Sunday, April 11, 2021

You need not call me sir!

Hearts and Minds is the second historical novel in Jay Taverner’s ‘Brynsquilver’ series and is set in the 1730s. In this extract, Lucy, daughter of a washerwoman and an enslaved manservant, has run away to Shrewsbury, where the woman she loves has been imprisoned. Destitute, Lucy finds work selling ‘Mountain’s Elixir’ in the market.

This morning she was working alone, the now-familiar patter coming almost without thought.
‘Step up now, ladies and gentlemen! ’Tis time for a spring tonic - Mountain’s Elixir will put the bounce back in your step, ladies, and the sparkle in your eyes. ’Tis good for a sweet breath and a strong grip, my lads - you’d not have your sweetheart disappointed, now, would you?’

A passing trio of apprentices giggled and pushed each other, but did not stop. 

Lucy paused to listen to a shy girl in a new pink hood, blushing and whispering her question. She was new-married, and wanted to know if the Elixir would help to get her with child. Mrs Mountain’s rule was to say yes to everything. But the girl was so young – about Lucy’s own age – and so full of longing, that Lucy’s heart softened towards her. Whatever else it might do, the Elixir was some kind of purge – that, too, made people believe in it, according to its inventor – and Lucy had a strong feeling that it was likely to put a swift end to pregnancy, rather than encourage it. She said as much to the girl, who looked disappointed. 

Lucy put on a wise face. ‘Better to take green tea fasting of a morning, and elderberry syrup before bed,’ she improvised wildly. ‘Then I’d not be surprised if you had good news before the month is out.’

The girl thanked her earnestly, but could not be stopped from buying a bottle of the Elixir for her husband. Lucy dropped the money into the purse she had set on the table, and cast an eye over her stock. It was well down; she would soon need to bring out some more bottles. She raised her voice again.

‘Mountain’s Elixir! Renowned throughout the Marches for its wonderful properties! Proven good for all ills - sovereign remedy for the gout, the quinsy, for apoplexies and agues. Good for falling hair, flat feet and stinking breath. Mrs Mountain’s secret ingredients have been brought from the far Indies, here to you! Mountain’s Elixir cures the gripes, the toothache, the bellyache and the screws! Taken on a fasting stomach daily, it protects against the wandering mother, blackening of the skin, hardening of the veins and mortification of the tripes!’

The crowd was thick, but not very interested in her wares. She needed to stir them up to the point of buying. She took a deep breath but, before she could start again, she became aware of music coming up the hill. The crowd heard it too, and Lucy cursed under her breath. A gaggle of boys pushed into the cramped space, and behind them came a troupe of pipes and tabors, making for the steps of the Butter Cross. Lucy’s crowd wavered and started to drift that way; she hurried to serve the three or four who were ready to buy. As she dropped their money into her purse she wondered if it was time to finish for the day. But the music might bring a fresh crowd that she could share: she would stay a little longer. She ducked down behind the draped table to stock up while there was a lull.

She was on her knees behind the table when she heard a bloodcurdling yell. Flinging the cloth aside, she snapped her head up. As her eyes came level with the edge of the table, she saw two hands poised over her open purse. A grubby paw was plunged into coins and held there; its owner had clearly been about to lift her takings. But his wrist was clamped in the grip of a larger, stronger set of fingers, a hand that had caught him in the very act. The hand was black. As dark as - no, darker than Lucy’s own. 

Her eyes travelled slowly from the hand to the snowy ruffles at its wrist; from the ruffles to a deep, buttoned cuff, a cuff of canary yellow that extended almost to the elbow of an elegant yellow silk coat. And on up, to a black face smiling at her over more snowy linen. Lucy felt a surge of excitement, followed by shyness that made her face hot. 

‘Now, miss,’ said her saviour, ‘what would you have me do with this wretch? Shall I call the watch?’

The would-be thief began to whine and struggle.

‘Oh, no, sir! Please - please to let him go,’ Lucy stammered.

The thief’s head snapped round to goggle at her. He began to babble thanks and apologies.

‘Stop your noise, codshead,’ said the young black man scornfully. He shook the limp hand he still held, like someone flicking water from a cloth, to make sure there was no money in it, before he thrust the man away.

Lucy hardly spared the fellow a glance. She could not take her eyes from her rescuer. ‘Thank you, sir. It was my whole morning’s take,’ she said.

