Sunday, December 21, 2008


Surely she had seen blood before, Lizzie thought even as she gasped for air. But the violence of the wound before her seemed vividly garish against the young man's bright white shirt. The shot had taken him in the shoulder and left behind a gaping hole though which blood poured even as the seconds tried to stanch the flow with an array of handkerchiefs.

His fellow combatant shouldered through the crowd, bleeding from the arm, but seemingly negligent of the injury and the pain. He looked fiercely at his foe, apparently trying to determine the extent of his injuries.

Good heavens, Lizzie thought dizzily, was he intending another go round?

"Bien?" he asked roughly, wrapping the bandage offered him around his forearm as he regarded his opponent with a cocky smile.

"Très bien," the other croaked, as another man pushed through the crowd. This must be the physician, Lizzie deduced. The man in black threw down his bag and waved the others away from the injured man. Taking away the bundle of handkerchiefs, he tutted at the wound and turned back to his bag.

Extracting a large pair of pincers, he called to no one in particular for brandy. Several flasks were proffered and the physician grabbed one at random and put it gently to the lips of his patient, before taking a swig himself.

Handing the flask back to its owner, he motioned for the others to take hold of the young man's limbs. Once he was securely anchored, the doctor plunged the pincers into the wound and began to hunt for the ball lodged in the man's shoulder. The patient bellowed with pain and was rewarded with further helpful infusions of brandy.

At long last, the doctor grunted with satisfaction and extracted the ball triumphantly. The crowd cheered heartily and everyone looked relieved. The doctor bandaged the wound with alacrity and they all helped him, swaying, to his feet.

His opponent regarded him with clear triumph and not a little scorn. "Il est decide, cousin?"

Lizzie felt her eyes widen with surprise. They were family, and fighting like this?! How horrible, she thought.

The defeated man, nodded and said only, "Oui," in a voice that plainly conveyed his defeat. He could not quite bring himself to regard his victor in the eye, which showed a want of character, Lizzie could not resist concluding.

The champion drew himself up to full height, ignoring completely the wound in his arm as he shook a warning finger at his enemy. "Vous ne souillerez pas le fromage de mon famille toujours encore!"

Lizzie could not have been more astonished. So it was not love after all. She grimaced. The scene no longer seemed like one plucked from a beloved novel, but instead appeared all too cheap and petty. Gladiators! Rather they were petulant prigs -- and worse, little more than merchants.

She felt certain that somewhere Lord Mangrove was smiling at her naiveté.

Lizzie had no time to reflect upon this shift in illusions, for Tilney grabbed her sleeve and said, "Let's make a run for it, Bennett -- now while their attention is elsewhere!"

Sunday, December 14, 2008


The two men stood back to back and the seconds remained at rapt attention. A man all in black with a tall hat began to count in French. The duelists began to pace apart, pistols held high, faces grim. The cool afternoon breeze ruffled their shirts and hair, but Lizzie could not hear a sound.

It was as if she had been suddenly plunged into the pages of a novel. All the elements were here: Two men in a life or death struggle, tense guardians gathered round, a secret rendezvous in a sheltered location.

It must be love, Lizzie thought with an unaccustomed leap of her heart. These were emotions poorly suited to George Bennett, but she could not help the thought once it rose. Surely they were fighting for the love of a woman. How would it go? Surely the young man who had taken charge of the situation, who had forced them into service as seconds was hot-blooded enough to be the correspondent.

Lizzie looked over at the opponent, on whose side she had been drafted. While equally well-dressed, Lizzie thought that she detected a certain petulant air that suggested the wronged party, the one who had lost something.

Again she felt a stab of worry over Tilney's fate. In the heat of the moment, when the bullets were flying, who could say what might happen? Lizzie was alarmed to realise how strong her feelings were. I am beholden to the King of Naples, she reminded herself. It was only proximity that had caused her to idly knit her thoughts toward Tilney and his cursedly devilish humour.

He looked anything but amused at present, however. As the duelists reached the end of the counting and turned, she could not stop herself from drawing a gasp of breath. The two men aimed their pistols and fired. The sudden cacophony rang in the ears of all those present.

Lizzie looked with alarm at Tilney, who -- she was relieved to find -- suffered no injury. The same could not be said of the combatants. The seconds, friends no doubt of the two in question, rushed forward with cried of some alarm.

Neither remained standing, so Lizzie feared the worst. She saw Tilney head forward to examine his duelist, so she thought she ought to do the same. Fighting her way into the crowd around the erudite Frenchman, she at last caught a glimpse of the man.

It was all she could do not to faint straight away.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Lizzie tried to keep her wandering thoughts under control. The tension of the moment seemed to squeeze her middle so tightly that she found it hard to breathe. Tilney appeared to be completely relaxed, but Lizzie could tell from her close observation of him during the last few days that he was anything but.

"Marcel! Louis!" Their interrogator gestured peremptorily to his cohorts, indicating that they ought to train their weapons on the interloping English. Lizzie thought back to her time on board the Bonny Read and wondered what the fearless Black Ethel would do.

Not that it would help much, Lizzie thought to herself. I am no pirate. I wish I were fearless, but here I am consumed by it.

"To even things," the Frenchman continued, addressing them both with a haughty edge of contempt, "One of you must serve on either side. D'accord?"

"We shall be happy to oblige," Tilney said somewhat icily, irritated by the insistence that the two of them take part in this quarrel to which they had not been party. Lizzie was just relieved that they weren't going to have to be shot, so the full impact of the situation did not immediately hit her.

Tilney gave her a searching look, as if to signal concern for his young friend. Lizzie gulped, but tried to toss him a confident nod. He had to expect manly fortitude from young George Bennett and she was going to do her level best to deliver it.

If I die, he'll find out I'm a woman, Lizzie considered, but he ought not know before that.

Seeing the two compliant the Frenchman once more wrangled his cohorts into place and the duel began to reassemble. Lizzie was somewhat surprised to see that their interrogator was one of the correspondents. His opponent was a pale and effete-looking Parisian who maintained an unconvincing air of hauteur. Lizzie did not make much of his chance and thus was somewhat nonplussed to find herself wrangled to his side of the altercation.

There seemed to be an inordinate number of seconds for a duel, based on her memory of novels and historical events. She had a vague recall of the playwright Ben Johnson felling an actor (thus ever the enmity between writers and their instruments, she pondered) and of course, Pitt the Younger, but the details of the events remained somewhat hazy.

Besides, French rules -- like everything else about this country -- might prove to be rather different than those of her homeland. Fair play might not even enter into the proceedings.

"Êtes-vous prêt?" their commander demanded of his opponent. Lizzie looked over at Tilney and felt a stab of fear that his handsome face might be marred by the violence of the moment. Somehow she could not bear the thought and felt herself grow faint once more.

This will not do, she told herself with a little shake. You are a man, behave as a man must!

"Laissez-nous commencer!" the Frenchman spoke firmly and at once the duel began.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


"Non, non," Lizzie said blushingly, but trying to drop her vocal tone to a lower register. "Je suis un homme." Oh god, I do hope they believe me. It seemed easy enough to fool Tilney so far (although at various moments, she had had her doubts even about that), but could she fool the eyes and ears (and noses) of a bunch of Frenchmen?

Particularly a group of Frenchmen who were more than a trifle irritated by having their duel interrupted. "Nous sommes ici par erreur," Lizzie hastened to add, because they had not dropped the aim of their pistols which were still fixed upon the two of them.

"Can't you tell them we mean no harm?" Tilney said with a hint of irritation.

"I'm trying," Lizzie growled with appropriate frustration for her George persona. "Nous ne voulons pas nous mêler," she offered with what she hoped was a placatory tone.

At least now the men were exchanging glances with one another. It was a better sign than their previous grim humorlessness. For the hundredth time, Lizzie wondered why the French had such a peculiar lack of humor.

Undoubtedly, they thought the same of the English, she reflected.

"Pardon, nous vous quitterons, ah, à vos affaires," Lizzie groped her way toward something diplomatic, revealing their knowledge of the illicit nature of their business and a determination not to interfere with it.

Not to mention her hope that she had persuaded them to imagine her a man.

One of the men, a tall one with a bare head, waved them over with his pistol. He seemed to be judging both Tilney and Lizzie with care. "Venir ici, à la fois de vous."

Lizzie checked her tongue, which wanted to launch into a hurried explanation of their presence there, to tell the story of the runaway horse and the matter of too much wine, but her time spent with Tilney had already alerted to the fact that men preferred in general to say as little as possible. It would be best to remain silent.

The tall man, whose eyes were so dark they seemed almost solid black in the pupils, stared intently at the two of them as they walked closer, Lizzie trying her best to copy the exaggeratedly relaxed saunter that Tilney affected. His normal look of harmless laziness had likewise returned. Lizzie marveled once more at how much lay below that superficial mask of gentle lassitude.

"You look 'armless enough," the Frenchman said at last, startling them both with his abrupt change to English. "It is unfortunate, however, that you happened upon our little altercation."

"No business of ours, old boy," Tilney practically yawned. "What you French lot get up to is of very little interest to us. We were just blowing off a little steam after a heavy lunch. You know how it is."

"Tout à fait," the Frenchman replied. "Nonetheless, we cannot let you leave."

Oh dear, Lizzie thought, trying to hold in a wave of breathless fear. The pistols were once more leveled at them both and at this distance, they were bound to be lethal!

Monday, November 24, 2008


Your narrator begs your forgiveness, but she will be unable to complete an episode this week as she has been waylaid by a London highwayman. Surely ransom will be accepted soon to broker her release.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


After fielding the inquiry regarding British flora, Alice was pelleted with further questions on collars, horse racing, quince jelly recipes and fireworks, which she answered with as much knowledge and good will as she could muster, however little that might be (particularly in the case of fireworks of which she could claim no knowledge whatsoever). She at last made an escape from the knot of well-meaning if entirely too boisterous young men by claiming the role of friend to young Constance who suffered yet.

