Friday, December 30, 2011

Help me decide!

All right, guys. I need help deciding something. I'm entering the New Year's Contest hosted by The Penslayer, and Scribbles and Inkstains. The theme is First Impressions--whether of another character, a place, an object...and the story isn't supposed to be complete--it ought to have some coherency to it, but I'm not supposed to tell an entire story because I have to keep each entry to 200 words or less. :) That's kinda hard for me... :D Anyway, here are four of the ones I've written so far [I can only enter two] and I need help deciding which ones to enter. I have my own favorites, but I want to hear from "my public". ;) So without further ado here they are! Please tell me your two favorites!

"They Called her Queen"
By Rachel Heffington
             Frost on an autumn-fired maple—that was the picture emblazoned on my heart as I lifted her from the carriage and the early snow kissed the gleaming coils of her hair.
She was fairy-light in my arms, and the shine from the other footmen’s torches illuminated the emerald hue of her gown, echoing the same color in her eyes. Her tiny, slippered feet touched the cobbles and all at once she was vast leagues above me. Regal, proud, unattainable.  But I couldn’t tear my eyes from her—crimson lips parted in a quick, excited breath, eyes dancing with green stars and dark magic.
She pulled her velvet, cloak around her shoulders—it could have been made of rose petals it was so light—and shivered against the cold. It was such a pretty, confiding gesture, and bespoke her perfect knowledge of her power.
            “You’re…beautiful.” I hadn’t meant to say that aloud.
She laughed, and I joined her cold, silver trill with my own laughter. But somewhere in myself a mouse-thought nibbled and warned that my pride would be footing the bill for this present glory. But what did that matter? She laughed!
No wonder they called her Queen.

"At the Very Doorstep"
By Rachel Heffington 

They dangled above Hell’s gates. Or so it seemed to the young Welsh boy as the coal-elevator jerked downward, ever downward one agonizing shaft at a time. The sheer weight of the leagues of earth above him pressed the breath from his lungs. Raven-toothed shadows fought for precedence against the pale torches, the weak circles of light fighting to keep alive in the fag-ends of life they possessed.
He tried to envision the green fields of his village, his widowed mother, the reason he was here, but he could not breathe—all the remorse and sorrow of the world sunk to these depths and festered in the perpetual night.
That crash of rubble and the stifled cry behind it could belong to a miner, but he thought it far more likely it was a soul in torment, pleading for pardon. He and the smirched, vacant-eyed foreman with him were the fallen on their way to the utter depths. The clink and crash of iron against stone was not the picks of the workers—it was the devil’s own whip.
Lower, ever lower the elevator wobbled, and hotter the shadows smothered about him. They were at the very doorstep now.

"Goody Briarbeck"
By Rachel Heffington

Goody Briarbeck lippity-lipped to the stove and poured water into a chipped teapot. If an elderly rabbit from the grassy warren had put on a homespun petticoat and muslin apron it could not look more like this Oldest Inhabitant. Anna Cooley tapped her pencil against her journalist’s notebook and tried not to smile at the quaint ears of Goody Briarbeck’s kerchief, sticking up at pert angles atop her head.
 Anna had driven eight miles off the beaten track in her pony cart to cover this story. It wasn’t everyday one met a centenarian—but she was unprepared for the quaint figure that met her on the porch, and hustled her inside with a hopping, cheerful gait.
“Noo, why daid ye coom?” Goody asked, coming lippity-lippity back to the table with a tray of scones piled with cream.
 “To ask your secret for longevity, ma’am.”
Goody Briarbeck cuddled into her chair and twitched her nose, suddenly shy. Her bright black eyes peeped at the city-woman before her with a weighing expression. “It’s aisy enough. I raid m’Bible, I eat butter by th’tub, and I tak a coold bath ivvery mawnin’.”
Anna scrawled the answers into her notebook, a trifle disappointed. She had hoped for a more rabbit-like answer. Clover, perhaps, or carrots

"Writing Crumbs"
By Rachel Heffington

Camille Perkins checked her watch again. Thirty-three minutes late and counting. Where was Mr. Botetourt? For an editor interviewing a new client he was most unpunctual. And it was not helping her nerves.
She wandered to the bell and touched the rope, preparing to ring for the secretary, but a faint harrumph chased her back to her chair. When her cheeks cooled enough that she hoped she was no longer showing through her powder, Miss Perkins glanced upward into the face of an asthmatic-looking gentleman who squinted apologetically and breathed crumbs as if he’d just been dining off of spelling errors and rules of grammar.
“Where were you hiding, sir?” she asked, being so startled, she hadn’t time to think of proper manners.
“The garden, Miss Perkins, the garden.” Botetourt gestured to the raised window-sash and a half-eaten cookie tottering on the sill in a paragraph of crumbs. He bowed, coughed, and squinted. “I before ye until after tea. You know, Miss Perkins.” And he eyed her bulging portfolio with an expression suggestive of an after-dinner snack.
Miss Perkins hugged her precious novel tighter and wondered if she wanted to surrender it to this sort of creature after all.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"The Dragon's Heir"

I know I said I wouldn't write anything this week, but this came fairly easily and I've been wanting to write another short story for some time. Thus it is I give you,

