Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
Homer, The Iliad
|Sirius A (white star on left) and Sirius B (blue star on right)|
Lady Jane Blackmore crept down the darkened hallway, her hand fisted around her father’s pocket watch. It was one of a handful of his possessions that she retained, the remaining items having been sold off to cover his debts when he passed.
Penniless and orphaned, Jane had almost been forced to the foundling hospital. But, she was saved from such a travesty by her father’s dearest friend, Lord Wickware. For eight years, Lord Wickware treated her as a member of his family, and not a mere responsibility or a burden. She was greatly grieved by his passing last year, for he had become a second father to her.
Now she was the ward of the new Lord Wickware, Nashland, the boy she regarded as a brother. In her mind he would always be Nash, her playmate and co-conspirator in childhood pranks. Now he was her provider and protector. At least until a suitable marriage was made, or until three years hence when she reached her majority.
She hoped her lack of dowry would allow her to remain single until reaching her majority, having no wish to enter a loveless marriage. Not that she opposed marriage, mind you. But the one she longed longed to marry would never do. It would be a scandalous affair, one that must be avoided.
Banishing her wayward thoughts aside, she slid the watch into the pocket of her borrowed trousers praying no servants, or worse Nash himself, would see her attired thusly. Her steps light, she inched past her guardian’s room and hurried to the stairwell leading to the attic. Breathing a sigh of relief that she remained undetected, she climbed the stairs, stepping over the squeaky third step so as not to disturb the household.
In the attic, she climbed the short set of stair leading into an window enclosed cupola. After his father’s passing, Nash had ordered this room built. He drew the designs himself, claiming he needed a place to observe the heavens without obstruction from the trees surrounding the country manor.
Tables were pushed against the east and west windows allowing for maximum light while compiling notes and making drawings of Nash’s scientific observations. On the northern wall, a ladder led to an unenclosed observation deck where only a waist high railing surrounded the platform that sat four stories above the ground.
Moving to the east windows, Jane set the paper and charcoal beside a handheld telescope that lay on the table. When Nash first showed her the device, she had thought it a spyglass, as it looked similar to the one of her father’s that sat on the shelf in her bedroom here at the manor. Jane picked up brass tube and tucked it into the pocket of the borrowed trousers she wore. Satisfied the instrument was secure, she continued on with her task.
Jane had never been atop the cupola without Nash. Until tonight.
She nimbly climbed the ladder, pushed open the trap door, and stepped onto the flat, slate roof. Outside the air was still and quiet. And warm, as an August morning should be. It was too dark to see, but Jane knew a haze filled the air. One always did during the sultry days of summer.
With a shake of her head, she banished her drifting thoughts and set about her work. Dawn would break soon, and her chance to spot the constellation she sought would vanish.
Her heart filled with memories of happier times, she withdrew her father’s pocket watch from her pocket. With the time noted, she allowed the watch to dangle from its chain, knowing she would need to lift it quickly. Hands steady, despite her proximity to the edge, she raised the telescope and focused on the eastern sky near the horizon. A blurred white dot glowed against the deep blue of the pre-dawn sky. Her fingers gripped the tiny dial on the side of the contraption and moved it in tiny increments until the dot became a star. Not just any star, but Sirius. Orion's Dog. Omen of evilness.
Or so the unlearned believed.
Jane believed it a coincidence that Sirius’ rise afore the sun was followed by hot and humid days. Nor did she attribute the stormy seas, the spoiling of milk, or the madness of creatures, dogs most especially, to the Dog Star. If Nash had taught her anything it was that there must be a logical explanation.
When the star was swallowed by the glow of the rising sun, she grabbed the chain of her watch and lifted it, noting the time once more. With a sigh, she returned both the telescope and her watch to her pockets.
She took a moment to enjoy the sunrise, awed at the beauty as the horizon blazed red. The red faded to orange, which melted into a pale yellow as the sun itself lifted into the sky, bathing the world in its light.
“Jane! What the deuce are you doing up here?”
She started at Nash’s voice, so transfixed by the sunrise that she hadn’t heard him approach. He wrapped a strong arm around her waist and pulled her close to his muscled body and away from the perilous edge of the roof.
“Steady. I have you.” His breath trickled over her ear and she shivered. “You are right to be afraid,” he scolded. “Once we are back inside we will discuss your transgressions.”
Jane jerked free from his grasp and spun toward him, glaring. “I am not afraid, Nash.”
His gaze raked over her and her cheeks heated, knowing she had broken many of society’s rules this morning. He lifted a brow and pointed at the ladder. Without a word, Jane huffed out a breath and climbed back inside with Nash following close behind.
Nash secured the trap door before descending the ladder into the cupola. “Now Jane, shall we discuss your sins?” He didn’t wait for her to respond before listing her faults. “You were on the roof. Unchaperoned. Wearing my old clothes.”
She lifted her chin and ticked off her answers on her fingers as she spoke. “You were sleeping and I did not wish to wake you. None, save yourself, have seen me dressed thusly. Wearing your discarded trousers seemed safer than attempting to navigate the ladder in a skirt.”
Nash’s lips quirked in a semi-smile and a chuckle escaped him. He schooled his features and his gaze bore into hers, suddenly quite serious. “Well, I can see you are not the least repentant for your misdeeds. Tell me Jane, was your disobedience worth it?”
Jane dropped his gaze for a moment, then looked him dead in the eye, excitement bubbling up inside. “Sirius rose afore the sun this morn. We are still in the Dog Days.”
“Do not be ridiculous. You know as well as I that the Dog Days are mere superstition.”
“Truly?” Jane smiled. He had taken her bait as expected. Now if she could get him to commit to more. “Then why do we not prove it superstition. Perhaps you can discover what causes the days to be so warm, if it is not the heat of Sirius combining with our very own sun.”
“It would take more equipment than I own to prove that, Jane. However, there are some other myths about the days we can put an end to, if you so wish.”
Jane nodded, pleased to have any excuse to spend more time with Nash. “I so wish.”
“Excellent.” He grinned. “But first, you must change into proper clothing and fetch your maid. If a prospective husband learned of our time alone, and your manner of dressing as a boy, it would be scandalous.”
“Only to you.” Jane rolled her eyes. Sometimes Nash was too much a stickler for society’s rules.
“Although we were raised as siblings, we are not flesh and blood, Jane.” He grasped her elbow and ushered her toward the door, “I am your guardian, and an unwed male. Society would damn us both. Now change, gather your maid, and return here. I will have Cook send up breakfast for us and we shall begin breaking the myths of the Dog Days.”
While mulling over this month's topic, I wondered where the phrase "dog days of summer" came from. So I did some research and learned it came from the belief that when the constellation Canis Major rose before the sun, the star Sirius adding its heat to our son, making the days hotter and people and animals act in odd manners. Of course, this set my mind off and running about a girl coming of age, raised by a guardian-with whom she was in love- who dabbled in the sciences of astronomy and weather.
YA author Mary Waibel’s love for fairytales and happy-ever fill the pages of her works. Whether penning stories in a medieval setting or a modern day school, magic and romance weave their way inside every tale. Strong female characters use both brain and brawn to save the day and win the heart of their men. Mary enjoys connecting with her readers through her website: marywaibel.blogspot.com