A Day in the Life of Jane Austen

September 10, 2021
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A Day in the Life of Jane Austen

I have always been fascinated by the details of Regency life, and how different or similar it was for a middle-class woman compared to our twenty-first century lives.

For an upper-class woman, of course, there was much more leisure time than there would have been for a lower-middle class woman, since there were, generally speaking less servants, depending upon the household income, and some females would have had to lend a hand with some of the chores, such as helping with setting up the table for meals or perhaps lighter cleaning or hanging out the wash, beating carpets etc. I have often wondered what a day in the life of Jane Austen would look like, so I have done some research, and here is what I have found:

Chawton Cottage where Austen resided for the last eight years of her short life.

For more well-to-do ladies, the day did not begin until about ten o clock. Servants were up around five or six, making breakfast, taking care of household cares and so on. In the Austen home, at Chawton cottage, they did not have many servants, and Jane was up at the crack of dawn, around 6am. She would likely have sponged herself off at a basin, unless it was bath day, since most women would still only bathe once per week. She would have put on her undergarments and morning dress, and probably covered these with an apron. Her sister might have sometimes helped her lace her stays and petticoat, as there were a lot of strings to tie. She would likely have put up her own hair also.

Jane was an accomplished pianist and she spent most mornings practicing the pianoforte before breakfast. This was also the time that small chores were done, and often a walk was taken before breakfast. Then around 8.30am or so she would go into the kitchen and help prepare breakfast for her family. Jane’s particular duty was making the tea. Their breakfast might have been a simple light fare of rolls, muffins or toast, perhaps eggs. She apparently used a long-handled fork to toast bread over the fire.

Jane Austen’s piano at Chawton Cottage

After breakfast, at around 10am, Jane usually worked on her novels, wrote letters, walked, paid or received social calls, pottered in the flowerbeds as she was a keen gardener, or carried out little errands in the town. This period before dinner time, which for the Austens was usually somewhere between 3 and 4pm, was always called ‘morning’. Thus we have the confusion that often arises when people read in novels of the time, about ‘morning calls’. Calls from others or paying calls to another, were always carried out before the dinner hour, and thus the term ‘morning calls’, can be understood to mean a call paid perhaps before 4pm in the afternoon.

Jane’s writing table and chair at Chawton Cottage

Jane wrote at her little writing table and chair, which was in the drawing room, placed by a window for light. She would work until dinner time, which was for the Austens, around 3.30pm. The ‘dinner’ period was marked by a change of clothes, thus the ‘dressing for dinner’ habit we read of in novels of the time.

Dinner at home generally consisted of two courses, with roast meats, or fish if they could get it, a soup, and a few dishes of vegetables much as we would have today. They were also usually treated to a pudding or sweet course, and wine was usually drunk at dinner as matter of course. A more lavish dinner would have been three courses, two of meats and vegetables, and a sweet course which more often than not consisted not only of puddings like ‘wypt blancmange’ but nibbley finger foods like fruits and nuts and little cakes. The Austens were quite social and often had guests. Jane enjoyed wine and her letters mention that their family made wine and brewed their own beer and mead, which was quite common back then. She enjoyed her tipple, and sometimes talked of what wine she had taken in her letters.

The dining room at Chawton cottage

After dinner, the family usually took tea together, and remained together for the evening. This time they would spend reading, and Jane would have read aloud parts of her work in progress for critique. This was the time the family might play cards, read riddles (called charades back then) and by 8 or 9pm they would have a light supper and perhaps by 10 or 11pm go to bed. Jane would have enjoyed playing the pianoforte for her family during the evenings also. Sometimes of course, they would prepare to go out, if there was a local dance to attend or a card party at a private house, and for these the girls would spend an hour helping each other do their hair and dress.

Toothbrush made of horse hair

Bedtime was a ritual in which Jane, like another other regency lady, would have disrobed and put on her nightgown, perhaps put her hair in paper curls and tucked it into a sleeping cap, and brushed her teeth with a toothbrush made of horse hair, and a tooth powder of soda ash and salt. The maid would have brought her up a heated brick for her feet if the weather was chilly, and then she likely either poured over her writing desk to write a little more of her work in progress, or climbed into bed, ready to do it all over again at 6am the next day.

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Writing Regency; How Not to Plan your Novel

August 14, 2021
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Writing Regency; How Not to Plan your Novel 

I know there are countless excellent writing courses, and lots of them free, which will teach you how to write a romantic novel. When I was thinking, five years ago, about how to begin writing, I googled tons of them…and never used any of them.

It can be counterproductive to try to follow a formula, and that is certainly how I felt after I had researched so many courses, hints and tips. It was overwhelming, and that is why, in a previous post, I talked about how to get started—simply by writing a sentence and taking it one sentence at a time. Pretty hard to get overwhelmed by too much advice when you have no stake in the outcome and just take it bit at a time. This blog I wanted to talk about how to plan—or not—your novel.

Some people might find a course or a bunch of tips, helpful. For myself, feeling as overwhelmed as I was when I first began, I decided not to plan ahead, and my first novel kind of wrote itself. I really just gave up any idea of controlling my pen. I let the characters write their own dialogue, and it seemed to free me up enough to allow a storyline to develop of itself.

In A Scandal at Delford, my first novel, I began with a very simple premise; a girl goes to visit her cousin and ends up in love. The rest of the story evolved as the chapters flew by. I tried to remember to include things I had always enjoyed in Austen and other regency novels; balls, walking in the country, dressing up in regency dress, country life in general, afternoon tea—all those quintessential staples of regency novels which makes them authentic and different from our own twenty-first century lives.

