Tuesday, March 27, 2007


We beg to apologize for the lack of episode by our normally reliable narrator, but we regret to inform you that a sudden brain fever has laid her low. It is fondly hoped that after many long sighs, a few tears and the assiduous application of leeches, she will be back to work in a timely manner next week.

Letters of sympathetic fellow feeling, as always, are welcome.

(Rumors that she was instead gallivanting around Oxford have been strenuously denied.)

The Management

Sunday, March 18, 2007


The squat man in dark clothing with the mask over his face hurried the two young women forward with his pistol and his muttered demands. “Get along, get along, would you, haven’t got all day, hurry along.”

It was most provoking when one was doing one’s best to ‘get along’ and yet still be told to ‘get along,’ Alice thought with some peevishness. She turned to Lizzie to repeat her sentiments aloud, but for her effort only received a very peremptory poke in the small of her back from the brigand’s pistol.

“The nerve of the man!” Alice thought. “We have never even been introduced.” No, she affirmed to no one but herself, this cannot be the work of Kit Barrington. Surely he would have taken the effort to hire experienced and kindly henchmen to carry out his surreptitious deeds. Alice contemplated for some time her knowing (and recalling, it must be added) a word like “surreptitious” with a good deal of unbecoming smugness.

Lizzie meanwhile was trying to gain as much information from her surroundings as their hurried march would allow. They went into the building with out much more detail being visible apart from that sign. “The Pig and Whistle” presumably meant this was a public house (how common, Lizzie thought with a shiver) but it appeared to be empty which was not the usual practice of such locations as she understood it. Lizzie had an abhorrence of alcohol quite out of all reason (something the King of Naples had been trying to get her to overcome in their rather considerable correspondence over the many months, for his land was rich in the grape with many a fruity reserve delectable and sweet with a variety of local dishes) and attached, perhaps not unreasonably, the taint of alcohol to her Platonic ideal of the public house.

Much to her surprise, the interior of the place, while dark, smelled pleasant and seemed to be remarkably clean. While the two captives were hustled along a side corridor toward the back of the house where the lodgings appeared to be, Lizzie had scant seconds win which to glimpse solemn oak paneling and comfortable benches for the public, presumably, to cozy up to one another. It was with a bit of a shock that she realized it all looked very comfortable indeed.

One can almost see a smile crossing the face of the King of Naples in his distant land at that moment.

However, it was far away and of no immediate concern to the events involving the kidnapped young women who were whisked into a chamber by the squat man, who slammed the door behind them, trapping them once again, although in a new location which at least had novelty to recommend it, Lizzie thought with a small brightening of hope in her breast.

Left quite alone for the moment, the two women sighed with relief, hugged briefly, then turned to examine their new confines. It was a dismal room with two wooden chairs, a table, a tiny and very dirty window which showed only the courtyard where their carriage yet awaited (although without its original pair of horses), a small painting of King Henry the Eighth (rendered very poorly it must be added, for they could recognize him only from the general outlines, his face giving little clue to his identity and in fact appearing almost to have melted perhaps in the sun of some zealous anti-Catholic endeavour) and a second door.

“Dare we try the door?” Alice asked with some trepidation.

Lizzie took a breath and, deciding fortune favors the bold, strode across the room to take firm hold of the handle, turning it down, with all her courage she flung it open.

It was a small room with a water closet.

Both young women blushed. Raised with a proper sense of modesty and decorum, they were supremely embarrassed by this needful invention, and quite unable to admit, despite the thunderous need on both their parts, of the desire to use said apparatus.

They might well have stood there for a very long time, silent and bursting, had not the other door sprang open to admit a most curious figure that made the two women shudder and leap to each other’s comfort.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


There was no mistake about it: the carriage was slowing its relentless pace.

The two women hugged one another with excitement. “Perhaps we will be freed!” Alice said excitedly. The swift return of hope was enough to fill her cheeks with the flush of happiness again. “Perhaps it was all a mistake and we’re back home again!”

Lizzie, however, was slower to leap to frivolous conclusions. “Alice, I believe we would have seen more recognizable landmarks by now if we had returned,” she said, returning to a lecturing mode. “And note how the sun continues on the same side of the carriage. If we had changed directions, we should have noted a change in the direction of the sun as well.”

Logic was a dry subject, Alice thought to herself, but meekly replied, “As you say, Lizzie. But surely we have arrived somewhere.”

Indeed, the horses were slowing to a walk, no doubt fatigued by their hasty journey. Lizzie furtively peeked out the window of the carriage but found it difficult to make out where they were. “I see a sort of house, or perhaps it’s a public house. There is a sign hanging outside it, so I suspect it may be the latter.”

“It could be a baker’s,” Alice ventured shyly.
“Perhaps,” Lizzie admitted, “But I suppose it more likely to be a kind of place for refreshment. See! We are heading around the building. Perhaps the horses will be stabled and we will have something cool to drink.”

