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A Dreamer's Escape, Regency romance
cover artwork 2004 by Kurt Ozinga

 

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A Dreamer's Escape
Regency romance

Jamie Richards

 

Chapter One

 

My special place was high in a tall tree on the edge of the woods near my aunt's house. I liked to wedge myself in near the top where the branches became smaller and bent with my weight. It was probably quite strange for the daughter of an earl to have such a special place, but I always felt better here, comfortable. The breeze blew through my hair on even the warmest days and tried to unravel my curls. I was cool today because I was wearing my oldest dress of thin and faded muslin whose only concession to style was the bedraggled row of white roses at the hem. I was probably quite a sight in this gown. People would stare. They usually thought I was attractive because of my oval face and expressive hazel eyes. Younger men's eyes frequently went to another part of my anatomy, now quite disguised by this dress. I probably looked like a witch. Or a gypsy. A gypsy up a tree? I giggled, realizing I had never heard of gypsies climbing trees. Did they not always ride in wagons or dance around a fire?

Behind me were trees I could see over the top of, to my left were fields of grain bending to the wind. On my right was an old apple orchard where the trees were hard to climb because the bark cut my limbs. In front of me, a good distance down the long winding road I saw a horseman riding toward me. He was so far away he looked small enough to fit into my hand. I was pleased to have someone to watch for a bit.

High in the tree, I stood motionless on the branch to allow the quietness and serenity of the place to settle me. As the soft wind made the leaves whisper as it ruffled my hair, birdcalls filled the woods with music accompanied by the whir of insects in a pleasant counterpoint. Relaxation seeped into me. My spirits rose, as my distress eased. It was the same whenever I came to this magical place. Calmness and peace infiltrated my soul and eased my problems while I enjoyed the view and the breeze, and imagined a new sense of power over the course of my life.

Except for my knees. They still hurt from my punishment for not obeying Aunt Grace. She had tried to convince me to marry Squire Boggs, but I had refused. Her usual punishment was to make me go to my room to read a volume of church history or economic ethics from her library. But this time it was not a boring book. It was kneeling in the hot sun for over two hours. My knees were still sore.

Trying to forget, I began humming softly amidst the swaying branches. Creating my own music was the way I escaped into myself when punished. It was a habit begun several years ago as a way of coping with my feelings of being so totally alone. One day I had the sense to listen to myself. I was not humming familiar music, I was composing! Simple tunes at first, then more complex. I would hum or whistle until I had a whole section of the music complete. The point and counterpoint of the harmony usually came quite naturally. When I found paper and pencil, I wrote down the notes and later played them on the pianoforte. I had quite a collection of such musical notations, but I have no idea what I shall ever do with them.

I watched the rider come closer as I thought of what Squire Boggs would do to my sheets of music. Line his pigpens with them, I thought grimly. Marriage to that overweight, odious hog farmer? Never! But what could I do? I felt helpless, and the prayer part of Haydn's "Agnus Dei" I had played yesterday on the pianoforte fit my mood exactly. Agnus Dei, qui tollis pecca'ta mundi, miserere nobis. I turned the short version into a non-Hindu sort of mantra: "Lamb of God have mercy" humming it softly. The answer to my prayer did not have to be a big change in the world, merely a tiny one. I would be content with a few escape sprinkles dusted over my life, the way I sprinkled raisins on a current cake when I helped Cook. Enough escape sprinkles to make Aunt's terrible marriage plans go away. And perhaps something positive in place of those terrible plans so when I next looked around; I would be living a different life, one containing joy and passion instead of bleakness and despair.

Would it be such a great thing in the scale of the universe if some deus ex machina could interfere, take Squire Boggs off my life path, and take pity on the desolate maiden needing a knight on a white horse? My dream was ludicrous, of course, but it made me feel better. I resumed humming, happier without knowing why.

The leaves in my tree stirred a little in the soft breeze while the sun beat down on the unprotected road leading through the woods. It was a warm and dry day like many in the recent past. High in my perch I could feel the heat even though the wind made it bearable as the horse and rider drew closer. They both looked dusty and tired even though it was only the middle of the day.

Was this my knight on a white horse straight out of my dream? I chuckled ruefully. If so he was a very dusty one, I thought. I could not tell at first, but underneath the dust, the horse was indeed white. I shivered in excited anticipation while simultaneously feeling very foolish. I was afraid to make a sound because I was not used to strangers, especially strange young men. The rider guided his horse toward my towering perch, and I waited impatiently to see what he might do. I was hoping the two of them would stop awhile for lunch. The road ahead was a long, empty stretch and stopping under my tree before proceeding made sense to me. Closer now, the man looked as though he might be in his late twenties or early thirties. Would he stop? A lady could hope could she not?

Hopes occasionally materialize, I discovered. He reined in underneath me in the shade of my tree and patted his horse on the neck. I could hear him speak to the horse as clearly as if I were next to him on the road.

"Guinevere, my friend, I do not know where we are. We seem to be in the middle of nowhere, and I do not see the way out."

It was odd, but the white mare appeared to answer him. She made a noise and shook her head from side to side. What this meant, I did not know, but the rider seemed to understand quite well.

"Of course, oh wise one, I see the road as you do, and no I do not care to explain how I know we are in the middle of nowhere when I do not know where we are. It is a simple figure of speech, my friend. Maybe figures of speech do not count in horse language, but I do not know where the road is heading, nor, more importantly, how far it is heading before it gets to somewhere. Am I being clear or have I confused you? I think I am confusing me."

