Sunday, April 29, 2007


Alice looked up at the ship wondering much the same thing as Lizzie: where were they bound? Who had wished them conveyed hence—and when would they be having breakfast?

Admittedly Lizzie had not been thinking the last thought, her appetite dampened by the unpleasant chain of events they had undergone, but surely soon she would be thinking of food, too, Alice was quite certain. Particularly once her stomach started to rumble; then no one would be able to think of anything else except perhaps growling dogs. I must be quite hungry, Alice thought, I am beginning to make very little sense.

Their kidnapper was continuing to speak. “We shall meet here the captain of this ship who will be responsible for taking you further. Indeed! Here he comes now --”

Lizzie had a moment of hope, thinking of the glorious men of the sea who had been celebrated in story and song from Captain Cook to Sir Francis Drake, fearless men who lived proudly and sailed courageously across the globe, heroes and honorable men. She shaded her eyes from the dawning sun’s rays and looked up the gangway to where the short squat man pointed. Alice, too, found her eye irresistibly drawn in that direction, holding her breath as she hoped that this ship’s captain would prove to be reputable, strong and, of course, be in possession of a well-stocked larder.

“Captain Bellamy! I have some cargo for you here.” The short squat man chortled with good humor at his own witticism. May he trip and stub his toe, Alice thought without a modicum of charity for his feelings. It was probably due to hunger, but it is quite likely that she was developing bad habits far from the comforts of home, a good hair-brushing and clean clothes. I shall never wear mourning clothes again, Alice promised herself rather rashly.

Lizzie, however, had kept her eyes trained upward and her attention fixed on the gangway as their new tyrant made his way down to the dockside where they stood. She must make a study of him for he would be there only avenue of escape, the squat man proving to be amenable to no appeals of any kind. They must not be allowed to leave England and safety for some foreign shore!

In the soft morning light, Captain Bellamy strode down the gangway like a man who knew his worth down to the penny. His fulsome brow arched beneath a captain’s hat of such elaborate styling from its crisp black lines to its stately plumage that it seemed to announce to the world a man of such repute that none could dare venture a word against his courage. Lizzie was pleased to see manly shoulders thrust below the epaulettes of his jacket, where its nine buttons gleamed jauntily in the dawning sun. His buff vest looked neat and trim and his boots, she saw as he stood majestically before them, were shined so well that she could see her face reflected in the smooth leather as she looked down. Here, surely, was a man who would take pity on two young women, ripped from the bosom of their family and thrust into the untoward company of brigands and ne’er-do-wells of a distinctly lower class.

Captain Bellamy cleared his throat, looked at the two young women, and then in a high-pitched voice burbled, “Wheh is my money, you heawtless bwigand?”

Sunday, April 22, 2007


“Southampton, ladies!”

The two women were jolted awake by this cheery greeting, seeming to come from a long way away, although it was perhaps the reflected light of the seaport that shimmered across the open door of the carriage and lent a not quite ethereal air to the short squat man who had conducted them so far from home.

Lizzie sat up abruptly toward the beckoning hand and instantly felt the pain in her neck from sleeping none too comfortably in the upright position for the night. As her hand went up to massage her painful nape, she heard Alice stir and in her usual way say, “Oh just let me lie in a little longer, Mary Ann. I feel unaccountably tired today!” Alice stretched herself with admirable ease, clearly forgetting where they were.

“Let’s not take all day, speed of the essence, etcetera, etcetera,” their too cheerful conductor called forth, waving his hand further to encourage them to disembark.

Alice looked with alarm at Lizzie. “I had quite forgotten where we were.”

“I only wish I had,” Lizzie concurred, stepping forward to alight from the carriage, but pausing for a moment on the top step to look back into its depths at Alice. Suddenly she feared leaving its darkness for the flat light of dawn, but Alice could not be bothered to allow such sentiments to settle in. She was cramped and cranky, and consequently could not wait to bound out of the carriage into the sun, weak though it was.

“Are we to be free now?” she said hopefully to the driver.

He merely laughed. “You’re going on a journey, my ladies. Your ship is just along here.”

Lizzie looked at him coolly, taking in his small stature and common countenance. “And if we scream a constable will surely come to our aid.”

The driver laughed even harder than the first time. “You don’t know Southampton! And anyway, miss, you forget about this little treasure of mine.” He pulled the pistol from the side pocket of his coat. “Say hello to my little friend.”

Lizzie swallowed uncomfortably, but Alice managed to say, “Hello, little friend.”

