Categories
Fiction The Highwayman

Rejoice and Resist – a Holiday Box Set for Repressive Times

I’m pleased that a new novelette featuring my highwayman will appear in Rejoice and Resistthe upcoming holiday box set from the Final Draft Tavern. The story is titled “The Highwayman Takes an Office,” and takes place four months before the beginning of Daring and DecorumIf you’ve read the novel, you’ll remember Robin mentioning vague reasons for decamping from London to Devonshire. That’s explained here in fuller, more gripping detail, since Robin is pressured on a number of fronts and faces a difficult decision. Also, one reader of D&D questioned how the highwayman so successfully avoided both murder and capture by the authorities. That’s explained here, too.

The box set includes stories from a variety of genres, and historical periods spanning four hundred years, from 1666 to the late 21st century. Some include time travel and paranormal activity, some are realistic; some are romance, some are horror, some are political. But they all feature characters pushing back against the repressive regimes of their day. (In mine, Robin participates on the fringes of a mass protest against the Treason and Sedition bills of 1795.)

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of “The Highwayman Takes an Office,” with a fuller description of the box set below that. Also, don’t forget to join us at our pre-launch party on Facebook, this coming Monday afternoon/evening. And if you share the event on Facebook, you’ll be entered to win a $5 Amazon gift card (our answer to not having a Russian troll farm to spread the news for us).


In this excerpt from the beginning of the story, Robin and the gang have just finished holding up a carriage.

Our horses chuffed and blew as we drew to a halt in a wood north of the Mile End Road. Red Jack gave his own whistle of relief as he pulled alongside me.

“All righ’?” Tom asked, reining in on Jack’s other side.

“Oh, plummy,” said Jack, holding out his gloved hand so we could see it shake.

Sam brought his horse to stand in front of us, pulling down his black cloth mask to speak. “I thought you’d bought it, I did.”

“It were close, weren’t it?” said Jack.

“Too close,” I said.

Tom gave a laugh. “But did ye see the lamps on that lordling when his stick misfired?”

“Aye,” Jack said, “how could I help it? He was staring right at me.”

Jack had rewarded the coachman’s foolhardy attempt at self-defense by leaping onto the box and clouting him on the pate with his own pistol. Now the fellow was lying in the ditch, no doubt attended to by the carriage’s footmen, while we made our escape, gold and valuables in hand.

“Here,” Tom said, pulling a flask from within his coat. He looked at me, receiving a nod before passing it on to Jack. We usually didn’t tipple on the job, but Jack deserved it after his recent experience. He pulled his mask down and took a long swallow, his face pale in the tree-dappled moonlight.

Tom watched him, his brow furrowed. “Why didn’t you plug him in the first place, eh, before he could fire on you?”

“Tom…” I began.

“I don’t know.” Jack shook his head. “It’s been so long since anyone’s drawn on us.”

I leaned over and put a hand on his shoulder. “You’re a buff cove, Jack. You kept our streak alive.”

“Aye, the streak.” Tom hawked and spat on the ground. “That bloody streak’ll get us killed, it will.”

We’d been two years on the highway and never killed a man. Tom had put a ball through a footman’s arm early on, but soon our reputation for genteel behavior had spread. The Burgundy Highwayman and his noble lads never harmed their victims if they could avoid it; even the prettiest young misses had nothing to fear from them. In time, being robbed by our gang became something to boast of, the young ladies rhapsodizing over the highwayman’s flashing eyes and gallant speech as he demanded their baubles.

“Tom, but for the streak, our marks would often draw on us.”

“Streak or no, Robin, the marks are growing bold,” Sam said.

“Aye, you may be right. But come, time to change togs and move on. We’ll share out the regulars farther along.”

I dismounted Juno, my black mare. Off came the tailcoat of claret velvet and the French cocked hat. Out from my saddlebags came a greatcoat, and in went the coat and hat, the latter becoming somewhat crushed, an unavoidable hazard if we wanted to fool any who might give chase. Last, off came the mask, just a square of black cloth.

