"Mairelon wants what for a mentor's gift?" Kim asked. Astonished, she had stopped so abruptly on the London sidewalk that she was almost jostled by a pair of costers and the long pole hung with gutted rabbits slung between them. Without thinking, Kim shifted her reticule from her right arm to her left so that the money it contained would be out of range of either cove's grasp. The two mightn't be looking to lift her ready, but those who watched today didn't weep tomorrow.
"I have talked as you asked with M. Merrill, and it is the secret of the Turkish Gentleman upon which he has set his heart." Kim's companion, Mademoiselle Renée D'Auber, shrugged elaborately. "When I made the subtle inquiries on your behalf while he was studying at the Royal College this Monday, I spoke to him of what he would know if he could learn anything. Just now, he ponders how the Turkish automaton both plays its chess game and eludes the pryings of magicians who try to find out its secrets. But observe, Kim, that these secrets, if obtained just so, will cost you nothing but effort. It is not a practical gift, nor a sensible one, but even magicians are merely small boys in men's clothing at times, no?"
"Not much like the small boys I knew," Kim said. She'd grown up on the streets around Hungerford market, where the proper business of a small boy was angling for coppers or forking purses, not nosing around fancy machines that played chess. She had reason to know this was true, having disguised herself in boy's clothing for years while picking locks, all to keep from being forced into bawdry. "Not like the one I was, neither."
Mademoiselle Renée wrinkled her brow very slightly. "I think that the word most correct in English is 'either'."
Kim had noticed that foreigners often chose their words more like gentry than ordinary coves did, so she nodded at Mademoiselle Renée's suggestion. The sooner Kim learned proper speech for each place she went, the sooner everyone, including her mentor, guardian, and betrothed, Mairelon, would stop correcting her. She aimed to speak like a gentry mort in the drawing rooms of the ton, like an apothecary around other magicians, and like the knowing-one she'd been raised to be when business took her back into the stews.
A street-sweeper, who'd been waiting on the corner to see if they would cross, coughed with meaning. Mademoiselle Renée glanced at him and said, "Of a certainty." Wielding his twig broom to shift the dirt and dung away from the path their skirts would pass over, the boy darted into traffic before them. Mademoiselle Renée waited until she was safely on the granite sidewalk on the far side, and then nodded for her abigail to give the boy a ha'pence rather than reaching for her own reticule. That was plain good sense. Berkeley Square might be a flash place, but Mayfair was still a London neighborhood. No need for Mademoiselle Renée to tell all who could be watching how fat her purse might be.
Not glimming any trouble, Kim went back to pondering her problem. Seems tradition held that, to mark the end of the first and informal leg of his apprenticeship, a magician would give his master and mentor a gift. The gift was how the apprentice signaled that he felt ready to work with other coves like himself. Then his master would take him to the quarters of the Royal College of Wizards across from Westminster Abbey, there to be enrolled in the Lecture Series on Social Proprieties for Those Preparing their Journeyman Work.
Since Kim's first idea for a gift hadn't seemed quite proper, and since she didn't hardly have a farthing that hadn't come from Mairelon's purse anyhow, she'd enlisted Mademoiselle Renée's help in finding a present for which Kim could pike up the ready. Under the pretense of walking out to visit Gunter's sweetshop, Mademoiselle Renée had told Kim this afternoon about what she had discovered. And Mademoiselle had come to the mark. A new secret that he could brood over would be more to Mairelon's tastes than some shiny toy meant for a gent.
They'd arrived at Nos. 7 & 8 Berkeley Square while Kim brooded. As usual, a number of curricles and barouches were parked by the maple trees in the center of the square. In them, ladies nibbled their ices. Their male escorts stood by, leaning against the iron railings, enjoying female company in one of the few places where a respectable woman could be seen eating in public with a man not her husband or kin. Mademoiselle Renée glanced at the lined up carriages and Kim saw her expression darken for a moment. But then they went into Gunter's, which cheered up Mademoiselle Renée something considerable. Ices could do that for a person.
Mademoiselle Renée spooned up her neige de pistachio - pistachio snow, Kim had learned the words meant in English - and Kim forced herself not to bolt her chocolate cream ice. Such treats had been few and far between on the streets of London. Setting her spoon down with care, Kim asked, "Do you know where this Turkish machine is laired?"
"There is an exhibition of automatons at a house in Wellclose Square. Magicians are not welcomed, for there have been incidents when over-excited journeymen tried to plumb the Turk's secrets. You may still succeed, though. Somehow men never expect ladies of the bon ton to be also members of the Royal College."
It wasn't the best of areas, but it was far from the worst. Kim nodded. "Are you making social calls this afternoon, Mademoiselle?"
