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The Pontic Rapport: or The Curious Cousins

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8 April 1817
Rushton Manor

Dearest Kate,

You will laugh at me for sending so short a note, but I have nothing of interest to tell you. Only I wish to say, please do write back as soon as you arrive, so that I will know you have gotten safely to London. (Even if what you write is to chide me for wasting my efforts with this sorry excuse for a letter, and for worrying.)

Your loving cousin,
Cecy

~

10 April 1817
11 Berkeley Square

Dear Cecy,

I would never laugh at you for such a thing. Your fears are unfounded -- we encountered no difficulty at all along the road -- but I know your concern comes from affection, and why should I chide you for that?

I will write more when I have something of interest to tell you. Right now I am so tired I can barely hold a pen. You were not the only one with fears, and soothing Aunt Charlotte is exhausting work.

Love,
Kate

~

Dear Cecy,

This letter shall be as gossip-filled as you could possibly wish. I know it will not soothe the disappointment of Aunt Elizabeth insisting that you stay behind, but perhaps if I arm you with plentiful descriptions of London, she will see the error of her ways and let you come next year. (Of course it is to be hoped that matters will have cleared up by next year -- but if that is the case, I will not have done any harm by telling you what London is like right now.)

As I said before, we had no trouble on our way here. The roads were quite clear and the weather good, apart from Aunt Charlotte's storms. The Mayfair town house is lovely to look at, if not quite as comfortable as Rushton; I fear that despite the lions' paws on my bed (which are quite absurd), I cannot overlook the fact that the room is quite cold and the sheets dreadfully damp. But we are in a good part of town, and of course Aunt Charlotte has wasted no time in writing to everyone she knows, arranging introductions for Georgy and myself.

Yes, there are people to be introduced to. Despite Aunt Elizabeth's dire predictions, London is not deserted. Indeed, quite the opposite! Perhaps it is provincial of me to say so, but I am almost overwhelmed by the crush of people here, and all of them seem very determined to enjoy themselves, in spite of the war. Perhaps I should say it is because of the war; naturally Society cannot allow itself to be disturbed by so trivial a thing. So the balls and the sherry breakfasts and all the rest of it continue, as if there were no reason to be concerned at all.

Of course there is reason, and you can see signs of it once you look. Trade is very disrupted, they say, and so there are shortages of certain things -- some of them very odd. You can scarcely get ostrich feathers, for example, and so of course the most fashionable thing to have in one's bonnet right now is an ostrich feather. A few dyes are also in short supply, which has had a peculiar effect on the fashionable colors here. Aunt Charlotte is quite vexed by this, as naturally she is determined that Georgy should look her best, war or no war. (Perversely, it transpires that I benefit from the situation: the lengths she must go to for Georgy mean she pays much less heed to what colors I end up in, which means I can choose shades that actually flatter me.)

I am not doing a very good job of describing things, am I? Certainly not in a way that would mollify Aunt Elizabeth. Well, there is to be a drum at Lady Haseltine's tonight, and afterward I am sure I will have plenty more to tell you. I shall save this letter and add to it after I get back.

11 April

Last night I was too tired to write more, and now I am glad of it. If I had sent off this letter with the morning's post as I intended, I would not have been able to tell you about the parade today. Or, more likely, you would have received two letters within a day of each other, and then you would wonder if I had lost my mind.

The parade was a military affair, in support of the war. Aunt Charlotte was not at all pleased at the thought of me going, but I had an unexpected ally in Oliver -- did you know he is in town? He is, and he quite liked the notion of attending, especially if Georgy could come with him. Georgy was playing the coquette a little, as she is very pleased with the attention she received at Lady Haseltine's last night, but she has not lost her fondness for Oliver, and so between the three of us we were able to bring Aunt Charlotte around.

We nearly lost her agreement, though, when she heard where the parade was to be. Most military parades, you understand, go through the center of the city and over to Westminster. This is not very convenient in some ways, as the streets here are often narrow and do not offer the best vantages for watching the soldiers go by, but it is the expected route. This one, however, was to be out past Mile End -- outside the city entirely.

No one seemed quite certain why. But we reminded Aunt Charlotte that it can never be a bad thing to show support for our nation's brave defenders, and so we went, all four of us together, to the eastern edge of the city.

There were viewing stands set up for the quality, and we secured a place in them. Aunt Charlotte made the best of what she considered to be a bad job, greeting what friends of hers were there and making sure that Georgy was displayed to best advantage, while I sat and was bored. A parade sounded preferable to a social event at which I would be completely disregarded, but the parade had not yet begun.

When it did, I sat up and began to pay attention. First there were trumpets, and a small show of cavalry, followed by infantry in neat ranks. Then a man I do not know got up and made a speech I scarcely heard. Our seats were not very close to him, and after he had begun, the people nearer began to whisper amongst themselves, which made him more difficult to hear. I gathered from the whispers, though, that this parade was to reveal some new innovation for the war. If the man said what the innovation was, I did not catch it -- but a moment later, I did not need to.

