The Curious Profession of Dr. Craven

To celebrate turning in the layout copy I’m posting the first chapter.


The Resurrection Men.

THE VICAR intoned the familiar words from the Book of Common Prayer while the family mourned their loss. She died quickly, almost overnight, and now being placed in the family crypt.

FORASMUCH as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear sister here departed, we therefore commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.

That night, the four resurrection men met the verger in the dark churchyard. They carried shaded lanterns and intended to retrieve the ‘vile body’ before it became too vile for their client to use. They wore scarves over their faces to mask their identity. Grave robbing, while technically just a misdemeanour, was a serious offense so they made sure to leave nothing to chance. Still, the money they earned was good, and the likelihood that they would be caught was small.

Elias, the verger, pocketed the four crowns the oldest resurrection man had given him. Then he led them to the Patterson family crypt and put the key in the lock on the barred, iron gate and gave it a turn. He pushed on the gate, and as it creaked open, he turned and said to the resurrection men, “She was just put in here this morning. Should be fresh.”

“That’s what the doctor wants.”

“Take care, this hasn’t been a quiet one.”

“What do you mean?”

“I thought I’d heard noises.” They all listened and other than the distant “goo-de-who” of an owl it was quiet.

“Elias, you daft bugger. You’ll have us jumping out of our skins. Which one is it?”

Elias led them to the newest coffin. There hadn’t been time to etch a metal plaque for its occupant. A temporary paper label attached to the top said, Cecelia Jane Garth 1790-1810. Resting in Peace with the Lord.

He pointed, “That’s her. The poor lass, she was just engaged to a rich suitor. She faded so quickly, and even Sir William Knighton couldn’t save her. One day she was happy, and then she was gone.”

Then he anxiously looked at the four resurrection men, “Do I have to watch?”

“Nay, man. Not if you don’t want. Why don’t you keep an eye out for the curate?”

Elias stood at the door to the crypt and kept watch while the resurrection men pulled the coffin off its shelf and lowered it to the floor. They opened it and gazed at the contents.

“Aye, Dad,” the youngest said, “She was a beauty. Pity to anatomize her.”

“That’s how we stand the nonsense, Lad. Up with her, and careful. The doctor wants them unblemished.”

“She’s not stiff, and a touch warm.”

“Maybe she’s not as fresh as Elias said. Starting to rot mayhaps.” The senior resurrection man turned to the verger and said, “Elias, are you sure this is the one?”

Elias looked, “That’s her. Miss Cecelia Garth. God rest her soul.”

The four resurrection men stretched her body on the hard ground of the crypt. It was wrapped in a winding sheet for burial, with ties to bind her legs and arms together. A bandage around her head held her mouth shut. Then they put rocks in the casket, resealed it, and replaced it in the crypt. In the process, the paper label ended up on the inside of the casket.

Then they carried her out of the crypt and into the dark churchyard.

The gate creaked again as Elias shut it. There was a faint gasp at the same time as he turned the key in the lock.

“Did you hear that, Da?” the youngest resurrection man asked, shocked at the noise.

Elias said, “That’s what I mean. She hasn’t been a quiet corpse.”

Jonas, the eldest resurrection man, spat and then said, “What a lot of superstitious buggers you are. It’s just the wind.”

Together they carried the body to a waiting cart. It was tied to the kissing gate at the church, and the sorry looking excuse for a horse waited patiently to take up his labours. Since the body had been a beautiful young woman, they carefully laid it in the back. They pulled a blanket over it and then covered that with straw. It wasn’t often they encountered the watch, but it was just as well to be prepared. They hopped onto the cart, and Jonas held the horse. They clumped off into the night at the fastest pace the horse could manage.


Elias pulled the four crowns from his pocket and carefully examined them. The pound they summed to, equivalent to almost half a month’s work was a welcome addition to his meagre wages.

He said, “Just hope I don’t get caught,” to the wind that was whistling in from the dark of the night. He pulled the gate to the graveyard shut with a loud creak, then latched and locked it. The noise seemed to echo forever in the distance so he listened for the footsteps that would presage a hue and cry. All he heard was that bloody owl.


“Dad,” the youngest resurrection man said, “where are we bound?”

