Category Archives: The Kingsland Series
Alice’s hog-tying consists of teaching the “townies” the skills that the upper crust already have, like playing bridge (Ellen Shaunessy is going to Vassar and will need this social grace). Mary Ann Hall has been “promoted” to the status of Pris Warden’s friend, even though she’s scrubbing floors at the Warden mansion, and “the gang” is going to participate in the Fall Fest shoulder to shoulder with the town kids, who are teaching them skills prized by their peers – whittling, canning vegetables, and making straw dolls (an ancient tradition of agricultural societies, still practiced in Ireland). Many of the “townies” were descended from the Irish servants brought into Waterford in Victorian times, so making a St. Brigid doll was part of their heritage.
Here’s the scoop on the saint, thanks to Wikipedia:
Brighde was one of the most popular and widely worshipped Celtic goddesses, and when she became Christianized as Saint Brigid her worship remained as widespread throughout Europe as it had been as a goddess. Churches dedicated to St. Brigid can be found in the UK, France, Germany and other countries that had at one time been occupied by Celts.
As with all Celtic Festivals and many other Catholic Saint’s days, the celebration of the Feast of St. Brigid began on the evening before her official day, the 1st of February. There is usually an image of Brigid, which can be a doll, or be made out of straw or a bundle of cloth. The Bridóg (or “Little Brigid”) is either placed in a position of honor at the family feast, or is carried from house to house in a procession, then brought back with an elaborate ritual, often involving call-and-response greetings repeated three times.
The weaving of St. Brigid’s crosses and other symbolic objects would have been created either after the meal or in conjunction with the creation of the Bridóg. Before the family retired for bed, rituals with the crosses and straw objects would have been performed in the house and byre and used afterward to protect and bless young children.
Needless to say, these folkways were pretty far removed from Waterford’s upper crust.
The Heir starts in 1928. There’s a 50 year gap in the history of the Merrick family to account for. We need to know about Augusta Merrick, way up there in Canada, married to Harold Edgerton, in love with John Bradley. We need to know what happened to Kingsland and Julia Merrick, so proudly holding on, and with the town of Waterford, left to run its own affairs after the departure of the captains.
By starting in the 20’s, I could avoid a lot of boring narrative that would bring the reader up to date but might put him/her to sleep. I wouldn’t have to do flashbacks to account for the intervening years — a common way to handle years gone by, but often confusing, especially when there are a lot of years involved. So I chose to account for those years by one character telling another about them, a bit at a time until all the loose ends were accounted for. And in the process Steven Sinclaire’s entrance onto the scene would be accounted for, too.
I used a story from my mother-in-law’s girlhood days. Before she was married, she served as “companion” to a wealthy girl who summered in town. Just the fact that such an arrangement had been made was all I needed. I’ve always used such facts as I could get hold of to move my plot forward, and here it was – a way to show the wealthy folks and the ordinary ones at the same time. My mother-in-law wasn’t ordinary, exactly, but she wasn’t rich either, so the plot could use her as the template for Alice Bradley. And Fieldstone Hall, which still exists, would serve very well for the Warden mansion.
I have no idea what the job description for a companion might have been. Was it a chaperone? My mother-in-law would have been a little young for that, but such gaps in information never bothered me. We know that Pris Warden was on the wild side, as so many young people were in that period. Their elders escaped from the memory of war with bootlegged alcohol, music and dancing, speak-easies and parties and fun, fun, fun. Certainly there was no reason why the younger set wouldn’t do the same. And Pris, as we know, was not only wild, but had been caught in the act. Her father knew just the person to get her in line.
Sounds like a chaperone, doesn’t it? Certainly she needed one!
We haven’t talked about the Heir, yet. Since it’s been so recently published, we can’t do more than look into the first chapter at this time. But there’s plenty in that chapter to keep us busy. Take, for example, its historical introduction.
Shortly before the American Civil War, an immense silver trophy was captured by the New York Yacht Club. It was awarded by England’s Royal Yacht Squadron when the schooner America beat the Royal’s ship in a race around the Britain’s Isle of Wight. Queen Victoria, watching from the finish line, is said to have asked who was second. “Madam, there is no second,” was the reply.
Not many years after the war, the sailing ship no longer dominated the seas, and many captains were either out of work or took on other kinds of positions. (Remember, they were the buyers and sellers of cargo, and had a lot of expertise in the business world.) This sets the scene for Emily’s chapter (1) which shows us how Steven Sinclaire comes to be the hero of this story. A lot of it is not imagined by me, but certainly is embroidered! To begin with, the “roaring twenties.”
