A Walk With Drake
From the Westminster Bridge Telegraph Office, dated September 20th, 1867, 9:30 A.M.:
MR. DRAKE: AM IN LONDON. SEEK CONSULT. MEET ME? THE ALBERT ON VICTORIA ST. 11:00 A.M. PLEASE REPLY.—J.
The boy from the telegraph office held the pencil ready for the reply form as the gentleman accepted the telegram and read it.
Ezekiel folded the telegram and put it in his left coat pocket and turned to the patient young lad waiting for his response. "Please respond with: Of course. 11 am. -E." He then tipped the boy with a shilling before sending him on his way.
He knew the Albert Pub. Despite only having been in place for 3 years, it had already gained a reputation for excellent food and service, with an atmosphere well suited for small group planning, which is why many of his Chartist friends chose it as a meeting place.
SEEK CONSULT - an interesting message. While Ezekiel was certainly happy to provide help to his adventuring companion, he was not completely certain what he could be consulted on. History of religious artifacts didn't seem as if it would be on Josephine's mind and The Albert was not really the place to discuss swordplay. No matter. He would help in whatever way he could. And besides, he found himself at odds being alone again. With his upcoming wedding, he did not want to rock the boat by getting back into the day to day operations of the Chartists. For the Colonel's sake, of course. He was also beginning to think politics were not the direction in which to seek.
But that left him with his trustee duties, which were nice, but felt somewhat dull considering his recent adventures. A chance to talk to a friend was welcome, no matter what the reason. He had Barrymore hail a cab. While there was still an hour until their meeting, an early arrival would allow him an opportunity to get a drink. And, he thought, a chance to contemplate how his marriage would change his quest. For the better, he hoped.
Josephine read Ezekiel’s reply and shook her head, indicating she did not have a response. Taking herself out of the telegraph office, she walked past the Houses of Parliament for Westminster Abbey at the rear, and thence to Victoria Street. Westminster Abbey loomed over her and despite the sun she shivered. It had not been too long ago that she and the others had battled Rembecki on its tower. She wondered if the Abbey had been successfully cleansed and re-consecrated in the wake of the human sacrifices Rembecki had committed on its holy ground. She did not linger but walked on.
At Victoria Street she turned southwest, traveling the diagonal toward Buckingham Row. The morning was well advanced and the road was clogged with drays and wagons, carriages and cabs. Likewise the pavement was crowded with pedestrians and vendors, urchins and street sweepers; the latter two moved briskly clearing the refuse from London’s vast number of horses from the cobbles. In the heat of August, the stench from the freshly deposited manure and the dust from the dried rose chokingly thick. In the more moderate temperatures of autumn, however, both were less noticeable and the walk was pleasant.
Eyeing the people on the street, Josephine was glad to see she’d judged the neighborhood correctly: working class but of such means as not to be marked as poor. Her walking dress of black cotton-silk had the right amount of bulk to the bustle and the collar was properly high. The reversible panels in skirt and bodice, lined in dark buff chintz sprigged with red and pink roses, were not too gaudy for the hour or the location. Her bonnet was black and tied under her chin with dark blue velvet ribbon and the pinchbeck gryphon brooch she wore at her throat gleamed behind the ribbon bow. Pinchbeck and blue glass drops dangled from her ears and her black kid gloves were wrist length. She could have been a governess on holiday, solid respectable working class, feminine and unassuming.
But she knew appearances could be deceiving and should any ruffian attempt to relieve her of her coin, they would swiftly find themselves confronted with the pistol she wore beneath her polonaise and the knife she concealed under her bustle. Josephine had a wicked sharp hatpin to bring to her defense as well, but always her best weapon was to keep her wits about her, her head high, and her gait assured.
Stay alert. Walk with purpose. Blend in, Jo, whispered her father from memory and she blessed him for his tutelage as she turned off Victoria Street for the pub. It stood half a block away, where Brewer’s Green met Buckingham Row at a sharp angle. The door to the pub welcomed patrons at the point of the triangular building thus formed and the flowers in the pots and window boxes lent it a gay face amongst the drab brick facades of the street. She crossed the threshold and stepped aside, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dimmer interior. Josephine pulled her watch and checked the time. 10:15 A.M. More than enough time to settle herself with a pot of tea and her notes at a discreet table, there to wait for Ezekiel to arrive. She sat at a leather banquette that afforded her a view of both the street and the entrance and ordered her tea.
