As Gabby hastened herself towards the bar with an armful of dishes, the apothecarist beckoned her, “Hey, you! Come here!”
Gabby curtly informed him, “I work here voluntarily, and I choose the tasks I wish to complete, so with all due respect, I’m not inclined to stop what I’m doing to serve anyone! So, if you’ll excuse me, I need to attend to my own bidding! But if you have a spare minute, could you spread the words to the other guests?”
“I’m sorry to interrupt, miss!” the apothecarist apologized. “I only meant to ask you to dance!”
“Oh!” Gabby seemed quite taken aback by this revelation. “Forgive my rudeness, it’s just that… well, no one has ever asked me that before!”
Clarissa took the plats out of her hands and encouraged her, “Go on, enjoy yourself for a moment! The cleaning probably won’t get done tonight anyways!”
Gabby sheepishly accepted his offer, “I suppose I can join you for a song or two!”
The apothecarist locked arms with Gabby and led her to the dance floor. All of the tables had been pushed aside so that the string quartet could play and all of Cornelius and Elmira’s attendees could regale themselves freely, and as they passed the archway that this furniture had made, everyone stared at this odd pair! While Clarissa doubted anything romantic would blossom between Gabby and a man old enough to be her grandfather, it was gratifying to see a kindly friendship forming amidst the bafflement of many close-minded individuals! After Clarissa set the dinnerware onto the counter, she sat down on a nearby chair and surveyed the scene. Everyone swayed with smiles and laughter, even Elmira! Although she put more distance between herself and her new husband, she beamed as they swirled around together! Lately, Clarissa had only seen her scowling and yelling, and even though Clarissa didn’t particularly care for her, it was refreshing to see her mood so tremendously lifted! Indeed, the entire town abandoned their dreariness and festively celebrated this occasion, which made her wonder if Alastor would strike tonight at all! She couldn’t fathom how he would gain the fortitude to withstand such merriment, and yet, she couldn’t shake the notion of something colossal in the works…
“Egad! A hostess should not have to hide in the corner of her own party!” Kenneth suddenly stood before Clarissa with a wide grin on his face! Clarissa’s jaw dropped- she had no idea she would see him again so soon! He held out his palm to her, which she graciously took. As he guided her to an upright position, he inquired, “Did I shock you?”
“You most certainly did! I just…” Clarissa had so many emotions brewing throughout her that she didn’t know where to start! “How did you…?” She wanted to query him about getting time off from his military duties, but she decided that wasn’t important enough to fret about at this juncture. “I’m so…!” She almost blurted out how thrilled she was to see him again, but she refrained out of concern of being too forward. “It’s Elmira’s party really, I’m simply…” She rid that trivial point off of her tongue and instead chirped, “Let’s dance!”
As they entered onto the area of jubilation, several people stared at them with narrowed eyes and a discerning expression, which Clarissa had gotten used to by now, but the reason behind this most recent judgmental scrutiny caught her off guard! While the others took precautions to muffle their whispers, Abigail did not! “Unbelievable! It’s been less than a month since her husband’s death, and she’s already got her claws on another man!”
Her male companion let out an exasperated sniff. “See! She’s glad Brenner is gone! And yet she continues to claim she bears no guilt in his demise!”
Those two pranced out of earshot, and Clarissa couldn’t refute their allegations, so she put that business off temporarily and turned back to Kenneth to assure him, “I played no role in his downfall!”
“I never entertained that concept for an instant! But… it has been mere weeks since he departed, so are you…? Um, if a man did want to court you, wouldn’t it be far too soon?” Kenneth gingerly asked her.
“Not at all! I’ve already waited an entire lifetime for some romance, so I…” Clarissa saw Kenneth gazing at her questioningly, so she clarified her remarks, “I grew up on a pumpkin farm several miles from here. Colfrith was the closest village to us, and we came every Sunday for church, but we never stayed as long as I would have liked! I yearned to belong here because I grew up quite lonesome at my family’s home! My parents freed our laborers, so a lot of the friends I got to know sought their fortunes elsewhere- not many stayed even though they were offered wages to do so! I dreamt of finding a way to stay in Colfrith, and that’s when I met a lonely bartender. Brenner and I enjoyed each other’s company, but I don’t think either of us were ever in love! I’ve read so many books on amorous adventures, but everyone said that most marriages weren’t like that, they were made for convenience! Still, I had always hoped that Brenner and I might turn our relationship into something more passionate, but we never did, especially not when he began drinking! I was quite fond of him, and I could tell he was on the verge of leaving this earth after years of this, so I grieved for him ages prior to his dying day! He very much convinced me that falling in love only occurred in fairytales, but in the recent past, I’ve learned that’s true, and…”
Clarissa cut herself off and profusely blushed at her own admittance! She hadn’t intended to announce her private thoughts like that, but she got the impression that she could act with honesty around him, so she turned off the filter of what she should or shouldn’t disclose with the public! She did not reveal his name, but she knew he would inevitably question her on it, and she couldn’t escape from his hold in order to hide! All of a sudden, it dawned on her that if he found that confession so disturbing, he would have loosened his grip, not tightened it! She glimpsed back up at him, and he peered at her in a very serious manner. She didn’t know what this signified until he leaned his head closer to hers! Clarissa’s heart beat wildly as his lips got within inches of hers, and…
The door burst open, and everyone turned to see who had shown up so late. It was Bernard! Clarissa assumed he had come for Drusilla, and Drusilla had come to the same conclusion and happily skipped over to him. Clarissa was delighted for her opportune luck until she heard Kenneth swearing under his breath! Clarissa grew confused- she presumed that the two were friendly! Preceding her probing into the matter, Kenneth informed Clarissa, “Listen, I don’t have much time! You have to know… I may have found the key to driving Alastor off of this land! You see, it’s-!”
