A Designing Woman 6 for #wewriwar

More from the Steampunk book

Welcome to Weekend Writing Warriors.  This is a sample from my latest work in progress, “A Designing Woman”, and I hope you enjoy it.  This is the start of the next chapter and introduces more of the family. Continuing from last week, this snippet describes conversations between Amanda’s parents. Dark things are afoot, especially now that they understand her hobby, which they have tolerated, could be worth real money.
(The Last snippet)



That’s true; Do you think she’d like to visit Bath?”
Only to see the ironworks.”
That’s not helpful.”
While she was away, I could do something about her workshop, maybe. She’s not twenty-one is she?”

No,” Lady Caterham smiled, “So as her father you’re her legal guardian; your word is the one that counts, isn’t it?”
Get her to Bath, and I’ll deal with the rest; have to check with my solicitor, but I should be able to sell out her share of that company. It should pay for her dowry.”
Lady Caterham replied, “George, love, I knew there was a reason I married you.”
Her husband, realizing he was dismissed for the night, dutifully kissed his wife and returned to his port.


This is a work in progress. Here is the link on tablo. It’s also on writeon, but I have no clue how to link there. Apparently Steampunk implies Victorian, Dieselpunk the 1920’s. What-punk should a Regency period book be? Horse-punk isn’t right.

Despite being told in no uncertain terms that “steampunk” meant Victorian with ubiquitous steam technology, I’m calling this steampunk, although given the amount of time they will later spend on the river, maybe “Steampunt” is better. Amanda is working on what will become the defining technology of the 19th century, steam. Although, a few things, like the Napoleonic war will get in the way.

Google Blogger has gone back to making things difficult. Arghhh – doesn’t play well with firefox and privacy badger.

Time to look at wordpress. It’s being funny on Linux which takes some doing.

Thank you for reading. The heroine’s family thinks they’re doing the right thing by her. Ha! She doesn’t get to the Bath ironworks, but if it’s any consolation, she gets to do a small amount of smithing in the village of Philadelphia so that she isn’t compromised by staying the night with a totally unsuitable suitor.

A Designing Woman 5 for #wewriwar

More from the Steampunk book

Welcome to Weekend Writing Warriors.  This is a sample from my latest work in progress, “A Designing Woman”, and I hope you enjoy it.  This is the start of the next chapter and introduces more of the family. Continuing from two weeks ago (scout leader training interceded), this snippet introduces Sam, her mechanic. It’s not very romantic, but it gives a hint about the future course of events.
(The Last snippet)



Amanda smiled; then said, “Yes. It’s the precision that matters, and we’ve been making the tools to do precise metalwork.” She noticed Sam was unusually quiet, “Do you need to get the forge started?”
No, Miss. But it’s best that they leave. Doesn’t do to tell too many people about what we’re doing. At least not before the patent’s approved.”
A patent you say?” There was an avaricious glint in Lord Caterham’s eye. “Are you saying this is worth something, real money?”


This is a work in progress. Here is the link on tablo. It’s also on writeon, but I have no clue how to link there. Apparently Steampunk implies Victorian, Dieselpunk the 1920’s. What-punk should a Regency period book be? Horse-punk isn’t right.

Despite being told in no uncertain terms that “steampunk” meant Victorian with ubiquitous steam technology, I’m calling this steampunk, although given the amount of time they will later spend on the river, maybe “Steampunt” is better. Amanda is working on what will become the defining technology of the 19th century, steam. Although, a few things, like the Napoleonic war will get in the way.

A teaser. #amwriting #romance #scifi


A Teaser.

This is the start of my latest WIP. It’s a steampunk space opera set in Dartmoor in the summer of 1893. There’s a reason I can be that specific, but you’ll have to wait for later to see it. It starts with the heroine arriving at her Uncle’s house. Her family hopes the fresh air and clean environment will help slow the progression of the consumption that is carrying her off.
Consumption it is, but not in the way that is usually meant.
 (c) 2015  Amelia Treader.

Uncle Sylvester Receives a Visitor.

