A Chat with Raina from Finding Lady Enderly by Joanna Davidson Politano

Name: Raina Bretton      

Parents: Poor working class, and now deceased.

Siblings: None living

Places lived: Spitalfields, London; Rothburne Abbey in Somerset

Jobs: Restorer and seller of rags

Friends: Sullivan McKenna, fiddle-playing Irish transplant who’s the son of the local vicar in Spitalfields.

Enemies: Victor Prendergast, solicitor and lady’s maid, Simone (although I’m not sure why we’re enemies)

Dating, marriage: Secretly in love with childhood best friend Sully, Sullivan McKenna

Children: None yet

What person do you most admire? The little old widow who shares my flat. She has more spunk than ten men.  

Overall outlook on life: it’s tough, but I’m tougher. Yet there’s a lot of beauty to be found outside these crowded slums, and plenty to appreciate right here, too, if you’ve an eye for it.

Do you like yourself? I’m a restorer of rags, and I cringe at that part of myself, but I’m also a restorer of castoff people. That alone makes a soul worth keeping on this earth, in my opinion. 

What, if anything, would you like to change about your life? Anyone could stand to have a bit more coin in her hand. Yet more than that, I secretly wish to be rid of these terrible rags that are a label and a barrier to people seeing the true me. I’d never admit it out loud, but I’d love to be swathed in vibrant colors and lush fabrics that match my artistic heart.

How are you viewed by others? I’m a thief if I’m hanging about too close, a schemer if I stand too long staring at a gent, and a dirty, common woman to be avoided if I’m anywhere near respectable folk. I’m as much an outcast as the rags I peddle, but one day that’ll all change. Maybe not this side of eternity, but it will.

Physical appearance: People always look twice at my face when I’m not in rags, and that’s the best mirror I have. I’m the rag woman, but a young one with a fresh face. With a good wash and fresh clothing, you’d think me a lady. Spending hours trapped indoors has left me as pale as the rich, and my aristocratic bloodlines have given me high cheekbones, delicate features, and soft, thick hair that begs to be piled high.

Eyes: Blue

Hair: Long, thick waves

Voice: Low and firm, with an edge when it’s needed.

Right- or left-handed? Right

How would you describe yourself? I’m loyal to a fault—count me a friend once, and you’ll find it hard to be rid of my help. I gravitate toward the abandoned, the castoff and the broken, drawn to repair as much as I can. I wear nothing of beauty on the outside, but do all I can to shore it up inside.

Characteristics: Made strong by adversity, plucky and independent, wary of everyone yet childishly eager to trust.

Strongest/weakest character traits: Natural ability to see the good in people—whether or not I actually should.

How much self-control do you have? A great deal—mostly because I set few limits on myself. I obey the rules that make sense and focus on people over laws. I obey my own set of rules quite nicely.

Fears: Becoming as worthless as society at large thinks I am.

Collections, talents: Rags find their way into my hands and no matter their condition, I can make something useful of them. I am the giver of second chances, of renewed life.

What people like best about you: Sully once told me I had the oddest combination of pluck and delicate beauty, and that I always stand out among the rich and the poor. I liked that. Those who have come to know me have experienced firsthand the restoring influence I bring to both rags and people.

Interests and favorites: A lifetime of restoring rags has given me a great variety of opinions on fabrics, embellishments, flounces, and ribbons. I love color and rich fabrics, and a well-done trim.

Food, drink: I’d be in heaven if you gave me a bowl of raisin pudding.

Books: I’ve devoured every written page I’ve ever come across in my life. I’m never above losing myself in a good story, be it ha’penny novels or rich scholarly work.

Best way to spend a weekend: Lying on the roof of my tenement with Sully, staring up at the stars and giving them names. The only words between us are the ones Dickens has penned that we’ll read together.

What would a great gift for you be? A luscious, vividly colorful gown with no trimmings, so I may adorn it with all the embellishments I’ve enjoyed creating on gowns that are not mine.

