Thursday, September 29, 2011

Recovering From a Wounded Pen

You may recall a not-too-distant time I confessed that I had been pen-slain. If you need a refresher, you can read about it here. I suddenly felt as if I stood before a mirror and my rosy haze of being an author had been stripped away and I was staring at the blemishes in my words, the flaws in my pen, the tinny ring of my sword in the battle for inspiration. It was a sobering moment, that instance wherein I saw my writing for what it was...young, and inexperienced. There is a charm about it, perhaps. The charm of a peasant child who wears a wreath of daisies about her head and sings a little song while she pours tea into a cup for her doll. She little thinks the pretty daisies will wilt and come to nothing by the morning.
I will admit that my writing has not quite been the same since. Puddleby Lane became dull and uninspiring. I do not think it changed at all, but my perception of it changed. I saw that it was a simple, countrified story. And beside some other writers I could name, among them Jenny, the Penslayer herself, it had paled looked dowdy.
I have not made much headway in Puddleby Lane ever since that August morning. It is truly terrible! True, I haven't had much time for writing, having seven younger siblings, a grandmother, an older brother, and two parents to spend time with and take care of. But I have felt my writing inspiration shrink in a drought of self-doubt. It's not a good thing, this self-inflicted Writer's Block...
And so I wanted to admit that I had been fuddy-duddying along and feeling sorry for myself. Sorry that I was not a stunning author, sorry that I did not have the talent to shoot delicious prickles of delight down peoples' spines, sorry that I had the talent I do have instead of the talent I wish I had.
In the past couple of weeks though, I have begun to realize something that makes me rather ashamed of myself. Two things, actually. One, in order to be pen-slain so fiercely, I do believe I had to have thought too much of my own writing in the first place. I was in a blind trough of petty vanity, I believe.
Second, I am disowning a God-given gift when I doubt and disdain the talent He has given me. That is a sober thought indeed. God did not give me the gift He gave Jenny, or the gift He gave C.S. Lewis, or the gift He gave Jane Austen, or the gift He gave to any of you other writers. He gave me the gift it pleased Him to bestow on me. How can I refuse His gift, for if I believe the Bible, [Which I entirely do]  it is a good and perfect gift. Of course my writing can always gain a little polish, but it is what I have been given, and what I do with this gift is up to me. And so I wanted to tell you all that I here and now pledge to make the most of the gift I have.
My writing has a simplicity and charm and simple goodness about it that, at least I hope, will never go out of style. It isn't grand or glorious or even stunning. But it is cheering, I think, like a hot summer breeze blowing over a ripe wheat field. There are no ethereal lilies or dazzling star-dust about my words. But there are a few blood red poppies and a quiet green glen hidden somewhere in there. There are peasant children making daisy chains and a baby's laughter, and the singing of a fiddle beneath a weeping willow.
I guess I can sum up the lesson I've learned in a few words:
  I have not been given the talent of shaking souls, but perhaps I can touch a heart.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How About Coffee? --a short story

   Hey guys! Here's a scribble I wrote down this morning! :) It came to me while hanging up laundry...I often start a random dialog with myself and am quite witty...pity that never happens in *real* conversations. ;)

"How About Coffee?"
         By Rachel Heffington
  "I will admit I had expected to find a man of your fame and social standing a bit more...complicated." Miss Harper raised an eyebrow and sighed, relieved to have the confession made.
     He chuckled and leaned forward with the boyish, eager expression that always caught her off guard."You mean you hadn't thought to find me a man of simple wants and pleasures?"
     Yes, that was it exactly--a man who could be satisfied with feeding pigeons in a city park was an oddity. She smoothed her skirt and shifted. "Tell me, Mr. Barnett, how do you endure the pretension, the shallow and petty motives of Society?" There was bitterness in her voice, and he observed her with a quiet compassion in his eyes.
     "I never asked for fame and fortune--I never sought," he said. "I am a mere whim of these people: here today, gone tomorrow." He moved his fingers as if sprinkling chaff to the wind, then smiled. "Why should I care for the opinion of Society when society chose me itself? Let it raise me and lower me as it will. I am the same man it found me at the first."
    Miss Harper contemplated him in wonder. He was transfixing, this man. Not handsome, but one never thought of that fact. He had everything she so desired: fortune, fame...friends. Yet he spoke as if he rather longed for the distant days of obscurity when--as she recalled him telling her--he'd lived in a shabby flat overlooking a prison yard.
    She cleared her throat and pinched her lips together before speaking. "Mr. Barnett, let me make something very clear."
    He nodded and raised his eyebrows, that puppyish furrow on his brow bringing a slight upward curve to her mouth. Her manner softened the tiniest bit. "I can guess why they chose me. It isn't because I've got talent or brains--it's so that if anything goes wrong with this project they can blame me and keep your precious reputation untainted."
    He was hurt--she could see that and she wished at once she had kept her mouth shut. But Mr. Barnett only toyed with his necktie and fixed his gaze on the the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. He stole a few doubtful glances at her face and was silent. She tucked her hair behind her ear and touched his hand with a her tapering fingers. It was warm and real beneath her cold fingertips. How she wished some of that radiant life would ebb from his vibrancy into her own chilled existance.
     "I'm sorry, Mr. Barnett. I shouldn't have--"
     "Do you have so low an opinion of me that you think I would let them blame you?" His voice registered no anger, only sorrow that she thought so ill of him. "You think I would allow my mistakes to injure the reputation of an innocent person? Hang my reputation and social standing. I'd rather live in a slum than live as a dishonest scoundrel!" He was perfectly in earnest--every inch of him. His wiry blond hair flew every which-way and his grey eyes snapped blue fire.
     "I didn't mean it to sound that way, sir," she said, throwing her hands up in the air and wishing he wouldn't look quite so desperate about the matter.
     "But you thought of me so. Oh, Miss Harper, if you only knew how much I--" Mr. Barnett sprang from his chair, clapped a weather-stained fedora onto his head and shoved his arms into his coat. "Come on."
     Miss Harper leaned back in her chair, marvelling. She had always favored handsome men, and this man was plain at best. She was not in love, she assured herself. Impossible, and what's more, improbable! Yet that foreign smile hovered over her pretty, pouting lips, and as she stood to put her own coat on, she caught Mr. Barnett's eyes, full of anxious solicitude. She laughed aloud.
     "Then you aren't angry with me?" he asked with his customary frankness.
      She shook her head, cheeks burning, eyes shining. Mr. Barnett cracked a grin and cautiously offered her his arm. She stuck a pin through her hat and took the shabby-coated arm with a shy smile. Mr. Barnett swallowed, his cheeks red and shiny as two good-natured poppies. He tried his voice once, then again. At last he threw the office door open to a pelting rain hammering the sidewalk beyond the awning. He raised his umbrella and led her outside where they were at once enveloped in the wet chorus of New York City in a rain storm. A cab flew by, splashing mud and water over Miss Harper's black stilettos.
     "Oh dear." Mr. Barnett drew her closer to his side and stared at her shoes in dismay.
     "Don't worry about it." She smiled reassuringly and laughed again, enjoying the strange exhilaration it brought. "But where on earth are we going?"
      He shrugged and the gradual sideways spread of his grin began. "How about coffee?"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Lost Art of Reading Aloud

