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Flying at the Great Exposition
Author's note: I learnt about the Crystal Palace Exhibition in my European History class at school, and I read a little more about it in our textbook for homework. I thought that it would be interesting to have a story set in it.
The big festival in town is coming up. Walking down the stairs of our cottage, I think of the big fight cousin and I had the night before. Cousin is my favorite cousin who attends the University of Paris in France, but comes home often. She is always bugging me to go to Paris with her and see the universities there, because I deserve to get a good education. I told her that I could get just a fine education here, without having to move, thank you very much. She told me that she did not think that women have good opportunities here as they do where she is. I told her that that was precisely why she turned out the rebellious and crazy woman she is now. I don’t think Cousin will be sending me any more letters for some time. I enter the kitchen to find mummy cooking some Kedgeree over the pot and dumping in as many spices as our storage cabinet contains. Hudge, our family monkey, is staying still for once as he watches Sister try and open this box with one of the keys she has created. Sister has loved keys ever since she was a little one. When she was 4, Father handed her a key of one of his stocking rooms to hold while he was looking for something. When he turned around, he saw Sister not doing the obvious baby act of sucking on it, but turning it over with amazement and wonder. That was the first day of her key obsession. The school mistress thinks that a woman should not spend her time with keys, unless it is they keys to a man’s’ heart. I do not think that is what a schoolmistress should say. Sister is planning on attending the University of Wales next year, and I am very sad. She will be so far away from home. Sister and I were so close ever since she discovered her “key” passion. When I was born, she was jealous that she did not have all the attention any more, but apparently after the “key” awakening, she feels as if she is getting as much attention as she warrants. Today is a Monday, which means that all I have to do is retrieve the fish, dry the fish, salt the fish, take Hudge to the monkey trainers, churn the butter, bake the bread, and clean the house. We live near a lake, that’s why most of my chores involve fish. I exit the house and see a family walking up to the cottage in front of us. The cottage has been vacant ever since the Moodun family moved to the city (Father says Industrialization is going to drive everyone away from the countryside.) I crane my head around the giant hose to see a mother, two sons and a little girl. I look around for a father, but see none. Trying to be the courteous and friendly young woman mother tells me to be, I go over to the family and introduce myself. In the course of a few minutes, I find out that the family is from Paris (mention of the city makes me sad for the fight Cousin and I had.) One of the boys is 18 (Sister’s Age!) and the other, 15 (my age). The little girl is 4. When I shake hands with the mother I am surprised to receive such a firm handshake from a seemingly frail woman. I suspect the father will be coming soon. I bid my adieus to them and tell them that I must get back to my house duties. They all look at me as if I’m some sort of angel for going over and greeting them. I don’t know how people in Paris do it, but this is the how we do it in Berkshire. I leave the family alone and get started on my fishy day. When evening comes, I throw the last tilapia in the ice bucket and flop on the grass. I am too busy looking up at the sky that I do not hear footsteps next to me. I do not bother to look to see who it is, because I am and sure it is Sister. To my surprise, I turn around to see the new neighbor boy (the younger one) standing in front of me. He looks odd. I was never really a fan of romance and so-called “young people romances,” and I spent my breaks in school trying to fix toy planes I find at local fairs, while all the other girls were pulling their charms on boys. When the girls cheered on the new boy they snagged, I cheered once fixing yet another plane. I first discovered planes when I went to the fair with father one weekend. He allowed for me to buy one thing that I liked. I contemplated between jeweled necklaces, charms and pendants but the man at the toy airplane booth lured me over. He motioned for me to come over as I was making my decision between two purple necklaces, and I consented. He took up a broken plane, and to my utter surprise, within minutes it was flying around. I asked him if all of his planes were broken, and he winked at me and told me that there are no “broken” planes. I did not know what he meant, but I bought the plane. When I got home, I rushed to fix it by mimicking the man’s actions, but to my disappointment, it remained the way it was. I thought about it on and off for days, but after the seventh day I took up the little airplane again. Instead of trying to copy his hand movements, I tried to use my brain to figure out how to fix it. My fingers moved nimbly to a kind of beat I had created, and within hours, I was done. The plane could fly. Back to the topic of young men, because of my otherwise preoccupied dealings, I have never, in fact, interacted with a male who was not my father, the local fish seller and of course, the airplane booth man. The boy does not seem to care about who I do or do not talk to, and sits down beside me. I scotch away. He does not say anything for many moments. I begin to wander if he just came to sit beside me because he has a particular fascination with grass, as I do with airplanes and Sister does with keys, when he looks up. I look into his face, and see the all-too-familiar eyes of the people I see at the Institutions for the unsighted. He is blind. I gasp a little, and flop again backwards into the grass. I hear him flop next to me, and for the first time in my life, I do not have anything to say. After a few minutes, he gets up, holds out his hand to me (how very kind) and upon my getting up, he walks away without a word. Since he did not say a word, I wonder if he is also deaf? I shake my head, and walk back to the house, stripping my fish apron that is reeking of dead shrimp. Mother is surprisingly not in the kitchen, and Father is surprisingly not in the living room. I look for sister, and