The Clockmaker’s Daughter

“What a pity,” Percy Thwaite-Rumbleton remarked to me recently, “that you were not blessed with a son to help you run your business and ultimately inherit it.  A man of your advancing years should be able to retire to his workshop and concentrate on tinkering away at clockwork, without having the tiresome business of selling to contend with.”

It set me thinking, I can tell you, although not along the lines Percy intended.  Certainly I have often yearned to be freed from the chore of shopkeeping and I feel increasingly drawn towards inventing ever more complex and exciting timepieces.  The lack of a son, however, had not affected me in the least.  Thwaite-Rumbleton is not well acquainted with my wonderful and resourceful daughter.  Who needs a son, with such an excellent young person to provide assistance?

Obviously, I had to ask Scarlett if she wished to become involved in the family business.  I would never wish the dear girl to feel duty bound to work with me if her fancy took her elsewhere.  Fortunately, she was positively exuberant when I suggested it.

“You mean I should run the emporium, Papa?” she squealed.  “I should be responsible for showing your creations to discerning customers?  I should take out trays of pocket watches and assist gentlemen to choose from them?”
“Is that something you would enjoy, my dear?” I asked.
“It would be wonderful!” she exclaimed. “I can’t imagine any occupation I would prefer.  Naturally I would need to be neatly attired, so as to show our establishment to be of the highest quality.  I think I would have to purchase several new gowns, in the latest style.  It would never do for our patrons to see me as a child.  I am, after all, thirteen years old now, and very nearly a woman.”

After several rather costly excursions to the costumier and one to the hairdresser, Scarlett declared herself suitably coiffed and attired for managing our modest clockmaker’s shop in High Holborn.   It was quite a shock to me to see her so adorned, when scarcely a month ago she still wore her (formerly) blonde hair in ringlets and dressed in pastel-coloured children’s frocks.

I wrote a new sign: E. Crackington & Daughter, Clockmakers and framed it to hang on the wall.  Next, I had to build a low shop counter, since the existing one was rather too high for her to stand behind and still be visible to customers.  She is quite small for her age.

Now at last I am freed from the drudgery of serving customers and waiting around in the shop, while my enterprising child is thoroughly enjoying her new career and proving to be most efficient and popular with our clients.

The Case of The Clockwork Emporium  – a one of a kind 1/12 scale model room box – can be purchased from http://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/SteampunkDollsHouse.  The link for its page is here.

The Case of the Cases

Here in 21st Century England, it is possible, for a modest outlay, to purchase sets of what are called ‘storage suitcases’ from a well-known chain of stationery shops.  These sturdy little card cases, with metal handles and hinges, come in three sizes ranging from 12 x 8 x 3.5 inches (30 x 20 x 9 cm) down to 8 x 6 x 3 inches (14 x 20 x 8 cm).

It quickly became apparent that these would provide excellent and easily portable little rooms for the steampunk ladies and gentlemen to inhabit.  Decorating and furnishing them has become one of my chief delights and many have headed off to happy homes throughout the country.

The prices vary considerably, depending on the complexity of the contents and whether they are sold with or without figures.

Here are the cases currently available at Steampunk-Shrunk:

The Engine Room
This is housed in a large case.  It is the room in which Henry the tinker (See Diary of a Tinkerer) repaired and powered up his time machine.

It contains a large pile of coal, a Twisted Firestarter (safely caged), a huge steam boiler with furnace beneath (complete with opening door and flickering flame), various pipes and a complex set of gadgets, the purpose of which remains a mystery to me.  It costs £58 and, like the other cases, can be purchased at Steampunk-Shrunk stalls or online. See home page for details.

The Case of the Balloon Journey
This is the only outdoor scene at present.  Harvey Cholmondeley is travelling from Africa to visit his brother Algernon.  (See The Vital Chapter).  Land can just be glimpsed through the clouds below, while Harvey stands in his basket, which has a turning anemometer and a burner with working flame (powered by a battery tea light).  Harvey wears a genuine leather coat and flying helmet and has all the details and gadget you’ve come to expect from steampunk-Shrunk figures.  This case costs £68 (or £48 without figure).

The Case of the Withdrawing Room
This small case shows her ladyship’s personal space.  There is a whatnot filled with her treasures, a bird in a cage, a chair, mirror and table complete with a flickering steampunk lamp.  Her journal, pen and inkpot lie on the table.  There is no figure sold with this room, which costs £48.

