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.

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