Sunday, February 24, 2008


It was early yet, but there were those here and there who stirred. Here and there, a carter hitched up his horses and a landlady opened her shutters as her meat pies baked. The smell so bewitched Lizzie's nose that she thought for a moment she might simply swoon away with the delicious aroma of that simple meal. As she slipped along the quiet streets, Lizzie pondered the relative requirements of morality and hunger. While she was not one to pay close attention to the vicar's advice on most Sundays, Lizzie had the same moral compass as most girls her age had.

Trained by novels sentimental and gothic, Lizzie knew that rules were rules, but also that rules could bend when circumstances called for it and the heroine were sufficiently in need. If she found herself in a strange country, far from home and without succor, it was perfectly understandable that a heroine might find herself taking part in activities or going places where a young woman might not be expected to wander alone.

Without realizing it, Lizzie had turned her steps toward the public house from which rose the enchanting scent of baked meats. A more seasoned observer might have guessed that Lizzie already planned to partake of the food one way or another, seeing her singular focus and the way she licked her lips as she slipped along between the sparse buildings in the dawn light. Our heroine herself, however, still sought to find thoughts reconciling her to thievery in the pages of the many novels she had read. It was unfortunate that the tome which rose to the top of her consciousness happened to be Miss Fielding's instructive volume of school girls and their governess. Miss Fielding's heroine would not allow such a thing as she was contemplating; no, her self-denying good girls would sooner starve than steal.

The kitchen window was in sight now. Lizzie could feel the marvelous scent assaulting her like an unseen mist. Now she knew how the dogs outside the butcher's shop on the high street felt. It would have been quite undignified to have her tongue hanging out, but Lizzie had never felt quite as hungry as she did then. It was with a start that she recalled her last meal aboard the Bonny Read. It gave her a disconcerting moment of confusion. None of it seemed real.

Alice, sweet Alice! Where could she be? Alone! Lost! Worse than that, she could not allow herself to go. Her head seemed to fill with a grey fog and she froze halfway across the alley, uncertain. Just then the rising sun hit her with a shaft of light and Lizzie swallowed as best she could with her dry mouth.

I shall think about this later, Lizzie told herself as resolutely as any of Miss Radcliffe's heroines. She drew in a deep breath and plunged across the road, intent upon the pies just beyond the window. She flattened herself against the wall of the public house and listened for a moment. All seemed quiet enough and she was about to dart a hand in when a loud voice startled her.

"Boy! Come here!"

Sunday, February 17, 2008


As she trudged along the road, Lizzie -- or rather George, as she must now consider herself -- considered the likelihood of carrying out her masquerade. How did men behave in general, she quizzed herself, how were they likely to speak?

Lizzie put away the poetic lines of the King of Naples and tried to ponder more ordinary gentlemen. She kept herself to that class as Lizzie feared being unable to reproduce the noise and behavior of the lower classes with any accuracy. Besides, she realized, there was little to go on for that behavior. She called to mind the very strange Mr. Radley, who seemed to always be out in the garden planting carrots or deadly nightshade (the latter, he always said, had a grave purpose to safeguard the family, but Lizzie had never known of him actually employing the flowers in any kind of scheme; perhaps that was all for the best). There was also Mr. Bird, the butler, but he seemed to slip in and out of rooms without leaving behind so much as a shadow and thus offered little in the way of useful instruction.

The less said about Master Dick Spiggot the stablehand, the better.

So she was left with the examples of various affable young gentlemen like the persistent Arthur Boylett, whose conversation never failed to drive Lizzie to find someone more charming to talk to or a dance to join. She sighed as she walked along, remembering the pressure Alice had been facing to marry that very tedious young man. When he got going on the kings of England, a very dull night was promised for all. To hear him extrapolate on the true nature of Æthelred the ill-advised was to know the true meaning of infinitude and envy the unlettered people of hinterlands who might be spared the droning experience that Arthur’s stories offered.

The constantly changing swirl of young men who appeared at various house parties and assembly rooms offered little more help. They were dressed in like manner, they spoke in the same lazy tones and, unlike Arthur, mostly spoke about horses, complimenting this or that “beautiful stepper” or threatening to draw someone’s cork if their favorite hunter were not sufficiently praised.

What we need, Lizzie thought with a certain peevishness that might be forgiven in light of the early hour and her strenuous journey, is a better class of men.

I shall simply act as my self, she vowed. I will recall to keep my voice low, speak as little as possible and not offer any opinions. I may be thought a stupid young man, Lizzie scolded herself, but I will not be discovered as a woman. With that resolution, she picked up her pace, seeing the first outlying buildings of a small town coming into view with the dawning light.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Vestis virum reddit, Lizzie thought as she wiped the water from her chin after gulping a healthy amount of water from the well. Although its dark shape had alarmed her initially, she was grateful for its cool, restorative waters. She was nervous of lingering long by the group of cottages, but Lizzie was reluctant to leave the well behind immediately. It had been too long since she had drunk so deeply of fresh water.

Where would she go anyway, Lizzie reminded herself. She peered in the midnight dark toward the lane that led right up to the well. Many a cart had traveled this way; no doubt the fishermen had carried their catch to market daily. They would head out long before dawn, surely.

