I find myself complaining. I do. And it’s wrong. It’s cold out, and we are struggling to stay warm in my 116 year old house. But the thing is…I have the house, and I love it! It feels like such an honor to have gotten it and to be the ones restoring it. Even if my loan is taking an eternity to go through. But the thing is, despite the drafty windows, and the low water pressure, and the lack of central heat, I really, really, really love this house. And it was sort of a miracle we got it. So yes, I’m grateful.
I’m grateful, too, for my family. I have had the misfortune of witnessing a lot of familial unhappiness in my life. My two best friends are recently divorced, and while I’m glad they are both out of the bad situations they were in, I’m sad, too. The death of a marriage is a very sad thing, all those hopes and plans and dreams ruined. I’m grateful for my marriage, and for the man I married. He lets me live my life, he places no hindrances on me. He believes in me, even though I only really know that because people tell me how proud he is of me (he doesn’t tell me stuff like that). He values me as an individual human being who, companioned by him, is willing to work together to make both of our aspirations in life come true. My dreams are as important to him as his own. And I’m striving to be equally as supportive. I fear I take him for granted too often. I also, because of him, have these amazing children. I cannot describe to you how amazing they are. It’s not because they get great grades (sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t), it’s not because they are beautiful (I think they are, but of course I would) and it isn’t because they are extraordinarily talented, it’s because they are really, really enjoyable people to be around. I adore them, and I feel so blessed to know them.
I’m grateful that I am able to stay home with my kids. This move to Virginia has been tough. We left behind a life and a house in South Carolina. We were in good shape for a while, but the rush of relocating, then being left behind for a time in a horrible housing market, financing two households, has really hurt us. And so, for a time last year, I went to work. It was a good experience, and I’m grateful for it, but I’m more grateful than ever that I don’t have to work. Only…there’s a chance I may have to go back. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lazy, I just feel the pain of my kids growing up. My oldest is 16. I have two more years, three perhaps, before she’ll be on her own. And it breaks my heart. True, they don’t need me while they’re at school, but it’s important to me that I send them off, and that I’m here when they get home, that, when there’s a school closure, or a holiday, I can be here to enjoy it with them. I cherish every minute I have with them. I don’t want to lose any of it. It goes by far too quickly.
But let me just say this, while I’m at it: When I am home, I am working. I’m writing and publishing, editing, cover designing, marketing and promoting. This when I’m not working on the house, cutting down trees, repairing windows, doing plaster work, stripping wallpaper, painting, etc. While I was working outside the home, my book sales tanked. Now they’re back up again, and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that I have been able to fulfill my dreams of 1) writing a book, 2) publishing it and 3) having people actually read the stuff. It’s really quite amazing when I think of it. And so usually I don’t. But I am grateful. Exceedingly so.
I’m grateful for my parents, for my sister, and for the brother I loved with all my heart—and whom I lost a couple of years ago. I’m grateful for the family to whom I am not blood related who helped to nurture me and guide me to make good and responsible decisions. I’m grateful for the teachers who have taught me, and for the friends who have supported me faithfully through good times and bad.
I’m grateful for the good times.
And yes, I’m grateful for the bad times, too. I’m grateful for what they taught me. I’m grateful for the person I am because of them. And while I really hope I never have to relive them, and while I’m sorry for friends I’ve lost and people I’ve hurt, if I’ve learned something in my trials, then it is all for the better.
I’m also really, really grateful for chocolate.
It’s here! And just in time for Thanksgiving!
A collection of short stories from bestselling author V.R. Christensen. The collection features stories loosely based on holiday themes, including two Christmas stories, one for Lent and several ghost stories that may or may not be for Halloween. There are even a few that are related to the novels Of Moths and Butterflies and Cry of the Peacock, as well as Gods and Monsters (scheduled for release in spring of 2014.) Want to know how Abbie Gray and her sister were persuaded to leave their beloved home at Holdaway? Or what happened to Roger Barrett and Claire Montegue? Or perhaps you’re interested to know what happened to the child fathered by the wicked Frederick Emerson. Find out in Sixteen Seasons.