find that she is surprisingly not in the garden shed (where all the keys are.) What has gone on in our household! I go upstairs to change and once coming down I see each one of them. Father is in the kitchen, Mother is in the shed and Sister is in the living room. To repeat, what has gone on in our household? I rush over to father, who is wearing an apron and stirring a huge bowl of porridge over the heat, and ask him whatever is wrong. He says nothing is wrong, he simply wanted to cook for the family, sister wanted to relax from packing so much, and mother was looking for a drill. Mother, LOOKING FOR A DRILL! I begin to think that I am having an odd dream, when Mother enters the kitchen. She dusts her garden boots on the kitchen rug and walks over to give Father a kiss. They both look at me with strange smiles, and I begin to get the feeling that this is the part of the dream where I should be running. Mother asks me why I have such a horrid facial expression, and I lie and tell her that I just finished reading another chapter of this horror book I’m reading. I can tell she does not believe me, but she chooses to ignore my wrongdoing and instead calls sister in to the kitchen. Father and mother look like they did when they told us that our Grandma Jui, who lived in Germany, would be moving away there, or that our pet iguana was unfortunately crushed by a travelling tractor when he rushed outside; they have news for us. Sister gets the message too, because she’s seen that face one extra time than me, when Mummy and Father told her about my upcoming birth. We sit down at the wooden table and brace for the worst. Mother gives a huge grin and gives us the news: She and Father have been offered to go to London for the upcoming Crystal Palace Exhibition by a recommendation of one of their influential friends. The Crystal Palace Exhibition is the opening of the amazing building The Crystal Palace that will show off our countries advancement in technology and other fields. We dominate the industrial world right now and the architects of this would like to show that. Father has been offered a position in welding, and mother has been offered to be one of the many cooks working on the opening banquet. Sister and I drop open our mouths at this wonderful opportunity of Father and Mothers and we hug them both. As I hug them, my mind begins to affix on practical matters like who will take care of us. Mother, who almost always can read my mind, pulls us out of the hug and tells us that we will be staying with the de Chemises, the French neighbors who moved in across the street. I gasp at this because I find it somewhat strange to be staying with a family that Father and Mother have just met today, but once again, Mother, using her mind-reading skills qualms my worries by telling me that the landlord who sold them the house said they were very delightful and trustworthy. At this point, we are all jumping up and down like the bunnies I see in the meadows sometimes. After dinner, Sister and I go to our room that we share. We flop on the bed (I’ve been doing a lot of flopping today), and talk for some time. Although Sister is three years older than me, I feel as if Sister is almost like my age. Sometimes, I take care of her. We soon fall asleep and nothing is heard except for our embarrassingly loud snores. The next few days are busy and hectic. Sister will not be leaving for another month to university, and so her packing is not priority now. Finally, the day of their departure, Mother and Father breathe for once, and take us out to the lake. We have a family picnic, and I begin to feel a little sad. I will not be seeing Mother and Father for many days. A little tear falls from my cheek, and Sister, involuntarily catches it with her palm when reaching for a slice of cheese. She takes no notice of it, but I smile, thinking of it as some sort of message. Mummy and Father get up, dust their laps, give us final hugs and pick up their luggages and begin walking to the train station that will take them to London. Sister and I wait outside of the door waving until they disappear into the distance. We pick up our own suitcases and walk over to the de Chemises. We knock on their sturdy wooden door, and a middle-aged looking man opens it. He gives us a little frown, but invites us in. I expect that this is the husband. Miss de Chemises comes over and gives us both big hugs. She seems more robust and healthier than the last time I saw her, maybe because her husband has returned. Her little daughter peeks behind her skirt and looks at us shyly. Her eldest son comes down the stairs and I look to see sister give him a look. I look closer and see that he is holding a particularly interesting keychain, and realize that that is what Sister is looking at with wander. He walks up to her and they immediately strike up a conversation, all the while, sister eying his keychain. I look around for the younger brother, and see him nowhere. It is almost late and I am relieved to find that the family follows our dinner schedule. We eat dinner in their barely furnished room, and I look at all the glowing faces by candlelight, still wandering where the youngest son is. While we are slicing our hams, I make the mistake in asking Miss de Chemises if she was happy her husband was back. Sister kicks me in the leg, and the table falls silent. The mother, who is very polite, tells me that her husband left her and the children when they were young. I almost gasp. A single mother, what a scandal! Nevertheless, knowing what I did was rude, I manage to apologize, but thrust my head over to the man at the other head of the table questioningly. She understands my inquiry and tells me that he is the children’s’ uncle, her disparu husbands’ brother. I do not eat another bite of ham. It is quite dark now, and Sister and I thank Miss de Chemises for the meal. We bid goodnight to Cadeau, the name of the little girl, and Janvier, the name of the eldest brother. Before we leave, Janvier gives Sister his keychain, which she superficially tries to refuse, but later accepts with excitement. I can see that his face is interested and intrigued by the character of my sister. We go upstairs to the room that Miss de Chemises has prepared for us. It has a beautiful golden-pink bedspread with intricate blue patterns. I change quickly, and fly into the bed, hoping that sister will not reproach me about what I said at dinner. She is too busy looking at her new distraction to do any such reproaching.
