Drake & McTrowell Icon
Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears - Page 2: December 27, 2011 - January 29, 2012

Previous Page Next Page

People of this Ilk
Four is Too Many
Just One More Thing
Warp and Weft
Dancing in the Lab
Auntie Catherine


People of this Ilk

Entry for December 27, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

In the mid-day sun, the streets of Shadwell were busy with the comings and goings of the wives of the lascar, the South Asian seamen and fishermen who had populated the area. Their husbands were usually off working on cargo ships of the East Indian Company, so it appeared as if women were the only citizens of the London district. With the rarity of Asian women in London, it was common for a lascar to take a wife from the local area, even though they had been originally hired in Bengal, Assam, Gujarat, or Yemen.

The skirts, jackets, and shawls of these pedestrians were clean, but worn and unfashionable. They usually walked in groups of two and three, running their errands in a communal spirit.

The hansom that rolled by looked slightly out of place with its glossy black exterior and red highlights. The klip-klop of the carriage’s steed seemed a tad brighter than the heavy-hoofed clomping of the workhorses that stood, heavy-legged and tired, in the street, their rugged carts loaded high.

Inside the hansom, Yin and Sarah kept up their conversation regarding the mechanical arm design, but they both knew that what they had so far was too heavy, too simplistic in its functionality, and it would be too hard to maintain. Yin stayed positive, but she was insistent that they meet an impossibly short schedule for the design and prototyping. Sarah kept her spirits up, but it was clear that she was doing less inventing, and more review of Edmond’s and Yin’s sketches and notes.

The hansom pulled up to Dr. Pogue’s repurposed warehouse, where the ladies hopped out, with rolled up designs tucked under petite arms. Sarah trailed Yin, trying to keep up. She let out a long sigh, and followed her into the building.

Erasmus was running late to work. The long conversation with Alistair threw off his schedule. He wasn’t worried about arriving late; he was worried about crazed mad-men strung out on spiked absinthe. Given that he was already late, Erasmus decided that he should stop by the Westminster Hospital and check in on the good Dr. Pogue. This would be the first time he would see him conscious since the accident. At Trafalgar Square, Erasmus took a hard right and headed toward the hospital.

Erasmus entered Edmond’s hospital room quietly in case its occupant was sleeping. Instead, he found the scientist seated with pieces of paper of varying size, strewn across his hospital bed, each with some meticulously drawn detail of some complex mechanical contraption. Edmond looked up and smiled.

“Erasmus! You are here! Delightful!”

Erasmus was much more solemn in his response. “Edmond, I can’t tell you how sorry I am for getting you involved with those dangerous contraptions.” Erasmus held his bowler close to his chest with both hands and he had the sincerest look of concern on his face, with a touch of sadness.

“Erasmus, old man, it was I who took unnecessary risks. I am glad that you sent these metal monsters my way! My team and I have learned so much from them. Incredible workmanship! Combinations of mechanical techniques that I have never seen before. I am just very happy that I am the only one who was injured. If Yin or Sarah had been maimed, I would be beside myself.”

Edmond stopped and looked hard at the Chief Inspector. “Hello.
Something else is bothering you. Erasmus, what the matter?”

“I see a storm rising that I wish to stop but I don’t know how. There is this chap, Mr. Alistair Bennington …”

“Rutherford! Yes, I know him. He contracted with me to do an analysis of a product that he wanted to sell in a professional fashion, and I was familiar with the process to get it approved by the association of apothecary owners. I think Yin and I completed our analysis while you were still in Paris.”

“You know him!?! Edmond, I am very concerned about what his product will do to society if it continues to be available. I planned to take the matter to Scotland Yard, or higher, if needed. I am concerned that it will simply fall on deaf ears.”

“No need to worry! Let me tell you what I discovered. Mr. Rutherford sees this as some special elixir, but it is not much more than a simple mix of commonplace compounds. True, there is a good
mélange of stimulants combined with the depressant alcohol, and of course the wormwood, but nothing that will turn normal men into beasts, I assure you.”

“But I saw a line of people in an apothecary that looked half dead and …”

“That was mainly the effect of the ethanol. You can see the same reaction if you mix alcohol with practically anything: milk, fruit juices, or even carbonated water. Some percentage of the population can’t handle it well. However, Mr. Rutherford is on a quest to find those that the mixure makes hyper-intelligent, since it seems to effect him that way.”

“But doesn’t his mixture have that effect on everyone?”

“That is what Rutherford claimed. My investigation involved analyzing the concoction chemically, and in addition my assistant Yin and I also interviewed about 300 of his customers. The vast majority of them have fundamentally the same reaction as one would have if they had drunk absinthe: a heightened sense of awareness combined with the relaxation of the alcohol. For some, this allows them to concentrate. For a rare few, it seems to intensify their thinking to go beyond their normal faculties. My guess is that only one in 200 or 300 have this effect. Mr. Rutherford seems to be one of these rare few, and he seems to be on a hunt to find more people of this ilk.”

“That is incredible,” Erasmus offered. But he wondered to himself, “Should I let Edmond know that I seemed to be
of this ilk?” He mulled it over, and thought that he should share this information with the Doctor, but in his own way.

“Have your tasted or tried the mixture?” Erasmus queried.

“Not much of a drinking man myself. I tasted it after determining that it wasn’t dangerous. I did not … treasure … the flavor. It smacked of a candy-coated vodka drink stirred with a licorice stick. Gave me a small headache that I wouldn’t want to duplicate at any time soon.”

“Well, Mr. Rutherford visited me, and I experienced the effect that he was looking for.”

“Delightful! I must study you!”

Erasmus worried to himself, “That is
not the response I had hoped for.”




Four is Too Many

Entry for January 2, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Esmeralda Pogue lacked the stalwart, charitable disposition of the society matrons who contributed their time and energies to improving conditions for the ailing by volunteering at hospitals. She could not even remember the last time she had set foot in a hospital. She would dearly have loved to retreat back the way she had come and gone for tea with a friend, but there was no conscionable way of shirking her duty to care for her brother in his time of need. She had even made a special trip to Tom Smith’s on Goswell Road in Clerkenwell as soon as they opened that morning to acquire a brightly colored tin of Edmond’s favorite nut brittle. She did her level best to make her expression match the gay colors of the candy container. With her visage thus set, she opened the door to his hospital room. It looked like his lab had been transported, but without the dreary tower.