"Children are made readers on the laps of their parents."
— Emilie Buchwald 

"You may have tangible wealth untold.
 Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. 
Richer than I you can never be – 
I had a mother who read to me."
— Strickland Gillilan

I owe much of my love of reading and writing to my mother. For as long as I can remember she has read aloud to us. I can distinctly remember my first encounter with Anne of Green Gables. I complained that there was too much description, and I couldn't understand it. Yet Mama persisted in reading the book aloud to us and before long I was lost to the world in the fairy-fancies concocted by Anne Shirley in that tantalizing land of Avonlea.
Mama never stooped to reading easy books to us, and I don't think she ever skipped the hard words. She wisely surmised that we would soon learn, somehow, what the big words meant, and in the meantime they didn't matter. It was of little consequence that if we didn't understand every little detail--the beauty of the words would rub off on us anyway. That is not to say that Mama didn't have secret misgivings--she has often admitted that when she read Hans Brinker to us, she really thought it was far over our heads. Funny thing is, that is the one book I remember thrilling me to my fingertips. We turned it into a unit-study (Ah! The beauty of homeschooling!) and learned all about the queer Dutch houses on their stilts and the bustling canals instead of crowded streets. Some of my fondest, coziest memories come from snuggling up on the couch, and oh! To get that coveted spot right next to Mama where we could lean against her soft side and follow along in the book as we learned to read.
I fear reading aloud is a lost art, and yet what a pleasant pastime! It is one of those forgotten pleasures, like letter-writing, that we would do well to revive. It brings a group of people together, their thoughts, dreams, and emotions wrapped round the same story. Is there anything sweeter than experiencing a story again with a dear friend? I well know the glorious sensation of discussing a book with one of my sweet sisters in Christ, reliving the intricacies of the plot, the characters, what we thought was going to happen and what in actuality did....*happy, happy, nostalgic sigh*
I have fond dreams of someday, in my house o' dreams, reading aloud to my husband some chilly fall night when we haven't any troubles to pressure us and nothing to do but please ourselves. ;) I do hope he'll enjoy being read aloud to.
"When Mother reads aloud, the past
Seems real as every day;
I hear the tramp of armies vast,
I see the spears and lances cast,
I join the thrilling fray;
Brave knights and ladies fair and proud
I meet when Mother reads aloud."

~"When Mother Reads Aloud" Author Unknown 
I also cannot wait for the day I can gather my little chickens around me and open a book to transport them to new worlds; to vicariously experience the wondrous delight of those dear, beloved stories for the first time through my children.
But there is an art to it. The reader-aloud who halts and mispronounces words and reads in a monotone so fast it sounds like Chinese is not pleasant to listen to. If you would have interested listeners, you must be an interesting reader. Go ahead and liberate your fancy. Use accents. Choose a different voice for each character and maintain it. Read the descriptions with a soft, flowing voice and try to put the beauty of the words into your tones. Practice on your siblings! I recall reading The Hobbit aloud to my younger sisters--they loved it, after they got past their string of perpetual questions. The famous mother/sister answer I've found to be appropriate to all occasions is: "Well if you listen you might find the answer out!" :D
Here is a list of my favorite books to be read aloud as a child. Oh, thank you Mama for reading to us! :)

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Little Princess by " " " 
Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johanne Wyss
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
Hinds Feet on the High Places by Hannah Hunard
Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
The Moffats by Eleanor Estes

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Winners Revealed!!!

I (quite accidentally) scheduled the ending of the Merry Auld England Writing Challenge to be on the very first day of Autumn! It doesn't signify anything much, but it made me happy all the same. :) Around here it was not cold at all. It was wet and humid and sticky. The outside world was rainy it was...sweaty. [Blech] But enough of me! I had a monumental task in choosing the winner of this contest! I printed off all the entries, agonized over them, got opinions from my family, agonized over them some more, and finally chose the winners. Are you ready? Are you sure? First off I wanted to let everyone know that you did a great job! Every one of your entries was intriguing, amusing, or inspiring. I had as much fun hosting this contest as you all had entering it! Unfortunately though, I can only choose one winner from each category.
And that honor and glory in the Prose category goes to: Miss Katie Sabelko of Whisperings of the Pen for her short story: Mary Cass! Miss Sabelko will win this beautiful set of Jane Austen Stationary for her efforts. :) (Full story will be printed below, following other winning announcements.) I chose Katie's story for the lovely characters and glimpses of human nature it contained, besides the fact that it made me laugh, and I've a weak spot for amusing things.

