The Curious Case of Amelia Craven

18Sep13

steampunkNobody knew exactly what Dr Ebenezer Marley was a doctor of. He certainly wasn’t a medic and although he had something of an educated slant to his words, nothing about his demeanour suggested he had had very much to do with the great institutions of learning either side of Atlantic.

Marley was neither tall, nor particularly short. He was a well-built man who hid himself under a full-length leather wing-button coat which was his custom to wear in summer or winter. On account of this, the coat might have been adjudged by some to have seen better days. It certainly contrasted with his dark brown coachman hat, which was so often renewed that one might suppose that the good doctor had taken the old adage ‘to get a head, get a hat’ thoroughly to heart. However, if this had been true, one might expect that he would pay better attention to his hair, both facial and otherwise. For on such occasions that he doffed his hat, he revealed so brief a rash of grey-red covering atop of his head that it appeared as if he had been dusted with rust.

But the most striking thing about Marley was the contraption he wore upon his face. At first it was possible to suspect that they were spectacles or industrial goggles of some kind, but even a cursory inspection offered the suggestion of two clock faces over his eyes. Capping both these circles were two opaque black eyepieces that could be raised or lowered by means of a hinge to reveal a pair of adjustable bifocals. Goggles and sun visors of some sort were not entirely unknown in this industrial age, but few were more constant or elaborate in their appearance than Ebenezer Marley’s. But the truth was Dr Marley was not only a man of his age, but a veritable pioneer.

For as an engineer and an inventor Marley’s ingenuity knew few bounds and so outlandish and un-British was he in his manner, that many supposed him to be a foreigner; possibly even an American. America being one of the places to which he was known to have been a regular visitor.

Not that there was anything unusual about travel to America in these days. It seemed that some of the very best people would hop onto one of the new-fangled airships without a thought. Indeed before the War Between the States had broken out, many had proposed a regular service between the Great Cities of London and New York. It had even been suggested that persons as low down the social order as bank clerks and actors might cross the Atlantic in this way, although most sensible people had dismissed the idea.

Dr Ebenezer Marley was not one of these. In fact his business was very much dependent upon these very innovations. Inventions such as the patent steam-car, which for some reason had yet to quite catch-on, were very much a case in point. In fact to-date there was only one in the world and that was his.

Marley eyed it suspiciously as if it was in a plot against him and then kicked it. The steam turbine design was revolutionary, but it was prone to running out of either water or heating agent – just one of the pitfalls of incorporating it into such a small vehicle. The steam-car or to give it its full name, the auto-propelling steam locomotive street-car resembled a small carriage liveried in black and gold. The black was largely lacquered wood and the gold appearance was actually provided by the exposed brass workings. The wheels were a hybrid affair of steel and wood with vulcanised rims as standard carriage wheels had proved too flimsy and all steel train-like wheels too heavy and loud on street cobbles. All-in-all he was quite proud of it and if he could find a way to increase its range beyond 50 or 60 miles then he might even compete with the railways, let alone the horse.

He was still considering the problem of its failure to start when he remembered where he was going and why. One of his workshops in Rotherhithe had recently taken on a new apprentice who had proved so adept at the business that he was coming up with ideas of his own. Not that most of them were all that practicable, not from what Marley had heard, but it was said that the boy could understand and repair existing machines on the briefest of introductions and far faster than any in the shop.

Marley looked around and up and down the street. The steam car had chosen to come to a halt in the Strand, necessitating him to push the vehicle up a side street to the corner of King Frederick Street.

“Should be safe enough there,” he mused aloud.

But all the same he glanced up and down the anonymous shopping parade for the least hint of an unsavoury character before being satisfied.

The car was now parked outside the Harp public house and there was a constable station just across the way. He didn’t think the opera going clientele of the pub would trouble it overmuch and in any case he would send word to Albert and have it taken back to Highgate in due course.

The only problem left was how he was get to Rotherhithe.

