February 5th, 18–
“Oh, this is so amazing!”
Victor laughed a little as Emily pressed her face against the window, watching the city move beneath them. “I know. I’m so grateful I came into the employ of a man who could introduce me to the wonders of flight.”
“Hey, I’m not the only one with a flying machine,” Doc said modestly, though he looked quite pleased by Victor’s statement. “Perhaps the only one with a flying steam locomotive, yes, but there’s plenty of people with planes and airships these days. Just look at Baron Wulfenbach and his airship city. Largest flying fleet in all of Europe.”
“Yes, but I doubt I could get a ride from Baron Wulfenbach,” Victor pointed out.
Emily continued to peer down at the world. “Where’s the shop you mentioned before?”
“It should be on this street,” Doc said, consulting the map he’d secured of the airspace above Secundus. “Should just drop you on the corner here, and you can walk to it? See a little of the city from ground level?”
“Sounds all right to me,” Victor said. “Emily?”
“I suppose,” Emily nodded. “Though, how do you mean, drop off?”
“Well, it might be better not to try and park, even briefly – it looks like a high-traffic day, and the locomotive takes up a lot of space. I do have a ladder here,” Doc said, holding up the rope ladder Victor knew all too well. “Do you think you could climb down it?” His eyes flicked to the long train on Emily’s dress. “Victor and I could help you, if necessary.”
“I think I’ll make it, but – best let Victor go first,” Emily said, studying the dress train herself.
“Right. Just a moment, let me get properly positioned. . . .”
Doc maneuvered the locomotive over the corner, then lowered the ladder to the ground. Victor scrambled down it with ease, then waited as Emily carefully lowered herself over the edge and began slowly to climb down. He took her dress’s train as it came into reach, earning himself a grateful smile. After a couple of minutes, she made it down to earth. “Thank you,” she said to Victor.
“You’re welcome.” Victor waved up to Doc, who was bringing in the ladder. “We’ll see you in a hour and a half?”
“Sounds good. Enjoy your visit!” Doc gave them both a parting wave before closing up the doors and chugging away.
Emily smiled after him. “He’s such a nice man.”
“I know,” Victor said, leading her down the sidewalk. “I couldn’t have asked to find a better person to bring me here.” He carefully sidestepped a large slug crawling down the street. “What do you think of the city so far?”
“Busy,” Emily said, looking around. The roads were filled with carriages and various motorized transports, and the sidewalks had the usual crowds of people on them. “It was never like this back home.”
“I know what you mean – my hometown was very quiet as well.” Victor glanced down and behind her. “Er, how are you getting on with–?”
“I’m used to it getting dirty and stepped on,” Emily said with a little sigh. “It’s not exactly in the best condition anymore anyway.” She touched the top of the bodice reflectively. “Mother would be disappointed, I’m sure.”
“Then – why don’t you--” Victor said, hoping he wouldn’t cause offense. It just seemed odd for anyone, even a Reanimated, to constantly walk around in a wedding dress.
“I just can’t,” Emily said, hugging herself. “It’s all I have left of home, of my old life. It’s – well, it’s me. I’m the Corpse Bride.” She looked down at the dress as they moved through the crowd. “The only other person I’d ever let wear it is Sally, if and when she finally marries Jack. I let her try it on once, and she did look beautiful in it. I – oh! I’m sorry!”
“Oh, that’s all – right. . . .”
Victor’s jaw dropped as he saw the person Emily had accidentally bumped into. “Victoria?!”
“Victor! This is a surprise.”
“You two know each other?” Emily asked, looking between them.
“This is the young lady who was going to be my fiancee,” Victor explained. “Miss Emily Cartwell, may I introduce Miss Victoria Everglot.”
“Everglot?” Emily repeated, starting to hold out a hand to shake but then apparently losing her nerve. “You’re – not related to Lord Finis Everglot, are you?”
Victoria’s eyes widened. “That’s my father! How do you know him?”
“I don’t exactly know him, just of him. He’s your father?”
Victor was suddenly wondering how far the coincidences could pile up. She’d never said the name of her hometown, after all. “Wait – excuse me for interrupting, but you know of the Everglots? Emily – you didn’t live in Burtonsville, did you?”
“. . .Your hometown?”
“Yes! Did you know any Van Dorts? My family’s lived there for a few generations.”
“Van Dort. . .your last name did sound familiar. . . .” Emily thought hard. “Gregory Van Dort? Owned a fish shop?”
“My grandfather,” Victor said. “Oh, goodness, this is nearly unbelievable.”
“I should say,” Victoria said, looking amused. “How did you know of my father?”
“Just that he was taking over the lord’s duties when I – um – died.”
“That was some years ago, and – wait. What did you say your last name was?”
“Cartwell. Why, do you recognize it?”
“Vaguely. Father used to know someone named Cartwell. But he said the man moved away after his daughter disa– oh. Ooh,” Victoria said, the unpleasant truth hitting her like a ton of bricks.
“Yes,” Victor nodded. “I heard that story too, though without the names. The daughter of a rich man who vanished into the woods one day with her lover. Only real scandal Burtonsville’s ever seen.”
