Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 11 of 22

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

Tarrant still has no Idea what these things called “patents” are, despite Alice’s explanation.

Alice had been frustratingly vague during the cab journey, talking in circles about these mysterious objects they seek:

“Patents are a record of a person’s valuable ideas,” she’d said, matter-of-factly. “To ensure the rights of the inventor’s intellectual property are respected.”

Tarrant had focused on the first point (of many) that he’d felt required additional clarification: “What sort of record?”

“A written one.”

“An Idea on paper?”




“Ideas reside in the Mind. Necessarily.”

“I know.”


“Don’t worry about that now,” she’d gently insisted. “The real question is how to find the Right Idea.

“I see...” But he hadn’t.

Alice had continued, “Of course, the logical course would be to go to the Metropolitan District Railway offices and simply ask if they’re aware of the idea we’re looking for.”

“And... they would tell us?” he’d wondered aloud, trying to follow his wife’s Logic.

Alice had smirked. “No. I don’t think they would.”

Tarrant had frowned in confusion which Alice had interrupted with a pat on his arm.

“It’s my turn to be brilliant. Have a little faith, Hatter.”

“I have considerably more than a little!” He’d actually been a bit miffed at the implication that his devotion is somehow not absolute.

“I misspoke,” she’d quickly admitted, possibly because his sudden irritation had raced along the heart line. Yet another Emotion had Shared itself, and again without his consent! But, in his defense, it has been years and years since Tarrant has had a reason to keep his feelings to himself! He’s simply out of practice!

‘Twouldnae be b’cause ye’re terrified o’ this place wi’out yer Alice at yer side?

No, no, of course not!

So, ye’re no’tryin’ teh remind her teh keep ye in mind, on her mind, at all times?

Well... um...

Tha’s what I thought... In seven years, ye hav’nae come as far as ye thought ye had, eh, lad?

Remembering that brief, internal discussion, Tarrant sighs: he supposes not. He Depends upon Alice far, far too much sometimes. For more than just his sanity.

“What I meant to say,” Alice had thankfully continued. “Is to have a little more patience.


Oh, indeed. And it’s patience he truly needs!

Was that...? Yes, I believe it was: iambic pentameter!

It’s a shame he can’t share it with Alice at the moment.

He glances at his wife as she shakes her head at yet another small-ish card she’s presented with. Perhaps this is the patent? But, no, it can’t be, as it’s not the One they seek... Still, it would be Helpful to know what the blasted thing is supposed to look like! Imagine an Idea on paper! He huffs.

Are patents the paper or the Idea? How can an Idea be confined to a few scraps of paper at all? And what has an inventor’s Rights anything to do with the number of thimbles under the pincushion?

Although the concept Escapes him (but, when Time allows, he’ll be sure to Capture it later!) and even seems to Escape the junior clerk who had been relegated to assisting them, Alice appears to have the situation well In Hand.

“No, no,” she insists with a thinning patience Tarrant can sense – itching! – along his arm beneath his layers and ever-present glove. (At least he’s not the only one with difficulty corralling wayward Emotions!) Her voice, however, remains pleasant enough. “I require civil engineering patents. Regarding subterranean tunnel construction.”

The clerk fumbles through the long, thin, wooden drawer containing countless small cards. “Um, here’s one for tunnel drilling,” he says uncertainly, lifting out the card for Alice to read while he holds its place open between its fellow cards with his index finger.

Tarrant bites down on a giggle: Indexing with one’s index finger! Of course!

Alice leans forward and scans the card. “No, this looks like ore extraction of some sort. I believe we must be looking in the Mining Section.”

Flustered, the young man replaces the card and fiddles with the contents of the drawer. He draws out a few more cards, seemingly at random, and then turns back to the absolutely intimidating wall of similar, small, wooden drawers and selects another.

“Are these patents?” Tarrant can’t help but whisper to Alice when their... helper’s back is turned.

“No. These are reference cards with brief descriptions of the patented ideas.”

“And are the Ideas themselves here?”

“Yes, but only expressed on paper.”

Again with that odd insistence that an Idea must somehow be connected to paper of some kind!

Tarrant sighs and watches the Concept race over and beyond the horizon of his comprehension.

It takes the excavation of five more drawers, the careful examination of a least two dozen more cards, and three more attempts by Tarrant to define exactly what the nature of these Upland Ideas is before the first tingle of satisfaction dances against his heart.

“Ah...” Alice sighs. “This looks to be the right drawer.”

The clerk looks easily twice as relieved as Alice. Tarrant wishes he could participate in the moment of enlightenment.

