Saturday, November 29, 2014

Timing issues. How fast could you travel in 1800?

One of the things I try very very very hard to get right when I write about the regency or other periods is the time and difficulty involved in travel. I find it disturbing when a character travels at modern rates in a period book. For example, in Georgette Heyer's "False Colours", one of the main characters travels from Vienna to London in far less than the weeks it would have taken at the time. Super-horses that would put a Jaguar to shame, let alone a Vauxhall Nova abound in regency romances.

This can be more than a little disorientating to a modern reader, at least one who hasn't backpacked, canoed, or ridden any distance themselves. So here are some times and distances.

  • A fit person can walk 3-5 miles in an hour. This depends on the terrain. If it's rugged and mountainous, the times can be much slower. (One of my scout leader friends, who is an accomplished backpacker, took two hours to climb 1500 feet in a mile and a half on a poorly marked brush-filled trail not long ago.) People generally don't walk more an average of more than 20 miles in a day. People who aren't routinely hiking may do about 10 miles. There is a group of hardened "trail runners" who are much faster, but they're not typical, and they may average 30-40 miles.
  • A horse can ride 20-30 miles without too much distress. If he's pushed hard he can go further, but don't expect the horse to be in good condition after that. Again the terrain matters. A horse that is pushed too hard can die or take weeks to recover. The cavalry killed many mounts by exhaustion. There is a reason the pony express used a set of way stations every 10-15 miles. The rider carried messages as fast as his horses would go, but he didn't ride the whole way on one horse.
  • Coaches did something similar to the pony express. The horses would pull the coach for a 'stage' and then the team would be swapped for a fresh one at a 'posting house'. Hence the fast coach would be a 'stage coach'. After 1790 the Bristol to London road had post houses every 8-10 miles and either 'traveling post' or on the mail could get you from Bristol to London in the same day (average 8 mph). It took several decades for the rest of the UK to catch up.
  • Road quality matters. 'Tar' Macadam recruited teams of (mostly) Irish laborers during the Regency to 'Macadamize' roads. These were called 'navigators' or 'navies'. If you used these roads, you made good time. Otherwise you might be stuck in the mud or that unique combination of mud and horse droppings called slough. Prior to the Regency and away from major routes, roads were always awful. Something similar happened in the USA, where 'turnpikes' were being made. The high quality roads were usually supported by a toll system.
Messages could be sent in several ways, depending on when, where and how much you or your recipient was willing to pay. An express traveled as fast as a rider, and you had to pay a premium for that. Normal mail was slower, and traveled at coach speeds (a day or two from London to Bristol). During the Napoleonic wars both the British and the French had optical telegraphs. As long as they were visible (i.e. in the day and it wasn't foggy or raining) then messages traveled at almost modern speeds. A French raid on the English coast could be reported and the troops dispatched to it in 20 minutes. Of course the troops could only move as fast as they could walk or ride. This was a war effort and was dismantled almost as soon as Napoleon left Paris for Elba.

All this mean that things took time. In one of the books I'm working on "The Mysterious Mr. Willis" a regiment is being organized in 1803 to be deployed in 1805. That may seem a long time, but the 2nd division of the 62nd foot was organized in 1803 in Devizes and deployed to the Channel Islands in 1805.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving.

Nothing literary today, it's turkey stuffing time in the US. (yes I know that's a rude expression in the UK).

My husband's yankee family uses a sausage/herb stuffing.

Brown 1lbs cheap pork sausage (you want the fatty stuff that is everything bar the oink).
Once it's browned wilt 1-2 chopped onions and 3-4 stalks of celery cut into slices in the same pan.

In the meantime chop up 1 to 2 loaves of white bread. Ideally stale bread, but I never remember to get it in time. The amount of bread depends on the size of the turkey. Reserve the heal of the bread to seal the open end of the bird.

Don't forget to remove the innards

In a big bowl mix the bread, the sausage/onions/celery and two eggs. De-glaze the pan with about 1 cup of water and add that to the mix. Add one teaspoon each of salt and ground black pepper. (Can skimp here). Add two teaspoons dried thyme and sage. Sometimes I add the seasoning to the sausage while it's browning, and sometimes use boullion rather than water when de-glazing. It depends what I have and how nice I'm feeling.

Mix thoroughly and stuff your bird.
It will all fit, but it doesn't look like it.

I usually make an aluminium foil tent and bake in a slow oven (325 F, 155C, no idea which gas mark) until it's done.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Continuing with the story in 1706.


This is the where the vaguely paranormal bits start. My favorite line is where Miss Kendrick states:
“Come on, Sam, this is the eighteenth century. Witches were just made up stories to scare children and explain things that we didn't understand. We are rational creatures living in a rational and enlightened age.”
How wrong she is, at least in the story.

Frances Makes a Choice.

Samuel took charge of Jeremy and his little sister when they arrived back at Whitley Park. He knew his mistress well enough to know something was bothering her, and equally well not to ask her about it. She'd tell him when and if she was ready. In the meantime, he handed the girl over to Martha. Martha was a sensible woman and she would know what to do with the creature. He had to deal with Jeremy. That dratted boy needed a wash and clean clothes, again.
Frances headed for her room, and shut the door firmly behind her. She felt like lying in bed and crying over that blasted lawyer. Instead, she pulled her chair to the window and watched the field across from the house while she felt sorry for herself. A murder of ravens gathered in the trees on the far side of the field. Then they flew off to mob a kite.

Her sorrow didn't last. It changed into anger and her anger into action. She shouted to the winds, “There is no way I'm going to stay here and mope myself to death for that damned bastard of a lawyer.”
Martha knocked on her door, “Miss? Are you well?”
“Absolutely. Please come in Martha.”
“Miss Frances, what you were shouting?”
“Nothing. I just decided I'm not going to let myself get upset about any damned man. Especially a barrister from London, even if he is handsome.” She paused, then said, “And has a nice smile.”

“If you say so. This girl you brought back, she won't talk. Just stands in a corner downstairs in the kitchen and glares at me. Cook is upset, and dinner may be late.”
“I was going to see Mr. Jones in Reading about Calcot house, but it sounds like you need a hand with her. Have you tried asking Jeremy to talk to her?”
“No Miss.”
“Try that first. I'm going to look at my horses, then maybe ride into town. I'll send him to you before I go.”
“Yes Miss.”

“I'm sure the girl is just a bit scared. I'd have been at that age or don't you remember?”
“Miss Frances, I remember a bouncy, talkative little thing who was the apple of her father's eye, even when she climbed trees and played with the stable-boys. She was called Frankie and hit a cricket ball through the parlor window more than once.”

Frances smiled at the memory, but said, “I was never taken from my parents and threatened the way she was.”

Despite what she told Martha, Frances brought Jeremy to the kitchen herself. Samuel suggested she send a message to Mr. Jones instead of riding into town. “That way neither Mr. Dalbey nor Dr. Brewer will be aware of your visit.”
“You're right, Sam, as usual. Please see to it. I should have asked you about this first. Where's that boy? I need him to talk to his sister. Maybe he can get her to speak.”
“Miss Frances,” he said, “I'd be careful if I were you. Some of these travelers have powers. She could have the eye.”
“Come on, Sam, this is the eighteenth century. Witches were just made up stories to scare children and explain things that we didn't understand. We are rational creatures living in a rational and enlightened age.”
“If you say so Miss, but don't say I didn't warn you.” He called, “Jeremy” and the boy came running. Jeremy was clean and back in decent clothing.
“Jeremy,” Frances said, “I need you to talk with your sister. We don't even know her name, and she needs to talk to us if we're to help her.”
“She won't talk to you, at least not in English. Not if she won't tell you her name.”
“Will you tell us her name?”
“Sorry Miss, but no.”
“But will you talk to her with us?”
“Yes, Ma'am.”
Frances led the boy to the kitchen where Martha stood by the girl. Martha greeted her and said, “Miss Frances, she still won't talk. Just stands there glowering at us. It's upsetting cook.”
Frances said, “Jeremy, could you talk to your sister? Let her know we're decent people and mean her no harm.”
Jeremy started in English, but the girl said something in a strange language. He switched to it and they talked for a few moments.
Frances asked, “What did she say?”
“She'll only talk in the old language, at least for now. She-” The girl shouted at him, in the same incomprehensible babble.
“I'm not to say anything more.”
Frances shrugged at Martha, who returned her gesture, and said, “The water's ready if you are.” Then Frances said, “We're going to bathe your sister, and put her in clean, decent clothes. Then we'll feed her if she wants to eat. It's best if you leave, young man. Would you tell her what we’re going to do?”
Jeremy said, “She understands what you said.” before he turned to leave. He stopped in the door, looked back at them and said, “You know she's going to put you under a curse if you do that.”
“What curse?”
The girl said something to him, and then he added.
“You and the man you are fated with will be bound to this earth, forever through time.”
“I'll risk it. I won't have a slatternly noisome servant who is dressed like pile of rags.”
“Then it's on your own head, I'm sorry for you.” He crossed himself, backwards from the Catholics, the way the Greek Orthodox cross, and shut the door behind him.
Martha stated, in a matter of fact voice, “All right, young lady. I've cleaned my share of recalcitrant children, and that includes Miss Frances here when she was your age. Let's get those rags off you and into the warm water.”
The girl stood there, defiant and, for her size, regal. Her posture made it clear that her definitive and final answer to this request was 'no'.
“Well, Martha,” Frances said, “We'll let cook and her maids get on with dinner. Shall we? If you'll take one arm, I'll start on the other.”
The girl stiffened as they stripped the rags from her. “Martha, make sure these are burnt. They're crawling with lice and worse.” The girl's body, revealed from underneath the rags, was bone-thin, extremely dirty, bruised from the beating Captain Tom's gang had administered, and scared from her scratching at the bites and rashes her lack of hygiene engendered.
Martha looked the girl in the face and said, “Young lady, you'll feel ever so much better for the wash.” The girl stood there, shivering in her nakedness. She stared back at them and said “Naked I came, naked I will leave. Such is the way of life.”
“Well,” Frances said, “that's one way of looking at it. Shall we Martha?” Together they lifted the girl into the tub and forced her to sit in the water. As they poured warm water over her and scrubbed her clean, she muttered, at first quietly, then loudly, and finally shouting in that same incomprehensible tongue.
Martha said, “You know Miss Frances, I wish I knew what she was saying.”
“It's probably not suitable for genteel ears.”
“Still.”
The girl stopped her rant, then glared at her tormentors. Her eyes seemed to fill with a red light. Then in a clear ringing voice, using precise well-enunciated English, she said, “You, Lady Whitley, Miss Frances Kendrick. You are bound to this world. To see heaven and never to go there. I pronounced this doom on thee and thy kin. Only another of my kind can remove this curse.”
Frances stepped back, examined her and Martha's handiwork, and said, “I pronounce my doom on thee, young lady. Stand up and get dried off. There's a clean mended corset and dress for you. Then you can learn to be a maid. You'll be fed well and taught civilized manners. Even, if you want, to read and write.”
The girl slowly stood. It looked like she was trying to preserve what little dignity she had left. Then she took the towel that Martha offered her. With as much grace and condescension as a princess of the blood, she stepped out of the water, started to dry herself and said, “You think this is funny, don't you My Lady?”
“I do.”
“It isn't. I am serious in this pronouncement.”
“Fine, now what should we call you?”
“You can call me many things, but I'll not answer to them. My real name thou shall not know.”
“What language. I'm not going to call you girl. Come on now, what's your name?”
The girl paused, then said, “We will answer to Seanan.”
“Good grief. I think Dr. Brewer is going to have his hands full with you Miss. Is that your real name?”
“Call me Seanan or nothing.”
Martha, matter of fact as always, said, “Well Seanan, if you're dry enough, here are your clothes. Then we'll get something in your stomach so you can think about learning your place.”
Seanan glared at her, but took the clothes and, with a little help because they were unfamiliar, put them on. While the girl dressed, Frances said, “Seanan, should I send for Jeremy?”
“That's not his name.”
“It's what he answers to. Whatever you think, I treat my servants well. This is by and large a happy establishment. You could have done far worse than land in my service.”
Seanan replied, “I could have done worse, and I thank you for that My Lady. Still, that is not an excuse or justification for your actions. This house and all that is in it will perish in time. Except you My Lady Frances, you, your kith and your man, the one who lives by talking and law. Bound together forever. Let Jeremy attend to his horses, they complement his spirit.”
Frances rolled her eyes, and swore “Good Lord.” before she said, “Martha, I think we've got our hands full with this one. Samuel said Jeremy's coming along well. I suppose one out of two isn't bad.”
“She'll do Miss, once she's had a full stomach and a little kindness. This is just the rant those travelers use to scare the gullible. I must say, she's got it down pat.”
“If you say so. I'm off to see if there's still time for a ride or if Samuel or a groom will practice fencing with me.”



