Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Breakfast at Whistlecreig

I haven't really given you a broad piece of Vivi & Farnham to digest since first announcing Anon, Sir, Anon. I suppose you will be wanting chunks now and then like I've done with all the rest of my stories. Here's the thing: I'm not certain how much I'll be able to share (as far as large pieces) once the mystery gets rolling. You can never be over-careful with those things. This bit, however, is the perfect way to introduce you to two of my principle characters and their personalities, ways they interact with other people, etc. Also, it gives you to the tone of my novel which is decidedly cozy-Wodehousian-with-a-bit-of-dry-Christie-for-good-measure. It is going to be serious in parts, but the overall tone is what you see below. Enjoy this relaxed me to write it. Oh. And to reward you for your patience in reading all the way through (and for any comments/critiques you might want to provide afterward) I present you with two sketches of Vivi & Farnham. They are probably not good likenesses of my people, and they're not very good sketches at any rate, but they are inspirational to me and that's why I made them.

Farnham watched his niece at the stove, fascinated at the way she appeared to have taken up residence in the kitchen. He’d always heard that women transform a home but he’d never liked the idea. Now, however, it appeared that “transformation” meant much in the way of well-cooked food, dustless furniture and someone to talk to, not--as his fellow bachelors were fond of saying--dumping a chap on his head, tossing his cigar boxes, and snipping his curtains to fashionable shreds.
Genevieve wasn’t a pretty girl--her mouth was too small and her nose too snub. Farnham knew that but somehow as he watched his niece moving through the motions of making breakfast without a hint of the sense of imminent crisis with which he cooked, he thought he’d at last found a woman who didn’t set him on edge.
But, “See that you don’t burn the rashers,” was the only compliment he dished out.
Genevieve took up a fork and turned the bacon in the pan till it gave a maddened sizzle. “There’s no worry it’ll burn--it is all fat and no meat. Where do you buy your bacon?”
“I shall buy it at Hilton’s from now on.”
“Their pigs look happier.”
Farnham didn’t have an argument for this - he’d wouldn’t know what a happy pig looked like. “Are you my housekeeper now?”
“Someone has to do it, dear.”
He resented this Mab for calling him “dear” in that motherly tone. “I have Allen for that.”
“Allen is a butler.” She smiled that curious smile of hers where the left side of her mouth quirked upward and removed a tray of puddings from the oven. “And butlers resent housework.”
“He’s never complained.”
“They never do, but they retaliate in a million different ways. I know, dear, I took over household decisions for Mama on my twenty-third birthday. Ours invariably rubbed Father’s black shoes with brown polish until we discovered that he’d been made to cook muffins for breakfast every Thursday. Put him right off his tea and the inner peace of the household was intricately bungled till I figured out where things had gone awry..”
The smell of the frying bacon and hot puddings knotted Farnham’s stomach, but from hunger or those bang ulcers he couldn’t tell; the thought of eating meat turned his stomach to a hotbed of pain. “I don’t think I can manage bacon this morning.”
“Heavens no. This is for me.” Genevieve forked the crispy rashers onto her plate and lifted a pudding from its tin bed, settling it beside two fried eggs.
Farnham resented girls with healthy appetites. “Where’s mine?”
She nodded at the stove. “Just there. I’ll fix it for you in a tick.”
“Can’t I have a pudding?”
“Not with your ‘bang ulcers’. Yes, you’ve been speaking aloud. I’m putting you on a strict diet of porridge and camomile tea with perhaps a bit of scone if you’re quite an angel.”
He drew himself up. “Farnham of Whistlecreig is never an angel.”
“Then you’ll have to do without scones.”
“Bang it.”
“Now about this murder.”
“Yes, I was wondering when we’d get to speak about that.” He rubbed his palms together and felt the pain in his stomach fading as anticipation of exploring the thing rose. “We’ll pop round to have a look at the body after breakfast, shan’t we?”
“Your call. I’m not experienced in these matters. What is the proper ettiquette? Wait until noon and stay no longer than ten minutes, or don’t wear white after Michaelmas?”
“Do you know you’re a menace? ‘Better three hours too soon than a minute too late’.”
“You know best, dear.”
Don’t call me that.” His fist clenched almost against his will and shook out his fingers with a shaky laugh. “Sorry.”
She made a face. “No, I’m sorry - I had almost settled in my role of maiden aunt before I was uprooted and sent here and I’m used to sweetening my conversation to suit fretful children. Well, if you are to tell me what to call you, I’m afraid I must have my preferences too.”
“You don’t want to be called Genevieve?”
“Do you like it?”
He was shocked to see a shy, girlish look flit over her face as if she wanted to hear what he thought--really wanted to hear. “’s a fine name. Fine. If you like it, that is. If you don’t like it then...we’ll call you something else.”
“Call me Vivi, please. No one does. It’s always ‘My eldest, Genevieve’ or worse yet, ‘Genevieve - the capable one.’ I’m tired of being capable - it means they’ve given up on me. Call me Vivi.”
He saw the set of her jaw and the weariness behind her eyes and since he was not entirely heartless, he guessed the story of the battles she’d fought over the labels. “Vivi then.”
They had a hum of silence then--an absence of conversation, rather--filled with the homely, comfortable sounds of bacon fat hissing in the cooling skillet and silverware against china as Vivi set out a few dishes on the table.
“I didn’t know what dishes you usually used but I like the china.”
“As do I. Family heirloom.”
“Really?” She smiled and set his silverware beside his bowl of porridge.
The steam curled upward and filled Farnham’s nose with the wholesome scent of oats and milk. This, he thought, his stomach could handle, and it was nothing like the clods of rocky oatmeal Allen made sometimes. “Shall we pray?”
Vivi folded her hands and bowed her head. Sunlight from the window behind her made an aura over her head till she looked like the paintings of angelic children saying prayers before bed that he’d seen sometimes in the cheaper stores. All this Farnham took in at a glance, for he was accustomed to seeing and digesting a thing in as long as it took most men to straighten their ties.
He closed his eyes and let the rare peace fall over his shoulders. “Dear Lord, for our food we thank Thee. For our comfort, our home, our lives. May we never forget to serve Thee with our hearts and souls, and may you guide our footsteps this day. Amen.”
As Farnham dolloped honey on his porridge, he reflected on the beauty of rote prayers. Certainly he made up his own prayers--constantly--but there was a steadiness in the repetition of the same words he’d prayed every meal for the last forty years that the made-up ones lacked. It was the difference between stepping into a church under construction and a cathedral that had stood six hundred years, steeped in worship.
“The murder victim--who was she?” Vivi asked, bringing Farnham’s mind back round to the day’s business.
He grunted and flicked his napkin. “Most bodies don’t come with calling cards. How should I know?”
“Doesn’t anyone carry identification? I’d hate to be murdered and no one know it was me.”
“Remind me to get Allen to sew a label on your coat-sleeve.”
Vivi forked into her pudding and ate it while Farnham watched, idly swirling his porridge. He was thinking about what the Police Inspector had told him. “’s...not going to be pretty.”
“I should think not; it’s a murder.”
Farnham slapped the surface of his porridge with the back of the spoon. “Her face’s quite...”
“Quite what?”
“Bashed in.”
Vivi chewed and swallowed then wiped her lips with her napkin. “Poor darling.”
“Wouldn’t you rather stay here?--As your uncle I want to protect you, you’ll understand, but I’m not demanding you stay.”
She smiled at him sweetly. “You’re a chivalrous old goose, but I want to come. Maybe I can be of some use.”
He wouldn’t go that far, but there might be something after all in what she said about butlers feeling resentment when forced to do work out of their proper line--Allen might not take kindly to toadying for a lady. “All right,” he said, and took a spoonful of porridge with the same dutifulness with which he took castor oil. “You can come along.”
“Eat it all. I’m going upstairs to primp and when I come back I expect the bowl to be empty.”
Farnham sighed. “Are you my nursemaid now?”
“Aren’t I? I think it was in the job description.”
Bang it. The girl was right.