Things have been quiet here, and for that I apologize. Looking back on the last year, trying to concentrate on writing short stories (an endeavor that actually lasted two years) I’ve found I don’t have the time or energy to blog. But I think that’s going to have to change. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and if you’ve been here from the beginning, you’ll know that writing Moths kind of made a mess of me. It forced me to go back and examine some things about myself. It wasn’t a comfortable experience. And there was something, too, very foundation shaking in putting my work out there. I’m grateful it’s been so well received. But the process, I’m afraid, was a bit messy. I lost a few dear friends, and for that I’m really sorry, more than I can say. In the process, I’ve also made some great friends, friends who have stood by me and had faith that I would sort myself out. I have, I think. And so with that, I think I’m going to be more vocal about what my message really is. I tend to cloak it and disguise it, and then to belittle myself, as if none of it really mattered. I do this in the hopes of escaping backlash, but I can’t do that anymore. So…in the coming year, I plan to blog more on my philosophies about life. I know that I tend to see the world a little differently, but I also know, because I’ve begun seeing how many of you have become more vocal, that I am not alone.
On the house front, not much has been going on. We’ve done some more yard work and we’ve begun planning for painting and exterior repairs. But we’re also waiting for financing, and it’s ONGOING. Our appraisal is now on week six, and I’m losing patience. But more on that soon.
As far as my writing goes, I’m just wrapping up the last edits for Sixteen Seasons. The short story collection features two Christmas stories, several ghost stories (Halloween and otherwise) and, most interestingly of all (I think), several stories that are related to my novels, including my upcoming novel, Gods and Monsters, which is due for publication in the spring. Writing these was much more fun than I thought it would be, but also a lot more work.
And on a final note, I am extremely honored and pleased to have been reviewed by Historical Novels Review, and more than that, to have been reviewed favorably by them. Here is the link to the review if you’d like to read it. I’m pretty pleased.
So, stay tuned, I’ll have more to say soon. A lot more.
Those who follow the episodes and come closest to the truth stand to win some devilish fine prizes, including classic editions of Robert Louis Stevenson’sTreasure Island and Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers.
How to enter:
1) Read the 9 episodes of “The Tale of the Mad Gorgon”. (See the schedule of links on the Grey Cells Press website.)
2) Solve the puzzles along the way.
3) Email your solutions via the contact form.
There will also be opportunities to win a digital copy of Greenwood Tree via Twitter, so follow @CaptainRedheart to keep up. (Information on these opportunities will also be posted via @GreyCellsPress as well, if you prefer tweets without grog and parrots in them!). Also, look for odd scraps and bits and pieces from the Captain’s Logbook at Bagshott Manor.
The Tale of the Mad Gorgon Part 8
‘Knocked on the head with a lump of old masonry from the building, has the blood on it, whoever did it tossed it to one side. Must have been in a hurry. Then dragged Mr Nunctious into the folly. I shall put constables on guard duty about the house, and I must insist that nobody leave the house on any pretext without informing me or the constable.’ Inspector Lovell was in no very happy frame of mind; another corpse, this time of the hapless William, and two missing men: neither James Derelict nor Horatio Hubble had been seen since the previous evening, which would mean a search party; his gloom was hardly alleviated by Julia mentioning the chalk marks.
‘Might I make a telephone call?’ she asked.
‘Yes, you might, but no further excursions into the garden – unless accompanied by a constable.’
Captain Thursby was surprised and not a little intrigued to be rung up again on a question of navigation: ‘Sounds like a latitude measurement; but one would need to know from where they were standing in the first place…what was that? Yes, I suppose I could… no, don’t worry, I’ll bring my own.’
Later in the day, an elderly vehicle came crawling up the drive, to deliver a naval looking man, clasping one sextant in one hand. He was shown up to the gallery under the supervision of a constable to where Julia was waiting for him under Captain Redheart’s portrait. The constable stood by, as they looked at the painting and made notes. Inspector Lovell wasn’t taking any chances.
Julia brought out a mirror from her pocket and held it up to the painting.
‘Yes. Yes, I think I see –‘ she said, quite excited. ‘Are you ready?’
‘All hands on deck – fire away.’
‘S,E,3,5,N,W,1,5,…’ she began.
‘Hold hard there, m’lad – N, W?’
‘Yes, and then 1, 5, … and next …’ Julia squinted at the mirror a while, then her face cleared:
‘a,n,d,s,o,u,n,d,e,r,…’ She looked a little taken aback. ‘That doesn’t make a lot of sense. But perhaps once we’ve done the first part …’
That same afternoon, as the sun was setting, the Folly received more visitors: Julia, the elderly mariner still holding his sextant, and the now inseparable constable.
‘Now, as I was saying, ‘explained the Captain, ‘we would probably need to wait until sunset to take a shot, as we call it; that is, if we go on the premise that the sunset in the painting is a definite reference to the time of day. If we try it now, it will be out by a matter of degrees, which could make a serious difference to your calculations.’
‘The doctor said he had been dead at least since the previous evening, so that could tie in.’
So if we take a shot from the Folly, with the Mad Gorgon behind us…’ the Captain raised the sextant to his eye and squinted at the house.