We felt them before we saw them, shaking the ground beneath us. I had thought it merely the stands vibrating from so many people shifting about, but there was a rhythm to it, and the vibration grew stronger. Then someone shouted, and we all turned to look.

Three enormous machines were marching toward us from downriver. "Enormous" falls short of describing them, Cecy, only I don't have a better word -- gargantuan? Titanic? They were taller than houses, taller than a church; I would say they were the size of St. Paul's Cathedral, except that you have not seen the cathedral. It was immediately obvious why they could not be brought through the city and into Westminster. They would crush houses as they went, and leave great pits in the ground from their weight.

It seems that although our navy has fought very bravely against the creatures from the sea (as indeed have other navies; I do not mean to slight France or Spain or any of the others), their cannons are not as effective as one might hope, and the ships themselves are far too fragile. So a German fellow by the name of Schönfeld has created these devices, which he calls Jägeren, to be our new defense against them.

They have been a very well-kept secret, so no one knows very much about them yet. I can only tell you that they are shaped like people and made of metal, and although I have not seen any of the creatures from the sea, I have difficulty imagining that anything of flesh could stand for very long against such devices. Perhaps the newspapers will say more, or I will hear something at a dance, for I am sure this is all anyone will be talking about for some time to come.

Your excited cousin,
Kate

~

16 April 1817
Rushton Manor

Dearest Kate,

Confound Aunt Elizabeth for not permitting me to go to London this year! I would give my very best earrings to be able to see these Jägeren. Please do not take it amiss when I say that your words only make me wish I could see them for myself, as I doubt anything so tremendous can be adequately described in a letter.

But I should not confound Aunt Elizabeth too strenuously. It is because of her that I have learned more about Herr Schönfeld's devices, from quite an unexpected quarter.

As you predicted, no one is talking about anything else right now. What the things are, how they work, whether there are more of them, how they will be employed -- on and on and on. Mrs. Limley is very relieved by them, as you might imagine, for she hopes this means her son will be safe; she has been endlessly worried about him since he went to sea, and of course praises for his bravery only soothe her so much. But others have been speculating as to how many men are needed to operate a Jäger, and it has been all the rest of us can do to keep those speculations away from Mrs. Limley. She will be sure that Peter will be told to serve on one of those devices instead, and then she will be worried all over again.

I have been asking around to learn what I can. Although you, being in London, are more likely to hear useful things than I am (or so I assumed), I did want to send you any scraps I could. They are all very speculative scraps, of course, as everyone here has read the same four newspaper articles, and no one's letters from relations in the city can tell us much more than yours did, and many told us less. But I will not waste your time with those bits and pieces, for I think I have something of a great deal more substance to replace them.

It came about at the breakfast table. My dreams had been very full of giant machines and notions about them, so of course I made mention of this, and the things people have been saying. Aunt Elizabeth said, very repressively, that she did not think this was a suitable topic of conversation for a young lady. When I persisted, she turned to Papa for aid, saying, "Don't you agree?"

He made the vague sound that means he hasn't been attending at all, and is hesitant to agree to anything without knowing what it is first. And here I saw my chance.

I'm afraid I quite trampled Aunt Elizabeth in explaining the matter. You may imagine, of course, that my "explanation" was not the one she would have given, but I wanted him to see the matter my way, even if it meant being a bit rude to Aunt Elizabeth. He listened gravely, and when I was done, nodded with that abstracted air he gets when his thoughts have gone off on a tangent entirely.

"Herr Schönfeld," he said. "Jasper Schönfeld, isn't it? I know the fellow. Well, not to say I know him personally, but I have read his articles."

I was not aware that Papa followed the work of engineers, and I said so.

"Oh, he isn't an engineer," Papa said. "At least, that is not the work of his that I have read. He's an antiquarian. Wrote about those devices they found off the cost of Antikythera." He stopped, one finger tapping on the tablecloth . "Hmmm. Perhaps his theories are not so farfetched after all."

"Theories, Papa?" I said, before Aunt Elizabeth could deter him.

I will not give you his reply in full detail. You know him; it was a wandering disquisition, full of odd byways about ancient Egypt and so on. But the substance of it was this: that Herr Schönfeld believed the mechanisms found at Antikythera were pieces of much larger devices, constructed out of clockwork and magic, which the Greeks used to defend themselves against their neighbors.

Does this not sound a great deal like Jägeren? It makes me wonder whether some of those old myths do not refer to similar creatures like the ones we face now -- Scylla and Charybdis, that sort of thing. Perhaps it was not their neighbors the Greeks had to defend themselves against. If so, one also wonders where the creatures vanished to in the intervening years. But I suppose that is as unanswerable as the question of where they came from now. Either way, I do not think Papa can shed any light on that.

