Sunday, December 24, 2006


Within a short time, Alice was completely enveloped in proper funeral attire by the roughly competent hands of Mrs. Perkins. Feeling slightly dizzy from the process, Alice wavered at the door, uncertain whether she was indeed ready to meet the prying faces of the public. Her cousin, she noted, had already dressed appropriately. Well, such speedy changes left one in a muddle, she thought crossly, I could hardly remember everything about the day to come.

“Come now, child,” Mrs. Perkins said with a somewhat gentler tone than she had used while dressing Alice. “We need to help your mother on this difficult day, and a quiet,” Alice could not help noticing that the housekeeper laid some considerably emphasis on that word, “and obedient child will be a great assistance on such a troubling day.”

Alice resolved to be just such a child and dutifully trooped out the door behind Mrs. Perkins and Lizzie. They made their way to the sitting room which was already draped in black crepe. At the center of the room on a catafalque, lay the coffin holding Lord Mangrove. In and around the open coffin lay a profusion of blooms that threatened to quite overwhelm the perpetually silent lord of the house.

“Mr. Radley has outdone himself,” Lady Mangrove commented upon walking into the room. “I hope there are still some flowers left for the tea table.”

“My heartiest condolences for your sudden loss,” Mrs. Perkins said sadly with a subtle yet effective curtsey that managed to avoid the usual explosions of knee popping that so often accompanied her curtseys. She was nothing if not thoughtful about the ambience of the moment.

“You needn’t repeat that sentiment every time you see me, Mrs. Perkins,” Alice’s mother responded a tad testily. “Once will have done. Can you allow the trampling hordes of mourners in now? I believe we are ready to receive them at last.” Lady Mangrove was surely suffering from the sudden loss of her husband or she would not be so needlessly curt, Alice thought, ignoring her own lack of feeling with regard to the loss. Surely the arrival of the others would cheer her mother once again. Mother loved parties, Alice comforted herself.

In the few moments before the guests were to arrive, Lizzie managed to whisper a few hints to Alice about how she ought to behave. “Do not giggle, and do not employ your usual mode of conversation. Keep to brief acknowledgments of other people’s condolences. Remember to curtsey for older people and shake the hands of your peers.”

“What about Arthur?”

“Arthur should be greeted with a curtsey and handshake to indicate his special relationship with you.”

Alice bridled at this suggestion. “Perhaps with Father dead, I won’t have to marry him after all.”

Lizzie looked scandalized. “Perhaps not, but if your father’s ghost has made one appearance, it is possible he will make another. It often happens that way in novels. It would be best if we were to avoid such types of public displays at this time, my dear cousin. Think what people would say.”

Alice was tired of hearing this oft repeated refrain, but for the moment she thought it best to not to mention her fatigue at this juncture. “I suppose I should be crying, but somehow I think I feel very little desire to do so.”

“That is often the case at such events,” her wise cousin advised, “but there are ways to adapt. You should find in your right hand dress pocket a suitable black crepe handkerchief which can be as useful for drying your tears as it is for hiding your lack of them.”

Alice was delighted to find just such an item in her pocket. “Now why cannot my usual dresses have such convenient pockets?” she thought to herself, but at once employed the kerchief in the manner Lizzie indicated, dabbing at non-existent tears and fancying herself in the role of the mourner even as her mother idly looked through an old copy of Punch while awaiting the arrival of the cadre of sympathetic lamenters.

Just then, the door of the sitting room flew open and a shrill scream entered the room.

Monday, December 18, 2006


[The above links seem to be getting a little better if no closer to the population of readers I suspect come here. Who knows? Perhaps I should try to slant the vocabulary to see what effects it has…]

If Alice had been holding anything breakable, she would surely have dropped it and had it smash into a thousand pieces. Fortunately, she held no such item, but her face fell sufficient to cause comparatively drastic results. She gasped, her cousin gasped. There was no way to disguise their eavesdropping now.

Indeed, Alice’s father’s ghost shot a glance immediately up to the window, pointed toward the two young women, and intoned again, “Alice shall marry Mr. Boylett!”

Lady Mangrove and Arthur both looked up in surprise as well. Alice could not help noticing that her vantage point above the young man did nothing to improve his appeal. Having escaped the undesirable attachment once, she was displeased to find herself thrust once more into the arrangement. Why did young women such as herself have less control over their lives than they did over their clothing? This reminded her once again of her scheme to add more pockets to her day dresses, but the thought once raised had little time to perch on the outstretched limb of her mind and soon flew off for more welcoming vistas.

