According to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: A Maine Historical Society Website, “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a commanding figure in the cultural life of nineteenth-century America. Born in Portland, Maine, in 1807, he became a national literary figure by the 1850s, and a world-famous personality by the time of his death in 1882. He was a traveler, a linguist, and a romantic who identified with the great traditions of European literature and thought. At the same time, he was rooted in American life and history, which charged his imagination with untried themes and made him ambitious for success.”
My story, “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst,” was inspired by Longfellow’s poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” I have loved the poem for more years than I care to recall. I spent 40 years teaching English/language arts in public schools of three different states, most of which at the high school level. Therefore, I was often called upon to teach “Evangeline” and, upon occasion, “The Courtship of Miles Standish” in my American Lit classes. Naturally, when Ancestry.com led me to John Alden of the Plymouth Colony fame as my tenth great-grandfather and then directed me to Longfellow as my sixth cousin 5x removed, I was doing my “happy dance.” Longfellow, you see, is also related to John Alden through Alden’s daughter Elizabeth. I am related to Alden through his daughter Rebecca.
The plot of The Courtship of Miles Standish deliberately varies in emotional tone, unlike the steady tragedy of Longfellow’s Evangeline. The Pilgrims grimly battle against disease and Indians, but are also obsessed with an eccentric love triangle, creating a curious mix of drama and comedy. Bumbling, feuding roommates Miles Standish and John Alden vie for the affections of the beautiful Priscilla Mullins, who slyly tweaks the noses of her undiplomatic suitors. The independent-minded woman utters the famous retort, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” The saga has a surprise ending, one full of optimism for the American future.
Most would agree that Longfellow’s poem is fictionalized history. Main characters Miles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla Mullins are based upon real Mayflower passengers. Longfellow was a descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins through his mother Zilpah Wadsworth and he claimed he was relating oral history. Skeptics dismiss his narrative as a folktale. At minimum, Longfellow used poetic license, condensing several years of events. Scholars have confirmed the cherished place of romantic love in Pilgrim culture and have documented the Indian war described by Longfellow. Miles Standish and John Alden were likely roommates in Plymouth; Priscilla Mullins was the only single woman of marriageable age in the young colony at that time and did in fact marry Alden. Standish’s first wife, Rose Handley, died aboard the Mayflower in January 1621. Two years later, Standish married a woman named Barbara in Plymouth in 1623. The Standish and Alden families both moved from Plymouth to adjacent Duxbury, Massachusetts in the late 1620s, where they lived in close proximity, intermarried, and remained close for several generations.
To Read The Courtship of Miles Standish, go HERE.
Introducing The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst
What happens when a lady falls in love, not with her betrothed,
but rather with his cousin?
Miss Priscilla Keenan has been promised to the Marquess of Blackhurst since her birth. The problem is: She has never laid eyes upon the man. So, when Blackhurst sends his cousin to York to assist Priscilla in readying Blackhurst’s home estate for the marquess’s return from his service in India, it is only natural for Priscilla to ask Mr. Alden something of the marquess’s disposition. Yet, those conversations lead Cilla onto a different path, one where she presents her heart to the wrong gentleman. How can she and Alden find happiness together when the world means to keep them apart? Inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” this tale wants for nothing, not even a happy ending, but it is not what the reader things.
For more than a week, Cilla had called daily upon the abbey, no longer waiting for either of the Sterlings to assist her. She also no longer wore her better day dresses, for she often assisted the maids, girls from the village she knew either from church or by sight, taking down dusty drapes or rolling up carpets to be beaten. Some items she had chosen to replace, while others only required a thorough cleaning. Each day, she spent time reorganizing her various lists, prioritizing what should be addressed first.
“After you have had your midday meal,” she told Audrey, Ellie, and Janie, the three maids hired to assist her, “we will take a survey of the music room.” If it had been Cilla’s choice, once she had viewed the spectacular pianoforte located in the music room, she would have started her survey of that particular room first, for music was what touched her soul. Everything else was secondary in her life. However, it was on the third day before she had recalled the room near the rear of the house.
When she was younger, she would sometimes sneak into the abbey just to have a look around. There were so many wonderful pieces of art and sculptures thereabouts, and Cilla loved simply to curl up on one of the dust-covered chairs and study the artwork, while she made notations of melodies to accompany each piece. The works served as her inspiration. It was perhaps on her third or fourth visit to the abbey that she had discovered the music room. Her hands had itched to play the pianoforte, but she had resisted the urge to do so, knowing someone might hear her and demand to know why she had entered the Blackhurst property without permission. Little did she know, at the time, this would be her future home. She was glad today that she would have a legitimate excuse to view the ornate instrument, perhaps even taking a few moments to play a short composition she had rolling around in her head.
“Shall I bring you a tray, miss?” Janie asked.
Cilla’s eyes remained on the instrument. Distractedly, she responded, “Bring it when you return. I am in no hurry.”
“Yes, miss. Enjoy your time to rest for a few minutes. You’ve worked most diligently,” Audrey added.
Cilla smiled at the girls. “I plan to test out Lord Blackhurst’s pianoforte.”
“You play, miss?”
“My late mother loved music as dearly as she loved my father. She made certain each of her children could play an instrument.” Cilla did not say the words aloud, but she thought, As I pray I will be allowed to do so with my own children. Catching the ache of loneliness seeping into her chest, she shooed the maids from the room so she might explore the space alone.
With the maids’ exit, Cilla made her way about the room, admiring the carved frame of a harp, which had two broken strings, but she strummed the remaining ones, picking out a simple tune. “Even without all its strings, the instrument is excellent, or perhaps it is the room that speaks of perfection,” she murmured. She could imagine herself spending countless hours within. “At least, this is something I can love about the future marriage to which I have been committed.”
She began a more complete examination of the room, which she had belatedly realized had been specifically designed to create a musical experience. The room’s location, near the rear of the house, would prevent the noise of a busy household from interfering with a musical performance. Draperies not only hung at the windows, but also covered one of the walls. Persian rugs of various sizes were scattered about the floor, sometimes layered with rugs made of wool supporting an instrument, while several large plants and upholstered chairs and settees dotted the rim of the room.
One corner held a bookshelf, containing books of various sizes. A floral printed wallpaper covered the wall surrounding the arched entrance, and a fabric-covered folded screen sat opposite the book shelf in another corner.
“Someone certainly knew what they were doing,” she said as she crossed to one of the windows to draw back the drapes to allow light into the space. A smattering of dust filled the air about her, and she batted away the dust motes floating before her eyes. She turned for a second look at the room, now draped in sunlight. “I could spend my days practicing and not be disturbed.”
With a sigh of satisfaction she had yet to know since assuming the task of arranging his lordship’s household, Cilla sat at the instrument and positioned her fingers upon the keys. Although the pianoforte, like the harp, could do with a good tuning, within minutes, she was lost in the music, swaying on the bench, allowing the melody to carry her to another place—a place only she knew. Soon she was switching from a piece by Mozart to one she had been working on for several months—one with which she had yet to know fulfillment.
Over and over again, she played the prelude, changing the phrasing—adding a different chord here and there—dropping a half note she once thought essential.
So engrossed with the process, she failed to hear the faint sound of a footfall behind her. When she finally realized she was no longer alone in the room, it was too late not to gasp, as she spun around to gape at the handsomest man her eyes had ever beheld.
“Oh, botheration!” She clapped a hand over her mouth, as she blushed thoroughly. “You startled me, sir! I did not hear you come in. May I assist you?”
What could only be called an arrogant lift of his eyebrow rose in obvious disapproval. “Perhaps it is I who should assist you,” he said in exacting tones.
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