“How nice to be so fondly remembered,” Emily said sarcastically.
“What – what happened to you?” Victoria asked, then quickly added, “If it’s not too forward.”
“The simplest way to put it is that my lover chose to murder me and steal my money rather than elope with me,” Emily sighed. “Dr. Finklestein resurrected me some time later. I don’t know why he was anywhere near Burtonsville, but apparently Sally spotted my hand sticking out of the ground where I was buried, and. . . .”
“Oh, that’s horrible – er, your getting murdered, not your getting R-Reanimated,” Victoria hastily corrected herself. “What a terrible man to do that to you.”
“I hope he had a lovely time spending my dowry,” Emily muttered darkly. She shook her head, as if to clear the nasty thoughts from it. “This is so odd, that we’d all hail from the same town.”
“I know.” Victoria looked between Emily and Victor for a moment, looking thoughtfully. “How long have you two known each other?” she said, glancing briefly but significantly at Victor.
Victor quickly picked up on the unspoken question. “Since just yesterday,” he said, answering both at the same time. “We met while Dr. Brown was fixing Dr. Finklestein’s generator. We got to talking, and I felt bad for her, so I offered to take her out and show her a bit of the city.”
“Oh.” Victoria looked back at Emily. “You do seem to make friends easily, Victor,” she commented with a small smile.
“I don’t know how – most people back home didn’t like me at all,” Victor said.
“Why not?” Emily asked. “You’re a nice fellow – isn’t he?” she added to Victoria.
“Very nice,” Victoria agreed. “Perhaps the upper classes wouldn’t want to be seen with you, on account of your family being nouveau riche, but I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t have friends – I’m sorry, I can’t think of any way to put it except ‘on your own level.’ You do understand I don’t mean--”
“I do,” Victor assured her. “But being nouveau riche is a problem for them too. They think we’re trying to put on airs. Which I suppose we are,” he admitted with a slight eye roll. “Mother’s always trying to copy the noble classes.”
“I thought your family sold fish?” Emily said, looking a little lost.
“Father revolutionized our business – we’re in charge of a cannery now,” Victor explained. “It’s made us very rich, but – well, no one wants to speak to us now.”
“That’s hardly fair to you.”
“I’m used to it. Being thought well of by numerous people – that’s strange,” he said, laughing weakly to try and play it off as a joke.
Victoria and Emily didn’t see the humor. “You know, if someone had told me a month ago that someone’s life could improve by moving to live among a bunch of mad scientists, I wouldn’t have believed them,” Victoria said after a moment. “Of course, I’m discovering a lot of things I previously wouldn’t have believed are very believable.”
Victor chuckled. “I think that’s typical of coming here. I didn’t expect to see you today – out for another walk?”
Victoria blushed. “Yes. I thought I might go visit you and your friends again.”
Victor nodded, then frowned as he realized something. “Where’s Hildegarde?”
Victoria blushed harder. “Having tea in the shop on the other corner,” she confessed. “She’s – she’s getting older, and it’s hard for her to walk, so--” She giggled nervously. “At least I'm sure of you two not telling my parents.”
“No chaperone,” Emily said, in a mock-disapproving tone. “Miss Everglot, how scandalous.”
“Well, anything does seem to go in this city,” Victoria replied, fussing with her skirt. “I’m sure my parents would be far more displeased to know I actually enjoyed the company of a Touched and his assistants the other day.”
“Not to mention the ride in the flying steam train,” Victor added with a chuckle. “Would you like to disappoint them more by accompanying us to the hat shop? I was going to introduce Emily to some other friends of mine. If you don’t mind, of course,” he added to Emily.
“The more the merrier,” Emily said kindly. “And I’d like to hear some more of how Burtonsville’s changed since I’ve lived there. May I ask who your mother is, Miss Everglot?”
“Maudeline Watson,” Victoria said. “The daughter of Count Watson. Have you heard of her as well?”
“Maudeline Watson? Actually, I met her – her family met mine at a ball once. We didn’t have much to say to each other, I’m afraid. She and her mother disapproved of my knowing the piano,” Emily said.
“Mother’s always said music is too passionate for young ladies,” Victoria agreed, frowning. “I’ve never understood why we have a grand piano in the house, then. No one in the family plays. Though – I’ve always wanted to at least try,” she added, glancing at the ground shyly.
“A piano no one’s ever played?” Victor said, unable to quite keep the stricken note from his voice. He just couldn’t stop thinking of the poor instrument, rotting away in the music room, collecting dust and never knowing the feel of properly trained fingers. “I don’t understand that either.”
“I’ve always heard that young ladies should know music,” Emily said, looking quietly puzzled. “Piano or harp.” Glancing at Victor, she added in an embarrassed voice, “It’s young men that should stay away from music.”
“Mother must never have heard that saying,” Victor commented. “Once I showed an interest, she rushed to get a tutor for me. I think she thought having a son who played piano would help her socially.”
