Teaser Tuesday: Be Still My Heart

Here’s the song that inspired the following excerpt of my new historical romance, Be Still My Heart. BSMH is part romance, part family drama, set in the sweeping landscape of Devon.

Here’s a brief summary:  While Henrietta Wilson, a penniless young woman, might not be able to change the course of civilization, her unwavering devotion to the wealthy and powerful Lord Carlyle does not go unmarked in his life’s history. Ever since she kept him from falling into the self-dug pit of destruction, she became the keeper of his heart.

Enjoy the read! And please forgive the grammatical errors and such you might come across. This is the first draft after all. But feel free to point out the errors, or whatever else you think should be improved.

BE STILL MY HEART

Excerpt from Chapter Two
(Henrietta & Carlyle’s second encounter)

Henrietta barely slept that night, or the next night, infuriated by her uncle’s constant mentioning of the brutish Lord Blackmore. He seemed determined to arrange their marriage. She thrashed about her cold bed and yelled into her pillow. Was there no escape from this fate? There was only two answers she could think of. She could become a governess—yet she’d heard such horrible stories about a governess’ life that involved cruel treatment on the part of employers and their families. Or she could stoop even lower to become a seamstress—trapping herself in a little room, sitting all day, pricking her fingers and straining her eyes to mend dresses. To imprison oneself in either occupations was surely no better than getting married?

Every road seemed to lead to a dead end.

Never had Henrietta felt such overwhelming frustration. She had no control over her own life. By six-thirty in the next morning, she flung off her bed cover, and dressed herself as best as she could without help. The servants, already up and about by this hour, were not surprised to see Henrietta marching out of the house wearing her sturdy half boots. The stable boy certainly did not look scandalized as he saddled Henrietta’s horse and helped her onto her seat. She had been going out often before daybreak since she’d come to live with her relatives at Cheswick Hall three years ago.

But Uncle always forbade her going out so early, unaccompanied. No amount of explanation on her part could make him understand. Her words had no weight to him, or to anyone else for that matter, when she carried with her the status of a poor relation, a charity case. By the time Henrietta rode into the forest, angry tears stung in her eyes, and her stubborn self refused to let them flow. When one dared to dribble down her cheek, she dashed the droplet away.

Arriving at the location she had begun to sketch a few days ago, she jumped down from the horse, tethered its reign to a branch and sat down on a log. The icy air bit at her skin. She wrapped the shawl more closely around her self. It was colder than it should be for an early autumn morn. She hoped it would not be so cold as the winter past, when the Thames had frozen over between London Bridge and Blackfriars.

Tilting her head up, she stared at the birds flitting from the branches arched highly over her like a dome. The longer she stared, the more her anger eased, leaving but a faint throb in her chest. She felt at home among the of birds, surrounded by the calm air rich with the scent of dew. The early morning was the only time she had to herself. For once the sun rose high in the sky, she would become once more the pawn to her uncle’s political career, and the companion to a cousin who constantly complained about the ennui of country life.

Closing her eyes, Henrietta took in a deep breath, then exhaled, forming a white cloud of mist in the air.

The sound of nature never failed to calm her. As the chorus of twittering flooded her senses, so did the verses she always repeated to herself in times of distress: I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord. Yes, she thought, I will wait and take courage. Whatever her future had in store for her, she had to trust that he was in control, that he had great plans for her. Worrying would not add another hour to her life. A moment or two passed before she felt her hope restored.

She picked up a pencil and began sketching the scenery before her. Drawing allowed her to be fully immersed in the beauty of the moment. It allowed her to forget the distress of life, the ugliness of reality. Her pencil paused now and then, so she might observe the birds that were so near her, unaware of her presence. She had always found it so fascinating that these small creatures always sang at the exact same hour. How did they know when the hand struck five in the morning? There was never any obvious indication, for the sun would not have risen by then, and everything would be so still. It had been the question she’d lay before her mother countless times. The answer had always been: the birds chirp to praise their Lord and the beauty he created…

Henrietta looked up from her sketchpad and frowned.

From the distance, she heard the faint sound of hounds barking. She went still and strained her ears. The barking grew louder by the second. And soon she heard the clotting of horse hooves. While the scenery was especially beautiful in autumn, what vexed her was that autumn was also when the gentries took to fox hunting.

