Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reminder: Punch's Cousin Will Return on Monday

My four-footed son insists that I take a day off from fiction writing on Sundays.  In light of that, Punch's Cousin runs Monday through Saturday.  We'll be back with Chapter 7 on Monday.  Chapters 1-6 are available in the archive.  Many thanks to all of you who have been reading!

In the meantime, we'll have a few interesting tidbits for your Sunday browsing.  I hope everyone is having a great weekend.

Where to Shop: Lovers Lane Antique Market

Again, I’m offering up a Dallas-based shop. Next time, I’ll be broader in my scope. However, the Lover’s Lane Antique Market deserves a mention. Ripe with beautiful French and English antiques, this market located at 5001 West Lovers Lane in Dallas offers a truly exceptional selection of antiques, art and decorator items. With thirty-five dealers who roam Europe and North America for the finest objects, Lovers Lane Antique Market offers some truly rare artifacts. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Decorating Tip: Light up Your Fireplace with a Mirror

We’ve all heard the old decorating chestnut about using mirrors to “open up a room.” While that is true, and while a mirror does brighten a room by reflecting light, they have another important design purpose. Mirrors add architectural interest to a space. I like to put mirrors above fireplace mantles since the shape of the mirror gives weight and importance to an central feature of the room.

The mirror becomes a part of the mantle—giving it height, prominence and a greater sense of grandeur. A mirror also serves as a visual counterpoint to the fireplace itself. Where the fireplace is essentially a black hole when not in use, the mirror is a source light. The tension between the two makes for a good visual marriage. At least there’s one instance where tension helps a marriage. Reflecting the rest of the room, a mirror will make sure your fireplace stays warm even when it’s not in use.

Term for the Day: Pediment

A pediment from my home.
A pediment is an architectural term referring to a triangular gable, supported by columns, and surrounded by molding. The pediment rose to prominence in ancient Greek and Roman architecture and has been adapted and employed for centuries. The open space in a pediment is often filled with sculpture or a decorative pattern in bas relief. Pediments often top doors and windows or other architectural feautres both interior and exterior, supported by the molding around the opening.

Bertie surveys these arched pediments.
Pediments are not necessarily triangular. They can be rounded in an arch, as seen in the image from a hallway in my house, “broken” (meaning the peak of the pediment is interrupted by other decoration) or “swan neck” (a popular style in American classical architecture wherein a central finial is flanked by two matching s-shapes). If you take a look around your neighborhood, you’ll, no doubt, see pediments in their many forms.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 6

The dirt floor of the folly pressed against Julian’s wet cloak in aching clumps. He gasped, sputtering as he inhaled a lungful of dust. His hands flew to his throat and he rubbed it gently, making sure the skin wasn’t broken. Darkness crushed his eyes like heavy weights. He felt a tickling trickle on his forehead and was unsure if it was the rainwater from his hair or blood from his collision with the beam.

“Sir?” Someone shook him.

Julian pushed the hands from him and sat upright.

“Lord Fallbridge, are you hurt?”

Arthur. Julian sighed, his eyes, again growing accustomed to the dark. He could see the silhouette of the footman—a faint glow from his slick teeth.

“I’m fine.” Julian said, slowly rising to his feet, careful not to hit his head.

“But, you,” Julian began, gently dusting himself off, “you shouted. I heard a crash…”

“I stumbled over some loose stones on the landing.” Arthur said. “I’d have thought it bad luck, Sir, only I found this.”

“What is it?” Julian grumbled as Arthur thrust a wet piece of crumpled paper into his hands.

“A note…in Lady Barbara’s hand, Sir.” Arthur cooed. “I could barely make it out, but it’s sure to be Lady Barbara’s hand.”

“So, she has been here.” Julian sighed. “I knew it.”

He rubbed his throat.

“Something wrong, Sir? Why were you on your back like that?” Arthur asked.

“I hit my head on a beam.” Julian responded, his shoulders rising in tension to his ears as he felt the uneasy feeling of someone’s gaze on his back.

“You said something, Lord Fallbridge, when I heard you fall.” Arthur probed. “Sounded like you were saying, ‘Punch.’”

“No.” Julian rasped as he felt the throbbing in his neck. “Tell me, could you make out what the note says? It’s too dark down here for me to read it.”

“It seems to be a name. A French name, Sir. Something ‘Evangeline.’ And, then, it says, ‘New Orleans.’”

“New Orleans?” Julian squinted. “In America?”

A faint, high laugh pierced Julian’s ear.

“Did you hear that?” Julian asked.

“Hear what, Sir?” Arthur said with his false politeness. Even without seeing him, Julian knew the footman was smirking.

Julian drew in a breath. “Nothing, Arthur.”

“You were clever, Sir, to know Lady Barbara must’ve been here. Only, she’s long gone by now.” Arthur took Julian’s arm. Julian wanted to shake the man’s hand off, but didn’t.

“We’d better go. Lucky you didn’t hurt yourself worse, hitting your head like that.”

“Yes, lucky.” Julian mumbled. His mind raced as quickly as his heart. This—this—was what happened when you left your rooms. Outside was nothing but blood, rough hands and sharp stings. He longed for his aubergine chair, his fire, the comfort of the bones of his room—the proud pediment protecting him in its triangular embrance.

For a second, Julian thought he felt Arthur’s hand brush into the pocket of his cloak. But, it couldn’t have; the footman had moved his hand to Julian’s back. He felt the thick rough fingers of the man’s hand move down his spine and rest on his hip.

“I’ll help you, Sir.” Arthur whispered. “The rain is letting up. I don’t hear it like I did before.”

“I can manage myself, thank you.” Julian moved away from the footman.

Still dizzy, Julian walked toward where he suspected the folly’s wooden door stood waiting. Though he didn’t want to leave the safety of the enclosed space, he longed to have a distance from Arthur.

Fumbling against the rough wall, Julian found the door handle and pulled with all his force. The door yawned open with a wooden belch and Julian stumbled from the folly, letting the cool air rush into his chest.

Mercury stamped at the ground—his liquid brown eyes showed a sympathy that no human could. Horses, dogs…far better company than people, Julian thought.

“Are you sure you’re not hurt, Lord Fallbridge? You seem out of sorts.” Arthur said, taking Julian arm again.

This time, Julian did jerk his arm away from the footman.

“Quite fine.” Julian answered, mounting the horse.

“Where will we go now, Sir?” Arthur asked.

“Just a moment, please,” Julian answered, unfolding the paper that Arthur had handed him. Though the rain had turned to a fine mist, the moonlight still cast enough of its ice-blue glow to read his sister’s writing which had begun to bleed in smoky pools into the paper.

“Iolanthe Evangeline.” Julian read aloud. “38 Jouet Street, New Orleans, Louisiana. The Vieux Carré.”

Julian crumpled the damp paper in his hand.

“We are going to America, Arthur.” Julian sighed.


“But, first, back to Fallbridge Hall.” Julian gently tapped Mercury with his heel. The horse trotted toward the hall. “We have much to prepare.”

