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.