Roger Merely paid the Hansom cab driver and boarded the train at Charrington Station to make his way to the first class compartments. Finding his seat, he nodded at the pair sitting across from him, the mustachioed man with the medical bag and his pipe-smoking companion in a deer-stalker and traveling cape. They seemed deep in thought so he settled back and ran his mind over the last month.
On the first Monday of March Mia, his laboratory assistant, muse, personal manager and lover, had received an invitation to present a paper at the first International Female Aerophile Society's symposium in Brussels. It seemed that rumors of her work analyzing Sir George Cayley's aeronautical theory on the British Library's Mainframe Babbage Engine had reached the ears of the organizers and they were agog to hear the details. Mia, of course, was thrilled by the invitation and had immediately set to work on a new analysis that applied Cayley's principles to an improved dirigible design.
Even if he had not been a slave to her every whim, Merely respected the young woman's phenomenal grasp of mathematics and set aside his own work to allow time for hers. The only drawback to her new fame, he felt, was that she would be absent from his bed for at least a week. Then, to his distress, Mia announced that it would be two weeks. On the way back from Belgium she would stop for a visit with her old bed-tutor, Maitre' Hercule and his wife Babette. Roger was unsure whether to be jealous or to hope to be shown new erotic delights but he was not looking forward to two weeks of celibacy.
Then another letter arrived. The wax seal on the envelope said something formal about Lord Venture at Driffield Manor, neither of which he recognized. That changed with the salutation.
Merely, old chap,
It's been just ages since we talked and I'm writing to bring you up on the latest news. I've just finished a new angling cottage on the banks of the Driffield Beck and need someone to show it off to. Please come spend a month or so with us. Lady Alexandra misses you and the children will be most excited to see you after all the stories I've told them. We can fly-fish the Beck and reminisce about the old days in Trinity Hall. Great days, what?
In addition, I was hoping you might help me out. Your understanding of things mechanical was always much better than mine. I have this idea for an engine that will be both more powerful and safer than the steam engines that drive our dreadnaughts and our dirigibles but I just can't get it quite right.
Do let me know soonest,
Great Lightning! Eddie had inherited the family title and was now Edward, Lord Bohun, Viscount Venture of Brasethwaite Castle, Yorkshire. It was quite a step up in life from the scamp he had been in Cambridge. So he had an angling cottage now, did he? Roger almost fell over himself in his eagerness to send his acceptance. Mia was equally pleased.
"How lovely, Roger. A month or so in the country with an old chum and a trout stream? I should think that was exactly what you need. It will do you good to get away from London and perhaps the holiday will send you back to your experiments with fresh insights. You may finally get past the roadblocks in your research."
The landlady, Mrs. Beasley, had fussed over both of them as they kissed chastely and boarded their respective Hansom cabs. She had stood waving while Mia rattled off towards the dirigible field at Green Park and Roger did the same for the train. And now, his trunk and tackle in the baggage car, Dr. Merely had nothing to do but watch the scenery unfold before him as the train hurtled through the countryside.
What a find Mia had been, Roger mused. She was brilliant company, well versed in mathematics, and very pretty. Dr. Merely could have asked for no better lab assistant. She had answered his advert for someone to assist in a series of experiments and when the young woman demonstrated an uncanny ability to do differential calculus in her head, he hired her on the spot. By the end of the week he was convinced that it was probably the best decision he could have made. Work progressed satisfactorily, the conversation was literate and amusing and she flirted with him. What else could a gentleman want?
One Friday evening in the next month, as they were closing up the laboratory, she suggested that they go out for dinner together. Thinking it a capital idea Merely hailed a Hansom cab and, when she had changed into something suitable, whisked her off to Antoine's in Piccadilly for what he presumed to be her introduction to French cuisine. Imagine his surprise when she gently corrected his order and suggested a different, less expensive wine that turned out to be superior to his original choice.
