Organised Chaos

The idea for a post entitled Organised Chaos arose when somebody asked me a  question a few days ago about how I organise my research when I’m writing a new book. I gave, what was for me, quite a sensible answer. Thinking about it afterwards, I realised that I actually do have a system for this. Many other areas in my life bumble along without much of a plan, but when it comes to writing, I’ve learned what works and I stick to it.

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army

I’m not sure if my system would work for anybody else, but I know that I quite like reading other people’s ideas about organisation, so I thought I’d share the tools I use, in case any of them come in handy for other people. At the very least, you can all have a good laugh at them.

My writing life is very complicated, and every time it threatens to get easier, I find new ways to complicate it further. I’ve published eleven historical novels so far. The earliest two were standalone books but all of the others are linked in some way, although I’ve written them at different times and they are all set at different points of my timeline. So, the Peninsular War Saga begins in 1802 and I’ve published five books, taking me to the end of 1812 and I’m now working on book six. The Manxman series has two books so far and begins in 1806 with the second one taking us into 1810. The two Regency romances are set in 1816 and 1818. In addition, I’ve written eight short stories, all of which are linked to the main books and run from around 1809 through to Waterloo in 1815.

Characters move regularly between the different series. Because I had already published the first four Peninsular books and the two Regencies before I started the Manxman series, I’m not writing the books consecutively. This means that I need to constantly be aware of what my characters do or don’t already know and whom they might have met at a different part of the timeline. I’m time hopping every time I start a new book, which means I need to keep very good records of my characters, even the minor ones. Before I had set up a good system, I discovered during editing that several soldiers who died at Assaye or Talavera were up and fighting again at Bussaco, it was like an episode of the Walking Dead.

A good example of the challenge of this is Giles Fenwick. I first wrote about Giles in one of the Regency romances, where in true romantic hero style, he is a cynical war veteran, emotionally shut down and struggling with what we would call PTSD today. He’s also an Earl. There is a brief mention of his wartime service, where he spent part of his time as an exploring officer.

I then decided to use him in a short story set during the war, and also to introduce him as a minor character into the Peninsular War Saga. From there, I was writing about Walcheren in the second Manxman book and realised that I’d mentioned somewhere that Giles had been there, so introduced him as one of my main characters. Now I’ve moved back to the Peninsula, I’ve given him a bigger role there, but need to remember that Walcheren, although it was the last book I wrote, was four years ago for Giles. Is anybody else confused yet?

I use several tools to keep on top of my characters and my research.

Character List Spreadsheet

This one speaks for itself, really. I use Excel and when I’m editing, I check every single character against this list and add any new information. It has columns for all the basic information such as name, age, physical appearance if I’ve mentioned it, family relationships etc. Then there is a notes column where I can not any significant role the character has played in the book. I don’t use this much for the main characters, since I know what they’ve been up to, but it’s useful to remember, for example, that Private Thompson sometimes acted as orderly and valet to Colonel Wheeler, because it means I’ll be consistent about that. A very important column is headed ‘Death’ and I record the date and how they died. This avoids any zombie resurrections, which is always what we want. I keep a single list for all the books, since the characters move between them.

Book Folder

For each book I’ve written or am about to write, I create a book folder. Everything associated with this book, is stored in the one place, including the book itself, the blurb,  the online source folder, book covers, pictures I might like to use on the web page for the book and an ideas folder.

Online Source Folder

In the early days, I used to bookmark really useful sources which are available online, but I found that I was losing track of what I’d found. I might remember reading something about promotion without purchase, but couldn’t remember where. These days, I create a new research folder every time I start a new book and keep it in the same place as my Scrivener files, and I’ll store links to good online resources relevant to this book all in the same place, under headings that make sense to me. It saves a lot of time searching online for something I’ve already found.

Ideas Folder

Every book in the series has a provisional title, even those I’ve not yet written. I might change that when I come to write it, in fact my current work in progress has just been changed from an Unrelenting Enmity to An Unmerciful Incursion to reflect the change in emphasis of the storyline. This means that if I have a sudden idea while writing one book, that I might like to use in a future book, I can make some notes and store them in the folder.

Notebook

When it comes to the day to day planning for a book, I have to use an old fashioned notebook. Scrivener, which I write with, has the facility to store research and planning notes, and I tried it. I’ve also tried other software such as Aeon, for doing timelines. None of these worked for me. While I’m typing, I much prefer to reach for a book than have endless tabs open on a screen, it just works better. 

It’s also an excuse to use a selection of lovely notebooks. A plain A4 pad would work perfectly well, but of course I don’t use that. As you’ll see from my current notebook, I work best with cute animals, but I’m flexible.

In my notebook, I keep a detailed timeline, almost a diary, of what happened during the period I’m writing about, with quick references to books if I found something particularly useful. I leave a lot of space between dates.  Once I’ve got the historical timeline worked out, I’ll go back as I’m writing, and slot in my fictional characters, so that I can weave my own story into the fabric of the historical events. It’s a bit like a diary, and it can change the direction of the book if I find out something interesting while I’m putting this together.

A good example of this is the shipwreck of the Venerable in 1809 off the coast of Walcheren. I first learned about this from the autobiography of Dr McGrigor, who was on the ship, and I slotted it into the timeline, and read about it. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to mention this in the novel, but I wanted to know a bit more about it. McGrigor mentioned two ladies aboard as well as some soldiers wives below decks, and I went through the sources I was using to try to find out more. In the bibliography of a thesis I’d been using, I came across a reference to the diaries and letters of Captain Codrington, whose wife was one of the ladies on the ship. These were available online and were pure gold. I also realised, to my surprise, that it gave me the opportunity to give a much bigger role to the heroine of my previous book as it was a way of bringing her out to join her husband along with Jane Codrington.

In addition, reading the Codrington letters, which were fairly addictive, gave me an idea for a future book in the Manxman series, which immediately went into the ideas folder. The Venerable shipwreck was added into my timeline along with a lot of useful information gleaned from a friend who was doing research on Sir Home Popham and was able to send me photos of the original logs of the ship during this period along with a huge amount of other useful information.

Along with the timeline, I also write a plan in my notebook. Initially this is just an outline, but once I’ve got the storyline clear in my head, I do a detailed chapter by chapter plan. This will probably change a few times, so by the time I’ve finished, I’ll have several of these in the book. I also have a page for each character who has a point of view in the book, so that I can scribble notes about their development, motivation and role in the story.

I find maps useful. I own a fabulous Peninsular War Atlas, which is marvellous for all the major battles but I also need to be able to trace the routes my characters take when marching. A lot of the diaries and letters published are great for this, particularly Wellington’s correspondence, since you can see where headquarters was situated on the march by the headings of his letters. I have a beautiful set of his correspondence which my husband bought me for our 25th wedding anniversary and I use them all the time, they’re the joy of my life.

To keep track of where we are, I use Google maps to trace what I know of the routes taken. Most of this is done online as I go along, but occasionally it’s useful to have hard copy to keep referring back to. For example, I’ve printed out a couple of maps and put them in my notebook for book six, showing the location of Wellington’s various divisions through winter quarters. It’s a quick and easy reference tool and stops me making stupid mistakes, such as sending Colonel van Daan to visit the fifth division for a couple of hours when it would actually have taken him a couple of days to get there.

I also keep handy lists in the notebook. At the beginning of each book, I make a new list of my fictional brigade, by battalion and company, and include most of the officers and any significant NCOs and privates. This is a simple word document, which I update when I start a new book, removing anybody who has died, noting promotions and transfers. I then print it out and stick it in the notebook for easy reference. Other lists are specific to each book; I’ve compiled one of Wellington’s staff at HQ since that’s important for this book.

 

My notebook probably looks chaotic to anybody else, but it’s the basic tool that I work with every day. I started using this method for book four and I love it. I don’t throw the notebooks away when the book is finished, so I have a collection of them now, and they’re quite fun to look through to see how the book developed as I was writing it. More importantly, it stops me writing quick notes on scraps of paper which I then lose. Anything that I need to write down while writing this book goes in that notebook.

Sticky Notes and tags

When I’m first reading up about a campaign, I use a lot of sticky notes and tags to mark pages or sections that are particularly useful. As with notebooks, I much prefer cute tags to plain yellow post it notes, and Sir Charles Oman is currently sporting a fine collection of sea bird tags and Me to You bear post it notes. I’ve got some llama ones that I really like as well. It’s best to be an adult about these things. I don’t make a lot of notes from books, I simply keep the books to hand and refer to them directly as I’m writing.

The End

There’s a magical feeling when the last word is typed, the last edit is done, and the book is finally out there for people to read. One of the great things about writing a series, or even two, is that people are waiting for the books, particularly the Peninsula ones. It can also feel a bit sad. For months, occasionally as long as a year, I’ve lived with these people in my heads every day and now they belong to somebody else. I’ve no control over what people will think of them. Some people will love them, a few won’t, and will say so very vocally in reviews. 

There’s a little ritual that I go through once the book is published, clearing my desk. I remove all the tags from the books and put them back on the shelves, I do a final backup of my computer files to make sure and I close my notebook and put it on the shelf with the previous ones. The desk looks empty and very tidy, usually for about twenty-four hours.

Then I get a new notebook out. I always have a stash, I can’t stop buying pretty notebooks. I write the title of the next book on the cover and I put it on my desk. I sit down at my computer and open a new Scrivener file.

And it all begins again.

I hope that “Organised Chaos” gives a little insight into how I work, and answers my reader’s question. I’d be interested to hear how other writers go about organising their work.

 

 

Wellington Socially Distancing

Wellington Socially Distancing, is in no way intended to make light of the current situation. Nevertheless, we all have our own ways of coping with stress and something I often do to lighten a difficult situation, is to ask myself What Would Wellington Do? Usually, by the time I’ve come up with a scenario, I am a) laughing and b) feeling better.

As many of you know, Lord Wellington is an important secondary character in the Peninsular War Saga, and over the years, I’ve developed my own personal view of him, which makes it easy to imagine how he might respond to different situations.

 

Wellington Socially Distancing

It is 1813 in Freineda, Portugal and Wellington has just been informed by his chief medical officer that due to an unusually dangerous and highly contagious outbreak of camp fever, he and his staff must keep away from the rest of the army. His military secretary, Fitzroy Somerset has arrived for his morning briefing.

Wellington: “Ah, Fitzroy. Come in. That is – are you able to come in?”

Fitzroy: “Yes, my Lord. Dr McGrigor tells me that your immediate staff may proceed as usual, although we may not get close to anybody else. This will change the way we mange the post.”

Wellington:“The post? The POST? Are you telling me I will be unable to send letters?”

Fitzroy: “Well, my Lord…”

Wellington: “Absolutely unacceptable, I cannot allow it. I need to be able to give my orders, I need to send reports to London, and I absolutely need to write a great many letters to both the Portuguese and Spanish governments. If I do not constantly remind them of my expectations, it is impossible to know what might go wrong.”

Fitzroy: “No, my Lord, you misunderstand me. The post will go as usual, but it will be delivered differently. Major Scovell has arranged for it to be left on a table at the front door, and when the messenger has gone, I will bring it through. No direct contact, you see.”

Wellington: “Ah. Excellent.”

Fitzroy: “Dr McGrigor says that you may continue with your daily ride, but that social hunting should be avoided for the present.”

Wellington: “Hunting?”

Fitzroy: “Hunting, my Lord.”

Wellington: “Why, in God’s name?”

Fitzroy: “Because of the need to keep at least six feet away from the other officers, sir.”

Wellington: “Ha! Well that isn’t going to affect my hunting, Fitzroy, none of them are ever going to get within six feet of me on the hunting field, they ride like a pack of milk maids! What else?”

Fitzroy: “Your immediate staff may continue to work directly with you and to dine with you, sir, as long as we do not mingle with the rest of the army. This means your orders will all need to be given in writing.”

Wellington: “Well that is always my preference, Fitzroy, I cannot rely on any of them to carry out my instructions reliably unless I write everything down.”

Fitzroy: “Just so, sir.”

Wellington: “When you say my immediate staff, do you mean my ADCs?”

Fitzroy: “Yes, sir. I have impressed it upon them that they must not break social distancing until give express permission. I am sure they understand.”

Wellington: “Even the Prince?”

Fitzroy: “I believe so, sir.”

Wellington: “Watch him anyway. If anybody is going to be climbing out the back window to go on a spree with the officers of the grenadiers, it will be the Prince of Orange, trust me.”

Fitzroy: “Very good, my Lord.”

Wellington: “Any visitors allowed?”

Fitzroy: “No, my Lord.”

Wellington: “Excellent. Well, I must say, this is not looking half so bad as McGrigor made out. Oh, Fitzroy, did you send my letter to Colonel van Daan?”

Fitzroy: “I did, my Lord. He has enforced very strict rules to stop the contagion spreading within his regiment and the rest of his brigade.”

Wellington: “What about his wife? Did you tell him of my suggestion that Mrs van Daan move to headquarters during this perilous period, to ensure that she is safely quarantined and remains safe and well.”

Fitzroy: “I did, my Lord.”

Wellington: “And his reply?”

Fitzroy: “Sadly, I appear to have mislaid the letter, my Lord, but I did read it, and the gist of his reply was ‘No’.” 

Wellington: “Hmm.”

Fitzroy: “There was also a note from Mrs van Daan, my Lord, enquiring after your health, and begging that your Lordship take extra care to wash your hands during this contagion.”

Wellington: “Washing my hands? Why?”

Fitzroy: “I have no idea, sir. It seems that during her work nursing the sick, she has observed that cleanliness improves recovery, and possibly prevents the medical staff from becoming infected. She does not say why.”

Wellington: “What a ridiculous idea. Still, the ladies do take these strange notions, and sometimes it is best just to humour them. I shall write directly assuring her that I will wash my hands frequently. Very well, Fitzroy, I think we can get on with the business of the day, I have wasted enough of my time on this matter. Where is the letter from General Castanos, it requires an immediate reply?”

Fitzroy: “Yes, sir. Oh, there is just one thing.  Charles Stewart has been unable to set off for England as planned, due to the travel restrictions, so he will be remaining at headquarters for a time.”

Wellington: “Stewart?”

Fitzroy: “Yes, sir.”

Wellington: “Not going home.”

Fitzroy: “No, sir. Not immediately. He will remain at headquarters.”

Wellington: “Is there nothing we can do about that, Fitzroy?”

Fitzroy: “Not really, my Lord. Unless, of course, he should display any signs of infection. Then he would need to be fully isolated.”

