Authors note: it is often the littlest things that can inspire me; in this case, it was this small figurine that I bought. With the flight goggles I started to think airships, then I thought of this story…
I was dusting the pictures in the Great Hall when I noticed a small picture of Lady Millicent – one of those rare opportunities when she had permitted me to take her picture. Normally, she refused such requests, as often her activities would have possibly resulted in her arrest, with the image being proof positive of her involvement. But in this instance, she thought the location would be such that no-one would be able to use the evidence against her. As I looked at the picture, I realised that in the background was something that could be used in such a way – that is, if anyone actually believed something like this was possible…
“Excuse me; would you help me to acquire this airship?”
Lady Millicent stood in front of the three burly dockhands, top hand in hand and goggles pushed up to her brow. The dockhands were just staring dumbfounded – From the cut of the bodice they could see very clearly that this was a woman, but the boots and general attire was far too much for these men; even the night ladies wore more when they were on the streets!
Lady Millicent’s foot started to tap. She was quite aware of how she was dressed, but she had hoped that the dock workers would be a little more helpful. Finally with a derisive snort she moved forward and delivered a finger jab into the largest workers breastplate. He felt the air leave his lungs and at that moment brought him back to his senses.
“I said, would you help me to acquire this airship?”
Still stunned, the dockworker nodded without thinking. Lady Millicent turned, said “follow me” and strode off. Her new assistance followed. The two remaining dockhands were still miles away in their dreams, carefully taking in the mental picture of what had stood before them.
Lady Millicent got her lackey to hold the rope ladder as she climbed up.
“No peeking” she said, at which point the dockhand blushed, the redness burning through the weathered tan. He stared at the ground until she called him up.
“All I need is for you to heave these ballast bags over the side” she instructed. “I can do it, but I don’t want to run the risk of tearing my dress.”
“But what about flying this thing?” asked the dock hand. “It looks complicated.”
“Oh, that’s the easy part” she replied “I can see from this gauge that the boiler’s fully stoked, so I can just take it from here. Cut this rope please.”
The first of the ballast bags dropped from the airship, falling to where the three men had originally stood. Lady Millicent released the power brake and the propeller started to turn. The dockhand steadied himself – he had never been in an airship before and it all felt quite unusual and quite wrong. Lady Millicent would look at the dials and instruct that further ballast bags were dropped. She carefully turned the ship and navigated it over the streets until she was above the Thames, moving up from the docks of East London.
“Can you swim?” asked Lady Millicent.
“A little” replied the Dockhand, suddenly feeling a little nervous, as the airship seemed to be slowly descending. “Do I need to release another ballast bag?”
“In a minute” she replied. Eventually, Lady Millicent brought the airship to an almost stop. She picked up a ballast bag as if it was empty (which surprised her new assistant) and threw it to him. Instinctively he caught it but was instantly surprised as this was as heavy as all the other bags. He started to step back. Millicent skipped round him and opened the gate.
“I couldn’t prepare and fly the ship at the same time. You were most helpful, thank you. And I would let go of the bag before you hit the Thames.” She gave him a little nudge, he stepped back… and fell off the platform. She watched as he descended into the Thames. Compassionately, she had brought the airship down to almost be at water level, so when the dockhand hit the water he did so relatively safely. As soon as he entered the Thames she pulled the levers and the airship ascended.
Now, I should point out that this wasn’t ‘just’ a theft of an airship. This airship was the first of Her Majesty’s new Imperial Airship fleet and had just been christened the Nimbus the day before. It had been taken down to the Docklands for an overnight mooring with the intention that it would then be flown down to the Indian colonies – the Nimbus had the most efficient boilers ever made so it would not need to refuel on the journey at all. Additionally, the shape of the air balloon was more streamlined than ever before. But for all its technological advancements, this was not the reason that Lady Millicent had decided to ‘borrow’ the airship. The Marshal of the Queens Royal Airships had proudly boasted that the Nimbus was the most secure Airship ever, meaning only officially appointed pilots would ever be able to fly it and it would be protected by the Queens Own Guard when it was not in flight. “And so, “ the Marshal had concluded, “no rogue, traitor or enemy of the Queen would ever be able to use the Nimbus against our Empire.”
It was this statement that had so irked and challenged Lady Millicent. Although no rogue, traitor or enemy, she did feel that this boast was something that had to be tested… and this was why she had to acquire the airship.
I was sitting in the gardens, enjoying a very fine tea, with the leaves from my own tea plants, when Lady Millicent’s carriage had drawn up. I remarked that she was looking unusually flushed and jokingly asked what she had been doing.
“Hiding an airship” she replied with a huge smile. “It was a challenge, but I’ve managed it. I’ll give it a couple of days and then I’ll let the Marshal know where he can pick it up. Perhaps the buffoon won’t be so quick to issue these challenges.”
“So where did you put it?” I asked.
“Oh, in central London. I managed to park it vertically which I was particularly pleased with… I don’t think anyone would notice it.”
My interest was piqued, so I insisted on Lady Millicent showing me. And for my own personal interests, I also brought my camera to record the moment for perpetuity. Lady Millicent pointed it out to me and I had to reply…
“But do you really think this would ever blend in with the landscape of London?”
Credit: London image by google maps.