Michael’s announcement, Jane began to feel faint. He and Miss Couzzins assisted her to the chair, which turned out to be incredibly comfortable. Michael stayed with her, holding her hand and rubbing her wrist, while Miss Couzzins went beyond the room divider and got a glass out of one of the cupboards. She held it under a spigot on the counter, and turned a knob. Some water came out, and she filled the glass. She returned and handed it to Jane.

“I can get you some wine, or, if you prefer, a sedative,” she said. Then added, “A ‘sedative’ is a medicine that calms you down when you’re nervous. Not a good idea to take ‘em regularly, unless a doctor advises it, but you’re in a kind of extreme situation.”

Jane took a large swallow of water, and said, “Thank you, Miss Couzzins. Perhaps a little wine would be the thing.”

“I’ve got a Chardonnay chilled,” said Michael. “Or a port, if you’d prefer. I don’t guess your tastes run to beer, but I’ve got some of that chilled, too.”

“The port, I think,” said Jane.

“In the cupboard over the sink,” said Mike to Miss Couzzins.

She went back to the other side of the room divider, got another glass, this one a stemmed wine glass, retrieved the bottle from where Michael had directed her, poured a generous amount, and returned.

Jane took a sip, closed her eyes for a moment as the liquid took affect and her heartbeat slowed, then looked at the man she thought she knew.

“How many lies have you told, Michael?”

“None. None to you, anyway, nor anyone in your family. I grant you, I’ve never told the whole truth. I think the reason for that is obvious. And if I had, you wouldn’t’ve believed me. You’d’ve thought I was mad. But I never told an outright lie.”

“You said you fought in the Barbary Wars.”

“No. I said I fought in the Mediterranean region. Lord Fitzwilliam assumed I meant the Barbary Wars, and I didn’t correct him. In fact, as a 16-year-old Marine, I fought in Iraq, a small country in the Middle East that, in your time, is part of the Ottoman Empire. Mostly I served on a Naval ship in the Med, but I did some infantry fighting, too. Later I fought in Afghanistan, as a Military Police captain in the Louisiana National Guard.”

“You said you were at the Battle of New Orleans.”

“No. I said that, given what I had revealed to that point, it was a reasonable assumption for Miss Catherine to make. My MP unit was activated and federalized into the US Army. We were sent overseas, and, for a short time over there, I was given an undercover assignment to investigate some criminal activity in an artillery unit because I knew enough about artillery to pass. So everything I told you about that was true. I just never corrected false assumptions.”

“Then how could you talk about the battle as if you’d been there?”

“I took a master’s degree in US History. Wrote my thesis on the War of 1812. Naturally I devoted a good part of it to the Battle of New Orleans. So I was quite familiar with the subject. Fact is, my having a history degree, and my specializing in a part of US history that coincides with your Regency era is one of the reasons I was chosen for this assignment.”

“Regency era?”

“The time during which Prince George was acting as Regent. In the years following, it came to be known as the Regency era.”

“Oh.”

Jane took another sip of wine.

“I don’t say I’ve never lied, but I’ve tried to avoid it when possible. And I never lied to you or your family, though I hid things, and didn’t correct any of you when you came to wrong conclusions. Actually, the person I’ve lied to the most is the man who’s technically my boss, Mr. Adams.”

“Boss?”

“Superior or employer. I’ve actually had to show Mr. Adams some forged documents that indicate that I did serve in the First Barbary War and in the War of 1812. I’ve never actually confirmed it verbally, though.”

“And what is your actual assignment?”

“Just what I told you. Tracking down American fugitives. The detail I left out is that those fugitives, like me, are from this century. They’ve used the time travel technology to hide in the past.”

“And when will you allow me to go back?”

Michael looked crestfallen.

“Anytime you want, Jane,” he replied. “I can take you back right now, if that’s your choice. I know this is a lot to absorb.”

“Well, after all, I can’t be gone long, Michael. I should not have implied that you would keep me here against my will. I know you better than that, in spite of all these surprises. But you must see how helpless a situation like this would make me feel. All the power is your hands. I have no idea how to find my way back to my own time. Whether I return to my children or am trapped here forever is entirely within your exclusive discretion.”

