Three roading heroes

In the second half of the 18th century and the early years of the 19th century, the main highways of England saw a revolution.

In 1754, an advertisement boasted that the trip from London to Edinburgh took only “ten days in summer and twelve in winter”. Compare that with the mail coach in 1832 which was advertised as 42 hours and 23 minutes. (The return trip was longer: 45 hours and 3 minutes.)

The difference was largely down to the construction of the roads.

John Metcalf was a blind Yorkshire man who had worked as a carrier, including a stint with the army moving guns over boggy ground. In 1765, he won a contract to build a three-mile section of road, and he applied his experience transporting heavy loads to such good effect that he built over 180 miles of road throughout his career.

He believed a good road needed good foundations and a smooth convex surface that would drain easily. He knew rain caused the most damage to roads, and focused on good drainage, with ditches both sides.

At around the same time, a French engineer was also experimenting with better road construction. Pierre-Marie-Jérôme Trésaguet pioneered a two-layer construction, with large stones at the base and a thin layer of smaller stone above that would be pressed down and jammed into one another as traffic passed along the road.

Thomas Telford was a Scot raised in poverty and apprenticed to a stonemason. He went on to become a largely self-taught engineer and architect. Appointed Surveyor of Public Works in Shropshire in 1787, his successful designs for bridges and roads lead him to jobs managing the design and construction of several canals, including their aquaducts, plus 184 miles of roads and bridges in the Scottish Highlands.

EDITED to add a profile of a Roman road.

EDITED to add a profile of a modern road.

Our next road hero has given his name to the road construction we still use today. John Loudon MacAdam was born in Scotland. He purportedly showed an interest in making roads as a school child, but moved to the United States on his father’s death when he was 14. Returning 13 years later with what was left of the fortune he’d made during the War of Independence (the government of the new United States confiscated quite a bit of it), he bought an estate.

At the time, most roads were made of gravel, which turned back into ruts, ridges and potholes as soon as heavy vehicles drove over the freshly spread surface. MacAdam began experimenting to see what could be done about this.

In 1798, he was on the move again, appointed as an agent for revictualling the navy in the west of England. He settled in Falmouth, but travelled all the time for his work, over roads that were “at once loose, rough, and perishable, tedious and dangerous to travel on, and very costly to repair.”

MacAdam had worked out that roads worked best when they were raised above the surrounding land, well drained, and made from stone broken into cube shaped fragments. Despite local opposition and at his own expense, he built a number of roads that were so successful he was, in 1815, appointed surveyor-general of the Bristol roads.

And the rest is history. As Bristol’s road network was transformed from muddy dangerous rutted quagmires to even well-drained surfaces that carriages could swiftly traverse, other places started asking how to take the same engineering feat home to their places.

The website Electric Scotland says:

In 1823, on McAdam’s petition, a committee of the House of Commons was set up to inquire into the feasibility of applying this new system of road-making throughout the country. McAdam, of course, attended, and gave evidence at length. Only then did it appear what immense labours and trouble he had taken in order to bring his system to perfection. Between 1798 and 1814 he had travelled no less than 30,000 miles in order to examine the roads of Britain. He had spent 2,000 days on his travels, which had cost him £5,000. Besides this sum, he had expended large sums on private experiments. All this he had carried out from entirely disinterested motives; his only wish was that the roads should be improved for the public good. Philanthropists who work among the destitute or afflicted are generally recognized, but we should not forget that the patient, painstaking round of labour which McAdam undertook for the good of his fellow men, is also philanthropy at its highest.

My characters in my current work-in-progress are on a road trip between Cambridge and Newcastle in 1812: hence the excursion down this road-making byway.

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White Knights on WIP Wednesday

Or slightly tarnished, or even possibly close to black. Needed or not needed. Hero, heroine, or supporting role. This week, I’m looking for a character charging to the rescue.

My excerpt is from A Raging Madness, which has been out with beta readers and is in my sights for a weekend edit, all going well. It comes from near the beginning. An old acquaintance has turned up at the hero’s inn, in her shift, dishevelled and dirty, and clearly under the influence of drugs. He hides her from her pursuers, who claim she is a lunatic. Now he is listening to her story.

“Now, Lady Melville. What trouble are you in, and how can we help?” And would he be able to believe a word she said? She did not act like a lunatic, apart from appearing half-naked in his room in the middle of the night. Apart from the panicked response to her brother-in-law.

That she had taken opium in some form was beyond a doubt. The contracted pupils, the loss of appetite, the shaky hand, the restless shifting in her seat, all spoke to that. Thanks to his injury, Alex had far too close and personal an experience of the symptoms to mistake them.  The bruises on her jaw made him wonder how voluntary her drug taking was, but perhaps her keepers needed to drug her to keep her calm.

