Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's
THE LOST WORLD - Twenty Years Come Yesterday
The Tree House Common Room, 1939
"A poor use of good cloth," Roxton muttered as he passed the balcony opening and continued into the kitchen.
"It's a dress," Marguerite answered absently, although he hadn't asked the question.
"I can see that." The tall hunter leaned through the breezeway, his eyes on the horizon. "Look at those clouds… that rain is going to last four months," his manner was direct, lacking his normal subtlety. "What we need are some thick trousers."
She overlooked his surly disposition; he had endured her own bad temper those early years on the Plateau. From her mending basket she held up a tattered white lace shirt. "Do you remember this?"
A slight smile bent the corners of his mouth; it faded fast and yes was all he said, then his eyes returned to the horizon.
Marguerite knew that John wasn't in the mood to reminisce, but she had a plan and she would not be deterred. "I'm going to use the lace to frame these buttons, here," and she held the old shirt up to the pale blue cloth.
The silence lingered.
She continued in the same light tone, "This is the shirt I was wearing when we left Manaus— the first day we ever shared a canoe."
"Yes, well we don't much resemble those people anymore," his words seemed as much to himself as they were to her, and then he turned, heading back toward the kitchen.
With a confidence she didn't feel, Marguerite called after him, "Be careful, John; remember who measures your inseam." A wave of sorrow lit her chest, but crying wouldn't help— or returning to one of her books, where the heroes stayed forever shiny. Instead, she picked up the scissors and began to carefully cut the lace from her tattered old shirt.
John was right. Cloth was hard to come by; they had traded more than three pounds of roasted coffee beans for this one bolt of fabric. Jungle life was relentless, even for the prepared, and these were lean times. It was just the two of them now, twenty years had come and gone and with it, the changes of time… and age. John was nearly sixty now and she had passed fifty with her last birthday.
They had had opportunities to leave the Plateau— to return to the bustling streets of London. But the rumors that reached this remote jungle spoke of economic collapse and great machines of war. The safe, high walls of the tree house seemed a better option. Roxton had been so well suited to this life; and for herself, this had been the first place that ever felt like a home.
Marguerite lay the delicate lace along the collar of her new dress until she had it balanced just right. As she reached for the needle, her vision blurred. The tears had come anyway. She tried a few meager stitches, but her hand was shaking. With a frustrated thrust, she scattered the materials to the balcony floor and rushed across the common room. Roxton was nowhere to be seen. Of course not, he'd be down in Challenger's old lab cleaning guns or making ammunition or anywhere else but here.
She turned up the hall to go to her room – not the room she shared with John – her old room, a place she found herself far to often these days. The door closed hard behind her, harder than she'd intended. Her book sat open near the pillows of the old bed; she lay down beside it and retreated into the pages.
Upstairs, a door rattled the tree house. John stood idle at the center of Challenger's dormant lab. He was angry with himself for the way he'd reacted to Marguerite's dress. He had several fine pairs of pants for the rainy season, but even if he hadn't, he'd rather she had her dress. He knew he needed to go up and talk with her. She would say everything was fine, he would agree, and tomorrow they would begin again.
As he started up the stairs, he heard a familiar voice behind him, "Like it was yesterday, John."
Roxton turned to see Challenger seated at his work bench. He was faded, young and vital— and not truly there. "Talk to her like it was yesterday," his old friend repeated.
Whether it was his imagination, the Plateau, or a little of both, Roxton took the vision in stride. At the top of the stairs he was not surprised to see a ghostly visage of Veronica crossing the main room. She looked straight into his eyes and smiled, looking much the same as the day they had met. "Like it was yesterday, John," she said, and she pointed out toward the balcony.
Roxton's heart stepped up a beat and he looked out to where he and Marguerite had been speaking only minutes before. She was still there, kneeling and collecting up her sewing supplies. If the Plateau was to have a hand in his apology, he was more than eager to accept the help. But as she came into view, he was forced to steady himself against the table. This was not his Marguerite; she had stood and spun to face him with the effortless grace of youth— and her hair came chasing after to settle long and full onto her back. From the look of her, she had only been on the Plateau for a few years. But unlike Challenger and Veronica, there was nothing faded about her. She was very real and quite certainly here.
The young woman looked at him through the open breezeway and held out her mending basket. "Why is my sewing strewn all about here on the balcony?"
Roxton had to smile. He hadn't heard that accusatory tone in many years. She hadn't seemed to notice that his hairline had receded or that his locks had gone gray. "It's the Plateau, Marguerite," he said, but something in her bearing told him that she was a part of it all.
