The sound of baying dogs and horses in pursuit caused my heart to stop and my blood run cold. Dosett was more dangerous than I thought. I realized at that moment that he would stop at nothing to get me back. I needed to get to the Old Huntsman’s Cabin where I could lock myself in.
I heard a Yankee man’s voice hollering, “Hello?” and approaching me from my left. I didn’t know who would be out here in the woods so late at night, but perhaps they would distract the dogs from me. I continued on my course, certain that the cabin will save me.
The dogs were closing in! There were footsteps converging on me and I heard a man yelling, “We’ve got to get her!” Somewhere off to my left I hear a gun cock. “I’m not going to make it!” I realize in horror.
“Miss! Miss! Do you need help?” a Yankee woman yelled, as she ran at me from behind me to the right. “Let me help you!”
“Not unless you’ve got a fast horse!” I replied.
“We’ve got something better than that!” came the Yankee woman’s response. “We have some men that can protect us.”
“I’m runnin’ from men!” I screamed, exasperated. I had no intention of slowing down.
“Follow me! Come back to my ship,” she said.
“Your ship?” I asked confused.
“There are other men that will protect us,” she replied.
“You have a ship in Savannah?” I stop in my tracks to question the woman.
“Yes! Come on!”
“Don’t slow me down! They have guns!” I screamed and considered running again.
“I have a gun too,” she said with a grin.
“I don’t know you!”
“I’m Nellie Bly!” the woman announced. She was rather plain faced and looked travel worn. I would have guessed her to be in her mid-thirties.
“Wait a minute, I know about you. Aren’t you in trouble with people with an Airship?”
“That’s my ship! I can get you out of here,” Nellie told me.
“Your ship?” I asked again.
“Well, it’s my friend’s ship,” she corrected herself.
“If you can get me outta of here, I’ll go.”
“I don’t like men with guns chasing me either,” Nellie agreed.
When we made it to the clearing, the most amazing ship loomed overhead. It was a large as a proper house. The airship had two large gondolas on its underside. The vessel floated a few feet off the ground. Large ropes on all sides tied it down.
Suddenly a woman’s scream filled the night air. It was a short distance away. I was certain the dogs had tracked down some other woman. It would not take the men in pursuit long to realize it was not me that they had captured.
“Oh my! I need to run away from her,” I told Nellie.
“That’s my friend. She’s going to be a distraction,” Nellie said with a mischievous grin.
“They’re goin’ to think she’s me. They’ll shoot her!”
“Shoot her for what?” Nellie asked.
“Well, she’s me!” I said, exasperated.
“What did you do?” Nellie asked me, with an accusing tone.
“I am not goin’ to be your next story,” I told her flatly.
“Alright. Well let’s get you inside,” she told me.
“Inside the Airship,” Nellie said.
“It ain’t gonna go up right now, is it?”
“Alright. You’re going to help me get on this airship? How do I get on? Is there a gangplank or a ladder or somethin’?
“There’s a ladder,” Nellie told me and helped me to find it. “Tom! Come help us,” Nellie hollered to the ship. “We have a guest.”
This was my first time on a vessel, much less an Airship. I was much relieved to hear that I was Nellie’s guest. I had never experienced hospitality from a Northerner before, but I assumed that I would be treated cordially none-the-less. “A guest,” I said happily to myself.
Nellie prepared to introduce me to Tom. “I don’t even know your name,” she said.
“Lilian. Lilian Whitlock.”
“This is Lilian. She’s running from…” Nellie trailed off, hoping to get more information from me.
“I’m Lilian Whitlock,” I said, interrupting Nellie to take Tom’s hand in greeting. “I’m running from some crazy men with guns and guns and more guns.” Tom was a mess. He was sweaty, covered in motor oil, bloody and torn up. I withdrew my hand as politely as I could, given the circumstances.
“Well, you’re running into some crazy men,” Tom said. He was almost fourty years old from all appearances. He had a little bit of grey to his hair. He was slightly taller than myself.
“Shut up! Be quiet. You’re not crazy,” Nellie told him quickly.
“You said they could protect us?” I asked in a questioning tone.