There’s a bit more shuffling and sifting through the cards and Tarrant idly wonders what time it is. The large office they’re in is rather rudely lacking in both windows and time pieces. Tarrant muses that perhaps he should have brought his pocket watch Up Here after all, despite it being stubbornly broken – In fact, the thing is quite possibly more stubborn than his Alice is! And that’s quite the distinguishing point! – if he’d had it in his pocket-watch pocket, it would have given Tarrant something to legitimately fiddle with every few minutes or so. That’s the least the usal-naught bit of rubbish could do, he’s sure! (Although it would probably complain at being disturbed so much. Still...he’ll be sure to keep it with at all Times from now on!)

“Here, these!” Alice says suddenly, holding out five cards to the clerk.

Tarrant experiences the inexplicable urge to shout “Trump!” He refrains, but – thinking of Thackery, confetti, and hairy toes – giggles. Luckily, the clerk had already vanished through a door behind the long counter.

“Entertaining yourself?” Alice murmurs with a tired smile.

Tarrant tilts his head to the side. “A bit. ‘Hare’ and there.”

“I’ll ask you to explain that little nugget of amusement later.”

“And I shall, in exchange, ask for a comprehensible description of these patents we’re seeking.”

Alice’s spine stiffens. If not for the tightening at the corners of her lips – to circumvent a smile! – he’d think she was Upset with him. “My explanation was perfectly sound. You can’t hold me accountable for the fact that your brilliantly mad genius refuses to integrate utterly mundane and tedious, short-sighted Uplander rationale.”

Tarrant grins at her. He’s still horridly confused... however, he doesn’t feel quite so Bad about it now.

The clerk returns and Alice looks over the patents. Tarrant squints at them but he can’t find anything particularly extra-ordinary about them; no, no, they appear to be quite normal sheets of paper with plan black ink. Although perhaps they’re Special because of the abundance of carefully-drawn illustrations and various dimensions provided for each aspect of the figures shown...?

Alice inspects the fourth patent more carefully than the others. Tarrant dares to lean over her shoulder a bit and glimpses a strange diagram of men digging a tunnel while standing on some sort of suspended platform within the very structure they’re excavating.

Alice reads the description of the... Idea carefully. (Hm... perhaps that’s what a patent is? But then, why would an Idea need a description on paper? Could it be because Ideas are wont to come and go as they please? Must be... Oh! That had very nearly been a case of iambic pentameter! Perhaps if I...)

“If you would be so kind as to supply me with this inventor’s information,” Alice says, interrupting Tarrant’s thoughts. “Oh, pardon me. Inventors, plural,” she amends when she flips back to the first page. “I’d greatly appreciate it.”

“My pleasure, madam.”

Tarrant doesn’t doubt it. The lad looks ready to break down in tears of exhaustion from attending to Alice’s demands. Tarrant keeps his thoughts to himself (Thoughts regarding Alice and her wonderfully Demanding tendencies!) as the clerk pens the names and addresses of the inventors credited with the patent. When finished, Alice accepts the card, thanks the lad, and doesn’t wait for him to see them out.

As they step out onto the dusty, smoggy, gritty, soot-blackened street again, Alice raises her arm to hail a passing cab.

“Alice?” Tarrant asks as he helps her into the carriage.


“Did we find the patent you were looking for, then? Because, I’d just like to point out that, if you were intending to take it with us, we’ve left it behind.”

Alice smiles and reaches out a hand to him. He grasps it and climbs into the carriage after her. As the cab lurches into motion on its way to the Kingsleigh residence, Alice assures him, “We found it. And, while finding the patent was very important, what we really needed were the names and residences of the inventors.”

Tarrant considers this. “And now we’ll fight the use of dynamite?”

“Yes,” she says. And then, will a sly, sideways smile, compliments him, “I enjoyed that lovelyiambic pentameter, Hatter.”

He giggles at her answering verse. “For your delight, I’d rhyme with all my might.”

“Writing desk,” she replies, beaming.

“Raven,” he agrees and, collecting her hand, removes the glove with delicate and deliberate tugs. She watches him. He watches her. And when he lifts her left hand to his lips, he catches the evidence of her sharp inhalation despite the clatter-clamor-cacophony of a London cab ride that steals the subtle sound from him. “I’ve missed you, my Alice,” he whispers, softly enough for her to ignore... should she wish.

She doesn’t.

“There’s still time before dinner,” she assures him.

“But what of the inventors, my Alice?” he forces himself to ask.

He watches as she removes her hat. She leans in and murmurs against his ear. “There’s even time before we arrive...”

Tarrant shivers. “H... here?” he gasps.

“Now,” she confirms. “If it pleases you, m’laird.”

“It does,” he whispers, reaching for her and pulling her onto his lap. Alice and he share one Mind on this and her skirts ride up as she straddles his knees. Gloves are tossed aside and eyes close and mouths seek their counterpart.

“We shouldn’t...” he admonishes himself on a breath.

“I know,” she agrees and rocks her hips against him.

He groans into her ear, nuzzles down her neck. He hates-despises-loathes this overly-concealing garment she wears. He wants to taste her wherever he wants, not only where he is permitted! “Mine,” he growls, his teeth nipping at the edge of her collar.

