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Historical Fiction

They say all is fair in love and war. But, neither of those things are fair are they? Life is not fair. It is a battlefield full of winners and losers. It is made up of the avenged and the vengeful. I happen to be that latter.

I have been vengeful for a very long time. Something was stolen from me many years ago and I intend on making that wrong right. Or at least right for me. 

My name is Margaret Davenport. That name should mean something to you, though I doubt it does. My fame was indeed stolen from me by a man you have most certainly heard of: Charles Babbage. I met him at the most horrendous party ever imaginable in 1814. Georgiana Whitmore’s father had thrown it for the eldest few of his 15 children to mingle and meet possible spouses. I still remember the ballroom as clearly as I would any other nightmare. The walls were covered in paintings, statues, and gold. The 12 chandeliers twinkled in the setting sun from the stained windows. On the sides of the room were lavish, velvet chairs. To me, the entire affair was an excuse to flaunt their family's money and attractive sons and daughters. To this day, I am still unsure of how I was made to enter the room at all. I suppose it was my old friend, Lisa Merriweather, that forced me to go. She claimed she had an eye on a man and needed a chaperone. What I could do to aid her in this endeavor, I have no idea. 

It was there that I met Mr. Babbage. He was attending the party and approached me after I had been cornered by Georgiana Whitmore. She had been rambling about ribbons and other ridiculous things when her brother introduced him to us. Of course, I had no romantic interest in him. However, from that moment I knew there was some hint of knowledge inside his head. Georgiana, seeing past this, was immediately taken by the man. And, as it seems, the feeling was mutual. The two were married within the year and somehow my presence at the party warranted me an invitation to their wedding. 

I suppose I liked Georgiana just fine. She seemed not to mind when I made my disinterest clear when she had prattled on for too long. In turn, I attempted to be bothered by her overall stupidity.  I like to believe that I am a great deal smarter than other women. I could best any man in a test of knowledge. In any case, that day my restraint was tested as I sat in that chapel for hours. Eventually, the woman was escorted by her father looking like a parade float. Her dress had so many frills, layers, and lace that it was almost impossible to see her face at all. A more fashionable person may have admired or even envied the garment. But, my dear reader, as you have most likely discovered, I am not one of those people. The persons of whom I have spoken all gasped when she glided past. Her ruby red smile sparkled as flecks of golden light touched her face. Mr. Babbage returned her smile and his eyes shone brightly. After another hour of prayers and promises, the two were happily wed. Only after they had departed in their carriage was I able to finally relax or so I optimistically thought. 

The groom’s brother, Henry Babbage, approached me just as I had resolved to make my escape. 

“Miss Davenport, it is lovely to meet you at last!” he exclaimed.

“I am sure it is,” I responded stiffly, looking past him for my carriage.

“I am told you are quite bright.”

I sighed, knowing that the fellow would not stop until he had a proper conversation. So, I resigned myself to the fact that I would not be back in the luxury of my home for at least another quarter of an hour.

“Thank you,” I responded politely. 

“My brother is quite the mathematician.”

“Your new sister-in-law has mentioned it once or twice I believe.”

“I will get to the point. My brother is a proud man, too proud for my taste.”

“Most men are, Mr. Babbage, by no fault of their own.”

“Yes- well.” he seemed rather flustered by that last comment. 

“He has an idea, a good one I believe. He needs help. Charles has fantastic ideas for days but not quite the plans to match them.”

He hastily continued upon seeing my eyes reverting to the road behind him. I will admit, I was mildly interested in the conversation but would not let him know that. I am known for my ability to intimidate even the most stubborn of men. I would like to continue that reputation.

“Carry on, Mr. Babbage.”

“You are sharp, almost too sharp for most men’s taste. But, my brother will need your help in bringing his creation to life. If you are willing that is.”

I paused for a moment and he prattled on.

“There would be a handsome payment of course if you presented anything of value.”

I gave him a stern look.

