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The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 3, Scene 2


With gentle admonishments from William, the workmen carried Ignatius up the entranceway’s steps on the litter. Over the granite porch they carried him into the foyer of his home. On either side of the room curved staircases ascended to the second floor. The left side staircase was notably different for it had a pair of rails mounted to the steps and halfway up the railing had a three foot section that did not quite match.

The litter bearers angled to the right and mounted those steps. William and James Lee followed behind leaving Selena and Kevin in the foyer. At the top of the stairs hallways led north and south. The workers carried Ignatius north toward his private suite while William took James south to the guest rooms.

“Should you require anything your room has a call box to summon a member of the house staff. Someone is available at all times.”

“Thank you William.” said James. He peered around the room. Light brown carpeting and wallpaper complimented darker woods that made up the wardrobe and large four post bed.

“I will be checking in on Mr. St. Eligius before retiring for the evening. Is there anything I can assist you with before I say ‘Good Evening’?”

“No, thank you William. I am just going to settle in and get some shut eye.”

“Very well. Breakfast will be served at eight in the dining room,” said William. He backed out of the room and closed the door softly. Retracing his steps back to the landing by the stairs William pondered what sort of situation his employer might be embroiled in. Arriving at Ignatius’s room, William rapped on the door.

“Come in,” said Ignatius.

William entered the suite walked through the sitting area into the master bedroom. Ignatius was sitting in a cushioned chair opposite the bed, next to his chest of drawers. With his eyes closed he absent-mindedly rubbed his left hip.

“Sir? May I again offer my sincerest ‘Welcome home’. Do you require anything before I retire tonight?”

“Billy. I cannot begin to tell you how surreal this feels.”

“I am unable to fathom what you must be experiencing sir.”

“Are the Bio-Mechanical Prosthetic Frames still functioning?”

“Sir, I can only guess. I maintained them as directed. I made sure to oil the leather along with all of the moving parts. The interface wiring cleaned with a dry cloth. They are stowed in the cedar chest here at the foot of your bed,” said William gesturing to a wood and iron bound trunk. He produced a key which hung on a lanyard around his neck. He carefully took it off and handed to Ignatius.

“There are several artifacts in there in addition to your braces. The walking canes…” William said, but Ignatius cut him off with a raised hand.

“Say no more. I fear my own walls have ears now.”

William nodded in agreement. Ignatius looked around his room. The bed was tidy, the wardrobe and bureau dust free. The gas lamps lit every corner equally.

“Billy,” said Ignatius in a soft voice, “bring my private chair please, and some water to drink. Then draw a bath for me. After that you may go. In the morning please burn this…” said Ignatius plucking at his patient’s uniform.

“Yes sir.” William retraced his steps to the landing and opened a discreet panel to reveal a small storage space. From it he drew a refined wheelchair. He rolled it into Ignatius’s room and parked it next to the chair. In short order he had a bath started and a glass of water presented.

“Thanks Billy. I do not know how either Wyndfast or I would manage without you.”

“You are most kind. I shall withdraw now. Should you need anything sir, please do not hesitate to call on me.”

“Billy?”

“Sir?”

“You asked about what sort of affair I am mixed up in. Suffice it to say that I cannot speak of it. However, it may make a certain amount of sense to prepare a few articles should a hasty departure be in order.”

“Very good sir. I will see to it. Have a pleasant night.”

“I shall try.”

The butler left the room on silent feet, gently shutting the door behind him. Ignatius contemplated the wheelchair for a moment. Then he brought it closer heaving himself out of the chair using his arms, pivoting midway through the motion. He landed squarely in the seat thankful that he spent time after lights out working on his upper body strength. Running his hands over his legs Ignatius considered the possibility that too much time passed since his last use of the braces even with their bio-mechanical interface. With luck the frames would support him and rehabilitate the muscles over time.

Deftly he maneuvered across the room to the pair of French doors. Opening them allowed the sensations of the outdoors inside. A few insects buzzed in the air while the smell of mown grass from the lawn and smoke from the factories wafted in. He could hear the deep throbbing rhythm of the iron works that abutted his property. Overhead a steady chugging sound from an airship told him that Forster Island was still just as busy as always.

