Friday, July 23, 2010

My Memory Project - A change

Everything on this blog is copyright and must not be used without my permission.
Anita Birt-Copyright 2010

I decided to download the first chapter of my time travel, RING AROUND THE MOON, hoping those of you with e-readers will snap it up. I've been trying to post the cover but something is screwing things up. You can find it on my web site.

For those of you interested in more chapters of ONE FOR SORROW. TWO FOR JOY, please let me know. Leave a comment or drop me a note at:

In the meantime, let me know what you think about RING AROUND THE MOON.


Beth glanced at the clock on the dash as she pulled into the parking space beside Quest Cottage. Midnight.
The drive from Heathrow Airport had been hell on wheels. Bumper to bumper traffic on the motorway had delayed her planned arrival in Cornwall. Achingly tired, she cut the engine, rolled her shoulders to get rid of the crick in her neck and got out of the car.
Bathed in the silvery glow of a full moon, the thatched cottage was fairy-tale beautiful with a trellised front porch laden with summer roses. Faint traces of their scent lingered on the still night air. Flower-filled window boxes trailed blooms from the ledges of two windows set deep in the white washed walls. Behind the curtains welcoming light gleamed.
Cool. She wouldn’t have to poke around in darkened rooms feeling for switches. She’d make some tea and have something to eat before getting her suitcases from the car. The estate agent handling the rental had promised to stock the cottage with food and Beth’s longing for a thirst-quenching cup of tea had passed the point of no return.
Patting her stomach, she whispered to her baby. “I’ve got to remember I’m eating for two and I’m starving.” Her whispered words drifted into a silence so intense she could hear herself breathe.
Life had stirred for the first time on the flight from the States and Beth hoped the little one didn’t feel as jet-lagged, lightheaded and hungry as she did.
Filled with mellow thoughts of thatched cottages and the promise of restful days ahead she lifted the latch on the gate. Rusty hinges squeaked as she pushed through. Key in hand she hurried up the flagstone path to the door.
“Elizabeth, is it really you?” A man’s questioning voice shattered the silent night.
Beth whirled around. Where was he?
A tall dark figure stumbled out from the trees near the lane.
“Wait for me, Elizabeth.” He took a step.
How did he know her name?
The man faltered, almost fell, regained his balance and crossed the moonlit space in front of the cottage.
“Go away. I’m calling the police.” She fumbled in her purse for her cell phone. A jolt of panic shot through her. She’d left it in the car!
Afraid to let him out of sight she backed into the porch, jabbed blindly at the lock and missed. Fingers trembling, she twisted sideways, slid the key into the lock and grasped the doorknob.
The gate squeaked. Swift footsteps scuffed towards her.
She turned the knob.
The man ducked his head and entered the unlit porch.
Beth slammed her fists into his chest. “Go away! Leave me alone!” She aimed a kick at his legs, lost her balance and crashed into the trellis. Rose thorns snagged her shirt and pricked her skin.
“Help! Someone help me!” Screaming and flailing her arms she scrambled past him. “Help!”
He grasped her wrist. “It is all right, Elizabeth. Do not take fright. Allow me to open the door.”
“I’m not Elizabeth. I’m not Elizabeth.”
Beth sucked air into her lungs and forced her brain to function. He’d mistaken her for another woman. That was it. When he had a good look at her he’d apologize and leave.
What if he didn’t?
Keep a clear head. Remember everything about him. Describe him to the police. He had shoulder length hair. About six feet tall. An English accent.
He hadn’t hurt her yet.
She had to survive.
Her baby had to live. “Please don’t hurt me. I’ve got money. Take my purse.”
“Elizabeth, I do not want your money. I want you.”
A hard muscular arm slipped around her waist.
I want you. He was going to rape her! She squirmed out of reach and darted down the path. She had to get to her car.
He captured her at the gate.
“Get away. Keep your hands off me!” Dredging up the last of her strength she swung her purse at his head and sank into dizzying darkness.
Alan caught her. Limp as a rag doll, Elizabeth lolled against his chest. His sudden appearance had frightened her but why was she alone in this unfamiliar place with no servant in attendance when she ventured outdoors?
For seconds he gazed at her pale face. When had she cut her hair? And her clothing was most peculiar. She moaned quietly. Thinking she might open her eyes and take fright again he carried her into the cottage and found his way to a large lighted bedroom.
He lowered her to the bed and removed her soft, laced shoes and short white socks. Why was she clad in trousers made of rough cloth and a faded blue shirt? Why was his Elizabeth wearing garments an estate worker might don to toil in the fields?
Uneasy about leaving her without a maid close by he thought it best to approach her again during daylight hours.
“Elizabeth, my love.” He kissed her, slipped the strap of her purse over a chair in the corner and walked quietly down the hallway.
In the cottage parlor he puzzled over the shaded lamp glowing on a small table. Unlike a candle it did not flicker and he burned his fingers trying to douse the wick. Why was there no flame? He sniffed at the lamp. No scent of melting wax.
He gazed around the room. Except for Elizabeth, and she didn’t seem to know him, he might as well be in a different world.
A long case clock in an alcove chimed the half-hour. ‘Twas not the familiar clock in his home. How had he come to this place? Not by sorcery for such nonsense was for children and kitchen maids who knew no better.
But something was amiss. Was he dreaming? A blaze of color flashed behind his eyes and quickly disappeared.
What had happened to him? He’d awakened in the woodland with the moon shining directly over head, heard a strange sound and listened a few minutes before stepping out from the trees.
The shock of seeing Elizabeth had startled him into losing his balance.
A vague memory calling him away from the dangerous sea cliffs stirred at the back of his mind. Calling him home.
But he had no home. Only a smoldering ruin.
He breathed deeply, pinched his arm and hoped to waken in his own bed with Elizabeth at his side.
Nothing changed. He remained standing in the strange room. Perhaps if he walked to the coast his muddled thoughts might clear.
At the cottage door he pried the small key from the lock and turned it over in his hand. He had never seen such a miniature and made of solid brass as well. The keys to his home were of iron and a goodly size not a small bit of brass like this.
He closed the door, fitted the key in the lock and was pleasantly surprised how easily it turned. Afraid he might lose it, he poked the key through a slot marked LETTERS. That too was strange. Many things were strange. Unease gnawed in his gut. He felt odd. Out of place.
Before heading to the sea, he stood in the moonlight to get his bearings. Alongside the garden hedge was a wheeled vehicle the like of which he had never seen and was reluctant to approach lest it harbored an evil spirit.
He rubbed his eyes. The land under his feet was firm. The opening to the lane was familiar but the stone pillars at the entrance had disappeared. The trees in the woodland had grown tall and dense since he had seen them mere days ago. How could that be?
What had happened to the burned out ruins of his home?
And Elizabeth? How had she come here?
Unwept tears blurred his eyes as he turned towards the sea.
* * * * *
Beth opened her eyes, squeezed them shut, opened them again and gazed up at a white ceiling. A bedside lamp glowed. Where was she?
