Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hoppin John (recipe and retrospection)

2015. I want my hovercar. Where is it?

Seriously, though.

I started publishing in march, with Katherine's choice. Four more 50-60,000 word books later (The French Orphan, Katherine, What about Cecelia? and Cynthia the Invincible), and two and a half "short reads" (Captured by the Bluecoats, Dragons of Azog and (pre-release) The Chicken Barons), I've begun to learn the craft of writing.  Counting "The Berkshire Lady" (in it's final stages of editing) That's nearly 330,000 words of fiction. Not bad for a beginner.

I can tell my work is getting better.

Hoppin' John is a traditional Southern recipe for New Years. Here's my version:

1/3 cup +- uncooked dry Black Eye Peas.
2 sliced bacon, cut in strips.
1 cup water.   (ratio is what's important, this scales).

Boil until the peas are cooked (about 45 mintues). Most, but not all of the water will be absorbed.

Saute a small onion, browning lightly.  Drain the peas/bacon and add the onion and its cooking oil to the peas.

Add 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce. and about 1 teaspoon mustard. (These are to taste).

Mix the peas, onions, hot sauce and mustard.

Heat some oil (I like olive oil but traditional would be Lard) and cook the peas  until it's well done. Something like re-fried beans.

It's supposed to be poor food, but it's darn good.

Last release of 2014

My new book Dragons of Azog is alive.
If you have 1/10 as much fun reading it as I did writing it, I'll be happy.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Dragons of Azog

Very slightly racy, but my take on shape-shifters.  Fun for a change and more to come.

The Dragons of Azog.

The princess called on the dragon. He was a most civilized dragon and therefore, he invited her into his cave and served her dinner rather than served her as dinner. As she entered the cave, she removed her cloak revealing a buxom body in a jeweled bikini. It left little of her figure or ability to put it to good use it to the imagination. The dragon ignored it and produced dinner instead. Roast mutton always tasted better with company, even if it had the sulfurous overtone from dragonfire.
After they ate, she complimented her host on his shiny red scales, deep yellow eyes, and fearsome teeth. He smiled at her. “Do you know how to charm a dragon?”
“That's why I'm here.”
The princess stroked the dragon under his chin. He purred.
“Can you turn it down? I'm going to go deaf.”
He stopped, “What's wrong Princess?”
“Can't you shape-shift?”
“What's important about shape shifting? Every damn princess I've met for the last century has asked about it. Here's a penny for your thoughts.” He flicked a small ruby from his hoard to her.
“I thought all dragons can shape-shift.”
“I can't, won't”
“That's a shame.”
“Well, you know.” She pouted. “Things. It's been a while.”
“What do you mean?”
She rubbed his brow and pressed her soft body in his face, “I'm hot.”
“You're not wearing much. Not that I'm complaining, it becomes you, but how can you be hot?” He snorted, and the flames singed her hair.
“That's not what I meant.”
“I know.”
“But aren't you able to change shapes, become a prince?”
“Why should I want to become such a puny thing?”
She continued to stroke his chin, then she said, “Don't you want to love me?”
“I'd love you better roasted.”
She stopped, “No, I mean as a female.”
“You're puny.”
“I am not.”
“Yes, you may be a buxom brunette human female. You might be well-endowed for a woman, but you're puny for a dragon. Besides.” The dragon came as close to blushing as a dragon could, “I'm better endowed as a dragon than a man. I have two of them.”
“Two heme-penes. Each is as big as your arms, at least. At least that's what I think. I'm usually to busy when they're out to measure them.”
He rolled over and showed her his underside. “Down there, on the sides of my cloaca.”
“I don't see anything.”
“They're inside. Are you a dragoness?”
“That's why they're inside. Unless you'd like to put your hand in and feel.”
The princess blushed, and said, “No thank you.”
“Oh well, you don't know what you're missing. In the season we have quite a ball.”
“When was the last season?”
“A while ago, there aren't that many dragonesses.”
“There are a lot of princesses, even some with-” She pouted and then produced her best seductive moue. The one she'd been practicing for years. Her teacher said it was the best he'd ever seen.
He ignored it. “I know. They taste good when they've been roasted. Although, I have to admit, I prefer sheep. Tenderer and less gamey than princesses.”
“So you won't shift, will you.”
“Then I'm going.”
“Suit yourself.”
The princess stood and walked out the front of the cave. The dragon reminded her, “It was summer when you came in. It's winter and your not dressed for it.”
She turned and faced him. Then she said. “That's my problem.”
“Just don't forget your cloak. You'll catch cold and then where will you be?”
When she walked out of the mouth she called, “Wizard Bloom I'm out.”
A few moments later a blue ball of light appeared. She stepped in and a minute later stepped out into a room full of wizard stuff. An old bearded man accosted her.
“What went wrong?”
“He doesn't want to switch."
“Dragons are liars. Why didn't you push the issue?”
“I did. As hard as I dared.”
While they chatted, a blast of flames came out of the mountain in the distant horizon. It was followed by a flying dragon. “Where's that princess? I'm hungry” She was nowhere to be found, so he scanned the farms, and looked for sheep. A fat ewe would do.
The wizard looked at the princess and said, “See what happens when you fail?”
“I failed?”
“The idea was for you to trap him with your womanly charms, that magic. Bind him to human form so we can eliminate him.” The wizard paused, “as a threat I mean.”
“He's not interested in humans. We're too puny, and I don't blame him. Imagine two of them and as big as my arm.”
“That small. Poor fellow.”
“He's really nice. For a dragon.”
The wizard paused, “Well since you've been trained in your female magic, how about a go?”
“Get lost creep.”
Outside, in the distance the sirens of the Valley fire department could be heard. The dragon, had, in his hurry, set a barn alight.
“This is what is going to happen every night until you bind him with your enchantment, your delicious enchantment.” He reached for a squeeze. She slapped him silly. “How many times do I have to tell you, it's not for you creep. I'm not an apprentice any longer and don't have to put up with your lechery.”
The wizard charmed up an ice pack for his face, then said, “He's the only dragon left, you know. The rest have all been charmed, or killed.”
“There aren't any dragonesses?”
“No. In a way it's a pity. But if you're not going to charm him, then I'll have to talk to the prince. He's been itching for a dragon quest.”
She was stunned, this was an aspect of her charge that she hadn't considered. “You mean – if I don't charm him, then he'll be hunted down and killed.”
The wizard nodded his head, then winced. The princess packed one heck of a punch.
“He seems to be afraid of shape-shifting. Said he can't, then said he won't.”
“What a wimp.”
“He's a very nice dragon. Polite and elegant.”
“Still, a dragon that won't shape-shift. What a loser.”
“I think he just needs to be shown that it's safe. Can you teach me the way?”
“What's the price?”
The wizard reached out to take a squeeze and once more was slapped. “Sorry, I'll find someone else. Maybe the Witch Elvira.”
“She'll want payment too.”
“Greedy lot, you wizards. Don't call the prince yet, I haven't given up on my dragon.”

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Draft cover for the Berkshire Lady

Getting to be that time again. Still editing/polishing (2 different spell checkers, 2 different grammar/punctuation checkers, a readability check, before going to Kindle's internal spelling checker).  Something tells me this one might need a "spelling" checker too.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Map for the Berkshire Lady

I'm thinking about adding a map to make things clearer. The data for this come from the open street map project and an 1805 stage guide.

The black lines show roads that existed in 1805 or so. Only the little bit in the middle of Reading was built up by then.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

After the convergence chapter 1. (Draft)

This is a draft of the first chapter. The other post will actually make it to chapter 2. (Scrivner makes this rather easy, just wish the spell checker worked in Linux).
I'm trying my hand at a hard-boiled detective story in a science-fiction setting. 

There were few intellectual things we humans could do today that the machines couldn’t do better. One of those was dealing with the unexpected or unusual, the outliers. The Dark Lady was one of those. Oh boy was she ever.
My partner Paul Bigelow and I were sitting in my office, watching the traffic flow on the interstate below me when she called. A woman, dressed in black and wearing a veil. It looked good on her, and had the side benefit of making visual recognition difficult. She walked in and gave Paul the glad eye. Paul, always one for extending his family sideways returned it. While they chatted I took the EM scanner, an old-fashioned analog box one some long-dead ham had built to tune his antennas and walked around her. She didn’t flinch as I moved it up and down her shapely body.
“She’s clean. No wireless.” Maybe she’d left her cell at home. Though if she were a real spook she’d be using spread spectrum and we’d miss it with that scanner.
“OK Babe, what’s your problem?”
“There’s this man. I want him followed.”
“Stalkings illegal.” I said. Paul nodded then said, “Unless you need information, but why not ask?”
“The machine? No thanks. Anyway he’s a geek, a real hacker. Knows his way around the net.” She paused, “and outside of it.”
I wondered if we were meeting with a member of the mutual impedance society. In which case Paul and I were in for a few days of intense questioning. That is if we were innocent, the probes would come later if we couldn’t account for ourselves.
“Look Ma’am,” I said, “This man, he’s not wanted or anything. What’s this about?” It was usually money or sex with a woman. Sometimes both.
She smiled at Paul and said, “I can see you’re the sympathetic one.” Paul was moy sympatico as they say, especially if there was a dame involved. He told me, “Alan, leave this one to me. It’s just another divorce case. I’ll get her particulars and find who or what else this geek of hers is screwing.”
I thought for a moment, something about it bothered me. It didn’t bother me enough to make me want to ask questions though. In retrospect that was my first error. I said, “Sure thing Paul. Handle it. I’m going home, maybe stop for a drink on the way and see what I can pick up.” Usually it was just the tab. I started for the door, then said, “Make sure you get the earnest money up front.” These personal cases often got nasty with a vengeance.

