Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky, © 2014

The Edwardian Brides Series ~ Book Two

But seek ye first the kingdom of God,
and his righteousness; and all these
things shall be added unto you.
     --MATTHEW 6:33

The afternoon post brings more changes. Not at all as I would expect on this fine day. A letter has come. My sister, Helen, has left home. Mother beseeches me to watch for her. Helen? How could she venture out on her own without a fitting companion? Whatever does she have in mind? Helen.   --Lydia Chambers, The Daughter of Highland Hall

Are you surprised I am narrating this review of The Daughter of Highland Hall? But you see, Helen is a huge part of the change that comes to my employer, Katherine Evangeline Ramsey. I have come with staff from Highland Hall to stay during Miss Katherine's debutante social season with Sir William Ramsey in his London boyhood home, Ramsey House. Upon the death of her father, Miss Katherine is unable to inherit and is under the guardianship of her cousin, Sir William.

We are not allowed to speak of the household affairs below stairs, but they have some interesting comings and goings. One who has come from Berkshire to stay awhile is her aunt, Lady Louisa Gatewood. It makes one wonder whether she is looking out for Miss Katherine truly, or indebted to her society airs primarily. Another houseguest is a young doctor-apprentice, Jon Foster, attending the local college. I quite like him. He is genteel and looks out for others. It appears he is becoming quite sweet on Miss Katherine, although he certainly tries to hide it. He has been a great aid in searching to find my sister, Helen. He volunteers at an East End medical facility. My parents sent me a letter saying that Helen may be found there, being the poorer section of London. Sir William's brother, David, has gotten himself into some trouble. How the newspaper has taken wind of that! Now Miss Katherine's hopes of a gentry gallant admirer offering marriage may be a bumble indeed! Well, I cannot go on and speak unadvisedly, other than to say things are beginning to look up in this household. My lady's maid position has gained entry into a vast world I wouldn't have known otherwise as a household maid back at Highland. Come along and read of these adventures in London ~ you may be surprised where we are led.
Bricks and Brass: Gallery: Late Victorian London Home of Sir William Ramsey




Fun interview with author



Bricks and Brass: Gallery: Late Victorian London Home of Sir William Ramsey ~ author posting


Litfuse blog tour landing page ~ check out what others are saying about Carrie Turansky's The Daughter of Highland Hall!


***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of this blog tour for Carrie Turansky's The Daughter of Highland Hall, Book Two in the Edwardian Brides series, and to WaterBrook Multnomah Press. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy an excerpt from Carrie Turansky's The Daughter of Highland Hall ~ Chapter One

ONE

London, England
April 1912

If she lived to be one hundred and five, Katherine Evangeline Ramsey would never understand why every debutante must begin the London social season by curtsying to the king and queen. Of course, she was excited to be presented at court and to take part in her first season. She had looked forward to it for years, however, mastering the required skills had proven more challenging than she’d expected.
   But her aunt, Lady Louisa Gatewood, insisted that was how every wellbred young lady made her debut into English society and announced she was ready for marriage. Kate certainly hoped her aunt was right. Because marriage to the right man was the only way she would gain control of her life and create a future for herself.
   Pulling in a deep breath, she straightened her shoulders and prepared to practice her curtsy once more.
   Mr. Philippe Rounpear, her gray-haired dancing master, lowered his bushy, silver eyebrows and pointed his white-gloved finger at Kate. “You must float over the floor like a swan gliding across a lake.” He gave a firm nod. “Try again, please.”
   How many times was he going to make her do this? Kate stuffed down her frustration and cast a heated glance at her aunt Louisa, who sat on a high-backed chair by the piano, taking on the role of King George V.
   Her aunt stiffened. “Katherine, the only way you will gain a position in society is to take your training seriously.”
   “I am taking it seriously!” The words flew from Kate’s mouth before she could stop them.
   “Then you must conquer these presentation formalities and do them perfectly.”
   Kate swallowed the sharp reply rising in her throat, tugged her skirt aside, and stepped into her next curtsy.
   Mr. Rounpear’s voice rang out. “No, no! You look as stiff as a broom.” He crossed the oriental carpet of her cousin William Ramsey’s London drawing room and tapped her left shoulder. “You must relax your posture. Think grace, think poise.”
   Heat flushed her face. She looked past the dancing master at her younger sister, Penny, who sat next to their aunt, pretending to be Queen Mary. Penny’s eyes danced as she waited for Kate to attempt her next curtsy.
   Kate narrowed her gaze at her sister. Just wait. In two years you will be eighteen, and you’ll have to prepare for your own presentation. You won’t be laughing then!
   Mr. Rounpear clapped his hands. “Miss Katherine, our hour is almost over. One more time, please.”
   “All right.” Katherine blew out a breath and tried to relax her shoulders. She would get this right or expire in the process. She had to. Her future depended on it.
   Lifting her chin, she stepped to the side, then crossed one leg behind the other, and slowly sank down in front of her Aunt Louisa.
   “Better.” Mr. Rounpear nodded. “Not perfect, but better. Now lower your head, count to three, then rise slowly.”
   Katherine’s legs burned as she waited and then rose.
   “Now take two steps to the right, and curtsy to the queen.”
   Katherine glanced at Penny and took the first step, but when she took the second, her foot tangled in her skirt. She gasped and her hand shot out.
   Penny smirked and covered her mouth.
   Katherine swayed, struggling to recover her balance. Mr. Rounpear scowled. “Is that how you will conduct yourself at your presentation?”
   “Of course not.” Kate untangled her skirt and turned toward the windows, frustration bubbling up within. This man was impossible! She would like to see him curtsy fifty times and never lose his balance.
   “Face this way!”
   Kate clenched her jaw and turned around.
   “You must never turn your back on the royal family.” He motioned toward Penny and her aunt.
   “They are not the royal family, and neither are you!”
   His eyes flashed, and he lifted his hand. “Very well. That will be all for today.”
   “Mr. Rounpear, please!” Aunt Louisa rose from her chair. “There’s no need to cut the lesson short.”
   “It appears your niece is tired, and that has made her irritable.”
   “But Katherine’s presentation is Friday.”
   “Yes, the time is short.” The dancing instructor lowered his eyebrows and studied Kate. “I suppose I could come again on Wednesday at three o’clock.”
   “Yes. Thank you. We’ll look forward to it.” Aunt Louisa sent Kate a pointed glance and waited for her response.
   Kate thanked Mr. Rounpear for the lesson, though it nearly killed her.
   Louisa crossed the room and pulled the cord to summon the footman. He arrived and escorted the dancing instructor out. When the door closed, she swung around and glared at Kate. “There is no excuse for your rude behavior toward Mr. Rounpear.”
   Kate lifted her chin. “I don’t see why he has to come back. I know how to curtsy.”
   “There is more to court presentation than learning how to curtsy.”
   “Of course, but he’s so superior and demanding.”
   Louisa’s nostrils flared, sending a warning. “You will have one more lesson with Mr. Rounpear, and I don’t want to hear any more about it.”
   Kate’s face burned. She clenched her hands, barely able to keep herself under control. But her aunt was her presentation sponsor, and if Kate didn’t hold her tongue, she might lose her opportunity to be presented.
   Louisa didn’t seem to notice Kate’s response, or perhaps she didn’t care. She turned to Penny. “Have you tried on those two new dresses?”
   “Yes, but the hem of the green silk is terribly uneven. Should we send it back to the dressmaker, or should I ask Lydia to fix it?”
   “Goodness, you would think with the price I’m paying that dressmaker, she could at least hem a dress properly.” Louisa motioned toward the open doorway. “I’m going to the Tremblys’ for tea at four, and I need to change, but I suppose I have time to look at it.”
   “Splendid.” Penny turned and dashed out of the drawing room.
   “Penelope, slow down!” Louisa raised her hand to her chest and hurried after her. “This is not a racetrack!”
   Kate shook her head as she watched them go, then turned toward the window. Sunlight poured through the tall panes, drawing her gaze up to the blue sky.
   It would be a perfect afternoon for a ride. Of course, a tame promenade down Rotten Row in Hyde Park wouldn’t be nearly as exciting as a high-speed race across the beautiful rolling hills at Highland Hall, her country estate in Berkshire.
   That thought stopped her cold, and pain pierced her heart.
   It wasn’t her estate anymore.
   It had been almost a year since her father’s death, and when she lost him, she lost control of Highland as well. It wasn’t right, but it was the law.
   She had no brothers, and daughters could not inherit their father’s title or the estate that was tied to it. So even though they barely knew him, William Ramsey—her second cousin once removed—had taken her father’s title as baronet and become master of Highland Hall. Even worse, her father had named Cousin William to be her guardian until she married, and that had made her life very difficult these last few months.
   Of course, her father had not left her penniless. Money had been put aside for her marriage settlement. But if she wanted freedom from her cousin’s control and a home of her own, she would have to find a husband this season.
   Which was exactly what she intended to do.
   She crossed to the center of the room to practice her curtsy a few more times before tea. Perhaps without everyone hovering over her and criticizing her every move, she could relax and master the graceful movements she needed to impress the king and queen. And everyone else who would be watching.
   Closing her eyes, she pictured the motions. Then she lifted her hand, stepped to the left, and sank down once more. Lowering her head, she counted to three, then slowly rose. There, that was better. She smiled at the imaginary queen. “Thank you, Your Majesty. I’m very pleased to meet you.”
   A giggle drifted in through the open doorway.
   Kate glanced to the right, following the sound.
   Six-year-old Millie, Cousin William’s daughter, peeked around the edge of the doorway. Her ginger curls spilled over her shoulder as she leaned in.
   A smile broke across Kate’s face. “Millie, are you spying on me?”
   “No, I’m just watching. What are you doing?”
   “I’m practicing for my presentation to the king and queen.”
   Millie’s blue-green eyes glowed. “You’re going to the palace to see the king and queen?”
   “Yes, I am. There will be two hundred other young women presented that day, but I’ll have my turn to meet them, and you’ll do the same when you’re my age.”
   Millie’s impish smile spread wider. “Really?”
   “Of course.” Kate’s spirit lifted. Millie was right. Presentation at court was an exciting opportunity that would open the door to Kate’s future. She shouldn’t let her overbearing aunt or her gloomy dancing instructor squelch her happiness.
   It was time to make the most of the day. She focused on her young cousin again. “Would you like to learn how to curtsy?”
   “Yes!” Millie hurried across the room toward Kate.
   “All right. Stand like this.” Kate showed her young cousin the first position.
   The little girl watched Kate with eager expectation, then lifted her skirt and followed along.

