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Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears - Page 9: November 5, 2012 - December 18, 2012

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Played
Where’s Wallace?
Keep Quiet and Play Through
Put a Ring on It
Feels Like Home
E. Llewellyn


Played

Entry for November 5, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus woke with a start. He looked quickly around his flat over Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, feeling that yesterday had been long and other-worldly, and it was hard to believe he was back in the safety of his one-room home. Then he instinctively felt the bandages on his chest and hand, looked at the inverted marionette that was lying in the corner of the room. Yes, it had all happened. He anxiously grabbed his pocket watch to check the time.

He knew that he needed to get over to the London Airship Port as quickly as he could to aid in the ongoing mission. But first, he really needed to freshen up and furnish himself with a proper set of businesslike clothes. He knew that Sparky was performing the same drill at Dr. Pogue’s. He wondered if it was too competitive for him to want to get there first, as ungentlemanly a thought as that was. “Perhaps I should have placed a friendly bet with the good doctor,” he thought out loud. “On the other hand, we’ve already raced cabriolets though London. Maybe its too soon to repeat that legal transgression.”

After a wash, a shave, and a selection of primarily black attire, Erasmus trotted out of the door and down the stairs, cane and black bowler in hand. He quickly hailed a hansom, plopped his bowler on his head, and adjusted his revolver and shackles as he slipped into the hansom’s seat. “Airship Port, on the double!” he called out. With a crack of the driver’s whip, they were off down Fleet Street.

Mrs. Bingham wiped her hands on her apron and turned to the kitchen table, where a sleepy Dr. Pogue and a tired Dr. Young sat nibbling at their aromatic breakfast, a recently introduced dish from India to London called
kedgeree. Edmond had asked for the special meal for Yin’s return. This was a bit of a stretch for Mrs. Bingham’s culinary capabilities. The mixture of flaked smoked fish, rice, hard-boiled eggs, curry powder, and cream was not her usual hearty English fare of eggs, sausage, tomatoes, and rustic bread. She was fairly happy with how it had turned out, but the proof was if it was completely consumed. She took a few seconds to watch over the two to see if that was the case. But their lethargy was getting in the way of their eating.

Edmond, ignoring his cook’s presence, said to Yin, “I was worried about you.” Their gazes locked.

Mrs. Bingham was no fool. “Well, I hope you like your fancy meal, doctors. I’m going to go clean…somewhere else. Let me know what you thought of it…sometime later.” She untied and dropped her apron on the counter and scurried off.

Mrs. Wallace’s office was getting crowded. The young gentleman had been there all morning. Two members of Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears, Mr. Cooke and Captain Vaughan, had shown up. Sergeant Fox had also joined them. Annabelle tried to maintain her best professional composure while her world was possibly falling apart. She tried to comprehend what would happen to her husband’s business if things went as badly as she thought they might. She had tried to do the right thing by approaching Chief Inspector Drake three days before with the letter that her husband had written. What in the world could have happened to warrant this tremendous, sudden interruption at the Western & Transatlantic Airship Lines’ front office?

A soft rap on the door was followed by the entry of the clerk from warehouse 7. Despite his managerial role at the warehouse, he was clearly uncomfortable talking in front of an audience, and looked a bit sheepish as he delivered the news of his progress.

“Ma’am. We’ve completed your request. A crate has been assembled with 350 pounds of scrap airship parts. Most of them are castoffs, so they are not of great value. A bill of lading has been made, as requested. All of this is waiting at warehouse 7.”

Annabelle looked seriously at the young man in charge. “How do you wish to proceed?” Her voice wavered only a little bit. She was sure that no one noticed.

“I want this to be a civil matter rather than a military one. I will let Chief Inspector Drake direct this part of the operation when he arrives.” The young man smoothly tugged on a gold watch chain, and an exquisite gold pocket watch popped from his pocket on his gray-blue vest and into his hand, the impact pressing the cover release. He peered down only for an instant at the timepiece. “He should be arriving immediately.” Snap. The watch was back in place as quickly as it had appeared.

The driver of Erasmus’ hansom had allowed his steed to break into a gallop for the final few yards to the wide walkway entrance that led to the London Airship Port. As usual, there were a number of conveyances lining the street, either dropping off passengers or picking them up. It had turned into one of the busiest London Streets since the Airship Port had opened. A space at the curb had opened up, and Erasmus’ driver had his sights on it.

As the hansom charged forward, a shiny black cabriolet cut them off and slid effortlessly into the spot, causing the hansom to pull up short. Erasmus had to grab the railing on the dashboard to keep from landing on the horse’s rump. He stood, adjusted his cockeyed bowler, and noticed the familiar pilot’s headgear of Dr. McTrowell on the passenger exiting the obstructing vehicle. Erasmus squinted and tried his best to swallow his annoyance.

“Dr. McTrowell, I presume,” He called out enthusiastically.

She turned around, and grinned at him. With a point of a finger of her still gloved hand, she called back, “I beat you here!” She added a sly wink.

He graciously bowed, showing his acceptance of her triumph in their previously unstated competition. He hopped down, paid his driver, and joined her on the walkway.

“I am here in an official capacity, so I won’t be offering my arm, my dear Sparky.”

“That is quite alright. I am looking forward to finishing this ‘mission,’ as Sergeant Fox refers to it.”

After winding their way there, Erasmus knocked on the office door. It was opened by one of the Aerial Marines inside. Erasmus allowed Sparky to enter first, and then he stepped inside. He first noticed that Sparky was frozen, unsure what to do. Erasmus quickly looked around the crowded room.

“What are
you doing here?” he asked the well-dressed young man.

There was a bit of a pause and the young man replied, “Everyone except Chief Inspector Drake and Dr. McTrowell, please leave us. We will regroup in a few minutes.”

Mrs. Wallace flashed surprise at being ordered out of the office, since she was treating it as hers. But she just as quickly acquiesced. With a bit a maneuvering, the office’s inhabitants executed the order, and the three remaining turned to each other when the door clicked shut.

Erasmus couldn’t help exclaiming, “Lord Ashleigh, how did you get invited to this? Do you know who is in charge?”

Lord Ashleigh gave his usual upbeat smile. “Of course! I am.”

Sparky made her scrunched up “I don’t understand” face.

“Not to question your capabilities, but how could that be? You’re leading these military men and their agents?”

“Here is the short version of the story.” He took a deep breath. His eyes flashed as he animatedly continued. “Her Majesty and my mother negotiated a mutually advantageous arrangement. For our safe harbor, we promised my support of Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears. Like most, I started as a supporting agent, concentrating on infiltration. Unlike most agents, I displayed the ability to blend in, even when I stood out. I earned my stripes on a couple of high-profile intelligence gathering missions, and was promoted to oversee the organizational side of things. A few months ago, I was asked to bring in new recruits and dismiss those that were holding back progress. I started by bringing in Sergeant Fox and Dr. Young. As for cleaning house, I completed that task yesterday.”

Erasmus was astonished, but was taking it all in. “So, it was you who ‘selected’ me?”

“Oh, yes. And others. Like Sparky.”

“I was
recruited?!?” she exclaimed, following that with a short grumbling babble that indicated that she didn’t know what to say other than to express incredulity.

Lord Ashleigh grinned compassionately, and she calmed down a tad. He proceeded, “I received word from Her Majesty that a Dr. McTrowell was arriving, and that I should evaluate her for a position. She indicated that she knew that you might be willing to discuss terms, as it were. Apparently your reputation preceded you.”

