“What a fortunate coincidence.”
“You believe in fate?”
Leo gave her a crooked grin. “Impossible not to, living with Rohan and Merripen, don’t you think?”
Catherine smiled back, and shook her head. “I’m a skeptic. I believe fate is who we are and what we make of our chances. Go on … tell me about the professor.”
“I visited Professor Joseph often after that chance meeting, drawing and drafting and studying in his atelier.” He pronounced the surname the French way, with the stress on the second syllable. Pausing, he smiled in rueful reminiscence. “We often talked over glasses of chartreuse. I couldn’t abide the stuff.”
“What did you talk about?” came the soft question.
“Usually architecture. Professor Joseph had a pure view of it … that a small, perfectly designed cottage has as much value as a grand public edifice. And he spoke of things he’d never mentioned at the Académie; his sense of the connections between the physical and spiritual … that a perfect man-made creation, such as a painting, sculpture, or a building, could provide you with a moment of transcendence. Clarity. A key to unlock a glimpse of heaven.”
Leo paused as he glimpsed her troubled expression. “I’ve bored you. Forgive me.”
“No, it’s not that at all.” They walked in silence for nearly a half minute before Catherine burst out, “I’ve never really known you. You are overturning so much of what I assumed about you. It’s very disconcerting.”
“Does that mean you’re softening toward the idea of marrying me?”
“Not at all,” she said, and he grinned.
“You will,” he said. “You can’t resist my charms forever.” He guided her away from the park and onto a prosperous street of shops and businesses.
“Are you taking me to a haberdashery?” Catherine asked, viewing the windows and signs. “A flower shop? A book shop?”
“Here,” Leo said, stopping in front of a window. “What do you think of this place?”
She squinted at the printed sign hung inside the window. “Telescopes?” she asked in bewilderment. “You want me to take up astronomy?”
Leo turned her back to the window. “Continue reading.”
“‘Purveyors of camp, racecourse, opera, and perspective glasses,—” she read aloud, “‘by Her Majesty’s royal letters patent. Illuminated ocular examinations performed by Dr. Henry Schaeffer with modern devices for the purpose of scientific correction of vision acuity.—”
“Dr. Schaeffer is the finest oculist in London,” Leo said. “Some say in the world. He was a professor of astronomy at Trinity, when his work with lenses led him to an interest in the human eye. He was habilitated as an ophthamologist, and has made remarkable strides in the field. I made an appointment for you to see him.”
“But I don’t need the finest oculist in London,” she protested, puzzled that Leo would have gone to such lengths.
“Come, Marks,” he said, drawing her to the door. “It’s time for you to have proper spectacles.”
The interior of the shop was intriguing, lined with shelves of telescopes, magnifying glasses, binoculars, stereoscope instruments, and all manner of eyeglasses. A pleasant young clerk greeted them and went to fetch Dr. Schaeffer. The doctor came out very soon, displaying an expansive and jovial temperament. A handsome set of white whiskers framed his pink cheeks, and a thick snowy mustache curved upward when he smiled.
Schaeffer showed them around his shop, pausing to demonstrate a stereoscope and explain how the illusion of depth was created. “This instrument serves two purposes,” the doctor said, his eyes twinkling behind his own spectacle lenses. “First, the stereogram cards are sometimes of use in treating focusing disorders in certain patients. And second, they are helpful in entertaining high-spirited children.”
Catherine was cautious but willing as she and Leo followed Dr. Schaeffer to the rooms at the back of his shop. Whenever she had purchased spectacles in the past, the optician had simply brought out a tray of lenses, handed her various ones to hold up to her eyes, and when she felt she had obtained sufficient vision, he had proceeded to make spectacles for her.
Dr. Schaeffer, however, insisted on examining her eyes with a lens he called a “corneal loupe,” after putting drops into her eyes to dilate the pupils. After pronouncing that there were no signs of disease or degeneration, he asked her to read letters and numbers from a series of three charts on the wall. She was obliged to reread the charts with various strengths of lenses, until finally they achieved a near-miraculous clarity.
When it came time to discuss the frames for the lenses, Leo surprised both Catherine and Dr. Schaeffer by taking an active part. “The spectacles that Miss Marks wears at present,” Leo said, “leave a mark at the bridge of her nose.”
“The contour of the support arch must be adjusted,” the doctor said.
“Undoubtedly.” Leo withdrew a slip of paper from the pocket of his coat and placed it on the table. “However, I have a few more ideas. What if the bridge is built up to hold the lenses a bit farther away from her face?”
“You’re thinking of a design similar to the clips of a pince-nez?” Schaeffer asked thoughtfully.
“Yes, they would fit more comfortably and also stay in place.”
Schaeffer stared closely at the sketch Leo had given him. “You’ve drawn curved earpieces, I see. An unusual feature.”