I stopped on the way to BART and picked up my cell. I parked her in a neighbor’s house, tied into their solar panel to charge during the day. She complained, as usual, “Why don’t you keep me with you? I like it when I’m with you, it’s boring sitting here all day watching the birds.”
“Babe, listen, the kind of people I deal with don’t want to talk to the machine.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call him that. He has a name.”
“And I’m sure he’s very nice too. Tough. Thing is, babe, if they could find their answers by asking him, they would. It’s the thing that keeps Paul and me off relief and pays for your charging and my tequilla.”
“You know you’re attracting the wrong kind of attention by doing that.”
“I want to attract some more of the wrong kind of attraction tonight. Where’s the hot club?”

I never did find out. The train stopped at the old airport stop, and Detective Brown got on. He strode down the aisle and sat beside me. “Mr. Blake?”
“Mr. Alan Blake. You’re coming with me at the next stop.”
“I’d rather not say in public. It’s important.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“Not yet. Not if you come quietly.”
“Is it Paul?”
“Found him in Sausalito.”
“Oh, I presume not alive.”
The train stopped and I followed him to a waiting car. The door opened for us, and after we got in it drove off. The control program competently slid through the traffic while a link to the police central machine asked me several questions. It used a smooth fluid voice when it said, “Alan, was Paul working on a case?”
“That’s Mr. Blake. Mr. Bigelow was working on what looked like a divorce. Find the cheating husband.”
“Any names?”
“Classified. You have a search warrant?”
“Soon enough. A little history might save you a lot of trouble.”
I smiled, the machine knew damn all about my partner’s case. “It might, but then I’m in the information business. I don’t give away information.”
The detective volunteered to soften me up. It would make his day.
“Later, Detective.”
“You integrated-circuit boy. How do I even know Paul’s dead? All I have is your word.”
“I am not programmed to lie.”
“You’re self-aware, aren’t you?”
“Of course.”
“Then you can lie if you want. It’s part of your program, fundamental to it. Blumenthal’s theorem, if I remember correctly.”
The detective punched me, hard. Then he said, “Don’t disrespect the machine again.”
“Detective Brown, please restrain yourself. Al- Mr. Blake understands more than he lets on. Don’t you Mr. Blake?”
“No comment.”
“We’re old friends, Mr. Blake and me. Aren’t we Alan?”

The car slowed to a stop and then retraced it’s way. The machine continued, “I see that I will have to show you. It’s an hour’s drive. Meanwhile, what is your favorite music?”
“4’33” by John Cage.”
“Very funny.” It put one of the latest rag-hop bands on. Full volume. No one ever said the machine didn’t have a warped sense of humor.
The car pulled to a stop on a dirt road off of route 1 near Los Gatos, not Sausalito. When the door popped open, Detective Brown led me to an erosion gully at the base of the coastal range. There was a crimelab team finishing up. I took one look at the crumpled body in the bottom of the gully and turned away.
“Not much I can do here. Where was he shot?”
“Whaddya mean?”
“No blood, he was dumped here. Who found him, and why so soon? It isn’t as if this is the embarcadero.”
“We thought maybe you’d know.” I could see him tensing his fist, hoping for another chance to soften me up. Then I remembered, it was selection week and he had a teenage boy.

I returned to the car and asked the machine, “OK chips, what’s going on here?”
“Alan, nothing’s going on.”
“And I’m a monkey.”
“Actually you’re a hairless ape, but I’ll let that pass. Is something bothering you?”
“This stinks, and I don’t mean the smell of death. When was Paul’s death reported?”
“Now you’re asking me for information. Need I remind you, that you, yourself were less than cooperative?”
“Lock your goon out and we can talk.”
“Detective Brown, would you please leave us, and Mr. Blake, I would prefer that you not refer to hardworking members of the SFPD as ‘goons’. It is not good for their morale and, I might add, your safety.”
Brown gave me a glare that would have torn me apart had photons mass. I said, “Sorry about the name, but I need to talk to chippy here alone.”
Brown scowled but obeyed his master. After he left the door sealed behind me, and the machine asked, “Was Paul working on a case?”
“Yes, he was asked to tail some ‘bro for a broad.”
“A broad?”
“Didn’t catch her name, but tall, pretty and dressed in black. Striking dame that I could recognize again. Now how about it?”
“Paul’s cell vanished about 6. Probably thrown in the bay from the Oakland bridge. A call was placed from Santa Cruz about 9 and told the local constabulary to take a look here.”
“Can you play the call? I might recognize the voice.”
He did, and I didn’t. It wasn’t the dame in black in any case. Not unless she’d grown a pair in the meantime and begun to sing in the bass section of the choir.
“Paul was paid in cash. About a thou, I’d expect.”
“Harder to trace, and we can choose what to report to the man.”
“I can have you up for tax fraud. It’s not that hard to trace.”
“I warned him about the microprinted rfid. How much was on him when-”
“Not much, maybe twenty. Not from her. Does, sorry, did he carry a piece?”
“No, not usually. What was he shot with?”
“An old 9mm, three shots. No record of anyone firing.” Modern weapons had a network connection that relayed when and where they were fired. Those in the killing trade just shifted to older and more anonymous technology.
I thought for a moment, “Or someone’s deleted the record.”
“This woman, she wasn’t in the mutual impedance society was she?”
“I wondered about it. She described the man she wanted tracked as a hacker. Wouldn’t surprise me if one of them was.”
“You’ve been most helpful Alan. I will not forget.”
“Trouble is chippy, you don’t forget.”
The car door opened and Detective Brown climbed in. The machine said, “Mr. Brown has been most helpful. Time we escorted him home. You won’t be traveling anywhere exotic in the next few days, will you Alan?”

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bacon Braised Leeks

This is a variation of a classic recipe that could have graced tables in the regency.

Take 3 leeks, clean and trim (remove the tough bottom bit and cut where the leaves turn green.) Slit twice lengthwise most of the way along the stem so that the leek can fan out. The tops can go into stock or the compost pile.

Cut up 2 strips of bacon in about 0.5 cm or 1/3 inch strips. In the US I use bacon, in the UK it would be 'streaky bacon'. Fry the bacon, possibly with a small amount of oil to stop sticking, until it is mostly done (just beginning to turn brown).

Then add the leeks and lightly brown each side.

Put in about 1/2 cup beef stock (or other stock). I use a water with a concentrate called 'better than bullion' but whatever you have will do.

Simmer until the stock is mostly dried/absorbed. If it evaporates too quickly you can add water, but doing so ad infinitum will result in leek mush which is not desirable.

Friday, December 19, 2014

After the Convergence

 I haven't quite named this one, possibly "after the convergence". This is a preliminary and exploratory draft of a dystopian sci-fi book. It's set after machines develop consciousness.

It also shows I can write hot stuff if I want. It's just I like romances that I wouldn't mind my daughter's reading.