"No. But I thought you were working upon your trousseau with M. Merrill's mama?"
"Not if I run fast enough," Kim muttered before she could stop herself.
"Ah. First the wardrobe for your coming-out, and now your bride-clothes. Even shopping for clothing can grow wearisome after a while."
At dress-makers, the while to wearisome lasted about half a minute, if anyone had asked Kim, which they had not. "Lady Wendell is making calls this afternoon. I'm supposed to be studying Temble's Compendium of Curiosities and Theoretics."
"Ah, bah," said Mademoiselle Renée. She must have read Temble, who was a boring cove. "So you must be perishing with tedium. We will instead proceed to investigate this chess-playing Turk." Kim stared at her, surprised, and Mademoiselle Renée made a complex gesture. "The life of a young woman of the bon ton, even that of an apprentice magician, does not compare for excitement with the life of a boy who can run about the streets of London as he will, no?"
Not many gentry folk understood that. They only saw the silks and laces of Kim's new life and didn't read the merchant's bill. Kim found that she was smiling. "I've taken to the solid roofs, the soft beds, and all the ices well enough," she said. "And the dresses really are lovely." Her smile faded. "But back then I didn't have to ask no one if I could go see some Turkish engine, once I found the ready gelt for the door fee."
"'Ask anyone,' I think," Mademoiselle Renée said absently. She continued, voice earnest, "Which is why you must study, oh, very hard to be a good magician. A woman who is a magician is not as others are. She is never at the mercy of some man who perhaps drinks or has fallen upon his head while pursuing a fox. If he locks her in, she may depart, for she is a magician and must be about her business. If he loses her money, she may earn more, as a magician sometimes does. If he raises his fist to her, she has a magician's resort," and she moved her gloved hand in the sort of pattern used in many spells.
Kim nodded. This was bene advice. Mairelon wasn't anything like the sort of cove that Mademoiselle Renée described, or Kim wouldn't love him enough to have accepted his offer of marriage. He didn't care about much aside from magic and being a gent, which made him easy, if sometimes annoying, company. But he wasn't immortal, either. Kim might be back on her own someday. "I'll read Temble after dinner this evening."
"You are young enough that the night reading of books will not damage your eyes," Mademoiselle Renée ruled. "However, now I think we will return to my townhouse and take my carriage over to see this Turk."
Hastily, Kim picked up her spoon to finish the last of her ice.
Kim decided she could do without learning chess. The game seemed about as exciting as watching embroidery being picked out. If not for the interest of the automaton itself and her efforts to glim how it worked, she could have fallen asleep just watching the ancient solicitor, who was the Turk's current opponent, rub the two hairs sprouting from his mole while he considered his next move. This was nothing that Kim would have paid five shillings to see without Mairelon's interest.
The Turkish Gentleman did earn some interest, though, if not five bob's worth. His dark form was carved out of wood and dressed in a foreigner's robes of striped silk trimmed with white fur. When the audience had paid their fees and been escorted into the room, he had sat behind a cabinet-chest upon which a chess board rested. He was obviously artificial, perched on a bench fixed to the rear of the chest. They'd been escorted behind the chest by the exhibitor of the Turkish Gentleman, Herr Frechen, to see how the Turk's legs and torso were twisted far out of the normal posture of a human body. Then the robes had been pushed aside to show that the Turk was solid except for his mechanisms. It seemed like no one could conceal themselves within the Turk himself.
As for the cabinet-chest, Frechen unlocked and opened its doors up so they could glim that most of it was empty, allowing for a few rods and gears. The left-over section was walled off into a cupboard containing cogwheels, shafts, and levers of shining brass, that shouldn't have been able to hold a child, much less a mort big enough to play chess.
Then Frechen slid open the drawers in the bottom of the cabinet-chest to produce a chess set, put the little pieces out on the board, and invited the solicitor, who had paid for the privilege, to take his seat on a stool as the Turk's opponent. While everyone else was perched on their little, gilt chairs, Frechen wound up the automaton.
It was better than a raree-show to see the way the Turk moved his arms about, mechanically picking up the chess pieces that the painted eyes in his unmoving, wooden head couldn't see and setting them down elsewhere on the board. From time to time he would even take a long, unlit pipe from the pillow his left arm had rested upon, and place its mouthpiece against his artificial lips while he seemed to consider. If each movement hadn't taken so long, Kim could have watched for hours. But as it was, she'd be bored if she hadn't been so busy making calculations in her head. No matter how she worked, she couldn't make her notions about the Turk come out as they should.
