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.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Eagerly Alice approached the bookshelf to take a thick volume in her hands. The well-worn cover was impossible to decipher in the poorly lit gloom of the room, so she flipped the cover open to the title page. Disappointingly, everything seemed to be in some nearly indecipherable script with far too many flourishes and, Alice was almost certain, in German.

It was bad enough to have her hopes dashed, but to have them dashed so in such a decisively Teutonic manner was unforgivable. It was probably something dreadful and educational. Whoever this Goethe chap was, Alice was certain he could not possibly be any fun as the letters of the book looked entirely too fussy and particular.

Sighing, she returned the volume to its place and sought another. Imagine her horror up recognizing the dread name of Fielding and knowing that she held yet another copy of the interminably instructive book by that good woman, The Governess.

If I wanted to be educated, Alice thought perhaps a bit unfairly, I shouldn't have bothered to be kidnapped. However, uncertain what else might lurk among the materials, she held the book in reserve. After all, Miss Fielding was better than nothing at all. She would not have credited it while engaged in her seemingly endless lessons with Miss Travers, but Alice actually missed reading and being quizzed about the contents of a story (though not enough to long for writing essays, it must be admitted).

Or Lizzie's interminable questions: with a sigh, Alice wondered yet again what might have become of her fair cousin, who was far more practical and resourceful and could be home already at that very moment. She was probably chatting comfortably with Alice's mother at that very moment, enjoying the scent of some fine orchids from Mr. Radley's greenhouse.

It should be remarked that Alice let a single tear fall thinking longingly of such a comfortable scene, but one should probably note that this was a rather restrained reaction for the young woman who once burst into tears because she could not have orange marmalade on her toast at tea on a particular April day.

With no one to comfort her, Alice turned again to the shelf in hopes of locating a tale of sufficient entertainment value to divert her thoughts from the terrible tediousness of being kidnapped in a strange villa by an unknown assailant.

Once, Alice thought, I would have thought that a very romantic and diverting scenario. The truth was that it had become more than a little tiresome. There were moments of kidnapping that were quite exciting, but there were an awful lot of aspects of the project where time lagged considerably.

The next volume, although slim, looked far more weighted with potential. There was no author listed (always a good sign, as it suggested contents too scandalous to be acknowledged) and the title, while foreign, seemed to be steeped with mystery. And mentioning a Greek god in the subtitle could only be a good thing.

The Greeks, while famous philosophers, had lodged in Alice's mind as a plethora of scandalous figures. Taking the book and the light to her bedside, she felt the choice made had been a good one as the preface spoke of an "impossible occurrence" and a "work of fancy" and "weaving a series of supernatural terrors."

Here is something without any educational value at all, Alice told herself with great satisfaction.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Alice followed along with the masked man with the pistol. What was the alternative? Alice was far too sensible to give into histrionics and after all, she was discovering that kidnapping did not have to be the end of things.

It was rather shocking to consider how frightened she had been the first time, Alice reflected as they walked through the gloomy and decrepit hall that provided an entrance to the strange villa. A world-weary air of pride filled her. It was quite easy now to assume that she would be rescued.

At the very least, she found it possible to anticipate being kidnapped by a competing interest. It suddenly struck Alice that one might circumnavigate the globe simply through being kidnapped by a variety of ruffians. She looked at her latest captor and considered voicing her thoughts aloud. It was difficult to suddenly realise one knew the proper use of a word like 'circumnavigate' and not have the proper chance to demonstrate that ability.

However, her current kidnapper's demeanour seemed more than a little disparaging, so she wisely kept such thoughts to herself as they ascended the rather dusty stairs to the next floor.

Continuing down a long hallway, Alice found herself aghast at the state of things. Having spent most of her short life under the stringent order of Mrs. Perkins and much of the rest on board the spic-and-span decks of the Bonny Read, she found it easy to be censorious. Such filth and no doubt, she was going to be asked to dwell her for an indeterminate time.

One really ought to have more of a say about where one spends one's captivity, Alice sighed.

At the end of the hall, the mysterious man unbolted a door and indicated that Alice should enter it. "Here is where you will be staying. A meal will be brought to you very soon. Do not attempt to escape."

He bolted the door behind Alice and she stared at it while listening to his retreating footsteps. A candle would have been nice, she considered, but acquiescing to the facts as they were, she turned to regard her prison.

It was a fairly large room. In a nicely kept villa, it would have been pleasurable indeed. While some feeble attempts had been made to remove the worst of the dirt, cobwebs remained in the corners of the room. The bed had been freshly made with what appeared to be clean linens, but the pitcher next to the bowl was filled with water long gone chill.

Mrs. Radcliffe could make much of a room like this, Alice thought.

Alice walked to the window and looked out curiously. The grounds of the villa were in similar disrepair. Mr. Radley would doubtless weep at the carnage. There were brambles overgrown through the hedges and a wild profusion of vines everywhere. Alice perked up somewhat when she realised that it was possible to see a very dramatic-looking waterfall in the distance, which must have been the direction in which they had arrived.

It wasn't much, but some sense of direction was helpful, if only to give a false sense of security.

Turning once more to regard the gloom of the room, Alice was delighted to spot a shelf of books. At last, entertainment!

Sunday, March 01, 2009


It was a man whom Alice had never seen, but the alarming manner of his appearance did nothing to stifle the sense of alarm she felt. He was dressed all in black with a kerchief covering the lower half of his face, a broad brimmed hat on his head and he carried some kind of pistol in his hand.

"Alight from the carriage, mademoiselle," he ordered with a peremptory air. "You will not be harmed."

Alice doubted that a might, as you would expect, having seen more than her share of harmful types on the perilous journey since her father's funeral. But the ruffian offered her his hand to step down from the carriage, so unlike the horrible Tricheor, he seemed at least to be a cultured person.

The rapidly setting sun did not leave much light for Alice to take in her surroundings, but there was enough of the roseate light to see that she had come to a large villa, suitably decrepit for any novel by Mrs. Radcliffe. One tower had in fact crumbled and fallen to the courtyard. Many cracks fissured the surface of the walls and a wild profusion of vines clawed along the walls as if desperate to escape some horrible fate.

Alice shuddered. It was not the warm pension in which she had spent the last few days with, as was clear to her now, all manner of bonhomie and friendly warmth. Poor Constance! She would be quite put out to find her friend gone. Mrs. Forward, doubtless, would consider her well out of it.

It was genuinely annoying to think that the redoubtable matron would probably assume this was some whim on Alice's part. How unfair!

Thus preoccupied, Alice only belatedly heard the masked man's words. "I beg your pardon?" she said at once. "What did you say?"

"I said you are my prisoner, mademoiselle. You will not be allowed to leave this villa." His eyes seemed to flash with fire as he repeated these ominous words.

"Until?" Alice prompted, knowing the way these tales always went.

"I beg your pardon?" the man said unexpectedly.

"Until when?" Alice asked. "Are you asking for a ransom, or merely forcing me to marry against my will. I assure you it is against my will as I do not intend to marry anyone in a mask."

Her captor seemed to have been caught up short by this declaration. "You are my prisoner," he repeated, sounding less commanding than he had initially.

"That I am," Alice agreed, "but why?"

The masked man stared at her a moment, then waved her a long with his pistol. "Come inside. I will show you to your room."

Alice sighed. This did not bode at all well for the start of an adventure.