We'll see how this works, but I'm thinking steampunk. First draft of the start. I like to try writing the ideas out and see if they work. Sometimes it takes several goes to find one.
1. Distant Thunder.Miss Cynthia Milton busied herself around the rectory. Her brother, the Reverend Henry Milton and his new wife, Mrs. Ruth Milton ne Ascwith were expected to arrive on the morrow. He was starting his first preferment in the little Thames-side village of Pangbourne, just a few miles upstream from Reading. It was an excellent living and one that was unusually large for a young vicar. The wonder was that it was still unoccupied. Ruth insisted that her old friend and new sister-in-law stay with them at least until they were settled in. She explained that since Pangbourne was so close to Reading that they could visit the assemblies there together. If they failed to find her an eligible husband there, the hunting grounds at Newbury, Oxford and Bath were but a day's carriage ride away.
Their belongings and small furniture had arrived the day before. While the servants were able to unpack most of it, there was an unending stream of questions about where things should go. Getting to know the servants, especially the cook and the manservant, occupied most of the rest of her time. It would never do to greet the newlyweds with an ill-cooked meal and a domestic dispute underway. Finally, in the late afternoon, she was able to retire to the parlor, put up her feet and enjoy a spicy romantic novel.
Unfortunately, it was just at this moment that the door knocker sounded. Her maid answered it, and after a few moment's discussion escorted the callers to her.
“Miss Milton, Mr. Willis and his man, Mr. Morgan, are here to see you.”
Mr. Willis entered, bowed, and then said, “Miss Milton, just a call of courtesy. Morgan and I were passing and noticed the rectory was now occupied.”
Cynthia looked at the pair. Mr. Willis had a bright red face. It was complemented frizzled hair that shot back from his forehead in what could best be described as looking like a goose that had been pulled through a chimney to clean it. His valet had done his best to comb it into a stylish Brutus but with mixed results. Most striking of all he work large wire-rimmed dark glasses. It seemed that even the subdued light of the late afternoon irritated his eyes. Unlike most of the valet's she had seen, who tended to be slight well-dressed men, Mr. Morgan was a large muscular man with the cauliflower ear and broken nose of a prizefighter. The combination of valet's uniform, quiet manner and sheer physical presence gave him a decidedly menacing air.
Cynthia said, “I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Willis. My brother Reverend Milton and his new wife should arrive tomorrow.”
“I'm sorry to have missed him. In any case, may I be the first to welcome you to our pleasant little village.”
“I trust you are moved in. Is there any question I may answer?”
“No, not yet anyway. But thank you for asking.”
Since he knew that staying past a few minutes when making a courtesy visit was rude, Mr. Willis was about to excuse himself when the building shook. A few seconds later a distant rumble of thunder followed. He pulled an unusually large watch, a chronometer, from his pocket and counted the time as the house was buffeted four more times. Cynthia asked him, “What was that?”
He ignored her and said to his valet. “Uniform twenty second intervals. Excellent. I think they are getting the timing under control.”
Mr. Morgan nodded, but only said, “Sir, remember that we are not inside the establishment.”
“Yes, I see. Sorry.”
Cynthia again demanded, “What was that? Do you know?”
Mr. Willis shut the cover on his watch and carefully replaced it in his pocket before he said, “Nothing. Don't worry about it. It was nothing at all.”
Cynthia was not convinced and was about to repeat the question when Mr. Willis bowed to her and said, “It has been pleasant to meet you. I hope we will see each other again, possibly at one of the assemblies. I dare not overstay my welcome on a first visit. Not if I'd like to have a second. Come Micheal, let us continue our walk.” With that he and his valet left.