This weeks prompt is. October 24, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about bones. It can be any genre or tone. Is it spooky, irreverent, poignant? Go where the prompt leads.
Seeing the Invisible
He thought it would work, he knew the strange, invisible, light, affected a photographic plate, and if it did work, the implications were incredible. He couldn’t do it himself, he had to operate the generator, so he went to the laboratory door and called for his wife. “Could you put your hand there, my dear?” he asked. She held her hand still as the machine buzzed. An hour later he showed her the picture, Frau Röntgen almost fainted. “I have seen my death!” she gasped, as she saw the bones of her own hand in the first X-ray photograph.
Anna Röntgen’s hand, the first X-Ray
This story is completely true, when Wilhelm Röntgen first discovered X-Rays he noticed that he seemed to see a shadow of his own bones as he moved objects across the incandescent screen. He couldn’t photograph his own hand so he asked his wife. Anna Röntgen’s reaction was exactly as I described.
Mrs. Ann Thompson sat in the small parlour at the back of her inn and smiled to herself. Here she was, the unexpected owner of one of London’s larger inns, much to the horror of most of her relations. She wasn’t sure if it was the fact that a young, widowed, highly respectable, gentlewoman had had the temerity to announce that she would live in the inn and manage it herself. Or, more likely, that she had inherited the property rather than any of her male relations, but her uncle’s will had been clear, it all came to her. She had already decided that she was not actually going to manage the property, but was keeping that news from her relations until she found someone suitable, especially someone who would care properly for her horses. There was a large livery stable attached to the inn, where she had several very good animals.
She was thinking of the horses when there was a frantic knocking from below and one of the maids burst in. “They need the horses, there’s a fire!” “What do you mean?” She asked, but the maid had already run back downstairs. She followed into the stable, to find two men waiting there, with the head ostler. The men were wearing leather jackets with large silver badges on their shoulders, she immediately recognised them as firemen. “Sorry Ma’am, but we have always lent the horses to the fireman, to pull their engine.” He saw her hesitate and added, “They pay of course.” “But who drives them?” “Your uncle did, but now one of the firemen will.” “NO!” The firemen looked shocked and began to speak, she stopped him. “No one is driving my best horses unless I know them, I don’t know you” The men looked shocked, one of the firemen was about to say something, but she cut him short. “So I will drive them.” “But Ma’am, you can’t!” burst out both the ostler and one of the firemen simultaneously. “I can drive better than you.” She said to the ostler, kicking off her slippers and pulling on a pair of leather boots. “And I don’t know you.” She added to the fireman as she pulled a leather coat over her loose day dress. “Now harness the horses and let’s get moving.” The younger fireman just smiled, “Yes Ma’am,” and went to help the ostler harness the horses. Ann handed her shawl and bonnet to her maid, pulled a wide brimmed leather hat over her loose hair, and strode out of the stable.
They walked at a brisk pace to the engine shed, the double doors were open and the low waggon with the engine on it was already standing there. As they harnessed the horses to the waggon, the foreman tossed a broad leather strap with a silver fireman’s badge on it to Ann. “Put it on, it can help if people get in the way.” She slipped it over her shoulder and climbed onto the waggon. She saw one of the firemen saying something to the foreman, she guessed he was telling him who she was. He looked across at her, saw her expertly check the reins, and shrugged. “Do you know where to go?” “No, direct me!” She shouted back, he climbed up behind her and they were off.
She was never to forget that desperate race through London’s streets. She had driven in London before, and never enjoyed it. The roads were crowded, and worse than that people always stared at her, as though no one had ever seen a woman drive before. It was so different in the country where, even in the county town, it was just Mrs Thompson, and everybody knew she was a great horsewoman. But now, the link boys ran ahead lighting the way, so she was able to drive at a fast canter, swinging round corners, not worrying if there was anybody in the way, if there was they were roughly pushed aside. A crowd ran with them, helping to clear the way. A sedan chair with a wealthy looking man in it was roughly tumbled over, as he swore as the engine rumbled by, the crowd just laughed. “It will be quicker through the park.” The foreman said. “Won’t the gates be locked?” she asked, turning the horses. “Not for us.” He replied, pulling his short-handled axe from the pouch on his belt. As they approached the park gates she saw a soldier arguing with one of the firemen who had run on ahead. Suddenly the fireman raised his hand and she saw the soldier stagger. The gate was swung open and they charged through. “Will he get into trouble for this?” “He might, but as he got a sore head the magistrate will probably let him off with a warning.” Seeing her surprised expression he added. “We have no right to do what we have been doing, but the attitude of the magistrates is that we are acting for the common good, and anyone who gets in our way – isn’t!” The gate on the far side of the park was wide open, the soldier on guard saluted as they went by, Ann lifted her whip in reply, then it was on and along narrow streets, towards a red light that was glowing clearer every minute. They turned into a small square, on one side was a tall house, three stories high, flames flickered inside the lower windows. Outside, an outbuilding was well ablaze.
