|posted on 2-Aug-2002 1:07:33 PM by ZooBoo|
|Author's Note: This story is so completely AU that you don't have to be a fan of the show or have seen any of the episodes to read it. I've also drawn the characters in true 1800's style since the camera had yet to be invented, though I don't have the drawings finished quite yet. Hope you like the pics and the story. |
Title: Once, Long Ago
Category: Other ~ Mystery / Young Americans
Summary: In 1804, London society was thriving. But, for Jacqueline Pratt dreams went beyond the life she had lived for the last six years, and now after months of planning, those dreams would finally come true.
Disclaimer: The idea for the fic I take complete credit for. As for the rest, it's their fault the show isn't still playing.
August 26th, 1804. London, England.
A small rustle of leaves blew quietly along the gutters of the small side streets of London, disturbing the slumber of the dimly lit boulevards. Faint whispers of a calming wind whistled through the treetops, playing in the throat of a tired, waking hoot owl. The shadows along the sidewalks grew longer as an old man wandered from one street lamp to the next, lighting it with a single wick, letting his stilts tap lightly on the ground as he made his way towards his next destination.
One house stood out amongst the rest, with a single candle illuminating the second story window. It was a proud looking house, standing tall on its foundation which had been set slightly forward from the rest of the houses on the street, claiming it's position of stature before the onlooker. The hedges that lined it were trim, rising four feet from the soil, giving the passerby just enough of a view of the flourishing garden that lined the towering walls of the mansion.
The furnishings inside were even more spectacular than that which could be found outside, with chandeliers hanging from the tall ceilings in every room of the house. Circular stairwells gave entrance to the upstairs rooms, from the massive corridor below. A ghostly scent of delicate roses filled the rooms, serving as an invitation to anyone lucky enough to explore the enchanted estate.
In one small room, tucked neatly in a corner above the servants entrance, sat two girls of about the same years. One was dressed in a pink, silken gown with locks of raven curls cascading down her back, while the other was clothed in a simple, cotton garment with straight, crimson strands bouncing lightly above her shoulders. To a commoner these were merely two friends, enjoying a night of gossip and laughter. However, to the scrutinizing eyes of London society, they were a girl and her servant, socializing with one another as no woman from either class should be.
After sitting down gently on the bed, the raven girl turned towards the other. It was quite easy to see how different in stature the two were. The dark haired girl was quite waft-like, every movement of her hands portraying the grace which had been taught her many years ago. While the shy red head seemed stocky and plain, hardened from the work she performed and the world which seemed to care little for her.
"Were you able to get the tree sap?" the raven beauty's voice was deeper and more husky than most would expect from a girl of her caliber, something she'd most likely trained to sound feathery and light when speaking at ravish parties or social events. Here, in the company of her friend however, it didn't seem to matter what she sounded like.
"Yes Miss," the other girl spoke, pulling a small jar from under the thin sheets of her cot. The girl's voice was more confident than you might imagine - proud and almost poetic. Very much separate from the life she'd been forced to live from birth.
The first girl tilted her head away from her friend, letting out a slight huff, "I do wish you would call me by my name instead of these tedious titles you so insist upon."
It was made clear that this was a conversation the two had argued over often when the servant girl smirked at the other, "You know very well that I can not start calling you by your name. Could you imagine what would happen if your brother were to over hear it, or if I'd slipped up and called you Jacqueline in front of him? I would be thrown out into the cold sooner than you would have a chance to plea my forgiveness from him, and don't you dare tell me otherwise." She laughed softly at the resignation of her friend, "Besides, it's no worse than you insisting upon calling me Emilee instead of Lena."
Jacqueline flopped down on her stomach next to the other girl, before resting her head on her friend's lap, "But your middle name suits you much more than Lena, and I know you like it better as well."
"Whether or not I like it better is not the point. The point is whether or not you should be calling me by that name." She tapped lightly on her friend's arm, slipping out from under her then walking towards a small dresser in the room when Jacqueline lifted her head.
It was true that most of the English nobles never addressed their servants by other names rather than their surname. That is if they even addressed them by that. Most of the time they were referred to as boy or girl, given only a title that would allow them to be acknowledged.
