An Interview with Rosie Babbitt – live, perfectly exclusive, and remarkably not sweary

March 1646
It’s a beautiful spring day at Tresillian Bridge, midway between Truro and St Austell in breezy Cornwall, and the sky is a clear enamel blue with the rooks flung like rag above the trees on a brisk wind off the sea. Babbitt’s Troop of Horse are making ready to move off. Sir Ralph Hopton signed the surrender of the King’s forces in Cornwall three weeks ago, and Babbitt and his lads have been kicking their heels in and around the locality, scoping out Truro.
I fold my hands and smile nicely at Colonel Holofernes Babbitt. He looks back at me and does not smile, but cocks an eyebrow at me.
The silence lengthens. I wonder if I’m supposed to say something first. I’m not sure what to say, so I content myself with looking at Hollie Babbitt and trying to work out if he’s worth looking at or not. He has particularly fine eyes, as Jane Austen might have it. A sort of light hazel, in the sunlight, golden-green and distinctly not amused. He has an undeniably big nose, he equally undeniably hasn’t shaved for several days, and his long, thick, reddy-brown hair would be lovely if he put a comb through it. “Well, mistress,” he says eventually. (And I relax, because he has a Lancashire accent you could cut with the back side of a knife, and that means he’s nowhere near as tetchy as he’s making out to be, because if he was seriously angry he’d have no accent at all.) “What have you got to say for yourself?”
“I’m trying to write about you – your lot,” I say feebly. “I’m not spying or anything.”
“For which I thank God, for some of the information you send back would beggar belief! Bloody Hapless Russell – raffish. You said. He wasn’t fit to live with for about a month. Wench, there are people in – your place – who think that lad just stands in want of a good woman to see him right. Russell. You know, strange lad, somewhat prone to lifting the elbow and starting fights when crossed, particular about his linen – and there’s lasses in your place who want to take him on? Bloody welcome to him, mistress.” He leans forward and fixes me with a level stare. “I tell you what I will not forgive you for, madam. You introduced Lucey Pettitt’s execrable poetry to the world. It is all your fault. I have a lieutenant who thinks he’ll be God’s gift to the fairer sex in three centuries’ time, and a cornet who is periodically possessed by the muse. Dear God almighty, woman, keep away from Venning, I dread to think what you’d do to him.”
“And you?”
“Me?” He gives me a wry grin and I decide on two things. One, that despite the streak of white hair over his ear, I doubt he’s forty yet. And two, he might want me to think he’s a stern and zealous commander, but Hollie Babbitt is quite enjoying the attention of being the first Parliamentarian hero in popular fiction . “I’m not very interesting at all, lass. Plain boring married man, me. A wife, two daughters and a farm in Essex requiring my attention, which it’s not getting due to the disobliging nature of His Majesty, the slippery bugger. And don’t -” he raises a warning finger at me, “don’t mention the Scots, all right?”
“You were born in 1608,” I say, “February – what day?”
“The hell should I know, lass? There was only me and my mother there, and she didn’t draw breath long enough to tell me.” He leans back in his chair, suddenly stony-faced. “I do not know the day of my birth, mistress. You write the damned books, you tell me.”
I hold my hands up. “Sorry. I just – well, I wanted to know. People might want to know.”
People can mind their own damned business. February. Het says -” and he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t mean to, but as he says his wife’s name his expression softens, “Het says Candlemas. She gifted me with a birth date. Candlemas was the day I left White Notley to rejoin the Army at Reading. 1643, I mind. Bloody hell, lass, I been married nigh on three years. Where’s the time gone? Three years chasing that untrustworthy little -” he stops himself, “His Majesty, round the country, and he’s still not give up.”
“I think he will,” I said gently, and Hollie raises his eyebrows at me.
“Ah-ah, now, what did we agree? I don’t want to know none of it. None of your witchery, mistress. No foretelling the future. I’ll not know the date of my death – or that of any of my lads,” he says warningly, and I shake my head, because although I know, of course I know, I wouldn’t tell him. I’d like to – I know he worries about Luce the too-young widower, who’s not written a poem in months, or about Russell, fierce and passionate and miserably lonely, arming himself in a cloak of zeal which is no substitute at all for what he wants. I could even tell Hollie that his Het misses him desperately, in Essex – that baby Joyeux has her first teeth, that bright Thomazine is forming her letters even as we speak. Something of that must have shown on my face. “I’d like to,” he says, rather forlornly. “But. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. Don’t hold with kings in our house, lass. Put not your trust in princes or any of them buggers.” I think he forgets I’m there, because he looks over my shoulder, out onto the sun-dappled spring river, and closes his eyes, as if he might be thinking, or praying, or possibly both. “Ah, Christ, never mind princes, I’ve not much trust in Sir Thomas Fairfax, lately.”