“Tarrant...” she breathes in agreement. Her hands move beneath his jacket to his vest. She easily works through the buttons and around the concealed knife he wears at all times until his skin is hers for the taking-tasting-claiming. And, oh, how she does!

The carriage rolls on as Alice savors his neck, his collarbone, his chest in near-absolute silence. His fingers work through the layers of her skirt and undergarments.

“No stockings...” he thanks her.

“Hm...” Her hands settle over his trouser fastenings.

They pause, pant, pulse with unfinished passion.

“Do we dare?” she whispers at this moment: the moment of Decision, the moment from which there will be no Turning Back.

Tarrant doesn’t hesitate one more moment; he leans forward and locks his mouth on hers. He lifts her up and slumps further down on the bench seat, then tucks her knees up by his hips. She’s more careful with the openings of his trousers than he is with her undergarments. One decisive tear later and another moment of shifting so that Alice can push his trousers down his hips and then she’s...! He’s...!

“Inside you, Alice,” he moans as softly as he can manage.


The carriage rocks them, sways them. Tarrant braces a hand on Alice’s thigh and around her waist and Moves Up as Alice Meets him Down.

Alice presses her hands against the top of the seat, leans over him, closes her eyes and becomes beautifully Lost.

He Finds her again and again and again and again and...!

“Tarrant...” she warns him and he feels her tensing, clinging, embracing him from Within.

“Don’keep me waitin’, mogh’linyae...” he burrs against her neck.

She doesn’t.

He leans back and drinks in the sight of her gasping above him. The sight of her – of her Completing him! – undoes him. As she slumps against him, he curls his body toward her, grasps her hips in both hands and, pressing his lips against her neck, Reaches for the miracle she’d just shown him.

She turns her head toward him as he Moves her, moves himself, moves them. He’s nearly... nearly... so very close...!

Her breath on his neck...

Her tongue on his pulse...

Her teeth on his skin...!

Tarrant gasps, clutches her closer, his hips twitching. “My Alice...” he shouts on a whisper as the heat rides through him, burns him, flees from him and into her. His wife. His Alice. His.

She kisses him, keeps him breathless and dazed for an immeasurable moment more. And then, leaning back, she informs him: “I’ve been wanting to try That for days.

Tarrant blinks at her, and then as the meaning manages to meander its way into his mind, he snorts. Cackles. Laughs. Above him, she answers his laughter with her own.

Reaching for one of the many handkerchiefs he’s taken to carrying with him – just in case, although, he has to admit This had not been one of the cases he’d considered! – and hands one to her, then helps her sit back down on the opposite bench. His handkerchief disappears beneath her skirt and Tarrant absently attends to himself with a second.

Across the gap that provides the carriage’s leg space for its passengers, Tarrant answers Alice’s sly, naughty grin with one of his own.

“Here,” Alice beckons with the hand that’s not... beneath her dress, pressing the scrap of fabric he’d given her to... “Your eyebrows have gotten a bit...” She giggles as he wiggles them at her, and then, as she’d requested, he leans forward and lets her smooth them down.


“Yes, Raven?”

“I’ll tell you a secret.”

She waits.

“I’ve been wanting to try That for days as well!”

And after Alice finishes laughing, they tidy themselves up so that, upon their arrival, two respectably attired passengers will be seen alighting from the cab. He moves to sit beside her and holds her in his arms until that time comes. And, when it does, neither of them bother to chase the smiles from each other’s faces. They pay the driver and trek up the steps and ring the bell. And, luckily, as the man utterly lacks any imagination whatsoever, Mr. Brown suspects Nothing at all.


“And you feel these young men may have a viable solution?” Lord Ascot inquires shrewdly.

Despite the fact that Tarrant is sure Lord Ascot’s study has not changed since their previous visit, there is something Different about it now. He draws in a deep breath, spies the flash of Muchness in his wife’s eyes and decides the Difference he senses must be the scent of Victory. Yes, Alice appears far too confident and pleased with herself for him to assume otherwise: one way or another, Underland’s Champion is going to use this discovery against the fiends who would carelessly destroy their world. And when that threat has been countered...

They’ll return... home... to Mamoreal... together... and everything will be... perfect!

Tarrant smiles at the Thought.

Alice nods, “After speaking with the Misters Greathead and Barlow at length over dinner last night, I’m sure of it. Not only is it completely undisruptive of existing structures above the tunnel site, but – considering the frightful price of dynamite, it will be less costly as well!”

Tarrant thinks Lord Ascot might have clapped his hands in glee if the man had been capable of using them both.

Alice leans back a bit, her expression taking a turn for the hesitant. “But before I go into the details on the process, I’d like to make a suggestion, sir.”

“Yes, my dear?”

