Sir Mortimer Grubbins
Over the next few weeks, I'll be introducing you to some of the characters coming up in my new Regency romance series The Book Club Belles Society. Today's spotlight falls upon one character who plays an important role in all my heroines' stories.
He's handsome, well-bred, gentlemanly, proud and devoted to the ladies.
He's Sir Mortimer Grubbins. And he happens to be a large, pampered... pig.
'Grubbins', as he allows only his closest friends to call him, is an Oxford Sandy and Black, which is one of the oldest breeds of pig in Britain. He was born the runt of the litter and subsequently taken under the wing and into the hearts of five young ladies growing up in the fictional village of Hawcombe Prior. These young ladies, of course, become the Book Club Belles when they form a reading society to devour the novels of their favorite author, Miss Jane Austen.
Sir Morty's first appearance comes in ONCE UPON A KISS when he ably assists in the misadventures of a wayward country miss named Justina Penny and her friend Lucy Bridges. He also takes much responsibility for the gradual undoing of a rather tightly wound, very proud gentleman from Town named Mr. Darius Wainwright, who becomes his reluctant owner thanks to those two young ladies and a playful twist of fate.
Sir Morty is a docile fellow who trots and snuffles merrily through the series, making the occasional cameo appearance to aid the ladies in their romantic ups and downs— even, once in a while, sniffing out a reluctant, unexpected hero. Few creatures have so finely tuned senses as Sir Morty and no one can fool him when it comes to love, so they may as well not try.
“I think we should go back, Jussy. This was another of your very bad ideas, I fear.” Seated in the bow, the young lady who uttered this caution kept one gloved hand gripping the side of the rowboat and one comforting a snorting pink snout laid in her lap.
At the stern end, heaving on the oars with all her might, Justina Penny, lifelong adventurer—but, alas, novice mariner—exhaled her words in a stream of gusty puffs, like an overworked chimney. “Do be silent, Lucy, before you wake the entire village!”
Moonlit ripples licked up over the rattling oar hooks as the small vessel pitched and yawed from the unsteady weight of its cargo and the violent struggles of its operator, who, despite the fact that plans very rarely succeeded for her, still refused to be anything other than indignant and surprised the moment they went awry.
“I believe the boat leaks,” Lucy protested now, in a more hushed voice. “I am becoming very damp at the hem.”
Although Justina also felt the slow gathering of water around her toes, seeping in through a worn hole in her nankeen boots, she was not about to let that little problem stop them. “You do want to save your pig, don’t you?” she demanded.
“Of course. But sometimes I feel your methods are more theatrical than they are effective.”
“Do you not think a little discomfort must be suffered for the cause? After all,” she reminded her friend, “this was your idea.”
“Not exactly,” whimpered Lucy, gathering the hem of her fine new cloak out of the puddles slowly forming in the rowboat. “I said I wished Sir Mortimer Grubbins could be saved, since he was my favorite and I hand-reared him from a runt. I didn’t suggest we requisition papa’s boat and row down the stream, in near darkness, to steal him back from Farmer Rooke before he goes to the…”—she lowered her voice even further and covered the pig’s ears with her hands—“axe. This scheme was all yours. As usual.”
Already annoyed with her friend for attending their secret, late-night mission in that bright red cloak—of all things—Justina’s temperature rose another notch. The weed-laden oar splashed down again and she hauled it through the water, moving the boat onward with a shuddering lurch that was nothing like the smooth, speedy escape she’d envisioned. “I don’t care for your tone, Lucy. You begin to sound like a wretched ingrate who cannot bear a trifle inconvenience even to save her beloved pet from slaughter.”
“I am merely saying there must be other ways—” An owl hoot startled them both and they jumped several inches on their wooden seats.
Justina replied in a hasty whisper, “We must work at night to avoid being seen, and over water we cannot be tracked by hounds.”
“But this does seem a rather extreme measure. Surely, when I get the pig home again, it’s not likely I can hide him anywhere. This level of secrecy is perhaps excessive.”
“Miss Lucy Bridges, your adventurous spirit is considerably lacking lately, ever since you turned eighteen, got that fancy new scarlet cloak for your birthday, and began showing more bosom at every opportunity.”
