Fountain’s Hall, Ripon
Wednesday, 23 rd October, 1850.
Krolia Marie Davidson was like as much the only woman in England who had hoped and prayed to god for nine long months that she failed to give her husband a son.
Girls after all, could not inherit wealthy estates or noble titles. They pursued matrimony under their parent’s approval and wishes, and their fortunes came at the blessing and whim of fathers, uncles, brothers and husbands. They made good marriages and disappeared into their new homes, and yet, given that she had been an accomplished girl from a young age, Krolia was unsurprised when she failed where any other woman would have hoped to succeed; in the early hours of the late October morn, she gave birth to a baby boy.
The lights were dim in her chambers, and the maids, doctor, and midwife had left her with her son some time ago. Beside her the tiny child slept in his swaddling blankets , completely blissful to his mother’s worries.
His hand was tiny around her finger, and she couldn’t help but stare in wonder. He was so small and harmless, and yet her father would consider his very existence the greatest of any crime if he ever found her marriage certificate, or her son’s birth records. She was perhaps foolish to keep them at all, but she refused to deny her son’s existence, in any means.
The sound of her bedroom door opening drew her from her gaze; sitting up as much as her tired body would let her upon sight of her father, Krolia pulled the infant into her arms as he made his way across the room towards them.
“Do you think so little of me that you think I would harm a baby Krolia?” He asked.
Krolia paused, before she finally looked her father in the eye; her grip on her son didn’t fade.
“Not yourself,” she said, quietly, lest she disturb the bundle in her arms. “And not unless you thought there to be something you would gain from it.”
Her father said nothing, merely letting out a sigh; he sat down at the edge of the bed, pulling back the swaddling to look at her son’s face, and push aside his black hair with a couple of fingers.
“He looks like you,” he mused. “Face shape, its like your mother’s,” he mused. “Have you named him yet?”
“Keith,” she said after a paused. “What do you want to talk about father?”
There was no chance that he had grown fond of his grandson in the sixteen hours it had taken to birth him. Zarkon Davidson, the 2nd Duke of Cumberland and 6th Earl of Ripon, was pleasant only when he wanted something, and wanted to be careful in assuring it.
He tucked the covers back around the boy, almost fondly, and his gaze fell stern and unrelenting back upon her. “I’ve been speaking to the Marquess,” he said. “He is still fond of you in spite of your situation, and is willing to take your hand still, for a slightly larger dowry, but that is only to be expected.”
Krolia tried to hush the flare of disgust that brewed in her at the mention of Sendak, but it was the same thing she had been trying to do for over a year now, the same thing that had led her here, and she could not do it.
If Krolia had been one of the many, many girls in the country who had peaceful, more content lives, then she would not be holding her son now, and he was perfectly good enough a reason to have no regrets in her decision on how she’d lived her life.
“Father, the very reason you have a grandson is because that man absolutely disgusts me; he is a cruel degenerate, and I can hardly stand to be in the same room as him, let alone share his bed and run his household,” she said, bluntly. “Why would I agree to that?”
“Because if you do not, I will have you taken to an asylum for hysteria and insanity, and you will never see that child again. He will be given to an orphanage. I will not have your mistakes advertising scandal in this house or on my name.”
The worry that had been brewing in her stomach faded. Scandal. His only concern was scandal? The relief she felt was perhaps what led to the laxness later on, laxness which had her hurrying for her son’s life through the estate grounds with Acxa, in a last desperate bid for freedom; now however, it was a balsam.
“I’d rather choke,” she said, wrinkling her nose a little. “If scandal is your concern, then turn me out to the moors right now. I told you before father - I do not care if he’s in intimate business dealings with you. He’s a horrible man, even Step-Mother cannot abide him…” she rambled, quieting her tone when her son fussed. “But…”
“If Mr. Darrens will allow me to take him with me, I might agree to it. Without my son, I refuse,” she said. “It is my only condition, but it is non-negotiable,” she said, her attention back to Keith.
He had opened his eyes and stared up at them both with the blue-violet hued eyes of her father’s family line, one she knew wouldn’t fade as he grew older. His fussing grew, and with another look at her father, more pointed, she watched him get to his feet.
“I’ll see your conditions are made clear to him,” he said simply. “Lotor wished to come in before I entered. I shall tell him to wait for your permission. He’ll be outside.”
Krolia nodded, and waited until her father was gone, before unfastening the front of her nightgown so that her son could nurse. It took some getting the hang of, and wasn't exactly comfortable, but she remembered the midwife’s advice, and half an hour later, her son was fed.
“You can come in now Lotor,” she called out.
There was some shuffling, scrambled, before her nine-year-old brother hurried into the room, clambering onto the bed with a little more care, thankfully. “Father said you had a little boy!” he cried out excitedly. “Is it true? I have a nephew?”
“Indeed,” she chuckled, shifting so that he could see the baby’s face. “This is Keith,” she said, shifting and gently arranging Lotor’s arms so that he could hold the tiny child.
Lotor’s face was astonished and inquisitive, filled with the childish curiosity and excitement for the responsibility being an older sibling had once entailed for her, when she was was ten years old, and her stepmother had given birth to the boy now holding her own son.
Krolia hoped that feeling would prompt in Lotor the same feelings it had prompted in her. She could only stall for time for so long, and until she could contact his father, there was no safety for him, but Heath was still on the boat, crossing from America, and she had no way to know when he would be back until she received his letter.
The moment was peaceful, but deep down, Krolia knew it for what it was – a uncertain, potentially hazardous waiting game, with her son’s future resting upon its outcome.
Fountain’s Hall, Ripon.
Wednesday, 21 st June, 1854.
Sendak Darrens was a hard face, square jawed braggart who, like her father was most well acquainted with the sound of his own voice, and lacked any of the shrivelled kindness or compassion that Krolia’s father held for his second wife.
He wanted things though, namely children. Else what was he collecting his lands and monies for? He certainly would not be minded to give any of his fortunes to charity.
He understood business well though; he knew that he needed to make sacrifices, and thus, he not only agreed to Krolia’s conditions, but added that he would adopt her son. Not in full, but he was guarantee his health and education, as long as she slept in his bed as he wished and bore him the children that would inherit his properties.
Krolia couldn’t say that was was something she wanted, but it was better than the result she had expected. Sendak did not, however wish for a wailing infant that was not his own. A child he would tolerate, but not a baby, so she had some time.
