What Happened After The Carriage Ride

“Fallen London is © 2015 and ™ Failbetter Games Limited: www.fallenlondon.com. This is an unofficial fan work.”

The parlor is immaculately kept. Yet I feel nothing much has changed here for a great while. The Social Butterfly sails in with the insouciance of youth, and plants a kiss on the cheek of a Black-clad Personage in an armchair. I shift my weight from one foot to another, and think about what brought me here.

I had been out in the Landau, on my way back from my rented townhouse near the Shuttered Palace, to  the much more humble digs I’m pleased to call my home along with a remarkably varied number of individuals tucked into various nooks and crannies into an old mansion converted into a set of row-houses, then further reunited into a sprawling conglomerate. Traveling with me, is my dear friend Bastet, a Black Persian of great wisdom and respect, on whom I rely upon to keep the peace in this somewhat  chaotic household.  (Don’t ask her about her nose. It’s quite nice as it is.) “So if Hamilton’s theories are true, then …”  She washed a shoulder.
“I don’t hold with that kind of thing. I can’t imagine a fourth dimension.” I toy with my walking stick, as I once saw a Nipponese play idly with his sword, pulling it out an inch, and letting it fall through his fingers like silk, back into its scabbard. “You might as well as say that light is affected by gravity, or the ether wind doesn’t exist.”
“Your mind has been applesauce lately. Ever since you started Seeking the Name…can’t you even remember me teaching you the calculus?”

We saw her on the corner. She was very wet. Considering the quality of air in the Neath, she looked like someone had thrown a bucket of water thrown on her. Very dirty water.

I signaled to my driver.

Bastet stopped talking. She finds it more convenient to behave like one of her wild counterparts, who cannot speak, when confronted by strangers. Instead, she crept into my lap and purred in a friendly manner. The girl climbed next to me. 

“Good afternoon. I’m Hortense.” 
“Where are you going?” 
She gave an address. We began to talk. 

“O Grandma’ma!” she cries, happily. “This is teleny, you know, that woman who writes all those stories! She gave me a lift home!” 
The Personage looks up from her tatting.  For a long time, she looked me up and down, as if you were a Clay Man she was thinking of procuring to do grunt work in her cellars. 
“Pleased to meet you.” I say, with my best American smile. 
“Pleased…to meet you too. Thank you for your kindness towards Hortense.” I have met with the Widow. I once was presented to the Queen. I've had a private audience with the Duchess. Even if she wasn’t as well-known, I felt the same sense of having to tread carefully. Very, very carefully.

However, there was Hortense. As a solemn butler offered tea and biscuits (and a small scrap of rat for Bastet), she spoke effusively about the last few installments of my latest thriller “Sweet Polly of Pebbly Pit”. “…and when she talks about the Carnelian Coast, is it really true that…?”
 Knowing that she might just flounder onto some fatal territory, I admitted to a little exaggeration. I downplayed a shocking incident.  That thing that happened in the Iron Republic? Never happened. It’s untrue that the deposed Middle Eastern potentiate’s cat-loving widow, is in any way a real person. (At this, Isis spat out a small bone and gave me a wink.)  Everyone knows that cholera isn’t treatable with mineral salts and boiled water, it’s fatal. After Hortense excuses herself to change out of her wet clothes, her grandmother puts down her teacup, and looks me in the eye. 
“For a long time, she seemed to be getting…strange notions.” She pauses, before going on. “Tattooed pirate poets, female archeologists assisted by scholarly Rubbery Men,  detective Clay Men…can you believe that for a while she was talking of marrying her school chum? And for some weeks, she wanted to adopt an urchin!  I can’t say it was all because of you, but….I believe she’s told you of our current…. difficulties.” 
I try to make my face look sympathetic.
“When I heard your name, I feared the worst. I thought you’d be some — breeches-wearing, cigar champing harridan, with a brace of pistols and perhaps a bomb in her clothes, grubbing for some social scandals. Now, I see you as who you are: you’ve traveled a bit, read a little, and enjoy being entertaining. I can’t see much depth in all this — you’re more than moderately bright, I gather, but not much more than that — but you’re not the kind to want to stir up trouble.” 
 She stood up abruptly and walked to the window, where several boxes of colored fungus gamely sent up fruiting bodies. “I can only tender one piece of advice — be careful. I’m sure your furry companion would agree…don’t look shocked, I know she can understand every word we’ve just said. You came from America, and that is a young country. This is Britain, and moreover this is the Neath. It’s easy to find yourself dealing with matters far beyond your grasp. In my day, a lady’s name appeared only three times in the papers — when she was born, when she married, and when she died. I realize times have changed, but one thing is still true. Smiling and nodding, and not asking too many questions is the safest road to travel.” 
Her face softened. “That said, I think I owe you a favor. Very well, I’ll mention you favorably to some friends. You might be a refreshing new face at parties.”

edited by Alissa Mower Clough on 10/27/2018