She pulled up, her horses were restless, not liking the smoke and flames, so she sat, holding the reins as two men ran to their heads to hold them still. Behind her the firemen were getting the engine off its wagon, as soon as it was clear she drove into a yard on the far side of the square and managed to calm her horses. Now she was able to watch what was happening, a man came up to her, a tray of tankards in his hands. “Take one mate, you’ve done well to get here so fast.” She turned to the man, he stopped in surprise, “Sorry miss, Ma’am.” She smiled at him and took a tankard, “Thank you, I need that.” The man grinned back, “Take it, as I said you have done well. They will be thankful you got here first.” He looked across at the firemen, she looked puzzled. “Don’t you know, the first engine on the scene gets a bounty from the parish, so that goes to the Sun.” A team of men were pulling goods out of the undamaged part of the house, as others had lined up on either side of the engine, two men were pumping water into it from the stopcock in the street. Then there was an order, the men on one side of the machine lifted the large horizontal handle and brought it down, lifting the one on the other side, then the men on that side brought their handle down. As they pumped regularly up and down, a strong jet of water poured from the hose. The foreman directed the jet into the window of the burning part of the house, then turned to look to the burning outbuilding. At that moment there was a shout and a second fire engine cantered in. The foreman on that machine looked very cross, but immediately dropped to the ground and ran over to the foreman who had come with Ann. To her surprise they didn’t argue but seemed to be discussing what to do. “It’s like this Ma’am.” Said the publican, handing a tankard to the driver who had brought the second engine, “They race to the fire, because of the bounty, but now the Royal Exchange has lost, the crews will all be paid the same and will work together as all want to get the fire out, after all its what they do.”
The second engine began to play its hose onto the outbuilding, it was very badly burnt and, in a few minutes, collapsed. No sooner was it a heap of rubble that their hose was turned onto the house and after a little while the fire inside was dying down. The foreman came over to her, “Time to go Ma’am, the Royal Exchange’s men can finish up here, after all it is one of theirs.” She looked puzzled, he continued. “The house is insured with the Royal Exchange Company.” He pointed to the fire mark high on the building. “All of us firemen will put out a fire, then discover who insures it. If it is one of ours we will just let our company know. If it is insured by another company then we send them a bill for putting it out, that’s what we will be doing here. Also as their men are here now they can wait to make sure it is out, whilst we can get back to our beds.” As they drove more sedately back to her inn, she asked. “What happens if it isn’t insured at all?” “We put the fire out, we are firemen, that’s what we do. Then our secretary will discover who owns the building and asks them for a contribution to our costs.” “And if they don’t pay?” “If they are poor, the company will treat it as a charitable act. That’s why we can get away with so much, people know we will put their fires out wherever they are. However if they could afford it and won’t pay we can do nothing. But.” he grinned, “the secretaries circulate their name to all the insurance companies, and they will find it either impossible or very expensive to get any insurance in the future.” They stopped at the engine house, she unharnessed the horses and led them back to the stable. The ostlers were still awake, and she left them in their care as she staggered up to her room, and collapsed into bed.
She awoke late, then infuriated her staff by demanding a bath as she still smelt of smoke. Later her maid brought a man to see her, the secretary of the Sun Insurance Company. He bowed, and offered her his hand. “Madam, it gives me great pleasure to give you this.” He handed her a small bag. As she signed the receipt he said, “As far as I know you are the first woman to have ever attended a fire.” She didn’t know it then, but it would be centuries before another woman did.
In the archives of the Sun Insurance Company is a receipt for the supply of horses made out to Ann Thompson, the only woman so recorded. She probably only supplied the horses, but it was fun to imagine she might have driven them as well. All the other details are as accurate as I can make them. The argument with a soldier, the support of the magistrates and the way in which the companies worked with each other.