As they trotted home, Julian stuffed the wet paper into the pocket of his cloak. As he did, he felt something metallic with the tips of his fingers.

Without looking, Julian knew exactly what it was. He’d toyed with it so many times in his life. He jingled it in his pocket and was at once terrified and soothed by its sound. He clutched it in his hand to stop the sound and shivered. How cool it felt in his wet palm—that little brass bell from the tip of Punch’s cap.

“I’ll see you in America, Punch, old chap.” Julian thought as they rode toward Fallbridge Hall. “We shall all be reunited there.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-5?  If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 7.

Goal for the Day: Free Your Thoughts

We can all learn a lesson from the character of Julian, Lord Fallbridge from my blog-novel, Punch’s Cousin. Julian is plagued with negative thoughts, anxieties and doubts. Many of us are inundated with a stream of bad feelings. Perhaps, like Julian, you have someone in your life who helps to feed those thoughts with biting comments and overly harsh criticism. While it’s difficult to not let it get to you, it is possible with time, patience and practice.

Letting go of negative thoughts is a long journey, but one that can be very rewarding. Something you have to manage every moment of every day, moderating your thoughts is a realistic goal. The first leg of the journey is to remember who you are and remind yourself of the good that you do. Deal with the true things about yourself and let go of any unrealistic expectations you may have. One of the most important steps in this journey, you’ve got to accept yourself for who you are. Similarly, you’ve got to welcome the loving support of those who truly care.

Ultimately, you are in control of what you think and feel. While we’ll never be able to stop all negative thoughts, we can control how we deal with them.

Object of the Day: Antique French Figural Clock and Garniture

With rose marble bases, ormolu decorations and a spelter figure, this antique French clock and garniture is the height of French Nineteenth-Century design. The movement of this clock is by Japy Freres—the great French clockmakers founded by Frederick Japy in 1810. A non-chiming clock, it was designed for use in a bedroom. And, so, this clock and its flanking candelabrum happily grace the mantle in my own bedroom. Called a “figural clock” because of the sculpture that perches atop the timepiece, this set demonstrates the fluidity and grace unique to French design. The figure is exceptional. Sculpted by Rousseau, the figure is called “Les Lilacs” and depicts a young woman in a flowing gown. In her outstretched hand, she holds stalks of lilac and is the personification of freedom and springtime.

Exquisite in both materials and craftsmanship, this fine clock garniture is a reminder of the fleeting nature of beauty and encourages me to make the most of each day. Time, after all, is ticking away…

Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Fashion: The Opera-Length Glove

Portrait by F.W. Baker, from my collection.
In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, gloves were an essential garment for both men and women. In fact, most people were encouraged to wear their gloves at all times—even in the home. During this era where the body was completely covered from the neck down for the sake of propriety, gloves served a variety of purposes. Though many like to consider the Victorian era to be a prudish time, really, the purpose of gloves was to keep the hands and arms clean from the soot and dirt in most cities. Opera-length gloves developed over time from the long gloves popular in women’s fashion of the early Seventeenth Century. As styles changed, so did the length of the gloves.

By the 1860’s gloves had become so form-fitting that a lady couldn’t button them without assistance. Considered ill form to be seen putting on or removing a glove in public, a lady would have her personal maid assist her in securing her gloves before leaving the house. Occasionally, the gloves were fingerless to allow for greater ease in daily tasks or the pursuit of the arts and music (fashionable and appropriate distractions for women of the time).

This detail from a portrait of a young woman by F.W. Baker dates from the mid 1870’s. Here, we can see the snugness of the gloves. This young lady is quite free. Her gloves have no fingers. Clearly, however, that’s because she’s about to play an instrument. We’re alerted to that fact by the sheet music in her hands. Though probably quite uncomfortable, these opera gloves were most assuredly elegant.

Odd Antique Image for the Day: Princesses Margaret and Sophie of Prussia

Here’s another intriguing and unusual image from the Royal Collection. Two of the granddaughters of Queen Victoria, Princesses Sophie and Margaret were the daughters of German Emperor, Frederick III and Victoria, Princess Royal. Both led rather strange lives marked by tragedy and turmoil. Margaret and Sophie, together with their sister, Viktoria, were extremely attached to their parents—so much so that they banded together to monopolize their attentions and put a wedge between their parents and their elder siblings. The sisters were terribly close as evidenced by this photograph. Photographer Arthur Debenham, in 1882, captured the girls’ intelligence and intensity in this image and emphasized their closeness. The result is a photograph of two sisters so close they could be conjoined twins. Simultaneously alarming and touching, this rare photograph offers a glimpse at two unusual young women who would ultimately be burdened by the weight of their station.

The photographs in the Royal Collection are beautifully presented in the book, Crown and Camera: The Royal Family and Photography 1842-1910, which I recommended last week.

Friday is for Family: Remind Them That You Care

Why is it that for all the talking we do throughout the day, we don’t take a few seconds to tell the people that we love how we feel? When we get comfortable, it’s easy to forget that everyone needs encouragement—especially the people who are closest to us. You don’t have to write a flowery poem, you don’t even have to be blunt about it. There are many ways in which we can show our affection. Bring someone a cool drink, compliment them for no reason, make a special meal, or simply take some time to be together. The whole family will benefit and you'll feel more complete as well.

Web Site Review: The Shop at Irma Shorell

Few senses bring back the immediacy of a time and place than scent. The smell of a certain perfume can remind you of your mother, your first dance, your wedding day…anything. Perhaps you have a favorite fragrance that you loved, but can no longer find. You have a good chance of finding it through the “Long Lost Perfume” collection from The Shop at Irma Shorell. Proprietor, Jeffrey Dame, has recreated a collection of scents from beautiful days gone by. Mr. Dame has revived the fragrances of My Sin, Crepe de Chine, Bakir, Sortilege, Casaque, Ecusson, Memoire Cherie, Maroc, Most Precious, Replique and Bond Street. According to their Web site:

Through the use of perfume formula journals, the purist of chemistry and subtle, flowing artistry, these very special perfumes from a generation of unparalleled beauty have been brought to the fullest of life.

The Shop at Irma Shorell also offers a line of fine beauty products for the skin and a vast selection of other products that will put you in mind of beautiful times both past and future.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 5

Julian’s cloak did little to protect him from the driving rain. He’d begun to feel the fabric grow heavier and heavier on his back as soon as he and Arthur rode away from the stables. The cold rain stung his face like sharp needles, and, yet, Julian felt overheated. His heart pounded in his chest as Fallbridge Hall grew smaller in the distance. They hadn’t even left the estate yet, but Julian’s panic was mounting. Behind every tree, he saw dangerous movement. In every shadow, a grim face glared at him. He could feel meaty, calloused hands on his throat—scraping as they milked the breath from his body.

Arthur seemed unfazed by the rain and the growing dimness of the evening. His cool eyes were ice above the butter of his smile.

They stopped outside an ivy-covered stone structure.

“Shall I help you, Sir?” Arthur asked.