• • •

Jonathan Foster hopped down from the London omnibus and set off across Hathaway Court, a broad, tree-lined street in the heart of Kensington. The late April sunshine warmed his shoulders, and the fresh spring breeze carried a faint floral scent. What a perfect day.
   The pleasant spring weather wasn’t the only reason for his cheerful mood. In less than two weeks, he would finish his fifth term at medical school, and he could enjoy a bit more freedom and a lot more sleep for the next few months.
   Jon glanced at his watch. He didn’t need to be back at St. George’s Hospital until seven this evening. That gave him plenty of time to call on his sister, Julia, and her future husband, Sir William Ramsey, and welcome them to London.
   Although their parents were in favor of his sister’s upcoming marriage, Jon wanted to become better acquainted with William and be sure he was the right man for Julia. Ramsey might be a baronet and master of a large country estate, but it was Julia’s recent inheritance from their grandfather that had saved Highland Hall from financial ruin just two months earlier.
   Did William truly love Julia, or had he pursued her for the inheritance? With their father still recovering from a prolonged illness and living miles away in Fulton, Jon wanted to make sure his sister was protected and her future secure.
   He rounded the corner, and Ramsey House came into view. He studied the impressive three-story Queen Anne–style home built of red brick. It had white trim, an intricate dutch gable with a scrolled roofline on the left, and a large round turret at the corner on the right. Another arched gable sheltered the front entrance.
   He stopped at the wrought-iron gate and surveyed the property. Two well-kept flower gardens and neat boxwood hedges lined the walkway leading to the front door. They added a warm welcome and softened the formal appearance of the house. He was sure his sister appreciated that.
   William Ramsey’s London home was certainly different from Jon and Julia’s simple childhood home at the mission station in India—and the thatched cottage where their parents now stayed in Fulton. His sister would lead a very different life here. But he imagined she would accept those changes with the same grace and goodwill she had always shown.
   Still…was this marriage what was best for her? Would she be happy here? That’s what he needed to discover.
   He pushed open the gate, mounted the steps, and rang the bell.
   A few moments later, a stout butler in a neatly pressed black suit answered the door and ushered him in. “Please wait here, sir.” The butler motioned toward a chair in the entrance hall.
   “Thank you.” Jon removed his hat and glanced around as the butler passed through a doorway at the end of the hall.
   The interior of the house was even more impressive than the facade, with beautiful hardwood floors, thick carpets, and an elaborately carved wooden staircase leading up to the next floor. A large mirror in a gilded frame hung on the wall to his right between two large family portraits. He stepped closer and examined one of the paintings.
   Could that be William Ramsey when he was a boy? The young lad had the same features as the man he’d met at his sister’s engagement dinner at Highland Hall in February. Two boys stood with him. Jon guessed they were his brothers. A younger sister and their parents sat in front of them in a garden setting. If that boy in the middle was William, he looked rather somber, even as a child.
   A soft female voice followed by a little girl’s giggle drifted from the partially open doorway down the hall.
   Jonathan tipped his head and listened. Was that Julia with Sir William’s daughter, Millie? Julia had grown very fond of Sir William’s two young children since she’d become their governess at Highland Hall six months ago. And in a few months she would become their stepmother.
   “Very nice, Millie. Let’s try it again.”
   No, that wasn’t Julia’s voice. Perhaps it was Katherine Ramsey or her sister, Penelope. Jon had met William’s cousins at Julia’s engagement dinner at Highland, and he had seen them again at William’s sister’s wedding earlier this month.
   “Show me again.” Millie’s young voice carried a smile.
   “All right. Follow me.”
   Jonathan moved closer and looked into the drawing room. The plush furniture had been pushed back. Katherine Ramsey stood in the center of the room wearing a sky-blue dress, with Millie standing beside her. Katherine’s back was to the entrance hall, so she didn’t see him step into the doorway.
   Katherine lifted her skirt a few inches and exposed a bit of ruffle around her slim ankles. “Step to the left and place your right foot behind. Then slowly sink down until your knee almost touches the floor, but not quite.”
   Millie copied each movement, though hers were not as smooth as Katherine’s.
   “Now, lower your head.” Katherine demonstrated and Millie followed. “Hold perfectly still while you slowly count to three before you rise.”
   Millie wavered, then gasped and tipped to the side.
   Katherine lunged to catch her, but Millie crashed onto the carpet, and Katherine landed in a heap beside her.
   Jonathan dashed across the room. “Miss Ramsey, are you all right?”
   She looked up at him, and her cheeks flushed bright pink. “Mr. Foster…Yes, of course, I’m fine.”
   Millie giggled as she pushed herself to her hands and knees and then stood. “I guess I need more practice.”
   “I suppose I do as well.” Katherine started to rise.
   Jon extended his hand to her. “Please, allow me.”
   She glanced up at him, her eyebrows slightly arched. “I promise you I’ve curtsied dozens of times today, and this is the only time I’ve fallen.”
   “Of course. I’m sure it was only because you were trying to help Millie. Now, please, let me be a gentleman and help you.” He smiled and continued to hold out his hand.
   She hesitated a moment, then reached out and clasped his fingers. He helped her to her feet, then she slipped her hand from his.
   “Thank you.” As she looked down and brushed off her skirt, Jon had a moment to observe her more carefully. Her long, golden-brown hair was tied back with a blue ribbon that matched the color of her eyes. One wavy strand of hair had come loose when she fell. She reached up and tucked it behind her ear, her hand grazing her flushed cheek.
   His gaze drifted from her cheek to her full, pink lips.
   She looked up. “Mr. Foster?”
   He swallowed and looked into her eyes. “Yes?”
   “Have you come to see your sister?”
   “Yes.”
   She glanced over her shoulder and then back at him. “Does she know you’ve arrived?”
   He blinked, struggling to find an answer. “Yes.”
   She searched his face with a slight frown. “Mr. Foster, are you quite all right?”
   “Yes.” He shook his head and looked away. What was the matter with him? “The butler asked me to wait in the entrance hall, but I heard your voice and thought you were Julia, so I looked in. Of course then I realized you weren’t Julia… You were you.” His neck warmed. He was rambling on like an idiot.
   A hint of amusement lit her eyes. “Well, we’re very grateful you came to our aid, aren’t we, Millie?”
   The little girl nodded, her curls bobbing on her shoulders. “Are you staying for tea?” Millie looked up at him with a friendly smile and wide, innocent eyes.
   He glanced at Katherine.
   “Yes, of course. You’re welcome to join us for tea. I’m sure Cousin William and Julia will be down soon.” She placed her hand on Millie’s shoulder. “Why don’t you go tell them Mr. Foster is here?”
   Millie nodded and turned to go just as William and Julia walked into the drawing room with Andrew, William’s eleven-year-old son.
   “Jonathan, what a wonderful surprise.” Julia crossed the room and greeted him with a kiss on his cheek. “I’m so happy to see you.”
   “Thank you. I’m very glad to see you as well. Welcome to London.” He shook hands with William and turned to Andrew. “How are you, young sir?”
   “Very well, thank you.” The sturdy little fellow’s face was covered with freckles, and his red hair was an even brighter shade than his sister’s.
   “We hope you’re still coming to dinner on Thursday,” Julia said.
   “Yes, I’m looking forward to it. But my classes were canceled this afternoon, so I thought I’d stop in and say hello.”
   “That’s wonderful.” Julia turned to Katherine. “Thank you for entertaining Jonathan while he waited for us.”
   Katherine shot him a questioning glance, and he returned a reassuring smile. Her secret was safe with him. He would not mention her fall.
   “Yes, Katherine and Millie were very kind and…quite entertaining.”
   “We invited him to stay for tea,” Millie added with a proud smile.
   William touched his daughter’s shoulder. “That was very thoughtful, Millie.”
   Millie looked up at her father, soaking up his praise.
   “Yes, please stay for tea and tell us all your news.” Julia took his arm and led him out of the drawing room.
   As they crossed the threshold, he glanced over his shoulder at Katherine. Her gaze connected with his for a split second, then she looked away, a hint of a smile on her lips.