“Was that why you were at the Inventor’s Symposium? You were
evaluating me?!”

“Yes, my dear. Her Majesty knew of you somehow.”

“How did you know I was going there? I didn’t even notify University College.”

A wry smile crept across Lord Ashleigh’s face. “I cannot reveal my sources or techniques. That would take all of the sport out of it.” He paused as if remembering back to previous conversations and then added, “I guess you can now appreciate what I meant in our first few discussions about my ‘resources’ and how they were assisting me.”

Sparky nodded her understanding. Her mind then drifted to her private interaction with the British Monarch, and the recent convocation of the Order of the Thistle. She felt like she had been boxed in. Played. But she also remembered her promise to herself to represent her family, no matter what it took. Her final nod was to herself. This monarch also plays to win. She recognized and respected that.

Erasmus had also put some pieces of the puzzle together. “So you arranged for me to ride on the Burke & Hare. You had me take that trip to test of my abilities. While you had us believe that you were just another passenger. Huh. Did you also set up my meeting Sparky?”

“No! That was your own doing. Although I can see my influence with the gift of the scarf appearing as a calculated ploy, but it wasn’t. I just thought you made a wonderful couple and thought I’d give you a hand. As a friend.”

Erasmus peered at Lord Ashleigh for a second. Was that the truth?

Lord Ashleigh felt his searing gaze. “I swear it.” He extended his hand for shaking to the Chief Inspector. Erasmus acquiesced and took his hand and shook it heartily.

Lord Ashleigh then turned to Sparky. “To you I apologize for the required deception.” He took up her hand and kissed it repentantly. She softened her shoulders and shrugged. And then to everyone’s surprise, quickly hugged Lord Ashleigh in a way that said, “I understand.”

Without losing a beat, Lord Ashleigh proclaimed, “Let’s go finish this operation!” The three invited the rest of the team back into the office to iron out the details of their plan.

The rest of the operation went like clockwork. Sparky borrowed a cap and coat from the clerk in warehouse 7. In his workman’s disguise, Sergeant Fox looked entirely the part of an air stevedore. Erasmus carefully shadowed the two as they delivered the counterfeit crate to the Russian & Trans-Siberian Air Fleet shipping department. Sparky approached the shipping clerk and asked in her best Russian to verify that she hadn’t made a mistake in the bill of lading, since it didn’t have a recipient. Although he looked skeptical at the arrival of the crate without Reginald Wallace accompanying it, he took her grasp of the mother tongue as proof that Mr. Wallace had personally selected her. The clerk directed her to the shipping manager, Maxim Petrovich Medvedev, who assured her that the crate was going to him and him alone.

As a prearranged signal, Sparky gave Erasmus a thumbs up behind her back and he swooped in to arrest Mr. Medvedev. Erasmus handed him over to a local constable, ordering him to escort the prisoner back to the Yard, question him, and attempt to get details on the intended recipient in St. Petersburg.

Meanwhile, Lord Ashleigh revisited Mrs. Wallace in her office. She fidgeted uncomfortably in her chair, trying to hide her concern. Jonathan sat down in her guest chair, every move showing his seriousness about the upcoming conversation.

“You’ve got the man you were after. Is there anything else I can help you with?” She had asked the question, but was hoping that her business with Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears had come to a close.

“There is the small matter of your husband, whom we need to apprehend.”

“And you are hoping that I will help you?”

“I am an agent of Her Majesty. In that role, I do what is best for the crown and the empire. I realize that if Reginald Wallace is apprehended and found guilty, Western & Transatlantic Airship Lines is a company in limbo. Current law doesn’t allow it to be owned, much less operated, by a woman. But if operations were halted, even for more than a few days, it would greatly reduce the influx of visitors, cargo, and related commerce into London. That isn’t good for, well, anyone. But we do need to deal with your husband’s actions. So let us see if we can negotiate a mutually agreeable resolution.”

Mrs. Wallace nodded reluctantly.

The conversation continued for a few minutes, quietly behind her closed office door. Sparky, J. B., Mr. Cooke, and Captain Vaughan waited patiently without. The Chief Inspector rushed to rejoin the waiting team. J. B. made a quick thumb point that indicated that Jonathan was still in the office.

Suddenly the door swung open.

Sergeant Fox asked, “Do we know where he is?”

Lord Ashleigh responded powerfully, “Yes, we do! Everyone, follow me!”



Where’s Wallace?

Entry for November 14, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

“Euston Station, please, Virat.” Lord Ashleigh, Drake, McTrowell, and Fox clambered into the coach. It had seemed much more commodious to Sparky when she had first ridden in it from Bloomsbury to Berkeley Square. She was grateful that Ashleigh had left Mr. Cooke and Captain Vaughan behind to oversee matters at the Western & Transatlantic offices. She feared that their inclusion in the next phase of their mission would have resulted in someone having to sit on the floor of the coach or ride on top as baggage.

“Lord Ashleigh, you have yet to tell us where we’re going,” Drake reminded him.

“Aylesbury where the Wallaces have a country home. I suspected that might be his first destination, but I wanted to confirm my surmise to avoid wasting time chasing in the wrong direction.”

Sparky interjected, “Given the circumstances, we could have commandeered an airship and gotten there in less than the two hours this will take, assuming the train schedule is even favorable.”

“True, but I wish to have the element of surprise on our side. An airship landing in the rose garden lacks stealth.” Sparky didn’t reply, but she scowled at the implication that she lacked the aerial skills to land on something as large as the back lawn of an English country manor.

Drake, having learned to read McTrowell’s expressions, felt it prudent to move the conversation along. “Lord Ashleigh, I believe the three of us are entirely up to the task of capturing Wallace, particularly considering his current state of medical incapacitation. If you will give us directions to his house, we can apprehend him and return him to London.”

“Of this I am quite sure. However, Her Majesty is in need of more than just Mr. Wallace. We cannot be certain whether Mr. Medvedev knows the name of Mr. Wallace’s Russian co-conspirator. We can be certain that he will want something in exchange for that information if he has it. Her Majesty is not in the mood to grant such a boon. Nor is she inclined to negotiate with the traitor, Wallace. Her Majesty will dictate her own terms.”

Sparky swallowed hard. Although treason was no longer a capital offense, Wallace would be attainted; all his property would be forfeit to the Crown. That would certainly complicate her personal employment situation. She snapped out of her reverie when she realized Lord Ashleigh was still talking.

“As Reginald and I are engaged in a cooperative business endeavor and he has no reason to believe that I was involved in the discovery and seizure of the dragon’s teeth, I can present myself at his home on the pretense of discussing business. I may trick him into revealing the specifics of this other venture on the grounds that I might wish to invest in it as well. Failing that, the good Chief Inspector may arrest him and cart him off to the Tower.” Sparky didn’t like the sound of that either.

The mismatched attire of their party drew several stares as they stood on the platform for half an hour at Euston waiting for the next train. They avoided conversation as they were already the subject of unwanted attention and didn’t want to reveal their plans. That would have to wait until they were seated in a private cabin on the train. Preferably with some tea and light snack, Sparky thought to herself. She had to admit that one of the perquisites of this “employment” was the excellent accommodations.

Lord Ashleigh withdrew a folded sheet of paper from the inside pocket of his velvet frock coat that proved to be a sketch of the Wallaces’ country estate, no doubt provided by Mrs. Wallace. McTrowell listened quietly as her three companions laid out the details of the plan including locations for their concealment, timing, and signals. She was absorbed in the dreadful realization that she was the only one of the company whose life would change as the result of today’s actions. She decided not to raise her concerns until the plan was complete.