The winner of the Poetry category is Miss Maria Elisabeth for her poem entitled "Bath". This young lady will receive the lovely prize of this hand decorated/covered box!
 I had the most terrible time over choosing the poetry winner, for poetry is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. There were three poems I kept revolving round as if I were a whirligig, but it was as hopeless being stuck in a revolving door, so I took the liberty of asking my beautiful mother's opinion and getting her thoughts. I chose Maria Elisabeth's poem for three reasons:
1. Because it was set in Bath, of which I have many fond literary memories. :)
2. She did her research, as you will see in a moment
3. And it was a fun read on an original topic that could have been made very dull indeed.

And last but not least we come to the winner of the Drama category! Now, I will admit I hadn't thought anyone would actually enter this category. I am not an aficionado of the theater myself and would hardly know how to begin! In fact, there was only one entry in the category, but I have chosen it as the winner not for that reason, nor for the fact that anyone who actually goes through with writing a play deserves a prize (though that's true) but because this young lady managed to present us with a story, play it out, and finish it up in the space of a few pages. That young lady is Miss Mercedes Brink with her play, "In Her Mother's Shawl." Miss Brink will win Miss Egglantine Benedict--the impudent, loveable, opinionated paperweight doll! :) 
Are you ready to read the entries? Hmmmm? Without further ado, I present Mary Cass by Katie Sabelko:

Mary Cass
Written by: Katie S.

“She fancies herself a writer, you know,” Miss Meredith Ashburn said, taking a tea cake delicately from the tray. “It is the most scandalous thing.”

“Oh! And she wanders the countryside after dusk! Or—or so I have heard, of course. So I have been told.” Miss Esther Hurst replied, dropping her biscuit into her tea.  

“Her man is an insipid fool. A farmer.” Mrs. Helen Farrell chimed in, delicately turning her tea cup around on its saucer to inspect the painted design on its side. “A farmer—a ‘child of the moors’, they say—of all things.”

The three nodded in unison. They were seated on the veranda of Miss Ashburn’s family home, a rather old and handsome estate, sharing the daily gossip. It was their weekly custom to gather together in such form, to spill over with the latest news as they tittered away over afternoon tea. Seldom a week went by when the three did not meet, and woe be to the one who interrupted their proceedings!

“Indeed. When was it, exactly, that she married?” Molly feigned nonchalance, as she watched Esther gaze sadly after her pastry. “Take another, dear, they are so slippery with the butter-glaze. No, do, dear.”

“Oh, well, thank you very much.” Esther’s plump, white cheeks colored up to her ears. “I am just a bit clumsy, I’m afraid.”

Molly and Helen exchanged looks, guardedly, over their tea.  

“It hasn’t been more than half a year, Meredith. It was only a month before I myself became Mrs. Farrell, you remember.” Helen replied.

“Yours was a much more suitable marriage, Helen, dear. It quite wipes away one’s memory of little Mary’s foolishness!” Molly said.

“Indeed!” Esther offered with cautious vivacity after a few moments had passed and she deemed it safe enough to speak, or at least to offer forth this neutral, noncommittal word of agreement.   

The three paused in their talk. Esther nibbled on her biscuit, dunking it absentmindedly in her tea, and suppressed the tune that would come to her lips at the mention of the northern moors. Helen watched the ritual dunking and nibbling and, consequently, the dripping of the honey-colored liquid upon the frill of Miss Esther’s bodice, with an ill disguised contempt. Molly, who had only recently had her coming out, sat straight and tall as she attempted to look sophisticated and genteel and see everything and nothing at the same time—she only succeeded in looking dreadfully bored, but her effort did her great credit nonetheless.

“And how is Mr. Farrell? Is his cough mending?” It was Molly who broke the silence, feeling very keenly her duty as hostess to keep the conversation flowing. “Chills and coughs are so very common this time of year. Doctor Dawson advised us all to take great and immediate precautions against them when he last visited.” 
“Charles is well.” Helen replied, and sipped her tea languidly.

Another pause ensued, in which Esther had to pin her foot to the ground rather abruptly to keep it from tapping all on its own, and young Molly’s color heightened with embarrassment as she grew more and more unsettled by the lack of conversation. 

“Oh, indeed! I am so glad.” Molly said a bit desperately. It was all she could do to keep from biting her lip. “The weather is fine today.”

“It is.” Esther agreed.

Helen sighed, her gaze coming up off her tea and unto her young hostess. “We spoke earlier of Mary Cass.” She paused, slowly moving her head from its upright position to a more sideways one. Her chin she stuck out very straight in front of her and her gaze she transferred very importantly into the distance. “It was mentioned that her marriage was badly arranged, for though she did not come from money, her father’s status could have carried her much further. And so I would tell you, Molly, to steer clear of all influence of the woman. Do not even speak of her, nor think of her actions. It will do your mind no end of harm, impressionable as it now is. You’ve reached a very gentle age. Mind how you occupy your thoughts. Mind whose company you seek to cultivate. Mind whose example you strive to follow.”

Molly nodded slightly, her little grey eyes now but timidly shining in their sockets. “I would never—”

“You must strive for perfection in everything you do, my dear Molly. It is expected of you. Be the perfect example of a lady to these sorts of women, be always—”    

“I’ve heard she writes under the name of a man! For a newspaper!” Molly could not contain herself; at the mention of ‘those sorts of women’ she quite lost her head. Desperate as she was, her social graces failing as they had most appalling through the course of the interview, her mind would grasp at any comment that came into her head. Immediate regret followed. 

