It happened during an August stormy night. Although if somebody asked him, and he himself spent a good time meditating on this, he would not know what was the event that caused such misfortune. The only thing known for certain was that at one point he was lying on his bed, in a small attic that his grandparents set up for when he came to visit on vacation and, the next, he had been awakened like a beggar: shouting and on a pile of straw in an unknown place.
"Oscar, are you slacking off again?"
Of course, that annoying voice couldn't refer to him, could it? That is, because his name wasn´t Oscar.
"You're not going to earn your wages if you keep falling asleep in the corners," insisted a man with a threatening expression, approaching. "Look, I don't care if you are my nephew; you are old enough to take care of yourself. If the boss has a complaint, I won't be the one to stand up for you. It's about time you take a little responsibility"
The aforementioned "Oscar" decided to get up at that moment, perhaps scared to realize that this individual whom he had never seen before and who claimed to be his uncle was coming towards him with a rake in hand, who knows with what kind of dark intentions.
"Right now I´ll get on with... uh... with whatever".
"Whatever he was doing," was what he thought to reply. But he didn´t want the stranger with the unfriendly face to notice the confused state he was in. Besides, there was something weird about him. This guy's clothes looked a lot like the ones he might have seen in photographs at some Victorian farmhouse exhibition. No, not only that, but his clothes as well.
What the hell was going on and why was he dressed like...?
"Leave it alone, you'll get on later." The uncle seemed to calm down at his sudden good will, but his commanding tone didn't stop as he indicated. For now, follow me.
Oscar did what was requested of him, while taking the opportunity to have a look around.
The place where he had regained consciousness was a scantily-sized barn, which could hold up to three or four nags. There was not much to note in terms of decoration, nothing that caught the attention of a newcomer like Oscar, who did not even have much idea of horse riding. Outside, the wide streets of the city of Edinburgh had vanished into a much more rugged landscape. With a house here and another one there, large estates separating each property, it had become a rocky little town that resembled the sea of peace.
The cold summer night, at some point, turned into a sunny spring morning. And Oscar was really starting to freak out.
No doubt it must have been a mistake to swipe the bottle of gin that his grandfather kept for special occasions. But since he had passed the last exams of the semester and, having found such a recipient by chance, the natural decision was to reward himself for his effort. Overall, it wasn't like gin was consumed in that house often either. In fact, it was only done on special occasions. Why not keep it then? It would be nothing more than this time, and he didn't think anyone was going to notice it anyway.
Not to mention that, on the rare occasions when he had tried alcoholic beverages in large quantities, he showed that he had good stamina. Could it be then that the gin was bad? Those hallucinations that were presented to him were not normal!
Above, now he had seemed to see a carriage slide down one of the roads that led to the property where he had stopped with his false uncle.
Roads... That was another thing.
The roads were all unpaved, as if the idea of giving up membership in the European Union had brought with it a savage chain effect, to the point the country had regressed to the 19th century.
Oscar could not even laugh at such a thought since, when he was about to do so, the car he was observing stopped a few meters from him. Then, after greeting the coachman, Uncle Scrooge went ahead to open a door through which a total of five women began to appear, all dressed in period dresses and with their hair in bows that must have gone out of style many decades ago.
The ill-faced man helped what must have been the lady of the house out of the carriage. Later, he did the same with each of her daughters.
Was this a vintage dream?
Oscar still hadn't settled on a feasible explanation when the eldest of the girls approached him:
"I've managed to find out when´s the date!" She exclaimed, not taking into account that her mother was watching her with a tinge of disapproval. "Isn't that great, Oscar? We can already plan something together! Because you're going to help me, right? You promised me you would!"
"Madeleine, leave the service alone," the lady scolded. "We agreed to go over to the Tanners for a while, but you still have lessons before noon. You´ll have a chance to speak to Oscar when Ms. Groves decides you´re done."
"But mother, Miss Groves pushes us too hard with homework. When we finish the lesson, it will be time for lunch. And when we finish lunch, that woman will insist that we still have to brush up on algebra or some useless thing like that, and surely we won't be free until sunset!"
Although Madeleine had protested forcefully, her mother did not listen. As soon as she had finished indicating the rest of her duties for that day, she turned to ask one of the maids if the governess had arrived yet; apparently, not only was she already there, but she had been waiting for the young girls in the study room for a long time.
The lady of the house sighed, thinking of the appropriate words to apologize to Ms. Groves for being late. As the coachman headed toward the stables, the mobster-faced civilian said to Oscar:
"Don't just stand there; come help me unsaddle the horses."
Oscar took a step forward, instinctively. He still didn't know who the hell this guy was, but something told him that it was better not to make him angry. In any case, he was unable to follow him back to the stables as intended, because Madeleine grabbed his arm at that moment and didn´t seem to intend to let go.
"Can't we talk later?" He asked, worried about what might happen next if she didn't budge.
But his concern was unnecessary, because after a simple warning from Madeleine's mother, both her and the rest of her daughters headed towards a nearby mansion and did not look back. What the hell was going through their heads, leaving alone what should be the prized first-born of a wealthy family with an insignificant groom?
