Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mr Darcy, Vampyre in the UK!

I had a surprise when browsing round Borders bookshop in Leeds yesterday. I'd just been to see Spider's Web at the theatre and I was on my way home when I called into the bookshop. I didn't expect to see Mr Darcy, Vampyre as it isn't officially out until September 1st in the UK, but as I walked past a huge display with a familiar-looking cover I stopped and did a double take. Sure enough, it was Mr Darcy, Vampyre! So of course I had to take a photo!

The wording on the poster says, Period romance with a bit more bite!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Jane Austen, Pockets and Reticules

Because Regency dresses were on the whole elongated and close fitting, the reticule, ridicule or pocket came into its own.

From the Times 1799: Every fashionable fair carries her purse in her work-bag... the new custom of carrying a bag with her handkerchief, smelling-bottle, purse etc..
Jane Austen used pockets and ridicules for secret correspondences, often used to give the observer a shock or embroil the perpetrator in a veil of mystery. Here are some examples from Emma, Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility.

Emma: She soon believed herself to penetrate Mrs. Elton's thoughts, and understand why she was, like herself, in happy spirits; it was being in Miss Fairfax's confidence, and fancying herself acquainted with what was still a secret to other people. Emma saw symptoms of it immediately in the expression of her face; and while paying her own compliments to Mrs. Bates, and appearing to attend to the good old lady's replies, she saw her with a sort of anxious parade of mystery fold up a letter which she had apparently been reading aloud to Miss Fairfax, and return it into the purple and gold ridicule by her side...

Northanger Abbey: Catherine had not read three lines before her sudden change of countenance, and short exclamations of sorrowing wonder, declared her to be receiving unpleasant news; and Henry, earnestly watching her through the whole letter, saw plainly that it ended no better than it began. He was prevented, however, from even looking his surprise by his father’s entrance. They went to breakfast directly; but Catherine could hardly eat anything. Tears filled her eyes, and even ran down her cheeks as she sat. The letter was one moment in her hand, then in her lap, and then in her pocket; and she looked as if she knew not what she did.

Sense and Sensibility: "I begged him to exert himself for fear you should suspect what was the matter; but it made him so melancholy, not being able to stay more than a fortnight with us, and seeing me so much affected. - Poor fellow! - I am afraid it is just the same with him now; for he writes in wretched spirits. I heard from him just before I left Exeter;" taking a letter from her pocket and carelessly shewing the direction to Elinor. "You know his hand, I dare say, a charming one it is; but that is not written so well as usual. - He was tired, I dare say, for he had just filled the sheet to me as full as possible."

Elinor saw that it was his hand, and she could doubt no longer. The picture, she had allowed herself to believe, might have been accidentally obtained; it might not have been Edward's gift; but a correspondence between them by letter, could subsist only under a positive engagement, could be authorised by nothing else; for a few moments, she was almost overcome - her heart sunk within her, and she could hardly stand; but exertion was indispensably necessary, and she struggled so resolutely against the oppression of her feelings, that her success was speedy, and for the time complete.

Jane Odiwe

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Retail therapy

It constantly surprises me, walking around London today, how many relics of the retail world of the Regency still survive and strolling down Haymarket you can find two within minutes of each other.

At the northern end of the street is the oldest surviving shop-front in London dating from 1751. Until the 1970s it was the premises of Fribourg & Treyer, tobacconists, and inside, behind the counter are the original shelves.

Cross the road and walk down to Charles II Street and turn immediately left into The Royal Opera Arcade and you are in the oldest shopping arcade in Britain, built between 1816-18 and pre-dating the much more famous Burlington Arcade by a year. It takes little imagination to fill the windows with bonnets and reticules, waistcoats and walking sticks and imagine the delight of shoppers able to browse in this elegant row.

No-one who was anyone paid cash, of course, and the unfortunate shopkeepers often had to wait years for settlement of their accounts. Perhaps that was why so many of them had striking illustrated billheads so their final demand stood out from everyone else's. I have started collecting them and thought this one, from an Edinburgh linen draper, was particularly attractive. Mr Henderson was lucky - the receipt on the back shows his bill for table linen worth £29 was paid by return.