“Lord Ashleigh, I don’t see that I’m necessary to this operation. Perhaps I should remain in town when we reach Aylesbury.”

“Dr. McTrowell, please recall your agreement with Her Majesty. As I said before, she will dictate her own terms.” If Sparky had had any lingering doubts about whether Lord Ashleigh was the “agent” to whom Victoria had referred, they had been dispelled. Drake was dumbstruck at the reference to an agreement between Sparky and Queen Victoria. He was sorely disappointed that Sparky hadn’t confided in him that she had been consorting with his own monarch to the extent that they had reached an “agreement.” He was of half a mind to pop over to the City of Washington and have a chat with Millard Fillmore.

McTrowell took a moment to collect her thoughts. “What will happen to Western & Transatlantic Airship Lines if Wallace is convicted of treason?”

“If he were tried and convicted of treason, Her Majesty could seize the Airship Lines and dispose of it as she sees fit.” Sparky felt like the roof of the train might collapse on her head. “However, such a course of action is not in Her Majesty’s best interest. The publicity of such an affair, particularly as it involves a Russian party or parties, might undermine the British position with respect to the ‘Eastern Question.’”

“If she’s not going to try him for treason, why are we going to arrest him if he reveals his co-conspirator?”

“Her Majesty has an interesting strategy. Western & Transatlantic Airship Lines will henceforth be administered by Mrs. Annabelle Wallace. Members of Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears will receive transportation to any destination in execution of their official duties, discreetly and free of charge. Reginald Wallace will be arrested for some minor infraction, smuggling or evasion of export tariffs. A little time in jail will serve to reinforce the inadvisability of protesting or revealing this arrangement.”

Drake blurted out, “That’s beastly clever.”

“Yes, well I wish I could take credit for it, but Her Majesty has quite the head for intrigue and subtle manipulation.”

“Amen to that!” Sparky thought to herself.

Lord Ashleigh hired a carriage at the station in Aylesbury and they headed immediately out of town. Drake, McTrowell, and Fox disembarked just before they entered the lane so they could circle around the house and take up their assigned positions. Ashleigh paid the cabbie quadruple the fare with instructions to approach the house slowly, drop him at the entrance, drive back to the bottom of the lane, and wait there.

“I don’t want to be involved in no dodgy business.”

“This is not ‘dodgy business.’ It is Her Majesty’s business and she requires your cooperation and discretion.”

“Right you are, guvnor.”

Lord Ashleigh exited the carriage gracefully, then stood in the drive admiring the scenery and breathing deeply of the clean, country air. He hoped he was conveying the impression of a gentleman of leisure without a pressing care in his head. As he approached the massive double doors, the left one was opened smoothly by a liveried manservant.

“Good day, sir.”

“Good day to you. Is Mr. Reginald Wallace at home?”

“Who shall I say is calling, sir?”

Ashleigh produced an engraved calling card that he proffered to the butler. “Viscount Jonathan Lord Ashleigh. I’ve come to see Mr. Wallace on a business matter.”

“Please come in, sir. I will see if Mr. Wallace is available.” After Lord Ashleigh entered the foyer and the butler closed the door behind him, the butler quickly closed the door to a large drawing room just to the right of the entrance. But not before Jonathan noticed that the room was dominated by several partially filled crates and in a state of disarray that suggested hasty packing. It was as he suspected. Wallace was preparing to flee with whatever items of value he could collect in a hurry. He listened to the receding footsteps of the butler. When he was sure the servant was far enough away that he couldn’t return for a moment or two, Ashleigh dashed around, opening as many doors as he could reach quickly and stealing a peak inside. It was the same in other rooms. The furniture was still in the dining room, but the walls bore the telltale outlines of recently removed paintings. The china, silver and crystal were all laid out on the massive walnut dining table that was ringed by more open crates. He hurried back to his position in the foyer and assumed an air of bored indifference when he heard the butler returning.

“This way, sir.” The butler led him to Wallace’s study. Wallace was slumped in a worn, leather wing back chair with his foot elevated on the matching tuffet. The study was in a comparable state of disassembly to the rest of the house.

“Ashleigh, please pardon me for not getting up.” He pointed at his swollen, shoeless foot. “Annabelle has us in the midst of an enormous renovation,” he lied, waving dismissively at the packing materials and piles of books. “What brings you way out here?”

“I felt the need for some fresh air. I thought to take the opportunity to apprise you of the progress I have made in negotiations with my brother concerning the land in Talkad for our airship port. He is a shrewd and ruthless negotiator. He must have inherited that trait from his mother.” He laughed deeply and loudly, although it sounded hollow to him. “I believe he has come to understand the value of this venture to you and me, and is demanding additional concessions.” He studied Wallace’s face. Normally he would have expected Wallace to blow up, but he only appeared withdrawn and distracted. “He has invited the two of us to visit him in Talkad at our earliest possible convenience to discuss extending our routes to the continent, particularly to Eastern Europe as he thinks that market is underserved.” Wallace perked up a bit.

Jonathan continued, “Unfortunately, for delicate political and family reasons, I should avoid putting myself in my brother’s custody. Nor do I have any business connections in Eastern Europe. As you have considerably more experience and business acumen than I, I was hoping you might have something to offer my brother and consent to negotiate with him. I believe he will be impressed by your considerable success and we will achieve a better result under your leadership.” He knew he was spreading on the flattery very thickly, but it had the desired effect; Wallace was now paying keen attention.

“Do you know someone in a position to offer my brother an opportunity of this type?”

“I may.”

“He’s particularly interested in Eastern Europe as I believe he wishes to establish additional connections farther east. My brother is the sort of man who will pay dearly for something he truly desires.” Lord Ashleigh hoped he wasn’t overplaying his hand.

“Dearly, you say?”

“Yes. In fact, in a recent letter, he sent along drawing of a lavish residence he is planning to build near the airship port for the port manager.” Now he was sure he had overdone it. He stood up nonchalantly and strolled toward the window.

“And who will this port manager be? Has he already accepted the job? Would your brother consider a foreign applicant, of course only if he were exceptionally qualified?”

Lord Ashleigh was thankful he had arisen to face the window because Wallace couldn’t see the smile broadening on his face. “He was quite clear that he is still searching for just the right man. I think
he used the words ‘exceptionally qualified.’” He waited a moment for his words to sink in. “He would need some proof of these qualifications. Sadly, he does not trust his younger brother’s judgment. Perhaps an actual demonstration of exceptional qualifications would convince him. A personal introduction to a like-minded businessman who can further his ambitions?”

Wallace took the bait. “I am already engaged in a business venture with the president of Russian & Trans-Siberian Air Fleet, Prince Konstantin Medvedev.”

There was another piece of the mystery solved. The shipping manager must be a family member. That would explain why he was entrusted with the forwarding of the crates. “A new airship route?”

“Perhaps.” Wallace was returning to his previously evasive behavior. Sensing that he wouldn’t get any more information using subterfuge, the young viscount stretched his arm out in a large sweeping circle and brought his hand to his face, as if he were stroking his beard in an extremely exaggerated gesture.

“I’m sure my brother will be quite interested.” Now he was just stalling.

He heard two pairs of feet approaching rapidly down the hall. Chief Inspector Drake strode purposefully into the room, brandishing a pair of restraints. “Mr. Reginald Wallace, by order of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, you are under arrest for the crime of …” He looked up at Ashleigh for guidance.