“No. Thank you.” Julian said, dismounting. “I haven’t been here in years,” Julian muttered—not necessarily to his footman, but more to the building itself. “I used to bring Barbara here to play when she was a child. I’d hoped she’d love it.”

Built a century or more earlier, the folly was the whim of one of Julian’s ancestors—some Duke of Fallbridge of whom his mother never spoke and whose portrait had been removed from the Great Hall. Like a miniature abbey, it was a wide, squat building with Romanesque arches and a massive wooden door. Purely without function, the folly was erected simply as an ornament to the gardens. Yet, Julian found it a delightful place to play when he was a boy. He had hoped that Barbara would have also found the place to be as wonderful as he had. Julian had pretended to be St. George seeking out the dragon within. He’d made the place his own fantasy land. Barbara, on the other hand, preferred to sit inside and have the under-house-parlor-maid bring her oranges and little cakes to eat. Even as a child, Barbara liked being the lady of the house—no matter where she was. Julian recalled her six-year-old voice as Barbara called the place her, “wee castle” where she was the sole queen.

Perhaps, in her escape from her marriage to Lord Marsden, she’d retreated to the folly to, once again, be the queen. That, at least, was Julian’s hope. Surely, she was still on the grounds. Surely.

Julian pushed on the folly’s door which resisted him at first. With a loud groan, it finally gave in. Dust and cobwebs welcomed Julian back to his former fantasy land.

“No one’s been in here, Sir.” Arthur said abruptly.

“Steady on,” Julian said, sweating despite the cold. “We don’t know that.”

“Lady Barbara couldn’t have opened that door by her lonesome, if you’ll pardon me saying it.” Arthur continued.

“Well, we can make sure of it. And, at the very least, get out of this blasted rain for a moment so that I can think about where to go next.” Julian answered.

Julian stooped over to avoid hitting his head on a support beam as he walked into the folly. How much smaller it seemed!

Something scurried in the corner.

“A mouse, most likely.” Julian mumbled.

“Sir?” Arthur asked.

“A mouse.” Julian said. “I thought I saw a mouse in the corner.”

“Shall I kill it, Lord Fallbridge?” Arthur grinned.

“No!” Julian said firmly. “Leave it be.”

Arthur said nothing. He simply smiled.

Again, something full of breath and bravado darted past Julian in the darkness.

Julian coughed on the dust.

“Where’s that go, Sir?” Arthur asked, pointing to a splintering ladder.

“Up to the turret.” Julian answered. “I would go up there, you know, often. Thought I was a brave knight guarding my castle.”

“Really, sir?”

“As a boy, Arthur.” Julian added.

“Of course, Lord Fallbridge.” The footman smirked. “Shall I go up there now to look for Lady Barbara since you seem to think she’s gotten in here?”

“Yes.” Julian said, calling the footman’s bluff. “There’s a slight landing just before the trapdoor. Look there.”

Arthur paused, the smile fading from his lips for just a fleeting second.

Julian nodded.

“Is it safe, Sir?” Arthur asked.

“As safe as anything on this earth.” Julian answered.

Arthur hesitantly climbed the ladder, while Julian wandered deeper into the folly.

“Julian.” A faint whisper blew past Julian’s ear like a moth.

Julian’s stomach clenched, the surge of panic gripped his arms and shot into his legs.

“Who is it?” Julian asked, not moving.

There was no reply.

Julian blinked, straining to focus in the musty darkness.

A skittering sound in the farthest corner caught Julian’s attention. He squinted and saw a red flash.

“Punch!” Julian shouted.

And, then, it stopped—those eyes, those pink eyes and the ruby smile pulled back to his ears…

“Punch…” Julian croaked again.

Stumbling backward, Julian tried to catch his breath.

A loud crash from above made Julian spin, smacking his head on a thick wooden beam.

“Sir!” Arthur called from above. “Sir!”

The darkness around Julian began to spin as he tried to keep himself upright.

Numb everywhere except his throat—Julian felt his skin go raw.

Did you miss Chapters 1-4? If so, you can read them here.

Question of the Week: What's Your Favorite Scent?

I'd like to know what scents you find pleasing.  Are you fond of a particular fragrance? Do you love the smell of the park after a rainstorm?  Maybe it's the crispness in the air just before the snow.  What do you like?  Please, comment below.  I'm looking forward to your answers.

Self-Portrait Contest Winner

Many thanks to everyone who submitted self-portraits for our contest.  There weren't any rules really.  The picture had to represent your idea of yourself.  This beautiful image was submitted by our follower, Whirligig.  This representation of Whirligig as an impish avatar is full of life, charm and intrigue.  It's a beautiful image.  Thanks, Whirligig!

Goal for the Day: Scents and Sensibility

It doesn't get better than this peach and blueberry pie.
Pardon the pun, I can’t help myself. We live through our senses. In order to achieve that beautiful era for which we’re striving, it’s important to keep all over senses entertained. Surrounding yourself with aromas that you enjoy is part of having a happy life. Whether it’s a perfume or cologne that you particularly enjoy, a scented candle filling the house with warmth or even the clean fragrance of freshly washed laundry, a pleasing smell can calm us and make us feel at ease. We all know the kinds of air fresheners (or Home Fragrance Systems as advertisers call them) that are on the market today. But, one thing that you can’t buy is the aroma of good, fresh, food. That’s a great way to fill your home with a cheerful smell. The smell of a fresh baked pie, your favorite meal or even the smell of baking frozen cookie dough will make everyone in your house feel at home. The best part is, afterwards, you’ve got something you can all enjoy as a family.

Object of the Day: Victorian Mother-of-Pearl Scent Holder

I bought this object several years ago, not knowing what it was at first. I was attracted to the graceful mother-of-pearl shells that closed around two crystal bottles which are suspended in ormolu mounts. When I got it home, I realized that it’s a scent holder or scent stand. Pushing on the bronze post opens the shell which sits on an alabaster base. A lady would have kept two different scents in this container.

Though very few of these remain today, we know that very often these were sold as toilette sets which included a ring-stand, and, sometimes a small mirror. Occasionally, a mother-of-pearl and sterling miniature container came with these sets for use in travel.

I love this antique. It is pure Victoriana from the sheen of the mother-of-pearl to the naturalistic and architectural shape of it. It’s testament to the Victorian love of making all things beautiful—an ideal we should strive for today.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Living the Belle Époque: A Beautiful Summer Salad

I don’t know about where you are, but it’s miserably hot here. Even with air conditioning, the heat has a way of taking away a person’s appetite. For many of us, the last thing we want to do after driving in the heat is to come home and prepare a hot meal. A healthy solution is a gorgeous summer salad like this one. Fresh green, avocados, carrots, artichoke hearts, cucumbers, hearts of palm, radishes and multi-colored tomatoes cushion candied walnuts, dried cherries, fresh strawberries and blueberries. Add the tang of blue cheese and a light Dijon mustard vinaigrette, and you’ve got a meal that you’re happy to devour after a sweaty day.

