The whole point of this exercise is to ask readers if, once they read the entry below at the beginning of a book, they would want to continue reading the book? I shall be very happy to hear your comments. It's unpublished as yet, since it's far too long at 160,000 words for modern requirements, and I either have to split in in half or edit the length by several tens of thousands of words. Work! Hard work, even. Modern publishers don't care for books over 100,000 words, and there are practical reasons for that. I'm just an old-fashioned type of writer and need to drag myself into the modern age! For instance, the Introduction below would probably be considered back-story, these days, and would be expected to come to light gradually through the novel. Ah, a writer's life. By the way, the heat classification is Sweet - though by gosh they come close to spicy a couple of times. But the grown-up Deborah and her pirate both have good reasons to avoid marriage. If you read this you'll understand Deborah's, and the pirate - well, you'd just have to get to know him!
My other historical, The Pirate And The Puritan, was 130,000 words, but alas, times have changed since it was first published! But I really would appreciate some comments on this.
Copyright Monya Clayton 28th February 2009
Deborah inhaled a last sweet sniff of the wild pink rose in poor Cousin Maria's garden, and straightened her coalscuttle bonnet. She would like to run to the front of the cottage. However, Mother would be shocked if she did, and most likely the Fairbrothers as well. She was eager to ride in a real carriage, but it would be most improper to run with Maria in her grave only two days. She therefore walked, quickly yet with all the dignity she could muster, around to the lane beyond the garden gate. The coachman was in the act of tying Prudence Portman's portmanteau and Deborah's valise to the rear of the vehicle.
"Deborah, why so tardy? Come now, we must not delay their journey." Prudence stood beside Mrs. Fairbrother, and in her loose plain Quaker gown seemed a sparrow beside the Lieutentant's robin-red clad spouse.
"There is no need for haste, Mrs. Portman. It will be two days before my husband joins his ship, and three for James to board his." She smiled, a warm smile for all she was the daughter of a baronet and therefore Quality. And though she must be well past thirty years of age she was still a pretty woman. Prudence was a year short of fifty. "Deborah, allow me to present you. This is my husband, Lieutenant Fairbrother."
Quakers bowed to no man, therefore Deborah held out her hand. The Lieutenant, third son of the Squire and resplendent in his Navy uniform of blue coat and white small clothes, was startled. Gallantly, however, he swept off his cocked hat. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Portman." His grey eyes twinkled as he gravely shook her hand. "And may I introduce to you my son, Midshipman James Fairbrother. Step down from the chaise, James."
James was a boy of perhaps fifteen, two years older than herself, stocky, blond and grey-eyed like his father. Like him, he was attired in Navy blue and white. He descended by the carriage step and shook her hand perfunctorily. "I am pleased to meet you, Miss Portman."
Deborah was the same height as he and able to look straight into his face. She thought he did not seem pleased at all, however she responded politely. "How does thee, Master Fairbrother?"
"Well enough, Miss Portman." The boy twirled his hat in his hands and glanced at his father, a plea plain in his eyes.
"James is eager to join his first ship, Miss Deborah. Forgive him his impatience," Lieutenant Fairbrother smiled. He handed his wife up into the carriage, then Prudence, and lastly Deborah. He and James climbed in, the Lieutenant sat next to his wife on the rear seat and young James and the thin Portman ladies opposite. He smiled as they squashed together. "It is a large old conveyance, Mrs. Portman, but I fear a little uncomfortable."
"It is of no consequence, sir," said Prudence firmly. "It is most kind of thee to offer to drive us to home. It will be far more pleasant than the stage."
"No need for the discomforts of the stagecoach," smiled Mrs. Fairbrother, " when we are bound for Plymouth also."
"Nevertheless, ma'am, I thank thee both."
"And I," said Deborah. She was quite aware it was an unusual circumstance. The gentry looked down on folk in trade, and her father owned a chandler's shop.
The carriage jerked forward, and soon the horses settled to a steady pace. After a little while Deborah decided she quite enjoyed the movement. She bumped between her mother and James when corners were rounded, but the boy's proximity troubled her not at all. She had six older brothers. Well, half-brothers, since Prudence was Isaac Portman's second wife.
