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Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears - Page 4: March 23, 2012 - April 22, 2012

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Fresh Blood
Matsumura Sōkon
The Unexpected Visit
A Farthing for Your Thoughts
Crossing Poultry
C. Llewellyn McTrowell


Fresh Blood

Entry for March 23, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

The day was dragging on and on. Erasmus was studying his twelfth case, going over the charges brought against suspected criminals, verifying the procedures that his inspectors and constables had applied, and looking over the list of evidence. His interest was not piqued by any of it. Except for the fact that out of all the cases he had looked at over the past three days, something was missing, but he would think about that later. The grandfather clock in the open floor area chimed quaintly for 2:30 in the afternoon. He looked out through the windows of his office and saw the bustle of the inspectors as they broke from busying themselves with the minutia of their jobs and got their afternoon tea. Erasmus sighed and wished he were outside on the streets getting real work done. Yes, yes, Dr. Pogue was right. He’d rather do anything than this boring fact checking, and would prefer chasing down some villain.

As if on cue, Bartholomew Horner walked past Erasmus’ window and rapped lightly on the door. Erasmus motioned for him to come in.

“Good day, Erasmus! We haven’t talked for days. Is all going well?”

“Good day. As well as can be expected.”

“Hmm, that’s a bit guarded. What’s on your mind? How can I help?”

“I truly appreciate my promotion. And I understand your role in helping make it happen. I just miss the excitement of working outside of the office. On the other hand, don’t concern yourself. Consider it a trifling. Matter of fact, just saying it out loud has dissipated the issue.”

“Don’t worry. I think I can help move some responsibilities around. Sergeant Tate seems to relish the paperwork end of things. Crossing T’s and dotting I’s, as it were. Let’s get together tomorrow to discuss it. Unfortunately, I need to run off to a meeting with a local merchants’ cooperative that feels they need more protection at night. Blaa, blaa, blaa. Everyone wants more support from Scotland Yard. Oh, before I go, this arrived for you. Perhaps it will provide some more interesting activities.”

Bartholomew pulled a small envelope from his jacket’s inside pocket and tossed it on Erasmus’ desk. He smiled and left the office.

Once the door was shut, Erasmus thought, “Well, this is the beginning.” Using his sword-shaped letter opener, he sliced the top edge of the letter in a single stroke. The thin paper note inside was simple enough:

“Meet us at 19 Cheyne Row in Chelsea at 9 PM. For security reasons, enter without knocking. Please destroy this invitation.”

The lack of signature made sense to Erasmus, but was still unnerving. Was all this secrecy really needed? He quickly memorized the address. From his top desk drawer he removed a
congreve, a friction match, which he struck on a scratch board that he kept beside it. With a sputter, its flame came to life. He put the diminutive fire to the corners of both the note and the envelope, letting go of the paper as the flame neared his fingers, permitting the fragile embers to gracefully fall into the empty dust bin. He then deposited the ashes into his empty teacup. He carried the teacup nonchalantly to the indoor washroom, wetting the ashes, stirring them with his finger, and pouring them down the drain. “That ought to do it,” he thought. After a thorough rinsing of his cup, he went to join his fellow workers at teatime.

Erasmus walked through the night carrying his cane rather than rapping it along the cobblestones. He felt this was both stealthier and kept his primary weapon ready for wielding. This area of Chelsea was near enough to the Thames to force Erasmus to wrinkle his nose at the unpleasant odor of the city’s river. Sadly, the growth in London’s population had overwhelmed the municipality’s sanitation capabilities, and the same river that allowed London to flourish had also taken the brunt of the overflow of the city’s sewage system. The use of airships had become a welcome mode of transportation to continental Europe and beyond for those with the means to afford it, but for most of the working stiffs, transportation of both people and goods was done on the polluted river. Erasmus couldn’t help but think about the planned citywide upgrade of the sewage system, and that it couldn’t be finished too soon. To Erasmus, the still of the night air made the pungent aroma linger just beyond the point of ignorable. This forced him to look forward to reaching his destination.

The streets of eastern Chelsea were still alive with pedestrians as Erasmus passed through. They mainly kept to themselves, but they were a odd lot. Some were the workers who labored on the docks and boats, which was clear from their demeanor and attire. Others were self-satisfied middle class, pretending to have the disposable finances to be able to afford the original art that was sold in district. But the majority of them were artists and bohemians, with their counterculture faux fashion and outlandish mannerisms. Most likely, they were short of means, but still found enough money to keep them in wine and paint supplies. A smattering of the remainder were society’s castoffs: pickpockets, urchins, drunks, and the like. This last group was the most vocal and noisy in their comings and goings. But to a person, most of them ignored Erasmus. He walked with purpose and exuded confidence. Although he was dressed nicely, he didn’t look to be the type of man that would be carrying items of value. And whatever possessions he was carrying certainly weren’t worth tangling with him.

The location he was invited to was plain enough on the outside. It looked like an ordinary “walk-up,” and the second story windows were illuminated. Erasmus climbed the stone perron steps, verified the number on the door was nineteen, opened the door and walked in. The quality of his environment changed considerably upon entering. The stairs leading up to the second floor had a cheerful rug runner, and the handrail and its supports were a dark polished wood. Erasmus shut the outside door. Once sealed away from the street, Erasmus could hear a cheerful conversation muffled behind the door at the top of the stairs. He climbed the staircase and opened the door to a large room appointed with overstuffed furniture, which had a blessedly, and at this point welcome, light scent of cigar and pipe smoke.

Seven men were in the room in various unstructured conversation circles, some chatting, others listening to an obviously extended monologue. When Erasmus closed the door, a familiar face turned to him. Sergeant Fox stood and made a beeline for the Chief Inspector, his hand out for shaking. They grasped and shook hands as old friends that had faced danger together and lived to tell about it.

“Chief Inspector, glad you could make it. You are right on time. The others came a bit early so we all could be here for introductions.”

“Pleased to see you again, Sergeant. I’m glad to see a familiar face associated with this endeavor.”

“Let me get things underway formally and I’ll take care of the introductions.”

The sergeant turned and put his hands up in a quieting motion, and announced, “Everyone, Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake has arrived. We can get started.”

The rest of the room quieted, save one. From a burgandy leather chair in the far corner, a heavily mustached gentleman huffed his discontent.

