London, July 1862
The taxi arrived at the square after a short ride. There was a watering trough not far away. Millicent climbed down from the passenger cab. She told Liam, “Hand me your water bottle.”
Liam looked petulant. “I can fill it.”
Millicent said to him, “Then fill it and shake it. After a couple of minutes, it should be fit to drink.”
“Sez you” Liam muttered and moved to the watering trough without enthusiasm.
Ignoring his comment, she headed up a couple of blocks on Upper Street to the Woodson Furniture Store and entered. The same young smartly dressed lad was behind the counter. “Father said you would be on time.”
“He is very perceptive although I will have to ask why he said that.” Millicent bowed to the young man.
The boy laughed and said “He said you were very smart and probably know being late doesn’t impress.”
“I am certain it doesn’t impress him,” she said.
“Please follow me. The contracts and designs are in the back room,” and he lead her into the back work room.
They walked through the large door to the work room. The works in progress were placed aside on the walls or other work tables. A large table in the center dominated the room. A draft diagram was unrolled in the center as well as several sheets of paper. The elder Woodson stood as she entered. “Miss Morgaine. How good to see you again.” The words were pleasant and the tall, dark man smiled as she entered.
“And good to see you Mr. Woodson. I trust all is well.“ She asked moving to his end of the table.
“Excellent. Now let us start reviewing the contract.”
“Where is Eleanor? Mr. Woodson. I value her input.” Millicent said with a hint of defiance.
“Eleanor is not necessary for this discussion,” Woodson protested.
Really Mr. Woodson. Again? Did the check not clear?” Millicent stood firm. “Eleanor is essential. I want her to design the inlays”
Mr. Woodson, not easily moved himself, continued “Miss Morgaine. I appreciate your business, but Eleanor does not need to be present for us to start.”
Deciding a bit of give would be better, Millicent replied “Perhaps not, but she will be necessary to finish.”
He sighed melodramatically “Isaac. Go get Eleanor”
Millicent said, “I can go back to her if she needs to finish something. We can get the basics done here and I can visit her in the office is she doesn’t want to be disturbed at this moment.”
The senior Woodson, considered for a moment. Millicent added helpfully, “I won’t be more than 30 minutes, I am sure. I’ve seen her work. I trust her instincts.”
Woodson smiled a bit, “You are very persistent. Very well. Isaac,let Eleanor that Miss Morgaine will be visiting her in a bit.” The young lad scampered off.
“Mr. Woodson. I do so appreciate your indulgence in my little quirks,” Millicent sounded appreciative.
“You are my largest order in some time. For that, I can …indulge little quirks.” Woodson shook himself to get past the uncomfortable topic and then leaned over the large draft, “So let us begin. You can see the cabinet design here.“
Millicent viewed the diagram and listened as Woodson discussed the features. The cabinets would have a base of oak. Each cabinet would have a central overlay two feet in diameter on the front door. The interiors would have cedar inserts to repel moths. There was a space for shoes. Each would have two drawers. There would be a hidden compartment with space enough for some jewelry.
“I would like hooks on the interior of the doors” she asked.
“We were planning on mirrors.” He replied.
“I think the hooks will be more useful and less expensive.” She insisted.
Woodson looked a bit disappointed but nodded to Tom who found the line with the mirror entry and changed it to hooks and then began recalculating the cost. After a few moments, he looked up and said “The final cost is 90£”
She pursed her lips and said, “That seems a bit more than was mentioned before.” She figured that Mr. Woodson would only respect her if she negotiated some.
“Well the custom inlay work added a bit,” Woodson argued.
“50% more?” Millicent protested.
“I can lower it to 80£, but the time has costs. You will be getting the work of my father, myself and Wallace – my eldest not to mention Eleanor’s time in designing the images,” Woodson said.
“Not to mention Eleanor…I don’t expect you to work for free. I think 70£ is more reasonable. That is 10£ for all that labor,” she countered.
