It was a dark and stormy night when I dreamed I returned to Maundering—once more a humble village epigrapher, the innocent young bride of Max, the darkly handsome, brooding heir to the estate. But of course he was only the heir because of the mysterious and tragic death of my first love, Guy, whose mad mother still roamed the marshes, calling his name and shooting at passing moles.
It was she who had told Guy and me that our love could never be, because he had been secretly betrothed in his cradle to the fair Amanda. (But she never explained what Amanda was doing in his cradle at the time.) Amanda it was who had emerged from the marsh on that horrible day, dripping green slime and carrying a galvanized iron bucket containing Guy’s severed head, a look of unutterable horror on its face.
The bucket had been manufactured at the Loathly Ironworks, where the wicked Sir Gerald Loathly, Amanda’s father, ground the faces of the starving village poor.
Ah, yes, starvation—my old hound Trevor had starved to death out on the moor, fruitlessly chasing the Ghost Cat of Buffwarren, whose appearance had heralded Guy’s death.
Normally the Ghost Cat lived in a remote part of the fen country, hunting moles and the odd human. But it was the Maunderings’ version of a banshee, and appeared to warn of a death in the family.
Ah, the Maundering family! Ancient, decayed aristocrats, poorer than churchmice despite their vast estates, they had depended on the wedding of Guy and Amanda to restore their fortunes. Despite her father’s low birth—he had begun as the village paperhanger until he lost an arm and decided to found the foundry that made his fortune—Amanda was beautiful and accomplished. But her nature, like the night Guy died, and indeed the night on which I dreamed this dreadful dream, was dark and stormy….
--La Belle Taupe sans Merci