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From The Birthright...

'Oh, you darling! You're so cute, I'm gonna cover you with marmalade and eat you up. Yes, Momma's gonna eat you all-l-l up. And then there'll be no more Gillian. No, there'll be no-o-o more Gillian.'

Amanda watched Christine playing with her little daughter on the bed and marvelled at how otherwise mature people can go to pieces around babies.

'Does baby want her bubba? Does baby want her bubba?' Christine teased the infant with the bottle, offering it to her and pulling it away just as she reached for it. The baby laughed and gurgled merrily.

Amanda divided her attention between these antics and some indefinite point in space outside the window where she gazed abstractedly.

'Do you remember John?' she asked abruptly.

'Who?'

'John - the fellow who was with us back in the spring, the day we buried Dad.'

'Oh, yes. The soldier... Boy, this kid eats a lot. That's her fourth bottle today.' Christine put her nose up close to the baby's. 'Don't you laugh at me, you rascal! You think it's funny that Momma has to change so many diapers, don't you? You drink and drink and drink. It just goes in one end and out the other. Yes, it just goes in one end and out the other.' Christine picked the baby up and held the bottle for her.

'What did you think of him?'
'Who?'
'John.'
'He seemed like a good guy.... He's really got you preoccupied, Mandy. What's the matter? Your womanly instincts getting the better of you?'

Amanda scowled.
'I thought he was quite a gentleman,' Christine added.
'He's certainly that. Can you keep a secret?'
'Probably not.'
'Could you try?'
'Okay, I'll try. But I can't be held responsible if it gets out.'
'I'll tell you anyway... He proposed to me when he was here.'
'Really?'
'Mm-hm.'
'Good for you. You can put another notch on your diary cover.'
'Chris!'
'How'd he take it?'
'What?'
'When you turned him down.'
'I didn't turn him down.'
Christine almost dropped the baby. 'You accepted?!'
'No. But I didn't turn him down. I agreed to let his proposal stand.'
'That man is making strides. You've never done that with anyone else.'
'No one's ever made such an offer.... Maybe I did the wrong thing. I'd hate to lead him on and then disappoint him.'

'Have you been keeping up with him?'

Amanda nodded. 'There's almost always a letter in the mail between us. He hasn't mentioned it since though.'

'You must be fond of him if you write to him so much.'

'Hardly anyone else writes to me.'

'I write to you, Mandy. If you hadn't blown up at the rest of the family, maybe they'd write to you.'

'That doesn't help me.'

'I'd say that if he wants to get tied up hopelessly with you, that's his problem. You have to think of yourself.'

'Sometimes I wonder if I know what's good for me. He is a lot of fun. He has a knack for lifting my spirits.'

'Those things are important. You've carved out such an austere life for yourself, you neglect them. But underneath, you need them as much as anyone. As a nurse, you try to comfort other people, but you receive so little comfort yourself. Your well is going to run dry.'

'Marriage is such a high price to pay to fill it.'

'Mandy, I know what I'd do. But that's never mattered. Why are you picking my brain anyway?'

'You'd marry him.'

'Of course I'd marry him! How else do you get sweet little babies that are so precious you can't do anything with them but eat them up?' Christine set the bottle aside and smothered her daughter with kisses.

Amanda sighed and decided to let the matter drop.











From The Distracted Gardener...

Diana works as a housemaid at Chatsworth, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire. She lives in the estate village of Edensor and is riding home at the end of her day...

As she rode over the hill, Diana came upon the head shepherd out checking his flock. Seeing her approach, he tidied his hair, replaced his hat, and, full of pleasant anticipation, waited in her path.

'Oh, Mr. Burgess. I'd love to visit, but if I stop to talk to everybody, I'll never get home and my father will never get his supper.'

'I'll have to catch you closer to the house sometime and be first in line. How is your father, Diana?'

'Hungry I expect. Otherwise he's fine. Seems he never gets sick. And how is life in the Burgess household?'

'You should come see for yourself. You haven't been over for a while.'

'Not since lambing. It's just been busy, busy, busy.'

'I like being that way myself, not that I'm unusually industrious. It's just that it keeps other things from bothering me.'

'Oh? Troubles beset you if you stand still?'

'Isn't that true for everyone?'

'If I stand still, I just get bored.'

'I'm glad for you. I guess I was that way when I was your age.'

'What's on your mind these days?'

'Ah, maybe I shouldn't have gotten started. It's just this estate business since my father died. My siblings have been no end of trouble for me. I'm the executor and I've been trying to be fair to everyone.'

'It's not settled yet? Your father didn't have much, did he?'

'You might be surprised. He was quite frugal all his life.'

'He lived with you for the last several years.'

'And he intended that I should get special consideration for it. But it's bad enough when I try dividing everything evenly. My brothers and sister point out that I'm better off than they are. That's true, but I wouldn't be if I'd followed their spendthrift ways. And they hardly ever came to see Dad.'

'They don't live far away.'

'No. I've certainly heard lots from them since his death.'