He puts his hand over the powder-burn in the sleeve of his decent plain grey suit. His rather old-fashioned, neatly-mended suit, that doesn’t quite fit him any more. His broad, flat swordsman’s wrists are meant by nature to be somewhat less bone than they are. I’d always imagined him as slight and across the table he’s not slight at all, he’s just thin. He looks at the burn in his sleeve and then takes his hand away and looks up at me with a challenge in his eyes. “We are neglected, mistress. Expected to live on fresh air, and disciplined when we protest. Unpaid. Ill-provisioned, ill-quartered, ill-kept. I have lost good men in the course of this war, and they talk of treating with His Majesty, of returning him to his place. Uncorrected, of course, because His Majesty does not deal with the likes of we. So my lads gave their lives and their freedoms for nothing. Less than nothing. I’ll not have it, lass. And you can put that in your bloody book. No other bugger will speak for those lads, because they are common men, and not bloody politickers born and bred. I’ve not got a clever tongue, but by God I’ve got a free one. Go on. Set that down.”

I owe him that much. “I will,” I say, and he shrugs.

“Get myself into trouble with my big gob, one of these days. Bloody Russell’s as bad. We’d mar another couple.” He stands up, slings his sword hanger over his shoulder. There is a sudden scent of horse-sweat and black powder and not especially clean male as he brushes past me, and then he turns with a jingle of spurs, sets his hand on my shoulder, gingerly. “Will you – would you tell Het? That I love her?” I look up into his face, backlit by pale spring sun, his russet hair gone to a blood-red halo. He’s blushing. It’s rather sweet. 

I take a deep breath. “I will,” I say. “I promise. And the girls.”

And then he’s gone, out into the sun, and I hear him yelling indulgent abuse at Venning and where the hell is Lucey bloody Pettitt, and then I hear Luce apologising, he was just getting his books together, and Venning’s dog is barking and someone’s horse is whinnying and I hear Cullis giving the orders to mount up.

And then there’s a great clattering of hooves on Tresillian Bridge and I stand in the inn door and watch Hollie Babbitt’s brave, ruffianly, steadfast company head further into the West, until they are quite gone from view. And I wish I could do more for them. 

And then I pick up my pen. “To my most esteemed friend Mistress Henrietta Babbitt,” I write.

Edgehill, free stories, history, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, new books, Russell

And speaking of Hapless…."A Cloak of Zeal" free to read until 2nd March (with a link that works….)

A Cloak of Zeal by M. J. Logue A Cloak of Zeal  
A Cloak of Zeal – free until the 2nd March
food, Het, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, ponderations, present, silliness, women

Mistress Het’s Physick Garden Created – #1

I’ve always wanted a 17th century garden.

We live in an old granite cottage, in a sheltered dip where the Cornish gales blow overhead. We have a long front garden, and a small enclosed back yard.
There are certain things in our current garden which are givens –
– an apple tree, coming now to the end of its useful fruiting life, but rather lovely.
– two Williams pear trees, planted to mark William’s birth five years ago.
– an olive bush
– two sheds, somewhat non-negotiable, full of Living History kit
– a small and somewhat barren vegetable patch; the space can be re-used, but the raised bed itself is a fixture
– a very elderly rosemary bush
– three old-fashioned scented roses
– a flourishing bay tree
– naturalised wallflowers and primroses

The gardens of period town houses were generally modest and of a functional nature, based on medieval patterns, to provide plants of medicinal, culinary and household uses. Illustrations of town gardens from this period frequently show the garden adjacent to the house and enclosed by walls, hedging, fencing and/or painted rails. A wide variety of herbs, vegetables (known as pot herbs) and flowers were grown, probably in geometrical, raised beds surrounded by gravel. Small fruit trees, sometimes trained as espaliers on the sunny walls, and arbours covered with vines were common features.