‘Points to the Gallery.’
‘Oh. Are you sure?’
‘You may look for yourself – keep it steady – there.’
‘Yes, I see what you mean.’ Julia tried not to sound disappointed – or to feel too foolish.
‘He seems to be leading us round in circles.’ She looked at her notes again.‘Oh, but wait – SE35 and NW15 …surely N stands for north?
‘Most certainly – and W for west …and I would suggest that the numbers stand for paces.’
Under the constable’s now bulging gaze, Julia and the Captain proceeded to step, in quasi-tango-like gait, across the remains of the lawn, nearly taking a tumble near some more uprooted flowerbeds. The constable followed at respectfully protective distance, his walk unconsciously mirroring theirs until one might have been forgiven for imagining an impromptu Lobster’s Quadrille had been in progress.
The procession was brought to a full halt at the door of the Clock Tower. It was locked. ‘Well, of course, I suppose it would be.’ Julia stood back and gazed up at the clock face which had not changed the time in roughly a hundred years. A shadow appeared.
‘And perhaps you would like to explain what you want with the Clock Tower? ‘ enquired Inspector Lovell amiably behind them.
‘I was reminded when looking at the engraving copied from one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks – he wrote in a code of his own, quite simple really, but requiring a mirror to read it.’
Lovell raised an eyebrow.
‘He wrote upside down and back to front. I wondered, what if Redheart had done the same thing? So I tried reading the lettering with a mirror. The ’s’ is in fact an ‘a’, ‘n’ is ‘u’ and vice-versa, and so on – and the squiggly thing that looks like an f – is in fact an old-fashioned ‘s’. The sentence then plainly reads ‘And so under’. I think Abigail had just tried that out herself, when the murderer caught up with her.’
‘Rather careless of them to leave the mirror behind.’
‘I don’t think they imagined anyone else would make the connection; we didn’t –she was always looking in the mirror at herself, or to put more make-up on. So it wouldn’t occur to anyone that she had any other purpose.’
‘But that still leaves us with only ‘And so under’ – under what? And this sextant …’
‘That is where Captain Thursby comes in.’ Julia turned to the captain.
‘Yes, now, according to how he is holding the sextant in the painting, he is actually about to take a shot, or measurement – and because there is a sunset as well, that suggests the time of day to take the shot. Now, he also included the Folly in the painting –‘
‘And using the measurements and compass points Miss Warren so, ah, intelligently extracted from the portrait,’ continued the Captain, ‘I was able to take a shot, and with the Folly directly behind us – that is, the figurehead, we found ourselves at the Clock Tower. ‘
‘‘But the Clock Tower is empty.’
‘And so under, Inspector Lovell,’ explained Julia.’ That was the final instruction left in the painting : ‘And so under’.
Inspector Lovell looked increasingly worried as Julia outlined her theory. ‘I do hope you haven’t shared your thoughts with anyone in the household, ‘ he said once she had finished. ‘That really might not be safe.’
‘I do think though that if any more gruesome demises are to be avoided, we had better make straight for the Clock Tower soon – as soon as possible; I really think there may be something unpleasant about to occur,’ relied Julia earnestly. ‘How many men have you available?’
Inspector Lovell gave her a long, considering look.
New release from Holland House
Cass J. McMain
Michael is a metalworker with a name for building good fences. He’s even known by some neighborhood kids as Mr. Fence Man. But he wants to be something more: an artist like his former business partner, Alex. An artist, like his girlfriend, Jess, wants him to be. The commissions are starting to come in, and along with steady work making fences, things are looking good. The only problem he has is with his closest neighbor, who won’t allow visitors to pass through a gate between their properties. This dispute becomes a fight and Michael, enraged, makes a wrong choice.
Haunted by the result of his choice, Michael starts to fall apart: a death weighs down on him, exposing the weaknesses in the persona he was creating for himself, the weaknesses at the heart of him.
Sunflower is a story about a man having a bad day and making one bad choice. But underneath that, it also about his coming to terms with himself: who he is – and who he is not. Ultimately, Sunflower is about how we define ourselves as people, and how we seek to be what we are not.
An extraordinary and beautiful novel.
Arthur Tremonton is a man of wealth and property, yet cursed from birth to live without sight.
Zachary Goodfellow is a young man raised in poverty, once blind, now deaf.
These two, though worlds apart in station and circumstance, have more in common than one might suppose. Not the least of which is the mutual acquaintance of Rebecca Adair, a young woman with an unusual gift, and the wisdom to know that the lack of physical sight is only one of many obstacles which might prevent a man from truly seeing.
