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The Bavarian Airship Regatta - Page 2: March 8, 2011 - April 13, 2011

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Landing in Paris
Café Au Lait
Dinner in Montmartre
Meet Cute
Mr. Woodhouse’s Replacement

Landing in Paris

Entry for March 8, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Glued to the door, Sparky and Erasmus stayed there for the duration of Mr. Wallace’s interruption. It’s seemed that Wallace’s jab at Sparky’s marital status was just a play to flush her out if she was within earshot. Sparky knew this, and wasn’t going to fall for it. Erasmus could read all of this on her relaxed reaction, and knew that she was not going to join Wallace in this bit of cat-and-mouse.

Ironically, Erasmus didn’t do much of this surreptitious snooping in his day-to-day work, so this felt like juvenile fun, even though there was a somewhat serious concern by Lord Ashleigh that his acquaintance with Sparky was not to be revealed.

Erasmus suddenly remembered his cane leaning against the wall! Nothing he could do about that now, but he wondered if Wallace would have noticed it with all of the other eye-catching decorations around the sitting room. Erasmus looked around the room quickly, and noticed an ornate box on a side table. His curiosity welled up. He glanced quickly back at Sparky to see if she was going to notice; she was busy listening at the door. Erasmus quietly flipped the lid up, revealing three knives neatly arranged in a red cloth lined tray, each nicely made but more functional than was Lord Ashleigh’s usual style. Erasmus quietly closed the lid.

Wallace’s hope of finding his pilot in the wrong cabin was dashed, and he bid a good night to Lord Ashleigh. Just as the cabin door clicked shut after Wallace’s exit, Virat opened the other door to release Sparky and Erasmus. Sparky and Erasmus stepped through, and Erasmus noticed that his cane was no longer on the wall. He pointed in the general direction of where it had been, and just got his mouth open to ask Virat about its disappearance, when Virat produced the cane from behind his back. Erasmus gave a nod of thanks, but had the distinct feeling he was effectively thanking a silent magician that preemptively answered a question about the whereabouts of a rabbit by pulling it out of a top hat. Erasmus replaced the cane to its rightful place on the wall, and he and Sparky retook their seats.

Lord Ashleigh opened with “I believe your chai teas are now cold. My apologies! Let me instead offer a taste of port, one that you can compare to that provided after dinner.” Virat transferred two small elegant glasses from a tray to the table between Sparky and Erasmus, and filled them halfway from a bottle of port. He then handed a glass to Lord Ashleigh, and poured for him.

Erasmus joined the rest in raising their glasses and taking a sip. This was no ordinary port, he thought. It wasn’t syrupy sweet, nor did it have any bite to it, and provided a more fruitful libation. He instinctively made a humming “yummy” sound that acknowledged his approval.

“What I would love to hear is the adventures that you’ve had this week with the mad scientist and the late Mr. Abusir,” Lord Ashleigh requested. “I know the papers had their versions, and I read them all. But I want to hear it from the adventurers themselves!” Sparky and Erasmus looked at each other to see who should start, and a smile came to them both. “May I suggest that you start, since it was your arrival in London that set much of this in action,” Erasmus offered to Sparky. “I would love to,” she replied, and then started the tale.

The tale went on for a good bit of time, and Sparky and Erasmus traded off passages that wove an intricate timeline. Lord Ashleigh’s enthusiasm was grand and infectious, driving the storytellers on. The port continued to flow, and the time drifted by.

Erasmus only interjected once to ask Sparky about her exclamation after being attacked by Mr. Abusir. “You said, ‘Behold, I have become Death.’ I have racked my brain, but I can’t place it.”

Lord Ashleigh jumped in, “Please allow me to answer this one. It is a translation from Hindu scripture. As the writings reveal, Lord Vishnu is trying to persuade Prince Bhagavad Gita to do his duty, and to convince him, Lord Vishnu takes on his many-armed form and says to the prince, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ There are a number of translations, but this is considered the most poetic. I hope I have done you justice.”

Sparky smiled. “You are correct, my dear Lord Ashleigh. Until that final moment with Abusir, I have always tried to do no harm. He forced me to a place I had hoped never to go.” The two men nodded in agreement.

Sparky’s and Erasmus’ syncopated narrative concluded with the boarding of the Burke & Hare, and all sat back and gave a final sip of port. Erasmus felt compelled to enquire about their nightcap. “This is head and shoulders above the ports I’ve had in the past, Lord Ashleigh. Is it just a good bottle?”

“Actually, we have finished two bottles,” Lord Ashleigh noted with a chuckle, and added “It’s not just a good bottle. Like most ports, it comes from the Douro River Valley in Portugal. I have been investing in a small vineyard about halfway between Serra do Marão mountain range and the Spanish border, overlooking the river itself. The soil there, if you can even call it soil, is harsh, rocky, and steep. The grapes have a very concentrated juice, and my vintner has a special time during the fermentation when he adds the aguardente. I like the result a great deal, and wanted to share it with you.” Lord Ashleigh’s guests’ eyebrows were raised at this, and looked appreciatively at the empty glasses.

“I couldn’t help but notice your knife set in the other room,” Erasmus let slip out.

“Oh, don’t misinterpret those! I dabble with knife throwing. More of a minor skill for parlor tricks than an actual sport. I’ll demonstrate my dexterity for you someday, I promise.”