The young men graciously gave way while visibly admiring Alice's gentle and caring spirit. Alice herself was relieved to no longer face the firing line of rapid-fire questions about trivial matters that once enraptured her shallow heart.

Once again she felt a pang of longing for her parted cousin. Where, oh where could dear Lizzie be at this moment? Was she already home and safe back in Mangrove Hall? When would she at last join her there?

Mrs. Forward had written to her mother, so in all likelihood the time would come with appreciable suddenness, but at present Alice felt an entirely understandable longing for safety, comfort and cocoa that all heroines must sooner or later encounter.

Alice was pleased to note that Constance was looking more like her usual self. Under the overly energetic fanning of her companions she had recovered her lively colour and some animation. It was a relief to see her friend looking like herself again.

"Alice," she called out, catching sight of her friend. "There you are."

Alice smiled seraphically as she had once seen Lady Hibbert do when the chrysanthemums had reached their peak of perfection on a warm summer day, although her heart was yearning to be immersed in just such a day instead of here on this harsh foreign strand. She could take comfort in the thought that her unexpected travels were near an end.

"Whatever will Mother say?" Constance whispered fearfully when at last Alice was within close confines with the fluttering younger girl. "Should she know?"

Alice hesitated before answering, which allowed the seemingly always attentive Reggie to offer an opinion.

"If you do not mind my saying so, Miss," he said with an air of confidentiality that in no way presupposed any untoward familiarity, "It may be helpful to point out some persons of interest in this somewhat unruly crowd."

"Indeed," Alice responded, hoping she included precisely the right balance of polite disregard and fervid interest in her tone.

"Yes, over there," Reggie nodded indicating a pallid youth of ungainly proportions, "You will see young Viscount Brackley and over there," he turned to indicate a rather toothy individual hard at work at the buffet table, "you will find Sir Eliot Walter, a baronet, as is our friend Bertie, known in polite circumstances as Sir Bertram Thomas."

"How enlightening, you are, Reggie," Alice said with genuine warmth. "We are much obliged. Thank you."

"A delight, I assure you," Reggie said with ease as he glided away into the throng.

A most useful man, Alice reflected. She decided it would be most advantageous to know the whole of his name and write him gracious words of thanks when she returned home.

Before she could rise to pursue the question further, Alice felt an unpleasant tug at her hem and turned to see the objectionable Tricheor scraping away at a grovel. She tried unsuccessfully to disguise her revulsion at the sight of his abjectness, but at last inquired somewhat sharply, "Yes, what is it?"

Tricheor scraped even lower and said, "My master bids you attend him for a swift moment outside."

"Why does he not come in?" Alice said shortly.

"He wishes to return an item belonging to your friend that ah, how do you say, would be best returned without scrutiny."

Alice was both puzzled and alarmed. What on earth could Constance have dropped on the beach? Better not to contemplate, she thought with a sudden blanch. "All right."

Tricheor led her to an opening in the side of the tent. Out in the bright midday sun, Alice blinked uncertainly and lifted up a hand to shade her eyes.

All at once, every thing went black as a gunny sack was slipped over her head and hasty hands propelled her forward. Alice heard the sound of horses as she was thrust into a carriage roughly, the door slammed shut behind her.

"Kidnapped again," she thought with surprising sanguinity. "Will this ordeal never end?"

Sunday, November 09, 2008


As they approached the gaily colorful tent, Alice could divine that there was already a considerable crowd within from the vigorous conversation that bubbled across the strand to her ears. Again she blanched at the thought of exposing poor Constance to such a throng (and to so much potential irregularities of politeness) but there was little hope for avoiding it.

Besides, anything was preferable to their close encounter with the Count. Alice sneaked a glance in his direction and was pleased to see that he was perspiring freely and looking rather worse for the travel. Suits him, she thought with a measured toss of her head. She was more certain than ever that he had been about nefarious intentions.

"Hey ho!" One of the celebrants within had noticed the approach of their inelegant train. "Reggie, what's this?"

"Rescue mission, lads, with some of our finest flowers here," Reggie nodded to indicate Alice, at which she colored up prettily. It was very pleasant to be receiving compliments again.

"And this one?" another asked appearing to indicate the faltering Constance. "A bit tap-hackled, eh?"

"Sick as a cushion," Reggie affirmed as they looked around for a place to set their burden. "Too much sun, poor little gel."

Alice was very grateful to the steady young man who even at that moment was helping his boisterous colleagues to lower Constance next to a reasonably comfortable looking chair. She smiled at him to show her approval, but he was too busy settling her friend into the chair to see her approval. Alice could not help but think that it was rather irritating to try to do something nice for someone and not have them notice, but she decided that she would not hold it against their rescuer, and thus made another stride into the frightening world of adulthood.

Had she known, Alice would have backed away at once, but it is in the nature of these things that we seldom notice the steps until they have long passed into memory.

Because her friend was still sagging with exhaustion and illness, curious eyes turned upon Alice for answers to burning questions. While they were far too mindful of propriety to ask the direct question, "Who are you?" they had no problem asking embarrassing questions like "Are collars worn looser this year in Bath?" and "Have you a lace edged handkerchief with Belgian lace?"

Alice found herself beset on all sides by eager young men, which in other circumstances (a genteel drawing room or an overly warm solarium) might have proved quite enjoyable, but at that moment was quite suffocating.

"Enough, enough," Reggie at last intervened. Having sorted out Constance with a bevy of enthusiastic admirers fanning her -- indeed they were well in the way of putting her in some danger of being blown off course -- he turned his attentions to Alice and her circle of well-intended interlocutors. "You must proceed one at a time and wait a sufficient time for an answer before advancing to the next question.

Alice smiled gratefully up at him and was gratified to see him notice.

It is hard work being a heroine, she sighed to herself before turning her attention to the young man inquiring as to the state of morning glories back in their native land.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


"What ho, Reggie!" the lad called Hugh hallooed to his friend. "Which way?"

"Right, then ahead," he answered with admirable firmness, although Alice could not have ascertained where this would lead them. Nonetheless she acquiesced as it was sure to take them further and further from the site of her disturbing meeting with the Count and his peculiar servant, whom she saw even now, was slowly approaching them from a distance.

Nonplussed by the image of his commander in a crowd of rowdy young gents, Tricheor's steps became even more irregular, Alice noticed. She turned her head and saw that the Count still lagged somewhat behind the gaggle of Englishmen, his displeasure appearing to grow with every step. Tricheor's hesitation led to a sort of bobbing and weaving motion that threatened to empty the pitcher of water he carried and to make him lose hold of the parasol he had obtained somewhere.

While the young gentlemen recovered from another near accident with Miss Forward, Alice considered what would be best to do. She hated to re-engage in any obligation to the Count, but she saw that poor Constance was fading fast under the bright sun of the strand. They might soon find shelter, but the last stretch of a journey was often the longest, she recalled well from the unpleasantness of her own travels.

Hang the Count and hang propriety, Alice thought with determined brows. She picked up her pace and strode toward the struggling Tricheor. "How kind you are to have arrived so punctually," Alice said with as much pleasantness as she could muster. Close to she found the strange servant a most repellant object, oozing sweat from every pore and exuding a most curious odor. His skin indeed seemed uncannily coarse and hideous, causing Alice to avert her eyes as much as possible.

"Thank you for the parasol. My friend will be most delighted for its shade." She held her hand out expecting the item to be passed along, but when it was not, she chanced to notice that the misshapen manservant was looking to his employer for confirmation, which irritated Alice to no end. Surely politeness needed no command. But the weary Count affirmed the act with a curt nod and Tricheor handed over the prize.

Alice immediately handed it to Reggie, the seemingly competent one among the enthusiastic rabble, who popped the device open and placed it gently into Constance's limp hand. She sighed gently, indicated a somewhat improved state, or so Alice hoped. His primary purpose concluded, Tricheor limped to the side of his master and continued with the same desultory limping pace beside him.

Up ahead, Alice could see a rather impressive tent, decorated with many colourful ribbons and flags. It appeared that the shambolic crew were making their way in that direction. While she blanched at the thought of being exposed to further public display of their misadventures, Alice found herself feeling more than sufficient relief at the thought that she need no longer be the person in charge. It had been an exhausting day of much thinking, evaluating and regretting.

Alice hoped for a return to childish innocence without realizing that such thoughts were an inevitable sign that such innocence had already beat its wings and flown off.

"Perhaps they will have cake," Alice mused, childhood nonetheless raising its head for a brief visit.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


The young louts, once they had adjusted to Caroline's outburst, carried the young heroine forward toward restorative shade and fresh water. This entailed some difficulty as they could not entirely agree on which direction to head.

Alice, trailing at the back, torn between politeness required to their initial benefactor and loathing for the same, attempted to make polite conversation even as the Count lagged further and further behind the eager if somewhat erratic steps of the young Englishmen.

"Hang on, Hugh! You're letting down the side!" Reggie called as the inattentive young hat rack became momentarily distracted by something shiny. Hugh recovered his footing and away they jounced poor Caroline, who looked ready to release another volley of inclemency, but held herself in check with an admirable aplomb of which her mother would be quite proud.

Well, thought Alice, she would be if the whole display athletic conviviality did not scandalize her and if the thought of her daughter half-sprung on French plonk did not render her paralyzed with alarm. Best she not know, of course.

"Tilt her round, there's a good fellow," Stephen reminded Bert, who seemed to be inclined to follow Hugh's meandering path and so produce a split in the ranks. Poor Caroline swooped with their movements and gasped for breath.

Alice found her brows to be furrowing in a manner entirely too reminiscent of her mother's habitual look and made an effort to relax her face. Nonetheless, she could not quite halt the words that wished to leap from her lips. "Do be careful, gentlemen," she said as casually as possible. "You don't want to eject poor Miss Caroline before you've had a chance to make her charming acquaintance and find out what a lovely dancer she can be."

