A New England Farmer’s Calendar from 1834

I miss posting on my blog! So on this icy, homebound January morning, I decided to do something about it. I didn’t know what I wanted to post about, so I opened Google Books and typed a phrase just to see what came up. I found The Complete Farmer and Rural Economist: Containing a Compendious Epitome of the Most Important Branches of Agriculture and Rural Economy, published in Boston in 1834. I almost passed up this book, but then I saw the chapter “Farmer’s Calendar.” I was drawn to this section because several times in the process of writing a book, I’ve had to research when crops were harvested or when certain flowers bloomed. I’m thinking writers in the vein of Little Women might find this book useful.

 The monthly sections refer to the pages in the book for further reference. I’ve kept the page numbers, but I’m not going to link every one of them because I’m lazy.



The following Calendar is intended merely as an agricultural prompter, noting that certain kinds of work should be performed about the time in the year specified at the head of each article. The figures refer to the pages in this little volume, in which farther directions may be found relative to the operations which the season in general demands from the diligent, correct and careful cultivator.

The directions in the following pages are intended for the New England States, or about the latitude of 42° N., and the vicinity, or a small elevation above the sea. Allowance, however, should be made for height above the sea, as well as for situation north or south of any particular latitude. But we believe it not possible to state with any near approach to precision, what such allowance should be. The nature of the soil, the aspect, the exposure, the forwardness or backwardness, or what may be styled the general character of the season, are all to be regarded. We will, therefore, not claim precision, where accuracy is not attainable. ‘Kalendars,’ as Loudon has well observed, ‘ should be considered as remembrancers, never as directories.’


Stock. If cattle are fed with straw, it should be done with necessary attentions and limitations. The celebrated Arthur Young observed that ‘the best farmers in Norfolk are generally agreed that cattle should eat no straw, unless it be cut into chaff mixed with hay; but, on the contrary, that they should be fed with something better, and have the straw thrown under them to be trodden into dung:’ and I am much inclined to believe, that in most, if not in all cases, this maxim will prove a just one. See that your cows are of the best breed. Page 40. Give them roots as well as hay, and they will give you more than an equivalent in milk, for their extra keep. Pages 41,42. Provide pure water for your milch cows, and not oblige them to go a mile more or less after it, manuring the high way, and running the gauntlet of dogs, teams, the horse and his rider, the sleigh and its driver, with more annoyances than Buonaparte met with in his retreat from Moscow. See also that the master-beasts do not tyrannize over their weaker brethren, and if any are inclined to domineer, take them into close custody, and deprive them of the liberty of the yard, till they will give indemnity for the past, and security for the future. Cut or chaff your hay, straw, corn tops, bottoms, &c, with one of Willis’s or some other straw cutter, to be found at Newell’s Agricultural Warehouse, No. 52, North Market Street, Boston, or some other place. You may also make use of Col. Jaques’ mixture, (p. 50,) without charge for the prescription. If you give your cows good hay, roots, and comfortable lodging, you may make as good butter in winter as in summer, and become rich by sending to market the product of your dairy. Pages 53, 54, 89, 8tc.


Attend particularly to cows which have calved, or are about to calve, as well as to their offspring. You know, or should know, what time your cows may be expected to produce their young, by means pointed out, page 44, where you may find a recipe for those cows which need to be doctored, that they may stop giving milk. You will find observations on rearing and fattening calves, pages 56, 57, &c, to p. 63. Your ewes and lambs will now require that care and attention which is indispensable to make sheep husbandry profitable. Page 22. The way to doctor lambs to advantage is to give good food, and a plenty of it to their mothers. Half a gill of Indian corn a day to each ewe before yeaning, and about two quarts per day of potatoes, turnips, or other roots, when they have lambs to nurse, will make your sheep and lambs healthy, as well as their owner wealthy. But if you half starve your sheep, you will quite kill your lambs. You will continue to cut, split, and pile wood in your wood house, till you have enough to last at least two years. It is very bad economy to be obliged to leave your work in haying or harvesting to draw every now and then a little green wood to cook with, which is about as fit for that purpose as a brick bat for a pin cushion, or a lump of ice for a warming pan.


You may sow grass seed either as soon as the snow is off the ground, or as some say in August or September. You may see the question relative to the time for this purpose discussed, pages 23, 24. Be sure to use seed enough, say about twelve pounds of clover and one peck of herd’s grass [timothy] to the acre, p. 25. If you did not sow grass seed in autumn, or winter grain, you may now sow it, and even harrow it in. Though a few plants will be torn up, the grain will on the whole, receive benefit from being harrowed in the spring. Before the spring work presses hard upon you, it will be well to employ your boys under your superintendence to train your steers or calves and colts to the yoke, saddle, or harness, for which you may see some excellent directions by Mr James Walker, page 65. Top dress winter grain. Top dressings should not be used in the fall for winter grain, because they would be apt to make the young plants come forward too fast, and be the more liable to be winter killed. Page 186. Attend to fences. Page 213, and to drains. Page 294. By often changing the direction of your water courses, you may render your mowing even, and prevent one part from becoming too rank and lodging before the other part is fit to cut.


f7Ploughing. Light sandy soils had better be ploughed in the spring, and not late in autumn, lest they become too porous and are washed away by the rains and floods of fall and winter. For general rules on this subject, see page 278, &c. It is best to sow spring wheat as soon as it can well be got into the ground. The soil and preparation should be the same as for winter wheat. Page 112. Sow barley, as soon as the ground is sufficiently dry. Page 142. Sow oats. Page 139. Spring rye is cultivated in the same manner as-winter rye. Page 130. Field peas as well as garden peas make an excellent crop. Page 154. Beans are also highly worth the judicious cultivator’s particular attention. Page 159. Plant some potatoes of an early sort on early ground, to be used in July and August as food for your hogs, that you may commence fattening them early in the season. Page 272. Potatoes in small quantities at a time are good food for horses and oxen as well as most other animals, especially in spring. They will go farther if steamed or boiled, but when given raw they are useful as well for physic as for food, being of a laxative and cooling quality. It is now about the time to sow Flax, (Page 104,) and Hemp. Page 94. Every tool, utensil, &c, which will be wanted for the labours of the season should now (if not done before) be critically inspected, thoroughly repaired, and such new ones of the best quality added as will probably be needed. We know of no place where every want of that kind can be better supplied than at the Agricultural Warehouse, No. 52, North Market Street, Boston, owned by J. R. Newell, connected with which is the Seed Store of G. C. Barrett, where may be procured the best of seeds, both for garden and field culture.


Attend to your pastures. Do not turn cattle into pastureground too early in the spring, but let the grass have a chance to start a little before it is bitten close to the soil. If your pastures are large, it will be good economy to divide them as stated page 297. Cleanse your cellars, as well as the rest of your premises from all putrescent, and other offensive and unwholesome substances. Plant Indian corn as soon as the leaves of the white oak are as big as the ears of a mouse. Page 26. Not only Indian corn, but peas, oats, buck-wheat, and probably most other seeds are benefited by wetting them in water, just before sowing, and rolling them in plaster. Plant potatoes for your principal crop. Page 272. Sow millet. Page 145. Sow lucerne on land thoroughly prepared, and keep it free from weeds. Page 17. Declare war against insects. Page 315. The artillery for the engagement may be elder juice, or decoction of elder, especially of the dwarf kind, decoction of tobacco, quick lime, lime water, soot, unleached ashes, strong He, tar or turpentine water, soap suds, 8tc. Dissolve about two pounds of pot-ash in seven quarts of water, and apply the solution to your fruit trees, with a painter’s brush, taking care not to touch the leaves or buds. A lot of land well stocked with clover is wanted by every good cultivator for pasturing swine. Page 166.



Summer-made Manure demands attention. Most farmers yard their cows at night through the summer; their manure should be collected into a heap, in some convenient part of the barn yard, to prevent its being wasted by the sun and rains; a few minutes attention in the morning, when the cows are turned out to pasture, would collect a heap of several loads in a season, ready for your grass grounds in autumn. Dress your Indian corn and potatoes^ thoroughly extirpating weeds, and please to place a handful of ashes or plaster, or a mixture of both, on your hills of corn and potatoes. These substances are commonly applied before the first or second hoeing. But ashes or quick lime, (which is also an excellent application for corn) will have a better effect in preventing worms, if laid on before the corn is up. Be careful to save all your soap suds after each washing, as they answer an excellent purpose when applied to fruit trees, both as manure and as an antidote to insects. ‘Plaster or live ashes sown upon your pasture grounds, will not only repay a handsome profit by increasing the value of your feed by bringing in the finer grasses, such as white clover, &c, but will greatly improve your lands for a potatoe fallow, and a succeeding wheat crop, whenever you may wish to take advantage of a routine of crops.’


Hay-making. Page 286. Make as much of your hay as possible in the early part of the season, as there is at that time a greater probability of your being favored with fair weather. More rain falls on an average in the latter part of summer, or after the 15th of July, than before. If the weather is so unfavorable that hay cannot be thoroughly cured, the application of from 4 to 8 quarts of salt to the ton is recommended. In this way it can be saved in a much greener state, and the benefit, derived from the salt, is many times its value. Another good method of saving green or wet hay, is that of mixing layers of dry straw in the mow or stack. Thus the strength of the grass is absorbed by the straw, and the cattle will eagerly devour the mixture.

Harvesting. Page 294. The time in which your grain crop should be cut, is when the straw begins to shrink, and becomes white about half an inch below the ear but if a blight or rust has struck wheat or rye, it is best to cut it immediately, even if the grain be in the milky state. Barley, however, should stand till perfectly ripe.


Please to attend in season to preserving your sheep from the œstrus ovis, or fly, which causes worms in their heads. Page 239. This may be done by keeping the noses of the animals constantly smirched with tar from the middle of August till the latter part of September. In order to accomplish this, it has been recommended to mix a little fine salt with tar, and place it under cover, where the sheep can have access to it, and they will keep their noses sufficiently smirched with tar to prevent the insect from attacking them. Destroy thistles, which some say may be done by letting them grow till in full bloom, and then cutting them with a scythe about an inch above the surface of the ground. The stem being hollow, the rains and dews descend into the heart of the plant, and it soon dies. Select the ripest and most plump seeds from such plants as are most forward and thrifty, and you will improve your breeds of vegetables by means similar to those which have been successful in improving the breeds of neat cattle, sheep, &c. As soon as your harvesting is finished, you will take advantage of this hot and dry weather to search your premises for mines of manure, such as peat, Page 209, marle, Page 205, mud, &c, which often gives unsuspected value to swamps. Now is also a good season to work at draining. Page 294. You may drain certain marshes on your premises, which will afford you better soil than you now cultivate, cause your land to be more healthy, and the earth taken from the ditches will make valuable deposites in your cow-yard and pig-sty.


