Short Story written for a Final assignment for Writing Fiction. I was sadly limited on page length and had to improvise to include information I wanted. I plan on coming back and extending this piece in many many ways. I am pleased with the potential this piece carries and look forward to progressing with it.
Author’s Note: You wouldn’t believe how many things I did reading up on just for this story! I researched breeds of hybrid perpetual roses during the Victorian era and what colors were around during the time, I researched lighter-than-air gasses, refreshed knowledge of the British Royal Navy pre 20th Century, Great Western Railway, growing industries specific to Britain during the Victorian era, a variety of locations, and social etiquettes among the long list. Foxcroft was inspired by The Cleeve hunting lodge.
This is my first attempt at anything in the Victorian era leaning towards Steampunk with dimensional travel. I was short on time on doing too much more research to flesh this out fully. I hope it entertains at least!
Business as Usual
“Mother, please, is this really necessary?” Cordelia Dawkins managed to breathe the words out as the long corset was wrenched tight around her bones. On came the layers of fitted clothing; stockings, bloomers, chemise, petticoats, corset, gloves, and the heavy dress with its high pinned collar.
“The skirt is situated too high, I can see her petticoats sticking out from under it, pull it down.” Mrs. Alice Dawkins instructed the maid who was dressing Cordelia.
“Yes Cordelia, it is necessary. Mr. Mortimer’s family is well connected inLondonand you would do well to marry him. I really don’t think you’ll manage to attract a better man, truth be told. Just think what that kind of connection could do for your father’s cotton factory? He might even be able to expand his business.”
“Business as usual I see.” Cordelia could not hide the scowl that crept across her face.
“You’re sister was married shortly after her coming out in society and you’ve been out for nearly two years now!”
“I’m nineteen! That’s hardly spinsterhood.”
“I’ve been patient in allowing you some time but it seems you’re just not happy with any man that comes courting! Now Mr. Mortimer is a good match, and luckily for you he is still interested in pursuing you. You will be amiable with him.”
Cordelia tugged at her collar, trying to loosen it from her neck.
“But he just seems so cold! If he’s interested, I’m certainly not seeing it.”
“From what I’ve heard from your father he is very interested.”
“What did he say?” Cordelia’s hands stopped their uncomfortable fidgeting with the dress and her hazel eyes widened in dread.
Mrs. Dawkins grinned slyly. “Perhaps you’ll find out today. He spoke to your father on his last visit toBristolto see you.”
“I hope you don’t mean…”
“He just might today.”
“No! Can’t I say no? The world is changing mother! Can’t I have a chance to see some of it before I’m stuck married for the rest of my life? What if I don’t want to marry him?”
The scathing glare from Mrs. Dawkins could have ignited the dark drapes behind Cordelia had she turned her gaze on them.
“Next you’re going to tell me you want to vote too.”
Sheepishly Cordelia cast her eyes to the floor. “What’s wrong with wanting to vote?”
Mrs. Dawkins lips turned into a thin line.
“If Robert Mortimer proposes marriage today you will say yes. There will be no further discussion.” She turned sharply on her heel and headed for the door. She paused and gazed down where Cordelia had left her needlepoint resting on a chair. The partially completed bouquet of flowers looked as if they were wilting rather than in full bloom and threads stuck out haphazardly from the fabric.
“Cordelia, another thing.”
Cordelia lifted her eyes up from the floor.
“For Heaven’s sake, please keep your needlepoint put away today. We don’t want your potential husband knowing how ghastly you are at it.” With that said, Mrs. Dawkins was gone behind the mahogany door.
Despite her mother’s absence, Cordelia furtively reached into the hidden pocket she had sewn in the seam of her dress. She’d sewn hidden pockets inside all of her skirts and dresses, to hold her single respite. Out came the ivory pocket book, the front carved with a spray of wildflowers and each page stamped with a blank leaf for writing in the date. Cordelia pulled a tiny pencil from its sleeve in the book and wrote down a new entry.