Ezekiel tipped the driver as he stepped out of the cab. When he pulled his father's watch from his pocket, he noted the time. 10:30. A half hour early. Good.
Being early, he was slightly surprised when he entered the pub and looking around, saw Josephine at a table, but he should have expected that he would not arrive before Josephine. She was thorough and always ahead of what was going on. So, well aware she had already seen him coming in, he moved to her table, where she was engrossed in her notes and gave a slight bow. "Josephine? I know I am early. Do you wish me to come back in thirty minutes?"
She’d noticed him walk in and her heart warmed at the sight of him standing there properly attired for Town: frock- and waist-coated, gloved with cane and tall hat. Her intense infatuation had faded over the intervening weeks as she’d hoped but it had not loosened its grip on her emotions completely. For a brief instant as he strode confidently forward, she saw him not as he currently was but as he’d been beneath the chapel on Lake Bled—sword in hand, blooded in battle, overpoweringly male. She took in a steadying breath against the quiver in her belly and gathered her notes into a tidy stack. When he reached her table and doffed his hat, she had herself in hand again.
“Now that you’re here, Mr. Drake, do please join me.” Josephine indicated the chair opposite, glad her voice and gaze did not waver. “Won’t you sit down?”
He nodded and sat down across from Josephine, placing his hat and cane down beside him. She had thoughtfully already provided him with a cup. He poured himself some tea and took a long sip. Refreshing. It almost seemed out of place having a calm, uneventful tea with one of his adventuring companions. Unusual circumstances had been so common that Ezekiel almost didn't know how to handle a normal situation such as this.
"Your trip was well and productive, I hope?" he asked.
“Yes, it was,” Josephine said, picking up her tea and sipping it in turn. “In fact, it is about the results of my side trip that I begged our consult today. I am ... not entirely sure how to explain it.” She glanced down at her neat stack of notes, her thoughts racing. She’d dashed off several pages of speculative notes but none of them gave her any guidance as to what to say. “It requires some background first and as I am unable to anticipate where your experience might overlap mine, I am afraid I shall have to start at the very beginning so as not to omit any detail that might be important. And I confess this account is one I would feel more comfortable delivering while I am on the move. If it would not be an imposition on your time, would you care to wait half an hour before we walk this city and I explain what I am looking for?”
Looking for. The layers of meaning in those two words were many and Josephine did not want to expose them. She hoped Ezekiel would be intelligent enough to understand it in the context it was offered and not read anything more into it, but he had a way of looking at people and things that cut to the heart of the matter. And right now her heart was not itself. Not entirely.
Treat it as a cold case. Maintain a distance. Just stick to the facts and what you know.
“Have you eaten, Mr. Drake?” she asked.
"I must admit that I have not. I would be glad to order something for us." His curiosity had been piqued, he admitted. But he wished to let her guide how the information flowed. So they would have lunch and then they could walk and discuss. She seemed slightly off kilter to his eyes, as if bothered by something. Hopefully he could help.
“Yes, please. I spied this establishment on my way to my debriefing but had not set foot in it until today.” She’d arrived at Victoria Station and had walked the distance to the Diogenes Club around the corner from the Foreign Office. She’d come off the train after spending a night making up for a delay on the Alsatian border, having zipped through Paris at breakneck speed. She’d been hungry and thirsty but had walked on. The Colonel had had the foresight to have coffee and sandwiches waiting for her and thanks to them she’d gotten through the debriefing, but she’d remembered how wonderful the aroma of lamb wafting from the pub had been and her mouth watered now at the memory. Aware that the conversation was flagging in the face of her reverie, she brought herself back to the present and asked, “You seem accustomed to this place. Have you eaten here before?”
