I am often surprised by the heat in the flatlands during the summer months. It makes me glad that my postings here so far have been seaside towns. In the late afternoons, when the sun has baked the streets, the cooling breeze from the ocean makes proper office wear for the town bearable. Leaving the office after the sun touches the trees to the west of the civic plaza means I can spend the heat of the day catching up the archival files in the basement, and still have light to work by in the late afternoon, and a breeze as well.
Doamnă Loewenstein remarked this was good schedule management, and a positive note in my interim review this week past. So I was already in a cheerful mood as I strolled towards my lodgings at the hotel, when I chanced to meet one who cheered me even further. He hailed me, “What luck, meeting you here -- just got off the train. How are you, mo cridhe?”
I managed to remember to behave myself in the public street, “I am well!”, and blushing, murmured, “I missed you.”
"And I you, my heart." He smiled down at me, “Do you have plans this evening? Whatsay to a spot of dancing? Once I've changed out of this outlandish garb, that is. Unless you mind dancing with a vagabond, smelling of sand, sweat and engine oil?”
I grinned, and then ducked my head, "I would not have noticed the dirt, if you had not mentioned it... just the man under it."
He laughed, and doffed his pith helmet in a sweeping bow, “Shall I call on you this evening? I saw a lovely place in Harborside just before I left. Waterfalls, cavorite, scenic beauty that would pale next to your own radiance....”
I giggled at his exaggeration, and we made plans to meet later that evening. When he escorted me to the ballroom, balanced precariously on a free-floating hill of cavorite ore, I did have to admit it was beautiful. It was odd to find such a fantastic setting could feel familiar, but it did somewhat resemble the lake at the schloss. My confusion ended when I noted the signature. “Oh! this the the Doamnă's work?”
“Yes, indeed. She has quite a grand touch, and she's a dab hand at dance machines.” He muttered, "Who would have guessed?"
His tone caught my curiosity, and I asked, “What, that such a straight-laced organizer would be good at dance things?”
He chuckled, “Ah. Something like that, yes.”
“I think she must be sitting in the corner, scribbling, with all the notes she has for me the mornings after dances.” I sighed, “She often puts in full day at the office before a ball, and the day after. Sometimes I think she does not sleep.”
Perun asked, “Perhaps she is one of those who needs little sleep? History has known such. Usually quite brilliant in their fields... office, dances, lab. Does she have any hobbies?”
That gave me pause. I realized I had no idea what she did when she was not on duty. “I... am not sure.” I giggled and pointed to the waterfall backdrop, “She builds a bit.”
He glanced over his shoulder where I had indicated, and smiled. "A bit, yes."
Still, his comment had me thinking. "If she does not enjoy her work, or the dances, I do not think she does have a hobby."
“Building and dancing are certainly creative work, they could be hobbies if she enjoys them, of course.” He looked thoughtful, “Some who seem driven are in reality changing constantly between things which give them joy.”
I bit my lip, thinking hard again. "Her husband has been away a long time. I don’t even recall seeing him during Master Wolfgang’s troubles. Perhaps she is filling time."
I was still deep in thought when he asked, “And how do you fill your time?” When I looked up, he caught my gaze with his and smiled.
I sighed, "Work, mostly... some research for the Doamnă... and unseemly dreams." I blushed scarlet, but did not turn my eyes from his.
Perun quirked a small grin, eyes twinkling. “We're alone, Sweet Mary, quite alone -- what manner of thing would be ‘unseemly’, pray tell?”
“Well, sometimes we are dancing, and sometimes, “ I flushed deeper, "....y’ canna really mistake it for dancin’...."
He chuckled, “... and yes. Quite often I believe I dream the same.” and he winked.
Searching for a change of topic before I embarrassed myself, I murmured, “I was glad you were able to write, this time.”
“As was I -- you got them all, then?”
“I think so, one about every four days?” At his nod, I continued, “It didn’t keep me from worrying, but it made the worry less sharp. I did write back, but I fear they are waiting for you at your lodgings.”
“Ah. Not to worry -- awkward to find me while travelling, regardless. And I can enjoy them at leisure now.” He then distracted me by asking, “ So tell me what you think, Sweet Mary: I've changed one outlandish garb from another, fished it out of my pack before I called on you -- thought I should have something appropriate to wear in Shanghai.”
I smiled at his sudden preening, “It is a lovely blue, close to what the Baron wears to the Shanghai festivals. His is patterned with birds, I think."
“Ah! Of course. Wulfenbach Blue, very old traditional.”
I nodded, "One of the many costumes he has that give Mrs Parks fits with the special laundry steps." When he chuckled, I said, “She was hired locally, when it looked like the school and the office staff were going to need a household manager. I have begun to help out in the kitchen, now and again. Mrs Parks has been learning to cook things from home, and I am learning what to do with some of the local foods.”
“Oh, capital! A versatile cook who is also a patient laundress is worth her weight in gems.”
“The stories that Mr Messenger tells about the ‘local specialties’ she served when she started are very funny.He's a bit of a food snob, but then his home village was outside the Wastelands.” I smiled, "He’s been a bit like an older brother to me here, helping me learn the assistant’s duties."
“Then I should make a point of meeting him, wouldn't you say?” I giggled, and he continued, “Are you still happy in your work, then?” His tone sounded as if he was trying to distract me, or himself.
“I am happy. It is work I can do well, and with good people...”
He smiled into my eyes and lightly squeezed my hand. "I'm glad."
I sighed, “ ...well, most of them are good co-workers.” At his prompting, I continued, "There is a courier, she isn't one of the good ones..."
I felt him tense slightly, “Dangerous? Or merely annoying?”
