“Just stopped by to clean up and change clothes. I’ve got a date with Abby tonight.”
“I like that girl. Shame she had to end up with you.”
“I feel the same way about you and Senta… and Senta,” said Peter. “Where is my niece, anyway?”
“I’m hiding under the table, Uncle Peter!” Though hiding, she was clearly visible once one knew where to look.”
“Why are you hiding under the table?”
“We’re playing Hide and Go Seek! Don’t tell Daddy where I am!”
“And if I don’t, how will he every find you?”
“Hurry up and get ready for your date,” said Baxter, “before that poor foolish girl figures out what she’s gotten herself into. I hope you’re taking her someplace nice.”
“Well, perhaps the food will make up for the company.”
Peter jogged up the stairs to his room. Thirty minutes later, he descended, dressed in a sharp new black suit with a green waistcoat.
“How do I look?”
“You look great, Uncle,” said Sen, now in Baxter’s lap reading from a large picture book.
“You seem to have made yourself presentable, much to my surprise,” said Baxter. “Do you have enough money?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” said Peter, checking his pockets to make sure he had his watch and wallet. “Don’t wait up.”
“Is my rickshaw here?” he asked the majordomo. “I said 5:30.”
The lizzie nodded.
“Don’t wait up,” Peter called again, as he headed out the door.
He had hired the same lizzie rickshaw driver several times over the past few weeks. The big fellow was prompt, which was not always the case with the lizardmen. He had gone over the night’s itinerary when he had hired the lizzie, so as soon as he was situated, they started off. The Bassett home was not all that far from the foundry, so the trip covered much of the same territory that the young wizard had traveled only a short while before. This time it took longer, even though the distance was slightly less, because no matter how strong a lizzie puller might be, he couldn’t keep up with a lorry.
It was the end of Festuary, and unseasonably warm. All the snow had melted. It was still very nippy when the sun went down though. It was dark when they reached the Bassett home.
Peter knocked on the front door, which was opened by Mr. Bassett.
“Hello, my boy!” he boomed, slapping the young wizard on the shoulder. “How are you on this fine evening?”
“Good, sir. And you?”
“I’m always good. There’s no profit in being anything else.” He turned his head toward the stairs. “Abigail! Your young man is here!”
“He can sit down and wait, can’t he?” called back a shrill voice that could only have been Mrs. Bassett.
“Have a seat and relax,” said Mr. Bassett. “Can I offer you something to take the chill off?”
“Nothing too strong. I didn’t have time for tea today.”
“I’ve got just the thing—a little aperitif, as they say in Natine.” Mr. Bassett stepped to the wet bar and poured a concoction into a small glass, which he brought to the young wizard. “Sweet vermouth with seltzer, and a slice of pickled lemon. Not only will it warm you up, but it keeps away the intestinal parasites.”
“Well, I’m all for that,” said Peter, taking a sip.
He winced a bit at the taste. He was not a big drinker. Thankfully, he was saved from having to take another sip by the arrival of Abigail Bassett at the bottom of the stairs.
Abby was resplendent in a crimson evening gown, with a faux-corset lacing up her waist and a fall of black taffeta down the front. Black lace around the sleeves and collar matched the black underdress that just peeked out around her feet. Her long ash brown hair was up in an arrangement of bows and braids and swirls that was so complicated, it was almost impossible to grasp, let alone describe.
“Good evening,” she said. “I hope I look nice enough to dine at Café Idella.”
“If you were wearing the moon as a broach and stars as earrings, you couldn’t look more lovely than you do right now.”
“Ooh, a wizard and a poet,” said Mrs. Bassett descending the stairs behind her daughter.