Four is Too Many
Esmeralda Pogue lacked the stalwart, charitable disposition of the society matrons who contributed their time and energies to improving conditions for the ailing by volunteering at hospitals. She could not even remember the last time she had set foot in a hospital. She would dearly have loved to retreat back the way she had come and gone for tea with a friend, but there was no conscionable way of shirking her duty to care for her brother in his time of need. She had even made a special trip to Tom Smith’s on Goswell Road in Clerkenwell as soon as they opened that morning to acquire a brightly colored tin of Edmond’s favorite nut brittle. She did her level best to make her expression match the gay colors of the candy container. With her visage thus set, she opened the door to his hospital room. It looked like his lab had been transported, but without the dreary tower.
There were drawings and instruments strewn across the bed, and bits of metal of various colors fashioned for performing functions she could not possibly fathom. She couldn’t open the door all the way because its arc was blocked by a worktable cobbled together from a pair of mismatched spindle chairs, each with several spindles missing, and a door that had obviously been many colors in its life, judging by the clashing shades peeking through the cracks and scrapes. One of its rusty hinges was still attached. It was piled with more drawings, bits of metal, tools, and what looked like a small steam engine clamped squarely in the middle. That couldn’t possibly be dangerous to operate, anchored as it was to a dried out slab of wood.
And for a man who had always been completely hopeless with all of the suitable matches that she had brought around in recent years, her brother was remarkably surrounded by women paying acute attention to him. Of course, Dr. Young was there. Not to be outdone by Yin’s attention, Miss Slate was there as well, fiddling with some small leather straps around the stump of Edmond’s arm. In the opposite corner was seated a fairly handsome woman wearing tragically unflattering clothing that made her look like a frontiersman in a skirt. The as yet unidentified woman was jotting something in a small, leather bound notebook using an elaborately enameled red pen. She spoke without taking her attention away from her writing.
“I most strongly suggest that you design the apparatus so that it connects via embedded cleats. If I attach the whole apparatus surgically, he’ll need continual assistance to perform many daily functions such as bathing.” She continued soto voce, “Not that it appears that he will lack for such aid.” When the two women fussing over Edmond didn’t respond, she continued as before. “In addition, it will need to be removed and reattached surgically every time it needs a major repair or replacement. I can’t promise to be around for all such occurrences and the shock to Dr. Pogue’s body will almost certainly shorten his lifespan. Finally, the bone is more likely to mend around a small cleat than a large rod or pylon.”
This last bit was just too much for the delicate Miss Pogue, to hear her brother’s body discussed with such scientific coldness as if he were one of his own infernal lab experiments. She made a noise like a field mouse gagging on an oversized seed. The seated woman responded first, springing from her chair and dropping her writing materials on the seat.
“Are you all right? Are you choking?”
“No, thank you, I’m fine.” They stared at each other for an instant until Esmeralda recovered her manners. “I’m Miss Esmeralda Pogue, Edmond’s sister.”
“Ah yes, I see the resemblance.” No doubt she meant it as a compliment. “I’m Dr. Sparky McTrowell.”
“You’re the woman who saved Edmond’s life!”
“I think ‘women’ would be more accurate. If not for the quick thinking of Dr. Young, your brother would have been lost before I got to him.” Only Yin noticed that Sarah froze with a pained look on her face at Sparky’s praise of Yin’s lifesaving presence of mind. Completely oblivious to the little drama taking place around him, Edmond perked up and smiled at his sister.
“Hullo, little sister. Delightful of you to come visit! What’s that?” He nodded toward the tin in Esmeralda’s hands that she had almost completely forgotten.
“Oh, yes, I brought your favorite candy from Tom Smith’s.” She opened the tin and offered it to him. He grabbed a large slab off the top of the pile and stuffed it in his mouth.
“Shplendith!” he gurgled through a mouthful of crunchy nuts and caramelized sugar.
The room was now so crowded that the only direction for McTrowell to go was back to her chair, but what she really wanted to do was depart. “I had hoped that your brother would rest in the hospital for a few more days to recover more fully, but it seems there’s no keeping him down or dissuading his ‘visitors.’ Dr. Pogue, you may return home, preferably before you burn down the hospital or the nurses suffocate you out of frustration.”
“This is not leave to spend all night working in your laboratory. You must still rest. May I count upon you ladies to see to this prescription?” The other three women nodded enthusiastically, or rather Sarah and Esmeralda did. Yin bowed her head once and immediately began organizing the various metal components into the crates stuffed under the makeshift table. Sarah began hastily collecting the littered drawings and calculations. In her nervous carelessness, she knocked her own notebook off the bed and onto the floor between Esmeralda and Sparky. It flopped open to the page with the picture of the interlocking daisies that Sparky had spied the day before.
Sparky picked it up and held it open. “Miss Slate, this is a peculiarly interesting sketch. I’m curious as to its inclusion in your scientific notebook rather than a personal journal.”
Sarah stood pinned to the spot for a moment, excitement and caution chasing each other across her face. “It’s a test pattern for a new weaving process I’ve conceived. I had been attempting to design the loom from the abstract concept, but I found I couldn’t accurately visualize outlier conditions, so I drew this pattern as a practical example.”
Before Sparky could formulate a response, much to her surprise, Esmeralda spoke up. “A new weaving process? What does it do?”
“As yet, it doesn’t do anything since I’ve not completed the design. Nor do I have the resources to build the loom.” Even after all her years with her brother, Esmeralda never ceased to be exasperated by the literalness of people of his ilk. She raised her eyebrows in the gesture that she had trained Edmond to understand to mean “And?” Apparently it worked on all scientific sorts because Miss Slate continued. “The resulting fabric should present a different image when viewed from different angles. In the case of this drawing, it would appear to be a cluster of ordinary daisies from one perspective and a set of interlocking gears when viewed from another. This drawing illustrates how it might appear when viewed directly, but the use of color in the sketch helps me see what it should look like from opposing views.” She held the notebook up flat at eye level and then rotated it 90° to illustrate her point. “You can see how this is a valuable tool for determining the requirements for the loom.”
Sparky nodded up and down crisply. There was more to Miss Slate than she had originally surmised. Esmeralda nodded once, rather more sideways than up and down, hoping that neither of the other two women would seek to confirm her level of understanding of the mechanics of the loom. The part she had understood was plenty to awaken an intense, and mostly personal, interest.
“Miss Slate, would you care to be introduced to someone who has the interest and wherewithal to build your loom and make your fabric?”
In her excitement, Sarah nearly flung the notebook at Esmeralda’s head. She had to flap about a bit to catch it before it hit the floor again. “Oh, yes! Who is it?”
“His name is Charles Howgill.”