Faced with the choice between seeing clearly and seeing truly, which would you choose? Rebecca intends to ask the question of them, but in order to do that, they must be persuaded to meet. Pride, vanity, fear, these prevent them from seeing what they might do for each other, what they might be to one another, if only they would open their eyes.
What would you sacrifice for the gift of sight? What, in fact, does it truly mean to be Blind?
Get your copy now!
I have just a few stories left to write in my Sixteen Seasons series, a few are written already and just need to be cleaned up. I think I have one more to write that is connected to Cry of the Peacock, and one to do that is connected to the third book, Gods and Monsters (excerpt one), and one more, I think happier, Christmas story. Once those are complete, I’ll remove the series from publication and publish them as a collection in one volume in autumn 2014.
That previously mentioned third book I will begin final edits on in September, with an anticipated release date of April 2014. I’m really looking forward to that. I really believe it’s my strongest work yet and I’m looking forward to rounding out the series. Those of you who’ve read Moths and Peacock will know it’s not a series in the traditional sense, but rather one connected by a common theme. In Gods and Monsters (excerpt two), however, the three books connect through common characters. I’m really excited to get working on it again. It really is my favorite of the three.
And then…? I think I’ll try something a little different. But I mean to be quiet about that, at least for the time being. Suffice it to say, it will not be historical.
Work on the house is waiting for some money to become liquid. At the moment there isn’t much more than peeling paper and paint and paper selection, which I will get to soon. I promise.
For now, however, I’m enjoying the rest of my summer and getting ready to roll up my sleeves and get back to work writing, rewriting, and getting that last book out there.
Keep your eyes peeled in the mean time for a series of promotions I have coming up. I’m planning on having one book free every month until Gods comes out. Exciting stuff! At least I think so.
I believe it was Stephen King who said that writing never gets easier. This is both absolutely false and entirely true. As I gain experience and practice, as I allow my editors (and my readers, too) to teach me, I find that forming stories, the plotting and characterization, grows much easier. But there’s something about having been published and having faithful publishers, editors and readers, that makes one grow a little lazy. I no longer want to kill my darlings. I see no reason why my 185,000 word book must be 150,000 or fewer words. I do not like to kill my darlings. They are, after all, my darlings!
(Excuse me a moment while I weep.)
The truth is, making big cuts is a LOT of work. And while there is the incentive of making the work more concise, every cut has consequences. One omission creates a domino effect, chapters and scenes must be rewritten. Motivations change. Characters have to think of different things to say and different ways to say them.
It hurts cutting out those words. It really, really hurts.
Because I’ve been working on Cry of the Peacock the longest, I think it was the hardest to edit. Those darlings were family members, and to excise them was a little like sending a child off to college. Or worse…
But the fact is, because those words, those scenes and lines of dialogue had been there so long, I had decided they belonged even when they ceased to do so. Reworking of the story meant that other scenes were doing the work those old scenes had done, and were doing it in a more natural manner.
Still, some of what was cut out in those final edits was my finest writing. But then…they were my darlings, so of course I think so. For my own pleasure perhaps more than anyone else’s, I offer here a few of those deleted scenes. If you’ve read the book, you will see that they are no longer necessary. If you haven’t, I hope it intrigues you.
First however, an anecdotal note. Cry of the Peacock has been read by many, many beta readers in the form of Kentridge Hall. I liked that title, but in the end it changed with the renaming of the major characters—which, for the record, I did not want to do. It was necessary however, because a certain author, who I shall not name, got it into her head to name her characters Edward and Bella. Yes, that’s right. Once upon a time, Arabella Gray was Isabella Hampstead. And Ruskin Crawford was Edward. *sigh*
Have you ever considered renaming your children? No? There’s a reason for that.
The first offering is what I call The First Library Scene, where Abbie, anxious for some more thought provoking reading than Lady Crawford has so far provided for her, discovers an abandoned library, where the old and lesser used books of the house are kept. She quickly discovers she’s not alone.
She stood before the door. Tapped lightly (very lightly) and turned the knob. The door swung open without a sound, and she was soon inside and searching the shelves with ravenous curiosity. Only the books were so old, the room so dark, she found it a challenge to distinguish the titles. She crossed to the windows and drew the curtains open, sending clouds of dust to dance across the rays of sunlight that now entered the room unhindered.
“Good grief! Was that really necessary?”
Abbie started and turned, and discovered James sitting in a far corner of the room, half concealed in the recesses of an immense wingback chair and blinking in the light. It seemed she’d awoken him.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was here. I did knock.”
“The light reading is kept in the music room, you know.”