It was nearly dark when the pony-trap carrying Elizabeth from the station at Moreton Hampstead finally arrived at the farm at Barnecourt. Venus, the evening star, shown brightly in the dull orange band of the western sky. She presaged a clear and starry night. Nobody noticed when she winked out and fell to Earth with a quick bright streak of light. George Trent, Dr. Standfast’s man-of-all-work, drove the trap to the front of a small farmhouse in the country not far from the isolated village of North Bovey on the outskirts of Dartmoor.
After stopping, he gently awakened his sleeping passenger, “Miss James? We’re here.”
Elizabeth James, a slight young woman, dark haired and pale, with the gentle slight cough of incipient consumption, stirred. Her parents had arranged for her to visit her uncle. He lived and practised in the country, and they all hoped that the fresh air would suit her lungs better than the stale smutty air of London. They had waved goodbye as she boarded a train in Paddington in the morning, her first step in the longest journey of her life. London, to Bristol, to Exeter, and then on the stopping train to the end of the line at Moreton Hampstead. There she was met by her uncle’s servant with a one-horse trap, and now, finally, she awoke in front of his house.
“We’re here?”
“Yes, Miss. Let me tie the horse and I’ll help you down.”
The clatter of their arrival brought Dr. Standfast to the door. Unusually tall, thin and surprisingly active for his sixty years, he shot out of the door and said, “Elizabeth! You’ve made it at last. How was your trip?”
Elizabeth replied, “Tiring.”
“I can see that, but are you feeling well. At least as well as can be?”
She gave a slight cough, and then said, “I think so.”
The cough made her uncle frown, “We’ll see what we can do about your cough.”
“If you can do anything, Uncle Standfast, it will be more than the doctors on Harley Street could.”
Her uncle walked to the trap and offered a hand to help her down, “You should call me Sylvester. Uncle Sylvester if you must. We’ll see, but I’m sure the fresh air and clean water of Dartmoor will help.”

A Designing Woman 3 for #wewriwar

More from the Pre-steampunk book

Welcome to Weekend Writing Warriors.  This is a sample from my latest work in progress, “A Designing Woman”, and I hope you enjoy it.  This is the start of the next chapter and introduces more of the family. There is excitement in the air; Amanda finally shows some interest in a young man.
(last weeks snippet).


The next morning, Lord Caterham and his son Frederick thundered into the stable-yard on their hunters. They had ridden hard from Ewelme manor in Dursley after receiving important news the night before via a messenger from Lady Caterham. Lord Caterham rushed into the house, while Frederick ensured that the stable hands properly rubbed down, cooled off, watered and fed their horses.
“Elizabeth,” Lord Caterham shouted after he entered the hall, “Is it true?”
“Is what true?”
“Amanda finally has a beau.”
“Quiet, please; let’s talk in the parlor. Things are, I think, at a delicate stage and I don’t want to upset them.”
A few minutes later, in the parlor, behind a closed and latched door, Lady Caterham filled her master and helpmate in on what had happened.

“They met at the assembly. Danced three dances; would have danced a fourth had manners allowed; then he rode here yesterday, ostensibly to see how we had recovered from our exertions, but”

This is a work in progress. Here are links on tablo and authonomy.  Apparently Steampunk implies Victorian, Dieselpunk the 1920’s. What-punk should a Regency period book be? Horse-punk isn’t right.

I’m calling this proto-steampunk simply because I was told in no uncertain terms that “steampunk” meant Victorian with ubiquitous steam technology. Amanda’s working before that and during the Regency, so it cannot be steampunk.

Progress, I guess.

I finished the first draft of my latest. It’s on writeon (there’s not a way to give it a link), and maybe Authonomy.  I’ve changed the title, and have a not ready for prime time cover.

So it’s a step forward, but not as far as I’d like. Anyway, if someone is so daft as to want to read it, I’d be happy to send an advance copy.

Incoming. Extract from my next one. Steam and Secrets?

The weekend warrior post is here

This is a regency-punk? work set in 1809. It combines steam, ciphers, codebreaking, and espionage, with a chase and sweet romance. Still working on a title.  I’ve just crossed the 50K barrier, so it’s approaching the intensive edit stage.

In any case I’d love to hear what you think.

Lady Caterham’s Difficult Daughter.