It passed quickly. Keith became older, and her father began to insist that she make her face again in public, courting Sendak as was proper in a long engagement. His talk was boring, and quite often he tried to press her attentions when her father deliberately left them alone. He cited that as she had already shamed herself once, before their own wedding shouldn’t matter. She threatened to stab his credentials with her hatpin, and the inclinations stopped.
On the nights and sometimes days she was away, her maid, a girl of her own age, a little younger, named Acxa, cared for her son. She had been her witness at her wedding, and Krolia trusted no one else to care for him in her absence.
He toddled now, running with the haphazard carefree ways that only young children could. He was learning words quickly, words she taught him herself, and despite the isolation her father imposed on him, he was happy.
He laughed and played when Lotor visited–he attended boarding school now– but wrote often, and always came to see his nephew when he came home. He was perhaps the only member of the family that was kind to her son in any form.
Krolia often wondered if he grandparents would have been so kind. Her grandfather had been a military man, and she hoped he would have approved of her husband with their shared background, though perhaps jokingly asked why she couldn’t have chosen a Navy man instead.
She would never be certain, as he had died before she met Heath. Amidst the parties she attended as Sendak’s fiancée, she thought of the letters from him in her room. She thought of their own meeting at the Compton family’s annual summer party, under the chandeliers and surrounded by the music of the violins.
It had been her second season in London, and for once she had agreed with her Stepmother on something; it really had been better to wait.
Sendak had tried courting her in her first season, after her court presentation. He had called almost immediately on her, but the thin woman who had poked and prodded her into adulthood had advised her to wait, to see if a better option came along – ‘you are a Duke’s daughter, even if you should not always act as such. At least wait, that there be some better man more suitable for you.’
She had been right.
As Acxa entertained Keith with a small set of toy soldiers, his gown rucked around his legs, Krolia examined the latest of her letters, her heart tightening with hope in her chest.
Isobel Clara Hawkins
73 Orchard Street
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
My Dearest Krolia,
My mother is now well, and anxious to meet you in person, and Keith. Things were terribly uncertain and unsure back home. Though I will miss Texas dearly, I am certain that life will be better for us away from the troubles brewing there.
The house in Texas remains, rented by a local family whose recently married son wished to remain in the county. I have arranged a home for us here in Newark, which mother was most approving of, and I hope you will be too.
I beg you to sat as strong as you alway are against your father, and that vile creature. I wish so much that you did not have to bear his presence.
I have read all your letters, and the photograph of you and Keith in your last I carry on me at all times. I wish I could have seen his early years, but I am happier that he is healthy, and with god’s blessing, I shall be reunited with you both soon.
By the time this reaches you my love, I will already be travelling to New York, perhaps even aboard ship to make the dreadful crossing once again. I know it is nothing compared to your struggles, and I shall bear it with the knowledge that my next letter will be sent to you from Liverpool.
I make my passage on the Aurora, with passage booked through Grinnell, Minturn & Co. reaching port, with luck, at Victoria Dock sometime between 30 th July and the 2 nd of August.
I send this with all my love for our son, and for you.
Thursday, 11 th May, 1854.
The letter had arrived the previous day, but she had yet had a chance to open it, and the words brought tears of relief to her eyes.
“Ma’am? Is everything alright? What news from Mrs Isobel?” Acxa asked, looking up (the name was a guise to get it through the staff and her father’s eyes - they were fortunate he had not yet started intercepting her mail himself yet).
Wordlessly, Krolia handed her the letter.
Finally, Finally, Heath was returning. She would have to find a way to make it past the men her father had walking around the grounds, and their dogs. Soon. If she could be there in Liverpool, the sooner they would be able to leave England. The sooner her son would be safe from his own grandfather. The sooner she could leave, the better, but that of itself would be a task requiring careful planning.
Unless accompanied, she had been forbidden from leaving the grounds, or even entering them. It would have to be at night, through the woods to the west. Then to Skipton, to Preston, then to Liverpool itself. They would have to find a coach, or even walk. It would easily be several days trip. If she thought she would be able to take two of the horses, she would do so without question, right now, but that would be noticed.
She was also locked into her room at night, and that had its own problems to work around.
“Ma’am, this is wonderful news!” Acxa gasped.
“It is, and if we can I should like us to be away form this place to meet him,” Krolia sighed, watching as Keith held up one of the soldiers for her, tottering towards her.
He was three years old now, and he knew nothing of the troubles his birth had caused. He hadn’t asked for a greedy grandfather who wanted to control a fortune that wasn’t his to own, or for his great-grandparents to effectively will everything to him through her. He never seemed unhappy, except for when her father sometimes stepped into the room, or her stepmother.
He always stood by her when her stepmother was present, and outright hid with her or Acxa when her father decided to grace her with his presence. He disliked him, perhaps because of his brash manner, or one time watching when her father had struck her for some slight to Mr. Darrens. In general however, he was a happy child, as all should be, and healthy. She could hardly wish for any more.
Taking the toy he offered her, she took a moment to play and entertain him, earning delighted peals of laughter before he took it back and hurried back to whatever scene he had imagine with the rest of his toys.
It would be a feat for the three of them to escape (Krolia has no qualms that Acxa would be safe if she stayed - she already took great risk in staying as close and loyal as she had), and the amount of planning would have to be perfectly timed, organised, and executed, but she had no doubt that it would be worth it.
Keith had moved on from his toy soldiers, and as he poked and pulled at the arms of a stuffed bear, Krolia stepped towards one of her dressers, hunting through the drawers for an evening bodice that would match well with the skirt of her navy gown.
She knew that her son had a life beyond the walls of her private rooms; he had a father, and a real chance to be with his family. She would do anything for him to have that, including bear against Mr. Darrens and her father for a little longer.
For as much determination as she could muster, she did not see the crack in the door to her chambers as she secreted the letter away in a hidden panel in the wall by the window, or hear the footsteps hurriedly making their way beyond it.
98 Cheyne Walk, London
Thursday, 27th July, 1856.
The summer season was always a bore for Matthew Holt, mostly because he was never allowed to attend thew parties and dinners his parents held or attended. He was always with Ryner or Mrs. Olia.
Unless there were the exceptions; trips to the park, or the sometimes detour from London for Southend-on–Sea they sometimes made, or trips top the museums. Once they had been to the great exhibition, seen the great displays and the feats of technology, and wonders of the world brought by traders for all to see. He remembered watching in wonder with his younger sister.
