Archive for the ‘New Directions’ Category

Progress with the Roberta Stephenson Trilogy.

August 26, 2014

The editing of Spies and Subterfuge is finished and the cover image is finalised…now we are on track to release the novel before the end of the year.

Spies and Subterfuge

Spies and Subterfuge

While the first novel introduced Roberta, her new gentlemen friends, and her sale of ten ships of her “Spiteful” design of steam ram to the Admiralty, Spies and Subterfuge focuses on spying on Napoleon’s secret steam ships that will lead his latest attempt to invade Britain. There is a serious development in the romance thread of the trilogy as well.

I have finished the last novel of the trilogy, Scandal and Secrets, which has a lot of new material because its original story was planned to be the second and last in a two novel series and it outgrew its planned length no matter how much material I cut out. Spies and Subterfuge took mostly the material of the first part of the original while Scandal was brought up to length with a lot of new material that had missed incorporation into the earlier plot. I’m waiting to see if its new role in closing the story pleases my publisher.

This third novel brings everything together; the building of the Spitefuls; the training of the crews; and the new design of a larger vessel to counter Napoleon’s steam ironclad. Everything has to be done in overtime to be ready for the dispatch of the French invasion at the end of summer 1815; and double-quick for Roberta who has to contend with scandal affecting her personal life and distracting her while she keeps the shipbuilding on track.

The real history of 1814 enters into the plot and new characters abound. Roberta meets the Prince Regent, the Duke of Wellington, and foils Napoleon’s attempted escape to America. (But his brother Joseph, the deposed King of Spain, escapes there with half of the Spanish crown jewels—as happened in actual history.) Field Marshal Blücher, Tsar Alexander, Marshal Wittgenstein, and Prince Schwarzenberg are on stage when Britain’s allies attack Napoleon on land. Lord Bond and my import from War and Peace, Count Nicolei Rostov, perform sterling service keeping track of the wide ranging Cossacks as the allies try to enter Paris and Napoleon fights the campaign of his life to keep them out.

And the romance? Does the girl get the man? Ah, I have to keep the secrets there, but the plot has as many as four new relationships founded by the time the dust settles.

I will take advantage of this space to update what had been going on with Gisel Matah’s world while Roberta has been saving Britain. I did a lot of cleaning out surplus material from Deadly Enterprise that had arrived there when it was the first published novel of the series. It is available with the others at and reads a lot cleaner now…in fact I’m beginning to think it may be the most satisfying of the five novels.

My fantasy Rast is waiting for a new publisher to give a verdict, but I have done no work on it since getting it back from its first publisher. And Mindstream is undergoing a new polish, which must count as the seventh draft. The publisher that had it on the pile for two years put a new editor on it who said a couple of nice things but decided it was not right for them. I will work right through this draft and update with some new things in the Mind field and tweak the relationship between the science and Eastern hallmarked psychic power. I don’t know where I will try to launch it yet, but I may not worry about that until the Roberta Stephenson novels are done.


Last Post:

December 6, 2011

This is the present ending of Regency Bagatelle that I began with a post last May. It may not be the best ending I could find but it is getting close to time that I should be discussing the next Iskander series novel and Gisel’s adventures in “Masquerade”. Farewell, Pemberly, for the time being.

Regency Bagatelle:

As it transpired, the discussion between Mr Author and Miss Matah met several delays…first the late serving of the dinner cook had had to put aside to prepare for the babe, then the lengthy family discussion into the measures they needed to take to care of the mother and child—where Miss Matah’s advice was widely sought. As a result, the next day they walked out into a brisk December morning to a terrace adorned with an overnight coating of snow before finding the time and place for the discussion intended.

“I know you have been anxiously looking for an opportunity to whisk me away from these people,” Gisel said, “but now it seems I must stay…at least until they have some better idea about the care needed by a premature baby. From what I hear, preemies usually die, here.”

“My own understanding as well, but we must not contravene the regulation that forbids the dissemination of anachronistic information. You have already gone way over that boundary, but I would not condemn you for it.”

“For what it’s worth, I did send Mr Bingley to Lambton to fetch the physician, but the birth would still have happened before his return…if he had been sober anough to attend.”

“That was probably a fortunate accident— Haggerston intimated to me that he is an incompetent drunk. But you turned out to be a fine midwife—I never knew.”

“I had never been the midwife before, but I did help my mother attend several births when she donated her time to the charity clinic. With those poor Dalits in the Mumbai slums, every birth seemed a crisis—at least to me. I was only thirteen at the time.”

“Good grief, it’s a wonder you weren’t scared off romantic affairs for life.”

Gisel laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “I might have learned to be more cautious, at least.”

“You said that, not me.”

“Hello, can I join you?”

They turned to see Miss Austen stepping carefully across the snow, wrapped in a huge travelling cloak. “We are discussing plans for our departure,” Mr Author answered, “but perhaps we will need your advice.”

“Anything I can offer is willingly given,” she said, “but first let me remark upon that wonderful, full bodied laugh that greeted me as I stepped onto the terrace. How I wish I were free enough to give vent to such an uninhibited burst of merriment—at least to do so in public instead of in carefully modulated tones in the privacy of my or my sister Cassandra’s bedroom. It must surely tell me that women are as free as birds in the world you live in, Miss Matah. I might even suggest that the loss of a measure of decorum is a fair payment for such privilege. Would it possibly be appropriate for me to ask the cause of such a laugh…it is so welcome after the cautious bravery that the family has adopted this morning.”

“Well…” Mr Author began.

