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Signals And Signs – Grace Pending


Defined paw prints left in the snow just last week are now blobs of foul, circular water

Outdoor smells as if some kind of agricultural incubator, a mix of mold and freshly brewed dirt

Patches of green blend easily with a long stretch of brown now contemplating its own surrender

And winter winds engage in fewer evening battles because the sun holds a weightier and longer advantage

Signals of spring, unbounded

Signs of life, unleashed



Copyright (TZampino) 2021

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Langston Transforms (29 July 37 AF) – Zymurgia House


First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

20 June 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

No doubt you have been worried and disturbed by the news I’ve been sending you. You might even have enough affection for Brother Edward that you are distressed by his plight! I am sure I never observed such whilst you were here in Cumbria, but then I have been surprised to learn that I harbor considerable such affection myself.

Poor Edward’s condition has been growing worse day by day. He seems to be in a fog, has nothing to say, does not respond to questions. He goes through the motions of his day, dressing, eating, driving to the Grimsbys, and so on; and perhaps he is more animated when he is with them, I do not know.

If you have been so troubled, you may set your heart at rest—or, if not at rest, you may rein in your heart’s gallop to a gentle walk. We have determined what those hags have done, and we have plans in train to put an end to their wickedness.

You will recall from my last that the former Lieutenant Archer—and I have still not gotten a satisfactory answer from him about that—rode off at speed to find someone who might help. He returned yesterday morning with an older gentleman, a cheerful looking fellow in tweeds.

“Miss Montjoy, may I present to you Dr. Tillotson of Edenford University. He was my tutor during my brief time there, and I believe he can help us.”

“Miss Montjoy,” he said, taking my hand. “I am delighted to meet you. It is rare to find a woman who is inclined to the wizardly arts.”

“Inclined but in no way proficient, Dr. Tillotson.”

“We shall see! Now, as to your problem, I believe I know what has been done here. A most incompetent display, I may say, Miss Montjoy, quite leaving aside the wickedness. For I must tell you that it is quite out of court to include ordinary men and women in any magic geometry. Other wizards, sometimes, when collaborating on a major working, you know, but ordinary men and women, never.”

“Is it against the law? Ought we to summon the Runners?” asked Blightwell, whom I had asked to join us.

“Against God’s law, most certainly, Mr. Blightwell. But as for the King’s law, the Royal College of Wizards has an…arrangement. We shall find out who assisted your neighbors in these endeavors, most assuredly, and put a stop to their antics.”

I could not help but shiver at the chill in his tone—a shiver, but I must confess, a great deal of satisfaction as well.

“Now, Miss Montjoy, attend.” And so saying, Dr. Tillotson took a notebook from his pocket and drew a diagram, which he handed over to me:

“This is the state of affairs during the first figure of your gallivant, yes? Wallace Hampton is partnered with Miss Grimsby, Edward Montjoy with Miss Willoughby, Lieutenant Pertwee with Miss Matilda Grimsby, and Edward Hargreaves with yourself.”

“Yes, exactly so.”

“At some moment, most likely just prior to the end of the figure and the changing of partners, the Misses Grimsby invoked the spell. That needn’t mean that they are wizards, Miss Montjoy, only that they were given some means of triggering it.”

“I never thought they were, Dr. Tillotson, for I have met them. Malicious, yes; incompetent, perhaps; cunning, certainly; intelligent, no.”

“Quite. Now, what resulted from their efforts is what we might call a double unterminated partial Langston Transform.” And then he looked at me expectantly. I tell you, my dear Armand, I have seldom felt so put upon the spot! Not even when—but doubtless you are tired of hearing about the duck pond.

But a Montjoy rises to the occasion.

“I see. Double, because repeated twice, one for each of the Grimsbys”

He nodded encouragingly.

I continued, “Partial, because power was only applied to some of the nodes. I am guessing that that would be the Grimsbys again.”

“It is of all things likely, Miss Montjoy.”

Unterminated—” I began, and felt a chill strike me to my heart. “But that means that the magical power might run anywhere! One must always keep one’s geometry properly terminated, Arcane Geometry is quite clear about that, though I had no idea what that might mean until just now. Are you then saying that the effect on Lieutenant Pertwee and Mr. Hampton was unplanned.”

He smiled and nodded.

“And then, a Langston Transform—I do not quite recall, Dr. Tillotson, but I believe it involves moving some quality from one node to another.”

“Well done, very well done, Miss Montjoy,” he said, and then to Mr. Archer, “You were quite right to bring me, Archer. Quite right.” Quickly, he drew another diagram and handed it to me. “And this is what eventuated.”