Wellington: “Well that is it then! I’ve noticed that he has been looking a little peaky, and I heard him cough three times when we were hunting yesterday. From six feet away, obviously. Inform Dr McGrigor that I believe it will be better if Stewart is kept in isolation until all travel restrictions are lifted.”

Fitzroy: “Where, my Lord?”

Wellington: “Somewhere else. The next village. Or the one after that. It will matter little to Stewart, as long as he is able to take his cook, a pack of cards and a case of champagne. Send him a case of the good port, will you, Fitzroy, with my compliments and good wishes for a speedy recovery.”

Fitzroy: “I will, sir.”

Wellington: “Well, this is excellent. I foresee a few weeks of uninterrupted work, no irritating visitors and no Charles Stewart to cause trouble among the staff. Now all I need is Murray back and a dry spring and we will be ready for the new campaign. New equipment, tents for the whole army and the men will quickly shake off this winter ague. I feel very optimistic, Fitzroy, and am determined to endure every inconvenience without complaint, in order to set a good example to the rest of the army. I shall be perfectly pleased to remain at home, work quietly, and follow the medical board’s instructions.”

Fitzroy: “Yes, my Lord. Although, about the new equipment…”

Wellington: “Well?”

Fitzroy: “Transport problems, my Lord. Merchant ships are not sailing as often, some of the crews have become unwell. London writes that there may well be considerable delay in the arrival of the new tents and guns, and…”

Wellington: “What? WHAT? Which fool is organising this? Do they not understand the importance of having my supplies delivered in a timely manner? We shall see about this! The letter to Castanos can wait, I shall write to Horse Guards, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary for War and the Commander in Chief! What are the commissariat doing about this? And the quartermasters? Where is De Lancey?”

Fitzroy: “He is in isolation with the rest of the QMG’s department, sir, over at…”

Wellington: “I shall ride over there directly I have finished these letters, he is so idle, he will do nothing without my personal supervision.”

Fitzroy: “But my Lord, the epidemic. The quarantine. What about social distancing?”

Wellington: “Hang social distancing, I shall socially distance De Lancey by kicking him into the Coa if he does not immediately take steps to secure my supplies. Bring me writing materials! And have my horse saddled immediately!”

 

Disclaimer: No actual history was harmed in the writing of this sketch…

Keep safe and well, everybody.

 

Social Distancing With Labradors

Generally speaking, my posts tend to be related to history, historical novels or dogs, but given that the world around us has changed so much, so quickly over the past weeks, I thought I’d welcome you all to Social Distancing with Labradors, as Oscar has very definite views on what is going on around here.

To bring you all up to date, the Isle of Man now has twenty cases of Covid-19 on the island, and at least one of them appears to have been passed from person to person on the island. We are not yet in total lockdown, as the UK is, but schools, pubs, restaurants and all public places are closed, all events have been cancelled and supermarket shelves are often bare. 

In the house, we have five adults working at home. Two of us are used to it. It’s a new experience for my 21 year old son, who is able to work remotely, while his girlfriend and my daughter are both home from university, struggling to finish work without the use of libraries or looking forward to online teaching. Nothing like this has ever happened to any of us before, and it’s weird.

It has also taken over our lives far too much every slight cough is a cause for temporary alarm. Three of us were in the UK fairly recently which makes us worry more. Most conversations centre around the crisis and we follow news updates with unhealthy enthusiasm. I’ve got a feeling that it’s time to put a stop to that. There’s not much we can do now, and although I know we need to pay attention to any changes in the new laws, it’s not useful to read the opinions of 85,000 armchair experts and then rehash them around the dinner table. Today, at dinner, we’re going to talk about something else.

And then there is Oscar. Walks are still happening, but we’re staying local and well away from other dog walkers and their pooches. We’re lucky enough to have very large gardens at front and back, so we can play fetch and chasing games. More importantly, there are five people here all the time, to play with him and sit with him and cuddle him. Oscar is doing all right.

“So what is going on, Mum?”

“It’s called a virus, Oscar. It can make people very ill, so we’re all staying at home for a while to avoid catching it.”

“Can dogs get it?”

“No.”

“Can you get it?”

“I could.”

“Don’t.”

“I’ll do my best, Oscar.”

“You know what, Mum? It’s not all bad.”

“You think?”

“For me, I mean. I know you all like to go out or go away. But I like it best when you’re all here, with me. The girls haven’t got to go back to that University place for ages, and I get to sit outside with Anya every morning and curl up on the sofa next to Rachael every afternoon. I’m helping her with her work.”

“I bet you are.”

“She says I am. How long will it be like this, Mum?”

“I don’t know, Oscar. We’ll have to wait and see. But you’re right. As a family, so far, we’re doing okay.”

“I love my family, Mum.

“We love you back, Oscar.”

“Even when I’m naughty?”

“Even then.”

“Even when I steal food?”

“Yep.”

“Even when I dig up the lawn?”

“Yep.”

“Even when I sit on your head?”

“Even then.”

“What about when I eat your books?”

“Just about. Don’t do it though.”

Oscar is right, though. There have been positive things about this crisis. My three young people are doing so well, without moaning or complaining. They’re cooking a lot, vying with each other to make great meals and yummy desserts #dietinglater. And we’re all finding that being thrown together for a long time without being able to go out with friends is a lot better than we thought it would be. It turns out that we all get on quite well.

We’re worried of course, not just about our own health, but about friends and family all over the world, and we’re looking forward to better times. In the meantime, I’ve a book and a short story to write, and another project that I’m considering, and Oscar is looking at me with those big “take me for a walk” eyes. so there’s no time to be bored or miserable here at Writing with Labradors.

I can’t help thinking of all the people who read my books and stories and follow the adventures of Oscar online. I really hope you’re all safe and keeping well out there, and like me, looking forward to a return to at least partial normality. I’m working on the new book as fast as I can, and I also have a couple of freebies in the pipeline to keep you entertained. And I’ll keep you up to date on Oscar, who literally just managed to get himself stuck down the side of the garden shed for no logical reason whatsoever.

Keep safe and keep well, everybody. Oscar sends virtual hugs from all of us here at Social Distancing with Labradors.

 

Salts Mill and Saltaire

Salt Mill

I’d never been to Salts Mill and Saltaire, the Victorian model village in Shipley, Bradford, until a recent visit with friends, and it turns out that I’ve been missing out. There is enough history there to satisfy a geek like me, with the added bonus of specialist shops, a gallery and two cafes to keep the rest of the party entertained.

 

Saltaire was built in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt, a leading industrialist in the Yorkshire woollen industry. Salt was a cloth manufacturer who took over his father’s textile business in 1833 and expanded it over a period of twenty years to be the largest employer in Bradford. He was an alderman and then mayor of Bradford, and was elected to Parliament in 1848. Salt’s business was spread between five different mills, and with business booming, he decided to build a new mill, consolidating his operations into one place.

 

 

Salt, a deeply religious man, and a known philanthropist, was concerned about the over-crowded conditions in Bradford so bought land in Shipley, just outside Bradford, beside the River Aire, the Midland Railway and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.  Building began in 1851 and Saltaire Mills opened in 1853. To accommodate his workers, Salt then commissioned housing close to the mill. A model village grew up, which included well-built houses, a hospital, bathhouses, almshouses and churches.  The Congregational church, now known as Saltaire United Reformed Church, was built at Salt’s own expense and he donated the land upon which the Wesleyan Chapel was built. With the moral improvement  and probably the work performance of his workforce in mind, he forbade public houses or beer shops from the village. The village had a public institute which included a library, a reading room, a concert hall, billiard room, science laboratory and a gym. There was also a village school, a park, allotments and a boathouse.

Salt wrote little about his motive for building Saltaire, but it was probably a combination of Christian charity and economic good sense. The village provided a well-housed, local workforce which was very good for business. At the same time, it is clear that Salt sincerely believed that he was doing God’s work in creating a clean, healthy environment for his people, which contrasted with the appalling conditions in the slums of Bradford.

Sir Titus Salt died in 1876, leaving the business to his son. Saltaire was then taken over by a partnership led by Sir James Roberts. Salts Mill finally closed as a textile mill in 1986. Today it has been renovated and houses an eclectic mix of commercial, leisure and residential spaces. The mill is enormous, a monument to Victorian industrialism, with the village neatly laid out beside the canal.

Inside the main mill building is the 1853 art gallery which is devoted to the works of Bradford born artist David Hockney. There are two good cafes, a book shop and a gallery shop which sells prints, cards and art supplies. I love gallery shops and have a tendency to spend more money than I should on beautiful notebooks and pretty cards. I keep a notebook for each new book I write, and they are never ever a plain A4 pad.

I was not tempted by The Home which sells designer furniture and other homeware at eye-watering prices. I’m genuinely fascinated trying to guess who would spend £2500 on what looks like a very ordinary plastic chair to me, but I’m happy to acknowledge my ignorance of modern interior design and save my pennies for books and gorgeous stationery.

My favourite part of Saltaire, though, was not the shops, the gallery or the cafes, although all are lovely. It wasn’t even the museum area, which shows a film telling the history of the village and some memorabilia associated with Sir Titus Salt and Saltaire, although I do recommend that, to get an overview of how this project came about. The real joy of Saltaire is in the narrow streets of the village itself, which give a real sense of a bygone era. I had a weird sense of familiarity walking through those streets, some of which probably came from my memories of similar workers cottages which still existed in London’s East End during my childhood, although I did discover afterwards that Saltaire is used as a location for filming Peaky Blinders, and I’m a big fan.

A surprising number of the original buildings survive, including the Institute which is now known as Victoria Hall, and the beautiful United Reformed Church. The houses are lived in and clearly much loved. Modern shops have moved in, and I was particularly entertained by a rather nice looking bar and restaurant, imaginatively called “Don’t Tell Titus” in reference to the founder’s refusal to allow alcohol to be sold anywhere in the village.

United Reformed Church

From the village streets, I walked down to the church and then across the bridge to the canal towpath. On a sunny February afternoon, the canal was beautiful, with the towpath clearly very popular with local families. There is an attractive park alongside, and beyond that, the River Aire. The park was originally known as Saltaire Park, and is now known as Roberts Park, and it was laid out for the recreational use of the inhabitants of Salt’s model village.

I’m not a huge fan of Victorian paternalism, and it’s easy to see the economic advantages to a man like Titus Salt in creating a model village for his workforce. Nevertheless, there is still something admirable about Salt’s genuine interest in the welfare of the people who lived in Saltaire and worked at the mill. Salt Mill and the village of Saltaire are a fascinating piece of nineteenth century Victorian history and a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Also, the cake in the tea shop was really, really good…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St Michael’s Isle to Derbyhaven #OscarWalks

St Michael’s Isle to Derbyhaven #OscarWalks

Good weather gave us the chance for a beautiful walk in the south of the island. Oscar was on the lead for most of the way, but was able to have a couple of off-lead runs which he loves. I have to tell you in advance that he was a VERY GOOD BOY today.

 

 

 

The old chapel on St Michael’s Isle

St Michael’s Isle, also known in the past as Fort Island, is about 400 metres long and is just off the Langness Peninsula, joined by a narrow causeway and it features in An Unwilling Alliance, when Hugh Kelly takes Roseen to visit. It’s a beautiful place, covered in springy grass and vegetation, surrounded on all sides by a rocky coastline. I’ve been there in a high wind and it’s a wild place, but today was sunny and calm, although freezing, and there were few people about.

“I’ve been here before, haven’t I, Mum?”

“A few times, Oscar. The last time we came, Anya was with us. And Joey.”

“Don’t cry, Mum. He’s all right, really he is.”

“I know that, Oscar. I just miss him.”

“So do I. Do you remember that day, when he ran off?”

Joey and Oscar at Derby Fort last year

“I really do. We were so concerned about you, we kept you on the long lead, but we let him off. He gave us one look and then started waddling at high speed right towards the rocks and Anya had to run after him.”

“He was after a swim, he loved swimming. Can I swim today?”

“Not here, it’s too rocky. Later you can go in at the beach.”

“What’s that, Mum?”

“That’s St Michael’s Chapel, Oscar. It was built in the twelfth century on the site of an older Celtic keeill.”

“A what?”

“A keeill. It’s a Manx Gaelic word for a chapel. Very old.”

“It looks it. What’s that other building over there. It’s broken too.”

“Ruined, Oscar.”

“Ruined. Broken. Whatever. What is it?”

“It’s called Derby Fort, it was built in the 17th century by James Stanley, the 7th Earl of Derby who was Lord of Mann during the English Civil War, to protect what was then the very busy port of Derbyhaven.”

“Doesn’t look that busy now.”

“Nowadays we have an airport, Oscar. Times change.”

“I suppose so. Can I look inside?”

“Through the gate, it’s not open. Over here.”

Interior of Derby Fort

“What’s that?”

“A cannon.”

“A what?”

“A big gun.”

“Oh right. Like the ones at the bottom of Summerhill Glen?”

“That’s right.”

 

“I like it here. Lots of grass and rocks and sea and smells and…what are those flying things that I like to chase?”

“Birds.”

“That’s right.”

“It’s a bird sanctuary.”

“It must be. I never catch them. But look, Mum – DOOOOOGS!!! Can I go and play?”

“Off you go then.”

“Whew, that was fun. They’re not youngsters, those two, but they could run. Although that one waddled a bit like old Joey. Where now?”

“Let’s get your lead back on. We’re going along the coast towards Derbyhaven.”

The walk along the Derbyhaven coast was just over three miles and we were able to do a lot of it on the beach although retreated up to the path or the road where it was too wet or too rocky. Oscar loves the beach, but needs watching as bizarrely, he likes to eat seaweed. This was new to me; neither Toby or Joey would have dreamed of eating anything so nasty and smelly. Recently, Oscar has been learning the valuable command “Leave” and we had the chance to practice this a lot today. It went very well.

“You’re being very good, Oscar.”

“Thanks. What’s that?”

“It’s the back of the airport. When we go away, we sometimes go on airplanes.”

“That’s why I hate airplanes. You should stay here. What’s that big building over there. It’s not broken.”

“Ruined. No, that’s King William’s College. It’s the only public school on the island. Which really means it’s a private school, because you have to pay to go there. I’ve never really understood that.”

“I don’t care. Did Jon go there?”

“No.”

“Did Anya?”

“No.”

“Not an interesting place then. What’s that?”

“It used to be a cafe and bar. I’ve never been in, but I think it’s closed down now.”

“Pity. We could have gone for tea. I like this walk.”

“So do I, it’s very pretty. Right, we’re going to turn back and go up to Hango Hill on the way back.”

“Can I go on the beach?”

“Yes, but don’t eat the seaweed.”