“Amanda Jane Elizabeth Grace, what have you done to yourself?” Lady Caterham wailed at her daughter. “You’re covered in grease, and we must leave for the assembly in an hour.” Amanda stood in the doorway of Lady Caterham’s room, awaiting instructions from her mother. Lady Caterham sat at her dressing table while she gave instructions to her daughter. Lady Caterham’s maid was waiting to put the finishing touches on her mistresses’ gown and hair while Lady Caterham dressed down her slovenly daughter.
“I was just repacking the bearings. We don’t want the wheels to fall off our carriage, do we? The roller bearings Sam and I put together turn so much easier than the old wooden axle, and I think you’ll like the way we’ve sprung the box. It-.”
“And that’s another thing young lady. Playing around with machines. Why, look at those hands. Even if Mary can clean the grime from under your nails, what man would look twice at you with those hands?”
“There’s more to life than men, mother.”
“No there isn’t, at least not for a young lady of refinement like yourself. Do you want to die an old maid, alone and forgotten?”
“No, not as such. It’s just. Well. Oh dash it Mother, the man for me won’t be upset with a little grease and the odd broken nail.”
“One more thing young lady, watch your language. Where did you ever pick up such an expression? Keeping company with that blacksmith?”
“Oh no Mother. Sam is very polite. At least when I’m present. Ask Mary about him if you want confirmation. It’s Freddy and his friends, when they come in from the hunt, who use such expressions. I thought.”
Lady Caterham spat out, “You don’t think. That’s the problem.”
“I do. If my brother can say it, and far worse, then it’s suitable language.”
“Suitable for a man that is. Now go, get cleaned up. We must not be too late for the assembly. Not if you want a dance.”
“Yes, Mother.”
Lady Caterham ignored the tone of that last remark and watched as her eldest daughter, a striking, tall, auburn-haired young woman walked off to change into the dress of a refined and cultured young lady.
“My Lady,” Millicent, her maid, pointed out, “Miss Amanda will have no trouble attracting male attention. She’s a fine looking young woman. As you were at her age.”
“That’s true, but she’d look so much better without that black grease streak covering her forehead and staining her hair, or that house-dress. It’s just so torn and patched, stained with who knows what, and covered in grease. How can she stand to wear it?”
“I don’t know Ma’am, but she’ll be presentable, even elegant. Mary will see to it.”
“I’m sure she will, but I so wish Amanda would focus on the important things in life. Like marriage, men and children. Get her head out of the clouds.”
“Or the steam, Ma’am. I’ve heard that the 20th regiment is stationed nearby. There should be plenty of fine young men, officers in their red-coats. That should catch her eye and turn her thoughts in the right direction.”
Lady Caterham thought for a few moments and then replied, “I hope so. Although last time, she ended up talking all night to an engineering officer from the artillery. A nobody, who was a captain just because he’d been to school at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich and knew how to move guns and build fortifications. It would have been better to leave her home. What’s the point of going to the assemblies if you don’t flirt with eligible men?”
Much to Lady Caterham’s relief, and fully justifying the expense of hiring her, Mary turned Amanda out dressed in the proper mode of a young lady. The grease was gone from her face and her auburn hair was immaculate, as were her muslins. She wore a simple string of pearls, suitable for a young woman venturing into the wilds of society. While no amount of cleaning could restore her hands and nails to the pristine state that was so important in a fashionable young woman, she would be wearing gloves. They would hide most of the damage. One did not hold hands without something between you and the young man.
Amanda did nothing that spoiled Lady Caterham’s trip. While she may have cast an eye over the bearings, axles and springs, she didn’t stop to play with them. Indeed, without the squeaks, the jarring and the shaking normal in a carriage, Lady Caterham arrived at the assembly in a remarkably refreshed state. When they arrived at the assembly, one of the officers, a captain, swept Amanda away. He led her onto the dance floor for the first country dance of the evening. All in all, it made for an outstanding start to the evening.
The vicar’s wife, Mrs. Peabody, addressed Lady Caterham, while she and the other mothers watched their daughters perform the figures on the floor. “Lady Caterham, I know you suffer in the carriage rides and I was planning to offer to chaperone your daughter, but it looks like you’re well. Did you find a cure for the travel sickness? I only ask because I suffer too.”
Despite her misgivings about Amanda’s mechanical interests, Lady Caterham’s bosom swelled with pride as she said, “It was Amanda’s doing. She redid the springs and the axles on our carriage. It was such a smooth and quiet ride that I barely noticed we were moving.”
“She did? I must say, she is a clever girl.”
“And see, she’s dancing with.” Lady Caterham stopped, “Who is that?”
“Oh, that’s Captain Williams’ cousin. He’s studying divinity, at Oxford.”
“A suitable connection?”
“Absolutely, quite nearly related to the Fairfax’s. They say he will inherit a sizable income. With his family connections, he’s bound to become a bishop.”
Lady Caterham smiled at Mrs. Peabody. “In other words, a connection to be encouraged. I do so hope Amanda will find something other than machines to tinker with.”
“I agree, a husband and children will soon put her head straight. Settle her down.”
Their happy optimism about Amanda’s prospects would have been tempered had they been able to hear her conversation with the young man. While good looking with blue eyes, dark hair and a firm visage, able to dance the figures with a natural athletic grace, polite, educated and well mannered, he was also a serious disappointment.
“Mr. Williams, you’re studying divinity?”
“A suitable study for a gentleman, honorable and in the service of both man and God.”