“These numbers,” I said, “4, 3, 2, 1—is that the amplitude of the magical power? So the power transferred from Agatha Grimsby to my brother Edward, and then to Jane as his previous partner, and thence to poor Mr. Hampton. And it decayed at each step…because the geometry was unterminated?”

“Indeed, Miss Montjoy. In a properly balanced geometry, the power flows to an equilibrium. Here it merely poured out until it was too diminished to have any further effect.”

“And that would explain why Lieutenant Pertwee and Mr. Hampton were not as strongly affected.”

“We are fortunate, Miss Montjoy, that our errant wizard did not apply more power to begin with, and that the pattern was to some extent self-terminating.”

“Self-terminating—oh, I see. You mean that each foursome exchanged partners, rather than changing with yet more couples down the line.” I shuddered. “But that would mean—”

“Yes, Miss Montjoy,” said Lieutenant Archer. “In theory, all of the dancers might have been effected. The result could have been immeasurably worse, and much harder to fix.”

“We are also fortunate the fellow did not terminate the geometry,” said the professor. “If he had done the thing properly, I fear your brother’s affections would be permanently affixed.”

“How might it have been done properly?” I asked.

“You must tell me, Miss Montjoy.”

I thought madly. “Suppose instead of a partial Langston, it had been a full Langston. I mean, suppose the wizard had applied the same magic force to my brother and to Mr. Hargreaves. That would balance the forces, leaving the new couples in equilibrium. And then it would take little power to to terminate it on each side. But that would also leave the Grimsby magically smitten as well, would it not?”

“Bravo, Miss Montjoy. Nearly correct all down the line. Without termination the arrangement would be what we call an unstable equilibrium; whether any power would pour out onto the other couple in each foursome would depend on the delicacy of the wizard’s technique. I think we may take it that his technique is lacking in this regard. And the termination would be trickier than you might think, due to the inherent symmetries in the exchange of partners. But on the whole, quite so. There are also other methods, of course.”

I blushed, Armand; I admit it.

“Well and good,” said Blightwell, who am I afraid was growing impatient. “But how do we fix things. Must we throw another ball?”

“Oh, no, no, no, Mr. Blightwell,” said Dr. Tillotson. “That would not serve at all.”

“And why not? It worked for them!”

“I can’t think of anything more likely to put their backs up,” said Lieutenant Archer. “No, we have quite something different in mind. Dr. Tillotson has devised a spell that should serve, but we will need the aid of Miss Willoughby, Lieutenant Pertwee and Mr. Hampton. And yours as well, of course, Miss Montjoy. I have spoken with Pertwee already. With proper timing, we should be able to resolve matters before the Misses Grimsby know what has hit them.”

And now I fear I must close, dear Armand, if Morphick is to get this to the post. Expect the best of news in my next!

Your increasingly hopeful cousin,


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Wickedness Afoot (22 July 37 AF) – Zymurgia House


First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

13 June 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

There is wickedness afoot in Wickshire, and I intend to put a stop to it. Much that puzzled me is now clear—or, if not that, let us say that the sun is rising to shake out the skirts of the world. Someone has been meddling in forbidden things, and I will not have it.

Having written you last Tuesday, I awoke last Wednesday morning still perplexed, worried, and heartsore, a state that only deepened when I perceived through the morning room window my dearest Brother Edward driving away in a new curricle, dressed to the nines. “We are undone,” I said to myself. “He will be marrying her soon. We are completely undone.” But I straightened my back and stiffened my shoulders, and said nothing to Miss Derby, who was sitting nearby with her sewing box.

“Oh, miss,” she said; for though her understanding is not of the best, it does not take marked intelligence to know when a man is being a fool.

I raised a hand. “We will not speak of it, Miss Derby.”

“No, miss.”

It seemed but moments later, so deep was I in my reverie, when Morphick entered the room.

“You have a visitor, miss—Mr. Archer.”

“Not Lieutenant Archer?” What, had I somehow come to the attention of the Lieutenant’s elder brother? Or worse, his father?

“Yes, miss, him—but he said ‘Mister Archer’, miss. What shall I do, miss?”

It was not perfectly proper to receive him, alone in the house as I was. But I had Miss Derby by me, and that “mister”—

“Where is he, Morphick?”

“In the drawing room, miss.”

I pondered but for a moment.

“Very well. Please ask Mrs. Morphick to make tea, and bring it to us here; then bring Mr. Archer along and remain within call.”