A correctly calculating cultivator will make even his hogs labor for a livelihood. This may be done by throwing into their pens, potatoe-tops, weeds, brakes, turf, loam, &c, which these capital workmen will manufacture into manure of the first quality. Page 189. You cannot sow winter rye too early in September. If it be sowed early its roots will obtain such hold of the soil before winter, that they will not be liable to be thrown out, and killed by frost. Page 130. It may be sowed early to great advantage in order to yield green food for cattle and sheep, particularly the latter, in the spring. Winter wheat, likewise, cannot be sowed too early in September. Page 112. Attend to the barn yard, and see that it has a proper shape for a manure-manufactory, as well as other accommodations, adapted to its various uses. Page 78. You may as well have a hole in your pocket, for the express purpose of losing your money, as a drain to lead away the wash of your farm yard. True it may spread over your grass ground, and be a source of some fertility to your premises, but the chance is that most of it will be lost in a highway, or neighboring stream.


Ploughing. Page 278. Stiff, hard, cloggy land intended to be tilled should be ploughed in autumn. Fall ploughing saves time and labor in the spring when cattle are weak, and the-hurry of the work peculiar to that season presses on the cultivator. A light sandy soil, however, should not be disturbed by fall-ploughing, but lie to settle and consolidate through the winter. Select your corn intended for planting next season from the field, culling fine, fair, sound ears from such stocks as produce two or more ears, taking the best of the bunch. Page 30. You will consider well, which is the best method of harvesting corn, and adopt one of the methods mentioned by Judge Buel. Page 29. If the husks and bottoms of your corn, when stowed away for winter, are sprinkled with a strong solution of salt in water, (taking care not to use such a quantity of the solution as to cause mould) and when dealt out are cut fine with a straw-cutter, they will make first rate fodder. Do not feed hogs with hard corn without steeping, grinding or boiling it. The grain will go much the farther for undergoing some or all of these operations, and if a due degree of fermentation is superadded, so much the better.


In many situations it will be excellent management to rake up all the leaves of trees, and the mould, which has been produced by their decay, which can be procured at a reasonable expense, and cart and spread them in the barn yard as a layer, to absorb the liquid manure from your cattle. Likewise it would be well to place quantities of them under cover, in situations, where you can easily obtain them in winter to use as litter to your stables, &c. They do not rot easily, but they serve the purpose of little sponges to imbibe and retain liquid manure, and by their use you may supply your crops with much food for plants which would otherwise be lost. Attend with diligence and punctuality to the wants of the four footed tenants of your barn, hog-sty, &c. Do not undertake to winter more stock than you have abundant means of providing for. When young animals are pinched for food at an early period of their growth, they never thrive so well afterwards, nor make so good stock. See that you have good stalls, stables, &c, page 243; cowhouses, page 44; a proper implement for cutting hay and straw, page 49 ; an apparatus for cooking food for cattle and swine, page 51. You may also carry out and spread, compost, soot, ashes, &c, on such of your mowing grounds as stand in great need of manure. Though some say that the best time for top dressing grass land is immediately after haying, any time will do when the ground is free from snow, and the grass not so high as to be injured by cattle’s treading on it.


Woodland. We think that cultivators may derive advantage from attending to the observations by the Hon. John Welles, relative to- wood-lots, the manner of cutting them over, &c. Page 314. We advise every farmer, and his help, &c, so to treat domestic animals that they may be tame and familiar. It is said of Bake well, a famous English breeder of cattle, that by proper management he caused his stock to be very gentle. His bulls would stand still to be handled, and were driven from field to field with a small switch. His cattle were always fat, which he said was owing to the breed as well as keep. Colts should also always be kept tame and familiar, and you may then train them to saddle or harness without danger or difficulty. Page 66. The farmer should obtain his year’s stock of fuel as early in the season as possible, and before the depth of snow in the wood-lands renders it difficult to traverse them by a team. You may, when the ground is frozen, cut and draw wood from swamps, which are inaccessible for cattle in warm weather. If you cut wood, with a wish that the stumps should sprout, let it be after the fall of the leaf, and before the buds swell in the spring. [See Gen. Newhall’s statement, N. E. Farmer vol. x, p. 230.] The Rev. Mr Elliot wisely recommended, when bushy ground, full of strong roots, is to be ditched, beginning the ditch in the winter, when the ground is frozen two or three inches deep. The surface may be chopped into pieces by a broad axe, with a long helve, and the ditch completed in warm weather. The farmer may, probably, hit on a good time for this work in December, when there happens to be no snow, and when it will not interfere with other farming business. When the season has become so severe that little can be done abroad, much may be done relative to farming operations, and other good works, by the fire side, in contriving the proper course of crops for each field, settling accounts, reading useful and entertaining books, and laying the foundation, by mental culture, for the usefulness and respectability of those who compose the Farmer’s Family.



Posted in Historic Vocations | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Release Day!

I’m thrilled that Frail finally releases today. After following my husband to Wales on several of his business trips, I decided that I ought to set a story in the lovely Welsh mountains. Frail began as a simple novella. However, over almost five years, subplots were added and secondary characters were fleshed out until what was a novella became a full-fledged novel!

frail_frontLondon socialite Helena Gillingham’s world is turned upside down when her father takes his own life after his fraudulent crimes are revealed. Cast from society and suddenly penniless, Helena must relocate to the Welsh mountains, only to learn that her new neighbor is none other than the notorious madman Theodotus Mallory. But is Theo really as mad as London society says?

Theo, tormented by the horrors he witnessed during the Crimean War, has finally found serenity in living a simple life tending to his gardens. Helena’s unexpected presence shatters that peace, for he harbors the devastating secret that led to her misfortunes. Now she is destitute and frightened because of him… and he can’t deny his mounting attraction to the beautiful young woman. Can he pursue a life with Helena, all the while knowing his role in her downfall?

Read The First Chapters

Order the ebook from Amazon | iTunes | Kobo 

Order the paper version from Createspace


Posted in Susanna's Books | 2 Comments

Have a Miserable Christmas and an Atrocious New Year – A Heartwarming Victorian Short Story

I wrote a holiday short story for Ramblings From This Chick blog! Granted, I think having to write in the back of a van at night on a family road trip may have influenced my story.

You can read the first few paragraphs here and then link over to the RFTC blog for the rest. Enjoy!


Have a Miserable Christmas and an Atrocious New Year

 “By God, you will marry Lord Embroke!” Poppy’s father slammed his huge palm on the table holding the Christmas tree. Several of the embroidered ornaments fell from the branches.

Poppy stifled the urge to flinch. Big Jim Lancaster was an intimidating man, both in stature and reputation. He towered over six feet and possessed massive shoulders that were molded from a youth spent hoisting barrels. His craggy, scarred face and fierce demeanor kept the hundred or so employees of his Newcastle factories in line.

“But I don’t know Lord Embroke, much less love him,” Poppy protested, drawing herself up. She looked like the mirror image of her striking mother, silken red hair, creamy skin, bow-like lips, and enormous icy blue eyes. Unfortunately, Poppy’s similarity to her mother was skin deep. She lacked her mother’s tranquil nature. Poppy’s fiery temperament was more akin to her father’s mercurial personality—one moment in thundering rage and the next all loving and puppy-like.

“You love mama,” she said. “Yours is a happy marriage. Why would not want to same for me. Why would you not want the same for me?”

Her father released a long breath, his chest drooping. “Come here, love.” Poppy edged forward. He squeezed her small hands between his roughened, large ones. “I love your mama. But I watched her suffer all those years when I was building our fortune. She did without for too long. I want you and your sisters to be cared for as proper ladies. I don’t want to see you suffer or want. I built this,” he gestured about the parlor of their newly built mansion, “for my family.”

“Louise—my friend from school—is in London. She says Lord Embroke is a most taciturn, disagreeable man. ”

Her father muttered under his breath, something about money wasted on an education. “Louise is a silly fool.”

Poppy wasn’t deterred. “But what if Lord Embroke is a wastrel as his brother was? What if he gambles and cohorts with improper ladies? How could he properly care for me, if he cares for no one but himself? You speak of this fortune—but what if he squanders it?”

“My daughters do not speak of such impolite matters under my roof!” Father’s ire rose again. “I have had the man meticulously studied. I possess letters from Generals praising Embroke’s wise leadership in the Crimea War, from his Cambridge dons attesting to the man’s intelligence, and from his bank concerning the solvency of his personal finances before inheriting his title. What your silly friend Louise considers taciturn and disagreeable is a serious man facing the serious consequences of his late brother’s libertine lifestyle. You see, Poppy, all decisions have—”

“Consequences,” Poppy finished. She began to replace the ornaments that had fallen from the tree, while continuing the lecture she had been given since she was bounced on her papa’s knee. “Our decisions mold our futures. People starve in the streets for the foolish decisions they make.”


She kept her eyes averted from her father and continued adorning the tree. “But I don’t see how agreeing to marry a man whom I’ve never seen is foolish. You, yourself, say that you always judge a man by the look in his eyes. Yet, we’ve judged Lord Embroke without seeing hide nor hair of him.”

“By God!” Her father ripped the bluebird ornament that she had sewn when she was twelve from her hand. “I will not be mocked in my own home!” He grabbed her wrist, his face contorted with black anger. “Now you listen, young lady. I don’t want to hear any more of this talk from you. You just look beautiful and keep your mouth shut when Lord Embroke arrives tomorrow. I will not have you embarrass me in front of an influential peer. Do you understand?”

Poppy trembled.

“Do you understand?” he barked.

“Yes, sir,” she whispered.

He released her, and Poppy ran to the parlor door.

“Wait,” her father said.

She turned. He rubbed his perspiring forehead with his fingers. “I’m sorry. I do this because I love you. Because I want to see you well settled in life.”

Poppy’s eyes blurred with tears. The parlor was festooned with Christmas decorations. Garlands and holly adorned the chimneypiece. Ornaments she and her sister had made through the years hung on the tree. Christmases had always been a happy time for her. She caroled in the streets, laughed at family stories over spicy wassail, and drifted to sleep after Christmas dinner by the slow burning Yule log.

