Charlie Rowcroft meant to be an inventor but mostly she fixes other people's mistakes. Then her new neighbour, socialite archaeologist Justina Fairfax brings a curious find to see if she can reassemble it. After which the chaos begins in earnest, with mad industrialists using mortless (undead) people to power their factories, druids on a traction engine who wish to thwart them, a retired pirate who just wants a quiet life, a stilt-walking dissenting preacher, the arrival of a freak show and other improbable personages and events who emerge as the plot unravels.
|Publisher:||Top Hat Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Druid, author, bard and dreamer. Nimue Brown is OBOD trained, a founding member of Bards of The Lost Forest,
Druid Network member and previous a volunteer for The Pagan Federation. She lives in Gloucestershire, UK.
Read an Excerpt
Intelligent Designing for Amateurs
By Nimue Brown
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2012 Nimue Brown
All rights reserved.
Anthropological observations of the curious habits of personages native to Barker Street
Hopefully there would be dead people next door. That would liven things up tremendously. Ever since the new tenant was first mentioned, Temperance had been trying to imagine what an archaeologist would look like, and had become stuck somewhere between the beard and the muddy boots. Granny said an archaeologist dug things up, which had formed most of her impression. Temperance had never encountered an actual archaeologist before, and until recently, hadn't even met the word in person. It was one of those large, pleasing, hard to spell words that she liked to roll around in her mouth. There were others. Obsequious. Crepuscular. Epigrammatic. Meanings did not always excite her young mind, but a word that came with a person had more appeal. Granny told her something about digging up iniquities, or possibly aunties. Antimacassars? Digging up definitely suggested mud, and led Temperance to think from there about the likelihood of dead people. Dead people went into the ground, so it stood to reason they could come out of it again. What else was there to unearth aside from coal and ore?
"Nothing at all like a body snatcher," Granny had insisted, when the subject came up at breakfast, but Temperance wasn't sure. What else would anyone want to dig up, really? Treasure might be nice, she supposed, but that seemed more like pirate business.
Still, having a new neighbor would cheer the whole street up. The bigger, separate house next to their little terrace had been empty all winter. Seeing the dark windows at night always inclined her to feel sad.
"How's that sweeping going, then?" Granny demanded from inside the house.
The sweeping had not, in fact, started, the girl having entirely forgotten about the broom in her hand. Pushing curls of escaping brown hair out of her face, Temperance surveyed the twig strewn path to her grandmother's door. Sweeping seemed so pointless. The wind would bring it all right back in no time. She sighed heavily, feeling very sorry for herself.
Before she could start on the job, the sound of hooves and wheels drew her attention to the street again. All of the delivery people had already done their rounds for the day. Horse-drawn vehicles were otherwise unusual here. The inhabitants of Barker Street were all very decent people, but not equal to carriages, excepting for weddings and funerals. Temperance loved funerals, but the approaching wagon lacked the plumes and splendid display of misery. Instead she saw a neat little trap, followed by a heavily loaded cart where a great many things were piled up behind the driver and passengers.
With a little squeak, she dropped the broom and ran to the garden gate. Then, because she did not want the archaeologist to think her childish, she slowed down. Walking in what she hoped was a dignified way, she soon reached the next property just as the tired horse came to a halt.
The person inside the trap was carefully helped down, and then approached the front door. There was no beard whatsoever, and no obvious signs of mud. Perhaps there had been a mistake? The trap itself took off at a jaunty speed. Temperance wondered if this was the archaeologist's wife, come on ahead to make their new home nice. The man himself would probably be in a hole full of bones at this very moment, Temperance reasoned.
One of the men got off the cart. He had wild hair and a big coat. On the whole he seemed a better candidate for the adventurous life, and Temperance watched him expectantly.
"All to be unloaded here?" he asked the woman.
"If you please." She nodded to the girl who was sitting on the cart. "I assume you can find the kitchen, Mary?"
The girl nodded and hurried inside. The two men set about unloading items of furniture from the cart and taking them into the house. Temperance felt rather puzzled by all of this. There weren't any bones being unloaded just usual, household things. Unless the bones were in one of the tea chests. She supposed that would make sense, even if it was a disappointment.
"Hello girl," said the tall woman, with an accent that clearly came from another place.
Temperance had spent hours planning how to make her introductions to the new neighbor. She had already established herself as being absolutely essential to Charlie Rowcroft, Barker Street's resident inventor. Now, she meant to impress the archaeologist, or for that matter his wife, with her clever, useful nature. Thus, she would gain free access to their home as well. Staring up at the new arrival's face, she couldn't remember any of the planned speech and found herself instead saying, "Have you got any dead people?"
The woman smiled. "Not on me, no. Why, are you in need of one for some reason?"
As a short-term measure, the best answer she could think of was to run back and tell Granny all about it.
Granny Alice swept in, a rounded but immaculate form in an old dress and ruthlessly polished boots. She liked to make an impression, her tightly bunned hair and stern expression deliberately misleading. Depositing a large laundry basket on the kitchen table, she was relieved to find some free space for a change. The owner of both wash load and table, Charlie Rowcroft, did not take much interest in tidiness. It held true for her disheveled appearance, as well as the chaotic state of the house.