“Oh mother, must I?” Alice could not help noticing that while Lady Mangrove grimaced, Arthur’s face took on a look she could only describe in her mind as something approximating the appearance of the Mrs. Perkins’ visage when someone disparaged her blueberry scones. While Alice’s kindly heart could not help regretting having made her distaste for a lifetime union with Mr. Boylett plain, she felt a strange sense of defiance, too, for she really could not imagine that union without a particular sense of dismay that magnified the unpleasantly dull conversations of the years past.

For her part, Lady Mangrove regained her aplomb with customary swiftness, and gathered her gardening tools and parasol. Then she straightened, beckoned to Mr. Boylett and announced in her clear bell-like voice to all present, “The viewing of the body will begin precisely at eleven. I suggest we all get ready to meet the mourners.” With that, she tucked her basket under her arm, turned on her heel and headed toward the solarium.

And that was that. Arthur hesitated, then followed her retreating steps, his head hung dejectedly low.

Above them, Alice and Lizzie exchanged glances, then quickly smothered fits of giggles. A disinterested observer might fault the young women for their mirth so near the deceased remains of a loved one, but the peculiar determination of Alice’s mother coupled with the clear displeasure of Arthur combined to produce a giddy effect on the two that they were helpless to resist.
“Oh my,” Lizzie said, recovering herself first as befit her more mature years. “I fear Mr. Boylett is displeased.”

Alice still muffled a lingering giggle. “I don’t care—I’m sure mother will not make me marry him! She was decidedly evasive when father spoke with her just then.”

“Alice, did you not think it odd that your father’s ghost appeared just now in broad daylight?”

Alice considered this thought for a moment. “It was rather overcast.”

“Alice, that’s not the point. Have you ever seen a ghost before?”

“No, I don’t believe I have.” Alice thought for a minute. “What about Aunt Susan?”

Lizzie narrowed her eyes. “Aunt Susan is indeed rather pale. She is not, however, dead, the primary requirement for a ghost.”

“Ah,” Alice responded with some considerable embarrassment. Her cousin had such a nimble mind that she often felt at a disadvantage in moments like this. “I suppose this is my first ghost, then.” The thought immediately cheered her, however – novelty had its own charm. “Do you suppose Father will be returning regularly?”

Lizzie thought for a moment. “I believe that to be possible as long as he has a reason to do so. In most novels the ghost appears for a particular reason. Once it is accomplished, there is no more ghost.”

“That would be a pity,” Alice said. “After all he died so suddenly, I have hardly had time to get accustomed to the idea. Having his ghost around would make the change lest drastic. Particularly if we needn’t listen to anything he says.”

“Alice, you should always listen to your father,” Lizzie scolded, “Alive or dead.”

Alice thought it was all very well for Lizzie to say so, not having parents to listen to at present, but she kept that thought to herself. I need someone to share all these thoughts with which I must keep to myself, Alice thought further, wondering indeed with whom she might share such scandalous thoughts.

Alice was about to voice another daring thought when Mrs. Perkins rapped sharply on the door and stuck her head around the edge to announce, “The guests – I’m so sorry – mourners have begun to arrive! Alice, your mother wishes you to appear downstairs at once. Good heavens, why aren't you in black?”


There will be a slight delay as our author recovers from far too many social engagements over the weekend (for which she is very grateful). Later today a new episode will appear.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


[Please consider aiding your poor writer by clicking on the above link regardless of your personal feelings about the vendor (at least they are not all crazy evangelical sites lately, though I do wonder why my “content” might lead to ads for the Metropolitan Police…)]

Lizzie could barely contain herself until MaryAnn curtsied and ever so slowly wandered out of the room. It was as if she were lingering for some specific purpose that Lizzie could not imagine. She had no more than turned the handle and closed the door before Alice’s cousin could no longer contain her excitement.

“Alice, can you imagine?!”

Alice could easily imagine many things. Ask her to imagine the finest feast the cook could devise and she would be quickly immersed in delectable mental pictures that varied from cream buns to the very tastiest lemon tarts. Or ask her to imagine the very finest clothes and she could picture herself awash in crisp crinolines and silks from the East. Or ask her to imagine the very cutest of small animals and she could at once see herself surrounded by the most adorable of puppies and the most precious little kittens, with lovely little colts and fillies prancing around the gathering and even an utterly adorable baby wombat beside her (she had once seen a drawing of an adult creature and could only guess that an infant would be too charming for words). Yes, she could imagine.

However, her cousin was in fact asking a rhetorical question and well aware of her young relative’s easy ability. In fact, what she had in mind was revealing a secret heretofore locked in her own private breast without the knowledge even of her guardians. I’ll give you a hint that it has much to do with the King of Naples, but unfortunately, at the moment Lizzie was about to divulge this momentous mystery, a most peculiar thing happened.

