The English Rider

Lady Penelope Prescott was sure that Satan had personally crafted the cog she was currently trying to install into the leftside, hip mechanism. It would be the only logical conclusion, she was sure, as she carefully tried setting it in place one more time.

With a muted ‘tweeng’, the cog flung itself off the mounting, and made a break for the freedom of the shop floor. She resisted the urge to lunge after the escaping hardware, and carefully extracted the pincers she had been using to try and place the cog onto the mount.

Penelope located the errant piece and was finally able to get it onto the mounting. She closed the bracketing, and released the restrainers keeping the other cogs back. At a glance, everything looked to be connecting up fine. She knew she would find out one way or another once she got it on the treadmill.

She released the blocks that were stabilizing the automaton horse, with a slight tug on the bridle it immediately started following her across the spacious shop to the treadmill. Penelope had no problems maneuvering it up into place. She opened the access panel on the chest and set the horse to free movement.

Lady Penelope was familiar with the dangers of testing automaton designs, so she connected a full set of braces on it before she moved to the control panel. A check of the pressure gauge showed the boiler was running well. She opened the valve to allow the pressure to flow into the treadmill system, keeping it below 10% flow rate.

Once the treadmill showed enough pressure to begin, she connected the drive belt to the gear mechanism and it started moving. The horse immediately moved it’s feet to keep itself stable and match the pace of the belt.

Lady Penelope kept the speed to a leisurely 3 mph for a minute, checking the movement of the horse. She had been modifying the hips, an attempt to reduce the swaying and therefore, reduce the wear on the hip joints themselves. The horse seemed to be moving fine.

She adjusted the pressure, increasing the speed to a nice canter of 10 mph. The horse had no apparent problem adjusting to this speed. Lady Penelope knew that the horse’s core spring should be able to handle this pace for at least 3 hours, far more than she needed to verify her modifications.

She set the emergency release valves, checked the pressure one more time, it was showing 85 psi, well within tolerances, then left the shop. She suddenly realized how famished she was, time to see what she could get for lunch.

As she exited the shop, into the courtyard, the main house looming on her left, the stables across from her shop. The sun was high already, at least noon she was thinking. She could feel the heat of the sun against her fair skin. The tan she had managed to cultivate was a small thing to try and protect her against this onslaught though.

The courtyard was kept clear of bushes and shrubs, allowing visitors to easily reach the main house. This meant that the afternoon sun had a clear path to illuminate everything in the courtyard, it would be hours before the peaks would shelter them with shade.

Penelope walked briskly across the open space to the front doors of the main house, the shadow of the veranda giving her respite from the bright sunlight. The front doors were wide open, letting in the gentle breezes that were common in this area, the foothills to the west of Durban, South Africa.

10 thoughts on “The English Rider

  1. Emae Church says:

    Please accept my forward remarks here.

    Okay, we know Lady Penelope Prescot is who she says she is, but do we need to have it repeated a few chapters later? No, we don’t. I realise this is the third person but you can refer to her as “she” as nobody else is in this opening scene.

    Nothing happens. Penelope fixes something and opens a door.

    You need a hook and you need to find it fast.

    • Brett Mumford says:

      I agree about the hook. Though I was hoping for a bit more of a reaction to an ‘automaton horse’ statement. That doesn’t make you a bit curious as to what that is? Why she is working on one? I may be being too subtle, in this section.

      This is actually only part of the first chapter, and I can see what you mean. As for the use of her name, it is only used once, ‘Lady Penelope’ is used twice, and otherwise I use ‘Penelope’ or she, so I don’t see too much of a problem here. But, I will also say that establishing her name is preceded by ‘Lady’ is necessary for the imagery usually associated with Steampunk style literature.

      I appreciate your feedback. I will definitely keep it in mind as i develop the story.