"The Dragon's Heir"
 by Rachel Heffington
"And have you produced an heir, Henry?"
I cringed in my spot near the window, wishing I had the ability of a chameleon and could vanish on command into the pink roses in the drapes. It was the yearly question, the yearly humiliation. A question without answer, a riddle without end. Smoothing my skirt and staring into my teacup, I listened to the trumpet-like voice barrage my father with the same question.
Father bristled, mother shrank back in her chair, pale and worn and embarrassed. The rest of my extended family paused--stopped their card-playing, their piano-tinkling, their light chatter. The tension was palpable and it sent the blood flooding to my cheeks.
"There is no heir, as of yet, Uncle," my father said, and a world of reasonless shame weighed his words down and anchored them, shadow-wise in the room.
"What? Who has no hair?" my Aunt Honoria trumpeted like the tremendously deaf elephant she was in her voluminous petticoats and ribbons.
My uncle, Baron Herschelheim snorted like an angry bull and stalked across the floor, flicking his coattails behind him. "No heir? Nonsense. What'd you marry her for if she isn't capable of giving you children?"
"Uncle!" I hadn't realized I had spoken, and when the small, sallow face whipped around to scrutinize me, I pulled away.
"Well? What were you saying?"
I cast a desperate, pleading glance at my cousin, Fallwell, who lounged on the settee by my side. He and I were the best of chums, and my heart-words told me he was something dearer to me. Surely Fallwell could not sit by listening to my family being insulted in such a way?
Uncle Herschel, as we called him, stormed a step nearer and his breath whizzed thunder-like through his nostrils. "That's right. She did give birth to you, didn't she, Alisandra? Not much to look at, are you?"
I stood and Fallwell touched my trembling hand, his kind blue eyes imploring me to take courage. "I am not beautiful like my other cousins, sir," I said, and somehow with Fallwell's fingers on mine the admission didn't hurt as it usually did. "I may not be accomplished, or graceful--"
"She speaks the truth, she does!" Uncle Herchel's voice grated on my ear and passion flamed up in my heart.
"I speak the truth when I say that sons are not the only cherished children--the ability to bear children is not the only thing a woman is loved for. Some men, Uncle Herschel, have nobler, deeper, stronger character than to think along those lines."
Uncle Herschel laughed, and tears of frustration filled my eyes, longing to cool the heat inside me--but I would not let them. Uncle Herschel would think himself the victor if I cried.
"I have no need to have noble, deep, or strong character, niece." And the way he licked the word as he spat it forth suggested a niece was a kind of vermin, despised as a cockroach or head-lice. "I have money, and I want to see that my money will not die with your father and be entailed away--that it will continue in the line of our Family and live unto posterity long after I am gone."
"Who speaks of Prosperity?" Aunt Honoria bellowed again, and she stamped her little fat, slippered feet like a restless, ruffled, pachyderm.
Through my tears I saw the color ebbing and flowing into mother's cheeks as this duel for her honor continued. I was nowise fit to be a soldier in this type of war--I, who seldom spoke to anyone at family events, save Fallwell who made me speak--but I could not sit by while my mother was thus assaulted. "Then I will tell you, Uncle, the truth."
Several of my women-kin gasped and fans fluttered as maiden ears were covered and dowager eyes snapped at my boldness. I turned to Mother for permission, and she bowed her head, humbled and humiliated, but giving me the assent I required to continue. I stepped away from Fallwell's hand--it fed me courage, indeed it did, and loathe was I to leave his calming presence, but this was a battle I must fight on my own. Dragons cannot be slain except by a single victor.
My silken skirt swished across Uncle Herschel's polished, hard, wealthy boots. They were so like him I almost smiled. I stood on the red cabbage-rose in the very center of the carpet as I did every year when Father asked me to recite Cobbler Keezar's Vision for the family. The familiar clammy sensation enveloped me, but my eyes sought Mother's face, and my heart keened to erase that horrid grey color on her cheeks.
"There was a son, as you know, Uncle Herschel. He was a year younger than I, and well may you have had an heir were it not for a certain message you sent to Father. You summoned us--all of us--for a banquet at your manor, that you might show us off to your famous connexions. I was only four years old, but do not think I forgot that evening."
Uncle Herschel's countenance turned purple with rage, and I ground the toes of my kid-boots into the carpet, seeking comfort from the familiar give of the floor-board below. I knew every inch of this dear old house and loved it for its quirks. The fan-fluttering and Uncle Herschel's laboured breathing continued. I raised my eyes again and looked straight at him. "The roads were icy, and no sensible person would have attempted to travel, but we all know you have your descendents pegged beneath your will like slaves. Father would not disappoint you and risk being disinherited. We clambered into the carriage, wrapped well against the cold. You know the rest of the story. The carriage slid off the road and down an embankment. Little Wilhelm died. Mother was injured badly, but no one thought of her in the calamity of the sole heir's death." I stopped and stepped forward onto the parquet floor. Uncle Herschel blanched as I neared. My spine crackled with fear and disgust for this creature before me. "It was in trying to please you, Uncle, that Mother's son died. And it was in that accident that it became impossible for her to have children. It is your fault sir, and did we not all fear you so, you would have learned the bitter truth long ago."
The room swirled around me and faint voices mingled with the vague scent of potpourri from the crystal bowl beside me. I swayed, stumbled forward, then felt Fallwell's arms around me, and his dear voice telling me I had done valiantly. I relaxed in his strong grip and laid my head heavily on his blue, woolen-clad shoulder.
The dragon had been slain and I was the victor.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"I deserve neither such praise, nor such censure."

 As a passionate writer, it can be hard to realize that there are other pursuits I enjoy just as well...
"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure. I am not a great reader, and I enjoy many things."
I had not realized that I was neglecting my love for reading until I picked up Jan Karon's Home to Holly Springs and revelled in another author's writing like a man parched for water in a desert. My writing was suffering slightly from what I cannot explain as anything but over-working. Trying to be a fountain of inspiration when I'm dry as a bone. Just as in life one cannot pour love into another person with an empty cup, neither can an author pour life into her writing if she is not filling her mind with words other than her own.
Our minds are not so original we can thrive entirely on its own wanderings. We must feed it and cultivate it and then make it work. So this Christmas break I decided that I would not push myself to write anything unless it "came" to me. I will not work on the Gypsy Song or think about Puddleby Lane or anything else. I will instead read and read and read. It's a luxury I have not been allowing myself, but oh the joys of it! I have already been privileged to bury my nose in Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins, the aforementioned Home to Holly Springs, Elisabeth Elliot's A Chance to Die, and I plan to simply live in them for a little while, filling my mind with things other than my usual trails of thought.
It seems silly to say that I've forgotten my love for reading--I never quite did that, but I did forget how beneficial, how vital it is as an author to read nearly as much as you write. Otherwise your reader will detect a hint of staleness in your words that is the death-blow to any book. We want our writing to be alive, kicking, breathing, pulsing, nearly made of flesh and blood--not the skeleton of a good story hanging up in chains. :D
You have no idea how marvelous it felt to read Eight Cousins again. Louisa May Alcott and I, as far as writing goes, are soul-mates. I love her books--they hold a place in my heart that will never be effaced--and to once again wander the pages of those dear tales was as relaxing to me as a vacation, almost.
So here's to a week of reading other people's writing, and here's to renewed inspiration when I return! :)

Monday, December 26, 2011

"Ode to the Cough"

Bronchitis. Oh yes. It's the new nemesis to inspiration. Or perhaps, it is the new ally. I haven't decided. You see, at times it feels that I have coughed out any scrap of originality or wit in my poor body. Other times it makes me feel fiercely satirical, which usually results in something delightfully Mark Twain of me. :D
It is not doctor-official that I have bronchitis, but my cough is definitely of that peculiar kind that is deep seated, purring, and has the woof of a dog when it bursts forth.
Joy to the world and all that.
But lest you think I have quite coughed out my sense of humor along with my lungs, I have written something of an Ode to The Cough.
"Ode to The Cough"

In ages long and long ago
There lived a wise old sage
Who thought of things and read of things
And lived to an old age.
But then one day while wand'ring bout
The sage met with a Germ,
It manifested in a Cough
And stayed with him all term.