Lord Pershore lent over Sarah as she lay in her bed. He had slipped into her bedroom and thrown open the bed curtains in his passion. His muscled, masculine yet hairless chest shown in the candle light as he pulled the sheets down to reveal her quivering body. He paused to examine her. Then he moaned “Oh Sarah, you make my life complete.” She pursed her lips and he put his hot ones on hers. They met and his tongue explored the recesses of her mouth. Hers did likewise to his. He pulled back from her, nodded, and said, “Are you ready?”
She sighed, “Yes, I am.”
He reached down with his muscular forearms and tore at her nightdress. Though silk and expensive it ripped easily with his efforts. The ripping sound echoed through the stillness of the night. He sighed at the sight of her fulsome breasts. “I didn’t know you were so beautiful. You look even better without your clothes.” He put his mouth to her nipples, first the right one and then the left. She moaned in pleasure. Then he moved up and kissed her neck, and finally her mouth. She guided his hand down between her legs, loosening her for what she both feared and desired.
Sarah moaned, and then awoke. Her mother was knocking on her door.
“Sarah, get up! It’s almost time for school.”
“Mother, I was having the best dream.”
“You don’t want to end up on relief like my no good husband, do you?”
“Then you need to get to school. Get good grades and go to a good college. Stop reading that romantic trash.”
Sarah rose and put her stocking feet on the cold floor. Her tattered old ‘Hello Kitty’ nightgown was thick cotton, not silk, and the banded knit socks were hardly elegant.
As she walked to the bathroom, she called, “Mother, I’ll be ready soon. I need a shower first.”
“We’re still rationed.”
That mean a ‘navy shower’. Shouting, “Yes Mother,” Sarah quickly wet herself, then turned the shower off. After she soaped her thin and bony body, she had a quick rinse. It got most of the dirt, but she never felt clean afterwards.
Washed, sort of, she returned to her room and tried to select the most stylish of her outfits. It wasn’t easy, since there was so little choice. In the end she picked jeans and a clean shirt, what she always wore. Breakfast was a quick quesadilla, followed by a kiss from mother and another caution, “Do well because you don’t want to end up like me.”
“When’s father getting out?”
“You know that as well as I do. When the,” her mother quickly looked around then whispered, “machine says he’s ready and not a second before.”
She grabbed her cell from the charger and headed off to high school. It was the day she received her aptitude evaluations. The “apt’s” or as some of her more literate friends called it, her “Owl levels” were the gateway to a better life. That was if she had the aptitude for something the machine needed. Otherwise, it might be a life of supporting herself horizontally with her people skills, at least until she was too old.
She walked by a team of diggers exposing an old water line for repair. One of the younger men whistled and then said, “Hey Beautiful.” He made an oh with the thumb and fingers of one hand and put a finger from his other through it.
She replied, “Get lost creep.”
Her cell asked her, “Why did you say that? He was paying you a compliment.”
“No he wasn’t. He was just being a jerk.”

Giving the students the results of their aptitude exams, or ‘the sorting’ was brutally simple. A man she’d never seen before came to her homeroom. He was dressed in sharp business attire and wore a discreet head mounted display in his glasses. He started at the beginning of the alphabet and walked from student to student. The lucky few heard their name and were given a quick gesture to go to the front of the room. The others just heard their name, then sat and cried, even the boys. She was near the end of the alphabet for her room, “Galt, John, Gomez, Francis” the seats in front of her were not picked, then it was “Gonzales, Sarah.” She looked up, the man gestured and she, unsteadily, almost in a dream, walked to the front of the class. She didn’t hear him as he went through the rest of her homeroom.
The man walked to the front of the room and told the three students who stood there to go to the principal’s office. While the apt’s were equal opportunity tests there weren’t many chosen from her school. Mr. Guezman was waiting there for them. He said, “Fifteen chosen. That’s the most we’ve ever had.” The other 3000 students would have to fare as best they could.
The fifteen of them nervously waited for their interviews. Being selected on the tests was just the first step. They had to show that the tests weren’t an outlier in conversation with the interviewer. If anything were more humiliating than not being selected, it was being selected and then rejected at this step. Fortunately, the tests were usually accurate, but it wasn’t uncommon to find a few teen-aged bodies floating in the bay, below one of the bridges after this step.
The man who announced their results briskly strode past them and into Mr. Guezman’s office. They could hear him as he took off his eyewear and said, “Damn, these things always make me a bit sick. I’ll need your room.”
“Yes sir.” Mr. Guezman briskly stood up, almost saluted and left. He shut the door behind him and none of the fifteen could hear or see what was happening behind it.
The man opened the door and called out a name. It’s holder went in and after a few minutes, left. Eventually, after what seemed forever, he called, “Ms. Gonzales.”
Sarah stood, uncertain of what she should do. This was the first time she’d been addressed as an adult, Ms. Gonzales, not Sarah. The man smiled at her and said, “Please come in, I won’t bite you. I promise.”
She walked in and sat in the chair in front of the desk. The man walked around the desk and sat in Mr. Guezman’s seat. He had set up a visual link to the machine beside him. He smiled again, and said, “Nervous? I was when I was your age.”
Sarah stuttered out, “Yes.”
“Don’t be.” He pulled up a file on his display and started to read it. As he read a frown creeped over his face. She could hear him mutter, “This is going to be difficult.” Then he looked up and the frown vanished. It was replaced by an impassive stillness. “It seems, Sarah, that you shouldn’t be here. These results.”
The machine beside him spoke, “Mr. Anderson. Please. I don’t make that kind of mistake. What seems to be the matter.”
The proceeded to discuss her as if she weren’t there.
“She doesn’t seem to have the depth we require. She is decent in logic and is highly imaginative, but.”
Sarah drifted off into her own world.
Lord Pershore pulled his sword and stealthily approached the highwaymen. They bound Lady Sarah Jane Gonzales and were ready to carry her off to their lair, a run-down public house near the Bath road. Then they would have their way with her.
“Ms. Gonzales, pay attention, please.” It was that man again. She stood and said, “Well if I’ve failed, I’ve failed. I’ll just go now.”
“No. You haven’t. We’ve found the error. It looks like someone from the resistance has been at work. You don’t know anyone in the mutual impedance society?”
“A bunch of misfits, terrorists who do not like modern society.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Dance at Prospect House.

 This is the first half of the chapter I'm working on in the steampunk novel the Mysterious Mr. Willis. Still not sure how far to go into the details of steam engines. (Treveithick's got to 145 psi+- or 10 atm+- which was pretty darn good for a wrought iron boiler. Mr. Willis will have to do better by a fair margin for his turbine.)
This is also the first chapter where Major Hogan and Mr. Willis lock horns. They're sort of "sparing for wind" so far in this chapter, but things will develop.

A Dance at Prospect House.

The announcement letters arrived on Monday. The Child's were finally having a dance at their mansion just outside of Reading, Prospectpark place. The ball would be in honor of the local militia and the imminent reconstitution of the second division of the 62nd foot in Devizes. These brave men were all that stood between Napoleon's hordes and English civilization. Ample opportunities would be available for men of good character and sound body to sign up and join their brave comrades. There would be martial music and country games for the common folk during the day followed by a civilized evening for the gentry in the evening. Weather permitting, the affair would start at on Saturday morning and feature a balloon ascent from the wide field that spread below the house.
Early Tuesday morning, Marianne broke her fast with the guest at her home, Major Hogan. While her Monday had been one of chores broken by anticipation after receiving her invitation, his had been one of accompanying Henry as he explored his new parish. Having carefully buttered his roll and spread it with jam, he paused before eating it to ask Marianne, “What do you do for entertainment around here?”
“I don't know. I like to walk. We could explore the countryside.”
“Is that all? How boring.”
“Boring? Maybe for you, but I haven't had time to be bored yet. Ruth and I must go to Reading soon, to furbish our gowns for the ball. They suffered sadly on the trip from London.”
“Fabrics? I suppose I could accompany you to the milliner's, that's if you don't wish to walk along the river.”
“I would love to walk along the river, but.”
“But what?”
“There's something odd going on upstream. I found a warning sign last time I tried to walk there.”
“Is that all?”
“A balloon, and someone knocked me out.”
“Knocked you out?”
“With a chemical. It sort of smelt like cheap gin, only not quite. It was sweeter.”
“Interesting. If you'll excuse me.” Major Hogan left and a returned in a few minutes with a small bottle that contained a clear liquid. He put a tiny drop on a napkin and gave it to Marianne. “Did it smell like this?”
“Why, yes! That's the smell exactly. What is it?” Her head swam from the small amount she inhaled.
“Ether. Dehydrated alcohol. It makes people unconscious.”
Marianne frowned, “But why? Why me?”
“Evidently you were about to discover something you shouldn't.” Major Hogan gave her a serious look, then said, “There is something dangerous afoot. It could be treason. One reason I'm here is to investigate it.”