Tarrant watches as Alice gathers her thoughts and explains, “Given the considerable upheaval we might be causing to the project plans, I’m sure the project planners will require a considerable amount of... placating before they’ll agree to seriously consider implementing a new tunneling method, and one that’s been developed by a pair of young, inexperienced, assistant engineers.”

Townsend frowns. “Pardon me, Alice, but it sounds as if you have some doubt regarding the method.”

“No,” she replies with absolute conviction. “I believe this will work brilliantly, sir. However, I believe we will hear that particular objection more than once over the next few days.”

“Hm... I’m sure you’re right. So, let’s return to the topic of your suggestion. What ought to be done about the resistance we’ll no doubt encounter? You aren’t about to suggest I throw even more money at them, are you?”

Alice grins. “Only after a fashion. I think they might be sufficiently swayed to your way of thinking with a bit of flattery.”

“Such as?”

“A soiree. Commemorating the accomplishments of those involved with the underground railway.”

Lord Ascot throws back his head and laughs. “My dear, you are a wonder, aren’t you?”

“Do you think you and Lady Ascot could organize a function of that magnitude so soon? Perhaps before Saturday?”

“Alice, dear, Lady Ascot organizes the utterly civilized and bloodless coups of major London charity societies in her sleep!” The image that conjures in Tarrant’s mind is... vivid. “A soiree will be sorted out over dessert tonight!”

“However,” Townsend continues with a measuring look at both Alice and Tarrant, “you do know what would be required of the both of you should we continue with this mad plan to woo the un-woo-able city commissioners and railway administrators?”

Alice sighs. “I do. I’ll have the appropriate garments ordered right away.” She turns to Tarrant and he feels his brows draw together in concern at her remorseful expression. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to force a tailcoat on you.”

“A... what?”

“A jacket of the foulest sort,” Townsend contributes cheerfully. “As are the trappings made to be worn under it. Meant to force a man’s body into the figure and form the queen most admires. Thank the saints I’ll have the excuse of this bloody chair to explain my lack of participation in that trial!”

“And, I’m afraid...” Her gaze flickers aside to his hat which is resting on the sideboard beside hers. (No, he still hasn’t permitted any butler to relieve him of it!) She sighs with regret.

“It’s fine, Alice,” he hears himself say. “I wouldn’t want the other hats to feel out of place were mine to attend.”

Townsend laughs and Alice gives him an apologetic smile. Tarrant almost feels encouraged enough to allow one of the bland and inferior creations of the Upland haberdashers to touch his head. Almost. Perhaps he won’t wear a hat at all...

When the discussion turns toward the project plan and Greathead and Barlow’s engineering innovations, Tarrant excuses himself:

“I think I’ll step across the hall and see if I might intrude upon your mother and Lady Ascot for tea, Alice.”

Alice pats his arm. “I’m sure they’ll be able to tell you all about the typical tortures of a soiree. You’ll be sufficiently horrified by the time Townsend and I are finished here.”

Lord Ascot laughs. “How true, Alice, how true! And, Tarrant, if you would mention Alice’s suggestion – the soiree, I mean – to Lady Ascot and let her know I’ll discuss it with her later?”

Tarrant nods and – a bit reluctantly – quits the room in order to pay a visit to the ladies across the hall. He has to admit that he’s a bit nervous about this soiree event – whatever that is! – but he doubts Helen will frighten him all that much! Well, not Intentionally! She might use that threatening gleam in her blue eyes to warn him against disappointing her daughter, but he doesn’t think she’d be cruel purposefully...

“But, Helen, just look at the man!”

Only a step away from the door to the conservatory, with his arm extended toward the latch, Tarrant pulls himself up short. (Or, rather, tall. One generally grows taller when effecting a sudden stop rather than shorter!) He stops and discovers he can do little else other than listen to the sounds of teatime and obvious disgust and derision. (A very unflattering combination, he notes!)

The thin door is no barrier at all to Lady Ascot’s harsh and relentless criticism: “That horrid hat! And his hair?! What sort of society permits men to wear their hair in such a barbaric fashion while allowing young ladies to chop theirs off! Why, Alice looks as if she’s sold that beautiful hair of hers to a wig-maker for a shilling!”

“Geraldine...” Helen attempts.

“Now, I realize that you’re thrilled to have your daughter back after all this time, but honestly Helen, how can you have that man in your home? He can’t possibly be at all suitable for a woman of Alice’s bloodlines! Some standards must be observed if you hope to keep your daughters above the line!”

“Gerry, while I appreciate your... suggestions. My daughters’ standings in Society will climb or fall not because of Tarrant Hightopp but because of that blighter of Margaret’s!”

“Good gracious, Helen. Whatever is wrong with Lowell? He’s charming; he’s wealthy; he comes from a long line of highly respected—”

“One can only trade on the blessings of one’s forefathers for so long,” Helen replies wearily. “Lowell is quickly wearing through his.”