19 June 1894 ~ Bristol
Mother insists my needlepoint is horrid. Luckily hasn’t discovered my knack for real sewing! A gift I will be ever grateful for from Aunt Charlotte. Mother would say it’s “maid’s work” though. I much prefer it rather than that ridiculously dainty excuse for a “lady’s” hobby. Moody Mortimer is on his way today. News doesn’t bode well… will write more later.
They had been strolling through the manicured garden of the Dawkins’ home for twenty minutes and the boiling pit in Cordelia’s stomach only worsened as each minute passed. The roses were in their full summer bloom, heady and sickeningly sweet. The heat was stifling and the parasol did little to ease her discomfort. The hat pinned precariously on Cordelia’s carefully coiled golden-brown hair wasn’t helping the matter at all either.
Cordelia was in the midst of mentally composing her next journal entry. It comprised all the irritating details about her suitor that she despised. His cold indifference as if he had somewhere else he’d rather be, the neatly parted line in his dark hair, his groomed goatee, the constantly spotless shoes and creaseless suit.
He’s just too squeaky clean. Something’s not right with the man. She finished off her mental composition.
“It is lovely, is it not?” Robert paused in their stroll, reaching the heart of the garden.
Cordelia turned her head towards her suitor, confused and slightly startled. He had been monotone the entire visit so far, blandly speaking of the developing fashion trends inLondon. Making conversation as if he felt she would be interested in such things. Now, however, his eyes were fastened upon a particular pink rose that was the crowning piece in the garden. A Duchess surrounded by her pale ladies.
“Mother and Father are very proud of it, yes.” Cordelia responded politely. The garden irritated her. It wasn’t that she didn’t like flowers and plants she just had a hard time appreciating something that she saw as controlled by her parents. Robert knelt to touch a bloom on the fragrant rose, layers of petals beneath his fingertips.
“It’s rather impressive, to think of the process behind raising and caring for a specimen such as this. Day in and out spent watering and feeding it minerals, protecting it against sickness, so that it may one day flourish like this.” His stoic features softened, betraying a faint frown and worry lines etched in his face. Robert cleared his throat and stood back up turning to face Cordelia. The emotionless mask had returned. He straightened his vest and fiddled with something in his coat pocket.
Oh no, here it comes. Cordelia drew a tight breath. Her mother did not chaperone the visit in person today but she was keeping a watchful eye from the parlor window. Without looking Cordelia knew the grin was growing on her mother’s face.
He knelt down on one knee on the swept pavestone path, he had one hand raised open in invitation.
“Miss Cordelia Abigail Dawkins, I, Robert James Mortimer, ask if you will join me in marriage and become my wife. It would do me great honor.”
Cordelia released the breath she was holding and looked down at his open hand. She placed her left gloved hand in his, tremulous.
“Yes, yes I will,” She said softly. Robert procured the engagement ring and placed it on her finger. He sealed the deal with a courteous kiss on the back of her hand before standing. With her hand in his, he led her back to the house to officially announce the news to her parents. The dressmaker was already on the way there to take Cordelia’s measurements for her wedding gown.
19 June 1894 ~ Bristol
Doomed to marry Mysterious Moody Mortimer. Parents are sending me off to my Aunt and Uncle’s house until the wedding. At least I’ll be away from here for a little. Note to self: Embroider gargoyles on all of our pillows after the wedding.
A Visit to Foxcroft
“You know your mother wasn’t very thrilled about her marriage to your father. My goodness you should have seen her on her wedding day. Wearing our mother’s dress with a look on her face as if she was hoping the sky would fall down on her instead. Anything but get married. She wasn’t as fortunate as being able to marry strictly for love like I was. But look at your parents now; they seem rather comfortable in their life together. Perhaps you’ll be lucky, and your Mr. Mortimer won’t be all bad.” Aunt Charlotte smiled sweetly, her face folding into the gentle lines around her eyes.