He had kept raising difficulties. From doubts about the engine to mud on the tyres. She was more confident, her money had helped built it, she had helped design it, she knew it would work. She planned it carefully, told her husband she was going to her mother’s home more than a hundred miles away, he expected her to take the train, she waited until he had left the house. Then her sons rolled the ungainly machine out of the stable, pushed it until it started, and Bertha Benz took the world’s first motor car and drove into history.
Bertha Benz, picture from Wikipedia
Charli Mills from the Carrot Ranch prompts us thus this week
September 19, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about mud on the tyres. The tyres can be from any conveyance or serve as an analogy. How did they get muddy and why? What impact does mud on the tyres have on the story (plot) or characters (motivation)? Go where the prompt leads!
I have gone slightly away from the prompt again with a completely true tale about another remarkable woman.
“Shameless!” The shocked women looked at the statue of Venus. A beautiful reclining semi-nude woman. “But it’s her! A princess and the favourite sister of the most powerful man in the world. How could she do it?” Princess Pauline Borghese entered the room, the ladies curtsied. She watched as the statue was rotated in front of her, the likeness was unmistakable. “What do you think?” she asked one of her ladies in waiting. “Very fine,” the woman hesitated, then asked nervously. “Didn’t you feel nervous when you posed?” “Oh no!” The Princess laughed, “The studio was very well heated.”
In 1803 Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s favourite sister, married her second husband Camillo Borghese, 6th Prince of Sulmona, an Italian nobleman. Shortly after the marriage he commissioned the sculptor Antonio Canova to portray his wife as a classical goddess. The sculpture shocked her contemporaries and her response was exactly as I have given it.
This is in response to Charlie Mills August 22, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story exploring shame as an emotion or theme. Consider how to use shame to drive a cause-and-effect story. How does it impact a character? Is there a change? Go where the prompt leads!
I have rather been led to a somewhat shameless lady, Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese. She is supposed to have chosen the goddess Venus herself, as it had been suggested she pose as the virtuous, virginal goddess Diana. Her response to that idea was one of laughter as, with her reputation, no one in Europe could consider her a suitable model for a virgin
It was impossible, somewhere as remote as this and another man had reached the summit first. He furiously stamped through the snow to the tall figure. “How did you get here? I am the Prince of Moscowa and should have been the first man to climb Vignemale.” The figure turned, he gasped it wasn’t a man but a woman in a long black dress. Anne Lister smiled. “You may be the Prince of Moscowa, but here an Englishwoman takes precedence. As for how, my wife advised me to bring crampons.” She nodded, turned, and left him gasping in anger.
This is loosely based on a real story. On the 7th of August 1838, Anne Lister, diarist, landowner and traveller (also known as Gentleman Jack) made the first ascent of Vignemale in the Pyrenees, her wife, Anne Walker, had insisted she take her crampons which proved essential in the ascent (Anne Lister is also described as ‘the first modern lesbian).
The Prince of Moscowa, son of Napoleon’s Marshall Ney, climbed the mountain on the 11th, and immediately claimed in the press to have made the first ascent. It took the threat of legal action for him to back down and grudgingly admit she had been the first to the summit. I don’t know if the phrase, ‘an Englishwoman takes precedence.’ Was actually said by Anne Lister, but I think it should have been.
This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features somewhere remote. I thought about a wonderful true story concerning a remarkable lady.
As a contribution to Black History Month I give you this story which was written in 1830, I will tell you more at the end.
A lucky day it was for little Fanny Elvington when her good aunt Delmont consented to receive her into her family, and sent for her from a fine old place, six miles from hence, Burdon Park, where she had been living with her maternal grandfather, to her own comfortable house in Brunswick Square. Poor Fanny had no natural home, her father, General Elvington, being in India with his lady; and a worse residence than the Park could hardly be devised for a little girl, since Lady Burdon was dead, Sir Richard too sickly to be troubled with children, and the care of his grand-daughter left entirely to a vulgar old nurse and a superfine housekeeper. A lucky day for Fanny was that in which she exchanged their misrule for the wise and gentle government of her good aunt Delmont.
