Once again I find myself in an upper chamber of Lady B’s house — this time not the country estate but in town — in a mad frenzy of packing. A huge traveling trunk is open on the floor, and Lady B’s maids are helping me fold gowns and petticoats and pelisses and what-have-you’s between sheets of tissue paper. Excitement buoys me.
“Miss Ashe,” Lady B says from the doorway. “Why are you not downstairs with the others at the ball?”
“I’m going on a journey!” I toss a tangled bundle of ribbons (I can never keep my ribbons neatly sorted) into the trunk.
She lifts her lorgnette and studies my overflowing luggage. “A journey to where, precisely?”
“Everywhere! I’m going around the world.”
“Good heavens, you have been reading your own books again, haven’t you?”
“No! Monty inspired me. His adventure simply enthralled me. I’ve been dying to see so many places I haven’t yet had the chance to visit, and to revisit old favorite spots. So I’m taking a page from his book and I’m going. Today!”
“My nephew is not precisely an ideal example for a gentlelady, Miss Ashe.”
“Why not? This is the 21st cen— that is, the nineteenth century! Women were adventurers and explorers and ship captains then. And I’m not even going to do any of that. I’ve engaged a gorgeous ship, a fine crew and a tall, handsome and slightly autocratic shipmaster to carry me all over the place. I shan’t have to do any really dangerous work myself.”
“You will be traveling with dozens of men aboard a ship alone?”
“Uh . . . Um . . .” I grab a maid’s arm. “I’m taking Penny along as a chaperone. She’s really excited to go, isn’t she? I mean, aren’t you, Penny?”
Poor Penny’s eyes are as round as saucers (a line I’ve always wanted to write in a book but it’s so clichéd I can’t, so there, I’ve satisfied that urge).
She bobs a curtsey (another overused line, but now I’m on a roll . . .). But then she gives me this smile that says she’s been dying for an adventure too. We both wink.
“Penny! Miss Ashe! I won’t have it.”
We stare at her.
“Why not?” I say.
“Miss Ashe, you are an author. Authors do not hare about the seven seas on grand adventures.”
I exchange glances with Penny.
Lady B does not appear cajoled into True Belief.
“But you have responsibilities to attend to here. I imagine a journey around the globe requires months and months of travel.”
“Oh, a few. But that’s okay, you’ll all have a splendid time without me, of course. And I’ll send postcards to let you know how Penny and I are doing.”
“Letters! I’ll keep you updated.” I nudge Penny back toward the trunk. “So . . . if we’re all finished here, my lady, I’ve got to get this packing completed. My ship sails at dusk, and Captain Frye doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
“Very well. Good-bye, Miss Ashe.”
“Ciao, Lady B. See you in a few months!”
I throw another chemise into the trunk but my attention strays to the window. Outside it’s a fine and gentle English day, even here in London. But I’m dying for tropical sands, palm trees, snow-capped mountains, wild animals, exotic foods, bright sun on my face and ocean breeze in my hair.
“Now . . .” I murmur, because I can’t resist, “bring me that horizon.”
If you were packing for a months-long trip around the world, what one single item could you not do without?