Always a favorite of mine--any time of the year--I typically request this salad for my birthday dinner.  With one of my mother's amazing cheese soufflés, this is a dinner worth the wait.

Gem of the Week: The Many Faces of the Sapphire

Though the word “Sapphire” is derived from the Greek, meaning “blue stone,” sapphires come in a variety of colors. Of course, most of us think of the classic deep blue color when we think of a sapphire, but they naturally can be yellow, pink, purple, orange, green or colorless. These “fancy color” sapphires often take the place of much costlier colored diamonds in many fine pieces of jewelry. A variety of the mineral corundum, the sapphire’s red sister is the ruby.

Sapphires are remarkable stones with some having color-change properties and others that exhibit a star-like effect in direct light. Natural star sapphires are increasingly rare and are now largely found mostly in estate and antique jewelry. The Victorian phenomenon of the “DEAREST” ring relied on the sapphire. A diamond, an emerald, an amethyst, a ruby, another emerald, a sapphire and a topaz were used to symbolize the word, “Dearest.”

Victorian and Edwardian jewelers made great use of the sapphire. But, no eras cherished the sapphire in their designs more than the Art Nouveau and the Art Deco. Sumptuously paired with diamonds, the sapphire proved the perfect counterpoint to the icy sparkle of the most precious stones. The birthstone of September, sapphires remain as popular today as ever. Perfect in any setting, the sapphire is elegance at its best.

Art Deco Diamond, Platinum and Sapphire ring from The Three Graces.

Recommended Reading: Classic English Design and Antiques

"The Painted Room" at Spencer House
The start of the Eighteenth Century saw a golden age of artistry and craftsmanship in England that lasted into the early Twentieth Century. The famed Hyde Park Antiques in New York City has assembled a collection of 150 exceptional objects and magnificent interiors from the most exquisite English homes and showcased them in Classic English Design and Antiques: Period Styles and Furniture, The Hyde Park Antiques Collection. Overflowing with gorgeous color plates and smartly written text, this book is an interesting read and a wonderful source for some interior decorating tips. If you’re looking for inspiration in starting your own Belle Époque, this is the place to start.

Decorating Tip: Change your Lighting

A huge part of a room’s ambiance comes from the way in which it’s lit. Lamps, chandeliers, pendants, track lighting, recessed lighting, up-lighting—each changes the look of a room. A central feature of any space is the overhead light fixture. Something that is hanging in the center of a room is, no doubt, going to have an effect on the overall look of the space. Changing the light fixture is a simple and often inexpensive way of changing the entire feeling of your décor.

Since the days when chandeliers really held candles, the choice of light fixtures for a room has been considered a way of making a decorative statement. Crystal chandeliers had the distinction of showing that a family held a certain station in life. Not only were these an opulent statement, but the prisms served a practical purpose in diffusing the light throughout the room. Taking a look at light fixtures throughout the ages is a fascinating study which shows the priorities and tastes of each generation.

If you want a fresh look in a room, you should browse your local home improvement and lighting stores to see what options are available. Many places will even help you install the fixture. If you find a style or a model you like, and feel that you can hang the fixture yourself, I’d recommend shopping online for the best possible price. Many online retailers offer excellent pricing on some of the most beautiful fixtures.

If you’re like me and favor antique lighting; make sure that you check the wiring (or have it checked by an electrician), before installing the fixture in your house. Over the years, wires become brittle and could crack. This can cause a potential danger. So, make sure those gorgeous antique chandeliers are up to code before hanging them.

Term for the Day: French Pendalogue

Two sizes of a French Pendalogue
Of the many shapes of chandelier crystals and prisms, the French Pendalogue remains one of the most popular. Known for its delicate, scalloped edges and graceful (almost cello-like) shape, the French Pendalogue has been in use in lighting fixtures for centuries. While the shape can change somewhat from maker to maker, the crystal always has a narrow neck which flares into a pear shape. Similar to the more-rounded “angel shape” prism, the French Pendalogue can be manufactured in a variety of sizes ranging from only an inch to crystals the size of a platter. This style of chandelier prism is so highly-regarded that the shape is often echoed in the design of jewelry. With its distinctly elegant flavor, this crystal shape will continue to flourish as long as we need light.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 4

What are you blathering about?” The Duchess of Fallbridge hissed.

“Punch…” Julian answered meekly, the smile fading from his lips.

“Imbecile!” His mother spat. “You make absolutely no sense whatsoever. You really must be mad! Do you have any idea how weak and insipid you sound?”

Julian had no response.

“Isn’t it bad enough that you’re so useless? Must you be barking mad, too?” She continued.

Julian shook his head.

“Are you mute as well?” the duchess demanded. “Speak!”

“No, Mother.” Julian whispered, feeling not at all like a grown man, but rather like a little boy. Amazing how the tyranny of some can reduce a soul to its basest form. Did she realize what she was saying? Julian hoped she did not. He could not stand to think that she was aware of her beastliness. As always, he wanted to see the good in everyone.

“Julian!” His mother growled.

“I’m sorry, Mother.” Julian shook his head again.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry…” His mother fumed, pacing the floor of his study. “I have heard nothing but apologies since I married your father. Well, dear, dear Julian. That was in Eighteen Hundred and Twelve! Forty years of groveling! I won’t have it from you. No.”

The duchess threw herself into the purple velvet chair and twisted her hands into a white knot. “How could you do this to me? Have you even considered me? How do you think I feel with your sister out there—unprotected?”

“I’ll find her, Mother.” Julian responded gently.

“How? When? You’re more concerned with your toys.” The duchess moaned.

“I’ll ring for Arthur. We’ll go out now. “ Julian said quickly, walking to the bell pull.

“So, Lord Fallbridge is leaving his rooms?” His mother mocked him. “And, all it took was a family tragedy.”

Julian winced.

“What’s the matter, Julian?’ His mother grinned.

Julian stumbled over his words. “I…can…I am able to…”

“Speak up, dear.” His mother smirked.

Julian rang the bell.

Julian turned to face his mother. He stood stiffly and spoke as slowly as possible so as not to stutter. “As for Barbara’s leaving, I wouldn’t call it a tragedy. We’ll find her forthwith.”

“You’d best do just that.” His mother rose. “I’d hate to think what would happen if you didn’t.”

With that, she flounced from the room as quickly as she’d entered it.

Julian let out a sharp breath.

“I am capable of leaving the house.” He said aloud. “I am. It won’t happen again. Not this time…” Julian shut his eyes. “How many times can it happen?”

Walking over to the curio cabinet, Julian tried to take comfort in the familiar architecture of the room. The great pediment which perched proudly on the Ionic columns over the fireplace, the gentle slope of the volutes around the mantle, the sharpness of the lancet windows—the bones of the room— they were his own skeleton. He existed both for and because of them.

Once again, Julian shut the cabinet door, and for a moment envisioned his own head on the shelf where Punch had always sat. His own head…in a reliquary, safe and preserved. Why would Punch wish to leave such comfort?

How did Punch leave?