Lady Ascot sighs. “I thank the Lord every day that Townsend and I were blessed with our sensible Hamish. I do not envy you that barbarian for a son-in-law!”

“Geraldine! How many times do I have to tell you?! Tarrant is a man of unsurpassable character. He dotes on Alice, which is far more than Lowell is capable. Not all of us are concerned with wealth and titles! A man is merely a man and his title merely that, a title, and cold comfort during the hardships life is wont to throw at us! Do try to keep that distinction in mind!”

Realizing he’s not only still standing beside the closed door but also eavesdropping on a private conversation, Tarrant backs away with no thought in his head aside from avoiding the active loathing in the conservatory. He glances toward the study door and winces. If he returns now, he’ll have to explain to Alice why he hadn’t been able to join her mother and Lady Ascot for tea...

“It’s hard to believe they’re the closest of friends, isn’t it? Or, they are when they choose to be, rather.”

Tarrant turns with a start and sees none other than Hamish Ascot, attired in what must be the Upland version of active wear, standing only a few paces away. He studies Hamish’s expression – resigned, exasperated, haughty – as the man considers the closed door.

“It’s the way of well-bred women to provide an animated account of a man’s faults,” the man who had once asked Tarrant’s Alice to marry him continues. “An obligation, even.”

The man’s watery blue eyes focus on Tarrant, on his unremarkable suit and long hair. “In your case, you could only benefit from the criticism.”

Tarrant’s eyes narrow. “Maybe so,” he replies, struggling against his inclination to burr and brogue at the man. Alice had explained to him that Outlandish would not be looked upon Well at all Up Here. “It should be every man’s ultimate goal to emulate a fine gentleman such as yourself.”

Hamish blinks at that.

Tarrant is almost proud of himself for having successfully beaten down the sarcasm and snarl that had tried to claw their way out of his throat. His only thought as he’d done so had been the hopeful avoidance of causing a Scene in the home of Alice’s former employer. He might not be sure about a lot of things Up Here, but he knows how disappointed Alice would be in him were he to embarrass her here.

Still, despite the effort, he hadn’t expected the younger Ascot’s shoulders to un-tense or his expression to un-freeze. Odd.

With a look that is more considering than patronizing, Hamish muses, “Perhaps it would be my duty to assist you with that goal, then.”

Tarrant struggles with forming a refusal that is bland enough to satisfy the minimum requirements of common decency. It’s a far more difficult task than he’d thought it would be.

Hamish breaks the awkward silence. Abruptly, he says, “I’m just now heading out to the range. Would you care to join me, Hightopp?”

The invitation is a surprise and that is the only reason Tarrant doesn’t refuse it outright. And it’s a lucky thing he doesn’t, for when the shock wears off an instant later, Tarrant receives a surprising visit from Rational Thought:

Given his other available choices, Tarrant concedes that spending an hour or so in the company of Hamish Ascot might not be the worst decision he could make. “If I won’t be intruding,” he manages.

“Not at all,” the man replies in that insufferably superior air of his.

Swallowing down a sigh, Tarrant falls into step beside him.

The Range, Tarrant discovers, is a wide yard some distance from both the manor and the stables. The journey is accomplished in stiff, awkward silence. As they approach a scenic spot – a small cottage with a wide veranda and a tea table with three chairs circling it – Hamish removes the large, wooden case from beneath his arm. Tarrant watches him set the thing down on the wrought iron tea table.

“Have you any interest in hunting sports?” Hamish asks.

As the man opens the lid, Tarrant sees something that sets his heart racing. Within, somehow obscenely nestled in fine, dark green velvet, is an object which – despite the Wrongness of its shape and size – reminds him of the revolving (no, no revolver! That’s the correct name for it!) that Alice insists on carrying with her in her business satchel.

“... No,” Tarrant hears himself reply on a strangled whisper. He clears his throat. “The hunting of others is not encouraged by my queen.” Nor should it be!

Hamish lifts out the stretched-too-long revolver-like item. Perhaps it’s an older, warped cousin of the gun in Alice’s bag...

“It’s the mark of a superior mind to recognize one’s place in the world. And it’s a man’s duty to assert his will over nature,” Hamish lectures as he opens the... thing in his hands and slides a single slender, brassy object into it. “Many prefer to use pistols in games using targets, but I find the rifle a better fit.”

Tarrant watches him pat the thing wedged in the crook of his arm. “A more... noble instrument, requiring fortitude and discipline to master. Anyone can lift and shoot a pistol,” the man says with a slight sneer, “but few have the patience and temperament of mind to develop any skill with a rifle.”

With a tight nod, Hamish pivots on his heel and steps out from under the veranda. Tarrant follows him warily. They circle around to the back of the too-beautiful cottage and Tarrant finds a counter set up along the length of the structure. Hamish steps behind the long, high table and reaches up toward the cottage’s eaves. There, he grasps an old bell and rings it forcefully. Tarrant resists cringing as the racket echoes across the lawn and into the forest beyond.

