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.