Phoebe’s Challenge

When life changes, a strong woman will survive… 

Phoebe's Challenge

Read the full story for only £1.99!

Chapter One

“Thomas Baxter, clear that floor!” Phoebe raised her head in horror as she heard the order bellow out of the miserable mouth of Mr Benjamin Bladderwell, the overseer of the cotton mill. She saw the fear on her young brother’s face. Thomas froze. He was nearly nine, half Phoebe’s age and, like her, slight of build. Phoebe watched his back slowly straighten. He was obviously trying hard to be brave.

Bladderwell pointed to the clutter under one of the looms, where dust and other fibres had collected. The overseer yelled above the cacophony of sounds between the machines. “Move yourself, boy. Now!”

Thomas did not move, but looked at Phoebe who sensed his fear. He was small but going under a moving machine was a job usually given to the younger children. Phoebe felt an unusual and strong emotion – hatred. Bladderwell relished every minute he could sustain his power over their lives. Phoebe had to be brave for Thomas’s sake. They had had to adjust to living amongst the cruelty of his regime keeping alive the hope that one day they could make a run for it and be free again. The time for that brave or foolish gesture, she sensed, was rapidly approaching.

“Move it, you lazy scum-bag!” Bladderwell took a stride towards Thomas. A young woman dropped her shuttle as Bladderwell stormed past; without pausing he clipped the back of her head. She let out a sharp cry, but did not hesitate in her duty of retrieving her tool and continuing the thread of the weft.

Phoebe and Thomas both loathed the shame and the abuse which had become part of their daily existence. This and the constant hunger inside their guts were why they knew that they had to escape, before they were too weak, or injured to run.

Immediately, Phoebe stopped her work, placing her basket of wound cotton bobbins on the floor and ran over to her brother’s side. Standing by him she spoke boldly, to protect the boy from a beating if not from the task he had been set. “I’ll do it, sir. I’m more agile than Thomas and quicker too!” She then inched in front of Thomas hoping he would snap out of his fear-filled trance before Bladderwell’s temper broke and he lashed out at them.

She tried to move him aside. Thomas’s panic had quite reached the point where his blood ran cold and his feet were rooted to the ground. She was able to gently push Thomas away, out of the direct eye line of the brute she was facing down. Bladderwell was staring back at her. Phoebe decided they would run for it that very night if they were at liberty to do so.

Bladderwell swung the back of his hand down towards her. He was hefty in build. She instinctively ducked to avoid the force of the contact, but Thomas did not move so quickly, and the blow landed across the boy’s cheek. Thomas fell back onto the damp floor, scraping his knee through the thin fabric of his clothes. Phoebe saw his head turn sharply toward his attacker, the trance broken, flashing a look of pure unmistakable hatred at Bladderwell.

The man’s face creased with a grin. Somehow they had to run, Phoebe thought, as fear filled her soul. With the rags they stood up in as their only possessions, they would have nothing to weigh them down. When they had been brought to the mill they had worn decent clothes on their backs, but they were exchanged for paupers’ rags within the first hour of their arrival, such was their welcome to this hell hole.

Winded, Thomas tried to stand upright again. He was fighting to recover, breathing in the cotton dust and damp humid air. The factory was kept hot and moist so that the threads did not break on the weaving and spinning machines. No one seemed to care what happened to the people who had to breathe within it. Phoebe believed somewhere there must be a mill that was run in a kinder manner, where people were treated with consideration and happily worked for a fair wage, but she had not heard of one.

The owner of this mill, James Bartholomew Atkins, grew richer by the minute, whilst his workers choked their way through another gruelling day’s labour. Phoebe could cry with the injustice of it all; meanwhile, her brother had been struck and she feared for what would happen next.

Phoebe gasped as Bladderwell cupped her chin in his hand, pulling her towards him.

“Listen, missy.” He moved his lips near to her ear. His rank breath made Phoebe want to heave. She tried to pull away. He tightened his grip, until she stopped resisting. “You can make life much easier for yourself and the sprat, down there. Don’t see how he’ll survive in here, not that one. He can’t control his temper in front of his betters. However, I’m not a bad man. I’ve a heart.  I’ll let the little rat off if you’ll come to the store house with me now and show Benjamin how sorry you is for his bad behaviour.”

He looked into her wide horrified eyes and grinned.

She glared back at him. Phoebe had grown up on a farm and knew how life began, she had seen how animals coupled and guessed it was much the same for people. Phoebe felt her stomach knot. Did he honestly think that for one moment she could let him touch her, or lift her skirts for him?

“You know what I want – you to do exactly that…” he whispered in her ear again, “… anything I want.”

