A Formulaic Romance, Chapter 3. #amwriting #wip #romancenovel

Things get more serious in this sweet romance. Lord Hartshorne isn’t as clueless about his Uncle’s machinations as he seems. He decides that this young woman will do. She’s not as dashing as his lost Antonia, but presentable, friendly, and more importantly not likely to hurt him. Life together won’t be passionate, but it will be comfortable and companionable.

It continues from the previous chapter, or you can start from the beginning.

My co-author Amelia and I often put the beginnings of books on my, now our, blog. They don’t always make it to the end, but it’s helpful for our writing. This is another Regency Romance. This time without grave robbing or financial dealing and legal chicanery.

A Serious Chapter.

Next morning, the rain, having finally, finally broken, George, with the time hanging heavy on his hands, found Rachel and Lucinda at breakfast and said, “I feel like a ride. Do you ride Miss?”

“I used to.” She grimaced, “Sold my hunter to pay for this trip so in a sense I’m wearing her.”

“That’s too bad. Rupert used to keep a good stable. He’s let it go in the last years, but I’m sure there’s something worth throwing a leg over. Would you be willing to accompany me on the downs?”

Lucinda gushed, “Yes. I like to ride as well.”

George bowed to the inevitable chaperone, and realizing that Lucinda was better company than most chaperones, rose and bowed. “I’ll inquire about the horses and see if there are side-saddles.”

After he left, Lucinda turned to Rachel and said, “What an elegant man.”

“Yes, A pity he’s engaged … to a Miss Deacon, his ‘Charity.’ The good ones all get taken. I think we’d best hurry to London before they’re all gone.”

“Don’t be so cynical. There’s always, what was it Lord Beddlington called him? Gas.”

“He’s handsome enough, I’ll grant you, but so dashed odd. Buried in that workshop of his.”

“You can change that, can’t you? Or at least take an interest in his work.”

“I suppose.” Rachel studied the room, found it lacking inspiration, and finally said, “I suppose I could change my name to Sodium, Natria or something elemental. Then he’d like me.”

George overheard that as he entered the room, “I wouldn’t, Ma’am. Rachel is a pleasant, if unusual name.”

“My father found it in the Old Testament. Could have been worse, Delilah or Jael. What did you find about the horses?”

“I found Brindle and he sent a footman. Unfortunately, he remembers only one serviceable side-saddle. If that.”

Lucinda’s face fell. “So a groom will accompany you.”

“Unfortunately, yes.” George bowed gently again, “I should much rather have both your company.” As he straightened he smiled at Rachel, “Lady Hayforth, I await your pleasure.”

****

Upstairs, in her room, Lucinda pulled Rachel’s riding habit from her trunk and brushed it down. She said, “Sad, isn’t it, that you haven’t had many chances to wear it? Since selling your mare.”

“I don’t know, Lucy. You enjoy riding much more than me. Why don’t you wear it and ride with Lord Beddlington?”

“I couldn’t.”

“Well, I shouldn’t.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I’ve seen it in his eyes and … his smile. He likes me, and quite frankly, I like him. But he’s engaged, off the market. It would never do to become more than just friends with him.”

“Oh, and you think I’m safe, that he won’t look at me, that I’m too plain?”

Rachel laughed, “I didn’t mean it that way, but you are safer. Besides, he asked me to tempt Lord Hartshorne into going to London, and I’d best be about my business.”

Lucinda hesitated, so Rachel continued, “You’re doing me a great favour, and in any case I’ll have a chance to parade in Hyde Park on one of Lord Bromley’s nags whenever I’d like. You won’t.”

Lucinda allowed herself to be swayed. When the two women returned to the parlour, George stared at them.

“I thought, Lady Hayforth that you and I would ride.”

“Miss Holloway is the better rider.”

“Am not.” Lucinda added in a whisper.

“Is the better rider, and I’d best be about completing that task you set me. I won’t succeed if I don’t pay attention to his Lordship.”

George nodded, “Yes, there is that … Miss Holloway, pleased that you will ride with me.”

Lucinda said, “I hope that you’re not too disappointed.”

“No, not at all.” Rachel caught the hint of disappointment in his voice. It’s for the best.

****

Left to her own devices after they left, Rachel found her way to the front parlour. A spinet, dusty and disused, but surprisingly still close to in tune sat in a corner. She started playing, first from memory, and then from a piece of sheet music.

Lord Hartshorne startled her and she stopped playing, “Lady Hayforth?”

“Yes?”

“I … should like to … apologize. Last night.”

“For what?”

“I had intended to return, to keep you … and George company. It’s just … Well, I became distracted in my notes.”