Then I made sure each action led to something—did we learn  more about a character, or a situation, to make that action or event worth including in the story? Its no good writing endless details about how the heroine rode her horse over a park, sat under a tree and rescued a kitten, unless it moves the story forward, unless it serves a purpose. So I made that rule for myself as I went along, and if the action seemed not to be pertinent to the story line, I added in something that made it important, or I cut the writing out and did something different.

One thing you have to get used to is being ruthless when it comes to critiquing your own writing. You must be prepared to determinedly ruthless, and discard anything you find useless or not of the quality you are aspiring to. It can be very hard to cut pet scenes and stuff you toiled over for hours, but if you don’t, you won’t ever be a good writer. Point.

Another trick I discovered which produces creative ideas while writing, is to think on a theme or two, an idea in general, a statement you want to make. Examples might be redemption, weakness, loyalty, grief, cruelty, joy, aging, deceit, etc. Themes or issues give your plot ‘body’ or flesh it out—they give your heroine a mental or emotional challenge to work out. You may not preplan your novel’s storyline in detail, but if you hold a theme or idea in mind which you’d like to explore, scenes will naturally mold themselves to that theme as you work out in the moment how this might be explored in a certain scene or dialogue.

For example, in Beauty and the Beast of Thornleigh, I really wanted to explore the idea of what a hero really is. So my heroine, Georgiana, has to think about why she puts certain men in her life on a pedestal, and how that has affected her attitudes. My hero, Asher Brandt, also confronts heroism and what it is. If you have read this novel, you will remember how this theme recurs in the story. Once you have a theme or two, as you write with that in mind, scenes then develop which bring this idea to the fore, and these scenes bring characters closer to resolving their issues. Writing with this idea in mind, you will find that each scene you write will naturally move the action forward and your scenes will be relevant rather than superfluous to the story.

From there, your storyline becomes more clear as you then realize you could make this or that happen in order to explore this theme further or to make sure your character comes to some kind of understanding by the end of the novel. You may begin your novel with little idea of the story line except a very brief premise, and a theme or two to explore, and by half way you may now have a very clear idea of where it is going to the point where you may have to sit down and make a list of things that need to happen to bring the story to a successful conclusion.

Always resolve your character’s challenges, no matter if they are mental or physical. Always give the reader closure on an idea or theme, by allowing your character to overcome, understand, face, explore, or accept their ‘theme’ issue or challenge.

Something I found really helpful too, is to make sure that even though I don’t exactly know where my plot is leading just yet, my characters are well rounded and have their unusual and interesting quirks; they are not all generic NPCs playing a role. This can then lead to more ideas on scenes and plot lines, which can give cohesion to a story line.

For example, in A Bath Affair, my heroine Clemence is very outspoken, and thinks of her unspoken sharp and witty retorts as bees buzzing in her head, trying to get out. Now my heroine has a quirky personality trait, which makes her more interesting as a character, more authentic as a human, and moves the plot along since she is often saying outrageous and unacceptable things (in a Mayfair drawing room anyway) and leads her to be courageous when the plot calls for it.

There are lots of different ways to generate plotlines and move your story forward and to give it body, but these I have mentioned have really worked for me. Something else may work for you, and that’s fine—the point is to write, and the fun is in the discovering how YOU as a writer, work best.

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What is Negus?

July 15, 2021

What is Negus? 

Feverish with hopes and fears, soup and negus…’
(Mansfield Park).

I have long been fascinated by the types of foods and drinks which are mentioned in many eighteenth-century novels, especially in those of Jane Austen. When I come across a drink I have never heard of, I like to look up what it was, and usually someone has, very kindly and conveniently posted up a recipe for it. 

So I decided to do a post on Negus, for a few reasons.

Firstly, it sounds so mysterious! Like some sort of bizarre, catatonic state, eg .’She was in a state of utter Negus…’ Perhaps after a couple of glasses…

Negus is also interesting to me because it appears in two of Austen’s novels; once as part of the supper fare provided at a ball in Mansfield Park, and again in her unfinished work, The Watsons. I like to include new, useless bits of information in my novels, so I had Catherine Moreland serve Negus at a dinner party in my upcoming work-in-progress, Woodston, a sequel to Northanger Abbey. So, I have no excuse not to have a quick look at it's origins, and to make some to see for myself to see what all the fuss is about!

On looking up Negus in Wikipedia I found it was usually served hot, in cooler weather, and seems very much like mulled wine. It is made from port, hot water, oranges or lemons, and spices, usually nutmeg, and sweetened with sugar. It was actually invented by a Colonel Francis Negus in the early 18th century, and retained its popularity as a winter warmer as late as 1880s. The website janeausten.co.uk however reports that by Victorian times it had become more of a children’s drink—I assume it was diluted down quite a bit for the kiddies, but who knows! It does have added water, and is heated, but not enough to evaporate all the alcohol.

Anyway, one cool winter afternoon recently, I browsed the various recipes online and found this one on Epicurious which looked pretty easy to make, and I tried making some myself.
Here is a link to the recipe I used: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/negus-200931

I used a midrange priced port. I made half this recipe, as it calls for a quart, which is 4 cups and too much for me. I halved the recipe to 2 cups of port and two cups of hot water.

I grated my zest of the citrus I had chosen, and squeezed the juice. I chopped my mandarin skins, as they were soft, and it looks a bit chunky in the pot (pictured below) but you don’t have to do that, especially if you are only using lemon or oranges which are easier to zest.

The recipe called for lemons, but I added a mandarin, juice and rind, which I really think added extra sweetness, and a lovely flavour. Once I had all my ingredients in the pot and had added the hot water, then steeped it for half an hour, and I think the flavours will get stronger as it sits.

I like the idea of serving it as per the next illustration, with a cinnamon stick and a piece of cut orange!

So that was my midwinter afternoon foray into Negus production, and I have to say, I might just go into business! I liked it, although not sure how it might keep. But it really is very reminiscent of Mulled Wine…and just as delicious!