Strangely, she had no desire to be noticed. While at first Lizzie had longed to knock on a cottage door and be welcomed into the friendly warmth of a nearby hearth. Caution had checked her wish then, but what about now? Surely she could risk meeting others in her guise as a young man, hair carefully pulled back, pants attesting to her stature as a man.

But Lizzie found herself desiring instead to strike out on this unknown lane and see what she might encounter along its curves. She had already begun to consider what her name might be in this masquerade. George, surely, seemed the most suitable name for some reason that she could not quite recall. Lizzie had considered Cesario, but discarded it as far too romantic a notion. After all, there would be no likelihood of meeting a Duke Orsino, as she already had a nobleman’s heart (although she felt a stab of pain remembering the state of the King of Naples’ letter and hoping that once dry it would still be legible). She would keep the Bennett surname, as it might prove useful.

With one further deep drink from the well, “George” set out on the lane heading away from the sea. If only I had some boots, Lizzie tutted, but if wishes were horses -- well, there she was. In time, no doubt, her feet would become accustomed to the rough life of the traveler. No doubt there would be much to get used to in this new life, Lizzie thought as she jumped at a strange sound, only to realize it was an owl hooting on her late night hunt.

I am alone, thought Lizzie. This thought had terrified her on the wide ocean’s waves, but now she regarded it with a strange sense of wonder. Had she ever been truly alone in her life until this singular voyage? She had certainly felt bereft when her parents had died, suddenly plunged into the position of poor relation and lonely orphan. Lizzie had been at an awkward age: not quite old enough to be on her own, yet not young enough to be the fawning child who might make new parents love her as their own. Admittedly, Alice’s parents were hardly the warm home of tender novels. The peculiar and nearly silent Lord Mangrove frightened her at first, as did Lady Mangrove with her sudden passions and constant wrangling with Lord Mangrove. Alice was sweet enough -- if only she could manage to interest her in books without pictures!

Ah, Alice, Lizzie thought with a sudden stab of longing -- where are you now?

Sunday, February 03, 2008


For a time, Lizzie could do nothing more than lie on the soft white sand and cry tears she did not realize had been waiting for release. Chary of thirst, she had held them in as she floated upon the black waters, but upon the shore once more, they came with relief, happiness and not a little grief. Alice, sweet Alice, where might she be? It was too much to hope that her dear cousin, too, had survived the pitching waves, but Lizzie would not give in to despair.

But where was she?

Once the tears subsided and the night wind began to chafe her cold clothing, Lizzie shivered and looked about. To find someone! That must be her next quest, but Lizzie stopped the shout that had risen to her lips. Many a thrilling gothic adventure rose from her memory—bereft gentlewomen, far from the care of family, so often became the terrified prey of an unscrupulous (yet often handsome and dashing) young man. Such a thing ought not happen to her.

Lizzie was cold, miserable and lost without a friend, but she knew she had a clever wit, a good sense of propriety and a reasonable knowledge of human nature. She pulled at the ropes knotted around herself and the barrel as her mind thought rather feverishly of the options. There must be warmth, or else she would soon catch her death. There must be water or she would faint from dehydration all too soon. After that, food would be the most needful thing, but fresh clothes -- how were they to be obtained? She had no money of any kind and little in the way of bargaining.

With great effort she finally released herself from the barrel’s company, chafing at her wrist and scouting about her on the strand. Now that her eyes had become accustomed to the dark of the night and the brightness of the strand, Lizzie could see that there were some cottages nearby. Probably the fishermen, she mused. I hope they don’t have dogs, Lizzie thought as she headed in that direction, telling herself that no doubt they had cats (somehow cats and fish seemed to connect naturally in her mind). While she was eager to be near people once more, Lizzie felt certain that a damp and friendless young woman like herself would be in far too vulnerable a spot to ask for assistance from people to whom she had never been introduced.

As she approached the nearest cottage, Lizzie could hear the gentle sounds of snoring and took some comfort in it. At least she was no longer alone. Approaching the corner of the little house, she peeked nervously around and drew in her breath sharply, thinking she had been seen. When no sound materialized, Lizzie drew up her courage and looked round the edge of the wall. It was not a person, but only the laundry hanging in the night breeze. With relief, Lizzie let out the breath she had not been aware of holding.

An idea struck her. While loathe to purloin from these poor folk, Lizzie knew she would be in grave danger should she not get out of her wet clothes soon. As she examined the laundry in the moonlight, she was somewhat taken aback to see nothing but boys clothes.

“Any port in a storm,” she muttered and grabbed a pair of breeches and a shirt that appeared to be about the right size. Looking carefully around, Lizzie saw no one watching and scooted away toward the next cottage to slip between it and into the darkness once more. When she was some distance away in a small tangle of shrub, she deemed it safe to disrobe and try on her new apparel. What a surprise to find that the unmentionable garment was far warmer than her frilly dress and the shirt quite a bit more comfortable than the fussy sleeves of her usual attire. Lizzie looked back at the cottages after she had knotted her wet clothes into a bundle and stuffed them inside the still damp mending bag.

She could not have known that the feeling she had was much like that of any successful thief, for if she had Lizzie might have been ashamed. Instead she felt only satisfaction that far from home and on her own, she had succeeded in the first step of her own rescue.