Isn’t That Always The Way

First off, I’m really bummed about the Queen passing away. Tears in my eyes bummed. Watching the Queen’s coronation (in B&W) on our floor model Motorola TV is one of my earliest memories. I had just turned 4. My brother was at the “cruising” stage of learning to walk and kept getting his head in front of the TV screen. The Queen was two years younger than my mother, who will be 98 in about two weeks. Stay tuned for that.

One of the things that has been holding up my transfer to the new computer was finding a feed reader that worked as well as the old NewsFox reader that FireFox had. I follow a bunch of blogs and webcomics, and NewsFox organized them all in one place and made it so simple to keep up with them. I think I’ve finally found one: QuiteRSS. Which is good, because this evening I was trying to clean up my NewsFox feeds so I could export only the feeds I actually wanted and accidentally deleted a bunch of feeds I didn’t mean to. Fortunately, I had already exported the “dirty” version of the feeds, but when I tried to reload the feeds in NewsFox (which runs in the FireFox browser I stopped updating about three years ago just before it was going to stop supporting NewsFox), it discombobulated.

So I set up QuiteRSS on my Windows 7 machine and imported the great mishmash of past and present blog and webcomic feeds I had on NewsFox. Then I spent about two hours going through and deleting the defunct and abandoned feeds and completed webcomics and then I had to go into properties on each and every cotton-picking feed and untick a box so QuiteRSS would display the whole webpage instead of just a “headline.” Then I could export a clean copy of the .opml file to the other machine.

QuiteRSS does almost everything NewsFox did, except it’s not set into a browser so I can’t use the browser “Find” feature to find words in the text, and when I want to look something up, I have to go to another program (web browser) instead of to another tab. It only took me about an hour to set up QuiteRS on my Windows 11 machine. Unfortunately, I still had to go into the properties on every stupid feed and untick the box so it would display the way I want it to. I also figured out how to resize the type and change the font. The font that comes off the rack with the program is some off the wall typeface I’ve never heard of and the size was miniscule. I changed it to good old Arial 11 so I can read it without binoculars. The date was given in European format (2-digit day.2-digit month.2-digit year) and I figured out how to fix that, too. So. That’s one more thing I’ve moved over to the new computer.

The hard drive on the new machine is only 250 GB, which isn’t big enough for all my music and graphics and photos. I’ve got two hard drives in the old computer, one of which is a Seagate 1 TB. I’ve decided to get an external hard drive. It would be easier than schlepping my computer tower to someplace so they can look at it to see if I can transfer the Seagate drive from my old machine to the new one. I can get a 6 TB Western Digital external hard drive for about what it would cost me to pay somebody to switch out the drive from one computer to the other — assuming the new computer even has a slot for a second drive — which it probably doesn’t. My final chemo session is the 26th. An external hard drive would be a perfect “good girl” treat for FINALLY finishing chemo.

I’ll be glad to stop straddling computers. Gmail doesn’t work on my old one anymore, and I have to boot the new computer up so I can check my email. I’ve got this jicky little Bluetooth keyboard and mouse hooked up to the new computer, and I’ve been operating for months with two mice and two keyboards and only one monitor per computer. I’m so used to having two monitors that it’s like doing everything with one eye closed.

Maybe once I get done with all the chemo stuff I can settle down and finally sort this computer mess out. Trying to write on one monitor is the pits. I’m juggling between the time line document and a dictionary app, the reference document and the actual story manuscript. So much easier when I don’t have to play peek-a-boo between what I’m writing and some other document I’m referring to. I can have references and the dictionary app, and a browser and some kind of music app open on one screen and the manuscript open on the other and I can revise and change the reference document and the time line as needed. Or I can listen to a YouTube video like a TED talk or scholarly lecture, or some music playlist on one screen while I’m working a puzzle on Jigsaw Planet on the other. My amigo Shoreacres found a version of my old werewolf monitor widget (it has a little graphic of the moon that displays the phases) that I could get to run on Windows 11, and now I’ve found a replacement for NewsFox.

Except for my writing, which is going to be a booger to transition from Word 2010 to the newest version of Word*, and transferring some programs, the rest of the computer change over is mostly just moving files – lots and lots of files – and setting up the external hard drive and the little (4 TB) external backup drive. And then when I grab a mouse, I won’t have to stop and remember which mouse goes to which computer, and I won’t have to use that jicky little keyboard anymore. (I have this lovely Logitech gamer keyboard that has a wrist ramp, a 10-key pad and a feather-light touch.)(This is my third. I’ve already worn two out — good thing I’m a touch typist. I had worn the letters off most of the keys before some of the most-used keys just quit working. Logitech has been making them for a while. I got the first one while I was still working as a medical transcriptionist. )

In the knitting news, there isn’t any. Now that the most urgent baby knitting is off the needles and gone to Garland, I’ve been taking a breather.

