Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Being Mrs. Bennet Published!

Not much fanfare on this one as life is in super baby mode, but my latest book is out for Kindle! Eventually, I'll get around to the paperback as well. Please check out the first three chapters here and download the novel from Amazon!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FDFDZZB/ref=sr_1_10?s=amazon-devices&ie=UTF8&qid=1531242295&sr=8-10&keywords=alexa+adams

Friday, January 26, 2018

Strange Beauty Secrets from the Late 18th/Early 19th Centuries, Today at Austen Authors

Originally posted at AustenAuthors.net.

While posting my Twisted Austen story, I am Lady Catherine, back in October, I received a lot of comments regarding a reference to an 18th century beauty treatment called pigeon water. This is indeed a real thing, used by none other than Marie Antoinette, who was said to have bathed her face in it every day. I hunted down the recipe for its preparation in the 1832 text The Toilette of Health, Beauty, and Fashion (read it here). This comprehensive book covers a wide swath of topics, as indicated by its incredibly lengthy subtitle (see the image of the cover page - it's WAY too long to reproduce). I imagine it was mainly marketed to lady's maids and valets. I found the history provided of both beauty treatments and fashion very interesting, though I should warn the modern reader that many of the comments are decidedly lacking in political correctness. I was inspired by the interest in pigeon water (see the recipe for Denmark Lotion below) to transcribe a few of the more outlandish preparations for both your amusement and revulsion, many of which are virtually impossible to imagine producing without an army of servants and were certain to wreck havoc on the health. I doubt it needs be said but for forms sake, I ask that you please do not attempt any of these at home.

Note: a drachm is a liquid measurement once used by apothecaries, equal to one eighth of an ounce.



From Chapter VII: Of Hair Ointments, Powders, Oils, Waters, &c.
1.--Ointment for the Hair.
The editors of the "Dictionaire d'Industrie," from which the following recipe is copied, assert that they have often witnessed the most surprising results from its use.
Take an ounce of beef marrow, to which add an ounce of grease skimmed from unsalted pot liquor, and boil them together in a pipkin.  Strain this mixture, and add to it an ounce of the oil of ben.  Let this be used occasionally, and the hair well combed and brushed, both before and after its use, to remove the previous scurf, and to work the preparation well into the roots of the hair, and along the tubes.
OBS.--Beef marrow applied moderately to the hair of the head nourishes it, and communicates to it a fine gloss, as may be frequently seen among butchers, who often apply it.  Whatever therefore nourishes, strengthens.  The marrow also give it a disposition to curl.  The oil of ben has long been entered into preparations for making the hair grow, and if a little of the essence of lemon, bergamot, or other other perfume were added, it would, at least, improve its fragrance, and preserve it against rancidity.

From Chapter VIII: Directions for Staining the Hair.
To stain Hair a light Chestnut Colour. 
The hair is to be previously cleaned with dry bran, or warm water, in which alum has been dissolved. Then take two ounces of quick lime, which kill in the air; one ounce of litharge of gold, and half an ounce of lead ore.  Reduce the hole to a powder, and sift it.  Wet a small quantity of this powder with rose water ; rub the hair with it, and let it dry again in the air, and dry it with cloths a little warm.  This powder does not stain the skin, like the wash made with aquafortis and assaying silver. 
OBS.--It has been asserted that the hair may be stained black by impregnating it with lard, mixed with minium and lime ;  but this composition, we apprehend, would produce only the chestnut colour of which we are here speaking.  The hair may likewise be turned black by different vegetable substances boiled in wine, with which the hair is to be washed several times a day ;  but this operation ought to be continued for some time.  The substances usually preferred for the purpose are, leaves of the mulberry, myrtle, fig, senna, raspberry, arbutus, artichoke ;  the roots of the caper tree ;  the bark of the walnut and pomegranate ;  the rinds of walnut, shumac, skins of beans, gall nuts, and cones of cypress.   It is also necessary to use a leaden comb.  The same object may be obtained by using a comb dipped in extract of lead.

