Glenwood-on-Tyne, in the country of Belaverte
The sharp pull on her arm jolted Annmar Masterson to a stop before she could turn the corner.
“Annmar, we are not—” Polly’s grip tightened. A trolley passed on the street behind them, the psst, psst, psst of its pumping pistons almost drowning her friend’s words. “I refuse to walk on that street.”
Annmar shot a look down the grimy alley lined by decayed storefronts, with more than a few rumpled-coated men loitering in doorways. But well-dressed vendors also pushed their carts up the shortest way to High Street. She recognized a fair number of them and nodded to the iceman steering his heavier motorized wagon.
She leaned to Polly’s ear. “Please. Foggy Bottom is there—” She nodded to the block’s end. “—and Shearing’s business but a minute’s walk.”
Polly shook her head, sending her blond curls dancing over the high collar of her candy-striped blouse. But she didn’t leave. Annmar switched her roll of linen parchment to her other hand and gratefully linked her free arm with Polly’s. Together they picked their way around the carts, and Annmar resisted the urge to pluck up her walking skirt over the drifts of fall leaves. It would only attract attention, attention they already had.
“Oh my Lord. You’ve come to the industrial district whenever you’ve visited his business? I don’t like it,” Polly muttered, but she allowed Annmar to pull her along Foggy Bottom and the factories lining the River Tyne.
“Neither do I, without Mrs. Rennet present.” Annmar sighed. No rough workmen dared approach her employer. Even the employees of the city’s largest fine arts and drafting firm crept around under temperamental owner’s stern gaze, fearing her frequent firings.
In the canyon between the towering factory walls, the clink, clink, clink of gear mechanisms echoed and steam billowed from the lines of open-paned factory windows. Polly’s wide-eyed gaze fell from them to two workmen in grubby coveralls hoisting gray metal rods off a foundry delivery wagon blocking half the street. They leered back.
Annmar elbowed her friend. She’d learned months ago to keep her focus averted from the men, though in Mr. Shearing’s presence none dared to act improperly.
She tilted her head toward the four-story warehouse rising above the adjacent buildings. “His office is just ahead, and it’s more than presentable.” Fancy green trims—worthy of any business on High Street—decorated the solid brick edifice of Shearing Enterprises. Tall, gold lettering proclaimed the business pledge across a painted signboard: The Latest in Agricultural Technology, Backed by the Best Craftsmanship in Glenwood-on-Tyne.
A mechanical screech rent the air. They both jumped. Polly whimpered as several rough curses followed, and the workmen paused to gaze at the upper windows.
“Here now!” bellowed a deep-voiced man from inside. “Put out that fire. At least the boiler held this go ‘round.”
The workers shook their heads and hauled the last rod onto the pile within the uprights of a mechanized cart. One man dropped into the seat and threw a lever, releasing a burst of steam from the engine. The cart lurched forward and the second man followed with a steadying hand on the rods. He tipped his cap to them with a half-bow and another grin.
Annmar steered Polly forward, determined not to let on she’d seen him. They stepped smartly down the wide thoroughfare where a mix of modern steam-powered and older horse-drawn wagons hauled materials. “Heavens, that damaged engine better not be the featured machine for this week’s Post. Or this newest advertisement I’ve completed.” She squeezed her roll of parchment bearing the illustration of Shearing Enterprise’s All New Mechanized Row Planter.
“She’s taking advantage of you, Mrs. Rennet is,” Polly said. “Knowing Shearing’s establishment is between our boarding room and Rennet’s Renditions. Still, I wish to see for myself this Mr. Shearing who has offered you sponsorship.”
Though cringing inwardly at her tone, Annmar managed a casual glance at her friend.
Polly raised the same disdainful brow that had been quirking since the night a week ago when the sleepless Annmar had confided Mr. Shearing’s offer. “Though I’ll catch it if I’m late to the shop.”
“You won’t be, I promise.” The very reason she’d asked Polly along instead of requesting Mr. Shearing’s ever-available carriage was to avoid a lengthy private conversation in the confines of his office. He expected an answer she dreaded giving. She paused before a green wooden door set into a brick archway, steeling her nerves. “I do appreciate you accompanying me.”
Polly sniffed. “It wouldn’t be proper, you coming alone.” She knocked before Annmar could.
The door opened and there he stood. Annmar’s stomach twisted, but she extended her hand in a practiced move. “Good morning, Mr. Shearing.”