“Okay.”

“Oscar, leave!”

“Sorry.”

“Oscar, leave!”

“Sorry.”

“Oscar, leave it!”

“Sorry, Mum.”

“What is it with you and seaweed? Neither of your brothers ate seaweed.”

“I just like the smell. And the taste.”

“Try not to, Oscar, it’s really bad for your tummy.”

“I’ll do my best. I’ll go and paddle instead.”

“Good idea. A bit cold to swim.”

“Ooh. What’s that?”

“Hango Hill.”

“Eh?”

“It’s called Hango Hill.”

“It’s a very small hill.”

“More of a mound, really, but it’s very old.”

“It’s got another one of those broken buildings on top.”

“You mean ruins?”

“That’s them. You really like ruins, don’t you, Mum? Ruins and books. And dogs, of course.”

“Yes, that pretty much sums me up. Come and see, Oscar.”

Hango Hill is a small mound by the side of the coast road between Castletown and Derbyhaven, overlooking the beach. It was possibly an ancient burial site and a Bronze Age flat axe was apparently discovered there. The name derives from the Norse words for Gallows Hill and was used as a place of execution until the seventeenth or possibly early eighteenth century.

The most famous execution to take place on Hango Hill was that of William Christian, also known as Illiam Dhone, (Brown William) for his participation in the 1651 Manx rebellion against the Derby family who were Lords of Mann at the time.

Illiam Dhone, from the National Art Gallery at the Manx Museum

Christian was a Manx politician of his day and is seen variously as a patriot, a rebel or a traitor. He was appointed as Receiver-General by Derby and when the Earl left for England to fight for Charles II he left Christian in charge of the island militia. Derby was taken prisoner at the Battle of Worcester and his wife,  a redoubtable lady called Charlotte de la Tremouille, who held Castle Rushen for the King, tried to save her husband’s life by negotiating the surrender of the island to Parliament.

The ensuing rebellion, led by Christian in 1651, was partly due to national politics and partly due to local discontent at some of Derby’s new agrarian policies. The rebels took several local forts and Christian then began negotiations with the Parliamentarians. The Countess was forced to surrender Castle Rushen and Peel Castle, and failed to prevent the execution of her husband. Christian remained Receiver-General and became Governor of the Isle of Man in 1656.

Derby’s family did not forgive or forget. Fraud charges were brought against Christian, who fled to England and was imprisoned for a year in London. On his release he chose to return to Mann, believing that his rebellion against the Earl would be covered by the Act of Indemnity, but the new Earl immediately ordered his arrest. Christian refused to plead at his trial, was found guilty and executed by shooting on Hango Hill on 2 January 1663.

Oscar enjoying my lecture about Illiam Dhone

“So what was this place before it was ruined, Mum?”

“I’m not sure, Oscar, but I think it’s the remains of a kind of summerhouse used by the Earl of Derby. It was built after Illiam Dhone’s execution. They used it as a banqueting hall as well, and used to organise horse racing along these dunes towards Langness. I read somewhere that these were the very first “Derby” races. I suppose that’s when they stopped using it for executions.”

“Good thing too. Bet it’s spooky at night.”

“Shall we come down here one evening and see?”

“Not funny, Mum, you know what I’m like in the dark. What does that writing say?”

“It’s just a little bit about the history of the place and Illiam Dhone. Each year, on the anniversary of his death, they have a gathering here and make a speech in the Manx language.”

“I’m surprised you don’t come, it’s the sort of thing you’d do.”

“I might one year. It’s always so cold in January, though.”

“It’s blowing up a bit now.”

“It is. The light’s starting to fade as well, I forget how early it gets dark. Right, back to the car then, we’ll be warmer if we’re walking.”

“Mum. This was a long walk. How far?”

“Probably almost six miles with all the detours and the running around on the beach and the island, Oscar.”

“That’s a long way. I’m going to need a long sleep when I get back. And dinner. I’m starving.”

“Have a biscuit, then. You’ve been such a good boy today, Oscar, I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Mum. Won’t be going out next week much, I suppose?”

“No, you’ve got your operation on Friday. But it won’t take long to recover and the weather will be getting better soon. There’s the car. Hop in, baby boy.”

Oscar about to settle for his post-walk nap

Look out for more #OscarWalks posts to come and if you enjoyed this and want to hear more from Writing with Labradors, or find out about my books, why not follow me on Facebook,Twitter,  Instagram or  Medium?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heretic Wind by Judith Arnopp

The Heretic Wind by Judith Arnopp is released this week and I’m delighted to welcome Judith as a guest on Blogging with Labradors to give us some information about her latest book.

Judith’s novels concentrate on strong female characters from English history. Her trilogy of Margaret Beaufort, The Beaufort Chronicle, provided Margaret with a credible voice. She does much the same in this novel of Mary Tudor, Queen of England. Mary, due to the violent punishment she inflicted on heretics has come to be viewed as little short of a monster. In this novel, Mary isn’t white-washed; she is simply allowed to tell her own story. Judith says:

‘I always think it would be awful if, after my death, I was only remembered for the very worst thing I’ve ever done. Everyone is guilty of something, and people like Mary, and her father Henry VIII carried out horrible deeds. Unfortunately those actions have come to define them. Burning anyone to death seems terrible to us but it was the standard punishment for heresy in the 16thcentury. It would be wrong to look upon Mary as some half-mad monster, glibly sending Protestants to their death. There was much more to her than cruelty. She was kind, generous and terribly well-meaning. She adored her people but her reign wasn’t as benign as she intended. My study of Mary Tudor revealed a sad, isolated and desperate woman whose intention was to be a good and loving Queen. The fact things turned out rather differently were mostly due to exterior forces. In The Heretic Wind, the mortally sick and embittered Mary looks back on her life and explains to some extent, the reasons why things happened as they did.

Short blurb

Adored by her parents and pampered by the court, the infant Princess Mary’s life changes suddenly and drastically when her father’s eye is taken by the enigmatic Anne Boleyn.

Mary stands firm against her father’s determination to destroy both her mother’s reputation, and the Catholic church. It is a battle that will last throughout both her father’s and her brother’s reign, until, she is almost broken by persecution. When King Edward falls ill and dies Mary expects to be crowned queen.

But she has reckoned without John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, who before Mary can act, usurps her crown and places it on the head of her Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey.

Furious and determined not to be beaten, Mary musters a vast army at Framlingham Castle; a force so strong that support for Jane Grey crumbles in the face of it, and Mary is at last crowned Queen of England.

But her troubles are only just beginning. Rebellion and heresy take their toll both on Mary’s health, and on the English people. Suspecting she is fatally ill, and desperate to save her people from heresy, Mary steps up her campaign to compel her subjects to turn back to the Catholic faith.

All who resist will face punishment for heresy in the flames of the Smithfield fires.

Judith Arnopp is the author of twelve Historical Fiction novels:

The Heretic Wind; the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England

Sisters of Arden

The Beaufort Chronicles: the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort (three book series)

A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York

Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr

The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn

The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII

The Song of Heledd

The Forest Dwellers

Peaceweaver

To discover more, visit Judith’s website or author page

www.judithmarnopp.com

mybook.to/thw

author.to/juditharnoppbooks

 

 

 

Peel #OscarWalks

Peel #OscarWalks is the first of Oscar’s posts for 2020 and he’s very excited about it. Since the appearance of the dog trainer at the end of last year, we’ve been working very hard to get Oscar to behave better on the lead so that we can take him to more interesting places. Peel was a bit of an experiment, but on the whole it worked very well, apart from one minor incident involving Vikings which I’ll leave him to explain for himself.

Peel is a seaside town and small fishing port on the west of the Isle of Man and the third largest town on the island after Douglas and Ramsey. It is a charming little town, with the older part of Peel mostly built of reddish sandstone, the narrow streets of the old fishing and merchant community winding down to the quayside. In the early eighteenth century, Peel had a thriving trade with European ports such as Amsterdam, and by the end of the nineteenth century it was a busy fishing port.

We parked the car at Fenella Beach, at the foot of Peel Hill and the castle and ten minutes was spent walking Oscar up and down the car park to get him to calm down. It didn’t help that it was fairly breezy and the tide was in, with huge waves crashing onto the little beach.

 

“OMG, it’s so exciting. Mum, can I go on the beach and swim?”

“Not today, Oscar, it’s a bit wild. Look at those waves.”

“Those waves are bigger than me.”

“Exactly.” 

“Where are we going, then?”

“We’re going to explore Peel, Oscar. Stop jumping about and we can get going.”

Peel was the capital of the island before 1344 and is still the island’s main fishing port, while St German’s Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Sodor and Man. It it still a pretty seaside resort and has a Victorian promenade and sandy beach. From Fenella Beach, we walked towards Peel Castle which overlooks the town from St Patrick’s Isle. The castle was first built in the eleventh century and is now largely ruined, but definitely worth visiting. There are walkways up around the outside of the castle with a lot of steps, a challenge with an excitable young Labrador but well worth it for the views.

“Mum, stop pulling on the lead!”

“Oscar, it’s you that’s pulling on the lead, I cannot run this. Settle down.”

“Sorry. It’s great up here, I can see for miles. Are those white dots over there sheep?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t like sheep.”

“They’re miles away, Oscar. Come on, let’s go down and walk into town. And calm down a bit, they’ll be thinking the Moddy Dhoo is on the loose up here.”

“I’ve heard of him. Wasn’t he a demon dog?”

“Yes, he’s supposed to haunt Peel Castle. People used to call Toby the Moddy Dhoo”

“Someone called me that down Summerhill Glen one night.”

“I’m not surprised, you frightened the life out of them in the dark. This way.”

“What’s that water?”

“It’s the River Neb.”

“What are those things with big poles?”

“They’re boats, Oscar, there’s a marina here. And some fishing boats. When we first moved to the island, this area was tidal, but in 2005 they built a new floodgate to keep the river water in, so that the moored boats can float at low tide. This way.”

There’s a footbridge over the river, but Oscar and I walked the long way round by the road, skirting the bottom of Peel Hill. The hill was one of my favourite walks with Joey and Toby, but it’s very steep in places and when he was only a little older than Oscar is now, Toby injured himself by taking off after a rabbit and rolling a very long way down the hill, rather like the heroine of An Unwilling Alliance, only with more legs and a tail. I’m going to give it another few months before I take Oscar up there, but we did climb a little way up and sit on one of the benches to admire the view over the town. There’s a lovely woodcarving at the foot of the path, which Toby used to take exception to. Oscar was doubtful, but seemed to accept my word for it that Fenella, the seven foot tall carving, was harmless. After that, following the road round, we arrived on the far side of the river.

“What’s that smell?”

“Smell?”

“Smell? That amazing smell. It’s fantastic. It smells of food. Yummy, yummy food cooking. Where is it? Can I have some? I’m hungry. Muuuummmmm!!!”

Photo by Chris Gunns (Wikimedia)

“Calm down, Oscar, it’s just the kipper smokeries. There are a couple of them here, they smoke kippers the traditional way. You can do a tour of Moore’s to see how the smoking is done, but I doubt I could take a Labrador. I have been though, and it’s really interesting. I agree, the smell is amazing, but I can’t take you to buy kippers today. We’ll get some another day though, I think you’d love them.”

“I already love them and I’ve not eaten them yet. What’s that building?”

“That’s the Manx Transportation Museum, it’s in the old brickworks. I’ve never been inside, but I must do so this summer.”

“Can I come?”

“I’ll find out. This way. Heel, remember.”

“Sorry. It’s that smell. What’s that?”

“That’s the back of the House of Mannanan. It’s one of the best museums on the island, it’s partly a new building and partly built in the old Peel railway station. It covers the history of the island right up to the present and contains Odin’s Raven, which is a two-thirds scale replica of a Viking longship which was built in Norway, and sailed to the island to arrive on 4 July 1979 to celebrate the millennium of Tynwald, the legislature of the Isle of Man. Fascinating.”

“Not sure I’d like museums, but I do like this place, it’s by the sea and it’s got great smells, and it’s…Oh My God, what’s that??????”

“Oscar, calm down, it’s all right, it’s not real.”

“Whaddd’you mean it’s not real? Of course it’s real, I’m looking right at it, it’s right here on the pavement. They’re terrifying! They’re huge! They’re worse than sheep! How did they get here? Why are they walking through walls? Why is nobody doing anything about them? Well I’m not having this, it’s not safe! I’m going to tell them what for! Woof! Woof woof woof! Woof, woof, woof woof, woof!”

“Oscar, calm down, they’re just statues. It’s a sculpture. They’re Vikings.”

“Woof woof woof! Woof, woof, woof woof, woof!”

“Oscar, sit!”

“Woof, woof, woof woof, woof! Woof, woof….OMG what this now? What’s happening to my paws? I’m being attacked from all sides, it’s sharp! Woof, woof, woof woof, woof!”

“Oscar, heel! Over here, now. Come and sit on this bench, have a drink of water and calm down.”

“Woof!”

“That’s enough. Look at you, you’re shaking. Here, have a drink, there’s a water bowl here. That’s better. Are you all right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Those aren’t real Vikings, they’re statues. The boat itself is inside the museum, and they’ve carried on the Viking theme out here, which is why it looks like they’re coming through the walls. I know they made you jump but they’re no more real than the two statues of the dogs outside that house at the top of our road.”

“I barked at them too.”

“I know, but you don’t any more, because you know they’re not real.”

“My paws hurt.”

“It’s just a gravel pathway around the display, I think the stones were a bit sharp and you were jumping on them. There, are you calm now?”

“Yes. Sorry.”

“It’s all right. Had enough Vikings?”

“More than enough.”

“Lets walk along the prom. If the sea is calm enough, you can have a paddle.”

Peel Beach was one of my favourites when the children were young. It’s very sandy, with a good kiosk serving food, drinks and ice creams, and it’s just over the road to Davison’s Ice Cream Parlour. Oddly enough, though, it’s not brilliant for building sandcastles, the consistency of the sand isn’t quite right. Still, Oscar doesn’t mind that, and a good splash in the sea soothed his paws and restored his equilibrium.

By Petepetepete (Wikimedia Commons)

From there, we walked up through the narrow streets of the town towards St German’s Cathedral. This is no bigger than a large church, but it’s very pretty and has a very welcoming feel to it. Churches vary when it comes to allowing dogs, but I wasn’t going to chance it anyway with Oscar, in case he saw a religious statue that he took a dislike to, it seemed to be a bit of a theme today. Instead, we walked all around the outside, admiring the work that’s been done on the new gardens. A series of seventeen small gardens are being developed within the grounds; twelve will tell the story of the island and how Christianity has affected it and five will have special themes. I’ve been enjoying watching this develop and Oscar seemed to enjoy the peace and quiet after his encounter with Vikings.

