A Heartless Design

By: Elizabeth Cole

Chapter 1

London, Spring 1806

The steel clad ship gleamed silver in the bright marine sunlight, its own brilliance rivaling that of the flashing sea. It was like staring into the depths of a diamond. And, like a diamond, the ship itself was nearly indestructible. The sails, white as summer clouds, billowed in the winds, an old technology still essential in this new age of innovation. But beneath the hull was yet another surprise...steam. The combination of a metal hull and a steam-powered propeller made this ship unique. What could stop such a creation? Cannon-fire could not sink it, weather could not slow it. Such a beauty of the high seas deserved a worthy name, the name of a warrior goddess: Andraste.

But clouds were gathering on the horizon…

In her landlocked London home on the quiet drive of Quince Street, Cordelia Bering shivered. She had been distracted, daydreaming of her ship again. As a gifted engineer, she’d designed several ships in her life, but none captured her imagination like this one. She shook her head, bringing herself back to the present. The breeze coming in through the open window of her bedroom hinted at an unusually cool night for late spring. She briefly considered staying in, but her aunt Leona did enjoy the parties of the Season, and Cordelia hated to disappoint her. The two women were all that remained of the close Bering family.

Cordelia herself had little interest in these events—at 27 years old, she ought to be on the shelf. But she did not relish staying home every night, when the time stretched out too long and lonely. Her days were full. Her nights were not.

With a little sigh, she returned to the final details of her outfit. The high-waisted silk dress she wore would scarcely keep her warm even on a balmy night. The thin, fashionable fabric, dyed a deep golden yellow, would be useless this evening. So Cordelia twirled her cashmere shawl around her shoulders, casting a look in the large mirror above the vanity.

“Bond, can you fetch the pearl drops for my ears?” she asked her maid as she considered her reflection. “I think they’ll go best with this gown.”

“What? Oh, yea.” The young woman was still adjusting to being called by her last name, instead of Lucy. She was dressed in a stiff starched blue gown that marked her as a lady’s maid, and was taller than many her age. She hurried to the jewelry case and extracted a pair of earrings for her mistress. Then she hastened back, her brown curls bouncing as she walked. “Here they are, ma’rm.” Bond offered the earrings with a slight bob.

“Madam,” Cordelia corrected gently. “Or ma’am.”

The girl flushed. “Madam,” she repeated carefully, in an accent now much closer to Cordelia’s own. “Here are the pearls, madam.”

“Perfect.” Cordelia took the earrings from Bond. “You’re doing very well.” Bond had only been Cordelia’s lady’s maid for a few weeks, but she was a fast learner. Her hazel eyes lit up at Cordelia’s praise.

“Thank you, madam.”

“And, Bond, ladies’ maids don’t say yea. They say—”

“They say yes, madam,” Bond replied quickly. She paused, then confessed, “It’s so hard, ma’am. And to think there’s men about who can speak French and Latin too.”

“It’s just a matter of practice. You’ve come a long way. Soon, I’d be able to put you in any home in London.” Cordelia smiled at the girl as she put on the earrings.

“Oh, ma’am! I wouldn’t want to work for anyone but you. Just think if I worked in another house and someone found out about me, where I’d been!” Bond shuddered. “I’d die of shame, ma’am. That’s all there is to it.” Lucy Bond was not exaggerating. Only a few months ago, she’d been in Bridewell, a hideous place even compared to other prisons. Many women would die of shame before admitting that they’d seen the inside of it.

Many more would die because of the stigma alone. No reputable house would hire a former criminal, leaving the convicts who managed to complete their sentences little choice but to return to a life of crime simply to survive. So what kind of house is mine? Cordelia wondered for the thousandth time. But she didn’t let her thoughts show. The young woman standing in front of her had enough burdens.

“Nonsense, Bond.” Cordelia looked back to the mirror, examining the pearls and casting a final look over her appearance. “Within a few months, you’ll forget that horrible place. And rest assured that I have no intention of shipping you off anytime soon. I need a lady’s maid, after all.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll do my best.”