Sane or not, Alex hoped he would not need to hand her back to Braxton. Her fear might be irrational, but when she had stood at bay, begging for his help, he had been thrown back ten years. Not that she begged him then. But he left camp on a short trip for supplies, and returned to find Ella married and much changed, her fire banked; her joy extinguished. That time, he had ignored her plight, hardened his heart and left her to the fate she had engineered. And had suffered with her as the consequences quenched her vitality and sucked away the last of her childhood. Suffered, and been powerless to help.

“I have been drugged,” Ella said baldly. “Twice a day. For weeks now. They won’t tell me why. If I refuse, they force me.”

“‘They’ being Braxton and his wife?” Alex prompted.

“And Constance’s dresser.”

“Go on.” He was careful to show no disbelief, no surprise.

“I have been kept in my room. They locked the door. They took all my clothes, my shoes. I saw you out the window and so I came. Will you help me, Alex?”

“I can take you to the rector.” Even as he said it he remembered the plump little man greasing at Braxton’s elbow. Ella would find no help there.

“No!” Her rejection was instant and panicked. “He will give me back and they will send me to that place. No, Alex. You do not know what they plan for me.” She was weeping. Alex had seen her calm under cannon fire, dry-eyed at her father’s funeral, efficient and unemotional in the midst of the carnage of a hospital tent after a battle. He had never seen her weep.

He captured her hands, and kept his voice low and soothing. “I do not, Ella. Tell me.”

“I heard them last night. Edwin has found an asylum that will—Constance says I must be driven insane in truth. They rape the women there, Edwin says, and Constance says I am horribly resilient but even my sanity will not withstand multiple rapes.” The last word was whispered around a sob.

Alex kept his hands still with an effort. They wanted to punch and rend. No wonder she was panicked, but it could not be true, could it? Braxton was not a man Alex could like, but such wickedness? To his own sister-in-law?

“And you do not know why, Ella?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“The rector and the squire… They both believed Edwin and Constance. They came to see me, and I begged for their help, and they would not, Alex. They believed me insane. You do not believe me insane, do you, Alex?”

He did not know. That was the truth of it. His gut told him to destroy her persecutors and carry her off somewhere safe. His gut had never been reliable where Ella was concerned.

“Please, Alex.”

Alex made up his mind. “Ella, you will be safe here. Jonno and I will go and see what we can find out. Jonno, tell the innkeeper we are taking the room for another day. Then have my chaise brought round.”

“I will tell them not to do out the room,” Jonno declared. “I’ll say my gentleman won’t have anyone but me handling his stuff. You’ll be safe here, my lady.”

Alex had not taken his eyes from Ella’s. She was calmer now, the tears drying on her cheeks. “You will not betray me? No, of course not. I trust you, Alex. I know we have not always agreed, but you will not betray me.”

“I will not betray you.” Though how he would keep his word if she was, in truth, insane, he did not know. Certainly, her story sounded crazy. But she had bruises on her jaw, and the rector had been lied to. And Alex did not like Braxton or his wife.

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Tea with Aleksandra

Aleksandra was surprised when she came out onto the wide verandah to see instead a stone-flagged terrace with steps down to formal gardens. She had stepped into another world

A small table was set for tea, and one of the two seats was already occupied by an older woman, richly dressed in a style long out of fashion. Mouth dropped open, Aleksandra approached the table.

“Good morning, I seem to have…ummm…where am I?”

The lady inclined her head, graciously. “This is Haverford Castle, in England. Allow me to introduce myself, my dear. I am Eleanor Haverford. Please, do take a seat and join me for tea?”

“Haverford? England?” Aleksandra stuttered. “Yes, thank you, I’d love that.”

She took the offered seat, looking around at the unfamiliar landscape. “I’m Aleksandra Lekarski. I’m from…California. From the Rancho de las Pulgas.” Behind her, grey stone walls loomed. When Xavier first took her to the rancho, the mansion, surrounded by its lush gardens and many smaller buildings, had impressed her with its size, and its sense of history and permanence. The castle before which they sat was ten times as large and many hundred years older.

“Haverford Castle,” the lady explained. “There has been a castle here since the Norman conquest, and when my husband’s ancestor was raised to a dukedom, he took his title from the castle. The lady was a duchess, then. Aleksandra tried to remember what her mother said about addressing a duchess.

The duchess offered several different types of tea, then milk and sugar, and passed the cup to Aleksandra with a small plate containing iced cakes, bringing a smile to Aleksandra’s face.

“OOooohh, my mother once made these!” Her brows drew together again. “But why am I here?”

The duchess tilted her head and gave a slight lift to one shoulder; not enough to be called a shrug. “It is most peculiar, is it not, Miss Lekarski? I do not know how it works, but every Monday afternoon I have a visitor, and I never know the place and time they will come from and return to. Please, do relax and tell me about yourself.”

