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Archive for the ‘Chapter 1’ Category

As I mentioned in a previous Post I’ll post a couple of the novel’s chapters for your enjoyment and review.  So that no one needs to invest a great deal of time reading a lengthy chapter in one sitting I’ll break it up  into two or three segments.  I had a lot of fun writing this novel and I hope you will enjoy these excerpts as much.  So here is a taste of Secrets of Hawking Manor.

CHAPTER 1–A CHRISTENING

Another sharp, piercing cry cut through the silent night air.  In spite of the lateness of the hour, three rooms were lit in Hawking Manor.  The manor house was a large, stately building.  Like a watchful giant it silently overlooked the extensive estate with an imposing presence.   Two sets of sprawling stairways each lead along the parkway in front of the mansion along manicured flowerbeds.  They curled around behind a magnificent fountain where they united and ascended to a large terrace in front of the main entrance of the house.  A cobblestone roadway stretched for several hundred yards from the parkway to an alley of pruned trees.  Here the roadway divided to embrace the large fish pond in front of which a flower garden sloped gently to the water’s edge.  Having circled the pond, the path led on to the front gate.  There an ancient oak tree stood.

Once more a long, shrill cry coming from the manor filled the stillness of the slumbering March night.  Faint beams of light wandered from three lower windows behind which a spacious study lay.  The light cast flickering shadows across the withered snow banks now caked with time.  Winter had been loath to go, but a more mellow wind had swept across Hawking Manor in recent days stirring in unseen spirits hope of new life.

Hawking Manor was home to Sir Samuel Carstairs and his family, a distinguished family with a long, local history.  At the exact moment the next cry of pain emanated from the one room lit on the third floor where all the bedrooms were located the gentleman pacing the floor of the study spoke to someone seated in a great chair in front of the fire that was blazing in the exquisitely constructed fireplace.  “How long must this go on father?” Samuel questioned.  The hands that had always remained calm in battles on three continents shook as he poured himself another glass of Cherry.

“Like with the coming of spring, one only knows that it will come,” the gentleman seated in front of the fireplace and hidden from Samuel’s view replied choosing his words.  “One might interpret the signs and expect it to be this day or that, but in the end you can only go about your business and wait.”

“Henry! What are you up to out of your room at this hour?” The young woman who had climbed the last set of stairs to the third floor carrying a heap of large white towels scolded in barely a whisper the young boy who was standing in the hallway in his nightgown.

“Why is Mother hurting so?” the boy, a husky six-year old, demanded.  “Make it stop, Hannah!”  He flung his long, curly black hair obstinately to the left side of his shoulder, as he stuck his face up to the young lady’s view.  She could see both fear and anger in his big, black eyes.  His fists were clenched and he stomped his foot when he repeated his words, “Make it stop, Hannah!”

Hannah Cardinal was the Carstairs children’s governess and nanny.  She was also their mother’s cousin and confidante.  Placing the stack of towels carefully on the table in front of the great mirror on the wall between Henry and his parents’ bedroom she turned to the boy.  “Come along, sweet Henry.”  Her voice was soft and melodious.  She bent to place a kiss on the child’s cheek, took him by the hand and led him back to his room.  “Into your bed you go you little rascal,” she pretended to scold.  “If you are a good lad and stay tucked in, I will leave the door open ever so little, and you will be able to hear our new baby when it comes into this world in just a little while now.”

“I don’t want a new baby,” Henry complained, but he seemed placated for the moment by the attention heaped on him by Hannah.  “Promise to make mother’s pain go away, Hannie,” he pleaded quietly now, when she tucked him in and gently kissed his brow.

“Any moment now you will hear your baby sister or brother’s little cry and then you will know that your mother is very happy like she is when she smiles at you.  You will then begin to love your baby and it will love you too.”  Hannah stroked his black locks.  She had formed a very special bond with the boy.  In spite of his willful nature and his tendencies not to obey his parents, for Hannah Henry did almost everything she asked of him.

