new books, Russell, Thomazine. writing

If you like it, put a vote on it – A Broom At The Masthead preview….

He sniffed surreptitiously at the lustrous collar of his court suit.
It smelt, faintly, of stale rosewater and tobacco and sea-coal fumes, with an acrid note of sweat, and a slight overlay of wine. Under that was the strange, fugitive scent of silk, of tar and the sea and the spices of the hold of an East Indiaman – although that was possibly in his imagination, for he had never set foot on a ship bound for anywhere more exotic than the Low Countries.
He’d been told, in no uncertain terms, that he’d shirked long enough. That an officer of some seniority, even a supply officer of no great military significance or birth – General Monck had been very specific on that last, and Russell could still hear his commander’s round rural Devonshire accent in the memory of it – it was his duty to present himself at court, and pay his loyal respects to His Majesty, on the glorious event of his restoration to the throne after eleven years of misery under the Commonwealth.
And then Monck had glowered, and narrowed his little bull’s eyes, pouched in sagging red flesh. “You’ll do the pretty, Major Russell, for all ye were a damnable Roundhead.”
The which Major Thankful Russell could not argue, for with a name like Thankful, he could scarcely deny his staunch Puritan upbringing, and having almost had himself executed as a political subversive, he had to admire General Monck’s perspicacity.
But. He had thought that after twenty years of keeping his head down, of being a ferociously good supply officer of no great military significance or birth, of waking and sleeping lists and requisitions and logistics – after a life of ruthless and selfless service, he might not, actually, be forced to show his face at court against his will. Monck said it was a matter of respect. Russell was a god-damned administrator, a jumped-up pen-pusher, who the hell did he think he was, in his arrogance, to refuse to present his respects to His Majesty in person?
They forgot, you see. They saw this neat, slightly austere, mouse-haired gentleman in his forty-second year, tall and a little stiff in the shoulders as a result of stooping over his requisition lists these last years. Short-haired, where preposterously curled wigs were the fashion, and so they called him Old Crophead, for his old Parliament leanings and his present lack of vanity. Not given to excess, of any nature, but a most prim and sober and respectable senior officer, the sight of whose scarred face could be relied upon to damp the high spirits of any gathering.
They forgot that twenty years ago he had been a firebrand, and a rebel. He looked cold and implacable, but how else might a man look, who had taken the thrust of the shattered butt of a pike through his cheek in the early years of the civil wars?
And so it had been a matter of duty, and a direct order, that Russell should present himself at court. Well, he had. He remembered little of it. He had, admittedly, fortified himself with perhaps more wine than he ought to have: anything to stop the shaking of his hands, his absolute bone-deep horror of being so conspicuously displayed in a public place. More than that, though, it had just been dull. Nothing happened. Lots of nothing happened. Just a lot of people talking a lot of nothing in a big room, that smelt of stale bodies and tallow and too much scent. He didn’t remember being presented to the King, though he supposed he must have, or Monck would have made him go back. Smiling politely at everyone, because he didn’t have a clue who was sleeping with whom, male or female, and it did not do to cut the reigning favourite, or the court wit. Being called Bosola, which he did not understand, but which had been kindly explained to him some months later by a friend who had read such old-fashioned tragedies that it referred to a most notorious court malcontent and bird of ill omen, in a play.
Being told, by a gaggle of cackling, bewigged striplings, that if one gilded a turd, it remained, regardless, a turd.
Suggesting to the Earl of Rochester that if he passed such remarks in Russell’s hearing again, Russell would take Rochester’s ungodly ape and insert it where the Lord’s grace did not shine.
(Russell had known poets, in his time. The men he knew would have hesitated to scrawl such doggerel as Rochester wrote, on the wall of a troop latrine. He was not impressed by a seventeen-year-old libertine. And he meant it about the monkey.)
He’d stayed close to the wall, mostly, trembling, with the small of his back against the moulded plaster, taking some comfort from that cool strength. Holding to his duty, because that was what he did, what he had done since he was seventeen, and first a young officer. Feeling like an impostor, in his charcoal-grey lutestring silk, with a jacket that was so short and tight it barely covered his arse, and great billowing shirt-sleeves hanging from under the shrunken sleeves. Festooned with ribbon, like a damnable maypole, with a cravat that trailed in his supper if he was not cautious how he sat. Ribbons and lace and high-heeled shoes, which made him mince like a girl, and he could not and would not grow one of those ashy smears of moustache, even if his scarred face would allow it.
He had been a little drunk, and a lot nervous, and his teeth had been chattering on the rim of his delicate Venetian glass goblet even before he’d seen a face he knew, however vaguely: the chubby, deceptively amiable countenance of Charles Fairmantle, a distant Buckinghamshire neighbour. Member of Parliament now, he thought. Couldn’t remember, and did not care, overly much. Fairmantle was a toady and a lecher, and a hanger-on to the peripheries of Rochester’s lewd cohort, and the touch of his pudgy hand made a sweat of sheer repulsion break out on Russell’s top lip, as if a warm slug had crawled over his skin.
They exchanged idle pleasantries, or at the least, Fairmantle made idle pleasantry and Russell stared blankly at him for the most part. And then,
“Accept my condolences, Major. A bad business. A bad business, indeed. You must be devastated.”
“Oh. Indeed. Which condolences?”
The pudgy hand on his sleeve, solicitous, leaving a faint, damp print on the glimmering silk.
“I am so sorry, sir. I had assumed you knew. Your sister, major. God rest her, she – Four Ashes was burned, not three months ago, and poor Mistress Coventry with it.” Fairmantle shook his head. “I am sorry. I had not meant – I had not known – sir, you turn positively pale -“
And Russell, who had hated his sister, and not set eyes on her in the better part of ten years, had bitten clean through the rim of his goblet in his shock nonetheless.
He thought that had been the moment when he had decided to come back to Buckinghamshire for good and all, though it had taken him a few months of despair and penny-pinching and soul-searching to work out how he might rebuild the house at Four Ashes.
And then a further few months of despair and soul-searching when he realised that there was only one woman he’d have entertained as mistress there, and that she was as utterly, irrevocably not for him as the moon for the moth.
Possibly he ought to have mentioned that fact to Thomazine Babbitt, for she was under no such doubts at all, as it turned out. There had only ever been one man for Thomazine, and the Lord be praised, it turned out it had always been Russell. It seemed she’d considered him her especial property since she was three years old. It might have saved him some considerable distress if she’d thought to tell him, though, he thought wryly.
Well. He smoothed the charcoal silk again, absently.
He’d thought to do her honour on their wedding day, and wear his finest.
Well, she was marrying a plain gentleman, not a courtier. He’d given all that up, along with his commission, just under a year ago. He was no man’s but his own.
– And hers, of course. Always hers.
He took a deep breath, and pulled on the plain, decent, pewter-grey wool waistcoat with the plain silver buttons, and the plain, old-fashioned, straight-fitting coat that went with it.
“At least the lass will recognise you,” he told himself, smiling wanly at his reflection in the mirror.
Ruffled a hand through his hair – grown to his shoulders, now, and no longer so indeterminately mouse as it had been when he’d worn it close-cropped, but streaked fair and dark as a field of wheat when the wind blows through it. She liked it so, worn long, and straight.
He was scarred, and worn, and weary, and his head hurt when the wind was in the north.
All that was true.
But Thomazine loved him. And further than that, he did not care.  
If you liked the first chapter of A Broom At the Masthead, vote for it HERE
children, Colchester, Gray,, Lucey, ponderations, writing

