The beginning of a new book for the beginning of a new year!
copyright 2013 by Shelley Adina
The Evening Standard
October 9, 1889
TITANS OF MODERN INDUSTRY DIE IN TRAIN CATASTROPHE
In a tragedy that strikes at the very foundations of society on two continents, one of London’s brightest lights and most brilliant minds, Lord James Selwyn, and the leader of modern railroad invention in the Texican Territories, Mr. Stanford Fremont, have both lost their lives in a train wreck on the trackless plains of the Wild West.
Both men were traveling west on the inaugural journey of the Silver Queen, the newest locomotive in a vast railroad empire that stretches from New York in the Fifteen Colonies to San Francisco, the capital of the Royal Kingdom of Spain and the Californias. Accompanying Lord James was his fiancée, Lady Claire Trevelyan.
The journey was to be a showcase for Lord James’s latest invention, the showpiece of the newest exhibition at the Crystal Palace, the Selwyn Kinetick Carbonator. The Carbonator had produced enough coal to power the locomotive and several luxury coaches, as befitted Fremont and his titled guests, with only two stops to take on unprocessed coal during the entire journey across the Wild West.
However, on the second day out of Santa Fe, disaster struck. From what the Texican engineers can piece together from the wreckage, the arid atmosphere of the salt flats caused the coal to ignite prematurely and with such vehemence that it caused the tender and boiler to explode. The locomotive was blown off the tracks, and the passenger coaches jumped the rails, resulting in total loss of life.
Funeral services for Lord James Selwyn will be held at St. Paul’s on Monday, the second of October, at eleven o’clock in the morning. His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, patron of the Royal Society of Engineers, is expected to address the mourners. Services for Lady Claire Trevelyan will be held privately at the family estate in Cornwall.
This publication humbly extends its condolences to the Selwyn and Trevelyan families, who have been beset with tragedy in recent months. As many readers know, Vivyan Trevelyan, Viscount St. Ives, was killed in a mishap while cleaning his antique pistols. Old Lord Selwyn himself passed away recently. With the death of Lord James, his only son, the baronetcy now passes to a cousin, Peter Livingston, who recently announced his engagement to Miss Emilie Fragonard, of Cadogan Square.
Claire Trevelyan smoothed the newspaper on top of the navigation chart. She had been encouraging the Mopsies to read the easier headlines aloud, until they had all stumbled upon the particularly grisly one in the “World” section. “My poor mother. No sooner does she cancel my first funeral than she must immediately plunge into plans for my second.”
Andrew Malvern looked up from the tiller, where he and Jake were jointly calculating how much altitude the airship, the Stalwart Lass, would have to gain in the next hundred miles to take them over the aptly if unimaginatively named Rocky Mountains.
“We can send a pigeon as soon as we reach Edmonton. That paper is a week old. The funeral will have been held, so there is nothing you can do to forestall it.”
Maggie laid a hand on Claire’s arm. “Yer mum’ll be happy to ’ear you ent dead again, Lady. Funeral or no funeral.”
“She’s going to stop believing in reports of my demise after this, that is certain.” Claire angled the paper down so Maggie could see it. “Can you read this line to me?”
“Wiv the death of … Lord James, ’is only son, the … Lady, I dunno that one.”
“I beg yer pardon, wot’s that?”
“It’s a title, Maggie. It means that if you met Peter Livingston, whom I once seated next to my friend Emilie at a dinner party because she was sweet on him, you would call him Lord Selwyn. Once she marries him, Emilie will become Lady Selwyn.”
“Instead of you.”
“Quite right. Instead of me. I’m sure her mother is delighted that there is no longer any danger of her being left off guest lists at dinner parties.” Claire sighed, gazing out the expanse of glass that formed the upper section of the Stalwart Lass’s gondola. “To think that I once worried about such things.”
“We’ve got other things to worry about,” Alice Chalmers called, coming along the gangway from the engine at the rear of the gondola. “She’s not giving me any lift at all—it’s everything I can do to keep her airborne. We can’t take a run at those mountains unless Andrew and Tigg can pull a miracle out of their hats.”
“Ent got a hat,” hollered Tigg from the back. “Alice, come ’ere!”
“Or a miracle.” Andrew turned from the tiller and ran a finger down the chart on the table, moving the newspaper they’d picked up in Reno to one side. “If we don’t get some lift in the next couple of hours, we’re going to run smack into the side of a mountain. Some of these are thousands of feet high.”
Claire, whose idea of mountains had been formed while on holiday in the Lake District, could hardly imagine it.
“Alice!” shouted Tigg. “We got trouble!”
Alice turned and ran astern, Andrew and Claire hot on her heels. “What’s the matter? The ship was flightworthy when we left Reno,” Claire said to Andrew’s back.
