Sunday, December 27, 2009


"Would it be…awkward, Miss Wychwood," Alice began, "To, ah, ask about the manner of your demise?"

Miss Wychwood's diaphanous head shook emphatically. "I have been eager to relate the circumstances of my tragic departure to some congenial person for a very long time."

Alice halted just in time from asking how very long a time, feeling somehow that it might not be quite a polite question, all things considered. Yet again Alice wished Lizzie were there to appreciate the wise decision Alice had made on her own.

Where can my cousin be? Alice thought. Is she already home?

But Miss Wychwood was waiting eagerly, her gossamer brow filled with the tale untold. "Please, do share your story with me," Alice said with genuine warmth. "I should be most grateful."

Miss Wychwood smiled. "You are so kind. Other young women have been in this room before and they were invariably alarmed at my appearance. You must be made of much sterner stuff."

Alice blushed at the unaccustomed praise. In many ways, she had become a much more remarkable young woman in the course or her adventures. However, she was unable to resist a chance to trot out the excitement of her own adventures. "If one has survived kidnapping not once but twice and has survived pirates and being lost at sea," Alice said in a rather breathless manner her former governess would have recognised from the schoolroom, "One can be rather sanguine about unusual occurrences."

"How admirable!" Miss Wychwood said with graceful generosity.

The changes in Alice were most evident at that moment, for instead of plunging into a lively account of her own perilous journey, she pulled herself up short and said quite without any trace of peevishness, "But do share your history, Miss Wychwood. I am most keen to hear the details of your tribulations."

The use of the latter word in addition to the selfless denial of center stage would have made both Mrs Martin (neé Travers) and Lizzie exchange a pleased expression of happy pride in the young woman. For the moment, we shall all have to settle for the knowledge that Alice has become a much more agreeable and self-sufficient woman.

She had improved so much so that she did not even congratulate herself on being so self-sacrificing, but simply listened attentively for Miss Wychwood's tale.

"I was once as you are now," Miss Wychwood began, her voice fervent though her figure remained somewhat insubstantial. "By that I do not simply mean alive, though I recall still how wonderful it was to be alive."

"How terrible," Alice offered, feeling helpless to locate more appropriate words of comfort. "I know I should not wish to be…no longer alive."

"There is a great deal one misses," Miss Wychwood sighed. "Warmth and food primarily. How I miss tea! And biscuits!"

Alice reached to take Miss Wychwood's hands in hers, but they passed through the mist of her form without contact.

Miss Wychwood smiled sadly. "I miss, too, the comfort of human contact. Worse than having people cry out in alarm at one, it is wretched not to be able to feel anyone's embrace."

"My poor dear Miss Wychwood," Alice said with considerable feeling, a tear escaping from her eye. "How did this horror begin?"

Miss Wychwood drew herself up to her full if incomplete height. "I was kidnapped!"

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Alice could not recall breathing until she began to do it once again. The shimmering white figure by her side seemed to float in the air. She chanced to look down and saw that not only did the woman's feet not touch the ground, but that she did not indeed seem to have feet at all.

"I do beg your pardon," Alice chanced at last to say, "Are you in fact a ghost?" She hoped it was not an impertinent question to ask. As it did not touch upon money, rank or religion, it seemed safe enough to Alice, though she feared the query might fall under the rather considerable umbrella sheltering personal information, but sure the ghost's reaction would be indication enough as to whether she had crossed that line.

"Why, indeed I am!" the ghost answered emphatically, a slight elevation to her fashionably small chin accentuating her apparent pleasure in having this singular quality remarked upon.

What a relief, Alice thought. However, immediately upon the heels this rather agreeable realisation came the troubling thought of address. What did one call a ghost? Was Miss sufficiently polite to recognise the bereaved nature of the circumstances? Was some further honorific required? Alice was perplexed. Her own brief acquaintance with funereal behaviour and requirements had been curtailed all too sharply by her kidnapping.

"O Miss ghost," she began, hesitating slightly to gauge her companion's reaction, "I hardly know how I ought to address you." Just to be on the safe side, Alice added a quick curtsey.

The ghost smiled. "I am Judith Wychwood," she said, making a curtsey of her own. "The late Judith Wychwood, I suppose I should say, but I don't think that we are required to make use of that particular title."

"If you think it is proper enough without.." Alice voiced tentatively.

"I think it is more informational than polite," Miss Wychwood said with a great show of seriousness. Alice was immeasurably impressed to have such a steady friend in evidence, which quite made her twinge with guilt over not missing her cousin Lizzie sufficiently.

At least I know Lizzie will be quite sensible and proper, Alice thought with sigh of longing.

"Please, do tell my your name, miss, so that we may be friends at once," Miss Wychwood said, looking at Alice with a most agreeable expression of anticipation.

Alice was still young enough to marvel at the idea of someone desiring to be her friend, though it was a sign of her unfortunately growing sophistication that she also felt a glow of satisfaction for the novelty of having a friend who was also an apparition. Surely few of her friends could boast of the same.

"I am Alice and I am the only daughter of Lord and Lady Mangrove of Mangrove Hall. The late Lord Mangrove," Alice hastened to add. "My father had haunted our house briefly after his untimely death," she added blushing shyly at her ability to claim some similarity to Miss Wychwood's situation.

Miss Wychwood nodded sagely, looking far wiser than her countenance might have suggested. "Indeed, we specters must frequent the location in which we met our respective demises."

Alice gasped. "You mean--!"

Miss Wychwood smiled sadly. "Indeed, I died in this very room!"

Sunday, December 13, 2009


"Monsieur! The wine!" The landlord's voice carried across the yard. While the shout had initially startled Lizzie as she helped Tilney into the carriage, relief flooded her thoughts at once. Although the haste to get away might have made them a tad bit nervous, they had proceeded with sufficient care so as to not leave anything behind. There would be no returning to this place.

"Merci, merci," Lizzie muttered as the landlord thrust the bottle and a parcel of bread and cheese into her hands. Tilney sighed a reedy thank you as well, but it could barely reach her own ears, let alone those of the landlord. "This will speed our journey and make us much more comfortable." She smiled and clasped his hand. "Now if only we could take some of your lamb stew as well…"

The landlord beamed broadly at her praise. "My cousin Armand shall take good care of you. I am sure he will bring good news upon his return of your safe travels and monsieur your friend's vast improvement. Eh bien, Monsieur Tilney? You will be well soon."

"Merci," Tilney uttered with some effort and Lizzie swung herself up into the carriage beside him. His paleness alarmed her, as did the renewed gleam of sweat across his brow.

"You shall rest now," Lizzie said quietly but firmly, lifting her arm around Tilney's shoulders to brace him as the carriage took off. He tried not to react to the sudden shift, but she could tell how much it pained him.

"Doucement s'il vous plaît, Monsieur Armand, " Lizzie called out hopefully. "My friend is still very much in pain."

"Oui, oui, je ferai ce que je peux," came the brusque response as the carriage rumbled on.

"I shall be fine," Tilney said, eyes closed but with a weak smile.

"You should rest," Lizzie cautioned, her voice softer now. She considered taking her arm from around Tilney's neck, given that its cushion was no longer as necessary, but he seemed comfortable at present, so she thought it might be best to wait until he drifted off into slumber before she took it away.

Surely it was his comfort and not her own she thought of as she admitted to the tingling warmth of his closeness.

"I can't sleep, Bennett," Tilney said with some irritation. "I have been dozing for days."

"But you need to rest and heal," Lizzie said, her cheek much too close to his. "Now you know it's best and I am right."

Tilney chuckled. "Never that, Bennett, never that. Oh, do tell me something amusing!" He closed his eyes but rather than fatigue she saw pain in his countenance.

"What shall I tell you," Lizzie echoed, her words sounding hollow in her own ears as she became conscious of her heart beating more quickly.

Tilney leaned his head back but did not seem to find comfort. "What about those mad tales of our adventures with the pirates? Not a word of truth there, I hazard a guess." At last he leaned his head to the side until it touched hers. He sighed as if at last he were comfortable.

"On the contrary," Lizzie continued softly, conscious of his ear being so close to her own. "Nearly all of what I told you was true. We did indeed sail with the pirate queen herself, Black Ethel."

"Did you indeed? Tell me more of your adventures, Bennett. I should like to be entertained."

Lizzie inhaled the scent of his hair, then closed her eyes and began once more to narrate their wild adventures aboard the Bonny Read.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


"Careful now, old fellow," Lizzie said with effort. It had taken her two trips to get Tilney's belongings down the stairs even with the landlord's help and Tilney took it upon himself to try to make his way down without her assistance. A very foolish move, for which she would have cursed him had she known anything stronger than "damme!" or "the devil take you!" both of which seemed far too flippant to match the level of irritation she had at present.

"I don't need much help," Tilney said, his stubborn look much at odds with the frailty of his pale frame. Lizzie ignored his words and took his arm in hers as they wended their way down the steps. When they reached the ground floor, Tilney drew in a sharp breath.

"Bit sharp in the ribs, Bennett," he croaked, seeking to conceal the effort those words cost him. Lizzie steered him to the nearest chair while the landlord looked on and tutted. The handful of people idling in the inn took in the scene with good-natured curiosity over their cups of cheer.

She noticed that no one stepped forward to lend a hand.

Tilney looked pale but maintained a chipper expression for the room. Only one who knew him as well as Lizzie did could ascertain the effort it took him to maintain that carefree look. She felt a pang in her heart to know how he suffered, but restrained herself from making any comment on that fact.

The landlord stepped out from behind her and looked at Tilney with some concern. "Ah, monsieur. Are you certain you should leave today? Perhaps another day of rest, no?"

Tilney should his head and gave a rakish grin. "Things to do, old man, places to be." He made as if to fumble with his cravat, but Lizzie could see the fingers tremble slightly as he fussed with the knot.

"Monsieur, could we purchase a bottle or two of your finest Bordeaux for our journey," Lizzie inquired hastily, distracting the landlord from his frowning appraisal of Tilney's visage. He shrugged and went to fetch the bottles.

Lzzie knelt down before Tilney and mopped the light sheen of sweat from his brow with his handkerchief she had still kept in her sleeve. "You'll be able to rest in the carriage," she whispered. "It will be fine."