Far below them in the garden came a singular sound of alarm. Alice and Lizzie’s eyes met and like one woman (though they were in fact still two) they ran to the window. They unlatched the window and thrust themselves out, leaning precariously over the sash to take in the scene below.

Alice’s mother stood transfixed, a pair of gardening shears in her hand, the other hand shading her view from the morning sun. Arthur stood stock still, his mouth agape (a look which did little to credit him to either young woman, although perhaps Alice more particularly, for she saw in him the progenitor of a bevy of slack-jawed children that she dreaded to be the mother of in any consequential way). A small number of rather sweet honey bees droned on without alarm, nestling in the fading flowers of the honeysuckle, tasting perhaps the last dregs of what had been until lately a rather fine late spring.

Alice and Lizzie, however, gasped in horror as the ghost of Alice’s father sternly beckoned from the rhododendron (or should that perhaps be rhododendra? Alice could not help wondering, confusing her Latin and horticulture). As in life, he was nigh on wordless but grim and formidable. Clearly, he had a mission today, important enough to drag him away from the parlour where his lifeless body lay awaiting the funeral photos and cortege of reluctant mourners.

“Millicent!” Lord Mangrove intoned with a sonorous boom.

Alice could be forgiven for wondering for a moment who on earth he might be addressing. However, it did not take her very long to recall that her mother’s given name was in fact Millicent, a fact the latter often neglected to recall herself.

“Millicent,” Lord Mangrove's ghost continued, “You must obey my dying wish!”

Lizzie heard Alice’s involuntary intake of breath. What could it be?! The mystery hung before them like a small rain cloud waiting for the words of Lord Mangrove to dispel it.

“Do you mean about the azaleas?” Lady Mangove asked hopefully.

Lord Mangrove's ghost was quick to respond. “Not the azaleas! Alice!”

Alice’s attention perked up considerably at that remark, as you can easily imagine. She was always more interested in conversations about herself.

“Oh dear,” Lady Mangrove grumbled, “You don’t mean to say --”

“Indeed I do!” Lord Mangrove's ghost countered rather irritably. “Alice must marry Mr. Boylett!”

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Alice awoke and stretched languorously. It was some minutes later, after admiring the fair weather and the pleasing warmth of the sun, that she finally recalled the shocking events of the day before. Giving a little gasp she threw back the covers and dashed across the room for her wrapper. Where on earth was MaryAnn? She needed to dress at once! Smoothing her unruly locks back with her hand, Alice rang for the maid and tapped her foot impatiently while she waited. For the umpteenth time she wondered why her robe had no handy pockets for her unoccupied hands. Sighing, she went to the window to stare prettily, if vacantly, at the immaculate garden. To her surprise, voices floated up from below, so Alice unlatched the window and leaned tentatively out.

“Oh, it’s only Arthur,” she said to herself with a sigh and began to lean back the better to close the window. All at once she remembered the excitement of the day before and quickly leaned forward once more to see how the young man was faring, although it must be said as well that she took the precaution of shielding her face with the lace curtain. No need to attract Arthur’s attention just because she was moderately concerned with his health. After all, she hardly wanted to encourage his attentions now that she might be free of them.

With the window swinging open she could now hear the conversation in progress.

“…rather than the original head of King Edmund, which of course, if you have been attending my story, you could not possibly believe. After all, if the body of the saint has lain incorruptible lo these many years, with only the thinnest red line to indicate the site of the martyrdom, by site, naturally I mean to indicate the location on his body rather than the location where the martyrdom occurred, but certainly, despite the vendor’s attempts to render accurate arrow marks and even the toothmarks of the wolf in question, surely even the novice collector would be able to –-”

“Oh, do stop droning on, Arthur! I am beginning to regret having spared your life,” Alice’s mother interrupted suddenly, unbeknownst to her, relieving her daughter as much as herself of the seemingly endless murmur of Arthur’s toneless ramble.

“Lady Mangrove!” Arthur said with evident surprise. “You claimed the shooting to have been an accident and I took you at your word. You don’t mean to say—”

“Good heavens, Arthur, must you take everything so personally?”

Alice was just giving in to a most ungenerous giggle when the ever inappropriate MaryAnn tapped at the door and entered. Rather than be seen spying on her mother and former fiancé, Alice hastily pretended to be regarding the fine blue sky, then turned slowly to greet the flustered maid. This behavior should make clear to the unbiased viewer that Alice was a young woman accustomed to being something less than entirely truthful. While one might not call MaryAnn “unbiased” in the most truthful sense of the word (one which your author is at pains to follow implicitly), she was certainly not fooled by Alice’s attempt to cover up her recent eavesdropping.
“So what does your mother have to say to young Mister Arthur now?” MaryAnn asked impertinently, all too full aware of the gentleman’s presumed aspirations with regard to her youthful mistress.