“Now hold on my young friend, I was completing my tale of how I singlehandedly sank five battle-ready junks on the Yangtze in the China War! This is not a tale that can simply be terminated mid-sentence like the prattling of a mindless drug-addled native. This story is as invigorating as it is educational to our compatriots. The end of the account is the best part. What say you, gents? Oh, I’ll just finish the bloody yarn!”

At that, he took a deep breath and, despite the concerned look of his so-called audience, he renewed his narrative.

“Where was I? Oh, yes. I was swimming upstream in the Yangtze in nothing but a scratchy loincloth with black tar slathered on my face to hide me in the night. Six kegs of black powder were floating behind me, also slathered in tar, lashed together and tied to my waist with a cord that I had made out of strips of the kimono taken from the dock guard that I previously dispatched …”

J. B. Fox restarted the call to order, even though both he and the other man were speaking at the same time for half a sentence. “I must interrupt you, Colonel. We are on a schedule, and we must cover some groundwork tonight. Gather round, gentlemen.”

Despite some tut-tutting from the Colonel, all the men gave their attention to the sergeant, including some chair turning and rearrangement to better form a circle. Erasmus hung up his leather cape coat and bowler. J. B. then offered the chair next to himself to Erasmus, who took it with a quiet “thank you.” Erasmus wasted no time observing the gentlemen. All but one was at least slightly older than himself, with the exception being about Sergeant Fox’s age. All were dressed as gentlemen, without additional ornamentation that would set them apart from ordinary middle class Londoners. The Colonel, as J. B. called him, however sported a large bushy mustache that was a continuous growth across the bottom of his cheeks all the way to his sideburns, creating a sizable white wooly “W” across his face. It was simultaneously overly masculine and outrageous, making the man distinctively conspicuous in any gathering save an extravagant mustache competition.

J. B. started the meeting. “As the chairman, I want to welcome you all here for our periodic assembly. As you know, we have a new member, Chief Inspector Erasmus L. Drake of Scotland Yard. I will make introductions shortly, but first I want to state some important precautions. Although I am covering this mainly for Erasmus, reiterating it would be good for us all. Our mission here is to serve Her Majesty Queen Victoria in her pursuit of security of the British Empire. Because of our objectives and the particulars of our knowledge and actions, our secretiveness in all of our communications and dealings is of the greatest importance to the success of our overall mission. This location is secure, but outside of it,
be exceedingly cautious.”

The heads of the gentlemen around the circle nodded at this. They even went so far as to look around at each other as to bolster the importance of the sergeant’s words.

J. B. continued, “Our overall team is larger than the eight men here tonight. Many of those not present gather information and report it to us, and our superiors. Our duty, the eight of us, is to carry out
engagements.”

Again, another circle of nods. Erasmus could have let this sit, but thought clarification would help. He spoke up, saying, “Pardon me, but ‘engagements’? It sounds as if you are using that word in a unique manner.”

“Yes, we are. Engagements are to actively change situations that are counter to the security and safekeeping of the British Empire and, as of late, our political partners. Our actions are considered military undertakings, and are protected as such. As an example, you were involved with our protection of the Burke & Hare, which protected British subjects and secured our political relationships with multiple countries. To put it more succinctly, engagements are dissimilar from passive information gathering in that when we have successfully completed one of our operations, things have changed for the better.”

The new round of head nods included a good dose of “here, here” and other acknowledgements. Erasmus was impressed with the concurrence on the point that J. B. made.

“Now for the introductions. You all know of the Chief Inspector. His recent exploits have been written in the news periodicals, and you all have heard my report on his accomplishments on the Burke & Hare. Erasmus, let me be the first to welcome you. To Erasmus’ right is Sir Sidney Fredric Porter, Knight of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.”

Without hesitation, Sir Porter reflexively quietly said, “For God and the Empire.”

J. B. continued. “He earned the Order of British India in the Anglo-Afghan War and has continued his role in the British Army. Next to Sir Porter is The Honorable Jacob Lenthall, who is the Chief Judge in Islington. He may not look as spry as the rest of us, but his knowledge of modern firearms, cannons, and explosives has been invaluable. We can thank the British Royal Navy for his training. To his right is Mr. William Fothergill Cooke, one of the inventors of the Cooke-Wheatstone electrical telegraph, and one of the founders of the Electric Telegraph Company. He had a distinguished career fighting in the Indian Army, but he now brings with him the latest of technological advancements in the use of electricity and communications. We are lucky to have him here tonight, given all of his duties at the Electric Telegraph Company as of late.”

Mr. Cooke animatedly hopped up and shook Erasmus’ hand, adding “Pleased to finally meet you. I am personally looking forward to our working together.” He sat back down as quickly as he had stood.

William Fothergill Cooke
William Fothergill Cooke
[Illustration courtesy of “Extracts of the Private Letters of the Late Sir William Fothergill Cooke, 1836 - 39]

“Next to Mr. Cooke is Colonel Howell Michael Spreckler, who fought in the China War. Next is …”

The Colonel sat up straighter, hoping to amplify his description, “I also attended the signing of the Treaty of Nanking! The Empire obtained Hong Kong that day, back in August of ’42. We …”

J. B. cut in again. “Next is Captain Herbert Harold Vaughan of the British Royal Navy. His strength is in espionage and covert activities. On his right is Army Sergeant Barrett Wentworth, a soldier decorated for long, faithful and honorable service. I believe his last assignment was in the War of the Axe where he fought alongside the Mfengu against the invading Xhosa, and later stood fast at Fort Peddie. Now, onto our agenda for tonight.”

Erasmus could tell that the introductions for these men were uncharacteristically short given their service to the Empire, but more details would be revealed over time. He had heard of most of these men before, save Sergeant Wentworth, due to their notoriety and positions.

“Our next assignment will involve some investigation. We have heard from our sources that there are two known criminals that have been seen in the London area. Their names are Mr. Horace Hedgley and Mr. Martin. Mr. Martin’s first name has not been determined as of yet. These men have been known to work with at least one other person, whose identity is also not yet known. Their crime was not of a violent nature, per se. They were illegally mining limestone from the quarries near Paris, France. The Parisian authorities were unable to capture them. The issue at stake is that they have access to a controllable army of ambulatory metal contraptions that can act upon commands sent by various means, such as whistling. The clockworks are fast and dangerous. I have seen them myself while in Paris, but from a distance. We have a scientist here in London that has an example of one. Erasmus was directly involved in the capture of it in France. Our concern is this: whatever these men are doing in London is most likely a danger to its citizens. Rather than waiting for disaster to strike, we must investigate and take proper action.”