“Look, there is a pot of flowers!” Alice meant to be helpful, but even she could not see anything of gain in that observation.

“We have stopped!” Lizzie had unconsciously lowered her voice to a whisper. At last, their abductor might make himself known. The excitement was nigh on intolerable. The two felt the carriage lurch as their driver leapt down from the box. Voices drew near, undoubtedly addressing their abductor. The horses were being led away, undoubtedly to be well-fed and watered. Alice gasped as footsteps approached the side of the carriage; Lizzie grabbed her hand and they both stared toward the door.

When it suddenly opened, however, they were immediately blinded by the bright sunlight streaming through and ruining their first glance at the daring highwayman. Well, Lizzie had fancied some dashing robber perpetrating the crime, while Alice had still hoped for Kit Barrington’s visage. They were both soon disappointed by the squat masked man in the black hat who stepped into view. He was not the striking figure they had hoped for; further, he did not regard them with a cool, appraising stare nor did he smile devilishly at their beauty and vulnerability.

No, he simply pointed a pistol at the pair of them and demanded (in something less than dulcet tones) that they alight from the carriage to refresh themselves. “And look sharp about it, too, or my master will hear about it!”

This pronouncement had the immediate effect of motivating the two young women to scurry out of the carriage, but it also inspired them with a sense of relief that this unprepossessing figure was not in fact their nemesis, but only his servant.

“It could still be Kit,” Alice thought furtively, blushing before she corrected herself, “I mean, Mr. Barrington.” They both blinked to be out of the carriage’s shadowed interior and were scuttled into the public house without much of a look outside. Lizzie did manage to glance at the sign hanging from the front of the house and mentally recorded its name.

Never had the words “Pig and Whistle” provoked such an ominous gloom!

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Alice gasped. Surely there was something more seriously wrong with her than mere, commonplace boredom. “But -- but, what about my fever?” Surely that would count for something!

Lizzie sighed. She was beginning to feel as if her life were an endless repetition of what it was like now, to be trapped in this increasingly close carriage with her rich and dim cousin, on an endless journey to who knew where. While Alice assumed herself to be the captive of some delicate condition, Lizzie knew her own tribulations to be far more painful largely because she was so acutely aware of them. She fancied with some horror that she could imagine some overly fastidious Frenchman one day writing at length of the horrors of just such an existence, where the endless prattling of others would become a condition not even Milton’s grand hero could endure forever. It seemed a perfect picture of purgatorial despondency.

But, for now, there was her responsibility to Alice who, if she was not entirely cognizant of the fact or appreciate of the effort, should be forgiven for her fewer years, her lesser learning (oh, the horrible neglect of Miss Travers), and her all too often pampered beauty. How sad, thought Lizzie privately (as so many of her thoughts had to be), that those who are given loveliness of face are seldom given any other qualities to complement it. However, her cousin should surely be able to marry someone on the strength of that beauty, who would not find himself deceived on that account until many years had passed. Other disappointments might come more quickly.

Alice was still pouting which did little to restore the aforementioned looks, as her lips were drawn much to tightly together to give her pout any piquancy. As if by magic (or long habit), the realization of how unappealing she must look finally brought Alice around with a sigh. I suppose I haven’t any interesting disease, she admitted to herself at last, but then, left without a way to amuse herself, turned as always to her cousin. “Did you bring a deck of cards, by chance, Lizzie?”

One can imagine somehow that the ever alert Mrs. Perkins undoubtedly dropped whatever was in her hands at that moment, for even far away she must have been conscious of this dangerous precedent slipping from the lips of one of the Mangrove family women. Unaware of this distance accident, Alice felt hope renew with the thought of entertainment.

Lizzie shook her head, however, dashing Alice’s hopes. “If only I had thought to put something aside for entertainment. A nice game of authors would be pleasant even if we were not on a green river bank,” Lizzie said with unaccustomed wistfulness. “If I had had the good sense to carry a book, I could have read aloud to entertain us both.”

“We should have had to be careful of bumps,” Alice said somewhat distractedly, for their had been a number of good ruts in the road which had lately brought the girls’ attention back to their method of conveyance.

“One can always pause,” Lizzie reminded her kindly but firmly. “That’s the beauty of a book. You can pick it up any time, any where and be entertained. It is sublime simplicity itself!”

“Not in the dark,” pointed out Alice, who felt unusually thoughtful that moment.

“No, not as a rule,” Lizzie agreed, “But one usually has a candle to hand and then reading can recommence.”

“Or one can call for a servant, who would surely have a candle. And matches,” Alice said, still thoughtful, although Lizzie was beginning to see that future Frenchman a little more clearly, as well as feeling a sense of understanding grow as to why most murders happened within the home.

All at once, though, Lizzie became alert. “Listen,” she cried to Alice. “Do you hear that?”