"Well, I wish it wasn't the point." Jacqueline rested her head on her hands now, a slight pout pursing at the corners of her velvet lips.
Lena ran her finger along the scarred wood of her dressing table. It was one of the only memories she had left of her parents, and the only thing she had been allowed to take with her when she'd come to live with the Pratts. "So do I."
Pulling a small pair of scissors from one of the drawers, she walked back over to the bed. "Are you certain that you want to go through with this?"
Jacqueline sat up, smiling at her friend, "It is only an inch, Emilee."
Lena sat down with mock exasperation. They'd played this game all too often and she knew that her coy friend was avoiding the question in which she was truly referring. "I'm not talking about your hair, I'm referring to the reason you are cutting it."
Staring down at the bedspread, Jacqueline traced the small, knitted patterns with her thumb. It had been six years since she'd last seen her father. He had been serving as an officer in the British Navy at the time, determined to help protect the country he had loved so dearly.
Napoleon's fleet was at the brink of capturing Egypt under its power. Something the British government had determined to be more land than France deserved to control, after sweeping over already too many nations with its armed forces. Her father had been on a leave of absence, home to see his wife and two children after being at sea for nearly four months already. When the telegram informing him of the circumstances arrived he'd done all he could not to alarm his family of the grave situation.
Jacqueline could clearly remember the last conversation he'd had with her, preparing for his departure in the corridor of their large mansion.
The Captain was a very handsome man, with a fair complexion that had been darkened over the years from the heat of the sun beating down upon him, as he stood on the deck of his naval ship. His hair showed signs of once being as dark as the midnight sky, with slivers of silver now finding a place in his beard and carefully trimmed sideburns. The gray seemed to give him a very distinguished look, making him appear much older than thirty-five, and much wiser than he often felt at times. His eyes, however, held a very child-like quality, as deep and green as the sea moss that tended to get stuck in the fishing line whenever he'd take Jacqueline out with him those early mornings on their fishing adventures.
After throwing his coat on and grabbing his hat from Thomas, their faithful butler for fifteen years, he looked over at his little girl, sitting on the steps of their grand staircase. Her head was held high and her mouth was turned up into a lazy smile, but her eyes betrayed her, letting tiny drops of tears pierce at the edges of them. He made his way over to her, calmly sitting down by her side, placing one strong arm around her back.
"Why the tears, Princess?" He loved teasing her with the nickname, knowing full well how much it irritated her. It would always make her smile, however, in spite of herself.
She pushed on the side of his stomach with her tiny hand, attempting to wrinkle her eyebrows at him, but failing miserably, "I'm not a princess."
His laugh was deep and comforting, more wonderful than any sound Jacqueline had ever heard before. She'd always thought of it being infectious and pleasant, dotting at the smiles of anyone who could hear it tumbling from his throat. She would have given anything to hear it again, even if for just a moment.
"Why do you have to leave, father?" she questioned, after their laughter had died down.
The Captain took a deep breath, pondering her question with seemingly great intent. "Because there are many people who need my help right now Jacqueline," he finally said. "How selfish a father and husband I would be if I didn't help them so that they can be with their families as well."
"But do you have to go now?" she asked, staring up at him with a pleading look. "My birthday is only a month away and you are going to miss it." A small pout appeared on her lips, slowly sweeping its way up into her shining eyes.
"Well now..." her father began, scratching at his scruffy beard. "I guess I'll have to give you something before I leave then, won't I?" He smiled at her, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the one thing he'd always had with him.
"Your ship whistle?" Jacqueline questioned, making a face at it.
A smile crept up into the captain's eyes, "This isn't just any ordinary ship whistle," he replied to her. "This is a magical whistle."
Jacqueline looked back down at it in awe, as if it were the most amazing thing she'd ever seen. "What does it do?" she asked, without taking her gaze from it.
"Well," her father began, leaning in closer to her and bringing his voice down to a whisper, "Any time you start to miss me, blow on this whistle and no matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing, I'll be able to hear it." He smiled down at her as she carefully took the whistle in both hands, cradling it as if it were the most valuable jewel in the entire world.
