Sunday Snippet, A Modest Proposition.

A Formulaic Romance

This is the start of another story Amelia and I are putting together. There’s a pun in the title that will become obvious in time.

It starts with the trope, Lady Rachel on her way to London, is stranded in the country by an unfortunate accident. They’ve made their way to the house in the distance, but not without slipping in the muddy lane.

The Master was introduced here. He was somewhat annoyed at the disturbance, but willing to see that his guests were properly entertained.  The housekeeper, Mrs Hobbes, leads Rachel and Lucy to their rooms to prepare for dinner The carriage wright makes a cameo appearance in a previous snippet.

Last week saw the arrival of Rupert’s Uncle George and a hint at the complicated family history – a history that was not completely … harmonious.

After a peek into Rupert’s history, this week George makes a somewhat improper proposition to Rachel.

 

An Unexpected Visitor and a Proposition.


At mid-day, Rupert was still electrolysing his salt, but Lord Bedlington sought a repast. He found his poetic meanderings 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.

Rachel and Lucinda joined him. 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. I suppose there were reasons. 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 of which you are unaware. 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 woman 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. The odds … not to my liking.”

“I know. There simply isn’t much of an alternative. Five hundred pounds is not enough to live on and it won’t make my life as a governess or companion any easier. So for better or ill, a hunt for 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.”


The featured image is a “toad crossing” sign from the peak district – near Hayfield and the Kinder Scout. Nothing to do with the plot, except it’s not far from the scene of the action.

Sunday Snippet, Secrets Revealed.

A Formulaic Romance

This is the start of another story Amelia and I are putting together. There’s a pun in the title that will become obvious in time.

It starts with the trope, Lady Rachel on her way to London, is stranded in the country by an unfortunate accident. They’ve made their way to the house in the distance, but not without slipping in the muddy lane.

The Master was introduced here. He was somewhat annoyed at the disturbance, but willing to see that his guests were properly entertained.  The housekeeper, Mrs Hobbes, leads Rachel and Lucy to their rooms to prepare for dinner The carriage wright makes a cameo appearance in a previous snippet.

Last week saw the arrival of Rupert’s Uncle George and a hint at the complicated family history – a history that was not completely … harmonious.

This snippet continues their story. George and Rupert have wandered to the lab.

An Unexpected Visitor and a Proposition.


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 … What is that smell?”

“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. Also Mother sends her greetings. Wishes you all the luck at continuing your experiments. Asked me to tell you not to hurry to the village.”

“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. However, 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. Rupert said, “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 countenance 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 company.”

“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.”


Entailments were (and I suppose still are) a way of ensuring that property stays in the family. The entailment Rachel is labouring under is somewhat unusual – to an almost fictitious degree. However, the entailment of the estate for Rupert was a common form. Without male heirs, the estate would become the property of some (often distant) male relative.

Sunday Snippet, Chemistry?

A Formulaic Romance

This is the start of another story Amelia and I are putting together. There’s a pun in the title that will become obvious in time.

It starts with the trope, Lady Rachel on her way to London, is stranded in the country by an unfortunate accident. They’ve made their way to the house in the distance, but not without slipping in the muddy lane.

The Master was introduced here. He was somewhat annoyed at the disturbance, but willing to see that his guests were properly entertained.  The housekeeper, Mrs Hobbes, leads Rachel and Lucy to their rooms to prepare for dinner The carriage wright makes a cameo apperance in last week’s snippet.

This snippet continues their story the next morning with the arrival of another gentleman at the start of the next chapter.

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, I hope?”

His workshop, safer ground for a conversation, he replied, “The rain 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, he was like a new puppy, all excited and desiring to please.  His grin 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 figure out 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 hearing your explanation. 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. The jar, full of oil, held what appeared to be a hard cheesy substance. “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 tiny piece of the ‘cheese.’ “This is sodium metal. I made some last month. The oil … Well you’ll see why I keep it under that in a moment.”

He put the lump into the bowl. The mass 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 Bedlington.”

“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 by a couple years. 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 Bedlington?”

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 young thing, you know.”

Rupert gave him a hard stare, his face frozen in an odd expression, “I have my experiments. Lady Hayforth, George, I shall attend to 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. I would like to understand it.”

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 those clumsy oafs dropped it 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 Bromley. He’ll put us up in his 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 to do 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 not all is lost. If you don’t mind, we’ve hung them on the clothes horse in the kitchen.”


The game is afoot.

Sunday Snippet, Dinner is Served.

A Formulaic Romance

This is the start of another story Amelia and I are putting together. There’s a pun in the title that will become obvious in time.

It starts with the trope, Lady Rachel on her way to London, is stranded in the country by an unfortunate accident. They’ve made their way to the house in the distance, but not without slipping in the muddy lane.

