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A Settled Situation

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1817

Upon her return to England, Arabella Strange discovered she no longer had a residence in Shropshire, nor in London, for her husband had seen fit to take them with him into the strange lands where he now travelled with his former master Mr Norrell and their Pillar of Eternal Night. Arabella did think Jonathan would have done well to consult her before taking such a rash measure, but then he had always been impulsive. Her friends the Greysteels assured her she would have a place among them for as long as she chose.

"I am not so destitute as you think!" Arabella laughed. She was seated in the Greysteels' drawing-room between Flora and Aunt Greysteel. A merry morning sun glinted on the silverware. "Mr Strange did not choose to abstract our funds from the bank, or his possessions in Shropshire apart from the house. Presumably there is no shortage of banknotes or farmland in Faerie, but a comfortable country house is considered essential for a travelling gentleman."

Flora's hand sought hers and squeezed it. Arabella smiled fondly at her large, anxious eyes. "Naturally you would have other friends to seek out, now," said Flora. "We have rather been monopolizing you."

"Do not think me ungrateful. There is no-one I would rather have build trade barricades around me."

"Is there not?" said Flora, and then quickly added, "Is your carriage coming at noon or half-past noon? I seem to have forgotten."

Arabella suppressed another laugh, though she was very much afraid Dr Greysteel caught it and did not approve. Flora was the dearest of girls, but her attempts at subtlety tended towards unwittingly comical. "Come, my love, try to remember--it is coming at noon. I won't have you two thirds into a chapter in some magical text-book when it is time to leave. I have had that quarrel with another often enough."

"I? But..."

"You will be coming with me, of course. Oh, Flora, don't argue. Lady Pole is a dark and enchanting lady with a gaze that will skewer weak men. You will adore her at first sight."

Dr Greysteel coughed and Aunt Greysteel managed an exclamation.

"Arabella!" said Flora. Her tone was disapproving, but her eyes sparkled.

"And when we have met her and adored her, we shall come back home," Arabella added pointedly, "and indulge ourselves by adoring one another until tea."

"My dear Mrs Strange," said Flora, "I see you are quite determined. Noon it is."