Hi, I'm Sarah Raplee, author of Victorian, Steampunk and Paranormal Romance.
I decided to do something different in this Guest Post to illustrate the importance of research when writing Victorian Era romance stories. This is an excerpt from the second draft of my Victorian American romantic short story, "An Ill-advised Experiment".
In a comment, can you name five words that you don't believe fit the Victorian period in America? Did you find any other historical inaccuracies?
I will verify or disprove your opinions and explain how I did so in the comments. ~Sarah
Excerpt from "An Ill-advised Experiment"
Dr. Franklin Stein peered over the wire rims of his spectacles and squinted at the dial on his latest invention, a Physio-Energetic Transposer. The numerals and needles on the dial on the front of were a blur, as if they were swimming in melted lard. His chest felt as though it was an over-inflated balloon on the brink of bursting. Thankful he was alone in his private home laboratory, he slammed a fist on his workbench and let loose an unbridled string of oaths.
Damned his singular focus on this research! He could not work, and it was his own blasted fault. Why had he neglected to order new lenses for his spectacles when he'd first noticed a change in his vision a week before the wedding? How could he explain a delay to the President?
Ulysses S. Grant would not be pleased with the man his Cabinet members had nicknamed PET Scientist in Chief as a jab at Franklin's unorthodox research. Franklin hated to disappoint the one man who had staunchly supported his wide-ranging efforts over the past three years.
A soft rap on the hall door made his stomach clench. He’d believed his bride of two months, Prudence, to be outside in the garden when he had vented his frustration. He hoped she hadn’t heard his outburst. If only his unique intelligence allowed him to navigate the intricacies of human relationships with a modicum of grace, but he was the metaphorical bull in the China shop of Society.
Heaving a sigh, he crossed the laboratory in two long strides and flung open the door. Prue’s serene smile eased the tension in his shoulders. She seemed unaware of his recent fit of temper. She wrapped her arms around his neck, rose onto her tiptoes and kissed him with lips as soft as butterfly wings.
As always, she took his breath away.
When she pulled back and gazed up at him through her dark lashes, laughter danced in her lovely violet eyes. “May I be of help, husband?”
She pressed her lips together instead of smiling, which confused him. Sometimes he felt completely at a loss with her, as if they spoke two different non-verbal languages.
Several tendrils of dark brown hair had escaped her chignon to curl alongside the white column of her neck. Franklin found himself distracted from his worries, imagining what it would feel like to lift the locks away and caressed her velvet skin with his fingertips. Then he would sweep her off her feet and carry her upstairs—
Prue tipped up her chin and raised her brows. “What in the world are you thinking, sir?”
He grinned. “Scandalous thoughts, m’dear, scandalous thoughts.”
Color rose in her cheeks. She folded her arms across her breasts and gazed at him askance. “I only wanted to help, not to distract you.”
He pulled her close, inhaling the calming scent of her flowery perfume. Lord, what did I do to deserve such a woman? She was not a typical female, frail of sensibilities and faint of heart. She helped him when his faults were a hindrance. Otherwise, she overlooked them. No longer a girl like the silly chits who’d hoped to wed him, she had come to his bed with an eagerness and generosity that had astounded him. One taste of her and he was lost forever.
“Well?” Prue said.
Franklin sighed. “I cannot read the transposer dial. I should have ordered new lenses for my spectacles before the wedding.”
She smiled. “Then I can be of help. I’ll read the instruments for you so your work will not be affected. You can order lenses this afternoon.”
He opened his mouth to protest the need to run the errand today, but Prue’s smile melted his thoughts the way sunbeams melt butter. Besides, his bride was not afraid to reveal her iron backbone when his well-being was at stake. There was no point in arguing about the spectacles.
She looped her arm through his and they walked toward the PET. Prue stopped unexpectedly and cast a puzzled glance up at him. “What happened to your weather balloon project? President Grant expects the results in three days.”
Franklin smiled. He enjoyed having someone intelligent with whom to discuss his work. “Not to worry, my dear. The President already has my report.”
Her expression cleared. “I must visit the laboratory more frequently. What is your latest project, then?”
She bent down to peer at the dial and switches on the PET’s central unit. Bundles of insulated electrical cables protruded from either side of the box for several feet before ending in shiny silver helmets.
“I call my new invention a Physio-Energetic Transposer, or PET. The basic idea came to me while I studied at Yale, but my experiments failed repeatedly. I needed a chemical compound with the proper biological and energetic properties for test subject preparation in order to be successful. Unfortunately, I failed to find one at that time.”
Prue straightened, her eyes shining. “But you’ve discovered one now?”
He nodded. “The recent measles outbreak in Baltimore induced me to investigate Native herbal medicine. While searching for something to strengthen a person’s resistance to measles, I stumbled onto an herb known as datura. Priests and priestesses of the Indian tribes who live at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers use datura to allow their spirits to roam free of their bodies. I believe datura weakens what I call the physio-energetic bond. This may be what I need to transpose minds.”
His excitement dimmed in the face of her shocked expression. He replayed their brief conversation in his head, but could recall nothing to explain her apparently negative reaction. His shoulders slumped. “What is it?”
Prue composed her features into a smile and laid her palms against his chest. She peered up at him with a question in her eyes. “I’m sorry; I thought you said you were going to transpose minds.”
In response to his wife laying her hands on his chest Franklin slid his arms around her supple waist. This was a ritual they had developed to ease them through impending disagreements. Prue once told him it was lucky she had tossed her corsets and joined the dress reform movement, else they might never have discovered close physical contact had calming benefits that helped him when he was confused.
Her reaction undoubtedly confused him. He tried not to frown. “You heard me correctly. To quote the president, ‘the ability to transpose minds between bodies may serve the country well.’”
Prue blinked. She studied him for a moment and then shook her head. “Politicians, even presidents, are ambitious men, which sometimes makes them shortsighted.”
Franklin blinked. His lungs compressed. It had never occurred to him that the President of the United States of America had faults like any other man. The implications were mind-boggling.
Prue cupped his jaw in her small, warm hand. “Don’t look so horrified, Franklin. Only God is perfect.” She dropped her hand and her gaze to his chest. “You must remain calm, husband. Breathe slowly and deeply.”
He did as she instructed. His chest gradually expanded to its normal dimensions.
“Better?” She grinned up at him.
He hadn’t a clue as to what was coming next, but her wide smile was reassuring. Perhaps she had thought of a way to help him understand her concerns about the project. He relaxed and smiled back. “Much.”
Please comment on any historical inaccuracies you spotted. Check back for my responses. ~Sarah Raplee