Tea with Susan

“Yes, that should work well.” Her Grace, the Duchess of Haverford set the last of the pages she had been reading onto the pile before her, and smiled at her goddaughter. “I like the way you have involved the parents in the running of the school, Susan. I shall have to adopt that idea for my own establishments.”

Susan Cunningham returned the smile as she explained, “Our Scots villagers are theoretically in favour of education, at least for their sons. But they will not support anything that interferes with work on the farm. So it makes sense to organise the school sessions around the demands of the harvest.”

“Yes, and if the leading farmers are the ones who set the timetable, the others will follow their example. Good. Well done, and of course I am happy to be named as a patroness of the school, although you have done all the work, my dear.”

Susan sipped her tea before answering. “A duchess on our letterhead will be much more impressive than a mere Missus, even if I am the widow of a prominent local landlord.”

The duchess laughed. “Yes, by all means use my title to collect donations from your local gentry. But Susan, I wanted to ask about your daughter. How is Amyafter all her adventures?”

“Unscathed,” Susan replied, dryly, then corrected herself. “To be fair, the experience has left her more thoughtful and less impetuous. But she is safe, thanks mostly to Gi- to Lord Rutledge. I do not know what might have happened without him.”

“Your father mentioned that he escorted you on your trip north, but he said little else, except that Amy was found safe and well.”

Susan shuddered. “She is safe and well because she was found, and only just in time.”

The duchess reached for a cucumber sandwich. “And how is Lord Rutledge? I have always thought the pair of you liked one another rather more than you made out.”

Susan sighed. “It is complicated,” she said.

Susan and Gil Rutledge, childhood friends who have been estranged for twenty years, are forced to work together when Susan’s daughter runs away from school. Their story is told in book 3 of The Golden Redepennings, The Realm of Silence (coming in May). Here’s an excerpt.

Dear Lord. All these years she’d held a small bubble of resentment that he’d left London and then England without a note or a message. She should have thrown caution to the wind and written to him before she agreed to marry James.

She snorted at the thought. A fine letter that would have been. “Dear Lieutenant Rutledge, a fine young naval officer has asked me to marry him, and before I give him my answer, I just wish to enquire whether you have any interest in having me instead.”

Regrets and might-have-beens were stupid. She had been happy with James, at least in the beginning, until he proved to lack the gift of fidelity. Even after he made it clear that he would not give up his other women, he did not flaunt them in her face. He was courteous and friendly, respected her abilities and supported her decisions, gave her control of his estate and his income, expected little from her except his nominated allowance and the occasional public appearance. She had been content in her life, if not her marriage, and she had the three most wonderful children in the world.

Accepting Gil’s hand back up into the cabriolet-phaeton, she composed herself for the next stretch of the journey. Knowing he admired her still, at least enough to kiss her, set all of her body singing. She needed to be realistic, and smother the foolish dreams creeping from her memories. She was thirty-seven, and he was a baron. He would need to find a young wife who could give him an heir, and she would need to smile and be glad for him.

A less personal subject than family was needed for the next part of the trip.

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The Realm of Silence – coming in May

I am biting the bullet and committing to publishing The Realm of Silence in May. The book blurb is now up on my book page, and in the next couple of days I’ll set up a preorder through Smashwords for iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. Too early for Amazon, but that will come later in the month.

So go take a look (by clicking on the link), and see what you think. Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt and the cover.

Gil was as quick to understand her now as when they ran wild over the lands around Longford. Susan made short work of discovering what Clementine didn’t want her aunt to know, and re-joined Gil by the stables.

“This governess. Was she slightly built, of below average height, and dark haired?” she asked, then, at Gil’s nod, “We need to find out whether a boy hired a post chaise, or possibly a young woman with a French accent. I have no idea whether there is a connection, but apparently the French music teacher is also missing, and she fits that description.”

She had thought he would take over the questioning, but he seemed content to allow her to coax answers out of the stable master, confining himself to looming at her left shoulder.

Looming was unnecessary, however. The stable master remembered the French lady on Saturday morning. “Just the lady on her own, ma’am. She wanted a post chaise for Newcastle, but I told her we didn’t go no further than York. She could get another there, I told her.”

“What of other travellers that same morning? Was there a boy, perhaps around fifteen or sixteen? He may have had a young lady with him of a similar age? Perhaps also travelling to York or Newcastle?”

