Sunday, 30 October 2011

HIGHLAND STORMS by Christina Courtenay

Highland Storms (Historical romance)

Blurb: -

Who can you trust?

Betrayed by his brother and his childhood love, Brice Kinross needs a fresh start. So he welcomes the opportunity to leave Sweden for the Scottish Highlands to take over the family estate.

But there’s trouble afoot at Rosyth in 1754 and Brice finds himself unwelcome. The estate is in ruin and money is disappearing. He discovers an ally in Marsaili Buchanan, the beautiful redheaded housekeeper, but can he trust her?

Marsaili is determined to build a good life. She works hard at being housekeeper and harder still at avoiding men who want to take advantage of her. But she’s irresistibly drawn to the new clan chief, even though he’s made it plain he doesn’t want to be shackled to anyone.

And the young laird has more than romance on his mind. His investigations are stirring up an enemy. Someone who will stop at nothing to get what he wants – including Marsaili – even if that means destroying Brice’s life forever …


Marsaili Buchanan was pulled back from the brink of sleep by the soft growling of her deerhound, Liath. It started as a low rumble inside the big dog’s chest and throat, and grew in volume while the animal raised his head and stared fixedly at the door. Since Liath was snuggled around Marsaili’s feet, the vibrations could be felt all the way up her legs. Her heart skipped a beat as she held her breath, waiting to see who was coming up the stairs to her tower room this time.

‘They never give up, do they, boy,’ she whispered and sat up, putting her palm on Liath’s flat skull. She felt the rumbling more strongly there and stroked the dog’s wiry neck, keeping her hand near his collar in case she needed to hold him back. It was a distinct possibility.

She’d been plagued with night-time suitors like this for a while now, even though she never encouraged any of the men in the household or on the estate. Her face and figure seemed to inspire lust in any male between the ages of fifteen and fifty, no matter how much she covered it up. She silently cursed fate for giving her this dubious blessing. It brought her nothing but trouble.

The latch moved softly. Since it was well-oiled and silent, Marsaili wouldn’t have heard it if she hadn’t been forewarned. The door didn’t open though, the bar she’d had installed recently saw to that. The latch dropped with a clink and she heard a snort of frustration. This was followed by a muted thud, presumably a shoulder pushing against the door. When this didn’t produce the desired result either, a man’s voice muttered an oath. A harder shove which made the wooden planks quiver seemed to conclude the assault. Marsaili bit her lip hard to keep from making a sound.

‘Marsaili? It’s me, Colin.’ The whisper was clearly audible and seemed to hang in the air for a moment.

Marsaili almost gasped out loud. That was one voice she’d never thought to hear outside her door. She’d believed Colin Seton, the estate manager, too proud to go sneaking around at night.

‘Mr Seton? What’s the matter?’ she asked, trying to sound as if she’d just been woken up. ‘Is something amiss?’

‘Come now, girl, you know why I’m here. You’ve been holding out for long enough, it’s time you were rewarded.’

His voice was slightly louder, but still low. Marsaili didn’t know why he bothered trying to keep it down. Her room was at the top of one of the towers of Rosyth House and there was no one immediately below her at the moment. He must be aware of this.

‘I beg your pardon?’ She sat up straighter, glaring in the direction of the door. Holding out for what? Him? How on earth did he reach that conclusion? She just wanted to be left alone, not be importuned by a widower old enough to be her father.

‘The finest looking woman in all the Highlands deserves only the best. Can’t blame you for setting your sights high. Let me in now, you can trust me to look after you right.’

Rage bubbled up inside Marsaili’s throat and threatened to choke her. The words she longed to hurl at Seton were so stacked up, she couldn’t spit them out. All that escaped her was a noise of frustration, but Liath felt her wrath and gave voice to it on her behalf. His growling grew into a crescendo of menace that reverberated around the small room


She managed to control her vocal chords at last. ‘Please leave, Mr Seton and I’ll forget we ever had this conversation. I’m sorry, but you’ve misunderstood.’

‘Eh? You’re just being stubborn now and you know it. No need to be coy, you’ve made your point.’ His voice was beginning to sound strained, as if he was keeping his temper in check, but only just.

Marsaili didn’t know what to reply. She didn’t want to antagonise the man, but on the other hand she had to make him understand she wasn’t available to anyone. As if to emphasise her thoughts, Liath gave a short bark, and although she couldn’t see him, Marsaili knew he was probably baring his fangs as well. She felt her heart beating harder, the sound of her pulse almost drowning out the dog’s noise inside her ears. She took a deep breath. ‘I meant what I said. Anyone who wants to court me can do so in daylight.’ Not that it would do them any good since I don’t want any of them.

‘Who said anything about courting? Your mother –’

She cut him off abruptly. ‘What my mother chose to do was up to her. It has nothing to do with me and I’ll live my life as I see fit. I’m a respectable woman.’

‘Rubbish! You’re no better than you should be. Hoity-toity by-blow of a –’

‘Mr Seton! You’ve said enough.’ Marsaili was shaking with fury, but was determined not to enter into a lengthy argument with him.

Seton cursed long and fluently. Finally, he hissed, ‘That dog isn’t allowed in the house, you know. I’ll see it’s put where it belongs from now on, in the stables.’

‘You can’t! I have the mistress’s express permission to keep him in here. The dog stays,’ she said firmly, trying not to let her voice tremble the way the rest of her body was doing. It was true after all, but would he leave it at that? She waited again, holding Liath’s collar in a tight grip, while Seton made up his mind.

The door was stout, but she knew Seton was both strong and determined. Fortunately, so was Liath. Marsaili was reluctant to let the dog loose on anyone because she’d seen what those powerful jaws could do, but if she was cornered, she’d have no other choice.

‘We’ll just see about that,’ Seton snarled before giving the door a vicious kick. Soon after, she heard footsteps disappearing down the stairwell. She breathed a sigh of relief and threw her arms around the dog’s neck, burying her face in the shaggy fur.

‘Thank you, Liath, good boy. You’re the best.’ He licked her hand in acknowledgement of this tribute and leaned against her until her limbs stopped shaking.

They’d won this time, but Marsaili knew that from now on she’d have to be on her guard at all times, both for herself and for Liath. There was no saying what Seton would do and now he’d put all his cards on the table, there was no going back. He wasn’t the type to give up easily and she’d probably wounded his pride. He would use every means at his disposal to have his way.

Well, she’d be ready for him. Just let him try!

Buy links: Highland Storms is published by Choc Lit on 1st November 2011, (ISBN: 978-1-906931-71-1). It is available from For further details on where to purchase this book please see

Link to longer excerpt -

(For a short author bio, please see previous blog regarding The Scarlet Kimono or check out my website at )

Thank you!


