Historical Fiction Fantasy

This story contains sensitive content

TW: Death Mention, Brief Mentions of Implied Gambling/Debt Accrual


Lady Ophelia was regarded as a prim woman, dressed in modest attire, and her hair pulled neatly into a bun at the base of her neck. Gold spectacles rested on a hawk-like nose while her lips remained in a disapproving sneer like she smelled a rotting corpse throughout each day. The town’s children played daring games, challenging one another to see who could get closest to the Lady’s gated mansion. Iron-wrought fence lined the exterior, extending some twenty feet in the air, while a gate remained shut regardless if she was home. There was no question the Lady despised children and all things related, so when the townsfolk spotted the old woman heading to the train station, cane in hand to retrieve a child, the news spread like wildfire.

The Lady stopped in the middle of the station and peered through the crowd of people, searching and scrutinizing, before spotting a pair standing by a massive stone pillar. 

“Mister Stein, I presume.” She stopped before the tall man. Her voice carried and held presence, reveling in her authority and established reputation. Mister Stein nodded to the woman and removed his hat, folded his arm over his chest, and bowed deeply from the hips.

“Cecil,” he returned, “A pleasure-”

“Oh, pish-posh. Is this the child?”

Mister Stein halted, his words cut off sharply. Politely, he cleared his throat and stood straight. The child standing beside him was young, hardly more than ten, a grubby leather suitcase settled by their feet. The child peered at Lady Ophelia with wide eyes, shiny and glistening with unfallen tears, before wiping a hand across their nose. The Lady grimaced in distaste.

“Yes, this is her. I am sorry for your loss.”

“Yes, well, death comes to us all. We don’t get to decide when.” The Lady sniffed. “Is this it then? Only one suitcase?”

“Aye, ma’am, just the one,” Mr. Stein confirmed.

“Puh, of course. Well, I suppose we will have to make to the shops. That tiny thing couldn’t possibly carry enough clothing to cover the next month.” 

Mister Stein gently pushed the child’s back, nudging them forward. The child stumbled with surprise, catching themselves quickly before turning and grabbing their suitcase, stepping over to the Lady.

“What is your name, child?”

“Eleanor, ma’am. They call me Nellie.”

“Who’s they,” the Lady questioned.

Nellie faltered and looked back at Mister Stein. 

“Um, everyone, ma’am.”

Lady Ophelia looked at Cecil with an irritated face. 

“Of course. Well, come along then. Say your farewells; we’ve much to do.” 

Nellie did not offer much in a farewell to the man. A quick glance between both adults was all she needed, as Nellie raised their hand in a wave before following after the Lady. As they walked, townsfolk parted like the sea while Ophelia led the way through the bustling streets, watching and staring incredulously at a child trailing after such a formidable woman. Children gawked as she stumbled past, trying her best to keep pace with the Lady.

“Um, ma’am-” Nellie started.

“No dawdling! Pick it up now, we are almost there.”

Endless questions died on Nellie’s tongue as she ran after the Lady, lugging the suitcase. The pair stopped in front of a massive shop decorated with ornate woodworking and painted an ostentatious shade of canary yellow. The roof was blue and the shutters were white. A sign hung from the house, “The Rose Petal Tailor” painted on its front, with a rose flower carved into the wood and painted red and green. The red was already chipping away. 

Following Ophelia into the shop, Nellie’s eyes widened into saucers. Clothes of every possible fashion were hung along the walls with stands in the center of the space, filled with delicately placed mannequins adorned in sparkling dresses and freshly ironed suits. Men and women flitted about, perusing the racks and shelves of clothing, investigating all the shop offered its clientele. A bell tinkled above them when the door opened and closed. Beneath their feet were thin, worn rugs, muffling the clonk of high-heeled shoes against the aged hardwood floor.

From around the corner, a well-endowed woman with a rouged face emerged, dresses thrown over one arm and her hair in a frazzled state of disarray.

“My Lady Ophelia, darling, what a pleasure! I did not expect you for another two weeks! Your order isn’t quite ready yet, I’m afraid.”

“Yes, nice to see you, as well, Catelyn. I’m not here for the order. I’m here for the girl.”

Catelyn peered around Ophelia to see Nellie standing nervously. The woman’s face brightened in delight and quickly tossed the clothes into the arms of another worker running throughout the store.

“What a darling she is! She can’t possibly be yours; you’ve always hated children!”

Ophelia stiffened as Catelyn approached and leaned for a better view of Nellie. The older woman glanced at the girl briefly before clearing her throat, averting her gaze. Stepping to the side, Ophelia granted the shop owner a better view of the young girl and took to looking over a nearby display of fabrics and embellishments.

“What’s your name, dear,” Catelyn asked.

“Eleanor, ma’am, but everyone calls me Nellie.”

The woman squealed with delight. 

“What an adorable name! Ophelia, dear, you must let me dress her! These rags cannot possibly be the only things she has to wear.”

“That is why we are here, Catelyn. The suitcase is all the child brought. Dress her in whatever you like. Put the amount on my tab as usual.”

Dropping her suitcase, Nellie was plucked away from Ophelia’s side and hauled off to a nearby dressing room. Pulling the curtain back, Catelyn ushered the girl inside and demanded she strip. With the curtain shifted back quickly, Nellie was left alone in the room with naught but her thoughts and feelings. Shivering in the cool air of the shop, she slowly opened the curtain and peeked out through the hole she made. Catelyn was nowhere in sight, but within view was the Lady.