Fanny Elvington was a nice little girl, who had a great many good qualities, and, like other little girls, a few faults; which had grown up like weeds under the neglect and mismanagement of the people at the Park, and threatened to require both time and pains to eradicate. For instance, she had a great many foolish antipathies and troublesome fears, some caught from the affectation of the housekeeper, some from the ignorance of the nurse: she shrieked at the sight of a mouse, squalled at a frog, was well-nigh ready to faint at an earwig, and quite as much afraid of a spider as if she had been a fly; she ran away from a quiet ox, as if he had been a mad bull, and had such a horror of chimney sweepers that she shrank her head under the bedclothes whenever she heard the deep cry of “sweep! sweep!” forerunning the old clothesman and the milkman on a frosty morning, and could hardly be persuaded to look at them, poor creatures, dressed in their tawdry tinsel and dancing round Jack of the Green on Mayday. But her favourite fear, her pet aversion, was a black man; especially a little black footboy who lived next door, and whom she never saw without shrinking, and shuddering, and turning pale.
It was a most unlucky aversion for Fanny, and gave her and her aunt more trouble than all her other mislikings put together, inasmuch as Pompey came oftener in view than mouse or frog, spider or earwig, ox or chimney-sweep. How it happened nobody could tell, but Pompey was always in Fanny Elvington’s way. She saw him twice as often as anyone else in the house. If she went to the window, he was sure to be standing on the steps: if she walked in the Square garden, she met him crossing the pavement: she could not water her geraniums in the little court behind the house, but she heard his merry voice singing in broken English as he cleaned the knives and shoes on the other side of the wall; nay, she could not even hang out her Canary-bird’s cage at the back door, but he was sure to be feeding his parrot at theirs. Go where she would, Pompey’s shining black face and broad white teeth followed her: he haunted her very dreams; and the oftener she saw him, whether sleeping or waking, the more her unreasonable antipathy grew upon her. Her cousins laughed at her without effect, and her aunt’s serious remonstrances were equally useless.
The person who, next to Fanny herself, suffered the most from this foolish and wicked prejudice, was poor Pompey, whose intelligence, activity, and good-humour had made him a constant favourite in his master’s house, and who had sufficient sensibility to feel deeply the horror and disgust which he had inspired in his young neighbour. At first he tried to propitiate her by bringing groundsel and chickweed for her Canary-bird, running to meet her with an umbrella when she happened to be caught in the rain, and other small attentions, which were repelled with absolute loathing.
“Me same flesh and blood with you, missy, though skin be black,” cried poor Pompey one day when pushed to extremity by Fanny’s disdain, “same flesh and blood, missy!” a fact which the young lady denied with more than usual indignation; she looked at her own white skin, and she thought of his black one; and all the reasoning of her aunt failed to convince her, that where the outside was so different, the inside could by possibility be alike. At last Mrs. Delmont was fain to leave the matter to the great curer of all prejudices, called Time, who in this case seemed even slower in his operations than usual.
In the meanwhile, Fanny’s birthday approached, and as it was within a few days of that of her cousin, Emma Delmont, it was agreed to celebrate the two festivals together. Double feasting! double holiday! double presents! never was a gayer anniversary. Mrs. Delmont’s own gifts had been reserved to the conclusion of the jollity, and after the fruit was put on the table, two huge dolls, almost as big as real babies, were introduced to the little company. They excited and deserved universal admiration. The first was a young lady of the most delicate construction and the most elaborate ornament; a doll of the highest fashion, with sleeves like a bishop, a waist like a wasp, a magnificent bustle, and petticoats so full and so puffed out round the bottom, that the question of hoop or no hoop was stoutly debated between two of the elder girls. Her cheeks were very red, and her neck very white, and her ringlets in the newest possible taste. In short, she was so completely a la mode that a Parisian milliner might have sent her as a pattern to her fellow tradeswoman in London, or the London milliner might have returned the compliment to her sister artist over the water. Her glories, however, were fated to be eclipsed. The moment that the second doll made its appearance, the lady of fashion was looked at no longer.
The second doll was a young gentleman, habited in the striped and braided costume which is the ordinary transition dress of boys between leaving off petticoats and assuming the doublet and hose. It was so exactly like Willy Delmont’s own attire, that the astonished boy looked at himself, to be sure that the doll had not stolen his clothes off his back. The apparel, however, was not the charm that fixed the attention of the young people; the attraction was the complexion, which was of as deep and shining a black, as perfect an imitation of a black boy, in tint and feature, as female ingenuity could accomplish. The face, neck, arms, and legs were all covered with black silk; and much skill was shown in shaping and sewing on the broad flat nose, large ears, and pouting lips, whilst the white teeth and bright round eyes relieved the monotony of the colour. The wig was of black worsted, knitted, and then unravelled, as natural as if it had actually grown on the head. Perhaps the novelty (for none of the party had seen a black doll before) might increase the effect, but they all declared that they had never seen so accurate an imitation, so perfect an illusion. Even Fanny, who at first sight had almost taken the doll for her old enemy Pompey in little, and had shrunk back accordingly, began at last to catch some of the curiosity (for curiosity is a catching passion) that characterised her companions. She drew near – she gazed – at last she even touched the doll, and listened with some interest to Mrs. Belmont’s detail of the trouble she found in constructing the young lady and gentleman.