The next day, Sister and I awake early, slip into our morning clothes and go downstairs ready for any chore they hurl at us. Mother told us to be very respectable to the family and to help out as much as possible. We find no one there and wander if they have gone out already to do their chores. Sister and I will be in much trouble! Instead, we hear snores and sleeping noises coming from upstairs, which show that much of the de Chemises are still asleep! Sister and I giggle and wait. We wait and wait. After many hours, Sister wanders if something has happened to them, and goes upstairs to find out. I stay downstairs and decide to take a little tour of the house while I wait. I look at a large bookshelf, filled with toys and little French artifacts. I see a glass airplane and almost touch it when a noise behind me startles me. I turn around to see the younger de Chemises boy. Even though he cannot see me, he gives a look that seems as if he knows I was going to sneakily touch one of their household items. For the first time, I see a smile break out on his face. He motions towards the area in which I was going to touch the plane, and I pick it up. I hand it to him, and he gently strokes it with his finger. He gives it to me and thinking that it is a gift to me, I began to go upstairs and put it in my luggage. He turns around to me lets out a huge guffaw. “I did not mean it as a gift”, he says. I almost faint to hear him actually talk! He notices that I am very surprised and gives a little chuckle. He tells me that his name is Abere and that he has gone on a talking strike ever since his mother informed him of their moving here. I tell him that he is very fortunate to come to this beautiful country during the time in which it is going to launch one of its most dazzling displays. He does not seem impressed and tells me of ancient buildings and palaces that the French have that are way beyond our tiny little exhibition. I tell him that he does not know good architecture, to which he disagrees. The rest of the family comes downstairs, and the mother informs us that they always sleep late on summer mornings, and that we were in no way expected to do chores. So, the rest of the day, Sister and I do nothing but roam around and talk to people. I think I like this way of life, although I greatly miss Mummy and Father. Abere and I spend the whole day talking about airplanes. He is also a plane enthusiast, and we talk about famous aviators Jean-Marie Le Bris and James-Wallace Black and in the evening I take him to my room to show my collection of fixed toy airplanes and potentials of fixing ones. I show him all the different planes, and by nightfall, we have gone through my entire collection. Sister, I notice, spends the entire day with Janvier. He takes her out for a while to somewhere, and when they come back, Sister is greedily holding tons of different keys. She cannot help but be extremely excited. I wander if Janvier shares Sisters’ passion. Abere again does not spend dinner with us, and I wander where he is. I excuse myself early from dinner, and go outside to find him. I see him lying on the grass in the same position he found me the other day. I stifle a laugh and try and go over to surprise him. He is extraordinarily perceptive, though, and notices me before I even reach him. I lie down, and sigh. He sighs to, but this time is different from the last, because all we do is talk.
The week passes by in a blur, and we get many letters from Father and Mummy telling us about their experiences. Sister spends whole days with Janvier, and I do many things. I go outside, and despite Miss de Chemises urging not to, I begin a garden for the family. Cadeau trails behind me every time I work on the garden, and she likes to help me dig up the dirt, and occasionally, she likes to throw it up into the air. When the first signs of the tulips were blooming, Cadeau was so happy that she gave me a little kiss on the cheek. Miss de Chemises says that Cadeau adores me, although I do not think so. I write letters to Mummy, Daddy and one to Cousin apologizing to her about what I said. I begin to take detailed records, notes when fixing each plane, in response to Abere giving me a journal and insisting that I do.
