Friday, February 23, 2007


For a time nothing at all happened, which was infinitely disagreeable to Alice. Lizzie was not much more happy. While she had entertained her nimble mind for a time with calculating their possible trajectories southward (Southampton seemed the most likely candidate, she declared to herself with some satisfaction), there was little to do afterward but admire the countryside, which was lovely indeed, but such an unremitting sameness of even pleasant charms quickly paled for the young women.

Boredom arrived amidst the creaks of the carriage and the monotonous drumming of the horses' hooves as they kept to their comfortable but persistent pace.

Alice, already peevish from the lack of fawning attention, began to feel an illness coming on. This was not unusual for young ladies of Alice’s stature (that’s her civil stature not her physical stature -- though neither disinclined her for such opportunities). In fact, she knew one young girl who spent an entire year suffering from brain fever after an unfortunate faux pas at high tea one September afternoon. Many women were known little beyond their maladies, for their sufferings always provided a safe topic of conversation sure to wring voluble commentary from both interlocutor and respondent equally and tended to discourage all other discussion.

Lizzie heaved a gentle sigh at having left behind the very interesting novel she had been reading (The Echo on the Moors, a cracking good yarn of intrigue, ghosts and family secrets written by an author who modestly chose to remain anonymous), for she had expected only the brief journey to the churchyard, not this prolonged incarceration. She lamented having never realized the vital importance of earnestly carrying reading material wherever one went. Life is uncertain, she told herself firmly, always carry a book.

Alice, however, had convinced herself that she felt rather ill and was growing more distressed by the minute. “Lizzie,” she croaked, as if her life were already hanging by a thread and in the throes of some fashionably delicate condition.

“Yes,” Lizzie answered, although her mind was now helplessly cataloguing all the novels she had yet to read.

“I fear I have come down with something!” Alice wheezed, her breath growing short and agitated.

Lizzie turned to her cousin and was, to her credit, mildly alarmed at the sudden blotches of red on Alice’s cheeks. In the time honored tradition of women since Erishkigal’s time, she put her palm to her cousin’s forehead and looked thoughtful. What was she supposed to feel anyway? She recalled reading Galen’s commentary on the writings of Crispinus, but only that the latter had been discredited by the former, who labeled him lupus in fibula. After a moment, she removed her hand and gazed penetratingly at Alice, although Lizzie was well aware how this intimidated her cousin.

“How do you feel? Give me details.”

Alice considered for a moment. “I have an enormous feeling of lassitude,” she began carefully, quailing a bit under her cousin’s scrutiny, but bravely continuing, “And I feel somewhat dizzy and I have a headache and there’s a tingling… in my… left hand!” Alice raised the injured appendage as if its state could be ascertained visually.

“Do you feel at all confused or disturbed or restless?”

“Indeed!” It was quite accurate To be fair, it was often true for the young woman, who found much of life confusing and disturbing and who could be counted on to feel restless at any event that required much sitting still.

Lizzie pondered the symptoms. “It could be neurasthenia,” she said at last, although her furrowed brow seemed immediately to discount the likelihood of that judgment.

Alice nearly swooned. How exciting! She had never heard of the malady, but loved the name immediately.

“However,” Lizzie continued without a thought for her cousin’s happiness, “I think you’re simply bored.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Alice carefully tucked her mourning handkerchief into the special pocket in her dress. How had she forgotten to do so before? Old habit, she scolded herself, and old habits must be broken. With a sudden rush of giddiness, Alice realized that henceforth she should demand to have all her dresses made with pockets. Why not? Who was to stop her, she thought wildly. With her father gone and mother unconcerned with such niceties, there was little to impede this new era of profligate pocketing. She very nearly swooned.

“Lizzie,” she finally cried nearly breathlessly (if she had in fact been breathless, doubtless she would not have been able to say anything at all, so she must well have had some breath left, at least enough to make some sound), “Do you know what I have realized?!”

Lizzie stared grimly out the window, oblivious to her cousin’s great joy. “Indeed! The kidnappers will be leaving terrible demands for your mother which she will not see until her return to the house after the funeral itself. It may be an hour or more before anyone begins to wonder where we have been taken.”

This was not at all what Alice had been thinking, but as soon as her cousin began to speak her previous thoughts evaporated like the last spoonful of tea in her cup, leaving not even so much behind as a few leaves, although the word “pockets” continued to echo gently in the back of her mind like a small silver bell. However, because Alice spent so little time there, she was unlikely to hear it any time soon. “Will no one miss us sooner?” she asked Lizzie somewhat peevishly. It was bad enough to suffer the indignity of a kidnapping (although if pressed, Alice would be unable to articulate how she might be suffering at all at present), but not even to be missed -- that was simply intolerable. “I should think everyone will be asking, ‘Where’s Alice?’ as soon as they get to the graveside. I am Lord Mangrove’s daughter after all.” Her cute little snub nose was quite out of temper and trembled most unbecomingly.

