Another gosh darned book, Second Chapter
I often put the beginnings of books on my blog. They don’t always make it to the end, but I find it helpful. This is another Regency Romance. This time without grave robbing or financial dealing and legal chicanery.
This is the second chapter. Rachel, Lady Hayforth had an accident in the first. It stranded her, for the moment, deep in the country and in the company of an odd, somewhat unsociable, young man.
I’d love to hear what you think. The title is an allusion to the hero’s interests. There’s another one in the story, but you’ll have to know your chemical history to get it.
An Unexpected Visitor and a Proposition.
In keeping with the country hours she was accustomed to, Lady Hayforth rose early in the morning, and after Lucinda’s ministrations searched for breakfast or at least a nuncheon to tide her over until the mid-day. Eventually she found a parlour, where Lord Hartshorne was restoring his tissues in preparation for a day in his laboratory.
He rose and bowed politely when she entered, “Lady Hayforth, did you sleep well?”
“Exceedingly. Thank you for your hospitality. I don’t know what we would have done had you turned us away. The weather still hasn’t let up.”
“It is wet.”
“Indeed, wet.” Rupert looked away. There seemed little more for him to say. He started to leave.
“That won’t cause you any problems, in your laboratory, will it?”
His workshop, safer ground for a conversation, he replied, “It shouldn’t, but I shall have to be careful. Avoid stray drops of water.”
“I told you I was extracting metals from salts last night.”
“You said something like that, although I didn’t understand what you meant.”
“Would you like to understand?”
Rachel studied his expression, it was like a new puppy, all excited and desiring to please. It made him almost look handsome. “If you could, but I am sadly ignorant about natural philosophy. It’s not something my parents … approved of. At least not my learning it.”
“That’s awful. At least did they let you learn the classics?”
“No, enough reading for Fordyce’s sermons and the arithmetic to see how much my servants were cheating me. They didn’t want to tax my constitution with too much mental work, not even reading novels. You know how it is with females.”
“I don’t. My mother was my father’s most enthusiastic assistant, or maybe he was hers. They published papers in the Royal Society together. Though she used a pen-name.”
“So you approve of educated ladies?” This was a novel idea.
“Very much so. I must attend to my experiments, but tonight, if you’re still here I can tell you about them.”
“I’ll look forward to it. If our carriage isn’t repaired. If it is, will you be in London this season?”
“I have a presentation to make, so I shall. The Royal Academy meeting.” He paused, then strode to a cabinet and pulled out a small jar full of oil and what appeared to be a hard cheesy substance within it. “Let me whet your appetite with a demonstration. If you’d pour some water in that bowl.”
Rachel poured a small amount of water in a delicate china saucer. Then Rupert used a knife and a spoon to remove a small amount of the ‘cheese.’ “This is sodium metal. I made it last month. The oil … Well you’ll see why I keep it under that in a moment.”
He put the lump into the bowl. It sputtered for an instant, then burst into flame. After the metal finished burning, the small amount of oil that adhered to the metal burned as it floated on the surface of the water and then went out.
“Natty isn’t it? Have to keep it dry or it burns.”
Rupert’s enthusiasm was catching, or at least Rachel caught it. Not unlike the sodium her face lit up, although in fairness she didn’t have an orange glow. “That is. I suppose you couldn’t do it again?”
“Let me dry the spoon first.”
Rupert was about to lower the next lump into the water when one of his footmen interrupted him. “Sir?”
“What is it this time?”
“A gentleman has come to see you, your Uncle Beddlington.”
“Tell him to hurry in. He won’t want to miss the spectacle.” He nodded to Rachel, “I hope you don’t mind the delay.”
A minute later a neatly dressed young man joined them. “Gas old man! More of your black arts?”
Rupert laughed, “Just entertaining my house guest, Lady Hayforth, with a little chemical demonstration. A foretaste of my talk in London.” He dropped the metal into the water. Whether it was a larger lump of sodium, or more pure than the last sample, this time, for some reason, the reaction was more vigorous and with a crack the saucer shattered.
The man said, after he’d restored his calm, “Wasting your inheritance again, Rupert?”
“Just a saucer, Uncle.”
“Uncle?” Rachel was surprised, “You look younger than Lord Hartshorne.”