A round of questions ensued, and the Chief Inspector had the privilege to answer many of them, including the nature of the EPACTs and details regarding the sighting of Mr. Hedgley and Mr. Martin. He left out the fact that he was on a date with Sparky. No need to bring his personal life into the spotlight. However, he couldn’t help but think back to the graph that Sparky had drawn, and that it may help determine how the details of sighting Mr. Hedgley and Mr. Martin were passed along to Sergeant Fox.

After giving the assignment, J. B. then went on to cover some administrative minutia, such as the next meeting date and providing the date and time of a technical presentation that Mr. Cooke was giving to the public on his “single needle telegraphic patent” that others might want to attend.

Unexpectedly for Erasmus, J. B. subsequently distributed envelopes containing notes of payment for each of the meeting attendees. Erasmus never negotiated a salary, so this was quite a surprise. No one else opened his, so Erasmus followed suit and stashed his away in his jacket’s inside pocket.

Once the meeting was adjourned, each attendee broke off to prepare for leaving. J. B. quietly asked Erasmus to stay behind. Erasmus agreed.

As the men took their leave, one by one, Erasmus shook hands with each, adding some pleasantry. When it was just J. B. and Erasmus, J. B. checked the stairwell to verify that they were alone. Then he turned to Erasmus.

“I’ll be blunt. Do you remember the story that your old friend Tobias Fitzpatrick told? Well, there’s more to the story. The last critical assignment we performed as a team was to help King Maximilian with a sensitive assignment. A messenger from the Town of Melköde had arrived at his court with all of the cash that the King had offered, refusing to accept his payment or his terms. The messenger’s name isn’t important to the story. Actually, I don’t think I know it. The King requested that the British Empire provide escort to return the messenger and the cash offering, and renegotiate the deal. He asked us to help for two reasons: the residents of Melköde were, in a way, British refugees. They were more our problem than his. The second is that he was trying to appear strong even though he was negotiating multiple times with a town that was known to be full of pirates and thieves. So he left the task in our hands.”

Erasmus nodded his understanding.

J. B. proceeded, “Well, this was before I was added to the team, so I don’t have all of the particulars. But three of our team airshipped to Bavaria, took possession of the funds, and started the process of escorting the messenger back to Melköde by horseback. Due to inattentiveness, the band was jumped by thieves, the cash was stolen and the messenger was killed along with one of our team members. Not thinking as to how it would be taken, the remaining two proceeded on to Melköde with the body of the messenger. Ishild Tuttleford didn’t believe their story and assumed that the King had killed her messenger and kept the funds. This made matters worse, not better. The result is that King Maximilian was unhappy with our handling of the simple task, and our supervisors brought me onto the team. I orchestrated having us on the Burke & Hare to make sure we didn’t have any additional issues with the residents of Melköde. Our superiors also suggested your involvement in the protection of the Burke & Hare. I’m sorry I couldn’t brief you on the entire background at the time. I also was requested to observe you during the operation. To be honest, we didn’t expect to have thrown you into the hornet’s nest, but the good news is that we persevered.”

“Well, that’s quite a tale. Does it end there, or is there more?”

“I have also been requested to clean house. When this team was put together, they got the toughest and most knowledgeable chaps known. But for someone to be known, they tended to be older, proven warriors. It’s time for fresh blood. That’s why you are here.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Does that mean some of these gentlemen will be leaving?”

“That is what our superiors want. Decisions are still pending. This next assignment may allow those decisions to be made. Glad you are on the team.” J. B. smiled broadly, which seemed like a rare thing. Erasmus thought to himself, “Excellent! I am back on the street where I belong.”




Matsumura Sōkon

Entry for March 25, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

McTrowell split the end of the new bandage lengthwise and tied it neatly around Pogue’s stump and the protruding cleats. “There you are. The healing is progressing nicely. I’ll go to the apothecary tomorrow and get you some salve to rub around the bases of the anchors. It will help with the healing and reduce the itching. I know you don’t care for how the bromide makes you feel, but it’s very important at this stage for you to get plenty of sleep.”

“I sleep quite well, actually.”

“Yes, I know. Right up to the point where you dream of some improvement to your latest invention, hop out of bed in the middle of the night and scurry down to your lab.”

He looked like a 6-year-old who’d been caught pinching tarts by the cook. “How do you know about that?”

“I recognize the syndrome, and my quarters are between your bedchamber and your lab. I swear if it weren’t for the sensible offices of Mrs. Bingham, you’d just bunk in the lab.” His attempts to prevent a repeat of the tart pinching face failed. She handed him the bromide and a glass of water. “Good night, Dr. Pogue.”

A Dish of Potassium Bromide Pills
A Dish of Potassium Bromide Pills
[Illustration courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Walkerma, 2005]

She closed the door behind her and paused in the hall for a moment, focusing past the door to her sleeping quarters toward the stairs down to the lab. She felt an unwelcome ache. As much as she was enjoying the attention of Erasmus and the companionship of Jonathan, she felt a bit adrift without some sort of task or mission ahead of her. She envied Edmond the proximity of his lab and the immediacy of his experiments and tinkering. She entered the suite of rooms that Pogue had generously assigned to her. The old factory certainly had the advantage of having an abundance of square footage. She couldn’t recall ever having such commodious accommodations, but for all the space, there wasn’t anything for her to do with it. It was only 7 o’clock and she was already contemplating going to bed because there wasn’t anything else to do but tackle the stack of books on the nightstand that she had borrowed from Lord Ashleigh. Ah yes, Lord Ashleigh. If she were still his houseguest, she would just be sitting down to one of Anu’s delectable tongue-scorching creations. The thought made her even more melancholy. She shook her head. She was being ungracious. She had no business begrudging Lord Ashleigh a visit from his beloved mother.

She realized that she had reached another one of those junctures in her life where she needed to take her fate back into her own hands rather than allowing outside forces to set her trajectory. She wandered around her quarters searching her thoughts for some inspiration. That very act suddenly enlightened her. She had so much room precisely because the building was an old factory. She closed her eyes and visualized the outside of the building. Then she oriented and placed the rooms she had seen in the last few days. Dr. Pogue was too disingenuous to be hiding enormous secrets. Even accounting for Esmeralda’s pied-à-terre, there must still be huge unused portions of the property. Now, where was her mechanical surgical assistant? Was it still at the Great Exhibition? It seemed unlikely that Wallace would have gone to the trouble to have it removed.