Around me, the lads did likewise in practiced unison. The quick getaway, an immediate change of dress, never more than one job in a night, and a constant shift in location: through measures such as these, we had kept ahead of Bow Street’s runners. Many a highwayman had gotten his neck stretched through greed or a fondness for a favorite spot, not to mention a fondness for drink and boasting of his exploits in his favorite flash house. Coming up through the criminal ranks, I’d heard all the mistakes, and I was determined to make none of them.

But Sam was right, our marks were showing more resistance. Two years made a long career for any highwayman, yet we were still far from that goal we all most desired: what those in the life call doing the trick, achieving independence and leaving the criminal life for good. This was not the time to turn from the methods which had brought us this far. Yet tonight’s events made me wonder just how much longer we had in this game before it ended with the blast of a pistol or the rough caress of the hangman’s nooses around our necks.


Come share a drink in the Back Room of the Final Draft Tavern, where for nearly a millennium, the Marchand family and their cat, Whiskey, have led travelers through time and space: rebels and dissenters, heroes and villains, artists and lovers. These seven short stories feature characters united through the ages by resistance to tyranny, and celebrating the right to speak truth to power. Rejoice and Resist will amuse and entertain, but also inspire you to call out oppression, demand human rights, question the status quo, and stand up to be counted.

Travel backward and forward through time with multiple authors and fiction genres: drama, horror, women’s fiction, historical fiction, time travel, historical or contemporary romance, and paranormal. Shoot through the lens of a photographer or the pistol of a highway brigand; meet death with a ghost-writer, or a president and his cabinet with a deck of cards; brave life in a new country, or just in a new era of civil rights; or conceal yourself in time with an orphan of the apocalypse.

Whatever role you take in the struggle toward justice, step through a secret passageway and pull up a barstool, let the closest Marchand pour you a libation, and celebrate the holiday season with the Speakeasy Scribes.

Find out more about The Final Draft Tavern on our Facebook page, which includes historical tidbits and excerpts from all the stories. 

Image of a 1920s bar

Categories
Fiction News The Highwayman

Blog Tour Update

The blog tour for Daring and Decorum is going well, and a couple of new dates have been added.

Here’s what’s new and upcoming:

  • Cover of Blind Tribute by Mari Anne ChristieTomorrow, 7/28, I’ll be part of Mari Christie’s Facebook release party for her new Civil War novel, Blind Tribute. The event lasts from 5-9 p.m. ET, and features several authors of historical fiction, with Mari kicking things off and closing it down with a livestream. I’ll be in the 5:30-6 slot, with some excerpts and research bits. Hope you can join us!
  • Author Jennifer Senhaji will host an excerpt from D&D in which Elizabeth rebuffs Anthony, Lord Burnside’s, hesitant advances. She knows he doesn’t have the will to defy his parents, who will never approve of him marrying a vicar’s daughter. Date to be decided. Hope you’ll check out Jennifer’s site.
  • Jessica Cale will host a backstory extra on her author site this Saturday. The story takes place four years before the events of Daring and Decorum, and gives deep backstory on Rebecca. This is the most Gothic part of Rebecca’s whole tale, and involves bleak moors, a crumbling manor, lots of blood, and a couple of dead bodies, not to mention a bumbling country constable.

And here are links to the blog stops that have already taken place, as well as a couple of other tidbits from works in progress.

  • Picture of a castle, a woman and cups of teaElizabeth had a very successful tea with the Duchess of Haverford, managing to dodge some of Her Grace’s more impertinent questions.
  • Anthony’s lovelorn letter to Elizabeth appeared on Mari Christie’s website — is it any wonder he burned it, rather than sending it? Good thing, too; if it got out that she was involved in secret correspondence with a nobleman, it could ruin her reputation.
  • Cover of Stevenson's "The Beggar's Benison."I was very pleased with the response to my article about the Beggar’s Benison, that freaky Scottish sex club, over on Jessica Cale’s DirtySexyHistory. (NSFW, obviously.)
  • I was back on Jude Knight’s blog last Sunday, with an excerpt in which Rebecca and Elizabeth confront a drunken Anthony and two of his wastrel friends. Hmmm, I wonder how that drunken lord came to be sprawled on the pavement in front of Bath’s Assembly Rooms? (Not solely from his inebriation, I assure you.)
  • There was some intriguing gossip about my highwayman (known in London as the Burgundy Highwayman) over at the Teatime Tattler yesterday.