Just now, the Turk was slowly basting the ancient solicitor into burnt roast at their game. Kim didn't know chess but she did know people. The solicitor was upset at losing and trying to be a gent about it. He had more of his little, carven pieces in front of him than the automaton did.
Mademoiselle Renée, who did know chess, seemed fascinated. Kim looked at her inquiringly. She leaned over and murmured to Kim behind her fan, "It is amazing how well the Turkish Gentleman plays."
"Isn't he supposed to be a dab hand at the game?" Kim asked.
"But, of course, an automaton is supposed to work very well at what it does. The game is complex, though. It takes a master to play so well, and how can such knowledge be built into a machine? Chess is not such a simple affair as playing always the same song on a trumpet or waddling and quacking like a duck, as the other automatons of M. Frechen do. I am also thinking, along with many others, that the secret of his so-called Turk is magical."
Their words, however low, were earning glares from the clergyman seated on their left, so Mademoiselle Renée smiled at him charmingly and stopped speaking. The preacher harumphed a little but settled back to watch the game. Kim bit her lips against a grin. Mademoiselle once said that she was careful about keeping up her ton looks, what the Frenchies called her chic, because no weapon was to be despised. Also, it was more amusing to be accepted than denigrated. That was typical of her. She had a practical streak that Kim both admired and enjoyed. Kim admired and enjoyed Mademoiselle Renée altogether. It was odd, making a female friend anywhere near her own age. Most women of the same years in her old district had either been bawds or wives with children, both groups too busy to talk much with someone who'd seemed to be a boy like Kim.
While Kim's attention had drifted, the old petty-fogger finally made his move. He sat back with a wheeze. His equally elderly clerk, a round-faced, innocuous cove, rushed to offer him a sip of citrus-water, even as the Turk's left arm slowly moved another piece. Kim's eyes narrowed. Around her the audience, even including Mademoiselle Renée, made excited noises.
"Check," Frechen announced in his high, clear voice. He was a small, handsome gent, dressed flash and speaking good English, exactly the mannerly sort who could carry off this lay of making gelt from a chess-playing machine. Too bad that Kim and Mademoiselle Renée were the only gentry morts present in the room to appreciate Frechen's blond-haired, blue-eyed good looks.
There was a commotion at the door. Ignoring it, the solicitor reached for his queen.
The doors flew open. "Aha!" said the lushly buxom woman who'd opened them, in piercing tones of accusation. Most of the twenty or so coves in the audience turned, but Kim saw Frechen's eyes widen in obvious amazement. Then Kim watched as the newcomer marched down the aisle between the rows of tiny chairs. A hefty footman followed her in, obviously unsure about what to do with a woman who was both modishly dressed as gentry and clutching a large book to her bodice.
Frechen at least tried to stem the tide. "Mrs. Nosworthy, I have told you again and again that your husband is not here--"
"Your heathen device has finished its work corrupting him," she interrupted. She could have coined money selling eels with that voice. Turning to the audience, she said, "And you. You are all as bad as my husband, Mr. Nosworthy, indulging in vile games of chance."
"Chess?" Mademoiselle Renée murmured, audible only to Kim. "A game of chance? But this is too wonderful!"
"My husband," Mrs. Nosworthy closed her eyes briefly, "fell into his mania many years ago. Oh, at first I did not know what drew him away from me, from service, and from the study of scripture, but now I do. It was this," she pointed one, outstretched, quivering forefinger at the chessboard before the Turk, who had slowly reached for his pipe and now sat with it resting against his wooden lips, "evil recreation!"
Mrs. Nosworthy didn't exactly have the looks Kim associated with tract societies. She wondered if Mr. Nosworthy had also been surprised.
"You," she pointed to Frechen, "came to Bath with that automaton. And upon your perverse device," the finger swung back towards the Turk, "he spent the five shillings that I had clearly said should be dedicated to The Society for Giving Bibles to Soldiers and Sailors, whose work had once so deeply interested him!"
During all this address, the men in the audience had stayed as still as a bunch of rabbits paralyzed by an adder. But the solicitor hadn't been under her spell. "Nonsense!" he had huffed in a brief pause where Mrs. Nosworthy had drawn in a deep, bosom-swelling breath, and "Be still, Madam!" Too bad he was having about as much effect as a watchman trying to stop a gang of toffs set on overturning a roast chestnuts cart.
Kim still might have felt a touch sorry for Mrs. Nosworthy, whose husband had obviously run off on her, if not for what she did next. She took the big book she'd been lugging around and started belaboring the Turkish Gentleman's cabinet with it, sending chess pieces flying everywhere. Her book had looked like a Bible to Kim, but the solicitor, who was seated closer to her, said, "That's Philidor's Analysis of the Game of Chess," in scandalized tones. Then he added, "She'll damage the Turk! Richard, stop her!"