From Chapter IX: On The Removal of Superfluous Hair
Depilatory of Ants Eggs. 
A stronger depilatory is composed as follow: --
Take Gun of ivy, one once
Ants' eggs }
                                       Gum arabic }       of each one drachm.
  Orpiment } 
Reduce these to a fine powder, and make it up into a liniment, with a sufficient quantity of vinegar.  In pounding the materials, great precaution must be taken that the dust of the orpiment, which is a preparation of arsenic, be not inhaled.
OBS.--The formic acid, or acid of ants, may more easily be procured at the chemist's, and will answer the purpose better than ants' eggs, which are not to be had at all seasons.

To remove Hair from the Nostrils. 
Take some very fine and clean wood ashes ;  dilute them with a little water, and with the finger rub some of the mixture within the nostrils.  The hair will be removed without causing the least pain. 
OBS.-- The hair of the nostrils, like those of the entrance to the ear, ought not to be removed, unless troublesome or unseemly ;  they are the principal safeguards against the intrusion of insects, which might otherwise insinuate themselves into these delicate passages, to the great annoyance and danger of the individual thus invaded.
Marie Antoinette en chemise, Louise √Člisabeth Vig√©e Le Brun, 1783


From Chapter X: Cosmetics.
Denmark Lotion. 
Take equal parts of bean-flower, and the water of the four cold seeds--namely, of pompion, melon, cucumber, and gourd, and of fresh cream ;  beat the whole up together, adding a sufficient quantity of milk to make a wash, which apply to the face. 
OBS.--This recipe is taken from the "Ami de Femmes."  Another writer says, that the cosmetic lotion used by the ladies of Denmark is totally different--it is what is called Eau de Pigeon (pigeon-water).  It is composed as follows:-- 
"Take the juice of water-lilies, of melons, of cucumbers, of lemons, each one ounce;  briony, wild succory, lily-flowers, borage, beans, of each a handful ;  eight pigeons stewed.  Put the whole mixture into an alembic, adding four ounces of lump sugar, well pounded, one drachm of borax, the same quantity of camphor, the crumb of three French rolls, and a pint of white wine.  When the whole has remained in digestion for seventeen or eighteen days, proceed to distillation, and you will obtain pigeon-water, which is such an improvement on the complexion."

A Pomatum to remove Redness, or Pimples in the Face. 
Steep in clear water a pound of boar's check till it becomes tolerably white ;  drain it quite dry, and put it into a new glazed earthen pan with two or three hard pippins, quartered ;  an ounce and a half of the four cold seeds, bruised, and a slice of veal about the size of the palm of your hand.  Boil the whole together in a vapour bath for four hours, then with a string cloth squeeze out your pomatum into an earthen dish, placed upon hot ashes ;  add to it an ounce of white bees' wax and an ounce of the oil of sweet almonds, stir it with a wooden spatula till it becomes cold.

From Chapter XVI: Mouth, Tongue, Throat, Teeth, and Gums.
Another (Dentifrices). 
Rub them with nettle or tobacco ashes, or with vine ashes, mixed with a little honey.

From Chapter XIX: Eyes and Nose.
For watery and inflamed Eyes. 
Foment frequently with decoction of poppy heads ;  when the irritation and inflammation occur, a teaspoonful of cogniac brandy, in four ounces of spring water,  may be used three or four times in the course of the day as a strengthening lotion.

From Chapter XXI: Eyelashes.
The growth of the eye-lashes has been promoted, where they have been lost by sore eyes, by the following simple ointment:-- 
Take ointment of nitric oxyde of mercury; 2 drachms
                     Hogs lard - - - - - - - - - - 1 drachm 
Incorporate the ointment well with the lard, and anoint the edges of the eye-lids night and morning ;  washing after each time with milk and water, warm.

From Chapter XXIII: The Hands and Nails.
For Chapped Hands. 
Take three drachms of bole ammoniac--three drachms of myrrh, and a drachm of white lead.--Incorporate these with a sufficient quantity of goose-grease ;  and with this anoint the parts affected; and wear worsted gloves.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Jane Austen and Babies, Today at Austen Authors

Posted originally at AustenAuthors.net.

