Alice! Mamma was gliding down the hall, handsome in her new ruby red silk gown, the bustle a cascade of white satin ruffles dotted with black velvet bows.
I need to talk with you before we leave.
About what, Mamma?
This business with Prince Leopold. Your father spoke to me about it this evening.
He did? Perhaps Leo had heard from the Queen, then? I couldnt hide my hope; I couldnt, wouldnt, stop myself from beaming, even as I blinked away a surprising tear of joy. Mamma, however, pretended not to notice, as she merely sniffed before continuing. Yes. Hes a fool, your father. Hes blinded by his affection for the Prince. But he does not view the situation with clear eyes.
I see. My eyes were dry now. I met my mothers gaze directly.
And you do?
Yes, I do. Despite what you believe, I do.
What I believe? Ill tell youI believe that you cannot view the situation with anything but jaded eyes, Mamma. I believe that you cannot look at me without seeingwithout seeing what you want to see, which is that Im not good enough for a prince. Confess it, Mamma. Confess that you think that Leo is too good for me. My voice was rising, the back of my neck was bristling, just like an animal engaged in mortal combat, but I did not care. Finally, I would make my mother look at me, talk to me, treat me as an equaleven if it was by challenging her to speak a truth I did not want to hear.
Her dark eyes glittered, even as her eyebrows shot up in their triangular way, and I think she admired me, in spite of herself; she knew so few true adversaries. Still, she shook her head dismissively. I know the world in a way which you do not. I know the Queen. I know there mightthere will be inquiries. But instead of accusing me of thinking less of you, have you ever thought that I might be protecting you? Protecting your heart from getting hurt? I once thought you the most practical of my daughters, Alice, but now I wonder. You seem so desperate lately. So reckless.
Why was it, whenever I tried to shape my own destiny, I was considered to be acting recklessly? Was that the fate of the unmarried woman? I had to believe it was so. Well, then, I am desperate! And if that makes me reckless, so be it! Im desperately in love, Im desperate to get away from hereIm twenty-four, Mamma! Twenty-four! I should be married, I should have a home of my own, but Ive been kept out of sight, put up on a shelf. And Leo found me there, and rescued me! I know something about the world, toogive me some credit, at least. Ive taken measures to protect myself. I thought of Mr. Ruskin, that last horrible day in his drawing room, and I shuddered.
Alice. My mothers face softened; her eyes shone with what I could almost believe was understanding. I remembered that long-ago winter before Albert came, when she had asked for me, and only me, to keep her company; I had seen that same expression in her eyes then. Although never since. Alice, I do wish for you to be happy. I wish for you to have your own family, your own home like Ina, like Edith will soon. I merely wish that you and Leopoldtell me this, Alice. Do you truly think hell keep quiet? Do you truly think he ll stand by and not say a word, while you plan to marry another man, particularly a prince? Her mouth twisted up, as if she couldnt bear to even think of him, and I knew she was referring to Mr. Dodgson now.
Excerpted from Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin Copyright © 2010 by Melanie Benjamin. Excerpted by permission of Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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