A series of chimes fluted prettily next to Q’s ear, not loud enough to be heard outside the room, and certainly not down the hall, where the pressure plate that activated them was tucked beneath a loose board to serve as warning that someone was on their way to bother him in his workshop. Someone was almost certainly his mother or one of his sisters, and the chime was accompanied by neither Georgiana’s trumpeting “Q! Q!” nor by Martha’s purposeful stomping, which meant it was either light-footed Alice or his mother.
Q very intentionally did not look up as his mother came through the door, particularly not when she began fussing the instant she crossed the threshold.
“Q,” she scolded, pushing a stack of papers aside so that she could set down the tray, “you really must let me tidy up in here, it isn’t fit for human habitation.”
“I don’t habitate in here,” Q argued, keeping his attention on his delicate soldering work. “I work. I adore you, mama, but last time you tidied up in here you tidied your way through two of my experiments and the repair job I had for Mr. Monkford.”
“I brought you tea,” his mother announced, stubbornly moving more papers so that she could unload the tray. Q tried not to twitch as she did so, and quickly set down his work in order to preserve several of his experiments from the risk of spilled tea.
“Thank you,” Q said, taking a scone and starting to eat it as he tidied the papers she’d just rearranged. He hoped that was all she wanted, and that if he did not engage in further conversation, she would go away. This plan had never worked with his mother or sisters, but Q remained hopeful.
It did not work. His mother continued talking as she poured tea for him and fussed, the two of them continuing to rearrange stacks of paper back and forth to their dual purposes. “Someone moved in to Ainsburgh House down the way,” she informed him with great gravity.
Q tried to imagine what possible significance this could have to him. “Someone you expect to require the services of an engineer?” he asked, to indicate that unless that person had some interest in engineering, invention, or mechanical repair, Q didn’t care about him.
“His name is Commander James Bond,” she continued, holding out a cup of tea and helping herself to a second one. Evidently she intended to make herself at home in his laboratory until she had gotten to her point.
“An army man?” Q asked, even more puzzled as to why his mother cared.
“Navy,” she corrected, very pleased with herself for the distinction.
Q’s eyes rolled toward heaven. His mother: couldn’t differentiate between engine valves to save her life, but she knew every detail of every bonnet-ribbon scandal from here to London. He allowed himself the assumption that Commander James Bond’s naval credentials were of some deep significance in the world of millinery and matchmaking, and promptly dismissed the information.
“What about him, mama?” he asked, draining his cup of tea and trying to remember if he’d eaten lunch. Or breakfast.
“He is rich,” Mrs. Boothroyd said with great enthusiasm.
Q blinked. Tried to comprehend why she thought this was of particular significance to him. “You think he might be the sort to be an inventor’s patron,” he guessed, genuinely hopeful.
His mother looked as confused as Q felt. He watched her compose her features into what he considered her ‘condescendingly supportive’ expression. “Well, I don’t know about that, darling. I suppose I don’t see why not. I just thought you might go pay a visit on him.”
“Me?” Q asked, aghast. “Pay a visit?”
Under normal circumstances, Q’s womenfolk went well out of their way to ensure that Q paid no visits that weren’t directly related to his engineering and mechanical repair work. They made no secret of their fears that he would open his mouth and say something untoward, and everyone was best served if Q stayed behind in his workshop.
“He must be starved for proper gentleman company, now that he’s settled in so far from London--”
“I am far from proper gentleman company.”
“--and perhaps if you befriended him he could introduce you to some nice heiresses.”
“Heiresses?” Q repeated, baffled and horrified. “What in the world would I do with heiresses?”
“Really, Q,” she scolded. “It’s about time you thought about marrying. And if not you, at least take Georgiana and see if she can’t win his heart. She has the best chance of catching a noble husband, after all, pretty as she is.”
Q stared at her. “I will not take my sister to parade before some new neighbor as though she were a show horse for the buying.”
“Yes,” his mother insisted. “You will.”
“You don’t know anything about him,” Q argued.
“He is rich. And unmarried. Now, finish your tea, then tidy yourself up so as not to disgrace your good breeding. I’ll prepare a welcome gift for the two of you to take along.”
“Mama,” Q groaned. “No.”
She gave him her most stern look. “Now, Q.”
They took the horseless carriage, much to Mrs. Boothroyd’s horror.
“What are you doing?” she fussed, carrying out a basket only to find Q helping Georgiana into the carriage.
Q looked confused. Georgiana, unperturbed, reached out for the basket and settled it on the seat next to her. “We are going visiting, mama.”
“Not in that contraption!”
Q tried very hard not to take offense at this insult to his craftsmanship.
“We can’t take the carriage, mama,” Georgiana explained with cheerful enthusiasm, “we still haven’t got a horse, and the Winstons are still in Brighton so we can’t borrow theirs.”
“Q,” Mrs. Boothroyd said, appealing to his maturity as the older sibling. “We are trying to make a good impression.”
