Skip to content

By Laura Moncur in The Dowager Moncur's Spectacles

What the Dowager Moncur Told Isabella: In which the Dowager Moncur finally reveals to our brave heroine about her curious spectacles.

Dowager Moncur's Spectacles by LauraMoncur from FlickrIsabella spent over a year collecting one hundred pound notes from Lord Moncur and reading tales of unexpected horror to the dowager before she was finally brave enough to ask the old woman about her curious eye wear. The old woman pulled the blue lenses from her eyes, revealing their true size and form. They appeared freakishly small compared to the now familiar visage of her magnified eyes.

“My dear Isabella,” the Lady Dowager spoke tenderly, “You have entertained me with stories of horror and suspense. Tonight, it is my turn to entertain you.” The old woman motioned for Isabella to close the door of her room and sat upright on her regal bed.

“MY Lord Moncur was very different from the current Lord Moncur. I love my son and I am proud of his accomplishments. I am even at rest with his lack of interest in producing an heir and his reasons for it. His father, however, was a VERY different man. He was a true gentleman and an ingenious inventor of the kind that Scotland has never known. Money was never an issue, but my Lord Moncur could never rest when he knew that one of his inventions could help people.”

“Unfortunately, the British Empire is not so quick to recognize the genius of Scotland. For years his patents languished in the patent offices. The Americas, however, were excited to hear of my Lord’s inventions. His patents in the United States were eagerly approved. His work took him across the ocean many times during our marriage and I was left here at Moncur Castle. His first voyage came during my confinement. The second voyage came when I was with child a second time. It always seemed that business in the Americas pulled him away when I was in the least position to join him.”

Dowager Moncur's Spectacles by LauraMoncur from Flickr“Finally, my eyesight became so poor that I knew that I would never be able to accompany him on his journeys. That is when my beloved Lord Moncur made me his greatest invention, my spectacles.” She held the three sets of spectacles up to Isabella gingerly. Dropping the other two and leaving them dangling by their chains, she held the blue lenses up to her eyes. “These spectacles adjust my eyesight. Better than any that an apothecary could create for me, they make my blindness almost bearable. Instead of masses of colors and indistinguishable movement, I am nearly able to make out the world around me. Without them, I would be devastated.”

She lifted the yellow lensed spectacles up and opened their ear pieces. “These however, have given me vision far greater than I ever would have imagined possible. My Lord Moncur created two versions of these spectacles: one for me and one for himself. When both pairs are worn, I can see and hear everything that happens to the wearer of the other lenses. My husband took his pair with him to America on his final visit and wore them during his entire waking hours so that I could share in his escapades. Not only could I see what my husband saw, I saw clearly for the first time in my life. I had no vision impairment whatsoever.”

Dowager Moncur's Spectacles by LauraMoncur from FlickrThe dowager paused to peruse Isabella’s face for understanding. She waited for her young companion to respond and Isabella scoured her mind for what to say. “When you wear your yellow spectacles, you can see what another person sees?” The old lady smiled and nodded. “Not only see, my dear. I can hear them as well, but only if that other person is wearing my husband’s spectacles. I used to wake up long before the dawn to see what my beloved was doing in America. And then,” the woman hesitated and drew in a deep breath. “Then, one day, the spectacles were dark. I put them on and nothing showed on the other side. It was then that I knew My Lord Moncur was dead. He would have never forgotten to include me in his adventures.”

The dowager’s unseeing eyes were small without their blue lenses and they stared into the vast expanse of her memory. “I received the notice several months later. My husband had been killed by a mishap with one of his inventions. A random cog escaped from his machine at such a velocity that it killed him instantly, but I already knew that he must have died suddenly. Otherwise, he would have worn the spectacles on his death bed so that I could have rushed to come to his side immediately.”

Isabella was amused that she had acquired the ability to believe as many impossible things as the dowager was willing to say. Not only did she believe that the yellow-lensed spectacles could allow the woman to see all the way across the world, she also believed that the dowager could travel that distance instantly if she needed. Once one impossible thing becomes true, all impossible things are possible.

“For years, the spectacles were dark. Then they were sold to a woman. I was so grateful to see something on the other end of my spectacles, that I spoke to her through them, just as I had done with my departed husband. Unfortunately, she thought that the spectacles were possessed by a demon and nearly destroyed them in fear.”

“Eleven years ago, Artemus Brown bought my husband’s spectacles from a traveling salesman. This time, I found myself on the American Prairie. Artemus was a young man, married and starting a new life in the West. This time, I have been careful to keep silent every time I observe his life through the lenses. I don’t believe he knows I exist.”

