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Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears - Page 3: February 8, 2012 - March 13, 2012

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The Big Date
Mundanity
One Thing Right
Herr Euler
The Three Tests
Convenient


The Big Date

Entry for February 8, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

Sparky trotted up the steps to the front door of Jonathan Lord Ashleigh’s row house, and before she even reached for the knocker, Virat opened the door with both a smile and a bit of a bow. “Well, hello Virat!” Sparky cheerfully exclaimed. Virat scooped her Gladstone bag out of her hand and proceeded to take it upstairs. Anu was standing in the sitting room with a tray of hot chai tea that she must have poured as soon as the cabriolet dropped Sparky off.

“Was your trip satisfactory?” Anu queried.

“It allowed me to get a bit of business done as well as see my aunt. Oh, thank you for the chai, it smells wonderful!”

Sparky pulled off her gloves and jacket, and settled into an armchair that was much more comfortable than the train accommodations. Anu handed Sparky a cup of the steaming brew.

Anu continued. “The Chief Inspector that you have spoke of stopped by earlier this afternoon to see you.”

“To see me? Oh, I am sorry to have missed him. Was it urgent?”

“Not in the usual sense. He wanted to ask you to accompany him to dinner tonight. He was practically shy in his confession of his request. Would you like the particulars? I wrote them down on this card.”

Sparky eagerly held her hand out, but batted her eyes and feigned, “That Chief Inspector, what a bother. Well, if I must!”

Anu wasn’t quite used to a guest play-acting with her, and withdrew the card slightly with a perplexed look. Sparky quickly apologized. “I’m sorry, Anu. I did not mean to confuse you. Yes, I am very interested in the specifics of his offer!”

Anu handed over the card, and Sparky eagerly looked over Anu’s perfect handwriting.

If it would please Dr. McTrowell, Chief Inspector Drake would like her to accompany him to a restaurant located in Clerkenwell in the Italian style of cuisine. The Chief Inspector will arrive to escort her at half seven in the evening, to-night, if the offer is accepted.


“How thoughtful. I’ll need to select a dress. Can you have word sent back to him that I accept his offer?”

Anu gave a slight bow while saying, “Right away. Thank you.” She set down the tray and went up the stairs toward Virat. In a moment, Virat descended the stairs wearing an outside jacket and carrying a cap, and with a slight smile toward Sparky, zipped outside to deliver the message.

Anu returned. “Is there anything I can do to help you prepare?”

“Not that I can think of, thank you.”

Sparky continued to sip her chai, but Anu stayed where she was, eyes averted. Two sips later, Sparky became more aware of Anu’s hovering.

Anu cleared her throat, and Sparky looked up to see Anu looking … above her? Past her? It was some subtle hint that she was failing to get.

“Anu, I am not one who is good with clever hints. What are you trying to tell me?”

“It is simply that the Chief Inspector will be here to pick you up in an hour and a half. I could help you with your hair during that time.”

“I hadn’t plan to do anything with … Do I need to do something? I like it down like this. It is easy to work with.”

“If I may suggest, the hairstyle you choose sends a message.”

Like many women in the States, at least the western ones, Sparky had her hair long so that went down her back just below her shoulder blades, with bangs in the front. The sun had kept it blond; similar to the color it was when she was a child. The cut gave her many options for wearing it: straight down, up in a nice bun, gathered with a clip or leather strand, or with a single braid down her back. Sparky was concerned that Anu was trying to provide gentle guidance that none of these useful hairstyles would do for tonight.

Sparky submitted a single word query: “Message?”

“Yes, ma’am. Your hair down means you want to be friends or colleagues. Up in a bun relays an air of confidence, independence, and tidiness with a touch of purity. A simple curl indicates that you want to be seen as pretty and fetching.”

“Which of those would you suggest?”

“None, actually. I recommend we put your hair up in a fancy curl. The obvious effort means that the evening is important to you. That would be my humble opinion.”

Anu averted her eyes again, indicating that she wondered if she had overstepped her post with the proposed hairstyle combined with the implication that tonight was significant. Sparky thought Anu was both thoughtful and generous in her offer, and that she was correct in her assessment. That being said, she didn’t look forward to a night of having her hair piled on her head in the manner of a furry mammal napping on her cranium. And the glue-like substances that would be used to keep its airy structure static were not appealing in either their application or employment.

Sparky smiled as pleasantly as she could. “I agree we should do something. Your help would be greatly appreciated.”

Anu smiled broadly, and lead the way upstairs.

At seven-thirty exactly, a tall driver stopped his shiny black cabriolet in front of Jonathan Lord Ashleigh’s row house. His jet-black horse gave a small whinny and lightly pawed the paving stones, making a distinct set of horseshoe-on-stone sounds. The cabriolet door swung open, and out stepped Erasmus in his black frock coat, bright blue vest, black cravat, and starched white shirt. When he stepped down to the cobblestones, he donned his top hat, and strode up to the door. He clacked the knocker once, and the door swung open. Virat kept himself hidden to not block the presentation of Sparky as she stood in the entranceway. She wore a well-fitted deep purple dress with three-quarter length sleeves, and her hair was arranged in a manner that took Erasmus’ breath away. It was elegantly piled in open loops on the crown of her head, held there by purple ribbons, with a some locks of curled hair hanging loosely down as bouncy blond spirals accompanied by similarly coiled purple ribbons. Sparky stood tall on her higher-than-normal heels, which for her was a great achievement, which gave her an additional air of sophistication.

Anu approached Sparky from behind, and added to Sparky’s ensemble a finely made shawl in the pattern of a subtle purple tartan.

“You look fabulous,” he said to her, as he picked up her hand to kiss it. “I could say the same to you,” she replied.

The restaurant, if one could call it that, was a collection of five tables in the sitting room of a well-appointed Italian household in the Clerkenwell area of London. There wasn’t a menu, per se, but rather a list of what was being served that night from the household’s kitchen. The waiter sat Sparky and Erasmus near the front window to show them off to the passersby, as if to say, “See how nicely our clientele are dressed?”

All of the other tables had their own sets of patrons. Erasmus thought that they were a bit stuffy and rather uninteresting, being there mainly to be seen and eat. He, instead, had planned to enjoy a lively conversation with his dinner companion.

Their conversation tripped along in a light and fun way as they enjoyed their Lambrusco wine while waiting for dinner to arrive on the table. Sparky, in particular, enjoyed the aroma of the wine. “I think I sense a hint of strawberry. Do you?” she asked. “But of course,” he replied. Erasmus was not a foolish man. When your date senses a particular note within the nose of a wine, agree with her. Being a woman, her olfactory senses are far superior. But in this case, he knew that Lambrusco was well known for that flavor element, which made it a good wine to start the evening meal.

