They strode up the walk at precisely half-past nine, knowing the doctor would be readying herself for the morning's coffee-table discussion. She was determined to speak to Dr. Marrow in person. The telephone is never sufficient, her editor had shouted yesterday on receipt of yet another telegraphed refusal. Get the statement yourself and don't let anyone turn you away until you get something!
“And here we go again,” Lydia said, “barging in where we're not wanted, right, Sev?”
“Oh, I don't know about that, Lyd—what she don't want and what she don't know she want're two different things, what?”
“I suppose so. Just remember to distract that awful butler of hers so I can get a foot in the door!”
With crossed fingers and bated breath the team advanced to the hulking front door. This wasn't their first assignment by any means, and Lydia would never have let her editor bully her into taking it if she hadn't drawn Sev as her photoplate tech. They were evenly matched in both temperament and stubborn attitude. If they couldn't get a story out of the reclusive Dr. Marrow, no one could.
Lydia rang the enormous bell. Sev lit one of his reeking cigars. Never let a servant catch you smoking in their entryway, people said, but he'd bet his hands that they didn't want the servant to notice them, either. As the door began to move, he exhaled directly into the dim opening.
“I beg your pardon,” the butler sputtered. Lydia discreetly edged the toe of her brown leather pump over the threshold and smiled innocently. “Good morning, Mallory! Here to check in with the good doctor. It is Tuesday, you know.”
“Dr. Marrow is unavailable. It is Tuesday, you know.”
The slight click of heels on the marble floor caught everyone's attention, and all three looked up. Mallory shook his head in apology and stepped away from the entrance. Dr. Marrow continued into the entryway and glanced at her visitors.
“Yes, mum. Jules won't let me off the hook this time. Can I get just a statement?”
“I was just on my way to coffee. Can't this wait?”
“Now, Dr. Marrow, I know that you have meetings all afternoon. I brought chocolate croissants this time...”
The doctor sighed and motioned to Mallory. “Get the cigars off the tall one and make me a pot of espresso. Don't admit anyone else, and no calls until further notice, yes?”
The butler made a slight bow, eyeing Sev as he straightened. “You heard the doctor. I'll take those flashplates, too.” Sev grinned, flicking cigar-ash into the umbrella stand as he nodded to the two ladies.
“I'll see you at the pub, then, Lyd?”
“Don't tell Jules, Sev!”
He winked, and headed back down the walk.
Dr. Marrow was a special case, coming as she did on the heels of the winter Season. The town was definitely talking about her, but as no one was sure she was proper conversation, it was a muted chatter. Society made overtures and were swiftly rebuffed in favor of academia. Not the usual lady-doctor's behavior. Society was piqued, but so was their interest.
“Now, Lydia, I can only repeat what I have already pointed out. I am working on too many projects to give the paper a full recounting! It is unconscionable of Jules to keep sending you over here to interrupt my schedule. That said, I am beginning to enjoy your company. Not to mention the croissants.”
“I have to be straight with you, Doctor. I already knew that.” Lydia unpinned her hat and set it on the card-table. Mallory disappeared into the rear kitchen with the croissants and the two ladies headed to the study. Once the coffee was served, Lydia knew, Dr. Marrow could be approached with caution. Until then, it was best to keep the conversation light. She always began by asking about the doctor's latest projects or exhibition. It had been a good week for light conversation, but Lydia was impatient to get on. She felt a slight thaw in the doctor's demeanor. Could this be her break? With one good story she could be promoted, even given a byline, and she was eager to explore how far the doctor's good mood would go.
With an abrupt departure from the usual routine, the doctor turned and said, “Today.”
Lydia's eyes widened. This was really it. She fumbled for the recorder.
“Sit down, Lydia. This will take rather longer than our usual fencing. I am almost done with the new formulations. Without publicity, word will likely never reach the people I am trying for. They are the reason I will break my silence, with you, here. Today.”
“I don't understand, but I'll take it, Dr. Marrow!”
“You're young. Give it a few years. At any rate, I really only want one thing from you in return. Don't let Julian post this as something dreadful like the 'Instructional Anecdote for Young Ladies' I read last week.”
“Well, I don't get to write headlines, yet, but this could change everything. Thank you!”
As Mallory set the coffee-table, the last lady doctor of Provence-Nouveau seated herself carefully in an overstuffed chair.
“Once upon a time,” she mused. “Once upon a time is such an ancient cliché that no-one now is certain where it began. When I was a young girl, I read that its origin was in the first internet, where we learned the breadth of the world and the world's knowledge. I always dreamed, though, of finding the beginnings of things. That may have been the reason I found my aptitude for the sciences. I suspect you are not here to converse about etymology, however, and here is the first thing you are wanting desperately to ask—where did I come from? I will tell you. In the years before the Uprising I was a young lady on the verge of my society debut...”
Okay, my darlings: this is a bit of a trick. I got caught up in a story last night like a whirlwind of fire and failed to post anything. This little excerpt is an exercise I occasionally attempt in order to improve my dialogues. I hope it made you smile, at least, even if you have no interest in Neo-Victorian history, aka steampunk.