Alice pretended to be deeply insulted by this show of familiarity. Although she usually confided the most personal information in the various maids in the household (a most undignified practice for a young woman in her situation, she ought to know), Alice disliked immensely when one of the maids believed this confidence to be a two-way path. (While this was not entirely fair, it is often the sad duty of authors to have to point out that world is seldom fair and if it were, writers would be better paid; however, it would be unseemly to dwell upon such a point and bring attention to the author that ought really to be lavished upon the characters, so my lips are henceforth sealed on the matter.)

“I really don’t know,” she replied stiffly, stepping away from the window.

MaryAnn ignored her and slipped over to the window and twitched the curtain aside. Alice admired her swift silent movements without ever wondering what other uses they might be put to in the course of a normal day. “I’m surprised he’s back again, after yesterday I mean. He must really love you, Miss,” MaryAnn said, not without a note of amusement as Alice was quick to realize.

“I hardly think that is your concern,” Alice said with all the smug superiority she could muster, “Will you please dress me now.” She turned her back on MaryAnn with swirl of curls that she imagined to have a dramatic finality. In so doing, she missed MaryAnn’s frank look of contempt and further amusement. One might begin to suspect that the young girl might harbor literary pretensions.

If only she had been literate.

She began stuffing Alice into her various layers and flounces with a good deal more roughness than was her wont, but her mistress steadfastly refused to be moved by her evident displeasure and kept her complaints to herself in stubborn silence. MaryAnn was just slipping the soft silk gloves onto Alice’s admirably petite hands when Lizzie burst through the door with her face aglow with a strange excitement, as if she had just discovered a new type of moth.

“Alice!” she crowed, then looked abashed at the maid’s unexpected presence and the three at once retreated into an uneasy silence as MaryAnn put the finishing touches on Alice’s apparel.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


[Apparently there are only crazy religious sites that advertise with Google. It may not be worth it to have the ad spot...]

“What did he say?” Lady Mangrove said with some consternation. “Why is everybody whispering?”

“He’s here to investigate,” Lizzie stated as loudly as she thought could still be considered genteel in front of the doctor.

“Instigate? Instigate what?”

“I am here, Lady Mangrove,” the doctor clarified, his own tone pitched loud enough to rattle some of the cutlery in the next room, “To investigate the murder!”

“Murder,” snorted Lady Mangrove, in what Lizzie could not help noticing was an unsuitably ungenteel fashion, “What murder?”

Doctor Ponsonby snatched a small blue bottle from the table. It was marked with what appeared to be two triangles, one inverted, the other missing a little bit in the bottom line. He thrust it before Lady Mangrove’s perfect nose. “I put it to you that this is arsenic, my lady!”

“Of course, it’s arsenic,” Lady Mangrove continued, her tone now matching the shouting of the others. “That’s my husband’s arsenic concoction. Vinegar I believe,” she added, a finger thoughtfully to her lips. “I believe he mixes it with vinegar. My sister always added chalk, but my dear husband would have none of that. Always preferred the ruddy complexion. Suits a man, he always said, did he not, Alice?”

“Yes, he did, mama,” Alice said, remembering to modulate her voice appropriately. The tension in the room was becoming unbearable, but the young woman could easily be forgiven for hoping that it might endure just a bit longer. It was the most excitement there had ever been in the nearly always silent house. Unused as her ears were to the thunderous tones of this day, it was certainly a pleasant change. Not that she had forgotten the death of her father, mind you, but she should surely be forgiven being caught up in the excitement that surrounded the unexpected events that day.

“So, you poisoned your husband!” Doctor Ponsonby shrieked at last, brandishing the bottle with its horrid alchemical symbol before the stoic face of Alice’s mother.

“Stuff and nonsense,” replied the unperturbed woman. Lizzie herself felt an unaccustomed sense of admiration for Lady Mangrove, whose accomplishments heretofore had seldom crept outside the arena of needlepoint and whist. Alice was quite done in with astonishment. Was this the same woman who meekly responded, “yes, dear” to nearly every didactic pronouncement of her father? While she was temporarily distracted by wondering whether she had used the word “didactic” properly in her thoughts, Alice soon returned to astonishment at her mother’s daring.

“Lord Mangrove was in the habit of taking his arsenic daily. He believed it to be a powerful tonic--”

“Powerful tonic!” the doctor shouted with a great deal of bluster. But his bluster failed him at that moment, and he merely repeated, “Powerful tonic?!”