With a lithe speed that belied his years, the clerk sprang forward. No one moved to help the old cove, though, and Mrs. Nosworthy looked like a Mad Tom indeed. Kim stood up, dashed forward, and grabbed at the arm waving around Philidor's book. A back swing just missed Kim's head, and did clip a few of the fake cherries off her bonnet, but Kim got the mort's arm firmly and twisted it, forcing her to drop the book. Then, at last, the footman was there. Seems, in a battle between a gentry mort and a gentry mort who had paid five bob, the paying customer won.
With a long wail, Mrs. Nosworthy was wrestled away from the Turk and back out through the double doors of the parlor. Most of the audience broke up into clumps of gesticulating commentary. The solicitor wheezed, his face having turned an alarming red color. His clerk hastened to bring him another glass of citrus and water.
Kim wasn't really surprised to see that, with his hat knocked off and his old-fashioned periwig askew, the solicitor's clerk was obviously Mairelon.
It was some evidence of the drama Mrs. Nosworthy's efforts provided for the spectators that none of them asked for their money to be returned. A handful of people did remain behind to gather in the drawing room of Frechen's rented house, though. With a few well-timed comments about Kim's damaged cherries, Mademoiselle Renée managed to make sure that she and Kim were among the small assembly.
The disguised Mairelon was smiling at them from where he stood beside the solicitor. Kim tried ignoring him for a while and then, when that didn't work, scowled at him. If anything, his smile grew wider.
His solicitor was saying, tone about as deliberate as Kim would have predicted, "...and so, since neither I nor the Turkish Gentleman can be fairly said to have won our match, the most obvious course of action is for the extra guinea that I would have paid, or been paid, to be waived. But, given how badly I was in check when that bedlamite female person interrupted us, it seems only just that I pay you one half of the agreed-upon stake, or ten shillings, sixpence."
"That seems most fair, Mr. Pauncefort." Frechen bowed, probably relieved to recover even half of the ready. "And now, Mademoiselle Renée," his smile at Mademoiselle was even warmer than Mairelon's at Kim, "about your companion's lovely hat--"
Again, a door flew open. It seemed that not even the gentry knocked around here.
The man who came in was also slight and blond, but there his resemblance to Frechen ended. He had a prominent nose and an even more prominent Adam's apple. He was dressed in slightly shabby, if respectable, garb, and his coat was askew. So was his hair. So was the handkerchief that he removed from his waistcoat to pat at his face with, even as he spoke. "Kristian, was it Mrs. Nosworthy I heard?" His accent made clear he was English, and probably from somewhere in the West Country.
"She was removed and will be refused the house, James," Frechen replied, tone soothing.
"You are optimistic, sir." The words were bitter. "That woman has the persistence of a barnacle. The recent Emperor Napoleon was a less pushing individual. We should not have returned to England."
"Now, James, we have guests." Frechen gestured at the room.
Kim was glimming the remonstrating cove with interest. His appearance was the last hint that she needed to organize her notions about the Turk. Too bad that Mairelon had taught her a notion wasn't the same as proof. "Wish I'd had a minute alone with that Turkish Gentleman. I almost have him sorted out," she muttered to her neighbor.
"Ah?" asked Mademoiselle Renée, and then, "Oh!" she added, in comprehending tones.
Abruptly, she stood up and pressed the back of one hand to her forehead. "I find," she announced to the room in dramatic tones, her accent suddenly thick, "that I feel entirely faint." She took several wavering steps forward. Then she sagged into the surprised Mairelon's arms.
Nothing surprised Mairelon for long, though. He said, in the quavering but determined tones suitable to an ancient bachelor supporting a French female with the vapors, "Young lady, fetch Mademoiselle's vinaigrette. You, sir, fan her."
Kim slipped out the door before Mairelon could stop issuing instructions. She briskly walked down the wainscoted corridor, already dipping into her reticule with one hand as she went. The locked doors to the salon only blocked her way for a double-handful of heartbeats, and the trip across the now-vacant room with its overturned chairs went even quicker.
Kneeling down on the carpet next to the Turkish Gentleman's cabinet, Kim examined the lock with care. Then, quickly, she traced the spell pattern and muttered the words that would check if there was an enchantment on the lock. No telling, green glow resulted from her incantation. More interestingly, there was no glow anyplace else on the Turk, either. Only locks lay between her and the Turk's secrets. Kim reached again for her reticule.
