Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Pumpkins and Jack O'-Lanterns
What's Halloween without pumpkins?
Ah, pumpkins, those usually orange squash piled high in grocery stores and farm stands this time of year. Large, small, rounded, not-so-round, orange, yellow, white and striped. There are all kinds of pumpkins. Some you can eat, some are for show, but they're all pumpkins, and they all say fall. In the form of jack o'-lanterns, they also say Halloween.
Although pumpkins are native to the Americas, their usage in Halloween traditions originated in Great Britain. Lighted vegetable lanterns have long been part of Britain's harvest festivals. The vegetables most often used were turnips and mangelwurzels, which are relatively small, solid and hard to cut. Columbus introduced to Europe many of the Americas' plants and animals, pumpkins among them. Called pompions in Tudor England, pumpkins made their way to Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Since pumpkins are hollow and easy to carve, they replaced the turnips and mangelwurzels as the vegetable of choice for harvest lanterns.
"Jack o'-lantern" itself is an English term originating in East Anglia in the 1660's, and meant a night watchman or a man who carried a lantern. Later the phrase attached itself to the ignis fatuus, or will-o'-the-wisp, a bobbing sphere of marsh gas ignited by spontaneous combustion. Not until 1837 did its modern usage of "vegetable lantern" arise.
The Irish legend of Shifty Jack adds a layer of Halloween evil to the various meanings of jack o'-lantern. Shifty, or Stingy, Jack was an Irish blacksmith who used a cross to trap the Devil up a tree. Jack refused to let him down until the Devil promised not to take him to Hell. Secure in the knowledge he would never burn in Hell, Jack wasted his life in evil. But when he died, God denied him entrance to Heaven. With nowhere else to go, Jack implored the Devil to take him in. The Devil, abiding by his promise, refused, condemning Jack forever to walk the earth. But the Devil gave him a hell-coal to light his way, which Jack secured in a vegetable lantern. Jack's bobbing light as he wanders is a Halloween reminder of the wages of sin.
Pumpkinnapper, my Regency Halloween comedy, incorporates pumpkins, bobbing lights and geese (yes, geese) that go bump in the night into the story.
Let me tell you a tale of a love triangle: man, woman and goose. Join the fowl frolic as Henry the man and Henry the goose spar over heroine Emily's affections while they try to capture the foul (or is it fowl?) pumpkin thieves.
Pumpkin thieves, a youthful love rekindled and a jealous goose. Oh my!
Last night someone tried to steal the widowed Mrs. Emily Metcalfe's pumpkins. She's certain the culprit is her old childhood nemesis and the secret love of her youth, Henry, nicknamed Hank, whom she hasn't seen in ten years.
Henry, Baron Grey, who's never forgotten the girl he loved but couldn't pursue so long ago, decides to catch Emily's would-be thief. Even after she reveals his childhood nickname--the one he would rather forget. And even after her jealous pet goose bites him in an embarrassing place.
Oh, the things a man does for love.
"Emily, even with Henry, formidable as he is--" Hank glared at the goose. The goose glared back "--you need protection. I will send over some footmen to guard the place."
"No. Turnip Cottage belongs to Charlotte's husband. What will the townspeople think, with Lord Grey's servants about my house?"
Her refusal increased his fury. The sight of her hand on that damned goose's head didn't improve his mood, either. He balled his fists as his patience thinned and something else thickened. "I'll find you a guard dog. You must have some protection out here all alone."
"But I have Henry." She patted the goose's head and the bird snuggled into her hand. Again.
Heat flooded Hank, part desire for Emily's touch, and part desire to murder that damned goose, who was where he wanted to be. His insides groaned. "Very well, then, you leave me no choice. I will help you catch the culprits."
He changed his voice to the voice that either melted a woman or earned him a slap in the face. "Who knows, mayhap we would enjoy ourselves as I lie in wait with you." I would love to lie with you.
Her eyes widened. Had she understood the innuendo?
"I cannot stay alone with you, and you know it," she said, her voice severe.
"You are a widow in your own home and no one will see. I will make sure of it."
"No." She marched back into her cottage and slammed the door. Henry smirked and waddled away.
Hank grinned. He would be back, whether she liked it or not.
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Pumpkinnapper is available at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance Ebooks and other places where ebooks are sold.
Thank you all and Happy Halloween.