His smile widened. ‘Faith, little sister, you need not call me sir! Benjamin will answer nicely - or even Ben, when we are better acquainted. Your servant, ma’am!’ With a flourish of his hat, he made her an elaborate, courtly bow. Several people in the crowd laughed and clapped. 

As he straightened up, Lucy saw the gleam of the silver collar nestling in the lace at his throat. But his eyes shone with fun. ‘And now, ma’am, if your la’ship pleases, I shall convey you to dine at the best eating-house in this town.’

Dazzled, Lucy let herself be swept along, her mind whirling, confused. He was a slave, like her father, but he dressed like a lord. And behaved like one, too, with his airs and graces and his confident smile: the poulterer on the corner of Butcher Row had agreed at once to Ben’s suggestion that he keep Lucy’s stock safe for an hour or two. She followed her new friend through the maze of streets until the bustle of shops and markets was left behind. Ben stopped in front of a tall and beautiful brick house. 

He waved an arm at it and grinned. ‘My humble abode, ma’am,’ he said. ‘Welcome.’

He led her through the carriage entrance at the side of the house, and down some steps to a basement door. They hurried along a flagged passage with many doors, some standing open. Lucy caught glimpses of huge painted cupboards, of a girl sewing, of two men in yellow suits like Ben’s, playing cards. It was like a dream. They came at last to a kitchen that would have swallowed her mother’s cottage whole. A long, warm room, lined with shelves where bright brown pans were ranged, each larger than the one before. Ham and poultry hung from the ceiling; there were bowls of eggs and China oranges, buckets of fish and baskets of vegetables. A small girl in a large mob-cap was working at one end of the long kitchen table; she looked up as they came in, but did not speak. At the fire a great joint of meat, half an ox at least, twirled solemnly to and fro by itself amid a forest of gleaming metal hooks and bars. The dripping pan swam with fat juices whose smell made Lucy feel faint with hunger.

The queen of this paradise, she found, was called Mistress Rundle. She was a fierce, stringy woman with a red face and a sharp tongue for anyone who came into her kitchen – except for Benjamin, who had clearly charmed her as Lucy suspected he charmed everyone. It seemed he had been at the market on an errand for Mistress Rundle, and now flicked three little papers from his huge yellow cuff. She was pleased, tapping the ground spices out at once into the bowl where the kitchen-maid was pounding something with a heavy blunt stick. The girl still stared at Lucy, but did not stop working.

‘Little sister, indeed!’ said Mrs Rundle scornfully. ‘Black she may be, but green I am not. You’re a shameful young rascal, Benjamin, and I hope the girl knows it.’

‘What she knows, Mistress Peg my darling, because I told her, is that you make the best mutton-pies in England. Look how thin she is! You’d not turn her away, now, would you, and you a good Christian woman as you are?’

For answer the cook slapped Benjamin’s behind as if he were a small boy, and showed Lucy a seat at the corner of her huge table. 

‘There’s no guest goes hungry from this kitchen, lassie,’ she said, putting a large plate of broken meats on the scrubbed white wood in front of her. ‘Though the Lord knows ’tis not what I call a kitchen! Nasty mean, low place – miles of stairs to the dining room and a day’s walk to the pump. And will you look at this poor wee fireplace with its nasty iron contrivances? Modern improvements, indeed! You’ll wait all day for the meat to warm through merely, and there’s no room at all for a dog to turn the spit or a boy to do the basting. Bet, what are you at? Put some go into it, lassie, you’re not stroking your bairn’s bottom there!’

She pushed the little maid aside and stirred the stuff in the bowl about, sniffing at it. Ben caught Lucy’s eye and winked. Lucy went on eating the wonderful food.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

My problems look small, from here

This week we have an excerpt from Maggie Redding's The Education of Mattie Dobson

It is 1950, and Mattie has won a place at the local Grammar school.  This has raised anxieties in the family and caused conflict for Mattie, the second child of a working class family. In 1953, when in the Fourth Year at school, she has saved enough money to go on a (subsidised) school exchange visit to the south of France.  Her best friend cannot afford to go. On the coach to Dover, she befriends Conor Flynn who is in her form.  After a few days, the French hosts are arranging for bicycles to be loaned to the visitors. Mattie and Conor set off on their own, avoiding both English and French pupils ('les autres').


Bicycles appeared on Friday morning. Aline provided one for Mattie. Conor, she saw, had acquired one from Gilbert. Mattie abandoned a group who wanted to visit a convent out in the wilds, and went to meet Conor.