Alexsandra began obediently. “I was born in Vienna, but my family ran to the United States when I was just an infant. We ended up trapping in the wilderness of Utah Territory, then after I met Xavier, I moved home to his family inheritance, the Rancho de las Pulgas!”

“Xavier is your husband? But no, the name you gave me is Polish. His name is surely Spanish.”

“Yes, he is.” Remembering her brother-in-law’s drunken ramblings, she frowned. “Or I I thought he was… until yesterday. We’re working on that. And, yes, it’s a Spanish name. He’s from an old Californio (yes, with a ‘o’ ) family, which has the Spanish Conquistadors as their origin, so he’s Latin.”

“That sounds like a story! You thought you were married and you found yesterday you were not?”

“Something my brother in law said…our marriage might not actually be valid…but as soon as he wakens from his drunken stupor, we’ll find out!

“How distressing for you. I hope it is just his drunkeness.  I can hear in your voice that you are happy with your Xavier. And what does Xavier think of you?”

“I really have to answer that?” Alexsandra gave a big sigh, but her eyes twinkled at the duchess. It was a pleasure talking to someone she would never meet again outside of a dream such as this. “He’d say (I’ve heard him say, anyway) I’m lovely (he can’t get enough of my golden curls that reach past my derrière), an unparalleled rider (I was trained by my father in dzhigitovka), smart (I speak five languages and do math in my head), sensitive, generous to a fault, and a lot of fun.”

She chuckled. “But…he’d also say I’m opinionated, bossy, inclined to always want to do things my own way, and difficult to get to know. But he loves me anyway. Dzhigitovka and horses are my greatest loves, other than Xavier, of course.”

The duchess had been listening intently. “Tell me, what is Dzhigitovka?”

“Oooohhh… Dzhigitovka originated with the Caucasians, long, long ago, and it was kept alive by the Cossacks, and now the Russians. It’s a form of riding we now call trick riding, but it evolved as a form of mounted warfare. Even the names are wonderful… the Cossack hang, the death drag, to name a few… My papa learned, back in Poland, from a Ukranian, Vladimir, who, incidentally, plays a large part in book One, A Long Trail Rolling!”

Alexsandra’s hostess opened her hazel eyes wide. “How exciting! You have led a very adventurous life, my dear.”

“It’s very adventurous. I’ve only just now begun wearing skirts. I had one muslin dress to my name, but several pairs of buckskins!”

“And your papa taught you. What does your Xavier think of your trick riding?”

“Xavier loves it,” Aleksandra said proudly. “I’ve taught him some, too! He a magnificent horseman, and rides a gorgeous gray Andalusian stallion. My mount of choice is Dzień, a mustang.”

“Then your man is a match for you, and Aleksandra (may I call you Aleksandra?) if you are not married yet, it will be simple enough to amend the situation will it not?”

“It should be a simple matter…if we’re not actually married, there should be no impediment. I’m sure my mother in law, Maria Arguëllo, will be ecstatic to not miss this wedding, and will go to great lengths to make it the most remembered ceremony of the year! The rancho is the biggest old Spanish land grant in the San Francisco Bay Area, after all! She will make sure it’s quite the fiesta!”

The duchess put down her cup and held out her hand, taking Aleksandra’s hand in a firm glass. “How I wish this afternoon tea portal worked both ways! I should love to see you as a bride, my dear. But I wish you all the very best, you and your Xavier both.”

“Thank you, I really enjoyed the cup of tea, haven’t had one like that since my mama died. I will try to write to you and let you know what happens. Thank you again, and…take good care!”

The Hills of Gold Unchanging

No one will stand in their way—

                                                and live.

As the Civil War rages, secessionists menace California.

Trying to get back home, Aleksandra and Xavier journey through the mining camps of 1860’s Nevada and California, the Sacramento floods and Old San Francisco to Xavier’s Californio Rancho de las Pulgas.

Embroiled in the Confederate’s fight to drag the new state from the Union and make it their own, can Aleks and Xavier survive? The secessionists mean business.

This is Book Two of The Long Trails Series of historical romantic thriller sagas, following Lizzi’s characters from the wilderness of 1860’s Utah to Colonial New Zealand

Meet Lizzi Tremayne

Lizzi grew up riding wild in the Santa Cruz Mountain redwoods, became an equine veterinarian at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, practiced in the California Pony Express and Gold Country before emigrating to New Zealand. When not writing, she’s swinging a rapier or shooting a bow in medieval garb, riding, driving a carriage or playing on her farm, singing, or working as an equine veterinarian or science teacher. She is multiply published and awarded in special interest magazines and veterinary periodicalsPhotos

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Buy A Long Trail Rolling, and The Hills of Gold Unchanging

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EXCERPT:

June 1860, Echo Canyon, Wasatch Mountains, Utah Territory

His blade glinted in the sunlight as he lunged toward her, but she ducked and spun, her own sword flashing in figure eights while she retreated, and his strike met with only air. He recovered and set himself up for the onslaught he knew would come, coughing as the dust kicked up by their boots thickened.