“Smuggling.”

“Yes, smuggling.”

Ashleigh continued, “Now Mr. Wallace, you will explain yourself. Unless you wish to be tried for treason, you will explain why your were selling machines of war to a Russian prince.”

Having seen Drake enter the house, Fox had followed and entered the room just as Drake shackled Wallace.

“No one was supposed to get hurt.”

Fox exploded. “No one was supposed to get hurt?! I have two dead men! I ought to kill you with my bare hands.”

Ashleigh placed a calming hand on the Aerial Marine’s shoulder. “Sergeant, as much as I share your sentiments, Her Majesty needs Mr. Wallace alive. What were you saying, Mr. Wallace?”

“Prince Medvedev would use the dragon’s teeth to attack a few freight trains. I would sell more to Her Majesty’s government. A bloodless ground war. Prince Medvedev and I would supply both sides.”

Sparky strolled into the room, “If travelers thought it was unsafe to travel on the ground, they would travel more by air. Both Wallace and Medvedev would profit additionally.”

“Brilliantly despicable,” Ashleigh commented, but the look on his face reflected nothing but utter disgust.
“Chief Inspector, take this man to the Tower.”



Keep Quiet and Play Through

Entry for November 29, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

The scene at the Wallace’s country house would have been a bit comical if it hadn’t been so seriously important. Once Reginald was in wrist irons, he had a great deal of difficulty walking. Out of shackles, he still moved slowly, complete with huffing and puffing and under-his-breath muttering about his aching foot. He kept his arms out to his sides like a drunken steeple-jack, and he performed a hop-step rather than placing any more than the slightest weight on his gout-ridden, sock-covered appendage. His butler offered a cane, which Sergeant Fox examined for weapons, poisons, or tricks of any sort. It didn’t have any, but the sergeant was still hesitant to give even a wooden stick to their prisoner seeing that he could do some damage if he hit someone with it. It took a full ten minutes to even get Reginald to the front door.

J. B. lost his limited patience. Directed at no one in particular, he asked out loud, “May I just toss him over my shoulder? It would speed all of this up!” Reginald looked at him in horror at the possibility.

Sparky, showing more restraint, saw this as a medical problem, so she spoke up. “Mr. Wallace, how did get around before we showed up? We are here to arrest you, not torture you.”

“My dear Dr. McTrowell, in the rush here, I left my crutches behind. I had a cabriolet take me everywhere when in the out-of-doors. Otherwise, this is as fast as I go.”

J. B. disagreed. “Not anymore!” He deftly put a shoulder into Reginald’s stomach and hefted the rich troublemaker up. Reginald grunted loudly while his legs dangled uselessly in front of J. B. “Let us hope that the coachman followed your instructions, Chief Inspector, to hide around the corner of the road, or Mr. Wallace here,” and he slapped his butt for emphasis, “will have a long journey into town on his belly!”

As the Sergeant strode down the driveway, the other three laughed and followed. Behind them they could hear Reginald’s bewildered manservant, hesitant to call to his master but unwilling to silently stand by while Reginald was literally hauled away.

The trip back to the train station in Aylesbury was crowded, even with the Chief Inspector joining the driver on the back of the coach. Given his treatment in his driveway, Reginald was more willing to try walking normally from the coach to the train. The train ride back was a quiet affair, with the four compatriots playing nursemaid to Reginald while he did his best to not draw attention to himself, despite his foot propped up on the seat in front of him.

The steam locomotive hissed as it came to a gradual stop in Euston Station, billows of water vapor puffed around the engine accompanied by a low-throated whoosh. The troupe and their prisoner were the first to step off the front most passenger car, and were immediately greeted by a uniformed Aerial Marine.

“Sergeant Fox,” the young man started.

“Yes?”

“I am here to deliver this,” and he presented an envelope to J. B., “and to offer my assistance in any way.”

“No assistance is required at this time, Cadet.”

Erasmus cleared his throat to get purchase in the conversation. “If I may suggest, perhaps the cadet can summon a constable to escort Mr. Wallace to the Tower. Given the hour, a strategic meeting over dinner may be in order.”

J. B. nodded his agreement, adding a quiet, “quite right,” and readdressed the Marine. “The Chief Inspector is correct. Fetch a reliable officer, return here, and the two of you can escort this man to the Tower of London. They will be expecting him. You’ll need a convenience.” J. B. pointed to the large grey wool sock that covered Mr. Wallace’s foot. “He’s lame, but do not assume he won’t try to escape.”

“Yes, sir.”

Next to a back table in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Erasmus held a chair out for Sparky as she sat; J.B. and Lord Ashleigh standing, as gentleman do, waiting for the lady of the group to be seated comfortably. The eatery’s ambient noise was a good cover for their planned conversation.

Once seated, Erasmus set the tone. “J. B., Sparky has the interest and the ability to aid us, but has felt disregarded in the details of our mission.” Sparky looked at J. B. both to express agreement with Erasmus’ statement, and for an explanation.

Lord Ashleigh intervened. “That was my doing, and for that I am truly regretful. To be honest, Dr. McTrowell, you were still being evaluated for suitability to assist Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears, even on this mission. I had taken the tactic of requesting from my team that you receive as little information as possible but still have you involved, as ordered by Her Majesty.”

J. B. interjected, “On that point, I would like to read you the letter that I received. Well, the important part, buried between the pleasantries. ‘…The quick and satisfactory capture of Monsieur Punaise and the discovery of evidence at Western & Transatlantic Airship Lines pleases us. As for the latter, we expect Dr. McTrowell will play an important role in guiding Mrs. Annabelle Wallace in the sustained operation of the company, given its established role in the transportation of our subjects and goods within and without our Empire.’ It is signed by His Royal Majesty Prince Albert. Doctor, it seems you are on the minds of the royals; in a good way, I might add.”

Sparky smiled at the good news, although Erasmus sensed a touch of skepticism. “Good for her,” he thought to himself, “one mustn’t let these things go to one’s head.”

Sparky calmed her gentleman diners with, “Thank you for informing me of the true nature of the assignment, and what has transpired. I have a few more questions, if I may.”

One of the tap boys in a green vest delivered their food and drinks, which they consumed while quietly discussing the role of Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears, its members and their roles, and the import of their duty. By the time the warm, sweet puddings clunked down on the table, everyone around the table was smiling and nodding, looking forward to their next mission.

Sergeant Fox and Lord Ashleigh drained the last drops of port from their glasses, excused themselves, and took their leave. Sparky and Erasmus sat, looking at each other, enjoying the satisfaction of a completed task, full bellies, and an evening without plans. That lasted about thirty seconds, until Erasmus realized he had better figure out what his next step would be.

“Sparky, the evening is rather young. Would you be willing to look at the automated housekeeper that I acquired? I want to see if I can get it restarted.”

“I assume it is up in your flat? Can I…trust you?”

“Trust me, I’m a Chief Inspector with Scotland Yard,” he stated with a wink and a tip of his simulated hat.

“Does that work on all of the London lasses?”

“It’s my first time using that turn of phrase. What do you think? Effective?”

“Well, you
are still single, so you be the judge.”

Erasmus jokingly mimed that his heart was crushed while Sparky snickered at his silliness. He hopped to his feet and lent her his hand to aid her in standing, and while she hung on to his fingers, he led her to his flat.