There were drawings and instruments strewn across the bed, and bits of metal of various colors fashioned for performing functions she could not possibly fathom. She couldn’t open the door all the way because its arc was blocked by a worktable cobbled together from a pair of mismatched spindle chairs, each with several spindles missing, and a door that had obviously been many colors in its life, judging by the clashing shades peeking through the cracks and scrapes. One of its rusty hinges was still attached. It was piled with more drawings, bits of metal, tools, and what looked like a small steam engine clamped squarely in the middle. That couldn’t possibly be dangerous to operate, anchored as it was to a dried out slab of wood.

And for a man who had always been completely hopeless with all of the suitable matches that she had brought around in recent years, her brother was remarkably surrounded by women paying acute attention to him. Of course, Dr. Young was there. Not to be outdone by Yin’s attention, Miss Slate was there as well, fiddling with some small leather straps around the stump of Edmond’s arm. In the opposite corner was seated a fairly handsome woman wearing tragically unflattering clothing that made her look like a frontiersman in a skirt. The as yet unidentified woman was jotting something in a small, leather bound notebook using an elaborately enameled red pen. She spoke without taking her attention away from her writing.

“I most strongly suggest that you design the apparatus so that it connects via embedded cleats. If I attach the whole apparatus surgically, he’ll need continual assistance to perform many daily functions such as bathing.” She continued soto voce, “Not that it appears that he will lack for such aid.” When the two women fussing over Edmond didn’t respond, she continued as before. “In addition, it will need to be removed and reattached surgically every time it needs a major repair or replacement. I can’t promise to be around for all such occurrences and the shock to Dr. Pogue’s body will almost certainly shorten his lifespan. Finally, the bone is more likely to mend around a small cleat than a large rod or pylon.”

This last bit was just too much for the delicate Miss Pogue, to hear her brother’s body discussed with such scientific coldness as if he were one of his own infernal lab experiments. She made a noise like a field mouse gagging on an oversized seed. The seated woman responded first, springing from her chair and dropping her writing materials on the seat.

“Are you all right? Are you choking?”

“No, thank you, I’m fine.” They stared at each other for an instant until Esmeralda recovered her manners. “I’m Miss Esmeralda Pogue, Edmond’s sister.”

“Ah yes, I see the resemblance.” No doubt she meant it as a compliment. “I’m Dr. Sparky McTrowell.”

“You’re the woman who saved Edmond’s life!”

“I think ‘women’ would be more accurate. If not for the quick thinking of Dr. Young, your brother would have been lost before I got to him.” Only Yin noticed that Sarah froze with a pained look on her face at Sparky’s praise of Yin’s lifesaving presence of mind. Completely oblivious to the little drama taking place around him, Edmond perked up and smiled at his sister.

“Hullo, little sister. Delightful of you to come visit! What’s that?” He nodded toward the tin in Esmeralda’s hands that she had almost completely forgotten.

“Oh, yes, I brought your favorite candy from Tom Smith’s.” She opened the tin and offered it to him. He grabbed a large slab off the top of the pile and stuffed it in his mouth.

“Shplendith!” he gurgled through a mouthful of crunchy nuts and caramelized sugar.

The room was now so crowded that the only direction for McTrowell to go was back to her chair, but what she really wanted to do was depart. “I had hoped that your brother would rest in the hospital for a few more days to recover more fully, but it seems there’s no keeping him down or dissuading his ‘visitors.’ Dr. Pogue, you may return home, preferably before you burn down the hospital or the nurses suffocate you out of frustration.”

“Huzzah!”

“This is not leave to spend all night working in your laboratory. You must still rest. May I count upon you ladies to see to this prescription?” The other three women nodded enthusiastically, or rather Sarah and Esmeralda did. Yin bowed her head once and immediately began organizing the various metal components into the crates stuffed under the makeshift table. Sarah began hastily collecting the littered drawings and calculations. In her nervous carelessness, she knocked her own notebook off the bed and onto the floor between Esmeralda and Sparky. It flopped open to the page with the picture of the interlocking daisies that Sparky had spied the day before.

Sparky picked it up and held it open. “Miss Slate, this is a peculiarly interesting sketch. I’m curious as to its inclusion in your scientific notebook rather than a personal journal.”

Sarah stood pinned to the spot for a moment, excitement and caution chasing each other across her face. “It’s a test pattern for a new weaving process I’ve conceived. I had been attempting to design the loom from the abstract concept, but I found I couldn’t accurately visualize outlier conditions, so I drew this pattern as a practical example.”

Before Sparky could formulate a response, much to her surprise, Esmeralda spoke up. “A new weaving process? What does it do?”

“As yet, it doesn’t do anything since I’ve not completed the design. Nor do I have the resources to build the loom.” Even after all her years with her brother, Esmeralda never ceased to be exasperated by the literalness of people of his ilk. She raised her eyebrows in the gesture that she had trained Edmond to understand to mean “And?” Apparently it worked on all scientific sorts because Miss Slate continued. “The resulting fabric should present a different image when viewed from different angles. In the case of this drawing, it would appear to be a cluster of ordinary daisies from one perspective and a set of interlocking gears when viewed from another. This drawing illustrates how it might appear when viewed directly, but the use of color in the sketch helps me see what it should look like from opposing views.” She held the notebook up flat at eye level and then rotated it 90° to illustrate her point. “You can see how this is a valuable tool for determining the requirements for the loom.”

Sparky nodded up and down crisply. There was more to Miss Slate than she had originally surmised. Esmeralda nodded once, rather more sideways than up and down, hoping that neither of the other two women would seek to confirm her level of understanding of the mechanics of the loom. The part she had understood was plenty to awaken an intense, and mostly personal, interest.

“Miss Slate, would you care to be introduced to someone who has the interest and wherewithal to build your loom and make your fabric?”

In her excitement, Sarah nearly flung the notebook at Esmeralda’s head. She had to flap about a bit to catch it before it hit the floor again. “Oh, yes! Who is it?”

“His name is Charles Howgill.”