I think we can’t overlook the impact of World War One, for starters. The conditions of the trenches in France and the use of weapons of mass destruction were unthinkable – yet, these had to be faced. This rude awakening to the dark side was so devastating that escaping it with hilarity and alcohol was the only answer for a lot of people.
Then there was Prohibition, and the new freedom of women and girls who dared to take advantage of it. They could smoke and drink in public, have body contact while dancing, wear shorter hair, a good deal of make-up, and loser clothing styles including modification of the corset. They even got the right to vote!
One can hardly mention prohibition without its corresponding accompaniment – organized crime. A killing could be made bringing alcohol to all those thirsty people! All you had to do was bring boats filled with liquor from wherever, park them a foot beyond the three mile limit of US territory, wait for the rum runners to come and load up. And they did.
This summer there’s an exhibit at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum about the rum runners. I didn’t think the Museum would mind if I posted their information here:
Risky Business: Rum Running on Cape Cod
HYANNIS, MA—Importing alcohol into the United States was a risky business between 1920 and 1933, one that drew in Cape Cod sailors and captains, Coast Guard seamen and officers, gangsters and code breakers. Throughout the “Roaring Twenties” the waterways of Cape Cod were the scene of a cat and mouse game played between souped up speedboats built specially for the “wet” trade in illegal liquor, and the Coast Guard ships and boats charged with keeping America “dry”. “Risky Business: Rum Running on Cape Cod” exhibit provides a look at another Cape Cod, where shootouts on the beaches, high-speed chases in the night with no running lights, and murder on the high seas were all part of this very risky business. The exhibit opens on July 10th and runs through December 15th.
And voila! It’s certainly realistic to think that Tom Warden might have dug up a case of gin on the flats.
There’s a lot of information about Victorian clothing on the internet; back when I originally wrote this novel (1977), I had to rely on books and pictures. But I’m not sure I’m any better informed now than I was before. There are so many choices! Even then, though, I knew Kingsley needed to look as though he was successful already, in order to get the loan he needed. When I went about preparing him for his interview with Uncle ’Lije, I found that the hat was a very important part of his presentation. Many men wore a top hat even to work; they were absolutely required for the more elegant, successful male. As the president of a coaching company (which didn’t yet exist) Kingsley bought one he couldn’t afford, as well as a walking stick, or cane — with a gold knob – which he also couldn’t afford. But these were essential in convincing his uncle that he was a man of substance.
The entire subject of the male hat is an interesting one, in terms of social history. In the mid nineteenth century, the protocol was fairly rigid, though I don’t remember reading about the Hat Police. But if you were a member of the working class and wore a top hat like the one pictured here, you were an imposter. (Kingsley was treading a fine line). At about this time, though, the crown of the top hat was dropping and becoming round and – voila – the derby. And the bowler, which is supposedly different. All the guys wore them, and the top hat was relegated to history.
These top hat permutations were eventually overtaken by the fedora,made popular by Victoria’s son and heir, Edward, whose attire was the model for men of his time.(The hat was called a “homburg” then). Seems it was also adopted by the mafia, but became standard headgear for every business men, regardless of the implication. I have to digress long enough to describe the arrangement my father-in-law and his neighbors made in the ’30’s. Money being tight, four of them bought a car, sharing equally, and called themselves “the syndicate”. The automobile was garaged in rotation, and when it was time to disband, the syndicate sold it and shared the proceeds. (BTW, “syndicate” is slang terminology for an underworld business. Nobody could have been more proper than my father-in-law and his friends, and everyone got a big kick out of their being a syndicate.)
Finally the 60’s arrived, and its more relaxed standards made male head-coverings optional, or at least more casual (i.e. the little sporting model fedora, or the more serious flat cap.)
Most of us know that Australia was begun as a penal colony. Once the American Revolution had been won, there was nowhere to banish criminals, and the prisons were overpopulated to begin with — after 1783, their population exploded. Eleven ships were sent down under (Read Morgan’s Run by Colleen McCollough of Thornbirds fame, which is about the convicts and their deportation. With more details than I personally thought necessary, I have found it unforgettable because of them!) Here is a painting depicting the arrival of that first fleet.
