I had not seen Cecily for weeks and so I headed out of London with the express purpose of confronting her father and having it out with him once and for all. I was certain he was keeping her from me and although my beloved had warned me he might take news of his only daughter’s betrothal badly, I hadn’t expected the blighter to lock her away in their country residence.
A cab took me from the railway station to the gates of the property. The fellow left me to walk the long drive under my own steam, as it were. “Well, you needn’t think you shall be getting a tip!” I waved my fist but the carriage was already receding down the lane.
It was dusk and tiny insects plagued my face at every step. I waved them away, like some determined and intrepid jungle adventurer – and I was reminded Cecily’s old man did something in that line, didn’t he? Exploration of foreign climes. Indeed, it was while he was away in deepest, darkest Africa or somewhere equally beastly that Cecily and I had formed our alliance, an attachment that had grown to the extent that I was going to let nothing stand in the way of our marriage.
As I approached the house I noticed what a rundown, shabby old pile it was. The abundant splashes of ivy seemed to be what was holding the place together! Cecily had said something about letting the staff go while her papa was away but even so, the building was falling into wrack and ruin. I saw a way in – to her father’s affections, I mean. When Cecily and I are wed, my not-inconsiderable fortune will be allied with hers and I would be rather keen to spend whatever it took to get the family seat restored to whatever glory it must once have had.
Cheered by this thought, I approached the wide front doors. A door knocker fashioned to look like a ring in a lion’s mouth glared at me but I would not be deterred. I knocked as loud and as assertively as I could then I stood back and waited.
No one came.
After quite an interval had passed, I skirted around to the rear. Perhaps a kitchen door would permit me ingress. Aware that this unconventional entry could only cause Cecily’s father’s hackles to rise, I took my chance, slipping in through an unremarkable doorway and into almost total darkness.
Loath to call out, I explored the ground floor, seeking signs of occupancy. Beneath the grand staircase and a dusty chandelier resplendent with cobwebs, I found a door ajar and voices coming from beyond. I peered through the crack and saw steps leading down to a cellar and the dim glow of lamplight.
“But Papa,” I recognised my betrothed’s dulcet voice at once, “Algernon is an upright, young gentleman!”
I blushed to hear her speak of me so favourably.
Her father’s harrumph indicated his opinion of her appraisal all too clearly. “Be that as it way,” he said with a sniff, “he is not the man for you – or rather, you are not the girl for him.”
I almost stormed down the steps to join them in the cellar. Surely a fellow must be permitted to decide for himself whether a girl is for him and, certainly, without question, Cecily is the girl for me.
But my darling’s next words gave me pause and I remained where I was, keen to hear more.
“And the remedy, Papa? Are you no closer to finding it?”
“I am afraid not, child,” her father sighed; it was enough to crack my heart. “My last expedition proved fruitless and I have not strength enough to embark on another. And that is why I cannot permit your marriage to this man, whatever you perceive his qualities to be. He will not understand and, think on this, it is unfair of you to expect it of him.”
My entire being was flushed with indignation and love for my darling Cecily. I stormed down the stairs determined to avow that whatever condition, bar or impediment may be the cause of his objection, it would not stand in our way.
“Algernon!” my beloved cried. She put a hand to her mouth in shock – and I saw then it was not a hand – the hand for which I had come to ask! – but a suckered tentacle extending from the lacy sleeve of her blouse.
Before her stood a creature, hunched and hideous, part-man, part-octopus. A large, wet eye rolled to meet my horrified gaze. A revolting sucking sound emitted from its scaly beak.
“Papa, no!” Cecily screamed but already his tentacles were snaking around my waist.