An Ordinary Character (steam punk)
This is a short side-story I wrote for a friend who has created a steampunk setting where modern America has a Victorian-era flair. To the landlady, there is practical and impractical. But what do you do with a tenant that refuses to be like everyone else?
Since her husband died two years ago, Mrs. McAllister kept a firm hold on her husband’s business. Some fifteen flats were spread across several apartment buildings, along with a few larger rooms, and were almost always let out, mostly to long term boarders. She was finally able to put a bit aside to improve her comforts and send a little extra to her Madeleine in boarding school out in the country.
She liked to think her Harry would be impressed with her ability to keep up with his businesses in the west coast town of Kingston-Upon-Islais. He was a dear, impractical sort, often seen hanging out with tinkerers and gadabouts. Often quick to lend a few quid to those in need, he nevertheless managed to keep a respectable clientele.
Well, mostly respectable.
There were a few tenants that Mrs. McAllister wished she find some way to break their lease. One in particular, with the devil’s own good looks and polished manners that nevertheless were in curious juxtaposition with his profession as a tinkerer. Her Harry loved to expound on the experiments and machines and gadgets that Mr. Pretlow would devise, yet she always lived in the fear that he would ultimately blow up the storefront and rear warehouse that he diligently paid for on the first of the month.
This particular June 1st morning portended a sullen, rainy day. Mrs. McAllister started with the Bute Street buildings first, collecting the rents from boarders and businesses alike, and storing them in a special carpetbag satchel. She stopped by the small corner office on the first floor she kept as the business hub, and proceeded to place the collection into the safe.
After the safe was secured, she walked to the short distance to the final property, a three-storey brownstone with apartments overtop of the businesses. Her first stop was the side entrance of the rooms leased out to the tinkerer.
She clucked over the dusty windows and door glass. Why, you might as well just brick it all in! What did he really do inside the rooms he rented.
Lifting a prim, gloved hand, she rapped smartly on the door and waited.
Suddenly, a tall, ghostly figure with a crown of spikes and large, dark eyes floated towards the door. Mrs. McAllister gave a sudden squeal, high-pitched and girlish for such a matronly figure, and stumbled back, dropped the empty satchel into a muddy puddle on the sidewalk.
A young woman stood by the door, barefoot, wearing clothes clearly designed for a man: white long-sleeved shirt bloused over grey trousers. An incongruous hair fall of various cogs, bits of metal and wooden objects balanced on her head. The young woman pulled her goggles off and placed them on her head in a cloud of white dust.
“Mrs. McAllister! You’re early!” Phillipa Batten, Mr. Pretlow’s assistant, leaned down and picked up the satchel. She looked critically at the bottom.
“The water hasn’t leaked inside yet. I’m glad our special silicone spray kept it waterproof for you. Do come in, and Mr. Pretlow will be with you momentarily.”
“Good heavens, child!” Mrs. McAllister spluttered, “Why are you dressed that way? It’s not decent!”
Miss Batten looked at her attire and blushed.
“Well, there was a mishap on my way to work, and I’m waiting for my things to dry. Don’t worry!” she blurted, “Mr. Pretlow was a perfect gentleman.”
“Ah, Mrs. McAllister!” A masculine voice came from behind the young woman at the door. She bobbed her head, the objects in her fall making a tinkling noise, and backed away from the front door.
“Excuse the mess; we had a slight mishap this morning.” Mr. Pretlow gave a slight bow and held out his hand. Bemusedly, the older woman stared into his face as she placed her hand on his, suddenly feeling a rough piece of parchment. She looked down and saw the envelope in his open palm.
He flipped his arm so that the envelope now rested in her hand, with his overlying her. She glanced back up when he removed his now-empty hand.
“Here is this month’s rent. I’m sorry but we are in the middle of something. Take care, Mrs. McAllister. Miss Batten, please come back inside.” With that, the man with the dark beauty disappeared into the dim recesses of the office, leaving the two women staring at each other.
Ms. Batten handed the satchel back, bobbed a quick curtsey (which looked silly in trousers and blouse), and stepped back to the door in bare feet. She gave a final bow and shut the door.
Mrs. McAllister clucked as she walked away in the rain.
Yes indeed, she mused, devilish good looks…
My thanks to CMRPrindle and her steampunk world. Her writings can be found at http://www.cmrprindle.blogspot.com/. The names have been changed to protect the innocent (and not-so-innocent).