the dingy, dangerous Whitechapel where that character Pix resided.
âWe have to go to the third level.â Managing my umbrella, I led the way to the nearest street-lift while avoiding puddles of water, mud, and other waste. A demure young lady would have waited for the gentleman to offer an escorting arm, but as has been previously noted, not only did Dylan usually forget to do so, but I lacked the propriety Society requires of its young women.
After I nearly decapitated him while digging for a haâpenny in my bag, Dylan liberated the umbrella from my clumsy grip. He held it over my head as I placed the coin on the street-liftâs small metal tongue. The tiny tray clicked back as the mechanism gulped down my fare, belching and coughing the whole time.
The ornate brass gate opened. Taking care to gather up my skirt, which was always in danger of being trapped by the closing doors, I stepped into the grillwork-sided platform with my companion. It was a tight fit, placing me in pleasant, close proximity to Dylan. He gave me the warm, crooked smile that always made my insides swish pleasantly. I was relieved that he seemed to have pulled out of his doldrums.
The gears groaned and chains rattled as we rose above the street-level with little jerks. Moments later, we alighted and began to walk along the narrow upper walkway toward 79-K.
In this part of London, the buildings rose so tall and wide above the throughways they seemed almost to connect over the street. The balloonlike air-anchors attached to the cornices of each roof bumped and shifted in the sky as their weightless pull helped keep the corners of the brick structures from crashing into each other.
Street vendors called out at all levels, hawking their wares. Because the raised walkways were so narrow, allowing hardly enough room for two people to stroll abreast, the sellers were relegated to parking their carts so half the vehicle hung out over the street below, anchored by brass manacles the size of wagon wheelsâwhich was why the vendor-balloons were such a welcome invention. Carriages clattered along on the ground below. People shouted, dogs barked, shutters thudded, a church bell clangedÂ .Â .Â .Â and feathered through it all was the familiar hiss of steam.
âSomething smells really good.â Dylan wielded my umbrella like a gentlemanâs walking stick as he took in the sights.
It was a rare event in which he wasnât hungry, eating, or at least thinking about food. But in this case, I couldnât disagree with the sentiment. The scents of flaming carrots, shredded-meat pies, puffed plums, and frothy vanilla teas filtered through the air.
âHoney-Creme Mandarins, miss,â called a man from across the air-canal. âFresh from the crystallizer, still warm!â
âWould you like one? My treat.â
I accepted Dylanâs offer with alacrity, for honeyed mandarins are one of my favorite sweets. He remembered to offer me a gentlemanly arm as we walked over the fly-bridge, crossing the road three levels above the ground.
The lowest street-levels were the meanest in the sense that they were the dirtiest, dingiest, and most unpleasantly aromatic. Sewer chutes rushed alongside the roads, and the primitive walkways were narrow and often flooded with rainwater or sewage that splashed up as various forms of ground transportation rumbled past. The higher the street-level, the cleaner, lighter, and more expensive the area. The lifts were the only way to travel between levels. Therefore, if one didnât have a coin to feed the machine (or if the mechanism was disabled), one was destined to remain at the lower levelâeither permanently or temporarily. And the higher the level, the greater the cost of the ride.
It was, my father had once said in a rare moment of candidness, a way to keep the riffraff segregated from the privileged.
Vaguely uncomfortable by this pronouncement, I nevertheless couldnât