The door to his study opened and Julian turned, expecting to see Punch returning—dragging himself by his stubby hands as the soft, hollow-end of his trunk trailed behind like the train of a lady’s dress.

Instead, Arthur entered.

“I’ve instructed the groom to saddle Mercury, Lord Fallbridge.” Arthur smiled his oily smile, showing slightly-yellowed teeth. “I’ll fetch your cloak and boots.”

“Thank you.” Julian nodded.

Arthur slipped quickly through the door to Julian’s adjoining bedroom.

The footman returned a moment later with Julian’s boots—unworn for months—clasped together in one hand. His other hand was curled shut.

“Sir,” Arthur said brightly. “I don’t mean to ask questions, only, I found this on the floor.” The footman opened his hand, producing a gold tassel. “Is it yours?” He let the tassel tangle from his fingers.

“No.” Julian responded, hesitant to take the quivering thing. “Yes. Well, yes, indirectly.”


“If you would please, leave it on the desk.” Julian answered softly.

How horrible to think that Punch was out there somewhere without the tassel from his hat.

Did you miss Chapters 1-3?  If so, read them here.

Goal for the Day: Polish Your Space

Cleaning is not fun. Even if you enjoy having a clean home, the act of cleaning isn’t really enjoyable. However, we all feel better when we have a clean house. It can be overwhelming. The minute one thing is clean, another thing is dirty. In many ways, it can be an endless task. If we take a few minutes each day to tidy up, that makes a huge dent in the list of chores, and makes a huge difference in the way your home looks and feels.

One thing that you can do is take a moment each day to polish or wash a piece of glass. Most of us have some glass bric-a-brac in our homes—candle holders, vases, souvenirs, mirrors. If you clean one of these a day, you’ll see a tremendous difference in your house. The room will seem brighter and more alive. It only takes a few minutes to wash something, and, the result is really worth it.

Object of the Day: Antique Bristol Glass Lusters

Lusters (or lustres) were decorative objects displayed on sideboards, tables or mantles. Usually crafted of Bristol glass, colored glass, ceramic, or porcelain, the luster gets its name for the long, crystal spears which hang from the basin. Sometimes called “pedestal vases,” lusters weren’t actually used as vases nor were they used for candles. For the most part, the lusters’ purpose was purely decorative. Meant to be displayed in pairs as a garniture, lusters added a touch of sparkle to a room. Today, it’s not unusual to find a single luster. Very often, the set was broken up as estates changed hands or one was damaged or destroyed.

This pair of Bristol Glass lusters dates from the mid-Nineteenth Century. Certainly English, these lusters are painted with a geometric design of rose, purple and gold. One of the pair was clearly closer to a window than the other as evidenced by the slight fading of the paint on one side.

Very often, antique lusters found in antique shops today are missing crystals or have damaged crystals. While you want to find a set with all of its original spears intact, replacement crystal spears can be found at various lighting supply shops and Web sites such as

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reminder: Self-Portrait Contest

The deadline for our Self-Portrait Contest is tomorrow at midnight.  Many thanks to all of you who have already submitted your pictures.  Just email your image to me.  The winner will be announced on Friday!

Term for the Day: Inlay

Mother of Pearl inlay on a table and an inlaid paper knife
A decorative technique used in a variety of arts, inlay is the process of pieces of contrasting materials of different colors into a base object in order to create patterns. Common materials used in inlay are mother of pearl, horn, shell, bone, ivory or exotic woods. Pietra Dure is a type of inlay involving the insertion of colored stone into a neutrally colored marble. Marquetry refers to the assemble of differently colored wood veneers to create a pattern. The art of inlay has been practiced for many centuries and is still employed today in the creation of furniture, decorative items and musical instruments.

Decorating Tip: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

We all like a bright, airy room. Sometimes, however, a room lends itself to being darker. Some people shy away from dark colors because they think it’ll make the room seem smaller. This isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, sometimes a smaller room can feel bigger if the walls are a darker color because the floor and ceiling are emphasized. Painting a room a darker color also is a great way to emphasize the architecture of the room. Keeping trim a light color sets the moldings off and gives them more character. One way of making the room even more interesting is to paint the ceiling a different shade. In Victorian homes, the ceiling (especially in reception rooms) was painted blue to simulate the sky. My ceilings are blue in most of the house, and I just love the contrast between the white crown molding and the crisp, blue ceiling.

Similarly, decorating with dark, rich colors gives a room some weight and importance. The result is a feeling of elegance and luxury that is especially fitting for formal living and dining rooms. A creative use of lighting and the arrangement of art and objects will give the room motion and interest. A darker wall also gives you an opportunity to really showcase your artwork.

Take a chance on a darker color for a room that is at once cozy and elegant.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 3

Julian screamed; certain he was falling. He could see the marble floor of the great hall rushing toward him. He heard the loud crack as his bones splintered against the glimmering tiles. Shattered, he groaned, knowing that the next sight he’d see would be the crimson flecks of his own blood—brilliant against the white stone.

Reluctantly, he opened his eyes, momentarily blinded by a bright flash.

But, no, he was not crushed against the marble. He was in his study, in his aubergine chair. Rain beat against the windows. Thunder crashed again outside. A fire flickered in the hearth—the only light in the room.

Julian sighed. He’d been dreaming. That same dream—that nightmare where he lay smashed at his mother’s feet. She laughed. The duchess always laughed.

Rubbing his eyes, Julian tried to remember when he had fallen asleep. How had he gotten there? Yes, of course, he had shut the curio cabinet door, and then, sat in his chair to calm himself and to consider the situation with Barbara. He’d been overwhelmed. Funny how sleep—that quietness that he so craved—eluded him except at the oddest of times. He supposed he should be grateful for whatever blackness he had managed to achieve even if it was at the wrong moment.

But, what about Barbara?

His thoughts were interrupted by a sharp rush of air—his own gasp. Someone was in the room with him. A dark figure slowly approached him. Surely, it was Punch—finally freed from the cabinet, finally able to master walking on his legless sack of a torso.

“Lord Fallbridge?” an oily voice cooed.

“Arthur.” Julian rasped. “I didn’t know you’d entered.”

“I did not wish to wake you, sir.” The footman responded. “Only Her Grace suggested that I begin packing for our journey.”

“Our?” Julian squinted. “Packing?”

“Yes, sir, to find Lady Barbara.” Arthur answered dryly.

“I hardly think we need to take a journey for that.” Julian stood up. “She’s not been gone that long. She must still be nearby. And, surely, with this rain…”

“I was instructed to begin packing, sir.” Arthur continued.

“You’d best light some lamps, first.” Julian muttered.

“Only I didn’t wish to wake you, Lord Julian. We all know how little you sleep.” Arthur hissed.

“Yes, yes.” Julian shook his head.

The footman began lighting the lamps around the room.

“What will you want to take with us?” Arthur asked.

“Us?” Julian scratched the back of his head and squinted against the light.

“As your valet, sir, I will be attending you.” Arthur answered. In the growing light, Julian could see the footman’s slick, too-knowing smile.