“As I said, if you want, I’ll take you back this very second, and then step out of your life. I knew you might react this way. But if we were to have a life together, I couldn’t build it on a foundation of secrets that I was keeping from you.”

“I do understand, Michael. Truly I do. But, after all, if we don’t return soon, I’ll be missed. We’ve already taken longer than a simple proposal should. As a widow, I have a certain amount of latitude that a maiden would not, but I still have a reputation to preserve.”

“That’s not a problem at all. I’d hope you might stay several weeks. That’s why I arranged for Ada to be here. She’ll be our chaperone. There are many things I want to show you, not least of all your own country in this century. You’re something of a folk hero, believe it or not. A folk heroine, that is. And not just in Britain, but all over the world. But no matter how long or short the stay, we can return mere seconds after we left. I just have to adjust the time travel device for a few moments after our departure. As far as anyone back in your time knows, we’ll never even have left.”

Surprisingly, she found the prospect of seeing what changes the future brought to her country, what changes the future had brought to the world, rather tempting. As was the prospect of seeing how this future had shaped the man she had thought she loved, (and, despite the alarming revelations, still did, in her heart of hearts).

“In that case, perhaps, I could rest for awhile. No more than hour or so?”

Michael smiled in relief at her acquiescence.

“Great,” he said. “That’ll give me time to rustle up some dinner. I can get some takeout. Fried chicken OK with both of you?”

“Sounds great!” said Miss Couzzins.

“That should be fine,” said Jane, trying to determine what “takeout” could possibly mean.

*

There was a narrow hallway extending from what Michael called the “living room.” There were two doors on either side leading to bed chambers, one for Miss Couzzins and the other for Jane.

“Mike uses the spare bedroom as a kind of study or home office, but he’s got a couch that folds out into a bed in there. The living room couch also folds out, and Mike’ll sleep there. You’ll get Mike’s room, if that’s OK.”

“I’m uncomfortable putting you and Michael out, Miss Couzzens.”

“Call me ‘Ada,’” she replied. “It’ll be easier on both of us. And don’t worry about that. The fold-out beds are perfectly comfortable, and you ought to know Mike well enough to know he’s not going to let you sleep on a couch.”

“No, I suppose not.”

At the end of the hall was a third door. Ada opened it and invited Jane in.

“This is the . . . ‘privie’ I suppose you’d call it. Or maybe ‘water closet.’”

She pointed at something that resembled both a stool and a giant chamber pot.

“That’s where you do your business,” she said. “When you’re done, use a length of the tissue paper hanging on that roll there to clean yourself, and throw that into the pot, too. Then pull down this lever here,” indicating a lever on the left side of what looked sort of like a porcelain back rest, “and it will all be flushed away.”

“Where does it go?”

“Into a sewer pipe, and then to a processing plant where all the waste matter is turned into fertilizer. When you’re done you can wash your hands here,” indicating a what seemed to be a hand basin bolted into the wall. “Just turn these knobs for the water, and it’ll come out of this faucet.” With that she turned both knobs, and water came flowing out of the spigot. “The one marked ‘H’ is hot water. The one marked ‘C’ is cold water. Turn ‘em both on, and you get warm water.”

“And that white bar is the soap?”

“That’s right. It’s lot less expensive than it was in your day.”

“Amazing! And what is that large porcelain object behind the curtain?”

Ada pulled back the curtain to display a large tub, with two large spigots, or “faucets” as she called them, one up high, one just above the tub.

“This is the bathtub. If you push this lever back the water comes out as a spray from the top faucet, so you can shower. That’s how most people bathe nowadays. But if you prefer to relax in the tub, pull the lever forward, and put this plug in the drain and the water comes out in a gush from the bottom faucet, so you can immerse yourself in a traditional bath like you’re probably more used to back home.”

“Amazing!” Jane said again, shaking her head in disbelief. “And every house has one of these?”

“Usually they have two or three. Apartments like this usually get by on one. Fact is, with three us sharing the space, we're likely to be a little crowded.”

“Ada,” came Mike’s voice from the living room. “My clothes in the closet in the study?”