“Not- not that you would not have any usable ideas. Not- not usable. I meant fantastic ideas. Your ideas must be-”

I could have included more of our conversation but as it only contained the repetition of the same ideas already showered in nervousness, I felt it would be pointless. Indeed, I was quite intrigued as Henry told me about the idea of some form of invention to assist mathematicians in their work. I cooly responded that I would write to Charles as soon as he finished honeymooning. 

The newlywed’s vacation, however, was much longer than anyone had expected. In fact, it lasted a whole six months. How either could survive that long with just the other as company, baffled me. In the spring of 1815, they had returned. Just as I had said, I wrote to Charles and explained my interest in his idea. A month later, I received his response and it was quite disappointing indeed. Charles claimed he was so smitten with his family and new, obnoxiously lavish, home, and a job that he did not have time to work on a new invention. Unfazed, I did what any self-respecting person would do and marched to his home and knocked on the door.

“Is Mr. Baggage home?” I asked the footman promptly when he opened the door.

“No mam.”

“Margaret darling!” a familiar voice exclaimed shrilly.

Georgina appeared in the doorway, decked out in as many frills and lace as on her wedding day except in a jade blue. 

“You must come in and have some tea! You look famished!”

She ushered me into the sitting room before I had a chance to respond.

“I am not famished, Georgina, I am agitated.”

“What for?” she asked gently, signaling for a tea tray to be brought for us. 

“I was promised a job from your husband and his brother. However, it seems married life has distracted him. Now, he does not wish to carry on with his invention.”

“He asked for your help?”

“He needs it badly I am afraid. The fellow does not know the slightest thing of engineering,” I responded, taking the steaming tea she had offered me. 

“What is this invention exactly?”

“Your interest surprises me, Georgina.”

“Well, if we are to be properly married, I must take some interest in his work.”

“That is the very reason I am not wed.”

“You do not like hearing the ideas of others?”

“Only if they are worth my time.”

“Is Charles’s?”

“I believe so. The idea he is proposing would revolutionize the study of math. A device that could calculate even minor problems would be very successful.”

“Would it make much profit?” she asked nonchalantly, sipping her tea.

I could not help but smile upon hearing this. It was time to spring my trap.

“Certainly,” I exclaimed before carrying on in a solemn tone.

“But, if he believes in what he wrote to me some time ago, it will remain only an idea.”

“Well! I will most definitely speak to my husband! Passing an opportunity like this would be quite foolish.”

“Quite foolish indeed!” I heard her exclaim as she left the room.

In her visions of obtaining even more money, she had forgotten about her guest. I was not disturbed by this and simply finished my tea before leaving. I left a message with the footman to have Mr. Babbage write to me if his wife had succeeded. I was quite sure of my victory and when I got his favor a week later, I discovered I was correct. 

We arranged for a meeting and a fortnight later we went to work. I confess, his idea was a good one. But all he had outside his mind was a name written on a scrap of paper: Difference Engine. It was then that I realized exactly how much I would have to do to make his vision a reality. After a few months of negotiations, we landed on a very handsome price, even more than what Henry had originally suggested, as my pay. By the time we had secured a workspace and I had properly planned, much time had passed.

We worked, gradually making progress for another year before the project was halted. The pair had announced that they were expecting a child. How this could possibly affect our work, I had absolutely no idea. It was Georgiana that was doing all of the work after all. But, no matter how much I argued with Mr. Baggage, he would not move on his stance. So, for the next year, my precious project had been shoved under the rug for him at least. 

It was only days before I had come across another idea that suited me quite nicely. I had resolved to take up the project myself. The going was rough as I lacked the resources that my old partner had had. I wrote his brother, Henry, who had seemed agreeable and, more importantly, gullible. In less than a quarter of a year, I had convinced him to give me the funds that I required. Naturally, I was forced to hide this from Charles. However, if a man could abandon his future so quickly, is it possible he really cared for it at all? 

By the time he was able to enjoy the happiness of parenthood, I had finished. Yes, it took me until 1822, but I had in fact solved one of the world's more difficult problems. The Difference Engine was a beautiful contraption. I had invited Henry to tea to admire it after I had worked out the last of the minor issues.

