Adelaide Francis Part 1 (maybe)

Submitted into Contest #89 in response to: Start your story with a character taking a leap of faith.... view prompt

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Historical Fiction Coming of Age

Saturday, 27th September 1873

My Dearest Kate,

            As you are, I am sure, well aware, I am safely aboard The Soleil. At current, I am huddled in the corner of my bunk, trying to stay warm. Believe it or not, it is quite cold in the middle of the North Atlantic, even in September, and my quilt isn’t very warm. If I were rich, and had access to a little stove in one of the upper-level cabins, I would probably be happily reading in a chair, instead of shivering here trying to ignore the stench of sick coming from a few bunks down. But, I am not rich, so here I am.

            I feel a tad like Jane Eyre, when she grew tired of Logwood School and moved to Thornfield Hall for a fresh start. Do you think London will have a madwoman in the attic? Well, perhaps not the attic, as I am sure London has lots of attics, and there is most likely a madwoman in at least one of them, but I suppose what I am saying is, do you think something exciting will happen? I suppose if I hope for adventure, I shall get it, and then very quickly regret wishing for it. 

            Oh, how I miss you, Kate. I hope you know that I didn’t leave Boston because of you. It was just that every street, every corner, every shop, reminded me of him. And everything I said and did reminded everybody else of him to. A girl of my age without family or connection, and with my history, is destined to live the life of my mother. You wouldn’t want that for me, would you? I am certain you wouldn’t. I hope you will one day forgive my leaving you. But we needn’t speak of that now. New city, new people, new me. I only wish you could have come with me. Perhaps when poor John is better, you will. I will settle myself in London and you will always be welcome in my new home for however long you want.

            Life on a ship is very strange. Three times a day, we go to the galley for stale bread, lumpy porridge, and potato stew. I have heard that those travelling in first class are given oranges. Oranges! I’ve never even had an orange. When I arrive in London, new me will be a woman of style who eats oranges regularly.

            “Oh this? It’s only an orange. Yes, I bought it myself, would you like a wedge? I have plenty to spare.”

Yours always,

Adelaide

Monday, 20th October 1873

Dear Kate,

            I have been on this ship well over a fortnight, 23 days, to be exact (yes, I have been counting), and the novelty of life at sea has long since worn off. I am cold and hungry. I would give anything for a bite of spinach or some onion; I never realized how tiresome potatoes could be. I suppose if I am tired of potato already, I shouldn’t be going to England, of all places. I am seasick most days, and desperate for a bath. Worst of all, I am bored. So, so bored. You will probably receive this letter at the same time as the last; there isn’t exactly a postal service leaving The Soleil in the middle of the ocean, but I needed something to do. I ran out of cloths to patch about a day after we left. There were lots of holes, but almost no dresses, I only have my two worst ones, because I had to sell the others to pay for the ship fare. I will need to buy a warmer one when I get to London, because the weather will be getting colder. Heavens, it’s starting to sound like there are a lot of things I’ll “have to buy once I get to London”, and no money to buy them with. I’ll be lucky if the small lot of (American) cash I have stuffed into the top of my corset lasts me one week worth of rent. I need to find a job, but I don’t know how to do that without any connections. Oh Katie, what was I thinking? Jane Eyre got her job before moving to Thornfield, I just jumped on a boat at the first sign of trouble! I’m already regretting this decision, and I haven’t even arrived. 

            Give John and your sister my love.

Yours,

Adelaide

            Adelaide could hear London before she could see it. The fog (or possibly smoke) of the city was so thick she couldn’t make out the roofs of its buildings or the glow of its windows, where candles were lit even in daytime to ward away the gloom. The clamor of carts and the shouting of dockworkers, though, were in no way muffled by the haze. The deck of The Soleil was alive with commotion. People shoved each other to get to the rail, squinting in hopes of getting a glimpse of waiting family members or their first sight of the city. Children cried in confusion as adults talked over one another in excitement of their arrival. Adelaide sat anxiously in a corner, her back pressed against the wall of a cabin. She clutched a tattered suitcase, which had belonged to Kate’s husband, John, to her chest, her few belongings carefully folded inside.  She remained tucked safely out of the way as deckhands through ropes to the docks and people shuffled in a chaotic mass off of the boat, embracing loved ones and exclaiming at their safe arrival. Adelaide waited for the initial wave of people to subside before she steps onto the sooty ground of London for the very first time. 

            Her first order of business was to find a post office and mail the two letters to Kate.  She asked a rather harried dock-worker, who gave a somewhat vague response with a wave of his hand before yelling at a pair of filthy boys for “blocking the boarding platform.

            London was loud and dirty, possibly even more so than Boston. After several weeks spent in the relative quiet of the sea, Adelaide felt that her ears were being bombarded by yelling, the rattling of wheels, and the occasional off-pitch song of a drunkard. If anyone thought it was strange to see a 16-year-old girl wandering alone with a suitcase and a somewhat lost expression, nobody said anything.  After much frustration, a healthy amount of panic, and retracing her steps at least five times, Adelaide finally reached a small post office. The postmaster took in her stained dress and greasy, poorly pinned hair with obvious distaste, but exchanged her American bills for British ones and took a few coins and her letters nonetheless.  

            She asked the man where she might find lodgings, and was quickly on her way. 

            The first innkeepers wife she spoke to, a plump, friendly looking woman of 40 or 50 informed her that the rent was far out of Adelaide’s budget, a faint look of sympathy on her face, but apparently not enough to lower the cost of a room.

