Working Out the Early Victorian Way

I came across this early Victorian wonderfulness today and had to share. The following can be found in Exercises for Ladies: Calculated to Preserve and Improve Beauty, and to Prevent and Correct Personal Defects, Inseparable from Constrained Or Careless Habits: Founded on Physiological Principles, by Donald Walker and published in London in 1836. 



The rod for this purpose should be light, smooth, inflexible, and need not be more than three or four feet in length.

The rod is first grasped near the extremities by the two hands, the thumbs being inward.— (See PLATE XII, fig. 1.) Without changing the position of the hands on the rod, it is then brought to a vertical position: the right hand being uppermost holds it above the head, the left is against the lower part of the body.By an opposite movement, the right is lowered and the left raised. This change is executed repeatedly and quickly.

From the first position of the rod, it is raised over the head; and, in doing so, the closer the hands are, the better will be the effect upon the shoulder.—(See PLATE XII, fig. 2.)
It is afterwards carried behind the back, holding so firmly that no change takes place in the position of the hands.—(See PLATE XII, fig. 3.)

This movement is then reversed, to bring it back over the head to the first position.

The same exercises are performed by grasping the stick with the hands in an opposite position; that is to say, with the thumbs in front or the palms of the hands forwards.—(See PLATE XIII, fig. 1.) It is raised parallel with the shoulders, extending it first on the left and then on the right arm.

It is next raised above the head, the hands being still in their new position.—(See PLATEXIII, fig. 2.) It is afterwards lowered behind the back.— (See PLATE XIII, fig. 3.)
The exercise is concluded by bringing it to its original position in front.
These exercises cannot be performed in all their different movements with promptitude and regularity without many trials and repetitions. Their tendency is to confirm the good position and the flexibility of the shoulders, produced by the extension motions.


THIS instrument is one of the oldest used in gymnastics. It may be seen in the Latin work of Mercurialis de Arte Gymnastica; and though its form was not precisely the same as at present, the result produced was similar. It has been long in use in England, where it enters into the school exercise of most seminaries for the instruction of ladies.
For children from six to ten years of age, dumbbells should not weigh more than from three to four pounds each; and for children from ten to fifteen years of age, they may weigh from four to six pounds each.To use dumb-bells with all the advantage they admit of, the young person should stand in the fundamental position already described.

To use dumb-bells with all the advantage they admit of, the young person should stand in the fundamental position already described.

To obtain the first position, the hands and the dumb-bells are, by a slight rotatory movement of the arm outward and backward, brought behind the lower part of the body, so as to make the two extremities of the dumb-bells next to the little fingers touch each other.

The fingers in this case touch the muscles of the hips, and the back of the hand is outward.—(See PLATE XIV, Fig. 1.)

In the first exercise from this position, a regular motion is commenced, which consists in giving to the depending and extended arms, at the same time, a circular and rotatory movement, forwards and inwards, to the front of the body, so that the dumb-bells perform each a semicircle, (See PLATE XIV, Fig. 2,) making a complete circle between them, but with this difference in position, that when they are behind, they touch at the exterior extremities, or those on the side of the little finger, and when they are in front of the thighs, they touch at the other extremities.


In the second exercise, —from the same position, the heads are raised together towards the front and middle of the chest, the approximated, so that the ball on the thumb-side of the one dumb-bell may touch that of the other.— (See PLATE XIV, fig. 3.) With the arms extended, they are then allowed to drop with sufficient force to swing them round the body to the first position. This is repeated several times.


In the third exercise,– from the same position in the arms are raised above the head, and the bumb-bells are made to touch at their extremities, being kept in a horizontal position. — (See PLATE XV, fig. 1) The hands are then allowed to fall gently into the first position.


In the fourth exercise, the arms are stretched out straight from the shoulders.—(See PLATE XV, fig. 2;) and the hands are moved horizontally backwards (See PLATE XV, fig. ,) and forwards, the dumb-bells being in a vertical position.

