"But what keeps them up?"
"I've told you. Gas."
"What does that mean, though? How do you make it?"
"A chemical reaction -- complicated, but not impossible."
"How long do they stay up?"
"Only a few hours. Why -- "
"What's the weight-bearing ratio?"
"My good lad, are you a chemist?"
"No, I'm an Engineer."
"An Engineer! I must show you the power cell, it's the wave of the future. Don't mind the explosion."
"I'm not -- okay, I am interested, but I'm interested in gases too."
Ellis, standing at the door to the garden, watched as Jack spoke earnestly with Sir William, both of them tugging idly on ribbons holding inflated, levitating pig's bladders coaxed away from the wary children. He smiled just a little, watching them, because day by day both of the students in his care were exceeding his wildest expectations.
"Are you a student of chemistry and physics?" Sir William asked. It was fascinating to watch them talk at cross-purposes, Jack interested only in the science while Sir William tried to figure out why this bright young Engineer had accosted him.
"Just lately," Jack said.
"About ten minutes ago," Jack admitted. "How much weight can they carry?"
"I've never tested it," Sir William said thoughtfully. "I was more interested in the chemical reaction. The result's just a diversion for the children. My grandson Edmund loves them."
"I can teach you, if you're inclined," Sir William offered. "I originally attempted it with hydrogen gas, but it's unstable. So many of the things we do end in explosion," he sighed. Ellis fought a laugh.
"What do you use now?" Jack asked.
"Helium. It's made by exposing cleveite to mineral acids," Sir William said, finally digging into the technical explanation of the levitating bladders just as Ellis felt a tap on his shoulder.
"News for you," Anderson murmured in his ear.
"Not now," Ellis replied.
"Unless you're holding a knife to my back, keep quiet," Ellis hissed.
"What if you got a really big – say, bladder," Jack was saying. "And filled it with a lot of helium."
"How big a bladder?" Sir William asked.
"Big. Big enough to carry a man."
"Ellis, it's rather urgent," Anderson said.
"Look at Jack," Ellis said softly. "He's on the verge of a breakthrough. Be quiet, I want to watch."
"Bigods, you'd need an elephant," Sir William said thoughtfully. "And of course something of that size would weigh more, so you wouldn't get much more lift, I'm afraid."
"Lighter, then. You could use leather or something," Jack said.
"Still much too heavy. Paper, perhaps, but paper's very permeable," Sir William answered.
"Silk," Ellis said, loud enough that the pair of them turned to face him. He pushed off the stone wall, casually, and ignored Anderson hovering behind him.
"What did you say?" Jack asked.
"Silk," Ellis repeated. "It's quite durable, and very light. Very hard to rip."
"How do you know that?" Jack asked, sidetracked completely.
"A gentleman never tells," Ellis said. "Sir William, I don't think we've made formal acquaintance. I'm Ellis Graveworthy. Your reputation precedes you."
"The novelist? Yours does as well," Grove replied, shaking his hand. "I'm told your novels are scandalous. I admit I haven't read them -- popular fiction doesn't appeal."
"Sometimes it hardly appeals to me," Ellis said.
"El," Anderson said urgently.
"Sir William, I'm afraid my friend Mr. Anderson has some need of Jack and myself," Ellis said, gripping Jack's neck tightly. Jack, for once, took the hint and kept quiet. "We'd like very much to see your laboratory, however. Perhaps tomorrow?"
"Yes, I should be returning inside, they've likely cleared the smoke by now," Sir William said, checking his watch. "Say one o'clock, tomorrow?"
"We'll meet then," Ellis said, smiling politely. "Good evening, Sir William."
"Good evening -- very nice to meet you, my boy," Sir William bowed slightly to Jack and made his way back inside.
"Tomorrow?" Jack burst out, pointing at the floating bladder. "This is the answer! Right here!"
"I'm aware of that, my boy, but we must be patient. Anderson, you have news?" Ellis asked, still looking at Jack's young, somewhat pale face.
"Your house is on fire," Anderson said.
Ellis turned slowly, his hand still on Jack's neck.
"What?" he said.
"Well, all right, it's not anymore, but it was. That's what I've been trying to tell you. Word just came down -- the expected attack was a bit more violent than expected."
"Nicholas?" Ellis demanded.
"Fine, apparently, but not unscathed. They knocked him out, and the students you hired to help him. Then they set the house on fire. It looks like a Creationist attack of some kind, probably."
"My books -- "
"My boat!" Jack cried. Anderson held up his hands, which did make Ellis want to punch him just a little.
"There's no permanent damage to the house. One of the quick-thinking ones on our side got out and doused the blaze. Some bits won't be livable for a while, but your books are fine, and the garden house was untouched. Your boat's safe, Jack."
