44. Six Months Later

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"Hello, Cullen!"  


Cullen put down his pen and smiled at me from the other side of a desk that looked as if it was about to collapse under a mountain of paper.

"Is your employer anywhere about?" 

"In his office. Today's the big day, isn't it? I wish I could be there, but. . ." he waved his hand over the desk to indicate how busy Mr Stevenson kept him. 

The choice of who to send up to London had landed on Cullen for no other reason than I thought he was the one who'd adapt to a new and potentially challenging situation best, as well as matching Mr Stevenson's no nonsense demeanour. I'd been proven correct, and the two had got on like a house on fire from the first minute, Cullen playing to the man's dark, but generous, sense of humour. 

"This is for you. As a consolation gift for your hard labour." I handed him a small, paper sachet of Field Rabbit Mixed Candy . We'd made up about a hundred of them to give out as samples.  I had one for Mr Stevenson, as well. 

"I'll just fetch --"

A door at the far end of the office banged open, spilling in the cacophony of the work area and the churning of the presses along with Mr Stevenson's ink-splotched girth.

"Is that our Miss Altringham?"  He grasped my hands in his own and shook them up and down. "How're you keepin', yer alright? I keep a tellin' this one here that he'd best keep about it, or next time Miss Altringham shows 'er pretty face in me 'umble establishment, I'll hand 'im back." 

"I thought I was going to end up face first in the gutter with my chair as a hat if I didn't watch it? Which is it? Gutter or back to the manor house?" 

"Shut it, you!" Mr Stevenson wagged a finger playfully at Cullen, and turned back to me, grinning. "Me best worker, honestly. And the other one yer just sent up, he's comin' along well. 'As all the makings of a good setter, although 'e's a bit quiet."

That would be Tiller. Just as Morris had predicted, Mr Stevenson was in a mood to buy and hardly needed much cajoling after he'd seen Cullen. Tiller, Cullen and Morris all roomed together at a pension only a few streets away and had founded a type of support network for the Cloud Hill men gradually starting to drift up to London to take on new employ.   

"This is for you, as a thank you for employing men from my programme. Our sweets shop in Maiden Lane is having its grand opening today --"

"Is that today? Mrs Stevenson is frightful excited to visit. She's got a sweet tooth what compares to none. I'll 'ave a difficult time holdin' 'er back from buying out the entire shop, shelves included!" he said, as he took the candy.  He was laughing, but from the way he was eyeing the sachet, I had a hard time believing it was Mrs Stevenson who would have to reign in their sweet tooth. 

What a difference only a few months and a different strategy had made!  Fun, good times, sweet things. That was the spirit of the age. And that's the spirit I was trying to mix into everything I did. Sometimes it worked a charm, other times. . .

The cab I'd arrived in was waiting for me outside. As we turned onto the high street, I looked at my wristlet: twenty minutes behind schedule. 

Would I ever be on time when it was something important? 

I'd been twenty minutes behind schedule when I'd found James, and how important of a meeting had that been? My bright spark had heralded changes I could now only appreciate with hindsight, and appreciate them I did, as difficult and tragic as they had been at the time. 

I received an angry letter from Elizabeth Boyd-Scathby claiming that Morris had made unseemly advances to several of the women servants, and that a particular set of antique statuettes were missing. I advised her to check under her cook's bed for the statuettes and that it was a shame that she'd sold off her favourite mare for nothing but a beastly woman's revenge. She'd wasted my time, and unless she had something sensible to contribute, not to bother me anymore with the petty plotting of a lying servant. 

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