Badger will be taking part in CampNanoWriMo for July, and thought it might be fun to post her progress, for you lot to read and comment on. She is writing a fantasy novel called The Smuggler’s Daughter. Be sure to check back regularly to find out what happens next.
Chapter Two: There’s a Knack to It
“What did you hear?” Pa said, knocking lightly on Victoria’s bedroom door.
“Nothing, Pa,” she smiled at him looking up from her book. “You know me, I never hear anything.”
“Good girl,” he smiled.
“Yeah, we just have to be a bit careful. There’s a new Justice in Smoke, they’re cracking down on the business.” Pa always called it ‘the business’.
“What’s coming in?” Victoria put her book down and gave him her full attention.
“Gent’s fashions, from over the water. You learned languages in that school, didn’t you?”
“Mais oui,” Victoria smiled at him.
“Good girl, you can come with me to the meeting tomorrow.
“What time, Pa?”
“Lunch time,” Pa looked at her, his dark brow furrowed in confusion. He was a big man, square jawed with a permanent eight o’clock shadow. To someone who didn’t know him he could be quite intimidating, but Victoria just knew him as her Pa. “Why? Made plans, ‘ave ya?”
“Yes, actually,” Victoria laughed. “I made a friend today, and I was going to meet her after lunch.”
“Can you rearrange?” Pa stroked his chin thoughtfully.
“I’ll try, Pa.” She tried to disguise the disappointment in her voice. “I’ll get the train to Smoke in the morning and let her know I have other commitments.”
“Thanks, Vic.” Pal smiled and quietly shut the door behind him.
The next morning Victoria was up early. She spent a great deal of time choosing the most appropriate outfit to meet the foreign gentlemen. Or that’s what she told herself. She hurried down the stairs, hooking her purse onto the loop on her dress and reaching for her keys.
“I’ll be back in time for the meeting, Pa,” she called as she headed out.
“You look nice,” Pa called after her as she hurried out of the door.
The day was grey, the summer heat diminished somewhat by the sea mist, which had rolled in the night before and remained. It left a soft lingering dampness in the air, and whilst it wasn’t cold, people were instinctively remaining indoors, or walking with their heads down, less inclined towards social interaction as they were on a sunny day. She bought her ticket and took her seat by the window. The train juddered into life and heaved itself out of a stationary position with an arthritic jerk. She rested her arm on the edge of the window, as much to steady herself as anything else, as the train rattled away from the station. She watched as hills and forests rolled by and they entered the more oppressive industrial area that was Smoke. Black soot billowed from chimneys and carts and carriages bustled past. As Victoria stepped onto the platform she was greeted by shouting vendors, an odd smell of fish, drains and salted meat and the feeling of needing to rush. Everyone here was in a hurry, so she too hurried up the steps and away from the platform. Reaching the top of the steps and the cobbled streets she realised she had no idea where she was going. Pa had taken her to Smoke, maybe twice when she was a girl, but she could barely remember it. She hailed a cab and asked the driver to take her to White’s. He looked her up and down, as though deciding whether she was joking or not, then shrugged, and helped her up the steps and into the carriage. The initial journey was bumpy, as they rolled along the cobbled street past vendors, small shops and bars. Smoke was busy, there were people everywhere, none of them noticing each other as they hurried about their own lives, oblivious to those around them. How easy, Victoria thought as she peered out of the window, to just come here and disappear. It was nothing like Calms, where everyone knew you and scrutinised your actions. The cobbles seemed to disappear from beneath them as the cab moved forward, and the buildings became, larger, brighter, more expensive looking. They turned down a road through a huge iron gate and up a gravel driveway to what could only be described as a mansion. It had a flight of steps leading up to the entrance, which was supported by huge white columns.
“Here we are, then, miss,” the driver offered her a hand down the steps and onto the path.
“Is this it?” Victoria felt her heart racing as she observed the massive building. She looked down awkwardly at her dress. It was her best, but it had several repairs, and the hem was worn.
“Yes, miss. Were you supposed to meet someone?”
“Not here,” she took a deep breath and steadied herself. “I shan’t be long, would you mind waiting for me?”
“Not at all, miss,” he tipped his hat respectfully and seated himself on the wheel of the carriage.
Victoria swallowed hard and mounted the steps into the entrance of the ominous building. There was a man standing at a sort of pulpit in the entrance, a book spread open before him as though he were about to begin a sermon. He looked disdainfully at her as she walked in, and she checked herself and tried to smooth the creases from her dress that had formed during her journey.
“Are you on the list?” he asked in a tone that implied he was certain she wasn’t.
“No,” Victoria looked straight at him. She knew he was a member of staff, and her finishing school had trained her to always speak in a commanding way to staff, to show that you have breeding. “My friend is here, I wonder if you would mine passing a note to her?”