*I’m going to take the opportunity to work out a “universal” manuscript template so all my manuscripts will have the same margins, line spacing, font, etc., which means I will be reformatting everything. Sigh.

I Made Good on My Threat

I’ve been threatening for some time to gather all my prose writings into one place, and I’ve finally made good on my threat.  The new blog is called “A Box of Special Things.” Not only does it collect bits of creative writing posted in other places, but there are two new bits never before posted.  So, if fiction is your jam, hop over and take a look.


One of the stock interview questions authors, actors, film makers, and artists of other ilk get asked when they are interviewed about their creations is: What were your early influences?  What captured your imagination in your formative years?  In a way, it’s like asking someone who’s made a particularly delectable item of food, “What ingredients did you use in this dish?” It’s one of the many variations on one of the most important of human questions, “How did you do that?”

The Crescent Moon Painting by Montague Dawson***

I couldn’t tell you any more how I ended up thinking about influences just now, because I’ve breathed since then, but I can tell you that it set off one of those free association things in my head that can be such fun.  One thought pinballing off into my head and I get to see what bumpers light up and go ding!  (I’ve ended up in some pretty interesting headspaces (2) that way.)

Anyway, one of the dings of this particular instance (or dongs, I forget which) was an album by Jefferson Airplane called, “After Bathing at Baxter’s.” The cover art was by visual artist Ron Cobb who has a very distinctive style.   I’d already chiseled  The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band  into the bedrock of my memory by the time I encountered it.

Somewhat later, when I had more in the way of discretionary funds*,  I ran across the Airplane’s first album “Surrealistic Pillow” with  the iconic Grace Slick singing the iconic “White Rabbit” and had liked it.  I didn’t get to Baxter’s until a year or two after it came out because before I could get to it, I was blindsided by Crosby, Stills and Nash‘s first album and its positively orgasmic vocal harmonies (Sorry.  I don’t care what anybody says, Young was a mistake.  His voice doesn’t work with the fitted-together-like-Inca-stonework  triad of voices that was David Crosby, Steven Stills and Graham Nash in their prime.  Not sorry.).  If you want vocal harmony that is to die for, that album gets it in one.  Ironically, my favorite song on the whole album, the horse dance song, would still be my favorite if you stripped out the vocal tracks.  The guitar work on that song is just perfect.  (It led me to a magical place where the horses dance and the blue fish sing.  It was a peaceful, gentle place.  I haven’t been there in quite a while.  One day I might answer a Mag Challenge and take you there. . .)   (One more time, three great voices so tight, so right. Sigh.)

But back to Baxter’s.  It’s kind of one of those you had to have been there.  There is a fair amount of acid-trippy signal noise on the album,  — it came out of 1969 San Francisco, after all.   But The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil with some of its lyrics borrowed from the poetry** of A. A. Milne (I was turned on to Winnie the Pooh, not by having it read to me or by Disney,  but by Jefferson Airplane — try that one on your head.) and the gentle “Martha” stand out.  But, again, because this album, and the band, came out of 1969 San Francisco, you’ve got Slick crooning quotes from James Joyce‘s Ulysses (ReJoyce), and the aural hash that is “A Small Package of Value Will Come to You Shortly” which ends with somebody yelling “No man is an island!  No man is an island!  He’s a peninsula.” and a giggle. (I must have listened to that giggle a bazillion times, and it still makes me smile.  It’s a truly great giggle — right up there with Anderson Cooper’s.)  And some of it is just plain weird.  One of life’s many little opportunities to sift through the dross and discover the pearls.

There was a period in my life when I used to doodle (a lot) a tulip shaped bulb with convoluted roots and a daisy like flower blooming straight out of the bulb’s point, and on the bulb, in psychedelic lettering, was the phrase “Understanding is a virtue hard to come by.”  Which is a lyric from “Last Wall of the Castle” from Baxter’s.  If I had a dollar for every time I doodled that doodle, I could buy quite a nice armload of books . . .

Also out of that time came a song, “Wooden Ships” which was written aboard David Crosby’s schooner Maya by him, Stephen Stills and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane.  It was recorded by CSN on their first album (mentioned above) and by Jefferson Airplane.   Somewhere between the poles of the two versions of this song was, once upon a time,  a small, strange burrowing bird living in the flatlands, learning to fly. . .



*discretionary funds -- "extra" money, that can be spent on what I like to call "targets of opportunity." 
**If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You'd lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You'd say to the wind when it took you away:
"That's where I wanted to go today!"

From "Spring Morning" in When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne.

***This picture has no relation to anything in the post.  I just like looking at it.

Wait, What?