"Not feeling so corky," Tilney muttered, closing his eyes for a moment. "Damn surgeon should have stitched me tighter, I reckon."

Lizzie couldn't entirely resist a smile. "You're just fagged to death and will doubtless fall asleep at once, leaving me to entertain myself."

"Oh, lud, you're just going to get jug-bitten and sing away the afternoon anyway," Tilney said, a little color filling his cheeks at the thought. "I'll be lucky to get even a wink with your blasted drunken caterwauling."

"It's a scandal," Lizzie agreed, relieved to see him looking a bit less pale. "I am the son of my father, truer words have never been spoken."

"Well, I must look queer as Dick's hatband," Tilney said, coughing into his sleeve. "But I'm feeling a little less peaky now, so let us make the rest of the way out to the carriage. I have a bad feeling about this magistrate."

"As you wish," Lizzie said, the words echoing strangely in her ears. She had just got Tilney to the threshold of the inn when the landlord's voice rang out in alarm.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


A short time later they heard the landlord's step on the stair. The two had managed to pack up most of Tilney's belongings and were securing the items in their proper places. Lizzie had a moment of anxiety when it came time to put away the writing case, but she decided her letter would simply have to wait. There would be time yet to write to her Italian friend.

If that were indeed what she ought to do.

Lizzie stifled a sigh. She kept an eye on Tilney, but he seemed to be moving with care now. It was unlikely that he would tax himself beyond his capability and risk his pride. One fall was enough to encourage more attention to the weak state of his frame.

The landlord's polite knock came and Tilney called him in. "Messieurs," he began, clapping his hands together with satisfaction. "Your carriage has arrived. My cousin Armand is prepared to drive you where you wish to go, so you can depart at your leisure."

"Ah," Lizzie said, stealing a look at Tilney. "We were under the impression that we were simply hiring a carriage, not a cousin."

The landlord shrugged in his incomparable Gallic way. Lizzie found herself irked by the gesture's implacability and failure to communicate anything meaningful. Doubtless that was the intent of the movement al along.

"Armand is not eager to hand his carriage over to étrangers, you comprehend?"

Tilney harrumphed in a most officious manner. "We are Englishmen after all."

Another shrug, this one less careless. "You have been good customers, monsieur. But when one leaves…" He paused, but did not seem determined to go on.

Lizzie looked uncertainly at Tilney, but the latter merely shrugged in his own inimitable style. "As you say, one cannot predict the actions of strangers."

They agreed on a price and the landlord descended the stairs once more, while Tilney and Lizzie conferred. "This is far from ideal," Lizzie hissed with some hint of venom. "How are we to make a smooth exit if this bumpkin cousin attends to us?"

"Now who's prickly?" Tilney laughed. "We shall manage, Bennett. Perhaps not at once, but we shall have more of an opportunity for concealment if we depart sooner rather than later. Recall we do have a pressing need to make ourselves scarce in this vicinity."

Lizzie sighed again. "I suppose you're right…"

"Of course I'm right!" Tilney crowed. "Now let's get our belongings together and quit this gloomy little corner. I am so very tired of being an invalid."

"But you must be careful," Lizzie scolded, gathering up the last of the handkerchiefs to tuck inside Tilney's traveling case.

"Come now, Bennett," Tilney said with a roguish grin, "Mustn't give the game away. Lawks! Someone will be thinking you're a female if you continue on in that vein."

Lizzie coloured up considerably at his taunt, but said nothing immediately, instead busying herself with the clasps of the case. Finishing her exertions, she stood erect once more with the hope that the pink of her cheeks had diminished.

Tilney's grin seemed to suggest it had not. "You're trotting too hard, Bennett."

"And you're too ripe and ready by half," Lizzie retorted. "Let's see if we can get you downstairs without your making a mull of it." She turned to open the door and thereby missed Tilney's satisfied grin.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


"Stupid thing, really," Tilney said from his crumpled state on the floor. "I just came over a bit weak."

Lizzie charged forward to slip her arms under his. "If you've torn out those stitches—"

"Steady on, Bennett," Tilney said with as much verve as usual though his face had become several shades paler than when she left the room. "I took care to collapse neatly enough. Even you should be impressed."

Lizzie continued to mutter words of considerable derision under her breath as she helped Tilney regain seating on the bed. "You might have caused additional injuries, you know," she said trying very hard to look cross and not at all relieved that he seemed to have added no further harm. As she let go of him, Lizzie found it impossible not to blush at having had need to touch him so intimately again.

To cover her embarrassment and confusion, she told Tilney that the landlord had recommended his cousin as a procurer of transportation.

"Wonderful idea, Bennett," Tilney said, looking a bit faint. His cheeks were flushed pink. Lizzie worried a bit that the strain had been too much for him, but he gamely finished knotting his cravat while she looked on. Her fingers itched to help him smooth out the fabric, but Lizzie willed them into compliance.

"I think a phaeton will be the best thing. We can doubtless hire a good sturdy carriage horse and let our mounts trot along behind us. We ought to make good time."

Tilney gave her a penetrating look. "And whither shall we wend, eh, Bennett?"

Lizzie froze. "Whither?"

"You seem to have a destination in mind already," Tilney continued, picking some imaginary lint off his spotless sleeve. "Care to impart the location to your traveling companion?"

"Ah, well," Lizzie began, but then halted abruptly. After a moment's consideration, she added with as casual an air as possible, "I thought south would be safest, of course."

"Of course," Tilney rejoined. "Why 'of course'?"

"Lud," Lizzie drawled, "they know we're English, after all."

"Tare 'n hounds, Bennett," Tilney said with evident irritation. "What's that got to do with the price of cheese?"

"Sharpen up, Tilney," Lizzie said with a small laugh. "They're going to expect us to head north to get closer to home. We'll fool them all."

"You are a bright chum to have in a scrape and no mistake," Tilney said with a grin that warmed Lizzie exceedingly. "Let's get all our gear together then, shall we? We'll be off once the landlord's relation gets here."

Lizzie turned to the desk to begin packing Tilney's belongings up and so missed his puzzled look of perplexity.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


"I'm afraid we must be asking for our bill," Lizzie told the landlord. "It is imperative that we leave quite soon, as we are expected in, ah, Italy soon, and Mr Tilney tells me it is much further than we originally ascertained and the date necessary for our arrival quickly approaches."

"Oui, monsieur," the landlord agreed. He did not bat an eyelash at the patently outlandish story, by which Lizzie was made certain that he was indeed the soul of discretion.

This was indeed fortunate for them both.

While surely he did not believe the tissue of lies she had just woven, he was not in the least bit concerned. That was something positive that Lizzie could say about the French; they were far more worldly and far less inclined to judge than her fellow countrymen. Of course he had been taken in by her masquerade, but Lizzie did not count that against him, for she prided herself on her flawless performance as a boy.

"We shall also require a carriage or a phaeton—I'm not certain what you call them here, a smallish conveyance due to Mr Tilney's injuries. I fear it will be too much effort for him to have to ride and I think it wiser to use this mode of transport."

"Oui, monsieur. Will you wish to drive the carriage yourself, Monsieur George?"

Lizzie considered the question carefully. She hadn't really ever tried to drive a cart or carriage, but given her comfort with riding horses, surely it would be possible to manage them just as well in such a conveyance. Further, it would sidestep the need to involve an outsider in their little ménage, which would certainly decrease the chance of uncomfortable questions.

"Yes," she told the landlord, "That is precisely what we need."

"Very good, monsieur. I will call my cousin, Armand. I think we can arrange for such a conveyance at least as far as the Italian border."

"We can hire someone to bring it back here," Lizzie said. "That will be the simplest thing to do."

The landlord went to fetch the boy from the kitchen to run this errand, while Lizzie considered if enough time had passed to allow Tilney to complete his toilette. She blushed at the thought of the intimate way they had somehow arrived at living. It was certainly not her intent to do anything untoward or unfitting for a young woman in her situation, but somehow since she had washed ashore in that coastal village Lizzie had been unable to reconcile her situation with propriety and so it had to be unless they unmasked altogether.

And where would they be then?

Lizzie sighed. What were they to do? She could not admit to herself that her feelings for Tilney were anything but grateful consideration for a corky individual like him, one to whom she could confide all the difficulties of her situation—well, almost all of her difficulties. Surely it was no more than that. And just as surely, he was no more interested in her than as a passing curiosity of course, she thought as she climbed the steps.

Lizzie knocked at the door. "Are you ready, Tilney?"

"Ah, not quite, but you'd better come in," came his strangled reply.

Alarmed, Lizzie threw the door open. "Good heavens, what are you doing on the floor, Tilney!"

Sunday, November 08, 2009


"Well, damme, Bennett," said Tilney, his voice a little more gruff than usual. "I feel unaccountably weak. Must be the surgery."

"Agreed," Lizzie agreed. "But can you possibly travel? We shall have to hire a coach or phaeton, surely."

Tilney regarded the issue with a passing solemnity. "Do you suppose there is one to be had in this tiny village?"

"I can ask the landlord," Lizzie said, "But first let's get you into some kind of, er, state fit to be seen." Lizzie could feel her face turn crimson with the thought. How could she be valet to this young man? It was not only improper, but also the thought was more than a little daunting to her sensibilities. She had a strange Alice-like sensation that she might just swoon with consideration of the situation.

That would not do.

How to negotiate then between Tilney's helplessness and her own sense of propriety? In vain Lizzie contemplated the options. There seemed to be little chance of escape from one scrape or another of a most perplexing kind.

"Ticklish situation, eh Bennett?" Tilney said. "My suggestion is that you lay out my wardrobe on the bed and help me to this chair here," he indicated the desired seat with and outstretched hand," Then, er, leave me to the task while you go inquire of the landlord whether there might be some suitable conveyance available. We can pursue things from there," he said, smiling as Lizzie aided him to sit on the dressing chair.

"As you wish," she sighed, looking askance at the effort this move had caused him while admiring the fine pink flush in his cheek. How had she ever considered Tilney's face to be anything less than the first chalk was a mystery? While it was not conventionally handsome, she nonetheless saw in its every line his character – at times exasperating, but always bright and observant.