“Mama, if Commander Bond is offended by inventive workmanship, then I cannot find it in me to desire his acquaintance. It is my unnatural contraption or nothing.”
Mrs. Boothroyd pursed her lips, making mental computations about the return of the Winston carriage horse and the preferable window of opportunity for displaying one’s prettiest daughter to new and marriageable neighbors. Her children waited.
“Fine,” she huffed. “At the very least, no other family in the district has the singularity of being able to arrive in a mechanical conveyance.”
“There you are, mama.” Georgiana beamed. “It shall make us interesting.”
Q found himself hoping very fervently that his mother was right and that their new neighbor would be thoroughly horrified by his invention, and that would be the end of this ill-advised excursion. Georgiana, as usual, seemed to regard the entire thing as a lark.
Their mother gave them a disapproving frown. “You will stay inside the vehicle like a respectable young lady, Georgiana.”
Georgiana widened her pretty blue eyes. “Of course, mama.”
Alice, not quite of marriageable age and staying obediently by her mother’s side, fought a smile.
“Go on then,” Mrs. Boothroyd scolded. “Mind your manners.”
Q activated the engine, which purred to life as reliably as any of his inventions, and set off down the lane. For her part, Georgiana sat primly in the covered part of the carriage until the moment they were out of sight around the bend, and then wiggled up through the front window and into the driver’s seat next to her brother. He smiled at her. “What do you think of this?”
“Wouldn’t mind marrying the owner of Ainsburgh House, if he’s handsome. You know perfectly well that I am meant to be a proper lady, and not the sort of country daughter who polishes silver.” Georgiana primly inspected her slender white hands, which were her frequent excuse for trying to get out of chores. It worked about as well as Q’s ignore-and-discourage-conversation technique.
“You don’t have to marry to be a proper lady,” Q told her. “Soon enough I’ll invent something that will make us rich, G. You don’t have to marry at all if you don’t wish.”
“Oh, I know that.” Georgiana sighed and giggled, smiling at her brother with fond adoration. “You already have, Q. If only you’d let me go to London with you and find investors to start production on these mad horseless carriages of yours.”
Q grimaced, as he always did at the talk of investors and production.
Georgiana disregarded his expression and carried on. “And until you do I shall have to go on polishing silver, so I may as well consider the courtship offers of the wealthy landowners who ask for my hand.”
Her logic made Q’s head ache. “But I don’t want you to marry a wealthy landowner.”
“Of course you don’t, my darling brother. You would be best pleased if the lot of us stayed old maids forever to linger around polishing your silver and bringing you tea.”
“Yes,” Q said, sighing. “What’s wrong with that? We get by just fine as we are.”
Georgiana patted his knee patronizingly. “Yes, Q. But I want to get married.”
The drive to Ainsburgh House was long and elegant, although poorly maintained. Georgiana mused aloud that he could be forgiven for not yet repairing the driveway and the grounds, having only just moved in, but thought it peculiar that there were no gardeners at work to return the grand estate to the opulence it had enjoyed under its last occupant.
“Surely he does not lack for money,” she said. “Mama heard from Mrs. Albright that half his fortunes were inherited, and the other half were awarded to him for great deeds in the war. He’s a national hero.”
“A war hero and blindingly wealthy?” Q groaned. “The poor man. He’s going to have every marriageable woman in the shire beating down his door.”
“Yes,” Georgiana agreed brightly. “But I’m the prettiest.”
Q wasn’t certain how to respond to that and didn’t try.
The front drive was bare of carriages, or servants, or any life at all. Q helped Georgiana down from the carriage, aware that a great house of this calibre should have an entire retinue flooding out to meet guests, or at least a single butler. But the doors stayed silent and shut, so the siblings climbed the steps and rang the bell.
“Isn’t anyone home?” Georgiana whispered after they’d been waiting for a minute. Even Q’s sense of decorum prickled at this odd reception.
At last, the door opened to admit a round-faced butler who greeted them with a sheepish smile. “Good afternoon. Forgive the delay, we haven’t a doorman. Welcome to Ainsburgh. I am Tanner, Mr. Bond’s valet.”
“Forgive our intrusion,” Q said with a polite inclination of his head. “I am Mr. Quintus Boothroyd, called Q, and this is my sister, Miss Georgiana Boothroyd. We are here to be neighborly.”
“We brought cakes,” Geogiana added, holding up the basket they’d brought with a cheerful smile.
“That is very kind of you,” Tanner said, taking the basket while remaining between them and the door, as if to defend it from neighborly siege. “Mr. Bond is indisposed at the moment, but I shall see to it that he gets them. Would you care to leave your card?”
“Yes!” Georgiana bounced at the opportunity, then remembered her decorum. Daintily selecting a card from her little handbag, she held it out with a smile. Q fought to keep from raising an eyebrow at the hand-calligraphed pink card.
Tanner did some brief juggling with the basket in order to take the card, smiled politely at them both, and then looked past them and startled. “Where is your horse?”
Both siblings followed his gaze to the carriage.
“We haven’t got one,” Georgiana said, proud.