 

The Case of the Tinker’s Time Machine
Yet another time traveller! Here you find George Entwhistle hard at work on a partially completed temporal transporter.  You can find the full story here.  The room is crammed with detail and his machine flashes with different colours (from an upcycled Christmas badge!) in the most dramatic way you can imagine.  George wears a battered leather apron and specially adapted goggles.  The furnished room costs £58, or £78 with George included.

The Case of the Tea Duel
The room is set up for the most genteel of duels, but the intent is deadly serious.  There is real china crockery and ‘cows’ (a plate of malted milk biscuits) are the weapons of choice.  The tiny room is cleverly back-lit, so that light shines through the window.  The cupboard conceals the lighting for the scene.  This case can be purchased for £58. 

However for a further £27 (£85 in all), the immaculately attired duellists – Leticia and Prudence – can be added.  An absolute bargain, I’m sure you’ll agree, since Steampunk-Shrunk figures normally sell for £25 each.

 

Cabinets of Curiosities

Continuing with my series on what’s available at Steampunk-Shrunk, this week I’d like to highlight the Cabinets of Curiosities.

Of all the things made here, I think the gadgets and gizmos are my favourites.  I love scouring charity shops, discount stores, eBay and so forth for tiny weird bits and pieces I can upcycle, combine and transform in wild and wonderful ways.  Inevitably, I was ending up with a mass of very fragile tiny steampunk gadgets, whose purpose I could only guess at.  A few found their way into the room boxes or the hands of my characters, but Charles Tradescant here decided to collect the rest together into wooden cabinets.

The ones available at the moment are all this style (left and above) – about 8 inches/20cm tall and 6 inches/ 15cm wide, freestanding and made of wood, with a perspex window, ten compartments and a decorative fastening catch.

Charles displaying a smaller cabinet – currently out of stock

I suppose they would fit into a tall dolls’ house, but they really look their best as freestanding ornaments on shelves or mantelpieces, where the intricate and eclectic contents can be viewed.  Each is completely unique, with a glorious mixture of books and letters, art works, specimens in jars, skulls, shells and other natural objects as well as the intriguing steampunk contraptions.  All are glued down, to preserve the sanity of the owner, but with moderate pressure they can usually be detached.

There will be three cabinets available at our next stall (Thame Dolls House and Miniatures Fair on Saturday 17th Feb 2018) at £45 each.  They can also be purchased online, with postage and packing extra, although a few items may need to be glued down again on arrival, so have some superglue handy.

Please use the contact form at the bottom of the HOME page on this site if you’d like to know more.

Tinkering with Time

George Entwhistle, a patents clerk by day, had always enjoyed tinkering.  The trouble was, tinkering could be a somewhat noisy activity.  Living as he did in a terraced property, he had to contend with frequent complaints from neighbours and visits from members of the constabulary.

In consequence, he’d been banned from hammering, sawing, welding or producing anything with a tendency to explode between the hours of 8pm and 10am, and all day on Sundays.  This, given the long hours he worked at the patents office, made it difficult for him to achieve anything of note.  George felt cheated by life.

All this changed, though, the day he realised that the blocked up door in the sitting room did not, as he’d always imagined, lead to the parlour.  Careful measuring and still more careful (and virtually silent) plan drawing showed that there was a two and a half foot gap between the blocked door and the parlour wall.

Working only between the hours of 7.30 and 8 in the evening, George carefully prised open the mysterious door and discovered, to his great amazement, a staircase leading down.  Eagerly, he availed himself of an oil lamp and the poker from the fireplace, and cautiously descended.

Cellar Outlet, Gang, Dark, CreepyImagine George’s surprise and delight as he discovered a further door at the base, which opened quite easily, revealing a large cellar!

Certainly it was cold and uninviting, but the walls were thick.  George raced upstairs, grabbed his noisiest intruder alarm – one of his most unpopular inventions amongst the neighbours during the testing stage – and took it down to his newly discovered domain.  Here he set it off and left it in the cellar, shutting the door behind him and returning to the sitting room.  Despite the deafening clang of bells and shriek of whistles echoing around the empty space below, there was virtually no sound to be heard from either the sitting room or parlour.  Despite it being 8.30, not a single neighbour banged on the wall or hammered on his front door.
“Eureka!” exclaimed George.
“Quiet in there or I’ll summon a constable!” came an angry shout from the occupant of number 28.