“Sir Eugene Eldestone the Third, if I do recall. I rather fancy—well, people, you know, they fancy her stuff really rather witty.” Esther added, fumbling a bit of her biscuit over her teacup.

“Lack of taste, decorum, and refinement.” Helen pronounced each word as a death sentence, her head snapping back into its proper position and her tranquil gaze growing sharp. She was always out of temperament when interrupted, or when her superior advice was thus ignored as it so often was by young Molly. 

“It’s quite honestly the most vulgar thing!” Molly cried.

One would think this a rather strange occurrence amongst so familiar, so docile, so sophisticated a group: but the truth was that most of their afternoon visits took exactly this turn. They would start with hearty conversation that waned as the tea did, then Molly would speak whatever was in her mind and consequently loose all sense of her newly found and cherished propriety, Helen would be rendered out of temper by such foolishness and lack of social grace, Esther would be flustered by it all and drop anything that came to be in her grasp, and they would all part, each one out of temper in their own way. Molly ashamed of herself and determined to play her part better next time, Helen out of temper with the whole of the countryside and its lack of civilized company, and Esther wondering why she even opened her mouth to speak at meetings of this kind.

Helen was about to pronounce that ‘vulgar’ was a very unbecoming term for a young lady’s vocabulary, when Molly straightened once again.

“There she is! Mary Cass!” she said in a hoarse whisper.

And there indeed she was, Mrs. Mary Cass herself, walking through the country with her husband. Though they were not at all within earshot, and would not come close enough to speak to in the course of their walk, Mary’s figure was quite viewable from Molly’s angle; one could see her long dress and thick shawl very plainly against the backdrop of gold and brown the countryside afforded. Mary was a rather pretty young woman in a simple way, short and rosy with a plethora of yellow hair pulled loosely back into a bun. It was always peeping out of its confinements, rebelling against all things used to bind it. Molly reached up to stroke her own hair, smooth and tightly pulled back and braided in the latest fashion, and quieted slightly.

“Does she walk this way often at this hour?” Helen inquired, pulling her teacup closer to her body.

“I do not know,” Molly answered. 

The ladies watched at the couple drew nearer. That the two were deep in animated conversation was easily seen by all, and Helen clucked her tongue with annoyance when a newspaper and book came into view under Gil Cass’ arm.

“How they dare to walk about with the evidence of such inappropriate frivolity, I cannot fathom.”

“She does look happy though, doesn’t she?” Esther spoke up, and smiled complacently, setting the last of the biscuit in her empty teacup. “And he is happy, too. His eyes will tell you that.” She had been watching the two young people with a quiet and decided sort of air, and her eyes did not leave them now—no. Those orbs that mirrored so innocently the secret thoughts of Esther’s heart had begun to dance. Perhaps it was to the very tune that seemed still to burn an impatient line upon her lips. 

“Why, Esther, I do not comprehend you! What foolishness!” Helen gasped, her teacup now perilously close to her bosom. “How can she be happy?”

Molly was quiet. 

“In fact I—well. I think I will join them. It is high time I should be off. Mother will be expecting me.” Esther placed her teacup gently down upon the tray, took another biscuit in hand, thanked both Molly and Helen dearly, and placed a rather busy-looking bonnet upon her dark locks.  
It took some time for Esther to reach the two, and once they saw her they stopped in their course and waited. Then Esther walked off, arm in arm with little Mary. Molly and Helen watched her disappear behind the hills in silence, willing contempt and disdain to scar their youthful faces as they looked down upon their fellow kinsman. In response to this, laughter filled the waning afternoon air and teemed thickly around the two; the fields and grounds around them seemed to swell and dance with life of a surreal and strange, ethereal nature. One of the group turned their face to talk to another, and then, then Molly and Helen saw upon that face a smile that seemed to grow out of the laughter itself. Not a beautiful one, not a perfectly rehearsed and charming smile, but a real one. A smile that held worlds of good in it, a smile that reached to the very eyes and back into the soul.

As she watched, there flickered  in Molly’s eye a light of childish longing. In Helen’s eyes there was nothing. In Esther’s there appeared a strange sort of belonging. In Mary’s, contentment. There was nothing but a sense of easy cheer in Gil’s eyes, and he threw back his merry head and laughed.

*Happy sigh*. Wasn't that a perfect ending? :) I love it. Now for the poem "Bath" by Maria Elisabeth:

I’m not very special now, but I think I was something then,
Before people started writing with pencils and when authors used a quill-pen.
Before doctors had treatment that worked and when people came here for their health.
All people – the old and the young and the poor, and especially the rich with their wealth.

I’m not very special now, but I think I was something then,
When I was called Aquae Sulis and the Britons came in from the fens
And Romans and soldiers and farmers delighted to come to my waters.
Romans and soldiers and farmers, with their wives and their sons and their daughters.

I’m not very special now, but I think I was something then,
When high society came to stay here, in groups of hundreds and tens
To sit in my steaming waters, and meet all their friends and talk
Or to read horrid novels, or just to go out for a walk.

I’m not very special now, but I think I was something then,
In the south of western England, on the banks of the River Avon.  
When anyone who could came (and those who couldn’t did not.)
And everyone who saw me declared that it was the loveliest spot.

I’m not very special now, but I think I was something then,
It was a long time ago, and I hope you will not ask, “When?”
The long time ago that was then, as you read it in books
Curled up in a couch by the fire, or somewhere in your own private nooks.

I’m not very special now, but I think I was something then,
Before people started writing with pencils and when authors used a quill-pen.
Before doctors had treatment that worked and when people came here for their health.
All people – the old and the young and the poor, and especially the rich with their wealth.