Ellis released Jack and ran his hands through his hair, feeling not a little overwhelmed. He shut his eyes for a minute and breathed deeply.
"Gregory," he said.
"I'll leave tonight," Anderson said. "Keep your appointment tomorrow."
"Thank you. Jack?"
"Silk, lots of it," Jack said. "There must be loads in London."
"We'll go tomorrow before we see Sir William. If we leave now, we'll arouse suspicion. Find Clare and let her know."
"Yessir," Jack said. He tied the ribbon to the handle of the scullery's water-pump and ducked into the house. Ellis reached out to touch the ribbon gently, and it swayed away from his fingers at the lightest push.
"You all right, Ellis?" Anderson asked.
"Yes -- of course. Thank the Creator they didn't find the garden house. I'll have to pull myself together and go inside and distract them, that's all," he said. "Verne's still lurking around."
"I don't trust him," Anderson said.
"He's French, that doesn't make him evil. He's a writer."
"So are you. He's a nationalist -- "
"He's a monomaniac. He hasn't got time for international intrigue; he's too busy writing about it. He's obsessed by mechanical engineering and he writes adventure novels."
"You write adventure novels!"
"He's not an agent of the government. He hasn't got the subtlety for it. Trust me, Gregory."
"Trust me, he says," Anderson sighed. "I'm off for Cambridge. I'll expect letters."
"Just keep that ship safe. Jack's finally found a way to fly," Ellis said.
"You're trusting your life and mine to a pig's bladder filled with gas," Anderson observed.
"Well, the world is full of things too mad even for fiction."
"Someday that philosophizing is going to get you into trouble," Anderson said, but he clapped Ellis on the shoulder and disappeared into the trees to escape the party without notice. Ellis wistfully entertained a momentary dream of doing the same.
Instead he went inside and found Jack and Clare speaking quietly in a corner together. Others were watching the pair, covertly and openly, and he saw Monsieur Verne glancing at them as someone else talked to him, apparently about Jack. Ellis sighed and crossed the room, smiling as he greeted both of them loudly, then shepherded them away from the nearest guests.
"Listen to me," he said in a low voice. "I know that right now all you can think about is the airship and the fire, but we have to stay here. Officially, we don't know what's happened or why. This is difficult, but you must be someone other than yourselves tonight. You must go in to dinner calmly and pretend you're ordinary students. I don't care how you do it -- pretend you're some dullwit you knew at school in Boston, or one of the society people you met on the cruise. Don't be stupid, just be ordinary."
"After all this?" Jack hissed.
"Yes! For the sake of Creation, Jack, I'll take you to the silk warehouse tomorrow and to see Sir William but -- Annie!" Ellis called. "Annie, are you going in to dinner?"
"Yes, they've just rung for it," Annie said, appearing at his elbow.
"Excellent. Would you, divine woman -- " he kissed her on the cheek, " -- be good enough to take Jack in with you? It's his first party and he's a little overwrought, I think. Get a glass of scotch into him," he added, in her ear. She smiled and held out her hand to Jack.
"Come in with us. I'm dying to hear more about America," she said, leading Jack away.
"The house is on fire?" Clare asked, when Jack was gone.
"Was. Was on fire. Anderson's handling it," Ellis said. "We can't do anything about it, Miss Fields, so there's no point in worrying. Will you let me take you in?" he added, before she could object further.
"I'm doing this under protest," she told him, but she took his arm and let him lead her into the dining room.
"Graveworthy!" someone called. "Come over, you're just here."
"Arthur," he replied, easing Clare into the seat next to him and leaning over her to shake the man's hand. "Down from Edinburgh? Not skipping out on your classes, are you?"
"Not in the least. You've been out in the garden, I see," Arthur replied. He was a young man with a fierce shock of brown hair and the sharpest eyes Ellis had ever seen on anyone, keen and missing nothing. "What's this, not writing?" he added, still holding onto Ellis's hand and turning it over, studying the callus on his thumb.
"I've a new mechanism -- you should pay a call while we're in town and have a look," Ellis answered, taking his hand back politely and seating himself. "Arthur, this is my companion Clare Fields, late of America, up to study at Cambridge. I imagine she's about your age, actually. Clare, may I present Arthur Conan Doyle, of the University of Edinburgh. He's studying to be a doctor -- but you're here as a prodigy tonight, I imagine?"
"Oh yes," Arthur agreed, in his pleasant light brogue. "I do some little writing for the papers," he added to Clare, by way of explanation. "I don't mind these literary gatherings, though it's rather a lot of pressure."
"He has a very unnerving party trick of telling people about themselves, so don't let him convince you he's a witch," Ellis added.
"Which reminds me, how's your left shoulder?" Arthur inquired. "Rheumatism already? I can have a look if you like, as a medical professional."
"You're off that time," Ellis said. "I had a little accident in America. Do explain how you knew, though, I know that's your favorite part."