And ever since we've coughed and cuffed,
HArumphed, and crummed and shree-ed,
We've spastic-ized and spasm-ed 
And our lungs just cried and creed.
There's never been a nobler sort
Of Germ for making ills
And causing lots of pain and oomph
And medicines and pills

So Mighty Cough
I laud you, sir, for your persistent strength,
And I hope you run amuck for years
And live to wheezy length.

There. It was all I could muster in between my own Harumphs. Hope it made you smile! :) ~Rachel

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!

It is so hard to believe that tomorrow is Christmas Day. It seems to me that each year I live flies by on swifter, wilder wings--I can scarce make myself realize that it has been a whole year since this time last year. December took me by storm and for quite some time I was labouring under the delusion that it was early December when we were already in the "teens". Oops. :)
There is much discussion among some circles of Christian society over whether we ought to celebrate Christmas during this time of year because it used to be a Pagan holiday. My answer to this predicament comes entirely from the mouth of Ebenezer Scrooge's nephew in A Christmas Carol:
"There are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew, "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round-apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that-as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"
I do not worship my Christmas tree, nor do I celebrate the Winter Solstice. I am not leaving out cookies for Santa Clause, nor am I doing anything else questionable. At Christmas time, as all through the year (though in not so grand a degree) I celebrate the birth of my King, and I do think such an event is worthy of an entire month of celebration which--did we not use December--mightn't be carved out so easily elsewhere in the year.
I was out shopping with my older brother yesterday and found it amusing to wish everyone a "Merry Christmas" as I saw them, regardless of whether I knew them or not. The reactions were rather funny at times, as everyone sort of jumped and looked after me as much as to say, "What's she so happy about?"
It is true--I have an uncommon reason to be happy, and so have you. Because of the birth of a tiny baby--one who was born into obscurity, lived at odds with his society, died the most disgraceful death the Romans could conjure up--I have eternal life. That's something to smile about, be you white, black, young old, American, or something-else. In this best and most perfect "Merry Christmas", we have and escort into the Way Everlasting. It's a beautiful Christmas gift.

"And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, "God bless us, Every One!"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Mistletoe" :)

Walter de la Mare

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Someone came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe);
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen--and kissed me there.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Of Hobbits and Deep Anticipation!

Oh yes. I am excited. 
The Hobbit is arguably my favorite of all of Tolkien's books. It has a happy ending and just enough wonder to make you feel uncomfortable one moment and cozy the next. :) I love it to death. And I have been rather excited (and pleased) by the video-blogs.
And Oh my Stars and Stockings I just watched the trailer. Mr. Thornton of North and South is Thorin Oakensheild. And people? He can sing!!! A marvelous, mysterious, throaty, perfect-for-giving-one-chills sort of voice! GAH! I cannot wait. This movie will prove to be amazing or I'll eat my hat. :)
Here's the link to the trailer if you're interested! :) 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Tale of Scandal, Intrigue, and terrific derring-do :)

I was in a fierce-writing mood this morning. :D I don't know why, but this is what came of it. Tell me what you think. :)

Through the Grapevine:
A tale of scandal, intrigue, and terrific derring-do
By Rachel Heffington

Chapter One, being punctuated by several cups of tea

“Isn’t it just the most horrid thing you’ve ever heard?”
“ ‘It’, madam? The term is rather ambiguous. Pray explain your meaning.” The speaker of these last words tugged the point of his beard with a lackadaisical expression on his sallow face, and practically yawned the sentence.
“Of don’t be dense, Alfred,” his companion said, flouncing a little flounce suggestive of feathers and lace, silk and Society. “Of course you know of what I speak. Such a scandal—and an inconvenience too, for now Lilliana must put off her marriage for another year at least. A murder puts such a damper on things.” She raised her tea-cup and sighed.
“Indeed, madam. No one would doubt that a murder quite extinguishes life.” Alfred smiled over the double-meaning, but he had no hope Lucy would understand a whit of the pun. She was intolerably stupid on a whole. He plucked several cubes of sugar from the bowl with the tongs and dropped them into his cup with a violence that would have been more to the point were the object something more threatening than sugar.
“And to think of that poor woman—quite in the prime of her life and such a beauty—being killed in such a way.”
“Egad, woman, your vagueness is positively maddening. In what sort of way, pray tell, do you mean?” He swallowed a mouthful of tea and savoured its bitterness, pondering his sister with the appraising eye of a practiced auctioneer. She’d fetch nothing at the current matrimony-market, this variety of single Society women being much too common for the worthwhile men to tamper with.
“Alfred, really. If you only exerted yourself a bit to try to understand the things I’d say we’d have a much more peaceful home.” Lucy was offended now. He knew that much by the tightness of her lips and the annoyed set of her jaw. He bided his time, knowing she would never be able to leave the conversation in such a helpless spot. All women liked news, but she was a pillar of them all.
Lucy eyed him out of the corner of her eyes and sighed. He smiled to himself and stroked his beard into a fiercer point, feeling prickly as a horse-chestnut. He certainly wouldn’t bend to her wiles.
Lucy sighed loudly, stirred her tea, sipped it, then set the cup and saucer down with a clatter that had a deal of defiance in it. “Alfred, you’re a beast.”
“Thank you, sister. And you are a charming woman.”
“Indeed. Well, as you will not continue the conversation I feel it incumbent upon me to.”
“I have no objection, madam.” He leaned back in his damask-covered chair and looked down his nose at Lucy. She’d fetch nothing at all on the current market. Men of quality wanted someone with intellect, not a parrot who mimicked the About Town column of the Post in her conversation.
Lucy made a great effort to suppress her indignation, and Alfred smiled patronizingly. She took a breath.
“The manner in which Lady Cameron was killed, or of which they speculate she was killed was by—”
“Oh come now, let’s have it be something ingenious this time. I’m tired of all your shootings and smotherings and all those dime-a-dozen methods.”
“Really, Alfred!”
“Oh, but I interrupted you. Continue, my dear Lucy.”
“As it so happens,” and Lucy brought her tea-cup close to her chest until the ruffle of lace at her throat was in imminent danger of being doused, “The manner was quite out of the ordinary. There was no body found, in fact.”
“Really, woman, this is too much to be borne. No body? Then why the deuce do they take it for a murder?”
“The letter said as much, and Lady Cameron is nowhere to be found.” Lucy’s blue eyes were round and convincing.
“Woman, for the last time—speak plain or I shall leave the room and…throw myself in the river.”
Al-fred!” The little shriek was just the desired effect. Alfred put his hand quickly to his mouth under pretence of wiping it, and smirked under his palm. She was a fantastic little chicken for scaring so.
 Lucy arranged her furbelows with fluttering hands, then composed herself once again for a good dose of dirt-spilling. “There was a letter left with the butler with a threat to take her life—anonymous, of course—and footprints under the window, and…some talk of…of blood on the dresser-scarf.”
“By the name of the great perpetrator himself, it’s all run-of-the-mill!” Alfred burst out, jumping to his feet and pacing the floor with great energy. “Butlers and footprints under the window-sill and…blood on the dresser scarf! I’ll give you your murder, woman! It is easily explained from this very room! A slight lovers’ quarrel, a desperate lover who had drunk too much cognac at dessert and made a fool of himself. He came to the window to ask her pardon, she swooned in his arms, they decided to elope.”
“But the blood, Alfred!” Lucy pleaded, seeing her murder fall to shambles under his logical path of thought.
“It was dark in the room, she ran her hat-pin into her finger as she was dressing, and that’s the end of your murder, madam.” He had had enough of her trifling gossip. “I am going to the Golden Bee to seek out intelligent company, sister, and you will stay here. Good day.” And without another glance at Lucy, Alfred Pettigrew stormed out to the hall and tore his hat from its peg.
His worst days at Cambridge were a summer’s picnic compared to life with Lucy at Pettigrew Place. He would throw himself in the river if he thought it’d do him any good. But that was as life-extinguishing as murder itself, and it would give Lucy even more to talk about—perish the thought.
Murder indeed. As far as he was concerned, Lucy and all her Society-friends read far too many dime-novels. They made every elopement into a murder and every murder into a massacre. What a to-do over nothing at all. Alfred rambled toward town, sloshing through puddles left by the recent rain with the grim satisfaction that he was ruining a perfectly good pair of shoes. He was cross, and cross ideas suited his humor. Why, it would be more pleasant than a holiday in Paris to have a quarrel with anyone. Anyone, that is, except Lucy Pettigrew. Nevertheless, her story swirled in his mind with the thickness of cream poured into a cup of strong tea. His was an analytical mind, and in absence of anything more diverting to think of, his began to mull her details over. Of the fact that it was not a murder her was certain—the evidence, if Lucy could be counted on—and that he very much doubted—was against any such thing.
Absorbed in thought, Alfred stalked toward town, never noticing the cloaked figure dogging his steps.