And then we come to the play written by Mercedes Brink: "In Her Mother's Shawl."

In her Mothers Shawl
Mercedes Brink

Characters in: In Her Mothers Shawl [in order of appearance]

BETTY KIETH: a young orphan girl

MARY KIETH: the mother of Betty

MRS. PHIPS: Rich lady who runs the household.

MRS. BELL: the old orphanage care taker

COOK: a rough lady who is in charge of the kitchen.

MAID ONE: works in kitchen

MAID TWO: works in kitchen

MR. WHITE: a old man who runs his own vegetable stand in the market.

JIM BAKER: runs the baker shop.

RUFFIANS: [four boys]

Act ONE:

: A wet cold and dark evening in the streets of London near a orphanage.

MARY KEITH: [Holding the hands from a little seven years old girl] There you go precious. Now wait here. [Reaching the front door she lets go of her. It begins to rain and she slips off her shawl, and puts it on Betty. Knocks on door and runs away. She awaits by a corner in the dark]

MRS. BELL: [Opens door] Hello? [looks down ] Oh you poor child! Where is your father or mother?

BETTY: She told me to wait here.

MRS. BELL: Poor child going to catch your death out here. [Picks girl up then shuts door]

MARY KIETH: Walks out and peaks through the orphanage window. Sees Betty being well taken care of] It’s for the best [walks away]

Close curtain.

Act TWO:

ANNOUNCER: Three years later [walks off stage]

: In a living room of a large house in the mid afternoon.

MRS. PHIPS: [sternly] Betty! Betty Keith get over here!

BETTY: Yes Ma’m? [ten year old girl appears with a dirty smudged face and a tired look]

MRS. PHIPS: Betty where have you been?

BETTY: Dusting Ma’m like you to’l me.

MRS. PHIPS: Hurry up. Guests are coming for dinner, and our cook has some errands for you. [stares at Betty a moment] Don’t just stand there!

BETTY: Yes, Ma‘am [ leaves and finishes dusting. Enters the kitchen]

: Kitchen. One Cook and a maid busy cooking.

COOK: [seeing Betty says roughly] Here I have got this list of things I need at the market. Mind you no dilly dallying. I must have those tomatoes. [Hands Betty basket]

BETTY: [heads for door]

MAID ONE: [Enters in just as Betty goes to door. rudely] Out of my way.

BETTY: Sorry. [goes to coat rack] Where is my shawl?

COOK: Being washed. It was filthy. [busy rolling dough]

BETTY: But it is cold out and I am afraid I won’t keep warm without it.

COOK: [not turning around answers] Wear the coat. You will live.

BETTY: [Puts on a big coat that is huge. leaves]


: On a busy street in town. Carriage goes by with a father and two children.

BETTY: [looks longingly as carriage disappear] Oh, I wish I could be one of those in a grand carriage. [ Sighs. Goes to a vegetable stand]

MR. WHITE: Why hello there Betty, what brings you here on this wet day?

BETTY: Hello Mr. White. I need some tomatoes. [smiles]

MR. WHITE: Well, we just got some fresh ones today. [shows basket.]

BETTY: [ Betty chooses four and hands coins] Thank you. [leaves]

MR. WHITE: [mutters] Poor girl. She deserves better than the life she has. That Mrs. Phips treats her like dirt.

BETTY: [making her way across the street when a carriage comes towards her]

JIM BAKER: Look out! [pulls her to the side]

BETTY: [screams]

JIM BAKER: Are you okay?!

BETTY: Yes, thank you. [watches carriage goes by. Shudders]

JIM BAKER: What is your name?

BETTY: Betty Sir.

JIM BAKER: My name is Jim Baker. I am glad you’re safe.

BETTY: Thank you Mr. Baker. [Looks down at her basket. Cries out] I lost my tomatoes and I have no more money!

JIM BAKER: Here now, don’t fret. I’ll give you some coins, and you can buy some more. [Digs in pocket]

BETTY: Than you sir, but I cant take it ..I must go now I am already late. [runs off]

JIM BAKER: Good bye. [Goes in his baker shop]

MARY KEITH: Dressed in a beautiful dress and hat. [Was watching out bakers window] Who is she? I have never seen her before?

JIM BETTY: She said her name’s Betty. I see her every so often. That was a close one with the carriage.

MARY KEITH: Yes it was. I had a girl once named Betty. [Looks into the distance as if deep in thought. Abruptly] But I must be going now. [leaves in a carriage]


: At Mrs. Phips house in kitchen.

BETTY: [Enters kitchen breathless and wet]

COOK: [Sternly looking at Betty] What took you so long?

BETTY: Sorry, I was nearly run over! [Takes off jacket and puts basket down] The tomatoes got ruined I am afraid.

COOK: What! You foolish girl! You shall have no supper now.

BETTY: [Pleadingly] I can go back ma’am.

COOK: [Serving steamed soup into nice bowls] Too late now. Guests have arrived and I want you to help after you clean yourself up. Quick!

BETTY: Yes Ma’am. [As she is cleaning herself up she mumbles] I wish I had my mama back.

In kitchen. Betty eating hot oatmeal and only maid is there.

MAID TWO: Cook wants you to get some more tomatoes. Hurry with breakfast.

BETTY: [Nods her head then after bringing her bowl to the sink she slips on grey shawl and basket]

: Near market. It’s not raining, but it’s wet and muddy.

BETTY: [Walking past a group of boys a little nervous]

RUFFIAN: [One pushes Betty into a big puddle. All the boys laugh]

BETTY: [Picks herself up]

MARY KIETH: [Saw what had happened near by and rushes to Betty’s side] That’ll be enough! [Looks at boys angrily]

RUFFIANS: [Seeing the lady is upset they quickly leave]

MARY KEITH: [Asks gently] Are you all right?