She examined the bed, the rose patterned duvet and the antique brass bedstead. On the wall a painting hung between two curtained windows. To the left was an open door.
This wasn’t her bed and this was definitely not her bedroom. Something about the room teased her memory and she swung her legs over the side to investigate. Her feet were bare. Her sneakers and socks placed within reach. Someone had taken them off but she still wore the jeans and shirt she’d traveled in.
She was in Quest Cottage! She’d seen pictures of the rooms before renting it.
“Oh no!” She clutched her throat to smother a scream.
That man! Where was he?
She eased out of bed, put on her sneakers, laced them up and stood. The floorboards creaked. Rooted to the spot she held her breath and waited. In the hush blood pulsed loudly in her ears. Slowly she let the air out of her lungs and breathed deeply to prop up her shaky courage.
She tiptoed to the door and peered up and down the hallway.
To her left, light gleamed through a partly open door, to her right, darkness. She shook her head. Not that way. He might grab her in the dark.
Beth turned towards the light and, noiseless as a prowling cat, stole down the hall. She listened at the door. Silence. She pushed it open. Inside the room a Tiffany lamp hanging on a burnished chain shed light over a loveseat. A pair of wing chairs flanked the field-stone fireplace. Book filled shelves lined two walls. A cabinet with inlaid wood doors centered one wall of books.
No shadowy figure lurked in the corners. A small lamp burned brightly on a side table. Beth stepped into the cottage sitting room. In an alcove a grandfather clock ticked. There was a telephone on a table beside one of the wing chairs.
Where was he? Chilly goose bumps mottled her arms. Her heart thudded against her ribs. Almost afraid to look she glanced over her shoulder. Nothing.
The carpet muffled her footsteps as she crossed the room and picked up the phone to call the police. Would they get there in time to save her? Quest Cottage was well off the main road and the sign to Quest Lane partly obscured by ivy.
Phone to her ear she listened for the dial tone. She’d reason with him until they got here, get down on her knees if she had to and plead for her life.
A spike of fear lifted the hair on the back of her neck. Icy chills swept down her spine. The line was dead! Knees shaking she checked the jack. It was plugged in. He’d cut the line outside the cottage.
Dear God what was she supposed to do? Wait to die? Or be raped? Only her parents knew where she was and they were thousands of miles away in Portland. More frightened than she’d ever been in her life, she was afraid to move.
In the quiet room minutes passed. The clock chimed a quarter to one breaking the silence like a call to arms. Stirred into action Beth grabbed a heavy iron poker propped against the field stone fire place. She tiptoed through the small entrance hall to the front door. Her key was on the welcome mat.
She seized the key and slid it into the lock. The palms of her hands prickled. If she ventured outside where would she go? Her car keys were in her purse. The last thing she remembered was swinging it at him. He had it now.
What if she ran away? She’d have to leave the lighted cottage and take her chances in the unfamiliar dark.
She left the key in the lock, turned away from the door and listened for sounds. Where was he?
Poker grasped firmly in her right hand, resolved to kill him if she had to, Beth marched down the hall prepared to fight for her baby’s life and her own.
She switched on light after light, searched the bathroom, the two bedrooms, thrust the poker under the beds and opened every closet. She looked under the kitchen sink and checked the door in the back hall. It was locked and bolted.
She retraced her steps, checked through the cottage one more time and made sure the windows were secure.
Convinced she was alone, Beth dropped into one of the wing chairs to think. Her stomach growled. “I’ll get us something to eat in a couple of minutes.”
The man hadn’t assaulted her and no matter what he’d said about wanting her and not wanting her money, he’d have stolen her purse and the car.
She didn’t care if he’d taken every last penny, she was alive and her baby was safe.
Still uneasy Beth walked to the window and pushed aside the green velvet curtains. The moon cast long shadows across her car parked beside the cottage. Had she locked it? She couldn’t remember. Was he still hanging around?
Too scared to go out and get her cell phone she rearranged the curtain to cover the window. The clock chimed one o’clock. Daylight couldn’t come soon enough to chase away the fear the man had inflicted on her.
It was midnight when she’d arrived at the cottage, hours later than she’d planned. He’d come out of the shadows bent on … What?
He could have raped her. Could have hurt her baby. Bile burned her throat.
He could have killed her!
Get a grip, Beth.
Someone must have heard her screaming, scared him off and put her to bed.
Her head buzzed with unanswered questions. Bone weary and afraid he might return, she barricaded the front door with a chair, hurried through to the kitchen and propped another chair under the handle of the back door.
Satisfied she’d done everything possible to keep him out she filled the kettle and plugged it in to make tea and blessed Mrs. Stevens, the estate agent. She’d used Beth’s list to store enough food in the pantry cupboards and refrigerator to keep her going for a week.
She’d get her phone in the morning and call the police and the agent. She’d rented Quest Cottage for a month to get away from the hassles at home. The dark stranger had wrecked her arrival. She’d demand her money back and find another place to stay, preferably one with people nearby.
Beth toasted four slices of bread, spread them with butter and honey, put them on a tray with a cup of tea and returned to bed. She propped a pillow behind her back, sat up cross-legged, and hoped her favorite comfort food would calm her jangled nerves.
After eating the last crumb and draining the cup, she put the tray aside, got out of bed and undressed. Too tired to shower or clean her teeth, she snuggled under the duvet, reached out to turn off the light and stopped with her fingers on the switch.
Her purse hung over the back of a chair in a corner by the bureau.
She tumbled out of bed, grabbed her purse and dumped the contents on the duvet. Credit cards, passport, wallet, money, car keys, air plane ticket. Nothing was missing. A neighbor must have rescued her, locked the door and dropped the key through the mail slot. Why hadn’t her savior left a note? Totally confused she scooped her documents and money back in her purse and got back in bed.
What was up with the guy? Did he get his kicks creeping up on women in the dark? Why had he called her Elizabeth? She’d been Beth since grade school and didn’t know a soul in England.
Still puzzled she turned off the light, drew the duvet up under her chin, yawned and closed her eyes but sleep eluded her and she lay awake for hours trying every trick in the book to quiet her mind.
She breathed deeply and slowly. She counted from one hundred back to one, started counting to one thousand and lost her place at two hundred and eighty-three. Nothing worked.
She’d describe him to the police. About six feet, shoulder-length hair, an English accent but there was something else. She opened her eyes and stared into the dark.
A memory twitched her nose. His clothes smelled of wood smoke! Probably a drifter camping in the trees decided to scare her.
Too tired to reason why, she counted backwards by threes from one hundred. 97 – 94 – 91 – 8 –
* * * * *
Thanks for reading the first chapter. You can order my book from Jssmine-Jade