To be continued...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Letters to Miss Austen

These are my entries for Miss Dashwood's contest for birthday-cards and letters to Miss Jane Austen. :)

My dearest Miss Austen,
      La, but I'm fagged! I was up dancing all last night at the Officer's Ball and Wickham spilled his punch all over my gown and spoilt it. (The gown, not the punch--well, both. La, what a goose I am!) I'm afraid he isn't half as agreeable as you said he'd be when you married me off to him, though he is horridly handsome. But here I am babbling on so when I picked up my pen to write you a Happy Birthday. (Though it seems to me you might be happier if you were married as well. If you only came to visit me, Miss Austen, I could introduce you to all the officers--ahhmmmm!) I trust we can count on you to host a ball to celebrate the day? And make sure that the fabled Mr. Churchill sees to the music. [I've never met him, of course, but I hear you wrote him up as a fine rogue! How I wish I could see him.] We simply can't let Mary play--she'd be bound to play concertos when we want something we could dance to like a jig or a reel and--oh crumbs! Why, I haven't chosen my gown for the dance tomorrow--what rot it is being married to a man who can't supply you with an allowance because he spends it all on cards. I find I haven't had a new gown since September! Really, Miss Austen, I'd think you'd be wiser than to set me up with him. Ah well. Que Sera, Sera and all that sort of thing the French say. (Or was it the Italian?) No matter. My hand is so cramped from writing this card I had better stop at once with one more wish for you to have a pleasant ball--I mean, birthday.
                     Your dearest friend,
                                        Lydia Wickham. (La, how droll that sounds!)

My dear Madam,
      I would not be a gentleman if I did not wish you a very felicitous birthday--and I do, most heartily--though I can't seem to understand what the women find so pleasant in reading the mail. Especially letters of friendship--they seldom bring any money at all. I hear rumours that you are having a small evening party? I hope it does not snow, for your sake. It is my opinion that it looks very much like snow, and you know how unpleasant it is to be snow-bound in another's house for any length of time.
But as I have taken up my pen against scruples over the mail, I must beg an answer from you for a question that has plagued my mind for some time--how to convince my father-in-law that I don't wish to hear at every mealtime how unhealthy my habits are? If it is not the food he is sighing over, it's the place I take my family on holiday, and if it isn't where I take my family on holiday it is the cut of my coat. George, my brother, seems to be able to not only tolerate him, but likes him. Mr. Woodhouse is, I daresay, a good man and a generous one. But he never extends the generosity to me in the manner of which I'd savor it: In a good dose of silence.
Once more, I wish you a happy and enjoyable birthday, and I trust my sending a letter in the mail will not distress you any more than I hear they distress Miss Fairfax. Now I must beg your leave and go attend to guarding the chickens.
                        I am yours &c,
                                     John Knightley

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Officious Race...

There are always many "Favorite parts" in the writing of our books. For you, perhaps, it is a certain character you created, or a certain description that flowed from your pen. In my Gypsy Song I've been having a blast poking fun at us writers, and looking at us from the point of a character whose efforts at having a life have been thwarted by their author's pen. After all, Cecily had been living in Scarlettania as the Lady Cecelia in perfect happiness until Mr. Macefield wrote her out of the story. She doesn't take too kindly to that sort of treatment, so you can't exactly blame her for being a bit stuck-up.
Immediately after I got the idea for Gypsy Song, I started to feel the tiniest twinges of remorse for killing off Frank Williams in Puddleby Lane. My sister Sarah, who is *not* a writer but is a devoted reader looked on my remorse with an "I told you so" look on her face. She had begged me not to kill him. Oh well. An author's gotta do what the story needs done.
But you know we are running these people's lives for them. How boorish of us. ;) It's rather amusing. So my dear Editor, Henry B. Baxter? This is for you...

 It was not at all like anything one read about in real life. It was much more bookish than that. If only her father were here. He’d love to see these places and meet Lad, she knew. He’d probably put him into one of his books and then they’d truly be made wealthy, for such things couldn’t help but be interesting to everyone—even the cross old men her father always spoke of and called…what was the word? Ah yes. Editors.
~The Scarlet-Gypsy Song

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The hour has faded, the minute is young...