They unwrapped the delicate automaton, standing it on its foot box. A brass oval water tank was secreted inside the metal box. They refilled it with water and put Erasmus’ best pieces of coal in the firebox below it. It took a while to get it started, and the water up to pressure. By the time the small steam engine on the box turned over, they had bumped into each other a few times, and both rubbed their own tired backs resulting from all of the bending over.

The housekeeper came to life, reaching about for dishes. Finding none, its arms drooped to its sides and it turned off its own engine.

Erasmus scratched his head. “There must be a way to set which task it performs, and to create new tasks.” He looked around his apartment, knowing he would not find anything to help in this endeavor.

Sparky stretched her arms and twisted her back a bit, adding, “You don’t have any tools here do you? How about a worktable?”

“I have a few cleaning tools for my revolver, and that’s it. Downstairs, James may have a few carpentry tools, but he tends to hire handymen as he needs them. Hey, don’t look at me like that.”

Sparky sighed. “This work would be a lot easier if we could move this to Dr. Pogue’s, but then we’d have to move it back here to test it, because Mrs. Bingham wouldn’t like this imperfect imitation of her. It would be a lot easier if we could do this in one place.”

“What are you … asking?”

“Oh, I’ve just been thinking lately that I need to find a more permanent place to stay in London.”

Erasmus was both ecstatic and taken aback by where the conversation was leading, even though Sparky was being earnest, rather than flirty or acting entrapped by the recent events. He thought, “So,
this is one of those moments where I could open my mouth to clarify what we are discussing, and get in hot water. Best to keep quiet and play through. If I only had a jelly baby to save me.” He chuckled to himself, and decided to change the subject.

“What a day! I think we have gotten as far with this as we can. Can I get you a cab?”



Put a Ring on It

Entry for December 3, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Mrs. Bingham cleared her throat meaningfully. When she got no response, she resorted to shoving the plate of hot food through the small gap between Edmond and Yin. “Breakfast dearies,” she chirped loudly. Startled out of their affectionate gazing, they sat up straight at the kitchen table. Mrs. Bingham seized the opportunity to slide in the second plate, although she wondered to herself why she bothered. She was fairly certain that the pair would have been just as happy to eat from the same plate. She made a mental note to speak with Miss Esmeralda. Perhaps Dr. Pogue’s more worldly younger sister could instruct her brother in the proper way to proceed. Just staring at his assistant was not going to produce the desired outcome; she was not one of his experiments.

The housekeeper turned to face the approaching footsteps. “Good morning, Dr. McTrowell. It’s so nice to have company for breakfast.”

Sparky glanced at Pogue and Young, and then furrowed her brow quizzically at Mrs. Bingham’s comment. What had the housekeeper meant by that? Had she overstayed her welcome? She opted to proceed as if everything were perfectly normal, “Good morning, Mrs. Bingham. Breakfast smells delicious, as usual.”

“I’ll set you up a plate.”

The love-struck inventor finally noticed the presence of his houseguest. “Dr. McTrowell, what news?”

“Mr. Wallace has seen the error of his ways. Today I undertake to educate Mrs. Wallace on the operation of an airship business. I’m not certain what I thought I would be doing at this point in my life, but I’m sure it is not this. Her Majesty is certainly an impressively persuasive individual.” Her last comment made Edmond visibly uncomfortable. Sparky wondered if she had insulted his sovereign. She had meant it as more of a grudging compliment. She was grateful for the interruption of Mrs. Bingham’s delivery of her breakfast. She tucked in. She hadn’t realized how much the exertion of the last few days had given her a ferocious appetite.

After a few bites, she tried to change the subject, “So what did I miss while I was in Aylesbury yesterday?” This question made Pogue so uncomfortable that he squirmed in his chair like a schoolboy caught with a frog in his desk. She was wracking her brains for a safer subject when Drake strolled into the kitchen. She smiled in silent plea. Surely, he would have something clever and engaging to say, thus rescuing her from her current discomfiture.

Mrs. Bingham rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Just happened to be in the neighborhood, did you Chief Inspector?” Before he could fabricate a convincing answer, she continued, “How would you like your eggs?”

“Scrambled, thank you. Mr. Bingham just admitted me on his way out. He asked me to inform you that he would fix the loose stair tread upon his return. ” Mrs. Bingham set another place at Sparky’s left elbow. She knew there was no point expecting him to sit anywhere else.

“Drs. Pogue and Young, have you had an opportunity to inspect the Dragon’s Teeth remnants?” Drake asked. Pogue’s face lit up like a schoolboy who had just discovered tin soldiers under the Christmas tree. Sparky breathed a sigh of relief.

“Why yes, and what a delightful investigation this is going to be! The designs are brilliant!” He seemed to have completely overlooked the fact that the mechanisms were demonstrably effective killing machines, such was his scientific enthusiasm for the technology.

“What will you do with them when your investigations are complete?” Pogue’s schoolboy look returned, the first one. Yin stared intently at the last scraps of her meal.

Mrs. Bingham deposited Drake’s breakfast in front of him and wiped her hands briskly on her apron. “Oh for heaven’s sake! Do you lot really imagine that anything that happens in this house can be kept a secret? You might as well tell them.” She fluttered her dishcloth in the direction of Drake and McTrowell.

“Sensible as always, Mrs. Bingham,” Pogue replied with chagrin. “Yin brought me a message from the Queen yesterday. It was about this Eyes and Ears business. Her Majesty has ‘offered’ me the position of quartermaster. As you say, Dr. McTrowell, she is very persuasive. The work will be keenly interesting, but this will significantly curtail my publications.”

“Well,” continued Drake cheerfully, “at least we will all be in this together. ‘All for one and one for all,’ as Dumas wrote.”

“Indeed,” Sparky chimed in. She was just grateful to have discovered that she wasn’t personally the source of the tension in the room.

The foursome finished their breakfast in between animated discussions about the designs of the Dragon’s Teeth and potential, less menacing applications of Monsieur Punaise’s handiwork.

Sparky stood up, “I should get to the airship port. Delaying will not improve the task before me.”

Drake popped out of his chair, “I’ll accompany you there.” He paused for a beat, thinking. “I need to interview a few more witnesses.” Mrs. Bingham covered her mouth with the dishcloth to stifle a giggle.

“I’ll fetch my kit and meet you in the foyer.”

Pogue stood up as well. “Dr. Young, I think we should begin the day’s work.” Yin nodded and rose to join the two men. The three of them were standing in the foyer waiting for Sparky when the door echoed with the sound of the knocker. Edmond opened the door to find Miss Sarah Slate standing on the landing.

“Good morning, Miss Slate. Please come in. What brings you here this morning?”

She stepped inside and proffered a fine quality, ivory, linen envelope with Dr. Pogue’s name written on the front in calligraphy. “I came to deliver these.” She waved a small stack still in her other hand. “I’m sorry, Chief Inspector Drake. If I had realized you would be here, I would have brought yours. I posted it to Scotland Yard.”

“Thank you, Miss Slate. I’ll be on the lookout for it.”

Sparky entered the foyer, Gladstone bag and brown leather topper in hand. “Good morning, Miss Slate.”

“Good morning, Dr. McTrowell.” Sarah handed Sparky’s invitation to her who accepted it with a smile. “Is Miss Pogue at home?”

Pogue looked up from his intent deconstruction of the envelope. “She left early for the shop, something about working on a very important wedding dress, one ‘fit for a queen.’” He winked at Sarah who smiled back.

“I had also hoped to discuss some business with her?”

“Business?” Sparky asked.

“Yes, Charles, Mr. Howgill, and I are printing her fabric designs.”