It is the night before the weekly town fair and I am very excited to go with the family there and show Abere the airplane booth. I sit in the houses’ office, on the floor, scribbling away on my newest development of a plane. I hear a noise, and look up, expecting to see Abere, but instead, see the uncle. He asks me gruffly what is the reason to why I am on the floor and I answer him. He asks to see my record book, and I hesitantly hand it over to him hoping that he will not tear it into shreds and stomp on it. He sits down at the desk, and begins to read. A few hours later, I glance nervously at him. He seems to be devouring every page of my little book. At the last page, he shuts it, I jump up in response and he hands it over to me. I get ready to leave when he tells me that he believes that is the single most interesting thing he has read in years. He shakes his head continually with surprise and then sends me off. I go out, with surprise, and marvel at the wonderful compliment he has given me. Abere was right; I really did need to keep a journal! After dinner, we do the usual tradition of singing a song but adding some dancing to it, and reading one of the many stories that the family brought from France. I laugh and giggle as Sister and I spin each other around and when little Cadeau and I dance a polka to the uncle’s piano playing. He seems to look at me more with a respect and interest. Miss de Chemises promises to teach me a quadrilles tomorrow night. Sister and I rush upstairs with a newfound energy. I leave her upstairs and go down to the washroom to get ready for the night. The de Chemises have a large washroom with an even larger tub. I take a warm bath and put on the nightwear. As I am cleaning my face, I hear someone enter the washroom. I yelp to let them now that I am still in here, and I am surprised to see Abere. We awkwardly greet each other, and he swiftly exits the room. A few moments later, I am done with my nightly duties, and come out. Abere tells me to wait for him until he is done using the loo. I wait and when he is done, he grabs on to my hand and takes me outside. He takes me to a large tree at the side of the house and begins to climb. I’m surprised at his agility and he motions for me to join him. I do, and when I reach to the very top to where he is (Father has taught me well about tree climbing.) I sit next to him on the flimsy branch which I am sure will inexorably fall off and take us with it. We say nothing, but then launch into full conversation. Then we silence, and just as I am about to start another conversation, he gives me a large hug. I tingle with a jittery feeling that I didn’t know I had. To my right, he jumps of the branch and lands on the grass, and slowly walks away. I wait a while, and then enter the house, slip into the bed beside my sleeping sister and then launch into sleep oblivion.
The next day, everyone wakes up early for the fair. Sister rarely went to the fair with Father and me, so I am the one who gets to boss everyone around. The Uncle, Abere and Janvier all carry the big baskets that we need to carry all the items that we are going to buy. Miss de Chemises, Sister, Cadeau and I all drag a large wagon in which we are hoping to store some fertilizer that we will buy at the fair. When we reach the fair, I begin to get the ecstatic feeling I do before entering it. People are all milling about, kids chatting, parents bargaining and occasional pet dogs barking along with the noise. I grab a hold of Aberes’ hand and take him to the airplane booth. I greet the airplane booth owner and he smiles back a hello at me. I introduce him to Abere, and I can see that he realizes that he is unsighted. I suddenly feel instinctively protective over Abere, but then realizing that this man was not a rude man, and sure enough, he says an enthusiastic hullo to Abere. Abere asks him his name, something I have never thought of doing, and the man tells us that it is Ruey. Ruey shows us all the newly arrived planes, and even though I know Abere cannot seem them, he is impressed. After awhile at the airplane booth, we join the others around the fair. Sister and Janvier are at the tools booth reviewing some keys. I have watched over the weeks to how sister and Janvier have interacted with one another. They seem to be the best of friends. He does not have a key obsession, rather, he likes to build things, and he feels as if sister’s key knack goes hand in hand with what he does. I look out the window, and see them working on something new every day. Sister always looks so happy when they work and Janvier matches her enthusiasm with big smiles and friendly encouragements. After that night, the uncle has talked to me much more. Every time I fix a plane, he asks me to see him in the office and describe the entire process in addition to writing in my record journal. He also gives me many research books on planes and research essays and published journals on aviation. I devour each book hungrily. I love how the authors describe the many parts of the plane as if they are parts of the human body. I read another book about trains and try and compare the two modern and significant inventions. We see the Uncle hanging around a book booth. Miss de Chemises, one of the nicest ladies I have ever met, is with Cadeau at a jewelry booth. My mind flashes to the time when I left the jewelry booth for the plane booth, and how my life changed from then on.
We leave the fair carrying bush loads of items. Sister and I were given a certain amount of money from Mummy and Father, and we unsparingly spend much of it. When we get home, it’s evening, and I see a letter lying on the door step of the house. I go to it and once seeing that is for me, grab it. It is from Cousin. I ask Miss de Chemises if I can take it in, and she nods. I tear it open and try and see what my dear Cousin has written. She tells me that she is very sorry for our fight, and she is hoping for me to come to Paris, if not for university, then for her upcoming MARRIAGE . I squeal like a lunatic and run up to sister to tell her the good news. She thumps down the stairs a pace I was not sure she could hold, and reads the letter. The whole family waits patiently for us to immediately stop our squealing match before asking us the news. I tell them, and then the Uncle gives a little smile. He says that he has an announcement of his own. We all look at him, and then giving me a smile, he tells us that I have been offered a junior apprenticeship at the Crystal Palace for one of the display airplanes. This time, I actually faint. I wake up, rather I come around to the feeling of ice cubes, placed by Abere, sliding down my face. The family and Sister all let out a relieved sigh once concluding that I am all right. Abere offers me his hand, and I spring myself up. Everyone looks at me, and soon enough questions and comments are all barked at me. I assure them that I am just dandy, I was only surprised that I had been offered a position to work alongside such great aviation people. The Uncle pats me on the back and congratulates me. I give him a big hug, which he is surprised to, and try to thank him by name, then realizing that I have never known his name. He tells me to call him Uncle Giuseppe. I recognize that as an Italian name but make no further inquires. I am too excited to talk.