“We’re not crazy. You might be a little strange,” Nellie said to Tom, “but you’re not crazy.”
I could not help but feel that Nellie was trying to convince me more than Tom. I wondered how Tom came to be in such a mess and what his function was aboard this Airship.
“She is frightened out of her wits. She had a pack of dogs after her and men with guns that tried to kill her. You know how that feels,” Nellie told Tom. What a strange thing to say to him!
“Yeah, we have a number of people with guns after us,” Tom agreed. “So now you want more men with guns after us?”
“Wait a minute! So you’re sayin’ is that you’ve made my situation worse?” I asked in despair. “I shoulda went to the cabin. I knew it! You told me you could keep me safe.”
“Well your cabin doesn’t fly. Our ship does fly,” Nellie said.
“But my cabin has a lock on the door,” I argued for the sake of arguing.
“Now doesn’t that sound crazy to you? That we have a flying ship?” Tom asked.
“Well yes, but there have been rumors about it. I heard about it. Nellie Bly and her bandits are in cahoots and have been stealin’ airships.”
“Where did you hear this rumor?” Tom asked.
“Stealing Airships? How many did they say we stole?” Nellie asked.
“It’s all over the current affairs and gossip.” I said.
“Current affairs and gossip – covered up by the government and military. How do you know about this gossip?” Tom interrogated me. He suddenly had a very serious tone to his voice. He meant business with this line of questioning.
“It’s been around Savannah. People have seen the airship.”
The two argued about being on front page news and what they were becoming famous for. They asked me if I knew Captain or Lady Bromwell. I did not. They also asked if I knew a lot of rich people with many resources that were trying to kill them, some Austrians apparently. All of the names that they asked me about were totally unfamiliar.
“I don’t know any Austrians, but I do know people with money,” I said, desperate to not sound like a total recluse.
“You know people with money?” Tom asked, suddenly interested.
“Do you know a man named Von Richter?” Nellie asked me. “He’s kinda rich and has been throwing around his money lately.”
“I don’t know anyone named Von Richter. I really don’t associate too much with foreigners,” I told them. “Or Yankees,” I said under my breath.
“Welcome aboard The Newe Londoner,” Tom said. “Mr. Preebles! Are we allowed another guest?” Tom hollered to somewhere else on the ship.”
A man, I could only assume was Mr. Peebles, arrived to join the discussion.
“Would that cause any weight issues?” Tom asked.
“Oh, I beg pardon!” I asked, truly offended.
“Oh, I’m not saying extra weight; I’m just saying another person aboard.” Tom corrected himself. He sounded slightly embarrassed for his comment. “There’s only so much capacity allowed on certain vessels.”
“That last ship had a Tommy Gun. I think we can handle a small, little woman like her aboard.”
“We can carry about twenty people at the most,” Preebles said.
“Alright. Then we’re good. Do we have enough food aboard?” Tom asked.
“You got to check the back cabin,” Gavin said. “I don’t know. If you’ll check on it, I’ll be very appreciative.”
Nellie proceeded to explain to a man that they introduced as Gavin about the situation. “Your sister, Miranda, is the one that is out there. She’s the one that screamed as a distraction but who knows where she is. We need to look out for her. Kirkpatrick is out there. And there might be some men with dogs coming. Get the guns!”
Gavin left, I assume to get the guns. A few minutes later, there was a lot of arguing outside. I heard southern voices outside. “Where can I hide?” I asked.
“Get inside this cabinet!” Nellie said as she started to shove me in.
“Make sure all of the ruffles get inside!” I said in a panic. “Oh my goodness!”
I could hear muffled shouting outside of the Airship for some time. “There’s so much yelling!” I cried to myself, alone in my cabinet.
I heard Nellie discussing a missing traveling companion, a woman in men’s clothing. She was talking with Samuel Dosett very close by! If she only knew what a dangerous, young man he was. I shook with terror within the dark, enclosed space. I truly feared for my life again.
Samuel invited Nellie to go with him to the plantation house for the party.
The voice of Albert Dosett boomed nearby. “Yeah, Miss Bly, I would like to hear some of your stories!”
“Please, Miss Bly” Samuel said.
