Ada, or, The Limits of Logic
Barbara Celarent Darii Ferio Baralipton. . .
Ada Byron was having unaccustomed difficulty concentrating on the mock-Latin mnemonics of her logic lesson. It was not the bees or the scent of the rose garden that distracted her, nor even the proximity of her tutor, a dark-haired Adonis only a few years older than herself. In the weeks since Mr. Ockham's arrival, she had blissfully studied far more difficult material under just such conditions. But today her thoughts circled around the ominous telegram in her pocket, and the words buzzed around her head like the bees.
Celantes Dabitis Fapesmo Frisesomorum. . . She could bear it no more. "I understand syllogistic forms perfectly well, Mr. Ockham! But why this medieval rigmarole to remember something as natural as logic?"
Mr. Ockham laughed. "A fair question! You might be interested in the method that Mr. Boole has recently proposed. He treats truth and falsehood as numbers, with operations similar to multiplication and addition."
"Then perhaps Sir Charles's Engine might handle logic as it does arithmetic? It already uses Jacquard-loom cards to control its operations -- if it could do logic directly, how much simpler it would be!"
"That should be your next experiment, if Sir Charles permits!" Mr. Ockham said, and rose to his feet. "But we have worked long enough for this afternoon."
"Must you be elsewhere?"
"No, Miss Byron. But your lesson is over."
She looked up at him and smiled sweetly. "Then perhaps we could walk together for a little?" She reached out her hand; he clasped it with his warm, callused palm, and helped her to her feet. "You have been here for almost a month," she said. "Have you walked our maze yet?"
"Once, but I became quite lost."
"May I show you the trick?"
They crossed the garden side by side, his touch sweet torment. At the maze entrance, she reluctantly freed her arm and led the way into the narrow passage. A minute later, deep within the hedges, she took a deep breath and turned toward him. "May I ask you something?"
"Ask away! Why, I may even answer."
"You share your name, Mr. William Ockham, with a fourteenth century logician so peculiarly apt that, forgive me, I sent by telegraph to the University of Cambridge"--she pulled the slip from her pocket--"to find if there had truly been a Second Wrangler so singularly named." Her tongue was dry in her mouth. "And. . . they told me that no 'William Ockham' had written the Mathematical Tripos in living memory."
"Alas! you have found me out!" he said, with an impenitent grin.
"Well, Mr. Not-Ockham, what do you mean by this imposition?"
"Do you remember Lord Worcester's masked ball last December?"
"You! That was you in the blue mask with the peacock-feathers? Who asked me to dance four times? And danced so wonderfully well?" That magical night had been the stuff of her dreams for weeks thereafter.
He laughed. "You have described my mask to a nicety, if not my dancing. And you wore that enchanting green gown, and a mask that hardly hid your face at all--as a result of which unsporting stratagem, I have been your captive ever since. So, when I heard that Mrs. Somerville was no longer tutoring you, I naturally applied for the position."
He had come to find her! "So, who are you? When you are not impersonating long-dead monks?"
"If I tell you, it must be a secret between us. You must give me your word not to mention it to a soul--nor, for your own sake, to inquire further into my past."
"Oh, yes!" she breathed. "I promise!"
"My name is William King. That must suffice for now."
"You are still William, at least! Seal my lips with a kiss, William," she said, and moved into his arms, her face raised towards his, her eyes closed. His lips met hers, while his strong arms embraced her tightly. She could feel his lips opening; slowly, she allowed hers to part in response.
The sun was low in the sky before they emerged from the maze.
Martha Sidebottom, Ada's mechanic, looked at the stack of blueprints with dismay. "Oh, Miss Byron! And how long will this Logic Mill take us to make, then?" she asked.
"Sir Charles and I have designed it with many identical parts. Its fundamental operations are very simple, as it has only two possible states. So we need only make a single model of each part, then send them to a shop with a duplicating-lathe. Most of our time will be spent assembling the pieces." Ada's eyes sparkled with anticipation; her fingertips jingled the set of hexagon-keys that hung from the chatelaine at her waist.
"Then let us be at it, Miss Byron! But I wish that the Engine could help us make these parts for which it has such an appetite."