"Seen much of our new neighbor?" Alice asked, wondering what the eccentric pair would make of each other.
Charlie looked up mournfully and shook her head. "I've not been out at all this week. I didn't even realize anyone had taken number seven."
"No wonder you look so pale and pasty. Some fresh air and a good meal wouldn't go amiss." Granny reinforced the observation with a few tuttting noises.
"It's no good, I've got to get this finished," Charlie replied, flipping through reams of notes without seeming to look at any of them. "I don't get paid until it's done. Can I owe you for this week?"
Alice had been expecting as much. Inventing was not a reliable trade, although Charlie could be depended upon to pay her debts. Eventually.
"I've made a pie," Alice said casually. "Got a bit carried away with it. Far too much for me and Temperance, and I'd hate to throw good food away. I don't suppose I could foist a bit of it off on you?"
Charlie flashed her a grateful, sheepish sort of smile. "You're too good to me, Granny," Charlie replied.
"I just don't like seeing perfectly good pies go to waste. I'll send the girl over later with a piece."
"I've no time to teach her today," Charlie said, apologetically.
"Don't worry, she's too keen on spying on the new neighbor to concentrate on anything else. I doubt you'll see her for long."
"The archaeologist?" Charlie commented.
"Did you know he's a woman?" Alice enquired. "I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by these things anymore, what with you inventing."
"I had no idea," Charlie said.
"Not far off your age," Alice added. She'd hoped there might be a friend in the offing for her young neighbor. Charlie could use some company of her own age, and someone with the right kind of mind to understand her.
However, Charlie didn't seem very interested, which was usually the problem. Alice supposed it went with a certain kind of cleverness, but it didn't make for much of a life.
After Granny had straightened the dishes, made a pot of tea and dealt with an unexpected mouse, Charlie was left alone to her more usual silence. Alice was the sort of grandmother everyone ought to have. She looked like a battleaxe, cleaned like a fairytale elf, smoked peculiar concoctions in her pipe and adopted stray girls whose families did not want them. Temperance was a proper grandchild, Charlie a waif who had washed up in her street a few years previously. Her own family did not approve of cleverness in girls, or of anything else much.
She turned her attention back to the job in hand. Mr. Trefidick had ordered "some kind of device that will stop my machines from exploding so often." It wasn't proper inventing, just patching up the insanities in other men's creations. Proper inventing had not proved very lucrative. No one wanted her handy table piece that kept toast warm for quite a long time, or anything else in that vein. The clockwork bird-scarer languished under a table, along with the shoe removing device and the pocket mathematics machine that hadn't turned out at all pocket sized. Other projects remained in the developmental stage, mostly because she could not yet picture a use for the ticking, whizzing innards. That kind of work required a lot of time. So did "some kind of thing that will make this thing a bit quieter," and those were always the paying jobs.
The thought of an archaeological neighbor did not excite Charlie's interest. She was not a sociable creature, so a new addition to life on Barker Street held no appeal. Furthermore, she had failed to notice all signs of the new arrival, including the unloading of the cart. Voices beyond the window had gone unheeded as she remained focused trying to beat an uncooperative bit of metal into place. And then she hadn't heard the cart leaving because her entirely faithful miniature reconstruction of a Trefidick machine and then dutifully exploded. Again. History people, of all the professionals, held little interest for her. They were, by definition, a backward looking set, and Charlie Rowcroft was all about the future.
Having unloaded her worldly possessions, the archaeologist stayed at number seven for one night, then disappeared again almost as quickly as she had come. The residents of Barker Street were disappointed, but peered around their curtains regularly, in the hopes of some new and gratifying development. Very little else had happened lately to entertain them. In the last few months the biggest dramas had been a chicken escape, the man who had fallen off his bicycle, and Temperance breaking a window. A person did not move to Barker Street in search of adventure, unless they were Temperance, but her case was very much the exception. Still, the occasional distraction was not unwelcome. A quiet life could become all too tedious after a while.
The pernicious Welsh climate and its influence upon the development of historical sciences
Wales corresponded almost exactly to Justina's image of hell: Not so much fire and brimstone, more rain and mud. On arrival at the train station, she had been obliged to walk nearly two miles to a grubby little inn. She had been promised something decent; something worth bothering with, but from the moment of departing the train, and relative civilization, pessimism had set in. The landscape looked so empty, if one did not bother to count the sheep. Counting sheep did not seem an appropriate task for a woman of her class and distinction. Wales seemed to offer little else though. There were hardly any roads, much less the trappings necessary to decent, human existence. Only the lure of a compelling man and the promise of adventure had drawn her this far. There would have to be some dramatic improvements, or she would be on her way.
Chevalier had arrived at her inn late, but enthusiastic, whisking her off into a world of frenetic activity where she had no chance to really question anything he said, much less protest about it. A brisk walk, a dramatic plan, and a promise to meet again after dinner rapidly ensued.
