Each week, I’ll be sharing an excerpt from my story, Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel. This week is full of all sorts of mischief!
Listen below, or, if you prefer, you can read the excerpt below the video!
Penelope Grace braced herself before entering the dining area, knowing that the moment she did, all sorts of silliness would ensue. George had told Uncle Alex and herself that they must find the most ridiculous costumes imaginable. But he gave them this warning: once they all sat down for supper, they must not, under any circumstances, laugh.
It can only seem fair that Penelope Grace set out to create a costume so absurd that George could not hope to win at his own mischievous game.
Taking a deep breath, she entered the room to find their plates already filled with piping-hot food and Uncle Alex sitting in great state at the head of the table.
A soft purple blanket was wrapped around his shoulders, secured by what Penelope suspected was one of Mama’s favorite brooches. But by far the most amusing was the Christmas wreath, full of pine cones and bright red ribbon, sitting on top of his head – a makeshift crown, she guessed.
He gestured for her to sit down. It was then that she noticed the umbrella. He planted it firmly on the carpet, as if it were some sort of grand staff, and met Penelope’s gaze, daring her not to be amused. The laughter nearly escaped her then.
Adopting a solemn expression, she adjusted her makeshift sword belt – made out of evergreen garland and very uncomfortable indeed – before striding forward with the utmost confidence. Regretfully, she only managed a few steps before she tripped over her weapon of choice: Nurse Sasha’s broom. Penelope looked up quickly, though, hoping to catch Uncle Alex in a laugh, but was chagrined to find that he was maintaining his composure.
He cleared his throat as she took a seat with as much dignity as possible. “A most unfortunate choice for a sword,” he lamented, before quickly taking a drink. But Penelope smiled, knowing he was really trying to disguise a laugh.
“Where is Georgie,” she asked. No sooner had the words left her lips then she heard her brother clearing his throat just outside the door.
“Tonight, Penelope,” he declared in a very dignified tone, “I am Sir George, a noble knight, and defender of the realm!”
He entered the room then, and Penelope knew she could not hope to find a more striking figure in all England. She first noticed one of Nurse Sasha’s freshly ironed tablecloths draped dramatically across Sir George’s shoulders and secured with a clothespin.
In his right hand, he held a whisk, a weapon sure to inspire fear in the hearts of the land’s greatest enemies. Slowly, he approached the table. Penelope and Uncle Alex could only assume this was to give them more time to admire his nobility. Once seated, Sir George observed them both carefully for any sign of merriment.
So far, they had contained it, but Penelope could not resist the urge to tease her brother. George, however, beat her to it. “How are you enjoying Sherwood Forest, Penelope?”
She hesitated, confused, before remembering that her hat for this evening was borrowed from their many games of Robin Hood.
“Oh, it’s lovely this time of year,” she replied, “though the Sheriff is giving us untold trouble, as always. I do hope you can find time in between quests to visit us.”
“I would like that very much.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, each devising the best way to make the others laugh. Eventually, Penelope landed on just the thing. “Sir George, I hesitate to mention this, but I cannot help but notice that your helmet has several holes in it.”
He adjusted the colander indignantly. “It is the consequence of my many daring escapades.”
“Of course,” Penelope replied with a small smile. “Forgive me.”
At this point, Uncle Alex interjected. “Sir George, I wonder if you would be so kind as to share some tales of these daring escapades with us.”
“Yes, it would be my honor.”
His tone was very formal and impressive, but Penelope had to confess that the effect was somewhat spoiled when the colander slipped down over his eyes.
Her laughter nearly bubbled over, and Penelope looked down quickly, pursing her lips and fighting to mask it.
George, instantly noticing her difficulty with immense delight, asked with the sincerest of looks, “Is there something sour on your plate, my lady?”
Penelope cleared her throat before answering. “On the contrary, Sir George, the food is, as always, delicious.”
“I’m so happy to hear that,” he replied with a grin, fully intending to tease her further.
But just at that moment, Nurse Sasha came bustling in. She glanced at them briefly as she placed dessert on the table, then gave a start and looked back. They met her startled expression with perfect innocence, as if nothing at all was out of the ordinary, save George, who refused to make eye contact.