“I've seen enough convents in my lifetime," she told him.  "We went to school at one, didn’t we?”

"What d’you say to a cycle ride this morning?" he said as she approached him. "Looks like being a nice day, warm even."

"Who else is coming?" she said.

"I’ve only asked you so far. A lot of them are too scared to venture further away."

"I'll come. I don't see the point of coming all this way if I’m going to sit drinking coffee every morning.  Once you've done that, you do something else, don't you?"

Conor stood grinning at her over his bicycle. "You seen Barbara Ellington this morning?"

"No, why?” It was a comfort to perceive that he didn’t like Barbara any more than she did.  She moved with Conor a short distance from the main group, wheeling her bicycle.

"She's got the letter-box mouth since she got here.  She's grizzling every time I see her.”

“She doesn't like it here, does she?  She’s staying out in the wilds."

"Reckons she's homesick this morning."

"I knew she was unhappy because they don’t have a toilet, not at all, where she's staying.  Just out in the field."

"No?" Conor chortled.  "Is that right, now?"

"She told us. Her Mummy can't sort her out now, can she?"  Mattie knew this was being catty, but she was talking to a boy and it didn’t feel that wrong.

"Big baby.” Conor dismissed Barbara for a more interesting topic. “Have you learned any swear words? It's the first thing most of us asked about."

"The ones I know sound rude, without even knowing what they mean. Aline taught me some in patois.  I think it's the Languedoc language, you know?"

Aline joined them, wheeling a bicycle and Gilbert came over when he saw where Conor was.

“Aline,” Mattie addressed her pen friend.  “Je voudrais aller avec Conor, au velo, ce matin. Que voulez vous faire? Non, pardon-moi, ce n’est pas correct.  Tutoyer!  She’s asked me to call her ‘tu’, the familiar.  Aline, ou vas-tu ce matin?”  

“Crikey,” Conor said, under his breath, “you are taking it seriously, aren’t you?”

Aline responded to Mattie with a tidal wave of French this time.  Mattie turned to Conor.  "I'm not sure, but I think she wants to come with us.  She’s asking Gilbert.  They most likely want to keep an eye on the bikes."

"Tell her we’re off.”

"Aline," Mattie said turning to the other girl, "nous allerons."

"Crikey.   Future tense as well," Conor said admiringly.   Mattie smiled to herself and they set off.

Every morning, the host families provided lunch, a French stick of bread and garlicky sausage, for each of their guests and to their own offspring, often with a bottle of water or diluted red wine. Mattie balanced her own lunch bag on the handlebars of her borrowed bicycle.  

The sides of the valley rose above the road and river; trees, some leafy, crowded over them.  The ride was exhilarating. If Rosemary had come, they would have both have been too nervous to do anything like this. Conor was supporting Mattie's adventurous streak.  In his company she could allow herself to feel bold.

"Remember to ride on the right," she yelled to him. He was ahead of her. The valley road was quiet, traffic slight.  Most of the time there was a silence that Mattie might have experienced as disturbing had it not been for Conor’s robust approach.

After some distance, he dismounted and waited for her to catch up.

"Manourgue, eight kilometres," he said, indicating a road sign.  "I don't know what that is in miles."

"I'm no good at maths," she said reaching him with a squeal of brakes. "About five miles?"

“No good at maths," he grinned.  "Let's have a break. We’ve got all day."   She looked around them. There was a bank of grass and shingle beside the river. Conor laid his bicycle down on this. "I want a really good look around, instead of whizzing past everything."

"We can sit down here, we can paddle."  Mattie rested her bicycle on the ground beside his.

"It’ll be icy cold," he said.  "It's only April even though it feels like July.  The water has had to come down from the mountains."

"They're not mountains with sharp peaks, are they?  It’s more like one great mass of high land. I think it's a huge plateau."

They sat on the grass and listened to the burbling river, strange bird calls and a whispering breeze.  The sound of young voices reached them from the road as Aline, Gilbert and some others flew past.

"Les autres," Mattie said.

"The French kids,” Conor said.  “They didn't see us."

"I'm hungry," Mattie said.  "I’m going to eat some of my picnic."  

They sat on the bank of the river, on some small boulders, to eat their petit dejeuner.

"An awful lot of bread, isn't it?" he said.

