The Adventures of Charlotte Winter, Chapter 1

I’ve had a few days off from work, and instead of dutifully attending other projects that need to be resolved, I’ve spent a few hours here and there throwing out a rough draft to a beginning chapter of a novel I’m thinking about writing here in a few years, as mentioned in my last post, Pistoning Into the Victorian Era.  In lieu of the literary insights I’ve been posting to the blog, I will publish my rough draft here, so that my regular readers may have something presently to do.

Note similarity to the beginning of Of Woodbridge and Hedgely which should clue in readers that Charlotte Winter is the selfsame nameless, 10-year-old girl that Mr. Winter comes to adore in the novel.  Readers may now rejoice the girl finally gets a name (her adoption of Winter’s last name is explained below in the new story).

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A young lass, probably not yet twenty years of age, quietly sat in the lobby of a London patent office, staring into nothingness, lost in the inner turmoil of the overambitious mind. Whatever impatience she initially kept upon the expense of something between one half and three quarters of an hour’s time, on the hard chair she was politely asked to wait in, had long been destroyed by yet another interval after this, at least equal in magnitude if not longer. Indeed having succumbed to the lure of attempting to define a particularly troublesome mathematical formula that had plagued her these last several days, the only connection she presently held to the world outside her mind was a semiconscious grasp she had on several large rolls of paper she kept on her lap; their contents being her entire reason for sitting there, her arse near completely numb.

Alas she was called. She did not hear it at first, but eventually she was awoken by the selfsame clerk that initially guided her to her chair, kneeling down so that he may reside in her supposed field of vision and wave his hands about. Fairly handsome he was. She was too thankful for the handsome length of the hallway, the stairs at its ending, and yet another of the selfsame dimension on the second floor of the patent office, such allowing her to regain most of the feeling in her backside, as this young man guided her to a more aged and venerable clerk’s office.

‘Alright, young miss! Come in, come in, and let us see what you have for us!’ this aged clerk called, perhaps feigning a level of industriousness he could not rightly own, having in all probability awoken from a post dinner slumber to find himself at his desk, just moments ago.

‘I have for you, sir, a secret, were you at all to honor it, and in exchange for its telling, I only wish to seek your advice on the proper formalities here,’ returned the young miss, referring to his office.

For a moment he looked her up and down as she stood before his desk, seemingly quite frightened of the chairs that existed on the guests’ side of it. A pleasant face to be sure, but she seemed to have been grievously betrayed by her tailor, for she donned a Frenchman’s shirtsleeves, ruffled at the cuffs, and a pair of Englishmen’s riding trousers. About the only thing possibly ladylike on her was her boots and even those were some variation on Wellington’s. He then comforted her in the assurance that he was indeed fairly credible with secrets and that she should unroll her papers onto the desk in order for him to assess whatever formalities they many require.

‘You see sir, the pistons keep underside the apparatus for a smarter ride,’ she instructed, after introducing him to her expertly drafted mechanical pictures, embellished with all manner of dimensions, pressure ranges, velocities, load capacities, &c. ‘Note how they are directly connected to the forward drive wheels and there are no coupling rods to reduce the weight, keeping the thing under four and one half tons. The goal is twenty to twenty five miles per hour in velocity, pulling a load of three times its weight, and to achieve such I’ve increased the boiler efficiency using twenty five copper tubes to maximize surface area of the exhaust, and a water jacket between it and the firebox that further heats the water directly through the coke’s own radiant energy.’

‘I see – yes – uncommon clever! Young miss, who indeed is your master!?’ the clerk asked almost absently as his focus darted to and fro along the pages, for he was almost sure he’d never seen a boiler with more than two exhaust tubes.

The young miss’s lips pursed and her brow furrowed at this. She eyed him squarely and with a scow, determinedly pronounced, ‘Sir, I Am My Own Master!’, her head slightly shaking with each syllable, causing the man’s eyes to quit the drawings and reciprocate his guests’ sizable gawk. Perhaps such a slight was not uncommon to her with her rather unique ambitions, and the clerk had brushed upon a sore spot, well worn; or perhaps it was merely the passion of youth that bolted through her blood which delivered her into impropriety.

