A bit of nostalgia . March 12 would have been my Stephen's forty-ninth birthday. If a Charlotte County Deputy hadn't been driving on the wrong side of the road. (He later claimed he swerved because someone pulled out of a side road in front of him.) Below are two treasures my daughter found while sorting photos for our coming move to Longwood (about 20 miles north of
|Left to right: Susie, neighbor Karin, Steve - at my mother's in Guilford, CT|
|Steve, front & center in the striped shirt, Susie on the right - her high school graduation party, I believe|
Settings - Addendum
I intended to end the Settings series last week, but it occurred to me that The Demons of Fenley Marsh was a good example of opening a book with a Dialogue setting, followed sometime later by a physical description setting. (And when quoting my own work, I can feel easy about using more than an snippet.) So here is the opening of Demons. Please note there is no physical setting - evidently I deemed an employment office unworthy of detailed description. Instead, I let the dialogue - and the minimal narration and introspection that go with it - reveal the location, a bit about the speakers' personalities, a hint of mystery, and hopefully a forewarning of the plot.
“You have a what?”
I sat, stiff and belligerent in my chair, as Miss Emily Brightwell—an imposing woman on the far side of fifty and owner of one of London’s finest employment agencies for females—stared at me from the far side of her desk. “I beg your pardon, Mrs. Tyrell,” she continued, “but I must have misheard.”
Losing a brief bout with my better judgment, I stared right back, making no effort to hide my annoyance. “I am a widow, Miss Brightwell. Surely there is nothing surprising about a widow having a child.”
“A widow may have a child, Mrs. Tyrell. A governess does not.”
This time I bit back the hot words that demanded to be said, ordering my all-too-arrogant temper to lie dormant beneath a fragile façade of calm. “I do not expect to find a position in London, Miss Brightwell, nor in one of the great country houses of the aristocracy. But somewhere in this realm there must be someone in need who does not mind the addition of one small boy to the schoolroom. A house with several children, perhaps, hopefully one of them of an age with my Chas. I am, after all, willing to work for a mere pittance as long as my son may be accommodated as well.”
Miss Brightwell flashed a glance that could almost be called pitying. “My dear Mrs. Tyrell, all governesses work for a mere pittance. Adding a child of your own to the mix is unheard of, a solecism of the first order. And a boy at that.” Miss Brightwell, in all fairness, paused to consider the matter. “A sweet young girl, perhaps . . . but a boy—so rumbustious, are they not? No, no, it would never do. I would risk the reputation of my agency if I even suggested such a thing.”
I could not, would not, accept Miss Brightwell’s verdict. How dare she tell me I was unemployable? Every instinct urged me to bid Miss Emily Brightwell an icy farewell, deliver a biting apology for wasting her time, and stalk out of the office in high dudgeon. And yet I suspected that my reception at London’s other employment agencies would be similar. The truth was, I had married for love only to discover that happily-ever-after could be cut shockingly short, leaving me alone and unprotected when help was most needed. My dearest Avery, a neck-or-nothing rider, had taken one rasper too many, and now, two years later, I faced a situation that required me to flee into obscurity. And surely little could be more obscure than the role of governess in a rural household.
I could advertise for a position on my own, of course, but common sense dictated that Miss Brightwell had the far-reaching resources and experience which would ensure I was taking Chas to a place that offered the comforts and safety of a gentleman’s household. So, through jaws stiff with frustration, I admitted, “I fear I have burned my bridges, Miss Brightwell. I have leased our property in Kent and am currently staying with my Godmother on Bruton Street. A position is imperative. I simply have no choice. “The lease money,” I added hastily, “is to be set aside for my son’s education. Hence my need for a position.”
Miss Brightwell’s gray eyes sharpened. “But surely your husband provided for you and the child?”
“We lived quietly on a modest amount of acres,” I said, making an uncharacteristic show of diffidence.
“We were a runaway match, you see, rejected by both families.”