"Promise?" she said, looking back up at him, a gleeful smile covering her beautiful face.
"I promise," he replied, kissing the top of her head and standing back up. "Now," he said, turning in a circle in front of her, "How do I look?"
She immediately jumped back up and made a twirling motion with her finger, so that he spun around once more for her. "Radiant," she stated, nodding her head once, matter-of-factly.
"Well," he laughed at her, picking her up in his arms so that he could look into her eyes, "I don't think I've ever been called radiant before."
She smiled proudly, "You are radiant, just like mum!"
Kissing her quickly on the cheek, he walked back towards the door and set her down, placing his hat firmly on his head. "Take good care of your mother and your brother for me."
Jacqueline's smile reached from one ear to the other, "I will papa!"
He grin proudly at his little girl once more before walking out of the door.
One month later a battle with the French ensued, led by Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson at Abu Qir Bay near Alexandria, Egypt. The date was August 1st, 1798. One Jacqueline would never forget, and be forced to remember once a year for the rest of her existence. The very reason she never celebrated it as her birthday.
She remembered the day word was sent back about his death as well. Her mother, her brother, and she had just sat down in the large dining hall for dinner. Shortly after, a naval messenger had entered the room, his eyes darting between the two children before resting on Mrs. Pratt. He quickly scurried over to her, holding out the telegram which held the tragic news, bowing his head and looking away. He could not face her as she read.
Jacqueline watched her mother intently, curious as to the nature of the mysterious message. The Captain had received many of them, which always seemed to take him back to his ship, but she could not recall her mother ever being sent one. Looking impatiently towards the courier and then back to her mother, she watched as the polite smile that was on her mother's porcelain face turned into a look of shock as she dropped the paper and covered her mouth with both hands, tears falling from her eyes.
A large ache began swirling in the small girl's stomach, while moisture coming from a place unknown crept past her flushed cheeks, nestling in the lace of her dress. She began shaking her head back and forth violently, pushing herself away from the table.
"No," seemed to be the only word she could force from her dry throat, as she muttered it over and over again. Flying out of her chair she ran blindly through the corridors and up the long, circular stairs, tripping over almost every one, until she finally reached the comfort of her bedroom. Making her way over towards her bed she reached under her pillow grasping at the object hidden underneath, while quiet sobs escaped her lips.
Placing her father's ship whistle in her mouth she attempted to draw enough air into her lungs to be able to blow it, but her crying was shaking her body too hard. Throwing it to the floor she fell onto her bed with her head in her arms, weeping.
She could not bring her father back.
After that day her mother had hired tutors for her. They taught her how to speak, how to dress, how to act, how to be a perfect lady. There were no more fishing adventures or treasure hunts, no more fighting off pirates or prancing through fields. She was a lady now, and ladies didn't associate themselves with such nonsense.
It would never be nonsense to her, though. Every adventure, every laugh, every smile she'd ever had were in those memories, and she would not give them up. That was why she must do what she'd been planning months for, because she refused to do anything but live.
Looking back up at her friend, Jacqueline smiled, determination set in every one of her features. "I could never be more certain."
Lena crooked an eyebrow almost wickedly at her, causing Jacqueline's smile to grow, "It certainly took you long enough."
Jacqueline laughed at her friend, shaking her head, "Alright, already. Let's get to work."
After almost a full hour of cutting and trimming, careful mounting and seemingly endless work, they'd finally finished the vital project that had been set out upon them by Jacqueline's final and determined decision. Lena had worked on most of it, measuring and making certain that the three objects were precisely the way they should be. Meanwhile Jacqueline watched over her work, pointing out trouble spots and helping as best she could.
"There, that should do the trick," Lena told her friend, smiling over at her pleased expression as she placed the finishing touches on the products that sat before her. "These will have to dry tonight before you can use them. I do hope they work tomorrow." A slightly anxious expression reached the corner of her eyes, wrinkling them and making her appear years older than she truly was.