I'm writing this in advance, but if all goes as planned, my new son will have been born two days ago (at 8:13 AM on the 27th, a healthy 22 inches long and nearly 9 and a half pounds!). As I prepare to welcome the newest member of the family, our very own Baby New Year, my mind inevitably turns to what Jane Austen had to say on the subject. Though not a mother herself, she is known to have doted on her many nieces and nephews, and the sentiments expressed in her novels regarding babies are very touching, though tinged with her typical razor sharp analysis of human behavior. While she might have some fun at the expense of those of us obsessed with our offspring, had she ever become a mother, one must suppose that she would have been an adoring one.


Emma has the most references to babies of the six novels, and it is the only one in which the babies (two of them) are fully realized creations rather than just props. They even have names! First we meet "Little Emma," Isabella's youngest, who acts a peacemaker between Mr. Knightley and "Big Emma" (no one tell her I called her that!). I think this scene illustrates how young children can put things in perspective, allowing us to overlook our grievances and irritations to concentrate on important things. They can even, as in the case of "Big Emma," inspire an unaccustomed degree of humility and self-awareness:
She hoped they might now become friends again. She thought it was time to make up. Making-up indeed would not do. She certainly had not been in the wrong, and he would never own that he had. Concession must be out of the question; but it was time to appear to forget that they had ever quarrelled; and she hoped it might rather assist the restoration of friendship, that when he came into the room she had one of the children with her—the youngest, a nice little girl about eight months old, who was now making her first visit to Hartfield, and very happy to be danced about in her aunt's arms. It did assist; for though he began with grave looks and short questions, he was soon led on to talk of them all in the usual way, and to take the child out of her arms with all the unceremoniousness of perfect amity. Emma felt they were friends again; and the conviction giving her at first great satisfaction, and then a little sauciness, she could not help saying, as he was admiring the baby, 
"What a comfort it is, that we think alike about our nephews and nieces. As to men and women, our opinions are sometimes very different; but with regard to these children, I observe we never disagree." 
"If you were as much guided by nature in your estimate of men and women, and as little under the power of fancy and whim in your dealings with them, as you are where these children are concerned, we might always think alike." 
"To be sure—our discordancies must always arise from my being in the wrong." 
"Yes," said he, smiling—"and reason good. I was sixteen years old when you were born." 
"A material difference then," she replied—"and no doubt you were much my superior in judgment at that period of our lives; but does not the lapse of one-and-twenty years bring our understandings a good deal nearer?" 
"Yes—a good deal nearer." 
"But still, not near enough to give me a chance of being right, if we think differently." 
"I have still the advantage of you by sixteen years' experience, and by not being a pretty young woman and a spoiled child. Come, my dear Emma, let us be friends, and say no more about it. Tell your aunt, little Emma, that she ought to set you a better example than to be renewing old grievances, and that if she were not wrong before, she is now." 
"That's true," she cried—"very true. Little Emma, grow up a better woman than your aunt. Be infinitely cleverer and not half so conceited.