Just One More Thing

Entry for January 10, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

The warehouse was an old wooden structure nestled in between other old warehouses. Its wooden sides were once painted with some nondescript off-white color, but almost none of the pigment was left on the weathered walls. The boards had a tired patina of weathered wood exposed to sooty air. The two halves of the heavy double door in the front of the building sagged on their hinges just enough to prevent the doors from closing properly. In this eastern end of London there wasn’t a great deal of activity, and from the triangle-shaped opening between the doors it was easy to hear the give-and-take of three angry men inside the warehouse.

Inside, the three men stood in a circle, still dressed from a recent meeting. The tallest of them pointed a finger at the skinny, frizzy-haired man in an accusatory manner.

“That meeting was a disaster! They needed the limestone to complete the building façade, and we have no way to deliver. They are planning to take us to court for throwing their entire building façade repair project off schedule. Their investment in our workshop in Paris has all been lost! You are destroying our business!”

“You are, as zay say, not very bright, Monsieur Hedgley,” the frizzy-haired man flatly stated. “Ze EPACTs are ze result of ze investment. With zem we can do ... many sings. Forget about the limestone deal. We have approximately 450 EPACTs, and with a little work, we can ‘ave more here. Obviously we can ‘ave the EPACTs do ze assembly. And as for machinery, well, we can ...”

“Oh, great! You want to thieve it! Here in my city! And I suppose you want to misappropriate the raw materials, too!”

“It diz not matter, you fool. I know governmentz ... other governmentz ... not your silly Briton ... that would pay a great deal for what I ... I am SO sorry, WE ... have invented. Money iz not so much an issue. So we zhould get started. First ...”

The sturdy man who had been silent so far tried to chime in. “I know you two are working on the business end of this, but the EPACTs we have still need a great deal of repair. I thought I would …”

“Shut up! Just shut up, Mr. Martin,” Mr. Hedgley yelled. “Don’t you see that we aren’t going to fix our problems with EPACTs, if they are restored to perfect running condition or not.” Turning to the other man, he continued, “We are facing financial ruin unless we can get some legitimate job for our EPACTs!”

The twig-like man leaned in and lowered the volume of the conversation. “I suggest … you start listening to me.”

“Why?”

“Because of two thingz: I am ze only one here with good ideaz, and I control ze bugs!” He pursed his lips and blew an odd set of three tones.

Out of every conceivable nook and cranny of the junk-filled warehouse, an army of EPACTs sprinted to the middle of the cavernous building, the carriers extending their forearms menacingly with their paring knife edges exposed. The cutters raced across the backs of the carriers, their rotary blades spinning. They were clearly targeting Mr. Hedgley and Mr. Martin, and stopped inches away when a final tone was whistled by the twig-like man.

Both Mr. Hedgley and Mr. Martin had curled up into their best standing fetal position, one leg on the ground and the rest of their limb protecting their delicate faces and torsos, with just one small slit for an eye to peek out at in on-coming terror.

“See? I am now zeir master.”

Mr. Hedgley relaxed enough to put his raised foot down and straighten out his jacket with a sharp downward tug on its lapels. He cleared his throat to regain his composure. “Actually, we now understand a bit about the action enhancements that you installed. And since you feel that you can threaten us with our own devices, I think its time for this.” He pulled a two-barreled pitch pipe out of his jacket pocket quickly and blew it hard. The result was immediate.

Every EPACT turned on its neighbor. Legs were ripped off and brass plates were torn apart with a horrendous sound. The cutters were slower moving, but were inflicting an incredible amount of damage to all nearby EPACTs. Mr. Martin screamed like a little girl. Mr. Hedgley smiled, stating, “Since they have some limited goal seeking capability, I added a simple command to determine the champion through survival. I did it in case of a situation just like this. Monsieur Punaise, I believe this is the end of our relationship.”

Monsieur Punaise stared out at the metallic carnage for a few seconds while the sound of dozens of buzz saws grinding on metal sheets filled the warehouse. Then he reared his head back and howled like a mad man. He then bent forward in a raucous laugh. He followed that with putting his index and little fingers in the corners of his mouth and started blowing a dissonant set of tones. The EPACTs stopped in their battle and froze. “Would you like to see what happens when I instruct them to work in tandem against a common enemy with no command to halt them? My whistle will be the second to last thing you’ll hear.”

Mr. Hedgley smirked. “I’ll bite, what’s the last?”

“Those funny wet sounds that people make when they are trying to breathe through their own blood.”

“Oh, you’re all so overly dramatic. If you want to abscond with whatever is left of our investment money, do so. The limestone mining, which was your idea, was both foolish and a failure. We are tired of trying to do business with a March hare. We’re leaving.”

Both Mr. Hedgley and Mr. Martin started to look around for reasonable footfalls between the entangled contraptions to make good their leave.

Monsieur Punaise countered, “Not so fast. I need you two for just one more thing.”



Warp and Weft

Entry for January 17, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Esmeralda Pogue was keeping up most of the conversation as she and Sarah Slate crossed over the Thames via the New London Bridge to High Street and wound their way through Bermondsey to Rotherhithe. “Mr. Charles Howgill is a self made man. Although he has no title, his banker’s wife, who is a dear friend of mine, assures me that he has quite a tidy fortune. He lives in Hatton Garden,” not that Sarah had any idea what that implied, “but he can certainly afford a more stylish, up and coming neighborhood. All he lacks is the right sort of wife to raise him to the station which his good fortune affords him.” Sarah was quite certain she knew what that implied.

The carriage rattled past a series of foundries on Rotherhithe Lower Road before halting in front of a small, newly built cotton mill. It had a brick exterior and a small profile facing the road that was three stories high. It stretched far back from the street. The door through which they entered was unremarkable, rather like a mouse hole in the side of the enormous blank, brick wall whose only other opening at street level was an enormous wrought iron gate. Though the latter was more impressive in its size, it was as functional, yet undistinguished in design, as the one through which they entered. The only marking on the door was a street number. It gave no indication of what lay behind it.

Esmeralda rapped smartly twice and opened the door without waiting for a reply. Sarah was pleasantly surprised to discover that the interior was as plain and practical as the outside. But, it was not at all the sort of place that she would have expected her new friend, the elegant Miss Pogue, to frequent. But a frequent visitor she must have been because the clerk at the desk just inside the door greeted Esmeralda without need of introduction.

