Get a Sneak Peek at Chapter 1 of The Dandelion Farmer by Mathew McCall

However, the sky we regarded this evening looked like no Earthly firmament, beset as it is with strangely shaped pieces of what must be a long since shattered moon.

CHAPTER ONE

THE VISITOR

To: Mrs Eleanor A. Ransom.

Locksley Hall.

Machen, Tharsis.

September 21st M.Y. 26

My dearest Nelly.

It was so wonderful to have spent some time with you and the children again. I so enjoy our time together and oh how I wish you could come back and join me on the farm. But I understand, I do, and your Papa is correct; until circumstances are more settled it is not truly safe. It is just that my heart does miss you all so.

I must admit I could not resist but opened the letters and gifts from the children on the journey. Please forgive me! But I could not help myself! The watch is wonderful and please tell Tabitha and James that I love their drawings. We have such talented children, Nelly love.

The journey from Tharsis to Alba was interminable – as always! But my train journey from Alba to Tremorfa was greatly enlivened by my chance meeting with an American gentleman. No less than a real life “Yankee”!

Well, a “Texan” really, he says, but I am not sure exactly what the difference is. Such a splendid chap, he is, with a great dry wit, gravelly rasp and a luxuriant horseshoe moustache. He arrived here just before the UDI to make his fortune prospecting! What he doesn’t know about mining and minerals probably is not worth knowing.

I would so like for you and your Papa to meet him, a fascinating fellow! We talked and shared a few cigars all the journey to Tremorfa station. He has such great affection for this extraordinary acreage but he has never truly gotten used to the “darn cold!” I explained that I could truly not envisage living in a place where the sun was ever as hot as he talked of!

But the news gets better! He is travelling to Tremorfa to become our new Constable!

We will have the proper rule of law in the county at last! After almost 5 months! He says he is well experienced in these things and determined to make it safe for decent people to live here. We talked at length about the situation since the death of our last Constable– although I thought it improper to burden him with our particular difficulties – however, he seems to already be well versed in local goings on, so to speak.

I am so excited! And much cheered! I almost leapt off the train and danced merrily on the platform! My spirits are so enlightened! I pray that soon things will be settled enough for you and the children to return home!

The ride home took longer than expected because I just had to stop and watch the sunset. It was indescribably spectacular this evening. I know this can be a harsh place, Nelly love, but… oh, the beauty of it! I forget sometimes that all we have to do is look up and see how lucky we are to live here.

I am sitting on the veranda writing this to you in the dying light of that wonderful sunset. The sky is an artist’s plate of greens, yellows and blues! I hope you too saw it this evening.

Karl and the chaps send their regards! And everyone is asking about you – but I have been quite despicable and told them I must finish this letter before I tell them all the news. Minnie is cooking something that smells wonderful for a late supper and she tells me she has been baking all day!

Well, that’s all My Love. I am now home safe and sound and voraciously hungry! So a good meal and off to bed and tomorrow I will see what has occurred while I was away!

Love to the children and give my regards to your Papa.

Your loving husband Edwin.

PS! An exciting mystery! Karl has just informed me that a couple of the chaps believe someone is living in the old pump house ruins on the East Field. They have tried to spot him but he has been elusive. However, they are absolutely sure someone is squatting out there! We will take a ride out in the morning and see if we can flush the bounder!

Love Edwin

PPS! Oh! I forgot to say; the new constable’s name is Captain Everheart, Lucius Everheart. A most excellent fellow.

E x

 

To: Mrs Eleanor A. Ransom.

Locksley Hall. Machen, Tharsis.

September 22nd. M.Y. 26

Dear Nelly.

A truly interesting day. I so wish you could be here and have seen it all for yourself.

I ate well last night and slept the sleep of the exhausted. But this morning I was up at the crack of dawn, wide awake and ready to take on the day. It is so good to be home. I know you miss it every bit as much as I miss you being here.

And today I could have really benefited with your guiding hand and wise head! I am afraid I sort of bumbled into things as usual! You would have at least reproached me for being foolhardy but, no worries, all is well! And I have exciting news!

We dispensed with most of the day’s business over breakfast this morning. Karl, as always, is an excellent Overseer – I believe he gets more and more competent every time I go away. He keeps this place running like the watch you bought me for my birthday! Tick-tock, tick-tock…

There’s a little problem with blockages in the overflow to the inferior maceration block but I think we cannot do much else but to regularly unblock it manually until I can get back into Tremorfa to order a new valve and filter. Cost, cost, cost…! I maybe an engineer at heart but that is going to need some heavyweight blacksmithing! I was going to look to see if I could knock up something just to take the pressure off the filter, for now. However, time ran away with me so I will have to do it tomorrow.