• • •

Kate took a sip of steaming hot tea and glanced across at Jonathan, who sat opposite her in the library. He stirred sugar into his tea, his movement smooth and relaxed. The discomfort he’d shown earlier in the drawing room seemed to have disappeared, leaving Kate wondering, What was that about?
   Julia poured a cup of tea and passed it to William. The children were gathered around a small table near the library fireplace.
   William helped himself to a scone and glanced at Julia. “Won’t Penny and Louisa be joining us?”
   “They’ve gone to call on the Tremblys, and then they plan to stop at the dressmaker’s on the way home.”
   William lifted his dark eyebrows. “More dress fittings?”
   “An adjustment was needed on the hem of one of Penny’s gowns.”
   Kate nibbled on a lemon tart and glanced at Jonathan again. His blue eyes looked very similar to his sister’s. But his hair was light brown with a touch of gold rather than dark brown like Julia’s. He had pleasant features with a high forehead, straight nose, and a strong, square chin. With his broad shoulders and athletic build, he would be considered quite handsome by most women.
   That certainly didn’t matter to Kate. She knew what she was looking for in a husband. She and her aunt had discussed it at length. If Kate hoped to gain a place in society, she must marry a wealthy man from an aristocratic family, preferably one in line to inherit a title and estate. Of course, he would also be handsome, with pleasant manners and fine character, but that went without saying.
   Jonathan looked up and smiled at her, with an invitation to friendship in his eyes.
   Was it right to judge a man so quickly because of his lack of fortune and family connections? She looked away, dismissing the slight wave of guilt that pricked her conscience.
   William set his plate aside and settled back in his chair. “The stories in the newspaper about the Titanic have certainly been tragic.”
   Julia glanced at the children, concern in her expression. But Andrew and Millie were enjoying their fruit tarts and sandwiches and didn’t appear to be listening.
   “Did you know anyone on board?” Jonathan asked.
   “I went to school with Kirby Brumfield. We belonged to the same club.” William lowered his voice. “His wife and two children were rescued, but he was not.”
   Sorrow flooded Julia’s expression. “It’s such a tragedy. We must pray for them all.”
   Jonathan nodded and looked across at Kate. “Have you read the articles about the Titanic, Miss Ramsey?”
   The temptation to say she had rose in her mind, and her face warmed. A few months ago she would’ve easily lied to give a better impression, but since Julia’s arrival Kate had been learning the value of telling the truth, even when it reflected poorly on her.
   She lifted her eyes and met Jonathan’s gaze. “No, I haven’t.”
   He studied her for a moment with a hint of disappointment in his eyes, then glanced down at his teacup.
   Regret washed over her. Of course she’d heard about the Titanic sinking a week earlier, but with their move to London, the dress fittings, and her preparations for the season, she hadn’t thought much about it. But now, hearing how William’s friend had lost his life, the tragedy seemed more real—and her lack of concern, more shameful.
   Julia shifted in her seat and glanced at Andrew and Millie again. “Perhaps we should talk about something else. I don’t want to upset the children.”
   “You’re right, dear. That’s a topic for another time.” William turned to Jonathan. “How is your training coming along at the hospital?”
   “Very well. Making rounds with the doctors and observing surgeries is much more helpful than sitting in a classroom or pouring over textbooks.”
   Julia nodded looking pleased. “You always have liked learning from practical experience.”
   “That’s true.” Jonathan helped himself to a small sandwich. “How are your plans coming for the season?”
   “Katherine’s presentation is Friday.” Julia smiled at Kate. “I’m sure she’ll receive several invitations after that. We expect to have a very full calendar.”
   Jonathan turned to Kate. “This Friday?”
   A bite of lemon tart stuck in her throat. She nodded and forced a slight smile.
   “And her ball is planned for the eleventh of May,” Julia said. “We hope you’ll be able to come.”
   “Of course. I’d be honored to.” Jonathan glanced around the room. “Will you be holding the ball here?”
   “We planned to.” William frowned and shook his head. “But Lady Gatewood, Katherine’s aunt, insists there’s not enough room. We have over one hundred and fifty guests on the list.”
   A thrill ran through Kate, and she couldn’t hold back her smile. “Aunt Louisa helped us make arrangements to hold it at Sheffield House. They have a large ballroom with a lovely terrace and gardens.”
   “Katherine’s aunt is friends with the Tremonts, who own Sheffield,” Julia added. “They’ve been very kind to allow us to host the ball there.”
   Jonathan focused on Kate with a slight smile. “I’ve never been to a debutante ball.”
   “It should be wonderful.”
   “I’m sure it will be.” Julia turned to Jonathan. “So, when will you finish your classes?”
   “Just two more weeks. Then I’ll start two mornings a week at the hospital for the rest of the summer.”
   “That should be a nice change for you,” Julia said.
   “Yes, I’m looking forward to it, although I’ll have to hunt for a new flat right away.”
   Julia tipped her head. “You’re moving?”
   “I must. The owner of our building is selling the property. I have to be out by the fifteenth of May at the latest.”
   William frowned. “That’s certainly short notice.”
   “Yes, it is. Theo Anderson, one of my fellow students, invited me to stay with him, but I’m afraid his flat is even smaller than mine. I’m not sure how well that would work.”
   “Why don’t you stay here?” William set his plate aside and continued. “We have four guest rooms, and we’re not expecting to fill them all.”
   Kate darted a glance at Jonathan. She supposed having him stay with them wouldn’t be too awkward, but what would people think? Of course, with her aunt, cousin, and Julia as her chaperones, even London’s scandal-loving society shouldn’t object.
   “Sarah and Clark will be coming to town for Katherine’s ball,” William added, “but they’re only staying for a few days. We don’t return to Highland until early August. You’re welcome to stay with us as long as you’d like.”
   “Thank you. That will give me plenty of time to look for a new flat before classes start again in the fall.”
   “How soon would you like to bring your things over?” William asked.
   “I could come tomorrow, if that fits in with your plans.”
   “Excellent. We’ll send the car around. Just name the time.”
   “Would three o’clock be convenient? I have a trunk and a few boxes of books, so it would be very helpful.”
   William nodded and set his teacup on the table. “I’ll ask Lawrence to arrange it.”
   Julia’s expression brightened as she looked from William to Jonathan. “It will be wonderful to have you here with us.”
   Jonathan offered them both a grateful smile. “It will be a pleasure, and it should give me a chance to get to know William and the rest of the family.” His gaze shifted from William and Julia to Kate.
   Kate looked down at her plate. She doubted she would see much of Jonathan Foster after her presentation. Once the season moved into full swing, invitations would pour in, and her days and nights would be filled with parties, dinners, balls, and outings. She glanced at Jonathan once more, and a twinge of regret traveled through her.

• • •

Lydia Chambers hurried down the back stone stairs, carefully carrying Miss Katherine’s large lavender hat. Perhaps Mrs. Adams, the housekeeper, would know how to reattach the ostrich feathers that had somehow come loose on the trip from Berkshire to town.
   Lydia heaved a sigh as she passed the main floor landing and continued downstairs. She’d been so happy with her promotion from Highland housemaid to lady’s maid for Miss Katherine and Miss Penelope. The idea of traveling with the Ramsey family to London had been thrilling for a simple farm girl, but now she had a whole new set of responsibilities: fixing the young ladies’ hair, caring for their clothing, and even sewing their undergarments.
   There was much to learn! And if she didn’t do it well, she’d be demoted back to housemaid and find herself on the next train back to Berkshire.
   Had she been a fool to accept the promotion?
   She bit her lip and knocked on Mrs. Adams’s door.
   “Come in.”
   Lydia opened the door and stepped into the housekeeper’s cozy parlor. “Good afternoon, ma’am.”
   Mrs. Adams turned in her chair. “What can I do for you, Lydia?”
   “Miss Katherine wants to wear this tomorrow.” She held out the hat and pulled out the three ostrich plumes. “And I’ve no idea how to get these blessed feathers back in place.”
   A hint of a smile touched Mrs. Adams’s lips, and her eyes crinkled at the corners. “Let me see it.” Lydia handed her the hat, and Mrs. Adams turned it in her hands, inspecting the flowers, feathers, and netting. “My goodness there’s quite a garden here, isn’t there?”
   A smile tugged at Lydia’s lips. “Yes, ma’am.”
   “Well, you’ve come to the right place.” Mrs. Adams looked up, her soft gray eyes shining. “My mother was a milliner, and I grew up making hats. I’ll show you how to fix it.”
   Lydia clasped her hands. “Oh, thank you. I thought I was going to be sacked before I finished my first week in London.”
   “Don’t worry, my dear. By the time we’re finished, Miss Katherine could wear this hat in the worst windstorm and never lose a feather.”
   “I’m ever so grateful. I really do want to learn to be a proper lady’s maid.”
   “Of course you do, and I’m happy to help. Now let me find what we need, and then we’ll take it to the servants’ hall. It’s almost time for tea.” Mrs. Adams handed Lydia the hat, then took her sewing basket from the shelf in the corner. She motioned toward the door. “After you, my dear.”
   Lydia’s tense shoulders relaxed as she walked into the servants’ hall and took a seat at the long wooden table. Most of the other servants had already gathered there and were enjoying their tea and a short break from their busy day.
   Ann Norton, the nursery maid, looked up and smiled as Lydia settled in next to her. “You better watch out for that hat. You don’t want to get jam or tea on it.”
   “You’re right about that.” Lydia carefully laid the hat in her lap. “I wouldn’t have brought it in, but Mrs. Adams is going to show me how to fix the feathers.” Lydia glanced across the room at the housekeeper.
   Mrs. Adams stood at the head of the long table, speaking in a low voice to Mr. Lawrence, the butler. Together they oversaw the staff. Mr. Lawrence took charge of the male servants, including the two footmen, the chauffeur, and a groom. Mrs. Adams watched over the female servants, two housemaids, Ann, and herself.
   Mrs. Murdock, the cook, bustled in and set a tray of sandwiches on the table. She frowned at Nelson, the footman, who was already eating. “You’re certainly in a hurry. Couldn’t you wait for the rest of us?”
   “Sorry.” Nelson glanced at Mr. Lawrence.
   The butler turned to Mrs. Murdock. “I told them to go ahead. We have quite a bit to do, and I saw no need to wait.”
   Mrs. Murdock rolled her eyes. “Oh well, that explains it.”
   Lydia and Ann exchanged a smile. Since their arrival in London, Mrs. Murdock and Mr. Lawrence seemed to be testing each other, trying to determine who was truly in charge at the meals. Although Mrs. Murdock oversaw two kitchen maids and all the meal preparations, she still answered to Mrs. Adams and Mr. Lawrence.
   Each one had their place and knew they needed to keep to it and show the proper respect to those above them.
   Ann glanced at the housekeeper. “That’s nice of Mrs. Adams to help you with the hat.”
   “Yes, she’s kind.” Lydia leaned closer. “Ever so much nicer than Mrs. Emmitt.”
   Ann’s lips puckered as though she’d tasted something bitter. “I’m glad we won’t be taking orders from her when we go back to Highland.”
   “So am I.”
   Mrs. Emmitt, the previous housekeeper at Highland, had tried to sack Ann last winter when she’d been caught alone with Peter Gates, a former groom. But Miss Foster had spoken up for Ann and convinced Sir William to overrule the housekeeper and keep Ann on.
   Ann brushed a breadcrumb from her apron. “It’s good the truth about Mrs. Emmitt finally came out. Imagine, her trying to get rid of Miss Foster.”
   Lydia shook her head. “She ought not to have done that.”
   “Especially since Miss Foster and Sir William had feelings for each other.”
   “It’s quite romantic, isn’t it—a fine gentleman like Sir William falling in love with a governess?”
   Ann shrugged one shoulder. “I suppose. I’m just glad Mrs. Emmitt was the one who was sacked instead of Miss Foster or me.”
   The staff had been told Mrs. Emmitt had resigned and gone to live with her sister in Bristol, but the truth had been whispered from one servant to the next, and few were sorry to see the old housekeeper go.
   Lydia carefully poured herself a cup of tea, making sure not to splash any on Miss Katherine’s hat. “Do you think Mrs. Adams will be coming back to Highland, to replace Mrs. Emmitt?”
   Ann shook her head. “I heard she has two daughters and a grandchild here in town. I doubt she’d want to take a job so far from her family.”
   “Well, they’ll have to find someone to run the house.”
   Ann spread butter on a slice of bread. “I wish I could apply, but they probably want someone with more experience.”
   Lydia nodded. “It’s a big job to manage a house like Highland.”
   Patrick, the second footman, walked into the servants’ hall. His light brown hair was neatly combed, and he wore a smart livery. “The afternoon post, sir.” He handed Mr. Lawrence a stack of envelopes.
   “Thank you.” Mr. Lawrence quickly sorted through the pile and set most of the letters aside. He looked down the table. “Lydia, you have a letter.”
   Lydia hopped up to accept the envelope from the butler. “Thank you, sir.”
   He nodded and passed out two more pieces of mail.
   Lydia glanced at the envelope and her spirit lifted. Letters from home were a rare treat, and she eagerly tore open the envelope. She unfolded the one sheet of paper and scanned the first few lines. Her breath caught in her throat as she quickly read the rest.