Yet, she felt no merriment in her heart this year. Only dread.

She didn’t say a word as she slipped from the room. The hall smelled of baking cakes and cinnamon. A garland wound halfway down the grand staircase bannister.

Her mother, wearing a wool cloak and bonnet, hurried down the treads. She stopped when she saw the tears rolling down her daughter’s face.

“Oh love,” she whispered, hugging her eldest daughter. “Did you talk to Papa?”

“Yes,” Poppy choked.

Mrs. Lancaster sighed. “Oh dear, please understand that your father loves you very much. He only wants what’s best for you.”

“Can I not determine my own life?” Poppy cried. “Can I not determine what’s best for me?”

Her mama took Poppy’s hand and drew her into the corner, away from the servant’s inquisitive ears. “My dear, if you truly feel that upon meeting Lord Embroke you couldn’t possibly share a happy life with him, I will think of some way to speak to your father.”

“I can fight my own battles!”

“I can fight them better,” she said, quietly and firmly. “Now, I simply ask that you give Lord Embroke a chance. You shouldn’t judge someone until you’ve met him.”

“Very well,” Poppy conceded. Her father’s advice, aside from taking decisions seriously, also included knowing when to stop bargaining. She would pretend to give Lord Embroke a chance for her mother’s sake. But Poppy knew she couldn’t respect a man who agreed to marry her only for money without even seeing or speaking to her. And she couldn’t love a man that she couldn’t respect. This was going to be a disastrous, miserable Christmas.

“Now, you rest,” her mother said. “I need to run to the shop for more green thread. I haven’t enough to bind together the garland for the stairs, and all the servants are busy in the kitchens.”

“Let me go, please,” Poppy begged. “I need to walk and take in the fresh air to clear my mind. I won’t be but half an hour.” Poppy had to get away from this house brimming with good cheer and smelling like a bakery before she screamed. “Please, Mama.”

“Very well,” her mother said after a long pause. “But when you come back, we must have a concoction made to heal that unsightly blemish on your chin. You will want to look your best for Lord Embroke.”

Poppy touched her so-called unsightly blemish. Heaven forbid a piddly pimple should turn off Lord Embroke. If that were the case, may she wake up with dozens speckling her face.

Read the rest at Ramblings From This Chick blog!

* Here are some other holiday short stories I’ve written for the Ramblings From This Chick blog:

A Wallflower Blooming on Christmas Eve

Missy Toe. Kiss. Kiss

Silver Christmas tree branches and berries on a bokeh lights background

Silver Christmas tree branches and berries on a bokeh lights background

Posted in Susanna's Books | 2 Comments

How To Impress A Marquess Mood Board

It’s release day for How To Impress a Marquess! Finally!

Let’s talk a little bit about the writing of this book.


The other two books in the Wicked Little Secrets series possess strong external plots that borrow from the mystery genre. I diligently studied in depth one technical aspect of Victorian life to write them. In Wicked My Love, I studied the Victorian banking system. Isn’t that exciting? And with Wicked Little Secrets, I spent hours pouring over Old Bailey court records so I could accurately reproduce several such records in my book.

The plot of How To Impress A Marquess is more internalized than the others in the series, and advances with the characters’ emotional progression. I needed less technical information and more sensual details. It’s the details—what my characters might have worn, what they would have looked at, what would inspired their daily conversation—that gives me greater access into their psychology.

The Victorian era spans a long period, beginning when Queen Victoria was coroneted in 1837 and ending just after the turn of the last century at her death. During that time, English culture would vastly change. My previous Wicked Little Secrets series books were set in the 1840s and carry a more Dickensian feel – by and large England was less sophisticated and poorer. By the 1870s, the British Empire was near its zenith. With a powerful middle class, society became even more stratified, and art and culture flourished.

I set the story in 1879 because the conservative prime minster Disraeli was still alive and England wasn’t engaged in too many international wars, just a handful here and there. However, that set the book at the tip of the Impressionist movement. Degas just was showing his work in Paris, but Monet wasn’t really on the scene yet. However, that period was rich in the sensual, lyrical works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Both my characters are influenced by the art of the day. George, the Marquess of Marylewick, projects a starchy, unyielding exterior that hides his repressed artistic desire. He is more influenced by the light and ephemeral nature of Impressionism. Lilith, a wild bohemian and secret author is much more attracted to the distant, unattainable beauty found in the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

I had also an issue with fashion. Wicked Little Secrets and Wicked, My Love are set in the 1840s when the skirts were full but not yet reaching the epic proportions of the 1860s. By the 1870s, the skirts had slimmed again but kept an expansive bustle. I really didn’t have a mental fashion reference for the 1870s aside from the movie “The Age of Innocence”.

I turned to Pinterest for help. I’ve included some of the images collected on my boards that that helped me capture the feeling and spirit of How To Impress A Marquess.

Posted in Susanna's Books | Tagged | 1 Comment


Oops! I meant to make a WordPress page of this excerpt, but I made a post instead. Sigh. I was up too late. Anyhoo, enjoy this excerpt of my upcoming release. I’ll post a release date when it becomes available.

Having seen too much war, Colonel Theo Mallory only wants to live a quiet, simple life tending to his gardens in the Welsh mountains. When he learns that London banker John Gillingham, in whom his former soldiers have invested their monies, has been committing fraud, Theo quietly tips Scotland Yard. Then he retreats to the peace of his gardens, putting the ugly business behind him. His tranquil existence is interrupted when the banker’s distraught daughter, Helena, arrives at his neighbor’s doorstep.

After her father takes his life rather than face arrest, Helena, the once fast, bright-burning star of London society, falls into disgrace. Only her Welsh cousins offer her shelter. But will she find healing with her new family and in the lush gardens of their enigmatic neighbor Theo Mallory? Or will she uncover a secret that will shatter the last of her frail hope?

Excerpt – 3 Chapters

frail_1031Chapter One

December 1860 

I should have taken the first train out of London.

Music thundered in Theo’s ears. His hands shook. Sweat poured down his back, drenching the shirt beneath his evening coat.

On the chalked dance floor, couples swept to a waltz being played by a chamber orchestra of violins, flutes, and a harp. The light of the gas flames in the chandeliers glistened on the silk and taffeta skirts as they swished to the lift and fall of the dance. The young ladies’ cheeks were flushed from the heat, and their hair was styled into stiff waves and spirals and adorned with beads and flowers. The scent of perfumes and men’s hair oils burned Theo’s nose. He balled and flexed his hands, taking long breaths to slow his racing heart. The last five years tending his gardens and living like a monk in the Snowdonia mountains of North Wales hadn’t managed to lessen his angst at coming back to the city.

“Pray, Theo, it’s but a dance, not a parliamentary debate,” Theo’s stepmother Marie, the Countess of Staswick, said. She scanned the ballroom with her shiny cocoa eyes. “You are going to scare off the ladies with that glower you wear.”

He forced a smile. Before him, another season’s fresh crop of debutantes whirled—one of whom, his stepmother had assured him, would make a lovely bride. Marie had never surrendered her belief that the soft arms of a loving wife could “cure” Theo where quack doctors and opiates had failed.

“Much better.” Marie inspected Theo’s smile from under her long lashes and then glanced back at her husband. “All the ladies are peeking at your son—wanting to dance with such a handsome man. He resembles his father, of course.” She laughed.

“You look fine this evening.” The words sounded stiff on his father’s lips. It was the same compliment he had given Theo when he had entered the parlor dressed in black coat and white cravat.

Over the last year, the two men had reached a raw, uncomfortable truce. When Theo and his brothers were growing up, the earl never lavished praise on his sons. His voice boomed in the House of Lords, but, at home, he preferred to communicate with a curt word or a hard look of disapproval. Now he was nervous and awkward around his middle son, repeatedly asking him how he was feeling, about his home in Wales, or his opinion on political matters. Both flailed for the right words, inevitably choosing the wrong ones. A simple sorry couldn’t wipe away the pain Theo had inflicted on his family after returning from Crimea. In those months, he hadn’t been able to sleep for the racing of his mind, which he tried to numb with alcohol, opium, flesh, and violence. He had passed his nights stalking alone through the streets, his eyes darting from side to side, constantly watching, his muscles flexed, on a razor’s edge, and ready to reach for the rifle no longer at his side.

“I know one of these pretty ladies is going to fall in love with you,” the earl said, straining to sound casual, then looking at his wife as if to ask, Did I say the right thing?

Theo heard a burst of tingling female laughter rise above the music. Several couples quickly stepped aside for a young lady who had forgotten all rhythm of the dance and was spinning wildly under her partner’s arm. Her pastel blue gown was cut so low  the ruffle of lace running across her breasts and shoulders barely covered her nipples. Black spiraling curls lifted in the air around her white porcelain face. A reckless grin hiked her high cheekbones and sparkled in her arresting eyes. They weren’t the dark brown or deep gray eyes he would have expected with her coloring, but a light silvery blue, matching her diamond necklace.

“Who is that?” he asked, although in his gut he already knew the answer. She fit all the descriptions he had read in the papers: exotically beautiful and wild.

That is Miss Helena Gillingham,” his stepmother answered, confirming his assumptions. She leaned closer until her mouth was near his ear. “If you won her, you could turn Grosvenor Square into your private garden. No need to traipse off to Wales anymore.”

His throat burned. His poor parents had no inkling  Helena’s father, John Gillingham, was the reason he had torn himself away from Wales for the first time in five years.

“I think even Petruchio would draw the line at her,” he quipped dryly. “Is her father in attendance?”

Marie shook her head. “I rarely see the man at parties. But your father converses with him at the club almost every day.”

Theo replied with a terse hmm and edged along the wall to get a better view of the human whirlwind as she slipped from her partner’s grasp and spun like a top into an aging couple. They shot her a hot glare.

“I’m so terribly, terribly sorry,” she said, appearing anything but contrite as she pressed her hand to her mouth to stem the flow of giggles.

So this was the daughter of the man who was bilking hundreds of his fellow men.

She turned as if she knew he was thinking about her, her unsettlingly pale eyes locking on his. Her gaze swept over his person, returning to his face. An odd combination of heat and cold spread over his skin. He couldn’t deny her allure. She had the type of sparkling gaze that trapped a man like an insect pinned to a board. She studied him a moment more, then her lips formed a moue, and she gave a saucy toss of her head.