Anna Weston is perhaps the more interesting child, because it is through her that we learn a bit more about Austen's perspective on children. She says:
Mrs. Weston's friends were all made happy by her safety; and if the satisfaction of her well-doing could be increased to Emma, it was by knowing her to be the mother of a little girl. She had been decided in wishing for a Miss Weston. She would not acknowledge that it was with any view of making a match for her, hereafter, with either of Isabella's sons; but she was convinced that a daughter would suit both father and mother best. It would be a great comfort to Mr. Weston, as he grew older--and even Mr. Weston might be growing older ten years hence--to have his fireside enlivened by the sports and the nonsense, the freaks and the fancies of a child never banished from home; and Mrs. Weston--no one could doubt that a daughter would be most to her; and it would be quite a pity that any one who so well knew how to teach, should not have their powers in exercise again.
In a society that generally valued boys more than girls, this is a strong argument in favor of the latter. Boys would, in time, be sent off to school or to learn a career, but a daughter belonged in the family home until she married. It is Mr. Woodhouse, however, through whom we receive a more timeless perspective on parenting. I can't read the following without laughing, as it so clearly brings to mind the many alarms and terrors of being a first-time parent:
The others had been talking of the child, Mrs. Weston giving an account of a little alarm she had been under, the evening before, from the infant's appearing not quite well. She believed she had been foolish, but it had alarmed her, and she had been within half a minute of sending for Mr. Perry. Perhaps she ought to be ashamed, but Mr. Weston had been almost as uneasy as herself.--In ten minutes, however, the child had been perfectly well again. This was her history; and particularly interesting it was to Mr. Woodhouse, who commended her very much for thinking of sending for Perry, and only regretted that she had not done it. "She should always send for Perry, if the child appeared in the slightest degree disordered, were it only for a moment. She could not be too soon alarmed, nor send for Perry too often. It was a pity, perhaps, that he had not come last night; for, though the child seemed well now, very well considering, it would probably have been better if Perry had seen it."
I remember my pediatrician assuring me on my third pointless visit to his office that there really was no need to be alarmed by a stuffed up nose. How much time do you think poor Mr. Perry spends reassuring Mr. Woodhouse on any number of his many health alarms?
More than anything, Mrs. Weston as a new mother presents a picture of perfect domestic contentment. It is how I hope to feel (and not just appear) in the coming weeks, but if my previous child is any indication, I expect to have a more frazzled presence. I think I can trust, however, to be just as absorbed in my Jack as she is in her Anna, with very little attention for anything else:
Mrs. Weston, with her baby on her knee, indulging in such reflections as these, was one of the happiest women in the world. If any thing could increase her delight, it was perceiving that the baby would soon have outgrown its first set of caps.

The other prominently placed baby in Austen is that of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer in Sense and Sensibility. Unfortunately, these two are not models of domestic harmony. The baby is less a viable character and more a prop to illustrate the couple's incongruity:
Mr. Palmer maintained the common, but unfatherly opinion among his sex, of all infants being alike; and though she could plainly perceive, at different times, the most striking resemblance between this baby and every one of his relations on both sides, there was no convincing his father of it; no persuading him to believe that it was not exactly like every other baby of the same age; nor could he even be brought to acknowledge the simple proposition of its being the finest child in the world.
However, no matter how silly the wife or dismissive the father, when it comes to that universal fear new parents have for the safety of their offspring, they have the common reaction:
He came, examined his patient, and though encouraging Miss Dashwood to expect that a very few days would restore her sister to health, yet, by pronouncing her disorder to have a putrid tendency, and allowing the word "infection" to pass his lips, gave instant alarm to Mrs. Palmer, on her baby's account.
Call Mr. Perry!

I hope that now I have weathered six and a half years of parenthood I will not be quite such an alarmist as I was when my daughter was born. After all, I now know what to do for even the most dire sounding coughs, those terrifying head bumps, and can even handle projectile vomiting with aplomb. At least, I think I can. The number one parenting lesson I have learned is never to say never. So maybe I will find myself, once again, running to the doctors just to be assured that the horrifying symptom is perfectly normal and nothing to fear. Nothing like a newborn to turn us all into Charlotte Palmers.

Happy New Year, Janeites! It's sure to be a memorable one in my house. Good fortune to us all in 2018!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Textilmuseum, St. Gallen

Just crossposting a blog post I wrote this weekend for the Jane Austen Society of Switzerland, a new and (so far) small group of us who have been meeting quarterly to indulge our love of literature and history. You can learn more about the organization at https://swissausten.wordpress.com/.

