In the Ship
Eleanor looked at herself in the mirror. Millicent had visited the factory yesterday to explain as best she could. She had returned with two dresses and shoes. As Eleanor looked at herself there were still bags under her eyes despite two nights of sleep. She and Simone had both taken pills and had dreamless sleep that was welcome. There were bruises and cuts that would heal. The visits by the men and Winifred would be a different matter. The first morning she had spent thirty minutes in the shower and still felt dirty. The voice from the wall had finally just shut the shower off saying that there were better ways for her to deal with trauma. Simone had spent almost as long in the shower.
Eleanor joined the group at breakfast on the second day. There was a table with a pot of hot tea and the most heavenly croissants she had ever eaten. Millicent greeted her warmly and prepared a cup of tea. Millicent’s face looked drawn and she had her own bags under her eyes. Simone arrived a moment after and Millicent served her as well. As the cup was prepared Millicent said to Simone, “You are welcome here dear. You are also free to go where you want, if you choose. “
Eleanor added quickly, “I would rather she stay.” Simone smiled shyly.
Millicent smiled as well but said, “As would I, but that is Simone’s choice to make. Regardless, relax for a bit Eleanor. Your father is beside himself at the moment. You will need to see him.” Millicent sat down and said, “I have broken the news of Tom to your family.”
Tears welled in her eyes, “They didn’t have to kill him.”
Simone put her hand on Eleanor’s arm, “They did it because it was convenient and because they could.” Eleanor stiffened herself. If she started to cry now, she might not stop. She sniffed and Millicent offered a handkerchief and Eleanor blew her nose.
Millicent got up to tend some of the dishes in the kitchen and said as she left, “You may want to talk to Felicity. She has had her own trials in her early years.”
Eleanor and Simone ate in silence. Eleanor took another bight of the heavenly croissant and said, “I don’t think I have ever had one of these so good.”
Simone looked at plate of croissants speculatively and asked, “Millicent do you know a café named, ‘Du Univers Meilleur Café’? Those croissants taste just like these.”
Millicent laughed heartily, “You have no idea how well I know that café. I shall inform Alice you noticed them and of Eleanor’s hearty approval. She will be pleased. The owners are dear friends of mine.”
Eleanor said, “I thought your work schedule did not allow for friends.”
Millicent said, “I haven’t been gone so long this time – only 10 years. One of the owners of the café, Abigail, used to work for me. You should talk with her.”
Simone looked at the croissant intently before taking a bite and closing her eyes in relish. Then she said, “I got the impression from Smith that I would never return or if I did, I would owe my soul.”
Eleanor filled in for Millicent, “The contract I was shown would make me richer than most of the House of Lords. “
Millicent said stiffly, “Smith and I cultivate and manage our recruits differently.”
Simone laughed at first and then the laugh sifted to tears, “Oh Lord, I am finding that out…” Eleanor handed her the handkerchief she had used and Simone sniffled into it saying, “Don’t we make a fine pair.”
In response to Simone’s lament a voice spoke with a crisp, cultured English accent saying “Yes and don’t let anyone tell you different.”
Eleanor and Simone looked at each other and then the ceiling.
Millicent smiled and said, “The past two days things were so complicated and everyone had needs to be attended that there was no time for formal introductions. Eleanor Woodson and Simone Campbell…you just heard Charles. My partner, associate and friend.”
The lights flickered.
Simone asked, “Where are you?”
Charles sighed dramatically, “This is always such a complicated question for you folk. I am the intelligence in this ship.”
Simone frowned for a moment and then said, “Like Camille?”
Charles replied with a bit of sadness on his voice, “Very much so. Each ship’s intelligence has its own personality. Camille and I do not get along. We have had severe differences in the past and the events of the past few days have only widened those differences.”
Simone touched the collar on her neck, “Camille helped put this on me. If you disagree with her, then we shall get along fine.”
“Those collars are but one place we disagree. And thank you Miss Campbell, for not judging all my kind by Camille’s actions. “
Millicent cleaned up the plate of pastries and said, “Charles, when they return today you must give them a tour. Eleanor needs to appreciate you fully. Now ladies, you can relax some. But, as I said, Mr. Woodson is anxious and I expect Simone’s parents also want to see you. “
Simone’s eyes brightened and she sat up straighter. Millicent said, “I thought so. Liam O’Hannigan is at your disposal today.”
The ride to the Woodson Family Story
Charles spoke, “Miss Campbell, I have signal dampers here to protect you. The coil I had put on the collar will help outside, but only so much. You need to stay close to Eleanor and the control she can counter act any signals. When Mr.McNeill is thinking clearly, he and I can work on a more permanent solution.”