Hamish must have noticed the confusion Tarrant had manfully kept from voicing because he says, “It alerts any and all in the immediate area that the shooting range is in use. It would be most irresponsible to allow an accident to occur.”

Tarrant nods.

Hamish gestures down the length of the yard then, toward the edge of the forest. “Our targets are there.” Tarrant leans over the high table and peers at three covered bales of straw. The fabric stretched over them has a smallish red spot in the center of each.

The sound of the rifle being snapped back into its long, straight shape draws Tarrant’s gaze back to Hamish. The man lifts the object to his right shoulder, aligns it with the targets beyond, peers down the length of it, cradles it in much the same way the newlywed lads had accepted the hand and arm of their new brides when they’d danced the Wedded Step...


Tarrant jumps as the thunder clap destroys both his musings and any similarity of this ritual to the one most sacred to all Outlanders.

Hamish lowers the rifle, a satisfied smile on his face. “You see there? A good shot. Not my best, but it’s been too long since I’ve made time for a bit of practice.”

Fisting his hands to stop the unsettling shiver that trembles just beneath his skin, Tarrant glances across the field at the targets and can just barely make out a small, dark spot very near the red spot on the taut, white cloth. For a moment, he doesn’t know what that signifies...

But then...


Tarrant looks from the rifle in Hamish’s hands to the small box of brass objects – “bullets” Alice had once called them, he remembers! – to the black spot on the target and...

It’s a Weapon, he realizes. Of course, he’d known it was dangerous! He’d known by the way Alice had treated the revolver that such things were dangerous. He’d known both this rifle and the revolver were weapons, but... but...

Ye di’nae realize it coul’kill ye dead in naught but an instant, di’ye lad?

No, no, he hadn’t.

Dear Fates, the Power of these machines! The terrible Possibility they embody...! Why, one would not even need to look one’s enemy in the eye to kill him. And so ruthlessly, callously, coldly...!

“Don’t have firearms in your country, do you?” Hamish assumes more than asks.

“No, and that’s a lucky thing,” Tarrant admits. Or, dearest Fates, what would have happened on that Frabjous Day? Would there have even been a Frabjous Day at all with a weapon like this under the command of the Bluddy Behg Hid and that monster, Stayne?

Hamish objects. “Lucky? How do you imagine that, sir? Why, without firepower, how do you defend your country? With sticks and stones?”

Hamish’s sneer pulls a snarling grimace out of the Place within him where Tarrant had locked up all those hotheaded Reactions. In the next instant, Hamish’s rifle is tumbling to the table and Tarrant has the man spun around with the knife from Mamoreal at his pale, quivering throat.

Tarrant answers. “Th’ hard way, Ascot. Th’ honorable way,” Tarrant hears himself reply in a guttural tone. “Th’ way ‘twas meant teh be b’twix twine men. S’tha’when his blood i’spilt on th’grauwnd, it satisfies yer thirst f’r vengeance...”

Tarrant closes his eyes, forces the memories of battles fought long ago back to the depths of his mind, and allows the concerned warmth he feels from Alice to calm him. In the next breath, he’s himself again; he replies to her, reassures her, and apologizes for interrupting her meeting.

He takes a step back from the still-frozen form of Hamish Ascot and tucks the knife away. Yes, he knows he ought to apologize. But for what? Hamish Ascot had tried to Impress him with that rifle. Tarrant had reciprocated in his own fashion. However, it seems they’d only succeeded in terrifying one another.

Tarrant gives the startled man a wry grin and says in a droll tone, “And that’s how we fight wars where I come from.”

“Barbaric!” Hamish declares, reaching for his familiar security crutch – that blasted rifle!

Tarrant snorts a brief giggle at the pun.

“You’re mad!” the man declares in reply to Tarrant’s inappropriate humor.

“Absolutely!” he agrees, grinning with delight.

He almost expects Hamish to threaten him with the rifle or stomp off toward the house, but he does neither. He blinks like a flunderwhapped borogove.

“Mad...” Hamish muses and then his expression sours. “I suppose that’s what she sees as one of your better qualities!”

Tarrant feels his right eyelid twitch. Alice. This man is talking about my Alice! Tarrant replies with as much self control as he can scrape together with his clawing, imaginary fingers, “She’s told me just that on countless occasions.”

Hamish’s hands tighten around the rifle, but Tarrant doesn’t worry about the fact that the man’s still holding it. After all, Tarrant still has his knife and in such close quarters, he’s fairly confident that his dagger gives him an advantage over Hamish and his long-barreled firearm. But it won’t come to that, he’s sure.

Are ye?


“You’re just as utterly mad as Alice is,” Hamish informs him. His sour expression tightening, the younger Ascots declares, “Which I suppose means you manage to waste valuable time contemplating gentlemen in dresses and ladies in trousers!”