Phoebe could not control her words, “Never! You’re evil!”

Thomas stood up as Bladderwell threw Phoebe to the ground. “Get down there where you both belong, and when you’ve ‘ad time to think, missy, you can crawls your way back to Mr Benjamin Bladderwell on your hands and knees! Then see if I’m as generous in me offer.”

Phoebe looked at the back of Bladderwell’s jacket as he turned to face the boy. One day soon, she thought, I’ll make you crawl. I’ll see you terrified and cornered!  She promised her revenge in her mind and, almost at once, as if the man sensed it, Benjamin turned on his heel and picked Thomas up by the scruff of his threadbare wool jacket.

“Ain’t you got work to do?” Bladderwell dropped him from the height of his extended arm onto the stone floor and simultaneously reached for his lash which he kept on a hook on the wall. It was a constant reminder to the children to obey their master.

Phoebe had to act fast. Her thoughts were filled with heated emotion as she cowered beneath the great moving monster trying to sweep the debris away. There was no room for her to move. She was not a child anymore. Her build was slight and her movements agile, but she was a young woman. She tried to wriggle slowly back out, whilst Bladderwell’s attention was fixed on Thomas. Where had the big brave bully been when they needed men to fight Napoleon? she wondered; hiding behind his horrid machines, no doubt.

Phoebe forced a picture of her father into her mind – a long ago memory, painful for her to rekindle, but necessary to give her the courage to do what she must do now. A good man like her father had died in the long wars with France, yet a brute like Benjamin Bladderwell still lived. Life, she had learnt, was just not fair.

Thomas’s eyes stared accusingly back at the substantial figure bending over him. Phoebe prayed they would be able to escape that very day – now, in fact, for if they didn’t they would be broken, in body if not in spirit by the time Bladderwell had had his way. But how? Their situation seemed impossible.

“I’m goin’ to strip the skin off your idle little back!” The lines on Bladderwell’s forehead deepened as he gritted his browning teeth and raised the lash high behind him ready to swipe down. Thomas had curled into the tightest small ball that he possibly could, trying to protect his head, especially his eyes.

Phoebe was incensed; she moved quickly without taking enough care.

“Agh!” The high shriek of Phoebe’s scream stopped Bladderwell as his head turned to face the cause of the noise, stopping the lash from falling back down onto Thomas.

“Phoebe!” Thomas shouted, and stood instantly, running over to where she was trapped. She could not help her tears escape as she cried out, but lay there motionless underneath the great machine. She could neither move forwards nor backwards so great the fear that had overtaken her.

There was an unspoken bond between the brother and sister. Thomas began to panic when he realised that there was blood on her hand.

“Get out of there, you stupid bitch…” Benjamin Bladderwell’s words were drowned out by the noise of the weaving machine, as its clatter grew louder and more irregular. Phoebe had somehow damaged the machine, as part of her sleeve had caught in its mechanism. Thomas grabbed hold of Phoebe’s ankles as he tried to ease her out. However, he lacked the strength to do it. The ground seemed to move under him as he was yanked back. Then Phoebe was unceremoniously dragged out also. She coughed as she fought for breath as her face was pulled through a cloud of fibrous dank dust. Once free, Phoebe rubbed her eyes so that she could see the gash in her arm that was as long as her little finger. She swallowed hard and held her wounded arm to her protectively.

“It will be all right, Phoebe. It’s not deep; you’ll see it will be fine.” Thomas was trying to reassure her whilst she straightened her dress after being unceremoniously released from her fate.

“Oh, Didy…” She could see the overseer’s face behind the boy and it both angered and terrified her. Phoebe and Thomas’s mother had always called Thomas Didy. It was short for Didymus, another name used in the Bible for Thomas. Phoebe thought it suited his spirit better.

Phoebe felt hatred well up inside her with the strength of feeling she could not have thought possible for her to bear before she had entered the life of hell that was the mill.

Nobody in the factory stopped working to help them. They were all too frightened of losing their precious positions. Work was hard to come by and although the pay was poor, it was better than none and the resulting humiliation and illness that followed being locked away in the workhouse. The adults would be grateful that it was not their child who had been hurt today. A woman glanced sympathetically at them, but did not turn away from her task for fear of punishment.

Thomas helped Phoebe to her feet. “She needs her wound tending… sir.” The last word had been added reluctantly. “That cut needs balm… and cloth to bind it up.”

Phoebe knew Bladderwell did not care; she had refused to pleasure him, he was more concerned about the damaged machine and work lost than her plight.