From that day onward, George worked to transform the cellar into a tinker’s workshop.  He extended the heating pipes downwards to power a boiler, which not only heated the workshop, but allowed him to brew a much-needed cup of tea from time to time.  He constructed a doorbell with a wire connecting it to the front of his house, so that callers could be heard.  He made himself a shelf and workbench and even installed a clock and mirror.  The result was a commodious and most agreeable work space.  George was a happy man.

He is currently busying himself with constructing a clockwork time machine.  He’d long had a plan, gleaned from a combination of the failed ideas of several other tinkers.  Working in a patents office did have certain advantages.

As you can see, his contraption is well underway, and he’s able to fire it up for short periods.

“Only a matter of time,” George mutters to himself, smiling slightly at his own wit, “Now that I no longer have to suffer time restraints, soon I shall be the master of time!”

Time will tell…

 

Should you wish to inspect George’s cellar workshop and the items he is creating there, do come to any of the Steampunk-Shrunk stalls at various events over the coming months.

The details of venues, dates and times can be found on the home page of this website.  

Oh, and if you come along, do ask George to demonstrate the time machine.  He loves to show off his workmanship.

 

 

The Case of The Globe

A complete change from steampunk, and a huge challenge… but a friend commissioned me to put Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre into one of my little cardboard cases.

To begin with I just gawped at her, but she had it all figured out.  The audience would go on the back wall, there would be some Tudor theatregoers in boxes to the sides of the stage and the fold-down tray of the case would provide the stage itself.
“I’d like a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she said. “Titania in her bower, with Bottom wearing his ass’s head and Puck nearby.

My first impulse was to run screaming from the house, but gradually I began to see it emerging in my mind’s eye and once that happens, I start making.

So here is the basic box layout.  All my spare miniature people – the ones awaiting transformation – had to dress as extras and be photographed many times to make the audience backdrop!

And here is a wealthy member of the audience.  One of Mr Shakespeare’s patrons, perhaps.  He certainly has one of the finest seats in the house.

Titania’s bower is a mix of wire and artificial flowers, with velvet cushions the colour of moss and grass.  The fairy queen herself has glittering wings, a floaty silver and translucent dress, a crown of opals and rose gold chains and long golden hair.

The portly Bottom, by contrast, wears rough hessian clothes, as befits a ‘rude mechanical’.  His donkey head is removable.  To be honest, I think he looks better with it on!

Finally Puck – my favourite – has cropped green hair and feather wings.  He carries the purple herb he used to bewitch Titania, who is now hopelessly enamoured of the ‘translated’ Bottom.

There’s a little more to do – some scenery to depict the woodland and another gentleman to watch the play, but this – roughly – is how it will look.

 

Miniature Fair!

Nervous, us?   Do we look nervous?  Well maybe Penelope, slightly – but the rest of us will take good care of her.

We’re leaving the delights of rural Somerset, with its green leafy lanes and pretty stone cottages, and heading for a similarly leafy place in the middle of England somewhere.  Unfortunately, though, we don’t have a single method of transportation between us and need to use a mixture of buses, trains and something called a tube to traverse London in order to get there.

Mrs S is being very upbeat about it all.  She’s carefully packed us, the room boxes and all the little pieces she makes into a large suitcase and an equally large carrier bag.  There’s plenty of padding, so we won’t be knocked about too much.   She’s spent hours on the phone to find the easiest route across London – with no staircases.  She insists it will be a breeze.

Image may contain: textWhen we finally arrive at the destination – a village called Haddenham in a place called Buckinghamshire – she’s promised us that we will meet other people of a similar size to ourselves.

Some of us may even find new homes to go to.  Lord Horatio became rather angry at that.
“Like being at Battersea Dogs’ Home, waiting for an owner,” he growled.

The rest of us would love it, though.  So if you happen to live anywhere around this Buckinghamshire place and are free on Saturday 23rd September, do come along to and call by the Steampunk-Shrunk stall.

We’d love to meet you.