“If you say so, but with a chance to meet Dalton or Henry or Davy or,” and here Amanda gave a frisson of excitement, “Even Faraday. You have the chance to study natural philosophy with such masters, and you choose divinity.”
“What’s wrong with divinity?”
“Nothing, except.”
“Except what?”
“It’s so commonplace. I’d cut off my right arm to study with any one of those men and you’re just wasting the opportunity.”
Mr. Williams was nonplussed. Unable to think of anything witty, eventually he replied, “Please don’t do that. You have a pretty, indeed beautiful right arm. It wouldn’t look right, replaced with a hook.”
Amanda smiled back and laughed as she said, “I didn’t mean it literally, but I’d kill someone for the chance you have and are throwing away.”
“Please don’t do that either. I suppose I could try law.”
Amanda’s grimace suggested that option was, if anything, even less appealing than divinity.
“In my defense, none of the masters you mentioned are fellows at Oxford.”
“Still, there must be someone.”
Despite her misgivings about divinity students, Amanda couldn’t help feeling disappointed when the dance drew to a close and it was time for the supper break. Mr. Williams bowed and returned to his cousin’s company, while she found her mother.
Lady Caterham’s interests and hopes were peaked, and she asked, “So, Amanda, what did you think of him? He has real prospects.”
“About Mr. Williams?”
“Who else?”
“He seems a nice enough man. Although I wish he were doing something with his education. Something worthwhile.”
“Damning me with faint praise?” It was Mr. Williams. He had walked up behind them and was carrying two cups of punch. “Miss Caterham, I thought you could use this, after your exertions on the dance floor, and with the crush.”
Amanda blushed at his attention, then curtsied, accepted the punch from him and said “Thank you. I didn’t mean to disparage you.” Her mother beamed at Mr. Williams, but fortunately showed her good sense and stayed silent.
He replied, “You didn’t say anything that you hadn’t told me to my face. It is true, divinity is dull work, but I never had much aptitude for natural philosophy.”
Lady Caterham loudly whispered, cautioning her daughter, “Amanda, behave. Watch that tongue of yours.” Mr. Williams did not fail to notice Amanda rolling her eyes at the admonishment, nor that she kept smiling at him.
He added, “It may be a liberty, but could I ask for a third dance? That is if you are free.”
“She accepts,” Lady Caterham injected.
“Mother, please. That is so fast, to dance three dances with the same man. What about my reputation?”
“What harm can there be when the man is so obviously moral. When do you take orders, Mr. Williams?”
“Early next year, when I finish my studies at Oxford. Miss Caterham, if you would rather not dance with me, I’d be disappointed but willing to release my claim.”
“No, no, I didn’t mean that. Yes, I’d love to dance with you again. Please. Even two more times.”
“Twice more is excessive,” Lady Caterham added.
When the next dance started, another country dance that would let the participants converse between the figures, Mr. Williams asked, “So Amanda, why are you so interested in natural philosophy?”
Amanda blushed, “Not philosophy, engines, power, steam. Ever since I saw Trevithick’s engine in London, I’ve wanted to build one of my own.”
“Indeed? Tell me about it. Have you made much progress?”
“Well, I don’t have any engines, right now. Sam and I are building another one. It will be a corker.”
“Sam?”
“Mr. Perkins, my maid’s husband, a blacksmith.”
“So not a rival.”
Amanda laughed, “Good Lord, no.”
“Good. So if you don’t have an engine, what else are you interested in?”
Amanda paused until the next chance to talk, and then replied, “Bearings, bearings and springs.”
“Bearings?”
“I want to go fast, very fast, so quickly that the axles would smoke and the wheels fall off with a regular carriage. Sam and I can build the engine and the gears, but need a carriage that will handle the power.”
“I suppose your family approves?”
“What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
“If you say so, Miss Caterham, but I’ve found keeping secrets leads one into sticky situations.”
“What do you know of secrets? Studying for the clergy, I’d assume you lived a tame life.”
Mr. Williams stopped, stunned that she would shoot so near the mark, interrupting the dance figure for a few seconds. “More than I can tell you.” Then he quickly resumed the dance.
Amanda was piqued, “So you have a secret, or are you just offering me a nut to crack open as a puzzle?”
“I hope you’ll find the meat at the heart of this nut to your liking.”
“Are you trying to flirt with me?”
“Yes. Trying, not succeeding.”
“If you’re like most men I’ve met it’s just a conker, hard on the outside, bitter and inedible on the inside. What brings you to the wilds of Sodbury?’
“That I can answer directly. I’m on a repairing lease. Been burning the candle at both ends too long at the ‘varsity.”
“Daily Compline and Evensong too much for you?”
“One might say that.”
“From what my brother Frederick says, it’s probably the all-night drinking and parties on the Cherwell.”
Mr. Williams smiled at her, which she took for confirmation. Then he added, “It’s the all-nighter’s in any case. I was told to rest, and leave off it until I recovered.”
“Have you recovered?”
“I’ve made great strides. Dancing with beautiful women helps immensely.”
The music ended. Mr. Williams and Amanda bowed to each other. Good manners dictated that she dance with other partners. For some reason the officers who were available and willing seemed curiously flat. Good dancers, elegantly mannered, but deficient in conversation.
The evening ended well, at least the dancing did. Partway back to Caterham hall, when the carriage went over a steep bump, there was snap. It was followed by a gentle hiss and the box leaned to the right.
Lady Caterham was startled, “What was that?”
“One of the seals broke. Blast.”
“Amanda! What did I tell you about your language.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just Sam and I put such a lot of effort into building the springs. To have one fail so quickly. It’s highly annoying.”
‘”I just wish, Amanda, that you would pay attention to the important things in life, marriage and men.”
“Mother.”

