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Authors: Jacqueline Harvey

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BOOK: Alice-Miranda at Sea
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'Y
our room, ma'am.' A young steward held open the door to Ambrosia's suite.

‘But it's below deck,' she whined. ‘We'll see about that.' The steward caught sight of Neville, who was now stranded in the middle of the hallway. ‘Are you right there, son?'

Neville nodded.

‘Where are my bags?' Ambrosia called from inside her room. ‘I need to get changed. Now!'

The freckle-faced crewman sighed, then disappeared into the suite. He was glad he hadn't been allocated to look after this woman for the whole voyage and felt very sorry for the steward who had.

Neville dived towards a door opposite, turned the handle and, to his great relief, found it unlocked. He slipped inside, shut the door behind him and exhaled deeply. He had no idea if this was his room, but he imagined someone would tell him soon enough.

He put his kit bag on the floor but kept hold of the case. A small entrance hall led through to a sitting room with a comfy-looking sofa, a walnut writing desk and a long glass-fronted bookcase loaded with leather-bound volumes. A small dining table for two stood at the far end. The suite seemed quite large really. Much like his nan's front room, he thought, but a bit posher.

There was another door at the end of the room, which Neville supposed would lead to the bedroom. After a minute's hesitation, his curiosity got the better of him and he crept towards the closed door, listened for a moment, then turned the polished brass handle.

Finding the room empty, Neville took a moment to look around. It had a huge bed in the centre with a built-in mahogany headboard and another comfortable-looking couch in the corner. A row of wardrobes took up one wall, and three portholes, like giant fish eyes, blinked at him from the other. Another door revealed a marble bathroom complete with shower, toilet, vanity and an impressively large bath.

Neville really hoped this room
was
his. He could be quite comfortable here for the next eight days.

He sat down on the couch beside the bed and finally let go of the case, placing it on the floor in front of him. Neville began to think. But after a minute he realised that was a mistake. Thinking didn't help at all. His mother would be worried sick and his father, well, it didn't even bear considering what he would do when he found out.

Instead he decided to focus on the mission ahead. ‘Positive self-talk, Neville, that's what you need,' he whispered to himself. When he'd suggested to his internet friend that perhaps he could help Neville with his project, there seemed a longer than usual delay in his response. As his friend was normally a big talker, Neville wondered if there was a problem. He decided to tell his friend that he'd worked out who he was. That was a big mistake – all contact had ceased immediately. Neville wondered if it had something to do with his public image. Maybe there was a reason why his friend didn't want to tell everyone about his hobby. But Neville didn't intend to tell anyone else. He just needed some help and this was the one person who could give it to him.

And then the other morning, as Neville was riding the bus to school, he came face to face with the answer to his problem. A billboard showing a ship leaving Barcelona Port, with the Statue of Liberty superimposed in the background. That was it! He would go in person and then surely he couldn't be ignored. It was something his dad had always said. ‘You've got to meet people. Turn up and they can't give you the brush-off so easily.'

Neville bought his ticket online using the 200 euros his nan had sent him for his birthday and Christmas. Luckily he kept his money in the bank and his parents trusted him to have his own access card. Then he'd shaken his savings from his piggy bank. He told his parents he was staying with a friend, Romeo, and that they were spending a long weekend at football camp.

He'd even printed the permission note himself. It was lucky his mother's Spanish was even worse than his, as Neville had copied the text straight from an article on the internet about a pet show.

‘When are we going to meet this Romeo?' Neville's mother had asked as he grabbed his sports kit and headed out the door. His trumpet case was safely stowed in the back of the shed. He'd pick it up on the way.

‘Soon, Mum,' Neville mumbled. He didn't want to disappoint her.

But Neville's mother was so grateful that her son had found a friend and joined a sporting team, she wasn't concerned at all. She loved their new life in Spain. For her it was all about the beach and golf and friends at the country club just down the road from their villa. As long as her son was happy, she was happy too. Her husband's earth-moving business was doing exceedingly well. It seemed as if half of Spain was being developed into villas for cashed-up retirees and bulldozers were in big demand. And ever since they'd met that charming Smedley Sykes their lives had taken a sharp turn for the better.

Neville realised when he booked his passage that he'd be away for more than just the weekend. The ship would take eight days to reach New York and then he would have to find his way south to his ultimate destination. He'd heard that Americans were very friendly so he was hoping to get a lift to save money. Neville wished he could have flown but the cheapest fare was five times what he had saved up. He'd explained everything in a letter to his parents, which he posted on the way to the dock. They'd receive it early the following week and he hoped that at least then they wouldn't worry too much. Neville could do all the worrying for them – especially about what his father would say to him when he finally arrived home.