Millicent said, “I don’t know what Smith will do. Killing you will poison negotiations. But Winifred seems vindictive and Smith doesn’t control her fully.”
Simone looked down at her feet. Eleanor moved close and put her head on Simone’s forehead and said quietly, “You got me through last week. I will do what I can to help you now. We will make this work.”
Simone nodded a little then straightened and squared her shoulders and said, “I am tired of my life being dictated by Smith and Stanhope, or by my family before them. Is there a place where I can see how this horrid thing works?”
Millicent and Charles said simultaneously, “The Science Lab.”
Eleanor smiled. She had hardly known Simone before her week in Smith’s basement. But they had spent that week surviving between the visits of Winifred, Brown, Alfred and Neville. They talked. Mostly the talk was to restore sanity. But they also talked of family, of interests, of favorite spots in London, of what their dreams were. Prior to that week, Eleanor had viewed Simone as flighty, if very intelligent. Eleanor thought she would make some professor a lovely lab assistant cum financier cum inamorata. Simone had viewed her as intelligent but remote, socially backward and limited by her working class roots.
Simone had confessed that she had thought of inviting Eleanor to one of her costume parties as a bit of joke and was going to ask her to wear African garb. Eleanor had been angry when Simone had admitted to that bit of social treachery. But then Eleanor had shaken her head and explained that her father never would have allowed her out of the factory regardless of the inappropriateness of the costume. Simone had been shocked at how little freedom Eleanor had before the events of last week. Eleanor found that Simone had plenty of freedom as long as she understood that she would be joining the family firm working as an accountant. No matter that she had top scores in chemistry or metal work: Campbells worked in the firm managing insurance on other people’s risk. Simone was welcome to “slum” a bit at the university as long as she was ready to fill her place in the end. Smith’s offer of a 10 week holiday was just fine for her parents. At least for Eleanor being stuck at the factory seemed more honest.
The two bundled for winter with coats and hand mufflers and headed out the ship down the ramp. At the bottom of the ramp was a wiry medium height man who might have been in his thirties. He greeted the two of them, “Good morning Ladies…It is still morning. You are looking lovely and much better. I hope a couple of nights rest has helped with matters. I am Liam O’Hannigan esq. Your ride, assistant and gallant fop for today.”
Eleanor and Simone giggled at the introduction and curtsied in reply.
Charles, the voice, commented, “Ladies, you are just encouraging that rapscallion. Heed any of his advice with caution. He will ply you with cheap booze and make foolish advances.”
Liam rose from his bow and said, “I never ply with cheap booze and my advances are never foolish. Now ladies your carriage and noble mare await.” He then led them to the warehouse door. As they walked, Eleanor glanced back at the ship and gasped. Simone pulled her along to the door but she was sure she saw one light on the beautiful ship wink off and on.
Outside of the old warehouse, a standard black taxi waited with a gray mare at the front. The horse eyed the three. Liam went to the horse and said, “Those are the lasses we rescued a couple of nights ago. They need a proper ride now.” To Eleanor’s amazement, the horse bobbed her head towards Eleanor and Simone and then faced forward and tapped the ground with one foot. Liam patted the horse’s neck and said, “Good girl” and waved Eleanor and Simone to the passenger cab. As he assisted them in he said, “I expect we will get to your factory first Miss Woodson. “ Liam then climbed up to the driver’s seat and urged Betsy, the horse, on.
The taxi pulled in front of “Woodson and Sons” furniture factory. There was a black wreath on the door. Eleanor’s eyes grew teary as she thought of Thomas. Liam said, “Miss Woodson? I expect your family is waiting. They could stand a bit of good news.”
Eleanor dabbed her eyes, “You’re right of course Mr. O’Hannigan.” She climbed down from the taxi and waited for Simone. She sniffed a bit, straightened the front of her jacket and her hat and then turned around and headed to the door. Simone followed Eleanor as Liam climbed down from his high seat and curried Betsy.
Eleanor walked into the front office and the familiar bell tinkled announcing her arrival. Her younger brother looked up from the front desk, took her in and then shouted, “Eleanor’s back” and ran to hug her. Eleanor was soon enveloped in the arms of Wallace, her grandfather, and other family and she started crying. For a moment the hugs stopped and arms slipped away and her brothers, uncles and grandfather stepped aside.
Her father stood in the door back to the workshop, “Eleanor?”
She said with a crack in her voice, “I’m safe now, father.”
