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The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 5, Scene 1


The wheels of the carriage spun. Whirring noises came from the wood spokes as they cut the wind. Ignatius pondered the glass fragments. They obviously contained something at one point, a liquid substance perhaps. He would have to run tests in his workshop laboratory in order to see what the fluid was. The delivery method was a whole other issue.

“Jimmy any thoughts on the site, and what may have caused the structure to cave-in?”

“I couldn’t say. I don’t know much about metal.” said James Lee.

“Is that not detrimental to performing your job?” asked Ignatius.

“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage sir, my true talents lie elsewhere. What can you tell me about Mr. Stanneroy?”

“Lucius? Well, he made a lot of money in clothing. His whole family did. They had a number of factories down south. North Carolina if I am not mistaken. When the war broke out, they closed up the textile business and reopened here in Harrisburg manufacturing armor, train wheels and the like. I believe one building may have made uniforms for the Union. I am not sure since by then I was out of town.”

“Mr. Stanneroy seems comfortable in his life’s choices,” said James Lee.

“He is. I think that is another reason he chose to settle here. The atmosphere is much more tolerant of those who value refinement, thinking and acceptance.”

James Lee lapsed into silence. They finished the trip back to Wyndfast with the quiet unbroken. The carriage rolled up to the front door. A footman opened the door. James Lee rose to leave the coach.

“Are you not coming, Ignatius?” he asked.

“No. I am going over to my workshop to examine these findings. If you need anything, summon Billy.”

The young man sat back down with a mirthless grin on his face.

“I think I will accompany you to the workshop. I would be neglectful if I did not check over the equipment in your laboratory.”

“I would not wish to inconvenience you,” said Ignatius.

“You will not,” James Lee answered. His tone was curt.

Ignatius shrugged and called out of the window, “To the workshop Myron.”

With a jerk, the carriage started out again. In a minute, it had skirted around the mansion’s south wing and followed a single lane track toward the river. The workshop abutted the house. It was a single story affair with an enclosed walkway connecting it to the main house. Ignatius led the way to the main entrance. Using a large brass key, he unlocked the door and threw it open. A blast of cold, musty air billowed out. Dust and cobwebs drifted past. Brushing his face to remove the gossamer threads Ignatius entered his private workspace.

The laboratory stretched forty feet toward the river and twenty feet wide. Three main divisions of the room were clear to see: A foundry, a laboratory and a general tinkering setup. Ignatius moved across to the opposite wall where the door to the mansion stood. A large oak roll top desk sat next to it. Taking the work area in with a morose expression Ignatius traced a line through a layer of dust with his finger. The shelves were chaotic affairs with hardly anything standing on them. Broken glass, lab equipment and tools collected dirty jackets of grime their own where they lay.

“Well, it looks like the police gave this place a thorough tossing over,” said Ignatius.

“Will you be able to do any work in here?” asked James Lee.

“Some. I will have to have everything cleared and a variety of items restocked.” Ignatius held up his hand, “before you even begin Jimmy, I know, nothing dangerous or unapproved. You ought to go through to the house and start getting ready for Lucius’s affair whilst I work out what I need. I will give you the list before we leave.”

Ignatius pressed the button for William on his desk call box. He was pleased that it still worked.

“BILLY!” he shouted. “Come to the workshop with Kevin. Bring some cleaning supplies and the transom rods so we can ventilate the place.”

“Right away sir,” William replied, his voice sounding tinny echoing out of the speaker grille.

“All right Ignatius. I’ll head in to change. Do you need anything before I go?”

“No thank you. I must take inventory and see what forensic supplies managed to survive the police, so if you do not mind…”

“Until later then,” said James Lee turning the door handle and exiting the room.

He must have come across William and Kevin. Their voices mingled in the covered walkway since James Lee had left the door open. The pair entered a moment later. The lad carried a pail and several brooms and mops over his shoulder. William held drop cloths and rags in one hand. In the other was a long thin rod used to open the transom windows that made a patchwork of the roof. As the two men went to work, Ignatius dusted off his desk and sat down.

Across the blotter, he spread the glass fragments, cog and handkerchief. Ignatius reached into the middle left-hand drawer without looking up and felt inside of it for his magnifying glass. His hand encountered nothing.

“Billy do you see a magnifying glass anywhere?” he said.

The butler scoured several cabinets and shelves but found nothing.

“No sir. Kevin is there anything on your side?”

Kevin rooted through several piles of debris.

“Erm, yes!” Kevin said.

Excited he walked over to Ignatius and handed his employer a sizable glass. It was unfortunate that there was a spidery crack down the center of the lens, but it would suffice.

“Thank you young man,” said Ignatius.