Sunday, 23 October 2011

I.J. Parker: 'Unsheathed Swords'

The following excerpt comes from 'Unsheathed Swords', Book Two of the Hollow Reed trilogy by I. J. Parker

Buy at


As the Minamoto and Taira clans arm for a war that will destroy an ancient civilization, Yamada Sadahira, who had rejected the warrior way, is forced to take up his sword under the treacherous Yoritomo in order to protect his family against the vengeance of Toshiko’s father. He leaves his wife behind to raise their children and run the Yamada estate. Sadahira’s adopted son, Hachiro, who has grown into a lean and dangerous swordsman, pursues his guilty love for his father’s wife, but the lovers part when Hachiro sets out to redeem his father’s freedom. Toshiko must meet her father’s brutal wrath alone.

In this second book of the trilogy, the scenery expands from the splendor of the court to the panorama of mountains and sea, from court intrigues to battlefields. The epic contest leads to bloodshed and tests the bonds between father and child and between husband and wife.


The day of the duel, it snowed all day, and by nightfall, roofs and streets were white and the mountains a gray haze on the horizon. Where lamps were lit in the business quarters, the light gilded the snow, making it sparkle. Elsewhere the night was luminescent, as if the snow had retained some of the vanished daylight to outline objects more sharply. It was possible to see almost as well as during the day.

The guardsmen left the wine house near the Ensho-ji in good time for the appointed meeting. The mulled wine had heated their blood, and they walked along laughing boisterously and slapping Takehira’s back from time to time to encourage him. Behind them trudged Jiro, carrying the carefully wrapped sword.

Fighting was illegal, but Ensho-ji was a small abandoned temple outside the city ramparts. Duels were fairly common here, and the authorities turned a blind eye. If there were witnesses, they were usually friends of the participants who attended for moral support and to carry their wounded or dead home. An unaccompanied loser was left behind to the untender attentions of roaming thieves. By the time the sun rose and his naked corpse was found, he was anonymous and buried quickly in an unmarked grave by the river.

It was still snowing but much more lightly, and the air was very cold. Gradually, the men fell silent. The cluster of dark temple halls came nearer and reminded them of the secrecy and seriousness of their purpose. Eventually there was only the crunching of their steps in the freezing snow and Jiro’s labored breathing as he tried to keep up with their long strides.

“Is your head clear?” Yoshimitsu asked quietly when they reached the leaning gate.

“Of course.” Takehira turned and extended an impatient hand for his sword. Only Yoshimitsu would come with him. The others prepared to take up their stations here to make sure the fight was not interrupted by curious constables or self-righteous passers-by. Takehira unwrapped the sword, dropping the cover in the snow for Jiro to pick up, and shoved the sword through his sash.

“Remember,” said Sadaie, one of the watchers, “attack like a tiger.”

The other added, “And hurry up. It’s too cold to stand around all night.”

Takehira and Yoshimitsu walked into the pale, gleaming courtyard and made their way around the main hall. Takehira fingered the hilt of his sword nervously, regretting that he had not thought this out properly. Nothing wrong with a quick and deadly attack, but how was he to discover where his sister and her lover were hiding? A belly cut, he thought. It was not immediately fatal. But the noise? The beardless wonder would scream like a stuck rabbit.

They rounded the final corner and saw that they were alone.

“Where is he?” Takehira grumbled. “Bet the coward’s not coming.”

“Be patient. We’re early.”

They waited. Takehira flexed his knees and worked his arms. Yoshimitsu paced.

The sound of a bell, thin and faint, signaled the beginning of the hour of the rat, the traditional time for such illegal encounters. When the last sound faded away, another bell sounded, and somewhere, disturbingly close by, the call of a night watchman confirmed the time.

They looked around again, back the way they had come, and ahead, but there was no one, and all was silent.

“Nothing!” Takehira kicked the snow savagely. “I might’ve known. He was having us on and like fools we fell for a kid’s trick.”

“We? Speak for yourself. You’re the one that picked the fight. All by yourself.”

“Shut up. What’ll I do now? I’ve got to find the bastard and his father. They’ve insulted my family.”

“That’s easy enough,” said Yoshimitsu. “Ask anyone who knows about sword fighting and they’ll point him out. I bet every street urchin knows where ‘Lightning Blade’ hangs out.”

“I can save you the trouble,” said a cool voice from the veranda of the hall.

The two guard officers whirled around. Yamada Hachiro jumped down into the snow with catlike elegance. He strolled toward them, wearing the same black robe, but now his trousers were in the narrow style, and he had wrapped them with black fabric as high as the knees. His long sword was pushed through the black sash.

About ten yards from them he stopped, a thin black brush stroke against the white snow. “Am I to fight both of you? And the two at the gate also?”

Takehira still gaped at the sudden appearance of his opponent, but Yoshimitsu answered for him. “Certainly not,” he snapped. “We’re guards officers and fight fairly. I’m only an unarmed observer, and the others make sure nobody interrupts us.”

“In that case, let’s waste no more time.” Reaching across his body with his right hand, Yamada Hachiro drew his blade so smoothly that the move looked almost like a dance. Then he took his position.

Takehira still stood, uncertain and glowering. Strangely, he could not call up the heat of anger that had led to the challenge in the first place, or the sense of sacred obligation to avenge the honor of his family. This scene in the cold, snow-bright temple courtyard felt unreal, like something from a bad dream, and the black figure with the sword belonged to the world of demons and ghouls.

Hachiro sighed loudly and straightened up, lowering his sword again. “Did you come for a snow viewing?”

Takehira flushed. “Before I kill you, I want to know where your bastard of a father has taken my sister,” he called out.

The other man laughed softly. “Such brotherly love. Even if I felt like telling you, you won’t need the information.” He took up his position again.

Takehira moved his hand to the sword grip but still hesitated.

Yoshimitsu frowned and urged, “You can’t back out now. Remember the guards and your family’s honor.”

“Curse you, Yoshi,” growled Takehira, pulling his blade free. “I don’t need you to tell me how to give a half-baked braggart a lesson in fighting. Come on you, Shining Sword, or whatever you call yourself, let’s see you fight a man’s battle. I’m Oba Takehira, son of Oba Hiramoto, and I’ve been using my sword since before you left your whore of a mother’s tits, you foul little Yamada bastard.”