“I know where the light reading is, thank you,” she said, bristling. “But, as it happens, it isn’t light reading I want.”
He examined her a moment in silence. “Perhaps you want Aristophanes in Greek,” he said at last.
“Who’s to say I don’t? Not you.”
He arose from his chair. She did not like the faintly predatory look in his eye any better than the patronizing tone of his voice.
He approached, stopping just before her and looked at her very pointedly before raising his gaze to the shelves just above her head.
“Here we are,” he said and pulled down a well-worn leather volume. He opened it, scanned the pages for a moment, and then began to read.
She lives on apples and cheese
Yet she got herself appointed
Heiress to an estate
Way out there in Hamp—”
“That’s not what it says,” she objected and tried to take the book. But he held it away from her, and with an eyebrow raised, challenged her to prove it did not. At last he turned the volume so she could see it. It was, indeed, in indecipherable Greek.
“I expect you miss your sister very much,” he said, closing the book and replacing it on the shelf. “Pity she couldn’t come with you.”
“And would you have treated her with any less contempt than you have so far treated me?”
“Contempt? I wouldn’t call it contempt. Doubt, perhaps. Scepticism.”
“In my abilities?”
“I couldn’t care two figs about your abilities, Miss Gray. Perhaps a better word would be suspicion.”
“Suspicion? What can you possibly suspect me of, Mr. Crawford?”
He gave her a sideways glance and returned to his chair, putting his feet up on a nearby table and taking up the book which he may or may not have been reading, in the near darkness before he had fallen asleep.
“You seem not to have heard me, Mr. Crawford, so I’ll repeat the question.”
“I heard you. What do you think I would suspect you of, Miss Gray?”
“I haven’t the faintest clue.”
“Let me help you, then. Imagine, for a moment, someone in my position—”
“A rich, spoiled wastrel and a rogue? I suppose that’s easily enough done.”
His gaze narrowed for a moment. “Well-bred, well-educated and born to privilege is the way I would prefer to put it.”
“I’m sure you would.”
“And expected to preserve the traditions and accepted protocol of our set.”
“I don’t know what any of this has to do with me.”
“Imagine you,” he continued, “from a sphere decidedly lower, having no claims upon us that I can possibly imagine, and yet here you are! How did you manage it? What kind of avaricious schemer must you be?”
“I was invited to come, Mr. Crawford, in case you’d forgotten.”
“Yes, yes, the invitation was issued,” he said and waved it away. “But you sought it, won it somehow. Admit it. Owing to your skill, I suppose, you wheedled your way in. Congratulations on a job well done, but don’t make the mistake of thinking yourself one of us just because you have learned to look and act the part. Go back to your people, Miss Gray. Lay aside your contemptible ambition and go back where you belong, before you find yourself in deeper water than you can swim.”
“Am I a threat to you somehow?”
“Yes. I cannot account for your contempt unless you somehow consider me a threat in some unimaginable way. Do you, Mr. Crawford?”
“Not in the least! I’m simply trying to mitigate the damage you are sure to cause when your schemes fall through and all you have left is your embarrassment, of which the family, if you insist on pursuing your aims, must share.”
“You don’t know what my aims are. Or you’ve decided them for me, in which case, perhaps I should thank you, as I hardly know them myself just yet. I thought we would have a shared interest in those I have dared to form, but I can see that I was wrong.”
“A shared interest? In what possible way?” he asked and laughed condescendingly.
“And you speak of embarrassment, Mr. Crawford. It seems a trifle hypocritical to me to be speaking of the embarrassment I must no doubt cause your family, when you are the one in the habit of daily shaming them.”
“You know me so well!”
“I know enough. Your reputation is no secret. I’ve seen with my own eyes how your kind make a game of life and death. You have your fun and leave the mess for someone else to clean up. Ruined women, fatherless children, hearts broken and lives and dreams dashed. And why? Because you can? Because somehow you have the right to make spoils of other people’s lives? Because you have the money and station to protect you where another man, and any woman, would have to step up to their responsibilities? All I want from your family, Mr. Crawford, is the protection they offered to provide. And you would cast me off? Why? For no other reason than that I am inconvenient to you? You are inconvenient, Mr. Crawford, not to me, but to those whose happinesses you trifle with.”
James did not answer her, but the look in his eye was almost fierce.
“Is everything all right here?” Ruskin said as he entered the room. “I thought I heard voices,” he said to Abbie as she turned to face him. “Is something the matter?”
“James and I were just having a little difference of opinion.”
“Between brother and sister,” James added.
Ruskin cast James a warning look, then turned once more to Abbie. “Where is your companion?”