Your sister Helen has run off, and we are heartsick and so worried. We have no idea who she is with or where she’s gone. Have you heard from her?
     Your father has spoken to some of the young people in the village and nearby farms. He even offered a reward. No one has come forward yet, but we hope someone will speak up soon. I feel certain one of them knows where she’s gone.
     Please pray for her and for us. Your father is beside himself, and my heart is breaking. If you hear from her, please send word right away.
     I hope you are well and you are able to learn all that’s needed in your new position. There are many temptations in London. I hope you will avoid them all and stay on the straight and narrow path.
     Your loving Mother
   Lydia’s hand trembled as she stared at her mother’s script. Why would Helen run away? Of course, life on the farm was not easy, but how could she just up and disappear without telling their parents? Where would she go? How would she live?
   If she longed to leave home that much, why didn’t she take a respectable job in service with a good family, rather than running off and causing so much trouble for their family? But Helen had always been a romantic soul and longed for the day when a young man would woo her and whisk her away to a charmed life.
   Foolish girl!
   Lydia folded the letter and slipped it back in the torn envelope.
   “Lydia? What’s wrong?” Ann leaned toward her. “Is it bad news?”
   Lydia swallowed and looked around. She couldn’t speak of her sister’s troubles here in the servants’ hall, not with everyone listening.
   Ann reached for her arm. “Goodness, your face has gone as white as a sheet.”
   Lydia pulled away and stood, but her legs felt shaky. “I’m all right. I just need…some fresh air.” She turned and strode out of the servants’ hall.
   “But what about Miss Katherine’s hat?”
   “I’ll come back for it.” Lydia hurried down the hall, then pushed open the back door. Stepping out to the rear courtyard, she squinted against the late afternoon sunlight. The smell of horses and hay drifted from the open stable door past the carriage house.
   She leaned against a stack of wooden crates and tried to still her racing thoughts. Oh Helen, what have you done?
The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky Copyright © 2014 by Carrie Turansky. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

An interview with Carrie Turansky, Author of The Daughter of Highland Hall

When family expectations and societal pressures collide with love and faith, which values will emerge the victor? Award-winning author Carrie Turansky explores this theme in her new book, The Daughter of Highland Hall (Multnomah Books/October 7, 2014/ISBN: 978-1601424983/$14.99).

Book two in the Edwardian Brides Series, The Daughter of Highland Hall, follows 18-year-old Kate Ramsey on a journey of self-discovery as she travels to London to make her societal debut. Her overbearing aunt insists she secure a marriage proposal from a wealthy, titled man. As Kate begins making the round of balls and garden parties, she attracts the attention of a man who seems to have all the qualifications on her list. Yet, is he the best choice? Will this lifestyle bring her true happiness?

Q: At the beginning of The Daughter of Highland Hall, readers will find the scripture Matthew 6:33. What is the significance of that verse in the story?
I chose Matthew 6:33, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” as the theme verse for this story because it summarizes the faith journey of the heroine, Kate Ramsey. The novel opens as Kate comes to London for her first season, hoping to make a good impression and find a wealthy, titled husband. She believes this will give her a prominent place in society and secure her future. But when she meets others who have a sincere faith and different goals, everything she has believed is called into question. What is most important in life? How does her faith impact her choices? Kate discovers when she lays down our own plans and seeks God first, He guides her toward the best path for her future.

Q: Your heroine, Kate, is a debutante trying to find her place in society and ultimately a husband. Why will readers be able to identify with her experiences?
Everyone wants to live a meaningful, fulfilling life. That was true in 1912, and it’s true today. Readers will identify with Kate as she faces the challenges of pleasing her family, meeting society’s expectations and trying to understand her own desires and motivations as she looks toward the future. Some of those challenges and expectations may be different today . . . but many are the same, and we can learn from all Kate experiences on her journey of faith and self-discovery.

Q: The Daughter of Highland Hall is your second book in the Edwardian Bride series — what is it about that time period that interests you?
The Edwardian era (1900–1918) is an interesting time of change in England. The class system and cultural influences of the Victorian era were still present, but they were beginning to change. Many modern inventions became popular and impacted people’s lives, such as cars, electricity, airplanes and several time-saving appliances. Those make the Edwardian lifestyle similar to today, and that in turn helps readers relate to the characters and the issues they face.

Q: What first drew you to writing English historical fiction?
I enjoyed watching Downton Abbey and was intrigued by the lifestyle, time period and the upstairs-downstairs aspects of the series. I met with an editor at a conference, and she encouraged me to research the time period and submit a proposal that had a similar feeling but was unique. At first I thought the research would be too difficult. However, Cathy Gohlke, a friend and fellow author, had recently published a wonderful story set in 1912 titled Promise Me This. Cathy encouraged me to accept the editor’s challenge, and she offered me several research books. So I jumped in and discovered I loved the research and enjoyed learning more about this time period in England. The characters and story rose out of the research, and it has been a fun series to write.

Q: You’ve even taken your research efforts all the way to Europe. What were some of the highlights of your trips? Did anything you saw make it into the book?
My husband and I visited England in 2012 and focused our time in Oxfordshire, the Peak District and the Cotswolds. Our tour of Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is set was the highlight of that trip for me. I loved seeing all the rooms where Downton is filmed, including the great hall, the library, the upper gallery and bedrooms. The gardens and greenhouse were lovely, and I had those in mind for several of the scenes in The Governess of Highland Hall. But I wanted to find a unique estate and setting for my books. My online research led me to Tyntesfield, a beautiful estate near Bristol in southwest England. It was a perfect choice. Tyntestfield is featured on the cover of The Governess of Highland Hall, and I used the interior design of this house to help me envision the scenes in my novels.
I was very excited to visit Tyntesfield in May 2014. What a thrill to see all the rooms and take a private tour of the day nursery and the governess’s bedroom! It’s even more beautiful than my online research revealed. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit to Tyntesfield. I have a Pinterest board filled with photos to help me remember everything I saw there.

Q: How was culture changing during the period in which you wrote, and how does The Daughter of Highland Hall reflect that?
As the Victorian era came to an end, the moral climate became less strict. This is reflected by incidents in both The Governess of Highland Hall and The Daughter of Highland Hall. William Ramsey, the head of the family, is impacted by the choices of other family members and must decide how to respond. The differences between the classes were also changing. Working-class people were less satisfied with being “in service” as maids and butlers, and they wanted increased wages and benefits, putting pressure on the upper class. Taxes, especially death duties, put tremendous financial stress on families who inherited large estates. This plays a role in books one and two in the series. All these changes were even more apparent in the later half of the era because of the changes World War I brought to English society. The Ramsey family and the staff at Highland will be going through World War I in book three, A Refuge at Highland Hall.

Q: Another character in the book, Jonathan Foster, is committed to helping the poor in London’s East End. Was that common practice among physicians during that time? Was that kind of work as respected as it is now?
During the late Victorian and Edwardian eras many people became more concerned for the poor and worked for social change. Some offered practical help, including free and low-cost medical care. One of those who was concerned for the poor and encouraged practical assistance was William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. When he first started his work among the poor he was scoffed at and criticized. But near the end of his life he received an honorary doctorate from Oxford and was respected and admired for his work. When he died in 1912, Londoners lined the streets by the thousands to see his casket pass by. A speech given by his granddaughter, Catherine Booth, is featured in The Daughter of Highland Hall, and it has a great impact on Kate Ramsey.

Q: In Edwardian England, women had fewer options available to them, and marriage was the primary way they could secure their future. Yet books and TV shows such as Downton Abbey, based in this time period, are incredibly popular with women. Why do you think this is?
I think women love the fashions, houses, manners and social customs we see on Downton Abbey. Looking back, it seems like a “romantic” period when men were gentlemen and women were ladies. Life seems simpler, especially if you were from a wealthy family. I don’t think most women today would like to take on the role of a servant in that time period. In fact, there was a reality show called Manor House with that premise. People took on the roles of the family and servants and had to live as the Edwardians did for a period of time. Watching that series was a fun part of my research.

Q: While our modern circumstances will vary from Kate’s, we still face expectations placed on us by our family and society. How can we navigate those expectations while still pursuing God’s best for us?
Balancing our love for our family and our commitment to the Lord is an important issue. Following the principles in Scripture we can find help and guidance. When we are children we are told to obey our parents. As we get
older the roles change, but we are still to honor them. That means asking for their input and advice on important decisions and listening to their fears and concerns before we prayerfully make decisions. If we’re married, our mate’s input should carry more weight than our parents’. I think meeting society’s expectations is less important than pleasing the Lord and living in a way that honors Him. Once again, using principles from Scripture and getting input and advice from wise and godly people can help us make the best decisions.

Q: What can readers learn from The Daughter of Highland Hall about the importance of seeking godliness in a mate, rather than looks, financial security or social status?
Both The Governess of Highland Hall and The Daughter of Highland Hall touch on the importance of choosing a mate who has a strong faith and good character. That is still an even more important message today. I hope the issues the characters face and the lessons they learn will challenge and encourage everyone who reads the series.