“I haven’t concluded that we need to go anywhere, yet.” Julian responded more sharply than he intended. “My inclination is to check with Barbara’s friends. She must be at one of the neighboring estates. My sister is not…” He paused. “The likelihood that she’s orchestrated some grand escape is very slight.”

“As you wish, sir.” Arthur replied stiffly. “Only, what will I tell Her Grace?”

“I will speak to the Duchess of Fallbridge.” Julian said. “I think we need only write some letters. Lady Barbara will return on her own soon enough.”

Again, thunder echoed throughout the great house.

“Begging your pardon, sir, but Her Grace might not find the writing of letters to be an… active enough pursuit.” The footman said coolly.

“Please, leave me for awhile. Come back in half an hour, if you would.” Julian raised his eyebrows.

“As you wish, sir.” Arthur smiled. “Shall I…”

“I will speak to the Duchess.” Julian said.

Without another word, Arthur walked stiffly from the room.

“Speak to the Duchess.” Julian said aloud as he fumbled again with his ring. “And, tell her what?”

His mother had ordered him to find Barbara. Certainly, Barbara was hiding with one of the flighty girls with which she played croquet. How could she have gotten any farther than that in just one afternoon? Or could she have? Julian thought for several minutes. He’d have to talk to some of the maids. Barbara often chattered with them though she oughtn’t. Iris, the House Parlor Maid attended Barbara. If anyone in the house knew what Barbara was about, it was Iris.

“Willful girl,” Julian grumbled. “All the best that she’s pretty. At least she has that quality. Too much like Mother…”

Perhaps the groomsman would know if Barbara had taken her horse. “Yes,” Julian thought. He’d go to the stables when the rain let up.

The thought of leaving the house made Julian shiver.

Didn’t he used to roam London? Didn’t he used to look at the shops in the Brompton Arcade? Didn’t he used to be free?

Barbara was free. For a moment, Julian hoped that his sister had gotten away from Fallbridge Hall, from Mother, from her obligation to marry that stiflingly dull Marsden chap.

Sharp footsteps echoed throughout the passage. Julian knew those footsteps though he hadn’t heard them in that part of the house for years.

“What’s this I hear about you wanting to write letters and think?” The duchess bellowed as she burst through the door.


“I asked you to find your sister!” His mother shouted.

“I know.” Julian stuttered. Arthur had gone right to the Duchess.

“So, go out and find her.” His mother continued.

Julian turned away from his mother.

“I will.” Julian said. “Still, how far could she have gotten? And, now, with this beastly weather…”

“The longer you stay in your rooms thinking, the further she’ll get.” The duchess growled. “Must you sit and consider everything before you act?”

“There’s something to be said…”

“You are too much like your father. I am ashamed to call you my son.” His mother barked. “At least your father isn’t mad. When did you become such a coward? And, don’t turn your back to me!”

Julian couldn’t bring himself to face his mother. He looked to the fireplace…and the curio…

The curio…

It was open again.

“Listen to me, you timid little hobgoblin!” the Duchess shrieked.

Julian, however, wasn’t listening. His attention had been seized by something else. Something far more terrifying than even the Duchess of Fallbridge.

“Julian!” The duchess screamed.

Only, Julian didn’t hear her.

Punch was gone. Gone. The space in the cabinet where he’d sat for thirty years was vacant.

A smiled split Julian’s face.

He turned back to his mother.

“What are you grinning at?” the Duchess of Fallbridge demanded.

“Mother, my puppet…” Julian laughed. “He seems to have escaped, too.”

Did you miss Chapters 1 and 2?  If so, read them here.

Goal for the Day: Take Time for Tea

We’re all busy. Whether you work from home as I do, occupy a space in an office building or have the enormous task of taking care of your home and children, the old cliché of “not enough hours in a day” rings true. With all of our responsibilities, by the end of the day, most of us feel exhausted and harried. In working to maintain a certain quality of life, we often forget to actively imbue our daily routines with quality.

All the more reason to pause for fifteen minutes today to give yourself a treat! Everyone deserves a break. In Victorian England, teatime was a revered tradition. This served as a welcome respite from the responsibilities of the day. We all deserve that.

So, give yourself that break. Get away from your work, your responsibilities and your cares and make yourself a cup of tea, have a cool drink or a healthy snack (or even something more decadent, if you can). For most of us, there’s no harm in one sliver of cake. Just give yourself a chance to recuperate. If you can, listen to some music, read a book, check-up on your favorite blog and relax for just fifteen minutes. You’ll see that the results will surprise you.

Object of the Day: Antique Victorian Papier Mache Tea Table

When we think of papier mache with tend to conjure up an image of dripping, glue-y paper wrapped around a balloon—the stuff of fourth grade science project models of the solar system. However, papier mache is an incredibly durable material that has been employed for centuries for use in the home. The Victorian era saw papier mache employed in all manner of the decorative arts--including furnishings. Papier mache objects are difficult to come by today, but some still remain.

This English tea table is a perfect example of the Victorian art of using papier mache to its full potential. Layers upon layers of papier mache form this scalloped table. Inlaid with Mother of Pearl and hand-painted with a quintessentially Victorian pattern of flowers and golden volutes, this table stands upright on its turned, three-footed, base. Ready to be clicked in place for use in the serving of a delicious tea, this table served as a decorative object when not in use.

I love this table which is the centerpiece of my collection of papier mache antiques. Its place is by the fireplace in my bedroom where it proudly reminds me of the ingenuity and beauty of Victorian England. Certainly the antithesis of a hastily consumed swig of tea from a Styrofoam cup, this tea table encourages me to pause and make the most of the inherent loveliness in even the simplest of moments.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Belle Époque Image of the Day: A Guignol Puppet Theatre

Now that we’ve become acquainted with Guignol, Punch’s French cousin, I thought I’d share this image from 1919 of a Parisian Guignol Puppet Theater. Puppet theatres such as this one are still in operation in parts of Paris, offering several shows per day. This image is especially charming. The audience members are all so smartly dressed. I also find the poster tacked to the tree to be endearing.

Just to make things a little kookier, here’s a picture of the same theatre from 1964. This is actually a screen shot from a very groovy (in the way only a Technicolor film from 1964 can be groovy) picture starring William Holden and Audrey Hepburn with Noel Coward at his most-Noel-Coward-est.

Similar theatres in England were and are the home of Punch and Judy. Perhaps our Lord Julian from Punch’s Cousin should consider lending his puppet to such a theatre.

Term for the Day: Garçonnière

The garçonnière at Houmas House
A garçonnière is a bachelor’s quarters or apartment. In Southern plantation homes, particularly those in Louisiana, the garçonnière is a detached building near the main house. A young man in his late teen years would occupy the garçonnière prior to marrying. This allowed him some degree of privacy and autonomy while still providing him the benefit of home and family (and staff). The garçonnière at Houmas house is particularly attractive and is an excellent example of this by-gone architectural phenomenon.

