Masked and gloved, Robin gently turned the knob on the door to Farquhar’s room. It was locked. What would otherwise be considered odd didn’t surprise Robin in the least. But it did make things more difficult.
Fumbling in the dark of the hallway, she found the broken key she’d brought along and slowly inserted it in the lock. She had practiced on all the doors at the Culpepper house. The key had worked there. Robin’s nerves were on edge, which made the extra twists necessary. The gloves weren’t necessary at all, except that Robin couldn’t remember when fingerprinting was discovered, and she wasn’t about to take any chances.
The door opened with a loud squeak. Robin’s heart stopped. She looked up and down the hallway. No one stirred. She slipped in and shut the door.
About fifty years before, it had been made mandatory that all houses in Bath be responsible for lighting the streets. The lamp kept by the inn shone its light through the open window.
As Robin searched, she wondered how much longer Deborah would keep Farquhar occupied. It was a little strange that he had come visiting on a Monday night, but Robin wasn’t complaining.
She hurried through the chest at the foot of the bed. It was empty but for a couple shirts and a pair of breeches. The wardrobe cabinet was empty, too. Robin softly tapped on the walls, and everywhere else she could think of, hoping for a secret panel. She didn’t find one.
Under the bed was a cloth sack. Robin grabbed it. There was something lightweight in the bottom, not the time machine. It was in pieces, whatever it was.
That’s when Robin heard the step in the hallway. She scrambled out of the window onto the ledge outside.
She made it out just in time. Farquhar burst the door open. She heard him angrily stomping about the room, searching.
Robin crept along the narrow ledge. She almost lost her grip when a dangling rope bumped her. Catching her breath and her composure, she recognized what it was. It was connected to a beam at the top and center of the house. Weighted at the bottom, and on pulleys, it was used to bring invalids and furniture too big for the narrow doorways into the house.
Robin tugged at it. It had plenty of tension on it. She took a deep breath. Three stories was a long drop to the hard cobbles below. But then she heard Farquhar rousing the house. She gripped the rope and floated down.
She hit the pavement just as the front door opened. Running hard, she dodged into the first alley she could find. Farquhar and his landlord pursued. As she turned the first corner she came across, she removed the mask and gloves. She stuffed them in the sack she still had and stuffed all that under her waistcoat. Two more quick turns, and she figured she might be safe enough for a quick rest and readjustment.
There was a garbage heap next to her. She dumped the gloves and mask there, under some rotting cabbage. The sack folded around its pieces into a small flat bundle about the size of her palm. This she stuffed down the front of her pants.
She heard Farquhar’s shout come from the street she’d just left. She ran again, around one corner, then another, straight into someone. He flailed about, further entangling Robin.
It took some effort, but as Robin began to disentangle herself, she realized she’d run into Morgan. He reeked of stale brandy and bad perfume.
“Who are you?” He squinted at Robin and veered.
“It’s me, Parker,” Robin hissed. An idea hit her. Morgan was too drunk to know the difference. She could say anything now and he’d swear it was true. “I’m taking you home again. I picked you up a while ago, remember?”
“Oh, yeah.” Morgan belched.
“Come on.” Robin steered him out of the alley onto the main street.
They’d only gone a short distance when Farquhar dashed out from a side street. His landlord appeared a moment later.
“There you are!” Farquhar exclaimed, stopping Robin and Morgan. “You broke into my room!”
“Me?” Robin looked taken aback. “Why on earth would I do that?”
“You know why,” Farquhar snapped. “You were there, not five minutes ago.”
Robin smiled. “I beg your pardon, sir. Five minutes ago, I was wrestling Mr. Morgan, here, out of a bordello in the immediate neighborhood.”
“You’re lying!” Farquhar screamed.
“Sir,” the landlord pointed out. “The man we were chasing had on a mask and gloves.”
“You’ll find them back there somewhere.” Farquhar snapped.
“Even if you do,” Robin said. “It still doesn’t prove I was wearing them.”