“Are you getting tired, Oscar?”

“A bit. It’s been a great day, though.”

“Come on, let’s walk back to the car along the prom.”

“What’s that building, Mum?”

“That’s the Leece Museum. It used to be the old courthouse and gaol and it has exhibitions about the history of Peel, it’s very interesting. One day, I’m going to do a post or two about the island museums, but I’ll have to do that without you, I don’t think they’d cope with you in a museum, and frankly the idea terrifies me.”

“I don’t mind. They’re probably all full of Vikings. And Fenellas. And possibly sheep.”

“Here we are, back at the car. Hop in.”

“Might have a sleep on the way back, Mum.”

“Go ahead, Oscar. You’ve been a very good boy. I’ve got work to do when I get back, so you can have a snooze on the sofa.”

“Where are we going next week?”

“I don’t know. Castletown, perhaps. We could get pizza for lunch.”

“Castletown it is then!”

Look out for more #OscarWalks posts to come and if you enjoyed this and want to hear more from Writing with Labradors, why not follow me on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram or  Medium?

Christmas 2019 #OscarWalks

Christmas 2019 #OscarWalks is a special edition to give Oscar the opportunity to with you all a Merry Christmas from everybody at Writing with Labradors. This is a special festive edition of #Oscar Walks. A combination of the weather and the Christmas season has meant that walks have been short and sweet for a few days, but that doesn’t mean Oscar hasn’t been having an adventurous life and I know he has a few things to say.

 

 

It’s been a very different Christmas for me in one way; the first one in thirteen years where I’ve not had Joey walking behind me. Toby was never very interested in Christmas until the turkey appeared, but Joey was a big fan. He loved having loads of people around to make a fuss of him and was always prepared to let us dress him up for the occasion. I missed him very much this year.

Luckily, Oscar seems to share Joey’s enthusiasm for the season and has been full of the Christmas spirit over the past week, so I’ll hand over to him to tell you what’s been going on.

What’s been going on? What’s been going on? I’ll tell you what’s been going on. Persecution, that’s what! Persecution, false accusations and fake news!

You sound like a combination of Sir Home Popham and Donald Trump, Oscar. What’s upset you?

You know very well what’s upset me, Mum. That man. That person. That individual who came into the house on Monday.

You mean the dog trainer, Oscar.

Yes.

I’m sorry you’re offended, but I did explain that I need a bit of help with teaching you to walk nicely on the lead. And to come back when I call you.

I am very good on the lead. I always respond when you say heel.

You do. It’s just that I have to say it four thousand times in a ten minute walk, it’s exhausting.

Exaggeration. And defamation of character. I could sue.

Anyway, you liked the dog trainer. He gave you loads of treats and played with you and you’re already getting better.

You told me I was already perfect.

You are, Oscar. I just need you to be a little more obedient. And to come when I call you.

I already do that.

Except when you see another dog.

Well, obviously, I have to be civil to them.

Or when you’ve found an interesting smell.

That can be very distracting. It might be food.

Or when you see anything new or interesting.

Except sheep. I always come back if there’s a sheep.

That’s true, you’re the opposite of most dogs. Still, a bit of extra training will benefit both of us.

Bah.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about Christmas. Your second Christmas, Oscar. How’s it been so far?

Fantastic. Excellent. Wonderful. Know what I like about Christmas? 

No.

Everybody’s here. None of this going off to work, or school, or University nonsense. Everyone’s here, mostly in the same room, we all get to eat really good food at weird hours of the day and night, watch TV, play some silly games and snuggle up by the fire.

Yes, that pretty much sums up Christmas.

And visitors. Loads of people in and out of the house all the time. They bring cards and presents and most of them give me cuddles and feed me treats. And some bring dogs. I met Roy. I liked Roy. He reminded me a bit of Toby only much smaller and different colours and different fur.

So not that much like Toby at all?

Well he was grumpy with me and growled at me a few times but didn’t really seem to mind when I teased him. Toby was like that to start with but then he got used to me and would let me play with him. Of course Joey let me climb all over him from day one.

He was soft with you. Like the rest of us.

That’s what the dog trainer said. And I got presents. Loads of treats and two new toys. Three, if you count the reindeer you gave me on Christmas Eve. No FOUR if you count the duck that Rachael brought home for me. I LOVE my new toys. And there are lots of pretty lights around, and indoor trees with things hanging off them that I’m not allowed to touch. But they look nice. And the fire’s always lit, which is my favourite.

I’m glad you approve of Christmas. 

Mind you, it’s a bit tiring. What’s happening next, Mum?

Well, next week is New Year and Jon and Anya are having a party, so there’ll be lots of your favourite people here that evening. And after that it’s back to work and Anya and Rachael will go back to University.

Boo. Don’t like that.

I know, Oscar, but they’ll be back. And I’ve got lots of exciting walks planned so you can practice what you’ve been learning from the dog trainer before we see him again.

Can I show him my new toys?

You’ve showed them to everyone else, Oscar, so I expect so. Right, say Happy Christmas to your fans, and we’ll brave the rain for a quick walk now.

Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year, everybody! Is that right, Mum?

Close enough, Oscar. Merry Christmas, baby boy.

Merry Christmas, Mum.

Christmas photo of Oscar on his hind legs getting cuddles, in direct contravention to Dog Trainer’s instructions #ahwellitsChristmas #willdobetter

 

Next week it’s back to work on book 6 of the Peninsular War Saga with Oscar’s expert help and advice from his sofa in my study. For more history, humour, fiction and Labradors why not follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.

 

 

 

 

Colby Fair: a Manx Christmas story

Groudle Beach

This year’s Christmas story is part of the Historical Fiction Writers’ December Blog Hop and I’ve chosen to return to the Isle of Man, my adopted homeland. Colby Fair: a Manx Christmas story takes place in the winter of 1809-10. For regular readers of both the Peninsular War Saga and the Manxman series, Hugh Kelly and Alfred Durrell have just arrived back in England after the Walcheren campaign and Paul van Daan is in Portugal, rebuilding his battalion after the bloody Talavera campaign.

When we moved to the island in 2002, I fell in love with Manx culture and loved learning about some of the traditional customs and I’m glad to be able to share them with you. As with all my short stories, it’s free, so please share as much as you like.

Colby Fair: a Manx Christmas story

It was frosty on the morning of Colby Fair, an icy wind blowing in from the Irish sea. Lieutenant Thomas Young of  His Majesty’s Revenue Service was without a ship or any useful occupation and agreed to accompany the officers from the Castletown garrison to the fair on a whim. He quickly regretted it, shivering on his hired horse, wrapped in his worn blue cloak which had seen better days.

Thomas knew the officers had invited him out of kindness and was trying to be grateful. He was billeted with two of them in a cosy inn on the edge of Castletown, while the revenue cutter he commanded underwent essential repairs and Thomas recovered from a shot through the arm received in a deserted bay near Santon when he had been chasing down a fast brig bringing in contraband. His ship, the Bluebird, had hit a rock and his crew had manhandled him ashore and protected him, letting the smugglers get on with their business. Thomas remembered little of the night. His wound was trivial compared to previous hurts and as he recovered he had appreciated the hospitality of the commander of the garrison, Lieutenant-Colonel Steuart, who found him accommodation and included him in the officers’ mess of the four companies of the Royal Manx Fencibles remaining on the island.

“You won’t get much done on your ship until after Twelfth Night, Lieutenant. On Mann we take our celebrations seriously, only essential work will be done.”

“Does that include the smugglers, sir?” 

Steuart gave a wry smile. “I wouldn’t know. There isn’t much you can do about it either way, so why not take some time to recover and enjoy our hospitality? We’ve seen very little of you since you were stationed here.”

Thomas agreed, since he had little choice. He had arrived off the coast of the Isle of Mann three months earlier and found it an odd posting. Fresh from the Sussex coast, where the lives of every riding officer and revenue man were constantly at risk, he had been told that the island was a hotbed of smuggling and had come prepared for battle. In three months he had seen his fair share of action and had known some successes, but there had been remarkably little violence. The shot fired on that November evening had seemed random, and there was no attempt to follow it up.

“A warning shot, most like, sir,” his pilot had said reassuringly, as he helped lift Thomas into the borrowed gig to take him to the surgeon. “Unlucky, like.”

Thomas, used to attempted murder on the south coast, had been slightly bewildered. His reception in Castletown confused him still more. The officers of the garrison, about half of whom were Manx, were very friendly and spent a lot of time trying to get him drunk. The inhabitants of the town were distant but civil. No small boys cried insults at him or threw stones from behind walls. For the most part, the people of Mann seemed to see an injured revenue officer as none of their business. It was curious but very peaceful.

Colby Village was some three miles from Castletown and the annual fair was held in a field close to the whitewashed church with its square tower. Already, despite the early hour, stalls and booths were set up and the ground was alive with people. Thomas followed his companions along the village street to a solidly built inn.

“They’ll stable our horses here, and we can order dinner, the food’s good,” Captain Tobin said. He was Manx and spoke with the authority of a local.

“Why are we here so early?” Thomas asked. “They’ve barely set up.”

“To see the procession,” Lieutenant Taylor said. “I came last year, it’s the quaintest thing. I swear half these people are savages, you wouldn’t believe their customs.”

“Thank you, Mr Taylor.”

Taylor flushed. “I didn’t mean you, sir. Or, you know, the better sort. But honestly, it’s a funny place, Young. Not like England.”

“Not so much like Scotland either, although we’ve some odd customs of our own,” Captain Maclay said with a grin. “Come on, the procession will come this way.”

Standing at the edge of the field, Thomas watched them come, around thirty men, the youth of Colby and its environs. The women and children of the village lined the main street, and visitors from around the island stood with them, cheering as the parade approached, two by two, bearing something on a raised bier made of entwined sticks between them. They were singing.

“What in God’s name is that?”

“A dead hen,” Tobin said. “The song is about Catherine’s hen being dead. They’ll parade it around the field, take it to the inn to be cooked and they’ll all get drunk. Tomorrow they’ll bury its head and feet in the fair field.”

“Why?” Thomas asked. He wondered if it was a stupid question.

“God knows. There are various stories, probably dating back centuries. Something about burying their disputes for the new year. Utter rubbish, of course, it’s an excuse to get drunk. But it’s traditional. St Catherine’s Day.”

“I thought this was St Nicholas’ Day.”

“It’s the same day. Welcome to the Isle of Mann, Lieutenant Young.”

As the parade dispersed, the crowd drifted onto the field. Thomas had seen many country fairs as a boy, growing up in the green prosperity of his parents’ Hampshire estate, and this was no different, although it was smaller than he was used to. The main purpose of the fair was to buy and sell livestock and farm and dairy produce, and on the eastern edge of the field, farmers paraded their stock and bartering was already underway.

There were stalls selling hams and cheeses and all kinds of preserves, and thrifty Manx housewives studied the wares, questioned the prices in scornful tones and ignored their children who chased each other between stalls and booths, shrieking loudly. It seemed as though every tradesman in Mann had set up shop in St Catherine’s field. There were stalls selling saddles and clothing and lengths of good, locally woven cloth. One stall displayed lace goods and Thomas paused, studying a pretty lace collar and cuffs.

“For your sweetheart, Young?”

“For my mother. I’ve sent her nothing for the season and I should.” Thomas took out his purse then tucked the small parcel into his pocket. They passed stalls selling gingerbread and sweets, a rope maker and a knife grinder and a carpenter mending broken chairs. In one corner were several herbalists and travelling doctors, shouting out miracle cures for warts, fevers and nervous disorders.

Finally there were the side shows; casting dice for prizes, climbing a slippery pole to ring a bell and a fortune teller draped in gaudy scarves reading palms for pennies. Tobin, Maclay and Taylor crowded around the striped tent, laughing, and the woman, who was young and attractive, predicted glory in battle, promotion to general and marriage to wealthy and beautiful wives.

“If only,” Maclay said, still laughing as they crossed the field to an area where several tents had been set up selling food and drink. “By the time I can afford to marry, I’ll be too old to care.”

Tobin, who was already married with a young son and another on the way, looked over at Thomas. “No wish to hear your fortune, Young?”

“Not really,” Thomas said, trying to sound lighthearted. “I wonder what she said to Mr Taylor, he went very red. Was that a prediction or a promise?”

They laughed, surprised, Thomas thought, at a joke from a man considered very serious. Thomas knew that he was so, although he had not always been, but the kindness of the colonel and the cheerful friendliness of these young men, none of whom had ever seen a battle, made him determined to make an effort to seem grateful.

An ox and a pig were roasting on spits, the smell making Thomas hungry although he had broken his fast early with fresh bread and Manx honey. The meat was not ready but they bought pies and pasties at a booth, warming their hands on crumbling pastry and hot spiced meat, while joining the crowd surrounding a group of mummers. All were men, dressed in a variety of white draperies, with their faces painted. The play was bewildering, and it must have showed on Thomas’ face, because Tobin laughed and clapped him on the shoulder.

“The plot is very simple. St Denis fights St George and kills him, and he is then killed by St Patrick. That crazy looking fella in the hat is the doctor who brings them all back to life. In a moment he is going to ask for his fee for this miracle, and the audience will drop their contributions in the hat, and then there will be a sword dance, during which it’s surprising they all aren’t killed over again. It’s a traditional mummers play, they’re called the White Boys. This is more of a rehearsal for them, the real day for mumming is the Saturday before Christmas day, there are several troupes of them and they’ll perform all around Douglas, Peel and Castletown. The Governor always invites them into Castle Rushen for a show and provides them with food and ale afterwards.”

Thomas was grateful for the explanation, although he was not sure how much it helped, but the sword fight was genuinely funny. The mummers wielded their wooden weapons in a choreographed dance for approximately a minute and then quickly degenerated into a fierce mock battle. The young men leaped around each other, hacking at their friends and there was the occasional yell when a wooden blade bruised an arm or cracked a knuckle while the fiddler accompanying the dance played faster and faster. A crack on the head of one of the combatants brought the battle to an abrupt halt and the mummers led their battered member away to the comfort of the ale tent followed by the cheers and whoops of the crowd.

“I need a drink after that,” Tobin said. “My hands are freezing, standing around. Come on, I see old Crellin has set up his tent by the churchyard again.”

“Crellin?” Thomas enquired.

“Josiah Crellin, MHK. Owns the Top House over at Malew, we passed it on the way.”

“MHK?”

“Member of the House of Keys. Tynwald, our Parliament.”

