Author's Note: This is my first time publishing my work. I would really like some feedback about my writing style, story development, etc. Please enjoy!
I am so very tired today. Yet another day in dreary old London. It's the time of year when the sun only comes out for twenty minutes a day. On the actual rare of partly cloudy day people go outside and marvel at the sun for hours at a time. I long for the days of bright sun shining in a blue sky bigger than you can imagine, that I enjoyed back home. It was a different world there, or rather will be.
Today is September 23rd of 1876 the first day of Fall here is London. Presently I am five and twenty, so it would be logical for you to assume the year of my birth to be 1851, but you would be mistaken. I was born Jessica Walton Knight in Dallas, Texas on March 18th, 1988. Confused? So was I.
One-hundred and thirty-four years from now I was sitting in a graduate school class in Lubbock, Texas. I stood up to go to my next class and the next thing I knew I was standing on a busy street with dirty buildings, cobblestones, horse drawn carriages, and people wearing strange clothes. Scared, I just stood there. Slowly, I started to take in my surroundings.
'Carriages, soot, hats, cobblestones, bustles... Nooooooooo I've gone insane! Time travel is not possible. Nope, not real. I am NOT in the 19th century.'
A nagging little rational voice in the back of my mind piped up 'but you can smell thing.'
I was so thankful that I had decided not to wear my capris that day. Never in my life had I been so happy that classrooms had notoriously cold temperatures. I was wearing long jeans, close toed shoes, a three-quarter sleeve shirt, and a long loose sweater jacket. My attire was not exactly going to allow me to blend into the background, but at least I might not be arrested for indecent exposure. The people were starting to stare at me. Had I just appeared there suddenly? Was that why they were staring at me? Or was it the clothes?
"'Scuse me Miss. You alright?" asked a man in his late forties. "Wha's wrong?"
He seemed to be more concerned with my panic stricken face and head to toe shiver, than my odd attire.
"Ummmmm... Not really sure," I replied numbly
"Tell me your name, Miss."
"Saw ya from me shop just there. Shankin' like a leaf, you are. You lost? I can see a Yank like you getting' turned 'round down here. Somebody steal your clothes?"
"Yank?" I asked. "Wait, where am I?" Then it hit me. His accent...cockney? I damned the adrenaline dulling my thought processes! The dirty market street that I was currently standing on was full of shops and stalls. Shoppers and workers from every socio-economic class crowded the sidewalks while carriages and carts rolled in both directions. People of every social class were stopping to look at me, the strangely dressed girl on the verge of a panic attack.
"Down by the Thames, Miss."
"Thames?" No no no. Not possible. "This is London?"
I had been to London twice in my life, but as you can imagine it looked slightly different than I recalled. My London was a clean place of majestic sky scrapers, and over priced historical tourist attractions. This was the dirty London of the Industrial Revolution I had read about in history books.
"Yea you in jolly ol'London town," he chuckled. "You more lost than I thought. Now Miss, what 'appened to yer clothes?"
I didn't know what to say to him. What was I supposed to say? 'Oh you know, sir just a bit of time travel. I have absolutely no idea where, let alone when, I am.' I could not think of anything to say that wouldn't earn me a one way trip to Bedlam asylum. Instead I just mumbled pathetically. "I... Um... I don't know."
"Wha you mean ya don't know?" He seemed confused now. I could hardly blame him, since I couldn't make heads or tails of the situation. My mind was still spinning at a rate that made in-depth thought difficult and framing complex sentences next to impossible.
"How'd you get 'ere?" he asked. He was trying to understand what I was going through. Clearly, he was a good and simple man with a heart of gold. I could not have asked for a better person to help me through the initial shocks of time travel.
"I don't know. I don't know how I got here, or why I'm dressed like this," I exclaimed out of frustration, lying the best I could.
Apparently my appearance had not elicited sympathy from everyone because walking quickly up the street was a young upper-class gentleman with a policeman. The young man looked highly offended and was talking to the officer with a truly impressive amount of hand gestures in my general direction. Still in shock, I did not realize the significance of their approach. My new friend, however, did.
"Miss don't say nofink unless you spoken to. I'll help you as much as me can."
I gave a confused nod. My addled brain struggled to keep up with the new developments all around me.
