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Contemporary Historical Fiction

London, 1861, April 29th


It was a cold gray day. Florence blinked tiredly at the tea set in front of her as she mechanically stirred in too much sugar and only a little cream. She forced down a yawn and accepted a scone from the maid, Emilia. 

“Is it bedtime yet?” She muttered, reaching for the butter. 

“Not yet, I’m afraid.” Emilia went to the fireplace to stir it up and add a log. “Your father should be along shortly.”

Florence wondered if she could request coffee and have it arrive before her father did. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be as her father, Owen Cordenmeyer, entered with the morning paper tucked under his arm. 

“Ah, Florence, have you seen your mother this morning?”

She shook her head. “No. I thought she was with you.”

Owen sighed. “She must have gone to the shops early then.” He sat down and unfolded the paper, immediately turning to the business section. Florence took this chance to shove half the scone in her mouth without him reminding her of her table manners. She had stayed up the night before to try and finish The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins for the third time and as such, had only gotten to sleep when the grandfather clock had rather abruptly announced that it was midnight. Florence had considered the interruption rather rude but had taken it and the blurring of the letters to be a sign that she needed to sleep. 

She had to wonder how her mother could possibly rise early enough in the morning to be at the shops right as they opened. Or how servants just knew when it was time to get up or when the family was done eating. It all seemed so mysteriously perfect. She added it to her list of life questions to pester her mother about when she got a chance. Margaret, better known as Peggy, was always flying in and out of the house to see friends, to have tea, to run to the shops, to do any number of utterly baffling things that Florence could hardly keep track of. It looked exhausting. 

Would she have to do that when she got married?

As Emilia walked in with a tray of porridge and bacon, the knocker at the door rang out, a hard thumping noise that could be heard even in the cellar. Florence jumped, hand flying to her heart as the shock wore off as quick as it came. 

“Ah,” Owen said as he folded the paper, hardly minding the noise. “That’ll be Miss Crew.” Emilia set the tray down and turned right back around to go answer the door as the knocker came again. 

Florence perked up as he got up to go greet the woman. She liked her governess. Miss Crew was quite the embroiderer and Florence took great joy in watching her form the intricate details of her work. She stirred her porridge and started to eat, eager to get to her lessons. 

Today was supposed to be knitting, French, and music. Florence wasn’t particularly a fan of French but her mother, a lover of all things French, had insisted. 

Miss Crew bustled in, her usual carpetbag in hand as Emilia hurried after her, trying to catch the scarf the older woman was waving around as she spoke to Owen in a frustrated and almost sarcastic tone. Florence assumed it was quite the story if she was being sarcastic. That was usually reserved for more private talks during lessons. Like when Miss Crew reminisced about her time with her American husband and his unusual turn of phrases. 

“-and the boy had the nerve to say I was wrong!” She finished whatever story she was telling and primly sat down in the chair Owen pulled out for her. Emilia finally caught the scarf, looking relieved that a quick inspection revealed no dirt or mud on the ends. Florence suppressed a laugh at the maid’s exasperated frown as she left the dining room to fetch tea. Or, knowing Miss Crew, smelling salts. 

“How terrible,” Owen agreed as he retook his seat and picked up the paper. “Makes me quite glad Peggy and I only have Florence. I don’t know what we’d do with a boy.” At that, Florence did let out an undignified little snort. Her father was never a particularly affectionate man, at least not while she had been a child that tracked mud in the house. She had once overheard from the cook Alberta that it had been a medical reason her parents only had her, but Florence was positive that it was because her father simply couldn’t handle the chaos that came with children, even with servants and his wife to handle most of the work. 

“Florence,” Miss Crew warned as Emilia handed her a cup of tea. “Ah, perfect temperature as ever Emilia, thank you, darling.” She took a sip of the scalding liquid with a sigh of relief, letting it heat her from the inside out. 

“Sorry Miss Crew, sorry Father,” Florence said dutifully. 

“Finish your breakfast,” Miss Crew flapped a hand. “We’ll start with French and get it done early once you’ve finished and fetched your books. Oh, Mr. Cordenmeyer, will you be going into the offices today?”

Owen nodded. “Yes. I have a case coming up. Some boring tax stuff, sadly. What I wouldn’t give to go back to being a criminal lawyer!” He sighed. 

Miss Crew shook her head and fanned herself. “I’d never!” She said fervently. “Florence, sweetest, promise your dear old Governess that you’ll never marry a criminal lawyer! Oh I don’t know how your mother ever managed!”

“Of course not, Miss Crew,” Florence promised. “I’ll marry a banker.”

“There’s a good girl,” Miss Crew said with relief. “Oh, what’s the news, Mr. Cordenmeyer? Anything good, please.” 

“Stocks are on the rise.”

“That’s good.”

“Virginia has voted No on seceding from the Union.”

“That’s… good?”

“I haven’t the faintest clue. The colonies baffle me.”

“There’s to be a Festival this year providing the Thames freezes appropriately.”

“That’s good!”

“Workhouses are overcrowded.”

“That’s bad.”

“And there’s to be a new serial from Charles Dickens.”

“That’s good!”

“Florence, are you finished?” Owen folded the paper up and set it to the side for Emilia to use as kindling.

Florence nodded and carefully stood. “I’ll see you tonight, Father.” She kissed him on the cheek and went to fetch her books. 

Why waste time reading the paper when there were French lessons to suffer through?


September 14, 2021 19:31

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3 comments

16:57 Mar 10, 2022

CJ, I love your writing. Compelling and descriptive, you take the reader to the setting.

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Bruce Friedman
20:06 Sep 19, 2021

I can't think of one possible thing that I didn't like in the story. I was particularly impressed with the momentum achieved through the dialogue.

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S. Thomson
22:30 Sep 15, 2021

Hey, one tiny thing. The 18th century refers to the years 1701-1800, so 1861 is actually in the 19th century.

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