*

The fog had got up since his departure from King Frederick Street and on the river it was worse. The prevalence of steam ships had not helped the matter and all the way there in the back of the hired jolly boat Marley had pondered myriad ideas for an improved vessel using turbines.

“Mayflower Wharf all right for you governor?” the boatman asked.

Marley looked up and saw the old Mayflower Inn looming out of the fog. He knew it well and it knew him; being the closest establishment to his Rotherhithe workshop. Not that he now had much choice anyway as the boatman was already fiddling with the small steam engine that drove the boat, having already committed to the moorings.

“It will serve,” Marley said officiously, although he knew no better place to land.

By the time the boatman had hauled the boat to the side Marley had already stepped onto the dark rickety planking of the lower wharf and was striding out for the steps up to the pub’s back door. Even before the man could protest, Marley sent a half crown coin spinning into the air over his shoulder to be expertly snatched up.

“Thanks governor,” the boatman called, but his passenger was already inside.

The pub was a close medieval affair of the kind that still abounded in London. The oak panelling was black-brown and put Marley in mid of his steam car so ignobly abandoned near the Strand. Even the brass of the new-fangled beer pumps was similar.

“Dr Marley, glad to see you Sir,” the proprietor called over as the inventor-engineer picked his way through the late-afternoon mob of boatmen and workers from the underground railway that connected Rotherhithe with the City.

At a pinch he could find his way home that way, but he hated being so closed in and much preferred the river or better still the open sky.

“What can I get you?” the proprietor asked.

“Another time,” Marley said with a wink.

The proprietor, a portly man in shirtsleeves and a large yellow check waistcoat, winked back at the unspoken promise of future custom as the inventor pressed on through. The tight mob of customers made for slow going and he had to side-step discarded stools as he cut through spaces behind tables on his way out.

The front door of the Mayflower opened on an alley that led to the narrow cobbled street that ran parallel to the river. From the front of the pub Marley could see the workshop which was once owned by the Brunel and the subway ventilation chimney. Marley took a small pride in that heritage and paused to peer at the unimposing building over the top of his goggle-glasses. But only for a moment, as the fog, a real pea-souper, began to close in on him obscuring even the workshop just yards from where he stood.

*

Marley stepped into the shop unnoticed and took stock of the work underway. At one end of the establishment an apprentice worked some bellows while another hammered at an anvil. It was the kind of work he had secured the premises to contend with; not wanting it in Highgate where his neighbours were wont to complain. But even here most of the work was of a more delicate sort and he noted a row of silent apprentices focused on small brass instruments and working with files as they refined tiny brass cogs.

One of his recent contracts was for a difference engine for the HM Computing Department at the Treasury. It was little more than a simple adding machine in Marley’s eyes, albeit one based up on Babbage’s better analytical machine. His more advanced and intricate machines were designed in Highgate and assembled at a workshop in Sheffield.

As he watched, Miles Dexter saw him and grinned. His old friend had begun life in publishing, having fled his native America for freedom in London. It was a profession that had been open to him on account of his rare education, a story in itself, and his exotic heritage. These had appealed to several publishers in Clerkenwell, who had soon found him to be more than literate and capable at the trade..

However, Dexter’s real passion had been for engineering and wondrous new labour saving machines, but even in more progressive London few would employ what they saw as a blackamoor in such a role. It had not been until he had met Ebenezer Marley some 12 years before that Dexter had at last had his chance. Ever since then the two men had been business partners.

Miles was a huge man who like Marley was rarely seen without either his hat or his goggle-like spectacles. The hat, a brown Derby, was usually worn with sand-brown cattleman’s coat of rather a better condition than his partner. But given the heat of the workshop, today it had been set aside.

“Ebenezer,” Miles called over, “Come and see this.”

Marley crossed the room half-acknowledging a chorus of greetings from apprentices sitting a benches who otherwise stayed attentive to their work.

“That old steam press we have, may have some life left in it after all,” Miles smiled. “I hated having to buy a new one.”