Film of the Week: Jezebel

Davis as "Julie" in her scandalous dress.
This is a truly superb picture and features one of Bette Davis’ finest screen performances. Directed by William Wyler, Jezebel was released in 1938 and starred Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, George Brent, Fay Bainter and Donald Crisp.

Bette Davis plays the petulant and strong-headed Julie Marsden who has a penchant for breaking rules and behaving in an independent manner that was frowned upon for a young woman in New Orleans’ high society. Still, Julie makes her own rules. After all, as she tells her Aunt Belle, “This is 1853, Dumpling, 1853.”

Her fiancé, Preston Dillard (Fonda), is a young banking executive who believes in being high-minded, proper and respectful. When his business delays Preston from attending their engagement party, Julie retaliates by buying a scandalous and tart-y red dress to wear to the Olympus Ball, an event where unmarried girls always wore virginal white.

Calling Julie’s bluff, Preston escorts her to the Olympus Ball in the red dress and forces her to dance—much to her embarrassment—in front of the disapproving New Orleans elite. Thus ends their engagement, and Preston goes north, leaving Julie depressed.

Julie vows to win Preston back. When the Yellow Fever epidemic forces them to flee New Orleans for Julie’s plantation, Halcyon, Julie is pleased to know that Preston will be joining them. Little does Julie know that Preston is bringing someone quite unexpected with him.

Julie’s manipulations endanger the lives of all the men in her life, causing Aunt Belle to label her, “Jezebel.” When Preston contracts the Yellow Fever, Julie has a difficult choice to make.

Brilliantly directed by William Wyler who was one of the few directors who was fully able to tame Bette Davis, the film is spectacular. With those typically grand Warner Brothers sets, a sweeping score by Max Steiner, Jezebel is one of the best, and Bette is never better.

Her performance earned Bette Davis her second Academy Award for Best Actress with Fay Bainter (Aunt Belle) winning Best Supporting Actress. By far, one of the most outstanding films of the late 30’s, this picture is a favorite of mine for many reasons. This is, of course, my time-period of interest. Also, I am very much interested in the Yellow Fever epidemics that struck Louisiana in the late 1800’s. You’ll see further evidence of this as Punch’s Cousin continues.

Above image from Warner Brothers Pictures.

Humanitarian of the Week: Fran Drescher

We can define our lives in terms of things or we can define them in terms of actions. In order to achieve our own Belle Époque, we will need to live well in all aspects of our lives. Most importantly, we will need to support our fellow people so that we all may have the beautiful lives we deserve.

One person who represents the spirit of any beautiful era is the exquisite Fran Drescher. As entertaining as she is beautiful, Miss Drescher, has brought joy into our homes for many years—most notably with her program, The Nanny.

However, there’s more to Fran Drescher than her glamorous clothes and trademark laugh. Miss Drescher is a cancer survivor and had tirelessly worked to raise awareness of women’s health for over a decade. In 2000, after two years of unsatisfactory care and misdiagnoses, Miss Drescher was diagnosed with uterine cancer and underwent immediate surgery. Ten years, later, she remains in great health with no post-operative treatment required. In her book, Cancer Schmancer, Miss Drescher chronicles her experience in the hope of raising awareness of uterine cancer and to help those who have been diagnosed.

In 2007, Fran Drescher launched "The Cancer Schmancer Movement" which she dedicated to ensuring that all women’s cancers were diagnosed in the first and most curable stage. 2008 saw Miss Drescher as a U.S. Diplomat by the United States State Department. Given the title of Public Diplomacy Envoy for Women's Health Issues, Miss Drescher has traveled the world working with leaders and health agencies to raise awareness of women’s health issues, encourage patient empowerment and to assist in finding ways for early detection.

Beautiful in so many ways, Miss Drescher is truly the embodiment of our new Belle Époque.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 2

The air seemed cool as Julian drew in a long, deep breath. Arthur had left. Julian was glad of that. He wasn’t too fond of his valet. The man had an unctuous quality that left something to be desired. He smiled too knowingly for a valet. Julian sighed, resolved that there was little he could do about it. Arthur was the “first footman” and therefore was assigned as valet to the eldest son of the household. Not only was Julian the eldest, he was the only son of the household. To be more accurate, for a long time he was the only child. He had lived twenty-two years before Barbara came along. Barbara’s birth, in many ways, had been a relief. At least she took Mother’s attention away long enough for Julian to leave for the townhouse he had leased in Belgrave Square. How long ago that seemed. What had happened to all of those plans?

Julian twirled the diamond ring on his left index finger—the first he had designed. Would there be more?

The clock chimed the half-hour. Julian knew he’d best hurry downstairs before Jackson came looking for him. It wouldn’t do to leave the Duchess waiting. Her Grace looked favorably on promptness. That, at least, Julian knew he could provide. He couldn’t think of much else he could do that his mother would look at with favor.

Julian took one last look in the glass. He smoothed his wavy, chestnut hair and paused to study the lines of his face—pale alabaster planes at sharp, almost Roman, angles. He looked just like his mother. When he was a boy, she declared him, “All Fallbridge” and took pride in the fact that he didn’t favor the Molliner side of the family.

Something glimmered behind Julian—a fast flicker reflected in the glass. Julian turned around. The door to the curio cabinet was ajar. Had he opened it? Walking quickly to the cabinet, Julian shut and locked the glass door with one swift motion.

“Sorry to shut you in, Punch, old pal.” Julian said under his breath. “Can’t have you wandering into the Drawing Room during tea. Mother wouldn’t approve.”

Julian shut his eyes and sighed again. “Talking to a puppet…”

Why had the curio door been opened? Julian studied the array of artifacts and objects inside. Nothing seemed out of place.

Punch grinned at him from behind the panes of the cabinet’s door.

“I’ll be late.” Julian said briskly and rushed out of his room.

For some reason, Julian found the sound of his own footsteps echoing throughout the long passage to be unnerving. His heart raced. Leaving his rooms was becoming increasingly difficult. Suddenly, he found himself longing for the comfort of the aubergine chair by his fireplace, the familiarity of the paintings on his walls, and, yes, even the company of Punch.

“Steady on.” Julian thought to himself. “You’re still in your ancestral home.”

When did the Drawing Room get to be so far away? The walk seemed interminable. Julian paused on the stairs, looking over the balustrade to the gleaming marble floor below.

His hands were sweating.

Click, click, click…Julian rushed down the stairs.

Arthur stood stiffly outside the Drawing Room door.

“Lord Fallbridge,” Arthur smiled as he opened the door.

Julian tried not to grimace.

“You’re late!” The Duchess of Fallbridge bellowed as Julian entered.

“I’m terribly sorry, Mother.” Julian said bowing his head to his mother.

“Six minutes late…” His mother continued. She waved her hand to Jackson who stood attentively in the corner of the room. “Take the tea away, Jackson, no doubt, it’s cold. I simply can’t abide cold tea. Bring fresh!”

“Yes, Your Grace.” Jackson said quickly, taking the tea tray.

“And remove the sandwiches and cakes. I’m sure they’re dry.” The Duchess sniffed. “Bring new.”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

“Julian, do sit down.” His mother hissed. “I won’t have you standing there like some gaping buffoon.”