"The longer they lay in the silence the sweeter it held them, a tender mother rocking her baby in arms of darkest night. Sleep pressed heavy on Charlotte's eyes as she listened to the nothingness around them...Lad grunted and laid aside his harp, leaning against his rock. Charlotte pushed away an overwhelming desire for sleep just long enough to listen to the song he started in soft, wishing tones...
'Tis past tomorrow, and almost today
And home is so close yet far away.
Past is gone, yet Now’s not come
And the heart is full while the lips are dumb.
Night has aged, fair morn is afar
And through the trees peep moon and star.
The hour has faded, the minute is young
And Mem’ry her runic song has sung."
*       *       *       *        *
~From The Scarlet-Gypsy Song by Rachel Heffington

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Memory's Smile...

As I look back on this year the question comes up, was it a good year of writing? Life was busier this year than nearly any other I've lived in my 19 1/2 years. What time did I have for writing? Did I uphold my personal goals as a writer to write things worth reading and read things worth writing? Should I hang up my apron and lay aside my pen? I guess success, in a way, is measured by results, so I sought to lay out exactly what I have written this year. The consensus puzzled me. How in the blue blazes did I manage to write all of this in one jam-packed year? Beats me. But here's the list:
Puddleby Lane (unfinished as of yet, but something to the tune of 44,927 words)
The Scarlet-Gypsy Song (somewhere near 17,000 words right now) 
"Nazarene Noon": a short story
"The Master of Delgrade Heath": (a longer short-story, over 17,000 words)
"How About Coffee?" (a short story)
"A Fool's Hope" (A short story)
"A Roguish Scheme" (A short story)
"My Pale Rose Trembling" (a short story)
"Marcella Grey" (a short story)
"A Duel of Wits" (a sketch)
"I am Levi" (a sketch)
And numerous poems and scribblings besides.

Not half-bad, is it? I felt rather pleased with myself after I read all that. My inspiration applauded me and told me I had done well during 2011.  It's nice to be on terms with one's memory and writing. :P

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Beautiful People: Diccon Quarry

I haven't done Beautiful People for several months, but I thought it was high time I did one. I am telling you, new characters keep waltzing into The Scarlet-Gypsy song without so much as a by-your-leave and making me do something with them. That is how I get Diccon Quarry. And that is how you shall meet him. (And do you know I have a strange idea he might end up a hero? I didn't even know he was there till I saw him tramping down a road with a band of men bound for pillaging Scarlettania. The rogue. 

This is much of the face Diccon has. He's stronger and broader too, but great Scot! Do you know how hard it is to find a picture of your character? :P

 Diccon Quarry...Ah. What to say about him? He is a diamond in the rough, so to speak, born into the Chief family of Gildnoir, lately a wild clan on the borders of Scarlettania. He has been trained well in war and only war, yet there is a strange longing in him for something better. Something larger than himself. He is the half-brother of Gildnoir's chieftain: Randolph Fit-Hughes, but seldom acknowledged as anything but a good foot-soldier. But why am I speaking for him when he can think for himself?...
Diccon cleared his throat and kicked a stick into the green rushes bordering this quiet part of the river. “Fitz-Hughes is a courageous man, you must give him that.”
            Crimp snorted, coughed, and spit again. “Courage don’t go far enough with ‘im. ‘E’s cunnin’ as th’devil and twice as darin’. Makin’ war on Scarlettania just because the love of ‘is life run off.”
            Diccon’s long legs ate up the road beneath him as they tramped through the June afternoon. He thought of his half-brother with a feeling of dreading admiration. He wasn’t sure love had anything to do with Randolph Fitz-Hughes’ decision to start a war. The Princess of Scarlettania had long ago caught his eye, but his proposal was a mere formality. Gildnoir had never been enough for his ambitious kinsman, Diccon knew. A marriage would be a less expensive way to gain passage into the lush, prosperous Scarlettania, but Fitz-Hughes’ men were skilled fighters and the war would not, could not be a long one.
            Diccon would never dare breathe a word aloud against his kinsman—one’s duty was one’s life in his clan—but this was no way to fight a war. He loved nothing better than a fair battle, surrounded by the clash of arms and blast of trumpets with an enemy facing him squarely. But to march into a peaceful country full of farmers and squires, merchants and commoners who barely knew how to hold a sword, much less make war…it was not a manner of war you heard about in the tales of old. No songs had been sung about a grown man taking sweet-cakes from a baby. It was not the idea of a war with Scarlettania that Diccon shrank from; no, it was the ease of it—there was no glory in such a thing. He would rather fight fair and square with equality on both sides and then he could prove his worth. In fact, if his opponent wasn’t at least equal to inflicting a minor wound, he would rather not waste his time.
            “Have you met th’lady?” Crimp’s sharp elbow dug into Diccon’s side and Diccon nearly stumbled.
            “Watch it,” he growled, then looked sideways at the weak man beside him. “No, I’ve never met the princess—Lady Cecelia as her people call her.” A winter smile played over his chiseled features as he recalled Fitz-Hughes’ rage at hearing she had gone missing.
            “Such a goddess a man is lucky to see once in his lifetime!” he had fumed, then pushed Diccon against the wall of the manor-house. “If you’ve done anything with her I swear I’ll kill you now.”
            As if he’d ever had luck enough to meet any beautiful women, much less a princess. Diccon laughed inwardly at the recollection, then scuffed his shoe in the dirt of the road loosened by the hundreds of feet before him. Like it or not they were off to Scarlettania, and on the high-road to an honor-less battle.
 *               *                 *                 *
What kind of holidays do they celebrate, if any? There are not many official holidays in Gildnoir--it is a wild, lonesome country that has just risen from being a huge clan to being a kingdom. However, there are many impromptu celebrations over especially successful pillaging, battles, etc. Fitz-Hughes' wedding will be a grand event, once he finds the Lady Cecelia

What are they most thankful for? Diccon is thankful for his titan-like strength, and his prowess in battle.

Do they have any family traditions? Diccon occupies a strange position in life. Half-brother to the clan chieftain who despises him. Yet at the same time he doesn't belong  to the common-folk entirely. There is not much family coherency. There is one clan "law" though, that is an unbreakable tradition in Gildnoir:
Diccon would never dare breathe a word aloud against his kinsman—one’s duty was one’s life in his clan—but this was no way to fight a war.'
 One's allegiance to Fitz-Hughes is one's life.

