Iron Spires over the White City

London: Chapter 3

Iron Spires       M argaret sat opposite her husband on the drawing room sofa, retelling her adventures in Hyde Park for the fourth time that evening. Constance stood in front of the fireplace, turning over a trinket from the mantle, disengaged from the conversation.
      “Aye, husband, the tanks appeared without warning. No notice to clear the park, no declaration of an illegal gathering from a magistrate. Not even a bloody bobby nailing a sign to a tree.”
      “I simply find it hard to believe is all,” said Edward. “There must have been some sort of provocation for Her Majesty to roll tanks through a peaceful demonstration.”
      “Honestly, cousin,” said Constance. “Just because it’s improbable that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
      Edward sat in quiet contemplation. “How many dead and wounded?”
      “Four dead. Another nineteen carted off on stretchers to St. Mary’s.” Constance turned her attention back to the fireplace mantel.
      Margaret turned to face her husband. “You should have seen Constance in action. After the tanks left, everyone not hurt ran. Only us and two others stayed to help the wounded.”
      “What did you two do?” asked Edward.
      “We applied first aid to everyone we could. Constance tore her petticoat to shreds making tourniquets. Then she tore up the clothes of two of the dead.”
      Edward stared at the back of his cousin. “I did not realize you are such a calm person under pressure, little cousin.”
      Constance pulled down a clock from the mantel, unaware that she was the topic of conversation. The clock was short and squat, shaped like a crouching frog and twice the size of Constance’s hand. The etched crystal inlaid in the onyx frame captured the room’s ambient light and split it into a rainbow that floated across the clock’s movement. It was a family heirloom dating centuries but had not worked since before Edward’s grandmother gifted it to him.
      “We could have saved more lives,” said Constance, setting the clock back on the mantel but keeping her back to the others.
      “How was that?” asked Edward in a weary voice.
      “Margaret was the first person at the rally to see the tanks coming. She moved people out of the way before they got close. She could have saved more, but she got carried away trying to stop them.”
      “How?” asked Edward, exhaling.
      “Throwing rocks at the tanks.”
      “I’m right here,” said Margaret. “If you have a problem with what I did today, I would appreciate it if you would talk to me.”
      “I do have a problem with how you handled things today. You could have saved more lives if you had stayed focused on helping people.” Constance paused before continuing. “You could have saved Mattie.”
      “Mattie Pennington of the London Resistance?” asked Edward.
      “Yes dear,” said Margaret. “Try to keep up. And as for your take on the events, Constance, I made a tactical decision. If I had stopped those tanks, no one would have died in that park.”
      “You lost your grip.”
      “That’s your opinion,” said Margaret. “I didn’t see you pulling people out of the line of fire.”
      “That’s true,” muttered Constance. “But I don’t have the same skills as you.”
      “This is pointless,” said Edward. “What is relevant is why you insisted on putting yourself in the line of fire to start with?”
      “Oye, luv,” said Margaret. “What else was I to do? Watch people die in front of me?”
      “That’s not what I meant,” said Edward. “Why were you at the rally at all?”
      Margaret glared at her husband. “The military hasn’t been used on a rally anywhere on the isles since Liverpool. And I have not been involved with any real Resistance operations since I left Glasgow.”
      “I worry about your safety.”
      The conversation pivoted again as Edward and Margaret compared notes about the London Resistance and who might have been the soldiers’ primary targets.
      Constance picked up the antique clock and turned it over three times, finding the probable cause of every scratch and blemish. She knelt down and to pull a small tool kit from a hidden pocket in her boot. Constance unrolled the thin leather bundle across the mantel.
      Constance turned and interrupted Edward and Margaret. “Margaret, why did you get involved with the London Resistance to start with?”
      “I was in the Glasgow Resistance years ago. When we came here after Oxford, it seemed natural.” Margaret paused and bit her lip. “Truthfully, I’m not as involved here as I was in Glasgow. I do not take part in operations anymore. Propaganda and speeches usually bore me.”
      “Why did you become involved with the Glasgow Resistance?”
      “Because her father died making weapons in a factory in Glasgow,” said Edward.
      Margaret leaned back and locked eyes with her husband. “His death is not the reason I work against the British Empire.”
      “Sorry, dear,” mumbled Edward.
      “No need to apologize, luv. Just don’t speak for me.”
      “Of course, dear.”
      “The Empire has taken countless lives.”
      “Yes, of course, dear.”
      “Then why did you first get involved with the Glasgow Resistance?” asked Constance again.
      Margaret sat quietly, staring at the wall. “My older brother was in the Resistance. I got my hands on information about weapons factories in Glasgow for him. Easy for a young girl.”
      “Your brother got involved when your father died working in a government weapons factory,” said Edward. “Four workers died in that accident because the plant was designed to be productive but not safe.”
      “Edward,” said Margaret.
      “Yes, dear.”
      “Do shut up.”
      “Yes, dear.”
      Constance tuned out the others. Her hands moved without thought over the clock’s case and removed the onyx and crystal shell. She identified the culprit on first inspection: a tiny, worn spring north of the pendulum. It looked the same as a dozen other springs in the clock, but Constance knew it lacked elasticity. The clock would run when wound, but not keep accurate time.
      Constance tuned back into the conversation across the room.
      “Tell me, luv,” said Margaret, “how did your father’s death change your role as a citizen of the British Empire?”
      Constance ignored them and scanned the room. She spotted a pendulum trinket sold on street corners for a shilling. It was disassembled and the parts strewn across the mantel in under a minute. Constance plucked a tiny, taut spring from the wreckage and reassembled the pendulum trinket in a different configuration. It still ticked but kept a different rhythm.
      Margaret and Edward’s conversation returned to the Hyde Park raid.
      “There are rallies in Hyde Park every week. Why would the military come down on this one?” asked Edward.
      “I don’t know,” replied Margaret.
      “Only the London police and the Queen’s Guard are in the city. The closest armored tanks are stationed several kilometers north of London.” Edward’s words trailed off in thought.
      “That’s what I thought,” said Margaret. “I hoped your contacts in the London bureaucracy would have some information.”
      “Perhaps, but the orders to bring the tanks into the city bypassed me.”
      “Do you think your superiors know of my ties to the Resistance?”
      “I doubt it,” Edward mumbled. “Coming down with tanks doesn’t make any sense.”
      Constance inserted the new spring into the body of the crystal clock with the skill of a surgeon. She reassembled the clock, wound it, and nudged the pendulum. The clock began ticking.
      A slender, middle-aged woman in a black and white servants uniform entered the room. “Supper is served, luvs,” she said. Her voice sounded tired and bored and far away. “Game hens and boiled potatoes. Squash fresh from the market. Delicious tonight, luvs.”
      “Thank you, Gertrude. We will be in momentarily.”