“That’s what I thought. Do you mind if I keep playing?”

“No. Please do … You play very well.”

Rachel resumed playing, but continued to talk. “I thought you would be in your laboratory today.”

“Usually, but not today. Not when I have.” He paused for more than a moment, “To be honest, I caught a few too many breaths of the fumes, and need to let my lungs clear.”

“I thought you were going to say, ‘not when I have company.’”

“That too. It’s just.” Rupert couldn’t overcome his shyness.

“It’s not Antonia, is it?”

“How do you know about her?”

“Your uncle.”

“George needs to keep his mouth shut. Yes it is. Your playing, it reminds me of her.”

“Should I stop?”

Rupert stared out the window. The grey skies from the last few day’s rains were gone. He could hear the birds and imagine the fresh smell of the drying earth outside. He turned back and said, “No. I liked, I like music.”

Rachel stopped for a moment, nonetheless. “Do you play?”

“A little, I haven’t in years. Not since …”

“This is a duet. The bass part is simple. Would you-?” She blushed. It was putting herself forward.

“Join you?” Rupert studied the window again, then flexed his fingers. “I’ll try. It’s been a long time since I’ve played.”

Rachel scooted to the side of the bench to make room for him. When he sat next to her she thought, He’s so thin, needs to look after himself … needs someone to look after him.

Then they played together. It wasn’t exactly the best performance, and certainly no one would have thought either of them an adept, but it didn’t matter. They were lost in the music. Together.

Eventually the piece came to an end. Rupert said, “I haven’t sat this close … I mean played a duet with … not since Antonia.”

“I’m not her.”

“I know.” Rupert sat quietly. Rachel could see the confusion in his face.

“Tell me about her, if it would help.”

“Not much to say. A beauty. I thought, no I was in love with her. I thought she was in love with me. We were …”

“Engaged?”

Rupert nodded, “Then she eloped with Lord Biddle. Didn’t even leave me a note.”

Almost unconsciously, Rachel reached for his hand and squeezed it. “It must have hurt.”

“It did.” Rupert turned to face her. After studying her face for what seemed a very long minute he said, “But that’s over.”

“Good.” Rachel suddenly felt a little breathless. She sat too close, too alone, to a man. Not only that, she held his hand. Without gloves. The bleached streaks and white pallor of his skin accentuated the darkness of his eyes. She sat too close to a far too handsome man for comfort.

Rupert only made it worse. “Marry me.”

“What?”

“Marry me.”

“Lord Hartshorne,” Rachel rapidly backed away and tried to stand. Only to trip on her gown and land on the floor.

Rupert calmly moved over and helped her up. “I’m sure George has, by now, asked you to help shift me to London.”

“How’d?”

“I know my Uncle. For that matter, I could tell something was up, from Mrs Hobbes. The way she smirked this morning. What did he offer you?”

“To help pay for my season.”

“I see. A bit mercenary?”

Rachel laughed, “No, a bit desperate. Lord Hartshorne,”

“Rupert.”

“Rupert, then. I hardly know you, and you hardly know me. How could we possibly wed?”

“I like the way you play your instrument, and you’re beautiful. You handled my … impoliteness with grace.”

“That’s not enough and you know it. Or you’d know it if you thought it through.”

“I thought it through with Antonia. Should have just kept looking.”

Rachel saw a flash of distress on his face.  He still is in love with her. “Are, are you sure? I, I can’t.”

“It won’t be passion, I’m done with passion, but I can offer you comfort, comfort and security … I think we should get on well enough. Learn to love each other in time. So what about it?”

“I can’t say yes. You know that.”

Rupert’s face fell.

“But I won’t say no. How would ‘maybe’ work for you? You’re not unattractive.”

“That’s damning.”

“Alright, you’re handsome, and you don’t seem vicious. I’m willing to see if it works. Will that do?”

“Maybe.”

“It’s better than no.”

Rupert chuckled. “You’re right. Maybe will be first rate.”

“And you’ll come to London with me?”

“I’ll bring you to London. If only to show George that he shouldn’t trifle with the head of the family.” Rupert’s smile broke into laughter.

“What’s so funny?”

“I’m just imagining the expression on my step-grandmother’s face when I turn up with a dashed good-looking armful.”

Rachel’s attempt to question Rupert about why that should matter was interrupted. Lucy stood in the door and shouted, “Miss Rachel, what are you doing? Alone with a man.”

“It’s fine Lucy. Lord Hartshorne has been a perfect gentleman. We were-”

“That is as may be. But you shouldn’t be alone with him.”

Rupert rose, bowed and said, “Miss Holloway, how was your ride?”

