Congratulation and Consternation
August 15, 1867, Thursday
Bow Street Magistrate’s Court, London
Josephine followed Phillip to a junction of two corridors, a wide space provided with benches for the weary and those who waited for their cases to be heard. Katherine, Beignet, and Ezekiel were already there and Josephine wondered if Sir John had already spoken to them while she'd been occupied in the surgery and in the supply office. Phillip waved her to her friends and took off for parts unknown, Ratso following at his heels. Josephine watched them go until a turn around a corner hid them from view. Looking at her companions, Josephine saw Katherine engaged in a whispered conversation with her butler and Ezekiel standing aside to give them a modicum of privacy. Josephine crossed the space with a polite smile and when she was near enough to be heard without raising her voice intrusively, she said, "I understand congratulations are in order. Please let me tender mine for your future happiness."
"I had not thought it was in the Lord's plans for me, but the idea is not unpleasing. Far from it, if I were to be completely honest with you. Lady Katherine is quite intriguing as well as beautiful. She could be both a partner and an equal." He smiled at the thought. "Not what most men would want from their marriage, but I do not deny my eccentricity."
"I have always thought it best to know your strengths and weaknesses." Josephine breathed deeply and exhaled with thoughtful deliberation. "You say you are eccentric as if it were a weakness, but forgive me if I must disagree and place your brand of eccentricity firmly in the strengths column. How many would have taken tonight's events with such aplomb as you or Lady Katherine, for that matter?"
"Oh, you need not fear in that regard, Miss Arceneaux. I wear my differences as a mark of pride. Believing that men and women were created equal is not something I am willing to be ashamed of. But it does, as I have said, mark me as an outcast among the nobility and perhaps in England as a whole." Ezekiel pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose as he stood, watching for the young lady's reaction to his somewhat scandalous statements.
"The nobility is a fine institution for preserving tradition, though perhaps traditions that have outlived their utility should be allowed to wither and die a natural death." In truth there was something in his gaze that made Josephine utter what she would normally have kept to herself. Was it a wish to impress this gentleman whom she'd only just met? Moreover, to impress a gentleman who was duly engaged to a woman whom she had also only just met, and therefore was unavailable for anything more than polite conversation? And what was it about him that made Josephine wish otherwise? Or rather to the point, what is it about myself that makes me want ... Josephine cut the thought short and dredged up her manners. "And now I am afraid it is my turn to be scandalous, sir. I apologize."
"I am a Chartist, miss. By definition, I am too scandalous myself to find anyone else's opinions scandalous." The side of his mouth curled up slightly in the hint of a smile. "But as to the traditions of nobility, you are perhaps correct. Although those who could make that decision are the ones least interested in making it."
“But of course, sir. It is in their best interest to maintain the status quo.” Josephine glanced left and right, ascertaining they were unobserved. She lowered her voice, aware that sound carried in the cold stone corridors, a quality perhaps of deliberate design. “Until they can be convinced of a better alternative, they’d be fools to destroy the power structure that supports them. No tyranny willingly gives up its power, sir. History argues against it.”
Ezekiel nodded at her statement. The young woman's views matched his own in this matter and she seemed well educated. "But perhaps I am speaking out of turn to talk about people who are not here to defend their position."
"I was speaking of the institution rather than the individuals." She laced her fingers and spread her palms like a reverse butterfly, an explanatory gesture of the hands. "I apologize if I had not made myself clear."
"But never should we forget that the institutions of man are, by nature, made of individuals and so when we talk about them, we must in course refer to the individuals involved. A balancing act, but one worth doing."
Her zeal for intelligent conversation did not leave her unaware of the implicit rebuke and dismay stabbed unexpectedly through her. She nodded and looked down at her hands and tried again to understand just what it was about Ezekiel Drake that made her wish to earn his good regard and having earned it, keep it.
There was a brief moment of silence and when it continued on, Ezekiel looked to fill the void. That blessing and curse of curiosity had him in its grasp - the young lady standing in front of him was a bit of a mystery and mysteries were signposts. "So, Miss Josephine, if I might ask, how did you find yourself at Lady Katherine's party? I apologize if I am mistaken, but you seemed, perhaps, unused to the nobility."
