Sunday, April 13, 2014

Meet the Merry Gentlemen in THE CURIOUS STEAMBOX AFFAIR by Melissa MacGregor

Part VII

We had reached the riverbank proper.  My boots sank into mud, but I hardly noticed.  All of my attention was focused on the clearly discernible marks visible on the ground.  These mirrored those I had earlier witnessed, great swaths of disturbed wet earth, as if someone had been recently dragging something heavy across it.

I heard MacBean’s sharp intake of breath, and stilled instantly.  He gave a barely discernible nod and I followed his gaze.

Where the riverbank met the forest there was an incline, one covered by a great morass of gnarled, exposed tree roots.  My gaze moved slowly down the length of them, looking for whatever had captured the attention of my friend.

“Caves,” MacBean murmured.  “I played here as a boy, had forgotten about them entirely.”

I stifled a laugh.  What sort of man forgets a cave, particularly when conducting an investigation?  If I had not been a guest at your property, had this not been my first visit North, I would have certainly noticed the caves. 

If I had spent my youth on this riverbank, I would have remembered.

Perception does not seem to be MacBean’s particular strong suit.

“You cannot consider them caves,” MacBean amended, scowling at me.  “More like spaces in the earth. Nothing like a proper cavern, and certainly nothing. . .”

His words died away as another flash of light shone briefly, filtering through a thick collection of ancient roots.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Something's In The Forest. . .

Part VI

I waited, my eyes moving slowly across the copse of trees.  I knew that if I remained patient I would see whatever had troubled MacBean. 

If there was, in fact, any thing to be seen.  I did not place much faith in the judgment of the skittish MacBean.  Any man who felt the need for the comfort of a paltry lantern is exactly the sort who might envision things within the dark.

I have always known there are ghosts amid the trees, specters awaiting those who are willing to see them.  MacBean is a practical man, but it is easy for one to confuse the spiritual with the corporal.

We were silent, MacBean and I.  The only noise was that of the river, the gentle rustle of leaves in the wind.

 I do not know how much time passed, but it was enough for me to consider moving on.  I turned to MacBean, intent on insisting that there were other areas to investigate, when I saw a flicker of light, shining through the trees.

It was no more than a flicker, disappearing almost immediately after that glimpse. 

Beside me, MacBean chuckled softly.

“You thought I had lost my mind,” he whispered.

 I ignored him.  Careful to not make any noise, I crept forward.  To MacBean’s credit, he moved silently and stealthily beside me.

There was no true path created, just ferns and pine needles.  It made for slow going, but as I have said, I am a patient man. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Darkness in the woods. . .

Part V

We walked soundlessly forward, moving at a pace that I could not begrudge.  Nothing seemed out of place on this forest path.  Everything appeared the same as during my earlier sojourn.

When I looked to the side, visibility was limited.  Despite the clear sky overhead, the trees disallowed much moonlight to penetrate the gloom.  I knew the way well enough to not be confused or tempted by the offshoots of pathways, and I had little concern for anything not related to the approaching river.

MacBean had brought along a small brass lantern, its wick ignited from a flint box.  It provided a tiny glow of illumination, paltry really, and ridiculous on its face.  But it appeared to bring MacBean some comfort, and I allowed it to remain lit.

I have always wondered over your discomfort with close spaces and darkness, Trantham.  Is this a family trait?  What a terrible weakness to suffer.  I noticed such discomfort from your cousin tonight.  Brave he might be, but one cannot ignore his intense dislike of a dark path.

The sound of the river is always a source of pleasure for me.  I take comfort in its roar, the steady shout of rapids breaking over river rocks.  Such noise filled my ears, caused me to quicken my pace.

“Wait.” MacBean’s warning was soft, barely audible over the wind.  But of course I heard it.  I ceased walking.  I turned to him, saw him snuff out the lantern.  The darkness was enveloping.

“There is something up ahead,” MacBean said.  “I saw something amidst the trees.” 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Into the woods with Benge and MacBean. THE CURIOUS STEAMBOX AFFAIR

Part IV

We fell into an easy walk.  I decided that there were certainly worse companions than MacBean.  I am still insistent that Smithson would have been less than pleasant, should I have waited for the dawn appointment.

For all his annoyances (and there are plenty), Gordon MacBean has always impressed me with his sound reasoning.  His attention to detail cannot be faulted.  His intuition is usually correct.
As we walked, we discussed the odd imprints along the river bank.  We considered the possibility that it was merely the path of an injured animal.  We hoped that it was, that this nocturnal journey was a needless pursuit.