The Magical Mechanical Bird

a young showmanMy pa made the bird.  He’s Mister William Forsey and when I grow up, I’m going to be just like him – a tinker as well as a showman.  My name is Rufus, by the way.  I’m ten years old and I have a very important job.  I run the Magical Mechanical Bird Show in the little fairground booth my pa built.

only Rufus can fit insideThe ticket office is too small for Ma or Pa to get inside, but I fit just fine.  When I grow too big, one of my brothers or sisters will have to take over and I’ll get on with learning my pa’s craft.  Pa’s proud of me.  He wrote ‘Wm. Forsey & Son’ on the poster, so I’d be part of the company.  Some day we’ll have a whole load of automatons and people will come from all over the world to watch and wonder at them.

preparing the mechanical birdFirst thing I have to do is wind up the machine and check that it’s all working smoothly.  Pa says I’m a natural when it comes to knowing where a lick of oil should go or what bolts to tighten.  You see?  I’ve got tinker’s blood in me veins.  I’ll make wonderful contraptions when I’m older.

hiding the bird from viewNext I pull the curtain across, so the bird’s hidden and go out the front to tout for business.  All the ladies love me and they beg their beaus to buy a ticket.  Ma says it’s on account of my fair hair and big eyes.  I think it’s more likely my witty patter that draws ’em in.
Once a lady said, “Is the poor bird trapped in a cage?”
She thought it was a real bird, even though the sign clearly says ‘Mechanical’.
“Oh no, Ma’am,” I told her. “That bird is as free as I am.”
She was so pleased, she asked her gentleman to give me a farthing, and to show off to her, he gave me three ha’pence!
When I told Pa later what had happened, he said it was a good reply I’d given.  I told him it was true, because both me and the bird are as free as each other – stuck in that booth all day.  That got me a clip round the ear, though, so I need to learn when to keep me mouth shut, I reckon.

selling ticketsAnyhow, once I’ve got a good crowd, I go into the ticket office and sell them all tickets to watch the show.  I have to keep the office locked all day, so no one will steal our takings.  Ma took the chain from Grandpa’s old watch and fixed the office key to it, so I can wear it on me waistcoat, just like a toff!  Real silk, that waistcoat is, and me trousers are pa’s old moleskins cut down.  They’re a bit on the roomy side, but I’ll grow into them.

Next is my favourite part.  I come out of the office, draw back the curtain and you should hear the ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ when they see the machine.  The gilded bird sits on a gold tablecloth and Pa has left all the mechanical parts showing, so people can see how amazing an automaton is.  There’s gleaming brass and steel cogs and cams and levers, a little set of bellows that work a Swanee whistle, so the bird can sing, and the cam is fixed up so that as the bird twists and turns, the notes of its warbling change.

I call out, very loud, “And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, for your delight and delectation, the Magical Mechanical Bird will come to life before your very eyes and ears.”
That’s Pa’s cue to pull the knob at the back of the booth to release the crank wheel, and the bird begins to sing and twirl.

All the punters gasp and cheer and clap and I feel so proud of Pa and Ma and meself, for entertaining folks so royally.

 

The Case of the Magical Mechanical Bird will be on display at All Things Miniature in Haddenham, Bucks on Saturday September 23rd. 

A video of the mechanical bird in action can be seen here, on the Steampunk – Shrunk Facebook page.

A New Chapter

Well no, nobody took up the challenge of writing that missing chapter, So I suppose it will be forever lost.

Moving on, though… The library which inspired the whole story in the first place is about to undergo a complete transformation.

For some weeks now, it has been in the possession of its new custodian.  She loves it, but announced that it needed some figures.  What good is a library, after all, without any readers?  Consequently I was commissioned to create two new characters, from the late Victorian or Edwardian era.  As we chatted through the sort of people she’d like, a story began to emerge.  No surprise there; this lady is a consummate storyteller.

Planning  to attend a demonstration for women's rights

I was asked to make one a female academic.  That suited me perfectly.  I’d been longing to create Olivia Libris, the renowned author.

 

“And the second one?” I asked.  “Male or female?”

“Female,” she decided.  “She’s a suffragette.  Let’s make the library a celebration of women’s education and emancipation.  Could you make a suffragist newspaper to put on one of the chairs?”

So here they are – Olivia and her young friend Philippa, who is based on one of my heroines, the educational pioneer Philippa Fawcett.  (I did my teacher training at the college named after her in London.)

preparing to visit the library

Both are gloriously free of corsets and have removable ‘Votes for Women’ sashes.  The newspaper and a reprinted poster from the time complete the set. 

Tomorrow they will be off to take up residence in the library, unless they have a demonstration planned, of course.

I so enjoyed recreating a couple of these courageous women.  We have so much to thank them for.