BETTY: Yes ma’am thankye kindly. [Smiles at lady to show she is okay]

MARY KEITH: [Sees shawl. Stares at it a moment then looks at Betty’s face. After a moment she puts her hand to her mouth] Why bless my soul. Betty is that you?

BETTY: [Confused] Ma‘am?

MARY KEITH: [Points to shawl] That was mine three year ago! Don’t you remember? I brought you to the orphanage, and gave that shawl to you. And can see your fathers face in you! God be praised. He has answered my prayer at last. I have found you!

BETTY: [Slowly she recognizes Mary Keith and begins to remember and smiles] Oh Mama! It is you!

Betty and Mary hug.

Curtains close

There you have it! That was rather an exhausting task to choose just one winner from each category! A big thank you to everyone who entered, and everyone give a round of applause to the winners! Girls who won, you can email me at and we'll discuss how to get your prizes to you! ~Rachel

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Beautiful People: Basil Seasoning

Since many of you wish to get better acquainted with the teller of my tale, A Mother for the Seasonings, let me give you a glimpse of Basil in action:

"I ran out to the group in the guise of a perfectly welcoming host. “Hurry along, Miss Watkins,” I said, taking her arm.
“I am going just as quickly as I wish to, Master Seasoning. It does seem to take an eternity to get to your house.”
Rosemary trotted ahead and beckoned to us. “Faster, Miss Watkins, there’s a dear.”
As we approached the house, the barking of the dogs could be plainly heard.
Miss Watkins turned visibly pale. “Are the dogs fastened tightly?” She pulled her arm out of mine and twisted her handkerchief into a knot.
I affected a casual air. “Oh yes. We made sure to tie them up securely. Especially after what happened last time.”
“What happened last time?” Miss Watkins stopped and turned to me.
Rosemary tilted her head to one side and shook her head sweetly. “Oh nothing much. Only that Deacon Cloddham visited last week, and although her arrived with all his fingers, he left with nine.” Her brown eyes had never looked more sincere. “You had better hold your hands high in the air so the dogs don’t think your gloves are pieces of meat.” She nodded at the smart salmon colored gloves Miss Watkins wore.
Even I was shocked by Rosemary’s tales—she was usually so mild, and I shook my head at her audacity.
We entered the gate an odd procession, but the spirit of mischief had firm hold of me by now. Miss Watkins held her hands above her head, and, for Angelica’s benefit—for I knew she would be watching out the front window—I held out my arm like a rapier, as if we were holding this woman hostage at sword-point.
Hot anger at the bare idea of Miss Watkins being our mother urged me to greater heights. I have no idea what fiend of inspiration made the others act their parts so well, though perhaps it was a kindred feeling to mine, but even Fennel suggested that we had better dash to the front door in case one of the dogs broke loose.
At this, Miss Watkins gathered up her trailing skirts and ran to the door, arriving with her bonnet tilted over one ear. We crowded the walk behind her.
“Is your father at home?” Miss Watkins’s ivory complexion was flushed an uncomfortable shade of red.
“He isn’t yet, but he will be.” A fluttering sensation rose in my chest.
I gave Miss Watkins my arm and led her through the house to the table, which looked lavishly elegant. Angie’s roses lent an additional charm.
Fennel gasped. “Basil, those woses are full of—”
I clamped my hand over her mouth and pulled out a chair for Miss Watkins.
She sat down and plastered a smile on her lips. “Will your father be home soon?”
“Yes, but we usually eat without him, why don’t we begin?” I bowed my head and said a blessing, mentioning nearly everyone of our acquaintance in Cape Farsight, and dwelling on the heathen in the far reaches of the world. I hoped rambling on in such a way would bide us some time before Papa came home. At last I was finished, and I lifted my glass. “To Miss Watkins.”
The others followed my example. “To Miss Watkins.”
The subject of the toast managed a cold smile and put her glass to her lips. She promptly choked on the liniment-flavored tea.
I stole a glance at Angie, but her face registered no emotion beyond polite surprise. She kept her eyes on her plate and ate her own food in silence. That little minx was a fine actress, I had to admit.
I needn’t explain the next few minutes very deeply. Suffice it to say, Angelica and I had done our jobs well. The food was thoroughly uneatable, and the fat green worms, not contented with their rose-petal beds, had tumbled into Miss Watkins’s salad, completing her disastrous meal.
Our guest rose, her whole body trembling. Her jaw was clenched, and her eyes glittered. They were pools of golden malice. I shrank involuntarily from their gaze.
“Children, I reject, I despise, I spurn, your proposals. I would not marry a man who fathered such brats if he were a king. Good day.” Miss Watkins turned on her heel and slammed the front door as she left our house."

 Ah yes. My dear Basil.

1. Do they have any habits, annoying or otherwise?
Basil’s habits are of a neat nature…the other Seasoning children tell me that he often stands before a fireplace, hands clasped behind his back, legs spread apart.

2. What is their backstory and how does it affect them now?
Basil shares the same basic backstory with the rest of his siblings: They had a mother, beautiful and young, who they loved very much. She and Capt. Herb Seasoning were fervently devoted to one another. But when she gave birth to Fennel, Victoria Seasoning died, leaving Capt. Seasoning a widower with five young children. Ever since Basil has felt a deal of responsibility for his family.

3. How do they show love?
Basil’s manner of loving is to ruffle Angie’s hair or pinch Fennel’s nose. He is a thoughtful person and likes to see women well-dressed, so he is liberal with his compliments, which pleases Rosemary, especially. As far as other fellows go, Basil is a typical man. His expressions of satisfaction and approbation are most often given in a slap on the back or a grin.