“Search him!” Farquhar ordered the landlord. “He’s got my sack.”
The landlord nervously patted Robin’s waistcoat pockets.
“He’s not carrying anything, sir,” the landlord said.
Farquhar glared at her. “Very well, then. I’ll deal with you tomorrow.”
“Good evening, then.” Robin nodded, then pushed Morgan on home.
At the house, she dumped Morgan in his room, then went to her own and lit a candle. She removed the sack from her pants and opened it. The pieces were small circuit chips, just like the ones inside her machine. Her heart leaped with joy. If she couldn’t have the machine, these were the next best thing. She spent the rest of the night poring over the chips, trying to decide which ones she needed.
She was still very sleepy the next afternoon when Sir James called her into his salon.
“Mr. Parker,” he said severely. “Mr. Farquhar was just here, and he made some very nasty accusations against you.”
Robin nodded. “I’m not surprised, sir. He made the same accusations last night.”
“I didn’t do it.” Robin shrugged. “I was bringing Mr. Morgan home.”
“He obviously can’t prove otherwise, but I’ve reason to believe he may have something in his accusation, though I didn’t say anything of the sort to him. I overheard one of the servants mention she’d seen you trying to unlock the front salon door with a broken key.”
“Oh.” Robin briefly debated denying it but realized that if one had talked, the others would soon enough.
“Have you nothing else to say for yourself, Mr. Parker?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I must confess, I did break into Mr. Farquhar’s room. But I beg of you, please hear me out. I had a very good reason, sir.” Robin took a deep breath, trying to remember all the strands of the excuse she’d made up the night before. “Deborah lost some letters she had written. They were innocent jokes, but in the wrong hands, they could have been extremely damaging. Unfortunately, Mr. Farquhar acquired them. He was holding them over Deborah’s head and threatening to make them public. Deborah begged me to retrieve them. She also insisted that you not know about them. She had me swear I wouldn’t tell you. She was afraid you’d be hurt, so I must ask you not to say anything to her. It would upset her terribly if she was aware that you knew. Anyway, that’s what I went to Mr. Farquhar’s room for. I’ve since burnt them. I felt it was my duty to this family to protect it.”
“I see.” Sir James nodded. “Well, I can’t find any fault with that, although I disagree with your conclusions about Mr. Farquhar’s intentions. You have to watch out for Deborah. She tends to exaggerate a great deal. But you did what you should have under the circumstances. Don’t worry. I won’t mention the matter to her, as long as you’re certain the letters have been destroyed.”
“I even stirred up the ashes, sir.” Robin sighed with relief. Sir James was even easier to spin than she’d thought.
“Very good then. We’ll let Mr. Farquhar think someone else burgled him. Now about those accounts from yesterday.”
“Yes, sir. They’re right here.” Robin fetched them quickly.
The following Thursday was not a good day for anyone in the Culpepper house. It began an hour before dawn. Robin got up early to work on the time machine. She heated the iron poker from her fireplace and melted the sheet of tin she’d acquired. Holding her breath to prevent breathing in the deadly substance, she mixed in lead powder, a common cosmetic of the day.
As she put the top on the powder can, she heard movement from Morgan’s room. Something was afoot. Morgan never stirred before nine in the morning, and only rarely that early. Robin heard his door open and close.
She was torn. She needed the machine fixed as soon as possible. But if Morgan got into any more trouble before she could, it might endanger her position.
She grabbed a cloak and scarf. Hurrying out the front door, she spotted Morgan leaving the circle. She ran as swiftly as she could without clattering too loudly on the cobblestones. Morgan glared at her as she caught up.
“What are you doing here, Parker?” he sulked.
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Robin said.
Morgan sniffed and held up his head. “I’m walking. Can’t a man have any peace?”
“Tony, you and I both know you don’t go walking around at five-thirty in the morning.” Robin roughly grabbed his shoulder. “Where the hell are you going?”
