"The time has come, " The Walrus said, "to talk of many things.
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings."
Miss Dashwood with her short story: "Miss Ballentyne's Un-valentine" Chosen for hilarity, wit, humor, and altogether cheerfulness.
Felicity Deverell with her short story: "The Valentine Special" Chosen for its extreme originality, bantering humor, and Sherlock-ian twist at the end.
And Hannah Thompson's poem: "A Day of Love or Loss?" Chosen for the quality of the poetry and her fine turn of words.
So without further ado, the entries. Please vote on your favorite in this Grand Prize Winner Competition!
"A Day of Love or Loss?"
By Hannah Thompson
Tis the day of love
Of memories that endure.
A day to renew the vows they troth
And with a kiss, make them sure.
But what of those who wander still
In unmattrimonial plight?!
Who oft begrudge the break of day
When love is not in sight!
A day to be regretted!
A day full well to mourn!
For those bereft of a valentine;
For those who are lovelorn!
Say not, "your time will come!"
There is no comfort there!
How can you enjoy the wait
When you have naught but despair?!
Should we sit listless, dull,
And think on other things
On a day so very ill-named?!
How can we e'r do so
On a day so very ill-famed?!
A day of love? It isn't so!
How can you be cruel thus?!
Bethink of all those who have no love,
Think of all of us!
We think not of a valentine,
We have not one of to boast!
We think only "who will be mine?!"
Tis not a happy day for most!
True, love is a lovely thing,
If one has the fortune to posses!
But, to many, this day doth sadness bring,
And not a day that's blest!
So, I say, with many a heart like mine,
Keep this day to yourself
Til all have a valentine!
(she put in a disclaimer that she does not consider these things true!)
Next we have Felicity Deverell's story!
The Valentine Special
By Felicity Deverell
Miss Herrins put the morning mail on my desk with a cup of strong coffee as I had ordered and whisked open the windows.
‘Happy Valentines, Mr Midgely!’ she creaked in her high cracked voice, I couldn’t imagine that she knew the meaning of the day.
‘Happy Valentines, you say, Herrins, what’s happy in it for you then eh?’ I ask bitterly.
‘I can enjoy a good story as much as anyone, Sir, and the Valentine Special is what makes my day happy. Why read this one here, this is a stunner.’ She pulls out a paper from her apron pocket, ‘You read that, it’s all a joke, sir, you’ll see.’
I took the paper suspiciously and read:
‘An old sailor, one of Nelson’s heroes, now an inmate of the Waterford workhouse, recently addressed a love-letter to the parish cook, who handed it over to the guardians. The following is a copy of the love-sick sailor’s epistle:--
“My dear Life,--O Devine flora the havoc committed By shells throwing into the seport of an Enemy is a meer trifl in war time compared, Queen of Queens, from the destruction of my Hart from the fire of your eyes—yes, Goddess of Goddesses, a shot from either one or both of those Heavy Bows Chasers hes Raked my Hart fore and aft And knocked it into splinters, that no carpenter can repair But the majick of your smiles. Every time I Ly down in my Hammock I hereby make the clue strands conceiving I hold you in my arms and if this be not prof of my moste cordial love I know not in which point of the compass it lies. Lowering my top-gallant sails to you, I Remain your dyeing Liftenant,‘The cruel cook conceived that it was her cupboard the “liftenant” courted, and therefore she rejected his suit.’ *1
Harra! William O’Neil
‘Are you the cook mentioned?’ I asked drily as I handed back her paper.
‘Oh no, Mr Midgely, but it’s a good laugh don’t you think.’
‘Quite, now I know why my breakfast is always cold on Valentine’s Day. I ought to fire you for even reading such a rubbish paper.’
‘But that’s not even the best of it!’ she persisted, ‘Listen to this, these telegrams are always good:
“To Sally: My dear love, you are my valentines. Will gift your present soon, don’t wait up. Love, your Man.” (Edited)
‘Ha, what woman would swallow that? And this:
“To the man at the newspaper office: Dear Sir, will you be my Valentine, yours respectfully the girl with the flowers.”
‘I bet he put that in as a joke on the poor girl!’
‘Or else he made it up, they all are, Herrins, you should know better.’ I said sitting down at my desk and picking up the mail. ‘You may leave me now, I have things to do and so do you, go and do them.