When are you happy? When I am with Sully—that’s when I most know who I am.

What makes you angry? Total disregard for any human on this earth.

What makes you sad? Knowing that no matter what I accomplish or know or do, I will always be simply, “the rag woman.”

What makes you laugh? The songs Sully creates on his fiddle. With the right words and a silly little grin, he never fails to make me laugh.

Hopes and dreams: A life outside of Spitalfields, where I can see the sky beyond the buildings and walk through the streets with the respect of a normal woman.

What’s the worst thing you have ever done to someone and why? I gave the Vicar a tongue-lashing once—the vicar! Near as bad as saying it to the Almighty himself. 

Greatest success: Bringing something cast away back to life—once it was a lovely red gown, another time a widow who’d lost all hope.

Biggest trauma: I’ll never forget the day I received word that my Sully’s ship had been lost. I’d sent my heart out on that boat, and it sank with him. I never had the courage to tell him of my love for him.

What do you care about most in the world? Finding life everywhere—in little hidden pockets throughout the slums, in the rags that are cast aside, in the people whose spark has gone.

Do you have a secret? Everything I am is about to become a secret, if I choose to accept the new life offered to me. No one can know I was ever Raina Bretton the rag woman.

What do you like best about the other main characters in your book? Victor is charming and so different than the rough Spitalfields men I know, even if he scares me a little. Sully—dear Sully—there’s no one more dear to me than my fiddle-playing, star-gazing, best friend who taught me to read.

What do you like least about the other main characters in your book? I don’t feel I know them thoroughly, but neither do they know me. In Spitalfields, everyone sees me as “merely the rag vendor.” In Rothburne, I’m something entirely false.

If you could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be? Rescue Sully the way he’s rescued me from a lifetime of scrapes. That’s what best friends do.

Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you: I was arrested once. I never like to talk about it, and I’m ashamed it happened. Everyone assumes, when you’re the rag woman, and no one stops to ask why you carted off with the clothing left on the curb. Even if you had perfectly good intentions, those bobbies will assume and drag your hide off to prison anyway. I never want anyone to know about the night I spent there.

Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady Jayne Disappears and A Rumored Fortune. She freelances for a small nonfiction publisher but spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at www.jdpstories.com.

Interview with Tressa Harlowe of A Rumored Fortune by Joanna Davidson Politano

Today we have the pleasure of meeting Tressa Harlowe from Joanna Davidson Politano’s A Rumored Fortune.

A Rumored Fortune-Book CoverSupposedly there’s a fortune hidden somewhere on your estate. Is it true?

Of course it is. Just because we haven’t found it yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I know my father, and if he claims he has hidden his fortune, then he’s done exactly that. Besides, if there’s no hidden fortune, it means we have nothing.

You say you know your father, but if that’s the case, wouldn’t you know where he’d hide his fortune?

That’s none of your concern. I know the man better than anyone does. Do the women of Her Majesty’s court not know the queen, even from a distance? I know the sort of man my father was, and I know he’d never lie about his great fortune.

 

How would you describe the man, then?

(After a pause)—He was strong and true and good, the best father a girl could have. I admired him so, and felt a sort of hero worship for him. Such wisdom he had about a great many things. Most of our conversations centered around vines, for his vineyards were the great love of his life. We talked of grapes and branches, but in doing so we talked of deeper things too, without saying the words. He understood vineyards the way physicians understand the human body and accountants understand sums. I never would have cared a whit for vines or grapes except that it was who he was. To love his vineyards was to love him, so these rows of winding branches and vines have become dear to me.

You know, vines are such a mystery. They burst forth with wonderful sweet fruit, but only if the conditions are perfect—pruning, weather, season, protection and drainage. Father was something like that, only the conditions were never right.

 

There have been a great many visitors to your estate lately. What should happen if one of them were to find the fortune before you?