“Down the river a bit.”
Morgan groaned and looked away. “I got challenged to a duel.”
It was Robin’s turn to groan. “And you’re going to fight it?”
“What else can I do?” Morgan whined.
Robin shook him. “Plenty. Good lord, Tony, dueling’s illegal and stupid besides.”
“I don’t have any choice,” Morgan said resolutely.
“Don’t give me that. You forget everything else. Why do you have to remember this?”
“I will not be thought a coward.” Morgan twisted in her grip.
“Tony, with your memory, nobody will think that.”
“I’m sorry, Robin, I must.”
“Terrific.” Robin rolled her eyes, then decked him.
Morgan came to as Robin pulled him up from the ground.
“Hullo!” called a young gentleman of around twenty.
Robin turned to him and his three companions.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
“Mr. William Southby,” said the gentleman. “I’ve a duel to fight with that young man you’ve bagged.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Southby,” Robin replied. “Mr. Morgan is not in any shape to duel.”
Neither was Southby. He was steady on his feet, but with a tendency to list to his right. Morgan lurched up.
“I’ll fight you now!” he bellowed and drew his pistol.
“Tony, you idiot!” Robin grabbed for it.
Morgan caught her wrong and she fell in front of him. There were two gunshots, and Morgan fell on top of her.
“The constables!” someone cried.
Morgan groaned. Robin eased herself out from underneath him. Morgan groaned again as she rolled him onto his back and bent over him. Blood oozed out of a hole in his right upper arm.
“Damn! Now you’ve gone and done it!” Robin yanked his handkerchief out of his coat pocket.
“What’s going on here?” an imposing constable asked.
“We were attacked,” Robin answered. “My friend here was shot. Could you help me get him home?”
It wasn’t very hard to bring Morgan along. The constable left them at the servants’ entrance to the house. The cook, Mrs. Ferris, was just up and helped Robin bring Morgan in and lay him out on a worktable.
“The master isn’t going to like this,” Mrs. Ferris commented as Robin eased Morgan out of his coat, waistcoat, and shirt.
“No kidding. Here, bring that candle closer.” Robin probed the wound. “I’ll be damned. I can see the ball. Get me a bowl of clean water and that small pair of tongs. Good, you’ve got a kettle already boiling. Dip the tongs in there first.”
“Just do it. Thanks. Now hold that candle close again, and hold this arm down.” Swallowing back the bile, Robin inserted the small tongs.
Morgan flinched and moaned. Robin dug the ball out.
“Well, that’s that,” she sighed straightening. “Do you have any clean cloths for bandages?”
Robin tied them on, then took Morgan upstairs to his room. After making sure no one was about, she went to her room and got the rubbing alcohol. She dosed the wound, then returned to her own room and collapsed on the bed.
Later that morning, Dean answered his summons to Lady Culpepper’s room with the usual dread.
“Oh, Mr. Dean,” she complained. “It’s my back again. You must rub it. No one else can help.”
Dean took a deep breath but didn’t move. “M’lady, with all due respect, this is really making me nervous. What if your husband comes in?”
She sniffed. “He won’t. He’s too busy with his accounts. Now, hurry up and rub my back before I complain to him.”
“Yes, M’lady.” Defeated, Dean went to work.
Dean was rubbing the back of her neck when Sir James knocked and walked in.
“Well, Sarah, I’m here at your request— Parker! What are you doing?”
Dean yelped and bounced away.
“He insisted, James!” wailed Lady Culpepper. “It’s all his doing.”
“My doing?” Dean sputtered.
“Parker, to your quarters until further notice,” Sir James snapped. “And you may as well start packing.”
Furious, Dean stomped out. Robin had just powdered her hair when Dean burst into the room. He explained angrily what had happened. Robin swore.
“I think she set me up, too,” Dean grumbled. “Sir James was talking like she’d asked him in there.”