She went to bed with her brain buzzing. She found herself rereading the same page over and over again without its contents penetrating her consciousness. It didn’t help that the sun was still up and wouldn’t set for a more than an hour. She lay there in the gathering dusk reliving the near-death experience of being trapped in the surgical assistant as Abusir attacked. Not that she ever expected to have another such encounter in her life, but it would certainly make the apparatus easier to operate under general conditions if she added some counter weights that would enable her to manipulate it when it wasn’t under power. She had designed it to work on an airship, so she had never considered the circumstance that she might not have power. If one’s airship lost its steam engines, one had much more pressing concerns than the inoperability of a surgical machine. As she considered her redesign further, she realized that the surgical assistant could then be operated with less power, which would in turn mean that it could use a smaller steam engine. A smaller engine would be safer and could be situated closer to the surgeon. If the steam engine were closer, she could run a line from the boiler to the surgical assistant so she could clean her surgical instruments with steam without removing them from their brackets, even during a procedure! Surely Pogue would see the value of such an enterprise and allow her to set up shop, at least temporarily, in some unoccupied corner of his cavernous dwelling. She was so excited, it was a miracle she managed to get to sleep at all.

The horizon was only faintly pink when she awoke with a start. She hopped right out of bed and wasted no time washing up and getting dressed, all the while having a mental stroll around the building. It seemed the most likely location would be in the basement adjacent to Pogue’s lab where there might still be belt conduits to the boiler room. She couldn’t remember any exits from the existing lab. If the basement extended the entire length of the building, as she so fervently hoped, the entrance to the other portion must be the opposite direction, past Pogue’s quarters. She turned left out her bedroom door. Her cerebral geometry paid off. There was a door to a staircase at the end of hall, but off to the side where she had mistaken it for another bedroom or closet.

She descended one flight of stairs and stopped on the landing. Much to her delight there was another flight down to the basement. But there was also a door on this level. Of course, this was the ground floor. The kitchen, dining room, what passed for a parlor, and Dr. Pogue’s enormous library were all on this floor. But once again, those rooms couldn’t possibly fill the entire length and breadth of the building, and they were all at the far end. What else could be on this level? With her imagination and curiosity on overload, and nothing but time on her hands, she decided to delay her quest in favor of a little random exploration.

The initial result of her assessment was disappointment. There was a long hall that paralleled the one upstairs with widely spaced, blank doors and no decoration or indication as to the purpose of the rooms hidden behind them. Although there were sconces spaced evenly between the doors, none were lit. The only illumination was provided by the long, narrow window at the end of the hall next to the door by which she entered. The light from this window mostly illuminated a swirl of dust motes and her entrance had stirred up cloud of mustiness. At least she had been correct in her calculation about unoccupied space.

She turned back toward the stairwell when she heard sounds down the hall, faint, rhythmic thumps and grunts. She smirked to herself. Perhaps the Pogue residence had more interesting secrets than she had originally imagined. Well, who was she to interrupt someone else’s fun? She was preparing to tiptoe back onto the landing when she realized that something was not quite right. Airships and inns had thin walls, so her sample size was sufficiently large to alert her to the fact that the noises coming from behind one of the doors did not correlate with her original determination.

She turned back around and pointed her tiptoeing feet down the passage. She was nearly to the end when she identified the portal cloaking the mysterious activity. She grasped the knob slowly and began to turn it stealthily. Well wasn’t that interesting? It was well oiled and turned smoothly. She expected that she would not find the other doors down the hall to be so well maintained if she tested them. She peered through the crack. There was considerable light above the door and to the left, but none leaked out through the gap beneath it. She didn’t see anything else identifiable, so she opened the door farther. First mystery solved. There was a large, Oriental screen blocking the door from the rest of the room, obviously intended to achieve the effect that had just fooled her; the room itself was well lit, but a casual observer in the hall wouldn’t be able to discern this fact. The room was also considerably cleaner than the hall. Although the wood floor was worn, it was obviously recently scrubbed and the clouds of sneeze inducing dust were absent.

The thumping and grunting started again. Taking care not to set the floorboards to creaking, she peeked around the edge of the screen. What she saw so astonished her that she certainly would have given herself away if the sources of the sounds had not been so entirely engrossed in their activity. The room was suffused with the early morning light streaming in through large windows that covered the opposite wall. The only furnishings in the room besides the screen behind which she was secreting herself were several large reed mats covering the floor almost to the walls. And who should be occupying this palette of padding but Sergeant Fox and Dr. Young!? To add to the incredulity of the situation, they were both attired in cotton clothing that resembled Indian pajamas, and striking at each other with their hands and feet! She knew this activity had been underway for several minutes, at least since she had arrived on this floor, but neither of them seemed to be injured or on the verge of yielding, although both of them were quite sweaty. The bout looked almost choreographed, as if they were dancing rather than dueling. Then, without any obvious signal, they stopped. They stepped back from each other, smacked their right fists into the palms of their left hands, and bowed to each other from the waist, holding eye contact.

She ducked back out of view behind the screen when she heard J.B. say to Yin, “I wish Sensei S
ōkon were here to instruct us through our sparring, but I’m still grateful we can practice together.”

Yin replied, “Yes, but you must go before the house awakes.” That was Sparky’s cue to beat a hasty, but silent retreat. Her temporary workshop would have to wait for another day. She needed to get back to the graph in her notebook to make more additions. The blasted thing was starting to look like a bird’s nest. She wondered to herself, “
Do I have time to make the changes and still catch Erasmus at the Olde Cheshire Cheese before he leaves for Scotland Yard?




The Unexpected Visit

Entry for April 2, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

Mr. Haversham was a worrier. He had six houses that he rented, but his late mother’s old cottage held a special place in his heart, and he had hoped to have a young family rent it and be there for a spell. But it had stood empty for far too long, and he had to let it go to the odd gentleman that answered his ad in the local weekly, and his two friends. Despite the income and the handsome deposit, it just didn’t sit right with him. He knew that the three men would use the place for some temporary business work, probably commercial or industrial. Either way, it would tarnish the memories and reduce the quaintness of the place. Mr. Haversham’s worrying drove him to walk the two miles to the cottage to check in on the men and see that his fears were unwarranted.