Dinner came out on a warm serving plate that was placed centrally on the table. It held a wonderful collection of fresh vegetables and pork sausages, all seasoned with vinegar, olive oil, basil, and oregano. The vegetables had been quickly sautéed in a small portion of pork lard, except for the tomatoes, that were served fresh! Quite a difference from any of the British vegetable preparations, which involved a good deal of boiling or stewing. The two diners helped themselves to the comestibles.

Between bites, Sparky mused, “I’d love to visit the countryside of the Italian Peninsula. This cuisine is so different than British, French, or even the hodge-podge in the state of California. But I hesitate to go while the Italian nationalists are causing such a fuss with their unification effort.” “I would enjoy that,” Erasmus mused.

The conversation rolled along covering an amazing set of disciplines as they consumed their meal at a leisurely pace. They discussed the unhealthy tightness of current women’s fashions, the importance of segmenting teamwork in a way that allows each person to take ownership of their area of responsibility, a silly accident that an inventor had caused while trying to set up a burglar prevention device using electricity, the strange ailments of the affluent due to rarely washing their bouffant coiffure, the short history of Scotland Yard and the trials and tribulations of a state-run organization of officers and detectives, the lack of proper airship fields in Australia, and the disagreements by the various university football teams over the inconsistent application of the Cambridge Rules.

When their plates neared emptiness, Erasmus asked, “May I change the subject?” He looked a bit concerned, given the lightness of the exchange. “I have a small issue that has been on my mind that I wanted to discuss with you.”

“Of course, Erasmus. What is it?”

“Remember telling your tale of experimenting on yourself to test if licorice root would counter the effects of foxglove?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Why experiment on yourself?”

“Well, if I may correct you, you have described the experiment the wrong way around. I had to know the effects of foxglove so that the explanation about dying miners provided by my mother made sense. The licorice root was to revive myself. I tried my best to not poison myself, actually. But to answer your question directly, I didn’t want to administer foxglove to anyone else because I might endanger their life, and if I had, I couldn’t count on anyone else to accurately describe what they were experiencing. Erasmus, you understood that part already. Why do you ask?”

Erasmus hesitated to answer immediately, fearing that this may be a strange confession. “Hmm. Dr. Pogue has decided to use me to test the effects of a so-called elixir that is being sold in a number of apothecaries, and I’m not sure I am comfortable playing the role of a laboratory guinea-pig.”

“Really!? That’s odd. Why you?”

“Because I have a rare reaction to the concoction. It increases my engineering and scientific capabilities.”

“To a measurable extent?”

“Oh, my, yes. Just the other day I lead the effort to finish his prosthetic arm. It is now fully functional.”

“That’s great!” Then Sparky hesitated and made a smirk, adding, “I’m concerned that Dr. Pogue may no longer be experimenting and instead is taking advantage of your new-found abilities. Has he modified the mixture to figure out what is causing or not causing the effect?”

“Not yet, although we have only gone through one test. But I’m not really excited about running more experiments.”

“Then as a representative of the medical establishment, I suggest that you give him a limited number of trials, and then cut him off. You’re not an animal, you’re a human being.”

“That is sound advice. I’ll do that.”

“I’d like to see the prosthetic arm. I had promised Dr. Pogue to incorporate embedded cleats to help reduce the complexity of the attachment mechanism. I’d like to see how you addressed that issue.”

The waiter leaned over and handed each of them a card.

Sparky smiled. “The dreaded dessert list! This place is fiendish, I tell you.”

Erasmus wondered to himself, “What is a
cannoli siciliani? I know that canna is Latin for ‘reed.’ Could they possibly be following this lovely meal with a dessert of Sicilian marsh grass?”



Mundanity

Entry for February 13, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

“I’m afraid I’ve eaten so much of the delicious dinner that I cannot possibly eat any dessert, no matter how tempting it might be.”

The waiter made a face at Sparky that looked like she had suggested that Bordeaux was superior to Chianti.

Drake chimed in, not wishing to make his date watch him eat dessert alone, “I’m quite full as well, although the cannoli piques my interest,” but he couldn’t really get the idea of marsh grass out of his head.

The waiter sniffed, turned on his heel, and left. He returned a moment later with the check, all without saying a word. Drake and McTrowell looked at each as if to say to each other, “Well, what was that all about?”

“Edmond, dearest, it’s time to come away from the lab. Dinner is ready.”

Drs. Pogue and Young looked up from where they were tinkering with the leather harness for his new mechanical arm. Yin asked him, “Would you like to put the harness on?”

Edmond winced slightly at the thought of more chafing. “Esmeralda, what’s for dinner?”

“Beef stew with dumplings.”

Pogue replied to Yin, sotto voce, “I don’t think that will be necessary,” relieved at the thought of a meal he could eat without employing both a knife and a fork. Yin smiled a little sadly at him. It pained her to see him suffering, no matter how brave a face he put on it. He called up to his sister on the landing, “Has Miss Slate arrived yet?”

“Miss Slate?”

“Yes, I had Bingham deliver her an invitation to join us for dinner. I’m keen to hear how her trip to Carlisle with Howgill went.”

“Carlisle? Howgill?” Esmeralda fairly choked on the implication.

“I believe they’re making excellent progress on their plans for the new mill in Carlisle. Miss Slate has promised to bring her plans for the new loom design. This is a very exciting development!”

Sarah Slate was already standing in the dining room when the Pogue siblings and Yin entered. Esmeralda hung back when she saw Sarah. Oblivious as always to the tension between the women, Edmond strode right up to Sarah and took her hand. “Miss Slate, I’m most anxious to hear about your adventure up north. Did you bring the drawings?”

“Of course!” She happily spread out the roll of drawings she held tucked under her arm. Edmond and Yin huddled around the unfurled paper, but Esmeralda stood stock still in the doorway. As her fellow inquisitives poured over the details of the plans, Sarah stood up straight, took a deep breath, and turned around.

“Esmeralda, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your costume for the masquerade ball. It was quite ingenious. Did you design it yourself?”

Miss Pogue was struck dumb for an instant. When she recovered from the shock of the warmth of the inquiry, she replied, “Why yes, I did. Thank you. But I had quite a bit of help with the execution.”

“Whoever made the dress should employ you. You have a real gift for design.” It took a moment for the enormity of this compliment to sink in.

“I should see that dinner makes its way to the table.” Her head was buzzing with ideas as she made her way to the kitchen to tell the cook to serve dinner. Meanwhile, Sarah was mentally sending a small thanks to Charles Howgill. His tutelage on human relationships was already proving to be valuable. She allowed herself the small hope that she would continue to enjoy his instruction and company for a long time to come.