So just after elevenses, we were preparing to ride out and see if we could beard this fellow lurking out in the old East Field pump house. When three rough looking strangers, rode up to the house and rudely demanded to speak to me.

At first, I had no idea who they were, though, by the look of them, I quickly surmised they were more of Eleuthère Du Maurier’s men. Two thuggish types and a weaselly fellow in a bowler hat and the scraggliest beard I have ever seen – looked a little like when Philippa’s King Charles had a bad attack of mange that time, and with the same protuberant eyes to boot. Not a well-looking fellow at all.

Although they introduced themselves respectfully enough they nevertheless had a sneering about them that belied everything they said. And they were quite heavily armed!

I was awfully glad that being we were on our way out we too were able to display a show of strength which I do not think they were expecting.

Well, the weaselly fellow in the bowler said he had a letter for me from Du Maurier and that; “If yous know wot’s good for yous, yous should read it.” I forced myself not to correct his grammar, but I took great umbrage at his tone. I must admit that I grew quite outraged at his impertinence and told him that I could guess full well the extent of what was in that letter; another mixture of empty threats and pathetic briberies. None of which will change my mind or stand up in court. I told him this is my land, it belongs to my family and it will remain so. It is not for sale and never will be.

I also informed this weasel that I had met the new Constable and that he would not be the kind of fellow who would allow for this kind of badgering and harassment of homesteaders and agriculturalists to continue.

I told him to tell Du Maurier to go to the devil!

Karl and the chaps, however, used rather more assertive language and then disarmed the three of them and sent them packing. I assured them that I would hand over their weapons to the Constable next time I go into Tremorfa.

They were mightily put off but (I hope you will not think ill of me for this) it was a pleasure to see their discomfort. Hopefully, they will take that to their master.

Once we were assured we had run them off it took us a little while, and a stiff drink, to calm our nerves. So much so that we did not get out to the old East Field pump house until late afternoon. In light of the morning’s visitors, I left most of the chaps at and around the house and just took Karl and two of the field hands with me. I suppose that we were all still a little unnerved and jittery.

The ride out to the ruin was pleasant as it was a lovely day. It was good to be back in the saddle and Trago too seemed to be relieved to be out of the paddock. The spectacle of the carpeted fields of Russian dandelions, their bright yellow heads bobbing in the breeze I always find wondrous. Bright yellow and verdant green fields lying in a patchwork across the rugged russet soil under the harsh turquoise sky. Only a hundred years ago who would have dreamed that this would one day be real? I marvel at these things every day. That I, that you, and our children were born here. So far from that cradle of humanity.

Forgive me, Nelly, for I digress.

We reached the ruined pump house and I instigated a search. Karl showed me where he thought the squatter was sheltering and I readily agreed that indeed someone had been sleeping there upon the dirt floor. We found a few items hidden away; a moth-eaten old blanket, a broken knife, a battered enamelled bowl and a small brown leather-bound notebook, a diary possibly but not in a language I recognised. Though, no doubt, your Papa would have easily identified its origins.

We then mounted and did a sweep of the area. As Karl said; if we could not catch him then at least we could put him off returning. I agreed but my heart was growing heavy after the sight of the poor wretch’s few processions. Was it not uncharitable to drive him off if he was doing no harm?

I spoke of my intention to leave the provisions we had brought for the ride and forget all about it. However, Karl was adamantly against it. First, you allow just one living in a ruin, then there will be two, then three…. Where would it stop?

I had no choice but, with a heavy heart, to agree with him. Squatters and vagabonds are not such a problem outside of the cities but if we encourage them… well, who knows! Life out here is difficult enough without adding such problems.

We left his little stash of processions piled neatly outside the remains of the pump house door. In hope that he would understand it was a polite notice to move on. Karl would not have been so polite if he had had his way! He wanted to leave something more overt as a warning. I refused to allow it as we do not know this wretch’s story or what has brought him to such a low ebb that he would be forced to find shelter in such a place. ‘There but for the grace of God,’ and all that. I suppose that is hard for Karl to understand. I felt it was enough to ask our unwelcome guest to politely move along rather than drive him away with harsh threats.

Once done we struck out for home.

However as we rode away I could not help but think of the squatter starving out there, alone in that ruin. I could not do it. Although I knew Karl was right, I could not just ride away. I resolved to pop back and leave my trail rations with the pile of processions. I know you will not think badly of me for I could not just leave it like that. The poor wretch could be starving. And what would you think of me if we found out he was indeed starving?

