The Problem of the Missing Miss (3 page)

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
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“Oh dear,” Mr. Dodgson murmured, shifting in his chair. He shuffled his feet as he tried to rise, but the plush upholstery held him fast.

Dr. Doyle spoke first. “Are you
the
Mr. Dodgson of Oxford?”

“I am certainly a scholar of Christ Church, Oxford,” Mr. Dodgson admitted.

“Then, sir, I must congratulate you on your work. I found it most enlightening.”

“Enlightening is not the adjective generally used to describe my writings,” Mr. Dodgson said wryly.

“I know of no other phrase to describe
Euclid and His Modern Rivals
,” Dr. Doyle said enthusiastically. “I am the secretary of the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society. We all read your work on mathematics with great interest. It made clear a great deal that was obscure.”

Mr. Dodgson looked severely at his admirer. “It was written as a text for Oxford undergraduates.”

Dr. Doyle grinned infectiously. “Surely, sir, you must permit a few of us who have not had the opportunity to attend your lectures to absorb your knowledge at second hand, as it were?”

Touie had been busy with the teapot while her husband ws enthusing. Now she said, “I don't know about Euclid, but I do know about Alice. Mr. Dodgson,” her voice lowered conspiratorially, “I have heard that you are really Lewis Carroll, who wrote my favorite book. I read
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
over and over when I was a girl. I always felt so sorry for the Dormouse, being put into the teapot. And I never did learn ‘Why is a raven like a writing-desk?'”

Her husband looked at her. “Touie, this is Mr. Dodgson, of Oxford, the mathematician, not someone who writes fairy stories.”

Mr. Dodgson began to release himself from the grip of the chair. “Mrs. Doyle, I admit to you, but only to you, because your husband's uncle was a friend, that I am Lewis Carroll. However, this is in the strictest of confidence. I do not wish it to be generally known.”

Touie leaned over and said, with a glance at her husband, “You know, Arthur writes, too.”

“Indeed?” Mr. Dodgson had found his balance and risen to his feet.

“Only a few stories, in
Cornhill
magazine,” Doyle said modestly. “‘Habakuk Jepson's Statement,' now that was a good tale.”

“Did you write that story?
Cornhill
does not usually find its way into the House, but that particular tale was considered especially interesting. The
Marie Celeste
case, wasn't it?” Mr. Dodgson looked around him for his hat.

“It was, thinly disguised, of course,” Dr. Doyle said proudly. “I fancy I came up with a more interesting solution to the mystery than some, eh?”

“Quite. Well, now, I must take my leave of you. I thank you for the tea, Mrs. Doyle, and now feel quite refreshed and capable of dealing with this mystery. I must notify the police of Miss Marbury's disappearance at once.” Mr. Dodgson moved toward the door. Dr. Doyle sprang to his feet and followed him.

“You had better allow me to help you, sir,” he said. “I have some acquaintance with the local constabulary, if only on the playing field.”

Mr. Dodgson's face was a mask of loathing. “I assume you mean cricket.”

“A grand game,” Dr. Doyle enthused. “Keeps one fit. And I just remembered, one of my friends is acting as pathologist for the Brighton Constabulary, so I have some acquaintance there, too. Now, Touie, you can get us settled in here, and I shall accompany Mr. Dodgson to the police station. And then, sir, I will see you to the Rectory, to your friend Barclay's door.”

Mr. Dodgson looked helplessly about him, caught up in his new friend's enthusiasm. There was no polite way for him to refuse. Touie smiled sweetly at the pair of them.

“You might as well let Arthur help you, Mr. Dodgson,” she said. “He will do it anyway. Arthur is a remarkable man, sir. He will surprise the world someday.”

Dr. Doyle had found his hat and took his new partner by the arm. “We'll find your missing Miss,” he consoled the agitated Mr. Dodgson.

“Oh, I do hope she is safe, and unharmed,” Mr. Dodgson murmured, as they sallied forth once more.

CHAPTER 3

At that moment, Alicia Maybury was extremely put out.

She had accepted, with a minimum of pouting, the news that Cousin Bertram had come home from Eton with measles, and therefore, she could not take her usual holiday at Waltham Castle in Derbyshire. Instead, she had been promised two weeks at the seaside with her father's old tutor, Mr. Dodgson, who was supposed to love little girls very much. She would have preferred to spend her summer with her Waltham cousins, roaming the park, playing exciting games of Robin Hood and Crusaders up and down the castle stairs, and generally getting into as much trouble as a ten-year-old child can, but Brighton sounded exciting, even with Papa's tutor in charge. Alicia knew ways of getting around elderly gentlemen, most of whom, in her limited experience, were not really familiar with little girls.