The stable master was shaking his head when another ostler spoke up. “I saw the boy. With a girl, he was, but I didn’t see her proper. The boy came in and rented the post chaise while the girl waited out the front. It was while you was with that dook’s party, Ben. For York, but they only took ’un as far as Stamford. Joe—he’s the post boy, ma’am—he came back last night.”

The stable master nodded once, a swift jerk of the chin. “Right.”

“We will speak with the post boy,” Gil decreed. But the post boy was out on a job to a nearby town. He would return within the hour, and the stable master would keep him against Susan’s return.

“I will be back in one hour,” she said. “Thank you for your help.” She repeated the thanks to Gil before setting off at a brisk pace for the school. The fear jittered inside, but she quelled it. She had a lead, which was more than she’d had half an hour ago. If the French lady was the music mistress. If the boy was Patrice in disguise. If the two young people the ostler saw were her runaways. The whole trail of ‘ifs’ depended on Gil’s observation. If the girl in Stamford was Amy, the rest fell into place.

This time, she would demand to see Amy’s room and to talk to some of the other girls. She also had questions to ask the head mistress about the French music teacher.

The presence at her elbow impinged on her conscious mind. Gil, still looming, his long stride easily keeping pace with her rapid steps.

She stopped. “Did you want something, Lord Rutledge?”

Grave brown eyes met her glare, dark brows meeting above the straight aristocratic nose in a return glare. “I am helping.” Not an offer or even a request. An obdurate statement. Arrogant male.

Susan fought to keep her irritation from showing. “You have been helpful. Thank you. I can handle it from here.”

Gil lifted one shoulder and dropped it again. “Undoubtedly. Nonetheless…” A second shrug, as expressive as the first. She didn’t have time to argue; not that arguing ever changed Gilbert Rutledge’s mind once it was made up.

He had clearly decided his participation was a foregone conclusion. “What did the Foster chit tell you?”

She would be a fool to refuse him information that might make his help useful. “The Grahame chit,” she corrected. “Clementine Grahame said that her sister and Amy were always whispering together, and would not tell their secrets, so when Amy arrived at their house before breakfast and she and Patrice went up to Patrice’s bedroom, Clementine put her ear to the door to try to hear them or, failing that, spy on what they did next.”

He did not ask the obvious question; just waited for her to continue.

“They talked too low for her to understand. But Patrice left her room dressed as a boy and she and Amy caught Clementine in the hall. They threatened her with retribution if she told anyone what she had seen, and instructed her to tell the aunt they had left for the exhibition together. The rest of Clementine’s story is true, or so she assures me. She followed them here, and actually waited until they left in the post chaise. She then went off to school and pretended the whole thing had not happened.”

Exasperation coloured the last sentence. Susan understood the child’s fear of her unyielding aunt, and her jealousy of the friendship between the two older girls. But if Clementine had spoken earlier, Amy would be safe now.

“Come then, if you must. I am going to the school. You can question the headmistress about the French woman while I talk to Amy’s friends and check her room.” And if Susan weren’t so worried about her daughter, she might be amused at the thought of the coming confrontation between the haughtily disapproving educationalist and the grim uncompromising soldier.

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The smart widow’s country carriage

When I was writing the first, and even the second, draft of The Realm of Silence, I called the carriage my heroine is driving up and down the Great North Road, to and from Edinburgh, a phaeton.

A high-perch phaeton for the sporting man around town — far too dashing for my widow, and built for show, not for comfort.

I knew a phaeton was a round-town vehicle, and that I’d be smacked by those who know better, so last week I went hunting for a four-wheel two horse carriage that a dashing, fashionable, but not scandalous widow might use when travelling. (The children and servants are in a travelling coach, but Susan prefers to drive herself as much as possible. As who wouldn’t.)

The story required that the carriage had room enough for two people in comfort and three at a squeeze, with one of them driving. I allowed for space behind for a servant, and a fold up top against the weather. And I found the carriage I needed, allowing for the fact that each carriage would have been custom-made, so Susan’s did not have to fit some factory production process, but could be made to her preferences (and my story).

A cabriolet — later, many of them became taxis, giving us the term ‘cab’

I’ve found some neat resources, which I share at the bottom of this post, and some interesting information.

I knew that phaetons came in high-perch and low, and that ladies might drive the later without risk to their reputation, but probably not the former. Cabriolets were an Italian invention that reached England late in the 18th century — another sporty vehicle, but this one entirely suitable for a lady, low slung between the single wheels, and pulled by a single horse. But, again, not what I was looking for.

