Rue knocked loudly on the door to his apartments.


She knocked again.

She waited.

She knocked a third time.

Eventually, Percival Tunstell himself answered. The gentleman was wearing a smoking jacket and tweed trousers and carrying a heavy Latin tome. He glanced up at Rue, his skin pale as any vampire’s, spectacles perched at the tip of his nose. Percy, it must be acknowledged, was quite good-looking for a bluestocking ginger fellow, but terribly peaky about it.

“Oh. It’s you.”

“Where’s your footman?”

“Dismissed him, kept interrupting my reading.”

“With something sensible like food, I suspect. May I come in?”

“At least you don’t have my ghastly sister with you.”


Rue took that as permission to enter.

Percy resumed reading his book, walking slowly down the hallway away from her.

Rue followed. “You’ll be happy to know she’s doing well.”

“Who is?”

“Your sister.”

“Oh, is she? How unfortunate. It would do her some good to be in ill health for once.”

“Percy, how can you be so tiresome?”

“Rue, I’m terribly busy at the moment. What do you want?”

“Why, what are you busy doing?”

“Agricultural research. I think it might be good for the great British jam industry to move from quinces to crab-apples for pectin production.”

“Oh, indeed? Is there a jam industry of any note?”

Percy continued on as if he hadn’t heard. “But the relative ratios of storage to fruit gelatine are proving difficult to calculate. Plus if crab-apple trees require more water, then things may tip back in the quince’s favour. Do you know?”

“Do I know what?”

“If they need more water.”

“No, I don’t. You might ask a farmer.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. There must be a book on the subject.”

Rue decided this conversation could go on for hours. “Percy, your country needs you.”

“I highly doubt that.”

“Very well then – I need you.”

“Don’t tell fibs, Rue, it doesn’t suit.”

Rue took the book away from Percy and said, “I’m flying an airship to India and I require you to be my ship’s researcher, librarian, and navigator.”

“You’re sotted. Have you been drinking? I think you’ve been drinking.” Percy looked mildly concerned. “Do you need to sit? Should I ring for tea? I believe that I still employ a valet.” He made room for her on an armchair by removing the enormous pile of scientific pamphlets occupying it.

“Percy, I am entirely sober and in earnest. What I’ve said is all true. Don’t you think you would enjoy leaving London for a while?”

“No, I do not.”

“You could bring your books along,” she wheedled, wondering if The Spotted Custard could take the extra weight.

“My books are quite fine where they are, thank you very much.”

“It would get you entirely away from your mother.”

Percy’s eyes sparked slightly. “But not my sister, I assume. Since you two have been joined at the hip since we were knee-high to a biscuit.”

“Prim will stay out of your way, I promise. The ship will be swarming with handsome young men to distract her.”

Percy snorted.

Rue tried a new tactic. “Wouldn’t you enjoy seeing some of the exotic lands you’ve studied?”

“Not particularly. All evidence seems to suggest that they are dirty, hot, messy places riddled with disease and chilli peppers. I loathe chilli peppers.”

“But what about all the bits that haven’t been written about? Subjects untapped, discoveries waiting to be made. Percy, you could become the world’s expert on the…” Rue flailed, grappling, and then said triumphantly, “Sacred napping practices of the Punjabi wild cabbage.”

“Do cabbages have napping practices?”

“They might. And how would you know if you didn’t join me?”

Percy considered. “You make a valid point. Some of my research books on the subject of India are quite dated and inexcusably superficial in their treatment of native culinary practices. After all, how can one avoid chilli peppers if one doesn’t adequately track their movements and migration patterns?”

“Chillies have migration patterns?”

“Don’t interrupt. Where was I? Oh yes. Of course, I read Hindustani and Punjabi and if I could get my hands on some primary sources I shouldn’t be disappointed. But couldn’t you and Primrose pick those up for me and bring them back?”

“No.” It was Rue’s turn to be difficult. “We most definitely could not.”

Percy looked at her. “No, I suppose you would have no earthly idea what a true academic requires on the matter of chilli peppers.”

“As you say.”

Percy paused. “Very well, I shall come,” he capitulated suddenly and with great decisiveness. “Where is that valet with the tea?”

“You never rang for him.”

“I didn’t? Oh well. When do we leave? It should only take me a month or so to pack.”

“The evening after tomorrow.”


“I shall send Dama’s carriage for you. The Spotted Custard is moored in Regent’s Park. His driver will know the way. I’ll have him call tomorrow afternoon in case you’d like to take some books over early and settle them in. And you’ll need to research aether current navigation and aerial maps of India.”

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