Authors: Parris Afton Bonds
D R E A M * T I M E
Published by Paradise Publishing
Copyright 2014 by Parris Afton, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Cover design by
This is a work of fiction and a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance of names and characters to people living or dead is purely coincidental. No part of this novel may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away.
First chapter of the sequel to DREAM TIME, DREAM KEEPER, is at the end of DREAM TIME.
For Theresa Behenna,
A true Dream Keeper from Down Under
To where beneath the clustered stars,
The dreamy plains expand—
My home lies wide a thousand miles
In the Never-Never Land
To the skyline sweeps the waving grain,
Or whirls the scorching sand—
A phantom land, a mystic realm!
The Never-Never Land.
N A N
§ CHAPTER ONE §
born there is that ineluctable encounter with that one man. The woman’s life is never the same, regardless of how many times she may fall in love afterward.
“Physical union between husband and wife maims the woman. A wife might as well bestow on her husband the legal identity of the tarantula, which gobbles its mate.”
The twenty-three-year-old bluestocking believed what she said with a sincerity born of a passionate nature that she had channeled into her reading and writing. She was one of those intense people fully committed to living.
“Thus making the tarantula’s mate, in a very literal manner, ‘flesh of his flesh,”’ a male voice interposed.
Nan lowered her long-stemmed glass to the dinner table and stared over the gray head of Lady Albemarle. Standing behind the plump dowager, the gentleman who had spoken gazed at her with amusement curling the ends of his mouth. When a clean-shaven face was the mode, he wore a well-trimmed black mustache. That he was handsome, Nan could not deny. Nor her immediate attraction.
Her reaction infuriated her more than the man who dared challenge her. The fashionable world included her as a guest as much for her lively wit as for her minor success as a playwright. No one had ever maneuvered her into a verbal disadvantage. Not even her father, an articulate man in his own right.
She bought time, raising her glass once more. Her smile came as slowly. “Ahh, but in nature it is the female tarantula who is the cannibal. As nature goes, so goes man.”
The nearby dinner guests were listening and watching the exchange with curiosity whetted by ennui. Most of the guests had come to the literary dinner for the express purpose of having their intellect stimulated.
The dark-eyed man grinned broadly. “And why not ‘so goes woman’?”
Nan inclined her head in acknowledgment of his jab. “But then I am speaking of myths perpetrated by man. ‘Women are illustrations of the inferior brain weight and subject to brain fever if educated’—or something along that line of reasoning, isn’t it?”
“The same foolish line of reasoning that has led to Pitt’s cannibalistic expansion of national debt to fight French liberty.”
His retort elicited
murmurs of conflicting opinions among the dinner guests. Certain British factions said they would never support a war against liberty, while others were all for the witch hunts taking place in British villages for French agents.
Nan sensed that the direction of his remark had been purposeful. The gentleman had made his point and skillfully diverted attention to a subject most popular in London that first decade after the turn of the century: France and Napoleon.
Her challenger moved toward the end of the long table and dropped a kiss on the back of the hostess’s hand. A flower-filled epergne partially obscured him but she could hear his smooth, modulated voice. “My apologies, Lady Albemarle. My master was in one of his workhorse moods. He is hell-bent on dictating letters that our ambassador to the Court of Two Sicilies never bothers to read anyway.”
Lady Albemarle’s mouth dimpled, and she made some remark in undertones to the young man. Nan forced her attention away from him and began speaking to the gentleman on her left, the impoverished romantic poet Sam Coleridge. He was untidy of dress but brilliant of mind.
Nan hardly knew what she was saying. She was accustomed to discoursing smoothly and easily while another part of her observed. And learned. Learning had got her from a stifling, well-ordered house in the not-so-fashionable district of Paddington Green all the way to the court of George III.
She listened intelligently, too: studying carefully the elegant people, absorbing their refined accents, taking full note of their almost casual manners.
Coleridge began discussing his friend Wordsworth’s latest works. As a playwright who wanted desperately to succeed in a man’s world, Nan normally would have been soaking in every word the poet uttered. Yet she was barely heeding his diatribe.
The rakish young man who had so boldly dueled words with her was watching her. She could feel it without even turning her gaze in his direction. She felt ridiculously giddy.
When Coleridge paused in his rambling, she asked, “Who is the brash young man who entered late?"
Coleridge looked askance, then peered at the far end of the table. “Randolph? Miles Randolph?”
"I suppose that is the ruffian.” Privately she conceded she liked the careless way he wore his fashionable clothes.
Coleridge made an effort at straightening his cravat, which had worked its way askew. “Ruffian is hardly the correct term, my dear Miss Briscoll. Randolph is the undersecretary to Fox.”
The bit of knowledge flattered her ego even more. Miles Randolph was a cohort of the secretary of state for foreign affairs and Prime Minister Pitt’s political opposition. That lent stature to the man who had shown interest in her.
In her: Nan Briscoll, the rector’s spinster daughter.