Frances was to have neither a ride nor a chance to practice her swordsmanship. As she walked out of the kitchen, she realized that her gown was soaked and she itched from the fleas that Seanan carried. She shouted, “Martha?”
“Miss?”
“Bring a new gown to my room. I'll need a change.”
By the time she was changed, and had her flea bites dressed, a carriage had pulled up in front of the house. Eliza and her husband were admitted to the front parlor. Frances met them there.
“Eliza and James. What a surprise. Why are you here so soon after the ball?”
Dr. Brewer said, “Mr. Jones came to us. He said you were inquiring about the price of Calcot house.”
“Did he tell you?”
“Two hundred poundsi.”
“That all?”
“Neither Mr. Dalbey nor I will allow you to charge it to your estate. How will you raise the funds?”
“I guess that's my problem. I could always sell a few horses, and with the wool-money due from the spring shearing.”
“How would you pay for your current establishment?”
Frances smiled as she said, “James, I have my ways.”
“Frances, please don't. Why can't you be a demure normal young lady of refinement?”
Eliza added her bit, “Frankie, James, please let's not argue. Could we stay for supper and discuss this calmly?”
“Eliza, your husband has to learn that I'm an adult. That I have my own ideas about the estate.”
Before Dr. Brewer could respond and turn what was a heated discussion into a full-blown argument, Martha used a discreet knock on the door to call attention to her.
Frances said, “Martha, what is it?”
She pushed Seanan into the room and followed afterwards. “It's this little piece of baggage. I found her in your room. She was looking at your jewelry.”
“Seanan, is this true?”
“If we are to be bound to you, we need payment.”
“That was very wrong. Do you know these people?”
Seanan studied them, and said “Dr. Brewer, the priest of the new God, and his wife. We are pleased to meet you.”
“Frances,” Eliza said, “who is this girl?”
“Jeremy's little sister. Captain Tom's gang stole her when they took him. He rode off to find her, and.” She paused, unsure of how much to tell her guardian, “Well, it's a long story, but here she is.”
Dr. Brewer knew his ward well. He said, “Frances, did you have another duel?”
“Me? No not a duel. More like self-defense. Let's just say there's one less rogue in Wargrave tonight.”
“Frances, how do you expect to find a husband if you keep acting like this?”
“The man for me won't be upset with me when I defend my honor.”
Seanan spoke, “No, he won't be. We can go tell him if you would like, he hasn't left for London yet.”
“No young lady, I want you to act like a normal young girl and learn your role in society. What were you doing in my room?”
“I was looking for this.” She held out a small broach. It was made of silver and garnets.
“That piece of trumpery?”
“To seal our indenture to you with a payment. You will know us by it.”
Frances thought for a moment, then asked Martha, “Would it upset the other servants if I let her have it? If she promises to be good.”
“Miss Frances, if she'll promise to stop with this traveler evil-eye language, I'd give it to her myself. I've been itching to give her the back of my hand all afternoon.”
“I understand. Cook and the other maids are all in a tizzy, aren't they?”
“Yes Miss.”
“Damn.”
Eliza said, “Frances, language.”
“Oh bother, then. Is that better?” It was, but not by much.
“Seanan,” she continued, “if I give you this token, will you undertake to be a normal maid?”
“I will.”
“Dr. Brewer, I know this is unusual, but can you witness this?”
Seanan paled, “No. It would be bound on me as long as you are bound.”
“Tough. Either my friend witnesses it or no deal.”
“Then so be it, we will accept his witness.”
“Seanan, I accept your promise of service.”
“My Lady I promise my service as long as you deign, to the end of time if need be.”
Dr. Brewer added, “I'll write the indenture this evening and send it to you with my signature as witness.”
Seanan seemed to wilt and lose her defiant stance. The glow seemed to leave her eyes. Martha asked her, “Seanan, are you ready to come with me?”
“I will and you may call me Susan if it is easier on your tongue.”
Frances said, “Martha will you tell cook that Dr. and Mrs. Brewer will dine with me tonight? Assuming you still want to stay for dinner, Eliza.” Eliza nodded her acceptance.
Martha replied, “Yes Miss Frances. I'll see to it.”
“Thank you.”
iAbout L 1-2,000,000 today based on comparative economic value. In 1730 the prince spent L1460 on gardens which was estimated to be the equivalent of L20,000,000. In any case it was a fair bit of cash for Frances to raise.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Back in 1706.


This is a draft of the next chapter. I need to work in more about dresses and the tiff between Mr. Child and Frances. But it's a start.

The Lord Mayor's Ball.

For once, Frances looked forward to the Mayor's ball. As the daughter of the late baronet of Whitley, she couldn't skip it, and usually there were a slew of hopeful, hapless men ready to ask for her hand, or failing that, a dance. Mr. Child would be here this time, and he'd as good as promised her a dance. That alone would make the ball worth the candle.
Eliza and her husband, Dr. Brewer, invited Frances to stay with them that night. The two women could prepare for the ball together and Frances could rest before she returned home. That is, if she felt the need of rest. She usually didn't and had more than once finished off her entertainment with a hunt.
Eliza noticed that her friend was taking more care than usual in dressing. “Frankie,” she said, “you seem distracted, don't tell me that Cupid's arrows have finally found their mark.”
“I wouldn't say that Eliza, but I have my hopes.”
“Is it Sir John?”
“No, you'd never guess.”
“Not that barrister, Mr. Child? He's bad news.”
“He's the first man I've met who could almost keep up with me on horseback.”
“He's eccentric, to say the least, and they say he gambles and enjoys the company of low women.”
“Well so do I.”
“Frankie!”
“Present company excepted, of course.”
“You know what I mean by enjoys the company of low women, and you don't enjoy that.”
“True, but you know I'm not picky about my companions; as long as they're good fun.”
“You should conduct yourself with more decorum. You'll never find a husband if you let yourself have a bad reputation.”
“The man I marry won't care about that.”
“Frankie, there are limits and if you cross them, even I won't be able to be your friend.”
“I know. It's just I don't want a man for a husband that I can't respect.”
Frances watched the start of the Mayor's ball from the side with the other single women. The first dance was a Minuet. It was a precise and formal dance that required great skill to perform. Dr. Brewer and Eliza followed the steps with an elegance that Frances had never mastered. Not that she hadn't tried, but for all her robust athleticism, mastery of court dances eluded her. On the other hand she looked forward to the country dances that would follow.
The orchestra pulled the final chords from their bows and the dance ended. Frances watched as her friends bowed and curtsied to each other. Then Eliza bounced over to her. “Frances, I wish you would try the minuet. I'm sure you'd enjoy it.”
“I have, and believe me, the best thing is for me to watch.”
The orchestra started on 'Grimstock', a country dance. Eliza said, “At least you'll dance these country dances, won't you?”
“If I can find a partner.”
Mr. Child approached, nodded to her, and then invited the young woman standing beside her to the floor. Sir John Dashwood took advantage of his miscue and asked for her hand at the dance. The two lines of couples formed on the floor and Mr. Child studiously avoided her glance whenever they met during the exchanges.
The next dance was a Chacone, a fast figured dance in triple time and once again Frances stood it out. She watched in growing dismay as Mr. Child escorted yet another young woman around the floor. The country dance that followed was equally painful, even though her partner this time, Sir Thomas Wharton, was both better looking and a better dancer than Sir John.
Eliza and her husband met her at the break. Frances said, “Eliza, could we go home, I'm feeling tired.”
Dr. Brewer said, “You? The famous Miss Kendrick, tired? I don't believe it.” Eliza was more cognizant of her friends' troubles, pinched her husband and suggested, “Why don't we go walk? It's fearfully stuffy in here, and I, for one, could use a turn in the gardens. The Abbey ruins must be picturesque in the moonlight.”
“Ah, yes, I see,” He said, “May I escort you?”
Seeing the ruins was the highlight of the evening, and when the ball finally wore its weary way to an end, Francis was heartily sick of dancing, men and small talk. There was one man, in particular, that she would be glad never to see again.



Chaos awaited Frances on her return to Whitley Park. Samuel waited for her, and told her on her return, “That boy, Jeremy. He's run off. He took a horse with him.”
Frances was distracted from her troubles. “Damn. Any idea of where he went?”
Samuel replied, “The other boys said he was worried about his little sister. That he'd run to find her. Does that make any sense to you Ma'am?”
“It does. There's a gang out near Wargrave.” She paused for a few moments, then said “Samuel go get my horse. I'll need you to come as well.”
“Ma'am?”
“Oh, and put the holsters on the saddles, loaded. We're going to find that boy before the bailiffs catch him or he gets into further mischief.”
Samuel tipped his hand to his forehead in salute and went off to accomplish his tasks. Frances ran in to the house and called for her maid, “Martha, get me my riding gear, and be quick about it.”
While she waited for Martha, Frances took Charlie's sword and tried to fasten the sword belt around her waist. It took some adjustment, but she made it fit. When Martha came in, with her riding dress, Frances was examining the blade and smiling at it.
“Martha, this is better balanced than my fencing sword ever was, and it has a fine edge.”
“Yes, Miss.” Martha did not approve of fencing, at least for women, but she had learned that Miss Kendrick had a mind of her own about these things. She helped her mistress dress and watched as Frances left for the stables.