As the conversation veered toward knives and sport, Sparky inadvertently tugged on the chain and instinctively pulled out her delicate gold woman’s pocket watch. She flipped the lid, and glanced down. “2:30!” she shouted, ran to the porthole and looked out. “We are quite a ways over France. Gentleman, I must part company and get some sleep before I dock the airship in the morning. Lord Ashleigh, it was a great pleasure. And Chief Inspector, I would love to show you my favorite café in the morning if you would like. Until then …” She left in a hurry, and the two men sat in stunned silence.

Erasmus leaned back and grabbed his cane, stating, “Well, sir, I too, must make my leave. I guess I have a breakfast appointment. An exceptional evening. Good night.” And with that, Erasmus also left the room.

Morning came early. Paris has its usual grey clouds, but it still seemed bright, and the light streamed in through Erasmus’ porthole. From his cabin, the docking seemed to go smoothly, and he could hear the shuffling of those passengers that were making their way off the Burke & Hare.

Just as he stepped into the passage outside his cabin, Sparky took up his arm. “I’m in desperate need of a good
café au lait. Come with me, my dear sir,” and the two of them headed for the docking tower.

Sparky was full of conversational topics as they wound themselves through the streets of Paris. The next thing Erasmus knew, he was seated at an outdoor table at a small café in the
Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. She had ordered herself café au lait and a small brioche. Erasmus ordered the pain au chocolat and, taking a cue from Sparky, his own café au lait. He thought that you had to love a city where a grown man could order chocolate for breakfast with a straight face. The food arrived, and they started nibbling and sipping.

The Parisian street was full of the usual urban hustle and bustle, but everyone seemed, well, content. It was a different feel than London, teeming with its proper business efficiency. This was more upbeat and cheerful.

Then the oddest thing happened. A man dressed in blue pants, a horizontally striped shirt, and a beret rode by on a unicycle while juggling five red balls. Despite his concentration on his routine, he was glancing around for safety and appreciating crowd reactions.

Then he saw Erasmus. At that moment, he lost all control. Balls flying, he tumbled off his unicycle, ending up sitting on the sidewalk. He looked at Erasmus again and exclaimed, “Drake! Is that really you?”

Erasmus squirmed a bit and slumped in his seat. “Well,” he thought, “perhaps my past won’t stay buried.”

Café Au Lait

Entry for March 14, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

McTrowell popped up out of her seat, rounded up the three of the five balls dropped by the unicyclist, and began performing a simple, but seemingly effortless, three-ball cascade. The prone juggler stared in amazement for a moment before collecting his wits and his unicycle, standing up, and dusting himself off. Sparky passed the balls to him one at a time and he instinctively formed his own cascade with the balls. After a couple of rounds, he stowed them one after the other into a small pouch tucked behind his back. As he bent down to retrieve the final two balls, he doffed his beret, exposing a head of charmingly rumpled hair, and performed an elaborate bow with a flourish of the beret. When he straightened up, he took Sparky’s hand and kissed it.

“François LaRue, at your service, mademoiselle…or is it madame?” He winked at Drake. “Is this charming creature your wife?” There was an extended, awkward moment during which Drake and McTrowell exchanged conflicted glances.

“Um, no. We are…” Friends, acquaintances, colleagues? “…having breakfast.”

“And where did you find this amazing woman?”

“An inventor’s symposium.” Sparky opened her mouth to correct him and then cocked her head to give fix him with a quizzical look of assessment. They were going to have an interesting conversation about this later. Drake continued, “This is…”

Just before he could say the word “doctor,” McTrowell interrupted him, “Miss Czarina Llewellyn. Pleased to make your acquaintance Monsieur LaRue.” It was Drake’s turn to fix his companion with a quizzical look. Had she made up this name on the spot? How had she known about Llewellyn? And what a peculiar first name to choose! They were going to have an interesting conversation about this later.

McTrowell continued, “And how is it that the esteemed chief inspector of Scotland Yard is acquainted with such a gifted jongleur in Paris?” To which LaRue sputtered, “Chief inspector of Scotland Yard?” Drake gave LaRue a very fierce look that suggested the answer to McTrowell’s question or further inquiry about Drake’s current employment might cost LaRue his life. LaRue demonstrated that he was a skilled manipulator of both small objects and conversation, “Mademoiselle, such a question can only be answered over
cassoulet and a bottle of Bordeaux. Meet me at 7 this evening at Chez la Mere Catherine in Montmartre. I imagine you are the sort of woman who knows her way around Paris. And I don’t think Drake would dare let you come alone, so I will see both of you this evening.” He winked rakishly at Drake, kissed McTrowell’s hand again, hopped back up on the unicycle, and rode away, extracting his juggling balls from his pouch and starting a cascade as he went.

Drake and McTrowell stood staring at each other over the table with the cooling café au lait for a full two minutes, neither daring to be the first to speak.

Drake blinked first. “How did you know my middle name was Llewellyn?”

“Are you having a jest at my expense? Surely you know that Llewellyn is my mother’s last name and my middle name.”

“Your middle name is Llewellyn?”

“Isn’t that what I just said?”

“And your mother’s last name is Llewellyn?”

“Is there an echo in this café? Yes, that’s what I just said.”

“But your last name is McTrowell and you’re not married?”