“Now, ladies, if you’ll follow me-- "

There was little choice in the matter, so follow they did. Truth to tell, the streets along the docks did not appear to house the very finest of houses nor, must it be admitted, of people, as it seemed everyone they passed looked to be engaged in activities every bit as unscrupulous as they. Indeed, those who were abroad in the early light (if sensible, for admittedly, many they met seemed to be the worse for drink, which made both young ladies reach for their stylish mourning handkerchiefs rather than call for assistance) regarded them furtively and with great suspicion.

“There it is, your next conveyance,” the pistol-waving man announced as they turned a last corner. “You’ll be on board and away from England before the tide lets out today.”

Lizzie felt a sudden chill looking upon its timbers, though she could not have said what sort of boat it was or why she found it so ominous. Perhaps it was only the combination of the eerie dawn light, the strangeness of their companion, and of course, the fact that they had been spirited away from the funeral of Alice’s father’s sudden, and admittedly, slightly mysterious death.

“The Demeter,” Alice read off the side of the boat. She looked to Lizzie for approval. “Italian?”

“Greek,” Lizzie corrected, barely noticing her cousin’s crestfallen look.

“Aye,” said their kidnapper, “But she is set to sail as far as the Caspian, I hear, to the land beyond the forest.”

Lizzie gazed with sorrow at the ship whose sails picked up an portentous billow from the wind. Where were they bound now?

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Alice suddenly found herself drowning.

She paddled like mad, gasping for breath, striking out in vain to reach some solid ground, something upon which she might grasp hold, save herself from the swirling endless waters. Another mouthful swallowed and she feared that all too soon she might just give in. The water had a terrible salty taste as if she were drowning in tears of sorrow. Then a giant sucking sound began and Alice shrieked because she knew that the plug had been pulled and there was no way to avoid being sucked down to the bottom of the ocean to drown and never see Mangrove Hall again or her mother, or Lizzie, or Mrs. Perkins, or her father -- well, at least her father’s ghost -- and even Arthur, she might miss Arthur at this point, although when it came right down to it --

“Alice, wake up! You’re dreaming again.” Lizzie looked up from the book with the air of irritation she always demonstrated when Alice was being particularly obtuse. At the sight of the horrid book, Alice recalled what had made her drift off in the first place.

“I shall continue,” Lizzie said, much to Alice’s dread, then commenced to do the same. “Miss Jenny, with her heart overflowing with joy at this happy change, said, ‘Now, my dear companions, that you may be convinced what I have said and done was not occasioned by any desire of proving myself wiser than you, as Miss Sukey hinted while she was yet in her anger, I will, if you please, relate to you the history of my past life; by which you will see in what manner I came by this way of thinking; and as you will perceive it was chiefly owing to the instructions of a kind mamma, you may all likewise reap the same advantage under good Mrs. Teachum, if you will obey her commands, and attend to her precepts. And after I have given you the particulars of my life -- ’”

“How dark it has grown,” Alice interjected with sudden inspiration. “Lizzie, you must not strain your eyes with reading this late. It’s not as if we had a lamp.”

Lizzie looked thoughtful. For a moment, Alice feared that she might implore the driver for a light, but at last she resolutely closed the small volume and leaned back on the seat with a sigh. Alice did what she could to hide her own sigh of relief. Go hang Miss Fielding and her improving book, she thought deliciously to herself. If Lizzie only knew!

Alice had no way of knowing how phenomenally bored Lizzie was at that very moment. Her only solace in the book had been that the useless chatter of its words had kept her worried thoughts at bay. While reading aloud to her cousin Lizzie could keep herself from all her anxieties about what the next day would bring. As they continued to bounce along the road, unchallenged, unpursued as far as she could tell, Lizzie could only wonder endlessly what would become of them. With no new information, however, she knew her worries to be pointless, endlessly circling like water down a drain with no end.

It was ironic how similar their thoughts had tracked, like horses in traces together.

Neither remarked upon the coincidence as neither became aware of it. Instead they sighed separately, yet together, apart and alone.

“Perhaps we should try to sleep,” Lizzie suggested at last, taking in the woebegone countenance of her cousin, so ill-used by circumstance, so unaccustomed to the life of drab drudgery.

“It has been quite a day,” Alice mentioned, her eyes getting heavy in spite of herself.

“Tomorrow is another day,” Lizzie remarked brightly even as she thought to herself, what an odd thing to say, and how unlike me. Well, fiddle-dee-dee, she scolded herself, everyone runs out of pithy sayings at one time or another.

“I only hope I shall not dream of water,” Alice said, quite unable to finish her thought before yawning gapingly and barely bothering to cover her mouth.