In a flash, Lizzie had laid out the necessities of his wardrobe, sighing that she had had no chance to properly starch his cravat, but Tilney had taken to carelessly leaving it askew for so long, it was doubtless of little concern to him. She busied herself gathering up the details of his clothing. "There you are," she said at last, running her gaze once more over the accoutrements that littered the mattress. "Do be careful."

"I have been dressing myself for a good many years," Tilney drawled, trying to hide his amusement not at all, though his cheeks were a good deal pink. It must be the strain of rising from the sickbed, Lizzie told herself.

After a moment, she finally stepped out of the room and into the hall, and so missed Tilney's odd look of both relief and perplexity.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


"The fiend seize you, Bennett," Tilney said with genuine surprise and irritation. "What the devil do you mean, we have to leave?"

Lizzie smothered the smile that wished to bloom upon her lips. It was no good pretending that Tilney was not delightful, but she had to do her best not to make the thought plain. This will be so much more difficult now, Lizzie thought despairingly. "The magistrate," she offered. "The magistrate has arrived earlier than usual, the landlord tells me. He may well be here to investigate the duel…"

"Ah, and its aftermath," Tilney finished. His brow furrowed as he sat upright with decision. "Then leave we shall. Help me up, Bennett." He began to struggle to the edge of the bed.

"Nonsense!" Lizzie remonstrated. "You cannot possibly be thinking of getting up." In vain she tried to tuck him back into the bed.

"We have no choice, Bennett," Tilney said with admirable firmness. "Either we get on our way or we risk exposure. Be sensible, damme. We'll be brought to Point Non Plus if the magistrate arrives and begins to ask uncomfortable questions."

"I suppose," Lizzie answered, hesitating as she tried to assail his logic, but finding no real recourse.

Tilney looked at her with cool appraisal. "You may have grown accustomed to your telling of Canterbury Tales, but I think it best if we have to avoid spreading too many dubious legends in our wake. Much easier to keep track of the truth as much as possible, eh Bennett?" He crooked one eyebrow in her direction and Lizzie did her best to maintain a steadfast light-heartedness and not give in to the swooning feeling of giddiness that filled her heart at that moment.

"I suppose," she merely repeated, frowning down at Tilney. "How shall we proceed?"

"Help me up, Bennett," Tilney croaked, making an effort to swing his pale legs out from under the bedclothes.

His face looked horribly pale, so Lizzie darted forward to steady his rise from the bed. "Easy now, Tilney. We can't have you doing it much too brown, now."

Tilney gave her a crooked smile. "Curse you, Bennett, but you do have a flair for cant."

Lizzie could feel her cheeks grow pink. "Never mind that now, Tilney. We have important duties ahead of us."

"Indeed we do," he agreed, but Lizzie did not notice the gentle beam in his eyes as they took in her glowing face.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


As she stepped into the dining room of the inn, Lizzie found herself wistful. Contemplating her escape from this place suddenly made it seem so much more homey. The dingy interior and well-worn accoutrements took on a nostalgic air as she tried to force herself into thoughts of escape.

Well enough to know she had to go away -- for Tilney's good as well as her own -- but more difficult to actually act upon the knowledge. I can easily ride away, today or even tomorrow, Lizzie told herself.

But who would take care of Tilney?

Stop it, Lizzie thought with a shake. Tilney is well enough now, clearly on the way to recovery. He doesn't need you, she scolded. Lizzie did her best to ignore the stabbing pain in her chest. It didn't mean anything at all.

"Monsieur," she asked the landlord, lowering her voice mid-word as it had crept up to a higher register than usual. "If I could trouble your for some sustenance for my friend--"

The kindly landlord turned from his attentions to the glasses with mild surprise. "Ah, oui, oui. I have some lamb stew that is magnifique, even if it is I saying so." His smile was superceded almost at once by a more serious look, however.

"I have some news to share that you may not find so palatable, monsieur."

Lizzie started. "What is it?" The last thing she wanted was more surprises.

"The magistrate has arrived."

"The magistrate?" That didn't sound good, Lizzie thought.

"Oui, he arrives periodically to review local disputes and such like. He has come a bit earlier than usual, however. I do not know for certain, but I fear that perhaps someone may have told him about the duel. One suspects that he may be more interested in the principal duelists themselves, of course," and he gave a little Gallic shrug at this, "But one can never predict the actions of petite bureaucrats."

"Indeed," Lizzie answered, her voice ringing hollow in the empty room. She watched the landlord bustle around scooping some of the stew into a tureen while her thoughts ran like spring colts around the corridors of her mind. Magistrate! Law, bother, difficulties -- exposure! For both of them no doubt. This could not be borne.

"Merci, merci," Lizzie muttered as she took the tray from his hands. She made her way up the stairs as swiftly as it was safe to do, testing a wide variety of scenarios in her head as she struggled up the steps trying to keep the tureen level.

She burst through the door, startling Tilney who had a book open in his lap.

"We must depart today!"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pigeon Flu

Your esteemed authoress believes that she may have come down with a fashionable disease of some kind, which her gentlewoman's gentlewoman has declared to be the au courant sniffles otherwise known as pigeon flu among the haute ton (seemingly indistinguishable from a head cold by all but the most perspicacious). For that reason, your humble narrator of these exciting adventures begs your pardon while she recovers from this malady, for it will delay the latest episode of this most enthralling serial adventure, which ought to continue with regularity next Sabbath.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


"I must say," Tilney drawled from far too close to Lizzie's ear, "that I find this unexpectedly comfortable."

Lizzie's eyes popped open and she sat bolt upright. After a moment's confusion she realised that she was lying in the bed next to Tilney. Were it not for the fact that he lay under the duvet and she on top of it, Lizzie might well have fainted with alarm right there.

"I-I—" she began stammering as she slipped off the bed. "It was the surgeon. He insisted I rest. I did not wish to make him suspect anything was amiss, so I followed his orders." She feared that her face had probably turned scarlet.

Tilney stretched and yawned. "Well, I feel unaccountably better. And hungry. Do tell me I will be able to eat something now. Don't want that infernal sawbones to be forbidding me to put on the feedbag."

"No, not at all. In fact, he was telling me to be sure to make you eat. Let me run down to the landlord and ask him for your supper." Lizzie stepped toward the door, whisking away the lock of hair that decided to cover her eyes.

"Wait, Bennett," Tilney said, his voice softer than before. "Don't run away just yet."

Lizzie paused, attempting to compose herself before she turned her face toward his. "What is it, Tilney?"

To her surprise, his face did not reveal the usual lazy grin, but a rather more serious expression. "I knew I fell asleep like a child while you were telling me your life story, but I do hope you will enlighten me to the cause of your present ticklish situation. I do want to know."

The warmth that flushed her cheeks made Lizzie even more eager to depart. "I shall," she managed to say, her voice higher than usual from the strain of suppressing her conflicting emotions. "Do let me get you some sustenance, first."

"Bennett," Tilney repeated. "I want to know everything." His smile returned but it was almost shy and his eyes had a kind of warmth in their gaze that made Lizzie blush further. She nodded her head, not trusting herself to answer with words and hurried out the door.

In the dark of the corridor, Lizzie exhaled with relief. Why oh why, did she have to be kidnapped from her uncle's funeral, exiled on a white slaver's ship, rescued by pirates and nearly drowned in a storm just so she could run into Tilney in a small coastal village of France. It was as if some guiding influence willfully threw her into one adventure after another for its own amusement.

If only she had not been thrown into Tilney's path! If only he had been a dullard and a fool! She would not be in the situation she was. Resolutely, she turned to head down the staircase. It would be best to get away from Tilney as quickly as possible. Lizzie could not bear to wrong him or herself. The less he knew, the better.

She would have to give him the slip, as they said, leave his side and go to the King of Naples. It was the only way. Yet her steps were heavy as she descended to the main floor.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


"What on earth do you mean?" Alice demanded. It was more than a little provoking to find that while she had been kidnapped, the ransoming process had yet to begin. "Very bad form," Alice added with a sternly disapproving look. "Very bad form."

"I don't think you comprehend—" Gilet de Sauvinage began to say, but Alice cut him off with an admirably peremptory gesture.

"I am displeased," was all she said, however. But she began to understand the commanding tone her rather diminutive mother had learned to adopt. It was surprisingly effective with many members of the public.

"I appreciate that," de Sauvinage began, but Alice interjected once again.

"You may appreciate that," she said with what she hoped was a studiously severe look, "but I do not appreciate it. Such a thing is not at all to be tolerated."
"I did not of course mean 'appreciate' in quite that sense, you understand—"

"It is immaterial," Alice continued, allowing herself a very brief time in which she reveled in the thought that the word had sprung so easily to her lips. "Quite immaterial. I have a reputation to maintain and a family who misses me to distraction, I am certain." Though it was likely to be something less than the case, and in fact Alice suspected that the one family member who might well miss her a great deal was also missing and in dubious company—oh, poor Lizzie!—she nonetheless thought it rhetorically important to maintain such a façade, even if she could not quite recall the word "rhetorically," the concept was certainly clear enough in her thoughts.

"If you do not manage to arrange for a proper ransoming, I shall not be responsible for the consequences," Alice warned with an admirable air of high dudgeon, before which her kidnapped quailed with surprising effectiveness.

"I don't see what you could possibly do," he retorted nonetheless, clearly unwilling to allow Alice to seize control of the situation.

Alice drew herself up to her entire height, which was less impressive than desired while she was seated for breakfast, but she did do her best. "If you do not properly dispatch with the necessary ransom note, I shall…" She paused.

After all, what ammunition had she?

A moment later, an imperceptible time for the tense circumstances, Alice smiled coldly. "If you do not properly dispatch with the necessary ransom note," Alice repeated, "I shall summon the ghost of that dead young woman and be absolutely certain that I set her to haunting you day and night so you receive no rest whatsoever. That is what I shall do." Alice folded her arms feeling rather smugly superior.

For his part, Gilet de Sauvinage gave every sign of having been beaten. "I will acquiesce," he said with obvious irritation in his manner. "But I assure you I will ask for a substantial recompense that will make all this folderol worthwhile."