“I will go as low as 78£ but no lower. The quality of the labor costs more than you think.” He said sounding frustrated.
She sighed dramatically and then said, “I can managed 78£, but you are cutting mercilessly into my profit margins. I appreciate your flexibility.”
Woodson smiled and said “I could say the same regarding our profits. Such flexibility will make me a poor man. But I do want you to be satisfied.”
Millicent brightened “Wonderful. Now I would dearly like to speak with Eleanor to arrange the designs of the inlays.”
He waved over Isaac who had returned from his message run to Eleanor. The two of them headed out onto the factory floor. Making conversation, Millicent asked “Have you had any recent enquiries for custom work?”
“After you it was a slow day. One person came in yesterday, but he was only ordering one. “ Isaac scratched his head and said, “Asked a question or two about Eleanor as well.”
Millicent felt annoyed that Mr. Smith was probably chasing her crew down now. “Well you have the factory if custom orders aren’t as common.“
“Yes, we do Ma’am. And here we are.” He showed her the stairs up to the office. Millicent climbed the open frame stairs to the office. Isaac followed her to the door and let her in.
Eleanor turned from her table. “Ah Miss Morgaine. Good to see you. I looked over your requests. They seemed acceptable” Millicent breathed a sigh of relief.
Millicent responded, “I’ve seen the designs and they seem quite adequate. I was hoping to discuss the image with you for a bit. I would like each to be personalized.”
Eleanor said, “I think we can do that. Have a seat on the stool and I will get my notebook.” The brother stayed in the room and watched them impassively. Eleanor said to him, “Isaac. Miss Morgaine and I will be perfectly fine. This may be a take bit. I will turn the signal light on when we are done.”
“Father said I shouldn’t leave,“ the gangly teen protested.
“Surely my virtue is safe with Miss Morgaine. Besides, I understand Willy on the lathe has some questions about the last elm shipment,“ Eleanor smiled sweetly.
Isaac looked conflicted. Then said “Miss Morgaine. Please don’t leave unescorted. The factory floor can be quite dangerous.”
“I wouldn’t dare,“ Millicent said making her eyes big.
Isaac then bowed said “Ladies” and then left.
Eleanor smiled and watched him close the door, “He is so much easier to trick than Tom or Wallace. But Tom and Wallace aren’t nearly so literal with Daddy’s proclamations.” She turned and put her notebook down on the large drafting table.
Millicent pulled out her own notebook. “Nicely done, Eleanor. There are two things to take care of. The first is the contract which I have here. “ She opened the note book. There was a page of clauses. “Please read as I attend the second.” She pulled out the kit with the syringe, serum, alcohol, rope and swabs.
Eleanor stared at the kit. “What is that?”
“My offer to you resulted in an unexpected consequence. Normally, I do recruiting here without competition. This time, I have a competitor and that has made this necessary,” Millicent said, holding a syringe.
“Normally, competitors just up the bid as it were. I am missing why I need an injection,” Eleanor said, her eyes staring at the long needle.
“My competitor might just do that. But I have already found he deals unscrupulously. He has lied to other recruits of his and then he has enslaved them if they objected to the true terms.“ Millicent said this harshly.
Eleanor looked at Millicent severely. “I find the use of that term offensive. My race has suffered slavery. A bad contract is not slavery.”
“Your history of bloody, ruthless bondage is well known to me. The victim will be taken away from all they know. What do YOU call breaking someone physically, mentally and emotionally to do a manager’s will? The poor victim will have no hope of escape and his or her only hope of respite is doing the will of their manager. If you have another word besides slavery that is more palatable please inform me.“ Millicent said quietly.
“How is this happening in the Queen’s England? This is not America. Our emancipation was granted 75 years ago. Even my father doesn’t remember slavery and grandfather only remembers the celebrations of emancipation. “ Eleanor practically shouted.
