Chapter 1: Success
The sun had hardly risen before the docks clamored with noise; resources being moved, people being shoved, deals made, promises broken. Eighteen fifty-one was a wonderful year for Gloucester, with an economic boom loud enough to be heard by wealthy men and women through the thick walls of their opulent estates. Its noise hardly elicited a gasp, however, as anyone could have guessed the canal would bring more to the town than mere timber. Even the less-than-fortunate locals knew this by the sudden purchase of land and quick rise of charming country homes. Elegant people didn’t come to Gloucester merely to admire its austere allure.
The golden opportunity to prosper is why Roderick Blackwood came to Gloucester. Somehow humbled by his family’s distinguished stable in Newmarket, he was sure better fortune would come from Gloucester’s open treasure chest. He found the business of horses to be tiresome, if not just too familiar. Gloucester was, to him, exciting. Although the town dated far before his ancestors first turned up their nose to pease porridge, to Roderick and many like him, it was a fresh start. It had few families whose names were anything to know about, and to the young and the restless, this meant opportunity.
In a crude battle for available land, Roderick won enough for a large timber yard and his comely home, which was widely agreed to be one of the most appropriate facades to ever smile lord-like upon the town. This set young Roderick a bit back in finances. But the 30-year-old gentleman wasn’t worried, nor should he have been. Within a mere two years, his profits from the timber yard fared well enough to add more help to the house, which was badly needed; the dust atop the armoire was much too comfortable for his liking.
All of this led him to Gloucester’s docks this particular morning. Dressed in good fashion from his polished boots to his half-smile, Roderick was feeling fortunate. He was sure he’d leave with capable help to add to his success, and all would continue to be merry in his bright, boundless world. No sooner had he boarded his carriage did Mr. Bags, his chatty driver, set the horses in motion. Roderick was still trying to make it safely into his seat when Mr. Bags peeked through the narrow window into the cab.
"Mooornin' sir!" Mr. Bags bellowed, his grin just wide enough to flash a glimpse at his unusually sharp incisors. They always made Roderick uncomfortable.
"Yes, good morning, Bags." he hastily responded. Roderick had a soft yet commanding voice, always drawing the attention of any within earshot. He tried to pry his eyes from Mr. Bags' teeth as he smoothed his trousers with clammy palms and removed his hat. "Do you remember where we are headed?"
"O'course, o'course!" Mr. Bags replied. As if Roderick's words were a gesture to hurry, he jostled the reigns to urge the pair of horses to pick up the pace. Roderick gave a curt nod in hopes to end the conversation, as he hardly wanted to have an animated conversation with his driver, but the jolly man continued.
"Ye lookin' to hire more board boys?"
'Board boys' was the local term used to refer to lumber yard workers. Whether they were chopping, cutting or carrying them, board boys toiled from dawn to dusk over timber that was too finely crafted to be seen in the parts of town they called home. Roderick chuckled slightly at this reference, glancing out the nearest window at the countryside's lively pastures.
"Not today," he began, briefly thinking on his suggestion. "Although I should like to add more 'board boys' to the estate. But today.. well, I hope to find more help for the house."
Mr. Bags dutifully answered him with various suggestions in identifying the best help, but Roderick had long stopped listening. His answer to Bags incited anticipation for today's trip. What--or better yet, who--would he stumble upon today?
Previously, he'd been to the docks twice for house help and only returned with able-bodied board boys to add to his yard. Finding help for the house was much harder in many regards; after all, a house servant must look and behave a certain way that a board boy can willfully ignore. And finding help that fits the bill and has a shred of intelligence? Well that's just-
"Your stop, sir." Mr. Bags' cheerful announcement brought Roderick back to reality and to the carriage door, where Bags was waiting patiently to open the door for him. It was then he realized just how loyal and hard working Bags was and had been over the years. If only he could find house help like Bags..
"Thank you, Bags. I will surely take your suggestions into consideration."
Although Bags responded with a proud, enthusiastic nod,
His attention was caught by a large boat hurriedly emptying its occupants. He furrowed his brows and rubbed his fingers over his pocket watch, remembering he’d already checked the time just minutes earlier: nearly half passed eight in the morning. It was quite early for a workers boat to be arriving, as the first would usually come around ten. He had plans of catching conversation with some of the local businessmen on the day’s imports, but it would have to wait. If there were any good hire skittering down the plank, he would like to have them before his equally-ambitious neighbors.
Roderick observed a man slouched comfortably upon a pile of crates, who also seemed to be watching the boat. Taking a few slow strides to his side, he decided this man should know as well as any about its status.
“Sir,” he began, pointing half-heartedly to the now empty vessel. “From where has that boat come, may I ask?”
The man adjusted his patched cap to look at Roderick with a face quite patched itself with filth. Roderick uncomfortably avoided eye contact, clearing his throat and looking back out to the boat. He frustratingly felt emotions for the less fortunate, and was sure he would go penniless if he were sorry for all of them.
“Looks to be from Sweden,” the man muttered, looking back out to the boat as well after observing Roderick’s stiff demeanor. “Sir.”
Roderick very slightly tipped his blemish-less top hat in an uncomfortably polite gesture, and continued on to where the ship’s occupants had gathered. His thoughts became lost in the man’s rough face, and he silently hoped his work was paid well enough to keep his assumed family well. While his father had always preached laziness of those who suffered, Roderick always thought differently of the sad faces in the street. But, as a proper gentleman will do, he thought so only to himself.
Before long, he’d reached the gathering: a group of mixed faces, of all genders and ages, and all with a look of apprehension. He’d seen it many times before, and so he would many times again, but today he was not looking. His mind still entranced in the thought of the man he’d just spoken with, he was only jostled to reality by actually being jostled. His eyes widened in surprise to find he’d bumped carelessly into a woman, and she whirled around with a look akin to his own.
As soon as she’d faced him, it was obvious she had been on the boat. Her many layers of clothing, if they could still be considered articles of clothing, had obviously endured many relentless days at sea. She held a lightweight, shawl-like fabric over her head, which had fallen to her shoulders to reveal taut, champagne braids. He held contact with her pale eyes so long, her face began to flush anxiously, and she consciously wiped a smear of dirt from her cheek.
This little gesture helped Roderick regain control, and with a jolt of his head he removed his top hat in sincere apology.
“Please forgive me, miss..?” He searched her face for an answer, as if her name would be branded upon her forehead. She looked as though she would answer, however jerked in shock instead. He squinted in confusion, and then noticed the figure behind her.
“Aleksia.” The thick-accented, baritone voice belonged to the man who’d approached her from behind. As worse for the wear as Aleksia, and with an expression to shatter boulders, Roderick stiffened. However, the man smiled softly and bowed courteously to Roderick, gesturing urgently for Aleksia to do the same. Her attention diverted to the ground, and she followed suit.
Roderick felt a frown twitch at his lips, and a sudden feeling of loathe washed over him. He couldn’t be sure what caused it, and in confusion of his own behavior, he snapped back to his usual good fashion. Still, he couldn’t help but let his attention creep back upon Aleksia, who seemed cold to the man’s rigid presence. The tension evoked a curiosity in Roderick in a way the canine will water its mouth to a bone.
He couldn’t be sure either of them were fit to work for the Blackwood home, but he was certain they had now made a permanent blemish in his otherwise well-laundered life.