“There’s no need to shout,” Lady Mangrove continued, “I believe my hearing has at last returned. As I say, he took the mixture of arsenic and vinegar -- with a little basil in the summer times -- on a daily basis for his health. I’m certain the amount of arsenic cannot have been sufficient to have killed him.”

“Well,” the doctor relented, “Perhaps not. I shall have to perform an --”

“Doctor, do you mind?” Lady Mangrove deliberately set aside her needlepoint and stood up. At her low height, one might not initially consider it to be an impressive move, but she had a way of making her not quite five feet of height matter more than people twice her size. “My child is traumatized and fatherless. Please do not injure her further with your talk of horrid and mundane tasks!”

The doctor bowed his head, crestfallen. “I only thought… well, for once I might have to… yes, Lady Mangrove, I apologize most heartily.”

“Never mind! Lizzie, take Alice’s other arm. We must escort her to her room, she has to recover from this terrible blow. And we have a funeral to plan -- call Mrs. Perkins once we’ve deposited poor Alice in her bed.” Alice had a curiosity worthy of her cousin that made her wish to stay there and see what the doctor might do next, but the two women each grabbed an arm and began to whisk her from the room before she could think of protesting. At the door, her mother seemed to recall something to mind and she paused, turning.

“I nearly forgot, Doctor Ponsonby! Do check on Arthur. I’m afraid I shot him. Perhaps you will have a murder to investigate after all.” And she turned back to bustle her daughter to her room with Lizzie’s help, there to administer a helpful dose of laudanum which caused Alice to slip into a dream almost at once.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Alice’s lack of compassion for the young man was understandable, perhaps, given her strong likelihood of being married to him in the very near future. But surely the sight of his pale visage peering round the door would have stirred the sympathies of any heart not already obdurate to his welfare. Of course, a conversation of even five minutes would easily have remedied that initial stirring, for Arthur Boylett was an inveterate bore.

There was no subject on which he could not wax mind-numbingly, tediously dull. And most subjects of his choosing inclined sharply in the direction of boring—land management schemes, tax redundancies and the obscure minutia of the lives of the long dead kings. Alice could scarcely conceal her tendency to yawn when Arthur got going on the effects of adding furrows to increase drainage or spoke at length on Edward the Confessor’s collection of holy relics and spoons.

However, this time Arthur managed to be brief. “Is the doctor on his way?” he exhaled wearily.

Janet was the first to answer, which was handy as she was the only one with first-hand knowledge of the issue. “Yes, sir,” Janet said with another little curtsey. “He should be here directly. Oughtn’t you be sitting down, Mister Boylett?”

Rather than respond, Arthur simply sank to the floor. As he fell, his arm flew out, revealing the rather large stain of blood that had soaked through his shirt. Alice gasped and Lizzie once again blurted, “Heavens!”

Mrs. Perkins, however, was quick to act and dragged the unfortunate young man toward a chair. “Help me, dear” she said to Janet, who stepped forward eagerly enough but gingerly tried to avoid touching the blood-soaked shirt.

“You don’t mean to say my mother shot Arthur, do you?” Alice was impressed. She had certainly never thought of doing that.

Janet tried to curtsey as they lifted Arthur to the chair, causing Mrs. Perkins to grumble. “Yes, Miss, she did, but I don’t think she did it on purpose.”

Alice wisely kept her thoughts to herself. She knew all too well that her mother did not share her father’s keenness on Arthur as a suitor. “Poor mother—she must be terribly upset.”

Lizzie nodded. “We must go to her at once. Two shocks like this will be quite dangerous even for a woman of her robust health.”

She grabbed Alice’s hand and the two walked swiftly to the morning room where they found Lady Mangrove bent over her needlepoint before a large mass covered by a table cloth. Alice was just thinking “Why I’ve never noticed that there before,” when it occurred to her that this was no doubt the body of her father, now frozen in the curious posture Mrs. Perkins had described. She thought perhaps it wouldn’t be quite the right thing to remove the covering to see her father in an attitude he would never have chose to take in life, but her hand inched toward the tablecloth as if on its own.

Before she got to it, Lizzie interrupted her morbid fascination by shrieking, “How are you, Lady Mangrove?” at very nearly the top of her vocal capacity. Why is she shouting, Alice thought, derailing her mind from the curiosity about her father.

Lady Mangrove failed to react, however, sewing away deftly with her needle and thread. It was only when Lizzie touched her shoulder that Lady Mangrove looked up, smiled and announced “I can’t hear a thing. That damn pistol is much too loud for indoors.” She cast a glance at the instrument itself, lying innocently on the small oak table. “Is Boylett dead?” she asked Lizzie.

Lizzie answered no, and made sure to shake her head as well.

“Pity,” Lady Mangrove said, echoing her daughter’s desire. “Though I didn’t mean to shoot him. I thought he was someone else when he walked in.”

