Monday, October 8, 2007

Poetry Train Monday - 22 - Third Gardener Story Installment

Happy Thanksgiving, Canadian bloggers! Hope you had a delicious turkey dinner yesterday, or will be having one today. My husband and I had a wonderful time at my cousin's last night.

For this week's Poetry Train, I'm picking up the story of Robbie and Helen, not long after we left them out on the snowy grounds of an English country house.

Cheltenham, England - Winter of 1844

Trailing behind the younger laundry maids on her way back to the servants’ entrance, Helen didn’t notice the man on horseback following behind her until the horse gave a shrill whinny.

She turned and saw Mr. Zackary Chase pulling the horse back into a walk, though it obviously strained to bound ahead. Helen looked toward the two girls, heads together chatting as they neared the great house. Behind her, the little stone laundry seemed just as far.

Her heart thumped with alarm.

Another part of her saw the fine way he sat his mount, the way his blue eyes twinkled as he looked down at her. He didn’t seem anything like the man she’d been warned against so often.

“Good afternoon,” he said, touching the brim of his hat in greeting.

Helen blushed. Mr. Chase dismounted as she bobbed quickly in a curtsey.
He held the horse steady by the reins, though for a moment the animal side-stepped and swished its tail as though frustrated.

“She gets jealous when I stop to talk,” Mr. Chase said, his voice filled with the promise of laughter.

Helen smiled, unable to stop herself.

“Do you ride?” he asked, his eyes inviting her to move closer.

She shook her head, looking at the shining golden mare with pale blonde mane and tail, at the way it pulled playfully against the reins in Chase’s hands.

“I’ve nearly grown up on a horse,” he said. “I ride every day. Weather permitting.”

Helen was certain she was not to speak to her betters unless answering a question, yet he just stood there, waiting for her to say something.

“I suppose we ought to introduce ourselves,” he said, suppressing a grin. “I'm Zackary Chase. You've heard of my father, of course - Brigadier-General Josiah Chase, retired. Late of the 13th, Madras. India.”

The young gentleman was coming closer, the now docile mare following behind. “Until I went to school, of course,” he continued, his gloved hand reaching for hers. Helen had to fight the urge to snatch it away from him. What could he be thinking?

“Then I returned to England,” he said, bringing her hand to his lips. He held it tenderly in both of his, the soft grey doeskin caressing her like velvet. His blue eyes filled with confusion. “But where are your gloves?”

Helen couldn’t bear it any longer. She pulled against his grip until he allowed her to slip free. “I don’t have any, sir,” she replied, her tone flustered.

“Sir...” he echoed, and he cocked his head slightly.

“You’ve mistaken me, surely. My name is Helen Slaunwhite. I’m the new laundry maid.” Her words seemed to hang there between them. A raven’s irritated caw punctuated the silence.

Then he laughed. A marvelous, infectious laugh that smoothed the furrow from Helen’s brow. “I’m afraid I did take you for someone else,” he said, eyes alight with amusement. “I was certain you were a visitor from the neighboring estate. I feared you’d become seperated from your party somehow and got lost.”

“Oh, no, sir,” she said, feeling her cheeks grow hot. “Just dawdlin’ behind, is all.” The way his eyes took her in - the flush on her cheeks spread into her chest, making her stomach flutter.

Mr. Chase stroked the mare’s face with affection. “Would you like to meet Miss Slaunwhite?” he asked the horse, whose ears pricked forward.

The master's son looked at Helen and flicked his head toward the mare. “Come and meet Madhu.” Helen took a step forward, hardly believing a beautiful, regal animal such as this really existed.

“This is Miss Slaunwhite,” he said to the mare, nodding encouragement as Helen stretched out her hand. “Let her find your scent, first,” he advised Helen. “That’s it.”

Helen began to softly stroke the darker brown muzzle when Madhu shook her head and blew sharply through her nose. Helen swallowed the squeal that lodged in her throat.
A chuckle erupted beside her. Helen smiled at her own foolishness and resumed stroking the mare’s golden face.

“That’s it,” Mr. Chase assured. “She’s lovely, isn’t she?”

“Oh, yes,” Helen whispered.

Suddenly she felt him standing very near, his face brushing her ear. “I was talking about you.”