"I have, several times. Some of my companions who are of an egalitarian bent tend to gather here upon occasion." The good Peter Wilson was very fond of the bangers and mash here and whenever an opportunity arose, the little portly man threw it in as a suggestion.
"What can I order for you?" He smiled and took another sip of tea.
“The lamb, if they have it,” Josephine said before she could stop herself. “It really did smell quite heavenly when I had to walk past it the morning I arrived. My train had been delayed on the border and I had no time to stop before my appointment with Colonel Fleming.”
Ezekiel called a waiter over and ordered the lamb for Josephine and a simple ham sandwich for himself. The food came remarkably quickly, but the service had always been excellent. The sandwich was made on rye and with fresh lettuce. He devoured it perhaps a bit too quickly, but Josephine was also making quick work of the lamb. All the better to find out what Josephine had on her mind.
Food, Josephine reflected, would become an obsession if she weren’t careful. Years of traveling on the road had made her somewhat unhabituated to it. She’d eaten an amazing variety of things under an amazing array of conditions and company without flinch or dither, but it had never been of sufficient quantity or freshness to allow her to view it as anything but fuel. But since she’d found herself in Katherine’s and Ezekiel’s company, with funds at her disposal courtesy of the Crown and then of her own legal efforts, it had become increasingly difficult view food as anything but a new-found pleasure, an extravagant indulgence. The trip to the Continent with the restaurants of Paris and Munchen and Salzburg had quite awakened her appetite for such things and she took pains to enjoy it judiciously.
The lamb had been roasted on the spit and had that delicate crust that promised juicy goodness within. As she found out with her first bite. It was all she could do not to close her eyes and sigh her contentment when it hit her tongue. Aware of the company she kept, she maintained a pleasant expression and ate quickly and neatly, cleaning her plate of the peas and the potatoes and mopping the last drop of juice with her roll. A draught of tea from her cup washed it down and she patted her lips with her napkin.
“That was lovely, thank you.” Josephine took up the teapot and lifted a brow in query. “A cup before we go?”
He held out his cup and let her fill it, taking a sip of the warm, soothing tea as she filled her own cup. "So where do you intend to walk us to, Mademoiselle Arceneaux?"
“I am not sure. Perhaps to Covent Garden? I understand there are many sights to see between it and the Palace.” She poured herself the last of the tea and sipped it, despite its bitterness. “The Mall. Trafalgar Square. The Strand.”
"I misunderstood earlier and I apologize. I had thought you had a specific destination in mind." But it was now clear she had just wanted to walk anywhere and let the walk serve as the backdrop to her conversation.
“Please, you needn’t apologize. One can hardly fault you for misunderstanding, especially when I am having difficulty understanding how to proceed.” Josephine ceased protesting and sipped her tea again. There was, she knew, a point past which polite protest took on the color of insult and insult was not her intention here. She drained her cup of the dregs and gathered her notes, giving Ezekiel time to finish his tea or ignore it for their departure as he chose. She made her notebook and pencil disappear on her person and she reminded herself to look for a suitable muff once the weather turned cold enough to allow it. She settled in her seat and waited, using the time to observe the comings and goings of the main room.
He slowly sipped his tea and then, smiling, sat the cup back down on the table half full. He shook his head slightly in amusement at his own impatience. "My curiosity has hold of me, Mademoiselle. If you do not mind, I would be happy to start our walk so that we might satisfy that curiosity. It is, after all, a ravenous beast once awoken from its slumber."
“By all means,” Josephine said. “There is little gained in teasing a beast when it is better served to satisfy it.” She checked herself from bonnet to boots and found everything in order. Aware of the conventions she must observe as a woman in the company of a man, she waited for Ezekiel to offer her a hand up even though she would rather have risen to her feet and walked under her own power for the door. But if a woman must be decorative, then a man must be helpful. Why deprive him an opportunity to be a gentleman, came the thought unbidden. Josephine knew that Ezekiel would not think any less of her for accepting his arm, even though she wondered how his Chartist beliefs viewed the gallant gesture. Speculation occupied her all the way to the street outside where Ezekiel paused, the question in his expression clear.