He did shed light on something else unexpected, though. Aunt Elizabeth did not have the temerity to interrupt him as he began musing on ancient Greek engineering and how they worked magic into it, so he was going quite headlong when he turned and asked her a question about "pontic rapport" (whatever that may be). And she answered! You know as well as I do that Aunt Elizabeth detests magic; well, I have always assumed that means she knows very little about it. Pontic rapport is clearly something magical, though, and she was caught up enough in Papa's words that she was halfway through giving him an intelligent and learned-sounding answer when she remembered I was there.

She cut herself off, of course, and sent me away from the table, so I fear I will get nothing more from Papa, unless I contrive to do it when she is not about. But Aunt Elizabeth is not so ignorant of these matters as I had assumed. I will have to look into this more.

Regardless, it seems certain that the Jägeren use magic as well as engineering. Which only makes sense, when one stops to think about it.

I suspect this means their crews need not be very large at all. Everyone has been assuming you would need dozens of men to pull on levers and adjust valves (or whatever one does to make a steam-powered machine go), but with magic, would it not be possible to simplify things? I remember what you said, that they are shaped like people, and I cannot help imagining a single man inside one of those tremendous shells, moving it like his own body. It would be a wondrous thing if we could be defended by a few, instead of risking the lives of so many.

Yours ever,
Cecy

~

21 April 1817
11 Berkeley Square

Dear Cecy,

I can only applaud your forbearance in not leaping upon those tidbits in the hopes of getting more, as I would have done. It would only have sealed Aunt Elizabeth's determination that you should not hear another word on the subject. As it stands, I am sure you can find a way to winkle more details out of Papa -- or from her, perhaps, if she knows so much about it.

Perhaps this will assist you. From what I have gathered, you are quite right about the size of the crews needed for these machines. Although there are of course recruitment posters all over London, they do not seem to be trying to gather up every able-bodied man in sight, the way the navy so often does. Indeed, the posters warn prospective applicants that there are highly selective tests they must pass, and that few will be accepted into the fold.

Of more interest is what the posters do not say. Today I was walking in St. James' Park with some new acquaintances, Alice Grenville and her brothers, George and Andrew. Have I told you about them before? Thinking back over my letters, I do not believe I have. I am doing a dreadful job of sharing social gossip with you; these new machines have taken up everyone's attention to the exclusion of almost anything else. Well, we met some time ago -- the Grenvilles and I, that is, not the machines -- and rapidly found ourselves on good enough terms that I might call them friends. Aunt Charlotte approves of them, too, which is a great relief. George and Andrew are twins, and no, before you ask, neither has shown the slightest interest in me. But neither have they shown the slightest interest in Georgina, either, so our conversations can be perfectly amiable, free of any hidden messages.

I have quite mislaid my original point, which is a tidbit I had from the Grenville twins. They are all in a pother about applying to crew these Jägeren, and seemed to think they had quite a good chance of being accepted. Naturally, of course, I asked why.

"Oh," Andrew said, with an air of great satisfaction, "on account of us being twins."

Whereupon George made some comment to the effect that finally their resemblance was good for something other than playing tricks upon their old nursemaid. I cannot report his words exactly, for I was distracted by his brother's point. "Why should twins have the advantage?" I asked.

"They've been showing a particular interest in brothers," Alice said. She did not seem as pleased as Andrew; rather a little nervous. I suspect her thoughts have been going in directions similar to Mrs. Limley's.

George was quick to correct her, though not unkindly. "Not just brothers. Cousins as well, and I think fathers and sons, too."

"Family members," I said, intrigued. "I suppose it has something to do with the magic involved."

This, of course, led all three Grenvilles to question me on the topic; I regretted to tell them that I knew very little more, beyond the phrase "pontic rapport" (which meant nothing to any of them). But Cecy, do you think a blood relationship would be more effective in moving one of those devices? I'm sure you would have said before if Papa mentioned anything of the sort, but perhaps you can draw him into saying more -- him, or Aunt Elizabeth.

If it helps bait your hook, you may tell them that Oliver wants to apply. Naturally he no sooner laid eyes on a poster than he was fired up with the notion of crewing one of these Jägeren -- a fact which sends Georgy through alternating fits of pride and distress. (I daresay she would settle more firmly upon pride if anyone knew what the uniforms for these men were to look like, as a smart woolen coat makes a man look very fine indeed. But either that has not yet been determined, or no one has yet realized the recruitment value of displaying the uniforms in public. Or -- dreadful thought -- they are so hideous, to show them would drive Oliver and his ilk away.)

I must admit it would soothe my own spirit to know more of what Oliver would be getting into. The men in charge of this new division have been terribly secretive; it makes me fear that what they are hiding is not merely secret but unpleasant. The Jägeren look so majestic, but what lies behind that impressive facade? What is pontic rapport, and why are they not explaining it to everyone, the better to aid their recruitment efforts? If I should warn Oliver away from this, I would like to know.