“Who?” Alice asked, suddenly realizing that she did not really know her mother all that well. But her mother had not heard her. She was about to attempt a louder shout when the door flew open and Doctor Ponsonby entered, exclaiming, “No one must touch that body! The constable is on his way to investigate this murder!”

Sunday, November 12, 2006


[Please support this narrative by clicking on the link above even if it is some bizarre evangelical madness, because the rumor is somehow some tiny amount of funds will come to me at some point. Once clicked, you may of course laugh hilariously at whatever hectoring you find.]

“Heavens!” cried Lizzie, forgetting all propriety in the shock of the moment. “What can that be?”

Alice stared at her, thunderstruck. She had never heard the word out loud with such a charged tone. Yet, the sound had been startling. The three of them were just turning toward the door when it flew open once again to reveal Janet the scullery maid, breathless and red-faced.

“It’s your mother,” she squeaked.

While her addressee was uncertain, Alice had no doubt she herself had been meant. Lizzie’s mother was seven years dead, and Mrs. Perkins—well, honestly she had no idea whether Mrs. Perkins had a mother living or dead. Oh certainly, a mother she must have had! Alice corrected her wandering thoughts, surely a mother. But she realized that she had never once inquired about Mrs. Perkins’ mother, alive or dead, and was conscious once more—fleetingly—of how cavalierly she treated the trustworthy woman who had ordered her life since before birth. I shall do better, Alice swore to herself—a promise quickly forgotten in the ensuing hours yet one we really ought to honor her for, nonetheless. Alice rightly began to consider whether her disordered thoughts were the result of all the shocks. After all, she could only assume the worst. Her mother, too, was dead, perhaps. And while to lose one parent, might be considered a distinct misfortune, she was quite certain that to lose two would leave her out of all sympathy as someone who ought to have taken better care of her predecessors.

Janet, however, clarified her initial remark to the relief of all three women who evidently had been thinking along similar lines. “She has discharged your father’s pistol!” All three of her addressees breathed a sigh of relief.

Lizzie was the first to recover herself. “Why on earth did she do such a thing,” she demanded of the trembling maid. “Surely, not—” and the horrible conclusion that presented itself to the wise young woman fortunately escaped her struggling cousin for the moment.

Young Janet was quick to restore equilibrium. “Oh no, miss,” the clever maid assured her lady, “it was only on account of the young man. She meant no harm.”

“Young man,” said Alice with a great deal of curiosity. “What young man?!”

“Why Mr. Boylett, of course,” Janet finished, turning to her young mistress with a hint of a smile. Mr. Boylett was a great favorite among the house staff for he generally always dropped large amounts of change out of his pockets as he made his awkward way through the house.

He was less than a favorite of Alice’s, however, as may already be plain. “But my mother is all right?” Alice asked somewhat peevishly. It would have to be tiresome old Arthur who caused such a fuss just when she was thinking she would be free of him.

“Your mother is a bit bewildered and trifle deaf,” Janet continued. “The doctor is already on his way, so he will be able to determine the extent of her hearing loss. Begging your pardon, miss,” Janet said with a hasty cursey, “we’re so sorry to hear of your loss.”

“Thank you, Janet” Alice replied with great gravity. The shock of her father’s death had not yet reached her heart although it had begun to sink into the relatively calm, still and shallow waters of her mind. “How did my father pass anyway? We are sorely pressed for details!”

Lizzie nodded agreement. “We should like to know more about what happened. This is all so sudden!”

Janet nodded sadly in agreement. “I had just brought him his daily tincture of arsenic when he simply keeled over all of the sudden. It was like a bolt from the blue!”

Lizzie was about to bring forth her pet theory that arsenic, far from being the tonic her uncle assumed, was in fact extremely dangerous, when a pale spectre peered from the half-open door of the library and whispered weedily, “Alice, Alice…”

The women turned and gasped.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Alice said daringly, “What is it, Arthur?”

Sunday, November 05, 2006


[N.B. -- please consider clicking on the above sponsored link to help support this free narrative!]

“Dead?” Alice said with wonder.

“Dead!” Mrs. Perkins was adamant.

“Are you sure?” Lizzie asked. After all, Lord Mangrove had been a man of legendary silences, and Lizzie was to be forgiven the doubts that prompted such an otherwise impertinent question. There was time not five years past when Lord Mangrove had gone without more than a harrumph for over six months. At that time Lord and Lady Mangrove had come to some rather ineffective disagreements about a parlour maid. It was perhaps the worst of their silent struggles, but it was far from the only one.

Mrs. Perkins, however,was not to be dissuaded. “Oh, child, I hate to give you the news in such a terrible manner,” she said, flustered, offering a perfunctory half-curtsey.

