Gender Bending Entry #3 The Education of Rebecca Cavendish

I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday. We're back, as promised, with the continuation of the gender bending experiment. Some of you have questioned whether we (the authors) are deliberately trying to trick you, so for the record:

Several authors submitted pieces they had lying around. I asked only that they choose something that would not easily be identified with their writing style. Fans can easily pick up on an author's voice, and since several of the authors are very well known, I didn't want people recognizing specific writing styles.

When an author didn't have a short piece already written, they wrote a piece just for this blog, primarily because we knew that once it hit the interwebs, it would become a freebie for everyone.

We took a brief hiatus for the holidays; however, I'm back now and will be running posts until we reach the end of the contest. Please keep your comments focused on the question at hand.

As always, please don't break my website.

Here we go ...

READ THIS FIRST: The rules and the prizes. Your mission: comment on whether you believe the author of this excerpt is male or female.

The Education of Rebecca Cavendish by Alice Leakey

Rebecca took the stairs two at a time, heels drumming on the boards. She slowed her pace too late, the sound echoing up the staircase, like likely to alert Simon to her hasty departure.

She froze, listened. The wood creaked gently beneath her feet, but no other sound reached her save the cry of gulls and the salty songs of the fishwives, crying out their wares.

She sighed in relief and proceeded more slowly now, careful of her steps, careful as the mouse who saved the lion in mother’s stories. She turned sideways at the landing, walking like a crab. Her hooped petticoat still brushed the walls of the narrow staircase, so that she clucked and swatted at the dust.

It was not Sunday, yet she’d still insisted that Mary dress her in the hoops, and her best gown as well, with the blue silk stomacher, bright with gold thread. She had even worn her silk kerchief, though it had gone sideways in her rush. Mary had looked on in silent disapproval, but did as Rebecca bade her. She might report it to Simon later, but Rebecca did not care. She would look her finest today even if King David himself commanded her to wear sackcloth.

Because today, he was coming.

She won free of the staircase and stopped in the parlor that doubled as the entry of their small counting house. She arranged her skirts, dusted them once more and straightened her kerchief and hat. She cursed that she had forgotten her mirror, but there was nothing for it. She had marshaled such beauty as God had given her. It was enough.

Her heart raced as she opened the door, stepping out on to the wide columned porch, hand going to her hat as the salt breeze threatened to sweep it from her head. She settled it on the lace cap and shaded her eyes, looking out to sea.

The Majesty sat at anchor in the distance, masts gently tossing against the bright morning sky, one of her boats was already at the quay, the sailors making fast the lines, the boatswain shouting at them to look lively. She smiled, swallowed, her breath coming in short gasps now. She tried to calm herself. The boat could be putting in to bring a factor out to inspect the Majesty’s holds, or it could be a . . .

And then she saw him. The sun sparkled on the gold braid at his shoulders, on the wrists of his jacket, on the hilt of his sword. His step was as steady as the rolling of the ship behind him, his eyes blue as the sea.

Did he smile at the sight of her? Yes, she was sure of it. And here he came on, walking across the cobbles, his boots splashing the mud away, shining as if the dirt did not dare to touch him.

His long strides took him to the steps, and he was smiling, smiling at her as if she were the only thing in the world, putting his hat under his arm, bowing deeply from the waist, returning it to his head, speaking. He was speaking to her!

With a start she realized she was standing in silence, horribly rude, not answering. Her hands were wrapped in her apron, twisting the fabric, wrinkling it in her balled fists. She forced herself to drop the cloth and smoothed it, cleared her throat. What to say? She coughed, began to speak. Stopped.

He frowned. “I said, madam, I do greatly admire your gown.”

She found words. Words totally unsuitable to the compliment. “My dear Lieutenant Percy.”

His frown deepened, only making him more beautiful. “It is good to see you well. I trust your father is recovering?”

He had said he would come and he had. Here he was, speaking to her, asking after her family. She scrambled for words and found one that seemed to fit. “Yes.”

Silence. His eyes ranged to the boards beneath her feet. So polite, so proper. Was he shy? Could it be possible that he was shy of her? Her heart soared.

She would make his courting easier. “Father is well. Simon still tends to the books, and all is well in order, sir. I should be delighted to tell him you are here.”

His eyes at last rose to hers. Was he fearful she would refuse him? Oh, how delightful!

“Your pardon, madam. I am not here on business today.”

She swallowed, steadied her legs. You will not faint. You will NOT.

Dull thumps behind her, pattering on the stairs. The swish of skirts in the parlor.

Sarah emerged onto the porch, Mary in tow. Both wore their best, as Rebecca had. Sarah’s big brown eyes shined at Lieutenant Percy, sweeping past Rebecca, not seeing her at all.

The Lieutenant’s smile lit up the morning.

Sarah’s morning.

Rebecca stood in shadow as he bowed again, turned to her sister. They were speaking, he was taking her arm, laughing as they moved across the cobbles to the boardwalk.

Mary moved to follow, her old face turning to Rebecca, eyes dark with sympathy.

Sarah, always Sarah.

Rebecca spoke, something pleasant, she hoped, to their departing backs.

The sun shone over the wharf, its rays moving to follow the couple and their chaperone, its rays powerless to penetrate the stout eaves her father had been so proud of when he had built the house where she was now certain she would remain, until spinsterhood claimed her.

“Sarah.” The word was an oath, a sin. Yet, she could not stop from forming it. Bile in her throat, in her hands on her apron again. In her heart.