“Dr. McTrowell, should I hail us a cab?”

“No, thank you. After that marvelous dinner, I think a bit of a walk would be a good idea.”

“I quite agree. I’m pleased to learn that you enjoyed the meal. It seems that you and I have shared quite a bit of excitement, but rarely peace and quiet.”

She chuckled as she took his arm. “Truer words were never spoken, my dear Chief Inspector. I shall have to write this in my journal, ‘July 8, 1851: Chief Inspector Drake and I had a quiet dinner together.’ When I’m an old woman, I’ll marvel at the mundanity of the entry.”

“Mundanity?” He nearly pouted.

“I didn’t mean it like that. I only meant that you and I seem to have one adventure after another with barely enough time to catch our breath. I very much enjoyed catching my breath this evening.” She leaned in as if to kiss him, but stopped cold.

“Are you all right, Sparky?”

Under her breath, she said, “Give me a quick kiss and then turn around slowly as if we’re going to continue walking down the street. Look to your left as you do so.”

By now he knew better than to question her instructions, nor did he wish to decline the invitation of a kiss. Sadly, it would have to be a brief one. He kissed her softly on the lips, lingering just a little longer than necessary. He glanced to his left as he raised his head. She pulled his arm tight to her side and put her head on his shoulder so she was close to his ear. “Do you see those two men across the street loading a crate onto a cart?” He nodded as if she had just whispered a sweet nothing into his ear.

“Isn’t that Mr. Horace Hedgley and his associate, Mr. Martin. What are they doing in London?”



One Thing Right

Entry for February 19, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

The main street of Clerkenwell enjoyed the steady illumination of a dozen or so gas lamps, which may have been fine to throw light on an evening stroll, but was a bit deficient for serious labor. In the darkness between two of the lamps, the sounds of a pair of men laboring with a heavy object could be heard.

The crate was incredibly heavy for the two men to lift. The cool air of the evening helped a little, but both men had still sweated through their jackets and stained their bowlers. The cart springs groaned as the weight was loaded onto its back, and the cart’s horse had to take a few steps to maintain the cart’s balance. Both men stopped to bend over and catch their breath, bracing their arms on their knees. Between deep breaths, the taller man started a new conversation.

“You know, Mr. Martin, we could simply vanish, leaving this insanity to Monsieur Punaise. Loading black market clockwork parts in the middle of the night. What rubbish! And to think I got an engineering degree … for this! What do you say we simply make good an escape and start over?”

“I’ve always looked to your business sense, Mr. Hedgley, but I dare say it is going to be hard to run away from our own business. We own it together, although you have the majority share. Monsieur Punaise is a contractor! Should we run away from our fiduciary responsibilities because we have sourced our work to a mad man? If it is our losses you wish to cut, we should simply stop doing business with him.”

“He has us over a barrel! If we cut our ties to Monsieur Punaise, we lose access to all of the knowledge that he has, and the plans that he proposed. If he is right, we stand to make a great deal of money!”

“While you ponder this momentous decision, let us go fetch the last two crates so we can get some sleep tonight. The longer we delay, the greater the chance we’ll be asked why we are loading crates from the back of a gear maker’s warehouse. I only hope that the guard will still have the exit door ajar.”

The men righted themselves and begrudgingly headed back towards the nearby alleyway.

Across the street, Erasmus and Sparky watched from the shadows. When the men had turned the corner and were out of earshot, Sparky looked quizzically at Erasmus.

“From their accents, it makes sense that they are here. They sound like educated Londoners. Given their conversation, or what little I could hear, they are caught up in some unseemly doings. Again.”

Erasmus opened his jacket and glanced at what he had with him. No knife, no cane, and certainly no pistol. Earlier that evening, they just did not seem to be the right things to bring on a date. “Neither of us is dressed or equipped to track them. Perhaps we should leave this until tomorrow, and since we know their names, I could …”

Sparky had a wry little smile as she interrupted him, “Is my date not a man of action? What should we do?”

Erasmus played along, musing, “I could run over and cling to the bottom of the cart, staying there until they finish loading more of their ill-gotten goods. Figure at least a half-hour of mind-numbing grasping. Then they will take their cart over the roughest of London’s roads to hide from the main thoroughfares, while I try my best not to lose my grip or bump my head, which would reopen my wound. We can’t have that. It would leave a tell-tale trail of blood. Then they’ll pull to a stop after twenty miles of my hugging onto a rusty rotating axle in my finest clothes. I would leap out, defeat both of them, some number of contracted henchmen, and perhaps the tall French maniac that probably followed them here from France, using just my bare hands, tired as they be. I would then pull out the one tool I have, my policeman’s whistle, and signal for assistance. Tweet! Tweet! Case closed!!”

“Ahh, you have it all backwards, my good Chief Inspector. I will sprint into the alley in these dress boots, in an instant determine where they are and their crimes, and ignoring the shoulder injury and the lengthiness of my dress, punch and kick them into submission, along with any of their accomplices, and secure their hands and feet by tying them up with their own braces. You will saunter in and arrest them for whatever crimes are obvious from their ‘ill-gotten goods,’ as you put it, and by one o’clock in the morning, you’ll have finished all of the proper paperwork for the arrest. Best first date ever!”

They chuckled to themselves, left the shadows, and headed to the nearest corner to hail a cabriolet. Erasmus thought to himself, “She got one thing right. Best first date ever.”



Herr Euler

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

They both laughed so hard they almost fell over. “Chief Inspector Drake, I hadn’t imagined you to have such a gift for irony.”

“I will take that as a compliment, thank you. And please call me Erasmus.”

“Well, Erasmus, I have something back at Lord Ashleigh’s residence that I would like to share with you.”

He studied her face for a moment, attempting to divine what this “something” could be. “Very well,” he replied, but somewhat diffidently.

Once Virat had admitted them to the row house and gone to fetch them chai, Erasmus settled himself in a comfortable chair in the sitting room. Sparky went up to her room, collected her notebook, and joined him. She opened to the diagram she had sketched on the train. Drake glanced at it, thought about its possible meaning, and asked, “Hello, what’s this?”

“It’s a graph, a fascinating field of mathematics. Graph theory is used to describe relationships between things. Herr Leonhard Euler first used it to reason about whether one could cross all seven bridges connecting the island in the Pregel River in Königsberg without crossing any of them twice. For his inquiry he represented the banks of the river as vertices,” she pointed to the circles on the page, “and the bridges as edges,” she pointed to the connecting lines. “There have just been too many coincidences for my taste lately and I was curious to attempt to discover any relationship. I started this exercise this morning on the train.”

“Fascinating. This could be a very useful tool for police investigations. Do the arrows indicate the direction of an action?”

