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.

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