“Prob’bly wasting me time,” he said out loud to himself as he kicked a stone out of the road in frustration. “They don’ wan’ me both’ring them.” But he continued on his trek, worrying.

Mr. Haversham made his way up the well-worn path that lead to the cottage. On the far side of the cottage was the unmistakable sound of a clattering steam engine and he could see in the distance the blue-grey haze of steam engine exhaust wafting its way up into the pastoral sky. He shook his head to himself as he passed through the wooden gate.

“Hello!” he shouted was he walked up the stone steps toward the house. “Anyone home?”

He rapped uselessly on the door and decided after a short wait that if anyone was there, they must be near the commotion behind the cottage. He trundled around the corner and was dismayed by the scene. The barn windows were lit up like an iron foundry, and the din of manufacturing filled the air. Hissing and banging, with an occasional buzz of a saw. As he walked toward the barn, he even saw some sparks fly out of the main doors. Well, this isn’t how he wanted this nice cottage and its land used!

Between Mr. Haversham and the barn was a nice old well that his father made from natural stone. It had old-fashioned hand crank with a weighted pail that worked perfectly when lowered. Mr. Haversham recalled that the water in the well was sweeter than that from the creek, and he wondered if this temporary factory was going to foul the soil, ruining the well.

Mr. Haversham’s ire was rising. With each step, he started rehearsing with he was going to say to these “gentlemen.”

Suddenly out of the barn ran a dark figure moving at an amazing speed. Mr. Haversham stopped dead in his tracks, frozen. The basic shape looked like a muscular dog with long legs. But instead of a full head, it had a tube that resembled a snout. It ran full tilt to the well and screeched to a stop. It reared up, making Mr. Haversham gasp in fear, still frozen in place.

The monstrosity poked the bucket, which went flying down into the well with a splash, and then the creature latched on to the hand crank and turned it so quickly that it looked like a blur to the landlord.

“Lord help me …”

When the bucket reappeared, the dog-like brute stopped its cranking and stuck its snout into the bucket. It made a ghastly sucking noise, draining the bucket of its contents and storing it, well, who knows? In its body? It used its snout to nudge the bucket back onto the ledge of the well. It immediately dropped back down to all fours, twisted, and sprinted back towards the barn.

Mr. Haversham screamed in fright. It didn’t last long, since he likewise turned in place and sprinted back out of the gate and down the path as fast has his feet could carry him.



A Farthing for Your Thoughts

Entry for April 9, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Drake was wiping the last of the shaving soap off the square corner of his jaw when he heard a knock on his door. Ah, that would be his breakfast right on time. The day was likely to be frightfully busy, so he had asked James to send up some victuals once he had finished his morning regimen with the dressmaker’s dummies. He knew old Crocker could hear him when there was no one in the pub, so the timing wasn’t that miraculous. He whipped open the door with one hand and fetched a farthing out of his pocket with the other to tip the pub boy.

“Um.”

“Oh, it’s you. You’re not whom I was expecting.”

She looked between the farthing in his outstretched hand, his bare chest, and his face. “Clearly.”

“I was expecting the pub boy with my breakfast.”

“Ah, that would explain why you thought it appropriate to answer the door half naked.”

“Oh, dear.” He made as if to cover his torso with his hands, then recognizing the futility of the endeavor, handed her the farthing and dashed across the room to retrieve a shirt from the wardrobe. He commented over his shoulder, “Technically, I’m only about a third naked.”

She was standing in the doorway wondering about the origins, because clearly there were multiple, of the scars on his chest and back, when she heard a creak on the stairs behind her. A boy about ten years of age stood a few steps below her holding a rough tray of food and wearing a look of indecision on his face. She held up the farthing. “I’ll trade you.” He nodded and reached up to make the exchange before scampering back down the way he’d come. No point in arguing with an odd lady so long as there was a fair wage paid.

She flipped the door closed behind her with her foot and placed the tray on the table, by which time Drake had managed to cover himself and the map of scars. Almost all of the ones on his chest had been on the left side, either thin and clean or puncture wounds, probably inflicted by a narrow, bladed weapon. Well, no mystery there. But there were a few messier ones on his back. She filed that away for a future investigation. Curious as she might be about the stories that went along with the old injuries, they were indeed old and she had newer and more urgent matters on her mind.

“My dear Dr. McTrowell, what brings you here so early in the morning?” He leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. It felt a touch bold to him, but then she had come to his room uninvited and there was no one to see the deed. And he hoped in might divert her attention from his flat. He had always found it quite workable, but since meeting Sparky, he worried that it might be too drab for the tastes of such a well-traveled woman.

His whiskers were still damp, but his cheek was pleasantly smooth against hers where he’d just shaved. She was delightfully distracted for a moment. “I’m terribly sorry for barging in like this, but I’ve just seen something so remarkable that I had to speak to you in private where I could be absolutely certain we wouldn’t be overheard.”

“Considering the things you and I have seen over the last two months, this must be truly incredible. Toast? Tea?”

“No, thank you. Oh, yes please. I’m so enervated I hadn’t realized that I’m famished.” He went to find another mug and proceeded to smear a healthy dollop of marmalade on a piece of toast while she rummaged in her Gladstone bag for her notebook and pen. She flipped open the book to the page with the graph. She waved her finger over the nest of arcs and nodes. “Do you remember how I suspected that this amount of connection couldn’t be a coincidence?”

“Of course.”

“This is what I just saw at Dr. Pogue’s residence, obviously intentionally concealed.” She drew a sweeping, double-lined, double-headed arrow between Fox and Young.

The New Figure in Sparky’s Notebook
The New Figure in Sparky’s Notebook

“Good lord, they were fighting?!”

“They weren’t
having a fight. They were sparring, striking at each other with their bare hands and feet. It was somewhat ritualistic, but I’m quite sure the technique would be highly effective against an antagonistic opponent.”

“And they were hidden?”

“Yes. I was up early exploring the unused parts of the building when I heard them. They had obviously taken great pains to hide both their location and their activity.”

“Did they see you?”

“No, I was quite careful.”

