“I’m terribly sorry but I simply cannot authorize a refund, Doctor….” I poke quizzically at the lump of disfigured metal on my desk.
“Creosote” The grey-haired gentleman before me states, tapping the tip of his cane to his brim.
“Well Doctor … Creosote, with your delivery, a specification sheet was supplied stating the maximum tolerance of … sorry what was this again?”
“One of your inductors, dear lady.”
“Ah, well what kind of power did you run through it?”
“A bolt of lightening.” he replies, deadpan.
“Hang on, you aren’t one of those MAD scientist are you?”
He quickly stops twisting his moustache and stands tall. “Surely not! I assure you I have all the proper permits…”
I raise a conciliatory hand. “No matter. Well, I estimate you would have exceeded the maximum amperage by a factor of a million – give or take.” I push the lump of metal back towards him.
“Is there nothing that can be done?” He implores, giving me the saddest old-man eyes I have ever seen.
“Well… all right, I’ll give you one of the floor models as a replacement – just this once you understand.” I motion to the intact model on the display table.
“Splendid, thank you very, very much!” He doffs his hat and retrieves the inductor with a grunt, and leaves my shop.
“Good day!” I wave after him.
“Good argh… day dear lady ach” He struggles to carry the heavy instrument down the road.
I let loose a big sigh. No one ever reads the manual. I am too kind by far, I know, but I must maintain appearances. I turn to the recently returned results of my engine calculations. Very interesting….my intense concentration is soon to be broken however.
The RING of the horrid shop bell makes me wince.
“Well tally, bally ho! with a clank and bing, a bong and a buzz!” exclaims the newcomer with an expansive flourish.
“Oh hello Bertram.” I recognize the newcomer without looking up, and continue to study my plots, hoping that will make him go away. He always was scared of numbers…
Oh Dash it, there’s no help for it. The Wastrel has found me.
“Well how are you then, dear little Eri” he tussles my hair. Oh how I hate that! I force down a surge of outrage.
“I am quite well, thank you.” Calmly, I smooth my mussed hair into some semblance of order. “What brings you here to New Babbage?” I arch an eyebrow suspiciously.
“Well, funny you should mention it, you see I just arrived by airship on some dashed important business from Uncie Charlie you see…”
“Let me get this straight.” I interrupt him. “You have yet to work a day in your life at last account…”
“…true there, and proud of it…” He agrees, apparently unaware that he has just obliterated his entire case.
“…and I daresay your revered Uncle CHARLES wouldn’t trust you with his golf clubs, is that correct?”
“Oh quite so, quite so, especially after last time…” He rolls his eyes.
“So why did my mother send you then?” I drop my pen pointedly on my desk and look full into his vapid mug. Apparently, I have caught him quite off-guard, which, for Bertie, is not hard to do.
“Um… well. Ur. Well you see..” he looks as if he’s about to weep, its all too much for him. Always having a soft spot for dumb animals, so I pat his arm.
“There, there, it’s ok Bertie, no reason to start blubbing. Its not your fault my mother roped you into this, you never could keep a secret.” I left out the part about him being as subtle as a herd of wildebeests.
“Sorry *sniff* dreadfully sorry, you see she had me for TEA…”
“Yes I quite understand, teas with my mother is a dangerous business, I avoid them at all costs myself. How’s the wife?” I attempt to change the subject.
“Well quite spiffing, fantasic, marvellous and all that.” He recovers spectacularly, having the attention span of a goldfish.
“Bertie…” I cast him a warning glance.
“Oh Eri, I’m at a loss. Everything was just fine – arranged even. Perfect family. Then I discovered she’s not quite…”
“…human…?” I arch an eyebrow.
“How on earth did you…”
“I’ve known her since we were five Bertie, can’t hide a thing like that.”
“Must have strategically shaved her for the wedding…” He muses rubbing his chin.
“I know, I know, poor Bertie. So what is to be done?”
“Well I guess a speedy annulment is in order, I expected a wife, not the hound of the Baskervilles…say, you don’t think your maid could fetch us a spot of tea or something could you? Feeling rather parched…”
“I haven’t got a maid.” I reply sternly.
“Ah yes, well, good help is hard to find theses days…” I let that pass, it would be impossible for him to understand anyone doing anything for themselves.
“So what did mother want?” I enquire pointedly.
“well… you see… I was sent here…” He stammers.
“…to encourage you to come home…”
“Not a chance.”
“…and be my wife.”
“Oh.” He freezes, face now ashen, and thoroughly confused.
Now I’ve really broken him. Boolean decisions tend to confuse him. Having formed one possible outcome in his mind, he was wholly unprepared for the other result. I stand up, pushing my chair back towards the wall to confront the Wastrel, who shrinks from my advance.
“Oh Eri, ease up, she had me for TEA for God’s sake, can’t expect a bloke to survive that…” He wrings his hands imploringly.
“Certainly not, my mother’s teas are legendary, I only feel insulted for her having sent you, of all people, as a spy.”
“Now see here! I…”
“Quite so, yes.” Comes his jolly reply. I resist the urge to apply my palm to my face.
“You will inform my mother to the negative.”
“Oh no, not that!” He quivers a bit.
“You will.” I say with finality.
“Well, can’t be helped I suppose, oh dash it Eri, I wish you wouldn’t put me in this position.”
“Sadly I must. See, I like it here. I’m staying here. I’m never going back. Comprehend?”
“Quite quite, I say, could I trouble you for just one small thing?”
“I was wondering, if you knew of a good old boys club. Something with polished woods and soft leather chairs – so a chappy could have a proper drink? Can’t stand these filthy pubs I’ve seen about. Dashed hard days work this…” He looks imploringly at me with puppy dog eyes.
I stifle a laugh at the thought of the reaction of Babbage’s finest male minds.. though I suppose they would find him amusing to torment. Suddenly, an idea dawns.
“Now that you mention it…” I motion him close. “…there is one place….”
“go on, go on” He moves close, thoroughly hooked.
“Quite hush-hush you understand.” I arch an eyebrow, impishly.
“Quite proper, yes.”
“So secret even I don’t know about it”
“Oh this does sound lovely…”
“…its in this posh neighbourhood called ‘The Gut’……..”