‘Mr Midgely, I will! And enjoy my day not like you pining up here for your Valentines you lost thirty years ago!’
‘Miss Herrins!’ I thundered in rage at her presumption, ‘you may leave!’ She departed at last and all that morning I heard her thumping about the house expressly to annoy me and squawking out Valentine’s Day wishes under my window to people in the street.
Among my morning mail I had laid aside the usual Valentines related paper to be thrown out. One headline however caught my eye: ‘Accidental Millionaire’ my curiosity aroused, I read on:
‘Miss Ilona Vardis, of Budapest, has become a multi-milionaire by an accident that caused the death of an admirer before he had time to change a cuff on which had had scribbled his will as a joke. Ilona was a shopgirl in a fancy goods store. An elderly man named Kronyi, of shabby appearance, was her constant customer, and often sympathised with her because her work was hard. One day he was more sympathetic than usual, and said: “For reward you shall have all my money when I die. I am an old bachelor, and have managed to save a bit.” As the other girls behind the counter laughed at the idea of his having any money to leave, he turned down his cheap paper cuff and wrote: “I appoint Ilona Vardis my sole heir. After my death she is to inherit all my estate, real and personal.” Then he signed and dated this impromptu will, laughed heartily at his own little joke, shook hands with Ilona and left the store.
‘While crossing the street just outside the store he narrowly escaped being run down by a car, and had a fit from fright, and died in a chemist’s shop a quarter of an hour after he had scribbled on his cuff. It turned out that Kronyi had left more than 60,000,000 gulden (6,000,000 pounds). Ilona got a lawyer to file her claim to the fortune in the Probate Court of this city. Kronyi’s relatives fought hard to have this last of his wills set aside, but the Judge decided in favour of Ilona. She got the whole estate, but gave one-third of it to Kronyi’s brother.’ *2
Now here was something amusing, silly old man to fool around with the little witch, they are dangerous, women are. But I was intrigued and I glanced through the paper for anything else of interest and come across an excerpt from an old book on pirates. I was disgusted with the first lines but read on to see who died:
Her Passion was no less violent than his, and perhaps she express’d it, by one of the most generous Actions that ever Love inspired. It happened this young Fellow had a Quarrel with one of the Pyrates, and their ship then lying at an Anchor, near one of the Islands, they had appointed to go ashore and fight, according to the Custom of the Pyrates: Mary Read was to the last Degree uneasy and anxious, for the Fate of her Lover; she would not have had him refuse the Challenge, because, she could not bear the Thoughts of his being branded with Cowardice; on the other side, she dreaded the Event, and apprehended the Fellow might be too hard for him: When Love once enters into the Breast of one who has any Sparks of Generosity, it stirs the Heart up to the most noble Actions; in this Dilemma, she shew’d, that she fear’d more for his Life than she did for her own; for she took a Resolution of quarrelling with this Fellow herself, and having challenged him ashore, she appointed the Time two Hours sooner than that when he was to meet her Lover, where she fought him at Sword and Pistol, and killed him upon the Spot. *3
* * *When I looked up the sun was turning the corner into my room, glancing uneasily at the desk clock I was astonished and rather ashamed to see I had spent the entire day reading Miss Herrins’ trash. But I suddenly grinned to myself, I haven’t been so amused in years, I thought, it’s addictive, I think I’ll sack Herrins and live a happy life after all!
But the next titbit I read almost put me off; it was in the readers’ letters section:
‘Every day this year since I moved in, I am awoken regularly by the shrieks and yells from the loving couple next door who had somehow managed to get married to each other. On this very morning it was not until I received my morning mail that I could account for the strange silence next door. It warmed my heart to know that, even if only on the 14th of this month, there is hope for married couples and all others.’ Sent in by W. D. TubbleRubbish, what reason can he have for thinking everyone particularly happy just because it’s today! I threw the paper down in disgust just as Miss Herrins enters with the evening post. Snatching it off her I dive into its pages to recover my senses thinking that perhaps the day has some power to its fame after all. I head straight for the crime column which usually sets me straight in my usual frame of mind. ‘A shocking Murder’ screams the first headline I scan the story:
‘There was a terrible murder last night when a domestic battle turned ugly. The couples neighbour, W. D. Tubble, tells us the couple were in the habit of rousing arguments. After a silence that lasted all today, however, he became worried. He roused the police… The wife is was last seen escaping via Charring Cross Station….’‘I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day! Do you Miss Herrins?’ I throw down the paper with a hearty laugh.
