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The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 3, Scene 1


The metal clad wheels of the carriage rattled over the loose gravel of the street. A retractable roof arched over Ignatius St. Eligius and his new companion James Lee Kranston. Outside shopkeepers were preparing to close up for the night. Ignatius stared out the window amazed by the transformed city. There was a mix of both new and old buildings. Some were familiar still, like the general store. There were plenty of others that were not.

How nice it would be to lie in his bed for once and not worry about sharing it with some crawling thing, or dressing in clean well made clothes.

“Looking forward to getting home Mr. St. Eligius?” asked the other passenger.

Ignatius regarded James Lee. The young man was average looking, not one to draw any great attention. He appeared well-muscled and capable looking. Yet there was something else about him, a gleam in his eyes of intelligence that did not match his vocation.

“Yes, I suppose I am. You may wish to call me by my first name, since we will be working together for the duration of this investigation.”

“I know you aren’t too appreciative of the situation, me being assigned to watch over you an’ all.” said James.

“Perceptive. I fail to see the need…” said Ignatius but James cut him off.

“The Mayor is concerned with how it might appear. Allowing a convicted murderer loose unsupervised on the streets of Harrisburg. He wishes this investigation to proceed quietly and quickly.”

“As you say, that is understandable. Why you though? The police in this city are exemplary.” said Ignatius

“An outsider was deemed best since there would be less chance of forgiveness or shall we say misguided loyalties? Remember you are free on condition. Any violations of such and I will gladly haul you back up the hill to the hospital and stick you in the deepest, darkest pit they have. In fact let’s run down the list again just to be sure you understand.”

“You are to be accessible to me or any officer of the law I designate should I be required elsewhere. You will not go about unescorted by either me or designated replacement. You may not have access to weapons, devices of an unknown nature or substances either legitimate or illicit. When we are at the scene of a crime you will defer to me at all times. The same goes whenever we are not within the boundaries of your property. Failing to comply with any of these rules will result in you going back to the hospital. Do we have an understanding?” said James Lee. His eyes reflected the last vestiges of the sun as it set.

“I think not.” said Ignatius. Pushing himself upright from the reclined position he had been resting in he said “You are laboring under the misapprehension that I will comply sponge-like with your demands. I will not!”

“To state my case simply: I will do what I have been assigned to with the least amount of fuss manageable. And I will do so within the constraints you have dictated whenever I feel inclined. For instance bearing arms and illicit substances are two items I intend on staying away from. I shall never pretend obsequiousness in public. The Mayor understands that my talents are unique and I am well suited to investigate these strange collapses. In addition to that he knows that in order to win the next election he cannot be the mayor of a city collapsing at random around him. He has put aside his personal distaste for me only because it is a means to an end. I do not labor under any other impression and neither should you.”

James regarded Ignatius with an unfathomable half smile on his face. Instead of replying James looked out the window at the passing shops.

Ignatius banged the side of the coach’s interior and yelled up to the driver: “Swing out to the river front and go south from there if you would please.”

Ignatius closed his eyes and leaned his head back feeling the sway of the carriage, smelling the air laden with the city’s scents. He was pleased beyond measure to be able to experience the sensations around him again instead of the gagging odors of the hospital disinfectant or the screams of the poor lost minds as they tried to cope with the iron bindings of reality.

The carriage turned right down Market Street bringing them out to the Susquehanna River. Ahead of them Market Street intersected with Front Street. If they continued in their present direction they would cross through the wooden covered bridge to Forster Island where the airship field was.

On the island crews called out to each other while preparing a pair of airships for departure. The north end of the island had a pair of berths on either side. Two more sat astride the island’s mid-section and there were three at the south end.

They turned left at the intersection and followed the river south along the park. The sun was just peeking over the trees of the western shore turning the skies orange and purple. To Ignatius the trees were a little bit taller and the grass a bit greener. Couples strolled through this mid-town portion of the park arm in arm and engaging in conversations with friends and colleagues they chanced to meet.