I have prostrate rosemary and boxes of herbs at my front gate (in need of some overhaul) as well as a large rosemary bush at the front door to keep the witches away. I have bronze (Florentine) fennel, feverfew, lovage, savory, lemon thyme, sops-in-wine, houseleek….I also have three cats and a small boy who likes to dig holes.

So, then, the first challenge is to populate my shady corner by the shed, currently inhabited by some straggly “architectural” plants and a patch of wet and well-trodden soil. The idea is to build a raised bed by the shed and then put a narrow gravel path in front of it and behind the shed.

Suitable period plants for shade – their properties are taken from Culpeper (I do like his habit of calling cultvated plants “tame”…):

Sweet Woodruff

Virtues. The Woodruffe is accounted nourishing and restorative, and good for weakly consumptive people; it opens obstructions of the liver and spleen, and is said to be a provocative to venery.

Angelica –

Government and virtues. It is an herb of the Sun in Leo; let it be gathered when he is there, the Moon applying to his good aspect; let it be gathered either in his hour, or in the hour of Jupiter; let Sol be angular: observe the like in gathering the herbs of other planets, and you may happen to do wonders. In all epidemical diseases caused by Saturn, that is as good a preservative as grows; it resists poison, by defending and comforting the heart, blood, and spirits; it doth the like against the plague and all epidemical diseases, if the root be taken in powder to the weight of half a drachm at a time, with some good treacle in carduus water, and the party thereupon laid to sweat in his bed; if treacle be not to be had, take it alone in carduus or angelica-water. The stalks or roots candied and eaten fasting, are good preservatives in time of infection: and at other times to warm and comfort a cold stomach. The root also steeped in vinegar, and a little of that vinegar taken sometimes fasting, and the root smelled unto, is good for the same purpose. A water distilled from the root simply, as steeped in wine, and distilled in a glass, is much more effectual than the water of the leaves; and this water, drank two or three spoonfuls at a time, eases all pains and torments coming of cold and wind, so that the body be not bound; and taken with some of the root in powder, at the beginning, helps the pleurisy, as also all other diseases of the lungs and breast, as coughs, phthisic, and shortness of breath; and a syrup of the stalks do the like. It helps pains of the cholic, the stranguary and stoppage of the urine, procures womens’ courses, and expels the afterbirth: opens the stoppings of the liver and spleen, and briefly eases and discusses all windiness and inward swellings. The decoction drank before the fit of an ague, that the patient may sweat before the fit comes, will, in two or three times taking, rid it quite away: it helps digestion, and is a remedy for a surfeit. The juice, or the water, being dropped into the eyes or ears, helps dimness of sight and deafness; the juice put into the hollow teeth, eases their pains. The root in powder, made up into a plaister with a little pitch, and laid on the biting of mad dogs, or any other venomous creature, does wonderfully help. The juice or the water dropped, or tents wet therein, and put into filthy dead ulcers, or the powder of the root (in want of either) does cleanse and cause them to heal quickly, by covering the naked bones with flesh; the distilled water applied to places pained with the gout, or sciatica, gives a great deal of ease.
The root is used in many of our shop compositions as in the plague water, &c. and the dried leaves are a principal ingredient in the ladies red powder, famous for the cure of fevers.