"But it's lovely. I'm enjoying the whole thing, aren’t you, the whole experience?  I'm so glad I came.   It's much more interesting and exciting than I thought it would be."

"I should think we both smell of garlic by now."

"Have you had frogs’ legs yet? I have. Crispy and meaty but not very substantial. I’ve eaten moorhen, too. That’s what it translated as in my French dictionary. All sorts of duck and fish, as well.  Things unnamed. Madame keeps a stock-pot on the old-fashioned range in the kitchen. For soup. The range keeps the kitchen warm. It's very small. I expect it’s cold here in winter."

"The wine’s good," he said and Mattie had to laugh. Had her conversation been too domestic?  

"Good? Miss Dixon said that what we’re drinking at meals is rough wine. It tastes it, too, rough on your tongue. I have two glasses every night. It sends me to sleep. Monsieur traipses down to the cellar every evening to fill a bottle from a barrel.  It's all so – you know, so primitive."

"Life in the raw," and again Mattie was slightly amused at this schoolboy trying to be manly.

"Where I am, there’s one tap, on the landing. I was surprised. When we were in the old house, back at home, we had one tap in the scullery and I thought that was shameful. But at least we had a proper toilet."

"Where d’you live now?" Conor’s teeth tugged on the bread.

"Hill Common.  It's a new house." How faraway it all was, unreal almost.

Conor put away the uneaten portion of his bread. He stripped off his jumper, spread it on the ground and lay back on it, stretching out, with his hands behind his head. Mattie did the same with Delia’s ghastly flower-covered cardigan, not caring about mud or debris on it.

"This is the life," Conor sighed.  "Forget mod cons and that.”

Mattie gazed up at the bluest sky she had ever seen, against which stood out white rocks and green foliage.  The steep sides of the valley rose behind them and across the river.

"It's bliss," she said.  "Mountains. I love mountains."

"Funny, isn't it?" Conor said after a long silence, "how coming abroad makes a difference."

Mattie gave this comment serious attention. She had had similar sentiments but needed him to elaborate, in order to check that he was talking about the same kind of reaction as she had been experiencing.

"What d’you mean, funny? The difference to what?"

"Strange. Unexpected. A difference to how I see my life back home from here. Things get you down, don't they?"

"Why, do things get you down?"

Yeah. Coming all this way, you get things in perspective."

"The world’s a big place, isn't it?"

"My problems looks small, from here."

Mattie wanted to know more. "Do you have problems at home then?"

"Do I have problems at home! I'm glad to get away."

"Is it a big problem?"

Yeah." He hesitated lifted his head to give her a quick glance and then laid back and shut his eyes again.  "Me Da’s an alcoholic."

Mattie took a deep breath. "Poor you."

"Don't tell anyone."

"I won't. Does it cause trouble?"

"Rows. No money. And it's scary. When it's real bad, it's scary, I don't mind telling you. Don't tell anyone, will you?" His voice was flat.

"I won't. How do you manage, with school and that?"

"It's my way out, my escape, my reason for living, except there's a lot of snobs there. I love me science. I focus on me work. I think about the future, a good future, my own future. I keep out of me Da’s way."  He glanced over to her again. "I've never told anyone this."

She raised herself up on one elbow and turned to look at him. He had his eyes closed, against the sun, against the facts, and against her to whom he had told his dire secret. The cheeky schoolboy was no more.  She saw him differently, in a new light. The humour, the cheekiness, they were covers for a serious young person who knew trouble, who fought it, who had developed strategies for dealing with it and who had aims for getting away from it.

She scrambled to a sitting position on Delia's cardigan. "I'm going to tell you a secret of mine.  I have kept it to myself for nearly four years, well, three years, really, because I didn't understand what was happening for the first year or so."

Conor remained perfectly still, eyes closed. "Go on," he said.

"My older sister had a baby.  And she’s not married."

"Crikey.  I bet your parents made a to-do about that."

"My Mum did. Libby had to go away. Four years ago.  Four years next month.  She wasn’t allowed to be in touch with me. I think Mum thought, and still thinks, she – you know – got rid of it. Or had it adopted. I don't know what she thinks. But Mum and Dad haven’t seen Libby since, they don't know where she is.  I do though. I go to see her, in London, every couple of months. And the baby."

"She kept it?"

"She did.  And that's not all. The baby's father was black."

