#3 Penny Dreadful
The Life and Crimes of Lockhart and Doppler
An Illustrated journal of amusement, adventure and instruction
The German Affair Part One
I raced towards the edge of the parapet, shouted demands, exclamations and the occasional warning shot gave my feet the extra impetus needed. I came to a slewing halt, craned to see over the edge and quickly took the measure of the oncoming pursuers two of whom were levelling rifles.
“You are under arrest fraulein!” screamed a sweaty, purple blotched face.
An explosion of masonry beside me made my mind up. I pulled down my goggles, gave a small bow then leapt over the side.
The speeding air robbed me of my breath momentarily, the goggles pressed against my skin, my jacket flapped, my legs lifted. I was tipping upside-down, but the target was imminent.
I smashed into the silk with some astonishing force, it is quite amazing how hard fabric can be when filled with air. The top of the balloon bowed and quivered. For a short moment I was enveloped in fabric and rope then released like a seed popping free of its pod, I rose in the air like a spider on the wind then returned to the space where the balloon had been and scrabbled frantically for the webbing down its side. My fingers caught hold, my shoulder yanked painfully. It had all happened in a matter of seconds. I arched my neck to see the schloss parapet lined with figures, a guard, aiming, was roughly shoved, making the shot fly awry, after all, they couldn’t go shooting private air balloons out of the sky – no matter who was hitching a ride. Hooking my feet into the rope webbing lower down, I waved a cheery ‘so long suckers’ and proceeded downwards.
I did not however account for who owned this vessel I was escaping on. Clinging tightly, I made my way past the mouth onto the upright and into the basket.
“Guten tag…” I began, brushing myself down, then found myself staring into the wrong end of a pistol. “Ah.”
“You are under arrest, Ms Lockhart.”
Wondering what in Gods’ names I was thinking and asking myself how did I get in this pickle and how was I going to extrapolate myself legally (or perhaps not legally), I leapt from the basket…
Earlier that month.
I was at a party held by Lord and Lady Wendover for various dignitaries of the Germanic States and Kingdoms; Dukes, Counts, minor Princes and representatives of Bavaria, Saxony, Hessen-Kassel and so on. Not normally the sort of gathering I would attend, but I was the guest of Lady Celia Fox, an occasional employer and somewhat friend who did have these connections and it was something I needed to do if I was to get the authorisation required to fly over or travel through the Germanic and Austrian Kingdoms and Principalities to Bohemia. There was some political shenanigans afoot at the moment, something about Unification, borders were closed or having tolls put on them. It simply got in the way of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. And so Lady C had got me through the door, it was up to me to get the papers.
There was a general din of chatter and laughter, deep conversation and tinkling of glassware. I had spoken to a number of persons in smart attire, military uniform and the usual executive attire, getting nowhere when I was directed to a slight, officious looking individual with black hair slicked across his forehead and a sash of office brightening an otherwise dour ensemble. Herr Kutz was one of those self-important, bigoted little jobsworths. He enjoyed the power of denying. I smiled politely through clenched jaw whilst envisioning him naked, tied to the underside of the Professor Selwyn as we flew low over a thorny forest.
“…and so Fraulein Lockhart, it is with deepest regret that I must turn down your application. And,” he paused for effect, “as Generalinspekeur, (he pronounced his G hard as in goolie) there is no-one higher than myself to grant you the authority, my apologies.” He clicked his heels smartly, bowed and departed. I resisted the urge to kick his skinny backside.
Music flowed from the ballroom yonder, I made my way through the chattering masses, smiling occasional acknowledgement until I reached the huge, open double doorway.
“May I offer you a fresh glass ma’am?” came the mechanical voice of the automated flunky as it proffered a silver platter replete with tall stemmed champagne glasses. I took two, immediately downed the first and carried the remainder with me into the noise-some, sweaty masses. Skirting the edge of the dance floor I spotted Lady Celia twirling with evident joy, with an elderly gent bent almost double with the weight of platinum, gold, silver and tin on his chest. A possible future husband –albeit briefly- for the two times widow. When the polonaise ended she gently drew the ancient with her to where I stood and introduced Field Marshall Marmaduke M. Pettiford. OBE. Informed of my failure to acquire travel and digging authorisation, Lady Celia suggested I take a turn around the floor with the gent over there with the rigid expression. From the relatively small principality of Saxe-Gotha, Graf Frederik was immensely wealthy and known to patronise enterprising persons who impressed him. I prepared to impress.
Graf Frederik von Saxe-Coburg clicked his heels smartly, inclined his head ever so slightly whilst his lips brushed the back of my hand ever so briefly. He looked like he had had his suit ironed with him inside.
“Would you care to dance?” His English was almost perfect, clipped with a hint of Prussian or Bavarian, unlike the guttural accents of Herr Kutz. Lady C smiled as I was led off, she winked cheekily. The Count danced very well, but without feeling, formal like his speech. His hand rested on my waist rather than held it, my hand in his cool one felt like it was resting on one of those fake ones for soldiers who had theirs blown off in the wars. I had to double check – no, it was real. We chatted in a limited way about our lives, mine being that of an ‘extricater of valuables’ in the employ of the Royal Geographic Society, and Lady Celia on occasion, and his being that of an inordinately wealthy, privileged stuffed shirt. When we separated and he had bid farewell with an annoying click of his highly polished, knee length leather boots, I sought out Lady Celia.
“He’s married.” I declared.
“So?” Lady Celia smiled.
“Happily!” I stated.
“Well? You’ve never let it stop you before.”
She did have a point.
To be continued…