I say goodbye to the family and Sister at the door. It is a fortnight before the Exhibition. Miss de Chemises volunteered for her and everybody else to come to the train station with me, but not wanting to get everyone busied, I said I could go alone. Of course, Abere refused to stay at home, so I am going with him. I give one last goodbye to everyone as we exit the cottage grounds. I see sisters smile and wave and am surprised to see Javier’s’ arm around her shoulder. Sister may be getting her own marriage proposal soon! Over the course of the week, Sister has been more of an “older sister” figure to me. She helped me a lot when I got my very first menstrual occurrence. She scolded me when I was rude or overly inquisitive (something I greatly need to work on), and she has given much advice on many matters. Abere and I talk the whole time to the train station. When we reach there, I give him one last smile, a loving embrace, and enter the train. He calls me, I turn around, and he yells “I know that you’ll do great there, just do what you do, and those planes will be great.” His encouragement helps me greatly, and I am confident and ready to embark on my adventure.
Mummy and Father originally wanted to meet me at the station, but they were not able to. I, am instead met by Mr. Onteer, one of the exhibitions employees. I have never been in a carriage before, so I spend the whole ride gazing out the wind and clapping my hands at everything interesting thing I see. Mr. Onteer looks at me strangely from the front of the carriage, but I disregard his stares. When we get to the inn we are staying in gasp with surprise. It is one of the largest inns I have ever seen in my life. A man holds the door out for me, and I step out to be greeted by the large building. I am escorted to my sleeping quarters and I am now truly shocked. The place is massive. There are is a large bed with a cream-colored duvet, and brown poles on all four sides of the bed frame. There is a plush, little chair with a letter on top of it and about five to six closets. I do not have as many clothes to fill even one closet. I sit on the chair and read the letter. It informs me to come down for dinner at six at the hour.
Dinner was delicious. All apprentices were introduced as we entered the great hall where dinner was served. I became acquainted with some of the people we would be working under and also some of the boys who I would be working beside. There were no other girls. Timithot, one of the apprentices, told me that each engineer will be choosing their groups and these groups will be further divided into 3 skill level groups. I hope I get into a high group!
I wake up in the morning to the sound of iron being drilled to its very core. I look out the French window and see that all the workers are very busy, I crane my head to see if father is anywhere near, but I do not see him. Mummy sent me a letter last night saying that they were very busy, but whenever they would get the chance to, she and Father would like to meet up with me. They are staying at a different inn. Going downstairs, I run into Jiovanni. He is supposed to be the great prodigy from Italy who founded five math theorems at the age of nine. He will be surely placed in the top skill group. Instead of ignoring him (which is my first instinct), I bid him good morning. He replies with a curt nod. Well, at least I tried. After breakfast, we are all shuttled away to the venue where we will be separated and assigned our jobs. The head aviation engineer, a very old and hunched man by the name of Mr. Daesod, gives us a speech before dividing us into groups. I begin to feel slightly nervous while I walk down with the herd of boys in my group. I see no signs of Timithot or Jiovanni. Our head instructor, Mr. Nobson, is tall, lean but gruff-looking. He yells at all of us to shut our mouths before explaining to us what our test would be. We would have to each design a part of the plane that he would assign to the groups he organizes. Once we are done, we will have to put each part together, and if our part fails in the overall piece, we are all automatically in the lowest skill level. He says that he will not be looking at whether or not our part functions, but also our contributions to it. He barks out groups and I am put with seven other boys who look rowdy and big. Well, at least I wouldn’t have to do all the carrying. We assemble in one side of the room and Mr. Nobson sweeps over and assigns us the wings. Immediately after he leaves, the boys begin blurting out their ideas, and I can’t get a word in edgewise. Javolo, one of the tall boys, assumes total control over our group and bosses everyone around. Although it is very extreme, I can see Mr. Nobson giving him a good glance. We decide to make a Hemson-style wing set, despite my constant pressing to make a John Stringfellow one. I measure out the wooden panels with two other boys. Javolo and his “crew” work on the wires that will hold the panels. The boys I am working with want to make the panels flat, but I know that flat wings will surely fail, and I stomp my feet and protest quite hard that they succumb to my wishes. Mr. Nobson gives me a cold stare. We finish the wings within hours and carry them to the center of the room where Mr. Nobson tells us to drop off the pieces. We are sent away for lunch and when we return, we see our airplane assembled. My stomach churns and I begin to get scared. Mr. Nobson gets some of the taller boys to help him put in the power source and we all watch wide-eyed as the plane ascends. Everything except for the wheels fails. I can see the wheel group buddies clapping hands with each other and exclaiming their happiness that they will automatically be placed in the first group. Mr. Nobson walks around the room inspecting all the rest of us. When he reaches me, he looks up and down and turns away. He begins calling out names. My name is not called. He allocates those people as one group. He calls more names. My name is again not called. He allocates those people to another group. He calls out my name finally and I and the remaining few people are put in the last group. Mr. Nobson announces that the final group is 3rd skill level, the second group 2nd skill level and the first group 1st skill level. I think I may feel sick.