Gisel dismissed his caution with a careless wave. “It is completely scandalous, Miss Austen—even though it only hints at the romantic adventures I have had since becoming a character in Mr Author’s tales.”

“Good gracious.”

“And you don’t know half of it, from your current perspective.”

Gisel smiled. “Oh, there’s more? Do tell me if the affairs end in happier circumstances than those in my past.”

“You know I cannot do that, but I can at least tell you that you will meet someone who will become a life partner.”

“That’s good to know. I presume our partnership will not be as reckless and notorious as those in my past. Lord Ricart is an exciting lover but as unfaithful as an alley cat.”

Miss Austen placed her hands over her mouth. “Enough, Dear. You must certainly not add to my embarrassment and confusion by revealing any details. Consider the achievement of a comfortable partnership to be more than enough happiness for this earth…this is all that young women here look for.”

“Let’s get back to the topic we were discussing,” Mr Author suggested. “Who can you instruct in caring for a premature baby, that you might safely leave in charge? Did your mother instruct you in that?”

“Not to the necessary degree…good lord, she trained as an obstetrician/pediatrician for eight years. Only a fraction of that rubbed off on me. I’ve prettywell come to the end of my knowlege already. Keep the child from infection and feed her up with the nutrition she needs and everything we can do will have been done. As far as I can tell, she has no congenital defects, but it’d take a hospital’s diagnostic lab to search as thoroughly as would be done in your society…or mine.”

Miss Austen stared at them in surprise. “You speak of great knowlege and wonderful techniques, but are we so backward here in England?”

“Let me put it this way, Miss Austen. In England before the Regency there was very little sound understanding of disease and treatment and a great deal of ignorance-driven superstition, but it is the time from whence great advances in medical sciences begin. New knowlege takes generations to become established. For example, the microscope dates from 1620 and yet the pivotal discoveries of van Leeuwenhoek—blood corpuscules, capillaries, and the structure of nerves— were not made until almost a hundred years later.”

She seemed appalled. “Oh dear, you make me quite apprehensive of my health already. How does one learn about these great advances?”

“The first changes has to be in the training and licensing of doctors. While they trained in theory rather than practice at first, the practical changes gradually made better medical treatment more accessible.”

Gisel took her hand reassuringly. “Every community knows its best healers…the power of word of mouth is the soundest test. But some benchmarks exist, and the strongest is likely the doctor’s unwillingness to implement the harmful practice of blood-letting. It is in the blood that the body’s best defenses…its immune system…reside. The sick and injured cannot afford to lose any of it.”

“Dear me. Your words make me think my writing had been better aimed at studying those topics instead of the idiosyncracies of family and social mores.”

“Not at all. Miss Austen. You have provided a grounding in understanding the sources of our current manners and civility—or perhaps more properly, our lack of them.”

Gisel nodded. “And in my age, even less social gentility. I would suggest a return to your age, its manners, its careful correspondence, its acceptance, and its slower pace would do the present worlds, whatever they may be, a great incentive to live on a more human and less technological level. It may be a great wonder for us to be able to journey through time and space, but no real benefit is derived unless we might return to our own with the incentive to bring our learning back with us.”

Mr Author decided upon having the last word. “Indeed, it is only by retreating from the frenetic pace of our own worlds that we find a quiet place to stand, where we can evaluate what we, collectively, are doing.”

Gisel surprises

November 14, 2011

The continuation of A Regency Bagatelle follows. I started this in May (see the first post here) as an exercise in writing a somewhat Regency style to practice my 19th century sense and sensibilities. The cast includes myself and Gisel Matah, my kick-butt security officer from my Iskander series novels, the Darcys and the Bennets…and now the Bingleys…from Pride and Prejudice—and of course, their author Jane Austen. It was never intended as a work for publication, but…one has to fill up a blog with something. It has to be coming close to an end as I have other projects requiring more attention. Any suggestions are welcome.

And now….Gisel surprises everyone:

After about an hour, the returning carriage was spied in the distance where the driveway crested the distant hill. Those with the best eyesight pronounced that Mr Darcy was at the reins, as he had been when they left, and another gentleman, likely Mr Bingley, rode Agamemnon beside the carriage. No one knew whether to be reassured or dismayed to note that the party proceded at a very measured pace. Was haste no longer necessary…and why?

Again almost the whole household gathered at the front door and down the entrance steps to be there at the moment of arrival. All save Mrs Bennet, it must be noted, because she had taken to her bed where she waited in great fear for the bad news she expected.

Mr Author stood at the bottom of the steps with as much apprehension as the others. When Mr Bingley leaped from Agamamnon to go to the door of the carriage as soon as it stopped, the whole company of watchers emitted a long sigh.

Mr Darcy paused before tying the reins. “Everyone is well,” he called. “Mr and Mrs Bingley have a healthy baby daughter.”

The servants and some of the family broke into applause, and then cheers as the swaddled babe was passed from inside the carriage into Mr Bingley’s waiting arms.

Noting that Agamemnon was now loose and starting to move away, Mr Author nudged one of the stable lads to go and catch him. “Right yer be, Sir. I has’n.”

Mr Bingley stood waiting while Mrs Bingley was helped from the carriage and into the arms of her sister and Miss Matah. Then the entire group moved to the steps and slowly ascended to enter the house. Mr Darcy climbed down from the box as another stable lad came forward to catch the headstalls of the lead horses.

He went to the carriage door to help another young lady dismount. Miss Georgiana turned away from the first party to hurry forward to greet her. “Miss Bingley, I hope you are not too fatigued from all the troubles. Come with me, we must find a comfortable place beside the fire for you.”