Millicent shrugged and said, “It is a small number of people. They will be noticed, but by the time anyone figures out they are missing Mr. Smith will have taken them far from the Queen’s Justice. As for how he is breaking them – it is a technology you don’t know. This injection will prevent his doing that to you. “ She lifted the ominous syringe.
Eleanor paced the room in a distressed fashion. “Do I have to sign this contract to get this vaccine?”
“No,” She said simply. “I object to my competitor’s methods strenuously. You can refuse my offer (which you haven’t heard) but I will inoculate you regardless.”
“What of my family?” she asked.
“The process is time consuming and a bit costly. He is on a deadline. I have no reason to believe he will use such drastic methods on your family.” Millicent said.
“Why not?” Eleanor demanded.
“If you must know, the victim is injected with a serum that allows the transmission of pain or pleasure. The victim is then fitted with a collar that is the activator. Like an animal they are trained to obey – pain for disobedience, pleasure for right behavior. The process can takes weeks to be fully effective. You are the valuable commodity here, not your brothers or father. It would be your submission and obedience he requires, not theirs. “ Millicent said.
“And you are about to inject me?” she asked raising the last syllable a bit.
Millicent laughed mirthlessly. “Good point dear. Good point. But I have no collar or means of causing the pain or pleasure. I could have been less specific and avoided your doubt. I am not requiring your acceptance of the contract to get the vaccine. Does this seem like someone who defrauds and then enslaves?”
“I couldn’t speak to defrauding. You could be doing that now,” Eleanor’s voice sounded angry.
Millicent sighed. There had to be a better way. She needed to work with Charles on a new delivery method for the future. “What do you need to need to know to accept this?” holding the syringe.
“You come with a fantastic story and want to inject me with some unknown substance. Why should I believe a thing?” Eleanor demanded.
Millicent muttered “I grow tired of these demonstrations.” But she pulled out the device she used with Michael. She looked about the room. There was an airship model resting on a desk on the other side. She dialed some knobs and pressed a button. The ship began to lift. Eleanor stared open mouthed as the ship moved around the desk and then set down. “You will be able to use this technology with my contract. But my competitor can use strange technology as well. It can manipulate molecules or blocks or wood. Why should you believe me? Why should you trust me? I am giving you a choice. I am working around your family to talk to you directly. Mr. Smith was here yesterday and I imagine you didn’t see him.”
Eleanor shook her head no.
Millicent pleaded, “I believe you can do great things and get credit for them. But I will grant that few of my promises are tangible. You must decide what you want.”
Eleanor walked to the desk with the now still airship and pointed to it. “You said there is material that allows testing of this. Did I just see it?”
“No. You saw a parlor trick I pull out when people want proof. The material that would allow scale testing is elsewhere. “ Millicent said lightly and put the device away.
She lifted the airship, spun it’s propellers and then set it down. “I guess I should read this contract.”
“Read and I will inject if you have no further objections.“ Millicent nodded to the stool.
“What can I expect from this injection?” Eleanor asked with apprehension.
“You will be achy and feverish for the next day or so. Drink lots of liquids and eat a lot. – especially proteins. It will help. After two days you won’t notice anything except you will probably never get sick again. Over time, I expect you will become stronger and have faster reactions.“
Eleanor began reading as Millicent prepped her arm and the syringe. She swabbed a spot carefully with the alcohol and then cinched the rope. She measured the serum into the syringe and then said “bit of a prick here” and then slid the needle in. After the serum was in, she pulled the syringe back, placed some swabbing on the bleeding spot and raised the arm.
Millicent then said “OK, let’s review the clauses. The duration is 10 years of your measure. “
“My measure?” Eleanor asked about the strange phrase.
“It is 10 years as a year is defined in this solar system. You will design, build and use the objects that are requested. Any new inventions are the property of your patron. ”
“That seems a bit unfair,” Eleanor said ignoring the odd time reference and noticing the patent rights issue.
“You patron will supply the tools and support to make that invention possible. It is likely your patron will support additional training and learning. Besides, it is unlikely you have the resources to enforce your patent anywhere meaningful,“ Millicent added.
