“…and we must put aside the aside the conventional image of the alchemist as a threadbare, etiolated individual, filthy and stinking from sulphurous smoke and half-poisoned by mercury, and picture a well-dressed, articulate man surrounded by noble men and women in a vaulted chamber of a castle or palace, lecturing deferentially to people who most certainly well understood what he was talking about and who had examined his equipment to obviate any chances of fraud. Demonstrations by members of the Academie des Sciences in the presence of Louis XIV, or by Fellows of the Royal Society of London before Charles II, provide close parallels, the demonstrators being some of the foremost scientists of the day.” – P.G. Maxwell-Stewart, “The Chemical Choir: A History of Alchemy”
veryone judges by appearances, and yet they should not. London, for all its history and culture, is just barely more than a filthy industrial town. The scientists and heralds of new hope in the new age of technology have done nothing to usher in the New Aeon into the backstreet squalor that surrounds their hallowed, columned halls. We, the Magus, have kept close to our Highest Ideals and strove very toward them, and we struggle against the Masters that through their production, and technology and promise of work in their gilded age, offer thinly disguised collars of slavery to those who would but hand over both their minds and souls and settle for a pittance for the privilege to wait upon their lords and masters. Those industrial barrons fear that we can look at their brave new world and see the opposite of the dark moonlight that we do not fear to embrace.
My father, Lord John McKay, would like the world to fall into the kind of order that blindly follows the prophets of the holy temples of science and so-called progress, and what is worse, he would like me to assume my so-called ‘rightful place’ as his daughter and forget the lineage of my mother and her line.
“You have not touched your dessert, Faelyn,” my mother’s brow furrowed, “I take it you were up half the night with those miserable louts in that ritual fraternity. What is it they call themselves? The Golden Doodads or some such thing.” She waved a disinterested hand over what was left of our meal. “Why you go gallivanting around with those overdressed Neanderthals is beyond me.”
“It was for Augustin,” I said softly pushing the flaky pastry with an intricate dessert fork. “It was his ascension, and I wouldn’t have been much of a friend if I had not attended.”
My mother sniffed the air indignantly. She was lovely, even in her arrogance. My father had loved her, and rightfully so. Such women, the Women of the Old Ways, were much sought after by alchemists and industrialist barrons alike. They understood the ways of Power in all of its forms and their beneficence was something that both sides wanted. The beginnings of her line were back, far back into the reaches of Marovingian and Celtic lore and beyond. My mother, like those before her, were fiercely independent and they gave their support or withheld it at Will and alliances of either flesh or magick were not lightly given. Betrayals to either, were never forgotten nor forgiven. Blood feuds had the tendency to run not just for years, but for centuries.
“Is there something else going on between you and Doctor Chaubert that I should know about? What do you know of him really, Faelyn?” my mother pushed her tea cup a little further away from herself, “If that ridiculous order you both kowtow to knew true talent, it would be at your feet they would be grovelling, not his. But as like most men, he is perfectly content to take the credit!”
“It isn’t like that, Maman,” I shook my head, “Augustin has shown his gratitude well enough.”
“I shudder to think just how,” she snorted. “Mark my words, Faelyn,” my mother turned her stark profile and looked at the city going by on the other side of the glass of the restaurant window, “Doctor Chaubert will break your heart.”
“I no longer have a heart, Maman,” I said, “I buried it along with Sebastien.” My mouth twitched at the wistful thought of my late husband, and then added, “And Augustine’s heart was buried with his little Madelaine.”
“Well he certainly holds you in enough regard to keep you in tow, while all the toadying males in the vacinity pay him homage rather than….”
I had already stopped listening at that point. There was no reason to continue to discuss with her about Augustin, nor the Order of the Golden Dawn or any of my ambitions. She clearly did not share them. We finished our tea and dessert and paid our tab making our way back out into the Upper London streets.
was pulling on my gloves, following closely behind my mother and was not really watching where I was going when I ran headlong into the chest of a gentleman on the street, jostling us both to nearly loosening my hairpins. I cannot imagine what I must have done to the poor man!
“Oh I am terribly sorry,” I stammered, struggling to get the wind back into my lungs. He was a handsome man, tall and quite slender.
“Pardon me, Madame, Mademoiselle…” he straightened his hat and was adjusting his coat when he stopped and fixed his eyes upon me. “Frances? Frances McKay?” he asked.
I was not sure how to answer, and obviously my powers of recognizing the man I had crashed into were not equal to his. “Yes,” I said flushing first, feeling totally embarrassed by the situation. “I’m sorry, Sir, do I know you?”
He gave a brilliant smile and an overly elegant laugh, “I should hope so,” he grinned, “Charles Allen. Don’t you remember? I know we had our differences as children, but I hope I’ve been forgiven.”
My mother most definitely did recognise Charles Allen and slipped her hand from her pocket toward him, “Charles Allen,” my mother very nearly purred. “You’re looking well – and successful, too, I might add. What gives us the pleasure of seeing you in London today?”
“I work here, your ladyship,” Charles Allen tipped his hat slightly, ” with Lord Belefield.” Suddenly remembering his manners, he turned to me once more. “I heard about your husband, Frances, I am terribly sorry.”
I pursed my lips and nodded. I was not exactly thrilled that he had heard of my husband’s passing, but perhaps Charles Allen was astute enough to realise that talking about it was the last thing I wanted to do – especially with someone who had been one of my tormentors as a child.
It was my mother and Mr. Allen that continued the conversation. I, on the other hand sorely wanted to get back to the building and work a bit more. Chaubert and I had much to attend to. Besides, my mother needed to fence those jewels from my father so we could continue with the needed equipment. I glanced at her and felt the emptiness of the reticule that had held the jewels I had given to my mother. It was hard to part with them even though holding on to them meant much more of a burden that I could discuss with no one; not my mother and certainly not Augustin. There are some experiences in life that no decent man should ever hear of – and no decent woman can ever lay claim to have experienced. All I knew is that I wanted to be away from the city and in the laboratory or the library of my home – where I could think and make sense of it all.
I was about to hail a horse drawn cab and leave my mother and Allen standing there conversing when Allen piped up on cue, “My carriage is right here,” he said. He would be happy to drop us off at our destinations.I shook my head, “No, really, Monsieur Allen,” I said maintaining my formality, “I need to get back myself.”
Allen understood and tipped his hat once more. “I do hope that you will allow me to pay you a call,” he said.
Not thinking, I smiled in agreement. Turning I left Mr. Allen and my mother still conversing with each other in the street. Home was only a few blocks away and I really was not sure I wanted Mr. Charles Allen to know where that was yet.
Posted Originally at Pan Historia and the interactive “steampunk” genre novel, “The High Adventure”. Special thanks to Augustine Chaubert and his delightful scribe.