Still Probably the Smallest Competition – Update

Olivia Libris here, author of ‘The Vital Chapter’.

Dear Readers,

I understand that some of you are busily engaged in the task of recreating the missing chapter of my book, in order to enter our diminutive contest.  I await your entries with eager anticipation, having completely forgotten my own version of events and having foolishly failed to save a copy.  May this be a lesson to us all.

One of Steampunk - Shrunk's intriguing room cases, at 1/12 scale.I’m delighted to inform you that The Case of the Missing Chapter itself (a one twelfth scale room in a carrying case) has now been transferred to its new owner – a story-teller par excellence, who took delivery of it yesterday.  

The competition, however, continues apace and you have only a few remaining weeks to enter.  See full details by clicking here.

One final note:  The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that a few more words were missing from the version of the story printed in last week’s post.  In Chapter 3, Harvey’s response to Algy when discussing a possible move to Africa was erroneously omitted.  This fault has now been rectified and the correct version of the conversation is reprinted below for your edification.

Algernon's younger brother, after a long balloon ride“Oh such adventures are just fine for a young fellow like yourself, my dear Harvey.  Nothing to hold you here, no family or obligations to consider.  I’m delighted for you, old boy.  Wouldn’t do for me, though.  There’s this old pile to keep up, the staff to consider, all the horses… and I couldn’t ask Josephine to up sticks and adjust to such a difficult climate.”

“Pah!  Loads of lovely ladies over there!” returned Harvey.  “They have a whale of a time.  As for this old place – sell it up and start afresh.  You’ll make your fortune.  Nothing to lose.”

“Well I’ll give it some thought,” Algernon replied, and promptly left the room and headed back to his study.

 

I look forward very much to reading your competition entries.  Please continue writing and sharing the information among your like-minded acquaintances.

Sincerely yours,

O Libris

P.S. Might I be vulgar enough to insert a brief mention of the splendid Steampunk Dolls House Etsy shop which can be found at this link, where many of Steampunk – Shrunk’s extraordinary one-off creations are available for purchase worldwide?

Probably the Smallest Competition in the World

Here it is, then: the competition to finish off the Vital Chapter saga.

It will be small.  I only do small.

The prize will be small – barely an inch wide or long.  The number of entries will be small, as my ability to publicise on social media is sadly lacking and Steampunk-Shrunk is rather, er, niche, to say the least.

However it will give you the chance to win a totally unique miniature book, which you will have helped to write, and it will be fun, for all of us.

Briefly, then:  I made a 1:12 scale room – a library – in a little case.  It was called The Case of the Missing Chapter and in the room was a very small book, containing the story of one Algernon  Cholmondeley, but with the vital chapter explaining the remarkable change in this gentleman’s fortunes carefully removed by a person or persons unknown.

Your task, dear reader, is to write that missing chapter!  Algy’s story, along with photos of the dolls, gadgets and settings I ended up making along the way, has been serialised on this website over the past few weeks.  It’s reproduced in its entirety below, to save you the trouble of hunting through the archives.

What to do, terms and conditions and all that jazz:

  • Write your own version of Chapter 4 (max 1000 words) and submit it either in the ‘Leave a reply’ box at the bottom of the page or via the contact form just above it.
  • It would also be very helpful if you would tag, share or otherwise notify one or two like-minded friends of the competition and encourage them to visit this site.  (I’m assured this is how savvy entrepreneurs drum up business.)
  • By entering, you agree that if you win or are a close runner-up, your name (real or pseudonym, as you prefer) and your chapter can be printed on this website, which is available for public viewing.
  • No copies of the winning chapter – other than the single prize edition – will be made or offered for sale and the copyright remains the author’s own.
  • Information you provide (name, email address etc.) will only be used for the purposes of this competition and will not be stored or passed on to anyone else.
  • One winner will receive a one-off printed copy of the completed book including their chapter at 1:12 scale (readable with a powerful magnifying glass).  No cash alternative, as this unique item will be, obviously, priceless.
  • Oh yes, closing date – almost forgot!  All entries to be received by Monday 21st August 2017.  Winner will be notified by 2nd September.
  • Phew!  I think that’s it.  I’m new to this sort of thing.

Should I receive any entries (told you it was small!) Olivia Libris  – the entirely fictional author of the book – will select the chapter that seems to her to fit best with the style, content and general silliness of the original and it will be printed for all to enjoy in a further post.