“Oh. Oh, yes.” Thomas felt rather foolish. He had temporarily forgotten that this was anything other than a winter fair in a typical English country district, but he knew better than to say so. “Why does Mr Crellin have a tent?”

“Hospitality. He does it every year, his servants provide spiced wine and fruit punch for the gentry who attend the fair. You were here last year, weren’t you Taylor?”

“Yes, sir. Very pleasant afternoon.”

The tent was large and surprisingly warm, with several small braziers providing both heat and a means of warming the big vats of wine and hot punch. Wooden trestles were set up and a dozen servants distributed drinks, while their master stood with his family to greet his guests. Crellin  gave the impression of being an intelligent active man in his sixties, accompanied by his son and daughter-in-law, who was heavily pregnant. Colonel Smelt, the lieutenant-governor and Lieutenant-Colonel Steuart had joined his party and Thomas was amused to see a manservant stationed at both entrances to the tent to ensure that only the better class of people were admitted. 

“Lieutenant Young, I’m glad you could join us,” Steuart said. “Have you met our kind host? Mr Crellin, this is Lieutenant Young of the Revenue cutter Bluebird. You’ll have heard of the incident, I’m sure.”

Crellin offered his hand. Thomas took it, aware that he was holding his breath. He saw the older man’s brown eyes widen in shock and then look away. Thomas tried not to flinch. In the five years since Trafalgar, he had tried to get used to that first shocked reaction when strangers saw the ruin of his face, but it still hurt. 

Crellin recovered quickly and shook his hand warmly. “Welcome, Lieutenant Young. A cold day, aye, and you’ll be in need of a drink. Spiced wine or hot fruit punch, sir?”

Equipped with wine, Thomas made awkward conversation for a while then moved to join the other officers. Tobin was talking to some friends, while Taylor and Maclay surveyed the room. 

“I didn’t expect so many people,” Thomas said.

“Aye, it’s always the way over here, there’s not much to do. The same people, at the same receptions and dinners. It gets tedious, and since society is so narrow, everybody knows all the gossip. The advantage, though, is that we’re very popular with the young ladies. They like a man in a red coat, and a new face as well.”

Taylor broke off, blushing scarlet as he realised what he had said. Thomas felt sorry for him and at the same time exasperated at having to rescue him. “Well my coat’s the wrong colour and my face is likely to scare them off,” he said, as lightly as he could.

“Sorry, old man. So sorry.”

“It’s all right, I’m used to it. Tell me about some of the people.”

Thomas listened for a while, smiling at some of the more scurrilous stories and trying to ignore covert looks and some open stares. The scar had faded from a scarlet horror to white, but it could not be ignored. The splinter of wood, blown apart by French cannon, had driven into his jaw and travelled upwards to his temple, breaking his cheekbone on the way. It had remained lodged there as he lay in agony waiting for his turn on the surgeon’s bloody table, and when it was gone, his face was bisected, cobbled together with rough stitches. Infection came and went, but the wound touched neither his eye or his mouth. From the right side, Thomas was the same as he had always been, a face of distinction and even some beauty, crowned with bright chestnut hair and well-shaped green eyes with lashes a woman might have envied. From the left, he was a monster and when possible he avoided society so that he did not have to see its reaction.

“That’s old Quayle. Two sons, one’s gone into the law, the other’s learning the business. The daughter went off to London to seek her fortune and did very nicely for herself, some East India merchant, I fancy. She was back here last Christmas showing off the London gowns and diamonds. I danced with her a couple of times. Very pretty.”

Tobin had joined them. “Did you know Crellin has a daughter?”

“No. Where, I’ve never seen her?” Taylor said.

Tobin grinned. “Now that really was a scandal,” he said. “She was a wild one, Roseen Crellin. Set tongues wagging all over the island and then ran away to sea and married a Manx navy captain. He wasn’t from the gentry, but they’ll forgive him because he’s made a fortune in prize money.”

“Who’s that?” Taylor asked, looking across the tent.

Thomas had noticed the girl earlier. She stood beside an older couple, probably her grandparents, and she had been staring very openly at Thomas, making no attempt to hide the fact. Thomas had been trying to ignore it, but now he looked back, hoping she would be embarrassed and look away. To his surprise, she gave him a warm smile instead.

She was probably around twenty, very tall and well-proportioned with shining brown hair curled around a vivid face with well-defined cheekbones and beautiful green eyes. She was dressed very stylishly in a dark green velvet gown, topped with a black cape trimmed with white fur.  Thomas looked at Tobin enquiringly.

“Aalin Kennaugh,” the captain said obligingly. “Those are her grandparents, they raised her after her parents died. Very wealthy, he was an  East India merchant, retired now. They’ve property in Liverpool and Bristol and a fortune in stocks, I’m told. There was a proposed match with some wealthy plantation owner, Mrs Kennaugh spent some time in London trying to bring it off, but the lady is having none of it. She’s turned down a few local gentlemen in the past few years. She’ll inherit a fortune when the old man dies, so she can afford to be choosy. She’s also the worst flirt on the island.” Tobin smiled at Thomas. “Our young ladies aren’t raised quite as strictly as you’ll be used to, Lieutenant. There are rules, of course, but on a small island, the chances are that the lass you’re dancing with was a childhood playmate so it’s hard to be formal.”

“It seems the young lady agrees,” Taylor said, smirking. Miss Kennaugh was making her way around the tent towards them. Tobin bowed slightly and accepted the hand she held out to him.

“Miss Kennaugh, how are you?”

“Very well, Captain Tobin. How are you? Is your brother well?”

“Yes, I had a letter from him a few days ago, he is with the Mediterranean fleet.”

“I hope he is warmer than I am, then. Why do we do this every year, I wonder, when we have houses with walls, ceilings and fires? Next year, I shall refuse. I have seen St Catherine’s hen massacred all my life, it is enough. Does it not seem barbaric to you, Lieutenant Young?”

Thomas was startled. She was regarding him steadily from eyes which were close in colour to his own. There was no sign of discomfort as her gaze rested on his marred face, but he supposed her open stares had given her plenty of opportunity to get used to it.

“I see no introductions are necessary,” Tobin said dryly. “Nevertheless, I shall make them. Miss Kennaugh, this is Captain Maclay and Lieutenant Taylor from the Royal Manx Fencibles, and Lieutenant Young from the Revenue service. Gentlemen, Miss Kennaugh.”

Thomas bowed. Taylor said enthusiastically:

“Capital to meet you, Miss Kennaugh. I’ve been here a while but I’ve not had the pleasure.”

“No, I’ve been away,” the girl said. “My grandmother took me to London to see the sights. At least that was her stated intention, but truthfully, it was to try to persuade me to accept a marriage I did not want. I have no idea why she thought the location would make a difference, but I think she knows my mind now. I heard about your cutter being wrecked, Lieutenant. Were you not shot, as well?”

Her tone was faintly mocking. Thomas looked back without smiling. One of the advantages of having no expectation of attracting a pretty girl was that he felt no need to impress. “Yes,” he said evenly. “A minor wound only, I think it was probably a warning shot gone astray. I have had far worse, as you have observed.”

Thomas sensed the shock of his companions and he supposed he had been rude, but then so had she, and he had no reason to care. The girl did not seem to react at all, but he saw a slight flush mount to her pale cheeks. Nobody spoke for an agonising moment and Thomas wondered if he should apologise for the sake of his companions. He saw her lift her chin and stand a little more upright. 

“I’m surprised they hit you, Lieutenant, it’s clear you’re not afraid to return fire. My grandfather has expressed a wish to meet you. Should you object?”

Thomas felt his face redden. “I…no. No, of course not.”

She nodded and bowed to the other three men, all of whom seemed stunned into silence. Thomas stepped forward and she did not move but looked at him pointedly. Thomas flushed again and offered his arm. The girl accepted as regally as a duchess.

Halfway around the tent, she said:

“At least you can blush.”

“Only on one half of my face.”

Aalin Kennaugh raised furious eyes to meet his. “Generally, Englishmen have better manners than the Manx. You are an exception, sir.”

“I’m sorry. I thought, by the way you were staring at me earlier, and your reference to my recent misfortunes, that we had decided to dispense with the pleasantries.”

They had reached the elderly couple. Thomas had not been sure that the request for an introduction was genuine, but as he bowed, the old man’s face lit up into a particularly sweet smile.

“It is Lieutenant Young, is it not?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Lieutenant, allow me to introduce you to my wife. My dear, this is the young man that Colonel Smelt spoke of at dinner last week.”

Mrs Kennaugh was pink cheeked and round faced and made Thomas ache suddenly for his home and his family. He bowed over her hand and wished he could take back everything he had said to her granddaughter. “Lieutenant Young, I am delighted,” she said. “The lieutenant-governor was telling us of your misfortunes. And – forgive me for referring to it – your previous fine service. You may not know that we lost both our son and our grandson at Trafalgar. He was captain of the Tulip and his son served as midshipman.”

Shock froze Thomas for a moment. He knew that he needed to say something, but all he could think about was his appalling rudeness to a girl who had lost so much. He turned and looked at her. “Oh,” he said. “Oh, no, that’s awful. I’m so sorry, ma’am. Sir. And Miss Kennaugh, you must think me the world’s worst boor. I’m over-sensitive, sometimes, but there was no excuse…”

“No, you were right,” the girl said unexpectedly. “I was staring. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it. I have no idea exactly how my father and brother died, it was pure vulgar curiosity.”

Thomas felt rather as though he had been punched in the stomach. “I’m sorry,” he said again, helplessly.

Mrs Kennaugh came to his rescue. “A misunderstanding, I’m sure. You could not have known and Aalin has a very unruly tongue and speaks her mind. Forgive me, sir, you may have made other arrangements, but we were wondering if you would care to spend Christmas with us at our house just outside Douglas. I know the officers will take care of  you, but you will be so much more comfortable in a home and we would like to offer hospitality to a navy man.”

Something about the warmth of her tone drew a smile from Thomas. He did not smile very often, it twisted the scar on the side of his face into a bizarre crescent. “I’m not really a navy man any more, ma’am. With such a long convalescence I was put on half-pay, and have remained there ever since. It was the revenue service or the impress service and I didn’t like the idea of that.”

“I imagine not. My son used to tell me that impressment was essential to keep the navy functioning and ready to defend our shores, but it’s very hard on families whose sons and husbands and fathers are snatched away. I do not blame you for preferring to chase smugglers, Lieutenant. Do join us.”

Thomas was smiling, he could not stop himself. “I am so grateful for your kindness, but you cannot wish for a stranger in the house, especially one making himself unpopular on the island by interfering in the smuggling trade.”

“That is exactly what we wish for, Lieutenant,” Kennaugh said breezily. “You’ve no duties at present, I’m told the Bluebird won’t be fit to sail until January. Pack up your things and I’ll send the carriage for you tomorrow. It’ll be good for Aalin to have a young person around the house for a while.”

Thomas glanced nervously at the girl. She was looking at him with clinical interest. “How old are you, Lieutenant?” she enquired.

“None of your business, Miss,” her grandfather growled affectionately. Thomas was beginning to realise that Miss Kennaugh’s elderly relatives indulged her beyond permission but he understood why. Having lost so much must have drawn the three closer.

“I will attempt to make up for my horrible rudeness by answering frankly, Miss Kennaugh. I’m twenty five.”

Unexpectedly the pert line of Aalin Kennaugh’s mouth softened into a genuine smile. “Oh no, I thought you must be older,” she said. “You’ve done so much. I’m twenty. I was fifteen that year. It was horrible, and must have been so for you too. Please accept. I cannot promise to behave all the time, because I don’t know how, but I will promise not to be beastly to you again. You don’t deserve it.”

Thomas melted. “Then I’ll accept with pleasure,” he said gravely. “Thank you.”

***

Aalin Kennaugh spent the twenty-four hours before the arrival of Lieutenant Thomas Young in a flutter of nervous anticipation which infuriated her. A young woman of decided opinions and independent spirit, she had reached the age of twenty without ever feeling the slightest interest in the various young men that her grandparents threw in her way. Most of them were boys she had grown up with, and Aalin already knew that she wanted more than a steady Manx businessman or landowner as her partner in life. She was young for marriage, but along with her grandmother, whom she adored, Aalin accepted her limitations and realised that it would not hurt to plan ahead.

It was not that she was unattractive. Aalin approved the natural curl of her dark brown hair and the wide, well spaced green eyes. Her skin, which had struggled with hideous spots for several years had miraculously cleared about a week after her nineteenth birthday, with no explanation, and she had excellent posture and was a graceful dancer. In terms of accomplishments, she was very well-read, could sing better than any of her contemporaries and was a talented artist. She had a good seat on a horse and light hands and knew how to sew although she seldom bothered, since she could think of nothing more boring. She had all the essential attributes that a gentleman might require in a wife. It was simply that she was so tall and built on far more generous lines than any of the other girls.

When she was younger, Aalin had shed tears over it. Her older cousin, a waif-like creature now married to a Douglas advocate, was three years older than her, and her aunt had sent bundles of clothing over to Aalin regularly through childhood. Aalin had opened the parcels and tried to struggle into the tiny garments until she wept, and eventually her grandmother had put a stop to the process, telling her aunt firmly to stop sending them. Aalin was a head taller than Emma, with curved hips and an impressive bosom, even at the age of fourteen. Dressmakers, arriving to measure for the garments necessary for Aalin’s introduction into society would pause, and study her, and then sigh.

“The young lady is so tall. And so…so womanly.”

Aalin had heard the word ‘fat’ behind the remarks and had cried herself to sleep. The floating muslins of girlhood had made her feel enormous, the white and pale blue and pinks of the debutante had never suited her and none of her grandmother’s soothing words had helped.

London had changed that. One evening spent in the company of Mr David Claybourne had convinced her that she would never wish to marry him, but the city itself had intrigued her. On the one hand, she had hated the crowds and the noise and the sense of never being able to find a moment of solitude. On the other hand, she realised that among so many people, she could become invisible and the experience had been amazingly liberating.

Accompanied by the companion hired by her grandmother, she had explored the city, wandered through the parks and visited libraries and art galleries and museums. She had sat for a portrait, and been gratified at the artist’s blatant admiration. She had been attended by dressmakers, far more experienced and sophisticated than her island could produce and had begun to realise that there was far more to beauty and fashion than a slender figure and an air of innocence. And she had realised, with passionate gratitude, that the proposed marriage had simply been her shrewd and kindly grandmother’s excuse to show her a different world.