Q: Kate must ultimately decide what the right thing to do is based on her new relationship with God. How does her faith ultimately guide her?
The influence and examples of people who are strong Christians and who live out their faith in their daily lives have a great impact on Kate. When unexpected events in her family cause her to be excluded from social events, she has time to volunteer at a free clinic in one of the poorest areas of London, and her heart begins to soften and change. Rather than seeing the poor as a mass of humanity, she sees them as individuals who each have a story and needs not so very different than her own. Her growing attraction to a man with deep faith and convictions also has a great impact on Kate’s faith. Ultimately she must weigh her choices and use what she has learned to make important decisions about her future.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away after they’ve put The Daughter of Highland Hall back on the shelf?
I hope my readers will enjoy the journey with Kate and Jon and feel as though they have been transported back to London, England, in 1912. But I also hope they will be drawn closer to God as they identify with experiences Kate and Jon face and the challenges and choices they must make.

Visit Carrie Turansky's website, become a fan on Facebook; follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Buttermilk Sky by Jan Watson, © 2014



~*~

Mazy Pelfrey, Dr. Lilly Still's younger sister, has left her beloved Kentucky mountains to go to Lexington to secretarial school. Branching out, she expects to find a new venture far beyond her hills. Staying at Mrs. Pearl's boardinghouse, she rooms with other young ladies attending the school; Polly, Ernestine, Eva, and Clara. Excited to be included, Mazy likes having lunch and study group with these new friends.

Back home, Mazy's long time friend, Sheriff Chanis Clay, is fixing up a house with the intent of having Mazy be pleased when she returns in hopes she will marry him. Mazy, in the city meets new people and isn't thinking about those back home, including her friend Chanis. Chanis visits the city and doesn't seem to fit in her new surroundings.

My favorite character is Cinnamon Spicer, a little girl who takes jobs here and there to take care of her ill father. She is industrious and a worthwhile friend. In the beginning Mazy is embarrassed by her, while trying to fit in with her new friends. She finds that outward appearances aren't always what they seem.

I enjoy Jan Watson's stories of hope and caring as her characters find honesty and being themselves win out. Buttermilk Sky allows Mazy to find out who she is and what she values most. I look forward to future adventures from this favorite author.



I loved reading all of Jan Watson's stories, and now a new one!! Buttermilk Sky. In chronological order: Troublesome Creek, Willow Springs, Torrent Falls, Sweetwater Run, Still House Pond, Skip Rock Shallows, Tattler's Branch. Visit Jan's website for more information.

***Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for sending me a complimentary copy of Buttermilk Sky by Jan Watson for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy this excerpt from Jan Watson's newest novel, Buttermilk Sky ~

Prologue

CINNAMON SPICER ducked when the tin can sailed her way. The jagged lid just missed her ear. “You oughtn’t do that,” she said. “A body can get lockjaw off them old cans.”
   The old lady who’d pitched it brandished a hoe as if it were a weapon. A thin stream of tobacco juice leaked from the corner of her mouth and disappeared among the wrinkles of her chin. “You go somewhere else. I staked this spot this morning.”
   “You never did anything of the sort, Santy. I was here before the rooster crowed and you weren’t anywhere about.” Cinnamon pointed at a sturdy stick protruding from the rubble. The stick sported a stained white flag. “That’s my marker, and you know it. That gives me eight feet in any direction.”
   The woman spit her chaw at Cinnamon’s feet. “Hog,” she said before stumping away, her steps as slow as Christmas. Her sack bumped along behind her like Santa Claus’s pack full of coal.
   A warm summer sun beat down on the garbage dump. Small fires dotted the landscape, releasing fusty-smelling ribbons of smoke.
   Cinnamon blotted sweat from her forehead with the crook of her elbow. “You have to obey the rules just like ever’body else, Santy.”
   “Heifer!”
   “Don’t be cross. There’s more than enough for all.”
   The old woman called her animal names. The other pickers called her Little Bit. Nobody shared their real names here. Cinnamon didn’t know why. It wasn’t like they were doing anything shameful by earning a living—such as it was. Besides, everybody here knew most everybody else. It was a small kingdom.
   For as long as she could remember, Cinnamon had been picking. When just a child, she’d followed behind her father, searching for play pretties: cracked saucers, cups without handles, lids with no pots, and the like. “Mind the broken glass, girl,” he would say. “You don’t want to be stepping over there.”
   One time she’d found a string of pearls lacking only a clasp. Pap had tied the pearls around her neck and let her wear them for the rest of the day. She had fancied herself a proper princess. She didn’t get to keep the necklace, but she didn’t mind. She wore her father’s praise instead. Those pearls fed her family for weeks.
   She flicked the chaw to one side with the blade of the hoe and began to grub around. Just one time she’d tried tobacco. Pap said chewing it would cut the smell of rotting garbage and the decomposing bodies of the poor dead animals cast off here. He’d cut her a nugget from the twist he carried in his pocket. But she couldn’t stomach the pungent taste or the way the brown juice backed up in her mouth like thin vomit. Besides, Ma said it would rot her teeth, and Cinnamon had nice teeth. Pap said her smile put him in mind of corn on the cob, the way her teeth were so square and even.
   It was lonesome working without Pap. She would like to pray for him like the preacher said to do, but she didn’t think the Lord would appreciate being called on from here in the smelly dump. Prayer was for Saturday mornings after she’d finished cleaning the sanctuary. That was the easiest job ever. Way easier than picking trash—though maybe not as interesting.
   She liked when the church smelled of soft soap and Old English furniture polish. She even liked the momentary discomfort of the kneeling bench because it kept her mind from wandering instead of praying. It took a lot of concentration to pray a good prayer.
   Cinnamon leaned on the hoe. Lately she’d been thinking about the girls who lived at Mrs. Pearl’s while they attended secretarial school. One of her favorite things to do was to watch the girls as they went about town. They traveled in a flock like birds. She liked how they seemed so happy and industrious, and she liked their clothes, especially that one girl with the golden hair.
   She had been picking since early this morning, earlier than all the others by a good fifteen minutes. The trashmen collected on Mondays and Thursdays and dumped their loads before sunrise. Cinnamon had slept lightly last night and sprung from her cot at the first sound of the garbage wagons rumbling toward the dump. Her youth gave her a drop on the others. She could run faster, and she had a knack for selecting good sites. She knew which wagon picked up from the posh houses along North Broadway and which banged the bins in the narrow alleys behind the pricey downtown hotels. Her favorite, though, was wagon number three, which carried its load from the saloons dotting Easy Street. She was allowed to stake three sites, and that was what she’d done this morning. She dubbed her sites Park, Broadway, and Easy. Right now she was working Broadway.
   She laid her hoe aside and picked up the rake, which she ran lightly over the mound of refuse, careful not to nick or scratch what she expected to find. She scraped away layer after layer of newspapers, kitchen refuse, and receipts of all kinds, then bent to pinch one bill of sale out of the muck. The printed letters and numbers darted like minnows in and out of her vision. She blotted sweat from her forehead. The print lined up. Mrs. Harry Hopewell had paid $3.50 for a velvet cloche at Suzanne Millinery. Imagine that—$3.50 for a hat!
   Tossing the receipt, she watched it sail away on the swell of a welcome breeze, then returned to her work. The dry rattle of newsprint and the squish of vegetable waste gave way to the clink, clink of shifting glass. Pay dirt! Two cobalt bottles, stoppers intact, nestled like bluebirds in a scoop of potato peels. They would fetch a pretty penny at the druggist.
   She moved on to Easy, which turned out to be a gold mine. Soon she had a gunnysack full of beer, pop, and whiskey bottles, which she’d cushioned with newspaper. One more whisk of the rake and she’d call it a day.
   Park had been a disappointment. Usually she found at least half a dollar in change in the trash picked up from the hotels, and often perfectly fine dry goods—linens with a tear or a cigarette burn, shirts missing a button, shoelaces, and once a pair of gold cuff links. But no such luck this time. All she’d come up with worth haggling over was a box of poker chips.
   After pulling up her stakes, Cinnamon organized her carryalls—dirty stuff in one, middling stuff in another, fragile stuff in the third, wrapped and separated with squares of cardboard. The day was wasting; she needed to get on home, sort her goods, and start peddling. June’s rent was on her head. Pap hadn’t been able to pick since the middle of May. Thankfully she had a little more time before it was officially due. Their landlord had said, “No more leeway.” One more late payment and he’d have the sheriff put their stuff out on the street. Then what would she do?
   Pulling the red metal wagon that Pap had fitted with slatted wooden sides, she skirted the dump. Santy shook her fist as Cinnamon’s wagon rolled past.
   Cinnamon smiled to herself. Santy was like a tired old bulldog: she still had the desire to snap and bite but didn’t have the wherewithal to carry it off.