“Even in your present circumstances?” Miss Brightwell’s skepticism was all too clear.
“I informed my husband’s parents of their son’s death. I heard no word in return. My own family had already left no doubt I was dead to them.”
Miss Brightwell skewered me with a look that could have withered a rock. “I have run this agency for many years, Mrs. Tyrell, and heard many stories. Enough to suspect you are not telling me the whole. And I cannot possibly recommend you without understanding more fully why you have taken the drastic step of leaving a perfectly good home in Kent and undertaking the role of governess, particularly when I suspect you have no more aptitude for subservience than I.”
My stomach roiled. Clearly, I should have prepared a better story. Another partial truth would have to do. "Let us say merely,” I offered, “that I am avoiding unwanted attentions.”
“Ah, I see.” Miss Brightwell examined me more closely and nodded. “You are indeed a comely young woman, Mrs. Tyrell, yet another problem for someone seeking a position in a gentleman’s household.”
Once again I bristled, even though I knew perfectly well she was right. Nicely arranged features marked by sky blue eyes and framed by waves of golden hair tended to attract gentlemen like flies to honey. Though that was not at all the reason Chas and I had abandoned our home in Kent.
To my astonishment, Miss Brightwell’s posture suddenly deflated from autocratic disdain to something closer to sympathetic. “My dear girl, what a coil. Did you not realize that a woman with a child was unemployable?”
Now that I’d found a crack in Miss Brightwell’s armor, I allowed myself a small sigh. “I was aware it was unusual, ma’am. I did not think it impossible.” I fixed a hopeful, and suitably modest, look on my face and waited.
Miss Brightwell drummed her fingers on her desk, gazed frowningly at a considerable stack of papers—hopefully, letters from clients in search of a governess or companion. “There may be a possibility, Mrs. Tyrell, though I warn you it is possible I am doing you a grave disservice. Give me your direction, and I will see what I can manage.”
When I stood to express my thanks and make my bow, I found my legs so wobbly I had to grasp the back of the chair. Dear God, I’d thought myself made of sterner stuff. But the looming possibility of no home, no place to go, short of begging the dubious charity of relations who had cast me off long since, was a more dire specter than I had anticipated. Whatever position Miss Brightwell offered, I must accept. Chas and I needed a home. A safe home.
Fortunately, a rush of pride stiffened my legs. Thrusting up my chin, I thanked Miss Brightwell for deigning to consider my problem. At the least, I would be able to face Chas’s anxious gaze with some slim hope for our future.
Grace Note: The story does not come to a classic physical description of a setting until the opening of Chapter 2.
Naturally, after such revelations—even though I knew they must be nine-tenths rumor, if not outright slander—I fully expected Lunsford Hall to be Gothic and gloomy, a pile of dark stone rising in monolithic manner out of the flat green plain of Lincolnshire. It was, instead, a four-square, unimaginative structure of red brick with multi-paned windows framed in white. An unpretentious pediment topped the front door, which was unprotected by any semblance of a portico. A solid house, not unwelcoming. And yet . . .
There were but three marble steps from ground to threshold, and as I ascended them, clutching Chas by the hand, my skin pricked as if eyes lurked behind every one of those multitude of windows. Curious eyes or inimical? No! I would not succumb to gossip. This was not some threatening ruin out of one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels. Lunsford Hall was the home of a gentleman. Ordinarily, I would hesitate to send one of my ladies to a bachelor establishment, Miss Brightwell had said, but with Lady Kempton and her mother in residence, I am confident there will be no nonsense.
As if I would ever countenance such a thing! Yet Lunsford Hall seemed far more isolated than the houses in Kent. Though we had passed through a village a mile or so before the crossroads where the carriage from Lunsford had been waiting, it seemed little more than a few cottages clustered around a small stone church. And yet, in spite of Miss Brightwell’s hints that young Nicholas was the problem, could it be the master of Lunsford who was the actual threat, preying on the young women he hired?
~ * ~