Returning home after months away was confusing. Aalin loved being back among her own people and relished silent walks over the hills with her dogs and long fire lit evenings with her grandparents. On the other hand, she found local society parochial and often boring. She was stifled by the small concerns of the Manx gentry and wanted to scream as they picked over every scandal and item of gossip repeatedly. She had grown up and had no idea what to do about it.

Lieutenant Thomas Young was a very welcome distraction. Flirtation was a skill Aalin had learned during her time away and she had been surprised to find that she was good at it and enjoyed it. She no longer felt at a disadvantage among her more dainty fellow debutantes, and she found that the definite colours and well cut clothing she had learned to wear in London made her stand out. Marriage was a different prospect to flirting but Aalin had taken a long look at Thomas Young’s perfect profile across the tent and wanted to know more about him. The scar had been a shock, but his defensive rudeness had not upset her. She understood, better than Mr Young could know, how easy it was for self-consciousness to spill over into bad manners.

On the day of his arrival, Aalin found herself hanging back. They dined that afternoon, and she was content, for once, to listen, as her grandparents gently questioned him and drew out the story she was dying to know. He was, as Aalin had supposed, of good family, a third son, with the estate and lands going to his eldest brother. The second brother had chosen the army and had died on the brutal field of Talavera. Thomas had chosen the navy over the church and had passed his lieutenant’s exam before the bloody battle at Trafalgar had brought glory to England, robbed them of Nelson and left Thomas Young scarred, angry and defensive, trapped in a posting he hated with no prospect of returning to the navy. Without influence or patronage, a young and newly qualified lieutenant might wait a long time once he was placed on half-pay. He had chosen not to return home to rely on the support of his parents and his brother and Aalin strongly approved of his quiet independence.

December proved bright and sunny, although cold, and as her grandparents’ activities were limited, it was left to Aalin to entertain their guest through the daytime. The revenue man had hired a horse from the Castletown inn, but Aalin cast it a scornful glance and produced her own second mount, a tall grey gelding with a sweet temperament. She enjoyed watching Thomas make friends with Diamond and as they clattered out of the yard, she silently approved his seat on the horse. Thomas was several inches taller than Aalin and a good fit for the horse, and she could see he was enjoying himself. 

“You approve, Lieutenant?”

Thomas glanced over at her. “Yes, thank you. He’s beautiful.”

“My father bought him in Ireland the year before he died, he was intended for my brother. He’s tall for me, Ruby here is a better fit, but I could never get rid of him and he’s so well-mannered. Far more so than I am.”

“Your manners have been impeccable since I arrived, Miss Kennaugh.”

“So have yours. We got off to a poor start, but I’m proud of us since.”

To her delight, he laughed aloud. “It would be impossible to be rude to your grandparents,” he said. “Where are we going?”

“To Douglas. I’m sure you’ve been there already, but I thought we could ride up to Douglas Head and along the coastal path, the weather is so fine. It’s a beautiful view from up there.”

“It’s a beautiful island. I realise I’ve only seen it from the perspective of the best beaches to land run goods so far. I’ve been surprised at how welcoming the people have been. Not just your grandparents, but generally. In Sussex, I’m a pariah, they hate the revenue and excisemen. I can’t even get served in some of the inns. Which is probably just as well, since I’d be drinking run brandy.”

It was a long sentence, for this reserved young man, and a way in, and Aalin seized it. “Would you tell me more about your work? I know a little about the trade of course, since I live in the middle of it, but only from the Manx perspective. I’m interested.”

Thomas shot her a surprised look, but complied readily. Once he began to talk, he was a good storyteller, and she was fascinated by his tales of the smuggling trade in Sussex, of dark nights and sudden conflict, of intimidation and violence and even murder. It bore no resemblance to the casual acceptance of the trade in Mann and she told him so, although she was careful only to refer to stories thirty years in the past that her grandfather had told her, and she knew by his quiet amusement that he realised it. It set the tone for the following week, and by St Thomas’ Eve, as they rode out to watch the men cutting the huge peat turf which would burn through Christmas and bring good luck into the house, Aalin was on very comfortable terms with their guest and she knew that her grandmother was watching with great interest.

“I am told that you intend to take our guest to church on Christmas Eve for the carval singing,” she said to Aalin, as they sat together writing letters one morning. “I hope he doesn’t find it too tedious.”

“He will find it enormously tedious after the third song,” Aalin said composedly. “But I was telling him about the custom and he was interested. I have told him he should remain close to the back door and leave when he wants to. I’ll be able to see him from the gallery and will slip out to join him.”

“Or you could throw a dried pea at him to attract his attention,” Mrs Kennaugh said placidly.

Aalin blushed scarlet and kept her head bent over the letter she was failing to write. The Christmas Eve service ended with local maidens throwing dried peas down from the gallery at their bachelor acquaintances, and it was an accepted way for a girl to express her interest in a man. The scene usually degenerated quickly into chaos and the parish clerk, whose job it was to oversee the carval singing, would clear the church with the congregation, their religious duty done, making their way to the local public house to continue the festivities.

“I shall do nothing of the kind,” Aalin said firmly. “We shall leave before it becomes disorderly. Anyway, I don’t suppose he knows what that is supposed to mean.”

“He may have found somebody to tell him,” Mrs Kennaugh said.

Aalin looked up. “Grandmother, are you trying to tell me something?”

“I think I am trying to ask you something, child. You are spending a great deal of time with this young man.”

“You told me that you wanted me to entertain him. I am never alone with him. If we ride, my groom follows us. If we walk or drive, I take my maid. It is perfectly…”

“Aalin, I am not scolding you, you have done nothing wrong. It is just that I am beginning to wonder if there is more to this than taking care of a guest. You like him, don’t you?”

Aalin could feel herself blushing. “Do you not like him?”

Mrs Kennaugh smiled. “I like him very much. We invited him, as you know, in memory of your father and your brother. At this time of year, it seemed right to offer hospitality to a Trafalgar veteran, especially one who has suffered so much. Since then, I have got to know him a little, and I find him a most estimable young man. It is a shame he is so very conscious of his scar, since I think it stops him smiling as much as he ought.”

“One can hardly blame him when you see the way people stare. It infuriates me. Did you see Mrs Quayle at dinner last night? She stared at him, as though he was some kind of side show at St Catherine’s Fair, I wanted to slap her. To make it worse, she did not listen properly to his conversation, she was so busy staring at his scar. It was so obvious. No wonder he dislikes going into society if it is full of such ill-mannered fools.”

“I see he has a champion in you.”

Aalin sighed. “Don’t matchmake, Grandmama, it’s a repulsive habit.”

“I have certainly proved a failure at it so far,” Mrs Kennaugh agreed. 

“Lieutenant Young is not going to propose marriage to me,” Aalin said firmly. She realised that it would be better to have this conversation and dispose of any false hopes. “He dreams of returning to the navy some day. Besides, he is ridiculously scrupulous and does not believe that a man should offer marriage when he cannot support a wife.”

“Has he told you that?”

“Yes. We have talked of marriage in general, as people do. I wish there was a way he could return to the navy, he misses it desperately, although he tries very hard to make the best of his current work. I think he must have made a very good and conscientious officer.”

“I’m sure he did,” her grandmother said gently. “But you would not wish to be married to a navy officer, would you, Aalin?”

Aalin realised that she was close to tears, and she knew that her grandmother would see it. She looked up, blinking hard, and managed a smile. “Ma’am, if it was a man I cared about, I would not refuse because of his profession,” she said. “But it can not be. He is not…he does not…will you excuse me?”

She did not hear her grandmother’s response as she sought the safety of her bedchamber. Lying full length on her bed, Aalin fought against her tears, knowing that she was being silly. It was not sensible to pine over a man who clearly saw her in the light of a cousin or a sister, and not wise to spend too much time dwelling on the joy of every crooked smile or the flutter she felt every time he took her arm, or lifted her from her horse. She was determined just to enjoy this Christmas then let him go with the memory of friendship and no embarrassment. It had been a mistake to let Grandmama see how she felt, but it was more important to ensure that Thomas had no idea. He would be kind, but it would be painfully awkward, and Aalin had no intention of giving him a moment’s discomfort. It was not his fault that she had developed these feelings and she would manage them herself.

Christmas Eve dawned crisp and dry, but by the afternoon a sharp wind was rising and dark clouds obscured the sun. No rain had fallen by the time they set out for church, but Aalin was fairly sure it would fall before Christmas day. The church was barely half full, mostly with people of the more respectable sort. There were few of the local gentry present, they would go to church the following morning while their servants prepared Christmas dinner, but Mr and Mrs Kennaugh had elected to come. The service was short, dwelling on the story of the nativity and the celebration of Christ’s birth.

When the final prayer was said, the parson gathered together his sermon and prepared to leave. He was followed out by the gentry. Aalin joined them, flashing a reassuring smile to Thomas, who was stationed by the back door of the church, looking nervous. She mounted the stairs to the wooden gallery as sounds of laughter and chatter suddenly filled the church, and the aisle was filled with young men and women. The girls climbed to the gallery and the men filled the pews. There were a number of older men, regular singers at the Oiel Verree service. Mr Corlett, the parish clerk, took up his station just inside the communion rail. Aalin had attended this service many times and wondered what her English guest made of it. Most of the congregation carried a lighted candle. The girls decorated their candles with red ribbons and rosettes. Aalin lit her own candle from one of the others and stood by the door, enjoying the brilliance of the lighted church and the feeling of community. 

The carvels began. Most were written in Manx and one or two in English. There were one or two traditional carols but most were written by previous parishioners. Few of them were about the nativity and the themes were usually grim and dark, dwelling more on sin and the prospect of eternal damnation than the hope of Christ’s birth. Sometimes men sang together, sometimes alone. They carried lighted tapers, and could sing until the taper burned down, when they made way for the next singer.

Halfway through the fourth carvel, some of the girls were becoming restless, and one or two had begun to throw the hard, dried peas down into the men below. Voices hushed them. The song being sung was an old one, known locally as Bad Women, and spoke of the sinful nature of some of womankind, with Biblical references. It was never popular with the girls, and Aalin thought dispassionately that the clerk might have done better to leave that one to the end.

Peering over into the body of the church, Aalin almost laughed aloud. The singer of Bad Women, the blacksmith from Lonan, had chosen to sing the carvel in English, and it was the first that Thomas would have understood. The revenue man was staring at the singer as though he could not believe his ears. Aalin leaned on the wooden balcony and watched appreciatively.

“Here, missus, throw this at him.”

Aalin turned, startled, and a thin faced elf of a girl was laughing back at her, holding out several dried peas. The temptation was irresistible. Aalin took aim. The first pea missed, bouncing off the wood of the back pew but the second struck Thomas squarely on the top of his head. He looked up, startled, and caught her eye. Aalin jerked her head towards the door and saw, to her secret delight, a broad smile in response. It happened so seldom. Aalin smiled at the elf girl and returned the remainder of the peas then slipped down the stairs and joined Thomas outside in the cold dark night.

As Aalin had suspected, it was raining. The wind was gusting fiercely, threatening Aalin’s riding hat. They stood in the church porch, listening to the growing hilarity within.

“What on earth was he singing about?”

“Sinful women,” Aalin said. “It’s traditional.”

“At Christmas?”

“Come to church tomorrow, you’ll hear pretty carols about the birth of Jesus. Carval singing concentrates on the darker side of God.”

“I would never have guessed it.”

“Mind, the clerk is going to wish he’d not permitted that one so early in the evening, it’s stirred up some of the sinful women in the gallery, he’s going to get a dried pea in the eye if he’s not careful. This is not pleasant. I knew it was going to rain, we should have asked my grandparents to send the carriage back for us.” Aalin glanced at her companion. “We could take refuge at the parsonage and send Orry back to get it.”

“I’ll be guided by you, Miss Kennaugh. If I was alone, I’d make the ride, it’s not that far, but for a lady…”

“I’m Manx, Lieutenant, we’re used to a bit of rain and wind.” Aalin surveyed the weather thoughtfully. “We could ride back along the coastal path, which would save us ten minutes or more. I’d rather avoid the parsonage, it will be full of very worthy people clicking their tongues over the shocking conduct of the young people at the carvel singing. Shall we?”

“By all means. What are you doing?”

“Saving my hat,” Aalin said. As the groom led the horses forward, she removed her riding hat and tied it by its strings to her saddle. “It will be wet but will probably dry out. If I try to ride with it, it’ll end up in the Irish Sea.”

“You’ll get soaked.”

“That hat is not going to keep me dry,” Aalin said as they set their horses into the wind. Glancing sideways she saw that he was smiling, the second time in one evening. It felt like an achievement.

“You are the most practical-minded female I have ever encountered, Miss Kennaugh.”

“Thank you,” Aalin said, somewhat miserably.

To her surprise, he picked up her tone. “I’m sorry, that was meant as a compliment. I’ve spent little time in society these past years and almost none in the company of a pretty girl, but I like your common sense. It is reassuring to know that the possession of a lovely face doesn’t automatically make a girl an idiot. I had wondered until I met you.”

Aalin did not reply. She could not, and was glad of a sudden huge gust of wind which made it necessary to pay attention to her horse. Thomas had said it in such matter-of-fact tones, there was no hint of flirtation or flattery and he could have no idea how much it meant to her. She had been complimented before, on her graceful dancing and excellent sense of style. She had been called, by various hopeful gentlemen with an eye on her fortune, such epithets as magnificent, queenly and glorious and had been referred to as an Amazon. She had never once been called either pretty or lovely and she had told herself that it did not matter. She discovered that it did.

“Have I offended you?” Thomas said, sounding anxious.

“No, of course not. Thank you. I was just surprised.”

“I can understand that, I’m not very good at giving compliments where they’re due. Or at all, really. My older brother Kit inherited all the charm in the family, Edward and I were always rather envious.”

“Was it Kit who died?”

“Yes. Earlier this year.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise it was so recent.”

“He’s buried in Spain, which is hard for my mother, I think. They held a memorial service in the parish church, but…what was that?”

Aalin had heard it too. Thomas reined in, listening. The path ran fairly close to the cliff edge, and they could hear the sound of the sea, waves crashing onto the rocks below. At first, Aalin thought that she had imagined the noise, that it had just been the howling of the wind between the rocks, but then it came again and this time it was unmistakably human voices, not coming back from the direction of the church, but from below the cliff edge.

“Is there a beach down there?” Thomas demanded.

“No. There’s a small cove about half a mile on, you can reach it through a little glen. Down from here, there’s only rocks.”

It was hard to see his face through the dark and rain, but Aalin could sense him thinking quickly. “You, what’s your name? Orry, isn’t it? Come and take my horse. Move them back from the cliff edge, along with Miss Kennaugh, I don’t want them spooked.”

