Excerpt from Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Alice I Have Been

by Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2010, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2011, 368 pages

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Chapter Twelve

You look lovely—that rose tulle over the tarlatan is perfection! Oh, I do wish I was going!” Covering her face with her handkerchief, Edith coughed fitfully and then fell back against her pillows, her hair a tangled mess of curls. Her face was nearly as red as her hair.

 “Yes, you’d be a perfect vision, with all that coughing! I know it’s unfair, and Aubrey will be vexed, but you know what Dr. Acland said. You’re to stay in bed for a week, at least.” 

“It’s so unlucky! And for once I thought I’d be the belle of the ball instead of you! Papa was going to announce the engagement tonight.” Edith smiled weakly, and turned her head to sigh over the beautiful blue taffeta gown hanging in the cupboard. 

“I’m never the belle of the ball when you’re present, so I relish the chance tonight. May I borrow your diamond star clip for my hair?” 

“Yes, of course—it’ll look wonderful with your diamond earrings!” 

I smiled my thanks and rummaged around in her jewel case until I found the clip; dancing over to the looking glass above the mantel, I pinned it in my hair, just above my left ear. “Is this right, do you think?” I turned. 

“It’s perfect. Oh dear!” And Edith was off on another coughing fit again. 

“Poor darling! I’ll ring for the nurse—Dr. Acland said we weren’t to get too close, in case it’s measles. I do wish I could give you a kiss, though, before I fly. I’m rather excited for tonight—silly, but I am! How many Commemoration Balls have I attended? ” 

“None like tonight,” Edith managed to choke out, between coughs. Finally they subsided, and she fell back against her pillows once more. “Do you think the Prince will propose, then?” 

“I really don’t know, but perhaps he—might.” I was too superstitious to say more, even if I could not stop myself from smiling in anticipation. We had made so many plans in these last few days, as his time at Oxford drew to an end; some were quite unattainable (I doubted, for instance, that the Queen would countenance Leo’s idea of moving to America in order to organize the recently emancipated slaves into helping the British recapture the colonies), but others more down to earth. I knew he had also spoken to Papa. Yet there remained the matter of obtaining the Queen’s permission, and I had not been able to ask if he had written her. 

Still, I sensed it, my future; it was close, so close I could wrap my arms around it; wrap my arms around him. Perhaps, tonight, he would simply waltz me out of Oxford, right under everyone’s noses. 

Giggling, I began to waltz around Edith’s room, holding my skirts up, showing off my new silk dancing slippers. Edith giggled, too—as best she could—but when she began to cough again, I stopped. 

“Oh, I’m making you much worse! I’ll finish my toilette in my own room. You rest now, darling, and I’ll save you a program and tell you all the gossip in the morning.” 

“Oh, I do wish I could go!” She couldn’t help but shed a tear, even as she beamed at me from the depths of her pillows, looking like a dyspeptic angel in her white nightgown. “Keep Aubrey company! And I can’t wait to congratulate you in the morning!” 

“Good night!” I blew her a kiss, then hurried out of her room, shutting the door softly behind me. Downstairs, outside the front door, I could hear Bultitude stomping his feet and grumbling; the carriage must have arrived. Where on earth was Sophie? She was supposed to have brought down my gloves and wrap ten minutes ago. I headed back to my room to retrieve them myself; I did hope she had remembered to dress in her good black silk, and pack her needle and thread in case I needed repairs later. 

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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