“What are they made of, aunt?”
“Rags, my dear!” was the reply: “nothing but rags,” continued Mrs. Delmont, unripping a little of the black gentleman’s foot and the white lady’s arm, and showing the linen of which they were composed-; – “both alike, Fanny,” pursued her good aunt, “both the same colour underneath the skin, and both the work of the same hand – like Pompey and you,” added she more solemnly; “and now choose which doll you will.”
And Fanny, blushing and hesitating, chose the black one; and the next day her aunt had the pleasure to see her show it to Pompey over the wall, to his infinite delight; and, in a very few days, Mrs. Delmont had the still greater pleasure to find that Fanny Elvington had not only overcome and acknowledged her prejudice, but had given Pompey a new half-crown, and had accepted groundsel for her Canary-bird from the poor black boy.
NOTE. — About a month after sitting to me for his portrait, the young black gentleman whom I have endeavoured to describe, (I do not mean Pompey, but the doll,) set out upon his travels. He had been constructed in this little Berkshire of ours for some children in the great county of York, and a friend of mine, travelling northward, had the goodness to offer him a place in her carriage for the journey. My friend was a married woman, accompanied by her husband and another lady, and finding the doll cumbersome to pack, wrapped it in a large shawl, and carried it in her lap baby fashion. At the first inn where they stopped to dine, she handed it carelessly out of the carriage before alighting, and was much amused to see it received with the grave officious tenderness usually shown to a real infant by the nicely dressed hostess, whose consternation, when, still taking it for a living child, she caught a glimpse of the complexion, is said to have been irresistibly ludicrous. Of course my friend did not undeceive her. Indeed I believe she humoured the mistake wherever it occurred all along the north road, to the unspeakable astonishment and mystification of chambermaids and waiters.
This story was written by Mary Russell Mitford, a noted writer in the first half of the nineteenth century. Her life story is remarkable, I won’t go into details, please look her up, but she finally achieved success with her stories about rural life. These were first published in various magazines, and then brought together in several volumes under the collective title of Our Village. The Two Dolls is to be found in the fourth volume published in 1830, and subsequently included in one of many collections of her stories called Children of the Village.
These stories are based upon her life in Three Mile Cross near Reading in Berkshire, including a mixture of real and imaginary people. One real person, who appears in the background of several stories, was a professional doll maker. So I suspect that the doll was real (and probably the story of his travels to Yorkshire are true), though Pompey and Fanny Elvington are just delightful and remarkable fiction.
Today ‘The Hundred’, the latest cricket tournament ended, with the women’s games proving particularly popular. This has been seen, by several newspapers, as a great step forward for women’s cricket.
However over two hundred years ago there were very popular women’s games. In 1792 The Sporting Magazine reported.
A very curious match of cricket was played by eleven girls of Rotherby, Leicestershire, against an equal number of Hoby, on Thursday, on their feast week. The inhabitants of all the villages adjacent were eager spectators of this novel and interesting contest; when, after a display of astonishing feats of skill and activity, the palm of victory was obtained by the fair maidens of Rotherby. There are about ten houses in Rotherby , and near sixty in Hoby; so great a disproportion affords matter of exultation to the honest rustics of the first mentioned village. The bowlers of the conquering party were immediately placed in a sort of triumphal car, preceded by music and flying streamers, and thus conducted home by the youths of Rotherby, amidst the acclamations of a numerous group of pleased spectators.
I really like it that the only thing the, probably male, reporter found to comment on, other than that the match was well played, was the fact that the tiny village of Rotherby was able to field a full team of talented, cricket playing, young women, (incidentally the difference in population between the two villages was considerable. At the time of the first census, in 1801, Hoby had a population of 294, and Rotherby 95.)
In the late eighteenth century The Sporting Magazine was very popular and was bought by groups of sportsmen as well as individual enthusiasts, I am sure that in the winter of 1792 there were many sporting gentlemen who read the article and raised a glass to the cricketing maidens of Rotherby and Hoby, as we salute their sporting descendants today.