Image of a 1920s bar from The Final Draft Tavern on Facebook

  • At The Final Draft Tavern Facebook page, I offered up a bit of my research into 18th-century highwaymen, including how I think Robin stayed away from the Bow Street Runners and also avoided killing anyone in the course of many carriage robberies. The Final Draft will be publishing a holiday box set featuring my story, “The Highwayman Takes an Office,” along with stories by six other writers.
  • Jude Knight offers up excerpts from works in progress on Wednesdays, and invites other authors to join in with an excerpt of their own on the same theme. Yesterday’s theme was “transport,” and I submitted an excerpt from Silence and Secrecy (the second in my highwayman series) showing the comings and goings at a village coaching inn, where Rebecca and Elizabeth have gone to escort an arrogant professor of botany out of town. Check out her post, featuring an awkward carriage ride, and then you’ll find my excerpt in the comments.
  • I reviewed Mari Christie’s Blind Tribute, which I thoroughly enjoyed, over at Goodreads.

That’s it for now. Hope you find some of these excerpts and other bits enjoyable.

Categories
Author Spotlight Books The Highwayman

Daring and Decorum Blog Tour

Daring and Decorum book coverDaring and Decorum will be featured on several blogs and websites over the coming weeks, ramping up to its release on August 1. Mostly this is bonus material, like letters characters never sent, character interviews, and more. This is my first blog tour, so I’m just dipping my toe in the water — some writers do ten or more guest spots for a single release.

The tour starts tomorrow. The schedule is below, but first, thanks to the wonderful women of the Final Draft Tavern, the Speakeasy Scribes and the Bluestocking Belles for hosting me on their various sites.

  • Monday, July 17: Elizabeth will visit with the Duchess of Haverford on Jude Knight’s website. Look for Lizzie to try to sell some watercolors, while Her Grace gleans whatever information she can about her visitor’s relationship with a certain highwayman, for obscure purposes.
  • Wednesday, July 19: Mari Christie’s website will feature an extra that doesn’t appear in the novel, a letter from Anthony, Lord Burnside, to Elizabeth. The missive is quite improper, being a private communication in which Anthony makes some very indiscreet disclosures, which explains why Anthony never put it in the mail. (Also on Wednesday, Mari will be here with a spotlight on her new Civil War novel, Blind Tribute.)
  • Sunday, July 23: I’ll have an article on Jessica Cale’s Dirty, Sexy History focusing on an eighteenth-century Scottish sex club devoted to the “convivial celebration of the phallus.” The Prince of Wales was its most prominent, not to say its largest, member.
  • Wednesday, July 26: The Bluestocking Belles’ Teatime Tattler will feature some intriguing news about the sudden departure from London of the highwayman (known in that town as the Burgundy Highwayman), and a bit of gossip about the rogue’s actions in Devonshire.
  •  Sunday, July 30: Jude Knight will have a Spotlight feature on Daring and Decorum, including an excerpt in which Rebecca and Elizabeth are accosted by a drunken Anthony and two of his wastrel friends.

And a final tidbit: you’ll find an excerpt from a new story, told from Robin’s perspective, over on The Final Draft Tavern Facebook page. The story will appear in a holiday box set, due out this fall. The stories by seven different authors are set in different periods, from the 17th century through modern-day and onwards into an apocalyptic future. All feature the tavern as it evolved through time (sometimes appearing as a coffeehouse, as in my 18th-century story), and also the radicals and reformers who frequent it as they struggle against whatever repressive regime was in power. The holiday theme makes its appearance in various ways, sometimes sardonic, as you’ll see in this excerpt. Hope you’ll check it out!