"You've been favoring it all night -- when you turn left, you pull it in, but you prefer to turn right when possible."
"Observing me?" Ellis asked.
"Just observing. Was that the boy tearing up the stairs earlier?" he asked, indicating Jack with his soup spoon.
"That's Jack," Clare said, smiling down the table at where Jack was making conversation with Jules Verne, and Annie Masters was making desperate faces at Ellis. Ellis gestured for her to remain calm while Clare continued. "He's come out from America with me to study at Cambridge."
"Not a Creationist like yourself, though. An Engineer?"
"How'd you know?"
"I noticed the scars on his hands. I thought chef, perhaps, until I saw his shoes."
"You should have gone into the police, Arthur," Ellis said.
"Medicine's much more lucrative. And more interesting. People are fairly dreary, by and large. Very predictable. Present company excepted, naturally."
"And compliment taken."
"That's Verne he's talking to," Arthur said. "Queer man. Have you read his book?"
"Several, in the French. I haven't bothered with the translation, but I think Jack must have," Ellis said.
"Watch their bodies," Arthur said, sipping his wine as the waiter took his soup plate away. "I think the woman to Mr. Baker's left -- not Miss Masters, the other one -- finds him attractive. See how she leans in to hear what he's saying, even though he's talking to Mr. Verne?" he asked, glancing at Clare -- showing off a bit, Ellis thought. "Verne thinks he's a fan of his book, but Baker has much more to say, doesn't he? His whole body's turned towards him. He had best slow down if he wants Verne to understand a word of it. Ah -- see there! That's a gesture only Engineers make, with the fork held like that, because of the tools they use."
Ellis smiled and let Arthur talk on, leaping from one person to the next and drawing the most accurate conclusions from the slightest of clues. He did watch Jack, however, and he had to admit that Jack seemed far more interested in Jules Verne than in either his food or the women seated around them.
"I must admit, it's nice to see a few young faces around the place," Arthur was saying, apparently under the assumption Ellis couldn't talk to the woman on the far side of him and listen to their conversation at the same time. "Though I'm not sure some of the other women at the party appreciate the competition."
"Competition?" he heard Clare ask.
"Well, yes. Anyone with half an eye can see you're quite the favorite of Mr. Graveworthy tonight."
Ellis heard Clare laugh. "He's my chaperone, that's all."
"Be that as it may, he's shown more interest in you tonight than in most women he's met since I've known him. Of course most of them have given him up as a prospect, but see there -- and there, and that one -- well, it's hardly difficult to see they're trying to get his attention, and those two over there don't look very fond of you. I don't imply anything -- "
"I guess you'd know," Clare said drily, and Ellis heard Arthur laugh.
"I suppose so. But others will draw their wrong conclusions. After all, you're a pleasant young woman and he's a wealthy, handsome man; he could have his pick, and he seems to have picked you."
"I'm pretty sure his interest in me is educational only," Clare said.
"The more fool him," Arthur replied in a low voice, and Ellis decided it was probably time to interrupt the conversation.
By the time they got home that night, Jack was almost dead on his feet; Ellis took him as far as his bedroom and made sure his boots were off before leaving him to his own devices. Downstairs, Clare was shaking her hair loose and taking off her cloak.
"You'd think he'd be too excited to sleep," she said, as Ellis took her cloak and hung it up. "He was so excited about everything."
"I made sure he had a few drinks," he answered with a smile. "He'll need his rest for tomorrow. I didn't trust him to get there on his own."
"But you trust me?"
"Well, you're a little more...aware of yourself than Jack. You'd make an excellent spy," he said conversationally.
"I don't want to be a spy. Too much like lying."
"My dear Miss Fields, what do you suppose Creation is?" Ellis asked, and left her staring after him in the front hall as he went wearily to his own rest.
Breakfast the next morning was an exciting affair; Jack was forced to drink a glass of tabasco and raw egg that Ellis prepared himself, which Jack did admit rid him of his headache and gave him appetite for breakfast. Clare was more interested by the plate of letters that Nicholas brought in halfway through the meal.
"Miss Fields," he said, setting one next to her plate. Graveworthy was slitting open a ragged sheet of paper and studying its contents.
"Anderson reports all's well, if not in so many words," he said. "The boat's safe and the grounds are under guard -- he says he bagged 'three ducks' this morning but I imagine he's speaking of our vandals. He'll see that they're interrogated and sent whence they came, which appears from other remarks to be Germany. I knew Herr Blauberg was up to no good. No more concerns there," he added, setting it aside. "I'll write back after breakfast. What about you, Miss Fields?"
"It's from Mr. Conan Doyle -- he sat with us at dinner," Clare said, for Jack's benefit. "He's a medical student in Edinburgh. He had the most -- " she'd been talking while skimming the letter, and now she broke off, feeling color rise in her cheeks.