And now here he was. Almost on his way. Neville decided to stay put for now. He hadn't realised just how tired he was until he sat down. His eyelids felt like lead and he was struggling to stay awake. A minute later Neville's head fell backwards and he was fast asleep.

A
lice-Miranda, Millie and Jacinta were sharing a suite next door to Hugh and Cecelia. Three single beds had been installed so the girls could bunk in together.

‘Why don't you have a look around and get settled and we'll see you back on deck in ten minutes,' Cecelia instructed the group. ‘I hope you like the suite – it was always our favourite when Charlotte and I were young.'

‘It's gorgeous, Mummy,' Alice-Miranda replied, looking around at the expansive sitting room with its antique bookcase, grandfather clock and enormous fireplace
.
‘But I can't imagine we'll be spending much time in here. There'll be far too many other things to do.'

Although the room would have been right at home at Highton Hall, there were some touches that set it apart, most particularly the overstuffed cushions embroidered with Queen Georgina's coat of arms. The bedroom was another thing altogether with its candy-pink duvets and cabinet full of china dolls.

‘We'll see you on the Promenade Deck, darling,' Cecelia called, then retreated and left the girls to explore.

‘When did your mother unpack our things?' Millie quizzed.

‘I don't think she did,' said Alice-Miranda. ‘Unless Mummy has the ability to be in two places at once.'

‘Maybe Mrs Shillingsworth did it?' suggested Jacinta.

‘No, Mummy and Daddy have given everyone from home strict instructions that they're not to lift a finger at all. The wedding is a holiday.'

Not only had the children's clothes been unpacked, the suitcases had been stowed and even Brummel Bear, Alice-Miranda's well-loved teddy, had found a resting place against the pillow on the middle bed.

A sharp knock on the suite door interrupted the girls' conversation. Alice-Miranda walked from the bedroom to the hallway off the sitting room, where she was met by a stern-looking gentleman in a starched white uniform who had obviously let himself in.

‘Hello,' Alice-Miranda smiled. ‘My name is Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones.' She offered her tiny hand.

‘Good afternoon, miss,' the man replied. ‘My name is Winterstone and I have been assigned to look after you for the voyage.' His lips twitched as he spoke.

‘Well, it's very nice to meet you, Mr Winterstone,' Alice-Miranda replied. ‘Was it you who unpacked all of our things?'

‘Yes, miss. I trust everything is in order.' Winterstone walked past her into the sitting room and over to the couch where he produced from his top pocket a small retractable ruler. He measured upwards and down, then repositioned the cushions, just so.

‘Please, don't fuss,' Alice-Miranda instructed. ‘We'll try not to make a mess.'

‘Nothing will give me more pleasure than to spend my time straightening up after you,' said Winterstone.

‘Really? I can't imagine that it's a pleasure to straighten up after anyone. And rather unfair, too,' Alice-Miranda frowned. ‘At school Mrs Howard is always running around after the girls but at least this term she's taught everyone to make their own beds. By the end of each day the poor woman is exhausted.'

Before Alice-Miranda could finish speaking, the bathroom door slammed shut and loud squeals emanated from within the bedroom.

‘I want the bed nearest the window,' came Jacinta's voice.

‘I saw it first,' said Millie. There was a
whump
and a soft crash, then the two girls laughed uproariously. Another loud thud was followed by silence.

‘Goodness, are you all right in there?' Alice-Miranda called.

Jacinta emerged first. Her hair was rumpled and she looked as if she'd just fought off a tiger.

‘We're fine,' she giggled. ‘We just had a wrestle over the beds. Millie fell off but she's okay.'

‘Jacinta, this is Mr Winterstone. He unpacked our things,' Alice-Miranda informed her.

Jacinta stared. ‘Is that your real hair?'

‘Jacinta!' Alice-Miranda rebuked. ‘I'm sorry, Mr Winterstone, she didn't mean that.'

‘Yes I did,' Jacinta continued. ‘It must be
so
long on that side.' She pointed to his left ear. ‘Do you have to use product to comb it over and stick it down?'

‘Jacinta . . .' Alice-Miranda tried again.

‘It's all right, miss,' Winterstone began. ‘I understand that my hair can be a source of fascination for the young and old alike. Yes, it is my own and it's all I have, so unlike others who may be tempted to opt for a less is more approach, I'm afraid that I haven't yet been able to bring myself to part with the little I have left.'

‘I think it's perfectly lovely hair,' said Alice-Miranda.

