A book always changes slightly as it’s written. The plot alters, characters do something different to what you planned and sometimes you realise you have a scene in the book which doesn’t really add anything.
Originally Alice’s family home in York was burnt down. The idea behind this was to show intensify the difficulties Alice was up against. But once the book was completed, this event seemed to get in the way of everything else which was happening. And Alice already had a few challenges to deal with so why add another one? This is the chapter which was removed:
‘This carriage is bumpier than ever now its wheel ‘as been fixed,’ grumbled Millicent. ‘Mister de Grey! Yer meant to go round the ‘oles not through ‘em!’ she hollered to Moris at the front of carriage. ‘He’ll be breakin’ the other wheels next with ‘is drivin’.’
Alice and Constance exchanged a smile, Millicent had a point. The carriage did seem bumpier, or perhaps they were all tired now with travelling in it.
It was three days since they had left Grantham and there had been no sign of the Italians on the road. Everyone was grateful to Constance for her acting skills and Alice felt proud of her for being brave enough to approach the Italians and scream at them in that way. Constance had ensured the Italians were detained in Grantham and Alice hoped they would be kept there for a while longer.
They had covered as many miles as possible and the travelling had left little time for Alice and Jon to be alone together. She thought often of the kiss they had shared that dark night and the memory made her smile.
‘Look at Mistress Wescott’s face,’ Millicent said to Constance conspiratorially, ‘What d’ya think she’s thinkin’ about to make ‘er grin so?’ Alice noticed them talking about her and tried to straighten her face. ‘She must be thinkin’ about ‘er sweetheart,’ teased Millicent and Constance laughed.
Alice told herself she would have to wait until the prayer book was returned until she spoke to Jon properly again. After that had been done they would all find a place to stay for a few days and reflect on what had happened. Somehow they would need to bring the Italians to justice for the murders of Griselda and Robert.
Before Durham they planned to stay for a night with Alice’s parents in York. Alice was excited, she hadn’t seen her parents for a long time. What would they look like now? She pictured her father with his hair a little whiter than before, his midriff slightly wider. But still he would have those sparkly blue eyes. He was a clever man and animated when he talked. She hoped her mother would smile as much as she always had, she remembered her as a happy woman who loved having her family around her. Tilda’s death would have left her devastated at the time, but Alice hoped that the few years which had passed since then would have allowed her mother to enjoy life with some happiness again. She imagined the expressions on their faces when she arrived, they were going to be extremely surprised. And she couldn’t wait to introduce them to Jon.
‘I see York ahead!’ called out Moris. Alice scrambled to the front of the carriage and sat next to Moris. The city was easy to see with its walls and towering cathedral rising up out of the flat landscape. As they drew nearer to the city, the road travelled alongside the glistening river busy with swans. Alice wiped away a tear of happiness as they reached the familiar stone gatehouse and passed through it into the throng of the city.
‘It’s like being in London again!’ said Constance, who had squeezed onto the seat beside her.
‘It is,’ grinned Alice, ‘This is where I grew up. I haven’t seen it for years.’
The carriage squeezed its way through the busy, narrow streets. Alice got down from the carriage and led Brutus to her family’s home. ‘You will have plenty of rest there,’ she patted his nose, ‘And my mother will have a carrot for you too.’
Alice was tired, but felt elated by the sights and smells of her hometown. New signs had been hung, shops had changed ownership and buildings had been repainted; but these were the same streets she had walked along with her parents and sisters.
‘Nearly there now!’ she called out to Jon and he grinned in reply. Alice wondered if he was nervous about meeting her parents, she was sure they would like him.
Alice led Brutus down the street where she had grown up. She looked around at the faces of the people there, hoping to see someone she recognised. Perhaps a child from school who was now an adult like herself. But there was no one familiar and soon an acrid smell began to settle in her nostrils.
It was the smell of burning; not a fresh smell but the odour of damp ashes which had been left unswept for several days.
