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The Importance

Of Being
An Airship

Kristy Wilcox

The Importance
Of Being
An Airship
The Condensed Memoirs
Ms Millicent A Livingstone
Independent Explorer
An Abridged Atlas of a Life Well Spent

Kristy Wilcox
Illustrations by Amy Pollien

This may well be the last thing I ever write, so I do believe it is
time for the whole truth to come out. To write it out in full, however,
would take me another lifetime, so I respectfully request my readers
indulgence, in order that I may foreshorten and condense my adventures
into something a little more palatable to the Western digestion.
Having considered the above statement, I have come to the
conclusion that it is a little melodramatic, and if I do indeed tell the
truth, I may well be excommunicated from civilised society. However,
as our dearly beloved, black-clad matriarch's definition of civilised is
somewhat at odds with my own, I have decided that maybe this would
not be such a terribly bad thing after all. So first, to the introductions.
My name is Millicent Alice Livingstone (no relation, more's the
pity. I would probably be taken a great deal more seriously were I
actually of the Livingstone bloodline. Which, in itself, speaks volumes
about society. But I digress.)
I am an educated, unmarried, English woman of middle years.
I am an explorer, an engineer, a cartographer and a terribly bad
I have three tribal tattoos upon my person and a number of
bodily piercings that are NOT in my ears.
I have a child with a man I am not married to, who is a prince.
The father, not the child, because she is a princess.
Need smelling salts yet? Jolly good.
Oh, and I am also wanted for murder.
Shall we start at the beginning? It would probably clear up a
great number of things. First, about that murder, because it'll probably
play on your mind a terrible amount. I wouldn't worry too much, to be
honest. It's all been sorted out. Mostly. And my travel plans won't take
me through that country again anyway. I can pretty much guarantee

I was born in Stratton, in Gloucestershire, on a balmy spring
morning in early May, 1828. My mother insisted that it was the 3rd,
my father the 4th, and as he registered my birth with the local vicar
some week or so later, May the fourth it was. To be completely honest,
I am not bothered either way. Age is just numbers. There is a tribe in
central Malawi that count age by accomplishments. There are children
who are of crawling age, walking age, weaning age - right the way up
to adults, who are then of hunting, marrying or resting age. No one is
looked down upon if they are too old or infirm to work, because then
they become the advisors to the tribe, fonts of knowledge that are so
vital in civilisations that do not possess a written language.
Sometimes I think that being able to pass on information in the
written form is the reason our society values youth over experience.
What is the point in being old and knowing everything if you cannot
actually do it, say the young. With books, they can know everything
without first having to experience it. Which is always going to end well
for everyone, is it not?
But I digress.
So, Gloucestershire. Pretty, civilised, safe - and boring. My
insistence from an early age that I be permitted to go away to
University perplexed both my parents considerably, but I persisted and
eventually my uncle paved the way for me to attend Bath. It had only
been a scant few years that women had been permitted to dwell within
the hallowed halls of English Universities when I first began my
studies, and I was frequently looked upon as a novelty of sorts at Bath.
From there, though, it was only a few years before I was able to make
the leap to London, the Natural History Museum and the Institute of
Buoyant Flight and Steam (which I shall henceforth write as IBFaS
because that is such a chore to write that whole thing out. Not least
because to this day, I still write bouyant on occasion). Those
marvellously advanced creatures therein make no difference whatsoever
between male and female students.
My mother blames everything on the Institute. I credit
everything to it. Horses for courses as my grandpa used to say, before
they stopped visiting him in the asylum.

France - March 1854

The first commercial airship I ever travelled alone on was called
the Topka. She was of the Mongolfier class, a sturdy ship suspended by
countless hemp ropes beneath a rugby-ball-shaped balloon. An
efficient, if somewhat basic design. She was old but reliable, the exact
opposite of her dreadful captain. The man didnt have a scruple in his
curly blond head and I am forever indebted to my uncle for his wise
tutelage in the arts of spotting a con artist from forty paces. Honestly,
Captain Trevelyan reminded me so much of Uncle Horace that it was
We departed from Bristol Airyards a little after 2 oclock on a
blustery March day. The weather was almost perfect for flying. Maybe
the northeast by east wind could have been a little more northerly for
preference, but we made decent headway once we were out over the
English Channel.
Both the Topka and her captain had come highly recommended
to me by a compatriot at IBFaS. I am fairly sure that she must have
been in some way indebted to the man, as I would previously have said
her judgement of character was sound.
The captain was decidedly not sound. We had barely made it to
the middle of the Channel, heading as we were for Paris, when Captain
Trevelyan announced that we were going to have to make an
unscheduled stop at Fcamp due an issue with the condenser.
Now, I do not wish to blow my own trumpet although I
acknowledge that I am apt to do so on occasion but I know steam
condensers quite intimately. Therefore, I offered myself and my
technical knowledge at the bridge door forthwith.
Trevelyan was somewhat taken aback by my announcement that
I knew a few things and, after sharing a smirk with his fellow crew
members, thanked me kindly and insincerely, and said he had
telegraphed ahead to ensure there was a decent ground crew waiting for
us at Fcamp, and I wasnt to worry my pretty head about it all.
I knew he was lying immediately. I am not pretty in the
slightest, and I have always known this. I am what is commonly
referred to as handsome, which is a polite way of saying I have a long,
somewhat horsey face with wide apart eyes and a nose that is definitely
more roman than button.
But I curtseyed and withdrew. I had already decided, before the