Samuel and Miss Kendrick pulled up just outside of Twyford. The travelers hadn't left the area, but were busily packing their animals and wagons. Frances found the leader and asked, “Where's Captain Tom's gang?”
“Lady Whitley, no.”
“Where's the gang, or do I have to knock some sense into you?” She put her hand on her sword hilt and started to draw it from the scabbard.
“Be it on your own head then. Toward Wargrave, they've holed up around the Royal Oak.”
“Thank you. I'll see you when I return, with young Jeremy.”
“I hope so, Ma'am.”
Frances and her groom approached the Royal Oak. It was run-down and showed the signs of riotous living. She pointed to a horse tied outside and said, “There's my horse.”
Samuel said, “Miss? It's black, ours was a roan.”
“Dyed. An old horse-coper's trick. See how he recognizes us? I'm sure my brand is on his belly.”
She dismounted and gave her reins to Samuel. “I'll need you to wait. I may need to leave in a hurry, or it may work the way I expect. If I don't come out in a half an hour go find the watch. If they’re not too scared of this lot.”
“Yes Miss.”
Frances walked into the pub and shouted for Captain Tom.
A greasy middle-aged man turned towards her. He said, “Who wants him.”
“I do. Miss Kendrick. I believe you have one of my servants and my horse. I want them back.”
The man nodded, then spat to one of the others, “Kill her.” The other man, much younger, pulled a long knife from his belt and advanced on Frances. His unshaven, grimy face broke into a grin as he said, “It'll be my pleasure.”
It wasn't. The fight was short, violent and definitive. In the end, Frances stood there, breathing hard from her effort, while her assailant lay on the floor groaning as he tried to hold his intestines in. Frances wasn't known as the best swordsman and huntress in the county for nothing. Still, she felt strange, gutting a man affected her more than gutting a stag.
Pulling her sword back to the ready, she said, “Anyone else?”
The middle-aged man pulled a pistol out from his coat, cocked it and pointed at her. “Very nice, Miss Kendrick. Your reputation is not undeserved, but the time for games is over.”
The door to the inn opened as Frances put her sword point down. Both she and the man looked at the door to see what was happening. Samuel stood there and said, “I think it is, Captain Tom. Unless you’re interested in meeting your maker.” He was holding his pistols and they were pointing at the man.
The man laughed and put his pistol down. “The boy’s yours, Ma’am. Not the girl.”
Frances no longer felt like fighting. She pulled two marks from her purse and slapped them down in front of him. “Is this enough for her?”
The man thought for a moment, then chuckled, “She’s too young for a doxy. I may be a rogue but I have my standards.” He reached over and took the money. “Take her.”
“I’m taking my horse too.”
“That'll be another couple of pounds,” he paused, “My Lady.”
Frances raised her sword to en point, and said. “Shall we have further discussions?”
“Fine, take it. The damned beast was eating too much anyway.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

The start of the parallel story for the Berkshire Lady.


 I'm trying something unusual, at least for me - it might be dead common otherwise, and giving this story a paranormal spin. There's a parallel story set in modern Reading (or at least modern enough, I was last there a couple of years ago). It is shorter, alternates with the historical story, and somewhat parallels it. 
This is the first part of the parallel story.
I need to come up with a better title. At 17500 +- words it's a little soon to worry about a cover.

Reading, Today 1.

Jane looked over at the new trainee barrister, Ben Child. He seemed a nice enough young man, albeit a bit quiet for her tastes. He'd been seeing practice as a public defender in the Reading Courts for the last few weeks. They'd work together for a few hours sorting out cases for the next few days, then he would take off to whatever lodging he hired, while she went out and enjoyed herself.
She asked him, “Mr. Child?”
He looked up and said, “What Ms. Rodgers? I'm about done-in for the day.”
“I was wondering what you were planning to do tonight. It's Friday you know.”
“Go home, read a book, watch some telly and sleep. Like most nights.”
“Sounds dreadful. Would you like to come to a party?”
“With you?”
“With me and my boyfriend. He's a graduate student at the university. I'm meeting him there this evening, and then we're off to a party for one of the D.Phil. students who has just defended. Lots of booze, chatter and maybe some dancing.”
“Sounds fun. Is he fine with that?”
“I'll call him and see, but I can't imagine why not.”
She pulled out her cell and after a few minutes conversation told him, “No problem. He'll even see if he can get that standoff-ish post-doc to come along. Set the two of you up for a date.”
“Standoff-ish post-doc?”
“Frances or Frankie, something like that. Always at her bench. She makes the graduate students look lazy.”
Ben thought for a few moments. Since he'd left law school parties had been few. Those he was invited to tended to be staid civilized things with the terrifying senior barristers, their awful wives, and dreadful daughters. Even meeting an eligible woman socially, let alone romancing one, had been difficult. He said, “Thank you, it's been a long while, and I really appreciate it.”
“Good.”
“By the way, is she pretty?”
“Never met her, but Tom likes her. Do you want to get changed out of your suit?”
Ben looked down, by now his “lawyer's uniform” of a gray suit, serious tie, and shiny leather shoes was second nature to him. He said, “I suppose I should. I'd look a sight, dressed like this at a student party, wouldn't I?”
“Yes you would. Meet you by the Oracle bus lane in a half an hour. Unless you need longer?”
“See you there.”
They took the 21 bus from the Oracle to the university, then Jane led him to the Lyle building where the school of biological sciences is based. They went into the lobby where she said, “Mr. Child, we'll have to wait here, but Tom should be down soon.”
“Ms. Rodgers, please call me Ben, we're out of the office.”
“Good, you should call me Jane.”
The noise of two people having a heated discussion drew their attention. One, a young woman, was saying, “Tom, I don't want to come to the party with you and Jane. I have work to do tonight, and I especially don't want to be 'set up' with a-” she stopped mid-sentence when she saw Ben.
Jane stepped forward and introduced her guest, “I'd like to present my friend, Ben Child. He's a junior barrister working as a public defender at the Hexagon. Ben this is?”
Tom stepped in and said, “Frances Kendrick, post-doc extraordinaire, our professor in training. Dr. Kendrick, aren't you going to say hello?”
After a moment to catch her breath she squeaked out, “You look familiar. Do I know you?”
Ben paused, considering his reply. He'd expected a personable young woman, pleasant company for certain, but not this. She was beautiful, someone who haunted his dreams. “I, I don't know. You look familiar to me too. I did my law degree in London, where you ever there?”
Frances laughed, “London, of course, but it's a big city.”
“I mean King's College.”
“I don't think so.” She smiled at him and said, “Doesn't matter. Jane dragooned you for this party too?”
“She didn't have to argue very hard. It was reading and telly otherwise.”
“You could have said that better, but I understand.” She turned to Tom and said, “Tom, I think I will change my plans for tonight. Where is this party?”
“Betty's flat, out towards Whitley. Why don't we pick up a bite first?”

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chapter 3 of The Berkshire Lady


Introducing Mr. Benjamin Child, who is another historical figure in the story. He's not quite yet Mr. Child esq. but well on his way.

Not sure I like the title, but it will do for the moment.

The Assizes.

Miss Frances Kendrick, properly dressed in a respectable and clearly elegant gown, fashionably powdered, wearing a patch and supported by both her solicitor Mr. Dalbey and her groom Samuel made her way to a seat in the visitor's gallery at the court in Reading. A high bench at the front of the room was reserved for the judge and various clerks sat and chatted at the tables between the bench and the visitors' gallery. Mr. Dalbey gave her a respectful bow and said, “Miss Kendrick, I have instructed a junior barrister, Mr. Benjamin Child to assist us in this matter. He's reading at the Inner Temple, and happily is available to us.”
“Couldn't you do it yourself?”
“No, only barristers can approach the court.” Mr. Dalbey paused and then pointed at a man in a dark robe and wearing a small gray wig. “There he is.”
“I say, he is a handsome young man, for a lawyer. Does he hunt or ride?”
“No idea, but I understand he's a bit dangerous. Has a reputation for gambling and wenching. Still, he is supposed to be a good barrister and that's what we need. If you'll excuse me, I shall instruct him. Mayhaps you can meet after court.”
“Depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“Whether we win.”
The trial didn't take long in the end. Jeremy, his clothes even more ragged and dirty than before, was marched into the court. To Frances, he appeared smaller, thinner and more scared than she remembered. The prosecutor asked Miss Kendrick to the stand.
He said, “Was this the boy who climbed into your room?”
Frances hesitated.
“Remember you are under oath.”
“Yes.”
“Was his intent robbery?”
“How could I know? Ask him.”
“No further questions.”
Mr. Child rose from his seat bowed to the judge, turned to Frances and asked his questions.
“Miss Kendrick, this must be disturbing for you.”
“Not at all.” Her self-assured smile gave him pause. Most young women would have been scared of court.
“Was the defendant alone?”
“He had an older man with him, who forced him into my room.”
“Where is this man?”
Frances winked at him, then said, “Potter's field, I presume. I ran him through with my sword, and he died the next morning.”
“Your sword. Do you sleep with a sword?”
“It was my dearest cousin Charlie's sword. It reminds me of him.”
The prosecutor objected, “Are these relevant questions?”
“I'm trying to establish the culpability of the defendant.”
The judge commented, “Mr. Child, would you hurry. We have another twenty prisoners before lunch.”
“Yes, your honor. To come to my point Miss Kendrick, I understand that you do not want to see the defendant hanged?”
“Yes. I do not believe he is fully responsible for his actions.”
The judge interrupted the questioning again by saying to Mr. Child, “Please get on with it. Your witness cannot know what this miscreant thought.”
“Yes, My Lord. If I may continue?” Mr. Child asked one final question, “Miss Kendrick, did you hear or see anything that would substantiate your conclusion?”
“Just the older man threatening him with a beating if he didn't enter the room. Well, that and the boy was crying. I could not feel comfortable if he were hung.”
The judge turned to her. “Miss Kendrick, will you stand surety for him?”
“I will.”
Jeremy looked up, and studied her. It was the first glimmer of hope he had seen in a week if not longer. Frances turned to him and said, “I need another stable-boy, do you like horses?” He nodded.
The judge admonished them for speaking out of turn, then said, “Miss Kendrick, be aware that you will be responsible for his actions, and their consequences.”
“You are welcome to hang him if he runs away, or what's left after I'm done with him first.”
“Mr. Child and Mr. Dalbey, Have you prepared the indenture?”
“Yes My Lord.” Mr. Child handed the judge a sheet of parchment.
The judge read the paperwork and said, “It seems in order. You may finish the details outside.” Then he turned to Jeremy and said, “Young man, you are extremely lucky that Miss Kendrick takes pity on your situation and is willing to stand surety for your actions. The next time you will not be so lucky.”
Jeremy nodded and squeaked out, “Yes, My Lord.”
The judge nodded to the sergeant at arms, and he called out “Next case.”