“Yes, you’ve understood the symbology precisely. Do you see how Abusir’s interest in the statue of Osiris leads to you, or rather leads me to you, as this graph is from my perspective?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve used a single line to indicate that I think this is merely a coincidence.” She paused for an instant and smiled with one corner of her mouth, “But a happy one.” Drake smiled back at her. “The question marks indicate relationships I know exist, but whose origins may or may not be relevant to the purpose of my inquiry. For example, I don’t know how you and Dr. Pogue became acquainted.”

“That’s an intriguing tale.”

“And one I would delight in hearing. However, this evening I want to draw your attention to the box with the question mark in it. The dotted lines indicate relationships whose intentionality I can’t determine. I’ve added the box to highlight my thesis. I saw Miss Sarah Slate boarding the same train on which I was traveling with a gentleman I didn’t recognize. Since they were embarking at Carlisle, which is a mill center, I surmised that he was probably Mr. Charles Howgill, a friend of Esmeralda Pogue’s who may be helping Miss Slate with her chameleon fabric.”

The Graph in Sparky’s Notebook
The Graph in Sparky’s Notebook

“Is this Sergeant Fox?” Erasmus interjected impatiently.

“Quite right.”

“What is his relationship to Miss Slate and Mr. Howgill?”

“That’s precisely what I’m wondering. He was tailing them. Why would Sergeant Fox concern himself with the comings and goings of a fabric designer and a mill owner? Certainly he was acting at the behest of someone else.”

They were both staring intently at the page when the door opened and Jonathan Lord Ashleigh entered followed by Virat with the silver tea service. “Good evening, my good friends. What are you about?” He peered over their shoulders as Virat poured steaming cups of chai. He gagged out an uncomfortable little cough.

“Dr. McTrowell was just explaining graph theory to me and illustrating the astounding interconnectedness of our recent acquaintances.”

“Erasmus and I were leaving dinner when we spotted Mr. Hedgley and Mr. Martin. I thought I should add them to the graph I started on the train this morning.” Lord Ashleigh took a sip of chai from the cup Virat handed him. “Oh, I should add a link between the two of you. And then there is this interesting ‘coincidence.’” She pointed at the box connecting Fox to Slate and Howgill. “I spotted him following Miss Pogue’s friend, Miss Sarah Slate, and a gentleman friend of hers at the Carlisle train station. I can’t imagine what his interest in them might be. Lord Ashleigh, are you quite well?”

“Yes, my dear. I must have just swallowed wrong.” Virat and Lord Ashleigh exchanged an anxious look behind the backs of Drake and McTrowell who were focused on updating the graph.

“I canno’ tell ye haw thrilled I am to be letting me mother’s auld cottage. It’s a wee bit dusty since it has no’ had her tidy hand since her passing.”

“And ze prize includes ze barn in back?”

“But o’ course.”

“Excellent!” The bug-eyed twig of a man with a shock of wild, frizzy brown hair handed the landlord two sovereigns that the latter happily pocketed without question. He handed his new tenant a key.

“Mrs. Haversham will be by tomorrow to see to the cleaning and the marketing.”

“Zat weel not be necessary.”

“Suit yourself.”

Monsieur Punaise watched the landlord walk out the garden gate and down the lane. He immediately exited the back of the cottage and into the barn. He paced its length and width. He stood in the center mentally arranging equipment. He paced its length and width again. He proceeded through the back of the barn to the stream running behind it. He was assessing the volume of flow when he heard a cart creaking up the lane. He walked back around to the front of the barn.

“What took you zo long?”

“The guard at the gear maker’s warehouse was feeling underpaid. He left before we were finished loading and it took us half the night to find a way back in. We missed the early train.”

“Unload in ze barn. We must get started right away!”




The Three Tests

Entry for March 11, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus and Sparky sat in Lord Ashleigh’s sitting room during the uncomfortably quiet minute after discussing the graph. Lord Ashleigh was unusually silent. The couple gave each other a knowing look, and Erasmus announced, “Well, I really must be going. I plan to meet with Dr. Pogue in the AM. Dr. McTrowell, it has been the loveliest of evenings. We must do this again some time.”

“Yes, we must. I had a fabulous time. May I see you to the door?”

On the stoop, the pair embraced. Erasmus whispered in his date’s ear, “Not to spoil the moment, but is it possible that Lord Ashleigh was surprised to see Her Majesty associated with Sergeant Fox in your graph?” She whispered back, “No, I don’t think so. He is in the Her Majesty’s Aerial Marines. And, yes, you are spoiling this moment. Kiss me and get home safely.”

The sun was coming up as three men opened and inspected the last of the crates. Monsieur Punaise stretched and walked outside, feeling the feeble warmth of the morning. He put his hands on his hips and looked around. He liked the size and location of the barn. It had been used to hold hay and grain for years, although it was now empty of both. The dry dust of the previous contents lingered and swirled in the air as the other two men walked out. Monsieur Punaise smiled as he thought of the structure as an excellent laboratory and assembly plant. Just a little cleaning and organizing is all that is needed.

Mr. Hedgley started the early morning conversation. “Monsieur Punaise, why are we starting fresh? The EPACTs seem like a great place with which to begin. We put a good deal of engineering into them, as you know.”

“Meester Head-jelly. Zat eez a good question. Ze EPACTs had zum fundamental flaws, weech we weell not repeat. Ze new mechanisms weell not be controllable by just anyone zat can make a high-pitched zound. Zey weell be able to repair zemselves, as well as assemble new mechanisms, to some extent. But most importzantly, zey weell not be blind.”

This short speech took Mr. Hedgley and Mr. Martin by surprise, and they briefly stared at Monsieur Punaise for what he had said. Somehow, in this quaint cottage and barn, the three of them planned to build the most extraordinary machines of creation, and release them upon the world.

Erasmus clanked the large doorknocker at Dr. Edmond Pogue’s residence. Since Edmond had invited Erasmus to call, he answered the door himself, his classic smile on full display as he looked around the door.

“Jolly good of you to come by. And right on time. Splendid.”

As the door swung fully open, Erasmus noticed that Edmond wasn’t wearing his prosthetic arm but instead had his left sleeve rolled up just short of the amputation site. He thought it improper to ask why Edmond wasn’t wearing it so early in the conversation. Perhaps later.

“So nice to see you again, Dr. Pogue. You seem in fine spirits this morning.”

Edmond motioned for Erasmus to walk with him toward his laboratory as they talked, and Erasmus carried out the unspoken request. The door shut, and they made their way down the hall.

“So far it’s been an great day. Many things accomplished. But more to the point of your visit, I received your letter. Your request made a good deal of sense, and I accede to your wishes.”