‘No Mr Midgely, I recon I don’t, not in the usual sense, but I do believe in a bit of amusement.’
‘At the Public’s expense eh. I agree. Now tell me is there an evening edition to your Valentine Special? Yes? Well run and buy a couple, quick!’
‘Of course, Mr Midgely, as you say, at once!’ She squeaks and scuttles off as if she had just witnessed a miracle.
I now no longer dread the 14th of February; in fact I look forward to it eagerly with my Herrins. I haven’t yet fired the woman, though I regularly resolve to do so. I have, however, given up going in for society polish and I believe I am much happier for it.
*3 Capt. Charles Johnson, A General History of the Pyrates. Reprint of the 1724 edition.
And last but not least, Miss Dashwood's story!
"Miss Ballentyne's Un-Valentine"
By Miss Dashwood
To begin with, the hot water was all used up that morning—ah, the joys of living in a cheap flat where other tenants took luxurious baths each morning—and Angela had to take an icy cold shower. There is nothing more daunting to the prospect of a pleasant morning than having to grit one’s teeth under a fingernail-freezing stream of water that is not even strong enough to be invigorating. Well, perhaps that is the most daunting, but it is closely followed by accidentally putting too much water in the oatmeal and being faced with gloppy soup for breakfast instead of thick, hot porridge. Then, of course, poor Angela spent so much time trying to kill a moth that had got caught in the pathetic gaslight that she let her toast burn.
And if all that weren’t enough, she didn’t realize that she was wearing mismatched shoes until she had already gotten on the subway.
But upon entering the office, she brightened a little—she had not been late yet a single day this week. The fact that it was only Monday should not be a damper to her still-feeble enthusiasm.
Apparently enthusiasm-dampers were running amok that morning, however, because Mrs. Poulthard stopped her in her tracks with a glance of steel as soon as she stepped into the office. “Miss Monroe, the story you submitted last week was absolutely unsatisfactory. I am really quite severely displeased. Rose Arbor does not tolerate shoddy work, particularly stories that lack plots—and kissing—entirely. I have not run this magazine for twenty-eight years only to see it totter and fall because of poor work on the part of my writers.”
Mrs. Poulthard had that rare knack of making everything that went wrong seem as if it were entirely your fault and no one else’s. Angela winced a little. “I’m truly sorry, Mrs. Poulthard, and I—”
“Miss Monroe, I am not interested in your apologies. I am interested in a better story, this week. Now, this week’s edition comes out on Friday, and as you know Friday is St. Valentine’s Day. I shall expect a particularly romantic tale from you, Miss Monroe—our readers expect it. And,” Mrs. Poulthard shot daggers at Angela over her flat-topped glasses, “our readers pay our bills, Miss Monroe. Now I shall expect a satisfactory Valentine story from you by nine o’clock on Wednesday morning so it may go to press on Thursday. Without fail, Miss Monroe.”
“Yes, Mrs. Poulthard.” It was all very well to expect a romantic tale, but what was one to do when one had nothing to write? She turned to go.
“And another thing, Miss Monroe.” Mrs. Poulthard had the pleased air of one who remembered that there was yet one more arrow in her quiver. “The pen names you have been using of late are most unsatisfactory. Naturally I would never want my subscribers to think that our fiction comes from the same author each week, but there is no need to sign your name at the bottom as Hortensia Dedlock or Louisa Steerforth. No one, I should hope, would really be cursed with names such as those. Your imagination is overactive, Miss Monroe.”
“My pen names have come from characters in my favorite books, Mrs. Poulthard. I didn’t make them up.”
“Oh. Well.” Mrs. Poulthard considered. “Then perhaps you might consider using a pen name that sounds more… er… realistic. Elizabeth Bennet, perhaps. You’re fond of Charlotte Bronte’s works, as I remember.”
“Elizabeth Bennet is a character in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen,” said Angela mildly. It was probably not the wisest remark she could have made—Mrs. Poulthard abhorred contradictions.
