Lady of Devices
Author:Shelley Adina

chapter 10

The great engine of the Flying Dutchman, capable of eighty-nine miles per hour and therefore making it the fastest train in the world, huffed out an enormous puff of steam at precisely nine o’clock and began to pull slowly away from platform number four at Paddington Station. Gorse tugged his cap from his head and waved it as Claire lifted a gloved hand. “Good-bye! Safe journey!”

Lady St. Ives, of course, did not lean out of the window, but Silvie did, her elegant black-gloved hands waving with such emphasis that Claire shot Gorse a sudden look of comprehension. “Gorse, is something going on between you and Silvie?”

“Was, miss.” He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing with sudden effort. “Not so sure about now, though.”

“Why on earth didn’t you say something? You could have gone down to St. Ives with them instead of the second footman.”

“They’re still driving carriages in St. Ives, miss. I’m much more likely to get a place here.” His gaze never left the train and the distant black flutter of Silvie’s glove. “I have an interview at Wellesley House this afternoon, as a matter of fact. Word is that his lordship is soon to be the owner of a four-piston laudau.”

“No! I don’t believe it. That family would never give up its horses.”

“Times change, miss, as we are living proof.” They stood upon the platform until the last of the Dutchman’s carriages disappeared around the bend. “Would you like to drive home, miss?”

“No, you may. Perhaps it will help take your mind off Silvie.”

“Not much possibility of that.” He guided her outside and waited until she had climbed into the landau, proud possessor of only two pistons. Two was all anything but a steambus needed. Four was ostentatious. How fast did Julia’s father’s driver propose to go? Or—yes, that was it—he obviously planned to enter the races at Wimbledon. She snorted, then resumed watching the road like a hawk on a fence post.

The truth was, after Mr. Arundel’s information on Wednesday, she looked at London with new eyes—eyes that saw the unrest, that found menace in a crowd surging to board a bus, that calculated distance now in terms of safety rather than convenience. She was no coward, but all the same, Claire was content to let Gorse navigate the turn into Park Lane and skirt the boundary of Hyde Park, where beyond the trees she could hear the roar of a crowd.

Gorse heard it, too, and applied a little more steam. “Let her stretch her legs a bit.”

“There must be a demonstration of some kind.”

“Likely the orator of the hour getting folk stirred up.”

“Yes, I’m sure that’s what it must be.”

Her breath did not come easily until they had turned into Wilton Crescent and hurried into the safety of their own mews. Once upstairs, Claire dragged the brass-studded trunk, which she had thus far resisted filling, out of the hall and into her room. A warm coat, trimmed in the latest Art Nouveau vinery. Three sensible dresses in dark colors, and five pretty embroidered white waists. Two walking skirts. Shoes. Unmentionables. Two practical hats and one utterly impractical one that she loved, with its flowers and plumes. Gloves.

She found herself packing the kind of wardrobe, in fact, that she might have begun a university career with. She left Madame du Barry’s evening gowns where they hung. The apple green had been burned days ago. Lady St. Ives had not permitted her to see her father’s body, but the memories of that night hung on the ballgown, as ugly and clinging as soot, and she never wanted to see it again.

She tipped up the false bottom of a small traveling case and laid her few pieces of jewelry inside, then covered it with handkerchiefs, her best set of tortoiseshell hair combs, and her Bible with a lock of her baby brother’s hair pressed between its pages. Last of all she put in Linnaeus’s Taxonomy of Elements , her engineering journal, and a set of pencils. If her new status as a career woman allowed her any spare time, she could continue her experiments and sketches in solitude.

Not that that would mean any great change.

The heavy weight of anxiety in her stomach eased a little now that she had done something constructive about the future. It was time to stop wallowing in her own fear and anger and behave as the young woman of substance that Mr. Arundel, at least, believed her to be. Her father may never have held that belief ... Claire swallowed as hot tears sprang to her eyes.

She blinked them back. Look where Papa’s beliefs had got him. She was not a fool. She had never hung her future on the traditions of the Bloods, but she had never done anything to prove that she was different, either. If she thought of herself as a Wit, now was the time to show it. She reached for the bell pull to ring for Penwith, and realized a moment later that of course he was no longer there. If she were to make her own way in the world, she must get used to doing even the smallest things herself.

The house seemed even more silent than usual with the absence of the servants. Most of them had gone to the employment agency with her ladyship’s departure. Aside from the ubiquitous mother’s helper scooting about in the hall, the only two left were Gorse and Mrs. Morven, the cook, whom she found in the pantry, counting jars of jam.

“Oh, hello, miss—er, my lady. I’m just making an inventory in the event the new owners take the place complete.”

“I won’t keep you, Mrs. Morven. Do you know what Penwith did with this morning’s Times before he left?”

“He always leaves it on the hall table, miss, in case your lady mother wants it. Of course, with him gone, if you want it, you just need to tell me.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Morven. The hall table is fine. I suppose I should look into canceling our subscription.”

“I’ll ask Gorse to do it. Ah ... miss? Lady Claire?” She turned at the door. “Me and Gorse—we were wondering ...”

“Mrs. Morven, times are changing. We must not be afraid to speak plainly to one other.”

The cook fiddled with her apron strings and adjusted the set of her pristine white cap. “We were wondering, miss, how you’d be set were we to take other positions before the end of the month.”

“Have you had an offer from Wellesley House too?” The bitterness rasped at her throat.

“Oh, no, miss. I can’t abide the nasty biddy they have as housekeeper there. A face like suet pudding and no salt, that one. But young Lord James Selwyn is setting up his own household and has advertised for a cook. It would be light work, seeing as he’s single, and I’m ready to tote a lighter load in my golden years.”

“Mrs. Morven, your golden years are a long way off yet. But it would be a change to look after a young man instead of all of us. I’m acquainted with Lord James, you know.” She paused. “He is a gentleman of humor and, um, wit.” And a bit of a cad, but Mrs. Morven would likely not be the target of that.

“Plus he’s offering to equal the wage his lordship—rest his soul—was paying me.”

Claire saw her chance to even the score. “Negotiate for more, Mrs. Morven. Another ten percent and he can have you by the end of next week.”

The cook’s flushed cheeks became positively apple-like as she smiled. “You’ll be all right, then, miss?”

“I’ll be perfectly all right. In fact, I hope to be gainfully employed by then, myself.”

“Beg pardon?”

“I’m not going down to Cornwall, Mrs. Morven. I’m going to get a job and go to work, and apply to begin at the university in the fall.”

“Are you, now, miss?” Mrs. Morven’s eyes widened.

“Yes, I am, despite what my mother says. I’m nearly eighteen and have nothing but a trunk full of clothes, a steam landau, and my brains to recommend me. So I and they are going to work. Which is why I need the Times . Would you be so kind as to give me some instruction on how one actually goes about answering an advertisement?”

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