The Hounds of Winter, Chapter One: Hounds Cast

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Friday, 18 February 1870
Dover Boat Train, First Class Compartment
Southeast England
6:04am, GMT

Josephine and Quentin took the first train from St. Pancras for Dover. They threaded through the scaffolding that enveloped the attached Midland Grand Hotel still under construction and Josephine swept the edifice with a discerning eye. Sir George Gilbert Scott had truly outdone himself. The polychromic brick, black iron work, and the creamy stone of the arched windows combined for a very elegant yet durable beauty. She had no time to see more before she and Quentin dove into the controlled chaos of the vast platform. The din was hellish and steam shrouded the glass shed roof overhead.

Quentin, still unpacked from his trip to the Near East, notified the hotel to send his bags to the train station. Josephine eschewed taking her trunk, choosing a carpet bag and her smaller leather valise for speed and ease of movement. She'd swaddled the precious Dubroni in the carpet bag and the mission files were in her valise. The rest of their kit she'd distributed judiciously between herself and Quentin. The Colonel had been generous enough with funds that they could purchase anything they might otherwise need en route. She briefly considered booking coach but chose First Class for the first leg of their journey. She wanted to review the sensitive material privately before arriving on the Continent. Once committed to memory, it would remain secure in her head and privacy would be moot.

By the time they'd left London's outskirts, she and Quentin were stowed comfortably in their compartment with tea and paperwork. She poured them both a steaming cup before picking up the first of the files and leaning back into the velvet bolster of her seat. She badly wanted a cigarette but she refrained from smoking. It was February and cracking a window for courtesy's sake would mean a very cold ride to Dover. She had to content herself with rolling a pound coin over her knuckles as she read. She glanced at Quentin in time with turning the pages but rode on in silence, letting him decide the matter of conversation as she memorized the material in front of her.

Quentin seemed to be moving through the material more quickly though his face seemed a mask of distraction. Though he had graduated from University with respectable grades, it was primarily due to his riding and rhetorical skills, rather than any facility with study. Despite this handicap, by the second cup of tea certain things did present themselves even to his cursory review. "One thing I don't get here," he said with exasperation. "It's clear they were following this Georgie guy for a while. Why didn't they just grab him before he left?"

Josephine regarded Quentin over the rim of her teacup before replying.

"We follow the wolf to its den and wipe out the pack. Leave none alive to strike us from behind. Of course, we must confirm we've a wolf in our sights before squeezing the trigger." She put her cup aside and leaned forward, ticking the points off on her fingers. "Confirmed: Gheorghe Panculescu attended University in Bucharest in 1865. Confirmed: One of his associates from University, Ştefan Brezeanu, had ties to several Nationalist and Occult groups during their study there. Confirmed: Panculescu received a telegram from Brezeanu a fortnight ago. Confirmed: Panculescu has precipitously left Paris with what appears to be an alarming quantity of gun cotton and other explosive materials and is now making his way back to Romania, ostensibly to build a bridge. Conclusion: Trouble. Possibly connected with the cult activity the Colonel mentioned. Possibly with Nationalists bent on mayhem. Or it might be connected to a legitimate construction contract in Romania. Whatever the case, it is a lead. I intend to follow it."

"Well, Ma'am, just to play advocatus diaboli for a moment, what if he just wants to build a bridge in Romania? It's his hometown."

"If it is merely a bridge, we confirm it and send word back to the Colonel. If it is something more inimical to England, we confirm it and send word back. I would be pleased to find it is the former over the latter but we cannot assume anything at this juncture."

"So it's a fancy way of sayin' we don't know and we have to figure it out."

"Yes," she said.

"So we'll be boarding a train when we get to Paris and overtake him then?" Quentin asked.

"No. Assets confirmed his departure last night to Vienna. He'll have a full day's head start on us once we've arrived in Paris. We would never catch him by train." Josephine leaned back and took up her tea. The pound coin passed across her knuckles as she thought on how they could make up for the lost time. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Neither roads nor rails will ensure the straightest route. Not when politics and mountains require going around rather than through. If not around or through, what about … over? A memory struck her then and she smiled into her teacup. "I think I have it. We'll go by airship."

"Airship, ma'am?" Quentin seemed skeptical. "As in what Lord Fleming-Drake crashed in? That kind of airship?"

"That kind of airship, yes, only better." Josephine said, flipping the coin and catching it before making it disappear. "This one will stay aloft."

"Been on them often, then?" Quentin poured himself another cup of tea, his skepticism little abated.