"It has to be now; if I wait I'll die! And you don't want to carry that position on your conscience!"
Oscar would have liked to reply that he didn't care, he didn't even know her. That is why he began:
"Why so formal? Call me Maddie, like always!”
"Don't tell me at this point you're going to listen to your uncles and start treating me as if I was a stranger. That kind of formality is not necessary with me and you know it, or have we not been sharing a house since we were children?"
No, that was not true, logic told him. Although, for Oscar, all those pieces that made up an intricate puzzle were, little by little, beginning to connect. The stables clerk who claimed to be his uncle, the mention of a governess by the name of Groves, the lady of fine bearing with her four daughters, one of them called "Madeleine"... He had heard all that somewhere! Well, not heard. “Read” would be the appropriate word.
"Ah, sorry" Although Oscar was still not one hundred percent sure his deduction was correct, he decided to go along with that impulsive girl. "What was that so urgent that you couldn't wait to tell me?"
Someone perceptive would have urged Oscar to tell her about his problems, but that was not the case with Madeleine, who completely ignored such necessity and proceeded to elaborate on her own issues:
"Do you remember I told you that Sophia had come back from London? Well, since father is a tightwad who doesn´t understand the importance of attending the social season when it begins, I had to ask my dear friend to keep me informed."
"Social season, she says..." Oscar repeated to himself, scared.
He knew well that this consisted of a collection of ostentatious celebrations organized by the rich in the big cities. Now that was a thing of the distant past. Somehow, it was as if he had been transferred to a period novel.
"It's about to end, I'm afraid," Madeleine continued. "That´s why it was important for Sophia to let me know about the balls and the people she ran into in the capital. I refuse to stay anchored in this seedy town for another year! But I was lucky, I tell you, during her stay in London, Sophia talked to some of her acquaintances and found out not only the date but also the place where the biggest event of the season will be organized".
"And I suppose you want to go, despite what your father may say."
"Of course I want to! Do you know who the hosts are? Oh, I think I mentioned it to you when they were in the paper last time. But I'll repeat it anyway, it's the Earls of Summerfield, no less! Lord Summerfield holds an important position in Parliament and his wife always organizes the best balls in all of London. If you are someone in this country, you should not miss their end of season ball!"
"Well, I think you're going to miss it, even if your father gave you his approval. Lords, you say they are? In that case, forget it. Surely you´d need an invitation to get in."
Madeleine showed a radiant smile.
Ah, so that's what she wanted..., he thought, uncomfortably.
"Please, Oscar", she asked, clutching his arm again. "If it weren't because you have a more beautiful handwriting than mine, I wouldn't be asking you, but you know that I'm a disaster at these things. There is no way I could forge a document and get away with it".
"So that was the plan... But if I did, I would be the one committing an act of low morals, don't you think?"
"Low morals, why? You´d just be helping a friend in distress, nothing more".
"And for that I would have to sneak into your father's office to get the necessary paper and envelopes."
"You can do it when he's not at home. If you're afraid some of the other servants will come in while you're at it, don't worry, I can distract them!"
"Then there's the stamp part, do you know what the Summerfield house´s stamp looks like? If the envelope does not have a perfect replica of it, we´d be caught on the spot."
"T-that doesn't matter. My parents don't know what the stamp looks like anyway, carving something similar will do. By the time they realize, I will have already been to and came back from London.”
Oscar sighed wearily. He hadn't been talking to this woman for five minutes and he was already bored.
"What about those who are guarding the entrance of the building where the ball will be held? You may be able to fool your parents with a false letter, but do you think you can fool the people who work for the Summerfields?"
"We'll think about that later! Now the priority is my parents believe it so they let me go to the city. When we are there, we´ll see how to solve that".
At this point, Oscar could already tell with complete certainty where he was. It wasn´t a vintage nightmare and he wasn't in an Austen novel, he would like to! In fact, he was trapped inside the worst online novel he had ever read in his life. A story with a shameful title and characters whose misfortunes could have been avoided if they had even half a neuron.
And what was worse, this "Oscar" was nothing but a cannon fodder character who died in chapter sixty.
"What do you say?" Inquired the female protagonist of that romantic cliché. "You´ll help me, right?"
In the novel, the original Oscar agreed to her request without hesitation, as he was in love with her and his usual routine was to grant her every whim, no matter how irrational it might be. But this was not the original Oscar and, far from having feelings of affection towards Madeleine, what he felt was a tremendous repulsion towards everything she stood for.
Therefore, he had no qualms about refusing, not even caring about sounding cruel.
"But Oscar, how can you not help me? Are we no longer friends?" Madeleine looked like she was about to cry. "You´ve always been there when I needed you, you can't just leave when I'm hurting!"
"I cannot? Well, you better get used to it, because this will be the first time of many."
After saying this, Oscar began to walk towards the stables, ignoring the tantrum of a girl that, as he guessed, was too proud to follow him.
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