“I don’t know if Father’s ever actually heard it, but he would certainly agree with it,” Victoria commented. “His opinion is that properly manly activities include shooting and hunting. I honestly think he hates music.”
“Hates music? Your mother and he are well-matched, then,” Emily said. “Um, no offense intended.”
“None taken, Miss Cartwell,” Victoria said. “They are indeed in that matter.” She shook her head. “If I may say so, it’s a bit odd, talking to someone who knew my parents when they were younger and yet--” She hesitated, taking in Emily’s boney arm and leg. “–doesn’t look much older than I am,” she finished gamely.
“How do you think I feel?” Emily said. “All the people I knew as a girl have all grown old. I probably wouldn’t recognize any of them anymore. I don’t even know if I would recognize the town.”
“I don’t know about the latter,” Victor said thoughtfully. “People may change, but the town itself barely does. Though my parents did build a new house on the town square – right across from the Everglots, in fact.”
“I saw it being constructed,” Victoria nodded. “It’s odd, really, how we could have lived so close to one another all those years and never properly met. Then again, Mother tended to keep me indoors for lessons and sewing.”
“I was either at school, chasing butterflies in the fields or woods nearby, or in my room drawing,” Victor said. “Still, I agree – you think we would have at least seen each other.”
“When did you first meet?” Emily asked, looking quite curious. “Victor told me that you two were to be engaged.”
“Actually, it was just a few days ago, on the 31st of January,” Victor confessed. “Technically, we were supposed to be wed on the 27th, but then I came here and elected to stay rather than go back. . . .”
“Our parents arranged everything over the holidays,” Victoria added. “When I asked about meeting Victor, Mother said that I’d meet him at the rehearsal.”
Emily stared for a moment. “What if you two had hated each other on sight?” she said slowly.
“I don’t think that mattered much to them,” Victor mumbled.
Emily scowled at that. “That’s not right. They should at least make sure the engaged couple likes each other. I swore early on I’d only marry for love.” She paused, and looked down at herself. “Perhaps I’m a walking advertisement for that being a foolish idea these days, but even so.”
“I don’t think it’s a foolish idea at all,” Victoria said. “I’ve always wanted to marry for love. I never liked the idea of my marriage being arranged. Your trouble was being tricked by a horrible man.”
“And being silly enough to agree to elope,” Emily said with a sigh. “What really worries me is if he’s done this to anyone else. I don’t know if I was the first, the last, or the only with him. I’d strongly prefer it to be one of the latter.”
“He’ll be facing justice if he hasn’t already,” Victoria said firmly. “I can’t believe someone could go around murdering girls for their dowries and not get caught.”
“I wonder what would happen if he made the mistake of going after a Touched girl,” Victor found himself musing. “Or the daughter of a Touched.”
“Something terrifically unpleasant, I’m sure,” Emily said, trying and failing not to smirk.
“Yes,” Victoria agreed, looking a bit more unsettled. “Er – so about this hat shop. . . .”
“It’s a very nice place – the man who runs it is a Touched, but he’s fairly stable,” Victor assured both girls. “And he makes excellent hats. He and his clerk are quite good friends of mine.”
“I hate to ask, but there’s no danger?” Victoria said awkwardly.
“Oh, no!” Victor said, grinning up at the sign as they reached Mad Hatter Haberdashery. “Everyone here is quite friendly, in fact,” he added as he opened the door.
Victor stared for a moment at the Vorpal Blade now quivering in the middle of a dartboard set up on the back wall of the store, and the figure of Alice standing some feet away with her back to them, radiating anger. “Unless I tempt fate by making a statement like that,” he weakly modified.
Alice spun around. “What – Victor! Hello,” she said, looking suddenly unbalanced. “I – um – it’s been a rather annoying day, and – er – who are your friends?” she asked, trying to rally.
Victor glanced back at Victoria and Emily, both almost hiding behind him, eyes wide. “This is Miss Victoria Everglot and Miss Emily Cartwell,” he said, really wishing he could somehow rewind time and warn Alice that they were coming. Or suggest doing this meeting on a different day. “Victoria, Emily, may I present Miss Alice Liddell.”
“Hello,” Alice said, giving them a somewhat shaky smile.
“Hello,” Victoria said hesitantly.
“Hello,” Emily echoed, her eyes on the blade still stuck in the dartboard. “Um – you have very good aim.”
Alice winced. “Thank you. I didn’t mean to greet you like this,” she said, going and retrieving the knife. “As I said, it’s been a rather annoying day. I tend to do this to – relieve the tension.”
“What happened?” Victor asked, as Alice sheathed the Vorpal Blade.
“Oh, some idiot decided to try and lay his hands on a rather private part of my anatomy,” Alice grumbled, rolling her eyes. “He must have been new in town. All the other boys either avoid me outright or seem to understand I don’t care to be flirted with.”
Victor felt his heart fall right down into his shoes. “Oh,” he said quietly.
“You didn’t--” Emily started, then paused, obviously not sure if she should continue.
“The knife? No, that’s for whatever monsters might be roaming around. A glare was all it took,” Alice assured her. “And of course my Ice Wand would be malfunctioning as well.”