bridge door had even closed, that I would prepare my belongings for a
somewhat rapid departure from the Topka because I had noticed three
things during our short conversation.
First, Trevelyan didnt have a telegraphic transmitter for
sending and receiving messages. These devices emit a steady stream of
rhythmic ticks, which are almost unnoticeable once you have spent a
while around them. This indicates they are ready to burst forth into
action once a message is received or needs to be sent. There was
nothing ticking on the bridge, save for the usual pinking of steam
glasses and hot copper pipes.
Second, there was a map on the chart table, the positioning of
the plotter showing clearly that their destination was Fcamp, not Paris,
and that it had been so all along.
Thirdly, Trevelyan had been wearing a revolver at his hip.
I made my way back to my cabin, packed all my money into the
small padded belt which I wore under my corset and put what valuables
I had brought with me into the modest bustle which I only ever wore
when I was travelling. Bustles are the very devil incarnate as a fashion
item, but they are phenomenally useful to hide things upon ones person
All the while, I was wondering why on earth we would be
stopping on the coast, when there werent really many of us on board,
and certainly no one with sufficient wealth or status to brand themselves
a target for pirates, thieves or brigands.
It was only as we were coming in to land at Fcamp that I
realised that it was not the passengers which Trevelyan was going to
make his money from, but the cargo. The porthole in my cabin was
tiny, but considering the space itself was little wider than the narrow
bunk that sat against the wall, it sufficed. I could see a number of heavy
horses waiting patiently on the airfield, hitched to sturdy drays. When
we were boarding in Bristol, I had noticed a set of chests being loaded
into the rear bay of the Topka, the large printed tags clearly reading
It seemed these chests werent going to be making it to the
capitol. Shortly after landing, the passengers were all ushered into the
nearest hangar, for tea as Trevelyan put it, whilst the ground crew
fixed whichever imaginary problem the condenser was supposedly
afflicted with.
The chests were not all that went missing. Fortunately, I
insisted that I needed my carpet bag with me due to it containing my

medication (oh, how that word makes men squirm! Truly, if you wish
to bring an abrupt end to a conversation with a man, mention the fact
that you must just pop and take your scheduled medication and you can
pretty much guarantee that he will not be there when you return. If,
indeed, you do ever bother to return). If I had not done so, I would have
been left stranded in the grim fishing town of Fcamp like my fellow
travellers were. Whilst we were in the draughty hangar, the scoundrel
of a captain unloaded the chests onto the drays, which left the airfield
before we had even finished our first cup of singularly inferior French
tea, and then promptly cast off all lines and drifted silently up into the
sky, letting the breeze carry him off into the distance.
It was only when the portly banker who had been in the cabin
next to mine commented upon the fact that it all seemed very quiet that
we realised Trevelyan and the Topka and her remaining cargo were
no longer with us.
I always travel light, not least because of this. As I had made
sure to pack everything into my carpet bag, at least I retained my
passport, money and personal items of clothing. The small trunk which
was in the hold was a sad loss, but at least it only contained a number of
dresses and finicky fashionable items. I was able to purchase a train
ticket to Paris and continue my journey that way, leaving the other
passengers of the Topka milling around in the hangar at Fcamp like
lost sheep.

There once was a lady from Stratton

Who oft refused to put a hat on
But the day she took flight
She said nowt felt as right
As putting that helmet and goggles on.

Romania - April 1859

The one and only time I was involved in an airship crash was in
the old Kingdom of Romania. The mountains north of Bucuresci, now
Bucharest, run in a sinuous sweep, curving up and east, then sharply
back to the north-west. They are rough and beautiful, and I decided, in
my wisdom, that we should fly directly over them on our way to
Austria. I had been the navigator on the Gallipoli-class ship Kokosol
for some eight months, and my captain was a fat and lazy Turk, more
given to lolling in bed with his cook than making decisions on the
bridge. I found myself more captain than navigator by default.
His crew all seemed to like me better as well. Our hours were
better and more peacefully occupied when the Captain wasnt storming
up and down the corridors, screaming and swearing. Honestly, for a
man who professed to want a quiet life, he sought it at full volume.
There are a number of little lakes dotted throughout the Buceji
mountains; small, still oases of calm where the tumbling mountain
rivers pause for breath before continuing their downward journey
through countryside as gloriously wild as any I have seen.
We were travelling up a valley, following one of these
enthusiastic water courses, when we came round a promontory of rock
to see a beautiful lake, still as glass, reflecting the blue of the sky back
up at us.
I would dearly liked to have taken a moment to enjoy the
beauty and maybe dig out my sketchbook because I am ever wanting to
improve my skills. It was not to be though, because as we dropped a
little lower to get a good look at the place, there was a great honking
and quacking and squawking, and we were abruptly surrounded by
hundreds and hundreds of birds.
I know now that the lake is used by many waterfowl as a
peaceful breeding ground, where they can raise their young away from
the madding crowds of civilisation, but at the time, it was as if we had
flown into some sun-kissed and feathered form of hell. I could barely
see through the main windows for the jumble of wings and beaks and
furious beady eyes.
My first thought was to keep us over the centre of the lake. If
we waited, the birds would all fly off somewhere and the safest place
for us to do that was over the flat, calm, blue waters. I dialled back the
airspeed and watched in bemusement as the birds continued to attack us.