Lemon Balm

Government and virtues. It is an herb of Jupiter, and under Cancer, and strengthens nature much in all its actions. Let a syrup made of the juice of it and sugar (as you shall be taught at the latter end of this book) be kept in every gentlewoman’s house, to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor sickly neighbours: as also the herb kept dry in the house, that so with other convenient simples, you may make it into an electuary with honey, according as the disease is, as you shall be taught at the latter end of my book. – The Arabian physicians have extolled the virtues thereof to the skies; although the Greeks thought it not worth mentioning. Seraphio saith, it causes the mind and heart to become merry, and reviveth the heart, faintings and swoonings, especially of such who are overtaken in sleep, and driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind, arising from melancholy or black choler: which Avichen also confirmeth. It is very good to help digestion, and open obstructions of the brain, and hath so much purging quality in it (saith Avichen) as to expel those melancholy vapours from the spirits and blood which are in the heart and arteries, although it cannot do so in other parts of the body. – Dioscorides saith, That the leaves steeped in wine, and the wine drank, and the leaves externally applied, is a remedy against the stings of a scorpion, and the bitings of mad dogs; and commendeth the decoction thereof for women to bathe or sit in to procure their courses; it is good to wash aching teeth therewith, and profitable for those that have the bloody flux. The leaves also, with a little nitre taken in drink, are good against the surfeit of mushrooms, helps the griping pains of the belly; and being made into an electuary, it is good for them that cannot fetch their breath: Used with salt, it takes away wens, kernels, or hard swelling in the flesh or throat: it cleanseth foul sores, and eases pains of the gout. It is good for the liver and spleen. A tansy, or caudle made with eggs, and juice thereof while it is young, putting to it some sugar and rosewater, is good for a woman in child-bed, when the after-birth is not properly voided; and for their faintings upon or in their sore travail. The herb bruised and boiled in a little wine and oil, and laid warm on a boil, will ripen it, and break it.  

Sweet Cecily
Government and virtues. The garden chervil being eaten, doth moderately warm the stomach, and is a certain remedy (saith Tragus) to dissolve congealed or clotted blood in the body, or that which is clotted by bruises, falls, &c. The juice or distilled water thereof being drank, and the bruised leaves laid to the place, being taken either in meat or drink, it is good to help to provoke urine, or expel the stone in the kidneys, to send down women’s courses, and to help the pleurisy and pricking of the sides.
The wild chervil bruised and applied, dissolveth swellings in any part, or the marks of congealed blood by bruises or blows in a little space. 

Fennel –  
Government and virtues. One good old fashion is not yet left off, viz . to boil fennel with fish; for it consumes that phlegmatic humour which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason of its benefit this way is, because it is an herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces. Fennel is good to break wind, to provoke urine, and ease the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed, boiled in barley-water and drank, are good for nurses, to increase their milk, and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stays the hiccough, and takes away the loathings which oftentimes happen to the stomachs of sick and feverish persons, and allays the heat thereof. The seed boiled in wine and drank, is good for those that are bit with serpents, or have eat poisonous herbs, or mushrooms. The seed, and the roots much more, help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby help the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice; as also the gout and cramps. The seed is of good use in medicines, to help shortness of breath and wheezing, by stopping of the lungs. It assists also to bring down the courses, and to cleanse the parts after delivery. The roots are of most use in physic drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, to open obstructions of the liver, to provoke urine, and amend the ill colour in the face after sickness, and to cause a good habit through the body. Both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof, are much used in drink or broth, to make people lean that are too fat. The distilled water of the whole herb, or the condensate juice dissolved, but especially the natural juice, that in some counties issues out of its own accord, dropped into the eyes cleans them from mists and films that hinder the sight. The sweet fennel is much weaker in physical uses than the common fennel. The wild fennel is stronger and hotter than the tame, and therefore most powerful against the stone, but not so effectual to encrease milk, because of its dryness.

The left side of the bed gets full sun almost all day, but it’s still quite damp down there. My fennel is presently in a small trough and is feeling a bit sorry for itself, so the opportunity to get out and stretch its roots somewhat will be welcome! But if I put the tall, feathery plants to the back of the bed – fennel and angelica and cecily – that’s a fairly architectural display in its own right. And for a truly seventeenth-century look, it’s important that the plants are as elegantly arranged as possible in order of height, unlike our modern fashion for a brave disorder.

So…. the planning begins, and I will keep posting updates.