He did not demur, for he has come to know me, but his face showed his concern.

“Yes, Morphick, I know. But I ask you to consider how successful we would be at summoning my brother Edward to attend on me here.”

His face grew longer. Blightwell was not the only one watching Edward’s progress with deep dismay.

My heart fluttering slightly, I composed myself to wait. It was but moments before Morphick returned and announced Mr Archer.

I looked up, smiling, but recoiled at the fury on his face.

He was not in his uniform, the first time I had seen him so, but garbed for driving; his long coat with its capes billowed behind him as he strode to the center of the room. His lips were set, his brows lowered in a scowl. He stared down at me.

“There you are, Miss Montjoy,” he said in a cold, cutting voice. “You will do me the honor of explaining to me what you thought you were doing.”

“I beg your pardon,” I returned, equally coldly. “I have not the least idea what you are speaking of.”

His brows lowered further, and his gloved fingers tightened on his riding crop.

“Pertwee!” he said. “Tell me what have you done to Lieutenant Pertwee!”

“I should quite like to know that myself,” I said. “I have seen him only once since the ball at the Willoughby’s, and on that occasion he cut me dead. As I have not spoken with him, I do not see how I should know what he believes me to have done.”

“Don’t play the innocent, Miss Montjoy. You have been meddling in matters you do not understand, I know you have!”

I found that I had risen to my feet, prepared to shout denials in his face, when a chill caught my heart. Pertwee’s behavior was of a piece with—

“The ball at the Willoughby’s,” I said slowly. I must have looked stricken, for a wary look appeared in his face.

“Mr. Archer,” I said softly, “when a wizard uses his power, it passes through him, yes?”

“Yes, of course.”

“So a person can be a, a node?

He nodded, eyes even more piercing.

“Miss Montjoy,” he said, more quietly, “what have you done?”

“I, nothing. But—” And I found myself telling him about the ball, and the peculiar happenings that followed. “And a dance has a geometry, a symmetry, to it, does it not?” I said miserably.

He nodded, face dark.

“I—could I have—can one work such a spell, all unknowing?”

He shook his head, looking away. “No,” he said in quite another tone. “And it would be the greatest wickedness to try.”

“Yes,” I said. “It would. In fact,” I said, fury rising in my own heart, “it was.”

I looked him in the face. “Mr. Archer—and you must explain the ‘mister’ to me at some point—acquit me of this. I have made no experiments in wizardry, I do assure you. But someone has. I mean to find out who, and put a stop to it. It can only be the Grimsbys, or someone associated with them.

“Please, Mr. Archer, sit down. We have much to discuss.”

It was at that moment I observed Mrs. Morphick standing in the doorway with the tea tray, a look of vast consternation and outrage on her broad face.

The three of us looked from one to another with a sense of shared purpose.

“Mrs. Morphick,” I said, “leave that and bring cakes. We shall need our strength.”

“Yes, miss. At once, miss.”

We spoke at some length. I told Mr. Archer of the unaccountable behavior of the two Edwards, and he explained Lieutenant Pertwee’s actions to me.

“Lieutenants simply do not marry, Miss Montjoy, not without wrecking their career, and Pertwee means to make a career of the army. And then he found himself—I apologize, Miss, but I must use your word—unaccountably drawn to you. ‘Fine woman,’ he said to me. ‘Sharp as a tack. Fond of her. But far too sharp for the likes of me, old man. Can’t see it. Feels wrong.'”

“And it is no wonder, I am sure, that Mr. Hampton has taken to drink,” I said, not at all appalled at Pertwee’s assessment. “For I feel sure he has found himself similarly drawn to Miss Willoughby—and as the ball began, he was quite looking forward to his marriage to a Miss Claverham. He too must feel something is deeply wrong.”

“And yet, your brother and Mr. Hargreaves are ‘all in’,” said Mr. Archer. He paused, coldness quite gone from his troubled face. “Miss Montjoy, I do not know what is to do. My knowledge is wizardry is slight, perhaps slighter than your own in all truth, though I have the benefit of family stories as you do not—for you will recall that wizardry has run in my family. But I know someone who might help.”

As he left, he said to me, “I will return as soon as may be, Miss Montjoy. Until then, I beg of you, do not approach the Grimsbys or share anything of what we have learned. This tangle is snarled enough; we must not give them reason to make it worse.”

I nodded solemnly. “As you say,” I said.