The carriage clattered on passing by the Shipoke section where a dip in the park near the train bridge gave Ignatius a slight chill. A few more minutes brought them outside of the city limits. A half dozen more brought them alongside a field stone fence that stood waist high. Approaching out of the half gloom of dusk a pair of gas lamps shone over the entrance to Ignatius’s home: Wyndfast. The coach negotiated the drive with the practiced ease of a man long used to driving such a vehicle.

“Your staff will likely be on hand to greet you. Baron Hirsch saw fit to dispatch a runner to notify them of your arrival.” James said breaking the reflective silence that had grown up between the two men.

“Where are you from?” asked Ignatius.

“Lots of different places,” said James.

“That must be it. I can usually pick out where someone is from by their speech. I have an ear for dialects and the like if you know what I mean.”

“Do you have a plan for how to proceed in our investigation?” James said.

“At the moment no, my only plan for now is to have a decent meal and retire for the evening. Tomorrow morning we shall visit the scene of the crime.”

“I expect that will have to do,” said James.

The carriage shuddered to a stop in front of the main house. The front porch stood atop six granite stairs and light poured out over the entrance way. Four thick columns supported the roof over the porch. A massive set of double doors formed the entrance to the house. Tonight they opened wide. The mansion gleamed with a fresh white coat of stucco and the hedges lined up in orderly fashion, no leaf out of place.

Presiding over the staircase William Ghendurwald stood up straight and tall. His butler’s outfit fit perfectly, free of any household detritus and his shoes shone in the lamplight. To his right stood the day maid and the kitchen boy, who by now was no longer that much of a boy.

When the carriage door opened to reveal Ignatius, Selena the maid beamed like a newly risen sun. She clasped her hands together and her eyes welled with tears. Kevin, the potentially former kitchen boy offered her a handkerchief. William came down the stairs wearing a neutral expression on his face.

He opened his mouth to greet his employer but clamped it when a jovial: “BILLY!” roared out of the carriage. “You are a sight for sore eyes old bean,” said Ignatius.

William winced internally. Ever since the first day of his employment with Mr. St. Eligius his name was always the informal and ungentlemanly-like: Billy. How William detested the sound of it. Still it was only one minor flaw in his employer’s long list of benevolent acts.

“Welcome home sir, we have been expecting you.” said William. A small chorus of echoing sentiment came from the top of the stairs.

“Billy old man, I hate to be a bother, but can you spare a leg or two?” asked Ignatius.

“I have anticipated your requirements sir. Here are your porters now.”

A pair of beefy men trotted up to the side of the carriage bearing a litter chair between them.

“Ah lovely, thank you Billy most thoughtful of you as usual. This,” Ignatius said waving a hand at James, “is Mr. Jimmy Lee Kranston of Here, There and Everywhere. He will need a room, see if you can fit him into the Taupe room on the west side.”

“Yes sir, very good,” said William.

“It’s James, actually,” said James.

“Not any more I am afraid.” William corrected the young man politely. The two workmen assisted Ignatius out of the carriage and into the litter’s seat.

“You know, I kind of wish I finished the counter balanced lift before I left. Still, no time for recriminations, onward men!” cried Ignatius joyfully.

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4 Comments
  1. As always another marvelous piece Steven..its such a pleasure reading your stories..absolutely love the way you work of each character
    I specially loved that you sketched the character of William disliking anyone using his shorter or informal name…To William Ghendurwald the butler who stood up straight and tall,outfit fit perfectly, free of any household detritus and shoes shining in the lamplight…took pride in his job and loved the formality which the job demanded and being called billy would be such an insult..
    marvelous Steven :)

    • Thanks! I am having a lot of fun writing and publishing this particular tale. As always your feedback is encouraging.

  2. Beloved permalink

    Hehehehe Poor ‘Billy.’ And good job with filling Iggy out a bit more. When the servants like the master, he’s usually a pretty good sort. They’re the ones who see you when you’re home without company. :D

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