Helen’s breath caught in her throat. She twisted away, but he was already swinging up into the saddle and Madhu was tossing her head, impatient to be off.

Mr. Chase again touched the brim of his hat. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” he said, his face serious. Then he turned Madhu, cantering off in a spray of snow and a sweep of that glorious blonde tail.

Helen stood and watched him disappear into the trees. She was humming inside with a secret joy. It radiated outward, leaving her trembling with the force of it.

Slowly she walked back toward the house and the servants’ entrance. When she’d left the flat back in town, she’d simply had no idea how much would be left behind. At home, Helen Slaunwhite was little more than a problem to be solved - a mouth to feed, a back to clothe. But here, at Ashbury Downs, Helen Slaunwhite was fussed over, worried about, talked to, smiled upon.

It made her feel like someone who mattered.


(the next scene does not follow directly afterward, but for the Poetry Train I'm telescoping them to stay with the storyline)

Robbie pushed through the bracken, snapping twigs in his wake. He was looking for picturesque branches laden with bright red berries.

Sollows needed them for several large floral arrangements requested by Mrs. Chase for her dinner party tomorrow.
He spied a number of them. Rosehips they looked to be, but they'd do. Pulling out his pocketknife, he cut the branch with practised ease, taking care with the thorns. When he had several, he closed up the knife and dropped it in his pocket.

A laugh floated through the trees. Rob looked up from tying the branches into a bundle.

The wind stirred the tree tops, and for a moment Rob thought he surely imagined it.
But there it came again. Crystalline laughter that floated on the breeze.

He peered between the trees, looking for its source. To the west he could make out two people and a golden horse. Only one man owned an animal with such unmistakable coloring. Young Mr. Chase at his favorite sport again.

Rob bent to his work, fighting the urge to see which poor maid was at the young gentleman’s mercy. It was one thing to know it was a common occurrence. But after those excruciating moments spent witnessing poor Lucy’s torment - well, it was hard to look her in the face, was all.

He turned back to the rosehips. Again that laughter rippled past him and he left his work to weave through the trees for a closer look.

The horse tossed its head and whinnied. Chase helped the maid into the saddle, murmuring some encouragement or other.

Robbie’s breath felt knocked from his chest. It was Helen.

It couldn't be - he’d sent word. Through Lucy. Stay away from Zachary Chase he’d said. Lucy had assured him she’d told Helen the other night.

He stared down at the rosehips. Sollows waited for him. Must he court trouble for himself again on account of the new laundry maid? Rob looked to see Chase leaning close against the horse, Helen’s head bent low as she listened to the young master weave his lies.

How quickly Chase had walked out on Lucy once he was done with her. Rob remembered how it felt to look into Helen’s hazel eyes, gazing on him through the conservatory glass that same afternoon. He couldn’t bear to think of the pain that would fill those eyes if Chase got his hands on her.

Dashing back for the bundled branches, Robbie made for the clearing and for Helen.

The horse raised its head. Chase turned. All Robbie saw was Helen and the glow on her face.

“Ah. Flynn, is it?” Chase said.

Robbie took his hat off and nodded, glancing quickly to Helen. Uncertainty clouded her features. Then her expression changed and Rob suddenly felt his swollen lip as if it had grown to cover his head.

“Gardening out here in the wood?” Chase asked, his tone conversational.

Rob raised the rosehip bundle. “Your mother’s dinner party, sir.”

“Ah,” Chase smiled, turning to Helen. “I knew there was some sort of gloom hanging over tomorrow.”

“Has she hurt herself?” Robbie said, nodding up at Helen.

Chase turned back to Robbie, his smile gone.

“A laundry maid should ride the master’s horse, sir?” Rob wondered pointedly.

“Oh, I’m not hurt,” Helen protested, blushing.

“And I am not master here. That would be my father,” Chase said. “And then my brother, in his turn. I am but a guest in this house.”

“You shouldn’t trouble Mr. Chase, miss,” Rob tried again, looking up at Helen and hoping she’d sense his urgency. To her credit, she did seem uncomfortable sitting up there where she had no business being.

“She’s no trouble,” said Chase.

Rob looked towards the house, wondering how he could get Helen away from Chase without losing his livelihood into the bargain. “I could accompany Miss Slaunwhite, sir, if ye’re done with her,” Robbie offered.