If you’ve been visiting this space on a regular basis for any length of time, it’ll come as no surprise to you that I play around with creative writing because I’ve inflicted bits of it on you from time to time.  What I do is a lot like an artist doing sketches.   Just here lately, I created a couple of characters, put them in a situation, and aimed it in a particular direction, just to see where it would go from there.

But here’s the thing.  These two characters have to have names — so I have to work out what their names are.  They have to have physical attributes, as you do,  so I have to figure out what they look like, because their physical appearance has some bearing on what’s going on between them.  They have to have context — so I have to figure out the situation they’re in.  But then, they had to get into this situation some how, so I have to figure that out, which means they have to have back stories.  (I’ve noticed that this is typically the point where personalities begin to coalesce around these little character-seeds.)

So then, I have to work out what happens to them during the story, which is when I realized there had to be a doctor, so I had to invent him out of whole cloth, and then, in order to get from point A to point B so the next bit of the story can happen, there had to be this guy who got his foot shot off, and the next thing I know, he ups and decides that he’s way more important to the plot than I had planned for him to be and starts telling me that he wouldn’t have done this one thing he’s supposed to do in the way I was trying to get him to do it, he would have done it this other way, and he wouldn’t have done this other thing I wanted him to do at all, so forget that.  I already knew one of the main character’s parents were going to be important to the plot and that they had to have certain personality types in order for other parts of the plot to work right and I knew that character had two older brothers and a sister because back story, but they weren’t going to figure much in the story.  Then the sister decided she wanted a much bigger role than I had given her and that she was going to fall in love with the guy whose foot got shot off . . . .  And here all this time I thought I was the one telling the story . . .

I’ve heard multiple writers speak about how characters seem to develop a mind of their own, and I’ve had it happen to me time and time again.  It’s fascinating.   It’s also a little weird.  Robert E. Howard related that it always seemed to him that one of his most famous characters, Conan the Barbarian, would read over his shoulder as he typed out a Conan story, and correct him when he got it wrong.   This might strike the person on the street as kinda strange that a made up character would be bossing its creator around, and might provoke a look askance, but a writer would nod their head in understanding and go, “Yep.  Been there.”

The thing is, I think readers can spot those characters that seem to develop a mind of their own.  They have a three-dimensionality that lifts them off the page.  They “ring true.”   The great writers are the ones who can create characters like that, and then step back and let them tell their own stories.  Once you get to that point, it’s just a matter of reportage.


Houston, We Have Sleeves!

Sometimes my brain works in strange and idiosyncratic ways.  I tend to have trouble with homonyms when I’m typing  — not when I’m writing by hand, mind you, just when I’m typing.  I invariably make the wrong choice first, like typing ‘right’ when I mean ‘write’ or ‘by’ when I mean ‘buy.’  I know perfectly well which one is which, and I’ll be looking right at what I’m typing as I’m typing it, — and still type “meat me after work.”  Like this morning.  I can’t recall now which ones they were, but it was a set of three homonyms, and I swear I typed and backspaced twice before I finally got the right one.  It’s like my eyes know which is which, but my fingers can’t keep them straight.

As I mentioned, I’ve been in the throes of a story for weeks now, and here’s today’s winning brain fart: What I meant to type was “got off on the wrong foot.”  As I was reading back through the paragraph, I saw I had typed, “got off on the round foot.”   I mean, it’s like I’ve just washed my hands and I can’t do a thing with them!

I think part of it is that I was a medical transcriptionist and typed for eight hours a day, five to six days a week for years and years, and I had this brain circuit really solidly wired in where the dictation went in my ears, through the part of my brain that interprets spoken words and the part where it got transliterated from spoken words to written words, turned left at my cerebellum and went out my fingers, while my eyes rode herd on the whole process, making sure that I was not only accurately typing what I heard, but that what was being typed was also spelled and punctuated correctly, and that it made sense.   I did it so much for so long that to this day, the first thing I do when I sit down at the computer is to put my earbuds in, and I can’t write at the computer without some kind of sound coming through them.  I’ve got an old copy of Winamp and a whole list of internet radio station URLs set up to play through it, and you wouldn’t believe the number of playlists I have on Napster.

Typically, the first thing I do when I’m in storyland is read what I typed the day before, which is wear where the knitting comes in. (See what I mean?) My brain is convinced that when I’m sitting at the computer, my hands have to be doing something, so while I’m reading yesterday’s work, I’m doing some form of “TV” knitting.   I guess I’m going to have to name my reader’s shrug “Mirabilo” because that’s the title of the story I was working on when I started it, and have been wrestling with like Laocoön  all the time I’ve been knitting on it.