“I appreciate your willingness to do so. I simply want to limit the number of times that we continue these experiments. I understand that you have only administered one so far, but I must consider my duties to the Yard. I also don’t want to,” Erasmus hesitated, “endanger new relationships. I just don’t know how these, well, drugs if I may call them that, might effect me.”

“Quite understandable. Actually, I asked you here because I want to perform one last experiment. Only one more, and we are done.”

“Really? I’m relived to hear that.” Erasmus suddenly felt that he might have limited the scientist’s ability to fully understand the phenomenon surrounding the green concoction and his baffling reaction. However, it could be that by limiting the quantity of trials, it will force Edmond’s hand to get to the heart of the matter.

As the pair of men descended the curved staircase to the lab, Erasmus saw Dr. Young keeping a close watch on a complicated arrangement of various shapes of glass beakers and oddly contorted glass tubing coupled by rubber plugs. A familiar-looking green liquid was being transported from receptacle to receptacle, sometimes heated, sometimes chilled, and eventually dripping out of an opened spigot into a ordinary drinking glass. By the time that the men reached the laboratory floor, Yin had closed the tap and looked happily at the resulting fluid, holding it up to the light with two hands, verifying its color and temperature.

Edmond gestured to a chair and asked Erasmus to have a seat. Erasmus nervously complied. Yin handed the half-full glass to Edmond, who smiled pleasantly at receiving it.

“Erasmus, this is what I would like to do. Dr. Young and I have synthesized a stronger version of the blended potion. I would like you to drink the same amount as before, eight ounces. I will then ask you to attempt three tasks. Then I will make my assessment. Is that acceptable?”

“That sounds reasonable enough.” Erasmus tried to sound strong. He was doing his best to hide his feeling of creeping doom. Jumping into a fog-filled gully. Running in the woods in darkest night. Taunting an immense sleeping beast with a short stick. He forced these metaphorical thoughts away as best he could. “I am ready,” he stated out loud, hoping he would convince everyone, including himself.

Edmond handed the liquid to Erasmus. Erasmus looked at it for a second, then at Edmond, who responded with a “drink up” gesture. Erasmus closed his eyes and complied. The anise-flavored spirit seemed slightly more viscous and aromatic than before. He rolled it around his mouth, and swallowed hard. He open his eyes and noticed that Yin had stepped closer, holding a laboratory notebook and readying her pen for scribbling observational notes.

Dr. Pogue started a chronometer to aid in the recording of event times. While looking at it to make sure it was running correctly, he stated, “I’ll give the mixture thirty seconds to take effect. While that is happening, tell us how long you have lived in London?”

“I came here when I was fourteen, so it has been about eighteen years.”

“And you prefer walking to getting rides, do you not?”

“As you know, I do. Good for both the mind and spirit.”

“Have another sip and close your eyes.”

Erasmus obeyed the simple request.

Dr. Pogue continued. “Imagine that you are walking from Victoria Park to Grosvenor Square, and you wanted to take the shortest route, sticking to named streets rather than taking alleys, crossing parks, or traversing green spaces. What route would you take?”

Erasmus felt the second sip had driven the potion’s effect on him even higher than usual. He could imagine the entire course in his mind, all at once, as if he could fly over it. He even smiled at the prospect of being a homing pigeon that dodged buildings as he rapidly flew back and forth between the two locations.

With his eyes still closed, Erasmus asked his testers, “Ready?”

“You may begin,” Yin replied.

Erasmus started naming the streets as quickly as he could utter them as his imaginary homing pigeon darted over the fabricated urban surroundings. Yin fell in to a pattern of quieting saying, “yes, yes,” as she tried to keep up with Erasmus.

“… and then you continue west on Oxford Street until turning south on Duke Street, which leads to Grosvenor Square.”

Edmond said, “Good!” while he showed his chronometer to Yin, who jotted down the time. “That was test one. On to test two. Did you ever read
The Parish Boy’s Progress?”

“Oh, yes. I read it after I … er … while I was in school. I … could relate to the story. I always thought of it by its other title,
Oliver Twist.”

“Excellent. Tell me about the second chapter, as much as you can remember.”

Erasmus looked off to the distance. He thought back to when he was reading the book. He had borrowed it from his friend René a short time after they had escaped the orphanage and were living on the street. Erasmus remembered taking it out of his rucksack and flipping through the pages. The pages came into focus, one by one. Fifty-three chapters, most of them short. Chapter one was just two pages long, but chapter two was seven and a half pages long. Chapter two started with a long title and an interesting first sentence.

“Chapter two is titled
Treats of Oliver Twist’s Growth, Education, and Board. It begins For the next eight or ten months, Oliver was the victim of a systematic course of treachery and deception. …”

Erasmus continued on, simply reading the page that was in this mind. It wasn’t difficult to recall, it was right there, the words on the pages being held open by his young hands. He could even continue reading while looking at the accumulated dirt under his thumbnails, and thought to himself that he would never handle a book today while coated with that much grime.

“…
Occasionally, when there was some more than usually interesting inquest upon a parish child …”

Erasmus was nearing the end of the first page, when Edmond stopped him.

“That will be enough, Chief Inspector. Well, that was delightful! Just delightful! I don’t think Dr. Young was planning to write a word-for-word account. Jolly good. Now on to our third test.”

Yin set down her notepad and pen, and rounded the table to retrieve a large, sturdy wooden ball. Its girth was just enough that it was too large for Erasmus to hug and touch his hands on the far side. Yin placed the ball in an open area of the laboratory on a sizable floor rug, and placed a footstool next to the wooden ball.

Dr. Pogue gave Erasmus one of his broad smiles, stating, “This will be a dexterity test. I would like you to stand on this ball, balancing by yourself. Have you ever attempted this?”

Erasmus had never attempted such a thing before, although he had spent most of his early childhood standing on the rolling deck of a ship, and had done a number of balancing tricks as part of his street performances in his teens. But not this. He shook his head to indicate to Edmond that this was not in his bag of tricks.

He stood and removed his jacket, untied and took off his shoes, stripped his feet bare of socks, walked over and stepped up onto the stool. Yin steadied the ball. Erasmus put one foot on top of the ball, and tried to imagine how he was going to get the other foot, and his weight up onto the ball. After a half second of consideration, he figured that this wasn’t something he could puzzle out, but rather he needed to commit and figure it out on the fly. He committed to the step, trying his best to put both feet near the top of the ball.

His step was lively enough, but even with Yin’s efforts to steady the sphere, the ball rolled immediately away from Erasmus, taking his feet with it. Erasmus fell with his feet over his head, and he tried his best to catch himself with his left arm. After that instant, he was on his back on the floor, his left elbow smarting from its collision with the rug and floor. Erasmus noticed the shape next to him and was amazed that he hadn’t hit his head on the stool as he went down. He looked at his testers, and was again amazed that they hadn’t jumped to his assistance nor did they call off this last trial. “Well, this is silly,” he thought. “There must be a reason that they gave me this ridiculous test.”

