This I am absoloutely in love with. I can't wait to finish this chapter. Especially as I must have re-worked this short section at least six times.
At first Leticia mistook the pounding as the headache she had gone to sleep with. When it got louder, she sat up in bed, and recognized the sound for what it was: someone was hammering their fist on her front door, and rather impatiently at that.
She reached for the gaslamp on the nightstand, and fumbled through the darkness until she located the familiar shape. A twist of the knob introduced hydrogen to the mantle, which quickly flooded the narrow glass cylinder, and her bedroom, with light. Squinting her eyes as they struggled to adjust to the sudden change, the rat tilted her head and examined the clock on the wall. The face of the timepiece told her that it was just past one in the morning. She couldn't imagine that anyone would want to wake her at that hour without cause.
Leticia groaned and threw off the blankets. Her naked feet struck the floor, neatly trimmed claws ticking against the wood as she made her way to the front door. Her black eyes were troubled as she somewhat reluctantly reached for the top lock.
"Who is it?"
"It's Norry, Doctor Larken," came the answer. Leticia could hear the heavy sigh behind those words, even through the door.
Norry was Malachi Langrave's right hand, and the foreman of the Keswick Copper mine. She didn't need any further explanation to know what was wrong, and why she had been awakened.
She opened the door and fixed the lanky border collie with a rueful smile. "Where is he?"
He pulled the brim of his cap down, tugging it over his eyes. He looked down at his boots, and then out towards the steam car he had left in the drive. Anywhere but at the sleep tussled rodent standing in front of him.
She was still in her nightdress. The shapeless white cotton didn't quite cover the trim figure that lay beneath it. Slim hipped as a boy, and nearly as flat chested, Doctor Larken wasn't his particular ideal of beauty. But there was certainly something to be said about the impropriety of the situation. A respectable lady would have never made an appearance without donning a dressing gown first, let alone unlocked her door for a late night visitor. He had never known a woman so open to bypassing the requirements of society, or so little concerned with her reputation before.
"In town," Norry replied, still looking towards the drive. "At the Hare and There."
"Yes, of course." The rat closed her eyes and touched her fingers to her temple. She could already feel the painful return of her evening megrim. "Is he drunk, Mr. Norry?"
The dog hesitated. One corner of his black and white mouth went up. "Yes, ma'am."
"I'll just be a moment," Leticia sighed, and turned around, leaving the door open behind her. Ten minutes later, having changed into a crisp riding habit, she joined the foreman outside. Medical bag in hand, she took the porch steps two at a time and bustled towards the drive.
"All set, Doctor Larken?" Norry motioned towards the steam car beside him. She didn't have to look at the door he had opened for her to know that Malachi Langrave's emblem was emblazoned on the side in gilded filigree. Like most of the equipment associated with the Keswick, the little autocart had seen better days. The black lacquer siding was chipped and the brass pipping had gone dull, but she trusted that it was still in good repair.
She nodded curtly, and gently waved his paw away when he offered to help her inside the steam car. The seat squeaked when she dropped onto it and slapped her bag on top of her lap. While the foreman performed a quick check of the gauges Letica patted her hair.
Most of it had remained in the loose braid she had gone to bed with, but a few downy wisps curled around her cinnamon furred cheeks. She knew from experience that it would be transformed into an absolute wreck by the time they reached town. The cramped, open aired steam car hadn't been designed with a lady's coiffure in mind. If only she'd had the time to pin it up beneath a hat... But time was a rare commodity for a medical woman in the midst of an emergency.
"Why does he insist on drinking when he knows it only gets him into fights?"
"If I had to guess, Miss Leticia," the collie hemmed, glancing towards the svelte rat while climbing into the bench seat beside her. "He's lonely, and starting to feel his years. Sometimes a male needs proof that he still Prime, and a good, blood pumping thrashing can do that."
"He's only thirty-eight, Mr. Norry. Hardly old!"
"Still a long time to be alone, ma'am," he replied. He didn't have to wait for the coal to catch fire. There was still enough heat in the fire-tube boiler that, as soon as he punched the valve key, steam poured into the external combustion engine. The tarnished brass pistons began to churn as the motor chugged to life. The chimney sputtered, and shot a thick burst of black smoke from it's stack as the little autocart bounced onto the dirt road.
Leticia could almost feel the foreman's none-too-subtle push. He wouldn't be the first one to speculate a matrimonial future between herself and Mr. Langrave. When they had first struck up their strange relationship four years ago, the whole valley had been atwitter with the possibilities. Backhanded whispers and speculative gossip had followed them everywhere they went. But when no proposal had been forthcoming, and the good doctor and her contrary companion had settled into a comfortable, if often tense friendship, the rumormongers had moved on to more fertile allegory.
The truth was, even if Malachi could have been brought up to scratch, Leticia would have turned him away. As much as she enjoyed his company, in small and controllable bursts, she couldn't imagine herself, or any other woman, being able to live with him. He was irritable and coarse, and she was convinced that he was half savage.
And yet, beneath all that gruff and grumble, she knew him to be a good man. He was hard working and honest, and even though he never cracked a smile himself, possessed a wonderfully deadpan sense of humor. If she were feeling generous towards the man – which she surely wasn't at the moment – she might have even gone so far as to consider him charming.
But marriage? Leticia shivered, no. No, she would never make that mistake again.
"Chilled, ma'am? I think there's a blanket under the seat... Wouldn't take more than a moment to pull it out." Norry patted the straight-board between them. It might have been cushioned with leather once, but God only knew what had happened to it since then.
"Thank you, Mr. Norry. I'm fine." The rat shook her head, and stared out at the wheel-rutted road in front of them.