“This way,” she said, nodding up Buckingham Row for the Mall. Her dress rustled as she turned her steps for it but was glad it did not drag upon the pavement. It was, after all, a walking dress and not a ball gown. The heat of the day was building toward noon and the breeze off the river did not reach this far into the City. Even so, the temperature was pleasant for walking and Josephine let Ezekiel set the pace once she’d determined their heading.
“I am not certain how much you have been able to glean of my family background during our travels with William and his troupe, but I must assume you’ve discerned that mine was not, nor is not, a traditional upbringing. Am I right?”
Ezekiel nodded. "I had gathered as much from conversations and observations, but I am also not concerned with traditional. Much to the contrary, as you are certainly aware." His cane tapped against the street in a regular beat as he walked, clack...clack...clack. It provided a pleasant rhythm for their strolling conversation.
“Yes, of course. I did not intend to suggest you are unobservant or dense,” Josephine said to the general air, momentarily embarrassed. “I merely wanted to say that my account may be as unconventional as myself and I beg your patience. So …” Josephine took a deep breath and turned right onto the main thoroughfare for the Mall.
“To begin, I am the daughter and only child of Jonathan Randolph Crane, of Birmingham, England, and of Sophie Desirée Arceneaux, of Strasbourg, France. My father is … was … a scholar of Old German languages and history and it was a bone of contention with his family. He was a third son and therefore not entirely necessary to continue the line, but they have a prosperous furniture business and since he was the first of the family to attend college, it was hoped that when he left to study in London, he would make something of himself to benefit their industry. A barrister, perhaps. Instead they were disappointed with his choice of academics and when he took himself off to Oxford to pursue a professorship in it, it was the beginning of the end of his relationship with them. He went home to his family on holidays when he didn’t avoid them by going abroad, and he never lingered longer than what convention strictly demanded. When he went to the Continent several years later to take up a position at the University of Strasbourg, family ties became even more strained, so that by the time he married my mother and I was born two years later, they had all but ceased to communicate. So, you see, my father had very little connection outside his love of his work than my mother and I and as a result, he lavished his time and attention on us to a degree that I am certain others would simply find distasteful, perhaps even alarming. As his daughter and direct beneficiary of his devotion I only knew that I loved him with all my heart and it was only later when I was better able to compare my life to others that I realized how extraordinary my father really was. And it wasn’t too long after that when I discovered that underneath his scholar’s tweeds lay the heart of a patriot and in his head a mind like a steel trap for details. I am but a poor echo of his talent, Ezekiel, and I cannot help but think that if I had had him with me for only a few years longer, I might have been able to do his efforts to my education and his hopes for my potential, proud.”
She paused at the corner of the busy thoroughfare, gazing across the way to the green sward of St. James’ Park without really seeing it.
“My mother was a tutor in Strasbourg as well as a teacher of young children at a school there. From her I learned my letters and my maths and from her I also learned my German. She may have been born on French soil but her mother tongue was Alsatian and as a result, I am the daughter of an Englishman and am a British subject who learned English as her third language, after German and French.” Josephine glanced at Ezekiel with wry amusement. “I am fortunate that my mother was as avid a reader of Shakespeare and Donne as my Father the Old Norse Eddas, else I am afraid I might have more difficulty making myself understood.”
An opening blossomed in the traffic and with her hand on Ezekiel’s arm, they crossed to the park. Once safe on the other side, Josephine turned eastward for the Palace.
“So, my days as a girl were breakfast with my family before Father left for the University and I spent my mornings with my mother at her pupils’ houses or at the school where she taught twice a week. At noon we would come home for luncheon and the afternoon would be spent with my mother at home, learning everything she could teach me. Father would come home for dinner and afterward he would take me with him on long walks—in part to give my mother a rest from my company and my endless questions and in part to tire me out sufficiently for my bedtime. But I also have come to believe that he wanted to impart to me everything he felt I would need to make my way in the world. He never mentioned it to me in any great detail but being cut off from his family hurt him deeply and it may have driven him to be extra careful of me and my mother. I may never know for certain, for I cannot ask him. I can only believe, as I did then, that he loved us and would move Heaven and Earth to keep us safe. And he did, although it was years before I would know it.