This time, the trip to London for the season was even worse. In a month, the world had changed for the second time in his life with the passing of Viola Abigail Holt. It was though a grim foggy cloud had descended on every aspect of his life, and the feeling was never more proficient than in the change in his parents’ behaviours.
His father spent almost every day working, or cooped up in his office. He’d seen the servants putting blankets on him in the night, taking away the tray of glasses and putting away the bottles of port or sherry.
His mother hardly left her rooms, didn’t take visitors like she used to, and the family pictures in the halls, like those in back home at Hollingbourne, were turned down. Sometimes he would find her in the library, or by one of the windows in Viola’s bedroom, simply watching the thoroughfares or the river boats.
During the few times they needed to venture outside, he could hardly see his mother’s face for the black crape, dull paramatta silk and black lace that covered everything from her parasols to her handkerchiefs, and the ribbons on her dark bonnet.
He wished he could have stayed at school, but the masters had insisted he take the time to be with his family. His family, who eeked out existence in the creaking halls of Cheyne Walk, and had done so ever since Viola’s death.
Her funeral hadn’t been like Harriet’s, whose tiny coffin he could hardly remember. She’d been two years old when scarlet fever took her. Viola was different. She was older, but a few years his junior. She had been running and laughing and he’d argued with her about the sweets their father had brought home for them after work. They’d hidden from Ryner together in the old priestholes at Hollingbourne, and sneaked to the gardens when they were supposed to be learning Italian verbs to play hide-and-seek instead.
Now no matter which house they stayed in, Hollingbourne, the beach house at Southend-on-Sea, or here in London, the halls were doubly silent, but for creaks and bangs in the night that had jerked him from his bed.
Creeping past Ryner in his nightclothes, the hallway was dark as he poked his head out around the doorway, tiptoeing onto the cold floorboards. He strained his ears as his eyes peered through the dim light of nighttime, listening for the banging sound again.
It was coming from upstairs, and he hurriedly made his way for the staircase as quietly as he could, lest he wake his parents. The light was still on in his father’s study, but the door was ajar
His room was dark as he poked his head around the corner and examined the interior. The bookshelves were a little disrupted, a few strewn across the desk amongst the business papers Matthew was never to touch, and there was an empty glass on the mantlepiece of the fireplace.
A creak further round in the hallway pulled him from the room, and he crept quietly along the floorboards. Glancing round the corner that led to his mother’s rooms.
She stood by the doorframe–no, pressed against it–and exchanged low words with his father, who braided his hands through the loose, curl-crimped lengths of her hair.
“–right now, how long have you been in your office?” his mother asked, sounding tired, worried, and irritated all on the same breath.
“Few hours? Please Cora–”
Mathew watched as his father’s hands wrapped around his mother’s waist, fingers tight in the cotton of her nightgown, and his forehead leaned into her shoulder, looking nothing like the well-held and composed man Mathew normally saw him to be.
“–keep thinking, thinking, thinking, can’t stop thinking by myself,” he mumbled. “Please.”
Matthew watched the silent intimacy between his parents, before very carefully turning and sneaking back down the corridor when his mother stepped back, leading his father into her rooms with her.
He didn’t know what he had seen, but as he crept past Ryner once again, he felt very sure that it was something he should not have been a witness to.
Hollingbourne Manor, Kent.
Wednesday, 20 th August, 1856.
Time passed, and the fog began to fade. Matthew returned to school for the most part, returning at weekends now rather than being a full time boarder. He was happier being at home on weekends, but also not, because some things didn’t quite return to normal.
His mothers grief softened but little, her mourning dress ever present even as she started to venture back outside, returning to her afternoon walks on the estate with Miss Florona. His father took to black shirts instead of white, and none of his hats sported the usual coloured bands, but work consumed him again.
The photographs were picked up, but new photographs of Viola took place beside them on the mantlepieces of his mother’s tea room and the private living spaces, fresh from the photographer, as if she were but asleep.
It would take time for sorrow to fade, and he still felt the loss of his sister himself–he found himself bored without her pestering–and so when he entered the parlour one evening, having been dismissed form his music lesson with Ryner for the night, he was not surprised to find his mother holding one of the photos
“Mama?” he asked, anxious to find her so quiet and withdrawn again. “You’re crying. Is something wrong?”
The question felt poorly minded to him; Mathew knew that there were many things wrong, but didn’t know how to word them the way he wanted to.
His mother started, quickly turning to see him before replacing the picture in her hands upon the mantlepiece.“Oh dear, I’m afraid I am,” she said, bring her fingers to her face to check the dampness on her cheeks. “I am happy you see, so much.”
Matt didn’t think she looked very happy. His mother’s face was blotchy in an unpleasant way; red and white where her tears had streamed over her cheeks, the flush glistening beneath the tracks not the warm welcoming kind from running across the lawn when she played hide-and-seek with him in the garden.
“Why?” he asked, curious and uncertain.
She dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief, putting an arm around his shoulders and kissing his forehead. “Because you are to be an older brother again, Cucciolo.”
His mother’s smile was as bittersweet as the joy incumbent in her words.
Hollingbourne Manor, Kent.
Wednesday, 12th November, 1856.
The snow was thick outside the manor, and Colleen wrapped her mantle tighter around her belly as she crossed the courtyard from the gardens. Stepping inside by the servants passages, she had hoped to make her way upstairs and into her rooms to change before dinner, only to be faulted in her plans at the very last second.
Colleen sighed as her husband’s voice reached her just as she had reached the middle level of the stairs, and was turning up towards the stairs on the left. Turning around, Sam’s face was surprised, and furrowing with his tiring concern.
“Yes?” she asked him, firmly enough that she could hope that it would dissuade him from asking and advising in how best to take care of herself.
He opened his mouth as if to speak, then stopped, appearing to change his mind. “Nothing dear, I just wondered if you wanted anything from London? There’s been an accident at Moorside, so I’ll be gone for at least a week. If you have any orders, I can arrange for them and have them sent on home, or anything else you should like.”
Colleen paused, thinking for a moment. “I did order a couple of new sets of maternity clothing from Jay’s. If you could have Sven collect them upon his return I would appreciate it. I had arranged to pick them up during my next visit. Is it a serious accident?”
Her husband seemed to relax a little, and he nodded. “I’ll be sure to make the arrangements,” he promised. “I don’t know if anyone has been hurt, but some of the chains snapped on the cranes on the third dockyard. They were lifting some sheet-metal, so the damage is extensive.”