“Old Gas? I am. His grandfather married again in his dotage, hence yours truly. Caused no end of bad feelings between my father and his. Not to mention his step-grandmother.”
Rupert frowned at his uncle. “George, what brings you here?”
“Not much. I was on the road and thought I’d drop in. This woman, dashed unusual of you.”
“Oh, Lady Hayforth, May I introduce my Uncle George, Lord Beddlington?”
She curtsied, “Enchanted.”
“I say,” George said, “That carriage on the main road. Not yours by chance?”
“It is. Broke down, but fortunately your nephew,” she paused at the thought of might have happened, “took my companion and me in. He even paid the carriage-wright to hurry our repairs.”
“Did he?” George surveyed his nephew. “Interesting. Gas old boy, don’t you like the company? Dashed handsome one, you know.”
Rupert gave him a hard stare, “I have my experiments. Lady Hayforth, George, I shall see you later.”
Mrs Hobbes knocked at the door, which delayed his departure. “Lady Hayforth? Miss Holloway has been airing the contents of your chest. The rain and muck entered them and she desires your guidance. If you’d follow me.”
Rachel sighed, then curtsied, “I must make my excuses. Undoubtedly I’ll see you later today?”
George bowed, “It will be my pleasure.” Then he watched his nephew, and reminded him, “Take your leave, Gas, like a polite gentleman.”
Rupert bowed to Rachel while she smiled at him in her curtsey. “I should like to hear more about your research tonight, if I may?”
He nodded, reluctantly, “I suppose. Don’t know that you’ll understand it.”
“Then you’ll just have to explain it carefully.”
Rachel turned and followed Mrs Hobbes. As she followed her down the corridor, Rachel asked, “How bad is the reckoning?”
“It is more a question of what can be saved. The chest cracked when it was dropped in the road. We’re hanging what we can on the clothes horse in the kitchen.”
“Dash it. I need that, for the trip to London. I barely have enough of the ready at it is, and that’s with staying at my cousin, Lord Bromly’s town-house.”
“Lady Hayforth, if it’s not an impertinence, may I ask you why you are in such a hurry to visit London?”
Rachel stopped midstride, and carefully formed her response. “I have the use of my father’s estate, or maybe the curse of it, until I’m twenty-four. Next year. Then I’m cast adrift. So …”
“You’re trying your hand at the marriage market?”
“It’s either that or the flesh trade, a governess or companion. I don’t want that and what would happen to Lu- Miss Halloway, my best friend.”
Mrs Hobbes nodded, and said nothing, but stored the information to discuss with Mr Brindle that evening. After a few moments she said, “Let’s see what can be done with your gowns, Ma’am. I should think all is not lost. If you don’t mind, we’ve hung them on the clothes horse in the kitchen.”
Meanwhile, George accompanied his nephew to the laboratory.
“You’ll have to leave once I start the process,” Rupert said, “but you can wait while the salt comes up to heat.” He stirred a coal fire into life below a crucible, then bent over and blew into it. “It will take a few minutes, and I presume your visit isn’t simply a social call.”
“It is, and it isn’t. You can be the first to give me felicitations.”
“Or as head of the family I could forbid it. Melody, I presume?”
“Charity, Melody was last year and I’m sorry to say we didn’t click. Lord Broughton’s new wife, now. I suppose I should have said ‘glad to say we didn’t click.’ Charity’s much nicer than Lady Broughton.”
“I suppose I can approve. You’re not expecting me to attend the wedding?”
“Ah, well … it would be generous. Indeed, somewhat expected of you. Show good form and what not. And Mother sends her greetings. Wishes you all the luck at continuing your experiments.”
“You know, when she visited here last year, she spent her time measuring for curtains and counting the spoons.”
“It’s your own fault, Gas. If you’d make a push and break the entailment, it would be a big weight off my shoulders. As much as I love her, my dear Mater can be trying at times.”
Rupert didn’t reply so George continued, “You’re not still pinning for what’s her name?”
“Antonia? … No, not really. But I swore not to let myself be hurt like that again. I’m done with females.”
“I see, and this pleasant young chit, you have staying here?”
“Her carriage broke down last night. I couldn’t turn her away, could I?”
“I suppose not, but you seemed to enjoy her company this morning. What was that stuff you put in the saucer?”
