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.