"Some day it will do just that, and more. Why, it might design fabrics for a Jacquard-loom, compose music. . ."
"Find me a suitor?" asked Martha with a merry laugh. "I must say that I am quite jealous of your success with the handsome Mr. Ockham!"
"And why not? To match the qualities of one person to those of another is surely a problem as susceptible to logic as any other."
"Indeed, Miss Byron, I am sure that under your instruction the Engine could do anything."
"You have given me an idea, Martha!"
Netherville Hall glittered with gaslight and candles. Sir Charles Babbage gestured, and the musicians stopped playing. The three dozen guests turned to see what the silence heralded.
"My friends, this evening's festivity celebrates the success of the Logic Mill, the next step toward the Analytical Engine." He gestured towards the wall of glass that separated the great ballroom from the dust-free alcove where the Engine gleamed. "As you may know, the Logic Mill is largely the brainchild of my colleague Miss Ada Byron."
Ada preened at the word 'colleague,' and winked discreetly at William. He winked back.
Sir Charles continued: "She and Miss Sidebottom have done wonderful things." (Did Martha blush?) "Tonight, as a demonstration, this being a bachelor household, we will allow the Engine and Logic Mill the prerogative of a hostess, to arrange the table. The servants will pass among you with cards, pink for the ladies and white for the gentlemen, bearing questions about your interests. Then the Engine will determine which gentleman shall take which lady in to dinner, ensuring sparkling conversation for all."
Ada watched the guests read the questions on the cards. 'Have you ever been to Court?', 'Would you rather spend September in Bath or London?', 'Have you ever travelled by airship?' She started to fill out her own card, eavesdropping on the rising buzz of voices.
"Such a clever game, is it not?"
"I suppose, my dear, it will be all over London next Season."
"Damme, but this is ingenious. Better than Whist, damme, better than Whist!"
As quickly as the cards were filled out, servants collected them, and punched the answers into the cards with ticket-punches.
"Ada, my dear!" called Sir Charles. "May I ask you to do the honors?" He beamed at her. Was this what it was like to have a father--a real father, not a wretched exile?
"With pleasure, Sir Charles!" she said. Pleasantly aware that every eye in the room was upon her, she took the cards, let herself into the alcove and careful of her full green ball-gown engaged the clutch to start the Engine. A thousand shafts, large and small, began to turn, with a sound like a wind-stirred forest. Once the machinery was in uniform motion, she put the deck into the card reader.
Gears meshed, rods slid in bushings. Arrays of steel pins read the holes in the cards. The pins engaged tiny glittering clutches, no bigger than cherrystones, and displaced cams; and those mechanisms in turn controlled the actions of the card reader. Eventually, as in a conjurer's trick, the deck was reassembled; pink and white cards alternated. Ada retrieved the deck and disengaged the clutch. She emerged and handed the cards to Taylor, Sir Charles' butler, who pinned them in pairs to a corkboard.
The curious guests crowded in.
Ada was disappointed to find that not William, but Sir Charles, would be her partner. A human hostess might have divined how things stood, and taken pity upon her! Moreover, she had secretly hoped that Sir Charles would escort her mother. . . She glanced again at the board. William would be taking in Lady Susan Atwater--whoever she might be. And Martha was paired with Mr. Bradthwaite, the handsome young master-mechanic who had been in charge of duplicating the parts for the Logic Mill.
Well, it had been a first experiment, and though she and Martha had spent many hours devising the questionnaire, she had to admit that such questions as could respectably be asked were more suited to identifying a dinner partner than a lover. And it was undoubtedly flattering to be publicly paired--by his own invention--with the great Sir Charles!
The gentlemen milled around searching for their partners.
Ada stood apart, watching William, and keeping an eye out for her selected rival. Lady Susan proved to be a mouse-haired, shortsighted little woman, perhaps forty-five years old, whose posture suggested much time stooped over a writing desk. Ada allowed herself to relax, and took Sir Charles' proffered arm.
During the fish course, there was a hush in the conversation. In a voice that carried for the full length of the table, Lady Susan exclaimed: "William! William King! It is you, is it not? Since when have you been going by 'Ockham'?"