His opponent said nothing, merely adjusted his stance a little when Takehira moved toward the left. The light was not good but Takehira could make out the other man’s steely eyes. For all his bravado, he quaked inside. Truth to tell, he had never fought for his life, and only one glance at the stern young face in front of him told him that this encounter would not stop with a superficial wound. His own intention of killing the upstart Yamada did not prevent his dismay that the other man might feel the same way. He had not considered the possibility before.
They circled warily as snowflakes drifted down, settling briefly on their hair, their faces, their clothes. Takehira was so tense that the muscles in his sword arm began to quiver. The other, curse him, looked completely relaxed, just waiting for the right moment.

Battle training taught speed and force in the attack. The sword was held high above one’s head during the charge so that it could be brought down with enough force to cut through steel and bone. But here Takehira must move cautiously, keeping his sword at chest height to protect himself against a sudden swipe because his opponent fought differently and planned his attacks. He could not do what his friends advised. Takehira’s muscles ached and his eyes burned as they gauged the other man’s intentions. In the pit of his belly, fear twisted like a slimy snake, and somewhere behind his eyes lurked despair.

When the first attack finally came, Takehira saw only a flash of the sword and reacted instinctively, throwing himself sideways. His foot slipped in the wet snow. He went down on one knee as his opponent’s blade whistled less than of foot above his head. He was in no position to strike back, but the dark figure of his attacker had already whirled away before the sound of his sword had faded into the night.

The silence was the worst, Takehira decided, as he jumped back up. In battle, a soldier shouted ferociously during the attack. Shouting gave a man the strength of ten-thousand tigers and instilled paralyzing fear in his opponent. In all their practice sessions, Takehira had had the most powerful voice. He had felt invincible then. Here there was no sound but the soft scuffling of feet in snow, the puffing of his breath, and that awful whistling made by the coming blade.

But from the abject depth of fear, Takehira somehow drew strength. He was an Oba, the oldest son and heir of a family trained to fight for their property and honor. Who was this second-rate Yamada compared to him? A mere stripling with no standing in the world. Only an adopted son without the blood of warriors in his veins. No, the gods would not tolerate that such a one should shame an Oba.

Seizing his sword with both hands, Takehira lifted it above his head and fixed his eyes on his adversary. Yamada had withdrawn a few steps to await Takehira’s next move, still with that unconcerned look on his smooth face, curse him. With a full-throated roar of fury, Takehira rushed him, every fiber of his body concentrated in his arms, his speed, his shout, his single thought on bringing down the heavy sword with all his strength on the unprotected head of Yamada. He would split him like log. His sword would slice through that arrogant face and into the body until the two halves would slowly part and fall to either side. And now was the moment, and Takehira slashed down.

But demonlike, the other man seemed to fly away and vanish into the air – when only a moment before he been so close that Takehira had been able to see the precise way his topknot was twisted and tied. Takehira’s sword traveled down unopposed and unstoppable and entered the snowy ground with a hiss. Takehira pulled it back, his head swiveling, searching for his victim, when he felt the blow to his upper thigh. And then he saw him, the devil, just to his right, taking his stance again. Waiting.
Takehira’s right leg felt odd, hot, burning as if it had been touched by fire. But he could not be bothered and raised his sword again, roared, and attacked. Nothing. The slippery demon had jumped out of reach again. Takehira stopped, breathing hard and cursing. His foot had slipped, that was all. He risked a glance downward and snapped his head back in disbelief. His white trouser leg had turned red and so had the snow he stood in. He looked over toward the temple hall where Yoshimitsu waited. His friend was preparing to jump down from the veranda.

Takehira knew that such blood loss would take his strength very quickly. Already he felt light-leaded. No more time for cautious circling and looking for the right moment to attack. He must kill his opponent quickly, or be killed himself.

As Yoshimitsu’s steps crunched toward them in the snow, Takehira turned toward his enemy and locked eyes with him. He raised his sword and saw Yamada start forward. Yamada’s face was set and cold now, and suddenly Takehira’s fear was back, curling in his belly, sucking the will out of him. Takehira prayed to the God Hachiman for help in this battle. And then he prayed to Buddha to save his life. And with the last shreds of his willpower and a final hoarse cry, he flung himself forward, holding the sword with both hands straight before him, his eyes on the place where the man’s navel must be, willing sword and navel to meet.

This time, he caught the other’s sideways move, saw the flash of his sword, and brought his own up to parry. The blades rang out like a scream in the silence of the snowy night. Takehira twisted away and tried to raise the sword again, but the other was gone and he was falling.

The snow came up to meet him, receiving him almost gently. He lay looking up at the dark figure looming above him. Death was very close, he thought, only breaths away. He tried to raise his sword, perhaps to ward off the fatal blow, perhaps to salute Death – only the sword was gone. His hand and part of his arm were also gone. He was waving a bloody stump against an empty sky.

The world became confusing then. Yoshimitsu appeared, looking down. He said something to Death.

White snow fell on his wounded arm and turned blood red. Takehira muttered in protest. Then Death was gone and instead his mother bent over him. But his mother was dead. It must be Toshiko. “Look at his leg,” she said. “He’s done for.” She sounded like a man. Takehira thought that’s what comes of letting a woman forget her place. He looked up at dark, faceless faces, muttered, “See . . .” and then snowflakes settled on his open eyes, cool like the night.

Snow cooling the fire in his arm, in his leg.

Snow turning the white night cold.

More about I.J. Parker's novels here:

Sunday, 16 October 2011

PUMPKINNAPPER, Regency Halloween comedy, 2011 EPIC Contest Finalist

Halloween is coming! How about some Regency Halloween comedy?

Let me tell you a tale of a love triangle: man, woman and goose. Join the fowl frolic as Henry the man and Henry the goose spar over heroine Emily's affections while they try to capture the foul (or is it fowl?) pumpkin thieves.

Pumpkinnapper was a finalist in the 2011 EPIC eBook Awards Competition in the Historical Romance category.

Pumpkin thieves, a youthful love rekindled and a jealous goose. Oh my!

Last night someone tried to steal the widowed Mrs. Emily Metcalfe's pumpkins. She's certain the culprit is her old childhood nemesis and the secret love of her youth, Henry, nicknamed Hank, whom she hasn't seen in ten years.

Henry, Baron Grey, who's never forgotten the girl he loved but couldn't pursue so long ago, decides to catch Emily's would-be thief. Even after she reveals his childhood nickname--the one he would rather forget. And even after her jealous pet goose bites him in an embarrassing place.

Oh, the things a man does for love.

"Emily, even with Henry, formidable as he is--" Hank glared at the goose. The goose glared back "--you need protection. I will send over some footmen to guard the place."

"No. Turnip Cottage belongs to Charlotte's husband. What will the townspeople think, with Lord Grey's servants about my house?"

