Chapter 2-The Storm
Early Morning, May 27, 1896
The day had started like any other. Kate and Lord Wilson rose early as they had for the last several months. But for the month of May, their early starts had been particularly important. They completed as much physical work in the morning as possible due to a continual stormy climate. It was far more than just inclement weather that clouded the St. Louis Society.
Preparations were in full swing for the mission to London. After breakfast, Lord Wilson prepared to leave for the Hall as Kate practiced her whip techniques in the yard. High humidity and the possibility of rain made morning exercise necessary.
There were endless Discussions between Lord Wilson and Director Roth. Kate would be apprised of only the most necessary details. The Society had determined that the Mass had infiltrated much too far into several of their bases, including St. Louis.
Kate was training daily, both mentally and physically. As she lashed a specific rose off a bush, Lord Wilson jauntily picked it up and tucked it into his jacket pocket.
“Nice touch.” Kate lifted her nose with a haughty temperament.
“Remember, not too hard, not too soft. Please save some of your kindness for me, Kate.” He pecked her on the cheek and whispered with a naughty grin, “Although, I may need a spanking later.”
Kate broke her stoic face and giggled. “Well then, Sir, you need to behave today, or else.” She playfully turned her whip in her hands.
“Well, at least I may be dropping this jacket. It’s quite stuffy today. Word is we are in for more storms.” Lord Wilson looked at the sky. Hazy clouds were already starting to form on the horizon.
“Yes, speaking of too much, I’ve had quite enough thunder and lightning for a while.”
“Haven’t we all? Although I like the way you cling to me at night.” He bantered. “Well, I am off to the Hall. You have a small Engagement today?”
“Yes. The shop of the former Miss Beal has reopened. I need to check on the new seamstress, Miss Cutter. I’m to arrive at closing time, so I am afraid I will miss you at tea today. She is reported to be quite talented, and, well, lovely.”
“Oh, perhaps a match for Mr. Scott, then?”
“Indeed.” Kate smiled. “I’m so lucky to have met mine.”
“Hmm, smitten kitten Kate?”
“Oh, indeed again, Christopher.”
They shared a pleasant kiss and parted ways. As Kate loosely played with her whip, she wished every day could be this simple. But it was not to be. The knot in her stomach told her otherwise.
There would be many more days like the one on which she Terminated Lillian Gardner. Since that day, even though she’d trusted her husband completely, Kate had a feeling that the Society was in for rough weather. Kate was right in more ways than one.
1:15 p.m., Wilson Manor
“Lord Wilson!” Dr. Harrington burst into the Library looking for his Senior.
“Dr. Harrington, I am so sorry, Lord Wilson has been at the Hall since this morning.” An odd feeling came over Leeds as he greeted the good doctor. Rarely was the young man out of sorts and today he looked quite frazzled.
“To see the Director?”
“Yes, for their usual meetings, one would assume. Is there something I can do?” Leeds began to worry.
“I want you to take precautions for some very inclement weather, and I do mean from mother nature. One of our contacts believes a serious storm could happen today. Get with the stable master to secure the horses and be prepared to take cover in the kitchen cellar and tunnels. Am I clear?”
“Well, speaking of the clear, the sky looks well, but it has become a bit humid.” Leeds didn’t like the doctor’s tone but far be it from him to judge the young man’s intelligence. “I will be certain that we’re protected.”
“Thank you. I am off to the Hall. I suspect that I may remain there today. Be safe.” Before Leeds could say another word, the Doctor was already running through the Grounds.
“So, we believe that the machine may be located—” Director Roth paused as his assistant burst in and his phone simultaneously rang. He reached for the phone and held up a hand to pause his assistant. Lord Wilson watched as his Director’s face contorted over some troubling news.
“Yes, it’s Roth. Reverend Hicks? Yes, of course. Are you sure? Good God. Alright then. Thank you.” The Director set the phone down and greeted the assistant. “Now, go on.”
“If that was the Reverend, I’m sure he told you of the impending possibility of a good sized storm?” The assistant paled.
“Yes, schools have been let out early, he has notified the Superintendent. His newfangled barometer is dropping.” Dr. Roth rolled up the map that he and Lord Wilson had been studying with a quick snap. “I need all available Seniors to meet in the Dining Room in fifteen minutes. All Engagements this afternoon are cancelled; make sure no carriages leave the stable. Anyone out in the field should be called in immediately if possible.”
“Yes, Sir.” The assistant almost stumbled into Dr. Harrington as he entered the Director’s office.
“Gentlemen, I am so sorry to disturb you—”
“A severe storm is coming?” Director Roth quipped as he scooped up precious pieces of intel.
“Yes, the current temperature is 86. High humidity, but I’m assuming that the Reverend has notified you that his barometer is falling?”
“And yours as well?” Lord Wilson got a terrible tension in his shoulders.
“Yes. There’s no doubt we will sustain some sort of event in the next few hours. I’ve notified Leeds and he is securing the Manor.”
“And you are prepared to try the defense matrix?” Director Roth gritted his teeth.
“Yes. The matrix probes are ready to launch. It will be an incredible test.” Dr. Harrington fussed with his pocket watch as tension mounted.
“Did you see Lady Wilson?” Panic started to set in Lord Wilson’s heart. He glanced at his watch. It was just after two.
“No Sir, just Leeds.” Dr. Harrington groaned.
“Alright, I’m headed back to the Manor. Dr. Harrington, I want you to go down to the messaging center to assist Director Roth in contacting everyone, then do what you can to run the defense matrix.” Lord Wilson prepared to hurry out.
“Yes, a complete lock down immediately.” Director Roth looked grim. “God help us all. We can’t do it all by ourselves.”
“No, we can’t.” Lord Wilson snapped his brief case shut.
