continued from Issue 30…
In the library…
Gladys: Can you hear something?
Alice: I can hear lots of things when I’m meant to.
Gladys: No, I meant just then. It was a long way off, but sounded like someone calling my name.
Alice: I didn’t hear that, but don’t worry, people call my name all the time and it hasn’t left me yet.
Gladys: Haha! Alice, what are you like? You are so well-spoken, yet so difficult to understand. You talk in riddles most of the time!
Alice: Really? I know what I mean when I say it and I say what I mean when I know it.
Gladys: Hmm, I think you’ve just proved my point.
Alice: I’m sorry if that confuses you; it seems perfectly straightforward to me, but then, I’m told I do get some strange ideas.
Gladys: You have a lively imagination, that’s for sure! Still, you’re in the right place to feed it. Have you looked at any of these books?
Alice: I haven’t the time; I will be leaving soon. Besides, all of these books have already been written and their adventures lived by other people. I’m much more interested in where I’ll be going next.
Gladys: The only place you’ll be going, young lady, is home to bed.
Alice: Well, that depends on my friend Charles. He tells stories so wonderful and so curious that they take me away from everywhere and everything so completely I forget where I should be! I swear that, sometimes, my head feels it might burst with excitement!
Gladys: Is that so? Well, if this Charles is so marvellous, where is he now? Clearly, Mavis and Sheila are having difficulty finding him. He should be here preparing to take you home…before MY head explodes!
Alice: They don’t need to look for him.
Gladys: Now don’t start all that again, Alice! You’re ten years old, it’s nine thirty at night and you’re in an Oxfordshire mansion miles from anywhere. Someone has to find him and remind him of his responsibilities!
Alice: He’s arranging for me to go now.
Gladys: Alice! For Heaven’s sake, just give me a straight answer. If you know where Charles is, just tell me!
Charles: I think, Madam, in her own way, Alice is trying to tell you that I’m already here.
Gladys: (spinning around to face a fireplace, in front of which are two wing-backed leather armchairs) Oh, my good God! Where did you come from?
Charles: I’m terribly sorry, Madam…
Charles: …Gladys, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Please take a seat. As I was saying, I’m terribly sorry if I startled you, but I’ve been here all night. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear that Alice was never left alone at any point.
Gladys: Startled! I damn near had a heart attack! I didn’t see you sitting here when we came in. Why on Earth didn’t you say anything?
Charles: Again, I apologise. These chairs perform the excellent function of helping one to remain inconspicuous, if required, and when I saw that Alice was in hands as good, or indeed, better than my own, I thought it more prudent to continue with the task of arranging her safe return than introducing myself.
Gladys: Well, I can see where Alice gets her impeccable diction, and her fashion sense, for that matter – the Victorian gear is very fetching. Have you both been to a fancy dress party?
Charles: Haha! Not exactly. I thank you for your kind words, but Alice’s parents must take the credit for her upbringing. As for the clothes, they are appropriate for the time, I assure you.
Gladys: They look authentic, all right. I love Alice’s pinafore dress especial… Oh, she’s gone. Well, that’s nice! All night, we’ve been trying to get her to leave this room and join the party, but she was worried that if she did,
she would never see you or her home again. Now, she’s nowhere to be seen. Why the change of heart, I wonder.
Charles: As you are aware, Alice does have a tendency to be a little headstrong. You may recall her saying she would have to leave to help Jack, the young man who brought her the tarts. I thought it wise to allow her to do that before returning home. It won’t take her a moment.
Gladys: Is Jack in trouble?
Charles: Nothing of great importance.
Gladys: Well, what does it involve? Maybe I can help.
Charles: Playing cards.
Gladys: Ah, the evils of gambling.
Charles: In a manner of speaking, but please don’t worry. I’ll see to it that Alice has help if she requires it.
Gladys: You seem quite attached to that little girl, Charles. There are those, in this day and age, who would see that as a little odd, if you don’t mind my saying.