This employment of the dumb-bells should not at first persisted in longer than a minutes or two at a times, but the duration of each succeeding exercise may be gradually increased.

N.B. Until the introduction of the Indian sceptres, of Indian clubs, this exercise was valuable, notwithstanding the inconvenient jerk which communicates to the shoulders. It should not be superseded by that exercise, and beneficial.



1st. A sceptre is held by the handle, pendant on each side, (See PLATE XVI, fig. 1); —that in the right hand is carried over the head and left shoulder until it hangs perpendicularly on the right side of the spine,—(See PLATE XVI, fig. 2);—that in the left hand is carried over the former, in exactly the opposite direction, (see the same figure), until it hangs on the opposite side;—holding both sceptres still pendant, the hands are raised somewhat higher than the head, (See PLATE XVI, fig. 3);—with the sceptres in the same position, both arms are extended outward and backward, (See PLATE XVII, fig. 3);—they are, lastly, dropped into the first position.—All this is done slowly.

2d. Commencing from the same position, the ends of both sceptres are swung upward until they are held, vertically and side by side, at arms length, in front of the body, the hands being as high as the shoulders, (see PLATE XVII, fig. 1);—they are next carried in the same position, at arms length, and on the same level, as far backward as possible, (see PLATE XVII, fig. 2);—each is then dropped backward until it hangs vertically downward, (see PLATE XVII, fig. 3);—and this exercise ends as the first. Previous, however, to dropping the sceptres backwards, it greatly improves this exercise, by a turn of the wrist upward and backward, to carry the sceptres into a horizontal position behind the shoulders, so that if long enough, their ends would touch, (see PLATE XVIII, fig 1) —next, by a turn of the wrist outward and downward, to carry them horizontally outward, (see PLATE XVIII, fig. 2)—then by a turn of the wrist upward and forward, to carry them into a horizontal position before the breast, (see PLATE XVIII, fig. 3); —again, to carry them horizontally outward; —and, finally, to drop them backwards; and thence to the first position. —All this is done slowly.

3d. The sceptres are to be swung by the sides, first separately, and then together, exactly as the hands were in the last extension motion.


1st. The sceptres are held upright in front of the body, the elbows being near the hanches, and the forearms horizontal, (see PLATE XIX, fig. 1):—the sceptre in the right hand is then carried over the head and left shoulder, (see PLATE XIX, fig. 2,) dropping as low as possible behind, (see PLATE XIX, fig. 3,) and returning to its first position;—the same is done with the left hand;—then with the right;—and so on with each alternately.—All this is performed with a swinging motion, so that the end of each sceptre describes a circle which commences before the head, descends obliquely backward, and ascends again.

2d. After carrying the sceptre in the right hand from the same position around the head and left shoulder, as already described, it is stretched horizontally outward by the extended arm, (see PLATE XX, fig. 1); — and thence returned to the first position;—the same is then done with the left hand;—and so on with each alternately.—The swing is here broken by the lateral extension.

3d. The sceptres, held chiefly between the thumb and first and second fingers, rest on the fronts of the arms extended downward and slightly forward, and reach somewhat obliquely from the thumb and now inner side of the hands, of which the backs are turned forward, to the outsides of the shoulders, (see PLATE XX, Jig. 2);—that held in the right hand is then thrown over the shoulder and hangs downward behind it, while the whole of that side of the body is turned forward, the back and neck bent, so that the chin is raised and the chest thrown upward, (see PLATE XX, Jig. 3), and, as the body is again turned to the front, that sceptre is drawn over the shoulder and brought to its first position;—at the moment in which the body reaches the front, however, the same begins to be done with.the left hand;—and so on with each alternately.

4th, This differs from the second only in this respect, that the arms no longer act distinctly, but together; their motions being blended by the left commencing as soon as the right has made its circle round the head, and forming its own circle while the right is extending, and so on with regard to each.—This explanation and a reference to the description and plates illustrating the first and second exercise, make this quite plain.