And Armand, my heart sang as I watched him drive away. It is not my brother’s fault that he is acting the fool! And more—when I told Mr. Archer that Edward had meant to offer for Jane Willoughby, and that she had meant to accept him, I saw no sign of dismay or displeasure cross his face.

Your exceedingly angry but increasingly hopeful cousin,


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Heartbreak (15 July 37 AF) – Zymurgia House


First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

6 June 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I am sure that I do not at all understand what has been going on here in Wickshire this past fortnight.

Following the ball, my foolish brother Edward has been in constant attendance on Agatha Grimsby: tea at the Grimsby house, walking out with Miss Grimsby, riding with Miss Grimsby, whilst the unlamented Mr. Edward Hargreaves has so been attending upon Miss Matilda Grimsby. There is little more for me to say upon that head, as virtually all of it has taken place outside my presence—for which I can only be grateful. It is no happy thing to watch a beloved brother make a cake of himself for the likes of Agatha Grimsby.

The loss of Edward Hargreaves I can much more easily bear, for as you know I did not want him, lowering though it is to lose a beau to Matilda Grimsby—though I am afraid I had to speak harshly to my abigail, Miss Derby, who made so bold as to try to console me for it. I was sorry, after, for she is too devoted to me, and serves me well; but in all matters beyond her duties she hasn’t the sense that—but I must not speak harshly of her.

Meanwhile, I have had repeated visits from Jane Willoughby, who is in a lamentable state. She assures me that Brother Edward had intended to speak to her father and offer for her hand during the festivities, but instead he began making up to the Grimsby.

It is some consolation to me that when Edward returns home he does not spend those hours expatiating to me on the excellence and charm of his new beloved, for I could not bear to hear such twaddle come out of his mouth. Instead he sits quietly staring into the fire, or stands and stares out of the window, or retires to his room, and this worries me, too, for this silence it is quite out of character. When Edward has a new enthusiasm, everyone knows of it whether they want to or not.

I cannot account for any of this. Nor are these the only peculiar happenings this week.

This past Thursday was Market Day in Stourton, as usual. And as I was walking about the square—looking for quills, if you must know, dear Armand—I caught sight of Lieutenant Pertwee. He is a fine man, if a bit dim, and I quite enjoy passing the time of day with him; and on this particular day, with my dear Jane still so distraught, I wished to speak to him about the continued absence of Lieutenant Archer. Not that I wish her to transfer her feelings back to Lieutenant Archer, but the poor dear is so downcast!

I tell you truly, Armand, Lieutenant Pertwee saw me coming and ran. Turned about face, as parade ground as you please, and made for the hills of Wickshire at full speed—I suspect him of having marched double-time all of the way back to his billet. I have since invited him to tea, but my invitations have been returned unopened.

Meanwhile, Blightwell tells me that Wallace Hampton, he who is to be married to a Miss Claverham, has taken to drinking heavily at the King’s Scones in Stourton. Now, Mr. Hampton has always liked his drink, at balls and such similar social gatherings, as the young ladies of the region know to their distress. He is no cad, I beg you to believe, dear Armand, or he surely would not be invited to such events; but a sodden man is no kind of a dancing partner. But this kind of heavy drinking is most unusual, even for him. I myself saw him, while walking in Stourton with Jane Willoughby. He caught sight of the pair of us, turned white with a suddenness that was shocking to behold, and reeled down the square and into the door of the Scones.

What is it about me, that I now drive men away by my mere presence? Though one must be fair—it might be Jane’s presence. Not that Jane was in any way aware of Mr. Hampton’s actions, for I spoke of them to her and all she could find to say was, “Oh, did he?”

I am pleased to maintain a light tone, cousin Armand, but truly I am at my wit’s end. I pass my days in a state of dread that Edward will return home and announce that he is engaged to that. My dear Jane is heartbroken; Squire Willoughby is fit to be tied; and I have had a most unpleasant interview with Mrs. Willoughby in which I threw up my hands and proclaimed myself utterly mystified. She was forced, at last, to believe me.

It will be Market Day again in two days, and I fear the prospect brings me no pleasure at all.

Your perplexed and unhappy cousin,


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A Moment Of Alchemy – Grace Pending


A moment of alchemy slipped in between us

as we circled in rhythm for the first time

even with awkward feet still learning.

A turn, a smile, a waltz, a blur. The

room behind us disappearing.

Two of us, transported

Somewhere outside.