Was she flirting with him? A grave error.

A number of men who had served with him in Crimea had recommended he place his savings in her father’s bank. They trusted the banker with large parts of their modest savings, dependent on his five percent return. Theo first became suspicious of the banker when his neighbor, Emily, casually mentioned she had repeatedly written to her cousin Gillingham in London for help when her husband and son were first sick. She received no reply. What began as mere curiosity about the wealthy man turned into Theo’s two year-long investigation into his fictional board members, dubious stock trades and holdings, and doctored financial statements. That morning, Theo had disembarked the train from Chester and met with a Scotland Yard officer named Charles Wilson who had agreed to keep Theo’s name in confidence.

“Gillingham has set up a phony board of directors for his bank and is siphoning money to himself by giving loans to suspicious companies,” Theo had told the officer. He pointed to Sheffield Metalworks of which Gillingham owned a majority of shares and sat on the board with several of his cronies. The equipment was outdated, and the company received perhaps one or two small railroad contracts a year. Why would Gillingham have this firm and others like it except to hide money?

“I estimate about seven hundred thousand pounds has been intentionally taken from his bank’s capital,” Theo had continued. “He is stealing. He is going to run and leave his customers—my soldiers—with the full extent of his liability.”

And now Gillingham’s daughter flirted and twirled in a shining silk gown financed by the same men who were sent to war in ridiculous uniforms, and made to contend with flimsy tents and no food. Theo may have left the army when he stepped onto the London docks after two years in Crimea, insisting on being called a plain mister again, no longer Colonel Mallory, but that primal need to take care of his men remained.

“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” a voice said, jerking him from his thoughts.

Theo turned. Beside him stood a young man with bristle-like, blonde whiskers and a  squared dimpled chin. “Eliot,” Theo whispered.

“Pardon?” The man blinked.

Damn. Eliot was dead. One of a dozen that day who were still reeking of dysentery when he was lined in a ditch beside his dead comrades and covered with dirt.

“I’m sorry,” Theo muttered. “I’m confused.”

The gentleman laughed. “Miss Gillingham does that to a fellow.”

Theo made no response and continued along the edge of the dance floor. He knew he should square away a partner for the next set to appease Marie. Instead, he motioned to a servant to bring him some wine. He lingered in a corner, sipped from his glass, and observed Miss Gillingham.

She had traipsed back to her partner. Her lips curved in a childish pout that, no doubt, her admirers found adorable. As she lifted and fell in the 1-2-3 rhythm, her gaze kept drifting in Theo’s direction. When the song at last ended, she clasped her partner’s arm, allowing him to escort her from the floor, then peeked over her shoulder at Theo—with an invitation in her eyes.

But he had seen enough to satisfy his curiosity about the woman. She was a spoiled, oblivious child, and he wasn’t going to let her sit on his conscience. And yet he continued to study the graceful curve of her back as she crossed the threshold into the parlor where the refreshments were laid out. Again, she tossed her curls, casting him a beckoning glance before disappearing into the room.

He finished his wine and signaled for another glass, which he gulped down. He knew he shouldn’t drink so much so quickly, but the people and noise were crowding his senses. He sleeked his palms down his face, smoothing the bristles of his beard. His hands were rough and wrinkled, belonging to a man of sixty, not thirty. Under his nails were tiny rims of dirt he couldn’t scrub away. He closed his eyes, for a moment letting his mind wander through the memory of his gardens at Castell Bach yr Anwylyd. When he had left, the grounds were dormant in the winter. Deep in the soil the bulbs and roots waited out the cold, and all the seeds to be planted were germinating in the green house. Against the enormous sky and vaulting mountains, the oak tree branches were still, stark bones.


People crowded Helena in the parlor. She muttered the appropriate just darling and oh, how clever to their chatter as she strained to look over the crush of shoulders, searching for him. Her fingers holding her champagne shook; her nerves were electrified. She waited and waited, staring at the threshold as her friends babbled on. Who was that gentleman?

The violins began thrumming a new song. A strong hand gripped her arm. “My turn,” a voice whispered and began tugging her towards the dance floor.

“No!” she cried, ripping herself free, splashing her drink. She covered her outburst with a smile. “I-I haven’t finished my cham…” Her voice faded as the stranger stepped into the room.

His gaze darted about as he raked his fingers through his chestnut hair, lifting it from his forehead, leaving a few stubborn strands over his brow. Slight hollows formed below the ridges of his cheekbones. Although his lips were full, he kept his mouth tight and his jaw clenched beneath his beard. His evening clothes weren’t as crisp as the other men’s and appeared a size too small, the coat gaping at his chest and his biceps straining the seams of his sleeves.

She stepped forward, putting space between herself and her circle of acquaintances.

He did not approach, but remained planted a few feet before her. She knew he was as aware of her as she was of him. His gaze had made her self-conscious for the entire dance.

Why did he not come?

When he didn’t respond, she strode toward him, her crinoline swaying with the motion of her hips. People turned to watch her performance. His eyes widened and his chest rose, but not with anticipation. Some emotion she couldn’t decipher. Her confidence faltered. Something about this man made her feel beyond naked, as though her very skin had been stripped away. She immediately reached for something outrageous to do to hide her lapse. She had to keep everyone enthralled with her bright glow, distracted from the despondency below.

So she raised the glass to her lips, took a long sip, then wiped the side of her lip with her finger, watching his reaction. His expression didn’t change except for a deepening in his eyes.

“I saw you watching me.” She smiled, tilting her head. “I hoped you would care to dance.”

She could hear the gasps and feel the shocked stares of others in the room. The attention gave her a goosy, heady sensation, emboldening her further. She was determined to make the man adore her like the others.

“Is your father not here?” he asked.

“Why would you care to see my father? Are you going to ask for my hand in marriage?” She raised her shoulders, making a silvery little laugh that worked its charm on the gentlemen around her. Yet the stranger remained rigid.

“Come now, I was jesting. A little joke.” She touched his arm. Beneath the sleeve, she could feel him tense. “My father would never attend such a party. There are no stacks of ledgers or tiny numbers scribbled about—all the things he adores.”

His nostrils flared with a harsh exhalation, and he wiped his hand across his mouth.

“Are—are you well?” she asked.

His lips moved, but no words came out. Then he surprised her, taking her hand still resting on his arm and pulling her forward. “You said you wanted to dance.”

His hands, rough like a laborer’s, sent a hot current through her skin. “Please hold this,” she said, shoving her glass at her friend Emmagard.

She let him lead her through the web of dancers, finding a clear space near the center of the floor. She wrapped her fingers around his and rested her other hand on his shoulder. He stiffened and swayed on his feet as if he suddenly didn’t know what to do. She must be making the poor boy nervous.

“I’m Helena,” she said, gently nudging him into the rhythm of the dance. “But I suppose you must call me drab ‘Miss Gillingham.’ And you are?”

“Theodotus Mallory.”

“Theodotus!” She laughed. “That’s quite a name.” She slowly enunciated each syllable with a slight pucker to her lips. “The—o—do—tus.”

“Well, I suppose you must call me drab ‘Mr. Mallory,’” he replied flatly.

“Oh, I detest drabness,” she cried loud enough for her audience to hear. “No, no, you shall be ‘Mr. Theodotus’ to me. Why have I not seen you before? Are you visiting from some exotic place? I would find that fascinating.”

He studied her, not with the enamored look she was accustomed to getting from men, but something reserved and calculating. What was his game? All men had some game to try and catch her. Some pretended to be friends, some feigned bored aloofness, and others became her pet. She couldn’t find this man’s level.

“Wales,” he replied after several beats.

“Wales!” she exclaimed. “I adore Wales. I visited when I was four.”

“Four? Well, it must have made a lasting impression on you.” He hiked the edge of his mouth in a wry smile – or was that a sneer? His guarded eyes offered no translation.

She surprised him by lifting his arm and turning under it. He faltered.

“You must practice if you are to dance with me,” she teased. “We stayed in Conwy.”

His head jerked up, his cheeks reddened. “What?”

She smiled to herself. He wasn’t impervious to her, after all. “Conwy in Wales. Remember, we were talking about Wales. My cousin took me to see the castle—the lovely one by the sea,” she continued. “I nearly caused her apoplexy, for I ran away and climbed a crumbling wall, nearly falling to my death.”

In truth, her cousin had been flirting with a local boy and hadn’t noticed Helena slipping away. She had scampered along the old fortress, going higher and higher up the narrow towers until she could see the shining water flowing in from the sea.

She remembered a crumbling sound and then the stinging burn of falling down the stone, the sharp edges cutting through her clothes. Her head and spine slammed the pavers of the courtyard. The next sensation she remembered was the cool breeze that blew her collar over her chin and then pain burst in every fiber of her body. For several long seconds she couldn’t move. Her cousin never came for her. A childish terror had seized her that no one would notice she was missing. She would be lost forever. At length, her body began to recover from the shock. She had scrambled to her feet and raced up the steep street to her cousin’s house, screaming, saliva flying from the corners of her mouth. She found her mother in the parlor, having tea, and pressed her wet face into her lap and wailed.

“My dress,” her mother had cried, and yanked Helena away from the delicate fabric.

Helena shook her head, casting off the old memory. Why was she thinking about such a ridiculous thing at a ball?

“I was a very naughty child,” she told Mr. Mallory with an arch in her voice, trying to provoke her serious dance partner into some semblance of flirting.

“Were you visiting your cousin Emily in Wales?” he asked. “She is an acquaintance of mine.”

“Cousin Emily?” she said. In her mind flashed various cards received through the Christmases and Easters from a Mrs. Emily Pengwern, who lived at one of those odd-looking Welsh addresses. She wrote tiresomely on and on about her daughter and son. “I suppose. I don’t really remember much.”

“Come now, I thought you adored Wales.” He halted and her foot crunched down on his toes, but his face didn’t register any pain. “The reason I inquire about your cousin is because she is infirmed and poor.”

His features turned stony. The hatred in his glower was tangible.

What had she done?

“Naturally, I was a little taken aback when I learned she was related to one of the wealthiest men in England,” he continued.

“I was young when—”

“She had written your father for help when her husband was sick with typhoid and received no reply.” His voice was rising.

“I will check my correspondences. Surely, I—”

“It’s too late,” he barked, causing heads to turn.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“I took Emily’s young daughter into my home before the funeral. We planted tulips while I explained to her about a beautiful place called Heaven where she would be reunited with her loved ones. Do you believe in Heaven, Miss Gillingham? Because sometimes I don’t.”

