I was going to post this Monday on an issue of significance to me, but I have failed to get all my research done. Instead, I offer you my newly rewritten chapter one. Yes, I’ve decided to overhaul this book at the last minute. It means my release date will be pushed back, but it also means I’ll be releasing a much better novel. And I’m really excited about that.
Without further adieu…
“WILL HE BE AT THE ball tonight, do you think?” Laynie asked of her sister’s reflection in the mirror.
Beth’s gaze shifted to meet hers momentarily before returning her own. “Who?” she asked, though Laynie knew she understood her.
“Mr. Hartright, of course.”
“I really do not know,” Beth answered. “And to be quite frank, I don’t care.”
Laynie turned to her, but Beth would not look her in the eye. Instead, she kept her attention focused squarely on her appearance, working as quickly as she could to mend the damage that had been done to her hair by the gusting of the wind upon their arrival at Ashworth’s Chapel Hall assembly rooms.
“Beth?” Laynie said at last and tentatively.
Beth ignored her.
“It’s quite all right, you know, if you are feeling anxious. I know I would be. I’m sure he must come tonight, and bring her. If you want, I could go out and see if he’s come—”
“I’m quite all right, Laynie, dear,” Beth impatiently interrupted her. “It’s nothing to me if he comes or if he doesn’t. There are other fish in the sea, and tonight I mean to prove the axiom.”
Laynie didn’t believe her, but knew it better not to pester. She chose, instead, to change the topic. “I understand Mr. Vaughn is expected to be here as well.”
“Harold Vaughn?” Beth said, with a brief and indifferent glance. “I thought he was at University? Isn’t he training to go into the church or something?”
“I believe he’s come home. It’s something to consider.”
“I don’t know why you think I should consider him. He was an awkward youth—do you remember?” And Beth could not quite stifle a laugh at the thought of him. Laynie remembered him well enough. Perhaps he had been a trifle awkward as a boy. He had always been extraordinarily tall for his age, and it did not help that he was very lean, as well. The two things combined did not provide much to admire in his appearance. And it was true that he was reserved around strangers, as uncomfortable in a crowd as a fish out of water.
“You thought much of him once upon a time, if I recall,” Beth reminded her teasingly. She laughed once more at her youthful remembrances of him.
“You are being unkind, Beth. He was a good friend to us both, and I expect will be still. And there’s no telling but that he’s changed a great deal in the time he’s been away.”
Beth rolled her eyes, smoothed the last stray hair and adjusted a curl. “Then perhaps,” she said as she prepared to leave the ladies’ refreshing room, “you ought to try him out for yourself. A humble and socially withdrawn curate would be just the thing for you.”
Laynie ignored this and followed her sister into the assembly room. Beth stood, scanning the crowd, trying to look indifferent to the company. A breeze blew through as the doors opened once more. Chapel Hall was a favorite place to hold country balls and little social gatherings such as these, for it had the advantage of a determined and consistent draft, which on any given night during the summer months was a welcome thing. Tonight would prove the exception. A gale was blowing without, and the rain was threatening any moment to come down in torrents. Judging by the weather alone, one would think summer was yet months away rather than a mere few days.
Beth shivered in the draft, and Laynie thought to offer her shawl, but Beth’s attention was fixed on the doors that had now closed. Standing before them was Mr. Jonathan Hartright—and his new bride. Mr. Hartright seemed not to notice Beth, but his wife’s gaze was fixed firmly upon her. She gave Beth an assessing look, which quickly turned cold and then immediately dismissive. She took a firmer hold of her husband’s arm, as if her claim on him was not already sealed by the Bible verses which had two months ago been read over them, and led him into the crowd and out of sight of the sisters.
“It’s all right, Beth. It’s nothing.”
“Of course it’s nothing!” Beth snapped, and forced a smile just in time to greet the friends who were now coming to her rescue. Laynie moved to make room for them.
“I hope you are not lamenting your losses, Miss Durham,” said Miss Annabeth Sharp. She had become, since Caroline Hartright’s betrayal, Beth’s closest friend.
“Certainly not,” Beth assured her. “There are bigger fish than he, you may be certain of it.”
“There is nothing to regret, if you ask me.” Miss Harriet Fisher assured her. “I hear the rooms at Hartfield are ever so small, and there is not nearly as much money as he likes people to believe. I do not envy the brave face poor Caroline must maintain.”
“Perhaps she loves him, after all,” Laynie offered.
Miss Fisher scoffed and turned away toward the dance floor. A smile slowly crept upon her face, and she turned back to speak confidentially to Beth. “Mr. Harold Vaughn is come home. Did you know?”
Beth rolled her eyes and released a breath. “I don’t know why everyone seems to think I should have any interest in Mr. Vaughn’s return. It is unkind of you to suggest, Harriet, that I can do no better for myself than an aspiring curate.”
Harriet’s smile was smug. She leaned close to Beth and whispered a few words into her ear. Whatever they were they served their purpose. Beth’s attention was now fully upon Harriet.
“You were once good friends with him, I believe?” Miss Sharp asked of Beth.
“Yes, I was,” Beth answered , and omitted to add that of the two sisters, Laynie had been the closest.
“Then perhaps you had better strike while the iron is hot. He’ll have no shortage of dancing partners tonight, nor admirers either.”