Gathering up her sketchpad and pencil, she shoved it into her bag, and made way over to her horse. The last thing she wanted was to be seen alone. She was about to untie the reign when she caught sight, through the thicket of leaves and branches and tree trunks, a pack of hounds running alongside their master, mounted on a white steed. Who could it be?

Picking up her skirt, she left her horse tethered, and trudged forward to have a better look. She discovered that just behind the horseman was another rider. Before she could make out their features, her muscles tensed. One of the hunters’ rifle was aimed straight at her. She took a slow and cautious step back. Right then, a fox moved swiftly past her. So startled at feeling its fur brush up against her leg, she stumbled back, tripped over a root, and toppled to the ground.

A gunshot ripped sharply through the silence.

Henrietta turned her gaze upwards and watched the birds fly off the branches. Slowly the axis of her vision began to tilt: The sky dotted with birds, to the horizon, to the redness staining her sleeves. Her lips parted, stunned by the sharp pain searing through her. A little sob escaped her as she curled up into a ball.

Her ears, pressed against the soil, vibrated as horse hooves clashed against the ground, nearing her. Oh God, oh God, was all she could think. Was she dying? She could feel her whole body trembling from pain, fear and shock. Then, just before her vision blacked out, she saw a pair of Hessian boots.

Saints above,” came a deep, shaken voice somewhere high above her, “you shot down a woman, not the blasted fox, Carlyle!”

~

My friend Flora sent me the poem by Christina Rossetti called ‘Mirage’ because it reminded her of BSMH. I read it and decided to use it as the epilogue for my book. Though it was written a few years after 1814, which is when my story takes place, my friend explained: I think you might be able to get away with using the poem, if it was published at any point during your characters’ lifetime. I have done so with a number of epigraphs for MB, suggesting she is looking back from a later period in her life. I know Daphne du Maurier, in ‘The Loving Spirit’, uses epigraphs by Emily Brontë throughout the book, even though these poems had not been published in the time period in which the first half of the book is set, and none of the characters in that part read poetry. She chose the poet simply because the ring of the lines suited the spirit of her story.

“The hope I dreamed of was a dream,
Was but a dream; and now I wake
Exceeding comfortless, and worn, and old,
For a dream’s sake. 

I hang my harp upon a tree,
A weeping willow in a lake;
I hang my silenced harp there, wrung and snapt
For a dream’s sake. 

Lie still, lie still, my breaking heart;
My silent heart, lie still and break:
Life, and the world, and mine own self, are changed
For a dream’s sake.”

P.S. Please be sure to check out the article my dear guest blogger Ollin wrote about coming up with the ideas for your story!

P.S.S. I had two historical fic/romance authors go through my first chapter. *Face Palm* So many grammatical and stylistic issues needed to be corrected. I really, really hope Agent#3 will be able to look past the many errors. [A big handshake to Rowenna and Noelle].

P.S.S.S.S Pillars of the Earth is  AWESOMEEEEEE. Reading this book has convinced me that I must take a full year course on the medieval times at school. Napoleon and the Industrial Revolution can wait until next year.

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38 Comments

Filed under Be Still My Heart (retitled: Fall of the Sparrows), Writing

38 responses to “Teaser Tuesday: Be Still My Heart

  1. Flore

    This was lovely! I could find no errors that a re-read wouldn’t cure; and the atmosphere of it is marvellous! I loved the subtle similarities to Mansfield Park; and well done you for daring to take the point of view of a poor relation. Aside from that, the originality of the ending quite startled me: few writers would have thought of such an – well – explosive meeting 🙂
    I can’t wait to read the rest!

    Like

    • ‘Tis Lady Flora!

      Subtle similarities to Mansfield Park? [Leave it to you to always compare my work to something literary–you Literature buff you. Take care, you’ll make my head big] I guess the major one is that both heroines are poor relations. Character wise…I would never mould a heroine after Fanny Price. I think she’s one of my least favorite Austen characters!

      Like

  2. Kim

    Wow! What a first impression! It was only a little excerpt but I already like it! And! What! Is! With! My! Exclaimation! Marks! I don’t know, but you sort of get my general feeling. I agree with Flore, I definitely feel the setting – long grass and wild greens, constant bird sounds, whistling winds..and the music did add the cherry.

    I’m jealous. I want to study history.