Back at Mademoiselle Renée's townhouse, Kim told Mairelon and Mademoiselle Renée over tea, "The Turk's just a big stage trick. But I'd bet that you," she eyed Mairelon, already anticipating exasperation, "knew that." There went her second idea for a mentor's gift.
His expression was apologetic. "I had conjectured that such might be the case, yes. Magic did seem the most likely source for the Turk's chess-playing powers. But stage magic, the sort that I practiced while spying during the late conflict, struck me as a more likely source of the trickery involved than true magic, given the efforts that my fellows had already expended." He grinned. "However I couldn't have confirmed the details without using some spell, which of course an official Member of the College mayn't do in another's house without permission. And, for all your lessons, my lock-picking skills aren't quite good enough yet to use in a hurry. So I'm eager to hear what you have to say."
Kim nodded. "Thanks to Mademoiselle Renée's faint I was able to get a close look at the Turk, so I believe I know how the trick was turned."
Mademoiselle Renée reached out one hand across the tea table to touch the back of Kim's hand before she said, "Mademoiselle Kim. I have been thinking that we are friends now. After all, I do not faint for just anyone. So you must call me Renée."
"I'd like that. Thank you, Renée." Kim wondered if her words sounded shy. "And you should call me Kim." Renée smiled gently. Kim cleared her throat. "Anyhow, my notion began with putting together that James cove with the cabinet-chest. If you-"
Kim spent several minutes explaining her ideas to as attentive an audience as she could have desired. "Although I'm not sure about some of the details of the fit," she finished a bit dubiously.
"We might be able to work them out with some sketching and a few helpful references. Renée, do you have Terrasse's L'attraction du Magnents in your library?"
"Yes, and I have Gregory's A Treatise of Arcane Mechanics as well. But Richard, I know you. If we begin an examination of the specifics of automatons, we will be here, oh, for hours. Will the two of you be staying for supper?"
Kim and Mairelon glanced at each other. Kim said, "Yes, please." Mairelon confined himself to a nod and a smile.
"Good. Then I will write and send a note to your Mama at the townhouse, begging her to excuse you and Kim." Renée nodded her own chin decisively before she got up and left the room to make arrangements. She'd likely start by checking with her cook. Even cooks who worked for magicians, Kim had learned, must always be eased into a surprise.
"I do think you're on the right trail," Mairelon said. He drained the last of his tea and set the cup down on its saucer with a decisive click.
"We may never get all the details straight, though." Kim stood up and surreptitiously brushed a few crumbs from her skirts.
"Trust Renée for that. She'll probably obtain any remaining flourishes that we can't work out from Herr Frechen. He was trying to set up a flirtation with her before we left. I heard something about Gunter's mentioned." Mairelon also stood.
"Mairelon," Kim said. She eyed him, and changed her words from a question into a statement. "You know about that German cove."
He shook his head, round face grave. "Yours was not the first disguise of such a nature I've seen, Kim. This is a hard world for a woman who must make her way."
"But do you think that Renée knows? Otherwise, she could be dealt a rum hand when she finds out that he's a she."
"Considering how hard a woman's lot is, perhaps we should go someplace more interesting for our wedding journey than the English countryside. You've been very patient this last year and a half, but I'd imagine that you might be feeling cramped by fashionable life and want to stretch out a little."
His was an interesting notion, and one Kim wanted to pursue in detail, but she'd learned with Mairelon to keep to the point. Otherwise he'd never explain a thing. Kim said, knowing that her voice would be as warm as it was annoyed, "You do think that Renée has the story on Frechen."
Mairelon shrugged. It was a strongly continental gesture, recalling his years as a spy. "I know Renée," he said.
Slowly, Kim grinned. "You didn't stop to consider that I might take snuff to any of this?"
"I know you." His smile was loving.
"Then you also know that you're not getting any fancy quizzing-glass for your Mentor's gift." Taking a deep breath, Kim reached into her reticule and pulled out a tiny muslin cloth bag that clinked.
Looking surprised, he took it from her offering hand and opened it. Inside was a decent set of thief's picks, ones almost as good as those Kim had bought for herself once she'd finally saved the gelt from her pin money. These picks had just proved their worth on the job. "I decided more than a fortnight ago that you're ready for your journeyman's work."
Mairelon grinned like a boy himself. Then he tucked his new tools carefully away inside his waistcoat. Then he proceeded to disgrace himself.
Renée walked back into the parlor and stopped. Her tone was chiding, but her eyes were laughing as she said, "But, my dears, this will not do. To display such a degree of affection in the presence of another, even a good friend, even after you are betrothed? Not at all done."
"It must be the corrupting influence of the Turkish Gentleman," Mairelon said, sounding entirely unrepentant.