High Adventure in the Steam Age

Friday, August 16, 1872 - Part II

A walk through the Prater opens a Hall of Mirrors

I am only half-dressed for tonight's ball, but I am compelled to make an account of this afternoon's activities before the festivities begin. There is, perhaps, a touch of the maudlin in my sense of the possibility that I may not return to this journal to relate how these events play out, but I cannot but be who I am. Well, after a fashion.

In any event, I am attending a high-level Viennese Ball with two guns, one of which will be legitimately loaded. Survival is not guaranteed

But let us return to where I left off. Having dispatched Master Clockmaker back to the Palais Todesco, we took our own cab to the Wiener Prater, hoping to find Count Navarre and Lady Cecily somewhere among the entertainments of Wurstel Prater Amusement Park. We discussed our options and eliminated some from the list of the possible (Mlle. Bechard does not find people with her particular Art). We arrived to the sounds of laughter and the smell of various treats shared in the open air. Perhaps it was one such sweet that drew Mlle. Penneg haring off on a brief adventure of her own, but she declared that she would return shortly and was then gone into the brush. Mlle. Bechard informed us that she did this sort of thing somewhat frequently, a tendency I confess I might find slightly alarming, like the way cats seem to stare at a space just behind your shoulder. But I digress.

The Prater was filled with people enjoying the weather, and the sounds of a fairground organ could be heard in the background, with people crying in joy and perhaps a bit of alarm on a steam-powered Carousel. We searched frantically amidst the crowd for our quarry, but it was Mlle. Glass who spotted him on a rowboat headed out onto the Danube. As we closed with the small pier for the Prater, we also saw a rough-looking man in a paddleboat coming to meet the Count in the middle of the water. Racing to the shoreline, we saw a number of boats to rent, but none of us were in condition to row ourselves out and catch the Count before he met with his less-genteel comrade mid-river. One of the boats however, was steam-powered, and seemed ideal to out hopes; however, the only one of us competent with machinery had gone galavanting about the Prater with neither explanation nor a predicted time of return.

With all due respect to the many show-offs and high-theater miscreants I have known in my life, no one quite makes an entrance like the fey. Mlle. Penneg came barrelling back to us like a Roman chariot racer, driving some hapless dog before her. What she had been doing, why she had disappeared, or even where this beleaguered hound came from were all questions lost in the needs of the moment to get to the chase. Clearly, we must develop some alternate source of funding, for when it came time to rent the boat, I found myself passing over my funds for next week’s morning papers. This, then, is how I found myself tight on funds (and no prospects), on the river (unable to swim), and chasing after strangers surrounded by women eager for an adventure. I don’t know when precisely I lost control of my circumstances, but it was at this point that I became aware of said loss.

Nevertheless, there was work to be done. The rough-looking scoundrel aboard the paddleboat produced a revolver and took a shot at Mlle. Glass, who had been taunting him with her hat. She very nearly ended up in my lap to avoid the shot, which would likely have put us both in the river. We closed with Count Navarre’s rowboat and I pulled the same strategy which had bought us time with the hooligans that had assaulted Master Clockmaker – I produced my handy derringer, with but a single shot therein. Count Navarre, at least to begin with, seemed to better understand the consequences of gunfire than his brutish minion and raised his hands in surrender. Mlle. Glass instructed the Count’s accomplice to drop his gun, which Mlle. Bechard reinforced with a hurled dagger that pierced the man sharply. Mlle Penneg summoned forth an image of something in the water to menace our opponents (my eyes were focused on Count Navarre, so I shall likely never know of what precisely). It seemed a fracas was to ensue, but the Count had other plans.

Seizing Mlle. Glass by the lapels of her coat, he demonstrated his personal magical skill and seemed to shatter like a mirror, with hundreds of Count Navarres falling this way and that into the river and swimming away for shore. Mlle. Glass, now quite irate at not being able to give someone a proper thrashing, exorcised some of her discomfort on the various images in the water. The gunsel, now absent a master to direct him and with a new and exciting stab wound, found his own way back to shore.

A victory, however odd, is still a victory, and we escorted Lady Cecily back to our own boat and returned to shore, with Mlle. Penneg wondering aloud how we might keep this steam-powered craft forever. Successfully dissuading our faerie friend from high seas burglary, we returned to the cab to get our second mystical surprise from Count Navarre. A button fell from Mlle. Glass’s jacket, though it was not of her jacket. A ghostly image of the Count appeared, warning us of danger to Lady Cecily and, that if we were to see him that night at the ball, we must arrange to pretend to kill him. In the space of a single trip to the Prater, our little adventure had taken a spin on the carousel itself, swirling us into the realm of the bizarre and, quite frankly, the paranoid, as we were left to wonder about unseen threats and the truth of those around us.

In the midst of this chaos, I felt the tug of a thread of a plan. I asked how difficult it might be for Mlle.Penneg to craft a glamour to make one of the ladies in our own company appear to be Lady Cecily. She stated it was possible, but complicated, whereas producing a dress and wig to create the facsimile of the Lady might be simpler. I filed both of these options as we returned to Palais Todesco.

Which brings me here to my desk. I am about half-dressed in a Légion d'Honneur outfit with a comedia dell’arte mask that may bring to mind C. Auguste Dupin, if one does not inspect too closely. My drop pistol is fully loaded for the first time in a week, and I have removed my derringer from its track in my coat and loaded it with two percussion caps, but no bullets. Mlle. Glass is getting herself fitted to playact a Lady of mysterious provenance, and Mlle. Bechard is preparing to present her entertainment.

The sophists had a philosophy called Dissoi Logoi, which encouraged a rhetorician to explore all sides of an issue equally so that, in the moment of kairos, or fortuitousness, they could make the right argument at the right time to the right audience. Without knowing who has fair intentions and who foul, I have engaged on a sort of Dissoi Logoi here, with the possibility of three Lady Cecilys, two harmless pistol shots, eight decidedly non-harmless pistol shots, and enough lies to fill a novel of fiction. I can only hope that we can discover kairos before our enemies do.
 

Comments

I thought Count Navar had been trying to avoid the rough-looking man on the paddle boat, fleeing from him as well as from us.

Friday, August 16, 1872 - Part II
JGray Bookkeeper

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