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[Editorial note from Jane: sorry this is a little long as I wasn’t sure the best place to cut it off.]
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The village of Brockway, Derbyshire, England
Early October, 1838.
As she sat on a bench in the graveyard of St. Michael’s church, her eyes closed, her temples pounding and her toes thoroughly frozen, Catharine Avery swiftly concluded a person could experience far worse things in life apart from being both fatherless and motherless, almost penniless and fluent in conversing with dead people. Making a herb oil that ought to be smeared all over a wealthy lady’s face somehow managed to outdo every other misfortune present in her life. Fancy that.
“It simply boggles the mind you managed to lose a position after just three days!” a voice in her head screeched and Catharine suddenly yearned to find a brick so that she might put herself out for an hour or two. Fainting held an alluring promise of uninterrupted silence. Even an hour seemed like such a gift given her current predicament.
“Don’t even think about it! I haven’t finished yet. And why do you always come here to reminisce?This lot is not the most cheerful company. Present dearly departed excluded, of course,” the voice kept yammering.
Catharine lifted her head and aimed her eyes piously toward the blue sky.
“Might you be so kind and tell me what have I ever done to be thus plagued? Has it ever crossed Your mind to send some sunshine and daisies my way instead just showering me with pestilence, boils and lice?”
“Are you calling me a boil? Or am I pestilence?”
“You, my dear Bertha, are a hundred and fifty year old croaking frog I cannot shoo away, ” Catharine muttered, looking around to make sure she indeed sat alone in the quiet graveyard. The last thing she needed was for the village folk to add barmy to other charming adjectives already attached to her person. Or come after her armed with pitchforks and holy water. Though she sort of expected “The Brockway Poisoner” would be pinned to her round derrière come tomorrow.
“You irk me, Catharine. And I’m not hundred and fifty. I’m hundred and forty-nine and a wee bit more, but certainly not hundred and fifty!” an irritated voice hissed in her mind and Catharine rolled her eyes.
“If I irk you, off you go. Amuse yourself somewhere else.”
“Hump!”echoed in Catharine’s mind after which some blessed silence followed.
“How can a person be so reason-impaired to drink a bottle of oil clearly marked “face oil, external use!? I wrote it in capital letters… ” Catharine whispered as she slowly got up, her thoughts returning to a problem at hand.
“Easy, silly dolt doesn’t know what “external” means! You should have written “put on your face and don’t pour it down your throat”. Instead you had to go and be your clever, literate self. Only you are to blame here, Miss Avery. The very reason you haven’t a husband yet. Nobody likes an intelligent women, why can’t I make you understand that? You’ll die an old maid! For shame, girl, for shame.”
Catharine gnashed her teeth. “Bertha, go away! I’ve got more problems then years and you’re bored silly. I have neither strength nor will to entertain you today. You, Miss Flemming, have all the time in the world and no need to put any food in your mouth or clothes on back.”
This provoked an immediate reaction and Catharine had to wonder if she had some strange masochistic streak in her. She could have kept her inner tongue well, tied, really.
“You could have had all of that if you listened to me! What was wrong with Thomas Quinn, eh? Two arms, two legs, a head, and enough pretty pennies to keep you clothed and fed for the next hundred years. So he’s not the brightest lad but one needn’t listen to his prattling. You certainly wouldn’t be sitting here, all sour and frozen. Dear Lord the state of you! I shan’t even mention that horrid Blackwood woman will make your life hell the moment she stops vomiting. You’ll never be accepted into another decent house in this village again!”