"I was tutored in France." Mia explained with a demure smile. She said nothing more about it, changing the subject to gossip about the latest production of Shakespeare's Henry IV. It turned out that her father was the producer and he was having a terrible time. The actors were doing well but the musicians hired to perform seemed incapable of correct entries or even of getting the right piece aligned with its scene. The poor man was very frustrated.
Merely's interest in the arts was minimal. He preferred machinery and that amazing stuff, electricity. However, he found Mia's description so comical and charming that he hung onto every detail. As the evening continued the pair grew merrier, enjoying the best meal he could remember. It was amazing, really, how a small change in the order of dishes could so improve the experience and Mia's knowledge of wines had the doctor thinking he ought to pay her more. They finished with a small, but exquisite strawberries-in-phyllo and rose to take their leave.
"My dear, that was truly exceptional. I cannot remember having spent so pleasant an evening. We really must do this again." Merely was beaming.
Mia pursed her lips and cocked her head coquettishly. "Did you think the evening was over, Roger? We've barely begun. I shall be spending the night with you, my dear doctor, and you will get very little sleep!"
When they arrived at the doctor's home, Mia was as good as her word. Merely became the helpless object of her desire. While her perfume held him entranced, her clever fingers had his clothes undone and strewn about the bedroom before she removed so much as her shawl.
Nuzzling his bare neck while lasciviously stroking his rampant manhood, she purred and nibbled his flesh. Sharp pinches on his nipples stiffened his member and raised his ardor.
"I hope you don't mind my taking advantage of you, Roger," Mia murmured. "I am so fond of men, especially gentlemen."
Merely was no virgin. But though he had heard of copulists, women who took delight in their own sexuality and enjoyed men for their bodies, he had never encountered one before. He watched, brain neutralized, as Mia unbuttoned her evening dress to reveal the cotton camisole, light stays and drawers beneath. Pulling satin bows undone, she shrugged out of each in turn and stood in naked glory. Her dark knee stockings and high-buttoned shoes emphasized the smooth, bare skin above.
She stepped forward, hands at her sides. Leaning against him, she brushed soft nipples against his chest. He looked down at her and saw the knowing smile on her face. It seemed just a bit hungry to him.
"Now, dear Roger, lay down on the bed. I'll start. Later it will be your turn. Do remember not to be too gentle with me? Strength is so deliciously virile and I love being pinned down and used. But first..."
She pushed him onto the duvet-covered mattress. Following into bed, she knelt beside him, smiling fondly. Paying no attention to his lips, she began to kiss his torso and run her hands over his chest and belly.
"You men are such lovely things. And you come so beautifully equipped!"
Mia leaned over and ran her breasts across him. She pressed them together on either side of his phallus and slowly stroked it. Merely gasped.
"Oh, you like that, do you? Well, dear Roger, that's only one of the tricks I know. Yes, it's going to be a long night, one you won't forget. And, I hasten to add, only the first. I want to see just how much pleasure I can squeeze out of you over the next few months. Who knows? I may even decide to stay."
She straddled his hips and ran his manhood up and down her nether lips, humming happily. The she sat down hard, taking him all the way in with a delicate grunt.
"Oh what a perfect fit, Roger. You're exactly the right size and angle."
She put her hands on his ribs for support and started rocking her hips forward and back. Her breathing deepened. Soon she changed to panting until with a cry, Mia climaxed.
"Mmm, that was fun. Now hold still, my man."
She sat back and winked. Though she appeared motionless, Merely felt a wave of muscle constriction running up and down his hard member. She was stroking him with her interior muscles alone.
"Mia, what are you doing?"
She giggled in response. "It's called pompoir, lover. A skilled woman can make her man climax without moving any other muscles. Shall I see if I can make you come?" Her motion sped up. "Breathe deeply, Roger. Come on, big deep breaths, suck in the air."
The combination of erotic sensation and increased oxygen soon had Merely dizzy and tingling. Mia had been watching his face and at the proper moment reached up and pinched him. With a roar he exploded within her, bucking and twitching. Then he collapsed with a groan.
"Well," Mia crooned, "that was a good start. I'll let you rest a while and then we'll see what else I can goad you into. Do you think you might chase me around the bedroom and attack me? I hope so. It's such fun being caught and plundered."