“It was exquisite. Now Miss Rachel, come with me. We will have a conversation, about your deportment.”

Rachel gave Rupert a wan smile, “See how I’m managed.”

“It’s for your own good, Ma’am.”

Upstairs, in Rachel’s room, as she helped Lucy out of her riding habit, she asked, “How did it go, really?”

“It was fine. The mare was a little barn-soured, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Lord Beddlington was nothing if not a gentleman.”

“Exactly what I’d expect of him.”

“It is. What, may I ask, were you and Lord Hartshorne doing?”

“Playing the spinet. I found a duet. We played it together.”

Lucy chuckled, “Since you haven’t practiced, in … I don’t know, ever so long. I’m glad I was out riding.” She noted that Rachel was unusually distracted, thoughtful. “Did something else happen?”

“He, he asked me to marry him.”

“I hope you accepted, much nicer to be engaged. It’ll solve no end of problems.”

“I didn’t.”

“You didn’t refuse him!”

“I didn’t. I said maybe.”

“Whatever possessed you? You know your situation, and … Good Lord Rachel. Get yourself back down there and tell him you accept his hand.”

“But?”

“But nothing young miss. He’ll make you happy. Happy enough.”

Rachel sighed, “I suppose you’re right.”

“I am. You know I am. With the war there aren’t enough able and eligible men left, and things are so tight with so many soldiers returning from France. We saw a mob.”

“You did?”

“I’ll tell you after you’ve talked to Lord Hartshorne. Lord Beddlington and the groom went to find the local magistrate.”

“Can you come with me?”

“Support you in your time of crisis? If you insist.”

Accompanied by her companion, Rachel returned to the study. Then she rang the bell for the servants. When Mr Brindle appeared, she asked him if he’d seen Lord Hartshorne.

“I believe, Ma’am, that he was headed to his workshop.’ Mr Brindle’s well-trained impassivity concealed his intense curiosity. “I could, if you desire, show you the way.”

“Please.”

Rupert was in his laboratory, with the window open, while he worked through his notes. Rachel’s nose puckered at the remaining smell, the peculiar tang of chemistry. “Lord Hartshorne, Rupert,” She curtsied, “About what you asked me.”

“Yes?”

“I had the time to think, to gather my thoughts. I shouldn’t have said maybe.”

Rupert’s face tightened with worry, then relaxed when he saw she was smiling at him.

“I should have said yes.”

“Do you mean that?”

“That I should like to marry you? Yes. Why would you think otherwise?” Sensing his disbelief, she continued, “I should think there’d be a queue. You’ve such a lost, helpless, romantic look. Childe Harolde or Florian personified. Besides, you told me you were done with mourning that woman.”

Rupert flashed Rachel a quick smile. “You’re right. I am done with her. And you’ve made me the happiest man.”

“Good. Especially if we’re engaged, even informally. I could still break it off and I will if you’re still holding a candle for her.”

Rupert shook his head, “Antonia is at most a bad dream, one … I think you’ve helped me wake up from it, my love.” He paused for a few moments thought. “We’ll need to attend to the settlements, my solicitor is in London.”

“Good thing we’re going there anyway. I’d like the chance to dance with you. To have a season. I’ll write to my cousin Lord Bromley … he was my guardian and will know what should be done.”

“You can do that while I finish my notes. I still intend to present my work at the Royal Academy. Then I’d love to show you the downs. My farm.”

“A walk?”

Rupert nodded, and then glancing at Miss Holloway, added, “If your companion approves.”

Lucy replied, “I should love to accompany you, as long as it’s not too muddy.”

****

When George arrived back at the Hall, he found Rupert, uncharacteristically, enjoying a nuncheon with Rachel and Lucinda. Even more uncharacteristically, he was smiling.

“What did I miss, Gas?”

“Rachel has made me happy.”

George frowning, glanced at her and said, “That was fast work my lady.”

She replied, “It was Rupert who asked me. He’s the fast worker.”

“I see.”

“We played a duet on the spinet.”

“And on that basis he asked you to marry him?”

“Yes. Is there a problem?”

“I’ll talk to you later.”

Rupert added, “We were wondering if a double wedding were in order, Uncle. Do you think Miss Deacon would mind?”

“I think she’d be delighted … At least I’d hope she would. Have you written Lady Beddlington yet?”

“No, which reminds me. There was other thing I wanted to discuss. When should we put the formal announcement in the Gazette? Rachel thinks not until the settlements’ been negotiated. What did you do with Miss Deacon?”

After giving Rachel a hard stare, George said, “I’d keep it quiet – for the moment.”