Colleen nodded in understanding, her slight irritation at the thought of being left in utter solitude mollified - she should have guessed it was an emergency. Even if Sam rarely sought her company when he was at home, he did not normally give her such abrupt privacy. “Are you leaving now?” she asked.
“No, not for another hour or so. Shall I let you know?”
She considered it. On the one hand, she didn’t really have much to say or not on the nature of his sudden departure, but on the other the thought of being left without forewarning alone in the large manor was a little unpleasant, now that she knew he would be leaving for London again.
“Please,” she nodded. “I’ll be upstairs for the rest of the night.”
And with his nod in return, she turned and continued her path up the stairs. The door to her room closed loudly despite her care behind her, and she sighed. She was so tired.
Tired of being treated like glass, tired of feeling like she were exactly that, and tired of her condition. Her fourth pregnancy was progressing well, two months in already, but to say she had been hoping for another child would be a lie entirely.
So soon after Viola had been sent to God’s kingdoms, another child had been the last thing on her mind, but the distraction that her husband’s attentions and demands had provided had been much too easy to allow in her melancholy. The instantaneous enjoyment and pleasure that should have been their since their first night had been fuelled by their shared grief, and she hadn’t thought that she might fall pregnant again.
She had barley been in her half mourning for Harriet before she had to return to her black crepe again, under the cruel cloud of scarlet fever that had taken her eldest daughter only weeks ago. She had months yet before she would remove the black silk from her wardrobe, and like clouds above the earth, it made her new pregnancy dull.
She didn't feel the anticipation, hope, or excitement as she had before. All she could feel was a dread in her soul that it would be for naught. Two of her children had already died. Her first, Matthew, was a strong, healthy boy, but what could she say for this child growing inside her?
She had done her duty by her husband. Matthew would inherit his father’s land and titles and business one day; did they need any more children? After the child was born, she decided, she would speak to Sam about abstaining from now on. It wasn’t that, over the years, she had no appreciation of him; indeed that had come with time. But to entertain the thought of another child! The idea was almost intolerable, and less reputable methods of controlling their arrival had not been thing she had not considered. Alas, they were not what she could contemplate without guilt or shame of herself.
She couldn’t bring herself to do it, but this child would be her last, and she hoped for another boy, if only to spare any more daughters the curse that seemed to be upon them in her home, perhaps even her own body. She had no way to know if it was chance of god’s will–her husband would likely snort at the thought of a higher power–but at least a boy would have a chance.
If Sam needed access to a woman’s body, then he could take his share of London’s red streets. As long as he took no real mistress, no woman from society to warm his bed, she would be happy even. Anything, but she couldn’t do this again, however young and healthy she still was. If she lost another child, she would be in mourning for the rest of her life.
“Ma’am! You’re back! Shall I run arrange a bath?” her maid, Leifsdottir, asked, stepping into the room with a small pile of neatly folded stays, corsets and other unmentionables.
“Please Leifsdottir,” she said. “The Duke may show up later, if I am indisposed or asleep, please let him in when he knocks, and inform me,” she requested, moving from the back of the door to one of the chaise in the centre of the room, and beginning to unbutton her boots.
Ina left the room to go ask the maids for the hot water, and she was left to herself to mull her thoughts and worries in peaceful solace for a moment. Reaching into her neckline, she pulled out the small locket, and opened it.
In either side was a lock of hair, held in clear resin, and the gold and china engravings on either side detailed a gold ‘H’ and ‘V’ on the respective sides of the locket.
If she voiced her opinions to anyone they might think her mad, even her own mother. It was not that she hated the child she was carrying. That couldn’t possibly be so – she already loved them so much her heart broke at the thought of what could harm them in the years to come.
But how could she be excited about another child when she hadn’t finished mourning the two that had been taken from her already?
It was affecting Sam too. When she had told him she was with child again, for an instant he had been happy–that instantaneous joy no parent, herself included could help but feel when life was given to them–but it too had been swallowed by loss and fear.
He cared, she knew that well. For all the unspoken words and distance between them after twelve years of marriage, he had never failed in that. Not in his duty to show his care and devotion, his responsibility for her and their children as a good husband ought to. Perhaps that was their problem; they both cared, and had in their promises to be true and honest, been too much so.
This time, her pregnancy was constrained by his worry. He objected to her walks in the gardens, and had even expressed concerns in her travelling to London with him. True, the journey was long and tiring even on the best of days, but it still felt senseless. Even in the cold weather, she was so unused to being stuck inside. She felt frustrated, angry, exacerbated feelings stemming from grief and the now often tense, awkward, reluctant interactions with her husband.
Her only consolation was that her parents would be visiting (for the first time in several years since they visited to her grandparents estate in Italy), when the baby was born, and that Melenore wrote her frequently between her visits.
By the time that Ina and the other servants had arranged the water, Sam had knocked on the door, his travelling coat wrapped around his shoulders. His face was draped with the tense but warm affection that had become the face of their marriage in private, and she gave him a list of the things he had promised to have the coachman arrange pick up for on his return journey, along with a few more requests. A few books mostly, to keep herself occupied.
He promised to find what she’d asked for, and kissed her on the cheek, promising to write. Nodding, Colleen watching after him as he left, the door soft in its close behind him.
Sometimes, she could see ghosts, not of her dead children, but what their marriage had once planned to be. They both cared so deeply, but marriage itself was what had soured them, and she didn’t know what ought help it.
She knew she was not hated, and that at least was a firm comfort, and had let her live in relative peace and satisfaction.
To Mr Matthew Holt
Upper Brook Street
I write to tell you that you are once again an older brother!
Though very early, much to our distress, your Mama gave birth yesterday eve–perhaps last week by the time this letter reaches you–to a little girl, who we have decided to name Katherine Valentina, just like you suggested!
She is a tiny child, much more than she ought be, but the doctors and midwives we are hopeful for her and for such a small girl, she had a strong grip on my beard when I held her this afternoon.
I knew you will also be glad to hear that your Mama and sister are both doing well. The doctors checks on Katie every day, and so far, she is in the pink of health, and your mama has started reading in her tea room in the afternoons today.
I will write to you masters, should you wish, so that you may have leave to come home and visit them before the end of your term.
All my love,
Saturday 4th April, 1857.
Wednesday, 7th July, 1862.
Moorside Ironworks, Blackwall, London.
“…can’t stop you. You’re near enough a grown man now, but I don’t know if agree with this Matthew. Your mother will be beside herself; you have hurt and shocked her with this, especially given the time of year. Is it that important?”