Maybe they thought we were a threat to their eggs and chicks, I

do not know. Before I could even give voice to the idea, the Captain
came striding onto the bridge, yelling and waving his hands like he was
attempting to communicate in semaphore.
I tried to explain my rationale behind staying where we were in
the sky, but he would hear nothing of it. I am not sure if he had some
irrational dislike of the birds, but he was swearing up a storm and,
pushing the first mate to one side, took over the wheel and threw us into
all ahead.
There was a terrible noise then, as the propellers picked up
speed. I do not wish to think of it, even now, as it makes me nauseous,
but the Kokosol had six powerful props and a highly powered steam
ram engine. She went from three knots to twenty in under a minute and
I cannot bear to dwell on the carnage we caused in that mighty flock of
It wasnt until we were heading for the narrow head of the
valley that the damage we had sustained became fully clear. The
Captain was yelling for more steam, more heat, more lift, stomping and
swearing around the bridge and I was at the chart table, making careful
notes and trying to ignore his ranting. But when his voice began to
climb and become shrill, I looked up from my pencil and out of the
Where we should have been climbing to clear the head of the
valley and over the lip of the small waterfall which fell into the lake, we
were in fact sinking. The waterfall was dead level with the nose of the
Kokosol and we were approaching it at considerable speed.
The Captain just stood there, frozen for what felt like an
eternity. I didnt wait for him to move. Darting forward, I seized the
wheel and spun it hard to port. We were going too fast for such harsh
manoevering, because the Gallipoli-class ships are notoriously fast but
dreadfully clumsy in the air. You need plenty of clear space around you
when you open up the valves on a ship like the Kokosol, because she
will go far and fast but heaven help you if you need to change direction
in any distance of less than a mile.
She lurched to port, airspeed dropping from over thirty knots to
half that as we turned broadside to the waterfall. The ship swung wildly
beneath the balloon as the propellers which were not jammed up with
bones and feathers did their best to transfer the excessive power from
the engines to forward motion. We were going diagonally, forwards
and sideways and the Captain was now on his knees, praying.

For a man who had always professed to be a secular sort, he

sounded very devout now.
The land around the lake was unforgiving, jagged outcrops of
rock and tall spindly trees, but to the west side of the waterfall was a
small grassy slope. It was towards that we were now heading. I hauled
back on the accelerometer until it read full stop and dialled the elevators
up to give us as much lift as possible.
It wasnt enough. The Kokosol skimmed over the surface of
the water, her prow sending up a plume of spray that obscured the
bridge windows. I counted down in my head as I braced myself against
the back of the Captains chair and closed my eyes scant seconds before
the impact.
The world became a whirl of water and broken glass, my ears
filled with screaming and the sounds of twisting metal. I clung onto the
Captains chair as the ship listed over, her forward momentum carrying
us up out of the water and sideways across the grass, bumping and
bouncing as we went, the scent of fresh earth and greenery combining
with the water and escaping steam. Finally, just when I thought I
couldnt hold on for another moment longer, the balloon gave up the
last of its lift and collapsed, entombing us in a shroud of heavy hemp
ropes and grey fabric.
Everything was still. I could hear muffled creaks and the hiss
of steam escaping from a dozen broken pipes, but not a single human
sound. Shaking, I forced my fingers to uncurl from their hold on the
Captains chair, which was the only piece of furniture that hadnt come
loose from its moorings. I pulled myself up, ignoring the pain in my
side and leg, and looked around.
It was total devastation. In the odd, muted light coming through
the grey fabric, I couldnt see a sign of the Captain or First Mate. The
big front window of the bridge was gone, a gaping hole edged in jagged
bits of glass that had let in the water and the earth. The only
explanation was that the Captain must have been thrown clear through
the window on that first, terrible impact with the water. He had been
kneeling directly in front of the central pane.
The floor was tilted at an angle of about forty degrees, so I
dragged myself towards the bridge door. The pain in my leg was
focussing itself in my hip, but after a moment, I deduced that it was
little more than bad bruising, and as nothing had been broken, I made
my way off the bridge and into the corridor.
The Kokosol had run with a small crew. Three of us had been