There was a buzz of voices, and some laughter. Ada felt a flash of regret. The romance of a lover with a secret identity had appealed to her greatly. Her mother sat silent for a few moments, as pale as if she had seen a ghost, then returned to the conversation as if nothing had happened. Ada's attention wandered to Martha, who was in intimate conversation with Mr. Bradthwaite. That pairing, at least, seemed quite successful.
After the meal, in the ballroom, Ada was pondering a happy dilemma: should she go and search out William first, or take Martha aside for a few minutes and invoke her right as friend and matchmaker to hear everything? Her reveries were interrupted by a rough hand on her arm. She turned, surprised: it was her mother.
"Ada!" her mother said in a low but terrible voice. "You must come with me immediately!"
"Ada, I will not accept any argument!" She propelled Ada toward the door. "Taylor!"
"Please convey my apologies to Sir Charles, and inform him that I find myself unwell, and require my daughter's assistance. And be so good as to inform Mr. Ockham that he may lodge at the Railway Arms tonight. The servants will bring his trunks in the morning in time for the London train."
Taylor's eyebrows rose the slightest fraction of an inch. "Very good, madam."
Lady Byron bustled Ada into the carriage. "Home, Simpson!" she gasped.
"What does this mean, Mamma?" Ada asked, trying not to weep.
"It means that your father's sins have found us out, my child."
"What sins? And why are you sending William away?"
"'William', is it? So it is true! God knows his family have reason to hate ours, but to stoop to such villainy!"
"What villainy? He is the finest, cleverest, noblest--" The sting of the Baroness's hand on her cheek cut her off.
"Listen, child!" her mother cried. "Your father, as the whole world knows, was a rakehell since his youth, and--but for your birth--I regret the day I first saw the scoundrel. In the same year that he proposed marriage to me, he seduced the aunt of your Mr. King, then abandoned her. The poor girl left the country, and, they say, threw herself off a bridge in Paris. I learned of this ten years ago through a mutual acquaintance, who warned me that her sister had plans for revenge--but, fool that I was, I thought no more of it."
"But, Mamma. . ."
"And now she sends her brat, skulking under an alias, to enter my household under false pretenses. Undoubtedly with the intention of treating you, my poor child, as your father treated the other girl. Whatever the provocation, it is infamous! Infamous!" And the Baroness wept too hard to speak.
Ada sat silently, wondering which of her parents she hated the most.
For three weeks Ada was in misery. Surely a few words with William would explain everything? But where could she find him? He had never told her where he lived. She sent telegrams, took daylong train journeys on rumors; but to no avail.
Why did he not come to her, or at least write? Could it be true that he had been planning her ruin and, balked of that, had no further interest in her? No, it was impossible.
Or was it? Certainly her father had given William's family ample cause to hate hers. Like the Montagues and the Capulets. O William, William!
She had to know. She had to find him.
But how to find one man in the hubbub of London, knowing only a train time, a university, and a family name? For the thousandth time she cursed her father. Her family was unwelcome in Society: she had no London friends to ask. Instead, she perused the London Postal-Index and Bradshaw's Railway Guide. She found and searched Debrett's Peerage, the Register of London Clubs, and Gore's Index of Oxford and Cambridge Graduates.
Finally she had a list of almost three dozen gentlemen, and a bewildering stack of contradictory data. Was there an answer if she supposed one error somewhere? Two? All morning she drew up tables and made and erased marks on them, until her complexion was equal parts tears and lead pencil. Finally she decided that it was time to call upon Sir Charles.
She washed her face, found Martha, and left the house full of trepidation. Mamma would be livid if she found out. Was she putting her precious access to Netherville Hall and the Engine at risk? She had to risk it.
"Certainly, my dear girl," said Sir Charles. "The Engine is entirely at your disposal."
For two days, she and Martha sat at Sir Charles' parlor table and punched clues onto cards. This hole stood for a deceased aunt, that for the Savant's Club; if he was the Viscount, then he was not the cricketer; if a Trinity-college man, then either the aeronaut or the poet. So many unknowns!
