Steam and Sensibility

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If there was anything the last twenty four hours had taught Veronica Clappe, it was that the world was a very unpredictable place. As the carriage rode through the gates to her town house, she thought back to the play she had gone to. It had been a wonderful show, but it was after the performance that the real story began.

First there was Sebastian, a daring thief who tried to bully his way into gaining much wealth from the patrons that night. His objective was interrupted for even worse villainy, air pirates.

The jostling of the carriage was nothing to being dragged onboard that ship, by the self same thief Sebastian, though she had felt much safer with him then taking her chances with being snatched up by one of the pirates. What followed was dizzying to say the least.

In the end those that had ended up on the air ship took the emergency gliders to escape the ship before it crashed. Crashing still happened, but she and Sebastian had been able to walk away from it. Sebastian walked, Veronica broke a heel on one of her shoes and ended up slightly twisting her ankle.

Looking down at her foot, Veronica was thinking wishfully to a bath to soak the poor ankle. She then glanced at Sebastian through her long dark eyelashes. He had found them a place to stay. It had been too convenient and she wondered if he had robbed them before, but he claimed that though he knew the owners he did not, and she believed him. Why? Perhaps because he seemed so earnest. Either way she had to trust him for a time.

He came through well enough, having come back into town since walking was difficult and brining back her driver with her carriage.

Now the carriage stopped in front of a very large three floor home. A home of an aristocrat. The home of Veronica Clappe, the Book Baroness.
The events of the past several hours had gone by in a flash, nigh unrecognizable. Just the night before, he had been robbing those of a class that had money in vast quantities so as to fund private wars; people that could look to the crown for support, and indeed offer their support to the crown, in order to sway both politicking and societal drama. These people knew not the pain of hunger, nor the sound of the cracking of pinlock.

But they had certainly learned the latter.

Having effectively 'saved' some of the richest people of the country from a band of well-known and highly dangerous sky pirates (who had also 'interrupted' his attempt at a robbery), Sebastian Nimue found himself taking personal charge of the safety of a one Veronica Clappe, known widely as the Book Baroness. He had forcibly drug her along with him (for her own safety, he reasoned), and effectively saved the day. He indeed saw to her well-being, and while the previous night's lodgings were probably not to her standards, a bed and roof was much preferable to no bed. And no roof. She didn't complain.

Having left her in relative safety before dawn, Sebastian had made his way cross country for civilization; it was a short trek. Having left letters and instructions at the local post, he quickly filled out instructions she had left him in order to secure her decent transport.

And here he was, chin resting in his open hand, elbow propped up and hanging out of the carriage window. While he had his eyes primarily on the road, he couldn't help but have his gaze fall on her more often than he liked. And so it was, his eyes glued to her indifferent profile, when they had come to a complete stop in front of a three-storied home fit for... well, a Baroness. While it was far from the grace and majesty of the palace, it was an example of charm and aesthetic simplicity.

Waiting not for the driver or steward of some kind, Sebastian flung the door to the carriage open and stumbled out with the grace of a practiced drunkard. He studied the home with feigned awe, his interest in it's layout sincere. After the briefest of moments, he spun and offered a hand and a bow to the Book Baroness, cutting off the house man who had darted out to meet them. He had held in a huff, his expression betraying annoyed rage, but Sebastian ignored him.

"And here we are, my lovely Lady Veronica; villa de Book Baroness, is it? Or do you have some other name for this exquisite home?"
Carefully standing, and oh if but her ankle was tender indeed, Veronica took Sebastian's hand. Whatever he was, he seemed to be a gentleman of some sort, for he did not seem confused in the least on how to help a lady out of a carriage. With an exasperated tone she replied to his question. "A villa this hardly is. It is but a house, Sebastian."

The first step she had no problem with, but the second she ended up squeezing Sebastian's hand much harder then she had wanted to as she quickly got her feet onto the ground. Veronica reminded herself she could still walk on it though and she was indeed not going to let herself be coddled by her staff. There would be enough to do at home for several day that she could keep from walking around too much and by the end of the week she would be in fine shape.