The footmen hurried forward to carry off the luggage that had been transferred from the broken carriage as Mr Darcy stopped beside Mr Author to introduce this new arrival. “This is Miss Caroline Bingley, Mr Bingley’s younger sister. Mr Author is a house guest visiting with Miss Matah, Miss Caroline.”

Mr Author bowed slightly in answer to Miss Bingley’s slight curtsy. The ‘charmed to meet you’s were carelessly spoken. He was intrigued to meet the Bingley sister who had set her heart at Mr Darcy long before Elizabeth Bennet had ever met him and who had waged a bitter battle of rivalry with her. Now a house guest—how would the two get on under Mr Darcy’s roof?

Once inside the house, Haggerston urged the guests to gather in the front parlour where a good fire blazed, but Mr Author turned aside to follow the birthing party up the stairs so he could tell Gisel what measures he had taken to prepare sterilised containers and boiled water. He caught up to the kitchen girl who had carried out the work as she ascended at the rear of the group with two of the china jugs.

“I’ll explain to Miss Matah what you have prepared, Ruby. If it is not exactly to her wishes the fault will be mine.”

He followed to the door to the room Mrs Bingley and the babe were to have, but did not enter into this decidedly female sanctum. Mrs Darcy bent over a small crib tending the the child who sobbed softly once or twice. He did hear some of the discussion, that seemed to be about the need for the midwife, still expected to arrive, and the desirability of hiring a wet nurse.

“I don’t recommend using a wet nurse if Mrs Bingley is able to feed the baby,” he heard Gisel say. “The child is about four weeks premature, as near as we can ascertain, which means she is deficient in the nutrients essential to her final development. However, nature has taken measures to help—the mother’s milk will be especially rich in those nutrients.”

“Then we will do our best to accommodate that need. Is that acceptable, Jane?”

Jane Bingley, looking somewhat tired and dishevelled as she sat on the edge of the bed, smiled and nodded her head. “Whatever needs be done, Lizzy. I am in your hands as well as in your great debt, And Miss Matah—I do not know that I can do enough to thank you.”

Gisel looked toward the door, and seemed surprised to see Mr Author there with Ruby.

“I had Ruby, here, prepare some boiled water and sterilised containers. I thought you might be needing them.”

“Thank you, I will. Bring them in, Ruby.” She grinned at Mr Author. “I will see you downstairs when we have settled the mother and child.”

Mr Author backed away from the door, making room for Miss Georgiana and Miss Austen to enter. Miss Austen paused in the doorway to speak to him.

“I’m sure you didn’t plan your young lady to be a midwife,” she said softly. “Her knowledge is sound?”

“I did have her memory of her mother’s expertise help her at other times. That the two volunteered in a clinic for the poor is a reasonable extention of my author’s intention. Gisel must have been quite young, though.”

“The mother would have wanted her daughter to become a healer as well, I expect.”

“Yes, Gisel was expected to follow her mother’s profession at one time. I’ve decided that Gisel’s own daughter will one day take up the calling,”

That was the end of the conversation as the door was closed to allow Mrs Bingley be prepared for bed.

writer crawls from the woodwork

November 7, 2011

Whoops—three weeks have got away from me and I had this post of Regency Bagatelle ready to go. I have sold nine POD copies of my fantasy Rast and nine copies of the Iskander PODs, three of each title—all as locally as one might imagine, our own little hamlet at the edge of the mountains. For that I must thank the lady who writes our senior’s column for the local paper, who read the copy of Rast at the local library and wrote a nice plug in her column. See, it does work in home territory, if only the book gets the right word of mouth. I’ll be selling again the first weekend in December.

Now, back to Bagatelle… this post follows directly from the preceeding one below.

When the coach party left, and Miss Austen, Miss Georgiana, and Mr Bennet took care of the hysterical Mrs Bennet upstairs Mr Author was left alone while Haggerston went to prepare the house for the arrivals.

He had to marvel that Gisel had more talents than even he had written for her—surely a huge example of a character going far beyond the author’s intention. His plot intention was to give her one of the most valuable of intellectual abilities, the gift of almost perfect recall. Whatever she learned, indeed whatever she saw, heard, or participated in was stored where she might call upon it at need. He hoped her store of knowledge included the care of premature babies … how many weeks premature was the Bingley babe?

No doubt the expertise of Regency England was poorly equipped to save such a child from an early death, but perhaps that offered him a small opportunity to help. He found his way to the servants’ stairs and went down to the kitchens.

A very stout lady with grey hair looked up from a mixing bowl as he entered. “Can I help thee, Sir? This be kitchen.”

“Yes, I see. I was looking for Mr Haggerston and the girls he has gathered to help with the arrivals … particularly the babe.”

“Ah, thou needst not bother yoursel’ with that, Sir. The servants will do all that be needed.”

“Perhaps, but if Miss Matah is taking a major part in the matter I have a very good idea what measures and treatments she will insist upon. It seems to me that I can assist by preparing Mr Haggerston for some of the demands she might make.”

“I don’t know, I’m sure … we has not had a birth at Pemberly since Miss Georgiana was —“ She cut off as Haggerston came bustling in with one of the upstairs maids. “Why, here he be, now.”

“Can I help you, Sir?”

“Well, actually I have come down here to offer you my assistance. I was just telling Cook that Miss Matah will have some definite instructions that none of you may be familiar with … if Mr Darcy and the Bingleys ask her to continue helping.”

“Really, Sir?”

“I’m sure you know that a premature baby is in a medical emergency. I suspect Miss Matah may be able to offer valuable help, but she will need to use her medical knowledge rather than rely upon English custom. Not that I wish to impugn good English custom. I hope you understand what I mean.”