“To that end, he resolved to teach me everything he knew during our walks. And not just German fairy tales but history, music, cultures of the Continent. How to spot dishonesty in speakers, trickery in the market place, and sleight of hand in crowds. By degrees so small and yet inexorable, he began to teach me his secret trade as a spy for the Crown. Perhaps had my mother borne him a son, he would have left me entirely to her care but … he was an egalitarian sort with us, in contrast to the authoritarian upbringing he’d received from his own family and therefore I believe the outcome would have been the same—no child of his would go forth ignorant and helpless, regardless of gender. And he had the wisdom and the foresight to understand that the skills of a spy would be of great utility to anyone who must make their way in the world, as surely I must. My father could little hope to inherit his share of his birthright and his salary was not so large as to make saving for my future easy. And the flexibility of mind, of will, of skill, that a spy must master would confer upon their owner the wherewithal to meet life head on, overcome its obstacles, and succeed.”
Josephine looked up at Ezekiel and gave him a wan smile.
“I think he knew what was coming, though he and my mother never spoke of it in my hearing. My mother died when I was nine and my father packed up our household effects and took me with him back to England. We stayed briefly in London before taking up his old rooms in Oxford. As a bachelor, they had been more than suitable enough for a scholar’s life, but with a daughter and a governess hired to keep her… well, the situation was less than ideal. His family called on him once or twice, making their play to bring him back to their fold, under terms he refused to accept, for it meant giving up everything he’d worked for. And it was then that I finally realized, eavesdropping behind the door, that they did not know what he truly did. They believed him to be nothing but a dreamy eyed scholar of a guttural tongue and culture, that he would be better off going back with them to Birmingham to manage their factory and their labor disputes. He never disabused them of that notion and after a couple of rows, they left him to his grief and his books and me.
“He still loved me and he still took me on his walks. We learned the environs of Oxford, where before I had learned Strasbourg, and soon I was if not content—for I missed my mother terribly—I was comforted by the fact that my Father was still with me. He was my fixed star, my lodestone. He was everything. And as the year wore on, he began to grow … restless, I expect was the right word for it. He’d mourned enough. He needed challenging work to do. The Crown gave it to him. Our time together became shorter over the next five or so years, until we scheduled our hours together rather like bankers would their holidays. I was older then, and confident in my own company, and Oxford had much to keep me occupied. He would leave for a fortnight or a month or two, with the implicit acknowledgement between us that it was clandestine work that demanded his absence and until he returned I would perpetuate the fiction that he was abroad doing research or presenting his latest translation of an obscure passage of folklore. So I was not worried when he missed cabling me as we’d arranged ahead of time. And it was another week before I noticed I’d had no word.
“I shan’t drag this out. He’d gone missing. I resolved to find him. And so I did. I was seventeen and had already seen something of the Continent. I had my last cable from him as a starting point and I had the training he’d given me to facilitate my search. I finally caught him up outside Bavaria and when he realized I would not be browbeaten, cajoled, or bribed to return to Oxford, he decided instead to take me with him. And I got to see firsthand what he did for the Crown. And six weeks later, he put me in William’s care, bid me goodbye and rode off for the next leg of his assignment. It was October, 1856, and I never saw him again.”
Listening was something Ezekiel was quite good at, having had extensive practice at it throughout his life. So he said nary a word as they walked, allowing Josephine to tell him all about her childhood. At the core of it was her father, who had clearly been the defining force in her life. And to the better for it, Ezekiel thought.
As they approached the end of the park and Josephine reached the end of her story, Ezekiel bade her stop and turned to face her. "I would have enjoyed your father's company immensely, I believe. He seems to my mind, to have much in common with myself."
