A most intriguing young woman and her wonderful enterprise.
|After a cup of tea and a few pleasantries, Miss Puryear decided to take me on a tour of her establishment. She took my hand as she led me into the stockroom where I'd appeared during the escape of Cooger and Dark so recently. Towards the back of the room was a spiral stair wide enough for the two of us to walk up side by side. At the bottom, she consulted a slate board that hung next to the bottom. "Whenever you arrive, you must write your selected code here on the slate. That'll keep you from walking in on yourself and creating a paradox." She eyed me closely, then asked me the month and day I was born. After I'd told her, she drew an arrow with a line through it, and then 'vc1955' along the shaft of the arrow. She smiled brightly as she turned back to me. "There, the sign of Sagittarius, with your initials and year of birth. That will be your code. If you ever come here and see that code, you'll know not to come up."
Up to that point, she had been chatting so sweetly since she'd brought me in from the alley behind the Clockwork Teapot. It was as if she wanted my approval of her as a woman, and had the tinge of a deep loneliness. She gave the outward appearance of a strong-willed and confident woman with a worldly way about her. But in our short conversation it became evident that she was somewhat insecure about herself and her place in the world. As we neared the top of the spiral, she stopped short and turned to face me.
"It seems I've been nattering on and on, luv. I don't have much occasion to speak openly with someone." She gestured to the door at the top of the stair, "This is the real reason for the Clockwork Teapot, Vincent." As she placed her hand against the door, it slid aside to reveal a great hall beyond. As we stepped in, I noticed the ceiling was embellished with what appeared to be heraldic shields, each in its own gilded frame. The walls were covered in tapestries. Some were the bright weavings of the orient, silken and flowing with the rich representations of pagodas and serene villages. Some were similar to the European weavings depicting knights and castles and great battles of honor, fame, and glory. There were Native American paintings on buffalo hide hanging alongside golden images of dragons from ancient China. The floor was covered in rugs of varying sizes and patterns, very similar to the tapestries on the walls. The furniture, however, was quite a different matter.
There were baroque tables and chairs, chrome and linoleum diner sets, modern European designs mixed in with ancient rough hewn stools. They were all grouped in odd arrangements, each grouping made up of dissimilar individual pieces. It seemed to me that here, in bits and pieces, was a representation of civilization itself spanning time from the middle ages to what was my present and constant time. It made sense to me somehow. Emily smiled as she watched the bewilderment on my face. "There's no one here right now but us, luv. But this is the real reason I placed the Teapot here and when I did." She looked around the room with a pride of ownership that I could admire, if not appreciate it myself. My rooms with Mrs. Hudson paled in comparison to what she obviously had here. This was obviously a place at a crossroads. I could feel the gravity of the place as she smiled at me. I took her smile as an invitation to ponder out loud.
"This is like the Switzerland of time, isn't it? Neutral ground, where Travellers can come and go as their needs require in safety. Am I correct?" Her smile grew even wider, "Exactly so, luv. Here, because it was needed, and because I was willing, and I knew how to anchor it." Her cheeks began to color a little, and she looked down at my feet. "My father was a man who traveled in the Aether, and he had always dreamed of a place like this. A place where Travellers could go safely, even meet together as needed, to help maintain the timeline and protect civilization." She was getting sadder as she spoke. "He had it all figured out, you see. It was almost all ready when I lost him. He was an officer in the Time Brigades, and the Quartermaster aboard an airship called the Cloudwitch. She vanished with all hands somewhere over Hy Brasil." My breath caught in my throat at the mention of the Cloudwitch. How could I begin to tell her anything about it? I felt ashamed and confused about the whole situation. I wanted to run, but I felt frozen in place. The silence began to stretch between us. All I could do was stand there, arms crossed, unable to deal with the emotions that ran through me.
She reached out and laid her hand on my arm, forcing me through obligation to meet her eyes. She smiled a sad smile, "Don't worry luv, I know about it already. It had to be done." I stared at her, unbelieving. She stepped closer, folding her arms around me, laying her head against my chest. "He wouldn't have wanted to be that way, believe me. Please, come with me." She stepped away, pulling my arms apart and taking my hand. She led me across the room to a long hanging tapestry of a blue and green dragon on a background of pale orange silk. She brushed it aside and led me into a small sitting room appointed with lush decorations and a large chaise-lounge near the center of the room. She led me to it, intertwining her fingers with mine as we sat. "Vincent, don't have any regrets for your part of what happened. My Da would have been proud to know that Spaulding had made the decision that took his brother, and proud of any man who stood with him." Her face beamed with an expression of welcome I'd rarely seen, let alone been the object of. She leaned towards me, the softness of her full lips meeting mine, breaking free a dam of emotion I had no idea existed inside me.
I won't go into a description of what happened next, but let me just say the next several hours were the most exquisite I had ever experienced in my life. When we were finally able to extract ourselves, we went once again into the great hall. There were several groups of people there now, all in relaxed and earnest conversation with one another. I was about to meet some very interesting folks.