Alice-Miranda At Sea is a part of the Alice-Miranda collection.
Alice-Miranda is set for a luxurious cruise aboard the royal yacht Octavia, where Aunty Gee is hosting the wedding of Aunt Charlotte and Lawrence Ridley. Even Ambrosia Headlington-Bear has come along, much to her daughter Jacinta's surprise. Wild weather and rumors of a jewel thief throw the travelers into turmoil, but something else is giving Alice-Miranda one of her strange feelings. Why does the ship's doctor look so familiar? And who is the shy blond boy hiding in one of the cabins? When Alice-Miranda seeks help from an unexpected source, will she and her helper manage to set things right in time for the celebrations?
An Excerpt fromAlice-Miranda At Sea
Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones turned toward the driver as the limousine weaved its way through the streets from the airport.
“Excuse me, Mr. Fernandez, are we nearly there?” she asked through the opening that separated the driver from his passengers.
The man smiled to himself and kept his eyes firmly on the road ahead. “Soon, miss. Very soon. In fact, just around this corner you will see the sea.”
Alice-Miranda clasped her hands together in delight. She nudged Millie and Jacinta, who were sitting either side of her. Millie was fiddling with her camera and Jacinta was staring wide-eyed out the window.
“Look, over there!” Jacinta pointed at the sparkling harbor spread out in front of them.
Millie looked up and craned her neck to get a better view. “Oh, wow! I have to get a photo of that.”
“It’s a pity we’re leaving straight away,” Alice-Miranda told her friends. “Barcelona has some very interesting buildings.”
“Well, that sounds boring,” Jacinta said, and wrinkled her nose.
“No, not at all. Mummy and Daddy once took me to visit an enormous cathedral called the Sagrada Familia. It sort of looks like it was made by a giant out of Play-Doh and soft cheese,” Alice-Miranda replied.
Hugh Kennington-Jones glanced up from his newspaper. “Not everyone’s cup of tea. But Mr. Gaudi’s constructions are certainly, um, unique.”
“Sounds weird.” Jacinta’s eyes were fixed on the coastline. “Look! There’s a ship. I wonder if that’s the Octavia.”
Cecelia Highton-Smith turned to look out the window. “Oh yes, I think it could be. Aunty Gee is so kind allowing Charlotte and Lawrence to have their wedding on board. It’s very clever of them to get married at sea.”
Millie lowered the window and snapped away with her camera as the limousine headed toward the dock.
“And hopefully, since we’ve come all the way to Spain, we might be able to shake off those jolly pesky photographers who don’t seem to leave Lawrence and Charlotte alone at the moment.” Hugh frowned.
“They’re called paparazzi, Daddy, and they’re only doing their job,” Alice-Miranda informed him.
“Well, it’s a stupid job.” Millie laid her camera back in her lap. “I really don’t understand why people would want to see photographs of Lawrence eating a banana or getting his morning coffee or buying groceries--I mean, he is handsome and everything, but that’s just ridiculous.”
“Aunt Charlotte will have to get used to it too, I suppose.” Alice-Miranda nodded.
“My mother loves them,” Jacinta said.
“Who?” Millie asked.
“The paparazzi, of course,” Jacinta replied.
Jacinta’s mother, Ambrosia Headlington-Bear, spent her life traveling the world looking glamorous, with a trail of hangers‑on longer than most red carpets. The last time she had seen her daughter was over ten months ago and their most recent conversation had consisted of a terse exchange about the school play.
The limousine suddenly seemed very small--as though an elephant had hopped on board and no one was willing to acknowledge its presence. Cecelia pursed her lips and wondered if her decision had been the right one.
Millie hastily changed the subject. “I can’t believe that we’re going on Queen Georgiana’s ship. And do you remember when I first met her; I thought she was Mrs. Oliver’s sister. She must think I’m completely thick.”
“Of course not.” Cecelia laughed. “Aunty Gee would have taken it as a compliment. She adores Mrs. Oliver. And there is more than a passing resemblance--everyone says so.”
The car rolled to a halt at a set of security gates, where Mr. Fernandez hopped out of the driver’s seat to open the trunk for inspection. Hugh lowered the darkly tinted windows and handed over a wad of passports to a young Spanish policeman, who looked in at the group.
“Hola.” Alice-Miranda waved. The man grinned. He disappeared into the small sentry building and returned a few minutes later.
“Enjoy your vacaciones,” the policeman called as he handed the passports back through the window to Alice-Miranda’s father.
The car proceeded past the checkpoint toward the ship moored at the end of the dock. No one inside the vehicle noticed the fair-haired boy, with a backpack slung over his right shoulder and a worn leather trumpet case clutched in his left hand, approach the security checkpoint behind them. The lad put his bags down and reached inside his jacket pocket. His outstretched hand trembled as he gave his passport to the dark-eyed officer.
Neville chewed nervously at his left thumbnail. He wished he’d paid more attention in class since moving to Barcelona. His Spanish was terrible.
“S‑s‑sorry?” Neville squeaked.
