I sip my tea and attempt to absorb my mountain of correspondence. Oh joy, letter from home – ah yes, the drama continues unabated. Oh good, the Wastrel finally gave up and is to be married to someone else. Haha her? Dear me, I’ve met cutlery with more sense – perfect for each other. Oh dear…does he know? No matter, he will find out on his wedding night, doubtless. Hmm. Fourteen purchase orders, one from Mondrago, another quite large, that’s good, lovely bit of quid that will be…
After some time my desk is left bare apart from my accounts ledger. I have been procrastinating for some time. I stare balefully at its leather cover, hoping it will go away and mind itself. Of all the tasks a businesswoman must attend to, this is truly the most odious. I dip my pen in the inkwell and resolve to make a start at it anyway.
A firm THHHHCLUNK causes me to jump out of my chair with a shriek. I turn to see a brass canister has arrived in my P-Mail chute. Just had the thing installed last week, and I’m still not used to it. I wish it could give me some warning at least. At first, it required some adjustment as the cans would certainly arrive – but shoot out like shells from an ironclad gun. Fortunately, after a minor adjustment from the technician, it merely scares me out of my wits every time I receive a letter.
I grab the canister, still slightly warm and faintly oily from its passage, and twist its threaded cap off. Inside is a small sheaf of documents and a certificate. Looks official. I pull it out, roll it to undo its curl until it is mostly flat, and examine it. It is stiff, engine printed, and carries an embossed seal and some data-holes punched along the bottom.
“Dear Miss Erica Fairywren, we at the New Babbage patent office are pleased to officially inform you that your patent application #2683-956 for: “Electro-Aetheric Valve Rectification Device” HAS BEEN APPROVED as of this date……”
I don’t bother to read the rest of it, as I have left my desk and am performing a grotesque dance of glee upon my freshly cleaned Persian rug. I let loose a torrent of wild “Yips” and “hoorays”. I couldn’t be happier. I finish my dance with a Flemenco impersonation – ra-ta-ta-ta-ta clomp CLOMP.
I fling open the door and dash out into the street. Waving the patent about like a flag, prance out into the middle of the road and perform a pirouette for my finale. A shout causes me to turn and note brougham bearing down on me. I jump deftly out of the way.
“OY! Get outta da road you!” shouts the driver angrily. I run laughing back to my stoop. Nothing could dash my mood today. I lean against the metal girder supporting my awning and stare into the lovely spring sky. A tug at my dress causes me to look down.
Little Tommy stands there, still mining for gold in that little nostril of his.
“Good morning Tommy! Just the one I wanted to see! You remember that bag I had you hide?”
“Yah Miss Furryren, stashed it good ‘n safe.”
“Well, I want you to fetch it, sharpish.” I toss him a coin and he dashes off into the street at astonishing speed and is gone. Impressive that boy, faster than a speeding locomotive. I rub my hands with glee. Now I can do some real work, instead of all this cloak-and-dagger nonsense. Ah. There he is. I check the watch hanging from my belt. Right on time.
Down the road, crossing Melnik Square, I spot the bowler’d blighter approach. Out for his usual morning irritate-me stroll doubtless. I stand as nonchalantly as I can, fanning myself with my patent certificate.
He approaches to deliver his usual hat doff and false smile. I wave the paper in his face with an impish smile.
“Ah yes, I had heard, congratulations Miss Fairywren.” He replies blandly, though I can spot a profound disappointment in his countenance.
“It’s mine now.” I reply, with my childish glee.
“Surely Miss, I know not what you mean.” He looks right irritated with me now. Good.
“Sure as I am the Balinese Goddess of Plenty” I switch to my hundred-watt smile.
A pass a glance to an approaching Ned, the bruiser I had hired to protect me. With a nod I let him know all is well. He returns to his spot and stands there, eyes boring a hole through the bugger’s head.
“At any rate” he sighs, ignoring my deliberately annoying manner “I’ve been called away on business, and will depart this very afternoon via airship.” He waves an engine-stippled ticket under my nose in mockery of my mockery.
I stand tall and regal – and thoroughly as condescending.
“Well then, I’m sure we are sorry to see you go so quick. You can, of course, put in a purchase order for as many tubes as you like, they will go out to the manufactory this week.”
“Surely I will, I will send by post” His look reveals he has no intention of doing so. Marvellous.
“Well happy trails!” I wave comically in his face, eager for him to push off. With an angry hrumph he stalks off down the road, testilly tapping his cane on the ground.
Ned sides up to me like a wall-on-wheels.
“Top o’ the mornin’ Miss Fairywren.” he grunts, eyes still fixed on his quarry.
“Oh it is a good morning Ned, what’s on your mind?” I enquire, conspiratorially.
“Well, I was wonderin’ if you’d be adverse to a bit o’ sport?”
I give him a confused frown. “‘Fraid I don’t quite follow you there…”
“Well I reckon, me and ta lads could ‘ave a nice spot o’ cricket with ‘im” he says, pointing at the bowler, now halfway down the road. He waits for my uncomprehending look and continues:
“Well, PARTS of ‘im anyway”
I can’t help it. He’s got me completely by surprise and I burst out in shrieking peals of laughter.
“Mum, I assure ya, I am an accomplished batsman” He looks at me in mock offence.
No good, my fit intensifies, my sides hurt.
“I daresay I’ll ‘it a six” he continues deadpan, making a swinging motion with his arm and looks into the distance.
“Oh Mercy, Mercy! kind sir!” I’m doubled over and crying with the effort to control my fit. After a minute, I manage to reduce it to manageable giggle. What a man, built like a factory but within hides that razor wit of his. Appearances are deceiving. Glad he’s on my side.
“Oh sadly I don’t think I could sanction that, never could understand the game anyway.” I sigh in mock disappointment.
“Oh, shame” he smiles at me.
I giggle, almost falling victim again.
“Stop it you. Well day is young, I could change me mind” I finally get a chuckle out of him for that. “Seriously, thank you Ned, you’ve been wonderful.” I pat his arm.
“All in a days work, still, no ‘arm in ensurin’ ‘e gets on ‘is ‘ship. Nasty things could ‘appen to a bloke if ‘e loses ‘is way outside ta gate…” He looks at me imploringly…
“All right you big oak, off you go then” I relent and pat him on the shoulder and he saunters off after my former adversary, looking back to toss me a smile. I wave to him and let loose a huge sigh of relief. I must remember to tip him.
Ah victory. The blighter could steal what he wants, burn down my shop and kill me and he still would never have it. My patent is inviolate.
Still, I haven’t yet figured out what the damn thing actually DOES. In this age of invention, one patents first and asks questions later. Now begins the real task. When Tommy returns, I will experiment. With some hope, perhaps my invention will actually be useful somehow.