Alice had no idea whether Caroline could in fact dance at all-- in fact was rather inclined to guess that her impulsive friend was quite probably a reckless sort on the assembly room floor --but she thought it best to give her the benefit of the doubt as a matter of politeness and as a spur to more watchful care from the eager attendants.

It seemed to do the trick. Though Caroline remained sick as a cushion, there was a very keen if friendly competition for the very next dance that might possibly come their way, along with a variety of spicy exclamations, from "Tare ' hounds!" to numerous "'Pon reps!"

Alice glanced over her shoulder at the Count who, bereft of the assistance of Tricheor and without the captive audience, was stumbling along as best he could, stopping frequently to flick another spot of ejected foodstuff from his sleeve with an air of unutterable vexation. In the heat of the afternoon sun, Alice could almost believe that the Count might just possibly burst into flames.

And it would not be the worst thing to happen, Alice said to herself with a toss of her head, which made her feel much more like her old self. The movement kept the hair out of her eyes normally, but this time it was solely to reassure Alice that there were some absolutes in the world that strange Frenchmen and kidnapping sailors could not extinguish.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The voices turned out to presage a gaggle of young English tourists. Alice careered between delight and embarrassment at the thought of their peremptory arrival. Had she known young men better -- at least the holidaying kind -- she would have saved herself the blush of embarrassment, for such young men seldom notice or abide by rules of propriety and so would be little inclined to censure Alice and Caroline for their untoward circumstances, finding themselves alone with peculiar and slightly unscrupulous Frenchman.

"What ho!" cried the floppy-fringed roisterer at the front of the pack as he caught sight of the tableau. His companions bayed in like fashion, a sound apparently expressing surprise and delight as far as Alice could discern.

So relieved was she to see fellow countrymen that Alice did not hesitate to greet them, much to the Count's displeasure. "Hello, how are you," she asked somewhat breathlessly.

"Lawks," cried another one of the lot, squinting in the sun in a most unattractive way. "An English gel!" There was much hubbub as the scrum headed en masse down the dunes toward the sheltered cove.

There was much fussy shaking of hands with the Count who icily responded to the hearty inquiries as to his health, though his frosty responses were ignored by the young men who only had eyes for the two young girls and favoured them with a tidal wave of compliments meant, no doubt, to break the ice and see if it held any water with them.

The noisy gaggle threatened to drown all the thoughts in Alice's head, but fortunately one among them seemed to be a young man of some sense. "Lud, miss," he said gazing intently at Caroline's green form, "Your friend seems to be a little worse for wear. Must be this cursed French sun, far too warm, if you ask me. We should get her to some shelter, tout de suite. Bert, Stephen, Hugh, come now. We've got a lady in distress here."

"Right-o, Reggie," the floppy haired one said cheerfully and the four crowded around Caroline who was looking quite overwhelmed by the attention as well as the wine.

"Mind if we use this case?" Reggie said, taking up the Count's little carry all. "We can use it as a kind of seat to transport the young lady to a more congenial location." The Count was clearly displeased, but said nothing and the men took his silence as assent.

In a trice, Caroline was whisked onto the case which the energetic gents raised as if to carry Cleopatra herself. Alice could not keep from clapping her hands in delight. To have her poor friend rescued so delightfully and unexpectedly from their predicament was a wonder to savour.

Caroline herself was a bit unnerved by the swiftness of the movement and the rocking motion of the well-meaning young centurions. Her pale green shade was approaching the colour of absinthe now and she convulsed suddenly, clutching her stomach.

"I feel…unwell," she murmured with as much dignity as it was possible to maintain, before suddenly and violently vomiting to the west.

"Bingo!" cried Bert.

"Heavens," said Reggie, "Awfully sorry."

The latter words were addressed to the Count who bore the brunt of the explosive ejection, itself a rather rancid ruby tint with small chunks of comestibles.

"Merde!" was all he said.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Alice cleared her throat, wondering what would be best to do. Sudden recognition struck her: she sounded just like her mother making the same noise. Was her mother doing the same thing – playing for time – when she produced that sound? Alice discovered a growing sense of surprise that there was much more to her mother than the scolding disciplinarian she had always known. Perhaps her mother had more to teach her than she had ever suspected.

A minute stab of homesickness struck Alice's heart.

Here on the overly warm beach of southern France, she very much missed the damp dreariness of home with its darkened rooms, stuffy conservatory and fussy garden. While on board the Demeter and then the Bonny Read, when home seemed irredeemably lost, Alice had not longed half as much for her distant home.

Yet safely in the hands of civilized folk and surely, soon to be on her way home – after all, Mrs. Forward had seen to it that a proper message had been sent to Alice's mother inquiring as to the preferred method of returning this wandering daughter safely – somehow Alice felt more at sea than she had even in the dark swirling waters of the raging ocean.

The heart was a rather unpredictable cauldron of emotions, Alice thought.

Perhaps it was just the effect of their present company. The Count's wolfish grin began to fill Alice with such a loathing that she found it impossible to chew her food and set the bread down on the rock beside her. She was alarmed to see Constance looking decidedly goggle-eyed and knew she must do something decisive.

"This heat is simply unbearable!" She said with a languor that belied her growing panic. "Count, would it be possible for you to arrange some sort of covering for us, perhaps a couple of those very large parasols?"

The look on his face genuinely frightened her, but within an instant it had been replaced by a bland expression allaying any sense of alarm. But Alice was not fooled. She knew she was working against time. "Oui, of course, mademoiselle. I shall send Tricheor to fetch the parasols. Tricheor!"

The servant so named wobbled slightly, uncertain whether to move under his burden or wait to be freed of it. After muttering somewhat darkly under his breath, the Count rose to remove the case from his menial's back and set it on the sand. With a peremptory gesture, he sent Tricheor off on his errand and turned back to the two young women.

Constance was looking a trifle pale. Alice did not like her shade. "Constance, are you feeling ill?" Her friend could only nod, suddenly looking a distinct shade of green. Alice moved to put her arm around her shoulders. With a sudden return of hope, she looked up to the Count with an expression her father would have recognized immediately.

"Monsieur, would you be so kind as to find some fresh water for my friend?"

Irritation spread across his countenance. Alice could see his struggle to master the occasion, but inevitably give in to his failure at this moment. "As you desire," he said with a curt bow, but before he could actually depart, Alice heard with alarm voices nearby.

They were about to be discovered!

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Alice cut some generous slices of the sweet soft bread. Even as she sliced through the creamy interior, she inhaled the fresh scent of its grains. Had food always been this good? Or had she only begun to notice such things since her dunking in the ocean. Alice shivered to think of the horrible voyage once she had been washed from the deck of the Bonny Read.

In that time, she had begun to fear that she would die upon the cresting waves. It was a wonder to sit here on the genteel strand and see the waves at a distance. For the moment, Alice found strength in the idea that she was safe and secure, despite her present company.

She sat up a little more straightly in her impromptu seat. "Count, please have a slice of bread. Constance?" Alice smiled comfortably, masking her discomfort. Constance was her responsibility and she felt compelled to protect her. The Count might be a completely benign character (although she had begun to suspect he was not), nonetheless, Alice felt a strong desire to keep Constance from the harm with which she was so clearly ill-prepared.

"What a lovely spot," Constance gushed, raising an eyebrow in the Count's countenance. His lip curled as well with an expression that suggested a measure of contempt to Alice's scrutiny.

"More wine, my dear?" The Count held the bottle at the ready for her friend. Alice noticed that Constance had indeed already imbibed her glass of wine. This would not do. Perhaps the young girl had not chanced to drink wine previously. Wine in large quantities, Alice had long ago discovered, led to drunkenness and loud speech. Both were objectionable in a man, but completely unforgivable in a young woman of breeding.

Something must be done.

"Constance, perhaps you should have a little more cheese and bread," Alice said sweetly, handing over another generous helping to her friend. The Count seemed to take this gambit into consideration as he poured Constance's glass.

"Tricheor," he said with a smile that reminded Alice of something like a crocodile, "Do fish around in my trunk for another bottle of wine. We seem to be getting near the end of this one." The crouching servant shambled over so the Count could rummage in the case balanced on the man's back.

Up close, Alice could see that Tricheor was sweating profusely and emitting a smell something like one of the less savoury cheeses they had passed up in the shop. Nonetheless, Alice felt a pang of pity for the man. Whatever had led him into the employ of the Count, surely he was suffering as much as one might in such a position.

"It's awfully warm today," Alice commented, filling the empty space of conversation with a perfectly suitable pleasantry. "I rather wish we had brought parasols along with us. I fear we may not spend long in this sun. It would be quite calamitous for our complexions."

"Never fear," the Count parried effortlessly. "I can always send Tricheor for some suitable coverings."

Alice heard the servant wheeze with effort as he adjusted his back from the Count's searching hands. Things were going to be more challenging than she had expected.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A missive from the Queen

Who sends a Wordle of The Mangrove Legacy. Your majesty -- it's an honor!


Tricheor tumbled toward the little group with an odd, crab-like walk. "Make haste," the Count nevertheless impressed upon his servant with a touch of ferociousness. Alice found herself developing a dislike for this man that trumped his carefully proper manners.

Well, apart from the carnivorous looks he turned upon the two young women. Perhaps I am imagining it, Alice thought. Mother would no doubt speak approvingly of the Count's demeanour if not their manner of meeting.

Yet Alice found herself recoiling as the Count reached for Caroline's hand to settle her on the rock with a swiftly procured wine glass. The gesture was perfectly acceptable; however, the feral look in his eyes was something that Black Ethel would note with dismay -- or perhaps, considering the pirate queen, with a drawn sword and a swift challenge.

Alice was no pirate, but she thought at that moment it would be a very useful occupation to have.

When it came to her turn to be helped to her seat, Alice smiled with what she hoped was confidence at her companion before taking the offered seat. Caroline looked entirely meek and compliant, but filled with the heady excitement of their adventure.