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      After dinner, the trio adjourned back to the drawing room, patting their bellies after the filling meal.
      “Gertrude really is a cheeky one, isn’t she?” said Constance.
      “Why do you keep her around?” asked Margaret. Both women looked at Edward.
      “Mum said if I moved in to this house, I had to have at least one servant.”
      “Seems a bit silly; you’re doing her a favor keeping this house occupied.”
      “She was concerned the family home would fall in to disrepair if I didn’t hire someone to maintain it.” Edward stared down to avoid Margaret’s scowl.
      “It is not even that big of a house,” muttered Constance. “Just a few bedrooms.
      “But that’s not my point. Why do you keep Gertrude on when she is talks to you the way she does?”
      Edward looked up and shrugged. “Doesn’t bother me.” He wandered over to the mantel and picked up the crystal and polished black stone clock.
      “What’s wrong?” asked Margaret.
      “This clock has not kept time for years. The last time it worked I was a small boy.”
      “I’m sorry, Edward,” said Constance, blushing. “I look for something to tinker with when I’m thinking through problems. I hope I didn’t overstep my bounds.”
      “My grandmother gave me this clock. I remember, she used to wind it every morning.” Edward turned it over in his hands, examining every detail with his fingertips. He held it up to his ear and grinned at Constance. “You are truly amazing, cousin. I took it to the best clockmakers in town; no one could fix it.”
      Gertrude interrupted the conversation, marching into the room and planted herself in the middle of the floor.
      “You’ve visitors, guv. I informed them it’s past a descent time to call on a gentleman and his wife, but they says it’s important.” Gertrude raised her hand to the side of her mouth. “They’re from Her Majesty’s mil’tary,” she whispered in a voice as loud as her regular speaking voice.
      “By all means,” said Edward, setting the clock on the mantle. “Show them in.” Gertrude spun on her flats and left the room.
      “If they meant to arrest you for the events of this afternoon, they would not knock on the front door and ask the maid to speak with us.” Edward’s tone was not as confident as his words. “Political arrests happen swiftly and without warning; individuals plucked off the street or taken from their beds.”
      Gertrude’s heavy shoes were audible on the wood floors before she reached the drawing room. She marched all the way onto the oriental rug in the middle of the room, cleared her throat and arched her neck.
      “Master Goulden, Misses Goulden, Miss Ventor. This is Lieutenant Geoffrey Balsak from Her Majesty’s mil’tary.”
      The lieutenant stepped forward. “Basalt, ma’am. I am Lieutenant Geoffrey Basalt.” Following him into the room were a pair of young privates wearing formal uniforms and blank expressions.
      The lieutenant turned to address Edward: “Master Goulden, I am afraid it is my great displeasure this evening to be the bearer of unwelcome news.”
      “My, aren’t those regal words for a soldier,” interjected Gertrude.
      Constance glared at Gertrude. Margaret looked like a caged lion tethered to the ground, ready to slice through her bindings and incapacitate every perceived threat in the room.
      “Please continue, lieutenant. What is the reason for your visit at this late hour?” asked Edward, stiff and formal.
      “It’s your sister,” replied Lieutenant Basalt. “Anne Goulden disappeared from your family’s estate in the New Grenada colony twelve days ago.”
      Margaret relaxed her stance and looked at her husband. Edward stopped breathing.
      “There were several other kidnappings of colonial women around Cartagena in the last two years. All were perpetrated by the New Grenada Resistencia.” The lieutenant paused, staring straight ahead and avoiding the gaze of the family members. He cleared his throat before continuing.
      “At this time, the British government believes that Anne Goulden has likely been executed.”
      “How is this even possible?” asked Constance. “When did the New Grenada Resistencia become such a brutal, militant organization.”
      “New Grenada is currently classified as a ‘colony under extreme duress’ due to the exceptionally large, militant resistance movement present. Her Majesty’s Armed Forces here in London are coordinating their response with the governor of Cartagena. Strong military intervention is possible.”
      Edward’s face lost all color; Margaret took the lead. “What other information can you give us?”
      The lieutenant looked back at his subordinates and nodded. One soldier stepped forward, handing a thick folder to his commander.
      “Details are in here. Statements from the local regency, investigation reports, things of that nature. Over a hundred pages of documents.” Lieutenant Basalt paused, waiting for a response. Receiving none, the soldier handed the stack of papers to a stunned Edward.
      “I don’t have to tell you, sir, that this is more information than most grieving family members are privilege to. Your position in the government allows you access to otherwise confidential information.” Lieutenant Basalt cleared his throat one last time. “Also included are a number of communications sent to you from your mother. They were withheld during the early stages of the investigation.”
      Silence shrouded the room. The soldiers maintained their stiff postures; these were men who delivered bad news for a living.
      After a couple of minutes, Edward composed himself enough to break the silence. “Thank you, Lieutenant Balsak. Gertrude, please see these men out.”
      “The name is Basalt, sir,” said the officer, but no one acknowledged him.
      Gertrude peeled herself out of the corner where the wallpaper camouflaged her and led the soldiers out.

