A new development.
Following from the last section
A strange man falls into Elizabeth’s life. This continues the chapter, with Dr Standfast up to something odd.
“I don’t. The last book I read was ‘Three men in a boat.” I doubt ‘Uncle Podger’ could give rise to dreams about much other than fat men running for the train or else smashing walls when hanging a picture. I did like Montemercy, could we have a dog?”
“Then Miss Grace.”
“She is a romantic soul, read me a poem by the river. It was lovely, and I’ll have to read some poetry myself.”
“Just don’t let your imagination get carried away, and no Fox-Terriers, at least not until you’re truly recovered.” He looked at the clock, “My, is that the time? An experiment awaits. On my way out I’ll see that Mary brings your supper.”
Elizabeth awoke with a start, it was the middle of the night. She turned over and tried to get some more sleep, but Morpheus while so plentiful with his gifts in the evening, had fled for greener pastures. There was no cure for it, but to rise and find something to read. She put her feet on the cold wooden floor and walked to the window. The moon was setting, but still gave enough light that she could see into the fields, just beyond the farmyard. Something strange, something strange and big, was moving out there. Something that required investigation.
She slipped into a robe and found her way downstairs. A pile of Wellington boots lay by the kitchen door and she found one pair that fit, more or less. Then she wandered outside to see what the thing was.
Once there she saw it. “Good gracious,” she cried, “this looks like nothing more than an enormous upside-down umbrella. Whatever is it?”
She jumped when her Uncle Sylvester answered, “It’s my ear.”
“Your ear? I didn’t know you were so hard of hearing. It’s enormous.”
“Let me explain, it’s for listening to the music of the spheres.”
“The music of the spheres?”
“I don’t know what else to call it. Here.” He led her underneath and put a telephone headpiece to her ear. “Listen.”
“All I hear is pops and crackling.”
“Quiet!” He turned the umbrella and as he did a low throbbing noise filled the headpiece. “Hear that?”
“I do. What is it?”
Suddenly the noise cut out. “What happened?”
“The whisker must have moved.”
“I have a small crystal of Galena and a fine wire barely scratching the surface. Following Hertz’s work. It detects waves in the ether. It only works at night, our sun is far too noisy. Very delicate and has to be just right.”
“Oh. Like me?”
“No. My dear niece, you’re tough. Still, I shall have to bring the detector down to fix it. If you’d like you can help me.”
Together they slowly lowered the device, folding it back up so that Sylvester could reach the detector. “It’s the dew, wetting it. I’m afraid we’re done listening for tonight.”
He stepped back and stared into the sky. The sun hadn’t yet risen, but the moon had finally set. The Milky Way, thousands of stars, shown brightly above them.
“Take a look Elizabeth. Isn’t it beautiful, breath-taking?”
“I’ve never seen it so bright.”
“Can’t see this through the fog and lights in London, can you?”
“No, and yes it is beautiful. Do you know the stars?”
“Many of them, especially the closer ones.”
Uncle Sylvester started to point out the summer constellations and give the stars their names when something slid across the sky. It didn’t blaze like a shooting star, but slowly glided across the sky above them, taking several minutes to cross from horizon to horizon.
“What’s that Uncle?”
“Trouble.” He stared at the sky for a few more moments and then added, “Now young lady, it’s time for you to get back into your bed.”
Elizabeth woke late the next morning. She rushed to the window, but no trace of the inverted umbrella was to be seen in the field. Was it a dream? Then she looked at the grass and saw that it was bent, compressed. There were tracks in the dew. She hadn’t dreamed it after all.
After throwing on a house-dress, taking her gazunder to the outhouse, and rinsing it clean under the pump, she was on her way in when she met Mary.
“You needn’t do that Miss.”
“I did it at home, and you’re busy enough, Mrs Trent.”
Mary took it from her and said, “Yes, Miss. There’s porridge on the stove and the tea, under the cosy, should still be warm. Get your breakfast.”
“Yes, Mrs Trent.” Elizabeth turned to enter the kitchen, then she stopped and added, “Mrs Trent, does my Uncle often scan the skies?”
“You saw him?”
“He used to, near every night, but hasn’t for a long while. Think that Mr Sharpless’s arrival has started him up again.”
“How is he?”
“Mr Sharpless. Ah, Mr Trent says he’ll live. Don’t know that he’ll be much good. Soft hands, never done a day’s hard work in his life.”