Drake realized he’d been clenching his fist as if he expected to have to strike someone at any instant. He thought about his meeting with Fox and the others. As much as Fox had revealed, he had clearly concealed even more. Drake sat down in the chair next to McTrowell and took a sip of tea, giving himself a moment to think. He reached over and gently closed her journal, willing it to never open to that page again.

“I want you to promise me something and understand that I am deadly serious.”

“What could be so grave?”

“You must promise me that you will draw no more lines on this graph and you will never show it to another soul?”

“It’s just a few lines on a page.”

“Promise me!” She started. He’d never raised his voice at her before. “I’m sorry. I’m not angry with you. But, there are things from which I can’t protect you.”

“I’ve been protecting myself just fine for quite some time, thank you very much.” She hadn’t meant for it to sound peevish, but honestly, she felt more than a bit that way.

“This is not the wild West where you can just punch someone in the nose and escape into the wilderness on a horse. This is the British Empire and you are not Her Majesty’s subject. Crown law is not on your side.”

A painful silence stretched between them as she examined his face while considering what he had just said…and not said. He felt as if his ribs were tightening like an iron maiden around his heart and lungs.

“Chief Inspector Drake, when we first met not so long ago, I was drawn to your honesty and forthrightness. For all the talk of honor in your British Empire, I find there is too little for my way of thinking. Yesterday I realized that I am about to embark on a new chapter in my life. I had hoped you would be a part of it, a significant part. However, something has changed recently. Something that has put me at risk. Something that you know about. And yet something that you fail to share with me despite your professions of concern for my safety. Whatever it is, you value it more than you value me. Good day and goodbye, Chief Inspector.”

She swept the notebook and pen into her Gladstone bag and stormed out the door, slamming it behind her. She hoped his attention had been drawn to the pantomime of anger so he didn’t notice the tears forming in her eyes. She was practically choking as she stumbled past the barman sweeping the walk in front of the pub.

Drake wished his ribs would just close the rest of the way, stopping the pain in his chest. Fool! He hadn’t even gotten out of the chair to try to stop her. This was not the man he was. Without realizing he was speaking to himself out loud, he muttered, “
Well, Drake, you’ve really cocked this up.




Crossing Poultry

Entry for April 15, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

Standing alone in his flat, Erasmus was beside himself. He thought he had conveyed the proper level of concern to Sparky that she was edging into a dangerous area with her graph. He also remembered the warnings that he had received at the meeting about not revealing anything to anyone. But at what cost? He had to talk to her.

Erasmus realized that he didn’t even have a vest on. He grabbed one and slipped his arms into it as he scampered down the steps. He stopped at the bottom, looking out of the glass in the large doors to see if he might have caught her in time.

James Crocker, the barman, looked up from his sweeping outside. Erasmus walked through the door, working on his vest buttons. “You are probably too late, my good friend. And what, pray tell, did you say or do to make that pretty thing cry?”

“Cry? I did such a thing?”

“She was crestfallen.”

“Oh, my. When she left, she was displeased with me to the point of never wanting to see me again. That was the Dr. Sparky McTrowell of which I have spoken of frequently.”

“That was her? Well, don’t just stand here yapping at me, you fool! She went that way down the street!” James’ right arm pointed eastward.

Despite that Erasmus had not finished buttoning his vest, he sprinted up Fleet Street to see if he could get a glimpse of his forlorn lady friend. It took a full block before he saw her boarding a hansom cab. Erasmus spun in place to look down the street for a similar vehicle. There one was, with a lively chestnut horse and no passengers. Erasmus practically jumped out in the road to hail it, and hopped up on its side before it could stop.

“Follow that cab!” he shouted, pointing to the one that Sparky was in, which was now nearly a block and a half away. The driver seemed up to the challenge, gave a quick “Yes, Sir!” reply, and flicked his reins hard, spurring the horse to a gallop.

The clatter of horseshoes and iron-rimmed wheels filled the street. Pedestrians and slower-moving traffic made for the curb, panic in their eyes. Erasmus’ driver snapped the reins again, this time adding a whistle, and the steed put its all into the chase.

Sparky’s driver was an older gentleman, and was slightly uncomfortable giving a lady a ride without a gentleman accompanying her, and was startled by the commotion behind them. “Sorry, milady,” he croaked out as he started to pull the hansom over toward the curb. Sparky leaned over and looked back to see what the kerfuffle was. It was Erasmus! He was pointing at Sparky’s hansom, and looked earnest. Quietly to herself she said, “Well, he wants to chase after me, does he?” Then to the driver, she offered, “Driver! That hansom is chasing us! Do your best to keep ahead. There is a pretty tip for your efforts.”

The driver, Jacob, acted without hesitation and shouted for his horse, Davy, to take to a gallop. Jacob had been a hansom driver for twelve years since he had given up the business of making shoe lasts. He thought he had seen everything in this business, but taking part in a street chase was not in his nature nor to his liking. Unlike some drivers, he owned his own hansom, and any damage to it would come out of his own pocket. But he had been so used to following instructions that he found himself committed to keeping ahead of their pursuer.

The two cabs charged across Farringdon Street, causing horses to rear and women to scream. Fleet Street turned into Ludgate Hill & Street. Then Jacob reined Davy left at the fork onto St. Paul’s Street. There were a small clutch of parishioners on the sidewalk outside of St. Paul’s Church making “well, I never” faces and shaking their fists at the racing hansoms as they sped past.

Without yielding, both carts joined the traffic on Cheapside. Red-faced drivers shouted for them to slow their vehicles, but slow them they did not. Cheapside turned into Poultry, and narrowed considerably.

A large cart carrying crates upon crates of potatoes was transitioning from Princes Street to Lombard Street; its single driver was a fourteen year-old boy who was delivering his father’s crop to a nearby market. The cart was full length across Poultry as it crossed the thoroughfare, blocking all traffic.

Sparky grabbed for the wrought iron arm rests. Jacob gasped and pulled up hard on the reins. Davy had been trained by show riders who came upon hard times before having to sell their beloved horse, and he showed off one of his last remembered tricks: an all-four-legs fifteen foot sliding stop. The hansom bounced around a bit, but both rider and driver hung on.

The chestnut horse did a quick jump to the left to avoid the back of the lead hansom, skidding clumsily to a halt. The second hansom leaned far to the right, then rocked quickly to the left, and stopped next to Sparky’s cab. The driver was still clutching the reins even though he was down on his knees.