“Still seems a bit unfair,” Eleanor said a bit put out.
“You will receive 7% of the proceeds of exhibits, patents and value produced from exhibits. Past performance is not a guarantee of future returns. But exhibits make an average of £75,000 a year. If your exhibit were to make that much, you would receive £5,250 a year.”
Eleanor stopped her reading. “There has to be a mistake. £75,000 is more than the Queen of England makes.
“It is an average. It could be less. But I promised you, you could be very wealthy. Conservatively invested, you will have more than £75,000 after 10 years. “
Eleanor sat down.
“Still wish to dispute the patent clause?” Millicent asked.
“I suppose I sounded foolish, “shaking her head. “This isn’t possible. No company will give a single person that amount of money.”
Millicent sighed, “Sadly that won’t always be true. In the future, it will happen frequently. But let’s go back and challenge your assumption. What if that stipend I mentioned (redeemed in gold) is not the same value to your patron. If you put one of your workers with a year’s wages in Africa or India, they would be considered fabulously wealthy. Here, they are barely getting by. Simply put. The money you make at your patron’s exhibit will not seem like much where you work. You will be comfortable but not extravagantly so. If you save and invest well, you can take that money at the end and return and here you will be rich beyond most measures.”
Eleanor looked at Millicent as if she had just thought of something and wandered to the window overlooking the factory floor. “What are the working conditions?”
“There is a clause that stipulates allowances for housing, food, supplies for work, medical care and regular leave. There is a grievance policy. But, to be honest, it’s not very effective. John Smith is taking advantage of this laxity. I will be checking in regularly at your work site. You’ll work hard, but I pride myself and creating mutually pleasant outcomes. I want you to meet a past contractor. She can give a much clearer vision of what to expect.“
“How very enlightened,” Eleanor remarked drolly.
“Not as much as you think. I will make a much larger portion of that £75,000 if you commit. And if you commit, there is no breaking this contract. Your contract can be sold, but I have stipulated with the patron that I must be the agent in such transactions. There have been incidents where contracts for basic work have been sold to mining operations – I won’t allow that to happen. Again, the regulations are lax. You will have little say in where you go or what you do.”
“You make sound all so very dry. I thought indentured servitude was declared unlawful.” Eleanor said somewhat acerbically.
“Where you are going, slavery is lawful and there will be no British Embassy to save you.” Millicent responded somewhat harshly.
“People agree to this?” she sounded incredulous.
“I offer a chance to work on something you care about using technology you can’t imagine and become immensely wealthy. You will be recognized and lauded. Your patron has a reputation for liking his contractors happy and comfortable. As your representative, I will try to make sure your conditions are pleasant and don’t change without your consent. You will be able to associate with whom you choose and do what you want on your off hours – as long as you get your work done. The factory workers on your floor don’t have that much freedom. Is that so onerous?” Millicent asked.
Eleanor seemed to be holding back a comment, but asked “What else should I know?”
Millicent sat on the stool and paused for a moment. “You will be leaving everything and everyone you know. We are travelling an unfathomable distance. When you leave, you will lose contact with everyone you know here permanently. Should you choose to come back after 10 years, you won’t be able to contact them.”
Eleanor fumed, “Now that really is not fair. Why should you care?”
“This is the hardest part for everyone including me. The time on the contract stipulates that it will be 10 years relative to you. You don’t know enough now, but because of how we travel your 10 years will amount to 60 years here. It is likely your family and friends will be dead. They certainly won’t understand your youthful appearance. “
“That makes no sense,” Eleanor said.
Millicent shrugged, “As I said, you don’t know enough now, but it is reality.”
Eleanor sat in her chair. “I have to make this decision now?”
Millicent said gently, “There is one more clause you need to be aware of. I view your world as a bit like a finely balanced garden. If I pick a flower or two, there is no harm. But if someone introduces a noxious weed, it can ruin the whole lot. IF you come back, you will be forbidden to use any new technology you learned while you were away.“ She added some steel to her voice, “Do not challenge this. If you find this is unfair, difficult, or petty, our discussion is over.”