“He said he’d shovelled up after the elephants in the circus.”
“Believe that and I have another for you. George said he was scared of the milk cows.”
“But they’re so sweet, almost pets. Mrs Trent, is there anything I can do to help you or Mr Trent around the farm? I’m not sure I’d be that skilful, but I’d like to.”
Mary smiled at her, “After you eat your breakfast, you can help me with the chickens, unless you want to help Mr Trent clean the stables.”
“I didn’t think you’d want to shovel out the stalls.” Mary chuckled.
“No, but I would like to learn more about the animals. Mother always had to stop me from petting the cart horses back home.”
“When you’re stronger. Remember what Dr Standfast said. You need to build up your strength. I’m sure it will come in time, but you’re not to exhaust yourself today. Now go get your tea before it’s cold.”
“Yes, Mrs Trent.”
After she finished a bowl of delicious and nourishing porridge, oats cooked with milk and sugar until they stuck to the spoon, the bowl, and her ribs, Mary escorted her to the chicken coop. There she was initiated in the ways of telling which hens were sitting on eggs, how much feed to scatter for them, and where to fill the water. After they let the chickens into their yard, Mary added, “We’ll need to lock them away this evening. Mr Hobbes said he’d seen a fox after meeting yesterday.”
This exciting task complete, Mary said, “Miss James, I must be about my work. Laundry day. The boiler should be hot by now.” Then she left Elizabeth in the farmyard.
Elizabeth watched her go, then turned and went into the barn. Or tried to. The closest barn was locked, locked with a Bramah lock, and short of cutting the bolt there was little she could do to open it. She thought, I suppose Uncle has his reasons, and moved on to the next section of the building. When this was locked as well, she hammered on the door.
“What is the matter?” Sylvester said from behind her.
Elizabeth jumped, “Why are the barns locked?”
“To keep the curious out and the contents safe. Miss Grace will be here shortly and you should change from that dowdy house-dress. Don’t want her to think you’re still ill, do you?”
“She said yesterday, she’d bring you something to read about mid-day, and I hear someone singing as they walk on the road from North Bovey. It doesn’t sound like George or one of the hands.”
Elizabeth, forgot about the barn, for the moment, and ran to the house to get changed into suitable clothes for entertaining her guest.
It was, indeed, Lucy and she brought several volumes of her favourite poetry with her. Mindful of Dr Standfast’s instructions to Elizabeth, they sat together in the front parlour, with tea and scones, having a quiet afternoon while they read together. They took turns reading aloud verses that they liked.
It was after Lucy finished one stanza that Elizabeth said, “Lucy, who’s Edward?”
“Edward! What, how?’
“There’s a letter tucked in this volume, from him.”
“You didn’t read it, did you?”
“Just the name.”
“Give it to me. Please.”
Elizabeth handed the letter to Lucy, who touched it to her lips and then tucked it into the volume she was reading.
“I guess he’s someone special. Your parents don’t approve?”
“No.” Lucy took a deep breath and explained, “We met when I was at school, and then at dances. He’s Reverend Baring-Gould’s oldest son. Promise me you won’t say anything.”
“I won’t. It’s exciting, you having a beau. I wish I did.”
Lucy blushed, “I’m sure you’ll find someone soon enough. I so wish my parents liked him.”
“Sounds as if he’s perfectly respectable, another clergyman’s child. What’s the problem?”
“My father thinks his father is too imaginative, spends too much time writing books.”
“I didn’t know that you could be too imaginative or write too many books.”
“I think they had a falling out over the Dartmoor Exploration Company.”
“What’s that? Wait, I remember, Uncle said that he’d built that pentacle for them. A Druidical monument.”
“Is that what he told you?”
“Yes, what did he tell your father?”
“That it was none of our business what was buried there. That and not to worry, it wasn’t devil worship.”
“But this Dartmoor Exploration Company. It is real?”
Lucy laughed, “Very much so. They’re excavating Neolithic and historical sites all over the moors. Edward is directing the excavations at Grimspound while he’s home from Cambridge.”
“Is that far away?”
“A couple miles, not far.”
It was Elizabeth’s turn to smile at her friend. “When I’m stronger, why don’t we arrange for an expedition to see the works? Just the pair of us, I have this deep desire to explore the ancient monuments. You have kindly offered to show me the nearest ones.”
“New found, but intense. Though I think your parents don’t need to hear how new found it is.”
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