“Good morning, Miss Pogue.” His tone was bland, but his eyes hinted that he found her tedious. Fortunately, only Sarah was looking at his face. Esmeralda was gazing past the top of his head.

“Good day. Is Charles in?” Charles? Sarah squirmed a bit on the spot where she had planted herself. Esmeralda was obviously on very familiar, practically intimate, terms with Mr. Charles Howgill. Miss Pogue was even leaning toward the other door in the room as if she were not going to await permission. The clerk was the sort of man who took Shakespeare’s advice about the better part of valor to heart each day.

“Of course, Miss Pogue, you may see yourself in.” Esmeralda already had her hand on the knob by the time he finished. The interior room was only slightly larger and marginally better decorated than the exterior office. The middle-aged man behind the desk lifted his eyes, but not his head, from the ledgers spread out in front of him.

“Charles, dearest, may I have the pleasure of introducing you to my new friend, Miss Sarah Slate, from Connecticut? She has a keen interest in weaving.”

“Miss Slater, from Connecticut?” He was suddenly paying considerably more attention than when they entered, apprising Sarah’s features very carefully.

“Miss Sarah Slate, Mr. Howgill,” Sarah corrected him.

“My apologies for mistaking your name.”

Anxious to keep the focus of the conversation on her desired topic, the impatient Miss Pogue continued. “As, I was saying, Miss Slate has a keen interest in weaving. She believes she can design a loom to create clever cloth that presents itself differently when viewed from different directions.”

“Interesting.”

“I have proposed to Miss Slate that we should start a small concern together.” The look on Miss Slate’s face suggested that the use of past tense in the sentence was only accurate from the perspective that the sentence had just been uttered. “Closely acquainted as I am with the finest dressmakers of London and all of their fashionable patrons, I should be very successful at introducing it in all the right circles. It would almost certainly be even more desirable if it were priced dearly.”

“Interesting,” but the tone of his voice suggested that it was less so with each new utterance.

“Sarah, dearest, would you be so kind as to show Mr. Howgill your drawings?”

Sarah withdrew her notebook from her carpetbag, opened it to the page with the daisy drawing, and held it flat. “Do you see how the drawing is colored to reveal a different image when viewed from different angles?” She repeated the 90° rotation action with the level book. “You may have to squint to observe the desired effect as this is only paper and ink. The challenge with cloth is that warp and weft shift, disrupting the continuity of the directional pattern. I believe the stability of the pattern can be achieved with a blending of fibers to create slightly flattened threads rather than round ones. The sides of the threads are died different colors and a precise, tight weave prevents the threads from toggling.” She was practically breathless when she finished her explanation and her eyes were shining. She looked Howgill directly in the eyes, but could not read his expression. “Unfortunately, a mill that can spin such thread and create such a precise weave does not exist.”

“Yet...”

“Excuse me?”

“It does not exist yet. Although a moment ago when you were describing it, I could see it in my mind.” And now the expression on his face was perfectly clear. He was smiling for the first time since they had entered his office. Esmeralda cleared her throat, perhaps a tad petulantly.

“Can you imagine how fabulously striking a dress or costume made from such fabric would be? A costume of the sort that one might wear to a masquerade ball such as the one tonight at Kensington Palace?” She was dearly hoping he was getting her hint about the evening’s festivities, but his attention had wandered off in thought, as he stared fixedly toward the corner of the ceiling. When his attention returned to the room, he gave no indication that he had heard what she had just said.

“Miss Slate, are you familiar with the operation of a mill?”

“Yes.”

“Would you like a tour of mine?”

“Why, yes, I would enjoy that very much!”

“This way to the blowing room.” He opened the side door of his office that led directly to the first floor of the factory, motioning for Sarah to precede him. He very nearly followed immediately behind her when the sound of Miss Pogue’s heels marching smartly toward him reminded him of her presence. She smiled tightly at him as she also passed through the door. There was no way she was giving up that easily on an eligible suitor and a business opportunity.

When Miss Pogue and Mr. Howgill rejoined Miss Slate, she was looking about, but with more of an assessing eye than a look of wonder. When her gaze settled on the cotton bale breaker, she stopped, put her hand to her mouth, and frowned in frustration.

Howgill approached. “Is there a problem, Miss Slate?”

“No. I was just thinking that there is not enough room in here for the unpacking of the other fibers alongside the bale breaker.”

“This is my only factory in London, but I have another larger, more up to date one in Carlisle. And I own more land immediately adjacent on which another mill could be built.” Esmeralda made a mental note about the accuracy of the information provided by the banker’s wife. And then she sneezed from the cotton dust in the air.

Sarah nodded at Howgill in understanding and continued surveying the blowing room. She stopped and cocked her left ear toward the bale breaker. She listened for several seconds before turning to face him. “One of the bearings in the bale breaker is wearing out.”

He opened his eyes wide in astonishment. “You have very perceptive ears! We have ordered new parts that should be delivered tomorrow. I think we should be fine until then.”

“I don’t share your certainty on that point, Mr. Howgill. The pitch of the whine has changed since we entered a few moments ago.”

He opened his mouth to dismiss her concerns, but stopped himself. “Are you quite certain?” She sniffed a couple of times. He thought that a rather rude way to answer his question. And then, even more strangely, she whirled around on the spot before dashing behind the willowing machine. She emerged with a bucket of water, the contents of which she immediately dashed into the exit chute of the bale breaker.

The foreman rushed over to disengage the machine from the belt drive while unleashing an unholy stream of curses. Howgill screamed, “Good lord, woman, have you lost your mind? Do you know what it will cost me to repair that machine, not to mention the lost productivity?”

The foreman was frantically yanking handfuls of sodden clumps of cotton out of the exit chute. After freeing more than a dozen handfuls he pulled out one that was singed along one edge. Howgill’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, Miss Slate, I owe you an apology. You have just saved my factory from going up in flames! How can I ever repay you?” Esmeralda swallowed hard. She did not like the direction this was going. “There is a masquerade ball this evening at Kensington Palace. Your friend, Miss Pogue, and I have invitations, but I confess I have been less than enthusiastic about attending. Would you do me the honor of being my guest? Perhaps as a small repayment of the debt I owe you?” The minor conflagration in the bale breaker might have been extinguished, but there was smoke pouring out of Esmeralda’s ears.