Your worried cousin,
Kate

~

25 April 1817
Rushton Manor

Dearest Kate,

You cannot deceive me, you know. I can read the curiosity between your lines, every time you mention the Jägeren. I would say, "please tell me you haven't done anything foolish" -- but, well, I have enough foolish thoughts of my own not to chide you in that regard.

I do not mind in the least you forgoing matters of trivial gossip in favor of discussing the Jägeren, though if the Grenvilles are pleasant enough for you to call them friends after such a short time, I certainly hope I have the chance to meet them someday. (Despite the fact that Aunt Charlotte approves of them, which nearly persuades me they must be very tedious.) As exciting as a Season in London has always sounded, though, I must admit that the machines have quite trumped that experience in my imagination. Indeed, I am quite torn, for I still wish I could see them in person, and yet I think I have learned more of them here in Rushton than I possibly could have in London -- unless I could contrive to have Aunt Elizabeth there with me, and also for her to be talkative. And I do not think the latter would be possible without Papa and his offhand remarks.

I baited my hook as you advised, and it bore fruit. (Oh dear -- what a terribly mixed metaphor.) After discussing the recruitment posters and their selectivity, not to mention the Grenville twins' comments, I went on to mention Oliver's interest. At this, Papa roused enough from his thoughts to look alarmed.

Aunt Elizabeth, however, looked unaccountably satisfied. "The boy hasn't the faintest chance, and you know it," she said when Papa voiced his concern.

I put on a great show of indignation, which in the ordinary way of things ought to have made Aunt Elizabeth very suspicious. "Do not cast my brother down in such a fashion, Aunt Elizabeth! Oliver has many fine qualities, and I am sure the recruitment officers will see that."

"Fine qualities he may have," she said, sounding not at all convinced of it, "but the ability to share his mind with someone else is not one of them. He hasn't any close male relatives, apart from your father, and I hardly think those rackety friends of his provide the kind of spiritual harmony this would require."

"It doesn't have to be kinship then?" I asked, surprised. From what we have gathered so far, I had been sure it required a blood relationship.

Aunt Elizabeth sniffed. "Don't you go giving Oliver ideas, Cecelia. Pontic rapport is no kind of magic to play foolish games with. Men have lost their minds when it goes awry; some have even died. I am surprised the army would risk it here."

"I fear they are desperate," Papa said.

Kate, I have never heard him so grim. Do you think it is true, that the army is desperate? We get so little news of the war, to the point where I think they must be concealing things from us. This does seem like more than they would undertake if we had an easier hope. And if guiding one of these Jägeren requires sharing minds . . . ! We know a great many brave men, but the number of them who could endure such intimacy is much smaller, I think. Women are accustomed to sharing their secrets, but men are not supposed to show such openness with one another. No wonder the recruitment posters warn that they will be selective. I can only hope they find enough men; I do not like to think what would happen if they do not.

Worried as well,
Cecy

~

27 April 1817
11 Berkeley Square

Dear Cecy,

I have warned Oliver. Whether it will have any effect or not, I cannot say, but I did my best. I told him he would have to be as close to another man as you and I are to one another. He laughed and said, "Kate, no one is as close as you two."

And yes, I fear the situation is that desperate. By now you will have heard the news about Plymouth. The army still lacks a crew for one Jäger, and they need all the strength they can get.

There is nothing foolish about hoping they will find what they seek. If only there were something we could do . . . .

Yours in spirit and deed,
Kate

~

3 May 1817
14 Grosvenor Square

Dear Mr. Rushton,

I do not think my usual letter of congratulations and explanation will suffice in this instance, nor do I think many of its usual points are necessary. I know your reputation from Herr Schönfeld, and that of your sister, Miss Elizabeth Rushton. There is likely very little I can tell you about pontic rapport that she cannot.

What I will tell you, then, is that your daughter Cecelia Rushton and her cousin Katherine Talgarth have applied to pilot one of our Jägeren, and have been accepted. It is highly irregular, but Miss Rushton has the necessary talent for magic, and the rapport between those two young ladies is the strongest I have yet seen. That, more than anything save courage, will determine their success or failure against the creatures from the sea, and I do not doubt their courage, either.

They have already been sent down to our facility at Gravesend. There they will train with our other pair of new recruits, James Tarleton and the Marquis of Schofield -- a distant cousin of Herr Schönfeld himself. You are welcome to join them there, although security demands that we restrict access to the Jägeren themselves. I am sure you understand.

Be proud of your daughter and her cousin, Mr. Rushton. When their nation called -- when the world needed their aid -- they stepped forward. Future generations will praise their names.

Sincerely,
Field Marshal Stacker Pentecost