“Yeah. I moved ‘em yesterday. There’s a small plastic chest of drawers with your underwear and socks.”

“OK,” he said. “I’m going to change and then head to KFC.”

“Fine.”

“What is ‘KFC?’” asked Jane.

“‘Kentucky Fried Chicken,’” replied Ada. “It’s a chain of restaurants that specializes in takeout fried chicken. There’s one in the next town, Upper Marlboro.”

“What is ‘takeout?’”

“You go to the restaurant and order the food, and then, instead of eating it there, you take it home and eat it.”

“So much to take in, and I haven’t even looked outside yet.”

*

When she was done in what Ada called the “bathroom,” Jane went back into the hallway where Ada was waiting.

She showed Jane her room, pulled down the bedclothes, and helped Jane undress.

“I’ve got some more contemporary clothes for you. Mike sent me your measurements. Shouldn’t be anything you feel too uncomfortable in. Mike says you probably won’t like the idea of wearing pants. I will warn you that, except for formal dresses, the lowest skirts usually get in this time period is just a few inches below the knee.”

A few minutes later, divested, with Ada’s help, of her dress, corset, and petticoat, she climbed under the covers in her chemise, thinking she was far too agitated and anxious to actually sleep, but that lying down and resting would be nice.

Minutes later she was in a deep slumber.

*

An hour or so later, though it seemed like mere minutes, she was gently shaken awake by Ada.

“Mike’s back with the chow,” she said. “We’re going to do it casual tonight, since it’s mostly finger food.”

“Finger food?”

“Means we don’t have to use utensils. Like sandwiches, or, in this case, fried chicken. We’re going to eat in the living room instead of the dining area while we watch a movie on the tube.”

“Movie? Tube?”

“Mike’ll explain it all. But you must be hungry, so let’s get you dressed.”

*

Mike had a large book out when she and Ada emerged. She was wearing a white blouse with short puff sleeves, one that she donned merely by pulling it over rather than buttoning it up.

Underneath, instead of a corset, her bosom was supported by something Ada called a “bra,” a shortened version, she gathered, of the French word for a child’s chemise. It was surprisingly comfortable.

Underneath, she wore a pair of very brief bloomers which Ada called “panties,” but which she said were, “called knickers over on your side of the Pond.”

Over that she wore knee-length petticoat that Ada called a “half-slip.”

“You won’t really need it most of the time,” she said. “You certainly won’t with this skirt you’ll be wearing. But Mike said he thought you’d feel more comfortable with it.”

“If this is a half-slip,” she’d asked, “what is a full slip?”

“Similar to what you call a chemise in your time.”

The skirt turned out to be made of the same kind of blue canvas-like material as Ada’s trousers. Ada called it “denim.” Despite its obvious durability, it was surprisingly soft and flexible. Tucking the blouse in between the skirt and the half-slip, she examined herself in the mirror.

“It shows my ankles and most of my calves,” she said with some trepidation.

“Nothing he hasn’t seen before. Compared to what most ladies wear in this time, you’re being extraordinarily modest.”

On her feet she wore a pair of slip-in sandals that Ada called “flip-flops.”

“They’re mostly just to protect the soles of your feet from whatever may be on the ground,” she said.

Jane hadn’t bothered to undo her hair when she took her nap, so Ada did so for her now.

“Wow!” she said. “This almost goes down to your waist! That may be the most beautiful hair I’ve ever seens.”

“It’s too straight,” said Jane. “My sister Lizzy has wonderful curly hair. Hers is dark, though.”

Ada laughed, and said, “There’s a song lyric that goes ‘The straight-haired girls, they all want curls, and the brunettes wanna be blonde,’ but believe me, honey, you are absolute proof that Good Book’s right when it says that long hair is a woman’s crowning glory.”

Ada, being no hairdresser, was not up to the elaborate stylings that Jane was accustomed to. She just tied it up in what she called a “loose ponytail,” which she draped over Jane’s left shoulder.

As she entered the living room, Michael looked up from the book he was holding and his eyes opened wide.

“Holy Moses! I’ve never seen you wear your hair like that! And, for someone who’se never shown her legs in public, you sure know how to use ‘em. ZZ Top could’ve had you in mind when they wrote the song.”