“Sodium … Don’t read more into it than you have. I’ve offered the carriage-wright a hundred pounds to finish repairs today. She’ll soon be off to London or whatever. Good riddance.”
“What are you hinting at? That I ought to marry her just to cut you out of the inheritance? She’s a pretty enough chit, I’ll warrant you, but ignorant and untutored. Not only that but …” Rupert couldn’t finish his sentence.
“But what? Besides if it’s just ignorance, you can fix it. She’s not dull, is she?”
“I wouldn’t know … she did enjoy my demonstration. The salt’s almost molten again. You really must leave now. These gases, they’re not good for you.”
“I know. More to the point I can see the effects on you. That blonde streak is dashed attractive, but your face and that hoarse cough.”
Rupert ignored the persiflage and after donning his goggles and then his coat, opened a window. George shivered in the cold breeze. “I’m going to connect the voltaic pile. Best if you’re not here George.”
“As you say Gas.” George turned to leave.
“And I wish you wouldn’t use that name. My name is Rupert, in case you’ve forgot.”
“I don’t know.” George sniffed the fumes that were beginning to emanate from Rupert’s apparatus. “Gas seems so fitting. Don’t kill yourself, nephew.”
After he left the room, George quickly found Mr Brindle. “Edward, can you send a page to the carriage-wright?”
“Sir?” Mr Brindle’s austere tone of voice reflected his disapproval of George’s over-familiarity. If he noticed it, George ignored it.
“Rupert said he’d paid the man to finish as soon as is possible. I’d like to delay that if I may.”
Edward gave him one of his rare smiles, “I see, Sir. It will be my pleasure. Mrs Hobbes and I were speculating last night. Are you certain you don’t wish to inherit this house?”
“Good Lord no. I have enough to manage as it is, and … to be honest, there are better ways to restore harmony in the family than waiting for Rupert to die. I mean, dash it all, he looked after me when we were at school together. Can’t let him keep making a hash of things.”
Edward bowed, his continence restored to its usual impassivity. “I’ll see that the carriage repairs are delayed, My Lord. You’ll advance the needful?”
“Of course. Thank you, and I suppose it is unnecessary for me to suggest that you converse with Mrs Hobbes? See if there is some way for her to encourage this gift of providence. Even if they don’t click, which granted is highly unlikely, I hope we can get him thinking about marriage again. At least out and about – meeting members of the fair sex.”
“I shall attend to it, Sir. Now if you’ll excuse me.” Edward bowed, and then made his way to the servant’s quarters in a rapid, but surprisingly dignified pace.
George watched him depart, and then went to the library in search of writing material. Charity would be waiting to hear from him. He felt the gift or maybe the curse of poetry coming upon him. He found a writing desk, pulled out the chair and sat on it. As he looked up at one of the stuffed birds for inspiration he said, “Pity there aren’t many words that rhyme with Charity. Where she named Jane, Susan or even Mary, I could really spread myself. Still, I think she’ll be pleased to hear that good old Gas agrees to our wedding. Even if it will take blasting powder to get him there.”
He started writing, then paused and added, “Not that it would have mattered if he’d objected.”
At mid-day, Rupert was still electrolysing his salt, but Lord Beddlington sought a repast. His poetic meanderings were dashed exhausting. Still, he thought, Charity would approve of his doggerel, as long as it was addressed to her. At least he hoped she would, and not criticise his construction, spelling and how the verses scanned.
He was joined by Rachel and Lucinda. Never one for subtlety he asked, “Lady Hayforth, may I inquire about your station in life?”
“Do you mean my estate? My father left it heavily mortgaged, and under an unusual entail.”
“Yes, I have only a short time to live there, unless I’m married. Then it goes to my second cousin. He’ll get it anyway if I die without issue.”
“I see. It is unusual, to leave it to a female. So I presume there is some impetus for you to marry.”
“You might say that. I hope you aren’t …”
He backed away, “No, no, my dear lady, I’m happily engaged. Just getting the head of the family’s approval … and checking up on him. That said.”
“No. I know what you’re hinting. I barely know him and he seems such a strange, shy man.”
“Dreadfully sorry, I think you misunderstand me. What do you know of Rupert’s history?”
“Nothing. Until yesterday I was completely unaware of Lord Hartshorne’s existence, and I’m certain he had never heard of me. Why?”
