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.