Here, then, is the story as it currently stands:

The Vital Chapter by O Libris
Chapter 1

Since the beginning of the year, Algernon Cholmondeley had been feeling somewhat out of sorts.

It began when his prize peacock simply keeled over and died in the very centre of the drive on New Year’s Day.  By unfortunate circumstances, many guests were due at The Grey House for a party on that very occasion.  Carriages and steam-powered automobiles had been arriving for some time.  Each driver had been forced to swerve to avoid the bird, which was lurching around and staggering about in the most ungainly manner.  The screeching of brakes and the parping of horns and claxons provided an unwelcome accompaniment to the gentle welcome offered by Algernon and his delightful wife Josephine.

At four minutes past five precisely, the peacock stood still, made a feeble attempt to confound death by opening its once-splendid tail, fell to the ground and flopped untidily on the lawn which lay at the centre of the gravelled driveway.

“Did you know there’s a dead peacock in the middle of the drive, Algernon, old chap?” asked one guest after another as they arrived at the front door.

No seasonal felicitations.  No extended hand offering a friendly shake.  Not even enquiries into the health of the host and hostess.

Some delivered the line with concern, others with wry amusement, a few with puzzlement and still more with unconcealed hilarity.

Nor did it stop there.  Once inside the ballroom, the guests continued to discuss the deceased creature with gusto.  Ladies were heard to express wistful desires for a feather or two to adorn their hats, since the unfortunate possessor of these trimmings would no longer be in any need of them.

“A few of those exquisite breast feathers would set off my new gown quite wonderfully,” one lady was heard to say.  “Just the shade of turquoise I have been searching for.  I wonder whether it would be indelicate to ask.”

The gentlemen seemed more interested in how the bird would taste roasted with an apple and cranberry stuffing, but felt it unlikely that the cook would have time to prepare it for that evening’s banquet.
“Just drawing and plucking a bird that size would take a number of hours, I would imagine,” sighed a gentleman who looked to have consumed more than enough delicacies during the festive season, given the strain placed upon his waistcoat buttons.

Next the conversation turned to possible reasons for the creature’s demise.  The early arrivals were able to give those who had appeared more recently a fascinating account of the peacock’s final hours.  With many sound effects and gesticulations, they re-enacted the problems they had encountered during their attempts to negotiate the drive and park safely.

“Staggering about like a drunk, it was!”  announced Charlie Stammers-Bottington.  “Quite thought I was going to hit the beast.  First it veered one way, then the other, with never a glance towards my vehicle.  And you fellows must admit, it’s not an easy thing to miss.”

Others agreed readily that Charlie’s traction engine was indeed a very powerful presence on any driveway, and would be hard to ignore.

A man in a brown suit, whose brother-in-law was a veterinarian, said he’d heard the aforesaid brother-in-law speak of an outbreak of avian influenza, which had swept across the country from Prussia.  There was a general consensus that this was the most probable cause of death.
“It’ll probably spread to any other birds on the estate,” someone warned.

“Do you keep any other birds, Algy?” Henry Stuffingham called across the room.  “Probably best to have them shot and burn the carcasses.  Can’t be too careful with something like this, y’know.”

Algernon poured himself another glass of brandy and shook his head.  The conversation showed no sign of abating.  His attempts to instigate some lively parlour games fell – if not on deaf ears – on ears that were deaf to any subject beyond the accursed peacock.

Even at dinner, the subject refused – unlike its physical counterpart – to die.
“That roast bird’s a good size,” one wag remarked.  “Not a peacock by any chance?”

The raucous laughter which followed this rather weak joke was the final straw for poor Algernon.
He rose unsteadily to his feet and roared, “If anyone else raises the subject of that confounded bird this evening, they may consider themselves unwelcome in this house, both now and in the future!  Kindly do not allude to it in any way whassover – what sever – oh!  Just drat the thing, that’s all!”

He sank back into his chair, covered his face with his hand and began to weep.

There was the most awkward silence, which seemed to last for an eternity.  It was as if, deprived of their sole topic of conversation, the guests had been rendered quite mute.

Dinner was finished silently, apart from the clanking of silver on fine bone china, which sound now seemed extraordinarily loud.

As soon as was deemed prudent, first one couple then another made lame and hurried excuses for their early departure and left.  There was a veritable stampede for the door, so much so, that quite a queue of vehicles formed, waiting to leave.  All eyes within them stared balefully at the corpse of the peacock, but no lips moved.