“Oh, I’m not done with her,” Chase answered, smiling and leaning into the horse with a hand absently stroking its neck.

“If ye please, sir," Helen said, her voice flustered. "Might be best if I go with Mr. Flynn.”

“Best for whom?” Chase asked, his tone warm and inviting.

Rob saw the glow return to Helen’s face. He flared just as quickly with outrage, marvelling how she was so easily charmed. Why should he stick his neck out for her? If Chase was who she wanted, she’d soon have him.

“I’ll be off, then,” Rob said, unable to look at Helen. He slapped his hat back on and turned.

Chase’s hand grabbed Rob’s shoulder and yanked him to a stop.

“One moment,” Chase admonished.

Rob bristled at such treatment before Helen. It took everything he had not to shrug Chase off.

“As it happens, I feel like a brisk ride just now,” Chase said.

Rob turned to see the young gentleman wrap his hands around her waist, helping her down from the horse. Helen kept her eyes averted, yet Rob could almost feel how much she’d thrilled to Chase’s touch.

“I confess I would like you to walk the little miss across the grounds,” Chase ordered.

“No trouble at all, sir,” Rob said, fighting to keep the edge out of his voice.

Chase stepped up into the stirrup and swung his leg effortlessly over the horse’s back. Catching up the reins in one hand, he turned the suddenly spirited animal in a circle, holding the horse back while he gazed down at Helen.

He smiled a dazzling smile and bounded away in a blur of gold.

Robbie stood with Helen in silence for several moments. He didn’t know if he wanted to shake her or shield her with his embrace. When Helen looked up to meet his gaze, a shiver crawled over his skin.

It felt the same as someone passing over his grave. The urge to shake her grew stronger. Anything to stop this hollowing out of his heart.

Copyright 2007 Julia Smith

You can find out what happens a bit later in the story here.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Poetry Train Monday - 21 - Another Gardener Story Excerpt

I'm immersed in my works in progress at the moment. I should be doing more revisions on my vampire story, but I've had a little flash of brilliance where my gardener story is concerned. So I'm doing a bit of work on Robbie and letting my vampire character, Peredur, take a bit of a break.

For the Poetry Train this week, here's another excerpt from Robbie's story - though the scene is from Helen's point of view. Strangely, although all of my stories give equal time to the male and female characters, in my own mind I always refer to them as the male character's story. Probably because I'm partially in love with my heroes.

This takes place earlier in the story than last week's scene. Helen Slaunwhite is the newest member of the staff of an English country house. She's been warned about the predatory habits of the younger son of the family that employs her, but has not encountered him yet. In this scene, she's at work in the laundry.

Cheltenham, England, the winter of 1844

Helen slapped the wet napkins onto the press, pulling down on the lever in an unseeing cadence. She’d worked past such pain before.

Hours spent hunched over piecework for the seamstress, eyes smarting, her head as though ground by a gristmill - so many times she’d longed to put down her sewing and sleep sitting up.

Every time she’d felt like giving in, Helen had merely looked over at her sisters. If they could go on, she could go on.

Now in the laundry of a country house - imagine - feeling so weak and sore, she determined to go on until the other laundry maids stopped. At least it was light and airy here. How different from her family's dingy flat. As cold as it was outside, the steam from the laundry kettles kept it warm inside, even with all the windows and their drafts. At home, the one window on the far wall had been avoided at all costs, though they'd stuffed old rags and paper into the gaps.

Before too long Helen was done with her basket. She turned to the windows nearest her as Marjorie and Sue lugged it over to the clotheslines. Helen peered out at the frigid landscape between the white window sashes and the frosted panes.

The sky glowed a soothing rosiness. Laceworked barren trees shimmered lavender on the horizon. Snow draped the land as far as she could see. Such open space - then a figure moving across the snow caught her attention.

It was a workman emerging from the trees. Had she ever seen one man alone against such a backdrop? The way he trudged quietly through unmarked snow fascinated her. He carried his tools in mittened hands, his clothing bulky against the cold. The workman slowed, coming to a full stop, turning to regard the stone building housing the laundry. Helen’s breath caught in her chest.

It seemed that he could see her through the frosty window, as though he were looking for her across the grounds. Her heart thudded strangely. Could it be the gardener she’d met yesterday? How she wished he'd spoken to her after dinner.