Blade up, he parried the blows she rained down upon him. He managed to get in one of his own, and retreated for a moment, breathing hard. She stepped back as well, her breasts heaving beneath the thin linen. Blue eyes glittered below brows narrowed with concentration, before her sword returned to action with a vengeance. They circled, dodging and striking in turn. Her skill was far greater, but the girl’s injuries from her last fight, combined with his greater reach and fitness were beginning to tell. A movement tugged at the edge of his vision—he glanced up from her sword to see her hat tumble off. Her hair cascaded down in a tangle to her thighs, and his heart surged.

She’s mine now.

He offered the ghost of a smile as he moved in to disarm her with a passing lunge and struck at her sword arm.

The air left his lungs and he tasted dirt in his mouth as he hit the unforgiving ground face-first. He groaned and rolled over, expecting the worst.

Above him, her laughing visage met his eyes. Her glorious curls, molten gold, fell around his face like a veil as she bent to wipe his face and kiss his lips. She slid the hilt of his sword from his hand.

“All right, halte, hold, you two,” their instructor said, in his heavy Russian accent. “There’s still work to be done, Xavier, but you’ve done well.”

Xavier Argüello took the hand his opponent offered, hopped to his feet and dusted off his clothes.

“Well done, Querido,” said his intended, Aleksandra Lekarski, as she returned his sword.

“Xavier, come here, please,” Vladimir Chabardine said, from the doorway of the cabin, where he was propped up in his sickbed. “You have worked hard. I am impressed, and it is rare that I am compelled to say that. That shashka now belongs to you. Use it in good health.”

Xavier stared at him, then at the Don Cossack saber in his hand, its leather grip smooth with years of use. He was silent for long moments.

“But it’s yours, Vladimir,” he finally said.

“It was one of mine, yes. Now it is yours. Tatiana brought my other two shashkas with her from Russia. One is for Nikolai, when he is ready, and this one is for you. It’s the least I can do, after my part in,” he looked at Aleksandra and grimaced, “your papa’s death.”

She nodded, her face grim, in acknowledgement.

“Thank you, from the bottom of my heart,” Xavier said, shaking his head at the Russian, as he ran a finger from the tooled embellishment on the pommel through to the rawhide bouton and strip they used for their practice sessions. He slid the protectors off and his new shashka whispered into its scabbard. He turned to face Aleksandra, and bowed to her. “Thank you,” he said, then turned to Vladimir, “and again, to you.”

She returned the bow and smiled at them both.

“You’re not quite done,” Vladimir said. “Xavier, replace the guard.”

“What would you like?” Aleksandra asked.

“One more bout. En garde,” he said, and they prepared.

Prêt.” They nodded.

Allez,” Vladimir snapped, and they began.

Aleksandra feinted, then moved to strike, but Xavier saw a hole in her defense and lunged. She twirled way, with a laugh, then drew back, looking frightened, her body twisted strangely to the right.

Was she injured?

His gaze lifted to her face, but no pain resided there, though her brow was furrowed. What a chance! Her whole left side was unguarded, and he went for the opening.

Before he could alter his course, she unwound and her shashka flashed toward him. For the second time in his life, he froze as he found her blade across his throat.

¿Recuerdas? Remember this?” she said, her eyes merry.

“How could I forget, Querida,” he spoke for her ears alone, “our first meeting?”

Hands clapped behind them and they spun as one, hands on their sword hilts.

“No need fer that, no need fer that,” said a man, mounted on a chestnut horse. Beside the horse walked a black man, tied by the wrists to the rope in the rider’s hands.

“What do you wan—” Xavier began, then clamped his jaw, as his breath came short. Blood pounded in his ears and his face heated. “What can I help you with,” he finally managed, past gritted teeth, as he walked away from the house door, toward their callers.

“Well, hello theah,” the rider said, his Southern accent heavy. “Good fightin’, and fer a girl, too.” He looked sideways at Aleksandra.

“Aleks,” Xavier hissed, as he felt, rather than saw, her bristle beside him. He glanced at her knuckles showing white on the pommel of her saber. He reached out and covered her sword hand with his own and she took a deep breath and stilled.

“We’re yer new neighbors down th’road. Y’all wanna buy a slave? We’ve jus’ done come West ‘n now we’ve done finished buildin’ the house, he’s,” he nodded at the man at the end of his tether, “jus’ ‘noth’r mouth t’feed. Ca’int use ‘im to grow nuthin’ in this rock y’call dirt around heah.” He stopped and looked at the yard and cabin. “Nice place y’all got here.”