“Chief Inspector Drake, I took you for an intelligent man. Yes, my mother’s last name is Llewellyn. My middle name is Llewellyn. My last name is McTrowell. I’m not married. And before you ask, yes, my given name is Czarina.” She was red in the face when she finished.

“I beg your pardon, Dr. McTrowell. This is all a bit irregular, although I suppose I should have expected something of the sort from a woman such as yourself.”

“A woman such as myself? And what is that supposed to mean?”

Drake had the sinking feeling that his burgeoning relationship with the volatile Dr. McTrowell was about to be over before it started. He took an even breath and tried again. “I did not mean to imply that there is anything inappropriate about you. I’m aware that you are an outstanding woman, but you are quite surprising. If you would be so kind, please explain how you came to have a different surname than your mother.”

“I’m not much in the habit of explaining about my past. Is your middle name also truly Llewellyn?”

“Yes, on my honor as a gentleman.”

“Very well. My father was a charming, but dissipated gambler. Apparently I get my skill at mathematics from him. Sadly, his recklessness exceeded his mathematical skills, so he lost more than he won, and what he didn’t lose, he drank…according to my mother. He abandoned my mother when he found out she was pregnant with me. He drank himself to death shortly after I was born. I never knew the man, not that I consider that a loss. I don’t know why she named me after him when she could have just named me Llewellyn and claimed my father died, but there it is. Are you satisfied?”

“Yes, thank you. And the first name?”

“That’s a story for another day. I believe you owe me an explanation about your own middle name.”

“I suppose that would be a fair exchange. Might we finish our breakfast?” He gestured at their, now luke warm, bowls of café au lait.

“I think I would like that.” She sat down and took a big swallow of her
café au lait, hoping her day out with Drake was going to improve. It had been going so well until the mishap with the juggler.

Drake took a small sip of his drink, and pondered how to proceed. It was becoming clear he was not going to be able to dodge explanations of his past for much longer, particularly if he wished to continue “enjoying” the company of Dr. McTrowell. He chose his next words very carefully. “I lived in an orphanage when I was a young lad. I was taken in by an older gentleman, Edwin Llewellyn. In appreciation for his generosity, I assumed his last name as my middle name.”

McTrowell smiled enigmatically at him and said, “I see. Thank you.” While answering her question directly, he had opened up an entire barrel of questions to which she was quite certain she would not be getting answers any time soon. She made a mental note of these questions and formulated a plan to extract the answers slowly over time. And then she smiled enigmatically back at herself. Executing this plan would require frequent contact with the chief inspector over an extended period of time. She didn’t mind that idea at all. They finished their breakfast in companionable silence.

Sparky dusted the final bits of
brioche off her fingers. “If this is your first trip to Paris,” she studied his face closely to see if it revealed any information regarding this supposition, “there’s something you really should see.” She stood up and waited for him to follow. They walked a few blocks southeast along the Rue and then she turned right. There was a small sign on the side of the building on the corner with an arrow pointing south. Above the arrow, the sign read “Palais du Louvre.

Dinner in Montmartre

Entry for March 28, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

The moonlight on the airship landing grounds was bright, enough so that no additional light was needed to make one’s way around the tower to the Burke & Hare, whose cabin portholes leaked light into the night.

The couple walking up the structure were giddy with laughter, arms around each other’s waists and helping hold each other up as they made the trek to the tower. The airship above threw an immense shadow across the field, due to the lowness of the moon.

At the tower, the woman took the bottom stair first, spun in place, lifted the gentleman’s bowler, and quickly placed a kiss on his forehead. The gentleman took a small step in surprise, and they both laughed out loud again. This scene was taking place well after midnight, and the thought of intrusion into this moment seemed unlikely. However, one of the brightly glowing portholes opened and out popped Lord Ashleigh’s head. “You two are in fine spirits! Please join me in my cabin and we can share stories about our day.”

“Be right up,” Erasmus replied. The couple made their way up the tower and into the airship with a little teetering in their progress. Lord Ashleigh was in his cabin’s sitting room with a glass of port in hand. The door burst open and the two stumbled in. “I see you’re a bit tipsy. Have a seat, you two.”

The door to the bedchamber swung open and Virat appeared with two glasses and a bottle of port, and served the slightly breathless, smiling guests. He disappeared just as quickly back through the bedchamber door.

“Who would like to start?” asked Lord Ashleigh.

Erasmus cleared his throat, sat up a bit straighter, and started his tale. “At a tasty breakfast of
café au lait, brioche, and pain au chocolat, an old friend of mine, François LaRue, happened down the street, juggling. He was actually riding an invention of his at the time. A bizarre single-wheeled contraption that gave him amazing maneuverability combined with the constant prospect of falling down. Which, upon seeing me, he performed the latter with great gusto. François then invited us to dinner at Chez la Mere Catherine in Montmartre.”

While Erasmus caught his breath, Sparky jumped in.

“I wanted to treat Erasmus to one of the great museums of Paris, the Louvre. We went there straight away and spent about four hours walking around the great statues and paintings, all of which I could rhapsodize about for another four hours. The
Salle des Sept Cheminées alone, with copies of Raphael’s frescos, are worthy of half an hour of rambling praise.”

“We went from there to a small restaurant near the
Hôtel de Ville, the City Hall, and split the most tender pastry-wrapped fish, complemented with glasses of Chardonnay. We walked that off by crossing the bridge over to the left bank and strolled the Palais et Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful garden with wonderful statuary of saints and Greek gods. We also strolled past the marionette theatre and the lovely orange grove.