Today six of us gathered for a private tour of the Textilmuseum. The collection contains items documenting the history of fabric production, with particular emphasis on the booming embroidery industry based in St. Gallen in the late 19th century. This was enabled by the invention of the hand-embroidery machine in 1828, leading to a boom economy post-1860. While many of these machines were used in factories, in Switzerland embroidery production remained for many a cottage industry (a stark contrast to the weaving industry in England). A family, often farmers, would borrow the funds to buy a hand-embroidery machine. The man of the family would operate the equipment (traditionally, embroidery had been an entirely female art) while the women and children threaded and inserted the hundreds of needles necessary to operate the machine. The museum features a training model of a hand-embroidery machine from circa 1890. Only half the size of an industrial model, it is 2.25 meters long and utilizes 156 needles. We didn't get to see it in operation, but the museum provides a demonstration of it in action in the afternoons on Thursday, Friday, and select Saturdays.

Bestes Handwerk St. Gallen und Umgebung
Training model of a hand-embroidery machine, circa 1890.
One of the embroidery techniques for which St. Gallen is best known is chemical lace. This process produces an extremely convincing lace-like effect, imitating highly valued, handmade lace. The technique was originated in Switzerland and Saxony in the 1880's and perfected the following decade. Originally, this was done in cotton embroidery on silk, the latter being "burnt away" using chlorine or caustic soda. Today, the same effect is achieved on an acetate backing which is then dissolved with acetone. The material produced continues to be a corner stone of the St. Gallen textile industry and is featured in the works of haut couture fashion houses around the globe.

Machine_embroidery_lace
Cotton machine embroidery from St. Gallen, circa 1900. In imitation of Irish crochet lace.

Of particular interest to scholars of Jane Austen and the Regency Era in England were examples of whitework on muslin, extremely popular at the time. There was a gorgeous whiteworked gown on display from the late 1820's/early 1830s, after Austen's time but still of a similar silhouette to those of the earlier part of the century. The sleeves and skirt are fuller, moving towards the styles associated with the Victorian Era, but the Empire waistline is still the most distinguishing feature of the gown.

1832_gown
Cotton dress featuring hand embroidery from Eastern Switzerland, circa 1826-1830.

After leaving the museum we did a quick tour of the Christmas market in St. Gallen. The Sternenstadt runs through the 23rd of December. St. Gallen is always beautiful, but the spectacle of the market at night, which is decorated by 700 star ornaments dangling above the streets, ought to be particularly scenic. Thanks for all who were able to join us. Our next meeting will be sometime in the spring and probably to the Napoleon Museum in Thurgau. More info to come!

Sources:

Campbell, Gordon. The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts, Volume One. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Ward, Gerald W.R. The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Wikipedia contributors. "St. Gallen embroidery." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Jul. 2017. Web. 2 Dec. 2017.

Wikipedia contributors. "Textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Nov. 2017. Web. 2 Dec. 2017.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Mr. Darcy's Christmas Present Excerpt and Giveaway, today at Austen Authors

Join me today at Austen Authors for an excerpt from my new story and a great giveaway! Win a copy of the book, a set of my handmade Christmas cards featuring Austen quotes, and some super cute Christmas clothespins from my local market here in Switzerland. Leave a comment at the below link to enter.

https://austenauthors.net/mr-darcys-christmas-present-excerpt-and-giveaway/





Tuesday, November 28, 2017

New Release - Mr. Darcy's Christmas Present: The Madness of Mr. Darcy Continues

I've been very remiss in promoting this (got a lot on my mind, now I am 8 months pregnant), but my short story, Mr. Darcy's Christmas Present: The Madness of Mr. Darcy Continues, was published on Kindle last week. Do check it out, especially if you are one of the many readers who told me they were wanting just a little bit more from the original story. Hopefully, this slim volume will satiate that need. The first review, by Rita of From Milton to Pemberley, was very flattering. She writes:

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Present was the best Christmas gift Alexa Adams could have given me. She gave me a loving novella where all the characters I wanted to see again are present to give me closure to one of the most intense and amazing books I have ever read.

Wow! Leaves me beaming every time I read it.

Also, just a heads up, if you want to read I am Lady Catherine for free, do so now while the getting is good. I will be removing the posts in the next week or so, that I may enroll the book in the Kindle Unlimited program.

