Lady Hortensia Addison knit her fingers together and looked at the young woman seated opposite her. The chit had certainly not been her first choice. She had hoped that one of the many male engineers would be willing to take her son on as an apprentice and that perhaps some hard work under one of them would disabuse him of his scientific aspirations. She wanted nothing more than for the boy to return to proper divertissements and to his duty, but still he persisted. And if he was going to do so, there was only one course for it. She looked the girl over again, taking in the ill-fit of her dress, clearly second hand, but she did know how to comport herself in the presence of the nobility. This Dorothea had her gaze down demurely, as was proper. Lady Hortensia took a sip of her tea and then spoke.
“My understanding, Dorothea, is that you are a…mechanic. Now, normally, I would inform you that such is the domain of men and that you should be attempting to make yourself marriageable. However, in this case, I have need to instead offer you employment. My son, the young lord Evandrus, has declared himself for science… and if my son insists on dabbling in this ‘engineering’ then I am going to ensure that he has the best possible assistance and despite your appearance, manners and upbringing that seems to be you.”
It took all the willpower in the young woman not to bristle at the insults. Instead, she nodded.
“Thank you, my Lady. You honor me.”
“Yes…well… You will be paid a suitable wage, given room and board and given use of young lord Evandrus’ laboratory. He will determine your responsibilities, and no doubt you will be spending a great deal of time with him. However, you are to ensure that you maintain a certain level of decorum. You will remember your place at all times. You are nothing more than a servant and he is the lord of this estate. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”
“Y-yes, my Lady.”
“Mrs. Burke will show you to your room. You will be quartered near his laboratory so you may attend to it at all hours.”
“Thank you, my Lady.”
It was all Dorothea could do to keep her temper in check as she followed the housekeeper through the estate, towards the back near the kitchens and servants’ quarters.
“Here we are, Missy. It’s simple enough, but I made sure to put in a shelf since no doubt a science lass like yourself as a book or two. Once you’re settled in, you’ll be wanting to meet the young lord. He’ll be in his laboratory at this hour no doubt. That’ll be two more doors down. Between is a privy.”
Mrs. Burke looked the girl up and down.
“Have you any bags, girl?”
“I…was told to leave them.”
“Fine enough, I’ll have one of the maids fetch them up here. You’re not one of them, mind. You answer to the young lord first. I’ll be assigning one of the girls to clean your room and mind your things. You’ve more important things to do. Like seeing to it that the young lord doesn’t blow us all to Kingdom Come.”
The laboratory was surprisingly large and well-lit through a combination of natural light and oil lamps. A young man with short messy red hair and a smattering of freckles across his face stood at one of the workbenches examining the results of his latest experiment. The small vial of fluid glowed dully, casting a bluish illumination across his features. For a moment, Dorothea wasn’t sure if she should interrupt him or just wait until he was done. With a grimace, she recalled what the housekeeper had said and stepped to one side of the door, taking this moment to really look him over. His clothes were well made, which was unsurprising. What was surprising was that these seemed to be older, with some patches and grease stains in evidence. There was a smudge of grease across his cheeks from an earlier project. Now her eyes were drawn around the room to the many workbenches. Certainly, the one he was at bore chemicals and their accouterments, but other such tables showed his interested in mechanics, physiology, botany and even in the fledgling science of electricity. His equipment was costly, with his tools calling her to them like a moth to the flame. There was a soft clink then and she looked back at him. He was staring at her now, a look of mild confusion on his face and his arms crossed over his chest.
He let the words trail off, clearly looking for an explanation as to her presence.
“Oh! I’m Dorothea, M’lord. Your mother hired me as your…” she paused for a moment and he frowned more deeply. “Tutor.”
That got a small smile out of him.
“Published many scientific papers, have you?”
There was humor in his tone, but it was sharp and the barbs in his words stuck in her.
“No more than you have. But unlike you, I’m a trained mechanic.”
He looked her over more carefully then, still looking as though she was some kind of vexing puzzle he couldn’t figure out how to solve. Then he just nodded.
“I suppose that does quite well in explaining why Mother had one of the storage rooms converted into a room. I take it you’ll be staying there?” When she nodded, he carried on. “I should warn you, I keep late nights and not all of my experiments are quiet. I doubt you will be getting much sleep there.”
Then he looked back at his worktop.
“Tell me then, have you any background in chemistry?”