Alice smiled. She might be forgiven for looking a trifle smug at that moment, but she had never quite triumphed in any kind of verbal exchange, so there was a quite an excuse for her gloating.

De Sauvinage bowed stiffly and backed out of the room. Alice felt a flush of excitement rise up to her cheeks, doubtless coloring them pink with delight. She had little time to relish her success, however, because a wispy voice rasped in her ear, " How shall we punish him, Miss Alice?"

There was no doubt about it: a ghost hovered at her side.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


"Have I done what?" Gilet de Sauvinage asked with irritation.

"Why," Alice said, her tone suggesting that he ought to have know exactly what she meant, "I meant exactly that. Have you sent a ransom request to my family?"

De Sauvinage blenched at her inquiry. "How can you ask such a question?" he asked, his voice losing all trace of Gallic sanguinity.

"I ask because I must know," Alice responded with more than a little forceful disapproval. As unaccustomed as she was to finding herself in a position of some authority, Alice nonetheless deciphered that there had been a kind of shift in the balance of power between the two of them. Invigorated by the story of the poor young woman's travails, Alice found herself determined not to give in to the same fate.

"Have you sent a ransom note to my family?" Alice reiterated. "Tell me now!"

Gilet de Sauvinage quailed. Visibly, this was apparent.

It was not, Alice was certain, in the nature of villains to quail before heroines. She was somewhat disappointed to find that this was the calibre of villain she had attracted. Somehow it seemed a poor reflection on her.

If I were a better heroine, I would have attracted a more accomplished villain, Alice thought sadly.

"I have had some delay," de Sauvinage began.

"Why?" Alice demanded.

"I do not have a normal household staff, for one thing," de Sauvinage blustered. "If you knew what kind of efforts were required to keep a situation like this running smoothly, you would be surprised to say the least, Miss – er, Miss."

Alice shrugged with a nigh on Gallic casualness. "As the kidnapped person, I have no responsibility for those details. However, as the kidnapped person, I am horrified to find that you have done nothing toward securing my eventual rescue and ransoming. It is too shocking, too shocking by half," Alice said with more than a touch of her mother's oft-exercised sense of high dudgeon.

"Do you know how long it takes to make porridge?" de Sauvinage asked with more than a touch of bitterness.

Alice raised an eyebrow in a gesture that would have made her sensible cousin Lizzie nod with approval. "It is not my concern to know what porridge requires. You must ransom me or let me go."

De Sauvinage looked more than a tad perturbed at her suggestion. "Let you go? When it took me so long to acquire you? I do not think so." He shook his head, but Alice was not yet daunted.

"Then ransom me," she reiterated. "My family will be grateful to have me returned to them, I am certain. I wish to be free."

"I'm not sure that can be arranged," de Sauvinage said with ominous intent.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


"That's too horrible!" Alice exclaimed, leaping up in alarm. "Was it this very window?"

Gilet de Sauvinage shrugged in a not especially Gallic way. "I don't know which room it was, just that it was in this wing."

Alice blanched. "It could have been this very room. Oh, the poor unfortunate! Did her family demand justice?"

He shook his head. "They never knew what had happened to her. The terrible Comte Sangsue never even sent them a ransom note or any kind of threatening message."

"How awful!" Alice said, feeling an unaccustomed sense of faintness come over her. It had been some time since she had felt so weak. Perhaps she should eat more of her breakfast.

But there was also something niggling at the back of her mind. What could it be?

"Ever since," de Sauvinage continued, unaware of Alice's wandering thoughts, "many people have reported that they have seen wandering the corridors, a pale ghostly figure of a woman, searching, always searching."

"What is she searching for?" Alice asked as she ate some of the porridge.

"Perhaps her killer," he replied. "Or perhaps she just wants someone to blame!"

"Well, it's not my fault," Alice said with what had become her usual decided air. "She can't want to haunt me. I suppose this Comte is also dead."

De Sauvinage shrugged again. "I don't know. It's possible that he's still alive, but he is not here."

"Do you know where he is?" Alice set her spoon down as an idea occurred to her.

"I haven't the slightest idea," de Sauvinage said, sounding more than a trifle irritated with the line of questioning. "I suppose he returned to his estate, wherever that might be."

"I shall certainly tell the spectre if she returns," Alice said, returning once more to her porridge. "It is only fair that she know he is not here. She can seek her vengeance elsewhere." The latter was less than entirely distinct as Alice was still masticating a mouthful of porridge during the speech, a collision of activities that would have well and truly scandalised her mother and most of the household had they been there to experience it.

"Well, one never can tell with ghosts," de Sauvinage said. One might have caught a hint of irritation in his voice. Whether he was simply fed up with Alice's failure to be impressed with his tale or with her poor manners in speaking with her mouth full, it was difficult to ascertain.

However, he was startled when Alice suddenly dropped her spoon in horror. The utensil made an unpleasant wet smacking sound as it fell back into the porridge. She stared at de Sauvinage, her eyes round and her cheeks flushed.

"What is it, Mademoiselle Alice?" he asked, his voice choking up to a higher register and his French accent deserting him completely.

"Have you done it?!" she shouted in a most unbecoming way.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


"Murder!" Alice said with alarm. That was rather more than she had expected. "Murder?" she repeated, her voice decidedly less audible. "Here?"

De Sauvinage nodded. "It was more than forty years ago, when this villa was still occupied by the Duke."

"Which Duke?" Alice asked, forgetting her terror for a moment.

"The Duke of this villa," de Sauvinage said with a touch of irritability. "I don't know his name."

"It's a rather important fact," Alice said, her tone conveying a distinct shade of disapproval.

"Well, it is not one that I possess," de Sauvinage said with finality. "About forty years ago -- no, I cannot be more specific than that," he added, anticipating another interruption from his audience. "The Duke was away on business, of some unknown type," he rushed to say, regarding Alice with a severe look, or so it appeared from behind the disguise. "His younger brother was in charge of the estate and had some very questionable companions allowed as guests in his brother's absence."

"One of these men was the notorious Comte Sangsue, a reviled man of irregular hours and unpardonable tastes."

Alice shivered. It was quite too horrible to contemplate.

"The Comte had, unbeknownst to his host, had his henchmen spirit away a noble young lass and he received her in secret in this very house."

"No!" Alice interjected. The horror of it all! She thanked her lucky stars once again that having had to be kidnapped, she had at least been spirited away by men who knew their place. Her heart went out to the poor unfortunate even as her finely honed sense of morality shrank from the likely (and only vaguely understood) fate the poor young woman suffered.

"Indeed," Alice's own kidnapper continued. "Sequestered in a room of this villa--"

"On this floor," Alice filled in, her voice breathless with terror and excitement.

"On this floor," de Sauvinage agreed, though once again reminding her, "but probably not this room, he had her secreted away to use her for his filthy Gallic purposes."

"How terrible!"

"Indeed," de Sauvinage repeated. "When night fell, he crept away from the other revelers and made his way to the room where the frightened young woman awaited her unspeakable fate."

"Unspeakable," Alice repeated with dread fascination.

"The story was told that she did her best to resist him, shrieking in terror and fighting off his advances with all decent outcry."

"And did he…?" Alice could barely bring herself to ask.

Gilet de Sauvinage leaned toward her, his voice dropping to a whisper. "At the very last minute--"


"She evaded his advances--"


"By falling out the window and plunging to a horrible death!"

Sunday, September 06, 2009


"Shall we set the tray down, first?" Gilet de Sauvinage asked Alice. It was a bit awkward with the two of them holding on to either side which held them immobile in the doorway.

"Just as you say," Alice agreed, more intrigued by the thought of the mysterious story of the apparition than even with the idea of breakfast, although her stomach rumbled an appreciative reminder of the importance of that meal.

After some awkward fits and starts, Alice at last relinquished the tray with a sigh and retreated into the room so de Sauvinage could place the tray on the small table. The repast, once uncovered, proved to contain no kippers or even kedgeree, so Alice sighed and began to eat some of the toast.

"Now tell me of that apparition that haunts the hallways of this villa," Alice demanded, pouring herself a cup of tea with the beginnings of a cross look etching into the furrows of her brow. If she had seen this furrowing, doubtless Alice would have been worried that such furrowing would lead to later wrinkling, but she remained blissfully unaware of that physical development, instead turning a severe eye upon her capture as she chewed her breakfast. It was impossible to see if that were having the desired effect, cloaked as he was by his mysterious disguise.

However, his words seemed to suggest that her look had prompted him to mindfulness. "Yes, of course, miss. It is a strange and wonderous tale that may frighten you."

Alice shrugged. A most unladylike gesture, but she had so far fallen form gentility on this journey that she failed to even notice the common tone of her body's movement. Her mother would have been shocked indeed, so it is just as well that she was not present to see Alice's shrug.

"I don't wish to frighten you," de Sauvinage continued, now seeming more than a little reluctant to begin, which only increased Alice's irritation.

"I have been kidnapped and sailed with pirates," Alice said, more than a little crossness slipping out between her lips with not a few crumbs of toast. "I hardly thing I will faint away at the mere story of a haunting."

"As you wish, then, miss," de Sauvinage said, his words and manner somewhat stiff.

I believe I have offended him, Alice thought, and smiled quietly to herself. It was quite enjoyable to have the whip back in her hand, so to speak. "I do," Alice said, feeling rather smug and superior. "Tell on, please." She stuffed the last bit of toast into her mouth and chomped it with satisfaction.

"Many years ago, in this very place," de Sauvinage began.

Alice returned to the habit that annoyed her governess so, and immediately broke in for an explanation. "In this very place, meaning this very room?" she asked somewhat pedantically.

"Well, I don't know for certain," de Sauvinage said, nonplussed by her interjection. "I--I believe it was in this wing, though perhaps in a different room. I cannot be too certain."

"I think it would be very distasteful if it were this very room and I would have thought it odd of you to choose to sequester me here," Alice said enjoying the use of this very important word, which had welled up from her admittedly spotty memory. "Go on."

"It was, in a word," said de Sauvinage with a dramatic pause, "murder!"

Sunday, August 30, 2009


For a moment, there was no further sound after the knock. Alice quivered behind her protective bedclothes. She blinked a few times and then began to wonder if perhaps her visitor might be corporeal. A second knock at the door and the growling in her midsection convinced her that it was well worth ascertaining whether the apparition had returned or whether her breakfast might be waiting outside the door even now.

