Celebrate mothers and daughters with these three thrilling tales of adventure, mystery, and romance! Three acclaimed authors—Anita Mills, Arnette Lamb, and Rosanne Bittner—have come together to bring us tales of women thriving in worlds and times far from our own. From rural England to the American frontier to the wild currents of the high seas, these stories of courageous women move and inspire.
Cherished Moments includes:
- Memories by Anita Mills
- Flowers from the Sea by Arnette Lamb
- Indian Summer by Rosanne Bittner
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Near Whitly, Yorkshire, November 11, 1815
It was violent, even for a North Sea storm, and the sound of relentless waves pounding upon the rocky seashore seemed far too close. Above the water's roar, the bitter seawind howled, blowing and sucking at the cottage's windowpanes. Bolts of lightning lit the small room, sending a cat behind the woodbox, where he crouched, his green eyes round with fear.
"Merowww," the animal cried pitifully. "Merowwwwwww."
Charlotte Winslow reluctantly put her brush into the water jar and stood back to survey the poster. No, she decided, Madame Rondelli appeared utterly insipid, when by all accounts the Italian diva was a striking beauty. It had to be the pomona green gown Mr. Burleigh had suggested. It simply was not rich enough to stand out.
But before she changed it, she would have to wait until morning, when the light was truer. Just now, her eyes were smarting from the smoking whale- oil lamps. Leaning over, she blew them out, darkening the room eerily, leaving only the red-orange glow of the hearth's fire.
"Meowwwww," Rex howled insistently. "Meowwwwwwwwwww."
"I shall be done in a trice," Charlotte promised him as she deftly cleaned her brushes.
A flash of lightning lit the room, then vanished as thunder rolled loudly through the small cottage. The cat cringed. "What a coward you are," Charlotte murmured, bending to pick up the animal. "You are a disgrace to your name, Rex, for there is naught kingly about you at all." Taking it to the chair nearest to the fire, she crooned soothingly, "It's all right, you poor big pussy cat. Poor kitty, poor big kitty," she whispered against the soft, orange fur.
Her hand stroked the cat's back, calming it. The big tomcat settled against her chest and purred loudly. Across the narrow room, her mother's old clock valiantly counted out the hour. Eight o'clock, she realized wearily. She'd been so absorbed in trying to finish the theater poster that she'd not stopped to eat her supper.
But she'd hoped to be finished with the playbill ere now, for she had to begin Madame Cecile's fashion plates before she lost the money she'd been advanced. Briefly, she allowed herself to think of the modiste's utterly exquisite, shamefully expensive designs. The gowns of a young female's grandest dreams, she reflected, sighing. She could still remember those dreams — dreams fifteen years had made but a distant, treasured memory. Once there had been a time when she'd had fancy gowns, when she herself had had an abbreviated season filled with parties, routs, and grand balls.
She caught herself before she dwelt on what might have been. No matter how eccentric her life must seem before the world, it was still infinitely better than that of being a governess to grubby little boys or a companion to a crotchety old woman, which was the usual fate of females too highborn to be parlor maids and too poor for anything else. No, she reminded herself resolutely, she had no wish to be like her younger sisters, whose every letter betrayed their unhappiness.
But to Sarah and Kate, it still seemed impossible that Charlotte could wish to live alone without so much as a maid or elderly female relation for propriety. Or that she would wish to live in a simple cottage perched between the moors of Yorkshire and the cliffs above the North Sea. A godforsaken place, Sarah had called it. Utterly improper for a female of good but impecunious breeding, Kate had declared. In truth, Charlotte lived near the village of Whitby for two very compelling reasons — her cottage was cheaply had, and its remoteness from London allowed for a necessary deception.
She sighed again and looked down at Rex. "I suppose after I have made my tea, you will expect to share a bit of mutton stew with me, won't you?"
As if it understood, the cat snuggled closer and kneaded its paws against her muslin skirt.