Admirers of Harold Vaughn? Beth seemed to imply with a dismissive toss of her head. But she was considering; Laynie could see it.
“What do you say, Miss Sharp, to a walk around the assembly rooms?”
“If you wish it,” she returned and appeared a little reluctant. “We will walk in his general direction, and if he chooses to acknowledge me, I’ll speak to him. How is that?”
It was Harriet’s turn to roll her eyes, but Beth reprimanded her with a look. With another look, Laynie knew she was in the way, and so retreated to the far end of the room, where tables had been set up for those who did not wish to dance, or who required rest and refreshment.
She had not been there long when she found she had company. A young man with auburn hair and decidedly ginger whiskers had approached her. An invitation to dance would be welcome. She was hardly a wallflower, but she often had to play one for the sake of her sister’s equanimity.
“I was hoping,” he said, standing there in flattering temerity as she waited for the invitation, “I was wondering if it would be possible, Miss Laynie, to…”
“Yes, Mr. Granger? It is a simple question. All you need to do is ask it. I’m sure to say yes, you know.”
He offered a smile that was at once anxious and grateful. “Would you mind awfully if I sat?”
“Of course not,” she said and watched him do just that. And then she waited patiently for him to go on.
“I hope you won’t consider me forward, nor impolite…”
“Of course not. What can I do for you?”
“You see, the thing is… I was hoping for the opportunity to speak with your sister. Alone, you see. Only…” He looked in the direction of Beth and her companion, seemingly inseparable and engaged in the admirable exercise of walking. “Well, she is never alone. And I thought it time to enlist some help. Will you help me, Miss Laynie?”
“I suppose so,” she said, realizing that his former apology had come in advance of his indiscretion, not in consequence of it. “What is it you would like me to do?”
“If you could perhaps contrive some time for us to meet, when I can be certain she is alone—and available—and where I will have her undivided attention…”
“You might come to the house any day you like, Mr. Granger.”
“But your father…”
“You needn’t fear him. He won’t interfere.”
“Should I speak to him first, do you think?”
Laynie considered this. It was the gentlemanly thing to do, only… “I think you had best feel her out first. My father wants the best for us, but he is inclined to put the pressure on rather thickly at times.”
Mr. Granger seemed to consider this a helpmeet to his aim.
“I think it would be unkind to use my father’s influence to manipulating her into giving you audience, Mr. Granger. Surely you would prefer your own merits to do that.”
“Of course,” he said. “Would Monday suit? Perhaps two o’clock?”
“Certainly, Mr. Granger,” she said. “I’ll be sure we are at home to receive you.”
“Thank you, Miss Laynie.” He arose, bowed, and was gone.
She was not long alone when, once again, she found she had been approached. This time by a large woman with a hat full of black feathers.
“My dear Miss Durham,” she inquired, “why are you not dancing?”
“Lady Vaughn,” Laynie said, surprised and prepared to stand.
“No, don’t get up. I’ll sit, if you don’t mind.”
Please,” Laynie answered, and welcomed her to a chair beside her.
“You didn’t answer my question,” the woman reminded her.
“Well…” Laynie said, and stopped to think. There was really no explaining it to her, not without making Beth look a little ridiculous. “I suppose because I haven’t been asked.”
“That was not Mr. Granger’s intent, then?”
“No, ma’am. I’m afraid not. He only wanted my help in gaining an interview with my sister.”
Lady Vaughn exhaled loudly. “Men can be so frustratingly stupid,” she said, and then paused to study her a moment. “What a tragic loss was your mother’s death. What has it been, ten years now?”
“Nearly that, yes, ma’am.”
“You were old enough to remember her, and you are old enough now to miss the counsel she would offer you during this delicate time in your life. If only you had someone to guide you.”
“I have an aunt, in Gravesend ,” Laynie reminded her.
“Yes, yes, but how often do you see her? You would benefit by her influence though, I dare say. It would put you in the way of… But perhaps I am too forward. Forgive me.”
“You are right, Lady Vaughn, to suggest our prospects are not good. But I never expected much. Beth, if she does not marry a man with property of his own, will inherit the house, but there is not much more for my father to leave us than that. We live comfortably, but when he is gone… Forgive me. I do not like to think of it.”
“And who can blame you? You will be thrown into a life devoid of so many of the comforts you have been raised to enjoy—even to take for granted. It will be a bitter adjustment, I fear.”
“Oh, I don’t mean that, Lady Vaughn. I am prepared for my fate. At least I am working to prepare myself for it. I’m always willing to help Mrs. Hill with her work about the house, and I assist cook one night a week . I do not dread having to do so much for myself. It’s my father’s death I cannot bear to think upon.”
Lady Vaughn smiled quietly to herself, as if Laynie’s words had pleased her. “Now, now, dear. Do not fret yourself. Your father has years ahead of him. I promise you.”
“I hope you are right. I believe you must be, but he is not so mentally attuned as he used to be.”
“Or perhaps you have grown up and are beginning to realize he is not quite as rich in wisdom as you had always thought him.”
“Lady Vaughn,” Laynie returned, a little shocked by the statement. She would certainly never own to such a thing, even if she had considered it.