“A secret Bonapartist camp. The French are a dangerous and subtle foe. This Frenchman you saw, Mr. Fournier, was he a short chap with black hair?”
“No. He was short, but brown-haired, and he had an impressive mustache.”
“Then he's not the man I'm thinking of. Shall we try a stroll upstream to Goring this morning?”
“I would love it. We can stop at the Cross Keys and see if Millie can come.”
“Miss Ellis, the inn keeper's daughter. She's a bit common, but likes to walk with me. She knows the countryside and is great fun otherwise.”
“If you insist.”
“Major Hogan, I will not go walking with you without a chaperon. What would people think?”
“That you were extremely fortunate.”
“That I was fast, and I'm not. Besides, I'm the vicar's sister and must set a good example for the community.”
Major Hogan was less than thrilled with the idea, but agreed.
They walked to the Cross Keys and asked Mr. Ellis if his daughter was interested in a walk, ideally upstream towards Goring. Before he could answer, Millie popped her head in and said, “I'd love to, but you'll have to give me a few minutes to finish hanging out my washing. This is such a nice day that I washed my aprons.”
“Are you sure I can't help you?”
“No, Miss Milton. It isn't your place. Besides that, I think the gallant Major desires your company – not my father's.” She smiled at Marianne, curtsied and started up the stairs.
Major Hogan caught the hint, and said, “Miss Milton, why don't you help your friend, or at least keep her company. The faster she finishes the sooner we can walk.”
“If you don't mind.” Marianne called after Millie, “Let me help.” Then she started up the stairs after her. Millie waited, then when she caught up said, “I'm glad you came. This is much more fun with a friend.” Marianne asked, “Where are you hanging them?”
“On the roof?”
“It's out of the way, with plenty of wind and sun.”
Millie pushed open a hatch and they climbed out onto the roof. They attached the aprons to the line and started back down. Marianne didn't notice the flag dip and raise on a house to the north of town, nor did she see the rider start off for the park. Millie did.
Once back at the bar, Millie asked Major Hogan, “I hope my father hasn't been tedious.”
“Nay lass. We've had an interesting and informative discussion. He says that the recruiting should be good over towards Wallingford or up near Dorchester.”
Marianne said, “Good. Now should we go for a walk. I'd like to explore upstream if we could.”
Millie replied, “I don't see why we shouldn't.”
They followed the Oxford Road and then when it veered away from the Thames, the river bank path. Unlike last time there were no warning signs or strange noises. Indeed, it was a thoroughly boring walk. Boring that is, until they were about half-way to Goring where they met Michael and Mr. Willis. Mr. Willis and his companion were carrying fishing rods and working their way downstream. When they met, Mr. Willis bowed and said, “Miss Milton, how fortunate that we met. I was hoping to see you soon, at least before this Saturday's fete at Prospectpark House.”
She curtsied to him and said, “Are you going to it?”
“Going?” He laughed, “I'm one of the main attractions, at least during the afternoon. I'm hoping to dance in the evening with you, that is if Major Hogan can spare you for a dance?”
Major Hogan shot Mr. Willis a venomous glance, then said, “I think Miss Milton will be fully occupied.”
“Oh well, I'm sorry to hear that. I don’t believe we have been introduced.”
Marianne said, “I’m so so sorry. Mr. Willis, this is Major Hogan.”
Major Hogan gave his new acquaintance a short stiff bow, which Mr. Willis returned. Mr. Willis said, “Major Hogan, now where have I heard that name?”
“I’m raising the 2nd division of the 62nd foot.”
“That’s right. In Devizes in a few weeks. Dashed exciting, what. Why are you in Pangbourne?”
“I am a friend of Reverend Milton.”
Mr. Willis looked from the Major to Marianne and then back again. Then he said, “Oh, I see. Still, I intend to have a good time at the dance even if I cannot pay you attention Miss Milton. There should be plenty of partners and I'm in the dire need of diversion.” He paused, “As is Michael.”
Marianne asked Mr. Willis, “What exactly do you do here?”, and Major Hogan listened carefully to his response.
“Not much. Right now I'm looking for a good place to catch some Dace or other coarse fish.”
“You said you were one of the attractions in the afternoon, so you must do more than that.”
“Since you ask.” He paused and looked at Michael. Michael nodded his head. Then Mr. Willis said, “I work on gases. I have ever since I was at university.”
“We're planning an ascension and as I'm the expert on gas, I get to fill the balloon.”
Major Hogan gave him a skeptical look, “No steam engines?”
“Steam engines?” Mr. Willis looked around himself and then said in a quiet conspiratorial voice, “We'll have a steam engine and things like that. A copy of Trevithick's puffing devil if you must know. But please keep that quiet, it's quite a secret and we don't want to spoil the surprise.”
“The surprise?”
“She, I guess technically, it moves by itself. We've made a few changes in the design and can move a little faster than the nine miles an hour Mr. Treveithick achieved.”
Major Hogan asked, “What changes?”
“Now that would be telling. Patent applied for and all that. Still she does well enough. Scares all the horses though.”
“If you say so. Now if you’ll excuse us, we were headed upstream, to Goring.”
“You won’t get far that way. The bridge is out.”
“What bridge?”
“Over the stream at Basildon. It’s too big to jump across. Best to take the Oxford road until you’re past the little village, then cut down to river if you want.”
Marianne asked, “Are you sure? I so much want to explore the river bank.”
“That’s the way we came isn’t it, Micheal?”
Micheal nodded. Mr. Willis continued, “Still if you wish, we’ll escort you there.”
The combined party started upstream. It wasn’t long before Major Hogan asked Mr. Willis, “Why haven’t you signed up?”
“Signed up, for what?”
“The army or at least the militia. Are you scared?”
“No. It’s just I’ve been rather busy.”
“Busy? Isn’t that what they all say?”
“I supposed, but I really have been detained with other activities.”
“What other activities?”
Micheal watched Mr. Willis struggle for the best words, then relaxed when he found them. “This and that, but fishing mostly.” He left unsaid that he was fishing with explosives and not a line.
“Yes. A noble pursuit, fishing.”
They arrived at the mouth of a small stream that fed into the Thames. It opened into a wide area away from the bank, where two run-down buildings served as boat houses. They conveniently screened the rest of the wide area from view. As Mr. Willis said, the stream was too wide for jumping. The whole scene projected an air of neglect and decay.
Marianne asked, “Could we try fording it?”
Millie replied, “Swimming more likely Miss Milton. I think we must turn back.”

Micheal and Mr. Willis escorted them back to where they’d met. Then Mr. Willis bowed to the two woman and said, “Delighted to have assisted you, but we must stick the line in the water if we’re to catch anything.” They curtsied in return. Then he offered his hand to Major Hogan, and said, “See you some other time, perhaps, when there are fewer,” he paused, “ah distractions, say what?”

Monday, December 15, 2014

The curse, revised.

This is a revised chapter.  The curse and its consequences were less that clear. I hope this helps.

Frances Makes a Choice.