But then landing

safely. Just in




Copyright (TZampino) 2021

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This Lent: 40 Days 40 Verses


If you’re like me, you’ll head into Lent with enthusiasm, resolve, and a list of things you want to give up, take on, and carry forward. Also like me, you make it one-third to one-half of the way through and realize you’ve either forgotten or slacked off on your resolutions. It can be hard to get things going again. What a miserable feeling!

This Lent, I’m offering you a way to stay on track and stay motivated throughout:

40 Days, 40 Verses: Daily Hope and Encouragement for Lent 2021

Lent is a solemn time in which we ask God to move our hearts to penitence and conversion, but it’s also a time for great hope and joy. We observe Lent to become more like the Christ who suffered, died, and rose again that we might have eternal salvation. What could possibly be more hopeful and encouraging than that?

Each day through Lent, I’ll send a hope-filled Scripture verse and a brief message of encouragement to help you more fully live your Lenten striving.

What are you waiting for? Join countless others and me for 40 Days, 40 Verses and be inspired this Lent!

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Book Excerpt! The Presentation and Our Attitude Toward Authority


There are laws in our country that allow for the desecration of women’s bodies and the murder of innocent children. This, beyond doubt, is wrongful authority, and we have not only the right but also the obligation to courageously stand against it through charitable, diplomatic opposition. If you look the other way, your children will learn to look the other way. […] Most importantly, we can teach our children why contraception, abortion, and euthanasia are wrong. Again, we should teach our children the value of rightful authority, but we also must teach them the dangers of wrongful authority.

When I wrote those paragraphs for my book, Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom, I had no clue that, just a few years later, our nation would face a horrifying barrage of policies, censorships, and executive orders that would limit our freedoms, threaten our right to free speech and worship, and facilitate the gruesome murder of children up until birth and in some cases, even after.

When I wrote those paragraphs for my book, Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom, I had no clue that, just a few years later, our nation would face a horrifying barrage of policies, censorships, and executive orders that would limit our freedoms, threaten our right to free speech and worship, and facilitate the gruesome murder of children up until birth and in some cases, even after. How could anyone imagine such a thing? And yet, here it is hitting us smack in the face.

The following excerpt from Imitating Mary comes from the chapter examining the Presentation of the Lord and is titled, “Imitating Mary’s Courage.” While it is directed toward mom’s and their children it can and should be taken as referring to all of us collectively for the sake of the next generation. These words are so pertinent for today!

Attitude toward Authority

“It’s interesting that the Holy Family willingly follow the law even though they were perfectly exempt from it. This has served as a striking example for me, especially during times when I find myself struggling with authority. It’s hard enough for me to accept rightful authority; when I’m faced with unjust authority, I throw a fit. My family teases me because, when I exercise in the mornings, the one song that really motivates me is the “Authority,” by John Mellencamp. Suffice It to say that the most often-repeated phrase in the song is, “I fight authority.” I think you get my drift. My mischievous clan has dubbed it “Moms Theme Song,” and I’m afraid I can’t argue.

“In the Presentation narrative, we see that the Holy Family courageously obeyed authority they didn’t even have to obey! They totally submitted to God and gave to us an example of faithful service and commitment to him. Their faithful service and commitment continued for 30 more years as they lived a simple, ordinary life together in their humble Nazareth home, continuing to follow the Jewish law and giving honor to God through the joys, sorrows, pleasures, prayer, work, and struggles of their everyday life.

“Could you do that was to mark could you obey authority you didn’t have to obey as the Holy Family did? What about authority you’re required to obey, but resist? It’s a valuable lesson to teach our children how to submit to rightful authority, and how to diplomatically oppose wrongful authority. It takes courage to do that, because it means standing up for justice and doing what’s right.

Rightful Authority

“Rightful authority includes natural law, civic law and ecclesial law. Of course, we can’t forget parental law! It’s good to evaluate your own attitude toward these laws and then to examine what message you give your children by your behavior. If you didn’t want to be a good Catholic mom, you wouldn’t be reading this book. Yet some of us consider ourselves faithful Catholics and still have difficulty following ecclesial authority. We know we should go to Sunday Mass, but sometimes it’s hard to give up that one, quiet morning when we might be able to sleep in, especially after a chaotic week. What would it hurt, right? It hurts a lot; it hurts our souls, and potentially the souls of our families, since deprives us of the graces offered us at holy Mass. It’s the same with the sacrament of Reconciliation. It can be hard to get there, especially if it’s at an inconvenient time. But we need those graces; we need the forgiveness of God and the absolution of our sins – and so do our families. The Church wants us to receive the sacraments frequently for our sakes, not hers.