Alice said nothing and urged Brutus on so she could walk quicker. Up ahead the street looked different to how she remembered it. The crooked timber homes and shops either side of her were the same as they always had been, but in front of her there appeared to be a large, dirty, gash across the street.
Alice nodded to Moris to take back the reins and she ran up to the scene of devastation. She stopped and stared at where the buildings suddenly stopped and became a tumble of black, foul smelling timbers. Walking into the destroyed part of the street Alice could see that a large fire had burnt down this section of the city, it must have taken down about eight or ten buildings.
Her family home was one of them.
Alice made her way to where the house had once stood and walked into its cold embers. Some of the timbers crushed easily under her feet, causing her to slip. Her dress and cloak were quickly becoming covered in soot and the smell of burning was sharp and acidic in the back of her nose. Further up the street she saw a man walking towards her.
‘Where are the people who lived here?’ she called over to him, ‘Where are they now?’ He shrugged and continued walking.
Jon rode up to the remains of the home and dismounted. ‘Alice!’ he called over to her, ‘It’s not safe in there, come out!’ He pointed to a fragment of timber frame looming precariously above her, a few burnt rafters were still attached to it. Alice glanced up at it and then looked down under her feet and tried to search among the burnt debris for something which would remind her of her family.
‘Something must be here,’ she muttered. Her hands and nails were now black with soot.
‘Alice!’ Jon strode over to the burnt pile of timbers and started scrambling over to her.
‘I need to collect the rest of my family’s things!’ she said, ‘They will need them!’
That was all she could think about, it was her job to salvage what she could and take them to her family. Where was her family?
‘Where’s my mother?’ she asked Jon. He had hold of her by the waist now and was trying to pull her off the remains of her home.
‘We shall ask some people and find out,’ he said, ‘But you must come with me now, it is not safe.’
’No!’ shouted Alice. She could think of nothing else but what lay beneath the remains of the fire. What about the bed she had slept in as a child? And the colourful wall hangings her mother had hung in the parlour? And what about the dogs they had kept?
‘Moby and Titan would have run away from the flames wouldn’t they?’
‘Come on,’ said Jon still hanging onto her waist and one of her arms.
‘They would have run away?’
‘I don’t know who they are.’
‘They were the dogs we had.’
‘I am sure they are safe,’ said Jon. But Alice kept worrying about the dogs, she shrugged Jon off and his foot slipped. It knocked one of the timbers which was supporting the few pieces of roof which hung above their heads. There was a horrible creaking noise and then everything seemed to happen slowly.
‘Move!’ shouted Jon. He grabbed Alice and threw her back towards the street. The timber buckled and the last standing remains of the house tumbled onto the pile of burnt timbers with an enormous crash and a huge cloud of dust.
Alice could hear Jon coughing, there was grit and the taste of soot in her mouth. Elizabeth helped her up and led her back to the carriage where Millicent made her sit down and wiped her face with a cloth.
‘Alice, you look feverish,’ said Millicent, ‘You need to get back in the carriage and rest.’
‘I don’t need to rest,’ said Alice, she could hear a strange ringing sound in her ears, ‘I need to find my family.’
‘A lady came out to speak to us from one of these houses,’ said Elizabeth, ‘She said everyone escaped, your family will be safe somewhere.’
‘Where are they?’ asked Alice.
‘We haven’t found that out yet,’ said Elizabeth, ‘But I am sure there is no need to worry about them. This looks like it was a tragic accident. The woman told me it happened about three days ago.’
‘Where’s Jon?’ asked Alice.
‘I am here.’ He stood in front of her, his face darkened with soot. ‘You need to rest in the carriage.’
‘No I don’t, I am feeling a bit better now.’ She needed to convince the others she was all right. She had to see her family and she had to return to the book to the monks at Durham. If she pretended she was all right, perhaps the fever would go away.
‘We need to get ‘er into the carriage,’ said Millicent.
‘Let me carry her,’ said Jon and Alice felt herself lifted smoothly off her feet. Jon cradled her in his arms and she felt too weak to lift her head.