Monday, April 28, 2008


[Apologies are due from your intrepid author for her tardiness in the latest episode; she begs to explain that she had been unexpectedly delayed in the wilderness of Canada.]

"Mama!" young Constance Forward continued with an unbecoming obstinacy, "I do believe this young woman is in distress. In fact, I might hazard a guess that she is very near to drowning." She heaved an exasperated sigh and tread her way into the shallow waters near the shore. "I say, young person," she said with some bursting curiosity and no little regard for tact, "are you in distress?"

Alice looked up at the stork who seemed to be addressing her. "We do not require cauliflower today," she whispered, her voice a harsh wheeze. "Come back again next Tuesday."

"Mama," Constance repeated with some excitement. "Do come look. I believe this young woman is delirious. How very exciting!" Constance wondered briefly whether she ought not look for stick with which she ought to poke the young woman, in the event that what appeared to be a damsel in distress might in fact be some sort of dangerous fish that only masqueraded in that guise. The natural world, Constance knew, was full of creatures with wiles beyond her ken. Or so her father always said, upon those rare occasions when it came upon him to say anything at all. "Mama!"

With a not inconsiderable sigh of disappointment, Mrs. Forward wrenched herself from the account of Montoni's machinations. "Honestly, Constance, you are worse than an urchin. I do not wish to look at yet another dead fish. I have seen quite enough for a lifetime now and shall turn down the next salmon offered me."

Mrs. Forward stopped short when she saw her daughter poking at a young woman tied to a barrel with a cautious finger. "Constance, come away from that at once." Oh my, the tender-hearted mother thought, shall I have to introduce the always painful subject of death while on holiday in the south of France? It would quite take the joie de vivre out of the afternoon.

"Mama, look!" Constance said eagerly. "Hasn't she got lovely hair?"

"Dear heart," her mother said with some severity. "It is not the thing to do to compliment one when one is not conscious to appreciate it," she reprimanded her headstrong issue while nonetheless feeling relief that the steady rise and fall of the young person's form reassured her that death was not in fact before them.

"What's your name, dear?" Mrs. Forward asked, bending over the limp figure of Alice. "Are you on holiday nearby?"

Alice blinked at the sound of a commanding voice, so like her own mother's in timbre, but saw only a giant penguin before her. We must of course blame her delirious state and the choice of a the very dark grey suit and white crinoline petticoats on the part of Mrs. Forward who thought one really ought not go to pieces just because one had gone to the strand. "No fish, today, please," Alice therefore beseeched her interlocutor. "A drink of water is all I ask." The effort proved too much and Alice sank back down upon her barrel as the gentle waves rolled it back and forth. It was almost as if she were on the Bonny Read once more.

"Yet I am not seasick!" Alice thought proudly as her vision greyed into unconsciousness.

"Call some gentlemen down here," Mrs. Forward said decisively. "We must rescue the girl!"

"How exciting!" Constance said before running up the sandy shore toward the cluster of gentlemen resting in the shade of a gaily striped gazebo tent.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Alice awoke to the light of dawn -- or so she hoped, for otherwise it was the last light of the day and she did not think she could bear the thought of darkness descending. It's not that it is so disagreeable to be in the dark, Alice thought to herself, fearing to be thought childishly timid, but that creatures might lurk unseen in the water when the sun went down and as we all know, unknown creatures do grow in the murky depths when the sun goes down.

"I should not fear a small tortoise," Alice mumbled barely audible upon the gentle waves, "But I should not like to meet a giant turtle. Not in the dark anyway."

The light began to grow around her and Alice was comforted by the thought of being able to see dangers that might lurk nearby, although she quailed at the necessity of there being possible intruders near to her in the water.

She had forgotten, too, that the brilliant sun soon made her uncomfortably hot and thirsty. Alice had finally given in and rooted around in her bag to find the cheese secreted away, but she had had a great deal of trouble opening the swollen knots of chord and many tears had been shed (making her even more thirsty, alas). As Alice had suspected, the cheese did refresh her somewhat but left her with an even more burning thirst afterward. It is a considerable tribute to the trust her cousin Lizzie inspired that Alice continued to avoid drinking the tempting liquid in which she was immersed.

By midday, however, Alice had become so delirious from thirst and heat that she was beginning to lose hope and the last shreds of discipline. Surely what was wet could slake her overpowering thirst. "You must not drink the water, it will make you sick," Alice repeated through lips so cracked that any one seeing them would feel a stab of empathetic pain. "You must not drink the slaughter," Alice continued speaking to a particularly attentive young fish, "the peas will make it thick." The fish seemed to wink at her and bow politely. Alice thought she should curtsey in turn, but she was unable to lift her head from the barrel to which she clung still.

"Peas," Alice repeated, "Peas are lovely and green." The fish seemed to nod and encourage further thought, but Alice felt she had perhaps run out of wise words. What was it her father had always said? He had a Latin phrase for every occasion, which he would sternly intone from above the breakfast table, cowering all in the room with his erudite learning.

"Sic semper Saint Dennis," Alice recommended to the fish.

"Seed o' Nelly," the fish replied.

"I am far too tired for Latin now," Alice said politely but firmly. "I shall lie down now on this soft golden pillow." Indeed she could feel the warm feather bed beneath her, softly responding to her fingers. "Wake me for tea," Alice told the fish who nodded quickly and silently withdrew. It would not do to miss tea. I am so very thirsty, Alice reminded herself.

"Quelle surprise, maman! There's a young lady in the water," Constance Forward called to her mother.