"I think Miss Fields has a prize from the party," Graveworthy said, sounding amused.
"What?" Jack asked, brows drawing together.
"Don't listen, he's teasing me," Clare said, folding up the letter.
"Not in the least. A social conquest is to be celebrated. Ah -- looks like you have one too, Jack," Graveworthy continued, holding up a letter. "Not quite as romantic, though. It's from Verne -- in French, which is why he sent it to me and not you. Dear Mr. Baker...full of technical details that you apparently asked for at dinner, plus a compliment on your intellect and the educational ability of American schools. I did ask you both to be ordinary, and instead you go round snaring doctors and Frenchmen."
"Well, I can't help it," Jack complained. "I did try."
"I'll translate it for you later. Eat up, we're bound for the silk warehouses this morning and we won't have much time for lunch before we're expected by Sir William," Graveworthy said. "Now that you've had your brainstorm there's no point in wasting time."
Jack, having apparently recovered from the previous night's excesses, kept bounding ahead of them as they walked to Spitalfields that morning. Clare didn't see what the fuss was about; the bare exterior walls and uncrowded streets of the Silk District looked drab and uninteresting to her, compared to the open-air markets of Boston.
"Wait until you're inside," Graveworthy advised, choosing a door that didn't look different to any others and gesturing them through.
She followed Jack into a smaller room than she'd expected, and the immediate burst of color dazzled her for a second. It was a display room filled with wicker dressmaker's models, some draped in swaths of bright silk and others showing off exquisite dresses.
Clare had never much bothered with her clothing other than to make sure she looked presentable; as a young girl she'd preferred trousers to skirts. Still, she covetously eyed one dress in dark blue, while Graveworthy introduced them to a slim, elegant man with a measuring tape around his neck.
"Mrs. Parsons is new to London," Graveworthy said, gesturing to her. "She's come to realize that her dresses are ever so slightly out of date, and of course Mr. Parsons wouldn't stand for that, but they don't know many people here, so I've brought them with me."
"A pleasure to serve you, Mrs. Parsons," the man said. "What are we looking for today?"
Clare glanced at Jack, who shrugged. Graveworthy looked amused.
"She'll need some guidance, and I expect she'll be very picky. Actually -- Mr. Parsons is an industrialist. Would you mind if he and I toured the stock and had a look at some looms while you're fitting her?"
"Our proprietor would be happy to show you the bolts," the man agreed. "Miranda!"
"Yes?" said an elderly woman, emerging from behind a curtain.
"Mr. Parsons would like to see the stock."
"Right this way," she said, taking a large key from a pocket and unlocking a door in the back of the small shop. As they disappeared into darkness, the man Graveworthy had selected studied her with unnerving objectivity. Clare was beginning to regret agreeing to play the girl in this little charade.
On the other hand...
"You like the dark blue?" the man asked.
"Yes, I do," she said. "Tell me, do you do shirts and waistcoats as well?"
"Are you looking for something for your husband?"
Clare laughed. "No, for me."
The man matched her smile. "Ma'am, I would like nothing more than to tailor you a waistcoat."
"I thought that's what you'd say," she said, and stood obediently as he began to take measurements.
"We pride ourselves on our access to some of the best dyes in London, though of course we do whites as well," Miranda said, as she led them past rack on rack of cloth bolts. "Don't even look at these; they're the cheaper varieties. A man of substance wants something much nicer for his wife."
"Actually, I'm looking for your most durable silk," Jack said. "Something hardwearing but light."
"Is Mrs. Parsons an industrialist also?" Miranda asked, guiding him to the right.
"No, she's a Creationist," Jack said absently.
"Ah, I see. Not a dressmaker, though?"
"No, I don't think so. She's not employed right now."
"That's just as well -- we don't much hold with Creationist dressmakers in the silk district. Why pay so much for some confection that only lasts a night? We hold by Cinderella's Law here," Miranda continued. "Good pay for quality workmanship, crafted by skilled hands."
"I always liked the bit where the stepsisters had to walk naked through the village," Graveworthy put in. Jack elbowed him. "Well, I do. Feeds a young man's imagination, up to the point where they froze to death. Children love that gory stuff."
"Well, there'll be no going naked here. Hardwearing, you said?"
"Durable but light," Jack repeated. "It's for a project I'm working on."
"Dye can loosen the threads -- would you prefer undyed?"
"Color's not important," Jack said, as she climbed a ladder with surprising speed and filled her arms with fabric.
"Now, this is lovely stuff, guaranteed not to rip save at the point of a very sharp knife. I can provide half-yard samples at three and two dyed, two and five undyed. There are several weights; shall I select you an assortment?"
"Please," Jack said. Then, because he couldn't help himself, "Can I see the looms?"