"We will halt at Ashburton to change the horses," the Lieutenant told them over the clatter of the carriage. "And take refreshments while we wait." Deborah saw Mrs. Fairbrother's red elbow gently nudge his side. He looked down at his wife and smiled. "And, naturally, you will be our guests."
"Again, thee is kind," Prudence nodded. Deborah felt her mother's inward sigh of relief. Isaac had given her little money for the journey, enough for their coach fares home after they nursed her cousin through her final illness. Maria's husband Brother Bartholomew obviously begrudged the feeding of them, so she'd used some of the coins for provisions for herself and her daughter. "God will bless thee for it."
"I trust you are right, Mrs. Portman." Somehow Mrs. Fairbrother's kid-gloved hand found its way into her husband's. "Would you be so good as to pray for his safety at sea?"
"Yes, Sister - Mrs. Fairbrother. And your son's."
Young James's nose lifted a little into the air. Deborah saw he did not care to be thought of as needing prayer. However, she soon forgot the midshipman's boyish pride and became occupied with watching the wilds of Dartmoor roll by. A silence fell upon the passengers, broken only by desultory polite remarks among the adults. Mrs. Fairbrother asked Prudence about her family, and learned there were three daughters older than Deborah, who was the youngest.
"And, Sister Fair-Mrs. Fairbrother, we expect to hear of a new babe at home. Eliza, who is the wife of Mr. Portman's eldest son Ambrose, was due to be delivered soon after we left for Newton Abbot."
"I trust you find her well and recovered, ma'am. I have two girls, younger than James. For these few days they are in the care of their grandmama, and will be sadly spoiled."
Talk such as this engaged the ladies until the carriage turned off the pike road to enter Ashburton. The turn was swift and Deborah not ready for it. She fell sideways across James's blue-clad chest.
"I beg thy pardon!" She sat bolt upright and a blush heated her cheeks.
"I was clumsy, Miss Portman. Do forgive me." James smiled at her. He'd regained his good humour once they were on the road, and he was in love with the world that day.
Deborah stared at him a moment. Of a sudden he was handsome and dashing, a naval officer and a gentleman. She folded her thin hands on her plain gray skirt and appeared to admire greatly the elms by the roadside. They were fiery with autumn, yet she didn't really see them. Her heart beat in a quick and quite improper manner she'd never felt before in her life.
The refreshments arrived on a tray, coffee, lemonade, thin-sliced ham and small cakes. Halfway through the repast the Lieutenant excused himself to enquire after the horses, then a few minutes later Mrs. Fairbrother also left the room to see what kept him. Deborah discovered an embarrassing necessity to visit the privy, and told her mother stiffly she would return soon. James was left to entertain Prudence.
A large old yew tree occupied the rear of the inn yard. On the way back from the privy, Deborah glimpsed behind it a swirl of red which must be Mrs. Fairbrother's gown, and also the navy-blue and white of the Lieutenant's uniform. Mrs. Fairbrother was enfolded in her husband's arms, and he was kissing her. They did not notice Deborah.
"I shall miss you so!" Mrs. Fairbrother gasped when the Lieutenant lifted his mouth from hers. Her fashionable short curls were disarranged, and her pink cheeks wet with tears. "And fear for you."
He kissed her neck. "Ah, my dear. But you have given me much to remember on lonely nights!"
Deborah recalled of a sudden she should not eavesdrop or watch, and quickly walked back into the inn. Her cheeks were warm again. She'd never seen a man and woman kiss before, and was too surprised to leave the scene sooner. The Portmans kept such intimacy for their bedchambers, if they did such things at all.
She resumed her place beside James on the oaken settle, and he offered gallantly, "The chill has put color in your cheeks, Miss Portman."
Deborah rallied and answered with her normal spirit. "The breeze is brisk. I trust it will hold to bear thy ship and thy papa's safe from Plymouth." She did not need to be reminded her skin was normally white with no pretty pink tinge to it. Yet she caught in her mind a shocking thought. What would it be like to be kissed in the same way? By James?