“Ice Wand?” Victoria repeated.
“Richard designed it for me – it shoots supercooled air and can freeze almost anything,” Alice said, rather proudly. “He and Christopher are working on fixing it right now.”
Victoria turned pink. “C-Christopher? As in – Sir Lloyd?”
Alice tilted her head slightly. “Yes, that’s him. He and Richard are quite good friends. Are you acquainted?”
“We met through Victor,” Victoria said, suddenly very interested in the folds of her dress. “He was at Dr. Brown’s shop when I – chose to visit. We – got along quite well.”
Alice studied her for a moment, then smiled almost wickedly. “Oooh. That’s nice – he is quite pleasant company, isn’t he?” she said, her tone ever-so-slightly teasing. “He’s just downstairs, you know. Would you like me to call him up?”
“Oh, um, I – I wouldn’t want to interrupt his work,” Victoria babbled, wringing her hands. “Not that I wouldn’t like to see him again, you understand, but--”
“Maybe we could go downstairs and see him,” Emily said, having picked up on the same thing Alice had. “Just to say hello. I’m sure Victor would want to introduce me to this Richard anyway.”
“Is it all right to say hello?” Victor asked, as Victoria continued to wring her hands. “I’d hate to cause them to make a mistake.”
“It should be fine,” Alice said, still smiling in Victoria’s general direction. “Come on – the tea room and lab is just this way.” She opened the back door and headed down the stairs. Victoria hesitated a moment, then hurried after Alice. Victor and Emily, sharing smiles, followed.
The basement room looked a bit different this time – the tea table was still there, place settings all perfect, just without food. But now Victor saw there were a number of benches in the background (had they always been there, or did Richard move them in and out depending on whether they were entertaining?), covered with parts and half-finished inventions. Richard and Sir Christopher were at one a few feet away, leaning over something – Victor couldn’t see what. “Richard?” Alice asked, stepping forward.
“Alice!” Richard’s head snapped up, and he grinned. “It’s almost done, just a minor fluctuation in the ice matrix. But I have to show you – oh, hello,” he said, noticing the others for the first time. “We have company? Are we supposed to have a tea party? You think March of all people wouldn’t forget such an event.”
“No, just visitors who wanted to say hello,” Alice said. “This is Miss Victoria Everglot and Miss Emily Cartwell, friends of Victor’s.” With a little smirk, she added, “Miss Everglot is acquainted with Christopher.”
“Barely,” Victoria said with a nervous giggle. She took in Richard’s unusual appearance with surprising calm, Victor noted. Perhaps it had something to do with being the daughter of a lord. “It’s – it’s very nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you as well,” Richard said, tipping his oversized top hat. He nudged his companion in the side. “Christopher, say hello to your guest. It won’t do to be rude.”
“You should talk,” Alice said, staring at him in disbelief. “Your very first comment to me was ‘Your hair needs cutting.’”
“Well, it did! I was merely making a statement of fact – I didn’t know at the time it was a personal remark.”
“As long as you don’t tell the poor Reanimated girl that she needs more flesh on her, I’ll let it slide,” Alice said, arms folded.
“A deficient amount of flesh is not her fault,” Richard said, folding his own arms. “You could control how long your hair grew.”
Alice adopted a long-suffering expression. “Oh, why oh why do I put up with you. . . .”
As they playfully bickered, Sir Christopher wiped his hands off on a rag and turned around. He looked surprised for a moment, then smiled warmly. “Miss Everglot,” he said, bowing. “How lovely to see you again.”
“It’s very nice to see you as well,” Victoria said, smiling back. “How are you?”
“Oh, just fine,” Sir Christopher replied, patting the workbench. “I’ve been keeping busy with thinking and Inventing and fixing Alice’s weaponry.” Victoria’s smile faltered briefly at that. “How have you been?”
“I’ve been all right. Getting to know the city a little more. I’m amazed at how busy it is. Burtonsville is such a quiet little town.”
“I know,” Emily agreed, waving her skeletal hand. “Even living with Dr. Finklestein on the outskirts doesn’t--” There was a sudden loud snap. “Oh, for – not again!”
Emily’s hand and forearm dropped to the ground. Victor gaped for a moment at the stump, then the loose limb. “Goodness, bits fall off?!” he blurted without thinking.
“Mostly just this hand,” Emily said, as the hand flipped itself over and began crawling closer to her. “I keep telling Dr. Finklestein it’s loose, but he never bothers to fix it.”
“How can you move it when it’s not attached to you?” Victoria said, looking similarly shocked.
“I’m not sure. I asked him once, and he went on about something called ‘morphic resonances’ and ‘telepathic control’ and it all went completely over my head,” Emily admitted.
Richard stared for a moment, then scooped the hand up and examined it. It wiggled in his grip. “A detachable limb,” he murmured, Creativity creeping into his voice. “Oh, that could have all kinds of uses! It would certainly eliminate many trips to and from the toolbox! I’m sure I could duplicate the effect with radio waves or the like. . . . How does it reattach?” he asked, looking up at Emily with an eager, almost child-like expression.