The final details of Jeremy's indenture were filled out in Mr. Dalbey's office. With Jeremy, Samuel, Frances and the two lawyers, his small close room seemed even smaller and closer. Mr. Dalbey asked, “Jeremy can you read?”
“No sir”
“Then I shall read and explain this document to you. It describes the terms of your indenture to Miss Kendrick. Do you understand what an indenture is?”
“Yes sir. It means I'm to work for her.”
“That's correct. You will serve her for a term of years. In return she will house you and see that your are clothed and fed.”
At the word 'fed', Jeremy's eyes widened. It had been a long while since he had eaten well. Mr. Dalbey continued, “It is my understanding that you will be a stable-boy.”
Frances said, “I always need stable-hands.” She paused and pointed at her groom, “Jeremy, Samuel here is my head groom. You will answer directly to him.”
“Yes Miss.”
Mr. Dalbey continued, “Miss Kendrick's stables are among the best run in England. You will be well-trained when your indenture is over.”
Frances could not help noticing Mr. Child watching this exchange and looking at her with a bemused look on his face. “Does this strike you as funny, Mr. Child?”
“Unusual, yes. Funny, no. I was enjoying the view.”
“We can converse later, if you'd like. First though let's finish with Jeremy.”
Mr. Dalbey finished explaining the indenture. Jeremy agreed to it. Tending horses and being well-fed while doing so was preferable to both hanging and housebreaking. He scratched out an 'X' on the document. Miss Kendrick and the two lawyers signed. Then Samuel escorted Jeremy off to take up his new duties. Frances said, as they were leaving, “See that he gets bathed and new clothes, will you. I like to see and not smell my servants. He'll also need some food before you work him.”
“Yes, Miss Kendrick. Leave the youth to me. You won't recognize him when you return this afternoon.”
After they left, Mr. Child said, “Miss Kendrick, speaking of food. Would you care to dine with me?”
“The Horn or the Sun?”
“My room is at the Sun, shall we try there?”
The background chatter in the Sun quieted when Mr. Child and Miss Kendrick entered the common room. It was rare for a lady of quality to enter a public house. Once it was seen that this lady of quality was Miss Kendrick, the chatter resumed. Mr. Child said to the inn-keeper, “Is there a parlor available, so that I may entertain Miss Kendrick in the style to which she is accustomed?”
Frances said, “That table by the window will do nicely. My usual please.”
Once they were seated, Mr Child said, “Do you make a habit of attending public houses?”
“I wouldn't say it was a habit. No, not really a habit. Only on hunt days, or when there's a shoot at the butts, and off course I'll get a refreshment on the way home when I've been riding over to Caversham, Streatly or Wargrave. So hardly ever. No more than, say, once a week or so.”
“Have you ever been in Abingdon?”
“I'm sure I must have, but not recently.”
“My family's from there. Brewer's mostly.”
“That's interesting. My family's from here. Baronet's mostly.”
“Oh. Above my rank.”
“That depends, Mr. Child, on how well you do at the bar.”
“True.”
“Now, tell me. What is a rising barrister doing out here in remote Berkshire and not in civilized London?”
“I have my reasons.”
“Gambling debts, women, or both?”
Mr. Child chuckled and then said. “I see my reputation has preceded me. No, to be honest and much to my shame, neither. For once I'm not in the basket, and there isn't an outraged mother waiting at my rooms with a rapier or a breach of promise suit in her hand. I'm seeing practice as part of my preparation for becoming a full member of the Temple.”
“Is that all?”
“Well, no. That and the Mayor's ball the day after tomorrow. It was a strong inducement to selecting Reading over Basingstoke or visiting my family in Abingdon. I've heard there are some dashed pretty women in Reading. Present company excluded, I haven't seen any pretty enough to make the trip worthwhile.”
“Oh, the Mayor's ball. I had forgotten about that. What a nuisance.”
“A nuisance? What can you possibly mean by that?”
“I'm an heiress. There will be no end of boring young men competing for my attention and hoping for my fortune. I just wish there were some who were not so predictably boring.”
“Am I boring?”
“Probably, but I don't know you well enough yet to say. I suppose the next thing you'll ask me is for a dance at the ball.”
“I was, but if you'd rather not, I won't. How about we ride in the country after the assizes conclude? I'll need to borrow a horse, but Mr. Dalbey intimated that you had a fine stable.”
“Can you ride, really ride?”
“I used to, before I started at the Temple. I'm out of practice now.”
“When will you be available?”
“I have a couple of cases this afternoon, in fact I should go now, but tomorrow about midday?”
He rose and bowed to Frances. As he straightened, she said, “Mr. Child, if you ride well, then maybe I'll give you that dance after all.”
“I'm looking forward to it.”



The next day, as the sun slowly rose in the morning, Frances found herself at loose ends. She just could not settle to anything. Embroidery, a skill she had painstakingly learned to please her father, and kept at because it was something to do with her hands when she was at loose ends failed to grip. She had read every book in the house, all of them, more than once. Even the stables failed to be diverting. Jeremy had been put to work and Samuel reported that he seemed to be settling in well. His determination at brushing down the horses had even earned a rare bit of praise. Finally, there was a knock on the Hall door. Mr. Child, accompanied by a footman entered. He bowed, gracefully, and said, “Miss Kendrick, are you still interested in a ride?”
“Am I?” Frances jumped up and said, “I've been waiting all morning. Shall we head to the stables?”
While she led Mr. Child to the stables behind Whitley House, she said, “I'm sorry this place is so old-fashioned and small, but”
He stopped her, “Don't.”
“Don't what?”
“Apologize. Any house that you inhabit is elegant.”
Frances felt the start of a blush, but stopped herself and smirked instead. Then she said, “I bet you say that to every woman you meet. You should find a good mount in my stables.”
Mr. Child replied, “I don't. Just the ones I like.”
Frances could not stop her blush this time.
Samuel helped Mr. Child pick out a horse and saddle it. While it was being saddled, Mr. Child noticed a youth watching them intently from the back of the stables.
“Is that young Jeremy?”
“Yes, sir.”
He called, “Jeremy come here. Do you remember me? I talked with you while you were in gaol.”
The boy hesitated, then cautiously walked toward him. “Sir?”
“How do you like working for Miss Kendrick?”
“I'm fed. It's hard work.”
“What did you expect?”
“To be beaten.”
“Are you?”
“No, sir.” Samuel came back and said, “Now, Jeremy hast thee shoveled that stall?”
“No.”
“Then get thee on wit' it.”
“Sir.” Jeremy tipped his hand at his forehead in salute and backed off to do his work.
“I must say,” Mr. Child said to Frances, “that he seems healthier already. Miss Kendrick, I think that you may have succeeded with the young man. I had my doubts.”
“I'd hope so, Mr. Child. I do not abuse my servants, nor do I tolerate it among them.”
“Is that so, Samuel?”
“Sir? Among us. No she doesn't. Now do you need help with mounting this horse?”



As they started out from the stables. Frances asked, “So Mr. Child, where would you like to ride?”
“I don't know the locale. Where is your favorite?”
“I rode to Calcot a few days ago. Let's head to Wargrave. I hope you can keep up with me.” She kicked her horse into a fast canter. Mr. Child did his best to follow, but didn't catch up with her until she stopped near Twyford, by Dark Moon wood.
“Miss Kendrick?” he said, “Why the respite?”
Frances pointed to a rough camp at the other side of the field. “Those gypsies, travelers, they shouldn't be here.”
“What?”
“This isn't the time for the fair. Something has disturbed them. I'd rather not be alone when we talk.”
“I still don't follow you, Miss Kendrick.”
“In normal times, the travelers visit near the time of the Reading fair. That's how they live, going from fair to fair. If they're here now, something is wrong. It could be the plague or rebellion.”
Together they walked their horses over to the camp. When they were close an elderly man, evidently one in authority, came out and greeted them. He bowed and said, “Lady Whitley, what brings you to our camp?”
“I have the same question for you. Why are you camped here? The fair isn't for months.”
The man paused, then carefully chose his words as he said, “Our reception towards Maidenhead wasn't peaceable. We was run out of Windsor and the Upright men in Wargrave pushed us this way.”
“Upright men?”
“Captain Tom and his gang. Took a couple of our children in tribute and sent us on our way. We won't stay here long, no trade.”
Mr. Child broke into the conversation and said, “One of those children wouldn't be named Jeremy perchance?”
“Aye, any news of the lad or his sister?”
“He's bound to service for Miss Kendrick, after breaking into her house.”
The man visibly brightened. “An apprentice is he?”
Frances said, “One of my stable-boys. Samuel is instructing him.”
“That's beau. Better that than cadging for a living, and your horsemen have a good reputation. He's a bright lad. Will he learn to read?”
Mr. Child continued, “So you will leave him? If he runs off, he's liable to be hung. That's what his indenture says.”
The man smiled, revealing a few stumps of teeth that meshed together. “I've too many mouths to feed as it tis. Do you need any other servants, Lady Whitley?”
“Sadly, no. Yes, I like my servants to be literate, if they can.”
“That leaves me out.” He smirked, then said, “Tis best Lady if you return to Whitley. Captain Tom's still busy to the east. That's one for Gallows Green if you ask me.”
Frances regretted that she hadn't put her sword on her saddle. It hadn't seemed necessary for a pleasure ride with an elegant young barrister. She said, “Thank you for the warning. I'll tell my steward to put out some bread for thee tomorrow when you pass through Whitley. To speed you on your way.”
Mr. Child and Frances turned their mounts and headed back to Whitley Park. She rode sedately, lost in thought. This gave him a chance to talk.
“Miss Kendrick, what's this about Lady Whitley?”
“My father was baronet here. I'm just Miss Kendrick, but some of these folk insist on using my mother's title with me.”
“What are you going to do with young Jeremy? He'll be wont to run off with them.”
“I'll tell him about them, but he will stay with me. A traveler's life is not easy.”
“And being one of your stable-boy's is?”
“They work hard, but they get clothed, fed and the occasional tip. I have them instructed. There's no comparison.”
“If you say so, but I have my doubts. By the way, are you going to attend the Mayor’s ball tomorrow?”
“I don’t have much choice. Are you?”
“That would be telling.”
“Well if you do, please know that I'll save a dance for you.”

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fixing a epub non-conforming error for Smashwords

The book I just released on Smashwords had a few errors in format. They're now fixed, but it took a few tricks.

1. The index wasn't coming up properly. It worked in both Libre-Office and Word, but not in the conversion.
2. There was a mysterious '1.' appearing in front of each chapter.
3. There were mysterious conversions between normal font and superscript. This was due to some embedded error in the document, that even the "nuclear option" didn't fix.