“Ah. There is a side to him that you are unaware of. He cut quite a dash about town … until, um, he met Antonia Green. She swept him off his feet and left him in the gutter. Found someone even richer. Pity rather, but he’s well out of it.”
“So? What is my concern in this?”
“He hasn’t looked at a young female since. Retired to the country and pursues his chemical experiments. Alone in splendid isolation.”
“Surely you’re not proposing that I do something improper?”
“Not at all. It’s just if you could befriend him … This is dashed awkward, but I understand you’re not exactly flush with the ready.”
“No. I have five hundred pounds and expect little more.”
“And you hope to find a husband on that? It is a long shot, my dear.”
“I know. But there isn’t much of an alternative. It’s not enough to live on and won’t make my life as a governess or companion any easier. So for better or ill, a husband it is.”
George nodded his head. This chit had her priorities straight. “Well, then, I have a very simple proposition for you. Befriend my nephew, and get him to London. Help me to turn his head to thoughts of ladies and marriage. In return I shall, ah, grease the skids as it were.”
“I see. You aren’t expecting me to do anything … improper, compromising? I still desire marriage, although not with Lord Hartshorne.”
Lucinda had sat silent through this exchange, “Miss Rachel, please. This isn’t becoming and I’m afraid you’ll live to regret it.”
“I know Lucy, but to be honest, Lord Bromly warned me that I was cutting it too fine when I first wrote to him.” Rachel stared at the ceiling for a moment, and then at Lord Beddlington. “On the understanding that I shall simply be a friend, or at least do my best to be a friend, I’ll accept your offer.”
“That’s the spirit. You won’t regret it, and my Charity will be pleased to see her new nephew at Almack’s. Get her mother to show you the town.”
“Why not yours?”
“Ah, well, she prefers that Rupert not get married. Afraid he might break the entail. Though what we’d do with his estates is beyond me. It’s one thing if he doesn’t produce an heir. Entirely another if he doesn’t try.”
“I see. There is a complication, Lord Bromly expects me this week.”
“Not a problem, I’ll frank your letter. Um … I have one of my own to send to the city, so if you write yours quickly, I’ll see that it gets sent today.”
“Why would you write … I’m sorry, mine’s to her.”
“As it should be. Where did you find paper?” Rachel rose, followed immediately by Lord Beddlington.
“The library, in a desk below a stuffed eagle.”
“All those creatures, I’m not sure I’ll feel comfortable writing while they watch.” None the less, Rachel found her way to the library and ignored the animal’s unblinking stare while she wrote a short letter to her sponsor, to let him know that she would be later than expected, but would arrive, in style, escorted by a member of the ton.
Dinner was a great improvement over the last nights. Rupert’s cook exerted herself since she now had an audience that might appreciate good food, and whose taste buds and sense of smell, unlike Rupert’s, actually functioned. This isn’t to say the food was up to the standards of Claridge’s, White’s or even Brook’s, but cabbage boiled out of all recognition did not feature on the menu. Instead she’d found a lamb, roast with game birds, a timbale of parsnips, and a fish of an unknown origin but decidedly palatable taste. Even George, who was something of a gourmet and used to excellent chefs in the Village, pronounced himself satisfied with it. Rachel, whose now-dismissed cook was known for her skill at charring or ‘blackening’ her productions, enjoyed her meal. She said, “This is one of the best I’ve eaten in a long while.
George replied, “My poor girl, I shall have to take you to a proper place when we get to town, or maybe Gas will.”
“I’ll do what?” Rupert asked.
“Take Lady Hayforth to a decent sluicery in London.”
“We’ll see. I’ll be busy at the Royal Academy.”
Rachel smiled at him, and added, “Would you? It would be ever so nice.”
Rupert looked away.
At the end of dinner, Rupert rose when Rachel did. He said, “You must excuse me for a small rudeness, but my experiment should have cooled down by now. I need to see that everything is in order and update my notes.” He bowed to them, “But I hope I will be finished before you retire. George, you’ll see that the ladies are entertained?”
“If you insist, but you’re shirking on your duties as a host.”
“I am, but I shouldn’t be long.”
Rupert hadn’t finished by the time they retired. The rain, which had been threatening all day, settled in for the evening. The wind-blown drops accompanied their evening reading with an occasional staccato drum beat.