“Get back to your work, girl! You can tie a machine rag around it, to make sure that you do not drip your blood on the weave. Once done, then collect up those spindles. Now move!”

“No!” the lad’s voice shouted out.

Thomas had a hot head and a short temper when it came to injustice.

“There’s scraps of clean cloth there. If it’s clean it mends better, my ma said so!” he shouted.

“Didy, I’ll manage.” Phoebe, seeing the danger Thomas was already in, tried to act normally, but she was pale and frightened. Her voice had been low, almost like a whisper. It only served to embitter Thomas further; although nearly ten years younger than her, he liked to assume the role of her protector. They had been raised in a fine home, on a working farm – born free. It had been a new farm, one that had been enclosed and the crops rotated to use the land more effectively. Phoebe knew that Thomas liked modern thinking and ways. From his earliest words he had asked questions, ones his ma could not answer, which frustrated her, but like Phoebe it also delighted her as Thomas seemed quick of wit. He was not against machines, but hated their misuse and the greedy men who abused them.

When the lash was raised once more, Thomas reached out and grabbed one of the besoms propped against the wall; they were normally used by the younger children to sweep the floor at the end of the long day. He swung it wildly. The gesture seemed to exhilarate him, giving confidence. The lash came down wrapping around its handle, becoming enmeshed. Thomas pulled at the besom with all his body’s weight behind it, flicking it sharply and, using the moment of surprise in his favour, he managed to jerk it out of Bladderwell’s strong hand. He flipped it free, but Thomas could not control what happened next. All watched in disbelief as the lash flew one way and the broom the other. Phoebe had expected them to fall to the ground, she hoped that they would, but neither did. Bladderwell lurched at him, his balled fists now opened wide like two claws ready to grasp at their prey. Phoebe felt her throat tighten in a moment of panic, but the almighty sound of a machine crashing put a halt to Bladderwell’s intentions. His head spun around. Two women screamed, scared by the noise and clatter and crunching of wood as the besom’s handle splintered. Bladderwell almost fell to his knees as he watched the machine falter, before coming to a shuddering halt. Phoebe saw a glint of fear cross his face. He was answerable to the mill owner for the upkeep of the machines and their output. The whip landed on one of the other weaving machines, becoming tangled in the threads, bringing work there also to a grinding halt. Things had gone too far for them to stay a moment longer. They had to leave straight away – somehow, before they were caught and punished.

Benjamin Bladderwell’s face that had been bright red was now slowly turning purple. Thomas pushed Phoebe behind him and grabbed a scrap of fabric from the pile of off-cuts.

“Use this, Phoebe,” he said.

Thomas helped to secure it firmly and quickly around her arm.

“When I say run, run!” she ordered her brother who nodded – there was no other choice.

Phoebe started backing towards the large double doors at the end of the mill. Her arm hurt. She would rather have a cut arm than have had Bladderwell fumble her. He was evil and a bully and she was glad he would have to answer for the damage caused in the mill, but they would now be hunted as machine breakers.

They were near the doorway when Bladderwell ran like a mad man, storming towards Thomas. Words they had never heard before came rushing out of his mouth. Thomas waited till he was nearly upon them, then grabbed another broom handle and jabbed it hard at the overseer’s shin. Bladderwell dodged, slipped on the debris under his feet, but could not escape the blow that glanced off his jawbone. Thomas drew the broom back, looked the man straight in the eye and grinned fleetingly before taking his ultimate revenge. Phoebe realised his intent, but could not stop the boy. With an almighty thrust she could see that he took great pleasure in deliberately hurling the whole broom into the workings of the nearest loom.

“No!” The roar from Bladderwell’s mouth was nearly as loud as the commotion Thomas had caused. The apparatus came to a standstill. The workers ran to the side of the mill in trepidation. The sound of splintering wood and metal hitting metal echoed in Thomas and Phoebe’s ears as Benjamin and his men were busy trying to stop the carnage.

“Run! Now!” Phoebe shouted, “Didy, run for the gates and don’t stop!”

Find out what happens to Phoebe and Thomas for £1.99!

Also available on Smashwords & other eReaders

Phoebe's Challenge

OAPSchat goes from strength to strength!

janlatest-1
Catching up with Janice Rosser founder of OAPSchat!

Jan’s motto is ‘ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!’ which seems to be the way her brainchild, OAPSchat the community site targeted at over 55’s, is going.

So here is Jan to tell us about it…

Since you interviewed me in 2014, OAPSChat has grown and grown! In June 2014 I was delighted to be one of the recipients of The Independent on Sunday Top 100 Happy List Award. I wrote a blog for the website describing the experience.