Mrs. Poulthard simply glared. Angela backed hastily out of the publisher’s office and fled to her tiny corner in the writing room, where she sat before her typewriter with her head in her hands. People in books always sat with their heads in their hands when they needed to think especially hard, but somehow it didn’t seem to help her much. She usually thought much more clearly when she was sitting up straight and looking around her.
To waste a little time, she put a fresh paper into her typewriter very, very slowly, taking care to keep the edges straight and the middle from wrinkling. It took her nearly a minute, and the result was pleasingly clean and neat, but it did not move her any closer toward meeting her deadline.
She hated writing love stories, absolutely abhorred the task. Her dialogue always seemed stilted and schmaltzy, her characters drab and curiously like paper dolls, her plots… well, in Mrs. Poulthard’s words, her plots were nonexistent. She was tired, so very tired of the classic boy-meets-girl tale. If she could write like Jane Austen, of course, things would be very different, but she lacked the wit and sparkle—let alone the sense and sensibility—that was required for a tale of pride and prejudice.
Then, of course, there was the question of the pen name. Mrs. Poulthard would never admit it, naturally, but Rose Arbor was struggling and could not afford to hire more writers. Thus, it was up to Angela and Lillian Pennywright to create an illusion of a long string of clamoring authors spilling out weekly stories for Rose Arbor.
She pulled her list of already-used pen names from her purse and smiled at the memory each evoked. Esther Woodhouse, Fanny Elliot, Henrietta Copperfield, Lucy Ferrars—she had certainly obtained a giggle or two from that one—and even Charlotte Collins. The kind of readers who subscribed to Rose Arbor were, she feared, not the same kind of readers who devoured Bleak House in thirteen days… and therefore would not recognize the names of these literary heroines. Angela herself had torn through Bleak House in twelve and a half days, though she was loath to admit it. Then why on earth, she asked herself for the umpteenth time, was she writing for a magazine as frivolous and fluffy as Rose Arbor?
The reason was not one she liked to admit. She had been brought up in a household where it was really not polite to speak of… well… finances.
She flipped open a recent issue of the magazine. There must be an idea somewhere. Lillian’s latest installment of The Duke’s Inheritance was splashed across the front page.
One cursory glance was enough to make her feel a bit sick. Lillian had certainly never gotten in trouble with Mrs. Poulthard for a lack of kissing in her stories. Angela had often thought that perhaps she would have an easier job if she could write a serial as Lillian did, instead of having to come up with a new idea each week, but the mere thought of writing something so… so very slurpy was enough to make her wince.
Back to the task at hand. She rolled the paper up a little farther in the typewriter—the title could wait until she landed something resembling an idea. For now, she could at least write the easy part: “by such-and such pen name.” Mrs. Poulthard had not been pleased with her recent nom de plumes, so perhaps her latest idea (Mrs. Nicholas Darnay Murdstone-Squeers, PhD) would not go over too well. She briefly considered using Fanny Chuzzlewit, but though the name brought a smile to her face, she banished that idea as well.
Emma Dorrit, perhaps? No, too plain. She scanned her list of ideas again. She had always liked the name Dashwood—it sounded so literary, somehow. Miss Dashwood sounded rather well, but a bit dull… Amy Dorrit’s name caught her eye again. Miss Amy Dashwood. Perfect—a bit bland, but still holding a little, bookish joke for her and for her alone.
Phrases were playing freeze tag through her head, barely staying in one place long enough for her to lay a thought on them. Pictures and people flashed in and out, none of them concrete, not one of them available for the taking. A story had to start somewhere. She had to think of something. It was eleven-thirty already—how could it be so late already, and here she was with nothing written but a pen name?
Lillian breezed by Angela’s desk. “Why, Angie dear, I didn’t know you were here today. Working on a story for Valentine’s Day, eh? I can’t think how nice it must be to be as clever as you. Just imagine, a whole new plot every week—I couldn’t do it, dear, I simply couldn’t do it. What are you going to write about this time?”
Angela offered a meager excuse for a smile. “Uh… it’s going to be a surprise, Lillian.”