The Palace hove up on their left. At Ezekiel’s request, she stopped and at his words, she was struck by a singular thought: Is that similarity why I liked Ezekiel immediately? Is it possible that all this time I’ve been mooning over a surrogate father? It was an idea at once so repulsive and yet plausible she had to turn for the fence fronting the Palace and stare through its bars rather than risk Ezekiel divining her thoughts. She imagined their introduction, the nods and the handshake that would follow, imagined the talk afterward between the two men. Her consternation faded as she watched that meeting in her mind’s eye, picking out their differences, even as their similarities shone forth readily. Ezekiel was not her father, not in the ways that mattered, and her conscience—to say nothing of her sense of boundaries between the generations—settled again. She ran a gloved finger along the fence rail and looking over her shoulder, she said, “I believe you are right and I think he would have thought the same of you.”
She turned and followed the fence to its northeast corner, thinking how to repair the break in her statement Ezekiel’s comment had caused. Cut to the chase. He knows the bare bones of your years with William. No need to flesh them out.
“It’s been twelve years. More than enough time to declare him missing, presumed dead, and take up his assets as his heir. That is why I did not return to England with you and Katherine. I went to Nurnberg instead, to have Fraulein Von Dahlberg draw up the legal documents to that effect. I was able to arrange for an advance once I got back to London for living expenses and now I am not entirely certain what I wish to do with the assets I’ve gained, other than my wish do make something lasting of it. A legacy, if you will, in memory of my father.” She risked a glance at Ezekiel, curious as to his reaction. “I had thought perhaps to open a charity concern in a poorer section of London, to offer those in need an alternative to the workhouse. Father had always said that one of the greatest crimes routinely committed by man is a lack of expectation in another’s potential, a habitual dismissal of another’s ability to achieve success, simply because of established notions of proper station or gender. I would like to offer them an alternative to that. If all men and women could be given the opportunity to exercise their talents to the best of their ability without restrictions of class or expectation, the world would be a very different thing. Something better.”
Her heart was large, he thought. The money she had gained could not be a fraction of the wealth that he was about to come into, but yet she did not hesitate in giving to others less fortunate. Ezekiel smiled softly and nodded in agreement as Josephine continued on.
“ ‘Perhaps the Americans have the right idea, Jo’, my father would say to me. ‘It might prove a valuable example, if they can resolve the issue of slavery’. It was an idea he and I would often explore on our walks together and it is something I would like to implement, but the monies at my disposal are not large and I shall have to husband them carefully if I am to make them serve my plans.” She breathed a laugh and shook her head and looked at the gentleman at her side with a rueful expression, as the naiveté of it all finally sank in. “Such as they are. I am afraid my plans are nebulous at best and I had hoped to ask your advice how best to carry them out. Surely in your meetings with your egalitarian friends you’ve discussed the inequities in our social order and had devised methods to right them? Do you think that any of them would apply to what I intend to do?”
As she finished, Ezekiel was struck by how closely he and Josephine walked the same path. But while their goals were similar, their strategies and tactics were different. If they were in the military, he would be the soldier and she would be the commander. It made him uncertain as to how effective or useful his advice would be to the young woman with big plans, but she deserved nothing less than a thoughtful response.
"I could indeed introduce you to some of my Chartist friends. Gerald Hillsdown, in particular, is a good man who could assist you in setting up a charity. But I think you'll find that many of the Chartists are interested in making changes at the political level rather than at the level of a charity." He paused, mostly to allow her a moment to take that idea in before he continued.
"Without constant care, charities fall apart. If it were my money, I would hire someone to manage your finances properly and then I would use the money to go to even a more immediate level than a charity." Ezekiel looked around at the people walking around them, each their own self contained world, only briefly interacting with others before continuing on in their own orbit. "Change always starts with single individuals, in my mind. Charities must, by their very nature, contain bureaucracies and that naturally leads to corruption and waste. I feel your money and your soul would be better served to help one family at a time. Let God guide you to a single family. Help raise them to a place where they can live out of poverty, where their children will live a better life. And when they are in a stable place, find another family."
He turned to her and looked her directly in the eyes. "It is harder, more involved work than setting up a charity, to be sure. But I do not believe you to be a person to shy away from difficult tasks."
Josephine walked in silence, turning it over in her head. Certain puzzle pieces fell into place and others fell away. Her plans shifted with the data gained and she nodded. Face to face has always been your style, Jo. Exercise it. She gained the corner across from the National Gallery, the length of the Mall already behind them, and looked at her friend.