"I tell thee all, Quaker folk wish to hear nothing of the war! Be pleased to be quiet or else to leave my premises."
Lieutenant Fairbrother jumped down and opened the door fully, though he frowned. "Are you safe to enter the house, Mrs. Portman?"
"Yes indeed, sir. I know them all, decent sailormen and customers of my husband's." The Portmans did not supply the Navy, only fishermen and Plymouth's merchant ships.
"Pray stay in the carriage, ma'am, and I will speak to Mr. Portman." The Lieutenant disappeared into the press of people. Many of them cheered when they saw his uniform and some, greatly daring, slapped the back of his blue coat. When he returned he was excited himself, and the bearer of amazing news.
"A great victory! Signalled down from Portsmouth. The Navy defeated a French fleet off the Spanish coast, at a place called Trafalgar."
"Oh, hurrah!" James leapt down from the carriage and threw his tricorn hat in the air. "I wish we had been there."
"Perhaps as well we were not." The Lieutenant's face was suddenly somber. "Admiral Nelson was killed."
James's mouth fell agape, and his hat, unheeded, to the cobbles. "Oh, no, sir!"
"Yes, it is true. But he himself might count it worth the cost, for Bonaparte has at last suffered a loss. May it be only the first." Fairbrother smiled gravely at his wife. "It will not delay our duty, my dear, but perhaps now it will not be so hazardous."
"I pray not." Mrs. Fairbrother's lips trembled, though she firmed them to smile at her guests. "I trust you also return to good news, Mrs. Portman."
The Lieutenant held his hand to Prudence and guided her to the flagway. "Come, James, do your duty by Miss Portman."
James, elation and sorrow struggling together on his face, numbly offered his arm to Deborah. She told herself she held it only for balance, and not to feel the young muscles beneath the coat sleeve. As soon as her feet touched ground she released him. But the touch of his arm remained real to her, as did the feel of his breeches clad leg beside hers in the carriage.
"Thank thee," she found the wit to utter.
Prudence again expressed their thanks, they shook hands all round, the coachman unpacked their cases, and the vehicle clattered away.
"Come," said Prudence briskly. "Let us see how Eliza does."
"Thee must visit thy friend Anne at the Holders' house," Prudence told Deborah. She considered the sounds of Eliza's travail unfit for a girl of her years to hear. "Kate will take thee there." Deborah was not permitted to walk alone.
"Yes, Mother." But Deborah raised her pointed chin. She considered this order unfair, since her mother had borne only one babe herself. Prudence was the childless widow of Brother Nathaniel Yates the book-binder when Isaac, with a household of motherless brats to be cared for, asked for her hand. Isaac was most put out when the supposedly barren Prudence had, at the age of thirty-six, borne him another daughter. However no more babes followed Deborah, and the number of his surviving children ceased count at ten.
"I am too busy, Mother Prudence!" Kate shouted from the kitchen. There were more than enough women in the house to see one baby birthed, but this was the frist time Kate herself was allowed to stay and she intended to make the most of it.
"Then, Deborah, plug thine ears with wool, and do not on any account come above stairs." She was distracted by Elmira, who, relegated to serving as messenger and not pleased by the lowly task, sought her out at that moment. "They ask for thee, Mother Prudence."
"Oh! It is near time, then." Prudence gathered an armful of linen and hurried up the steep stairway.
"Deborah," Kate ordered briskly, "bring more coal for the stove. And then some kindling." She saw Deborah's raised chin and added a cursory, "If thee please."
Deborah carried a bucket of coal up from the cellar. Then she scampered outside and pulled the wool from her ears. She slipped into the narrow space between the big tin-covered woodbox and the high brick wall of the sailmaker's house next door. She gathered an armful of kindling but did not take it inside at once. She lay it on the damp chill ground, sat on it, hugged her knees and smiled to herself. There was no one to tell her the smile was bewitching, and lit her plain little face with life and mischief.