With trembling hands, Alice folded back the bedclothes neatly and swung her feet back over the edge of the bed. Gingerly she crossed the floor to the door, listening for any discernable noise on the other side of the door. Hearing nothing, she at last drew a deep breath and pulled on the knob.

Outside stood Gilet de Sauvinage, holding a tray with her breakfast. "Mademoiselle?"

Alice looked quickly down the corridor in either direction. There was no one else to be seen.

"What is it, mademoiselle?" Her kidnapper seemed to speak in tones of concern, though it was hard to tell behind the kerchief that masked his face.

"I thought--," Alice began, then paused. "Perhaps it was nothing." Her nervous tone did not match the nonchalance of her words. "Is that my breakfast?" she asked with more of her usual brisk tone.

"Oui, mademoiselle, le petit déjeuner. Let me bring it in to your room," de Sauvinage said as he attempted to make his way into the room.

Alice blocked his entrance with a subtle movement. "Do you think that is strictly necessary?" Alice asked though her stance clearly indicated it was not. "I can take the tray myself."

The unusualness of this statement in the context of her past did not strike the young lady at that time, unaware as she was of the many changes wrought by her adventures since the funeral of her father. The changes had been of a subtle nature, one by one. It was difficult for our heroine to glimpse that now increasingly distant time when she had been wholly dependent upon a range of servants and considerable parental guidance.

The Alice of not so many weeks ago would not have imagined demanding of her kidnapper, "Have you heard or seen anything in the corridor this morning?"

"I do not know what you mean, Al--er, mademoiselle," de Sauvinage said somewhat haltingly.

"I think you do," Alice said. She wished very much for a lorgnette just then, for her mother had wielded one with such aplomb that no one could countenance her perusal with equanimity. Alice had seen many a stalwart young man cave before her scrutiny.

"I assure you--" he stammered, but Alice was not convinced.

"Tell me the truth! I insist."

He seemed to be somewhat abashed at her insistence, at least as far as one might surmise under the disguise. "The truth?"

"Indeed! You must admit the truth. There is an apparition haunting these halls, is there not?" Alice accused.

De Sauvinage appeared to pause and then nodded hastily. "Yes, indeed there is, miss. It's quite a chilling story in fact."

Alice gasped. "Tell me more!"

"I shall," said de Sauvinage.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


After some time had passed, Alice peeked up over the bedclothes. All was silent. More light shone through the window now and its slightly cheerier ambiance helped to strengthen her resolve. Perhaps it was a dream, Alice told herself.

But she knew it was no dream. It was comforting, though, to try to make the incident turn hazy in her mind -- as unpleasant things should become as quickly as possible. However, the fear still made her heart beat a little bit faster just thinking about the strange vision that had appeared in the doorway.

It did no harm, Alice thought with some relief. Perhaps it did not mean to frighten her. As she recalled its spooky black garments she could not suppress a shudder which roamed through her limbs like a gypsy wagon. Picturing the way its weeds moved to a wind that was not there made her feel distinctly unwell.

But it had done no harm. It had not even spoken to her. Perhaps it was seeking help. Alice tried to dredge up from her memory stories of ghosts and whether they had caused injury to anyone. Surely Mrs. Radcliffe had presented more than a few ghosts, many of whom seemed to be more suffering that suffered from.

Alice looked out the window at the breaking morning and could feel hope and confidence return to her. A blackbird whistled merrily and the sound revived her spirits. Perhaps, like so many of Mrs. Radcliffe's ghosts, this one was offering a warning to her.

What sort of warning?!

Alice's heart began to race again, fear propelling her thoughts and veins. What if she were in some kind of danger?

Foolish girl, told herself with a shake. You've been kidnapped: of course you’re in some kind of danger. But how much? Alice fretted for a moment, but the combination of the bright sunlight pouring in through the window, the blackbird's cheerful song and the complete lack of breakfast conspired to distract her thoughts from their morbid course.

Where is my breakfast, Alice thought. It should have been here by now. Even though it was generally a simple and entirely unexciting repast, the habit of breakfasting was one she was keen to keep, even if it had not yet included kippers much as she might keep hoping.

It must surely be kippers one day, she sighed. Even kedgeree would be a welcome respite from the sad porridge and toast. If one were going to go to the trouble of kidnapping a person, Alice speculated, it would be a welcome gesture to also plan for the kidnappee's keeping with a reasonable kitchen and some kind of staff.

Alice glanced out the window at the rather sad and unkempt garden, and thought for the hundredth time that it would be very nice indeed to be able to walk out in that garden, even if it had few delights for the eye. Alice had come to regard her mother's constant reminders about the importance of daily exercise as surprisingly well-chosen.

She had nearly forgotten her fright when the sound of footsteps in the hallway jolted her back to contemplation of the door. As the steps grew louder and their maker closer, Alice sunk behind the bedclothes again, fearful and trembling as her anticipation grew. A knock came at the door and she gasped.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


"Who are you?" Alice demanded with far more confidence than she felt.

From the figure on the other side of the door, there came no reply. Its raven-black garments seemed to fluctuate with the passage of breezes, though there could surely be few such winds in the corridor. Alice could see now face beyond the chin, which poked out with an eerie paleness from below the hood that encovered the rest of the head.

"Why do you not speak?" Alice said with considerably less gusto. She could feel a strange sensation trying to crawl up her spine toward her head and she had a terrible feeling that when it got there something awful might happen.

The figure in the doorway made a strange gesture with its hands -- or what appeared to be its hands. The long sleeves of its accoutrements concealed any digits that might be found therein and Alice realised that the sensation rising to her brain was in fact panic and any moment now it might well be unleashed which would doubtless result in some sort of undignified outburst such as a scream or yelp. Either of which would surely convey a sense of terror that really ought not be revealed to apparitions of this sort, surely, Alice thought with an ever-so palpitating heart.

What would Lizzie do? Alice turned her swiftly scattering thoughts to the reliably comforting image of her cousin. In such a situation, Lizzie would be resolute even though frightened. She would think of something to say or do that would restore a sense of order to the chaos of the unknown.

Amidst the rapidly rising strangulation of alarm, Alice thought she must make some attempt to take control of the situation even as the strange figure swayed disturbingly before her.

"Did you bring my breakfast?" she blurted at last, the words squeaking out of her throat at a slightly higher pitch than normal.

The thing in the doorway began to utter a sigh that stretched into a kind of disturbing moan that made Alice want to curl her toes right up. It seemed to speak the wordless misery and hopelessness of a deeply buried hell that it had risen from only momentarily and would soon be dragged back down into without mercy or respite.

"Well then," Alice said with a decisiveness she did not feel. "I will say 'good day' to you." She closed the door with panic on her shoulder, leaping onto her head as she span around and galloped most ungracefully toward the bed. Leaping into its center, she pulled the bed clothes up to her chin and stared at the closed door.

Minutes ticked by and all remained silent. Alice could hear her own breathing in the small room and tried in vain to silence its noise. There was no movement or sound at the door. Perhaps the figure had moved on, seeking another door or another visitor to haunt. With luck it would not be back and there were surely many such rooms to investigate.

But it knows I'm here now, Alice thought. The realisation made her sink under the bed clothes and grow very quiet.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Alice turned toward the window. The morning light was yet insufficient to presage the arrival of breakfast and she fidgeted uncomfortably, wondering how it was she had become accustomed to this part of the day so gradually. Not that long ago, such an hour would have been unthinkable. It was considerably astounding that the mere lack of servants, regular hours and required occupations should so disturb her day.

Such simple things, Alice thought. How disagreeable to have to do with out them.

Worse, finding herself waking at a reasonable hour and occupying her long days with little more than reading was beginning to make her feel a trifle old for her modest number of years. Alice blinked out the window and took in the unchanging landscape. At one time she had thought it exotic and full of promise.

Now, however, it only seemed to promise a neglect which she shared. Gilet de Sauvinage repeated his demand that she accede to marriage with him and just as daily she refused. Apart from that, she had no contact with anyone. She surmised that someone must be preparing the meals of which she partook, for de Sauvinage, despite his supposed Frenchness, did not seem to be quite capable of accomplishing.

He never knew what was in the sauces, for instance.

Alice had never quite reconciled herself to the Gallic predilection for sauces. She understood gravy well enough and expected to see it on a pie, but expecting a good roast for her midday meal, she was always a bit nonplussed by the variety of sauces that had been appearing surrounding the meat that ought to have been the center of the entrée.

While travel had indeed broadened her palate (she often remembered with a start the things she had consumed upon the decks of the Bonny Read) Alice longed for a simple beef roast and potatoes with peas to add a little colour.

What she usually received was some kind of meat in a rich sauce that clearly contained a good deal more butter and cream than was strictly necessary. She had to admit that the concoctions generally tasted quite good, but she longed for the simple tastes of her home.

Who could have imagined being wistful about Yorkshire pudding? But wistful she was.

Alice turned away from the window and sighed. The landscape offering no respite from her gloomy thoughts -- in fact adding to them with the persistent drizzle that now came down from the heavens in the weak dawn light -- she turned once more to Victor's tale of woe.

She had just begun to formulate some sympathy for the sad creature's tale of abandonment and woe -- not to mention an indignation for Victor's abandonment of the same -- when a knock on the door came which signaled her inevitable breakfast.

At least it will only be bread and butter, Alice thought with some relief. Good heavens, she thought, amazed at her own violent language, what will happen the day cook decides to add sauces to breakfast?

Upon opening the door, however, she drew a sharp intake of breath signaling surprise and alarm.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


The staff have informed me that there is a desperate need for spring cleaning around here. Since the time I abandoned them all for the lure of the faro tables, I am quite contrite and admit that a bit of cleaning may well be a good thing. We will see you once the dust settles, constant reader. Bless you for staying with us.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


There was a step on the stair. Lizzie's heart leapt. It must be the physician, she told herself and hastily rolled up the letter she had begun, tucking it into her pocket, then moving swiftly to cap the ink and return all the items to their places in the letter case.