Categories
The Highwayman

Daring and Decorum Cover Reveal

It’s here, the moment I’ve been waiting for (and you too, I hope!): I can now reveal the cover of Daring and Decorum, along with pre-order info. 

Ta-da!

Daring and Decorum book cover

 

I love the bold way Robin looks at the viewer, don’t you? Exactly what I imagined when I wrote my highwayman.

The release date is August 1, but you can pre-order the novel right now. The ebook links are below, but you’ll truly warm this writer’s heart if you contact your local bookseller and request a print copy in advance. (UPDATE: The print book is now available for pre-order through your local bookseller and also through Amazon.uk. Not on Amazon.com yet.)

Amazon | Amazon UK | Website | Smashwords

If you’d like a preview before buying, the first three chapters are available here.

Categories
On Writing The Highwayman

The Highwayman’s Quarry – Thieves’ Cant

The Thieves Den -18th-c engraving by William Hogarth

“Mill the gig with a betty, then we’ll strip the ken and backslang it out of here. I’ll lumber the swag at the stalling crib and we’ll be up in the stirrups.”*

One of the fun parts of writing a story set in the underworld of 18th-century London is getting to use Thieves’ Cant, or flash speech. What is Thieves’ Cant? It was a secret language attributed to criminals, mostly in Great Britain, beginning in the 1500s. Whether thieves actually used this language to disguise their activities, or whether it was invented by writers of pamphlets about thieves’ culture and dictionaries of their language, there seems no telling; probably there was a little of both. The speech became popular in Elizabethan theatre, and in the 18th century the Bow Street runners (early police) were said to be familiar with it.

Many of the terms are still used today: crib, crack, fence, gams, and grub all meant roughly what they do in today’s slang (or maybe the slang of old Hollywood gangster movies). Now we call an alcoholic a lush; back then the word meant either an alcoholic drink or the state of being intoxicated, and a drunken man was a lushy-cove.

A buz-cove (pickpocket) caught in the act.
Categories
Fiction The Highwayman

The Highwayman’s Quarry – Swordplay

Errol Flynn sword fight image
“If this were a real sword fight, we’d both be bloody messes by now.”

(One in an occasional series of posts on the background material for my novel, Daring and Decorum. See the rest of the series here.)

When I decided to include a sword fight in Daring and Decorum: A Highwayman Novel (and how could I not, with Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword as a primary influence?), I faced several problems.

First, how realistic should the fight be? A duel with swords in the 1790s was nothing like what we might imagine from swashbucklers such as Robin Hood or Pirates of the Caribbean. As these two articles by fight choreographer Terry Kroenung point out, they were vicious, bloody affairs, and much deadlier than duels with pistols.

Hollywood has corrupted our concept of the sword duel.  It too often presents us with a pair of evenly-matched, exquisitely-talented, professionally-trained fencers whose icy demeanor never cracks as they thrust and parry with elegant abandon, like a pair of psychic ballet dancers. While that makes for good theatre, it would not have been the norm in late Georgian England.

Categories
Fiction The Highwayman

The Highwayman’s Quarry – The Music

Dick Turpin, one of the most famous of highwaymen
Dick Turpin, one of the most famous of highwaymen

(One in an occasional series of posts on the background material for my novel, Daring and Decorum. See the rest of the series here.)

I thought I’d post a collection of songs and other music that influenced or actually appear in Daring and Decorum: A Highwayman Novel. Most of them have to do with highwaymen, of course, but a couple are socialist/labor folk songs. I’ve also included some of the pieces Elizabeth and her friend Rebecca might have enjoyed.

First up is the Roches’ version of “The Road to Fairfax County.” I believe it was the first song I ever heard about a woman falling in love with a highwayman. After robbing her, this highwayman gives back all her money, which probably influenced me to have my highwayman return Elizabeth’s necklace, scaling a drain pipe to enter her bedchamber in the middle of the night. (When updating this post with a better version of this tune, I found out that Maggie Roche passed away since I first posted this. RIP, Maggie!)