Sparky was furious. She pointed at Erasmus and said, “You … you … nearly caused an accident!”

“I just wanted to catch up with you to explain myself.”

“Is ‘goodbye’ difficult to understand?”

“I need your help.”

Sparky felt her heart soften. It
was her fault that she asked the driver to stay ahead. Perhaps she should hear Erasmus’ side of things.

“I am listening.”

“I will explain the dangers. I need you. Please come back.”

“Oh. I see.” Sparky slid down off her seat and came over to Erasmus’ hansom, where he offered his hand to help her up to the seat.

“I am truly sorry for my outburst this morning. I … I want you to be a significant part of my life, too.”

“Oh. I see,” Sparky echoed, but more softly this time, adding, “so how can I help you?”

“I ran out of my flat without a thing in my pockets. Could you help me by covering my hansom fare?”



C. Llewellyn McTrowell

Entry for April 22, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

“Just hold you trews on! I’m not as spry as I used to be,” the lady hollered as she made her way from the kitchen to the front door, wiping the flour from her hands onto her apron. She looked the visitor on her stoop up and down. His face was fortified with the expression that boys on the verge of manhood wear when they’re attempting to be serious and authoritative beyond their years. “Good day, young sir. What can I do for you?”

“I have a important message for Mr. McTrowell.”

“Oh dearie, you’re a wee tad too late. Mr. McTrowell has been dead and gone more than ten years now.”

The serious expression dropped off the face of the messenger to be replaced by one of confusion and despair. He sensed that he was about to fail in his mission. “Why weren’t we notified?” He flapped his arms in panic, revealing the missive that he had obviously been intent on delivering. It was wrapped in a green ribbon fastened with sealing wax. The sealing wax bore an insignia that Miss Catherine McTrowell hadn’t seen in quite some time, but recognized immediately.

The Insignia on the Sealing Wax
The Insignia on the Sealing Wax
[Image courtesy of Robert Prummel, original dated 3 June 2006]

The young man was too absorbed in his own distress to notice Miss McTrowell do a double take.

“Ah, I’m terribly sorry. I thought you were referring to my late father. You meant my nephew. He has been in London of late. I’ll be happy to see that he receives the letter.” She began reaching for the message in that calm, stealthy way that one uses when trying not so spook a mouse. Unfortunately, the mouse on the doorstep was a little too clever for this ploy. He pulled his hands back against his chest.

“I’m to deliver the message to him personally.” He was certainly faithful in the execution of his duties.

“Yes, dearie, I completely understand. But I’m thinking it’s important that he get that message right quick and I don’t think you’re supposed to be walking all the way to London.” She began reaching again, more deliberately. She managed to grasp a corner. She had to give a sharp tug to get him to release it, but he gave way rather than allowing the pristine letter to be torn. “I’ll take this to the station and have it posted to her’im right away.”

He stood stock still as if he expected her to head straight out to the station that instant. “Dearie, I can’t very well go out in my apron without my head covered. I’ll just fetch my coat and hat. You run along now.” She made a small shooing motion with her fingertips. He wavered in indecision for a moment before heading back down the steps.

She closed the door behind herself and leaned back against it, letting out her breath in one go as she slumped forward. She paused in that position, waiting for her heart to stop pounding. That had been much too close for comfort! She stepped into the parlor and sneaked a peak out between the lace curtains. Her young visitor was just rounding the corner at the end of the street. There was no time to lose. She whipped off her apron and hung it on the coat rack by the door, exchanging it for her coat and bonnet. She snatched up her purse off the console table in the foyer and dashed out the door, heading east toward the train station.

Virat handed the day’s post to Lord Ashleigh after putting it in the order he felt was most appropriate, as always. Jonathan glanced at the addressee of the plain envelope on top and raised an eyebrow at Virat. At times Virat was very obvious in his subtlety. Ashleigh walked to the window and held the envelope up to the light. He could make out the green ribbon inside, and he could feel the dollop of sealing wax, but nothing more. He didn’t dare open the outside envelope for fear that his tampering would be noticed.

Virat was still lingering by the door to the sitting room. Ashleigh handed the envelope back to him. “Please deliver this to Dr. McTrowell at Dr. Pogue’s residence. And no need to hurry back.” Virat merely nodded his head ever so slightly and departed. “Well,” thought the young viscount, “This is about to get interesting.”

He had finished reading the rest of the letters and his newspaper, and had moved to his writing desk to answer some correspondence when Virat returned a couple of hours later.

“What news?”

“I delivered the letter into Dr. McTrowell’s hands. She opened the outside envelope. The inside envelope was addressed to C. Llewellyn McTrowell and bore a seal.”

“What did the seal look like?”

“A circle in the center over a saltire with rays between the arms of the saltire. There was something in the center of the circle and lettering around the edge, but I couldn’t see it well enough to identify either.”

“And then?”

“Dr. McTrowell appeared very agitated. She thanked me and left the room. I waited on the street out of sight for three quarters of an hour. She came out wearing her traveling clothes and carrying a small bag. She hailed a cab that took her to the airship port where she went into the office of Western & Transatlantic. I couldn’t follow her without being seen, but I waited another half an hour during which she didn’t leave. There is only one more airship flight tonight. It goes to Edinburgh at 10 o’clock.”

Lord Ashleigh snapped open his pocket watch and looked at the time. “I hate to ask this, old friend, but please go tell Anu to hold dinner. I’ll have another message for you to deliver this evening and it must go right away.” He reached for a fresh sheet of monogrammed parchment from his writing box, pushing aside the missive he had been composing. It took him only a couple of minutes to scribble the critical details and seal the letter. Virat had returned from the kitchen and was waiting when he finished. “Deliver this to Prince Albert, and no one else.”

The overnight flight to Edinburgh was lightly occupied. Since the flight already had a pilot and co-pilot, Sparky was seated with the passengers. Most of them were slumbering or at least attempting to do so, and paid her no attention. She mentally inventoried the contents of her bag, hoping her aunt would have the items she still needed before tomorrow evening. This business of not having all her belongings in one place was becoming more than simply a bother. She made a mental note to start looking for a more permanent residence when she returned to London, assuming that the next day didn’t result in her needing to flee this island nation in haste.