“Ah – well, it just seems to snap back on,” Emily said, offering him her skeletal stump.
“Wonderful!” Richard happily snapped it back into place. “Magnets could do nicely for that!”
Emily looked at him for a moment. Then, seeing he was apparently sincere, she snickered. “You really think – you must be the only man I’ve ever met who finds my detachable limbs something to be excited about,” she told him.
“Really? But it’s such a useful idea!” He looked at his own arm, the wooden wrist and metal elbow gear poking out of the strait-waistcoat. “Though it’s probably different for someone who’s all organic,” he allowed, a bit of sanity returning to his expression. “You probably didn’t like having it fall off when you were alive, did you?”
“It didn’t fall off when I was alive,” Emily informed him, looking even more amused. “Only after I woke up again. And it’s a bit of a pain when you’re playing piano and your hand decides it wants to do a solo on its own.”
“But that sounds even more fantastic! If I built you a spare hand, you could play your own duets! Or three-quarters of a duet, to be more precise. I wonder how that would sound?”
“Probably rather odd,” Victor said, trying to picture the scene in his mind.
“Odd is good!”
Emily shook her head. “You really think this is something wonderful, don’t you,” she murmured.
“Yes. Why do you sound so surprised?”
“Most men, if they see a bit of me drop off, run away screaming.”
“Well then, most men are idiots,” was Richard’s opinion. “I don’t see why a limb falling off in these circumstances is any cause for alarm.” In warmer tones, he added, “Especially when its attached to such a lovely young lady.”
Emily looked like she would blush all over if she had the ability – in fact, Victor would almost swear her cheeks turned a darker blue. “Lovely? Really?”
“Yes! There’s some rot, yes, but that’s not your fault. Your hair is a beautiful shade of blue.”
Emily smiled, lowering her eyes slightly. “Thank you,” she said, voice soft. “You’re – you’re rather handsome yourself.”
Victor had never seen Richard surprised enough to be struck dumb before. It was an amusing experience. “Ah – eh – heheheh,” he said with a rather goofy-looking grin, leaning on the tea table and accidentally jamming his elbow into a large teacup.
Alice sighed and looked up at the heavens. “Oh, it’s enough to make you sick,” she murmured in a friendly way. She glanced at Victor. “Do you make matches for every girl who crosses your path?”
Victor felt a blush rising on his cheeks. “I – ah – it just h-happened to w-work out that way,” he said, his hands automatically going up to his tie. “I had no idea--” He looked over at Emily and Richard, who were now making eyes at each other.
“Really.” Alice moved closer, a daring smirk on her face. “Who do you want to set me up with, then?”
Now his stomach was doing jumping jacks. “I – I--”
“It can’t be Marty, he must have told you he already has a girlfriend.” Alice frowned. “Do you even know any other boys?”
“Um – L-Lewis?”
“Lewis has known me since I was small – he probably thinks of me as a surrogate daughter,” Alice said. “So, who else could it be?”
“Ah – I--” Say it don’t say it tell her don’t bother she might say yes she just said she doesn’t like to be flirted with oh God oh God
Victor jumped, performing a complicated maneuver that landed him both on his feet and facing the opposite direction without even thinking about it. Standing behind him – in the roughest sense of the word, as it was balanced on two wheels – was a large Automaton. It was made of dark brass, and looked rather unbalanced – the torso with its huge arms was connected to the large wheels by a thin metal pole, and the head of the robot was little more than a tiny dome with vents for steam sticking out. He pressed a hand to his chest, breathing hard as he tried to calm his frazzled nerves. “Warn. . .people. . .before you. . .do that!”
“MY APOLOGIES, SIR,” the Automaton said, rocking on its wheels.
Alice stared, then grinned. “Richard! You got him working!”
“Indeed I did!” Finally getting the teacup off his elbow, Richard walked over to his creation and presented it with a flourish. “Everyone, meet Roderick.”
“Roderick?” Victoria repeated, eyes wide.
“Yes! He’s my personal Automaton servant,” Richard said, patting Roderick on the shoulder. “A finer piece of work you would never see.”
“MAY I BE OF ANY ASSISTANCE?” Roderick said, giving the impression he was looking around the group despite his lack of eyes.
“He could help us test the Ice Wand,” Sir Christopher said.
“He could, but I don’t want him to,” Richard said, giving Sir Christopher a frown. “I just got him working this morning, Chris. I don’t want ice in his gears this soon.”
“Well, we need to test it on something.”
“Test it on some tea?” Victoria suggested a bit timidly, looking at the teapots and teacups on the table.
“Tea? But what would we do with it afterwards?” Richard said, looking mildly scandalized.
“Tea-flavored ice lolly?” Alice said.
“I could try and take it back home to Doc,” Victor suggested, quietly glad of the subject change. “He says he loves iced tea.”
“What he calls iced tea is some odd concoction with little cubes of ice in it,” Richard said, sounding very suspicious of the drink. Then he brightened. “Perhaps frozen tea will show him back on the right path.” He turned and whistled.