Wow, bleak, huh? What he gets for stopping to dally with a woman instead of keeping his wits about him, if you ask me.

Categories
Fiction The Highwayman

The Highwayman Chapter 3

(Chapter 1 is here.)

 

3

 

Wednesday morning arrived, and Father sent me into Leighton, but a mile’s walk from the Parsonage, to call on Mrs. Burgess and renew our invitation for that evening. I was putting on my bonnet in the foyer when a knock came at the door. Banks, our housekeeper, opened it to reveal Anthony.

“Oh, begging your pardon, I see I have caught you on your way out,” he said.

I gave a curtsy. “I was just on my way to Leighton. Will you walk with me?” Mrs. Simmons gave me a knowing look as I passed through the doorway.

Anthony was silent as we made our way out the gate and down the lane toward the village. It was a beautiful morning, with the sun providing unexpected warmth. Our way was bounded on one side by blackthorn hedges, now alive with the calls of the linnet, while the masses of delicate white flowers gave off a musky, sweet scent. On the other side, Holbourne’s pastures sloped upward from the valley through which the lane ran, shining a brilliant green.

As the silence lengthened, I couldn’t help remembering the games Anthony, Jamie, and I would play in those meadows when we were children. Anthony would organize games of pretend in which he played some hero of legend, usually King Arthur, while Jamie was Galahad or Parsifal or Lancelot; I, of course, was Guinevere, or perhaps some maiden in distress, guarded by a dragon. This was all fine for a time, for at that age I could imagine little for Guinevere to do but weave crowns of daisies. As collecting flowers was one of the things I liked best, along with watching the bees and the birds flit about, or any other activity of nature, this did not often trouble me. Yet there were times when I wanted to do more, to pick up a stick and join in the play-fighting, or to imagine we were all tramping off to the Holy Land together—for one of the Earl’s forebears had won renown and a title by fighting in the Crusades, creating another scenario for Anthony and Jamie to reenact—but always the answer was no.

“That would make you a camp follower, Lizzie,” Anthony would say. “Your father wouldn’t like it.” He and Jamie, both older, seemed to know what a camp follower was, but would never tell me.

“But what if I were Merlin?” I would demand.

“Merlin was a boy!”

“How do you know? He wore skirts, did he not?”

Anthony would glare at me then, deeply offended; these were but games for Jamie and me, but Anthony took them seriously, as training for his future position as Earl. Lacking a damsel in distress, he could have no opportunity to demonstrate his chivalry.

Later, we put aside such pastimes and Anthony went off to Eton and then Oxford. We saw each other when he was home on vacation, at parish functions, or sometimes when out riding, though on the latter occasions Jamie and Anthony would be far ahead. At the infrequent assemblies in Leighton’s village hall, I was careful to allow him two dances and no more, for by this time I had recognized that I would never be Anthony’s Guinevere.

Anthony must have been remembering those days of childhood as well, for at last he broke the silence by saying, “Elizabeth, I have been meaning to apologize for my behavior when the highwayman assaulted you.”

“Apologize? For what should you apologize? We were all of us in danger.”

“Yet I should have prevented his assault on you. It is a moment I will regret for the rest of my days. When I think that we used to play games of chivalry in this very spot, and then when the opportunity for true chivalry arose, I was not up to the challenge.”

I stole a glance to see him staring dejectedly at the lane before us. “Perhaps, in such a situation, a woman can get away with what a man could not. Had you provoked him more than you did, he might have shot you. And you did challenge him to a duel.”

“Empty bluff and bluster. I knew he wouldn’t honor such a challenge. No, it was my duty to protect you, and I failed. And now Father bids me to follow him to London.”

The silence lengthened once more. “You depart today, do you not?”

“We leave within the hour. I wanted to pay my respects before leaving.”