It was less than two hours to dinner, and it was a bit of a trudge to Montmartre, which was just outside of Paris, but we decided that we would see the sites better by foot. We took a few wrong turns along the way, despite our map of the streets. We enjoyed seeing some of the everyday activity of the Parisians as we went.”

Erasmus jumped in. “Do you want me to tell the next part?”

Sparky gave a knowing glare at Erasmus, and said, “Oh, no, this is
all mine.”

She continued, with a considerable amount of pantomime to augment the storytelling. “After exiting a small alleyway near Montmartre, we entered a very small square, not much more than a meeting of alleyways. A rough looking vagabond wearing a white lace kerchief as a mask jumped out in front of us and in a threatening tone demanded all goods we possessed, in French, of course. He was hiding some sort of weapon behind himself, adding additional mystery to the threat. Chief Inspector Drake stepped forward brandishing his cane, and with a commanding voice demanded that the assailant move along, and a conflict with him would be foolhardy, saying all of this in English, of course. I stuck close to Erasmus, letting him do his commanding voice routine. This didn’t seem to go as planned. Instead, the knave laughed, and whistled loudly. Three cohorts appeared from behind, all hiding behind kerchief masks, a red one, a light green one, and, believe it or not, one with dark blue with yellow piping, all preparing themselves for violence.

“The leader took the first swing at Erasmus with a makeshift club. Erasmus deftly stepped back with his right foot and leaning back, allowed the club to swing past his face with a whooshing sound. Erasmus replied with a potentially crippling swing at his attackers knee, but his attacker jumped and tucked in his legs and avoided the blow.

“I tried my best to keep my eye on Erasmus’ confrontation and on the three attackers to our rear, who seemed to be holding back to see what happened in the one-on-one with the leader, White Scarf.

“White Scarf changed his stance, circled, and using two hands started using his club as a pointed weapon, preparing to ‘stab’ Erasmus. Erasmus took a decisively athletic stance and held his cane more like a saber. White Scarf jabbed at his torso, which Erasmus parried easily to the side and struck immediately towards his opponent’s head. Then, White Scarf did the most perfect cartwheel to his left, avoiding the riposte, and landing securely on his feet.

“The three from behind must have seen this as a decisive advantage within the battle, and all three took a small step toward us. Yellow Piping grabbed Erasmus’ unarmed right arm and tried to pull him off balance. Erasmus slid his cane behind Yellow Piping’s back and quite literally flipped him off his feet, causing him to roll into an alleyway. White Scarf stepped into the fray with a kick aimed generally at Erasmus that was grabbed by his freed right hand and forced up. White Scarf went with the motion and landed walking on his hands, letting the club skitter away. He then pushed off his arm-stand and sprung back on onto his feet.

“This is when Light Green Scarf stepped in and I jumped towards him, landing three blows to his chest and one to his face, knocking him down, advancing on him as I went.

“Light Green Scarf stammered out, in English, ‘What?!? ... What was that?’

“Erasmus exclaimed, ‘Ho, ho! Everyone break. The fun is over. The lady has some skills that you did not count on.’

“All four of them relaxed, stood up and brushed themselves off. White Scarf actually tugged at his collar and said ‘Whew,’ bent over and caught his breath. I turned to Erasmus and sternly asked, ‘What was all of this, then?’

“Erasmus answered in a slightly comical tone, ‘We were assaulted by these villains. I was in the process of eliminating them, one by one. Then you stepped in and knocked one onto his backside, if I may be so blunt.’

“I turned a bit red, and steam may have come out of my ears. I had to ask the obvious: ‘Is this another case of your knowing everyone on the street and having a bit of fun? I am
not amused.’

“And you know what he said in response? A little sheepishly, I might add. ‘Actually, these are our dinner companions. That’s François in the red scarf, waiting his turn for the big finish.’

“François pulled down his kerchief, saying, ‘Good evening, Mademoiselle. You have a most delightful left-left-right combination. I am glad that I’m not Charles, who was on the receiving end of your pummeling. Charles, are you ... what is the word ... satisfactory?’ Charles pulled down his scarf, and rubbed his chin. He looked between François and me, and all he added was, ‘Ow.’”

All three of them laughed and took another sip of port.

“Erasmus, what were you thinking?!” Lord Ashleigh just couldn’t believe that Erasmus had set such a thing up.

Erasmus tried to make his response sound official, as if that would give his a stronger defense. “Actually, I didn’t arrange this, but I did expect it. All four of these gents were my chums in my youth. We practiced this routine as young lads with the intent to impress the ladies. An idea that made sense at the time, when you have no grasp on what women like or dislike. We actually did some public demonstrations of the routine, even earning a few welcome coins of appreciation. But we were using broom handles for ‘weapons,’ and it was overly extravagant for a realistic fight. We didn’t figure on the damsel to take out the third attacker, the one who can perform kick-flips on walls.”

Another sip of port and Erasmus restarted the story. “Dinner was great, and we introduced François, Henri, Charles, and René to Sparky over a delicious five course meal and one too many bottles of red wine. It was incredible! The cassoulet was superb! We started with these exquisite little ...”

