I don't remember much of the New York layover. I do remember Agatha and her parents coming by to say goodbye and wish me well. Agatha begged me to write to her and swore she’d write to me as well. I saw no sign of Renee LaCroix.
They put me on a stretcher and made me stay there to take me to the next airship, the one that would take us southward to New Orleans.
It proved to be quite different from what I was used to in Airships. It was a French design and far more ornate than the British made ones. Especially the grand salon and the dining room. There wasn’t a lot you could do to the staterooms, but the salons were large enough that the designers could let their imagination run rampant. And they did!
The doctor aboard Airship Imogene made a fuss when he heard what had happened to me - well, the story we were telling anyway, that I’d been hurt during the storm - and insisted that I be given a large stateroom which would give him more room to work should I need his assistance. He also assigned me a private steward whose sole duty was to jump to my every whim.
By this time I was dying to be left alone. I felt fine, although I was still getting headaches. Even so, I allowed them to make a fuss. After all, I was supposed to be a mere public servant who’d appreciate such special treatment.
Richard looked on in perpetual amusement. I wanted to slug him for that.
I found myself the centre of attention at each meal, made a fuss over, and generally treated quite royally. Richard played along, and encouraged them, damn his eyes.
Then finally we were nearing New Orleans and I got my first glimpse of the bayous and the Mississippi River. It was... Rather jungley I thought. The river was muddy and meandered around. As it wound its way southward and neared New Orleans its banks was dotted with large plantations. Elegant houses brightened the riverbanks and conjured up, for me at least, thoughts of belles and elegant balls.
New Orleans itself was a surprise. Paddle boats plied the river giving what I’d expected to be a sleepy river town more the energy of a big city. And the large lake north of the city sported factories powered with steam. As the airship headed for the airpark, I was treated to an overview of the area of New Orleans referred to as ‘the Garden District.’ Elegant, large, ginger-breaded beautiful homes lined the wide avenue. Trolleys ran up the middle of the avenue providing transport from the airpark at one end, into the city of New Orleans proper. Gardens abounded, their walls alive with verdant green flowering vines and succulent shrubs and odd trees draped with some grayish growth someone told me was Spanish Moss. Even the streets themselves were lined with plantings of colorful flowers of exotic types I mostly wasn’t familiar with. All that exotic floral abundance seemed determined to confound the senses with a plethora of exotic scents. It was nearly overwhelming even at altitude. So different from stuffy old London that mostly smelled like dead rat. Even the English and Irish countryside had nothing whatever like this. These scents caressing my nose now I’d only known previously from women’s fancy and expensive perfume.
The airpark, as we dropped the last few feet toward the landing area, was every bit as verdant and alive. Deep greens of every hue, the ubiquitous flowering vines and bushes riotous with colors and scents. A bandstand stood not far from the ramps in place for passenger debarkation. A band dressed in some sort of local costuming was playing something bright and happy.
People, and apparently not just those greeting passengers, milled about. Many were dressed in alien looking costumes, in that they were light colored and with thin fabric, no doubt designed for the heat here, which felt overwhelming now. They were sitting on blankets with picnic baskets or on chairs with cold drinks in their hands, enjoying the odd, fast and seemingly out of tune music. I’d never heard anything like that music before in my life. I liked it though. It seemed to fit the character of the place.
And then we were on the ground, and I, finally allowed freedom, walked down the ramp on my own steam, to set foot in Louisiana for the very first time.
My foot had barely hit the deeply green grass when a finger poked into my shoulder, a demanding finger. I turned to find a surprisingly tall woman regarding me. Her hair was a mass of unruly dark curls. Surprisingly, she wore no hat, wide-brimmed or otherwise. She wore a split skirt that looked more like a country riding costume than a city frock. Her blouse was severe as well, with only a tiny bit of embroidery to mark it as feminine. Apparently she never or at least seldom wore a hat, since her face was freckled and at the moment it was splotchily red from the heat and possibly from sunburn.
I sketched a bow to her just as Richard caught up with me, having fought his way through the throng of passengers debarking to reach my side.
“Mr Ainsworth?” she asked.
“No, I’m Detective Inspector Rory. This is Mr Ainsworth,” I replied, pointing a finger at Richard. I was sorely tempted to poke him in turn, but remembered my dignity in time.
This odd woman looked me up and down and then dismissed me as beneath her notice. She turned her full attention and intensity on Richard. “Oh, am I glad to see you,” she said as she slipped an arm through Richard’s. He was doing his best to not look shocked. I was doing my best not to enjoy aloud his discomfiture.
“Come. I've so much to tell you,” she added, cutting me out of the conversation completely and more or less treating me as if I were invisible now that she knew I was not Richard.
“I’m sorry, I haven't had the pleasure Miss...?” Richard asked.
“Miss?” she repeated staring at him, her mouth, in a most unladylike fashion falling open. “We’ve been corresponding continually for several years, Richard.”
Richard looked down at her, then over at me. He was too genteelly brought up for his mouth to fall open, but even so I had no doubt he was utterly confounded.
She turned directly toward him and pulled her hand out of the crook of his arm. She put both her hands on her hips and stared at him. She all but stamped her foot in frustration. “I’m Harry Crenshaw.”
“But...but... but...” Richard stammered. “You're....”
“Female?” she asked, an eyebrow rising. “Yes. I’m female. And a scientist. Deal with it!”
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