Anita Birt

Sunday, July 11, 2010

MY MEMORY PROJECT - about the title



The Magpie chant is a couple of hundred years old and is known through out the British Isles by children to-day.

The last line. SEVEN IS A SECRET NEVER TO BE TOLD. I shall leave you to ponder its meaning in my story.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

MY MEMORY PROJECT - continued - Chapter Three

Copyright Anita Birt 2010


"You have allowed her to stay in the house?" Lady Rhadyr frowned across the dining table at her husband. "And you've sent Morgan to fetch her father? Really Gilbert, there are times I fail to understand you." Clearly vexed she waited impatiently for an explanation.
"The girl was starving, my dear. You'd not put a hungry dog out without giving it something to eat." He paused while a footman cleared the table. Another arrived with a selection of small cakes to complete the meal.
"There is no cause for alarm." Her Husband beamed at his indignant wife. "She'll be off in the morning with her father."
"Where will they spend the night?" she queried. Her voice dripped ice. She accepted a dainty cake from the tray passed by the footman.
"In the stable very likely, in one of the loose boxes. There are plenty of blankets, clean straw and the weather is mild. They'll be quite comfortable."
Rob had listened intently to his father's story about the girl. His mother disliked unpleasant conversations at mealtimes and talk of tramps clearly did not sit well with her, but the shabbily dressed stranger, who poached salmon and carried books with her, intrigued him.
"I met her in the courtyard when Morgan brought her in. He set the dogs to guard her. Fearing those two great beasts might attack I remained close by. She whispered to them and within minutes they lay at her feet, docile as lambs."
He sipped some wine. "Though she was dressed as a lad and terrified out of her wits when I approached, there was something odd about her eyes, about the way she looked at me."
Setting his glass on the table, he frowned. "It was as if she knew me."
"What nonsense. How could she possibly know you?" His mother accepted a second cake.
Rob shrugged. He couldn't explain what had happened. It made no sense to him. The girl's eyes were striking, hazel with gold flecks. For the few seconds she'd gazed directly at him, time stilled. Even now he could picture her. The smudges of dirt on her face, tendrils of hair straying from under her cap and her hands clenched tightly around her bundle. She trembled when he touched her.
His sister's voice broke into his thoughts. "What a queer way for a girl to live, disguised as a boy, wandering the roads like a gypsy. Do you believe her story, father, that the landowners had her home burned down? It seems very peculiar to me." A slight smile brightened Marion's pale face.
"She was very well spoken in spite of her Scottish accent and is remarkably well read if I can believe what she told me about her education. When Morgan fetches her father I shall know whether she speaks the truth."
"Decent folk are not driven off their land," Edward announced solemnly like someone with a fund of worldly knowledge. At twenty-four, two years younger than Rob, his devil-may-care ways and lack of interest in the estate irritated the hell out of his brother and father.
"That may be so. However I think we may speak of something other than the girl. Mrs. Jenkins is likely feeding her and her father. I'm sure your mother would appreciate a change of topic."
"You are quite right, Gilbert. I've heard enough about this tiresome young person who may or may not be an unrepentant thief."
Marion turned to her mother. "What about the ball? I must have a new gown. It's a special occasion and I do want to look my best."
With a teasing smile she slipped her arm through Rob's. "You've been away such a long time; a whole year in the Indies. I'm sure Eleanor is delighted to have you back. She's invited me to be a bridesmaid at your wedding."
"Wedding? I've not spoken to Eleanor about a wedding. We're not formally betrothed."
"You've asked her, have you not?" Marion pouted. "I do long to be a bridesmaid."
Edward slapped his thigh and grinned at Rob. "Asked her? I should jolly well hope so. Thank God I'm not heir to the Rhadyr estates or I'd have to marry her and produce scores of children."
Lady Rhadyr's eyes flashed danger signals at her son, and motioned a footman to pull out her chair.
"You are being extremely vulgar, Edward. Rob and Eleanor are admirably suited. It's an excellent match, one we've planned since they were children."
She rose to her feet. "Come along, Marion. I have a surprise. You shall have a new ball gown. I've had patterns and swatches of material sent down from London. They arrived this morning."
The men stood. As they left the room Marion's happy chatter pleased Rob. A severe childhood illness had weakened her right leg. The leg brace and special boot she'd worn as a child had long since been discarded but her limp was the bane of her existence. Shy around eligible young men, she tended to withdraw from male company.
He'd avoided answering her innocent question about his betrothal and future marriage to Eleanor Mainwaring. A year in the Indies visiting the family plantations had distanced him from her, literally and emotionally. Since his return a fortnight ago he'd spent little time with her. Estate business occupied him but he'd not sought her out nor had there been any discussion with his parents about his future.