I satisfy my own need for retail therapy by taking my characters shopping. Virtually the first thing that Clemence Ravenhurst (The Piratical Miss Ravenhurst. September) does when she arrives back in England after a long sea voyage is to hit the shops of Weymouth - just what one needs after being on board a pirate vessel where one cannot obtain a good pair of stays for love nor money.

Louise Allen

Monday, August 17, 2009

Past and Present: living history

From Jane Jackson:

One of the highlights of Falmouth Sailing Week was a superb display by the Red Arrows. Here they are flying over Pendennins Castle, built by Henry Vlll, and the last Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War. There was a buzz in the crowd watching on Flushing Bowling Green, laid out during the era of the Packet ships that carried mail all over the world, that one of the pilots was a woman. Everyone agreed it was a fine thing. Then one chap added, "So long as she don't have to park it."
This second photo is of Falmouth Marine Band famous - or should that be notorious - throughout Cornwall. (For further information Google Falmouth Marine Band/Visit Cornwall - their rendition of Falmouth Marine Band plays Pavarotti is an unforgettable experience) These are last year's uniforms. The uniforms are changed every year and the new one unveiled on the night of Falmouth Carnival. This year they are paying homage to the film Zulu, with the red coats and white pith helmets of the 24th Foot in Mouth.
However, last year's uniforms had to be worn on this particular evening as, following Ye Ancient Ceremony of Ye Toss, to decide who had to be the French, the marine band took on a combined force of the local RNLI crew plus additional men from the working boats (the last fleet of oyster dredging boats working under sail) in a re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar held on - and off - Custom House Quay in Falmouth.
History is alive and kicking (and occasionally screaming) here in Falmouth.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Not Long Now...

The third part of the Aikenhead Honours trilogy will be out in the UK in about two weeks from now. It seems to have taken an age, hasn’t it? The UK cover shows the hero and heroine in full frame, rather than just her sexy legs. Now that I look at the covers together, I can see why the UK one was changed—the purple swooshes at top and bottom would have cut out too much of the picture. I think I still prefer the sexy stockings though. Do you agree?

For those who are still waiting, here’s a little taster of what’s to come in His Forbidden Liaison.

Marseilles, 1815

They quickened their pace along the side of the harbour. The ship that had brought them from Genoa was still lying at anchor, waiting for the tide. Her decks were swarming with Italian sailors. One or two of them shouted a greeting. Jack waved a hand, but did not pause. There was too much to do. ‘We should be able to—’

A loud shout stopped them in their tracks. Jack spun on his heel. A group of burly men had appeared from the inn where they had lodged overnight. Two of them had dirty grey bandages round their heads, and they were pointing at Jack and Ben. Jack gasped. ‘Those are the two ruffians from last night.’

Ben looked back. ‘The men with them don’t look anything like constables, either.’

As they watched, the group of Frenchmen split into two. The two bandaged men remained by the inn door, but their fellows were striding up the quayside towards Jack and Ben. A sudden shaft of watery sunlight caught the gleam of knife blades against dark clothing.

‘Dear God! The landlord must have been in league with them, and now they’re after us. I don’t like the odds, with five of them and two of us.’

‘We’d better run for it.’ Valise in hand, Ben started for the end of the harbour.

‘You go on. I’ll follow.’ Jack was digging into his pocket as Ben took to his heels. Then he yelled at the sailors on the Genoese ship. ‘Hey, you fellows! This is for you, with our thanks.’ He flung the handful of coins high in the air, right into the path of their pursuers. Without waiting to see the reaction from the ship, he turned and hared after Ben.

Behind him, Jack heard shouts in a mixture of languages. The sailors must be scrambling on to the quayside and fighting the Frenchmen for the coins. He and Ben had time to escape. They would—

Ahead of him, Ben had stopped and turned, foolishly waiting for Jack to catch up with him. A moment later, the sharp crack of a pistol echoed round the harbour. Ben cried out and fell to the ground. He had been shot!

In seconds, Jack had caught up with Ben and was hauling him back to his feet. He was conscious, though very pale. He had dropped his valise and was clutching at his shoulder. Jack put an arm round his waist. ‘Come on. Let me take your weight. We can get away.’

Ben gritted his teeth and did his best to run.


‘I will mind the horses, Guillaume, if you fetch the provisions.’