Hopefully, you will hear from me again before the bay arrives. Afterwards, I fear this blog will be even more neglected than it has been in the 2+ years since my move overseas. Thanks so much to those of you who continue to read it and support my writing. Happy holidays to all!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I am Lady Catherine: Part One

Part One – 1784

“Is it not gratifying to have the sound of music echoing about the house once more?” Lady Cat, as everyone called her, declared contentedly upon entering the morning parlor. She seated herself beside her eldest daughter and namesake, who was busily pursuing her work. “How wonderful it is to have Anne home once more.”

“She no longer considers Ecclestone Court her home, Mother,” Lady Catherine remarked.

Lady Cat might not have heard the comment, as she continued without regarding it. “Young Fitzwilliam has grown so fast, he seems not much the baby any longer. So very handsome, with such an astonishingly serious demeanor! The obvious intelligence with which he observes all that transpires about him might lead anyone to mistake him for a child twice his age.”

“He seems a very fine boy, but of course we are partial.”

“Nonsense! Everyone who sees him declares him the most magnificent baby ever encountered.”

“One must wonder to what degree his being the future master of Pemberley influences that perception.”

“You seem rather cross this morning, Catherine,” her mother observed. “Are you not pleased to have your sister home?”

“Pemberley is now Anne’s home, Mother, and yes, of course I am pleased to have her with us again.”

“You do not seem terribly happy about it,” Lady Cat commented smugly, settling back into the cushions of the sofa. “I suppose her presence is a reminder of your yet unmarried state?”

“It need not be, would you cease mentioning it.”

“What elder sister would not resent a younger sister of better fortune?” Lady Cat queried, paying no mind to her daughter’s complaint.

Lady Catherine put aside her work and looked seriously into her mother’s eyes. “I love my sister and my new nephew; you must know that, Mother.”

“Even the deepest affection has never been a barrier to jealousy amongst sisters, and no one would blame you for such feelings. It is only natural when Anne has made such a gratifying match, though not a noble one, and produced such a fine heir so soon.”

Lady Catherine stifled a retort, resuming her work instead of capitulating to her mother’s provocations.

“We gave you plenty of opportunity to find a match before bringing Anne out. If only you would endeavor to put yourself forward, I am certain you might have half of London at your feet.”

Lady Catherine eyed her mother skeptically. “Half of London can only see my feet, I dwarf the gentlemen so.” She patted her unpowdered hair with a hint of self-consciousness. “If only such towering wigs were not the fashion, I might fare better.”

“Ridiculous! You are barely an inch taller than I was at your age, and my height proved no hindrance to making an excellent match. You must merely smile more and flirt a little with the gentlemen. It is not so very difficult.”

“I cannot perform for strangers, Mother,” she said, concentrating fixedly on her embroidery. “They must take me as I am.”

“A serious fault in your education! I suppose I must take responsibility for that. Mrs. Spencer tried her best with you, I am sure, or as well as she could with such an unyielding personality. Anne certainly prospered under her tutelage. A lady must perform for the world. It is expected of us. After you are married, you might command things as you choose, but until that time, I do wish you would endeavor to render yourself more pleasing.” She rose with a dramatic sigh and began pacing the room. “You might at least have been more diligent towards your instrument. If you had a talent to highlight your natural nobility, as Anne does, you would show better.”

“I could not tolerate the music master, as you well know.”

“Signor Abatescianni is the most sought after harpsichord instructor in London! Your father paid a vast sum to secure him for you girls, and see how you squandered the opportunity!”

“He pinched, Mother. It was intolerable.”

“You foolish girl! What is a little pinch or prod here and there? You can expect much worse from the gentlemen in town.”

“So I have learned,” Lady Catherine tersely replied, redoubling her concentration on her work as the multiple humiliations in the wandering hands of so-called gentlemen intruded upon her memory, “but I ought not suffer such treatment from a mere musician!”