Jane had no idea what that meant, but from the pleased look on Michael’s face, she understood it to be a compliment.

Mike showed her the book he was looking through.

“We’re going to see two plays tonight, right here at home, on that device there,” he said, indicating the large glass-looking rectangular plate on the stand opposite the couch, “which is called a television. The type of play we’re going to see is called a ‘movie,’ which means it was saved at the time it was performed by moving photography and sound recording. Because it’s not performed on stage, it can be much more realistic, because it can be photographed at actual locations, so it seems like something that we’re actually seeing happening. The first movie we’re going to see is what’s called an animated cartoon. The second is mostly live action, that is we see the actors performing it. Both tell the same story, the story I told all the kids at Lord Fitzwilliam’s party.”

Beauty and the Beast,” said Jane.

“That’s right,” said Michael.

He then opened the book, and said it was one of his “high school yearbooks,” a keepsake commemorating one of the years spend at Gonzaga College High, the preparatory school in the City of Washington that he’d attended. It was copiously illustrated with what Michael called “photographs,” pictures captured by a device called a camera that recorded a moment from real life. Ada had a camera handy and demonstrated the process by taking a picture of Jane and Michael seated nest to each other on the couch, then showing Jane the recorded picture on the screen of the device.

Over many years, the technology advanced so that cameras could take one picture after another, as many as twenty-four different sequential pictures in a single second. Then by project those pictures onto a screen at the same rate, twenty-four images a second, one saw what appeared to be moving photographs. These moving photographs could be used to tell a story, in effect a prerecorded play. Within a few years, sound was added.

At the same time a technology that allowed one to send sound over the air from a sending station, to be received by a device designed to pick out those sounds as they were being sent out, “broadcast” was the word Michael used, had been developed. It was called “radio.” Some years after that, it was discovered how to do the same thing with pictures, so that “movies,” which, formerly, could only be seen in specially equipped theatres, could be “broadcast” to a special kind of radio called a “television.”

Still later, it became possible to record these broadcasts so that they could be watched or listened to at the convenience of the radio or television owner. It also became possible to get discs on which the music or the movie was prerecorded, and played through a special playing device attached to the television.

An “animated cartoon” consisted, essentially, of a series of sequential drawings, a series of individual sequential cartoons like those one could seen in the newspapers, A photograph of each individual drawing was taken, and then shown at the same rate as the moving live-action photographs, so that it appeared that the drawings were moving. Actors, musicians, and technicians supplied voices, music, and sound effects, coordinated with the moving drawings. It sounded very tedious to Jane, but, apparently, there were certain kinds of stories that were easier to do as animation than as live action.

It was a lot to take in, and Jane didn’t understand it all, but understood enough to know that they would be seeing an entertainment without having to leave Michael’s home to go to a theatre. And they’d be able to enjoy a meal while they watched.

How wondrous this future world was!

*

The two movies were made years apart, one of them released only a short time earlier. The first one was so successful that the company that made it decided to do what Michael called a “remake” with actual live actors (though some animation was done to make the objects that all the servants had been turned into move).

And it was also delightful to eat their meal seated comfortably on the couch, using disposable plates, and using their own fingers instead of utensils. It was rather like having a picnic in one’s own parlor. It had, all in all, been a wonderful evening.

“There was also a version done for the stage,” said Mike. “’Cesca and I saw that one together. She didn’t live to see the live action movie, though. You can understand why the new song they added, ‘Evermore,’ kind of resonated with me. And how it seemed to apply so much to your brother Darcy.”

“Indeed,” said Jane.

“Well, we’ve got an early day, tomorrow,” he said. “It’s Sunday, so we’ve got to be up for Church. We’ll hit an Episcopal Church for you, first. In fact, the largest Episcopal Church in United States. Then I want to take you to Mass at the nation’s biggest Catholic church.”

(TO BE CONTINUED)
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (16th Installment)

Jim D.July 22, 2018 01:20PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (16th Installment)

Shannon KJuly 22, 2018 06:46PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (16th Installment)

Jim D.July 22, 2018 10:37PM

I knew it! (nfm)

Shannon KJuly 23, 2018 01:27AM



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