Yin interjected, “You may tell them the rest.”

Sarah stood frozen on the spot with uncertainty. Yin nodded at her. Sarah looked around before continuing, “We are printing the fabrics as I said. We are also producing other materials based on my own designs. The fabric business allows me to come to see Dr. Pogue and Dr. Young without raising suspicion.”

“The silk armor!” Sparky blurted out. “It saved the lives of several of the Aerial Marines!”

“I’m pleased to hear it worked so well. Are we all employed by Lord Ashleigh? Oh no, was I not supposed to say that?”

Drake chuckled, “Yes, we are, so you’re safe. But you should keep that between us in the future. Were you also responsible for the sails?”

“Yes. Lord Ashleigh gave me the original design that I have improved. It may still require refinement.”

Drake rubbed his abdomen, remembering his rude encounter with the edge of the well in Carlisle. “I may have some suggestions for you.”

“I would be grateful.”

“Dr. McTrowell and I must get to the airship port, but I will make some notes for a conversation in the near future. Good day, Miss Slate.” He tipped his bowler to her and held the door for Sparky.

They spent the cab ride to the airship port discussing the automated housekeeper. They hatched fantastical plans to make it perform serialized tasks, wheel itself about, and ‘discover’ its own environs. Their ideas got wilder the longer they rode. They were fairly rolling with laughter by the time they reached the port. He gave her a hand down from the cab, but protested when she reached into her bag to pay the cabbie.

“Chief Inspector,” she retorted, “I am a woman with her own means. If you insist on paying for everything, we will only ever have half as much fun as we could.”

He had to admit she was right. “I bow to the wisdom of your argument, my good doctor.” He executed a flamboyant bow before capturing her right hand and kissing it. “I hope to see you later.”

“I’ll look forward to that.” She returned his gesture with a mock curtsey and a quick peck on the cheek.

Unfortunately, a later meeting wasn’t to happen that day. By the time he finished his interviews and made his way to the offices of Western & Transatlantic, Littleton informed him that McTrowell was out on the field educating Mrs. Wallace on the finer points of airship flight safety inspections. Drake returned to Scotland Yard feeling a little low. He was intercepted on his way to his desk by Sergeant Parseval, as usual.

“This was delivered with the morning post, sir.” The envelope was identical to the ones Miss Slate had delivered to Pogue and Sparky that very morning with the exception that this one had his name on it. He extracted a razor sharp, sword-shaped letter opener from his desk drawer and expertly slit the top flap. The enclosed invitation was as elegant as the envelope led him to expect. He held it firmly in his hands staring at the words. They didn’t really penetrate his brains, but just swam in front of his eyes. He ran his fingertips over the engraved lettering. It was supposed to be a joyous occasion, but his heart ached. He returned the invitation to the envelope and tucked in the desk drawer along with the letter opener.

The rest of his day was thoroughly ordinary. He wrote notes, listened to reports on minor investigations, and handed out assignments to the sergeants and inspectors. It dragged on interminably. A couple of times he looked at his pocket watch and thought it had stopped.

Even the thought of an entire evening free to practice with the dressmaker’s dummies didn’t lighten his mood as he walked back toward Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Without a case occupying his mind, he spent most of the time observing the comings and goings of other pedestrians, and gazing into the windows of the shops closing up for the night. When he was only a few blocks from home, a particular shop caught his eye. The sign read, “
Attenborough Jewellers.”



Feels Like Home

Entry for December 16, 2012Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus sat at his office desk, pen in hand, looking at the calendar that he kept in the front of his personal journal. He made a tiny jab of his pen towards each date as he counted. Quietly he said to himself, “…five, six, seven, …,” in tempo with each motion he made. “Today is Tuesday the 26th of August, so it is eight days until the Slate-Howsgill wedding on the 3rd of September. Let’s see, I will take my black jacket and top hat in for a cleaning on Thursday…”

Sergeant Tate Parseval’s face appeared in Erasmus’ door window, followed by a couple of light knocks. Erasmus signaled him in.

“G’ Morning, Chief Inspector. We’re having an ‘all hands on deck’ assembly, and I was hoping that you would have the time to attend. Shouldn’t be more than fifteen, maybe twenty, minutes.”

“Of course, of course. Be glad to.” Erasmus replaced his pen into its silver holder, and rose to join the sergeant.

The assembly room was a fairly large room to have the men gather for announcements or, as was the case for the Chartist demonstrations in April 1848, for mustering. Unlike businessmen and their love of chairs and tables, long-winded rants and braggadocio-filled speeches that they lovingly called ‘meetings,’ this functional room has a single raised podium and a furniture-barren space for standing. It had about twenty people in attendance, mostly Scotland Yard office workers joined by about eight constables, offering their time before starting their rounds. The congregation produced the usual din of small talk that filled the room as they waited for the real business to start. Just as the sergeant and chief inspector entered, the discussion settled down and Bartholomew Horner took the podium.

“Gentleman, I won’t keep you long from your duties, but I do have a few announcements that you will find of interest.” The men gave their full attention to Bartholomew. “As you know, Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake has been on hiatus for a couple of months. As we have indicated before, he has been requested by the crown to aid in a number of activities external to London. Because of that, we haven’t had the opportunity to provide him with this,” and Bartholomew hefted a wooden plaque onto the podium, “for his role in the capturing the robber in the Countess Ada Lovelace jewelry heist. Thank you, Erasmus.”

A polite round of applause went around, and Erasmus made his way to the podium to gather his plaque. Bartholomew knew he wasn’t one for speeches, so he handed Erasmus the plaque and gave him a sincere handshake. Erasmus made his way back to his spot on the gathering, garnering a few pats on his back on the way.

Bartholomew continued. “It has also come to my attention that the Chief Inspector may be called out for more of these external activities, so I have asked Sergeant Tate Parseval to run the daily roster and oversee the processing sheets. For that reason, I have decided to promote the sergeant to Assistant Inspector.” The men gave another round of polite applause. The sergeant smiled broadly and nodded, and Erasmus shook his hand. Erasmus was completely aware that Bartholomew was giving Erasmus the freedom to continue his support of Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears without affecting the Yard’s effectiveness. He also knew there wasn’t an official rank of Assistant Inspector, and that it was a temporary measure to keep the sergeant motivated while he assumed more of the duties. Erasmus recalled a quote of Napoleon Bonaparte’s, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon,” and realized that Bartholomew must have known the quote, too.

“And to finish, I also want to add that this epidemic of Green Fantasy abuse is on the decline. A bit short lived, thank goodness. However, issues with laudanum misuse are still prevalent. Today, as with all days, be careful and sharp-eyed.”

There was clearly relief in the faces in the crowd over the news regarding Green Fantasy. Since they had seen so little of Erasmus over the past few weeks, a few of the constables wanted to have a bit of a chitchat with him. The conversations were short and lighthearted. Everyone eventually filtered out of the assembly room, and Erasmus found himself walking back to his office with Tate.

“You know, Sergeant, or should I say Assistant Inspector, you have been doing my tasks as Chief Inspector longer than I have.”

“I enjoy the work, actually. I take pleasure in doing the final paperwork, making sure all has been done correctly. Quite satisfying.”

Erasmus couldn’t help but think that it was sensational that people like Tate existed, since the idea of putting the finishing ink and paper touches on the deeds of the lads working in the streets seemed like pure drudgery.

“I am so glad to hear that. I am afraid that I need to leave again. Official business and all that. Grab the notices on my desk if you would like; they are yours to complete.”