My mother passed away on September 1st 2014 and fortunately Margaret my sister and I were both at her side when she died peacefully in my house.

Suddenly I was no longer a carer. Mum’s words to me when she was dying are still with me. “Make an even bigger success of the website love and bring people together to try and end loneliness. You and Margaret have looked after me so well and I have been really lucky having you both.”

Congratulations on The Independent on Sunday Top 100 Happy List Award, but I am very sorry that you lost your mum. She must have been very proud and appreciative of both you and Margaret and the loving care you took of her.

So…… since then, so much has happened. I have been on local radio twice, interviewed my folk hero Ralph McTell, along with Dr Mark Porter, the owner of Laithwaites Wines, and many more celebrities. I appeared in Wetherspoons magazine in March 2015.

I evaluate many products for companies and send out a monthly newsletter to over 480 people.

I have 126 wonderful contributors now and over 1130 articles for people to read and comment on. Ranked at just over 12,000 in UK website rankings as at 11/11/2016, 2016 is drawing to a close better and busier than ever.

So what do you plan for 2017?

My aim is to hopefully be in the top 5,000 UK websites and to be the most popular online community magazine. The purpose for starting the website was to help combat loneliness and bring together people from all walks of life to forge new friendships and online companionship. This has certainly happened, but there is still a long way to go. My ‘baby’ born in November 2013 is now a toddler at three years old this month and true to toddler behaviour is more demanding and growing at a rate that I never thought possible!

I hope you hit the 5,000 ranking!

I love what I do and have met and am meeting new people all the time. One never stops learning and almost every day I receive a new article or write about a different topic myself.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas Valerie and a Happy and Healthy New Year and thank you for inviting me back for an update.

It is inspiring to read about your progress with this extremely valuable site. I wish you, your family and OAPschat community a Merry Christmas and a very happy, prosperous and healthy 2017!

Click to read Jan’s original interview

Laura’s Legacy – New from Endeavour Press!

Laura's Legacy

Laura’s story begins fifteen years after the fire that nearly destroyed Ebton in To Love Honour and Obey.
1820 Ebton, England.

Laura Pennington’s parents think it is time for her to marry, but they are concerned. She likes to take long walks by herself, and doesn’t quite fit in. Laura’s father, Obadiah, thinks local mill owner Daniel Tranton is the perfect husband for Laura, so he suggests marriage to Daniel while working on a business deal.

Daniel is not keen, but does not want to lose Pennington’s business. He is not sure what to do, as he has his hands full with disgruntled mill workers. Daniel has always treated his workers well, but that is the exception, not the rule.

A new problem arises, when Jeb, a young boy who works for Daniel’s cousin Roderick, runs away from the mill where he works. Daniel, not wanting to see him captured and beaten by the local louts who enforce the law, tries to track him down. He finds Laura hiding Jeb, who she stumbled upon while out on one of her walks.

Roderick has his henchman Mr Bullman hunting for Jeb as Laura hides him at her father’s boat house.
Checking on him one morning, Laura sees the boat is gone, but it’s seeing her father stepping out from the hotel he owns that shocks her the most.

For all his efforts to make Laura a lady, it seems Mr. Pennington is not a gentleman.
With the hint of revolution in the air, will Daniel and Laura find a love worth fighting for?
Laura’s Legacy is a historical tale of romance and family strife in a past world.

Laura’s Legacy is availble on Amazon Kindle

York

I am so lucky that in the course of doing my research for my own titles I have been able to visit some fascinating historic places. York is the one that encapsulates time as now other. If you were a Roman, it was known as Eboracum. If you had lived there through the Saxon era, then it would have been called Eoforwick. Perhaps it is better known historically as Jorvik because of the state of the art Jorvik museum which brings Viking York back to life.

Walking through the city’s narrow lanes is like seeing all eras of time side-by-side. Medieval wooden structures stand next to Georgian houses and over them all are the famous towers of a grand cathedral known as The Minster.

There are far too many aspects of this fantastic place to mention in one post so I am sharing some photos of the city with you that I discovered when researching locations for Abigail Moor.

Abigail Moor – Biddy’s Bakery

Abigail was rescued as a baby by Lord Edmund Hammond – or so she believed.

Raised as a lady, calling him father, she enjoyed a sheltered life as she grew up and loved her step-brother, Frederick. Life dramatically changes because she has to flee from a forced marriage when Lord Hammond falls ill. With her lifelong maid she travels to the port of Whitby via the beautiful ancient city of York.