Veronica wasn't being completely stubborn out of some sort of spite. The duality of being a high ranking lady, and yet in charge of a high yielding estate made her acutely aware that she had to be careful about showing weakness. Staff gossiped, and gossip spread faster then wildfire. She could only imagine what the pirate attack and the chaos that caused will have turned into by now.
Sebastian held firmly onto the woman and, feeling her squeeze his hand, stuck close to her; he would, at the very least, escort her up the steps and to the front door. She would get uppity after that, and it would be presumptuous and quite honestly, rude and unsightly, to try and walk her up to her room (where she no doubt wanted to head to first).

So he shooed the house man, pointing to the door, and held Veronica up as best he could with a single hand without making it too obvious. It didn't hurt that he was much stronger than he appeared to be, broad muscles hidden underneath the wools and linens of his outfit which, while still presentable, was heading towards the beginnings of 'musty'.

"Of course, it's but a house, but a fine house, indeed," he said, turning his head and then leaning it back, eye-balling the many floors. "I don't suppose there be a Book Baron about, that I need introducing to, is there?" He turned to help her up the three steps leading to the landing before the double-doors. He couldn't help but grin as he left his question hang on the air, but he did fight the urge to wink at her. Without turning, he hastily gestured to the house man standing in front of the doors to fling them open for her. That was what these aristocratic types liked: preemptive pampering!
"Do you not think I would have informed you of this sooner, or that you would already be in a world of trouble if I had not. I was, after all, missing all last night. Though a great many people knew where I was, and what had happened I'm sure."

Veronica was almost sure at this point that Sebastian was teasing her and while her tone made her sound miffed, she was in fact very grateful to the man at the moment. He was as subtle as a whisper as he helped her, betraying the fact that he had much more depth then some common criminal. He was, in fact, a mystery. The Book Baroness had an over fondness of uncovering mysteries.

Almost not noticing the doors opened for her, though noble born a generation ago there was little more then a title left to the family, Veronica entered her home. At last on familiar ground, the worse of yesterday was finally over. A servant started walking over with a silver tray with a letter on it. Innerly she wondered if she was going to get a moments peace.

"Please get this gentleman some refreshments," Veronica said, almost stumbling on a Mister since she never did seem to catch Sebastian's last name. She completely ignored the letter for the moment. There were priorities, like clean clothing. "Have him wait in the study."
"I'll be good, my Lady Baroness, sure as sure," he smiled, bowing as she made her exit up the spiraling stairs. She gave him not the satisfaction of a secondary glance as she left him to his own devices, trusting in civility. Oh, he had a momentary chaperon, but when he made it clear that he had no intention but to enjoy his tea and the quiet luxury of the study, he was left alone.

He waited one beat. Then two beats. Then set his porcelain cup and saucer down before darting up and taking his measure of the first-floor of the home. It was indeed nothing more than a glorified house. It was not quite a mansion, but definitely no commoner's estate. It had the added prestige of being large enough to house servants, while still maintaining an air of cozy comfort. It was a place Sebastian could call home, if he ever settled down long enough to ever find one.

There wasn't anything out of the ordinary; a study, a dining room neatly attached to the entertainment room with an extravagant piano and platform for performances. There was a living room where additional guest-entertaining could be done with tall-backed chairs, warm decor, and a cozy fireplace with a wide hearth. He took his time in this room, looking over photographs and other legacies no doubt left behind by Veronica's father; they were too masculine and out of place for a woman of her delicacy, he surmised. Satisfied, he took off to the kitchen.