"Constance, you're supposed to be practicing your French. En français, s'il vous plaît." Mrs. Forward did not look up from the gothic novel in which she was immersed. It was her considered opinion that Mrs. Radcliffe was far more exciting than life could ever be.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


When Alice next awoke it was deep night. She had a moment of confusion waking as she had from a dream. The pull of the bundle tied to her wrist had made her fancy that a large animal had been lashed to her arm and the considerable bulk of it was drawing her along. Alice had a vision of the far north woods as her location -- huge trees leaping across her path as the beast charged along ahead of her.

"Stop, stop!" she cried but the creature did not seem to hear her protestations. Instead it only lunged on, dragging the unwilling young woman behind it. I shall never ask mother for a pet again, Alice woefully scolded herself. It was quite enough to have a pony, let alone this horrid beast that seemed bent on tumbling her into the next shire.

"Alice, you must keep hold of it!" Lizzie's calm voice seemed to cut through the murkiness of the forest, and Alice looked around in vain to find her sweet cousin and beg her assistance. "Alice, the cheese!"

Alice wracked her brains to call to mind the purpose of the cheese. Everything seemed suddenly so confusing. She did seem to recall that the cheese was very important, but for what she was uncertain. Perhaps the animal that pulled her along so forcefully was in fact the cheese! Somehow it seemed right, but Alice found her self doubting the idea almost at once. Could a cheese be a beast? Could a beast be a cheese? The two questions paced back and forth across her head until Alice thought she might rather succumb to the dark shadows of the woods than consider the answers further.

Just as she was ready to give up all hope, a strange beast appeared before her. Was it the brute who had flung her along in its wake? Or was it some other fiend ready to torment her? The whooshing sound of the wind in the trees seemed very much like waves, she realized and as Alice stood looking at the strange creature she could feel them both sway back and forth as if on the seas.

The monster spoke. Monster, Alice thought, was perhaps uncharitable, but she was rather pressed to think of another word for something that appeared so curious in its form. It's head was like a gryphon's yet it had long black locks that seemed somehow familiar. The tiny wings at its back seemed unlikely to bear its weight yet the thing hovered just above the ground with the miniscule flaps. Its large shiny claws, gleaming from its furry paws and scaly feet, suggested a rather fiery temper, but its voice was soothing and kindly, if a bit rough and deep.

"By the bone-white skull and the sad catbird
You seek to find purchase on the sandy shores;
The strangest stories that you ever heard
Will pale next to tales of Alexander's wars."

In the next instant, the peculiar beast flapped its wings with finality and lifted up above the black tree tops.

"Come back, come back! I don't understand!" Alice cried and waked herself to fresh tears on the ink-dark ocean.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Alice began to think that she had always been in the water, that the life she had once imagined had been only a dream and that she was to spend the rest of her days in a purgatory of tears cried some heartless giant. The salt waves lapped at her incessantly and she had no energy to rescue the cheese that they had so carefully secreted away for sustenance. Die today, die tomorrow, it made no real difference. It must sometime come, and sooner rather than later.

She longed for a friendly face, particularly when the sun rose to its heights and made her sleepy and desirous of a drink of water. The constant lap of the waves worked like a soothing voice lulling her into a twilight state that was not quite awake and was not quite asleep. Alice thought she heard Lizzie's gentle voice and turned to see only the sunlight rippling off the waves and not even an albatross to be seen. Alive was not entirely certain that she could recognize an albatross at sight, but she felt certain that somehow she would know when she had met one.

How to greet an albatross properly, Alice mused. "Good afternoon, Sir?" or would a more general "How do you do, Miss?" be a better choice. "How do you find the seas today?" would undoubtedly be welcome to a weary traveler like herself. Would an albatross have a title? Doctor Albatross seemed unlikely -- Lord or Lady Albatross? Duke or Duchess seemed even less likely, Alice had to admit after some thought, as she licked her dry lips and tried very hard to remember why Lizzie had been so adamant about not drinking the water.

It had all been such a hurly-burly. The Pirates shouting, the waves slapping the sides of the boat and the thunder making such a pullulating noise that one had very little room for thought in one's head. Lizzie's hurried instructions amid all the confusion had stuck at first with the iron-clad weight of a divine hand. Don't drink the sea water, Alice. She had been quite firm.

But she was so thirsty! Surely it could not be wrong to have a little sip. Alice could not quite work up the interest in eating a piece of cheese and anyway, she feared it might make her more thirsty rather than less. It was hard to imagine being more thirsty than she was, however. Each lap of the wave seemed to want to jump into her mouth as if to say, "Drink me! Drink me!" Would it be so wrong to give in?

"It would certainly be most unfortunate," a calm voice at her elbow said suddenly. Alice turned her head to see a large white bird floating beside her. "It is really most ungrateful of you to ignore the advise of one much more experienced than you, who only has your best intentions at heart."

"Dear Albatross," Alice responded, suddenly feeling so woebegone that she did not hesitate to address the bird so familiarly. "I know it is wrong, but I feel such a strong compulsion to drink the water, I hardly know how to avoid doing so."

"You must think of home and your loved ones. What about that handsome Kit Barrington? Does he not delight and distract you?" The Albatross leaned toward Alice expectantly.

Alice let her mind drift back to that wonderful night of dancing. Surely that young man had left a strong impression. "Did he not have the most beautiful blue eyes? And his hair was glossy and black, curled like a halo around his head. His voice," Alice paused, eyes closed to remember, "I believe his voice was strong and confident. Yes, I believe that is so."

Thus alone on the waves Alice passed another interminable day.