on the bridge during the crash, and so I was looking for the other four.
The cook, cabin boy, engineer and fireman needed to be found.
I searched the ship from stem to stern, and the only living
person I found was the cabin boy, Marceau. He was curled up under the
great table in the dining room, clinging to one of the legs with his eyes
screwed tight shut.
Carefully, I got him out of there, ensuring he didnt look into
the captains cabin where the cook was lying. The fireman and engineer
were also dead, crushed and scalded as the auxiliary steam tank had
ruptured upon impact.
So that was us, two lone survivors, high in the Buceji
mountains. We sat together on the grass for a while, my arm around
Marceaus shoulders as he cried through his fear and grief and relief.
He wasnt even a man yet, barely fifteen and no taller than I was
My mind was otherwise occupied though, primarily with how
to get us out of that valley. The mountains werent desolate, by any
means, and I knew there were other airships around, especially at this
point in the spring where the trade routes open up again.
We need to attract attention, I told him. We cant walk out
of here because there is no path through the rocks. I pointed at the
wreckage of the Kokosol. Were going to have a bit of a fire.
Between us, we hacked through all the ropes holding the now
gas-less bag in place and used sharpened carving knives to slice it up
into big squares. The fabric was oiled cotton and waxed hemp, multilayered, wind and waterproof, and it would burn beautifully when lit
from the inside. I fetched coals from the still-hot furnace and we set the
first square of fabric ablaze as close to the side of the waterfall as we
could get it.
The column of blue-black smoke wavered and coughed for a
few minutes, until an updraft from the waterfall caught it, and then it
rose, straight and thick and beautiful, into the afternoon sky. We kept it
lit, day and night, as we pulled what salvage we could from the
wreckage to make ourselves comfortable.
On the second day, I could barely move with the pain and
bruising of my leg so Marceau bade me sit quietly as he fetched what
food he could find that wasnt water damaged or smashed beyond
It was he who suggested we use our signal fire as a funeral

On the fourth day, when we were down to our last three squares
of fabric, a small narrow ship glided over the head of the valley and
stopped, turning and setting down at the southern-most edge of the
grassy slope.
The propellers slowed to a bare tick-over, and as we watched,
the side door opened and two men jumped out, dressed in the navy blue
suits of the Italian carabinieri.
We were saved.

Sweden - 1860-1863
For all my affinity with languages (which I attribute largely to
my Welsh grandmother, because if you can learn Welsh, you can learn
any blasted language you care to), I have always been drawn to those of
the Fennoscandia. There is something musical and engaging about the
way the people of these lands speak, and the many dialects are easy on
the ear. Their alphabet and spelling is straightforward, especially when
one compares it to English, and there is a touch of exotic Slavic about
some words.
It might go some way to explaining why I spent so many years
of my life in and around that part of the world and, indeed, it is
definitely why I am here now, approaching my dotage and penning
these words under the warm Stockholm sun.
But I digress. Yet again.
In the spring of 1860 I gained employment with a firm that
travelled regularly to the capitals of northern Europe. My ability as a
navigator had not only been recognised, it was now being rewarded.
We travelled extensively, but time and again we would come back to
Stockholm. My Captain had a soft spot for the city, and so usually
scheduled our downtime for when we were on Swedish soil.
I became at home on the streets and islands of this lovely city.
My obvious willingness to learn the native language was welcomed
with open arms and I found myself making friends both on and off the
Airyards. One bright June morning, I was taking advantage of the quiet
on board our latest vessel, the Svetlana, by pulling out and re-indexing
all of my maps and charts. Whilst a methodical worker most of the
time, we had just returned on a particularly taxing voyage back from
Constantinople and Id been forced to pull out charts in a hurry.
It was pleasant working in the soft light of the early morning
sun. I had removed my leather waistcoat and rolled up the sleeves of
the pale yellow linen shirt I wore. No one was there to see, and if there
was, I reasoned, they would already know me and my peculiarities of
dress. Heavy canvas breeches and long boots completed my outfit.
Which was why, when there came a quiet knock on the main
door of the ship, I thought nothing of going to answer it dressed as I
The Svetlana was a compact craft designed to carry small
valuable cargo, including correspondence and a limited number of well-

paying passengers in considerable comfort. When I opened the main

door, I had been expecting a messenger with a diplomatic case of papers
or a little bullion. Instead, I was greeted by the sight of the Younger
Prince of Sweden and two of his guards.
Your Highness, I bowed, totally forgetting to curtsey in my
My apologies for disturbing you so early, he said, his English
perfectly correct and pleasantly accented. I have need of speaking
with Captain Zimmerman.
I am so sorry, your Highness, but the Captain is not on board
at the moment. I believe he has taken a few days to go hunting north of
Oh. The Prince looked so disappointed that I couldnt allow
him to leave in that state. He was a beautiful young man, maybe a year
or two older than myself, with elegantly pomaded blond hair and the
brightest of blue eyes.
Mayhap I could be of assistance? I said. Would you care to
come aboard?
The Prince agreed at once, and bidding his guards remain at the
door of the Svetlana, followed me into the well-appointed parlour at the
rear of the ship.
Please, your Highness, take a seat. May I fetch you a drink?
Just some water, please.
I busied myself in the galley, drawing two glasses of cold water
from the drinking tap and taking a moment to compose myself. His
Highness presence was having a peculiar effect on my natural
equilibrium and, having never before been captivated by any man, I had
little to no idea of how to deal with it. Taking a deep breath, I picked up
the glasses and returned to the parlour.
The Prince was standing by the window, looking out over the
Airyard as the normal morning shift began to trickle in. His profile was
aristocratic and perfectly proportioned.
Do you always start work so early? he asked, taking the glass.
My thanks.
I find it peaceful when there are few people around, and I can
get a great deal more accomplished without disturbance.
My apologies if I disturbed you then.
No! My free hand flew to my cheek which was now
distinctly warm. No, your Highness, please, I didnt mean it like that!
But he was laughing, a wide happy smile lifting the intense