Haggerston nodded to the maid to continue what he had instructed and then turned to Mr Author. “I understand, Sir, that you and Miss Matah are very concerned to help, but I will be bound to follow Mr and Mrs Darcy’s instructions”

“Of course.”

“We, that is the servants and myself, have noticed that the young lady has a very confidant manner, unusual in one so young, but likely merited by her unusually wide experience of the world. It is unheard of that a woman should be reckoned a physician, but if Miss Matah’s mother has indeed passed on such knowledge to her daughter it would be a boon to the family… I hesitate to speak out of turn, but the district has not possessed a good physician since old Dr Farnon died. It is to be hoped that Mr Bingley is unable to rouse Lambton’s Dr Hodgekin from his cups.”

“I see. And is there a good midwife in the district?”

“Mr Darcy has sent Bonsall to fetch old Mrs Brown in the shay. She’s a reliable old soul, but likely to be troubled in the manner of this birthing. It seems usual for such an event to result …” he paused and exchanged a troubled glance with Cook … “in much sadness for the family — not that we does not pray that this should be different.”

“Indeed. It is in my concern to see a better outcome that I offer my suggestions for preparations before the rescuers return. I know that Miss Matah will insist on her methods of preventing sickness if such should threaten.”

“An’ what be those, Sir,” said Cook, taking her hands from the mixing bowl.

“Perhaps nothing that you are not acquainted with. It is a matter of sterilization, the strict methods of cleaning everything that should be brought in contact with the mother and child.”

“An’ how be that done, Sir?”

“By immersing everything in boiling water to kill anything likely to convey sickness to the patients. It is recognized that many harmful disease organisms are too small to see with the unaided eye and that boiling water can kill them.”

“As you says, Sir,” said Cook with a rising colour. “A cook is not unfamiliar with cleanliness—particularly in her kitchen.”

“Then I am sure you can put a reliable girl to work with preparing boiling water, with sterilizing some containers that may be used to store boiled water, and holding herself ready to supply such items as Miss Matah may request.”

Haggerston looked at Cook. “Is that acceptable, Cook? We must not presume to trespass into your kitchen, but I must suggest that the possible plight of mother and babe do call for our most urgent exertions. If dinner must be delayed until we have dealt with the emergency, then delayed it must be.”

“Very well, Mr Haggerston. I will call my girls and set them to work.”

Some Drama in Regency times?

October 14, 2011

When I started this Regency Bagatelle with the first posting in May I intended it as an exercise in writing with a very Regency manner and spirit. I had no intention of writing to a plot or raising the level of drama, although the interactions between characters were given full scope. Now that the exercise should be coming near a close, I cannot end without some increase in tension, although I’m not billing it as a climax. As you can see from the previous post, Gisel has ridden out on a very spirited horse that the family believe promises to treat her to a very hazardous ride.

Gisel’s Discovery

The family withdrew to the drawing room but Mr Darcy set a footman to watch for the return of the riders in one of the upstairs windows. Tea time came and went before he came running down the stairs to find the family.

“You see riders?” Mr Darcy asked.

“Er… one rider, Sir.”

The others gathered around as Mr Darcy asked the critical question. “Who?”

“It looks to be Bonsall, Sir.”

The master of the house started toward the door. “He is riding quickly?”

“Not a gallop, Sir, but moderate fast.”

By the time Bonsall trotted up the drive to stop at the front of the house all the house guests and most of the staff were waiting at the top of the steps. “Where is Miss Matah?” Mr Darcy demanded.

“Us found a carriage upturned Sir. Miss Matah is tending to one of the passengers.”

“Good heavens. Is anyone hurt?”

“Not excac’ly hurt, Sir. Seems so the carriage be Mr Bingley’s an’ on ‘is way to Pemberly.”

This caused a great outpouring of consternation among the family and Mr Darcy could not speak again until he had somewhat calmed the anxiety. “Mr Bingley’s? Who then is hurt?”

“Well, Sir. It do seem that young Missus Bingley is in a … what be called a delicate condition—an the bump have started … well. You knows.”

“Oh, My God,” Mrs Darcy gasped.

Mrs Bennet swooned completely away and was only caught with difficulty by Mr Bennet and Haggerston.

“We must send help immediatly, “Mr Darcy announced. “You must ride to town for a physician and a midwife. Have the stable lads get the carriage ready at once—“

“Tis most already done, Sir. Miss Matah have sent Mr Bingley post haste to Lambton on Agamennon. She have set the coachman and footman to buildin’ a fire an collectin’ water for to receive the babe. Her says her has done this afore—helpin’ her own mother atten’ to new mothers…her be some sort of physicer.”

Mr Darcy stopped in mid stride as he turned to Mr Author. “Is this true, Sir?”

“Gisel is very well versed in medical emergencies. I was not aware that she had attended to a birth before, but I’m not surprised, her mother is an excellent physician.”

“But we must go to them at once.”

“I wholeheartedly agree, but we must not preceded with dangerous haste. We must take whatever supplies and comforts are needed to convey the Bingley’s and the new child back to Pemberly.”

Mr Darcy regarded him thoughtfully. “Yes, you are correct. Haggerston, have the staff prepare the house to receive the coach party and have my carriage stocked with blankets and … well, let Mrs Darcy instruct the maids what is needed. You can do that, my Dear?”

Mrs Darcy, who had been moving with such agitation that it seemed she must fly off the steps like a dove taking to the air, now turned back to the house. “Yes, Mr Darcy. I will attend to it at once. I insist I shall be one of the rescue party.”