The figure continued on his unhurried way. And she could hear the girls returning for her final load of linens. Helen turned from the window, her face flushed. Her fatigue had vanished. Blood coursed through her veins, making her feel like she could do an entire day’s work all over again.

“Well, Missy,” Mrs. Greeley said, pushing wayward hair out of her face. “That's a good day’s work. You may go for now. Miss Tattersoll and I will finish this last bit. It’s a very old table linen, very fine and we’ll look after it ourselves. You girls, as well.”

Sue and Marjorie curtsied quickly. “Thank you, Mrs. Greeley,” they said together. Making their way to the hooks by the door, they took up their wraps. Helen followed, swept by urgency. She hoped the gardener was not too far along his way. Sue and Marjorie whispered and giggled, as girls will. They seemed not to notice Helen’s dash out the door.

Helen walked as quickly as she could without running in the direction he’d taken.
The moment she caught sight of him, she knew it was the gardener. He had the same deliberate gait she’d noticed when he left the kitchen yesterday. She closed in on him and he slowed, turned, surprise washing over his face.

Helen stopped, panting so her breath hung in wisps between them.

He looked back at the laundry, then turned his gaze to Helen. “So. Working today, were you?”

Why was she so tongue-tied, and she racing to catch him? “I have a letter for ye,” she blurted out.

“A letter? For me?”

“From home,” she explained.

His green eyes clouded with confusion.

“Yer mum,” she went on. “She sent it through my brother Ned. He used to work fer yer dad at the flower shop.”

Robbie’s eyes widened in recognition. It seemed he saw her now for the first time. His bearing lost some of its stiffness. “Ned Slaunwhite, ye mean?” Rob asked.

“My brother.”

A smile lit the gardener’s face. Helen's stomach lurched, as though she’d jumped from the shed roof into a snowbank.

“Well," he said. "Such a surprise,” and he gave a delighted laugh. “Where is Ned, these days?”

“At home, lookin' after me mum and sisters. And brothers.”

“Yer father’s gone, is he?”

She could only shake her head in answer.

“What’s Ned working at?” Robbie asked, bridging the awkward silence.

“Sellin’ news sheets,” Helen answered, hearing again her dad’s insult that Ned did a boy’s job. “He can read,” she added.

Robbie looked away. Somehow this was all turning out wrong. “I’ll bring yer letter at dinner,” she said, turning suddenly. She didn’t want to see whether the gardener tried to hide his pity.

Robbie Flynn, who delivered flowers with young Ned Slaunwhite when they were both boys. Only, Robbie’s father owned the flower shop - a respected merchant in the spa town of Cheltenham. What was Helen’s father, other than a trial to her mother and a scourge to his children?

If service wasn’t beneath a shopkeeper’s son, was it disgraceful for Helen Slaunwhite to work on an estate as grand as this one? She turned back to find herself staring into the gardener's green eyes again. They were alive with questions.
All he said was, “You must be wanting to wash up for dinner.”

“Oh. Sorry - I'm keepin’ ye. Am I keepin' ye from yer work?”

“Not at all, not at all,” Robbie laughed as Helen hurried to head back for the service door. She hadn't gone far when she risked a look back. The gardener hadn’t moved an inch. Just stood there watching her.

Helen’s heart begin to thump a little stronger than usual. And not just because of the look in the gardener's eyes.

Three men on horseback emerged from the barren grey wood behind Robbie, smooth as rolling fog.

Robbie turned, removing his hat as the riders passed by. He sent Helen a warning look. Thankfully she had enough sense to drop a curtsy before it was too late.
Somehow daring to look up, Helen watched the three gentlemen sway comfortably in their saddles as they rode away from her toward the stables. An older gentleman and two younger ones, all dressed in dark greatcoats draped over the backs of their mounts to be flicked by glossy tails. All three wore tall hats and carried crops in their gloved hands. Shiny boots to the knee poked out from the corners of their coats with the movement of the horses.

Such fine gentlemen. Helen had never seen their like in all her life.

Just as she was about to chide herself for staring, one of the younger men turned in his saddle and looked back at her. He rode a golden horse whose blonde mane and tail nearly glowed in the thin winter light.