“Father it’s not the first I’ve talked about this with you, or Mother! I’ve been thinking about if for a long time, you know that. I regret the timing, and it was never my intent to cause mother distress - I know this is a hard time for you both, indeed I’ve also struggled to focus on my studies - but I’ve made my final decision.”
“Very well, but I warn you Matthew, if something happens as did Sunday evening, I do not care how old you are, you will be confined to your room until you finish the school year. Such an attitude towards his mother it utterly unbecoming in any man, never mind in front of Katie! I have half a mind to speak with the Winchester masters and have them restrain your school privileges.”
Behind her, her father and brother talked, but the young girl with her nose pressed against the glass of a window paid her relatives no mind. They were busy ‘talking loudly’ as Ryner called it. Katie knew they were arguing about that thing again, but nobody wanted to tell her what it was or why.
Then again, Katie wasn’t so sure she was interested in something that could make Matt and her father speak so horribly to each other
The groans and grinds of the gears echoed in Katie’s ears as she pressed her face further against the glass windows of her father’s office, looking down onto the vast floor of the first building yard, blocking out the sound of matt’s apologetic words behind her.
Beyond the noise of the machinery and hammers, and the sound of metal sheet being sliced to the appropriate size, the sound of the gulls on the Thames screeched too, but she could not hear them now that the were inside.
She had been so excited to see her father’s workshop, and she had not been disappointed. Here, in this part of the factory, was where all of the penultimate and most important parts of her father’s work projects took place. The machinery and metal work drowned out the irate discussion behind her and Katie lost herself in the new surroundings.
Her eyes were full of the shipyard below her. Heavy frames laden with cast iron bars longer that her bedroom was tall were hoisted into the air by magnificent cranes, and huge forges glowed like dragon breath as the coals beneath them turned metal ore into a burning orange soup, ready for casting and cooling to whatever shape the workmen required.
“Papa, can I look from outside?” She asked, whirling excitedly, the silk of her dress and cotton petticoats of her underskirts swishing with the motion as she rushed over to the heavy work desk, resting her chin on the edge, looking to the greying man behind it imploringly.
Samuel Holt turned from his son, and the tense conversation they had been having, his frown melting away as though it had never been there. “Sorry sweetheart, what did you say?”
“Can I go outside and see? You promised to show me where you worked!” She asked again. Normally, Katie wouldn’t have been allowed here at all, and she was determined to explore to the fullest she could.
Her mother had been extremely distressed when Ryner came down with a horrible fever. She was volunteering at one of the city hospitals, another place Katie was considered too young to visit, and a substitute governess was out of the question with how uneasy her daughter found strangers.
If needed, the maids could have kept her company, but her father hadn’t liked that idea. In any case, they had their own work without the distraction of a child. Her father’s shipbuilding yard, was even more so a forbidden area, usually, but as the visit was to be a short one, he had persuaded her mother and she had been allowed to visit with him and Matt. It was fascinating to her.
Not so much the building part. That was dirty and greasy and smelly, and Katie wasn’t sure that interested her at all. Like when her mother tried to teach her about flowers, and they made her sneeze or come out in horrible rashes. But seeing how it all worked, the way everything seemed to move in order, the ebb and flow off a man-made mechanical river.
It made her wonder how could all work. She understood that there was a plan in place. Maybe lots, but she wanted to know how it all wove together into mechanical symmetry.
“As long as you stay with your brother, and do not go down off the walkways onto the factory floor without him,” her father said.
He and Matt shared a look, one she didn’t quite understand the significance of, but she was certain it was related to their earlier discontent. But it didn’t matter - there was nothing she could do about it, like as much, so she reached out to the hand her brother extended.
Outside she stood on a crate, matt holding onto the back of her dress so she didn’t fall over the railings as she pointed to things for him to explain to her. The cranes that lifted the beams, the different frames, which stages of the hulls being crafted were which, what the different furnaces melted, the names of the pulleys and tools, everything she needed an answer for he did his best to provide.
At least, he did until one of the floor men came up the stairs.
“Matt! How did it go with your father?”
Matt turned towards the other man, his grip slackening, allowing Katie to clamber down from the box and watch as the two began to talk.
“Okay I guess, he’s not happy, but I think he’s been in denial for a while now. I’ve never made it a secret. He just didn’t want to think about it.” Matt said, distracted and falling into a conversation with his friend with more enthusiasm than he had shown for babysitting
“You’re his son. Of course he wants you to take over. He’s got more than a Dukedom to pass on now too, doesn’t he? I heard the queen gave him and a Marquessate. He can hardly pass those on to your sister.”
“And what would I do with it? I don’t even know why he accepted a second title. For all my father talks about hard work…”
Realising that her presence was no longer of concern nor interest, Katie turned back to the courtyard, wandering along the walkways to the top of the stone steps framing the side of the building, her eyes on the people working.
They moved like the ants that came out of the flagstone cracks in the summer months did, in lines. All to plan and with private purpose. The most common ones seemed to be the boys not much older than her, pushing heavy bags of coal with wheelbarrows toward the furnaces, emptying them, then moving on into one of the other buildings.
Realising she could follow them to explore, Katie gave one glance at her brother, still engrossed in his conversation, then slowly made her way down the steps, watching the people going back and forth.
Most of them were tube or heavily burdened to pay any attention to a young girl wandering around, and those that did notice her seemed a little confused, but showed no alarm. They had their work to worry of instead.
And so, Katie began her exploration, locking her eyes onto one of the coal boys. He was covered in so much soot that she could hardly tell if he had black hair or blonde hair. Knowing she could get in trouble if discovered, Katie followed him on his path back from the fires, scuttling along behind the boy and ducking behind barrels and heavy piles of wood, metal, cloth, and sacks full of nails and bolts.
She managed to follow him all the way to one of the store rooms, piled high with mountains of coal, then she realised she couldn’t find his dark hair amongst all the soot stained faces.
She also hadn’t found much of any interest, and was starting to get hungry. Her father had said they would be going into town for lunch, and it was much later than when Ryner usually took her to the nursery for the afternoon meal already.
Looking around, she frowned, trying to remember the way she had come. The barrels and lifting mechanisms, barrows and plethora of men and boys carrying heavy loads swamped her view. She couldn’t even see the walkways.
A bell began to ring repeatedly somewhere, and she flinched at the noise, tucking herself in amongst some barrels and the majority of the people around her stopped their labours and began to move off.