Nellie left with the men, to collect her English traveling companion and to regale them with her tales.
I continued to hide in the cupboard for some time. Later Tom summoned me from the cupboard. “Miss Lilian, it’s safe to come out now.”
“They’re all gone?” I asked.
“They’re all gone,” Tom said. “Why were you running from them anyway?” he asked.
“They’re dangerous,” I told him.
“Guns and dogs and horses. They’re dangerous,” I explained.
“Guns and dogs and horses are just hunting in this country,” Tom said calmly.
“Well, when they’re huntin’ you, it’s a little different.” I said.
“Cause I’m runnin’ away. I don’t want to be there anymore.” I told him.
“Why are you running away? Why don’t you want to be there anymore? You see my line of questioning?”
“I do, but I just met you.”
“Do you live there? Is that your family?”
I’m not sure why I began to tell Tom everything. I guess it was because it was quiet now and I had time to collect myself a bit.
“Yes I live on that plantation – my father’s plantation. Henry Whitlock’s plantation, Thornhill.”
“So you live there. You don’t like your mom and pop anymore?” he asked.
“My momma’s dead,” I told him. Of course, he couldn’t have known that.
“Your mother’s dead? When did that happen?”
“A long time ago,” I said. I tried to picture her in my mind just then, but the picture was faded as always.
“How did she die?” Tom asked.
“Oh I’m sorry. And your father? You don’t like your father? You’re running away from him?”
“Yes. Yes,” I said quietly. The weight of the situation hit me once again.
“Why are you running away from him?” Tom continued. His voice seemed quieter. He seemed serious but genuinely concerned for my well being.
“Because he’s not a nice man.”
“Is he trust worthy?” Tom asked.
“No…” I began.
“So if he knows about this Airship,” Tom started to ask.
I interrupted his line of questioning. “His friend, Mr. Dosett, is also a terrible man. You shouldn’t trust Mr. Dosett at all.”
“How do you mean not trust him?” Tom asked.
“He’s a drunkard and a gambler. He’s got a mean streak a mile wide, just like my father does. They both have tempers, they both have violent tendencies. They’re both terrible people.” I told him in a blur of words. I began to panic, the more I told him.
“Are they just out to get money?” Tom wondered.
“Well my father has plenty of money. He doesn’t have to worry about money. Now, Mr. Dosett I don’t know about with his gambling problems. He probably does need more money. Which is probably why he convinced my father to make me marry him.”
“I see why you want to run,” Tom agreed.
“Yes. See, tonight was my cotillion ball. I supposed to find me a nice suitor. Then my father told me the horrible news – that he made a decision. I cannot live with that decision, so I’m running away.”
“We’re gonna go far away,” Tom assured me.
“Good. The farther, the better.”
“What are the crops on your plantation?” Tom asked.
“We just started pecan trees a few years ago. They’re new. We’ve got cotton. We’ve got beans. We’ve got tobacco and some vegetables for ourselves. That’s it.”
“Where do you store the foods before they go to the house? Where can we get water and supplies? Maybe from some of the workers of the fields?”
“There’s a school. There’s the slave houses. There’s the Old Huntsman’s Lodge where I was going to hide out,” I told him.
“The reason I’m asking is that we have no food or water or water aboard the ship. We’re going to need some supplies unless we’re going to stop again for another day. That might be another adventure, especially if Kirkpatrick comes back aboard.”
Gavin comes aboard again. He hears the discussion about provisions. He interrupts, “Older gentlemen aren’t too bad,” he says looking in my direction.
“Sixty! He’s almost sixty!”
“He’s got a lot of land and a lot of riches. You’d be set up,” he tells me.
I can’t believe my ears! He wants me to go back and marry Mr. Dosett. “He’s a horrible man! He’s a drunkard and a gambler and he’s just got a mean streak.”
“Knowing about those people, my guess is that the word is going to be about town soon. This Airship will be discovered,” Tom warned Gavin.
“It’s already discovered,” Gavin told Tom.
Tom called Preebles to join the conversation. “Before we decide to leave, if we want to fly out of here. I want to just keep going for a few days. Do you think the ship can handle it?”
“Well, our plan is to go out from here dead east – over water.”