“How very kind of you, Mr. Howgill, but I haven’t anything appropriate to wear.”

“I’m sure Miss Pogue can help. Esmeralda, dear, do you have something suitable that Miss Slate may borrow?”

Esmeralda snapped open her fan and began flipping it frenetically to cover her face, hoping to hide the fact that her complexion was turning the same shade of purple as the fan. The nerve! He had never before referred to her in the familiar manner, but now he had deigned to do so to ask a favor for a woman she would not have considered worthy to be a rival for his affections. She nearly choked as she responded, “Of course.”

“Very kind of you. Miss Slate, I will collect you this evening at 6 pm. Where shall I call?”

“I am lodging at McCreary’s Boarding House for Respectable Single Ladies.”

“I will collect you there. And now if you ladies will excuse me, I must see to repairs of my bale breaker, but thankfully, not my entire factory.” He beamed at Sarah as he took her hand and deposited a light kiss on the back of it. Esmeralda felt like she was going to faint.

The ride back across the Thames passed in stony silence. Esmeralda was seething and Sarah was so dazed by the whirlwind of the day’s events that she failed to notice. When the carriage deposited Sarah at the boarding house, Esmeralda said, “I’ll have the dress and mask delivered presently,” and drove off without another word. Once the carriage was a block away, she leaned out the window and said to the coachman, “Bingham, we’ll be stopping at Maricela’s Trapeze on the way home.”

The costume that Bingham delivered later that day was like nothing Sarah had ever seen before. The teal silk taffeta perfectly complemented her dark hair and fair skin. The bustle had a clever little pocket that accommodated the spray of peacock feathers packed into a separate box along with a domino encrusted with blue, green, and hazel crystals to mimic the “eye” in the peacock tail feathers. The effect on the mask was made perfect by the attachment of some wispy brown barbs from more feathers. The box contained two other marvelous gems: a fascinator with a single peacock feather anchored by a stylized brooch in the shape of a peacock feather bejeweled with the same crystals as the domino, and a fan of the same taffeta as the dress, not surprisingly hand painted to look like a peacock tail when opened. Despite her elation at the elegance of the costume, she spared a moment of sympathy for the poor peacock that must have given up absolutely all of its feathers for the making of the ensemble, and another moment to be grateful that Esmeralda hadn’t sent along a peahen costume that would have been more appropriate for her sex.

Sarah struggled a bit to descend the stairs at ten minutes before 6. She was unaccustomed to maneuvering in such voluminous skirts and petticoats, and Esmeralda was a tad taller than she. She was congratulating herself on her safe arrival in the brightly lit foyer when the landlady bustled in dressed in attire that was even more colorful than Sarah’s, if such a thing were possible. Sarah wondered if such a shade of red were appropriate for a woman of Mrs. McCreary’s age, but it certainly matched her mood.

“My dear, you are a vision of splendor. Are you off to some fabulous soiree?”

“So it seems. It’s a masquerade ball at Kensington Palace.”

“Darling, that is the very definition of fabulous! Have you arranged for a cab?”

“No. Mr. Charles Howgill, the industrialist should be calling for me on the hour.”

“Mr. Charles Howgill, the industrialist? He sounds positively eligible.”

“Yes, so I hear. He is very nearly betrothed to my friend, Miss Esmeralda Pogue.”

Mrs. McCreary winked at Sarah in her vibrantly colored splendor. “Perhaps not after tonight.” And then she pinched Sarah’s cheek for good measure. Precisely on the hour there was a crisp tapping on the door. The landlady handed Sarah a key. “If you should return late, please be quiet. I need my beauty sleep. If you don’t return until early, please make plenty of noise so I can be elsewhere and pretend I didn’t know you were out past a respectable hour.” She winked conspiratorially at Sarah before opening the door. After quickly sizing up the properly dressed gentleman on the front porch, she stepped back to reveal her tenant hidden behind her.

Howgill stood stock still, staring at Sarah in rapt amazement. “Miss Slate, you are absolutely stunning.” He held out his elbow for her to take. Neither of them noticed Mrs. McCreary smiling knowingly at their backs as they made their way to the carriage.

It seemed to Sarah that there were more servants than guests at Kensington Palace: two footmen to help her out of the carriage, another one to hold the umbrella to shield her from the evening drizzle for the few feet between the carriage and the awning, a bevy of ladies maids taking ladies cloaks and their male compatriots relieving gentlemen of their hats and coats. Another servant floated toward them carrying an ornately embellished tray cramped with flutes of goldenly bubbling champagne. Charles turned to her, “Would you care for a glass of champagne?”

“I can’t say as I’ve never tasted it.”

“Then nothing else will do.” He retrieved two glasses as the tray with the servant drifted past. “I advise a modicum of caution. I find the bubbles go right to my head.” He watched her take a gingerly sip, focusing all of his attention on her. As she looked back at him, she considered that she might have misjudged his age when she met him that morning. He seemed not much past 30 years now that she looked at him closely.

Growing a might uncomfortable with his fixed attention, she began searching for something distracting. She spied a gentleman dressed in relatively unremarkable clothing, but wearing a strikingly sinister mask. It had a protruding brow and a long, upward swept nose with flaring nostrils. Its deep red color gave it a devilish aspect. It also matched the dress of the woman standing next to him. Rather than wearing a mask on her face, the woman was wearing a dainty hat with a harlequin mask affixed to it. Sarah nodded in their direction, “Do you know who the man in the red mask is?”

“It would be almost impossible to say given the completeness of the mask, but the woman next to him is Lady Amethyst, the noted crypto-zoologist.”

“Are you acquainted with her?”

“Sadly, no, but she published an excellent article last month in ‘The Zoologist.’”