“You are entirely too nice in your notions, Catherine! Senior Abatescianni knew better than to overstep the proper boundaries. Anne never complained of him.”

“Anne’s notable talent kept his attention focused elsewhere. My plodding performance was not so distracting.”

Lady Cat stopped her pacing and directed a piercing gaze upon her daughter. “Well, that is now beside the point. Signor Abatescianni has moved on to more promising students, and you remain unmarried. I have little power over the former situation, but I intend to do something about the latter.”

Lady Catherine gazed up at her mother wearily. “And what would that be?”

“Your father has invited Sir Lewis de Bourgh to stay with us after Anne and Darcy depart.”

Lady Catherine betrayed not a trace of emotion at this announcement, returning her attention to her embroidery before replying, “I have never heard of him.”

“He is recently returned to England after several years abroad and is interested in finding an appropriate match and settling down.”

“And what is that to me?”

“Do not be impossible! You know we mean him for you! He has seen your portrait and expressed interest in making you an offer.”

If Lady Catherine nearly dropped a stitch at this announcement, no one could have detected it, so determined was her sangfroid. “I know not how he can have formed such a notion without ever having met me.”

“He has purchased an estate in Kent, Rosings Park, of great potential. The land is good, but the house is in need of improvement, and a handsome dowry would go far towards its refurbishment.”

“Ah,” Catherine replied, still without looking up. “That is his only property, I presume?”

“Yes.”

“Then not a baronet.”

“He was knighted for diplomatic services performed for the crown while in Spain.”

She finally returned her eyes to her mother’s imperious face. “So you intend for me to wed a knight of poor estate? I suppose you really have lost all hope of anything better if this is to be my fate.”

“You have had ample opportunity to do better yourself, yet you have squandered it. Now, while Anne is still with us, she will tutor you in the performance of at least one, preferably two pieces with competence on the harpsichord that you might entertain Sir Lewis in the evenings. You recite well, so prepare some flowery pieces for his amusement. You are to put your best foot forward, my girl! I will not have you ruin yet another good prospect with your haughty ways. If Sir Lewis wishes to talk with you, you will smile and flirt with him. If he requests your company in the garden, you are to walk with him, and if his hands should wander to your person, well, it is only to be expected that he would want to inspect what he is buying before finalizing the purchase.”

“Mother!” Her composure finally rattled, Lady Catherine’s cheeks flushed at this suggestion.

Lady Cat smirked, pleased to have finally unnerved her daughter. “It is well past time you recognized the world for what is it, Catherine. Do you think you might remain aloof and distant in the marriage bed? The sooner you resign yourself to overcoming this intolerable prudery, the better for us all.”

“I cannot believe you have not pride enough to be repulsed by such notions,” Lady Catherine exclaimed. “Am I not an earl’s daughter? Ought the descendent of noble blood on both sides allow herself to be subjected to the disrespectful advances of a common man?”

“You think entirely too much of yourself, my girl, and Sir Lewis is not so common as you suggest. The family is of Norman descent and can trace their ancestry farther back than we can. His cousin, the Earl of Clanricarde, is extremely influential.”

Catherine sneered. “An Irish peer?”

“One with whom an alliance would well benefit your father!” Lady Cat threw up her hands in frustration and began pacing once more. “I do not know how else to get through to you other than promise you, Catherine, that you are not too old or proud to suffer a thorough beating should my will be thwarted in this. Do not test me! The alliance is a desirable one, and when you think on it further, you will see the advantages in marrying a man whose estate is his to dispose of as he will. You are not getting any younger. Do not spoil your chances of being properly settled in life. Now, I suggest you retire to your room to consider the matter properly.”

“Yes, Mother,” replied Lady Catherine coldly, summoning all her poise to raise gracefully and calmly exit the room. She maintained her reserved pace and demeanor as she passed through the halls, nodding in acknowledgement to the servants who curtseyed and bowed to her along the way, until she reached the sanctuary of her own rooms, where she promptly burst into tears.

