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.

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