A few moments later, a green teapot on three legs came scampering up, tooting steam and blinking at everyone with one red eye. “I don’t remember seeing that pot at the table,” Victor murmured.
“Oh, he’s fairly new as well,” Richard said, placing a cup in front of the teapot. “He’s a variation on Burnie’s design.” He tapped the large silver teapot on the table, which promptly rose up on four spindly legs of its own and “looked” down at its new brethren. “I find it easier to have the teapot come to me than to go to the teapot.”
“Perhaps if you deigned to stay in one seat for five minutes,” Alice teased him.
“‘Deigned to stay in one seat?’” Emily repeated, looking confused.
“All proper tea parties have the participants move around so things get used up evenly,” Richard told her as the little green teapot poured a cup of tea, then scuttled over to her. It nosed her boney leg with its spout.
“What happens when you come around to the beginning again?”
“I don’t know, we’ve never gotten that far. But I’ll let you know what occurs when we do.” He picked up the cup of tea and placed it back on the table. “Christopher – the Ice Wand.”
Sir Christopher picked up the object he and Richard had been tinkering with. Victor saw now that it was, in essence, a large bluish crystal mounted on a carved wooden handle. Sir Christopher handed it to Richard, who aimed the crystal at the tea and pressed forward on some hidden switch. “Now, if we’ve done everything correctly. . . .”
A gush of white, icy mist erupted from the end of the wand, enveloping the teacup. Within a minute, the tea inside was frozen solid, and the teacup itself was sporting a very healthy layer of frost. Richard beamed. “Operational order has been restored!”
“Excellent,” Alice said, looking relieved. “That’s one of my most useful weapons.”
“I have to say, I’ve never heard of a young lady carrying weapons before,” Victoria said, looking rather unsettled. “The ladies back home would find it – uncouth, to say the least.”
“Somehow I doubt they have to deal with Snarks, Jabberspawn, and whatever other beasties the local Touched might think up,” Alice pointed out, tone rather deadpan.
“Jabberspawn? I thought Lewis took care of all of those!” Sir Christopher said, frowning.
“No, somehow one or two always escape,” Alice grumbled. “And they’re becoming quite frumious to boot.”
“Dare I ask what a Jabberspawn is?” Emily said.
“A smaller relative of the famous Jabberwock,” Sir Christopher provided. “Horrible things – composed mostly of a long tail, two large legs, and a huge mouth full of sharp teeth. And some bits to hold it all together, of course. They don’t have eyes, but they have an excellent sense of smell and the ability to jump long distances. And a painful electrical attack.”
“Oh my – and you fight these monsters?” Victoria said, looking at Alice with a mixture of fear, awe, and new respect.
“Only when they come out from wherever they’re hiding,” Alice said modestly – or in an attempt not to frighten Victoria too badly. “Someone has to, and Sir Christopher isn’t always here.”
“Women fighting. . . .” Victoria shook her head. “My mother would have a fit.”
“I have to say, I think there’s some use in being able to fight,” Emily said, rubbing her exposed ribs.
Alice looked at her sympathetically. “Murdered?” she asked gently.
“By the man who convinced me to elope with him,” Emily said grimly.
There were shocked gasps from Alice, Sir Christopher, and Richard. “What?”
“Who could do such a thing?”
“Why would he ask you to elope with him if he just planned to murder you?”
“Well, if he hadn’t, he couldn’t have asked me to bring along the family jewels and as much gold as I could carry,” Emily said, glaring at nothing in particular. “And told me to wait in the woods away from any witnesses.”
“Bastard,” Richard said angrily. “And I say that not knowing the status of his birth.”
“He claimed to be a lord, but I think what you called him fits him much better,” Emily agreed.
“Some people,” Alice growled, looking like she wanted to unsheathe her knife.
“Indeed,” Sir Christopher agreed. “What happened to you is utterly horrible. I wish I could do something.”
“Me too,” Richard agreed, icing another teacup just to relieve his feelings.
The green teapot butted up against Emily’s leg, tooting. Emily smiled and gently picked it up. “Not running away screaming from me or telling me I’m worth less than the dirt I was buried under is more than enough,” she said, handing it to Richard.
“People do that? After living here?” He looked at Victor contemplatively. “Perhaps it would be acceptable in someone who’s only been here a while--”
“Except that he didn’t do that either,” Emily said, also looking at Victor. “Nearly jumped out of his skin when I surprised him, yes, but afterward. . . .” A sudden puzzled frown crossed her face. “But actually – why didn’t you scream, Miss Everglot? Have you met Reanimated before?”
“No, just heard of them,” Victoria replied. “I was – startled, but when Victor introduced you, I got distracted by the fact you knew of my father, and after that it just. . . .” Victoria paused, and thought that over, a slow look of shock growing on her face. “And – maybe it was even more impolite than I realized for my parents to call Victor an Igor.”
“Perhaps everyone in Burtonsville is one secretly,” Victor joked, hoping to ease the revelation’s effect on her mind. “And our parents are just better at hiding it.” More seriously, he added, “It’s really nothing bad. Marty’s a definite Igor, and he’s a truly nice fellow. And completely sane, even while helping Doc with his Inventions.”