Close to, the Count's expression was even more predatory and Alice felt an unaccustomed sense of protectiveness toward her young friend. Perhaps adventuring was far too tedious to undertake without the proper precautions and the appropriate level of chaperonage. How Lizzie would scorn her! Not only had Alice failed to live up to expectations of excitement, but she was nearly ready to pack it in and return home in defeat.

What would a pirate do? Alice looked at the Count, now pouring himself a glass of wine without invitation and felt her jaw tighten. If there was no one to extricate the two of them from this unfortunate association, Alice would have to do it herself.

First, though, they must have their picnic.

"Shall we have some bread and cheese," Alice said with all the confident pleasantness she could muster while keeping her misgivings buried. She could not know it but at that very moment, Alice looked quite the picture of her own mother.

"Delightful!" the Count announced, turning to badger his servant once more with an abrupt pronunciation of his name and an imperious gesture. Tricheor waddled forward until the Count could reach a variety of implements that would help cut the cheese and bread. Alice blushed again to consider how ill-prepared they were for their meal, but quickly put away her doubts under a mask of pleasantness.

Could her father have seen it, he might have been grudgingly approving. It is perhaps an aspect of the spirit world that all places are one, and Lord Mangrove might well have turned up to take in the perilous adventures of his daughter. It may be telling that he chose not to do so.

"How kind you are," Alice said with acid charm as the Count handed her the platter he had produced and upon which she arranged the bread for slicing. "Do let me have your knife. I shall have the bread ready to eat in a moment."

She tried not to imagine that the Count showed some reluctance in handing over the knife, nor what that might mean. Instead Alice smiled even more winningly and thus came to understand much more of the world.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Just then the two young women heard a voice come tentatively across the sands. "I beg your pardon…"

They looked up and saw a very nice looking young man. Perfectly respectable, Alice thought, despite his ungentlemanly willingness to be helpful. Although he appeared to be French (his clothes were far too stylish for him to be a English tourist), his manner seemed admirably proper.

"I could not help but to notice that you were in search of a corkscrew. I can call my manservant at once and give you use of mine." He nodded slightly as if to acknowledge their predicament.

Constance looked to Alice, who considered the proposition. Surely Mrs. Forward would be scandalized by accepting help from a stranger at such a juncture. That decided it. "Yes, please, s'il vous plait," Alice said with a slightly haughty curtsey. "We would be delighted with the use of your implement."

Constance giggled and looked slightly dazed. Such wild adventures! Nothing like this would ever have happened at home. Alice was certain of that as well, but relieved that their adventure had not quite reached the kidnapped/pirate ship levels of surprise. This was an adventure she could manage without assistance.

The gentleman turned slightly and called out imperiously, "Tricheor! Fetch my wine case, tout de suite." In no time, a slightly hunched man appeared with a red leather case in his arms. Handing it over to his master, the man bent low. At first, Alice assumed this was a mere show of deference, but then the young man placed the case upon the man's back and popped it open.

"Forgive me for not doing so sooner, but allow me to introduce myself. I am Count Philippe de Graves." He snapped a small nod in their general direction as he rummaged in the case, at last extracting a strange looking tool. "Et voilà!"

"Thank you -- er, merci," Alice said with a curtsey expressing both her growing discomfort with this individual and the oddness of seeing another man used as a table. France was indeed a peculiar land.

The Count strode toward their picnicking area and held out his hand for the wine bottle. Alice handed it to him, smiling as if she were quite grateful for the intervention, although she was already regretting their off-hand acquaintance.

In no time, the Count had the cork removed with a pleasing pop. He handed the bottle back to Alice, allowing his eyes to make an inventory of the young women's wardrobes that Alice found most indecent, but managed to conceal her consternation. "How kind you are."

"Have you anything in which to imbibe the wine?" The Count was looking at their picnic with some amusement, Alice thought, which he ought not to do surely.

"I'm afraid not," she answered. While she was loathe to admit this failing, Alice was even more reluctant to show her uncertainty in front of Constance who even now looked with poorly concealed nervousness at the unfolding tableau. "Do you also have glasses in that charming little case?"

"Indeed I do," the Count responded with a smile that looked rather like that a tiger might wear when facing a lame deer. "Tricheor!" The hunched man walked somewhat awkwardly down the slight hill toward the three of them.

What else might this peculiar man have in that little case, Alice wondered suddenly.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Clutching their impromptu picnicking feast, Alice turned decisively toward the strand. There it was that the young men were to be found walking this time of day. Yet surely there was nothing more seemingly innocent than two well-bred young girls enjoying the fresh air of the ocean.

Without chaperones!

The deliciousness of the thought thrilled Alice's admittedly sheltered heart and made her companion gasp with pleasurable alarm when she shared it.

"Mother will be so cross!" Constance gloated, excitement quickening her forward motion so that Alice had to step lively to keep up with her colleague. "Think of it -- cheese and young beaus of questionable family connections."

"They may be complete strangers to us," Alice added, not without the passing glimpse of her parted cousin's face before her. Surely Lizzie would not simply pass judgment on this recklessness, not after all they had been through together. It's not as if we were courting pirates, Alice, reminded herself. I have lived a wild life indeed, she asserted boldly as if her cousin were tsking at her just then. This little adventure is nothing compared to kidnapping.

Constance had no inkling of these tortured thoughts, instead aiming her mild face toward the sands that awaited their dainty steps. Surely adventure and dashing young heroes would be found in abundance there.

"This is so like a novel!" Constance crowed happily.

"Some novels," Alice cautioned, the memory of Miss Fielding's instructive tome still weighing heavily upon her memory. That the novel in question had survived the sea soaking seemed to Alice the height of inconvenience, particularly as Mrs. Forward had looked with a certain rapacious eagerness at its educational pages, wrinkled as they were by the voyage. While the book had yet to dry to a readable state, Alice was certain that the tiresome lessons of Mrs. Teachum's charges were sure to fill her evenings as soon as the pages dried.

"Oh, here's a nice spot," Constance cooed, pointing to a large sandy opening close to the water's lap.

"Perhaps not," Alice said after a moment's consideration. "Do you notice how the sea encroaches upon each successive wave? We would be under water soon, my dear friend." Constance looked rather crestfallen, so Alice cheered her by pointing to another spot nearby. "See there? A couple of flat rocks will allow us to sit comfortably without sand marring our skirts."

"Excellent, Alice. Oh, you are so very clever!"

Alice blushed at this unexpected acclaim. She had never met anyone quite as easy to impress as Constance. While Alice naturally enjoyed this unrestrainedly complimentary approval, she found herself missing the more measured assessment of her cousin Lizzie. Dear cousin, wherever she might be -- no doubt Lizzie would not be embarking on such a wild adventure as this. Alice could not decide whether that realization filled her with more fear or excitement.

The two young women seated themselves daintily upon the rocks, assuring one another that they were far more comfortable than any of the chairs in their pension (true enough, more's the pity), then spread the bounty before them, eager to sample the delights purchased.

"Alice," Constance asked with sudden perturbation, "How shall we open the wine?"

Alice's cheery smile evaporated. Here was a perplexing problem! Constance looked eagerly to Alice for answers, but the latter could only shake her head in confusion. A fine start to our adventure, Alice thought.

Monday, September 08, 2008


"Is this the way to adventure?" Constance asked Alice rather meekly as they lingered outside a shop that appeared to be a green grocers. Alice had led the two of them around town with a wayward step, unwilling to admit that she wasn't exactly certain how to go about finding adventure.

In the most recent past, adventure had done the finding of Alice. She had very little idea of how to importune fortune's help and her every natural inclination laboured against seeking out the likeliest locations of adventure. But they had to start somewhere.

"In here," she told her companion with a falsely hearty reassurance. "We must have supplies for our adventure." Alice pushed fearlessly into the shop but was immediately intimidated by the rather grumpy looking middle-aged woman behind the counter tying up bunches of garlic. Alice turned adroitly as if intending all along to reconnoiter the loaves of bread lined up like soldiers along the shelf above the onions.

Alice made a great show of examining the loaves as if she were well-versed in the qualities of fine baked goods. It was a wonder that Alice had never really examined a loaf of bread in its natural state. Toast with tea was already sliced and grilled. Alice selected a loaf and brought it to her nose. As she inhaled, the warm fragrance filled her nose with an image of the kitchen back home in Mangrove Hall. She felt a sudden surge of loss for the kindness of Mrs. Perkins and the peculiar habits of her mother.

"This is very good bread," she told Constance, endeavouring to cover her uncomfortable feelings. Constance took this comment as gospel and welcomed the loaf into her arms as if it were a foundling, grinning broadly.

"Shall we have cheese as well?" Constance inquired, mindful of her mother's undoubted disapproval of such extravagance.

Alice agreed. "Yes, certainly we must. And wine!" It seemed a good idea after all that an adventure might start with the right kind of meal.

"How shall we carry all this?" Constance asked suddenly, which made Alice realize that they were not at all prepared for their adventure. If they had had more time to plan – ah, but then would it be an adventure, she asked herself.

Alice eyed the woman behind the counter. She seemed an unlikely confederate, but there was little else in the way of possibility. People are not always what they seem, Alice reminded herself with a shake.

"Pardon, madame, er, mademoiselle," Alice hastily corrected herself. "Je n'ai pas un panier…" The words seemed to crawl only unwillingly from her throat and once more Alice regretted her poor attention to lessons.

The shopkeeper looked irritated at first but taking in the open face of Constance and the ingratiating tone of Alice's speech, she mumbled something non-committal, then pulled out a linen bag from under the counter and handed it to Alice, saying simply, "et voila!"

Alice grinned broadly and Constance clapped her hands with joy. The woman gave them a crooked grin, charmed by their simple cheerfulness. Alice selected a small bottle of wine and a couple of cheese in close consultation with the shopkeeper. By the time they left, the three were firm friends. Alice waved a farewell as they turned the corner outside.

"Where now?" Constance asked brightly.