The tall black man enveloped her in his arms and said, “The two of you just disappeared. There was nothing. No notes. No messages.” He held her head. “I talked to the police but they said there was nothing they could do. I’ve naught felt so helpless.”
Eleanor said into his shoulder, “I was so scared.”
Her father continued, “Then that Morgaine woman came yesterday and told me what had happened. What happened to Thomas and to you.”
Eleanor said, “I’m back and now I am safe.” She pushed herself away and said, “might we have a cup of tea. There is a lot to talk about.” She wiped her eyes.
Her father smiled warmly, “Of course child. Isaac, get kettle on the boil and put a sign on the door.”
Eleanor sighed in relief, “Thank you. Father, this is Simone Campbell. She was a fellow student and she was …trapped with me.”
Eleanor’s father bowed and said, “Hello Miss Campbell. We are grateful you are safe as well. I appreciate your delivery of Eleanor. Now I am sure your family would like to see you as we are to speak with Eleanor.”
Simone looked stricken and she turned her eyes wide to Eleanor. Eleanor pushed herself back towards Simone and put her arm protectively around Simone and said, “I said there is much to be discussed. Simone will be joining us. When we talk, she may have things to be added to the conversation.”
Her father protested, “Eleanor, this is family time now. We need time to mourn together. We don’t need guests to see that. ”
Eleanor held Simone closer. She could feel the tenseness in Simone as the argument grew heated. Eleanor put her chin out and said, “Yes, it is family time. And she will join us as my family. I would not have survived without her. And she needs me now.”
Her father put his hands behind his back and leaned forward and said in a soothing tone, “I know you have been …traumatized and may not be thinking clearly, but Simone should see her folk and we need our own time.”
Eleanor dropped her arm around Simone and said, “Perhaps you are right.” She then took Simone’s arm and turned her around to the door. Simone’s eyes got wide and she stumbled as Eleanor moved quickly to the door saying, “Simone and I will be visiting her parents and perhaps we will stop here on the way back to Millicent’s …flat.”
The older man’s shoulders fell and he reached out as Eleanor’s hand touched the door knob and said, “Wait. Stay, please Eleanor. Stay. Miss Campbell, will you join us in some tea?”
Eleanor turned around and spoke for Simone, who was wringing her hands at the distress, “She will be delighted.”
Simone hissed in Eleanor’s ear, “Don’t know about that.”
Eleanor hissed back, “Don’t care. Won my first fight with Pater. “ Eleanor said through a clinched smile, “Enjoy the tea.”
The group walked into the back and up the stairs into the living quarters of the building. Everyone sat around a small table. Isaac served tea to everyone. Eleanor recounted the abduction and described her brother’s attempt to defend Eleanor against Winifred Stanhope and Alfred. For Thomas, it ended quickly. Eleanor never saw what they did with the body. Everyone in the room was quiet following the description.
In the quiet tinkling of tea cups and spoons that followed, Simone gasped and grabbed her throat and looked desperately at Eleanor. Eleanor whipped the control device out of her purse and pressed a button. Simone relaxed for a moment and then tensed and moaned again. Eleanor hissed, “Bastard” and pressed the button on her control again. Simone relaxed, she flushed and her eyes glazed. The Woodson men stared at the two women.
Finally Wallace asked, “What just happened?”
Eleanor knelt beside Simone and helped her up into a chair. She shook her head and whispered, “I begin to admire Millicent’s abilities at prevarication.” With Simone in a chair, Eleanor straightened and said more loudly, “Simone’s time with Smith was more complicated and more severe. She suffers from seizures as a consequence. This device, “ she waved the control around the room before she returned it to her purse beyond prying eyes, “counters those seizures if I act quickly. That was one reason I insisted on her joining us.”
Mr. Woodson looked at the slowly recovering Simone as she fanned herself and said, “I understand better.”
Simone sat up in the chair and said in a shaky voice, “That was most embarrassing.” Eleanor put her hand on Simone’s shoulder and Simone covered it with hers. “I fear I am quite dependent on that little device of hers for the moment.”
Mr. Woodson looked uncomfortable, “I didn’t realize…I…I apologize for my earlier bullheadedness.”
Simone smiled back and said, “I understand Mr. Woodson. You have Eleanor back, but you lost Thomas. Any family needs to grieve loss. And I am new and thus an intruder. I am most sorry for your loss. I have a brother and I love him dearly. I appreciate your indulgence of me and my …condition.” She squeezed Eleanor’s hand as she said the last word.
The conversation moved to more mundane topics. Eleanor asked about Millicent’s order. The frames were made but had been waiting for her designs on the doors. Eleanor would get those to him shortly. Eleanor said, “I think you can expect an order for additional wardrobes. Probably three if I am counting heads correctly. “ She considered for a moment and then added, “I may provide a new design for one of the wardrobes.”
