A Parcel of Promises
In a disused storeroom, tucked away from the hubbub of her busy workplace, kitchen apprentice Charmian Kintrairy checked the hourglass. ‘Oh, no! Time I took off.’ With enough time to race down the corridor, tuck any flyaway hair beneath her cap and take a deep breath, she should arrive just in time for the evening’s challenges.
Each day at that magic interval after the luncheon clean-up and before the preparation of high tea, she filched a breathing space. And such an uplift to read books from Cook’s deceased clergyman father. Didn’t the Holy Bible spell out that with God nothing is impossible? Even a lowly kitchen worker’s fanciful dreams.
‘Mrs Mac’ll give me a scorching if I don’t—’
Loud voices and laughter echoed down the corridor. Not below-stairs men, anyone could tell that by their lah-de-dah speech.
Windsor Castle boasted rooms of every size imaginable, often connected by corridors longer and wider than many of its royal chambers. But what were the gentry doing down here?
The footsteps ceased and she held her breath for several moments.
The door burst open.
Two dishevelled young men pulled it closed behind them. In between helpless laughter, they bent over gasping for breath.
She shrank into the shadows among a pile of boxes. They wouldn’t know she was here if she didn’t move.
The stout one, still wiping his eyes, panted, ‘That fooled them. I simply can’t abide Great-aunt’s pompous opinions on the requirements of my future bride.’
Mercy! He saw her. ‘Ah-hah! What little mystery do we find lurking there in the far corner?’ He approached her in a patronising manner.
Although they’d invaded her personal hideaway, she had to do it. She bobbed in acknowledgement of the gentry. The other young man stood well back. So handsome.
‘What are you doing here you pretty young thing? And all by yourself?’ The bold one’s smile mocked as he stood with hands on his hips. ‘Speak up now!’
Such an arrogant attitude, even for the upper class. She’d soon puncture his pride. ‘Minding my own business as indeed you should, sir.’
He laughed outright. ‘Spunk, is it? I do appreciate a spirited woman with her own mind. But of course you must realise nothing is truly off-limits to me.’
‘Oh, leave her be.’ The other young man raised an eyebrow and gestured to her book. ‘The girl’s been reading. We can’t interrupt such initiative.’
That authoritative tone proved him to be the leader of the two. And that steely, grey-eyed stare, she wouldn’t want to cross him. Now, if only they’d go.
But the pompous fellow moved closer and flipped off her cap. She knelt to retrieve it and her hair tumbled down over her shoulders.
‘Hmm. Nice. What could be more charming than a cascade of shining locks? What’s your name, girl?’
She ignored his question but flinched as he circled and fingered her tousled hair.
‘Out with it, pretty one. Your name!’
Such a bully to fluster her like this. If only her cheeks hadn’t burned.
The Tie That Binds
As the tips of her outstretched fingers touched the porcelain knob of the drawing room door, she winced and withdrew her hand. Though scarcely the tenth hour, the familiar voice rising in pitch was that of her mother warming up to win yet another argument over Papa.
This was not a good time to settle anything.
Wait. Did she imagine it, or had they just said her name? Maybe she’d stay awhile to hear more, even though eavesdroppers invariably found out things better left unknown.
Her mother’s voice now lowered into that awful whining mode. ‘Charlotte thinks nothing of arguing over every little thing with me. I’m sick to death of it.’
‘I’m sick of you both, Cornelia,’ her father snapped. ‘You’ll see. She’ll soon learn to bend her neck one day to her lord and master when she’s wed.’
Wed? Oh, how ridiculous when she hadn’t even been courted. The carping continued. ‘I can’t help it, Hugh. Every time I look at her now, I see her mother. Besides that, you know she’s never shown any natural affection.
‘We’ve performed an admirable and charitable act in bringing the girl into a good home. Not a single soul could have done one whit more than us. Now, calm down, woman.’
The voices continued rising and falling as she thrust herself from the door. A sudden ricocheting of chaotic questions begging for answers tightened a band at her temples.
What does she mean she sees her mother? Wasn’t Cornelia her mother? They brought her into this home? And Papa called it a charitable act?
She must get away and think things through. That is, if she could ever think straight again. Her hand shook as she opened the nearby library door and stumbled toward the bookshelves. She’d read something, anything, to blot out those nonsensical words. Perhaps Cornelia had said these absurd things just to win an argument or gain some sympathy.
Persis lay curled up on the desk and stretched as she stroked its fur. ‘Lazy cat, nothing ever bothers you, does it?’
She chose a book, but cast it aside. Instead, she’d think about nice things. Exciting things. Mr Steinberg to be exact. But she’d think of him as Marcus, it sounded friendlier.
Wendy Sargeant, Queensland Society of Editors and author of "Pride and Redemption"
“From the ‘toffs’ of 19th century England to the felons, selectors, dandies, and bush rangers of colonial Australia, Rita’s feisty heroine takes us on an intriguing romantic adventure as she searches for truth and the love she has lost. And all the while we weep for Megan’s indignities and rejoice in the triumph of her faith!”