“Thank you, perhaps you’re right.” Cordelia finished off her breakfast with a final sip of her tea. She was grateful to finally be able to feel her behind again between the long train ride and what seemed to be an even longer carriage ride yesterday to Foxcroft, nestled in Hawkcombe Woods.
“I was thinking I might go out into the woods today Aunt Charlotte, like I used to. I don’t know when I’ll be able to visit again after all.”
Her aunt gave her a playfully suspicious glance over the edge of her own tea cup.
“On one condition, you don’t go climbing up into the trees just like you used to. I can’t even count how many times I repaired your dresses and stockings so your mother wouldn’t know. Your uncle has gone to the village today to tend to business and won’t be back until supper. I suggest you be back before dark deary.”
Cordelia was out of the dining room before her aunt had even set her cup back down.
21 June 1894 ~ Foxcroft & Burning Village
One moment I was on the deer path in the woods, heading back to Foxcroft as the sun was setting, and the next I was Here! I don’t even know where here is. It looks like a small village but it certainly isn’t Porlock by Foxcroft. They’ve been attacked. Goodness…there are so many injured… and even more dead. There is something approaching, in the sky, something large. It’s hard to make out in the fading twilight. I’m writing this in the smoldering fires of what was once someone’s home. There are children crying. This is awful… It almost looks like a ship! Where on Earth am I?
His Royal Majesty’s Airship Oberon
“Blackmore, you’ve got to talk to the captain! I’m worried with the extra weight we’ve got on board that any battle maneuvers we are going to have to pull are going to be a strain. I don’t know if the engines and rigging will be able to handle it.” A voice whispered hoarsely in the dark.
“I am not questioning the captain on this. He knows the risks involved, it’s his ship. They would have been killed had we left them on the ground.” A low voice calmly countered the angry complaint.
Cordelia’s eyes popped open, woken by the hushed argument. Her face rested against a woolen blanket on a lower deck of the airship. The dozen or so survivors from the attack slept fitfully around her. She lay nearest to the door and turned her head towards it so that she could better hear what was said. A faint light crept in beneath the crack of it as the two men outside neared it.
“If the Alamanni’s dreadnought overtakes us they will die anyways, if not worse! King’s orders were to take out Jormungandr not to pick up every refugee in its wake.”
“That is enough Tyrnan. I don’t want to hear another word out of you about this. You will do what you can to reinforce the lines and sails, keep the engines running, and make certain that the steam balloons hold. I will inform Captain Bo of your concerns.”
There was a long pause before the first man answered.
“Yes sir.” Tyrnan’s steps receded and Cordelia could hear him stepping below to the lower deck, where the hum from the engines emanated.
The door to the crowded chamber opened soundlessly and the ship’s first mate, Isaac Blackmore, peered inside. The lamp in his hand cast shadows across the walls as the door opened wider. His dark eyes met Cordelia’s. His brow furrowed slightly knowing she must have been privy to the conversation. He nodded his head gently towards her before closing the door and heading back to the upper deck.
1894 June 22 ~ On the H.M.A.S. Oberon, air bound
Early morning light creeping in the porthole to our room. Most everyone else is still sleeping, can’t say I blame them. An enemy country’s dreadnought has been attacking all of the small border villages it would seem.
In this country, where ever this strange place is, they have a King named Victor instead of a Queen named Victoria. Fancy that. So he’s been sending his airship fleet abroad to stop the scourge of these Alamanni forces. I don’t know how I got here but I know I can’t sit idle below the decks waiting for whatever is coming. I’m going to go up top and see if I can be of some use somehow. I should figure out how to get home… although, there is nothing I’m really looking forward to back there. Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Owen must be worried beyond sick at this point though.
The others are waking now, I should wrap this up. They told the captain I wasn’t from their village, so he pulled me aside once we were all aboard to question me. I think he wanted to make certain I wasn’t an Alamanni fighter of some sorts. I told him the truth. What else could I say? I don’t know if he believes me or not, but he did get very quiet when I said “England”. He’s a very intense man, serious. Although he must be compassionate despite how scary he seems, to take all of these people aboard when he could have discounted them as simply casualties of war and moved on.