Yesterday, I finally got the back of the shrug to the right dimensions and put everything on the 60-inch needle to do the sleeves.  The back has a 9-stitch wide garter stitch border top and bottom, and the first thing I did was join the top border to the bottom border on each side by putting wrong sides together and then taking a stitch from the top border and knitting it together (k2tog) with a stitch from the bottom border, and binding the stitches off as I went.

The basic shrug idea is to take a long rectangle, fold it in half, and seam the part at each end together to make the sleeves.  I’ve just started the sleeves here but instead of seaming them, I’m knitting them in the round.

But you can see the garter stitch border along the bottom which I joined at each end to make it into a loop.  This is the part of the shrug that goes behind your neck, over each shoulder, under both arms and across your back.  You can get the idea here.  A lot of patterns have you go back and pick up all the edge stitches and knit this part on last. Too many steps to suit me.   I like to do it all in one pass.

In this picture you can see I’m knitting the sleeves in the round, using the two-at-a-time method.   It’s knitted left sleeve starting at the center  bottom, going around to the top, then changing balls of yarn to do the right sleeve starting at the center top and knitting around to the bottom.  It’s coming along nicely.

I’ll be glad to get it finished.  The weather has already turned cool enough that I’ve switched over to hot tea and long sleeves.  I’ve had that little single microfleece blanket on my side of the bed for three nights now. (I’ll have to look at the 10-day weather forecast to decide if it’s time to put a blanket on the bed next time I change my sheets.)   I haven’t been reading anything lately because I don’t want the writing style or subject matter of what I’m reading to bleed over into my story.

Both Ends Are In the Deep Purple Now

I’ve had my reader’s shrug at my computer desk where I can work on it while catching up with the blogs, webcomics and YouTube channels I follow.

I’ve also been knitting on it while I’ve been working on this story idea.  I thought I knew what the story was about and where it was going, but when I was deciding on character names and identities, setting scenes and doing a little world-building, I decided to incorporate a little back story on two of the three main characters just as a kind of set-up for the main story for when I bring the third main character in, and the durn thing bolted, got the bit between its teeth and took off in a totally unexpected direction for 9 whole chapters!  It’s an interesting direction, though, and I’ve decided to give the story its head just to see where it ends up.

I should know by now.  I’ll get a set of characters and put them in a situation, thinking I know who they are and what they’ll do, and then the characters start telling me stuff I didn’t know about them that changes how I see them, or they insist they would never do the stuff I’m trying to get them to do, and the next thing I know, the inmates are trying to take over the asylum.  I have found that knitting keeps the motor part of my brain out of the way while the business end is trying to get the madhouse back under control.  Wrestling with the angel, indeed.

And speaking of knitting, I’ve been making quite a bit of progress on my reader’s shrug.   But, because it’s technically “TV knitting,” every now and again, I have to stop and do the “two steps forward and one step back” dance because I’ve made an oops.

Here, I discovered that instead of the 9 stitches I was supposed to have on the ribbed border, I had lost a stitch at some point and only had 8, so I had to frog just that bit row by row until I found out what I’d done with it.  Took me over an hour to locate my little uh-oh and repair it.  All better now, though.

The color change on the yarn is interesting — pink gradates into a fuchsia that gradates through a kind of maroon purple to just plain purple, and then pushes on through to a kind of cyan blue, a really greenish turquoise (which I edited out) and back to pink.

I’m mystified as to how somebody came up with the name of “Troll” for this set of colors. (What were they smoking?) (And where can I get some!)

Anyway, I did some more research on the construction of shrugs and realized a key measurement was wrong because I had not measured me in the right places.  Pas de problème.  I remeasured me and got the correct dimension of 24 inches wide before I start the sleeves.  (Instead of running the tape measure from the point of one shoulder across my back to the point of the other one, which gave me 18 inches, I should have run the tape measure from the edge of one armpit around the back of my neck to the edge of the other armpit, and got the more useful measurement of 24 inches.)

Anyway, I’ve gotten 12 inches from the center point to one end, and I’ve got about 4 inches to go to have 12 inches on the other end.  I’m further along now than I was when the above picture was taken.  Both ends are in the deep purple now.  When it measures 24 inches from one 32-inch circular needle to the other, that’s when it all goes onto the 60-inch circular needle and we start two-at-a-timeing the sleeves.  Oh, what fun.

However, it’s sneaking up on 1 a.m. just at the moment, and I think I hear my beddy boo calling me. . . Hasta banana.