“We’re going to need some food. We have no provisions,” Tom says.
“What do you suggest?”
“Lilian was saying there are some slaves’ quarters not too far from here,” Tom told them. “She knows the grounds. She grew up here. We might be able to go out and steal some food and come back to the ship.”
“Steal some food?” I asked.
“From the slaves. You know the grounds better than me.”
There was a discussion among the men whether we should wait for the return of Nellie and Ms. Alders before going out to get food. Tom wanted to go get food now, while Gavin and Preebles wanted to wait until the women were back aboard.
“What’s in the barn”, Tom asked me.
“Tobacco. That’s for hanging and drying the tobacco,” I explained to him. Yankees apparently don’t grow much tobacco.
“How much supplies do we need? And how are we going to compensate the slaves?” Gavin asked.
“Compensate?” I asked, stunned. “They probably don’t have much and what they do have probably ain’t worth eatin’. But we don’t have to worry about compensatin’ them.”
“Do they like you?” Tom asked, confused.
“I doubt it,” I told him.
“They’re as good as my father’s, which means they are as good as mine. We can take what we want from them,” I explained. It was as if none of them had ever dealt with negroes. “Compensating them…,” I said sarcastically under my breath.
“We can go to the servant’s kitchen and get what we can,” Tom told Gavin and Preebles.
“We’re gonna wait for Bly and Alders,” Preeble said.
“It’s mine for the takin’,” I continued under my breath, ignoring their conversation now.
The discussion about waiting for food supplies after Nellie and Ms. Alders returned began again. They agreed to wait to resupply for now. Gavin pulled out a pocket watch and declared that it was about 11pm and he would give the women an hour and a half to return.
“You, little lady,” Gavin addressed me rather improperly, “you can stay here for a while. I’m kinda on the fence about taking you with us.”
“You can’t leave me here!” I told him.
“What can you do?” he asked. All pretense of hospitality was now gone. I was no longer a guest, but had to barter for my passage aboard the Airship.
“I… I… I can dance,” I told him.
“Can you cook?” Tom asked.
“I cannot cook!” I exclaimed, insulted. “Do I look like I’ve ever cooked a day in my life?” I asked him angrily. “NO!” I clapped my hands together to make my point. “I cannot! I will not! No. No.” I told them all defiantly.
“What can you do to help us?” Tom asked again.
“Uhm…. Well, … I really don’t rightly know,” I said confused and exasperated.
“I don’t know if I want to be a party to kidnapping,” Gavin said.
“Kidnapping?!” I asked, astounded.
“How old are you, little lady?” Gavin questioned me.
“I’m old enough,” I told him defensively. I did not like this man already. He was rude and aggressive. Gavin did not show me the slightest bit of courtesy or hospitality. “That was my cotillion ball.”
“Old enough…” Gavin said quietly, eyeing me up and down.
“Now how old is old enough?” Preebles asked.
“Seventeen,” Tom told them.
“Seventeen. What do you think, Binford?” Preebles asked Tom.
“If that man and those men on horseback are abusive towards her… I don’t want anyone to be abusive,” Tom said.
“You can’t send me back there,” I reiterated.
“You’re gonna pull your fair share and labor,” Gavin told me, pointing a finger at me. I had never been treated in such a manner by strangers before. “That means actually doing something, like lifting something.”
“Lifting?” I asked in astonishment.
“Yes,” all three men chimed at once.
“Lifting?” I asked again.
“Well, I tell you what. I’ll be more than happy to have Mr. Binford escort you back to your home – where I am sure you would be very happy marrying that old man,” Gavin threatened me.
“I’ll lift what I can,” I said meekly and hung my head in resignation.
“If you don’t pull your weight, we’ll leave you where you be,” he continued. Gavin told Tom, “An hour. We’re gonna prime the engines then and get some supplies. We’ll be out of here before sun up,” and then he turned to leave with Preebles.
I told Tom that I didn’t like being yelled at and that I didn’t think I liked Gavin much. Tom went off to rest in the other gondola. They left me alone to cry.
