When Eden steps off the zeppelin in Chadwick, he’s ready to finally put the war behind him and go see his lady love. Not long after he arrives at her father’s steam powered workshop, the war steals back into his life in the form of a rival suitor and his gang of baldknobbers. Eden’s in for the fight of his life if he wants to win his girl’s heart and not get himself strung up as a traitor.
The gritty taste of coal smoke set me to coughing even as I crested the hill. My rented mare worked her way down, leaving me bent over in the saddle trying to spit out a lung. Below us, the smoke hung in the valley and made it look like a regiment of cannon had spent all morning roaring at the enemy, even though the war had been over out here for more than a month.
I was half afraid Kint would already be at the Coggs’ farm, the way his cousins had lit out when they saw me step off the zeppelin. The wretch had a score to settle, and I didn’t figure waiting a few years would dull his anger any, not where Georgia was concerned.
The farmhouse and barn didn’t look like they’d seen any action, but not many folks at home had, according Georgia’s letters. The source of the smoke thundered on opposite side the barn, and a heavy clanging echoed from its open doors.
I tied the reins to a post outside and used a handful of water from the horse trough to wipe the soot from my face.
“Anyone home?” I called into the dim interior.
The clanging continued, and after a spell my eyes adjusted enough to see Georgia and her pa working side by side, swinging mallets. Georgia’s blonde hair glowed in the light of a furnace. A sheen of sweat stood out on her forehead and bare arms. She wielded her mallet with a startling ferocity, pounding it into a long, flat piece of metal. I couldn’t tell what they were hammering, but it was as wide as a man’s forearm and stretched out halfway across the barn.
“Mr. Cogg? Georgia?”
Georgia pushed her goggles up, took a second to process me, then broke into a smile fit to melt a man’s heart. “Eden!” She let her mallet fall and rushed over to throw herself into my arms. “You’re back! I got your letter from Appomattox and you said you were coming home but I just… Oh!” She squeezed me hard enough to draw a stifled groan.
“I missed you, too.” I wasn’t ready to tell her about the wound, but I’d have crossed another thousand miles just to see those rosy cheeks again. “What are you making?”
She clutched my hand and dragged me over by the furnace. Perspiration beaded on my forehead, and I hadn’t even done a lick of work. “This is a rotor.” She pointed to a long piece of metal. “It’s the last part we need for the whirlybird.”
“What’s a whirlybird?”
“It’s a flying machine,” George Senior said. “You feel up to lending us a hand?”
“What do you need me to do?” I asked.
“Help me get this back over the furnace,” George Senior said, “and then give them bellows a squeezing.’”
Pumping the bellows suited me fine. It gave me more time to admire Georgia at work. It had been a hard four years with nothing to sustain me but her letters. I was imagining her blonde hair wrapped around my face like a curtain when a shadow blocked the barn door.
Georgia and I glanced up at the same time, both of us seeing Kint and his gap toothed smile. His eyes adjusted to the gloom and his smile adjusted to my presence. Scowling, he stalked over to us.
“Well, well, if it ain’t the City Boy back from the war.” He slid around, inspecting me. “I like your glasses, City Boy.” His gaze settled on Georgia. “How’re you doing, sweetheart?”
“We were doing just fine, and don’t you call me that again.” Georgia slapped her mallet against her palm. “What do you want, Kint?”
“Now don’t be rude, girl. I just came out to make you that offer again.” He glanced in my direction, turned back to her. “Maybe we could go outside and speak on it?”
“I don’t think I want to do that,” she said.
“You can just talk right here.” I stepped between him and Georgia.
“Lookit you, City Boy. You