This was her own private place, where she came to think and to weave fancies. She had missed its refuge during the sad days with Cousin Maria, missed a place entirely her own. In the house she shared a small dormer bedchamber with bustling Kate, and it was not a place to dream. Here, no one ever disturbed her. None of the buxom and brawny Portmans could squeeze into the slight space as skinny Deborah did.
Even if someone did search and then found her, they would need to look twice. Her gray wool gown, dark knitted shawl and coalscuttle shaped bonnet blended with the weathered wall, and only the white skin of her thin face and hands was visible in the dim shade. Besides, her half-brothers and half-sisters were practical and industrious. It would never occur to them to look for someone who sat idle and daydreamed, though out of habit Deborah pressed her shoulders back against the wall.
"Carry thyself straight, Deborah!" Father Isaac had insisted in her eleventh year. "Naught looks more ungainly than a tall skinny female who sits and walks bent over in the middle."
"If it please thee, Father," she'd replied at the time. Of course he said it for filial obedience only. Quaker women were rare in the world because they were counted the equals of men. Daughters were valued as highly as sons, girls educated as well as boys. Any woman could stand on First Day in the Meeting and speak with the same right as a man, when guided by her Inner Light. Nor could a family force one of its female members into a marriage distasteful to her. She made up her own mind whether or not to accept a suit.
Prudence wed both Brother Yates and Brother Portman of her own free will. Both lost their first wives and their children had been in need of a step-mama. Prudence was, it was true, a penniless orphan. Yet she could have supported herself as a seamstress or shopkeeper and the Society of Friends would have thought well of her.
A tiny clump of violets grew in the dank earth by the brick wall. Only Deborah knew about them. Quakers tolerated flowers as part of creation, though they did not grow them. Vegetables were far more useful. Today the little plant bore a solitary bloom, and Deborah touched it with her long white hand and wondered if James's skin felt like that. Or would a man's skin be more like one of the leaves?
"Deborah! Where art thou?"
It was her mother's voice. Deborah stood quickly, startled out of her imaginings. She was not afraid of Prudence, however she did want her secret place to remain her own. She gathered the kindling into her arms and stepped round the corner of the woodbox.
"I am here, Mother. Kate did ask me to fetch this."
"Thee's uncommon slow about it." Prudence did not smile, yet nor did she admonish. Deborah was her only child, and though she would not show preference she loved her daughter more than any other creature on earth. "Ah, well, today all the house is confused. It matters not thee's dawdled."
"Mother, how is Eliza?" Deborah was already aunt to a raft of nieces and nephews, and quite aware the bearing of them was a dangerous business.
"Eliza has been delivered of a fine son, praise be to the Lord. And is well enough herself, also praise to the Lord." Then, instead of ushering Deborah back to the kitchen, Prudence sat down on the chopping block, and told her daughter, "No one will miss the wood for a little, child, or our presence. For long now I've wished to talk with thee alone, but there has been no quiet place in the house. Sit thee down."
Deborah again made a pile of the kindling, again sat on it. She looked straight at Prudence, who looked straight back. Indeed, it was the only way Quaker women could look at anyone. The stern forward poking brims of their bonnets otherwise hid their faces. Deborah draped her loose skirt with more proprietry. Her gown, like her pair of square-toed shoes, was an outgrown hand-me-down from Kate, and a little big for her. She waited, and wondered.
Her mother seemed embarrassed and determined at once. "Sometimes I see dreams in thine eyes, daughter. And I must tell thee, dreams have no place in life, which is real. I need do my duty by thee, and tell thee what thy lot in life will be." Prudence took a deep breath. "I ask thee to recall Cousin Maria."
Deborah was puzzled. "Yes, Mother."
"She had no babes, and her husband spoke recriminations over her because she was barren. Brother Bartholomew will wed a new wife, because he wishes for a child. Thee knows I myself was wed to Brother Yates, and bore no babes before I wed Brother Portman and thee was born." A dark flush crept up her pale cheeks, thin like Deborah's. "It is not proper to talk of such things to a young maid, but I am nigh on fifty year old and do not know when I will be called to heaven. I must tell thee the truth before I die."