She was going to follow them again, but instead of discreetly following the mass workforce, she felt someone snatch an arm around her shoulders. At first she struggled, then she jumped as one of the cranes dropped a heavy load of iron bars exactly where she had planned to step.
The arm unravelled itself, but she felt herself being turned by the hands on her shoulders, and she blinked in surprised as she found herself facing the boy from before.
His skin was pale and smeared with coal dust, as were his trousers and shirt, sleeves rolled up above his elbows. He was crouched down, arms hanging off the side of his knees, and Katie froze, realising she might be in trouble.
“Little girls shouldn’t be wandering around down here,” he said, voice much calmer than the frown on his face implied his mood to be. “It’s not safe. Are you looking for your father or brother? Uncle? Grandfather?” He asked.
Katie relaxed a little. “I came here with Papa,” she said. “But Matt was talking to his friend and I got bored, and I wanted to see the machines.”
The boy frowned again. “What’s your Papa’s name?” He asked.
Katie frowned, not quite understanding the question. “Papa is Papa,” she said simply, and the boy’s eyebrows crunched his face a little for a moment.
“Right, of course,” he said. “What’s your name then?”
The question caught her off guard and Katie fidgeted uncomfortably, unsure of whether she should answer. “Ryner says not to talk to strangers,” she told him eventually.
“How I tell you my name first, then we won’t be strangers anymore, will we?” He suggested.
Katie thought about it for a moment, then nodded. That seemed fair.
“Alright, I’m Keith Hawkins,” the boy said, holding out his hand in greeting.
Katie tried not to wrinkle her not at all the soot on it. She didn’t like being dirty. But to not shake would be rude, so she reached out a hand of her own.
“Katherine Holt,” she said. “But Papa calls me Katie, and Matt and Ryner and Mama call me Kitty, or Pidge,” she added.
“Holt?” Keith asked; Katie nodded, and then he got to his feet, holding out a hand. “I think we should find your Papa. He might be worried about you. I can take you to his office, okay?”
“You know where Papa’s office is?” She asked, taking the hand unwittingly, and without concern for the coal dust that soiled her gloves.
Keith looked uncomfortable, but he gave a small smile, and listened to her chatter as he led her back through the factory. It took at least ten minutes to get back to the main hallway, where she finally recognised some of the sights she’d seen upon arrival with her father and brother.
There were familiar faces too, but Keith had told her not to let go of his hand until they made it up onto the walkways, and seeing all the big machines and horse-and-carts that passed, she didn’t try to weasel out of the gentle grip like she would in the park.
As they made their way up the steps, she finally caught sight of her father and brother. Matt was standing on the walkway, looking upset about something. Besides the crowd of worried faces from the men hep worked in the office from earlier, she could hear her father shouting.
“…believe you could be so irresponsible Matthew! How could you let her wander off? You’ve never been this negligent with her care! You know how dangerous the floors are! She’s a child!”
He must have been shouting loudly, because they were still at the other end of the walkway. Keith helped her up the last flight of steps, and together they walked along the metal, until they got closer to the group of men hurriedly talking and heading down the other flights of steps.
“Um, excuse me, Your Grace, Sir?” Keith called out.
Her father snapped at the call, his eyes falling on them. Then his eyes widened and he pushed through his group of advisors.
“Katie!” He called out, scooping her up before she could protest once he’d mad it to them. “Do not wander off like that again, young lady!” He scolded, and Katie slumped. She knew she would get into trouble!
“Thank you my boy, I was about to turn the factory upside down for worry,” he said to Keith, setting her back to the floor. “What happened?” He asked, trying to brush some of the coal dust off of her dress.
“I’m not sure Sir, I thought I saw someone following me, so I turned around and saw Ka-Miss Holt standing by the cart pathways. One of the lifters was dropping a load, so I got her out of the way and asked her who she was. I assumed she was missing, so thought it best to bring her back to the main floor.”
“Ah, you were right to do so my lad, you have my gratitude. I’ll be sure to let the Lieutenant know about this. He’ll be proud no doubt,” he father smiled. “And don’t worry about Iverson. I’ll make sure he gives you your full break. You must have lost a lot of time bringing my wayward daughter back.”
Keith nodded his head, stiffly, but respectfully. “Thank you Your Grace, Sir,” he said, before turning and disappearing down the steps.
“Kitty! You’re absolutely filthy!” Matt scowled, trying to brush away some of the dust from her dress, bending down and pulling her into his own hug. “That was Lieutenant Shirogane’s godson?” He asked their father. “The one you told me about.”
“It was,” her father grumbled. “I think we should call that it for our visit. I would hate to get home and have your mother catch sight of Katie in this state.” He paused. “I won’t withdraw my belief in your choices Matthew, but make no mistake, you are still in great trouble for this!”
Katie paid neither brother nor father any mind as they talked, and let herself be hoisted into her brother’s arms. It worked better for her to see over his shoulder anyway. She was watching the boy who’d walked her back to the office head back down the stairs.
He didn’t look back, but she would see his face. In years to pass, she would remember it as the first time she met her husband, but for now, he was still just a boy covered in coal dust.
Friday, 28th October, 1870
FURTHER PARTICULARS FOLLOWING HMS ORPHEUS DISASTER.
The following is from the Admiralty :–
Admiralty, September 12, 1870.
The gunner of her Majesty’s ship Orpheus has
reached the Admiralty. From his report, and depositions of other survivors it appears that she capsized in a heavy squall, shortly after midnight. Rear Admiral Shirogane and Captain Holt, who were both on deck, ordered topsails to be lowered, and sheets to let go, but in vain. The force of wind acting on the sails and on the bottom of the hurricane deck proved too much for her stability. The Rear Admiral and Captain were at the moment she was struck standing on the steam pinnace, and was washed off by the force of the waves. Commodore Blake and Lieutenant Robinson-Smith were also washed from the deck by the inclement conditions.
The following persons, who escaped from her Majesty’s ship Orpheus, and landed at Manakau Harbour, on the evening of the 7th instant, arrived this day at Portsmouth on her Majesty’s ship Harrier :–
James May Gunner.
James Ellis Gunner’s mate.
Lewis Werry Captain foretop.
James Harvey Second captain foretop.
George Bride Coxswain of the pinnace.
Charles Tregenan Leading seaman.
Regent's Park, London
Wednesday, 25th June, 1873
The sun was high when she awoke from her exhaustion after the previous nights ball, but Katie did her best not to dally in her preparations. It was the height of the season now, and somehow, her plans for the days were full for two whole weeks already!