“Igors are very useful,” Sir Christopher added. “You’ve got to have someone around to help you with the Inventing, and remind you to eat and sleep and so forth.”
“Have you an assistant like that?” Victoria asked, with an unreadable expression.
Sir Christopher blushed faintly. “Er, no, not really,” he said. He twiddled his fingers. “But I would like one,” he added, with a hopeful smile.
Victoria smiled back. “I see.”
“Do you need another assistant?” Emily asked Richard, fiddling with her fingers. “Or – just someone to – tend to the place?”
“Well, March does a lot of that – b-but I wouldn’t mind having you help,” he hurriedly added, pushing back his hat as it threatened to fall into his eyes. “You seem nice and – and I could make you a hat! To go with your veil!”
Emily reached up and touched her veil, looking a little nervous. “To go with? The veil was my mother’s,” she said slowly.
“Not to attach, just to sit on the top of your head,” Richard assured her. “I have some light blue fabric that compliments both your dress and your skin nicely, and with a gay yellow hat band and some flowers – you seem the type who likes roses. White and red, but white would be best with the hat. Or maybe a dark blue!”
“To match my hair?” Emily suggested, starting to get into the thought processes.
“A bit darker, I think. A bit of contrast always livens up a good hat. You can’t let everything be the same, otherwise it all gets dull and boring and we can’t have that.” He straightened up and gestured to himself, gears clicking. “I would never dare to wear a green hat, for example. It would end up that no one could tell where my skin ended and the hat began.”
“That would be – yes, I see what you mean,” Emily nodded, making a face.
“I’m glad you do. So many people don’t.” He smiled at her. “But you’re special.”
Emily ducked her head, looking slightly shy. “So are you.”
Alice patted Victor on the back. “See what you’ve done?” she mock-scolded him. “He’s going to be all twitterpated now. I won’t be able to be in the same room as him. Or Sir Christopher, to think of it.”
Sir Christopher frowned at her. “Come now, Alice.”
“Don’t deny it. I’ve seen the way you two look at each other. And only on your second meeting, no less. And you two are on your first,” she added to Richard and Emily.
“Excuse me for liking a man who doesn’t react with horror to my being Reanimated,” Emily said, folding her arms and frowning at Alice.
“I excuse you gladly,” Alice replied. “I’ve nothing against any of you liking each other. I just ask you to excuse me if I happen to roll my eyes at you calling each other pet names or things like that.”
“Don’t you have any romance in your soul?” Emily asked.
For an instant, Victor fancied Alice’s eyes flicked towards him. Then, slowly, she shook her head. “I don’t need romance,” she said softly.
Victor felt like someone was squeezing his heart inside his – no, her – fist. She didn’t need romance. Which meant – He bit his lip for a moment, seeking to calm the sudden rush of emotion inside of him. He should have known this was useless. Even if she did care for such things, a free spirit like her would never want to be tied down to him. Frankly, he was surprised they were even friends. How could he have hoped for something more?
It’s not all bad, he told himself firmly. At least you didn’t have to make a fool of yourself asking her. She’ll never even have to know she rejected you. And Marty told you that this is temporary. It – it feels horrible, yes, but you’ll survive. And you’ll have her as a friend still, which might not have happened if you’d said something. It – it’s all worked out for the best, really.
His heart didn’t want to listen, crying out deep inside for him to speak up anyway, say something so wonderful she changed her mind, kiss her and let his lips speak for him. . . . He ignored it and put a smile on his face instead. “Why don’t we all have some lunch?” he said. “Then we can all get to know each other better.”
“Capital idea!” Sir Christopher declared. “I’m not as good a cook as March, I’m not afraid to admit it, but I can make some lovely sandwiches.”
“And there’s plenty of tea,” Richard declared, his two sentient pots tooting their agreement. “Er – you do drink tea, don’t you?” he added, glancing at Emily.
She smiled at him. “You do, don’t you?”
He grinned. “Oh, yes. Have you ever tried it with mercury?”
“Er, no, I haven’t had the pleasure.”
“Oh, you should. That slight metallic tang just heightens every other flavor. Arsenic is good too. And belladonna.”
“Actually, the last I have tried,” Emily laughed. “Just not in tea. Jack and Bonejangles mix it up into their drinks. It’s surprisingly sweet – although perhaps that’s just me.”
“No, no, I find it sweet too!” Richard said excitedly, his hat starting to fall into his eyes again. “It’s a pity the normally living can’t try it. It would make an excellent topper for most desserts.”
“Apart from all the death,” Alice joked. “I think I’ll stick with watercress and lettuce for my sandwich plant life.”
“Yes, me too,” Victor said, moving over to Sir Christopher and smiling just a bit too brightly. “What do you have a-available for those of us who cannot eat deadly things?” No matter how much we may want to at the moment.