“Given the scope of my finances and expertise, the personal touch is the best, I think. As for your view on bureaucracies, sir, I am in wholehearted agreement and relieved to dispense with that necessary evil. Politics was never my strong suit and with bureaucracies one has nothing but. It is, after all, the foundation of bureaucracy and corruption. And lest we forget, greed. Politics aside, I shall have to take care to choose a family who can maintain their grip on the help I provide. I cannot afford to spend the funds on a family that would continually backslide, not if it meant depriving another family of its assistance who would benefit long term from it. Otherwise my efforts would cease to be of any lasting purpose and could possibly enable their destruction rather than avoid it. I shall do as you say,” she added, stopping on the pavement and putting a hand on Ezekiel’s arm. “I shall start small, with one family, and see where that leads. If you know of anyone who might be suitable or who could help me with this, I would be in your debt.”
He shook his head slightly. "I do not know of anyone, but even if I did, I would recommend you go your own way in this matter. This is your quest and only you and God can know what will satisfy the hunger and drive it creates." He smiled a little as he softly patted her hand. "Besides, I know first hand how a person's sense of accomplishment runs directly parallel with the amount of work that person puts in."
It was a hard path she was choosing to take. But Ezekiel had faith Josephine had the strength to traverse it. After all, he had already seen that strength in action in their mission to bring down Rembecki.
“True enough,” Josephine agreed. His hand was warm over hers, palpable even through the glove she wore, and she took a deep breath against the pull it had on her. “And I have an inkling where to begin. The parish of St. Giles, the Seven Dials. It’s not far from here.” It was, she knew from her study of the maps, a little north and east of Trafalgar Square where they currently stood. “Would you care to walk it with me?”
"Indeed, it will certainly be more interesting than an afternoon looking over the museum's finances." He motioned in front of him. "Shall we?"
“Let’s,” she said with a smile. “The day is still young.”
So they crossed the Square after properly admiring Nelson’s Column and its fountains, and trod up St. Martin’s Lane for Seven Dials. The surroundings grew steadily worse the farther they walked from the Mall until it quite fell into ruin by the time they’d crossed Long Acre for the famed intersection of the seven streets that gave the neighborhood its name. The poverty and misery were grinding here and the people on the streets were many, some of whom were not above to lifting a purse or two should the opportunity arise. Josephine and Ezekiel negotiated the slum carefully, dodging the garbage and dung, the pickpockets and prostitutes, all the way through to the less destitute neighborhood surrounding Covent Garden. No. 4 Bow Street was just around the corner—there lay the birthplace of London’s police force, cheek by jowl with a notorious breeding ground for future criminals. The only difference lay in the amount of coin each neighborhood possessed and it many cases, only a copper stood between one fate and the other. It was a paradox that simultaneously stunned and appalled Josephine, all the more wrenching for how easily one’s fortunes could change for better or worse. She bought a bunch of violets from a flower girl off the steps of the theatre and slipped an extra farthing into her basket for luck. The tightly wrapped pinch of flowers were fragrant tucked in the bonnet ribbon at her ear, but the stench of the slum remained strong in her memory and only bolstered her resolve to ameliorate it, one individual at a time. She glanced at the man at her side, wondering what he’d say of the plans that had come to her during their walk, even as she ran the figures necessary through her head. Would he be interested, she wondered Or would his new duties as husband and head of household preclude acting on that interest?
First present him with something to be interested in, Jo, whispered the more practical side of her head, and she listened to it. There would be time enough to show him later, she decided. She had a direction for her plans, now, and the finances to implement them. All she needed was a little time to set things in motion. By the New Year, should nothing take her away from London, she would have a better idea how things would stand. Then, she thought, she could show him. For now, she would continue as she had today—gather her facts and make her decisions based on what she’d found. But it was good to have a starting point and today was an excellent one, indeed.
So ran her thoughts as Ezekiel walked with her by degrees to the Thames and thence south again for Westminster Bridge, where they crossed the river into Lambeth and finally to her door.