I left Karl with the others, I must admit because I feared he would again challenge my resolve, and trotted back the few hundred yards to the ruin.

I had just dismounted with Minnie’s sandwiches in my hand when suddenly I was eye to eye with the fellow! He was standing in the doorway with a look of utter shock on his face. I would think it was easily mirrored by my own! We stood there transfixed in the moment eying each other cautiously.

He is a biggish chap, well proportioned, of olive skin and dark hair. Obviously given to attending to himself properly under better circumstances he was almost clean shaven and his clothes, however, battered and grimy now, were once of good quality. He even carries a pocket watch in his waistcoat! But his face, oh Nelly, I wish I could send you a picturegraph of his face.

He is a mass of savage scares, the likes of which I have never seen – save for that fellow, the old soldier, that used to beg near the park in Alba. The marks lend his face a brutal aspect however totally belied by his dark eyes. I have never seen eyes like them; in the same instant; those dark eyes are intelligent and desperate, as if full of some great sorrow, and yet unafraid.

We stood there for what seemed like an age. He, as still as a statue, and me as if my wits had escaped me.

Finally, nudged by Trago into awareness (he had sensed the opportunity to make a play for the sandwiches), I did the only thing I could think of and offered the poor fellow the food!

Well, I must say I was totally surprised when he reached out and took the packet and thanked me for my kindness in a most courteous manner. He then apologised for imposing on me by using the ruins for shelter without permission. I was stunned and a little shamed by my earlier assumptions. As your Papa so rightly says; one should never “assume” anything. He was cordial and polite and appeared even unphased when Karl and the others returned to check on me.

As so we sat there on the tumbled down walls chatting and sharing sandwiches, I the landowner and him my newly discovered tenant, like friendly acquaintances meeting on a park bench.

We I introduced ourselves. His name is Adam Franklin. He assured me he would no longer impose upon my hospitality and would be gone as soon as he could pack up his possessions. I asked to where he was going? He did not seem to have any definite ideas. So I suggested Tremorfa as only just over a good day’s walk from here for a stout fellow like himself.

I asked him where he had come from but he then grew guarded and changed the subject saying that he had been on the roads for several weeks – something I could not quite accept as his appearance suggested only a short time living in this rough way. However, I chose not to challenge him on it.

Then, curiously, he asked about our farm and why we grow all the dandelions and sunflowers? I must say I was amused that someone who, obvious by talking to him, was more than passably educated, would not know or understand where the fuels that drive our engines, generators, in fact, our whole world, come from. I found myself explaining about the whole process; maceration, distillation, biological mass, the lot. As I had that day for the children at your sister’s school! He listened as intently and quizzically as any of them did that day. Though he asked many a pertinent and insightful question he seemed to truly not know!

In my enthusiasm to explain the processes and the applications, I walked him into the field and we found ourselves examining the plants. I uprooted one example to show the root system and handed it to him. It was then I suddenly noticed his right hand.

I suppose that up to then he had managed to keep me on his left and away from his right side. Now suddenly I saw it. It was metal. A metal hand. Not just that, but the finest wrought one I have ever seen! Not like Karl, all old copper plate and brass, but a high-quality gunmetal if ever I saw it and perfect in form and articulation. I just stared open mouthed. Adam simply said; “Accident. An accident, a long time ago.”

I know it was presumptuous of me to ask him if I might see it closer but, true to his gentlemanly demeanour, he showed me not only his hand but his whole forearm. The workmanship is marvellous and so realistic it would be easy enough to pass a real hand when gloved even in the finest material.

I chose then not to press him anymore on the matter and instead invited him to the house for dinner. I know you may think it rash but this is a most singular fellow and I did not feel in any way concerned at inviting him. I was also desperate to know more about him. Nonetheless, of course, Karl will make sure that all things are proper.

I will sign off now and finish this later before bed so I can tell you all I learn from this Adam Franklin.

Ah, Nelly! My love. My guest tonight is a strange one indeed!

He chose to make his own way to the house and arrived a little before six this evening. I offered him the use of the facilities to bathe and shave and he readily accepted. My clothes, however, are far too small for him so Minnie managed to sort out cleaner attire from the laundry room. Possibly some of Philip’s old things, but that is her concern and not mine.

Spruced up Mr Franklin looks the model of a gentleman, though a battle scared one, and his manners are impeccable. We had an excellent meal, although he does not drink wine preferring to take only water and tea.

I must admit I did question the chap extensively. Granting he is an excellent guest and obviously well-read and educated, he seems genuinely to have some major gaps in his knowledge. I wondered at first if he was simply playing me along, however, I then began to wonder if he has undergone some trauma and lost some part of his memory.