“No, no, no!” Elmira screeched. The musical instruments came to an abrupt halt, and everyone desisted in their revelry as she ranted, “I do not want these traitorous vermin at my wedding celebration!”
“Darling! That is no way to talk a visitor!” Cornelius gently scolded her. “Let’s see what affairs they have here and-!”
“No! They weren’t invited! They’re here to ruin everything!” Elmira raged.
Bernard attempted to placate her, “Beg your pardon for this intrusion! We won’t be here long!”
Drusilla frowned at that. “You won’t?”
“Not of our own volition! We’re under strict orders!” Bernard regrettably relayed to Drusilla.
“And what would those orders be? Hmm? To terrorize our district some more?” Elmira accosted him. “What are you going to do? Punish us because we no longer support your cause?”
Drusilla objected to that assertion, “That’s not true!”
Elmira hissed, “Silence, you jezebel! I’m glad Cornelius kicked you out of our home!”
“Elmira!” Cornelius reacted in aghast.
“Oh, are you switching sides now as well?” Elmira confronted him. “Do you support lawlessness and anarchy too?”
Clarissa dug her hand into her pocket and clutched onto her vial of salt. Elmira was beginning to use Alastor’s language, and he was long overdue for an ambush! The only thing stopping her from dowsing her in that cleansing powder right then was that painting she made of him. She may have simply admired his character and aimed to mimic his words, so she waited to make her move…
Cornelius disputed Elmira’s accusation, “I’ve taken no sides! That’s my daughter! We may disagree on some viewpoints, but that doesn’t mean we hate each other!”
“We’re leaving now! You can go back to your ball, we’ll be gone in a trice!” Bernard made this declaration before Elmira could blow her top again, and while she stood there steaming, she did not prolong her tirade. The musicians hesitantly resumed their tunes, and a few of the participants nervously went back to dancing, but everyone paid close attention to the soldiers’ actions with apprehension- no one relished the reoccurrence of her flaring temper! Bernard approached Kenneth and urged him, “Come on, Lieutenant! I know I’m not one to give you commands, but they’ll charge you with desertion if you don’t go back immediately! The only reason they haven’t yet is that I convinced the general that your actions stemmed from a delirium from your massive blood loss!”
“Massive blood loss?” Clarissa echoed with fright. She was bordering on fainting at the very image of him sustaining such a severe injury, and her stomach lurched with guilt- she sincerely hoped his encounter with that malevolent apparition hadn’t left him too vulnerable in the battlefield! She admonished herself for not doing more to prevent him from getting caught up in that situation!
Kenneth austerely articulated to her, “Don’t worry about that, I’m fine! Please listen, there’s a possible method to drive out that evil spirit, and it involves-!”
Elmira marched over to them and bellowed, “You’ve spent more than enough time here- you need to go now!”
She attempted to push him out of the exit, but Kenneth resisted her effort. “I need to say one thing before-!”
“No! You must leave this place forthwith!” Elmira roared in a low voice very much unlike her own! People screamed as she lunged for Kenneth, but prior to her laying a finger on him, Bernard put himself between the two and bore the brunt of the assault!
“Stay away from him, you fiend!” Drusilla hollered as she used a candle to light some sage she hid in her dress! Elmira hissed and leapt from the vicinity while Kenneth stooped down to tend to Bernard. Gabby and Clarissa took out their salt and ran towards the afflicted.
Elmira chased the crowd on her hands and legs, and while most of her targets got away, she managed to catch a little girl! As she raised Jane towards her mandible, Cornelius shouted, “Elmira, don’t! It’s your wedding day, remember?”
She ignored him and pursued another cornered group. Gabby flung some salt into her face, and she let out a hideous wail before bounding to another sector. She locked eyes with Mister Basker, and Clarissa swiftly addressed her, “Cornelius is right! You were so excited to say your vows!”
Elmira snarled and rolled in another direction, which made her land at a pair of boots belonging to Oceanus! “Daughter! What has become of you?” She paused for a moment, but then she hopped over to Missus Morrison, who tried to stab her with a hat pin! Elmira knocked it out of her grip and lunged towards her neck!
Clarissa dangled her cross necklace in front of Missus Morrison, which made Elmira recoil! As she pulled back, Clarissa urgently spoke to her, “Elmira, your father is scared! Don’t do this to him!”
“Don’t heed advice from that snake!” Elmira’s alter-ego warned her. For a few seconds, Clarissa worried that Elmira’s prejudice against her would tempt her into siding with Alastor, but then she recognized that Alastor was trying to negotiate with her, so she must have been fighting his influence!
“You’re a Cole now! The Coles run this borough, you’re harming your own citizens!” Clarissa pointed out.
Elmira’s alter-ego spat, “You don’t want these dregs under your jurisdiction!”
Clarissa disagreed, “Yes, you do! You used to paint them as you watched them in your father’s coffeeshop! Don’t forget!”
“Elmira, darling! Please don’t give up!” Cornelius tearfully beseeched her. “I lost one bride already, I cannot bear to lose another!”
“Cease this-!” her alter-ego attempted to quarrel.
Elmira croaked out, “No!”
The alter-ego howled, “Do not ally with the so-called patriots!”
“Don’t let him control you!” Clarissa advocated to her.
“Silence!” the alter-ego barked.
Elmira vociferated, “You be silent! And vacate my body forever!”
With one last ghastly yelp, a fierce gale of wind flew out of Elmira! When she fell to the floor, she appeared completely cured of her plight! Cornelius bent down to assist her, but all other eyes were on the ceiling! It instantly became apparent that their danger would not end there!