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      Silence followed the soldiers’ retreat from the house. Edward opened the rolltop desk and put down the thick stack of papers. He flipped through the pages to find the letters penned in his mother’s immaculate script. He dropped into the desk chair and started reading.
      “Why would any Resistance movement kidnap Anne? What do they hope to gain?” asked Constance in a hushed voice.
      “Anne is a British colonist,” said Margaret, pacing the length the of the room. “She comes from a family with money and a history of service to the crown. That makes her a valuable bargaining chip.”
      Constance picked another trinket up from an end table and started taking it apart. “Edward told me Anne shares his desire to end the British wars of conquest. It doesn’t make sense why a political movement would take someone prisoner with similar ideals.”
      “I should not have to repeat myself,” said Margaret, adding a sigh for effect. “Anne is a British colonist. To natives wanting to drive out Victoria’s armies, she is the enemy.”
      “The New Grenada Resistencia must be bloodthirsty savages,” said Constance.
      “The New Grenada Resistencia are trying to leverage Anne for something.”
      “Mother appears to have given up hope,” Edward interrupted. “She has resigned herself to my sister’s death; she barely mentions any efforts to bring Anne home safe. She does devote an incredible amount of ink to cursing the savage natives and the New Grenada Resistencia.”
      Edward put the letter in his hand down and picked up another. “And she wants me to use my influence with Parliament. She wants the Empire to send an army to dismantle the Resistencia.”
      “Dismantling any colonial Resistance is a violent, messy affair,” said Margaret.
      “Anybody who could kidnap Anne must be violent savages,” said Constance.
      Margaret visibly shuttered as her efforts to sway Constance against the Empire’s war machine unraveled. “Please, stop,” she said, holding up her hand.
      Constance lay the gadget parts she disassembled down on a table before sitting on the sofa. “I hope Her Majesty’s forces wipe them off the planet.”
      “This kidnapping is just the reason Victoria needs to wage war,” muttered Margaret.
      Edward lifted his head from the disheveled pile of papers, ran his fingers through his hair, and spoke to the wall. “Her Majesty’s forces have never needed a kidnapping to justify rooting out a violent Resistance group.”
      Edward rifled through the paperwork again, holding up a single page for inspection. He rotated his body in the chair to face the others.
      “The local military commanders in Cartagena discounted the possibility of Anne being alive from the beginning. The governor was willing to sign her death certificate after only eleven days.”
      “That cannot be right,” said Constance.
      Edward cleared his throat. “But without a body the law requires thirty days before she can be declared dead.”
      Margaret stepped over to her husband’s chair and knelt in front of him, taking both his hands in her own. “Edward, we don’t have to give up until we are certain Anne is really gone. We both have ways of getting things done. You can lobby inside the government and get the search reopened. I’ll talk to my contacts in Glasgow and get the real story of the New Grenada Resistencia.”
      Edward swallowed and nodded his head. “First thing tomorrow I will have words with the lord that oversees New Grenada. And I can contact General Brash. He is second in command in South America and in London for another few days. I aided him gathering documents about the western coastline of South America for a new offensive.
      “Last week he gave me a meaningful commitment to divert resources to improve the lives of thousands of natives. The general understands that his career trajectory would suffer without my assistance.
      “I apologize; I’m rambling,” Edward said, pausing to take a deep breath. “But you are right, dear. Anne is not lost to us yet.”

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