seriousness of his expression and I couldnt help but smile helplessly

Forgive me, he said, placing his glass on the table. I
couldnt help but tease. If you will permit me to introduce myself
With pleasure. I, too, set my glass down.
I am Frederick, Grand Duke of Baden and younger brother to
His Highness the Crown Prince. He swept a deep bow.
Millicent Livingstone, navigator of the Svetlana and unofficial
First Mate of Captain Zimmerman. I remembered to curtsey this time,
instead of bowing, although it probably looked ridiculous in breeches
and boots. I am at your immediate service, your Highness.
Unofficial First Mate? he asked, tilting his head to one side.
Is there no official one?
No. He jumped ship in Aarhus when we stopped for water on
our way out to Paris last month. I filled in for him, and Captain
Zimmerman decided that we didnt actually need a First Mate after all.
By the time we got to Paris, hed realised that the man had just been in
the way and the two of us could work the bridge with more efficiency.
I see. The Prince chewed on his lower lip for a moment in a
move that I should not have found as endearing as it was. Maybe this
will work out better than I had originally planned.
When I finally able to persuade him to explain his requirements
to me, it was a simple thing to arrange. The Prince needed to travel
around Europe for a short period of three months, but it was imperative
that he do it quietly and unobtrusively. Hed decided that an airship
was infinitely preferable to a train or boat and had resolved himself to
seek out Captain Zimmerman as a man he knew from many years casual
acquaintance and no small amount of celebrity.
His initial idea had been to simply book passage and remain a
quiet passenger on a small ship. Now, he put forth the idea of him
becoming part of the crew, dressing and living as one of us for his time
on board and thus being able to walk freely around the cities we visited
without a second glance.
I could see no drawback to his suggestion, and told him I would
send word up to Captain Zimmerman at once. As we were not due to
leave for another four days, the Prince would have plenty of time to put
his affairs in order once we had had word back from the Captain that the
plan was a sound one.
Captain Zimmerman was quite clearly delighted to have the

Prince on board. He cut his hunting trip short and hurried back to
Stockholm, where I was treated to the sight of two grown men hugging
each other like enthusiastic children. The Prince was duly assigned a
cabin opposite mine and the Captain and I spent a productive afternoon
teaching him how to be a First Mate.
You cant keep calling him your Highness, the Captain said
to me as we were readying the ship to leave Stockholm. I blinked in
surprise and looked towards the Prince
I suppose not, I agreed reluctantly. Especially if the idea is
to be incognito.
The Prince laughed and patted Captain Zimmerman on the
Then you will all call me Oscar, which is my middle name and
considerably less recognisable than Frederick.
And that is how Oscar became part of the crew of the Svetlana.
Some few weeks later, he also became my first lover.
Does that shock you? I hope so, because it shocked me
I had sworn my entire life that I was never going to get caught
up in any silly love affair. I value my brain and my body as tools for
me and me alone to use. There was no way I would ever consider tying
them in matrimony to a man. Who in their right mind wants to lose
their identity, possessions and autonomy to a mere male? Marriage had
never been on the cards.
A physical love affair, however, turned out to be something
entirely different. I had reached the grand old age of thirty-three,
which, in English society, branded me an old maid. A spinster, well
past the age of any hope of a decent marriage.
It seemed that Oscar didnt care about my age, or my dislike for
skirts and bustles, or even my predisposition to wear breeches and
swear like a pirate at the Svetlana when she was being an awkward cow.
What he did care about, apparently, was my strength and
stamina for hard physical work, my amber coloured eyes and dark
chestnut hair, my ability to read the air like currents in water, and how
Captain Zimmerman would quite happily leave me in full charge on the
bridge. Oscar, it appeared, was enormously enamoured of competent
women, or so he said, and it seemed that I was all that and more.
The Captain knew, of course, because you cant hide anything
on a ship thats barely as wide as three London buses and not quite half
as long again. He never breathed a word of it to me, although

apparently he spoke at length with Oscar. According to Oscar, it was

only concern that I wasnt expecting more than my dear Prince was
willing to offer, but seeing as how he had already asked me to marry
him, it wasnt like he wasnt willing to offer the world. He asked me
twice during the course of that voyage, and I regretfully turned him
down both times.
I suppose that surprises you too, but hopefully not for long once
you think about it. My darling Prince was indeed offering me the
world, but it was his world and I was more than sure I didnt belong in
it. Balls and events and dresses and keeping up public appearances - it
was all my worst nightmare. If I had married Oscar, I would have
become a princess and I truly wasnt ready to be grounded like that.
But we connected on a level I had never known before. He was
gentle and funny in public; a generous, passionate man in private, and I
grew to love him dearly. After the first few weeks, he stopped with the
pretence of returning to his cabin each night and we lived together quite
blissfully for the duration of our trip.
The anticipated three months actually morphed into more like
four and a half, but we saw a great deal of the northern part of the
continent as well as all the major capitols, and Oscar was able to return
to Stockholm with all the information that his brother and father could
wish for.
I will not dwell on our parting, the first morning we cast off
without him. It was a cold October dawn and the saddest time I can
ever remember living through. I do not wish to relive it. I managed to
get us out of the Airyard and into the southwest stream on a heading for
Amsterdam before I collapsed in a pathetic heap of girlish weeping.
Had I not been so bereft, I would have been furious at myself
for sobbing so over a man. Oscar wasnt just a man though, he was a
Prince, and Captain Zimmerman told me as such, as he helped me into
his chair on the bridge and passed me his hipflask of good brandy.
Its not every woman who bags a Prince as their first love, he
said, his hand firm and grounding on my shoulder. I took a healthy slug
of the brandy and shuddered. Eight oclock in the morning is no time
for brandy, I thought, but I had another sip, just to make sure.
I never expected to fall in love, I admitted. His laugh
surprised me and I looked up at him. A burly man in his late fifties,
Captain Zimmerman had spent more of his life in the air than on the
ground and his warm brown eyes were worldly and amused.
Love isnt something you plan for, he said. Its not like the