“We’ll drop these two lads off at the Red Lion. Then you and I shall take the young miss to her final destination.”

“Jonas, you said.”

“Now shut your gob. I’ll pay thee. No reason to risk us all getting run in by the watch. Now is there?”

“Reckon not. Still, we should be there when you meet the anatomist. How do we know you’re not trimming us over the price?”

“Listen Lads, the less you know, the safer you are and the safer he is. The safer we all are. I’m only taking my boy because I need his muscle. Gettin’ old. ‘Sides which, he’s family and we’ll both hang together, any road.”

“It’s not a hanging offense, is it?”

“No, but it’s a fine and prison if we’re caught.” While not technically a death sentence, a long stay in prison wasn’t exactly good for the health. Scanty, poor quality food and the lack of light or ventilation in a crowded building tended to eliminate prison overcrowding.

The wagon pulled up to the pub, and the two unnecessary resurrection men jumped down. Jonas passed them a crown each, “More for you tomorrow after I’ve been paid. Now keep your blubbers shut.”

An hour later, Jonas pulled the wagon up in front of the old tithing barn in Streatham and tied it to a hitching post. An ancient building left over from the dissolution of the Abbey under King Henry; the barn was a massive stone building with high narrow windows that discouraged the curious. The tall arched roof still kept the rain out, at least most of it. While it was far enough from the centre of the village to avoid prying eyes, it was also slowly falling into disrepair. Dr. Richard Craven used it for his private laboratory.

The massive door squeaked as he opened it and greeted them, “Jonas, what have you for me tonight?”

“Just what you wanted, a young woman, fresh.”

“Excellent. Now bring her inside.”

“You’ll be paying me now. Like we agreed?”

“Ten pounds. I have it here.” Dr. Craven pulled a note from his coat pocket.

“Ten, nay man, twenty.”

“Twenty? You said ten before.”

“Twenty or we take her straight back.” Twenty pounds was almost a year’s wages for a skilled labourer.

Dr. Craven was in no place to argue. He needed a woman to continue his studies, and there she was almost close enough to touch. She was just another cadaver, on her way to returning to the common clay.

“Twenty it is, you rogue.” He handed Jonas two banknotes.

Jonas nodded to his son, “Bring her lad.”

The boy uncovered their cargo and shouted, “she’s moved Da’. She’s moved.”

“Nonsense boy. Must have been shifted by the roads. Now stop yer yammering and bring her in.”

“Da’ alone, by myself?”

“She’s a light one. Not like some of them.”

Light or not, a body is hard to carry one handed. The boy staggered under the weight. He followed his father inside with the good doctor. Once there, he asked, “Dad, can you help?”

Together they laid her out on the cold stone floor.

Dr. Craven inspected the body, gave it a sniff, and then nodded. “She looks to be in good shape. Smells fresh. Did you want the winding cloths?”

“Of course, and it has been thirsty work. Bringing her here. Deuced thirsty.”

The doctor sighed, “I’ll get the brandy for you.”

Then he walked to the far end of the barn where he kept a small store of run French brandy. Jonas, a man with a nose for the spirits that was only matched by his capacity for imbibing them, followed him. The dark shadows hid the debris of the doctor’s studies, the prepared examples, the bottles of preserved organs, and the strange retorts of his research from their view. A chorus of squeaking rats from the cages at the far end of the building only added to the atmosphere. What little Jonas could see through the flickering candlelight was disturbing enough, even for a hardened resurrection man.

Jonas tugged on Dr. Craven’s sleeve, “You will take the brandy from the right cask, won’t you? Not one of these odd spirits and poisons?”

The doctor laughed, “Of course, I need a dram myself. It’s been a cold night.”

In the meantime, the boy undid the bandage that held the woman’s jaw shut tight. As he pulled it off her, her mouth opened and she gasped for air.

He ran to his father and the doctor, shouting, “I tell you, Doctor, she’s alive!”

Jonas and the doctor walked back to him, carrying a decanter of the brandy with them.

Dr. Craven said, “Can’t be, Lad. That must have been gas escaping from the body. They do that, you know, as they decompose.”

The elder resurrection man nodded, “I’ve seen it before, many times.”