Kingsley is visiting Waterford in the first place because he wants to get a loan from his uncle in order to start a coach line in Australia. The generalized detail I was able to include, both in this chapter and in chapter four, (when Kingsley returns successful and rich), reflect the facts in the life of Freeman Cobb, my husband’s second “ancestor of interest”. Gold was discovered in Australia in 1848, but news of it was suppressed, and the rush itself didn’t begin until 1851. The Melbourne area hadn’t developed much at that point. Its port was a swale, as Kingsley described it to all those adoring listeners who were willing to overlook his undesirability now that he was rich (see A BASTARD?), and British coaches were the only transportation available, built along traditional lines and very heavy.
Enter the Concord – light and therefore very fast. While the English coaches were stuck, the Concord could float.
If you look carefully, you may be able to see “Cobb & Co” on the side panel. Perhaps the four founders chose to use Freeman’s name because it sounded catchy and quite Yankee-American, or perhaps because Freeman made the largest financial contribution. It really was as successful as I described, though I suspect I’ve exaggerated the actual money made on this venture. But, in fact, it was enough to build the mansion in Waterford and set Kingsley up until the 1870’s, when he tried again in South Africa, (as did Freeman Cobb.)
A stamp commemorating Cobb & Co. was issued some while ago (I think in 1951). I’ve always loved it.
I’ve also got a letter of Freeman’s, with his VERY fancy signature. It’s quite beautiful, don’t you agree?
Back to the subject at hand — Kingsley Merrick. He had come back to Waterford to get a loan from his uncle, who had never treated him well, just as Waterford itself had never treated him well.
Many reviews (so far) mention that one of his social difficulties is illegitimacy. I guess I asked for that — I wrote illegitimacy out of the second edition without realizing that reviews of the first might serve as a kind of “cliff note” for todays reviewers. The disdain that accrues to Kingsley in the “nicer” part of town indeed has to do with his father (Kingson Merrick) getting his mother (Susan Slater) pregnant out of wedlock. The result of this union was a baby girl– a child who died when her mother did, of some sort of fever or another. Kingsley was the second offspring of “Sonny” and Susan, who were married by then. But Susan’s reputation was forever tarnished, therefore tarnishing Kingsley’s. To make matters worse, “Sonny” became an alcoholic after Susan died, a double whammy for the boy. (His mother was a whore, his father a drunkard.) That’s all it would have taken, in those days,to cause Kingsley to be questionable, even undesirable.
OK. But why, you might ask, did the author change his status from bastard to simply undesirable? His unacceptability was essential to the plot, wasn’t it?
Absolutely. And when I wrote the first edition 35+ years ago, I was totally focused on getting each book written, hopefully within the contracted time. I knew what I wanted to say but didn’t know how it could best be accomplished. In Kingsley’s case, illegitimacy was a natural.
This time, I was able to look at the series as a whole, and realized that two books had important male characters born or at least conceived — out of wedlock. To let that remain was not only repetitive, but also unimaginative. And unnecessary. It didn’t take much to tarnish reputations in the 1840’s and 50’s, so Kingsley wouldn’t have needed to be a bastard to be unacceptable. I could work on the other, more subtle ways that society functioned in those days (which was a lot easier to research now, by the way, with google available).
I have to say that the reviewers probably looked to the reviews of long ago, used them to fill the gaps without having to read every word of the book in front of them — which is understandable, considering the amount of reading they do. But somewhat misses the point in terms of the social history I’m trying to portray.
However, that is corrected now!
I’m totally excited about having met so many Kingsland readers recently, at the Falmouth Arts Alive Festival. Many had read the first two books of the Kingsland Series, and were looking for the third. Many had read the first, and were looking for volumes 2 and 3. For me, this was the first fair of 6 that I plan to attend, and I’m hoping that more readers will show up in Yarmouth, Sandwich, Brewster, Hyannis or Orleans. When I originally wrote and published this series 35 years ago, I never met anyone (I was living in Vermont). So my summer marketing scheme is a pleasant change of pace.
I’m hoping to “meet” other readers via this blog – you are encouraged to simply say “hi” or “I liked this post”. You don’t have to say why if you don’t want to! (But if you didn’t like it, you do have to say why, so I can respond to whatever it is you object to or disagree with.)
If you’re on the Cape this summer and attend one of the fairs, you’ll find me in this outfit (“The Heir” starts in 1928). Passersby liked my headdress, and everyone got a souvenir who wanted one, because the feather boa was moulting the whole day and little black fluffy things were scattered throughout the fairground.