Xavier nodded, silent.

The man’s brows narrowed, then he continued. “Well, ah wondered if y’all had a breedin—ah, a woman slave I could trade fer him. The missus wants help in t’house, an’ I could use a little…too.” The glint in his beady eyes turned his grin into a leer.

Xavier closed his eyes and clenched his fists. “This territory may allow slavery, but nobody holds with it around here.”

The Southerner was silent for a moment, then answered with a voice dripping with sarcasm. “Now that’s mahty neighborly of ya. Are y’all some o’them ab’litionists we come West to git away from?”

“As you wish.” Xavier raised a brow at him, then shifted his gaze to the man on foot, staring at the dirt. “I apologize to you, sir, but you’ll have to go home with him again. May you find yourself a better life soon.”

The corners of the slave’s mouth lifted briefly. His eyes flickered up to Xavier’s, brightened, then dulled again as he dropped them to the ground.

“C’mon Jordan,” the rider growled, “we’re not welc’m here, by all accounts.” He jerked his horse around and they retreated the way they’d come.

Xavier stood silent, watching them go, then began to shake. He closed his eyes, willing himself to control the anger, and the deepening darkness. He inhaled sharply. When he opened his eyes, Aleksandra was staring at him.

“Are you all right?” she said, her brow furrowed.

“Yes.” Xavier nodded.

“More Southerners,” Aleksandra scowled as she wiped sweat from her brow with the back of her sleeve, “running from home before the government takes their slaves away?”

“That’ll never happen,” Xavier said, from between clenched jaws. “Too strong, too wealthy—cotton—slaves. Poor beggars down South.” He peered around. “Even here. I can’t believe it.”

“Believe it,” she said. “They’re coming.”

He shook his head. “I just wish we could stop it—the abuse, the owning.”

Aleksandra wrapped her arms around him, held him close until the tremors quieted. She leaned back in his arms and studied his face, then seemed satisfied with what she saw.

“Having you here makes it bearable, I think,” he said, and kissed her.

“I’m so used to you being the strong one…sometimes I forget the demons that still eat at you,” she said.

 

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Little maids from school

I’ve been on a grandmother expedition this week to help my daughters and granddaughter examine a couple of new schools, and in the spare moments of my trip, I’ve been writing The Realm of Silence, which begins with the discovery that the heroine’s daughter Amy has run away from school.

Back in 1812, most girls were educated at home. A girl from a wealthy family might have a governess and a series of instructors in ladylike skills, such as dancing and painting. A girl of more modest means would be educated by her parents, learning whatever her mother was capable of teaching her and her father was ready to permit.

Some, though, went off to school, perhaps because they were from upwardly mobile families seeking social skills that were not practiced in their home, or perhaps because the family circumstances made the usual home education more difficult.

The available schools were private affairs. They were usually run by spinsters or widows, although some teachers were married and assisted by their husbands. Teachers had no formal qualifications, and those who ran schools needed a head for business and a good circle of friends to speak for them to the parents of possible pupils.

Day schools were less expensive to run. Boarding schools, as Mary Wollstonecraft and her sisters found, presented more of a challenge. They needed to take lodgers, as well as pupils, to cover the rent and the wages of servants.

A series of advertisements published by Susana Ives gives us an idea of the programme and fees. Some were very basic: the fundamentals of reading and writing, and for the rest the kinds of skills daughters required to attract a husband at or just above their social circumstances. Other offered a very extensive programme. English and French languages, history, needlework, music, dancing, writing, arithmetic and geography might cost between 30 and 40 guineas a year. Or twenty guineas might get you English and needlework, with other subjects available for an extra fee.

A Female Seminary is conducted at the above place; by Miss Woollaston, who pays particular attention to the health, comfort, and improvement of her young charge.—Terms, for general instruction, 24 Guineas per Annum.—Entrance One Guinea. French,  Italian, Latin, Music, Drawing, Dancing, each Four Guineas per Annum.—Geography, with the use of Globes, two Guineas per Annum. Writing and accounts, Ten Guineas per Annum.—Washing, 12 shillings per Quarter.—Terms, for Parlour Boarders, 24 Guineas per Quarter.

Girls’ schools were an important part of the scene in Regency England and provided a crucial opportunity for gentile ladies to make both a living and a social contribution.

Teachers often made their start as boarders or half-boarders, learning the skills they would later teach, and bound to the school as an apprentice for a certain number of years. They could then become a schoolmistress or a governess. Some also inherited their position; many of the most successful schools were family affairs, with daughters taking over from their mothers, or nieces from an aunt.

Teaching was one of the few professions open to a lady, as a school teacher or as a governess. The former was less secure but might lead to eventual independence; the later offered security, but with little chance of saving for retirement.