“So have I Dad, but this wasn’t that. She gasped for breath when I undid the bandage.”

Dr. Craven said, “I’ll prove she’s dead. Put her on the table.”

The resurrection men lifted the body from the floor and put it on the examining table. It having once been a delicate young female, they were gentler with it than they were usually. The doctor gave his hands a quick rinse. Something he did more for superstition than any rational basis, and then he proceeded to examine the body.

“She is warmer than I’d expect. The decomposition must be advancing rapidly. I’ll need that ice.” He paused. It, no not it, she breathed. It was a gasp, a weak one at that, but a breath.

“Brandy!” He shouted, “and be quick about it, man. She’s alive.”

The youngest resurrection man ran for the decanter and returned as fast as he could. “Here, sir.”

The doctor took some and moistened the woman’s lips with it. She gasped again and stirred. “She’s cold, bring a blanket and a warm brick.” He immediately unwrapped the winding bandages from her body and untied the bindings on her legs and arms. “Come man, rub her legs. We must get the blood flowing.”

Between the warmth, the brandy, and the commotion, the woman’s eyes suddenly opened, and she sat up. She saw this handsome dark-haired man looking at her. His concern for her was evident in his face.

“Is this Heaven?”

“No. England.”

“Close enough.” Then she lay back and closed her eyes again.


I’m also looking for reviewers for my nearly ready book “The Curious Profession of Dr. Craven”

Get Free Stuff

An Arc

No, not this kind

noahs-ark-600x401

This kind

My first “real” book, “The Curious Profession of Dr. Craven.” is in the final throes of production with booktrope. (You can see the kind of company it will keep at runawaygoodness. So we’re talking about a professionally edited and quality work.)

Right now I’m looking for reviewers. That means I’m giving away, yes free – though I want a review, advanced copies, or ARC’s. If you’d like one please fill out this form.

It’s a sweet romance set vaguely in the regency, definitely in the towns that are now London suburbs, and  certainly a dashed good read. Any book that starts with grave robbing and the heroine waking up on the hero’s anatomizing table can’t be all bad.

The Art of Deception, a WIP #workinprogress #regency #sweetromance

A Work in Progress.

I’ve been struggling a bit with this one. I had a whole series of chapters describing how Alice was recruited and trained, with a few to try to introduce the hero, Roderick Lord Hightower. It wasn’t working. I realized I could cut all that out, introducing it as background, and suddenly it’s going again.  The bits about codes and secret ink I’d posted earlier are for this one.

Let me know what you think.

Funny Doings in Bristol.

The Asp scudded up the Severn, riding the tide towards Bristol harbour. A fast monthly packet from New York, she’d stopped off the coast of Ireland near Cork. Then after spotting Land’s end she’d worked her way up Bristol Channel. She carried Roderick, Lord Hightower, lately military attaché to the British embassy in Washington and his friend Edward Spode.

A month of dreary cold North Atlantic spray followed by several days of tedious tacking had left both men ready for land. Even if Edward had only joined the ship at Cork as part of his duty to meet the monthly packet and escort diplomatic couriers. They’d tried to hop a shore boat as soon as the Asp lowered anchor in the Avonmouth. A day later, they were, finally, ashore.

Lord Roderick nodded to his companion, “That young chit.” He pointed to a servant on the low rise above the harbour, “she’s counting the ships.”

“No, she’s just watching the workmen down in basin. Probably has a special friend or possibly even a husband at sea. You’re seeing things.”

“I tell you. She’s counting. Didn’t you see her while our ship was docked in the Avonmouth yesterday?”

“Roddy, old chap, you need to relax. I know it was hard, spying on those bloody rebels, but we’re home, England, Bristol. You’ve been on the jump since I met you on the packet boat off Cork. It’s someone else’s problem, if it’s a problem at all.”

“There is something to what you say. Edward. Suspicion is an occupational hazard in our line of work. However, I don’t think I’m jumping at shadows.”

“This is England, we don’t do things like that. Even the blasted French spies are polite. It’s not like poisons are available in every druggist like rhubarb.” Edward watched his friend; he seemed to relax. “If you’ll stay out of trouble so that I have the chance to do it, I’ll send the express to Lord Grey that we’ve landed.”