“It is most appreciated,” I said, employing that cautious reserve through which I had always hoped to safeguard both our hearts, though now my preoccupation with the highwayman also played a part. I was searching for a different subject for our conversation when he went on.

“Elizabeth, is there no chance your father will send you to London for the latter part of the season?”

I allowed him half a smile, careful not to let my gaze linger too long on his bright blue eyes or the smooth skin of his high cheekbones, tanned from his recent outings afield. “I’m sure he’s worried that an eligible bachelor would capture my heart and take me far from home.” Anthony knew as well as I that Father had not the means to send me, along with Mrs. Simmons, to London. “No, he is happy that I content myself with Devonshire society. It does not trouble me.”

He was silent for several moments more, then said, “I wish I could stay in Devon. Town is not for me—too crowded, too many people to know and their ranks to keep track of. I prefer it here in the country. I don’t see what London has to offer, and I grow tired of having my every move directed by my parents.”

I kept my attention on the lane ahead of me, unwilling to lead him farther into danger. “What is there to occupy you here, now that the sporting season has ended?”

But my efforts were of little use. He stopped in the lane and placed a hand on my arm, his voice low and filled with meaning as he replied, “More than you know, Lizzie.”

That was the moment at which, to please Father and Mrs. Simmons, I should have turned my pleading eyes upon him and asked, in all innocence, whatever could he mean? Following which, he would no doubt pour out his heart and kiss my hand, pledging that he would stand up to his father in choosing a mate. But I knew how that would end, for I was sure that Anthony had not the heart to defy his father for long. And even if he did, where could it lead? For it was well known that the bulk of Holbourne’s lands were free of entail, and Lord Highdown could dispose of them as he wished, leaving Anthony the poorest Earl in the kingdom when he took the title. Would Anthony commit himself to a life of relative poverty and humiliation in order to marry me? I was certain not. The inevitable result would be heartbreak for us both, the loss of our friendship, and my own reputation sullied as the foolish girl taken in by the frivolous romances of a nobleman.

Now I was glad for all my father’s training, as it allowed me to steady myself for what I must do. “Come now,” I said, masking my true feelings with more playfulness than I felt. “I haven’t a doubt that you will be a great hit in the ton. Half the eligible girls will be falling over themselves to capture your attentions. You will make your parents very happy and proud.”

For a moment he seemed to consider defying his parents’ wishes, proclaiming allegiance to his own heart, but then his expression grew more determined as his upbringing as a gentleman and heir to the Earldom asserted itself. “You have always been my greatest friend, Lizzie. You always have much better sense than I do.”

“You sound as if you are off to war! I hope we will be the best of friends for years to come, when our children are playing together on family visits.”

I gazed at him as calmly as I could, then we continued our walk, maintaining our silence until we reached the joining of the lane that led to his family’s estate, where we bid our farewells. I continued toward town, conscious of a certain hypocrisy in urging my friend to ignore the demands of his own heart, when I could not quiet my own thoughts after one kiss from a stranger, and a rogue at that. I was glad to have the distraction of a new acquaintance to divert my attention as I approached Mrs. Burgess’s house in town.

 

* * *

 

Mrs. Burgess greeted me cordially in her parlor, rising from her embroidery work; again I noticed how tall she was. She wore a white morning dress, with her brown hair done up in a mass of curls at the top and a fringe falling in back to the base of her neck. She mentioned how glad and grateful she was for the invitation to dinner that evening, her smile lighting up her whole face, the skin around her brown eyes crinkling.

I asked her how she had hit upon Leighton as a site for her new abode.

“Oh, I am only a tenant here for now. I had thought of finding a fine house in Exeter—or, that is, my brother had thought of finding one for us—but I found the air unhealthy, and I was troubled by the recent riots. Perhaps soon I will find a house within my means in the country hereabouts. In the meantime, I am glad to find such welcoming and congenial neighbors.”

At this point we were interrupted by the elderly housekeeper bringing in the tea things.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Mrs. Burgess said, as she set about pouring the water. “I know it’s not the time for it, but I thought you might enjoy some refreshment after your walk.”