She would finish the letter later, surely. Lizzie did her best to thrust away all disruptive thoughts nagging at her mind, suggesting that it wasn't a matter of time that was needed to complete the letter, but a decision about what the contents might be. Never mind that, she scolded. Somehow it would all work out.

She instantly recognized the steady rap at the door. Crossing to open it, she found the frowning physician on the other side. He entered the room with a curt nod and went straight to the patient.

"His colour looks much better," he said placing a palm on Tilney's forehead. "And the fever, she is gone. Excellent."

"He was awake earlier," Lizzie mentioned, trying to look as appropriately nonchalant as she could manage. "I daresay he will be awake again soon."

The sawbones nodded as if this were all according to plan. "You must get him to eat. As much as possible. Do not accept his arguments. We need to restore his strength. There is always a chance he may have to fight off further infection. It was a deep wound."

Lizzie, who had assumed the worst was over, worried anew. "How will we know when he's out of danger?"

The physician shrugged in that peculiarly Gallic way. "One cannot say. We shall simply have to observe." He looked at Lizzie with his usual penetrating stare. "You need rest as much as he. It will do no good to fall ill yourself."

"Well, I -- " Lizzie stammered.

"No," he continued, waving away Lizzie's protests. "You have worn yourself out. And even with a," he paused searching for the right word, "tenacious constitution like your own, your reserves are not endless."

Lizzie swallowed and found she had nothing to say.

"Sleep, eat, rest." He gestured down at the slumbering Tilney. "Push him over. There is plenty of room for two."

Lizzie did her best to conceal her alarm. "Certainly, certainly. As you suggest."

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Lizzie felt the need to do something useful while Tilney slumbered and, tired of the endless repairing of clothes, steeled herself to do her duty. Certain that Tilney would not at all mind, she retrieved his letter case from his baggage and sat down to compose a letter to the King of Naples.

It was funny how comforting the very act of writing was. Sitting at the small table in the corner where the light shone to its best in the late afternoon, Lizzie uncapped the ink and sharpened the quill. With luck she would have some time before the physician arrived to check on his patient and see the improvement the day had brought.

She selected one of the smaller size papers among Tilney's collection. Dipping the quill in the tiny bottle, Lizzie drew a breath and quickly wrote the date at the top, marveling again how much time had passed since that fateful day of the funeral. Another dip and she write "Your Majesty," in her usual manner, which was far too florid for her liking, but she found herself incapable of writing with the neat penmanship Lady Mangrove had always praised in her own writing. However much she might control the rest of her life, Lizzie found it impossible to restrain her pen.

It was provoking. Lizzie often suspected that her handwriting revealed things about her that she would prefer to keep locked in her most private thoughts.

She dipped the pen once more into the inkpot and paused. As her hand hovered over the ink, allowing a stray drop to fall back into the bottle rather than blot the paper, Lizzie felt her good intentions sink.

What had she to say?

Her immediate thoughts were to apologize for the delay in responding to his last missive, but how then to explain what had happened in the succeeding interval? "My excuse is rogues, pirates, destitution and a considerable amount of time spent in disguise as a young man." Hardly satisfying to her correspondent, Lizzie imagined.

Nor flattering when put so baldly, she had to admit. Mrs. Radcliffe would make much of such a narrative, but Lizzie was certain she had neither the skill nor the patience to make much of the events. Besides, it wasn't really the point, after all.

What was the point, though? Telling the king that she would be coming to Naples somewhat unexpectedly? That she had taken the hinted promises as definite indications? Where did she stand with the king after all?

Lizzie stared at the clean white page and sighed. Such a terrifying tyranny in that empty space.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


As Tilney snored on, Lizzie's thoughts raced. What indeed were they to do? What was her rightful situation at this point? She glanced down at Tilney's calm face, a little careworn to be sure, but just as open and appealing as it had been at her first sight of him.

That was the problem, after all.

By all that was right, she owed her affections to the hinted promises of the King of Naples, who, if he had been less than forthright in his declarations (a factor she put down to Italianate modesty), had nonetheless implied a very positive outlook in return for her attentions.

Despite his prodigious knowledge of insects, their habits and habitats, Lizzie had found that the immediate and tangible charms of Tilney had somehow made it very easy to forget the primarily literary appeal of the King. He was royalty, too, she tried to remind herself. Italian royalty to be sure, which was not quite the same thing; nonetheless, for a woman in her somewhat marginal position in English society, royalty of a kind was nothing to be sniffed at by any means.

Yet she must admit that she had hardly spared a thought for the King in some considerable space of time. Lizzie could not simply blame the rigours of caring for Tilney in his compromised position. Tending a sick bed had often left her with ample time to peruse the informative letters posted by her Neapolitan friend, re-reading with interest his knowledgeable dissertations on the dining habits of the common cockchafer.

You have not shown the slightest interest in cockchafer lore, Lizzie scolded herself.

It was true: since meeting up with Tilney on that fateful day, she had spared little more than the occasional thought for the King and his little creatures. She looked down at her friend's slumbering visage. It wasn't that he was remarkably handsome. His face, while pleasant enough, did not have the dazzling attraction of someone like the elusive Kit Barrington, who had so fascinated her poor cousin, Alice.

Yet there was so much good humour and lively wit in that face when it was awake. That was the chief distraction, Lizzie thought with a sigh, a mind that kept up with her own. Be fair, she reminded herself, a mind that sometimes pulled ahead, too. Trapped in the well-intentioned enclosure of Mangrove Hall, Lizzie frequently tired of slowing her thoughts to match the pace of those around her. Love them as she might, she could not claim much in the way of intellectual stimulation for the kindly relatives who took her in. It was a pleasant change to be kept on her toes by a friend who was every bit as clever as she, and more than willing to chafe her verbally.

But duty was a thing a young woman ought not abandon completely. Lizzie felt a flush of shame at her own indulgent ways. As much fun as her adventures had been (in retrospect anyway; it was difficult to recall now just how frightened she had been when Tilney was shot), it behooved her to remember that pleasure was not the aim of life and she owed it to her relations and to the memory of her parents to do what was right.

"We shall go to Naples," Lizzie said aloud. Tilney stirred at her words, but did not waken, turning his sweet face away from the light from the window. Lizzie felt a painful tugging at what was surely her heart-strings. Why must he look so thoroughly agreeable just then?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Detained at the Faro Tables

Your humble narrator begs your forgiveness, but she has been detained at the faro table, where she hopes to earn back the estate she seems to have lost...

Monday, May 25, 2009


"I can see nothing for it," Lizzie said slowly, turning the thoughts over in her mind as she dared to say the words aloud, "but to continue as we have done. At least for the moment, anyway."

"Do you mean--?" Tilney frowned. "As we have done?"

"I mean," Lizzie said with the decision evident in her tone, even as she continued to sprawl luxuriously in the chair, "that we cannot change things here, certainly. And it may not be safe to alter our arrangements as we travel."

"Travel," Tilney echoed, seeming somewhat nonplussed.

"Think, Tilney," Lizzie said urgently, sitting up in her chair to regard him quite seriously. "We're in a bind now. We've gone with this masquerade for so long now that people have been taken in by it. We cannot change anything at present—it would cause too much confusion. So we need to continue to pretend. Otherwise we will be in for difficulties for sure."

Tilney frowned, but nodded his head. He must have realised she was right. "But for how long shall we do this? Surely after we leave this place we can return you to your rightful situation. Whatever that may be," he finished lamely, looking at her now with frank curiosity. "What is your rightful situation?"

Lizzie sighed. "I hardly know where to begin."

Tilney leaned back, crossing his arms behind his head. "I have no immediate plans."

Lizzie sighed again and thought about where to begin. "We were on the way to my cousin Alice's father's funeral," she began, but paused. "Perhaps I need to mention the King of Naples?"

Tilney raised an eyebrow. "Miss Austen would enjoy your tale, I suspect."

Lizzie could not entirely squelch the pleased grin that rose to her lips. "Let us begin with the funeral and add other elements as they come along."

"Were you close to your uncle?" Tilney quizzed her as he settled into his pillow.

"If you are going to ask those sort of questions at every juncture," Lizzie said with a narrowed eye, "this will take much longer than it need do."

"I am quite contrite," Tilney said with a yawn. "I will ask no more!"

Lizzie smiled. At this rate he would soon fall asleep and she need not expose all of her lively details of the story. Accordingly she made her voice as even and droning as possible as she began to tell the story of the funeral.

"It was a quiet day, very little in the way of plant growth or insect life," she started and was pleased to see Tilney's eye lids droop precipitously. "Alice and I were in our very finest mourning clothes and made sure that we had very neat and starched handkerchiefs in our pockets or sleeves, as that is certainly the most important part of funeral preparation."

Lizzie noticed that Tilney's eyes were closed now and so droned on in a similar tone. "We were riding along trying to recall what people had been wearing at the Assembly Ball," which wasn't entirely true, but seemed perfect for lulling Tilney into slumber. "I was trying to recall who had linen whereas Alice tried to recall who had worn silk and we compared notes on who had been the more raucous."

Tilney was not only asleep, but beginning to snore. Thank goodness, Lizzie thought. Now I can do a little thinking!

Monday, May 18, 2009


"How long have you known?" Lizzie couldn't decide between anger and dismay at Tilney's discovery. Surely if he had known…but ah! There was no good thinking about that.

"How long," Tilney repeated. "It's hard to say." He paused and looked up at Lizzie speculatively. "There was always a hint, I think."

"A hint!"

Tilney shrugged, the bedclothes shrugging along with him. "I knew something was not quite right."

"Nonetheless --"

"Yes," Tilney responded as if anticipating her comment, "I did nothing."

Lizzie stared at him. "You knew and did nothing. Sir, I must ask --"

"No, no, no," Tilney cried, his fist hitting the bed without a sound. "I beg you not to think of me as some kind of commonplace mind, fiend seize it! I was uncertain if I were right and what's more, I knew that if you were undertaking such a charade, there must be some kind of excuse for it."

"You mean --?"

"Yes, damme. I knew you were in some kind of havey-cavey business if you were engaging in this masquerade. I didn't know if you were in the suds with some kind of family matter or trying to escape some sort of unfortunate attachment. Lawks, Bennett, it's not as if you were easy to read."

