Armored HeartsWhen a crippled young lord rescues a girl falling from a tree, it reveals a secret about himself and his mother's side of the family that could put him at the center of a war with beings he thought only existed in fariytales. Tristan Gareth Smyth lived his entire life stuck at home at Waverly Park and left behind while his Grandfather makes trips to London, all because of his blasted wheelchair. Then an American heiress falls in his lap, literally, and he must find a way to keep her at a distance to protect not only his secret, but everyone around him from an assassin sent to kill him.
Jessamine fidgeted with her necklace. “Are you sure it’s okay for me to come to your BUBO club?”
She wasn’t usually so nervous about meeting new people. The gentle rocking motion of the carriage made her a bit nauseated. At least the breeze wafted in and kept her from feeling stifled by the hot afternoon air.
Tabitha smiled and patted her hand. “They will welcome you with open arms. They always do. Mrs. Collins hosts the club meetings weekly. All women with a mind for automation are welcome, no matter their class. At least it’s one thing I might be able to keep.”
Tabitha’s pretty smile was gone, replaced by a downcast look of worry.
Jessamine reached out and touched her shoulder. “Are you unwell?”
Tabitha’s smile looked forced. “I’m fine…for now.”
“And soon you won’t be?”
“I have a habit of looking for numbers to figure. I like them. They comfort me, because it’s one of the few things in life which are perfectly predictable. When I’m stressed or bored, I go through Lord Pensees’s books and work them. Only, the numbers were not working out favorably.” She frowned and shook her head, realizing she was speaking out of turn. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be sharing Lord Gerald’s personal matters with you. That wasn’t becoming.”
“You call him Lord Pensees and Lord Gerald?”
Tabitha blushed. “Since I’m not allowed a more personal term for him, the way Gareth addresses him as Grandfather, he allows me to use his Christian name in private, but still with Lord preceding it.”
“Are you related to the family?”
Tabitha answered Jessamine with only a stare.
“I’m sorry. I’m speaking out of turn this round. There are not so many social taboos in America.”
“It’s quite all right. I will answer you like this. When Henry VIII’s mistress gave him a son, he wasn’t allowed the surname of Tudor, but given the surname Fitzroy, meaning son of royalty, as a way for the king to acknowledge him as his son. I am Tabitha Fitzgerald and am the legal ward of Lord Gerald Smyth, Earl of Pensees.”
Understanding sunk in as Jessamine’s eyes widened. “I see.”
“Do you view me differently now?”
Jessamine reached over and patted her friend on the hand. “Nonsense. We are sisters in automation. The rest is unimportant.”
“I wish everyone saw it as such. With no money or title, and the family estate in trouble, I will be seeking another situation shortly.”
Jessamine’s heart went out to Tabitha. She hardly knew her and yet a fast bond had formed between them. “Is there anything I can do? Do you think your family would accept assistance from me or my father?”
Tabitha shook her head and stared out the window but her eyes seemed to be looking at something other than the rolling scenery. “No, pride would never allow them to accept charity.”
Jessamine leaned in to whisper, “If I were to marry Mr. Gareth, my money would be his money. And…you know why I’m here.”
Tabitha rolled her sky-blue eyes. “Gareth will never marry. He won’t even talk to a lady. He says he’d be bored with nothing polite to say after a five minute conversation.”
Jessamine laughed. “He considers his first five minutes of conversation to be polite?”
Tabitha laughed, too. “Gareth is sweet at heart. He really is. His grandfather and others, they’ve made him feel…I don’t know, self-conscious. He pushes everyone away except me. Neither of us have mothers, so we bonded early.”
The carriage stopped and Thompton opened the door for them. Jessamine smiled at him. “Thank you, Thompton.”
He bowed and tilted his head toward Tabitha. “What time should I be back fer you?”
“You don’t need to come back. Mrs. Collins will see us home.”
Thompton nodded, climbed back up and drove the carriage on. Tabitha grabbed Jessamine’s arm and looped hers through it. “Now we go around back to the stables.”
A dark cloud hovered almost directly over the stable. It nearly blocked out the sun and seemed strange in the otherwise clear sky. Two women stood in front of the building, each in the other’s personal space and both red faced as they argued.
A stern lady dressed in black and a high collar crossed her arms in front of her chest. “We’ve told you, the BUBO club is not a good fit for your sort of automation. You are no longer welcome to our meetings.”
Jessamine shot a glance at Tabitha, whose face fell. Tabitha whispered, “That’s Mrs. Williams.”
The other dark-haired woman stood back, placing her hands on each side of her primrose bustle. Her mouth twisted in derision. “Do you really think you can gain acceptance except by force?”
Mrs. Williams pointed away from the stables. “You are not welcome, Mrs. Steel.”
The dark-haired woman gathered up her skirts and stormed in their direction. Tabitha pulled Jessamine to the side and out of sight. They waited until the woman had stormed by before approaching the door. Jessamine’s stomach twisted as the stepped toward Mrs. Williams. The woman’s lips were puckered, and she ran her hands on both sides of her severe, ash blond bun. She stood much taller than Jessamine or Tabitha.
Mrs. Willimams blinked hard and nodded to Tabitha. “Miss Fitzgerald, nice to see you. And who is your guest?”
Tabitha pulled Jessamine in closer. “This is Miss Jessamine Keller. She’s visiting from the Americas.”
The woman glared at Jessamine. “And do you already know how to re-work hats?”
Jessamine reached into her collar and pulled out her owl pendant. “Yes, my mother taught me.”
“And your inventions…are they items to improve life or take it?”
Jessamine’s hand flew to her chest as she glanced toward Tabitha in shock. “Improve life, of course.”