"Of course. We're not weaving today, but if you'd care to climb the stairs you're free to explore at your leisure, Mr. Parsons. We do ask that you don't touch anything, of course. I'll just fetch the scissors and cut you some samples," she said, the gleam of future large business orders in her eye.
"I don't think I know the story of Cinderella," Jack said, as he climbed the narrow iron spiral staircase behind Graveworthy.
"It's not taught in Creationist circles much -- it's anti-Creation, and not as tragically touching as Pinocchio," Graveworthy replied. Jack emerged into a high-ceilinged, wide-windowed room with the autumn light filtering down over the looms, sitting like rows of quiet spiders. Graveworthy sat on one of the weavers' stools and lit a cigarette.
"Would you like to hear the story?" he asked, as Jack examined one of the flywheels on the loom pedal.
"Naked stepsisters?" Jack said with a crooked smile.
"Yes. It's an interesting tale. Very old, probably even older than the Italian that comes down to us -- that's La Gatta Cenerentola. I've found odds and ends here and there in old Egypt and even in some stories an explorer brought back from China about two centuries ago."
"How do you know all that?" Jack asked.
"I'm a storyteller. It behooves me to know my roots. This particular story -- tut!" Graveworthy tapped his hand lightly as Jack reached out to test a crank. "No touching, she said. The story concerns a woman who learns that hard work is to be rewarded, and vanity punished..."
Cinderella, a translation from the Italian
A MORAL TALE OF THE TRIUMPH OF INDUSTRY OVER WITCHCRAFT
Once upon a time there was a duke who had a young daughter, a sweet girl of good temper and unparalleled kindness. When her mother died, he found a second wife, a proud and haughty woman with two spoilt daughters who were, like their mother, vain and cruel.
Along with her own daughters, this wicked Stepmother employed the girl in all the housework, but to her were assigned the most unpleasant tasks, for she had no skill in the witchcraft that her stepmother and stepsisters practiced. At night she would be required to clean out the cinders for the morning's fire, and for this reason she was called Cinderella by her stepsisters. She dared not tell her father what she suffered, for he was often away and would have scolded her when he returned if he found her dissatisfied.
The Duke was beholden to a Prince, a young and clever man who was in need of a wife to help him rule. He determined to invite all the unwed virgins under his dominion to a ball, so that he could select a wife. The stepsisters were invited, but Cinderella was forbidden to go, for she could not witch herself a dress as the Stepsisters could, and she had no money of her own with which to buy something that would not shame her father the Duke.
As the sisters departed for the ball, Cinderella cried in despair and prayed for a miracle. Forsaking God, she prayed for a Witchmother, a guardian spirit who would assist her -- and immediately before her stood a woman of uncommon beauty. This Witchmother created for her a beautiful dress and a coach and four horses. Her crowning glory for Cinderella was a pair of fur slippers to cushion her feet for the dancing.
Because the witchcraft was not hers, however, Cinderella could not sustain the Creation longer than the Witchmother had set it, and she must return by midnight or stand naked in front of all the kingdom. Cinderella agreed, and that night she so enchanted the Prince that he had eyes for no other. Bearing her Witchmother's warnings in mind, she left well before midnight.
The next day, hoping to find the mysterious young woman once more, the Prince threw a second ball, and again Cinderella was forced to watch as her stepsisters dressed themselves in finery that imitated her own dress before sweeping away to charm the Prince. Again she wept, and again her Witchmother came forth and assisted her, warning her for a second time that she must return by midnight or stand naked in front of the kingdom.
This time Cinderella was not quite so careful, and as the clock struck midnight she fled in haste, taking a horse from the stables. Her dress vanished as she rode into the woods and, as she released the horse to return home and crawled into her bed, teeth chattering with cold, she knew that for her disobedience the Witchmother would not come again.
The Prince was so taken with the girl who could ride a horse like a man that he proposed a new diversion, a deer-hunt on his private land. The sisters, of course, could witch themselves horses; Cinderella could not, and was taken along only to serve as horse-maid.
It came about, however, that though the wicked stepsisters could witch horses, they could not control them. As they were gathering for the hunt, one horse threw the elder sister and spooked the horse of the younger sister, which ran into the wood. Cinderella, knowing the path, took the elder's horse and rode after her, and the Prince rode after Cinderella.
Though she could ride like a man, he was not yet convinced that Cinderella was his bride, and demanded that she witch herself the beautiful fur slippers that had cushioned her feet for dancing. She could not, of course, and though her sisters tried they could not produce slippers quite so wonderful. The Prince, not wishing to lose Cinderella, locked her in a tower and bade her marry him when she could witch herself the wonderful slippers. In the meantime, the wicked stepsisters visited her, but spent most of their time wooing the prince with tales of their own virtue and kindness -- as invented as the dresses they had worn to the ball.
