Standing alone in his flat, Erasmus was beside himself. He thought he had conveyed the proper level of concern to Sparky that she was edging into a dangerous area with her graph. He also remembered the warnings that he had received at the meeting about not revealing anything to anyone. But at what cost? He had to talk to her.
Erasmus realized that he didn’t even have a vest on. He grabbed one and slipped his arms into it as he scampered down the steps. He stopped at the bottom, looking out of the glass in the large doors to see if he might have caught her in time.
James Crocker, the barman, looked up from his sweeping outside. Erasmus walked through the door, working on his vest buttons. “You are probably too late, my good friend. And what, pray tell, did you say or do to make that pretty thing cry?”
“Cry? I did such a thing?”
“She was crestfallen.”
“Oh, my. When she left, she was displeased with me to the point of never wanting to see me again. That was the Dr. Sparky McTrowell of which I have spoken of frequently.”
“That was her? Well, don’t just stand here yapping at me, you fool! She went that way down the street!” James’ right arm pointed eastward.
Despite that Erasmus had not finished buttoning his vest, he sprinted up Fleet Street to see if he could get a glimpse of his forlorn lady friend. It took a full block before he saw her boarding a hansom cab. Erasmus spun in place to look down the street for a similar vehicle. There one was, with a lively chestnut horse and no passengers. Erasmus practically jumped out in the road to hail it, and hopped up on its side before it could stop.
“Follow that cab!” he shouted, pointing to the one that Sparky was in, which was now nearly a block and a half away. The driver seemed up to the challenge, gave a quick “Yes, Sir!” reply, and flicked his reins hard, spurring the horse to a gallop.
The clatter of horseshoes and iron-rimmed wheels filled the street. Pedestrians and slower-moving traffic made for the curb, panic in their eyes. Erasmus’ driver snapped the reins again, this time adding a whistle, and the steed put its all into the chase.
Sparky’s driver was an older gentleman, and was slightly uncomfortable giving a lady a ride without a gentleman accompanying her, and was startled by the commotion behind them. “Sorry, milady,” he croaked out as he started to pull the hansom over toward the curb. Sparky leaned over and looked back to see what the kerfuffle was. It was Erasmus! He was pointing at Sparky’s hansom, and looked earnest. Quietly to herself she said, “Well, he wants to chase after me, does he?” Then to the driver, she offered, “Driver! That hansom is chasing us! Do your best to keep ahead. There is a pretty tip for your efforts.”
The driver, Jacob, acted without hesitation and shouted for his horse, Davy, to take to a gallop. Jacob had been a hansom driver for twelve years since he had given up the business of making shoe lasts. He thought he had seen everything in this business, but taking part in a street chase was not in his nature nor to his liking. Unlike some drivers, he owned his own hansom, and any damage to it would come out of his own pocket. But he had been so used to following instructions that he found himself committed to keeping ahead of their pursuer.
The two cabs charged across Farringdon Street, causing horses to rear and women to scream. Fleet Street turned into Ludgate Hill & Street. Then Jacob reined Davy left at the fork onto St. Paul’s Street. There were a small clutch of parishioners on the sidewalk outside of St. Paul’s Church making “well, I never” faces and shaking their fists at the racing hansoms as they sped past.
Without yielding, both carts joined the traffic on Cheapside. Red-faced drivers shouted for them to slow their vehicles, but slow them they did not. Cheapside turned into Poultry, and narrowed considerably.
A large cart carrying crates upon crates of potatoes was transitioning from Princes Street to Lombard Street; its single driver was a fourteen year-old boy who was delivering his father’s crop to a nearby market. The cart was full length across Poultry as it crossed the thoroughfare, blocking all traffic.
Sparky grabbed for the wrought iron arm rests. Jacob gasped and pulled up hard on the reins. Davy had been trained by show riders who came upon hard times before having to sell their beloved horse, and he showed off one of his last remembered tricks: an all-four-legs fifteen foot sliding stop. The hansom bounced around a bit, but both rider and driver hung on.
The chestnut horse did a quick jump to the left to avoid the back of the lead hansom, skidding clumsily to a halt. The second hansom leaned far to the right, then rocked quickly to the left, and stopped next to Sparky’s cab. The driver was still clutching the reins even though he was down on his knees.
Sparky was furious. She pointed at Erasmus and said, “You … you … nearly caused an accident!”
“I just wanted to catch up with you to explain myself.”
“Is ‘goodbye’ difficult to understand?”
“I need your help.”
Sparky felt her heart soften. It was her fault that she asked the driver to stay ahead. Perhaps she should hear Erasmus’ side of things.
“I am listening.”
“I will explain the dangers. I need you. Please come back.”
“Oh. I see.” Sparky slid down off her seat and came over to Erasmus’ hansom, where he offered his hand to help her up to the seat.
“I am truly sorry for my outburst this morning. I … I want you to be a significant part of my life, too.”
“Oh. I see,” Sparky echoed, but more softly this time, adding, “so how can I help you?”
“I ran out of my flat without a thing in my pockets. Could you help me by covering my hansom fare?”