The remainder of the evening, she didn’t glance once in Miles Randolph’s direction and intentionally left before the women were excused for demitasse and the men retired to their brandies and smoking.
Nan took care in dressing for the royal reception. The young woman in the looking glass surely couldn’t be Nan Briscoll. She peered at her reflection, scarcely believing the vibrant young woman who stared back. Gray eyes shimmered like quicksilver; a becoming pink flushed the cheeks. The brown hair, cropped short with the ends left loose and disheveled, a style known as a la Titus, shone with luster and seemed to curl with a will of its own.
From below, the pillar-and-scroll clock on the mantelpiece chimed out the half hour. Hurriedly, she tugged at her curls, rearranging them as artfully as possible about her narrow face. Then she pulled on her long white net gloves and donned her paisley shawl, a gratification her earnings barely afforded.
Before she went below, she took out one of the few possessions left her of her mother’s, an ivory and pearl brooch. As a reminder, she pinned it on. She would not subjugate herself as her mother had done!
She hardly noticed her father’s scowl as she bid him good evening. His bulky frame hunched over an opened, thumb-worn family Bible. He sat at his scratched and notched oval desk, preparing for Sunday’s sermon. Through his thick spectacles, his pale eyes drilled into her. “Tis perfume you are wearing, daughter.”
“Aye. A Parisian scent.” Another unbudgeted splurge of her earnings.
“To tempt man is the devil’s work.”
“I’m leaving, Father.”
“Where are you going?” he asked without glancing up again from his Bible.
She almost lied and said she was going to a meeting of the underground Corresponding Society. King George’s court was much more a sin than the repressed secret political societies. Excitement lent her defiance. “I’m on my way to a reception at Buckingham Palace.”
This time, the Bible slammed shut. Her father sprang from his chair and shook a finger at her fashionable, but nearly transparent, white jaconet frock. “You are almost as naked as Mother Eve before the Fall!”
She refused to quail as she had all those years as a child. Then, her father’s judgment had seemed as unimpeachable as King Solomon’s. Even now, she might still be submitting to his authority had not her secretive attempts at playwriting become lucrative enough to yield her a measure of independence. Her fingers fussed with the fuchsia ribbon girdling her ribs just below her breasts. “If I correctly recall, Mother Eve was innocent then, Father. So am I.”
“You mock the Bible, Nan!”
“No. I simply don’t find religion a consolation for human suffering and a defense against a wicked world, as you do.”
She grabbed her cape from the peg and hurried out into the street. She found a hackney coach and instructed the coachman to take her to Buckingham Palace and King George Ill’s court.
Spring’s rains had deepened the potholes in the cobbled road, making the trip a jarring one. She cared not. Excitement, and November’s crisp evening air, pinked her cheeks. Had she not gained entree into a society that had been influenced by the luminaries of literature – Dr. Johnson and Boswell, Edward Gibbon, Horace Walpole, and others!
Upon arriving, she met
disappointment. A liveried servant announced that the king was at Windsor suffering a slight indisposition. The reception was canceled.
“Indisposition?” George Romney said to her. The famed portrait artist arched a brow, almost dropping his quizzing glass. His reedy voice lowered to a whisper. “Indisposition is a rather euphemistic term for what ails Our Majesty, wouldn’t you say?”
“Indisposition is a euphemism, my dear Romney, for what our illustrious king is really doing at this moment—languishing in a straitjacket.”
Romney glanced around the green and gilded anteroom to check if any of the politicians, courtesans, and courtiers aimlessly milling about were within earshot. “Careful, dear girl.”
As she had gathered courage around her, like a tattered shawl, to defy her father over the years, she now did so with public opinion. Hadn’t the Morning Chronicle proclaimed her one of the independent and enlightened playwrights of the times?
Of course, the newspaper had added that odious phrase at the tail
end, “for a woman.”
“Must I be the one to tell the emperor he is naked?” she asked Romney.
“Only if you are sure what a state of nakedness is,” a voice said behind her.
She turned. Miles Randolph was looking down at her, a smile tipping the ends of his raffish mustache. She knew now she had been hoping he would be here. She had chosen her clothes carefully, not for the royal occasion but for him. The knowledge frightened her. Such a concession to another was a weakness; it made her vulnerable. It made her dependent.
“There are many kinds of nakedness, sir. The truth, for one.”
Romney chortled in that high-pitched voice peculiar to him. “Zounds! What about a jaybird? Naked as a jaybird, eh?”
Miles Randolph’s attention was still focused on her. It was unnerving. At least a score of beautiful women could be found cooling their heels in the anteroom. Why was he singling out her? She was thin and nearly flat-chested when softly rounded figures and a vast bosom were the fashion. Her hair was sparse, her mouth narrow as the path of righteousness. Her too-round eyes were an unbecoming gray with the merest evidence of lashes to fringe them.
Behind the smile in Miles Randolph’s dark blue eyes was pooled serious intent. “There is also a winter landscape—or one’s defenses. Either can be naked.”