But that had been two days ago. As she knew now, anything could happen to an airship in two days.
“She may have been, but whatever old wreck of an engine she put in here, it wasn’t meant to go much farther.”
“It saved your hide, if you recall,” Alice snapped, popping into view from behind the engine cowling. “Don’t go calling my girl names.” Tears flooded her eyes and she blinked them back.
“I apologize,” Andrew said at once. “And I hadn’t forgotten. I never will, you may be sure of that.”
“And mine, too,” Claire put in. “Twice. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful as the Stalwart Lass coming through the sky, both times.”
“She’ll be fallin’ out o’ the sky if we don’t do summat,” Tigg put in tersely. His round, coffee-colored cheek had a smear of grease across it from chin to temple, and he held a wrench in either hand.
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than something deep in the engine hitched and coughed.
“That’s done it.” Alice grabbed a safety line and clipped it to her belt. “Don’t fail me now, girl.” She grabbed one of the wrenches and leaped down onto the propeller housing. The wind slapped her pants flat against her legs, and she pulled her goggles over her eyes. One look at the great axles that powered the propeller must have told its own story. “Who’s on the tiller?” she shouted above the sound of both engine and wind. “We’re going to go down!”
“Jake!” Claire ran forward. “Alice says we’re going down!”
Maggie gasped and clutched her twin, Lizzie, who burst into tears. “I knew it! I knew I should ’ave stayed home and not mucked about in airships.”
Claire grasped both their hands and drew them over to the glass, controlling her own panic with a herculean effort. “Look. We’re not in the mountains yet.” Though they loomed in the near distance, tall and blue and forbidding, rimed with old snow. “Remember what Captain Hollys told us on Lady Lucy? Airships don’t crash. It’s a long, slow glide to a soft landing.”
Lizzie did not buy that for a moment. “That were if the gas bags burst, Lady. Wivout an engine? We’ll just stay up ’ere floatin’ about till we starve to death.”
“Naw, we won’t.” Jake grasped the controls for the elevator vanes with both hands. “One stiff breeze and we’ll run into one o’ them rocks first. Mr. Andrew, I could use you on the tiller if yer done gawkin’ at that chart.”
“Quite so.” Andrew took the wheel and turned it a few degrees east. “If these charts are up to date, there should be a wide river valley in six or eight miles. Vanes full vertical, Jake, and I’ll release some air from the fuselage.”
Spaniard charts up to date? Claire could only hope. Her brief experience with the Royal Kingdom of Spain in Reno had left her with no very good opinion of their skills at engineering. How could it be otherwise, when they outlawed airships because—of all things—they contravened the intentions of the Almighty? The Lass had been allowed to land in Reno only because Alice was a Texican citizen, and only then just long enough to take on food and water and make a visit to the nearest bank and telegraph office before they were chivvied on their way as though they carried the plague.
No wonder James and Stanford Fremont were to have been received by the Viceroy himself when they and the Carbonator arrived in San Francisco. To the Spaniards, rail technology was the very pinnacle of human achievement. Anything else was practically suspected of witchcraft.
Her stomach lifted in a momentary feeling of weightlessness.
“We’re goin’ down,” Lizzie whimpered, hiding her face in Maggie’s shoulder. “I hate airships. It ent gonna be a long, slow glide. We’re gonna fall and die and—”
“Shut up, Liz,” Jake said through his teeth. “Yer makin’ me nervous.”
Andrew glanced over his shoulder. “What’s happening back there? Claire, perhaps you should check on Alice.”
She did not want to check on Alice. She wanted to remain fixed at the window, as if sheer strength of will could bring the ship in for a safe landing.
But that was selfish and pointless. So instead, she ran back to the engine, where an alarming plume of black smoke now trailed in their wake.
“Lady!” Tears were whipped from Tigg’s eyes through the open hatch. “I can’t hold ’er—She’s gonna burn up!”
The ancient engine, which had suffered so many lives, had finally come to its last. “Claire! The kill switch!” Alice shrieked. “Get her stopped!”
Claire reached past Nine, who was standing silently by as if he’d been deactivated, and jerked the engine’s emergency ignition lever down. The engine juddered and shuddered, steam hissing out from among the gears and every possible aperture. The smell of burning intensified.
Even the kill switch had died.
She whirled, scanning the engine room for anything she could use.
She snatched up an iron crowbar that had been flung to the floor. There was no hope for the engine, so this would not hurt any more than the utter destruction it was destined for. “Alice, get out of there!” Alice scrambled up onto the gangway and Claire rammed the crowbar into the seam of the red-hot boiler door and pried it open. With a whoosh of surprise, the door blew off, the contents spilled out into the sky—and the engine gasped and gave up the ghost.
The wind whistled through the sudden silence.
And then the earth, spiny and sharp with trees, leaped up to meet them.