Lord Ashleigh cut him off. “My friends! I would love to hear about the meal, but I must tell my tale while I can, since I need your guidance and assistance.” They all leaned in slightly. Lord Ashleigh continued, “But I have created an unfortunate situation that I must resolve by tomorrow. It involves a young lady. Please, this is not something I can do alone, and my position and status won’t aid me!”

Erasmus wondered what trouble Lord Ashleigh could have glided his way into. He mused to himself, “Oh my dear friend, you may have dug a deep well from which we cannot extricate you.”

Meet Cute

Entry for March 29, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

For once, Lord Ashleigh appeared discomfited, struggling internally with a course of action. Drake and McTrowell waited patiently for their friend to collect his thoughts.

“I had thought to spruce up my wardrobe with the latest fashions since I’m here in Paris.” Sparky tried not to smile at the idea of what Lord Ashleigh’s “spruced up” wardrobe might look like given his proclivity for bright colors and patterns. She might have taken the opportunity to tease her friend if he weren’t in distress.

“A friend in London recommended a high quality, discreet shop on the Rue de Rivoli for shirts and cravats. As I approached the shop door, a gentleman approached from the opposite direction with a haste that suggested urgency. As I was enjoying a leisurely afternoon of diversion, I allowed him to enter the shop ahead of me. He immediately began addressing the shop girl loudly in English without so much as a ‘
Bon jour.’”

The Englishman began pointing to several samples and demanding to know what fabrics were available, how much items cost, and how long it would take to have half a dozen shirts made. The shop girl begged his pardon, in French, and said that she didn’t speak English. The Englishman replied by shouting his demands, in English, and growing red in the face. The shop girl became even more apologetic and suggested that the gentleman should come back in an hour when the shop owner, who spoke a bit of English, would be returning. Of course, the Englishman didn’t understand and only became more irate, shouting insults at the uncomprehending shop girl. At this point, Lord Ashleigh felt it prudent to intervene before the encounter should turn violent. “Sir, perhaps I may be of some assistance. I speak French passably well and would be willing to translate.” The suggestion that he might require assistance with someone so inconsequential as a shop girl had exactly the opposite of the desired effect. He rounded on the shop girl and shouted and showering her with spittle, “Do you know who I am? I am Theodore Grossman and my company supplies half the bricks in London. I could buy this shop with the pence in my trouser pockets!” With that he stormed out of the shop with the customary slam of the door, nearly yanking the little brass bell off its string.

Lord Ashleigh and the shop girl stood staring at each other for a moment while the sorely abused bell settled down. The shop girl’s face screwed up in a clear indication that she felt like crying, but was trying mightily not to. Lord Ashleigh produced a monogrammed handkerchief with a cheery flourish from inside his frock coat and dabbed the first teardrop before it could roll down her cheek. He addressed her gently in French, “I’m terribly sorry, Mademoiselle…,” and then he cocked his head slightly, suggesting she should be forthcoming with her name.

“Gabrielle. Gabrielle Lambert. I’m very sorry I offended your master.” She clutched her hands around his handkerchief and the hand holding it.

“My master?”

“Yes, your master, Monsieur Grossman.” It was then that Lord Ashleigh realized that his arrival right behind the offensive brick monger had given the lovely Gabrielle the idea that he was Grossman’s servant. And, of course, she couldn’t understand their conversation in English, so it would have looked like an obedient servant trying to assist his master. The look on her face was one of true gratitude and her hands around his were invitingly warm. If he told her that he was an English viscount, she would be mortified at her presumptuousness. And that would be the end of that.

“Ah, yes, my master. Perhaps my French is not as good as I thought. I misunderstood you. He does have quite a temper.”

Lord Ashleigh paused in his retelling of the story and looked imploringly at his two friends who sat motionless in their chairs. Although Sparky was gaping slightly, she was thinking that, for all his worldliness, her friend was still a young man who didn’t realize the implications of starting a love affair on a lie. Drake cleared his throat. “As I feared. You seem to have dug yourself a very deep hole, Lord Ashleigh.”

“Yes, and you haven’t heard the worst of it.” Sparky slumped into her chair with a sense of impending doom.

“He wishes to update his wardrobe with some continental color. I was planning to help him with his selections, but I see I will need to carry out this charge myself.” And with that, Lord Ashleigh began buying up two dozen of the shop’s most expensive, brightly colored accessories in the finest fabrics, completely without regard for the price. When Gabrielle held up the items in front of Lord Ashleigh, as if he were going to wear them himself and not knowing that he would, she commented how magnificent they would look on him. He mumbled something about this or that being just the thing for Monsieur Grossman, while marveling at the sensation of her fingers brushing against his neck as she held up a golden-brown cravat.

The total came to quite a handsome sum, but paying it wasn’t so bad when he touched her gently as she took the money from his hand. She wrapped his purchases slowly, realizing that their encounter was coming to an end. Lord Ashleigh realized it as well. “I should very much like to see you again. Will you be working again tomorrow?”

“No, tomorrow is my day off. I like to stroll around
Île de la Cité. I have been watching the work on La Sainte Chapelle. And then I will visit my grandmother in Montparnasse.”

“I have not had the pleasure of seeing the restorations of
La Sainte Chapelle and I too have my day off tomorrow. Perhaps I should take a stroll as well. When do you think the light would be best?”

“I particularly like it at one o’clock.” She smiled and blushed, and continued wrapping.