“The way you approach ecclesial authority will probably be the same way your children will approach it when they reach adulthood. If they see you joyfully and courageously rise on Sunday mornings; if they see you looking forward to attending Mass (squeezing in daily Mass would be an extra bonus!); If they sense in you a sincere need for the Eucharist; then the likelihood is that they will, too. If your children observe in you and attitude of penitence and desire for God’s mercy; if they see you making a space in your calendar for Reconciliation; then likely they will, too. Following ecclesial authority is just one way in which you can show your children how to obey rightful authority as the Holy Family did. Developing an attitude of service and commitment in your self will help your family members to develop an attitude of service and commitment. Courage isn’t always about heroic feats; it’s about breaking through complacency to follow God’s laws.

Wrongful Authority

“The principle is the same for wrongful authority, although the approach is different. A primary example is the pro-life movement. There are laws in our country that allow for the desecration of women’s bodies and the murder of innocent children. This, beyond doubt, is wrongful authority, and we have not only the right but also the obligation to courageously stand against it through charitable, diplomatic opposition. If you look the other way, your children will learn to look the other way. Not all of us are cut out to be sidewalk counselors, but we all can find some ways – even very small ways – to promote life. We can pray for those who are more apostolic we active in the movement; we can participate in rallies, petitions, campaigns, or special events; we can fast and sacrifice or abortion and euthanasia victims; we can join in parish activities; and, most importantly, we can teach our children why contraception, abortion, and euthanasia are wrong. Again, we should teach our children the value of rightful authority, but we also must teach them the dangers of wrongful authority.”

Our Lady did not need purification as was the Old Testament custom, nor did Jesus need to be presented to God since he was and is God. Certainly St. Joseph knew this as well. The Holy Family adhered to the custom, not for their own sakes, but for ours so as to show us how to acknowledge the Authority that supercedes all human authority – God alone. Later in their lives, they would show us how to oppose wrongful authority even to the point of our Lord’s Passion and Crucifixion.

Let us pray for the wisdom and humility to follow God’s authority at all times and to courageously, diplomatically, and unwaveringly oppose wrongful wrongful authority. May God grant us all the grace to know the difference.

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Joe And Frank – Grace Pending



They were the best of friends since the old country, and ultimately settled near each other in the new world.

The families remained close. Frank eventually fathering five children, one of whom died in infancy. Joe became the patriarch of his four-sibling clan, with only one daughter counted among them.

Frank operated a shoe repair shop in the Bronx while Joe engaged in two different trades – as a tailor doing piece work and as a barber whenever the need arose.

The families grew even closer when one of Frank’s two sons married Joe’s only daughter. Frank later left for the suburbs just north of the City, while Joe settled to the east – even for a time living with us.

They remained close even though the times they saw each other grew ever scarcer. But I well remember one such meeting when they were quite old. Seated on a porch, strong espresso in hand, and enough cigarette smoke to make the humid summer air feel even thicker.

They are both long gone now, as are four of their children and one grandchild. But their memories remain strong.

The thick Neapolitan accent that was never lost, banter about the old country and the love of the new one, the huge Sunday afternoon pasta and meat dinners (including a little wine mixed with soda for the young ones), the love they passed on to my own mom and dad.

Two buddies reunited decades ago and likely still friends – Giuseppe and Francesco.

Joe and Frank.


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At the Ball (8 July 37 AF) – Zymurgia House


First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

6 June 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

We have had the ball, and now everything has gone wrong. I do not at all know how to account for it—though I know the moment it all went wrong, at least within a quarter hour. I will endeavor to explain, and perhaps you will see something I have not, though surely too late to be of any good.

Mama and Papa arrived from Yorke this past Thursday, and at six of the clock on Friday Tom Coachman dropped the four us, Mama, Papa, Edward, and myself, at the front steps of Stourness. We were greeted by the Squire and his wife, all most warmly, and if I am not mistaken the Squire dropped Brother Edward a wink!

My dear Jane was waiting within, lovely in a green dress that set off her eyes, which she flashed to good effect. Edward for his part was on his best behavior, and in his best looks, and offered to find her some refreshment; and as she took his arm and led him off to find some, Mama and Mrs. Willoughby exchanged such a meaningful and cheery look that I quite began to wonder what other letters have been flying back and forth. I began to look forward with some justifiable complacence to a successful conclusion to the evening.