I giggled at his nonsense. It was a very soft giggle, but it was evidently loud enough for the horse to hear. I could almost see her awareness of me when I moved slightly to hide better. She must have seen a brief flash of something, which caught her attention. I knew I was in trouble when Guinevere's ears went forward and she made a small noise.

Maybe the man was fearful of ambushes, because he reacted quickly to the horse's signals, abruptly staring up into my tree. The horse's ears went forward again, trying to probe for sound, but I remained very still, hoping to escape detection. The rider smiled and I realized he was even more handsome than I had thought earlier. Mayhap not the answer to every maiden's prayer, but he certainly seemed so to me. My heart beat a little faster. I could see him looking up into the tree and I smiled, thinking myself hidden.

"Guinevere my friend," he said, "I think we were fooled into thinking something was there." He stared further. "Ha!" he said. "Not fooled. Such colors do not belong in a tree. Especially so high."

There was no response from me. Suddenly I was terrified or excited, I could not determine which.

"Identify yourself, tree person, or I shall shoot you down."

Oh, I thought, definitely frightened. He thinks I am an enemy. "Are you speaking to me?" I called in a cracking voice.

The rider looked up into the tree again, trying to find me. I saw him finally spot me, but at first, he looked blankly as if he could not understand what he was seeing. Mayhap he thought I was some rare local fauna. I did not move. Then with a laugh he seemed to figure it out. For a moment, he had a funny look on his face, which reminded me of the lustful look the Squire's son Hiram developed when he looked at girls. This man was looking at me with Hiram's look?

"Good afternoon, miss," he called.

"Good day to you sir," I answered. "Are you traveling far?" My voice seemed to reassure him as much as his cultured accents did me.

"No, not so far yet today. Still, Guinevere and I were becoming tired, and we wish to find a place to rest for a bit. Do you know of one nearby?"

"Know of what?" I asked, thinking he probably thinks he is speaking to a disembodied person.

"Could you come down lower in the tree so I can speak to your face instead of your pretty legs? Oops," he murmured to himself. "My damn mouth will get me in trouble if I do not take care."

"My limbs? Sir, what are you talking about? Why are you muttering to yourself? Are you saying you can see my limbs?" My voice sputtered in panic.

"Yes, now you ask. Of course I can see your limbs as you call them, practically all of them, if the truth be known," responded the horseman in amused tones.

"Oh pooh. You cannot see much," I said. "My skirts go down to my ankles for heaven's sakes. My limbs are covered," my assured voice contended.

"Well, true if I were standing in front of you. Position does make a difference. I am sitting underneath you and the viewpoint is changed rather completely," he rebutted in a kindly voice.

"Oh. But still."

"I shall have to convince you, I collect. Let me see. Your knees are red and look sore for some reason," he pointed out. "What did you do to hurt yourself?"

"Oh no! My knees? Oh dear, you can see up my dress! I did not believe you. Oh my."

I was sputtering, flustered because I did not know what to do. He could see me above him, I knew he could. He could see me tucking my skirts around my legs and wondering how I was going to get down without reexposing myself. What an embarrassing position to be in. And with such a handsome stranger!

"Wait," he hurried to say. "I shall look away until you get down to the bottom of the tree. I am afraid you will fall out of the tree for worry about what I might see."

"Oh thank you" I said. "Would you please? It would be the act of a gentleman."

I watched as he turned away, chuckling. I quickly began descending, figuring I had no time to lose. He could turn around again at any moment.

In a voice much closer to his ear level I asked anxiously, "What else did you see?"

"Nothing at all, brat, except for the pretty dimple on your chin."

I could see the amused gleam in his eye, but my brain did not comprehend at first and I gasped like a ninny in total horror: "What? My chin? You could see that far? How could you?" Surely, he could not have seen me totally naked merely by looking up my skirts. Could he?

"Only teasing, my dear, only teasing, trying to get you to smile instead of looking so solemn. What were you doing in the tree in the first place?" he asked, taking off his hat and trying to change the subject.

"I do not think your teasing is funny at all, sir." I should have been incensed. I was, but this was the most handsome man I had ever seen and it made my anger less and my embarrassment worse. I was unable to laugh about it. Looking at his tightly clad, muscular legs holding the horse in check kept me tongue-tied for a moment. However, not for long.

"I was preoccupied," I babbled inanely, "thinking of stories and magic and things far from here. Sometimes I imagine my tree is a ship, and I am steering it down the road," I said, pleased my voice did not give away my internal perturbation. I moved to a low branch then dropped to the ground. "I know it is silly. I collect I cannot steer a tree into the world and get away from here, but it is a good escape to imagine this sometimes."

Beginning to turn away from him, I curtsied to say good bye. "Let me bid you good day, sir. You can continue your journey now, for the show is over."

 

A Dreamer's Escape Copyright 2005. Jamie Richards. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

 

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Author Bio

Jamie Richards is a retired professor from a moderately sized university who spent thirty-four years teaching about communism and other forms of political philosophy. He wrote six books on these serious topics and when he retired he decided to write fiction.

What kind? He began as a boyhood fan of westerns, then science fiction, and then mysteries. Gradually he grew tired of bodies and detectives and leaned toward stories that had a little romance in them. It was not far to historical romance and just before he retired he became enamored of the Regency period in English history, roughly 1800 to 1825.

Jamie began collecting novels he enjoyed and then after retirement gave him the time, he began to write. He now has 3400 regency novels on his study shelves, and the two novels for Twilight books are his first step in romance publishing. He especially enjoys the extensive research and the travel necessary for historical novels.

He met his wife at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio back in the 1950s and has three children and four grandchildren, all of whom are very special. He enjoys family, traveling, reading, and writing.

TTB titles: A Dreamer Escapes
Harry's Agatha

 

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