Carriage Ride Conversation

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August 14, 1867, Wednesday
Carriage en route to Bow Street Magistrate's Court, London
2245 hrs

The four-wheeler rocked and bounced over the cobblestones toward its destination on Bow Street and as it progressed, its passengers talked. Katherine leaned forward, her spirits quite undampened by the circumstances, and asked her companions for their thoughts on the night’s events.

“So, my dear friends, where do you think that the Russian has gone with her captives? I am rabid to get to the task of finding them. That and she owes me a scientist and a carpet!”

“It was a very nice carpet, of course.” Ezekiel Drake quickly agreed. He sat opposite her in the cab and leaned forward in echo to the Lady, despite the disapproving expression of the woman’s butler, Beignet. “But the scientist is crucial. Queen and country rest upon us being able to find his captor and performing a daring rescue.”

“Mortimer is going to be key if we’re to keep England’s enemies in check.” Josephine Arceneaux stirred beside Drake, leaving off staring sightlessly out the window and focusing on the two who spoke. “We must find him and bring him home.”

“I follow your lead, madam. Where do you suggest we start?” Ezekiel asked. “My resources are at your disposal.”

Josephine blinked as if the offer caught her off guard and then she firmed her chin.

“She might be working for the Germans, but Rembecki might also be working for the Russian Crown. Or Bismark and Catherine might be in alliance and Rembecki is their agent.” Josephine frowned. “By her name alone I would believe the former, but it doesn’t disallow the latter.”

“The Russian Crown is involved, without a doubt,” Ezekiel said with utmost conviction. “I was provided with a vision. I saw the Czar's flag flying over England. Wouldn't that mean we're concerned with Russia not Bismarck?”

“Then your source is irreproachable, sir.” Josephine smiled a tight little smile, having been told already the originator of the Chartist’s flashes of prescience. “Would that I had such iron-clad intelligence on my side.”

He nodded a tight nod of acknowledgment. "My source, as you say, requires a commitment that most are unwilling to pay. And even then, it is I that am at His disposal, of course."

“Why our scientist?” Katherine wondered. “What do you suppose that Russia would want from him?”

"His invention," said Josephine, "As I understand it, it could transform the Russian fleet into a match for Her Majesty's Navy, as horrifying and unbelievable a thought as that is. Russia has no warm water port unless you count the Crimea. Steam power is the future and any innovation that makes harnessing steam safer and more efficient should be the goal of everyone. For a practically landlocked country as Russia to have that innovation first would upset the balance of power that holds England first and foremost among nations. Should she lose her position, she will suffer the consequences from her enemies. And she has them." Josephine leaned back in her carriage seat, wincing as her head met the bolster. "Empire-building is not a friendly or bloodless business and there are parties who are sharpening their knives and biding their time. I just hope that the bell has not yet begun to toll for Albion. I well and truly hope not."

The brunette’s fingers twitched and she fisted her hands to still them.

"The Crimea is still a battlefield,” Josephine continued. “That's the incentive behind the abduction. It's of strategic importance to Russia to get the technological edge over England in this war. If there were a way to boost the power of the steam engine as well as increase safety--which the design implies by making it safer to run at higher pressures--then a Russia with faster more powerful ships, even hampered by not having a convenient warm water port.... No, that cannot be allowed to happen."

“England will survive. We will make certain of it!”Katherine said stoutly, oblivious to the disapproval of her butler as to her unbecoming display of emotion. “Josephine, do you know where this Countess might hide? Or where she might hole up?

Josephine closed her eyes, her features pinched by fatigue or pain, and Katherine immediately put her hand on Josephine’s skirted knee.

“My dear, what is ails you?”

“If only I’d been more alert in your salon, Lady Katherine, this … fiasco … would never have come to pass.” Josephine said, her eyes shut tight, her voice thin. “I am deeply sorry to have dragged you into this.”

"All things have a purpose behind them, Miss Josephine.” Ezekiel said. “Perhaps even your lack of alertness. These milestones serve as markers along the testing road."

Katherine frowned. "But it is quite fine, my dear. It is a fine and merry adventure so far . . .again, are you well?"

Josephine blinked and raised her head. It hurt and she was dimly aware of the warm wetness slowly spreading down her right shoulder and back. "I'm sorry?"

"Ezekiel, look at her face! She is too white! Josephine?" Katherine shifted to look at her and cupped her chin in her hand.

"Do we need Monsieur Beignet to provide you with a warm cloth?" Ezekiel looked as well and his tone deepened with concern. "Is it serious?"

Katherine stroked a stray lock of dark hair from Josephine's face, putting it right and then pulled her hand away. "My God, where is this blood from? Give me a rag!"

"It's nothing. I'm fine. Just need to ... rest for a moment.” Josephine shrank back at the other woman's touch and shook her head. “I’ve suffered worse. Truly, I'll be fine."

“Miss Josephine, please do not be difficult,” Ezekiel said firmly. “Some attention needs be paid. The Lady can provide it.”

"Whatever you think best.” Beset on two sides by unaccustomed solicitude, Josephine lowered her hands and acquiesced. “I won't deny I am a bit sore."

Outside, the driver crooned to his horses as he reined them to a halt and the swaying of the carriage stilled as it stopped. There came one last rock on the springs and the clap of boots hitting the cobbles sounded outside. In a trice the driver opened the curbside door. They have arrived.

Beignet alighted first, lending his hand to Katherine. Ezekiel exited after her, ready to offer assistance. Josephine paused with her foot on the carriage step, examining the building in front of them. The Magistrate’s Court loomed over the pavement, lit from below by the street lamps and cressets, lending it a decidedly sinister air. Josephine gripped the door jamb and pulled out of the carriage to join the others and face whatever awaited them inside.

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