The gentleman stared directly at her, his blue eyes icy against the grey sky. His blonde hair lay groomed neatly beneath the brim of his hat. His lips curled slightly in one corner.

The hairs on the back of Helen's neck stood on end.

With a movement as fluid as wine, the gentleman turned away, facing the stables as the other men did.

Helen gasped as Robbie took her by the arm and forced her to look at him. His eyes crackled with alarm. “What on earth were you doing?” he whispered hotly.

“What do ye mean?”

“Has no one told you about that one?”

Helen remembered Bernadette’s words as she led her through the servants’ wing last night. “I didn’t know it were him,” she said.

“Well, who else would look at you like that?” Robbie snapped.

Helen looked down. Robbie was standing very close to her. Her skirts nearly brushed the gardener’s trousers.

A bird called in the moist stillness. Cold crept up her legs and along her spine. Robbie let her go, backing away from her.

“I’ve got to finish my rounds or Sollows will have my head on a platter," he said. "I’m already in it up to my neck from yesterday.” Helen looked at him, afraid it was her arrival yesterday that got him into trouble. The dark impatience she saw in his eyes told her that it was.

“I’ll bring ye the letter. At dinner,” she offered.

He nodded and turned to leave. Helen shut her eyes and sighed. She’d got off to a bad start and was only making it worse.

“Miss Slaunwhite.”

Her eyes opened to see Robbie moving away from her, though he’d twisted around to address her.
“You must take care, now. Promise me.”

She nodded and he turned again, making his way through the wet snow. Helen faced the stables where she could see the gentlemen dismounting in the distance. She fought tears that pulled at her eyes and crushed her throat. When had she ever heard someone asking her to take care?

And how had she managed to live this long without it?

Copyright 2007 Julia Smith

Monday, September 24, 2007

Poetry Train Monday - 20 - Gardener Story Excerpt

Now that I've got all of my WIP's transferred over from my creaky little turtle of an old computer, I'd like to share an excerpt from one of my historicals.

This story takes place in several locations. It starts off in 1840's England, then follows my two main characters across the sea to Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania.) This scene takes place about a third of the way into the story.

Robbie Flynn is an under gardener on a country house estate in Cheltenham, England. He plans to serve his apprenticeship under well-respected gardeners until he can be the head gardener or even a landscape designer. His attempts to warn new laundrymaid Helen Slaunwhite about the son of their employer have fallen on deaf ears. I've modelled Robbie on Ewan McGregor.

Helen has recently escaped a harsh life of poverty in the slums. Her time as a laundrymaid feels more like a life of ease in comparison. The master's handsome son makes her feel special, and Robbie's warnings about him just make her dislike the gardener. I've modelled Helen on Kerri Russell.

We pick up the story as it takes a violent turn. Zachary, the master's son has seduced Helen in the conservatory. Robbie attempts to diffuse the situation, but it all goes horribly wrong. The two men fight.


Chase bucked to free himself. Robbie saw a flash of steel and knew he couldn’t move to deflect it. Then he heard a smash and felt Chase go limp beneath him.

Hands too strong to be Helen’s wrenched Robbie off of Chase. A stout boot clipped him in the ribs.

“Mr. Chase, sir! Good God.”

Robbie fought to catch his breath. He was wet. Why was he wet? The hallboy took hold of Helen as Morrison saw to Chase.

“Don’t you touch her!” Robbie cried.

He struggled to his knees, only to get the butler’s Indian army walking stick across the face. He crumpled on the wet marble, head spinning, chin burning.

“Mind the glass,” Morrison cautioned as it crunched underfoot. “Let’s get him upright.” The crisp instructions of the former sergeant of the 13th Regiment inspired swift obedience even from the young master. He sat with help. More moans from the wanker.

“Don’t try to speak, sir. Your face is a bloody mess.”

Robbie got back to his knees and sat on his heels. No one moved to clobber him just yet. Now he could see what made such a wreck of Chase’s once-fine features. The glass fishbowl that once sat on the table lay in shards on the floor. The goldfish lay still amid a stretch of tiny pebbles and sodden water plants.

Helen stood as still as the little fish. The hallboy held her but she gave him no trouble. She had sealed her fate and Robbie's.

The gash oozed deeply across Chase’s forehead, leading down through his right brow. Robbie and Helen would be up before the Quarter Sessions in short order. The sessions over which retired Brigadier-General Chase, their master, presided. The young master's face was such a gruesome mess it actually made Robbie shudder to see it.