‘You will forgive me miss,’ the man eventually said in a tone that failed to acknowledge her distress, but instead continued as if none of it was there, ‘for most of the young’ – he glimpsed at her pants – ‘ladies I’m acquainted with care only to draw relatives, or the Thames at sunset – that the sight may be had without the accompaniment of the smell; you will observe one such piece hanging on the wall behind me. I’ve yet to come across a miss that applies her pen for the sake of boilers, engines, and locomotives.’

‘Well sir,’ she said in a more relaxed manner, having conceded the man meant no injury, ‘what I was getting at was that my drawings are not just some picturesque flim-flam; they are of course a function of mathematical formulae – calculations that take into account variations of pressure in the boiler, as well as its evaporating power, and other new discoveries I’ve made on the subject of locomotion – nothing your office has seen before, save the crude renditions of individual components that were previously applied for under my employer’s name – a Mister Thomas Winter. But do not be mistook,’ she emphasized with a moderate crescendo, having now revealed her master, ‘this is not the first time this office has seen work from my sole pen: Mister Winter and his wife spend most of their time botanizing out in the countryside of Gloucestershire, whilst I do the opposite.’

‘Yes, yes – I understand you completely, young lady,’ the man returned, again in a flat, unaffected tone, still enamored more with the drawings of the locomotive than with one of his larger sources of income, for Mr. Winter held an entire cabinet’s worth of patents at his very office, and by its familiarity, it was neither here nor there to have his name there mentioned.

‘You will then instruct me on the cost and the format then sir?’ she asked, having no notion on the process of being granted a patent, other than it was a grievous process involving multiple offices in the throes of Royal bureaucracy, and that it was preferable that a man of thorough experience work on one’s behalf in the matter. Alas, Mr. Winter had a man, but she herself had no personal clerk, lawyer, or otherwise; nor did she think it wise for an unknown engineer to share one’s work about the town, lest it find its way into another man’s design.

‘But miss, it is always the same fee and procedure for all of Mister Winter’s dealings here’, he replied, surprised she was ignorant of the subject, having digested everything she had offered thus far in earnest.

‘Sir, I beg pardon, I do not believe I’ve given you cause to follow my design: I would be applying under my own name, with my own coin. There is a storm brewing up in Rainhill that I intend to capitalize on, and “sharps the word” as they say,’ she explained.

‘Oh,’ he began in slower, more forlorn color, adding, ‘But you are at least aware that what we have here is a game that gnaws up the finest impoverished inventors, that right gentlemen of some competency may profit? I say this not because I have any assumptions on your situation madam, but only that I may not catch you unaware: The price is a hundred pounds and a great many fathom’s time. As to the format, you may spend as much time as you like, looking over Mr. Winter’s previous applications if they are not available to you at work; Mr. Winter’s agent is, after all, a right busy man. And we will make sure you do not leave this afternoon without the proper forms to bring back to us.’

At the revelation of the price she had started a bit, for she was of absolute ignorance on the matter: She dared not ask about such things at work, nor would she visit with the agent, without raising suspicion. It’s not that Mr. Winter, one of her dearest and oldest friends, wouldn’t happily dispense the amount to her, as seed money to help build her own fortune; it was that she sought the ideology of success derived from entirely one’s own means. ‘One hundred did you say?’ she asked hoping the man may further offer a few negative contingencies to the price, but he only affirmed his original quote.

‘Alright then,’ she replied with a renewed fervor, ‘Within a double fortnight – or at least the turning of two new moons – I will have your coin, alongside the drawings in full kit.’ She then, to the clerk’s distress – the only time he showed any emotive gesture during their meeting – snatched her drawings off the desk, rolled them up, and swiftly said her thank-you’s and good-day’s, intending to storm out of the building, as if to directly make good on her word.

‘And miss – do alas you have a name?’ the clerk called out as she fled down the hallway.