inevitable parts of your trip through life that you can write a list for and
plot your heading. When love hits you its like a tornado coming out of
a blue sky, like catching the updraft when a dormant volcano suddenly
erupts. Love comes along and smacks you upside the head and there is
not a damn thing in this wide blue sky that you can do to avoid it.
I sniffed and he passed me his handkerchief.
Thank you. Im guessing you speak from experience.
A great deal of experience. I used to fall in love regularly as a
young man. Now, theres only one lady for me. And he patted the
wheel of the Svetlana, drawing a laugh from me.
Our trip was uneventful after that, even if it did take me a few
nights to remember how to sleep alone.
It was Christmas before I realised I was with child.
I will not bore you with details of that revelation. Only know
this Captain Zimmerman literally saved my life. He kept me on the
Svetlana (and out of the public eye) until the last possible moment, and
then he took me to a family he knew in Uppsala. The woman was a
skilled midwife, the husband a capable outdoorsman, and between them
they helped me bring my daughter into the world. Without the midwife,
I am convinced I would not be here today because that child did not
want to be born. When she eventually emerged, purple and furious at
the world in general, it was the last day of May 1862. I was thirty four
years old, and a mother for the first and only time.
I remained in Uppsala until I was fully recovered from the
experience. My daughter, Victoria Alice, was nearly five months old
when we returned to Stockholm. Captain Zimmerman had secured me a
set of rooms in an elegant neighbourhood and a maid who came in four
times a week to help out.
Only once I was settled did Oscar come to visit. Modesty and
discretion dictate that, even now, I keep the content of our varied
conversations under wraps. The upshot of it all though is that shortly
after Victorias first birthday, she went to live with her father.
I understand that many of you will not be able to accept this
decision. How can a mother walk away from her child, you ask. How
can she allow someone else to raise her own flesh and blood? The
answer, oddly enough, is easily, when you know that the small creature
at the centre of your world is going to have the most wonderful
childhood that could ever be wished upon one. I knew she would be
furnished with pretty dresses and ponies; the best of educations and
playmates; and she would have the constant, steady presence of her

father at her side. How could I refuse her that?

More to the point, how could I refuse her father that? She was
of royal blood. If I had kept her with me, it would have meant a
lifetime in the air, with no roots or long-term friends. Victoria would
have grown up with the wind in her hair and the deck beneath her boots,
and whilst that is an eminently suitable childhood for some, it would not
do for my delicate, blonde little girl. So she became the princess she
was fated to be, and I returned to the air in the autumn of 1863.


Greenland - August 1865

An airship is a living, breathing creature. She has a heartbeat
and a pulse, that gentle throb of steam engine, boiler and propeller
which keeps her moving in the direction we, her pilots, require. Her
fires breathe, steam forces its way through artery-like copper piping,
and the steady boom of the engines reassures one that all is right in the
world. It is possible to diagnose an airship simply by listening to the
hiccup in that pulse, the delay in breathing.
That day, however, there was silence.
I awoke a little after sunrise. Being level with the Arctic Circle,
the sun was rising north of north-east and my cabin was on the forward
starboard side. I lay awake, watching the pink and gold catch sparkles
on the brass fittings, and wondered what felt so odd. It took me a
couple of minutes to awaken sufficiently to realise that I couldnt hear a
For a moment or two I honestly wondered if half a lifetime
spent subjecting my hearing to the clatter and hiss of steam power had
damaged it beyond repair, but then running footsteps assured me that
my auditory powers were still intact.
A second later, there was a furious hammering on my door.
What is it? I asked, jumping up and throwing a robe around
my shoulders. I tugged the door open to find Ulric there, his normally
stoic face wide-eyed and shocked.
The fires went out overnight, Captain, he said. Jones is
nowhere to be found and weve drifted so far off course well be over
polar ice come lunchtime if we dont do something about it.
Ill be down in five minutes, I promised and he nodded.
It was the quickest I have ever dressed, but the beauty of
airships is that I am free to dispense with skirts and petticoats.
Breeches, a shirt and a heavy waistcoat, and I was dressed. I tugged on
my boots and was running down the corridor whilst still trying to catch
all my hair back.
Ulric was staring into the furnace, looking perplexed.
Its hardly warm, he said, shaking his head. It must have
gone out around midnight.
How? I moved around the engine room, touching cool pipes
that should have scalded me. I shivered. Are we out of coal?
No sir, theres plenty.