“I want Mommy to be well.”  Henry spoke in a barely audible tone of voice now.  He looked into Hannah’s eyes.  For once he was pleading and not demanding.  “I don’t need a baby brother or sister.  They are hurting Mommy.  Tell them to go away, Hannie.”  He turned and closed his eyes.

Hannah smiled down at the boy.  “Well, you just listen really carefully for its cry.  You will hear it soon.”  She stroked his head once more and left the room.  Picking up the stack of towels that she had placed on the mahogany table outside in the spacious hallway, Hannah disappeared into the room next door.

Its massive double doors marked the center of the hallway.  To each side six other handcrafted single doors led to other bedrooms and guest rooms on the floor.  Facing the hall at one end a seventh door opened to Hannah’s suite, while on the opposite end stairs cascaded from the floor in a pleasing arc.

Hannah entered her cousin and mistress’ lavishly furnished and decorated bedroom.  An active calm greeted her.  On the canopy bed on the sidewall a young woman was comforted by a stately looking lady with gray hair tied into a bun at the back of her head and held carefully in place by small diamond studded combs on each side of her head.  A host of candles provided volumes of light to the people.  The drapes of all windows were pulled shut except for the central window where the reflection of the flickering candles looked back into the room.  “You must be brave for only a little while longer, Meredith,” the older woman said in a firm but kind voice.  “The baby will be here soon.”  She smiled at the younger woman whose labor pains were etched in her face from hours of suffering with a difficult birth.

Meredith clutched her mother-in-law’s hand tightly.  “Thank you, Mother Carstairs,” the young woman on the bed whispered.  “This one is testing me severely.”  Her words were cut short by another contraction.  Pain contorted her beautiful face.  Her fingers dug into the hand that held on to hers.

“All right, Love, once more really hard,” the midwife shouted.  “Now hard, Dearie, go hard!”  Another painful cry invaded the floors of the house and a minute later the cry of a baby, only faintly heard in the rooms on either side of the master bedroom, brought smiles of relief to the faces of the five women in the room.  “Small wonder, Love,” the midwife sighed, “you have a strapping young man here.  The likes of this kind don’t birth easily.  I dare say he’ll go better than ten pounds, Love.”  She motioned to the servant girl who was standing quietly near the dresser where the wash basin stood.  “Let’s clean this little rascal up a bit so that his mother can cuddle him.  He’ll be hungry too, I dare say.”  Moments later a bundle kicking inside a warm, white blanket was placed into the arms of an exhausted but beaming and eagerly waiting Meredith.

Henry had fallen asleep soon after Hannah’s departure.  While he had stirred in his sleep at his mother’s last cries, he did not wake and did not hear his brother’s greeting.  On the other side of Henry’s room Melissa, the younger Carstairs’ oldest child, a sweet, gentle nine-year old girl had kneeled beside her bed resting her head on the bedding.  Melissa had been praying for her mother and the baby whose coming her parents had told her much about.  She had winced at each of her mother’s cries and prayed more fervently for some moments after each painful outcry.  When she heard the baby’s voice she began to smile.  She tiptoed to her bedroom door to hear better and listened silently for several minutes until her mother’s door opened and her grandmother stepped from the room framed in the candles’ light behind her.

Elizabeth’s Carstairs’ sharp eyes caught the child’s door closing slowly.  She stepped to it, knocked once and opened the door quickly.  “Come here child!” she said gently but with evident authority.

Melissa stepped from the darkness of her room into the light cast by the one Aladdin Lamp lid in the hallway.  “Is Mother and the baby well, Grandmother?” she whispered.  “Please.”

“They are both, Lissa.  You must not worry yourself.  Here let me tuck you in.  You must not fret any more, but go to sleep now child.  Tomorrow morning you will be able to see your mother and baby brother for a tiny moment.”  She covered the child with the feather quilt, kissed Melissa on the forehead and without another word turned and left the room, carefully and softly closing the door behind her.