“Your ticket, young man,” said the officer, this time in English. “Where are you going?”
“Oh.” Neville fumbled around in his jacket pocket and produced another official-looking document.
The officer smiled. “Your bags?”
Neville’s stomach flipped. Why did they want his bags? Beads of perspiration formed along his brow.
The officer reached out and was just about to pick up Neville’s case when a police motorcycle, siren blaring, turned onto the road. Behind it Neville could see a motorcade of at least six vehicles, adorned with flags on either side of the hoods and speeding toward the checkpoint.
“Antonio, rapidamente! ” another man called from inside the security booth.
The officer handed Neville his passport and ticket and gestured for him to move on.
“Ir, Ir,” he ordered, flicking his hand. “Go!”
“Which ship?” Neville wheezed. But the policeman had already turned to greet the incoming fleet.
Neville had no idea who was in that motorcade, but clearly they were much more important than a nervous kid with a battered trumpet case and a ticket to New York.
“Isn’t the ship beautiful?” Alice-Miranda exclaimed as the group stood on the dock beside the gleaming white liner. Snatches of jazz drifted on the air, coming from a small musical ensemble on the open deck above.
“I’ll say,” Jacinta agreed. “Have you been on her before?”
“No, this is a first for me too. Mummy and Daddy have been quite a few times but I think they were all ‘no children’ affairs,” Alice-Miranda replied.
“The place is probably packed to the gills with priceless antiques--I can imagine why your Aunty Gee wouldn’t want little monsters running amok,” Millie commented.
“And her son, Freddy, has plenty of those,” Hugh whispered conspiratorially to Cecelia.
His wife rolled her eyes. Queen Georgiana’s seven grandchildren had quite the reputation for their wild behavior--and hence were never at the top of anyone’s invitation list, particularly the Queen’s own.
“How many people are coming to the wedding?” Millie asked.
“I think at last count there were two hundred eighty-five,” said Cecelia. “Charlotte and Lawrie were keen just to have family and close friends.”
“I still can’t believe we got invited,” said Millie, nodding toward Jacinta.
“Darling, you and Jacinta are like family. Hugh and I have become very fond of you both. And it’s lovely for Alice-Miranda to have you here too.” Cecelia smiled.
Along the dock black limousines were lined up nose to tail, like ponies on a carousel. Alice-Miranda waved feverishly at Granny Bert and Daisy, who had just arrived with Mrs. Oliver and Mrs. Shillingsworth a couple of cars ahead. The whole Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones household had been invited to the wedding.
Alice-Miranda waved at an elderly lady wearing a ruby-colored suit. “Hello, Granny,” she called. The woman was busily directing a chauffeur who was wrestling with a mountain of luggage. Granny Valentina Highton-Smith, on seeing her only grandchild, called back, “See you on board, darling,” and blew her a kiss, which Alice-Miranda promptly reached out and caught and blew straight back again.
“Look, there’s Lord Robert and dear cousin Lady Sarah and their gorgeous girls, Poppy and Annie.” Cecelia waved furiously at a blond woman wearing a very stylish pink hat and an armful of gold bracelets. A pair of enormous diamonds like two Christmas tree baubles adorned her ears.
“I haven’t seen Poppy and Annie for ages.” Alice-Miranda waved toward the group. “Well, not since last Christmas at Granny’s.”
“Another Poppy! So there’ll be two Poppys on the ship. That’s so confusing,” Jacinta said. “We’ll have to think what to call them. What’s your cousin’s surname?”
“Adams,” Alice-Miranda replied.
“So we’ll have Poppy Adams and Poppy Bauer. We could just call them Poppy A and Poppy B,” Jacinta declared.
“Oh dear,” Cecelia began. “I’m sorry, girls, but Lily called a little while ago to say that they aren’t going to make it. Granny Bauer is still unwell and needs them to stay on with her for longer.”
Heinrich Bauer ran the farm at Highton Hall. His wife, Lily, often helped Cecelia, and Jasper and Poppy were two of Alice-Miranda’s closest companions.
“That’s bad news,” Alice-Miranda replied. “I hope Granny Bauer gets better soon. The wedding just won’t be the same without Poppy and Jasper, but at least Millie can take loads of photographs for us to show them when we’re home again.”
“That sounds perfect, but come along, girls. We want to get settled as quickly as possible.” Hugh began to guide the children toward the ship. “There’s plenty of time to see everyone when we’re on board.”
A short line of crewmen, splendidly dressed in dazzling white uniforms, stood on either side of the gangplank. Not that “plank” was the right word at all for the ornate navy-blue bridge and stretch of red carpet that spanned the void between the dock and the ship.
Alice-Miranda insisted on greeting every single one of the crew individually.
“Hello, my name is Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones.” She held out her tiny hand. “And I’m very pleased to meet you. This is my mummy, Cecelia, and my daddy, Hugh, and these are my two friends Millie and Jacinta.”
The first sailor gave a small nod and reluctantly took her hand in his.