She hadn’t really had enough time to alert her Auntie Catherine to her impending arrival, not that such a notification would have been advisable under the circumstances. One could never be sure who was watching which avenues of communication. Besides, her aunt would almost certainly be expecting her or she wouldn’t have forwarded the letter. Despite her promise, she hadn’t expected to be seeing her aunt again so soon.

As she had expected, there were no night trains to Stirling. She checked the times for the morning trains at the station and then found a small inn just off Princes Street. It wasn’t very fancy, but it was clean and she only needed a place to sleep for the night. By catching the first train, she was at her aunt’s front door by half past 9 the next morning. The door opened even before she reached the stoop.

“Come inside quickly, dearie, before someone sees you.” Sparky didn’t need to be told twice. “Tea?”

“Yes, please. How did you know I was coming? Did you read the summons?”

“No, I didn’t have to. I’ve been keeping an eye out the window 10 minutes after every train from Glasgow or Edinburgh since yesterday morning. I knew there was trouble as soon as I saw that damned seal, pardon my language, dearie. Your grandfather was a hard-headed fool for cooking up this charade. It’s no wonder your father came out the way he did.” She handed Sparky a hot cup of tea and one of those heavenly cream scones.

“Well, what’s done is done. I have to be up at the castle in time for afternoon tea. Do you still have any of grandfather’s old shirts and tartan trews?”

“I think there might still be some in a trunk in the attic. Lucky for you I didn’t feel like climbing up that rickety old ladder or I’d have long since given them over to the church. They’ll need some taking in and taking up. Go climb up there and see what you can find. I’ll fetch my sewing basket.”

Sparky was sneezing ferociously from the dust by the time she found what she needed and brought it back to the kitchen. Her aunt had poured her another cup of tea, which was a welcome relief for the itch in her throat.

“Well, go ahead and put them on.” Sparky took off her corduroy skirt and blouse, and replaced them with the shirt and trews. She held out her arms in a way that made her look like a baggy scarecrow. “I haven’t time for a proper tailoring, but a few stitches here and there, and a coat to cover up the rest. Do try to find a dark corner though, just to be on the safe side.” She started tucking and pinning up the shirt.

“What about my hair? Maybe I should cut it off.”

Her aunt looked like she would faint. “Oh, dearie, not that! I’ll tie it back loosely and braid the end. We’ll tuck the braid inside the collar of the shirt. If anyone says anything, you can just tell them it’s the fashion in the Americas.” Sparky liked that answer considerably better than facing the prospect of drastic barbering.

When she looked at the finished result in the mirror, she was once again impressed by her aunt’s unusual, but practical, set of skills. She stood nervously by the front door at a quarter to 2. “Wish me luck.”

“I have great faith in you, dearie.” She kissed her niece on the forehead and opened the door for her.

Sparky turned left to walk north to the castle, keeping her head down and walking at a measured pace, neither too fast nor too slow, so as to avoid drawing attention to herself. She reached for the summons from the inside pocket of her coat as she approached the south gate of the castle. She proffered it to the steward stationed there. She said simply, “I’m expected.”

“Indeed you are.” She had expected to be directed to the Chapel Royal. Instead, two members of the Black Watch appeared from just inside the gate. Without a word, each one took her firmly by an arm and steered her into the casemate on the west side of the castle. They only released her arms once they had closed the door firmly behind themselves. They stationed themselves between her and the door.

Sitting in a chair that was incongruously ornate for the setting, which was not unlike a cellar despite its being above ground, was the reason for the security to which she had just been subjected.

“Your Majesty. I’m at a loss for words.”

“That is just as well as we have many words for you. We are unaccustomed to being duped by our subjects and look even less kindly upon being duped by those who are not even our subjects. There was a time not long past when we could have dispensed with such traitors without the slightest interference. While you have not been entirely secretive in your movements this last day, the only person who knows your whereabouts and intentions precisely is your maiden aunt. She is hardly in a position to provide a meaningful defense, particularly as she is a co-conspirator.”

Sparky felt the room getting colder and her knees preparing to give way. She glanced around to try to collect her bearings. She focused on the young man who was standing by Queen Victoria’s side. He was so still that if not for his breathing he might have been a mannequin…who looked remarkably like her. He was only slightly taller and broader in the shoulders, but he had the same hair and eye color as she. He could have been her twin brother or a first cousin. And he was wearing remarkably similar clothes, although his were considerably newer and better tailored.

The queen continued, “We would never have acquiesced to admitting your grandfather’s half American ‘grandson’ into the Order of the Thistle, except that we were grateful for his faithful service and sympathetic to his disappointment in his only son.” Sparky had to smile in agreement with the last statement. “While we are grateful for your service in the recent unpleasant business in Bavaria, there are still rules. Women are not permitted to be members of the Order of the Thistle. Charles Llewellyn McTrowell was acceptable. Czarina Llewellyn McTrowell is not.”

A hopeful flush of relief washed over Sparky. The queen was only going to eject her from the Order. She wasn’t going to cut off her head! She had always found the Order a little stuffy anyway and she had only acceded to her grandfather’s wish because it made the old man feel a bit better about her father’s failings. “I understand, your majesty.”

“No, Dr. McTrowell, you do not. As you are generally an observant individual, you have almost certainly noticed this young man.” She gestured over her shoulder with taking her gaze off Sparky. “His garb is entirely intentional. You must now make a choice. As you are not our subject, we cannot command you. However, as sovereign, we can deport you and prohibit you from ever returning. We can separate you permanently from persons for whom you care deeply. Do you take our meaning clearly?”

Sparky’s brief warm happiness drained back out of her. “Yes, your majesty.”

“Our agent will approach you shortly. You will do precisely and entirely as he directs. If you agree, you may proceed to the Chapel Royal and the meeting as you planned. If you do not agree, ‘Charles’ here will take your place at the meeting. The Black Watch guards behind you will shackle you and carry you bodily from this room. Your feet will never touch the soil of our land again. Choose wisely, Dr. McTrowell.”

Sparky wanted to simultaneously cry and shout. This must be what Drake was so worried about protecting her from. And now she was right in the middle of it. Correction.
They were right in the middle of it! She couldn’t imagine anything more dangerous than what they had already been through together, and they would continue to be in it together. “I choose to stay, your majesty.”

“An excellent choice, Dr. McTrowell.” The queen rose from the chair and the Black Watch guards opened the door for her. “
And for heavens sake, change clothes with ‘Charles.’ You look as if you have been living in an attic for a decade.


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