Sometime later, more men rode up to the Airship. I told Tom to ask the gentlemen for food outright. I told him I was going to hide again. He helped me into the cupboard and told me, “No one should be forced into a wedding this day and age,” and then he left.
I spent more time alone in the cupboard, unsure of what was occurring outside. I could hear muffled arguing again. After a few minutes, the cabinet doors open up and I see Nellie and another woman staring at me.
“Are you alright,” the other woman asked me in a British accent. She must the Miranda Alders I have heard about.
“No! I’m stuffed in the cabinet,” I tell her. I hoped from some sympathy from the woman.
“Well, come on out!” she said nicely. “Oh I’m sorry. Who are you?” she asked me.
“I’m Lilian Whitlock,” I introduced myself.
“She’s the one the dogs were after,” Nellie told her. “Why were they after you?” she asked me. “I never got that information last time,” Nellie told me.
“I already told Mr. Binford that I am running away.”
“Whatever for?” Ms. Alders asked me, concern in her voice.
“Cause I don’t want to live there no more,” I told them.
“It seemed perfectly nice. They were holding a lovely party,” Ms. Alders said.
“It was my party,” I informed them.
“You left your own party?” Nellie asked.
“Yes, I did.”
“Why?” Nellie continued asking.
“Because my father is a terrible man,” I said.
Alders agreed, stating that if men treated her badly, she would leave too.
“He wanted me to marry his friend, Mr. Dosett,” I continued.
“Oh. Wait. We know Mr. Dosett,” Ms. Alders said.
“Angry? Drunken? Gambler? About sixty years old? Mean streak? Just a terrible man?” I asked.
“She don’t want that,” Nellie told Ms. Alders.
“No I don’t!” I agreed.
“My step father was like that – a drunk,” Nellie said.
“Nellie believes in Temperance,” Ms. Alders explained.
“Temperance?” I asked.
“I’m a teetotaler,” Nellie said.
“Gavin does drink though,” Ms. Alders said.
“Mr. Gavin?” I asked.
“Mr. Alders, Gavin, my brother,” Ms. Alders said.
“Oh. I apologize,” I said. If she had to deal with that man on a regular basis, she needed sympathy.
“Whatever for?” Ms. Alders asked me.
“I don’t like him,” I told her.
“You don’t like my brother?” she asked.
“No. He was very mean to me.”
“Did he take advantage of you?” Ms. Alders asked, concerned. The sound of her voice made it seem like she thought that was a real possibility. I would have to keep clear of this Gavin fellow for my safety it seemed, and perhaps for my honor and purity.
“He wants to. He wants to put me to work,” I explained. “He said I need to lift heavy things – I need to pull my weight or they’ll throw me overboard. I don’t like him none.”
“A woman can do anything a man can do,” Nellie said smiling. “We just have to prove it to them.”
“Why would I want to do anything a man can do?” I asked, shocked. “Let them do all hard labor. Let them do the nasty, dirty things – kill the spiders and hunt the food.”
“Well then, honey,” Nellie addressed me with too much familiarity, “you just need to go back to your daddy and marry that old man.”
“No. There were other nice men at my ball – men my own age or thereabouts,” I said.
“Oh yes, what was his name?” Alders asked, looking dreamily as she turned towards Nellie.
“Samuel and Benjamin,” Nellie said.
“They were quite lovely,” Ms. Alders said.
“They’re Mr. Dosett’s sons. They’re just as bad as he is,” I explained.
“They weren’t drunk but I guess if you don’t have much of a choice,” Nellie said.
“I didn’t have much of a choice, since my father picked Albert Dosett,” I explained again. “I just can’t stomach the idea. I’m going to be sick.”
“Well, either you’re going to have to live in your cabin or if you come with us you might have to pull a little bit of your weight,” Nellie said, completely forgetting about her offer of hospitality earlier in the evening.
“I’m sure she has some talents,” Ms. Alders said.
“Do I look like the sort that can lift my weight?” I asked sarcastically.
“Well, lift some kind of weight,” Nellie said. “Do you know how to cook?”
“They asked me the same thing! No! Do I look like I know how to cook? I won’t! I can’t! And I shan’t!” I felt my head getting lighter as my blood thinned at the audacity of it all. “That’s what servants are for!” I said in total exasperation.