She was struggling to think of another suitable topic when a wave of silence followed by a murmur rippled from the entrance toward them. They both turned to face the source of the crowd’s fascination directly. The assemblage parted to reveal Miss Esmeralda Pogue in a costume immediately recognizable as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Certainly she wasn’t naked, but her dress was nearly the exact shade or her alabaster skin and the outline of Venus was hand painted on the silk of her dress and the bottom tier was a ruffled sea foam green. Her long red hair was somehow fastened around the dress to cover the painting on the dress as it did in the original work. A soft pink, patterned drape flowed from her left shoulder. A pair of tiny winged angels bobbed from a wire frame whose base was hidden under her hair. An enormous scallop shell fanned out from her bustle, necessitating the parting of the crowd. Her escort wasn’t wearing a costume per se. Only a madman would have come to such a gathering impersonating an admiral of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. The uniform was undoubtedly real and several people in the room recognized him, although Sarah wasn’t one of them.

Sarah suddenly felt very plain as Venus washed in on her half shell. Esmeralda and her escort halted their promenade immediately in front of Sarah and Charles. Charles stood up very straight and looked her directly in the eye. “Miss Pogue, you certainly have a talent for drawing attention to yourself.” He turned to the admiral and shook his hand firmly. “Sir, I trust you will have a pleasant evening. The Perrier-Jouët is a marvel.” Sarah noticed, much to her relief, that Charles had deftly, but politely dismissed the new arrivals who moved on. Neither of them noticed a dark haired, dark skinned man in a kurta and turban closely observing the exchange from the cover of the more elaborately disguised guests. Charles turned back to Sarah.

“Sarah, may I call you Sarah?”

“As you wish.”

“Sarah, have you ever been to Cumbria?”



Dancing in the Lab

Entry for January 24, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

The June midday sun shone on London’s district of Shadwell. The streets bustled with noontime errand runners and stocky cart-loading laborers. Erasmus sat uncomfortably in the hansom cab be hired to take him to see Dr. Pogue, and merely out of nervousness, glanced again at the address for Edmond in his logbook. This was his first visit to the doctor’s laboratory, and it seemed like a longer and bumpier ride than he had wished for. Then he plucked out his pocket watch and gave it a quick look. It had been four minutes since he last looked at it. Why did he dislike these carriage rides so much? Today’s theory was that having someone else steering the vehicle made him feel like he had lost some control over his life for the duration of the ride. But that was silly; he could redirect the driver at any moment. His fingers tapped the top of his cane. Only a few moments longer.

Erasmus had seen Edmond in the hospital a few days ago, and promised to come by his place to understand the mystery of Mr. Rutherford’s concoction. Edmond had been released by Dr. McTrowell and he was supposed to be resting at his combination residence-laboratory. Knowing Edmond, the chance of finding him actually resting was as likely as Ireland becoming tropical.

The hansom came to a stop in front of the converted storehouse. Erasmus felt the grey granite walls and tower stood out impressively from the surrounding building, and it took him a second more than usual to hop out of the vehicle as he gawked at the edifice. Pressing a number of coins into the chauffeur’s hand to cover payment and a tip, Erasmus turned and strode up to the building’s heavy door. He had only tapped the knocker twice when it swung open to reveal Yin’s smiling face.

“Good day, Dr. Young. You look cheerful!”

“So glad you’re here, Chief Inspector. The doctor was expecting you. I’m just glad that Edmond is back at his residence. He’s down in the laboratory. I’ll lead you there.”

Yin showing the way, the pair traversed the main hallway to the tower, down the wrought iron staircase, and finally to the floor of the laboratory, where Edmond was working on a brass contraption on one of his worktables, lost in his activities. Yin simply cleared her throat to get his attention. Dr. Pogue spun around and snapped out a heavily gloved hand for shaking. “Drake! You are here! Delightful! Delightful!” He then looked down to his own hand and realized that it wasn’t properly uncovered. Just as quickly, he stuffed the tip of the middle finger of the glove into his mouth to aid in its removal, bit down, and whipped out his bare hand for the shaking again. Erasmus shifted his bowler and cane to his left hand and gave Edmond’s hand a hearty shake. Edmond was already compensating for the lack of a left hand, Erasmus thought. “How are you doing my friend?”

Edmond opened his mouth to speak and deftly caught the falling glove in his hand.

“I have been busy! I have so much to catch up on. But I am so grateful that you could take the rest of today to help me expand my study of the ‘Rutherford Phenomenon.’”

“I’m glad to help, but I’ve never been studied before.”

Both Edmond and Yin were wearing mustard yellow lab coats, both equally stained and smudged from their work Yin rounded the table, pulled a smallish hammer out of her lab coat pocket, and proceeded to complete closing the rivets on the brass contraption.

“Erasmus, you are in good hands, I assure you. But first, let me show you what we are working on. Here is a prototype of my replacement arm! Yin and Sarah did the preliminary design, and I’ve added some touches. It is not complete, but we need to test some concepts before we know if we are going in the right direction. Our biggest problem is weight. This simple version is 35 pounds, and still needs many of the finger controls and a better extension capability. Did you know that my right arm is only ten and a half pounds? Approximately. I’d like to get this down to a closer weight. I’m hoping to finish the prosthetic in ten weeks, but Yin asked if we could try to do it in less. Given that we are doing it on our own time, it will delay our other efforts.”

Edmond spoke as if he was merely fixing a penny-farthing. Erasmus looked around and saw all of the other efforts that were underway but disregarded. They were from many of the sciences: mechanical linkages, botanical cross-pollination, high-pressure engines, and multi-colored chemicals. In addition, there were wooden crates there on the floor in the back of the laboratory, the ones Erasmus had sent to have their contents analyzed.

After the look around, Erasmus paused and then agreed, “I’m ready for what you have in mind. How should we proceed?”

“Erasmus, have a seat. I have put a great deal of thought into this since we last talked. I have a bottle of Green Fantasy. This is Mr. Rutherford’s latest variation, which seems to have less of a negative effect on its recipients. I had thought of giving you just a little and see what the effects are, but that may be problematic. Most reactions to medication are not linear with respect to amount. If I give you half of what Mr. Rutherford did, I probably won’t see any effect. What I would like to do is give you the same amount I did with my other subjects, which is eight ounces.”

“That’s about twice as much as I had last time! Are you sure that’s safe?”

“I do believe it is. From your own story, you only had the most intense response for a little over five minutes. This will allow me to compare you to my other subjects. It will also allow me and Yin to observe your reaction so that we can see if we can determine if the mixture is really having an effect on you, or if you are just relaxed into concentrating on the task at hand.”