“Good, can you also check about my other shipment?”

“Which one? Sorry, you mean the one from Philadelphia?”

“Yes, I gave my manservant Thomas the cipher machine, code book and correspondence, we, ah recovered, in Washington. Good thing too, my bags were thoroughly searched in New York.”

“Along with his wife? You said earlier that you had someone, a servant, in the President’s House working for you. Damn Roddy, you’re good.”

“Wasn’t a servant, a slave. We had to decamp in a hurry. I home Mr. Merry was up to cleaning up the details. It was rather a mess.”

“Anthony Merry? Don’t worry, I’ve worked with him before, he’ll smooth things over. He may only be a wine-merchant’s son, but he’s a professional, one of the best.”

“Can’t be worse than Sir Robert was.”

The girl gathered up the sheets she had been exposing to the sun, and put them in her basket. Roderick noticed her writing something on a piece of paper and then tucking it away. After that she started walking back into town. Lord Roderick told his friend, “See you in a few minutes Edward, some business to attend to.”

“Roddy, Drop it!”

Lord Roderick raced through the streets. Edward shook his head in disbelief and then followed. The express would have to wait. Roderick paused to catch his breath, smoothed his garments, and sauntered, deliberately casual, over to her.  He said, “Mademoiselle, bonne journee, est-il pas?”

Without missing a beat, the young lady replied, “C’est bien, ou allez vous Mousier?” in an excellent Parisian accent.

“The Swan, I think that’s where I’m booked.”

“And then London, on the stage, I’d think. Or are you staying in Bristol?”

“It depends.”

“Depends, on what, Sir?”

“Whether the assembly is worth the candle.”

“I wouldn’t know, Sir. My Mistress likes it.” She nodded to him, curtsied, and then walked off. He waited a few seconds and followed her. As he watched from a distance, she put a small piece of paper under a stone near a street corner, and then marked the wall with chalk. It didn’t take her long, and had he not been watching her carefully he’d have missed the whole thing.

“Come on you laggard,” Roderick called to his friend, “We’ve got her. She’s a real professional.” He dashed up, took the paper from under the stone, and started to read it.

“See, Edward, it is a count of the ships. Profes-”

He didn’t get to finish his statement. A member of the militia, delegated to watch the docks, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Sir, if you’d please. You’re coming with us.” Another soldier stood behind him, ready to back him up should force be required.

“What for?”

“We think you’re a spy. Information has been laid to that effect.”

“What do you mean?” Roderick rapidly looked around, and then saw the chit, still carrying her basket, standing a few yards away. She smiled at him, mockingly curtsied, and then turned to continue her daily chores.

After several hours of tedious conversation and explaining, which only ended when he showed his credentials to the commander of the guard, Roderick was finally freed of his confinement. His friend Edward met him as he left.

“I booked us rooms at the Swan for a few days. The Assembly’s tomorrow night and rumour is that there are some dashed pretty young ladies in Bristol.”

“I see you have your priorities in order.”

“Your’re not expected back in the city for at least another week. I telegraphed[1] Lord Grey and he said so himself in his reply. Why not enjoy the trip? Besides there’s no point in catching the night mail to London. Tedious in the extreme, not to mention dashed uncomfortable.”

Roderick gave his friend a rueful grin, “I don’t know what I’d do without you. Gives me a chance to track down that French agent. Clever one, her, reporting me to the watch.”

Lord Roderick spent the next morning watching the hill where that servant had been. Even though it was a fine sunny morning, excellent for the airing of sheets, she did not turn up.  Edward did, “Roddy, old boy, leave it.”

“She’ll be here. I will catch her. No brown-haired, blue-eyed chit gets the drop on Roderick Lord Hightower. No matter how pretty she is.”

“Roddy, it’s most likely not her washing day. She’s off doing, I don’t know, whatever housemaids do when it’s not washing day. Scrubbing floors or something equally dreary. You probably were the best thing that happened to her yesterday, if not in her life.”

“I suppose you’re right, but she used a dead-drop, and was quick about it. A trained professional. A French professional.”

“If you say so, but I still think she was playing a game with you Roddy.”

“Very likely, but something wasn’t right about that chit. I could smell it.”