With that, Erasmus entered his office, grabbed his cane, bowler, and cape coat, and headed out.

Just outside of the guard posts at the Tower of London, Erasmus met with Sergeant Fox. After a few pleasantries, including a mention of the upcoming Slate-Howgill wedding, they turned their attention to gaining access to the fortress. The guards admitted them without incident. J. B. knew his way around the grounds well and led the way. He was able to skirt a number of construction sites, and avoided the associated noise and dust. After a labyrinthine climb up one of the towers, they joined the Head Warden.

“Glad you could meet me, boys. I wanted to show you my handiwork.” After handshakes and polite greetings, the Head Warden pointed through a stone window to a stone-walled room below. Erasmus and J. B. got up on their toes to look down on the site below.

It was a fully equipped laboratory for both chemical work as well as light manufacturing. Two men in lab coats were toiling inside. Erasmus recognized both of them, Monsieur Punaise and Professor Farnsworth. They both looked less manic. Professor Farnsworth looked better fed and in control of his faculties.

The Head Warden smiled at his work. “They are as happy as can be. Her Majesty herself has given them some tasks. I’m not sure what they are building, but for two prisoners, they are eager to rise and work long hours.”

Erasmus asked, “But if you don’t know what they are working on, who does?”

“Well, that’s odd that you are asking that, Chief Inspector. Based on your reports, we hired a young man to oversee their progress. A Mr. Alistair Bennington Rutherford, son of the Baron Rutherford of Oxford. It appears to be a perfect fit.”

“Oh,” Erasmus said quietly, “just perfect.”

Erasmus climbed the steps up to his flat. He had that feeling that he hadn’t done enough today but was still exhausted. The exuberant sound of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese’s clients normally was a stimulant, but it wasn’t doing the trick tonight.

He tried the door and found it unlocked. He knocked with a light “tap, tap,” and walked in. Sparky was sitting in the middle of the floor next to the inverted marionette, wrenches, screwdrivers, and other tools were scattered about and she was peering at the indentations of a disk of metal. She took one look at Erasmus, unknowingly showing off the sizable grease stain that she must have unintentionally gotten when she scratched her cheek. She gave a happy squeak, jumped up in place, and ran to him, planting a well-placed kiss on him. When she withdrew, her happy face changed to surprise.

“Oh my, I must have grease on my face, because now you do, too. Welcome home. I want to tell you about everything that has happened!”

Erasmus was able to work a nod into the conversation as he hung up his cape coat and deposited his cane and bowler in their proper places.

Sparky continued without taking time for breath. “I figured out how the disk sensors work! It is so simple! There’s a circular track for each joint. As the disk rotates, the finger ticks into the indentations, triggering the joint. There’s even a code for joints that have multiple motions.” She held a disk right up to his face. “See how this track has three indentations in close succession here,” she pointed to a cluster of divots, “but only two here?” She pointed to another batch further along the track. “The simpler joints are encoded on the smaller, inner rings and the more complex ones are on the outer rings. The innermost ring contains the instructions for moving to the correct location to perform the task. It’s the trickiest because it depends on the geometry of the working space. This line,” she indicated a faint scratch across the radius of the disk not deep enough to be detected by sensors, “is the start and end of the iteration. It’s not unlike the repetition facility your Countess Lovelace described in her paper of 1843.”

She continued excitedly, “I was also able to get a crude serializer working so the operation task disks will cycle through! That means we can leave her here working when we are gone, and it will cycle through each of her tasks. There is also a disk that allows a dormant state. That means it can wait for hours between tasks. It can also fetch its own fuel and water, if you are willing to keep a pile of tinder in one of the corners. And I have gotten my dress for the wedding! I also made friends with Mr. Crocker downstairs. What a wonderful man. Dinner will be brought up at eight. I thought you might like to change and help me test the serializer.”

Erasmus was overwhelmed by her enthusiasm, and was ready to start his new day. “That’s wonderful, my dear. Would you rather go out for dinner? There are a number of places right across Fleet Street.”

“Actually, I’d rather get her up and working. We can eat and tinker.”

“You keep saying ‘her.’ Have you given it a name?”

“I’ve been thinking of Rosy. Is that acceptable?”

Erasmus pretended to think for a second, but knew that whatever she wanted to name the automated helper was fine with him. “Finally,” he thought, “I have come to a place I know well, but this time it feels like home.”



E. Llewellyn

Entry for December 18, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Erasmus couldn’t help himself; he stared. “Sparky, you truly look like a czarina today. You will be the most beautiful woman in attendance.”

The deep dusty rose of her satin dress brought out a warmth in her complexion. Although the low, wide neckline could have been inappropriately revealing for a wedding, the gauze bertha covering her collarbone restored the frock’s modesty. The fabric of the wrap over her arm must have been woven by the same mill that produced the gauze for the bertha because both were printed with an identical pattern of pale, English roses. She was even carrying a matching pair of crocheted pink gloves. Erasmus smiled at the idea of her wearing those while piloting an airship.

Sparky returned his smile, “I certainly hope you’re wrong on this occasion, Erasmus. It would be unforgivable to outshine a bride on her wedding day.”

“Right you are. I only meant to say that the ensemble becomes you. Shall we go?” He held the door for her.

When she reached the curb, she was pleased to see that he had hired a proper carriage rather than a hansom. As much as she eschewed fancy dress, it would have been a shame to expose the lovely frock to the insult of London’s open air.

Once they were underway, she commented, “I must confess that I resorted to the superior skills of Miss Pogue.”

"She may not know her spying or science, but her expertise with fashion is unparalleled.”

“She also has a gift for subterfuge. The design of the future Mrs. Howgill’s wedding dress is a better-kept secret than Monsieur Punaise’s presence in Carlisle. I’m trusting that she won’t have subjected Sarah to the indignity of being festooned with so much lace and ruffles that she looks like an infant in a christening gown. I’ve never understood the attraction of decorating the bride as if she’s been attacked by sugar-crazed bakers and confectioners.”

“Dr. McTrowell, I detect that you have strong opinions on this subject,” Drake winked at her. He held her hand as they rode to St. Paul’s. He hoped she wouldn’t notice the faint tremble in his. Facing down mad scientists with electrical discharge pistols was considerably less daunting than the mission he had set for himself today.

“I’ve never attended an event at St. Paul’s Cathedral.”

“Neither have I.”

“I find that a little surprising. Haven’t you lived in London a good deal of your life?”

“Yes, but St. Paul’s isn’t just any parish church. It is the seat of the bishop of London. It is quite an honor to be married there.”

“I hadn’t realized that Mr. Howgill was such an important personage.”

“I don’t believe he is. I suspect that the arrangement was a wedding gift from a grateful sovereign.”

“Ah.” She smiled warmly at him and then turned her attention to the view up the Thames toward the center of the city as they crossed the London Bridge.

Once inside the cathedral, they were directed toward the bride’s side of the church where they were pleased to see that Edmond and Yin had already arrived. Drake consulted his pocket watch. “We still have a bit of waiting. Have you been here long?”

Pogue replied, “We rode into the city early this morning with Esmeralda. She is making last minute modifications to Miss Slate’s gown, so we had a lovely stroll and tea. Delightful!” Sparky saw a brief smile cross Yin’s face accompanied by a twinkle in her eye. “If you’ll excuse me, my sister is not the only Pogue who has official duties today.” He slipped out of the pew toward the side aisle and headed back toward the entrance.