Robin groaned. “Shit! How could I have missed it? Of course, she set you up, Dean. Good lord, last Sunday. Don’t you remember before dinner when she was flirting so outrageously with you?”
“That was hell,” Dean said.
“No. That was trying to get Sir James jealous.”
Dean grimaced. “Like, duh. Why the hell didn’t I see that coming?”
“At least now I know how to spin it,” Robin said. “I’m not blaming you, Dean. It’s not your fault.” A bell rang. “That’s Sir James. Listen. Whatever you do, stay put. You can’t afford to take off with Elizabeth in her current shape. And I might have the machine fixed, so we really have to be sure we stay together now. Okay?”
Robin ran downstairs to the salon. There she found two constables in the salon with Sir James.
“Mr. Parker, what is the meaning of this?” Sir James demanded.
Robin smiled as ingratiatingly as she could. “Of what, sir?”
“These two gentlemen say you were involved in a duel this morning, and that you’ve been passing bad notes.”
“I was trying to prevent the duel, sir.” Robin took a deep breath. “As for the bad notes… Well, begging your pardon, sir, I’m afraid Mr. Morgan has been using my name as cover for his misdeeds, which, no doubt, he will not remember. I do have a witness I can bring forward who will confirm that this has happened.”
Sir James snorted. “What about this duel?”
“Mr. Morgan again, I’m afraid.” Robin shrugged. “I caught him leaving this morning. I was bringing him back when his opponent showed up, and they both drew guns. Before I could stop them, they fired. Mr. Morgan received a flesh wound in his upper right arm. I removed the ball already. I checked him about half an hour ago. He’s a little feverish, but he should heal well, providing he doesn’t take sick from it. I don’t think he will. The wound looks clean enough.”
“Are you satisfied, gentlemen?” Sir James turned to the constables.
“We’ve only his word for it,” replied one.
“What would it profit me to place the blame on my master’s nephew?” Robin said. “If I were to accuse him wrongly, it might save me from you, but would have dire consequences from my master. Besides losing my position, he’d probably hand me right back to you. I would be in just as bad a shape.”
They couldn’t argue with that, and so left. Sir James glared at Robin.
“You were supposed to prevent trouble,” he said, finally.
“I did my best, sir. I truly regret that it wasn’t good enough. However, it could have been much worse if I hadn’t followed him.”
Sir James growled in defeat. He left the room to go sulk in his chambers. Robin went about her work.
Around three in the afternoon, Elizabeth left with Deborah for a walk. An hour later, Elizabeth returned with a letter for Sir James. She and Robin watched as Sir James’ face turned bright red with fury as he read the letter.
“Sir?” Robin asked. “What’s wrong?”
“What do you know about this?” He turned on her.
Robin looked back, puzzled. “About what?”
“She ran off and got married!” Sir James sputtered.
“She what?” Elizabeth gasped.
“Got married! To that little mouse with the title.” Sir James paced the room furiously.
“May I see the letter, sir?” Robin neatly detached it from his hand as he prowled past.
“How could she?” the older man fumed, then turned on Robin and Elizabeth as they read the letter. “And how could you let her?”
“Begging your pardon, sir, we didn’t let her do anything,” said Elizabeth. “She merely told me that she’d forgotten a shawl here at the house and asked me to fetch it back and at the same time deliver the letter to you personally. Otherwise, she would have sent the footman.”
Robin gulped. She doubted explaining that she’d been too busy trying to keep Morgan out of trouble would sooth the angry man.
“I had no way of knowing, sir,” she said. “I don’t see much of your daughter at all.”
Sir James sputtered again. “You knew nothing of this? Either of you?”
“No, sir,” said Robin.
“And who does she marry? Viscount Edward Acton.” Sir James snorted. “One of those young, titled hellions. Damn and blast! And after I worked so hard to find a responsible young man for her.”
“Sir, if I may be so bold,” Robin said carefully. “I’ve come across this Lord Edward, and I understand he’s not like his peers that way. I also understand that the Duke of Cliveton, his father is a very virtuous man, and very powerful, in spite of his rather small duchy.”
