February 9, 2013 by Steampunkish Graphic Novels
August 6th, 1886.
“Jacob, this is the third time this month! You know how this makes me look, playing favorites?”
“Beg pardon, sir.” he coughed, “the work on that new subway has interrupted traffic.” Jacob attempted to look remorseful, putting his head down in ‘shame’. But it was also obvious he was biting his lip in an attempt not to smile. Coggins stared him down with a steady glare for about 3 seconds, then broke into a laugh. As they began walking down the boardwalk to the Diane, Coggins began confiding some details of the journey.
“There will be potential investors aboard. It is imperative that we leave on time to-”
A woman in front of them practically fell over, trying to yank some heavy baggage across the platform. She was flustered and showing signs of exertion as she turned to them.
“I’m ever so sorry, these bags of mine…”
She looked up, still a little confused, and then with a cry of recognition.
“Jacob! I mean, Mister Sims! I was wondering if I might run into you here!”
Coggins took in the young lady for a moment, a little dumbstruck. He had rarely seen such a girl so pretty. A true raven-haired beauty, and those eyes! They were green like emeralds, very distracting, even for an old horse like himself. He turned to look at Jacob and saw his smitten protege, trying to recover his balance as well. He coughed lightly to bring Jacob back into the present.
“Oh, my apologies!” Jacob responded, the stun wearing off, “This is my employer, Mister Jackson T. Coggins, owner of the Diane. Mister Coggins, this is Miss Catherine.”
“Miss Catherine, it is a pleasure to meet you. Jacob speaks too well of me however, I am only a part owner of the Diane. There are several owners of that vessel, but perhaps I am the most enthusiastic. I spent a great deal of time invested in its making and design. I know it better than most, perhaps Jacob being an exception. If you look down at the end of the skyport you will see it easily. It’s quite a bit larger than most.”
He smiled back at Jacob with a sly look in his eye.
“It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed.
Down at the end of the skyport it stood. The Diane dwarfed everything around it, its massive balloon shining in the morning sun. The masts were tall and magnificent, as if proud of their own sails. The outsides of the cabins, of which there were several, were teak, painted with tung oil and golden varnishes. Much love had been put into its construction, and it showed.
“Thank you, you are too kind.” said Coggins, proudly. “Perhaps we can be of assistance to you? Which airship, if I may ask, will you be boarding today?”
“Well – I must admit, Mister Sims’ descriptions of the Diane were so vivid and exciting when we met, I felt I must travel on it myself.” she said, her face looking just a little bit shy.
“Really? That’s wonderful!” replied Jacob, “Shall I escort Miss Catherine and her bags to the airship, sir?”
Coggins, seeing the looks that were passing back and forth between them. He sighed, caving in for the second time that day.
“Yes, Jacob. I think that would be very appropriate and Miss Catherine would enjoy that,” he paused suggestively, “having such heavy bags, of course.”
At this point, Catherine’s shyness turned into red, flushed cheeks that she hastily covered beneath a fan. Jacob, trying to save her further embarrassment, ushered her away politely. As he turned back to his benefactor, he saw the old man shake his cane at him. The message was clear enough – he would have to be mindful of how long he spent with her. Besides, he would have plenty of opportunities on the trip ahead.
“I hope I haven’t gotten you in trouble – have I?” asked Catherine as they reached the entrance to the Diane’s passenger entrance. “Your boss seemed upset.”
Jacob laughed reassuringly and stated that was not the case.
As they walked through the skyport, He gave Catherine a brief education on the skyport’s action. There were men un-tethering balloons and re-gassing them with hydrogen for the day’s work.
Jacob pointed out the hundred ‘Mules’, horse-drawn balloons, being prepared. Jacob explained the commercial benefits of their deliveries over wagons, being 4 to 5 times as fast. He showed her larger cargo vessels and even some private transportation balloons being prepared for liftoff as well.
But while coastal vessels were remarkable, he stated, the Diane’s technology was truly unique. Unlike any other airship, the Diane’s balloon spun on its axis. When viewed from afar, this characteristic gave the impression that the Diane was corkscrewing through the air itself.
While he had mentioned many of these things in their last encounter, she still seemed rapt with attention. A good sign, he thought. Soon enough, they had reached the end of the skyport, a giant shadow cast overhead by the Diane’s slowly rotating balloon.
It was only then that Catherine’s mood changed, seemed to darken. She looked about the skyport, as if she had been waiting for someone, but it appeared to be a look of concern. At first, Jacob tried following her eyes were going, but they seemed to be darting everywhere.
“Will anyone be joining you, Miss Catherine?”
She seemed to come out of her mood at his question, shaking her head, but saying nothing. Jacob stated that he would be placing her baggage in the hold. Only then did the smile return to her face, radiant and cheerful.
“Mister Sims, may I ask you something? Would you consider us friends?”
Jacob stared at her quizzically.
“Well yes,” he responded finally, “I supposed we are. If that is your wish.”
“Then you must call me Catherine, not miss. And I will call you Jacob. Can you do that for me?”
“I can,” Jacob quickly replied, “but let it be in private. My crew would think it too forward. Agreed?”
Catherine smiled at the comment, recognizing the hint within his carefully constructed request.
“I think I can agree to that.” she answered, disappearing into the cabin.
Jacob grinned, walking her baggage over to the cabin’s hold. He had a layover in Philadelphia for a few days, where she was heading. The chance to spend some time with Catherine looked very promising, especially since there was no one to accompany her.
But when he thought of this, he stopped. Something didn’t seem right. She was boarding the most expensive airship on the east coast, unaffordable to anyone but the rich. Any woman with that kind of money would have an escort, both on Boston streets and as she traveled.
Where was her escort?