Her refusal increased his fury. The sight of her hand on that damned goose's head didn't improve his mood, either. He balled his fists as his patience thinned and something else thickened. "I'll find you a guard dog. You must have some protection out here all alone."

"But I have Henry." She patted the goose's head and the bird snuggled into her hand. Again.

Heat flooded Hank, part desire for Emily's touch, and part desire to murder that damned goose, who was where he wanted to be. His insides groaned. "Very well, then, you leave me no choice. I will help you catch the culprits."


He changed his voice to the voice that either melted a woman or earned him a slap in the face. "Who knows, mayhap we would enjoy ourselves as I lie in wait with you." I would love to lie with you.

Her eyes widened. Had she understood the innuendo?

"I cannot stay alone with you, and you know it," she said, her voice severe.

"You are a widow in your own home and no one will see. I will make sure of it."

"No." She marched back into her cottage and slammed the door. Henry smirked and waddled away.

Hank grinned. He would be back, whether she liked it or not.

All REVIEWS are here:

The Wild Rose Press:

All Romance Ebooks:

Barnes and Noble:

New! Now on Amazon:

Author Bio:

Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!

I'm Linda Banche, and I write witty, sweet/sensual Regency romances with nary a rake or royal in sight. Most contain humor, some fantasy, and occasionally a little paranormal. But comedy is my love, and I've created my own wacky blend of humor and Regency with stories that can elicit reactions from a gentle smile to a belly laugh.

Like many other romance authors, I read romances for years before I wrote my own. Once I tried, I quickly discovered how difficult writing is. Did I stop? No, I'm persistent--that's French for "too stupid to quit".

I live in New England and like aerobics and ducks.

So, laugh along with me on a voyage back to the Regency era. Me and my ducks. Quack.

I have four Regency novellas, all from The Wild Rose Press. LADY OF THE STARS (time travel, finalist in Science Fiction Romance in the 2010 EPIC eBook Contest), PUMPKINNAPPER (finalist in the 2011 EPIC Contest in the Historical Romance category. I'm two for two now. I've entered the EPIC contest twice, and I've finaled twice.), MISTLETOE EVERYWHERE, GIFTS GONE ASTRAY and AN INHERITANCE FOR THE BIRDS (coming 2/1/2012).

Thank you all,
Linda Banche
Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Lindsay Townsend: 'Bronze Lightning'

My mainstream historical novel 'Bronze Lightning' is now half-price at Bookstrand until Feb 2012. Please see below for details of the novel.

'Bronze Lightning,' historical romance, Winner, Christmas Award 2009 for Red Roses for Authors

Blurb: Ancient Krete, 1562 BC.

Sarmatia is a trainer for the Bull Rite, the dangerous, glamorous ceremony of bull-leaping that gave a young Kretan entry into adulthood. Fearn is healer from the distant northern Isle of Stones summoned for his skills to the sick-bed of Minos, the Kretan king. They meet on the dusty flagstones of the palace courtyard and both save a life.
A year passes. They are betrothed, but Fearn has returned home and is chosen king of his small northern country. As king, master of storms, he cannot return to Krete. Fearn writes to Sarmatia releasing her from her vows - but is this what they really want?
Sarmatia leaves Krete to search for Fearn. Many months and life-and-death adventures later, she is reunited with him. She and Fearn are still deeply in love but there is an unknown enemy working against them, one who will stop at nothing, even murder.

"In Bronze Lightning I wanted to show ancient Krete, ancient Egypt, Stonehenge and Avebury as they might have been when people lived and worshipped there, the magic and beliefs of Bronze Age Europe, and two young lovers, Sarmatia and Fearn, who are driven apart by fate but who both fight to be reunited." ~ Lindsay ~

A BookStrand Mainstream Romance : Lindsay Townsend

4.5 RED ROSES: "This is a remarkable book in that it takes you back in time. It is well written so that you get a glimpse of the world at that time and it gives you a wonderful mystery as to who is behind the attacks and keeps you guessing as to what will happen next. The many twists and turns keep you engrossed as you try to figure out who is behind all the mishaps that keep happening." -- Linda Sole, Red Roses for Authors

4 STARS: "Bronze Lightning transports readers back in time. I felt as though I was watching the ancient rites into adulthood. I felt the fear of the young initiate fear and triumph. Bronze Lightning is beautifully written. Fans of historical romance will enjoy Bronze Lightning." -- Debra Gaynor, Review Your Book


Sarmatia spun away and was gone, somersaulting over her hands and landing with a soft clash of gold ankle bells. Their meeting of eyes had lasted no more than a breath, yet it kept returning to haunt her as the music shrilled to a climax and the piebald bull was let into the court. Even as the flute players left and the Bull Rite began, her gaze was drawn to the back of the courtyard.

Three of the seven had completed their Passage and two were gone: the fourth initiate should have been ready. As the bull came to a jolting stop at one end of the court, pawed restively and licked the painted flags, Sarmatia motioned to a creamy-skinned, gray-eyed girl. The youngster backed up a step. The bull raised its head, its horn scraping against a pillar. The girl blanched and looked wildly about, ready to run. In three strides Sarmatia made up the space between them and gripped her arm. Unseen by the families, she pressed the flat of her dagger into the initiate's side. Cruel to be kind, she threatened.

'This or the bull if you show your back, Pero!' she whispered, turning the blade for the girl to feel its edge. 'The only way out is through the horns.' Whatever Sarmatia's private disgust and unease, custom and the crowd demanded it. They would not forgive Pero if she failed.

'I can't!' Pero was shaking and near tears. A low murmur ran around the watching crowd like a wind through barley: the mob and the bull would not wait much longer. Pierced by pity, Sarmatia squeezed the girl's thin shoulder. 'Do you want to be a child all your life?' she asked gently.

'Sarmatia, I can't! Those horns, they're like knives, and the bull— Oh, Mother!' Pero's voice cracked. 'It's looking for me!' The bull had trotted out of the shadows at the back of the courtyard.

Sarmatia stepped in front of Pero, shielding the girl. 'Look, it's nothing.' She ran forward, clapping her hands.

The bull halted and its head slewed round towards them, a brown forelock covering one eye. 'To me!' she shouted.

The beast dropped its great horns. She heard the people applaud. With an explosion of dust the bull charged. She felt its hot, closed mind surrounding her. For an instant skill deserted her. She remembered she was too old for the Bull Rite. A blaze of gold spilled from the bull's horns, instinct returned and with it sureness. She caught the horns and let herself rise. Time and the horizon fell back, she could see the blue vault of heaven, the red-mouthed 'O' of the crowd, a flash of red-gold hair as Fearn turned his head, following her descent. Her feet touched the bony rump of the bull, she tucked in her arms and somersaulted off, running forward as she landed.

