ysabetwordsmith: Maryam Smith in a tophat (steamsmith)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the May 5, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] kelkyag and LJ user Marina_bonomi. It also fills the "socialize" square in my 5-2-15 card for the Wellness Toolbox Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to The Steamsmith series.


"All Mingle Their Waters"


Maryam had sent a request for her father
to investigate the state of London's
ancient earthworks.

Viscount Carrington had indeed
looked into the matter, agreed that
it wanted some care, and then
promptly run around on what
needed the most urgent attention.

It was all very well to discuss
a budget, but without specifics,
it was unlikely to amount to much.

There followed a number of letters
in which Viscount Carrington shared
his minor findings and solicited
advice from Maryam, and she
replied with her best guesses.

In the end, however, she pointed out
that this was not her alchemical specialty
and while she could manage in a pinch,
they really needed to sit down at table
with the earthworkers who maintained
the equipment beneath the city.

It was this in particular for which
Viscount Carrington required
Maryam's assistance, for he was
lord enough to make the common men
uncomfortable, while she had also
her mother's connections belowstairs
to smooth her way on that level.

So she invited the earthworker Dickon and
his wife Holly to visit her father's manor
and discuss the state of the tunnels.

They got off to an excellent start
on the topic of doors and how those
needed to be replaced because
some of them no longer shut properly.

"It's the blast doors that need fixin' first,"
Dickon said, "as can be done fast, while
the rest'll take ages. Least this way,
when somethin' goes off its nut,
we can shut up the trouble."

Maryam's mother came out to deliver
the tea things, all bright silver and
tasty little tidbits, with the china tea pot
giving off a delicious cloud of steam.

"Eat up, and don't fuss yourself
too much about the manners,"
she advised quietly.

Of course that put Holly's feathers
all in a flutter, and she just had to try
playing the lady while she had a chance
to be served by someone else.

Dickon clutched a sandwich of
ham and chopped watercress,
trying to ignore his wife.

Maryam managed to distract Holly
with a rosepetal scone before
her mother's patience ran out.

"There should be no difficulty
approving a budget for new doors,"
said Viscount Carrington. "My peers
will wish to protect the upper parts
of London, after all. The rest may
require more of a debate. So let us
consider what to mend next -- should it be
something else quick, or whatever could
cause the most danger by going awry?"

"Ah, well," said Dickon, rubbing the back of his neck.
"There's this earth-engine under 'Yde Park what's
allus threatenin' to blow. Can't fix what's really wrong
with it, but a new engine -- that comes dear."

"Not to mention having to dig up the park overhead
to haul out the old one and put in the new,"
Maryam murmured as she spooned
Devonshire cream over her strawberries.
"How bad is it really, Dickon?"

He sighed. " 'Tis a matter of when,
and not if, Steamsmith," said Dickon.
"Same's the one what blew that day
you was there -- the main 'ousing is
too worn to keep and release pressure
the way it ought. Soon or late: boom."

"I shall advise the lords that it will be cheaper
to replace the earth-engine before it explodes,"
Viscount Carrington said dryly. "What else?"

Maryam's mother swung past to refresh
everyone's water glasses and to set down
a platter of almond macaroons and gingersnaps.

Of course Holly had to ask why there weren't
flowers frozen into the ice cubes.

"We have instead candied flowers
for the pudding," came the smooth reply.

Dickon went on to list things that needed
to be replaced or repaired, mostly in order
of how bad the equipment was at present.

"I say," Maryam mused, "half the problem
is that you've no way of knowing which piece
will break down next. What about buying
a few bins of the spare parts you use most often?"

"That 'ud be some useful!" Dickon agreed.

"Also easier to obtain than another large expense,"
said Viscount Carrington. "Spare parts can easily
be purchased with whatever funds are available."

"Ma'am Smith, Ma'am Smith!"
one of the maids cried, darting
into the parlour. "The faucet's broke
in the kitchen, and water everywhere!"

"Excuse me," said Maryam's mother.
"I'll deal with this, and likely send
for the plumber, then I'll be right back."

That led to a minor sidetrack about
how Sarah was Maryam's mother but
not John's wife, and John's housekeeper
but not his relative, despite them
sharing the same last name.

The loss of John's beloved wife Catherine
had devastated the household, and
nobody wanted to hear "Mrs. Smith" --
which was the title she had privately preferred
and nevermind the noble ones -- applied
to anyone else even though it was
the customary address for a housekeeper.

A confusing scuffle of phrasing had led
to the compromise of "Ma'am Smith,"
which left everyone content. Her duties
had wound up halfway between
housekeeper and hostess, which was
not conventional but worked well enough
to keep the household in good order.

It wasn't always easy to combine
different layers of society and
all mingle their waters gracefully.

Maryam managed to get the conversation
back on the rails by asking Holly
if the earth-workers' wives and children
might be convinced to assist with
uprooting valuable plants from the park
and then replanting after the replacement
of the decrepit earth-engine.

"Oh, I do like gardening," said Holly.
"There's even a few who married in
from the countryside and know more
about farming and such. I'm sure that
the older boys would be glad to help too."


This led quite naturally to making a list
of people who might like to help, and
how that could affect the budget, which
gave Viscount Carrington something
to bargain with if his peers balked
at the initial proposal.