Rupert said, “You haven’t answered my question.”

“I will post my announcement when I return to London. It was only polite to ask the head of my family first.”

After they’d finished eating, Lucy chaperoned Rupert and Rachel as he showed her the downs. George insisted on tailing along with them. As Lucy and Rupert walked ahead, he dropped back with Rachel.

“Do you know what you’re doing?”

“I like Lord Hartshorne, very much, if that’s what you mean.”

George stopped, then surveyed the field of still-green corn beside the path. The heads were starting to fill out and the wind made waves as it blew along the down.

Rachel continued, “I’m sure I’ll grow to love him and he to love me. We’ll suit, both practical rather than passionate.”

“That’s not what I mean. Oh damn.”

“You’re engaged too. What would Miss Deacon think?”

“I mean, you’re too good for him.”

Rachel looked away and grimaced, “I doubt that. You don’t know me very well then.”

“You’re right. I don’t know you well enough.”

“Besides,” she laughed, “he’s the best available. My cousin, Lord Bromley, wasn’t enthusiastic about my chances at the marriage mart in London. If your nephew likes me enough to make me comfortable, then who am I to argue?”

George shook his head, “Yes. I’m sorry. Viewed in a practical light you acted with sense. I wish you well. At least you won’t run off like Antonia Green. That really did hurt him.”

“I can safely promise you that won’t happen. Lord Beddlington –“

“George.”

“George, I’m conformable. I’m sure I’ll be happy with Rupert and do my best to make him happy. What more can one hope in marriage?”

“Not much more. I hope it isn’t marry in haste and repent at leisure.”

“It won’t be.”

George looked up the path, “They’re getting ahead of us.”

“So?”

Lord Hartshorne and Miss Holloway waited at the top of the hill. Rupert pointed at a smudge in the distance. “General Byng’s camp. The town of Pontefract beyond.”

Lucy squinted, too vain to wear the spectacles she required to see clearly, and said “It is?”

When they caught up with them, George drew a deep breath and said, “I forget Gas … sorry, Rupert, how much I enjoy the freshness out here. Even with the occasional whiff of cow, it’s far better than London. Clean air, nothing like it.”

“Rupert,” Rachel asked, “You were showing something to Lucy. What was it?”

“General Byng’s camp. The 15th Hussars. What with all the troubles, I’m glad they’re nearby.”

“Troubles?”

“That meeting in Nottingham several weeks ago, and the march on Butterly. A bad business.”

“Not that they don’t have a point. The corn laws.”

“I know. It’s just we’ve fought to put down those nasty Frogs and now … ”

“We’ve fought?” George said. “I didn’t know you had a commission.”

“I didn’t, but I did work on things. Things for the army, the navy.”

Rachel asked, “What kinds of things?”

Rupert smiled, then held up his hands, spreading them. “Can’t say too much more. Still have ten fingers. I was luckier than most.”

A horseman rode up to them and haled them with a voice practiced from years of running to hounds. The squire and local magistrate of the parish, Sir John Tennant called. “My Lord, I haven’t seen you out this year. Never with such fair company.”

Rupert bowed his head gently, acknowledging Sir John with what he felt to be the proper amount of condescension.  “Sir John, may I introduce my Uncle, Lord Beddlington, Lady Hayforth and her companion Miss Holloway?”

“Delighted to meet you. Chasing the young ladies again, at last?”

“More than just a chase, Sir John. Lady Hayforth has agreed to be my wife.”

“Good lord, I didn’t think you had it in you … I say, I didn’t send you an invitation since I knew you’d refuse, but this changes everything. I mean if you’re entertaining company again.”

“An invitation?”

“A ball, informal of course, at the manor. Tomorrow night. There’ll be officers from the 15th, maybe even General Byng himself.”

“I think,” Rupert said, “I don’t know. Lady Hayforth what do you think?”

“I think I’d like to dance with you.”

“Then it’s settled. Tomorrow at the manor. Thank you.”

Sir John tipped his hat and cantered off.

****

That evening, after supper, Rupert joined the others in the parlour. After whispering something sweet to Rachel, which made her blush, he said, “George, old boy, what are you reading?”

George looked up from the sheath of papers he studied, “A letter … from Miss Deacon, Charity. I picked it up when I rode into town.”

Rachel couldn’t help but ask, “How is she? It’s obvious she likes to write. How many sixpences did that cost or did she get it franked?”

“Enough.” He laughed, “I’d say she crowned me with this letter. Half-crowned me at least. She took me to task for not writing recently, but this is mostly about the book she wants me to read. Improve my mind.”

“Which book?”