Chapter 1

1913

The blast hit Sheriff Chanis Clay square in the chest. He lost his balance, tumbled down the cellar steps, and landed hard against a rough rock wall. His head bounced twice before he slumped forward, his chin planted on his collarbone.
   His last conscious thoughts were of his father. The badge on Chanis’s chest was the one handed to him at his father’s funeral, then proudly pinned there by his mother after the general election made it official. As darkness swirled, he wondered if his fate would be the same as his father’s—killed in the line of duty. Dead before he could even serve out his term. Dead and leaving too much undone.
   His own strangled breath awoke him. How long he’d been out, he didn’t know. Probably not long, for a thin shaft of daylight filtered from the half-open door at the top of the stairs. What in the world had happened up there? Last he remembered, he’d eased open the door to check the cellar, but he hadn’t drawn his gun. Who would have thought he needed it? Obviously he was wrong about that.
   Wincing, he leaned his head back. It felt like there was a pumpknot big as a goose egg on the back of his skull. His hands and feet tingled like a cracked crazy bone—circulation kick-starting. And his shirt stuck to his chest—with blood? His face and chest stung, but they seemed to be peppered with glass, not buckshot. Looked like it wasn’t his time after all, and he was thankful. What would happen to his mother and the kids if he died at twenty-three?
   Not to mention Mazy. They’d never even had a real kiss yet. He was decidedly unwilling to leave Mazy and all their plans behind. Well, maybe they were more his plans than hers right now, but she’d come around. He just needed to get the house he’d bought readied up. He wouldn’t chance a proposal until he had a home ready for her, a home fit for a girl like Mazy Pelfrey. Just this morning he’d stopped by the general store to look at wallpaper samples. His throbbing head spun with images of cabbage roses, lilacs in bloom, ivy climbing trellises, and men on horseback chasing foxes.
   Chanis rubbed the sore spot on his head, trying to put together what had happened. He’d come up here to check on Oney, who nobody had seen for days. It was known about town that Oney Evers had been ill for some time, ever since getting the sugar. The sugar was making him waste away. In six months’ time he was half the man he used to be. The doc brought Oney to Chanis’s attention when the old man missed an appointment with her. He was more than glad to come up here this morning to check on Oney. Now here he was blown against the cellar wall, about as useless as the sack of withered seed potatoes his elbow rested on.
   Everybody who knew the Everses said Oney’s wife was crazy as a jar of crickets, but he never figured she’d shoot him. But maybe she didn’t—maybe Oney did. That would be out of character for him, but really, what did he know about Ina Evers? Whenever there was violence of any sort, folks were quick to blame whoever was most different. Now he’d done the same.
   The door at the top of the stairs swung all the way open. Miz Evers waved a long-barreled six-shooter in front of her like a divining rod. Chanis scrabbled out of the line of fire, huddling behind the wooden steps.
   “Who’s down there?”
   “Miz Evers? It’s Chanis Clay—the sheriff.”
   He heard the gun cock.
   “I’ll blow you all to pieces,” she said with a voice high and reedy.
   “Where’s Oney? I just came to check on Oney.”
   “And you figured to help yourself to some canned goods whilst you were looking around? Likely story.”
   Blam! The gun fired. A row of glass jars went up in pieces. Vegetables rained down. He tasted green beans.
   “Did I get you? Good enough for you, you scoundrel! Your daddy will be turning over in his grave. Now there was a good man.”
   “I swear I meant no harm. Miz Evers? Where is Oney?”
   “That’s for me to know. Now get over where I can see you! I ain’t wasting the one bullet I’ve got left.”
   Feeling around in the dusky dark, Chanis found a bushel basket. “All right, I’m coming out. Don’t shoot!” He pitched the basket toward the bottom of the steps.
   A shot drowned out her laugh. The basket was done for. Chanis thought of drawing his own pistol, but he couldn’t see shooting a woman. His daddy always said, “Don’t take your weapon out if you don’t aim to use it.” Besides, her gun was no threat without bullets. She was just confused. He’d talk sense into her.
   Chanis eased out from under the stairs, brushing cobwebs from his clothes. Raising his hands above his head, he looked up at Miz Evers. She was a tall, gaunt woman with a jutting jaw and long, bony arms. She put Chanis in mind of a praying mantis.
   “I’m coming up.”
   With a whine like a thousand angry hornets, a bullet parted his hair. Stunned, he dropped backward to the floor.
   “Huh,” she said. “I guess I miscounted. Are you dead?”
   Her voice echoed against the ringing in his ears. Chanis lay still, playing possum. He could feel blood trickling down his face, but he couldn’t be hurt too bad. He could still think and sort of hear.
   She sighed—like he had really put her out. “How am I supposed to get a dead body outen the cellar?” She took the steps slowly like a toddler, bringing both feet together on each one before tackling the next.
   Chanis held his breath until she prodded his chest with the business end of the gun. With one quick motion he grabbed the barrel and rolled away from her, taking the firearm with him.
   “La,” she yelled, collapsing on the bottom step and clutching her chest. “You just about scared me to death.”
   He pointed the gun at her. “Get back upstairs.”
   “What? Are you aiming to shoot me now? Scaring an old lady out of her wits wasn’t enough for you?”
   “Miz Evers, I’m arresting you. You tried to kill me.”
   “Well, you was stealing my canned goods. Was I supposed to help you carry them to your vehicle?”
   “I wasn’t taking anything. Like I said, I was looking for Oney.”
   “Then how come you smell like sauerkraut?”
   “Sauerkraut?” That’s what smelled so bad; he was dripping in fermented cabbage.
   Miz Evers lumbered up the steps, pausing by a set of narrow shelves just this side of the doorway. “Yep, there’s a jar missing. Reckon it exploded on you.”
   Chanis felt twice the fool. He could see the headline in the Skip Rock Tattler: “Exploding Sauerkraut Fells Sheriff Clay. See details page 2.”
   “Well, come on. I ain’t got all day,” Miz Evers said.
   He hurried past the remaining jars of cabbage, glad to put the root cellar behind him. Miz Evers was waiting at the kitchen table with a jar of iodine and a pair of tweezers. “Take off your shirt,” she said.
   Chanis eyed the outside door. He could leave . . . but instead he spun the revolver’s cylinder, assuring himself there were no bullets in the chamber, and put it on the table. He’d play along with her for a minute. Maybe she’d tell him what he needed to know about Oney if he got on her good side. Unbuttoning the top three buttons of his shirt, he pulled it and his undershirt over his head. It hurt more than he would have imagined each time she fished another piece of glass from his chest. And it was even worse when she started on his face. He couldn’t help but wince when she prodded the new part in his hair and poured on the iodine.
   “Too bad I ain’t got a bullet for you to bite on,” she said.
   “Miz Evers, don’t you want me to check on Oney? He might be ill.”
   “It doesn’t matter no more,” she said, sniffling as she stuck the cork back in the iodine bottle. One fat tear formed in the corner of her eye. “We don’t need nobody’s help.”
   The shirt he’d ironed just that morning was ruined, so Chanis eased his undershirt back on to cover himself. Tucking his chin, he secured his badge to the proper spot directly over his heart. There. Now he was the sheriff again.
   “Miz Evers, you might just as well save me some time and tell me where your husband is,” he said through gritted teeth.
   Something in the old woman gave way. Her hand trembled when she raised her arm and pointed in the direction of the barn. “He’s yonder—just a-laying there with his toes turned up.”
Jan Watson, Buttermilk Sky Tyndale, © 2014.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer, © 2014

This is a work of fiction. Apart from well-known people, events, and locales that figure into the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination and are used fictitiously.  --The publisher.

In March of 1957, much in love, with all that they owned in suitcases, a young couple from the Netherlands boarded a ship to cross the Atlantic for an unknown future in Canada, both leaving behind the events of what the Great War had inflicted on them as children.
   As a small girl, she watched German soldiers take away her father for hiding a Jew in their house. Halfway across the world, at about the same time, Japanese soldiers forced the boy’s father and older brothers onto the flatbed of a truck that left the boy and the other siblings behind.
   In Holland, the girl’s father eventually returned, but she endured the remainder of the Nazi occupation without her mother, who died from pneumonia. In the Dutch East Indies, the boy’s father did not return, a victim of the brutal conditions of forced labor during the building of the infamous Burma railway, and the boy spent his war years with his mother and remaining siblings barely surviving a series of concentration camps.
   All these years later, at the time of the writing of this novel, they are still together, still much in love. They have six children, fifteen grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. In the truest sense, this novel was inspired by that young couple—by stories of their childhoods and by how they lived and loved since that Atlantic crossing—my parents Willem and Gerda. Because of their example, it was not difficult to imagine another decades-long journey in
Thief of Glory, where Jeremiah and Laura share a similar enduring love.  --author Sigmund Brouwer

Devastation of a people and a home, Jeremiah Prins looks back on his life as a young boy to manhood in a time set apart from the sound of birdsong, of children playing in the streets, of mothers calling in the marketplace. Gone, all of it gone. Day-to-day life as it had been known was no more.

There was Laura. A love so profound from the very beginning. Laura, the thought of her kept me going. Change to change, movement to movement. A lifetime ago.

A boy coming of age in a time of war...the love that inspires him to survive.

For ten-year-old Jeremiah Prins, the life of privilege as the son of a school headmaster in the Dutch East Indies comes crashing to a halt in 1942 after the Japanese Imperialist invasion of the Southeast Pacific. Jeremiah takes on the responsibility of caring for his younger siblings when his father and older stepbrothers are separated from the rest of the family, and he is surprised by what life in the camp reveals about a woman he barely knowshis frail, troubled mother.
    Amidst starvation, brutality, sacrifice and generosity, Jeremiah draws on all of his courage and cunning to fill in the gap for his mother. Life in the camps is made more tolerable as Jeremiah’s boyhood infatuation with his close friend Laura deepens into a friendship from which they both draw strength.
   When the darkest sides of humanity threaten to overwhelm Jeremiah and Laura, they reach for God's light and grace, shining through His people. Time and war will test their fortitude, and the only thing that will bring them safely to the other side is the most enduring bond of all.


As we are rounded up to be taken to one of the Jappenkamps by the Japanese soldiers in the fall of 1942, I returned to our house to take the mattress from our parents' bed. I am amazed to see for the first time, papers lining the walls with sketches of our days, drawn by my mother in her haze of mental disparity. Beautiful. They are so accurate. She does see us.
   Then another sketch caught my eye. It was me, with my mother. We were holding hands, and her dress swirled at her ankles as if the wind were flirting with her. She and I never held hands. In this sketch she also had a smile on her face that I'd never seen before, and nothing about my eyes in that sketch looked as intense and cold as the eyes I sometimes saw in a mirror. Instead, happiness shone from my face.
   --Thief of Glory, 57.
I have read The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron this year, and accounts of Corrie ten Boom's concentration camp writings, and Anne Frank, previously. Thief of Glory brings forth historical happenings not readily revealed in such detail. Written in first person narrative, this story embodies thoughts and feelings with the intensity of being there. The strength of the women as they bond together as best they can, children being exposed to horrors beyond their years.

Thief of Glory is very well written by author Sigmund Brouwer, carrying the wit and survival tactics of Jeremiah, known as Jemmy to his young brother, Pietje. Caring and looking out for his other siblings too, Nikki and Aniek, Jeremiah becomes the overseer of his family in places his mother is unable to, especially when she retreats into her unknown world.