It would be another fifty years before the rising feminist women’s movement would place emphasis on a better education for girls as a pathway to greater equality, but the private academies and seminaries of England were a step in that direction.

Two hundred years on, my granddaughter is off to a co-educational school to study subjects her peers of two centuries ago were denied on technology they could never have dreamed of. And her career choices are limited only by her aspirations (which include university). The Regency is a lovely place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

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Opportunity knocks on WIP Wednesday

This week, I’m thinking about opportunities lost and opportunities seized. Do your characters steal a kiss or catch a ship or turn left instead of right, and that made all the difference? Or do they miss their chance, and the story unfolds from their regrets?

Share an excerpt of the opportunity or the aftermath. Mine is from The Realm of Silence. My hero and heroine are travelling alone, posing as husband and wife, but sleeping in separate bedrooms. I’m being economical and squeezing two opportunities into one segment. One recent, and one long past.

Susan managed not to break into a run, but only because five paces took her to her door. Once it was safely shut behind her, she sagged against it, tipping her head back, eyes closed, heart racing.

She heard Gil’s door slam. Perhaps the wind caught it, though she preferred to think he had been shaken out of his imperturbable calm. Serves him right.

Why did she kiss him? She did not even like him. And why on earth did he kiss her back, taking over the embrace and setting her on fire. Annoying, arrogant, overbearing.

She crossed to peer into the mirror, tracing her lips with one finger. They tingled, tender from his passionate assault. Or from hers, since it had begun gently enough. Her body hummed; demanding that she march across the hall and finish what she started.

Her breath huffed; a laugh that caught like a sob. She had come full circle. Long ago, on the other side of her entire adult life, she had been kissed by Gilbert Rutledge, had kissed him back, had waited with all the confidence of her seventeen years for him to speak to her father. Until she learned from gossiping matrons that he had been posted overseas.

She had read into the kiss more than he intended. She would be a fool to repeat the error.

 

 

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Tea with Charles

The Duke of Murnane moved with ease in the highest circles. Few people set Charles off his confidence. The Duchess of Haverford was one of them. Standing now, hat in hand, in the anteroom to her inner sanctum while her bespectacled assistant announced his presence, he almost succumbed to the temptation to bolt for the door.

He had only come to town because his vote on one of the reform bills had been deemed vital, a vote that went against Haverford’s firmly held beliefs—the duke’s that is, not his lady wife’s. He intended to return to Eversham Hall as swiftly as he could, but he still had matters to attend to on behalf of his cousin’s… He had no words for what Clare Armbruster meant to his cousin since the two of them seemed intent on pretending their connection was entirely business. This summons had been inconvenient at best.

“The duchess will greet you, now,” the assistant said, her voice from the doorway pitched so low he almost missed it.

The lady smiled from her place on a gilt brocade settee. Without appearing to do anything so tasteless as “holding court,” she managed to reflect power wrapped in compassion. It was the latter that made his knees wobble.

“Charles,” she beamed at him when he bowed over her hand. “Thank you for find a moment for me.”

He took the delicate porcelain teacup she offered. What choice did he have? When she offered, he took a lemon cake as well, a small masterpiece from the Haverford kitchens.

“Tell me the final tally. Did the reform pass?”

“Just.” Had she asked him here to discuss politics? She must have better sources, he thought. “Two votes. Mine wasn’t strictly necessary as it turned out, but it might have been. Haverford will not be pleased,” he grinned, amusement getting the better of him.

“The duke is rarely pleased,” she replied tartly. “You’ve been in the country for weeks this time. We’ve missed you in London. Is it Lord Jonathon ‘s condition that keeps you away?”

The duke’s son suffered from a weakness of the heart. Episodes in which his lungs filled with fluid occurred periodically, coming more frequently this past year. He took a shuddering breath. “You know me well. Yes, Jonny has been failing. He rallied this week, however, and there are others to care for him while I’m gone”

“Forgive me for intruding Charles, but it is Lord Jonathon’s health that concerns me. He is your only heir, is he not?”

“Of course I have only one heir, Your Grace.” Unease prickled up the back of his neck.

She waved an irritated hand. “Do not try to flummox me, Charles. I’ve known you since Chadbourn brought you up to London when you were twelve years old. You have no other son, and, as you have made clear, Jonny, poor darling, is unlikely to outlive you. What do you plan to do about it?”

There it was. He looked around for escape and found none. “What can I do about it? If the worst happens, Fred is my heir after Jonny. What more do I need.”

The duchess put her cup down and reached for his hand. He had the oddest feeling—as if he were twelve again, and her warmth wrapped him like a blanket. “You deserve better, Charles.”

“Better than my cousin Fred? He is home from India, you know, at Eversham looking after Jonny.”