To fix the mysterious superscripts, I wrote an RTF file and then manually parsed the contents. There were several places where things like \cs15\super\... were appearing that shouldn't.  I manually removed them, stopping at the \rltch. \rltch appears to stand for a division and removing that causes things to disappear. (Least I sound like superwoman, Alberta Einstein, or Lady Lovelace, RTF is a regular context-independent language. Blocks of code are delimited by squirrelly brackets '{' or '}'. So all I had to do was find where it was correct and make the bad places look the same as the correct ones!)

To fix the index. I put the RTF file in word and then removed the hyperlinks, one by one. It appeared I'd double linked one item. It thoroughly confused the conversion program.

The mysterious '1.' was the final thing. It turned out there was an extra line in the Header 3 that was used for each chapter.

By the way, the technique of manual creation of the index contents and linking to "Bookmarks"  that is described in chapter 20 of the smashwords style guide works better than the automatic table of contents creation in the new libre office.

The Canada Diet Cure

Does that early winter snow have you down?

Are you dragging from an excess of the white stuff or the early winter chill?

Then I have the magic diet cure for you. Tested in the wintry crucible of our Arctic neighbor to the north, Poutine is the cure for anything that ails you. Chips, curd and gravy will banish the winter blues and give you the energy you need to shovel your way out.

The Canada cure diet is just the thing for those winter time dumps.

Note that this diet is not approved or sanctioned by the FDA. Side effects may include a full stomach and a satisfying feeling of warmth.

(inspired by a crank add for a diet to cure yeast infections).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

More piracy (and not the space kind)

I put a couple of books on Smashwords, which has been a fantastic experience. Of course, they're now on a fast non-smashwords download site. Since they're "name your price" books, these are repackaged things you didn't "have" to pay for. (While I'm happy for the money, I'm even more happy for the readers).

If you did this, would you at least download a sample from Smashwords? That way I get the statistics. It also helps that company generate and keep accurate statistics and be a better distributor.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Progress.

It's near the end of term, so I'm dreadfully busy with the "day job". I've made some writing progress.

The "Berkshire Lady" is at 11000 words. I've put in a parallel modern story, which gives it a paranormal twist. I'll have to see how that works, but so far I think it's pretty neat. The 1700 part of the book is almost entirely from the heroine's view, while the modern part is from the hero's (mostly).

"The Mysterious Mr. Willis" is about 17000 words. Trying to make sure I put "hooks" into the various chapters, and don't write something that is too much like old-fashioned "hard science fiction" where the emphasis was on the gizmos and not plot or character.  It's also a harder book to write because the narrator has to stay away from what Mr. Willis is doing - otherwise it's not very mysterious.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Draft Chapter 2 of the Berkshire Lady


Morning Regrets

Frances awoke late the next day. More to the point, her maid decided to let her sleep in and she didn't wake until nearly noon. She stretched, looked at the bowed walls and timbered ceiling of Whitley Park Manor, and said “This place is awful. I'm going to move.” The faint but still pungent scent wafting over from the growing city of Reading reinforced her desires. As her head cleared and she fully woke up, she realized that her trustees would never approve of her idea.
She rang the bell for Martha, then looked at her feet. They, like the bottom of her night-shift, were stained with blood from the night's adventures. Martha came in with a small army of housemaids, bearing the basin and buckets of hot water for her bath. She set up the bath and dismissed the rest of the maids. She said, “When you're ready Miss Kendrick. That night-shift will be ruined, it's heck to shift that blood.”
Frances replied, “Sorry, do you think it can come out at all? I don't want to waste my blunt.”
“We'll try. Maybe some stale urine or ashes will move it.”
Frances luxuriated in the warm water while she shifted the mess from her feet. “Martha?”
“Yes Miss?”
“What would you say to moving to a more modern house or at least away from the city? Say the mansion at Calcot?”
“That would be lovely, but how? Neither Dr. Brewer nor Mr. Dalbey would approve.”
“Depends how much it is, but I guess I may need to find the blunt myself.”
“If you say so.”
“I'll have to ask what they want for Calcot Manor. Lay out my riding clothes.”
“Do you ever wear anything else?”
Frances chuckled, “Rarely, if it's good enough for my horse, it's good enough for society. What's been done with that young miscreant?”
“He's still locked in the basement. Awaiting you to call the bailiffs.”
“Help me with dressing, and then after I've broken my fast, I'll call them. Has anything been done with what's left of his companion?”
“He's still in your room.”
“Have the footmen drag him off to the stables, the dung hill or somewhere suitable. Do I have to order everything in this house?”
“Yes, Miss. He is still alive.”
“He's a tough old bird then. Send for the blasted bailiffs. They can drag him off, but get him out of my house.”
Having sated her hunger with bread, cheese and coffee, Frances had a footman escort her to the young prisoner. He was sitting in a dark closet in the basement. The closet was usually used for the fall root vegetables, but for the moment it was empty. Except for him.
He stood when they opened the door, but it was obvious he had been crying and he shook while he waited for her to speak. Frances studied him carefully. Then she said, “How old are you?”
“I don't know, maybe ten.”
“Pity. That's young. They'll have to put weights on your feet for the drop.”
The boy started to cry. Frances continued, “I'll see if the vicar can instruct you. At least that way you won't be bound for hell.” This sounded weak, even to her. She started to leave, then turned and asked him. “What's your name?”
“Jeremy.”
She paused, wondering what she should do, then she said, “I'll see that Dr. Brewer talks to you Jeremy.”
Three bailiffs arrived about mid-day and took possession of the old man and the youth. The chief bailiff chatted while the other two heaved the old man onto a wagon. He landed with a load thud and a soft groan. The bailiff said, “He'll not last long. Better for him if he dies in prison.” Then the two brought Jeremy out from the basement. In the clear daylight, he looked fragile and lost. He was undersized and his clothes were but one step removed from rags. He wept quietly as the bailiffs prodded him to the wagon. His tears formed streaks on his filthy face. Frances asked, “What about him?”
“He'll swing soon enough. The assizes are in a week.”
“Do I have to press charges?”
“Not for me to say, Miss Kendrick. I just take 'em to gaol.”
“Then I'll ask my solicitor. Thank you.”
She ran to the stable and roused her stable hand. “Get me a mount.”
“Miss?”
“Hurry, please. I need to ride into town. I suppose I'll need a groom to look after the horses.”
“Yes, Miss.”
With her groom struggling to keep up, Frances raced into the town. She turned her horse into Broad street, and stopped in front of her solicitor's office. Throwing the reins to the groom, she pushed open the door and rushed in. She shouted, “Mr. Dalbey?”
Her trustee peered around the door to his office and said, “Miss Kendrick. It's always a pleasure to see you but why are you visiting me so soon after your last visit?”
“Is there a way I can take custody of a prisoner, or failing that to not press charges?”
He opened the door fully and said, “What?”
Frances drew a deep breath and explained, “My room was broken into last night. A man and a boy. I ran the man through with Charlie's sword.”
“So?”
“The boy's too young to hang.”
“I could see pushing for transportation instead of hanging.”
“Send him to the fields in Carolina or Virginia as an indentured slave? Hanging's better than that.”
“If you're sure, I shall see what can be done. I'd like to meet the youth.”
“He'll just be delivered to gaol today. Name's Jeremy.”
“Thank you. Did you want me to accompany you to gaol.”
“That's no place for a young woman.”
“Oh Hades.” Mr. Dalbey gave her a shocked look. She continued, “Remember, Mr. Dalbey, I do mean to rescue this youth. He was an unwilling participant in the robbery. I also promised to ask Dr. Brewer to console him.”
“James will enjoy that, I don't think. Are you sure he's worth it, this Jeremy?”
“No. The sensible thing to do is to let him hang. It's just that it bothers me to leave him to his fate.”
“I'll ask the judge. Would you be willing to employ him and stand surety for his conduct?”
“I need another stable-boy. You know how hard I work my stable-servants. He'll be too tired to get into mischief.” Frances' riding and care of her horses were almost legendary. The local squires knew she could ride better than they could. Whitley House might be shabby, but its stables were not.
Mr. Dalbey considered for a minute, then he said, “Miss Kendrick, I think your concern does you credit and shows that Sir William raised you well. I'll see what I can do, but I'd be surprised if you won't soon have a new stable-boy.”
She bade Mr. Dalbey farewell and retrieved her horse from the groom. He said, “Where now, Miss Kendrick?”
“Calcot House. I want to take a look at it and see if it's worth a try.”
“Yes Miss.”
“Besides, Samuel, it will be a fun ride.”
Her groom rolled his eyes. Frances' idea of fun did not completely square with his. She didn't miss his gesture and said, “Sam, you know how far we have to ride to find game nowadays. Hunting will be easier if we're in the wilds of Berkshire.”
They walked their horses through the crowded Broad street, then down Bridge Street to the Bath road. Once they were finally outside of the crowded town, Frances put her stirrups to her mount and shot off towards Calcot. Samuel followed, carefully picking his way around the carriage and wagons on the road, rather than bludgeoning his way over, around or between them. He could hear the shouts from the drivers ahead as his mistress made her way. Long experience had inured him to them. Frances was impatiently trotting her mount in the Green when he finally caught up with her.
“What took you so long?”
“You know, I just like to be polite on the roads.”
“It's cross country from here.”
“Do we have to? There is a lane.”
Frances thought for a moment and then said, “I suppose you're right. It would never do to tear up the fields before I buy them.”
The house itself was surrounded by large fields, bordered by hedges and the occasional small woodland. Frances left her horse with Samuel and knocked for the housekeeper. When an elderly woman of 50, dressed in coarse cloth and wearing a dusty mobcap answered, she said, “I've heard this house is for sale.”
“Ay, it tis.”
“Do you know how much?”
“Nay, Miss.”
“Can I see it?”
“Yes Miss. Would you be interested in buying it?”
“That was why I asked the price.”
“Mr. Jones, in Reading is our solicitor. You have to ask him.”
“Oh well, some other time. Shall we examine the property?”
The house was a modern, symmetric, brick house built after the style of Inigo Jones. It featured all the modern conveniences like shallow fireplaces, wide stairs, and separate servant passages. The windows let in light, but were high enough to dissuade adventurers with ladders. When she left, Frances complimented the housekeeper, “I must say this is an excellent house. I had heard that it was well-built, but you've done an excellent job of maintaining it.”
“So you'll be buying it?”
“If I can.”
Frances found her groom at the stables and asked him, “What do you think of the stables?”
“Not up to your standards, Miss.”
“Soon fix that. Are you ready to return to Whitley?”
Mrs. and Dr. Brewer were waiting for them when they returned. Dr. Brewer frowned at her and said, “Mr. Dalbey informs me that you are intending to rescue a young felon from the courts. While I applaud your Christian ideals, this is most unwise.”
Mrs. Brewer added, “Frankie, what were you thinking of? He'll just run off and leave you holding the bag.”
“Do you mean that boy, Jeremy? He's too young to hang. I put his companion in a pauper's grave, or is he still alive?”
“My curate buried him this morning.”
“Good, he was a tough one, but I'm glad of it.”
“Frankie!”
“He broke into my room. If I hadn't run him through he would have tried to have his way with me. I suppose sometime I'll meet a man I like well enough for that, but he'll smell better and have most of his teeth. It wouldn't hurt if he shaved too.”
Dr. Brewer continued, “Back to the main point. This youth. You cannot possibly need another servant.”
“Not a servant, as such. Well not a house servant. There's always room for another hand in the stables and at the farm. I can always add more sheep.”
Dr. Brewer said, “I still think it most unwise, and abjure you from this course of action.”
“If you say so. I have something else. You know Calcot House?”
“Yes, what of it?”
“I'd like to buy it. The city is encroaching upon Whitley. The noise, smell and lack of game is becoming intolerable.”
Eliza said, “Sell Whitley? It's your family home.”
“I didn't say to sell Whitley, just to purchase another house.”
Dr. Brewer coughed, then said, “Miss Kendrick. As one of your trustee's I cannot possibly condone such a wasteful use of your funds.”
Eliza laughed at this and said, “Frankie, doesn't my husband sound like a stuffy high and mighty archbishop when he says things like that?”
Her husband replied, “I may sound pompous, but I would be remiss in my duties to Sir William, if I let his daughter squander her wealth.”
Frances looked away and said, “I suppose you're right. I'll find some other solution.”
Eliza added, “Why don't you come back into Reading with us? There will be a party for the new vicar of St. Mary's after evensong.”
“New vicar of St. Mary's. You're not leaving are you?”
“No, St. Mary's in Wargrave. Mr. Grant, his wife and his curate are visiting. I believe the curate is thought a handsome young man.”
“Interesting. I do hope he isn't as insipid as most handsome young men. Does he ride or hunt?”
“He has a reputation as a perfect gentleman.”
“How boring.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

