Amelia and I have plans. Not necessarily good ones, but definitely plans.
Initially we’d planned to release “The Art of Deception” soon. That’s been put on hold while we write the intermediate (or an intermediate) book in the series between it and “A Formulaic Romance.” These will be a series on “Regency Spies.” Even though the transition between late Georgian and Regency occurs in the middle of the series. “The Divinity School,” set shortly after “The Art of Deception” continues the saga and is slightly under 1/3 written.
Meanwhile, Amelia will take up some of the slack. We’ve put together two science fiction stories. One, “Illegal Aliens,” is set in modern Britain and has the old Gods up to interesting tricks. The other, “A Dartmoor Story” is set in the same world as “Cynthia the Invincible.” It explores the tetchy relations between the Terran Empire, the Xylub and the Cataxi.
One of the soldiers said to General Byng, “Not here, Sir.”
“Next room then.”
Seizing Rupert’s small sample of sodium from the shelf in the parlour, one of the men dumped the oil on the floor. Thinking it valuable, he put the metal in his pocket. He then discovered the hard way, when his trousers caught fire, that sodium was not to be held close to delicate areas. Heading off their intention to quench the fire with a jug of water, Rupert managed to retrieve the metal before either the trousers or the man was burned too badly.
Rupert interrupted General Byng, “If you would tell me what you are looking for, I might save this destruction.”
“We’ll known when we find it.”
“So the destruction is the purpose of this search?”
“You might say that, but I’ll deny it.” There being little else to tear apart, they moved on to the next room. Screams echoed up from downstairs. Rupert’s cook defended her domain with more ferocity than her looks suggested.
Eventually the path of destruction wended its way to the Rupert’s workshop. Rupert stood in the door, blocking it. “No. Please. There are things in here that.’
His objections were of little avail. The soldiers ignored his next words, “Are dangerous if not handled right.”
General Byng laughed, “Move him aside, Lads. If it’s not here, then he’s clean.”
Rupert struggled against the two men who held him while the rest filed in and started tearing his laboratory apart.
Meanwhile, Mr Oliver sidled up to George and Rachel. He drew a quiet breath, and expressed his unctuous concern, “Would have been cheaper to settle you know. Easier.”
“Never. You’ll hear from my solicitor and Lord Hartshorne’s one.”
“Fat lot of good that’ll do you. M’Lord. I have Lord Sidmouth’s ear. The shining golden boy who can do no wrong, I am. Especially when there are so many dangerous reformers loose in the countryside.”
Rachel spat, “At least for the moment.”
Mr Oliver gave her a stiff bow. “That’s all it will take. Ma’am.”
An explosion, followed by screams, interrupted their conversation. Not that it was a flowing or enjoyable one in any case. One of the soldiers found a small box, labelled, “Explosive, do not disturb.”
It contained samples of Oxymuriate of Potash mixed with flowers of Sulphur, and various similar fulminating or detonating mixtures. Chemicals that would ignite or explode with little provocation.
He shouted, “Here Sir, we’ve got it,” to General Byng.
“Open it and see.”
Rupert tried one last time to intervene for their safety. He shouted, “Please don’t. It contains sample detonators. A long-term study of their stability. They could.”
It was too late. The soldier opened the box and picked up one of the fulminates. It still worked three years after Rupert had made it. Unfortunately, it was more sensitive than the original preparation and blew the man’s hand to shreds when he handled it roughly.
Years of war had inured General Byng to wounds and screams, at least those of the enlisted men. He turned to the men holding Rupert and said, “He’s under arrest. We’ve found what we need.” Then he turned to the others and said, “See what you can do for poor Lewis, and have that man be quiet. Poor discipline.”
The men frog-marched Rupert off to await his trial. Red drops of blood showed where Lewis walked as he stumbled after them.
Rachel looked at the destruction, watched the men escort Rupert off, and started to sob. Quietly, but definitely.
George patted her, perhaps too familiarly for an uncle-to-be, on the back and then said, “I’ll follow them. See what I can do. Habeas Corpus is still in effect, despite what General Byng says. I’ll find a magistrate.”
“Yes, now dry those tears. Keep busy and try not to worry. You know and I know this was a low attempt at revenge. It will be fine. Worse comes to worse, I’ll send an express to the General’s cousin Poodle. He’s well connected – something to do with the F.O.”
Rachel nodded her agreement. George headed for the stables, which consistent with his statement about revenge, were untouched. Even though they’d be an excellent place to store explosive compounds or gunpowder.