"If I were a Buddhist, I daresay I should think you were a notorious rake in your last life," she decided. "You have a definite propensity for working the wheedle, you know."
"But at least you try to talk to me, don't you? I vow I should not know what to do without you for company. Sometimes, I find myself going into the village on the smallest excuse, when if the truth be known, my purpose is but to hear another human voice."
Easing the animal off her lap, she stood and took her ancient teapot from its niche inside the hearth, murmuring, "Quite enough water for one, and as Mr. Burleigh has paid me for last month's work, I think I shall use fresh tea leaves tonight. And once I have had my tea, I shall warm our stew."
"I suspect you are ever so much more comfortable a companion than a man, for most of them are utterly selfish and neglectful," she observed. "Only yesterday, I overheard poor Mrs. Bottoms complaining to Mrs. Wilson that Mr. Bottoms meant to be off to sea again, that he'd only been home long enough to put another loaf in her oven, as she said it. That will make eight, if you can but imagine coping with such a number. And she has the cheek to pity me. Fancy that, will you? I may have no husband about, but then the only mouths I have to feed are yours and mine. And I think I do rather well at that, if I may say so myself." Glancing down at the huge marmalade tabby, she smiled. "At least you do not look deprived in the least."
While she spoke, she made her tea and set it aside to steep while she fetched the cream pot. Just as she was about to strain the leaves out of the steaming brew, she paused, thinking she'd heard someone shouting outside. No, it had to be her fancy. It must surely be nothing more than sound of the howling wind.
But there was no mistaking the pounding on her door, nor the jiggling latch. Startled, she hesitated for a moment, then called out cautiously, "Who goes there?"
The answer was lost as rain peppered the windows like shot. Rex's hair stood on end as he backed behind her.
She tried again. Moving closer, she shouted through the door, "Who are you?"
"William Beggs!" he yelled back. "Coach went over the side — took th' horses with it! Gor blimey, but we was nearly killed! And th' earl's 'urt real bad! We got to 'ave help, missus! Mebbe yer mister —?"
Hearing the panic in the man's voice, she threw the latch, and he hurried inside. Water from his cap ran down his face, and his cloak dripped a puddle on her floor.
"'Pon my word!" she gasped. "Whatever —?"
"Horses bolted. We was —" He stopped to gulp air, then spilled his words, running them together. "I was drivin'— we was bound fer Durham when th' team shied. Wheel hit a rock and over she went quicker 'n Jack! God aid me, missus, but 'twasn't me fault, I swear it!" He caught his breath again, then rushed on, choking out, "Lord Rexford's hurt bad —'e jumped, but th' door caught 'is leg — took 'is boot plumb off, it did and 'e hit 'is head when 'e fell. 'E's out, 'e is, missus. I came down the road and saw yer light, I did."
For a moment, her world stood still, and she could only stare at the shaking man before her. He'd said Rexford, she was sure of that. But while her heart paused and her stomach knotted, she echoed hollowly, "Lord Rexford — did you say 'tis Rexford who is hurt?"
"Aye, missus. 'E's got ter 'ave 'elp, or 'e ain't survivin'. If yer 'usband ..."
It was as though the years had faded away, and she could see the earl's handsome face, the shine of his black, waving hair, the reflection of Lady Conniston's chandeliers in his brilliant blue eyes, the warm smile that lit his face. What grand hopes she'd had of him in what now seemed another lifetime ago.
But by some stroke of ill fortune, the earl lay injured nearby, and she was going to see him again. Collecting herself, she moved to take her cloak down from the peg. "Where did you wreck?" she asked purposefully.
"Just beyond the bend in th' road, missus," William Beggs said, pointing with his hand. "If ye got a man as could —"
"There is none at home just now, I'm afraid."
"But 'is lights is out —'e don't know nuthin', and that's without saying 'is leg's broke by the look o' it, and 'is head's cut real bad. Ain't no sight fer a female, missus," he protested.