more on the Berkshire Lady


Fixed a few things to get the time period correct, and added the names of her real trustees. This one is writing smoothly.

The Berkshire Lady

Memorial Service.

Frances Kendrick knelt at the altar in St. Mary's church in the Butts in Reading and looked up at the stained glass while she prayed for her cousin. Or tried to pray. She wished there was some sort of answer or reassurance, but her words and thoughts seemed to disappear into the void. Her cousin Charles had managed to get himself killed on the lowlands of Holland, and the news had finally reached Reading months later. A short note, with a package, waited for her at the family solicitors. The family, what was left of it, put a plaque in the church and held a funeral service. Then they flew to the winds, and her little sisters Mary and Henrietta left to live with their aunt.
She couldn't even cry any longer. When her mother died six years ago, she'd been disconsolate. It seemed she had weeped for a year. Only her dashing and handsome big cousin, home on leave, had helped to chase the grief away. He taught her to fence and indulged the 'tom-boy' in her by helping her to ride to hounds and hunt the deer. It didn't remove the ache, but dulled it and made life livable again. Her father, William the second baronet of Whitley, died last year, but that was a merciful release for him after years of pain. Somehow it was a fitting close when he joined his wife in the Kendrick vault underneath the church. Now it was time to grieve for Charles.
She stared at the window and wondered if anyone was listening. “Lord, if you could, give me a break. Please.”
As usual silence was all she heard. That is until the vicar tapped her on the shoulder and quietly asked her if she were ready to see the solicitors now. She turned and looked at him. Dr. Brewer was a handsome young man, and safely married to an old friend of hers, Eliza. Frances said, “Oh yes. I suppose I must.”
“Do you need a companion?”
“It would be nice.”
“Unfortunately, I have a christening and two marriages to perform today. However, Mrs. Brewer would be happy to escort you.”
Frances gave him a wan smile, maybe someone was listening. “I'd be pleased if Eliza could accompany me. She knew Charles well. They'd often danced at the assemblies.”
Dr. James Brewer nodded. It had been something of a shock to society when Eliza chose him over a dashing young captain. He still couldn't always believe in his good fortune. Frances saw the flicker of doubt in his eyes and said, “My friend showed her innate good sense when she married you Dr. Brewer.”
Eliza escorted her down the narrow alley behind the church to Broad street and into the solicitor's office. They waited together for him, and then entered the dusty, close space he called his office. He coughed to clear his throat and then went through the will and entailments on the Whitley estate.
The form of the strictures on the estate held few surprises for Frances. She, as a young woman, was not considered fit to run the estate. It was held in trust for her, until she married. Both Dr. Brewer and her solicitor Mr. John Dalbey were the trustees. Then it would belong to her husband, and he could do with it as he saw fit. There was a small allowance reserved for her to use for dresses and entertainments. Enough that she wouldn't go naked, but too little for a jaunt to London or Bath. Mr. Dalbey asked if she had any questions. Frances said, “No, although I thought the allowance was more generous.”
“It hasn't changed since the original entail at the end of the civil war.”
“I see. It's not much money. Is there anyway to increase it?”
“Think of it as an inducement to marriage.”
Mr. Dalbey left her to consider the situation for a few moments and then he said, “Miss Kendrick, in addition to the formalities, your cousin left you this package.” He pointed to a large, obviously heavy, bundle of long objects. “His instructions are that you read this note first.”
“If I may have it.” Mr. Dalbey handed it to her and she began to read it. At first she read it quietly and then aloud.
Dear Brat,
If you're reading this, then I'm camping with the angels, or perhaps with the devils. In any case, I'll have done my bit for England and be buried in some foreign land.
Don't grieve too long or too hard for me. I had a good run, and took the most I could out of life. I suspect your friend Eliza and that vicar of hers are sitting with you. Give them my regards. I wish I could have attended their wedding.
No doubt you're wondering what's in the package. Knowing you, you've already guessed. It's my spurs and my swords. Use them well.
With Love,
Your Cousin,
Charles Kendrick
Captain 66th foot regiment.
Frances put the letter down and flushed a stray tear from her eye with a handkerchief. Then she said, “Can I see the package?”
Mr. Dalbey put it on the desk in front of them. He said, “Are you sure you want these? I could keep them safe here.”
Frances replied, “I need to see them. They're his gift to me.” She tore open the package and found two swords and his spurs. One sword was his ceremonial sword, engraved and gilt-encrusted. The other was the sword he carried when he was a lieutenant. It was a heavy serviceable rapier with a sweat-stained handle. The guard was dented and scratched. Frances held it and thought. Then she said, “Mr. Dalbey. Could you look after the ceremonial sword? I think I'll keep this one and his spurs with me.”
“If you wish, Miss Kendrick.”
“Thank you. You know he taught me to fence with this sword.”
“Really?”
“Yes, I have a smaller one like this at home and a couple of foils. Because it was his, this is my new favorite.”
Back out on the street after saying their farewells, Eliza asked her friend, “Frankie, you could stay with us if you want. That house in Whitley Park is so big and you could be lonely.”
Frances said, “No. It's home. I'll be fine there.”
“At least let me get you a cab and come with you. It's a long walk alone.”
“That would be perfect. Why don't you leave a message at St. Eliza's? That way Dr. Brewer can join us for dinner.”
Late that evening, as she was preparing for bed, Frances pulled the sword from its sheath and looked at it in the flickering candle light. It was fine steel and still held an edge. She told her maid, “You know, Martha. I think I'll keep this in bed with me. To scare the nightmares and megrims away, and to remind me of Charles.”
“If you wish, Ma'am. I might put it back in its sheath first.”
Even later that evening, Frances awoke to the sound of scrabbling outside of her window. She was about to turn over and go back to sleep when the crackling noise as one of the panes of glass was detached from the frame forced her to be fully awake. When the sound of the latch opening followed, she pulled the sword from its sheath and sat, behind her bed curtains, wondering what she should do.
The window opened and Frances could hear a muffled discussion between the cracksmen outside.
“Come on lad, up and over. You'll never be a Ken-Miller if you hesitate.”
“There's someone there.”
“Na, it's just your nerves, lad. The upright man said the house 'ud be empty. What with the funeral and all.”
“I can hear breathing.” Frances fought to keep her breath quiet.
“Lad, get thee in, or Captain-Tom will whip you. Any road, I'm just behind so no fear.”
The younger thief carefully lifted himself through the window and stealthily walked to the door beyond. “I'm in, at the door. Won't be bothered.”
The words, “Good Lad.” were followed by the louder noise as the older and heavier cracksman lifted himself over the sill. “Damn-me, I'm getting to old for this. Still, it's better than forking for a living.” Frances could hear steps as he approached the bed. “The curtains are drawn. Wonder why?”
He pulled them open and found out as Frances lunged forward and put her sword through his belly. Withdrawing the sword as he fell she pointed it at the younger man and shouted, “Stand there or I'll do you too.” He shook and said, “No Ma'am, no. I'll stay still. Don't run me through.” Frances walked round until she could reach the bell pull and rang with all her might.
The footmen and maids who ran to respond to the bell found a distressing sight. Their mistress, in her blood stained night-shift, stood pointing a sword at a youth. An older man lay on the floor, groaning his last, while his blood pooled on the floor.
Frances said, “Martha, would you find me another room? Oh, and I'll need a bath in the morning, please see that one is made ready.”
“What about this youth?”
“Lock him away somewhere, we'll hand him over to the bailiffs in the morning.”
The boy said, “No Ma'am, please, they'll hang me.”
“You should have thought of that before you climbed into my window.” Frances addressed one of her footmen, “John, see that someone watches this window. I don't want another night visitor. My night's been disordered enough as it is.”