Dr. Pogue poured the green liquid from the bottle into a graduated beaker. Eight ounces. Erasmus stared at it. Was he really going to go through this again?

“I must admit I am nervous. I don’t want to end up like one of those half-awake corpse-like opium smokers.”

“My preliminary analysis says that you won’t. Yin, are you ready to take notes? Erasmus, please begin.”

The Chief Inspector picked up the beaker. It looked harmless enough. It smelled of sweet candy, and he remembered the taste, and the instructions Mr. Rutherford gave to let it roll around in his mouth. He mumbled to himself, “I enjoy new experiences, I enjoy new experiences, …”

He took about half a mouthful, which was only about a third of the beaker’s contents. While turning it over in his mouth, he looked at Edmond, and then at Yin, then he stood and looked around the room. He swallowed. His attention focused and his concentration accelerated.

Erasmus woke up in a soft feather bed covered with linen and blankets, with a cotton pillow under his head. How long had he been asleep? Did he black out? He had a bit of a headache, but was otherwise no worse off. He sat up. He was still in his clothes and was wearing a white lab coat. He got out of the bed and looked around. He determined that he was in Edmond’s bedroom, allowed to sleep until he woke. At the window he pushed aside the cotton curtains to reveal a midday sun. What happened?

Erasmus made his way out of the chamber, down the hallway to a kitchen. The kitchen made him remember how hungry he was, but he would address that after he found the others. From the kitchen, he entered the main hallway, turned right, and headed toward the laboratory. From the landing on the stairs, Erasmus could see Edmond toiling away at one of the worktables. It had five or more bulbous glass containers that were either being heated or having some liquid deposited into it from coiled glass tubes. Erasmus descended the stairs.

Edmond turned, and exclaimed, “You are awake! Delightful!”

“Did you not expect me to awaken?”

“No, no, I did not expect you to be awake so soon! You are having trouble remembering? You went to bed, or rather we lead you to the bed, at 6 o’clock in the morning! You have slept only six hours. Astounding!”

Edmond turned and patted Erasmus on his back while reaching out and shaking his hand. “You have done me a great service.”

“How is that? Wait … let me see your other arm!”

Dr. Pogue was wearing his yellow lab coat, but a gleaming brass left hand was visible at the cuff of his sleeve.

Erasmus was beside himself, “Impressive!”

“Impressive? You built it last night! From parts from the two EPACTs! See these fingers? They are shortened versions of the EPACTs legs. Watch this.”

Edmond whistled a simple three-note tune, and the hand closed into a neat fist without a single part rubbing or scuffing. He looked at Erasmus and wiggled his eyebrows. He whistled a two-note sequence, and just the index finger extended to make a perfect pointing hand.

“Great, isn’t it? This is your work. Well, Yin and I assisted you, but you took over the laboratory.”

Edmond took off his lab coat as he continued. “Yin was exhausted, so she’s still sleeping. Take a look at the leather yoke for my shoulders and top of my torso. It fits perfectly.”

With the lab coat slipped off, Edmond revealed the leather harness that went over his shoulders and tied in the front of his chest. Attached to the top of his remaining left arm was a slim and shiny brass arm. It had pinkie diameter-sized holes in it, as if it needed cooling vents. But then Erasmus started to remember the entirety of the previous day and evening. The holes are to reduce weight, and they are placed in a staggered pattern so that the brass exterior retained its strength. And the power wasn’t from steam, as originally thought. Instead …

“Erasmus? I lost you there for a second. Are you recalling the design? You know, you didn’t draw a single picture. You just described out loud what you were thinking while you were building. The driving forces come from a stacked set of storage cells that you removed from Professor Farnsworth’s discharge pistol backpack. The functional activation is through the audio-input-controls from the EPACTs. You reused some existing and manufactured a number of new operation disks, and then we set them to frequencies that I can whistle.”

“I remember. I drew the yoke pattern onto leather for Yin to cut out and rivet into shape. We destroyed a couple of perfectly good tool bags, did we not?”

“I have a working mechanical arm, my good man! It is only 11 pounds and is twice as strong as my right one! What do I care if I lost a couple of replaceable leather bags?!”

The men hooted and did a little jig right there in the laboratory. Yin, bleary-eyed, padded into the room in a kimono. “You two are noisy. I thought you were going to let me sleep.” The two men laughed and played with making the arm do a number of simple movements, while Yin went off to get properly dressed.

After a half hour of this, Erasmus remembered his hunger. “Let’s go out and get a meal. Can we put a jacket and glove on your right arm and give it a test run outside?”

“Delightful!”

Edmond trotted up the stairs to fetch his overcoat and gloves. Yin and Erasmus followed. Yin was now fully awake and extremely happy. Edmond was able to both put on the jacket and glove, and conceal his metallic prosthetic arm.

Outside on the street, the three discussed where they could go to celebrate. Oddly, an open cabriolet was headed smartly up the street towards them. Erasmus spied it first and waved, but the driver was oblivious to his signal. Without thinking, he pursed his lips and gave a sharp whistle, and Edmond’s left arm shot up and punched its owner in the jaw, knocking him out cold.

Erasmus and Yin turned to the doctor, who was now laying flat on the sidewalk, unconscious, his left hand still making a fist and aiming at the red spot on the side of his face. Erasmus thought, “Well, I guess it still needs some work!”



Auntie Catherine

Entry for January 29, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

“Good morning, Mr. Littleton.”

“Good morning, Dr. McTrowell. What can I do for you today?”

“I need to pop up to Stirling for a day or two. Do you have a ship going to either Edinburgh or Glasgow?”

“The Aelian is departing for Glasgow tomorrow morning at 9 am and Abercromby still needs a co-pilot. I can’t pay you a full pilot’s wages, but all the paying seats are full.”

“Abercromby’s a fine pilot, so I won’t have to do much but keep him company. And get paid for the pleasure. That will do nicely. Thank you.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t have a returning ship for another week.”

“Then I shall have to return by train. The co-pilot’s wages should cover that cost and I’ll be no money out of pocket for the trip. Very good, thank you again, Littleton.”