"I am accounted to have a strong stomach," she declared flatly. Turning quickly, she went to a drawer and retrieved a stoppered bottle. "I think there is plenty of laudanum," she decided.
"We was going ter Durham," he mumbled. "Be in a real takin', 'is mum will, when 'e ain't there. And God aid the man 'as tells 'er, for the old harridan's got a temper worse'n is, she as."
Charlotte disappeared briefly into her small bedchamber, then came back with a rolled blanket. "It'll be soaked in a minute, but at least it will provide some cover against the wind." She hesitated, then crossed the narrow room to the tea she'd prepared. On a night like this, Rexford was going to need something warm. "Do you have a flask?" she asked.
"Aye, but —"
"But you left it in the coach," she finished for him.
"Nay, but ..." Reluctantly, he reached beneath his soggy coat and pulled out a flat bottle. "Got a bit o' rum in it," he admitted, handing it to her.
"That won't hurt — at least I don't think it will." She held it up to the firelight. "There's not much, anyway." Taking off the lid, she poured some of the hot tea into it, then added a little of the opiate. "Perhaps this will ease him."
"But yer a mort — a female," he muttered disgustedly, following her out the door. "And ye ain't even big enough ter 'elp lift 'im, I'll be bound."
"There's no time to waste!" she shouted as she threw open the door. Without waiting for him, she pulled her cloak closer and forced her way through the driving rain, stumbling almost blindly up the narrow, muddy road.
Her face stung, and her cloak provided no warmth against the biting wind. She turned around, trying to back into it, but the steep drop between road and sea made that dangerous. The sound of the roiling sea hitting the rocks below was too near for a misstep. The coach driver caught up to her, catching her arm, and pulled her to the inside of the road.
"O'er there!" he yelled. "'E's over there!"
Struggling under the weight of her soaked cloak, she sloshed to where Rexford lay upon the ground. As lightning flashed, she could see he did not move. Another bolt showed one leg turned at an unnatural angle to his body. She pulled the rolled blanket out and dropped to her knees to place it over him.
"Damme, Thomas! 'E still ain't come to 'is senses?" Beggs asked.
"Naw," was the grim reply. "He ain't doin' nuthin'." The fellow looked at Charlotte. "Devil a bit! Billy, ye was s'posed ter fetch help, and ye brung a female!" he howled indignantly. "'Is lor'ship's in need o' more'n 'er, I can tell ye."
"Damme if there was another body ter be found — and 'tis Mister Beggs ter ye, Tom Tittle!"
Forgetting maidenly modesty, Charlotte slid her hand beneath the unconscious man's shirt to feel of his skin. His flesh was chill and damp. "He's losing his body heat!" she shouted over the wind at them.
"E's breathing, ain't he?" Beggs yelled back.
She moved her hand over the earl's rib cage. "Yes, but 'tis labored!" Reaching to touch the injured man's head, she felt through his wet hair with nearly numb fingertips until she found the lump at the back. It was sticky with blood.
"His scalp is torn, but I don't believe his head is fractured," she murmured to herself. As she spoke, she moved her hands down over the blanket to his lower leg. She did not have to uncover him to feel where the bone came through the skin. She looked up at the hovering driver and coachman. "You were quite right, Mr. Beggs, it is broken!"
Rexford lay there, vaguely hearing them, his whole being paralyzed by the hot, searing pain in his leg. He'd taken a ball, maybe worse, and without help he was going to die in this godforsaken place — he was going to die in the mud in Spain. He had to stay awake if he were to live — he had to let them know he was still alive. Otherwise, he'd be stacked with the corpses.
"Unnnhhhhh — unnnhuhhhhhh."
"Why, e's comin' ter 'is senses! Lawks a mercy, if 'e ain't! Look at 'im, Mr. Beggs!"
"Leftenant ..." he whispered hoarsely as she leaned close to hear. "Leftenant Howe — is he —?"
"Eh?" Behind her, Tittle was momentarily taken aback.
