Tuesday, February 23, 2010


"Where the devil are we?"

Lizzie paused at the open door of the carriage. "I take it you have awoken from your nap, Tilney." He looked tired nonetheless and she worried again about the toll the trip was taking on him.

"And I asked question, Bennett," he continued irritably, rubbing his hair in such a manner that wisps of it stood up in a most amusing and undignified way.

"We are much further south than we were the last time we stopped, but still a rather long way from the border with Italy. We are angling to the east, if you would really like to know."

"Indeed, for I cannot be certain that you would not lead us all the way to Zürich without my careful guidance," Tilney said with a return to his familiar drawl. More than anything that tone cheered Lizzie for he sounded once more like himself. Now if only they could deal with the problem of the cousin driving the carriage and her own identity once they arrived in Italy.

"You should be grateful, you mountebank," Lizzie scolded. "I've secured a most appetizing lunch of fine smoked meat and the freshest goat cheese in the market square."

Tilney raised one eye suspiciously. "I do not think it right somehow that goats produce cheese. I'm not saying it's unnatural, mind you," he said, peeking into Lizzie's parcel, "But when a chap is accustomed to cows as the source of dairy, goats open up new vistas that boggle the mind."

"Don't be an idiot," Lizzie laughed.

"What's next?" Tilney continued with mock seriousness even as he spread the warm soft cheese across a baguette. "Horses? Dogs? Hedgehogs? Beavers? It is against nature, I am certain."

Lizzie could not eat her lunch for the hiccoughs of laughter that poured out her mouth. Since Tilney had recovered, life had become once more fun and entertaining. It was only in the last day or so that he had begun to question and argue with her, but Lizzie felt an immense weight lift from her shoulders as Tilney returned to his old self.

The wound of the bullet had been considerable, but she was grateful to think that his heart and mind were strong. "I find this goat cheese to be quite mild and flavourful," Lizzie said with mock umbrage. "If you are not willing to eat what is put in front of you, then you, sir, will have to go do the foraging."

"I certainly shall," Tilney retorted, poking with suspicion at the sausages in the basket. "Are there no peas here after all?"

"We are still in France, I must remind you, good sir," Lizzie said with emphasis on the latter two words, "where good food is required for every meal and people do not accept bland comforts in their place."

"Bland comforts!" Tilney said, throwing his head back with haughty scorn. "English food is the finest in the land."

"Ah, but we are not in 'the land' at present," Lizzie corrected him. "And when in Rome --"

"Eat anchovies, eh?" Tilney grinned and Lizzie felt that unpleasant leap in her heart. "After that, goat cheese will not seem so bad."

Sunday, February 14, 2010


"They murdered you!" Alice said wonderingly. It was awful to hear the words out loud. Alice could barely accept the notion. Miss Wychwood, such a charming young woman! How could anyone be so dreadful to her?

But all it took was the sight of her sad face to assure Alice that this terrible fact was true.

"Alas, it is true! And no one could mourn me, dear Miss Mangrove, because no one knew that I had died." Sorrow suffused her handsome face and Alice suddenly realised how difficult her own situation was. Should she succumb too? Would they ever miss her at home? Tears fell easily and we must not feel too much approbation that many of Alice's tears were for herself -- many were also for Miss Wychwood, for whom she felt a lively sympathy.

"Oh, Miss Wychwood! I mourn your death! And I swear, I swear, that I will acquaint those who love you with your sad fate. I shall cross oceans if necessary!" As indeed it would be necessary to do if she were to return to England.

"Thank you, Miss Mangrove," came the sad reply, nonetheless suffused with all proper politeness.

"Please, do call me Alice," the same said to her friend, trying again in vain but in earnest to take her hand. "We must be as close as sisters, or at least as cousins. My dear cousin Lizzie is as close as a sister and I must include you among those dear to me!"

"Oh…Alice! You are too kind." Miss Wychwood wept anew, this time for joy. "Do please call me Judith. I ought to have asked you before, only I did not wish to be forward." As best they could, one being entirely insubstantial, the friends embraced.