What is their most memorable holiday memory? The day Diccon's father remarried was a great day of feasting in the kingdom. He just didn't count on getting Fitz-Hughes as an older brother. He recalls that day clearly--the dark, comely countenance of the young man who was to be his brother.

What is the most memorable gift they have ever received? Diccon, strange to say it, has never received a gift. His clan are not noted for their generosity.

Do they consider it important to be with family during a celebration? Yes. One's clan is one's family, and the people of Gildnoir trust no one unless they are direct descendents of the Leaders. Diccon hasn't as much personal family as he would desire, but spending extended time with Fitz-Hughes is not tops on his list of things to do on a holiday.

Do they usually wait till the last minute to buy gifts or do they buy them ridiculously early? Unlike his people, Diccon has a generous, large heart, however guarded around with rough edges. If he were taught to buy gifts, he would buy them ridiculously early, as there is nothing he likes better than to surprise people, whether by ambush in battle, by a witty repartee, by sudden friendship...he's a prickly darling.

What is their favorite Christmas song? For fantasy authors, is music a part of their celebration? Music is a great part of Diccon's life. Not music in the general idea of the word, for he can't play a single instrument. But soul-music. He can feel music in the running of a river, in the wind before a storm, in the playing of a breeze across a wheat-field, and it fills him. Not to mention he has a grand voice of his own.

Do they celebrate for religious reasons? No. As Scarlettania and Gildnoir exist in a made-up-world, there is no "religion" per se. However, there is clear good and evil after the fairy-tale fashion. Diccon is stuck in the evil world, but his heart is filled with noble impulses, and he strives after light and honor.

How do they celebrate the beginning of the new year? Hmm. With a great polishing of his sword and filling of his quivers, as any good foot-soldier would do. Then a brisk ramble through the bottomlands with a great longing from something better in his heart. That is my Diccon.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fireflies and Lightening-bolts

"The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightening and a lightening-bug" ~Mark Twain
Ditto. It is not unusual for Mark Twain to hit the nail smack on the head--he was rather a hammersmith in that respect--but this time he had the lightening he spoke of in that quote. We have all felt that sensation of something being just the tiniest bit amiss in our writing. The untrained eye would not, perhaps, detect it, but we read over our writing feeling that somehow, somewhere, we've missed the mark and all we have is a tiny fire-fly cupped in the hollow of our hand where we once sought to have hold of a lightening-bolt.
It doesn't mean the fire-fly can't grow up to become a lightening-bolt, but it means that our words need a bit of surgery. And oh, is it worth it! I can't laud enough the sensation of rightness that comes when you realize you'd truly hit upon something. It's you've come home after a long voyage, or you've seen a commonplace item transformed by moonlight, or you've seen ember-roses in the coals of a camp-fire because you stayed just long enough to forget it was a fire and not some living, breathing, beautiful painting come alive. It's something elusive but oh, you know you've got it when it comes.
My descriptions used  to be commonplace enough. I hadn't learned (and I daresay have yet to learn much of) the fact that a writer must look at the world through her heart, not her head to capture things just so. Why say the sunset was beautiful when you could make your reader feel the last lingering rays of airy-wine poured into her lap if you only molded your words just so? But don't despair too much if lightening just isn't striking you. It will eventually, and for now, Nearly There will suit.
After all, there is a certain charm to be found in fire-flies.

"Sunlight glistened on the river that reflected her smiles, white-on-white with a gleam like that of snow-on-the-mountain in full bloom. Great cloud-birds chased each-other rumble-tumble over the face of the sun, throwing the valleys into shadow one moment and blinding illumination the next. There was a smell in the air of Summer. Not high Summer, with his scornful eye and chastening whip of drought and flame, not late Summer with her matronly smiles and benevolent arms filled with a good harvest, but early Summer—maiden-fair  and scented with green and blossoming things; the bride of the year who had not yet realized she was grown up."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Shake me up, Judy!"

Hey everybody! :) Rather than repeat myself and sound redundant ( :P) I thought I'd just send you over to my Other Blog to check out my latest literary-themed Christmas present that I made for a friend. Tell me how you like it. :)
:) I had such fun rummaging through Dickens that it was almost not work at all! I rather wish I had a copy to keep for myself though. :D
“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?”
“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”
Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”
“Don’t be cross, uncle!” said the nephew.
“What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew.
“Nephew!” returned the uncle, sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”
“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
 ~A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gold--pure gold

"All That is Gold"
J.R.R. Tolkien

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

I would be woefully amiss if I did not mention that I count Tolkien among the best of my favorite poets. His poetry does something to me. Strikes chords of passion and emotion I didn't know were there, bids me go a'gypsing, and generally makes me sigh with an echo shaking my heart that says, "This is genius, this is beauty, this is gold." And in these moments I can't even think "I wish I could write like that" because in the face of such gold, there's no room for anything but quiet wonder.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Meet Lad :)