My enjoyment of the evening was hampered only the arrival of Edward Hargreaves, whose name I am sure you are tired of hearing. Mr. Hargreaves was outwardly everything a young country gentleman should be, I am sure: handsome, polite, well-dressed (albeit in a country mode), and attentive to his occupations, and I suppose I could quite like him if he were not so bent on sharing those occupations with me. Still, one must make the best of things, and as—well, as Lieutenant Archer is still away, it is better to have a handsome gentleman in attendance at a gathering of this nature than not to have. It gives one countenance, and allows one to condescend pleasantly to such as the Grimsby sisters, who are not so attended.

Yes, I know how that sounds, my dearest Armand. Here in the country, one must find one’s entertainments where one can.

Oh, dear, I suppose that sounds no better. I shall change the subject, though I may say I am quite out of charity with the Grimsbys, and should be inclined to give them much more than my condescension given the least opportunity. But I run ahead of myself.

All was well until the dancing began, as it did shortly and mercifully; for having no understanding with Edward Hargreaves I was not obliged to stand up with him more than twice, and if that meant having the likes of Wallace Hampton and Thomas Porter on my dance card that was no more to be expected.

I was careful to dance with Mr. Hampton only the once, and that for the second dance, before he had had a chance to spread himself, as I believe the country phrase is; he was quite polite, and informed me that he had recently become engaged to a young lady, a Miss Claverham, from the far side of the county. I of course wished him joy.

All went well until the seventh dance, which was a Gallivant—a dance with which I was not familiar, as it is quite unknown in Yorke, but which dear Papa assures me was all the crack in Wickshire in his youth. As it is likely to be unfamiliar to you as well, I shall take some pains to describe it.

The Gallivant is something like the Sir Roger de Coverley: the sort of dance in which the dancers form in two long lines, facing each other, and move up rank by rank while the pair at the head join hands and go dancing down the middle. It is a fast and sprightly dance, accompanied by much laughing, for there are no set steps; instead, it is expected that the gentleman will preen and show off as he takes his partner down, improvising steps to match, which is the occasion for much of the laughter; but it differs further from the Sir Roger in that the couple do not simply return to the foot at the end of each complete figure. Rather, once every man has danced with his lady there is a complex and extremely confusing exchange in which everyone acquires a new partner. It depends on one’s position in the line, and the order in which everyone lines up to start with, which is tolerably random. One might find oneself dancing with just anyone and nothing to do about it, which is the occasion for the rest of the laughter, and there is much broad winking and guffawing. It would never do in Yorke, and yet at a simple country ball it is not unfitting.

Edward was partnered with my dear Jane, for the beginning of the dance, at least, and I with Mr. Hargreaves. Yes, Armand, I will admit to accepting him for this dance all of a purpose.

All went well through the first figure, for Mr. Hargreaves could not be talking of farming at such a time, and though I had not danced the Gallivant before we contrived to make our run up the middle quite creditably—though I must say that Mr. Hargreaves is too serious by nature to do the dance justice. At the exchange I was pleased to find myself partnered with Lieutenant Pertwee, quite dashing in his regimentals; Jane was with Wallace Hampton, and our poor beaus were partnered with Agatha and Matilda Grimsby respectively, much to their chagrin. Agatha Grimsby’s face resembled that of the cat who ate the canary; if her younger sister was not so sanguine she was at least pleased not to be dancing with Thomas Porter any longer.

The dance continued briskly until the end of the second figure, just prior to the exchange, when there came a loud shriek and a din and a crashing sound from outside. The fiddle player stopped in confusion, and we all ran to the windows to discover that one of the coachmen had thrown another into one of the trestles that held the servant’s repast, knocking it all to pieces and scattering the food across the lawn.

Squire Willoughby put a stop to the altercation in language that the ladies present quite failed to hear, and remained to see things put right; and after the fiddle player had mended his upper string we continued with the next dance. It was shortly after that that I noticed that everything had gone wrong.

I was partnered with Brother Edward, which would have been too lowering if the ball had been larger, but at a small country ball one does what one must. He had no attention to spare for me, of course; but it was not until I caught a look of horror on my dear Jane’s face that I realized that his attention was fixed on not on Jane, but on Agatha Grimsby, of all the people in the world!

At the end of the dance I looked about for Mr. Hargreaves, hoping he could find me a glass of punch, for he had the habit of appearing at my elbow between dances, but he was nowhere to be seen. The gallant Lieutenant Pertwee, seeing me at a loss, came to my rescue: “A glass of punch, Miss Montjoy? Back in a jiffy.” And as he was returning with it, I saw Matilda Grimsby sipping from a similar glass and simpering in a sickening way at Edward Hargreaves.