Lady Vaughn, however, seemed to make much of her own joke and laughed, which inspired Laynie to laugh too—just a little—at her father’s expense. She quickly repented of it, however. There were few things more important to him than his confidence in his own wisdom—a man’s self-respect was nothing to laugh at.
Lady Vaughn’s laughter ended in a cough, which she quickly stifled with a handkerchief, and seemed to struggle with for a moment or two before recovering enough to speak, considerably sobered now. “Forgive me, my dear, that was unkind. You love your father, and esteem him, as you properly should. And your spirit of self-reliance does you credit.”
Laynie smiled a thank you and, finding her hand now freed, returned it to her lap.
“I propose a change of subject,” she said, and then said nothing more.
If it was up to Laynie to choose, she could think of nothing.
It seemed Lady Vaughn was already prepared with a new topic of her own. “My son is home,” she said. “Have you spoken to him yet?”
“No, Lady Vaughn. I haven’t had the privilege. I hope his studies have been going well. There is no trouble, no difficulty that has brought him home, I hope?”
“Yes, some difficulty,” Lady Vaughn answered with a look of apparent suffering, which Laynie regretted, and prayed her old friend had not somehow gone awry. “Oh, not from dear Harry!” Lady Vaughn quickly qualified. “Never from him! He is a good and dutiful son, and ever shall be, I trust. It’s his brother who has caused us the trouble. I had always hoped that Harry would take orders, but it is wrong for a mother to be too firm in her planning on behalf of her children. It is a sure road to disappointment, for fate and circumstance will have their own designs. And I think, after all, that I will enjoy having him at home. I have been lonely without him. And he will make himself useful, no doubt, whatever his circumstances.”
“I believe you are right, Lady Vaughn. He is just the type of man who was always good and who always will strive to make himself useful to those he loves.”
Lady Vaughn gave her a grateful smile and took her hand once more, this time as it sat in her lap under the table. “You know, it has always been my wish,” she said, “that he would find someone who truly appreciated him for who and what he is. Whatever her circumstances, she must, first and foremost, understand him and love him as I do, for his goodness, for his integrity and sincerity of character.”
Laynie suddenly felt a little uncomfortable with this turn in the conversation. Surely Lady Vaughn did not mean to suggest she should marry her son. She’d never even considered it. They had been friends since they were children. She thought of him as a brother, and the possibility of loving him, of marrying him, seemed equally as preposterous as that of marrying a sibling . Marrying a cousin—as her aunt would have her do—was difficult enough to fathom, though for its own, and quite unique, reasons.
Lady Vaughn’s attention was still on her, but it wasn’t the weight of her gaze alone she felt. She looked up to find her father looking approvingly at her. He gave her a nod and a wink before turning a knowing look upon the unaware Mr. Harold Vaughn. Laynie observed him. He was even taller now than when she had last seen him, but he was not so lean. He appeared more man now than boy, though he was as tow headed as ever. Neither did he seem so uncomfortable in a crowd. At least not in this crowd, which may or may not make every difference. Harold Vaughn was not handsome by the common standard, but there was something appealing about him. Perhaps it was his sincerity of character, after all. One felt safe with him because one always knew he could be trusted to do the right thing, even if he did not always say the right things. Not that he was in the habit of giving offense. He was just, plainly and simply, awkward in conversation. Or had been once. Was he still?
Laynie’s attention shifted from Mr. Vaughn to her sister, who was just walking past him, arm in arm with Miss Annabeth Sharp, who was looking bored and a little put out. She was hardly the only one to appear annoyed. The dance floor was now being trespassed upon by no less than a dozen young women who, like Beth, were trying to attract Mr. Vaughn’s attention as he stood in conversation with old schoolmates and childhood friends. He took no notice of any of them, so engrossed was he with his present company. And so the walking—and the trespassing—persisted, to the mounting annoyance of those trying to dance in formation.
“You have not spoken to him at all, you say, since he has come home?” Lady Vaughn said, recalling Laynie’s attention.
“No, ma’am. Not yet. I did not know he had returned until I arrived here tonight.”
“I have been keeping him to myself, I’m afraid. He has spoken of you, however. Do not fear he has forgotten you.”
“Oh, I had no fear of that, ma’am.”
But Lady Vaughn was no longer listening. She put a hand in the air, waved a distinct figure with her glove, and Harry’s attention was summoned. He looked, first to his mother, then to Laynie, smiled, and approached.
Laynie stood. Whether out of respect, or fear, she could not be certain.
“Miss Alayna Durham,” he said, upon arriving to stand before her. “What a pleasure. I had hoped I would see you here.”
“How very good it is to see you, Mr. Vaughn.”
“Have you no dancing partner?” he asked her, and seemed surprised to find that it was so.
“No, none,” she answered.
“That is a pity,” he said, his brow furrowing.
“Not much of one, Mr. Vaughn. I have had the great pleasure of keeping your mother company this last half hour.”
Lady Vaughn gave an encouraging nod, and Harry posed his question. “Would you care to dance?”
“Well… the set is not quite finished yet.” It was so like him to not have noticed.
“Shall we get some refreshment while we wait?”
“Yes, of course.”
He led her to the refreshment table, where she chose a drink and nothing else. He took one for himself, and turned to examine the dance floor. “What is going on over there, do you suppose?” he asked, nodding in the direction where several of the young ladies had stopped walking, and now stood in an odd and haphazard manner, struggling to determine their next move.
