#FF: Project Gutenberg’s Birthday- The Stories

Gentlemen prefer blondes: the diary of a professional lady

I can see the raised eyebrows – yes, even here from the page – and I can sense judgement made being that the words professional lady have nothing ladylike about them. But, that simply isn’t the case. I married into an old moneyed family. My husband was a darling man, he fell for me for the way I looked but, when he got to know me, to know my personality, my mind, my qualities – that’s when he got down on one knee. I’d struggled with my decision, for I’d sensed what was coming. He thought he was being clever asking to see my rings and putting each of them on his pinkie to test for size. But I knew… That said, my did that man have good taste in jewellery. His mother I found out later, she’d insisted on having him spend as much time with her as with his father, and she’d schooled him in many useful ways.

Yes, my husband was almost perfect. Intelligent, well-read, erudite, cultured, and kind – oh so kind. People said I married for money, but I didn’t, it was a love match. I’d have followed him into the anywhere, truly I would. And we were happy, ridiculously so, even though the family curse loomed over our happiness. It struck, of course, one day, after his morning ride. They shouted for me from the stable yard, and I was able to get to his side so I could be with him in his final moments. I withdrew from society after that, for I had nothing left of him, as we’d not been blessed with children.

Instead of spending my time raising children, he’d taken pleasure in schooling me – in business. He wanted to make sure I would have more than what he left me, for he was determined I would be my own woman and not dependant upon another man for my future security. It was he who told me not to be afraid to use my wiles. Not that he was suggesting I trade my person, oh no. Only that I shouldn’t be shy about using my looks – and my striking blonde hair especially – to get my foot in the door.

He also left me with one hugely valuable asset – an address book of the highest quality. Not lords and ladies, but rather business professionals of the highest standing and scruples. These were all men of course – for women are not taken seriously in business yet. But I always knew I’d want to work with women in due course, and set about making my fortune, so I’d have no-one tell me how unwise my plans were. It took time and now my locks are more white than blonde – still striking, I’m told, but no longer needed to get through those doors. For money talks, and I have a lot of it.

My ladies don’t have to be blonde, not have they needed to trade on their looks. I teach them not to be shy though. There’s more than looks to use with gentlemen in order to gain an advantage. Some have turned me down, assuming me to be something that I am not. Not one of them got a second chance, for I won’t be judged by those I work with. I don’t doubt there were some who thought the same but, by keeping their thoughts to themselves and acting on their ambition to succeed – have found success and, in most cases, a friend and mentor to both like and respect. We are a rare breed – successful business women.

I am writing my story so that others who come after me will know how best to obtain the advantage in a world where women are not taken seriously. Voting is permitted now, of course, and women are working – but it’s usually doing jobs men don’t want, or in lower paid professions. I’m certain that things will change in the generations to come, but I want women to know how to gain an advantage in a business world populated primarily by gentlemen. Being blonde certainly helps, but I’ve put pen to paper to capture all my knowledge and expertise. My words will help an advantage to be gained in business, whether you be blonde, redhead or brunette. But remember, your don’t have to be a natural blonde, you can become blonde if you’d like to use that edge!

© Debra Carey, 2021

A warning to the curious, and other ghost stories

The day had gone well for 2 section. Out of the whole company, they were the only ones to achieve all their objectives, and they’d had the lightest casualties. It had only been an exercise, but given where these raw recruits had been a matter of months ago, they had every right to swagger a bit. The captain had been complimentary to the rupert, and whilst as green as they come, he was humble enough to know that their success was mainly down to the NCOs, particularly Corporal Baker.

Baker had been one of the stars of the last intake and had earned his first stripe during training. The second had come after their passing out parade, and he’d been posted to training the next lot. Where the officers were posh and came from all over the place, Baker was every inch a Gloucestershire boy, and the lads revered him as one of their own. He spoke their language and got the best out of them. In training he patiently explained everything in his slow country cadence, stepping up the tempo as they moved from the classroom and parade ground and onto the rifle range and into the field. Here, his barked instructions were acted on instantly.

Tomorrow they’d be back in barracks, but for tonight they’d be given permission to bivouac without setting a guard. A couple of crates of beer had been dropped off and the fixings for a camp fire meal. Isaac smiled to himself at the enthusiasm the lads showed for this which, if they had known, was another training exercise. He also smiled at the thought that the brass imagined there was anything these West Country boys needed to learn about living off the land.