Was she that transparent? The thin blood in her veins pumped erratically. “There is the touch of harlequin about this subject.” Did her voice sound too arch? “Surely, there is some topic more timely to arouse the intellect.”
“George Romney!” cried a fat matron whom Nan recognized as the wife of a chief magistrate. The muslin dress that clung to the matron’s ample curves in the classical mode of the day was merciless to the middle-aged. “Dear man,” she trilled, “I went by your Cavendish Square studio yesterday for a sitting only to find you were gone!”
With a smothered sigh, the artist turned away to greet his patron, and Nan was alone with Miles Randolph.
He stared down at her with a revelry dancing in his eye. “Perhaps a political issue would be more to your
liking. That way we could circumvent any genuine exchange of information and feelings.”
She blinked. She was stunned. No one spoke like that. With a flash of insight, she realized that she was the superficial one. She had derided the shallow topics of the drawing rooms—fortunes won and lost at Whitehead’s, the prince’s latest mistress, the gothic and barbarous trend toward natural waistlines. Her cleverness, her repartee, her wisdom, had been a hard veneer that was as superficial.
For the first time, she looked past the exterior of the handsome man. Yes, her objective gaze noted how he wore his brilliant green waistcoat and tight pantaloons with a negligent elegance that made a Bond Street gentleman look like a Bow Street footpad. A peripheral corner of her mind noted that he wore no makeup and his hair was brushed in the “Brutus” rumpled style. He wore York tan gloves and carried a knobby cane rather than a stylish tasseled one, a sign that he was among those few who flaunted and, by so doing, dictated fashions.
But that subjective part of her mind evaluated the keen intelligence behind the eyes, the determination in the set of the mouth.
Did he know who she was? Was it just possible he was attracted to her for those qualities that others did not notice immediately? Qualities like her yearning to love, to care for others; her soft heart that was afraid to love and care?
Here was a man to whom she might, just might, be able to relate, a man who just might need a woman like herself. A woman who was more than paint and powder. Could he actually see through
her armor of trenchant words to the loveless child within her?
I haven’t had the experience of discussing such personal subjects with acquaintances before,” she said and wished she sounded less stilted.
“For an acclaimed playwright, you haven’t experienced life, Miss Briscoll.”
So, he did know who she was. Pleasure warmed her skin. “One doesn’t have to experience life to write about it, sir. To my knowledge, Sir Walter Scott didn’t murder his father to experience the feelings in writing about—”
His smile was as white as his high stock. “I could debate the issue with you. I’d rather use this opportunity to point out that even now you are avoiding an honest, open exchange between us.”
For once, she was bereft of words. Without the resource of speech, she was adrift, without bearings.
He looked down at her with interest glinting in his eyes. “I am patient, Miss Briscoll. We’ll discuss politics, then. I understand you favor the Code Napoleon as a model for English law. At least, your article in the Courier indicated a leaning in that direction.”
“Sections of it,” she amended, pleased that he knew so much about her. “It grants liberties that Parliament overlooks here.”
“You tremble. Do you fear what Pitt may do in retaliation for your article?”
“Hardly.” Miles’s nearness affected her. She shrugged, and her shawl, with its in-vogue Egyptian trimming, slipped from one shoulder. “Pitt has his hands full with your Fox.”
Miles appeared pleased by her reply. His hand recovered her wayward shawl and drew it back up
over her shoulder. “You have courage of the spirit.” His fingers barely brushed her skin. “I wonder. Does that apply to courage of the heart, as well?”
She could debate with skill any subject but her own feelings. She floundered now for the right words. “My heart needs no courage.”
One dark brow rose. “Because it has gone unchallenged?”
“I’m not certain I understand your question, sir,” she said crisply.
She caught the gleam in his eyes. “I think you do.”
A smile began at the co
rners of her tight lips. “Mayhap you are right.” She was dismayed at her brazen behavior. Did she truly want to risk being shattered for the chance, maybe her only chance, at ever experiencing the passion of the heart?
Courage . . . yes, Miles was right. He knew her better than she knew herself. She had been living through her facade of writing, experiencing life secondhand.
She had harbored more than a little pride at her unconventional behavior. She spoke her mind in a deliberate attempt to inflame public opinion. She took up a profession that was largely male oriented. She disdained the shackles of marriage.
As if she had ever had the option.
Her behavior had made her a hostess’s delight. Nan Briscoll’s presence guaranteed an evening of stimulating entertainment. Men of distinction, invariably older ones, enjoyed her brilliance.
But she had no close friends. She was not loved. Men her age were usually intimidated by her quick mind and sharper tongue. Young women immediately picked up on her scorn for their coy
deportment. Try as she might, she could not conceal that scorn.
Yet she had faith in her own strong will. She had successfully opposed her father’s tyranny when her mother had died of nothing but sheer weariness of submission. Nan was sure she could win Miles Randolph’s affection if she but put her mind to it.