A woman was hard at work, rolling out dough for some buns or bread for that evening's meal. Puffs of flour spread up around her at every slap-and-drop of the dough, and she seemed to ignore him. Other, younger women, bustled around her; four women in all. The oldest had the look of a round, hearty woman who took no guff from no one. She's the cook, he guessed, strolling through calmly, hands in his pocket. One other was covered in a thick sheen of flour, sharing the cook's look in her eyes and mouth. Her daughter. The other two wore different clothes, and they weren't helping with the cooking so much as they were helping with the cleaning. One of the women had even set down, for just a moment, a basket of dirty clothes. As quickly as she had gathered dirty rags, she had disappeared. The last woman seemed to be confused; a pretty young thing, full lips pursed into a pout, her dress cinching into her small waist, fine hips hidden under the ruffles of her work dress. A new maid.

Strolling behind her, he slapped her on the arse and continued on past. "Lost, love? So am I. Think you can show me back to the study? I only meant to take a look at the gardens, but having taken so long to find them, now I wish for nothing than a comfortable seat!" He barked a laugh, earning a dirty look from the cook. The pouty-lipped girl let out a soft 'eek' and shuffled away without a word, not even bothering to look at him.

Sebastian just continued his self-lead tour of the house, eventually finding his way back to the study and his cup of tea.
Satisfied that Sebastian would be tended to, Veronica slowly, but with a stately bearing went up the stairs. The pace due to her injury, her posture due mostly to practice. The effect was dramatic, which was not her intention.

Once in her own room, after chasing away the maid, Veronica collapsed on her bed for a moment. It was more out of a need to have a meditative moment then physical exhaustion. Feeling centered she began to remove her clothing. The dress she had had help putting on, but thankfully it was much easier to get out of.

Putting on a robe she walked over the small desk in her room and looked at the letter the servant had been trying to give her when she first walked in. Turning it around, she frowned at the seal. It was not a personal seal, which is what she would have been hoping to see, but an official one. Either this had been sent last night before the pirates had crashed into the theater, or news that Veronica had been at said venue that night had not reached the right ears before it had been written.

Reluctantly Veronica opened the letter. It was more or less what she expected. An official request for her presence.

Any other day she would have taken the time to make herself more presentable. As it was the Book Baroness splashed her face with water and found a day dress that she would feel comfortable in, but by no means was a house dress, which is what she really wanted to be wearing right now.

In more sensible boots, hidden mostly by the skirt of her dress, Veronica left her room and headed into the hallway. She paused to tell the maid in the hall to let the coach driver know that she would be leaving within the hour and then walked into the study.

"I will say that this is not how I wanted to finish things," she barely looked at Sebastian until she was seated behind the desk.
Sebastian hurriedly stood from the stiff leather chair he had found a seat in and nodded respectfully to Veronica as she made her entrance. He held his nigh-empty teacup close to his breast, and when she finally took a seat, so did he. Rather dreadfully, truth be told.

"I'd have figured you'd show up in something soft and simple, with a moderate reward for whisking you away at the right place and time and for not stealing you off for my own little miscreant misdeeds, iffin' you don't mind my brusque language." He sipped at the last bits of his (now cold) brew and set it politely in his lap.

"Seems to me you're gearing up to get the day started; must be important, if you can't do the aristocratic hand-waving of the clearing of appointments and the broad declaring of 'some other time, dear.'"
It was almost scary that he picked up on all of that. Instead it piqued her interest, and she did not have time to ferret out the reason right now. What he saw was her lift an eyebrow slightly and a small smirk trying to escape one corner of her mouth.

"There are some that will not take to waiting," she said softly as she placed a broach on the desk. She looked at the broach, and then looked at Sebastian. "This is, I think we can agree, inadequate." Veronica then lifted it up by it's chain. "At best, it can be called a down payment. Now of course you can take it, and be on your merry way," twisting her wrist the broach landed into her hand once more. "Or you can come back at another time."

At this point Veronica held out her hand across the desk so that he could see the broach much closer. It was worth the average workman's month's wage, it was worth more then any piece she had been wearing last night, and it was old. "What shall it be Sebastian?"
It was a curious thing, that broach. It was beautiful, no doubt about it, and worth a pretty penny. It glistened gently in the morning light, reflecting bits of precious gem and metal alike. Inadequate, indeed.