'Well, try not to let it bother you, if you need a bit of glib advice.'

'I've been feeling better lately. When old Sam Westover died last week, his family asked me to be a pallbearer. I felt quite honoured. There were lots of other people they could have asked. It made me realize that no matter how badly my kin think of me, I'm still well thought of around here.'

'You poor fellow. You must have been feeling down, if being a pall-bearer gave you a lift.'

'I guess that is getting pretty bad.'

'We think well of you indeed. Don't ever forget that.'

'It's nice to be reminded.'

'Say hi to your wife for me. I'll come over before long and we'll have a proper visit.'











From The Birthright...

Amanda's bridal party has arrived at the church in two carriages...

The first carriage stopped directly in front of the church to discharge its four passengers. Amanda's coach pulled in behind. She opened the door to get out.

'Not yet, Mandy,' said Christine. 'Wait till he moves ahead.'

'What does it matter? We're here.'

'You're supposed to get out on the carpet.'

Amanda stuck her head out the door. 'Oh, you didn't. Red carpet out to the street?'

'To protect your dress. You can't walk to the church door with it hiked up around your knees.'

When the carriage had pulled ahead, the rest of the party swarmed around the door.
'Let me take your bouquet,' said Virginia.
'I'll hang on to your train,' offered Christine from behind.
'Be careful of the wheels when you get out,' warned Olivia. 'They're dirty.'
'Amanda, don't show so much leg,' Mrs. Clark admonished her. 'You can step out gracefully.'
'Would someone take her train, please?' said Christine. 'Hold on, Mandy. You'll rip it.'
'Mandy, stay on the carpet,' said Olivia.
'And don't get ahead of us,' added Christine.
'Don't take such big steps,' Virginia suggested. 'We're not out on a hike.'

'I'm tired of being told what to do!'

'Mandy, there are people watching,' said Mrs. Clark.

'There are always people watching. I put up with so much because people are watching. I want some control over my life!'

'I was afraid of this,' Christine lamented. 'She's cracking. Let's get it over with. Move!'

So much for being coy. Bystanders looked on in wonder as the protesting bride was hurried through the church doors.

'Stop pushing!' Amanda insisted.

'Mandy, there are two hundred people in there who can hear you,' Christine informed her.

'Two - hundred - people?' Amanda repeated staccato, taking her first look into the sanctuary. 'I put seventy-five names on that list.'

'We added a few.'

'Thy will be done,' prayed the distressed bride. 'It's out of my hands.'











From The Distracted Gardener...

Diana and Morgan have been descending the dome of St Paul's Cathedral...

When they arrived at the Whispering Gallery, Morgan told Diana to have a seat on the near side while he went diametrically opposite. When he got there, she put her ear to the wall. She picked up other conversations but could not make out all the breathy dialogue.

Finally, she clearly discerned, 'Diana... Calling Diana...'
'I hear you! This is Diana.'
'Diana Woodforde?'
'Diana Evelyn Woodforde.'
'Diana Evelyn Woodforde?'
'That's right! You heard me right.'
'Morgan Vanderbilt here.'
'It works! I hear you clearly.'
'Diana has black hair.'
'I hear that. Say something else.'
'Diana has blue eyes.'
'It's amazing!'
'You say something.'
'Morgan has a red nose.'
'I do not.'
'Morgan has reckless lips.'
'I thought we were over that.'
'Morgan has a reckless heart.'
'Change the subject.'
'Had enough?'
'A bird in the hand...' Morgan began.
'Is worth two in the bush,' Diana concluded.
'A stitch in time...'
'Saves nine.'
'To be or not to be...'
'That is the question.'
'Friends, Romans, countrymen...'
'Lend me your ears. Ha, ha. You have my ear.'
'He jests at scars...'
'Who never felt a wound.'
'Love's ears sweet communion make.'
'I don't know that one.'
'Two hearts having gently swayed.'
'Is that Shakespeare?'
'No, this is Morgan.'
'I know who you are. Who are you quoting?'
'Nobody.'
'Are those your own words?'
'What did I say?'
'Love's ears sweet communion make. Two hearts having gently swayed.'
'That's right.'
'What's it mean?'
'Nothing. It just sounds sweet. Those are sweet nothings.'
'You're whispering me sweet nothings?'
'And you whispered them back.'
'How dare you! How dare you! You get something straight, fellow. If anyone's going to tell me nothing, it's my Alan. That's his privilege. If you want to talk to me, you say something of consequence.'











From The Birthright...

Amanda is waiting with Uncle Andy at the threshold of the sanctuary as her wedding ceremony is about to start...

The last soft piece of prelude music died out and the organ swelled to full volume, bringing the assemblage to its feet with the majestic strain of Lauda Anima. 'Shall we go?' asked Uncle Andy when Rachel had gotten about ten feet ahead of them.

'You'll have to take the first step.'

All these eyes turned on me, thought Amanda after passing the empty pews at the back. I wish this veil had a heavier mesh.