“Who’s your friend?” the man asked suspiciously, although he did obligingly pass her a pen and paper.
“Isabelle…” Victoria stumbled slightly, realising she only knew Is’s first name. It seemed however a first name was enough.
“Miss Rafferty?” the whole attitude of the man seemed to change, suddenly he was nervous. “Would you like me to take you to their table?”
“No!” Victoria was horrified at the prospect, she quickly scribbled her note, folded the paper and handed it to him with the pen. “Please just give her this, thank you.”
The man nodded at her and scurried off. Turning heel she hurried back down the steps and towards the cab when she heard her name being called from the steps.
“Vicky! I say, wait a mo, will you?” Is was hurrying down the steps. She was wearing a dark green gown which perfectly complimented the red of her hair and the emerald of her eyes, but, whilst on a mannequin of this colouring it would have looked beautiful, on Is is looked almost awkward, as she pulled at it, battling to get more freedom of movement as she pursued Victoria down the steps.
“I didn’t want to disturb your brunch,” Victoria said awkwardly, waiting for her to catch up.
“Oh gosh, I wish you would, I’m on the verge of slitting my wrists with the butter knife!” Is laughed lightly.
“I have to get back to Pa,” Victoria looked uncomfortably at the cab driver.
“Well, look here,” Is said coaxingly, removing her pocket watch from her pocket and glancing at it. “It’s ten thirty now, stay for half an hour, the cab’ll have you back by midday!”
“I can’t afford to take a cab all the way back, Is!” Victoria looked away, ashamed by the admission.
“Of course not,” Is sounded mortified. “I’m sorry, Vic, look, cab’s my treat, alright? You don’t mind waiting, do you?” she asked the cab driver.
“Not at all, Miss Rafferty,” the cab driver nodded respectfully at her.
“There!” Is spoke triumphantly. “Come on, save me from the butter knife!” She held out her hand and Victoria allowed herself to be led in.
The inside of the building gleamed. It was pristine, and the massive windows caused light to reflect off the bright white walls and make the splendour of the dining area look more enormous than even it was. Victoria didn’t like it, however. Something about its size made it ghastly and impersonal; not at all like the Unicorn Pub in Calms, where she and Pa would sometimes go for lunch. That was cosy and friendly, and you felt safe. Here, she had never felt more exposed.
Is led her to a table facing the window, overlooking the massive and immaculately kept garden. Victoria suspected that a daisy would not dare show its happy yellow face to disturb the oppressively bright green of the lawn. Her ruminations were interrupted as she heard her name being spoken.
“Mother, Thomas, this is my friend Victoria,” Is introduced her and automatically Victoria found herself giving a small dip, as though in the presence of royalty. “I’d arranged to meet her here after brunch, but her train was early, so I invited her to join us.”
“Of course,” a tall, well bred woman with dark auburn hair and a stiff poise which made her appear somewhat rigid, forced a smile. “Please have a seat, Victoria.”
“Thank you,” Victoria spoke, but the words came out cracked, her mouth suddenly very dry.
“Juice?” Is had poured a glass from a jug on the table and handed it to her. She smiled with gratitude and took a sip.
“Really, Isabelle,” the woman chided. “I wish you wouldn’t do the staff’s job for them!”
“I am perfectly capable of pouring a drink, mother!” Is shot back! “I’m not an invalid!”
Sir Thomas laughed. “You certainly aren’t. What do you make of her, Victoria? Quite the independent. She’ll be going on one of those votes marches next!”
“Votes marches?” Victoria asked, sipping her drink.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of them?” He leaned back in his seat, clearly pleased to be given the opportunity to exercise his vocal chords. “Bloody women, marching on the capital, demanding the vote! What do they put back? Eh? If you don’t pay tax you shouldn’t have a say as to what it’s spent on, that’s what I say!”
“Perhaps if there were more options open to women than marriage or prostitution, which, let’s face it, is marriage but less boring, then perhaps women would pay tax!” Is shot back.
“Darling!” Sir Thomas still had a note of humour in his voice, but Is’s mother looked mortified by the outburst. “I hope that marriage is rather more comfortable than prostitution! And you wouldn’t want to end up a spinster, would you? How would you live?”
“On my wits, I daresay,” Is was confident, but not sharing the joke that Sir Thomas thought they were.
“And what about you, Miss…” he looked at Victoria.
“Smith,” Victoria lied, she did not want to advertise her surname to these people, Pa wouldn’t like it.
“Smith, what about you, do you want the vote?”
“I try not to get involved with politics,” Victoria smiled charmingly. “Leave politicking to the politicians, I have enough to do at home.”
“Well said!” Sir Thomas beamed.
“Indeed,” Is’s mother’s face seemed to relax and she leaned back in her chair. “I’m glad you’re spending time with such a sensible girl, Isabelle.”