Big Ben's parapet offered nothing but a killing drop far below but Josephine gripped the line and leapt into space, swinging in a perfect arc straight for the airship she'd tethered …

"I've been known to jump aboard one," she said with a perfectly straight face. If only he knew. "I've met the owner of several, Mr. Alberto Santos-Dumont. I hope he is still in Paris when we arrive. His airships can travel at great speed, but even they have their limits." Josephine refreshed her cup and watched the morning landscape go by before continuing. "The only other alternative at this stage is to wire ahead to have Panculescu's train delayed. That would require too many explanations and bribes to accomplish, to say nothing of alerting our suspect. Once that happens, he will go to ground and we will lose him. Better we were ghosts in this. Wouldn't you agree?"

"I prefer a straightforward fight to being a ghost, but I do agree a little bit of subterfuge is in order here." Quentin said, his drawl softly apparent."So … this Santos-Dumont guy. Who is he? How do you know him?"

His tone hinted at something other than professional conduct and Josephine blushed. She glanced aside, thrown by her involuntary response. No use denying it. He's getting under your skin. But maybe she could use that to her advantage. She let her lips twitch in a smile and said, "Let us just say he gave me a ride once."

"A ride, you say." Quentin regarded her over his teacup. "I hope it was enjoyable."

"Oh, it was magnificent." Josephine met his gaze assertively. No blushes now, Jo. Let him wonder.

Quentin paused, debating how to phrase his next sentence … and decided to take a different tack. He sipped his tea and his drawl made it clear it was a non-issue. "Well, I do hope he's in Paris when we get there. Now, this gun cotton stuff … I've seen it used before. How much did they say it was?" It took him only a moment to find the page he needed. He tapped the relevant line of text and frowned. "10, 000 kilograms. How many pounds is that?"

"Two point three pounds per kilogram." Josephine enjoyed verbally jousting with Quentin and couldn't deny she was a little disappointed to set it aside. Yet she didn't persist when it ceased. The time isn't right. We can revisit it later. As needs permit. "As such, it would add up to a rather high number."

"Making it ... twenty-two thousand—?" Quentin's eyes went wide before he frowned again and his drawl deepened. "That's enough to blow the top of a mountain clean off. What the hell're they doin'? This bridge he's supposed to be buildin' is over the Prut River in the middle of flat-as-a-pancake nowhere. Don't look like there's anything worth blowin' up."

"Hard to say." Josephine sipped her tea, thinking. What could one do with that much explosive? What could one do with that much explosive in Romania? Any number of bloody scenarios came to mind but when placed in connection with the bridge, Josephine had to discard them all. This didn't have the feel of a political assassination. For that scenario to work the bridge would have to be near a capital city or a known diplomatic conference. It was near neither. At this juncture, Josephine wasn't even certain that the bridge was a significant factor instead of being merely a fact. A mile went by before Quentin spoke again.

"You know … Looks like the metal they ordered, it ain't just iron. It's got … manganese," he said, frowning a little over the word. "Now, I didn't take a lot of engineerin' courses, 'cuz they were dull as dishwater but damn, why'd they make it out of that stuff? I can see carbon steel. I can see wrought iron. I can see them mixin' maybe some vanadium in there. I may not be up on the most recent metallurgy and like I said, it was some time ago but I remember some of the names, anyway." Quentin looked at the file and then looked up. "But manganese? Why'd they put that in the alloy?"

"That's a very good question." It was really. Josephine had failed to pick up that detail, had in fact read right over it. Josephine sipped her tea again, a flicker of memory tickling at the back of her head. "I'll make inquiries when we get to Paris."

"Well, there's been talk about making liquefied aluminum but nobody's figured out how to do that yet and the oxidation point's so low…"

"To say nothing of it being incredibly expensive. One might as well use platinum." And that, Jo, exhausts your knowledge of obscure metallurgy … She mentally added the topic to her never-ending research list. The thought tickling at back of her head came closer but remained elusive.

"The theory is," Quentin continued. "It would be really strong if they could make it work. But nobody's made it work yet. Like titanium. That's another one. They talked about it bein' an amazin' metal, that nobody's been able to actually make work. Mixin' manganese with iron to make it stronger? I don't know." He shook his head and then quirked a grin at her. "Yeah, I sat through that materials class 'cuz it was 2 p.m. in the afternoon and it was right next to the lunch hall."

Josephine managed to hide her smile behind her tea cup and let the man talk. Half the trick to learning anything was employing the art of listening.

"Also I got to ride my horse after that," Quentin said as the train clacked on. "That was always fun. And parade. I seat a good horse."