“The critic of pure reason, by Kant.”

“I’ve not read it. Is it interesting?” Rachel said.

“Wouldn’t know. Trouble is, I left my copy at home. Only expected to be away a day or so … What am I going to do? She’s expecting cogent answers by return post.”

“Oh dear.”

Rupert cleared his voice and said, “It’s a dense tome but he builds a strong argument for the existence of a common human mentality that foreshadows or shapes our understanding of the world. Indeed, he argues that without a preformed model of our experiences learning would be, itself, impossible.”

Everyone was silent until Lucinda said, “Was that German? Could you try it in English?”

“There must be a pre-existing mental structure in our brains that interprets our senses. In order to communicate, we must share a similar ideal or vorbestehenden modell of the world.”

“Oh. Interesting.”

“It is. You need a copy of his work George?”

“Do you have one?” George relaxed, “You’ll save my life if you do. Charity can be cutting when she’s upset.”

“Well thumbed. A fascinating work.” Rupert rang and when Mr Brindle appeared he said, “Can you get my copy of Kant’s Critique from the library.”

“Certainly sir.” A minute later he returned with a thick book. “Here it is.”

“Thank you. It’s for George.”

Rachel laughed when she saw the book, “A little light reading, Lord Beddlington?”

“The light of my life wishes I’d improve my mind, bring it up to her level, or at least closer to it.”

“I see, Sir.” Mr Brindle’s voice was dry, expressing his concern in the only way open to a servant.

George took the book from him and tried to read it, starting from the beginning of the eight-hundred pages of dense convoluted German.

“I say Gas,” he blurted, “This is in German.”

“Don’t you know German? It’s a language of great expressiveness.”

“Ein glass bier, bitte. Not much more than that. Enough to entertain the Prussian officers when they visit London. You don’t have an English translation?”

“No, and in any case it would be even longer. English isn’t as expressive as German.”

Rachel saw the distress on George’s face. “Lord Beddlington.”

“Please call me George. We’re all friends here.”

“Lord Beddlington, surely you can explain the circumstances to Miss Deacon. It wasn’t your fault that you were detained longer than expected.”

“I can try. Charity has fixed ideas about things, and philosophy is one of them. Bright woman you know. More educated and witty than I am.”

“I can’t imagine that she would hold it against you, especially if you showed up with flowers or some small gift.”

Rupert chuckled, “Was that a pun Rachel?”

“A pun?”

“I can’t.” Seeing that she didn’t understand him, he continued, “Immanuel Kant, I. Kant.” Overcome with his own wittiness he laughed.

Lucinda and Rachel eventually joined in.

George groaned, “What am I going to do?”

“Tell you what, Uncle. Read her questions to me and I’ll help you with the answers.”

“Like back in school?”

“Precisely, and I only ask one thing in return.”

“Anything Gas.”

“Please stop using that nickname.”

“As you say, Gas …

 
The featured image is “The New Spinet” by George C Kilburne.

A Formulaic Romance 2 #amwriting #Fridayreads #wip

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.”
“Very.”
“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.”
“Really, why?”
“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.”
“I see.”
“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.”
“I won’t.”
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.”
“Indeed?”
“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.”
“To Charity?”
“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.

A Formulaic Romance #amwriting #Fridayreads #wip

Another gosh darned book.

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.

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 Interruption.

