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?