And with that said, I raise my glass in a toast to good old Frank Negus, for coming up with the idea for this delicious hot drink…. and to Jane Austen, of course! Cheers!

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Fans and Fanatics: Why we just can’t get enough Jane Austen Fan Fiction

June 25, 2021
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Fans and Fanatics: Why we just can’t get enough Jane Austen Fan Fiction 

The world of Jane Austen-inspired ‘pop lit’ is, unarguably, a huge one. So large, in fact, it seems almost limitless. There are a sizable number of fan fiction works available to purchase on sites like Amazon, and with the dubious advent of self-publishing some years back, this number increases exponentially each year.

A quick search on Wikipedia tells us that even back in 2003 there were already over 900 Pride and Prejudice-inspired fan fiction works alone, and who knows what that number is now as I write in June 2021. From sequels and prequels, alternate views and spin-offs, to stand-alone romances in the style of, we are voracious readers, and loquacious writers, of it all. Some of these works seek to emulate or even directly imitate, Austen’s style. Conversely, some take a fair bit of the modern world back to the regency era, in the use of modern language and idiom, and the misrepresentation, deliberate or unintentional, of the historic period in which her works are set.

Despite these differences in style and approach, it cannot be ignored that Austen fan fiction is a now a fully-fledged alternate universe, in and of itself, one where we, the reader, can escape to when the hard realities of life have us yearning for afternoon teas on the lawn, sprigged muslin gowns, silk cravats and waistcoats, candlelit balls, long solitary walks over the moors, and heart-fluttering romances between restrainedly sexy nineteenth-century hotties and babes. This absolute fervour for Austen fan fiction can easily be said to parallel that for other cult followings like Harry Potter, Star Trek and Star Wars, to name a few. So just what is our fascination, as readers and writers, with Austen fan fiction? Why do writers write Austen fan fiction, and why do readers read it? 

As a reader and a writer of Austen fan fiction myself, I would suggest that a large part of this growing fascination for Austen-inspired literature–the spin offs, continuations, sequels and prequels—originates in Austen’s own intense focus on domestic, middle-class English life, manners and culture. There is something which we are attracted to in Austen’s comfortable, cosy world, where fires burn cheerfully and long walks can be had to wile away the endless hours of leisure which denote a middle-class, genteel lifestyle. We are, I suggest, fascinated by the idle, pleasure-seeking lifestyle of the moderately wealthy. Deny it if you will, but consider this: neither the Brontes, nor Dickens nor Hardy, nor any other nineteenth century author who wrote primarily about the poverty-stricken English lower classes, could boast the cult post-humous following which Austen can. I’m not saying that is the only reason for her cult following, but there is a certain charm in being swept away by one’s imagination to an Austenian world where one doesn’t have to worry about having to work, nor where your next dish of roast beef is coming from. Granted, Marianne and Elinor were pretty poor, but even they did not have to work! There is something fascinating in reading about people like us, people who could have been us, and whose lives we could easily slip into, given a time machine and the right muslin gown and spencer. Deny it as much as you like, I hold that we really just want to be them, even if only for a day.

In many ways, Austen was pretty avant-garde for her time. One of the attractions to her work is, I think, the way she approaches women’s issues. Austen wrote about a world where women existed, for the most part, behind closed doors; the front door of a Georgian house hid the secret domestic world of women. Women were, in most homes, especially those of the middle and upper classes, cloistered –waiting for marriage or spinsterhood, whichever came first. As Anne Elliot reminds us in Persuasion, ‘we live at home, confined, and our feeling prey upon us.’ And yet Austen balances these few and far between poignant moments with acerbic wit and without a hint of cloying sentimentality. She simply gets on with the business of living—and telling it as it is. Perhaps it is this attitude, this determination not to be a victim, and to present women as courageous beings with agency to grow and flourish, despite their social circumstances, which attracts us to her work as much as anything else.

There is another aspect of English culture which I feel holds the secret to Austen’s fanatical fan-fiction following. It is not surprising that we, living in an era where sexuality and passion are expressed without reservation, we might be drawn toward a binary opposite, a culture which has typically represented itself, in literature of the nineteenth century middle class particularly, as cool, refined, passionless, circumspect and hidden. That cool, passive English protagonist has been typified in characters such as Thomas Hardy’s protagonists both male and female, and in even earlier literary works which would have influenced Austen’s writing, such as those by Fanny Burney, Grandison, and so on. This refined, cool, completely controlled Englishman or woman, I would argue, is the skeletal protagonist for all Austen’s major characters. If Austen ever represents any warmth of passion, any overtly sexual behaviours in her characters, it is severely punished; even the ‘secondary’ character of the coquettish Lydia Bennet, who is overtly sexual and passionate arguably gets her just desserts at Austen’s hand, by inciting her sisters’ clucking disapproval, and being forced to marry a loser. Austen makes use of this stereotype of the English ethos and makes it the backbone from which she works to flesh out her characters. Her novels are populated with proper, refined, sometimes prim, females and males, who if they ever lose their shit, either do it behind closed doors, where readers are not invited to peer, or are relegated to playing bit roles, NPCs, the non-playing characters she can afford to take punitive measures with. This is, both in a literary sense and a cultural one, the opposite of many of our 21st century values, where openness, warmth, passion and sexuality are freely expressed.

I am not, of course, ignoring the countless number of racy ‘regency’ romances that have been written and are still being churned out onto Amazon websites like pizzas out of a Domino’s on a Saturday night. Those are not Austen fan fiction, however. They are a different genre. But in purist Austen fan fiction, especially ones which aspire to emulation or imitation of style and narrative subject, sex before marriage is rarely mentioned, and if it is, it is usually represented as shameful. I’m not saying all Austen fan fiction should treat passion and sexuality as taboo, to be imagined only, behind the bedroom door. Some writers have done a very good job of such scenes of connubial bliss, but part of the pleasure of immersing oneself in the world of nineteenth century middle class manners and everyday life, is remaining as true as possible to the social mores of the day, of preserving the credibility of the ‘Austenesque’ narrative, and that means no orgies in the drawing room. Austen fan fiction, when it is traditional fan fiction, never dreams of writing such scenes, and few purist readers want to see it. For that, they will go to another sub-genre of regency romance.