Eventually the deck was prepared. Ada stood there, wringing her handkerchief into a rag, while the Logic Mill sorted, compared, and eliminated cards. Finally one card appeared in the output tray. Hardly daring to breathe, Ada picked it up. Penciled onto it, in Martha's neat drafting hand, was an address in Russell-square, Bloomsbury.
She left Martha to halt the Engine and rode home, clutching the precious card. Once in her boudoir, she took up her pen. "Dearest William," she wrote. "Since you left, my life has been misery. . ." She continued for some lines, ending "I shall come up to Town tomorrow. If you love your Ada, meet me at noon at"--she perused the Vade-Mecum--"the Star Inn, Lamb's Conduit street." She signed it, and kissed the letter; then sealed the envelope, and rode into town. At the post office, the clerk rolled the letter into a pneumatic cylinder, filled out the routing-label, and fed the cylinder into the tube. It departed with a thunk, to arrive in London within an hour.
When Ada reached the Star, she found that it was no longer the genteel hostelry that the ten-year-old Vade-Mecum had described. The customers were rough, and the air smelled of sour beer and worse. As Ada entered a man in a dirty coat leered at her. "How d'ye do, my pretty?"
She pushed hurriedly by him, and glanced at her watch. It was still ten minutes to the hour, so she purchased a glass of sherry and found a table with two chairs. She sipped, grimaced, and put the wine aside. Was William coming? Her pocket-watch seemed to have stopped.
Finally a church clock chimed. On the last stroke of noon, a handsome iron-haired woman stepped through the door, looked around for an instant, and strode briskly toward her.
"I'm sorry, Madam, but this seat is. . ." Ada began.
"No, it is not," the stranger said. "Are you Miss Byron?"
"Yes, Madam. You have the advantage of me."
"My name is King, Elizabeth King. I have intercepted your shameless letter to my son, who will not meet you here or anywhere else. It would be best, Miss Byron, if our families remained well apart."
How dare she? "I will thank you, Madam, not to talk of my family in such a way!"
"How else shall I talk of the family of a wretch who seduced and ruined my sister--and, before that, his own?"
There was a deathly silence in the bar. Drink and cards were put aside, in the hopes of seeing two women--not slatterns but fine ladies--fighting. Bets were made in whispers, money laid down.
Ada gripped the edge of the table. "Madam, I must ask you to withdraw that remark."
"I shall not; and if I did, your father would be none the less of a scoundrel, a seducer, and a damned poxed rakehell. I demand satisfaction for both his behavior and yours."
Ada was white-lipped and beyond caution. The insult to her family was the spark; that this termagant was keeping William from her, the fuel. "So you fancy yourself as a sabreuse, then?"
"I shall be pleased to use that weapon to write my indignation upon your painted face."
Ada smiled sweetly. "I regret, Madam, that I am not old enough to remember when paint was last the fashion."
The names of seconds were exchanged. Mrs. King swept out of the room, to catcalls from the disappointed onlookers. Ada waited a minute and made her own exit, taking care to step hard on the toes of the lout who had spoken insolently to her earlier.
The salle d'armes smelled of whitewash and vinegar.
"Maitre?" Ada said.
James Rumbolt looked up from scrubbing red marking-chalk off a pile of white canvas fencing jackets. "Byron! What brings ye here? Ye don't have a lesson today."
"Have you ever heard of a sabreuse by the name of Elizabeth King? In London?"
"King. Sounds familiar. Aye! Won a few tournaments, twenty-five years since. Hasn't competed lately that I've heard."
"Really?" Maybe there was hope.
"More of a scrapper now. See her name in the Sporting Gazette sometimes. Duels, y' know." He shook his head. "Bad business, dueling. Parliament should ban it. Brings a fine sport into disrepute." He looked at her suspiciously. "Why d'ye ask?
Ada's stomach tightened. So the old malkin was a seasoned duelist, and Mr. Rumbolt was not about to help her. "Oh, nothing, Maitre. Curiosity, no more. Good day." She curtseyed and left.
How had she got into this predicament? If she lost, she might be dead, or disfigured. If she injured or killed William's mother, how could she ever face him again? And she had never fought with sharp weapons. To whom could she go for advice? There was nobody.
