Episode 10 - "A Diplomatic Expedition"
by Camille LaGuire
Lord Blinkersley, the newly appointed ambassador to the United Republics of Awarshawa -- or was it the Republic of United Awarshi States now? -- had asked her to come along to the conference as part of a cultural delegation headed by his wife. Vera assumed he did this because, to conservative old Blinkersley, Vera was a raging revolutionary. She did things like organize drives to feed the poor, after all. He seemed to think that she could charm these hostile Washy officials into supporting his agenda.
Vera didn't know or care what his agenda was. She was interested in creating an organization to aid civilians and refugees in the more conflict-ridden areas of the continent, and her hope was to get some cooperation from the above mentioned officials.
It was hard to think on these plans, however, because the voice of Lady Blinkersley was too shrill to ignore.
"...and she took my lovely peacock cloak!" exclaimed that worthy lady.
"Who, what?" said Vera.
"Pauline Beethingham. Ran off in the middle of her party last night. Took my cloak with her," said Lady Blinkersley.
Oh, yes, the footloose baroness. Vera had declined the invitation to the party on the grounds that she must prepare for the conference.
"I don't see why she should run off," said Vera. "She's the only woman in the country with the right to vote, now that she's a peeress and of age."
"Only in the House of Lords," said Lady Blinkersley, with a shocked sniff. "And that's not a right, it's a duty. Which means that she probably won't do it. She ought to marry that cousin of hers quick. Then he can sit for her."
It was just at this point that she was interrupted by the sound of a cough. A slight, bearded man in a long black overcoat, with his wide-brimmed hat pulled low, was trying to make his way through the throng of Lady Blinkersley's baggage and retainers.
"Excuse," he said in a raspy, low, accented voice. He coughed again. "May I pass please?"
"Miss Vilthrop!" called Lady Blinkersley, irritably. "Let this man through before he gives us the plague!"
Miss Vilthrop, the lady's rabbit-like companion, stared for a moment at the man, and then leapt to get the footmen to move a trunk and let the man through. He bowed and headed for the gang plank to board the boat, while Lady Blinkersley prattled on about the scandal.
"...and now she's run off with her dancing instructor!" she said. "I can't see her cousin marrying her after that, but these are modern times and if he's dutiful enough he'll take her in hand."
"If you're talking about Freddy Smythe-Winterbourne, I can see why she's run off," said Vera shortly.
She was spared a long protest in defense of the insipid but stodgey Freddy, by the arrival of another knot of newcomers.
The Freedonian contingent had arrived. Vera's interest perked up considerably. Whether she could get Awarshi support or not, she had great hopes of gaining Freedonian money for her refugee effort.
A short, hefty gentleman came striding out of the center of the group like he owned the world, and he probably did, from what Vera had heard. Mr. Alder Graves, industrialist, philantropist, and by all accounts, hearty offender of all manner of manners. Vera expected to like him.
He came barreling up to Lady Blinkersly hand extended in greeting. When she offered her own, he did not take it as one would a lady's hand, but rather grabbed on to it and pumped it up and down.
"How do ya do, lady? How do you do?" he said. When introduced to Vera, he gave her the same treatment. Vera, who was used to traveling through all sorts of uncivilized places, didn't mind at all, and she grasped his hand in return as tightly as she could.
"How do you do, Mr. Graves," said Lady Blinkersley, cooly. "I understood the Freedonians weren't taking part in these talks?"
"I'm not here in any official capacity. I'm with you ladies on the cultural side," said Mr. Graves. "The Freedonian government prefers to stay out of your tangled continental politics. We believe that the ties of business will motivate people to work together and keep the peace. If we all prosper, we have no reason to fight, right?"
He elbowed Lady Blinkersley, in a hearty, friendly, Freedonian way.
"Tell me, Mr. Graves," said Vera. "If you are interested in the prospering of the weak, are you interested in charity?"
"Oh, of course, Lady Featherdale. Of course. It's hard for a man to look up, if he's hunched over in hunger and pain, right? That's what my grandaddy used to say, the tight-fisted old coot. He made his first fortune off prison labor, so you could hardly call him charitable, but the prisoners were well fed, you can believe that." He paused and looked at her with a wise twinkle in his eye. "So why don't you tell me which charity you have in mind?"
"I'll tell you, if you join me for dinner."
"I'll be glad to. Glad to!" he said.
They had two nights on the boat, and a few more by train. The man's friendliness gave her hope that she could make an ally of him before they reached the conference.
Stay Tuned For Episode 11 - "The Gentleman With The Cough"
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