To Abigail’s naive eyes Whitby would have been a noisy, bustling place with a myriad of smells from the various industries surrounding the whaling, fishing and boat making industries. Even Abigail’s name, like her situation, has a double irony. Abigail literally means ‘my father’s joy’, yet she does not know who he is. The name is also used commonly to refer to a lady’s maid.

When I explored Whitby I came across a narrow snicket in which was a love old ram-shackled set of buildings I borrowed this setting for ‘Biddy’s Bakery’, placing it next to an old inn like the amazingly well restored White Horse and Griffin and took the extra liberty of placing a laundry opposite. Whitby was so wealthy through the whaling industry that in 1790 there were two street lamps in Church Street outside this original coaching inn.

I had the pleasure of staying in the same room that it is said Charles Dickens once used. It was a lovely friendly place in a fascinating location, and serves excellent food.

The eBook of Abigail Moor: The Darkest Dawn is available from Smashwords and Amazon directly for $2.99/£1.88 from most eBook sellers.

The Wonders of Whitby


Whitby is a place I love to explore. It has a fascinating history, some of which I would like to share with you, from the ruined abbey that dominates the headland, with the unique church of St Mary’s that leads you to the famous 199 steps and the town and harbour below.

The abbey was first settled by St Hilda when she opened the first monastery in 657 AD. Famed for her energy, commitment to learning, and her faith, life could not have been easy in such an exposed place. The original buildings have long since gone but the ruined stone remains of the abbey as it stands has been a symbol of the haven of the port for many a fisherman returning home.

The whaling industry made Whitby an important and lucrative port throughout the eighteenth century until 1830 when it collapsed because of the discovery of the cheaper, cleaner and more accessible paraffin oil. Throughout this successful period other industries flourished: ship building, sailing, fishing, tanning and one which came into popularity during the period of Queen Victoria’s mourning of Prince Albert, Whitby Jet.

James Cook was apprenticed to Captain John Walker in 1746 and served nine years. He went on to be the first European to successfully chart the East Coast of Australia and New Zealand. Walker’s house is now a museum to Cook.

I hope that has given you a flavour of this beautiful and atmospheric port on the northeast coast of England.

Further information

The inspirations for Magic Sometimes Happens

I am delighted to welcome Margaret James back to my blog as she tells us about her enchanting new book Magic Sometimes Happens!

Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Valerie. It’s great to be here! Today, I’m going to tell you about the inspirations – music, poetry and places – for my latest novel, Magic Sometimes Happens.

The story is about second chances for both my hero and my heroine. My hero Patrick Riley is married, is the father of two small children and doesn’t expect his wife to leave him for a man she says makes her fly. My heroine Rosie Denham is running away from a bad mistake and needs to learn to forgive herself.

The story starts when Rosie visits Minnesota in the fall, a season which is probably the most beautiful time of year in one of America’s most beautiful states. The whole place seems to turn red and gold almost overnight as the trees change colour. But fall is a very short season. Minnesota’s long, harsh winter will soon be on its way, and the whole place will be frozen solid for almost six months until spring makes a brief appearance before the next sweltering summer comes around.

So yes, Minnesota has an extreme climate. But it’s place that is full of extremes. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul are divided by the Mississippi River, which winds between limestone bluffs and through various locks and channels to join the Missouri before flowing on to the Gulf of Mexico. There are quiet, very beautiful stretches of river very close to the urban hearts of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. But some parts of the Twin Cities are very built up. Minneapolis is home to the Mall of America, the biggest shopping centre in the western world. But there are also hundreds of parks, lakes and playgrounds dotted between the buildings, and – in spite of the dozens of high-rise buildings and skyscrapers in downtown Minneapolis – the whole place has a countrified feel to it.

Most American schoolchildren are probably familiar with Henry Longfellow’s narrative poem, The Song of Hiawatha. It’s the story of a Native American warrior and his bride Minnehaha and it’s set in Minnesota. When you visit the Twin Cities, you can’t help but be aware of the influence of Longfellow on place names. You’ll come across Minnehaha Park, Hiawatha Avenue, the Hiawatha Clinic and many more. My fashion PR consultant heroine Rosie is a British girl who has never heard of Longfellow, but American-born Patrick knows long stretches of the poem by heart.

As for music – although Patrick is a professor of IT and very science-oriented, he is in love with music, especially American classical music by the likes of George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber – Pat listens to them all. But his absolute favourite is Gershwin who wrote, among many other compositions, Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris. So, when Rosie takes him to Paris, Patrick can’t help but be enchanted and magic is surely bound to happen!

Maybe have a listen and see if you’re enchanted, too?

More from Margaret

Why not have a peek at her blog, or chat with her on Facebook and Twitter?