There was no hint of criticism in his tone and relief flooded her as quickly and completely as dismay had. Her inner compass thoroughly foxed, Josephine pulled her wits together and tried to follow the change of topic coherently. She drew the pertinent facts from her memory and said, "I was invited by her father to attend the party and you are right, I am unused to the nobility, Mr. Drake."
If not unused by them, she added silently.
"Well, if I can be honest with you," Ezekiel leaned in a little closer as if about to share a secret, "we are a boring lot. My responsibilities as a trustee require me to attend many gatherings and none of them are terribly interesting." He then paused and straightened up, and then amended his statement. "Lady Katherine's was certainly an exception."
His words fanned her cheek and it was all Josephine could do not to melt from the warmth that spread down her spine and left her mired in an unbearable lightness, as if she hovered outside her skin. Then her ears caught up with the words—more specifically, their underlying tone—and as their implied rejection sank in, she found herself painfully back inside her body wishing she were anywhere but where she was.
Pull yourself together, idiot. He's waiting.
"The event and the Lady were and are quite exceptional, yes," To say anything else would have been rude and reveal far too much of her feelings but Josephine managed the pleasantry as etiquette demanded, her voice thin but steady. She dared look him in the eye, refusing to let her upset show, and dutifully put the best face on the situation as she could. "I wish the both of you the utmost happiness. It is a good match."
"Thank you, Miss Josephine," he said as he nodded in acknowledgement. "Will you be giving me the honor of attending the ceremony? I'm sure that Monsieur Beignet will throw some objections, but I cannot imagine being married without you present. After all, you are wrapped within the events that made this possible, in fact, that caused it to happen." He felt a little odd speaking for Katherine in this regard, but he was sure that she would like the young lady there as well. He felt that the two of them perhaps had much in common.
Given her current state, the invitation was nothing short of a gut stab and etiquette only served to twist the knife. Etiquette was sometimes cruel but she knew it was nothing less than required to keep civilization running. Choose your course and follow through, Jo, her father whispered from memory. Right or wrong, indecision is blood put to wolves and they will tear you apart if they scent it. Never let them see you dither. It was a bracing slap and Josephine steadied.
"I would be honored, sir, if you would have me."
"Well, then, glad to see that is all settled." He realized that they had been standing for a while and were potentially likely to be standing for even longer. Equals or not, it was still horribly rude to be forcing Miss Josephine to remain standing. "Would you care to take a seat while we continue our conversation, Miss Josephine?" he asked politely, motioning to the nearby benches with the silver handle of his cane.
"Yes, I would." Josephine didn't wait for the man to offer her his arm but made for the closest bench. The thrill of the chase and the tension of the interview had both completely run their course, leaving her unspeakably weary. Her head injury did her no favors either and halfway to the bench she faltered, blinking grey from her vision.
Ezekiel quickly moved forward and grabbed her arm firmly but not painfully. "It wouldn't do to have an agent of the Crown falling to the floor," he said quietly to her to make sure she understood he was not attempting anything inappropriate. "Besides, while I am eccentric, I am still a gentleman and it is unseemly and rude for me not to provide a lady with assistance."
She didn't expect his grasp to be strong and gentle at once, nor did she anticipate how the warmth of his hand would cut her off at her knees. To her shame Josephine felt herself crumpling. She was going down and there wasn't a single thing she could do to prevent it.
Quickly and smoothly like a cat in motion, Ezekiel quickly shifted his right arm to wrap around Josephine's waist as he stepped in closer. At the same time, he took her arm with his left and quickly guided her to the nearest bench. As he carefully lowered her to a seated position, he thought to himself how he had held more women in twenty four hours than he had in the past year. Then he quickly asked the Lord to forgive him his rude turn of thought. "Miss Josephine, do I need to call for a doctor?" he asked as he started searching his inner jacket pocket for his smelling salts.