Some of the women got their hankies out and sniffled softly.
'Isn't she lovely?'
'She looks radiant.'
'If only she could bottle this moment.'
I'm going to have diarrhea, thought Amanda. My innards are threatening open revolt.

What's wrong with these people? Treat them to a good hanging and they'll come out by the hundreds....

I'm still here, Chris. You don't have to keep looking over your shoulder....

Why such lofty music? They're supposed to just have a drum beating in the background....

Look at that minister in his formal robes. Where's his black hood?

Oh, and John... if it were anyone but you, I wouldn't be here. How could you do this to me? You and your fancy letters, and your good humor, and your thoughtfulness, and your loyalty...

She smiled at him compassionately in return for his beaming pride.

I can't help feeling a little sorry for you, John, she thought. Why are people so eager to throw their independence away? Give them chains and a padlock and they'll put them on themselves.

'You look terrific,' he whispered when she had reached his side.

I ought to, was her silent reply. They spent a mint dolling me up.

The minister prepared to speak as the processional hymn faded.

He's going to read the sentence, thought Amanda.

'Dearly beloved, we are gathered...'

He puts it so nicely. What treachery.

'...is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly...'

Ha. I've had enough pressure on me to make my own diamond.

'If any man can show just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.'

Once, just once in my life, I'd like to see someone object.... He'd have Christine at his throat.

'John Calvin Farrington, wilt thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?'

Don't feel obligated, John.

'I will.'

'Amanda Jane Clark, wilt thou...'

It's a short life. Our days are as grass. 'I will.'

'Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?'

'I do,' replied Uncle Andy. Amanda kissed him farewell and he took his seat.

Now I am on my own. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow...

The minister turned around and led the wedding party up the steps to the dais for the rest of the ceremony.

This scaffold has seven steps, thought Amanda as she climbed the last one.

She felt Christine nudging her. No, thanks, Chris: I'll do without the blindfold.

'Psst! Your bouquet.'

Oh, sorry. Here you go. Put it on my grave.

The bride and groom joined hands and John pledged his troth to Amanda, repeating the minister's words verbatim with unfaltering resolution.











From The Distracted Gardener...

Diana and Odo Russell are in a rowboat at the Henley Regatta. She is sitting in summery splendour in the bow, her parasol open behind her...

A skiff drew alongside Diana's boat. She didn't say anything until it bumped them. 'Hey, there! Don't crowd us. There's lots of water.'

Suddenly the skiff's lone occupant lunged at their craft, grabbing the gunnel. Diana recognized the man from London.

'It's a Pre-Raphaelite!' She grabbed her sun umbrella. 'Don't let him in the boat!'

'I want to talk to you,' said the intruder.

'I don't want to talk to you!' Diana beat the man's hands with the closed parasol.

'Ow! Ow! Stop! I want to paint you. I must paint you.'

'I told you no!'

'Diana, Diana,' Odo pleaded. 'You'll damage the woodwork.'

She applied her weapon to the man's head instead. He tried to protect his cranium with one arm and hang on to their gunnel with the other.

'Ouch! Ouch! Stop it! I just want you to lie in a tub of water.'

'I've told you no! I'm sick of you people. You ruin a perfectly good afternoon.'

'Diana, we haven't given the diplomatic option a chance.'

'Dodo, this is no time for diplomacy! He'll tip us over. Hit him with the oar!'

'I can't hit him with the oar. I'll wind up in Newgate.'

'It's self-defence, Dodo! He wants me wet.'

'I knew there were other women inside you!' declared the Pre-Raphaelite. 'Your inner mystery emerges.'

Diana struck once more. 'There's nothing mysterious about me.'

'This is the witch goddess coming out.'
Diana clobbered him again.
'Proserpine, the underworld goddess.'
Diana delivered another blow.
'Pandora, with her evil box. Ouch! Circe, the enchantress. Ooo! Hippolyta, the Amazon queen. Ow!'

Each of the PRB's suggestions of a Pre-Raphaelite archetype was punctuated by a blow from Diana's parasol.

'Diana, please!' said Odo. 'Ease off. Let's try reasoning with him.'

She relented, tired after a score of blows, but stood poised to strike again.

'You're a glutton for punishment,' Odo remarked, a hint of admiration in his voice.

'It's an unavoidable price,' explained the PRB philosophically. 'There is no such thing as beauty without pain.'

Diana hit him again.

'Ow! Stop it!' He clenched his bruised head with both hands.

With a deft pull upward on the near gunnel of the narrow craft, Odo sent the PRB tumbling backwards into the drink and then rowed away as quickly as he could.

Diana sat in the bow, trembling, her ruined parasol still clutched firmly. Odo turned to her.

'Oh, Dodo. What am I going to do? I can hardly go out in public anymore. Not with the Pre-Raphaelites around.'

'They seem to be your undoing. Wasn't that John Millais?'

'I think so. He wants me to pose as Ophelia.'

Odo could not contain his mirth.

'It's not funny, Dodo.'

'Look around. The crowd disagrees.'