Colchester, conspiracy, Fairfax, history, Levellers, politics, ponderations, Rainsborough, women

Surely some mistake, Colonel Rainsborough – Royalist propaganda or war criminal?

“For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under…”.
Thomas Rainsborough, Putney Debates, 1647
When I first started writing the Uncivil Wars books I had a fairly clear picture of the martyred Leveller colonel Thomas Rainsborough, in my head.
The known facts of his early life are fairly scant. He was born in Wapping in 1610 – son of Vice-Admiral William Rainsborough, a captain in the Royal Navy and Ambassador to Morocco. Vice-Admiral Rainsborough was offered a baronetcy for his efforts to end white slavery – an honour which he then declined. Republicanism, then, we can infer, was in the Rainsborough genetic make-up.
Thomas, then, began his career before the civil war in the family business; he and his brother William were involved in an early naval expedition to the Puritan Providence Island colony, off the coast of Nicaragua – and, it may be suggested, a degree of mild pirating of those antipathetic towards England’s interests.
However, after an early command of the Swallow and the Lion in the embryonic Parliamentarian navy (Hull, 1643 – where he first meets Hollie Babbitt in “Command the Raven) he then transferred to the Eastern Association – Oliver Cromwell’s haunt, although bearing in mind that Old Noll was no more than a plain Colonel of Horse himself at this point – where he was himself commissioned an infantry Colonel by the Earl of Manchester. In May 1645, he became a colonel in the newly-formed New Model Army. He fought and distinguished himself at Naseby. He went with Fairfax into the West Country and distinguished himself again at the battle of Langport.
And then at the siege of Bristol, after fierce fighting as the town surrendered, Rainsborough’s troops massacred the defenders of Prior’s Hill Fort. Allegedly.
It says so on Bristol local history sites. It says so in assorted fictional accounts. What it doesn’t say is where primary source evidence on this massacre might have been found. None of the accounts I have discovered (bearing in mind I don’t live in Bristol, so my hands are somewhat tied regarding physical archives…damn it all) annotate this.
However. So. Maybe that upright seagoing Republican with the staunch Puritan friends who came back from New England to fight for Parliament alongside him, maybe he did give the orders to massacre the defenders of Prior’s Hill Fort. Also note that every account I’ve discovered uses the word “massacre”. Now that’s either very definite…or they’re all using the same source material. Interesting.
Now. Rainsborough was then elected recruiter MP for Droitwich in Worcestershire in January 1647, but was allowed to continue with his military duties. Probably just as well, because in his absence in May 1647 his troops mutinied at Portsmouth in protest at Parliament’s plans to disband the New Model without addressing the soldiers’ grievances. Petty grievances, of course, set against the weightier matters of national governance – matters like not being paid for eight weeks, or being sent to fight abroad (in the case of Rainsborough’s troop, in Jersey) without seeing any of their back pay, or the unsettled matter of punishment for “war crimes” such as stealing horses under martial direction for use in cavalry regiments. That particular war crime had ended in the hanging of several soldiers after the first Civil War. I imagine there were any number of uncomfortable troopers around with that particular sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. (There – and you thought Eliot and Ward were made up, didn’t you? Nope…that pair of light-fingered buggers are very much based on historical persons.)
Rainsborough’s troops were preparing to march on Oxford and seize the artillery based there, until the man himself came back and met with them at Abingdon and talked them out of it.
That’s twice that Rainsborough is recorded as being charismatic, and personally involved, enough to influence people who have pretty good reasons not to do what he ends up getting them to do: the officers from New England had the reasonable excuse of several thousand miles of implacable Atlantic between themselves and the troubles back home, and Rainsborough’s own troops wouldn’t have been the first to disregard their commander – look at Waller’s disobedient London-raised troops, who were reluctant to fight outside their home turf regardless of his orders.
So, then, we see Rainsborough as clearly a very charismatic, very engaging, very hands-on man, fully engaged with his own men on a direct and personal level. Evidently a very popular leader and seen as both influential and reliable – he was one of the officers that presented the Heads of the Proposals to King Charles in July 1647. Turned down flat, in the most high-handed manner imaginable, by the King. 1647 really marked the beginning of Rainsborough’s overt involvement in the Army’s political activities, and his role as a leading Leveller light. He led the advance guard of three regiments of foot and one of horse when the Army marched to occupy London, successfully seizing Southwark – where, it must be noted, he had previously inherited property, and was presumably well-known to the locals, being a Wapping boy himself, so unlikely to be seen as some kind of brutal interloper.
During October and November 1647 he was lively at the Putney Debates, siding with the Leveller radicals in calling for negotiations with the King to be broken off immediately and for a new constitution of their own terms to be implemented. (That rebuttal of the Heads of Proposals must have still rankled.) He was also arguing for manhood suffrage, which didn’t go down well with Cromwell and Ireton either. And then in November 1647, he attempted to present a copy of the Levellers’ manifesto, and was ignored by General Fairfax.
January 1648 saw a return to naval service, given command of a squadron guarding the Isle of Wight where the King was held prisoner.
But. What we have been seeing before is a humanitarian man, vociferous in his support for the common soldier…who was so absolutely unpopular with the Navy that a number of Parliamentarian warships declared for the King in the spring of 1648 rather than carry on serving with him, and Rainsborough was put ashore from his own flagship by his crew. Parliament had to re-instate the Earl of  Warwick in his place to restore the loyalty of the seamen. It destroyed Rainsborough’s authority within in the navy, and he transferred back to the Army and took command of a newly-raised London regiment at the siege of Colchester.
And this is where I really begin to struggle with Rainsborough. Because the siege of Colchester was a filthy, vicious, uncharacteristically cruel assault, wholly out of character for both Thomas Fairfax and what we have seen of Thomas Rainsborough. The siege began in June 1648 and lasted for 11 weeks – a siege in which townspeople consistently loyal to Parliament, were barricaded in with an occupying force who were not precisely sympathetic.