“I did not want it poisoning my mind tonight,” MacBean said, as we neared the edge of trees.  “There is little I hate more than a restless night.  I thought it best if I set out now.  I assumed you would feel the same, and so I merely waited for you to appear.”  He laughed.  “You are extremely predictable, you know.”

I told him to hush.  He instantly obliged (another reason I prefer MacBean to Smithson.  Smithson would have continued talking, simply to irk me).

He was also kind enough to snuff out his cigar.  Tonight indeed, Gordon MacBean proved himself a worthy investigative companion.

The forest floor was riddled with pine needles and leaves.  I could hear the rustle of wind moving through the trees.  The night was clear, no clouds barring the moon.  And yet the trees were thickly placed, the shadows impenetrable.

“Shall we?” Gordon muttered as we lingered at top of the pathway.  “Never a dull moment, eh, Benge?”

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Part III

How could I have missed him?  He must have been hidden in the dark recesses of the doorway.  What had he been doing in there? Staring at that odd flying contraption of his?

MacBean has never impressed me with his subtlety, his sense of stealth.  I have always considered him bullish in his personality.  He does not like to blend into his surroundings.  He rarely, if ever hides.

“I have been waiting for you, Benge,” MacBean said.  He made great show of staring at his pocket watch, and then closed its lid with a loud click.  “How disappointing if you had not appeared.”

“You were awaiting me, why?” I asked.

MacBean laughed.  He lit the end of a cigar.  Its pungent smoke immediately ruined my pastoral bliss.

“I knew you would be returning to the woods,” he said.  “I spotted you earlier, storming through the garden in that miserable way of yours.  I recognized your scowl, knew something was amiss.  I suggest that we begin walking, and you can illuminate me on what has troubled you enough to leave the confines of our comfortable home.”

It was useless to lie, to deny my mission tonight.  Your cousin, Trantham, is determined in his opinions.  There would be no chance of dissuading him from task assumed.

“Chances are,” MacBean said, “we are searching for the same clues.  I have been to the riverbank as well.”

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dog Benge continues. . .

Dog Benge Part II

I did spot Hamish in the library, seated in his usual chair before the fire.  He did not see me (too lost in one of his novels, I think) and the hallway was devoid of any staff.  My exit was therefore unnoticed.

The night air was bracing, but such things do not bother me.   I often feel more comfortable in the nocturne.  As I have said, day and night hold little meaning for me.

I did enjoy the sight of the surrounding hills beneath the moonlight.  The abundance of stars was pleasing.  I often find the grime-encrusted air of Edinburgh exhausting to breathe.  This was different, a return to the paradise of my homeland.  I enjoyed the frost-tinged wind, the puff of cloud as I exhaled.  I breathed in the deeply clean scent of pine forest.  I wished there was a way to contain such a smell, to take it with me when I return to Edinburgh.

It was these thoughts, these pastoral enjoyments that were uppermost in my mind.  That focus explains my unusual distraction.  I was concentrating on the pleasantness of the lawn, the luxury of such splendid solitude. 

The sound of a cheerful greeting ruined all of that.

“Hello,” Gordon MacBean said.  He emerged from the darkness of the carriage house.  “Fancy seeing you about, Cherokee.”

Friday, September 13, 2013

Learn more about the Merry Gentlemen in THE CURIOUS STEAMBOX AFFAIR, available now from Penguin InterMix

From: Dog Benge

I suppose an apology of sorts is owed.  I know that you were expecting me to wait until dawn.  I realize that such an agreement was reached, that it involved both you and Smithson.
But you cannot be surprised by my decision.  I could not wait.  To do so would have assured a miserable night and I cannot willingly accept such discomfort.

Daylight means little to me and I feared the loss of time.  If there was indeed an issue within the woods, then it would be foolish to delay. 

And as I have explained on several occasions, I investigate best when on my own, finding the addition of others to be distracting. Even the most silent of companions is louder in a forest than one might wish, and camaraderie often causes a loss of concentration.  I feel sure that few can keep up with my rapid pace.  Suffice it to say, I am far more comfortable amongst the trees than others.  I am alone in my talents, my perception of things that might remain unnoticed by one less trained.

I decided to set out well after dinner, once the house had settled down for the night.