Of course, we love to love the gowns, the clothes, the food, the balls, the card parties and so on, which are described in Austen’s novels and which a lot of the fan fiction strives to recreate. These things, according to Austen’s works, are the material evidence of English life, culture and manners. I suspect this is a significant part of the attraction to Austen’s work too, and similar types of contemporary fiction, that we are drawn to those old morals and values and simple ways of life. In the 21st century, where life is a lot less ‘civil’ on the whole, we have to a great extent lost those societal values which proliferate Austen’s novels; politeness in all circumstances, behavioural rules of etiquette in social situations, modesty in dressing in both sexes but particularly females, good old-fashioned values, advice and go-to remedies for what ails mankind. We love fan fiction because it strives to recreate these values, particularly in the purist fan fiction, which is so traditionally focussed. I know that I am personally drawn to read and write fan fiction which seeks to express these old-fashioned values and social mores.

I have only touched on some of the characteristics of Austen fan fiction which may make it so fascinating for readers and writers alike. Reading Austen and Austen-inspired fiction gives us a sense of a culture which existed 200 years ago, and perhaps we yearn, even subconsciously, to be a part of it. Of course, there were many aspects of English middle-class life which today would not be seen as positive, such as the sometimes blatant denigration of women. Austen certainly used her novels as platforms to highlight the plight of women in her society. But despite this truth, she creates for us a world which is so different to our own, populated by people with different, almost enviable values, living a life of leisure, where each level of society has its hierarchy in the greater social system. No matter the motivation for each individual reader or writer, the bottom line is that we love to see the lifestyle, culture and manners of the Georgian era through Austen’s lens, and we want more of it. We will take anything which looks, feels, sounds and tastes like Jane. We are addicted.

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Jane Austen Fan Fiction – Recommended Favourites List

May 27, 2021
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Jane Austen Fan Fiction- Recommended Favourites List.

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There are few writers who can claim to having created a post-humous cult following, but Jane Austen is one of them. Her novels have inspired literally hundreds of fan-fiction writers, who have gone on to create hundreds upon hundreds of prequels, sequels, spin offs, alternative endings and alternate-view narratives. Thank god, for those of us who cannot get enough Austen, we now have a virtually unlimited supply of novels, novelettes, spoofs and short stories from which to choose.

I have by no means read all or most or even half of these offerings, but for what it is worth, I decided to make a short list of eleven (it was meant to be ten, but I couldn’t pick which one not to mention!) of those works I have read, and would recommend for other Janeites, Austen-lovers, and JAFF-devotees. This is my list only, and it is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive—these are just the ones which spring to mind as ones which I have read and personally loved, for one reason or another.

In no particular order of excellence, I therefore present The List:

The Assistant
by Riana Everly

by Jane Austen and "another Lady"

The Watsons
by Jane Austen and Joan Aiken

by Jo Baker

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen
by Syrie James

Murder at Northanger Abbey
by Shannon Winslow

by Kwen D Griffeth

The Third Sister
by Julia Barrett

The Youngest Miss Ward
by Joan Aiken

by Jane Austen and Juliet Shapiro

Pride and Promiscuity –
by Arielle Eckstut

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My Winter Reading List

May 8, 2021
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My Winter Reading List...

what's yours?

It is the beginning of autumn here in Queensland Australia, and while we don’t get really cold weather this time of year, some rain has in recent weeks brought us definitely cooler temperatures. All the rain has given me the perfect excuse to be indoors, curled up on the sofa as the rain falls outside, with my head in a novel.

I am rereading Northanger Abbey at the moment, for the umpteenth time, since my next JAFF work, Woodston, will be a sequel to that book. And it is about this time of the year I go on Amazon and order up a few new offerings—all in the name of ‘research’ of course.

Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen

Regency House Party
by Richard E. Grant

So recently I ordered, and await with anticipation the arrival of Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters by William Austen-Leigh; an Emma sequel called Love's Perjuries by Joan Ellen Delman; and because I am always fascinated by food in the regency, and Austen’s attitudes to living and health, I could not resist this gem, The Jane Austen Diet by Brian Kozlowski.

I’ll do a review of each one when I read it, so stay tuned!

Just on a side note, I also nipped over to the DVD section, and ordered a DVD copy of the rather dated reality TV show called Regency House Party. The idea of seeing a non-fictional representation of how Austen and her contemporaries lived back then was just too hard to pass up. And I expect it to answer some enduring questions we all have; I mean, how often DID Lizzy Bennet bathe? And who really emptied those nasty chamber pots? 

Understanding more thoroughly some of those perennial facts of British life, like the class structures which were accepted as the norm, and the importance for women of beauty and breeding to make a good marriage give a more rounded out view of the period and help us to understand the dilemmas of Austen’s (and her contemporaries) female characters particularly. So I have high hopes that the series will be serious in sticking to the social mores and strict hierarchies which dominated the era.              

In the meantime, I would love to hear what your own winter/summer reading list is, depending on where you are in the world, and if you have any favourites you would like to recommend!

Look forward to hearing from other readers and writers!

Love Kate

Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters
by William Austen-Leigh

Love’s Perjuries
 by Joan Ellen Delman

The Jane Austen Diet
by Brian Kozlowski.

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The Captain and the Coquette Chapter 4

April 16, 2021

The Captain and the Coquette 

A Short Story Prequel to  

Beauty and the Beast of Thornleigh. 