Morrison and the footman settled Chase on the very sofa where that bastard had wrought Helen’s ruination only an hour ago. As foul as that face was now and would be for the remainder of Chase’s days, Robbie knew it would never pay for the tears shed by all the maids whom that pratt had used in here. At least Robbie had given Helen justice of some sort.

Now they would both have to face the wrath of the brigadier-general, whose steps could be heard closing in on the conservatory. Robbie shut his eyes, bowed his head and took a deep breath.

He could do no more for Helen now. He could only face this ordeal with all the character he could muster. Perhaps that would give Helen the courage to do the same.


Helen kept her gaze on Robbie as she heard the master approaching. Her chest flushed with cold, fear stopping the breath in her lungs. Robbie still knelt in the wet from the fish bowl. She hoped there were no shards near him that he didn’t see.

Robbie raised his head as the master entered the room. The older Mr. Chase strode over to his son, tipped the younger man’s face forward and had a look at it. Mr. Morrison stepped close and the two men spoke quietly. Then both looked over at Robbie.

The butler motioned to the hallboy holding Helen. “Ask Mrs. Kamala to send for the doctor,” he ordered. The boy let Helen go and dashed off. Helen longed to join Robbie but knew she mustn’t move.

Young Mr. Chase moaned. He seemed in shock. His cut face must feel unbearable.

Just then Mr. Morrison and the master moved towards Robbie with practised ease. They’d served together in India. Their familiarity made them seem to move as one. Before Helen could blink, the butler yanked Robbie to his feet. Old Mr. Chase stood over Robbie by several inches, staring almost calmly into the gardener’s eyes.
Robbie met that gaze defiantly.

“Your handiwork, is it, Flynn?” the master asked in a strangely off-hand manner.

“Your son has wronged many, sir,” Robbie said.

The master looked back at his son. If only Mrs. Kamala would come, Helen thought. It couldn’t be good for the young master to bleed like that.

Old Mr. Chase turned back to Robbie. “Who is the judge of whom?” the master asked. He struck Robbie over and over, coldly and efficiently as Morrison held the gardener in place. Helen surged forward, then checked herself. Tears welled and words tripped over the sobs in her throat.

Finally Robbie hung in Morrison’s grasp. Yet he had barely cried out. The master turned then to look at Helen. That’s when Mrs. Kamala and Bernadette quietly entered the conservatory to see to young Mr. Chase.

How Helen would miss Bernadette. She’d been so kind. The maid stole a glance at Helen just then. Her eyes were shaded with the horror of it all.

Then the master was before Helen. She too looked up into his face as Robbie had done. What she saw was as unexpected as it was unnerving. There was shame in the master’s eyes.

“I trust you’d been warned about him,” he said plainly. Helen saw a string of faces in her mind’s eye – Bernadette, Lucy, Mrs. Tattersoll, Robbie. All had tried to warn her. She’d listened to none of them. Helen nodded, then hung her head.

“You will be out of here in the morning,” Mr. Chase said. Helen felt dizzy. But she nodded.

The master turned and Helen suddenly found her voice. “Please,sir,” she dared.

He stopped.

“What will happen to Robbie, sir?”

“He shall go to gaol to begin with. When the Quarter Sessions begin, we shall see.” Helen darted forward, grabbing at his jacket sleeve.

“Please, sir, you don’t understand!” The master shrugged her off. “It weren’t him, sir! Please, you mustn’t!”

“No Helen!” Robbie called out. Helen shook. But they must know.

“They were fightin’," she said in a rush. "And the young master pulled his pocketknife. He were goin’ to cut Robbie or - or stab him.”

“Sir, she’s just – she’s just trying to…” Robbie blurted out.

“Silence!” the master barked.

Young Mr. Chase protested Mrs. Kamala’s ministrations from the sofa. Helen couldn’t stop her tears. Old Mr. Chase strode back towards Robbie who tried to take a step back but could only press against the butler.

“Who cut my son?” the master demanded. Robbie opened his mouth but shut it again. “When my son recovers himself, he will tell me in his own words. Which of you cut him?”