Mr. Woodson raised his eye in question. Eleanor answered, “One of our friends was severely injured over my rescue and she may never walk again. A tall wardrobe would be a challenge for someone confined to a wheelchair.”
Woodson looked shocked and set his cup down and sat back, “Miss Morgaine said nothing of that.”
Eleanor sighed and said, “I am not surprised. She is taking the woman’s injury quite hard. She blames herself for Thomas’s death as well. Another woman in the party has been badly disfigured.”
Woodson fumed, “Who is this scoundrel that took you? Why hasn’t he been arrested? Is he answerable to no one?”
Eleanor’s eyes narrowed and she put her hands behind her back she said quietly, “He and others will answer to me.”
Woodson smiled and said, “Vigilantism hardly suits you Eleanor. Let the authorities handle these things.”
Eleanor said simply, “Father that is the problem. Our authorities cannot or will not catch him. Millicent can and will.” She paused and took a deep breath and looked at the table away from Mr. Woodson and said firmly, “And I intend to help her.”
Woodson stood up and shouted, “No daughter of mine will be involved in such matters. I forbid it.”
Eleanor moved towards him saying almost as loudly, “Your daughter has already been involved in ‘such matters’. I was a victim. I will not be helpless again. When he and I meet again, I will be the one dispensing punishment.”
A declaration of independence
Woodson paced the room, “No. You can’t. I… I won’t allow it.”
Eleanor followed him, “You can’t stop me. I will walk out that door. And you will not see me until I get my justice from him.”
Woodson stopped at the fireplace mantle with a daguerreotype image Thomas had made on his graduation. It sat below low the portrait of Eleanor’s long deceased mother. Her father said quietly, “I lost your mother. I lost Thomas. I almost lost you. I can’t lose you again.”
Eleanor came up to her father and place a hand his shoulder, “Times are changing, Daddy. I’m not your little girl anymore.”
The graying man didn’t turn around, but lightly jested, “You haven’t been my little girl since you were 16 and could look me in the eye.”
Eleanor smiled and continued, “I need to leave. I know too much now. There is more out there than we can imagine. I experienced a bad part of that, but that past two days I have had a taste of the good portion and is sweet as the previous week was bitter.”
Her father pulled out a handkerchief and put it to his face then turned around and said, “You and Thomas kept things going.”
Eleanor crossed her arms, looked at the ceiling and laughed light and with a catch in her throat. She then looked him saying, “Now you say that. Wallace has been as much a part of the factory as the two of us…more even. Isaac graduates in a year or two and he is already improving our sales. Trust them, Father. Trust them now.” She looked past him to the daguerreotype of Thomas and said quietly, “I can do something meaningful. I can save others like myself and Simone. I don’t need your blessing, but try to understand …I can’t stay.”
Woodson put his hands up and asked in a pleading tone, “Couldn’t this have waited?”
Eleanor tensed and her shoulders drooped, “I suppose it could have. And maybe I should have. But I have no doubt you will be expecting me to stay here. I’m not. I am here to pick up some of my things and then head back to Millicent’s …flat.”
“Then this is good-bye?” he asked.
“No…Daddy…I will be back each day early and we can have dinner some of those days. I don’t know when ‘good bye’ will be, but it is coming and I would rather tell you now than sneak away.”
There was quiet in the room. Woodson turned back to the portrait and image and asked, “So what happens now?”
Eleanor eased back to a spot next to Simone’s chair and relaxed a little, “I get some of my things. Simone and I go see her parents. And the two of us return tomorrow to help with your backlog. I will work with Wallace and Isaac to make sure the business is secure.”
He said quietly, “You and Thomas were always so efficient.”
She said quietly, “Wallace and Isaac will be as well. They already are.” She paused before she asked the next question, “Can I come back tomorrow?”
Woodson sighed deeply and said, “Of course…I’m…You have asked a lot of me today.”
Eleanor returned and hugged the man from behind, “I have. I suppose I haven’t been fair. But even without last week, I was going to leave. I need to see what I can do. The factory isn’t where I will find that out.”
After a few moments, Mr. Woodson disengaged his daughter’s arms and held her hands. “I am an old man who is feeling lost in the world at the moment. Wallace warned me I couldn’t keep you here. That you should be designing airships and more. Your brothers understand you better than I do. “
Eleanor turned to see Wallace smirking and Isaac looking sheepish.
Woodson continued, “You should get your things. Simone’s parents need to see her. Go. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”