This is the second installment of a story I’ve been working on that is set at a little farm near North Bovey. It’s set much later (1893) than my usual ones and has a strong science fiction backstory.
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.”
He led her into the parlour and said, “You must be hungry, tea?”
“Yes, please. I mean, if it wouldn’t be a bother, Uncle.”
“It’s no bother for me,” he turned and shouted, “Mary! Tea please, in the parlour. My niece Elizabeth is finally here.” Then he explained to Elizabeth, “There’s no bell so I just shout for the servants. You’ve met George, my man-of-work. Mary is his wife and my housekeeper.”
While they waited for Mary, Uncle Sylvester played with a lamp, adjusting the wick and finally lighting it. A dim orange glow filled the room. “I’m afraid we’re not on the gas here. So kerosene lamps it is.”
Elizabeth said that would be fine.
“It’s either those or candles, but I have laid on water. At least when the pump works.”
Mary arrived with the tea tray. In addition to the teapot, she had put some scones on a plate. She curtsied and said, “Miss James, I hope you’ll find this to your liking.”
Uncle Sylvester said, “Mary, if you would see to Elizabeth’s needs. There is an experiment I must attend to. I shan’t be long and I should like to listen to those lungs of yours before you sleep.”
After her uncle left, Elizabeth asked Mary, “His laboratory? When my father said that, it usually meant he was dashing around the corner for a nip of brandy.”
“No Miss. If Dr Standfast says he’s in his laboratory, he’s working. He doesn’t drink like that.”
“Not quite Miss Elizabeth, he’s just temperate. I can’t imagine him sneaking off for a nip.”
“What’s so special about his laboratory?”
“Can’t say Miss Elizabeth. It’s private, maybe you should ask him.”
“I will. Thank you for the scones, I didn’t realize how hungry I was. It’s been a long trip.”
“From London and all, Miss. I shouldn’t wonder. I’d love to go to London, some day.”
Mary’s speculation about London ended when George dragged Elizabeth’s trunk inside. “Sorry Miss, I had to put the pony in his stall first. Mary, love, which room is hers?”
“Upstairs, left in back.” Mary turned to Elizabeth, “It has a lovely view, Miss and is away from the noise of the road.”
“What noise? It is so quiet here.”
George struggled with the trunk, mostly because the staircase was narrow and twisty, and he couldn’t stand straight to lift it properly. Mary led Elizabeth in his wake to the room her uncle had chosen for her. There was a small brass bedstead, a wardrobe and a table with the inevitable pitcher and basin. The chamber pot was under the bed where it should be. Elizabeth went to the window and gazed out. The stars shown above the line of hills and downs in the distance. Dim yellow lights showed where the village of North Bovey lay to the North. Rather more light, to the East, showed the town of Moreton Hampstead.
Elizabeth said, “It’s perfect.”
“Yes, Miss.” Mary paused, “George, Miss Elizabeth should get her rest.”
“Oh, right.” George bowed slightly and tipped his forehead in a salute. “Sleep well, and if you want to tour the farm, let me know in the morning and I’ll get the Tilbury ready.”
“I shall, but you know it depends on what Uncle says.”
Mary bustled her husband out of the room, and then helped Elizabeth to open her trunk. They found her nightdress. Then she helped Elizabeth out of her dress and the corset she wore beneath it.
“Miss,” she asked, “Your arms, all those bruises, what did you do to them?”
“I don’t know. I think I knocked them on my bedstead when I had a nightmare. I have bad nightmares.”
“Then I hope you sleep well here and have no nightmares.”
“So do I.”
Uncle Sylvester knocked on the door. “When you are ready, I’d like to listen to that chest, and you can tell me about these nightmares.”
A few minutes later, once Elizabeth wore her nightdress, they let him in. He too, noticed the bruises on Elizabeth’s arms, and frowned at the story Mary repeated to him.
“Interesting,” he said, “How often did you have those nightmares?”
“Every two weeks, it was like a clock.”
He nodded, and then said, “I think you’ll find the fresh air and good food of Dartmoor will banish those. Let me hear your chest.”
He pulled a stethoscope from his pocket, explaining, “I had to get this from the laboratory. It’s probably best if you’d sit on the edge of the bed.”
Elizabeth sat and he sat behind her. Mary, still there for proprieties sake, watched as he slid the chestpiece along Elizabeth’s back, asked her to breathe deeply and listened. Then he thumped her back while he carefully listened.
“Interesting, interesting, interesting.” He paused, “I don’t think I need to listen to the front of your chest.” Then he stood up and walked to the window. He stared out at the stars for a few moments of intense thought, and then, finally, turned around and said, “How long have you had this consumption?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve been weak for the last year, and coughing for almost as long.”
“When did the nightmare’s start?”
“About the same time. After he examined me, Mr Harvey told me it was because I couldn’t breathe well. When I struggled for breath, I’d have the dreams.”
Her uncle nodded, “It could be. When did the bruises start?”
“At least a year ago, about the same time. What is it?”
Uncle Sylvester frowned, “I’m not sure.” Then he smiled at her, “But whatever it is, your parents did the right thing to send you here. Get some sleep and we’ll see how you feel in the morning.” He paused again and said, “Mary, before you go, make sure the windows are fastened tight, locked. Elizabeth shouldn’t breathe the chill night air. By the way, Elizabeth, how long has it been since your last nightmare?”
Her uncle frowned again, but said nothing more and shut the door as he left.