Rachel headed for the library. She would start on the books. Unlike many of the servants, she could easily read the titles.
 A friend of mine at university did this. He thought a small amount of sodium, ‘borrowed’ from his organic synthesis lab, would be useful for a prank. He was OK. Needed a new set of trousers, though.
Amelia reminded me to put a link to our book page. We actually are preparing books for publication and have some sort of plan – amazing as that seems.
Then as now, science was transforming the world. We see the changes that happen today as happening at a breakneck pace. Even though the pace was slower then, it appeared just as fast as today because before that time the world was thought to be static. You knew your place and you stayed in it – none of those things like getting rich by building a steam engine or worse a train or a “Puffing devil.”
Some issues resurface from time to time, but the “cow-pock” or vaccination (derived from the latin for cow vacus) has made a real difference in our lives.
George’s confidence about seeing the last of Mr Oliver was sadly misplaced. The doorknocker banged early in the morning, echoing through the house. Mr Brindle hurried to answer.
A man in a General’s uniform spoke “Took you long enough.” He stood with a small squad of men and more importantly, Mr Oliver.
“Call your master.”
“As you desire. Would you care to wait in the hall?”
“No. We’ll stay here.”
“As you wish. I shall summon Lord Hartshorne.” Mr Brindle turned and entered the building. Unfortunately, it meant that he missed seeing the General motion to his soldiers. The squad double-timed as they placed guards at all of the doors and in places where they could watch the ground floor windows.
A minute later Mr Brindle shuffled into the parlour where Rachel was breakfasting, “Ma’am.”
“There are some gentlemen at the front door, Ma’am.”
“What about them?”
“They desire to see Lord Hartshorne, and I thought it best if you were aware. It might … be useful to have you there.”
A bleary-eyed and hastily dressed Rupert stumbled outside fifteen minutes later followed by Rachel and George. “Good morning General Byng,” he said, “What brings you to Oulten Hall so early on such a fine day?”
“Nothing good My Lord. Information has been laid that you are in possession of a large amount of explosive material. Unauthorized and illegal possession, I might add.”
Rupert scanned the men who remained in front. Mr Oliver was grinning. Rupert said, “Stuff and nonsense.”
“We shall see. Put it to the test with a search. Can’t have the revolutionaries getting their grubby hands on explosives. Bad enough if they have pitchforks and shotguns.”
“No you won’t.”
“I’m afraid this.” General Byng produced a sheet of paper that was adorned with a seal, “this is a search warrant. Not that we need it, but best to obey the formalities. Stand aside, Sir, while we search your dwelling.”
George demanded, “Let me see it.”
General Byng nodded to a soldier and with that; the man carried the document to him. George scanned it. “It’s not legal. Sir John should-”
Legal or not, George’s pronouncement had little effect. General Byng nodded to his command and was followed by the men when he charged inside. Mr Oliver gave George a slight bow, smiled at Rachel and followed. The men made their way from room to room, leaving little intact. The stuffed animals, mostly intact, joined piles of books, papers and journals in haphazard chaos on the floor in the library. The destruction was near total. Only the skeleton in the corner stood, though he was shorn of his drapery.
I’ve used Gilray cartoons, including the featured image above (about William of Orange (I put the wrong image up at first – it’s now correct)) to illustrate Regency and late Georgian life.
Gilray was a much better artist than his cartoons indicate. He visited the Flemish part of Holland (what would become Belgium after the 1830-31 rebellion). and drew realistic pictures.
While the style is similar to his cartoons, there aren’t the political overtones that are in the cartoons.
Once the ball was finally over, in the carriage home, Rachel asked, “What happened to that man?”
“Mr Oliver?” George said, “I suggested that he make an early night of it.” He smiled, “rather forcefully I might add.”
“And Rupert, my love, you said you’d known him.”
Rupert hesitated; then said, “Yes … he offered me money … to see, make a copy of what I was doing for the army. I think it was when I refused that he introduced An- that woman to Lord Biddle.”
“What were you doing, Gas … Rupert that would be worth money?”
“I guess what I did is not really secret, the secret details aren’t interesting anyway. You’ve shot with one of those scent-bottle locks George.” Rupert stretched back in his seat, ready to be expansive.
“Dashed good gun. Yes. Faster and more reliable than my Manton.”
“The Army thought so too. Started working on them in the Tower Armoury. They came within aces’ aim of levelling the place with all the fulminate they made. Guy Fawkes would have been delighted. His Majesty less so.”
