Leeds, July 1893
Tom Harper held his breath and counted. One second, two...three. All the way to ten.
Then the wooden boat exploded. Two shattering blasts that echoed off the hills. Pieces of the vessel flew high in the air, almost in slow motion, the boards and splinters crashing down into the lake. Hundreds of them. Thousands, speckling the surface until only ripples remained.
'Very good,' he heard one of the men in top hats say. 'Very good indeed.'
'Something for tomorrow at Roundhay Park,' Superintendent Kendall had told him as he put the letter on his desk. 'I want you there representing Leeds Police.'
'Yes, sir,' Detective Inspector Harper replied. He read the first couple of lines and looked up. 'Torpedoes? What in God's name are they?'
Kendall shook his head. His hair had gone greyer in the last two years, the lines deeper on his face. 'Some sort of rocket, from what I can gather, except they go underwater. A new weapon for the Navy, evidently. It's a demonstration for some government people, all very experimental and secret. We're going to have bobbies closing the roads into the park. Only names on the list admitted.'
'Why are they doing it on Waterloo Lake?' Harper asked. He didn't understand; it seemed like a bizarre choice. If these were naval weapons, why not somewhere out at sea?
The superintendent rolled his eyes. 'Don't ask me, Tom. I'm just the messenger here. Make sure you're there well ahead of time. And be on your best behaviour. There are going to be some important people
* * *
'First thing tomorrow?' Annabelle asked as she settled back against him and closed her eyes with a contented sigh. 'What time?'
'Up there by five.' He'd need to leave by four to walk the distance, before the trams were even running.
'Let's hope she doesn't wake us during the night.' She looked over at the crib next to the bed. Mary was sleeping soundly. Fourteen months old on Wednesday. Mary Grace Harper. Her smile, her hair, her eyes, her laugh...from him and Annabelle. As soon as the pregnancy was common knowledge, the women around Sheepscar had frowned and clucked and tutted. She was too old to have a bairn. Something would be wrong. A list of the problems that could happen. If he'd believed it he'd have been terrified for her. But that was the way here, always some mutterings under all the care and the smiles. In the end every- thing had gone smoothly. The labour had been long, but the midwife had done her job and mother and daughter emerged hearty and hale. He could still scarcely believe it when he looked at Mary. She was his, a part of him, named for the girl who'd been his wife's best friend as she grew up. Dead now, but living on this way.
'Shhh, don't tempt fate,' he whispered. Since she'd passed three months and the colic went, their daughter had been a good sleeper. Growing so fast, a hefty weight when he picked her up after arriving back from work. No real illness, touch wood; the worry always remained at the back of his mind.
Annabelle had insisted on feeding the baby herself. No wet nurse; she'd never even considered the idea. 'Why wouldn't I give her the breast?' she asked as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. 'I have milk, that's what it's there for.' And that was what she did until she weaned their daughter at nine months.
No nanny either, and no talk of one. They could afford it, but she wasn't interested. When she went to one of the bakeries she owned, she pushed the child in a baby carriage, wrapped up against the weather.
'I'll not have people saying I'm getting above myself,' she insisted. 'There's enough round here work all the hours God sends and still bring up families. If they can do it, so can I.'
He was proud of her. Of both of them. He loved his wife; even now he was still astonished that she'd agreed to marry him. But until Mary was born he hadn't known how loudly his heart could sing.