"Parade?" Josephine asked to show she was following along as well as genuinely interested. America was terra incognita to her and the American male (or this specimen in particular) was an unknown quantity. She wanted to map it … and him.

"Of course. What college doesn't have equestrian activities? Parade. Military drills." His brows rose, inviting her to comment.

"Mine was considerably different, I'm afraid." Quite different. Would he be repelled if he knew?

"Oh," Quentin leaned back in his seat, lounging expansive and comfortable as only an American could manage. "You went to college then? I went to William and Mary University, Williamsburg.The finest school in Virginia."

"I went to Hard Knocks," she answered, shooting a look at him over her cup with a grim little smile. "And one never stops learning."

"Ah," he said with a knowing smile.

Josephine had to give the man credit. Though Quentin's response hung heavy with curiosity, he offered no further comment. Relieved, she turned back to the file and frowned at the metallurgy report, such as it was. Is the manganese significant? If it has no industrial use as an alloy then why—? The idea at the back of her head finally came forward and she blinked. If the alloy was not meant for industrial use, was it meant for a thaumaturgical one? Josephine was somewhat familiar with thaumaturgy tied to cult activity. She'd been professionally blooded upon it. Of what magical use would manganese be?

"How could the Colonel miss this?" she whispered down at the file, forgetting that instant she wasn't alone, her head racing through the possibilities as the idea took shape.

"Ma'am?" Quentin prompted as he noticed her metaphoric whiskers twitching.

"Pardon?" Distracted, Josephine looked up.

"You said, 'How could the Colonel miss this?' What did he miss?"

"I …." Josephine paused. The Colonel had assigned them both to the case and there was no reason for her to be reticent. Aside from Evie, she was unaccustomed to having a partner and the habit to keep her thoughts secret was strong. She temporized, looking for middle ground. "The manganese. The Piece That Doesn't Fit."

"Well, given the way materials are changing these days, maybe it makes sense but … I don't see how." Quentin shook his head. "Maybe you got—Your … friend. Would he know?"

"Perhaps. It may be completely out of his field, but I can certainly ask him if this would succeed." Josephine tapped the metallurgy report. "It wouldn't make sense to add manganese if it produced a weaker metal. In terms of industry, that is something to avoid at all cost. In terms of sabotage, there are easier ways to take down a bridge. Or an airship, for that matter."

At the mention of the airship, Josephine abruptly rose as her worry for Ezekiel and Katherine blazed up again. Duty demanded she serve her country. Devotion demanded she rescue her friends. Josephine had forced the matter aside by absorbing her briefing, by spending the hours before departure in mission preparations. Now that she had her immediate plan of action in place, she could no longer ignore the conflict.

God, she'd kill for a cigarette.

Quentin took in Josephine's pensive expression and watched her a moment. She's got a hard time standing still. Hell, we haven't reached Dover yet and she's already lookin' to tear into it. It made him edgy. He put up with it for another mile before he'd had enough. He pulled down his valise and began sorting through his bag, careful to keep the specifics of his actions outside of Josephine's gaze.

"True story," he began offhandedly."When my father was fresh out'a College he lived up in Washington at this fancy boarding house. A bunch fancy folk lived there, senators and stuff, and every once in a while 'Ole Hickory, that is, President Jackson, would come by with his wife for an evening. My daddy would talk about how they was more just folks than what you'd think of a president and his wife also how when they got to the house Rachey, that is, Mrs. Jackson, would be all nervous-like and twitchy, kind of like you are now. That is until she got a chance to step out to the back porch." He pulled two small cigars from his bag and offered her the choice. "I believe this is what you are looking for, Ma'am."

That stopped her in her tracks. Quentin learned Josephine was no stranger to the vice of smoking, yet she took the miniature cigar from him almost shyly and he was struck by the sudden intimacy of lighting up as she leaned in toward the match flame. The pleasure of the first draw made her eyelids flutter and she sank into her seat with a sigh. She visibly relaxed and he eased back, only then aware how tense her pacing had made him. That's better.

"Thank you," she breathed and blew the smoke delicately aside. She eyed him through the haze and said, "I hope you do not intend to address me as 'Ma'am' for the entire mission, Quentin. It would blow our cover."

"We'd have one to blow? A cover, I mean?"

She pulled out a man's silver pocket watch and consulted it. Odd thing for a woman to be carryin', he thought as his fingers twitched for his. Then again, she's an odd woman. Far from being off-putting, the quality made her interesting. Interesting enough that when the Colonel fellah called me in, I came. Quentin didn't dwell on how the Colonel found him. He hadn't kept his presence in London a secret. The silver watch closed with a click and he returned to the present.