"Promised him ..." He struggled, but could not sit up. "Got to tell him ..."
"You are all right, my lord!" Charlotte shouted above the wind. "There has been an accident, but you have survived!"
"Don't let them cut — don't let them cut it off," he gasped.
"Gor blimey, but 'e's out of 'is 'ead, ain't 'e?" Beggs cried. "'E thinks as 'e's still in the bloody war! Hit ain't th' peninsula, milord!" he yelled into his master's face. "Ye done came back from there, ye know, and Boney's been beat, 'e 'as! Aye, and ye done as much as any ter see it!"
With an effort, the earl managed to open his eyes. Blinking blankly, he tried to think. "Sorry about the boy ... sorry ... but I —"
"You aren't in the war, my lord. You are in Yorkshire, just outside Whitby," Charlotte told him loudly. "There has been a carriage wreck."
"My leg. I cannot move it. I ..."
"'Tis broken." She leaned closer and cupped her mouth so that he could hear. "We shall have to send for the doctor. In the meantime, we shall give you a bit of laudanum to ease you."
"No," he croaked. "Don't ... want anything. Got to keep my leg ..."
It was obvious that he was too confused to understand, probably because of the force with which his head had hit the rocky road. In any event, it would do him no good to lie in the cold mud. Wiping wet hands on her wet cloak, she looked up. "Can you carry him as far as my cottage, do you think? I know we ought not to move him, but he cannot remain here."
"Aye." William Beggs looked to his coachman. "Well, Thomas, are ye game fer it?"
"'E's a 'eavy bloke, but, aye," Thomas Tittle responded.
Despite the earl's refusal, she gestured to the driver for the flask. Taking it, she opened the bottle and held it to the injured man's lips. "You are going to need this, I assure you."
Still dazed, he pushed it away. "No ... got to ... get up," he gasped.
"Mr. Beggs, you'll have to hold him, else he will strangle," she ordered.
"'E's got the devil's own temper," the driver warned her. "If 'e says 'e don't —"
She reached to touch the injured leg, and she felt the earl's whole body go rigid. Again, she put her mouth close to his ear, telling him, "You shall wish for more than laudanum ere you are inside." She waited until Beggs braced his shoulders before holding it to his lips again. "Try to take as much as you can," she said as she tipped it.
He pushed it away. "No ... don't want ..."
"Nonsense." Looking up, she appealed for help. "Mr ... er ... Tittle, is it? Can you straighten his leg ere he is lifted?"
Excruciating pain shot from his shin to his hip, and nausea washed over Rexford, nearly overwhelming him. This time, when she put the flask to his mouth, he took great gulps of the mixture. As his driver eased him down, he closed his eyes briefly. "Damn," he muttered through clenched teeth.
She started to explain that they were going to take him to her cottage, but her throat was raw from shouting. And whether he understood at this point did not truly matter. She stood, then waited as the two servants thrust sturdy shoulders beneath the earl's arms and crossed arms behind his soaked back, lifting him from the muddy road. A flash of lightning lit his face, betraying eyes closed against nearly unbearable pain.
"Hit ain't far, milord," one of the men assured him.
Despite the storm that tore at them and the slippery mud beneath their feet, they managed to carry him the short distance to her cottage. Soaked to the skin and cold beyond bearing, she trudged ahead of them to open her door.
"You can put him in the chair by the hearth," she said, removing her dripping cloak. Leaning over, she wrung out her hair, then pushed it back, where it clung to her face and neck. "You'd best get him out of his wet coat while I prepare the bed."
Picking up her two cruzie lamps, she carried them to the fire, where she handed one to Beggs. "There's enough wick left, I think, but there's not much oil. I hope it will last until we are done." Lighting the other one herself, she took it with her into the small bedchamber. "I shall be out in a trice," she promised as she closed the door.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cherished Moments"
Copyright © 1994 Anita Mills, Arnette Lamb, and Rosanne Bittner.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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