Tarrant giggles. Hamish looks completely offended by the sound. Tickled to his toes, Tarrant tells him, “Not only that, but when the occasion calls for it, the men of my homeland don the skirts, and the ladies the trousers!”

Hamish’s grimace smoothes away and Tarrant is shocked to hear a snorting, nasal-y chuckle squeak out of the man. “That must be a rather remarkable occasion, Hightopp.”

“It was,” Tarrant replies, remembering Frabjous Day, his kilt, Alice’s armor, the sounds of battle...

“I’m sure Alice was thrilled to take part,” Hamish interrupts the dark parade of memories. “She enjoys any excuse at all to indulge her contrary nature.”

Tarrant can’t disagree with that, oddly enough. Alice’s contrariness transcends Worlds. Contrary to her core, his Alice is! “Yes, and I believe she always will.”

Hamish looks up and Tarrant finds himself on the receiving end of the man’s evaluating stare. Tarrant can only guess what the man sees in his expression, for if it reflects what Tarrant feels, then there must be love, devotion, respect, admiration, frustration, and acceptance written on his face for the world to see.

And, perhaps, Hamish does see all of those things. The man seems to relax completely for the first time in Tarrant’s presence. “You really are the right man for Alice,” Hamish says softly and Tarrant thinks he sees the lingering pain in those watery blue eyes evaporate. “It’s just as she said,” he concludes.

A little puzzled, Tarrant watches as Hamish turns away and looks out over the range. He sighs and Tarrant imagines a great weight leaving him. The man sets the rifle down on the table and, suddenly, turns back toward Tarrant with a real smile.

“I never congratulated you, sir, on your nuptials.” Hamish thrusts out his right hand. Offers it. Tarrant gapes. “My best wishes for your future, Lord Hightopp. For both you and your wife.”

A bit numb – startled! – Tarrant accepts the handshake. “Thank you, Lord Ascot. On behalf of my wife and myself.”

Hamish nods once in that uniquely decisive manner of his, as if something of great importance had been settled... finally. “Now, as we’ve tramped all the way out here, can I interest you in a try with the rifle?”

Before Tarrant can reply, Hamish soldiers on. “You’ve Alice to look after, you know, and as effective as your skills may be in your country, here we use firearms. You wouldn’t want to be tested and found lacking when I’m offering to educate you free of charge, now would you?”

Well, when it’s put that way...

“That would be unforgivable,” Tarrant replies.

Hamish beams.

“And, should you discover the curiosity for it, I should be pleased to show you what to do with a broadsword, a claymore, or a knife, Ascot.”

The man barks out a laugh. “Perhaps I shall take you up on that, Hightopp.”

And then he places the rifle in Tarrant’s hands and begins his lecture on the proper handling of it. Tarrant ignores the way his skin crawls at touching such a beast of a machine. He focuses on Alice, on his promise to keep her and their littlin’ safe... protect them. Even the prideful note in Hamish’s voice serves as a good distraction and Tarrant finds a smile tugging at his mouth.

Yes, oddly enough, Alice’s former Intended is not nearly as intolerable as Tarrant had first thought.

It must be the nature of Uplandish things, he muses, sighting as Hamish had instructed him. Nothing is what it appears to be...

And when he pulls the trigger and the butt of the weapon nearly knocks his shoulder out of its joint, Tarrant can’t help but feel an odd sense of satisfaction...

... and he wonders if this sensation is anything like what Alice feels as she continually discovers the mysteries and complexities of Underland.


Alice stares at Hamish. Or perhaps she gapes. Gawks.

“What?” he asks with a defensive sniff, taking the seat opposite her in the carriage and closing the door firmly.

The driver slaps the reins and the horse steps into the street. Still, Alice can’t quite gather her thoughts. “What’s happened between you and Tarrant?” she manages.

Surely, that... that display in the foyer of her mother’s home had not been... real! In no conceivable version of events would Tarrant and Hamish speak to each other in perfectly civil, friendly tones and then giggle like naughty boys at the mere mention of the word “skirt”!

Or, at least, she’s pretty sure that had been the catalyst. What had she said? How had Hamish started it? Oh, yes:

“Alice, you’d better not indulge in any fancies regarding the commandeering of today’s meeting. We can’t know that these stodgy businessmen have the fortitude to withstand such a shock.” He’d held out his hand. “I’ll review your notes and make sure they’re addressed in due course.”

With a resigned sigh, Alice had handed them over.

“Alice?” Tarrant had wondered aloud, blinking at her.

She’d shrugged helplessly. “Well, he’s right; I’m the one in the skirt, after all!”

What had been so blasted funny about that?

“Hamish,” she prompts him. “Why are you and my husband sharing jokes now?”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean. He’s an amiable sort, once you acclimate yourself to his oddities.”