Then get a fire going, boyo, I suggested. We arent going to

get moving by staring at a bare grate.
Its going to take an hour or more to get up to steam!
Sometimes I despaired of menfolk.
Yes, and the longer you put off lighting the fire, the longer its
going to be before that hour can start! Move.
It was the oddest thing, going around the engine room shutting
down valves and spinning control gears that by rights one should never
touch whilst in the air. But we couldnt start the furnace with
everything wide open. Once we were fully shut down, Ulric put a flame
to the firebox and I left him there to keep an eye on it.
Captain on deck, Jebediah announced as I walked onto the
bridge. Even in a dire a situation as this, that would never not make me
smile, I thought. I nodded at my navigator.
How far off course are we? I asked.
Thats not Iceland beneath us, he said, an unhappy slant to his
mouth. I looked out over the white moonscape that stretched as far as
the eye could see through the early morning mist.
He nodded.
Any idea where over Greenland?
No. He slid the pointer across the map. Were above the
arctic circle already, though, going on the sun. Current airspeed and
direction, we could be anywhere around here. He drew a big circle on
the map, easily fifty miles in diameter.
Let us just hope were on the southward side of that area then.
I traced the curve the wind must have pushed us up. Where is Jones?
All three men shrugged. Jebediah was a man of few words, so
he wasnt the kind to speculate. My First Mate, Richardson and Albert
the bosun were cut from a different kind of cloth entirely.
Probably drunk somewhere, Richardson offered morosely.
Hes like as passed out in a cubby, wthe remains of his bottle.
Aye, or hes dead, Albert added. Livers gone out on him
and hes dead in his bunk.
And no one has checked to see if he is, indeed, in his cabin?
The three of them exchanged glances and I sighed.
Albert, youre bosun, you go find him, I instructed. Check
all the usual spots and double check the cargo bay because I know he
spotted that crate of Scotch whiskey thats down there. I shivered, and
automatically went to spin the dial to get some more heat out of the

vents that lined the edges of the floor.

There was no heat.
And thats when I noticed, up in the corners of the big glass
windows of the bridge, the first tracery of frost sending curling tendrils
of white across the glass.
With no fire, there was no warmth. No warmth, several
hundred feet up above the sheets of glacial ice of Greenland, meant that
if we didnt fall from the sky, we would freeze to death before we
reached the coast.
Richardson, go rouse everyone else on board, I said, snapping
him out of his morose mutterings to Jebediah. I want Aled and Isobel
in the galley and the stoves need firing up, every one of them. Yes,
even the one in my ready room, I pre-empted his question. There were
three small pot-bellied stoves on board, as well as the big range in the
galley that was used for cooking on.
But the wood, Richardson began to protest.
I dont care about the wood, I snapped. Saving fuel is no
use to us if were dead of hypothermia, is it?
They blinked as the realisation sank in that we were not just
adrift, but sat cold and lost in a vast, empty sky.
Fires, now gentlemen, I snapped. And coffee too.

They finally got moving, leaving me alone on the bridge.

Normally, that would be a taboo there should always be two on the
bridge of any large airship, but these were extenuating circumstances. I
prodded the map for a moment, thinking, then went up to the big wheel
and swung it hard round to port. I wanted our nose pointing south so
the wind wasnt driving us aimlessly in whatever direction it saw fit.
Trimming the ailerons and elevators back and turning the stationary
propellers to catch and deflect the breeze, I brought the old girl around
so we were, in effect, quartering the wind.
To think Id rolled my eyes when my navigation teacher had
harped on about sailing ships for three lectures in a row.
Checking the wind speed and compasses, I found Id shifted our
course onto a south-westerly heading. If nothing else, that would bring
us out over the coast where there were some few small villages, clinging
to the western edges of Greenland.
I stood staring at the dials for a long minute. With no steam in
the pipes, there was nothing to look at. No pressure gauges to keep in
line, no feeds to propellers to adjust, no temperature dials to monitor.
There was the compass, which held steady at west-southwest and wind
speed vacillating between fourteen and sixteen knots. There was
absolutely nothing for me to do on the bridge.
I went back to my cabin and dug out the thick gansey which had
been an impulse purchase on Shetland, for which I was now very
thankful. The dark, dense wool was like a hug and I slipped it on over
my shirt before putting my waistcoat back on. I added a soft lambswool
scarf and jammed my old flying helmet onto my head, trusting the
sheepskin lining to keep my ears warm if nothing else.
I probably looked ridiculous, but I didnt really care at that
point. Back on the bridge, the ice was creeping further across the
windows and I just wished I had a pair of gloves to add to my outfit.
It was the oddest situation Id ever been in. The sense of
urgency was very real we needed the furnace because without it, we
were dead in the air. But there was no way of hurrying up a fire. To lay
a good solid base that would generate plenty of steady heat took time.
I honestly didnt know how much time we had.
Found im! Albert announced loudly, storming onto the
bridge. And I was right an all.
Hes dead? I frowned.
As a nail, he said with relish.
You neednt look so pleased about it.