Lizzie, however, paid no attention to her cousin’s misfortunate, engaged as she was with employing logic and observation to some useful end. “We are heading south at present, and appear to be nearly out of the village altogether.”

“Perhaps we are heading for Africa,” Alice interjected hopefully. While she did not in general have a very good sense of the positions of various continents and countries around the globe, she had a very strong sense that Africa lay to the south of England and was sufficiently confident to voice her assumption out loud to her often censorious cousin. Surely this time she would win a gratified smile from her close relation, of the sort that dear Miss Travers used to award to her often less than entirely correct answers in the school room at home.

This was not, in fact, one of those times.

Lizzie refrained from looking very pained at her cousin’s wild assertion and merely stated, “We shall likely be heading somewhere in England first, although I suppose we cannot rule out Africa as a final destination, but we will be able to guess that as a more likely location after several months of sea travel have indicated such.” While Alice bowed her head in chastised chagrin, Lizzie mused to herself that there was really no way to know what their final destination might be, and likewise, they had little idea by whom they had been abducted. While her own thoughts were better company than her cousin’s somewhat stunted ones, Lizzie had begun to feel more than a little worry about their situation, and this she voiced at last to her cousin.

“I wonder who has kidnapped us?”

“Perhaps it is Kit Barrington!” Alice suddenly thought. “He has fallen madly in love with me and must have me although my father has forbad the union!” She was near to swooning again with the excitement of the plan.

Lizzie brought her cousin back down to earth in the most unfortunate way as was her habit. “Was it not he you were looking at through the window as we were spirited away?”

Logic is all very well, thought Alice, but it does little for love.

“Yes, I suppose you are right,” Alice responded glumly.

Lizzie finally glanced at her disconsolate cousin and, feeling some modicum of pity, threw her a small bone of hope. “I suppose it is not out of the question that he might have arranged for some bravoes to carry out the task for him…”

“Do you think so?!” Alice said with a quick rushing return of her initial excitement.

“No, not really,” Lizzie answered honestly.

Alice sank back on the seat and, feeling another tear about to fall, reached for her lovely handkerchief once more.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


“Lizzie!” Alice cried at last, overcoming her annoyance at having the delightful view of Kit Barrington wrung from her gaze only to feel a growing sense of panic as the carriage declined to slow at all. “What’s happening?”

Lizzie, for her part, was wondering much the same thing, but forbore to reply acidly to the obviousness of her cousin’s question and reached instead toward the intent. Why on earth was the carriage moving at such a fast speed? It might be that the horses had startled at something, but surely the driver would be able to rein them in fairly soon. No, there was only one logical answer.

“We are being kidnapped,” Lizzie said with some horror and not a little worry, but she was unable to conceal completely the exciting nature of the proposition. This was the best thing to happen to her in quite some time. While it did not make up for being orphaned from parents she genuinely loved, it was an improvement even on her secret romance which, while quite thrilling to contemplate, remained a secret unshared and thus, less than fully exhilarating.

Alice, for once, was speechless.

She had waited all her life for some grand adventure. From the nursery to the parlour, her life had been an endless string of more or less what had been expected for a young girl of her stature and wealth. Even the death of her father (which was rather swiftly fading into the back of her somewhat over-taxed brain) failed to meet the expectations of excitement (although the possibility of there being something suspicious about the death raised the stakes considerably for a brief time). But here, Alice and her cousin were on the brink of a very big adventure indeed. So many words expressing her supreme joy raced one another to jump to the front of her mind and expel themselves from her lips, that they met in a great jumble, blocking further thoughts and clogging her throat to such an extent that unfamiliar feelings rose to her breast in the agitation of the moment and unexpectedly, rushed into her heart.

Alice burst into tears. She was quite surprised. Lizzie, too, was shocked. Assuming these unaccustomed droplets to indicate fear, she grasped her cousin’s hand consolingly and attempted to reassure her. “I am certain we will come to no harm, my dear cousin. Undoubtedly some evildoer has seized the opportunity of the funeral to realize some terrible plan, probably to procure money, knowing the wealth of your family.’

Alice was too overcome by her unexpected tears to answer immediately. She wanted to say many things, which unfortunately only made it more impossible to get them out. As unaccustomed feelings battled for predominance in Alice’s heart and mind, a muddle of words struggled to pour out her throat, which only brought forth a tremendous moan and yet further tears.