“Ms. Whitlock,” Nellie said abruptly.
“If you’re going to be an independent woman who does not follow what her father tells her to do and marries a man you father wants, your husband will have the servants. If you don’t want the husband and want to be an independent woman, an independent woman has to do things for herself,” Nellie rambled on.
“I can find another husband! I can find a husband I like, one that has servants,” I said in frustration.
“The question is, are you going to find that here? Or are you coming with us?” Ms. Alders asked.
“I can’t stay here,” I said quietly.
“Well, if you ride with us, you have to do something,” Nellie said again.
“I am sure there are skills that Ms. Whitlock has that we can utilize,” Ms. Alders told Nellie.
“Well, it ain’t cookin’,” I said.
“Can you sew?” Ms. Alders asked.
“I can embroider,” I said, feeling optimistic. “I can make your clothes look nicer!”
“Can you read poetry?” Ms. Alders asked.
“Yes, I am actually quite studied in Literature,” I said smiling. It seemed that Ms. Alders appreciated my education.
“Actually, she’s not useful,” Ms. Alders told Nellie quietly. “I’m sure that of all the skills that a young lady of such refinement would have, there are appropriate skills that Ms. Whitlock has that we can utilize for our advantage.”
“Do you have good eyesight? Could you be a lookout?” Nellie asked.
“Well, I’m certainly not blind,” I replied. What a strange question for her to ask me.
“Are you afraid of heights?” Nellie questioned me.
“I don’t know if I have ever been up high before. I’m not exactly the kind to climb trees, you know,” I said. Ms. Alders and Nellie exchanged quizzical glances and each shrugged her shoulders. Ms. Alders sighed aloud.
They began to whisper to each other. I heard Nellie call me a ‘gold digger’.
“Excuse me? Gold digger?” I asked, insulted. “I happen to be one of the most eligible young women in all of Savannah. I deserve a good husband! Now I am not a gold digger. I had money of my own but I guarantee you that there are certain qualities that a man must possess in order to be one of my suitors – in order to court me. And one of those qualities would be that he would have to have his own money,” I explained in a heated moment.
“So do you have any of this money on you?” Nellie asked. I suddenly did not feel safe about telling them about the little bit of pocket change in my hand bag. “Then we could pay off your father and buy all this food?”
“If I had my father’s money, then what would my father have?” I asked, trying to explain the audacity of her question.
“You said you had your own money,” Nellie told me flatly.
“Well, it’s my father’s money but it will be mine one day,” I argued.
“I bet she’d really love Von Richter,” Ms. Alders said to Nellie with a grin.
“I don’t appreciate foreigners,” I explained, thinking that the name Von Richter was foreign and I had heard that he was Austrian.
“You’ve just said that to a foreigner,” Nellie said, pointing to the Brittish woman, Alders.
“I see,” Ms. Alders said coldly. “If you would all excuse me.”
“Or Yankees or colored,” I added, hoping to further offend those that wanted to put me to manual labor and had thusly failed to show me any hospitality.
“I will remove myself from your presence, lest I offend you again,” Ms. Alders said and turned in preparation to leave.
“No! She can go back in her cabinet,” Nellie said with glee. “I think I am hearing some horses and some men. Get back in the cabinet.”
I could clearly tell by her body language and the overly, sickly sweet tone of her voice that Nellie was lying to me. “That’s not very nice of you!” I said.
“I’m just making sure you don’t get married to that drunken bastard. Get in the cabinet,” she said as she forced me into the cupboard. “He might be coming, looking for you!” she threatened happily.
“What a horrible thing to say!”
“Well I don’t want to see you out here. What if he catches you. If he catches a glimpse of your lily-white face, he will surely ride up here and take you away like a gorilla grabbing his mate.”
“How crass!” I yelled. I could not believe that a woman would speak in such a manner. “What kind of woman are you?”
“Well get in the cabinet so you can hide from him,” she continued.
“You just want to shut me up!” I said definitely.
“Would I ever do that?” she asked directly.
“I don’t know. What kind of lady are you, Ms. Bly?” I asked again.