He dismounted and Orry took the horses. Aalin watched as Thomas moved forward. She longed to join him but knew that in this weather, she should not leave the groom to manage three nervous animals alone. She watched, her heart beating faster, as Thomas reached the edge and then lowered himself to the wet grass. He lay full length peering down into the darkness for no more than a minute, then he scrambled to his feet and ran back to them, squinting through the rain, which was little more than a drizzle now.

“It’s a boat, it’s hit the rocks.”

“Oh no.”

“It’s still afloat, I think they’re trying to row to the beach, but I doubt they’ll make it the state of her, she’s lost the mast and she’s listing badly. Orry, you’ll need to ride for help. Back to the church, it’s closest. I hope to God they’re still singing Manx dirges and haven’t got to the public house yet or they’ll be of no use. Take Miss Kennaugh with you and leave her at the parsonage.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Where are you going?” Aalin said.

“Down the glen to the beach. The wind will push them that way. If they can stay afloat long enough to round the rocks, they might make it ashore. If they’re in the water, they’ll need help.”

“You can’t go alone.”

“You’re not coming.”

“I’ll go back to get help. Orry can…”

“No, I’m not having you ride alone along this path in this weather. If your horse stumbles…”

“You don’t know where you’re going,” Aalin said furiously. “Use some of the common sense you claim to value so highly and stop being a hero. Two people should go to the beach.”

Thomas hesitated, then nodded. “Come with me, then,” he said. “Get going, Orry.”

They watched the groom ride off, then Thomas mounted his horse. “Show me,” he said, and Aalin, appreciating his brisk acceptance of the situation, led the way towards Caly Glen.

***

The glen was short and steep, not ideal for horses in the darkness, although the advantage was that it was somewhat sheltered from the wind. There were a few trees clinging to the steep sides, but mostly the hills were covered with tangled undergrowth, a narrow slippery track winding its way down to a stony beach. The rain had eased, which made visibility a little better, and Thomas concentrated on getting Diamond safely to the bottom, following Aalin. Ruby, her tall mare, was sure-footed in the darkness and they paused on the rocky shore. The sea was a dark boiling mass, capped with white foam, and huge waves crashed onto the beach, sending up spray which could make them no wetter. At some point during the speedy descent, Thomas realised he had lost his hat.

“There’s somebody on the beach,” Aalin said. 

Thomas saw it too, dark figures outlined against the waves, speaking in urgent tones. They had two closed lanterns which bobbed furiously in the wind as they held them up, peering out into the waves. Thomas urged his horse forward and the strangers turned to face him. Both were men, wrapped up in dark coats with woollen fishermen’s hats pulled low over their heads and he could see little of them apart from their faces, one young, one old and lined.

“Any sign of them?” Thomas asked, dismounting.

“Out there.” The younger man’s voice was anguished. “They were rounding the head and hit a rock. She’s broken up, sir.”

Thomas could hear them now, the cries of men in the water, and he felt sick with horror. It was the fear of every seagoing man, to find himself clinging to a flimsy piece of wreckage in a dark, angry sea with no hope of rescue. He guessed all these Manxmen were strong swimmers but it would not matter out there tonight.

“Where’ve you come from?”

“Cottage up on the cliff there,” the older man said. “On our way back from church and heard the noise. Sent my lad running for rope, but we’ve no way to use it, they’re too far to throw it.”

Thomas heard the lie and understood. He was not sure if the two men had been on the beach waiting to guide the boat in with the lights or if they had run down as the storm worsened, but he was certain they had been expecting the craft and knew who manned her and what she carried. Christmas Eve in a rising storm was no time to put to sea, but a good time to evade detection with all law-abiding folk either in church or at home, celebrating the season with family and friends. Thomas guessed they knew who he was. Even without his uniform, the island was too small for any smuggler not to know about the red-headed, scarred revenue officer currently on shore leave. But he had not noticed the rope and it galvanised him into sudden action.

“How many aboard?”

“Don’t know, sir,” the older man said. “Like I said…”

“What’s your name?”

“Kinvig, sir. Illiam Kinvig, that’s my boy Jemmy.”

“Right, Mr Kinvig, I don’t give a single damn what cargo that boat carries or what you know about it, I’m here to save lives tonight. You give me a straight answer or you’ll be going head first into that water, and it looks bloody cold. How many?”

“Six, sir,” Jemmy said instantly. “It’s Colin Shimmin’s boat, two of his lads, Adam Joughin, Juan Kermode and my brother Eedin.”

“Good lad. Give me that rope.”

Thomas turned to Aalin. The wind had torn her hair loose from its pins and it blew in wild curls around her face, the big green eyes looking steadily at him. He wondered if she knew what he was about to ask her.

“Miss Kennaugh, it’s your decision. I can ride out with Diamond, and I can probably reach them. If we tie the rope to him, Kinvig and his boy can help pull us back in. He’s a strong horse, I think he’ll make it. But he might not.”

Aalin’s face was white in the lantern light and her expression pulled at his heartstrings, but she did not hesitate. “You might not make it either, Thomas, and I find that worries me far more. Do it.”

There was no time for more and Thomas could not, in any case, say any of the things he badly wanted to say to this girl, who had walked  into his life and made him painfully aware of all the things he did not have. Even in this desperate moment, he felt simple happiness that she had used his first name. Thomas reached for her hand, encased in soaked riding gloves, and kissed it.

“I will buy you the finest pair of gloves this island can produce as a New Year’s gift,” he said, and she smiled through tears.

“See that you are here to keep that promise, Mr Young.”

Diamond reared up as Thomas urged him into the raging sea. Waves thundered around them, pushing the horse back, and Thomas held on with an iron grip, forcing his mount forward. He had developed a good relationship with the horse these past weeks and now, when it mattered, Diamond steadied and held and then began to make his way forward into the sea. Thomas felt the moment that the horse was out of his depth, but he kept moving forward, swimming strongly. Thomas reached behind to check that the rope was secure although he had tied it himself.

Then they were among the wreckage and he heard a cry close by. There were two men, clinging to a wooden board, and he could see that they were both quite young. Thomas manoeuvred Diamond around then reached out a hand.

“Let go,” he yelled, his voice a scream to be heard over the sound of the storm. “One at a time. Hold on to the saddle. One each side.”

It took some time to move the two terrified boys over to the horse. One of them struggled to let go of the plank, his face a mask of fear in the darkness, but it was done finally, and Thomas urged Diamond back to shore. It was harder going, the tide pulling seawards, but Diamond was very strong and knew he was heading for safety, and Kinvig and Jemmy hauled on the rope, helping the horse. His hooves found sand and he trudged through the turbulent waves. In the shallows, Kinvig and Jem splashed towards them, lifting the survivors away from Diamond and up onto the shore.

“Where’s the lantern, I can’t see,” Thomas yelled.

“Here.” Aalin was beside him on Ruby, the oil lamp swinging in the wind, the faint light picking up shapes in the swirling gunmetal waves. Several pieces of wood floated quite close to the shore, and what looked like a barrel was bouncing further out. 

“Shine it over towards the rocks, Aalin, I can’t see…”

“Fella coming in. Swimming. He’s caught in the tide.”

Aalin lifted the lantern and Thomas saw immediately, the desperate strokes that were making no progress. The tide was not impossible to surmount, but this man was exhausted. He was not that far out, and Thomas urged Diamond forward into the waves. He could feel the pull of the water as the horse struck out strongly, but they reached the swimmer quickly, a burly young man and quick-witted for all his exhaustion. He clung to Thomas’ stirrup and Thomas turned the horse and towed him in. The man kept his feet in the shallows and staggered up the beach into the waiting embrace of Kinvig and Jemmy.

“Eedin. Ah, lad, thank God.”

“Any sign of the others?” Thomas asked.

Eedin Kinvig turned, his startled eyes, taking in Thomas’ uniform and clearly understanding. “We lost Joughin when we hit the rocks,” he said. “He went under, we tried to find him. He’s gone sir. Colin is hanging on for his life to the mast. You might see him.”

Thomas took the lantern and raised it. He could feel Diamond beginning to tremble under him and he was shivering himself. He scanned the waves and then saw it, a faint movement, which might have been a waving arm. For a moment, Thomas knew a sense of sheer misery at the thought of going back into the freezing grey water. He leaned forward and patted Diamond’s neck. 

“Reckon we can do it once more, boy?”

The horse baulked as he felt the cold water churning around his legs and for a moment, Thomas thought he had asked too much. Then Diamond steadied and moved forward, striking out strongly towards the faint shape in the distance. The light of one of the lanterns glimmered over the water and Thomas knew that Aalin was holding it high, guiding him towards Colin Shimmin. Diamond swam slowly and Thomas could feel his exhaustion. Whatever happened now, he could not push the horse to do this again.

Shimmin was there, barely conscious, half lying across the broken wooden mast. Thomas tried hard to get him to cling to the saddle, but the older man was too exhausted, and Thomas suspected that if he managed it, he would let go halfway and go under. Desperation lent him strength, and Thomas hauled him up until he was face down over the saddle bow. He concentrated, on the way back, on keeping Shimmin’s head out of the water and thanked God for the rope and the strong arms pulling him in, since he could feel that the horse was spent. As they splashed through the shallows, Thomas could feel Diamond’s legs wobbling and as hands reached up to take Shimmin, he slid from the saddle and put both arms around the horse’s wet, smooth neck.

“All right. It’s all right, boy. No more. You’ve done enough.”

“Thomas.”

Thomas turned. He realised they were no longer alone on the shore. Other men were coming down the beach, some with blankets and flasks, and the survivors were being wrapped up warmly and given brandy. Thomas recognised the parson, Mr Gawne. 

“Lieutenant Young, well done, sir. Four lives saved, thanks to your bravery.”

“Two lost,” Thomas said, bitterly. He was scanning the dark sea, but he could see no sign of life, only a few dark shapes as the wreckage of the boat and her cargo were tossed about on the stormy sea. The wind was beginning to die down finally and it had stopped raining, but Thomas was soaked to his underclothes and shivering. A man he did not know came forward with a rough blanket and draped it awkwardly around Thomas’ shoulders and Thomas nodded his thanks, almost too tired to speak. He looked over at Aalin. She was standing with Diamond, whispering to him, kissing his nose. Somebody had provided a blanket for her as well. She looked as wet as he was, her soaked hair falling in mad curls down her back. Thomas stood watching her and then she looked around and saw him, and smiled.

“You did it,” she said. “You were so brave. Thank you, Lieutenant.”

“You know my name,” Thomas said. “You cannot go back now.”

“Oh. I didn’t think you had noticed.”

“It was my favourite part of the evening,” Thomas said gravely, and loved the splutter of laughter she gave.

“Then you should call me Aalin. Although I don’t know what my grandmother will say about it.”

“We’ll ask her, shall we?” Thomas said. Aalin looked at him uncertainly, and Thomas smiled, not caring what it did to his scar. “We should get this lad back, he’s exhausted.”

“Orry has gone for the carriage, it will be here at any moment. He’ll walk Diamond back. Here, have some of the parson’s brandy. I have told him I don’t think he’ll see us in church tomorrow, but I think he will forgive us.”

“Christmas,” Thomas said. “I’d totally forgotten.”

Aalin was looking around the beach. “These people won’t forget, Thomas,” she said. “And neither shall I.”

***

Aalin slept late, exhausted, and on waking, went first to the stables. She was surprised to find Thomas already there, fussing Diamond in his stall. Aalin stood watching him for a moment. He was neat and trim again, the red hair tied back. At some point during the previous night he had acquired a cut across his temple and both his hands were covered in scratches and tears, the nails broken and black. Thomas turned and saw her and smiled broadly and Aalin’s heart melted, remembering when he had not smiled at all.

“I thought you’d sleep later,” he said.

“I thought the same of you. He seems well.”

“He’ll be fine, no lasting damage, although he should be rested for a few days. I was just about to go in to breakfast, but there’s something I wanted to show you first.”

He took her hand and led her through the stables, past the stalls and out into the yard. Two of the men were carrying a small barrel and a box towards the kitchen door. One of them grinned at their approach.

“Morning, miss. Unexpected delivery, this morning.”

“What is it?”

“Tea, miss. And good French brandy. There was a note nailed to the box. Seems it’s a gift for the lieutenant from an unknown admirer.”

“Oh.” Aalin glanced at Thomas in some trepidation and saw that he was laughing. 

“That’s the first time I’ve knowingly been in receipt of smuggled goods. I am gifting it to your grandparents in gratitude for their hospitality. The parson was here earlier, and brought news that was a better gift to me than illicit brandy. It seems we only lost one man.”

“How?”

“For reasons I shall not examine, half the village was on the beach at dawn to see what had washed up on the incoming tide. They heard cries and scrambled down the tail of rocks to find Juan Kermode lying across a boulder with a cracked head and a broken leg. I don’t know how he didn’t freeze to death in the night but he’s alive and he’s home.”

“Oh that’s such good news,” Aalin said. “Thank heavens for the greed of the smuggling trade or he might never have been found.”

The house was decorated for Christmas with boughs of greenery from around the estate. Holly, ivy and other evergreens were interspersed with ribbons and candles. Guests had been invited for Christmas dinner. After all, Aalin and Thomas accompanied her grandparents to church and Aalin was pleased by the unmistakable warmth of the welcome given to Thomas, who seemed to have made the step from outsider to valued neighbour overnight. They returned to dinner and ate goose and duck and Twelfth Cake until Aalin was not sure that she could move. After the meal, they played blind man’s buff, hunt the slipper and charades and Aalin spent the day in a daze of happiness that she could not explain. Outwardly little had changed, but every time Thomas said her name, he smiled at her and Aalin’s heart beat faster. In the dark of the evening, carol singers came and they stood in the big square hallway joining in with the old carols. Aalin could feel Thomas’ shoulder against hers. She felt him stir, and then to her astonishment, his fingers curled around hers. Aalin did not speak. All her hard won London sophistication had deserted her and she felt girlish and vulnerable and very much out of her depth.

On St Stephen’s Day, the wren boys toured the villages, parading the dead wren at the end of a decorated pole, beating a drum and singing the Hunting of the Wren song outside the great houses in return for food and small gifts. Thomas stood on the front steps of the house beside Aalin watching the proceedings, as the servants cheered the group of young men and joined in the song. 

“I would hate to be any kind of bird during your Manx Christmas celebrations,” he said in Aalin’s ear, and she looked up at him, surprised into bubbling laughter. “Am I to expect any other kind of dead bird before Twelfth Night?”