    Like

  3. June, I loved it! I felt totally immersed in that world; the descriptions of the scenery were excellent. I also love the premise, and am really interested to see what kind of romance you spin from it. 😀

    Like

    • Aww, Sav! Thanks for your comment 🙂 The romance aspect was going very well until midway. Now it’s just plain melodramatic. Time to rethink their relationship development…

      Like

  4. Noelle Pierce

    And this is the story you’re going to let me read in exchange for Libra? I have to say, I think I’m getting the better end of this bargain. Seriously, I love your imagery, especially when she first gets to her spot and the “calm air rich with the scent of dew”…

    Very nice. I can’t wait to read more!

    Like

    • Nu-uh. *I* Have the better end of the bargain. Libra was so friggin good! …well, from what I read of it. It’s exactly the sort of plotting that makes me itch to read it all through.

      I love when the air is rich with the scent of dew. You’ll find such a reference in all the stories I write….haha.

      Like

      • Noelle Pierce

        We’re about even in terms of word count right now, so if I get working on it again, we should have rough drafts at about the same time (well, provided I don’t get distracted by my hundred *other* stories again). But I’m in a writing mood, today, so…

        Like

      • So hopefully you won’t get distracted by your other works, and hopefully I won’t be held back by my reoccuring writer’s block!!!

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      • Noelle Pierce

        Oh, and did you notice I have “Cheswick” in Gemini, too? Selina’s father is the Earl of Cheswick. I don’t think I have Cheswick Hall, though. I have to check my spreadsheet to make sure. Great minds and all that. *wink*

        Like

      • Yes! I actually did notice the “Cheswick” title of ours!!! I was actually just searching for any name to use for a manor. Anything will do, really. What a coincidence that we ended up using similar titles in the end! Maybe your manor IS called Cheswick Hall as well? And it can be our inside joke that Henrietta’s relatives is the ancestor of your Lord Cheswick? Well, erm, your story doesn’t take place so long later so that might now work out…

        You have a spread sheet?!?!?!? Awesome! I want one too now!!….but have no idea how to go about creating one

        Like

  5. Squeee! I love Henrietta. I could hang out with Henrietta. And I’m intrigued by the story…erm, happy to beta read or line edit this anytime 🙂 Mostly for the sneak-peeks at the story.

    And, by the by, if you need any research info on the treatment of gunshot wounds during the period…happens to be one of my specialties 🙂

    Congrats, double congrats, for moving so far in your new novel!

    Like

    • I could hang out with Henrietta too. It’s a cool experience writing through her perspective. She’s so different from Amanda in a sense. One was a woman whose spirit was broken, then other is one overflowing with spirit.

      I sort of skimmed over the gunshot wound bit. So I will definately need to refer to you when I revise the following scene. It’s your specialty????? Hmm…that says a lot….. [Now I know why I’ve been seeing you wandering about in your hoop dress in a field crowded with soldiers]

      Like

      • Hehe mostly because my dad is a bit of a mini expert on late eighteenth-century surgery, particularly military surgery. So I learned the ins and outs at an early age…pretty sure I was demonstrating amputation by the time I was thirteen or so 🙂 If that isn’t disturbing I’m not sure what is!

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  6. I love the excerpt! The music accompanied it beautifully, (though your writing was quite entertaining enough without it) 🙂 Darn Lord Carlyle…shooting Henrietta! Goodness gracious.

    Like

  7. I loved the summary. I’m extra curious about the hero

    Loved the set-up and her connection to nature…plus she has a sketchpad so I heart Henrietta even more 🙂

    The epilogue-poem ..is the end going to be sad?

    (I guess you made up your mind about your courses lol)

    Like

    • Oh yah! You love sketching! …OH!!! You’re perfect!!! While I sketch myself, I do so rarely, so I’ll have to ask you about drawing. Like how you feel about it and why you sketch at all.

      Actually, reading your tweet, I just might take the two half year classes lol

      Like

    • Oh, and as for the poem. I see the problem there. It does implucate that the ending will be sad…which it will not be….because it’s a romance novel….where unhappily-ever-afters are banned.

      Like

      • sapphire ear

        i actually kind of like unhappy endings in romances. it’s slightly sickening. but then again i LOVE tragedies more than anything, so that’s probably why.