“Well you should know what kind of lady I am. I heard Samuel say you read all of my newspaper articles.”
“I may have read one or two in passing,” I said rudely.
Nellie explained that food would be stored in the back and that I had to hide in the cupboard to avoid being found in the morning.
“What food? You mean the food we’re stealing from the servants?” I asked.
“No. Kirkpatrick is securing us some provisions from your father,” Nellie told me.
“Oh, so we’re not robbing the coloreds any more?” I asked.
“Rob the coloreds?” Nellie asked me, unaware of Tom and my previous plans.
“We were gonna rob the coloreds. Because technically they’re my father’s so technically they’re mine. So that makes it alright. We need food. They wanted to compensate the coloreds. Well, you know, I thought that was ridiculous.”
“Wouldn’t that be like compensating your father which would be like compensating you?” Nellie asked, trying to trick me with logic. “So you wouldn’t lose any money.”
“What would a colored do with money?” I asked. Honestly, these northern folk just don’t understand. It’s as if Nellie had never run across a colored person before.
“I don’t know, buy their freedom from some slave owner,” Nellie said.
“Excuse me? Are you… are you an abolitionist?” I asked, stunned.
“No. I am a human being,” Nellie said. I didn’t understand how that had anything to do with the coloreds.
“Oh my goodness,” I said under my breath.
“I believe in human rights,” she continued.
“Anyway,” I tried to change the topic. “you’re getting food from somewhere else?”
“Well, Kirkpatrick is from your daddy.”
“It’s this Captain,” Nellie said.
“The Captain of the Airship?” I asked.
“No. The captain of the Airship is that foreigner,” Nellie said.
“The Gavin fellow that yelled at me?”
“I met him. He agreed with Gavin that I have to pull my weight,” I told Nellie.
“So you want to run away with us on an Airship full of foreigners and Yankees and one of them might be an abolitionist?”
“I must be desperate or foolish,” I cried.
“There is a Captain of the Navy but he is Irish and he is a Yankee,” Nellie teased.
“Oh my,” I sighed.
“Well we can surely leave you with your drunken husband…”
“No! No, no,” I sobbed.
“So maybe taking a little broom and sweeping around this ship’s cabin might not be so bad compared to living with your drunken husband?” Nellie said.
“I don’t know how to sweep.”
“Oh, it’s really easy. You take the broom in your hand and it’s kind of like you’re dancing with a man,” Nellie said with a smile.
“Well, I can dance really well,” I said. I felt the corners of my mouth start to smile.
“Well then, sweeping will be just like dancing!” she exclaimed. “We’ll teach you.”
Ms. Alders returns to speak with Nellie. They whisper quietly. Alders hides her face from me with her hand. Her body language is clear. She is saying something secretive that she does not want me to hear. I see hostility and concern in her posture.
Tom returned to the ship. “Mr. Preebles, Nellie and Ms. Alders, I have some food here.”
“Who brought it?” Mr. Preebles asked.
“A Mr. Samuel Dosett,” Tom said. “Ms. Lilian do you know this Samuel Dosett?”
“That is one of Mr. Dosett’s sons,” I said. “Samuel and Benjamin are his sons. I don’t like any of them.”
“Those are her children – her soon to be sons,” Nellie said cruely.
“Don’t say that!” I cried aloud.
“Well, what?” Nellie asked in a sickly sweet voice, feigning innocence. “It’s the truth.”
“Perhaps he should not get too close to the ship,” Ms. Alders said.
“I’ll keep watch then,” Tom volunteered.
“Yes, please let us know,” Ms. Alders asked him.
“You have a gun?” Preebles asked.
“Yes, I do. It’s our only gun. Kirkpatrick has the rest,” Tom said. The men continued a conversation about arms and ammunition for a minute. They asked if I had a weapon and I explained that I did not. I knew where the guns were kept in the house, but I did not think it was safe for me to go back and retrieve any. It was agreed that it was too dangerous to return to the main house for a weapon.
“You won’t need it where we are going,” Tom said.
“Where are we going anyway?” I asked.
“We’re going overseas,” he told me.
“Overseas?! Where?” I asked, astounded.