She bit her lip. Yes, there was somebody. Somebody whose dissolute life could only have been preserved through expert swordsmanship, somebody who must have fought outraged husbands and brothers on many occasions. But she would rather die than go to him for anything.
Except that was not a figure of speech anymore: the possibility of death was all too real. And--if only she could somehow find William, and win him back--she had so much to live for.
If she couldn't. . . She put the thought from her.
"I should like to send a telegram to Venice, miss. In how many hours may I expect a response?"
"That depends, ma'am," said the telegraph clerk. "If the weather be fair at Dover, the Channel heliograph is maybe ten minutes for a short message. They can't send as fast as we can, you know, for the shutters are so heavy. But if there's fog on the Channel, why, then you must wait for the Calais mail packet, and that's five hours. Be you expecting a reply?"
"By this evening, or it is of no use to me." Ada drummed her fingers on the desk.
"Then you'd best have your message off sharpish, ma'am, if you're wanting your answer today." The clerk looked curiously at the slip of paper as she counted the characters, but, as Ada had intended, could make little of the words:
'CHER PAPA STOP VAIS BATTRE CONTRE MME KING EN DUEL DEMAIN STOP ELLE SEMBLE EXPERTE CONSEILLE SVP STOP TA FILLE ADA'
['Dear Father. Will duel against Mrs. King tomorrow. She seems expert. Please advise. Your daughter, Ada.']
"Miss Hawbury, let me ask one more time," asked Martha. "Will your friend admit an amicable resolution of this matter?"
The woman addressed glanced at her principal. There was a headshake so slight that a micrometer might have measured it. "I regret, Miss Sidebottom, that that is impossible."
Ada and Mrs. King slipped off their heavy coats, and stood in plain freshly boiled chemises and white linen petticoats. Each second fitted her principal with a leather glove, a pair of brass-cased railway man's goggles, and a wide black bull's-hide collar, carefully buckled at the back of the neck. Together, they scuffed one line on the packed earth of the linden walk, measured five paces, and scuffed another. Then they stepped aside, and the combatants stood to the marks.
Martha opened the long black box--was it cold that caused her to fumble the catch--and wordlessly offered its contents. Ada withdrew the shop-new lady's dueling saber and hefted it once more. The thin blade glinted wickedly in the chilly dawn sunlight.
She regarded her opponent critically. King was a seasoned duelist. She was not. Her eyes and throat were protected, but her opponent's blade could slice her cheek or breast like butter, scarring her for life; the point could spit her like a chicken. She did not want Martha to see her die. She had heard somewhere that not one in twenty female duelists was killed outright, that the saber was less deadly than the rapier favored by men, but was it true? Should she have swallowed her pride and stayed away? Would William be angry if he knew? Her mouth was dry, and she was sure that every woman there could see her sword hand trembling. She took a deep breath and brought her thoughts back into focus.
"Mesdames! En garde. . ." called Miss Hawbury, in an accent that had surely never seen France. They saluted each other, then took up the starting position, hands low, blades vertical. "Etes-vous prÍtes? Allez!"
For a moment neither moved. Remember, this is not fencing, thought Ada. Simultaneous hits would be a very poor outcome indeed.
Mrs. King took a slow careful step forward that exploded into a lightning-swift lunge, and launched a vicious cut towards Ada's left cheek.
Ada moved her guard from right to left, and the blades clashed; but before she could riposte, King's blade was coming at her face again, this time from the right. Somehow she blocked it, raw fear giving her speed.
After two more lightning-quick cuts, each barely parried, King stepped back out of range with a thin-lipped smile.
Ada followed her opponent's eyes. Rumbolt was right: she is good. What will she do next? She will try for my face again. But she will try to surprise me. What will she use? A compound attack? Too hazardous. A feint-disengage?
A moment later King attacked again; she cut toward Ada's cheek, then suddenly changed her line so that the blade menaced Ada's forehead instead.
But Ada was ready; her guard had moved high, and the steel rang. There was no room for a safe remise: King stepped smartly back.
As she did so, Ada flicked down at her forearm. The stroke was clumsy, almost out of range, and the blade hit flat and harmlessly; but she saw the flicker of apprehension on King's face. Words from her father's lengthy reply came to her: Blood comes first, pain later. She will know that. Seize the moment.