A phaeton from later in the century, after the name began to be applied to a vehicle with four wheels.

But the field was vast. Carriages, even more than custom-made cars today, varied according to the needs and tastes of the owner around certain defined features. Number of wheels. Number of passengers. Seat for a driver-groom or not. Type of axle, wheel, and spring. Height from the ground. Open or closed. Rain cover or no cover. One horse, two, or up to six. And lots more.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, one enterprising coach builder created a four-wheel vehicle with some of the features of a cabriolet, and some of a phaeton. This hybrid cabriolet-phaeton was not a great success, but a few years of refinement, and it gave birth to the four-wheel cabriolet, the victorian, and several other comfortable but elegant carriages for town and country driving.

I’m postulating that in 1812, my Susan had one of the early successful models, and that she might well have chosen to bring it with her from London to Edinburgh and back again, driving it herself on fine days, perhaps with one or two of the children to keep her company.

A Glossary of Carriages: http://www.arnkarnk.plus.com/glossary.htm

The Slower Road: https://theslowerroad.com/category/reference/carriages-carriage-types/page/6/

The victorian was a popular carriage in the mid-19th century.

 

 

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Moving the courtship along on WIP Wednesday

I’m writing romance, which means courtship. Even if the relationship gets off to a rocky start or hits a rocky middle, courtship has to come into it, or there’s no romance and no story.

So this week, I’m asking for a scene that shows a crucial step in the courtship. It could be a step forward, or a step back. You decide. But something that changes the relationship. Mine is the proposal scene from House of Thorns. It is still at the all dialogue stage, and will probably change on the redraft, but here it is, raw, awkward, and as is.

“Miss Neatham, the Rector came to tell me that the village has been talking.”

“I expected it. When do you wish us to move out? I can put my weight on my ankle again.”

“I do not wish you to move out, though I will move into the village for a couple of weeks.”

“But your work… A couple of weeks… What can you mean?”

“I am doing this wrong. Look, Miss Neatham. Rosabel. Would you do me the very great honour of becoming my wife?”

“Your wife?”

“It will protect you and your father, and it would suit me very well, too. I need a wife, as these past few days have shown me. Someone to look after my house and make it into a home. I have never been more comfortable. I like having you around.

And it isn’t just that. You would be an asset to my dealings. I need to entertain from time to time, and you would show to advantage with the people with whom I do business. You are a lady to the fingertips, Rosa, and the people who buy my houses would like that.

Also, I need a child. A daughter would be best, because my great aunt’s property must be left to a girl, but we could try again if we had a son, and an heir would be rather a nice thing, I think. I had thought of adopting, but a child needs a mother, and that means a wife.”

“But… I am thirty-six.”

“I am forty-three. Which means we are both still capable of having a child.”

“Surely there are younger women with better connections…”

“I don’t want them. Silly ninnies. No conversation. I like you, Rosa. I like spending time with you.”

“Well, thank you.”

“I don’t want… Rosa, you deserve to have choices, and you won’t have them in this village. If you won’t marry me, will you let me find you and your father a house somewhere away from here, where you can live life without your aunt’s history following you?”

“You know about my aunt?”

“The Rector told me.”

“And you still want to marry me?”

“You are not your aunt, and very few families lack a skeleton or two in their closet. Marry me, Rosa. I will try to be a good husband.”

“You could find a better wife.”

“I’ve tried. And one Marriage Mart was enough. I’m never going back. If you won’t have me I’ll dwindle into a lonely old man.”

“I cannot help but feel that I benefit most from this arrangement.”

“The benefits are two way. You get a home and respectability. I get a home and all the things we have listed.”

“We have no guarantee that I am fertile.”

“That would be true no matter who I married.”

[goes away to think]

“Yes, Mr Gavenor.”

“Then you had better call me Bear. Or Hugh, if you prefer. My great aunt used to call me Hugh.”

“Hugh, then. Thank you, Hugh. I shall try to be a good wife.”

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Stubbornness, pride and other gagging devices in WIP Wednesday

Why doesn’t she (or he) just tell him (or her), we yell at the page, when a few words would solve the misunderstandings and end the book in a fraction of the time. And that’s why, of course. Without the hero and the heroine at cross purposes, at least in some respects, the story would be over, and where is the fun in that?