"'Allo Officer Langston. Fine day isn't it," he greeted the man with a grin and wink.
"Morning, Mr. Tanner," greeted the officer in return. "Who is your young friend here?"
The well dressed young man interrupted with an unnecessary amount of indignation: "She's obviously a harlot. Either that or a drug addict who has lost her mental faculties. Look at her eyes!"
"There's nothing wrong with my eyes!" I retorted ignoring Mr. Tanner's advice. My head was starting to clear making the insult flung at me highly offensive. Being the proud and self-sufficient person I am meant that I could not simply let it pass without making a response.
"Thank you Mr. Hamm, I can take it from here," offered the officer politely but making it clear that the young man needed to shut his trap. Mr. Hamm stood there, arms crossed, staring at me with a self-satisfied smirk. I did not like this gentleman at all. The officer turned to face Mr. Hamm rephrasing his request, in a firmer tone, "Leave."
"What?" Mr. Hamm seemed truly offended by the officer's order.
"Leave, Mr. Hamm," repeated the Officer Langston with even more emphasis.
"I reported her!?" the man exclaimed in outrage. The expression on his face was reminiscent of a child when Christmas is canceled.
"Yes, sir, bravo indeed. You reported a lost and mugged foreigner. American judging by the accent. If we arrested every one of them found wondering the streets of London we would have no time for actual criminals," replied Officer Langston matter-of-factly.
Mr. Hamm stood there for a moment longer before storming off looking extremely cross. Something told me that he would be talking about this insult for days.
"Really?" I blurted out. I found it hard to believe that there could really be that many mugged foreigners in this city. My mind was clearing at an alarming rate. I was still utterly confused, so the gravity of talking to a police officer in the 1800's was still beyond my comprehension.
"Quiet Miss," Mr. Tanner shushed me. He looked extremely worried. My tendency for blurting things out was quickly going to get me in trouble.
"What is your name, Miss?" asked the officer. I looked at Mr. Tanner who nodded.
"Jessica Knight," I answered quietly. Having him finally address me brought the gravity of the situation crashing down on me like an anvil. I really did not want to get arrested.
"She's just lost and confused officer," elaborated Mr. Tanner. "I'm trying to help her find her way. Must of hit 'er head and gotten all mixed up."
"Thank you, Mr. Tanner," spoke up Officer Langston mildly. "but I'm talking to Miss Knight."
"Of course, sir, just trying to help," apologized Mr. Tanner.
"How noble, sir, but let her talk." Officer Langston was quickly losing his patience.
My heart was starting to beat quickly and my anxiety was on the rise. This man was going to think I was insane!
"Do you know where you are, Miss. Knight?" asked the officer.
"Yes, I'm in London down by the Thames," I replied with a shaky voice. I was now happier than before that I had met Mr. Tanner first and not Officer Langston. A trip to Bedlam mental hospital didn't sound pleasant, and the likelihood of that was still increasing exponentially.
"Do you know where you are supposed to be?" coaxed the officer gently.
"Ummmm..." The cement that had replaced my mind was unable to come up with a lie quickly to answer him.
"Are you trying to tell me you don't know where you're supposed to be? Do you know how you got here?" Suspicion edged into his voice. I could see him busting out the handcuffs any second now.
I was so afraid that tears were starting to form in my eyes. Full-fledged panic was setting in when Mr. Tanner spoke up suddenly: "She just arrived in London, sir. She don't know the districts, or her way 'round."
In a moment of clarity I blurted out, "Fresh off the boat. I'm tired and confused. Like Mr. Tanner said my head hurts and I'm really lost."
"And these ain't even her clothes, Officer. She don't know exactly what happened."
"Is that right?" he asked skeptically. "Tell you what, we're going to go down to the station and figure this out."
It felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. Prisons, especially in the 19th century, were not nice places. I felt completely helpless because my fate was now in the hands of a police officer who did not believe me. Panicking, I looked at Mr. Tanner.
"It's alright, Miss," he assured me gently. Instead of looking at me or the officer, he was looking anxiously up the street. I could not tell what he was looking at. "You'll be fine. Trust me."
In my mind all hope was lost. My future was going to be one of filth, guards, and iron bars instead of the bright future in the museum field I had been planning. As the officer put his hand around my arm to lead me away, I was on the verge of tears.