Behind her the beast gave a sulky grunt, swept this way and that with its horns and lashed its tail. Pero worked her way into its sight, swaying her hips to keep quick and supple. The piebald ambled off in the opposite direction then suddenly spun about and bore down on the girl in another burst of speed. Sarmatia moved to cover Pero's tumble and signalled to the remaining initiates to do the same. She heard the girl seize the bull's horns, with a great smack on each palm, and saw her tossed, arching like a dolphin in mid-air and rising clear of the deadly gilded horns. The time of peril would be when the girl landed. If Pero caught an ankle or winded herself, Sarmatia knew she would have to be in quickly to distract the beast.

There was a shower of dark hair and Pero touched earth to a roar from her family. Sarmatia grabbed her arm and pulled her clear, but was not fast enough: already the bull had skidded round. Too late, Sarmatia realized what the beast had seen. A child had kicked a hole in the fencing and was running out into the turbid afternoon light. No time to draw the bull off— all she could hope for was to reach the boy first.

Sprinting, her insides turning to water, Sarmatia rushed for the child. As her hands closed round his tiny—so tiny!—body and her cheek grazed the stones she thought, with terrible clarity: I promised they would be safe. I've failed.

For a second, a dark breathing shadow hung over her. Then came pain, the slow tearing punch of the horn.

                                                                  * * * *

She came awake suddenly, crying out. Firm hands kept her flat against the stones.

'Peace, Kretan,' said the man crouched beside her, pressing a cloth onto the spurting wound in her side. 'There's nothing to fear.' In the sun his hair framed his broad-featured face like a nimbus, yet there was darkness behind him. The bull was still free in the courtyard.

Sarmatia wet her lips with her tongue. 'The child?'
Fearn jerked his head to one side. 'Ramose has taken his son. He's safe.' The initiates were also gone, the crowd hanging back, uncertain what to do.
They were alone in the court, except for the bull. Fearn pressed on her side again then withdrew the cloth. A dark spiral of blood pooled under Sarmatia's ribs; blood no longer pumped from the wound. She scarcely felt it as he bound the gash with a bandage made from his tunic. 'You must leave, Sir, the bull—'

She broke off, eyes widening, and Fearn whipped round. Ready to gore, the bull was lowering its huge head, its face so close that its breath stirred the bristles of Fearn's beard. Fearn threw up an arm to fend off the horns and drove a fist into the face of the beast. 'Get back!' He hit the creature a second time. 'Learn your lesson!'
The bull snorted and the healer shifted, covering Sarmatia completely with his body. He stamped the stones and shouted at the beast. ‘Go on! Go on!’
As Fearn's boot hammered the flags, there came the rumble of a distant storm, like the muffled roar of a lion. The beast started back and with a bellow turned tail and ran.

'Bronze Lightning' links to all sellers, including Bookstrand, here.

Best wishes, Lindsay

Lindsay Townsend

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Nancy Means Wright: 'The Nightmare'

In The Nightmare, the 18th-century author of “The Vindication of the Rights of Woman” reacts when Henry Fuseli’s famous painting “The Nightmare” is stolen, and a beautiful but dead female arranged to resemble it. Publishers Weekly says: “Wright skillfully evokes people and ideas from the age of Enlightenment in her entertaining mystery featuring Mary Wollstonecraft (after Midnight Fires), which once again shows how Mary’s brilliance as a freethinker could have made her an expert crime-solver.” (Prologue and Chapter One below:)

THE NIGHTMARE by Nancy Means Wright
London: Spring, 1781

Henry Fuseli had run through three models already, each unable to hold the pose he demanded. Now the fourth girl, Sophia, was complaining, "I have to move. I can't feel my arm. The blood is running out of my head. I may faint."
"No," Henry said. "Not yet." The girl was lying on her back; head, neck, and left arm hanging off the bed, fingers twitching. He waved away her plaint. The pose was nothing for a girl of sixteen years. Why, he himself had lain on his forty-year-old back for weeks in the Sistine Chapel, musing on Michelangelo's ceiling!
The girl's cheeks were tinged with pink, her hair a lemony pool on the Turkey rug. Turning back to his canvas, he painted an incubus squatting on her breast, its head toward the viewer, an impish smile on its thin lips for what it was about to do.
The arrangement was perfect: folds and pleats of reddish drapery; the arm white as milk; the soft curves of flesh—he touched the nipple with his brush, let it linger there. He stood back to contemplate the painting. It was coming to fruition; still, it lacked something. He wiped his hand on an oily rag and breathed in the turpentine, the linseed oil. He squeezed his eyes shut, straining for the vision that had come to him the week before, when he had woken from a bad dream. The raw pork he had eaten for dinner did that to him: bad dreams. But then the images came flooding, like this one—idea and image, fused. The sleeping woman, the incubus, the light from the south window illuming her body, and in the upper left corner—ja! he would paint a horse, that ancient sexual symbol. Just the horse's head, the pointy ears, the bulging eyes of the voyeur, the open mouth—saliva on the tongue.
He was painting furiously now, deaf to the model's whimperings; he applied a dab of burnt ochre with a fine brush. When the candle burned to the nub he lit another. He was inside the painting, inside the dream. He was horse and incubus, voyeur and participant. Horse and devil, unseen by the sleeper but instilling in her its terror. He was the female sleeper as well: dreaming, unaware of horse and devil, yet filled with its dread. Wanting and not wanting to be taken, ravished.
But how to show the literal—the reality?
A looking glass, ja! There would be a looking glass, showing only the sleeper—not the incubus, not the horse—only the sleeping woman in her nightmare. Nightmare... the title of the work came to him. The Nightmare! Night-mare. He laughed out loud at the pun; with his trembling right hand he picked up his mug, tipped the strong ale down his throat, and let it spill into his collar. He glanced at the young model and saw she had fallen asleep. The fingers were quiet. It was better that way. Later he would take her to bed and she would have her reward.
He took up the brush again in his left hand, and leaning forward, propelled his vision onto canvas.