Sealed Signed Delivered
Very early each morning when butlers shone boots, maids scurried about, and cooks
prepared breakfast, Megan Trevallyn grasped the opportunity to escape to her one sanctuary in this Georgian mansion—the library. With the musty smell of old books welcoming her, she turned up the gaslight. The warm glow endowed the wood panelling with pleasing hues of coppery gold, which never failed to please her.
She reached over to select a reference volume when a shadow fell across the wall.
She whirled around.
The master of the household loomed before her. In one swift motion, he pushed her up against the bookcase, pinioning her between his outstretched arms. Only the large tome she managed to clasp to her chest, separated them.
But the narrowed eyes and husky breaths of this repulsive gentleman revealed a rapacious hunger. “What have you got there, Miss...ah, why don’t I call you Megan? My, my. Perhaps a book of romantic verses? Something to get your little heart beating faster?”
Although doubtful about the scandalous downstairs whispers, she’d always managed to avoid the sole company of her employer. Now this. Quashing the rising panic, her mind raced. She must somehow overcome this intimidating situation and diffuse it.
“Sir, I’m holding a book of Medieval history for your daughter.” She forced an authoritative tone. “We’re to study it when she arrives.”He glanced back at the grandfather clock. “It seems we have a whole hour before Ellie’s lesson begins, my dear. Time enough for us to become, shall we say, much better acquainted.” Despite the simmering outrage, she gritted her teeth. In such a confrontation, she knew with cold certainty, she’d be damned if she gave in, and damned if she didn’t. An employee’s word counted for nothing.
With barely time to pray, Lord, help me, she steeled herself against the assault.
As he lowered his bewhiskered face to hers, his breath—reeking of tobacco—turned her stomach. And as one clammy hand clutched her neck and the other groped for her thigh—pure instinct spurred her on—she let go.
The heavy book landed right onto his foot.
Cursing, he sprang back. “You’ve broken my toes, you little vixen!” Snatching the moment and ducking around him, she launched herself from the library. And with hammering heart, rushed to her room.
Oh yes, she’d heard about predators like this. A helpless governess, maidservant, or even a lowly scullery maid offered a pleasant diversion to the master of the household.
Willing or unwilling, no questions were ever asked. And if complaints arose then the victims
would soon find themselves on the street without references. In this way many an assault
would be covered up, concealing distasteful scandal, and leaving the perpetrator free reign.
If it hadn’t been for her unhesitating action when she’d been at her most vulnerable, things would have gotten far worse. And through no fault of her own, except for self-preservation, she must leave this gracious home, and disillusionment threatened to drain the last of her optimism.
She dashed unwanted tears away and gathered up her few belongings before creeping down the back stairs. The injustice of this whole incident rankled, but recognizing the futility of asking, she’d go quietly without the wages owed.
Only one thing consoled her. She’d had the satisfaction of repudiating his advances.
And his power and menacing presence no longer dangled over her. Nor would it ever again.
Lord willing, she’d pore over every single line of the help wanted section in her search to find another employment opportunity.
That ... or go hungry.
Kathi Cohen, Director,
Moringa Associates Inc, Australia
"The story follows the struggles of compelling and realistic characters. Through their journeys, hard questions and tough choices result in renewed hope and clear faith as we see them respond to the mystery of God's unconditional love for them - and us."
Fire in the Rock
Have you ever seen a rag doll with the stuffing knocked out of her? Our whole ward of mentally wounded young soldiers resembled once-loved, but now forgotten toys. Yet the following account is not about this. I am simply explaining how I came to delve into an unfamiliar world.
The researching and the actual relating of events has been a godsend. For apart from minor shrapnel wounds, the fact that I was found shell-shocked and wandering near enemy lines, of which I have no recollection, meant I ended up in a sanatorium and the lasting impression of the acrid stink of cordite, replayed in my wearied mind. muddied, to convalesce.
Flickering battlefield images slashed with bloodied trenches, the perpetual whoomps of shelling, Rehabilitation, they said. Me! A disillusioned thirty-nine year old war correspondent. Yet it wasn't until my mother arrived and spent precious time talking to me day after day, explaining all the things this veteran had been too young, too busy, or far too full of himself to understand before, that my healing process began.
Wiser than many doctors with their endless, mind-numbing medications, she suspected that if she began relating certain incidents and clarifying the actions of several fascinating characters, it might reawaken the interest of her hurt, deeply confused son. And this time I really listened, thus comprehension gradually returned. I suppose it was then my recuperation began in earnest. For as I looked back into a gentler, kinder past, I managed to see beyond myself and my immediate problems.
So it seemed God had placed this prodigal apart to rest a little while, where he could be straightened out mentally and spiritually. I discovered a lot about the generation before the first World War, known as the Great One; the way people were; the way they cared about each other; the way they acknowledged God and sought His guidance.
Now I had an immediate purpose. I wanted to capture all this for the family of my own I planned to have one day. So, as I threw myself into the study of letters and diaries, and gleaned extra details from those involved, I found hope again.
But as I said before, this isn't about me. It's about three extraordinary men, among several other intriguing characters, whose lives influenced, challenged, and helped shape the life of a guileless young woman who…