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.
The sun beat down hard, causing circles of of red, black, pink and orange to dance on the inside of Victoria’s closed eyelids. She breathed deeply, enjoying the sweet scent of the long grass and the sound of birds chirping above her. The heat of the sun was cooled by a gentle breeze, which lightly rustled the trees, and somewhere in the distance, someone had set a fire. She loved being home. Four years of finishing school, and it had felt like she had not had a moment’s privacy. But now she was back, in the tiny village of Calms, surrounded by fields, and a five minute walk from the beach. Of course, it was only an hour carriage ride from the city, and at weekends the peace was shattered by city folks trying to enjoy the green. But this was not the weekend; now, there was silence.
“Isabelle!” A shrill voice shattered the tranquility and Victoria propped herself up on her elbows, squinting against the bright sunlight, trying to identify the source of the intrusion. “Isabelle!” The voice shrilled again. “Come back! You’ll get pollen all over your dress!”
“I don’t mind the daisies, mother!” A younger, softer voice responded. “And they aren’t like lilies, the pollen doesn’t stain!”
“If Mrs. Sykes leaves us because you ruin another dress, Isabelle…” the shrill voice chided.
“She won’t, mother!” Isabelle sounded tired. “If it has any pollen on it, well, I shall clean it myself, but I’m certain it won’t.”
“I’m going home, Isabelle! Will you come?” There was a long silence. “Isabelle?”
“I’ll catch the train, later. I have my purse.”
“Catch the train alone? What if…”
“I’ll be fine! It’s such a lovely day, I can’t bear to be inside on it.”
“If only you showed such enthusiasm for Sir Thomas.”
“Perhaps I would if he was as lovely as this day and this place!”
“You are insufferable!”
Then, the noise stopped. Victoria leaned back down and closed her eyes once more, but a shadow fell over her and she tried to rest. Opening her eyes revealed a silhouette, completely black with the sun behind it, of a woman, in a long dress peering down at her.
“I say,” the voice was the girl identified as Isabelle. “I’m sorry you had to hear all that riot! Did not see you lurking amongst the daisies. Come here often?”
“Not for about four years,” Victoria surrendered to the disruption and propped herself back up on her elbows. “Do sit down, I can’t make you out at all with the light behind you, you may as well be a demon!”
“Perhaps I like being anonymous!” The girl laughed lightly, but obliged by sitting down opposite her. “I’m Is,” she held out her hand in the way a man might when meeting another man. Victoria studied it curiously. She had been taught that ladies curtsey to one another, but never shake hands. She supposed sitting in the position they were would make curtseying difficult, but the hand was offered with such a natural confidence that it might be the most normal thing for women to shake hands. “I say,” Is looked slightly hurt. “Don’t leave me hanging here, gosh!”
“Sorry!” Victoria half laughed, took the hand and shook it. “Victoria, Vicky, if you like.”
“Jolly nice to meet you!” Is shook her hand vigorously. “They don’t teach handshakes in finishing school I don’t suppose.”
“Oh, I was joking. You’ve been to finishing school?”
“Yes, I only came home yesterday.”
“Are you finished?”
“Well, I suppose I must be, mustn’t I?” She studied the strange girl, with her shock of red hair, angular features and bright green eyes that sparkled with mischief.
“How depressing,” she observed, leaning back on her elbows, matching Victoria’s pose. “What is there left to do then? Find a husband, I suppose.” She pulled a stem of grass from amongst the many that concealed them, carefully peeled the stray leaves and placed it between her teeth.
“You really shouldn’t lean back,” Victoria said urgently, sitting up and holding out her hand. “The way your mother reacted to pollen, grass stains may actually kill her!”
“We can at least live in hope!” Is laughed lightly and lay all the way back. “I suppose you think me terribly wicked now?”
“No,” Victoria pulled herself up and hugged her knees through her skirt. “I just think you might be the most honest person I’ve ever met. I mean, you just say what you think, don’t you?”
“Little point in saying what I don’t think, is there? May as well be a politician! I suppose they told you you should lie in polite society, did they?” She sat up and studied Victoria when she didn’t get an answer. “No need to worry here, I’m not polite society.”
“Not lie,” Victoria said thoughtfully. “Just, only to say bland things, nothing that might shock, or cause controversy.”
“So you can be a bland wife to a bland husband and have bland children. How very vanilla.”
“It’s bland, isn’t it? Does anyone actually like vanilla? It’s what you have if you prefer texture to flavour, I think. I always opt for strawberry,” she added after a pause.
“I quite like vanilla,” Victoria smiled, she was enjoying not having to be concerned with etiquette, which was clearly foreign to this strange girl. “I suppose I will suit my bland life very well.”
“No,” Is said firmly and without hesitation. “They’ve tried to mould you into vanilla, but you are peppermint with chocolate chips, I can tell.” She sprung to her feet and held out her hand. “Care to grab a cone? I have money!”
“Alright,” Victoria took her hand and allowed herself to be pulled up. “I suppose you will judge me terribly if I choose vanilla?”
“Of course not,” Is offered her arm as they began to walk off. She was a good four inches taller than Victoria, and seemed uncomfortable in her dress, pulling at it every so often as they walked and shifting. “If your prefered path is vanilla, then good for you, I say. Would make life a damn site simpler, wouldn’t it, if we all liked what we were supposed to.”
“You mean like Sir Thomas?” Victoria asked, taking the vacant arm. She would never normally have been so impertinent, but Is seemed not to care one hoot for formality, and it made the conversation easy and free.