            The next declined her less kindly, slamming the door in her face and spitting,

“We do not keep your kind here. You’ll have better luck a few blocks down.” It took Adelaide a moment to realize what the woman meant, before she realized how she must look. A young, unmarried woman traveling alone, with in severely stained dress an almost no money to her name. The thought sent tears to her eyes, despite her best efforts, as she kicked the door half-heartedly with a scuffed leather boot.

“I’m not a prostitute!” The words were louder than she had meant them, and an older woman across the street looked rather horrified as she hurried past. Adelaide sat down right there, at the door of the inn, feeling scared and alone, and wishing desperately that Kate was with her. She pulled her watch from her pocket, turning it absently in her hands, before she remembered that it had been his watch. Before she could stop it, her traitorous mind recalled his smile, the warmth of his hands as he’d placed it in hers. HOR was engraved on the front of it. The letters weren’t his initials, but whenever she asked about it he’d changed the subject or kissed her until she forgot about it… Adelaide shook her head in a failed attempt at clearing it and flung the watch away in disgust, wiping tears from her eyes hard enough to hurt. 

            The next inn Adelaide tried proved more fortunate. It was a rowdy sort of place, a pub with a few rooms for rent above it, and was definitely not somewhere she would want to be seen by anyone that knew her, but Adelaide was tired and desperately in need of a bath. 

            “Rent’s 14 shillings and seven pence per night per room, and an additional one shilling five pence if you wish to take a bath, 2 pence if you’ll be needin’ a towel. We don’t do hourly fees. That is, I’m assuming you’re here for a room, with that case an’ all?” the innkeeper, also working as a bartender, asked as he dried a dented tankard and put it back on a shelf. It was only five in the afternoon, so the bar was mostly empty.

“Erm…” Adelaide pulled a stocking from her pocket, which was serving as a make-do coin purse, eying the foreign money skeptically. She had no idea what “pence” meant. 

“Ah. You’re American, aren’t yeh?” Adelaide only nodded. “Mary, would yeh help the poor lass with her money? She don’t know her sixpence from her half-crown.”

            A blonde young woman who was busy wiping down tables with a stained rag, looked up and made her way over to the counter. The girl was young, probably Adelaide’s age or a year older, with blond hair and a strong chin not unlike the bartender’s. She was probably his daughter. 

            “You’re American?” Adelaide only nodded, and Mary sighed through her nose in poorly disguised exasperation. She took the sock from Adelaide and dug out a silver coin with Queen Victoria’s head on it. “This,” she said, “is a crown. It’s worth 5 shillings apiece.” Next she showed her a half crown, worth two and a half shillings, a florin, which looked like a crown but the queen was actually wearing a crown, worth two shillings, and a sixpence. There were twelve pence in a shilling, twenty shillings in a pound. Adelaide decided she liked American money much better. Why would you divide your money by six, twelve, and twenty, when you could use nice even tens? And why in heaven’s name did you need a coin worth two and a half shillings and another worth two?

            In the end, she handed the man three crowns, a shilling, and two pennies. It seemed highly probable that he was duping her, but she couldn’t see any other option. He handed her a towel and a key. 

            “Upstairs, two doors to the left. Your name?”

            “Adelaide Francis.”

Monday, 27 October, 1873

Dearest Kate,

            I am in London now, and have just taken a bath. Oh, how wonderful it felt! I don’t think I ever realized how expensive hotels are! One woman actually felt the need to inform me that she wasn’t running a whorehouse. Another woman pointed me in the direction of the Inn where I am staying now. British money is so confusing. I swear there are at the very least twenty different coins, so I will spare you their descriptions. Besides, the Brits and their strange currency aren’t why I am writing you now. The strangest thing has happened!  I had only just finally managed to pay for my room, a bath, and a towel, when the innkeeper asked for my name. “Adelaide Francis,” says I. “Well then,” says he, “you should have said so earlier. You’ve already been paid for!” He thought my mother had rented my room for me, said she’d come by a half-hour before to pay, but my  mother’s… well, I suppose  you know perfectly well where my mother is. I decided it wasn’t worth arguing if I got a room for free, but it is still very strange. Perhaps he just felt sorry for me. Either way, I shall be locking my door securely tonight. 

            How are you and John?

            I miss you terribly already!

All my love,

Adelaide

P.S. As soon as I can find a more permanent residence, I will send you my return address. 

April 16, 2021 14:57

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4 comments

Emma Louise
14:58 Apr 16, 2021

I'm gonna be honest, I don't know what this was. I did have a plan when I sat down to write it, it was gonna be urban fantasy, but I ran out of words and time (classes resumed in person this week). If you like the beginning, I might write another chapter, I don't know. I decided it was worth posting anyway cuz even if it is in no way finished, it was fun to write.

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Palak Shah
19:31 Apr 20, 2021

You have great taste in dialogue and the story flowed so well. You have done a great job with your description as I can picture everything so vividly. Good job !!! Could you please read my story, if possible. I hope that we could be friends :)) ~Palak Shah

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Ellie Yu
20:06 Apr 16, 2021

This is a really fun start to an interesting story! The dialogue and the way you write the accent feel very realistic. Your description is also great - I can picture the London Adelaide arrives in so clearly. I would really enjoy reading another chapter :)

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Emma Louise
02:17 Apr 18, 2021

Thank you! I was kinda picturing the way Hagrid's accent was written haha.

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