“I... you... he...” Alice exchanges her stare for a glare. “When did you decide oddity was amiable. Last I knew, you barely tolerated it!”

Hamish leans back against his seat, radiating smugness. “We spent an hour out on the range the other day.”

Alice is back to gaping again. “The day before yesterday, you mean? The other day at your father’s country estate? The shooting range at your father’s estate?” She can remember hearing the muffled sounds of rifle fire. Lord Ascot had dismissed the racket with a word: “Hamish.”


“You taught Tarrant how to use a GUN?!

“Goodness, calm down, Alice. We’re supposed to comport ourselves as professionals this morning!”

She slaps aside his scolding. “Well, we’re not there yet, are we? Plenty of time to be upset and unreasonable!”

“Just as long as you recognize your own faults,” he comments.

“No, I’m upset. You’re unreasonable! A gun, Hamish?!” The very Idea of Tarrant holding such a foul, ruthless, underhanded piece of weaponry in his hands offends her!

He gives her a stern look. “The man needed to know, Alice. He’s too innocent for this world. Carries a bloody knife around under his jacket. What good will that do against the weapon of choice in this country? Honestly! I thought you would have seen to that during the voyage here if not before!”

Alice shakes her head, unable to understand him. “Why would you bother? Has Tarrant managed to endear himself to you as well?”

Hamish harrumphs. “Of course not! However, between your husband and that useless lush of Margaret’s, I can bloody well see which one would step forward to protect you and your mother and sister. You and I both know Lowell would never raise a hand to fight for anyone but himself. And yet Hightopp, who has enough decency to make an effort on your behalf, isn’t aware of half the dangers out there!”

“Crime is very uncommon in the city,” Alice counters weakly, her mind working furiously at the implications of Hamish’s fierce opinions.

“It only needs to happen once for it to be too late,” he argues back obstinately.

Alice studies him as he determinedly glares out the window at the passing scenes. Finally, she says, “Thank you, Hamish. For showing him how to protect us.” She has to fist her left hand to keep it from settling over her stomach.

He gives her a bland smile. “I understand that the duty will never be mine, but I am not so low as to deny Hightopp the means to fulfilling his obligations to you, Alice.”

“And I appreciate that.” And, after she finishes with this bloody business meeting today, she’ll be asking Tarrant why he hadn’t mentioned this to her earlier!

Again the interior of the carriage is as silent as it can possibly get while in use on London’s streets. After a few moments, the void of words seems to be too much for Hamish.

“I’m sorry for my behavior, Alice, when you arrived at the office.”

She turns back to him, surprised. “It’s fine,” she tells him. “You’d just suffered a terrible shock. Looking back on it, I feel ashamed of myself: what if your father had been there and I’d given him heart failure!”

“Still,” Hamish continues, easily as stubborn as she is herself. “I should not have... said those things... accused you of not finishing... things.”

Ah, the proposal. We come to it at last, she muses. “Hamish, I am sorry for how I handled that. Truly, you’d deserved much better from me.”

“Yes, I had,” he agrees a bit pompously. Alice lets it go, however. “Just as you deserved better from me. In my defense, I can only say that I hadn’t understood.”

“Understood what?” her curiosity makes her ask.

Hamish fidgets with his gloves and inspects the head of his walking stick for blemishes. “I hadn’t understood that your refusal had nothing to do with... a lack of merit on my part.”

“No, of course it hadn’t! Oh, Hamish...” She sighs. “I meant what I said then: you are a fine gentleman. Why do you think I even stepped up into that gazebo with you at all, knowing what was about to happen? I knew you were a fine gentleman. With many admirable qualities.”

Hamish smiles. “Just not the ones you were looking for.”


He chuckles and Alice marvels at the sight of his mirth. It transforms him and suddenly she’s sharing a carriage with a young, carefree, charming gentleman. The spoilt, petulant, snobbish boy-man she’s grown so used to seeing is oddly... absent. At least for the moment.

“Thank you, Alice.”

“My pleasure, Hamish.”

The Hamish Ascot of old reappears, however, as the carriage slows and pulls over. Alice doesn’t have to twitch aside the curtains to know they’ve arrived at the Metropolitan District Railway’s head offices.

“Are you ready for this, Lady Hightopp?” he drawls, his hand on the polished door latch.

She considers mentioning the fact that she has a revolver in her leather case along with the precious project plan. In the end, however, all she says is: “Whenever you are, Lord Ascot.” In some things, Alice assumes, ignorance truly is bliss.

This careless thought revisits Alice moments later when, upon being ushered into the meeting room to greet the railway’s executive committee, she sees a face that makes her heart race and shock-fear-dread-rage-urgency-bloodthirst! scream down her heart line:

Alice finds herself face-to-despicable face with none other than Underland’s former Viscount Valereth.

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 11 of 22

<< Previous     Home     Next >>