In the later evening, over tea, he relaxed a little and confided in me something that confirmed my suspicions. He admits that he really does not remember how he came to be wondering; he can remember wondering for quite a while but not from whence he came. He only knows his name because it is written – in English – on the cover of the little journal we discovered at the pump house. I asked him if he could read the language in it and he says he cannot, however, he could easily read a page from one of my engineering books. Nonetheless, and here is something very intriguing, he says he knows that is his handwriting though cannot name that language or read it!

His intact memories span in total no more than a few days, though he does tell me that there are bits and pieces of memories that flash by in his mind’s eye and his dreams are full of strange images.

The poor chap is deeply perplexed. Not least about his own right arm.

Oh, Nelly! I shall try to describe it in detail, but you must meet him and see this marvellous contraption. This is not like the clanking old mechanics like Karl – God bless him – but something entirely new to my eyes.

I was wrong about it being just his hand and forearm, he graciously showed me that the whole right arm has been replaced and anchored to the shoulder. The metal is the finest quality burnished red brass and the workmanship is exquisite. The whole contraption is elegant and perfectly symmetrical with his real left arm. Not only is the articulation perfect, the dexterity and flexibility are beyond any automaton I have ever seen. An android built of such would make Karl appear no more than a suit of animated knight’s armour. However, he has no memory of it happening nor of the scars on his face and body – the accident story was one he made up on the spot.

I think my fascination with it has helped him a little as he, at first, seemed a little reviled at the whole thing.

I understood he was becoming quite apprehensive at my questioning so I decided to change the subject and we spent quite a while (in fact far too long a while now I look at the time!) talking about the farm and my notions for sun-powered installations.

Yet it was an off-hand remark he made just as we were preparing to retire that truly struck me. We were on the veranda watching the sunset and he had just finished his tea when he sighed and said; “I never knew places like this existed in England.”

I was shocked, so shocked in fact I blurted out my reply without thinking, “Adam, dear chap. you are not in England! This is Tharsis. This is Mars.”

He laughed nervously and said; “Of course.” Still, I could tell by his eyes he truly had no idea.

Well counting the hour and how taken aback he appeared to be I have lodged him in the annexe for the night. (And yes, before you start worrying, I have set Karl to oversee security.)

Well off to bed for me. In all a very exciting day! I hope this finds you and the children well.

All my love, your loving husband Edwin.

E x.

 

Journal of Adam Franklin.

Today I met Lewis E. Ransom, although he prefers to be called Edwin, a lean young man, with a somewhat diffident manner and an intermittent stammer. He owns and farms this land, sardonically describing himself a ‘Dandelion Farmer,’ and is hugely passionate about everything to do with the frightful wildflowers. Evidently here they make fuel out of them, apparently to run all manner of engines and apparatuses.

Instead of running me off his land he has invited me to his home for dinner. Should I go?

Mars? Mr Ransom tells me this is Mars. Which is ridiculous. He seems deeply earnest, but nevertheless, I am loath to accept such a fantastical conceit. However, the sky we regarded this evening looked like no Earthly firmament, beset as it is with strangely shaped pieces of what must be a long since shattered moon.

Ransom has treated me well, welcomed me into his home, clothed and fed me, however, he questioned me with great intensity. He wants to know from where I come and who I am, alas I can only tell him the truth; I do not know.

Maybe the answer lies in this journal yet I can’t bring myself to read the words. Though as I write I write in the same language. In fact, it is all in my handwriting. 64 pages of it. I told my new friend that I cannot read the words in this journal – I found it distasteful lying to him – but for some reason, it frightens me to even think to read it. What memories do those pages hold?

Now I rest here in a warm clean bed. There is a guarding watch and I am reminded of something…what I cannot remember. There’s a fear in my heart at the thought of a guard upon my door. Also, it is that machine man servant; Karl. Ransom called it an “android”, an automaton. If it is an “android” what am I? Half human half….? Machine?

And as for my face. Before our meal this evening I took the opportunity to attend to my ablutions. After scrubbing myself for some time in a steaming bath, I set about to shave, though upon casually wiping the condensation from the bathroom mirror, I was startlingly confronted with my own face. Surely this could not have been the first time but my mind reeled as if it were so, such is my horrific physiognomy.

I resemble some Gothic monstrosity or some wretched casualty of some appalling war.

What has happened to me? Who am I? I feel like I have woken after a dreadful nightmare to find myself in trapped in someone else’s body.

I fear to sleep and yet I fear tomorrow too.

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