After a flabbergasted silence, Nurse Sasha seemed about to leave well enough alone until she took a good look at George’s costume. “George,” she managed to sputter, “is that my tablecloth?”
“No,” he said with admirable restraint, before quickly looking away for something more interesting to stare at.
Nurse Sasha crossed her arms and began to tap her foot, fully aware of his ploy. “George,” she said expectantly.
He turned back to face her with a startled look, as if only just realizing that she was there. “Yes?”
“My whisk, if you please.”
Slowly, and with great dignity, he passed the whisk to Nurse Sasha, who promptly snatched it from his hand and exited the room with much huffing and muttering.
Uncle Alex, Penelope, and George sat quietly for perhaps three seconds before they burst out laughing, unable to restrain their joy any longer.
“I believe this calls for chocolate cake by the fire,” Uncle Alex said. The joyous delight in his eyes would have convinced even the strictest of parents that it was an excellent idea. It was certainly enough to persuade George, who rushed to get three plates.
Penelope smiled. “I’ll be there shortly, Uncle Alex. Save me a piece?”
Penelope gathered their dinner plates and carried them to the kitchen. Between their many mischievous exploits and the care of the household itself, Nurse Sasha did quite enough for them already and would, perhaps, appreciate some help. She had just finished washing the dishes when Nurse Sasha arrived, carrying what remained of her chocolate cake.
When she saw what Penelope had done, she said, “Oh, just when I was fixing to stay angry with you for that mountain of nutcracker soldiers!”
“What soldiers,” Penelope asked before dancing from the room, the faintest hint of a smile in her eyes.
Thank you so much for reading! If you were one of the characters, what would your costume have looked like? I’d love for you to share your silliest ideas in the comments 🙂
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt and will join us for Installment Two this Friday! You can subscribe below to receive every installment of this wintry tale of wonder!
This is the week! The first installment of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel publishes this Friday, December 11th! Here’s a sneak peek to tide you over until then.
Penelope Grace was a remarkable girl.
Of course, that word – remarkable – can mean many different things, depending on whom you ask.
Upon entering the Saris household, you would first be taken to the kitchen for a warm cup of tea to fight off the early winter’s chill. There, Nurse Sasha – who oversaw everything – would happily offer you her opinion. She could hardly find it less than remarkable that a girl of sixteen could behave so like her nine-year-old brother as to be nearly indistinguishable.
Once welcomed and enlightened, you might continue to the living room and find a comfortable chair near Penelope’s mother, Mary, who is patiently mending the latest torn and dirt-stained dress. She would share with you how her daughter is remarkably and admirably unconcerned with what others think of her.
Over the years, her friends marveled to find that Penelope was just as likely to pick up an imaginary sword as an intricate piece of embroidery. Growing serious now, Mary would tell you of the many encouragements she has received to rein her daughter in.
But it is too rare a gift to see a child’s spirit endure into adulthood. As Penelope’s mother, she would ask, how could she do less than safeguard it?
But just then, young George would come bursting in, his great-uncle Alex not far behind, and insist on knowing what your conversation was about.
“Well, George,” Mary would ask with the warmest of smiles, “what do you think makes your sister remarkable?”
He would think hard about it for a minute or two but, his nose crinkling up as he grinned, would soon reply with a firm, “Two things.”
And then, leaning forward as if to share with you a very great secret, George would tell you a story. Just last week, Penelope had, remarkably, succeeded both in assembling an entire regiment of nutcracker soldiers in the foyer and in vanishing from sight before Nurse Sasha could certainly accuse her of having done it.
“And the second,” you would ask, sincerely eager to know.
“She is the only grown-up who isn’t only teasing me when she says she still believes in Father Christmas.”
Equally impressed by both these reasons, you might then turn to great-uncle Alex, whom you would find no less willing to join in the conversation.
He would have to say that Penelope was remarkable for her persistent delight in all things simple, yet extraordinary. Even now she remains as enchanted with his magic tricks as she was on the day he first arrived from Greece to share them with her.
But of all her family, acquaintances and friends, only her father, John – who has been listening by the crackling fire all the while – could tell you with absolute certainty what it was that made Penelope Grace genuinely remarkable:
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