Groggily sitting over his coffee the next morning, Dr. Merely wondered what he had gotten himself into. His few 'little flings' simply had not prepared him for a woman with the sexual appetite Mia displayed. He had, as she promised, gotten very little sleep. Not only was she nearly insatiable, her amatory skill was astonishing. During one of the rest periods she allowed him, he said as much.
"Darling," she answered, "I told you at dinner I was tutored in France. You should have asked in what. I would have told you then and there. I had a very open and uninhibited childhood, Roger. Father arranges plays and performances and his business took us all over the Continent and around the Mediterranean. I recall spending endless hours running naked at the seaside with my cousin Theo. When we got older, we thoroughly groped and fondled each other under water so I was familiar with male bodies from an early age.
"Mother thought I would follow her into an acting career. She frankly told me that I also had a good chance of becoming mistress to some royal if I played my cards right. It was in preparation for that life that I spent the most wonderful spring and summer living with my dear tutor and his wife. Maitre Hercule taught me how to please my partner and how to please myself at the same time. Mme Babette taught me all about perfumes and French cooking so my days were spent in a whirl of sensation. However, Maitre's real profession was math teacher and reading his books opened an entire new world to me, one that brought me to answer your advertisement. Mother is appalled that I've come to work for you. I was supposed to be sleeping my way up the aristocracy by now."
The 'few months' had stretched into a year and it did seem that Mia intended to stay, albeit on her own very particular terms. That Merely had managed to become her favorite man was in no way to imply that he was her only one. It was part and parcel of their relationship that when the Duke of Beaufort invited Mia to circumnavigate Ireland on his steam yacht, Roger had bid them a bon voyage and buried himself in his work for a week. Mia's return had been celebrated by nearly an entire day spent in bed and over supper she coyly congratulated him on his stamina and compared him most favorably with the Duke, especially where it counted.
After taking a fine breakfast in the restaurant car the following morning, Roger heard the conductor announced their imminent arrival at Driffield Station. To his surprise, his traveling companions also disembarked and exchanging cordial good-byes with him, hired a cab to take them to the nearest respectable hotel. Merely might have done the same but just then a large steam car arrived at the station and the driver rushed up to him.
"Dr. Merely? I am Wilkinson, Lady Alexandra's chauffeur. Just let me take care of your things while you climb up in the back with the countess. We'll be on our way to the manor house in a trice."
Clambering up into the rear of the big auto, he was immediately swept up in Lady Alexandra's warm welcome.
"Rodger, dear man, how good to see you again. Eddie sends his deepest regrets for not being here but my brother has shown up unexpectedly and my dear husband must at once rush off to find lodgings for him and his commander. Arthur is the engineering officer on the latest Accipiter class dirigible, you know, and they touched down in York for a three-day visit. In any event, once Edward has them installed in the local inn, he will join us back at the cottage. Roger, you are going to adore the place. It is done in the latest Aesthetic style and all the furnishings are to William Morris' design. It is just the most comfortable and homey place. We may move there permanently."
When she finally stopped for breath, Merely tried to properly return the greeting. "Lady Alexandra..."
"Oh please, Roger, spare me the formal address. This is not London, you know. I am still the same Alex I was at our wedding when you kissed the bride."
Roger remembered that wedding well. Eddie was not, at the time, expected to inherit his uncle's title and Alexandra Fitzhugh-Rust was just the youngest daughter of Brigadier Hubert Fitzhugh-Rust, the scion of a family with a military tradition so old that they did not have to buy armor to decorate the family manse. They just unpacked the cellars and attics for whatever polish-able cutlery or protective clothing they thought appropriate.
His friends had made a notable couple. Edward was tall, lanky and wry while Alex was equally tall, rawboned and 'handsome' in an infantry officer kind of way. Rumor had it that their relationship, while warm and affectionate, was far from monogamous. At the time he would have brushed such intimations aside but now that he had experienced something very similar he thought it so commonplace as to be not worth comment. The intimations were worthy of a daydream, though. If nothing else it would give him something to improve his holiday until Mia returned from the Continent.