Luce’s love life

Wilbrecht is five today.

It’s an odd thing, being in a room full of happy, healthy, lively, noisy, well-nourished children. On the one hand, it’s something like being dropped into a pan of boiling water, when you first walk through the door. Hot and well-nigh unbearable, for about thirty seconds, and then you start to become numb.
And then on the other hand, you think how very fortunate they are, and how lucky we are to have them, and what a privilege it is that the vexatious little buggers are happy and healthy.  (And that five years ago there was no Wilbrecht, and six years ago I did not imagine there ever might be.)

And, you know, I wonder what it might be like, if you were on your own – that you loved someone, maybe, but that maybe they didn’t know, or that it just wasn’t the right time or place to tell them – if maybe, it might choke in your throat, to see a room full of happy, healthy, bright children, and to think – I could do that. One of those screaming, laughing little whelps could have been mine. If she hadn’t died. If she had known.
That everyone you knew, even the unlikely, even the plain and the unpromising, belonged. And there you were, at twenty-ish, single, a widower, someone who had known what it was to be a part of a little commonwealth, and who had lost it. Thinking, perhaps, that life was unfair, and wondering what your own children might have looked like, if you had been blessed.
If she hadn’t died.

How you might have loved your never-children. Dried their tears, kissed bumps and grazes, told stories. Wiped noses. And it would have all been a kind myth, because you would have been just as cross and impatient as any other of these harrassed parents at times, but not in your never-world.

They loved their children, even in 1645.

Reckon we need to get Luce married off?

Gray, Lucey, new books, Russell, writing

Selby – a poll, please!

I have a certain situation, in Selby, and your opinion would be much valued.