Suddenly she was conscious that she had not behaved quite correctly. She had evaded her maid, to be discovered in close conversation, alone, with James. She did not even know that the library was a room in which she was welcome to visit. She hadn’t been forbidden from it, but Ruskin’s manner when she had been discovered here before was not entirely inviting, at least as far as the room was concerned.”
“I was just looking for something to read.”
“There isn’t much here, I should think, that you would find of interest.”
“No, that’s what James said,” she answered with the slightest hint of irritation.
“What I mean is,” he added, “there isn’t much here to interest anyone. James’ abandoned attempts at scholastic achievement are kept here. Books we no longer use for managing the estate. Census records, tax and tithe records, family records, that kind of thing. Of course you’re welcome to any of it. I would just be surprised if you found anything here worth reading.”
“She seemed rather taken with Aristophanes.”
“Certainly not with your translation of it,” she interjected. “Perhaps I’ll just go see what the music room has to offer.” She turned to go.
“You needn’t, you know,” Ruskin said, stopping her.
She turned back again.
“At least, it is not unthinkable that you should have your own room to read in. If you want it that is.”
She looked at him, unbelieving.
“It’s a small thing, Miss Gray, that we might do to make you more comfortable. You should have a room of your own, safe from interruption,” he added with a meaning glance in James’ direction, “and all the reading you should wish.”
“Do you mean it?” she asked him.
“The idea pleases you?”
“Good Lord!” James said and raised his book once more.
“It pleases me very much,” she answered. “Though I hope it won’t be an inconvenience.”
James laughed out loud and threw his book aside. “You’re always so insufferably polite, Russ.”
“You think I should be more like you, do you?”
“I’m sure Miss Gray values honesty. You should tell her you had hoped to have this room as your own.”
“Is this true?” she asked him.
“And no longer? Why? Not because of me?”
“No,” Ruskin said. “You are my consolation.”
“Steady on, old man. Don’t put the cart before the horse.”
The look Ruskin turned upon his brother now was almost murderous.
“What I meant,” he said, and then, relaxing his features as he turned them upon Abbie, “was that it would be a comfort to know it was going to a good cause. I had once thought to have it for my study. I like the idea of your having it much better. It will take some doing, I’m afraid, to put it in any kind of presentable state. You will be patient?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Good,” he said and looked quite pleased, which, in turn, pleased her very much. How kind he was next to James’ insolence! “I’ll leave you then,” he said, “so that we might begin right away.” He bowed, then called after him, and without looking: “James!”
James cut an exaggerated bow in his brother’s direction, but Ruskin had already gone. He started after him, but then stopped at the door. “I do not know how you do it, Miss Gray, but perhaps it would be worth the time to study your methods.”
“What can you mean?”
“You came in here for a book. You leave with a library. Monarchs could learn a thing or two from you, I should think. If you’ll excuse me,” and with a smug smile, he turned to go.
“As you have so adroitly pointed out,” she said stopping him.
He did not turn around.
“. . . I place high regard in the virtue of honesty, so, let’s be honest with each other, shall we?”
He turned then, and bowed his head. “By all means, Miss Gray.”
“I know now what you think of me and why. I should perhaps take it as an example of what others will no doubt think as well. I was wrong to believe I could overcome such prejudices. Likely it will make no difference, but perhaps you should know that it was only as a last resort that I finally agreed to accept your family’s very generous invitation. I am now in a position to be envied by some and despised by others. However, I come to you reluctant, expecting nothing, hoping for nothing but the protection your family was so good as to offer me. It is not my intention to repay that kindness by disgracing myself or causing embarrassment or disappointment to those who have been so good as to think kindly of me. But I am not without hope that I can live up to expectation, however far beyond my own it may be. It’s true I was not born into this world, and so have no right to it, but neither am I so removed from it as you suppose. Do not forget that my mother was once a neighbour of your own—”
“What?” he asked, actually demanded, and looked, for the moment, stunned.
“Of course you knew that.”
“I—” But he said nothing more, and so Abbie went on before she lost her nerve entirely.
“My mother, as it may very well surprise you, was in no way proud of her connections. She walked away from her family, happily left her former life behind her. She never spoke of her history or gave us any reason to believe she regretted her choice. So while you are no doubt suspicious of me, you must believe me when I say that I have my own misgivings in respect to what my future here may hold. You’ve made it sufficiently evident that you do not welcome me here, and I take it very seriously as a warning of obstacles to come. Had I anywhere else to go, any place safer, any place more likely to ensure my protection, regardless of my own personal ambitions, you may rest assured—”
He held a hand up to stop her. “You’ve said quite enough, ma’am,” and he turned and left the room. But not without nearly bumping into Sarah. He avoided her, without a word, and was gone.
