Percy stuck his nose in the air. “Yet there must be some reading material available to purchase or it wouldn’t be a proper city. And how am I to learn the breeding habits of chilli peppers if I remain behind?”

“Very broadminded of you,” commended Rue. “We certainly cannot be trusted to obtain the correct book without you.” With which she raised her parasol and trotted after their guide, who seemed eager to get to the busy hubbub that was Bombay.

“Exactly,” said Percy, running to catch up. Then, in a disquieting display of gentlemanly etiquette, he offered Rue his arm.

Rue took it. Prim took Quesnel’s. Rue pretended not to feel a very slight twinge of envy that she would not get the benefit of Quesnel’s teasing. Although the Frenchman seemed more sombre than usual. Is he regretting our kiss? Rue was saddened by the idea. Or is it awe in the face of Miss Sekhmet? Rue couldn’t blame him for that.

The woman in question led them purposefully towards an open-topped steam carriage, arranged, she explained, because it was some distance to the nearest market. They climbed in and Prim lamented that she had chosen a walking dress instead of a carriage dress. The driver cranked up the engine, the stoker fed it anthracite, and they were off.

They drove north, away from the governmental structures and military areas, into the city proper. Immediately it became a great deal more what Rue had expected of India. Miss Sekhmet proved an excellent guide. She seemed genuinely to like the area and pointed out landmarks, from the Black Bay Baths to the Aetherographic Office of the Controller to the Scottish Cemetery. They loosely followed the path of the railway lines to their right and the elephant trolley skylines above.

Eventually, they rounded a corner onto Princess Street and their steam carriage was forced to stop by the sheer number of people assembled there. Miss Sekhmet explained that the famous Cloth Market was to their right. She instructed the driver to wait and they climbed down. Rue knew her eyes must be as big as saucers. Prim’s perfect rosebud mouth was slightly open in amazement. Percy looked to be taking copious mental notes. Even Quesnel was awed. Fortunately, it seemed local custom was not opposed to staring. Even among such a crowd, Rue’s group was a novelty and much as they stared others stared back.

The Cloth Market was a hubbub of colourful fabrics and chattering humanity. Mostly people walked but some pushed massive baskets on wheels, others guided donkeys or camels loaded with goods. The occasional horse and carriage bobbed through the throng as well as bicycles, mono-wheels, human-drawn carts, and other more peculiar means of transport. The sky rail above their heads rumbled back and forth in seemingly endless rounds of transportation from dock to industry and from military to government, loaded down with massive swaying vats of cloth, or lumber, or pottery, or furniture, or whatever else was important at the time. Unlike London’s transports, this sky rail seemed less of an ugly imposition on the landscape with its cheerful elephant visage. The wreaths of lanterns and flowers draped about its colossal head tilted at a jaunty angle.

Prim, enchanted, asked Miss Sekhmet about the elephant’s appearance.

“As far as I know, he has always been that shape. But the flowers and the others, that is for the celebration of Ganesha. Worshippers extol the elephant god this time of year. There is a particularly beautiful festival soon.”

“How interesting.” Prim sparkled at Miss Sekhmet, almost as if she were flirting, both her hands clutching the handle of her parasol in excitement. “And is the elephant a very revered god in local mythology?”


“Indeed he is. Most benign and helpful. One prays to him when one has a burden or an obstacle.”

“And this festival?”

It was hard to tell when only her eyes were visible, but Rue thought Miss Sekhmet was smiling. “Among other things, they carry the god to the beach where he is put into the sea.”

“Likes to bathe, does Ganesha?” wondered Percy.

Miss Sekhmet gave him a dirty look. “All elephants like water, Fire-hair.”

They began to try moving through the street, clumped together because the crowds were so thick. Off to one side, a group of stunning dark-eyed dancers twirled, arms waving noodle-like in the air, gyrating to music so odd Rue actually wondered if it ought to be called music at all. It had a whining, haunting, angular quality.

It appeared that all daily business was conducted in the middle of the road. Men moved around in gossiping turbaned groups. The higher ranking women, in colourful shrouds, were followed by groups of servants and showed a marked preference for large brightly coloured fringed parasols which Primrose called, “Most respectable”. Fruit and meats were exchanged, pottery and fabric haggled over. Rue even spotted a live snake.

“Everything is so bright and cheerful.” She spun in delight. “And everyone smiles so much!”

Sekhmet asked Prim, “Is she always this excitable?”

Primrose, looking extremely dignified, answered, “I’m afraid so.”

“How exhausting,” replied their guide.

“You’re telling us,” grumbled Percy.

“It’s one of her charms,” defended Quesnel.

But it was so bright and cheerful.

Rue was particularly fascinated by the consumption of a specific hot beverage, the earthenware mugs of which were then cast aside into the street to crumble to dust under the many feet walking by. Everyone seemed to be drinking it. Where was the vendor?

A Cederholm Condenser muscled its way through, obstructing Rue’s view and blasting hot steam from its carapace. The people around scampered away to avoid being burned. The smoke from its small antennae stacks was somehow dyed bright pink, which coloured the unwary with speckles of pigment, to no one’s surprise or avoidance. Prim shrieked, parasol up in defence of her yellow walking gown, although the smoke was nowhere near her.

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