“I really do not know,” Laynie answered. She was not about to try to explain what she herself did not understand. Why this apparent desperation to gain one man’s attention? Harry Vaughn had hardly been the sort of gentleman women fawned over before. He seemed a little more self-assured than when she had last seen him, but he was much more the same than changed. Was there something about him, some magnetizing, hypnotic quality she had not yet realized?
“How have you been, Miss Durham?” he asked as if remembering his manners, or perhaps broaching the subject they might naturally have come upon had they been dancing, after all.
“Very well, thank you. You have come home to stay, I understand.”
“Yes. I have.”
“You are not disappointed, I hope, that your studies are at an end.”
“A change in plans is always a little disorienting, but I would not go so far as to call it a disappointment.”
“I’m glad of that. Father would like to see you. I hope you will not be a stranger.”
“A stranger? To oldest and dearest friends? I think not.”
“I’m glad of that. Beth will be glad to see you, I think.” She was not certain it would be true. She was not certain it wasn’t. With Beth it was always hard to tell. She had expressed her resolute indifference toward him, and yet she had taken a sort of half-hearted initiative to seek him out. She was approaching them now. Laynie alerted him to the fact.
Harry’s attention was arrested. If he had not changed in his time away, perhaps it bore some consideration that Beth had. She had always been the more gregarious of the two sisters, if not always the most reasonable. She had always been the prettier, but now she was the established beauty between them. Laynie, average in every way, could hardly compete. It was perhaps a good thing she had no desire to do it. Beth’s fair hair set off an angel’s complexion. The rosy hue of her cheeks and lips was quite natural, and she could raise the color in the former as if on command. She was blushing now, and Harold Vaughn was quite plainly entranced.
“Beth,” he said, then stammered a correction. “M-miss Durham, I mean. Of course. Forgive me. Old habits, you know.”
Beth giggled, then nodded at the refreshment table. “Would you be so kind, Mr. Vaughn? I’m quite parched.”
“Of course!” he said, as if waking from a trance. “Yes, of course.” He delivered the requested refreshment, and apparently knew not what else to do or say.
“You are home, then? Do you mean to stay?” Beth asked him with a look that begged for the unnecessary reassurance.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “That is, I’ve not quite finished my studies, but mother is alone now, and my brother, well…” he cleared his throat and glanced at Laynie as he struggled for the words to relate, in uncondemning terms, the trouble his brother had caused.
But Beth, it seemed, had other plans. “I don’t want to hear about your brother, Mr. Vaughn,” she said. “I want to hear about you. You have left university? Don’t tell me you were expelled!” She affected a look of surprise. “You weren’t were you?”
“Oh certainly not, Miss Durham. No, of course not.”
“And now you are home, what do you mean to do with yourself? I hope you will be a regular visitor at our humble home at the Beeches?”
“Yes, of course,” he said. “If you will welcome me, I’ll consider it an honor.”
There was an awkward silence, and then Beth took Mr. Vaughn’s arm. “I think you were just about to ask me to dance,” she said in a confidential tone.
“Good heavens, yes!” he said. “Would you do me the honor, Miss Durham?”
“Yes, of course,” she said, looking up at him through her lashes and holding to his arm all the tighter. Together they walked away, toward the dance floor, leaving Laynie to sip at her drink and to watch after them. She did not resent the slight. Truly it was hardly a slight at all. If Beth found something to admire in Mr. Vaughn, that was a very good thing, perhaps for them all.
She watched them for a little while, as Beth led the conversation, as she batted her lashes and flirted, as he responded with increased confidence and enthusiasm. Before the set had ended they both seemed to be sincerely enjoying each other’s company, and Laynie was pleased. At least she felt the pressure to consider him for herself fall away as her sister worked her charms on him, and with apparent success. She considered Lady Vaughn’s words on the subject of her son and turned to share in the pleasure of the happiness her sister seemed eager to give him. Only the look on Lady Vaughn’s face was not one of pleasure at all, but of pain. Was she so displeased by the thought? Or…or was there something truly the matter? Was she ill? Laynie thought to return to Lady Vaughn’s side, but it seemed she was not the only one to observe the woman’s altered state. Two gentlemen helped her to her feet, and the doctor, who had been in attendance, was very soon at her side. It seemed he understood the matter at once and ushered her out, stopping in the foyer only long enough to retrieve her things.
Laynie, honestly concerned, followed them outdoors. In the drive she stood and watched as the doctor placed the woman in her carriage, and then as he entered the carriage to sit beside her. Laynie could not help but wonder at the severity of Lady Vaughn’s ailment, and what Harry’s unexpected return portended.
A gust of wind blew Laynie’s hair out of its pins. A clap of thunder, and then the rain fell in torrents. She returned to the shelter of the assembly hall, and she nearly ran into her father as she did.
“Good heavens, child! Where have you been?” He looked her over disapprovingly. “You’re nearly drowned. You’ll never win Harold Vaughn this way!” And he appeared truly sorry to know it might be true.
