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.