Attempting to make some sort of small talk, Merely asked, "And how are the children doing?"
"Oh Roger, they are such fun. Young George is six and can already read and do simple sums. He just loves handing his father wrenches and getting all greasy while Eddie tries to make his invention work. He really could use your help with that, Roger, and if it succeeds it will change the world forever. But I do not really understand enough about it to say any more.
"And my little Hermione is so sweet. The dear thing is most definitely 'Mama's girl' and is constantly pestering Nurse to let her play dress-up in my bedroom. Would you believe I once caught her trying to put on one of my laciest camisoles? Whatever was she thinking? I am certain she has never seen me in it, you know."
Merely swallowed, hard. The vision of Alexandra in a lace silk camisole painfully reminded him that Mia would be gone for two weeks. Already it was looking to be a long fortnight. Perhaps cold baths would help...
The road wound through carefully tended fields. Teams of draft horses, still shaggy in their winter coats, stoically pulled the plows that turned the earth and the harrows to prepare the seedbed. In other fields, barley planted the previous autumn was now almost to a man's knee and brilliant green in the April morning. British agriculture was awakening from its winter sleep and preparing in its age-old cycle to feed the home islands and the fleets and regiments that guarded the Empire. It was a stirring sight, thought the young scientist.
In time the steamer approached a grove of ancient oaks that brooded a low-lying building and the gardens surrounding it. Half-timbered walls rose to a thatched roof with broad eaves hanging out on all sides. Alexandra had put it well. The two-story building was the most comfortable and homey-looking place he had ever seen and Roger could easily understand her desire to leave draughty old Bracethwaite Castle and live on the banks of the Beck forever.
Crivens, the butler, escorted Merely down the hall to his room.
"Sir must understand that this cottage was not set up for extensive entertaining so there are only three adult bedrooms. Yours is the third from the end next to Lady Alexandra's. Lord Edward's is on the end. I hope you find the accommodations satisfactory. Driffield Manor was build with all the latest comforts. You will not need to wait for anyone to draw your bath or shaving water. All that is needed is turn a tap and hot water is instantly available. Each bathroom even has the newest model water closet. It really is quite a marvel, and I am sure Sir will find it to his liking."
Roger did. As he scraped his soaped face, he decided that once he had returned to London he would have to make one or more of his projects work. In order to be able to afford living quarters of the same class himself, no other way would suffice as there was no vast fortune to inherit anywhere in his family, no matter how distant.
Bathed, shaved and dressed in clean clothing Merely strode into the living room to be greeted by his old friend.
"Roger, old man, welcome to Driffield Manor. I've a trap we can take around the property and down the river bank. It will sort of a preview of the next month."
"Edward, you wanted help with your device. If I'm to be of any assistance, I'll need to spend time thinking about it while we're on the river. The sooner I see what you've got in mind, the sooner I'll come up with a solution, assuming that I can, that is."
The two of the crossed the broad yard in front of the cottage and entered what looked from the outside like a large barn. Inside, though, was the best equipped experimental laboratory Roger had ever seen.
"Good Lord, man, you have your own Babbage engine?"
"I do, and a pretty penny it cost me. I hoped it would help me overcome certain problems I'm having but unfortunately I'm not skilled enough mathematically to make it do what I want. I've tried to find someone who can but Yorkshire has a positive dearth of such people so it sits there taking up space and reminding me what an ass I can be at times."
"Hmmm ... Edward, I know who you need. If your man can take a telegram into Driffield, she will be here in two weeks. My lab assistant, Mia, is a mathematical whiz and uses the Babbage engine at the British Library regularly. If your problems lend themselves to a mathematical solution, she'll find it."
"Mia? Oh, yes. Beaufort told me about her. He said that not only was she fully the equal of any professor of mathematics but she was a copulist, as well, and an extremely skilled one. He claimed she wore him out!"