“That’s bloody torn it!” Miss Rachel Heppleworth, the youngest and only surviving daughter of Lord Hayforth, was rarely moved to rough language, but her ancient carriage finally failed on her way to London. On her one chance to join society and find a suitable, rich, and hopefully reasonably good looking or at least good mannered, husband. Preferably, not vicious, a non-smoker, though she approved of snuff, at most a moderate gambler, and willing to squire her to the occasional assembly. It would be an extra bonus if he were discreet in his affairs and sensible in his conversation. She and her maid stood while the rain soaked through their pelisses and trickled down their backs. They surveyed the wreck of their carriage. One postilion had ridden ahead to find help.
Lucinda, her maid, companion, and confidant replied, “Miss?”
“It’s raining, almost snowing, the thoroughbrace broke and the weight of the carriage body snapped the rear axle. We’re stuck, here in the middle of nowhere, and worst of all we were due in London by the end of the week.”
“Miss we can always send a letter. Lord Bromly would understand.”
“If the post runs out here.”
Lucinda shivered, the cold and damp had already penetrated her pelisse. Miss Rachel did not fail to notice the chill, nor did she ignore her maid and companion’s discomfort. She pointed to a massive pile of bricks and spires in the distance. “We could see if there is anyone living in that pile of stones. There seems to be a fire and lights.”
Lucinda followed her mistress’s gesture, and gasped, “It’s a mile off, at least. Down a muddy lane.”
“We’ll warm up on the way. You’re already blue from the cold, and there’s nowhere else we could go. I’ll leave a note in the carriage.”
A few minutes later, they started down the mucky lane. It wasn’t heavily travelled, which was a benefit. The mud was just mud and not that mixture of mud and manure the polite world referred to as slough. Still, it was slippery and stuck to the hems of their gowns. Their steps squelched in the mire. Rachel slipped and fell. When she arose, she was covered in the brown gooey slime. She smiled at Lucinda and said, “I hope they’ll send for our trunks.”
“I hope they’ll let you have hot water.”
Shortly after that, Rachel and her maid stood in front of the front door. The building was larger than it had looked from a distance. It was an ancient building that some recent owner had tried to refit into the Georgian style, with mixed success. It was a far more impressive building now that they were finally standing in front of it than it had appeared from the main road.
Rachel quailed at the thought of knocking on the door. Then she steeled herself and said, “Ready?”
Lucinda nodded, and Rachel pulled the bell. A dull ring echoed from the depths of the hall. It finished echoing and there was no response. Rachel pulled on it again. This time the door opened almost immediately. What had been a dull ring became unpleasantly loud.
A tall, gaunt man answered the door. He examined them, from head to foot, and then from foot to head, taking in the details of their dress and its apparent cleanliness. Finally having decided that they were less than genteel, he said, “Yes, Miss? We do not make donations or give alms from this house. The servants entrance is around back if you are desirous of employment. Though we do not need a scullery maid at present.”
“I am Rachel, Lady Hayforth and this is my companion, Miss Holloway. My, our carriage broke on the main road and we wondered if there were some shelter from this inclement weather. Common manners would suggest that we should be welcome.”
The man slowly nodded, and then said, “I see, Ma’am. If you will accompany me, I shall see what the master says.”
He opened the door and lead the two women into the dark hall, and then into a side parlour. One lined with books, books that appeared to have been used. A plethora, a veritable ark of stuffed animals decorated the room. This only added to its melancholy. After saying, “Please wait here,” he turned and slowly made his way off into the dim recesses of the building.
Lucinda turned to her mistress and said, “This is just like a Gothic romance. I’d not be surprised to find a skeleton behind that curtain.” Behind her water streaked down the windows. The storm had decided that rain was in order and now the heavens had opened. The darkening skies made the room grow ever more dim and full of shadows. Lucinda shook from the cold, her teeth chattering as her body tried to warm itself.
“Nonsense Lucinda. This is England, 1816 and not some strange foreign land.” Rachel strode to the curtain, looked at her maid, and pulled the curtain aside. “What did I tell you?”
Lucinda gasped, and Rachel looked. There was a skeleton, a human skeleton mounted as an anatomical display. She quickly pulled the curtain closed with a snap.
“I just hope they are open to visitors and not in deep mourning. I’m so famished that I’d gnaw on these bones.”
“I hope they have a good laundress. Your gown, Miss.”
“Not to mention my face. At least we’re out of the rain and the cold.”

****

Rupert was deeply into his latest experiment, electrolysing a molten salt to see what metal he could recover, when he was interrupted by a knock on the laboratory door. The windows in the laboratory were open to disperse the thick yellow gas that rose from one electrode, and a cold wind blew through the room. The thick coat he wore, because of the cold, concealed a wiry yet muscular frame. His dark hair was partially bleached from the caustic fumes which gave him unusual blonde streaks. The fumes had also bleached his face, giving him a ghastly white pallor. He wore goggles to protect his eyes. Without looking away from his apparatus, he said, “Edward, what is it, now?”
“Sir, there are two women at the front door. They asked for refuge from the storm, their carriage having had and accident on the main road.”
“You know my opinion about visitors. Send them away.”
“One of them is uncommonly pretty, sir. She would be a diversion.”
“I don’t want to be diverted, but,” he paused, “Are they suitable company?”
“One claims to be Lady Hayforth, the other her maid. They are young.”
“Suggesting something again, Edward?”
“I wouldn’t take that liberty, Sir. Still, may I remind you about the entail?”
“Yes, I know, I shall marry, sometime, if I ever meet the right woman.” Rupert shrugged, “Which seems rather unlikely. My experiment is at a critical stage. See that they are warm and send someone for their bags. I’ll be ready at the regular time for supper.”
“Sir.” Edward bowed. Then he shuffled off.

