This extract is taken from Byron Cane’s novella, Sir McRath Thrashes his Valentine, in the 5th Lust volume, Lust in Lace.
For the first time in ten days, the steady thump-thump of the engines and the boiling splash of the magnificent side-mounted paddle wheels fell silent. The harbor pilot called down to the tug. Thus began the ancient and primal ballet of man versus water as seasoned hands strove to bring the steamer from America into safe mooring.
As it docked, heavy hemp hawsers and thick bollards were tossed over the side to waiting stevedores. The shrill triumphant shriek of the steam whistle echoed among the emigration sheds where the starving poor sought passage to a new life in the former colonies.
Vast clouds of slate gray and white gulls took flight as the noise reduced the raucous calls of workers to pantomime. The blast faded and the flocks swooped to await handouts from the new arrivals. A crowd had gathered to meet the arriving ship. Touts held up placards bearing names of lodging and dining establishments. Open steam carriages emblazoned with coats-of-arms and commercial enterprises chuffed impatiently quayside, chauffeurs chatting amiably with gloved hands held over barrels of flame.
A late arrival coasted silently to a stop along the quay. The pennants on the front bumper proudly waved the Three Lions of the House of Hanover. Eyebrows rose: no Royal had been listed on the telegraphed manifest.
Sir Nachton MacRath waited at the gangplank to debark, nose wrinkled in protest. The tide had reached slack, raw sewage and industrial offal collecting in rotted mats along the banks of the River Mersey.
After eighteen years away, on this fifteenth day of January, in the Year of Our Lord 1854, he prepared to once again set foot on his native soil. Well, to be precise, tarred oak planks covered with bird droppings and rubbish. Six months removed from San Francisco, he was glad to be finally back, although unsure of his welcome. He had run afoul of the Regent in late 1835, and despite repeated assurances from the Queen in the following decades, he had decided instead to tour the Near East and China.
By fortuitous timing, MacRath had sailed from the Sandwich Islands to the sparsely populated lands of Northern California in 1848. The subsequent fortune he’d created during the Gold Rush was not from digging in the hillsides, but from parlaying his Scottish title into land and mercantile trade for the arriving miners.
His idle titled peers despised trade; all the while pretending their agrarian paradise was not being steadily washed away by the rising tides of industrial steam technology.
Certainly the Bank of England had no qualms with his large deposits of specie, notes and bullion.
No longer caring for the fading Empire and the cut direct he would receive for being a man of business, he had finally returned to claim his birthright.
He doffed his top hat to his fellow female passengers as they disembarked first. The ladies acknowledged his courtesy with nods and wistful smiles. From the vantage point of the rail he sought his confidential agent amidst the throngs on the wharf. A quick wave and he hefted his travel valise striding down the gangplank resplendent in the latest New York style: a tailored suit coat in black with slate vest, shirt and matched trousers with paisley print and yellow braid stripes down the sides. He was intercepted before he got too far by several beefy individuals in plainclothes.
“Sir MacRath?” That one spoke with a distinct upper class accent.
“I am he. May I assist you in some manner?”
“My name is Trent. If you would please accompany us, sir, there is someone who wishes to speak with you.”
“My luggage?” MacRath noticed his agent was detained next to the Royal vehicle. His primitive instincts, never far below the posh surface, flared to life. His voice, now deliberately American in tone, calmly drawled, “My man there needs my instructions. I am unaware of a prior engagement with anyone unless notification crossed paths somewhere in the wilderness.”
He did not resist their request. In any case, his escort was exactingly polite rather than threatening, allowing MacRath to hand over his list to the agent.
He and the two men entered the enclosed steam carriage, the rear bench seat barely wide enough to fit his lean frame between the rather bulkier individuals to either side. As the driver wended his way through the thick port traffic, MacRath spoke. “May I ask where you are taking me?”
“Liverpool Lime Street Station,” Trent replied shortly. No further information was forthcoming during the five-minute drive.
Once in front of the ornate stone building, MacRath was escorted to the far platform where a string of railway carriages stood ready to depart.
“May I at least inquire as to why I am to meet Her Majesty?”
“You may indeed enquire, sir.”
That terse reply was all the response he received. He was barely on board when the Royal Train lurched and slowly headed up Edge Hill. Shown to his quarters as the train gathered momentum, he was informed the Queen would send for him shortly. He managed to glean from the steward this was a scheduled trip and just happened to coincide with the steamer’s arrival.
Sir Nachton MacRath, a minor Scottish Baron of dubious lineage, stewed for nearly an hour before his audience commenced. While he waited, he thought of many possible explanations. None matched the reality of what shortly transpired.
Her Majesty informed him he was soon to be the Earl of Flintdowns, Chastiser for the Queen. In this role, he would be granted full authority to investigate and punish those members of the ton deemed to have demonstrated unseemly behavior.
“We have decided the Empire suffers from a lack of morals,” Her Majesty explained. “Men shall pay for transgressions through fines, and women by the time honored tradition of private corporal punishment. We will speak later at length.”
He had yet to recover from the shock of his elevation in status when the Queen dismissed her councilors. Once alone, she handed him a sealed package.
“You will return this file to Us upon arrival in London,” she said.
MacRath bowed and returned to his carriage in a daze, whereupon he opened the envelope and discovered the worst possible news for a creature of his ilk determined to hide in plain sight.
Stamped across the top of the file in large red capital letters was the word VAMPIRE.
You can read more about Byron Cane’s Sir McRath here.