This Is My Brain on Prednisolone

I’m on the 4th of a 5-day “burst” of prednisolone, which I’m taking periodically for one thing and another.  Usually by about the third dose, I’m not sleeping more than 4-hours a night, my brain is going about Mach 2, I’m bouncing off the walls, and this is what the last day or two have been like:

While I was working on the center pattern of the light blue Cobblestone Lace Shawl, I was thinking about this stitch I’m using for the body of the shawl, which I “discovered” while experimenting with the seed stitch (surely, I’m not the first one to have stumbled across it, but since I can’t find it on the interwebs and don’t know if it has a formal name, I’m calling it the “cobblestone stitch”) and the variations on it.

In order for the stitch pattern to work out right, rows 1 and 3  have to have an even number of stitches, and rows 2 and 4 have to have an odd number of stitches.   You can achieve that by increasing a stitch at the end of rows 1 and 3 for a steady increase of 2 stitches over 4 rows (one pattern repeat), or by decreasing a stitch at the end of rows 1 and 3, for a steady decrease of 2 stitches over 4 rows.  This will result in a piece with a straight left (or top) edge and a sloping right (or bottom) edge.  However, if you increase on row 1 and decrease on row 3, (stitch count remains net constant over the pattern repeat), the left (top) edge is straight and the right (bottom) edge is “optically” straight.  Here’s the stitch pattern:

Cobblestone stitch
Cast on an even number of stitches.
Row 1:  knit until 1 stitch remains, (increase 1 stitch or decrease 1 stitch).
Row 2:  *p2, k1, repeat from * until 1 stitch remains, p1.
Row 3:  knit until 1 stitch remains, (increase 1 stitch or decrease 1 stitch).
Row 4:  *p1, k1, repeat from * to the end of the row.

Now, how you increase or decrease that 1 stitch is up to you.  It all depends on the look you want.  You could work the increase with a yo, or a kfb, or a mo, or an e-wrap, and you could use a k2tog, or a p2tog, or an ssk, or an ssp, or a psso to work the decrease.  Each way produces a different look.  Say, for example, if you’re using this stitch to work the body of a triangular shawl, you wouldn’t want to be able to easily tell which side had the increases and which side had the decreases.  Because you’d want both sides to look the same, you’d want to pair an increase stitch with a decrease stitch that has a similar look.  For example, if I were using a mo (make one) for my increases, I’d want to use a k2tog for the decreases as they have a similar look.  I happen to like kfb’s, and the decrease that I think looks most similar to them is p2tog.  But there are all kinds of possible combinations and looks.

So, anyway, as I’m knitting, I’m thinking, “a rectangular shawl, knitted from side to side with a garter stitch lace lower border, and some kind of garter stitch lace insert along the top border (if I can find the right kind of lace pattern, I could modify the pattern to make it into a matching insert), and some kind of side border.  I could maybe work the lower border edge of the cobblestone stitch with a yo for the increase and a k2tog, yo for the decrease (but I’d have to try it to see how it would look), or just go with a kfb/p2tog increase/decrease.  I wonder how much yarn it would take — 4 skeins? 5?  Do I have enough yarn in my stash to do one in a solid color?” . . . .

Well, this idea has been cooking in my brain since Wednesday, and yesterday, as I’m at my computer reading blogs and webcomics, I just have to pull up this site that has a bunch of garter stitch lace patterns on it and start looking for something suitable.

Kildare Edging

So, here’s the thing.  When you’re knitting a shawl from side to side, you’re knitting “vertical” rows (as opposed to “horizontal” rows as in top-down or bottom-up),  so you’re knitting top border, body, and lower lace border all on the same row — on every row.  In order for a lace pattern to “mesh” with the cobble stone stitch when you’re working in the side-to-side orientation, the number of rows in the lace pattern repeat has to be evenly divisible by 4 (because the cobblestone stitch has a 4-row pattern repeat), so only certain lace patterns will work.   But I found this one called “Kildare Edging” that I like the look of.  The pattern of the lace is such that it could easily be modified to make a matching insert for the top border by removing those scallops across the bottom edge, and it has an 8-row pattern repeat.

Naturally, I immediately cut and pasted the pattern into a Word document,  grabbed a 24-inch US10 circular needle and a ball of yarn and started knitting it so I can see how the lace is put together and what part of the pattern does what.  Once I know that, I’ll know what bits to take out to remove the scallops and where to put what looks like it needs to be a k3 to give it a lower edge that matches the upper edge and make it symmetrical.

I’m trying not to get too involved in it because I’m working on 4 (!) other shawls at the moment, but a while ago I sat down at the computer and caught up on blog reading, and then I started working on this one part of a  story I’ve been playing around with (that already has a glossary and a who’s who . . . ), and then I couldn’t stand it any more, so I’m working on that lace again, and then I thought I’d blog about it, and now I have 8 windows open on my computer and knitting in my lap . . . .