Sir Christopher began listing off the various sorts of sandwiches he could make. Victor only listened with half an ear, unable to stop himself from glancing back at Alice. Unbidden, an image of them sitting together, her hand on top of his, his eyes locked with hers, rose in his brain. Everyone kept teasing them about their “staring contests.” Could it really be that Alice felt noth–
No, he scolded himself. She knows her own mind. She just said straight out that she doesn’t need romance. You must stop thinking of her like that at once. Marty and Doc both told you that you’d survive the disappointment. Be satisfied with what you have. He turned back around, devoting his full attention to the knight before him.
Which meant he missed Victoria and Emily, who had been watching him with puzzled expressions, share a sudden shocked look.
Lunch went well enough, in Victor’s opinion. Victoria and Emily got along very well with Sir Christopher, Richard, and Alice – particularly the former two. Victor was quite happy for them, but he couldn’t deny that it stung a little to see them being so happy when his own heart felt like it had been torn in two. He hid it as well as he could, though, and made light conversation as they had their sandwiches and some leftover tea cakes. Nobody appeared to notice a thing, least of all Alice.
Lunch ended with a demonstration of a few of Roderick’s duties around the shop and Sir Christopher expounding on an idea for a deal box with a lid that automatically snapped up so you could carry it upside-down and not get your sandwiches wet. They visited for a bit more, watching Richard make a hat for a customer, before saying their goodbyes and heading out into the street. “I should be getting back to Hildegarde,” Victoria said, looking embarrassed. “The poor dear’s probably been wondering where on earth I’ve gotten off to. I hope she doesn’t think too poorly of me for this adventure.”
“She seems an open-minded woman,” Victor said. “I think she’ll understand.”
“I hope so.” Victoria fiddled with her fingers. “Do – do you think my parents will be pleased if I tell that – that I’m becoming quite good fri– acquaintances with a knight?”
“I think they certainly won’t be angry,” Emily said with an encouraging, slightly playful grin.
“I agree,” Victor nodded, smiling as well. “In fact, I think they’ll be quite pleased.”
Victoria looked positively joyful for a moment. “I hope so. I certainly hope so. Sir Lloyd is such a wonderful man, and I’d so like to see him again.” Then her smile faded, and she looked up at Victor. “Not to – Victor, you could have told her,” she said softly.
Victor didn’t need any explanation for what she meant. Well, no, he needed one bit of explanation. “You noticed?” he said, cheeks turning crimson from embarrassment.
“We just saw the way you looked at her,” Emily said gently, putting a hand on his arm. “She’s the friend, isn’t she? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because there was no point in saying anything,” Victor reminded her. “You heard what she said. She doesn’t care for r-romance. And even if she did, she--” He stopped, and shook his head. “She doesn’t want what I want. That’s a-all there is to it. I’m not a-about to risk our friendship over something I know will end badly.”
“Are you sure?” Emily pressed.
“She obviously likes you,” Victoria added.
“As a friend – nothing more,” Victor said firmly. “I can live with that.” He adjusted his tie. “I’d rather not d-discuss it more, if you please.”
Victoria and Emily frowned at each other, but dropped the subject. “All right. Thank you for a lovely afternoon, all the same,” Victoria said. “I hope to meet you again, Victor.”
“I hope to see you again as well,” Victor nodded. “Have a good evening.”
“Thank you. And it was very good to meet you, Miss Cartwell,” Victoria added, extending a hand for Emily to shake. “I hope to see you again too.”
“The same here, Miss Everglot,” Emily said, shaking. “I think I’ll be coming into town a little more often now, so we should meet again.”
Victoria grinned. “Good. Have a wonderful evening.”
“You as well.” Emily and Victor watched her make her way back through the crowds. “We should go meet with Dr. Brown so he can take me back,” Emily added. “It has to be near the time he said before.”
“Almost exactly, actually,” Victor said, consulting his pocket watch. “We’d best hurry.” As they walked back to the street corner, he continued, “Did you have a good day out?”
“A fabulous one,” Emily told him, sighing dreamily. “Thank you so much for taking me to that hat shop.”
Victor grinned. At least his friends had good luck with love. “I’m quite happy for you. I had no idea you and Richard would get along so well.”
“Neither did I. He’s intelligent, and caring, and yes, he’s mad, but I think I like that. Oh, I’m going to have to figure out a regular way to come to the city more often.”
“I wish you all the best of luck with that. I’d like to see you more often.”
“And I you.” Emily put an arm around him and squeezed, surprising him briefly. “I’m very glad that generator broke. Meeting you seems to be leading to all sorts of nice things.”
“I’m glad, I really am,” Victor said, patting the boney hand.
Doc was waiting for them on the corner, hovering slightly above the ground. “Quick, get in,” he urged them, holding out a hand to help Emily into the cab. “Did you have a good time?”
“It was great! Richard’s wonderful,” Emily began, then paused and looked back at Victor, her expression apologetic. “Although Victor. . . .”
“Victor what?” Doc said, turning a concerned frown toward his assistant.
“It’s nothing,” Victor assured him. “I’m fine.” He gave them both his best smile, ignoring again the way his heart ached. “I’m just fine.”