Interesting item of note: That Isaac Blackmore is a very handsome gentleman, in a rugged kind of way. He helped me up onto the ship last night, strong hands. He smells like…sunshine and wind. Very different from Moody Mortimer. Robert is soft and polished, and smells like Macassar oil from slicking his hair. Blech!
I’ll write again later once I find out more about what’s going on.
The Price of Freedom
Captain Bo was willing to allow Cordelia to help if it was needed. There were women who were part of the crew so it wasn’t an extraordinary request to grant. He sent her to Blackmore to assess how she might be of use. Isaac crossed his arms over his chest when she approached saying that she wanted to help. He eyed her dubiously.
“What can you do then?”
“I can climb in storms and sew a tight stitch.” She replied without hesitation.
“And in a dress, no less?” His lips were beginning to curve upwards in a smile. Cordelia sensed mockery in his tone and defiantly placed her hands on her hips, lifting her chin upwards towards him.
“Better than you could.”
At this point Isaac broke into a chuckle, his arms relaxing.
“Well we can’t have you climbing in a dress around here. People might get the wrong idea. Boatswain Tyrnan could use an extra hand for his preparations. Tell him I sent you, and that you are to join his deck crew as a rigging monkey. He’ll get you proper attire and the supplies you need for the work that’s to be done. Good day Miss Dawkins.”
Tyrnan wasn’t very pleased when Cordelia approached him. He got her set up nonetheless and sent her up with one of the other rigging monkeys, a cheerful young boy namedDanvers, to show her the ropes and continue working on reinforcing the canvas sails and steam balloons. They had to work cautiously with the balloons on account of the heat produced. But the insulated clothing helped protect from the heat while still allowing agility for climbing. The engines below that fed the steam upwards through pipes were made to constantly boil, producing steam, and collect the condensation to boil back upwards again. It perpetuated itself so long as it was fueled.
The two of them were nearly finished with the reinforcements when something began to sting at Cordelia’s eyes. Smoke. There was smoke in the air in the direction they were heading. A town was burning in the distance. Farther off, the Jormungandr lie in wait for the Oberon to come nearer. She andDanvers climbed down from the rigging as the call for action stations rang out.Danvers headed off to his station and Cordelia approached Isaac as the crew around her settled into their positions on deck in readiness.
“What can I do?” Cordelia pulled off the insulated leather gloves and slipped them into the pouch at her waist that carried the large canvas needles and thread for the sails.
“Miss Dawkins, you’ve done more than enough,” Isaac began with a kind smile.
“Tyrnan is very impressed with what you’ve helped them get done. Right now though it’s best if you head below deck and stay with the refugees until we are clear of any danger. Captain Bo feels that we’re much closer now to the Jormungandr than before. The Alamanni’s heavy gunship has been operating cunningly, knowing we have the advantage in mobility. But it definitely outguns us. It’s been wreaking its destruction strategically, luring us in to where it wants us while we’ve been trying to catch up to it first.”
They were still thirty minutes away from even reaching the burning town but the anxious energy was building in everyone as they slowly moved closer. Cordelia took another look towards the havoc on the ground ahead and she was reminded of the smell of the village where the Oberon found her. The smell of fire as it burned through houses and bodies. The sounds of people screaming in agony as the flames charred their skin. She shuddered at the recollection.
“How long has your country been at war with Alamanni?” Cordelia voice was taut as she tried to push the memory away. Isaac watched her curiously and took a step closer.
“You’ve never seen death before, have you? Like this?”
“I can handle it!” Cordelia retorted, wiping the corner of her eyes.
“Yes. Yes, I see that you can. I’m surprised you held it together this long before it hit you.” He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder and leaned near her.
