The smell was all wrong. I was warm and physically comfortable, but there were too many chemicals in the air. It was too oddly clean. Anxiety gnawed at my gut and kept me from opening my eyes. I was afraid of what I would see, so I tried to continue sleeping, to stay in the realm between waking and dreaming. I dozed, willfully ignoring the truth.
A ringing telephone shocked me out of my stupor, and when I cracked open my eyes, I was crushed by the sight of bright white drywall. No eighteenth century Parisian apartment, this, nor Highland cottage.
The ringing stopped, but it was too late. I was fully awake, and with consciousness came knowledge and rational thought.
I was in the twentieth century.
For a time, I lay in the bed, simply hyperventilating and refusing to face the truth of what had happened. I knew in my bones, in my body itself, but the loss was too much to bear, so I buried my face in my pillow and cried.
When my need for air finally eclipsed my despair, I turned my head to the side and spotted a framed picture on a nightstand. In it, I stood with the arm of a handsome man around my waist. We were both in full dress uniform, by which I could tell he was an Army lieutenant. He looked faintly familiar, but for the life of me, I couldn’t place him. Tentatively, I pulled my hands from under the pillow, and to my horror, my right hand was bare. Jamie’s ring was gone. On the fourth finger of my left hand, there sat a diamond solitaire on a gold band. I could have sworn I’d never seen the thing in my life, nor the bedroom itself.
I froze, listening for any signs that I wasn’t alone. After a moment, I realized that, had anyone else been here, they surely would have appeared at the sound of my sobs. I wiped my eyes, carefully pushed down the bedsheets, and crept to the window. Before me was a residential street lined with automobiles and brownstones.
The sight of modern conveniences sent my stomach rolling with nausea, so I rushed into the hallway and barely found the bathroom before heaving its meagre contents into the toilet. Unwittingly, I clutched at my empty belly, which brought on a fresh round of tears, though I had already known what I’d find. The truth had come to me while I lay drowsing, and I had simply refused to admit it.
With shaking hands, I groped for the light switch, then looked at myself in the mirror. My hair was shorter than I had kept it in Paris, and tangled. I wore a simple white nightgown, which I immediately pulled off. No silvery stretch marks marred my skin, which was smooth and perfect. I didn’t bleed. No cramps gripped my womb. None of these things happened. It was as if I had never been pregnant at all.
I hadn’t lost the baby. The baby simply never was.
I don’t know how long I sat naked on the tile, arms wrapped around my knees. It could have been minutes, or perhaps an hour. I might have sat there until I passed out, and if I was lucky, I might never wake again, or so I wished.
Were it not for the ringing of the telephone, I’m not sure I ever would have moved. But it did, though I had no intention of answering. Instead I took the glass on the sink, pulled the toothbrush from it, and filled it with cold water, then rinsed my mouth and drank. There was this, at least. Basic need. Unable to think of what else to do, I shut off the cold tap and turned on the other. Within seconds, hot water began to flow. Such a convenience. Such a luxury. So totally unnecessary. I held my hands under the steaming water until my skin turned a bright, painful red. This gave me the focus to pull my nightgown back on. I needed to figure out where I was, and when I was.
The next room was a sitting room, complete with small fireplace, two couches, a radio, and a coffee table. Bookshelves lined the wall, and there were two more pictures, one of the unfamiliar lieutenant, this time wearing a sweater and a big grin, and another with the two of us leaning together on a park bench. I wanted to smash the glass and burn the photos, but instead, I walked to the kitchen.
More modern conveniences greeted me. A small refrigerator, a gas stove, an electric mixer. None of these things held any interest in comparison to the open newspaper spread across the kitchen table. I picked it up and turned it to the front page.
The Times. The headline was large, proclaiming Princess Elizabeth announces her Engagement to Lt Philip Mountbatten. July 10, 1947.
I dropped the paper on the floor and sank into the nearest chair, finally admitting to myself the reality of what had happened. When Jamie had violently castrated Jack Randall, for surely that was what I had witnessed, he had erased Frank from existence. Never having met Frank, I had never honeymooned with him in Scotland. Never having travelled to Scotland, I had never visited the stones at Craig na Dun. Never having visited the stones, I had never fallen through time, had never met Jamie, had never… never… I curled around my empty womb and tried to remember how to breathe.
The phone rang, again and again. Had I the energy, I’d have ripped it from the wall.
Was it possible to lose something, someone, that had never existed?
So how did I remember? How did I recall the sensation of the child within me, the fluttering movements, the distinct motions and kicks? How could I remember Jamie’s hands on my belly, caressing tenderly, feel his breath on my distended navel while he spoke to our child? When I closed my eyes, how could I see his ocean blue eyes staring into mine, his wide mouth curving into a bright smile? How could I recall the sensation of his lips on mine, his fingers in my hair, his beard on my cheek, his very sex moving within me? How did I even possess the knowledge of such things, let alone long for them? How was it that I burned for someone who, by rights, I should have no knowledge of? Someone who was, at this moment in time, long dead?
