Without flinching, she reached into her reticule and extracted the sum in question, handing over the coins. Pittance indeed – she did not even need a banknote. Which was a good thing, as it would not have been drawn on Barclay’s.

The jerquer carefully counted, noting that the sum was well over the requested amount, over by enough for it not to be a mistake. He pocketed the excess with alacrity and instantly became their good friend. “Ah, thank you very much, ladies. And a very good afternoon to you, Miss…?” He trailed off.

Without pausing Rue said, “Miss Hisselpenny.”

Prim, who was sniffling after her pretend bought of crying, turned a snort of surprise into a new sob.

Rue thumped her on the back. “There now, sister, buck up. It’s all dandy and daisies now. This nice gentlemen will take care of everything. Won’t you, very kind sir?”

The nice gentlemen in question was looking dazed. “And what ship name should I put on the registry?”

“Dandelion Fluff Upon a Spoon,” replied Rue.

“Very good, Miss Hisselpenny.”

“Will there be anything else, my good sir?”

“No, ladies. Thank you for your cooperation. Your steward?”

“Is aboard and will handle all the necessities. My purser will pay you any additional monies for supplies and stores. Is that the right way of it?”


“Yes, indeed, Miss Hisselpenny.”

“Thank you again, kind sir.” Rue delicately passed the man another handful of coinage. She also flashed him a brilliant smile.

Mr Stukely, bowled over by both the gratuity and the smile, doffed his hat, and the two ladies continued on their way without further impediment. Although their deft interactions with the official seemed to have made them more of a spectacle rather than less.

Quesnel tilted his hat at the man sympathetically and followed after them. He caught up as they attained the door to the central area of the port. “Why the façade?”

Rue looked at him, surprised. “Did you miss the part where this was a covert mission? One should try to keep one’s identity a secret.”

“Especially when one is the world’s only metanatural, daughter of some very famous aristocrats?” Quesnel nodded at this precaution.

“Don’t discount Prim either – she’s got some infamous parents herself.”

“But the names you chose!” Quesnel looked as if he really would laugh.

Primrose said, affronted, “Hisselpenny is my mother’s maiden name, and Dandelion Fluff Upon a Spoon is Lord Akeldama’s pleasure dirigible. They are perfectly respectable names.”

Rue explained, “If one must lie, make it memorable. Hisselpenny is a name which, if called out in a crowd we would both respond to, and that ship name is easy for us to remember and exactly the moniker two frivolous ladies of fashion would give to their craft.”

With which Rue determined she owed Quesnel no further explanation, and pushed open the door into the docking centre.

“Oh, my goodness me!” she squeaked.

It looked rather like the Reading Room of the British Museum, only a great deal larger and without any books in it. Instead there were stalls selling wares around the edge, like at a street fair with various interesting-looking sculptures, booths, and gatherings in the middle. The place was humming with humanity, some fashionable, many questionable. Somehow the centre harnessed part of the orange light of the beacon far above, and it spilled down into the interior in umber shafts.

Quesnel said, “Only you didn’t tell your crew, my beautiful witless wonder.”

Rue turned back to her chief engineer. “What was that?”

“About your plan to change the names of everything. You didn’t tell your crew, yet you gave them permission to leave the ship,” explained Quesnel carefully. “Aren’t you worried they’ll spoil the act?”

“Oh dear, good point. I do hope they don’t go blabbing.” Rue frowned, calculating the time. They had only three quarters of an hour left. How much harm could the crew do?

Quesnel nodded to the gaggle of staff still behind them. “I think most of them witnessed your antics.”

Rue wasn’t certain “antics” was a dignified way to describe a lady but before she could reprimand her chief engineer, Spoo stepped forward. “Yes, Chief Sir and Lady Captain. That was a pretty nice show you put on there.”

“Why, thank you, Spoo,” replied Rue.

“You’re all right, Lady Captain, but this one was a real corker.” Spoo gestured with her thumb at Primrose.

Prim smiled down at the small person in a queenly manner, causing the young sootie to blush. “Such accolades. I was born to carry on a theatrical legacy, but sadly fate had other plans for my family.”

“Fate or Egypt?” wondered Rue.

“There’s a difference?” Prim looked wistful. Egypt was where her mother had turned vampire. The girls knew few particulars, but they understand that everything had changed for everyone after Egypt, 1876.

Spoo said, not following, “I’ll make sure everyone knows who and what we are and what names we belong to while ’round the tower.”

“That is very much appreciated, Spoo,” replied Rue.

Spoo, after a quick hushed conversation with a few of the other sooties, scampered back to The Spotted Custard to waylay anyone else who might disembark or have cause for conversion with dockhands.

Rue and Prim exchanged a look. They were unused to having to widen the scale of their schemes. Adjustments must be made for this new course their lives had taken.

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