“Really?” Cordelia sniffed and wiped her eyes once more. Isaac nodded his head with a wide grin.
“Indeed! Considering you popped into existence here from where ever it is you come from, and landed inAlice Springsafter the attack I’d say you’ve held up courageously.”
“That’s my mother’s name,Alice…” Cordelia’s voice trailed off and looked up at him. Isaac lifted his hand from her shoulder and his gaze dropped to the deck before he spoke.
“I cried the first time I saw death, the kind of death the Alamanni have been causing in their quest for conquest. It started in their own country, my country, shortly before I was born. My parents were trying to flee here, to Brigantes because the Alamanni were killing off and terrorizing their own people in an attempt to reign down control. I was twelve at the time. My parents didn’t make it too far beyond the border when the first Alamanni airship was sent out to scout and attack, initiating the war.” He turned his gaze back to her. Cordelia’s mouth was agape with a hand across it.
“What did you do?”
“I grabbed a nag of a horse and rode for the capital, to join King Victor’s airship fleet. Here I am twelve years later, and taking out the Jormungandr marks the beginning of the end for us. It’s the break we’ve needed but it won’t be an easy fight.”
An explosion resounded in the air as a shot flew towards the Oberon from behind the corner of a cliff face. Isaac urgently pushed Cordelia towards the main cabin’s door and drew the pistol from his belt.
“Go Cordelia! Stay safe!” He slammed the door behind her.
The ship creaked as it was rapidly turned in the air to avoid direct contact with the cannon ball. Pistols and rifles were raised and turned towards the Jormungandr seeking open targets, deck guns were firing and the already open cannon ports flared to life as the Oberon retaliated fire. The ship shook from impact of the heavy shots of Jormungandr’s guns. The canvas of the sails snapped in the wind as the ship continued its maneuvers.
Cordelia watched the deck through the cabin’s window. She saw youngDanversmaking his way up the rigging and another shot rang through the air, shaking the boy’s grip on the ropes and he tumbled. Cordelia bounded out of the cabin and across the deck leaping up to the rigging.Danversprecariously hung upside down, a leg bound up in a line. He’d hit his ahead against a mast, knocking him unconscious. Cordelia grabbed a hold of him once she reached him and cut him loose with the small knife she’d been given with her tools. Once she reached the railing, another of Boatswain Tyrnan’s deck crew was there to take the boy from her arms. They set him down and reached out for her.
“Come on Miss Dawkins!”
She lost her footing and slipped off over the side into the open sky.
“Shh shh, quiet, she’s waking up.” Uncle Owen’s voice moved across Cordelia’s body. From the other side of her she could feel and hear her aunt gently crying. Antsy footsteps paced the floor below Cordelia’s feet. She slowly cracked open her eyes, the dim light from the lamps pierced into her brain and she closed her eyes with a groan.
“What happened?” she mumbled thickly, her mouth and throat felt dry.
“We found you in the woods last night. I thought a bear had gotten you! Oh darling Cordelia, I’m so glad you’re safe!” Aunt Charlotte leaned across the bedside to hold Cordelia’s hands.
“Don’t be ridiculousCharlotte. There are no wild bears inEngland.” Alice Dawkins’ voice sharply entered the exchange from the foot of the bed.
“Well from the looks of it she could have been attacked by a bear! She’s so bruised and scratched.”Charlottegently petted Cordelia’s hand. Cordelia opened her eyes once more, squinting at the light and tried to raise herself up. Her body felt stiff and was racked with aching pain.
“I don’t know what’s worse!”Alicecontinued her pace of the room, her eyes blazing.
“The fact that you disappeared for an entire day and show up in this condition or your fiancé caught seeing another woman inLondon!”
“He what?” Cordelia asked, taking the cup of water her aunt placed in her hands.Alicepursed her lips and threw her hands up in the air.
