“No offence taken,” Penelope assured her, “Professor Millpond sent me. He said I was to give you this packet and to inquire about departure time.” She removed a brown paper package from the leather satchel that hung from her shoulder, and handed it to the captain.
“Oh, excellent!” Captain Wordsmith replied, taking the packet that contained the money for their fare. She did not open the paper, but continued, “I had planned to send a messenger to Mrs. Wagoner’s soon to inform the professor that there has been a change of plans. We received a telegram, only about an hour ago, from the New York World newspaper, asking us to transport Miss Nellie Bly to New Jersey as quickly as possible. Her train is set to arrive in Elgin at 9:00 a.m. She is scheduled to give a small speech at a breakfast in her honor and then we must be ready to leave as soon after that as we can manage. I hope this will not be too much of an inconvenience to you.”
Penelope tried not to show how excited she was. She had been following Nellie Bly’s progress around the world, and had even written to the New York World with a guess as to the day and time of Miss Bly’s arrival back in Hoboken, where she had begun her journey. She tried to steady her voice as she simply answered, “We’ll manage.”
“Then we look forward to seeing you and the Professor in the morning. Good afternoon, Miss…”
“Darwinian,” Penelope filled in the missing name.
“Good afternoon, Miss Darwinian.” The captain squeezed Blaze’s shoulder and he rose from his perch and followed her up the gangplank.
Penelope began her walk back to the boarding house just as the bell rang at the watch factory, calling the workers back from their lunch hour. The air port and the factory were only separated by a field of dead grass and a small grove of bare trees. The weather was unseasonably warm, so Penelope had to dodge her way around women packing up their lunches and men making their way back to the factory carrying both cricket and baseball equipment. One man with a cricket bat in hand, swung it as she hurried past, pretending that he was going to spank her with it. His companions all laughed, but Penelope didn’t even spare them a glance. Her mind was so occupied with lists of things to be packed, debts that must be settled, and the prospect of a celebrity travelling companion, that she was oblivious to all of the commotion around her. Her long, quick strides served her well, as she walked in front of cable cars and bicyclists, arriving in the professor’s room without any recollection of the trip there.
Professor Millpond sat in a chair by the window, surrounded by old maps and open books. He was so deeply absorbed in what he was reading, that he did not even hear Penelope enter, until she cleared her throat and asked if he’d eaten yet. His negative reply did not surprise her in the least. His wild salt and pepper hair was uncombed and he was still wearing his maroon dressing gown and sheepskin slippers. A tiny ball of blue blanket lint clung to his beard.
Penelope excused herself to return downstairs to the kitchen, to find them each some food and tea.
She gathered up the few dirty bowls, spoons, and plates that remained on the dining room table and carried them with her into the kitchen.
“ I was hoping you’d be back soon,” The landlady greeted her, as she pushed her way through the swinging kitchen door. “It looks like we’re going to have a full house to cook for tonight, two traveling salesmen, four newspaper men, and one woman who says she writes for “Cosmopolitan”, along with all the regulars. Are you still planning to leave tomorrow afternoon?”
“Sooner than that, I’m afraid,” Penelope answered, “The Aiolos has had a change of schedule and they’re taking off around 10:00 a.m. They say Nellie Bly will be one of the passengers!” She began washing dishes, but Mrs. Wagoner shooed her away from the sink.
“Oh, I’ll take care of that. There’s a tray of food I saved for you and the professor over there on the counter. You should take that up and work on your packing. I’ll need you back down here at 3:00. Are you going to be out late tonight, again?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Penelope replied.
“You be careful walking home. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.”
“Thank you. You’ve been very kind to us.” Penelope picked up the tray and pushed open the kitchen door with her backside.
“I sure am going to miss you!”