She shook her head sadly. “Don’t put me off. You deserve better than this half-life you live. Whatever they may say, not one person in London, their heart of hearts, would begrudge you happiness. Divorce that harpy you married and find a woman who will make you happy.”

He pulled his hands back. “And give me an heir,” he spat bitterly, immediately regretting it. The Duchess of Haverford, shrewd as she was, meant nothing but kindness.

“Fred Wheatly knows his duty and will do it if he must,” she said gently. “He has enough backbone and integrity to know the position is more than a title. However, the weight of it would not be his choice, I think. So, yes, better for all around if you had another son.”

“Jonny doesn’t deserve the scandal and I won’t have him thinking he isn’t enough for me.” He made a helpless gesture. “I would have to sue her lover first and I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s some German baron this time. She is back in Baden.”

“Nonsense. You could find any one of a number of barons, land stewards, or—”

“Enough! You’ve made my point. Isn’t it enough Julia has humiliated me every year we’ve been married? Do you really think my family wants me to drag it all out in the courts?”

“Don’t they?” She pinned him with the gaze that made even Aldridge quail.

He put the cup down with deliberate care. “My compliments to the chef, Your Grace. The cakes were exquisite and the company, as always, delightful.”  When he bowed over her hand, she didn’t try to prevent his departure.

_____________________________________

The story of Charles’s cousin Fred will unfold in Caroline Warfield’s The Reluctant Wife, to be published the end of April, 2017.

When Bengal Army Captain Fred Wheatly is forced to resign in disgrace, and his mistress dies leaving him with two half-caste daughters to raise, he reluctantly turns to Clare Armbruster for help. But the interfering, beautiful widow demands more of him than he’s ready to give. He’s failed so often in the past. Clare’s made mistakes as well. Can two hearts rise above past failures to forge a future together?

Charles also plays a key role in The Renegade Wife, helping his cousin Rand unravel his love life while protecting the crown from a nasty gang of counterfeiters.  It is available for purchase now or free with Kindle unlimited.

Reclusive businessman Rand Wheatly finds his solitude disrupted by a desperate woman running with her children from an ugly past. But even his remote cabin in Upper Canada isn’t safe enough. Meggy Blair may have lied to him, but she breached the walls of his betrayed heart. Now she’s on the run again and time is running out for all of them.

The Author

Bluestocking Belle and award winning author Caroline Warfield has been many things (even a nun), but above all she is a romantic. Having retired to the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she works in an office surrounded by windows while she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.

Links

http://www.carolinewarfield.com/bookshelf/the-reluctant-wife/

https://www.amazon.com/Renegade-Wife-Children-Empire-Book-ebook/dp/B01LY7IRT6/

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Why do I write what I write?

This is a question I addressed during a talk at the Kiwi Book Feast event on Saturday, and here is my reply.

I write suspense because I love puzzles.

I write historical because I am a research geek, and my version of catnip is chasing the clues to obscure facts through articles, contemporary accounts, and scholarly research papers.

And I write romance because I want to show characters grappling with who they are, and nothing brings out the essence of a person faster than a developing intimate relationship.

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A source of trouble and expense

I’ve fallen down a most interesting research rabbit hole, reading records, reports, personal accounts and research about prisoners on both sides during the long war between France and Britain that began with the French Revolution and ended after Waterloo.

Prisoners of war formed part of war policy. Each nation had to balance the benefits of keeping the other nations men against the cost of caring for them. This led to the practice of each nation paying a food allowance for their own people, and appointing an agent to oversee fair treatment.

In earlier wars, European nations had also practiced prisoner exchanges (or paid ransom if they did not have an equal number of prisoners). In an article on Prisoners of War and British Port Communities, Patricia Crimins suggests several reasons for the rarity of prisoner exchanges between Britain and revolutionary and imperial France.

  • France was ideologically opposed to prisoner exchanges, seeing them as traditional
  • France had far fewer British prisoners than Britain had French prisoners, and could simply not afford to make the exchange—in 1796, Britain held 11,000 French prisoners, while France held fewer than 5,000 British prisoners. By 1799, the number of French prisoners of war in Britain had doubled, but the number of British in France had scarcely changed.
  • During the Napoleonic period, more than 100,000 French prisoners of war were held in Britain, and French policy was to “force Britain to bear the entire cost of the prisoners it held in the hope that this would weaken the economy”.

In Napoleon’s Lost Legions, Gavin Daly says the Napoleonic wars mark the end of the ancient practices of parole, return of non-combatants, and prisoner exchange, and the beginning of the modern practice of internment until the war is over.

For the French on parole in British towns, the war must have been long enough. For those of lower rank kept in prisons—or worse, on the terrible prison hulks that I’ll write about another time—it must have seemed forever.

 

 

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Surprises on WIP Wednesday

My friend Caroline Warfield shared the following story about a conversation between the Hollywood screenwriter Charles MacArthur and Charlie Chaplin.