He and Eleanor were not as admirably suited as his mother believed. She no longer resembled the girl he'd known from childhood but an arranged marriage with Eleanor might be possible. The joining of the Rhadyr and Mainwaring estates had enormous potential as a profitable enterprise. Although fond of Eleanor he had little desire to embark on a loveless marriage.
Rob drained his wine. He'd never asked her to marry him, not in so many words. They'd laughed about it during their young years when they frolicked in the hay stacked high in the barn. He'd never spoken to her father but something seemed to be afoot. Had some formal arrangement been made between his parents and hers while he'd been abroad?
For the Rhadyr name to continue it was his duty to marry and have children. If there was no issue from his loins Edward would inherit the title after his death. Rob shuddered at the thought. Not the thought of dying, the
thought of Edward inheriting, he'd ruin the estate. "Shall we take our port here or in the library?" his father asked and rang the bell for the butler.
"The library," Rob replied. He liked its austere atmosphere and the shelves lined with leather-bound books collected over the years by his father and grandfather. A section was devoted to current publications sent down every six months from Bickers and Bush, London booksellers. The library was the male domain since neither his mother nor sister cared much for reading.
As they crossed the hall Rob listened half-heartedly to Edward's joshing. "I'm glad you're to wed and not me. You and Eleanor have to produce an heir pretty damned quick. She'll be ripe and ready."
He nudged Rob in the ribs. "Did you bed some of those dusky beauties in the Indies? Passion under the palms. Moonlight nights. I'd like to try a few of them. Better than the girl's around here, stiff as boards they are. All want marriage, won't go for a quick tumble. I have to travel to London for that."
Rob didn't rise to the bait about Eleanor. She'd never struck him as ripe and ready. "Why wait for me to marry? Find yourself a plump comely girl and produce dozens of children, no more roistering around London."
Edward's laugh echoed around the hall. "Robert, Lord Colwyn, you are the son and heir. You do your duty and leave me to bounce atop willing London ladies and..." His voice dropped to a whisper. "When you need a night or two away from Eleanor, I'll find a pretty wench to heat your loins."
Their father had walked ahead of them and sat in his favorite chair by the hearth. Although it was mid-summer a small fire burned in the grate to take the chill from the room.
Rob stood with his back to one of the mullioned windows. Edward sprawled on a settle "What can I offer you, milord? Port as usual? Brandy perhaps?"
"Port, James."
The elderly butler poured the dark red port into crystal glasses and passed them around. "Will that be all, milord?"
"Send Morgan along to see me."
"At once, milord." He left as quietly as he had come.
Edward wrinkled his brow. "Why are you sending for Morgan? Not still concerned about the girl are you?"
"Allow me to conduct the affairs of this household, Edward. She wanted the salmon to feed her father. Until I learn otherwise I'm inclined to believe her story. I'll see what Morgan has to say about the man."
He harrumphed. "It's always been my practice to help the poor when I can. Mrs. Jenkins will see they have a good meal and a place to spend the night." He sipped his port.
"She's a pretty little thing. Much too thin though. She's a pretty little thing, hasn't had an easy time of it these past months. She was near to fainting from lack of food."
Rob held up his glass to catch the light from the candles burning in the three-branched candelabrum on the mantel. His thoughts turned to the girl in her ragged clothes, broken boots and big cap tipped over her face to shade it from view.
He twirled the stem of the glass. Why had he not seen through her disguise? Her beautiful eyes were not those of a boy and she was very frightened. Had he been more attentive her distress would have been obvious.
Morgan knocked on the door and opened it. Cap in hand he waited for permission to enter.
Lord Rhadyr leaned back in his chair. "Come in. Tell me about the girl's father. Is he ill?"
"Couldn't find him, milord, not where the girl said." He twisted the cap in his hands.
"Did you conduct a thorough search?" Lord Rhadyr stood and paced in front of the fireplace.
"Yes, milord. Not a sign of the man where she said to look." A ghost of a smile played across Morgan's thin lips.
Rob observed the swarthy, darkly handsome face of the gamekeeper. The man seldom smiled. He'd kept to himself since the death of his wife giving birth to a stillborn child a year ago. Something of a recluse he intruded very little into the life of his employer, only when necessary, like today, when he caught a poacher or reported a fox killing pheasant chicks.
Something was amiss with the man. That afternoon Rob had heard one of the grooms teasing the stable boy. "I seen Morgan take Megan Price to his cottage. You know her, Billy. About your age, has great billowy breasts. A real bounce Morgan will have atop her. How'd you like to ride that one and suck those big tits?"
Megan was but thirteen or fourteen years and Morgan close to thirty. She'd be with child soon if he didn't put a stop to it.
Rob had left the stable to look for Morgan when he caught sight of the shabby figure slumped on the bench. In the aftermath he'd neglected his duty to Megan and her parents, tomorrow he'd deal with the gamekeeper.