And that, dear people, is your first goodly chunk of Anon, Sir, Anon. Now, I give you the sketches I promised in wretched photo-quality because I was too lazy to scan them:

This is obviously Vivi. She's labeled. She's not terribly attractive but there's something approachable about her, wouldn't you say? She's short as well--a fact mentioned elsewhere but that you might want to know.
And obviously this is Vivi & Farnham upon Vivi's arrival and subsequent appearance in the Tribunal at Whistlecreig.
 Pardon the absolutely wretched quality of these images. I just thought you might like to see what they were like. And I do hope you enjoyed the bit I call "Breakfast at Whistlecreig". Toodle-loo!


Emily Chapman said...

Publish this book.


It was charming, fascinating, and I quite like Vivi and Farnham already. Keep writing, dear!

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

What Emily said. I second the motion. :)

Joy said...

What Emily said. With Elisabeth I third the motion ;).

Fantastic, Rachel! That was soooo enjoyable... :D. I am gonna enjoy reading about this story and then one day actually reading it through!!

Jenny Freitag said...

Excellent engagement of the "cosy" atmosphere, which is always best concocted over a meal in the kitchen. I appreciated your explanation of Vivi's attitude toward her uncle; at first it was too familiar and a little too sassy until she explained that she was used to dealing with children and it had become habit. Excellent use of backstory.

Farnham reminds me of someone - or several people together - I'm not sure who. James Herriot, perhaps, and Milner.

Throw in a ton-load of knickknacks and a grey ghost-rain, and I can very clearly see this interchange. Good job!