Midwinter & Spring, 1792

An Insulting Proposal and an Impious Painting

When the knock came, Dulcie was in the sitting room of the Store Street house in London, curled up on the shabby green sofa, and sipping a dish of freshly brewed China tea. She did not bother to get up. It was probably a tradesman, come for payment of last night's mutton chop or the bottle of claret the mistress had ordered for her publisher's supper. Miss Mary disliked having to deal with tradesmen—usually she owed them money. She had nightmares enough without that, she said. She had instructed Dulcie not to open the door.
But when the knock sounded louder and a voice with it: "Open up for the love of God, I've an offer of marriage for the lady of the house, I ain't got all day!" Dulcie slapped her teacup into its saucer and tiptoed to the front window. A bent stick of a man in a grease-stained coat was standing on the doorstep with a withered rose and a paper in his grubby hands. Surely it wasn't himself making the offer? Miss Mary would fell him like a fly with a crack of the swatter.
"Open up!" he shouted. "The master awaits 'is reply. 'E's a colleague of 'er bookseller's printer. I were told by Mister Johnson, the lady'd be in. The gentleman's a-waiting, I said." "One moment, if you please," Dulcie called, then sat back to finish her tea. Did he think she had nothing to do all day but wait on his rude words? Dulcie did not consider herself a menial, but an "unservant," a "helper-about-the-house." She had made that clear when she took the position, and Miss Mary understood. She was swallowing a last bit of raspberry jam when voices erupted outside on the step. Good Lord—it was Miss Mary herself, home from her walk—and already accosting the fellow. Grabbing a broom, Dulcie began a vigorous sweeping by the window.
For a moment there was quiet. She peeked through the curtain. Ah yes, her mistress was by the street door, reading the note, the offer of marriage. Dulcie giggled. She knew what was coming next. For one thing, the mistress did not believe in marriage. "Marriage is merely a legal prostitution," Miss Mary had read aloud at the writing table one day—and Dulcie had sharp ears, something a non-servant-lady's maid-cook like Dulcie had learned to cultivate.
"A marriage proposal for me?" The authoress sounded amused. "From whom, may I ask?"
A moment later she was in shock—or so it seemed. "Edgar Ashcroft is it? That arch-conservative who belittles women in his editorials? Why, he'd have me lisp and play at cards and spend five hours a day at dressing and never read a book. I could not do it. No!"
"Dear madam," came the whining voice of the scraggy go-between. "'E just 'eard you was wanting for money. 'E owns a newspaper, 'e does. 'E can 'elp with your writing."
"What help do I need with my writing? I have all the help I need in here." She jabbed a finger at her forehead. "I do not want Mr Ashcroft's money. I do not need his advice."
A yellow carriage with ornamental red wheels and the image of a sunflower with a woman's smiling face halted in front of the house. A man in a red satin coat and tight black breeches leapt out, arms extended as though he would embrace the mistress. Seeing her step back, he flung himself on his knees. The mistress looked down, and laughed.
"Mister Ashcroft," she cried. "Here is your answer." She ripped the paper from the envoy's fingers, and flung the pieces in the air. A fragment landed in the man's high-crowned hat; another caught in his collar. "So much, Mr Ashcroft, for your scribbling-women-should-be-banished attitude. For your adulation of King Louis and his gaudy queen. Oh, I read your anti-Revolution piece: Hang the mob? Save the monarchy? I say, down with kingcraft and priestcraft. Up with the people. Up with women writers!"
"But madam," Mr Ashcroft stammered, stumbling to his feet. "It was your own publisher, Mr Johnson, who told me of your, er, impecunious state. I own my newspaper. I own two dress shops. You shall have your pick of gowns, you shall be—"
"A fool," she said, "that's what I'd be. Now, pray, go." She took a giant step forward, risking a pile of dog droppings on the cobblestones. "And do not come to me again as if I were a—a hapless female needing charity. I may be poor, sir. But I belong to myself. No other. And certainly not to you, sir!"
"But past the marrying age, if I might say so, 'scuse me, madam," said the sly envoy. And got a whack on the cheek as she stepped forward to pluck a fragment of the torn offer out of the underling's bobwig. Faces peered out from a passing carriage; a man and a woman snickered. The suitor's face darkened.
Behind the window glass, Dulcie gave envoy and suitor a fist. Past the marrying age indeed! True, Madam was two years past thirty—but made no secret of it. And if she was not ready to marry, she was surely ready for love—and this rude fellow offered money, not love. It was the notorious artist, Mr Henry Fuseli, who might offer love—or so Miss Mary hoped. Dulcie had seen the flames that lit up her face and neck whenever the Swiss artist came to call. She opened the door wide and the mistress swept into the entryway, her beaver hat askew, the hem of her black greatcoat and dress splashed with a putrid brown. The man was angry. Dulcie saw it on his face as he stalked back to his gaudy carriage.
"For God's sake, pour me a glass of claret," Miss Mary said, and flung herself, exhausted, onto the sofa. One arm hung down to the dusty floor and Dulcie was chagrined that she hadn't finished the sweeping. But the mistress didn't seem to notice.
"I did for him, did I not, Dulcie?"
"Aye, you did, ma'am—for the both of them. 'Twas a wonder to witness." She watched the pleasure of the victory creep slowly over the mistress's full lips.
Dulcie thought of the black look Mr Ashcroft had given as he left. Folk did not like to be humiliated—especially in front of others. They did not like to be laughed at. Were the mistress a man, he might throw down his glove and demand a duel. What, she wondered, might he do to a woman?
Mary was not in the best of moods when she arrived at No.72, St Paul's Churchyard, where the bookseller, also her patron and publisher (along with many other such) had his home, shop, and salon in the shadow of the great cathedral. She set down the first six sheets of Part Two of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman for typesetting. Part One was already in circulation, and despite the shock and outrage from certain conservatives, it was applauded (to her delight) by the cognoscenti, and Joseph Johnson wanted a sequel.
She was still smarting from yesterday's encounter with Edgar Ashcroft. And she was unhappy that no opportunity was given to revise her work. Pages were rushed into print as soon as they were written, by the surly printer, Hunt, and set in stone, as it were. Hereafter she would give Mr. Johnson the entire manuscript at once—she would not do it his way. She told him so.
"And so be it, my dear," said her publisher, with a stiff little bow of his slight body — then, accommodating as always, a wry smile, a shy wink.
He had a way of saying nay with the same indulgent smile, as though Mary were his daughter and he was refusing her request for chocolate because they both knew it marred her complexion. She could not help but smile back at him. Such a funny little asthmatic man he was in his rumpled blue waistcoat, his grey-black hair tied back with a stained blue ribbon.