"Where is the girl now?" Rob asked.
The question seemed to surprise Morgan. He shuffled his feet on the carpet and cleared his throat. "Mrs. Jenkins says she fed her, let her have a wash and gave her some clothes."
He lowered his brows. "I fear she's made a fool of us. She's nowt but a common thief, milord. A real trickster that one, rigged up like a boy, thought she'd get away with poaching. Like as not it's something she's tried before playing on the kind hearts of gentlemen like yourself."
Angry spots glowed on Lord Rhadyr's cheeks. "Thank you, that will be all."
Edward broke the silence after Morgan left. "I thought as much. You were sorry for the girl. Too bad she turned out to be a conniving little strumpet."
Lord Rhadyr resumed his seat. "All her talk about having a father, fainting at my feet. She played me for a proper fool. She'd stolen those books and pretended they were hers."
Edward refilled his glass. "She probably travels the road with a man and he sent her off to steal some food. Girls like that live rough, take up with any man who'll have them."
A vague suspicion that Morgan was hiding something niggled at the back of Rob's mind. He couldn't put his finger on it. The man seemed uneasy.
"Don't be too hasty," he cautioned. "Perhaps her father walked away." For some reason he wanted to believe her.
"She must still be here. Ring for James. I'll send for Mrs. Jenkins and see what she has to say."
The butler entered quietly. "You rang, milord?"
"Run along and have Mrs. Jenkins come at once."
The thought of James running anywhere amused Rob. Their butler had been on the household staff for twenty years. He had stopped hurrying long ago.
Within minutes Mrs. Jenkins knocked and bustled in. "What is it, milord?"
"How is that young person? Fed and clothed is she? In the stable for the night?"
"Oh dear, no, not in the stable. I fed her, sent her to bathe and found one of the maid's uniforms to fit, even boots and stockings. Her boots were in a shocking state."
The housekeeper shifted from one foot to the other. "I didn't think to put her in the stable, milord, what with the grooms being there and all. I didn't think it right. She was very tired, dead on her feet, so I took her upstairs and put her in one of the maid's rooms. She was very anxious about her father."
"She has no father! Morgan found no trace of him. The girl is a thief and a liar, and you put her to bed upstairs! You must turn her out. Send her away at once. We can't have her sleeping over our heads, she might murder us in our beds."
"Wait." Something about the girl and her story perplexed Rob. He wanted an opportunity to speak with her.
"I think it unwise to send her out tonight. It's pitch dark. She would lose her way. Let her sleep here and send her off in the morning."
"Very well, that might be best." His father turned to the housekeeper. "Can you lock her door?"
"Certainly, milord, I'll see she doesn't stir outside that room until morning."
"Good. Mind you do it yourself and while you're at it, poke your head in and see what's she's doing. If she gives any trouble, fetch her to me and I will deal with her."
Mrs. Jenkins bobbed a curtsy and hurriedly left the room.
Lord Rhadyr waved his hand towards a locked glass case containing his prize collection of rare coins. "Those coins are worth a fortune. One of them would keep a tramp well fed for a year."
"Shall I stand guard outside her door?" Edward lounged lazily to his feet.
Rob had seen him flirting with a newly hired maid. The last thing the family needed was another scandal like the one involving Tessa Phillips, a pantry maid. He was seventeen at the time and randy as a goat. The maid blamed him for her pregnancy. She'd been paid off with a sum of money and dismissed. Rob would not allow his brother to spend the night on the third floor.
He grasped Edward's arm. "Goodnight, father. we'll take a turn outside."
Rob shut the library door. "You are not to go near the girl or the maids. Not tonight. Not ever."
Edward twisted away. "Don't tell me what I can and can't do."
"But I shall." Rob seized his shoulder. "If you can't keep your shaft under control get to London or Newport and find a wench. Is that clear?"
"Clear as a bell. Now let me go."
Rob loosened his grip. He disliked these rows with Edward. His father should be more strict with him. Sometimes he acted like a cock-crazed fool trying to get under the skirts of every girl who flirted with him. A year or two abroad to sow his wild oats might tame him.
He pushed his brother aside and sauntered out on the terrace. Moonlight flooded the gardens and the heady perfume of roses drifted on the warm night air.Absorbed in his thoughts he sat on the balustrade. A nightingale trilled its achingly beautiful song from a nearby tree.
Who was she, this red-haired stranger from Scotland? Shabby, dirty and clearly terrified, she hadn't the look of a tough young poacher.
He tried to clear his mind but the haunting appeal in her eyes disturbed him. He smoothed his hand on the cool marble.
Let her be. She's no concern of his. But. But what? He puzzled over his father's interview with Morgan. If he told the truth, the girl was lying. If not, she was safely locked in a third floor room. No harm would come to her. Perhaps her father had wandered off from where she'd left him. He'd speak with her in the morning, give her a few shillings and be done with it.