        Like

  8. June, a wonderful excerpt. Henrietta is lovingly drawn and the setting is clear and embracing. I have to admit I have read little of this period, but having said that, I was swept in! Hope you’ll keep sharing.

    I see you have another excerpt posted–I’ll look forward to reading that too!

    Like

  9. AAAHHH! June, this is wonderful!! First teh scenario is excellent, nothing says love like shooting your lady! Lol, it’s different and wild and unexpected. I thought he was just come riding out of the mist loking quite dapper, but this makes it much juicier. I love the verse, it makes the inspirational bit stand out – I felt calmed myself!

    A few things (and it may be just me bing nitpicky, feel free to disregard) The first few sentences of the first couple paragraphs went a bit slow for me. I like the bit where all the questions are zomming through her head and she’s going over all the scenarios of what she could do to escape, but some sentences leading up to them didn’t hold as much force for me. If she was realy so infuriated with her uncle about the marriage enough that she couldn’t sleep, she wouldn’t think that “he seemed determined to arrange their marriage.” It would be something more like, his incesent attempts to throw them together and the secret meetings with the brute where they discussed the arrangement boiled her blood and tugged sleep away from her, etc. I wanted more detail as to what exactly made her believe she would be trapped enough to make her go through all the questions and escape plans (and I do realize this is a teaser of chapter two – perhaps more of this happens in chapter one?)

    The same sort of thing happened with the paragraph following the verse concerning her drawing. I wanted more of a picture in my head about how she felt when she was drawing instead of it merely allowing her to escape. It could even be rectified by taking out the word “Allowed” ie: “while drawing, she fully immersed herself in teh beauty of the moment; the ugliness of reality retreating from the strokes of her pencil.”

    Just some thoughts, you don’t have to listen. Overall, I found it to be a charming and engaging read 🙂

    Like

    • Very wonderful points you raise there! I’ll copy and paste your suggestions onto this scene so that when I begin revising in a few months I will know what needs to be elaborated/tweaked in this scene.

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  10. Since period romance is one of my favorite genres (Georgette Heyer is perhaps my favorite author of all time), of course I loved this. But that wasn’t the only reason. I really got a feel of character. But I kept hoping to find out about the dashing man. Are you going to post more?

    Like

    • Ooooooh. Dashing man? I think he’s one of the darkest heroes I’ve ever written (but then again, I have written only one other hero…and a few others in stories that are either unfinished or horrible). But that’s why I am so focused on making a dashing heroine, to give the story a balance, of both light and dark.

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  11. sapphire ear

    yaaay. i love this. i hope to read more from it soon.

    Like

  12. I absolutely love the effect of her falling and her vision following the sky. Hold on I’ll find it:
    “Slowly the axis of her vision began to tilt: The sky dotted with birds, to the horizon, to the redness staining her sleeves.”
    Brilliant. You really engaged me there. I could see it myself.
    And I love the poem too. Beautiful, beautiful writing from both of you.

    Like

    • Aw, thanks for your kind words 🙂 That line you quoted is actually from an unused scene in TRC–where the Viscount gets shot in a duel. I took that out because my critique partner said it read too much like a western gunfight with cowboys and all, haha. And it was too melodramatic. And, in retrospect, I am veryy glad I took it out.

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  13. Lua

    Waaaaaiiit a minute, he SHOT HER??!! 🙂

    I loved it June, well done! I don’t usually read historical romance, but I was drawn into your story right away and I think it has something to do with the way you described Henrietta, she was so relatable! And that poem fits in perfectly.

    Like

  14. Pingback: Writing Is Hard « June H.

  15. I know I’m late to the game in reviewing this, but this was SO good. I especially liked your description of the gunshot, and how the reader doesn’t quite realize her injury at first (” Slowly the axis of her vision began to tilt: The sky dotted with birds, to the horizon, to the redness staining her sleeves.”) I hope you’ll post more excerpts! 🙂

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  16. Henrietta jumped off the page as a determined, strong-willed, and independent heroine and as Kira said above I love how you wrote the injury.
    I too look forward to more excerpts. 🙂

    Like

    • I’m glad you were able to get so much of Henrietta’s character through this one scene. You were spot on–I created her to be all the characteristics you listed.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  17. Pingback: The Pillars of the Earth REVIEW & Character Development « June H.

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