As she was tying up the last bundle, the shopkeeper returned. Gabrielle’s attention turned to him. “Monsieur Girard, this gentleman has just purchased all of this for his master.” She smiled and waved her hand over the pile of packages. Although Monsieur Girard smiled at the large purchase, he paused when Gabrielle used the word “master.” Monsieur Girard had been in the clothing business his entire life. Gabrielle was mistaken about this man having a master. An ensemble with such perfect tailoring made of such rich fabrics would have cost as much as a servant earned in a year. Gabrielle had obviously been focusing on the young man’s chocolate brown eyes because she had completely overlooked the jeweled dagger and sheath barely hidden by his frock coat. When Lord Ashleigh finally took his eyes off the fetching Mademoiselle Lambert and looked at Monsieur Girard, he realized he was being assessed by a practiced eye and he was in immediate danger of being revealed. He tipped his indigo velvet top hat at Gabrielle and popped it back on his head. “
Bon jour, Monsieur Girard. Au revoir, Mademoiselle Lambert.” He couldn’t help winking slightly at Gabrielle, hoping she understood that he really did mean that he would see her again.

He barely noticed the shops as he headed back down Rue de Rivoli, thinking about the next day. Certainly he would have to tell her the truth tomorrow. He must think of just the right thing to say. He ceased his perambulations to consider his approach and gazed distractedly into the window of the shop where he had stopped. Nothing was coming to him. And then he actually noticed the contents of the window. Without giving it another moment’s thought, he dashed into the shop, setting the sign hanging over the door to waving to passersby, “

Mr. Woodhouse’s Replacement

Entry for April 13, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

After a few minutes in the shop, he had picked out a most magnificent necklace, with a wonderful display of colored gems surrounded by diamonds. His plan was simple: he would meet Gabrielle during his walk around Île de la Cité, he would make small talk, confess that he had temporarily gone along with her misunderstanding that he was a servant, produce the necklace, disclose that he was a viscount, and she would be swept off her feet at her good fortune. While finishing his purchase, simultaneously wondering if some part of this plan should occur on bended knee, he heard the shop door close. Thanking the proprietor, he took one last look at his purchase, verifying that it was perfect for his intentions.

A commanding voice addressed him from behind, grinding out English smothered in a thick Parisian accent. “Sir, I have seen your type before.” Lord Ashleigh spun about, and was face to face with Monsieur Girard, who must have followed him to the
bijouterie. Monsieur Girard continued with his monologue. “You have either deceived the shop girl regarding your status, making you a fabricator and false witness, or you are in the process of squandering your employer’s money to woo a young lady. Either way, you are a cad. You should know that the young lady is my niece! I have seen that look in a man’s eyes before, and I will do whatever it takes to keep you far away from her.” The speech came complete with finger-waggles and lip-pouts to illustrate the seriousness of the accusation. The final sentence had a wide-eyed stare for added effect. Monsieur Girard gave a final pout, threw his hands in the air, and stormed out.

Lord Ashleigh was beside himself. His freshly minted plan was deflating like an hour-old
soufflé. Now he needed to convince two people that his intensions were honorable, if not a bit innocent. But how can he convince anyone of that with a necklace that neither she nor her uncle could ever afford? It did look like he was planning to buy her affections. He also surmised that getting her uncle a gift would not smooth things over either. Nor could he return the necklace, even further convincing Monsieur Girard that it was all a ruse.

He left the shop, necklace properly boxed as a gift and stored in an inner pocket, the parcel of new clothes tucked under his arm. Perhaps there was some other reason that he told the story to Gabrielle. He could be a British detective in disguise! No, that’s far too complicated, and he has no credentials to verify that claim. He could be a famous viscount, hiding his identity while on travel. But again, to reveal himself, his name would have to be known well enough to justify such an assertion, which it was not.

Lord Ashleigh needed a way out of this predicament. And then it came to him. He needed the ruse to continue. To do that, he needed to find Theodore Grossman, get on his good side, take him into his confidence, and allow the fabricated servant story to continue at least for a day, until he could clear up this whole mess.

Since Mr. Grossman was in a hurry to procure his shirts, Lord Ashleigh hoped he could follow his trail by stopping by a number of men’s fashion shops near where Gabrielle worked and play detective. His plan was simple but deceptive, and it took a full five shops to get success, and his patter to sound convincing.

Bon jour,” Lord Ashleigh started, and continued in French, “I’m Ashleigh. My master, Mr. Grossman, has sent me to check on the status of his order he placed this morning. I do hope I have the correct shop since he wasn’t clear in his directions.” “Sir, that order was placed just this morning. We haven’t even cut the fabric yet.”

“Yes, yes. I understand. Mr. Grossman wanted me to verify the quantity of shirts purchased, and to make sure they were shipped to the right place.” Lord Ashleigh was guessing that he had them shipped to a local address, but it seemed to be a reasonable one given Mr. Grossman’s haste and level of distrust.

“Mr. Grossman ordered twelve shirts. He selected each of the colors and fabrics himself. Do you want to see them?”

“Yes, please.”

A bundle of fabrics were retrieved from the back of the shop, carefully bound with ribbon. It was laid in front of Lord Ashleigh, untied, and a collection of white and off-white fabrics were revealed, and the proprietor indicated that they were all to be made into wing-tip collar dress shirts. They were far too commonplace for Lord Ashleigh’s tastes, but that really should not have mattered given his mission here, but it was too tempting not to spice up the lot.