“Only from the kitchens, Thomas, and I notice you’ve no objection to those.”

“Not in the least, I’ve not been fed this well for years. Which reminds me, since I collect there are guests again for dinner. Do you have time to walk with me before we need to change?”

Aalin felt her heart beat faster. “Of course. Where do you wish to go? I’ll ring for my maid.”

“Do you think it would be very shocking to ask you to dispense with her today? I thought we could walk up to the old church, it’s not far.”

“St Adamnan’s? Yes, of course. I’ll get my cloak and change my shoes.”

It was not far up to the partially ruined church, but the walk was fairly steep. The weather had changed again and St Stephen’s Day brought brilliant blue skies and a light breeze. It was cold, but the exercise warmed Aalin and by the time Thomas opened the gate into the small, tangled churchyard with its broken stones and Celtic crosses, she could feel her cheeks flushed with exertion. 

“How long has this been unused?” Thomas asked, as they explored the churchyard and peered into the musty interior of the remaining part of the church.

“As long as I can remember. They’re building a new church although it’s taking them forever, which is why we travel back to Douglas for most services. This one isn’t really used. I hope they don’t allow it to fall wholly into ruin, though, it’s so pretty, especially in summer.”

“It’s cold today,” Thomas said. She heard laughter in his voice, and turned to find him studying her, smiling. “I was just thinking that I would very much like to spend some time with you when we’re not at risk of freezing to death.”

“I don’t feel cold after that walk,” Aalin said. “Are you warm enough in that light jacket, though? Your uniform…”

“Every stitch I had on me that night is ruined beyond repair,” Thomas said. “I am reduced to civilian clothing.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“I can buy new clothing. In fact, I probably should, I look like a pauper. Which I’m not, entirely, although as a younger son, I’m not wealthy. The estate goes to my brother, of course, but there are some bonds and investments left to me by my grandfather which bring in a small income. There will also be a little family money from my mother.”

Aalin knew that she was blushing bright red and she hoped he would think it was from the walk in the cold air. “What…why are you telling me this, Thomas?”

Thomas walked forward, taking her hand in his. “Aalin, you must know what I want to say. I spent Christmas Day wrestling with the knotty problem of whether I should speak to your grandfather first. I probably should have, but to tell you the truth I am not sure what your answer is going to be, so I thought I would find out first.”

Aalin’s eyes opened very wide. “Thomas, are you proposing to me?”

“I’m trying to. I don’t seem to have quite reached the sticking point yet. You look astonished. Didn’t you realise?”

“No. I had no idea,” Aalin said honestly.

“I must be even worse at this than I thought,” Thomas said. He raised her hand to his lips and suddenly seemed to notice that she wore no gloves. “Where are your gloves? Do not tell me you ruined your only pair?”

“No. Only I could not find them and I was hurrying.”

Thomas made an exasperated sound, released her hand and began to strip off his own gloves. “Your hands are freezing. Here, put these on. Honestly, Aalin…”

“Thomas!” Aalin said furiously. “You cannot stop halfway through a proposal to scold me about my gloves, it is too bad.”

Thomas stopped, staring at her. Unexpectedly, he dropped the gloves, reached out and took her into his arms. Aalin froze in a moment of appalled awkwardness. She felt his lips brush hers very gently and she could feel that he was smiling.

“I love you, Aalin Kennaugh. Don’t look so panicked, I’m not going to carry you into the undergrowth, it’s far too cold. I would like to kiss you though. May I?”

Aalin looked up. Suddenly she felt very sure. Reaching up, she touched her lips very gently to the line of his scar and felt him shiver a little in her arms. “Yes,” she said. 

“Was that to the kiss or my proposal?”

“You haven’t asked me, Thomas.”

“Oh. No. The gloves.”

“Yes, the gloves. Which neither of us are now wearing. Should you object if I called you Tommy? I rather like it.”

“Marry me, love, and you can call me anything.”

“Then, yes, Tommy Young. To both.”

***

Twelfth Night was a celebration both of the season and of the engagement, and Thomas realised he had not danced, or laughed like this, since that moment of agony below decks four years earlier had changed his life. He and Aalin drifted through the remainder of the season wrapped up in their own happiness. They spent Oie Houney, or New Year’s Eve, dancing at a neighbour’s house. It was the beginning of the season of Sauin, marking the formal start of winter and for the Manx farming community, rents were due, new leases began and the livestock was brought in for the winter. Thomas listened to Aalin explaining the various customs of the season, his eyes on her vivid, laughing face.

“You are not listening to me, Tommy.”

“I am. Is there an examination at the end of it?”

“If there is, you will fail.”

“I have never failed an examination. I did very well in the lieutenants’ examination.”

“What was I saying?”

“It involved ashes in the fireplace and something about a cake. Some kind of divination, I think? But no dead birds this time, which is a relief. Have I passed?”

“No. But you may kiss me anyway.”

Thomas wrote to his family, and waited without impatience for their reply. He had no doubt of their approval. His mother had cried many tears over her youngest son’s withdrawal from the world and would welcome the girl who had helped him to find his way back. In the meantime, after lengthy discussions with Aalin, he wrote his resignation from the revenue service. He would remain on half-pay, and accepted without resentment that he brought far less to the marriage than his wife. Thomas did not expect their happiness to depend on how wealthy either of them might be, and it was clear that Aalin and her grandparents cared nothing at all.

They had been discussing spring wedding plans over breakfast when the maid brought in the post. There were two letters for Thomas, one the expected happy response from his mother and the other, to his surprise, bearing an Admiralty seal. Thomas broke it open and read the rather long letter in growing astonishment. Getting to the end, he sat thinking about it for a moment then read it again, to be sure that he had not misunderstood. When he had done, he looked up into the wide green eyes of his betrothed. They were fixed on him anxiously and Thomas realised that she knew exactly what the letter contained.

“Tommy?”

“It’s an offer of a posting,” Thomas said. “It appears that I have been recommended for the position of second lieutenant aboard HMS Iris, a 74 gun third rater currently under refit in Chatham.” He met Aalin’s worried gaze. “But this isn’t news to you, is it, love of my life?”

Mrs Kennaugh rose stiffly. “You will want to discuss this privately, my children, so I will leave you.”

“No,” Thomas said quickly. “No, ma’am, please stay. Since I know very well that it must have been you and Mr Kennaugh who arranged this for me.”

“We arranged nothing,” Mrs Kennaugh said firmly. “I was asked by an old friend, what your situation was with the navy. You have met Mr Crellin many times. I explained to him, and I believe he wrote to his son-in-law.”

“Captain Hugh Kelly is married to his daughter?”

“Yes. They returned to England at the end of last year after that dreadful Walcheren business. I met Captain Kelly several times when he was last home, and of course I’ve known Roseen since she was a child. A dreadful tomboy, but a very good girl.”

“Are you angry, Tommy?” 

Thomas could hear the anxiety in Aalin’s voice and he thought about it and decided that he was not angry at all. “No,” he said. “Although I wish you had asked me first.”

“I thought you might refuse because of me,” Aalin said, and she sounded close to tears. Thomas wanted to laugh and stopped himself. Then he changed his mind and gave a broad smile. When he had first begun to smile again, it had felt strange, as though his facial muscles had forgotten how, but he was getting used to it.

“I am going to refuse because of you,” he said. “In a month’s time, I am going to get up in that church and swear before God that I’ll take care of you. It’s a vow I intend to take very seriously. I don’t think leaving you to wait for letters and dread bad news is the best way of doing that.”

“I’m so afraid you’ll come to regret it, love. If you feel that your duty…”

“Hang my duty. Sorry, ma’am. But honestly, my duty took half my face away and Kit’s duty cost him his life. I think my country has had good value out of my family’s sense of duty.” Thomas looked over at Mr Kennaugh who had not spoken. “When we’re married, I’ll be your heir. I should be here, getting to know the land and your people. I should be learning from you what I need to know, not wasting my life on a man o’war doing a job that a dozen other men could do as well. I’ve resigned from the revenue service, sir, and I intend to resign my commission in the navy.”

Aalin was crying. Thomas got up and took her into his arms. “I thought you wanted it so badly,” she said.

“I had nothing else. I have now.”

“I think my granddaughter has made a very good choice,” Mr Kennaugh said. “I’ll speak to Mr Crellin…”

“No, sir. With your permission, I’d like to write to him myself. I’ll send in my papers and I’ll write to Captain Kelly, to thank him for offering me the chance. It was a good opportunity, I’ve heard of Kelly, he’s very well thought of. And I’ve a friend who is in a similar situation to me. Captain Kelly will have a lot of officers interested in this posting, but Alex is a good man, he deserves a chance. It’s worth a shot.”

Mr and Mrs Kennaugh removed themselves tactfully and Thomas was left alone with Aalin. She had stopped crying and they sat quietly for a while, his arms about her. Eventually, she stirred. 

“I should go and wash my face, I am supposed to have a fitting at the dressmaker and she’ll think I’m regretting my choice if I turn up like this.”

Thomas kissed her soundly and when she had gone, he took Diamond from the stables and rode out, as he did most days, taking the coast road towards Kion Droghead. He reined in at the narrow path down through the glen and then on impulse, turned Diamond down towards the shore. Today the beach was quiet and the sea still and calm, reflecting bright sparks from the spring sunlight. Thomas dismounted and led the horse down to the edge of the surf.

“Bit calmer today, sir.”

Thomas turned, startled. “Mr Kinvig. Yes, I was just thinking that.”

The old fisherman strolled down to join him, puffing on a strong smelling pipe. “I hear you won’t be putting on that revenue coat again, then, sir.”

“No.”

“Didn’t suit you anyway, that. How ’bout the navy?”

Thomas wanted to laugh aloud. He was trying to imagine having this conversation on an English beach with a chance met fisherman. “I’m resigning my commission. Plenty to do on the land here.”

“That’s good, then, no call for a nice lad like you to be running around wi’ them excise fellas. She’s a good lass and you’ll fit in here.”

“And you’ll have no need to shoot me again,” Thomas said placidly. The old man gave a cackle of laughter.

“Oh bless you, sir, that weren’t me, I got no call to be firing off shots at a revenue man.”

“No, but you know who did.”

“Accident, sir, plain and simple.”

“I hope my new neighbours won’t hold it against me that I took up a few cargoes last year.”

Kinvig grinned, showing yellowed teeth. “Got a fair few past you as well, beggin’ your pardon, sir.”

“I’ll just bet you did, you unprincipled old rogue. Best take care, the next man they send might not be so casual about his duties.”

“We’ll be careful, sir. It’s not that much these days, not like the old days, before the revocation. Just a few local lads trying to make a bit extra to put food on the table. Nothing to worry about. Should mention, though, keep an eye out in the barn, there’ll be a couple of barrels wi’ your name on, and a bale of silk. Just in time for your wedding.”

“You paid your debt, Mr Kinvig.”

The fisherman puffed on his pipe and withdrew it again. “No, sir. Three lads, I had. Lost one a few years back, impress service picked him up out fishing and he died of some shipboard fever. Thought I was about to lose another. That debt stands.”

Thomas made no reply and Kinvig seemed to need none. They stood watching the tiny waves running in on the sand for a few minutes and then Kinvig turned and lifted his cap with an awkward bobbing bow. Thomas watched him head up the glen towards his cottage and then mounted Diamond, patted his smooth neck, and turned the horse back up the path towards the main road and home. 

Author’s Note

I’ve very much enjoyed returning to the Isle of Man for this year’s Christmas story and it was fun to research some of the old Manx traditions. I’d like to express my appreciation to Culture Vannin’s excellent online resources for helping with this and suggest you have a look at their site if you’d like to know more. I find Hall Caine’s nineteenth century novels set in the Isle of Man very hard to read, but his account of carvel singing in She’s all the World to Me is genuinely worth it and I have him to thank for the idea of interrupting the service with a shipwreck.

Some of the locations in the story are real such as St Adamnan’s Church and the village of Kion Droghead, which was the old name for Onchan. To make my story work, I’ve taken a few liberties with the exact location of the parish church and the fictional Caly Glen and beach, although I had Groudle Beach in mind for the wreck.

As always, I’ve dropped in the odd reference to my regular characters from the books. For readers of my latest, This Blighted Expedition, I had every intention of allowing my scarred revenue man to join Captain Hugh Kelly and First Lieutenant Alfred Durrell aboard the Iris in the next book, but he surprised me at the end and flatly refused to go. I was quite pleased, so many of my heroes have an unbending sense of duty it was quite refreshing to find one who was prepared to put his girl first. As for his elder brother, it was indeed Captain Kit Young who served under Major Paul van Daan in the 110th and died at Talavera in An Unconventional Officer.

I’d like to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Writing with Labradors. Thank you so much for your support. To keep in touch, you can subscribe to the website and follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Medium, I’d love to hear from you.

There are some great posts in the December Blog Hop and I really recommend you keep an eye out for more. This is the full list. Tomorrow’s post will be from the fabulous Samantha Wilcoxson    

 

Jolabokaflod 2019: Free books for Christmas

Jolabokaflod 2019 is intended as a gift to my readers, old and new and is a regular Christmas feature at Writing with Labradors

What is the Jolabokaflod?

In Iceland there is a tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading which is known as  the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” as the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving. At this time of year, most households in Iceland receive an annual free book catalog of new publications called the Bokatidindi.  Icelanders pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy.

The small Nordic island, with a population of only 329,000 people, is extraordinarily literary. They love to read and write. According to a BBC article, “The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.  One in ten Icelanders will publish a book.”

There is more value placed on hardback and paperback books than in other parts of the world where e-books have grown in popularity.  In Iceland most people read, and the book industry is based on many people buying several books each year rather than a few people buying a lot of books.  The vast majority of books are bought at Christmas time, and that is when most books are published.

Jolabokaflod at Writing with Labradors

The idea of families and friends gathering together to read before the fire on Christmas Eve is a winter tradition which appeals to me. For the past few years I have celebrated my own version of the Jolabokaflod with my readers, by giving away the e-book versions of some of my books on kindle on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It’s my way of saying thank you to all my readers and hello to any new readers out there.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all from Blogging with Labradors.

For more history, humour, fiction and Labradors why not follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.

For excellent blog posts and stories throughout December, why not check out the Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop on Facebook and like their page.

 

 

The Books

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army

Free on Amazon Kindle from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day

An Unconventional Officer (Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga)

A Regrettable Reputation (Book 1, Regency Romances)

The Reluctant Debutante (Book 2, Regency Romances)

A Respectable Woman (A novel of Victorian England)

A Marcher Lord (A novel of the sixteenth century Anglo-Scottish borders)