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!"