From material which inspired my second novel. 

I hope you enjoy the read.
Please be sure to comment and share! 

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Chapter Four

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Brandt did not have time to raise his weapon.

The tallest of the highwaymen spoke in rough tones. ‘Step out, gentlemen! No hasty movements! Leave the pistol behind, I think, Sir!’

Brandt reluctantly placed the gun on the floor and followed Osmand and Charles to step from the carriage onto the road. The woman in the dark cloak remained inside, and Brandt prayed the creature would stay quiet. The highwaymen had not thought to check for other occupants, and he hoped they would not think to do so.

The driver lay on the road, moaning, blood gushing from a wound on his leg, and the post-boy was disappeared.
‘Naval fellows!’ exclaimed the leader of the pair. ‘Aye, then you might have some pretty coin in your pocket, and a trinket or two, I suppose, hey fellows? Empty your pockets, boys, while my friend here searches your trunks!’

True to his word, the other masked man had opened the trunks and was flinging clothes and papers onto the road, until he found a wad of pound notes. The first man waved his pistol again and indicated they ought to turn out their pockets.
Suddenly, a very uneven but decidedly female voice cried, ‘Put down the gun or I will shoot! I am determined!’

Five men swung around in astonishment.
‘Good God! Miss Hailsham!’

These two exclamations were uttered at the same time, for both Charles and Brandt had recognized the young woman who was half kneeling in the door of the carriage, her hood flung back from her fair hair.

The footpad with the pistol turned his weapon upon her, but she had already fired. Eyes closed, she had fired as straight as she could, and struck the fellow on his arm. He tumbled, clutching the arm, and the other masked fellow, still clutching the wad of pound notes, stumbled and struck off for the woods on their left, in as much haste as he could make.
Brandt lost no time. He strode to the young woman and gently removed the pistol which was now smoking darkly from the tip.

She opened the eyes which had been squeezed shut. ‘Is he dead?’ she asked in a wavering voice.
He shook his head grimly. The other fellow now got to his feet and made off, limping badly, in his friend’s wake. Osmand, at first making an attempt to follow, was prevented by Charles, and the party turned instead to Catherine, in a great astonishment. A volley of questions followed, which led her to hang her head in shame.

‘I only wanted to see Charles off! Yes, it was very foolish of me, but I thought, what a lark, and I never have adventures, and I thought I should be perfectly safe with you all, and now I feel foolish and silly, but after all, I did save you all, did I not?’ she ended hopefully.
Brandt recalled the conversation in the carriage earlier, and bit his tongue. Miss Hailsham had been through enough today. He wished he had not spoken so. He put his hand gently upon her arm. ‘Despite your foolish behavior, Miss Hailsham, I believe we have you to thank for our lives, if nothing else. You were very courageous, was she not, Hailsham?’

Charles put his arm around his sister. ‘Yes, you’re a jolly good girl, Cathy, but what possessed you to endanger yourself, and travel in disguise I do not know. You know if you had come to harm, I could not have faced Mama,’ he chastised. ‘What she will say, I can hardly guess!’

‘Yes Charles, I am very sorry for the nuisance I have been. I only wanted to see Cap—I mean to see you off. War is so very a dangerous thing, is it not?’ With this remark, she began to cry, and was inconsolable for some minutes.
Brandt thought to himself that this was the first time he had seen the real Catherine Hailsham, and he liked her rather the better for it.

When they had seen to the injured driver and bandaged him up with pieces of shirt, they struck out again, with Charles at the reins this time. They made for the nearest inn, where, to Catherine’s dismay, they insisted that they were bound to set her home again on whatever hired hackney they could cajole from the innkeeper, and with the indignity of woman to keep her company. True to their word, upon reaching the nearest posting house they saw to it that after a fortifying meal and glass of wine, Miss Hailsham was bundled into a hired chaise. With a mixture of awareness of her own foolishness and the new misery which she now must conceal from them all, especially Captain Brandt, Catherine allowed herself to be tucked into the carriage. 

Before closing the door, however, Brandt leaned in and said in surprisingly gently, ‘You were very brave today, Miss Hailsham. I shall not forget what you did.’
She nodded stiffly, and felt herself the fool for more than just her actions today. But he obviously meant to go on.

‘It is perhaps better not to speak of what was said in the coach in your hearing, particularly when you should not have been there in the first place,’ he added in chastising tones. ‘But I never meant you should hear ill spoken of you. Forgive my impudence.’ His voice was soft, kind, the voice you use on an infant.

Catherine felt herself colour deeply, and did not know where to look. Finally, she looked him in the eye, almost defiantly. ‘It was nothing, Captain,’ she said lightly, ‘pray do not be anxious over it. I am thicker-skinned than my friends give me credit for. Besides, due to my having but little real substance,’ she added tartly, ‘I collect we should both find each other tiresome, if we were to spend any time together.’

Truth obliged him to acknowledge privately that she had not misjudged the general suitability of their characters, but he felt, all the same, the sting of that judgement, since he certainly might have misjudged the lady on one point. He said gently, ‘I collect that you have more substance than I gave you credit for, Miss Hailsham. I own that I rather mistook you. I beg your forgiveness for that, too.’

She kept bright, defiant eyes fixed upon him, but seemed as if she could not speak. 

He admired her courage, but repressed the chivalrous urge to comfort her, for he knew he could not. She would take refuge in her pride, and he would not take that from her. He said lightly, ‘I am afraid I must leave you; time awaits no man, and I must now be away to sea with your brother, and only God can say if we shall return and when.’

There was kindness in his eyes, but it was the kindness which arises from pity, and she looked away. Brandt stepped back and closed the door to the carriage. ‘Goodbye.’ He gave the post boy a nod and the carriage jolted slightly and moved forward. 