"It's a pretty thing, sure as sure," he said, a small hint of awe in his voice. Sebastian could appreciate both beauty and craftsmanship, and this thing carried it in spades. And while he thought it was a beautiful thing, and would line his pockets quite nicely for at least a week, well...

"I've seen prettier," he said finally, looking her in the eye precisely when he finished his sentence. Money was a trifling thing, in his line of work. Do it right, and no money in the world could buy the rewards he reaped. Besides, he had drawn quite a fancy to this Veronica Clappe, Book Baroness of Her Majesty's Brittania.

"I suppose that means I'll be seeing you another time, eh? Perhaps over dinner, following an evening at the..." He couldn't help but grin. "... Theater?"
There was a small part, in the back of her mind, that said she was being very foolish with this game she was playing. That it would have been best to give him a more then fair payment and her gratitude and let that be the end of that. This was the cautious, proper side. The coward. She tried not to listen to it very often.

Leaning back, holding the broach in both hands now, Veronica let a small smile grow on her red lips. "I don't know, I was thinking of taking some time away from the theater. There seems to be a very rough crowd there lately."

But the game really could not continue this day. With true reluctancy, Veronica stood. "Do call on this house soon." If she could, she'd suggest he come calling tomorrow, but that would be too forward, and honestly she likely was going to be on damage control for the next several days. It would show how attuned he was to thing, when he showed up, and that too was part of the game.
He recognized a goodbye when he heard one, or at least in this case, a 'I'll see you some other time.' He was surprised, honestly, at his own brazenness in regards to Miss Clappe. Oh, he had a certain roguish, rakish quality to see to at all times, to make sure it propagated. And while he was playing with her, a part of him truly enjoyed it. There was hints of truth to everything he was saying to her.

He was, indeed, surprised.

"You shall hear from me on the morrow!" He said, leaping to his feet just a moment before she gingerly stepped to hers. He side-stepped to allow her to pass, making sure to adhere to some modicum of protocol, and followed her to the double doors (where the same house man from before was waiting, both holding one of the doors ajar and offering her a parasol that complimented the colour of her dress).

As they stepped outside, he made no interrogating remark about her leaving so early; it was obvious she had intended to once their brief conversation had ended. Instead, he took up position beside her and walked her down to her awaiting carriage. It was the same as before, but this time, the coach man was waiting with the small side-door open for her. Curious, he thought, noticing the man had taken the time to change his clothes.

"As I hinted to earlier, Miss Lady Clappe, this shan't be the last you hear from me," he said, taking extra-long on his farewell bow.
"Maybe I should take that as a threat," she did not break a smile, but then again he was being clownish with his bow. Veronica's ankle was starting to throb again before she took the first step into the carriage, and once she got in all she wanted to do was close her eyes till she got to her destination, but she stuck her head out the window before she'd give herself that luxury.

"Though, promise or threat, you might want to clean up first Sebastian," and he might have caught a smile from her before her head turned back inside and all he could see was the curtains and shadows of her curled locks from behind it.

Leaning back, Veronica now did close her eyes, trying to not think about her ankle or the bumpiness of the carriage as it left her house. After a bit the ankle stopped protesting, which Veronica was relieved. The thought that it might continue all day and thus needing to have it looked at was more then a triffel annoying.

Sitting up straighter, Veronica frowned as something did not seem right and looked out her window. Instead of cobblestone streets and crowded buildings leading to the palace, she saw a dirt road and countryside.

"Chadwick, did Millie give you the wrong directions?" Her driver did not respond and she went over and opened the window behind the driver. "Chadwick, did you not hear me?"
He lifted the front lapel of his blue coat, smelling deeply, and grinned. "Quite right," he said to himself as he watched the carriage take off. It was moving at quite the pace. Must be important, he figured.

He turned to head back to the house, perhaps ask for a runner to find the nearest coach man to give him a simpler trek into the city, and just before taking the first step, he paused. Something was bothering him.