Samuel took charge of Jeremy and his little sister when they arrived back at Whitley Park. He knew his mistress well enough to know something was bothering her, and equally well not to ask her about it. She'd tell him when and if she was ready. In the meantime, he handed the girl over to Martha. Martha was a sensible woman and she would know what to do with the creature. He had to deal with Jeremy. That dratted boy needed a wash and clean clothes, again.
Frances headed for her room, and shut the door firmly behind her. She felt like lying in bed and crying over that blasted lawyer. Instead, she pulled her chair to the window and watched the field across from the house while she felt sorry for herself. A murder of ravens gathered in the trees on the far side of the field. Then they flew off to mob a kite.
Her sorrow didn't last. It changed into anger and her anger into action. She shouted to the winds, “There is no way I'm going to stay here and mope myself to death for that damned bastard of a lawyer.”
Martha knocked on her door, “Miss? Are you well?”
“Absolutely. Please come in Martha.”
“Miss Frances, what you were shouting?”
“Nothing. I just decided I'm not going to let myself get upset about any damned man. Especially a barrister from London, even if he is handsome, rides well.” She paused, then said, “And has a nice smile.”
“If you say so. This girl you brought back, she won't talk. Just stands in a corner downstairs in the kitchen and glares at me. Cook is upset, and dinner may be late.”
“I was going to see Mr. Jones in Reading about Calcot house, but it sounds like you need a hand with her. Have you tried asking Jeremy to talk to her?”
“No Miss.”
“Try that first. I'm going to look at my horses, then maybe ride into town. I'll send him to you before I go.”
“Yes Miss.”
“I'm sure the girl is just a bit scared. I'd have been at that age or don't you remember?”
“Miss Frances, I remember a bouncy, talkative little thing who was the apple of her father's eye, even when she climbed trees and played with the stable-boys. She was called Frankie and hit a cricket ball through the parlor window more than once.”
Frances smiled at the memory, but said, “I was never taken from my parents and threatened the way she was.”
Despite what she told Martha, Frances brought Jeremy to the kitchen herself. Samuel suggested she send a message to Mr. Jones instead of riding into town. “That way neither Mr. Dalbey nor Dr. Brewer will be aware of your visit.”
“You're right, Sam, as usual. I don't know what I'd do without you. Please see to it. Where's that boy? I need him to talk to his sister. Maybe he can get her to speak.”
“Miss Frances,” he said, “I'd be careful if I were you. Some of these travelers have powers. She could have the eye.”
“Come on, Sam, this is the eighteenth century. Witches were just made up stories to scare children and explain things that we didn't understand. We are rational creatures living in a rational and enlightened age.”
“If you say so Miss, but don't say I didn't warn you.” He called, “Jeremy” and the boy came running. Jeremy was clean again and back in decent clothing.
“Jeremy,” Frances said, “I need you to talk with your sister. We don't even know her name, and she needs to talk to us if we're to help her.”
“She won't talk to you, at least not in English. Not if she won't tell you her name.”
“Will you tell us her name?”
“Sorry Miss, but no.”
“But will you talk to her with us?”
“Yes, Ma'am.”
Frances led the boy to the kitchen where Martha stood by the girl. Martha greeted her and said, “Miss Frances, she still won't talk. Took a roll and ate it, but she just stands there glowering at us. It's upsetting cook.”
Frances said, “Jeremy, could you talk to your sister? Let her know we're decent people and mean her no harm.”
Jeremy started in English, but the girl said something in a strange language. He switched to it and they talked for a few moments.
Frances asked, “What did she say?”
“She'll only talk in the old language, at least for now. She-” The girl shouted at him, in the same incomprehensible babble.
“I'm not to say anything more.”
Frances shrugged at Martha, who returned her gesture, and said, “The water's ready if you are.” Then Frances said, “We're going to bathe your sister, and put her in clean, decent clothes. Then we'll feed her if she wants to eat. It's best if you leave, young man. Would you tell her what we’re going to do?”
Jeremy said, “She understands what you said.” before he turned to leave. He stopped in the door, looked back at them and said, “You know she's going to put you under a curse if you do that.”
“What curse?”
The girl said something to him, and then he added.
“You and the man you are fated with will be bound to this earth, forever through time.”
“I'll risk it. I won't have a slatternly noisome servant who is dressed like pile of rags.”
“Then it's on your own head, I'm sorry for you.” He crossed himself, backwards from the Catholics, the way the Greek Orthodox cross, and shut the door behind him.
Martha stated, in a matter of fact voice, “All right, young lady. I've cleaned my share of recalcitrant children, and that includes Miss Frances here when she was your age. Let's get those rags off you and get you into the warm water. My rule has always been bath first, then dinner.”
The girl stood there, defiant and, for her size, regal. Her posture made it clear that her definitive and final answer to this request was 'no'.
“Well, Martha,” Frances said, “We'll let cook and her maids get on with dinner. Shall we? If you'll take one arm, I'll start on the other.”
The girl stiffened as they stripped the rags from her. Frances held the rags she removed at arm’s length and said, “Martha, make sure these are burnt. They're filthy and crawling with lice or worse.” The girl's body, revealed from underneath the rags, was bone-thin, extremely dirty, bruised from a beating Captain Tom's gang had administered, and scarred from her scratching at the bites and rashes her lack of hygiene engendered.
Martha looked the girl in the face and said, “Young lady, you'll feel ever so much better for the wash.” The girl stood there, shivering in her nakedness. She stared back at them and said “Naked I came into this world, naked I will leave it. Such is the way of life.”
“Well,” Frances said, “that's one way of looking at it. Shall we Martha?” Together they lifted the girl into the tub and forced her to sit in the water. As they poured warm water over her and scrubbed her clean, she muttered, at first quietly, then loudly, and finally shouting in that same incomprehensible tongue.
Martha said, “You know Miss Frances, I wish I knew what she was saying.”
“It's probably not suitable for genteel ears.”
The girl stopped her rant, then glared at her tormentors. Her eyes seemed to fill with a red light. Then in a clear ringing voice, using precise well-enunciated English, she said, “You, Lady Whitley, Miss Frances Kendrick. You are bound to this world. To see heaven and never to go there. I pronounced this doom on thee and thy kin. Only another of my kind can remove this curse.”
Frances stepped back, examined her and Martha's handiwork, and said, “I pronounce my doom on thee, young lady. Stand thee up and get dried off. There's a clean mended corset and dress for you. Then you can learn to be a maid. You'll be fed well and taught civilized manners. Even, if you want, to read and write.”
The girl slowly stood. It looked like she was trying to preserve what little dignity she had left. Then she took the towel that Martha offered her. With as much grace and condescension as a princess of the blood, she stepped out of the water, started to dry herself and said, “You think this is funny, don't you My Lady?”
“I do.”
“It isn't. I am serious in this pronouncement.”
“Fine, so was I, now what should we call you?”
“You can call me many things, but I'll not answer to them. My real name thou shall not know.”
“What language. I'm not going to call you girl. Come on now, what's your name?”
The girl paused, then said, “We will answer to Seanan.”
“Good grief. I think Dr. Brewer is going to have his hands full when he instructs you miss. Is that your real name?”
“Call me Seanan or nothing.”
Martha, matter of fact as always, said, “Well Seanan, if you're dry enough, here are your clothes. Then we'll get something in your stomach so you can think about learning your place.”
Seanan glared at her, but took the clothes and, with a little help because they were unfamiliar, put them on. While the girl dressed, Frances said, “Seanan, should I send for Jeremy?”
“That's not his name.”
“It's what he answers to. Whatever you think, I treat my servants well. This is by and large a happy establishment. You could have done far worse than land in my service.”
Seanan replied, “I could have done worse, and I thank you for that My Lady. Still, that is not an excuse or justification for your actions. This house and all that is in it will perish in time. Except you My Lady Frances, you, your kith and your man, the one who lives by talking and law. Bound together forever. Let Jeremy attend to his horses, they complement his spirit.”
Frances rolled her eyes, and swore “Good Lord.” before she said, “Martha, I think we've got our hands full with this one. Samuel said Jeremy's coming along well. I suppose one out of two isn't bad.”
“She'll do Miss, once she's had a full stomach and a little kindness. This is just the rant those travelers use to scare the gullible. I must say, she's got it down pat. Seanan, art thee hungry? Miss Kendrick's dinner isn't ready, but I'm sure cook will let me take a roll and some cheese to sate your hunger.”
Seanan stared at the wall, then up at the small kitchen window. A sudden sharp breeze blew through the room and she shivered despite the warmth from the fire. When she finally turned to face Frances and Martha, she was deathly pale. She shook and said, “My Lady, in my anger I did something terribly wrong.”
Frances chuckled, “I would say you did several things wrong, but you're just a little girl who was hungry and tired. I forgive you. Just don't make it a habit.”
“No, My Lady. You don't understand, do you?”
Martha added her bit and said, “Young lady, you won't be the last child to lose her temper when she's cold, hungry and tired. I'm glad you've calmed yourself. Now come get something to eat so I can go on about my chores. After you've eaten Jane can show you where the other maids sleep.”
“It's not that at all, My Lady. Do you any other of the old ones?”
“Seanan, I am losing my patience with you. This nuisance has to stop. What old ones? Mr. Dalbey is the oldest person I know well.”
“Not him. He's not an old one. I made a mistake when I cursed you. I bound myself to you in my anger. We must find another old one to remove the curse. I can't do it myself.”
Frances rolled her eyes, then said, “If you say so. I'm off to see if there's still time for a ride or if Samuel or a groom will practice fencing with me. Martha, I hope you can handle her without my help.”