Nellie’s eyes widened when she saw the suitcase in her hands. 

“Oh no…”

She must’ve dropped it when pulled away by the shopkeep. Catelyn re-emerged and in her arms were bundles of blouses, skirts, dresses, jumpers, and all manner of socially appropriate outfits for a ten-year-old child to wear. Her view was blocked as Nellie stepped away to grant Catelyn room in the changing area, she could only hope Ophelia wouldn’t rifle through her belongings. She couldn’t possibly, right?

Across the store, Ophelia rested the suitcase on a nearby table. It was locked shut with some stiff metal snaps and was surprisingly lighter than she’d thought. Carefully, she pushed the snaps up with small ‘thunks’ as the lid of the case opened. Inside was a single shirt and a single skirt. Anger flooded through the older woman at the lack of clothing the child brought with her, finding it disgraceful for such a young thing to be without any proper attire. The shirt and skirt were torn and grimy, with the edges fraying from wear. How old were these? Puh! She lifted the cloth with distaste, blinking in surprise at what was hidden beneath the clothing. 

A small book was there, without a cover, bound in leather and worn along the edges. The pages were yellowed with time. Ophelia lifted the book out of the case and opened it.

“To my Dear Eleanor, a light among the darkness of this family.

Keep this book and all things it carries close.

Never let your parents find it.”

Handwriting so familiar, Ophelia brushed the tips of her wrinkled fingers over the words before turning the page. With each flip, the woman was reminded of endless memories. Black and white pictures were plastered to the inside, while dried flowers decorated the pages. Calligraphy wrote small notes and captions as the same ink crafted swirling designs along the borders of each page to fill empty space.

Some of the pictures were of a young man in suits and a woman in modest dresses, both with kind faces, as Eleanor remained cradled in the woman’s arms. Ophelia paused at these pictures briefly, drinking in remnants of a family she once knew and now, no longer had. With each moment of remembrance, Ophelia flipped through quicker, avoiding any pages with the woman plastered inside.

Other pictures of Eleanor as a babe, both alone, and with an old man settled in his lap, were also throughout many of the pages. They wore flower crowns woven from dandelions and wildflowers, leaves dusting their clothes. The man wore suspenders and leather brown shoes, a cap on his head, his face aged, and hair scattered with salt and pepper. Many years had passed since Ophelia last saw her brother’s face, stolen from the world over an unpaid debt. How simple the solution was if only his pride didn’t prevent him from asking for help. The Lady sniffed quietly as she perused the book, flipping through the pages carefully and taking in the images of each picture, of each recorded memory, rereading the little notes written beside them. 

“Ophelia, darling, we’re ready with the first arrangement!”

“Send her out, then, Catelyn!”

The old woman turned to face the closed curtain before it was drawn back and the seamstress led Eleanor out into the room. She was dressed in a simple floral skirt long enough to meet her knees, a plain white shirt, and a mauve-colored flat which matched the flower print. Ophelia’s brows lifted approvingly and gestured with a finger for the girl to spin. Obediently, Nellie turned in a full circle, peering at the Lady once a turn had been completed, seeking out any semblance of validation.

“Good. She’ll wear the outfit out. Pack whatever else you have brought out and have Jorge deliver it when he returns. Anything unwanted after we try it at home, we shall return as usual.”

“Of course, ma’am! Go on, dear, I’ll get the rest of your clothes packed up.”

Nellie thanked Catelyn and stepped over to Lady Ophelia. Her fingers kneaded together, clasping and unclasping with nervous energy. The girl peered towards her suitcase before meeting Ophelia’s eye.

“You opened it,” she murmured.

“Yes. I did not anticipate finding this in your belongings.” Ophelia held the photo album out to Nellie with a pointed expression. “I did not realize you were so close to my late brother.”

The girl looked away, fingers now gripping her skirt. She shuffled, anxious, reaching out to take the book from the old woman. It was heavy and familiar in her hands, worn at the edges from the many times she’d opened it and peered at the memories. Ophelia was in some of the pictures, with barely a smile on her face, but the man was always smiling. She remembered her Grandfather with love and adoration, but Ophelia… Her great-aunt was a faded memory with little to hold onto. She was an abrasive woman, hard to be close to, and made her intimidating nature well known. 

“I miss him,” she whispered, “I miss Ma and Da, too.”

A long pause stretched between the pair before a hand came to rest on top of her head. Nellie froze, flinching at the sudden touch. 

“I do too.”

The hand vanished, leaving a strange emptiness, as Ophelia turned and stepped away from Eleanor. Blinking, Nellie carefully put the photo album back into her suitcase and snapped it shut, hauling it off the table and bringing it with her to where Ophelia waited at the front of the store. 

“Come, Eleanor,” the Lady cast her a look, “Let us return home.”

Nellie paused and glanced at Catelyn who beamed brightly at her. Quickly, she scrambled after the woman, the bell tinkling as the door opened. 

Home, Nellie smiled to herself, the suitcase lighter than when she first stepped off the train in this new town.

September 23, 2022 14:40

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Eileen Nunez
21:43 Sep 28, 2022

Beautiful and unexpected. Absolutely loved it


R. Hann
13:16 Sep 30, 2022

Thank you! :) I'm glad you liked it!


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R. Hann
15:01 Sep 23, 2022

Hi, thank you for reading my story! :) All likes and comments are greatly appreciated! Constructive feedback is welcome! <3


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