Morning Regrets

Frances awoke late the next day. More to the point, her maid decided to let her sleep in and she didn't wake until nearly noon. She stretched, looked at the bowed walls and timbered ceiling of Whitley Park Manor, and said “This place is awful. I'm going to move.” The faint but still pungent scent wafting over from the growing city of Reading reinforced her desires. As her head cleared and she fully woke up, she realized that her trustees would never approve of her idea.
She rang the bell for Martha, then looked at her feet. They, like the bottom of her night-shift were stained with blood from the night's adventures. Martha came in with a small army of housemaids, bearing the basin and buckets of hot water for her bath. She set up the bath and dismissed the rest of the maids. She said, “When you're ready Miss Kendrick. That night-shift will be ruined, it's heck to shift that blood.”
Frances replied, “Sorry, do you think it can come out at all? I don't want to waste my blunt.”
“We'll try. Maybe some stale urine or ashes will move it.”
Frances luxuriated in the warm water while she shifted the mess from her feet. “Martha?”
“Yes Miss?”
“What would you say to moving to a more modern house or at least away from the city? Say the mansion at Calcot?”
“That would be lovely, but how? Neither Dr. Brewer nor Mr. Dalbey would approve.”
“Depends how much it is, but I guess I need to find the blunt myself.”
“If you say so.”
“I'll have to ask what they want for Calcot manner. Lay out riding clothes.”
“Do you ever wear anything else?”
Frances chuckled, “Rarely. What's been done with that young miscreant?”
“He's still locked in the basement. Awaiting you to call the bailiffs.”
“Help me with dressing, and then after I've broken my fast, I'll call them. Has anything been done with what's left of his companion?”
“He's still in your room.”
“Have the footmen drag him off to the stables, the dung hill or somewhere suitable. Do I have to order everything in this house?”
“Yes, Miss. He is still alive.”
“He's a tough old bird then. Send for the blasted bailiffs. They can drag him off, but get him out of my house.”
Having sated her hunger with bread, cheese and coffee, Frances had a footman escort her to young prisoner. He was sitting in a dark closet in the basement. The closet was usually used for the fall root vegetables, but for the moment it was empty. Except for him.
He stood when they opened the door, but it was obvious he had been crying and he shook while he waited for her to speak. Frances studied him carefully. Then she said, “How old are you?”
“I don't know, maybe ten.”
“Pity. That's young. They'll have to put weights on your feet for the drop.”
The boy started to cry. Frances continued, “I'll see if the vicar can instruct you. At least that way you won't be bound for hell.” This sounded weak, even to her. She started to leave, then turned and asked him. “What's your name?”
“Jeremy.”
She paused, wondering what she should do, then she said, “I'll see that Dr. Brewer talks to you Jeremy.”
Three bailiffs arrived about mid-day and took possession of the old man and the youth. The chief bailiff chatted while the other two heaved the old man onto a wagon. He landed with a load thud and a soft groan. The bailiff said, “He'll not last long. Better for him if he dies in prison.” Then the two brought Jeremy out from the basement. In the clear daylight, he looked fragile and lost. He was undersized and his clothes were one step removed from rags. He wept quietly as the bailiffs prodded him to the wagon. His tears formed streaks on his filthy face. Frances asked, “What about him?”
“He'll swing soon enough. The assizes are in a week.”
“Do I have to press charges?”
“Not for me to say, Miss Kendrick. I just take 'em to gaol.”
“Then I'll ask my solicitor. Thank you.”
She ran to the stable and roused her stable hand. “Get me a mount.”
“Miss?”
“Hurry, please. I need to ride into town. I suppose I'll need a groom to look after the horses.”
“Yes, Miss.”
With her groom struggling to keep up, Frances raced into the town. She turned her horse into Broad street, and stopped in front of her solicitor's office. Throwing the reins to the groom, she pushed open the door and rushed in. She shouted, “Mr. Dalbey?”
Her trustee peered around the door to his office and said, “Miss Kendrick. Why so soon?”
“Is there a way I can take custody of a prisoner, or failing that to not press charges?”
He opened the door fully and said, “What?”
Frances drew a deep breath and explained, “My room was broken into last night. A man and a boy. I ran the man through with Charlie's sword.”
“So?”
“The boy's too young to hang.”
“I could see pushing for transportation.”
“Send him to the fields in Carolina or Virginia as an indentured slave? Hanging's better than that.”
“If you're sure, I shall see what can be done. I'd like to meet the youth.”
“He'll just be delivered to gaol today. Name's Jeremy.”
“Thank you. Did you want me to accompany you to gaol.”
“That's no place for a young woman.”
“Oh Hades.” Mr. Dalbey gave her a shocked look. She continued, “Remember, Mr. Dalbey, I do mean to rescue this youth. He was an unwilling participant in the robbery. I also promised to ask Dr. Brewer to console him.”
“James will enjoy that, I don't think. Are you sure he's worth it, this Jeremy?”
“No. The sensible thing to do is to let him hang. It's just that it bothers me to leave him to his fate.”
“I'll ask the judge. Would you be willing to employ him and stand surety for his conduct?”
“I need another stable-boy. You know how hard I work my stable-servants. He'll be too tired to get into mischief.” Frances' riding and care of her horses were almost legendary. The local squires knew she could ride better than they could. Whitley House might be shabby, but its stables were not.
Mr. Dalbey considered for a minute, then he said, “Miss Kendrick, I think your concern does you credit and shows that Sir William raised you well. I'll see what I can do, but I'd be surprised if you won't soon have a new stable-boy.”
She bade Mr. Dalbey farewell and retrieved her horse from the groom. He said, “Where now, Miss Kendrick?”
“Calcot House. I want to take a look at it and see if it's worth a try.”
“Yes Miss.”
“Besides it will be a fun ride.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Start of another possible book


While doing research for the "Mysterious Mr. Willis" I came across a real story, that of Frances Kendrick, which has potential as a swashbuckling story.  This is a start. 
I'll often write trial drafts of several books in order to see what seems to be working. 

The Berkshire Lady

Memorial Service.

Frances Kendrick knelt at the altar in St. Mary's church in the Butts in Reading and looked up at the stained glass while she prayed for her brother. Or tried to pray. She wished there was some sort of answer or reassurance, but her words and thoughts seemed to disappear into the void. Her brother James had managed to get himself killed on the plains of Montreal, and the news had finally reached Reading six months later. A short note, with a package, waited for her at the family solicitors. The family, what was left of it, put a plaque in the church and held a funeral service.
She couldn't even cry any longer. When her mother died six years ago, she'd been disconsolate. It seemed she had weeped for a year. Only her dashing and handsome big brother, on leave, had helped to chase the grief away. He taught her to fence and indulged the 'tom-boy' in her by helping her to ride to hounds and hunt the deer. It didn't remove the ache, but dulled it and made life livable again. Her father died last year, but that was a merciful release for him after years of pain. Somehow it was a fitting close when he joined his wife under the narrow stone in the churchyard outside. Now it was James' turn to be grieved for.
She stared at the window and wondered if anyone was listening. “Lord, if you could, give me a break. Please.”
As usual silence was all she heard. That is until the vicar tapped her on the shoulder and quietly asked her if she were ready to see the solicitors now. She turned and looked at him. Mr. Reddick was a handsome young man, and safely married to an old friend of hers Mary. Frances said, “Oh yes. I suppose I must.”
“Do you need a companion?”
“It would be nice.”
“Unfortunately, I have a christening and two marriages to perform today. However, Mrs. Reddick would be happy to escort you.”
Frances smiled, maybe someone was listening. “I'd be pleased if Mary could accompany me. She knew James well. They'd often danced at the assemblies.”
Mr. Reddick nodded. It had been something of a shock to society when Mary chose him over a dashing young captain. He still couldn't always believe in his good fortune. Frances saw the flicker of doubt in his eyes and said, “My friend showed her good sense when she married you Mr. Reddick.”
Mary escorted her down the narrow alley behind the church to Broad street and into the solicitor's office. They waited together for him, and then entered the dusty, close space he called his office. He coughed to clear his throat and then went through the will and entailments on the Calcot estate.
The form of the strictures on the estate held few surprises for Frances. She, as a young woman, was not considered fit to run the estate. It was held in trust for her, until she married. Then it would belong to her husband, and he could do with it as he saw fit. There was a small allowance reserved for her to use for dresses and entertainments. Enough that she wouldn't go naked, but too little for a jaunt to London or Bath. Mr. Jones asked if she had any questions. Frances said, “No, although I thought the allowance was more generous.”
“It hasn't changed since the original entail in the days of William and Mary.”
“I see. It's not much money. Is there anyway to increase it?”
“Think of it as an inducement to marriage.”
Mr. Jones left her to consider the situation for a few moments and then he said, “Miss Kendrick, in addition to the formalities, your brother left you this package.” He pointed to a large, obviously heavy, bundle of long objects. “His instructions are that you read this note first.”
“If I may have it.” Mr. Jones handed it to her and she began to read it. At first quietly and then aloud.
Dear Brat,
If you're reading this, then I'm camping with the angels, or perhaps with the devils. In any case, I'll have done my bit for England and be buried in some foreign land.
Don't grieve too long or too hard for me. I had a good run, and took the most I could out of life. I suspect your friend Mary and that vicar of hers are sitting with you. Give them my regards. I wish I could have attended their wedding.
I'm sorry about the allowance from the estate. It ought to be larger, but Father and I have been a drain on the resources. Old Mr. Jones will see that the mortgages get paid off.
No doubt you're wondering what's in the package. Knowing you, you've already guessed. It's my spurs and my swords. Use them well.
With Love,
James Kendrick
Captain 66th foot regiment.
Frances put the letter down and flushed a stray tear from her eye with a handkerchief. Then she said, “Can I see the package?”
Mr. Jones put it on the desk in front of them. He said, “Are you sure you want these? I could keep them safe here.”
Frances replied, “I need to see them. They're his gift to me.” She tore open the package and found two swords and his spurs. One sword was his ceremonial sword, engraved and gilt-encrusted. The other was the sword he carried when he was a lieutenant. It was a heavy serviceable rapier with a sweat-stained handle. The guard was dented and scratched. Frances held it and thought. Then she said, “Mr. Jones. Could you look after this ceremonial sword? I think I'll keep this one and his spurs with me.”
“If you wish, Miss Kendrick.”
“Thank you. You know he taught me to fence with this sword.”
“Really?”
“Yes, I have a smaller one like this at home and a couple of foils. But this is my new favorite.”
Back out on the street after saying their farewells, Mary asked her friend, “Frances, you could stay with us if you want. That mansion is so big and you could be lonely.”
Frances said, “No. It's home. I'll be fine there.”
“At least let me get you a cab and come with you. It's a long walk alone.”
“That would be perfect. Why don't you leave a message at St. Mary's? That way Mr. Reddick can join us for dinner.”
Late that evening, as she was preparing for bed, Frances pulled the sword from its sheath and looked at it in the flickering candle light. It was fine steel and still held an edge. She told her maid, “You know, Martha. I think I'll keep this with me. To scare the nightmares and megrims away.”
“If you wish, Ma'am. I might put it back in its sheath first.”
Even later that evening, Frances awoke to the sound of scrabbling outside of her window. She was about to turn over and go back to sleep when the crackling noise as one of the panes of glass was detached from the frame forced her to be fully awake. When the sound of the latch opening followed, she pulled the sword from its sheath and sat, behind her bed curtains, wondering what she should do.
The window opened and Frances could hear a muffled discussion between the cracksmen outside.
“Come on lad, up and over. You'll never be a Ken-Miller if you hesitate.”
“There's someone there.”
“Na, it's just your nerves. The upright man said the house 'ud be empty. What with the funeral and all.”
“I can hear breathing.” Frances fought to keep her breath quiet.
“Lad, get thee in, or Captain-Tom will whip you. Any road, I'm just behind so no fear.”
The younger thief carefully lifted himself through the window and stealthily walked to the door beyond. “I'm in, at the door. Won't be bothered.”
The words, “Good Lad.” were followed by the louder noise as the older and heavier cracksman lifted himself over the sill. “Damn-me, I'm getting to old for this. Still it's better than forking for a living.” Frances could hear steps as he approached the bed. “The curtains are drawn. Wonder why?”
He pulled them open and found out as Frances lunged forward and put her sword through his belly. Withdrawing the sword as he fell she pointed it at the younger man and shouted, “Stand there or I'll do you too.” He shook and said, “No Ma'am, no. I'll stay still. Don't run me through.” Frances walked round until she could reach the bell pull and rang with all her might.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chapter 3 of the Mysterious Mr. Willis


Strangers.