5th. This differs from the third chiefly in this, that the arms no longer act distinctly, but together; both sceptres, however, being kept down until the lateral turn is complete (See PLATE XXI, fig. 1), both being then thrown over the shoulders at once, with the back and neck bent, (See PLATE XXI, fig. 2), and both returning gradually (See PLATE XXI, fig. 3) over the shoulders as the body passes to the opposite side.

6th. This is an exercise in which the lady crosses the apartment from side to side. The first exercise is here performed once with each arm, commencing with the arm of the side towards which the freer space permits her most readily to go. (See description and plates illustrating the first Exercise.) Supposing this to be to the right of her first position,—on finishing the second circle of the first exercise, namely that with the left arm, and bringing it in front, both sceptres, being thrown to the right side, (See PLATE XXII, Jig. 1,) are swung with extended arms to the left, sweeping in a circle downward in front of the feet, (See PLATE XXII, Jig. 2,) of which the left being at that moment lifted to perform a wheel backward upon the right toe, the face is turned opposite to its first direction, ground is gained by the left foot placing itself toward what was originally the right side, and the ends of the sceptres, without the slightest pause, continue their sweep upward to their first position, (See PLATE XXII, Jig. 3.) The same is only repeated; the lady remembering always to commence with the arm of the side to which she means to advance.




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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.



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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

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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.


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.

Poppy dashed to her room, opened her commode drawer and drew out a bag of small candies wrapped in paper. She scooped out a handful and dumped them into her basket that was filled with her knitting and sewing for factory children. Then she donned her cloak, gloves, and bonnet, and set out.

The pounding noise of the factories—including her father’s—echoed in the streets. Streams of soot pouring from numerous huge brick towers tinted the sky a dull gray. Still, being outside in the cold and dreariness was better than being trapped inside with the tyrannical merriment of her home.

She veered off the street where their mansion rose from a small hill overlooking the city, and ventured through the poorer neighborhoods of the factory workers. “Merry Christmas, Miss Poppy! Merry Christmas, Miss Poppy!” the children called and ran up to her. “Do you have any candy for us?”

Their excited faces raised her spirits.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she teased. “I don’t recall having any candy. Hmm, let me check my basket.” She made a show off of rooting about. “Why, look what I found!” she said, pulling out some candies. “How did that get there?”

The children’s smiles chased Lord Embroke temporarily from her mind. She stopped at several homes to deliver socks, mittens, or scarves she had knitted. The mothers’ gratitude warmed her sad heart. She visited for a few minutes with the families, catching up on the latest news while cuddling a few adorable babies.

She wished she didn’t have to go back home, but she had almost expended her half hour and she still hadn’t purchased the thread. She forced herself to put a darling infant back in his cradle and head to the shop.

The two main aisles running down the center of the Phillips General Store were clogged with people shopping for Christmas gifts. Poppy edged slowly through the thick, milling crowd, trying to reach the shelf of thread, when she glanced down and spied a stack of Charles Dicken’s Household Words journals.

A new issue!

She opened the top copy and flipped the pages until she came to an article titled “An Adventuresome Lady’s Tour of the Wild Americas“ and began to read. The author extolled how the untamed landscape of the Americas had liberated her spirit, making her feel as wild and free as the terrain.

Maybe I should run away to the Americas, Poppy quipped to herself, if that is where freedom awaits, for my spirit certainly feels bound at the moment.

She continued to read about awe-inspiring vistas, losing track of time and place, until she heard a man clear his voice throat in a hard, annoyed manner.

She lifted her head to behold the most disagreeable-looking man she had ever seen. Strands of black hair fell onto thick hawkish eyebrows. He glared at her with dark, shiny eyes—like onyx. His haughty expression only heightened his general unpleasantness.

“Do you mind?” he snarled.

“Oh, am I in your way?” she asked with malicious sweetness. “I’m terribly sorry to have inconvenienced you in any way, sir.”

The horrid man either didn’t perceive the intended message of his rude impertinence or he merely didn’t care. “I’ve waited here for three minutes, politely saying ‘pardon me’, ‘pardon me’ so that I might reach across you and procure the latest issue of Household Words. Are you always this oblivious?”

