Miss Sarah Slate
Esmeralda Pogue strode purposefully out of the milliner’s shop on the Marleybone high street, a tiered stack of hatboxes lashed together in each hand. She handed them to her coachman who once again reshuffled her purchases for the afternoon to try to find a secure place for all of them. Fortunately, the shops were closing. Otherwise he was going to have to hire a cab just to deliver her purchases to her brother’s “abode” in Shadwell. It was too odd to be called a house, what with the tower sticking out of a building that betrayed its origins as a warehouse. He also found it odd that a person of means such as Dr. Pogue would choose to live in the environs of Shadwell, but then “odd” was a particularly apt word to describe the older brother of Miss Esmeralda Pogue. If the coachman hadn’t known their late parents, he wouldn’t have believed the siblings to be related.
The coachman had just managed to solve his packing problem when he looked down in horror to see Miss Pogue staring up the street. Surely she hadn’t espied another shop still open! No, she was just staring at another young woman on the street who was clearly oblivious to the attention she was drawing. Those people who knew Esmeralda Pogue only from her attendance at teas, balls, and sporting events thought her the usual rich, spoiled, shallow young woman only in search of a husband to continue to finance her taste for frippery. To be fair, she did enjoy the finer things in life and a handsome, wealthy husband (preferably with a minor title) would be a nice acquisition. However, she considered her primary mission in life the care of her brilliant, sweet, but hopelessly distracted older brother. For all his scientific brilliance, he never seemed to be able to quite manage the details of being an adult. So she maintained a close relationship with the solicitor who was the executor of their parents’ estate and made regular excuses to visit him near London, shopping admittedly being her favorite excuse. The sensible Miss Pogue recognized the expression on the face of the other young woman on the street, and it wasn’t simply the wide-eyed amazement of a girl newly arrived from the country. She was examining, memorizing, and deconstructing everything she saw, just like dear Edmond. Unfortunately, she was also attracting the attention of the rats of London, and not the rodent variety. Esmeralda popped open her pocket watch. Five o’clock. Dear Edmond had said he would work until six which meant at least seven which meant dinner couldn’t possibly start until eight, plenty of time. She walked directly up to the young woman absorbed in her examination of the fixtures in the window of the watchmaker’s shop.
“Good evening. Parseval’s makes lovely watches, but they don’t keep particularly good time.”
The young woman snapped out of her revelry. “Excuse me?” An American! What an interesting surprise!
“Their watches don’t keep particularly good time. My name is Miss Esmeralda Pogue.” She waited a second or two. “And you are?”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I’ve forgotten my manners. Miss Sarah Slate of Aspinock, Connecticut.”
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance. Do you have tea in Aspinock, Connecticut?”
Miss Slate examined Miss Pogue as if she were a lab specimen. “Yes, of course.”
“We like to think that we have excellent tea in London.” Again the lab specimen stare. “Perhaps you would care to join me for a cup?” While Esmeralda was well-intentioned, she had never quite grasped the fact that her brother and people like him weren’t dim, just chronically distracted by matters so much more fascinating than the prosaic matters of her own concern. Esmeralda turned around, looked both ways along the street lest she be trampled by a carriage, and marched across the street to the nearest tearoom, trusting that Miss Slate would follow. Years of frustrating conversations with Edmond had taught her that negotiating simple daily tasks was an exercise in supreme frustration; better just to charge forward before he could begin his swirl of deconstruction that would inevitably derail the whole enterprise. By the time Miss Slate had caught on to her role in this pantomime and entered the tearoom, Miss Pogue was already seated herself and had ordered tea, scones, and clotted cream. She wasn’t simply being generous; she was famished from her athletic shopping and it would be three more hours before dinner with Edmond.
Miss Slate arranged her skirts on the spindly tearoom chair and doffed her unfashionable straw hat. The girl in the striped dress and crisp, white apron that was the uniform of the tearoom arrived with a silver tray, quietly depositing the welcome sustenance on the table that was just barely large enough to hold it all. Esmeralda poured tea for both of them before offering the plate of scones to Miss Slate. “So, what brings you to London, Miss Slate?”
“My grandfather was from England. He left me a small inheritance with the suggestion that I might find it interesting. I have visited the mills of Derbyshire. Quite serviceable, but no more interesting than my grandfather’s mills. I had hoped to see more substantial advances. I have come to London in search of the scientific and industrial discoveries about which I have heard so much.” The more Sarah spoke, the more she reminded Esmeralda of Edmond.
“London also has many cultural advantages to offer,” Esmeralda suggested, hoping to turn the conversation to one in which she could participate.
“Yes, I’m finding the light in London most interesting: the flickering street lamps reflected on the wet cobblestones; the shine of the black lacquer coaches with gleaming brass door pulls; the glittering jewels worn by women such as yourself as you’re rushing to the theater. I am considering a study of the effects of soot on the reflectivity of objects in London.” Esmeralda sighed into her tea. If she squinted just a bit more so her companion’s features didn’t look quite so sharp, nor her hair quite so long, she could see Edmond sitting across the table from her.
“I’m sure my brother, Edmond, would have something to offer on the subject.”
“Edmond? Edmond Pogue? Dr. Edmond Pogue is your brother?” Somehow Esmeralda had known this was the inevitable conclusion to this encounter. “His work on high-pressure pistons is the best in the field.”
What was the use in fighting it? “Miss Slate, do you have dinner plans?”
Sparky wiped her hands on a greasy cloth and stuffed the cloth in the pocket of her favorite blue work trousers. She wiped a few sweaty hairs back from her forehead with the only clean spot on the back of her forearm. She leaned on the bulkhead and stared vacantly out of a porthole. She could see Luis-Miguel Sevilla far below supervising the transfer of the final crates of unnecessary furnishings to a warehouse at the airship port. It was reassuring to know that most of the world had continued on its regularly scheduled rounds while her own life had taken one unexpectedly dramatic turn after another. Although she was exhausted as she trudged back to her cabin, it was the welcome tired of a job well done. She was satisfied that the Burke & Hare was ready for the regatta and there was only the spectacle of this evening’s dinner with Wallace, during which he would undoubtedly bloviate about the certainty of Western & Transatlantic’s win in the regatta, and then she could get down to the business of actually winning the regatta. She was sorely looking forward to that! She started stripping off her work clothes as soon as she closed the door of her cabin, hanging them on the hooks behind the door. Dinner wasn’t for another half an hour and she felt she deserved a few minutes rest. She spun around to drop herself on her bunk and nearly fell on a package wrapped in cream and pink striped paper tied with a pink satin ribbon. The ribbon was threaded through a hole in a tiny cream-colored card embossed with “Gerard LY, Paris.”