“And of course, I live for your approval, mother,” Is looked thoroughly disappointed in her, and she felt a pang of sadness and took another sip of juice. “I suppose that’s what happens in finishing school, is it, Vic? They beat any sort of opinion out of you?”
“And teach you grammar,” Victoria gave her the most charming smile, which made Is snort.
“Oh? Which finishing school?” Is’s mother took an immediate interest.
“Le Belle Dame,” Victoria spoke with a perfect accent. “I am only recently home.”
“That’s an excellent school!” Mrs Rafferty trilled. “How did you find it?”
“Very pleasant,” Victoria took a sip of her drink and carefully dabbed her mouth on a napkin. “The mistresses are very professional and the weather is so perfect, it almost made me sad to come home, although we have been lucky these last few days, have we not?”
“Yes, indeed, it’s been wonderful weather.”
“Well, damn, Vic,” Is laughed as she walked her down the steps to the cab. “I think my mother might actually be in love with you!”
“That’s what finishing school does,” Victoria grinned and prodded her shoulder teasingly. “Makes you personable!”
“Thanks a bunch!” Is laughed, offering her a hand into the cab.
“Aren’t you coming?” Victoria asked as she went to shut the door.
“You told your mother we had plans, I just didn’t want to make a liar of you!”
“Good point!” Is laughed. “Alright then!” She climbed in, reached out the window and tapped the side of the cab, which took off at a slow trundle.
“So, what are our plans?” Is asked conversationally as she peered out of the window at the passing streets.
“Well, I have to help Pa with a business meeting, but we could do something afterwards. Do you like the beach?”
“I don’t have strong feelings about it either way,” Is grinned.
“Must be the only thing you don’t have an opinion on!” Victoria laughed.
“Do you think it’s awful that I’m so opinionated? I know everyone hates it.” Is looked awkwardly at her shoes.
“No, I think it’s wonderful! I’ve never met anyone quite like you!”
“Probably best! Too many like me and the world would fall into chaos!”
“Maybe the world needs a little chaos?” Victoria suggested.
“I don’t think it’s ready!”
They pulled up outside outside the cottage and Is offered her a hand down.
“Shall I put it on the account, Miss Rafferty?” the driver asked politely.
“Oh, yes please, if you don’t mind?” Is had reached for her purse, but put it back.
“Not at all, Miss. Will you want picking up?”
“I’ll take a chance on the train, I don’t know how long we’ll be.”
“Very well,” he tipped his hat respectfully and urged the horses on.
“This is it,” Victoria said a little awkwardly as she led Is up the steps to the door of the cottage. She had the feeling that the home that she and her father loved so much would seem very shabby to Is.
“Oh, it’s charming!” Is smiled brightly. “I’d much rather live here than anywhere in Smoke, it’s so impersonal and cold there!”
“Even your home?” Victoria asked as she pulled the door towards her before turning the handle. It was old and the hinges hung slightly wrongly, so one had to both pull and lift before the handle would turn.
“Especially my home!” Is laughed. “You’ve met my mother!”
“I thought she was very nice!” Victoria laughed. The door finally gave way under the effort and swung open with a mournful creek. The hallway was a mess, the coat stand was strewn across the floor and all the books knocked from the shelf. The banister leading up the staircase was shattered as though it had been struck with something heavy.
“I say, Vic.” Is touched her arm uncertainly. “Looks like there’s been an awful to do in here…”
“Pa?” Victoria’s voice trembled and came out much more quietly than she’d intended, so she tried again, this time shouting. “Pa!” She pulled away from Is and flew about the cottage, flinging doors open and checking rooms, all the time calling for her father. When it became clear he was not there she hurried to the parlour. At the back was an old metal safe, black with a golden knob attached to the heavy door. She fumbled with her key, her hand was shaking, but she needed to be calm. She pressed the door of the safe firmly closed with her foot so the bolts were under no pressure. Once this was done the key turned easily. It was then a question of twisting the knob and wrenching it open. It was a heavy door, to someone unaccustomed to it, it would appear still locked, but she had felt the tumblers move beneath the turn of the key, she knew the safe as though it were a part of her, so she pulled hard, tumbling backwards slightly as the door swung open. Reaching in, she took the gun in her trembling hand and pushed the door of the safe closed.
She swung around and found herself pointing the gun at Is. She was shaking and a tear rolled down her cheek as she lowered it.
“Alright,” Is put her hand gently on top of Victoria’s gun hand and pried the weapon free. “It’s alright,” she spoke very definitely and calmly. “I’ll keep a hold of this, if we need it you can have it back, alright?”
“We?” Victoria blinked at her.
“Yes, we dummy! You think I’m letting you walk into whatever it is you’re walking into alone? Wouldn’t be very chivalrous of me, would it?” she half laughed. “What exactly are we walking into?”
“I don’t know,” Victoria confessed. “But they have Pa, and I reckon I know where!”