Our challenge as authors is to make the communication blockages realistic. We don’t want our heroes or our heroines too dumb to live or too prideful to bear. They need strong, sympathetic, and realistic motivation to avoid giving the person they love the information they need to hear. And oh, how we can torture them in the meantime!

So this week, I’m inviting you to give me a scene where two of your characters are talking past each other, and not saying what they mean. Mine is a scene from quite near the end of The Realm of Silence, the title of which comes from a quote about this very issue. ““I like not only to be loved, but also to be told I am loved… the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave.” George Eliot

“Gil, David wishes me to go to London to describe what I saw at the tower.”

Gil sucked his upper lip between his teeth, his face otherwise expressionless. “You will want to get home to your children. You should go.”

“I do not wish to leave you.” Ever. I do not want to leave you ever, you stupid man. You wonderful, confusing, stubborn, stupid man.

“I am in good hands. Chloe and Flora — yes, and Nanna and the girls — are martinets in the sick room, and I shall be back in top form in no time.”

He wasn’t hearing her deeper messages. She should take her dismissal in good part. Their idyll was over before it had begun, and she had promised herself that whatever he could offer would be enough.

“You think I should go, then.”

“I wish you could stay, goddess.” For a moment, his eyes flooded with something that spoke to the longing in hers, but then he shuttered them. “But it is best that you go.”


The following morning, Susan came to Gil’s new quarters to bid him goodbye. The sisters had transformed a screened porch into a comfortable half-bedroom half-sitting room for an invalid. He was sitting up in a chair set in a flood of sunbeams, and the heat would soon have him pushing the rug Moffatt had insisted on off his knees.

Damnable weakness. He yearned to be well enough to go with her — to string their time of closeness out by a few more days. Instead, he set himself to make a clean break of it, for her sake as well as his.

“I’ve come to say goodbye, Gil,” she said. “Or farewell, I hope. Goodbye sounds so final.”

It did. It sank like iron into his soul, tying his half-formed hopes in chains and sinking them fathoms deep. “We will always be friends, goddess,” he said, some of the ice in his heart leaking into his voice despite his best intentions.

Susan blinked rapidly and her own face stiffened, her bland Society hostess expression forming between him and what she really thought. “Of course we will, Rutledge. I am so pleased we have had this time to get to know one another again.”

Gil cast about for something to say. Something that would soften the parting. “Thank you for coming with me to meet Chloe, Susan. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

It was the right note. The tension in her eased a little, though the mask was still in place. “Your nieces are delightful, and Chloe is stronger than she thinks. You will all do very well, I think.”

“I would have made a ham-fisted mess of it without you.” As he would, undoubtedly, of the rest of his life.

She must have heard the wistful note he could not repress, because she hesitated, examining his face.

Behind her, Chloe appeared at the door. “Susan? The little girls hope you will come up and say goodbye before you go.”

Susan considered Gil for a moment more, then looked over her shoulder at his sister-in-law. “Yes, Chloe, I’ll be right there.”

Chloe withdrew and Susan faltered and then seemed to make up her mind, crossing the room at a rush and bending to kiss Gil’s cheek. He clutched the rug to anchor his hands, which threatened to break free from his control and seize her, and never let her go.

“Come to me in London, Gil,” she commanded, her voice ragged. “This cannot be finished.”

“If you need me, I will come,” he promised, even as he shook his head.

She straightened, biting her lips until they were white, then turned and hurried out of the room, but not before he had seen the tears in her eyes.

What a bastard he was, making her cry.

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Where to start on WIP Wednesday

When I write, I have trouble starting at the beginning, because I have to find it first. In life, all beginnings continue from an earlier story, and all ends transmute into a later story. But in fiction, we need to start each book and each chapter at the beginning. At that point in time and space where at least one of the characters we care about is revealing their story, and making it matter to us.

Dear fellow authors, share a beginning with me and the blog readers, if you would. Something from a current work in progress. The start of a chapter or perhaps the start of the whole book. Mine is from The Realm of Silence, and it is the first scene in the book. At least, it is at the moment. Anything could happen in edit.

Stamford, England

1812

Gil Rutledge sat in the small garden to the side of the Crown and Eagle, and frowned at the spread provided for him to break his fast. Grilled trout with white butter sauce, soft-boiled eggs, grilled kidney, sausages, mashed potatoes, bacon, a beef pie, two different kinds of breads (one lightly toasted), bread rolls, a selection of preserves, and a dish of stewed peaches, all cooked to perfection and none of it appealing.