‘But, mistress, it’s not safe to leave you here alone with the coach and all the silk. You know what happened last night.’

Marguerite shook her head. ‘It will not happen again. Look.’ She took a step forward so that the folds of her skirt moved. They had been concealing her hand, and the pistol she had taken from the coach. ‘No one will try anything. If anyone should accost me, I will shoot him. Now, fetch the provisions, Guillaume, and be as quick as you can. We will have precious little time to stop on the road, and even you cannot manage without food.’

He nodded and hurried across the Place du Cul de Boeuf to the baker’s on the corner of the Canebière, the long, wide street leading up from the port to the main part of the city.

Marguerite sighed and buried the pistol more deeply among her skirts. She refused to be afraid, even though they were still all too close to the port and the ruffians who frequented it. Last night had been dangerous, terrifying even, but it had been her own fault for sleeping without a guard. She would not make such a mistake again. On another occasion, she might not be lucky enough to have a gentleman come to her aid. He had been most courageous, launching himself into the fray with no thought for his own safety. And covered by only a thin bed sheet, to boot! She should have been embarrassed, of course, but she had been too intent on dealing with the attackers.

Now she remembered that her rescuer’s naked torso had seemed shapely and well muscled, like a classical statue. She fancied his hair had been dark. And he was tall, too. But what she remembered most clearly was his voice, its strong, rich tone inspiring confidence and helping her to overcome her terror. She would treasure the memory of that voice.

It was a pity she had not had a chance to thank him properly, or even to ask his name. Everything had happened so quickly. As soon as both men were securely bound, he had disappeared to arrange for them to be taken to gaol. Marguerite had been left alone to sleep, if she could. And she had, soothed by the memory of that remarkable voice.

This morning she had rid herself of such missish fancies. As a matter of courtesy, she would have liked to seek him out, but it had been much too early. She had not left a note. How could she, for a man with no name? But she now felt more than a little guilty. It was a breach of good manners to have failed to thank him. If she ever saw him again, she would remedy that, but the chances were extremely slim. She walked thoughtfully to the leader’s head and raised her free hand to stroke his neck.

And then she heard the sound of running feet.

She tightened her hold on the butt of the pistol, and turned. Two men had rounded the corner from the Quai du Port. One, a fair-haired stranger, was leaning heavily on his darker fellow. Why, it was the gentleman who had come to her rescue just hours before! She stepped quickly away from the horses. What was happening? What should she do? The men looked to be in some distress. The fair-haired one seemed to be struggling to stay upright. Without the support of his friend, he would probably have fallen to the ground.

Marguerite knew she had to help her rescuer as he had helped her. It was a matter of honour.

And if you’d like to know what Marguerite did to discharge her debt of honour, there’s a bit more of this extract on my website here.

Happy reading!


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cyncisim in one so young!

Jane Austen was just twelve years old when she wrote 'The Three Sisters' but, if the following extract is anything to go by, she had already developed a healthy sceptisicm for love and marriage:
I am the happiest creature in the World, for I have received an offer of marriage from Mr Watts. It is the first I have ever had and I hardly know how to value it enough...I do not intend to accept it, at least I believe not, but as I am not quite certain I gave him an equivocal answer and left him... He is quite an old Man, above two and thirty, very plain, so plain that I cannot bear to look at him. He is extremely disagreeable and I hate him more than any body else in the world. He has a large fortune and will make great Settlements on me but then he is very healthy...
Years later she had not allowed success to go to her head and appreciated her own limitations. In response to the suggestion from the Prince Regent´s Private Secretary that she write a historical romance illustrative of the history of the House of Coburg she was both firm and diplomatic in her refusal. This is the letter she wrote to James Stanier Clarke on 1st April 1916.
You are very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughting at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.
What courage and strength of character it must have taken to decline such an invitation!
An earlier example of Jane´s irreverent wit is revealed in this extract of a letter written to her sister Cassandra in October 1798.
Mrs Hall, of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.
Wendy Soliman

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Recognise anyone?

