22 April, 2007 by katelaity

“Southampton, ladies!”

The two women were jolted awake by this cheery greeting, seeming to come from a long way away, although it was perhaps the reflected light of the seaport that shimmered across the open door of the carriage and lent a not quite ethereal air to the short squat man who had conducted them so far from home.

Lizzie sat up abruptly toward the beckoning hand and instantly felt the pain in her neck from sleeping none too comfortably in the upright position for the night. As her hand went up to massage her painful nape, she heard Alice stir and in her usual way say, “Oh just let me lie in a little longer, Mary Ann. I feel unaccountably tired today!” Alice stretched herself with admirable ease, clearly forgetting where they were.

“Let’s not take all day, speed of the essence, etcetera, etcetera,” their too cheerful conductor called forth, waving his hand further to encourage them to disembark.

Alice looked with alarm at Lizzie. “I had quite forgotten where we were.”

“I only wish I had,” Lizzie concurred, stepping forward to alight from the carriage, but pausing for a moment on the top step to look back into its depths at Alice. Suddenly she feared leaving its darkness for the flat light of dawn, but Alice could not be bothered to allow such sentiments to settle in. She was cramped and cranky, and consequently could not wait to bound out of the carriage into the sun, weak though it was.

“Are we to be free now?” she said hopefully to the driver.

He merely laughed. “You’re going on a journey, my ladies. Your ship is just along here.”

Lizzie looked at him coolly, taking in his small stature and common countenance. “And if we scream a constable will surely come to our aid.”

The driver laughed even harder than the first time. “You don’t know Southampton! And anyway, miss, you forget about this little treasure of mine.” He pulled the pistol from the side pocket of his coat. “Say hello to my little friend.”

Lizzie swallowed uncomfortably, but Alice managed to say, “Hello, little friend.”

“Now, ladies, if you’ll follow me– ”

There was little choice in the matter, so follow they did. Truth to tell, the streets along the docks did not appear to house the very finest of houses nor, must it be admitted, of people, as it seemed everyone they passed looked to be engaged in activities every bit as unscrupulous as they. Indeed, those who were abroad in the early light (if sensible, for admittedly, many they met seemed to be the worse for drink, which made both young ladies reach for their stylish mourning handkerchiefs rather than call for assistance) regarded them furtively and with great suspicion.

“There it is, your next conveyance,” the pistol-waving man announced as they turned a last corner. “You’ll be on board and away from England before the tide lets out today.”

Lizzie felt a sudden chill looking upon its timbers, though she could not have said what sort of boat it was or why she found it so ominous. Perhaps it was only the combination of the eerie dawn light, the strangeness of their companion, and of course, the fact that they had been spirited away from the funeral of Alice’s father’s sudden, and admittedly, slightly mysterious death.

“The Demeter,” Alice read off the side of the boat. She looked to Lizzie for approval. “Italian?”

“Greek,” Lizzie corrected, barely noticing her cousin’s crestfallen look.

“Aye,” said their kidnapper, “But she is set to sail as far as the Caspian, I hear, to the land beyond the forest.”

Lizzie gazed with sorrow at the ship whose sails picked up an portentous billow from the wind. Where were they bound now?


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