Her mouth dropped open with shock. Then she closed it again, her eyes narrowing.

“My goodness! Imagine three long, almost interminable, minutes. How you have suffered! You should receive a medal!” She didn’t want to admit it, but she felt a perverse sense of pleasure in venting her anger on the rude gentleman.

“Your acerbity isn’t becoming,” he remarked.

That was too much!

“Why should I care if I’m becoming to you? I don’t even know you. Heaven forbid if I’m not becoming to a rude stranger. Heaven forbid if I might have one little blemish on my face.”

“I merely want a copy of Household Words. Spare me the tongue lashing if you please.”

She tossed the edition that she was reading at him. “There! Your journal. Good day.”

“I believe you mean ‘bad day’?” he suggested, putting the journal under his arm. What an insolent man.

She feigned a polite smile. “Yes, may you have bad day.”

He executed a small bow in the tight space. “And a bad day to you, as well.”

“I hope you enjoy a miserable Christmas.”

“I shall, most assuredly, and wish you the same and an atrocious New Year.”

“Oh, it will be,” she cried. “Have no doubt on that count.”

For a moment, they glared at each other. Then she noticed his lips were quivering, which caused hers to do the same.

“I better get on with my miserable Christmas,” she choked and edged away before she broke into laughter.

She weaved through the busy shoppers to the shelf of thread. Her entire body was quaking. What came over her? She had been practically yelling at a stranger. She glanced over her shoulder to find him still looking at her, an amused expression lighting his face, which wasn’t as disagreeable upon further inspection.

Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment at being caught looking, and she returned her focus to the thread bobbins. Her fingers were shaking when she picked out the green one. All she could think was that he was watching her with those intense eyes. They bore through her clothes, heating her skin more than a dozen roaring Yule logs could do. Yet when she ventured another peek, she found he was gone. A cold, deflating feeling settled into her chest.

Ah, it was just as well. She shouldn’t consider other men when she had been designated to Lord Embroke.

For now.

She started for the line by the front counter. The clock on the wall indicated that she was already twenty minutes late returning home. She began nervously picking at her pimple.

She heard a child scream, and a man shouting, “You little brat! Don’t think of running away from me!”

Poppy pushed to the shop’s front window to determine the cause of the ruckus. Beyond the panes, she could see five-year-old Henry Lewis dangling upside down by his ankle that was gripped in the beefy hand of Mr. Phillips, the shop owner.

“I’m going to whip you until your backside is one red blister!” Mr. Phillips barked. “You don’t steal from my shop.” He smacked the boy’s rear. Henry wailed, tears dripping from his red face.

“No!” Poppy shouted and rushed out the shop.

“Please, sir, I swear I didn’t steal nothing!” Henry cried. “I swear it. The fine gentleman said he would pay. It’s for my sister. Please!”

“Mr. Phillips! You let him go.” Poppy dropped her thread and basket and yanked the boy from the merchant’s clutches. She set him on the ground and knelt, putting her on eye level with the child. “Henry, dear, tell me what has happened.”

“The fine gent said he would buy the doll for my sister,” Henry sobbed.

“You little liar.” Mr. Phillips raised his hand, threatening another blow to the frightened child.

“Henry is an honest boy, sir.” Poppy rose. “You are mistaken. And his sister is sick with consumption. Don’t you dare lay a hand on him.”

“Now I know you have soft heart, miss,” the shop owner said. “But you can’t reward lying. And that boy’s a liar if I’ve ever laid eyes on one.”

“Is he now?” a man said in a deep, quiet voice that rumbled like thunder.

Poppy whirled around to see the disagreeable man strolling from the store with the copy of Household Words still under his arm. His face appeared even more severe in the sunlight. His pale skin was a bold contrast to his black hair and blazing eyes. What she didn’t appreciate in the crowded the shop was the fine tailoring of his coat and trousers, which fit snugly on his broad shoulders and lean legs.