We shall quite become barbarians if this keeps up, Lizzie thought, but rather than chastise her sleepy cousin, she, too, leaned back and settled herself as well as possible given the hard seat, the lurching motion of the carriage and the uncertainty of their destination.

Monday, April 09, 2007


The door was flung open by the surly and squat man. In the light of the room, Alice could see that he was remarkably ugly and that suited her sense of justice long nourished by exciting novels. Bad characters were inevitably homely and heroes handsome, although sometimes dangerous, too. She would be sure to recognize the hero when he arrived.

“C’mon,” the rumpled man ordered them, “Back in the carriage with you two.”

Lizzie and Alice exchanged a look of distaste, but were uneasy to think how this low character might injure them, so they swiftly gathered themselves and headed for the door with a last imploring look at Emma.

“She can’t help you none,” the kidnapper chortled with evident disdain, causing the two young women to cower helplessly. “And you,” he continued, turning toward Emma, “Make sure to tell your master that I expect my payment in full when we arrive in Southampton.”

“I will do so,” Emma said with palpable revulsion even as she threw one last kindly glance toward the departing women.

Down the stairs they went, back through the public house and once more into hated carriage with its new team of horses. I shall walk everywhere from now on, Alice promised herself, fully intending to maintain that rule, although the likelihood of a lazy girl like herself doing so seemed tolerably slim. Her intention was, if not pure, then honorably motivated, so perhaps we should not criticize her too harshly.

Lizzie appeared thoughtful as they took off once more. “We have learned some things today, Alice,” she said eventually, drawing her words out slowly. “Our kidnapper is not the man on the box, but someone at a remove. He has perhaps been to the West Indies, for he employs a woman of that region.”

“How do we know that?” Alice asked, perplexed.

Lizzie looked at her. “Emma, Alice.”

Alice wrinkled her nose, working out the connection. “Emma?” she said unhelpfully. It really was most provoking to always rely on hints and puzzles.

Lizzie sighed. “Emma is from the West Indies. She spoke of her master, who sounds like a most cruel and objectionable person, as did the man who drives this carriage.”

“How do you know she’s from the West Indies?” Alice asked with wonder.

Lizzie stared at her. “Did you not notice the manner in which she spoke?”

Alice flushed. “I thought perhaps she was Welsh,” she ventured to say with something less than confidence. “Who did you write to?” she asked, desperately seeking to change the subject.

Lizzie frowned. “To whom did I write?” She emphasized the interrogative pronoun for Alice’s benefit, which escaped its intended target entirely. “I wrote to the King of Naples. He will surely want to deal with this unfortunate occurrence himself.”

Surely she would let more of the mysterious story drop at this point, had not Alice suddenly recalled what she had in her hand. “We have a book to read! Oh, do let us read it now. I am so desperately bored.”

Lizzie thought about the glories of her secret tale and decided Alice didn’t really deserve to hear it anyway. “What is the volume?”

Alice brought the book up to her gaze. “It is The Governess by Sarah Fielding. Perhaps it is a gothic,” she said with some hope in her tone, but thought to herself, oh yes, an improving book, no doubt.

“Here,” said Lizzie, stretching out her hand. “Shall I begin?”

Alice was delighted. She was afraid she would have to start. It is always better to be read to than to read. Although it must be said that even her mother could not bear to have Alice read aloud for long, as she would inevitably lose her place, mispronounce words and skip over lines.

Lizzie cleared her voice and then began, “There lived in the northern parts of England, a gentlewoman who undertook the education of young ladies; and this trust she endeavoured faithfully to discharge, by instructing those committed to her care in reading, writing, working, and in all proper forms of behaviour. And though her principal aim was to improve their minds in all useful knowledge; to render them obedient to their superiors, and gentle, kind, and affectionate to each other; yet did she not omit teaching them an exact neatness in their persons and dress, and a perfect gentility in their whole carriage…”

Oh dear, thought Alice, it is an improving book.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Through the door came a woman in a bright red turban swathed around her hair, a loose dress of bright blue and startling white and skin the color of luxurious chocolate. She was the last thing they expected to see come through that door, so the two young women remained clasped together mouths open in surprise.

“What’re you standing there for, m’dears,” the woman at last addressed them after her own look of surprise. “You do not have much time they tell me, so let us move along swiftly and get things done.” Her voice had a lilt that sounded so unlike the measured tones heard in Mangrove Hall. Alice could easily imagine her father cocking one eyebrow at the face of one who spoke with such unnecessary music in her tone.