****

A few minutes afterwards, with Mrs Hobbes, the housekeeper behind him, he shuffled into the hall.
“Lady Hayforth,” he wheezed, “the Master says that we are to see to your comfort. Mrs Hobbes will escort you.”
Mrs Hobbes curtsied to Rachel, “Lady Hayforth. If you would follow me. We shall see to that gown.”
Lucinda asked, “Our baggage?”
“We’ll send a cart.” Mrs Hobbes smiled, “Don’t worry, the Master is friendly enough. At least when he’s not cooking something up in his laboratory. Follow me.”
She led them upstairs, “Lady Hayforth, this is your room. I’ll see that warm water is sent up.”
Not many minutes later, with her face, arms, and hands, cleaned and her gown drying by the fire, Rachel smiled at her maid from a warm bundle of blankets. “I think we’ve landed on our feet.”
“I don’t know Miss Rachel. This ‘Master’ seems to command almost oriental obedience from his servants.”
“And I don’t?”
Lucinda gave her mistress a playful tap on her shoulder. “You know what I mean.”
“I do, and believe me, I know you’d walk into the flames for me. Still, Lucinda, I can’t imagine inspiring such awe in you or any of my servants.”
“I just wish, Miss Rachel that we hadn’t broken down on the road. If it costs you your chance at a London season, that old carriage was a poor bargain.”
“What else could we have done, Lucy? There wasn’t enough of the needfull in that legacy to be worth investing in any other way and we couldn’t waste it until we get to the City. It will work. I’ll find a stupid rich young man who is tolerable and break the entail. Or failing that support us in the manner to which we are accustomed, if not better.”
“If you say so Miss.”
“You know, Lucinda, that I’ve never had much choice in the matter. Had my parents lived, they’d have sold me to the highest bidder. This way I get something of a say in who I marry. I intend to pick someone who is conformable to my wishes.”
“Yes, Miss. I still think this adventure is ill-fated.”
“Five hundred pounds in the four-percents would give me twenty pounds a year to live on. That’s barely enough to keep body and soul together, not enough to support a genteel life, let alone make me attractive to any sensible man. My, our, only hope is to find someone who thinks the manor is worth the cost of marrying me before the entail takes effect and we lose it. Failing that, at least some man I can tolerate, who isn’t too stupid, lazy or poor. And who, when he strays, is at least discreet about it.”
Lucinda’s response was delayed by a knock on the door. When she answered it, Mrs Hobbes entered, bearing a gown.
“Lady Hayforth. The cart that we sent for your baggage is stuck in the lane. Supper will be served within the hour.”
“Oh. My gown, it’s not dry and we’ve only scraped a little mud from it. I can’t be seen in my stays.”
“I thought as much. This gown, if you would, it was my Mistress’s, and I’m sure she would lend it to you were she still with us.”
“Your mistress’s”
“The Master’s late mother. She was about your size, and I sure if Miss Holloway would assist, we could fit you before your trunk arrives.”
“And in time for supper?”
“That too, My Lady.”
Between them, Mrs Hobbes and Lucinda had Rachel dressed in record time. The gown, while old-fashioned, was made of a fine blue silk. The colour complimented Rachel’s eyes, but when she looked at herself in the mirror, she said, “I wish I had the raven black or dashing auburn hair, this gown requires. Not this mousey brown.”
Mrs Hobbes stood back from her creation and said, “My Lady, I’d say it becomes you. My Mistress herself, before her illness, wore this gown to great effect.”
“Swain’s falling at her feet?”
Lucinda said, “Do be serious Miss Rachel.”
Mrs Hobbes attracted their attention, saying, “The Master does not like his supper delayed.” Then she pointed to the door, and added, “Shall we?”
The Master was waiting for them when they arrived. Having removed his goggles and the thick coat he wore in his laboratory, he was elegantly dressed.
He looked at Lady Hayforth in surprise, and said, “Mother?” before catching himself. There were no such things as ghosts, and in any case, his mother would never stoop to haunt her son’s home. It would have been so unbecoming and simply beneath her dignity. His late father, on the other hand would have enjoyed it, but then he would never have appeared as a female.
Mrs Hobbes curtsied to him and said, “Rupert, Lord Hartshorne, may I present Rachel, Lady Hayforth?”
He bowed and said, “Enchanted. I see Mrs Hobbes has seen to your needs. Mother’s dress becomes you.”
Rachel curtsied to him, and blurted out as she rose, “Your eyes, what did you do to them?” Then she blushed and said, “I’m sorry. That was impertinent of me.”
“Not to mention impolite,” he chuckled, “You most likely have noticed the rings from my goggles. I wear them in the laboratory to protect my eyes.” He paused, and then added, “From the fumes.”
Lucinda’s nose wrinkled at the sharp odour that emanated from him. She could not help but ask, “What’s that smell?”