“No. Please. Just …,” Josephine lay a hand on his to stay his search and shook her head, instantly regretting the action as her vision greyed again. God alone knew what her color was like. “Water wouldn’t be unappreciated, if it isn’t too much trouble.”
"If you're going to refuse my smelling salts, I must insist you take a sip of this instead." He reached into his other jacket pocket and pulled out a small silver flask. He unscrewed the cap and handed her the bottle. "Carefully, please. Too much too quickly and you may pass out on me, depriving me of the pleasure of your company."
She accepted the flask without protest, put it to her lips and took a healthy swig. The heady aroma of peach suffused her head as the brandy bit her tongue. Josephine tipped her head back and let it trickle down her throat. Her eyes fluttered closed as she relaxed into the bench and propped herself against the armrest. When the brandy was gone she breathed deeply, fanning the last of the liquor to fire in her gullet, letting it warm and brace her at once.
"That was revivifying," she said, handing him back his flask. "Thank you, sir."
As he screwed the cap back on and repocketed the flask, he nodded. "A good drop of that will stiffen the backbone and energize the muscles, most certainly. I apologize for not offering a seat earlier. Quite rude of me." He gave her the once over, lowering his glasses to peek over the rims as he studied her face. "Your color does seem better."
"I shall have to take your word for it," Josephine said with a slight grimace as she straightened. She brushed at her shirtwaist and looked up at him. "Does a gentleman such as yourself normally carry a dose of smelling salts with him? Or is this because of your… ," she trailed off, not sure how far she could go without insult. She keenly recalled his collapse in the gentleman's club, helpless in the grip of one of his visions. Josephine abhorred showing weakness and she could only expect a man would abhor it even more of himself.
"It is one of the reasons, yes," he confirmed without a hint of concern. "The Lord has blessed me with many things, but my health is inconsistent. Even at my best, I am not the strongest of individuals. When combined with a vision, the consequences can be unpredictable. These visions are less frequent than it might seem from observing me over the past 8 hours, but being prepared can never be a bad thing." He had long ago come to terms with his health and the inconveniences resulting from it. The ways of the Divine were mysterious but always with purpose.
"What exactly did you see?" Josephine asked softly, hoping to discover more information she could deliver to Sir John or at least that which could help her find Rembecki and Mortimer.
"In the so-called gentleman's club, or the one in Katherine's dinner engagement? I hope the latter and not the former, as the former should not have to be seen by anyone of decent moral standing."
"Please do not scruple on my account. I may be but a woman, but I have my duty to England and Sir John has tasked me to leave no stone unturned in my effort to rescue Mortimer." Josephine smiled a grim little smile. "As to my being a person of decent moral standing, why not pretend I am circus folk? As such I cannot be harmed by mere words. So please, tell me everything."
Ezekiel removed his glasses, holding them in one hand as his vision became unfocused, looking off to a point beyond her, remembering what he had seen. He shook his head softly. "You misunderstand me, Josephine. I wish I could unsee the vision that was granted to me in that dark cellar. No human being should be capable of what transpired in that place once upon a time. If our Russian thief chose it as her hiding hole, it only confirms her allegiance with Evil." The capital E could be heard in his voice, a firm declaration of dark forces at work.
"I will say no more of it." He put his glasses back on and focused his considerable will back on Miss Josephine. "Not because you lack strength or because you are a woman. Rather, because you are human."
“Human? And what does that make you, sir, that you deny me the right to choose if it should be an impediment to my mission?” His solicitude infuriated Josephine even as it humbled and it did much to dispel the unsettling attraction his physical presence inflicted on her equilibrium. Had she been in better condition she might very well have pushed him aside to stalk away, her head held high against the slight he’d dealt her pride, her intellect, her. As it was, she could only sit there and stare at him in outrage with jaw aslack before she recalled herself. She sucked in a quelling breath and bowed her head and said quietly, "I apologize, sir. My upbringing has been ... unconventional and my enthusiasm and zeal have caused me to forget myself. Please forgive me if I have offended. That was never my intention."