Two days with his sister, Madelina, had left old guilt sitting heavy on his stomach, choking his throat and souring his digestion. And the errand he was on did not improve matters.

He cut a corner off a slice of toast and loaded it with bits of bacon and a spoonful of egg. He was too old a campaigner to allow loss of appetite to stop him from refuelling. He washed the mouthful down with a sip from his coffee. It was the one part of the meal Moffat had not trusted to the inn kitchen. His soldier-servant insisted on preparing it himself, since he knew how Gil like it.

No. Not his soldier-servant. Not any more. His valet, butler, factotum. Manservant. Yes, his manservant.

Gil raised the mug to the shade of his despised older brother. “This is the worst trick you’ve played on me yet,” he muttered. The viscount’s death had landed the estranged exile with a title he never wanted, a bankrupt estate, a sister-in-law and her two frail little daughters left to his guardianship but fled from his home, and an endless snarl of legal and financial problems. And then there were Gil’s mother and his sisters.

Lena had at least consented to see him; had assured him that she no longer blamed him for her tragedies. Her forgiveness did not absolve him. He should have found another solution; should have explained better; should have kept a closer watch.

With a sigh, he took another sip, and loaded his fork again. The sooner he managed to swallow some of this food, the sooner he could be on the road.

Beyond the fence that bordered the garden, carriages were collecting their passengers from the front of the inn. Stamford was on the Great North Road, and a hub to half of England, with roads leading in every direction. As Gil stoically soldiered his way through breakfast, he watched idly, amusing himself by imagining errands and destinations.

Until one glimpsed face had him sitting forward. Surely that was Amelia Cunningham, the goddess’s eldest daughter? No. This girl was older, almost an adult though still dressed as a schoolgirl.

He frowned, trying to work out how old little Amy must be by now. He had last seen her at the beginning of 1808, just before he was posted overseas, first to Gibraltar and then to the Peninsular wars. He remembered, because that was the day he parted with the best horse a man had ever owned. More than four years ago. The goddess had been a widow these past two years and Amy must be— what? Good Lord. She would be sixteen by now.

He craned his head, trying to see under the spreading hat that shielded the girl’s face, but she climbed into a yellow post chaise with a companion — a tall stripling boy of about the same age. And the woman who followed them was definitely not the goddess; not unless she had lost all her curves, shrunk a good six inches, dyed her golden hair black, and traded her fashionable attire for a governess’s dull and shapeless garb.

No. That was not Susan Cunningham, so the girl could not have been Amy.

The door closed, the post boy mounted, the chaise headed north, and Gil went back to his repast.

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“What’s in a kiss?” on WIP Wednesday

What’s in a kiss? sings Gilbert O’Sullivan, and this week I’m looking for excerpts that answer that questions. The kiss itself, if you please, but also what it means to the hero or the heroine. One moment of bliss? A delicatessen supplying every need? Something less or something more?

My extract is from The Realm of Silence. Gil has absolutely no idea what Susan thinks of him.

Susan was washing her turnover down with a swallow of ale, shifting impatiently as her hands inched towards the knife and fork she had placed on her plate between mouthfuls, as proper table etiquette required. Her inclination to rush the meal and be on her way was clearly at war with her training in manners.

“Relax, Susan. A few minutes will make the world of difference to your digestion, and very little to our arrival time.”

What a valiant creature his goddess was. She managed a smile, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “I know you are right, you annoying man. I will try not to worry and to be patient.

“You are thinking I have no notion what you are suffering, and you are right that I have never been a father, and have never had to wait and worry about a child of my flesh.” Gil almost left it at that, but then he took a deep breath and spoke the rest of his thought. “But I have been an officer with men I loved and who loved and trusted me, and I have had to send them into danger knowing that some of them will be killed and others wounded. That perhaps gives me a small inkling of your feelings, goddess.”

He winced as the last word slipped out. She hated when people called her that, but it was how he felt. He had worshipped her from the moment he met her as a boy; carried a candle before her image in his heart since that day; held her as a beacon of the best of English womanhood through a thousand engagements on four continents and any number of islands. She was his goddess.

She was oblivious to his preoccupation, considering what he had said. “I had not thought about it like that. Yes. I imagine you were a father, or at least an elder brother, to your men. My brothers are the same. It is like, Gil. So you know how hard it is.”

Susan called him Gil, he noticed, when she was moved, just as he slipped into calling her goddess. He did not call her attention to his mistake, but when he moved her chair back to help her rise, and she stepped to one side almost into his arms, he could not resist wrapping them around her.