‘Alas I do sir and a right one it is – remember your oath and mine – I will indeed return, upon my word…’, she belted out without bothering to stop or turn and face her inquirer.

And once back to his office, with his door shut, and a small moment of time passing, the man let out a sigh and muttered to himself, ‘Yes, yes – you’re your own master. In august company I was, as usual. Damnable young folk these days – always their own masters…‘til the first lick of trouble leaps out the fire. Then it’s “Papa! Papa! Oh, dear Papa!”’ as were he drawing on some personal experience; he likely being a father many times over at his age.

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Manchester (17 years after the novel’s setting).

Charlotte Winter jumped off the post carriage that had freshly presented to the town of Manchester. Charlotte Winter – that was indeed her name – at least among those that weren’t familiar with her past, for her surname was recently borrowed from her benefactor – the Mr. Thomas Winter. She had come to know the man at around ten years of age, when he had set up shop in a renovated farmhouse sitting in a field just behind her father’s cottage, in the town of Hedgely, in the afore mentioned county of Gloucestershire. From a childhood infatuation with a small set of apple trees that existed on his property, she had introduced herself to him, and a relationship had been born which had blossomed into an informal apprenticeship, where she assisted the man on endeavors having to do with his hobbies of agricultural science and botany, and in return he had taught her all that he knew of engineering, mathematics, and experimentation along these subjects, for he too had been a proper engineer in a former life: Mr. Winter had worked many years for his father – one of England’s wealthy industrial masters of mankind – before he had retired to Hedgely to save himself from the fetid air and mechanized noise that came along with factory work.

But these events alone had not been enough to transform Charlotte May into Charlotte Winter: Firstly, Mr. Winter’s father had retired within the last few years, having no longer the health nor heart to continue to pursue the constant, pernicious struggle of keeping an empire rightly afloat, and Mr. Winter had reluctantly taken over their operations, which had significantly eaten into his and Charlotte’s time dedicated to increasing crop yields around their small country towns, through their experiments. Secondly, and probably more to the point, Charlotte, failing at anything properly ladylike, had had for the last few years the prerogative to consistently entertain scandalous affairs with several of the local fellows around her towns of Woodbridge and Hedgely, the discovery and conclusion of each resulting in her refusal to marry any of them on the grounds that though most offered a handsome physique, they were rather deficient in cognition. Further any marriage would have castrated her ambitious desires to improve her own financial position in society – just as Mr. Winter’s father had done long ago – whilst attaching her to another who likely had not the slightest idea nor the talent for doing so. Her father, noting no repentance for her part upon the nth gentleman’s discovery, had given up and disowned her for the sake of his own tailoring business in Hedgely, as the small town’s rumor mill there had steadily increased its product in direct proportion to the number of men Charlotte had bedded thus far. And therefore it fell to the lot of Mr. Winter, her second father, to set her up as an engineer in one of his many subsidiaries – her task being to improve upon the components and efficiency of steam engines – with a salary of £100 which allowed her a comfortable apartment in a town well away from her past, and the dispensation of the necessity for gardening for one’s sustenance. Manchester was that town, and by the post, there she was again in it, with enlivened resolve to make something of herself.

‘Ahoy Charlotte!’ called out a young Lieutenant Fish who had been lingering around the town post office for quite some time waiting for her to arrive; after all, a young half-pay Royal Navy man at the dawn of a relatively peaceful era for his country was credibly experienced in the act of waiting; the postmaster himself remarked on the fellow’s steadfast patience and uncommon, nay heroic, ability to do absolutely nothing for hours on end. ‘What of London? And were you at all near Whitehall? And if so did you have any cause to converse with any naval officers? And what of the road? Are you sore from the ride? And how many hills were you obliged to walk? And…’ Though the young man had appeared rather docile to the post workers those last few hours, his mind, on the other hand, had been cracking on rather sprightly the entire interval.

‘Ahoy Will!’ she returned as she waited for the case that held her drafts to be handed down to her from the carriage, ‘What of London? Yes, I’m sure it’s quite ravishing but what I saw of it was drizzle, smoke, and a certain meanness in beggary of its children!’