“A product of my research. You get used to it.” Neither Rachel nor Lucinda was sure she wanted to get used to it.
“Is that what happened to your hair?”
His hair had a peculiar bleached look, blonde streaks among the dark black of his natural colour. It was offset by his deeply coloured eyes and eyebrows, which having been protected from the fumes, gave him a piercing glare.
“Well, yes. Rather dashing, don’t you think?” Then remembering his manners, he offered her his arm and said, “I presume you are hungry. Would you care to dine? You and your companion.”
“Miss Holloway.”
“Miss Holloway, then.”
They turned to enter the dining room, and were promptly interrupted by one of the Master’s footmen. “Sir,” he said, “there is a person. He wishes to talk with Lady Hayforth. About her carriage.”
“Ma’am?” Lord Hartshorne said, “I do not like to be delayed.”
“Sir, I should attend to this. May I?”
“If you wish.”
Rachel followed the footman. Lord Hartshorne, uncharacteristically, decided to delay his repast and followed her.
The footman did not exaggerate, ‘a person’ somewhat described the local carriage-wright. Even Lord Hartshorne, his nose immune to many smells from its exposure to the less appealing aspects of the chemical arts, wrinkled his nose at the odour. It steamed off the man and filled the front hall with a distinctive miasma.
“Miss Heppleworth. That carriage of yours, it’s fair broke.”
“Meaning?”
“The brace snapped, then the body landed on the axle. Snapped one.”
“So?”
“Close on fifty pound to fix. Almost as much work as building a new one.”
“Fifty pounds!” There weren’t fifty pounds to spare in Rachel’s calculations. Maybe, if she were lucky, fifty shillings, and in reality more like fifty farthings.
“Aye, if that little. Be a week at least before we can get to it. Have to wait out this rain. It’s well stuck in.”
Lucinda turned to her mistress, “What are we going to do? We’re due in London. Lord Bromly expects us.”
“If I may,” Rupert interjected himself, “is that all it will take? Only fifty pounds.”
“Sir?”
Rupert looked at the two young women, one was decidedly pretty, dashed pretty at that, but still a distraction for his serious endeavours. “One hundred pounds, if you’re done tomorrow.”
The carriage-wright stared at him. Fifty pounds was an opening shot across the bows, in hopes that the price wouldn’t be bargained down to a more realistic twenty-five or even less. “One hundred, sir?”
“Only if the carriage is ready tomorrow. Next day, seventy five.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Sir.” For one hundred pounds, he’d undertake to move the mountain to Mohammed, with a soup-spoon.
“Excellent. Now Lady Hayforth and Miss Holloway, would you care to join me in our repast. If it isn’t too cold.”
Dinner was surprisingly simple, only one course, of a roast duck. That and little else, a few potatoes and some green mush that had once been a cabbage. The duck and potatoes smelled excellent. Their host expertly carved the duck. “Sorry, we weren’t expecting visitors. If you’re still here tomorrow, I’m sure my cook will be delighted to make something better. I’m such a spare eater that she seldom gets to exercise her talents.” After serving most of the duck to his guests, he took a small piece for himself. The green mush sploushed and splashed when he served it with a spoon. Rachel carefully moved it away from her duck to avoid contaminating it.
Rachel replied, only after consuming her portion and everything bar the green mush, “I see you know your anatomy. That skeleton-”
“The one in the library? My father’s. He was a great one for natural history. My interests tend to the chemical.” He coughed, “Unfortunately, I’ve been making a few fumes and gasses in my latest work.”
“Is that really what happened to your hair?”
“Oh, yes. My mentor, Sir Humphrey Davy discovered a new element, Sodium, by electrolysing molten lye. I’ve been exploring other salts … to see if there are other metals. Isolate a new element if I can. One of the products is a corrosive gas that will whiten almost anything. My hair, as you can see.” He gave a slight cough, “That’s a side effect of the fumes, Sir Humphrey thinks the gas is chlorine, but I’m not sure.”
“Is it dangerous?”
Her host shrugged, “Probably, at least if you’re not careful.”
“But you are careful, aren’t you?”
“Most of the time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have results to write in my logs.” Instead of allowing the females of the party to withdraw while he had a glass of port, he left.
“How very odd Lucinda. It’s as if he isn’t interested at all in us, in people.”
“I think he’s shy, and”
“And?”
“You could do worse.”
Rachel’s stare indicated that she thought she could do much better. “Lucinda, please don’t indulge in these fantasies.”