Lucy’s lips fell into a sulk, but it was a familiar expression these days. She was despondent ever since news came that there would be no soldiers encamped nearby this winter. No doubt the indignity of Sir Mortimer Grubbins’ drool on her new cloak and wet boots on her feet were simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Suddenly, a large winged shadow flew over the boat and skimmed the passengers’ heads. Lucy let out a squeal that must have woken every light sleeper in the village. Justina finally lost her embattled grip upon the oars and, as they floated away from her, the stricken vessel drifted aimlessly into another band of weeds. Here they were apprehended, firmly stalled in the midst of the stream.
“Well, that’s done it,” Lucy somberly observed.
There was a warning creak, followed by a splintering crackle. More cold water pooled quickly into the bottom of the boat. Nestled in the tight space between his companions, Sir Mortimer Grubbins, the unsuspecting pig, let out a contented grunt.
“We shall be drowned,” said Lucy, as if she’d always known such a thing would happen. In all likelihood the girl had already picked out a gown in which to be buried and an imaginary, weak-chinned suitor to lay flowers on her grave. But they both knew the water in that spot was merely two feet deep, and what worried Justina far more than drowning was the realization that they would have to carry Sir Mortimer between them to dry land. As the fate of the boat proved, he was no little weight.
The pig lifted his snout and grunted again, probably wondering when it might be dinner time. She patted his back.
“Worry not, Sir Mortimer, we’ll find somewhere to keep you safe.” She already had the very place in mind: Midwitch Manor, recently left empty upon the death of its cantankerous owner. There was a very pleasant orchard there with several small outbuildings, all currently abandoned to Mother Nature. What better place to hide a pig until other arrangements were found?
One thing was for sure, she thought crossly as cold water slowly wicked up her petticoats, no morsel of bacon or despicable sausage would ever pass her lips again after this.
A quarter of an hour later, using Lucy’s cloak as a makeshift hammock to carry the noble Grubbins between them, the two young ladies finally struggled up the bank of the stream, through the bulrushes to dry land. They were both wet and exhausted, yet so busy arguing with one another—Lucy still protesting the use of her precious cloak in this manner—that neither heard the approach of hooves and wheels.
As they emerged from the tall reeds and into the narrow lane, the four horses charging along it at the same moment were startled and reared up. Although the coachman took swift evasive action, he was too late to prevent damage. The coach lurched and jolted.
The lanterns swung in wide arcs across the lane and with a tremendous creaking and groaning the vehicle finally came to rest in the opposite ditch.
She heard the coachman inquire whether his passenger was hurt and a man’s voice confirmed that he was not. The door of the disabled coach opened and the apparent owner of the voice looked out. Immediately he must have seen the strange rescue party struggling with their burden. “What the devil..? You there!”
“Fine evening, is it not, my good fellow?” Justina shouted jauntily, shuffling along and straining under the weight of the lounging pig, attempting to ignore the first fat spots of rain dropping with quickening speed to the earth around them. If they let the bundle down now, she feared they would never pick it up again. Lucy had a trying habit of breaking into giggles when she had to lift anything, which invariably made Justina laugh too. They already fought to maintain their anger with one another while at the same time holding back their helpless laughter.
“Are you quite mad?” the stranger bellowed. “What do you think you’re doing, woman?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” she sputtered over her shoulder. “We’re carrying a pig.”
Lucy snorted and then made a small whimper of despair.
A determined, angry stride followed them a short way down the lane and she hissed at Lucy to pick up speed. If they put Sir Mortimer down to let him walk, he would meander along, snuffling at the ground, delaying the journey. They’d have to carry him at least until they were within sight of the manor house. Fortunately, the beast did not appear too distressed by his current leisurely repose.
“Someone could have been hurt,” the man bellowed. “The horses might have trampled you both into the ground.”
“Oh, dear, how dreadful. Sorry,” shouted Justina. “Can’t stop. I bid you a pleasant evening.”
There was no time for explanations. Rain spat down on her head now with more velocity and although they couldn’t get much wetter, it would doubtless make their path much softer and more difficult. And really, what could be said about something dire that might have happened, but didn’t? Couldn’t he see she had enough immediate and actual troubles of her own?
copyright: Jayne Fresina 2014