Cinderella wept and wept, but the Witchmother would not appear, and it became apparent that she would have to free herself. Remembering the fit of the slippers and the texture of their fur, she begged the gamekeeper who was her jailer to bring her two fresh young fox kits, and through the long days of her imprisonment she tanned and cut and stitched until her fingers ached.
At last she had produced two beautiful slippers, and when the Prince saw them he begged her forgiveness and asked why she had not witched them for herself sooner. She showed him that they were everlasting and would not fade with time; when he saw this, the Prince begged again for her forgiveness, and that she would be his bride.
Cinderella agreed and wed the Prince, on the condition that witchery be outlawed in his kingdom; when he ruled that it be so, it was found that the wicked stepmother and her daughters could not tan or spin or weave or sew. Yet still they were forced to come to the palace every day and visit with their sister the Princess, walking through the countryside and town without a stitch of clothing on their bodies. Eventually it grew cold, but still must come, their pride and vanity forcing them to prove they were as virtuous as they had claimed, until one day they did not appear, and their bodies were found under a snowdrift during a spring thaw.
Thus it is that industry, though it does not have the shine or simplicity of witchcraft, is rewarded, while laziness and vanity are punished slowly.
Jack shook himself back to reality and found that he was sitting on the floor of the loom chamber, arms around his knees, listening raptly to Graveworthy's story. Miranda had appeared at the top of the stairs, her arms full of cloth.
"Mr. Parsons, I have your samples for you," she said, though her eyes said So like boys to sit in a loom chamber and tell stories. "And Mrs. Parsons sends word that if you aren't finished, she is happy to be fitted for more dresses."
Graveworthy laughed. "We had better go, Parsons. I've bored you long enough."
They climbed down the stairs, Jack still shaking tatters of the fairy tale out of his head. He wasn't sure he liked it, but it had certainly been told well. Miranda held the door for them as they re-entered the fitting shop, and she immediately went to the counter to begin packaging up the samples, with a list of what they were and the price per yard (in very small print).
"Find anything?" he asked Clare, who looked like she was plotting something.
"Oh yes. Just a few things -- payment on delivery, naturally. They'll bring them around -- this evening?" she said. The shopkeeper nodded and handed Jack his bundle.
"Put it on the bill for my wife's things," he said. "This was very interesting, thank you."
Creating helium was not as easy as Jack had assumed it would be.
You had to be precise with gears, of course, but there were only so many tooth sizes that you could buy a gear in, and you could look at a machine before you turned it on and know whether it would work or not. Perhaps not how well it would work, or if it would do what you wanted, but at least you knew it would function. With chemicals, precision measurements were even more important, and things could go very wrong if you didn't pay attention.
Sir William, understanding Jack's hunger for knowledge, took all three of them into his laboratory that afternoon and demonstrated his work with gases with the innocence of a scientist among colleagues, which Jack knew Graveworthy found almost disconcerting. It was more distressing to Jack that he blew up three tests and suffered one minor burn on his hand before he managed to even create helium gas, let alone entrap it in anything.
Clare grew bored with the repetition and wandered around the laboratory, while Graveworthy sat nearby and wrote in a notebook, looking up occasionally when something exploded. After Jack managed the chemical reaction successfully for a second time, Sir William declared that he could use refreshment, and suggested that they break for tea.
"I'm intrigued by your interest in creating a gas which seems to be useful primarily for entertaining children," Sir William said, as he poured the tea and sat down. "Do you have the idea of using it in some engineering application?"
"I don't know yet," Jack said. "Would it be possible to make a lot of helium at once?"
"Well, I suppose, as long as you had enough cleveite and a solid method of distributing the sulfuric acid. You'd have to run all of it through the extraction process, though, so you'd need a large, very precise setup. Enlarging any operation, as I'm certain you're aware, increases the likelihood that small variations, negligible at this stage, will become much more dangerous. I thought you merely wanted to experiment with lift," he added.
"Right now, yes. Who knows where experiments lead?" Jack said. "Do you have any idea how long it would take a larger mass to dissipate?"
"Well, it diffuses through the organic matter, that's why it doesn't last long. It becomes part of the air, you know." Sir William stirred his drink thoughtfully. "Now, something less elastic or perhaps less permeable -- I wonder. A metal cylinder, or a glass bottle..."
He stood and set his tea down next to the experiment tray, picking up a glass bottle and stopper. There was a small spigot at the end of the extraction apparatus where the gas was released; he held the jar over it and stoppered it quickly when gas began to leak out the edges. Jack joined him, watching as he filled a second. Then Sir William took a small paper sack, of the kind chemists used to transport substances that would be dangerous if a Created sack didn't hold for long enough, and held it over the jar, opening the lid.