‘Oh, come now!’ he objected, ‘For you have the widest smile published across your face as were you a silly little girl but half your age. We are to dine at The Jenny as soon as our boots may carry us there, and you shall tell me all about it; I insist!’

‘My God, were it roast venison tonight! I’m so sharp set from the journey that I could scarcely put two words together to spare my life at present. Oh, thank’ee,’ she said, the last part to the postman as he hurriedly encouraged her to take her drawings.

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‘A hundred pounds!!?’ Lt. Fish cried as they indeed tucked into the roast venison. ‘Where the devil are you going to get a hundred pounds? Is not the contest in October of next year? You’ve but a little over thirteen months to achieve your patent and find some means of building your engine.’

The contest Lt. Fish spoke of was a subject that came up more times than not whenever the two committed to long winded conversation; in fact, ever since Charlotte had learned of it, it had consumed a great deal of her working mind, as she was convinced that were she to properly capitalize on the event, her fortune would thus materialize from such. The contest was indeed what would become known as the Rainhill Trials. The masters of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway – presently nearing completion – had decided on a contest to resolve the best means of pulling trains between the two towns – either by fixed engines or locomotives – and Rainhill, with its uncommon flat terrain, had been chosen to host the open locomotive contest. Charlotte’s strategy was to secure a patent for her design for the contest, which required a uniquely light but powerful engine, and then appeal to an experienced builder of the superiority of her design, and thereby strike a either a lucrative partnership or the sale of her patent for a large return; perhaps with the contingency that were her design to win, she would sell several other more refined ones to the selfsame man in order to build the Railway’s fleet, or at least negotiate a credible royalty in lieu of any sales. It was a dangerous game, as men that could commit the several thousand pounds of capital for an engine as easy as kiss their hand held the ultimate advantage, even if they limited themselves to playing fair, which was not guaranteed. In Boulton and Watt’s days, the courts were rife with these men’s calls of infringement against other engineers, and when their wasn’t an active suit occurring, there was surely the threat of one. Other, contradistinguishing men cared little for obliging patent laws and did what they pleased, stringing up any agents of the court by their feet, were they at all to bravely show upon their doorsteps.

‘It’s a tough nut to be sure, Will, but I do have twenty sovereigns at M&L’s I’ve nothing to do with, so the situation is not near as sharp as it feels.’

Lt. Fish gave a rather thoughtful look, swallowed what he had been chewing and offered, ‘Perhaps a private investor might give you the remain for a proportion of the returns. Mister Winter even may…’

‘Certainly Not!’ she cried, confounding the posterior of his suggestion before it could bloom. ‘The less moneyed dandies buzzing about me the better my odds of success become. Giving a rich man the opportunity to proportionately profit off of my work may as well be the like to giving it all away to him after his lawyer swoops down to bait and switch me in my ignorance of patent law! And Mister Winter has been kind enough to me. He would indeed issue me the guineas, for his engines are mostly to do with factory work and I would not be taking business from him, but I will not take that amount from a friend after all he’s already done. What if I fail and owe him for years on end?’ she posed, shivering inside at the prospect of a ruined friendship and business relationship. ‘Besides, I must do this on my own,’ she posed, her convictions well dug.

‘Your banker then?’

‘He’d want it back and more within three month’s time, if he understood my drawings at all. Considering that the patent office has their time glass filled with molasses there’d be a terrible want of leeway to maneuver before the bank’s lawyers came looking for the patent, that they and they only may profit from it – damn their eyes and mouths – come October of ‘twenty nine.’

Other Jenny guests looked up in reaction to Charlotte’s strident tone and the whispers began…as usual. Often they were over Ms. Winter’s pirate costume which accompanied speculation regarding were the whisperers actually in the presence of a castrati, actor, opera singer, or madwoman. Buckskins indeed! Yet on this particular occasion it seemed they were less concerned with her rudeness of dress, but instead, that of her manner.