4. How competitive are they?
Basil is not what most people would call competitive—he has enough trouble already keeping Angie and Dill from killing each other. But as the oldest child, and a son at that, Basil makes sure he keeps his place as alpha-wolf in the pack. He’s a peacemaker, not a ring-leader, but he takes the lead often as a “captain” for the girls, as he expresses it to Dill.

5. What do they think about when nothing else is going on?
Shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings, I’ll warrant. Basil is a typical boy who is curious about things. He likes nothing better than to go to work with his father, training new recruits for the British army. I suppose soldiers, sailing ships, exploration, and adventure stories figure largely in his mind. He is (happily) not at that age where any thought of girls, beyond his sisters, comes into play. I would not know what to do with him if he fell in love rather than his father! Yet Basil is aware enough to have a good eye for a wife for his father. It is he who has the final say in the Mother-Hunt visits.

6. Do they have an accent?
Oh yes, indeed. Basil has a stout, healthy British accent, and uses exclamations of peculiar Englishness as liberally as a Democrat.

7. What is their station in life?
Basil Seasoning is the eldest son of a prominent man in the settlement of Cape Farsight, India. Captain Herb Seasoning is an important figure in the training of the new recruits and brings home quite a pretty penny. The Seasonings are the Society children of the Cape. They are wealthy and rather spoiled with little to vex and much to please them. I cannot vouch for the statement that they are refined…though Angie is kept busy striving toward that end. But the Seasonings haven’t let prosperity turn their heads. The children are more at home talking to Dharma, the seller of trinkets in the market, than they are sitting in an OLAF tea-party. (Oh. And do let me explain OLAF—it stands for Old Ladies Against Fun, and is made up of all the Society wives of Cape Farsight)

8. What do others expect from them?
His father expects Basil to be his right-hand. He depends upon this eldest son more than he realizes. The other children instinctively look to Basil for guidance, letting him take the hits when something goes wrong, and the glory when it goes smashingly. His character is well-formed and noble for a mere boy of thirteen—I suspect because of his early sorrow and the way the children have had to “scramble up” on their own, Capt. Seasonings being such a busy man.

9. Where were they born, and when?
Basil Andrew Cyrus Seasoning was born on a bright morning in November. It was early summer, as India is in the Southern Hemisphere, and all the world smiled as it heard his first cry. Basil has that effect on people—he sooths and pleases them, and makes everyone feel at ease.

10. How do they feel about people in general?
Basil likes people, but he doesn’t like pretense. He hates false friendliness and social ladder-climbing. Having been brought up in a home where frankness is key, Basil neither understands, nor enjoys cold, conventional cordiality merely for the sake of being polite. If People in large will be themselves and leave all posturing at the door, you will find him your fast friend.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Fool's Hope

I have not been in the mood lately to work on Puddleby needs something in a big way, but I haven't felt clever enough to dig up the something and force it to name itself. So I have dabbled in the luxury of writing short pieces of Nothing. Here is one of those short pieces. I intend to finish this short story if you like it enough for me to go through that effort....I got rather attached to poor Rose Macintyre. Anyway, enjoy the read. :) 
“A Fool’s Hope”
By Rachel Heffington