The flash of the diamond on my finger caught my eye, and with it came the memory of the gold band that ought to be there. Oh, Frank! Jamie, at least, had lived a life, hadn’t he? A life without me and long ago, but a life nonetheless. But Frank? While I had made my choice the last time I stood at the stones, and I had let him go, I never wanted this. I never wanted his very existence erased from the universe.
But was that truly what had happened? Was there any chance, any chance at all, that I was wrong? And if I was wrong about Frank, might I be wrong about everything else?
One thing, at least, I could attempt to verify.
The next time the phone rang, I picked it up and immediately slammed it back down. Then, with shaking hands, I lifted the receiver and asked the operator to connect me. And I waited. The seconds stretched out in agonizing fashion until a secretary brightly answered, “Oxford University Department of History, how may I assist you?”
“Can you connect me to the office of Professor Frank Randall?” My voice was hoarse and low.
“Excuse me, who?”
I tried to clear my throat. “Professor Randall.”
“I’m sorry, there’s no Professor Randall here. Perhaps another department?”
I felt as if the very walls of the room were closing in on me. Maybe I mumbled a goodbye or a thank you, or perhaps I simply dropped the receiver. No Professor Randall. No. No.
Was this a nightmare? Was it the most vivid dream I’d ever had? Or was it the opposite? The entire life I remembered, was that the dream? Nothing made any sense. If Jamie had erased Frank entirely, how did I remember him? And I had obviously never travelled through the stones and never met Jamie. So how did I remember him? If we never met, did he remember me?
The thought brought me to my knees on the kitchen tile. The implications were immense, unknowable. What happened to Jamie? Had we actually met? Did he even know who I was? Did he have any idea that out there, somewhere in the vast stretches of space and time, there was a woman whose heart belonged to him, a woman who, in turn, cherished him with everything she was? When I disappeared, had his life reverted to whatever it would have been had I never entered it? Did he stay in Scotland? Did he ever go to Paris? And if he did, did anything happen as I remembered it? Had he dueled with Randall? Had he seen me disappear? If so, what had happened to him after the gendarmes had dragged him away? What became of him? Did he scream for me? Beg for me? Did he wait, locked in the Bastille, awaiting a wife who would never, could never come?
Never? Wait, why never?
I stood bolt upright, realization dawning. We had found each other once, against all odds, against the limitations of time itself. Could we find each other again?
The Château d'Haroué was constructed between 1720 and 1732 by
Germain Boffrand for Prince Marc de Beauvau, Viceroy of Tuscany. The
architect had to integrate into his plans the four towers and the moat
of the predating medieval castle of François de Bassompierre. The
decoration of the castle was entrusted to artists from the Lorraine
region: Jean Lamour (1698-1771) for the gates, the balcony, and the
banister, Pillement (1698-1771) for the interior painting of one of the
towers, and Barthélemy Guibal (1699-1757), the sculptor of the fountains
of Place Stanislas in Nancy, for the statuary. The French park was
designed by Emilio Terry.
“Cuckoldom Triumphant Or, Matrimonial Incontinence Vindicated” and other eighteenth-century novels of note.
I’ve spent about half an hour laughing at these. Some particular favourites:
The Spectres, Or, Lord Oswald And Lady Rosa, Including An Account Of The Marchioness Of Cevetti Who Was Basely Consigned To A Dungeon Beneath Her Castle By Her Eldest Son, Whose Cruel Avarice Plunged Him Into The Commission Of The Worst Of Crimes, That Stains The Annals Of The Human Race
Love And Madness. A Story Too True. In A Series Of Letters Between Parties Whose Names Would Perhaps Be Mentioned Were They Less Well Known Or Less Lamented.
Married Life; Or, Faults On All Sides.
It Was Me, A Tale By Me, One Who Cares For Nothing Or Nobody.
Hesitation; Or, To Marry, Or, Not To Marry?
The History Of A Dog. Written By Himself, And Published By A Gentleman Of His Acquaintance. Translated From The French.
The Charms Of Dandyism; Or Living In Style. By Olivia Moreland, Chief Of The Female Dandies.
A French carving, dating from the 1700s, designed to look like a human molar. At 10.5 centimeters in height it depicts inside its two halves, “The tooth worm as Hell’s demon” an explanation of the toothache as a battle occurring with the mythical tooth worm. The legend of the tooth worm apparently dates back to 1800 BC Mesopotamia and even has its own creation myth:
“When Anu created the Sky, the Sky created the Rivers, The Rivers created the Valleys, the Valleys created the Swamps, the Swamps created the Worm, the Worm went to Samas and wept. His tears flowed before Ea. “What will you give me to eat, what will you give me to such?” “I’ll give you a ripe fig, apricots and apple juice.” “What use are a ripe fig, an apricot and apple juice to me? Lift me up! Let me dwell ‘twixt teeth and gum! I’ll suck the blood from the teeth and gnaw the roots in their gums.” “Because you have said this, O Worm, may Ea sink you with his mighty hand!”