He’d got them started and then gone off to report to the rupert and the captain and take part in the debrief on the exercise. He mostly stayed quiet in the company of his peers and superiors, but there were a couple of things he felt it important to pass on, ideas which he believed would lead to a better outcome in a similar situation.

When he got back to his section, he found them settled in, and telling ghost stories round the campfire, waiting for the grub to be ready. They’d even waited to open the beer until he got back. He started opening bottles and passing them around whilst he listened to the stories. There were a couple of good yarns he’d not heard before and some of the boys had a real gift for telling a story. On the other hand, young Appleby was really struggling with his story, losing the thread and getting the characters mixed up. The rest of the section were getting restless and starting to heckle the unfortunate speaker.

“Come on Corp, your turn!”

“Well now, me ‘andsomes, are you sure? You’m don’t be standing guard tonight, but you’m still be needing your beauty sleep – early start and a busy day tomorrow.”

”The food’s not ready yet Corp. We’ve all told a story – of sorts.” Everyone looked at Appleby who blushed and pulled his head in like a shy turtle.

“Well then, if you’m sure, but I warn ‘un, this is a true story. This happened to me when I was on training.” The section settled themselves back again, with two of them dividing their attention between Baker and the fire where their meal was cooking.

“In fact, ’twas a night much like tonight: cold, clear and with the promise of frost. In’t middle of night, I got woken up to stand my duty and was sad to leave my nice warm sleeping bag, I can tell you.

“Well, my hour passed peacefully enough, and I went to get my replacement. After I’d done that, I thought I’d not get back to sleep until I’d emptied my bladder, so I took myself off past the guard. My night sight was pretty sharp by now, so I had no problem picking my way over to an appropriate tree.

“I’d just buttoned my fly back up when I spotted a glim of light bobbing away amongst the trees further in. What I probably should have done was to report it to the guard or the corporal or perhaps even the sergeant, but I were young and foolish and I thought I’d be checking it out for myself.

“Well, I followed that blessed light around and about for nigh on half an hour, nearly got myself lost I was so turned around, but I never caught up with th’ light and whatever was causing it. In th’ end I found myself back where I had started and deciding to get on to my bed. I picked my way back and checked in with the guard. The corporal was checking on them and asked me where I’d been. When I explained, he laughed.

‘Oh, you’ve seen the ghost have you? Nothing to worry about their, although he do be taking a shine to some people. Follow ’em about he do, if’un be too curious about his doings.”

He laughed again, and I pretty much decided he’d been having me on. But… He didn’t seem to be too worried about whatever was out there… I got back to my sleeping bag, but struggled to sleep. I were tired a’right, but my mind were all awake with this business of ghosts.

About an hour later, I reckon, I was just starting to drowse, when I realised I could see a glim of light bobbing around outside moi bivvy. The light seemed to be circling around moi bivvy…but getting closer with each pass. I wanted to cry out but moi voice was frozen, like. Closer and closer this light came, until I could start to make out features. It looked like a soldier, but from an earlier time. He still clutched his Brown Bess, but he knelt and laid aside his rifle and reached out his hands.

” I tried to say ‘What do you want?’ but it just came out like a creak.

“The hands were reaching out, reaching out, reaching out, until they clasped around my leg and started tugging.” Isaac paused and took a swig of his beer. The attention of the whole section was on him now.

“Where was I? Oh yes, they clutching hands pulling my leg – just like I’m pulling yours!”

© David Jesson, 2021

Author’s note: How could I not go with MR James and a ghost story this close to Christmas? The stories I normally write from the PG prompt focus on a trio of brothers that first came on the scene in a little second bookshop that may or may not be haunted, but as I’ve been spending a lot of time with the characters of the November Deadline (the book Debs and I are writing) recently, that I decided to explore Isaac’s background a little. I also need to say a thank you to Mr Dodge who gave me the bones of the story many years ago.

Author: debscarey

Tweets @debsdespatches My personal blog is Debs Despatches, where I ramble on a variety of topics. I write fiction on co-hosted site Fiction Can Be Fun, where my #IWSG reflections can be found; and my Life Coaching business can be found on DebsCarey.com.

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