"Sit down now and I'll tell you what I've arranged for this afternoon. Something you've been wanting to see." He thrust a glass of cider and a chocolate biscuit into her hands. A forthright, earnest man in his fifties, with large, dark blue eyes that probed her every mood and foible, Joseph Johnson had taken her in when she was penniless and exhausted from a somewhat humiliating year as governess in Ireland, and set her up in a small house, rent free. Now he touched her cheek with his ink-stained hand. "Why, you're all in a heat, my dear."
"Why should I not be, after that dreadful man came to my house. You set him on, Mr Johnson, admit it! He claimed to be a colleague of Cyrus Hunt."
And there was the printer in the shadows, crouched over a manuscript the publisher had handed him to take back to the Fleet Street print shop. She knew the toady was listening; she saw the muscles work in his sallow cheeks.
"Consider now," Joseph said, getting up to reset the mahogany grandfather's clock that had just donged the wrong hour. "A little money would see you through your sequel to Vindication. Not that I encouraged Ashcroft, no," he said when she held up a hand. "He came to tea with a friend—and will not come again, I assure you. He is not one of us."
Mary took a gulp of the cider and squared her shoulders. She did not want to alienate her benefactor—she owed her very life to him. But the proposed marriage implied nothing less than a prostitution of her person for a maintenance. Her cheeks ripened. "I'm proud of my poverty," she cried. "I will not be insulted by a superficial fop!"
"There, there," he said, patting her hand, "no one is asking you to. You've given your answer, you must stand by it. Oh, absolutely. We'll see how much money the new book makes for us. In a month or two we'll take our trip to Paris, shall we? See what's going on with the Revolution? Watch the world change before our eyes, hey?"
"Shall we?" she said, clapping her hands, her mood altered with thoughts of France, the uprising of the people. Oh, but she did long to see history in the making. And she wanted to meet the liberal Marquis de Condorcet who shared her advocacy of equal education for girls and boys, and who was writing a plan, she heard, for the schooling of French females. Why they might write one together! She wanted to change not only her own, but all women's lives. She wouldn't allow a man to keep his unhappy wife's baby as her brother-in-law had. Or an inheritance, the way her brother Ned had kept their grandfather's legacy for himself alone—ignoring his needy siblings.
Joseph was refilling her glass, pressing another chocolate biscuit into her hand. It was worth a blemish or two, yes. She could cover those with powder.
He leaned closer and she tilted her head. He had said something about an arrangement for this afternoon—an outing, perhaps. He was a good man, a kind man, the father she didn't have. Her own father was a drunkard, a man who had killed her mother with his womanising ways. A man who sent letters twice a week, demanding his "rightful" share of her money. What money?
But here was the publisher grinning at her, full of his plans. She squeezed his hand. He returned it and wheezed a laugh. "So what is it, sir," she asked, "this arrangement, this wintry afternoon's outing?"
"I have arranged with our mutual friend Henry Fuseli—"
Ah, Henry, as she'd hoped! She felt the blush coming on. She had been full of Henry Fuseli ever since they had met at one of Johnson's literary suppers. The artist was romantic, dangerous, diabolical. He was the grand passion she had been longing for. Years of male betrayal had brought her low. Now Henry Fuseli's love—well, he did greatly admire her, did he not?—was bringing her to life again.
It would not be physical, no, nothing like that. She was still a virgin. A virgin at thirty-two! Ah well. She glanced over Johnson's shoulder to see The Kiss, a painting that Henry Fuseli had loaned, a painting that carried the effect of the kiss from the lips down to the thighs, and even the quivery toes. Ah...
"To see the original of The Nightmare," he said. "The painting is back from Russia, home now in his private gallery. It is a bit shocking, my dear, prepare yourself. But I think you should see it."
Joseph was narrowing his eyes at her: he knew her all too well. He had seen her conversing with Henry Fuseli. It was the way the artist probed her psyche with those black orbs that melted her bones; the way he cocked his head slightly to listen to her, smiling, as though he agreed; as though he thought her a genius, like himself. Had he not said so one time? But with him she had met her match. Along with Joseph, he was her teacher.
"Shall we go then, my dear?"
She looked down at her old wool dress, the black worsted stockings still mud-stained from yesterday's encounter. Her hair, at its lankest under the old beaver hat. "But you might have warned me. I can't go like this!"
"Oh, dear me, he's seen you in that gown," Joseph teased, and she smiled.
So she had worn the black wool every day the past week. What did she care about fashion? To dress fashionably suited neither her inclination nor her purse. "All right then. But let me scrub the mud off the hem. Brush my hair."
She ran down a flight into the kitchen to find a basin of water; then two flights up, her wet hems dragging, to the looking glass on the wall of the spare bedchamber. A scissors was lying on a nearby table. She trimmed her hair until it curled about her face. She looked like a fringed curtain, but no matter.
"Ah, Henry, my dear..." she whispered into the mirror, and pinched her cheeks to summon up the blood. She was ready, yes, for an afternoon's adventure.
Mary was unprepared for what she saw on the wall at the Fuseli gallery. A sleeping woman in an attitude of utter abandon, looking naked as a summer day under the translucent white shift. She lay against a crimson-draped background, her fair hair and plump shoulders dropped back over the edge of her couch. A grinning goblin crouched on her chest. Mary gasped. In the left corner of the painting, the ghostly head of a horse loomed, its flaring nostrils and staring eyes inflamed at the sight of the reclining virgin.
The Nightmare.
It was horrible. It was wonderful. It was fascinating. She could not stop looking. She put a hand to her cheek and it burned. Earlier she had walked past scenes painted from Shakespeare and Milton depicting hunts, battles, deaths, despair, horror, exalted emotion. She saw faces with staring eyes, slumped bodies, heaving breasts, tensed and muscled thighs. Incubi and succubi, witches, magic steeds, dreams, fire. A Lady Macbeth like a maenad with daggers. A naked Richard III, visited by ghosts.
But The Nightmare...
People called the artist vain, sardonic, lecherous—they were wrong. Mary's friend William Blake, who had illustrated her Original Stories, called him a genius. And so he was. Why, Henry Fuseli was kind, humane, and thoughtful! Mary formed her judgements quickly and stuck to them. Her first instincts were often right. Though when wrong, she conceded, very wrong. In future she would try to correct such failings.
A man loomed behind her: a tall, lean, pallid fellow in his thirties. "Mon Dieu, a painting of genius!" He spoke in a thick French accent; he had a brown mole on his chin that he kept stroking. "This entire room: a melange of terror! Blood and murder! Fuseli was eating raw pork, that is what brought on The Nightmare. Imagine! See the way he uses light, the way the shadows fall on the drapery. The muscularity of his figures—one thinks of Michelangelo. C'est merveilleux!"
Mary was not looking at the light. Or the texture. She was looking at the goblin that was squatting on the sleeping woman's breast. It leered, as though it would bide its time, then plunge to ravish her. The woman was asleep, yet one could sense her terror the way her head fell back, exposing her bare throat. Mary thought of her own recurring nightmares, and shuddered.