“Mr. Grossman wanted to add a blue and white striped shirt for a night on the town. Can you show me a sample?” It was clear that Mr. Grossman had the same disposition here as he did in Gabrielle’s shop. Eyebrows were raised at the suggestion, but fabrics were retrieved just the same.

Samples were laid out on the counter. Lord Ashleigh selected a fine, American cotton, blue with a thin white stripe. He asked for a round-cornered collar with a pleated front, much more fashionable and stylish than its future companions.

“Allow me to pay for this additional shirt now.” The appropriate number of francs were withdrawn from Lord Ashleigh’s well-made leather wallet. “Are you shipping the finished shirts to my master’s hotel?”

“Yes, of course. We will be hand-delivering them to the
Lille et d’Albion at 323 rue St. Honoré. We will have these completed in two days time. Your business is greatly appreciated.”

“Very good. I was concerned that my master may have mispronounced the hotel name, given his difficulty with French. Your establishment has done well.
Au revoir.”

Lord Ashleigh slipped his hat back onto his head as he left, and tried to hide his smile at his good fortune and ability to execute his charade. Wasn’t this Erasmus’ territory? Comparing stories with him tonight would be entertaining.

The hotel was between rue St. Honoré and rue de Rivoli. Lord Ashleigh glided in with a simple plan: get on Mr. Grossman’s good side through mutual business interests, let him know about his predicament, and coax him into playing along with the scheme for a day or two. If all else failed, the promise of future business or some trinket might persuade him. The primary objective was to secure Gabrielle’s and her uncle’s trust.

A quick conversation at the front desk, and Lord Ashleigh was headed to the second floor, where Mr. Grossman’s party had their accommodations. At the top of the stairs, two men where briskly walking toward Lord Ashleigh with the intent of exiting the building, buttoning their coats as they went. They were engrossed in their conversation, and paid no mind to the well-dressed Indian approaching them.

The taller man was speaking in English with indifference to being overheard. “Grossman will skin us alive if we don’t fix the EPACTs and get the job finished. The IGC was less than thirty yards away! They could have killed the whole project. Grossman told me to have us meet him behind the
boulangerie on rue Rémy Dumoncel. They only have about three thousand bricks. We need at least two thousand more.” His voice gave a clear level of concern.

The heavier set fellow replied, also in English, “I’ll grab my extra tool bag out of my carriage house. Fixing the crawlers shouldn’t take more than an hour.”

“No! Not ‘crawlers.’ Call them EPACTs. The marketing on this is important.”

Just as they passed each other, the taller gentleman suddenly noticed Lord Ashleigh. “Pardon me, are you the shipper? Are you looking for Mr. Grossman?”

Lord Ashleigh thought for only for a split second. This sounded like the perfect way to meet with Mr. Grossman. He deftly turned on his heal and answered nonchalantly. “My name is Mr. Ashleigh. Perhaps I am the shipper you are looking for. Are you going to meet Mr. Grossman?”

The tall man responded with a touch of disapproval. “I’m Mr. Hedgley. This is my employee, Mr. Martin. You are at least three days late, Mr. Ashleigh! Come with us right away. Mr. Grossman is planning to meet us at the site of the excavation. He may not be too pleased, but the fact that you’re here means that the entire business deal is recoverable. I suggest we don’t discuss anything in public. Come with us.”

The rue Rémy Dumoncel was outside Paris on its southwestern side. Lord Ashleigh rode silently in the cabriolet with the two men and their tool bag. The bakery that they stopped at was very small and didn’t even appear to be open. Mr. Hedgley waved Lord Ashleigh on as they entered a narrow cobble-stoned alley that lead behind the shop, Mr. Martin lugging the tool bag.

Lord Ashleigh simply followed them. He needed to see Mr. Grossman today to make all of his plans work. He rounded the side of the shop to see a dilapidated lot with construction activity, and a well-stacked collection of new limestone bricks. The two men went to work, pulling on work gloves and laying out mechanic’s tools from the bag.

Mr. Grossman wasn’t there, so Lord Ashleigh was looking about, taking in the scene. Suddenly, a new shining white limestone brick appeared on top of the well-stacked column! It drew Lord Ashleigh’s gaze immediately. A small mechanical clicking sound was coming from the far side of the bricks, it sounded like it was retreating, but ho, now it was getting louder. Another brick was rapidly stacked on the column by two fast moving mechanical brass arms. The brick must have been at least 20 pounds in weight, and was placed with such dexterity that it hardly made a noise. Trying his best to look unsurprised, Lord Ashleigh walked past the two busy men to get a better view of the far side of the limestone brick stack that was now about four feet high.

The sight took his breath. The first was that a gaping hole was in the ground as if it was scooped out from below. Perhaps angry devils had dug their way to the surface looking for souls to take. The grass and weeds from the surface curved down into the hole in a manner that made the opening look naturally caused rather than man-made. Out of it were scurrying eight-legged contraptions with limestone bricks on their backs, creating the neatly assembled stack, and then disappearing back into the aperture. The anthropomorphic contraptions were working at such a bristling tempo that it gave Lord Ashleigh an incredible case of apprehension at the thought that the earth was teeming with uncontrollable animated brass spiders. He gave an unceremonious shiver. This was not the normal way to extract limestone, and it had this incredible creepiness to it.