“Yes! Now you come to mention it!” Is laughed as they turned onto the gravel path that lead out of the field and into the heart of the village. The gravel made a sort of satisfying crunching sound beneath her feet and the breeze lightly shifted their hair, causing a welcome reprieve from the heat of the sun. There was still the faint smell of smoke from the distant bonfire. Is discarded the grass she’d been chewing and lead the way confidently to the ice cream parlour.
“Ladies,” a stout man with a handlebar moustache greeted them from behind the desk. Victoria recognised him immediately from her childhood visits with her father, but clearly four years had changed her. “What can I get you?”
“I’ll have a strawberry cone, please,” Is smiled cheerily at him as she unhooked her purse from a loop on her dress. “And my friend likes vanilla.”
“Actually, I think I’d like peppermint and chocolate chip, please,” Victoria smiled at the man, then glanced at Is, who was grinning so broadly that she felt shy and looked down at her feet.
“Righto,” Is opened her purse. “What’s the damage?”
The searing sun caused the cones to melt quickly, and there was silence for a long time as they sat on the bench outside the ice cream parlour trying to catch the drips before they reached their sleeves. The silence continued long after they had finished, they simply sat, watching people pass by on the street. First school was out, and there were mothers leading squawling infants away from the school house, followed by boys in shorts with long socks and clumpy great shoes chasing after one another, carrying jackets and ties which they had clearly stripped as soon as freedom permitted. They were followed by girls holding hands, in knee length dresses tied at the waist with ribbons, occasionally squeaking with delight as a boy scooted past pulling their plaits or knocking their bonnet from their heads. Victoria went inside and purchased them each a cloudy lemonade. When she returned she found Is wistfully watching the miners as they returned from the mines. They were grubby in their shirt sleeves and open collars, but she seemed enthralled by them, somehow.
“Is there someone else?” Victoria asked suddenly as she placed the lemonade in front of Is and climbed awkwardly back onto the bench.
“What?” Is looked up suddenly as though caught doing something terrible.
“Why you don’t like Sir Thomas,” Victoria felt awkward, as though she’d crossed some invisible line. There had been no lines – but now there was some sort of huge awkward barrier.
“Oh,” Is seemed to shake it off although her cheeks were flush. “No, I was just admiring their clothes.” She pulled at the collar of her dress again, eventually deciding to unbutton it. She sighed as though it had been strangling her.
“Their outfits?” Victoria observed her incredulously. “They’re mine workers, it’s not exactly high fashion, is it?”
“But they look so free,” she was still watching the men. “They can just be who they are, can’t they? Look at them, collars loose, sleeves rolled, no-one forcing them to do anything… They’re so comfortable in their own skin.” She pulled at her dress again and laughed.
“You seem very comfortable,” Victoria was studying her with interest. “I’ve never met anyone so much themselves.”
Is looked confused, studying herself and her dress. She pulled at her sleeves before saying. “Maybe I’m me, and this is my cage.” She pulled a pocket watch from her purse and looked at it. “Best head off to the train station, if I’m out after dark mother will send out the cavalry!”
“I’m sorry, Is,” Victoria stood urgently with her as she rose. “I didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”
“What?” Is looked at her for a moment. “You didn’t,” she laughed lightly and her eyes sparkled again. “I really am that afraid of my mother, she’s terrifying!” She laughed again and offered an arm. “Walk me to the station?”
Victoria slipped her arm through Isabelle’s and walked with her to the small station on the edge of Calms. Dusk was just starting to set in, and whilst it was still very warm there was a soft breeze now that seemed soothing.
“It’s that damn finishing school’s what it is,” Is said after a long break. “I bet you any money that if they hadn’t carted you off there you wouldn’t have even thought that you might have offended me. Wouldn’t have crossed your mind. They want us to always be afraid, and to know our place.”
“Maybe,” Victoria said thoughtfully. “I can’t really remember how I was before.”
“Indoctrination,” Is said firmly. “They’ll break you one way or the other. Not me, though, I won’t be broken,”
They arrived at the ticket office and Is bought a ticket to Smoke. Victoria walked her to the platform and waited with her in silence for the train.
“Well, look,” Is said as the train pulled in. “It’s been frightfully nice today, and I feel, well a bit like we’re, I don’t know, friends?”
“I think so too!” Victoria had been forcing down an anxious feeling, a sort of panic as though she were about to lose something very important and was powerless to prevent it. It was as though Is felt it too, but she wasn’t powerless, she was strong.
“So, why don’t you come and visit me in Smoke tomorrow?” She asked as she backed towards the platform. “I mean, if you’re not already busy?”
“I’m not!” Victoria smiled broadly.
“Well, good! I have brunch with Sir Thomas and Mother at White’s, but should be done by two, so if you catch the two-fifteen I’ll meet you at the station; sound alright?”
“You don’t say much, do you?”
“I don’t need to with you here!”
“Fair enough!” Is grinned and gave her a hug. “See you tomorrow, then. Cheerio!” And with that she hopped on the train and was gone.
Victoria smiled all the way home. It was still light, but there was a duskiness in the air, as the mist was rolling in from the sea. She climbed the steps to the small thatched cottage that sat on the edge of the village overlooking the sea. The front door wasn’t locked, Pa always left it open until she was home, so she turned the heavy knob and heaved it open.
“Pa?” she called as she untied her bonnet and hung it on the hook. “I’m home. Pa?”
“Hi Vic,” Pa’s voice came from the sitting room. “I’ve got some gents in with me, be a good girl and go to your room, eh?”
“Alright,” she agreed, peering in at the coat tails of the two large men who were standing facing her father. “Good night, then.”
The Smuggler’s Daughter is Copyright Claire Evans 2017, and the cover image is courtesy of Angelika Rust. To find out more about the author, visit chclepitt.com