6 If There’s a Bustle In Your Hedgerow

Southern England, August 1859

Part 7, read all chapters here

Reginald Buchman, the 9th Earl of Darrington, stared into the eyepiece of a brass telescope that was mounted on his rooftop. It was an amazing apparatus, finely engineered and calibrated and probably one of the most valuable things he owned. He most dearly hoped he wouldn’t have to sell it off.  He turned occasionally to make a sketch of what he was seeing, specifically Venus. He turned up the flame on his oil lantern so he could see his sketchpad in the oncoming blue of evening, then turned his face up to the sky up to view a gorgeous pink and orange sunset. He sighed and turned back to the telescope, but after a few minutes he was distracted by a noise coming from behind the house. He walked to the edge of the flat roof top which was surrounded by decorative spikes. He craned his neck to get a better view, but the growing darkness prevented him from seeing what was making the noise. He stood silently, listening. There it was again, a knocking sound. He supposed he had better investigate. A few weeks ago he had surprised a family of raccoons living in an empty crate behind the kitchen, and his cook was already skittish enough.

Reginald, Reg to his friends, picked up the lantern and descended the somewhat rickety staircase which led to the garden below, wincing slightly when his boot dislodged a cracked piece of elderly and rotted wooden tread, concurrently making a mental note to “Fix that, too”. The staircase was just one of many “deferred maintenance” issues that abounded at his country estate, called Miranda. The house itself was a fairly spacious Tudor affair which had vast gardens in need of trimming, myriad outbuildings and sheds in need of new siding, a large circular driveway in need of pothole filling and gravel, and an enormous, ornately carved, one-of-a-kind front door (Make a note, replace hinges.) The list of repairs seemed to grow every year, yet his bank account did not. It was getting to the point where he may have to sell some of the remaining rented parcels just to keep the (leaking) roof on. Make a note—need new roof.

He was down in the garden now where the stairs ended, just outside the conservatory glass doors. The placement of the stairs was convenient for several reasons, not the least of which was Reg’s ease of disappearing when certain family members arrived unannounced or when the staff were bickering or when he was just up to his mutton chops with the estate disintegrating before his eyes. He would swiftly (but carefully! Rotted treads!) mount the stairs and ascend to the roof and lose hours gazing at stars and moons and other worlds.

He headed for the courtyard behind the house, which the kitchen opened onto. There were empty crates and boxes strewn about as well as several weeks’ worth of stinky garbage (make a note—call the dustman- see if he gives credit) and a broken service wagon. He heard the noise again, but now that he was closer and he could tell it was pounding and… and it was coming from the privy. He was aghast—an intruder in the privy? How utterly bizarre! He had heard about a marquis who had hidden his valuables in the privy, to keep his servants from pilfering them. Perhaps it was a fashion now for thieves to hunt for treasures in such disgusting places. Reg realized that he was now standing directly in front of the outhouse, inside which might be a dangerous criminal, and he was foolishly unarmed for what might be a serious (and smelly) altercation.

He scanned the debris pile nearby and located a broken broomstick, which he brandished at the ready as he approached the small shed cautiously. The door flew open and out stumbled a woman with wild hair which contained a significant amount of flora. Her dress appeared to have come straight off the wardrobe mistress’s rack from a production of Richard III, and he wondered why she was wearing such a heavy garment in the middle of August, in the middle of the country, and in his privy. Mysteries!! How he loved them! Particularly when they turned out to be beautiful ladies, as opposed to hostile miscreants.

“Ahem,” he began. The woman looked up, startled, from her attempt to remove all the leaves and sticks from her blond hair.

“Oh. Oh, hello. Um. Is this your port-a-potty?” she gestured toward the small building from whence she had emerged. Reg nodded, “Er, yes. It is. Although I’ve never heard it referred to as such. Is that French? What did you call it?”

“Port-a-potty. Outhouse.” The woman replied. “What do you have there?” She inclined her head toward the broom stick that Reg was still holding aloft like Excalibur.

“Oh, nothing, just…nothing.” Reg replied sheepishly as he tossed the stick on top of the trash pile. “Right. May I ask- and what is your name? Miss-??” The woman told him. “Miss James. May I ask what it is you were doing in my privy?” As the woman hesitated to answer as she thought about how to respond, Reg blurted out, “Oh, the night soil man! You must be his new apprentice. I did not realize that the man had no sons. And that is very modern of you! Are you here to clean it now?” Jules looked horrified. “I know, I know…” Reg said apologetically as if he understood the source of her anguish. “It’s just that, well, I haven’t paid your father in some months and I’m not sure when I can do.” Reg was mortified for this poor girl who must possess some wretched hidden affliction if she couldn’t marry instead of picking up her father’s unfortunate trade. Perhaps owing to kick in the head by a mule as a child, or maybe–

Jules shook her head and replied quickly, “No, no, no, no. I’m not here for that. I’m lost. I don’t really know where I am.” And that was certainly nothing but the truth. Jules had absolutely no idea where the wormhole had spit her out except that it was not in one of the two places she expected to be – either a lab in 22nd century Oregon or 15th century England in the pissing rain. She assumed that she was still in England, somewhere and some when (as evidenced by the British accent spoken by a very cute man with enormous sideburns.) If this man’s clothes were any indication maybe…Regency Era? Victorian? 19th century for sure. How did that happen? Where was the wormhole?