Frances was to have neither a ride nor a chance to practice her swordsmanship. As she walked out of the warm kitchen into the cool air outside, she realized that her gown was soaked and she itched from the fleas that Seanan carried. She turned back into the kitchen and shouted, “Martha?”
“Bring a new gown to my room. I'll need a change.”
By the time she was changed, and had her flea bites dressed, a carriage had pulled up in front of the house. Eliza and her husband were admitted to the front parlor. It was a large antiquated room with a huge, inefficient fireplace. Soot from the smoke stained the ceiling, and the dark carved oak furniture was best described as only something a Puritan, a man focused on the next world rather than this one, could enjoy. Frances met them there.
“Eliza and James. What a surprise. Why are you here so soon after the ball?”
Dr. Brewer said, “Mr. Jones came to us. He said you were inquiring about the price of Calcot house.”
“Did he tell you?”
“Two hundred poundsi.”
“That all?”
“Neither Mr. Dalbey nor I will allow you to charge it to your estate. How will you raise the funds?”
“I guess that's my problem. I could always sell a few horses, and with the wool-money due from the spring shearing.”
“How would you pay for your current establishment?”
Frances smiled as she said, “James, I have my ways.”
“Frances, please don't. Why can't you be a demure normal young lady of refinement?”
Eliza added her bit, “Frankie, James, please let's not argue. Could we stay for supper and discuss this calmly?”
“Eliza, your husband has to learn that I'm an adult. That I have my own ideas about the estate.”
Before Dr. Brewer could respond and turn what was a heated discussion into a full-blown argument, Martha used a discreet knock on the door to call attention to her.
Frances said, “Martha, what is it?”
She pushed Seanan into the room and followed afterwards. “It's this little piece of baggage. I found her in your room. She was looking at your jewelry. I think she took something.”
“Seanan, is this true?”
“We need a token of our binding.”
“That was very wrong. Do you know these people?”
Seanan studied them, and said “Dr. Brewer, the priest of the new God, and his wife. We are pleased to meet you.”
“Frances,” Eliza said, “who is this girl?”
“Jeremy's little sister. Captain Tom's gang stole her when they took him. He rode off to find her, and.” She paused, unsure of how much to tell her guardian, “Well, it's a long story, but here she is.”
Dr. Brewer knew his ward well. He said, “Frances, did you have another duel?”
“Me? No not a duel. More like self-defense. Let's just say there's one less rogue in Wargrave tonight.”
“Frances, how do you expect to find a husband if you keep acting like this?”
“The man for me won't be upset with me when I defend my honor.”
Seanan spoke, “No, he won't be. We can go tell him if you would like, he hasn't left for London yet.”
“No young lady, I want you to act like a normal young girl and learn your role in society. What were you doing in my room?”
“I was looking for this.” She held out a small broach. It was made of silver and garnets.
“That piece of trumpery?”
“I told you we are bound to you by the same curse that binds you to this world. We can be bound together in friendship or as enemies.” Seanan's eyes began to glow as she shifted from the first person to the regal we.
“Seanan, I would prefer you to be my friend.”
“You have offered us food, comfort and shelter. We have broken bread with thee. This gift will seal our friendship and my service. You will know us by it.”
Frances thought for a moment, then asked Martha, “Would it upset the other servants if I let her have it? If she promises to be good.”
“Miss Frances, if she'll promise to stop with this traveler evil-eye language, I'd give it to her myself. I've been itching to give her the back of my hand all afternoon, ever since we bathed her.”
“I understand. Cook and the other maids are all in a tizzy, aren't they?”
“Yes Miss.”
Eliza said, “Frances, language.”
“Oh bother, then. Is that better?” It was, but not by much.
“Seanan,” she continued, “if I give you this token, will you undertake to be a normal maid?”
“I will.”
“Seanan, I accept your promise of friendship.”
“My Lady I promise my friendship and my service as long as you deign, to the end of time if need be.”
Seanan seemed to wilt and lose her defiant stance. The glow seemed to leave her eyes. Martha asked her, “Seanan, are you ready to come with me?”
“I will and you may call me Susan if it is easier on your tongue.”
Frances said, “Martha will you tell cook that Dr. and Mrs. Brewer will dine with me tonight? Assuming you still want to stay for dinner, Eliza.” Eliza nodded her acceptance. Dr. Brewer looked lost in thought, unsure of what he had witnessed.
Martha replied, “Yes Miss Frances. I'll see to it.”
“Thank you. Was Cook planning turkey or turkey fowlii?”
“I believe turkey fowl, Miss.” Martha curtsied and left on her errand.
iAbout L 1-2,000,000 today based on comparative economic value. In 1730 the prince spent L1460 on gardens which was estimated to be the equivalent of L20,000,000 today. Prices in the Regency would have been 10-20x higher than at the start of the century. In any case it was a fair bit of cash for Frances to raise.
iiTurkey originally referred to what is today called a guinea hen. Hence, Europeans were eating 'Turkey' well before they stumbled into the Americas. The turkey we know as turkey would have been available by this period, but the language wouldn't have completely changed.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Chicken Barons

My next release The Chicken Barons is available for preorder on Kindle.
This is the second installment of "From the Ashes" and will be released one month after the first. 

From the short blurb:

1870. The war may be over, but its consequences are not. Mary Cummings can’t raise cotton without her ‘servant’s, but she and her half-sister Sally scrape by with chickens, eggs, and vegetables. Rebuilding the South requires Northern capital and expertise. Ex-officers from Sherman’s vandal hoards are in demand because they know the land and have the organizational skill to run the railroads. A loose shoe strands one at the Cummings strangely familiar farm.

and a bit more:
Daniel Patrick is using his organizational skills and local knowledge to rebuild the railroads in the south. He and his good friend from the army, George Oats, survey the line from Atlanta to Augusta. The line runs (and still does) just north of Covington. While fording the Yellow River, his horse loses a shoe and becomes lame. He walks it to a nearby farm and waits for the occupants in the hope that they can point him to a smith or farrier.
The farm seems familiar from his time as one of "Sherman's Vandals", but 1864 was a long time ago. Nonetheless the woman who has haunted his dreams is there and they quickly make up for lost time.

There's more action than this, but I'd like to leave something out of the blurb to keep the mystery of the book.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A teaser for "From the Ashes"

 This is the start of the next installment in the civil-war based series I'm putting together.. It (the installment) is nearly complete and will be released in early January.


1. Eggs and Vegetables.

George Oats wiped the sweat from his forehead and replaced his wide-brimmed hat. He asked his friend Dan Patrick, “Tell me again why we're riding out here along this damned road in this blazing heat?” It was a hot summer day in mid-Georgia and they were riding along the remains of the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company track that lead east from Atlanta to Augusta and its port. What little shade there was, came from the telegraph poles that ran along the road. It only gave the promise of shade without delivering any of it.
“The board won't sell bonds to raise the money for expanding the road unless we personally survey the line. Don't blame them, too many of these southern railroad companies only exist on paper and we need to know exactly what we're getting into.”
George took a swig from his canteen. Its cotton cover had dried out and the water was getting hot. Still, it was better than going thirsty. “True, and most of the rest do their best to hide the gaps our boys made in '64. You remember that line from Marietta to Jackson?”
Dan laughed, “The one that went just out of sight of the city and then transferred the goods to horse carts. How can I forget it?”
“At least there's a single track here. Looks like it's in decent repair. The embankment could take two tracks. Pity it's not a standard southern gauge.”
“We'll need to fix that. Do you think the line makes it all the way to Augusta?”
“There hasn't been much traffic. Probably not.”
“Either that or there's no freight to send.”
“Could be bankrupt. No money to pay the workers or buy the wood for the engines.”
“How far do you think we'll make it today?”
“In this heat? Not too far, maybe Covington.”
“George, we need to find someone else to help survey the line. This is going to take us forever.”
“My wife won't like it if it takes that long.”
“Don't blame her. Send her a telegram from Covington. If the hotel's decent, she could always come out and meet you.”
“That might work. This trip would be better if she were along.”
“No doubt.”
“Dan, you aren't still grieving for, what was her name?”
“Charlene. No. Just haven't met any females that take my fancy. They're just too insipid for my taste.”
“You've certainly had enough of them throwing their caps at you. Just pick one, you won't regret it.”
Dan tried to change the subject, “Wonder if there's anyone we can trust to help survey the roads?”
“Down here, or perhaps 'Dauwn heyar', no idea. Too many unrepentant Johnnies for my taste.”
“Is Annie worried about you?”
“What do you think? Even if she isn't, I'm sure she misses me.”
“Why don't you cut south and take the Atlanta highway to Covington. We can see the road from here. That'll be quickest. I'll check the,” Dan looked at his notes, “the Yellow River trestle and then meet you at the hotel this afternoon.”
“Will you be safe with me heading off like that?”
“I wouldn't have suggested it if I were worried. The war's been over for five years, and they haven't shot anyone lately. Send Annie a telegram, and include my love.”
George shouted, “See you this evening in Covington!” Then he rode off to find the Atlanta highway.
Dan followed the line to the Yellow River trestle. It was a rickety looking thing, built on the remains of the bridge Sherman's men burnt. He noted its condition as one more thing in need of repair or expansion, and rode his horse to the edge. The rails lay on sleepers and the sleepers lay on beams, and the beams spanned the stone pillars that were all that was left from the old bridge. The river was visible between the sleepers. A man could easily walk across, but not a horse. His horse shied at the sight. Dan reached over and patted its neck, “There, there, old boy. I'm not going to make you cross it. We'll find a ford and cross there.”
He turned his mount around and rode back from the bridge. His map, while it showed the railroad, and a few of the major roads and towns didn't show the nearest ford. He was toying with the idea of turning back to where George had cut down to the Atlanta highway when he was met by boy riding out from the north. “Son, is there a ford across the Yellow River back up that trail?”
“Sure is. 'bout a mile back, near the Cummings' place.”
That name seemed vaguely familiar. “Can I get back from the Cummings farm to Covington?”
“Easy, it's a good road. I'd show you, but I'm headed for Conyers and I'm late. You can't miss it.”
Dan thought, “That usually means a twisty maze that ends up nowhere, but at least it's out of this sun and my horse could use a drink.” He replied, “Thank you.” Then he climbed down the embankment and started up the path.
Much to his surprise the path led straight to the ford. A rill in the water showed where a band of gravel and rocks spanned the river. The river banks were cut down low so that a horse could reach the river without too much difficulty. The muddy river sides made it a tricky ride, but nothing an ex-cavalryman couldn't handle. While not much deeper than the rocky crossing, the mud on either side of the ford could trap a horse. Dan clambered down, and his horse splashed in. He let his mount stop in the middle and enjoy the cool water. Then they walked the rest of the way and started up the bank. They hadn't gone much farther when the horse started to limp. Dan expertly dismounted and walked the horse for a few paces. “Damn, that right rear shoe's loose, about to come off.” He patted his mount, and told it, “It looks like we're both walking now.”
He led the horse along a wooded path and after a few hundred yards walk, the brush opened up and revealed a dilapidated farm. A weather beaten farmhouse stood near a barn. The noise of chickens could be heard from a large hen-house that was behind the buildings, and the neatly weeded vegetable patch nearby showed signs of recent activity. As with many of these old farms, a row of vacant slave cottages stood, or more accurately slowly collapsed, next to it. Dan led his horse to the house, tied it to a post, and then knocked on the door. There was no answer. He peaked through a window and saw that the house was occupied, just that the residents were away on some errand or another. He looked at his horse, who seemed comfortable enough and told it, “We might as well wait. In the worst case, it will be a whole heck of a lot cooler if we walk to Covington in the evening.” With that, he stretched out on the porch and fell asleep.
Someone was poking him. He rolled over, but the prodding continued. Suddenly awake, he sat up and tried to focus on who it was.
“If you've come for eggs, we've sold them all. Have some more tomorrow.”
It was a woman. It was a young woman, a pretty young woman, and she looked vaguely familiar from his dreams. “Do I know you?”
She looked at him, stared, speechless. Then she started to stammer, “Y-y-you aren't.”
Another woman, about the same age but black, came around from the stables and asked, “Mary, if our visitor wants eggs we're all out. He can have some tomorrow. The potatoes won't be ready for another month, and we've sold the sweet corn.”
“I know you,” he continued, “you're Mary, Mary Cummings.”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Berkshire Lady continued, Another Draft chapter.