He had intended a brief peck on her hair. She lifted her mouth as if she had been waiting for just such a move, and he was lost. She was all that existed. The elusive scent of her filled his nostrils, her yielding curves filled his arms, and her lips and mouth consumed all of his thoughts as he tenderly explored them.

How long the kiss lasted he had no idea, but when she stiffened and pulled away, he let her go immediately, sense rushing back into his brain and berating it for the most arrant stupidity. She didn’t comment — wouldn’t even meet his eyes — but led the way out of the garden, almost running in her hurry.

They had to wait in the stableyard while the groom assisted a man in a hurry; a rider who spurred his way out of the yard without leaving a gratuity, much to the groom’s disgust.

“Didn’t give me nothing day afore yesterday, neither,” he grumbled to Gil as Gil helped him with the horses for the phaeton. “Silly fool. What’s he want to go dashing up and down to Scotland for?”

Gil looked after the disappearing hooves of the horse. “He’s come down from Scotland? Did he say how the roads were?”

The groom shrugged. “Bit of a slip at Grantshouse, but he said he was ready for it, seeing as how he passed it on the way up yesteren. So what does he want to turn around and come back for, I says. He had business in Scotland, says he, and now he has business in Newcastle. Silly fool.”

Gil backed the horse in his charge into the traces. It seemed a steady sort, and moved without complaint or resistance.

The groom was doing the same with the other horse, but he suddenly stopped. “Hey, I just thought me. You was asking ’bout the man what was following the French lady? That was him there, what just rode out of this yard. Got as far as Dunbar then turned around and come back. Must be mad. What’s at Dunbar?”

Amy and Pat, perhaps. That news would take Susan’s mind off his impudent kiss. If that was their mysterious pursuer, then they might be closer than they thought. Gil pondered the implications while his hands went ahead with the familiar tasks of buckling and fastening. The man was heading back to Newcastle in haste. Had he finished the task that sent him north? And if so, what did that mean for Amy and Pat?

Years in combat had taught him not to fret overlong about what he couldn’t know and couldn’t change. He thanked the groom and gave him a tip a dozen times the size of the despised measly offering for the pursuer.

“If that fellow comes through again, delay him, will you?”

Soon, they were rolling north again, and Gil told Amy what he’d learned, and what he had concluded.

“Will we find them at Dunbar?” she asked

“We will be there by late afternoon. We will find out then.”

She was silent again, probably worrying about her daughter, though Gil was finding it near impossible to think about anything but that devastatingly beautiful kiss. It was dawning on him that the goddess had kissed him back. What was he to take from that? He could reasonably conclude that she wanted to be kissed. Wanted to be kissed by him? She was a chaste and respectable lady; one, furthermore, who had managed her own affairs and those of her household and her husband for more than twenty years. She kissed him back, and he couldn’t believe that she gave her kisses lightly.

It was probably the situation. She was worried about her daughter and needed comfort. He dare not read more into it than that.

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Secret codes during the Napoleonic wars

Armies used codes to keep messages secret if the messenger was captured

One of the plot devices in The Realm of Silence turns out to involve a secret code. It’s a bit of a McGuffin, but I had fun with it, and particularly enjoyed finding out about cryptography, and the part it played during the Napoleonic wars.

Short form. Napoleon and his armies weren’t very good at codes and the British were.

Secret codes for military information have been used for a long time; at least since Julius Caesar encoded messages to his generals. Over the centuries, they’ve become more and more elaborate, until today, when they’ve spread into everyday use on computer systems, with elaborate encryption methods to prevent eavesdropping and theft of private information.

Types of code

Today, with computers, codes have become much more complex. But there are some common types, most of which have been around a long time. They fit into two main categories: versus codes and ciphers.

The Babbington plot against Queen Elizabeth I unravelled when their code was broken

Versus codes are substitutions of a symbol for a meaning: a word or a phrase.

Ciphers work at a lower level. The symbol replaces an individual letter or small group of letters.

  • Substitution ciphers replace a unit (one or more letters or numbers) with another. So March North might become 2oeqv 3aefv.
  • With transposition ciphers, the order of the units are changed, but not the units themselves. So March North might become Tharn Morch.
  • Polyalphabetic ciphers use a mixed alphabet to encrypt a message, switching alphabets during the message. The World War II enigma machine produced a polyalphabetic cipher.