"I have a wonderful idea." Alice said with a smile.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Lizzie could not have been unconscious for more than a moment or two before she awoke. She was somewhat flustered to find herself sprawled across Mr. Tilney’s lap and struggled to rise from the indecorous position.

"Easy now," came Tilney’s steady reply. Did she only imagine it, or was there a hint of humor in his words? Lizzie did not hesitate, however, regaining her unsteady feet beside Darcy, who seemed unruffled by the sudden appearance of a second rider, although he was sweating from the exertion of their race.

Her own mount circled skittishly, still unnerved by the sudden surprise and the wild ride. Lizzie shook her head to clear it and took a step away from Tilney. Looking up she saw that he was no looking off in the distance, a view blocked from her by Darcy. His face looked suddenly grave. Lizzie bent down and peered under Darcy’s neck in the same direction.

Across the clearing was a group of men. Lizzie was quick to realize what Tilney no doubt did – the men were engaged in a duel. The duelists stood some yards apart, surrounded by what were surely their seconds (or so Lizzie reckoned from her reading). There was a singular delight in seeing before her something she had read about so many times. Just as the first glimpse of the Bonny Read in full sail had filled her heart with a singing joy, the romantic sight of the battling rivals gave Lizzie a certain satisfaction and brought a smile to her lips. The smile faded when she beheld Tilney’s expression. "A duel," she ventured to whisper toward him.

Tilney glanced down but his grimness remained. "Duels are illegal," he said simply.

Lizzie looked again at the knot of men and saw a similar grimness on their faces. It came to her, somewhat belatedly she understood, that they were in some danger. Once more she cursed the wine muzzing her head. It was slowing her reactions.

One of the men shouted at them in French, brandishing his weapon heavenward. Tilney looked down at Lizzie. "What's he saying?" He could tell it was not good. "Can you persuade him we will not interfere?"

Lizzie tried to clear her throat and felt a sudden strangle of fear around it. "Pardon, messieurs!" she began, her voice stretching to a higher register than she had intended. What to say? Lizzie shouted that they were sorry and had come there by accident, but the men leveled their pistols at the two of them, announcing they were to come forward. She hastily explained to Tilney, who dismounted and stood by her side. It felt better to have him there and Lizzie had to resist the impulse to take his hand, something he would not at all expect from George Bennett.

"Anglais?" one of the duelists asked Lizzie as they approached. She nodded. His second squinted at Lizzie and looked back at his friend.

"C'est une femme, no?"

Lizzie felt a thrill of fear and stopped in her tracks. Tilney looked at her with surprise and then looked at the men with something like alarm. Lizzie had a moment to realize that every trace of the lazy drawler was gone from his frame. He looked ready to act.

She gulped. What to do now?

Sunday, August 24, 2008


The rapid staccato tattoo of her mount's hooves echoed in Lizzie's ears as she pulled in vain at the reins. The shots had spooked him, though, and there seemed to be little hope of stopping him until his panic subsided. She could hear Tilney's hoofbeats behind her, starting belated pursuit, but Lizzie could not help but fear that his arrival would come too late.

She cursed herself for the over-consumption of wine at luncheon. Had she been wiser, she would not have given in to Tilney's imprecations and would have been more alert – and likely far less woozy than she was beginning to feel just then. The rapid pace, normally a bracing one for that adventuresome rider, was taking a toll on her less-than-wholly settled stomach and knocking her slightly tipsy brain even further off kilter.

“Oh, mumbles,” Lizzie muttered, still pulling impotently at the reins, “I shall fall off surely.” It was not a fate to be anticipated with any glee.

The track along which the runaway horse carried her was growing ever more wild. Somehow they had left the wide path that led from the public house and headed off into a more thicjly forested area. Lizzie was alarmed to find the sound of shots repeated and at closer range. Some kind of danger lurked in the woods, that was certain, but it was a little difficult to think about it too much while she was desperately attempting to maintain her seat upon the horse. She cursed her poor training, cursed the copious wine and cursed her relative unfamiliarity with trousers.

Trousers were a revelation, indeed, she had discovered, but they did not immediately replace the expectations of a life time spent in skirts. Every thing, every motion seemed to take on a new shape. Who knew inexpressibles could have so profound an impact?

Her head began to fill with a soft susurration that promised to cloud out all logical process. Lizzie fought desperately against its force, but came to realise that her efforts were failing. I shall never be able to live with myself, Lizzie thought, if I faint away like some trifling girl. While a more dispassionate reader might find such a thing eminently forgivable given the particular circumstances, Lizzie was known for her unflaggingly harsh opinions when it came to her own conduct (for that matter, she was known to be a tad harsh when it came to the conduct of others as well, but we shall leave that by the side at present).

Just as she felt the agonizing slip into the murky state of unconsciousness, Lizzie sensed the light improving as the horse bolted into a clearing where a small number of men stood, pistols drawn and appearing to be just as surprised by her presence as she was by theirs. Even the runaway seemed to evince a puzzled air, for his steps surely began to slow, allowing in that instant a breathless Mr. Tilney to dash up and make a grab for Lizzie's reins just as she slipped sideways in her saddle.

“So very sorry,” Lizzie muttered as she fell across Tilney's lap.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Lizzie felt her feet stumble with unaccustomed awkwardness, as if they were very remote from her instead of attached to the ends of her legs. "Oh, mumbles," thought Lizzie, "I must be foxed!" It was a thought equally frightening and exhilarating. While she had seen Lord Mangrove stagger on occasion from an exquisite over-indulgence in West Indian rum, she had never imagined experiencing the effects herself. I must remember it all precisely and write it in a letter, Lizzie thought. To the King of Naples, she added quickly, then immediately realised that she could do no such thing.

This experience, although fascinating, could not have come at a more precarious time, for she needed to maintain the easy masquerade as George that she had taken up as well as concentrate on guiding her horse, for Mr. Tilney was already aboard Darcey and looking to be quite high in dudgeon, impatient to be on his way. Darcey had picked up his mood and stamped his feet with an excess of vital energy.

Lizzie's horse showed signs of the same restiveness and she had to hop helplessly on one foot as the pony danced around her, trying in vain to spring aboard the saddle. It was to her shamefaced embarrassment that the groom finally had to take a hand and help her up. She had no more than lighted in the saddle when Tilney took off at a sharp clip and Lizzie was forced to follow.

Although she wanted very much to go more slowly – and thought the sudden speed a less than prudent idea immediately after a meal and particularly when the horses were cold – Lizzie held her tongue and bounced along in Tilney's wake as well as she might, although the sloshing of the plonk in her stomach soon proved discomforting.

I shall never drink again, Lizzie promised herself foolishly, particularly if I know that vigorous exercise on horseback will follow fast upon such indulgence. Her head had begun to ache unaccountably badly and she could feel a glow of perspiration exude from her forehead. The swiftly tilting scenery went past with a nacreous green glow.

All at once a sound rang out which Lizzie recognized from recent events to be the sound of pistol shot. Tilney's head whipped around in the direction from which the shot seemed to come, reining Darcey in slightly, but the lively chestnut was unwilling to stop altogether, shying coltishly away to the left while Tilney craned his neck left, a hand raised to shade his eyes.

Coming upon the pair so quickly and with the lag of liquor in her blood, Lizzie failed to rein in sufficiently, her horse bumping into Darcey, who reared and snorted loudly. Her more timid mount shied, cowering from Tilney's stepper. At that moment another shot rang out, rather close to the two riders and Lizzie's horse took this as sure sign of danger and bolted wildly, ignoring Lizzie's heartfelt cry of "Stop! Stop!"

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Tilney seemed to awake from his momentary reverie, hastening to fill Lizzie's glass, which alarmed her. She could tell the effects of the wine were already creeping into her thoughts and it would take some effort to control them.

To distract him, she pressed for further information. "What else, pray tell, do you do to win the hearts of the delicate ones?"

Tilney sighed. "I have not been much of mood to do so lately, Bennett."

"Now, now," Lizzie said, trying to keep the arch tone out of her voice, although the roguish effect of the wine inclined her toward that outlook. "You can't let one bad experience color your actions, Tilney. Show a little spark."

Tilney chuckled and gargled a little more wine. "You're right, I suppose. But mind my words, young George, stay away from women with dimples. Dimples as a sure sign of a sensuous nature and a fickle heart."

"What about men with dimples?" Lizzie said, taking care not to smile herself. "For I noticed just now when you laughed that you have dimples yourself."

Tilney looked rather sharply at her, one brow arched high. For a moment, Lizzie feared that she had gone too far, but then the young man at last burst into laughter that was not without an edge of bitterness. "I suppose what is true of the goose must be likewise true of the gander. Damme, Bennett, but you're too clever by half. I shall have to watch myself around you."

Lizzie felt a giggle coming on and was at great pains to stifle it. Oh dear, she thought, this must be an consequence of the wine. I must get Tilney talking and distracted. She reached across to fill his glass with the last of the bottle. Better him than me, Lizzie thought. "Never mind that, Tilney, you were on to the next sure fire trick in your bag. Tell on, I need educating in the habits of fine women."

"Oh, let us not speak of women any more," Tilney said, the animation draining away from his face. "Let us speak of horses, trousers, banking schemes -- anything but women. I am through with women for the nonce." Tilney threw back the last of the wine and gestured for the landlord. Lizzie quailed at the thought that he might order more wine, but Tilney merely settled the bill and stood quickly to go.

Lizzie stood, too, and immediately felt how the wine had nudged her equilibrium off course. Swaying a little, she gripped the edge of the table and tried not to trip over her chair. Fortunately Tilney had not noticed her inebriation as he was already striding toward the door with his deliberate steps. Lizzie grabbed the last slice of bread to nibble as she followed tipsily in his wake. This will be an interesting ride, Lizzie thought.