The story is written in a remembering stage, looking back. Such memories would be embedded in the heart and soul. Not wanting his daughter, Rachel, to be entangled in what Jeremiah had endured, he agrees to tell her the story ~ revealed through his detailed writings to be read after his passing. Such is love, to protect. Reconciliation of hearts beginning, clear the way to understanding.

War atrocities in each generation portrayed in daily putting one foot before the other to survive. This story will be remembered.

Sigmund’s father talks about his boyhood in an internment camp in the Dutch East Indies


Sigmund Brouwer
Photo © Reba Baskett
Sigmund Brouwer is the best-selling author of nearly thirty novels, with close to 4 million books in print. Based on his inspiration for Thief of Glory, which Sigmund wrote as a way to learn and honor the his parent’s stories, especially of his father’s boyhood in a Japanese concentration camp, Sigmund leads The Chapters of Our Lives memoir seminars across the United States and Canada. Sigmund is married to recording artist Cindy Morgan and has two daughters. View further background writings at http://thiefofglory.com.

***Thank you to Blogging for Books for sending me a copy of Sigmund Brouwer's Thief of Glory to review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy this SneakPeek of Thief of Glory written by Sigmund Brouwer ~

ONE

Journal 1—Dutch East Indies

A banyan tree begins when its seeds germinate in the crevices of a host tree. It sends to the ground tendrils that become prop roots with enough room for children to crawl beneath, prop roots that grow into thick, woody trunks and make it look like the tree is standing above the ground. The roots, given time, look no different than the tree it has begun to strangle. Eventually, when the original support tree dies and rots, the banyan develops a hollow central core.
   In a kampong—village—on the island of Java, in the then-called Dutch East Indies, stood such a banyan tree almost two hundred years old. On foggy evenings, even adults avoided passing by its ghostly silhouette, but on the morning of my tenth birthday, sunlight filtered through a sticky haze after a monsoon, giving everything a glow of tranquil beauty, where an event beneath the branches, as seemingly inconsequential as a banyan seed taking root in the bark of an unsuspecting tree, began the journey that has taken me some three score and ten years to complete.
   It was market day, and as a special privilege to me, Mother had left my younger brother and twin sisters in the care of our servants. In the early morning, before the tropical heat could slow our progress, she and I journeyed on back of the white horse she was so proud of, past the manicured grounds of our handsome home and along the tributary where my siblings and I often played. Farther down, the small river emptied into the busy port of Semarang. While it was not a school day, my father—the headmaster—and my older half brothers were supervising the maintenance of the building where of all of the blond-haired children experienced the exclusive Dutch education system.
   As we passed, Indonesian peasants bowed and smiled at us. Ahead, shimmers of heat rose from the uneven cobblestones that formed the village square. Vibrant hues of Javanese batik fabrics, with their localized patterns of flowers and animals and folklore as familiar to me as my marbles, peeked from market stalls. I breathed in the smell of cinnamon and cardamom and curry powders mixed with the scents of fried foods and ripe mangoes and lychees.
   I was a tiny king that morning, continuously shaking off my mother’s attempts to grasp my hand. She had already purchased spices from the old man at one of the Chinese stalls. He had risen beyond his status as a singkeh, an impoverished immigrant laborer from the southern provinces of China, this elevation signaled by his right thumbnail, which was at least two inches long and fit in a curving, encasing sheath with elaborate painted decorations. He kept it prominently displayed with his hands resting in his lap, a clear message that he held a privileged position and did not need to work with his hands. I’d long stopped being fascinated by this and was impatient to be moving, just as I’d long stopped being fascinated by his plump wife in a colorful long dress as she flicked the beads on her abacus to calculate prices with infallible accuracy.
   I pulled away to help an older Dutch woman who was bartering with an Indonesian baker. She had not noticed that bank notes had fallen from her purse. I retrieved them for her but was in no mood for effusive thanks, partly because I thought it ridiculous to thank me for not stealing, but mainly because I knew what the other boys my age were doing at that moment. I needed to be on my way. With a quick Dag, mevrouw—Good day, madam—I bolted toward the banyan, giving no heed to my mother’s command to return.
   For there, with potential loot placed in a wide chalked circle, were fresh victims. I might not have been allowed to keep the marbles I won from my younger siblings, but these Dutch boys were fair game. I slowed to an amble of pretended casualness as I neared, whistling and looking properly sharp in white shorts and a white linen shirt that had been hand pressed by Indonesian servants. I put on a show of indifference that I’d perfected and that served me well my whole life. Then I stopped when I saw her, all my apparent apathy instantly vanquished.
   Laura.
   As an old man, I can attest to the power of love at first sight. I can attest that the memory of a moment can endure—and haunt—for a lifetime. There are so many other moments slipping away from me, but this one remains.
   Laura.
   What is rarely, if ever, mentioned by poets is that hatred can have the same power, for that was the same moment that I first saw him. The impact of that memory has never waned either. This, too, remains as layers of my life slip away like peeling skin.
   Georgie.
   I had no foreshadowing, of course, that the last few steps toward the shade beneath those glossy leaves would eventually send me into the holding cell of a Washington, DC police station where, at age eighty-one, I faced the lawyer—also my daughter and only child—who refused to secure my release until I promised to tell her the events of my journey there.
   All these years later, across from her in that holding cell, I knew my daughter demanded this because she craved to make sense of a lifetime in the cold shade of my hollowness, for the span of decades since that marble game had withered me, the tendrils of my vanities and deceptions and self-deceptions long grown into strangling prop roots. Even so, as I agreed to my daughter’s terms, I maintained my emotional distance and made no mention that I intended to have this story delivered to her after my death.
   Such, too, is the power of shame.

TWO

Laura.
   Beneath the banyan, a heart-stopping longing overwhelmed me at the glimpse of her face and shy smile. It was romantic love in the purest sense, uncluttered by any notion of physical desire, for I was ten, much too young to know how lust complicates the matters of the human race.
   The sensation was utterly new to me. But it was not without context. At night, by oil lamps screened to keep moths from the flame, I had three times read Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, the Dutch translation by Gerard Keller. As soon as the last page was finished, I would turn to page one of chapter one. I had just started it for the fourth time. Thus I’d been immersed in chivalry at its finest and here, finally, was proof that the love I’d read about in the story also existed in real life.
   I was lost, first, in her eyes—the calmest of blue. She looked away, then back again. I felt like I could only breathe from the top of my lungs in shallow gasps. Her hair, thick and blond and curled, rested upon her shoulders. She wore a light-blue dress, tied at the waist with a wide bow, with a yellow butterfly brooch on her right shoulder. She stole away from me any sense of sound except for a universal harmony that I hadn’t known existed. So as the nine-year-old Laura Jansen bequeathed upon me a radiant gaze, I became Ivanhoe, and she the beautiful Lady Rowena. Standing at the edge of the chalked circle, I was instantly and irrevocably determined that nothing would stop me from becoming champion of the day, earning the right to bestow upon her the honor of Queen of the Tournament.
   As I was to discover, it was Laura’s third day in-country and her first visit to the village. This meant I was as much a stranger to her as any boy could be, but the emotions that overwhelmed her, which she recounted to me years later, were as much a mystery to her young soul as my emotions were to mine.
   I would shortly discover that Laura had accompanied her oma— grandmother—on the voyage from the Netherlands. Her oom Gert—uncle Gert—worked for the Dutch Shell Oil Company as a refinery engineer, and his wife had recently died from pneumonia. Laura and her oma had come to help Gert and his large family through the difficult situation.
   That morning I surveyed my opponents gathered around her, a motley bunch of boys I’d vanquished one way or another at events where Dutch families gathered to celebrate a holiday or other special occasion. From marble games to subsequent fistfights that resulted from marble games, the fathers monitored our battles but wisely kept them as hidden from the matriarchs as we did. I knew all of these boys. Except one.
   As the other boys took involuntary steps backward in deference to my established reign, I felt goose bumps run up my spine. The parting of this group had revealed a boy at the center whom I’d never seen before. He was kneeling, with a marble held in shooting position on top of the thumbnail of his left hand, edge of the thumb curled beneath index finger, ready to flick. Left hand.
   The marble I noticed too. For good reason. It was an onionskin, purple and white, with a transparent core. The swirls were twisted counterclockwise and that made it even more of a rarity. Inside the chalked circle was an X formed by two lines of twelve marbles. At a glance I could tell none were worth the risk of losing the onionskin. Without doubt, stupidity was not part of this boy’s nature, so either he was very good or he came from wealth that allowed him to not care about the worth of the onionskin.
   When he stood, it was obvious that he had two inches on me, and a lot of extra bulk. His arched eyebrow matched my own. Dark hair to my blond. Khaki pants and tousled shirt to my pressed-linen shorts and shirt. Wealth, most likely, against the limited salary of my father’s headmaster position.
   I did not ask him for his name, but I would soon learn it was Georgie Smith. He was American. Son of the man sent to oversee the refinery where Laura’s uncle worked as an engineer. He’d arrived by the same ship that had carried Laura and her oma.
   I doubt Georgie’s conscious brain registered the deferential movements of the other boys, but his animal instinct would not have failed to miss it. Or the reasons for it. Like an electrical current generated by rising tension, hatred crackled between us. I believe that had we each been armed with clubs, we would have charged forward without hesitation at the slightest of provocations.
   This unspoken hatred was established in the time it took to lock eyes. With effort, I pretended not to see him as I moved to the edge of the chalked circle and squatted. I could feel the burn of his gaze on my right shoulder, as I imagined the caressing smile of Laura warming my left shoulder. It was no accident I had chosen a position that placed me between them.
   “Who is next?” I asked, keeping my eyes on the marbles.
   “We’ve been saving a place for you,” Timothy said. He was eight years old, and a snot-nosed, obsequious toad, but his answer established that I was leader.
   Still watching and waiting for the onionskin to enter the circle, I fumbled with my belt. I always carried two small pouches of marbles tied to my belt and tucked inside my shorts.
   “He’s not playing,” Georgie said.
   This earned a respectful gasp from the other boys.
   I turned my head to give him a direct stare.
   “He wasn’t here when the game started so he can’t be part of it,” Georgie continued, speaking of me in the third person as if I were not there in front of him. “He should run back to his mother and she can inspect his pretty clothes so she can make sure he hasn’t smudged himself or wet his pants.”
   He smirked and waited for my response.

