Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Lady's Slipper - orchids, obsession and murder

Top Pick! Swift's eye for detail and language augment this atypical debut. Compelling and intriguing, this is a
well-told story full of wonderful prose and surprising events. It's a vivid addition to the genre. 
RT BookReviews

Realistic dialogue, an author's obvious love for history, and characters that leap off the pages, THE LADY'S SLIPPER is a brilliant saga set in a time of confusion in England as it recovers from years of civil strife.
Romance Reviews Today

The story behind the Lady's Slipper Orchid and the book
In this excerpt you will notice that the Quaker, Richard Wheeler, speaks in the traditional old-fashioned Quaker way with 'thee' and 'thou.' Quakers believed in telling the truth, even to the degree that addressing a single person as 'you' - the plural form of address - was an untruth.


Alice did not often get to Kendal town, for to her regret, hiring a hackney was expensive, and could only be done once in a while. But today she had a number of errands to run that could not be trusted to anyone else. She had Thomas’s letters to deliver to the post and was to collect some other documents from the notary. It was chilly, and she was wearing a closed bonnet and a black woollen cape, but she was anxious not to be away from her work or the lady’s slipper for too long, so she made haste down the narrow streets, clutching the bundle of letters in her cold hands.

The town was thronging, for today was the meat market, and there were many horses and carriages from neighbouring villages, anxious to secure salt beef and bacon for the coming winter. She side-stepped a man carrying a shoulder of mutton, and headed down the cobbled hill towards the notary’s office.

On the counter in front of the ironmonger’s board, a bright copper kettle caught her eye and she paused to look at it, idly contemplating the other items – flat irons, crimpers, goffers, and tongs, scoops and ladles. She picked up a pretty doorknocker embossed with a rose, and held it up into the light to see the pattern. As she did so, she caught sight of a familiar figure in a brown felt hat, just rounding the corner. He was striding purposefully up the hill, his head bent down into the wind, a bulging canvas bag slung over his shoulder.

She bolted inside the shop, the doorknocker still in her hand, and turned her back to the door, feigning interest in the hanging scuttles, brushes and pokers. The shopkeeper followed her inside,

“Yes, mistress?”

She kept one eye fixed on the road outside as she held out the door knocker and asked,

“Have you more of these?”

“More?” He looked at her as if he did not understand.

Of course, people usually only needed one doorknocker. She saw Wheeler’s tall figure flash past the open awning.

“Well, yes, I do have more, mistress. How many would you like?”

Distracted, she said, “No thank you. Nothing at all. Good day.” And she put the doorknocker down on the table, leaving the shopkeeper staring down at it, nonplussed.

Scanning left and right as she came out of the dingy interior of the shop, she saw Wheeler’s broad back wending uphill between the other pedestrians. She crossed the road, for she did not want a battle of wits with him again if she could avoid it, and made her way quickly to where the overhanging buildings provided a shadow. She set off walking in the opposite direction.

She stopped briefly at the hosier’s, where she had ordered some new stockings in knitted silk. The weave was very fine, practically transparent. She put her hand inside one of them and admired the white silk look of her skin through the fabric, and the almost invisible seam, with its tiny fairy-like stitches. They were costly, but Thomas had never been close-fisted and she always had tokens in her purse, despite hints from acquaintances that his money lending business was teetering.

She had a few minutes very pleasant conversation with the hosier, who told her about Geoffrey’s wife, Emilia, and her latest order for long hose with tiny beads sewn up the back, and lace garters. Naturally these would be unsuitable for a woman in mourning, such as herself, but she enjoyed hearing about them before she swung out of the door, the thin wrapped parcel under her arm. She was still smiling as she launched herself up the street and straight into the solid chest of Richard Wheeler.

Agitated, she stepped back.

“Mistress Ibbetson, I beg pardon.”

“Mr. Wheeler.” She assessed the width of the path to see if she could make her excuses and leave, but he was blocking her way. She was sure it was deliberate. Curse the man.

“Thou art not at thy easel today, then?”

“No. No, I had some business in town,” she lifted the letters into his view.

He looked casually away, tapping his boot on the ground. “The rare orchid that was taken from my wood. There has still been no word of it.” He returned his gaze to her face, which by now had grown hot under her bonnet. “But if it were to be replaced, returned to its natural growing place, then I assure thee, that would be the end of the matter.”

She steeled herself. “I have said before, I know nothing of it. Excuse me.” “Besides, it has a sentimental value to me. I desire its return most fervently.”

“Then I sincerely hope you will find it, but I say again, it has nothing to do with me.”

Again she made to pass him, but he would not let her by. His face was stormy now, his eyebrows lowered. His voice came out loud and harsh. One of his hands was balled into a fist. He looked as though he might grab hold of her. Astonished, she backed away.

“Mistress Ibbetson. I do not like to be taken for a fool. I tell the truth and I would seek the same courtesy from thee. What wouldst thou have me do? Shake thee? Send for the Constable?”

“You must do as you think fit.” She turned on her heel and left him standing in the street behind her. She did not turn, just hied away as fast as she could. When she had put a good distance between them, she stopped to catch her breath, leaning against the warm stone wall of the bakehouse.

She was appalled at herself. She knew she had somehow crossed a line, that there would be no going back now. Her heart throbbed at her throat. Patently, there could be no more polite conversations with him. What had got into her? Partly she knew that it was stubbornness. But he got under her skin somehow, with his refusal to see her point of view. And to think, she had thought him pleasant, a man with a kind heart.

A few months ago she had stood behind him in a queue at the miller’s when a lad had come in for a bushel of corn. The miller had upped the price by a third for the lad, from the price it had been for Kendall’s steward, and Wheeler had stepped forward,

“Everything has a fair price,” she overheard him say, “And if it is a fair enough price for the steward, then it is a fair enough price for the lad.”

It had made her smile, the lad’s face open-mouthed with glee at his ‘fair price’ bushel of corn, as he ran out of the shop, and she had caught Wheeler’s eye. He had returned a broad grin. Although not acquainted, this shared incident had meant that they used to nod to each other or exchange greetings if they crossed paths. But all that was finished now. She would have to be more vigilant in the future to keep out of his bounds – and she certainly had no intention of following his suggestion that she should covertly return the lady’s slipper to him. Her first loyalty must be to securing the future of the orchid.

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