"We should," she said. "What would you suggest?"

"Well, now. That could make for an interesting conversation," he said, appreciating the line of her wrist and fingers holding her cigar. Nice hands, no rings, he thought. Hmm, now there's an idea. If he'd reckoned right, she wouldn't slap him for saying it. If he were wrong … Well, he'd find out in a minute. Watching her expression carefully, he said, "What say we tell everyone we're married?"

She gave him an arch look. "If not the world's oldest profession, then the second?"

"Third after gambling, actually, and one spot ahead of brewing according to my philosophy teacher." Can't sit still. Can't take a compliment either. At least she didn't slap me. "Many women would still consider it their highest calling."

"I'm not many women."

"I can see that."

"Do you?"

"I do."

She gave him a searching stare, obviously taking his measure and Quentin stared back, undaunted. She was hardly the first 'hard knocks' woman of his acquaintance. He'd become something of a connoisseur of them. She wasn't a street orphan, or a prostitute. They were easy to spot, but neither was she one of that new class of bored society woman out for a jaunt in the Man's world. He remembered how they'd first met, fighting their way out of a jam in Limehouse. No, in his estimation she'd been trained for what she was, which put her in a new category altogether.

"Very well," she said, the end of her cigar glowing bright as she drew deeply on it and blew the smoke aside. "Married it is."

They spent the balance of the ride filling in the pertinent details as a married couple. When they disembarked for the steamer to Calais, they walked off arm in arm as Mr. James Henry Lee and his wife Josephine, of Alexandria, Virginia and London.

THOW Ch01 b.png

Friday, 18 February 1870
Trumpshaw's, Rue de Surèsne
Paris, France
8:00pm, local time

The Channel crossing lived up to its turbulent reputation. Apparently not prone to motion sickness, Josephine spent much of the voyage outside on the observation deck. Quentin didn't blame her, the fresh air and the wind on his face being better than the miasma belowdecks. He stood with Josephine as her newlywed husband, keeping a hand on her elbow lest she go over the rail and when the sea got rambunctious his arm went round her waist a time or two. When the cold became too much, they went in to warm themselves before going back out again. Beyond the cold, weather held fair, with a stiff breeze that turned the sea into a garden of whitecaps. By the time they stepped off at Calais, they were grateful for the stability of land. Josephine purchased French papers and a small hamper of provisions for the next leg of their journey. As they rode to Paris, the newly-minted Lees lunched on bottled lemonade, crusty bread, and tinned pâté.

During and after their meal, Josephine drilled Quentin on the details of their married life. It was a continual repetition of the sort that reminded Quentin of nothing so much as multiplication drills from his school days. Even after every detail was memorized, she appeared to believe he had never attempted subterfuge before but the drill itself seemed as much for her as for him and it seemed to calm her down.

Once off the train station platform, Quentin hired a cab at the stand and saw to their luggage: her two bags and his gentleman's trunk. They made a negligible pile on the rear fender. Quentin handed her into the cab and gave the driver the address of the hotel she had arranged for them. The whip cracked and they were off.

"Merci," Quentin said when they alighted several blocks short of their destination. He took Josephine's bags and sent the cabbie to their hotel with his trunk. Fare paid, he turned to his wife. "You said you wished to walk, darlin'. Where to next?"

"This way, dear."

He let her choose their route and kept up the small talk. She kept up with him in stride and subject and he found himself enjoying the exercise. He'd been to Paris before and knew the general layout of the central arrondissements. The Champs-Élysées was only a few blocks away. They turned off the Rue de Surèsne within sight of the British Embassy and stopped at a non-descript side door to a building whose name he didn't know. Josephine pulled on the bell and from somewhere inside, Quentin heard it ring. It was full dark now and though warmed by his walk, he would be glad to get out of the wind. He pulled his broad-brimmed hat tighter to his head and studied Josephine in the light from the street lamp. She cut an appealing figure, sensibly clothed and shod for walking. If Josephine felt any discomfort from the cold, he could see no sign of it.

There was a clack and a groan as the door opened and light flooded the threshold.

Fifty, going a little seedy in ginger hair and spectacles, and more than a little nervous, Arthur MacEwan checked the alley with suspicious gaze before sweeping the couple before him with the same. He'd been alerted by London to expect visitors but it paid to be cautious. He recognized the woman of the pair. Arceneaux, he remembered, first name Josephine. He did not know the man with her but he had been warned there would be two. An American, judging by the hat.