He turned his attention to the blotter in front of him. Peering through the glass at the cog Ignatius took note of some faint corrosion around the hub of the cog. There was also some residue smeared around the spokes.

 

“Billy make a list and put a microscope on top. Add a full chemistry set, laboratory utensils, a scale, thirteen syringes and a pony.”

“Sir? A pony? Whatever for?” asked William.

“Children love ponies Billy, everyone knows that.” Ignatius said.

William heaved a sigh. “Very well. Will there be anything else?”

“Take the list to Jimmy and lay out my formal suit. And rather a splendid cravat if you please. I think Lucius is looking for a show tonight.”

“Won’t there be a bunch of rich hoi-poloi there?” said Kevin.

“Assuredly so. Why?” asked Ignatius.

 “How are they gonna feel iff’n they see you a convicted criminal?”

“Well I am certain that charm and breeding will carry me so far. The rest of the way will be simple greed. They will either want to get a chance to suckle at the monetary teat of my holdings or to hear the torrid tales of my incarceration.  They will overlook the more egregious details since it did not directly affect them.”

Ignatius smiled wolfishly. He rose nodding to Kevin, “keep up the good work young man. I expect to see counter top when I return.”

“Oh, yes sir!” answered Kevin scrubbing harder at the table.

Ignatius left the laboratory and walked down the cool, dim corridor to the house. This back entrance brought him straight into the kitchen. Selena sat on a stool next to the preparation area in the butler’s pantry. She was dabbing at her eyes with a bit of cloth. When she heard the scrape of Ignatius’s shoe, she glanced up and blushed. Selena jumped up off the stool and tucked her soggy handkerchief into her apron’s pocket.

“Oh! Forgive me sir,” she said.

Ignatius held up a restraining hand, “No need to apologize Selena. I did not mean to intrude on your personal moment. Is everything all right?” he inquired.

“Yes sir…Well no sir, not really. It’s just that I got some bad news,” Selena said. Her eyes were red and puffy. Ignatius put a consoling hand on her shoulder. Selena trembled under his cool touch.

“Can you tell me what the matter is?”

“No I cannot. It is not for you to bother yourself with my problems. I need some time away Mr. St. Eligius to take care of the issue.”

“I see. Well, you find Billy and tell him to make do without for for as long as you need. And he is to see me if there is a problem.”

“I will sir, thank you sir,” Selena said. She bobbed a little curtsey, unusual in and of its self, and hurried out of the kitchen.

Ignatius continued on his way to his rooms. Arriving at the top of the stairs, he paused breathing heavily. His legs complained more with each passing step. Halfway staggering he made it into his room. Standing in front of the full-length mirror, he removed his jacket and shirt. The wide bracing strap encircled his torso and several black wires snaked from it around to his back. With great care, he removed three plugs from his spine on the left, and another three from the right.

Like a puppet with its strings cut he collapsed into the waiting chair. William quietly entered the suite gliding on silent feet. He offered Ignatius a cordial that the investigator sipped.

“Thank you Billy, I needed that.”

“How are you managing in the braces sir?”

“It is like I have not had them on for three years. I am not sure how I will endure Lucius Stanneroy’s party.”

“With all the grace of good breeding, sir.”

“Perhaps. Would you help me dress?” asked Ignatius.

“Of course. Do you have any further instructions for this evening?” said William as he brought over the suit pants for Ignatius’s eveningwear.

“Nothing that I can think of right now. Two things for your to-do list. First see about procuring one of those automatons like the Mayor’s office has. Or better still; find out if there are newer models.”

“Very good. What else?”

“I told Selena that she may take any time she needs away from Wyndfast, I hope that does not disrupt the household too much.”

“Not at all sir, Kevin is fairly adept at watering and dusting. Though I think he does not like the skirt and ruffles.” William deftly removed Ignatius’s pants and held out the fresh evening ones.

“Billy, is that a joke?” asked Ignatius.

“Yes, I believe it is, sir” said the butler without blinking.

Ignatius chuckled and pulled the pants up around the frames. William maneuvered behind the chair and cleaned each plug with a dry cloth. With care he reinserted each wire into a receptacle. A barely perceptible hum came from Ignatius’s spine. William only heard it because of his proximity. Rising out of the chair Ignatius finished dressing.

“Well, must not tarry. I would hate to keep the well-heeled waiting.”

Taking a top hat and his walking cane from William, Ignatius lumbered out of his bedroom clanking with every step. He met James Lee in the foyer and together the two men strolled out through the entrance. Luminescent lamps hung from the carriage glowing with soft yellow light. Within moments, both men were aboard and Ignatius rapped his cane against the roof three times. The driver shook the reins and they set off down the drive.

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