"Officer Langston, Mr. Tanner, oh thank the Lord you found her!" Cried a man from up the street. "Jessica, I've been looking for you everywhere!"
"Mr. Cunningham?!" remarked Officer Langston. He seemed shocked to see this stately looking older gentleman, wearing a black suit, top hat, and long black over coat, walking briskly towards him. "You know this woman?"
"Of course I do, she's my niece!" exclaimed the man breathlessly as he approached.
"What?" exclaimed Officer Langston and I at the same time. Now I was almost certain that I had gone insane. A psychotic break seemed like the only logical explication for the events of the day. I did not have an uncle in the 19th century, certainly not one in Britain. Both sides had my family had been in the United States since before the French and Indian War.
"Yes!" confirmed the man calmly. "Mr. Tanner knew I was looking for her and when he saw this young woman, he sent his son to my home. Once I heard her description, I knew it had to be my Jessica."
"But she's an American?" Officer Langston offered the sentence as a question more than a statement. He had a look of pure confusion on his face.
"Your point being?" inquired Mr. Cunningham rather casually. "She is the granddaughter of a business associate of mine who moved to the United States to expand his business. Her mother was like a daughter to me, so when her and her husband passed away I agreed to look after Jessica. She arrived two days ago but just vanished late yesterday. Thank you for finding her, Officer Langston. I shall surely write a letter to your chief about your good work." The explanation almost sounded plausible. If I hadn't known the truth, I would have believed him. Who was this man who lied so easily?
"Thank you, sir!" replied a rather flustered Officer Langston. You could tell he didn't know what he had done right, but he wasn't about to pass up a commendation. "I'm just doing my job."
"Also Mr. Tanner I shall be a more regular patron of your shop," continued this man who seemed genuinely grateful to have found me.
"Much obliged, sir. It was my pleasure. She had the poise and stature of a lady, and the ginger hair just like you said," replied Mr. Tanner with much more grace than the higher classed Officer Langston.
I, the supposed lost niece, had not even consulted, nor had anyone noticed that I had a look of complete confusion on my face. I wasn't about to argue of course, because this course of events might just keep me out of jail.
"Come give your uncle a hug," requested my new relation with a warm smile. "I've been so worried about you my dear," He leaned in and whispered in my ear, "Get you out of this mess in a minute, my dear, simply play along."
My confusion level had now reached a record high which was impressive considering my day thus far. This man knew that he was not my uncle, but he was helping me evade arrest nonetheless.
"Do you need anything else from us officer?" asked Mr. Cunningham pleasantly. "I'd like to take her home. God only knows what she has been through."
"Of course, sir. Do you require an escort?" Judging by Officer Langston's eagerness to please, I gathered that Mr. Cunningham must be a man of great importance. Who was this man and why did he say I was his niece? I was starting to hope that we would be getting to the question and answer portion of the day sooner rather than later.
"That won't be necessary, Officer. I wouldn't want to keep you from your other duties. Thank you again. Mr. Tanner please accompany us; I need to discuss a business matter than with you," replied Mr. Cunningham. "Here, my dear, put on my cloak. We'll be home soon. My carriage is around the corner."
As we walked to his carriage, I pulled on his cloak and took Mr. Cunningham's arm. Mr. Tanner left his son in charge of the shop and followed close behind us. I walked along in a fog. Why was I going with this strange man who lied to police officers with the same ease as one puts on shoes? The simple answer: there was no other viable option. At least Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Tanner were trying to keep me out of jail. Or so I hoped.
Ahead, a beautiful black coach stood waiting for us around the corner. Its driver hopped down to open the door and lower the step as we approached. Mr. Cunningham helped me into the carriage and climbed in after me. Having never been in a carriage before, the small cramped space was a change from my spacious Buick Park Avenue, but fairly comfortable nonetheless. There was no light in the carriage except that which came through the windows. A small lantern hung in one corner for night riding. Less than thirty minutes ago I had been a graduate student in Lubbock, TX, and now I was rolling down the streets of 19th century London in a horse drawn carriage sitting across from a man pretending to be my uncle. Confusion must have covered my face.