It was unlikely that any of these people – his once dearest friends and acquaintances – would ever return, Algernon mused, glumly.  His name would, for all time, be inexorably linked to this bird.

“Oh Algernon?” people would say, “the chap with the dead peacock?”

Sniggers would follow.  He would be a laughing stock from that day forth.

 

Chapter 2

This unfortunate circumstance was, as has previously been intimated, only the beginning of a set of events which seemed to go from bad to worse.

Algernon’s mother-in-law came down with a most tiresome condition, which seemed to involve a great deal of coughing – particularly during the small hours and after lunch – and it was decided that she would have to stay at the Grey House until she was well enough to return to London.

This lady had never been particularly well-disposed towards her son-in-law.  Now that her temper was rendered somewhat shorter, presumably by her malady and lack of sleep, she became quite vociferous in her criticism and complaints about him.

“Why ever didn’t you marry that boy from the East India Company, Josephine?” she would demand of her daughter.  “Much better prospects, I would have said.” or  “Oh my dear, are you still wearing that style?  Surely your husband could afford to buy you something a little less dated?”

Josephine busied herself with bathing her mother’s forehead and preparing herbal concoctions to ease her cough, and looked endlessly miserable.

Algernon couldn’t decide whether this was because she secretly agreed with her mother and was now regretting her marriage or because her mother’s criticisms of her beloved husband distressed her severely, although she was unwilling to contradict her ailing parent.

He considered asking his wife which of these was the case, in order to calm his tormented mind, but – if truth be told – his mood was now so low that he strongly suspected that it was the former, and could not bring himself to have his worst fears confirmed.

In February – in fact on February 14th – the parlour maid and Algy’s favourite groom eloped together.  Algernon was furious at the inconvenience caused by this selfish action. Why should servants run off to enjoy a future together without a second thought for those they left behind?  Now he would have to find replacements for them and the new staff would need to be trained in how matters were conducted at the Grey House.

None of the aforementioned events could be called catastrophic, but together they created a most unhappy state of affairs for Algernon and he became extremely downhearted. He took to hiding away in his study for long hours and even chose to have his meals there on frequent occasions.
“Algy, dear, please don’t punish me so!” entreated Josephine.  “I know mother can be rather tiresome and I understand that you are not in the best of humours, but I do miss your company at dinner.”

Alas, Algernon was deaf to the pleadings of his beautiful wife.  He simply became more introspective and silent.

Chapter 3

Image may contain: 1 personOn a bright morning in early spring, Harvey’s hot air balloon crash landed in the vegetable patch.  He’d been aiming for the meadow, but a sudden gust of wind in the final moments of descent blew him off course.

Harvey was Algernon’s younger brother.  Josephine had summoned him back from the Congo as her alarm at Algernon’s state of mind continued to grow.  If anyone could cheer her husband, it would be Harvey.

“What in the name of thunder is going on?” screamed Algernon, racing out of the French doors to inspect the damage to his property.

“Who the deuce has landed that damned contraption on my land?”

He grabbed his steam-powered plasma gun and was about to fire a volley of shots into the basket when he heard a jaunty “Hulloo” in the unmistakable tones of his brother.

That gentleman emerged rather unsteadily from the basket, pulled up his goggles to reveal a tanned, soot-smeared face and raced over to embrace Algernon, who had – fortunately – dropped his weapon and was standing and blinking in disbelief.

“My dearest boy!” Harvey exclaimed, grasping his brother’s hand in both of his own and pumping it up and down as if trying to start an engine.

“But Harvey…” stuttered Algernon.  “After all these years!  How?  Why…?”

At this moment, Josephine rushed up and warmly embraced her brother-in-law.

“Dearest Harvey, how wonderful to see you again.  Do come inside and have a cup of tea.  We’d just love to hear about all your adventures, wouldn’t we, Algy?”

“Um, indeed,” her husband responded weakly, absent-mindedly removing a broad bean tendril from his brother’s greatcoat.  “Yes, of course.  Do come inside.”

 

Half an hour later, they were sitting, sipping tea, around a blazing fire in the drawing room.

Harvey had brought with him a battered map of the diamond mine he had bought in Africa.

“Amazing potential!” he was exclaiming.  “Stunning gems in there.  Worth a king’s ransom!  By Jove, Algy, you should come out there with me.  We could run the place together.  Lord, you should see the engine I’ve got set up for the extraction process.  Such a beauty!  It simply can’t fail.  We’ll make millions!”

