Aldridge Interviews His Creator
by Jude Knight
In the rush to launch A Baron for Becky, this past month I’ve given the study no more than a flick with a duster and a lick and a promise from the vacuum. Every surface is covered with papers and books. The Marquis of Aldridge looks out of place, prowling the limited space between the clutter, the two computer stations, the stack of printers, and the bookshelves.
I can’t mistake him, though. This invention of my overactive mind is actually here, in the 21st century, in my work room, tipping his head to read the book spines, and picking up the pair of copper seals on the window ledge.
He is such a peacock, with his highly embroidered waistcoat, the jewelled pin placed just so in a cravat knot of his own devising, the pantaloons and coat fitting so tightly to to every muscled inch of him that my mouth goes dry. I have been happily married for forty-three and a half years, but I am neither blind nor dead, and anyone can admire the conformation of a fine thoroughbred.
What is he doing here? One of my friends had a similar visit when she offended a character by not knowing how to pronounce his name, and I must admit to providing Aldridge with plenty of reason to be annoyed with me.
“Good morning, Aldridge.”
He quirks one corner of his mouth, the signature half-grin I’ve seen so many times in my imagination. “So this is where you make us all,” he says.
“Here, on the way to and from the office, sitting up in bed, out in the lounge,” I tell him. I write all my first drafts on the iPad, which goes everywhere with me. And even when I’m not writing I’m often thinking about little bits of dialogue or ways to solve plot issues, or details of character background.
He nods as if I’ve said all that aloud. “We never leave you alone, do we?” His warm voice is sympathetic.
“Take a seat, Aldridge,” I suggest, but he shakes his head.
“There is only the one chair, ma’am,” he points out. True. I work at a standing desk and the room is small, so the only chair is the one my husband uses at his workstation. And Aldridge, whose manners are impeccable, would never sit while I remain standing.
“Fetch a chair from the next room,” I tell him, and he brings in a dining room chair, which he turns back on to the seat I’ve now taken and straddles, resting his elbows on the curved wooden top rail.
I return to his question. “You never do,” I agree. “You, in particular, Aldridge. This latest book was not on my publication schedule, but you insisted.” I have around 40 plots roughly sketched covering 20 years in the fictional world that Aldridge inhabits, and A Baron for Becky was not one of them.
He dismisses my complaint with a casual wave. “You are pleased with this book,” he reminds me. “And it is not my book, anyway. It is very much Becky’s book.”
This is true, but it was Aldridge who bothered me until I began writing. And his presence in the book is not inconsiderable.
“Is there something I can do for you, Aldridge?” I asked.
He widens his eyes, cocks his head to one side, and straightens his lips to look sincere. “I thought it would be nice to visit.” His guileless look wouldn’t fool me even if I had not made him. I raised six children. I know when someone is trying to feed me a line.
“You have some questions?” I ask.
I see the calculation in his eyes as he considers, and the moment when he decides to come clean; the relaxation of tiny muscles around the eyes and mouth, the sudden warmth in the gold flecks that lighten the brown of his eyes.
“How long do I have to wait?”
I know what he is asking, but I’m not sure what I can safely answer. It wouldn’t do to give him information he could use to avoid the stories to come. I had better find out what he already knows. “What year are you in, Aldridge?”
“1810, ma’am. The wedding was last week.”
Ah. It will be a while then. In 1810, Aldridge’s happy ending was still four years in the future.
“I’m sorry, Aldridge. You will have to be patient. But trust me. I do believe in happy endings, you know.”
He stands abruptly, tipping the chair then catching it with a casual hand before pacing again—two paces to the paper store, two paces back to the bookshelf. With his back to me, he combs the fingers of one hand through his hair, a dearly familiar gesture that ripples the muscles of his shoulder in interesting ways.
When he turns again, his face is calm, set in its usual amused lines though the twinkle is missing from his eyes.
“I have no choice but to trust you, ma’am.” Then, suddenly wistful, “You will see us happy, will you not? As you did Rede and Anne, and their friends Candle and Min? A real marriage, with friendship and mutual respect as well as passion?” His brows draw together, and his voice is stern. “You are not always so kind to your characters, ma’am.”
I remember what happened to John, and am silent. Aldridge is right, but so am I. To be fair to my readers means being unfair to my characters, and happy endings for some may involve unhappy endings for others.
Aldridge will have his happy ending. I cannot promise him that, since his future must remain a mystery to him, but I know it. He has some trials to come, poor bedevilled rake that he is, but he will have his happy ending.
Perhaps he sees the truth in my eyes, because he leans over and kisses my cheek. “I know you will do your best,” he says. “I will talk to you soon.”
He fades from view, as if someone slid a transparency control, leaving nothing behind but the lingering scent of bergamot and wintergreen.
I have no doubt I’ll be hearing from him again; perhaps not in person, but certainly at 1.30am when I wake with his voice in my ears, telling me more of his personal story. Yes. Aldridge will certainly have his happy ending. In time.
A random commenter will receive a digital copy of A Baron for Becky.
About A Baron for Becky
Becky is the envy of the courtesans of the demi-monde—the indulged mistress of the wealthy and charismatic Marquis of Aldridge. But she dreams of a normal life; one in which her daughter can have a future that does not depend on beauty, sex, and the whims of a man.
Finding herself with child, she hesitates to tell Aldridge. Will he cast her off, send her away, or keep her and condemn another child to this uncertain shadow world?
The devil-may-care face Hugh shows to the world hides a desperate sorrow; a sorrow he tries to drown with drink and riotous living. His years at war haunt him, but even more, he doesn’t want to think about the illness that robbed him of the ability to father a son. When he dies, his barony will die with him. His title will fall into abeyance, and his estate will be scooped up by the Crown.
When Aldridge surprises them both with a daring proposition, they do not expect love to be part of the bargain.
The maid must have added a fresh log to the fire just before they arrived. The top was still uncharred, but flames licked up from the bed of hot embers. A twig that jutted from one side suddenly flared, turned black, and shrivelled. The bottom of the log began to glow red.
The duchess spoke again, startling Becky out of her flame-induced trance.
“What do you want for your daughter, Mrs Darling?”
“A better life,” Becky said, suddenly fierce. “A chance to be respectable. A life that does not depend on the whims of a man.”
“The first two may be achievable,” the duchess said, dryly. “The third is unlikely in the extreme. And you expect my son to help you to this goal, I take it.”
Becky was suddenly tired of polite circling. “I was saving so that I could leave this life; start again in another place under another name. But my last protector cheated me and stole from me.
“I do what I must, Your Grace. Should I have killed myself when I was disgraced? I had no skills anyone wanted to buy. I could play the piano, a little; sew, but others were faster and better; paint, but indifferently; parse a Latin sentence, but not well. Should I have starved in the gutter where they threw me?
“Well, I wasn’t given that choice. Those who took me from the gutter knew precisely what I had that others would pay for. As soon as I could, I began selling it for myself, and I Will. Not. Be. Ashamed.”
Her vehemence did not ruffle the duchess’s calm. “We all do what we must, my dear. I am not judging you. Men have the power in this world, and we women of the gentry are raised to depend on them for our survival. But you must know that Aldridge cannot offer marriage to a woman with your history.”
About the Author
Jude Knight is the pen name of Judy Knighton. After a career in commercial writing, editing, and publishing, Jude is returning to her first love, fiction. Her novella, Candle’s Christmas Chair, was released in December 2014, and is in the top ten on several Amazon bestseller lists in the US and UK. Her first novel Farewell to Kindness, was released on 1 April, and is first in a series: The Golden Redepennings.