A flash of realization hit Isabella and she couldn’t contain herself. “The ice! When Little David and Artemus were cutting the ice, you called out to Artemus! You told me that you shouldn’t have, but you couldn’t help it because the boy had slipped below the ice.” The old lady nodded. “I was lucky. He thought he had heard the voice of a woman watching somewhere, even though there was no one around.”

Isabella reached out. “May I try?” The dowager lifted the yellow glasses to her eyes. “You won’t see anything because it is night time in America right now.” She took the spectacles off her face and handed them to Isabella. The young companion had to stand close to the dowager to put them on because the chain was still securely pinned to the old woman’s mourning dress. Looking through them was like looking at a mirror. She couldn’t see anything save the reflection of her eyes in the glass.

Dowager Moncur's Spectacles by LauraMoncur from FlickrIsabella asked, “The blue lenses correct your eyesight. The yellow lenses let you see America. What do the black-lensed spectacles do?” The old woman held up the old glasses while Isabella sat down again. “I have never worn these lenses.” The dowager held her blue lenses to her face to look at the black spectacles. “My husband said that if our separation ever became too much for me that I should put these on and I would be transported to him.” She turned the glasses in her hands.

Isabella had finally reached her extent of ability to believe in the spectacular. “Lady Moncur, it is impossible for a pair of spectacles to take you to America. I’m sure Lord Moncur was only trying to give you hope when there was none.” The old woman looked at her with a secure smile.

“Miss Davenforth, I have seen my husband create marvels beyond your comprehension. I have no doubt that these spectacles would transport me if I were to place them on my face. The only question is WHERE they would take me.” She sighed deeply. “My beloved has been buried in a churchyard in a small town called Cambridge in America for these last twenty-five years. He told me that if the distance was ever too much to bear that I should put on the black spectacles and I would be instantly transported to him. Not a day goes by when I don’t contemplate joining him.”

The full realization of Lady Moncur’s horror came to her, “But you would be buried alive! As horrific as it was for Berenice, you would choose that fate for yourself?!” The old woman mumbled in Latin, “Dicebant mihi sodales, si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas.” Isabella quickly translated the line from Edgar Allan Poe’s book, “My companion said I might find some alleviation of my misery in visiting the grave of my beloved.”

Isabella stood up and backed toward the door of the dowager’s room. Lady Moncur was mad, it was true. Isabella had never considered her a threat to others or herself before, but now the old woman was most certainly contemplating suicide, as unlikely as the method of it may seem. “Sit down, Miss Davenforth. I cannot abide by such theatrics. I haven’t finished my story. There is one other possibility that I have imagined over the years.” Isabella stopped inching toward the door and listened.

“It may be that the black-lensed spectacles will merely take me to wherever the yellow-lensed spectacles are. In which case, I’ll find myself on the prairie with a wild native and an widowed cowboy.” The supposition that it was impossible for a pair of spectacles to transport a human being was banished from Isabella’s thoughts. Dowager Moncur had filled her mind with so many tales of horror, science and the spectacular that the idea of being moved across the ocean to the Colonies was actually sounding feasible.

“One fate, I should plan for when age and debility has brought me to the point of death, the other should be taken as soon as possible. I have been faced with these two choices for this quarter of a century and I have been paralyzed by fear.” Isabella drew in a deep breath. She thought of the four hundred pounds that she had saved over the last year. If she could last three more weeks, it would be another hundred. Was the offer of independent means worth living in this madness? It was no wonder that the current Lord Moncur had been so willing to pay for her steady and discrete services.


The Dowager Moncur was declared dead several months after her declaration to Isabella Davenforth. It is supposed that the old woman in her advancing senility wandered out of Moncur Castle and must have been kidnapped by gypsies or ravaged by wild animals. Several pieces of Lady Moncur’s jewelry were missing and the household fund had been taken from the castle that same evening. After searching the quarters of all the servants, nothing was found, but the crime was blamed on a stable boy, who was whipped soundly that day.

The most notable things left in the dowager’s bedroom when she wandered off were a cache of blueprints and notes from the previous Lord Moncur’s study. They had been found earlier in the week and the dowager had poured over them with her companion in the days that lead to her disappearance.

Miss Isabella Davenforth, now a woman of independent means, was never willing to comment on her time at Moncur Castle. She returned to the polite society of London, but could never be convinced to gossip about the Dowager Moncur or the current Lord Moncur, no matter how much enticement she was given. Within six months of the declaration of the dowager’s death, Miss Davenforth booked passage on the RMS Europa Blue Riband to the Americas. It was rumored that Lord Moncur paid her fare on the ship in order to remove her as a risk to his reputation, but the tongues of his servants were still and could not be made to speak, no matter how many coins were placed in their hands.