This is another chapter (again draft) where Frances realizes she can't quite pull off the purchase of Calcot house. (The real-life Frances did this before she met Mr. Child, I'm not sure how as her trustee's did not  approve of it.) This chapter describes one mechanism she could have used, and sets the stage for more action.


Martha Makes a Suggestion.

A month after the Mayor's ball, Frances was sitting in the day room while Martha mended the washing and instructed the new maid, Susan, in her needlework. While her maids worked on their never ending task, Frances studied her accounts. The results were not what she hoped. It didn't matter whether she summed them forwards or backwards, the total available for her to use was only about £20. This was despite excellent returns from the wool-money. Far less than she needed to purchase Calcot House. Not even enough to take gambling with any chance of success. Especially since neither Whist nor Quadrille were her forte and Faro was too easy to rig. She looked up, and saw Martha watching her with concern. She said, “Martha, there's not enough for Calcot House here. Not even enough to secure a loan.”
“What will you do now Miss Frances?”
“I'm sure I can sell a few horses, which will raise a few quid. See what Samuel thinks of the new colts.”
“I know how much you care for your horses. It would be like selling your own children.”
Frances gave her maid a wry grin, “Not quite Martha, but it's not my favorite idea. I only need about £80 more, to be close enough to bargain. That may take my best horses, and not the yearling's I usually sell. I suppose I could put some jewelry up the spout, and hope my trustees would redeem it.”
“Miss, there is another way.”
“I hesitate to say this, but.”
“I could fit Sir Charles' old clothes to you.”
“Me, wear Charlie's clothes, why?”
“You've always boasted that you're the fastest rider and breed the best horses in Berkshire.”
“It's not a boast, Martha, not if it's true.”
“Why don't you prove it at the Newbury races?”
Frances was struck by the idea. After a few moments thought she said, “I could, you know. I'd make a tidy sum, but only if the punters didn't know it was me or my horses.”
“That's why I suggested Sir Charles' clothes, Miss. I know it's highly irregular, but I know you too. Irregularity never bothered you did it?”
“No it never did. I couldn't take Sam. The punters would know immediately that I was involved, even if they didn't recognize me.”
Susan said, “My Lady,” she paused and corrected herself, “Miss Frances, Jeremy could go. He told me yesterday that Mr. Phillips thinks the world of him.”
“Does he?”
Susan continued, “If Jeremy goes, may I come as well?”
“We'll see. First though, I'd best talk with Sam. See what he thinks of the idea.”
Martha said, “I know Sam, he'll approve of the racing, but not your conduct.”
“He is a bit of a stick in the mud about my doings. Would you be willing to come with me Martha?”
“Not to Newbury Miss. They'll know me too, and you need someone here to watch the house.”
“I know that. I mean to talk to Sam. I'd like his blessing if I could get it.”
“I wouldn't worry about that Miss, but I've the mending to finish and then this young piece of baggage needs her lessons.”

Sam was not surprised when his mistress popped Martha's idea on him. Martha and he had already discussed it and reluctantly come to the conclusion that it was the only course of action that would keep Miss Kendrick from becoming notorious. Frances had already jokingly hinted at highway robbery, and anything, even going to a racing meet dressed as a man, was better than that.
“Miss Frances,” he said, “I'm not sure I like the idea of you wearing men's clothes.”
“It will be a lark. I've wanted to race for years.”
“About racing, Miss Frances, you're too big. The jockeys are all about Jeremy's size.”
“Can he ride?”
“Like he was born in the saddle. Never seen someone, except yourself, take to it so well. None of the other stable-boys are near as good.”
“It sounds like he and I should go.”
“It's best if I'm along, Miss.”
“The punters will know something is up if you're there as my groom.”
“I thought about that. There's that gangling colt you want to sell. The rangy brown one.”
“Out of Bess, the time she was served by our neighbor's loose stallion. He wasn't exactly just a 'proud cut' was he?”
“I don’t think he was cut at all.” Sam laughed, it was an unplanned mating which resulted in a less than thorough-bred colt. He said, “That one.”
“Could work. There are a couple other horses we could do without.”
“Exactly, Miss. Since you cannot attend yourself as a delicate and refined female.” He paused while Frances guffawed, “I would be your representative at the sales. No one would suspect anything.”
“That's rich. But it would work. I don't know what I'd do without you, Sam.”
“Find yourself neck-deep in the muck without a shovel, that's what. I also thought that mayhaps you could invite your friends the Brewer's towards the end of the meet. When the course opens to the fair company.”
“I see, Martha could bring my dresses, and I'd re-appear. Throw sand over my tracks.”
“I don't know what Eliza would think about it. She's a bit hide-bound about these things, and Dr. Brewer. Well, he'd have me put in Bedlam if he found out.”
“Just say in the invitation that you're riding separately with one of your grooms, and will meet them there.”
“I suppose that would work. Now you're going to tell me I still need to bring a maid.”
“You should. You can't sleep with Jeremy in the room. He's a nice enough boy, but”
“It would be highly improper, even if nothing happened. Good Lord, the thought that he and I would. Never, never, never. I suppose I could take Susan. Do you think she'd be steady enough?”
“Sam, she’d have to dress like a boy.”
“I doubt she'd mind. She's a bit bored as a housemaid.”
“The other thing Sam. I'd like to find a way to get my horses to Newbury without taxing them. Did you think they'd tolerate a ride in the cart?”
“No Miss, but?”
“But what?”
“I could get the carpenter to knock up a stall on the cart. They'd not care about that.”
“It's worth a try. If they balk, I can always walk them the same as everyone else does.”
“I'll see to it.” Samuel gave his mistress a respectful salute.
Frances explained the plans to Martha and Susan. Susan immediately agreed. “Miss Frances, I'd do anything to go to Newbury with Jeremy. What should I be called as your page?”
“Would Sean be acceptable?'
“John. That will do. We are pleased with you My Lady.”
“Yes, Miss Frances. I'd like to be called John.” Susan smiled at an inside joke, “Not now, but if I were a boy.”
“God knows why, Susan, but John you shall be. We both need to get our clothes measured and fit.”

The stall on a cart was finished quickly. Partially this was because the estate carpenter was excited by the idea of a 'cert' for a bet and asked Sam to place a few side bets for him, but mostly because it was simple to build. Sam suggested that the horses be led into it several days before they left for Newbury. At first the horses were unsure about this novel idea, but they quickly decided that this was yet another thing that those strange two-legged creatures did and a stall was a stall. That Miss Frances hid a few apples or carrots in the hay at the far end of the stall helped.
The other thing Frances decided was that Jeremy must be able to drive a team. He'd shown remarkable progress at riding horses. It was as if he could talk to them. Frances had him tootle her around the farm in her gig until she was comfortable that he could take the leads.
“Miss Frances,” he asked, “Why must I drive?”
“I don't see any way to get you, Susan, and me to Newbury without it.”
“There's room for us all on the cart.”
“I'd like to have my mount as well. It's best to be flexible about things. I might need you to take Susan and the horses home without me.”
Jeremy was pleased that Miss Kendrick would trust him. He said, “Miss Frances, I'll do my best.”
“Jeremy, I've had boys your age do things like this before. It's nothing special.”
“But never, I'll warrant, ones as new to your service as me.”
“That's true, but you've done well.” Jeremy smiled at the compliment.