The Curious Profession of Dr. Craven is alive!

My latest book “The Curious Profession of Dr. Craven” is out.

I thought I’d add a few details of background that are too long for a footnote or to fit in the margins of the page. (Not that you have well-defined margins with a kindle.)

Disinfectants. Dr. Craven is a bit of a ‘clean freak.’  There are good reasons for that – he lost his first wife to puerperal fever and he suspects he gave it to her. If he followed medical practices of the time, he probably did. This poses a bit of a problem for an author who is trying to be historically plausible. The first disinfectants, things like Phenol, weren’t discovered until well after the book’s time frame (The novel is set in 1810, phenol was first distilled from coal tar in the 1830’s) and  so could not have been used. However, hypochlorites are widely used as fairly mild and highly effective disinfectants to this day. It’s what they sprayed for Ebola. It turns out they’re rather easy to make by electrolysis, so Dr. Craven has his ‘electrified water.’

Ordinary License. Many romances have the characters purchasing a “Special License” so they can get married without posting the Bann’s. In other words, right now and not in a month. Trouble is a special license allowed you to get married somewhere other than a church. An “Ordinary License” let you get married without the Banns. They were rather hard to get because the Banns served as protection for the happy couple. Since divorce was impossible, except for very very unusual cases, the Banns helped to make sure the decision to get married wasn’t hasty or ill-considered.