"I know, John," she replied, and she sat in her favorite mending chair and motioned him over. "What's this," she asked, as he settled in beside her. She was holding the unfinished dress that his Marguerite had started.
It had been so long since he had heard that concern on her voice; she was truly looking at him and seemed to care about what he was thinking. He felt the same in himself and he wondered where it had all gone.
When did we stopped caring for one another? His eyes clouded and she placed her hand on his cheek.
"We never stopped," she said the words as if he already knew them to be true. "Look here." She held up the pale blue dress with a bit of lace dangling from the collar. "I know my heart, John… she would never make this dress for anyone but you."
With a few shallow breaths he collected himself. Even within the bizarre grip of the Plateau, his staunch English upbringing held his emotions from spilling over. But still, he navigated his words with care. "I should have never asked her to stay. All she ever wanted was to get off this plateau," he paused to breathe. "She only stayed for me."
The young Marguerite had begun to stitch lace along the collar of the homespun dress. With the cloth now spread across both of their laps, the fine seamstress was making good time on the remaining trim work. "Do you really believe that I— she would stay here if it weren't what she truly wanted?"
"Maybe once, a long time ago, but now... she just seems tired of me." As he finished the words, she looked up from her sewing and the two held eyes for a moment. A profound sense of loss washed over the man; she hadn't looked at him with genuine fondness for so very long.
"Give her this, John," she said and she leaned in and kissed him, soft... and lingered. As she pulled back, her voice turn light, "All done." She shook the stray threads from the finished dress and held it up for appraisal.
"There's a bit more cloth here than I'm used to," she mused, as she pulled at the waistline.
"It's perfect," John defended his Marguerite. He took and raised the garment up between them and repeated his words. There was so much left unsaid, but as he lowered his arms, she was gone.
John was left with such a warm feeling in his chest; he wanted to share it with Marguerite right away— to tell her everything that had just happen. He had almost reached the hallway when the Plateau interceded one last time. On instinct, he turned to face the kitchen. "I wondered if you might show up," he said.
In the waning evening light, John could just make out the silhouette of Ned Malone. He was standing near the main cooking counter. With an outstretched hand, the young reporter moved aside a large pot to reveal a hidden cake. By the time Roxton had crossed the distance, the image of Ned had faded away.
The message on the cake was clear enough. Roxton could now see why Marguerite had been making a dress— and for her to tie on an apron said even more. He set up the table as he thought she might have done it herself, and then he headed up the hall.
A light tap on the door woke Marguerite. Earlier, she had tried to read, but her thoughts were scattered and sleep had been an easy escape. By the time she sat up, she could hear footfalls retreating back up the hall. Still, she stood and opened the bedroom door.
Confusion and joy beset her— mostly confusion. There, hanging in the doorway across the hall was her finished dress. Even at this distance she could see the meticulous needlework along the lace. The stitching would have taken her hours, but for John… never.
Darkness had settled on the tree house and from the main room she could see the dancing glow of candlelight. She would get to the how later, as for now, she just wanted to try the dress on.
John heard the bedroom door open and then quietly close. He knew that Marguerite had found the dress and he waited for what would follow. Clearly, she had planned this evening; he had found chilled wine, candles for the table and with Ned's help, the cake. Twenty Years Come Yesterday, she had written across the top with pale blue frosting. It had been twenty year ago this May— yesterday, to be precise, that they had shared a canoe out of Manaus.
Seeing the young Marguerite this afternoon had ignited something deep inside of him— a part of himself that he thought he had lost… and then she was there. There at the small step that seperated the hall from the main room, stood the woman he had loved for twenty years. The candlelight was perfect, the night calls of the cicadas and her dress... all perfect.
Instantly, Marguerite could see the difference in John's eyes, a fire that she had so missed. From where it had come, she couldn't imagine. She felt it in her own gaze as well, a shared admiration— an understanding that they would always be there for one another. Words escaped them both, but the silence seemed fitting.
He had moved to the step; the two were just inches apart now. He traced the backs of his fingers along the front of her dress. "You asked me if I remembered this shirt," he whispered, lowering his eyes. "This lace still fuels my dreams."
Marguerite was caught up in the moment; she had no response. John continued, "We had a visiter today. She told me to give you this." He leaned in and kissed her, soft... and lingered. They drifted there for a time, together, only their foreheads touching.
Finally, Marguerite leaned back with a scowl and spoke. Like so many other things, her accusatory tone had returned, "She?"