Maire Popkin

There is a website where a picture, painting or photograph would be posted, with the challenge to take inspiration from it for a piece of creative writing — a poem, vignette, essay, whatever. Unfortunately, the lady who ran this lovely website decided to put it on the back  burner several years ago.  Because I had participated now and again, I continued to issue these “mag challenges” to myself when the mood took me.  It occurs to me I have not set myself a “mag challenge” in a while.  There’s only one other mag challeng post on this blog, but there are quite a number of them here.  If you will go to the bottom of the right sidebar to “Categories” and select the category “Mag Challenge,” you can find the ones there.

Maire Popkin

She wasn’t Cockney, she was Irish, so that was wrong, but she did have the large black umbrella with the ivory handle carved into a macaw’s head, which had come down to her from her grandmamá.  (It was mastodon ivory and her grandmamá and great grandmamá had eaten off its former owner for a month, but that was neither here nor there.)  She had simply shown up shortly after the coroner’s wagon had left and announced herself to Constable Harker, who was under the impression headquarters had sent her — and not a moment too soon, if you asked him. The lady’s maid was practically hysterical and the cook and parlor maid were not in much better shape.  As for the poor child, all she did was sit there wide-eyed and silent.   Shock, of course.  The constable conveyed the woman straightaway to Chief Inspecter Philbeam.

“Sir, they’ve sent a matron to take charge of the little girl.”

“About time,” The chief inspector replied gruffly.  He hated these domestic cases, especially when there were children involved.  He glanced at her, then took a second look.

In the cold, unblinking light of early morning, she was a woman drawn in pen and ink, with ink-black eyes and raven’s wing brows stroked onto paper white skin, ink black hair pulled severely back over her white shell ears and completely restrained in a tight bun at the nape of her neck.  She wore a black felt hat with a narrow brim and a black grosgrain ribbon for a hat band, secured to her head with a jet beaded hatpin.  Indeed, the only bit of color about her was her woolen coat of graphite grey, which she wore buttoned up to her chin.  The hem of it brushed the top of her black leather, lace-up boots.  She was holding the bottomless carpet bag in one black-gloved hand, so that bit was right as well.   In reality, she was of average height for a woman, but she carried herself like a queen and seemed half a head taller than she actually was by virtue of it.  Philbeam’s critical eye searched her carefully but could detect no nonsense about her, and that was a great relief.

“Maire Popkin,” she said, and though she had pronounced it ‘Moya,’ she added, “That’s M-a-i-r-e, if you please,” to make it quite plain.  Oh, and she had ‘the voice’ as well, wine dark and soft as velvet, too quiet and reasonable to be disobeyed.

“Nasty business, this,”  Philbeam said,  “The child is upstairs. Harker will take you up.”

It was the sort of house one would expect of a family of their social strata;  fashionable address, fashionable décor, quality furnishings and appointments, but the colors were rather insipid and spiritless.   Harker paused on the first landing and murmured, “Governess.  Murdered both parents then hanged herself.“

“About four months along, I’d expect,”  was her terse comment.


“The governess.”

It took Harker a moment to fit that into context. “Shameful.”

“Yes, it is, when it is left to one of the victims to hold the guilty accountable for his crimes because society won’t.  And the child?”

“What?  Oh, er, right.  Aged six.  Name of, um,” he consulted his notebook.  “’Cecily Grace.’”

He hustled her quickly past the first floor hallway where several uniformed policemen were standing, and up the considerably more narrow stairs to the second floor where the nursery was located.  One of the maids, red-eyed and sniffling , stood by the cold and empty  nursery fireplace wringing her hands.  The child was sitting in one of a pair of small chairs at a small deal table.  Before Harker could speak, Maire Popkin turned him out of the room and shut the door behind him.   She set her carpet bag down beside the door, laid the umbrella against it, took off her gloves and pocketed them, and began to unbutton her coat.

“And who are you?” she asked the maid in her velvet voice that had a silken lilt to it.

“Emma Turnipseed, miss.” The poor girl’s voice trembled on the brink of tears, stumbled and fell. “Oh, what’s to become of us, miss?” she blubbered.  “Nobody ever seems to think of that.  No place, no references, and now we’ve got an ‘istory.  They’ll never take you if you’ve got an ‘istory.”

Maire Popkin studied her a moment, reached into her coat pocket, and pulled out several folded pieces of paper.  She selected one, opened it, refolded it, selected another, opened it and smiled.

“Here,” She took the maid’s hand, put the paper into it and folded her fingers around it.  “Married couple, no children, arrived from India two days ago.  They’ll be needing a parlor maid, an upstairs maid, a scullery maid and a cook.  Apply Friday.  You’ll be a godsend.”  Then she ushered the poor girl gently but firmly out the door.  She turned to the child and finished unbuttoning her coat.