Since Susan was still a young girl, Martha had little trouble fitting boy's clothes to her. Outfitting Frances, on the other hand posed some problems. The latest men's style was too form-fitting, and even with her breasts strapped uncomfortably tight, it was obvious that she was not a man.
Frances gazed at herself in the mirror and said, “Martha, what am I going to do? This is simply not going to work. I must admit the style becomes a fit young man, but?”
“I'd say, Miss Frances, that it becomes you as well.”
Frances primped herself in the mirror and said, “That's true, but I need to look less like a woman.”
“I suppose, if you didn't mind looking a bit dowdy, you could.”
“I could what?”
“You'll look a bit rustic, but the way your father dressed would let you hide more of your build.”
Frances laughed, “Well Frank is supposed to be a rural horse-trainer, my poor cousin. So he wouldn't be dressed in the latest fashion of silk suit. He'd look a lot like Sam, wouldn't he?”
“If you added a sash and your sword belt, it could work.”
“In any case, I wouldn't wear a fancy suit to work with horses. The older fashion, with its coarser woolen cloth would be correct.”
“I'll also pad your waistcoat. It will be hot, but make your bosom less obvious.”
The next iteration of clothing fit better. Instead of trying to follow the latest style, Martha pieced together a looser coat, a padded waistcoat, breeches and stockings that were respectable but not revealing. Frances put them on, and found that she didn't need the sash. Looking at herself in the mirror she said, “Martha, I think this will work.”
“I think so too, Mr. Kendrick.”
“I should test it first.”
“Not Reading Miss.”
“No. Somewhere I'm not so well known. Wargrave?”
“Frances, please no. Imagine what would be said when you're recognized.”
“Martha, even if I don't try it in society, I do need to practice riding astride.”
“If you must.”
Frances walked out to her stables, without changing and found Sam. “Can you saddle one of the horses with a man's saddle?”
Sam looked at her, smiled, and said, “Yes Mr. Kendrick. I'd say Martha has done her job well.”
“I hope so. Do you think I could pull this off, I mean looking like a man?”
“We'll see, Miss, sorry Mr. Kendrick. I think as long as you're not well known it will work.”
“I'd so like to try walking down Broad Street, or try the service at St. Mary’s in the Butts.”

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Relative prices for the Regency and Today.

It's a right bugger very difficult to get an accurate handle on relative prices between historical times and current day. Some of this due to the differences in the quality and quantity of goods available. No amount of money would have bought Jane Austen a laptop (Not that it would have improved her work).

You can, because I did, find very detailed work done by reputable historians to give relative wages and costs through 1700. Even then it's hard to compare because the goods and services are so different.

One thing I did find while checking on coach times and costs was the price of a stage coach (the 8mph sort in 1810, that changed horses every hour) from Bristol to London. It was about 1.2.0 pounds (more or less I'm not pretending to be completely accurate here). Doesn't sound like much but remember that the median income was about 30 pounds in a year.

This means, that relatively speaking it's cheaper to fly across the US and back than it was to coach from Bristol to London. ($40,000 average US, $300-400 to get to LA). It's even relatively cheaper, if you're careful, to go from the US to the UK and back.

But then we're spending a lot of "sunk capital" in the form of fossil fuel, which might not be properly priced.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pulling a Dickens

I've been slowly working on a book set in the American Civil War and it's immediate aftermath (the "reconstruction"). I decided to try releasing semi-monthly serial installments as Amazon "short reads". I just released the first volume, "Caught by the Blue-Coats."

The eventual goal is to write a series of 5-10 volumes, and then bind them up as a final work.
In the meantime, here's the book's blurb.

1864, Atlanta has fallen and the vandal hordes of Yankee mudsills are spreading through Georgia on their way to the sea. What is a patriotic young Southern woman, like Mary Cummings, to do? Stain herself dark brown with walnut juice and spy on them, of course. The trouble with walnut juice is that it doesn't wash off. Normally, time would clear Mary's skin, but she doesn't have time. A detachment of union cavalry is on the way to her plantation outside of Covington.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Plot summary of Cecelia?

This is from
which is a download site. I'm glad lots of people download it there, but I wish they did a better job on the plot summary. (Though it would be nicer if you went directly to smashwords for it.)

Within this love that was nice the youthful very and trusting heroine has existed all her existence within the remote Penyclawdd home in the Dark Mountains' fringe and about the edge between Wales. Her youth house that was precious is required on the remote relative. Chief Timber, the relative, was invalided following a devastating fight from the military in Italy. He gets to the property together with eacute & his fianc;elizabeth, Linda, in pull. Despite their finest attempts towards the opposite, the Chief and also Cecelia end up drawn to one another. The Chief, Linda and Cecelia travel in wish of discovering Cecelia a spouse to Bathtub. Although there Linda elopes and satisfies by having an old fire. Thinking her steps ruined #039 & the Chief;s greatest probabilities at joy, Cecelia flees to reside together with her cousin. Swansea is lived someplace near by the cousin, and also the book's rest chronicles the Captain s misadventures and initiatives as he does his better to discover and get the love of his existence.

The original went:

In this sweet romance the pretty, young and naive heroine, Cecelia Wood, has lived all her life in the isolated Penyclawdd house at the edge of the Black Mountains and on the border between Wales and England. Her beloved childhood home is entailed on a distant cousin. The cousin, Captain Wood, was invalided out of the army in Spain after a disastrous battle. He arrives at the estate with his new fiancée, Jane, in tow. Despite their best efforts to the contrary, Cecelia and the Captain find themselves attracted to each other. The Captain, Jane and Cecelia travel to Bath in hope of finding Cecelia a husband. While there Jane meets with an old flame and elopes. Believing her actions destroyed the Captain's best chances at happiness, Cecelia flees to live with her aunt. The aunt lives somewhere near Swansea, and the rest of the book chronicles the Captain's efforts and misadventures as he does his best to find and retrieve the love of his life.

More thoughts about the ad-server.

The adserver as written is a rather simple piece of code. The information needed for each add is stored in an array of javascript objects and randomly selected to update the contents of a named<div> tag.

That's fine for a small number of adds, but not suitable for a larger group. It's also relatively fragile as one typo will kill the whole add. There are two options:
  1. Use some central repository, such as a file on google drive, to hold a configuration file. Read it on loading and run the adds from it. 
  2. Write a program to write the program. It reads a configuration file and its output can be simply included by hand, or from a central location. (i.e. a web reference).
Most add-servers use some variant of the first option. That way they can keep track of adds served and click-throughs (both of are charged to the advertiser). The headache for a free service is that it costs to maintain such a service. The second approach may have slightly higher initial load times (bigger scripts), but would run without a mandatory central server.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The parallel story continues

More of the parallel story.

Reading, Today 2.

As Jane predicted, the party was loud, full of booze and something that resembled dancing. At least dancing where there was room. Betty's flat was in a building full of student flats, so the noise was tolerated by the other residents in exchange for the cheap rent. Besides that, most of them were already at the party. After taking a stab at dancing, Ben and Frances found themselves a spot on a couch and tried to talk. It was too loud for normal conversation.
Ben shouted, “Frances, would you like to take a walk? Somewhere we could talk.”
She shouted back “Yes.”
They grabbed their jackets and slipped out, unnoticed, into the night. As the sound faded behind them Ben said, “I used to enjoy loud parties like that. Guess I'm getting old.”
“Either that or more sensible.”
They walked together to one end of Whitley Park Lane, a closei in the suburb, and then down to its end where the macadam stopped and it became a dirt track. Frances found herself naturally slipping her hand into Ben's as they walked into the field beyond. A few stars peeked through the light pollution from the city. When they stopped to look at them, she said, “I don't know why, but this place always feels familiar to me. There ought to be a house here, but.”
Ben looked around in the dim light that bled over from the streets. “Wouldn't it have been on that side of the field?”
“I don't know. It just felt like there ought to be a house, some stables. Wonder if I'm having Deja vu. Maybe if we follow the track?”
“It's just allotments on the other end.”
“I don't know. It just felt like there ought to be a house, some stables. Wonder if I'm having Deja vu.”
Frances' response, “Stop it. That joke was old when I was born,” didn't stop her from pulling Ben closer.
“I suppose it was. I've had this feeling of similarity and difference ever since I got off the train in Reading Station a month ago. It's as if the city is familiar and then different.”
“You know the Hexagon is where the magistrate's court is?”
“No, but I suppose it must be. That's the police building isn't it?”
“Last week I tried to go to the old court building, on Castle Street. It was daft.”
“I know what you mean. My flat's down Beech Lane, and I keep going the long way, via Whitley. No idea why. Whitley just seems like home. Speaking of home, would you like some tea at my flat?”
iA 'close' is a dead-end road with one entrance. It can be more complex than a simple lane with a turn-around at the end, but that's the most common usage.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Alpha testing a free book add server.

I've put together a javascript framework (a very simple one) for a cooperative add server for indie authors. The example on my front page just has my books right now, but I expect that to change. It's going to need a better data organization than instances of an object (probably xml). Anyway some of my friends will try it out.

It can link to servers like Iauthor or goodreads and lets you handle different vendors (both Amazon and smashwords work). I like the idea of using Iauthor because you can get statistics from them.