“Father, please. I don’t want—”
“You’re a girl of nineteen. You don’t know what you want!” And taking her by the elbows he led her to the carriage, where she was to wait while he got her things, and while he retrieved Beth—who would not be pleased to have to quit the dance early because her sister had managed to get caught in a deluge—and then he drove them home, lamenting all the way on the difficulties of being a single father with two daughters who would prove impossible to find suitable husbands for.
Stay tuned for further updates.
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?
After nine years of hard work
is now here!
Hardcover coming soon!
After the death of her father, Abbie Gray finds herself the recipient of an offer to assume a place within her wealthy landlord’s family. She’s sceptical of the motivation behind such an extraordinary invitation, but having nowhere else to go, she accepts, though reluctantly. While she is being groomed according to the ideals of society and of the eldest son, heir to title and fortune, the younger brothers, suspicious of her motives, attempt to expose her as a mercenary and an upstart. But when they discover that her mysterious past is disturbingly connected with their own, they are brought to reconsider. David, the elder of the two, is forced to ask himself some very hard questions about integrity, liberty and honor, and what it means to be worthy of the title “gentleman”.
Of Moths & Butterflies is FREE
this weekend only!
Grab your copy quick!
A Classic Companion by A Lady
Katherine grew naturally into a handsome, intelligent and truly generous young woman, drawing from her aunt’s strength of character—and her late uncle’s sorry lack of it.
And so begins Lady A~’s exquisitely written Austen-esque masterpiece, Merits and Mercenaries. It isn’t very often I’m completely absorbed in a book. So absorbed that I go to bed thinking about the story’s many layered conflict, and dreaming about the characters, planning and plotting in their behalf, trying to sort out in my head just where the story might go, and all the seemingly impossible obstacles that must be overcome to get it there. It was just that way for me as I read this wonderful book.
This was just a superbly written, cleverly concocted, shining example of what Historical Fiction ought be but rarely is. Here were no attempts to modernise the heroine, or even the conflicts of the story. So much of what motivated and concerned humanity two hundred years ago, motivates and concerns us today. On the other hand, here was no overwrought attempt to recreate Austen-esque literature. It was certainly recreated, but the product could hardly be called overwrought. The narrative was natural and flowing and the dialogue absolutely sparkling with wit and charm. The author never once talks over our heads, and when she fears a question may arise, she cleverly refers us to annotations kindly included in the back of the text. This is a welcome embrace to fellow fans of Jane Austen, and, too, of Literary Historical Fiction, as well.
I like complex plots; I yearn for them. I like big, thick books with rich characters that are engaging and compulsively followable. This book gave me both, but in a way I found cleverly deceptive. The conflict was simple. A young woman, Katherine, is taken to the country by her guardian aunt, in the hopes of presenting her with some new prospects for marriage. Of course Katherine is naive to her motivations and goes about her life, adjusting, albeit reluctantly, to the countryside. In Hampshire we are introduced to country society, among them potential friends, some worthy, others not so much. Here among them as well are one or two—or perhaps four—potential suitors. It isn’t a grand mystery for whom Katherine is intended, but the hero is engaged to another. And it’s an unbreakable commitment, assigned to him upon his father’s deathbed. What are two people in love to do? Save, of course, to resign themselves to their unhappy fates. But it isn’t the hero’s prior commitments alone that stand in the way of our dear Katherine’s happiness, for an intricate web of deceit and interference is slowly woven to ensure that Katherine does not prove an irresistible temptation to our would-be hero. For he simply must marry as he has been charged to do. Mustn’t he?
And so we are guided, led, drawn, through each and every page, as if the author were leading us on a long walk, on a warm spring day, on our very first journey through Holland Park, where some new bit of scenery, an unexpected but always pleasant surprise, awaits us at every turn. I look forward with great pleasure—with anticipation—for Lady A~’s next work.
To find out more about the author, please do visit her at:
And please, do get a copy of your own. You won’t regret it!
Merits and Mercenaries is available at these online retailers:
As some of you may know, Of Moths & Butterflies was recently reviewed by the lovely Mirella Patzer. I was not only extremely pleased by her kind praise of my debut novel, but I was really honoured to be noticed by Mirella, for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration. As if her magnificent review wasn’t enough, she also tagged me to take part in this little Lucky 7 game that’s going around, where authors are chosen to share seven lines from their current work in progress. The timing could be better, for I return this week to working on Cry of the Peacock. It’s about time, too, as the publication date, October 2012, looms before me.
The contest rules are:
He spoke of piazzas and Palazzi and basilicas until it was all a blur of incomprehensible language. Antiquities, gallerias and musei littered the air and now and then he would drop into Latin or Italian—she was not always quite sure which was which—as his mother nodded and smiled and offered the perfectly placed “I see” whenever it was convenient.
“It sounds as though you had quite a time,” she said when it seemed he had at last finished.
“Yes,” he answered. “If I had not to drag James around to see the sights- At least his idea of sightseeing was somewhat different than mine,” and he darted a telling glance in Abbie’s direction…
Now to tag seven authors whose works I have both read and love. I hope they’ll be able to participate, but considering how busy some of these wonderful people are, I’ll excuse them if they cannot. Do check out their blogs anyway. They’re definitely worth a look.
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?
And don’t forget!
