Perilous Artifacts: Honey Comes First
The slag glass roof of the lane arched overhead, high enough up that even the largest waste removal lorries and the tall streetcars could pass with ease. Every noise echoed redoubled off the rough glass walls, from the fishmonger’s cries of “Fresh fish ten pence apiece!” to the bootblack’s curt order to “put ’em there, and I’ll shine while ye wait, sir!”
Olive looked again to see who rated a ‘sir’ with their shoe-shine and grinned. She dodged a cart filled with cabbages and a hand truck filled with odd bits of scavenged metal bits to fetch up beside the bootblack.
“Nice shine,” she commented.
The bootblack sniffed. “Like you’d know.”
She didn’t argue with him. Her eyes were for his customer: Pieter “Pious” Carew. “What’re you doing down here on the rough side of town, sir?”
Gray eyes with glints of green frowned at her beneath the immaculate black top hat that proclaimed him a gentleman. “I came to see you, of course.” He tipped the bootblack and offered her his arm. “Mother wishes to see you.”
Olive didn’t have a mother–or not one that she remembered.
She’d been found wandering between the balloons moored at the Landing sixteen years ago. She’d been dressed in a leather jerkin and breeches, with a tiny aviator’s cap pulled snug over her ears, and the smallest goggles the junkshop owner said he’d ever set eyes on. They were long gone, of course. Miss Millrig had sold the tiny, perfect costume to help fund Olive’s room and board. But her smalls had been kept, carefully marked with embroidery that spelled out on the laundry tags her name.
Pieter elaborated, “My mother. Shall we?”
“Miss Millrig believes me to be going to the garden. I’m hardly dressed for a visit with your lady mum,” Olive protested, evading his effort to take her hand. “Can it not wait?”
“She said, and I quote, ‘At your earliest convenience,’ Miss Avornian.” He tried to tug her along toward the queue waiting for a streetcar.
Olive sighed. “Surely she would prefer it if I changed.” She tried to steer him in the opposite direction, toward the Academy’s much-scarred doors.
“‘Ere now! Safety first,” an indignant voice cried. “Mind me steamer or it’ll flatten you–Miss Avornian! Is that you?”
“Aye, Harry! Begging your pardon, but will you add your voice to mine? I say that it would never do for me to appear in my gardening costume at Lady Carew’s door.” She adopted a wheedling tone, “And I’ve a most urgent appointment with a large, delicious honeycomb!”
“‘Ear ‘ear!” Harry agreed. He wiped a large red handkerchief across his soot-grimed face, and frowned at Pieter. “Pious, you’ll have to wait. Honey indubitably must come first.”
Olive grinned in triumph. Honey did indeed come first.
Pieter’s frown deepened into true unhappiness. “Mother’s not a personage you keep waiting. As you ought to know by now, Miss Avornian.”
“It isn’t your mother Miss Olive fears,” Harry said. “She fears rightly for that honeycomb, and whether someone else will relieve her of it.”
Olive managed to tug her arm free. “I’ll not be above three-quarters of an hour,” she promised. “If I had help, I might even be quicker!”
Harry grinned at her. “’Op in, luv! I’ve got time before my shift. For a share in the honeycomb, I’ll give you a hand.”
Pieter reached again for Olive’s arm, but grasped only air as she swung aboard the steamer. “Come along, Pieter, or you’ll miss all the fun,” she teased him.
He jumped up on the runner board but ignored the grab bar. Given the slow speed, he balanced easily. “Honestly, Olive. Mother has urgent news for you. She thinks she may have located your parents.”
What parents? This was ridiculous. Honestly, Pieter really would say anything to get his way.
Olive gave a most unladylike snort and twisted on the seat, craning her head round to look up at him. “Pieter! Harvesting honeycomb is a most serious and urgent business!” She demanded, “When was the last time you had honey on your toast or in your tea?”
Pieter raised his eyebrows. “Why, this very morning.”
Harry made a sound of annoyed disgust.
“But, how often do you have honey?” Olive insisted.
“I suppose whenever I want it,” Harry frowned at her. “Why? And what does that have to do with finding your parents?“
Olive turned to Harry. “When was the last time you had honey, Harry?”
He shook his head. “I dunno, miss. It’s been so long, I’m sure I couldn’t say.”
She swung back to demand of Pieter, “And sugar cakes? When was the last time you had sugar cakes and donuts and—fruit pies that are truly sweet?
Pieter shrugged. “Our cook generally doesn’t serve us sugar ca—“ He broke off at Olive’s look of disbelief. “Oh, very well—if you mean cakes iced with sugar, Mother was planning to serve you some at tea.”
“I know very well that you have them daily.” She skewered him with a stern, disapproving look.
“What’s so wonderful about that?” he asked.
“What’s so wonderf—so very wonderful?” She frowned at him. “We’re told to count ourselves exceedingly blest if the almoner grants us even ten pounds of sugar in a month! Ten pounds doesn’t go far for eighty-seven hungry mouths and bellies, Mister Carew! We’re lucky if we have cake—poorly sweetened, at that—even a few times in a month!”
“I haven’t had even one sweet cake in at least two months,” Harry chimed in. “And I can’t remember what glazed doughnuts and fritters, and sugar in my pie taste like, neither! Not on my take as a steam mechanic, third class.”
“Oh.” Pieter’s eyes opened wide as this information sank in, then he shrugged. “But-but—Miss, surely finding your parents is of infinitely greater importance than sugar or honey?”
But Pieter’s protests fell on deaf ears. “Honey comes first,” Olive insisted.
For the next installment (available next Tuesday), read Perilous Artifacts: Dressed for Success, where Olive puts her plan into action.
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