Deborah's big green eyes widened. Her mother dying was a thing which had never entered her head before. However she sat still, and clasped her hands together about her knees.
"Thee looks like myself when I were young, Deborah, except for thine Portman colors. Mine own mother was skinny also, and so was Cousin Maria's. Thee also will grow to look like us. And like us, thee will not bear many children. Perhaps one, as I did thee, or perhaps none. Mine mother told me her grandmama had two. Maria was the grandchild of one and therefore my second cousin. But it does not often happen."
Deborah felt a cold weight on her heart, warm only minutes before. She'd never known she would not bear children when she was wed. "But Mother, why?"
"I do not know, child. No midwife or physician has ever found a cause. Perhaps some woman of our line, long ago, committed a sin and this is the punishment. It is true we are not the right shape, being slender and tall. Even so we have no more than the common labor when birthing. But we cannot easily be got with child."
The flush left Prudence's face, and now it was pale with determination beneath the coalscuttle bonnet. "If a man ask thee to wed, thee must tell him truly thee might not be able to bear. It is better not to marry than to be like poor Maria, who did not tell her husband the truth and suffered for it."
The blood drained from Deborah's skin, left it more white than ever. "But Mother, if I am asked to wed, and tell the man this, and he says nay, he wishes children... Mother, what will I do then?" She'd no notion how heartfelt her words sounded on her mother's ears.
"No young man can thee marry, Deborah. All young men desire heirs." For her daughter's sake Prudence gathered her courage, to say the right thing. "Thee may marry a widower or an old man, or thee may remain a spinster. And of course thee cannot wed any but one of the Friends, or thee will be disowned from the Meeting. I know it is hard. But it may befall so in any case. Young men like maids to be plump and pretty, not slender, and they fancy dark or golden hair better than red. They think red beholdens temper."
"But Mother, Kate has red hair! And Rebecca, and Ambrose, and Zebediah, and Robert."
"But thee is not pretty, like Kate and Rebecca. Thee knows it. Thy nose is too little and thy mouth too wide, though myself I think thee looks fetching when thee smiles." Prudence smiled at her child a little, then was serious once more. "Having told thee all this, I must tell thee also that women who have children are taken care of by them when they grow old. We have none, or one alone, to shelter us in our age."
Deborah had taken in all the words, though with a sinking heart. Now she saw only one important thing. "Oh, Mother, I will always take care of thee!"
"Ah, Deborah, spoken just like thee. Sometimes I feel thine heart is too big and warm for thy little body." She cleared her throat. "Daughter, I wed Brother Portman because it is a large family. Someone will always give me shelter, if only for duty. The same is for thee. Even if thee stay a spinster, thee will always have a home, having so many brothers and sisters. Nor do the Friends allow any of their own to hunger. But it is a cruel world for a woman on her own, and while there is this war with the French we do not know what will happen. Listen to me now, Deborah, for I must tell thee a secret."
"Yes, Mother." Deborah was sad for her mother, and beginning to sorrow for herself. Yet she was also angry at the unkind fate which might never let her marry James Fairbrother.
"One day I will die. I do not know when, but thee must be prepared. Under here..." Prudence touched the bodice of her dark wool gown. "Under my petticoats and shift, next to my skin, I wear a linen band about my body. Brother Portman no longer touches me." She flushed. "So now I do not ever take it off except when I bathe my body in summer." She lifted her chin. "Mine own mother gave it to me, and her mother gave it to her. It is sewn with eight little pockets, and in each pocket is a little piece of oilskin, and in each of those is a jewel, a ruby. She did say they came from a wealthy widow, long ago when Bess was Queen." She looked hard at her daughter. "Put off thy bonnet, child, so I may see thine eyes when I say this."
Deborah dropped her bonnet to the back of her head. Her heart was still as frozen snow beneath her budding breast. She said nothing.
Prudence continued emphatically. "When my soul is gone to heaven, thee must ask to prepare my body for burial, and take the band off me. Thee will keep it and wear it next to thine own skin."
Deborah was too astonished even to whisper, why?