THREE

With Georgie only a few steps away, every nerve of mine tingled; I was intensely aware of the full challenge he had thrown at me and of the significance of how I responded. Not only in Laura’s eyes, which was what mattered most, but in how it might change my status among my peers. Over the years, my role in the pack of local boys had been clearly established. I could roam through their territory as I pleased with a well-earned diplomatic pass. Preteen boys do not articulate this, but our genetic imprint demands a pecking order. It unfolds whenever boys who are old enough to walk grasp at toys in the hands of other boys.
   I looked away from Georgie.
   “What is your name?” I asked Laura, for of course, I didn’t know it then. What I believed already, without doubt, was that she was destined to be my lifelong love.
   “Laura,” she answered. “My name is Laura Jansen.”
   Laura.
   “Her father works for my father,” the American boy said. His Dutch had an accent to it, but, I had to admit, he appeared to be able to speak it fluently. “At the refinery.”
   At this, I saw the slightest flinch on Laura’s face.
   The power of the human brain to read mere flickers of body language, the tiniest of voice inflections, and the subtly of eye movement, all to draw instant and subconscious conclusions beyond the reach of studied logic, should never be underestimated. Children learn early to assess a parent’s mood and react accordingly. Because I was the only one seeing her face—absorbed in it as I was, despite the threat from Georgie—only I understood I had just won the war against the boy I already hated. What remained, however, were the battles.
   “Hello, Laura,” I said, as if only she and I shared the shade of the banyan, for in a way, of course, that was true. “My name is Jeremiah Prins. Are you here at the market with your parents?”
   “I was told to watch her,” my enemy said, giving more evidence that she was someone he wanted to impress. “She came with me.”
   Laura flinched again, and those deep-blue eyes lost some calm.
   “I came with my oma to the market,” Laura answered. “Georgie asked to join us because he was bored.”
   She finally glanced at him. “I don’t need anyone to watch over me.”
   He understood how clearly she was making her choice known, and his body went rigid.
   “This seems to be an unpleasant situation,” I told Laura, echoing how I believed a knight like Ivanhoe would speak. “Would it be all right if I took you to your oma? The market is confusing, and if it’s your first time, I can make it easier for you.”
   I was rewarded with the smile. I reached for her hand, and she took a step toward me. Away from Georgie.
   “Coward,” Georgie said with full sneer.
   “Oh,” I said, having fully expected and anticipated that he would not let me walk away without a challenge. I did not want to walk away. “Coward? Afraid of what?”
   “A fight,” he said.
   I was disappointed that my hand had not reached Laura’s and that I needed to turn to face him before I could feel the touch of her fingers against mine.
   “Who wants to fight me?” I asked. Already I could tell that I would be able to twist and skewer him with words.
   He grunted with frustration. “I just called you a momma’s boy.”
   “Actually,” I said, “you suggested that she inspect my clothing. I don’t need help with that. It’s rather silly to suggest that a boy our age needs help to know if he’s wet his pants.”
   I paused. Timing is everything. “Unless it’s happened to you.”
   That earned laughter. Like an arrow, it had the desired effect on Georgie, who clenched his fists.
   “I was insulting you,” he said. “Are you that stupid? It should make you want to fight me. Unless you are chicken.”
   “If you want to fight,” I said, “why don’t you just ask?”
   This was entertaining for the other boys. I knew it and enjoyed it.
   Georgie spit in my direction. “I’m going to pound you so bad you’ll bleed from your ears.”
   “How can that be if we don’t fight?” I asked.
   “See. Chicken.”
   “That doesn’t sound like a question to me,” I said. I turned to Laura, who had giggled when the other boys laughed. “It will be embarrassing to him if I need to explain what a question is. Let’s find your oma.”
   Georgie began to gurgle. Such is the power of deliberate insouciance.
   “Come on,” Georgie half shouted. “Let’s fight.”
   “All you need to do is ask,” I said. “Is that so difficult to understand?”
   Georgie had no idea how easily I had taken control of the situation. But then, I had no idea of the extent of his cruelty and preference for inflicting pain. Yet.
   Before Georgie could do what I was essentially commanding him to do, Klaus Akkermans stepped onto our stage. Klaus was one of the older boys, almost thirteen. Slicked-back hair and a gap between his front teeth. Twenty pounds heavier than I. During our fistfight a few months ago, he’d hit me so hard in the belly that I had thrown up on his feet.
   “I wouldn’t ask,” Klaus told Georgie. “Jeremiah doesn’t lose fights.”
   “He’s fast,” Timmie the Toad said. If Timmie was publicly choosing sides this early, then the invisible opinion of the group had shifted in my favor. “When Jeremiah was four, a cobra crawled into his bed. He grabbed it by the neck and went into the kitchen and cut off its head. Right, Jeremiah?”
   I shrugged. Truth was, I couldn’t remember it, and family stories, I’m sure, have a way of getting exaggerated with each retell.
   “It’s not that he’s fast,” Klaus told Georgie. “Although he is. He just doesn’t lose fights.”
   Georgie looked back and forth between Klaus and Timmie the Toad, trying to evaluate this new information.
   “Not even the teenagers fight him,” said Alfie Devroome. He had the slightest of a clubfoot on his left side. When we chose teams for races, I always made sure he was my second or third pick. First would look too patronizing.
   “He can’t win fights against teenagers,” Georgie said. “Look at how little he is.”
   Klaus shook his head. “Nobody said he wins fights. He just doesn’t lose them. We’ve just about all had our turns against Jeremiah.” He glanced around, then looked back at Georgie. “When I fought him, I hit him so many times my hands hurt, and he was bleeding everywhere. He even threw up on my shoes. It only ended because I had to tell him I was tired.”
   Klaus put his hands on his hips. “Like I said, he didn’t win. But he didn’t lose. Older boys know they would to have to kill him to end the fight, so they leave him alone.”
   “You also lost some teeth,” Timmie the Toad reminded Klaus. “He did hit you a couple of good ones.”
   “I’ve told you,” Klaus answered. “Those were loose anyway.”
   “And don’t forget about how he whacked a sow in the head with a hammer and killed it,” added Simon Leeuwenhoek, a chubby kid and the only one in the bunch I had not fought. Simon was too good-natured for that. And his parents were rich so he didn’t care much about how many marbles he lost. “Jeremiah was only nine.”
   This I did remember.
   “I didn’t kill it,” I said. “I just hit it once. Because it was attacking me.”
   The previous summer, we had been visiting a plantation of a family whose children attended my father’s school. I had ignored my mother’s warning to stay away from the sow and piglets inside the pen, and the sow had torn a chunk out of my left calf as I was scrambling to climb out.
   As happened when I was threatened physically, a switch inside of me had flipped on and numbed my body to anything except cold and calculating rage, accelerated by all the benefits of accompanying adrenaline. It means that when I fight, I still have clarity of thought, and I’m aware that this is a rarity of inheritance in which I can and should take no pride.
   I’d returned to the pigpen with a hammer found in a nearby shed. When the sow charged me again, I had brought it down with both hands and solidly struck it between the eyes. Knocked it cold. The fathers had not chosen sides, but an argument escalated between the mothers. Mine made the accusation that dangerous animals should be controlled, and the other mother suggested that I, not the sow, was the dangerous animal and that I was a bad example to the other children. Even though the sow only swayed sideways when it got up and walked, and I needed thirty stitches to pull together the ragged skin and muscle of my calf, the other mother insisted I was to blame and we hadn’t been invited back. I’d promised not to do something like that again because it had upset my mother. She spent hours alone in a dark, cool room when things upset her. Her spells frightened all of us children in the family.
   “I’m not scared,” Georgie told our audience. To his credit, he didn’t sound scared. He wanted to fight me as badly as I wanted to fight him.
   “Then ask,” I said. I could sense the coldness at the edge of my gut, and I wanted to feel his nose crack against my fist. “I’m not allowed to ask for a fight. And I’m not allowed to take the first swing.”
   Those were my father’s rules. He said Jesus had not been one to fight. However, Father allowed that it would be impractical to live without any kind of self-defense. His corollary advice was that if you had to strike back, do it far out of proportion to the attack because that will discourage future attacks. This counsel had a certain kind of logic if you were hoping to be able to settle back to living like Jesus, but Georgie, as I would learn in the coming years, was just as determined to escalate his hatred against me as I was against him.
   There was silence as Georgie realized that asking me to fight would be his first defeat, but he had no choice.
   “Will you fight me?” Georgie finally asked. His tone suggested that he was stunned to find himself in the position of a supplicant, and still trying to figure out how it had happened.
   “Yes,” I said. “But first I’d like to ask Laura if she will leave and shop with her oma in the market. This will be ugly.”
   “I’m not afraid of ugly,” she said. “I’m not a sissy.”
   A slight flicker of indignation crossed her face. This girl, it was obvious, did not like being told what to do. That simply made her Dutch. I recovered with an immediate explanation.
   “I just don’t want you to have to lie about it when the mothers ask later,” I said. “If you don’t see anything, you won’t have to lie. It’s a way of protecting me.”
   Lots of unspoken assumptions in there, all favoring me, like the assumption that she would want to protect me, even enough to lie for me. What was artful was that nothing in my request suggested she should protect Georgie, even though his father was the boss of her father.
   “Oh,” she said to me. “Since you asked. Yes.”
   It hadn’t occurred to me that she would give any other answer.
   I turned to Georgie. “We’re going to need to find a place where mothers can’t see us. Just past the village there’s a stream and a small fenced pasture for goats. The boys will take you there and I’ll have both pieces of rope. I know where I can find some in the market.”
   “Rope?” Georgie would have been inhuman not to ask.
   “I don’t want you running away,” I said. The cold inside me was mushrooming, and horrible as it is to confess, I was savoring the sensation and the chance to inflict punishment on him. I had no concern about the punishment I’d have to endure for that chance. “The pasture is fenced. We tie our own belts to a fence post with enough slack in each rope that we can reach each other. Once we are tied to the fence posts, one won’t be able to run away from the other. Then we fight.”
   I grinned at the taller and broader boy in front of me.
   “Unless,” I said, “you are chicken.”
Sigmund Brouwer, Thief of Glory WaterBrook Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, New York, a Penguin Random House Company, © 2014.