The woman they had hired to see her safely back to town made some general remarks upon the weather, and the amount of work she would come back to that evening, but Catherine did not reply. She pulled up her hood, and turned her face, once again, to the window, and even the woman did not notice the tears which rolled down her cheeks for some time in the shadows of the carriage as it moved inexorably forward, taking her back to the city.

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End Chapter Four

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The Captain and the Coquette Chapter 3

April 10, 2021

The Captain and the Coquette

A Short Story Prequel to  

Beauty and the Beast of Thornleigh. 

From material which inspired my second novel. 

I hope you enjoy the read.
Please be sure to comment and share! 

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Chapter Three

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The humid, quiet morning seemed to Brandt only to intensify the cloying stench of the gutters and the absence of a breeze made him eager to get started. He had taken a hired hackney to call for young Hailsham, and when the three extra trunks had been loaded quickly into the rear in the morning darkness, the young lieutenant joined Captain Brandt and his brother Osmand inside. It took but seven or eight minutes in the comparatively empty streets to reach the posting inn where they were to meet the public stage, and when they entered that vehicle to start their long journey to Portsmouth, they found that they had already attained two travelling companions – a woman who was hidden from view inside a dirty, hooded cloak and who seemed to be dozing, and a corpulent, red-faced gentleman clutching a large portmanteau and a nonplussed rooster in a cage, both of which took up ever more seat space than his ticket had paid for. Every so often the unhappy creature in the cage would give off a few startled murmurs of objection to being carried off in such a way, but settled finally into offended silence. The three officers crammed themselves into the remaining seats, and almost immediately the footman gave whistle, the post-boy whipped up the poor horses, and they had started off.

At first, the occupants of the carriage, offering no remark amongst themselves, and being underwhelmed with the prospect from the window and overwhelmed by sleepiness, drowsed on and off, until a few hours brought them, under full daylight, into the open roads. A quick stop at a turn pike allowed their red-faced guest to disembark, taking his unwieldy and morose luggage with him.
Within minutes the carriage was on the move again, and the naval men, now wide awake, stirred and began to converse in lowered tones of the difficulties ahead, and the likelihood of success in protecting British trade concerns in East India. The hooded woman was silent, keeping her face to the window, and seemed to pay no heed to the three men.
‘I only hope,’ Charles Hailsham ventured, ‘that Collingwood knows what he is about. I pray that he has not been beforehand in this, for the devil knows the French navy has deployed enough ships to populate the whole Pacific! I wager they’ll give us the devil’s nuisance out there.’

‘Aye. They’ve done an excellent job so far to disrupt trade routes already; several merchant ships have been lost. We are bound immediately for Isle de France.’ Brandt sighed. ‘We are in for a ferocious engagement, I collect, but God is on our side; and we have the “Victorious”; she has never let me down yet!’

‘Hear, hear!’ cried Charles in a low voice. Osmand had said little, but was lost in thought. Brandt determined that once they were at sea, he would put his brother to such vigorous employment that he would have no time for melancholy reminiscence.

Charles addressed his captain again. ‘Well, Sir, I collect you have left behind you a sad gaggle of young ladies in London. I hope you know you are responsible for the lost appetites of at least a dozen hopefuls!’ He laughed. ‘I rather think my sister had her eye upon a dashing naval captain, too. ‘Tis too bad, you would have made a fine pair, I fancy!’

Brandt gave a short laugh. ‘Your sister is an amiable, pleasant girl,’ he replied diplomatically, ‘certainly charming enough.’

‘But?’ Charles smiled, nudging Osmand into a laugh.

‘My brother thinks all women are scatterbrained, inconstant creatures, ready to talk but never to listen, always fluttering like butterflies, and lacking the real substance required for him to give them credence!’

Brandt laughed and held up his hands. ‘You have painted me a dark fellow indeed, brother, but it is true enough; I have not yet discovered a woman who can satisfy my desire for a solid meal, rather than little sweetmeats, as it were.’ He paused. ‘In women, I admire above all things intellect, and I like to see a spark of something more than just outward girlishness. The woman to satisfy me will be as solid as I am, intellectually. She will feed my mind and my soul. Nay,’ he added with a grave smile to Charles, ‘your sister, while a fine, good girl, will do better to focus her attention of one of those young London blades that sit around uselessly and have nothing better to say for themselves than do the ladies that simper at them.’

‘Why, that’s a tad singular, and most unfair to poor Catherine, Sir. She’s a good girl, you know!’ Charles had enough brotherly affection to defend his sister, where she was prevented from doing so herself by her absence.

But Osmand shot his brother a look of astonishment. ‘Good God, Ash! I never took you for a romantic! That was from the soul of a poet, not a weather-beaten sea Captain! Then, you might well understand what it means to lose such a one, when you have just found them!’

Brandt was opening his mouth to answer this remark, when the carriage rolled to a jolting stop and the sounds of shouting came from without. The men all leaned forward to look from the window to see what had occurred, but were prevented from doing so for long, on account of the sound of two gun shots that suddenly rang through the morning air. The woman in the corner screamed.
Brandt leaped up, reaching into his boot. ‘Calm yourself, Madam!’

All at once, the door of the carriage had swung open and two men, masked, stood at the opening, with a gun. 

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End Chapter Three

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The Captain and the Coquette Chapter 2

April 3, 2021

The Captain and the Coquette

A Short Story Prequel to  

Beauty and the Beast of Thornleigh. 

From material which inspired my second novel. 

I hope you enjoy the read.
Please be sure to comment and share! 

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Chapter Two 

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Are you sure? Tomorrow morning, four o clock?’