I consented, though I thought it an odd time of day for tea, and we continued talking about village life and the weather for several minutes more, until I realized I was in danger of overstaying my visit. As I was making my excuses and rising to leave, Mrs. Burgess reached across the space between our seats and placed a restraining hand on my arm.

“Oh, please, don’t rush off. The Captain and I never held with these rules of decorum that require visits of such a length and no longer. If we are enjoying each other’s company, why should you not stay as long as you like?” She said it with such energy and affability that I could not deny her. “Besides, you haven’t finished your tea, and I have yet to learn what are your favorite books and music, and what beaux are vying for your attentions at present.”

“Oh, I have beaux without number,” I said with a casual air.

“Well, of course you do! With such a fine manner and attractive—” She broke off as I looked at her steadily. “Oh, you mean you have none! You quite took me in.” She smiled, as if pleased to have been gulled in this way. “But you have no suitors? I find that difficult to credit.”

I mentioned the light populace of our region of Devonshire, and the surprising plenitude of young ladies compared to gentlemen. I did not mention Anthony. “But in truth, it is not a topic to which I give much thought,” I said, hoping not to continue a subject on which I had too much discourse with my other friends.

“I agree. Too much contemplation of one’s prospects can be gauche.” She offered me a slice of cake, which I declined. “And what of your family? Mrs. Simmons said your brother is overseas?”

“Yes, these past two years. He was in India the last we heard. We are grateful his ship has avoided engagements with the French, though he regrets the missed opportunities for action and renown.”

“And your mother?” she asked. She took a sip of her tea, as if she had just asked about the weather.

I looked down at my own cup. “She passed when I was eleven.”

“That must have been difficult.”

I nodded, staring at the swirling patterns my spoon was making. Thus far I had enjoyed this unusually intimate introductory visit, but now we had entered on a topic hardly appropriate for such an occasion.

The silence between us lengthened. “I lost my own mother when I was eight,” Mrs. Burgess said. “It took me some time to realize she was gone forever. Did you find that with your own loss?” She gazed at me with more concern than really proper from a near stranger.

“No—perhaps because I was older.” To distract myself from this discomfiting conversation, I turned my attention to a drawing that hung over the fireplace. It showed the mustering of a hunt before a grand manor house. But for the perspective being off, it would have been a lovely scene. This was the price of my education in drawing—instead of simply enjoying another artist’s performance, I must always consider its technical merits. The drawing must have come as part of the furnishing of the house, I thought.

I was ready to ask about it when Mrs. Burgess went on. “Nothing can replace a mother’s love, can it?”

Really, this was too familiar. “Mrs. Simmons has taken good care of my brother and me,” I said at length.

“Of course she has. I could see the love with which she spoke of your brother on the day we met. I had a governess as well, a kind, matronly woman. But it cannot be the same, can it? The loss of a mother at such a young age—it must change one in some irrevocable way, mustn’t it?”

I looked all about the room as I struggled to formulate an answer. “I hardly know. Father—Father praised me for bearing the loss so well. If I mentioned her, he would cut me off by exclaiming over the bravery I had shown up to then.”

“So it did change you.”

I nodded. “I became the brave little girl Father wanted me to be.”

“And you never grieved for your mother.”

It was impertinent of her to speak as if we were already intimates; yet, seeing the tender look she gave me, I felt none of the impropriety of such familiarity. “No,” I whispered, my lip trembling. How quickly she had pierced my reserve!

She reached out to put a hand on my arm. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to make you melancholy. It’s just that I’ve grown so used to talking about my mother and her loss; I didn’t realize it wasn’t the same for you.”

It was strange to realize that, in nine years, no one had shown as much concern for my mother’s death as this woman of the briefest acquaintance. As unusual as it was, I could not think it wrong. I left her house after overstaying my visit by three quarters of an hour, thinking she would make a welcome addition to the neighborhood.


 

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