“Um, nice to meet you, miss. Sir, ma’am.” He looked at Mr. Kennington-Jones for approval. Hugh smiled broadly and shook his head in the direction of his effusive daughter.
The exchange was repeated again and again until Alice-Miranda had shaken hands with all of the assembled staff, whose grins widened as she moved from one to the other. She proceeded to skip up the gangplank, where she was greeted by the admiral, a stocky, gray-bearded septuagenarian named Teddy Harding.
“Good morning, miss.” He knelt down to greet Alice-Miranda, who promptly introduced herself in the usual way. Admiral Harding looked up to see Cecelia and Hugh arriving behind her. He motioned to the two crewmen on either side to assist him back to his feet.
“Admiral Harding.” Cecelia greeted the old man with a kiss on each cheek. “It’s wonderful to see you again.”
“You’re looking as lovely as ever, Cecelia, my dear.” Admiral Harding held Cecelia’s hands and took a step backward.
“And you’re the same charming old fox I remember.” Hugh raised an eyebrow as the two men shook hands vigorously.
“Well, I see your little daughter is every bit as gorgeous as her mother.” Admiral Harding winked at Alice-Miranda, who winked right back. “And who do we have here?” he asked, spying Jacinta and Millie over Alice-Miranda’s shoulder.
“May I introduce you to my good friends from school, Jacinta Headlington-Bear and Millicent Jane McLoughlin-McTavish-McNoughton-McGill--but she likes to be called Millie.” Alice-Miranda motioned for them to come forward.
Admiral Harding shook the girls’ hands and said that he was very pleased to meet them. “In fact, didn’t I just meet your parents a little while ago, Miss Millicent?” he asked, looking perplexed.
From behind the girls, Cecelia raised her finger to her lips and gently shook her head. She had been hoping to keep the arrival of Millie’s and Jacinta’s parents a surprise until the girls boarded.
“No, I must be mistaken. Probably another couple on board with the very same name. Imagine that.” Admiral Harding chuckled.
Millie and Jacinta exchanged glances, wondering what on earth he was talking about.
A tall man in a crisp uniform slid into position beside the admiral, who glowered at his late arrival.
“May I introduce you to our principal medical officer, Dr. Nicholas Lush.” Admiral Harding nodded at the man. “Pity he’s yet to find a watch that keeps good time.”
Dr. Lush gulped and his bald head turned the color of ripe raspberries. “Hello, I’m so very pleased to meet you,” he gushed at Cecelia and Hugh.
“What a delicious name you have, Dr. Lush.” Alice-Miranda stretched forward to shake his hand. He hesitated a moment, then reached out and took her hand in his. “It’s very nice to meet you, sir.”
“Mmm, yes,” Nicholas mumbled.
“But I hope we don’t see you again,” Jacinta said.
Dr. Lush looked at Jacinta as though he was inspecting a nasty fungal infection.
“Jacinta--rude!” Millie whispered behind her left hand, before promptly elbowing her friend in the ribs with her right arm.
“I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sure you’re a perfectly nice person, Dr. Lush, it’s just that if we see you it means we’re sick, and I don’t plan on being sick for one second,” Jacinta finished. The group looked at her and laughed.
Dr. Lush sneered. He rather hoped he didn’t see the little brats again either. He hadn’t counted on there being any children on board. In his experience, particularly with Her Majesty’s own grandchildren, they only created problems and a lot more work.
Admiral Harding signaled to three young stewards standing to his left.
“Well, these lads will show you to your quarters. We’re departing at two p.m. I hope you’ll join us on deck for a good old-fashioned send-off.”
Meanwhile, out on the dock, guests were scattering this way and that as the flag-flying motorcade pulled up beside the gangplank. Aunty Gee had delayed their arrival by several minutes as she stopped to talk with the handsome, dark-eyed policeman at the security checkpoint. He rather reminded her of her late husband, Leopold.
In an operation requiring military precision, Queen Georgiana and her household were to be on board the ship and ensconced in their suites within the next twenty minutes. However, the royal standard was not yet flying and protocol demanded that the Queen not board the ship until the flag was in place.
“Dalton, whatever is the delay?” Aunty Gee enquired of her personal bodyguard.
Dalton pushed his earpiece harder into his ear. “I’m not entirely sure, ma’am, but I think someone has . . . um . . . misplaced the flag,” he replied sheepishly.
“Well, tell them to hurry up and find it. I’ve had two glasses of water on the way from the airport, and whilst I have an impeccable constitution, it would seem that my aged bladder does not,” the Queen ordered.
Aunty Gee scanned the quayside, and soon her eyes fell upon just what she was looking for.
“Dalton, Mrs. Marmalade, why don’t you hop out and see about this silly holdup?” she commanded. With both her bodyguard and lady-in-waiting out of the car, Aunty Gee waited a moment before alighting from the vehicle on the far side. Fortunately her entire entourage seemed to be gazing at the empty flagpole, as if by mere power of mutual thought they could zip the flag into place. With some urgency, Aunty Gee fled to the public convenience located opposite the ship and was out again before anyone had time to miss her.