"Now. Please" She tugged impatiently on his arm. "Oh, Kev, don't say no."
As Merripen looked down at her, he was so handsome that she felt a pleasant little ache at the pit of her stomach. "How could I say no to you?" he asked softly.
As he took her to the towering arched entrance of the Crystal Palace, and paid a shilling each for their admission, Win gazed at her surroundings in awe. The driving force behind the exhibition of industrial design had been Prince Albert, a man of vision and wisdom. According to the tiny printed map that was given out with the tickets, the building itself was constructed of over a thousand iron columns, and three hundred thousand panes of glass. Parts of it were tall enough to encompass full-grown elm trees. All totaled, there were one hundred thousand exhibits from around the world.
The exhibition was important in a social sense as well as a scientific one. It provided an opportunity for all classes and regions, the high and low, to mingle freely beneath one roof in a way that seldom happened. People of all manner of dress and appearance crowded inside the building.
A fashionably dressed gathering waited at the transept, or central cross-section, of the Crystal Palace. None of them seemed to take an interest in their surroundings. "What are those people waiting for?" she asked.
"Nothing," Merripen replied. "They're only here to be seen. There was a similar group when I was here before. They don't go to any of the exhibits. They merely stand there preening."
Win laughed. "Well, should we stand nearby and pretend to admire them, or shall we go look at something really interesting?"
Merripen handed her the little map.
After scrutinizing the list of courts and displays, Win said decisively, "Fabrics and textiles."
He escorted her through a crowded glass hallway into a room of astonishing size and breadth. The air chattered with the sounds of looms and textile machinery, with carpet bales arranged around the room and down the center. Scents of wool and dye made the atmosphere acrid and lightly pungent. Goods from Kidderminster, America, Spain, France, the Orient, filled the room with a rainbow of hues and textures… natweave, knotted pile and cut pile, looped, hooked, embroidered, braided… Win removed her gloves and ran her hands over the gorgeous offerings.
"Merripen, look at this!" she exclaimed. "It's a Wilton carpet. Similar to Brussels, but the pile is sheared. It feels like velvet, doesn't it?"
The manufacturer's representative, who was standing nearby, said, " Wilton is becoming much more affordable, now that we are able to produce it on steam-powered looms."
"Where is the factory located?" Merripen asked, running a bare hand over the soft carpet pile. " Kidderminster, I assume?"
"There, and another in Glasgow."
As the men conversed about the production of carpet on the new looms, Win wandered farther along the rows of samples and displays. There were more machines, bewildering in their size and complexity, some made to weave fabrics, some to print patterns, some to spin tufts of wool into yarn and worsted. One of them was used in a demonstration of how stuffing mattresses and pillows would someday be mechanized.
Watching in fascination, Win was aware of Merripen coming to stand beside her. "One wonders if everything in the world will eventually be done by machine," she told him.
He smiled slightly. "If we had time, I would take you to the agricultural exhibits. A man can grow twice as much food with a fraction of the time and labor it would take to do by hand. We've already acquired a threshing machine for the Ramsay estate tenants… I'll show it to you when we go there."
"You approve of these technological advances?" Win asked with a touch of surprise.
"Yes, why wouldn't I?"
"The Rom doesn't believe in such things."
He shrugged. "Regardless of what the Rom believes, I can't ignore progress that will improve life for every-one else. Mechanization will make it easier for common people to afford clothing, food, soap… even a caipet for the floor."
"But what about the men who will lose their livelihood when a machine takes their place?"
"New industries and more jobs are being created. Why put a man to work doing mindless tasks instead of educating him to do something more?"
Win smiled. "You speak like a reformist," she whispered impishly.
"Economic change is always accompanied by social change. No one can stop that."
What an adept mind he had, Win thought. Her father would have been pleased by how his Gypsy foundling had turned out.
"A large workforce will be required to support all this industry," she commented. "Do you suppose a sufficient number of country people would be willing to move to London and the other places that-"
She was interrupted by an explosive puff and a few cries of surprise from the visitors around them. A thick, startling flurry of down filled the air in a choking gust. It seemed the pillow-stuffing machine had malfunctioned, sending eddies of feathers and down over everyone in sight.
Reacting swiftly, Merripen stripped off his coat and pulled it over Win, and clamped a handkerchief over her mouth and nose. "Breathe through this," he muttered, and hauled her through the room. The crowd was scattering, some people coughing, some swearing, some laughing, as great volumes of fluffy white down settled over the scene. There were cries of delight from children who had come from the next room, dancing and hopping to try to catch the elusive floating clumps.