Again, anecdotal evidence for Fairfax’s atrocities includes the torture of a messenger boy, the desecration of Sir Charles Lucas’s family vaults during manoeuvres; the inhabitants were certainly starving, reduced to eating cats, dogs, candles and soap – civilian and military alike. Fairfax is alleged to have agreed that his troops could cut off the hands of Royalist soldiers to take rings as booty. It is certain that a starving deputation of women and children was sent to Fairfax to ask for mercy, and were refused. It is again anecdotal that a second deputation of starving townswomen presented themselves to Rainsborough and were stripped, for the amusement of his troops.

Edited: at the end of the siege, Colchester was fined the MASSIVE sum of £14,000 – reduced to £12,000. Previous to the siege the town had been one of the biggest ports in Essex. Afterwards – a rural backwater. Fairfax broke the town utterly.

So. As Hollie Babbitt might put it, not much bloody further on, are we, after all that?
On the one hand, we have Rainsborough the compassionate republican, demanding fair and equal treatment for the poorest he that is in England. On the other we have a war criminal, even by the standards of the 17th century.
But. (I like big buts, and I cannot lie.)

I like a mystery, and I likes both Fairfax and Rainsborough, and it may take me a while, but I’ll get to the bottom of this one. The Lord has smiled upon my endeavours…. Him Indoors is an Essex boy!

Lucey, poetry, present, Rupert, silliness

WORLD POETRY DAY – the posh poet goes for it….


O shagg’d cavalier! No more to begg,
To fetch, or steal a bone –
The noblest of Prince Rupert’s trayne
Doth lie here overthrown.

For all thy pride and high degree
Brave Cur, now thou hast had it
Cut down in thy prime of life
By, likely, Hollie Babbitt.

Yet, Boye, mind well, thou proudest Dogg
That ever tupped a bitch
The paths of glory do but lead
Into a Yorkshire ditch.

Babbitt, humour, Lucey, new books, ponderations, present, Russell, silliness

Thankful Russell – in hiding till "Poldark" finishes

Experts reveal the historical hunk that makes women swoon

“You’re putting me on,” Hollie Babbitt says faintly. “For sure?”

Russell does not look flattered. Russell, in point of fact, looks scared witless. “You have a look,” he says, in a very odd voice. Hollie looks up and raises an eyebrow. “Russell, what you talking like that for? With your mouth shut?”