I can’t quite put a name to what came over me in that moment. To lose Edward Hargreaves as a suitor was a thing greatly to be wished; but to Matilda Grimsby? It was beyond enough! Worse, it was unaccountable! That the Grimsbys might have charms that have escaped me to date is, I suppose, possible, my dear Armand; that they were on display on this particular evening was not, for I had seen them dance, and truly, Armand, their skill was nothing remarkable.

I was not the only one dismayed. Dear Jane vanished after the dance, fighting tears; Mama and Mrs. Willoughby, sitting with the other older ladies by the wall, were sharing worried looks with each other; and when Squire Willoughby returned from chastising the coachmen and saw Brother Edward gazing into Agatha Grimsby’s eyes he cast a look at him that I am sure I would not wish have cast upon me.

The ball broke up shortly after that, and we were bundled unceremoniously into our carriage; and I must admit that I sneered—inwardly, at least—at the Grimsby’s coach as we passed it, for I noticed that their coachmen was sporting a black eye and that his uniform was much stained with food.

The ride home was silent, Mama and Papa looking stiff-faced and Brother Edward seemingly in another world.

And here it is Tuesday, and nothing has changed. Where once he went cast glances toward Stourness whilst striding about the farm on business for Blightwell, now Edward is taking tea with the Grimsbys and neglecting his work with Blightwell altogether! I tried speaking of it with Papa before he and Mama returned to Yorke yesterday, but he would say nothing more than, “Edward is old enough to know his own mind.” I was quite shattered by the disappointment I heard in his voice.

Your distraught cousin,


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Spring (1 July 37 AF) – Zymurgia House


First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

29 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Brother Edward has been taking my advice, in the face of all history, and I have high hopes that we may soon see an understanding betwixt him and my dear Jane Willoughby. We have been together for tea on several occasions; he has been quite clear about his devotion to her, and as he has adjusted his manner (and as the intriguing Lieutenant Archer has remained on leave, in some other part of the country), I do believe Miss Willoughby has begun to return it.

Indeed, I know she has, for she spoke to me briefly upon leaving just this afternoon.

“I believe I was quite mistaken in your brother,” she said. “You had taught me to think him dull, but we had quite an enjoyable chat just now. And he seems to be taking to country life. We spoke of Father’s plans for his flocks, and Edward said—oh, but you don’t care about farming, do you, my dear?” And she tapped me on the shoulder with her parasol, and mounted her carriage.

But there remains a cloud in Edward’s sky: the attentions he continues to receive from the Grimsby sisters, who are quite shameless and every bit as determined as Edward Hargreaves. They plague him in Stourton, if he should chance to go to town; they find if he goes riding; while he is out in the fields talking with the men, across the fields they come walking. They have done everything but show up at our door and demand to see him!

It has become quite a joke with the men, Blightwell tells me…though when I inquired as to what kind of a joke he turned quite red and refused to say.

Though I surprise myself by saying it, I must call myself comparatively happy in Mr. Hargreaves’ attentions, for there is only one of him, and as he has duties of his own he cannot be constantly underfoot. But Agatha and Matilda Grimsby seem to have no other thought in their head but Edward; and as they pursue him as a pair, neither willing to let the other out of her sight, he must be always dealing not only with their unwanted presence but also with the slow bubbling current of sisterly bile that passes constantly between them under their too sweet smiles and protestations of affection.

I mean to say, even Brother Edward has noticed it.

I thought to help him, for with his new work and his new love he has become a much less vexing companion, and so I invited Miss Willoughby and the Misses Grimsby to tea yesterday, trusting that the latter would take note of the dashing of all of their hopes; and I have no doubt that they did. All of Edward’s attention was for Jane, while I did my best to occupy the Grimsbys with every country matter I could put to my tongue: the lovely spring weather, the latest regimental gossip, the upcoming ball, the prospect for a warm summer.

The Grimsbys said little, casting many a pointed glance at my brother and at each other while I babbled at them; for if they are divided in their pursuit, they are at the very least united in their determination that Jane Willoughby shall not have him. But what can they do? I may say I had quite a warm feeling in my heart as I bundled their disgruntled selves into their carriage and sent them home.

Oh, yes, the ball, the long-awaited ball! It is to take place at Stourness this coming Friday, for the moon will be full. The invitations have been sent and the responses received, as I well know for I have been Jane’s assistant in all of this, and it promises to be quite the affair of the season. Papa and Mama are coming up from Yorke to attend, and I have every hope that when next I write I will have news of an engagement.

Your cheerful cousin,


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