Let them all search in the nooks and crannies forever, learning the intricacies of Trevelyan. They could spend years looking for the fortune on an estate of this size. In the meantime, I’ll be studying the man who hid the fortune. Understanding my closed-off Father is the key to finding the fortune he hid. I just know the answer is somewhere in his vineyard notebooks, written in some kind of symbolic riddle.

Now that I’ve found someone who speaks Welsh, I’ll be able to translate his notebooks and unlock the pages he poured himself into all these years. I only have to work up the courage to hand the notebooks to that vineyard manager.

 

The vineyard manager, Donegan Vance. He’s new to the estate, isn’t he? You are brave to trust a newcomer with the secret to your father’s fortune.

I haven’t any choice now, have I? No one else about the place speaks Welsh. Trust is coming slowly where this man is concerned. He may be a bit too forthright and lacking in certain gentlemanly restraint, but his brashness does have one advantage—total honesty. Everything that comes from the man’s mouth is honest to a fault. I don’t have to enjoy the man’s company to believe him trustworthy.

 

It’s been said you’ve spent a lot of time together, both in the vineyard and out about Welporth. Have you been searching for the treasure together?

He’s become a partner of sorts in the treasure hunt, out of necessity. I will say, though, that from the moment he pounded up the path to Trevelyan on his massive black stallion, he’s been nothing but a rescuer for me. Mother may say what she likes, but the man is a solid rock. He’s bold and opinionated, which truly unsettles me at times, but he’s been a pleasant cool breeze of truth as well. Sometimes I regret partnering with him, but so far he’s proven to be nothing but a help. He seems to have a natural wisdom about vineyards too, and the deeper meaning behind the way the plants work.

He said something to me once about the Scripture passage, “speaking the truth in love.” I think perhaps he can teach me a bit about that, and maybe I can help him with the rest—speaking the truth in love. That’s the way I think of our partnership right now—opposites that work well together. If it weren’t for the secret I see shadowed in his eyes, perhaps I could trust him completely and tell him everything I know, but with the way things are going now, there’s not a single person among my acquaintances I’d trust to that extent.

 

What of Andrew, your fiancé? One would assume you could trust him.

First of all he’s no longer my fiancé. That courtship died a painful death over a year ago when his parents pressured him to end our association. Yes, he’s come to stay at Trevelyan, but it doesn’t mean anything. Mother convinced him to come help us grieve Father’s passing, and I wish he’d simply take himself home again. I cannot bear to see the face of my deepest rejection every day in my own house. I want to trust him, to seek his help with this fortune hunt, but after all that’s happened between us, I simply cannot trust the man. I suppose the only one a person can trust is God.

 

Are you a very religious person?

I suppose I am. I’ve attended church since birth and I’ve always felt a peace there. I believe there’s something more to it, though. Don’t think me mad, but sometimes I feel as if God tries to connect directly to me, even outside of a sermon. It happens when I paint. Ever since I was small, I’d sink into this creative outlet and at the same time sink into conversation with God. I let my thoughts flow free and unhindered with each sweep of my brush. Life splashed through my soul as color splashed over white canvas. I always thought it was because I had no one else I connected deeply with, and it was my imaginative, artistic heart’s invention.

Lately it seems He’s been trying to reach me again, though, and it’s always through color, through artwork. From the orangey glow of dawn on morning fog to the sunlight shining through stained glass, color seems to be His specific way of reaching me. It’s as if He’s speaking my language to ensure His words sink directly and deeply into my heart. Perhaps it’s only the wishful thinking of a little girl who has grown up around the hole my earthly father left in my heart. I cannot deny, however, the taste I’ve had of life and the hope I’ve felt.

Thank you for visiting with us today, Tressa. We hope you find your treasure!

Joanna Davidson PolitanoJoanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady Jayne Disappears. She freelances for a small nonfiction publisher but spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at www.jdpstories.com.

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