"A priceless work! But surely not one for ladies." The Frenchman gave a short laugh. "Allow me to introduce myself: I am Alfred de Charpentier. Le Comte de Charpentier," he hastened to add. He had recently fled the flames of Paris; he was now living in a shared enclave of émigrés. "You see, I value my head highly," he said, with another laugh. "But perhaps you do not know all that is happening in ma belle France."
Mary knew quite well, she informed him. She had followed the news with great interest—even joy. She pitied this count, truly she did, but he must see how important for the world this revolution was, how corrupt the monarchy, her own English king and queen as well. "Indulging themselves," she said, "pampering, eating pastries and cream while the people starve."
Monsieur was not prepared for her eloquence. He was not a monarchist himself. "Mais non! I am aristocracy on my mother's side only, but targeted by those starving people."
When Mary told him her name, his eyes lit up. He had heard of her earlier work, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, a work she had written to rebut the conservative Edmund Burke. "It is indeed revolutionary. I congratulate you on its publication. But I am afraid I cannot read it and smile. I have lost my home and title as a result of that revolution." He moved on, bowing gracefully.
Henry Fuseli came up behind and clapped a hand on her shoulder. "He's not a bad fellow. You turned him away, did you?" He laughed. "One more impecunious emigré living off the fat of the English land. Drifting with the tides of public opinion. Trying to save his ugly head. London is full of them."
He saw her glance again at the painting. "Shocked, eh?" He seemed pleased with her reaction. "They all are. But they'd like to get their hands on it. In Russia they shot a fellow for trying to steal it." He laughed, and she gave a tremulous smile, but could not look at him. All that voluptuous flesh lay between them. He was married now, but no matter. She wanted only to share his mind.
He was half an inch shorter than she (though she was tall for a woman), small-boned, but such an aura of mystery about him. Those penetrating eyes that drilled right through her gown. The hair unruly, unpowdered like her own—she liked that; it was white from some long-ago, mysterious illness that had afflicted his hands as well as his hair. Even now she felt a hand tremble on her shoulder. So much trauma in those fifty years that had known the love of woman and man—oh yes, there were rumours about Henry Fuseli.
Whatever the artist had done was his prerogative. A genius need not abide by the rules of the majority.
The genius pulled her about to face him, his movements quick and catlike. She squinted into the dark eyes, mesmerized. Then he turned her toward The Nightmare, and she looked back into the eyes of the voyeur horse.
She felt torn in half, as though the beast in the painting were stalking her, taming her, propelling her toward a bedchamber. She grew lightheaded, she had to sit down. She pushed past him, out of breath, out of words. Mary Wollstonecraft, out of words?
"I told you it's powerful, that Nightmare." It was Joseph Johnson, bending solicitously over her where she had collapsed onto a scarlet settee. "But you wanted to see it. I couldn't refuse you. Every painting in here, brilliant. But The Nightmare is Fuseli's favorite, like the child he's never had—or acknowledged. A masterpiece, indeed. It hung for a time in my own house, did I tell you? He made me lock all my doors."
"Oh," she said, imagining tea and crumpets in front of all that eroticism.
"But my housekeeper kept covering it up. So I gave it back. And then all the museums in Europe wanted it. He's thrilled to have it home now in London."
The artist was standing at the gallery entrance, and at the moment he didn't seem thrilled at anything; rather his eyes were hot with anger. It seemed directed at a young man and woman standing before him. Behind them, the blond Sophia Fuseli stood smiling, triumphant, as though she had brought her husband a pair of sweet cakes.
The man, Mary saw, was Roger Peale, a dark-haired young radical who had lately taken part in the weekly gatherings at the publisher's house. He was poor, a struggling artist—talented they said, though she had not seen his work. Joseph had given him, in good faith, an assignment to critique Fuseli's Shakespeare paintings at a local gallery. And what did the impetuous Peale do, Joseph whispered to Mary, but belittle the work: "'Not his cup of tea,' he wrote. Well, all right, but then he went on to call it 'crude, indulgent, filled with gratuitous violence.' The knave disparaged it in no less than three newspapers. And now he presumes to enter the private gallery?"
Mary struggled to her feet. And was pulled back down. "Wait," Joseph said. "Let's see what happens."
Henry was ordering the pair out of the house, his cheeks swollen with resentment. The young woman, too, looked upset; she was trying to pull her companion out with her. Mary recognized Lillian Guilfoy, who had once accompanied Roger Peale to the publisher's. Mrs Guilfoy painted teacups with roses and lilies; she was pretty with her dark curly hair and wide cornflower eyes, the smooth white bosom peeking above the snug bodice.
Mary had once seen Henry Fuseli peering down that bodice. She curled her hands into fists.
Mr Peale was here to review The Nightmare for The Times. He would be open, he was shouting; he would be objective. "You must take bad with the good, sir. You have dozens of disciples. Why are you so worried?"
He was not worried, Fuseli growled. "Not from an objective reporter. You, sir, are hardly objective. Now leave the premises or I shall have my man escort you out!" His Swiss accent thickened, Mary observed, when he was upset. He signaled to a footman; the blond, hulking fellow took a menacing step in the young artist's direction. Peale was a slight but handsome man—poetical was how Mary would describe his features. She hoped there would be no violence. She tried to stand again, this time in favour of young Peale, but Joseph had her arm.
"It's hard for Peale to be objective," he whispered. "I didn't realize when I first assigned him a piece."
"And why not?"
"Think," he said. "He's in love with the Guilfoy woman. She had a child, you know. They say it was Fuseli's."
Mary did not know. She looked at Henry Fuseli. She was feeling lightheaded again.
"Perhaps it was his, my dear. Though he denies it. And Henry wanted nothing to do with any child. What could he do? He was involved with that cousin of his at the time. 'Twould have been damned embarrassing. He gave Mrs Guilfoy a painting. But she destroyed it. Over his head, I believe."
The intruders were backing away. The blond footman resumed his stance by the wall. Sophia Fuseli was in tears. She had made a mistake by letting them in: "It won't happen again," she said, wiping her eyes. Her husband did not comfort her.
"It was naive of Mrs Guilfoy to destroy it," Joseph said. "A Fuseli painting would take care of the child's education had she sold it. I can't understand such carelessness."
Mary understood. One day she would call upon Mrs Guilfoy; they would talk, woman to woman.
The artist's face was a wreath of smiles. He had rid the gallery of his biased critic. He moved swiftly toward Mary, reaching for her hands.
"You look be-eau-ti-ful today," he told her. "What have you done with your hair?" His eyes gazed deeply into hers, and the earth reeled about her sun.
Though when he turned away to speak to Joseph, she could see only the brown goblin, leering.