As Erasmus stood and straightened his vest, he thought hard. Have I ever seen anyone perform this skill? Yes, yes, I have. At a street fair in London. A young athletic-looking man was atop a ball. Smaller than this one. He was also juggling three jaunty-colored pins in various patterns, while walking the ball around a collection basket. I only glanced at him because I was there on duty, tracking a thief. How did he move? His feet were kept farther apart, almost shoulder-width, and his arms were up for balance.

Erasmus closed his eyes and took a second to imagine the man on the ball. He slowed down his actions, concentrating on each body movement, particularly the performer’s shifting of weight from foot to foot. Erasmus reopened his eyes and resolutely ascended the stool again. Yin placed her hands gently on the wooden orb.

Erasmus lightly placed his right foot atop the ball, but this time without the plan to put any real weight on it until he had hopped up and was able to place his other foot, this time farther away on the other side of the ball, and while he was in a crouching position.

Up he sprang off his left leg, anticipating the ball roll a bit better. His left foot touched the ball momentarily but the sphere continued in its roll. Erasmus’ feet shot out from under him, away from the stool, and this time he landed on his side in a rotating bounce on the hard surface of the ball before being deposited onto the floor again, this time on his side. His ribs had taken the brunt of the fall on the ball, and they hurt.

Erasmus stood and concentrated. Then he ascended the stool. He tried again with a slight variation, and fell hard once more.

Again he tried. And again he fell. He repeated this process twenty-three times, until it was clear that his falls and the resultant insults to his frame were starting to affect his performance. He lay on the floor, panting, with perspiration covering his face and dampening his white shirt to the point of clingy translucency.

Erasmus stood and looked at Edmond and Yin. Edmond stood there with his chronometer and the notebook. Yin steadied the ball once again. They appeared unmoved in his lack of progress, his injuries, or his fatigue.

Erasmus addressed the stool, and stepped up.

Edmond took a minor step forward and signaled Erasmus to conclude his efforts. “That will be enough, Erasmus. We can stop now.”

“Much appreciated. Sorry to disappoint.”

Erasmus looked down at the state of his clothes and himself. He noticed that he had even bruised the little knuckles on the top of his toes on his left foot.

“Edmond,” Erasmus continued, “if you happen to find the two buttons I have lost from my vest, their return would be greatly appreciated.”

“Of course, my good man.”

Erasmus suddenly felt the full extent of his exhaustion, and sat down on the stool.

“Can we conclude anything from these results? Do you need time to draw your conclusions?”

Edmond smiled. He pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to Erasmus, who started to wipe his face with the welcomely dry material.

“We have learned a great deal. The challenge is how to present it to you. I’m actually a bit hesitant to tell you much at all, other than we need not perform any more experiments, which I’m sure you are glad to hear.”

Erasmus didn’t like the sound of that, but being ignorant of Dr. Pogue’s conclusions seemed worse than knowing. “I believe I’m made of stern enough stuff to hear what you have surmised. I dare say that delaying telling me won’t improve the situation, if I may be so bold. So doctor, what do you think is happening between me and this so-called elixir?”

Edmond twisted his face up a bit in thought, and then committed to telling Erasmus his opinion.

“First let me tell you what you are exhibiting. After being given the drink, you have the ability to concentrate all of your thoughts on the task at hand. Not in a super-human way, mind you, but in a manner that far exceeds what most people experience as they use the jangled mess in their heads of poorly applied reason and improperly recalled memories. It is as if the fog of recollection is lifted and your tempo of analysis is accelerated to the extent that you feel flooded with excellent, well-organized ideas.”

“I cannot argue with that. That is what I experience. Is there more?”

“Oh, yes. As we know from your previous episodes, you can
intellectually learn new things more quickly, such as the inner-workings of the EPACTs. But as we found out today, you don’t physically learn new things faster. You acquire athletic abilities at the same rate as a normal able-bodied person, even when the toll of failing was high. I’m afraid that you smacked that elbow pretty hard, by the way. It was hard to remain objective while watching you repeatedly fall, but I’m afraid you had to experience failure to fully test my theory.”

“I see. But I cannot say I’m surprised.”

“There is one more thing. Dr. Young, what was in the concoction that you gave the Chief Inspector?”

Yin looked up and to her left off into nowhere as she recalled the ingredients. “Oil of green anise and star anise, tea made from Florence fennel, coriander, juniper, and a touch of nutmeg. This was reduced through simmering. Simple sugar syrup was added to balance the bitterness. It was brought to room temperature. A few drops of grain alcohol was added to make the mixture similar in aroma to Green Fantasy. I believe that was everything.”

Erasmus furrowed his brow. “Wait. Pardon me. You didn’t give me a concentrated form of Green Fantasy?”

Edmond smiled and answered, “No, we mislead you, I’m afraid. Today we presented you with a slightly thickened form of green anise tea. It should not have had any more effect on you than a weak cup of Earl Grey. Ah, I see you are surprised! Good. And here is what’s happening: each and every time you have had one of these reactions to Green Fantasy, you did it all yourself, because you were given permission to act this way. And bravo. You have the power to get into this state all on your own.”

“I must disagree, my good doctor. I never have gone into this state of concentration until offered this drink by Mr. Rutherford.”

“Think back. When you are under great pressure to act courageously, solve a life-threatening case, stand up to a villain, what is your inner state? How do you feel? Close your eyes and, again, think back.”

Erasmus obeyed and let his mind wander over the situations that were the most pressured. In the middle of a broadside attack against a slaving ship. Escaping the orphanage. His first time facing a loaded weapon while empty-handed. Defending the Baroness Lovelace. Addressing Professor Farnsworth’s rampage. The attack on Sparky in the Great Exhibition. Crossing swords with Queen Ishild.

“I feel calm.”

“In fact you are at your best. While in the same situation that most others are acting out of panic. I would suggest that you have sought out these moments. You abhor the ordinary day-to-day and would prefer to be thrust into action. Am I right?”

Erasmus looked at the two scientists. He wondered how he could have gotten to this year of his life and not known that he was living his life specifically to satisfy this inner drive.

“I fear you are correct.”

Erasmus sat in silence for a moment to absorb this life-changing realization. He had one issue he kept coming back to, over and over again. Was this the type of person that Sparky should be burdened with? Would he constantly be putting himself in danger to fulfill some self-destructive inner-demon? Or worse, would he end up putting her life in danger as he attempted to accomplish some daring-do? He would have to think about this some more. Perhaps a conversation with James Crocker, the barkeep at the Olde Cheshire Cheese, would help air this out. A beer might help the process.