"That would be Mia. She hadn't worked for me more than a month when she decided to see what I was made of. I must have measured up because she's still with me but I can see the Duke's point. She could probably kill a man if she was of a mind but what a way to die!"
"Is she a natural or was she professionally bed trained?"
"Both, I believe. The symposium she's attending only lasts a week but she wants to spend another week in Normandy with her old tutor and his wife. Otherwise, she'd be here in one week instead of two. But we came here to look at your machine..."
They walked over to a large casting attached to a flywheel.
"It's like this, old chap, some daft American came up with the theory that if men were to eat less meat and fat, their ardor would be damped and they would be able to treat their wives in a less carnal manner."
"I heard that. I also heard that when word of the theory got to Windsor Castle, Her Majesty sat silent for a moment then ordered the butler to take an extra helping of roast mutton to Prince Albert."
"That would be our sovereign! A tiny woman with big appetites is our Victoria. She sets a grand example for the entire realm.
But getting on, one of his ideas was that all frying should be done in maize oil instead of good, pure lard. Complete poppycock, of course, but it gave me an idea. Think, Merely, what is the greatest limitation to the range of our Air Arm?"
"Fresh water. The dirigibles can carry ample coal to power the steam engines but eventually they run out of water to run the boilers. That's what keeps us from transatlantic flights. We can cross the channel with ease and the Mediterranean when the wind is right but anything farther than that is impossible."
"Only if we use steam, Roger, only if we use steam. It occurred to me that if I can get maize oil to burn inside the piston instead of injecting steam to make it expand and turn the flywheel..."
"Damn, man. That's ingenious. I can see what you mean. Transatlantic flight. Possibly transpacific or at least all the way to Australia from India. But what you want isn't a burn, it's an explosion. Is this maize oil volatile?"
"No. That's the center of the whole problem. How do I make it explode when all I can get it to do is burn like whale oil in a lamp?"
Dinner was served early to allow Wilkinson to take Lt. Fitzhugh-Rust and Commander Bookerby back to the hotel while it was still light. Edward and Roger moved to the drawing room for a game of billiards but by eight o'clock, Merely was ready for bed. "Edward, I'm so taken with your plumbing, I believe I'm going to have another shower, just to glory in the hot water. I rarely sleep well on trains so I'll retire now so I can be up and ready to tempt the trout after breakfast."
As Roger undressed he noticed that there was a door in the wall that adjoined Lady Alexandra's bedroom to his. He gave a thought to silently trying the knob but shook his head, rejected the idea and retired to the bath.
Imagine his surprise when he emerged from the shower to find that door open and Alexandra in his bed with the covers pulled high and her shoulders bare.
The woman gave a throaty chuckle. "Oh Roger, we simply must get you out of London more often. It is high time you got away from all those patterned people and learned to appreciate the country life. Hospitality is the very reason for the great houses and the Ventures have taken second place to no one in that regards. Of course," her voice dropped to a purr, "you have to be a very dear old friend to get all the hospitality. Now stop gawping and come to bed. And get out of that nightshirt!"
Roger complied uncertainly. When he was between the sheets with her, Alexandra rolled up on one side and wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled his face close.
"Dear Roger, I have been waiting for this ever since we got your letter. I so much enjoy this part of being a hostess. The look on a man's face as he uses my body to slake his lust is wondrously gratifying so don't you worry about pleasing me. Edward does that quite well."
She paused to run her hand down his belly. Finding his manhood almost at the ready she stroked the underside of his helmet with the ball of her thumb. The effect was electric. With an impish smile she rolled onto her back and spread her thighs.
"Saddle up, Roger and take me for a ride."
She was still dry and tight. Roger grunted softly with the effort and she first winced and then grinned. "Harder, Roger. Force me." Two more determined thrusts and he was in, cradled between her broad hips and held tight by her muscular thighs. She smiled up at him as he began to thrust setting a steady rhythm that he could keep up for a long time. Mia had coached him extensively for the last year and now he was an expert at multiple orgasms. Occasionally he wondered where Maitre' Hercule had learned the technique. Mia told him it came from India. Not that it mattered. Alex was in for a surprise if she thought that the only one having paroxysms would be him.