Prudence answered the unspoken question. "It is our surety, child. Since we are barren, or near to it, it is our provision if we are left alone in the world. Ah, I see thee is troubled. I too was troubled. I did say to my mother, it is a sin to possess such riches and keep them a secret. And she said her own mother told her it may be so, but she risked committing sin in exchange for peace in her mind about her child. That is how I feel, Deborah. If I do wrong to keep this, and to pass it on to thee, why then, I am prepared to answer to God for it."
Deborah's pointed chin threatened to sink, but she held her head high, and did not notice the rim of her bonnet when it stuck the back of her neck. "But, Mother, I should never need it, with so many family. Thee said so."
"No, thee never should. But to grant me peace, I ask thee to take and keep it when I am gone."
"But Mama..." It was a sign Deborah was perturbed when she did not say 'Mother'. "If I have no child, or only a boy babe, what shall I do with it?"
"Then thee must do what the wealthy widow did in the time of Queen Bess, two hundred years since, and pass it to another woman in the same case." Prudence squared her narrow shoulders. "Deborah, thee knows that we, the Friends, take no oaths, but tell the truth at all times. Our yes is yes and our no must be no. Therefore I cannot ask thee to swear never to tell this to any soul. Nor can I ask thee to promise never to use those jewels, to sell them, unless thee's in danger of death or starving. But if thee say yea to those things now, it must be in truth, and thee must never forgo thine word."
Deborah felt as if a lump of stale pudding was stuck in her throat. Her mouth was cold and dry, but at last she was able to swallow. She said firmly, "I will keep them only for life or death, Mother."
"Good child! My heart is eased." Prudence sighed deeply, relieved of a burden. "Now, daughter, from this moment forward, for the rest of thine life, thee must be sensible at all times, and put away foolish dreams."
Deborah bent her head and stared at her hands, clenched in her lap. Tears prickled behind her eyes. She'd been proud she did not cry easily like Kate and Martha, even when Robert and Samuel teased her. Yet now she could cry in earnest. She might never have a husband like Lieutenant Fairbrother, to kiss her behind a tree and be kind.
And James? Ah, James was young, and would want children. She could marry only a widower like her father, Isaac Portman, whom in her heart she did not like very much, or an old man like Mother's first husband, Brother Yates the book-binder. She thought, I would rather not marry at all. And decided then and there she would never marry, and did not swear to it, but said yes to herself in her own heart, and kept it for truth.
She blinked at Prudence. "I will be sensible, Mother. But in what way?"
Prudence took out her cotton handkerchief, and blew her nose. "Make thineself useful to thy brothers and sisters, so they will always want thee about them. Help in the house as thee does now, only be smart and brisk about it, a hard worker, a good cook, and taking care of the little ones." She rose to her feet. "We must go inside, and make the supper. There'll be many here to eat it." Yet she did not move.
Deborah stood, and she and her mother looked at each other.
"Thee's a fine strong-minded girl and I know I'll be pleased with thee, daughter." Prudence spoke awkwardly, not used to giving praise. Suddenly she leaned forward and, with difficulty from under her bonnet brim, kissed her child on the cheek. Then she turned and hurried away, back into the house.
Deborah, left alone, was bereft. She would have liked to talk with Prudence longer, even of such grave matters... But when she felt her shoulders droop, she straightened them. Her mother loved her, she now knew it for certain. As for the rest, she must be sensible.
She turned and walked back to her private corner, her bonnet bumping between her shoulder blades. She did not sit down. Instead she thought, it is a place where I dreamed, and I shall not dream again. She pushed the warm memory of the Fairbrothers, and James, down into the bottom of her heart, and closed it over. She stared blindly at the single violet.
She did not weep, and could not take time to be sad. Kate called from the kitchen for the kindling. She hastily pulled her coalscuttle bonnet back onto her head, gathered up the armful of wood, ran back inside the Portman walls, and left dreams behind.
In the first chapter of the book, which comes immediately after this, Deborah sails from Plymouth and England to join one of her brothers and his household in Nova Scotia. It is 1817, 12 years after the events described above, and on the way she meets her pirate... And that is all I'm going to tell!