“What—what?” she said, shaking her head, unsure of what was happening. “I said I didn’t know about—”

“What else do you not know?” he shouted.

People around them ceased dancing to stare. Something wasn’t right about this gentleman. His eyes glittered like a feral animal ready to attack. She tried to wrest herself from his grip. “Let go! You’re squeezing my fingers.”

“Do you know the cost of your ball gown alone could tide your cousin and a dozen other war widows over for a year?” he spat. “But I would hate for you to be deprived of one less gown to flaunt yourself in!”

“How dare you!” she hissed. Her chest was heaving in great gasps. The violins continued scraping out the beat of a waltz, but no one was dancing.

“No, how dare you! You are a vain, ignorant, and selfish girl. I fail to see society’s attraction to you.”

Helena’s mouth flopped open with a sharp intake of air.

Then something broke behind his eyes. “Why couldn’t you have helped her?” he pleaded. “Do you and your father have any decency? Compassion? Are you really that cruel?”

The corner of his eyelid ticked as his gaze darted from side to side. He began backing up, colliding with a couple behind him.

“What is the matter?” she whispered, instinctively reaching for him.

“My son,” the Earl of Staswick broke through the dancers. His wife held his arm as he dragged his bloated leg over the chalked floor. He clamped a hand on Mr. Mallory’s shoulder. “That’s enough,” he said quietly.

“Son?” Helena echoed.

“I’m sorry,”  Mr. Mallory whispered. “I’m so sorry.” He spun on his heel and strode from the dance floor, breaking into a jog when he hit the grand doors to the hall.

“It’s not you, my dear,” Lady Staswick said quietly. “It’s that Theo, he…he…” Her lips quivered as if she were trying to convey something that couldn’t be said in words. “He becomes a little upset at times,” she concluded. A fragile smile broke across her face. “T-that’s a lovely dress. I admired it when I came in.” She touched the fabric, her smile drawing down. “Good evening, then,” she said and clasped her husband’s elbow.

The imposing earl’s shoulders were slumped as his wife led him on the path through the guests blazed by their son.

Helena wrapped her arms about herself. She stood alone on the stage, her audience watching, waiting for the next laugh or daring act. But she couldn’t move. She was the small child again who had tumbled from the castle walls.

“Well, at least,” she swallowed. “At least we—we’ll have s-something to talk about tomorrow rather than the usual dull gossip.” She affected a breezy flip of her curls to hide her shaking. She knew what she said was cruel,  but it pushed away Mr. Mallory’s ugly words and pained eyes, as well as her shame.

She pivoted, coming face-to-face with her friend Emmagard Ainley, whose family had brought Helena here in their carriage. She was a slim lady with sharp angular features on her thin face, which seemed at odds with her delicate lavender taffeta gown and the tiny violets sprinkled about her curls.

“Come away, dear,” she said, taking Helena’s hand.


They dashed through the parlor, picking up Emmagard’s twin brother Jonathan along the way. He kept Helena’s admirers away as the two ladies disappeared into a library.

The room smelled of lemon-polished wood and leather. The fire in the grate reflected in the various brass fixtures. Jonathan closed the door behind them, drawing a chair under the lock. He resembled his sister, except that where Emmagard exuded efficiency, he was an intense and sulky man. He threw himself on the leather sofa. “The man’s truly demented,” he said and broke out into laughter.

“What happened out there?” Helena began to pace, pressing her hand to her racing heart. “He called me selfish and ignorant. To my very face!”

“Oh, don’t take it so hard.” Jonathan tapped his temples. “Everyone knows Theodotus is a regular mad-hatter. He called our own father…what was it? Oh, yes, an unfeeling complacent arse.” Jonathan shrugged. “Which he is, of course.”

“Jonathan, don’t talk of Papa that way,” Emmagard admonished weakly, as if it was her duty.

Her brother waved his hand. “Anyway, the earl had to apologize to us and several other families on account of Theo. Seems the old boy makes a point of alienating himself from all proper society. Getting into brawls in pubs, insulting his betters on the street, and generally loitering about with the wrong sorts. I understand they had quacks shocking him with electric currents like a galvanized frog and filling him with opiates before he was finally put in an asylum.”

“An asylum?” Helena flung her arms up. “Why didn’t you say that before—”

“Before you asked him to dance?” Emmagard finished, her lips quivering with amusement. “I should have stopped you, dearest, but it was so darlingly funny. Helena and the mad man. You have to admit he is rather handsome.”

“Quite a handsome lunatic,” Helena agreed. She sighed as she looped her arm through her friend’s. “Do you truly think I’m vain, ignorant, and selfish like he said? Truly?”

“Of course, and that is what is so charming about you,” Emmagard’s chortle sounded like a gurgle deep in her throat. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, all bereft,” she said, kissing Helena’s cheek. “I am joking. I adore you.”

“I adore you, too,” Helena replied, and then cast a teasing glance at Jonathan from beneath her lashes. “And I adore you,” she purred.

Despite his façade of world-weary, cynical boredom, his eyes lit up. She tilted her head and cast a coquettish smile, feeling her confidence coming back. “And now you must dance with me and make me forget about that horrid Mr. Mallory.”



Chapter Two


“What are you going to do, Theo?” Marie demanded. “Wait in the train station all night?” She lifted the edge of her gown and chased after him as he hurried down the corridor to his old room in his father’s London home. He had intended to stay the night and try to be the good son again in order to repair some of the damage from the months after the war. But now his white dress shirt was drenched with his sweat, his heart racing, and his mind was flying too fast for him to know his own thoughts. He had to get back to Wales, to the quiet rush of the wind through the mountains.

He yanked his portmanteaux from the closet. “I’m taking the next train going west. I’ll see from there.”

“Can you not stay here one evening?” Marie snatched the handles from his hands. Tiny red veins webbed in the edges of her eyes. “Is that too much to ask? Your father is worried about you.”

He ran his hand across his mouth. “I’m not like this in the mountains,” he said. “I’m well there. I need to be home. That’s all.” He reached for his bag, but Marie hid it behind her back.

“You are not leaving this house.”

“Son, we want to help you.” His father’s large frame blocked the doorway.

“I said I am well!” Theo shouted. Dammit! He pressed the heel of his palm to his forehead. Forget the portmanteaux. Get the hell out. “I must go,” he muttered.

“You will goddamned stay here,” the earl thundered.

“See what you’re doing to your father?” Marie snatched Theo’s elbow. “For God’s sake, let us help you,” she pleaded.

“Marie has found some physicians here in London.” His father’s voice turned low and controlled. He entered the room with his palms up. “No need to go to an asylum. You can stay with us. We can take care of you.”

“I don’t need to be taken care of!” Theo bit down on his tongue, reining in his anger.

“I’m sorry I can’t be a better son,” he whispered after several long seconds. “I’ve always been sorry. But I have to go.”

“No!” Marie cried.

Theo’s throat burned. He closed his eyes and kissed her forehead. Her perspiration was salty on his lips.

“I love you both,” Theo raised his gaze to his father. “Please.”

The creases in the old man’s face appeared deeper in the low light.

“I promise I am myself in the mountains,” Theo continued. “The man I once was. You must believe me.”

The earl studied his son for a moment, and then something broke behind his eyes. “Do what you feel you must.” He rubbed his lids, turning away from his son.

Marie dropped the portmanteaux and buried her head in her husband’s chest. He put a protective arm around her. Her quiet weeping echoed in the room.

Theo wished he had the strength to stay for the night, to perhaps even see that damned physician, if it would make them happy. His chest was heavy with self-loathing as he picked up his bag and quietly walked from the room.

His footfalls echoed in the dim stairwell. On the walls, his ancestors watched from their painted frames—his uncle, who was with Wellington at Waterloo, his great-grandfather, who fought against Cromwell. These men believed wars were won by “honor” and “breeding.” But a heavy conical Russian bullet could tear into a man, shattering his bones and all he believed about himself, making him hold the dead body of his fellow soldier as a shield as he crawled to the safety of a ditch.

Theo couldn’t make his father understand the bloated nothingness inside of him. All the philosophies he’d learned in school, all those virtues extolled by the reverend, were the empty fodder of bored fools. Reality was a hundred dead soldiers—his men—like Eugene, a Irish farmer’s son who had trapped and skinned rabbits the winter the troops ran out of food; James, who’d written letters for the illiterate men to carry on their person into battle so their families could be informed in the event of their deaths; and slight Colin, who the French Zouave’s had dressed in women’s clothes and made  join in their ridiculous pantomimes. All beloved sons of mothers. Their arms, limbs, entrails blown apart, strewn in the mud.

Theo turned. His parents hovered above him on the landing. “I’m sorry,” he told them again.


He waited alone on the Paddington platform for an hour. Occasionally, a watchman would walk by, nod, and say a terse “Good evening.” Theo was alone and in blessed silence. He counted the railroad ties until they blurred together in the distance and then he would start over again. Otherwise, his mind would lapse into his embarrassing and shameful behavior that evening.

The train chugged in a little after one-thirty. He walked past the first-class cars. He didn’t want to talk to anyone, but he didn’t feel safe spending the night in an empty compartment. He stepped into a crowded car smelling of soured human sweat. The passengers were resting their heads against the glass or seat, and a low buzz of snores filled the air. He edged down the aisle, trying to avoid outstretched legs as the train lurched forward. He found an empty set of wooden seats and slumped down. Outside the window, London was the shadows of roof lines and dots of light. He gripped his knees with his fingers. His muscles were taut and perspiration cooled under his shirt sleeves.

The train rolled into two more stations, then, at last, the lights of London dimmed as the countryside approached. Theo blew out a long stream of breath, rested his head on the glass and tried to sleep, but the memory of Helena Gillingham dancing returned. Her silvery eyes haunted him all the way to Manchester. He wondered if the spoiled beauty had any idea that her small, gilded world was about to crumble.

He finally sank into sleep and dreamed of the fog whirling around him at the Sandbag Battery. His raw throat burned from shouting for his men to obey, but both sides had lost control of their armies. A bullet exploded the forehead of the man beside him, splashing warm blood and torn flesh onto Theo’s cheek and into his mouth. Even in his dream, he had remembered the haze which had opened to reveal a young, frightened Irish boy gripping his rifle, having shot his own countryman. Except now no soldier stood there, screaming in anguish at his horrible mistake, only Miss Gillingham smiling in her ballgown  cut so low her breasts had popped free from the bodice. This is wrong, he thought in his dream. She was supposed to be in London, not here.