True to his word, and accompanied by both Michael and Millie, Mr. Willis knocked on the rectory door early that afternoon. Millie had changed back into clothes suitable for her status as a bar-maid, while Michael and Mr. Willis were dressed for a walk in the country. Somehow Mr. Willis' simple, neat clothing gave him an air of elegance that belied his wild swept-back hair and perpetually surprised-looking visage. Mr. Willis asked after Miss Milton. Her brother replied, “She is not available.”
His wife interrupted him, saying “What do you mean, Henry? Of course my sister is available.”
“Mrs. Milton,” Henry said, “I’d rather she not walk with this Mr. Willis.”
“Why not? I know you two didn’t like each other at university, but he seems a personable enough young man, and she will be well chaperoned.”
“Major Hogan is arriving this evening.”
“Major Hogan, Major Hogan, Major Hogan. Is that all you can think about? Suppose he and she don’t like each other? What then.”
“He’s rich and well-connected. It would be an ideal match. She would be foolish to throw her lot in with anyone else.”
“Fine. Why don’t you wait for him? Mr. Willis, may I accompany your party?”
Mr. Willis said, “If you feel up to the walk, I see no reason why not.”
Marianne overheard this discussion as she descended from her room. “Ruth, did you want to come? That would be first rate.”
“Just let me get my hat.”
They headed out onto Tidmarsh Road, then Mr. Willis asked, “Where would you like to explore, Miss Milton?”
“Ruth? I'm partial to trying upstream along the Thames again.”
“Wherever.”
Mr. Willis frowned, and then said, “Miss Milton, there won't be anything to see there. I came that way this morning.”
“No barriers or warnings?”
“What warnings? If we're to be back this evening, might I suggest we walk to Upper Basildon? It's a pleasant stroll.”
Marianne searched Mr. Willis' face and seeing no hint of a joke, said, “I suppose your lot at the park aren't blowing anything up today.”
“My lot? Whatever can you mean. I suggested Upper Basildon as it will give Mrs. Milton a chance to tour her husband's parish. We can stop at the Red Lion for refreshments and then return in plenty of time for you to greet your Major George Hogan.”
“How did you know his first name, we didn't tell it to you.”
“Is there another Major Hogan? The Major Hogan I know is recruiting for the 62nd. It's a step above the militia, but still a line regiment.”
The walk to Upper Basildon was simple enough. They followed a lane up a gentle incline for a couple of miles until they reached a small village.
Once they arrived, Mr. Willis said, “Hot thirsty work, that. Shall I see about refreshments in the Red Lion?”
Much to Marianne's chagrin Millie added, “Oh, do let me come with you. I'm ever so good at carrying trays.” Michael just nodded his assent to the idea. They entered the inn together.
A minute later, Mr. Willis came out in a hurry. “I'm sorry Miss and Mrs. Milton, but we must go, and now.”
“Why?”
“Michael, would you discuss arrangements with Miss Ellis?” Michael nodded and entered the inn.
Mrs. Milton demanded, “What is going on, Mr. Willis? Surely we can refresh ourselves here.” Marianne noticed that Mr. Willis' face was more drawn and he looked far more anxious than normal. He kept glancing along the lane. She said, “Mr. Willis, perhaps it is best if we join Mr. Morgan and Miss Ellis inside?”
“Ah, yes. That's a good idea. Sorry if it's a bit low company for you, but if you would.”
When she entered, Marianne saw Michael and Millie in deep discussion with the inn-keeper. The expected mugs and ale were nowhere to be seen. She started to say, “Millie?” when Mr. Willis quieted her. Mr. Willis walked over and listened to the mummer of conversation. Then he clearly said, “Michael, you should go the back way, down Blandy's lane and alert the park. Bring someone back.” Michael stiffened and almost saluted him, then quickly left the inn, only pausing to give the two Milton's a quick bow. Manners were important, even in what was evidently an emergency. Mr. Willis turned and loudly asked “Mrs. Milton and Miss Milton, what would you have? Miss Ellis has placed her order, and I'll have a pint of your best bitter.”
Marianne asked for a half pint of cider, as did Ruth. Then Marianne quickly walked over to Millie and whispered, “What's going on? We saw nothing amiss on the way here.”
Millie paused, trying to find a non-informative but believable answer when two rough-looking men walked into the pub. They looked, and smelt, like “Navy's”, the itinerant workers who dug canals or “Macadamized” roads. However, what they were doing this far from any work gang was something of a puzzle. Their wide-brimmed hats and muddy brown outer clothes were in marked contrast to Mr. Willis' neat clothing. The larger of the two swaggered up to the bar and asked in a voice that had a slight touch of an Irish accent, “Two pints barkeep and don't be tardy man.”
“Yes, sir”
The smaller of the pair tugged on the others' sleeve and he looked around at the Mr. Willis' party. “What are you looking at?”
Marianne noticed Millie put her hand into her reticle and heard what sounded like a click. At the same time she saw Mr. Willis shift his grip on his cane. Mr. Willis calmly said, “Nothing. We were just enjoying some refreshments after a walk from Pangbourne. May I ask what brings you gentlemen to Upper Basildon?”
The larger man gave Mr. Willis a belligerent stare and said, “You may, but we mayn't answer.”
The smaller man tugged on the larger one's sleeve again and whispered something in his ear. Marianne thought she could hear a small amount of French. The larger man relaxed, then smiled and said, “We're not looking for a fight if that's what you mean. We just got tired of digging canals – looking for farmwork now.”
“I wouldn't know about that, but I wish you luck.” Mr. Willis touched his left eyebrow with his right hand, which was the recognition sign for General Ludd's men. They did not raise the countersign.
“We tried at that Basildon farm but they told us to shove off.”
“Not surprised, they're a picky bunch. If you're good with horses you might have better luck towards Newbury.”
“Aye that we might. Then again we mightn't.”
The two men retired in silence to one side of the tap room while Mr. Willis and his party sat on the other. While Millie kept one eye on the two men, Mr. Willis asked Ruth, “Mrs. Milton what do you think of the countryside around Pangbourne?”
“The countryside is beautiful. Now if something could stop those awful explosions.” At the word 'explosions', the two men sat alert, straining to hear what was being said.
“You know, a few days ago in the afternoon and if Marianne is to be believed the day before.”
“Oh, those. That's just quarrying for Mapleduram house. They're blasting rocks.”
Marianne said, “Really? I've heard quarrying before, and it was never that loud.”
“The rock is much harder around here. They use more powder. That's all.”
“I suppose you're right.”
The larger of the two men stood and then swaggered over to them. He said to Mr. Willis, “You seem to know something about the blasts. Who are you?”
Marianne listened in amazement as Mr. Willis lied to him, “Dr. James, the apothecary from Pangbourne, and you?”
“That 'ud be telling, wouldn't it?”
“That's why I asked. I'd like to know. Just in case I have to treat you sometime. Things happen, you know.”
The smaller man sprang up and dashed over. Marianne could hear his distinctive French accent as he said to the larger one, “Let them go. They're just locals out for a walk.”
“I'm not sure. This one looks like that Willis chap we're after.”
“Let them go.”
Seizing the initiative, Mr. Willis rose and ushered his friends out. As they left, Marianne noticed that Millie intently studied the two men and that her hand was holding something hidden within her reticle.
Once they were aways down the road, Marianne asked both Mr. Willis and Millie, “What was that about?”
“What?”
“Those men. Why did you lie to them and why were they looking for you?”
“I'm sorry, but I can't tell you.” He turned to Millie and said, “Neither can you Miss Ellis.”
Marianne continued, “But?”
“There are things it is better that you not know about. Those men are some of them.”
Ruth asked, “What about Mr. Morgan? Will he be joining us again?”
“He'll be back tonight. Before he was my valet he enjoyed no little prominence in the ring.”
The smaller of the two men from the inn ran down the road towards them. He shouted, “Mr. Willis, Mr. Willis!” as he approached. Mr. Willis did something with his cane as he turned to face him. Marianne noticed that Millie reached into her reticule again, with the same tell-tale click that she heard in the inn.
The man stopped, panting, and said in his correct but French-accented English, “Mr. Willis please save me. We have corresponded in the past.”
“Who are you?”
“Mr. Fournier,” he panted, “Paris, thermodynamics, high pressure gases.” There was a long pause as Mr. Willis thought. The man continued, “When they catch me they'll shoot me, like that clumsy oaf Sean.”
Mr. Willis finally said,“Mr. Fournier, I am so glad to meet you at last. What are you doing here?”
“Can't you guess?”
“Oh. That. Yes I see your problem. I'll do what I can.” He bowed to Miss Milton and her sister-in-law and then said as an explanation, “I'm sorry, but Miss Ellis and I will have to leave you now. Pangbourne is just a short distance down this road.” Miss Ellis and Mr. Willis escorted Mr. Fournier back up the road towards his uncertain fate.
Marianne stared at them as they walked away, then she said to her sister-in-law Ruth, “Well of all the nerve. To leave us here alone. And then to go off with that Ellis girl and that navy. What can have gotten in to him?”
Ruth pondered for a short time, then replied, “Marianne, there's more to this than meets the eye. What with the French threat, there are strange things afoot.”
“But Ruth?”
“We'd best hurry if we're to be home before Major Hogan arrives. You know how badly Henry wants you to meet him.”
“I suppose so.”
“I'm sure that Mr. Willis had good reasons for what he did. Let's see if you and the Major like each other.”
“How was he?”
“Personable enough. Definitely good looking. Rich, but not one to flaunt it. He set all the maiden's hearts aflutter at the Basingstoke assembly.”
“So in other words a good catch.”
“That's what your brother thinks, but it's your decision in the end.”
Major Hogan and Henry were waiting for them in the parlor when they finally arrived back at the rectory. They stood when the women entered. Major Hogan took Marianne's breath away. He was everything that Mr. Willis wasn't. He was tall, handsome, well-built, and dressed in a splendid red uniform. He projected an air of confidence and self-assurance when he bowed to Ruth and Marianne.
Henry asked, “Where are your escorts? I thought that Mr. Willis was taking you for a walk.”
Marianne replied, “He was, but then.”
Ruth continued, “We met a pair of ruffians. An Irishman and a Frenchman. The Frenchman, a Mr. Fournier or Fourier, something like that asked Mr. Willis for help. So he and Miss Ellis left us to find our own way home.”
Marianne said, “I thought it was most rude.”
Major Hogan asked, “Did they say anything about where they were taking Mr. Fournier?”
“Just that he would try to help him.”
The Major continued in the same vein, “He didn't say anything about 'the park' or something like that?”
“No. But Mr. Fournier, was it? He said that they would shoot someone called Sean.”
“Pity, but he knew the risks.”
“What?”
“I'm sorry, my mind was wandering. So Henry, is this your sister Marianne? I must say she is much better looking in person than you described.”
Marianne blushed and gave a nervous laugh. In the distance a faint drum roll could be heard. It was followed by the sound of a volley of Brown Bess's.”