As she passed by the table with the two young women, one surreptitiously caught her eye and smiled winningly. Lizzie smiled before she realized it and hurriedly even more quickly for the door.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Compared to the wine they had drunk with Black Ethel, this vin ordinaire seemed far rougher stuff, Lizzie thought to herself, not venturing to voice her opinion which Tilney would no doubt disparage with good natured humor. So she was surprised to hear him comment upon that very quality.

"Palatable, but not much more. Eh, Bennett?" Tilney said, his head held at a speculative angle. "In town this would be beneath my touch, but as we're in the country proper, I guess it will do." He poured a little more into each of their tumblers and grinned at Lizzie. "We'll get a little bosky and share the secrets of our amours."

"Oh, that wouldn’t really be sporting, now would it? I only asked for your advice in the broadest general terms, Tilney. No need to ramble through your conquests."

Tilney laughed. "No stories of you calf-loves, then? All right, I will share my secrets for success with the descendants of Aphrodite. Listen and learn, Bennett, and you will be a success with the pinkest of the pink when you return to our native land."
"Lawks, man, on with your advice then," Lizzie said, feeling emboldened by the wine's warm glow.

"The key," Tilney said with a knowing look, "is to flatter them of course."

"Well, yes, that works with everyone, men included," Lizzie interrupted.

"Ah, but you have to flatter women differently," Tilney insisted. "Men like to have their good qualities noticed. Girls on the other hand, need to have their imaginations awakened. Now listen first," Tilney said, noticing Lizzie's impatient gesture. "I know whereof I speak."

"A woman needs to have a picture painted of the vision she forms in your mind. She can't bear to be simply what she is -- lovely as that might be. Most of 'em have read far too many novels so they get these notions of dramatic scenes and romantic ideals. They want to be heroines, not just women, so you have to convince them that they are -- at least to you."

"I'm sure there are many sensible women whose imaginations have not been corrupted by the reading of novels," Lizzie retorted a shade too vehemently, swigging a little more wine from her tumbler.

Tilney chuckled. "Sensible women are no fun to flirt with."

Lizzie flushed, feeling again as if this sharpish young man had somehow seen through her charade. "I suppose that's true enough. Well, how would you begin to spin such a web of deceit before a docile young maiden of the realm?"

"Oh, it needn't be all lies. After all, the truth is much easier to remember." Tilney laughed a bit too heartily for such a slim joke, but poured more wine into his glass. "You must praise every limb of her frame with excessive enthusiasm --"

"My mistress's eye are nothing like the sun," Lizzie intoned bitterly as she stared into her glass.

"Oh, yes, poetry is always good -- provided it flatters," Tilney said with a strange look at his drinking partner. "Poetry sufficiently obscure might be passed off as one's own."

"Then I suppose it helps to woo an ignorant girl."

Tilney smiled but the expression stopped short of convincing. "As the sweet sweat of roses in a still," he intoned with a sonorous tone, "As that which from chafed musk cat's pores doth trill, / As the almighty balm of th' early east, / Such are the sweat drops of my mistress' breast."

"A girl might well be bewitched by your recitation," Lizzie admitted, washing down a little more red, "provided she is not scandalized by your choice of poets. Is Donne really fit for a gentle woman's ears?"

"What? A churchman of the first order, a loving husband --"

"And once a libertine who thought a true woman as rare as a falling star." Lizzie looked frankly at her companion, wondering again what really lay beneath his too-smooth exterior.

"He was onto something there," Tilney said, staring off into the distance. "Although he seemed to repent once he found such a gem."

"Is it the nature of all libertines to repent at last?" Lizzie was hardly aware of speaking her thoughts aloud, but it did not matter as Tilney appeared not to have heard.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


After a time, Tilney's light-hearted manner revived. "Well, Bennett, perhaps you're right. Perhaps I do not give women enough credit. They're not all barques of frailty, I suppose."

"Quite right," Lizzie responded as she tucked into the fine country stew the landlord set before them. "While women tend to be raised without a thought for their brains, there are many who work to develop innate abilities to the best of their circumstances."

Tilney laughed and brandished his spoon at his friend. "You seem to have an inordinate interest in some clever lass. Fess up, Bennet! Your colouring up gives you away."

Lizzie had indeed blushed at the remark, fearing that Tilney might get too close to the truth of her disguise. "Not at all, Tilney. I was merely thinking of a, er, distant cousin of mine, I knew well in childhood. She corresponded in three languages, kept a collection of unusual insects catalogued and labeled carefully, and was seldom to be found without a book of some kind near to hand."

"Ha!" Tilney said as if he were about to declare checkmate. "And tell me, is she not in fact an old maid, ignored by all men, as dry and dreary as a gnarled wych-elm."

"Not at all! She has long been considered a rather handsome woman."

"But not married, surely," Tilney said with finality, taking a healthy bite of bread as if to seal the fate of this unknown woman.

"Not yet, although," Lizzie swallowed, afraid to reveal the secret so long contained, "Although she is engaged to -- a rather prestigious person in another country." The secret confessed but still obscured left Lizzie with a pleasant feeling of both revelation and smug secrecy.

However, Tilney greeted this disclosure with a crow of laughter. "Of course! Some foreigner who's never laid eyes on her -- it’s the only possibility. No Englishman will settle for such a homely bookworm."

Lizzie tried not to show how nettled she had become, although Tilney's dismissive words struck very close to her heart. It was true the King of Naples had never laid eyes upon her, although she believed the pencil sketch she had sent to him -- although from her most flattering angle -- was a reasonably accurate depiction of her modest appearance. Lizzie knew she was not a beauty like Alice or her mother, but there was certain nothing hideous about her looks, either.

But Tilney could not know that George was really Lizzie, and a young man like George should not be quite so eager to support the vanity of a mere cousin. Be a man, Lizzie scolded herself -- bluster, brag and lie as we imagine them to do when they are out of our sight.

"'Pon rep, Tilney, I suppose you're right. You're the experienced one after all with the civilized side of womankind. I do well enough with the rougher sort. Tell me, how would you inveigle your way into the eyes of some young lass being such a notoriously picksome sort -- say, those two country girls over there?"

"Oh, a conversation like that will require fortification," Tilney drawled. Gesturing to the landlord, he called for wine, which made Lizzie worry a bit. Lord Mangrove did not approve of wine being wasted on young people without an educated palate, as he always said, so her experiences with the stuff were limited.

Nonetheless, she determined to press on. "Go on then, Tilney. I'm curious to know how you work your way around a tempting armful."

Tilney grinned. "Well, the two before us hardly qualify, but I'll tell you the secret to getting on with the petticoats without trotting too hard." He thrust a tumbler of wine at Lizzie with a laugh.

Oh dear, Lizzie thought and gulped a mouthful down.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Lizzie was grateful when the need for a luncheon became apparent and the two reined in a small country inn. The ride all morning had been noted for Tilney's unusual silence and lack of good humor. He appeared to be deep in thought and answered Lizzie's few conversational gambits with little more than a grunt.

They handed over their reins to the groomsmen and stepped into the cool comfort of the inn. It was a pleasant place of thick oak posts and lace-curtained windows. The landlord lead the two of them to a small table in the corner from which they might glimpse the other folk filling the dining room that day.

There were two young ladies sitting quietly with an older woman, perhaps their mother. To the right, an elderly pair of men sat munching cheese and bread without a word to one another. A table of four held a lively pair of couples, chatting with animation and laughing frequently at one another's comments. It gave the room a fond cheery feel Lizzie thought.

Tilney's thoughts clearly headed in another direction as he reflected misanthropically on the folks gathered there. "Honestly, Bennett, look around us. What a sad reflection of the horrors of modern life."

"Lud, Tilney. What are you talking about? I see nothing but a pleasant gathering of friendly folk. What could be cheerier?"

"Bennett, you are far too kind and trusting," Tilney snorted. "You look, but you do not see."

"For instance?"

Tilney nodded his head toward the table with the two young women and their guardian. "What does that table suggest to you?"

"Two young ladies, friends or sisters, under the careful watch of their mother or some such relative," Lizzie said feeling a little puzzled by the hint of venom in his tone.

"Not at all," Tilney said, a coldness creeping into his voice. "Two young jackdaws in training with a senior member for advice on the craft."

Lizzie laughed, a little too soprano at first, coughing to deepen it to a contralto. "Tilney, you can't be serious. They look like nice country girls and their mother, or chaperone, looks kindly if dull."

"Bennett," Tilney chided with a shadow of his usual humor, "You ignore the details. Every aspect of their simple frocks has been designed to tempt the masculine gaze, to leave us besotted with their beauty. They are, in short, snares. Hook our eyes and our purses are not far behind."

"Ah, disappointed love has ruined your perspective, my friend. Do you not think girls dress to please themselves? They do tend to delight in the little touches of silk and lace that we often ignore. Who gives a hang about types of muslin but women? Is none of it for their own pleasure?"

Tilney waved away the suggestion. "Snares for us, Bennett, and nothing more. We shall end up like those two broken hearted old men over there," indicating the two elder gentlemen.

"Now, now," Lizzie said, stranded somewhere between exasperation and amusement, "Who's to say they're broken hearted? Perhaps they are merely enjoying the comfort of an understanding silence. They have known each other for decades and are perfectly content to share the fellowship of happy memories."

"You are far too optimistic," Tilney grumbled, reaching for a piece of bread which he buttered with far too much force.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Tilney regarded Lizzie's comment for some time in silence, before admitting, "Undoubtedly, it must take a great deal to drive a woman into piracy, Bennett." He let his chestnut trot on for a few steps before continuing, "But I think most gels might come by it naturally."

Lizzie tried to cover her growing sense of irritation. "If you had heard her story, Tilney, you would no doubt be moved to tears -- even with your hard heart."

"Oh I don't doubt it, old boy. Just the same, you take the average skirt flirter and you'll find the hardened heart of a criminal."

