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!"

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