Conor’s eyes opened. He sat up. "Crikey. Black. That's worse than being Irish, isn't it? ‘No Irish, no coloureds, no dogs’."

"Mum wouldn't like it if she knew."

"I bet. Crikey, Mattie, you’re strong, aren’t you, keeping all that to yourself for so long and coming top in French all the time."

"Not all the time.  My results last summer were bad."

"For you. You know, my work slips at bad times. But I’m damned if I’m going to let that toffee-nosed lot at the Grammar School know what goes on at home. They love a bit of scandal."

"I feel a bit like that, too. My Mum’s ill. I won't use that as a reason for not doing well at school."

Conor turned a softer face to her, a face that had abandoned its usual bravado.  "Any time you wanna talk, I'm yer man."

She giggled.  "I’ll do the same for you."

"You’re a real friend."  He said that to the sky.

Mattie went pink. "So are you."

"Good grief!" He jumped to his feet. "See that the bird up there?" He pointed to a large raptor circling overhead.  "Bloody hell, it's a vulture. Quick. Let's go."

Rooted to the spot, Mattie watched the bird. Then she squealed, jumped to her feet, stumbling towards her bicycle. A lack of frenzy on Conor’s part, made her turn to look at him.  The familiar, cheeky Conor had returned. He was standing, shaking with silent laughter. She leapt towards him and pounded him with her fists

"Beast. You know it's not," she said, subsiding into laughter herself.

"No. There aren't any vultures in these parts. I think it's an eagle of some kind. Wonderful isn't it?  Kind of majestic."

"I'm keen on birds as well," she said shyly.

"Are we going on to Manourgue?"

"Why not? We’ve come this far."

“Five miles, you reckoned.”

"About that. I haven't ridden a bike for about five years.  I'll hurt all over tomorrow."

"And no bath to soak in. Come on. Let's catch up with the French kids and teach them some more swear words, even invent ones that aren't real, just for fun."

"They're probably all in Manourgue now, eating ice cream and drinking lemonade."

“Or drinking coffee and smoking. I can't stand that horrid little Gaston. Let’s pull his leg."

A peal of laughter escaped Mattie. Having unburdened herself, there was room in her for fun and Conor had a wealth of that on offer.  

Maggie Redding

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Shade, sustenance, beauty

Today is Palm Sunday. Many thanks to Sylvia Daly for this poem, which compares a Catholic child's experience with the reality of date palms. Love it.  

 Palm Sunday

How can I trust them again?

They gave me a dry,

dead spike of a leaf,

tortured into the shape

of a cross.

My childish fingers

unfolded the sharp, tough frond.

I struggled to see

the triumph of the day,

waving my acrid spear

in jubilation.

Older and wiser, I saw a real palm tree.

Graceful fronds arched with sensuous curve,

fruit hung in pregnant bunches,

all giving shade, sustenance, beauty.

My religion had killed this vision.

Twisted the beauty to fit the wish of

foolish, clever men, who choked

the spirit with their efforts.

How can I trust them again?

Sylvia Daly

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Tut, Watson, I'm surprised at you

 In this extract from the first part of Rohase Piercy's 'My Dearest Holmes', we eavesdrop on Holmes and Watson discussing the case brought to them by a Miss Anne D'Arcy, whose companion, Maria Kirkpatrick, has gone missing.  A search of Miss Kirkpatrck's desk has unearthed the photograph of an effete-looking young man, believed to be her illegitimate son … and a rather embarrassed Watson has had to admit that Mr Maurice Kirkpatrick is actually an acquaintance of his.

‘Well, Watson,’ said Holmes, leaping to his feet the minute she had left and beginning to pace the room whilst rubbing his hands together gleefully, ‘this is all very exciting, is it not? This case certainly exhibits some singular features. I am glad, by the way, that Miss D’Arcy found you so supportive. I can always trust you to take care of that department. And now for the next stage …’

‘Now look, Holmes,’ I interrupted sharply, feeling that such innuendos were in very poor taste, especially under the circumstances, ‘I really must set you straight on all this. The way in which Miss D’Arcy found me supportive was not at all what you imply. Heaven knows why you insist on propounding this fantasy about my susceptibility to women; but if you cannot see that Miss D’Arcy is - well, a confirmed spinster, I suppose is an apt description - then your powers of perception are considerably less than I’ve given you credit for.’ 