Eleanor sensing the sensitivity of this matter asked simply “Why that clause?”
Millicent said, “Your world is an unspoiled gem. If you or anyone else brings back strange technologies, you potentially create something new and different. Your species potential to innovate and create will be lost. Review your own history for all the examples of cultural contamination. I have kept matters in check over the years. I have found your development pleasing and profitable on the whole.”
There was a silence after the words. Eleanor moved back to the factory floor window. Millicent watched her. Eleanor asked “Back to my question – do I have to decide this now?”
Millicent tried to be matter of fact. “I would prefer now, but you have just learned the full consequences. I respect your reluctance to make such a commitment in a short time. I won’t force you. But the forces at play mean you need to decide quickly. I’ve given you a vaccine that will disrupt anyone trying to coerce you. But I have an enemy and you are likely a target for him. Signing a contract gives me certain leeway in how to protect you.”
“I just can’t decide this now,” Eleanor sounded helpless for the first time.
Millicent sighed. Nothing was easy when you had to rush. “Fair enough. Can you get a message out without your father or brothers knowing? We are watching the building.”
“There is a worker or two I might be able to use. I take walks in the park some days,” she said.
“Here is my card. I’ve put a café address near the university. Send some message to that address and I will receive it shortly. “
“Thank you for the patience. I really need to think about this,” Eleanor said.
Millicent sighed and then said, “You do. In other circumstances, I would take more time to persuade you. But please don’t think too long. I know breaking with all that you know is daunting. I have tried to give you an unvarnished view. But also know you could be so much more than a hidden designer waiting to be married off.”
“You aren’t above pressure,” Eleanor said with a little smile.
“Perhaps that was unfair. But I doubt I am far from the mark. You now have an option you didn’t have before,” Millicent said.
“Designer isn’t that bad,” Eleanor argued.
“You sound less like you’re convincing me than you sound like you are trying convince yourself. Anyway, appearances must be kept. We should go over the images on the cabinets. I am assuming you will draft them. “ Millicent said and opened her notebook to a different page. Eleanor opened her notebook and took a pencil to do initial sketches.
“For the first, I should like a clock – a wall clock is best. And it should have a small line in front of it so it looks like it is encircled by the line and a ball should be on that line. The second should be an owl with the symbol ɸ behind it. At the base there should be diagram that looks like this.
The third should be an image of the Tower Bridge.
The fourth should be an image of an Erlenmeyer flask, a test tube and something as follows
The next should be an image of an airship. Eleanor looked up and smiled “Feeling confident?”
Millicent smiled back, “Hopeful.”
Eleanor asked, “And the last?”
“Have you ever seen an image of the Whirlpool Nebula? Your Lord Rossi made a magnificent sketch of it.”
“No. Astronomy had a limited use as an engineer.” Eleanor sounded apologetic.
“If you come with me, you’ll change your view on that. I shall try to get you an image of it. Any questions?” Millicent said brightly.
“These other candidates. Have they signed?” Eleanor asked.
“No. I hope to fix that tonight.” Millicent said.
Eleanor scanned the descriptions and images. “I recognize Rachel in the clocks. John O’Malley and the pressure work. He is quite the philosopher. Tower Bridge is too general. I think I know the chemistry and magnetism. Is it Jason?”
“Yes. I haven’t met with him yet. He is a bit far away. I shall have to discuss his interests. The bridge is Michael Richards. He was initially skeptical but I managed to overcome his skepticism. “ Millicent smiled.
“I believe he has a fiancée,” Eleanor asked with her eyebrow raised.
“You are remarkably well informed,” Millicent said with a bit of acid in her voice.
“What happens to her?,” Eleanor asked as she started sketches in her notebook.