The man’s baritone voice had only a touch of the Americas now, but it carried with it a serious enthusiasm that was both at once friendly and ripe with gravitas. He folded his arms and directed Marley’s attention to the small machine in the corner where an apprentice fussed over it on his hands and knees.

Marley had already been told it was little better than scrap and its continued operation was of no small value. So he wondered what had effected this change.

“Young John Smith has certainly been a godsend I can tell you,” Dexter chuckled. “I expect you’re going to want him up at Highgate afore long.”

Smith was the apprentice he had heard so much about and he studied the boy with a renewed interest.

The young man was small. Not just short, but diminutive like a child. He even wore a boy’s brown suit of the type that might have adorned a youth from a better household. Strangely though the apprentice was wearing a man’s bowler hat and heavy work’s goggle’s that made his head appear far too large for such a wisp of a body.

“How old are you?” Marley said with a frown.

“Me Sir? Why Sir? I’m… eh… near 19 Sir,” the youth spluttered.

Marley noticed that the boy pulled the scarf at his neck up to his mouth as he spoke. Also for a moment his voice had seemed a little high before deepening. The lad was obviously lying and was entirely much younger than he had said.

“Show Dr Marley this machine working,” Dexter said sharply.

He had sensed that Marley was suspicious of the boy and was suddenly concerned that he had missed something. Come to think of it, Smith had used some pretty highfaluting words in the past couple of weeks and his accent was all over the place; so much so that even Dexter could tell he wasn’t the normal run-of-the-mill National School type.

The youth seemed all too keen to break off from direct conversation and ducked back under the machine to finish his repair.

It was then that Marley noticed something else. He had enough Progressives, Aesthetics and exponents of the Dress Reform Movement among his lady-friends to know a woman in trousers when he saw one. And looking down at the broad base of ‘John Smith’s’ behind as ‘he’ bent over to fix the machine, Marley knew that he saw one.

Something about the change in his partner’s demeanour caused Miles to take a fresh look at his apprentice and then really look. Oh shoot, how could he have been so blind? The American engineer thought and clapped his hand to his head.

He shot a glance at Marley who smiled back with a shrug.

“So Mr Dexter you are telling me that Mr Smith has a real talent with machines?” the good doctor said casually.

“That is so Dr Marley, so much so that I might have been a might over attentive to his work and not his provenance,” Dexter said pointedly.

Just then the machine roared into life and the piston slid up and down with a steady clank working the press.

The apprentice got back to her feet and smiled through several layers of grime obscuring her face under the goggles.

“What did you say your name was again?” Marley asked her.

“Smith Sir, John Smith,” the girl said in a gruff voice, for it was definitely a girl and even Marley was amazed he hadn’t spotted it at once.

“Funny name for a girl, John,” Marley said accusingly.

The girl shot a look sideways and then drew herself up.

“I suppose it is… I mean… who would call a girl John?” the girl decided to bluff it out.

“That is what I want to know?” Marley growled at her.

She swallowed and looked at Dexter for a rescue. The big man folded his arms and looked even angrier with her if anything.

“What is your name girl?” Marley asked her gently.

“I am not a girl,” she pouted, becoming a little too shrill.

Ebenezer Marley looked at his friend and then back at the girl.

“I can well understand why you would hide your sex, but now I need to know who you are,” Marley urged her.

“I told you Sir, I am John Smith from here in Rotherhithe,” she said, again affecting a deeper voice.

Marley dropped his gaze so that he was peering at her over the rims of his large goggle-specs and glared at her.

“I’ll give you one more chance girl,” he said with emphasis on the last word, “What is your name?” His words were hard with sharp corners and each syllable was crafted with care like one of his machines.

If he could have seen her eyes he would have seen stubborn consternation written there. As it was her industrial goggles gave her a blank hostile stare and only the small motion of her Adam’s Apple-free throat gave away the least nervousness. The girl weighed his words carefully before offering a much less considered reply.

“I am John Smith,” she said scornfully.