Helen’s heart crushed inside her chest. Robbie meant to take the brunt of her wrongdoing on his own shoulders. Why? She’d only meant to stop the young master from hurting Robbie with that knife. Now look what she herself had wrought.

Blood mixed with water and coloured pebbles on the white marble floor. Mrs. Kamala and the maid worked swiftly to stop the bleeding, still waiting for the doctor to arrive. All because Helen wouldn’t listen. Her trembling grew worse, but she must get the words out somehow.

“It weren’t Robbie, sir,” she managed. Tears thickened her voice. The master turned. Helen’s gaze locked with Robbie’s.

He shook his head in disbelief. She thought she saw tears starting in those green eyes.

“The fishbowl – I …” she stammered, feeling the weight of it in her hands again. Feeling the water slop over the rim. She looked down and saw the wet splattered over her skirt.

The master took hold of her, dragging her across the floor to the sofa. Mrs. Kamala and Bernadette leaned out of the way, giving her a clear view of the slick red mess of Zachary Chase. Dazed blue eyes looked up at her. How she'd waited through the busy work hours for those eyes to look into hers. Now he seemed a hellish fiend.

“You have made him a monstrosity,” the master growled in her ear. Then he flung Helen to the hard floor. She slid in the wet.

The doctor entered the conservatory, followed moments later by the town constable who arrived with several other men. Helen twisted round and sought Robbie’s gaze once again. The master strode forward. As the way cleared she saw Robbie already looking at her.

His green eyes were charged with anguish. His gaze asked her ‘Why? Why?’ from across the room.

The constable closed in on Robbie. The other men reached for Helen, pulling her roughly to her feet and yanking her arms before her. Helen didn’t look away as Robbie received the same treatment as she. The constable put iron shackles on the gardener’s hands as Helen felt the weight upon her own.

Every last moment her gaze sought Robbie as if she were swept away in a torrent and his image was the last handhold between herself and oblivion.

The pull of his green-eyed gaze pierced through the tumult of their arrest. His gaze never left hers.

Too late, she knew he loved her.

Copyright 2007 Julia Smith

Monday, May 7, 2007

Excerpt from Culloden novel

During the brainstorming session, I pulled this story out of hibernation. I started it in 1999! It's a quarter of the way into the story, but there was a lot still to work out.

I put it aside when my husband and I moved from Toronto to Yarmouth, a small fishing town in Nova Scotia. We moved in with my gram because she needed someone living in the same house. My mom couldn't stay in the house for more than an hour at a time because of her environmental illness.

I had quite a bit of culture shock to get past, as I discovered that a Big City urban gal like me doesn't write well in the quiet of a small town. Once we moved to Halifax, my writing got back into gear. But my Culloden story stayed parked until this past Sunday.

Now I can't stop thinking about it. So here's an excerpt.

This story takes place in the immediate aftermath of the battle of Culloden, where the English wiped out the highlanders and embarked on a campaign to crush the Scottish culture. (As we can see from our 21st century vantage point, they weren't terribly successful. Amen to that!)

Excerpt -

Scottish highlands near Drumossie Moor, April 1746

Emma walked to the cave entrance. She couldn't bear the sounds of the servants’ crying any longer.

Dawn beckoned with cool grey fingers. The sound of birdsong dashed any hopes of sleep.

The danger of patrols shimmered in the air like lightening storms. One group on horseback already charged up the hill past them. The entrance to their cave was only a narrow crevasse to squeeze through and not obvious to an Englishman. The mounted soldiers ran down every living creature they’d come across.

Thomas urged them to stay put, for a few days at least. He rotated a watch between himself, Davey and Murray. What if Emma were to wake, only to find a soldier with his knife poised to slit her throat? No wonder Maisie and Poppy huddled together in tears.

Emma's tired, burning gaze swept the forest but nothing moved. Perhaps she could join Murray for awhile. He might welcome the company. Squeezing through the opening and wondering how Thomas had managed it, Emma stayed close to the cave entrance and checked again for signs of danger.

Birdsong made all of yesterday’s upset seem so unreal. Would she be out here shivering in the cold April frost if it had not happened? Emma curled her hands up into her sleeves, the thin wool of her day frock so terribly ineffective. If only Thomas had allowed a fire to be built.

Emma moved quickly past the clearing in front of the cave entrance. She saw Murray’s body spring to life, facing her though staying to the trees.