Downstairs on the main floor in the study Samuel Carstairs had become increasingly uneasy as the night wore on.  Each time when his wife’s pain penetrated the walls of the house, he stopped his pacing, as if gripped by unseen hands.  The last cry was longer, laden with more painful energy.  “Poor Meredith,” he whispered to himself.  “This little one is giving her more hurt than Henry did.”

“Did you say something?” the voice from the tall armchair silenced Samuel and broke his concentration.

“I was just saying I hope Meredith is all right.  She has been in labor for a long time with this child.  She is the sun and stars in our world and I hate it when she suffers.”

There was a moment of silence.  Rising from the chair in front of the fireplace, a gentleman in an elegant, red-brown house coat turned toward the pacing Samuel.  “Meredith is strong, Son.  She has a superior will.  This child that she had wanted to give you so much and that will be very precious to you both has some objections to this world.  Now that you are to be with us most of the time you will be able to watch the youngster grow from day-to-day and help shape its character.  With Melissa and Henry you missed months at a stretch of their growing.  You cannot recapture their childhood years, but you can guide, and I daresay, spoil this one through the years.”  The speaker was Henry Carstairs III.  He was a tall man with strong facial features and snow-white hair.  In spite of it he looked younger than the sixty-eight years of living he had behind him.

Before he could continue to try to allay his son’s fears, a gentle knock was heard at the door and Elizabeth, his wife, entered.  Her smile told the men what they had hoped to hear for some hours.  Her words, “You have a strapping, second son, Samuel, and we have a beautiful third grandchild, Henry,” were welcome news to both men.

“How is Meredith?” Samuel pressed his mother for an answer.

“She is very happy the child is here, I’m sure.  She had to be very brave, but she is resting happily now with the child in her arms.  Go see for yourself.  Meredith was asking for you when I left her.  With a few days of some care from us all she will be just fine.”

The church at Five Oaks, like that of churches of many of the rural parts of the country, was also a bastion of history for the local people and those who traveled through the area.  Built in 1411 it had witnessed the coming and going of generation after generation for more than four centuries.  In its confines were recorded the events that touched all people of the township, events that had their origins in local occurrences as well as national decision made far from Five Oaks.

The names, dates and epitaphs on each gravestone in the cemetery over which the church stood guard were silent witnesses to the township’s story, meticulously chiseled into the county’s rock by those who were left behind to pass on the legacies of those who had departed.  The church itself with its tall steeple was a massive building constructed from gray massive pieces of rock hewn from the same quarry from which the gravestones came.

The rows of stained glass windows of the church were massive too.  They were arranged symmetrically around the building.  As did the tops of the doors, they too rose like praying hands toward the sky.  From the top of the steeple a massive bell had tolled for the coming and going of people for four hundred ten years.

Inside the church the history of the world was depicted on pictures in the massive Bible displayed on the main altar at the front of the church.  Large, exquisite paintings seen on the ceiling also told the story of the Bible in beautiful color.  High above the straight rows of massive pews, crafted from local oak wood and polished by more than four centuries of posteriors that had occupied them through joy and sorrow, the paintings were constant reminders of the existence of heavenly realms. The pictorial panorama lent to the massive interior additional awe.

At the front of the interior of the cathedral the main altar was set into an alcove.  It took up the center half of the width of the building and was raised on a richly carpeted platform three steps above the main floor.  The symbol of the cross was there.  It was also prominent on pictures, statues and the rest of the decor of the sanctuary.

On this early April Easter Sunday the church bell had tolled twice.  The first call from the steeple had been to gather the flock for the morning service, a morning that had dawned with a glorious sunrise.  At the end of the service it tolled once more in celebration, announcing the christening of young Benjamin Carstairs, newly born less than a month earlier.  (more…)

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