Emmagard and Jonathan’s family conveyed Helena home a little after three in the morning. Helena’s feet burned and her muscles ached from keeping her arms lifted, clutching numerous partners. She had danced every dance after Mr. Mallory’s strange exit. Her nerves were on edge. She couldn’t keep still, else his eyes—confused and scared—would fill her mind, his words echo in her brain, You are a vain, ignorant, and selfish girl.

Now she kissed her friends on their cheeks. “You were naughty to let me dance with that lunatic,” she teased them, even as her belly knotted. “And I shall get back at you when you least expect it.”

She exited the carriage and stared up at her town home, her laughter dying away. She hated coming home. The white stone glowed in the dark and only a few windows were lit. The rest were glossy and vacant, like the eyes of the dead. The housekeeper, Mrs. Baines, opened the door. The lamp she held made an orb of light about her thin, crinkled face.

The house was cold. The balusters on the staircase cast long, vertical shadows across the floors and up the walls. She felt overwhelmed by the silence here and wished she could run back into Emmagard’s carriage. She must go through her invitations tomorrow and see if there was a house party or such she could attend, anything to shrug off the despondency of this place.

“Did you enjoy a pleasant evening, Miss?” the housekeeper asked in her flat, disinterested servant’s tone as she lit the way up the stairs. The corridors were frigid at night so Helena kept her coat and gloves on.

“I suppose,” she murmured, she couldn’t tell the housekeeper about Mr. Mallory, in fact, she didn’t confide anything that truly mattered to her to anyone.

As she turned to head up another flight, she noticed gold light flooding from under her father’s study.

“Is Papa home?” she asked, surprised. Her father rarely came home. He was either working at the bank or visiting some woman she pretended not to know about.

“He returned a little after midnight.”

Helena asked Mrs. Baines to wait in her chamber. She knocked softly on the library door and slipped inside without waiting for a summons. The room was stuffy and hot from the high blaze of coals. The flames reflected on the polished wooden panels and fixtures. Her father sat, his shoulders hunched over his massive inlaid desk. He was a well-built man, more slender than robust, with a grave face, slightly sagging jowls, graying curls that hung to his collar, and pale eyes like his daughter’s. He balanced a cigar in one hand and scribbled in a ledger with the other.

When she was a child she would steal his ledgers and hide them under her bed to garner his attention, even if it were a thundering, face-reddened anger.


His head jerked up and his eyes narrowed, focusing on her form. “Helena.” He sounded annoyed. “I presumed you were asleep.”

“Of course not.” She dropped into the leather chair before his desk. “I was at a party. Why would I stay home at night?”

He nodded, his expression vague, as if he wasn’t listening to her but to his own thoughts. He shook his head. “I’m sorry. You’ve caught me in the middle of trying to solve a problem.”

“You are always in the middle of solving some problem.” She laughed to cover the exasperation in her voice.

He waved his pen before him. “Do you think this home and the gowns you wear are free? No, someone must pay for this.” This, or some variation thereof, was his usual response to her questions. That she ought just be grateful for her finery and not impose on his precious time.

He returned to his ledger, a signal their conversation was over.

She didn’t move from her seat. “There was man at the ball asking about you.”

He scribbled something and then took a draw from his cigar.

“His name is Mr. Theodotus Mallory,” she continued. “His father is the Earl of Staswick. Is Mr. Mallory a client of yours?”

“No, and I’m glad of it.” He blew out smoke and tapped his ash into a tray, still not looking up from his work. “He suffers from a nervous condition that renders him unstable.”

Helena remembered the terror in Mr. Mallory’s eyes before he fled. She had visited Bethlem Hospital and noted the inmates appeared unmindful of their madness. But Mr. Mallory was acutely aware of his lapse.

The coals shifted in the grate.

“Papa, have you heard from Cousin Emily recently?”

He paused, as if to remember his cousin. “No, of course not. Why are you bringing this topic up tonight?”

“Mr. Mallory said she is a poor widow now. Is that so?”

He hissed through his teeth and slammed his pen into the inkwell. “I can barely keep up with my clients, let alone begging relatives.”

“But she does send letters.”

“Helena, I’m tired.” He gestured to the stack of ledgers beside him. “And I have to go through all these client accounts by tomorrow. I require solitude. You run on off to bed. We shall talk in the morning.”

She knew in the morning, there would be some other crisis, and by the following morning yet another issue would have arisen that would require immediate attendance. There would never be time to talk.

She crossed to the door, paused, and ran her palm over the cool brass knob. The question that had been plaguing her since she and Mr. Mallory had danced burst forth. “Do you…do you think I’m a good person, Papa?”

“I haven’t time for your nonsense, Helena!” he boomed. “Good God, you drive me to distraction with your foolishness.” He began to wave her off, but stopped. “Do fetch me that decanter on the shelf behind you.”

She retrieved it and set the bottle beside him on his desk. “Good night,” she whispered and kissed his head. His coarse hair prickled her lips. “I love you.”

He shooed her away with an annoyed, “Yes, yes,” and poured the brandy.


Mrs. Baines was pulling back the covers of the bed when Helena entered her room. She kicked off her shoes. “Toss away those hateful things.”

There were holes at the tip of her stockings from dancing, and blisters had formed at the sides of her big toes. The housekeeper stifled a yawn, took a pair of scissors from the commode and popped the stitches holding her in the gown, while Helena yanked every pin from her hair. One-by-one, Mrs. Baines undid each lace on Helena’s corset and then untied her crinoline. A freed prisoner, Helena collapsed into the bed.

“Will that be all, Miss?” The housekeeper stood with Helena’s clothes folded over her arm.

Helena didn’t want to be alone, but what else could she say but, “Yes, thank you.”

She curled on her side. Her thoughts started to churn, turning over the events of the evening. Alone in the silence, she had no means to distract herself. She wasn’t ignorant and selfish, she told herself, and considered all the money her father had made for deserving families who trusted him with their savings. Jonathan was right — Mr. Mallory was demented.

She rose, relit her lamp, and studied her dark reflection in the mirror. She tried to smile, composing her face as she wanted others to see her. Then her lips began to quiver. He had violated her somehow. Although he might be a lunatic, she had felt him look inside her, past the lovely clothes and witty conversation, into her heart and mind, and he disliked what he saw there. As much as she did.


Helena awoke with her emotions on edge from the previous evening. The heavy clouds, the color of tarnished silver, did little to lift her depressed mood. She sat alone in the breakfast room, breaking up her toast with her fingers as she revisited the previous night’s conversation. Mr. Mallory’s insults still stung. They burrowed into her thoughts, refusing to be quieted even as she reassured herself the man was mad and she shouldn’t believe anything he said. Yet, he appeared so scared and vulnerable. It almost broke her heart.

At last, she arranged for the carriage to take her to Emmagard and Jonathan’s. She couldn’t stand being alone and drowning in her own thoughts a moment longer. Emmagard’s parlor was crammed with callers. Helena, Emmagard, and several other young people elected to stroll around Hyde Park. There, even though their breaths misted before their faces, they could talk without censure about last evening’s notorious dance.

Jonathan arrived on horseback as she and his sister were about to act out their own version of the scene for their audience.

“I shall be Helena,” Emmagard exclaimed and turned to her friend. “Please, I beg you would dance with me, Mr. Mad Mallory.”

They performed an exaggerated waltz on the grass, sweeping their skirts about as Helena hurled ridiculous insults in a dramatic voice, “How dare you flaunt yourself before Jonathan’s horse in your shiny walking dress. An entire stable of ponies could live off the price of your hideous bonnet. I have a good mind to feed it to the horse, you selfish, vain, silly, unfeeling lady.” Then the two broke into giggles as their group of admirers applauded.

“I understand there are pleasant asylums available for people like Mr. Mallory,” one of gentlemen remarked.

“Lock him away!” Helena cried in mock horror. “But Mr. Mad Mallory is ever so amusing. I do wish he would attend more balls so I might ask him to dance again.” Laughter gurgled up from her throat. Belittling Mr. Mallory before friends quieted her anxious thoughts. He was a lunatic, a violent madman who had no right to call her ignorant and selfish.

A tall man in a dark brown coat with the collar turned up and a hat worn low on his forehead cut across the lane and into the path of Jonathan’s horse. The beast reared up and Jonathan yanked the reigns to keep his mount from trampling the man.

“Get your damn nag out of the way!” the man hissed. Several ladies in the group gasped. The stranger cocked his head so he could see below the brim of his hat and stared right at Helena with hostile, squinting eyes. “Are you Miss Gillingham?” he demanded

Helena blinked, surprised to be addressed by the stranger. “Err…yes.”

The man stepped towards her and rattled his fist before her face. “May your father rot in hell!”

“What?” Helena cried as Jonathan shouted, “Get away from her!” He bumped the man with his horse’s rear.

“Don’t stand up for her!” the stranger growled. “Not after what her father’s done.”

“I said get away.” Jonathan cracked his whip near the man’s ear.

The man gave an unimpressed “Hmmp,” shot Helena another nasty glare, and began to stalk off at the same time she heard yet another voice calling “Miss Gillingham! Miss Gillingham!” A hefty clerk from her father’s bank was cutting across the grass, waving a newspaper. He stopped before her, leaned down to rest his hands on this knees and tried to catch his breath. “Your father… you need to come… home… an emergency!”

The sounds and voices around her combined into a loud buzz inside Helena’s head. “What has happened?”

The man shook his head. “You must go home.”

For moment, Helena didn’t move, feeling again like the stunned little girl who had fallen from the castle in Wales. A loud roar filled her ears and she broke into a run, her skirts cracking the air behind her.

Jonathan galloped next to her. “Get on,” he ordered.

She didn’t reply, but dove into the line of carriages jamming Park Lane and then cut into the crisscrossing Mayfair streets. Outside her house, dozens of men swarmed by the iron railing and out into the street, halting traffic. Two uniformed policemen stood beside her door.

A young boy hoisted up on the gas lamp swirled his hat above his head. “The West London Savings Bank has failed!” he bellowed, his voice echoing down the street. “The West London Savings Bank has failed!”

Helena pressed her hand to her mouth. What was happening? Had they lost all their money? Blackness covered the edges of her vision, and she felt as though she was looking on the scene through a pinhole.