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Have a look at my web site: and read excerpts of my five books published by Cerridwen Press. Order them from. and download to your Kindle or other e-reader.


Monday, July 5, 2010


I have family visiting and my time is taken up going hither and thither. This evening we are going on a GHOST WALK. Victoria is a spooky place. Lots of ghosts.

In the meantime,I have books to sell. So many of you have e-readers and buying e-books is relatively cheap. Try my time travel, RING AROUND THE MOON My hero comes to the present time from 1800. There are many twists and turns in my story. My American heroine has rented Quest Cottage in Cornwall for a month of R&R but when Alan Tremaine turns up on her doorstep on the night she arrives at the cottage, her life and his are turned upside down.

The book cover and an excerpt are on my web site:

I shall be back with Chapter Three on the week-end.

Anita Birt

Thursday, July 1, 2010

MY MEMORY PROJECT - Story continuing

I hope this works. This is the Second Chapter of my, as yet unpublished, historical romance, One For Sorrow. Two For Joy.

Copyright Anita Birt 2010


He sat behind an imposing desk. Lips pursed, brow furrowed in an intimidating frown, he leaned forward to examine her.
"Here's the lad, sir, caught him in the act. He took one of your salmon with his bare hands. A sly character, this one, never seen that done before."
Morgan reached into his leather sack for the salmon. "Have a look at this. Poached one of your big ones, he did." He glared at the captive. "Take off your cap, boy! Besides being a thief, you've no manners."
He snatched the cap from Ailsa's head. The tortoise- shell comb securing her braids flew off with the cap. Her mop of red curly hair sprang loose and cascaded over her shoulders.
"Bless my soul," Lord Rhadyr snorted. "You told me you had a boy. This appears to be a girl." He came from behind the desk.
Expecting a blow, Ailsa shuddered and hunched her shoulders as he approached. The bundle dropped from her nerveless fingers.
"Here you," Morgan snarled. "What are you up to, dressed like a boy? Some new trick is it? Sent to poach by your thieving parents, were you? You'll not get away with it." Seizing her, he shook her like a rag doll.
Stressed to the breaking point from hunger and exhaustion, the last of Ailsa's courage ebbed. Close to collapse, her knees threatened to give way.
"That will do, Morgan, let her be. There's no need to be rough with the girl."
Lord Rhadyr smiled at her. "What is your name, child?"
"Ailsa Mary MacDonald." Eyes lowered, she studied the red, green and gold designs on the carpet. The patterns merged and flowed like clouds in the sky. How strange, she thought, and narrowed her eyes to make the carpet cease its restless motion.
"How old are you?"
"Eighteen, sir."
"Your accent is Scottish. What are you doing in Wales so far from home?"
"I...uh." She chewed her lip. "We have no home..." Every breath wearied her. Mumbling the words, she tried to continue. "We were driven off our land. My father..."
A gasping sob streaked across her bruised ribs. "Oh no, he is." The room melted under her feet and she crumpled on the carpet. Eyes closed, too fatigued to raise her head, she longed to disappear, to fade away.
"I'll put her outside, milord. You don't want the likes of her in your home." Morgan yanked her up.
"Leave the child alone. Fetch Mrs. Jenkins. She'll be in the kitchen most likely."
Morgan dropped Ailsa's limp body, slid his heavy boot under her and jabbed the raised toe of his boot into her side. "She's nowt but a tramp off the road, not worth your time, milord. I'll take her to the magistrate. He'll put her away."
Pain fogged Ailsa's tired brain. Hearing the dreaded words, she struggled to rouse herself. A cool hand rested on her forehead.
"Morgan, fetch Mrs. Jenkins at once. The girl is ill. I will decide what to do with her." He knelt on the carpet beside Ailsa. "Stay quiet. Our housekeeper will be here presently. You have nothing to fear."
Ailsa's eyes fluttered open as a plump, rosy-cheeked woman bustled into the room. "Is the poacher dead, sir?"
"Not at all. Fainted I think. Help me carry her to the settle."
Gentle hands lifted her. She tried to speak but words stuck in her throat. Helpless as a newborn babe, unable to move, she lay back and rested her head on soft cushions.
"Why she's light as a feather. Hasn't had a good meal for a bit, I'll be bound. If you'll just let me have a little brandy, milord, that should bring her round."
Ailsa tried to sit up and toppled back when the room spun in dizzying circles. A glass clinked behind her.
"That will do fine." Mrs. Jenkins sat beside Ailsa and slipped a comforting arm around her shoulders. "Sip this, child."
The fiery liquor burned down her throat. Sputtering and coughing, words tumbled out. "I must go to my father. He's very ill and doesn't know where I am. Please let me go. Please." She lurched to her feet, wavered briefly and kept her balance.
Mrs. Jenkins stood and patted Ailsa's hand. "Where is your father?"
Confused, not sure what to do, Ailsa's eyes filled with tears and she leaned against the ample bosom of the housekeeper.