When my latest Linford LP book, A Dangerous Deception, arrived in the post I was somewhat surprised to discover it looked vaguely familiar. I looked through my bookshelf and discovered that the same hero had appeared on two of my covers. Unfortunately the cover artist is not identified on the Linford books but it must be the same person who produced the cover for, A Suitable Husband, the Robert Hale title that was published several years ago.
What do you think?
There is a website on which identical covers, that have been used for different titles, are shown. However, these are mostly images taken from original paintings or photographs, I don't remember seeing any where a figure had been used in the way it has on my two.
Fenella Miller
Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley - available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Book Depository
The Ghosts at Neddingfield Hall - available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Book Depository.
All my titles can be borrowed from the library in the UK.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Follies and Fishing!

I have a bit of a thing about follies and pleasure houses. On my recent research ramblings through Rutland I came across the most perfect little Georgian fishing house on the Exton Park estate which gave a wonderful insight into one of the ways in which our Regency characters whiled away their time at their country estates.

Fort Henry, as it is called, was built in 1786 in the Gothic style complete with pinnacles and turrets. It was commissioned by the Earl of Gainsborough and is surrounded by woods, water and pleasure gardens. Here, during the Regency period, the Noel family would come to spend lazy days by and on the water, bathing, sailing and fishing. The interior of the folly, with views across the lake, was decorated with ornate plasterwork and provided a space for informal meals and entertainments. In a rather nice democratic touch, the Earl also apparently held special entertainments for his estate workers and servants at Fort Henry!

The Earl was hardly original in building himself a fishing folly. George IV had a fishing temple in the chinoiserie style on the north bank of Virginia Water built at a cost of £8730. Fly-fishing was a pastime popular with Georgian gentlemen. It is the subject of Mr Darcy's first conversation with Mr Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice, a hobby that was evidently of common interest to landowners and wealthy merchants alike. Fishing was also favoured by the ladies as well. Susanne Knight refers in an article to the journals of Diana Sperling, a young lady who recorded all sorts of country house pursuits including an outing of three ladies and two gentlemen who were all vying for the catch of the day! It isn't known whether the ladies also bathed at Fort Henry but it is entirely possible to imagine that they might have slipped away for a private dip in such secluded waters!

Nicola Cornick

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Why I Enjoy Writing Austen-Inspired Novels

In the midst of all the reactions -- from outrage to excitement -- at the explosion of Jane Austen-inspired writings (usually called sequels though only a few of them are), I have been pondering why on earth someone would be insane enough to write a Jane Austen "sequel".

There's the obvious answer, of course. She was such a great writer, I just had to imitate her.

Which is odd, because actually, when I was writing The Other Mr Darcy, I wasn't trying to imitate Jane Austen at all. I very consciously chose not to write like Jane Austen, even though my editor Gill (lovely lady) kept trying to get me to have longer sentences and introduce semi-colons to seem more Jane Austen-like. But funnily enough, I resisted. In fact, the only thing I tried to do that was vaguely Jane Austen-like was to stick to a single point of view, the way Jane Austen did, and I did that very consciously throughout the novel, clinging to one person's perspective through thick and thin.

But wait a minute. Wasn't Jane Austen a so-called omniscient narrator, using an omnipotent point of view? Actually she was very sly. That's what she tried to make us believe, but, if she was trying to be omniscient, she wasn't very fair, because mostly we see things from Eliza's perspective.

The fact is, I didn't even try to use an omniscient narrator-slyly-following-one-character point of view at all.

Very well, then. What about Jane Austen's sharp wit and humour? You must have tried to imitate that. I'd have to say no. Jane Austen's sly wit and humour is unique. No one does anything like it. Except perhaps Oscar Wilde. He's the closest that anyone comes to Jane Austen's caustic witticisms.

I'll admit I'm neither caustic now witty (alas!). I like to laugh, and there are (I hope) plenty of funny bits in The Other Mr Darcy, but I didn't try to imitate Jane Austen's humour. Not for more than one moment.

Then it must be the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy that you wanted to write about. Like so many people who saw the wet-shirt scene (Do you think Colin Firth won over Lawrence Olivier because of that scene?), you've been fired up with enthusiam to prolong that unlikely love affair between repressed Mr Darcy and Playful Elizabeth.

Not really. While I love the growth of the romance between them, I have no desire to explore in further, nor to plumb the depths of passion they reach.

