Alice Munro's excitement at leaving Albany faded quickly. She was happy to see her father, as they'd had no word from him for several weeks, but the heat of the journey was becoming unbearable. They had been riding most of the day without rest, and she could feel the stays of her corset digging sharply into her ribs. She'd asked Mrs. Gordon, their chaperone, to loosen them this morning when she had laced her, but was promptly chided for her unladylike desire. Taking a large breath of air, she fought her growing dizziness as she swayed dangerously in the saddle.
"Alice?" asked Cora, her older sister, who was looking concerned.
She took another gasping breath, trying to force more air into her lungs and failing miserably. "Can we stop?" she asked piteously, hating herself for her weakness. She had no idea how Cora bore it. Reduced to taking quick, shallow breaths, she tried to will the dizziness back. She was going to faint, and then they might send her back to Albany. She would not faint, she told herself firmly, her hands gripping the reins tighter.
And then, suddenly everything was madness. The scout that had been leading them was attacking the battalion, and shot were coming from the dense trees around them. Her horse reared and Alice threw herself away from it instinctively, trying to not be crushed by it's falling body. With wide eyes and trembling hands, she couldn't help but watch as the troops were slaughtered, quickly forgetting her shortness of breath. She barely noticed Cora's arms encircling her, but when she saw a man scalped, she couldn't help but shriek and bury her head in her sister's lap. This couldn't be happening. They were going to die. She could picture it, the ghastly image of the knife ripping the man's scalp, the slit throats, and the stab wounds. Bile rose in her throat, and she raised trembling hands to cover her face. They would surely die.
When Cora's body stopped shaking against her own, Alice raised her head tentatively, surprised to find new men dispatching their attackers. Standing slowly, she let herself slip behind Cora, watching the unfamiliar men remove the threat without any of the savagery she had previously seen. One was an older man, possibly older than Papa, though he moved with the skillful grace of someone who had fought many times before. One was clearly not an Indian like the other two, and had taken Duncan's gun, though she wasn't sure why. The third was much younger, and currently loosing the horses!
"What are you doing? We need them to get away!" Alice exclaimed, trying to grasp the reins as the horses ran. However, firm arms stopped her, and she paused, looking up at the third man. Dropping her eyes under his inspection, she let Cora lead her away, yet unable to get his eyes out of her mind.
They had come to some sort of decision to continue to Fort Edward, though Alice thought that was madness. Surely it would be better to return to Albany and report the attack? She exhaled, and realized, once again, how tight her corsets were. Her cheeks bright, she knew she wouldn't be able to walk very far if they remained as tight as they were laced. "Cora?"she whispered anxiously, hoping her sister would understand her request.
"Yes, Alice?" she replied, keeping her voice low, as if sensing a private matter.
Alice took a slow breath, as the adrenaline wore off, her breathing became even more rapid in its attempt to secure enough oxygen. "My laces are much too tight, I cannot breathe," she murmured anxiously.
She wasn't sure what excuse Cora had uttered, but she found herself hidden from the other men's view within seconds. The stays were positively unbearable, and she tried to be patient as her sister struggled with the buttons on the back of her dress. With a large sigh, Alice relaxed as her corset was loosened, yet the bruising around her ribs still hurt. Throwing herself from the horse had jammed the stays into her sides, and they were surely bruised.
"Those are frightful bruises, Alice!" Cora exclaimed, yet keeping her voice low. "Mrs. Gordon laced you far too tight!"
Her sister was quite angry, she could tell, and Alice sighed again. "I am just happy to breathe, Cora. When we get to the fort, I shall leave it off, if I am allowed," she reassured her, more concerned with seeing her father than her small injuries.
They returned from behind the trees quickly, knowing that the men were impatient to be moving. Alice had no intention of encountering another war party, not after the horrors of the first, and walked briskly, her skirts dragging a bit on the ground. Stealing a glance at the man with the intriguing eyes, she took another deep breath to quell the fluttering in her heart.