A few of the regulars present, used to Charlotte’s voluble character, took little note of it, having long ago marked it as ‘the daft stupidity of youth and inevitable destruction of propriety by the latest generation’. Others not so far along in absorbing such impolite manners at dinner were instead kept from issuing the woman some manner of jagged instruction, solely by the existence of the youthful lieutenant at her table: The fellow kept a boarding cutlass on his uniform, and it couldn’t be guaranteed that he would not demand quick satisfaction were he to assume an insult to his dinner partner was there afforded. After all, he was more close to twenty years of age than thirty, without a present commission, entailing a likely perpetual thirst for action, and further did exude a protective air around her which was conspicuous to even the greatest of dullards.

Charlotte looked around the room as the conversation once again began to pick up and approach its baseline, and the darting glares toward her direction attenuated. At once her eyes lit up and the broad smile she had displayed earlier at the post office anomalously returned. The pause had afforded her something of an epiphany and she motioned the lieutenant to lean forward so that she could talk in a more secretive tone.

‘I believe I’ve just picked the plum from the pudding, Will!’ she excitedly whispered. ‘Thus far, I’ve committed my mind to the avoidance of being swallowed by men of much greater means; every last one of them anxious to do so as a function of their station. What I’ve failed to muse upon was the very opposite of this – how best to chew them up for my own advantage! From this vantage the solution is quite simple: I need only find out who else means to enter at Rainhill and propose to them the purchase of some of my previous designs!’

‘Hmm. That appears to give these men more of an advantage,’ Lt. Fish observed, and smiling in anticipation, for it was clear Charlotte had only just began to weave her design, he added, ‘But please do go on.’

‘Yes, it would appear that way, but you see, this appearance is for the greater good of the game. Certainly, with my recent discoveries, they would be getting ideas much superior to their own, but I would not be selling any individual the full apparatus: I would be giving one fellow the design to a more efficient boiler – perhaps the selfsame one that sits in my office at work, whilst another fellow – his competitor – would be sold the idea for a blast pipe. Certainly this would increase the flow of heat through his boiler, but for one or two-tube designs – as is common practice – such ends up ripping the top off the fire and throwing hot cinders out the chimney, causing the fuel to be prejudicially consumed at a greater rate – ha, ha, ha!’

To this Lt. Fish had a credible objection. ‘Oh, faith! The boiler in your office? But do you not often, and rightly, profess that a working model trumps a hundred fold even the cleverest of schemes that exist merely on paper? And how can it be assured that once these men absorb your components into their designs, this won’t allow them to move that must quicker forward and discover what you already have, in your latest work?’ he posed, cocking his head a little to the left, whilst squinting at his companion.

Charlotte somewhat capitulated to this with an affirmative nod but offered, ‘Well I ain’t saying there won’t be risks. All I can do is set the thing up to maximize the probability of my success. But I must insist that my latest work is of the finest refinement compared to the objects I have skulking about my office, and you’ll observe I’m willing to throw a hundred quid at that notion. Let’s see, I need but four cork-brains to issue me twenty pounds a pop – not entirely impossible!’ Charlotte’s eyes then did sparkle and her tone became much more cordial and ladylike: ‘Lieutenant Fish, would you be so good as to shortly accompany me down to the Railway office, that we me rummage around for some names? We may rent a cabriolet here if you are so inclined.’

Lt. Fish’s eyes reciprocated and he confidently grinned a small grin, for there wasn’t much he wouldn’t do for Ms. Winter. ‘I would be delighted to so accompany you, Miss Winter. It’s getting late: I will walk you back to your apartment, then tomorrow morning…’

‘Stay with me tonight, Will!’ Charlotte cut in, again in her whispered, scheming tone. ‘Half the town thinks we’re secretly married; the other half, that we’re secretly engaged, so there is little danger in it. Only promise me there will be no queer talk of proposals this time, yes? Lord, I was awoke this morn’ at the coach inn by some early foxed hostler practicing of all things the Spanish guitar, and the vexation has travelled about me and found its way into places that only a man may resolve.’