Today was a day out to the summer fayre with Allura and Romelle. Once dressed in a striped, light, yellow cotton summer gown that was suitable for the afternoon sun, she and Nadia left the London house in a carriage to the spot at the edge of Regent’s Park where Allura and Romelle had promised to meet her.
“Katie!” The blonde haired girl called out after she’d dismounted the carriage. “There you are! I wanted to warn you first,” Romelle said, rushing over to them with dismay in her voice.
“Warn me?” Katie blinked after they had embraced. “About what?”
“My brother will be joining us for the day, I tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted, claiming he wasn’t going to let me go without a chaperone from the family,” she muttered.
“I told him Nadia would be with us, but he wouldn’t see reason! Worse, He invited Miss Compton too! We now have a few too companions, since she simply cannot bear going anyplace without her entourage! I’m so sorry, I know you dislike large crowds, and I am equally distressed with Avok’s choice of friends, but he was so stupidly stubborn!” She grumbled.
Katie deflated a little, but took her friends arm as they made their way towards the snow-covered green. “It’s alright Romelle. Thank you for warning me in advance. It’s not your fault, goodness knows my parents shall be overjoyed to hear I’ve be expanding my social circle,” she laughed weakly. “Though maybe not with Miss Compton.”
“He’s being so unreasonable!” Romelle huffed, leaning her head on her shoulder. “At least if Uncle Coran would have joined us, it might have been somewhat entertaining! How, pray tell, am I supposed to attract a suitor if my dour brother keeps them all away? Though perhaps it is a blessing amongst these horrible people!”
Katie’s eyes ventured to the crowd and her face fell beneath her poke bonnet as she caught sight of Miss Compton. Her eyes narrowed on Katie, expression stiff for a moment, before turning her attention back to the gentleman she had been speaking with.
“Oh no!” She sighed in dismay.
Amongst the group she could see Mr. Griffin’s familiar light brown hair and too-pointed chin. He was laughing at something one of Miss Compton’s friends was telling him, with many deliberate flutterings of her fan.
“I’m so sorry Katie! I tried to tell Avok you weren’t fond of him, but he wouldn’t listen! He said Mr. Griffin was keen to further your acquaintance, and he was sure you were just nervous to meet with him in public!”
“Of course I’m nervous, but not to meet him in public; I’m just nervous to be in public. Perhaps we could lose them both somehow?” Katie suggested. “There is some boating is there not? Perhaps the other ladies will ask them to an escort on the lake?”
“Certainly not,” Katie made a face. “As much as I love the details of mechanics, your brother has the fantastic talent of making even that subject dull. He is most estimable, but I’m afraid I can’t bear to converse with him for more than a few moments. As for Mr. Griffin, he is so concerned with his own voice that he cannot hear anything a woman would say to him.”
He might have been polite enough, but Katie found his manner too demanding to be anything more than uncomfortable and overbearing.
“Exactly!” Romelle bemoaned. “Allura is so lucky she didn’t have to come! Lord Davidson made a surprise call on her this afternoon, so she can escape Avok’s drudgery! And those harlots he invited with him!”
“I think she likes him a great deal; he is quite charming, I must admit,” Pidge sighed, and she approached the group of men and women waiting by the park gates. “Though perhaps a little intimidating for my taste. But Allura has such a strong character I feel he matches her quite well.”
“I shall have to occupy myself keeping you away from Mr. Griffin,” Romelle said muttered. “At the very least I can keep this from being a terrible time for you! He knows I do not care for him quite well, and ceased his calls quickly, so he may ignore us.”
Alas, even Romelle’s frosty demeanour wasn’t enough to keep Mr. Griffin from following them around the stalls. While normally he was pleasant, she had been so hoping for a smaller outing, or at least one with faces she was more comfortable with.
Mr. Griffin alone would have been tolerable, but Miss Compton was another story. They maintained polite cordiality, but she was alas, not a friend of to Katie, and the enforced requirement to tolerate each other was clearly displeasurable to them both.
Eventually, She, Romelle and Nadia made their way around some of the other stalls to get away from the judgemental looks and awkward forced interaction with most of the other ladies.
It wasn’t helped that many of Avok’s friends were happy to meet them, and were at the very least good conversationalists. For a while, it was a blessing, as Mr. Griffin it seemed was perturbed by a couple of the men who spoke to her, but the scathing looks and whispers and mocking giggles from the ladies weren't worth it.
It all culminated in a waspish commentary about ‘so many kind suitors’ that suggested horrible things about her character.
“I beg you do not pay her words attention, Katie,” Romelle said in whispers by a juice stand as they sipped their lemonade. “She’s just jealous because the gentlemen are paying you more attention than her.”
They had managed to wander from the group a little, and might even make it to the other end of the fair without notice. With luck, they would be able to sneak around and return to the Brandon townhouse.
“She’s been coming to London for three seasons, or so my Aunt says, and still hasn’t married. You’re younger and prettier, and nicer, and more intelligent than she is, not just in your education but in the simple art of being a decent human being,” Romelle muttered, glaring at the girl when she sneered loftily in their direction.
“And my dowry is three times hers,” Katie snorted. “They only think I’ll bring them more money.”
It was somewhat amusing to watch in a way, for she knew whatever fortune came with her in marriage would be so legally inaccessible that no man would ever be able to advantage himself from taking her hand.
“It probably helps,” Romelle admitted wryly. “But Katie, you’re an orchid in a garden of overly-pruned roses,” her friend said. “You could be a poor chimney-sweep’s daughter, and you’d still be better than her lot. You do yourself no credit!”
Romelle’s words were kind, and Katie did her best to take them as the compliment they were, though she doubted things were quite as black and white as Romelle declared them to be. She was certain that all the attention was because of her father’s fortune.
“Miss Holt, Miss Brydges!”
Katie let out a sigh before removing her perturbed expression for something a little more neutral as Mr. Griffin approached them.
“Yes Mr. Griffin?” she asked, patiently.
“Would you like anything from the shooting stalls? Avok and a few of the others were planning on trying for some prizes! I was hoping you would accompany us.”
He spoke directly to Katie, ignoring Romelle entirely in a manner that was most unbecoming of him. How she wished the ground would swallow her as he did! She had no interest in whatever showing off Miss Compton and her friends were fawning over, but it was clearly what he expected. It sounded dreadful.
Then again, Mr. Griffin was rumoured a terrible shot. Maybe in this, she could find some escape from his unwanted presence? If he failed in his attempts to impress, then in his embarrassment, he might be less enthused to try and win favour from her. If not enough to discourage his courting efforts, it would at least last long enough for her to find amusement elsewhere.