"I suppose not," Lizzie admitted, flinging herself into the chair by the bedside, relieved at least to no longer have to carry off the disguise, although she had found it quite comfortable over time. "I was doing my best not to bring you any trouble or dis-ease."

"You were a cracking companion," Tilney admitted with a half-smile. "Lud, but you were cool-headed in the midst of that infernal dueling nonsense. I may have made a cake of myself getting shot, but I'm glad there was someone as sensible as you there to assist me, Bennett."

"You-you are most welcome, Tilney." Lizzie felt her face flush hot. As comfortable as she had been with Tilney all this time, she suddenly felt awkward and peevish now that he knew her secret and was complimenting her on her disguise.

"Not at all, Bennett," Tilney responded, his eyes searching her face carefully. "I say, what should I call you anyway, Bennett? I can't keep calling you Bennett. Nor George, I suppose."

"My name is Bennett," Lizzie said softly. "Elizabeth. Lizzie."

"Quite suits you," Tilney said decisively. "Lizzie it is."

"Thank you. I think," Lizzie said, marveling at the sound of her name from his lips.

"Well then, what are we going to do?"


"Well, we're in the devil's own scrape here, Bennett -- er, Lizzie."

"What do you mean?"

Tilney guffawed. "Let's see: you're a lone female traveling as a man, with a single gentleman for companion with a reputation as a bit of a rake, who's also been shot in the midst of a French duel. Bad form, Bennett, very bad form."

"When you put it that way…" Lizzie paused. What on earth could they do?

Sunday, May 10, 2009


"Indeed," Lizzie said with an affectedly lazy drawl. She avoided raising her eyes and concentrated on nibbling at the piece of bread very slowly. "And what would that be, Tilney?"

He paused, the soup spoon still clutched in his hand. "What was the name of the sawbones who attended me?"

Lizzie felt herself relax a little. Was this all he was wondering? "M. Sangsue. He ought to be coming sometime today in order to examine you further. He has been quite confident of your recovery when I was quite concerned."

Tilney's face looked slightly clouded, as if he were trying to recall something elusive. "It was he who fished out the shot from my side?"

Lizzie nodded. "It was quite an exacting procedure. It took him a good long while to extract the ball from your wound. Quite a bit of delicacy involved. I'm sure you'll find monsieur le docteur to be a most trustworthy and painstaking task master."

Tilney sighed, setting the spoon back in the cooling bowl of soup. "Painstaking is correct. I say, Bennett, did you help with this procedure?"

"Indeed I did," Lizzie answered, trying hard to maintain her lazy drawl even as she rose in excitement. Oh, if Alice could only see her then! How she would marvel at her cousin and her ability to sustain such a painful and difficult procedure, to say nothing of the blood. No doubt at all: it was a fabulous encounter and no less. Lizzie took unaccustomed pride in her careful charade. She had portrayed the male not only in the casual wearing of the clothes, but in the midst of shocking adventures, had maintained the role with all aplomb. "It was quite horrifying, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

"You have been a good friend, Bennett and brave." Tilney nodded sagely, leaning back again the pillows.

"Why thank you, Tilney. You're most kind."

"Why it's no less than the truth," Tilney rejoined. "Quite a lot to withstand—horror, blanche and blood," he added, shaking his head as if in disbelief of it all."

"Especially when one is a girl, yes?"

Lizzie froze once more. He knew!

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Lizzie tried not to feel her heart beating in her throat, where it seemed to have leaped at the moment she heard his words. A mystery to clear up? He could only mean the secret of her identity which he seemed to have figured out, at least insofar as he had deduced that she was not the boy she pretended to be.

As she hurried down the stairs, the feeling of panic rose. Lizzie's mind fluttered helplessly over the problem. What to do, what to do? If Tilney knew, what would he do? Would he send her away? Expose her? Or -- worse?

No, Lizzie thought with a determined chin jutted out at no one in particular, she could not think Tilney a man capable of getting her started in the petticoat line. He might not be above a scrape or two, Lizzie assured herself, but underneath all the casual devilry, he was a regular gentleman.

She ordered some soup from the landlord, who had become accustomed to her self-assured commands and scrupulous accounting. Lizzie had been loathe to use any more of Tilney's money than was absolutely necessary, but lacking any of her own, it was required.

The landlord seemed a bit spooked by her sudden appearance. He was a bit taken aback to see her so flustered and bustled himself to get the soup with all due speed. "The young monsieur, he is awake?" he croaked in his limited English as he handed the tray to Lizzie, a generous half loaf of bread with a wedge of fine ham tucked in beside the bowl.

Lizzie smiled. "Oui, monsieur. I think he has begun to recover at last."

"Dieu merci! Then perhaps you can get some rest, too. Vous êtes très fatigue!"

Lizzie smiled and shrugged in a most Gallic manner as she took the tray and headed back up the stairs. It was true, she was completely done in, as much by the worry as by the lack of sleep. She stifled a yawn. This would not do. There was still much to be done.

Pushing open the door to Tilney's room, Lizzie smiled. He looked very tired and wan, but there was more than a spark of life in his face now. "Come now, old man. I have some fine soup for you here." She laid the tray across his lap as he struggled up to a sitting position.

"Ah, Bennett, that has to be the best soup I have ever smelled," Tilney said with relish as he seized the spoon. Lizzie grinned. It was only a simple peasant stew, but it must indeed seem heavenly to his deprived senses.

Tilney dove in, scooping up a few quick spoonfuls before he spoke another word. Lizzie satisfied herself with a little handful of bread torn from the loaf. Tilney looked up at her with a familiar twinkle in his eye.

"I say, Bennett, there is one thing we need to speak about very soon,"

Lizzie stiffened, her hand frozen with the bread at her lips.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


"You are awake," Lizzie said unable to conceal the delight in her voice, though she tried to smother the grin that tried to leap across her face. "How are you feeling?"

"Decidedly odd," Tilney muttered. Lizzie was encouraged to see that his eyes retained their focus if not yet enough of their accustomed sparkle. She dipped the flannel into the bowl and reached to wet his brow once more. He lifted a weakened hand to stop her.

"How long have we been here? Where are we anyway? What has happened?"

Lizzie paused before responding, wondering just how far she should backtrack in their adventures. It was most distracting to see his clever eyes scrutinize her face as if he suspected there were something that had not been entirely resolved between them.

"You were shot," she began haltingly, sitting on the chair ext to the edge of the bed. "And you have been suffering from a fever some days, which quite alarmed me, I can tell you."

"Have I alarmed you? I apologize my friend." His look was contrite and he laid his hand on hers. "And you have been tending me, Bennett? How very kind."

"It was nothing."

"Tut -- I am certain I was a great deal of trouble and I apologize for it most heartily," Tilney said with evident regret. "And where are we?"

"In a small village that goes by the name of Old Fénelon, although it is not clear that we are anywhere near what is known as Fénelon, which was the home of the author of Telemachus," Lizzie added with a frown.

"Geography, Bennett, not history and literature," Tilney said with a little more of his dry humour. "Where are we in relation to things I would recognize?"

Lizzie coughed to disguise her embarrassment and, she had to admit, slight annoyance. The thing about having been on her own the last few days, and treated like a man, was that she had not been questioned or corrected in that time. That was the power of breeches.

"We are not far from where you were shot. Indeed, we could not have traveled far from that place as you were too gravely injured."

"Do you think that wise?" Tilney asked, trying desperately to rise. Lizzie leaned down to try to help him gently to a sitting position, though he fussed and tried to do it himself. "Those men might pursue us. We ought to have removed ourselves more decisively from the area." His protestations were cut off by a violent fit of coughing.

"You should lay back down," Lizzie scolded.

"'pon rep, Bennett. It's not like I'm befogged," Tilney responded with considerable irritation, although he allowed her to help him back down onto the pillows. "Lud, I'm weak as a kitten. What does the leech say about my chances for recovery?"

"He says that you'll be feeling corky in no time," Lizzie said with every effort to conceal her discomfort in tossing off the cant Tilney used with such panache. "Not in such words of course," she added, hoping she had not gone too far, "But the sense is there."

"Do you think a fellow might get a bite to eat around here," Tilney said with studied laziness.

Lizzie took this to mean he was starving. "I will get some soup for you tout de suite." She hopped up to do just that but Tilney called to her at the threshold and she froze.

"And then there's a little mystery about which we need to speak, Bennett!"

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Lizzie paused at the window and regarded the sprightly village scene with nothing but fatiguing numbness. For three days now, Tilney had raved in the midst of a fever, seldom knowing her face or any rest. The physician seemed to shrug it off, but Lizzie was terrified at the sunken look Tilney's once bright face had taken on.

There were dark circles under his eyes as well. Worse, he alternately raved and lay so still that she was frightened most of the time. Lizzie really couldn't decide which state was worse.

When he raved, there were things that made her blush with embarrassment. Sometimes Tilney cried out for someone named Thomasina, ardently weeping for her "soft, pale hand," then at other times he cursed her roundly in salty language that Lizzie might have expected to issue from the mouths of pirates but not the lips of a well-bred Englishman.

But when he was wan and silent, it was she who wept fearing any moment that his skin would turn cold as the grave and he would slip away from her forever, the unspoken mystery between them dying along with him.

Nonetheless he rallied again and again, sometimes regaining speech and lucidity for a short while. Tilney would wring her hand and call her friend. "Bennett," he would say, seemingly having forgotten his awareness of her masquerade, "you're a stout fellow! Stay by me in this time and I will not forget your kindness."

Lizzie had no doubt that he might well forget altogether the truth of her situation, but she was more concerned with his shifting health and inability to stay out of the weird world of shadows that illness seemed determined to place upon his brow.

"Tell my mother I am sorry," he said repeatedly when he was straying once more from his best mind. It seemed to weigh much on his conscience. "I did not mean to hurt her!" he said with a voice that tore the strings of Lizzie's heart.

Sometimes the words Tilney spoke had no connection to reality at all, and Lizzie could not follow the logic of his ramblings on ants, bees and umbrellas. He was clearly raving. But it disturbed Lizzie as she saw him grow weaker day by day.