Holmes stood in front of me with his hands in his pockets, a maddening expression of pure delight upon his face. ‘My poor dear boy,’ said he, ‘you do underestimate me, don’t you? I do assure you that I have a full and accurate grasp of the situation. There is really no need to expound upon it. As for your affinity with the fair sex - well, Watson, you surely cannot deny that women in general, confirmed spinsters or no, do seem to find you extremely sympathetic. It’s your doctorly manner, I expect. Now, where is the inaccuracy in my stating the obvious? H’mm?’

I clenched my teeth in frustration. It was at times like this that I most regretted the exaggerated boasts with which I had for some reason felt it necessary to regale my friends at around the time of my first meeting with Holmes. What could I say? That I suspected his full and accurate grasp of the situation to be the result of his morning’s research, since I had seen no evidence of it earlier? I knew he would have no hesitation in calling my bluff, and in turning the situation to his own advantage.

'Anyway, Watson,’ he continued, strolling jauntily around the room with an annoying spring in his step, ‘since you’re so anxious to set me straight on matters of which I am ignorant, perhaps you’d care to give me a little resumé of your acquaintance with Mr Maurice Kirkpatrick. I must say, it really is a lucky chance your knowing him. Now, what do you think? Would he be pleased to receive a visit from your good self accompanied by an aficionado of the turf, eager to discuss form and courses? Or would he perhaps prefer to make the acquaintance of an older gentleman of private means and aesthetic temperament? Which shall I be, Watson? In either case, I think a certain air of decadence would fit the bill, don’t you?’ 

This kind of teasing made me even more uncomfortable, being nearer the mark of accuracy. I crossed hurriedly to the window to hide my discomposure. 

‘Tell me first,’ I said as coolly as I could, ‘just why you think he is being blackmailed?’ 

‘Oh, I don’t think he is being blackmailed at all,’ said Holmes impatiently. ‘But his father undoubtedly is, and has, rather foolishly in my opinion, called on him for help.’ 

‘His father?’ I spun round, astonished, all discomposure forgotten. ‘But he has no father!’ 

‘Tut, Watson, I’m surprised at you. And you a medical man! Everybody has a father somewhere; we may take that as a working hypothesis in at least ninety-nine percent of cases.’ 

‘Well good heavens, Holmes, I mean of course he has a father, but surely - do you mean you are assuming he knows who his father is?’ 

‘Well, I am assuming he does now! Whether he did before this present trouble, I am not yet in a position to say. But now, do you see -?’ he continued, deliberately adopting the patient manner of one explaining the obvious to a child or an idiot, ‘now, let’s assume for the sake of argument that he receives a message from a gentleman claiming to be his father, and he wishes to check the gentleman’s credentials, so to speak. To whom does he apply for corroboration on the subject? Come on now, my boy, your mental powers should be able to tackle this one …’ 

‘Oh stop it, Holmes,’ I said feebly, for I could see he was embarking upon a fit of hilarity and I had no desire to join him. ‘So he contacts his mother. But I still fail to see why it has to be blackmail.’ 

‘Why, it could be nothing else!’ said Holmes, controlling himself with difficulty. ‘If the man has contacted neither his son, nor the mother of his son, for some twenty-odd years, nothing less than the threat of discovery would lead him to do so now. You see why I did not wish to go into the matter in front of Miss D’Arcy,’ he continued in a serious voice, taking me by the elbow and leading me towards the door. ‘The subject would naturally be distressing for her. We had better wait until we have cleared the whole thing up before involving her further. Now, Watson, up you go and change into a waistcoat that boasts its full regimen of buttons! I would fit a new shoelace too, if I were you; we may have a little walk ahead of us. And what a careless fellow you were this morning, to nick your cheek like that … I, meanwhile, will go and don my accoutrements, and then we will make our way over to Kensington, with a little detour for lunch en route.’ 

‘Might I suggest, Holmes, that the older gentleman would be a more suitable disguise?’ I said sweetly. ‘I flatter myself that Kirkpatrick has always looked upon me as something of a paternal figure, and since I am your senior by a mere couple of years we can hardly expect him to do less for you.’ 

From the mischievous glint that stole into his eye, I realised that somewhere in my little speech I had laid myself open to his repartee. Having no wish to hear it, I closed the door hurriedly and made my way up to my room.

You need not call me sir!

Hearts and Minds is the second historical novel in Jay Taverner ’s ‘Brynsquilver’ series and is set in the 1730s. In this extract, Lucy, da...