“It’s me. Emma,” she whispered, the morning so still she felt as if she were shouting.

Murray’s body relaxed. “You’re not relieving me on the watch, surely?” Murray teased her as he always did. How she longed for everything to be normal again.

“I can’t sleep,” she said.

“Come stand with me, then.”

She joined him next to the pine. Murray put his arm around her shoulders. He was her younger brother but taller than she was by a head.

“When do you think we can go back?” she asked, knowing she sounded like a child.

“I doubt there’s much to return to.”

“Thank God Thomas got word to us in time,” she said.

“Yes. Thank God.” There was something to Murray’s tone. Emma turned to see the bitter look on his face.

“It was our victory." Murray shook his head as though still unwilling to believe the loss. "Everyone said we would take the day."

“The fighting couldn’t have been far, then?”

“Drummossie Moor.”

“Drummossie Moor! That’s only - ”

“Emma, what do you think I’m telling you? The fighting should have been across the river on higher ground, but the English... Thomas was in town to keep an eye on things and when it went wrong he was nearly killed trying to get back to us.”

There was silence between them, a tense silence. Emma was suddenly very tired of fathers and brothers deciding what was best for her to know.

“Have you seen anyone?” she asked, knowing Murray would never speak first. “Since you’ve come out here?”

“Not a soul.”

She sighed. “I don’t want to go back in there just now.”

“Stay with me, then,” Murray said.

How she longed for everything to be the way it was. Even before this latest battle. When her father, the chieftain of the MacBeans was at home and the clan solid among the hills. She stole a glance back at Murray, who smiled through a yawn.

This did feel better. Though her head reeled with weariness, she liked the living scent of the trees. The musty air of the cave was like a crypt.

Her answering yawn set the wood awash in bleariness. The carpet of pine needles suddenly slid underfoot and she went down heavily, surprised to slide down a slight incline.

There was a groan as she landed squarely on a grimy heap of plaid. A plaid that covered the body of a man.

She squealed, scrambling to regain her feet.

An eye stared back in alarm, revealing a battered face. The man lunged forward like a snake, grabbing her wrists and rolling her onto her stomach.

She grunted as one strong hand forced her face into the ground and the other crushed her wrist against the root of the tree. A sharp knee jammed into her back, forcing the air from her lungs.

He cried out in pain and abruptly released her. Falling heavily beside Emma, he writhed awkwardly as Murray gave one final kick for good measure.

“Emma! Are you hurt?” Murray asked.

She pushed herself to a sitting position. “No, Murray,” she said, rising. “Just took my breath from me.”

She wouldn’t admit to the way her heart continued to pound, nor the way her hands shook as she brushed pine needles out of her hair. She stole a glance over at the stranger lying next to her.

Murray bent to see to him, then knelt, listening at the man’s chest. Her brother’s gaze sought hers. “He’s alive. Thank God.” Murray sat back on his heels.

“What do you mean?” Emma asked, her reasoning slow from fatigue and fright.

“He wears the colors of the Scots Royal. That’s your Douglas’s regiment. From the looks of him, the Royals fared badly.”

Emma knelt at the stranger’s side. To look at him now, it was a wonder he’d had the strength to pounce on her like a great mountain cat. But she could still feel the force of him pinning her to the ground.

He lay curled on his side, his dark hair falling over his face, eyes closed. Mud and bruises hid much of the rest of him. His arms and legs wore nasty looking slashes. Blood soaked his plaid and jacket at the shoulder and under his left arm.

Murray’s words sank slowly into her consciousness. Her Douglas. An officer of the Scots Royal. Her Douglas had fought alongside this man. Had led him onto the battlefield.

Where was Douglas now? Was he laying somewhere with no one to help him?

Tears rose to her eyes. Emma reached forward and pushed the hair from the stranger’s brow with tender fingers. The man’s right eye fluttered open. The left one was swollen horribly.

Emma stared back. Such a dark eye it was, brimming with spirit though his body was all but useless to him now. Emma had never seen anyone burn with such ferocity. She began trembling.

It wasn’t the shock of it - not the soldiers, not her family’s flight, not her sleepless hours in the cave, nor the fright from this wounded clansman’s desperate retaliation - none of it had started this quivering.

She trembled because of the way he looked at her.