Sunday, June 27, 2010


Alice looked up from her embrace with Judith Wychwood. The corridor appeared to be empty, its dark silent and untroubled by any presence, spirit or flesh. The way to escape was clear.

"Quick, Judith," Alice whispered, suddenly feeling the need to restore the cloak of secrecy to their actions. "Let us make our way toward the entrance. Surely we will be able to slip out that way."

The two joined hands and began to walk as quickly and as quietly as they could manage, most of the worry on the side of Alice, who was after all the only one who made any sound. At any moment, Alice feared, someone might pop out and rudely demand where she thought she was going. She very nearly worried that her heart might give them away, pounding away as it did in her bosom very like a little hammer.

It put her in mind of the blacksmith in the village, which set up a kind of metallic clanging echo in her head that in turn fueled the sense of panic even more, like coals on a fire.

They paused at the top of the stairs. "Do you hear anyone, Judith?"

Miss Wychwood bent her insubstantial frame toward the foyer below. "I do not hear a peep," she whispered to Alice, though the sound would not have been much should she have chosen to speak aloud.

Cautiously Alice began to tread down the stairs, hoping there would not be much in the way of creaking. The whole process suddenly reminded her of the stairs that led down from the nursery and how the third one, no matter how carefully she might step, would always give a lamentable groan that alerted her tutor Miss Travers (as she then was, Alice reminded herself, finding she had a kind thoughts in absentia even of the disappointing Mr. Martin who had married that tutor), who would then recall a new lesson that Alice ought to be learning while she tried to nap a little longer or whatever it was that her tutor did when not occupied in tuition.

Sometimes Alice suspected her of writing a three-volume novel, but it was only in mischievous fits of mild unkindness.

The two escapees could be forgiven for their growing confidence that their flight would remain undetected. After all they had made it nearly to the bottom of the considerable staircase without mishap when at last the penultimate step groaned heavily beneath Alice's dainty foot.

Pausing mid-step in an attempt to curtail the unfortunate sound, Alice was alarmed to hear the groan turn into a horrendous crack and leapt to the parquet as the rotten wood gave way. Miss Wychwood and she embraced once more, their faces masks of horror.

"Oh dear!" Miss Wychwood said helplessly.

Alice gasped, for in the same moment she heard footsteps coming from a not inconsiderable distance. "I fear we have been discovered!" The two young women clasped hands and turned to face the danger together. Whatever might happen, Alice thought with a surge of grateful warmth, they were not alone.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Miss Wychwood's touch was wispy and uncertain, but it was indeed palpable. Alice could not believe her delight in having her friend even this slight bit tangible. It was so wonderful to feel the affection of a friend, one whose words and advice had already proved a comfort.

"Judith, my dearest friend," Alice said, tears filling her eyes. "How delightful to feel your hands in mine." She took her friend's hands between her own as if to demonstrate the delight.

"Oh Alice, it has been so long!" Judith cried ghostly tears of joy and relief. "I do not feel quite so bereft now."

"It must have been awful for you," Alice said with feeling. "I do not know how you had the courage to manage."

Judith blinked her tears away and smiled. "You are so very kind, Alice, dear. I'm sure you would have figured out the secret much sooner."

"It was the crisis," Alice said, nodding her head sagely. It was the first time she had been able to carry off such a gesture. She was certain it improved her appearance markedly. "Under extraordinary circumstances, one is able to accomplish remarkable feats." Alice worried that her tone sounded entirely too brash and softened the statement by adding, "I believe my cousin Lizzie once told me that."

"Alice, I am quite certain you are correct," Miss Wychwood cried, doubtless impressed whatever the source of the knowledge. "What shall we do now?"

Alice looked around them with a sense of mild alarm. The balcony had been their goal, but now that they had achieved it, what were they to do? Alice looked carefully at the French doors that led to the balcony. It was entirely possible that they would be locked. "We need to get inside again," Alice said, her voice losing a bit of cheeriness as the difficulty of doing so squashed her confidence a bit.

