Dr. Cordelia Dirham-Sears stepped out of her carriage without the aid of her driver. Florian had long since accustomed himself to his mistress’s eccentricities.
“Shall I wait, Doctor?” He had descended from the driver’s seat to stand guard over his employer’s crossing from the wide, sun-warmed cobbles of the boulevard to the small, shaded garden outside #35 Arlington Parade. “Or will you return before nightfall?”
Dr. Dirham-Sears shook her head indulgently. The woman rarely gave a thought to the legion of cutpurses and panhandling urchins who patrolled the back alleys of the Parade after sundown. The last time she’d attended a lecture, she’d walked home unchaperoned through the Middling Stews. Florian had considered letting himself go without a reference for allowing it, but left to her own devices, the Doctor often forgot to feed herself or lock the townhouse doors at night.
Cordelia pushed at the wrought iron gate, inhaling the riot of scent from Alasdair’s — Dr. Sledge’s — shade garden: earthy, sour boxwood, the greening aroma of moss and hosta. Her heeled shoes snapped on the red brick walk.
Phipps, resplendent in the Sledge family livery, opened the door before Cordelia could knock. She set her card down on his silver tray, delighting at the nearly undetectable lift at the corners of his mouth. Aboard the Mandarin Dragonet, Dr. Sledge’s fearsome butler had become almost warm towards her.
“The morning room is this way, Dr. Dirham-Sears.” Phipps gestured slightly at the first door on the right.
The butler disappeared upstairs, leaving Cordelia quite alone in Dr. Sledge’s morning room. It spoke of a woman’s influence, but she knew that woman would have been his late sister. Better not to mention the lovely damask on the wall.
She would have stayed put, content to prowl the morning room until Dr. Sledge joined her, but for the music.
A tinkling ripple of consequent tones, an irregular but anticipative rhythmic knock, a harmonic whir, and the distinctive hiss of a small steam engine. She stood quite still, listening with her entire person, as the sounds arranged themselves in a kind of chaotic fugue.
Halfway up the stairs, she paused to consider the violation of Dr. Sledge’s privacy, but the curious symphony beckoned to her. At the landing she turned, a wide-open double door revealed a structure she could only have dreamed existed. A copper and brass miniature tower in the spirit of Eiffel, revealing between its beams and crossbars a clockwork mechanism of billiard balls, xylophone bars, hammered bits of copper, silver chimes… all working in perfect synchronization, driven by the steam engine she’d heard through the ceiling.
Dr. Sledge knelt near the engine, his shirtsleeves rolled back, his cravat loose and hanging from his collar. He hummed Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as he tinkered.
When her words slipped out, they were in the reverent hush of a pilgrim at the foot of a saint. “It’s so beautiful.”
Dr. Sledge stood so quickly he nearly bashed his skull on the structure. “Dr. Dirham-Sears!” A rosy flush crept up his neck. She fought the urge to lay her cool hand on his skin. He looked askance at the machine. “I’m afraid you’ve discovered my secret.”
This week, Write at the Merge offered this prompt: For this week, take your inspiration from a video of the sculpture Archimedean Excogitation in motion and from the word WONDER.
Cordelia and Alasdair have appeared once before, but you don’t need to know them to read this scene.