Babbitt, children, new books, ponderations, present, sad bits, writing

Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth

For various reasons, I have been thinking on the nature of Hollie and Lije Babbitt’s wary relationship…. on abusive childhoods, and on how abused children grow into damaged adults.

The brief background to Hollie’s, is that he was brought up by his strict godly father, after the death of his mother. And as he grew up, being Hollie, he rebelled against everything his father taught him, and tried his damnedest to do the opposite. While Lije, fearing for his boy’s immortal soul if he carried on in his wilful disobedience, tried to beat him back to the path of righteousness with a strap.

Thirty years later, and they’re still locked in the same pattern.

Hollie wanting his father to finally acknowledge that his son is not a vile sinner, wanting Lije to say that actually, Hollie hasn’t turned out so badly, has made something worthwhile of himself after all. That the mother he never knew might be proud of him. That Lije was wrong.

That he was sorry.

And Lije is still wanting to correct, to make his son better – only now he’s trying to make Hollie a better father, and a better husband, as well as a better Christian. But he can’t leave well alone. It’s his way or no way: he can’t relinquish that control, and let Hollie make his own mistakes.

And, you know, it’s an odd thing. The child of an over-zealous evangelist. Or the child of an addict. Or of a girl with too much on her shoulders too young, forced into responsibility for a child that’s stolen her youth and her freedom. They grow up, for the most part, wondering what they did wrong. How they failed, because the person who was supposed to love them did not, and that must be a failing in them, surely, they must have deserved to be hurt, have done something bad.

(Hollie at seventeen, with his shirt over his head, explaining to the woman he was going to marry that he must have done something to merit the scars his father put on his back with a belt.)

That the person who should love them is really a good person, and they make that person angry and sad, and so it’s their own fault. That they cannot mend the person who hurts them, and ask they spend their days trying to be things they are not. Tiptoeing, saying the “right” things, in fear.

(Thankful Russell, at six, promising to be a good boy if his sister would only love him, and not hurt him any more.)

And then they grow up with a dreadful sense of responsibility, wanting everyone to be pleased with them, all the time. Afraid of conflict, because if you make people angry they might hurt you. Trying to manage situations so that everybody’s always friends, like some kind of bright game show where the prize is normality.

You can’t, of course. Taking responsibility for someone else’s behaviour is a fool’s errand: you can’t cure it, and you can’t control it. So you withdraw, because you have to, and you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t because other people only see the shiny side.

Love is not enough, is never enough: you can give everything, like pouring water into a hole in the sand, and it will drain away leaving exactly the same emptiness as before. And there’s a point at which you stop with the water. And then you feel bad because maybe this last bucket will be enough – maybe just this one last few drops that you were going to use to water the flowers but the hole is more important, and so you have to try again…

Until you don’t. You water your flowers. People don’t like your taste in flowers, bugger ‘em.

Walk away. Leave the goddamn hole to empty.

Which is exactly what me and Hollie are going to do.

 

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Babbitt, Cornwall, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Lucey, new books, South West campaign, spoiler

The Serpent’s Root – Cornwall 1646.Two months and counting….

Release date of March 21st and if you’re wondering what may have befallen Hollie Babbitt and the rebel rabble since the end of “A Wilderness of Sin” – here’s a taster…

“I want to go home,” Luce said dully, and turned his head on the pillow, though his eyes stayed closed. “I want to go home, Hollie.”

“Aye, I thought –“

He was mending, and his hair was lank, sticking to his forehead with sticky sweat: bless the lad, there wouldn’t be a girl in Hampshire who’d look at him twice, now, but he opened his eyes then and looked up at Hollie.

“It’s all right,” he said, in that rusty, thready voice, strained with coughing. Closed his eyes again. “I’m sorry. I – she – I dreamed of her. Of Gray. It was nothing. The fever. I -” He trailed off, and under the blankets, his chest jerked, as if he might have sobbed. Only the once. “I almost believed it was real. That it – that she – that this was the dream, and she the reality. That I might wake and find myself at Bristol again, and be -. It was the fever. Nothing more.”

“Just the fever. Aye. I know.” And he wanted to do something reassuring, just a reaching out so that Luce might know that his lost girl might have faded like smoke, but that his friends were here, and real, and solid. But what comfort was that, when you had dreamed of a loss made whole again, and woke to find yourself in a lonely bed? Hollie put his hand on Luce’s shoulder, and squeezed, gently. (The brat was a boy again, all skin and bone and tousled hair. That made Hollie’s heart hurt, too, for the lad had no right to be so fragile.)