‘Your mouth is open, sis. Close it. Yes, tomorrow morning.’ Charles Hailsham laughed. ‘I ought to know, for the note came today. My captain requires me aboard, and that, I am afraid, is the end of my leave. Mama is melancholy, of course, but she will rally. I dare say I’ll be back to port again soon enough. Brandt is to call here for me, and we shall travel together to Portsmouth. He leaves devilish early, I must say, but I dare say he is eager to inspect the “Victorious” before we pull anchor and it is a ten hour journey. Lord, how I shall be sore by the time we arrive! Well, I shall say my goodbyes after dinner, Cathy. I shall not expect you to rise at that ungodly hour!’

Catherine smiled weakly, but her mind was frantic. Captain Brandt was to go! And so soon! And she had received no offer, none at all, and no hint of one. Her heart began to pale. She must see him again before he went away! She could not bear it if she did not! She had never been in love before, and if she had ever known what it was to feel this mingling of joy and desperation, of happiness to be with him and to think of him, and the accompanying terror at the thought that she might never see him again, she would perhaps have been more cautious with her heart. But it was too late –she wanted none but him, and she could not allow him to leave her without making her heart known to him!

In misery she watched Charles go upstairs to pack. If only there was a way she could at least wish Captain Brandt goodbye! Then he would know her devotion; indeed he could not be immune to knowing himself so cherished, surely! She went into the drawing room and sat for some time at the window. Then, rising suddenly, she went upstairs. At Charles’s door, she knocked then entered. Her brother was just closing his trunks.

‘Pardon me, Charles, for interrupting—but how will you be travelling to Portsmouth? Did you say Captain Brandt was to call here for you?’

‘Why, yes, he’ll call here and then we will go direct to the stage coach with our trunks and cases. Why do you ask?’

‘Oh! Only because I was anxious as to your safety. I suppose if you are travelling public coach you are less likely to be held up. You know there have been incidents on many roads out of London.’

Charles reassured her laughingly. ‘Brandt always carries a weapon, as do I. I believe we shall be quite safe, you goose!’

‘Oh, good,’ replied Catherine absently, forgetting to object to the unflattering appellation. She left the room and retired to her own until dinner was called.

Their meal was a sombre one, Mrs Hailsham alternately putting down her knife and fork with a volley of sighs, and admonishing poor dear Charles to ‘keep his neck warm at all times and to write as soon as ever he was able’.

“Poor Charles”, rather excited to be going to sea again, and with all his faith in having the very steadiest of captains to carry him safely away and home again, was less moved than his parent. He ate and drank with a heartiness neither his sister nor mother could countenance, and instead of giving in to melancholy himself, he did his best to cheer them all up who were not going to sea, and were pretty well assured of comfortable and long lives!

Catherine, whose mind was much occupied with other thoughts, was the quietest of the three, and when finally the coffee was brought in and they had all sat together for the last time, she bid her brother a rather dry-eyed goodbye, pleaded tiredness, and went upstairs to bed.

The Captain and the Coquette Chapter 1

March 16, 2021

The Captain and the Coquette. 

A Short Story Prequel to  

Beauty and the Beast of Thornleigh.

From material which inspired my second novel.

I hope you enjoy the read.
Please be sure to comment and share! 

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Chapter One 

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London, 1809.

There are those who complain that London in the summer is an unbearable conglomeration of stifling, cloying heat to rival Africa, clamouring, ceaseless noise reminiscent of a screaming threshing machine working full tilt twenty-four hours a day, and odious stench akin to that of the down-wind from a pig farm.

This was no deterrent, however to the throngs who swarmed into this veritable pig-pit for the yearly ‘season’. The capacity of that great city each summer was stretched ever more, so that it brimmed to bursting with diversion-seeking, pleasure-loving country gentry, ready to be entertained and determined to be so twenty-four hours a day. The mad rush of carriages, people and horses passing among each other at all hours, with barely a whit of distance to separate them, nor opportunity to pass between, gave most of these so-called refined people the head-ache, which affliction they would own quite cheerfully as they rushed forward and onward to the next engagement.  

If anyone ever slept, this was kept quite secret, for no one appeared ever to take to their beds, and most sported great dark circles below glazed, reddened eyes as a testimony to the capacity of humans for overindulgence and the importance of being seen over seeing clearly.  

For a particular young lady in a blue silk dress, perched on a chair in a ballroom with her friends, however, none of this signified, and neither had the usual effects of an eight-week season in London touched her materially, to an observer at any rate, for Catherine Hailsham was in a state which rendered her impervious to the rigors of a London summer; she was in love.

Captain Asher Brandt, the object of her recently discovered adoration had made his fortune early by excelling in the navy, and now he was on well-earned leave, however brief that might be with Bonaparte threatening war again already. He had come home to be with his brother, a widower whose wife had died in childbirth. Brandt’s handsome countenance, not the least bit reddened from months at sea, matched his handsome fortune, the said fortune only increasing the captain’s personal attractions as far as young ladies were concerned. And if those same young ladies found anything lacking in the saturnine nose and strong intelligent brow, Brandt’s amiable, assured manner and proud carriage set him apart from most other men in the room.

At least, such were the reflections of Catherine, as she sat with her friends, watching him across the room.

‘You are so lucky, Cathy, to be always in company with him because of Charles. Really, it is quite unfair to the other ladies; you have so much more opportunity to engage him than we do!’ Miss Anne Young made this observation with a wistful sigh.
‘Really, Anne, I cannot help that my brother is Captain Brandt’s most intimate friend, as well as being his lieutenant on the “Victorious”. It is only natural that we should meet often.’ A satisfied smile lurked upon her lips as she spoke.

Catherine had been thrown into Captain Brandt’s company more than a dozen times, conversed with him exactly nine times, and danced with him four times, two dances each time. Enough for her to have fallen headlong into that rapturous state young ladies call “love”, and older matrons, having long since given up all claims to that violence of affection which can so discombobulate a young lady’s composure, dismiss as “infatuation”.