"What's.. what's wrong...?" He asked of himself, suddenly pacing back and forth. Something he saw. Something he had just saw was completely wrong. He knuckled his forehead as he stared at the gravel of the driveway, the people of the house doing their best to ignore the seemingly-crazy man who had decided to have an episode on their property. The house man who had saw them to the door made an extra special effort to slam the front door.

And then it hit him: the man who had been waiting on Veronica at the carriage was several inches taller, and had been broader in the shoulder. Eyes wide in sudden realization, he scanned around before spotting a suitable spot. Off to one corner of the home was a quaint patch of ivy and bush and other garden-variety shrubbery, and hidden amongst them was the body of the coach man, cleverly and deliberately settled. The man who had come to the cabin that morning, and brought them to the Clappe home.

"Why didn't I see it before?!" He roared, racing back to the house. He banged, and banged, and banged away at the front door, frantic. The door swung open, the perturbed butler answering with scorn not even hidden on his face.

"What do you wa--"

"A horse, man!" Sebastian grabbed him by the shoulders. "I need a horse, now!"
Before he turned, before he responded, Veronica already knew she was in much trouble. The man driving her coach was not Chadwick at all.

"I am terribly sorry," the man said, though the smile he gave her said he was not the least bit sorry. "There has been a slight change in plans. Someone else really needs to see you."

"How very rude," she muttered as she turned pale and went back to her seat. Looking out the window, she knew trying to jump out was not going to work. They were going to fast and even if she was able to tumble out without more then a few cuts, her ankle was not up for running. She doubted she could hide before the driver noticed her missing.

That lead to her only other course of action. Reaching over to the other seat she lifted the cushions, which reviled several books. Carefully she selected a few books and put them on the seat next to where she was sitting. Putting the lid back on her hidden, though not very secret, cabinet, Veronica opened up the last book, took out the flask and had a long drink.

When the carriage stopped, Veronica recognized the location. Taking just two of the books, she held them in her arms as the door was opened for her. The driver, with his unfriendly smile, waited for her to get out of the carriage. She did not take his hand to help her down.

She knew this place, though she was very young the last time she was there. The grounds were not kept up nearly as often as they should be and the once grand estate had a sense of lost years to it.

Walking up the steps and through the double doors, Veronica watched the driver watch her as he escorted her. He walked not like a servant, but as a man that lead his own life and had little regard for others. He was arrogant, and deadly, and Veronica did not wish to know what his orders were if she chose to be uncooperative.

Almost expected, the arrived in the main study, and behind the ornate oak desk was her cousin Wilber. Wilber was not her direct cousin, but a male relation on her fathers side a bit further back.

"Ah, Veronica, you are as lovely as ever," Wilber said, as he stood to greet her, though he stayed behind the desk.

Veronica, though wanting to sit, stood in front of the desk, frowning at her relation. "What is the meaning of this?"

Wilber smiled, and Veronica noted not in the first time in her life that he was a very charming looking man, especially when he smiled. The handsome looks and gentlemanlike manners irritated her today though. "Why dear Veronica, I brought you here for your safety until our wedding."

"Out what?" she shouted due to surprise, losing her cool and not really caring. "Since when has there been any sort of engagement."

"I know you're happy about his, and I'm sure you want to let the world know, but not right now," he said seeming to ignore her protests. It was almost like he was performing to an audience. "Right now though, I want you to rest, and know that I have ensured that every precaution has been taken."

"Precaution?" Veronica asked in suspicion.

"Should you try to break this betrothment, I will be forced to let certain fact about your nefarious schemes be known."

"Nefarious, the only one being nefarious is you. Kidnapping me when I was expected at the palace," and then Veronica's mouth made an o. "You sent that letter!" The full implication was dawning on her. If he could counterfeit an official seal to lure her out, what else could he counterfeit.