I sleep a terrible and fitful night. Mr. Nobson’s cold face swirls around in my dreams and I wake up many times yelling. If I was at home and did this, Mummy or Sister may try and comfort me, but here, I am alone. Early in the morning, I put on one of my long sweaters and decide to take a walk. I walk outside to silence, as everyone is still in their homes sleeping. I turn around the corner of the street and I see a little café. I see a couple of people in it, and when determining it is open, I walk in and take a seat. I look to the side of me, and to my great surprise I see Janvier. I get up and begin to rush over and greet him, when I see a young woman come from behind him and embrace him. I am shocked! They sit down and Janvier begins to talk to her, their speeches to each other drenched with love and fondness. I twist my face in disgust and get up to leave this foolish nincompoop with his girlfriend alone. She leaves at the same time as me, and we crash at the door. Janvier finally notices that I am there, but I apologize to her and race off. This awful predicament is not good at all. How can Janvier have a girlfriend if he is supposed to be courting sister? The whole thing is just awful. By the time I reach my hotel, it is daylight. I walk up the stairs past all these grumbly boys coming down for breakfast. I see Timithot and give him a smile to which he responds with a wink. I also pass by Jiovanni, and to my amazement, he gives me an astute hello. After changing to my dirty breeches and shirt, I join the boys going downstairs for breakfast. After we go downstairs, we are escorted away to a warehouse where we will be working with our Aviation engineers. The warehouse is big and spacious and each station is equipped with as many tools as possible. There is a commotion at the other end of the room, and I turn around to see the engineers enter. Mr. William Henson and Mr. John Stringfellow are there! I am utterly amazed. After a brief introduction by Mr. Daesod, we all rush to the stations we were assigned to the previous night. I get assigned station 5, and when I reach there , I almost make a double take, I am assigned to work with Mr. Stringfellow! Mr. Nobson sees me there and comes over. He starts telling Mr. Stringfellow that he made a mistake in assigning me to him, and that he would like to move me, if there is no trouble at all. Mr. Stringfellow gives him an odd look and says that he was just fine with me, and that Mr. Nobson should not be making any proclamations on my skill without himself getting to see how I did. Mr. Nobson just grits his teeth and flounces away. Mr. Stringfellow smiles at me and I get very excited. The 3rd skill levels job is to do nothing but measure and build the plane pieces, while the 1st skill levels get to talk and collaborate with Mr. Stringfellow and his adult group. We spend the whole day grunting and measuring, grunting and measuring. I try to make friendly conversation with the other 3rd skill levels, but none of them care to talk to me. I begin to feel weak and alone, but remember Abere’s speech to me before I left, and I square my shoulders and arch my back. Nothing will defeat me. We take one break for lunch, and we work until night falls. Everyone else leaves, but I stay because I want to make sure all of our 3rd level parts are perfect and in shape. I do not want Mr. Stringfellow’s airplane to fall apart because of us. All the head engineers and their adult groups leave, and the room is empty except for Mr. Nobson, Mr. Daesod and me. Mr. Nobson barks at me to leave, but Mr. Daesod assures me that all is fine, and I am allowed to do whatever I pleased. I’m beginning to think that Mr. Nobson must hold some personal grudge against me. A lady walks in through the doorway wearing a purple and green dress and white shoes. She has white pearls and purple manicured fingers. She walks up to Mr. Nobson, who smiles, (something I’ve never seen him do), and lifts her up. They kiss for quite awhile that Mr. Daesod bids his goodbyes and leaves. I begin to feel quite awkward sitting on of the wings on which I am trying to flatten. The lady notices me and bids hullo. I bid hullo back. She walks over to me and asks me why I am still there and I tell her. She laughs and says that I must be very dedicated. Mr. Nobson makes a little laugh at the other side of the room, and once hearing it she turns around and walks (rather, glides) back to him. They have a little conversation, and I can hear the parts that come from when the lady’s voice rises. Mr. Nobson adamantly insists that I do not belong in this man’s world, and he does not like that I am here. She makes an argument against that. I get up, dust my trousers, and flee from the arguing couple, at this point, crying. I cannot believe that Mr. Nobson hated me purely because of my gender. I mean, sure women usually don’t work in these fields, but can’t he look past the mechanics, and just keep track of my skill. I have another endless night.
