A brief discourse on the manner of those who travel the Aether.
|Our exit from the sitting room did not seem to be openly noticed by anyone, but I could tell our presence was noted by all. The group seated closest to us as we entered the room were three couples, sitting in pairs. I got the impression they were from two eras, and made mention of that to Emily. She slowed down, and asked me what made me think so. I explained to her that while all three were dressed in similar fashion, I was able to see that two of the couples were wearing clothes obviously manufactured in the late 20th century. Their clothing was obviously machine stitched, and both of the men wore coats that were made from a blended fabric, apparently a polyester and wool combination that stood up to the elements quite well. The ladies that accompanied them were both wearing lace trimmings on their hats that were exact copies. Such work was the creation of machine tatting produced in the 1930's, and was still quite readily available in new quantities in my own time. Emily stopped short, and pulled me to a halt with her.
As I turned to look into her eyes, her face brightened, "Oh, luv...you've got what it takes to fill your grandfather's shoes." Then she smiled coyly, "You've got quite a reputation of your own, you just don't know it yet." She pushed herself up on her toes and kissed me well and thoroughly, then turned to address the room. She spoke loudly, with almost no trace of the cockney that she often used downstairs in the Teapot, "Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to present to you the grandson of John Owen Coffin. This is his first visitation to the Teapot, so all must be careful in their discussions at this point." Everyone in the room turned to look at us both, smiling and curious. She nudged me with her elbow and whispered, "Watch this, luv. Don't make a scene." "His name is Vincent Coffin!"
The room fell deathly silent. Four or five Travellers near the stairway very silently stood up and departed. Several others turned to watch as they left, then turned back to face Miss Puryear and me. Suddenly the remaining crowd began to applaud, and Emily looked up into my eyes. "It's nearly time for you to leave, but I know you'll come back. Constantine will bring you back at the right time, whenever you need to be here. He's quite sharp like that." She took me by the hand and walked me over to the couples closest to us. They all stood to greet us happily,
The closest of the 20th century couples greeted us first. The man was built solidly, and was wearing an Edwardian coat with broad lapels. It was dark green, and made of the blended fabric often used in reproductions in my constant time. "I am George," he said, extending his hand. I noted his right hand was scarred across the knuckles quite heavily. His stance was balanced well, and he wore no jewelry on either hand, leading me to the conclusion that he was quite well capable of defending himself, "and this is my partner, Lucille." Lucille was an attractive blonde that couldn't have weighed more than 120 pounds or so, the top of her head coming just to my chin. She smiled as I looked at her, and gently nodded her head in acknowledgement. George introduced the others at the table, starting with Henry and Margaret, the other 20th century couple, finishing with Edward and Suzanne, whose origin was 1875. Edward seemed to be a grim person, but Suzanne more than made up for that with a brilliant and ready smile, and an obviously good sense of humor. Oddly, Edward very much enjoyed her levity, and seemed to be supressing his own laughter most of the time.
We all spoke for a few moments, with nothing of import being discussed. I realized that is the way of conversation among Travellers. This is what kept disruptions in the timeline to a minimum, allowing safe movement to all.
During the next couple of hours I met another 25 people, all of whom promised to speak with me in the near future. Several of them passed me cards, with hand written notes on the back. I placed them discreetly in my pocket at Emily's insistence. She then ushered me to the door, and walked me down the spiral stairs to the Velocitor.
As I stood there in the alley, she explained to me about the cards. "Each card you accepted, has a date and time on the back. Some of them will have a destination. Those that don't will be for here at the Teapot. Those are conversations that they can't have in the presence of the others they were sitting with."
The hair on the back of my neck started acting up at that, but she put me at ease with her radiant smile. "Don't worry about all that, luv. You'll get used to it soon enough." I took her into my arms as if I'd known her forever, and we shared one last kiss. I got into the Velocitor, and she suddenly trotted around to the other side of the car. She leaned in and actually kissed Constantine on the forehead. "Oh, thank you for watching out for him, Kitty. Keep him safe." As she stood up straight, Constantine's head turned towards me. I thought I actually heard him meow as he blinked his eyes, returning us to the garage behind Mrs. Hudson's house.
We were now parked next to a black Model A Ford, and a short man sitting behind the wheel jumped nearly a foot in the air as we appeared. His voice was a combination of yell and squeak, "Good Heavens, man...I wasn't expecting you so early!" And with that, he fainted and fell over in the seat of the car.
I got out of the Velocitor, and went to see what aid I could offer to the little fellow as Mrs. Hudson entered the side door to the garage. She was laughing as I got close to the car, "Don't touch him, Vincent, he'd likely die of fright if he saw you close to him right now." I backed up a couple of feet as she bustled by, a warm compress in her hand. "Who is he?" She smiled as she laid the compress on his forehead. "He's a bit of an enigma, actually." She gently sat him back up straight in the car, adjusting his coat as she made him comfortable. "He's always introduced himself to me as my fifth husband, but I don't actually remember him as being the one between four and six." She cocked her head to the left as she regarded the fellow. "But, I have to give him the benefit of the doubt, as it were. After all, he was wearing my father's ring when I met him the first time."
She shooed me out of the garage, and I went into the rear sitting room. My grandfather was sitting there with a cup of tea steeping for me. "Well, what do you think of Miss Puryear?" I looked at him closely, "How do you know that's where I went?" He just smiled and sat back. "Oh, where else would you go?. One thing's for certain, there's one place and time you'll always be welcomed, and we all know that." I was beginning to get a little put out with the fact that I didn't seem to be in control of anything anymore. He sipped his tea quietly, and I found Constantine suddenly sitting in the air at my left hand, seemingly gazing at me. Granddad smiled, "Especially him, Vincent, especially him." For a brief instant, the clockwork cat's eyes seemed to get brighter, developing an almost liquid quality, and I began to feel a bit of a chill. I took the tea that Granddad offered. When I sat back, Constantine was once again gone, leaving us to sit and contemplate. We spoke about the Clockwork Teapot, and Miss Puryear at some length, but Granddad was not very forthcoming in what he knew about her and what might unfold between us. I told him about George, Lucille, Henry, Margaret, Edward and Suzanne. Granddad smiled when I told him about the idle chat we'd all had, and was approving of the fact that no one had attempted to reveal anything to me in the presence of others. I showed him the stack of calling cards, but he waved them away when I offered them to him to take a look. "No, I don't need to see any of them," he said abruptly. "Those dates and times are for meetings that can only be for you. If I am supposed to be there, I'll be there by an invitation of my own." He sat back in his chair, taking his pipe from the pocket of his jacket. As he prepared the pipe for lighting, he explained to me that such things would become second nature to me the more I travelled. It was the way that the timeline was kept secure, and the way that information could be passed to those who would use it properly.
He then reached into his breast pocket, and took out a stack of cards of his own. He looked through them, and then asked me if I had a card from Franklin Cabot. I looked through my stack and found that I did. "Is your appointment with him on January 5, 1910 at 1435, at Buckingham Palace?" I noticed that was the exact time and place on the card. "Yes, it is." Grandfather sat forward in his chair, smiling like a shark. "Well that's the one we need to get out of the way first, then." I asked him how he figured that was the case. "Well, that's the meeting that he's figuring to kill you at. We'll get you some body armor before we go."
Why it didn't surprise me anymore is anyone's guess. Before I left to that meeting, I decided to shave my head. I was tired of combing down the hair on the back of my neck.