My heart and mind are entwined in The Scarlet-Gypsy Song and I find I can't get away from it. :P So I am afraid I will have to break my pie-crust promise and post about the newest character that I hadn't quite expected to find in Scarlettania. But there he was, lolling on the stream-bank when Darby rolled out from his hiding place, and I had to do something with him. Anyway, meet Lad.
“Too-rally, oo-rally, loo-rally, ay, I’ve got me a horse and ‘e eats golden hay, too-rally, oo-rally, loo-rally, dee, pay all my debts and I’ll give ‘im to thee.”
Darby scrabbled to his feet and rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the white light from them, demanding they focus. “What’s going on?” he grouched.
“Till-tummy, quill-tommy, fill grummy hack, tell me this riddle I’ll bargain him back!” The twangy voice singing the nonsensical words mocked his predicament with its very carelessness.
“Who’s there?” he demanded, then yelled as a clutching hand dragged him down.
“Quiet, fool!” It was Bertram’s voice and his jam-flavored hand clapped over Darby’s mouth. They fell back into a darker, cooler place, and Darby’s eyes began to see dark shapes, and then colors, and finally all five of his siblings crouched about him. They all looked just as dazed as he felt, and on the ground before them, entirely silent and no longer gleaming, lay the strange silver music box.
“What in the blue blazes is going on here?” His eyes widened even as he spoke, for the bedroom was nowhere in sight, and he saw they crouched beneath a canopy of dark, glossy leaves. “Did something happen?”
Of course Darby knew as well as the others that something had happened, but he could think of nothing better to say, and he did want things explained dreadfully. He couldn’t see Charlotte’s face, for her head was buried in her arms and she rocked softly, whimpering, but he bet she felt just as odd as he did. Adelaide held Eugenie tight in her arms, her face as white as the baby’s pinafore, and her mouth pinched into a pitiful question-mark. Fergus was curled up in a sort of hollow in the ground sucking his thumb, and Bertram was staring at the lot of them as if he didn’t know what to make of any of it.
Darby repeated his question, a great, nameless fear scaling the ladder of his heart and threatening to break out in a boyish sob at the least provocation. “Tell me now, Bertram, what happened?”
Bertram gulped and shook his head. “I don’t know where we are or what happened back there. It’s uncanny, Darby…all we did was listen to the song.”
Darby plopped down on the ground as if he was a balloon and all the air had been let out in a rush. One thing was certain: that was no ordinary music box, and this was no ordinary place. He scanned Bertram’s face and tried to see any sort of sign that Bertie was joking, as he sometimes did. Darby’s hands took hold of the grass beneath him. He rolled over on his stomach and buried his nose in it, inhaling the earthy scent of soil and green things growing. It was a comforting smell and it made him feel just the tiniest bit less like panicking and more like an adventure. Where there was dirt, things could not be too terrible.
            When he sat up again, his chin was set in a determined line. “Listen, Bertie,” he said, “It’s no good just cowering here like a bunch of rabbits in a warren. Something did happen and we can’t help that now...but…it’s just no good. Come on!” Ever impulsive and gaining a last burst of courage from the feel of the grass under his palms, Darby crawled from underneath the leafy canopy, and rolled down a green embankment, shutting his eyes against the unknown. When he opened his eyes, he found himself cheek-to-waistcoat with a stranger.
            “Bless us an’ save us, what’s this we’ve got ‘ere?” A pair of nimble, gnarled fingers seized a handful of his hair and Darby felt himself hauled up. It was over now. He’d be killed and all because of a dratted plan to pounce Miss Woodruff. He squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the blow.
            “Eh? It’s a little’un, is it? And what a twinkum-dinkum costume ‘e’s wearin’. Why, ‘e looks like a puppet in a show!” The fingers tipped Darby’s chin up, and almost against his will—for curiosity strived for the upper hand—he opened one eye and looked into the bluff, cheery face of a man. The nose was as like a potato as anything Darby had seen since dinnertime on Sunday, and the eyes were so bright and black and little he wasn’t sure they weren’t beads from Mum’s best shawl. And the mouth! Darby found his own lips sliding into a smile despite the apprehension that still tugged at his mind, for the man’s mouth was one long, wide, jolly smile.
            “I wasn’t sure but I’d ‘ave some company this forenoon, sit thee down.” He plopped Darby down on the bank beside him, and Darby noticed a brightly colored cap with bells dangling from the points hanging on a branch as if some jack-in-the-box had been taking a bath and forgot it. In fact, this man was the spitting image of Fergus’ favorite nursery-toy, only he had legs instead of springs. The idea jerked a halting chuckle out of Darby’s throat.
            “Thee’s quiet for a bloke, I’ll give thee that.”  The man bumped Darby with his shoulder and guffawed as if they shared some great joke. Darby managed a weak smile, but his mind was racing. Why weren’t the others following, and what sort of place had they stumbled into where jack-in-the-boxes didn’t live in boxes at all but sat on ledges and plucked…angel-harps?
            “Who are you?” Darby asked, thinking there was no easier way of finding out what he must know.
            The man twinkled his eyes, then sprang up, swiping the fool’s hat from the bough, and bending low before Darby. “I am Lad, personal fool and advisor to His Majesty, and court jester to the rest of them.”
            “Aye.” The jester slumped onto the bank and hung his hat up again. “I’ve always been called that. It’s always been ‘Lad, come hither!’ or ‘Lad, I am displeased,’ or ‘Lad, I need you!’ I think I used to have a name once, but higgity-piggity, I’ve forgot it now.”
            The idea of anyone forgetting their name tickled Darby so, he smiled genuinely at last, and Lad poked him in the side. “There ‘e is, smilin’ like a chap ought to. And who dost thou boast to be?”
            “I’m Darby Macefield, sir.”
            Lad wrinkled his brow and his little eyes snapped and sparkled as he thought. “No, linkle-dinkle-likkum, I’ve never met thee.”
            “That’s not a surprise,” Darby began to feel morose again, and his threw a pebble into the stream below their feet.
            “Ah, but it is a surprise, Master Macefield, for Lad knows everyone that has ever lived in Scarlettania.”
            Darby jumped. “Is that where we are?”
            Lad eyed him parrot-wise, not looking fully at him, then nodded. “That’s where thee is, Master Macefield. But beggin’ your pardon, I must ask what thee means by sayin’ ‘we’?”
            Darby shrugged. “There’s lots of us back there. Hey you lot, come out here and meet Lad!”
            There was a great rustling of leaves and then five children rolled down the embankment and nearly knocked Lad and Darby off the edge. The others sat up, holding their heads in their hands and glaring at Darby.
            “What do you mean by running off so?” Bertram demanded. His eyes blazed and he towered above Darby who remained seated.....

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Final Taste of the Gypsy-Song

I promise I will not bore you with anymore from The Scarlet-Gypsy Song after this post--I will go back to being a normal authoress not at all obsessed with her novel. ;) I have a bad habit of putting too many children in my fictional families--it's a chore to give them all enough page time to get you acquainted with them. But I have had some experience, growing up in a family of nine children, so I am somewhat qualified to attempt it. I thought the best way to let you get to know the Macefield children (they run the course of the alphabet: Adelaide and Bertram, then Charlotte and Darby, then Eugenie and Fergus) would be to let you read a bit of a chapter with them inside it. So here you have it!