“How, for example, could I make a fat lady, walking down Fifth Avenue, slip on a banana peel and still get a laugh? It’s been done a million times,” said MacArthur. “What’s the best way to get the laugh? Do I show first the banana peel, then the fat lady approaching, then she slips? Or do I show the fat lady first, then the banana peel, and then she slips?”

“Neither,” said Chaplin without a moment’s hesitation. “You show the fat lady approaching; then you show the banana peel; then you show the fat lady and the banana peel together; then she steps over the banana peel and disappears down a manhole.”

This is a wonderful hint for plotting, so this week I’ve been thinking about those manhole moments. Do you have any? Where you’d set up a certain expectation for your readers and then you do something else? Please share an excerpt in the comments.

My excerpt is from The Lost Treasure of Lorne, a made-to-order story I’m writing as a party prize. The curse comes to fruition at midnight. Or does it?

The three of them met in Michael’s private sitting room to wait for midnight, and in ones and twos the ghosts seeped through the walls to join them.

“Do you suppose the servants are mistaken about the date?” John asked as the clock chimed eleven times.

“Or about the consequence,” Michael suggested. “The ghosts will stay in the castle, and not all be forfeit to the devil.”

“If the curse is true and the date is true…” Caitlin said, as the ghosts crowded around her nodding, “then we have less than an hour to find the answer.” The ghosts seemed to lose interest, wandering off again to their corners.

“I can’t think of anywhere we have not looked,” Michael grieved. “Fiona.” He stood in front of the ghost of his young wife, so that she had to look up at him. “Fiona, I want to help. Can’t you tell us how to find the treasure? And the casket with the marriage lines? Please, Fiona.”

But Fiona slid her eyes away from him and circled around him to join the others in the corner.

They watched the hands of the clock shift with glacial speed towards midnight, and still the ghosts remained, even after 31 August became 1 September. Caitlin had no idea what she expected. Anything from a silent disappearance to Satan himself arriving in clouds of fire and sweeping her relatives into the maw of hell. For nothing to happen at all was almost a let down, relieved though she was.

“Is the clock slow, perhaps?” John suggested, and they waited another interminable half hour.

“We might as well go to bed,” Caitlin said at last. “Either the legend is wrong or the date is.”

“The date!” Michael stopped short, halfway across the room to the door. “It isn’t 31 August.”

“No,” John agreed. “It is after midnight.”

“That’s not what I mean. The Calendar Act. The Calendar Act, Caitlin.”

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Tea with Minerva Avery

The Duchess of Haverford’s manner to her guest was, perhaps, a little warmer than usual. While she would never embarrass Lady Avery nor dishonour her husband by apologising for the duke’s behaviour, she was very aware that the Haverfords were indebted to the lady.

Minerva Avery was every inch a lady, whatever her origins, and whatever His Grace had implied when he took delivery of the wonderful new invalid chair that would give the insensitive, autocratic, lecherous old snake freedom from being confined to one room unless carried by a pair of robust footmen.

And to think that this dainty young woman had made the chair with her own delicate hands!

“Lord Avery must be very proud of you, my dear Lady Avery,” she said, as she poured the tea for which her guest had admitted a thirst.

Minerva coloured prettily. “Lord Avery is biased, Your Grace. He thinks anything I wish to do is perfectly acceptable. I know my work is not considered at all the thing in higher circles. I should be satisfied to supervise my servants, socialise with my peers, and shop.”

A ridiculous view in the duchess’s opinion. As if ladies did not work! And the greater the estate and the social position, the harder their role.

“People can be very foolish. I daresay your husband—Candle, is it not?—suggests that you ignore them.”

“Randal, Your Grace. But he has been called Candle since he was at school.”

Yes. The boy was long, thin, and pale, with a head of fiery hair. But a nice lad, and doing very well by his viscountcy and the trading enterprise he inherited from his mother’s family. His choice of bride had set the dovecotes fluttering. A carriage-maker’s daughter, and one with her own enterprise creating invalid chairs? The doors of Society were largely closed to the young couple.

The duchess smiled. Young Minerva had helped the Haverfords with the fruit of her labours. Now it was time to return the favour. Those closed doors would open soon enough when it was clear the Averys were her protégés.

“Tell me, my dear, do you have an engagement for this Friday? I am giving a ball, and I would be delighted if you and your Candle could attend.”

Min is the heroine of Candle’s Christmas Chair, which I’m currently giving away in a promotion. A number of my friends are also part of this week-long giveaway, including fellow Bluestocking Belles Caroline Warfield and Elizabeth Ellen Carter. Enter to win 45 Regency Romances, and to be in the draw for a Kindle Fire.

Here’s the link to enter: https://www.booksweeps.com/enter-win-45-regency-romances-feb-17/

 

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