  2. packoffeathers says:

    First sentence was too long and vague for me. I do like the concept of these mechanical horses, it’s a nice first peek into this world. The problem for me was it wasn’t clear what was happening until after the 6th paragraph. I’d also advise to cut down on adjectives and flowery language, especially in your opening.
    I agree with first commenter here that there’s also no real hook. She tried something and it worked, but it doesn’t seem like it made any difference in her life. Find some conflict, or start at another point maybe.

    • Brett Mumford says:

      The hook is supposed to be, ‘why is she working on an automaton horse?’ The majority of the writing is to set the stage for the steampunk setting. In steampunk, the technical details are usually more up front, that is what gives the flavour that readers are looking for.

      I do understand what you are getting at though. Thanks for the feedback.

  3. Marlene Wilson Bierworth says:

    The beginning did not grab me. For me, testing automation devices does not work as a hook. All this ‘explaining’ and then, bang, she’s famished, doesn’t work for me either.
    The setting and idea holds all the ingredients for a great story but don’t start here. Just my opinion. Good luck with your writing.

    • Brett Mumford says:

      Thanks for your feedback.

      I want to make sure that it is clear, it is not an automation device, it is an automaton, in the form of a horse (more descriptive details to follow later in the story). The opening sequence is to suggest she has been working on this horse for some time, so when the reader starts seeing her, she has built up an appetite after successfully modifying this part of the horse.

      I use the word automaton instead of robot intentionally. It is more fitting with the steampunk aesthetic.

  4. David Lodes says:

    First sentence was hard to read. Maybe show us how she’s frustrated instead of telling us.Show her exhibiting some emotions. How would you react? Some swear, some might throw something.
    It’s also a bit vague. Left him mechanism of what?

    With a muted ‘tweeng’, the cog flung itself off the mounting, and made a break for the freedom of the shop floor. She resisted the urge to lunge after the escaping hardware, and carefully extracted the pincers she had been using to try and place the cog onto the mount.

    I think this can be said in a less flowery way. Your trying to hard to impress the reader with your verbal skill.

    quote from Stephen King.
    One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you are maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed.

    I think you could ditch the first three paragraphs. I don’t think a reader needs or wants this. I want to get right to the mechanical horse.

    You say their are dangers in testing the automaton. Show me those dangers. Has she faced one of those disasters?

    I’m interested in how these horses work in real life, not how they are built I guess.

    Is it possible you have started in the wrong place?

    I think you have a interesting concept I just feel you started it off wrong.

    Good luck.

    • Brett Mumford says:

      I am sorry you did not like the first sentence. I work with computers, and have had similar types of experiences when I have been taking one apart, or reassembling. The frustration of having a screw drop out and fall down onto the floor, or into the computer, resisting the urge to just grab for it (knowing that it would likely result in something else getting dropped, or damaged). That scene is meant to appeal to anyone who has worked with delicate equipment, that required attention to detail, a steady hand, and the patience of a saint.

      Saying it in a less flowery way would defeat a lot of what is looked for in steampunk style writing. There was no selection for this sub-genre, so this story is represented as simply scifi.

      That being said, a lot of the book would not be done in that kind of detail. The setting and set pieces are important in steampunk, but it should not be tedious for the reader.

      Thanks for your feedback. I will be keeping it in mind while working on this story.

  5. Janean L. Watkins says:

    I liked how the description of working with this automation and the looming threat of trouble from its dangers keep me in suspense about what Lady Prescott is up to. I noticed you opened with the action and no lead up to why she’s doing this task until later in the text. I would suggest moving that vital information to the top to hook us into why we’re watching her do this diligent work. Also, I might suggest a reworking of the first sentence. Overall, this makes me want to know more about the world you’re bringing us into. Good job! 🙂

  6. Brett Mumford says:

    Thank you. I am looking forward to working on this story when I get the chance. I do have a tendency to want to start my stories with the main character in the middle of something. The idea being that this way, readers immediately have questions about what is happening.

    As for the dangers mentioned, that is mainly to reinforce the idea that she has a professional appreciation of working around high pressure steam and automatons. I can see how detailing that could improve this opening. I will give that some more thought.

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