He drew in a breath. "Steam locomotives were one thing. Even steam-powered looms were straightforward enough. But this latest round of contraptions!" He flung up his hands in a gesture of either incomprehension or defeat—or perhaps both. Although he kept his voice low, he was all but ranting as he continued, "How am I supposed to deal with my investors? They rattle on about pressures and inclines, and because I can't explain why it's wrong, they won't listen to my advice that we—all of society—don't need these things, and they shouldn't invest in them."
Aha. You're losing investors to those who are running the syndicates for these new inventions. You're a Luddite, and you don't understand, so... The younger man hid a smile. Now he understood that, the deal seemed much more even-handed. His life and his livelihood were under threat from his principal creditor, and this invention, the success of it, threatened his uncle's livelihood—his uncle's reason for being.
He might be about to undertake to do something not entirely above board, but at least, to his way of thinking, the exchange seemed fair enough.
His gaze still on his uncle's now-distinctly choleric face, the younger man slowly nodded. "I see." He paused, then quietly said,
"Very well. I'll do it. I'll take care of this matter for you, and you will take care of my debts for me." He held out his hand.
His uncle studied his eyes, then grasped his hand, and they shook.
Retrieving his hand, the younger man said, "You'd better tell me all you can about this invention."
His uncle complied, revealing the invention's location, the inventor's name, and that the invention was some sort of steam
engine purported to incorporate several improvements on Russell's reworking of Trevithick's original of 1803.
The younger man had less notion of what that description meant than, he suspected, his uncle did. However, he nodded. After rapidly replaying their earlier conversation, he asked, "Am I correct in thinking that, regardless of whether this engine actually runs or not, as long as it's not unveiled to any fanfare at the exhibition in Birmingham, you will be satisfied?"
His uncle frowned slightly. "That should suffice. If the invention isn't successfully demonstrated there"—he smiled tightly,
coldly—"no one will believe it works." After a second, he nodded decisively. "Yes. That will be enough."
"Good-oh." The younger gentleman pushed to his feet.
His uncle looked up at him. "I will, of course, be attending the exhibition myself, so I'll be present to view the outcome of your
The younger man inclined his head. "I'll endeavor to please. And now, I'd best be on my way."
His uncle murmured a farewell, and the younger gentleman made for the Antium's main door.
He paused on the club's front steps and looked up at the cloudless summer sky.
How hard could it be to rearrange a lever or two, or unscrew a few bolts, or swipe the notes of some absentminded inventor?
He suspected he could satisfy his uncle easily enough, after which his life and his future would be his again.
Yet as he descended the steps and set out for his lodgings, he could feel uneasiness over what he'd agreed to do swirling inside.
When it came down to it, he was desperate. Truly desperate. And at least, this way, no one would die.