“Of course, my Dear. You must certainly be there to tend to your sister—-she will be much reassured by your presence.”


The Family’s Concern

September 29, 2011

Another continuation of the adventures of the 23rd century ‘wildcat’ from my Iskander series novels, Gisel Matah, during a visit to Pemberly in Regency times… courtesy of Miss Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. The posts of these episodes can be found in the sidebar, starting with the post on May 31st.

Mr Author and the Darcys met the rest of the house party on the terrace as they returned from the stable yard. He was able to follow Miss Darcy’s gaze to see the distant figures of two horses and riders galloping across a far hillside. He profoundly hoped that the speed and direction of Gisel’s ride didn’t result in any injury to the poor groom.

It seemed that the escapade had been most disconcerting to Mrs Bennet who needed the support of both Miss Austen and Mr Bennet as she looked out across the balustrade. “Whatever is the world coming to? I do declare, the reckless behaviour of young ladies in these days is beyond all comprehension; to ride out in such a fashion, as if her femininity should be assuaged by wearing rough clothing procured from some military clothier. Where could she have obtained such garments—are there not Military regulations against all and sundry dressing as soldiers? And what dangers are the foolish girl exposing herself to—a woman’s constitution is made for more seemly activities—I dread to imagine what troubles she is laying in store for herself in the future. A girl who hopes and expects to engage herself in housewifely duties …no I can say no more. It is too indelicate… but I feel certain she will surely rue this wildness when she is older.

“Make no mistake, Miss Darcy. The holding of certain opinions may seem very fine in the drawing room, and make for excellent conversation among other young people but those of us who have…lived…taken on the true life and duties of a wife and mother can have nothing but approbation for such unnatural adventures. The very thought of what might happen on such a wild and reckless ride besets me with such palpitations … Oh. I do feel most beside myself with apprehensions … Mr Bennet, if you please, I would like to return to the drawing room; please give me your arm. And Miss Austen, too, I am so obliged to you for your kind attentions…such a great comfort. I can watch no more and must await further news in the deepest degree of distress … Oh, I pray the foolish girl will return with no more than superficial injuries from such a display of unbecoming recklessness.”

Miss Darcy seemed quite abashed at Mrs Bennet’s outburst—surely the most constructive commentary she’d offered the family in many years. Even Mr and Mrs Darcy exchanged a confidential comment in a succession of glances.

“I do hope that Miss Matah was not persuaded to undertake this adventure by anything I may have said or intimated,” Miss Darcy murmured as she stared at the distant hillside.

“I do not think you may blame yourself in any way,” Mr Author assured her. “I should have been more careful to note that her naturally high spirits would necessitate some wild initiative on her behalf…not that she isn’t perfectly capable of handling such a ride. I must admit to being somewhat concerned about the safety of the poor groom assigned to accompany her, Mr Darcy. Can you assure me that he is possessed of significant expertise?”

“Bonsall has been employed here since my Father’s time,” Mr Darcy replied. “I’m sure he has never ridden in a cavalry formation, but his skill is remarkable among the equestrian employees hereabouts.”

Miss Austen had returned from seeing Mrs Bennet to the house by this time and she addressed Mr Author at once. “While I must admit to obtaining some degree of amusement from your young friend’s exploits I really am concerned that I have brought such distress and consternation upon Mr and Mrs Darcy’s household. I think we may both have learned some new aspect of writing for a different audience but I am sure I shall never be tempted to make use of any of this experience in my own work. You may do as you will.”

Mrs Darcy immediately came to her side. “Do not trouble yourself unduly, dear Miss Austen. We are not so frail and timid at Pemberly as to be incapable of experiencing some new and novel excitements. I must admit that I thought we would be exposing Miss Matah to more genteel and social pursuits during the visit—and indeed, the Christmas Ball at Lambton is only two days away, and the first Church Worship of the season will be the day after. I presume she will find both to her liking?”

Mr Author stepped closer. “Those are the pursuits I had intended, Mrs Darcy, but I think we may have been a trouble to the household too much already. If you agree, Mr Darcy, we might hire a carriage tomorrow to return us from whence we came.”

“No, no. I will not hear of it. As my wife says, we are not so provincial here as to require protection from dramatic outside influences. Miss Matah has offered much constructive assistance with the matter of the letter that I feel fully resolved to entertain her to the pleasures of our region as had been intended. I feel reassured by your recounting the details of her riding experience and have no apprehension but that the two riders will return in due course much the better from their exercise and experience. I beseech you to reconsider your intention to leave.”

Mr Author felt that perhaps everyone’s polite reassurances needed more time and events to test them. “Thank you, both, for your magnanimity. It is far greater that we both deserve. However, I must consider the whole exploit before I can feel assured enough to pass judgement upon it…and she has barely begun what I expect might be a lengthy ride.”

Gisel’s Ride.

September 12, 2011

This exercise is coming to a close, so it may be a good time to mention that I started posting from “A Regency Bagatelle “ on May 31st. If you’d like to read the posts in order I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with the upside-down nature of blogs and track the posts in reverse. I’m thinking that I may post the whole Bagatelle as a download on my website but that won’t be for awhile yet. I thought to put it in the Creative Commons, that would allow others to a limited degree of use and derivation, but really as a chance to see how the system works.

Ah well, all in good time. Meanwhile let’s see what trouble Gisel can get into on a thoroughbred in rural Regency Derbyshire.

Mr Author and Miss Georgiana hurried to the stable yard to join Mr Darcy and an anxious Mrs Darcy as Gisel appeared from the stable leading a large black horse by his halter. She was wearing her Iskander Security black combat fatigues with the silver unit and rank badges—Mr Author was unaware she had brought such attire with her. Two of the stable lads followed behind them carrying a light English saddle and various items of horse tack.