The organ struck up a tune and the guests obligingly settled down. Drake leaned over and whispered in McTrowell’s ear, “John Stanley’s Trumpet Voluntary.” Charles Howgill entered from a side door and took his place in front of the altar accompanied by his best man. Although Sparky didn’t recognize the other man, his likeness to the groom suggested a brother or first cousin. She was struck by Howgill’s calm demeanor. Most grooms she had seen projected excitement and anxiety, as if they were both delighted and terrified by what was about to happen to them. More than anything, they always seemed utterly without a clue as to their future. Conversely, Charles Howgill bore an air of sanguine certainty, a man who knew exactly what he was about and embraced the opportunity.

The officiant entered from the other side of the altar. He was wearing a mitre. Sparky leaned over and whispered in Erasmus’ ear, “Is that…?”

“Bishop Blomfield? Yes,” he whispered back. They raised their eyebrows knowingly at one another: a very grateful sovereign indeed.

The organ struck up a lively march, signaling the congregation to rise. They did so, turning expectantly to look toward the nave, awaiting the arrival of the bride. Erasmus added helpfully, “The Prince of Denmark’s March.” When Sarah entered the light, a collective gasp arose from the guests.

The bodice of her dress shimmered iridescently between ivory, gold, and sky blue, all in perfect shades to highlight Sarah’s fair skin, blue eyes, and dark hair. It reminded Sparky of the inside of an abalone shell. As she marveled at the fabric, she realized she was looking at another application of Sarah’s visionary fabric design skills. The cloth must have been a cross between the stealth fabric that camouflaged HMA Brittania and the composite armor worn by the Royal Aerial Marines. The sleeves, skirt, and short train were silk satin jacquard, also undoubtedly woven at Howgill’s mill for just this occasion. As Sarah and Edmond passed by the end of the pew where Sparky stood, she noticed that the pattern woven into the fabric was the interlocking daisies she had seen in Sarah’s notebook.

The low, draped waist made Sarah appear taller and accentuated her trim figure. The wide stand collar trimmed with embroidered lace framed her face. There was just a hint of a bustle. Enough to be fashionable, but not so much as to detract from Sarah’s grace. The veil, trimmed with the same interlocking daisy lace as the collar, was affixed to her upswept coiffure by a pearl tiara. A wedding gift from Charles? Perhaps a loan from one of Esmerelda’s well-to-do friends? It mattered not; it served to complete the elegant effect perfectly. And to those who knew Sarah best, the dress was a testament to the fruitful partnership she had already forged with the man who was about to be her husband.

Sparky thought she and Drake were probably the only ones in the church who noticed Dr. Pogue walking Sarah down the aisle. Well, perhaps Yin noticed. When they reached the altar and the march ended, the guests took their cue to be seated. In the attendant shuffling, Sparky commented to Erasmus, sotto voce, “Remind me to have Miss Pogue design my wedding dress.” Drake’s heart skipped a beat and he had to grasp the edge of the pew in front of them to keep from falling over. Did she know? Could she really be that perceptive? He spent the entirety of the ceremony trying to calm his nerves while memorizing every detail he could of Charles Howgill’s comportment.

When the organ struck up the cheerful recessional, Sparky leaned toward him, “And what is this piece?”

“Um, Handel’s Hornpipe from Water Music.”

“Why, Chief Inspector, I’m surprised by your extensive knowledge of wedding music.” She winked at him. He felt the blood drain out of his face. He was grateful for Edmond’s interjection as the newlyweds passed.

“Shall we share a carriage to the reception breakfast? Mr. Howgill has bought a new home for the new Mrs. Howgill in Camberwell. I believe my sister had a hand in that as well.” He smiled broadly.

Erasmus took advantage of the chatting, scuffling, and footsteps of the congregation exiting to ask Sparky, “My dear Sparky, may I have a private word with you at the reception?”

She looked at him quizzically, wondering what could be the cause of his solemnity on such a happy occasion. “Of course.” She took the arm he offered as they reached the aisle and gave it a squeeze as if to say, “Whatever it is, everything will be fine.”

There were considerably fewer guests at the reception than had been at the wedding. It occurred to Sparky that many of the people missing had been business associates of Mr. Howgill’s. The breakfast gathering appeared to be mostly family and close friends, or in Sarah’s case, her close friends who had become her family in London. McTrowell spotted J.B. Fox for the first time.

“Good morning, Sergeant. I didn’t see you at the ceremony.”

“I was observing from the back.”

She took a sip of her tea and laughed softly, “You make it sound as if you were standing watch.” He didn’t flinch. Well, she supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised by that response. She looked around for Drake. He was standing in the foyer having a intense, but low volume conversation with an older gentleman she didn’t recognize. She inched closer as nonchalantly as possible.

“How did you find me here?”

“Your landlord told me, but it doesn’t matter. I need your help urgently.”

Drake spotted McTrowell close at hand. He tried to smile at her reassuringly, but suspected his facial muscles had failed him. “Can’t this matter wait just a bit? I have some urgent business of my own.” He patted his coat, checking that the small box was still safely in place.

“No, it can’t.”

Sparky’s face registered concern. She put down her teacup and began to approach purposefully.

“I’m sorry, Edwin, but I really must attend to this other matter first. It has waited long enough.” He closed the distance to Sparky and took her hand. “Dr. McTrowell, would you please join me in the garden?” Without waiting for her answer, he led her across the room and out the back of the house. He didn’t notice his other companion follow them out and secret himself in a corner under the eaves.

Just as he had hoped, there was a small bench so common to English gardens. He guided her to the bench and made as if to sit next to her. Once she was seated, he pivoted around in front of her and bent down on one knee. As smoothly as he could manage with his shaking hands, her extracted the small box from inside his coat, opened it, and presented it to her.

“Dr. Czarina Llewellyn McTrowell, will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?”

She stared at the ring inside the box, unsure what to do next. She was unclear on the correct protocol as she had never had the foresight to ask another woman how this important event should proceed. Was she supposed to take the ring first? Agree first and then take the ring? Perhaps she was supposed to accept and then he would put the ring on her finger. Surely there was a splendid kiss forthcoming. Poor Erasmus looked like he was about to drop dead from anticipation when she realized that she should just say yes and see what happened.

As she opened her mouth, she heard screams and shouts coming from the house. She and Drake jumped up simultaneously, looking toward the sound of the commotion just in time to see two enormous men with the dark complexion and broad, flat features of Pacific islanders dash through the same doors they had exited just moments before. The two intruders stopped, scanned the area rapidly, spied the observer hiding in the corner, and snatched him. He put up a struggle, but between his age and their size, he was no match.

Drake dropped the box into McTrowell’s hands and ran to the aid of his adoptive father. Before he could reach Edwin Llewellyn, a pair of ropes with hand and foot loops dropped from the sky. The kidnappers grabbed ahold, taking their human cargo with them. Sparky turned her gaze skyward in time to spot a swiftly departing airship as she expected. Just before the ropes were pulled out of reach, Drake executed a flying leap, catching the end of one tether and dropping his top hat to the ground.

Fox charged out of the house just in time to see Drake hauled out of view, narrowly clearing a gable of the house behind the Howgills’. Sparky shoved the ring on her left ring finger unceremoniously and pointed at the disappearing vessel, “
We need to follow that airship!

If you would like to hear excerpts of the organ music mentioned in today’s post, listen here:
https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/community/weddings/organ-music/

This concludes the third adventure of Drake & McTrowell:
Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears.”


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