Josephine glanced at Algernon.  This was not quite the way she had anticipated that the discussion would go.

Algernon sat listening passively as his brother extolled the virtues of life in Africa.  It was difficult to read his thoughts from his expression.

Finally, he spoke.

“Oh such adventures are just fine for a young fellow like yourself, my dear Harvey.  Nothing to hold you here, no family or obligations to consider.  I’m delighted for you, old boy.  Wouldn’t do for me, though.  There’s this old pile to keep up, the staff to consider, all the horses… and I couldn’t ask Josephine to up sticks and adjust to such a difficult climate.”

“Pah!  Loads of lovely ladies over there!” returned Harvey.  “They have a whale of a time.  As for this old place – sell it up and start afresh.  You’ll make your fortune.  Nothing to lose.”

“Well I’ll give it some thought,” Algernon replied, and promptly left the room and headed back to his study.

“Glad you sent for me, old girl,” Harvey told Josephine.  “I see what you mean.  He does seem rather out of sorts.”

“Oh Harvey, I’m so worried about him!” Josephine cried.  “It is so good of you to have come all this way.  I’m sure it will cheer him up to have you around.  Perhaps you could go riding with him tomorrow, if you’re sufficiently rested.  He’d very much enjoy that.”

“Riding?” asked Harvey.  “You mean horses?  Oh no.  What Algy needs is some adventure.  Give me a day or two to get the balloon sorted out and I’ll take him for a trip in that.  That’ll do him the world of good. You see if it doesn’t.”

Chapter 4: MISSING

Chapter 5

Algernon lifted his telescope to his eye and scanned the horizon.  Just one small smudge of grey over Middlesex.  It was high in the sky.  A less practised eye would have missed it altogether, or mistaken it for a wisp of cloud.

“Pirates at four o’clock,” he called.  “Prime the machine.”

Sure enough, as they moved closer, the unmistakable shape of a steam galleon became clear – smoke belching from her filthy funnels.

“Machine’s primed and ready, Sah!” barked a voice from below decks.

“Good work, Mister Capon.  Keep tracking them.  I’m going to turn her around so they can’t see our profile.  Wait for the order to fire.”

“Aye, Sah!” came the same clipped voice.

Like the rest of the crew, Edwin Capon was proud to serve under Admiral Algernon Cholmondeley.  Their airship was the envy of the fleet and the scourge of the pirates who had, for far too long, held the airways to ransom.

 

Too late, the commander of the pirate vessel – one Sydney Strangefellow – saw what lay ahead.

“Put her about, boys!” he croaked, his fear only too obvious to his crew.

“A trap!  That’s the Algernaut!”

“God save us!” screamed one of the men – an optimistic fellow with a high regard for the generosity of his Maker, since he and his shipmates had spent their lives ruthlessly terrorising the high skies.

Panic broke out on the vessel and men ran helplessly hither and thither.  They knew – every black-hearted villain of them – that nothing, let alone their old rust-bucket of a ship, could withstand the weapon now fixed of upon them.

 

“And … FIRE!” shouted Algernon.

There was a flash of turquoise blue as the plasma gun loosed a volley of shots towards the pirate vessel.

The end was quick.  An explosion of blinding white light and then – nothing.  Not so much as a nut or a bolt remained of the incinerated galleon.

A cheer went up from the crew of the Algernaut and a door opened from a cabin below decks.

“Why the cheers?” asked a soft, sweet voice, as Lady Josephine emerged.  “Have you clever boys destroyed another pirate vessel?”

“We have indeed, your ladyship,” smiled the midshipman, bowing his head deferentially.  The Admiral spotted it miles off.  They didn’t stand a chance.”

“Well jolly good show,” smiled the lady.  “I’ll go straight away and prepare some tea for all hands.  And I’m sure I can find some particularly delicious cake as well.  You boys certainly deserve it!”

“You spoil us, my dear,” said her husband, who had come below to share the good news with her.

“Not at all,” laughed Josephine.  “Thanks to your splendid invention and your excellent crew, the skies above London have never been so safe.”

“Three cheers for the Hadmiral and ’er ladyship!” barked Edwin Capon, and the crew’s enthusiastic cries could be heard far below, in the city that owed its safety to Algernon Cholmondeley.

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