“Just the fever,” Luce echoed. “Surely.” And then he closed his eyes, and one single tear made its way from under his lashes, and slid down his face into his tangled hair. “It was a good dream, though. I wish -“
“No you don’t,” Hollie said, for that way lay madness.
“I miss her,” he said, as if Hollie had not spoken, and his voice was as flat as ever, as if he were talking of a skipped meal, or a forgotten engagement. “All the time, I miss her. And I do not know how I might bear it.”

And how could he answer that, without sounding as if Gray were a thing of no account? You get used to it? There will be other girls? “Yes,” he said, eventually, and hoped that was sufficient.

“She was not beautiful. I never counted her beautiful. But she was- alive, she was always so, so – she was never still, was she?” For the first time in weeks, another slow tear made its way from under his lashes, trickling down into his hair, soaking the greasy pillow. “Hollie?”

“Aye?”

Luce covered his eyes with the back of his wrist. “How do you forget?” he said, in a tiny voice.

And all Hollie could say was, “You don’t, Luce. You keep putting one foot in front of t’other. You don’t forget. But you get used to it.”
No consolation to think that after almost ten years there were still nights when he dreamed of Margriete, and still hurt to wake and find her gone. And that just for that first heartbeat, it hurt as much as it had.
“It will always hurt?” Luce said, and Hollie nodded, forgetting the lad had his eyes screwed tight shut.

“Like any other scar, brat. It will always hurt, if you get touched on it.”

“Good,” he said fiercely.  “For – I c-cannot bear that she should not be here, Hollie, and yet I cannot bear to pretend she never was.” And he sat up, quite forgetting that he was supposed to be on death’s doorstep, with all his tangled dirty hair falling about his face, and he buried his face in his two hands and sobbed like a little boy, with no thought for his beauty or his dignity. “It hurts,” he wailed, “it hurts, Hollie, it hurts!”

Aye. Well. Luce had forgot his beauty and his dignity, but Hollie was reminded, suddenly, that he had a daughter. And that one day, as the sparks flew upwards, she would look to him to comfort her. It was thinking of Thomazine that he sat on the edge of the bed and put his arms round the brat, patting him gingerly on the shoulder as he wept.
“It’ll all come good, Luce,” he said, and closed his eyes and thought of Thomazine. “It’ll all come good.”

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Babbitt, Lucey, silliness, Yorkshire

About Time We Heard From Luce… an interview with young Pettitt

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Babbitt, horses, Lucey, new books, Russell, Yorkshire

Rosie and Tyburn. Luce and Rosa. Meet Russell’s Doubting Thomas….