Time passed. Alex hummed happily as he rode her. After a while she planted her heels on the mattress and began to thrust back driving her wide pelvis against him. Her humming changed to quiet whimpers and then she shouted, "Roger! My god, Roger!" and subsided into spasms and twitches.
When she got her breath back her face filled with mischief. "You devil, Roger. You did that on purpose, didn't you?"
"You told me to enjoy your body, Alex, and I am. I just happen to enjoy a woman's body even more when she enjoys mine. One learns a great deal living with a bed-trained copulist."
Alex wrinkled her nose. Once again her hips began to move but now they swung in circles instead of thrusts. The change in sensation took Merely off guard and he lost control. Faster and faster she ground sending him over the edge with a groan.
He lay full length on top of her, his head pillowed on her ample bosom. "Alex, I love you."
"Mmmm, silly man. You don't really but that was a good ride, wasn't it?"
She took his face in her hands. "Roger, country house etiquette goes like this. When you visit someone's home sometimes your room will adjoin a lady's and there will be a door that connects them. If it is closed, you leave it closed, but if it is open you are welcome to go next door and spend some time with her. A gentleman guest never opens a door. The host may well put the prettiest lady in the room next to his and leave the door open but she is well within her right to quietly close it. Once that happens, he leaves it closed for the duration of her visit and nothing is ever said about it. Of course, if a lady opens her door for a gentleman, it just is not done to decline the invitation. I know that you didn't understand such things so I took the liberty of coming into your room first. After this I will stay in my room but if the door is open..."
"Thank-you, my lady." His eyelids drooped and Alexandra rolled him off of her with a smile. Men always sleep better after a good fucking. I suspect he'll be late for breakfast. So I'll go and take care of Eddie, too. That way they'll both sleep late. It's going to be a wonderful month!
As Alexandra predicted, breakfast had to be served late. Fortunately, it was substantial enough to last until tea. Coddled eggs, sausage redolent of onion and sage, navy beans with bacon, broiled tomatoes, buttered toast with marmalade—Merely was in heaven. As he sat contentedly paralyzed over his coffee he had to admit to himself that however superior French haut cuisine might be for the rest of the day, no one could beat the British at breakfast. The thought brought a patriotic tear to his eye.
When he and Viscount Venture were finally able to pry themselves out of their dining chairs and go outside, Roger saw the children at play. Young George had obtained a jar of soapy water and was sticking a hollow reed into the solution and blowing clouds of bubbles to his lady sister's giggling delight. The little girl chased the bubbles down the spring breeze merrily popping every one she could reach with a switch. Though the sight was endearing, it made his brain itch. Merely was familiar with the sensation. He stared intently at the scene, fixing it well in his memory, as the four men clambered into the steam car already fitted out with rods, fly-books and creels.
"Well, Commander Bookerby, do you fancy a morning on the Beck?"
"Hmpf! Not particularly, y'r Lordship, if I had any interest in gettin' m'feet wet I'd have joined the Royal Navy instead of the Air Arm. Just have your man let me off somewhere along here and I'll 'njoy the mornin' stretchin' m'legs. A brisk walk is good for the inner man, m'thinks."
"Good enough. You have a fine, level path clear to the town if you want to go that far. Otherwise, keep an eye on the time and we'll pick you up again about here to make it back for tea. Alexandra always makes cook put out the best for us after a day's angling and you won't want to miss it."
The airship commander strode off in a purposeful march. Wilkinson drove the machine another mile upstream and let Lt. Fitzhugh-Rust out near a deep pool well shaded by willows. Another few hundred yards and Roger got out. The Beck narrowed and ran down a short rapid to a calm, reed edged pool. Here, he knew, the trout, brown-spotted and alert, hung poised against the current. Swallows swooped low across the water. Chiffchaff and warblers rustled through the leaves overhead and made their plaintive notes along the bank. A cuckoo called its double-note while, across the pool, a grass snake undulated. Even if he caught not a single fish in the entire month, Meely thought, the holiday would be a success just to see the countryside in its greening.