“It is a beautiful contraption, Margaret!” he exclaimed, circling it.

“Indeed it is. However, I must tell you that I require your help once more.”

“With what? I do not see what I could possibly do to assist you.”

“You flatter me too much, Henry. I am afraid your brother has become quite the problem for me.”

“What has Charles done?”

“On general principle, I must tell him of the invention.”


“May I be frank?” I asked.

Henry, knowing that either way, I would still give him my honest opinion, merely nodded.

“Your brother is extremely arrogant. I do not see how he could stand for his idea to be made real without him. Though, it must be known that it was him who gave up.”

“What exactly do you wish for me to do?”

“I plan on personally informing him of his grave error tomorrow noon. I am of the impression that you would help to soften the blow.”

As I had expected, Henry had protested this idea a great deal. I was able to convince him after an hour with the promise that I would not tell his brother of his support of my project. 

I do not relish in my telling you this but I was rather nervous upon hearing the date on which we were to meet with Charles. He was, as I have said many times before, a supercilious and arrogant man to the extreme. The only thing that was left for me to do in the days leading up to our meeting was to prepare. I am not one to plan out conversations, however, it seemed necessary if I were to persuade Mr. Babbage to let me take credit for the invention. My reasons for this are quite obvious. I was the one that had done all the work for years and he had a lucky hunch that he gave up for fatherhood. My only hope was that this newfound joy of his was powerful enough to overwhelm his less desirable traits. However, I doubted this possibility greatly.

On February 10, 1823, Henry and I set out on our quest. The carriage ride to his brother’s house was a silent one, not that I was complaining. I needed every minute to build up my intimidating manner and confidence. Judging by Henry’s expression, I could tell he was not doing the same. Indeed, he was looking like a lamb to the slaughter. I even thought I heard him whisper a short prayer as we arrived at the Babbage household. I do not believe in a God, but, at that moment I wished there was one to help me.

With one last deep breath, I stepped out of the carriage and approached the house. Not willing to trust a footman with something so precious, I employed Henry to carry my covered contraption into the sitting room. Waiting for us was Georgina who immediately threw her arms around me and began chattering on about how good it was to see me after such a long time apart. She informed us that her husband would be with us shortly and began to talk politely about the weather. Wishing to put the odds in my favor in any way that I could, I obliged. 

“I am loving the cool weather too,” I said, forcing each syllable out of my mouth.

“How are you, Georgina? How are the children?” Henry asked.

Her smile got so large so quickly I thought she was about to burst. Georgina gave us every small detail about the past few years at a terribly slow pace. After what seemed like hours, Charles entered the room.

“Henry! I am so glad to see you!” he exclaimed, hugging the man in question. 

“And Margaret, you look very lovely!”

“Charles, I hope this remarkable life you have built is suiting you well,” I responded with a charming smile.

“Yes, yes! It is everything I could have asked for and more!” he exclaimed with a loving look to his wife.

“Charles, do you remember the Difference Engine for calculating decimals we were working on years ago?”

“Why yes.”

“I finished it.”

“What?” he asked.

“I have been working on it day and night for many years,” I said, when he did not respond I hastily continued.

“It has been rather successful. I wanted to thank you for everything you did to assist me. But that is not quite why I am here.”

“Why are you here then?”

“I am going to apply for a patent this weekend. Because it was your idea, I grew worried you wanted to claim it.”

Instead of a response, Charles took the cover off of the invention and almost gasped. 

“Charles?” Henry prompted after another moment.

There is no need to continue with that conversation. I am perfectly capable of summing it up. Seconds later my heart shattered. Charles had made it clear that he wanted to take the credit. Yes, I fought for a long year to keep my claim. But, all that work was in vain. In 1823, Charles got support from the government to continue working on it and the rest is history. I have been blacked out from your history books and erased from your minds. Life, like love and war, is not fair. Neither was this.

February 27, 2021 03:41

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1 comment

Kajsa Kalmbach
18:14 Mar 03, 2021

I really loved how you stepped aside from the story to talk to the reader in some parts! It made the story different and more interesting.


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