I shrugged, “Nothing threatening, just - she has been harsh to me at times, but I have friends in the office to help.” Giggling, I said, “She has called you my imaginary beau, before...”
His eyebrows were expressive above his goggles, “Ah! Yes, the phantom, the figment, the elusive....”
A sudden memory made me exclaim, "Oh! Mr Messenger has seen you, though you have not been introduced."
“Has he, by Jove? Where were we when we met?”
I blushed again, “He spotted us on your balcony, when we were, ah - very distracted.”
He chuckled, then frowned and muttered, "Messenger, Messenger .... ah! You mean my neighbour, of the opposite balcony!" I nodded, and he continued. “We haven't spoken, but each knows the other is there, I believe. I've admired his curtains. In fact, I've added curtains, you know! It quite opens up the flat, counter-intuitively enough.”
“That does seem backwards.”
“Ah, well! I'm able to block off the windows, you see, so I'm no longer having to use furniture to the purpose. One large room, instead of three smaller ones. Enough room to waltz now, I daresay.” At my blush, he chuckled again, “I did indeed mean waltzing, mo cridhe.” Then he whispered in my ear, "Other things need less room."
We danced a few moments longer when he cleared his throat, and said, “I heard the newsboy at the train station say the city had raised an impressive total for the Relay. Did I hear that the Sheriff would be shaving his head in celebration?”
I nodded, “They say it will just be his human head."
He frowned a bit, “Ah, the werewolf rumours?”
I shrugged, "He is the one who took charge during Master Wolfgang's problems, so I canna say what is rumor or no."
"Regardless, a quarter million lindens is noteworthy for a city the size of Steelhead."
“It is a growing city, but still manages to not be... overbearing.” I shivered a bit, thinking how lost I felt whenever I had duties that took me to New Babbage.
“Mo cridhe? Are you cold, then?”
I shook my head, “Ninini - I - I just don't care for big cities.”
He nodded, "Children of the country, you and I, yes. Although cities have their use, and appeal ..."
I shook off the feeling and went on, “We have been busy in the office, but I heard there were insane amounts of money raised at auctions all over since you have been away.”
“Insane? How insane?”, he chuckled.
“Several thousand lindens for several of the auction lots, by themselves.”
He let a little surprise show on his face, “Indeed? What manner of lots went so high?”
“Some gowns and dates, though the doamnă was very upset that the Baron was the first one on the block for New Babbage. He volunteered, but still, the first lot is always low.” Perun raised a skeptical eyebrow, but I continued, “He went for only L$4000 this time, and she was furious... not so anyone outside the office would notice. She only broke four pens the day after.”
He raised both eyebrows in surprise, “They auctioned off Baron Klaus Wulfenbach?”
I nodded, “It was for a dance at the ball. The date auction two years ago was much more.”
He was perplexed, and he slowed his steps in the dance. “I .... see. How much more?”
“Office rumor is all I have to go on. I think someone said it was at least L$30,000. You haven't been to many of the big state balls, have you?”
He looked as if someone had smacked the back of his head with a board, which is understandable, for that amount of money. “And this was for charity? Hmm. No, I have not had that pleasure.”
I nodded, “Da, the charities are a lot of what they do, especially summer and fall.”
He seemed distracted, still, but went on, “Do they really? How odd, I wonder why ...”
When he did not say anything else, I went on, “Anyroad, from the reports I have seen while filing, the big state affairs can have a 3 to 1 ratio of women to men in attendance. So, having the Baron dance with someone as long as they care to have him is a selling point.” I did not realize I had sighed until Perun asked me about it. I explained, “I would have to be up on my hand-to-hand if we were to attend one of the Babbage affairs. Even though they haven't really have a fistfight on the dance floor in over a year, from what I have heard, the single girls can get pushy.”
“And if I choose to dance only with the most beautiful woman in the Steamlands, they would try to cut in, would they?”
I nodded, ignoring his exaggerations again, “They would try, da - I do not share well.”
“Good. Neither do I.”
“I might need some steel-toed dance slippers to make my point,” I said with a grin, and snuggled into his arms.
“Ah, my formidable flower! Trained with your auntie, am I right?” I nodded, and he continued, “It does my heart good to know you have such training, mo cridhe.”
“She did not have time to teach me the full combat dancing forms, but she did give a few pointers.” I looked up at his chuckle, and he dipped his face in to mine for a quick kiss. Well, it started as a quick kiss, but the embrace was no longer pretending to be a dance. After a few moments of eternity, I sighed contentedly, "Missed you terribly, mi dragul."
“And I, you, mo cridhe... I... should see you home. Before I am any more tempted to take you home with me...”
"Before I am tempted to let you, da," I agreed, softly.
He kissed my cheek, “Someday. And that doesn't help the moment, does it?"
I quietly said, “Promise.”
He nodded, taking a deep breath. "Promise. And now, shall I see you back to your lodgings, my Sweet Mary?”
I wrapped my arms around his neck and breathed softly into his ear, "Best do it now, before we get carried away."
He growled a little as he stepped back, “I would like to get carried away. But... you're quite right, my heart, mo cridhe...” and he held out a hand for me, smiling. When I took it, he tucked my hand into the crook of his arm, and walked me back to the hotel. In the lobby, I took him by the lapels and kissed him soundly, under the disapproving eye of the front desk clerk and the concierge. He chuckled softly when I released him, “Sweet dreams, Sweet Mary.”
Blushing, I nodded, “See you there, mi dragul.”
“Always, mo cridhe,” then he stepped back and kissed my hand. Halfway up the spiral stairs to my floor, I noticed him speaking quietly to the concierge, their hand movements suggesting a surreptitious gratuity being passed. I quickly moved on before they could notice I had paused.