Why on earth, then, you ask, did I write a Jane Austen sequel?Cynics would say: because I want to make an easy buck, like Seth Grahame-Smith did with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (more about this on my blogspot). Everyone conveniently forgets that the book was the "surprise hit of the season," which means that neither publishers nor even Seth himself expected to hit it so big.

So am I writing it for the money? Now let's be exceptionally honest here. People generally take up professions hoping that they will make money. How many times did you go to a job interview without wanting to know how much you're going to earn? However, the odds of making a decent wage when you're a writer are not very high, so if I wanted to make money, I should have done something a bit more rewarding financially. Like becoming the CEO of a bank.

Money, while it glitters and glints at me from a distance, was not my one overwhelming motivation when I wrote a Jane Austen-inspired novel.

What was it, then? I would have to say it was the grip of larger-than-life characters: The Bennet family, gently dysfunctional, the Bingleys, with their snobbish exterior (though Bingley is such a softie), Mr Collins, Lady Catherine. I'm gripped by a need to learn more about them, to see them again, to understand more about the unsaid things behind Jane Austen's witty exterior. More than any other writer, I think, Jane Austen chalenges us because she makes us realize there is more unsaid than there is said. The beauty of her writing is that she leaves so much open to interpretation. The critics delve into her writing their own way. I look at her work as a box of delights to be opened. I can't wait to discover what's inside. And the only way for me to discover it is to explore the characters by putting them in different situations and see how they react.

I can't speak for other Austen-inspired writings, but I think there is an element of that in many of them. Whether we're talking about the inner thoughts of the Austen heroes as in Amanda Grange's diaries (we know so little about the heroes, yet we love them), or the explicit sexual activity of Eliza and Darcy (From Mr Darcy Takes a Bride to the RITA award winner Seducing Mr Darcy), or what Bingley and Jane felt (Miss Bennet and Mr Bingley).

As mistress of understatement, Jane Austen concealed more than she revealed, leaving us guessing. We in the 21st century are piqued with curiosity to know what Jane Austen has hidden from us. We are post-Freudians dealing with a pre-Freudian world. We need to uncover what she so skilfully conceals -- we need to know their unconscious motivations, their back stories, their desires.

Curisity killed the cat. I hope not. But there you are. I'll admit it.

I write Jane Austen sequels because I really, really want to know.

From Monica Fairview, author of The Other Mr Darcy

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Guest Blogger - Janet Mullany

We're very excited to have Janet Mullany here on the blog with us today. You'll all know Janet from her brilliantly innovative Regency, The Rules of Gentility. She's going to be talking about her new book, A Most Lamentable Comedy. So, Janet, over to you!

Hi, I’m Janet Mullany, and my Little Black Dress Book, A MOST LAMENTABLE COMEDY was released last week. I thought I’d invite my heroine, Lady Caroline Elmhurst, who is much more interesting than me for an interview. Lady Caroline—

CE: A moment, ma’am, if you please. I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you. That vulgar Mrs. Giggles person referred to me as “a gloriously flirtatious hussy with a PhD in gold digging.” Mrs. Giggles, indeed. A most ill-bred person who apparently has little better to do than read books all day. And to insinuate that I should attend an all-male institution for the dubious privilege of placing letters after my name—well, I am sure we all know what she means by that.

JM: Oh, I don’t think she—

CE: It is no matter. I am a gentlewoman. She, apparently, is not. Your question?

JM: I wish you would tell these other ladies about why you are attending this house party.

CE: (simpering) I do so adore Shakespeare and when dear Lady Otterwell invited me to take part in Otterwell’s production, I was only too happy to lower myself. After all, a lady is always genteel, even when obliged to become an actress.

JM: What’s your favorite play?

CE: Oh. The one with the ghost.

JM: Hamlet? Macbeth? Richard III?

CE: No, the funny one. No matter. To tell the truth, Mrs. Mullany, I find London somewhat uncongenial of late. Tradesmen can be such vulgar people, particularly if a lady has fallen upon difficult circumstances. For someone as sensitive as myself, it can be most distressing, and I thought the country air would do me good.

JM: But I thought you were quite wealthy.

CE: I regret Elmhurst squandered the money I inherited from my first husband, dear Bludge, leaving me in embarrassed circumstances.