“Oh, very well, I shan’t peek. I do hope it’s funny. I adore your funny stories. I never can write anything funny, unfortunately. I believe romance must be my forte and humor yours, don’t you think, dear?’
“My, you’re quiet today. Well, I won’t disturb you any longer, but I’m going to the coffee shop to have lunch with Kate and Winifred, won’t you come with us?”
“No, thanks.” Angela stood up and pushed her typewriter back with an air of finality. “I think I’ll take my lunch to the park and eat there. I can get some scribbling done while I eat.”
“Oh, well, suit yourself.” Lillian was gone in a whirl of high heels and lemon verbena.
The park was cold and desolate, spattered only here and there with couples being ostentatiously cute. She did not care to observe all the adorableness being displayed around her—couldn’t a girl simply sit and eat her lunch during Valentine’s week without being bombarded with romance on every corner? The story deadline breathing down her neck was not, it seemed, enough. No, of course not—she must needs be reminded of it on every side.
It was enough to make a girl want to write a Western tale of swashbuckling adventure (did they buckle swashes out West, or was that something that belonged to pirates on the Spanish Main) just for the sake of perversity.
She whipped out her notebook and licked her pencil. It tasted horrible and she wondered why people always did that when they were in deep thought. But never mind that now. She was not going to write a romantic tale of heartbreak and loss and longing. She was going to write a satire, and if Mrs. Poulthard did not like it… well, she wouldn’t think about that.
She racked her brain for a suitable name for her main character, and briefly considered writing about a woman named Miss Valentine. No, no, that was too silly—but perhaps she could use something that rhymed with Valentine.
She bent her head over the notebook, forgetting all about the cold and the lovebirds strolling by. Miss Ballantyne shook her head and mournfully slurped the last dregs from her pink china teacup. No one seemed to notice her mournfulness, so she gave a gusty sigh and shook her head again. The bits of black jet dangling from the edge of her bonnet jangled together and made a lovely dismal sound.
Imagery was always fun, but now something ought to happen. Why was Miss Ballantyne mournful? Why, because she had no valentine, of course. She had had one once, but he had been killed many years ago—or, no, he had disappeared mysteriously. And now—and now—Angela’s brain took off. And now the departed suitor would return to the town he had left so bafflingly, and Miss Ballantyne—for of course it was she who had been his sweetheart—would find to her surprise that she preferred being in mourning for him than in actually being his sweetheart once again.
She would call it “Miss Ballantyne’s Un-Valentine”, for she had always liked corny titles. And now to work.
Mrs. Rupert, being Miss Ballantyne’s older sister, could have at least offered some sympathy at this point, but of course she remained cold and hard-boiled. “Oh, Augusta, Mr. Pierpont never actually proposed to you and you know it, so why must there be all these dramatics? And over a book salesman, of all people. I really think you might have had better taste.”
She stayed in the park, turning numb slowly and methodically, writing on and on and on until she looked up and noticed that the light was gone.
Mrs. Poulthard was wearing a look of great displeasure—oh, no—as Angela approached her desk. “Miss Monroe, I’m very pleased that you’ve managed to actually make this deadline,” she said dryly.
Angela’s stomach flew up into her throat. Compliments did not come from Mrs. Poulthard without strings attached.
“But,” said Mrs. Poulthard heavily, “the story itself is highly unsatisfactory, Miss Monroe. Highly unsatisfactory. To the best of my recollection, I asked you for a romantic tale for Valentine’s Day. That was an open-ended prompt with which you could have done nearly anything, and yet you chose to blatantly disregard it. You have written a story about a middle-aged woman in a small town around the turn of the century who is mourning the death of a man who is still living. That pitch, Miss Monroe, does not fit into the romance genre. Moreover, you have ended the story without a wedding or even an engagement. No one wants to read a Valentine’s Day story that ends with the heroine being… un-Valentined.”
Angela said nothing. There was nothing to say. She should have known. Why had she been so stupid? The story had given her more fun and excitement over a writing project than she had had in a long time, but she was supposed to be writing to please Rose Arbor readers, not herself.
“One can only imagine,” continued Mrs. Poulthard, her heavy tortoiseshell earrings shaking with disdain, “that this is the kind of fiction you yourself are fond of, Miss Monroe. Well, that is all very lovely, but writers for Rose Arbor write to please Rose Arbor readers, not themselves.” She waited, seemingly expecting a reply of some sort.