Rachel and George leaned forward to hear every word. George said, “I see. So…”
“So I worked on more stable fulminating mixtures. Oxymuriate of potash, various … fillers to make it more stable. I was, ah, more than moderately successful. Had the war dragged on, it would have made a big difference. General Shrapnel’s shells with my fuses, mayhaps on rockets. Torpedoes that exploded on contact. Can’t say too much more. It would have been ‘interesting’ to say the least.”
Rachel gasped, “So he was a French agent?”
“Maybe. More likely working for the highest bidder – French, American, those damned Prussians or even the Tsar.”
“Good Lord Nephew. I never knew. Just thought you were playing around.”
Rupert laughed, “I’m not saying it wasn’t fun, but I’m glad to work on safer things.”
Lucy, who had been quiet because she was tired and had consumed more than her share of the punch, said, “I bet Lady Hayforth is too.”
It’s probably obvious that the title, “A Formulaic Romance” refers obliquely to chemistry. There’s another arcane reference in the text. Anyone caught it yet? It’s sort of, maybe, perhaps, important, given what Rupert worked on in the past. What are Spirits of Hartshorne?
Anyone who considers making sodium safe is either incredibly brave or incredibly foolish. I leave that decision to the reader.
I suppose the secret is finally out. Oxymuriate of potash is potassium chlorate. An interesting and um, somewhat explosive oxidizer. Spirits of Hartshorne is Nitric acid. Nitrates, and particularly organo-metallic nitrates are … unpleasantly unstable. They tend to complain violently about shock. In 1803 a brave and in my informed opinion exceedingly foolish chemist made mercury fulminate by mixing ethanol, mercury and nitric acid. It is something of a surprise that he died a natural death.
The British army, seeing the advantages of the pill-bottle locks – namely that they almost always work, won’t set your hair on fire like a flintlock, and are generally faster and more reliable – wanted to use them on an army-wide scale. The trouble is that Dr Forsythe’s original design used mercury fulminate and at the scale an army would require is especially dangerous. The armoury at the tower was nearly destroyed before they abandoned the idea.
The percussion caps of the American civil war (or earlier – the Crimean war) were a mixture of oximurate of potassium and sulfur. It worked and was far less dangerous than mercury fulminate. The same mixture was used in strike-anywhere matches until recently. The Native Americans used matches to re-prime cartridges during their long rebellion against those nasty european immigrants (us). It used to be possible to hit matches with a hammer and get a decided bang.
This week continues a spy story set in late Georgian England, the year before Trafalgar. The conversation between Roderick, Hannah, and Alice started last week continues.
“Precisely … though you did a bit more than that; I’d say you thoroughly earned your reward.”
“Her freedom, I’d left instructions with our Minister to purchase her and then send her and Thomas north; things didn’t work out so smoothly.”
Hannah said,“Y’all can say that again; you was, what was it – person not great.”
“Persona non gratia.”
Alice asked, “Why’d you have to leave?”
“Her husband left one of my burglar’s tools in the President’s House when he visited her one night; unfortunately, it was stamped ‘Sheffield’ so I had a little meeting with one Captain Lewis, personal aide to his Excellency President Jefferson.”
“They was goin’ to sell me down river,” Hannah spat out, “Out picking tobacco in the sun, like a field nigger.”
“So I really didn’t have much of a choice … Well I did, I suppose; be completely without honour or common decency.”
Hannah explained for him, “He brought his picklocks, freed us and burnt down the slave pen.”
Today’s snippet ties up a sub-plot started early in the story. Roderick was a practical emancipationist. One may ask why Thomas didn’t free his wife. The answer is that as a black man, he would have been shot or imprisoned or worse if he were caught hanging around the slave pens in the evening. Sir Roderick, of course, could simply be “inspecting the merchandise.”
Emancipation wasn’t yet in force in England. However, the movement to free the slaves was well underway at the time of this story. It wasn’t quite fully respectable, being associated with “non-conformists” who weren’t members of the Church of England. Without being preachy, I always remember that the hymn “Amazing Grace” was written by a reformed slave captain.
The idea of freeing slaves was not popular with the aristocracy. The lower left corner of the Gilray cartoon from last week shows an apish caricature of Africans signing an anti-slavery petition in the context of a gin-soaked and riotous assembly.
Still working on a cover idea – hard even though I’m a dashed good photographer (if I say so myself). That and editing the manuscript to put more description/reaction into it. (not to mention a few thousand words).