“You’re making a spectacle of yourself waiting here.”

“How many maids speak perfect French?”

“Not many, I’ll admit, but maybe her mistress is an emigre, or maybe she is one herself. There’s bound to be a perfectly sensible and not very mysterious reason. You need to stop jumping at shadows, Roddy.”

“If you say so.”

“I do, now how about we find ourselves a good public house and something worth eating.”

“In Bristol?”

“They must eat something here, and the beer isn’t half-bad. Or we might find some half-decent Madeira.”

Sir Roderick shrugged, “I suppose you’re correct, as usual, Edward. Lead on MacDuff.”

“It’s Lay on MacDuff, but I second your intent. Once more into the breach, dear friend, once more.”

The Horn, the pub Edward led Lord Roderick to, for their repast, had a well-deserved reputation, even better than the Swan’s, for the quality of its food and drink. While Edward negotiated with the innkeeper for the hire of a private parlour and an impressive spread, Lord Roderick idly watched the crowds in the street.

“It’s her!” He shouted. “That servant.”

As he ran out the door, Edward shouted after him, “Roddy no! I’ve just arranged for … Damn.” As he dashed after his friend, he shouted to the innkeeper, “Please hold the parlour for me, shan’t be long.”

Roderick followed the servant girl while she walked along the street. She turned to talk with a street vendor, and he dodged into a doorway. Then she continued on her way, apparently unaware of his presence.

He followed, carefully avoiding her direct view.

Minutes later, she turned into a stylish Modiste’s establishment, Madame Fanchion’s. He rushed to follow her inside. He ran into a young woman on her way out. “I’m sorry. I nearly knocked you over.”

The young woman was obviously not a maid, as she was dressed in the latest style.

She curtseyed, “I’m sorry. Should have been watching out myself.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No,” she smiled, “Not at all.” Lord Roderick could not help but notice she had a beautiful smile. “Can I help you?”

“I was looking for a servant, a girl. She turned into this shop.”

“She did? Amazing. Imagine turning into a shop.”

“No, I mean she entered the door.”

The young woman turned to the modiste, herself, “M. Fanchion, did you see a servant girl enter? I didn’t.”

Mais non, Madamoiselle.”

The woman shrugged, “Sorry, can’t help you.”

Lord Roderick peered inside. If the servant had entered, she had vanished into the backrooms.  He shook his head, “Lost the spoor …What has become of my manners?” He bowed, “May I introduce myself, Roderick Lord Hightower.”

The young woman curtsied again with a blush, “Delighted, Miss Alice Green, daughter of Lady Green.”

They would have conversed longer, but a stout middle-aged woman joined them, “Miss Alice, talking to strangers. What would Lady Green say?”

If they’re rich enough, nothing. “I don’t know Martha.”

“Well I do. Come.” The woman led her charge away, off to a waiting carriage. “You are needed at home.” Once they were aboard the postilions prodded their mounts and it clattered off, cleaving a path through the crowd with the imperious disregard only noble status could provide.

Edward finally caught up with his friend. “What happened Roddy?”

“I don’t know. You’re right, I need a repairing lease. I’m jumping at shadows, seeing things. I’ll send an express to London and then stay a couple of weeks in Bath.”

“Stout idea, but dinner first. I hope that parlour’s still open.”

“Stout, save me from stout middle-aged harridans.”

“Governess? They can be intimidating.”

****

Meanwhile Alice was being evaluated in the carriage as they rode out of the city. In addition to ‘Martha’, Mrs. Hudson, the woman in charge of training new female agents, gave her critique. “Did you tell that man your real name?”

“Y-yes.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. It just, I mean he smiled.”

Mrs. Hudson stared at Miss Aldershot. “What do you think?”

“Other than that, she did well. That trick of hers, yesterday, to put the watch on that man. Masterful.”

“Yes. … Coming up against a French agent on your first test. It does make for an additional level of difficulty.”

Alice inserted, “Was he a real French spy?”

“Oh yes my dear. Very much one.”

Alice smiled, “Good. I thought something was odd about him. How did he escape from the watch?”

“Most likely a few guineas dropped into the right pocket. Jobbery will be the death of us.”

“Did you like my reports?”

“Most observant. They were accurate and timely… Miss Aldershot, what do you think, is she ready?”

“I think we’ve taught her as best we can. Mr. Ou says she’s earned her black belt, and we’ve both seen that she’s mastered the ciphers and concealed writing. Time for her to move on. Bath?”

“Bath it is. I shall be sorry to see you go, Miss Mapleton, but -”

“Needs must?”

“Indeed.”

“I was wondering,” Alice said, “but no probably not.”

“What?”

“The assembly tonight. Could I be permitted to attend, perhaps with Lucinda?”

“Teach that sluggard some tricks?”

“If you wish. It might motivate her to get on.”

Mrs. Hudson laughed, “That it might, or I might be lucky and have her meet someone. I’m sorry to say she’ll be a better squire’s wife than an agent. I had my hopes for her. Loyal to a fault, but -”

“Not quick on the uptake?”

“Precisely, Miss Mapleton.”

“Then may I make a suggestion?”

Mrs. Hudson nodded.

“Have Lucy play the heiress, and me her companion. No one watches companions, and with luck she might meet someone.”

****

Lord Roderick slowly walked back to the Horn. He shook his head in sad disbelief. Edward met him, “At least you didn’t get arrested this time.”

“I must be losing my grip. I would swear that servant went into the shop. She didn’t. Or, …, No.”

“No, what old chap?”

“I bumped into her on the way out. The old quick change. Edward, we’re dealing with a trained professional agent.”

“Hope you’ve put the scare into her then. Come on, dinner will be cold, and the Horn does one very special spread. You must miss fresh food after those weeks at sea.”

[1] The optical telegraph linked ports and coastal points with London during the Napoleonic wars. It would only have taken a few minutes to send a query and get a reply. At least during the day and in good weather.

A Meat Pie in the English Style

A Meat Pie in the English style.

This is something that would have been eaten during the Regency (although without the pyrex baking dish). Dashed good, if I say so myself.

Cut 2 lbs (1 kilo +-) of beef into 1 inch/ 2cm cubes.
Marinate overnight in:
1/2 bottle guiness stout
1 cup red wine
teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed.
2 bay leaves.

3-4 hours before eating:
cut up and saute:
2 onions
handful of mushrooms
2-3 carrots

when soft add the marinade, a teaspoon of bouillon paste (or about cup of stock) and reduce.

Meanwhile, flour the beef and brown it in a frying pan.

Once the marinade is reduced:
put the vegetables in the bottom of a baking dish, cover with the meat. Use the reduced marinade to deglaze the  pan the beef was browned in. (There will be flour that has stuck to the pan, this will dissolve it to thicken the gravy.) Add the deglazings to the baking dish. If the volume is correct, it will just cover the meat.

Bake in a cool oven (300F, 150C) for 3 hours. Use a covered baking dish. (important, you don’t want it to dry out.) The meat should be very tender by this time.

Remove from the oven, place a pie crust over the top (I used Type L biscuit mix here; my sister in law in the UK uses suet dumplings.)

Return to the oven and bake at 375F 180C for 45 minutes until the crust is done.

Sources for period slang.

Georg_Friedrich_Kersting_005
It’s sort of important to use the authentic language when writing historical fiction, or at least to try to be authentic. In reality, who knows what they really said. I’ve assembled a few resources that I use. 

http://www.regencyassemblypress.com/Regency_Lexicon.html
There are a couple of books of regency slang available on google books, and a number of sites that clone them. This site is one of my favorites. I have to watch the social class, because they mix thieve’s cant with upper class slang. Lady Dalrymple is too much of a “Gentry Mort” to attend a “Bowsing Ken” for her Ratafia. The company might give her the vapors and she’d need her vinegar. Rather unlikely that she’d even understand the words, much less use them.

http://www.etymonline.com this is one I use to make sure I’m not putting in modern slang. In combination with the google ngram viewer, you can catch most anachronisms.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=biscuit+breaks&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=7&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cbiscuit%20breaks%3B%2Cc0 This goes directly to the literature for usage counts. It can be surprising. I’ve occasionally found invented slang, such as the phrases Georgette Heyer put into her books to trap plagiarists and paraphrasers.