"You know, if you hold that face long enough it will stick. That would not be very pleasant for anyone now would it?" teased Mr. Cunningham with a good natured grin and laughing eyes. "What's your name, Miss?"
"Your name, dear. I don't know it. Mr. Tanner's son told me your first name, but that is only part of the picture. All I know is that you are the young lady that I've been waiting to appear for years. I mean that in the least creepy way possible, of course. So how about it? Give us your name."
"Jessica Knight." My name seemed to fall from my mouth as if pulled by a string.
"Lovely. Middle name?"
The carriage started to drive through the crowded London streets. After only a two blocks a huge bump in the road that jostled the coach, sending me flying. As I climbed off the floor, Mr. Cunningham gave a chuckle.
"You will get used the carriages. There is a reason it is called exercise."
"Well excuse me," I growled. "We don't exactly have these where I'm from,"
"You have some fire in you," he said looking at me with knowing eyes. "Don't you mean when you are from?"
"How? Wha-" My heart skipped a beat and fear crept onto my face along with ever present confusion. How could this man know that?
"I know you are from the future," he explained calmly. "I assure you, all will be explained once we reach my home."
At a complete loss, I leaned back in my seat. This man didn't know who I was, or where I was from, but he knew I was the one he'd waiting for and that I was from the future. Fantastic! I didn't know anything about him! All would be explained, he said. How do you explain this? Mr. Cunningham just sat there on his side of the carriage looking out the window watching the dirty streets of London roll past as if it was a typical day.
"How do you feel about 'Jessica Cunningham'?"
"What?" My over stimulated brain struggled to keep up with everything that was going on.
"For your new name."
"Why do I need a new name? You told Officer Langston that I wasn't your real niece," I said intelligently. "How does that work anyways? Why would a British merchant move to the States? He wouldn't have been the most popular person after the War of 1812. I assume this is the 1800's correct? I mean when else are you going to see a bustle?" It was nice to see that my brain had not completely abandoned me.
He smirked lightly. "So you were paying attention. It was hard to tell, you looked so confused."
"I was trying to figure out if I had gone insane," I replied with a snort.
"Jury's still out," I said with a small grin.
"Smart, pretty, and fiery," he stated with a laugh. "I can see we are going to get along swimmingly."
"Is that surprising? I have a bachelor's degree in Anthropology and am working on a master's degree in Museum Science! I'm very intelligent," I retorted heatedly.
"Oh of this I have no doubt. You are very well equipped to handle the challenge ahead of you. Even under the stresses of today, you are still sharp. I am proud to have you as my heir, and I've only know you for 10 minutes."
"Heir? Wait what?" I said, remembering that I had no idea what was going on.
"Ah we're here," remarked Mr. Cunningham ignoring my comment.
Outside the carriage I saw a large and beautiful four story blue gray brick townhome. Home hardly did it justice. Mansion was the more appropriate descriptor. Each level had tall windows with keystone arches over them and the decoration was more ornate on the lower two levels than the top. A small set of steps led to a dark carved wood doorway. Through the opposite window I could tell that I was in a nicer part of London. There was still soot, and dirt on all the buildings, but the ladies and gentlemen on the street were richly dressed and the houses were well maintained. Mr. Cunningham stepped down out of the carriage gracefully and started to move towards the house. Mr. Tanner held out a hand to help me down, but I didn't take it. Instead I jumped down and ran in front of Mr. Cunningham blocking his way.
"What do you mean heir?" I demanded, not letting him pass.
"Like I told you in the carriage," he said patiently.
"Nice try. You only said I was your heir, not what that means." Annoyance and anger was quickly over-taking the remainder of my shock.
"Can't get anything past you now can I?" he replied amused as he walked around me into the house. I just stood there facing the busy street with my mouth open and confused.
Mr. Tanner came up next to me. "It's alright, Miss. He's a good man, Mr. Cunningham. Trust him."
"Why should I?" I asked in an exasperated tone. For all I knew Mr. Cunningham was an axe murdering sociopath. Fear was slowly starting to creep in with the confusion. I wanted answers!
Mr. Tanner offered me his arm. "Don't got much of a choice," he said sympathetically. I didn't know why but I trusted Mr. Tanner. He looked at me as if he understood what I was going through, even if he couldn't relate. Taking his arm, we walked into the house together.