“Tha should take care o’ he, Miss. He do bite if ‘e gets ‘is chance,” the senior of the lads was saying.

“Thank you,” she replied. “I appreciate everyone’s concern, but I have spent most of this last summer in the company of cavalrymen, and such a mix of mounts as to acquaint me with the foibles of most of the equestrian species.” She turned her head to meet Mr Author’s eye as she said this, as if to say, ‘notice how I’m learning to speak like these people’.

“Cavalry?” echoed Miss Darcy, her eyes full of the sight of a young woman in military uniform.

Mr Darcy turned to look at his sister. “I would prefer you to return to the house, Georgiana.”

Gisel stopped in the middle of the yard and took the bridle from the stable lad with the tack. “I’ll hand you the halter when I’ve fitted the bridle.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Miss Georgiana looked beseechingly at her brother, but his frown sent her walking slowly to the doorway to the kitchen garden and the terrace. Mr Author had no doubt but that she would stop to listen to the proceedings as soon as she was out of her brother’s sight.

Mr Darcy stepped closer to Mr Author to speak quietly. “What on earth is this nonsense about cavalry, Sir? I hesitate to doubt the young lady, but she seems rather given to exaggeration.”

Mr Author watched a moment as Gisel slid the halter onto her right arm. Agamemnon attempted to refuse the bit, but she slipped her thumb between the bars to set the bit into his mouth before he could back away. Her right hand raised the bridle to pull it over his ears. “I’m afraid it was no exaggeration, Sir. She was appointed to assist their cavalry general this summer campaign season, and was attached to his staff. I feel sure that among the fifty squadrons in the field there were many young officers who were tempted to test her with pranks and jokes.”

Gisel must have heard him. “I’ve learned not to challenge a wall with a ditch hidden behind it,” she said loudly, “I know enough to check a mount and trappings from nose to tail—and all the shoes twice, before accepting an invitation to ride; and I assure you I know enough not to take any wager that is less than one that would frighten any young lieutenant with certain penury.” With that she took the saddle from the other lad to set on Agamemnon’s back. He turned his head quickly as if to bite, but she put out an elbow into his cheek that dissuaded him.

“Good heavens,” Mr Darcy said. “It seems she is a horsewoman after all.”

Mrs Darcy joined them. “You cannot stop her? She will be safe?”

Mr Author smiled reassuringly. “I venture to say that Miss Matah is far safer on the back of any horse than I would ever be . . . and safer than many young bloods who fancy themselves expert enough to join a steeplechase. The cavalry general took a personal interest in ensuring she was capable of keeping up with his staff and tackling any challenge the squadrons would be required to take.” He didn’t divulge that General Lord Ricart of Amberden was also having an affair with her at the time.

Gisel straightened from tightening the girth and took the reins to walk Agamemnon a couple of circles around the yard. When she stopped before them again she bent to reach the girth and tightened it another notch. She stood and patted Agamemnon on the neck. “I know that trick, Old Chap.”

The groom arrived from the stable, leading a blaze chestnut by the reins. “Are ye ready to ride, Lady?”

Gisel put a foot in the stirrup and settled into the saddle. She checked her seat as the groom mounted his horse, and urged Agamemnon forward when he tried to back. “Yes, I’m ready. We’ll start at a canter until the mounts are warmed up.”

With that, she touched a hand to her forehead in salute and rode out the stable gate.

Gisel frightens the Darcys

August 30, 2011

“I’m not sure what she mentioned, but I must begin at the point of most significance in Regency society. A young woman in our society who attains to a position of value, such as Miss Matah’s invaluable skill at languages, places herself in direct competition with the interests of gentlemen she may meet. A young gentleman of means and of amiable and kind disposition who might be inclined to admire her could be brought up against the very disturbing possibility that she might be called away by her political masters when a matter requiring urgent attention, within her skills, may suddenly arise. All intentions he may have toward making a fuller acquaintance may be cast aside when he addresses the inconveniences, and possibly more serious disruptions it might cause them were they to consider marriage.”

Miss Darcy stopped at the door to the conservatory while Mr Author opened it, but it seemed her eyes were elsewhere. “Hmm. I see what you mean.”

“I actually know of situations where the differing expertise of a married couple result in their spending considerable time in different cities—even different countries. Of course, this happens here as well. One could cite the situation of naval officers and their wives and families.”

“I have met ladies in that situation who have not seen their husbands for several years,” Miss Darcy mused. “What a terrible situation, I always think. With the delay in sending and receiving mail the husband could have been lost in a shipwreck for months before the family hears the news.”

Mr Author thought perhaps the message had been delivered, but, alas, it was not so.

Stopping before the first of the flowering plants, Miss Darcy sighed. “I must confess that I find the prospect of travel to distant places a very fascinating one. Fancy being born in a distant country and having been partly raised by one’s grandparents in Greece. The marvels of Athens, the mysteries of Delphi, the harsh and barren hills of Sparta—surely it would be like living in a poem of Homer’s. I can imagine sailing on the wine-dark sea to the islands on the horizon … but Miss Matah has actually done it—no wonder she can speak with a traveller’s authority on so many subjects.”

“But I perceive that you have travelled the same lands in your mind from reading the classics, Miss Darcy. In many ways that experience is more likely to stir the intellect and the imagination than the hardships, the heat and pestilential flies of the actual journey. I would suggest that the hills of Sparta are not exactly barren but I recall they were very dusty with sandy soil and not as verdant as parts farther north.”