Alicia's life had been centered around the house in Grosvenor Square, where she stayed in the schoolroom with Miss Quiggley or the nursery with Nanny Marsh. From her vantagepoint at the top of the house, Alicia could observe the comings and goings in the hallway, where she could learn much that her governess, Miss Quiggley, either could not or would not teach her. She knew that Papa was a Very Important Man, and that Mama was Very Important in helping him, and that the best thing for a little girl to do was to obey Miss Quiggley and grow up as fast as possible, so as to make a good marriage and become the wife of a Very Important Man like Papa. All this was part of her life, and she accepted most of it, although she was not too sure why she could not be a soldier, like her mama's father, Grandpapa Kinsale.

It had been explained to her that she would go by rail to Brighton, with her nurserymaid, Mary Ann, who would put her into Mr. Dodgson's hands, and then return to London. Mr. Dodgson would take her to see Brighton, and then they would go to Eastbourne while Papa and Mama stayed in London. It sounded like fun, and Alicia was ready for an Adventure.

She had enjoyed the train trip, with Mary Ann. She preferred Mary Ann to Miss Quiggley as a traveling companion. Mary Ann was ready to gawk at the passing scenery without instructing her on the history of the localities they were passing, or commenting on their agricultural products. Mary Ann was a source of information on those aspects of life about which Alicia was curious, and never told her (as Nanny Marsh did) that “such things is no business of young ladies.” Alicia had begun to feel that perhaps this odd change of plan might be for the best after all. And then it had all gone wrong.

They had arrived at Brighton Station, and Mary Ann had looked around for a porter to tend to their trunks. An old gentleman had approached them and shown Mary Ann the crest on a letter (since Mary Ann did not read very well) and Mary Ann had handed Alicia and her traveling bag over to him without a murmur. Then Mary Ann had gone to send the trunks on to Eastbourne. The old gentleman had not waited for Mary Ann to come back, but had taken Alicia by the hand and had led her out to the baggage men, and without a howd'y'do, had hauled her off through the streets, on foot, to a poky house in the middle of the town on a street full of shops.

Alicia had not seen much more than a hall and a parlor before she was bundled up a flight of stairs, down a hallway lined with what looked like bedrooms, and up another flight of stairs and into an attic room, furnished with an iron bedstead, a chamberpot, and a set of hooks on the wall. There was a very small circular window set into the wall that did
not
look out on the sea, as she had been promised. When Alicia went to protest, she found that the door was locked. Clearly, she had been kidnapped!

Alicia sat on the bed and considered her position. She was a delicate-looking girl of ten, with a heart-shaped face surrounded by auburn curls, which were carefully brushed every day by Nanny Marsh. Few who looked at her recognized the gleam of intelligence behind her angelic blue eyes. Alicia Marbury was not going to remain a prisoner for long, not if she had anything to say about it.

She sighed deeply. Her Waltham cousins had smuggled her copies of
The Boy's Own Paper
when they visited London at Christmastime, and she had greedily read the forbidden literature, relishing the tales of derring-do and adventurous escapes. Most of them were about clever boys who got out of the most amazing predicaments. Well, she, Alicia Marbury, could show them a thing or two!

The door opened. Alicia jumped up, ready to run. Her way was blocked by two adult women and a scrawny girl of her own age.

“Alicia,” said the elegant-looking young woman in the flowered gown. “This is Kitty. She will attend you while you are here.” She sounded much like Miss Quiggley, Alicia decided, although Miss Quiggley would never have been seen in a gown cut so low in the bosom, nor would Miss Quiggley have used such a cloying scent. Nor, Alicia decided, would Miss Quiggley have hair of such an aggressive shade of red.

“Where is Mr. Dodgson?” Alicia demanded.

“He had to leave—on private business,” the other, older woman, dressed in sober brown silk, stated.

“Who are you?” Alicia asked. “And where is this place? Why is my door locked? If you hurt me, my papa will call out the Army and put you in the Tower!”

“Who we are is not important,” said the younger woman. “You may call me Miss, and this is Madam,” she indicated the older woman. “What is important is that you obey us. You have our word that you will not be hurt, as long as you remain quiet. Now, take off your dress.”