It was Reg’s turn to be horrified. “I am so terribly sorry. Please forgive me! My name is Reginald Buchman. I apologize for the ridiculous assumption. Now then, in that case, what were you actually doing in my privy and why are you dressed to perform in Hamlet?” It had not occurred to Jules that she would need another cover story besides the one she had concocted for the 15th century in case she had to speak to one of the villagers. Improvisation had never been one of her strengths. She had taken a semester of Drama in college thinking it would be an easy A grade and instead received a very puzzling C minus and a suggestion from the professor to “stick to science.” She put her face into her hands and tried to get into character.

“Hedgerows!” She shouted, insanely. Reg tilted his head.

“Come again?”

“I wanted to see the hedgerows! Everyone talks about the hedgerows in Britain and I needed to see them for myself.” And then she stared at him as if to invite him to prove otherwise.

“Surely, you’re not from here, then?” He asked while processing her rather nutty response. She shook her head.

“No. No, I’m from America. West Coast. Oregon.” Jules sincerely hoped that whenever she was, Oregon actually already existed. Shit! I should have said New York.

Reg looked relieved. Of course she was slightly off, she was an American. That explained everything. Perhaps not everything, he thought, as he mulled over where this woman had just emerged from. Nevertheless, he decided that instead of being an outright English loony, she was merely an eccentric American. Much better. Reg smiled and nodded and Jules decided that it was going well and so she continued.

“So I was wandering about the country side, um, sketching nature and I realized that I was hopelessly lost and I stumbled upon your beautiful grounds and there it was—the loo! And of course I’d been wandering for hours and it was very convenient….and then I somehow locked myself in.” Reg stopped nodding.

“With the lever on the inside of the door?”

“It was dark.”

Reg was becoming intrigued with this odd woman. He decided that her company was exactly what he needed tonight to keep his mind off his rotting estate. “Miss Julia James, you look like you could use a cup of tea. Would you accompany me back to the house? You can tell me all about the Shakespeare company that you ambushed to get that frock.” Jules decided that a cup of tea (and hopefully some of those little sandwiches!) would be just the thing to settle her nerves after being rudely shunted sideways through time. She would try not to think about the fact that the wormhole terminus had completely vanished leaving her shit out of luck (pun intended) as she followed Reg into the house. 

They entered the house through the conservatory doors near the staircase which led to the roof. It was wood paneled room with an entire wall of windows facing the garden. Thick dark wood beams traversed the four-meter ceiling. The white plaster walls gleamed a mellow golden hue from the blazing fire which was crackling merrily in an open fireplace that was surrounded by a carved stone mantel (the dim light hid the cracks in the walls and mantel). In front of the fireplace, atop an enormous oriental rug that had seen better times, sat two long emerald green velvet couches finished in brass nail heads, each flanked on either side by a small table (none of them matching). There were several heavy wooden tables against the wall to the right of the glass doors, lit by a large chandelier hanging between them. One table contained what appeared to be a random assortment of coiled wires, boxes, pieces of metal. The other table was covered in drawings of the planets, moons, and constellation charts. Jules wandered to the second table where her eye was drawn to a sketch that appeared to be the earth’s sun in negative. It showed a protruding arm snaking out the star’s corona- like a solar flare. Jules looked quickly at Reg and back at the sketch. She opened her mouth to ask him about the sketch, but he had gone to the fireplace where a small table was located, and rang the bell sitting on it. Then he stoked the fire for a few minutes and returned to Jules.

“You look very uncomfortable in your pre-Elizabethan couture, Miss James.” Jules nodded, and realized that she had been fidgeting in her heavy gown and was starting to sweat in the heated room.

“You’re right, I am. I would very much like to get out of this thing.” She started peeling off layers of her costume, and flinging them on the floor to Reg’s complete mortification. “Can you untie me in the back?” She asked, turning away then looking over her shoulder.

Reg stuttered, “Er, wouldn’t you rather a maid assists you with your…disrobing?” Jules spun around to see Reg’s cheeks aflame. Oops. He was definitely a Victorian.

“Yes, of course. Obviously. Is there somewhere I can change? And maybe some appropriate clothing I could borrow. I seemed to have misplaced my luggage. In the hedgerows.” She waited with her hands on her hips as a female servant entered the room. Reg looked incredibly relieved by her arrival.

“Clara,” he addressed the woman, “This is Miss James. She’ll be joining us for dinner. Can you please show her to one of the guest rooms and bring her one of Miss Buchman’s gowns?”

The servant raised her eyebrows and then looked sideways at Jules but said nothing except, “Yes, my lord. I’ll see to it. Come this way, Miss.” And she exited the conservatory through a door that opened onto a dark hall and a barely lit stairway. Jules followed Clara while musing about how bloody dark it was in this house with nothing but candlelight, and wondered how often people mis-stepped and fell down the stairs.