JM: So you intend to marry again?

CE: Almost certainly. Or—that is to say—we are all women of the world here, I believe.

JM: Of course. Discretion is absolute, ma’am.

CE: If a gentleman were to make the right sort of offer—I believe you understand me—I should be inclined to leave the matrimonial knot untied.

JM: Good idea. After all, it’s going to be about 60 years until married women can keep their own property.

CE: Heavens, I wonder how many husbands I shall have had by then!

JM: How goes the matrimonial—or otherwise—hunt, Lady Caroline?

CE: There is a gentleman from the Continent, a Mr. Congrevance, who is of great interest, very handsome and undoubtedly wealthy. My maid, Mary, is finding out all about him from his manservant with whom she has been flirting disgracefully. I think he should prove adequate.

JM: Good luck!

CE: Exactly what do you mean by that?

JM: I don’t wish to be indiscreet, but I believe today he visits the Vauxhall Vixens.

CE: What! Those hussies! I must go over there directly and rescue him from their clutches (gathers her parasol, gloves, bonnet and her copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and prepares to traverse the Internet).

JM: Thanks, ladies for having me and Caroline visit, and my apologies for her precipitous departure. Lady Caroline Elmhurst is the heroine of a Most Lamentable Comedy, on sale now at all the usual places in the UK, and with free shipping worldwide from The Book Depository Come and chat with Mr. Nicholas Congrevance at Vauxhall Vixens today.

Thanks, Janet, the book sounds wonderful! You can find out more about Janet and her books on her website

Sunday, August 02, 2009

When I was going through the photos from the recent RNA Conference I found some taken in Penrith churchyard. Victoria Connelly wanted to show us the giant's grave which she mentions in her excellent book Molly's Millions (Vicky is the one in the pink dress, by the way).

This reminded me of a graveyard scene in Moonshadows, where Jessica has just found the grave of her ancestor, Sarah Methven, and meets one of my favourite characters in the book…..