Would they put her father in the workhouse? Not while she had breath in her body. Not Hamish MacDonald, a proud Highlander, the finest musician in their glen. Not her honest, hard-working father who'd tended the laird's land and made the crops flourish.
He loved her. She'd never abandon him. Never. It bruised her soul to think of him spending his last days in the workhouse, a destitute, penniless pauper.
"I beg you let me go. I'll not bother you again." She turned pleading eyes to Lord Rhadyr.
Ailsa knew her shabby clothes, disheveled hair and dirty face made her look like a tramp not worthy of his trust, yet he seemed a kindly man.
Lord Rhadyr stroked his neatly trimmed beard. "No harm will come to your father, I promise you. Tell me where he is. Morgan will fetch him and Mrs. Jenkins will see you have some food."
"You'll not harm him?" Ailsa searched his face. Reassured by a slight crinkling at the corners of his eyes and his calm voice, she mustered a tired smile. He reminded her of the young man who had spoken to her in the courtyard. The man who wanted her treated leniently. She forced away the memory of his dark eyes.
"I left him in the spinney near the bridge into Usk. He is ill. Please take care not to frighten him." She choked back a sob. "He's not himself."
Morgan waited at the open door. "No good will come of this, milord, taking in sluts is asking for trouble." He clenched his fists around his cap.
Lord Rhadyr frowned and waved Morgan off. "I want her father brought here at once. Take the pony and trap and be quick about it. The man will be worried about his daughter."
Ailsa flinched at the malice in Morgan's eyes before he left. Malice directed at her. Icy fingers of fear shivered along her skin. Fear of his brutal strength, fear of something unknown lurking behind his pale grey eyes.
Freed of his evil presence she dismissed her fears. Soon her father would join her. After a hearty meal, perhaps some bread and cheese to take away, they'd leave this place forever.
Down the road. Away from Usk. Away from the river. Her father cared not where she led, the fever had weakened his will.
Mrs. Jenkins grasped Ailsa's hand. "Come along and I'll sit you down in the kitchen to a bowl of good meaty soup, that will warm you and there'll be plenty for your father."
Ailsa paused at the door. "Thank you for your kindness, Lord Rhadyr." Hampered by her boy's clothing, she dropped a curtsy.
He picked up her bundle. "Here. You have left this."
The twine slipped and Ailsa's possessions tipped out. Books scattered at his feet.
"What is this?" he demanded. "Where did these books come from?"
Ailsa blushed, gathered up her few shabby undergarments and her books.
"I asked you a question. Where did you acquire books? Stole them did you?" He glowered at her.
"They are mine, sir."
"Let me see."
Ailsa bit back the angry retort trembling on the tip of her tongue. What right had he to accuse her of theft? Holding her back straight like a soldier on parade, she handed them over.
Lord Rhadyr perused her meager library. "Hmm. The Bible, the poetry of Robert Burns, two of Shakespeare's plays;, Hamlet and Macbeth. How came you by these?"
"Read the inscriptions on the fly leaves, sir. The Bible was a gift from my father, Hamish MacDonald. The Burns' poetry a gift from my mother, Mary MacDonald. I studied the two plays when I attended the Andersonian Institute in Glasgow." Fairly crackling with indignation, she curbed her fiery temper.
He opened each book, read the inscriptions and returned them to her. "What pray is the Andersonian Institute?" An arrogant smile curled his lips.
Barely able to control her resentment, Ailsa collected her belongings, found her tortoiseshell comb shoved it into her hair and retied the bundle. "It's a college in Glasgow. I attended classes for four years. I hoped to be a teacher."
"Then what are you doing tramping the roads and stealing my salmon?"
Ailsa's head ached. Why did she have to answer his questions? All she wanted was a hot meal for her father. "Have you not heard of the highland clearances?"
Lord Rhadyr shook his head and returned to his chair behind the desk. "Go on." He drummed his fingers on the polished wood.
"Over twelve months past our cottage was burned to the ground, only the stone walls withstood the fire. We lost everything except what we carried with us. The landowners sent factors with gangs of thugs, dogs and fire to burn us out. Not just my family, all the crofting families were terrorized into leaving land they'd farmed for generations.
"The owners brought in shepherds with flocks of Cheviots to graze the highlands. Raising sheep for wool and meat was more profitable than the crops raised by the tenant farmers and the rents they paid."
Ailsa rubbed her arm where the jacket itched through her damp shirt. "Our old laird would never have allowed such a thing but he died two years ago and his son inherited the estate. Everything changed. We were cleared off the land like chaff to make way for sheep."
Lord Rhadyr glared at her. "Impossible!"
Incensed at his ignorance and overweening arrogance, bitterness soured her throat. Gritting her teeth, she continued. "The clearances are well recorded. We tramped the roads, refugees in our own country. My mother's heart cracked under the strain and within months of losing our home, she died."