“I haven’t decided. In the past, I have been insistent on breaking all ties. My views on this are …evolving.” Millicent said and got up and walked around the room.
“But still no contact after we leave?,” Eleanor asked quietly as she added notes.
“Miss Woodson. The clause is hiding a physical reality. If contact were possible, I might be more flexible. But it simply is not. I will return with a drawing of the nebula and possibly a better idea for Mr. Richards. You should probably call your brother. They will think we are plotting” Millicent said with a wink.
Eleanor went out onto the landing and waved. Isaac arrived shortly. He looked to Millicent, “Did you get everything you needed?”
Millicent replied sweetly, “For the moment. I need to find another diagram as a reference for one image.”
Isaac looked at Eleanor, “Father wants you work on the Smith contracts first.”
“But these need to be done sooner,” Eleanor protested.
“We can get the rough work done while you finish the Smith diagrams and designs. It shouldn’t take anytime to sketch out some things for us to do.“ Isaac said reasonably.
“I can manage my own time,” Eleanor protested
“You don’t need to. We can manage it for you,” Isaac said harshly.
Eleanor fumed. “Good Day Millicent. I think you can expect some resolution quickly no matter what my baby brother says. Our conversation was illuminating and one should always see alternatives. I think I can come up with a perfect airship image.”
“Good Day to you, Eleanor. I feel most hopeful” and headed out the door with a smile. Isaac closed the door and headed down the door. Making conversation, Isaac said “I am surprised you couldn’t complete your tasks. That was a very long time.”
“Oh it was slow going at the start. But things went very well at the end, thank you very much. I expect things will turn out quite satisfactorily.” And let Isaac take the lead. “I presume all is well on the factory floor.”
Isaac nodded. “Yes. I don’t know what she was going on about with Willy and the elm shipment. Willy isn’t even in today. She has been terribly flighty since getting back from University.”
Millicent only nodded unsure if she should snap at the comment or encourage it. “Thank you for the escort. I would love to get a tour of the facility at some point if you ever have the chance. “
“You’ll have to ask Father. But I don’t see a big problem with it. And here we are. Thank you once again for your business Miss Morgaine. We don’t get a chance to do such custom work anymore. “ and he opened the door for her.
Mr. Woodson was waiting by the work table and the contracts. “Are the designs settled?”
“Mostly. I need to bring an image for one and I may make a change to another. I will try to drop those by. No need to worry Mr. Woodson. I will the work with your capable son. No need to see Eleanor again. Now where are those contracts?” She pulled out a cheque book out of her satchel. She reviewed each contract to make sure all was in order. She then wrote a check for £39. She handed the check to him and said “There we go. Now what is the expected delivery date?”
“Custom work takes time and those inlays will take at least a month. I certainly wish it was sooner. But quality takes time. “ Woodson said.
“Yes. It does. But my time frame is limited. Well do the best you can. I shall be checking periodically.” Millicent bowed slightly.
“I will be happy to show you the progress as it happens. And, again, thank you for your business Miss Morgaine,” as he escorted her out of the shop.
Out in the fresh air, Millicent moved back to the fountain. Liam O’Hannigan was sitting on his taxi looking like he had recently eaten something distasteful.
“Mr. O’Hannigan. How are you doing?” she asked.
“Fine, I suppose.” He said in a surely fashion.
“Drunk your water?” she asked sweetly.
“It’s horse water. You can’t be serious.” Liam looked at her wide eyed.
“Toss the bottle down” she said.
He tossed the flask down. She opened it and took a swig. It tasted a bit like hay, but otherwise was pure. She tossed it back up. “Your turn.”
“Really?” Liam pleaded.
“Really or I shall force the matter.” Millicent cracked her knuckles.
He opened the bottle and sniffed. Screwed his face in a show of distaste and then took a swig. He looked skeptically at the bottle and then took a larger one. “I won’t convert, but it don’t smell like the river at least.”
She smiled sweetly at him, “Finish it and I shall buy you lunch” and climbed into the taxi.