"I will not accept your apology, Miss Josephine. It was an apology given to honor the form, but what you said was the truth for you and you should never apologize for telling the truth. I have been known to speak my mind perhaps too often for most with a certain amount of that same zeal of which you speak. What is important is that we speak the truth such as it leads to Order." He looked at her closely. "I give you my word as a man of faith and as a gentleman that the details of the second vision do not have consequence or direct relation to the matter at hand, other than to confirm the nature of who we go against. You will have to accept that and no more, because I will not give in on this matter."
Josephine looked up sharply at his refusal but held her tongue. His words sank in past her anger and her temper cooled as she examined them for guile, for condescension, and found none. He means what he says, her common sense whispered and Josephine reconsidered her response.
"I cannot say I am entirely ... sanguine with the conditions you’ve set me, Mr. Drake, but I can see the sense in them. Thank you for your candor, sir. It is not a courtesy often extended to me and I value it." Josephine glanced down at her hands, realized they'd fisted in her skirt, and deliberately released the cloth and smoothed it. "You are a surprisingly ... remarkable man, sir."
"I am not remarkable," he said, shaking his head. "I am but a servant. One who has been graced through birth with much, but a mere servant nonetheless. On the other hand, I sense that you have a story about you. But I will not pry. All things have their place and I'm sure yours will be revealed in the passage of time."
"I beg to differ. You are. I have counted at least half a dozen instances this evening where my behavior would have required you to snub me, and yet you have not. That points to a certain flexibility not normally found in a man of your station. However you came by it, I am grateful for it. Thank you." And Josephine dredged up a wry smile for the gentleman. “As for a story? We all have them, sir, and if we’re fortunate, we get to write them instead of merely turning the pages.”
He nodded again. She had spirit and he liked that. She would never be one to cower behind her skirts and the better for it.
"Do you still wish to know about the first vision, what little there is to tell?"
"Absolutely," Josephine breathed and sent a prayer of thanks Heavenward. She'd meant it when she'd called Ezekiel Drake remarkable, and she was glad to have her opinion of the man verified. "Please tell me everything and leave out no detail, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Entire cases can turn on such overlooked trifles, sir, and in this particular instance, lives hang in the balance."
He closed his eyes to better remember the scene that had been granted to him. "I remember the double eagle of the Russian flag flying over Westminster Abbey." Was it dark? Or dusk? He couldn't be sure. "I believe that it was dusk but I cannot remember that detail for sure, nor whether the Union Jack was still flying." He shook his head. It had been a long day and his memory was clearly failing him now when he needed it most. "I apologize for such a lack of detail. It has been...a remarkable evening."
Josephine listened intently, her eyes staring unfocused on the wall opposite, the better to concentrate on Ezekiel Drake's words. They were all too few and as he'd warned, possessed of little detail. Or perhaps the detail isn't lacking, but simply the power to describe them properly. Time to dig a little deeper.
"You are certain it is Westminster Abbey? What marks it so in your mind?"
And so it went for the next half hour. What elements of the building and those surrounding it could he describe to her? The color of the walls? The style of the masonry? The period? Were there windows? Were they boarded up? Broken? Or intact? Were there trees or greenery evident? Water features? People? If so, how did they look? Happy? Productive? Oppressed? Any signage or bills or banners? What were their language and content? What season was it? Winter? Summer? Autumn? Spring? What was the overall atmosphere or mood? Was his vision accompanied by sound? Could he hear speech, animals, man-made noise? Trains or ships signaling their presence? If it was dusk, were the church bells ringing the hour or prayer office? All these details she asked of him and more.
Josephine pressed him hard, pursuing every possible angle she could think of and to his credit, Ezekiel did his level best to answer as thoroughly and truthfully as he could. Both were weary at the end of it and Josephine drew her questioning to a close.
"I am sorry, sir. I know the hour is unforgivably late and I've been inconsiderate in my ... dedication to the task." By her sense of time, Josephine judged the hour closer to one in morning than midnight, and they'd come off a physically demanding evening before stretching their minds to the utmost. And by his admission, Ezekiel’s health was less than robust under the best of circumstances. She did not relish speculating how he presently felt. "Please won't you sit down?"