Wishing to change the subject, Erasmus asked, “Edmond, is there an issue with the arm? Wouldn’t working in the laboratory be easier if you wore it?”

“To be honest, the leather yoke fits nicely when the arm is not moving, but it chafes when the arm is actuated, particularly when lifting. I have written to Dr. McTrowell about it, and she had replied that there are new types of steel being synthesized that can safely be secured to bone. Incredible! She has offered to install some cleats that will allow the prosthetic arm to be fastened to my remaining limb. I am looking forward to that. She may be able to perform the procedure within the week. I look forward to being able to wield both a fork and knife at the same time without discomfort.”

“With your help today, I now have an even better understanding of what discomfort is. Hello! There’s one of my vest buttons!”

Erasmus then wondered to himself, “How will I explain to Sparky that I look like a banana that lost a boxing match?”



Convenient

Entry for March 13, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

“Good evening, Chief Inspector Drake. Good evening, Dr. McTrowell. Good lord, you look destroyed!”

“Well, good evening to you too, Lord Ashleigh. You sure know how to flatter a girl.”

“I’m terribly sorry. I only meant to express concern. Would you like a cup of chai or would a glass of port be more appropriate?”

“Tempting though the port sounds, I think a cup of chai would revive me, thank you.”

“Did Dr. Pogue’s procedure not go well?”

“On the contrary, it was entirely successful. It was just exhausting.” Virat appeared with the evening post, which he handed to Ashleigh before pouring Sparky a cup of chai. “Thank you, Virat.”

A broad smile blossomed on Lord Ashleigh’s face. “A letter from my mother.” He opened it before the rest of the mail and scanned it rapidly. “She’s coming to London for a visit!” he announced brightly. And then he was crestfallen. “Dr. McTrowell, I’m so sorry. It seems I’m doing nothing but insulting you this evening.”

“It is quite all right, Lord Ashleigh. I knew the accommodations were only temporary. And Dr. Pogue has invited me to stay with him while he recovers from the surgery.”

“How convenient.” But the look on his face was cryptic. Drake and McTrowell exchanged a look that said, “for whom?”

Sparky paused a beat and continued, “He has made it quite plain that hospital rest is not to his liking. Besides, if I keep eating Anu’s fabulous cooking, I’ll have to buy all new clothes. After Dr. Pogue’s convalescence I should actually find more permanent lodgings.” She was addressing Ashleigh, so she didn’t see the wistful look on Drake’s face, but it wasn’t lost on Ashleigh.

McTrowell descended the arc of the staircase briskly. “Good day, Dr. Young. The lab is considerably quieter in Dr. Pogue’s absence.”

“Yes, Dr. McTrowell.”

“Your housekeeper, Mrs. Bingham, got me sorted out in short order and I’ve looked in on Dr. Pogue who seems to be resting well. I take it you’ve been giving him the bromide as I instructed.”

“Yes, Dr. McTrowell.”

“Well, then. I’ll leave you to your work.” She turned to leave when another figure appeared at the top of the stairs. It was none other than Miss Sarah Slate and she was carrying a cumbersome wrapped parcel.

“Good day, Miss Slate. How nice to see you again. We haven’t had a chance to talk since before Carlisle.”

“Carlisle?”

“Yes, I was on the train through Carlisle last week when you boarded with a gentleman.”

“Ah, yes, Charles.”

Sparky turned to exchange a conspiratorial look with Yin, but the industrious Dr. Young had already returned to her task of calibrating a lab instrument.

“Charles?”

“Oh, um, Mr. Charles Howgill.”

“As I suspected. And how was your visit to Carlisle with Mr. Charles Howgill.”

“Fabulous!” It was a considerably more animated response than Sparky had expected. Miss Slate held up the parcel. “In fact, I have something for Esmeralda. I think we left things on bad terms and I owe her for all my amazing good fortune. I wanted to make up with her. Do you know if she is around?” Sparky had been through Carlisle more than a few times and could not fathom what was so marvelous there as to account for Sarah’s ebullient mood.

Without looking up from her fine tuning, Yin replied, “Since the masquerade ball at Kensington Palace, Miss Pogue has found her calling designing fancy dresses for Maricela’s Trapeze. I believe you may find her there.”

“Fabulous! I’ll look for her there and maybe something for myself as well. Good day.” She dashed back up the stairs. Sparky stood in the middle of the lab, purposeless and flabbergasted. Miss Slate had never mentioned what was in the mysterious package and then there was the inexplicable change in personality. What on earth would a normally reserved, sensible woman like Sarah Slate want with a dress of the sort that was presumably purveyed at a store called Maricela’s Trapeze? And then there was Dr. Young having more of a conversation with her instrument than with her visitors. What an odd pair of women.

When Sarah exited the Pogue residence she found a hansom cab conveniently parked at the curb. The cabbie hopped down from his perch energetically, even athletically.

“Good day, Miss. Do you need a cab?”

“How convenient. Yes, I do.”

“And where should I take you?”

“Do you know a dress shop called Maricela’s Trapeze?”

“Yes, I do. It’s on Oxford Street. Would you like me to secure that heavy package for you?”

“Yes, that’s very kind of you.”

His shoulders strained at the ill-fitting cabbie’s coat as he took the bundle from her and opened the door of the cab. Shadwell was a fair piece outside the fashionable part of London, so Sarah had quite a bit of time to plan what she would say. She ran through it several times in her head, but it never came to quite the conclusion she desired.

The cab halted in front of a small shop with a very ornate sign. Half a dozen acrobats attired in Renaissance motley were performing various improbable circus maneuvers and acts of contortion, but the central figure was a woman in the brightest, more garish costume of all. She was flying off a trapeze with her arms open as if to embrace the name of the shop rendered in gold baroque font, Maricela’s Trapeze. The windows were crammed with dressed mannequins, draped scarves, and dangling masks to rival the attire of the advertising acrobats. Sarah had no doubt that this is where Esmeralda had acquired the dress she had worn to Kensington Palace. She was still gaping at the spectacle when the cabbie hopped down, setting the whole cab to swaying. He whisked open the door. She paid him somewhat absentmindedly and he returned her package while she still gawked. He was on his way before she collected herself to enter the establishment.

It was only then that she noticed that a corner of the paper wrapping her gift to Esmeralda was torn a bit. How annoying! If he wasn’t going to keep her parcel safe, he shouldn’t have offered to take responsibility for it. She tried to let her vexation go before entering the shop. Diplomacy wasn’t always her strong suit. She preferred directness, but she very much wanted her interaction with Esmeralda to go well. When she felt her plan was firmly set in her mind, she stepped forward and opened the door.