“Got a surprise for you, Hapless,” Hollie said smugly.
Percey had groomed the bay horse till its coat gleamed like a dark conker. He’d even acquired some chalk from God knows where and he’d whitened the gelding’s stockings. There were times when you had to wonder about Mattie Percey’s previous career in a stable-yard in Essex. Just how honestly he might have come by certain skills. That lad was a better painter than Lely.
What he hadn’t done was improved the big horse’s temper, and it came out of the line rearing, ears pinned against its skull. Mattie had his hand gripping the bit-ring, trying to keep the horse’s head down, and even so the bay nearly had him off his feet.
It was a bloody fine horse, though. Big-built, not one of your lightweight sprinters like Luce Pettitt’s spindly witless Rosa: backside like a gable end and a proud arch to its thickly-muscled neck that hinted that someone might have been a little behindhand with the shears to its gelding. That was a beast that’d go all day chasing Malignants and come in at the end of it dancing. It was the sort of mount any junior cavalry officer with any dreams of a future career in the Army might covet, provided a man could train some sense into its thick head. Plenty of staying-power, plenty of fire and dash, though possibly a bit light on good humour. Hollie closed one eye and looked at the bay horse consideringly where it ramped and curvetted like some maniac heraldic emblem.
“What d’you reckon to him, then?” he said, and looked at the scarred lieutenant, expecting to see gratitude and pleasure on that cold, half-lovely face.
Instead the lad was white to the lips, the great scar on his cheek standing out a most unlovely purple, and his eyes were as mad as the bay horse’s.
“Is – thish – intended to be meant in humour?” he said stiffly, and his voice had that funny slur it had when the ragged muscle in his cheek had gone stiff as wood, like it did when he was tired or ungovernable. Or drunk. That was still always a clear and present possibility.
Hollie shook his head, thinking he must have misheard, or Russell must have misheard, because –
“All right, ain’t he?” Percey said happily, still being jerked around like a rag doll by the beast’s flinging head, but as cheerfully good-humoured as ever he was even when his arm was being yanked from its socket by an unwanted cavalry remount. “Want to take him out, Hap- uh, Lieutenant Russell? Take a bit of the ginger out of his heels?”
“I. Should. Rather. Be. Dead,” Russell said, through gritted teeth. Flung his own head up, looking not unlike the bay horse, and glared fiercely at Hollie, and Hollie would have sworn to it the lieutenant’s dark eyes were brimming with wholly incomprehensible tears. “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
“What?” Hollie said blankly, and Russell snarled at him, actually snarled, baring his teeth like a dog.
“The Book of Proverb. Ss.” He bit off the last consonant with a hissing, furious sibilance, and then hit himself in the temple with the heel of his hand. “Shir.”
And then wheeled about and was gone, shoving Luce rudely out of the way, storming back to the house. “What,” Hollie said again, shook himself, “what the bloody hell was that all about?”
“What on earth did you say to him – oh, sir, that was not well done!”
There were times when Luce didn’t half remind Hollie of Het. Well, Hollie’s wife was his cornet’s father’s little sister, it wasn’t so much of a surprise, but even so. That hurt, shocked, disappointed look was pure Het, an expression she reserved for when he did something completely stupid. What, precisely, he’d done this time, he did not quite know, save that he was still trying to make things all right for a lad who was as tricksy to handle as a barrel of rotten gunpowder, and he didn’t know from day’s end to day’s end what mood he was going to be on the receiving end of. Like walking on eggshells, if eggshells were volatile, suspicious, and prone to soothing their tempers by getting fiercely rat-arsed.
“What wasn’t?” he said warily. “What, seriously, sir? You did not mean to be – um – funny?”
“No, of course I bloody didn’t!”
Luce gave a great sigh. “Ah, God. So you – you know – did you look at the beast? Other than, um, you know – professionally?”
“What -” With one final jerk of the bit, Mattie had the bay horse with all four feet on the ground. It was still a handsome beast. It was just – odd-looking. Three white feet, and a great lopsided white blaze to its face. One blue eye, and one, slightly manic, brown one.
A perfectly sound, sturdy, fine cavalry mount, who just happened to look both ugly and irregular. It was a bloody good horse, sound in wind and limb, beautifully put together, a mount a man could rely on – could be proud of. But now Luce came to mention it, the brute did look a bit like it had been sewn together from bits of at least two other horses. Good ones, but -.
And that had been a coincidence.
“Ah,” said Hollie.


The Smoke of Her Burning. October 2015.

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Babbitt, Fairfax, Gray, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Lucey, new books, Russell

The Smoke of Her Burning – and a bargain!

 
To celebrate Yorkshire Day, an exclusive cover reveal of the new book, The Smoke of Her Burning, set in Selby 1644. And to celebrate the cover reveal, the first three books in the series will remain at 99p each till the end of August! – help yourself here.

I hope there’s a good explanation for this, Colonel Babbitt,” Fairfax said, with a sigh. 
“No,” said Hollie honestly, “but there is an explanation.” 

There’s a lot of miles between Essex and Cheshire…. 

…and newly-promoted Colonel Hollie Babbitt is cursing the most recent additions to his company, for every step of them. 

A scarred lieutenant with a death wish, and they don’t call him Hapless for nothing. 
Captain Drew Venning. And his dog. 
Captain Penitence Chedglow, last seen smashing up the inside of Worcester Cathedral in an excess of godly zeal, and his new companion in bigotry, the silent but violent Webb. 
The mysterious Trooper Gray, a one-man insurrection. 

Forced to leave a posting to Cromwell’s Eastern Association as a result of some more than usually scatter-brained chivalric meddling by the posh poet Lucey Pettitt, Hollie finds himself up to the elbows in freezing mud at Nantwich, mired in intrigue and insubordination. 

When Hollie’s old nemesis Prince Rupert relieves the siege at Newark, freeing up a cavalry force to hammer Fairfax’s garrisons in Yorkshire, it looks as if the gallant Parliamentarian defenders will be overwhelmed in the North. But after a fierce attack is repulsed, the Northern Royalists retreat to their foothold at Selby, with its vital strategic command of both the Ouse and the road to York. 

It will be hard. It will surely be bloody. But Hollie’s rebel rabble may be the difference between victory and defeat for Parliament in the North.

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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)

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