The not so tall, but stocky Marley shrugged and swallowed down a smile at being challenged by a smaller than average woman who barely reached the lower part of his chest. Then he looked at Dexter who was shaking his head in disbelief at the girl’s defiance.

A moment later Marley seized the girl easily and comfortably tossed her over his shoulder. It was a small matter from there to stroll with her helplessly secured while he made his way to the back office while she berated them with girlish protests and a spate of impotent kicking. Dexter followed on in high amusement at a leisurely pace as he contemplated Marley’s next move.

Once in the office Marley sat down on a chair and dropped the girl to his lap before hauling her across his knee. Her ample womanish behind thus tendered to his mercy, he spanked her hard.

“You bastard,” she yelped, adding a stream of even more unladylike epithets.

“That, young lady, is no way to speak to one’s employer,” Marley chided her before spanking her again.

“You’re not my employer, he is,” the girl spat angrily.

Marley spanked her again hard, extracting a pained angry yelp from the girl.

“You want me to tan your behind for you instead?” Dexter suggested pointedly.

The struggling girl paused for a moment and then said in a distinctly girlish and hesitant voice “No.”

“Glad to oblige madam,” Marley said with a chuckle.

He brought his arm down with a determined blast setting the girl kicking and yelling her lungs out as he continued his efforts for some minutes.

“How did you miss that she was a…” Marley began, but a look on Dexter’s face warned him not to go there.

Besides, with her loose coat on and her face hidden under grime, hat and goggles it wasn’t that obvious. If she hadn’t wagged her tail at him he might not have spotted her himself. To pass over his partner’s mistake he addressed his attention on the girl. He could see even through thick woollen trousers that she had a full round behind. It was the kind that might have belonged in a music hall on the stage and certainly didn’t need a bustle for further emphasis. He was also certain that she was no girl, not in the youthful sense. What he had here were two very interesting things; a woman and a mystery.

“What is your name?” he asked again as he spanked on.

The girl was feeling it even through her trousers, her fiercely clamped jaw and the angry red around the goggles told him that.

“Your name?” he demanded as he spanked her again and yet again.

“You bastard, you can’t do this to me,” she raged indignantly.

Somewhere during the spanking her hat had slipped and now it rolled off altogether and onto the floor. The girl’s hair tumbled from under it, falling in a single plaited tress down the right side of her face. Marley reached down and grabbed the goggle strap and pulled it away to completely reveal the young woman’s angry glower.

“If you don’t stop that sewer mouth of yours and tell me your name I am going to take your breeches down and really set to work,” he warned her.

For emphasis he brought his arm down several more times as he watched her face. She was blushing patriotically, her jaw still hard set. But he fancied there was some yielding in her eyes.

“You wouldn’t dare,” she spat, but there was some doubt.

“Your name girl,” he bellowed as he spanked down hard again.

Finally she opened her mouth and set her eyes darting back and forth as she considered another lie. Marley gave her an almighty spank that made her return a wide-eyed gasp.

“I will take you onto the workshop floor, take your pants and trousers down in front of everyone and give you a sound spanking on your bare bottom if you don’t start talking,” Marley warned her.

“Amelia,” she squeaked, “Amelia Craven.”

The spanking ended at once and Marley set the blushing girl on her feet in front of him where she continued to wriggle unable to help herself from rubbing her behind.

“Amelia, Miss Craven,” Marley sighed wearily, “At last. Now how old are you and where…?”

He pushed a finger under the bridge of his own spectacles, not knowing where to begin.

Amelia glowered at him with a rueful pout, still rubbing her bottom.

“I’m 21,” she said defiantly.

Marley reached out tenderly and wiped some grime from her cheek. Her pout deepened, emphasising her rather full broad lips. She could see he didn’t believe her.

“Well almost,” she added quickly. “That is rather the problem.”

“I think you had better tell me from the beginning,” he sighed.

“I think I’ll leave you to it,” Dexter rumbled as he unfolded his arms.