Oh, no, sorry Capn, I didnt mean to come across as pleased,

an all. He snatched his flat cap off his head and tried, unsuccessfully,
to look contrite. Only he was flat out on the floor of his cabin, like,
and by the stench in there hed found the Scotch. Its not pretty.
Running a hand over my face, I sighed. No, it probably wasnt
pretty, but it left me short of an engineer.
Okay, fine, deal with it. Find Richardson and send him back
up here and then go see if Ulric needs a hand in the engine room. I
looked at the frost which was creeping down the pipes which ran around
the top of the window. And please get Isobel to bring up some
I didnt want to think about the dead man on my ship at that
moment. I was too afraid that my whole crew would shortly be dead
too. Wed lost altitude as well, the cold air making the gas denser and
so less buoyant. I needed heat and soon.
Isobel, bless her heart, appeared a few minutes later bearing a
steaming mug of coffee and plate piled with toast and jam.
That was fast, I said, taking the mug with a grateful smile.
The range was still warm. She balanced the plate of toast on
the edge of the chart table. Is it true what Albert said about Jones?
Afraid so. Gods, coffee, I thought, my eyes closing for a
brief moment of appreciation. It was sweet and hot and I could feel it
defrosting me from the inside out. But for now, I need you to get all
the stoves on board fired up. Well worry about what to do with Jones
once were no longer in danger of freezing to death up here.
Isobel nodded, big blue eyes wide in her pale face. She was
barely twenty, and I had doubted my wisdom in including her on this
trip. But thus far, she had proved to be a resilient soul.
Looking back now, it comes as somewhat of an anti-climax to
say it was only another half an hour before the furnace was giving out
enough heat to start up a head of steam. But that was the longest thirty
minutes of my entire life. The ice had obscured fully three quarters of
the main windows before the pipes were hot enough to begin melting it.
The relief when the engine restarted was a tangible thing
throughout the whole ship. I had a sudden thought of how it must have
felt for Frankenstein, bringing life to his creation where nothing had
been before, then dismissed the fanciful notion. My airship had merely
been sleeping, not dead, and now her heart was beating again we were
going to turn a sharp forty-five degrees to port and hightail it back to

Africa - April 1878

We were five days out from Cape Town and had joined the
Zambesi River at Mambova. There was something soothing about the
meandering path the river took, a broad grey-blue stripe winding its way
across the green and gold landscape. I had been expecting arid brown
and beige, but we had timed our trip well and the rains had not long
passed. The whole world beneath the Callallo was verdant and bursting
with life, herds of bison and zebra and innumerable antelopes. We were
lulled into serenity by the slow curving sweeps of that mighty river,
which oft times turned brown with silt as the waters mixed with the run
off from the monsoons.
But then we could see a wall of mist before us, reaching up into
the sky like the smoke from a thousand fires. The noise was the most
surprising thing. As we grew closer, it was like a continuous hum. A
distant crowd cheering or the huff of many steam engines building
pressure. Then we were right next to it and the sound was near
deafening. It was as if the earth had opened up and swallowed it whole,
a gaping chasm that stretched across the landscape like a violent gouge.
So much power, was my first thought. That much water, falling
that far must generate the most incredible amount of power. If only
there were a way to harness and harvest it. Ulric and I spent many hours
talking the idea over. Short of living right next to the falls though, and
building a series of suspended water wheels from the type of steel
girders theyd just used to put that strange tower up in the middle of
Paris with, we couldnt come up with another way of doing so.
No doubt, in a few years, when engineering takes another
quantum leap forward, we will figure it out.

Epilogue - Stockholm, 1895

I have no doubt that my dear daughter will read this memoir
and chastise me for my dramatic turn of phrase. The Princess Victoria
and I often meet for tea these days. She is an elegant woman of thirtythree, almost the same age as I was when she was born. Except that she
is married with two delightful children who I spoil and threaten to spirit
away on an airship at every opportunity.
One day, I might just do that, if only to see her expression (and
her fathers) when I return with two over-excited children, full of the
joys of wide open skies and the smell of steam on hot metal. What is
the point of having grandchildren if you cant drop yourself down to
their level once in a while?
Until they are old enough to steal away for a few days, I will
content myself with day to day life, which is far better than I had ever
anticipated. Stockholm is a beautiful city, elegant in a way that London
is not, cleaner than Paris, friendlier than Moscow. Of all the places in
Europe and Africa that I have visited, I have been lucky enough to
touch down in a city that is more than understanding of my little quirks.
Ulric and I rarely even raise an eyebrow in society these days.
We still havent married, much to Victorias indulgent irritation, but Im
not sure we ever will. Neither of us feel the need for it. We have said
the words we need to say to each other in the privacy of our own home.
He is six years my junior; a short, sturdy Finn with a quick wit and a
propensity to laugh at lifes absurdities. Our first flight together, some
thirty years ago, seems like only yesterday when I think back on it. I
have no idea when he ceased being just my chief engineer and became a
dearly beloved companion, but we like to think it was somewhere over
North Africa in the early 1870s. Well, he does, but then he has ever
been an incurable romantic.

Oh, and that murder? I told you not to worry about it.

The future?

With sincerest thanks to Amy, for her wonderful drawings.

This may well be the last thing I ever write, so I

do believe it is time for the whole truth to come
out. To write it out in full, however, would take
me another lifetime, so I respectfully request my
readers indulgence, in order that I may
foreshorten and condense my adventures into
something a little more palatable to the Western
So begin the abridged adventures of Ms
Millicent A. Livingstone - explorer, engineer,
cartographer (and terribly bad Methodist).

Cogsworth Press


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