"I think my intended now understands the situation. Please see her to her room now Claud."
Getting a horse had been nigh impossible, in the span he had wanted. As it turned out, they had just put down one of the older horses, and the few she had had been drawn to the carriage. She had one younger horse that was out to a nearby lot for training. Not thinking twice, he raced out; it was the only option he had.

Racing cross country with no saddle and on a young, half-broken horse was an experience Sebastian was not keen on experiencing, but in the face of the events of the last half-hour, it was something he was willing to deal with. Having picked up the trail not soon after stealing away the horse, Sebastian had found himself in the country. Truthfully, the trail was getting tougher and tougher to differentiate as raced down the dirt road. While fresh, older tracks were blending in, and while trained, he was far from an expert field tracker. He was more used to operating in cities.

Finally he saw a carriage track peel off onto an untrodden road, and with a triumphant grin, noticed they were fresh.

He raced with a low profile until he saw an unkempt estate on the horizon. The land around was a reflection of the condition of the house; unkempt, ill-treated. Bushes and various bits of undergrowth had overgrown, some yards of grass were as tall as a single foot, and moss had nearly overtaken an entire wall of the home.

Sebastian dismounted the horse and left it's lead tied to a low, weak twig. It would hold it in place until it really wanted to get away. Taking note where he was relative to the front of the home, he rubbed his blue wool coat with dirt and grass, hastily smearing himself earth-toned stains. Satisfied, he checked himself for weapons: his dual double-barreled pinlocks were at either hip, fully loaded. He had a heavy knife sheathed along his belt at the small of his back, a throwing knife over his left breast sheathed into the coat, and a boot knife tucked into his left boot. Finally, he had a holdout pistol hidden in his right sleeve.

Making it up to the house, he began going window to window, peeking in and checking the empty rooms for loose, unlocked windows. Finally he found a room filled with occupants; a man at a desk, a man guarding the door, and in the center: Veronica! Just as he found them, the man at the door escorted her out. The one at the desk weaved his fingers and with a delighted grin, settled into his deep chair.

Ignoring him for now, Sebastian finally found a side door leading out to the stables that was unlocked. Drawing one of his double-barreled pinlocks, he sneaked into the house, prepared to lay waste to whoever crossed his path.
Claud was silent as he escorted Veronica up the stairs. This was fine by the Baroness, though she at one point muttered about wishing she had brought her third book. If Claud took notice of this comment, Veronica cared not.

At the top of the stairs was a pimply faced youth with a sour expression. To this young man Claud made a motion to follow. Her guard, Veronica figured as they ended up in front of one of the large bedrooms.

The door was opened for her, and Veronica had to admit for a cell it was a very nice looking one. A four post bed, a nice desk, a tea server and all with a feminine air to it.

"Don't try to leave," was all that Claud said to her before he closed the door on her. Veronica looked indifferent, but as soon as it was firmly shut she put her ear against the door to listen. It was not a very interesting conversation, and very brief as well. Claud told the youth not to let her out for any reason and that in a few hours lunch would be brought up.

Walking to the window, though first putting her two books on the table, Veronica looked out the window. No tree that she could reach, though the window it's self was not latched or nailed down. It was a possibility, but not one she was going to take. Instead she sat down at the desk with her books.

There were very normal pages inside the books, but Veronica was not interested in the stories they told. Instead she slid away the backing for the spines of both books to revel their secrets. Small tools and pieces of something petite she spread out on the desk. She did not open the small cloth bag that was hidden in the spine of one of the books right away.

"I should have practiced more," she muttered to the metal items as she started putting them together. Before long it was evident what it was, it was a pistol. Small enough to be hidden almost anywhere, but lacking much range or precision because of it's size. That didn't matter. This was for circumstances where you couldn't have something visible.

It seemed to Veronica to take forever as she finally grabbed the small bag with her ammunition, but in reality she had made quick work of the puzzle. Which was a good thing too because she heard something outside her door. It was far too early for the before mentioned lunch, inching over, she put her back to the wall. If someone entered they'd be very surprised indeed.