“I want my bloody money!” a thick, gray man shouted at her. His face was so close to hers his warm spittle sprayed her cheeks. “Do you understand?”

“No,” she whispered. “I… I… no.”

Then it seemed that the wave of human bodies crashed onto her, yanking at her sleeves and skirt, tearing her bonnet from her head.

“Let go of me!” she screamed, jostling her elbows about her, trying to fend off the men.

A strong, gloved hand grabbed her forearm and roughly jerked her. She slammed into the coat buttons of a police officer. His chest rumbled as he shouted, “Let her alone!” Keeping his tight grip, he pulled her through the mob.

She broke free at the steps and rushed into the house. Inside, men in somber clothes with matching somber faces milled about, speaking in low, guarded voices. They watched her with nervous eyes, swaying on their feet, as if they didn’t know what to do or say.

“My God, what has happened?” she whispered. Not waiting wait for a reply, she rushed up the stairs. More men packed the corridor leading to her father’s library. They stopped their conversations and bowed their heads to her.

In the library, her father’s solicitor sat in the chair by the fire. His oiled hair was disheveled and he stared with vacant, red-rimmed eyes and nodded numbly to several men standing over him holding notebooks. One of the men turned; he was a broad shouldered man with a hard nose and azure eyes that seemed to shoot out from his corrugated skin. His hair—the color of rust—spiked along his part and forehead. He waved his hand as he spoke. “She mustn’t see this. Someone remove her.”

“This is my home. I shall do…” she faltered. On the shelf behind her father’s desk, a dark liquid had spattered over the leather books.

The room became still as she slowly walked around the desk. On the floor, a man was sprawled backwards over his capsized leather chair, a small pistol gripped in his hand. He wore a neatly pressed gray suit and a pale blue silk cravat with a silver pin that glinted in the light from the desk lamp. She recognized the slight cleft of her father’s chin and his graying, coarse curls, but the center of his face was missing — just a deep red and black hole of blood and flapping flesh where his mouth, nose and eyes had been.

She opened her mouth to scream, but all that came out was a tight, painful squeak. She fell to the floor by his side.

“Oh, Papa,” she choked and laid her head across his chest, putting her cheek over his silenced heart. “No,” she whispered over and over.


Chapter Three

Spring 1861
The day before, Theo had found the plateau on the small hill that rose from where the river snaked through his property. The small oval of land was lost in tangles of gray, gaunt tree limbs and nettles. He hadn’t any idea what kind of garden he wanted to grow on the spot, except that he thought in the summer evenings he would like to sit here, hidden in the foliage and study the phantom-like mountains of Snowdonia rising in the distance. But now his back muscles burned as he slammed his hoe into the ground, ripping through the thick roots and hitting yet another stone. He felt the reverberation in his bones.

“Dammit,” he spat.

He had been out here the entire morning and only managed to clear about four square feet.

“You’re raging against God again,” his steward, Eli Gordon, said in his Irish lilt. He leaned against a tree, sipping brandy from a leather-covered flask. Straw-like blonde hair curled under the brim of the hat he wore low on his brow. He was a lean man with a hard belly and powerful shoulders that sloped down. His collar was open, revealing a network of scars that vined up his neck and across the flap of skin that covered the corner of his left eye. Two days before the final assault on Redan, he had been playing cards in the trench when a Russian sharpshooter hit him above his left cheekbone.

“Raging against God, you say?” Theo wiped his wet brow and leaned against his hoe. “And I thought I was trying to make a garden.” Branwen, his black and white border collie, sensing her master was taking a rest, rolled onto her back for a good rub. He leaned down and scratched her belly. “There you go, old girl.”

“Some land God doesn’t want tamed.” Gordon took another sip and gazed off at the mountains disappearing into the clouds.

“It must be jolly fun to stand there and drink and philosophize while I work.”

“Aye, the way I see it, one of us must do the thinking.” Gordon set his flask into the overturned earth and stretched his arms over his head, releasing a long groan. Then he took up his shovel and pushed the blade under the rock Theo had struck.

The two had worked together for almost seven years now and Gordon remained as obstinate and unyielding as he had been when the men first met in that miserable summer of scorching heat and cholera at the camp in Varna, where the air reeked of shit and was dusted with lime. Gordon was recruited from the London taverns for a better pay than working for almost slave labor in the docks. He had fixed Theo with cool, challenging eyes that first day. Theo hadn’t trusted Gordon. But even as a brash, inexperienced officer, he knew to tread carefully around the man. Although Gordon had been shy of twenty-two when he arrived in Crimea, he was like a father to other young Irish soldiers, many who were not more than sixteen and sent their pay to their mothers.

The two won each other’s grudging respect in the battle of Sandbag Battery. Theo was shouting for his troops to hold their line as Russian artillery was pounding their position. Down to a little over hundred men, some of the young soldiers were fleeing, others were hunkered down, paralyzed with terror. “Keep firing, damn you!” Theo heard someone shout. “Don’t let them Russian buggers scare you!” Beside him in the haze of fog and gunfire, Gordon was staring down the sight of his Minié. He fired at a Russian soldier who appeared out of the fog, but missed. Gordon slammed the Russian on the head with his rifle barrel and then dragged him to the ground, beating him with his fists.

Despite the years of working together, a distance remained between the loyal men. Theo would always be the commanding officer and Gordon the wise, seasoned soldier.

Branwen whimpered, pawing the air with her right hind leg. Lost in his thoughts, Theo had stopped scratching the dog.

“You’re still thinking about what happened in London,” Gordon said quietly.

Theo lowered his head and rubbed the dog’s muscular stomach.

Six months ago, he would walk back from the garden as the sun began to disappear behind the mountains, turning the landscape the lustrous orange and purple of dusk. His heart would fill with the beauty, and he would realize he hadn’t thought about Crimea for almost the entire day. But now this bad business with Gillingham had managed to trigger his old memories.

“I killed Gillingham,” he said finally.

“He knew they were going to hang him, and he took his own life.” Gordon used his heel to push the shovel deeper. “It was nothing you did.”

Theo rose, crossed to Gordon’s flask, drank from it, and then wiped his lips with his coat sleeve. “I was too harsh on his daughter given what happened.”

“She doesn’t know. You told me that Scotland Yard copper was keeping your name quiet.”

“But the things I said to her—”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have danced with her like you did,” Gordon conceded.

“Or shout insults at her in the middle of a ball—I probably shouldn’t have done that either.”

Gordon scratched the tough skin on his chin. “From what I’ve heard, she needed a good setting down.”

“For God’s sake man, her father killed himself because of me!” Theo barked. “How much more setting down does she require?” Branwen flinched, her brown eyes tensed with worry. She began licking her master’s hand.

“You just talked to Scotland Yard,” Gordon continued, unmoved by his employer’s outburst. “They were the ones who determined he was guilty. Stop blaming yourself.”

“She used to be society’s little wild darling. With her father dead, everyone is taking out their anger on her. In the newspapers, they are savaging her behavior, her clothes, her every move.”

“There’s nothing clean in this world.” Gordon grunted as he flipped the stone from the soil with the shovel blade. “You did what you felt you had to do. Somebody’s always going to be hurt, whether they had it coming or not.”

“How can you stand to think that way?”

“I can’t change the truth.”

“Mr. Mallory!” a young female called out.

Branwen bolted down the slope, leaping over the nettles and rocks, then disappeared down the path running by the river.

“Up here, Megan,” Theo said.

Moments later Megan, Mrs. Emily Pengwern’s daughter, sprinted down the same path, her gray cloak sailing in the air behind her, the dog jumping at her heels. Theo considered Megan his adopted daughter. In his mind, she was still the wild, unfettered, and outspoken girl he adored. But every day her figure was becoming more and more that of a woman. Her breasts burgeoned and her waist thinned. He didn’t want her to grow up, but to remain in a childlike state, unencumbered by the needs of her maturing body.

Cymorth, Mr. Mallory!” she cried in Welsh. “Mama’s in the front garden.”

“What?” Theo shouted. “She knows she’s not supposed to walk up here. You shouldn’t have let her go.”

“I tried!” the girl retorted. “She doesn’t listen to me.”

“Oh, hell,” Theo whispered. The men edged down the steep incline, using their shovels for support. Then they sprinted behind Megan, down the path that led to the back of Theo’s home, through the stone arch running under the west wing and onto the drive.


Mrs. Emily Pengwern waited on the edge of the stone fountain inside the oval of boxwoods in the front garden. She rose to her feet to greet them. Even beneath the weight of a heavy cloak and  blue shawl, Theo could see her chest rising, laboring to breathe. Her face was waxy and pale with dark crescents carved beneath her brown eyes. Wet wisps of auburn hair stuck to her forehead below her straw bonnet.

“Mr. Mallory,” she began in that formal English style of hers. Her voice was light and musical, but raspy around the edges.

“Emily, sit back down!” Theo barked, too upset to do the pretty. “I’m vexed at you. You are the most stubborn woman in existence. You knew I would come down if you only asked. Why didn’t you send Betry?”

“Since a miner put a baby in her, she doesn’t do anything but throw up all day,” explained Megan in Welsh.

“We try not to speak of such matters,” Emily said, placing a calming hand on her daughter’s lap. Megan rolled her eyes. “And please remember to use your English in front of Mr. Mallory.”

Emily Pengwern neé Douglas was the daughter of a London engineer who had journeyed to Wales to help construct Thomas Telford’s suspension bridge.  His mother had been John Gillingham’s aunt, and his grandfather a London solicitor. While in Conwy, he fell in love with  Emily’s mother and married her. He eked whatever living he could find working for the mines and coming railroads to support his small family, which included his wife’s mother and sister, both fishermen’s widows.

Emily was a beautiful woman, even after the typhus fever that had killed her husband and young son and weakened her body. If anything, illness had exaggerated her delicate beauty, thinning her oval face, making her cheekbones more prominent and accenting huge eyes that glowed like brown embers.

Megan possessed her mother’s features, but her father’s coloring. Her glossy dark hair was very fine and always escaping its braids. She gazed frankly at the world with eyes that were almost black.

“Come,” he said, clasping onto her mother’s elbow. “I’m escorting you inside where Efa will lecture you properly. And then I’ll lecture you again before I take you home in the carriage.”