Jez went back to the little bench and sat down, staring at the headstone and thinking hard. 'Beloved mother' – did that mean she had been reunited with her children before her death? Or had they merely been informed that that she was dead and had done their duty by her. How could she find out?
'Yer, what’re you doin’? That ivy’s protection for that there ‘eadstone!'
She swung around to see who was shouting: an old man was approaching, shuffling towards her. He wore a pair of faded moleskin trousers tucked into his thick woollen socks, a pair of very muddy brown boots and an old tweed jacket tied at the waist with string. As he drew closer she became aware of a pair of bloodshot eyes set beneath grey, bushy brows and a red, shiny nose – all that was visible between the peak of his flat cap and the muffler that covered his chin.
'I’m sorry, I meant no harm –'
'Harm? No, that’s what they all say, coming in ‘ere with their cameras and note books, pulling aside the plants that’s protected these ‘ere stones since time long gone by. Records, pshaw! We don’t need no records. It’s all ‘ere, in the stones.'
'No, no, I’m not recording anything. I was looking for Sarah Methven.'
'Lady Sarah?' he stepped up to peer short-sightedly at her. 'Oh, so you’m back then!'
She laughed.
'No, I’ve never been here before.'
The old man stared at her.
'You ain’t wantin’ to wreck the grave?'
'No of course not. I think she might be a relative of mine. Who are you? Do you look after the graves?'
'In a manner of speakin’ you might say that.' The old man came to sit beside her and Jez shifted along the bench, leaving a clear gap between them. Even so there was a strong smell of tobacco emanating from his person.
'Then why don’t you keep the weeds cut in this corner? It’s rather a mess, isn’t it?'
He tapped his nose with one grimy finger, 'Protection.'
'Protection from ‘er.'
It was becoming apparent to Jez that her companion was not quite sane. She edged away to the end of the bench.
'She might come back, see, at any time and I’s got to be ready. I musn’t let her harm Lady Sarah. That’s my job.'
'And who gave you this job?'
He sniffed loudly.
'Me old man. Passed down, y’see, from father to son. It was ‘is father’s job before and ‘is granfers.' He took out a pipe and battered tobacco pouch and cast a bleary eye at her. 'Have you time for a story, miss?'
Fascinated, Jez nodded.
'Long time ago it was, see, ‘underds of yers. Lady Sarah lived in the village then and my old relative knew ‘er. They say that everyone knew ‘er. Lovely lady, kind and gentle, visiting the sick and comin’ to church every Sunday – never missed, they say. Then when she died there was some argument about where she was to be burried. Her son wanted to take her back to the family vault but the lady’s own wishes was to be burried ‘ere, where she lived so long. Any road, my relative, he was grave-digger then, see? Dicked in the nob, they said he was, but he was never so daft that ‘e couldn’t find hisself a good woman to be ‘is wife and provide for his family – and the proof is that we is still here, after all these years.' He lit his pipe and drew on it steadily, silently contemplating his impressive lineage.
'So – so your relative buried Sarah?'
'Aye, that’s it. Well, ‘e dug the ‘ole, anyway. Parson did the burying, o' course. Whole village turned out, so they said, but then, just as the earth is being filled in and the mourners is about to go, a coach rolls up – great gilded thing with a crest on the side and a mad woman gets out and runs to the grave where she starts cursing poor Sarah’s name and swearing she’ll have no rest. Well Parson and Sarah’s son 'as to restrain the poor woman for she looks set to pull Sarah from her very coffin, crying all the time that our poor departed lady had stolen her husband, that she should not be buried with decent folk being as how she was a –' he coughed. 'My relative did pass on the words she used, miss, but I’ll not use ‘em in front of a young lady. Anyhow, a servant comes and carries the poor distraught lady away, she screaming all the while that she’ll be avenged on Sarah. Well, you can imagine that Parson and Sarah’s family was real cut-up about all this, the ladies was crying and Parson shakin’ his head. The upshot is that poor Sarah’s son comes up to my relative and slips him a purse. Asks him very gentleman-like if he would be kind enough to watch over his mama’s grave, since he would not be able to do so hisself. Just in case the lady came back, see? Now my relative, being a god-fearing Christian who knows his duty, would willingly have looked after the poor soul’s last resting place and not asked a penny for doing so, but the gentleman insisted. "Keep the purse, my good man." he says, very civil-like, "and put it to some good use." So when my relative goes ‘ome and looks in the purse he finds it full of gold pieces! Well, ‘is wife – who is by way of blood and nature also my relative, of course - his wife she was in a bad way at that time, on her third confinement, so he uses the gold to pay the doctor to attend ‘er, rather than the gin-sodden old midwife, and praise be if she wasn’t delivered of a bouncing baby boy that my distant relative promptly christens Thomas, in honour of poor Sarah’s son!' The old man drew on his pipe again, then continued proudly, 'And ‘is father give the task of watching over Sarah’s grave to that Thomas, a solemn duty that ‘e carried out faithfully all his days and passed on to ‘is own son Thomas, and so on down the line of my relatives until it comes to me, the present Thomas!'
He ended proudly, beaming at Jessica over his muffler. She felt that some response was required.
'That - that’s a wonderful story, Thomas. And have you ever had to protect the grave?'
'No, never.' He shook his head sadly, 'They say the old mad woman died soon after, bless her poor soul. We’ve continued our vigil, man and boy, like we promised, but no-one comes to this corner, save yourself, and the dook, of course.'
'The – the Duke?'
'Well, some sort of lord, he is. He comes every so often, to sit over the grave for a few hours. Always wears his blue velvet coat he does, and ‘is sword. Was me great-granfer which named him dook, course we don’t know who he is really –'
'Hang on! Your great-grandfather saw him?'
'Yes, he did that, miss. Many a time.'
The hair on the back of Jessica’s neck began to tingle.
'But – your great-grandfather must have been dead for….'
'Nigh on seventy year now. He passed on when I was a babe.'
Jez dug her hands into the pockets of her coat to stop them shaking.
'Then this, this duke that you see –'
'Oh he’s a spirit, miss. What you might call a ghost. We’ve seen ‘im off and on for over a hunderd yers.' The old man chuckled, 'Surely miss you don’t think I’m mad enough to believe a man can live for all that time? That would be crazy! No, he’s a ghost, right enough, it’d be plain daft to think anything else.'
'Yes,' she agreed faintly, 'Yes, I suppose it would.'

Melinda Hammond