“It’s all right,” Alice soothed. “I hardly know what to feel. I do feel extremely odd and a bit queerly dizzy.”

“You must sit at once,” Mrs. Perkins and Lizzie said in tandem, both fearing that perhaps the young woman was about to faint. Alice followed their advice, collapsing into a sensible pine library chair. Dead! Her father was dead! Perhaps, Alice thought excitedly, she would not have to marry Mister Boylett after all.

“And how is Lady Mangrove?” Lizzie asked the faithful servant.

“She… she is rather shocked, as you might imagine, Miss,” Mrs. Perkins said, although Lizzie thought perhaps she was not offering the entire truth.

“What happened, Mrs. Perkins?” Lizzie demanded, artfully pulling out a second chair for the wearied servant. “Tell us from beginning to end.”

Mrs. Perkins sank into the proffered chair and a rough hand rubbed her troubled brow. “It was a most peculiar thing,” she began, “Not that people go on dying every day, child. Oh, and my greatest and most humble sorrow for your loss, miss.” She seemed on the verge of rising once more if only to curtsey, but Lizzie restrained her with a gentle gesture that belied her growing impatience with the strange mystery.

“Go on, Mrs. Perkins,” Lizzie encouraged, “How did it begin? Start there and then go to the end. Then stop.”

Mrs. Perkins drew in a breath. “I was just about to set to the kitchen, a million and one things to do as well you might guess – not that such work should be any worry of fine young ladies like yourselves,” she added patting Alice’s soft white hand. “All of the sudden I heard a horrible sound, like a wild bird’s squawk or something.”

“African? Or European?” Lizzie asked, but Alice shushed her with a waver of her hand and bad Mrs. Perkins to go on.

“I rushed to the door of the morning room and there such a sight awaited me! Your father, Miss Alice, was lying on the floor in a most peculiar disarray, arms clutching at the air and legs in a most ungainly crouching position, but him flat on his back like a puppy.”

Alice thought of the image and could not quite hide a smile. “It must have looked most… curious,” she finally said, coughing a little to cover up her involuntary merriment. Her cousin, she noticed, did not grin but looked ever more intently at Mrs. Perkins.

The shocked housekeeper did not notice Alice’s inappropriate mirth, but continued with her tragic tale. “Your mother looked up from her needlepoint with a most shocked appearance, her hands frozen in the air as if unable to move. Until I finally gasped and your mother at last said, and I shall always remember these terrible words: ‘Mrs. Perkins, I believe something has happened to my husband.’ Truer words were never spoken,” she added with a shudder.

“And are you sure — that is, have you truly ascertained, that he is… dead?” Lizzie said gently.

“I have sent young Master Spiggot for the doctor. We shall know soon enough now,” Mrs. Perkins intoned sagely, her composure returned.

Suddenly, there was a loud crash and a scream in the hall.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


"Our king?" Alice demanded breathlessly as Lizzie colored significantly.

"No, you--you misunderstand me," her cousin stammered. "King, King -- I only meant...Mr. King. In Harlow. The collector of...spindly-legged insects. You know my interest in insects of all kinds, Alice." Lizzie seemed to have quite recovered herself, but for the slight pink flush at her neck. However, Alice did notice that she had also tucked the letter in question into the recesses of her sleeve. Hmmm, thought Alice, she had never considered the uses of sleeves. It would render pockets obsolete, although it would require one to wear unfashionably billowing sleeves.

"Insects," Alice repeated with some suspicion still lurking in the shadows of her vocal tones.

"Insects!" Lizzie repeated with some of her former venom. "That will be all, Mrs. Perkins." Lizzie waved off the hearty domestic. "My cousin and I have much to do." The housekeeper looked distinctly disappointed as she curtseyed perfunctorily and slipped silently away, closing the library door with some evident reluctance. "I hope she's not going to go gossiping," Lizzie muttered once the door had whispered shut.

"I doubt Mrs. Perkins has much time for gossiping. There's the laundry to manage, dishes to wash, dinner to direct -- she has rather a lot to do," Alice said, suddenly realizing what a trying life poor Mrs. Perkins must have. I shall not complain about the lumpy darns in my stockings ever again, she thought with a surge of pity that would be forgotten within a fortnight.

"I can only hope so," Lizzie continued, oblivious to Alice's ruminations. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to read the King's letter."

"You mean Mr. King's letter," Alice corrected.

"Alice," Lizzie said, softly stealing a glance at the door, "I have a secret to share with you."

"Oh, I love secrets!" Alice crowed. "Tell me! Is it about that handsome young man we spotted talking to Mr. Bennett at the Assembly Ball last month?!"