She needn’t have worried about how to start the conversation because Esmeralda was just inside the shop, experimentally draping swaths of fabric around a mannequin and cocking her head this way and that as she checked for effect. The tinkling of the bell on the shop door drew her attention.

“Miss Slate, what a surprise! Do you think the cranberry or magenta suits better?”

Sarah couldn’t have said which suited better because she was not at all sure which was which. She tested her diplomatic skills. “I’m sure I couldn’t possibly offer a more informed opinion than your own.”

“Very well, cranberry it is!” She draped one of the two pieces of fabric that Sarah would have described as red over the shoulder of the mannequin and tossed the other piece of material that Sarah would also have categorized as red over a nearby chair. “This is so invigorating! What brings you here today? Are you in need of a new frock?”

“Possibly.”

“Excellent. What is the occasion? Because it must be a special occasion if you’ve come to Maricela’s Trapeze for the dress.”

“Yes, well about that. Rather, I have something for you.” She held out the parcel to Esmeralda who took it with a confused look on her face.

She was even more confused when she opened it. “My dear, I don’t think the colors suit you at all, although it has a wonderful texture.” She held up a corner of the fabric between herself and Sarah to check her assessment of the shade against Sarah’s complexion. Of course, she was right. It would have made poor Miss Slate as attractive as a bucket of wallpaper paste.

“It’s not for a dress for me. It’s a gift for you.” Esmeralda started to open her mouth to explain that is was an even less suitable hue for her when Sarah continued, “It’s the fabric we discussed in your brother’s hospital room.”

Esmeralda stood blinking for a moment, trying to remember the conversation. Sarah could tell the instant that the memory returned because Esmeralda whirled around to face the window. She held the cloth up to the window, turning and flipping it to see it better in the sunlight. She marveled at its shift back and forth between blue and gray. “This is breathtaking! How splendid! But surely you must want it for yourself.”

“No, it’s a gift to you. To thank you for all the kindness and generosity you’ve shown me.”

“Oh, think nothing of it. How did you get it made so quickly?”

“Well, that is the other matter I’ve come to discuss with you. As you predicted, Mr. Charles Howgill was very interested in my idea. He has very clever loom designers at his mill in Carlisle and he set them to work right away building a prototype from my design. This is the first run from the prototype. They are now building a full-scale loom and expect to be able to mill bolts of the fabric within five months.”

“Surely you will want to keep this as a memento of this success.”

“Um, no, I would rather you have it as a token of my appreciation.”

“Miss Slate, you keep using words like kindness, generosity and appreciation, and insisting I keep this obviously valuable and personal object. I have the strong sense that there’s something you are struggling to tell me. Please stop beating about the bush, my dear.”

Sarah could no longer avoid the inevitable. “Mr. Charles Howgill has asked me to marry him and I have accepted.” She felt the ensuing silence crush her as if the roof had fallen in.

“How splendid! You must let me design your wedding dress. It will surely make the society page in the Times and be all the rage. All the fashionable young ladies will clamor for an Esmeralda Pogue designed wedding gown. How very convenient for you that I’ve taken up this vocation.”

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this was not the response that Sarah had expected. She could only stammer, “Of course.”

“I’ll get started right away on sketches. Oh, and I must call out for fabrics. Only the best silks and lace will do for you, my dear. Come back tomorrow at tea time and I promise we’ll be off to a shining start!”

Sarah eked out another, “Of course,” before she made good her escape. She was standing on the curb in a daze when a cab approached. The same cab with the same cab driver with remarkably broad shoulders.

“Take you somewhere else, Miss?”

She was too absorbed in what had just happened to complain about his mistreatment of the bundle of cloth. “Yes, please. Howgill’s Mill on Rotherhithe Lower Road.”

“Yes, Miss.”

For the entirety of the trip her head was awhirl with wedding thoughts. Until Esmeralda had set the appointment for tomorrow to discuss the gown, it hadn’t really occurred to Sarah that she must plan the entire affair. Growing up in Connecticut, she had always imagined that she would marry one day, but that had rarely included much consideration of a wedding, per se. The ones she had attended had been simple affairs at the parish church followed by a party at the home of the bride. It was just sinking in that she was marrying a man of money and position, thousands of miles from home, and she had no mother or sisters to lend a hand. She was on the verge of tears when the answer struck her smartly in the face. She didn’t quite have a sister here in London, but she had the next best thing. Surely the only thing Miss Esmeralda Pogue would like nearly as much as designing her wedding dress would be planning a fancy, society wedding. Sarah was in a positively cheerful mood when the cab deposited her at the door of her fiancé’s mill. She took no notice of the haste with which the cab departed.

The cab flew down Union Road and Jamaica Road, following the same route as the road changed names. It turned left on Highborough Street, which proved to be a bad choice because St. George’s Circus really was like a circus that afternoon. The normally calm driver was nearly frantic by the time he crossed the Thames at Westminster Bridge. He needed to make one more stop before returning the cab to the bona fide cabbie. There was no avoiding the mess of Charing Cross, but Piccadilly was smooth going. The horse hadn’t even come to a full stop when he leapt to the curb and sprinted up the steps of the townhouse two at a time. Fortunately, a servant answered the door almost immediately and he delivered his message. The servant repeated it to ensure that he had the details correct before closing the door to relay the message. The cab departed at a slightly more relaxed pace.

Jonathan Lord Ashleigh glanced at the sign displaying the shop’s opening hours and checked his watch. He was cutting it close, but he would take his chances. He opened the door. The business appeared to be unoccupied. Then he heard a voice from the back, a voice like warm caramel. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

He was fixated on his watch when the body that went with the voice emerged from the behind a heavy brocade curtain blocking the rear of the shop, and the figure was just as noteworthy as the voice. She was tall, taller even than he. Statuesque? Curvaceous? However one might describe her, her shape was undeniably female despite her height. She was almost the same shade as Lord Ashleigh, but her features weren’t Indian. Perhaps a parent from Tortola? And speaking of color, her ensemble was even flamboyant than his, and that was saying something. She had been gawked at by the inhabitants of London more times than she could count, but rarely in so appreciative a manner. She let him stare stupidly for a moment longer. “May I help you?”

“Um.” He glanced down at his watch so he wasn’t staring and attempted to collect himself. “Am I too late?”

She smiled at him, perhaps a pinch wickedly. “It’s never too late for such a fine customer. What can I do for you?”

“I need a new waistcoat, but it’s for a very special occasion at which I wish to be the center of attention. It must be something truly unique, the likes of which no one has ever seen. A statement if you will.
I was hoping for something in blue and gray.

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