Sexual More’s of the Ton. Anything went in the 1780’s – 1820’s if you were in the upper class. Without being purulent, the good doctor’s parents were an excellent example of this. His mother was so notorious – not for the sleeping around – but for not hiding it, that she left England in 1780. She had a long-time affair with a Margrave, and only was married when her husband died. Even the upper class couldn’t get divorced easily. Dr. Craven’s older brother, although a successful general, is best known from the introduction to Harriet Wilson’s memoirs. He comes across as a bit of a dolt. By the way, one of the origins of the phrase “publish and be damned” is due to the Duke of Wellington’s response to Ms. Wilson’s offer to suppress her memoirs for a fee.

Manna for Authors

Sometimes when I’m developing a story I need to invent various complications. If things all seem to be going perfectly for the heroine, then it’s a dull write. Worse still, it’s a dull read, and that’s what matters.

In my latest, I needed to research the “high life” of the ton. Sexual mores and all that sort of icky stuff. Nothing I’d put in a sweet romance, but the sort of thing the characters would know.

Somehow I stumbled on the 6th Baron of Craven, his wife Elizabeth, his son the 1st Earl of Craven and the scandalous memoirs of Harriette Wilson. It was the sort of lifestyle that made the ’60’s great (or so I’m told). I needed to make a few name changes, but the dates and the people matched the story I was working out.

Harriette Wilson’s memoir starts with:
“I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven.”

There’s not much I can add. (Except she didn’t understand why he liked Cocoa Trees, Boats or the Carribean.)

The Berkshire Lady is out.

My latest is now on Kindle and will soon be on hard copy as well.

“Fight me or Marry me!” Frances Kendrick was not a woman willing to sit idly by and wait for her Prince Charming. An heiress, the best rider, hunter and swordsman in the Royal County of Berkshire in the last year’s of good Queen Anne’s reign, she found the men presented to her either boring, stupid, or most often both. Until she met this scapegrace of a lawyer, Benjamin Child. This sweet romance with a paranormal twist follows their developing passion and the means they used to bring their romance to fruition despite the objections of her trustees.
Set in Reading and thereabouts in 1714, the story commences with the memorial service for Frances’ older brother. Since she is the heiress to a baronet, Miss Kendrick did not want for suitors. She wanted for acceptable suitors, as the men she met were simply not up to her standards. When she finally meets one who is, a circuit-riding barrister named Benjamin Child, her trustee’s refuse their approval. He’s too much of a fortune hunter, gambler and wastrel for their tastes. Despite their difference in rank and fortune, he’s the man for her and she’s the woman for him.
Complications abound in the story, ranging from a gypsies’ curse, to highwaymen, to nobbling jockey’s before a critical horse race, and even to the activities of the Hellfire Club.

In the meantime, my next, “after the convergence” is about 2/3 there at about 33000 words.

A Dance at Prospect House.

 This is the first half of the chapter I’m working on in the steampunk novel the Mysterious Mr. Willis. Still not sure how far to go into the details of steam engines. (Treveithick’s got to 145 psi+- or 10 atm+- which was pretty darn good for a wrought iron boiler. Mr. Willis will have to do better by a fair margin for his turbine.)
This is also the first chapter where Major Hogan and Mr. Willis lock horns. They’re sort of “sparing for wind” so far in this chapter, but things will develop.

A Dance at Prospect House.