In his best attempt to sound calm, he croaked, “Par ... Pardon me, gentleman, may I ask a question?” He now needed to stop himself from asking ‘what on God’s earth is going on here,’ so he had to think quick.

“Of course. But make it quick,” Mr. Hedgley relied without looking up from his labors.

“How many of these contraptions do you have operating?”

“I thought Mr. Grossman briefed you on all of this. We have 200 Transports and about 50 Cutters. They work as a collective, transmitting task related information using key presses and recognition of specific pitches. They will finish extracting the five thousand bricks you need to ship to England by noon tomorrow.”

“So, why the tools?”

“Well, there seems to be something causing breakdowns in the EPACTs under the surface. We need to recover them, using re-directed Transports. We would like to get this done before we lose sunlight and before the IGC notices our ‘endeavors.’” With his last word, he added a wiggle of his eyebrows to show the task was questionable.


“Good God, man, did you retain nothing? EPACT. Electric-Powered Automated Crawling Transport. Or Cutting Tool. We’re still working on the nomenclature. They’re similar in structure, but the Cutters have to deal with cutting and extraction, so their legs are much shorter. The IGC is what we’re worried about. The
Inspection Général des Carrières, or rather the office for General Inspection of the Quarries, verify the quarries and catacombs for stability. If they found out we were misappropriating limestone from one of the recent cave-ins, the local gendarme would arrest us faster than you could say ‘free limestone.’”

“Oh. … Thank you. Now I remember. Will Mr. Grossman be by soon? I would like discuss the details of my transporting the merchandise with him.”

Mr. Hedgley was again indignant. “Discuss it some more? Two months of back and forth and you need some more deliberation? Mr. Grossman warned us you were the weak link in this. He should be by in an hour. I suggest you stand back while we retrieve our lead EPACT.”

Lord Ashleigh retreated a number of steps. He wanted nothing to do with these two-foot long crawling monsters. During this entire time, brass creatures were coming and going, stacking up the limestone bricks.

Mr. Martin stood up and after pulling a whistle out of his pocket, looked at Mr. Hedgley. “Now?” he asked. Mr Hedgley gave a nod. Mr. Martin took a deep breath and placed the whistle in his mouth and blew hard, producing no discernable sound other than the wind from his lungs passing through the device.

While Lord Ashleigh wondered what that was all about, an EPACT came zipping out of the cavity in the earth, and scurried crab-like toward Mr. Martin, stopping right at his feet. It was missing two legs on one side, and the unit was clearly doing its best to maneuver with this damage. Mr. Martin gasped and took on the saddest face.

“Oh my lord! What has happened to you! How are you going to retrieve the other crawlers with this damage! This is going to take hours to fix you.”

Mr. Hedgley attempted to keep his employee on task. “Mr. Martin, I suggest you get started. We’re losing daylight.”

For the next hour, Lord Ashleigh faded into the background while the two men worked on repairing the metallic creature, re-tasking it, and running it through some tests where it appeared to do a mini-version of what it planned to perform under ground.

It was during one of these tests that Mr. Grossman arrived, fully dressed in business attire, and none too happy.

He first looked at the efforts of the workers and sneered in a manner that indicated that he thought that these mechanical miners where going to be a problem, and then he looked at Lord Ashleigh.

“Why are you here?” he growled.

“He’s the shipper,” stated Mr. Martin, as if to defend their bringing him to this location.

“I don’t think so. This is not Mr. Woodhouse, you bumblers. Did you just bring anyone you found on the street to this location? Have you no sense of propriety?” Mr Grossman was getting red-faced.

Lord Ashleigh jumped in. “I’m Mr. Ashleigh. Mr. Woodhouse is a colleague of mine, and suggested I step in to support your endeavor.”

“You don’t look, dress, or talk like a shipper. You actually manage a sailing vessel?”

“I have access to a fleet of vessels, both ocean going and airborne. I am more than capable of transporting your merchandise.”

“You’ve got brass ones, Mr. Ashleigh, I’ll say that for you. Simply put, I want you to transport five thousand limestone bricks from this location to the docks in London. Start at noon tomorrow. As I told Mr. Woodhouse, I don’t want this shipment to be seen, weighed, tariffed, or seized. And I don’t want the IGC nosing around our excavation, so steer clear of them, too. Got it?”

“Well, yes, of course. However, I do want to know …”

“Enough questions. Out of here with you. You’re late to the party, and I don’t want you to slow down the festivities. Good day.”

Lord Ashleigh was doing his best to hide how distraught he was. He mumbled his goodbyes, and started his exit without his usual bouncing step and self-assurance. He took one last look at the scene and the stack of limestone bricks that was now well over six feet high from the industry of its scurrying laborers.

He headed back to the Burke & Hare, a gift-wrapped necklace inside his jacket, a bundle of new clothes under his arm, and a head full of concerns.

Lord Ashleigh’s story came to its end. Sparky and Erasmus were dumbstruck. Everyone looked around to see who should speak first. Sparky had the first thought.

“Erasmus, you have no jurisdiction here do you?”

“None. Although I may have easy access to the local constables. But we have a bigger problem. We need to resolve all of this and get Lord Ashleigh to meet Gabrielle.”

Sparky’s eye’s lit up. “I’ve got it! Listen closely …”

Erasmus smiled and thought to himself, “This must be how Sparky got her title of ‘adventuress!’”

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