Fire atop the Institute – a note from the Master’s desk

This recounts the story of the night late last November that will live long in infamous memory to all present to witness. Whilst not about to advance your understanding of our studies here, it is nevertheless relevant to the life of the institute and bears telling, if only to show how human effort can overcome adversity.

It begins late one evening with Dunne, our man of all trades, sent roof-ward on an errand to adjust the aether condenser intake manifold. Achieving the crow’s nest he began winching in the sails to reduce the inflow as the aether ran in full and growing vigour, presenting danger to the Masters and Fellows at work below. With retrospect and a perhaps a judicious tap on the barometer, this could have been forestalled, the sails lowered early and danger averted.

A storm had gathered over a wild Irish sea, sweeping onto the Cheshire plain, with all the fury of the old gods dancing overhead. An angry Thorian bolt lashed from the sky, firing the rooftop and sweeping the unfortunate Dunne into the night, falling a full three storeys, into our prize winning rhododendron, Empire’s Gazumper (Rhodedendron Bardus), purple flowered and full scented. This incident of terror also produced a note of whimsy, as an apple Dunne had carried for sustenance took its own journey and alighted upon the spiked helmet of Count Otto von Raumstad. The Count, an Austro-Hungarian neo-mechanist and a strange person to find within an institute based on developing the learning’s of natural science, is not beloved of the student body and so much jocularity was enjoyed. Von Raumstad’s brows darkened and muttering imprecations in his native tongue, clicked his heels and marched away.

Our lighter moment over, thoughts turn back again to the flames dancing across the rooftop, immediate concerns were for the Bio-genetic Repositioning Faculty, where a puncture in our security provision could release a half complete specimen into the countryside. Already the village below was rousing, coming to our aid with buckets, and the optimism the lower orders have in the face of adversity. It would not do for them to be confronted by a half plant, half animal experiment lumbering toward them. Simple people they may be, but such as that would live long in their memory, and so it befalls their betters to protect their innocence on occasion.

Dunne was brushed down, steadied on his feet and dispatched back aloft along with the services of his boy and the chimney boy to assure the Institutes’ secrets and the confounding of the conflagration. Some moments later our heroic team could be seen, outlined silhouettes against a red-orange sky beating back with burning roof spars such creatures as had tried to make good their escape.

The Under-Master of Anatomy quickly aligned the fellows and the villagers into bucket chains to quench the blaze, it gladden the heart to watch the disparate classes working together with common aim for the good of all and the restoration of polite order. For after all as the House-Master remarked to me, watching as were, taking  tea under the arbour, “It is well for the fellows to work alongside the lesser classes that they may see fully their brutishness, that must be used, steered and driven as our maker intended”, something one would find hard to contend.

Napoleon reputedly said “When soldiers have been baptised in the fire of the battlefield they all have one rank in my eyes”, he was however a Corsican who wished to be thought of as French, which may tell all we should need to know.

Following several hours of honest endeavour the incident was closed, the Fellows sent to their beds, the Village thanked and dispatched with a tot of rum. Sterling work completed by our team aloft meant that nothing of an extraordinary nature was sighted from below and the experiments contained within the faculty. Sadly though not without exacting a toll, for three shadows became two as a semi-sentient tree, frantic with fear lashed out a palm frond claw pulling a smaller shape within, leaving a small scorched flat-cap to drift slowly downwards and rest upon the ground.

And so I to bed with orders given for an hour’s delay in the morrow’s breakfast service, some tidying and refurbishment to plan, all that remains is to collect a schilling from Dunne for a replacement rhododendron and initiate the search for a new chimney boy.

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