She tried to make him eat, but even soup had no appeal. The physician suggested wine, d'accord! But Lizzie was reluctant until every thing else failed to tempt him. At last she gave in and it seemed to provoke even more heat within his ravaged frame. She had mopped his brow repeatedly this whole day and only now, when the afternoon sun seemed at its highest, did she finally pause to breathe in a little fresh air.

As these grim thoughts marched through her brain, Lizzie heard Tilney stirring afresh. Afraid that he was once more held in the coils of lunatic frenzy, she turned to re-wet the flannel that had served to wet his brow and lips, but found his eyes open and clear.

"Bennett, what has become of us?" he asked, his vision direct and frank.

Lizzie's heart leapt with hope.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


"And who are you that I should marry you?" Alice demanded.

"I am…" and he paused as if to heighten some theatrical sense of drama, "Gilet de Sauvinage!"

"Do I know you?" Alice asked, somewhat nonplussed.

"No, of course not," her kidnapper answered in a slightly more normal voice. "You don't know me at all." He also ceased to sound entirely French as well.

"I think perhaps I do," Alice said slowly, her thoughts circling around the tinge of recognizable tenor in that voice.

"Non, mademoiselle, non," he said hastily and very Frenchily. "Now, I must hasten away." With that he stepped back and closed the door suddenly. Alice heard the key turn in the lock and tried the handle. But the door would not move.

"How vexing," Alice muttered.

After staring at the door impotently for a moment or more, Alice at last sighed and turned back to regard the room. The morning light had grown slightly stronger but it was as yet only weakly stimulating. The fire would be welcome when it came, but there was no telling how long she might have to wait.

No tea, no fire, no food – it was quite barbaric. Alice tapped her foot. She felt Lizzie's absence ever more keenly. Surely her wise cousin would not stand still for such behaviour. Lizzie was so much better at commanding other people. She recalled how much more effective her cousin was at managing the recalcitrant Mrs. Perkins, who could be quite beastly to poor Alice when she was out of temper.

Thoughts of home, even of the often disagreeable housekeeper, caused a lump to well up in Alice's throat. While she had much improved her overall command of the vagaries of life as a kidnapee, she was still a young person far from home and the comfort of friends, without even a cup of tea for solace.

It was indeed quite unbearable. Alice gave in to a sudden fit of tears, throwing herself on the bed as they flowed copious and seemingly unstoppable. It was so unfair! Alice badly wished for someone to whom she could state those very words. It would be so delightful to say them aloud and receive some kindly expressions in exchange.

"It's not fair," Alice whispered, her voice barely audible in the large room. The tears still fell in rivulets across her pale cheeks. Hearing the words echo made her feel even more alone, which renewed her crying fit.

After a time, however, her sobs died down and her shoulders stopped shaking. As she wiped her tears away with her sleeve, Alice once more longed for a pocket in which she might have concealed extra handkerchiefs.

I shall never again complain about carrying a handkerchief, Alice thought, recalling all the times her mother had called after her, inquiring whether she carried that indispensable item and showing some consternation at Alice's cavalier attitude toward that accessory. Handkerchiefs were rather useful items after all, Alice admitted. How useful it would be if people simply carried extra ones with them at all times, so those without might prevail upon those who had them.

When he returns, I shall ask—no! demand a handkerchief, Alice promised herself. Picking up the novel which lay on her pillow, she got up and sat in what appeared to be an uncomfortable chair to find out what might happen to poor Victor next. At least it would keep her from dwelling on her own considerable discomforts.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


It was the same figure who had faced her previously, clad in dark clothes and wearing a broad-brimmed hat with a kerchief over most of his face. She drew back, unsettled considerably by his sinister appearance. This was her kidnapper.

"Miss Mangrove," he began, his voice raspy and low, his accent perhaps French. "You are my prisoner."

Well, that was obvious enough. In her irritation, Alice forgot a little to be afraid. It was more than a little vexing to always be dependent upon the kindness of strangers. While Alice had once counted on others to direct her daily activities, recently she had begun to find herself increasingly annoyed by the determined attempts by other people to control her days. In fact she had begun to have an irrational desire to not do anything at all until she had had a chance to think about things first.

Perhaps she had developed the taste first when leading Constance around. That eager young friend, whose absence once again caused Alice a stab of longing, had been all too ready to follow Alice even unto the very gates of Perdition, she recalled with a blush of shame.

It may have been her consciousness of that painful memory or some nascently emerging sense of self, but Alice found a reserve of anger forming deep inside her.

"What right have you to imprison me here, of all places! There is no fire, I have had no food and have nothing to change into. If you wish me to perish, congratulations! I am well on my way to illness and death."

Despite her words, Alice found she felt marvelously warm all of the sudden, stirred by her indignation to a warmer state. And as for fading away into weakness -- well, quite the opposite effect seemed to stimulate her very limbs.

For his part, the kidnapper seemed taken aback and sputtered a little behind his masquerade. "I—I—I—I'm sorry. I should have thought—"

All at once his voice seemed higher and less certain, not quite so French and almost familiar, Alice thought, where have I heard that tone before?

However, before she could explore the matter further, he harrumphed and his voice returned to the previous gruffness. "I will remedy the situation. You will be provided with appropriate food and I will have someone lay a fire for you."

"Thank you," Alice simply, unable to think of anything more appropriate.

"You are my prisoner," he repeated, as if uncertain how to proceed next.

"Until when?" Alice prompted. It would be helpful to have some kind of schedule in mind. A young woman needed to have a calendar of events upon which to order her days. That was perhaps the worst thing about all this kidnapping; schedules were so irregular.

Despite the kerchief, Alice could tell that he was somewhat horrified by her failure to properly cow before his manly authority. "Why until you marry me!" he announced with evident pleasure.

Oh dear, Alice thought. How dreadful!

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Alice shook herself awake in the pallid dawn light. For a moment she still found her thoughts with Victor and his sad story. She had cried when his mother died and bristled with anger at his father's dismissive attitude. It seemed impossible that he should part from his beloved Elizabeth to travel to Ingolstadt, but Alice understood all too well that such partings might well happen despite one's best intentions.

Perhaps he will find much to sustain him in his studies, Alice reflected. Victor is bound to discover some exciting new worlds in his university. It very nearly made her consider the idea of education as something quite romantic.

I could study something, Alice thought, looking out onto the cold dawn light which it lit the wild shrubberies along the crumbling wall. It would be quite charming to know a lot about something useful, she mused. What a refreshing change it would be, when someone asked a question about something terribly complicated for me to be able to say, "I know the answer to that."

Alice pictured herself doing just such a thing, coolly nodding with sage authority as she found the needed answer upon her lips. Of course she had no idea what sort of subject she might be inclined toward, but Alice was suddenly certain that a sense of authority arising from knowledge would be quite pleasing.

But such thoughts were as fruitless today as thoughts of sandy beaches in the West Indies. Neither were within her reach. Alice pressed her nose closer to the cold panes of the window and dully observed the tangled garden below.

How Mr. Radley would despair, she thought. Underneath the chaos one could glimpse the garden that had once been there: statues draped in careless vines, benches now crowded out by overgrown bushes that would allow no one to sit upon them had they been level even for the purpose.

Such a waste, Alice sighed.

Just then she was startled to see a dark shape move furtively through the overgrowth. She drew in a sharp breath, wondering if this were some new danger -- and then just as suddenly felt her spirits rise with hope Perhaps rescue! But the shape disappeared, if it had been there in the first place. Alice could not help wondering if she had only dreamed it.

But the thought evaporated when Alice heard a loud step in the hallway. Someone was coming!

Unconsciously Alice pulled up the covers a little higher and listened to the steps get closer. Would it be her masked kidnapper? Or was there some further disturbing character come to claim her? Suddenly Alice thought about how much worse things might be.

I haven't even had a chance to get used to this place, she thought with a wistful twinge. Yet somehow I feel I shall miss it.

The steps halted outside the door. Alice held her breath. Slowly the door opened and a figure stepped inside.

Alice gasped.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Alice had found herself shivering as she read of Mr. Walton's journey north. The frozen climate was too horrible to consider as the night grew colder and colder. She looked up from the candle-lit pages. Was no one coming to make her fire?

She pulled the duvet up close around her. It seemed odd to be reading in bed like this with the covers pulled up tight, but Alice had thought she might simply read a few pages and then feel sleepy. However, Mr. Walton's careful descriptions of the frozen north chilled her exceedingly and his longing for a bosom companion awakened a similar hunger in her.

Poor Constance! Alice wondered what she might be doing without her careful guidance. They had parted at a most inopportune moment, when Constance might well have needed her assistance in negotiating the rough waters of propriety with some natural flair. Doubtless Mrs. Forward would see to it that Constance had no further adventures in that foreign land with such dubious possibilities.

Well, it did nearly come to disaster, Alice remembered, somewhat abashed. The unpleasantness with the Count and Tricheor had almost come to something quite awkward. She shivered with an even more profound cold at the memory of that situation. On top of the artic descriptions from her book, it was enough to make tears well in her eyes.

Where is my companion? Alice thought, turning back a few pages to find those words that had so moved her. Ah, there: "I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans."

It would not be so bad to be thus misused, kidnapped, taken from family and friends, Alice assured herself, if I had such a friend. I did have once, she thought, and I used her ill. How I would hang about poor Lizzie, complaining and wailing! What a poor companion I must have been for her. Alice looked out into the moonlit night. Where was Lizzie now? Did she know how sorry Alice was? Perhaps she is glad I am not with her, Alice told herself, feeling more wretched by the moment. If she is home already, she may well be enjoying the quiet and the peace.

With that thought, little Alice burst into real tears, her sobs echoing in the big room. No one heard her cries, or if they did, nothing came of them, for she was not disturbed by any sound or movement outside the room.

If you keep crying like this, Alice finally convinced herself, you will fill the room with tears and simply float away. That will not do. Stop crying at once, she said trying to be severe with herself. You don't want to find yourself swimming in a pool of tears.

Besides, she said with a little shake, won't it be interesting to find out who this curious man is who's just come up to Walton's ship in the middle of the frozen ice. Who could be lurking in such a place? Would Walton and his men perish where they were, rooted to the spot by the treacherous ice surrounding them?

I must find out, Alice decided and turned back to her novel as the night grew darker.