Jacinta crossed her arms in front of her. ‘Well, no offence, Mr Winterstone, but I think you'd look much better if you had a number one all over. My grandfather did it a few years ago and he's never looked back.'

‘Thank you for your learned opinion, miss.'

‘Mr Winterstone, I should have introduced you properly. This is my friend Jacinta.'

‘Charmed.' Winterstone narrowed his steel-grey eyes.

Millie joined the girls in the sitting room.

‘And this is Millie,' Alice-Miranda finished.

‘Hello.' Millie smiled sheepishly. ‘I heard Alice-Miranda say that you unpacked our bags. Thanks very much for that.'

‘It was my pleasure,' Winterstone replied crisply.

Somehow, Millie didn't really believe him.

‘We'd better get moving,' Alice-Miranda informed the group. ‘We have to meet Mummy and Daddy on deck in a minute.'

‘May I say, Miss Jacinta, that your own hair is looking rather untidy?' Winterstone remarked. ‘Would you like me to fix it for you?'

Jacinta shook her head. ‘No, I can do it.'

‘Before you head off and run riot among the guests, I am obliged to explain a few things to you regarding the voyage, so I would appreciate if you would take a seat for a moment.'

‘Oh, I promise, Mr Winterstone, there'll be no running riot –' Alice-Miranda began.

‘Shh,' Winterstone raised a bony finger to his lips.

‘But, what I wanted to say –'

‘Might you listen for just a moment, young lady?' Winterstone's stare silenced the tiny child.

Alice-Miranda and Millie sat down on the long couch and Jacinta plonked onto the armchair, throwing the cushion on the floor. Winterstone drew in a sharp breath and he made a fist with his left hand. He reached down with his right and picked up the cushion, clutching it against his chest as he spoke.

‘Firstly, I may be reached any time of the day or night by pressing number nine on the telephone. You will find one beside the beds, another next to the lounge here and the third in the bathroom beside the lavatory,' Winterstone began.

‘That won't be necessary. I'm sure we won't be calling you in the middle of the night, Mr Winterstone,' said Alice-Miranda.

‘I don't know about that.' Jacinta bit back a grin. ‘What if I'm thirsty?'

‘Jacinta.' Millie rolled her eyes.

Winterstone exhaled slowly. ‘As we will be travelling close to the coast, if you would like to send any mail, there will be a tender picking up and delivering post each morning – depending on the weather, of course.'

‘That's lovely,' Alice-Miranda fizzed. ‘I had hoped I would be able to send Miss Grimm a postcard or two. And I promised Mrs Smith I would let her know all about the food.'

‘You're so old-fashioned, Alice-Miranda,' snorted Jacinta. ‘Who sends letters these days?'

‘I think letters are lovely. It's so much nicer to get something in the post. I mean, emails are wonderful but there's something truly delicious about a letter,' said Alice-Miranda.

‘On that, miss, I must agree with you.' Winterstone nodded his head.

Jacinta shook hers. ‘You won't catch me wasting time writing any silly old letters. Boring!'

‘If I may continue?' Winterstone interrupted. ‘There is a small refrigerator located behind this panel.' He pulled open the bottom door of the china cabinet, revealing a miniature fridge loaded with juices, bottled water and soft drinks.

‘See, Jacinta,' Millie piped up. ‘You won't need to call Mr Winterstone in the middle of the night. Everything's here already.'

‘Now, there are three room keys.' Winterstone handed the girls one each. ‘Try not to lose them. Is there anything else you need at this point?'

‘No, thank you, Mr Winterstone, I don't think so. You've been extremely helpful,' Alice-Miranda smiled.

‘Very good, miss.' He gave a small bow, turned and left the room.

Millie pulled a face. ‘He's a bit weird, don't you think?'

‘I'm sure he's perfectly lovely,' Alice-Miranda countered. ‘Perhaps he was just a little upset about his hair.'

‘Well, I'd be upset if I had hair like that, too,' Jacinta called from the bathroom where she had gone to rearrange her own messy locks.

‘That's not what I meant,' Alice-Miranda frowned. ‘He might have been embarrassed.'

‘I don't think he likes children very much,' Millie went on.

‘Why do you think that?' Alice-Miranda asked.

‘He's got wobbly eyes,' Millie concluded. ‘And they're the colour of wet cement.'

‘I don't think his eye colour suggests a dislike of children,' Alice-Miranda replied.

Jacinta emerged from the bathroom looking more her neat and tidy self. ‘Well I agree with Millie,' she declared.

‘Come on,' Alice-Miranda urged. ‘Let's go and see everyone.'

BOOK: Alice-Miranda at Sea
4.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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