“We’ll plan better next time,” Rue assured her friend.

“Yes, I think we ought,” Prim agreed but was already distracted by their surroundings. “What a very odd sort of place this is.”

Quesnel moved forward to pat her arm reassuringly.

Primrose took it eagerly.

Rue felt a tiny pang but brushed it off as girlish silliness.

Someone dragged a noisy nanny goat past them. Across the way, two men with turbans argued in an exotic language about a clay figurine of a pregnant snake or possibly a cow without legs. One of them had a monkey sitting on his shoulder. Off to one side was a row of massive cages inside which paced tigers, hyenas, and other toothy carnivores. The Maltese Tower clearly did a brisk trade in exotic animals. A stall nearby displayed racks of valves and rows of sprockets in tempting stacked pyramids, as a fishmonger might lay out his wares.

Quesnel’s eyes lit up and he drifted in that direction.

Primrose, on the other hand, had spotted a promising-looking jewellery vendor and began to walk the other way.

Before they could get far, Rue grabbed each by the arm.

Quesnel looked down at her gloved hand on his sleeve. “What now, chérie?”

“How about exploring together? Get the lay of the land? I’ve never been to a docking tower before, have you?”


Quesnel’s shook his head.

“But… sparkles,” said Prim forlornly.

“We can shop after a bit of a wander and a nice nosh, what do you say?” Rue’s eyes were shining hopefully.

Primrose said, suspiciously, “Tea?”

“Tea in a proper tea-shop. There must be one somewhere. All the best towers have tea-shops. Fortnum & Mason has three.”

Nothing else could possibly draw Primrose away from rubies. “Oh, very well.”

Quesnel was disposed to be agreeable. “The opportunity to spend more time in your glorious company, how could I resist?”

“How could you, indeed?”

Quesnel gave Rue big violet puppy eyes – back and forth between her and the stall of gadgets.

Rue relented. “Very well, you may acquire gadgets on the ship’s account. A few, mind you. I’m not made of money. And nothing too greasy.”

Quesnel brightened.

Primrose looked pathetically at her.

“No, dear.” Rue was firm. “I don’t think I could convince even Dama that we needed jewellery on the ship’s account. Spend your own money.”

They shifted so Quesnel was in the middle, as was proper and, arms linked, the three strolled the perimeter.

Rue enjoyed herself immensely. The tower was fascinating. It was so unlike her experience in London, with the exception of the theatre district. Even so, one rarely saw day labourers in the West End during fashionable hours. Yet here was surely every possible example of human life. Not to mention a wide range of objects and animals. They saw so many small dogs carried about the person that Primrose said, “Do you think I should return to the ship for Footnote? I could wrap him around my neck. Everyone who is anyone seems to be wearing a pet.”

“What footnote?” wondered Quesnel.

“Not what, who. My brother’s cat.”

Rue said, “While it does seem the thing to do, and I know you like to follow the very latest styles, you would look somewhat less fashionable with scratches all over your face.”

Primrose nodded. “Quite right, of course. I notice no one is using a cat – probably too difficult.”

“One for cat-kind,” said Rue. “Best not used as accessories.”

Quesnel, only just following their rapid-fire banter, asked, “Wait. Miss Tunstell, your brother brought a cat on board my ship?”

“My ship,” corrected Rue without rancour.

“I beg your pardon, but why?”

Primrose said, “Why not?”

Rue added, “All the best ships have cats.”

Quesnel decided not to press the point.

They continued their perambulations. When they encountered a group of clearly inebriated greaser types, Quesnel insisted the ladies hold tight to their reticules to protect the contents, and their parasols to protect their personages. Quesnel himself – not of a particularly threatening stature – afforded them only the protection of having an escort with both arms occupied. One of the rougher elements made their ineffectual appearance clear by shouldering in close and issuing the trio a lewd remark.

Rue, accustomed as she was to werewolf behaviour, was less upset than she ought to be by rough talk. Certainly, Dama would have reprimanded her for not taking greater offence. But then Rue had never quite grown into as much of a lady as her vampire father had hoped.

Primrose, on the other hand, was shocked and experienced such distress at the application of the phrase “a fine mouthful of muffin, there, ho ho” to her good self as to make it necessary to ascertain the location of the nearest restorative teahouse immediately.

“It is not, certainly not, that I am unaware of the compliment,” said Prim, panting from modest heart palpitations. “But perhaps the young man might have used a more delicate turn of phrase. Mouthful of muffin, I say!”

Rue patted her on the arm. “You did very well, dear.”

“I thought it verging on poetical.” Quesnel’s violet eyes were sparkling.

“Oh indeed, you chomp of cheese pie?” shot back Rue, hoping to distract Prim.

“Yes, O slurp of sweet syrup.”

Prim attempted a giggle but it was clear she was still overset from the encounter.

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