Seizing on Alice as the clearly junior partner in the association, the woman bustled Alice across the room and into the convenience before she could rightly blush or show her unwillingness to enter such a room.

There she found in addition to the water closet (that modern prurience bids we mention) there was a lovely basin with fresh clear water. While Alice was greatly relieved by her use of the unmentionable invention, she was much refreshed by the water after the close air of the carriage. While she made her ablutions, the woman spoke almost constantly, twitching at Alice’s dusty mourning clothes and tutting over the state of her hair.

“What have you been doing, child? Looks like you have been on a wild ride. If you were my daughter, I wouldn’t allow you to walk abroad like this. If the good lord had meant for women to go traveling such long distances, he would have created a better conveyance than the carriage. My goodness, your hair is just a disaster -- here, let me brush it a little or you’ll have to hack it all off at the end of your journey, it will be so full of rat’s nests.”

Alice could not utter a word until her hair had been brushed to a new sheen of restored beauty, her clothes had received a good slapping to release dust and her face scrubbed to a pink liveliness which covered well her embarrassment at the whole proceedings. Whisked once more into the outer chamber, Alice whirled dizzily as their interrogator darted to repeat the same procedure with Lizzie, who just as quickly demurred and swiftly latched the door to the convenience behind her to take care of matters her own self.

Feeling the floorboards firmly under her feet, Alice turned at last to regard this stranger with her yet blinking eyes. “Who are you, miss?” she asked of the whirlwind with some trepidation. In her young life, Alice had little experience with such forceful people, apart from Mrs. Perkins, who was no match for sheer exuberance, although she could be far more peremptory.

She was greeted with a broad and friendly smile. “I am Emma Saint John.”

“Ah,” Alice said, at a loss for further questions when faced with such a succinct response.

“You probably want to know where you are, don’t you. You are at the Pig and Whistle, that much I can tell you, but I am forbidden to tell you more on pain of being beaten severely by my master.”

“How awful!” Alice said with genuine feeling. The world’s wild ways were beginning to seem quite hideous to this heretofore sheltered girl. Novels, she must admit, did not lie. If even England could be filled with such reprehensible people, how much more dangerous the barbarian lands beyond its borders.

“Indeed,” Emma continued, “You will not be here much longer, for you are to be taken to Southampton and across the waves. I can say no more --” She turned her head toward the door as if she had heard a sound, but after a moment, turned back to Alice. “You are in great danger!’

Alice felt a thrill such as she had never before known. It was as if she had become an exciting novel’s heroine. Surely that meant they would be rescued before anything too untoward were to happen to them! She was about to ask Miss Saint John more about the danger, but just then Lizzie returned, bursting open the door as if she, too, had heard that they were in danger.

“What can you tell us, Miss Saint John,” Lizzie indeed demanded.

“I can tell you no more!” Emma said with grave sorrow. “Your captor will return any moment and you will be on your way. Bless you, girls -- there is nothing to be done for you now but hope for the best.”

Lizzie impulsively took Emma’s hands in her own and implored her, “Do you have some paper and writing implements? I must write a letter!”

Emma reached into the folds of her dress and drew out a small bundle. “I carry my master’s writing kit with me always.” She snapped open the leather case to reveal some small scraps of parchment, a pen and ink in a small cylindrical bottle, and thrust it at Lizzie, who took it without hesitation and immediately set to scratching out a letter.

“We have been kidnapped,” Alice said feeling that she had been ignored far too long, stung slightly by the thought she had no one to whom to write. Perhaps mother, she thought, but was sure little good would come of her writing but for a longer than usual lecture on her penmanship.

“Yes, child, I know. It must be horrible,” Emma agreed, patting her hand.

“Do you have anything to read?” Alice asked with sudden inspiration. “We have no amusement of any kind in the carriage!”

Into another pocket her hand went to retrieve a small volume and place it into Alice’s eager palms. “Oh, thank you so much, Miss Saint John! This will go a long way to relieving our boredom. It has been so desperately dull and boring, I can’t tell you how tedious and drab our whole day has been. I have been so fed up, uninterested…” Alice floundered, thinking of other words to reflect her boredom.

It seemed, however, that Emma grasped the situation well. “I can well imagine, miss.”

Just then, Lizzie snapped the writing case closed and thrust it and the letter back into Emma’s hands. “Please, if you can, see that this letter reaches its destination. I would be ever so grateful for your help!”

Just then they heard a shout in the hall. Their captor was returning! Emma nodded quickly, thrust the letter and the case into her pocket and turned to face the door. Alice glanced down at the book in her hands.

Oh dear, she thought, it looks like an improving book.