The second offering takes place as Abbie and James are returning from touring the estate. Originally it had been my intention to have Abbie revisit her old home at Oak Lodge. The necessity for this scene grew questionable over time, though it still seems to me something she might very much have liked to do, had she been granted the opportunity. You’ll be able to see how I had to rework James’ finding of Mariana’s photograph. I almost like this better. Alas… Sacrifices had to be made, and in the end, I believe Cry of the Peacock is a far better book than Kentridge Hall ever was.
They had reached the copse of trees which divided the Holdaway estate from Whiteheath, before James spoke again. Oak Lodge had just come into view, and Abbie was looking at it longingly. And was conscious of doing so.
“Would you like to stop?” he asked her.
She hesitated a moment, not unsure of her answer, but of her companion. “Yes,” she said. “Very much.”
They descended the hill, where the cottage was nestled quite comfortably in the little hollow of land. They arrived at the door and dismounted, yet Abbie hesitated at the front door a moment.
“You don’t mind?” she asked him.
“I don’t mind,” he said and tried the door. It was fastened tight.
Abbie produced the key, concealed within a potted plant, and entered the cottage.
* * *
James, his curiosity high, alternately examined the quaint interior and her reunion with it. Her things, packed and crated and boxed, remained where they had been left.
“I thought Sir Nicholas was going to see that it was all put in storage,” she said to him.
“It’s safe enough here.”
“Until there are new tenants.”
“I’ve heard no talk of letting it again.”
“So it will just sit?”
James shrugged and watched her as she looked around, afraid, or so it seemed, to touch anything at first. And then, tentatively, as if none of it were hers after all, or had ever been, she drew her fingers across the surface of a nearby table, draped in a dust cloth, then a stack of pictures covered similarly. Her hand lingered, then pulled the cloth away, revealing the portrait of a woman not unlike Abbie.
“I see where you get it, then.” He shouldn’t have said it. It was snide remark, nothing more than a thought spoken aloud, but he was a fool for thinking it at all.
“Get what?” she asked.
He chose not to answer her, but she, as women are so often wont to do, would not leave it alone. “What is it you discern from the portrait, Mr. Crawford?” she asked him, an air of disdain creeping into her own voice now. She was quite the defensive little thing, wasn’t she? “Perhaps it’s apparent from my mother’s image, how out of place in your world I must by birth and circumstance be.”
She was speaking sarcastically, of course, for it was no mean painting, this, but one commissioned by an apparently skilled artist. The frame alone was likely worth a small fortune. Save for the humbleness of the cottage itself, which was veritably a palace next to that which they had just left, the evidences of her family’s former wealth were everywhere to be seen. The few visible furnishings were of the finest construction. The unsealed crates, which here and there sat open, contained an enviable collection of leather-bound and gilt edged books. The household appointments, from the papers and curtains and upholsteries, showed a taste that was highly cultivated. Such does not happen by chance.
“Because of my family’s embarrassment, am I utterly to be despised?” she said now.
“I never said, nor did I mean to imply, anything of the sort. You cannot help your history, of course. It’s your plans for the future that concern me.”
“That’s what you saw in the portrait? My plans?”
He simply shook his head and turned away.
“Do you mean to explain yourself, Mr. Crawford?”
“No. As a matter of fact, I don’t.” If she had been playing coy, the flirt, the inveterate charmer, she would have taken his meaning already and used it to her purpose. She had not, and he found it curious.
He turned again to watch as she fingered the books that lay in a nearby crate. “Perhaps it was my appreciation for Greek prose, then?” she said and took up one of the books, veritably thrusting it at him. It was Aristophanes, indeed, though an English translation. Which would explain how she knew what The Frogs did not say.
“You know, I think that must have been it,” he said, and could not resist a mirthful smile. She’d made her point, it seemed. And cleverly at that. He laughed then and her look of defensive irritation faded. She smiled, shook her head, and, at last—thank heaven!—let the matter go.
Oh the irony! For it seemed, after all, it was an easier thing for her to do than for him. Abbie continued on with her tour of the house, while he stayed behind. He would allow her her privacy. It was her home, after all. But that meant he was left alone with the portrait, and he found, to his dismay, he could not quite keep his attention from it. The image watched him as he lingered behind, observed him as he examined the home Abbie’s mother had chosen over that in which she had been born to reside. He felt a little like an intruder, and the only way to relieve the feeling that she watched him was to watch her in turn. He was occupied thus when Abbie returned.
