Spence Academy for Young Ladies
The very mention of the holiday conjures such precious, sentimental memories for most: a tall evergreen tree hung with tinsel and glass; gaily wrapped presents strewn about; a roaring fire and glasses filled with cheer; carolers grouped round the door, their jaunty hats catching the snow as it falls; a nice fat goose resting upon a platter, surrounded by apples. And of course, fig pudding for dessert.
Right. Jolly good. I should like to see that very much.
These images of Christmas cheer are miles away from where I sit now, at the Spence Academy for Young Ladies, forced to construct a drummer boy ornament using only tinfoil, cotton, and a small bit of string, as if performing some diabolical experiment in cadaver regeneration. Mary Shelley's monster could not be half so frightening as this ridiculous thing. The figure will not remind a soul of Christmas happiness. More likely, it will reduce children to tears.
"This is impossible," I grumble. I elicit no pity from any quarter. Even Felicity and Ann, my two dearest friends, which is to say my only friends here, will not come to my aid. Ann is determined to turn wet sugar and small bits of kindling into an exact replica of the Christ child in a manger. She seems to take no notice of anything beyond her own two hands. For her part, Felicity turns her cool gray eyes to me as if to say, Suffer. I am.
No, instead, it is the beastly Cecily Temple who answers me. Dear, dear Cecily, or as I affectionately refer to her in the privacy of my mind, She Who Inflicts Misery Simply by Breathing.
"I cannot fathom what is giving you such trouble, Miss Doyle. Really, it is the simplest thing in the world. Look, I've done four already." She holds out her four perfect tinfoil boys for inspection. There is a round of oohing and aahing over their beautifully shaped arms, the tiny woolen scarves--knit by Cecily's capable hands, but of course--and those delicate licorice smiles that make them seem overjoyed to be hanging by the neck from a Christmas tree.
Two weeks until Christmas and my mood blackens by the hour. The tinfoil boy seems to be begging me to shoot him. Compelled by a force larger than myself, I cannot seem to keep from placing the crippled ornament boy on the side table and performing a little show. I move the ugly thing, forcing him to drag his useless leg like Mr. Dickens's treacly Tiny Tim.
"God bless us, every one," I warble in a pathetic, high-pitched voice.
This is greeted by horrified silence. Every eye is averted. Even Felicity, who is not known as the soul of decorum, seems cowed. Behind me, there is the familiar sound of a throat being cleared in grand disapproval. I turn to see Mrs. Nightwing, Spence's frosty headmistress, staring down at me as if I were a leper. Blast.
"Miss Doyle, do you suppose that to be humorous? Making light of the very real pain of London's unfortunates?"
"I--I . . . why . . ."
Mrs. Nightwing peers at me over her spectacles. Her graying pouf of hair is like a nimbus warning of the storm to come.
"Perhaps, Miss Doyle, if you were to spend time in service to the poor, wrapping bandages as I once did in my own youth during the Crimean War, you would acquire a healthy and much-needed dose of sympathy."
Excerpted from Rebel Angels by Libba Bray Copyright © 2005 by Libba Bray. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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