Theo’s home had once been a stone fortress standing imposingly on the hill, but Cromwell’s armies had destroyed all but four rooms, a tower, and sections of the original outer walls. In the early 1700s, an English family had bought the property to banish a scandalous son and his embarrassing new bride, a family servant. The son had built a smaller, castle-like cottage complete with turrets and arched stained glass windows to match the tower.

Theo escorted his neighbors through two massive wooden doors carved with a large dragon and into the entrance hall where he called out to his housekeeper, Efa, Gordon’s wife. “Mrs. Pengwern walked here. Smartly scold her for me.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Emily tried to call, but her voice was too weak to carry. Theo hid his panic, hurrying her into the parlor.

A wood fire blazed, burning the damp from the air and making the dark room feel like a cozy night no matter what the hour. The carpet, singed from embers, had been pulled near the hearth where Branwen slept. Around the rug, three armchairs were arranged in a semi-circle with thick fur pelts hanging on the backs.

“Now, you sit here,” he said, pulling up his own chair beside a round marble table holding a gardening reference book, a bound copy of Pickwick Papers cracked opened at the last page he’d read, several folded London newspapers, and a pendulum clock which softly ticked away the seconds.

Efa rushed in with a wool blanket across her arm, the rich scent of simmering broth and dried rosemary wafting in her wake. “Mrs. Pengwern, that physician from Chester made me promise you wouldn’t exert yourself,” she said. “Now you’re making a liar out of me.”

Efa was in her late twenties and possessed the energy of a steam train. Her fine brown hair was always escaping her bun and falling about her face. Tiny freckles sprayed the bridge of her nose and tops of her cheeks. Her dark, alert eyes slightly bulged and she kept her soft lips pursed in a hard line. Florence Nightingale had hand selected Efa to assist her in Crimea. Now, Efa exacted the same order and efficiency she had learned under the famed nurse on Theo’s tiny household.

She tucked the edges of the quilt around Emily. Without looking at her husband, she motioned to him. “Gordon, stoke the fire while I fetch some tea.” She turned and hurried out, her skirt flapping behind her. “I’ll be back shortly,” she warned.

Megan plopped down cross-legged by the edge of the hearth. Branwen tried to curl into a small enough ball to fit in her lap.

“Now what is so important you had to risk your health to call?” Theo asked Emily more sharply than he had intended. He sat on the armrest of a neighboring chair and crossed his arms.

“I am quite fine,” Emily said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You and Megan worry too much about me. But I refuse to spend my life trapped in my house sewing and reading until my eyes droop and hands fall off. ” She laughed as she reached beneath the blanket, brought out a letter and held it out to him. “The truth is I desire your advice on a family matter.”

“My advice?” Theo quipped, taking the envelope. “But you never heed anything I tell you.”

“I believe you have met my relation Miss Helena Gillingham,” she continued, unfazed.

Theo’s eyes cut to Gordon. The man’s hard face didn’t twitch as he stabbed at the burning wood with a poker. Theo never told Emily of his true dealings with Mr. Gillingham. Only Gordon knew the entire story.

“Once, at a dance,” Theo replied damply.

“She wants to live with us,” Megan said, her screwed face displaying her feelings on the matter.

“What?” Theo carried the missive to the window. The red and blue stained glass tinted the light that spread over the lavish handwriting on the thick-bordered mourning stationary.

 Dearest Cousin Emily,

Thank you so very much for your gracious letter of condolence for my father’s passing. Your kindness has meant so much to me at this sad time. No doubt, you have read the unfortunate news concerning my father’s business. I have been quite devastated by the recent turn of events. I still love and mourn my father as I try to reconcile the terrible reports I have continued to receive from the police.

Sadly, the crown has confiscated our home and all our belongings. It is my desire to remove to the country, away from the memories here. I recall from our previous correspondences you have a darling young daughter and adorable boy. I would very much enjoy educating them on the refinements of society such as dance or music. I would also endeavor to be an enjoyable and useful companion to you. Please let me know if these arrangements might suit you.


Miss Helena Gillingham.

“Oh God,” he whispered under his breath as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

The oblivious woman hadn’t even realized Emily’s boy had died. And he had told her Emily was poor and sick. If Helena was soliciting help from Emily, she must have been turned away by everyone else.

“Mama, she needn’t come,” Megan cried, echoing Theo’s thought. “I don’t require finishing.”

“Quiet, dear,” her mother whispered.

Theo swallowed, folded the letter back, and stared out at his garden, all wavy and red through the thick stained glass. He knew he had inadvertently brought Helena to this desperate turn and to that end he felt responsible. Still, Megan was right: Helena couldn’t come. Spoiled and accustomed to being waited on, she would only be a drain on Emily’s weak health and, perhaps, even put the woman in her grave.

“Helena doesn’t belong here,” he said, slowly.

“I told you,” Megan said.

“I don’t believe she has anywhere else to go,” Emily continued. “I’ve read what they’ve been writing about her in those vicious English papers. As if she is to be blamed for her father’s crimes.” She ran her fingers over a frayed thread in the blanket. “One ought not turn away family.”

Theo could hear the compassion in her voice. He felt a masculine protectiveness towards his fragile neighbor. “I don’t think you understand the life Helena is accustomed to living — the degree of wealth her father had accumulated.” Theo knelt before Emily and lowered his voice to an intimate tone. “He ignored the death of your husband and son, as well as your own illness. He was worth a little under a million pounds at the height of his fraud. And you saw none of it. Not a single farthing.”

Emily smiled, ruefully. “I think I ought to be grateful not to have received stolen money.”

He took her fingers and gently squeezed them between his palms. “The material point is he that never helped you and now his daughter is pleading for your charity when you have none to give.”

Emily yanked her hands back, sensitive of her reduced condition. Without her husband to run the small farm, she had to let the lands out, living upon the small rents she collected and whatever money Theo managed to slip her.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. In the corner, he heard Gordon shift on his feet. Several seconds ticked on the clock. He remained kneeling—impotent and embarrassed. He had to say something. “Perhaps, I could—”

“I saw how he treated her,” Emily said. “I was fourteen when she came to visit. A little older than Megan is now. She was maybe five and always trying to get her parents’ attention—singing, dancing, making up little stories to tell them. I was supposed to be attending her when she fell from the castle walls at Conwy.” Emily’s eyes became unfocused. “I remember the irritation in her parents’ eyes when she came sobbing to them. They didn’t care she was hurt; they were just vexed she had interrupted them.”

Theo’s belly tightened; he moved to fetch his tobacco pouch from the mantle, but stopped, thinking better of it with Emily present. He clamped his hands behind his back.

“Helena hugged me as I cleaned up her scrapes. So tight and desperate was her little embrace. I realized she hadn’t known much affection.”

“I can assure you she enjoys a great deal of affection now,” Theo said, gruffer than he intended. “She was quite the rage in London with the gentlemen.”

“I know,” Emily said quietly, keeping her eyes down. “I thought she could help Megan. I sometimes feel…I feel I can’t be the mother she needs.”

Megan bolted up, sending poor Branwen rolling onto the floor. “That’s not true!” the girl shouted. “You’re all I need.” She beseeched Theo, “Tell her Helena mustn’t come. Tell her…” Her voice tightened to a squeak, fear quivering beneath the veneer of toughness.

“There, Megan,” Emily said, “You are no longer a girl and will have to marry sooner than later. And, perhaps, Helena can help you with the finer points. That is all I meant.”

“Well, if she knew anything of finishing, she would be married and not begging to come live with us,” Megan pointed out.

Theo chortled quietly at Megan’s apt logic. Emily flashed him a squelching look.

“I feel I must strongly impress upon you that this is not good idea,” he said. “People in this village have lost money or know people who have lost money to her father. She will not receive a sympathetic reception in this or the neighboring villages.”

Emily studied him and then tilted her head. “Or anywhere else it seems.” She kept those penetrating eyes fixed on his face. “How long must she be punished? How long until all this anger burns away? Will no one offer her compassion?”

His jaw tightened. “You don’t understand. She… she…” He couldn’t finish. Emily’s words weren’t about Helena, but him. She and this village had taken him in — an Englishman with a fractured mind and empty soul —and accepted him as their own. They respected him, invited him into their homes, and tolerated his odd compulsive need to garden. Here, he wasn’t the cracked one, the bedlamite he was in London.

Emily opened the letter again and ran her fingers over the words. “Her father committed the crime, not her.” Resolve hardened her words. Theo knew that once again Emily wasn’t going to listen to his advice but behave as rashly as ever.


Emily and Megan stayed for dinner, speaking of local gossip and Theo’s gardens. Although no one mentioned Helena, she remained present like an unseen guest at their table.

Later Theo drove them home as rain started to fall. Again he expressed his disapproval of having the spoiled girl come to live with Emily. Again he was rebuffed.

A little before one in the morning, he awoke shouting, “You don’t belong here!” and reached for his rifle. But all he felt was soft mattress. His heart thundered in the darkness.

He had dreamed he was coming to Castell Bach yr Anwylyd for the first time. Except all the green, lush forests and gardens were gone. Scoured, darkened dry earth surrounded the house. He had opened the double entrance doors to find the floors strewn with the bloated, rotting corpses of the Russian soldiers abandoned in Sevastopol. Feces, urine, and blood caked the Welsh carvings. Men with shattered bodies crawled out with twisted limbs from under the dusty furniture. A hand grabbed for his ankle. He glanced down. “Water,” a solider with a cracked, bloody mouth rasped. “Water.” Then the man’s face transformed into Helena’s beautiful one.Theo knew there would be no more sleep tonight. He rose and poured a brandy. He stared out his window. Outside, the downpour drowned out the moon and stars. He drained his glass of brandy and leaned his head against the cold glass, listening to the soft roar of rain and feeling the alcohol numb his mind.

Theo knew there would be no more sleep tonight. He rose and poured a brandy. He stared out his window. Outside, the downpour drowned out the moon and stars. He drained his glass of brandy and leaned his head against the cold glass, listening to the soft roar of rain and feeling the alcohol numb his mind.

What had he done? Emily still thought of Helena as a sad five-year-old. She had no idea the human gale she would bring upon them. Here, hidden in the hills, Theo had found something true. This was his church, his sanctuary. Helena, with her reckless laughter and bold, witless conversation, represented everything he had fled: undeserved wealth, pretense, arrogance and a willful ignorance of the suffering of others. She would destroy everything sacred about this place.

“You don’t belong here,” he said again, this time as a whisper.

Posted in Susanna's Books | Tagged , | Leave a comment