Jacqueline leaned over and placed her heavy head on the other girl's shoulder, "I know they will...they have to."
Lena smiled at that. She had never known a person so determined as Jacqueline had been in the last few months, occasionally wondering if it had been her support that had given her mistress the courage and strength to attempt the seemingly outrageous feat she sought out to accomplish.
As the raven girl's deep hazel eyes began to drift slowly down to rest a quiet knock filled the room, insistent and sharp. Both girls glanced towards the door and then back to one another, eyes wide as Jacqueline jumped quickly from the bed and Lena scurried to the desk, hiding what they'd been working on all night from view.
Jacqueline could feel her heart beginning to race as she held the doorknob, hesitant to turn it. With one deep breath she opened the door, an innocent smile, as good as any English actress could produce, playing on her lips. There, just outside the hallway stood a tall, handsome looking man. His soft, light brown hair was thick and tousled, and he stood straighter than a fence post, his demeanor stern and ridged.
"Scout! Dear brother, what are you doing up at this hour of the evening?" Jacqueline asked, her voice drifting like light feathers into the hallway, much different than the voice she had been speaking with earlier when it was simply Lena and herself. Leaning her temple against the cold doorframe she appeared to know nothing of the reason he was there.
"I should be asking you the same," he replied, looking passed his sister directly at the servant girl, whose head was bowed, avoiding his angry gaze.
Her brother was a good man for the most part, taking care of her and her mother since just after their father had passed away. It had been difficult losing his papa when he was merely fifteen years of age, but he vowed that he would never let his family fall apart. He was so much more different now than the small boy Jacqueline had remembered playing with in the gardens when they were younger.
Lifting her head innocently she gracefully strode towards him, as she followed her brother into the hallway, closing the door behind her after giving Lena a reassuring smile. "I was awoken by an insufferable nightmare and Emilee was kind enough to help calm my thoughts so that I might return to bed."
Pushing a hand once through the disheveled strands atop his head, Scout did his very best to keep the apparent annoyance off of his face. "Jacqueline, one of these days your affections for our servants are going to be noticed by the whole of London, and the name Mother has worked endlessly to create for our family will be tarnished because of it," he told her, scratching at the beginnings of a night beard that was
pushing its way to the surface of his skin. "I wouldn't be surprised if she were black-balled out of Almack's because of it."
Taking no heed to his warning, Jacqueline folded her arms in front of her and began walking down the dark hallway. "Yes, Mother has done wonders for our family name," she replied vehemently, turning around to pluck the candle he had been holding out of his grasp. "Besides, if it's Mother's precious Almack's you're worried about, you needn't be. I do believe it was Lutrell who said 'If once to Almack's you belong, like monarchs you can do no wrong,' was it not?"
Scout rolled his worn eyes and reluctantly followed her, tired of the tirades she seemed to endlessly throw at him. "Even so, you have yet to be presented to the Patronesses, and if you hope to acquire any respect from them or London, you'll be wise to remember who you are, Jacqueline."
Pausing just outside of the door leading into her quarters, Jacqueline stared into the withering darkness in front of her, a glossy expression seeping over her skin. It had been years of tutors, years of biting her tongue, years of pretending she was someone else that finally pushed her to make the plans she had. "I know exactly who I am, Scout," she spoke quietly, her voice being soaked up into the night as it barely reached her brother's ears. She slowly placed the candle back in his hands before looking up to meet his eyes. "But you've never been the same since Papa died."
His face flushed considerably at her words, taking on a hard, foreign look. "I have an early morning, I'd best get some rest. When you awaken I'll be in the dining room." He turned then, taking quick strides down the hallway as the candlelight flickered on the cold walls. "Goodnight Jacqueline."
She could do nothing more than watch him walk away. What she'd said was spoken out of place. Their father's death was something Scout had never dealt well with, and she felt a burning twinge of guilt for using it against him now.
Sighing heavily, she walked over and slipped under the smooth sheets of her bed, allowing herself to drift to sleep.
There's part one. Hope it gets read, lol.
[ edited 2 time(s), last at 2-Aug-2002 1:28:23 PM ]