In the series on Flawed Heroines, I’ve chosen to go last. Not strategically, so I might benefit from the windfall of readers my wonderful writing buddies have brought to my website (Thank you!) but because I’ve really been avoiding it. I know it must be done, but Imogen’s flaws are very personal. I have received some criticism that her reactions to certain events in her story are overwrought and too drawn out. Before I defend her, let me tell you her story.
When Imogen’s mother died from cholera, she was sent to live with an uncle, despite the fact that her aunt was her godmother. Drake Everard was very wealthy. He had worked in finance, in banking and then investments. And then he began to dabble in personal loans. To be honest I borrowed him from Dickens’ Ralph Nickleby, prurient tendencies included. Like Mr. Nickleby, Everard’s beautiful niece served as some enticement to keep the young and fast set coming to borrow money from him. It was not his intention that he should offer her as merchandise, but there was an unspoken understanding that some favoured patron might win her particular attention. One young man took the challenge, and finding an opportunity one afternoon, when the moneylender had gone out, took advantage of a moment alone with her.
I suppose one must also understand a bit about the education of women of the time. A woman was meant to be pure and innocent, she knew little if anything about the ways of men and women. If she was fortunate enough to have grown up on a farm, then she might have witnessed for herself the reproductive ways of the common beast. Not that this would have served as any admirable example to her own mode of conduct when she found herself so circumstanced as to engage in such activities. Imogen was not raised on a farm, but in colonial India with an absent father, and then in London, with her uncle. She understood that if she made herself appealing, she might have a way out of her uncle’s house. He was not opposed to making his own impositions on her, though he never carried these out to their foulest ends. She knew, at least hoped, that by using some charm and a little feminine encouragement, she might win herself a husband. What she did not understand is how easily a gentleman, and a young one with few principles (he was given to borrow money, after all) might be persuaded to take a little more than encouragement and a little less than marriage. This very sudden awakening to the ways of men and the world is part of Imogen’s trouble.
Another contributing factor is the fact that, upon her uncle’s death (which she deems her fault, as it happened when she was trying to resist him) he bestowed her with the entirety of his fortune. This, she deems, is a way of remunerating her for services rendered. She may be spoiled, damaged goods, but she is not a prostitute and she still has some hope of earning a respectable life. If you’re wondering, yes, I did borrow from Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. In fact the story haunted me so I had to try my hand at rewriting her story.
Another thing that must be considered is the fate of a young woman with money. And money, particularly, that others might get at, and feel they have a right to. Her ability to trust has been shattered. She might not ever gain it back. What hope has she of finding someone who would love her for herself and not for a sheer desire to get at the money that would come with her? And if they did, could she tell them about her past? She might keep the secret, but she knows that others know it. It might be revealed at any time, at which point she’d be ruined. But, like Tess, she is a woman of fatal honesty. She will not misrepresent herself.
So Imogen runs away, and, like Tess, tries to work her way to penance, to carve away a little place in life where she can live quietly and respectably, below the notice of others. But of course, being pretty, and having been raised in something of a genteel fashion, her condescension to the station of a housemaid is somewhat apparent. At least she becomes a curiosity and her employer, and his young nephew, take notice.
All of these things conspire against her when her marriage is arranged, yes, for a fortune. What would you do under such circumstances? The guy may be drop dead delicious, that doesn’t mean you would automatically place your heart in his hands ten minutes after he had bought it. Does it?
I probably needn’t say that my marriage wasn’t arranged. I probably needn’t say I did not inherit an immense fortune, or ran from it or hired myself out as a servant in a large country house. But I did go into marriage with some of Imogen’s issues. And I know from experience how difficult it was to trust, even though I knew my husband to be a good man (which is why I married him). I still had to deal with those issues. And there were rage issues too I had not expected. One minute I would be just fine and the next I thought I would explode. Imogen didn’t have the benefit of counseling or therapy. She didn’t have modern mores to say that a woman going into marriage unblemished was the norm rather than the exception. She had guilt, she had self loathing, she had anger. And a lot of it.
So, despite the injuries imposed upon her, despite her nearly fatalistic need for independence, Imogen’s greatest flaw is the hatred and loathing she bears for herself. How does one overcome it? It can’t be done through another. Her husband may adore her, but that means nothing considering how their union has come about, the deceptions he necessarily engaged in, or that others did in his behalf, in order to bring the marriage about. Not when he has bought her. Not when he has a right at any time to demand of her what Lionel Osborne did, and in any fashion he may like, for she is as surely property to him as the money that came with her. Only that isn’t quite right, because there is another complication in the mix in the way of his uncle, upon whom he is dependent, and toward whom he is indebted. And so, quite understandably (at least to my mind) it takes her a long time to learn that her happiness is in her own hands and no one else has that responsibility. That, despite whatever obstacles might have been placed before her, happiness is ultimately a choice she alone must make for herself. Perhaps it takes her longer than it should. But that is the very point I wished to make.
Perhaps I’m alone in my reaction to my own circumstances. I don’t believe so. And if Imogen gives one other person in this world a reason to hope, there is nothing more I could ask for. It will have been enough.
V.R. Christensen attended Brigham Young University, Idaho, where she earned a degree in Interior Design, while, at the same time studying English Literature, Art History and Sociology. When she is not writing, she is designing impractical clothing, redecorating her historical homes, or making impossible demands of her husband of seventeen years. She travels a great deal and considers herself a citizen of the world.