"Come in," he said, lamp in hand, waving them inside.

"Evening, sir." The American had some grasp of manners, MacEwan was glad to see. The tall gentleman had Josephine precede him inside and MacEwan shut the door the second they stepped clear. He led them deeper into the building and came to a stop in a room that appeared to be a combination of kitchen and remainders closet. As MacEwan lit the overhead lamp, he covertly watched the American taking everything in.

"Guess we used the tradesman's entrance," he heard the American say. His accent was noticeable but his speech still intelligible, his tone equanimous. "James Henry Lee, of Alexandria, Virgina. My wife, Josephine Lee, late of London."

They shook hands, man to man.

"The Colonel told me to expect you," MacEwan said, tacitly acknowledging their cover and getting down to business. "Tell me what you need."

"I need an evening gown and officer's dress." Josephine said and pulled a notice from her pocket, obviously torn from a Parisian paper, and gave it to him.

"Hmm." MacEwan peered over his spectacle rims at the halftone portrait of Alberto Santos-Dumont. It showed the Brazilian socialite posing with one of his beloved dirigibles, the article beneath it declaring a ball at the Russian Ambassador's residence. He eyed Josephine up and down quickly to gauge her size before moving to James Henry Lee. A forty-two long, he thought. "Cavalry?" MacEwan asked.

"Well, if I'm gonna be an officer, sure," came the answer. "But why not just a fancy evenin' coat? I gotta say I cut a dashin' figure in coat and tails."

MacEwan looked at Josephine with some exasperation. "Follow me." Why the devil is she paired up with an American?

The next hour was instructive as well as busy. While Josephine absented herself to cable the Colonel, Quentin was shown to another room filled floor to ceiling with clothing and accessories in bewildering array. Most was male attire, but there was a fair amount for the ladies as well. MacEwan and a matronly assistant measured Quentin for a high collared white uniform dripping with gold braid and medals. He couldn't read them, though the backward "R" and "N" allowed him an educated guess.

"Russian?" he asked as Josephine returned only to disappear behind a screen with the matron. "I don't speak Russian."

"No need to talk." MacEwan patted his throat. "You took a bullet in Crimea."

"Couldn't I just be me? Or at least the fake me? Not like I haven't been to a fancy ball before."

Despite his protests, they painted a rather convincing scar with some sticky stuff out of a bottle. It pulled painfully on his neck once it dried. Quentin tugged carefully at his collar, hoping to gain some relief.

"Don't. You'll ruin the effect."

On hearing her voice Quentin turned and admired the woman in front of him. She stood in a black ball gown, with jet draping in delicate swags off her bare shoulders. More jet gleamed softly at bodice and neckline, where silk of deepest night accentuated the pallor of her skin. He was pleased to see that quite a lot of it was visible. He was only slightly surprised at the lack of scars. Her hair was up, showing off her neck to good effect. The décolletage was deep enough to make things interesting without giving any important goods away. Her waist was tiny in comparison as was the current fashion.

"With you there, ain't no one's gonna notice," he said, smiling wolfishly. Damn, this collar's tight. It got a little tighter still when she slid a slim knife down her bodice, then lifted her hem to slide another one in her stocking garter. It made him wonder what else she had hidden on her. No tellin'. However …

"You've forgotten something." Quentin said waggling his left hand at her. MacEwan divined his meaning and disappeared for a moment returning with a tray of rings. He watched Josephine review the tray and saw when she made her decision, perhaps before she had even realized it herself. He whisked the ring off the tray and slid it onto her finger. The ring was a plain gold band set with a small blue sapphire. He held onto her hand perhaps longer than would have been seemly, regarding both it and her hand..

"Well, if that was your big plan for convincing me to marry you, I guess it worked. 'Least for now, anyway." He leaned in and stole a kiss. And against his expectations she kissed him back. His hands found her waist as the kiss deepened and he discovered the taste of her. A cough and a shuffle reminded Quentin they weren't alone and he broke away, still roused. The matron bustled in and wrapped Josephine in a cloak. MacEwaan put him in the proper military greatcoat and cap. Cab wheels ground to a halt outside and Quentin had to step quickly. Josephine was already halfway to the door, saying they mustn't be late. Shaking MacEwan's hand in farewell and tipping his cap to the matron, he made it to the cab in time.

Two cables sent via Trumpshaw's secured line:


To: M. Dionysius Beignet
From: J.G.A.


advocatus diaboli = ahd-voh-cah-toos dee-ah-boh-lee = devil's advocate Sound clip Definition

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