“Some woman named Madeleine! Apparently she’s the daughter of the Hadley’s ofLondon, very influential family, more so than the Mortimer’s. Turns out they’ve been keeping her out of the public eye because she’s sick with consumption. Of all things! Can you believe it? Your fiancé was dallying with a sick girl instead of paying respects to your family! I’ve had to call off the wedding. His family is in an outrage over this. Apparently he and this Madeleine girl have disappeared. Her family is pressing charges against him should they find him.” Her pacing increased as her agitation grew.
“He must love her…” Cordelia mused softly, taking a sip of the water and thinking back to Robert’s words in the garden.
“What did you say?”
“Oh nothing Mother.”
“Ruined! You are ruined because of him! He’s made a fool of you, of us! I don’t think any man in his right mind would marry you now! We can recover from this… I know we can… I just need to think! Perhaps Mackay’s son. We helped him last year with his workers perhaps he might be persuaded to consider a…”
“Mother! No!” Cordelia found her voice and moved to stand up from the bed.
“Excuse me?” Her mother paused in her pacing and stared at Cordelia aghast.
“I won’t do it! You can’t make me mother. You made poor Grace marry for yours and father’s ambitions but I’m not going to do it! Disown me, say I died, do whatever you feel you have to in order to maintain your appearance and prestige but you’ll do it without me.” Cordelia slammed the cup down on a table and stared her mother in the eye.
“Is that what you wish?”Alicetightened her jaw and watched as her daughter grew before her eyes.
“Freedom, mother, it’s what anyone would wish for. And if it means giving up my family so that I can lead the life I want to lead than I shall make the sacrifice and live without you. I love you and father, I always will. But I refuse to allow you to dictate how my future is going to be lived. There is so much more to life than marrying for money and status. Just because you were unhappy in your life doesn’t mean I have to be unhappy in mine. That’s not fair.”
Alice’s strength faltered and she sank into the nearest chair.
“Very well Cordelia, have it your way.”
27 June 1894 ~ Foxcroft, sitting under a tree Hawkcombe Woods.
My parents have left me alone for now. I don’t know when they’ll speak to me again. If they ever want to speak to me again that is. Aunt Charlotte has remained cheerful despite the current falling out with her sister, she’s always been happier out here in isolation and away from the politics of the cities. Charlotte and Owen never had any children of their own. They said they are happy to allow a place for me so long as I wish it.
Here I thought Robert Mortimer was heartless when it seems like perhaps he had just given his heart away to someone else already. His family forced him into the same situation mine did I’d gather. A sick girl can’t possibly bear strong children, his parents must have hated the idea when they found out he fancied her.
I don’t know yet what I’m going to do with myself. Maybe I’ll see if the Merchant Venturers Almshouse in Bristol can use an extra body. Listen to the tales of the old sailors.
It’s been three days since I was on the Oberon in Brigantes. What I would give to know how I ended up there and how I got back so I could find my way there once more. I wonder what happened… I do hope they succeeded in taking out the Jormungandr. It was looking pretty dire when I’d “left”. I hope Isaac is all right…
I’m certain it was real. I have these journal entries to prove it. There’s no way I possibly wrote them unconscious, that’s for certain. As the days pass it feels more like a dream though, slipping away from my grasp. There’s a patch of Forget-me-nots growing at the base of the tree I’m sitting under. I shall press one in these pages, as a reminder to not forget.
Forget-me-not ~ Forget-me-not ~ Forget-me-not.
A footstep fell gently in the brush behind the tree.
“So this is where you’ve been hiding? You could have at least left us with a map to find you Cordelia.” His low voice whispered in her ear.
“Isaac!” Cordelia slammed her journal shut and stood up in a rush to face him. He wrapped his arms around her and sighed in relief.
“I can’t even begin to tell you what I went through to find you, Miss Dawkins. You had me very worried.”
Cordelia beamed a smile up at him. His face bore a cut across one cheek, still red from healing. Concerned, Cordelia reached up to place a hand on his cheek.
“Well I expect to hear all about it on the way back to Oberon.”