"Where on earth are you staying?" she enquired as he tried to leave her. "Because really, if it is even slightly less depressing than the Wilting Bush, I demand that you escort me there at once. This place is like a relic from the Dark Ages."
"Dear lady, I fear I can offer you nothing more salubrious." He kissed her hand, and bowed. "So fair a flower should be protected from the rough winds, yes? But so courageous a heart will not baulk at the challenges of a great and noble quest, I feel certain."
Justina had every desire to baulk at the bed she had recently seen, but in face of such a compliment, could not quite work up the desire to confess her apathy for the whole business. She rather hoped that he was leading her on, that the evening would evolve into something far more pleasing.
Normally, she had a great deal of self-possession. "No," was a word that came naturally to her lips. And yet something about this man made it fiendishly difficult to maintain her usual sense of right and wrong. The inn was terribly wrong. Ill-furnished, damp-smelling and intermittently smoky. But she could not quite articulate her dislike of it to him. Once Chevalier had swanned off with all the same arrogant assuredness displayed by his arrival, she wondered what on earth she had agreed to.
"It will be worth it," she repeated, suffering her way through a monstrous bowl of stew made out of God alone knew what. "He will be worth it."
Wales proved even worse to observe from the position of being in an illicit trench by lantern light and unexpectedly alone. She blamed him entirely and had already decided what cutting and chastening words to bestow on Alain Chevalier if he did ever dare to show his face in her presence again. Although she chided herself for believing him, with his pendulum parlor tricks and his seductive voice. It was the kind of thing her mother would like, and she should have been more alert to the intellectual dangers. Chevalier claimed a secret, esoteric method for uncovering treasure, and offered her a share in it. He had arrived at a low point in her life, and she ascribed her own fleeting weakness to temporary vulnerability. She would not be so foolish again.
They had walked a most innocent-looking field together that afternoon. He had proffered extravagant compliments – not that she ever paid great attention to those. There were few things Justina had been told about the lusciousness of her lips, the radiance of her cheeks, the fine sparkle of her eyes, the dignity of her brow and the allure of her auburn tresses, that she had not heard a hundred times before. Then Monsieur Chevalier had waved his tool about and declared this to be the very spot for digging. They had marked it with a little pile of field stones. No matter that they had not conversed with the land owner. All would be well. Why had she believed him?
"Meet me here, dearest lady, in the middle of the futtering night," she grumbled aloud as the rain water seeped into her boots.
Calling this a 'trench' was a joke. What she had was a muddy hole, now an inch deep with water as the rain soaked through her clothes to chill her skin. Of course there was no sign of Alain Chevalier now, with his pristine white hands that had never dug into anything more challenging than a trifle. He had sounded so plausible when they first met at a lecture some weeks before. So charming. Having chosen to remain, in appearance at least an old maid, Justina was used to the purely academic interest of scholars even more aged than her own thirty years. Handsome young men did not normally frequent such gatherings in the hopes of finding lady archaeologists to flirt with. That had been part of the attraction in attending. Justina suffered agonizing ennui in the company of handsome young men and often contemplated murdering those who proposed to her.
It now occurred to her to wonder what he had really been after. No doubt her physical charms had enthralled him. He had seemed a promising rake, likely to mislead. Otherwise she would have ignored his attentions. However, the manner in which he had chosen to mislead was not remotely to her liking. Perhaps it was his idea of amusement.
She slammed down the shovel, meaning to get out of this ridiculous hole and depart with what little dignity she could still muster. Down in the mud, metal clunked on metal. She paused and tapped the shovel down again, less forcefully this time. The same dull clink cut through the patter of rain. Her heart skipped a little. A sudden sense of adventure clashed with her desire to be anywhere warmer and drier than the hole.
"Drat," she said, with feeling, because now of course he had to stay and dig. The find seemed to be calling to her, begging, demanding that she unearth it. They generally did. Or at least, the idea of how they would lift her to fame and accolades had that sort of effect.
It would probably be some worthless item of junk, planted by the nefarious Alain as part of the jest. Only the grass she'd lifted at twilight did not suggest recent digging. The thrill of the find acted upon her as any vice might upon the devoted addict. Her pulse raced, and she could think of nothing else but digging.
As she worked, an edge came clear, catching the lamplight. She pulled it free and could see the faint glint of something else beneath it. Heavy, filthy and slightly curved, the item did not look at all familiar. Justina forgot about pendulums and rotten jokes, her attention wholly focused on digging up whatever the Welsh mud concealed. The rain ceased to matter, the cold no longer registered in her mind. Only when the lamp faltered, threatening to run out of oil, did she struggle back to her temporary lodgings, barely able to carry what she had lifted from the ground. One thing to be said for the dingy place, was that the proprietor took little interest in her comings and goings.
Excerpted from Intelligent Designing for Amateurs by Nimue Brown. Copyright © 2012 by Nimue Brown. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An utterly wonderful book. If your mind wanders toward absurd humor it's for you.