“Yes, Mrs. Poulthard.” What could she do? There wasn’t time to write another story.
“There isn’t time for you to write another story. This issue goes to press this very afternoon. Miss Monroe, I will not tolerate this kind of work from my employees. You are officially dismissed.”
That, it would seem, was that.
She didn’t want to talk to Lillian. Lillian, with her perfect hair and perfect heels and perfect serial for Rose Arbor, would attempt sympathy and succeed only at making Angela more miserable.
“I’m… not feeling well,” she called through the door. “Can you come back tomorrow, Lill?”
“No, I can’t. Angela, do open the door. I’m not leaving all this mail on the floor for the other tenants to step on!”
“Mail?” Angela forgot the curlers plastering her head and swung the door open. “Mail? For me? You raided my mailbox?”
Lillian breezed past her. “No, not at all, what a silly idea. No, these letters came to you in care of the office. Fan mail, Angie, isn’t it exciting? Mrs. Poulthard’s gotten several too, and when I saw one of them lying open on her desk, I just couldn’t resist. You’ve made such a hit, Angie!”
“What?” Was Lillian crazy?
“Oh, Angie, sometimes I think you don’t have a brain in your pretty little head. Your story, silly goose! Your story about Miss What’s-her-name has made a huge splash. Just open one of these and see.”
Angela tore open the flap. “Dear Miss Dashwood, your story is the best thing I’ve read in years,” the letter gushed. “This Valentine’s Day I was anticipating another drearily happy-ending tale from Rose Arbor, and what a pleasant surprise to read the humorous story you had published! I have not seen your writing on Rose Arbor before—” Angela allowed herself to indulge in a wry smile “—but I do hope you shall submit a great deal more fiction in the months to come. I am writing to the Editor just now to request that you become a permanent author on Rose Arbor. Yours very sincerely, Mrs. E. D. Hall.”
“See?” Lillian shoved a stack of envelopes into Angela’s arms. “I’ll bet you my new blue hat they all say pretty much the same thing. I do wish I could write something funny. Will you teach me, Angie? Won’t you give me some lessons? The Duke’s Inheritance is falling fast. I need to spice it up a bit, and you seem to be the perfect person to teach me how.”
“Oh… oh, I’d love to, Lill, but you see I’m not even working at the office anymore. Didn’t you know Mrs. Poulthard fired me?”
“Well, of course I did. It was all over the office just fifteen minutes after you left the other day. You don’t work for a magazine full of gossips for nothing.”
“Didn’t work in a magazine full of… gossips,” said Angela gloomily. “I’m thrilled that people like my story, Lillian—”
“You don’t look thrilled,” Lillian interrupted.
“That’s because I don’t have a job anymore to be thrilled about. Not that I ever was particularly thrilled with writing mushy pulp every week. Oh, I know, sour grapes and all that, but…” She trailed off.
Lillian rolled her eyes. “Read this one, then.” The envelope was sealed but not stamped or addressed—Miss Monroe was written clearly across the exact center of the front. “Hurry up and open it, Angie, I do declare you’re the slowest person I’ve ever seen!”
“Miss Monroe,” the letter began—no semblance of a dear—“I see that your work has proved to be more popular than I had expected. If you wish to take your job at Rose Arbor again, I should be willing to rehire you, provided you continue to write stories such as appeared in the Valentine’s Day issue. Mrs. Ethel Poulthard.”
“I should be happy to resume my job here,” Angela told Mrs. Poulthard demurely, “on condition that I write my own prompts.”
Mrs. Poulthard nodded curtly. “We shall be happy to see you on our team again, Miss Monroe,” she said. Was Angela imagining it, or did a smile lurk at the corner of her mouth? “I—er—reread your story and was much more… amused… than I had thought I might be.”
“Thank you,” said Angela, putting as much graciousness into the words as she could. “I endeavor to please, Mrs. Poulthard.”
“Yes. Well. Your next story is due Thursday, Miss Monroe.”
“I’ll begin right away,” Angela promised. She turned to go, then stopped and looked back. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Mrs. Poulthard.”
It was a smile, no doubt about it. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Miss Monroe.”