Charles: I understand your concern, dear lady – I am aware others think the same – but there is nothing untoward, I assure you. Strong, but innocent, friendships can be forged at any age, and in any age, I’m sure you would agree. I can say, quite humbly, that I am held in high esteem by Alice’s family and her parents are more than content to allow her to be with me tonight. In this regard, their opinion is all that matters to me.
Gladys: Well, as long as Alice herself is happy.
Charles: Quite. In any case, our friendship is mutually beneficial: Alice inspires me to create odd worlds for her through my tales and she, in turn, seems happy to be enthralled by them.
Gladys: She appears to be totally immersed in them!
Charles: Yes, one could say that.
Gladys: (looking at a sheaf of papers on Charles’ knee) Would that be one you’re working on now?
Charles: Indeed, it would. I have been adding to it all evening and it is approaching a conclusion.
Gladys: Ah, interesting. So, is that what you do for a living, Charles, write?
Charles: It is one of many situations I hold.
Gladys: Really? May I ask your surname? Perhaps I have read something of yours.
Charles: Gladys, forgive me! I find myself having to apologise once again for my appalling lack of manners. My name is Dodgson: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. However, it is unlikely you will have read anything of mine under that name. Have you read anything by…
Gladys: Charles Dodgson? That name sounds awfully familiar. Wait a minute! Wasn’t that the real name of…
Charles: …Lewis Carroll?
Gladys: Yes, of course, Lewis Carroll! Well, no wonder you’re a writer if you’re a descendant of his. What a claim to fame!…
Charles: Well, I’m not exactly a desc…
Gladys: …Now the flowery language makes sense! And Alice! And the clothes! I suppose they are all part of the tradition. Hang on! Are you here for the Women’s Institute celebration?…
Charles: Sorry, the what?
Gladys: …Mavis said there would be a guest speaker, but she didn’t say who it would be at the time. Aw, I’m sorry, I missed you…
Charles: Please don’t apologise. I have no idea…
Gladys: …We arrived late and the formal part of the evening was just finishing. No, wait, that can’t be it! Mavis and Sheila didn’t know who Alice was…
Charles: No, we have never…
Gladys: …Oh, never mind! Wait until I tell the girls, they’ll never believe it! Not only have I found the elusive Charles, but he turns out to be related to one of our greatest authors!
Charles: That is very kind of you, but I think “greatest” is somewhat of an exaggeration.
Gladys: Nonsense! I know he’s your great, great, great grandfather, or whatever, but there’s no need for false modesty.
Charles: Gladys, he is not my great, great, great anything. I am not…
Gladys: Well, however many “greats” there are, it is something to be proud of. If you’re not too busy, you must come along to another of our functions. Hopefully, we’ll have more time to talk. You must have so many interesting stories to tell.
Charles: It would be delightful, but I’m not sure if…
Gladys: Excellent! Well, it has been a pleasure to meet you, Charles. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must return to the others and let them know they can call off the search. Please say goodnight to Alice for me…and make sure she gets home safely. Ha! I can’t wait to see their faces!
Charles: Dear lady…
Gladys: ‘Bye Charles. Dear me, this door seems even smaller than it did when I came in! Agh, my knee! Blimey, that was a tight squeeze!…
Hang on! It’s a bit dark out here…and what happened to the party?? Hello, is there anyone there…?
Come on, ladies! I can appreciate a joke as well as anyone, but this is going too far…
Okay, I’m officially impressed! I don’t know how you cleared everything away so quickly, but you can all come out now!
Maid: Ma’am, is everything all right?
Gladys: Er, no, not really. Could you tell me what happened to the party?
Maid: Party, ma’am?
Gladys: Yes, the party! The Women’s Institute one hundredth birthday party! It was here half an hour ago!
Maid: I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, ma’am. Her Ladyship hasn’t entertained for quite some time.
Gladys: Her Ladyship? Oh, I get it! You’re part of this little set up. Well, run along and tell “her Ladyship” that it was a creditable effort, but she’s been rumbled. Mavis! Sheila! Lil! Very clever, but joke’s over.
Mavis! Show yourself…please.
to be continued…