The scarred lieutenant points. (That damned Amazon female. She has a habit of passing her ill-conceived and unwomanly pamphlets of seditious literature by Russell, and she knows what it does to him.)

“Seductive smile,” Hollie reads, with mild disbelief. “What, him? That bugger was in my troop and I’d have him buck his ideas up, for sure. Running round half-dressed, he’ll catch his death of cold. Small, straight incisors -” he pokes his own straight teeth with a thumb, and then looks at Russell in the manner of a man assessing the age of a horse. “Well, you do have all your own teeth, Hapless. That is true. And they are, surely, straight.  Though I wouldn’t call you seductive. You don’t do much for me, anyway.”
This is evidently of little consolation to Russell, who keeps his mouth firmly closed over admittedly-good teeth and looks quizzical.

“Manly,” Hollie goes on, “but not too muscular.” That leaves him somewhat at a loss. “You know a lot of fat cavalry officers?” he asks the ceiling. “- all right, Venning’s built on the perpendicular, but even he’s not fat. Say square, rather. Hapless, you want to have a word with that lass of yours. What is this rubbish? Manly – well, aye, we are, for the most part, fellers, yes. With one or two significant exceptions.” He glowers at Luce, who ignores him. Old news. “And not too muscular. Well, that’s three of us in this room who are masculine by gender and all of -“
“Slight,” Luce prompts.
Elegant build,” Hollie corrects him, with a sidelong glance at Russell’s lithe and greyhound-lean person. Russell – still with his mouth closed – says nothing, but tries to look untidy.

“Pert posterior.”
“Oh God,” Russell says faintly. He is, after all, a cavalry officer. Most gentlemen with a deal of acquaintance with horses have –
“Calluses on their arse,” Hollie adds. “What kind of lass is this anyway, goes around assessing men by the quality of their backsides?” He – a married man of several years’ standing – looks up in indignation. His two junior officers are looking distinctly dreamy. “I wouldn’t mind?” Luce says hopefully.

“Aye, and you probably do look good in a frock, brat. The hell is this, Hapless? Oh – frock coat. What’s one of them?” He almost throws the pamphlet at Russell and then goes back to it. (They are strangely addictive, these things.) “Plain soldier’s coat not good enough for these wenches, is it not? Bloody soft-handed womanish – thing – look at the bloody state of him. Flailing about in the water like the Lord had meant him to be a bloody fish. Wouldn’t know proper soldiering if it bit him in the ar- back of the leg.” Hollie scratches at three days’ worth of ruffianly cinnamon stubble. “Too clean by half, that boy. Give me a week with him and I’d make a bloody trooper of him, you see if I wouldn’t.”

An accent, apparently. This paragon has to have a deep, gravelly voice. Luce the Essex boy looks relieved. Russell with his soft Buckinghamshire burr, and Hollie the North Countryman, exchange a horrified glance. Luce gets up and peers at the inflammatory pamphlet. “And long hair, apparently,” he says. “How fascinating.”

Hollie shifts in his seat, awkwardly, touching the thick russet ponytail that hangs straight down his back. And Russell – thick fair hair worn loose, most of the time, just past his shoulders. It covers the –
“Scar,” Luce says. “Good lord, Thankful. Apparently this gentleman was badly scarred in the face as a young man in the wars in Spain. They say it’s most appealing to the ladies.”

It’s not helping, of course. The fact remains, no matter how many of the traits the experts deem so desirable may happen to be possessed by Russell, the scarred (and not unhandsome) lieutenant remains unconvinced. And, possibly, therein lies his appeal. He thinks it’s all cobblers. Funny, but cobblers.

Hollie’s married, so he doesn’t care, although he folds up the inflammatory pamphlet to show Mistress Babbitt. He happens to share many of these desirable traits, and he’d like to confirm his good lady’s agreement with same.

Luce? Well, Luce is – currently – single, and ready to mingle. He pulls the cord loose that binds his own fair hair neatly back, and wonders if a shaving-cut from this morning counts as a fabulous flaw….