The next few days are hectic and short. We follow a routine in which we get up, go to work, come home and eat supper, and then sleep. I take records of every plane part we work on. I get no letters from home. I have been making more and more friends, and the boys begin to get used to me there. I begin to feel like I have a true standing amongst the apprentices, unlike the slimy Javolo, whose influence waivers from day to day. Some of the apprentices call me queen of the apprentices. At work, I work hard and make sure everything is perfect. One day, one of the 1st skill levels messed up a machine part, and was stressing out on what to do. I went up to him and Mr. Stringfellow and suggested that he do this other method. The 1st skill level hesitantly listened to me and did it, and it worked. Mr. Stringfellow smiled approvingly. I do what I can. I stay late, but not to the point that I am alone with Mr. Nobson and his lover. Mr. Nobson carefully ignores and avoids me over the days.
It is the day of the pre-Exhibition ball. All the inventors, designers, contributors and sponsors are invited to this extravagant affair. Not to mention, we apprentices are also invited. Mummy and Father are unfortunately not invited, because they are workpeople. I begin to get scared because I have no dress to wear to the ball. One of the maids seems to read my mind, and comes in with a lovely golden dress that she said was donated by one of the sponsors who heard about me and insisted that I have something to wear. I curl my limpy brown hair and put in a little rouge that I brought from home. I contemplate wearing my gruff working boots, when the maid comes in with beautiful and dainty silver slippers. I exit my room, and walk down the stairs to the carriage that will take me to the ball site. Mr. Onteer is my driver! He compliments me on my dress and I say thank you. We say nothing else. By the time I reach the ball, everyone is there milling around and all the famous people are coming out of their carriages. I see all the apprentices huddled in one mass, going up the stairs. I thank Mr. Nobson and rush to join them. One of the boys, Carson, I think it is, yells something and they all turn to me. Their mouths drop upon seeing me in something other than trousers. I smile, hitch up my dress and walk up past all of them into the room. The dinner is delicious and I think I taste some of my mothers’ familiar spices. When it comes to dance time, I get up and excuse myself to the loo, but then I feel a tap on my shoulder, and then another tap and then so many taps that I begin to feel like I might dissolve into the ground. All my pals’ ask me to dance, even Jiovanni! I dance with each one of them, and have a lot of fun. I see Mr. Nobson and his lover dance many dances. My pals also dance with other young ladies. We all leave the night giggling and laughing. I bid goodnight to them and take the hansom with Mr. Onteer. That night, I sleep quite peacefully. I wake up and begin to get jitters because it is the day of the exhibition. The afternoon before, I made sure that each of our pieces were perfect. Mr. Stringfellow noticed my re-checking and told me that I was a very thorough person, and he was glad I was on his team. I could have died. I quickly change into some nicer looking trousers (no dress, because we still might have to make some tweaks on the plane.) Everyone comes out and we all walk down to the breakfast hall, and after a very chattery breakfast, we depart to the Crystal Palace. Once we arrive, I am purely astonished. The place is magnificent. It looks like a cathedral inside, and there are many exhibits around which show items and inventions from places all over the world. I marvel at a Chinese-style parchment creator. We are whisked away to our stations where are head engineers are, and Mr. Stringfellow wishes us all good luck. Mr. Nobson comes around and when he sees me and gives me a curt nod. I do not respond. The announcer announces the beginning and opening of the Crystal Palace and I see none other, than QUEEN VICTORIA come in and make a speech. After her speech, all the guests mill around and the judges come to our airplane corner. They observe our plane and we take it outside to the runway to show how it works. It flies perfectly and glides. When it lands, a crowd of people clap and the judges go inside to observe the other planes. I and my teammates clap our hands in the air and cheer. Then, one of the boys shouts out to me. I turn around and he points to a young man standing at the edge of the runway. I look closely and see that it is Abere!
When I see Abere, I run over to him and once tapping and seeing him, we hug. There is too much running through my mind that I am at loss to what to say. He seems to sense my extreme excitement and surprise and decides to inform me to why he is there.
His brother is to be married to a young woman named Millian, who just arrived from Paris yesterday. They will be having their wedding day tomorrow to which Abere will be best men at. My mind and face changes from happiness to anger. How could Janvier have done what he did to sister! Now, she will be painstakingly be alone with nothing but her keys to consoler her. Not to mention, many of those keys being keys being of his gift! I crouch over sideways once hearing the unfortunate piece of news and breath in whole breaths slowly. Abere seems surprised at my terrified reaction, probably in complete oblivion to the relationship his brother and Sister had. He tells me that Sister has come with him, the Uncle, his mother and Cadeau. I grimace at what extraordinary measures this must have taken Sister to go through: to go to the wedding of her own love. Oh, this sounds like a story straight from those medieval romance stories that that romanticists now boast. I lead him to my team mates and introduce them all to him. They all notice his eye ailment, but quickly ignore it and have hearty conversations with him about the exhibition and our airplane. I try and pack away the sad information I learn in the little waste bucket in my head and concentrate only on the moment and our airplane. I explain to the many passerby’s and milling herds of people the contents and mechanics of our plane. Many are fascinated not only by the airplane itself, but that a young lady has such knowledge in aviation and had a major part in building it. Honestly, I wander, why women are treated so differently! I think back to the time in which I was thoroughly surprised that Miss de Chemises was unmarried, and scorn at my own prejudices.