“Small comfort that is in light of a willful daughter! Damn and blast! It’s all her mother’s fault. She spoiled the girl with all these notions of a rich and titled husband. Marrying well. Bah!” Sir James suddenly stopped in his tracks. “Oh, my god, how am I going to tell Sarah?” His eye fell on Elizabeth and Robin could see the painful memory of that morning flashing before him.
Robin decided to pretend that she knew nothing about it. “Sir, as you just said, Her Ladyship has been very much in favor of your daughter getting just such a husband. Perhaps if you emphasized that.”
“Enough of your effrontery, Mr. Parker. Do you think I’m as easily managed as the rest of my family?” Sir James’ again grew alarmingly red. “You and your brother have brought nothing but trouble to this house. And after I showed you nothing but the greatest of kindnesses!”
“We are indebted, Sir James,” Robin said through her teeth.
“And this is how you repay me?”
Robin lost it. “How I…? I’ve only busted my hump for you! And you had trouble brewing long before we got here. Who was keeping an eye on Mr. Morgan before I came along? Huh? I heard about those fines you had to pay for him back in London. And if you really wanted your daughter to be sensible, why the heck didn’t you teach her to do your books? Instead, you let her lay around all day with nothing but romantic poems and novels and then you wonder why she’s trying to live a fairy tale. And as for your wife, maybe if you’d spent some time paying attention to her, she wouldn’t have had to come on to my brother to get you jealous enough to notice her!”
“Wha— what? Jealous?” Sir James was beyond speech, but Robin noticed that he was sort of listening.
“Yes. She wanted you to pay attention to her. She doesn’t care about Dean. She cares about you. Didn’t she send for you this morning? You can’t believe she forgot she had when she told Dean to rub her back, can you?”
“But she said…”
Robin rolled her eyes. “Do you honestly believe that after the way she chased Dean all over the salon Sunday past? Come on. He was glued to Elizabeth and doing everything he could to keep away from her. Why on earth would she be that obvious if she didn’t want you to notice her?”
Sir James kept opening his mouth and making little sounds, but no words formed.
“Bah!” he finally snorted and drew himself up. “Leave me! We’ll come to terms tomorrow.”
Robin swallowed. She didn’t like the sound of that.
Elizabeth went to comfort Dean. Robin finished her work for the day, then retired to her room. She spent the night sleeping off and on, working on the machine. She had to make it work. There was no doubt in her mind that she, Dean and Elizabeth would be thrown out onto the streets the next day.
And while Elizabeth was little more than six months along, she hadn’t once seen a doctor. There were all sorts of things that could go wrong, and there weren’t any hospitals where they were. They had to get home for the baby’s safety as well as Elizabeth’s.
As the night wore on, Robin became more and more driven by her fears. The troubled dreams she had when she dozed didn’t help. Robin could only guess that she was doing the right thing. Not knowing was almost worse than her fear of failure.
As dawn touched the sky, she sat back and surveyed her work. There was the generator she had built in the early days out of a coffee grinder and speaker wires from Dean’s iPhone, just to be doing something. The player, itself, had been torn apart for other possible parts. These were scattered about, mixed in with the parts she’d taken from Farquhar’s room. On a china plate sat the lump of improvised solder, with the long iron poker cooling next to it. In the middle of the mess was the time machine, with the cover removed. Robin had just finished soldering what she hoped was the right chip to the circuit card.
Taking a deep breath, she pressed the switch on the side. The top glowed. Robin smiled. Then a thin stream of smoke appeared. Bright sparks flew, and white smoke billowed over the whole circuit card. Robin bounced back.
When the smoke cleared, she poked at the card. Every last circuit had burnt out.
Robin gazed at it, numb. Slowly, the depth of the disaster sank in. Drained of hope, she rested her arms on the table, buried her face in them, and cried.