Anne was Catherine’s intimate friend, and these two young women, along with Lilly Osbourne, Catherine’s other particular friend, now sat together, looking out over the crowded ballroom, fluttering their fans in the evening heat and gossiping gently. They sat demurely, their mothers watching guard over them, but the girls had still managed to enclose themselves in that private little circle of confiding intimacy which one only sees among the female sex.

Lilly was hesitant for her friend. ‘He is very handsome, I admit Catherine. But, oughtn’t you to be a little careful, as to your heart? Do you sense that he pays you a peculiar attention? Does he make his meaning clear, or imply it? Mama says that Lady Appleby says, that his heart will not easily be won, because of Bonaparte, and all that.’ Although she had noted the Captain’s easy manners with them all, and seemed to accept Catherine’s attentions with good humour, Lilly had perceived nothing extraordinary in his addresses to her friend.

‘Bonaparte? What has he to do with anything? Captain Brandt has been most attentive, and his asking me to dance twice last night, and twice tonight, was a sure sign of his intention! He will certainly offer for me, and Mama agrees. Besides,’ she added confidently, ‘Charles would warn me if he was not serious. He is too much the gentleman to lead a lady on and then retreat.’

‘Well, perhaps you are right, Cathy, but Mama says she heard from Lady Appleby that he might be called away to Portsmouth as early as next week, so if he is to offer, it had better be soon!’ interjected Miss Young. ‘And if you intend to get him, you had better make your mark with him immediately, for I collect you have some competition!’  

Catherine, dismayed at both these items of news, followed her friend’s eyes and then made a determined little moue with her lips. The object of her interest now stood in the center of several attractively-gowned ladies, all of whom were positively swooning over him, she thought acerbically.

She stood. Advancing towards the group, she inserted herself into the little gaggle of hens which had collected about their rooster, and with the confidence of a six-week intimacy behind them both, interjected, ‘Are you to stay long in town, Captain? I do hope you will be able to enjoy a long leave, for I am sure you have earned it!’

Captain Brandt smiled enigmatically. ‘I cannot say when we shall be called away. However, I find myself reluctant to leave the amusements and comforts of the city; they are exceedingly agreeable to a soul which has been forced to bear the confines of a small ship for months on end!’

‘Oh, I do agree, Captain!’ she cried eagerly.
‘Although I can hardly imagine what conditions are like on a ship, since Charles will not let me on board, even to look it over! But,’ she rapidly added as one of the young ladies opened her mouth to speak, ‘Charles says the “Victorious” should expect a long leave.’

Captain Brandt acknowledged this with a polite smile but remained silent.  

Miss Laing, a fair creature with puppy-dog eyes, fluttered her fan and began to ask breathlessly about living conditions on board, but Catherine was not so easily put off. Pressing her lips in determination she added quickly, ‘Oh, how I do hope for a long leave for my brother; it is vastly unpleasant to have one’s brothers, and one’s dear friends,’ she added coyly, ‘at sea in wartime, for every occasion the door bell rings or the post comes, the woman folk of the house simply die, expecting news of the worst kind!’

Captain Brandt smiled indulgently. ‘I am much obliged, Miss Hailsham, for your dying—how often must it be—five or six times per day at least, on mine and Charles’s behalf! It must be vastly taxing on the undertaker, however!’

‘Oh, you wicked quizz, you tease me!” she cried, fluttering her fan. ‘Miss Laing, do you not agree that Captain Brandt is a vast famous tease?’ Miss Laing had only a giggle from behind her fan to give in reply, and Catherine quickly added, ‘Only think, if it were so! The undertaker would be the richest man in London!’ She sparkled gently at him. ‘You naughty man, you know I mean to exaggerate! But I do hope your leave will be a long one,’ she added earnestly, putting her hand proprietarily on the Captain’s sleeve, then removing it with a little glance up at him through her lashes.

‘If you will excuse me, ladies, I see I am being summoned.’ He avoided her eyes, and bowing low to all of the ladies at his hand, he retreated across the room to his brother, leaving a disappointed set of hens looking after his blue-coated back.

Osmand stood alone in a corner, an almost-empty glass in his hand.
Brandt hesitated, then began in his most cheerful tone.
‘Well, Osmand, what are you about, lurking in the corner like this?’ He slapped the other man gently on his back. ‘You are missing all the diversions a city of fluttering young ladies can bring you. After all, that is why I have brought you here!’

Osmand remained grave and lifted his drink to his lips. Looking out through the window, he laughed mirthlessly. ‘You do not fool me, brother. I collect that none of those ladies, however pretty they might be or how delightful their conversation, will answer what it is we have both come here for.’

‘And what, pray, is that? What cure can a pretty young woman who darts her sparkling eyes, and smiles only for you, not effect, no matter what the illness?’ Brandt smiled at his brother, but there was concern in his eyes. ‘Come, you must rally, Osmand, you must! It has been too long!’

Osmand finished the last of his drink and placed the glass carefully upon the window will. The moonlight glanced off the cut glass design. ‘You have come to be distracted from the horrors of war, and yet, already you have received your orders again. In three days, you will be at sea, and I, I beg you that I will be with you. Get me a commission, Ash.’ He turned pleading eyes on his brother. ‘God help me, but I cannot bear to be at Thornleigh. I must occupy myself!’  

Brandt put his hand on his brother’s arm, and sighed heavily. ‘I had not spoken of it earlier, for you know how reluctant I am about this scheme of yours, but I have spoken to Admiral Shephard. It is done. You have your commission. You sail with me, at midnight, three days from now, if that is truly your wish. I only hope I have done the right thing.’

Osmand grasped his brother’s hand very hard. ‘Thank you. I am more obliged than I can ever say, Asher. I shall not let you down.’  

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End Chapter One

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