Okay, so, I didn't start reading early - I swear, Bill! - but I did peek inside the book while waiting for the all-clear signal. The title of the first "iteration" of The Difference Engine is "The Angel of Goliad." What's Goliad, you ask? Okay, that's what I asked. Anyways. It's a town in Texas. The only thing it seems to have going for it is a pretty sad-looking massacre in 1836. (No, really.)
Now, being Canadian and thus oblivious to all those dirty little political skirmishes my neighbours down south still hold grudges over, I didn't actually know that Mexico tried to invade Texas. It's not exactly something you'd expect -- what's so interesting about Texas? (Other than that every single town claims to be a different "capital of the world" - cowboy, live music, pecan? Leap Year?! Killer Bee! I guess it's not the worst marketing strategy I've ever seen. But it is pretty atrocious.)
Trust the Mexicans not to be killin' Yankees for the sake of killin' Yankees. Goliad is where the first declaration of independence for the Republic of Texas was signed - the Americans had actually captured it from the Mexicans a year earlier than the Massacre, and held it up until that point. In March of '36, the Mexicans reclaimed it and did a rather ungentlemanly thing: they declared all the surrendered prisoners "pirates" and slaughtered them. Not cool, Mexico.
Then there was a bit of back-and-forthing until the Texan army won the Battle of San Jacinto and drove the Mexicans back. Thus was the Lone Star State - err, Republic -- born.
So the Angel of Goliad is.... a woman named Francisca Alvarez. She was the wife of a Mexican officer and traveled with his army, but tended wounded soldiers on both sides of the battles she saw. She earned her moniker by freeing ten Texan soldiers who were to be shot after Goliad was surrendered. In typical flowery prose, one of the men she rescued wrote of her:
Her name deserves to be recorded in letters of gold among the angels who have from time to time been commissioned by an overruling and beneficient power to relieve the sorrow and cheer the hearts Of men; and who have, for that purpose, been given the form of helpless women. (Source.)What a charmer.
Anyways, that's today's history lesson. What London in 1850 has to do with a mysterious Mexican flower-woman is anyone's guess.