Although he affected the same careless even tone, Lizzie could see in Tilney's bearing a growing sense of glowering ill humor. While she remained rankled by his comments on her sex in general, Lizzie was determined to find the root of this unfair prejudice. Surely he must not be too fixed in his opinion at such a young age. "I think you should spill, Tilney. What unconscionable petticoat princess has tweaked your nose?"

"Oh, it's a boring old story," Tilney muttered. "The same you'd hear from a hundred others." Nonetheless, his mood seemed to darken further and Lizzie found herself wanting to help her benefactor relieve the burden in his breast.

"Go on then, Tilney. It's a long ride and I'm sure it would help you to share this burden with one uniquely qualified to understand."

Tilney laughed and sounded a little more like himself. "Damme, Bennett! What makes a jackanapes like you at all qualified to understand the problems women cause?"

Lizzie grinned. "Black Ethel took me under her wing in a way. Gave me some insight into the way their minds work. She may be an extraordinary example of one, but she's a woman for all of that."

They rode along in silence for a few steps while Tilney seemed to turn the matter over in his mind. The fields beside them perked up in the golden light of the morning and the calls of doves came from the nearby copse. It was a lovely day.

"There was a girl," Tilney said quietly at last. "She was lovely as a summer's day, long golden hair, delicate hands and the finest of family graces." Lizzie could not help thinking of her cousin Alice and bridling at the thought that golden locks were any indication of the qualities of a young woman, but kept her tongue in check. "She promised to make me the happiest of men, Bennett, and then she threw me over for a long-limbed cad with a bigger fortune and better connections."

"A not uncommon story," Lizzie began, "But --"

"A very common story if you ask me," Tilney said with surprising fury.

"But one that can be told from either side" Lizzie continued evenly. "Why did you choose her in the first place but for her decorative beauty and family connections?"

Tilney did not respond at first, his clouded face staring fixedly at the ground. "I was dizzy about her, Bennett. Wrote her poetry and all that malarkey. I was smitten."

"But what did you know of her beyond polite agreeableness, good connections and long golden locks?" Lizzie persisted. "You probably gave more thought to the cut of your waistcoat than you did to her suitability as your life's companion."

Tilney looked at Lizzie with some annoyance. "She was lovely, well-bred and perfect."

"Did she wake early or late? Did she want to hear news from abroad or only from the local village? Did she read? Did she enjoy architecture? What did you really know of her character and spirit?"

Tilney pulled up short causing Darcy to snort with surprise. "She was my intended, not a candidate for Oxford," he said somewhat brusquely.

"Then I am not surprised she threw you over," Lizzie said with a harsh laugh. "You know your horse better than you knew her. Why do men treat women as if they were children?"

"I suppose they haven't had the benefit of piratical experience," Tilney said, his tone returning to his relaxed drawl once more, but his eyes continued to look rather more fiery than usual.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Runaway Horse

Spooked by a lady's handkerchief, your humble narrator's horse shies and runs away, detaining her from her narrative duties. Another episode will come in due time.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


"Lawks!" Mr. Tilney exclaimed for the umpteenth time, "Such adventures you had with the pirates. I should never have guessed a slight lad such as you to have had the stomach for such goings on."

"Indeed," Lizzie said with some umbrage on behalf of her seized alter ego George Bennett, though she tried to contain her nettled tone, "The size of them man is seldom any indication of character. I have known great men who quailed at the sight of a tiny mouse."

"Now, now, don’t kick up a fuss, Bennett. It's no reflection on fine lad as yourself to say the one finds amazement in all you have accomplished at such a tender age. Duly impressed, that I am."

Lizzie felt her self flush with pride, which her lively bay gelding seemed to sense and picked up his gait a little. They were riding along the eastward road and it was a gorgeous day, perfect for riding in that it was not too hot and the cool breeze from the sea was at their backs. It seemed ages since Lizzie had been on horseback -- how strange an effect kidnapping had on one's life!

There was the inconvenience and horror of the kidnapping itself, but at this moment, Lizzie would not have traded the sequence of events for the world. Their life on board Black Ethel's ship was certainly extraordinary enough, but here she found herself on the road to Italy and while her bay was not quite the fine stepper that Tilney's chestnut Darcy was, he was certainly a strong mount and a joy to bridle.

Tilney himself w as a bit of a puzzle. He maintained such an air of casual decadence with his perpetual cant and his lazy drawl, but those bewitching hazel eyes had a curious habit of probing deftly while his mouth produced a indolent smile. Lizzie knew she had to be on her guard with such a clever clogs. She even suspected once or twice that he had seen through her disguise, but as his behavior betrayed nothing of the sort, she decided that it must be a mistaken worry on her part. It was not so difficult after all, masquerading as a man. She chuckled to herself to think that things would be entirely different in the opposite direction -- what man could master the intricacies of the life of the fairer sex, where myriad strictures demanded an even greater plethora of subterfuges to circumnavigate their bindings. Lizzie chuckled to herself to think with admiration of the innumerable creativities of women.

"What are you thinking about, Bennett, that give you such a saucy grin?" Tinley asked, reining in his chestnut momentarily.

"Women," Lizzie said, the ambiguity of her thoughts and Tilney's appreciation merging in an unexpected frisson.

"Ah, Bennet, will you never learn?" The normally sunny disposition of her partner clouded briefly, Lizzie realized. "Women are treacherous, untruthful and deceiving. You should learn better and be forewarned."

Lizzie gazed with frank curiosity at her companion. "Mr. Tilney --" she began, but with an audible grumble from that target, remembered that she was not to address her pal so formally. "Sorry, Tilney, just used to the demands of pirates. But as Black Ethel herself would no doubt argue, women are no more inclined naturally to vice than men."

"You seem to have unusually strong feelings on the subject, Bennett," Tilney said at last with a hearteningly sober tone.

"When you have traveled with a pirate queen," Lizzie said thoughtfully, "You learn a lot about the worst of the lives of women."

Monday, June 23, 2008


It was the crushed hopefulness of young miss Forward that spurred Alice on to some kind of inspiration. She thought very hard about the options before them. It was a characteristically unfamiliar activity for Alice, but applying herself assiduously to the task, she soon found that indeed an idea appeared. "We shall go to the strand and talk to young men unchaperoned," she announced with decision.

Constance gasped. Alice reveled in her delicious sense of alarm. It was indeed a daring thought. Although the two of them traveling together stood little likelihood of arousing much of any talk amongst the easy-going French or even the scattered English tourists, Mrs. Forward would certainly be scandalized beyond all composure.

That was a thought worthy of savoring, Alice told herself with some satisfaction.

Constance reacted with a glee she found hard to contain. It manifested in her jumping up and down, clapping her hands together and pressing her lips together to suppress a squeal of delight. "Oh, my, do you think we should -- oh, we must! Won't mother -- do you think the gentlemen will speak to us? I couldn't bear it if they did not speak to us!" Constance had gone from delight to terror in no time at all. All the bright color evoked by the delighted hijinks had drained away to a pale wanness.

Alice, however, was confident. "We shall even dare to speak first. Being gentlemen, they shall have to speak to us."

Constance seemed convinced by this logic and flew at Alice to give her a rough embrace. "You are simply the most amazing young woman, dear Miss Mangrove."

Unaccustomed to this level of hero worship, Alice experienced an untoward dizziness of inflated self-esteem. It was bound to propel them into a properly indecorous adventure. That realization caused Alice to briefly consider swooning with excitement. However, she gathered that firstly, Constance would not be of much use in the case of an emergency, but secondly, that finding herself in the newfound position of a leader, Alice sensed that it was necessary to maintain a sense of decorum.

Instead, Alice threw back her bonnet and let her luxuriant curls bounce in the sunlight. Constance gasped once more, then grinning a little too much like a lunatic Lizzie would have sure noted, threw back her bonnet as well. Unlike Alice, she was not able to keep from looking guiltily about the street for any observers. No one seemed to notice this bold move, however, so the girls giggled delightedly, linked arms and strode together down the high street in the direction of the strand.

Monday, June 16, 2008


"Mama thinks we should always take some air after eating," Constance said with an air of uncertainty, for she half-feared, half-hoped that Alice would renew the rebellious proclamations she had made prior to their very fine luncheon of braised scallops and yummy red peppers. Constance was still in a dither of excitement about red peppers, if that was any indication of her state of mind. Heretofore having only seen green peppers, she was already in raptures about the wonders of the French experience. Her mother, naturally enough, considered this a bad sign of a potentially libertine nature and decided that henceforth luncheons would need to prove more instructively bland.

None of this had registered with Alice, however, for her thoughts throughout the luncheon had been a slightly petulant study of the same great lady's profile. Who is Mrs. Forward, Alice mused with a resentment tinged slightly by the red peppers' sweetness, to command me? I have sailed the seven seas with pirates, Alice told herself with a shake, who am I to fear this woman? Faithful readers, of course, will recognize that here Alice is fibbing slightly, or at the very least exaggerating, as she had sailed but one sea and that not for long. Perhaps Alice imagined the seas to be rather smaller than they are, believing that she had traveled more than her share. However, it would be difficult -- even for a rather poor student of geography, which certainly Alice was -- to imagine there were very many seas between England and France. One can only assume that truth had fallen by the wayside for this headstrong young woman, along with gratitude, geography and propriety.

I do not need to do as I am told, Alice continued, her words sounding a little prickly even in her own head, as if in response to some perceived criticism, although all was silent as far as she could tell. By silent one must understand that there was a constant chatter on the behalf of the young Miss Forward throughout the meal, punctuated by the occasional reproving murmur from her mother. It was a noisy sort of silence, but one for which no audience was required nor attention from the participants.

I shall do as I please. She is not my mother, Alice said with decision. Not aloud of course, but she felt all the better for voicing the thought firmly in her head. It was as good as saying it out loud with out the inconvenience of having to answer for one's words. When Mrs. Forward announced the required after-luncheon airing, Alice knew she must seize upon the opportunity. Her smile would have seemed crafty and mysterious to a careful reader of a thrilling novel, Alice was certain, then drew her mouth down suddenly in fear of discovery. Must not give away the plan.