After a moment, the two smiled between their tears and continued their intimate conversation, no formal layer of politeness between them anymore. "Alice, my dearest, you must try the method I had planned before I was so…"

"Untimely disrupted?" Alice was amazed at her own attempt to smooth over the sadness of her friend's demise. Oh Lizzie, you would be proud, she thought.

"Indeed! I was able to loosen the latch and would have sought egress, but for the arrival of the horrible miscreants. Surely you can loosen the latch, too."

"I can but try!" Alice said and leapt up to do so. With Miss Wychwood's insightful coaching, Alice was quickly able to make good headway with the latch and soon, loosened it enough to be able to open the window.

The two young heads peeked out into the fresh air. The warmth was exquisite and Alice remembered it was not England that she found herself in.

"See, there?" Miss Wychwood asked, pointing her insubstantial arm out the sash. "The ledge is fairly substantial, perhaps enough for one to make her way around to the balcony over there."

Alice leaned out and swallowed nervously. It seemed a rather significant distance over which to traverse a rather small ledge. "It certainly looks…possible," she said at last.

"Do try! You do not wish to end up as I did," Miss Wychwood reminded her.

Alice thought it over and realised she was right. "Will you come with me?" she asked her friend.

"I will," Miss Wychwood promised, her demeanour as solemn as death.

"All right, then," Alice said and gingerly stepped out onto the ledge.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


Alice thought she might nearly burst with excitement as the spectral Miss Wychwood led her toward the fireplace and the hiding place of her unusual instrument of freedom. Naturally, she was loathe to get any of the ash on her gown, so she crept forward carefully, but it was difficult to restrain the urge to clap her hands together.

One could only imagine the mess that would ensue, so it is fortunate that she did not actually do so.

Miss Wychwood's insubstantial arm pointed to a spot inside the chimney. Alice had to bend over and crane her neck to see the spot where she indicated. Sure enough, there was a little chink in the stones.

Gingerly, Alice reached up and sought with her fingertips to find some kind of hidden shelf between the stones. Something moved under her touch and she fought the urge to recoil and instead pulled out the tiny silver lobster fork.

The tines were scratched and their tips uneven. Alice stared in wonder.

"Do you see!" Miss Wychwood said, her eager tone conveying the joy of sharing her small success at long last. "It fit so snugly into that spot."

"A perfect place of concealment," Alice agreed, her tone gentle as she tried to hold back the tears that wished to burst forth. The story writ upon the grooved surface of the implement was a horrific one.

How worn the little tines had become! Alice looked up to see Miss Wychwood now by the window.

"See here, where I pried up the latch bit by bit," Miss Wychood said, pointing to the spot as Alice drew near. "It took so very long, you can imagine."

"Yes," Alice said absently, staring at the latch patinaed by age and neglect. "How very patient you must have been," she said finally, feeling as if she ought to comment somehow upon Miss Wychwood's ingenuity, even if she were loathe to follow this discussion to its logical end.

"If only I had been able to discover the plan sooner," Miss Wychwood sighed.

"Sooner?" Alice said, feeling a sudden ripple of even greater unease.

"Yes," Miss Wychwood said drifting a little higher in the air than was necessarily required. "A pity, that?"

"Whatever do you mean?" Alice could not help interrogating her friend, though her insides seized up in a kind of awful anticipation. "Were you unable to put your plan into action?"

"Indeed I was not," Miss Wychwood said, her face turned toward the gloomy haze outside the window.

"But you were able to free the lock?"

"I was," she said, turning back to Alice. "Though they have since repaired it -- look! Here." She leaned closely over the latch. "I am quite certain they did no more than the minimum to repair it. You could use the same method, I think, to free yourself."

"But if the plan did not, er, work…" Alice let her voice trail off, hoping Miss Wychwood would be able to construct the conclusion without her saying it.

"It was not the plan that was faulty," Miss Wychwood said, her voice as cold as the grave. "It was my captors."

"Do you mean--" Alice gasped. It was too horrible to consider.

"They murdered me!"