The Master was introduced in the last installment. He was somewhat annoyed at the disturbance, but willing to see that his guests were properly entertained.  The housekeeper, Mrs Hobbes, leads Rachel and Lucy to their rooms at the start of the last snippet.

This snippet continues their story.

An Interruption, continued.


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. His deeply coloured eyes and eyebrows, protected from the fumes, gave him a piercing glare and offset his hair.

“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.”

One of the Master’s footmen interrupted them when they turned to enter the dining room. “Sir,” he said, “There is a person at the door. 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. The thing is well stuck in.”

Lucinda turned to her mistress, “What are we going to do? We’re due in London. Lord Bromley 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.”


I always liked the smell of chemistry labs. A whiff of whatever in the morning.

Sunday Snippet, The Master.

A Formulaic Romance

This is the start of another story Amelia and I are putting together. There’s a pun in the title that will become obvious in time.

It starts with the trope, Lady Rachel on her way to London, is stranded in the country by an unfortunate accident. They’ve made their way to the house in the distance, but not without slipping in the muddy lane.

The Master was introduced in the last installment. He was somewhat annoyed at the disturbance, but willing to see that his guests were properly entertained.  The housekeeper, Mrs Hobbes, leads Rachel and Lucy to their rooms at the start of this snippet.

An Interruption, continued.


She led them upstairs, “Lady Hayforth, this is your room. I’ll tell the servants to send warm water up for you.”

Not many minutes later, with her face, arms, and hands, cleaned and her gown drying by the fire, Rachel smiled at her companion from a warm bundle of blankets. “I think we’ve landed on our feet.” She stretched her legs toward the fire, “At least the mud has washed off.”

“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 believe you’d walk into the flames for me. Still, Lucy, 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 needful 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.”

“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-percent’s 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.”

A loud knock on the door delayed Lucinda’s response. 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 … not dry and we’ve only managed to scrape some of the 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 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 stood in the room, impatiently tapping his foot, and 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.


Happy Halloween.

Sunday Snippet, The Master.

A Formulaic Romance

This is the start of another story Amelia and I are putting together. There’s a pun in the title that will become obvious in time.

It starts with the trope, Lady Rachel on her way to London, is stranded in the country by an unfortunate accident. Her carriage is a wreck, the thoroughbrace, a leather strap that holds the cabin up, broke. When the cabin fell, it broke the axle. It’s snowing and they’re in trouble.

They’ve made their way to the house in the distance, but not without slipping in the muddy lane. At least it wasn’t full of “slough” – a wonderful and now disused word for that unique mixture of horse apples, mud, and muck that so characterized roads in the days before the automobile.

This week we see what ‘the Master’ says.

An Interruption, continued.


A knock on the laboratory door interrupted Rupert’s intense concentration on his latest experiment, electrolysing a molten salt to determine what metal he could recover.  He had opened the windows in the laboratory 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. Striking blonde streaks in his dark hair showed where the caustic fumes had partially bleached it. 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, “Brindle, what is it. This time?”

“Sir, there are two women at the front door. They asked for refuge from the storm, their carriage having had an accident on the main road.”

“I told you 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, Brindle?”

“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. Ensure that they are warm and send someone for their bags. I’ll be ready at the regular time for supper.”

“Sir.” Mr Edward Brindle bowed. Then he shuffled off.


Rupert is doing an experiment that is dangerous (an understatement). Electrolysing a molten salt to extract the metal. Chemistry in the early 1800’s was decidedly heroic. The 1803 paper in the Royal Academy on synthesizing mercury fulminate – an explosive that will enter into this work – had the chemist analyzing his product by tasting it. There is no way on heaven, Earth or hell that I would do that.

A household tip (from the UK).

Nothing profound in this one, not even a pretty picture.

One difference between the UK and the land of the free is the use of body wash instead of soap. It’s actually a European trend that has gradually spread west. Darn EU. Body wash is sort of like shampoo, but uses coarser detergents (typically Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate) and has fewer conditioners and scents.

In the UK I’m partial to the cheapest Tesco value product (blue coloured and 50p a bottle). A bottle lasts my boys and me almost two weeks, which is pretty good value (my wife still prefers soap). This time, after returning to the USA, I tried to find a similar product. Ivory makes one that’s 97 cents at Walmart.

You may ask “So what?”

It turns out the detergents are excellent at lifting soap scum. Soaps are sodium and potassium salts of organic acids – for example Sodium Laurate. As such they form coordination complexes with ions in the water, especially calcium, which precipitate into a hard, insoluble and scummy substance. It’s a real nuisance. The sulfate-based detergents don’t do this, and even better solubilize the scum.