There was a soft noise, like a sigh, and the bag began to float, drifting upwards. All eyes in the room watched as it rose, slipping out of Sir William's hands and eventually bumping itself on the ceiling. The impact seemed to imbalance something; the bag tilted sideways and tumbled slowly to the ground.
Jack picked up the other bottle and carried it back to his seat, thoughtfully. He held it in both hands, looking down at the miracle trapped there.
"Mr. Graveworthy," he said softly, while Sir William retrieved the bag, "here's your airship in a bottle."
Graveworthy smiled at him over the edge of his notebook. "Excellent, Jack. Well ahead of schedule, but not a moment too soon. Will you build it for me, now?"
Jack basked in the praise for a moment, but when the words sank in, he realized how far he had to go now that he knew what to build. He set the bottle on the table and took a sip of tea to stop his hands from shaking.
"Sir William, if I hired you to produce helium for me, how much could you make and how fast?" he asked. Sir William looked up from behind a row of metal pipes in one corner of the table.
"Well, it takes about an hour to fill a half dozen bladders," he said thoughtfully. "Working full-tilt, with plenty of supplies and a few of the students helping, I suppose we could make quite a lot in a few days. Storage is a problem, but I do have some compressed-air canisters that we could put it in."
"You're on payroll," Jack said, beaming and holding out his hand. Sir William laughed as he shook it. "I've got to run off, but I'll come again tomorrow morning to make the arrangements."
"But why do you want so much helium?" Sir William asked, as Jack pulled his coat on. Clare, anticipating as always, was already buttoned up; Graveworthy was only delayed by having to stow away his notebook and cap his pen.
"There are some things it's better not to know," Graveworthy said to him, as Jack fitted the glass bottle into his pocket. "Jack will provide you with his research notes, of course, once his experiments are concluded."
Outside, Graveworthy hailed a cab and helped them into it. As soon as they were moving, Jack held out his hand. "Can I use your notebook?"
"Certainly. Ignore the scribbling," Graveworthy said, handing it over.
"So, there's the weight of boat, steam engine, propeller, infrastructure -- fuel for the engine, and water -- food supplies, two men...does it have to be two?" he asked, taking a pencil from behind his ear (he'd have to return that to Sir William) and writing furiously.
"Absolutely, at minimum."
"All right. Then I'll need to know mass and lifting power of the helium. Damn, plus helium jars. I'll have to calculate dissipation so we know how many it'll take to get to Australia, which means distance and approximate speed of the finished ship. I need to build a prototype and some test bladders and add in some allowance for wind. Once I know lift, weight, and speed I can figure out how big the bladder will have to be."
A sudden tension in Clare's shoulder, pressed against his, made him pause and look up; Graveworthy's expression was one of amused tolerance, but Jack couldn't think of anything he'd said that was incorrect. He went back to writing formulas.
"Let I be Infrastructure and F be fuel plus water for the boiler," he said, sketching out a line of letters. "H plus S for weight of the human element and food and water and such, added to I and F, producing W. Divide by lift power of one unit of helium, call it B, equals amount of units needed for lift, or L. F is variable based on distance and speed. Damn. Okay, take L and factor for dissipation, that will affect the helium canisters, which will affect weight..."
He rubbed the back of his head. "I'll have to guess and then rework it. But look, it'll be like this."
With the notebook flat on his lap, he sketched out the boat he'd been building, piling imaginary boxes and canisters in the forward bow. Over the boat he drew an oblong silk bladder, lashed to hooks by rope and held rigid by thin filaments of wire. In the center of the boat he drew a boiler with a vent under it for extra lift, and attached two propellers mounted to the back of the boat. As an afterthought, he added a vertical screw for stability on the stern and two rudders at the propellers for steering.
Graveworthy took the book back from him and studied the drawing for a while. Jack fidgeted with his pencil.
"Better sign it," he said, passing it back.
Jack signed hesitantly in his best drafting script, and then added an inscription below it. Clare, leaning over to read, hugged him around the neck and smiled.
Social History of the Industrial Revolution Class (HUM HIST I)
Baker University for Engineering, Sheffield, England
...in this diagram is clearly seen not only the technical drafting skill and elegant aesthetics -- I'm looking at you, Miss Hodges -- of the airship, but also the generosity of spirit often ascribed to Sir Jack Baker in his private life.
Note the difference in script. Here, we see a professional Engineer's drafting hand as signature, as well as the date and location, very correct; below it we have something much more interesting. Commission of E. Graveworthy; that's credit where due for the bankroll. Underneath, scientific credits; Made possible by the discovery of helium by Sir William Grove, the formulation of Leonardo da Vinci's Screw-Mechanism, and the educational contributions of the London Shipyards.
Now, what have I left off?