The man who broke Napoleon’s code

After coming unstuck with sending messages in plain text, Napoleon tasked his army with creating a code. It used 150 numbers, each of which represented a letter or word, and a man called Major General Scovell broke the code within two days.

The Great Paris Cipher

The Great Paris Cipher was the French answer. It was both a code and a cipher, with different numbers standing for either letters or words.  It comprised 1400 numbers in a table, some of which stood for nothing to further confuse those attempting to decipher the messages. And it had no noticeable underlying patterns.

But a year later, Scovell had done it again, helped along by the carelessness of the French army. So complex a cipher took ages to use, both for those sending message and those using them. The French took the easy route, and only encoded part of their messages, which allowed Scovell to make educated guesses about what the encrypted words might mean.

The book cipher

My characters discover a book cipher, where words or letters of the message are replaced by words or letters of the chosen book. Both the sender of the message and its receiver need the same edition of the same book, and the code can be hard to break without the book.

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Danger on WIP Wednesday

This week, I’m inviting your excerpts about moments when danger brings your couple closer or drives them apart. I tend to write romantic suspense, at least in my novels, so my heroes and heroines often face physical danger. But I’d be delighted to see excerpts about other types of risk: scandal, embarrassment, parental disapproval, misunderstanding.

Mine is from The Realm of Silence, and was written yesterday. I hope to have the first draft finished by mid-December, but am not yet predicting a release date in case my plans turn to custard.

Susan startled awake at the sound of a crash, followed by more crashes and bangs. The sound of a fight? She would swear it was within the house, and not far away. She lit a candle, steadying her hand so it didn’t shake in her hurry, and dragged a robe over her night dress. The sound of a shot had her racing to the door. Another crash, definitely just the other side of the wall she faced, the one between the rooms of the house and Hamish’s apartment.

Candles approached her from the servants’ stairs, McMurdo with the housekeeper, Mrs Anderson, behind him, and further up the stair two of the footmen.

“Mrs Anderson, fetch me the key to Mr Cunningham’s apartment. The shot came from there,” Susan commanded, and the housekeeper hurried back up the stairs to her room.

The locked door was a little further down the hall. Before Mrs Anderson could return, it opened, and Hamish put his head out into the hall, blinking a little at the sight of Susan and the three men hurrying towards him.

“Send someone to fetch a doctor, Cousin. Lord Rutledge has been shot.”

For a moment, Susan felt a rushing in her head and the world swam, but she took a deep breath. No time for nonsense. “He is not…?”

Hamish looked surprised at the half-question. “A glancing shot. He is not badly hurt, he says.” He disappeared back into the apartment, leaving the door open behind him.

He says. So he is not dead. She gave the order for the doctor and hurried after Hamish.

Gil was sitting on the edge of his bed, being helped into a pair of trousers. Susan hastily averted her eyes and turned her back, but not before seeing a pair of long muscular legs marred on the left by a ropy scar. The man had clearly been naked when he was shot. Did he sleep that way? The brief glimpse she’d had of his masculine equipment was etched into her brain.

“Susan, you should not be here,” Hamish fussed.

Susan ignored him. “Where are you hurt, Gil?”

“You can look if you wish, now that I have my trousers on.” She would also ignore the infernal man’s amusement at her embarrassment, especially when he went on to assure her, “It’s just a scrape. It knocked me backwards for a moment, or I would have had him.”

“Let me look.” The wound was clear, even in the candle light and from across the room. The bullet had struck the fleshy part of his upper arm, which seeped a trail of blood down towards Gil’s elbow.

Gil stood as she approached, and Hamish stepped in her way.

“We should wait for the doctor, cousin Susan,” he insisted. “And it is most inappropriate for you to be in a gentleman’s bed chamber.”

Susan had no time for such nonsense. “Gil, sit down before you fall down. This is no time to fuss about propriety, Hamish.”

She moved her cousin to one side, and examined the arm Gil presented for her inspection. “Hmm. Yes. It seems to have missed anything vital, but the bullet is still in the wound and will need to be removed. What happened?”

“I could do with a brandy. And some more clothes,” Gil prevaricated.

Hamish clearly sympathised, since he gave the order to the manservant. “Pass Lord Rutledge his robe, Mendles, and then fetch him some brandy.” The manservant obeyed, fetching a brightly coloured banyan from where it lay on a chair.

Susan capitulated, reflecting that Gil’s naked chest a few inches from her face was not conducive to focus.