“Away from your drunken husband,” Nellie chimed in again. “Or do you want to go to the marriage bed with him?” she smirked.
I could not believe that a lady would speak in such crass terms! I could not help but break down into tears. Ms. Alders handed me a handkerchief and told me that I could keep it.
“It’s the least that my country could do for yours,” she said.
“That’s right. It is,” I replied as I continued to sob.
I spent that night sleeping in the cramped cupboard, in fear for my life. I could smell the food, but no one offered me any. I had never been so hungry, depressed, lonely and terrified.
The next morning I heard much commotion outside and hoped that the ship was being supplied. I dared not make any noise and even feared to breathe loudly. I could hear men coming and going. A large motor began to sputter. A strange and curious sensation filled my stomach.
Nellie opened the cabinet.
“Can I come out now?” I asked, pleadingly. I stretched and moaned as my poor muscles and bones complain about the many hours in the confined space.
“Are you hungry?” Ms. Alders asked me.
“I am sore,” I tell her. “Ow! Oh, my!”
“Who is this?” a Yankee man asked. He was wearing a military uniform and had a serious look about him. He would be in his mid-thirties if I had to guess. He was a fine looking looking fellow, for a Yankee.
Everyone hesitated for a moment to answer.
“No, don’t lie to me for a change.” he said.
Several voices chimed, “Lilian.”
“Lilian Whitlock,” I said as politely as I could to introduce myself.
“Ugh,” He groaned. “How old are you, Miss Whitlock?”
“Seventeen,” I told him.
Preeble said, “We’re not going back there so I don’t think there’s any harm in letting the little lady tag along.”
“What is the age of consent in the great state of Georgia, Miss Whitlock?” the man, who I had to assume was Captain Kirkpatrick, asked me.
“Considering that that was my cotillion ball and considering that they were trying to marry me off…”
“Miss Whitlock, I don’t need a long explanation for a simple answer. If you can just tell me what the agent of consent is in the state of Georgia? At what age are you considered an adult?” Captain Kirkpatrick asked me.
“I’m considered a woman, since that was my cotillion ball. I don’t know the lawful age.”
“You’ll get used to him,” Ms. Alders said, speaking of Kirkpatrick.
“No. It’s not a matter of getting used to me. It’s about the long list of charges that have already happened. If she is not of the age of consent, then we are kidnappers, Ms. Alders.” Captain Kirkpatrick explained. “You might not understand that, but that is the law.”
“We’re trying to rescue her from an abusive…” Nellie began to say.
“Rescue has nothing to do with the law,” Captain Kirkpatrick continued. I feared that he would send me back to Savannah.
“She was planned to be married off, sir,” Tom binford said to Kirkpatrick in an official tone of voice.
“I am an adult!”
“And you’re doing this of your own consent?” Mr. Preebles asked.
“Yes! Of course,” I replied.
“Well, I think that’s good enough for me,” Mr. Preebles said. “The little lady says she’s an adult.”
“I’m not going to tell an adult what to do,” Captain Kirkpatrick said. “But I would tell a child what to do.”
“I’m not a child,” I reiterated.
“The age of consent in Georgia is 16. She is a woman and she chose not to marry a drunken, gambling, bullying, old man,” Nellie declared.
“Well then, that was probably a good choice,” Captain Kirkpatrick agreed.
“She really doesn’t even want to be here. We’re a bunch of foreigners and Yankees,” Nellie said. She confused me gain. One minute she seems to be helping me, the next minute she is sabotaging my efforts.
“Your father thinks you’re in a safe place,” Captain Kirkpatrick pointed out.
“He’s the one that is trying to marry me off to his friend Mr. Dosett,” I told him.
“Well, be that as it may, your father may still worry when he doesn’t find you in the cabin.”
“No he won’t worry about me,” I said, thinking about the many guns the men had and the manner in which they had been hunting for me.
“Very well, Miss Whitlock, I will let you live your own life,” Captain Kirkpatrick said.
Thus it was settled, I was to stay aboard The Newe Londone for now. Where we are journeying I do not know but it can surely not be any worse than the life my father had planned for me back at Thornhill.
-Lilian Whitlock, aboard The Newe Londone