Dickon had no head for numbers,
but he proved entirely capable of
listing from memory a wide variety
of spare parts that could be used to fix
most things that went wrong underground.

"I believe it will be most effective for me
to go amongst the fellows who live closest
to Hyde Park," said Viscount Carrington.
"They have the most to gain -- or to lose --
based on the condition of that earth-engine."

"We've already put the word about belowstairs,
so's the servants 'ud know wot to watch for,"
Dickon said. "So if your chauffeur were to
duck out back for a bit of a smoke, then 'e
might 'ave good company to share the news."

Maryam's mother returned from the kitchen --
in a fresh uniform, her damp hair frizzing
out of its flat braids -- and announced,
"The main faucet has been shut off
until the plumber comes. We've still
the scullery sink for running water,
the icebox for cold, and plenty
in the stove tank for hot."

Holly fussed about the family background
and the quality of the drinking water
until Ma'am Smith reached over and
solemnly emptied the pitcher over her head.

"For your information -- not that it is
any of your business -- the Viscount
offered to do the right thing and marry me
when I told him that I was with child,"
Ma'am Smith said as Holly sputtered.
"I turned him down, for I'm no lady
and I don't care to pretend that I am."

"I do admire a woman who knows her own mind,
though," said Viscount Carrington, his eyes
twinkling in a way that suggested he was
having as hard a time not laughing as Maryam.

Dickon was biting his lip hard enough
to turn the pink skin white, and still
the corner of his mouth twitched.

"I like my job," said Ma'am Smith,
"at least when I'm not waiting
on a grown woman twittering
about like a spoilt brat."

"I'll fetch a hand towel from the tea cart,
shall I, whilst you go for the pudding,"
Maryam suggested as she stood.

In the end there was no harm done
to anything but Holly's dignity --
what little there had been of that --
and the water was easily blotted up
with a monogrammed towel.

After that, Holly quit trying to heckle
Ma'am Smith, and the orange cream pudding
with candied nasturtiums was very well received.

Maryam helped her father finish up
the plans for his budget proposal.

"You understand, I cannot promise
to deliver everything you might wish for,"
Viscount Carrington warned. "New doors
I am confident of funding, and something
ought to be on offer for spare parts.
Replacing the Hyde Park earth-engine is
a chancier prospect, but I shall do my best."

"Anythin' you can get is more'n I hoped for,"
Dickon said, tentatively clasping
the lord's proffered hand.

Maryam felt satisfied that, whatever came
of the meeting, it would be an improvement.

* * *

Notes:

"As different streams having different sources all mingle their waters in the sea, so different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to God."
-- Swami Vivekananda

Victorian houses had an interesting combination of older and newer technology.

In nether-England, tea became a meal rather earlier; it's not new in this poem. Enjoy some recipes and instructions for a Victorian tea party.

Hyde Park is a large, famous park in London.

A housekeeper is the head of the female servants. The usual mode of address is "Mrs. (lastname)." Sarah Smith is basically the female half of running the whole household because the lady wife is deceased. The last names are the same because slaves used to be given the owner's surname, and even after emancipation a lot of African-British families kept that. So there are white and black Smiths in the same place, which gets a bit confusing. They've had to customize a lot of the traditions to come up with something workable in their unique situation. People think it's weird, but most of them will look the other way.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-14 08:19 pm (UTC)
fyreharper: (Default)
From: [personal profile] fyreharper
Yay, more Maryam! :)

:winces at Holly's behavior:

In "promptly run around on what
needed the most urgent attention" - should that be 'run aground'?

Cheering

Date: 2015-05-14 09:05 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Both that they found a solution to the larger problem (or at least an avenue of attack) and at the resolution of Mrs. Nosybritches' behavior.

I love that no one seemed to hold Dikon responsible for his wife's behavior, too... Most of all, I love the image of the staff bustling about and including "Ma'am Smith" in ways which are different than for Maryam, and from the norm, without any kind of /internal/ fuss.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-15 12:08 am (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
Wonderful poem. I really like Maryam.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-15 01:47 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] tadpoleacorn
Oh! I liked this!

Re: Yay!

Date: 2015-05-15 04:07 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] tadpoleacorn
^_^ I'm glad. I'm surprised I missed it before. I'm just starting The Trains Must Run On Time now and I think this series is wonderful. It's exactly the type of thing I like to read.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-15 05:54 am (UTC)
thnidu: glowing light bulb. tinyurl.com/33j2v8h (light bulb)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Yeah! VERY good working-out of lowering the class barriers for much-needed collaboration.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-16 12:12 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
I like how Maryam has the art of managing a conversation, being able to direct the flow of attention to the necessary things. I think she'd be excellent at directing business meetings -- which is a lord's art, if anything is, being as lords are supposed to be leaders.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-14 07:36 pm (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
There are advantages sometimes to being lower class. ;)

Yes...

Date: 2015-05-14 07:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
So there are. I wanted a counterpoint to all the period romances in which the handsome lord sweeps a common girl off her feet and marries her. Few of them stop to think about the practical consequences. Sarah doesn't particularly like most of the nobles she's met, doesn't want to be stuck with only them for company, and likes her job. I think she made the right call.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-14 08:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] janetmiles.livejournal.com
I see where Maryam gets her common sense and no-nonsense approach to problem-solving.

Yay!

Date: 2015-05-14 09:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
:D She really is a blend of both parents, and yet uniquely herself.

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