King glanced down at her unscathed arm.
In that moment of distraction, Ada was already lunging. The distance was long, but the tip of her blade slashed sideways across King's right shoulder, leaving a cut four inches long in the older woman's chemise. A moment later, the linen turned red, as if King wore a rose at her breast.
King gasped, took two steps back, and pressed her left hand to the wound.
"Well, madam?' Ada said, her tongue almost sticking to her dry mouth. "Have I, have I provided you with the satisfaction for which you came?"
King cautiously moved her arm, and winced. "I suppose that I must be satisfied, Miss Byron, as I doubt if I shall wield a sword again for several weeks. May I say, without offence, that you appear to be your father's true daughter as a duelist, at least?" She wiped blood from her ungloved left hand and offered it.
"I thank you, Mrs. King. But I have been told that in most regards I take after my mother." Ada grasped King's hand and found it no steadier than her own.
Hawbury gently slipped the shift from King's shoulder, and began to clean the cut.
King grimaced as the antiseptic hit the raw flesh. Finally the wound was sutured and bandaged, and both duelists huddled in their coats against the dawn chill.
Martha brought the sword case, and Ada made to lay her saber into it.
"God's wounds, girl, clean that sword before you put it away!" said King. "That's decent steel. Don't let it rust."
Ada would have returned home directly, but Mrs. King would hear nothing of it. "Psha, honor's satisfied, girl. I have coffee ordered at the Three Bells, a mile from here. Since we shan't be settling anything more with swords today, I think that we had better talk."
The half-timbered inn was as comfortable as the Star had been disagreeable, with a blazing wood fire in the snuggery to dispel the morning chill. Mrs. King directed the seconds to one table, and Ada, with herself, to another.
Over coffee, Mrs. King explained. "Ever since that ball of Worcester's, my son has been infatuated with you, God knows why. With things as they had been with your father and poor Frances, you will understand that I did not encourage him."
"So you did not send him, then?"
"Hell's gates, no! In April he disappeared, leaving nothing but a note saying that he was off looking for you. He was showing a bit of spirit, and as like as not he would not have left his position had I told him to, so I said nothing."
"But then one day he arrived home by train, saying that it was all over and his heart was broken--that you had been leading him on and then thrown him over to please your mother. And when you came looking for him all over again--perhaps it was impetuous of me, but as it was not the first affront from your family to mine. . ."
"But, Mrs. King, that is not how it happened! My mother assumed the worst of him, and sent him away before I could speak to him. And I have been trying to find him ever since." Ada's eyes filled with tears. "You must understand that, knowing how things were, he never told me a thing about himself."
The older woman looked keenly at her. "Well! That does put a different face on things. Perhaps I have misjudged you, Miss Byron." She took a watch from her coat pocket. "But if you can tolerate my rough company for a few minutes more, I may be able to be of assistance to you."
"What do you mean, Mrs. King?"
"When I left this morning, I left word for William to meet me here at nine. Hawbury has business elsewhere, and," she waved her left hand towards her right shoulder, "one cannot always be one's own coachman."
Ada's heart was in her throat. "Oh! And how shall I face him after injuring you?"
"Miss Byron, I think my son knows me well enough. . ." She looked over Ada's shoulder towards the door of the snuggery. "William! There is a lady here with whom I believe you are already acquainted. An excellent swordswoman, as I have learned this morning."
"Mother! Have you been dueling again? Are you hurt--Ada!"
"Not seriously. My own fault, anyhow, as you will keep saying." This was interrupted by the clatter of a chair being knocked over as its occupant sprang to her feet, and a gasp of joy. "Go on, then, don't just stand there like a booby: kiss her, if you're going to."
But Ada was already in William's embrace. His cheek was as rough as sandpaper against hers: he must have ridden from home without shaving. His lips crushed hers hard enough to bruise. She pressed her thinly-clad body against him, and returned his kisses fiercely. With infinite tenderness that contrasted with his hungry lips, he caressed her back and shoulders.
From somewhere, a world away, she heard Mrs. King's voice: "You might take your time, you know; I do have this room for a full hour yet."