Currently, V.R. makes her home in Appalachian Virginia, where she lives with her three children, seven cats and a dog named Jasper.
V.R. is a member of Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, Past Times Books, Authors Anon and Literary Underground, all of which are aimed at ensuring that the publishing revolution now upon us produces some of the finest work available to the reading public–and makes it available.
from The Scattered Proud
by Gev Sweeney
We like to joke about obsession and blame obsessive-compulsive disorder for everything as destructive as drinking too much to the less damaging, if mildly annoying, twisting of a lock of hair around a finger (my trademark stress reliever). But while obsession is a flaw, it can also be a catalyst for hope, if not outright salvation. Janet Watters, the young heroine of The Scattered Proud, is as messy as a character can get without being addicted to alcohol or any other misuse-able medicinal in vogue in America at the end of the 18th century. Though her obsession can’t be seen and is something she hides from others, it governs her life and the lives of those around her.
Janet has been born into a time when people live close to the notion and reality of death and regard it as a necessary, if disquieting, fact of life that compels them to think about their purpose on earth and what will become of them after they die. Their solace – and, often, the foundation of their life’s purpose – is religion, in this case the Episcopal Church. Janet’s widowed father, a successful and respected lawyer, is on the vestry of St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia, and has cultivated a circle of influential friends that include the church’s rector and his family. Though Janet is 13 when the story opens, she’s still a very much a little girl, subject to the dictates of her parent and the adults around her. But she has no child’s sense of fun or desire to explore the world. She magnifies what should be a child’s ordinary lot in life into a continuous exercise in dread. She can’t do anything or go anywhere without thinking something dreadful is going to happen to her. And, in an age when girls are raised to become wives and mothers, she disparages herself as unwanted, and foresees a future as a lonely spinster.
Instead of turning to religion for solace or security, she gleans comfort from the presence of Kit DeWaere, the rector’s kindly, understated son who is sometimes the victim of his father’s self-importance. Kit believes that doing little or nothing to help people would be an abuse of God’s trust in humanity. Incited by a sense of servicehood that wavers between humility and hubris, he surrounds himself with people who, like Janet, are flawed: the beautiful but self-absorbed escapee from the French Revolution who becomes his wife; the mentally handicapped toddlers of the orphanage that houses the secret Episcopal mission he leads in late Revolutionary Paris; the victimized wife and son of a former political prisoner, whose attempts to survive have an unlikely connection to Bonaparte’s coup d’etat of November 1799.
Kit himself is flawed. He doesn’t know his own limits. He acts expecting the best because he’s doing his best, as he thinks God intended, but his good intentions go awry. As the vicar of the church’s mission in Paris, he tells Janet, who’s been brought against her will to work at the mission: “We all have only one destination, just as we all have only one journey. Everything that befalls us on the road is another blow from the Great Sculptor’s metaphysical mallet. It’s not a matter of how the blow shapes us, but how we choose to interpret and withstand the blow. Do we allow ourselves to be shattered in pieces, like the proverbial earthen vessel, or do we embrace our circumstances, taking heart from knowing their true source?”
But when Kit’s pregnant wife leaves him, he shows none of the strength his words imply and becomes warped by unspoken despondency. It’s not his counsel that resonates with Janet. What resounds is her disappointment in him, and her eventual guilt at that disappointment:
I conceded to myself that I was glad to leave Kit behind [in Paris]. He had exposed himself as one of those people who spout great thoughts and noble acts when all is well, yet crumble under difficulties that demand them to exemplify their own teaching. I conceded but could not believe. I was equally certain that Kit’s decline was no mere deficiency of character. It was the creeping decay of self that comes from knowing one has not merely made a mistake, but has lived for a long time thinking all was well. I remembered how, so many years before, he had spoken to me about man’s responsibility to use his intellect. Somehow, since then, his own intellect had failed to discern anything about his wife to foretell a withered marriage. He did not know how to live with either himself or the consequences of his error. I should have taken him aside and reminded him what he had said about the Great Sculptor’s metaphysical mallet. (…) But I said nothing. And because I said nothing, I fall asleep at night wondering how different everything could be.
Kit’s decline is a turning point for Janet. Though she says, “I could do no more than await the further lessening of Kit DeWaere, a collapse I never could have imagined, not even in a fevered dream,” she does indeed do more. She continues to dwell upon him. His name and image pervade her interactions with the family who, on Kit’s behest, took her in after her father died, and with George Frederick Cunliffe, the haughty, handsome priest sent to Paris as Kit’s assistant. From obsession comes strength. When Janet and Kit become trapped in political machinations that never should have been their concern, Kit’s fate gives Janet a fresh reason for being. The once-scared, self-castigating child becomes something she never could have imagined of herself: a woman in love with life and the world.