“You have been to Sparta? Do tell.”

Oops. Mr Author realised he should not have shared that information. “I must admit to having been there once…it was a long time ago.”

“How did you come to be travelling in Greece? What was it like?” She turned to face him, her arms akimbo. “Did you visit Miss Matah and her grandparents? I must hear what you have to say. I will not move another step until you tell me more.”

“There really isn’t much to tell. I thought the place a disappointment—certainly after Athens. There was very little trace of the ancient city; no hoplites training in the olive groves—just a rather small, drab country town. I am sure you have heard more interesting tales in fashionable drawing rooms in London when people who have take the Grand Tour relate their experiences.”

“No one has ever spoken of visiting Greece to my knowledge. The Turks are Mohammedans …perhaps even Saracens—it would hardly be safe for a Christian to venture there. How was it possible for you to visit?”
“Well, I—”

At that point the door to the conservatory burst open and Haggerston rushed in, his face scarlet and his breath rasping. “I say…Mr Author! Mr Darcy asks if you … could come at once to the… stable yard…”

Miss Georgiana gasped. “Why, whatever has happened? Is someone hurt?”

“Why, no Miss…but someone very well could.” He turned from Miss Georgiana to beseech Mr Author. “Please come, Sir. It’s your Miss Matah— she is determined to ride Agamemnon!”

Bagatelle—Miss Matah troubles

August 19, 2011

After lunch, Miss Austen busied herself in conversation with the Bennets on the prospects of Mr and Mrs Bingley arriving soon with words of great praise for the property they had visited, and perhaps even an intention to purchase it. Gisel disappeared into the library with Mr Darcy to further the project of writing a letter in Greek in answer to the one he had received; and perhaps even discussing one in English that might be sent to the attention of the English Consul in Athens.

Mr Author retired to the drawing room to look at the collection of newspapers Mr Darcy took. There were many in this golden age of newspapers when everyone and his brother, literally, ventured into the business of informing and educating their readership. Most of Mr Darcy’s were local-—two from Lambton; one from Hull; another from Derby, The Derby Mercury; and another—-a prize—-a recent London newspaper, the Observer. That took Mr Author back a few years to when he always chose the Observer whenever he wanted to read a London Sunday newspaper. Good old Observer, already 24 years in publication by this date at Pemberly.

Mrs Darcy and Miss Georgiana left the drawing room to examine some blossoms in the conservatory, but he suspected some weightier considerations than flowers might occupy much of their time. When the two returned a half hour later and Miss Georgiana expressed some interest in showing him the flowers blooming in December in the conservatory. Mr Author, who had been finding a certain fascination in the tone and substance of the Observer’s reports on the serious problems of the age, thought it prudent to express a little lassitude with the world of news and agree.

“I must admit that I am no gardener, Miss Darcy,” Mr Author allowed as they left the house. “Neither do I know a delphinium from a geranium.”

Miss Darcy laughed. “I am sure that you enjoy them all, nevertheless. But I must admit the discussion of flowers and gardening were not my intention.”

She looked around at the empty terrace. “Mrs Darcy suggested that you might be able to tell me of the disadvantages of living a full and exciting life…such as the one your young friend Miss Matah experiences.” She paused as her cheeks coloured slightly. “Not that I mean to pry, you understand. I would not like her to think that I wished to trespass into her private life.”

Mr Author nodded. “I did not expect that you did, but I recall she was the one who spoke to you about the secrets it would be improper to discuss. I must admit that she has a number of secrets it is better left unexamined, so I would prefer to structure my discussion in more general terms as they affect all young women in Gisel’s society.”

At this point they reached the steps leading down to the entrance to the conservatory and Mr Author offered his arm to Miss Darcy to steady her as she negotiated the steps in a dress that extended down to the buckles of her shoes.

“I notice that you use her name very familiarly,” she said as they reached the bottom. “Is she a member of your family?”

“Extended family I like to think, but one social difference I might point out as a preliminary exploration of the world Gisel comes from is the lack of much of Regency England’s formality. The more relaxed use of another person’s given name is emblematic of the much looser social graces of that age. These can work toward maintaining an atmosphere of social warmth, but also give rise to unnecessary and sometimes unwise familiarity.”

“Who would one address in such a less formal manner, pray?”

“One would always address ones brother by his first name, for example—-“

Miss Darcy placed a hand over her mouth as her eyes widened. “I could never do that.”

“Married couples would use the spouse’s first name in public, or perhaps a variation of Mother or Father if they are used to so naming the parent to their children. In Parliament a man must speak of an opponent as ‘the Right Honourable Gentleman’, but outside would eschew the use of any honorific whatsoever.”

“Yes…I see. But I would also like to hear more of the perils my sister-in-law mentioned.”

More of Regency Bagatelle

July 27, 2011

They had barely reached a point close to the gatehouse, where they could take a direct walk back to the house, when the two following appeared just a short distance behind, and so they waited for them to catch up. After the polite bows, Miss Austen greeted them with more joviality that had been evident in her manner these past thirty minutes. “Ah, to be able to progress through the countryside on such young legs—I must admit to envy you both. Hills do seem steeper than they did when I was your age.”

“I am sure you took a more observant view of the walk than did we,” Elizabeth Darcy replied with a smile. “I fear Miss Matah and I talked most of the way and our pace increased as our conversation progressed.”

“Then it might be a good idea to exchange partners—if that would be agreeable to you,” Miss Austen suggested. “Since the way ahead of us is now mostly downhill and I feel sure Miss Matah will slow her march to accommodate my step.”