The rest of the midday is spent well and when it comes to the time for award announcements, everyone mingles into the main room. All of my teammates hold our hands (including Abere) while we await for the award given in our category. I can feel the flittering jitters in my teammates as the judges open their mouths to announce the winner. Our name is not called. I feel almost like collapsing on the floor with great disappointment, but then I hear the judge utter my name. I look up with astonishment and my teammates urge me forward. I turn to look at Abere and he just smiles and gives me a reassuring nod. All heads turn around as I walk through a narrow path to get to the awards stage. The judge gives me a friendly smile and describes me as an extraordinarily talented, ambitious, brilliant, industrious and hardworking young lady who is well-deserved of the APPRENTICE AWARD! I turn my head and see Mr. Nobson grinning and beaming at me and then it dawns on me that he must have recommended and pointed me out to the judges. Oh, how wonderful is that reformed people can be made in this world!
That evening my teammates and I go out to the town for a special dinner with Abere as well. We all congratulate each other over hot dishes and they all give me pats on the back. Abere seems distracted all through the meal. After dinner, we all return to the hotel and I ask Abere if he would like to take a walk. He agrees to my offer. We say nothing for a while and then I can sense that Abere is hiding something from me. I try to pry it out of him effortlessly but they become almost obsessed to know what is bothering him. He finally notices my persistence and excuses himself and bids goodnight. I sadly bid him goodnight and think of my failure. Oh dear, something is truly bothering Abere, and I am determined to find out what!
The next morning I see Sister and later on, Mother and Father. They all hug me and congratulate me upon seeing me and we all go out to a local tavern to eat lunch. Mother, Father and Sister all look like they have something to tell me. I try and see if Sister seems at all sad for the impending bethtroal ofJanvier. Her expression betrays nothing. During teatime, they finally tell me their news that makes me choke on my tea. First, Mother tells me that she has been offered a cooking job in the country Spain, and she plans on taking the offer. I look at father and my mouth is hanging wide open. Mother tells me that flies will soon enter my mouth and I should shut it up like a young, proper lady. Father just backs up Mother’s news and then Sister gives in her share of information. She will not be attending university in Wales, rather she will be going to America and starting a new life there, where she believes she will have unyielding opportunities. I wander if this sudden change of plans for Sister is because of Janvier. I am about to prod on that subject when Mother suddenly gets up, takes Father’s hands and tells Sister and I to get up, as we cannot miss Janvier’s wedding. I am about to tell her there is certainly a lot of things Janvier is missing himself, like his brain, when Sister touches me on the shoulder gently trying to halt me before I launch into a tirade.
We arrive at the wedding on time, and once taking our seats, I see Abere walk up with the Uncle. Abere has a sullen face and is looking straight ahead. Then the disgusting Janvier walks up, in the arm of his bride. I look closely at the bride and finally realize who she is. At the café, when I ran into her and Janvier, I had had felt like I knew who she was. She’s a German princess, not French like Abere told me, who came to our village one time when her father was visiting England. After the vows are taken and the terrible kiss is enacted, the wedding party exits, and I can see at the corner of my eyes her father and his entourage leaving as well. I rush up to Abere to demand answers and he just gives me one final wave, and leaves.
Mother, Sister and Father did not want to trouble me during lunch about the deChemises, as I was so excited about my award and the exhibition. It turns out, the deChemises are a noble French family who escaped France so that Janvier could wed a German princess and secure a dual-country alliance that both families wanted. I look at Sister when hearing this and she gives me a sad smile. I ask her if she loved Javier and she gives me the most surprised expression once hearing this. She says that she and Janvier were never close like that, she just liked to share her engrossed key relationship with him, and wherever did I get the notion that she liked him. I give her a hesitant smile and she swats me playfully with her hand. Mother and Father also try to ease me of the knowledge that I will never be able to see the deChemises or Abere ever again.
It has been 10 years since the wonderful yet tragic year of the Crystal Palace Exhibition. Life went on as usual. Father and I lived together with mother and Sister went and we sold our house to buy a smaller one. Mother and Sister regularly visited, and when they did, they brought gifts and treasures of the new worlds they discovered. Sister begged me every visit to go with her to America, and I told her that I would, as soon as I visited Cousin in Paris (which is bound to never happen). She smiles at my joke and then slightly saddens once remembering the French family that we grew to love that left us so sharply. I sigh and decide to take a walk outside. I go over to the deserted deChemises house and look upon it standing on the grass like a tall glass sculpture in a clay museum. I look to my feet and feel the wind blow something to them. I pick up my first ever toy airplane, the one I so proudly showed Abere, and smile, knowing he left it here just for me.
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