"Do you suppose it is locked?" Miss Wychwood inquired, anticipating Alice's own thoughts.

"We can but try," Alice said with a confidence she did not feel. She stepped forward and tried the handle. It proved immobile. Oh dear, Alice thought. This did not bode well. Alice leaned down to peer in the keyhole, but it was too dark to see anything.

"Perhaps I can pop inside and see if there is a key in the lock," Judith suggested.

"Excellent," Alice said, but there was not much hope in her voice. If there were a key, it would nonetheless be on the wrong side of the door.

"The key is here," Miss Wychood's muffled voice announced.

Alice perked up. "Can you turn it?"

Judith's face lit up with excitement. "Let me see!" She bent at once to her task, concentrating on grasping the key with her ethereal fingers. Her brow furrowed with concentration, but she did not seem to be able to get a firm grip in the key. Doubtless it had sat idle in its place for some time.

Alice felt her hope sinking. There was a sudden clatter and the key fell to the floor.

"Oh dear!" Miss Wychwood said, her dismay apparent in both her voice and her face.

Alice had a flash of inspiration. "Judith, dear, can you push the key under the door?"

Judith clapped her hands together. "I believe so." With stately grace, she leaned down and pushed away at the rusty key. Gradually it inched its way under the door until the teeth poked through where Alice's eager fingers could grip it. With a flourish, she brandished the key and set it to the lock. After a moment's hesitation, the key turned with a click and Alice was able to pull the door open.

"Oh Alice!" Miss Wychwood cried and the two confederates embraced happily once more.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


"Miss Wychwood, er, Judith," Alice whispered, although it was unlikely that anyone would over hear them. "Is the balcony getting closer perhaps?"

The disconcertingly ethereal voice of Miss Wychwood hovered somewhere off to Alice's right, not quite on the same ledge, but then again, ghosts did not require even the insubstantial support of its narrow width. "Only a few steps further," came the encouraging reply. "Just don't look down."

Now Alice had certainly had no intention of looking down. When she had begun her perilous journey out the window, one promise she made herself was that she would certainly not look down. Alice knew what lay below, as she had glanced out the extremely untidy windows many times, but she had no real desire to remind herself of that geography without the safety of a dirty windowpane between her and it.

But a funny thing happens to the most obedient child when told not to do something.

Alice looked down and immediately dizziness overwhelmed her. The ground, which had seemed so near by from the safety behind the glass, now seemed perilously distant. After all the falls I have taken, after all the adventures I have survived, Alice thought somewhat nervously, perhaps I should think nothing at all of falling into the garden below.

"Miss Alice!" cried Miss Wychwood. "Take my hand!"

Alice craned her neck around to the side where Miss Wychwood hovered anxiously. Without a thought she stretched her hand out to her friend and clasped hers. The two inched along the ledge without drawing another breath it seemed, but Alice could feel the dizziness that had attacked her subsiding.

The balcony loomed ahead like a shimmering oasis in the desert. Alice found herself as thirsty for it as a camel who had been on a very long holiday indeed and had only had a very dry bread for tea with no butter at all.

"Just a few more steps," Miss Wychwood encouraged.

Alice tried to think nothing at all and concentrated only on the sound of her friend's voice and the touch of her hand. Step, step, step. Minute movements, but progress, surely, Alice told herself.

"We're there!" Miss Wychwood cried. "Alice, you're safe!"

Alice looked down and they were indeed at the balustrade for the balcony. She let go of Judith's hand to grab the railing and ever so carefully boosted herself over it. Trembling, Alice nonetheless found herself filled with triumph. "We did it!" she cried with a voice that very nearly sounded like a sob.

Miss Wychwood clapped her hands with joy. "Indeed!"

"Judith!" Alice said, her eyes wide and mouth open. "I could feel your hand!"

They both gasped with surprise and delight and embraced at once.