Lizzie was still nonplussed by her cousin’s behaviour, but thought perhaps a new tack would jolly Alice out of her unexpected emotional display. “Come now, Alice. If you keep crying like this, the coach will soon be full of tears and we will both drown.

Rather than the laughter she hoped for, Lizzie’s words only provoked a wail as Alice wiped her teardrops from her cheek. Lizzie was just about to dab at her cousin’s eyes with her handkerchief when Alice’s eyes lit up with elation, and she reached into her sleeve. At last, she thought, I get to use my mourning handkerchief!

Sunday, February 04, 2007


“There is who?” Lizzie said with some understandable annoyance. She was beginning to think she would never be able to unburden her secrets to anyone, not even to her cousin who was far less the kind of confidant she would have preferred, but there were few in the small number of folk around her who could provide suitable ears.

“The handsome young man from the Assembly Ball!” Alice shrieked, as oblivious to her cousin’s mood then as she had been for most of her life. And certainly, there was the young man she had admired from across the room just before Lady Mangrove had notified her somewhat peremptorily that they were leaving the Ball. Once again it was due to her father’s rather peculiar notions of propriety, in this particular instance, his dislike of comments that ran counter to his own singularly fixed opinions. Alice remained ignorant of the nature of the disagreement her father had had with Lord Darlington that evening (as indeed she remained ignorant of a great many things such as the ultimate depths of the ocean, the distance between England and France [soon to be remedied by experience if not actual learning], the number of houses in Parliament at present, and the airborne speed of the average magpie); however she and mother both patiently bore his grumbling on the carriage ride home which consisted of unedifying snippets of angry muttering that seemed to form little in the way of a coherent pattern, ranging as they did from “Newts!” said with great vehemence, a more measured utterance of “impossible!” and finally the seemingly unrelated, “miners!” (or perhaps "minors!" -- it is always difficult to be sure with homonyms).

Lord Mangrove did not choose to share the nature of the problem with either of the women, so they were left to their own thoughts, which for Lady Mangrove meant peaceful ruminations on spring planting and the dreamy prospects of a Sunday afternoon with her husband grumbling to himself in the library, while for Alice it meant the growing suspicion that the love of her life had appeared just when her father had whisked them away. Over the ensuing weeks, this imaginary affront had grown into a sizable if petty temper for the young woman, who felt a pout coming on at any recall of the subject. Although, to be entirely fair, such recollections had come at greater and greater intervals as the time went by.

However, the sight of the young man at the Darlington’s very gate aroused Alice’s remembrance of this terrible tragedy and she thrilled anew at the sight of the handsome young potential beau. “There, see!” she crowed at her cousin, pointing out the window with a great absence of breeding.

Lizzie sighed, then turned her own gaze outward once more. “Of course, that’s Kit Barrington,” she explained to her cousin just as the young man chose to make a polite bow in the direction of their carriage -- or perhaps it was directed toward Lady Mangrove in her speedy phaeton, which now drew some rather more significant distance from their slower carriage (which may have had something to do with the amount of gin young Dick Spiggot had swilled prior to being pressed into service this day upon realization of the shortage of drivers).

Alice, however, claimed the act as deference due to her as the doubly aggrieved party having missed the chance to assess his charms at closer range during the Assembly Ball, as well as of course being part of the funeral cortège occasioned by the untimely death of her father. All of which made her pale considerably, suddenly recognizing just how romantic her state had become. She cast a furtive eye toward the group bunched at the Darlington gate, but had little time to assess whether they had made the same realization, although she did note that young Mister Barrington had bright blue eyes, rich wavy dark hair and an admirably pale complexion. “I do hope he is not Irish!” Alice thought to herself, once more exposing the shortcomings of her class and its prejudices even as she did hope that he noticed her delicate blush and soft skin even from this distance. Perhaps the Darlingtons would speak of it at greater length before they all arrived for the funerary tea or some other condolence event, Alice hoped.

Lizzie, however, had had no such romantic thoughts clouding her mind. In fact, Alice noticed all of the sudden, she had her head cocked at a funny angle, as if she were hearing something strange. Good heavens, Alice thought, the shock of the day overcoming her natural distaste for such vulgar language, perhaps it is my father’s ghost again, and she quailed in her seat with a little bleat of distress, her new romance nearly forgotten.

Lizzie turned her penetrating vision back to Alice, who noticed a peculiar shine to her cousin’s eyes that did not bode well for her comfort. “I think something is about to happen!” Lizzie cried with alarm. Alice had no time to respond, for at that moment the carriage made an unexpected lurch, then began to pick up distressing speed.