Roger tied on a March brown and began to cast. His thoughts turned random. Damn, I'm rusty. It will probably take most of the day and part of tomorrow just to get my rhythm back. Alexandra is right. I really need to get away from London more often and not just for the country house 'hospitality'
Hmm, I need to talk to my solicitor. I wonder if there isn't a bit of land somewhere in the inheritance I could turn into a country place of my own...
Great Lightning, when I tell Mia about the door etiquette she will insist we start soliciting invitations just so she can 'sample the wares' of the other guests.
The day set the pattern for the next two. Alexandra would 'entertain' both Roger and her husband in the evening, breakfast would be fashionably late and then the gentlemen would sally forth in search of sport and exercise. All was well until the third afternoon.
"I'm sorry, your lordship, but I can't find the commander anywhere." Wilkinson was noticeably distressed.
"How very odd. He got out at the same place today as on Monday and Tuesday so he knew the route downstream and back. Where the blazes might he have gotten off to? You have driven the entire way?"
"Oh yes, your lordship, I took the steamer as far as it would go. I even had to back up for a half mile or so to find a place wide enough to turn around."
Arthur Fitzhugh-Rust frowned. "Edward, that is quite disturbing. The commander is a man of regular, almost monotonous habit. Once he does something, he'll do it again and again in the same way. If he took a walk the same route for two days, there isn't a tinker's chance he'd take a different one on the third."
"And the entire route is along the side of the Beck?" Merely feared the worst, "I don't like the sound of that. Can he swim, Arthur?"
"No, he cannot. In fact, every time we head out over the Channel or the Irish Sea he puts on his life preserver and insists the entire crew do the same. Without wanting to take anything away from the man, he is positively phobic about water."
"Worse and worse," now Edward's face was grim, "Right, then. Wilkinson, go back to the cottage and get all the household staff. We'll start a search up both sides of the Beck. Roger and Arthur and I will start now looking from here. I hope to God we find him with a sprained ankle or broken leg somewhere just out of sight of the road but I fear that is optimistic."
When Wilkinson returned with the steam car loaded with cook, Crivens and the maids, they found all three men standing next to a huge willow that overhung the Beck. Their faces were grim.
"Thank-you all for coming but it is already too late." Viscount Venture's words were somber. "Wilkinson, if you can get out a rope? Roger is a strong swimmer and he will dive and tie a rope around the late commander's remains. We will pull him out. Crivens, if you can cut some stout branches we will make a litter. The very least we can do is take him into town and advise the magistrate."
"Are you sure that is wise, your lordship?" Crivens looked doubtful. "If I may venture an opinion, it might be better if we first summoned the constabulary? When their investigation is complete we can retrieve the unfortunate commander."
"Crivens, are you suggesting that there might be some sort of foul play, man? The commander must have slipped into the Beck and drowned. What else could have happened."
"M'lord, that may be obvious to you and to me but to the police? They are renowned for their suspicious minds, you know."
"Mmm, well put, that man. Very well, Arthur stay here, since you are his next in command. Wilkinson will take everyone else back to the cottage and I will go into town and alert the legal sorts. Blast! And don't anyone wait up for me, d'you understand? I'll manage some cold meat and bread when I get back, whenever that is."
Crivens' advice proved sound. The police were indeed very suspicious of the circumstances of Commander Bookerby's demise. At the inquest the coroner summarized his findings.
"The immediate cause of death was, of course, drowning. The autopsy shows water in the lungs which correlates with the victim being still alive when submerged. However, a contusion on the right temple gives rise to the supposition that the victim was not conscious. Though is it possible that the contusion might be the result of his fall, its particular location is suspicious. Such a wound most closely resembles that caused by the common blackjack. If someone wanted to quietly dispatch the commander, a stealthy approach, a quick tap on the head and an immediate submersion would result in the pathology observed."