If nothing else it would give her time to compose a polite, but blunt, letter informing him she no longer wished to entertain his calls as he nursed his pride.
“Very well, we’ll join you in a moment,” she said. “Romelle and I would like to browse a little more.”
Mr. Griffin looked a little less cheery, but nodded, and hurried back toward the men and ladies gathering at one of the stalls.
“Katie, that’s brilliant!” Romelle gushed, as soon as he was out of ear shot. “He came hunting with us last August, and he was an utterly miserable shot! His own pride will keep him away!”
E ventually, she found an opportunity to fade to the edge of the group, and had decided her best chance to enjoy the afternoon was to stay with Romelle and Nadia until her eyes fell on a familiar head of messy hair stuffed beneath his hat.
“Mr. Hawkins?” She called out hopefully, wondering if she had misplaced the figure. She was sure she knew it well enough.
He started, and turned around in surprise. “Miss Holt,” he greeted, with relief and some delighted surprise. “I was not aware you would be joining us today! Do you know Lord Brydges?”
“I attend Queens with his sister,” she said. “She invited me out for the afternoon, but I was not expecting this many people, just Romelle. I’m glad to find another familiar face besides hers.”
“I’m given to understand that the invitation was meant to be private, but was passed around publicly in error,” Keith sighed. “I was invited, but I’m not fond of some of his other friends,” he said, eyes flicking off to the larger group.
Katie followed his gaze, towards the larger group where Mr. Griffin was talking with one of the other ladies, and a few of the other men. she quickly averted her eyes, lest he see and think she was paying him any more attention.
“You aren’t fond of him,” Keith noted. “Is he not one of your suitors?”
Katie blinked in surprise; Mr. Hawkins knew who her suitors were?
“Your father mentioned him at work. I don’t believe he likes him much,” he smiled. “Am I correct to assume you are also rather unenthused with his company?”
Katie hazarded a glance to ensure no-one would overhear her frank words before speaking: “He is polite and gentlemanly enough, but he is so insistent I find half my energy gone before I can think of rebuking his manner or invitations, and he has not much taste for talk of my interests. I find myself with nothing to talk about with him.”
“Unless he asked to spend the day with you have every right to ignore him Miss Holt, surely he is a gentleman enough he would respect your wishes to spend time with your friend?”
Katie sighed and glanced toward Romelle. She had managed to get her brother by himself and judging by her irate expressions and his placating face, she was telling him exactly what she thought of his companions.
“I’m afraid Miss Brydges has been in discussion with for her brother for some time sir,” she said. “I think she wants to leave, but her brother is her chaperone for the day, and he is I believe, quite taken with Miss Compton, alas, I am stuck.”
“I was contemplating returning home…” Keith mused, and Katie felt herself deflate of her momentary joy and excitement. “…but unless have you have firm plans with Miss Brydges, might I presume to accompany you for the afternoon? It is my understanding that we are both in desperate need of an escape route, and I’m quite sure Griffin won’t find fault in you accompanying one of your father’s employees, unless he has specifically asked to attend on you?”
He had a conspiratorial smirk on his face, but not one that employed its plots to her, and she understood the implication. Indeed, Mr Griffin couldn’t fault her for being polite to Mr. Hawkins. He was one of her father’s senior employees, and indeed, it would be expected she should show him courtesy. It was a faultless excuse.
Katie also wanted to get away from her unwanted suitor; she badly wanted to say yes to Mr. Hawkins’ plot, and judging by the amused curl on his lips, the relief was showing on her face. “Would you mind if I checked with Romelle first? She did invite me, and it would be horribly rude of me to leave her without warning.”
“Of course,” Keith nodded.
Never had she been more rushed to get across the lawn. Romelle was snapping in irate whispers at her brother as she approached them, but they stopped on her approach.
“Romelle, would you be terribly upset if I left?” She asked quietly, realising Mr. Griffin was watching. “Mr. Hawkins asked to my company for the day, and I’d like to take his offer to get away.”
“Miss Holt, you’re leaving?” Avok asked before his sister, surprised. “But you and Griffin were getting along so well! He was eager for your company today!”
“I’m afraid I do not feel the same way Lord Brydges,” she confessed. “For several reasons. I apologise for the rude departure. I will call on you both later in the week.”
“Oh, be quiet Avok, I tried to tell you, but you just brushed me off, as always!” Romelle snapped, her face full of anger. “I hope something penetrates your skull from this, because you have not only ruined my trip with my friend, but Katie’s day too!”
Before her brother, who looked like a prune in his shock and anger could retaliate, Romelle took her hands. “Go, I shan’t at all be offended for you taking Mr. Hawkins' offer! I’ll make your excuses. I wish I could go with you, but this boor won’t have it! Go, before Mr. Griffin comes over here!”
“Thank you!” Katie breathed, hugging her friend before making her way back to Nadia and Keith, the sound of sibling discord behind her.
“Everything is well, I assume?” He asked.
“Indeed,” she assured him. “If you have anywhere in mind Mr. Hawkins, I would be most welcome to accompany you,” she assured him.
“If you’re of a mind to eat Miss Holt, we could find some lunch at the Continental. It is past noon. After that I have no plans, but if you wished to return to Cheyne Walk, I would be happy to accompany you home, or amongst your own pursuits.”
“Miss Holt? Miss Holt!”
Katie had a few misgivings about going to a cafe with a gentleman–mostly what her mother might think of it–but the sound of Mr Griffin calling out to her gave her all the reassurance that perhaps her mother’s tight-lipped frown was a better result than Mr. Griffin’s company. She was hardly alone anyway - Nadia would accompany them.
Before Mr. Griffin could chase after them, she turned and followed Keith back towards the carriages, Nadia following closely, as they walked together in blissful, blissful companionable silence.
To Be Continued.
Its not much but one day, this will be complete. These seem like large scenes, but honestly, I've amassed so many scenes for the overall plot that they do not reveal a great deal. This project is gargantuan, so I can't promise when it will be published in full, but I've literally put tears into this
and my health, because apparently Victorian Era diseases are a cool thing to catch nowadays how's that for research immersion and I will finish it if i have to drive myself mad to do it.
Some of you have already had to put up with my screaming and frustration on discord, which I can only thank you all for-seriously, I would have lost my hair and will to live without the encouragement.
If I don't finish this, assume I died in the attempt.