“Tell ‘em, kind sir,” Henry implored. “Tell ‘em you said you would buy the doll for my sister after I told you she was sick.”

“The boy speaks the truth. I was approaching the counter to pay when you bolted away,” he told Mr. Phillips.

The shopkeeper’s face reddened. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t…. I see… Well, that boy has stolen from me before.” He pointed his blunt finger at Henry, who scurried behind Poppy’s skirt for protection. “He’s a swindler, I tell you.”

“He is not!” Poppy said. “He helps his mother since his father died and tends to his sick sister. He’s a fine boy.”

“Now, Miss,” Mr. Phillips began, “like I said. I know you have a soft heart, but that boy—”

“Don’t contradict the lady,” the disagreeable man said in that quiet yet thunderous manner of his. He reached into his pocket and dug out some coins. He dropped them onto the street. “For this journal, the doll, and the green thread the kind lady desired.” With that he turned on his heel and strolled away.

Mr. Phillips, red-faced with embarrassment, gazed at everyone. Then he channeled his humiliation back into anger. “You!” He pointed to Henry. “I don’t want to see you in the shop again.”

Henry took off down the lane. “Wait!” Poppy cried, but he had already disappeared. She turned to see the disagreeable man’s coat still visible a block away in the opposite direction.

“And you needn’t worry, Mr. Phillips.” She gathered her basket and thread. “You won’t see me or any member of my family in your shop again.”

She didn’t listen to the man’s sputtering reply, but broke into a jog to catch up with the disagreeable man.

“Please, sir!” she said, reaching for his shoulder.

He quickly spun around and arched one of his severe brows with surprise.

“I want to apologize for being impolite to you in the shop,” she said, catching her breath. “I truly am having a bad day and vented my vexation on you. I’m sorry.” She noticed a flake of snow land on his collar.

I, too, am experiencing a bad day. Though, I must admit, our little shouting match was rather cathartic.”

“Yes, it was.”

He studied her face. The smile that graced his lips reminded her of a beautiful sunrise breaking over the land. In an instance, his disagreeable visage evaporated. He chuckled, a lovely musical sound that was infectious, and she found herself joining in his mirth.

“Allow me to pay you for the thread,” she said.

“Please accept it as an apology for my rudeness.”

“But I have nothing to give you for my rudeness.”

“You have a kind smile. That is enough.”

Her smile involuntary transformed to a mooning, girlish grin.

They stood, silent and smiling. She felt as light as the snowflakes that were growing more numerous by the second.

“So, why will your Christmas be miserable?” he asked. “Of course, don’t feel obliged to answer my question.”

“I… you see, my father wants me to marry, but…”

“You don’t approve of the gentleman,” he filled in.

“Yes. In truth, I’ve never met him. He visits from London tomorrow.”

He turned quiet again, but something changed in his dark eyes.

“So why will your Christmas be miserable?” she asked in turn, trying to keep the conversation going.

“My reason is similar to yours. I came from London to meet a potential bride because I was in desperate straits to provide for my sisters and mother. But an investment paid off at the last minute, which has considerably reversed my fortunes. I have been troubling myself thinking of a way to politely beg off the pending engagement but…”

She drew an audible breath. The man before her was none other than the dreaded Lord Embroke, whom she was sure that she couldn’t love or respect not an hour ago.

“But perhaps I was hasty in my decision.” A tender light glowed in his eyes.

“You shouldn’t… you shouldn’t judge someone,” she stammered, suddenly breathless. “Until you’ve met him.”

“No, you shouldn’t,” he said softly.

Bells from the great cathedral in the city center began to ring out the hour. She was hopelessly late now.

“I-I should go home,” she said reluctantly. “My mother is waiting for me. She will worry.”

“May I escort you, Miss Lancaster?”

“I would be delighted, Lord Embroke.”

She slowly wrapped her fingers around his offered elbow. They strolled, laughing at each other’s conversation, to her home, which brimmed with wonderful holiday cheer. What she thought would be a miserable Christmas had turned into the merriest of her life.

* 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

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