He shot Marley a look that said ‘rather you than me.’

*

“I have always wanted to work with machines Sir,” Amelia told Marley, “Any machines. As a girl I liked watches, but lately I have moved on to steam engines, airships and… I hear you have a turbine driven steam car.”

“So why the deception? I have employed women before,” Marley asked her.

The girl pouted again and began to rock backwards and forwards as if concocting another story.

“Not with the big machines, not with airships,” she countered.

He suspected she was still hiding something and folded his arms in warning.

“I… I…” she chewed on her lip and looked at the floor. “My family… they…”

Her voice had lost its put-on worker’s edge and now began with well-rounded with plums and was crisply clipped.

“I was to marry… oh it was awful…” she continued.

“You ran away?” Marley suggested.

Amelia nodded.

Marley pursed his lips and he walked to the window. It was growing dark now and there hadn’t been much of view to begin with. The fog outside was thicker than ever and even the grim bleak shapes of riverside workshops and warehouses had slipped from view.

“You spoke of my steam car and the turbine,” Marley said to the glass without turning.

He could see her behind him in the glass of the window, lost and more scared than she would ever admit.

“I read about it in the Times and… well after that I sought out magazines and read all I could,” she gushed.

“The Times was rather dismissive of my ideas I seem to recall.” Still he didn’t turn around.

“They don’t understand,” she said scornfully, “They are living in the past all of them. My father talks about Ancient Greek and Latin as if they will unlock the world. Steam is the future; steam and airships.”

Marley turned and studied Amelia’s earnest face and came to a decision.

“Just when are you 21?” he asked thoughtfully.

“You know, I am not sure of the date,” she whispered, “I was born in October, the eighth of October 1851.”

An auspicious year, he thought.

“You have a birthday in 10 days.” She could sign her own lawful indentures at that time and there was nothing her family could do about it, he pondered, if she was sure. Then he watched her carefully.

“So you want to be our apprentice do you?” he said, “You sought us out?”

“You, yes,” she said in a voice touched with awe. “I dared not go to you direct lest you saw through my lies at once.”

In case you didn’t, she thought with some self-insight. A man such as Ebenezer Marley could never have been fooled by a mere girl. Not in her eyes.

He nodded.

“Very well, from tomorrow you will work at the Highgate workshop, it is mostly brain work there. But I warn you, I demand, dedication, loyalty, discretion, obedience and honesty,” he said insistently, “What do you demand?”

She opened her mouth and closed it again. They were to make a bargain then. This was her chance, she had to seize it.

“I am not a boy,” she said to state the obvious, “But I want a chance to… to be… be an engineer. I will accept and do everything you say if… if you at least make some allowances for my… my tender disposition and I will find other more delicate skills to offer you by way of compensation.”

She wanted to demand to be an equal to any other man, but several times she had had to duck out of some heavy work and if she didn’t gain some acknowledgement now for the disadvantage of her sex, she knew that later it might go against her.

“A good friend of mine says that ladies are equal but different,” he said kindly.

“I don’t want to be a lady,” she shot back at him bitterly; “I want to learn to be an engineer and… a woman I suppose.”

“Truly?” he asked.

She nodded vigorously.

“What are you to be then, a delicate flower? An engineer in skirts?” his question was an honest one.

“Oh I am tough enough and with my previous proviso, use me as you will,” she countered.

“Then we have an arrangement,” he said.

Amelia extended her hand and he took it with a shake.

“Now I am no more a gentleman than you profess to be lady,” he said.

She gave a curt nod. She had had enough of such sensibilities.

“You set out to deceive me and furthermore you still put on some heirs that you claim to eschew,” he said sharply.

She blushed, but didn’t argue.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, “Teach me.”

“In time I will introduce you to some progressive women who will teach you much,” he said, “Now drop your trousers and whatever you have beneath and bend over the desk.”

As he spoke he hooked his thumb at the buckle of his belt and drew the leather strap through the hoops on his breeches.