It was then that the thought, the one he tried to avoid, entered his mind and sat expectantly. Frowning to himself Ignatius wheeled over to his callbox and pressed the button for his butler. Waiting during the intervening minutes felt hellish on a different level than his recent experiences in the hospital. A soft knock at his door announced the arrival of William.

“Did you forget something sir?” William asked.

Ignatius picked at the armrest of his chair for a moment. “Have you heard from her?” he asked. A glum and dour expression crossed Ignatius’s face.

“Not a single word since your trial. This arrived in the post three months after your incarceration started,” said William. Out of his vest he extracted a water-stained and crinkled envelope. Across the front in a neat script was Wyndfast’s address. It bore Ignatius’s name.

“I kept it close at hand. I would have given it to you directly except I wanted to see how you were settling back in.”

“Are you handling me, William? ” said Ignatius.

“Yes sir. Someone must do so.” William offered the envelope to Ignatius.

“Thank you. You may go now. I will not bother you again.”

“No bother at all, sir. You have a pleasant rest,” said William.

He left the room again with the quiet butler’s way.

Ignatius turned the letter over in his hands. Post marks from several South and Central American countries whispered hints of faraway lands and secrets buried in steamy jungles. As ever he questioned the allure of such places over that of metropolitan centers. Ruefully he had to admit that even the cities could be hellishly dangerous. Sometimes even the rule of law was crueler than the law of the jungle. An animal would kill outright. Man imposed torturous sentences which eventually broke a person into tiny shards of themselves and may never kill them directly.

Ignatius trundled over to his small correspondence desk and took up the letter opener. He slit the brown envelope across the top leaving the wax seal intact. Pressed deep into the wax fastening was a flourished letter ‘B’. His fingers shook while he took out the letter and unfolded it. The same neat handwriting from the envelope continued inside to the note.

Dearest Ignatius.

I am hoping that this letter finds you well. I pray that you have reflected on the words of our last conversation and given them appropriate weight. As discussed I could not sit idle waiting for your return. For now I have returned to the jungles in the Amazon region.

I will try to find some quantum of solace in my research. You should know that I have setup a kind of reading room or library if you will, on Boas street. You know the one named for my father. All of our combined research is collected therein and at your disposal.

I am confident that our story is not necessarily at an end, unless perhaps your feelings have changed since our last meeting. There is growth necessary on both of our parts that will keep a gulf between us until it can bring us together.

I will pray for our safekeeping and eventual reunion. I will also remember to pray for your struggle against that unnamed addiction, since that is a far greater deterrent to any kind of union between us than anything else.

With tender regards,

Angela.

With care Ignatius folded the letter and tucked it back inside the envelope before laying it upon his desk. Shifting his wheels a bit he rolled over to the chest and unbuckled the fastenings. Raising the lid revealed all manner of odds and ends. Topmost of the items were the Bio-Mechanical Prosthetic Frames.

They consisted of a pair of shaped metal cages that fit around each leg. Above the thigh were connecting joints and a waist belt to fasten it to the wearer. Cables ran up and down the device attached to small pulleys. Each wire connected to a joint or hinge. The broad leather strap was where the cables terminated except for six wires with plug ends capping them.

Three suits were attached to the lid of the chest by belt straps; cleaned, pressed and ready to wear. Two were black the other gray. Smiling fondly Ignatius lifted a walking cane out of the trunk. Topping it was a multifaceted sphere of metal. The shaft was ebony wood twice as thick as a man’s thumb. Several bands of silver wrapped the stick and they were engraved with symbols of Scottish origin.

He swept the room with his gaze, touched the top of the cane to his cheekbone, and slumped down in the wheelchair thinking for a moment. Reality settled in over him and pressed down until he wept with great racking sobs. Eventually exhaustion overtook him, the crying slowed to a stop and he managed to pull himself out of the chair and onto the bed. Sleep came for him at that point, fading everything else away. The bath, drawn, cooled unnoticed as a gentle snore drifted across the room.

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