“When I get bigger I’ll walk all the way to Clippership Pass and have a picnic.” The wan hand waved at a rivet in the side of the bracken-covered mountain, and the trustful blue eyes smiled into my own. There was no fear caught in their intricate depths; only a kind of hope that hurt me worse than taking stitches out of a baby’s lip.
 I had seen it time and again there—that glimmering trust, that fathomless serenity. How could I dash this fairy-like creature to the ground and tell her that she would probably not even live till that much anticipated sixth birthday?
I put my stethoscope in my ears. Maybe I’d been wrong. “Come now, little bird,” I coaxed.
The pretty creature turned in her bed from the contemplation of those delicious heights to the cool interior of the room scented with clinical smells that had no business there.
“Am I much better, Dr. Colley?” Her fluffy blond hair, looking more than ever like duckling down with being tousled, fell about her pale cheeks. It was not a question as much as a statement.
“Not much, much better yet, Rose, but I hope to have you right as rain by September.” I hoped, but it was a fool’s hope. I knew the rapid downward spiral such illnesses took.
“Oh, by my birthday you mean. Will you come and eat my pink cake with me?” It was a solemn oath she was asking me to swear. I knew that in her childish way she demanded a sympathetic assurance that there was to be a birthday. She never doubted, but she wanted confirmation.
I smiled and put my earpiece to her poor thin chest. A whooshing sound, distinctly painful to the ears of a trained doctor, told me again what I already knew. Little bird would not have her pink cake in September. My hand shook but I masked my finding from Rose in a jovial chuckle. It grated with harsh insensitivity on my ear, but Rose knew no difference.
“Well Rose-bud, if you want to be strong and healthy we must let you get your sleep.” I plumped my tiny patient’s pillows and smoothed the coverlet.
“And won’t you kiss me goodnight?” She presented her cheek—so pitiful and thin for a six year old child’s—and gave me an arch smile.
I gave the kiss with a right good will and a prayer on my lips, then tip-toed out of the room. My patient, worn out with even the effort of saying a few words, was fast asleep.
*          *          *          *
My steps sounded in the empty hall like the sharp report of a rifle. Every doctor grows somewhat attached to his patients, but Rose and I had a special link. We were kindred spirits—if a six year-old girl and a sixty year-old man could be called such. If—and I did not doubt the truth of this verdict—Rose Macintyre died, a part of me would die with her.
I slowed my pace as I neared the parlor where Rose’s parents waited. The poor child had been sick so long they no longer attended me to the room, but waited until they were wanted or needed in the pleasant suite of rooms at the other end of the wing.
Mirrors interspersed between the windows showed a more miserable man with each subsequent reflection. How could I tell Mr. and Mrs. Macintyre that their prize and treasure, their little Rose-bud would wilt before the first frosts?
I shoved my hands into my pocket and felt for my watch-fob. I had no need of the time, but it was a habit, a comforting custom that I gained a queer pleasure from performing in my intensity. I would break it to the parents carefully. They might ask how she was, and I might reply, as I had to Rose, not much better—only putting the inflection on the last word, adding none of the hopeful lilt my voice had sprinkled unbidden into my words to the little girl.
But I needn’t have troubled myself, for as soon as I stepped over the threshold onto the parquet floor, my face told the story. Mrs. Macintyre hid her face in her hands and her shoulders shook. Her bright hair, so like her daughters, was fastened back with a jet comb as if her fingers had known the sentence that morning before she herself had.
The father stood, stricken. “Good God!” he said, not cursing but praying.
I bowed my head and clasped and unclasped my hands. It was not the first time— Lord forgive me—that I had to tell a family there was no hope. No, I had been a doctor for forty years if I had one, and had seen more than my fair share, perhaps, of deathbeds. But this…this creature belonged to the realm of the living. I could no more imagine her held in the chill embrace of death than I could one of the morning glories peeping through the latticed windows, or the yellow canary singing ironically in the little silver cage by the piano.
Of course I knew sweet Rose would be happier in Heaven, yet to our mortal minds the passage from this world to the next seems only befitting for the old—those of us like myself who had lived a full life. If my own life would have done anything to save this poor child dying of tuberculosis upstairs, I would have sacrificed myself on the spot. Yet such is the nature of God that we cannot go until we are called.
Mrs. Macintyre raised her head, and a firm resolve was in her face. “Are you quite certain, Dr. Colley?”
“Yes ma’am. Would that my diagnosis was erroneous, but the point of vagueness is past. I am certain.”
She stood with a rustling of her plum-colored dress and walked silently across the room. Then she took my hands in both of her own and kissed them. “Dr. Colley,” she said, her voice full of pathos and emotions even my own distress could not rival, “You have become one of the family with your daily, some times even hourly visits. Our Rose looks upon you as her good fairy. Her friend and companion in her long illness. Won’t you stay at Wheatleigh till she…until she is Better?”
Brave woman! Convincing herself as well as me that life with her Savior would, to Rose, be preferable to her sweet life here. Death is said to strengthen faith where it is weak, and I suddenly felt that my trips to church of a Sunday were not the sort of Life the Macintyres enjoyed.
“I thank you, Mrs. Macyntire for your kind hospitality, but I must decline. I will be here tomorrow morning at seven to check on our patient.”
Mr. Macintyre advanced, holding my hat and coat in his hand. “Dr. Colley, no matter what the outcome, you will always be welcomed here. You know that.”
My eyes met his and I managed a grave smile. “I do. Call me if there is any change.”
Rose’s father nodded and bowed as I left the parlor. I defied all the general rules of decorum and practically ran out the front door and leapt into my carriage. I could not stay at that house where so many fond memories bedecked the very parlor-carpet with images of Rose when she had been a little better.
The grey London sleet resumed its sloppy habit of falling sideways and washed out the image of Wheatleigh with a tearful slush.
It would not be long now, I decided, till we would know.

Glimpses of Greatness

Sometimes, as in hearing our own voice for too long, we can grow weary of our own writing. Or at least I can. I begin to feel that my problems with my story, my issues with word choice or plot progression are all there is in the realm of literature. Thank heaven that is not true, for what a pickle we'd be in! So I like to refresh myself with delicious excerpts from other writers. They refresh, while at the same time challenge me to examine my writing and try to do better. So I thought I'd share with you a few excerpts that thrilled me:

Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge (haven't read the book, just this quote. :)
"My name is Stella Sprigg, " said Stella. "What is your name?" To her, as to all children, names were tremendously important. Your Christian name, joining you to God, your surname linking you to your father. If you had both names you had your place in the world, walking safely along with a hand held upon either side. If you had neither you were in a bad way, you just fell down and did not belong anywhere, and if you only had one you only half belonged.
"Zachary," said the boy.
"Only Zachary?"
"Only Zachary."
"Just a Christian name?"
"That's all."
Stella looked at him with concern. Only God had hold of him. He was lopsided. She had noticed it in his gait when she first saw him walking. Then she remembered that but for Father and Mother Sprigg she would have been lopsided too, for her nameless mother had died. This memory deepened her feeling of oneness with Zachary, and she put out a small hand and laid it on his knee.
"Do you know where you come from?" she asked wonderingly.
"From the moon," replied Zachary promptly. "Haven't you seen me up there?" .....
"Zachary Moon," she said with pleasure, and felt she had got him a bit better supported upon the other side.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"Whatever comes," she said, "cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time, when no one knows it."

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"As she came closer to him she noticed that there was a fresh clean scent of heather and leaves and grass about him, almost as if he were made from them. She liked it very much, and when she looked into his funny face with the red cheeks and round blue eyes, she forgot that she had felt shy."

 Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
"For we pay a price for everything we get or take in this world; and although ambitions are well worth having, they are not to be cheaply won, but exact their dues of work and self-denial, anxiety and discouragement."

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
“It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different - deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.” 
The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
“Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out – single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.”

 The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
“One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say.”
Oh mercy. I could go on and on with C.S. Lewis' Narnia all day...that man had the elusive knack for tacking down an idea with just the right word so you can practically smell what he means. :) I hope you enjoyed reading these quotes. :) What are some of your favorites? ~Rachel