The idea of a tooth worm was finally put to scientific scrutiny in the late 18th century by both Pierre Fauchard — “the father of modern dentistry” — and Philip Pfaff — who was dentist to Frederick the Great of Prussia. Pfaff seemed loathe to totally commit to such a position however (or was, in fact, a wonderfully sarcastic man), writing that, while he himself had never personally come across a tooth worm, he did not wish “to dispute the observations of learned doctors.”
The first wedding favor, common among European aristocrats in the eighteenth century, probably was a bonbonnière (sweets box). Bonbonnière usually contained sugar cubes or delicate confections that symbolized wealth and royalty.
Attributed to Barbara Regina Dietzsch (German, 1706 - 1783): Orange tip, peacock, clouded yellow, silver-studded blue (?), swallowtail, another silver-studded blue (?), scarlet tiger moth, apollo, Jersey tiger moth (via Christie’s)
The top hat was invented by John Hetherington, a haberdasher of the Strand, London. What he called a “silk hat” was a variation on the standard male riding hat of the day, and made from beaver covered in silk.
On the first day he took to the streets wearing it (15th January 1797), he [supposedly] ended up being arraigned before the Lord Mayor on a charge of breach of the peace and incitement to riot. The order had resulted from his wearing “a tall structure having a shiny lustre and calculated to frighten timid people”.
It was said that women feinted at the sight of his headgear, children screamed, dogs yelped, and a young boy suffered a broken arm in the ensuing scrum. Hetherington was compelled to pay a £500 bond to keep the peace. In his defence he said he had not broken any law “but was merely exercising a right to appear in a headdress of his own design - a right not denied to any Englishman”.
It didn’t catch on overnight. Indeed, the topper’s dominance as the gentleman’s headwear for formal occasions wasn’t really established until Prince Albert started to favour it 50 years later.
[Words taken from a scanned article by Eugene Byrne which can be found here. Image: Prince Albert models a top hat]
The robe volante, or flowing robe, featured by Watteau at the center of his painting L'Enseigne de Gersaint of 1721, gave freedom and movement to the new fashion. In fact, it was not the style of gown that was new, but the use to which it was put. Worn over the boned bodice and petticoat, it had previously been worn only informally, in the privacy of the boudoir or bedroom, although its unwaisted shape sometimes made it the choice of pregnant women to disguise their condition (this, at any rate, was how it was worn by Madame de Montespan, whose little ruse fooled nobody: as soon as she appeared in the gown, the whole court realised immediately the nature of the happy event in prospect for the king’s favorite mistress).
Anne Vallayer-Coster (French, 1744 - 1818): A bust of Minerva, armour, muskets, a drum, a standard, the baton of command of a Maréchal de Frace, a laurel wreath and the orders of Saint-Louis and of the Saint-Esprit, all on a stone ledge (1777) (via Christie’s)
‘Tipu’s Tiger’ is an awesome, life-size beast of carved and painted wood, seen in the act of devouring a prostrate European in the costume of the 1790s. It has cast a spell over generations of admirers since 1808, when it was first displayed in the East India Company’s museum. Concealed in the bodywork is a mechanical pipe-organ with several parts, all operated simultaneously by a crank-handle emerging from the tiger’s shoulder. Turning the handle pumps … bellows and controls the air-flow to simulate the growls of the tiger and cries of the victim.
Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India for whom the automaton was built, identified himself with tigers; his personal epithet was 'The Tiger of Mysore,’ his soldiers were dressed in 'tyger’ jackets, his personal symbol invoked a tiger’s face through clever use of calligraphy and the tiger motif is visible on his throne, and other objects in his personal possession [Source]. The death of a young Englishman named Munro carried off by a man-eating tiger in 1792 was the inspiration … Munro was the son of Sir Hector Munro, one of the East India Company’s generals. His death was seen by [Tipu] … as divine retribution against the British invaders [Source - see also documentary].
This plant has also been named Moon Cactus and Torch Thistle since it only flowers at night. It is a native of hot, dry countries where pollinators are more active at night. The large vanilla scented flowers are sometimes said to be among the most beautiful flowers in existence. The flowers fade and die before sunrise.
Top: Hand-coloured engraving, commissioned by Robert John Thornton (1768-1837) in Temple of Flora.
Bottom: Hand-coloured engraving, by G.D. Ehret in Plantae Selecta (1772).