Tanner stared at her.
“It drives itself,” she elaborated.
The valet flustered, not certain to be confused or offended. “You are having me on.”
“We are not,” Georgiana said, tiny and indignant. “Would you like a demonstration?”
Tanner peered at their peculiar conveyance. It was lifted higher off the ground than ordinary carriages, due to the necessity of fitting the engine underneath, and Q had reinforced it heavily to protect the carriage. “Does it really?” Tanner asked.
“Truly,” Georgiana affirmed. “Q, darling, will you turn it around the drive for Mr. Tanner, please?”
Normally Q would make an effort to resist Georgiana’s coaxing, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to show off his inventions. “Gladly,” he agreed, with a polite bow.
Georgiana stayed at the top of the stairs with Tanner, supervising like a proud little queen, as Q descended and started the engine. He steered the carriage in a simple circle around the drive so that the valet could see that it truly did operate under its own power.
Tanner stared as Q made his way back up the steps. “I can hardly believe my eyes. There must be some sort of trick.”
“There isn’t,” Georgiana assured him. “There is a very small engine underneath. Like a train sort of engine, only smaller.”
“And not like a train sort of engine at all,” Q clarified as he got to the top step, although he knew Georgiana didn’t care.
“Where did you get such a thing?”
“My brother made it,” Georgiana said.
The door behind them opened. All three turned in surprise.
“Mr. Bond!” Tanner said, startled.
The man who stepped out of the house was middle aged and of average height with very short blond hair and a flawlessly tailored suit. His face was too gruff to ever have been traditionally handsome, and his lack of a smile gave him a distinct resemblance to a bulldog. He glanced over the siblings in turn, and then looked past them to the vehicle. “Good afternoon,” he said, after a moment.
“Good afternoon!” Georgiana jumped in to fill the silence, as was her gift. “I am Miss Georgiana Boothroyd, and this is my brother, Mr. Quintus Boothroyd. We call him Q.”
Mr. Bond looked as though he might be considering an amused smile. “It is an honor to make your acquaintance.”
“We were just discussing my brother’s invention,” Georgiana exposited.
“May I take a closer look?” Mr. Bond asked, his eyes returning to Q. There was something terrifying and captivating about those eyes that made Q feel he had somehow underestimated the man. He seemed instantly more predatory, and Q’s lips parted in surprise, forgetting the question he’d just been asked.
“It would be our pleasure,” Georgiana said, pretending she wasn’t currently being ignored.
Mr. Bond’s attention returned to her, and this time his smile was genuine. He smiled more with his eyes than with his lips, but the sparkle it gave them made him seem friendly and warm. Q edited his mental assessment to ‘friendly bulldog’, not certain how to quantify the certainty he felt that the man was dangerous.
“Tanner,” Mr. Bond ordered, without taking his eyes of Georgiana, who was beaming at the attention. “See about making us some tea, won’t you?”
Tanner disappeared back into the house with the basket, and the three of them descended the steps.
“I’ve never seen such an invention,” Mr. Bond said. “A horseless carriage. How does it work?”
“The engine is of my own design. I improved upon the designs of Monsieur de Rivaz to make a more efficient and streamlined engine that could fit beneath an ordinary carriage. The reinforcements are to protect the engine from shocks.” Q led him to the carriage, opening panels to show the functioning of the engine and to explain how it operated.
“You’re an inventor?” Mr. Bond asked, evidently fascinated.
“Yes. I make a living doing engineering and mechanical repair.”
“Show him how it works, Q,” Georgiana prompted.
Q smiled a little. “May we take you for a ride, Mr. Bond?”
“Please,” Mr. Bond said, eyes twinkling with mirth.
Q helped his sister into the carriage, where she settled down politely, and then turned to Mr. Bond. “Will you ride inside or up front, Mr. Bond?”
“Up front, thank you. After you.”
Swinging up into the driver’s seat, Q offered a hand down and was ignored. Mr. Bond sprung gracefully up to sit by his side. Any injuries he had suffered in his time as a war hero had obviously not compromised his physical agility.
Explaining the controls as he started the engine, Q drove them down the length of the drive, and then back up to the house, discussing mechanics with Mr. Bond the entire time. Their host had a lively layman’s interest in mechanics, although very little practical knowledge, but he had a solid knowledge of science and engineering which Q enjoyed. His education had been thorough.
As he dismounted from the carriage, Mr. Bond held up a hand to assist Q in getting down. Surprised, Q took the hand to be polite, and found the grip firm and steady. His feet touched the ground, and he looked up into a pair of sky-blue eyes that smiled at him. Flustered, Q smiled back, unsure how to react. The moment passed quickly, and Mr. Bond graciously helped Georgiana from the carriage, attention on the young lady as any gentleman’s should be.
Their mother would be thrilled, Q thought. The pair of them had completely charmed the initially reclusive Commander James Bond. Q wasn’t at all certain how he felt about the accomplishment, or the certainty that they would be invited in for tea and soon invited back again.