“....Mr. Macefield,” Cecily said, keeping her eyes on the smudged handle of her tea-cup and wishing she were anywhere but in the dining room with this…this author. She refrained from labeling him a malaprop, though this entire ordeal was his fault.  “I think I had better take the children up to bed now.” She waited not for his reply, but summoned the children with a regal gesture of her white hands. The trio of twins rose amid the clattering of the tea-things, and followed her out of the dining room and up the marble staircase. Up the children went, then mounted the banister to begin their usual process of going to bed.
“What are you doing?” Miss Woodruff asked, hands on her hips.
“We are going to bed,” Darby said, waving at her from his vantage-point of the ornate landing-newel.
“How so, Master Darby? On the banister? I would think that would make a hard sleeping-place.”
The children had never before questioned their manner of going to bed. It was always up the stairs, down the banister, up the stairs again, and a rollicking tramp through the halls before descending upon Mum with over-earnest kisses. So it was a new thought to wonder what the normal manner of going to bed was.
“How d’you go to bed, Mith Woodruff?” Fergus asked, banging her lightly on the head with a balled up fist. He swung his legs and kicked the balusters, as at home on the hand-rail as a cat is on a ridge-pole.
Miss Woodruff caught the belligerent fist in her hand and patted it. “I walk up the stairs and then I go calmly to my bed like everyone else.”
Bertram coughed and put his head to one side, chewing his lip. “I s’pose ‘everyone else’ is a relative term, Miss Woodruff. We’ve never watched anyone go to bed but ourselves—how are we supposed to know how people do it?”
Cecily Woodruff laughed and the children felt warm all over. “Go on then and slide down. Just once, mind you, and tomorrow I will show you the proper way to go about it.”
There was a scuffle and a sliding noise like half-a-dozen little penguins sledding down an embankment, then a rush and a dreadful clatter of shoes-on-marble as the children came up the stairs. Darby and Charlotte each grabbed one of Cecily’s hands and the whole mob of children and nanny proceeded up the stairs and into the hall. Cecily withdrew her hand and put a finger to her lips.
“We must be quiet, for your Mama has a headache,” she said.
The children were so far acquainted with their new nanny at this point, that they thought absolutely nothing of her knowing about their mother, and they only crept down the hall and assembled at the door in silence. Cecily put a hand to the knob and eased the door in, and strange to say, it did not hush at them as usual but glided open without a sound.
“Children? Is that you?” Mrs. Macefield’s querulous voice warbled from the shadows of her canopied bed.
“Yes, Mum,” Bertram said in a low voice. “We’ve brought our new nanny too.”
“A new nanny?” Mrs. Macefield asked in accusing tones, as if it were far more probable they had brought a giraffe or a baboon to perform tricks for her. “What do you mean by teasing me so?”
“But we aren’t, Mum. Her name is Cecily Woodruff, and she’s come to look after us.” Bertram took hold of one of Cecily’s hands and tugged her forward. Cecily stepped into the uncertain light of the bedside gas-lamp, and curtsied. It was the most regal curtsey  Bertram had ever seen, for Miss Woodruff did not bow her head, but sank down, long lashes sweeping her cheeks, and rose again with courtly poise. He could almost imagine she was not a nanny at all, but a fine lady at a dress-ball—only the clothes were wrong, and the room was wrong, and there was no music.
Mrs. Macefield fluttered in her bed, clutching at her blanket with discontent fingers and sighing. “I regret I am not able to leave my bed, Miss Woodruff,” she said, casting her eyes at the said person and sighing again.
“Regrettable indeed, Mrs. Macefield. But rest assured, the children and I are getting along very well already.”
Mrs. Macefield laughed bitterly, but it was so very unlike Cecily’s musical laughter that it jarred Bertram’s ears and he drew away from his mother.
“Doubtless you will find out, Miss Woodruff, that the children are not all they seem. Or perhaps, they are more than they seem. Either way, they ran the last nanny off after only a month.”
Cecily inclined her head with a respectful gesture, but by the set of her red lips, Bertram knew she was not pleased. He felt unsettled and torn inside, like he’d eaten too many muffins at teatime, and one of them had been full of pencil shavings. Cecily—nay, Miss Woodruff was so wonderful he couldn’t help but side with her. But then Mum wasn’t a bad sort, and she was ill—so perhaps his allegiance belonged to her?
Bertram did not like such problems—they couldn’t be solved with logic, and therefore they oughtn’t to exist. He scuffed at a beige rose in the carpet and wondered what would happen next. Something had to happen, for they were all standing here dull as powder in a sort of unspoken check-mate.
As Bertram felt his collar tighten and his ears getting hot, and he wondered if the awkwardness would ever wear off, Miss Woodruff finally cleared her throat. It had an “I’ll handle this” sort of sound to it, and Bertram let his breath out in a relieved whistle.
“Mrs. Macefield, I have not had much experience in life yet—”
“No,” Mrs. Macefield said. It was a very decided no, and Bertram bit his lip at the sarcasm shaking through its tones. Miss Woodruff only smiled, and under the influence of her smile, Mrs. Macefield’s manner relaxed an increment. “No, you have not. But I interrupted you—go on, pray.”
Miss Woodruff clasped her hands before her, and the gas-light shone on her hair till it glowed like polished pine-wood. “I believe it is a rule with people that the moment we think we know everything about a person, we find out we are very much wrong. Goodnight, Mrs. Macefield.”
Cecily Woodruff stepped back into the shadows and pushed the children forward with a gentle but firm hand. They dropped heartfelt, though timid kisses on Mrs. Macefield’s sallow cheeks, then tip-toed out of the room, feeling that something had gone wrong and been set right all in a moment back there.
Once in the nursery, Cecily sighed, and swept the children with a bright gaze. “We shall have to see about cheering your Mama up,” she said.
Adelaide poked her head through the opening of her night-gown and wriggled her arms through the sleeves. “Oh, Mum is always ill. There’s no use trying to cheer her up.”
Cecily pulled Adelaide to her side and fastened the buttons up the back with her lithe, tapering fingers. “But think how much worse her illness would be if you didn’t try your very best to make her feel better.”
Adelaide gave a side-ways smile and tugged her curls into a loose braid. “You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met, Miss Woodruff.”
“Oh? How so?”
Adelaide jumped in bed beside Charlotte and pulled the covers to her chin. “I don’t know exactly—but you’re better and prettier somehow than anyone in real life. It’s almost as if you were a fairy princess come out of a story to take care of us.”
“Yes, Miss Woodruff,” Charlotte said. Her voice came sleepily from the depths of the feather-pillows.
Darby and Bertram scrambled into their beds and burrowed beneath the counterpanes like a pair of dozy caterpillars. The babies toddled over to Cecily as she seated herself in the rocking chair near the fireplace. She lifted them into her lap, and Eugenie laid a curly head against Cecily’s breast. Fergus regarded her with a thoughtful expression on his baby-face.
Darby sat up and scratched his nose. “Where are you from, Miss Woodruff?”
A queer smile quirked at the corners of Cecily’s mouth as she answered, “I may or may not be from somewhere very far away.”
And if felt then, as Adelaide later described it, as if her words made the world seem very large, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. It was such a strange, broadening sensation, and not at all like a Just Before Bed thought, that the children were more than happy to whisper goodnights to each other and go to sleep directly. And nothing, save the moon out the nursery window, saw the starry tear slip down Cecily’s cheek and land on Eugenie’s nightgown as she rocked the child to sleep.