“Yes, Mother.” Julian sat.

The room grew silent, and cold despite the roaring fire in the hearth.

“Rather difficult to take tea when the tea is ruined, don’t you think?” The Duchess of Fallbridge growled.

“Yes, Mother.” Julian nodded. “I am terribly sorry.”

“You’re just like your father.” The Duchess said breathily. “So ready with apologies.”

Julian nodded.

“I suppose you’re wondering why you’ve been asked down here today?” His mother said after a few painful moments.

“Well, you do usually prefer Barbara’s company at teatime.” Julian replied softly.

“I did, yes.” The Duchess frowned. “Here!” She held up a letter. “Take this.”

Julian rose and took the letter. He returned to his seat and read it with ever-widening eyes.

“What do you think of that?” His mother demanded.

“It’s too terrible.” Julian replied quickly.

“What do you intend to do about it?” The duchess barked.

“I?” Julian asked.

“Yes, you. She’s your sister. You want her to make a smart marriage, don’t you? Surely, you want this for your family!”

“I do.” Julian answered, “but…”

“Your sister has run off. And, you’re to find her!”

Julian read the letter again.

Dearest Mother,

I do not to wish to be disagreeable, however, circumstances necessitate my abrupt departure. I cannot marry Baron Marsden. I will not.

I shall leave. Do not seek me out. You will be unsuccessful.

Your Barbara

“Find her how?” Julian asked.

“That’s rather your concern, isn’t it?” His Mother laughed. “You will return her to me within the week!”

Julian sat and looked at his mother.

“Stop staring!” The Duchess spat. “Now, go!”

Julian rose, pausing long enough to bow his head to his mother and hurried to the door, reaching for the high, bronze knob with shaking hands.

The door opened before he could turn the knob. Jackson had returned with a tiered tray of teacakes and sandwiches and Arthur followed with the gleaming silver tea service.

“Lord Fallbridge will not be staying for tea.” The Duchess purred as Julian raced up the stairs.

Once inside his room, Julian leaned against the door—his heart pounding in his chest. He shook his head.

“I can’t.” Julian said aloud, nervously turning the ring on his index finger. “I can’t.” His mind raced with thoughts…thoughts that stopped when he noticed something curious toward the rear of the room.

The door to the curio cabinet was open again.

Did you miss Chapter 1?  Read it here.

Building of the Week: Houmas House

Bertie and Joseph at Houmas House
Completed in 1840, Houmas House is the “Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s Great River Road.” Situated among the gorgeous plantations in Darrow, Louisiana, Houmas House Plantation and Gardens stands as proudly today as it did when it was first built. In the center of a thriving sugar cane plantation, the mansion evolved over decades from a modest home built by Maurice Conway and Alexandre Latil in the 1700’s on land purchased from the Houmas Indians.

After the land changed hands to General Wade Hampton in 1810, his son-in-law and daughter began construction of the mansion as we know it today. After thirty years of work, the archetypal Southern mansion glistened in the sun—massive columns guarding a gracious porch.

Bette Davis as Charlotte Hollis
Surrounded by enormous oaks and a meticulously groomed garden, the house is now a museum and visitor center—still with sugar cane. Because of its flawless restoration, the home has also served as a location for many films from the Grand Guignol classic, Hush, Hush…Sweet Charlotte starring Bette Davis and Olivia De Havilland to the more recent Midnight Bayou as well as television shows such as All My Children and, for some reason, Top Chef.

A visit to Houmas House is well worth the trip. The house is stunning, filled with magnificent antiques and the current owner’s art collection. The gardens are also available for rental for events. For more information visit the Houmas House Plantation and Gardens Web site.

Goal for the Day: Face Today with Confidence

Today was Bertie’s “Spa Day.” We call it that, anyway. It’s the day he goes to get a bath, have his hair cut, his nails trimmed and his teeth brushed. No one likes a ride in the car more than Bertie. He was thrilled to get his leash and go on an adventure this morning. When we arrived at his “spa,” he eagerly got out of the car and did the things that dogs do when they visit a place frequented by many other dogs. When it was time to go inside, however, he dug his feet into the pavement and wouldn’t budge. “No way! They’re going to touch my feet.” One of Bertie’s few distinctly dog-like characteristics is that he does not enjoy having his feet touched. The people at his “spa” often tell me of the screams he lets out when it’s time to trim his nails (this is why I don’t do it myself—I can’t stomach the melodramatics). So, he and I had one of our many one-sided chats. I reminded him that he was going to have fun and he’d feel better for being clean. After a few minutes, he reluctantly came with me. We approached the door and he paused, looking up at the handles, and he tentatively wagged his tail

Once, inside, however, he was all smiles—Mr. Roarke, “Welcome to Fantasy Island.” He immediately pushed passed the other people in line, pulling me along with him and headed right behind the reception counter. There was jumping and tail wagging and many wide-eyed greetings. I apologized, but the kind ladies behind the desk said that Bertie was always welcome back there. He looked for his friends the parrots, checked behind a filing cabinet and stuck his head in one of the ladies’ purses before being taken back for his bath. Everyone in the place seemed to be amused by Bertie’s confidence.

As I left, I began to realize something. When we were going inside, Bertie had the same reluctance that I often feel when I go somewhere—the same feeling of “I don’t want to” that many of us feel each day. But, he did it. He smiled (as dogs do) and made the best of it. He took a situation that he was dreading and had a good time with it.

There’s something to be learned there. Why can’t all of us face the day with a sense of confidence and fun? We can learn a lot from dogs.

Object of the Day: Antique Mother of Pearl Brooch

I have a particular fondness for Mother of Pearl. The shine, the colors, the subtle glow—all appeal to me. Mother of Pearl was a favorite material during the Victorian era. Used as an inlay in furniture, papier mache objects and on metals, Mother of Pearl found a place in many a Victorian home. Of course, this precious material was also used in jewelry.

This Mother of Pearl brooch set in sterling silver is an excellent example of the Victorian love of this iridescent material. Hand-painted onto the pearl, a smartly dressed woman gazes confidently at us. In her red gown, delicate necklace and elegant hairdo, she seems to tell us that she’s a woman who knows her own mind. I found this brooch in a favorite antique store in Jefferson, Texas. Unsure of how to display her, my father assisted me by building yet another custom case—lined in red velvet and neatly ebonized by my mother. She now sits proudly in my bedroom, surveying everything in her path.

Mother of Pearl is a tasteful way to add a little sheen, not only to your wardrobe, but also your home. Many modern-made objects still utilize Mother of Pearl. From picture frames to caviar spoons, this beautiful material still finds its way into our lives.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Punch's Cousin Archive

Tomorrow, you'll be able to read the second chapter of Punch's Cousin.  A new chapter will be posted Monday through Saturday each week.  If you miss a chapter, you'll find an archive available in the upper corner of the right sidebar.

I can't wait to share Chapter Two with you!

The Duchess of Fallbridge is going to be something of a problem...