The woman’s face softened. “I’m sorry, I had to ask after a recent incident. Welcome. I’m Mrs. Williams. I’ve got door duty this week. Go on in and make yourself comfortable at one of our many work stations.”
Jessamine followed Tabitha into the stables as Mrs. Williams held the door open. The stable was large inside and had been converted into a work shed. One group of ladies in smocks crowded around a buggy. It was like some of the automobiles she’d seen in South Carolina.
The lady wearing brown knickerbockers, a puffy sleeved shirt and a leather apron stood by it, speaking to those gathered around. “This is my version of the automobile, but without the smelly exhaust from gasoline. Instead, it is hydro-powered. If you look right here, you will find my faux river. A spooning mechanism pivots and causes the water to rush forward, pushing the tiny waterwheels. In turn, they push the gears causing the wheels to turn. A tank catches the water as it flows. When the tank hits empty, you simply pull over, take the jug the water has emptied into and refill the tank at upper mouth of the faux river. It’s clean, and you can even keep fish in the tanks.” She lifted up one of the tanks to show goldfish swimming about. “Just remember to feed them.” She dropped bits of food in the water.
The crowd around her clapped and cheered.
Jessamine and Tabitha made their way to another display. A young woman with orange hair, wearing tattered, canvas pants stood by what looked like a barrel on wagon wheels.
“As many of you know, my father is a farmer. Every year I walk behind him, dropping seeds as he plows, and cover the seeds with my foot as I go. All day long, every day, until planting is done. I’ve spent years toiling, and my mind spun around in my head trying to think of a way to make it more efficient. Now, I’ve come up with this planter.”
She walked around to the side of the barrel. “You take the crank and turn it around over and over until it won’t turn anymore. This winds up the cord. Once you do that, you wheel it to the ground you want planted. The plow up front digs the trench while this belt pushes seeds out about a foot apart. This flap on the back covers the seed just the right amount of dirt. And there’s even a spout at the rear to water as it goes. Cuts the planting time in half and requires fewer hands.”
A grey-haired woman stepped out and started the applause. Tabitha leaned in and whispered, “That’s Mrs. Collins.”
Mrs. Collins waited for the clapping to stop before she spoke. “This is why we are here. We are women with minds for automation. God did not intend us rot in a corner with them. When God created man, He saw that the man needed a helper and created a woman. Now, the God I serve is a smart God with grand ideas. How smart would it be to offer an idiot as a helper? To say, ‘Here you go. She’s not really good for much. She’s kind of entertaining when naked but other than that, put her in a safe place so she doesn’t hurt herself.’ No, that would make no sense at all.”
The woman’s warm eyes glowed as she addressed them. “We are not trying to take over for the work of men. We only wish to be included. We see things from a different perspective than the men and that’s a good thing. It is my hope that, one day, women and men can work side by side and forge new technologies together.”
When she finished, the crowd applauded and began to separate into groups to discuss projects. Mrs. Collins approached Tabitha. “Miss Fitzgerald, so nice to see you. May I be introduced to your friend?”
Tabitha bowed in reverence to the woman. Obvious admiration and respect shone from her as she watched the older woman from under long dark lashes. “This is Miss Jessamine Keller. Her mother is responsible for automating textile factories throughout the southeastern United States.”
The woman faced Jessamine with a welcoming grin. “Your mother is an automator?”
“Yes, my father has a great head for business and my mother has one for mechanics. Together, they’ve built an empire and improved working conditions. They have their home office in a town called Chesnee, in South Carolina. Their automations have freed up children from the factories. She’s developed an innovative fabric blend that will change the world of textiles, as well as the military.”
Mrs. Williams stepped closer. “I thought you said your inventions were to improve life and not take it.”
Jessamine nodded her head. “Yes, quite right. But when a woman’s son finds himself at war, would his mother not have him shielded from the danger around him? My mother has designed a fabric as soft as cotton but as tough as armor.”
“That is amazing dear.” Mrs. Collins grasped her by the forearm and nodded. “I applaud all your mother is doing on both fronts. I wish someone would take up the cause of the children here. Many children have suffered in factories for their cheap labor, casting education aside. It’s a terrible affliction.”
Jessamine nodded. “My parents have also endowed schools in Chesnee so that the populace will be educated and ready for a future in automation. They don’t want an ignorant workforce.”
“And are the girls educated along with the boys?”
A warm smile crossed Jessamine’s face as she thought of what her parents were doing. “Yes, ma’am. Girls and boys are educated together.”
“Wonderful. Now, has Tabitha taken you to see what she’s been working on?”
Jessamine shook her head. “Not yet.”
Mrs. Collins gestured for them to lead the way. “Please Tabitha, introduce us to your automation.”
Tabitha led them to a countertop full of appliances. “I’ve spent a great deal of time in the kitchen at home with Sarah, our housekeeper. Watching her work has helped me come up with great ideas for how to automate her labors. Automation should be for the common woman, too.”
She pointed to a device on a shelf. “This simple flame under this steel barrel works to keep water heated at all times. No need to boil for tea or dishwashing. This coil also feeds from the flame to this metal box and is ready for small things like reheating a meal for lunch or for toasting bread.
“And I’ve added springs to push the door open and the rack out once the desired temperature is reached. It triggers this bell and lets the person who is cooking it know it is done.”
Jessamine tipped at her hat in salute to her friend. “Very smart indeed.”
Mrs. Collins turned her attention to Jessamine. “Miss Keller, did you bring anything to display?”
Jessamine grinned in anticipation. Her heart raced as she thought of finally sharing what she had been working on. “Why yes, I did.”