Amelia’s eyes flew wide and she gaped at him.

“Given our arrangement, am I unreasonable?”

She gulped and blushed with shame. Had she submitted to marriage, a man would have seen and commanded this and more she had no doubt. At least this was on her terms.

Steeling herself, Amelia turned and undid her trousers and the tie beneath so that she was able to drop her clothing both together in one brave act. Bending was more shameful, but boy apprentices suffered so she knew and this might go some way to erasing the unease she felt at her deception.

Marley started in astonishment at the curve of the girl’s behind. It did indeed belong on a stage. An almost perfect sphere, but for a smudge of residual redness, it was the colour of cream and as smooth as alabaster with a tight split between the firm rounds. It seemed a pity to mark it. But this was both needful and he admitted a pleasure; one that would do miss starry-eyes good if she was to thrive as a woman engineer in a man’s world.

The belt landed with a searing thwack that Amelia prayed could not be heard beyond the room. It was a more complete honest sting than her governess birch and not as biting as her father’s cane. But like both those trials, the real burn was to come and continued to build even as Marley lay on another breath-stealing swipe of leather.

From Marley’s point of view her bottom coloured well and held it sharply. It did not take long to place an even blush over every part of her curves, but still she did not quite cry out. Only her breathing betrayed her discomfort as it became a little laboured, that and a tremor at her lips, but she had set herself as if this were a test.

In all, the belt landed perhaps two dozen times before she gave a little shout and showed tears at her eyes. By then of course her bottom was quite red and enlarged with rubbery welts tainting the curves at her rounds and cleft. With no definite count Marley added six more and then stood back.

“Thank you Sir,” she said in a tremble of a voice, “May I stand?”

“You may,” he acknowledged.

Amelia got unsteadily to her feet and after ensuring that her shirt covered her front to her thighs at least, she turned nervously to face him without further repair to her dress and again offered him her hand.

“Thank you Sir,” she said again as he took it.

He nodded and finished with his buckle at his waist.

“Do I… must I…?” she began, the first real tear rolling down her cheek. “Am I to stand in the corner?” She looked at her feet demurely as she spoke.

“With your trews and so forth firmly at your ankles and for as long as I say regardless of who may enter the room…” he told her sharply.

She nodded without looking up, her face colouring as much as her bottom ever had.

“…the next time I have occasion to thrash you,” he added.

“Sir?” she risked a glance up at him.

“Pull your… whatnots up girl,” he muttered.

“Oh… oh yes Sir.” She was gushing again, but obeyed hastily.

“Welcome to Marley Dexter & Co,” Marley said with a grin.

“Oh yes, thank you Sir,” she grinned, but this time her hands were clamped to her bottom as she did a little shimmy.



12 Responses to “The Curious Case of Amelia Craven”

  1. 1 paul1510

    Damian,
    I enjoyed this, it has an authentic feel to it. 🙂
    Paul.

  2. 3 Mike

    Getting into the Christmas bit a little early, are we?

    And Ebenezer Marley? Well played, Sir, well played.

    BTW Did you notice you have ‘Morley’ and not ‘Marley’ towards the very end?

  3. “Pull your… whatnots up girl,”….Loved it!

  4. I would have loved to have had a Dr. Marley figure as I was beginning my career. Still would, maybe. He certainly has excellent taste in pubs 😉

  5. 10 Raffe

    DJ loved the story, but what’s a “whatnots”?

    • 11 DJ

      Literally it is a piece of Victorian furniture for holding small objects, which also are informally known as whatnots.

      My Grandmother used the term in place of thingummy or whatchamacallit – something her grandmother used.

      If one were a Victorian gentleman faintly embarrassed by addressing himself to draws or bloomers he might well say whatnots.

      If you want to be more literal than that he means her knickers. 🙂

  6. 12 Mike

    In my house we call them ‘Bambies.’

    As to ‘whatnots’? I may not know what something is, but I know what it’s not.


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