“Are you Cecily Grace?”  she inquired.

“Yes, miss,”  the child replied in a barely audible voice.  She had limp, mousy brown hair, large brown eyes, a pale complexion, and was little better than skin and bones in her plainly cut, unadorned navy frock.  Her stockings had a small hole at the ankle, and her shoes had noticeable bulges at the tip from the crowd of toes beneath.

“You may call me ‘Maire Popkin.’ “  She slipped off her coat to reveal a plain, black wool dress with a high collar and long, fitted sleeves.  A plain gold pendant watch was pinned to the bosom of it.   She looked around for someplace to put her coat, spotted the only adult sized chair in the room and draped her coat over the back of it. She balanced her hat atop it.   She went to the other small chair, pulled it out and sat down in it facing the child across the table.

“Well, Cecily Grace, I suspect nobody has thought to feed you this morning.”

“No, miss.”

“Do you think you can possibly hold on for one more hour?”  Maire Popkin asked seriously.

“I think so.”

“There’s a brave girl.”  She looked the child over for a long thoughtful moment.  “No doubt you are aware that something terrible has happened, and your life is never going to be the same again.  But all is not utterly lost.  I am come to help you over the rough patches and see you settled.”

“Mummy is gone, isn’t she.”  Cecily Grace said with hollow certainty. A single tear dripped down from the corner of her eye.  She wiped it away with a furtive, almost guilty swipe of her hand.

“I’m afraid so.  And we will deal with that in its time, but first we must get you packed and take you someplace kinder,” Maire Popkin said firmly.  “And get a decent breakfast into you.”

The little girl’s bedroom might have been pretty if the fabric and wallpaper had been done in brighter roses and pinks instead of washed out puces and mauves. Tucked as it was up under a northern eave and with only two small dormer windows to light it, the room was small and rather dark.  Still, it had a majestic view of the roof of the house behind and the mountainous forest of smoking chimneys beyond.

Maire Popkin turned to the girl, fixed her with a serious gaze and said, “Now, Cecily Grace, once you leave this house, you are never coming back again.  I want you to carefully consider which of your things you would be most sorry to lose.”

Cecily Grace looked at her solemnly, frowning slightly in thought.

“I want you to gather those things and put them on the bed here, so we will be sure not to leave them behind.”

The girl went to the far side of the bed, knelt beside it, and worked loose a floorboard.  She retrieved a lawn handkerchief which was dusty from being hidden away there.

“These are all but one of my most precious things.” She said, laying the bundle on the bed beside the carpet bag. “There’s a locket which I had from my real papa when I was a baby,  Mummy had given it me to wear on a ribbon, but when I showed it to Miss Grimsly, she said I was much too young to be entrusted with such valuable jewelry and that I must give it to her to keep for me.”  Though her voice was carefully neutral, her dark eyes were hard with the unfairness and sheer injustice of it.

“Tch. Worse and worse.”  Maire Popkin frowned thoughtfully.  She sat down upon the bed and motioned the child to her.  “Give me your hands, child.”   Maire Popkin gently folded the child’s hands one atop the other, palms pressed together, and cupped her slender white hands around them.  “Now, close your eyes and think hard about your locket.  Picture it in your thoughts as clearly as you can.  Remember what it looked like on the outside, all the little details, and what it looked like on the inside.”

The child frowned with the effort of it.

“Now.  Remember Mummy giving it to you.  Remember how it rightfully belongs to you and how much you want it back, and how much you will treasure it once you have it back again.”

The child’s features settled into grim determination.  Abruptly, her eyes popped open with astonishment. As Maire Popkin opened her hands, the child opened hers, and there resting between them was a gold oval keepsake locket strung on a blue silk ribbon.  With trembling fingers, the child opened the catch to reveal the entwined locks of hair it contained behind its little glass fronted frame.

“The dark hair is my real papa’s.  The golden hair is mama’s.  She cut the locks and braided them together the day papa left for the Crimea, so they would never be parted.”

Maire Popkin gently closed the locket and tied the ribbon around the child’s neck loosely enough that it did not touch her throat, but tightly enough that the locket could not be taken off over her head. Then she slipped the locket beneath the neck of the child’s plain little frock and carefully concealed the ribbon ends in back until nothing was visible.   She considered the child a moment, then she stood and turned to look about the room.

“You’ll want your hat and coat.  It’s quite chilly out.”  These were located.  The coat sleeves were almost an inch too short.  The hat ribbons were noticeably frayed.  Then Maire Popkin stepped to the center of the room.