The magistrate then concluded that the cause of death was assault with a blunt weapon, exacerbated by drowning by a person or persons unknown. "We must conclude in the absence of other motivation that Commander Bookerby was assaulted for the purpose of robbery since his coin purse is missing. This concludes the inquest. Police inquiries are continuing."
As the second in command, it was Arthur's doleful duty to carry Commander Bookerby's remains to Air Fleet Command for formal burial. The Accipiter departed in mourning colors the following day.
That evening, tea was a somber occasion. Little was said until after the meal when the Viscount, the Viscountess and Dr. Merely retired to the parlor with port and cheese. Alexandra pulled her chair close to Edward's and leaned her head against his shoulder.
"I know," Edward began, "that the magistrate has determined Bookerby's death was common robbery but I just do not see it. The first question is who would do it?"
"And the second, old man, is who in Driffield would have a blackjack anyway? That's a city thug's weapon or a sailor's." Roger was adamant. "No farm laborer would carry such a thing. There'd be no need to."
"Exactly. Someone wanted Bookerby dead and dead in a way that would throw the investigation off in a simple direction. But who? And why?"
Alexandra laid a hand on her husband's. "Eddie, is that really anything we can solve? I hate to be the pessimist but the authorities have determined a motive to their satisfaction and are off trying to solve the crime from that standpoint. What would we gain from getting involved? It did not happen in our house or on our grounds. He wasn't even our invited guest, he was Arthur's. All we're going to get if we all stew about it is the ruination of Roger's holiday and that will make it harder for him to help you with your machine. Leave it, Eddie, because it is out of our hands. Concentrate on what we can do."
The Viscount sighed. "You're right as usual, my dear. Yes, Roger, we need to concentrate on trout and machinery—and Alexandra, of course." He smiled wickedly at the woman. "Will your door be open tonight, my love?"
Alexandra sat back in her chair with a smile. "Oh I think it might be. Shall I open yours, too, or will you be dreaming about entertaining Barbara?"
Roger blinked. "Barbara?"
Alexandra snickered and Edward blushed. "Roger, after Beaufort told us about your Mia I thought it might be fun if Edward had a mistress, too. Knowing he would be appalled if I suggested such a thing I decided to not give him any choice in the matter. One of the upstairs maids has a figure that should start riots but the silly gel wasn't doing anything with it. She had no beau and wouldn't flirt with anyone so on Edward's last birthday I called her in and told her that I thought she really needed to use her 'assets' to raise her status in life. I told her so in no uncertain terms. She protested a little but I marched her off to the bath, gave her face a light make up, tied a ribbon around her neck and around her hips and pushed her through Eddie's bedroom door as his birthday present."
Roger goggled. "M'gawd. That was rash, Alexandra, what if she'd gone to the police and cried rape?"
"Two things, Roger dear, I promised her a generous raise and her own suite of rooms in the castle and I know my husband's amatory prowess. The next morning she could not stop smiling and she asked the groom's help in moving to the new quarters. You haven't met her yet, Roger. She's been on holiday visiting her mother but she comes in on the train tomorrow. Who knows, I might just send her down to play with you!"
After dinner Merely sat in front of the fire, his fingers steepled and his face a blank. Behind his eyebrows, however, he was a flurry of activity. Edward was certainly onto something. A power source that could replace the steam engines in dirigibles would give the British Empire an advantage over the rest of the world that would be almost insurmountable. Hmmm, Boyle's Law said something about what happened to a gas if you compressed it. If you compressed it enough it might get hot enough to ignite the oil...
Later that night he emerged from his bath just as Alexandra was opening the door to her room. She stood statuesquely nude in the door frame for a moment and then turned with languid grace back toward her bed. Glancing over her shoulder, she raised an eyebrow at Merely and gave her hips a slow, sensuous sway. Roger quickly took the hint and casting his smoking jacket aside hastened after her. Catching up, he wrapped his arms around her belly and pressed against her buttocks. She pressed back.
"Oho, so you like my fat bottom, do you?"
"Madam, you do not have a fat bottom. You are a Callipygian Venus, a goddess with beautiful buttocks, Alexandra."