The announcement letters arrived on Monday. The Child’s were finally having a dance at their mansion just outside of Reading, Prospectpark place. The ball would be in honor of the local militia and the imminent reconstitution of the second division of the 62nd foot in Devizes. These brave men were all that stood between Napoleon’s hordes and English civilization. Ample opportunities would be available for men of good character and sound body to sign up and join their brave comrades. There would be martial music and country games for the common folk during the day followed by a civilized evening for the gentry in the evening. Weather permitting, the affair would start at on Saturday morning and feature a balloon ascent from the wide field that spread below the house.
Early Tuesday morning, Marianne broke her fast with the guest at her home, Major Hogan. While her Monday had been one of chores broken by anticipation after receiving her invitation, his had been one of accompanying Henry as he explored his new parish. Having carefully buttered his roll and spread it with jam, he paused before eating it to ask Marianne, “What do you do for entertainment around here?”
“I don’t know. I like to walk. We could explore the countryside.”
“Is that all? How boring.”
“Boring? Maybe for you, but I haven’t had time to be bored yet. Ruth and I must go to Reading soon, to furbish our gowns for the ball. They suffered sadly on the trip from London.”
“Fabrics? I suppose I could accompany you to the milliner’s, that’s if you don’t wish to walk along the river.”
“I would love to walk along the river, but.”
“But what?”
“There’s something odd going on upstream. I found a warning sign last time I tried to walk there.”
“Is that all?”
“A balloon, and someone knocked me out.”
“Knocked you out?”
“With a chemical. It sort of smelt like cheap gin, only not quite. It was sweeter.”
“Interesting. If you’ll excuse me.” Major Hogan left and a returned in a few minutes with a small bottle that contained a clear liquid. He put a tiny drop on a napkin and gave it to Marianne. “Did it smell like this?”
“Why, yes! That’s the smell exactly. What is it?” Her head swam from the small amount she inhaled.
“Ether. Dehydrated alcohol. It makes people unconscious.”
Marianne frowned, “But why? Why me?”
“Evidently you were about to discover something you shouldn’t.” Major Hogan gave her a serious look, then said, “There is something dangerous afoot. It could be treason. One reason I’m here is to investigate it.”
“What?”
“A secret Bonapartist camp. The French are a dangerous and subtle foe. This Frenchman you saw, Mr. Fournier, was he a short chap with black hair?”
“No. He was short, but brown-haired, and he had an impressive mustache.”
“Then he’s not the man I’m thinking of. Shall we try a stroll upstream to Goring this morning?”
“I would love it. We can stop at the Cross Keys and see if Millie can come.”
“Millie?”
“Miss Ellis, the inn keeper’s daughter. She’s a bit common, but likes to walk with me. She knows the countryside and is great fun otherwise.”
“If you insist.”
“Major Hogan, I will not go walking with you without a chaperon. What would people think?”
“That you were extremely fortunate.”
“That I was fast, and I’m not. Besides, I’m the vicar’s sister and must set a good example for the community.”
Major Hogan was less than thrilled with the idea, but agreed.
They walked to the Cross Keys and asked Mr. Ellis if his daughter was interested in a walk, ideally upstream towards Goring. Before he could answer, Millie popped her head in and said, “I’d love to, but you’ll have to give me a few minutes to finish hanging out my washing. This is such a nice day that I washed my aprons.”
“Are you sure I can’t help you?”
“No, Miss Milton. It isn’t your place. Besides that, I think the gallant Major desires your company – not my father’s.” She smiled at Marianne, curtsied and started up the stairs.
Major Hogan caught the hint, and said, “Miss Milton, why don’t you help your friend, or at least keep her company. The faster she finishes the sooner we can walk.”
“If you don’t mind.” Marianne called after Millie, “Let me help.” Then she started up the stairs after her. Millie waited, then when she caught up said, “I’m glad you came. This is much more fun with a friend.” Marianne asked, “Where are you hanging them?”
“On the roof?”
“It’s out of the way, with plenty of wind and sun.”
Millie pushed open a hatch and they climbed out onto the roof. They attached the aprons to the line and started back down. Marianne didn’t notice the flag dip and raise on a house to the north of town, nor did she see the rider start off for the park. Millie did.
Once back at the bar, Millie asked Major Hogan, “I hope my father hasn’t been tedious.”
“Nay lass. We’ve had an interesting and informative discussion. He says that the recruiting should be good over towards Wallingford or up near Dorchester.”
Marianne said, “Good. Now should we go for a walk. I’d like to explore upstream if we could.”