"I will be fine. Tell me what I can expect from those in charge here." He was brusque - the polish had worn off him after the long evening. His legs were tired but they were not weak as they would be if the disease was taking effect. What kind of man would he be if he could not remain standing longer? He did, however, put some additional weight on the cane as he waited for her response.
"Rather much the same, I'm afraid, with emphasis on politics and connections to people and what they know and who they got their knowledge from. Information is power, sir. Every scrap of it, no matter how insignificant, is hunted down and mined like gold ... and protected and even killed for commensurately. You say you are a museum trustee. Surely you are familiar with the rigors of academe? This is somewhat the same, as the spheres overlap considerably as to disciplines and methods. Absent the bloodletting aspects, of course, although I am certain the competition between scholastic experts can be quite fierce."
As she spoke, she was reminded again of her father. Brilliant, perceptive, and possessed of iron will. She missed him. Josephine expelled a pent breath and put her memories away, locked them up and pocketed the key. Reminisce later. Take care of what's in front of you first.
"As for what you can expect of Sir John personally, I observed three things. He is blind and wears a black band over his eyes. Make no mention of it. He is frighteningly perceptive. Simply by listening to my entrance, he accurately ascertained my height, the state of my clothing and the fact that I was dripping blood. Therefore attempt no falsehood. Tell all you know without fail. He will know from your voice and other physical cues if you are less than forthcoming. And lastly he is incredibly old. Had he not possessed any of the other qualities or his position, that alone would command my respect."
"One does not need eyes in order to see. The topic of discussion is proof of that, I would believe." He had heard of seers in the Far East described like Josephine's description of Sir John. If he was a seer, then there were resources in play that made Ezekiel feel more comfortable about the recovery of the inventor. "And his age does not matter to me - all men and women deserve my respect until proven otherwise.
"As far as the matter of falsehoods, I do not tell lies. To serve the cause of Justice and fulfill the quest that the Lord has placed upon me, I must always keep in mind that truth is paramount to Order." If more people kept that in mind, England's society would be better for it, he thought. But such was the flaw and the joy in living on Earth and not in heaven.
"Would you lie to save a life, if telling the truth would end it?” Josephine could not resist asking. “In my experience, lies are as valuable as the truth in the preservation of civilization and the pursuit of justice."
"If I arrived in a situation where that was the case, I would seek guidance from the Divine and then make my decision. If Justice would be best served by a lie, then I would lie if there were no other options. But I trust in Him not to put me in such a situation to begin with." He looked at her with his head slightly cocked and a single eyebrow raised, a small smile on his face. "Are we to debate religious philosophy now, Miss Josephine?"
"I? Against a man gifted with visions from Providence?" Josephine's lips twitched with suppressed amusement despite her fatigue and discomfort earlier. She liked him, she decided, for his humor, his prosaic approach to human relations outside of class concerns, and for his perseverance in the face of what most would consider an insurmountable disability. As for the rest... "Oh no. I know when I am outclassed, sir. You are inarguably beyond me. Best I not even attempt it."
"I get the impression that there is very little indeed that is beyond you, Miss Josephine." Finally tiring of the wait, he chose to sit down next to her, making sure to give enough distance so as not to create an illusion of impropriety. His legs begged to be let loose, but he kept them in a proper sitting position. A little discipline never hurt. "Clutch that attitude tight to your heart. It will serve you well."
"It has certainly served," she said, shifting to give the man some room. From the twitch of his knees, it seemed to her he could stand to stretch his legs. "Well or ill, however, is a matter open to interpretation."
"Never for ill if your spirit is true to you." As he said this, his name was called by the large ogre fellow that seemed part of the group. Ezekiel stood up and performed a half bow to Josephine. "It has been a pleasure and a privilege, Miss Josephine."
"The pleasure was mutual, Mr. Drake. May it continue to be so." Josephine bowed her head in response and released him to answer the summons. Ezekiel Drake might have limped slightly as he walked, but he remained upright of carriage and conviction, and Josephine watched him—a lean and determined figure with a cane rapping the cadence of his steps—until the warren of corridors hid him from view.
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