She greeted him with a questioning look, but said nothing as she stood at the room’s entrance.
“You take after her,” he said. “That was what I meant before.”
She looked at him a moment, creased her brow and crossed the room to place yet another book and a few photographs inside one of the crates, and then to cover them with protective straw.
“My brother . . .” he began but stopped. Again, some things were better left unsaid, but it seemed she still suspected that his meaning yet disguised an insult.
“Yes, Mr. Crawford? Your brother . . . ?”
“He warned me—”
“Warned you?” She was on the defensive again. He certainly wasn’t doing a very good job of redeeming himself, if that’s what he meant to do. He wasn’t sure he did, after all.
“Yes,” he answered, and tried again. “He said you were uncommonly fair—a stunner, I think, was the word used–” He did not go on, regretted saying anything at all, and rubbed his head in his discomfiture.
She appeared surprised, shocked even, but quickly rallied with a dismissive laugh. “I don’t believe Ruskin said any such thing.”
“Again, you misunderstand me, Miss Gray. It wasn’t Ru—”
“Here!” she said, interrupting him, she retrieved one of the newly placed items from the crate and presented it to him. “My sister doesn’t look so much like our mother as I do, but she is, I believe, what is generally considered very beautiful. There isn’t much comparison.”
He blinked, but his gaze did not leave the photograph. He still felt an idiot for saying anything. “You may be right,” he said in an attempt to lighten the mood, and then glanced to gauge her reaction. It was not what he expected. “I didn’t mean it quite like that. You needn’t cry. Please don’t.”
“It isn’t that at all.” She offered a helpless shrug of her shoulders. “I miss her.”
It was time to go, but he didn’t know what to say. She turned away from him.
“I’ll be outside when you’re ready,” he said and left the house, to sit on a bench in the little garden, and to consider the unexpected results of one afternoon’s sojourn. And to contemplate the little photograph that was still in his hand. That of a fair faced angel. Abbie’s sister. He had somehow forgotten there were two.
Great day, what had he been thinking? That he was going to harm this girl? Make her regret she’d come? Cause her greater misery than she’d so far suffered? He rubbed his face and looked across the Downs. Her land as much as his. He blew a breath of self-chastisement, and patiently continued his wait.
He too was in need of a little quiet contemplation.
If you are interested in more deleted scenes, I’ve reworked the first five, now omitted, chapters of the book into a short story, available at the moment on Amazon and AmazonUK. (It should be free on these websites. If not, try downloading it from here instead.)
Ok, well, it’s not treasure, exactly…
But I did spend part of the Memorial Day weekend cleaning the attic. Unfortunately, when the house went into foreclosure, everything from the attic, letters, trunks and trunks of memorabilia, photographs, books, was sold or thrown out. I went to the estate sale, and I did buy a couple of small things. Needless to say I regret now that I didn’t buy more, or that I didn’t go through the piles and piles of trash as it sat on the curb waiting for the trucks to come.
I had no reason to expect anything at all to be left in the house.
Now the attic is huge, as perhaps you can see. And upon moving in, I just put all the boxes I knew were going to be in the way up there. But the thing is, I can’t see what I have. All my art and framed photos, all my decorative objects have been in boxes for so long, I don’t remember what I have or how it will fit. So, during these last cool days before the summer heat begins, I unpacked the boxes and placed the items on the shelves in the cedar-lined storage room. The framed artwork I stacked neatly against the rafters. I made sure all the other items up there were neatly organized and placed in strategic location for easy finding later.
It was as I was vacuuming up the dust that I found it. A photograph. It’s not in very good condition, but I consider it a treasure anyway. Is it a member of the Day family, who owned the house since 1917? Or is it a remnant from the original family, who built the house in 1897? I’d like to know, and I hope to find out.
Of course this find made me hungry for others, so I went and got my flashlight.
And look what I found!
It’s a flashlight!
I also found a rather decrepit looking collar, ages old and moth eaten, but it’s kind of a fun find, nonetheless. At least I think so. Perhaps there’s other stuff somewhere, fallen behind mantles and whatnot. I don’t expect to find much else. It doesn’t mean I don’t hope to do, nevertheless.
My short story for June is up and available! This is another of my more humorous ones, similar in many ways to Blessed Offense. This is another in the collection I’m putting together of loosely themed seasonal stories. It’s also the last, at least until autumn, that I have already written. Which means I need to be getting back to work, doesn’t it?
Prejudice comes in many forms. For Madeleine Woodson, it is the handicap of child’s eyes, which have not yet learned to see the man who has grown up beside her. Will she learn her mistake before it’s too late?