Lizzie regarded her cousin with obvious puzzlement. "Why on earth should it be about him? No, no, it is about this letter."

"Oh." Alice had entertained many pleasing thoughts about that still nameless young man in the idle weeks since. "Oh, it's not from Arthur Boylett," she continued with dismay. She knew her father had leaned in his direction as far as her suitors went and was very cross to imagine that she may indeed have to marry that dull young man.

"Alice," her cousin said, rousing her from a growing despondency, "Not everything is about you. This letter is actually from --" and she paused again to ascertain that they were alone in the library, then whispered, "From the King of Naples!"

Alice paused thoughtfully. "Africa?"

"We paid Miss Travers far too well," Lizzie said, frowning as Alice's father was also apt to do when speaking of the recently sacked tutor. "No, Alice. Naples is in Italy."


"The King. Of Naples." Lizzie cocked an eyebrow at her younger cousin.

"Why is a king writing to you?" Alice asked at last.

Lizzie smiled. Alice had long ago noticed that when that happened, Lizzie looked very cunning indeed. It was most unbecoming in a lady. "We have worked out a plan to --"

Just then the door of the library flew open and very flustered Mrs. Perkins shot into the room again. "Oh, Miss Alice!" she sobbed, "Come quick, your mother needs you!"

"What is it, Mrs. Perkins," Lizzie said, somewhat cross at having her own revelation upstaged.

Mrs. Perkins was wringing her hands as she blurted, "It's your father, Miss Alice -- he -- he's dead!"

Sunday, October 22, 2006


From behind the door Caroline Alice Mangrove could hear the unaccustomed sounds of disagreement between her parents; which is to say, she heard her father’s throat clear and her mother’s gentle weeping. Lord and Lady Mangrove had been arguing in near silence for many days on end. Alice (as she had been called since childhood when her nurse trembled before the three syllables of her initial name and, struck dumb, failed to speak again until the child was weaned) feared that the topic of their disagreement was likely to be her impending marriage. To whom she had been given was not yet clear. Her parents had come to some sort of impasse and the meaningful glances exchanged that morning at breakfast could only signal that things had worsened to nigh on a fever pitch. When she heard her father rustle his newspaper, Alice’s wide blue eyes brimmed with tears and she fled the chaos to take refuge in the solarium.

The gentle green fronds of the ferns and orchids soon soothed her troubled nerves. Life was a harrowing prospect when you were seventeen, unmarried and wealthy. It was a very dangerous age—almost too old but still in the realm of possible. Her parents had been too protective, she thought for the hundredth time. As if to chastise her for this disloyalty, the bland face of Mr. Radley, the gardener, appeared before her.

“Evening, Miss,” he said, pulling at his cap, oblivious to the fact that it was only mid-afternoon. “Mind the orchids, they’re a bit stroppy today. Forgot to water them yesterday.”

“Yes, Mr. Radley, I won’t be a moment,” Alice said hastily, gathering up the pages she had spread before her and blushing with embarrassment that he might see what she had. Why do dresses seldom have pockets, she thought crossly, folding the papers roughly.

“The philodendrons are all right,” Mr. Radley called, but Alice had already scurried for the library, hoping to encounter a sanctuary at last. But as she opened the door, whom should she find but her cousin Elizabeth Jane, whom everyone called Lizzie. Well, not the servants, obviously—they in fact called her Miss Elizabeth Jane. As if to demonstrate the fact, Mrs. Perkins stepped in behind her and said “Miss Elizabeth Jane, a letter has come for you.”

Alice was unprepared for the sudden change in her cousin, whose handsome face had blanched white. While she remained unmarried still at the age of twenty, there were those in the family who held out hope for the lively woman. To be fair, there were probably more who held that her very spirited nature was completely antithetical to the notion of marital union. Alice’s own father had set his seal upon her cousin’s fate at the St. Stephen’s banquet not three years past, when he had taken in his niece’s most recent witty retort and said, “Good god, woman, no decent man will marry you.” For some in the family, that was that.

Alice emerged suddenly from her reverie as her cousin gasped. Lizzie clutched the letter to her breast. “It’s from the King!”

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Launching tomorrow!

The day has arrived -- nearly. I have revamped the project slightly, but I hope it will keep to the tradition more closely than what I first sketched out. Perhaps that was part of the problem -- too much planning! If I'm going to commit myself to this project, it needs to be fun. As a serial, it should have cliffhangers each week and it should be something people look forward to reading. Style? Gothic? Humorous?

You'll just have to wait and see!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Coming soon!

Coming soon: a serial work of fiction that will span several months by award-winning writer, K. A. Laity, following in the footseps of such luminaries as George Eliot.