That's correct, Mr. Fordham. In rather larger letters, below credits given, we have the title of the ship. Airship I, The H.M.A. Clare Fields. Named for Sir Jack's close companion, of course, as she was then known.
Now there is a shipping tradition of naming seagoing vessels for women and referring to them in the feminine; whether intended or otherwise, he carried this tradition over into the airships we know today, and you may see examples of this in the USAS Amelia Earhart, the HMA Victoria Gloriana and HMA Annie Masters, and the ANAS Altjira. It is also seen in many examples of early airship figureheads in fin-de-siècle air transport -- now now, we're all adults here, surely you can see a wooden woman with bare breasts without laughing.
Here we have the realization of the sketch, and you can see that very little has been modified, typical of Sir Jack's habit of formulating a final sketch and carrying through only after extensive research. Crude and hand-built and not without its problems, of course, but not bad for a first attempt.
In this next slide you will see an example of a German prototype built slightly later, using information on the project obtained through espionage. Who can spot what a nineteen-year-old Engineering student from America caught that the finest minds in Germany missed? Everyone? Well, that's heartening. The structure to stabilize the balloon is entirely missing, and the vertical screw, an apparent afterthought on the original draft, is shrunken to the point of uselessness. Similar attempts in France and America, after Germany's interests became known, met with similar lack of success. In a way this is not their fault; they were attempting to copy a model and not innovate themselves, which can lead to dangerous errors. Not until the original notes were published in full...
When they arrived back at their home-from-home in London, Jack tore his calculations out of Graveworthy's notebook and went to work. He had not excelled at mathematics at Harvard, but he could work through the formulas if he was given long enough. Soon the table in the sitting-room was covered in paper, much of it discarded as he rewrote and refined his work, the jar of helium sitting at his elbow.
He lifted his head as the bell at the door rang noisily; he was there even before Clare, who had been keeping an eye out for her new clothes. Graveworthy tossed him a pouch of money as he passed, and he paid hurriedly, tipped the delivery-man, and tore into the packages there on in the foyer.
"Jack, you're such a savage," Clare said, taking the package out of his hands. "These are mine -- here's yours," she added, handing him the precious packet of silk samples.
"Needle and thread," he said.
"There's some decorative sewing basket or other in the sitting-room," Graveworthy told him. "Hold on..."
He grabbed Jack by the shoulder and stopped him from running off. Jack really wished he would stop doing that.
"Your silks will wait. Be a gentleman; Clare has new dresses, which I paid for, and I'm sure she'd like to show them off."
Clare's smile, as Jack turned, was wicked.
Graveworthy did let him seek out the sewing equipment and begin assembly on a piece of stout gray silk while they were waiting for Clare to change, but he made Jack put it down as Clare prepared to enter.
"Blue silk!" she called, and Jack looked up just as she appeared in the doorway.
"That's not a dress," he said. Clare rolled her eyes.
"It doesn't have to be," Graveworthy answered, and Jack glanced over to him to see him watching Clare with more than objective observation merited, in his opinion. He didn't see what the big deal was; Clare used to wear trousers and shirts all the time as a kid.
"I like it," she said, straightening the sleeves of the white silk shirt and the deep blue waistcoat over it. "The trousers are heavy knit. Good for winter, I thought. Look!"
She leaned into the hallway and picked up a deep blue frock-coat as well. "Wool, silk-lined."
"Quite splendid," Graveworthy replied.
"And!" she vanished again.
"Tell her she looks nice," Graveworthy murmured.
"She knows that."
"People like to hear it."
Clare reappeared just as Jack finished the first seam. "Okay, these are Jack's trousers -- "
"Clare!" Jack said.
"But they go with the green waistcoat and the brown shirt, don't they?" she asked, tying her hair back and placing a newsboy's hat on her head.
"You look nice," Jack told her. She beamed at him.
"They made me three waistcoats, and they had shirts ready-made that just needed to be tucked here," she added, lifting one of the waistcoats to study the needlework where shirt met trousers.
"Certainly not money wasted," Graveworthy said. "You might set a new fad, Miss Fields."
"I've seen women in trousers in England," she said.
"Yes, but those are working women. The women of your class generally prefer dresses. I doubt it's occurred to many of them to wear fine men's' clothing."
Clare flopped on the sofa near Jack and put her feet up on the low table in front of them. "Want some help?"
"You can't sew," he said, amused. "And they really are nice, Clare."
"You're sweet, but you're like a train. One track, no stopping. It's all right," she added. "What about building a little ship to hang under it?"
"I need to test with weights first. Tonight I'm just going to make some test bladders."
"You'll have to call them something a little less scatological, if you want to be taken seriously," Graveworthy remarked. "Pocket, maybe."
"Wrong way up," Jack said.
"Fine, what about a -- well, not a ball," Graveworthy said, chuckling. "Take a page from the French. Call it a balloon."