Millie replied, “I don’t see why we shouldn’t.”
They followed the Oxford Road and then when it veered away from the Thames, the river bank path. Unlike last time there were no warning signs or strange noises. Indeed, it was a thoroughly boring walk. Boring that is, until they were about half-way to Goring where they met Michael and Mr. Willis. Mr. Willis and his companion were carrying fishing rods and working their way downstream. When they met, Mr. Willis bowed and said, “Miss Milton, how fortunate that we met. I was hoping to see you soon, at least before this Saturday’s fete at Prospectpark House.”
She curtsied to him and said, “Are you going to it?”
“Going?” He laughed, “I’m one of the main attractions, at least during the afternoon. I’m hoping to dance in the evening with you, that is if Major Hogan can spare you for a dance?”
Major Hogan shot Mr. Willis a venomous glance, then said, “I think Miss Milton will be fully occupied.”
“Oh well, I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t believe we have been introduced.”
Marianne said, “I’m so so sorry. Mr. Willis, this is Major Hogan.”
Major Hogan gave his new acquaintance a short stiff bow, which Mr. Willis returned. Mr. Willis said, “Major Hogan, now where have I heard that name?”
“I’m raising the 2nd division of the 62nd foot.”
“That’s right. In Devizes in a few weeks. Dashed exciting, what. Why are you in Pangbourne?”
“I am a friend of Reverend Milton.”
Mr. Willis looked from the Major to Marianne and then back again. Then he said, “Oh, I see. Still, I intend to have a good time at the dance even if I cannot pay you attention Miss Milton. There should be plenty of partners and I’m in the dire need of diversion.” He paused, “As is Michael.”
Marianne asked Mr. Willis, “What exactly do you do here?”, and Major Hogan listened carefully to his response.
“Not much. Right now I’m looking for a good place to catch some Dace or other coarse fish.”
“You said you were one of the attractions in the afternoon, so you must do more than that.”
“Since you ask.” He paused and looked at Michael. Michael nodded his head. Then Mr. Willis said, “I work on gases. I have ever since I was at university.”
“So?”
“We’re planning an ascension and as I’m the expert on gas, I get to fill the balloon.”
Major Hogan gave him a skeptical look, “No steam engines?”
“Steam engines?” Mr. Willis looked around himself and then said in a quiet conspiratorial voice, “We’ll have a steam engine and things like that. A copy of Trevithick’s puffing devil if you must know. But please keep that quiet, it’s quite a secret and we don’t want to spoil the surprise.”
“The surprise?”
“She, I guess technically, it moves by itself. We’ve made a few changes in the design and can move a little faster than the nine miles an hour Mr. Treveithick achieved.”
Major Hogan asked, “What changes?”
“Now that would be telling. Patent applied for and all that. Still she does well enough. Scares all the horses though.”
“If you say so. Now if you’ll excuse us, we were headed upstream, to Goring.”
“You won’t get far that way. The bridge is out.”
“What bridge?”
“Over the stream at Basildon. It’s too big to jump across. Best to take the Oxford road until you’re past the little village, then cut down to river if you want.”
Marianne asked, “Are you sure? I so much want to explore the river bank.”
“That’s the way we came isn’t it, Micheal?”
Micheal nodded. Mr. Willis continued, “Still if you wish, we’ll escort you there.”
The combined party started upstream. It wasn’t long before Major Hogan asked Mr. Willis, “Why haven’t you signed up?”
“Signed up, for what?”
“The army or at least the militia. Are you scared?”
“No. It’s just I’ve been rather busy.”
“Busy? Isn’t that what they all say?”
“I supposed, but I really have been detained with other activities.”
“What other activities?”
Micheal watched Mr. Willis struggle for the best words, then relaxed when he found them. “This and that, but fishing mostly.” He left unsaid that he was fishing with explosives and not a line.
“Fishing?”
“Yes. A noble pursuit, fishing.”
They arrived at the mouth of a small stream that fed into the Thames. It opened into a wide area away from the bank, where two run-down buildings served as boat houses. They conveniently screened the rest of the wide area from view. As Mr. Willis said, the stream was too wide for jumping. The whole scene projected an air of neglect and decay.
Marianne asked, “Could we try fording it?”
Millie replied, “Swimming more likely Miss Milton. I think we must turn back.”
Micheal and Mr. Willis escorted them back to where they’d met. Then Mr. Willis bowed to the two woman and said, “Delighted to have assisted you, but we must stick the line in the water if we’re to catch anything.” They curtsied in return. Then he offered his hand to Major Hogan, and said, “See you some other time, perhaps, when there are fewer,” he paused, “ah distractions, say what?”