**********

Over the next several weeks, Lady Catherine was forced to practice the harpsichord for several hours daily, eat a special diet of cold meats, bathe in pigeon-water, and squeeze into a new and excruciating corset. She bore it all without complaint, though her brain was in a constant state of rebellion. She was certain she would loathe Sir Lewis, though she was determined, nonetheless, to charm him. She would not tolerate again being accused of shirking her daughterly duties, nor was she willing to bear any more of her mother’s increasingly tyrannical methods of marrying her off. If Sir Lewis proved at all tolerable, or even better, pliant, she would have him. To finally be her own mistress had become the all-consuming goal.

There was another matter that checked her mutinous impulses. If in nothing else, Lady Cat was correct on one point: Lady Catherine hated having her sister so well-established while she, the eldest, remained on the shelf. It was a terrible blow to her notable pride to yield to Anne in precedence. Sir Lewis might not be noble, but his rank was high enough to ensure that proper order was restored. A title was worth something, no matter how lowly. The world would always value a Sir above a mere Mister, no matter how great an estate he owned.

When Sir Lewis finally made his eagerly awaited appearance at the earl’s table, Lady Catherine found him more to her liking than she had imagined. Certainly, he was shorter than she, and his frame was small enough that she felt much like an Amazon beside him, but he had a good figure, carried himself with grace and dignity, and showed every symptom of infatuation with the young lady of the house. Many a more stalwart woman had capitulated to such sincere flattery as that with which the young knight daily plied her. She was, furthermore, much relieved to find that he had not the disrespectful and ambling hands her mother had ordered her to indulge. She was, therefore, perfectly at ease entertaining him in the garden on several occasions, knowing she was not in danger of molestation. Her mother’s words, on the other hand, were almost as invasive.

“He sets you up like a Juno to worship on a throne,” Lady Cat gloated one evening, perhaps under the influence of too much of the earl’s best wine. “You appear an amusing enough couple, with him being so slight beside you, but I have heard of gentlemen who quite thrive on the notion of conquering large, indomitable women like yourself. Once you are married, you might find he has unusual tastes in bed.”

“Mother!” admonished her scandalized daughter. “He has not yet declared his feelings for me in any way. Such talk is entirely premature, as well as offensive. Sir Lewis has been a thorough gentleman in all our interactions.”

“Oh yes, I can see that he has been, or your embarrassment by such talk would have eased by now. You young people are so puritanical in your notions. What a very dull world we shall have when you are in charge! With any luck, I will have seen you all married, greeted my grandchildren, and moved on before that sad day.”

The anticipated proposal took place the day before Sir Lewis’s departure. Having followed form by soliciting the earl’s permission, he proposed in the arbor, where the two often strolled. He was accepted graciously, and if the bride were not in raptures, her satisfied smile provided sufficient gratification to the young knight’s sensibilities. As his carriage lumbered away the following morning, the combined promise of an elevated marriage and bountiful dowry saw him both complacent and sanguine about his prospects.         

As for the future bride, she refused to allow herself any reservations regarding the change coming upon her in a few months’ time. The prospect of being mistress of her own home, the renovation of which Sir Lewis had promised to allow her the direction, was diverting enough to keep her mind from any sense of discontent. Further, the attention her engagement garnered from her friends was pleasing. Lady Anne sent an enthusiastic letter, complete with visions of their children playing together in the years to come. What having said children might entail was banished from Lady Catherine’s mind; she would contend with such unpleasantness when the need arose.

In the meantime, Lady Cat had mercifully left off tormenting her daughter, as her mind was more happily engaged in buying clothes and planning the wedding breakfast. Catherine let her mother have her own way in all such matters, so happily did they keep her occupied. It was left to her only to complacently accept congratulations, receive presents, and count the days until she was her own mistress and could forge herself a place in the world. She would be a wife but Lady Catherine still, and the permanence of that title and identity swathed her in an immutable sense of security, one she could carry with her into the future, always and forever.




The rest of the book has been removed for enrollment in the KDP Select program. To continue reading, please download the complete novella at Amazon.

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