Gisel flashed Mr Author a quizzical glance. “Of course, Miss Austen, but you appear by no means fatigued from attaining to this hilltop. I would relish a stroll and an opportunity to see the this part of England under your guidance.”

Which led Mr Author to extend his arm to Elizabeth Darcy as they walked in the direction of the drive, about ten paces ahead of the others. “I too would enjoy the rest of the walk with the lady of the house as my guide,” he said. “I don’t doubt but that my young friend has already accomplished a whole day’s exertion in the past hour and a half.”

Mrs Darcy‘s eyes affirmed the mild reproof. “I confess that a year’s familiarity is nowhere near sufficient for me to pretend an expert authority on the beauty of Pemberly, but I will be sure to point out those aspects that I have already come to love. In her defence, I must own that your young friend has already been of valuable service to the family this morning—her energy is quite prodigious.”

“Did she look at Mr Darcy’s letter?”

“Indeed she did and has been most helpful in preparing an answer. It seems that an Englishman that Mr Darcy’s father had set up in overseas trade has rather come to grief in the Peloponnesus, and his wife has persuaded someone to write a letter with a request for help.”

“No doubt addressed to Mr Darcy’s father.”

“Indeed. You are correct, but Mr Darcy is inclined to offer some assistance to his father’s friend.”

“Mr Darcy is very generous with his time and resources. These people must be complete strangers to him.”

“Yes, the wife is Greek and cannot read or write; she had to secure the assistance of a fellow trader in olive oil to write the letter for her. It seems that Mr Burke, Mr Darcy Senior’s friend, had a dispute over a shipment of oil that he had already paid for, and has been thrown into prison.”

“A very bad situation in any country, especially one so far from home.”

“Yes, Miss Matah suggests writing to the English consul in Athens—we assume there should be one—to ascertain the truth of the affair, but will translate a letter my husband is preparing to send to the wife and her penman, to apprise them of his action.”

“And any assistance Mr Darcy provides will be through the consul, I assume?”

“That is what she suggests. I gather that you too have experience of other lands?”

“I have spent time in four during the course of my life and have some familiarity with four others. One needs to be counted as a person of consequence in order to dispose the local inhabitants to your favour. The English consul should be a person of some significance, even to the Turkish authorities.”

“One must hope so, although of course he too must be a man of business in the country and not a gentleman…Not that I would consider him to be any less an Englishman for that.”

Mr Author had to smile at the chauvinism, common when he was a boy, but much reduced once Britain ceased to be an owner of colonies. The designation gentleman meant a great deal more in Regency times than it did in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—the difference between someone one might trust on his word and a fellow one might consider it best to keep at arm’s length. But then everyone in the twenty-first century made sure to engage others with a waterproof contract, because the surety that one could be sealed with a handshake vanished with the rise of neoliberalism.

He smiled a little nostalgically at the memory and turned his head to regard his resplendent companions in their warm walking dresses. The word Lady, too, had not survived the times in the best of senses, but even in earlier centuries it had often meant no more than it did later. The world had always been unkind to women.

“I did query Miss Matah about her voice of experience and she intimated that she had been advised to speak as little of her career as was polite. She did tell Mr Darcy that she would be more than pleased to prepare his Greek letter, because she had performed the same duty often for her people…Iskander, they’re called? I suppose this location and these duties are best not mentioned.”

“Yes, it is better not to stray too far beyond the boundaries of Regency England. I can say that her people found themselves stranded in difficult circumstances when she was but sixteen, and when it became evident that a form of Greek was the lingua franca of the place and she, despite her youth, was the only one of them fluent in the language— she became their official interpreter.”

“Her care with her words suggested she might have had more…unladylike duties than that. Not that I intend to pry…I would deplore any attempt to gossip, but I have yet to speak to Miss Darcy, who, as you will have noticed at dinner, is inclined to a too romantic vision of the world. I hope to speak with her on the matter later today.”

Mr Author increased his pace to get farther ahead of the topic of their conversation. “I could tell you some of the less wholesome things that have happened to Gisel, but I’m not sure whether it would be better for her or one of us to tell Miss Georgina. From Gisel the words might still have the attraction of bravado—these things have happened to me and yet I am still unbowed.. Coming from someone more sober…perhaps you or her brother could relate the unattractive side of being a woman of her own making.”

Mrs Darcy’s frown grew. “What things, prey?”

“She was not quite seventeen when she and a male friend twice her age planned an elopement. The only action that stopped it was an urgent message to her father, who, when heard of it whisked her away to Sweden.”

Mrs Darcy’s face became very grave. “We must have no mention of that.”

“I agree, but it would be very awkward to forbid their private conversations. Gisel can be very responsible when an appeal is made to her reason. I would speak to her about the socially valuable experiences I hoped she would derive from your hospitality, but Miss Austen pointed out to me this morning that Gisel is more inclined to challenge my cautions. Your conversation this morning has, I feel quite sure, already been most beneficial. I suspect Miss Austen is even now reinforcing your words.”

“I expect so, I derived all my understanding of the prime value of safeguarding the integrity of our social values from her. The history of great events is universally interpreted as the framework of our lives, but it is in the smaller happenings of families and social congress that the warp and woof of human existence is fabricated.”

“Quite so. I believe I have never heard the sentiment expressed better. I hope you conveyed this to Miss Matah this morning.”

“Perhaps I did in some degree. If you think the sentiment of value I will do my best to raise it in a future conversation.”

As they descended the hill they met the curve of the driveway and then followed it across the bridge to the house, and so entered to sit with the rest of the family in the south drawing room until lunch.