“Why should I?” Alicia's chin went up.

“Because, if you don't, we'll take it off for ya,” rasped out Madam, in a coarse accent that betrayed her London origins. Madam was short, stout, and strong, with a broad red face, small dark eyes, and three chins. Alicia disliked her immediately.

Miss stepped forward and took Alicia by the chin. “You are a clever child,” she pronounced. “If you behave, you will be rewarded. You will be fed, and you will not be beaten. If you do not behave yourself, then we will assume that you are a naughty child. Naughty children are punished. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”

Alicia jerked her head away. “I understand that I am not where I am supposed to be. My papa said that Mr. Dodgson would take me to his lodgings in Eastbourne after we went to see the Rector and Mrs. Barclay for tea. If you are Mrs. Barclay, where is the Rector? Rectors live near a church, and this house isn't near a church. If that's so, then the man who came for me is not Mr. Dodgson. And therefore, I do not think I have to do what you say.”

Miss slapped her, suddenly. Alicia gasped in shock as much as in pain.

“You are a very clever little girl,” Miss said. “Now understand this: clever little girls come to a bad end. You will now take off your dress, as I asked you, or you will find out what punishment really is.”

Alicia lifted the hair off the back of her neck and stood, waiting.

“What d'ya expect us to do about that?” asked Madam.

“I can't do the back buttons,” Alicia pointed out. “And Mary Ann usually helps Nanny dress me.”

“Well, missy, ye'll learn to do for yourself here, that you will!”

Miss pushed Kitty forward. “Assist Miss Alicia,” she told the scrawny girl. “And then get back downstairs.”

Alicia let Kitty fumble with the buttons of her white lace dress. “You've got to help me!” she whispered through the veil of her hair.

“I can't!”

“No talking there!” Miss ordered. “Kitty, take Miss Alicia's dress with you. Perhaps one of our other young ladies can fit into it.”

“That's
my
dress!” Alicia shouted, but the two women and the girl were out of the room before she could think of anything to do about it. Once again she was alone, clad only in her camisole and drawers, which, considering the stuffiness of the room, was something of an improvement.

Alicia wanted very much to cry. She was frightened and alone, and she wanted to howl … but what would Cousin Edmund and Cousin Bertram and Cousin Harold say to that? She bit back the tears. No, she told herself, I am a Marbury of Waltham. Marburys never howl. Great-grandpapa Waltham didn't howl at Waterloo, did he? Nor did Grandpapa Kinsale, Mama's father, at Sebastopol, where he got his interesting scar. Well, she, Alicia Marbury, was a Waltham and a Kinsale, and she wouldn't howl. She would find a way out of this prison, and make them all sorry they ever tried to kidnap her.

She searched the cramped attic room. The bed consisted of a wrought-iron frame, with a thin mattress over steel spring-strung slats. There were no sheets or blankets to make a rope ladder (that mainstay of
The Boy's Own Paper
). She stood on tiptoe to reach the window. The glass was fixed fast, and she was too high to be heard if she shouted.

Alicia frowned. Sooner or later, she would be missed. Her papa would ask of Mr. Dodgson where his Alicia was, and they would come looking for her when Mr. Dodgson (if that really was Mr. Dodgson) did not produce her. Or, perhaps, she was being held for ransom! Then Papa would pay the kidnappers, and she would be set free.

Alicia didn't like that idea. Kidnappers ought not to be paid, she decided. They would find out that she, Alicia Marbury, could rescue herself. Then wouldn't Harold and Bertram and Edmund be sorry they left her out of their games!

Alicia watched the sun through the grimy window as it set, while the sky turned a flamingo pink and then darkened. Sooner or later, she would be rescued, but she hoped it would be sooner. She wondered whether the real Mr. Dodgson was as nice as Papa said, and whether they were already looking for her … and whether she was going to get supper or be starved. For the time being, she could do nothing but wait, and that she did.

Two floors below her, the inhabitants of the house stirred, preparing themselves for the night's activities. The very young women who worked for Miss Julia Harmon put on their light silk chemises and fine linen underdrawers, and went down to the dining room for tea. Miss Harmon presided at the table while Kitty served. The atmosphere was that of a very peculiar girls' school: much giggling, some pouting. No one seemed to know or care that there was an extra girl in the building.

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
12.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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