Richard and I went to collect our valises leaving ‘Harry’ standing by the carriage she’d brought to take us to our hotel.
“She’s...” Richard said, still looking dazed.
“Yes, she’s definitely a she,” I replied, finding quite a bit of amusement at seeing Richard Ainsworth at a loss for words. I doubt that happened often.
“She never said!” he accused.
“Well,” I drawled. “I can see why.”
“What does THAT mean?” he demanded.
“It means that your entire attitude changed once you realized she was a she and not a he.”
“That’s... Merely shock,” he huffed.
“I doubt it, Richard. Look, we men assume women are... I don’t know. Not as bright as we are.”
“Well, her brother is ... Uhm, was, the brilliant one.”
“Are you certain of that?” I asked as we hefted our valises and headed back to her carriage. She was standing in the sunlight, at a distance looking very feminine indeed. The curves were definitely there.
Richard frowned at me, obviously upset, unhappy and confused still.
“Let’s let her explain things, shall we? You might also remember her brother just died. I dare say she’s mourning, even if she won't show it, protecting herself behind our usual British stoicism.”
“Yes, all right,” RIchard agreed, looking a bit chastened.
I smiled at Harry when we got to the carriage. “All set. Tell me, where is the main gendarme building. I’ll need to check in with my colleagues there.”
Her face paled as I brought back to her the memory of her lost brother. I thought it interesting she'd not dressed in mourning. And I liked her all the better for it. I personally find the penchant to dress in weeds for months after a death an affectation we don't need in today’s world. It’s far more about others sensibilities, or in reality expectations, than about our own grief.
“And,” I added gently, “I’ll need to ask you to give me a detailed statement regarding just what happened to you and your brother.”
She nodded, her chin trembling a little, her eyes glinting with unshed tears. “Yes, I know.”
“Not right now, Kevyn,” Richard said gruffly as he opened the carriage door and held his hand out to give her assistance in climbing in.
“No,” I agreed, “not right now.”
Harry quickly regained her composure and just to prove to herself and us that this was so, proceeded to entertain us with a light and running commentary regarding what we were seeing as the carriage sped us along. I expect the travelogue was more to keep the two of us from asking her questions than it was anything else. But that was fine with me. I had no desire to cause her to look weak in front of Richard. I’d see her alone to get that personal statement.
I noticed that Richard seemed to have recovered from his shock and annoyance with Harry and was now regarding her with interest. He seemed to have come to terms with her deceit and perhaps I’d helped him see it a bit from her perspective. Granted, when one corresponds with others one tends to build up a mental picture based on assumptions, so I did have some sympathy with Richard’s plight with regard to suddenly, without warning, discovering the ‘fellow’ he’d been corresponding with regarding scientific affairs was not a fellow at all.
But I’d seen him with Emmie Black. She was feisty and not at all an ‘ideal’ Victorian woman. He’d liked her spirit and her attitude just fine. I was pretty sure Richard was feeling more betrayed at being kept in the dark than disapproving of a female scientist in general. But I doubted Harry would believe that at this point.
Harry, I was pretty certain, had run into a lot of prejudice against her choice of lifestyle and profession, so had learned the hard way to be a bit defensive. And I had seen genuine shock when Richard had expressed his surprise at finding out she was female. Perhaps she’d thought he’d known all along? I’d have to ask her, I thought.
I confess I was amused by the misunderstanding. And thought it might do Richard good to realize he doesn't know everything.
The hotel was a rather intimate guest house in the oldest portion of the city referred to as the Vieux Carre, rather than a formal and large hotel. I was delighted with it. It certainly had the flavor of New Orleans, or at least what I’d seen of it, and the proprietor knew and was friends with Harry so Madame Lafitte greeted her with joy and extended us unadulterated friendship in turn.
Sadly we had to beg off an invitation to sit on the veranda and chat because I felt not just an urgency to get to work, but the more I saw of Harry, the surer I was that she was in danger. Dread filled me to think that someone planned to harm her, and I needed to make sure that did not happen.
I was also torn as to how to proceed. I did need to liaise with my colleagues but didn’t want to leave Richard and Harry unprotected. I was certain she at least was in mortal danger, and if they were willing to kill scientists, that told me Richard would also be at risk.
I also expected that the authorities at the British consulate would want to have a chat with me. How to avoid them, for awhile?
I finally led Richard and Harry out onto the veranda and sat with them there. Once we were alone I then explained my thoughts. They both displayed astonishment at my fears. Richard, primarily I think, because he felt himself quite able to take care of himself. Perhaps he even was.
Harry, of course, was as yet unaware of the attempt on my life aboard the Imogene. When I explained that, her face went pale. “Le Bon Dieu... I confess,” she said, after a moment, looking a bit shaken at my news, “I disbelieved that my brother’s death was anything to do with us, per se. I thought... A robbery, perhaps. Geoff surprising them, and me..” Her voice trailed off and she was fighting back her emotions.
Richard, who’d been standing, leaning against the veranda railing his arms crossed, moved over to take the seat next to Harry. He leaned toward her putting his elbows on his thighs and for the first time showing friendship and compassion towards her. “Harry...” He struggled to get the name out, then said, “Miss Crenshaw... Please.”
She looked up at him, studying his face to see if he was sincere in this offer of friendship. Reassured by what she saw, she said. “Please. I’ve been Harry to you. Do call me Harry, or Harriet if you find Harry difficult.”
“Harriet,” Richard said, more firmly. “You are in danger. We’ve had ample warnings now. You must take care, and you must allow us to assist you. That’s why Inspector Rory is here. To ensure you are kept safe. I’ve personal experience seeing that our work places us at risk of becoming targets of men who would abuse what we know and what we create. Listen to Kevyn. I .. I wish you to remain safe.”
Harry looked over at me. “He’s right. Men would profit from what you know, what you’ve already discovered. They can be unscrupulous and venal. I realize you've no more reason to trust what we say to you than you do anyone else, but.. But you do know Richard from his correspondence. So please, heed his warnings.”
She searched my eyes and face for a time and then after regarding Richard for a time, said, “What is it you want me to do?”
Next | Home