“Oh very well.” She stopped Mendles before he could hurry out of the room. “I’ll need a clean cloth to cover the wound before that robe goes over his shoulder.” She turned back to Gil. “My sister-in-law Ella swears keeping wounds clean reduces the risk of infection. It is fortunate you were unclothed when he shot you, Rutledge. No dirty pieces of cloth in the wound.”

Gil managed a facsimile of a smile. “My manservant would be offended to hear you imply my clothing is unclean, Susan.”

Mendles passed her a pad made from clean handkerchiefs and then several strips of linen to bind it in place, and Susan bent to the work.

“There,” she said, after several moments. “That should be comfortable enough until the doctor arrives. Do you feel well enough to tell us what happened?”

Gill shrugged. “Not much to tell. I woke to find someone searching through my satchel. I called out, and he turned a gun on me. He wanted the note from the girls; the one they left at Newcastle. I told him I had thrown it away, but he didn’t believe me. He said he’d shoot me if I didn’t hand it over.”

Susan made her displeasure heard on a huff of air, which Gil correctly interpreted.

“I didn’t tell him you had it, Susan, and I’m glad he was the sort of idiot that thinks men can’t trust women, because if he’d tried your room first…”

Susan was having none of such typical wrong-headed male gallantry. “I would have given him the note and would be perfectly well. I suppose you tried to assail him, you foolish man. And him with a gun.”

“A weedy idiot with a big voice, so frightened that his hand shook.” Gil’s voice was laden with scorn. “Of course, I lunged for him. I was as like to get shot by mistake, the way he was trembling. But he pulled the trigger and had better aim than I’d calculated.”

Susan blinked back tears, and could not resist taking Gil’s hand. “Foolishness,” she told him, her voice soft.

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Edinburgh underground

This week’s Footnotes on Friday is a cry for help.

I’ve dropped one of my characters into trouble, and I need atmospheric detail and historic fact on the way to getting her out. Are any of you experts in Edinburgh’s underground?

Amy Cunningham, daughter of Susan Cunningham and granddaughter of Lord Henry Redepenning, has been kidnapped and is being held in the cellar of a house somewhere in Edinburgh. She finds that a pile of rubbish hides either a hole or a trapdoor that lets her into Edinburgh’s underground ways, where she has various adventures and experiences before being taken up by an amiable crowd of university students/apprentices/seamstresses or whatever I decide, and escorted to her family townhouse.

But which underground ways?

I’ve narrowed it down to the South Bridge Vaults or Mary King’s Close, both of which were available to me in 1812.

The Vaults are chambers formed in the arches of South Bridge, which was built in 1788. South Bridge was a shopping arcade that bridged a gully, and the 19 arches beneath it contained 120 rooms that quickly filled up with taverns, tradesmen’s workshops, and slum housing. All in the dark, and increasingly illicit and nasty.

Robert Louis Stevenson described the places in his 1878 book Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes:

“…under dark arches and down dark stairs and alleys…the way is so narrow that you can lay a hand on either wall. (There are) skulking jail-birds; unkempt, barefoot children; (an) old man, when I saw him last, wore the coat in which he had played the gentleman three years before; and that was just what gave him so preeminent an air of wretchedness.”

Mary King’s Close is a relict of a much earlier time. In a city enclosed by walls, it’s common for new buildings to be erected on top of old ones, the weight of centuries sinking the past with cellars containing what was once the street or even upper floors of a building. Legend has it that Mary King’s Close, which is under the City Chambers, was sealed up in the 1640’s to prevent still living plague victims from infecting the rest of the city. Another source I found says, more pragmatically, that the City Fathers of the time were worried about losing trade to the New Town so they:

decided to build a grand new Royal Exchange. And they found the perfect spot opposite St Giles Cathedral, with just one small problem – the streets of houses already there. But rather than knocking them down, they took the top floors off and used the lower floors as foundations. Mary King’s Close was covered over and swallowed up into the building’s basement. The sloping ground meant the houses fronting the Royal Mile were destroyed but further down the close whole houses were buried intact. [https://www.ontheluce.com/underground-edinburgh-mary-kings-close/]

People being people, many of the denizens refused to leave, and you could drop into the underground right up until the start of the twentieth century to have a wig made or to buy tobacco.

So which one? And what would it have seemed like to a gently-born if feisty 15-year-old Regency maiden? Can anyone help? Drop me a message on my contact page. I’d love to hear from you.

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