Tears pricked behind Ailsa's eyes but she would not cry in front of this man. "My mother lies buried in a churchyard south of Inverness."
Her tormentor huffed. "No landowner would destroy property like that."
His assumption she was a lying tramp roused Ailsa to do battle. With a supreme effort she swallowed her pride and faking humbleness, bowed her head. What this man thought of her mattered nothing. She'd willingly go on her knees to the devil himself for the sake of her beloved father.
With a flick of his fingers, Lord Rhadyr dismissed her. "Mrs. Jenkins will see to you."
"Thank you, sir." Ailsa hoped she sounded properly chastened.
As the housekeeper led her away, Lord Rhadyr called after them. "Find some female clothing for her. One of the maid's uniforms will do. She can stay the night with her father. It's too late to send them out on the road. Morgan will take them to Usk in the morning."
Ailsa had no intention of staying until morning. When they were strengthened by a hot meal, off they'd go. She didn't fear the dark, by first light she expected to be well away from Usk.
Mrs. Jenkins sat Ailsa at one end of a large kitchen table and ladled out a steaming bowl of soup, thick with chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots and onions. The mouth-watering aroma tantalized Ailsa's taste buds.
She dipped in her spoon and blew impatiently on a piece of meat to cool it. Chewing slowly, she savored each delicious morsel in the soup until every last particle disappeared. The housekeeper refilled the bowl.
"We'll not stay here, Mrs. Jenkins." Ailsa buttered a chunk of fragrant crusty bread. "I think the gentleman regrets his kindness. He was very cross because of my books. When my father has something to eat, we'll be on our way."
"You'll do nothing of the kind. You will do as the master wishes. He's a good man and never turns a hungry wayfarer away from the door."
Hands on her hips, Mrs. Jenkins brooked no argument. "He ordered me to find you some clothing and a bed, and that I will do. Now finish your meal."
Ailsa pretended not to notice the curious glances from the maids and two young men dressed in blue and gold livery working at the far end of the kitchen. Drowsing in the warmth in the room she stifled a yawn and sagged in the chair.
"Miss!" The housekeeper's voice interrupted Ailsa's sleep.
"There's a tub of hot water in the bathing room along the passageway over there, second door on the right. I've put out some clothes for you, have a wash and then to bed."
Ailsa shook herself awake. "That's not necessary. My father will be here directly. I'll wait for him."
Mrs. Jenkins refused to change her plans. "The master said to find you a bed. You are nearly asleep. Off you go."
Too tired to argue, Ailsa found the bathing room and closed the door. Steam rose from a large tub of blessedly hot water. Tossing her clothes aside she sank into it and let the warmth soothe her bruises. She scrubbed herself clean with a tablet of yellow soap, washed and rinsed her hair and dried off with a coarse towel.
Neatly laid out on a table near the tub were a maid's black uniform, black cotton stockings, darned at the heel, and a pair of scuffed women's boots.
Ailsa dressed quickly. The boots were too large for her narrow feet and slim ankles but a decided improvement on what she'd been wearing. She tightened the laces and the boots didn't fit too badly. Tossing the old ones into a bin, she stuffed her shabby britches, shirt, jacket and cap into her bundle.
Back on the road, the long skirt would be useless. For safety, she'd change into her boy's clothing. The maid's uniform might fetch a few pence.
Mrs. Jenkins knocked. "Come along then."
Her eyes widened as Ailsa opened the door. "Why I would scarce recognize you, quite different, you look."
Ailsa smiled. "Thank you for your kindness. I feel much better now."
Mrs. Jenkins preceded Ailsa up a staircase at the rear of the house. As they entered an elegantly appointed hallway on the second floor Ailsa stopped to look around.
"No time to dilly dally, I have work to do below." The housekeeper hurried Ailsa across to a door on the far side and motioned up a narrow flight of stairs to the third floor. Laboring up behind Ailsa, Mrs. Jenkins paused at the top to catch her breath, plump cheeks glowing pink.
"The maids' rooms are here. Jessie's room is at the end of the hall. She's away seeing to her sick mother. You can have her bed for the night.
"Please fetch me when my father arrives. I must see him."
"One of the maids will come for you. She'll wake you if you fall asleep."
"Och no, I'll not fall asleep."
Ailsa closed the door and dropped her bundle on the floor. More tired than she'd ever been in her life, she sat on the bed, unlaced the boots and set them aside. Careful not to tear them, she removed the mended stockings and garters and draped them over a chair.
The pillow tempted her. She propped it behind her head and stretched out on the bed to await her father. A warm breeze whispered at the open window and the net curtains, like dreamy white sails, puffed into the room. Somewhere close by, a blackbird sang.

Hurray. It worked. Enjoy the Second Chapter. Please leave a comment or drop me a note to: