Dartmoor story IV #amwriting

Things get a tad more strange.

Following from the last installment:

“Other than that thunderstorm, like a baby. This is the first time I haven’t had my nightmares in a couple of years. Well, I did wake up to something scrabbling at my window, but that had to be mice.”

“Yes, mice.” Uncle Sylvester paused, “Mice yes, that’s right, mice. Mary told me that your dresses were fine, well made, suitable for London, but not suitable for country rambles. We were thinking that you would like to get some plainer ones made so you can wander about the downs without worry.”

“Are you sure I’ll be strong enough?”

“I think,” Her uncle said, “you’ll make a rapid recovery. I can already see that the fresh air agrees with you.”

Elizabeth smiled at him and said, “I hope so.”

“You’ll be surprised how good the clean air and healthy living in Dartmoor are for consumption. Finish your breakfast, and I’ll have Mary take you to Moreton Hampstead. See a draper.”

“Uncle, I’m sure I could make my own, and with Mrs Trent’s help.”

“Yes, yes, but we don’t have the fabric. You’ll need supplies, even if you stitch them yourself.”

Mary started to object, as a competent housekeeper she had more than enough fabric on hand for a simple farm-dress, but then she caught Dr Standfast’s glance and agreed to the trip.

“Excellent,” he said, “While you’re out, George and I will need to repair the roof. It looks as if there’s a pair of broken tiles over the window to Elizabeth’s room.”

“There are?” Elizabeth asked.

“When you go to put on your town clothes, take a look up from the window.”

Having finished her tea, and a hefty helping of bread, butter and jam, Elizabeth returned to her room to change. She followed her uncle’s advice and looked above the window. There were several shattered and damaged tiles. If she didn’t know better, she could have sworn that they had been shot. Certainly something hard had shattered them. She said to herself, “I wonder if one of the local children was throwing stones.”

“Mrs Trent,” Elizabeth said, as their pony easily trotted downhill to Moreton Hampstead, “It sounded to me that my uncle wanted us out of the house. Is something going on?”

“No Miss, he wants you to get out in the sunshine. At least while the weather’s good. It can be awful close weather up here at times. Have you see the downs and tors at their best.”

“I guess. Do we need the fabric?”

“I wouldn’t say we do, but Miss, there’s always something to look at in the town. You do need a plain dress that won’t get too mucky and we can brush clean when it does. That and a rain cloak. That pretty little thing of a parasol umbrella you brought from London won’t last long when the rain sets in.”

“And I suppose we can’t make a good rain cloak.”

“Not a good one, Miss,” Mary laughed.

“You know Mrs Trent, I wouldn’t have believed it, but I think Uncle’s right. I am breathing better.”

“Dr Standfast is a sharp man and a good doctor, Miss Elizabeth.”

“Mrs Trent, do you know what happened to the roof by my window? It sounded as though something were there last night. Just when the thunderstorm started. There wasn’t any hail was there?”

Mary paused, and changed the direction of the conversation. “Nay Miss. This here is North Bovey. A pretty little place, but nothing to compare with Moreton Hampstead.”

“Or London.” Elizabeth added with a laugh.

“Nor London. Not that I’ve ever been there. Can you tell me about it?”

Mary queried Elizabeth about the wonders of the city all the way into town. Crowds, omnibuses, gas-lights, museums, concerts, and even whether she’d danced with young men and had a fancy for one. Elizabeth sighed that the men she had met so far were rather dull.

“Well, Miss,” Mary said, “I don’t know that country folk are exciting.”

“I expect they just weren’t the right men for me.”

They pulled into town, and after arranging to bate their pony at The Horse, walked across the street to the ironmongers. Mary paused outside and said, “I need to check on some things Mr Trent ordered, I’ll meet you at the Moreton Drapers. They’re just up the street.” She pointed the direction.

Elizabeth agreed to walk on ahead and left for the drapers. The store supplied a combination of the fabrics and notions needed to make clothing as well as a small selection of readymade clothing for the touring and less-discerning or perhaps, more desperate, trade.

The clerk greeted her, “Miss, can I be of service?”

“I hope so. I need a rain cloak.”

“Here on a walking holiday?”

“No, but after that thunderstorm last night, I should think I need one.”

The clerk said, “What thunderstorm?”

“Wasn’t there one here? There were flashes and bangs all around the farmhouse.”

“That must have been that crazy old coot who lives up at Barnecourt. Always making noisy bangs, firing off fireworks and dashed silly things like that. Wish he wouldn’t ’cause he’s a good doctor.”

“I think you mean my Uncle Standfast.”

“Oh.” The clerk paused and then after a moment to sort his feelings turned back to the business at hand and said, “You were wanting a rain cloak. We have a wide selection.”

He was displaying their selection, kept on hand for the visitors from the city who discovered that the wind-driven rain of the high moors and umbrellas did not mix. Elizabeth was deciding between a yellow vulcanized rubber slicker and a green waxed cape when Mary came in. The clerk said, “Mrs Trent, I shall be with you presently.”

“I’m with her. Miss James, have you seen anything you like?”

“Which is better, a waxed cape or this rubber one?”

“Get the waxed, it won’t be torn by the briers.”

The clerk promptly took the waxed cape and set it aside for her. “Anything else you’ll be needing Miss?”

“A skirt, something that will do for walking.”

“I have some ready-made’s, but Mrs Trent is an excellent needlewoman.”

“As am I, but need something now. We need fabric as well, don’t we, Mrs Trent?”

Mary stepped up and gave the clerk her requirements. She’d written them down to save time. A few minutes later, with the cloak, an awful woollen skirt, and a small bolt of fabric put on the account, Mary and Elizabeth left the shop.

Elizabeth said, “He called my uncle a ‘crazy old coot’ and said he shot off rockets and made all sorts of odd noises. Is that true?”

“He’s not crazy nor a coot, but he does like his explosions. He’s been known to help test blasting powders for the quarries at Hayter, up on the Tor.”

“Was that what happened last night? I only ask so I can get some notice and not be surprised.”

Mary said, “Did you care for some tea before we return?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“No, I didn’t. Ask your uncle about it. Are you hungry after our expedition?”

The next installment.

The start of the story can be found here.

Dartmoor story III #amwriting

Things start to get strange.

Following from the last installment:

Early that morning, while it was still dark, Elizabeth woke to the noise of something scrabbling at her window. She turned in bed to look at it, and then saw a thundering combination of flash and noise. She said to herself, “Must be a thunderstorm.” She rolled over and went back to sleep, ignoring the other claps of thunder that followed.

Indirect daylight was diffusing into her room when she woke in the morning. She leaped up, well rested, and dashed to the window to look at the view she could only see indistinctly the night before. It was, as Mary intimated the night before, lovely, striking, and indeed beautiful.

Even more striking, when she looked down at the farmyard below her, was her uncle. Walking back from the fields, he carried a large rifle and a shovel over his shoulder. He looked up and waved to her before he entered the house. She threw on her house-dress and dashed downstairs to catch him.

She found him in the kitchen, seated informally with Mary and George. She noted that his clothes were mucky, as though he’d been digging. Pouring himself a cup of tea, he offered her one. “We don’t stand much on formality here. I generally breakfast in the kitchen with my servants, but if you’d prefer to use the parlour?”

Elizabeth laughed, “No, this is fine. Better than fine, it’s cosy. What were you shooting? I think I heard you last night, unless it was a storm.”

Her uncle paused, “Rabbits. After the storm.”

“Rabbits?” Elizabeth pointed to a gun that was sitting in the corner. “With that?”


“Isn’t it a bit big? It looks like my Cousin James’ service rifle. He said they used it to hunt elephants and buffalo when he was in Africa.”

“They were big rabbits.”

“They’d have to be. The cartridge is bigger than my finger. I wouldn’t think there’d be much left of a rabbit if you hit it. Even if it was a big rabbit.”

“If you must know, I used a shot-shell. Didn’t have the best of hunting, though, so it won’t be rabbit pie for dinner tonight.”

“That’s a shame. It looks like no rabbits and you slipped in the mud to boot.”

Mary asked, “Did you sleep well, Miss Elizabeth?”

“Other than that thunderstorm, like a baby. This is the first time I haven’t had my nightmares in a couple of years. Well, I did wake up to something scrabbling at my window, but that had to be mice.”

The next installment.

The start of the story can be found here.

Dartmoor Story II

This is the second installment of a story I’ve been working on that is set at a little farm near North Bovey. It’s set much later (1893) than my usual ones and has a strong science fiction backstory.

Her uncle walked to the trap and offered a hand to help her down, “You should call me Sylvester. Uncle Sylvester if you must. We’ll see, but I’m sure the fresh air and clean water of Dartmoor will help.”

He led her into the parlour and said, “You must be hungry, tea?”
“Yes, please. I mean, if it wouldn’t be a bother, Uncle.”
“It’s no bother for me,” he turned and shouted, “Mary! Tea please, in the parlour. My niece Elizabeth is finally here.” Then he explained to Elizabeth, “There’s no bell so I just shout for the servants. You’ve met George, my man-of-work. Mary is his wife and my housekeeper.”
While they waited for Mary, Uncle Sylvester played with a lamp, adjusting the wick and finally lighting it. A dim orange glow filled the room. “I’m afraid we’re not on the gas here. So kerosene lamps it is.”
Elizabeth said that would be fine.
“It’s either those or candles, but I have laid on water. At least when the pump works.”
Mary arrived with the tea tray. In addition to the teapot, she had put some scones on a plate. She curtsied and said, “Miss James, I hope you’ll find this to your liking.”
Uncle Sylvester said, “Mary, if you would see to Elizabeth’s needs. There is an experiment I must attend to. I shan’t be long and I should like to listen to those lungs of yours before you sleep.”
After her uncle left, Elizabeth asked Mary, “His laboratory? When my father said that, it usually meant he was dashing around the corner for a nip of brandy.”
“No Miss. If Dr Standfast says he’s in his laboratory, he’s working. He doesn’t drink like that.”
“A teetotaller?”
“Not quite Miss Elizabeth, he’s just temperate. I can’t imagine him sneaking off for a nip.”
“What’s so special about his laboratory?”
“Can’t say Miss Elizabeth. It’s private, maybe you should ask him.”
“I will. Thank you for the scones, I didn’t realize how hungry I was. It’s been a long trip.”
“From London and all, Miss. I shouldn’t wonder. I’d love to go to London, some day.”
Mary’s speculation about London ended when George dragged Elizabeth’s trunk inside. “Sorry Miss, I had to put the pony in his stall first. Mary, love, which room is hers?”
“Upstairs, left in back.” Mary turned to Elizabeth, “It has a lovely view, Miss and is away from the noise of the road.”
“What noise? It is so quiet here.”
George struggled with the trunk, mostly because the staircase was narrow and twisty, and he couldn’t stand straight to lift it properly. Mary led Elizabeth in his wake to the room her uncle had chosen for her. There was a small brass bedstead, a wardrobe and a table with the inevitable pitcher and basin. The chamber pot was under the bed where it should be. Elizabeth went to the window and gazed out. The stars shown above the line of hills and downs in the distance. Dim yellow lights showed where the village of North Bovey lay to the North. Rather more light, to the East, showed the town of Moreton Hampstead.
Elizabeth said, “It’s perfect.”
“Yes, Miss.” Mary paused, “George, Miss Elizabeth should get her rest.”
“Oh, right.” George bowed slightly and tipped his forehead in a salute. “Sleep well, and if you want to tour the farm, let me know in the morning and I’ll get the Tilbury ready.”
“I shall, but you know it depends on what Uncle says.”
Mary bustled her husband out of the room, and then helped Elizabeth to open her trunk. They found her nightdress. Then she helped Elizabeth out of her dress and the corset she wore beneath it.
“Miss,” she asked, “Your arms, all those bruises, what did you do to them?”
“I don’t know. I think I knocked them on my bedstead when I had a nightmare. I have bad nightmares.”
“Then I hope you sleep well here and have no nightmares.”
“So do I.”
Uncle Sylvester knocked on the door. “When you are ready, I’d like to listen to that chest, and you can tell me about these nightmares.”
A few minutes later, once Elizabeth wore her nightdress, they let him in. He too, noticed the bruises on Elizabeth’s arms, and frowned at the story Mary repeated to him.
“Interesting,” he said, “How often did you have those nightmares?”
“Every two weeks, it was like a clock.”
He nodded, and then said, “I think you’ll find the fresh air and good food of Dartmoor will banish those. Let me hear your chest.”
He pulled a stethoscope from his pocket, explaining, “I had to get this from the laboratory. It’s probably best if you’d sit on the edge of the bed.”
Elizabeth sat and he sat behind her. Mary, still there for proprieties sake, watched as he slid the chestpiece along Elizabeth’s back, asked her to breathe deeply and listened. Then he thumped her back while he carefully listened.
“Interesting, interesting, interesting.” He paused, “I don’t think I need to listen to the front of your chest.” Then he stood up and walked to the window. He stared out at the stars for a few moments of intense thought, and then, finally, turned around and said, “How long have you had this consumption?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve been weak for the last year, and coughing for almost as long.”
“When did the nightmare’s start?”
“About the same time. After he examined me, Mr Harvey told me it was because I couldn’t breathe well. When I struggled for breath, I’d have the dreams.”
Her uncle nodded, “It could be. When did the bruises start?”
“At least a year ago, about the same time. What is it?”
Uncle Sylvester frowned, “I’m not sure.” Then he smiled at her, “But whatever it is, your parents did the right thing to send you here. Get some sleep and we’ll see how you feel in the morning.” He paused again and said, “Mary, before you go, make sure the windows are fastened tight, locked. Elizabeth shouldn’t breathe the chill night air. By the way, Elizabeth, how long has it been since your last nightmare?”
“Two weeks.”
Her uncle frowned again, but said nothing more and shut the door as he left.

The next installment.

Dartmoor Story.

This is the start of a story I’ve been working on that is set at a little farm near North Bovey. It’s set much later (1893) than my usual ones and has a strong science fiction backstory.

Uncle Sylvester Receives a Visitor.

It was nearly dark when the pony-trap carrying Elizabeth from the station at Moreton Hampstead finally arrived at the farm at Barnecourt. Venus, the evening star, shown brightly in the dull orange band of the western sky. She presaged a clear and starry night. Nobody noticed when she winked out and fell to Earth with a quick bright streak of light. George Trent, Dr. Standfast’s man-of-all-work, drove the trap to the front of a small farmhouse in the country not far from the isolated village of North Bovey on the outskirts of Dartmoor.

After stopping, he gently awakened his sleeping passenger, “Miss James? We’re here.”

Elizabeth James, a slight young woman, dark haired and pale, with the gentle slight cough of incipient consumption, stirred. Her parents had arranged for her to visit her uncle. He lived and practised in the country, and they all hoped that the fresh air would suit her lungs better than the stale smutty air of London. They had waved goodbye as she boarded a train in Paddington in the morning, her first step in the longest journey of her life. London, to Bristol, to Exeter, and then on the stopping train to the end of the line at Moreton Hampstead. There she was met by her uncle’s servant with a one-horse trap, and now, finally, she awoke in front of his house.

“We’re here?”

“Yes, Miss. Let me tie the horse and I’ll help you down.”

The clatter of their arrival brought Dr. Standfast to the door. Unusually tall, thin and surprisingly active for his sixty years, he shot out of the door and said, “Elizabeth! You’ve made it at last. How was your trip?”

Elizabeth replied, “Tiring.”

“I can see that, but are you feeling well. At least as well as can be?”

She gave a slight cough, and then said, “I think so.”

The cough made her uncle frown, “We’ll see what we can do about your cough.”

“If you can do anything, Uncle Standfast, it will be more than the doctors on Harley Street could.”

Her uncle walked to the trap and offered a hand to help her down, “You should call me Sylvester. Uncle Sylvester if you must. We’ll see, but I’m sure the fresh air and clean water of Dartmoor will help.”

The story continues