Although there was not yet a plan to give away, Alice felt a decided thrill of excitement that she might be hatching a scheme. Now that they were out of sight of the inn, Alice ventured a glance at her companion, whose open face registered only the simple pleasure of walking with her new companion in the cheery seaside sunshine.

"Constance," Alice said with sudden decision, "Would you like to have an adventure?"

Constance beamed. "Yes, please!"

"Then we shall," Alice said with all the confidence of a well-traveled young explorer.

"Where shall we go?" Constance asked, clapping her hands in delight.

"Er," Alice said somewhat deflating her own burgeoning self-importance, "I -- I don't know."

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Chastened by the glowering presence of Mrs. Forward, Alice and Constance meekly complied with her orders. Alice dressed and Constance more or less silently accompanied her, which is to say the occasional interjection escaped along the lines of "my goodness!" or "oh mumbles!" while Alice felt a festering sense of resentment begin to stir in her breast.

In vain, she tried to quash the feelings that, she was certain, both Lizzie and her mother would have disapproved of most vehemently. Alice thought of the debt owed to the kindly Mrs. Forward, who had not only rescued her from the sea waves and certain chill (well, eventually even the lovely strand might have given her a chill from those wet clothes), but also from the possibility (admittedly slim at that point) of a watery death.

They she remembered how quickly the stern woman had shooed away the very nice circle of admiring young men who had done the requisite work of lifting her sodden form from the water while Mrs. Forward looked disapprovingly through her lorgnette.

Alice could sense her own lips taking on a rather stern expression of displeasure at the thought.

"Constance, my dear," Alice said, holding out her sleeve to be buttoned by the fawning girl. "Is your mother always so disagreeable?"

Constance nodded, the tip of her tongue sticking out at the corner of her mouth as evidence of her intense concentration upon the task before her. While Constance might never be known as one of the great minds of the century (or of any other century for that matter), she did have a wonderful sense of dedication to any simple task that she found herself capable of completing, generally greeting the accomplishment with a flourishing squeal of delight -- as she did just then, having succeeded in buttoning Alice's cuff after several fruitless attempts. "Mama is quite determined than I shall not be brought up with any vulgar traits or with any undue excitement of any kind."

Alice's stern expression deepened. While her own mother might agree with such sentiments, Alice could not help feeling that there was something very middle class about such worries. Unconsciously, she had picked up that term from her dear cousin, but had never had a likely object upon who to pronounce such short-comings.

Alice's rather livelier than expected life in recent days also contributed to her rather flashy assessment of the failures of the Forward household. She was now inclined toward a dangerous amount of pleasure and confidence. "Lawks!" she therefore pronounced, reveling in the delighted gasp of her new friend. "I live for excitement, my devoted Constance. I shall not let anyone stand in my way!"

Constance could hardly contain her amazement. In fact, she stared open-mouthed at Alice's cool confidence. "Alice! My…heavens," she managed to squeak, nearly fainting away with her own daring. "Whatever will you do?"

"What will we do?" Alice corrected her, taking her gloves in hand with a bold gesture. "I do not plan to meekly obey."

"Do you not?!"

"Well," Alice said with some uncharacteristic thoughtfulness, "Not once I have had my luncheon."

It was, Constance thought, the most brilliant thing she had ever heard.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


"Indeed," Alice said with some caution, but seeing her interlocutor poised very much like a spaniel intent on the throwing of a stick, she plunged into the start of her tale. "We were spirited away from my father's funeral by persons unknown," Alice began, taking on a breathless tone of her own.

It was simply too much for Constance, who immediately broke in with contrasting expressions of sympathy and excitement. "Oh, you poor sweet thing! Bereft of a father's love. I can't imagine how awful that must be, but then how thrilling to have been snatched away! Was it highwaymen? I have been in raptures since reading Rookwood; it must be so frightening and wonderful when they looked in with their masks and revolvers!"

Alice coughed and the torrent of words passed into a remembrance of respectful silence. "It was not highwaymen," Alice said, then reflected, "that we could see. In fact we could see nothing at all of our captors for a long time."

"How -- " Constance began, then hastily covered her mouth, sitting back from the edge of her chair with a barely suppressed thrill, but compliant once more to be listener.

"We saw only rough servants who spoke cruelly to us and threatened us with knives, sabers and pistols," Alice added, hoping that she was not distorting the memory too much, although one ought to be able to lend a story details of a pleasing nature. Already the conventions of novels seemed to have a greater influence over memory than Alice expected.

"Captive in our carriage, we were whisked along in a generally southern direction," Alice said, immediately recognizing the poor quality of her narrative. How do novelists keep their stories so compelling, she thought crossly. Constance was sure to interrupt her if she did not captivate her wandering attention quickly. Think! Alice turned her suddenly swift thoughts to Mrs. Radcliffe. What would she do?

"Our terror was supreme," Alice continued with sudden enthusiasm. "We quaked considerably and started at each cruel word. How horrid to be addressed without civility, without gentility." Alice choked on her own emotions and saw that Constance's eyes shine with similarly distilled and suppressed horror.

"If it had not been for my brave cousin," Alice continued, pursuing a sudden inspiration, "I should have simply fainted away at once."

"How fortunate to have such a strong companion," Constance burst forward, wringing her new friend's hand vigorously, but containing herself to that comment alone for the moment.

"Lizzie, dear Lizzie!" Alice said with genuine feelings, stirred at last by the inspiring account of her own adventures and her sympathetic audience. "When shall I see her again? What has become of her? How cruel the wild sea is to a little girl like I," Alice wept overcome by her own suffering and a momentary lapse in grammar.

"Oh, poor child! If only we had rescued you both," Constance joined her weeping, arm in arm like sisters.

It was thus in a sodden heap that Mrs. Forward discovered the girls, much to her dismay. Although this Alice seemed to be a genteel young girl of substantial birth, clearly she was not going to be a calming influence on her daughter. More's the pity, she muttered under her breath, but with her usual vigor, she roused the girls at once to more productive activities. "It is time for luncheon. Do dress at once Miss Mangrove!"

Saturday, May 31, 2008


Your humble narrator was waylaid by roguish highwaymen whilst in London, but has been rescued since and will have a new episode at the usual appointed time this week.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


When Alice awoke once more, she found herself far from the glare of the sunny strand and in a rather close, dark room. For a moment she experienced once more that sense of vertigo that often accompanies those enclosed after long exposure to open air, but it quickly passed. After all, Alice had spent most of her life -- save for supervised excursions to well-cultivated gardens -- within the civilizing presence of carefully tailored walls. The strangeness of the adventurous days that had passed of late slipped away from Alice's well-trained mind -- well-trained as far as the habit of her family to ignore as much as possible anything unusual.

Her mother would certainly have approved. Her father, recent events tell us, might well have disapproved, but one feels he would have been disadvantaged by his position beyond this mortal coil.

Alice yawned and stretched, enjoying the peaceful moment of waking. She took the opportunity to look around the room in which she found herself. It was simply but well appointed, from which even she might draw the conclusion that it was a kind of inn that catered to gentle folk of a pleasingly similar rank. There were signs of a maid's careful attention in the toiletries lined up carefully across the bureau. Alice looked down at herself and was pleased to see that she had been dressed in a fresh linen shift.

There was no immediate sign of her own clothes, nor of the satchel which had been tied to her wrist during the perilous journey. Alice had a momentary pang thinking of her dear Lizzie, but she quelled her discomfort with the thought that somewhere very nearby her cousin was likewise being rescued and they would soon be reunited. It was impossible to imagine otherwise, Alice told herself.

Hopping from the bed, she threw on the pink wrapper she found lying across the chair and pondered what to do next. She could see no way to ring for a servant, which seemed rather odd, but she was saved from further cogitation by the sound of a gentle knock on the door.

"Who is it?" Alice asked with a hopeful tone in her voice.

"Heavens, you're up at last!" came the lively voice of young Constance Forward, soon followed by her animated face peering around the door. Seeing that Alice had dressed herself suitably, Constance sprang into the room. Alice was soon to discover that this was her normal mode of locomotion.

"Such a long time I have been waiting!" Constance continued, hurriedly taking a seat in the chair and motioning Alice into the window seat. "I could hardly contain myself. I simply must hear your adventures! Mama said that I should let you rest and I have been hovering about waiting for any sign of life in here, so I could have a good excuse to come see you. How are you?" she concluded with a frank look up and down Alice, who seemed to meet her expectations of reasonable story-telling health.

Alice, realizing that a break had been left in the torrent of words, finally spoke. "I am feeling much better. I am quite refreshed by the sleep and the care. Where are we, if you don't mind my asking," Alice added with a shy smile.

"Our hotel, the Belle-something or other. I could never get the hang of French too much, you must teach me," Constance charged on, oblivious to Alice's tentative cough indicating that she might not be as advanced in her French studies as the young lady assumed. "Mama thinks my language skills ought to be improving much faster than they are, but there's simply so much to distract one from learning a skill when one is in foreign parts like this. Don't you find it so?"

While a question had been given, Alice found that there was not sufficient pause to make her way into the conversation at this point, and bided her time for the next pause.

"Mama says that I am incorrigible, by which I take her to mean that I am quite extraordinary in a way that seems to often exasperate her -- I used to confuse exaggerate with exasperate, but not any more. My tutor, well, the tutor I had before we came here, the one that was supposed to teach me French, which he didn't at all, he quit after one week and then we only had another two weeks or so before we left so Mama said we didn't have time to hire another tutor and I would have to learn by immersion, which sounds rather like a teapot of some kind, don't you think? Anyway, my tutor explained the difference between the two. So, do tell me all about the pirates!"

Alice lurched forward, feeling as if a carriage had come to an unexpected halt. But Constance looked at her with such glowing admiration that surely she must be expected to speak. She had just opened her mouth to do so when Constance blurted out, "It must be so exciting!"