I guess it’s time to order a “real” one.
Now, having ascertained that our fictional Universalist Church was more elegant than the original, let’s take a look at Kingslay trapped trapped in the choir loft with his cousin Julia.
She’s a highly spirited 13 year old. A problem for her mother, who is training her to observe Decorum Befitting a Young Lady, while Julia herself is chafing at the bit, just too energetic to be able to conform to the standards of the day. And then there is the matter of her hat. What would its style be, that she could pin lilacs to its brim? I didn’t have the internet to look at the possibilities 35 years ago when I first envisioned this scene, but now I do, and this is what I thought would work:
You could pin the flowers right around the brim, which is fabric covered, or inside,where the color changes from white to blue. I expect Julia chose the latter, considering her dishevelment half-way through the service.
Then I got interested in what kind of dress would be appropriate for her. She was thirteen, and thirteen year olds were protected, kept young and innocent – in fact, if I’m remembering the right era, girls married quite late – in their early to mid twenties. So Julia is very much a very young girl, and this is the dress I thought was just right for her, considering the bonnet:
I spent a lot of time looking at Victorian garments, but I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, so modified a hat and dress so they’d match and look pretty together. I’m pleased with the result!
Let’s shift our attention from This is the House, Molly and Elijah, and return to Kingsley Merrick, who has come back to Waterford, ostensibly to attend the dedication of the new Universalist church. Though I have located the new church across the street from the Congregationalists, the real one is actually on main street in Brewster, on land that had once belonged to my husband’s family. Since it was his ancestor, Elijah Cobb, who had broken away from the town church, I think it’s reasonable that the “break away” church would be located on his land, which he probably donated to the cause
In case you’ve forgotten, or never knew, here’s a picture of him in his youth.
In 1858 this church was sold to a gentleman who must have liked the location (a very good address, in business terms.) However, he didn’t tear it down, but instead boosted it up in such a manner that I have yet to figure it out. (Compare the old picture with this one, especially the window placement.)
A long while ago, the town’s post office was located here. In my initial recollection of the place, Donald Doane reigned supreme. He is represented by Mr. Snow, in The Heir. Like so many Yankees, he knew the answers to questions before you asked them, but wouldn’t tell you what you wanted to know unless you asked for the information very specifically. (Everyone knows the example of the tourist who asks if the Yankee knows to way to a certain place, and the Yankee answers, Yep. End of conversation.) And then there’s a neighbor of ours, a Vermont Yankee from way back, who answered the phone; on the other end, someone asked: Is so-and-so there? (So-and-so was an unknown person.) Nope, answered our neighbor, and hung up.
Here’s the store today:
Now refurbished, the post office long gone, it retains the atmosphere of an old-fashioned country store, with amenities like excellent coffee and pastries, shelves crowded with gifts and Cape Coddy things. You can go upstairs where there’s a lot more stuff to buy, and at the back you can see the pulpit on a platform, with a few steps leading up to it. Perhaps the choir sat up there. The “sanctuary” would have been much smaller than the one I picture Kingsley venturing into with his cousin Julia and the rest of his uncle’s family.
(Both of the old photos, by the way, may be found in the third printing of the Brewster Historical Society’s “A Cape Cod Town Remembered.”)
When Molly and Elijah go to Rockford to meet Mother Merrick, the family house is described in detail. (After all, Molly will be marooned there with this harridan!) I have an abiding interest in house building; my husband and I built several on the Cape during the boom of the 70’s, and I became interested in local old places by default. We knew how to build a house by following the Massachusetts structural code, but 300 years ago, obviously, this guide was unavailable. Originally, the earlier settlers were interested in simply getting out of the rain. Being English, most of them country people, they were accustomed to seeing these kinds of cottages:
So they started with the minimal shelter, known today as the “half house”. It wasn’t half of anything when it was built – it was everything. Their time was consumed with providing for survival, and a small shelter did the job just fine despite the fact that the family grew and grew and grew. They most likely did thatch the earliest houses with beach grass, but there was plenty of wood, and thatch wasn’t probably much good in the wind, of which there is plenty on Cape Cod. Thus, shingles all the way around. When things got just too crowded, they added another half-house:
And then you have the full Cape, such as we are accustomed to seeing today:
Then there’s the ¾ house, an evolutionary variation leading to the Cape Cod Cottage as we know it.
More on its structural details is described in What’s So Grand About it?