RHYS BOWEN; When I tried to select a piece from the new Royal Spyness book I am writing at this moment I realized I couldn’t select anything without it being a spoiler and giving away a huge plot twist. In fact the whole story is a plot twist. The book is called (at the moment) CROWNED AND DANGEROUS and follows immediately upon the events of the last book, MALICE AT THE PALACE. Those of you who have read that know that it ended on a cliff hanger. So I don’t want to give anything away by revealing what happened next.
Instead I’d like to share with you the opening lines of my upcoming Molly Murphy Christmas book called AWAY IN A MANGER. It comes out next month and is a story of two beggar children Molly finds on a New York street. Children who are unlike any other beggars in their manners and speech. Knowing she should not interfere and yet forced by circumstances to do so, their story takes her from dangerous docklands into the highest levels of New York Society
The book opens like this:
New York City, Wednesday December 13, 1905
“Tis the Season to be jolly,” sang the carol singers outside Grace Church while across Broadway the brass band of the Salvation Army thumped out “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” in competition. It seemed as if the whole of New York City was suddenly caught up in the Christmas spirit. I maneuvered Liam’s buggy along the crowded sidewalk, checking to make sure that Bridie was walking close beside me. In such a crowd one couldn’t be too careful. Everyone seemed to be laden with packages and baskets of food items needed for holiday baking. It had been a year of optimism with President Roosevelt elected for his first full term of office and the Wright brothers showing the world that airplanes really could stay up in the sky for more than a few seconds. We definitely were in the age of progress.
I pulled Bridie back from the edge of the street as an automobile drove past, sending up a spray of slush and mud. So much for the age of progress, I thought as some of it splashed onto my skirt. It had snowed the night before, the first snow of the season, creating an air of excitement, until the sun had come out and started to melt it, making the sidewalks slippery, dirty and difficult to navigate. As we reached the corner of Tenth Street the young crossing sweepers were busy at work, clearing a pathway through the slush so that we ladies didn’t get the hems of our skirts dirty.
“Merry Christmas. God bless you, lady,” they called out, holding out raw little hands, covered in chilblains. I felt guilty that I hadn’t a penny or two ready for them, but the truth was that there were so many of them. How could I possibly choose one? And it was not only the crossing sweepers with their hands out. There were beggars of various sorts every few yards along Broadway, from hunched old women to pitiful children. Then there were those like the crossing sweepers, one step up from beggars—the newsboys, the flower sellers with their tiny sprigs of mistletoe and holly. There were just too many of them as well. It hadn’t been a year of progress for all of New York, that was clear enough. Immigrants were still arriving in their thousands, cramming into the already jam-packed Lower East Side and trying to support their families any way they could—many by selling a few eggs, roasted corn, boot laces from a push cart. I passed a baked potato stand with its enticing aroma. Several young boys stood around it, holding out their hands to the glowing charcoal until the owner drove them away.
As we moved away from the choir of carol singers, who were warmly wrapped in scarves and cloaks against the cold I was aware of another voice—small, high and beautiful.
“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,” it sang, “The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.”
Bridie heard it too and tugged at my sleeve. “Look, over there,” she said.
I looked. A small girl was sitting in a doorway of Daniell’s Haberdashery Store, huddled against the cold in a thin coat. She held out a tin cup as she sang, but people passed her without noticing her.
“Do you think she’s an angel, come down for Christmas?” Bridie whispered to me.
She certainly looked like one. She had almost white-blonde hair and big blue eyes in a little heart-shaped face and her voice was so pure and sweet that it brought tears to my eyes.
“We have to give her something,” Bridie said firmly, but I was already reaching into my purse. “Go and give her that,” I said, handing over a quarter.
She looked at it critically as if she thought it ought to be more, then took it and darted through the crowd to drop it in the girl’s tin mug. The child looked up and gave Bridie an angelic smile. Her gaze fell on me and I had a strange feeling of connection.
I HAVE AN ARC OF AWAY IN THE MANGER TO GIVE AWAY TO A LUCKY COMMENTER.