“You’ll need something to wear until better can be gotten for you.”  She said, and made a broad, sweeping gesture with her hand as if snatching something from the air and tossing it into the open carpet bag.  “And we’d better have that trunk in the attic.”  She snatched something from the air above her head and tossed it into the carpet bag as well.  Then she walked to the bed, took the handkerchief full of treasures and placed it carefully within the carpet bag.  Slowly Maire Popkin studied the room, taking in the cheap hairbrush and comb upon the dresser, the mismatched basin and ewer, the old furniture, the rag rug.  “No dolly?”

“No,” the child replied mournfully.

Maire Popkin closed and latched the carpet bag, took it by the handle and headed back into the nursery, beckoning for the child to follow.  She quickly donned her own coat and hat, slid the handle of the carpet bag over her arm, hung the handle of the umbrella over her arm beside it, then held out her other hand to the child.

“Come, Cecily Grace.  It’s high time we were going.”

The child took her hand with a shy, wan smile and they set off, leaving the nursery door ajar behind them.  At the first floor landing, they encountered Constable Harker.   Maire Popkin drew a folded piece of paper from her coat pocket, shook it open, glanced at it to verify what it contained, then handed it to Constable Harker.  “We shall be at that address until further notice.”

Chief Inspector Philbeam was remonstrating with two of his subordinates and did not notice them leaving, nor did the gaggle of curious bystanders who had collected in the street before the house.

A short way up the street awaited a neat little brougham with a sleek bay between the shafts.  Leaning against it was a tall, slender man in a dark suit and a top hat.  He had a very prominent nose underscored by a cavalry mustache.  He looked much too young for the curls of his hair to be so liberally grizzled with grey. As they approached, he opened the carriage door and flipped down the steps, then gravely helped them inside.  He shook out the thick woolen lap robe to put over them and as he helped to twitch it into place, he leaned in close to the child and whispered, “It’s been almost seven weeks since Tabitha Mouser had her kittens.”  He put one long thin finger across his lips, winked, then closed the coach door.  Cecily Grace looked up at Maire Popikin, but she was busy looking at the ceiling, an angle that obscured from view the tiniest of smiles that flitted like a cloud shadow across her lips.   The horse did a little dance, the brougham began to move, and Maire Popkin put her arm about the child’s shoulders, pulling her close.

“Now then.  Once we get to where we’re going, there’ll be a nice hot bath waiting for you, fresh clean warm clothes, and then breakfast.  Do you prefer kippers or sausages?”

“I don’t know, Maire Popkin, I’ve never had kippers,”  the child said sadly.

“Well, then you must have some of both, so that you can have a proper taste of each, and give the matter due consideration before you make up your mind.  One ought not to jump to hasty conclusions.”

“No, Maire Popkin.”

After a long moment of silence, Maire Popkin remarked conversationally, “The coachman is my brother, you know.  His name is Diarmuid.  It’s an Irish name.  It means ‘all knees and elbows.’”   She gave a little sideways glance down at Cecily Grace, and her black eyes were twinkling with unshed laughter.  After a moment she said with perfect seriousness, “’Maire’ is an Irish name as well.  It means ‘practically perfect in every way.’”  With equal seriousness, she added, “’Cecily Grace,’ on the other hand, is Anglo-Saxon.  It means, “she who suffers a great loss in childhood, but who wins through to find a great deal of happiness and love not long thereafter.’”

Cecily Grace suspected that Maire Popkin had completely made up that last bit to try to make her feel better. Oddly enough, it had worked.  She leaned her head against Maire Popkin’s soft woolen coat tiredly.  She was coming to realize how very heavy grief is, and how very fatiguing it is to bear up under it, especially on an empty stomach.  They clopped and rumbled along for a bit with neither of them speaking.

“The wind shifted round before dawn this morning and is now in the south, which means it will be sunny and warm next week,” Maire Popkin said, apropos of nothing in particular.  “Once the weather settles and you are able to play out of doors, my brother might turn into a dog for you – if you ask him politely and say ‘please,’ that is – and then the two of you might go across to the park and play fetch in the sunshine.  We shall have to find some leather gloves for you to wear, of course.”  She thought for a moment, then added by way of explanation, “When Diarmuid is a dog, he must carry the ball in his mouth because of having paws instead of hands.  Unfortunately, the ball gets rather damp as a result. But if you have leather gloves on, you shalln’t mind, shall you?“

“No, Maire Popkin.”


Cecily Grace was almost positive that people couldn’t possibly turn into dogs, but felt it might not be a good idea to say so.  Then she remembered about the locket and began to be less sure that it was quite as impossible as she had first thought it to be.  From there, it was quite easy to fall to speculating how the coachman might go about it, and what sort of dog he might turn into.  She had begun to wonder if it was something he could always do, or if he had been taught to do like lessons, when the little brougham with the tall lean coachman at the reins turned a corner and was swallowed up in a swirl of early morning fog.