Gev Sweeney has been telling tales since sixth grade, when she was caught daydreaming about a failed jungle expedition. She grew up to become a journalist who did everything from getting caught in a riot to shooting a Brown Bess (not during the riot). She advocates historic authenticity in fiction, but forgives Shakespeare for all those horrid anachronisms in Julius Caesar. She lives at the Jersey Shore with her guinea pigs, Auden and Philip Baby-Boar.
by M. Louisa Locke
When I was asked to write about flawed heroines, I immediately thought of Annie Fuller, the main protagonist in my two cozy Victorian mysteries, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits. Annie is a young widow who lives in 1879 San Francisco and supplements her income as a boarding house owner by giving advice as the clairvoyant Madam Sibyl. As befitting cozy mysteries, my characters and plots don’t tend to be too dark, and even my hero (Annie’s romantic interest, lawyer Nate Dawson) isn’t a typical tortured bad boy in need of reform. But Annie does have her weaknesses, and her extreme independence (or perhaps her fear of being dependent) is the most obvious character flaw because it gets her into the greatest difficulties in both books and leads to a kind of recklessness in her behavior.
But as soon as I had that thought, I felt that I had wronged my own creation. How could I call Mrs. Fuller’s fiercely independent spirit a flaw? Wasn’t I just buying into the prevalent nineteenth century view, called by historians the “Cult of True Womanhood,” that said a middle class woman like Mrs. Fuller should be pious, pure, domestic and submissive? Was Annie Fuller truly flawed because she refused to confine herself to the narrow definitions of womanly behavior in that period-particularly the submissive part?
I had consciously made her independent, modeling her on many of the real heroines of the nineteenth century, women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Jane Addams who had challenged the idea that women needed to be dependent and subordinate to men. I purposely gave her a childhood, mirroring the childhood of many of these historic women, that had fostered her sense of competence and equality. Annie Fuller’s mother died when she was young and, as a result, she became very close to her father, who treated her like a son and trained her to develop an extraordinary understanding of business and stock speculation. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for example, had become a surrogate son to her lawyer father when his last remaining male heir died.
And, for Annie, like many of the women’s rights leaders of the nineteenth century, entry into adulthood became a rude awakening and threatened her of sense of confidence and independence. In Annie’s case her crisis came with her marriage to a man who belittled and abused her and eventually destroyed her fortune and left her destitute upon his death. What followed was five humiliating years living off the reluctant charity of her in-laws, a not uncommon fate for widowed women of that time. No wonder economic independence would become so important to her. She worked to achieve that independence when she turned an old San Francisco house she inherited into a boarding house. Then, when that income was insufficient, she created the role of Madam Sibyl and developed a lucrative practice as a clairvoyant, using the expertise she had gotten under her father’s tutelage to dispense business advice.
Not surprisingly, when her economic independence is threatened at the opening of Maids of Misfortune, Annie Fuller is willing to do almost anything to counter that threat, including investigating the death of one of Madam Sibyl’s clients, whose assets, including a bequest to Annie, has gone missing. However, her fierce independence, taken too far, also becomes a weakness. In her single-minded determination to remain economically independent, she acts rashly, not thinking of the consequences of those actions. As a result, in the course of her investigations, people’s freedom, in some cases their very lives, are jeopardized. Yet she refuses to listen to counsel, particularly when given by Nate Dawson, because she sees his actions in the light of the other men in her life who tried to make her submit to their will. She has confused being dependent with being open to help from someone else.
While some readers have grumbled that these struggles between the hero and heroine in my books make Annie too modern, as a professional historian of nineteenth century women, I can assure readers that Annie’s fear of dependence was very common. Some women, Like Susan B. Anthony and Sarah Grimke, refused offers of marriage for that very reason. Others, like Lucy Stone, tried to carve out marriages of equality, changing the marriage vows, keeping their own names. Other women challenged public opinion by winning a divorce, as did Laura de Force Gordon, a minor but real historical character in my second book, Uneasy Spirits.
While Annie Fuller’s independent nature is understandable, it leads to a fear of dependence in Uneasy Spirits that almost proves her undoing. In this, the second book in the series, she not only pushes Nate away because of her fear that she would lose her independence if she married him, but she pushes away all her friends when she feels they might question her decisions. What she achieves is not independence but a growing isolation, which will ultimately result in threats to her own life.
While I have Annie realize some of the ways her behavior has hurt her and others at the end of Uneasy Spirits, I don’t think that the problems she face will go away, particularly regarding her relationship with Nate. Nate Dawson, as a man of his time, thinks of his offer of marriage as gift-giving Annie economic security, protection, respectability, a home and family. By in large her friends, including her female friends, agree with him. Annie, on the other hand, fears that marriage will cause her to lose things, her name, her freedom of action, her work, and, most frightening of all, her independence. Whether these different views of marriage can be reconciled will have to be answered in subsequent books in the series, but you can believe me, as Annie’s creator, I am not going to squash her reckless and independent spirit, because where would be the fun in that!
M. Louisa Locke is a retired professor of U.S. and Women’s History, who has embarked on a second career as an historical fiction writer. The first two published books in her series of historical mysteries set in Victorian San Francisco, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits, are bestsellers in the historical mystery category on Kindle. These books feature Annie Fuller, a boardinghouse owner and clairvoyant, and Nate Dawson, a San Francisco lawyer, who together investigate murders and other crimes, while her short stories, beginning with Dandy Detects, give secondary characters from this series a chance to get involved in their own minor mysteries. Dr. Locke is currently living in San Diego with her husband and assorted animals, where, in addition to these short stories, she is working on Bloody Lessons, the next full-length installment of her Annie Fuller/Nate Dawson series.