As she had expected, the trip to Glasgow was uneventful. She had only had to do a bit of spotting and since the weather was lovely and clear, it wasn’t much more than sightseeing from the air. She collected her wages at the local office of Western & Transatlantic before heading to the train station on foot. It was conveniently close by and she only had her Gladstone bag since she was just staying overnight. The train ride gave her an opportunity to reconsider Her Majesty’s letter. Maybe she didn’t really know and was just trying to spook McTrowell into revealing the whole truth. If that was the case, she had just played right into the queen’s hands with her trip to Stirling.

There was almost no one about on Broad Street which suited Sparky’s purposes just fine. There was no immediate answer when she rapped the knocker at number 30. Perhaps she had made a tactical error by trying to hide her plans. If no one was home, she had risked discovery unnecessarily by coming to Stirling. She was just contemplating whether she should plan to stay another day or two and make some quiet inquiries when the door opened. The face of the older woman who answered the door lit up when she saw the visitor.

“Czarina! What a lovely surprise! Have you come for a bit of a stay?”

Sparky winced a bit. No one but her maiden aunt called her by her given name. Even her mother had acquiesced to calling her Sparky, at least to her face. “Hello, Auntie Catherine. Sadly I’m only here overnight as I have business in London. May I come in?”

“Oh of course, dearie! It’s been so long since I had a visitor, I’m forgetting my manners.” Sparky felt a twinge of regret. Her paternal aunt was all the family she had left besides her mother, and she went years in between visits. And her aunt didn’t have any family other than Sparky…Czarina. “Would you like a spot of tea?”

“That would be lovely, thank you. I flew to Glasgow from London this morning and came over on the train. It feels like I’ve been traveling for days though.”

“Well aren’t you the grand adventurer?”

Sparky rubbed her eyes. Yes, she felt a lot like a grand adventurer these days, and it wasn’t always to her liking. The smell of the tea lifted her spirits. It wasn’t the spicy delight of Virat’s chai, but it brought her back to the times she spent in these environs as a child. Her aunt fixed a cup of tea for Sparky just the way she had when she and Sparky had sat reading adventure stories together years ago. McTrowell thought it criminal that her father had gotten to go off traveling, an experience that had been almost entirely wasted on him, while her aunt had had to stay home and care for their father as his health failed and he died. She was sure Catherine would have had a better appreciation of the larger world than her dissolute younger brother. She took a sip.

“Auntie Catherine, has anyone been about lately asking about Grandfather’s ‘arrangement?’”

“Isn’t it funny that you should ask. A big fellow came by not much more than a month ago asking about Da and bràthair.”

“A big fellow? Can you describe him?”

“Nearly as wide at the shoulders as he was tall. Brown hair and very blue eyes. Stood up quite straight like a military man. Easy on the eyes if you know what I mean.”

“Aha. I know exactly what you mean.”

“Is he a beau of yours?” She smiled wistfully at the thought of her niece having such a fine young man.

“No, he’s more of a colleague or an acquaintance. He’s a bit young for me and not really intellectual or worldly enough for my taste.”

“So, is there such an intellectual or worldly gentleman?”

“There might be. Perhaps we can discuss him over dinner.” She smiled slightly on the outside, but broadly on the inside. “For the moment I’m more concerned about your visitor.”

“Your grandfather may be gone more than a decade, but I kept my promise to hold his dying wish. I told that young man I hadn’t seen your brother since Da passed. He asked if the two of you were close, so I told him I wasn’t sure anymore, but you were when you were younger.” And then the two ladies had a great laugh together. “Dearie, you must be terribly peckish after your long journey. I was working on a proper shepherd’s pie when you arrived.” Sparky let out a happy sigh at the thought of her aunt’s shepherd’s pie with its savory chunks of tender lamb and crispy mashed potatoes on top. “I thought that might pique your appetite. Let’s have some supper and you can tell me all about that intellectual, worldly fellow of yours.”

Sparky felt delightfully rested as she left her aunt’s house the next morning. She had forgotten how blissfully quiet it was here, far away from the chaos of London. Her aunt had fortified her with cream scones, strawberry jam, clotted cream and several more cups of tea. After two helpings of shepherd’s pie the night before, she felt like she wouldn’t need to eat again for a week. She kissed her aunt on the cheek.

“Thank you, Auntie Catherine.”

“You take care, dearie. And don’t be a stranger.”

“No, ma’am.” She made a promise to herself to keep her word.

The train ride back was going to take longer than the flight up, so she settled into her seat, pulled her notebook and enameled pen out of her Gladstone bag, and began drawing graphs of the encounters she had had over the last month. Abusir led to Drake, but she didn’t detect any causality there, only correlation. Drake led to Pogue, a clearly intentional relationship. Pogue led to Dr. Young, which was also clearly intentional, but there seemed to be a missing connection there. Dr. Young was entirely capable of pursuing research on her own. Why did she stay working with Dr. Pogue? If it wasn’t wholly for professional reasons, was it personal? Or was there some other influence of which McTrowell wasn’t aware? Jonathan Lord Ashleigh clearly had a business relationship with Wallace, but he also had his mysterious “resources” and an uncanny way of turning up with just the right resources at just the right time. Wallace was the only one who made perfect sense; he was clearly motivated by money. As annoying as he could be, it was a relief not to wonder about his raison d’être. And then there was Sergeant J.B. Fox who was far too integrated in her life for no readily apparent reason. She was not a strong adherent to theories of coincidence. Her pen hovered over the nodes and arcs that didn’t form a connected graph. Who was the puppet master?

When the train reached Carlisle, she closed her notebook and stared out the window, hoping that focusing on something other than the frustrating page would provide some insight. She gazed idly at the passengers disembarking and boarding. She saw something that caused her to sit forward in her seat and press her face and hands to the window. There was a well dressed, obviously well to do gentleman preparing to board the train, an unremarkable event in itself. But he was offering a hand up to Miss Sarah Slate! What was she doing in Carlisle and who was her unidentified companion? Sparky was still wondering about the new passengers and staring into the space they had just vacated when she saw something astoundingly more noteworthy. Boarding the train a discreet distance behind the pair was a man in very ordinary clothes intended to blend into the crowd. What did not blend in was the remarkable width of his shoulders.

“Well, Sergeant Fox,” she thought, “The game is afoot.”

Previous Page Next Page