Luce, Gray, and Russell, inside the barricades. Doing deeds of daring nefariety, if that is a word, which Hollie is going to go mental about when he finds out, but there it is.

(“You did WHAT!! If you get your damn’ fool self killed Lucifer your bloody auntie will never sleep with me again!”)

Luce – nice young man, earnest, principled.
Gray – no principles at all but likes Luce and wouldn’t want to make him sad
Russell – stark mad most of the time and nothing to lose, but essentially a decent young man

So…. having been helped by a Royalist sentry, how would you feel, as a reader, if either Russell or Gray cut the sentry’s throat?

Babbitt, childbirth, history, Margriete, women

Losing Her Cherry – what did happen to Margriete Babbitt?

“Kersen” is back in the Kindle short story charts. Which is, of course, right and proper.

But whilst I have been playing with the formatting of “Red Horse” prior to its being unveiled with its lovely new cover courtesy of Jacques le Roux, I have realised something that I think I might have always known.

You see, Margriete Babbitt – nee Gerritszen – aka the Amazon, is all of thirty-seven, thirty-eight when she marries her young mercenary. (He’s eighteen, but it’s all right… he’s tall for his age.)
And that would make her forty-five when she dies. Now Hollie never knew what happened to his first wife: he was away at the time of her death, up to the elbows in mud and blood at the siege of Nuremberg. But I think I might…

Pregnancy and childbirth were a risky business, in the 17th century. It is estimated that between 6 and 7 per cent of women could expect to die from childbirth related causes. A married woman would become pregnant, on average, five or six times.

From 1619 to 1660 in the archdiocese of Canterbury, England, the median age of the brides was 22 years and nine months while the median age for the grooms was 25 years and six months, with average ages of 24 years for the brides and nearly 28 years for the grooms, with the most common ages at marriage being 22 years for women and 24 years for men; in one parish in Devon, the aberage age of marriage fluctuated between 25 and 29 years. Interestingly, the Church dictated that the age when one could marry without the consent of one’s parents was 21 years. A large majority of English brides in this time were at least 19 years of age when they married, and only one bride in a thousand was thirteen years of age or younger. (So much for the myth of the Early Modern child bride!)

So – Griete, married for a second time, a middle-class widow of independent means, already living on the polite peripheries as the owner of a tavern. In her book In the Family Way: Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860, Dr Judith Schneid Lewis gives details of a woman whose last surviving child was born when she was 46; Catherine Tothill, wife of William Tothill, Esq., who resided at Shardeloes in Buckinghamshire during the 17th-century, is thought to have given birth to 33 children, the last, presumably, being in her forties. Margriete at forty-four would be an older mother, but not a freakishly old one.

And it would seem that women were aware of their chances, in childbirth. Anne Bradstreet’s poem “Before the birth of one of her children” addresses her husband directly on the possibility of her death in labour, with resignation, though not necessarily with fear. It has been suggested that women possibly expected their suffering in travail as an affliction of humanity resulting from Eve’s original sin – certainly, most women expected danger in childbirth, and expected to get on with it in as well and with as much Christian fortitude as may be. The midwife, and, if you could afford one, the physician, were instruments of God’s will, and although it would be sinful to rely on them to thwart His design, it would be equally sinful to not take appropriate concern over one’s bodily welfare.

For a good, thorough reading of the 17th century woman’s approach to childbirth, I suggest Sharon Howard’s academic paper ‘Imagining the Pain and Peril of Seventeenth-century Childbirth: Travail and Deliverance in the Making ot an Early Modern World’ (2003)

And as for Margriete?
No, that won’t ever be a story in its own right, because she died without her lollopy mercenary-boy with her, and he would have held her hand if he could, and he couldn’t.

Some things are too sad for even me.

(Image of The Cholmondley Ladies copyright Tate Gallery)

Babbitt, Fairfax, Het, history, new books, ponderations, Russell, writing

Babylon is Fallen, to Rise No More

Well, the good news is, I’ve finished the new book.
The bad news is, it is not “Babylon’s Downfall” – it’s part one of the road to Marston Moor, it’s the battle at Selby in 1643, and it’s called “The Smoke of Her Burning”.

I should like to say, worry not, I am not turning into George R R Martin (tha knows nuthin‘, Hollie Babbitt)

But I’m not sure that I’m not.

I can honestly say no one comes back from the dead, mind, but there is a Walk of Shame, all the way from Essex to Yorkshire. Instead of the Wall I have the Ouse. I have in-fighting Babbitts, disfigured heroes (yes, Russell’s back!) stern heroines, and there may even be one or two scenes of Het Babbitt without her stays on.

Game o’ thrones, my lily-white backside, as Rosie would have it.
Bloody game o’ commonwealths, more like it.