“Godspeed, I hope you find her.” The Director tucked away the most delicate plans behind his secret bookcase as Lord Wilson bolted.
Lord Wilson looked over Kate’s diary for any notations. Before he’d left the Hall, only two carriages had left before the remaining Engagements went out. One of them was Kate’s. He’d missed her by a half hour.
“Blasted, Kate. Always so prompt. Whatever else did you need to do today?” Lord Wilson muttered to himself.
“Can I help, Sir?” Mrs. Leeds stood in the doorway of the Library.
“Yes, Mrs. Leeds, did Lady Wilson have anything else on her schedule today?”
“Yes, she received a call. Something about a coin and a change of plans. I didn’t want to eavesdrop, but she did leave earlier than expected.”
“And how was she dressed?”
“Normal day attire, Sir.”
“Very good, thank you. Please make sure you take Strax to the cellar with you. I need to be alone for a few moments.”
As soon as Mrs. Leeds left, Lord Wilson’s hands were on his newly installed telephone, one especially designed for the secretive Society. “Yes, it’s Lord Wilson. I understand a call came in for a coin today. Yes, you’re correct, Lady Wilson was allowed to take that call. I need to know the address on the coin. Yes, I’ll hold.” Lord Wilson tugged at his pocket watch. Time was moving much too quickly for his tastes. It seemed like an eternity before the messaging operator returned.
“1625 South 11th. Name associated with the coin? Kenneth Murphy? Yes, yes, well done.” Lord Wilson hurried out to the stable then realized there was no way he would reach her in time without jeopardizing others. The address on 11th St. was St. John Nepomunk Church and it was in the complete opposite direction of Kate’s Engagement. A coin call from the church meant a child had been found. That would certainly trump a visit to Miss Cutt’s shop. But in his heart, Lord Wilson knew that Kate thought she’d have time for both. On an other day she would. Today was developing to be far from ordinary. After watching Dr. Harrington set several matrix probes from the grounds, he went back inside the Manor with a heavy heart as storm clouds billowed on the far horizon.
“Miss Cutt, where do you keep your books?” Kate was losing her patience. It was supposed to be a quick Engagement. A simple check into the shop turned into over ninety minutes of reviewing everything from start to finish.
She’d already been delayed. With Lord Wilson focused on the impending mission, Kate was now taking up the slack and keeping other issues at bay for her Senior. A coin had been turned in, but no child attached. An adult Member had earned it in a noon time poker game in a tavern in Soulard and left it with Sister Regina at St. John Nepomunk. She was concerned that the child, Kenneth Murphy, had been harmed. After a quick Discussion with the Sister, Kate determined that an investigation would be opened to try to find the child. There was nothing else that could be done at that moment. She urged her Driver to hurry to Miss Cutt’s.
On her way to the shop, around 3:30pm, the humid air was so heavy, that one could hardly breathe. Kate felt badly for her Driver who had been fighting off the oppressive weather all afternoon. His once billowing white shirt was now plastered to his torso with perspiration. She’d almost taken the trolley, but once she’d seen how packed they were with riders, Kate was grateful that she’d picked a carriage.
As Kate arrived at Miss Cutt’s, the white cotton-like clouds were starting to stack into dark blue masses in the sky. The horse whinnied uneasily as the Driver opened the carriage door. “Looks like we might be in for some rain.” His brow furrowed.
“Yes, it does.” Kate knew that animals had a natural instinct and that extra sense should never be ignored. “Perhaps get him some water. Maybe shelter, close by?”
“Yes, Lady Wilson. I’ll be back shortly.” The Driver remounted and started off.
Kate took a last look at the sky and made a mental note to be aware of the weather.
And now, inside the shop she was more than concerned. As Miss Cutt stuttered something about where her ledger was, Kate heard rumbles of thunder. Her jaw tightened. She should’ve been back to the Society Grounds already.
She interrupted her Engagement. “Miss Cutt, I want you to stay here. I’ll be right back.” Kate hurried to the storefront where it appeared as if nightfall had come early. She peered out the window as a strong wind began to make the building creak. Loose leaves shot through Lafayette Park and across the cobble stones. A chill ran through her and Kate wasn’t sure if it was from déjà vu at the botched Termination at that very store just a few months prior or if it was the imminent danger of a strong storm.
Kate’s timepiece buzzed sharply three times confirming what she already knew. The approaching thunderstorm was deadly. “Miss Cutt, grab some blankets. Is there a cellar?”
“Yes, entrance on the outside.” The frightened young Member stuttered.
“Grab your things, let’s go.” Kate ordered and opened the door to where her Driver stood with a fist in the air prepared to knock. He was white as a sheet. The wind howled and yanked his bowler off his head.
“Lady Wilson, I’ve got the horse stabled. We need to take cover.” He threw open the doors to the cellar for the ladies.
“Yes. Miss Cutt, hurry.” The trio of Society Members stumbled down the wooden steps into the dank cellar. Kate procured a lamp, lit it, and scanned the cellar while the Driver barricaded the doors shut.
“Hopefully that will hold.” He grimaced and ushered the ladies away from the stairs. “Let’s get under these beams in the corner.”
Heavy drops of splattering rain could be heard against the doors as thunder rolled and bold flashes of lightning brightened the outline of the cellar entrance. In a few more seconds, the pings of hail could be heard. They soon turned to knocks as if someone were throwing rocks against the building.
Kate’s watch vibrated three times again. Her heart quickened as the Driver began covering them in blankets. To his amazement Kate pulled her whip from her garter. “Here, tie us in on the left, I’ll get the right.” Kate’s treasured bull whip lined the three of them against a beam. Kate had another moment of déjà vu from the night that McKendrick killed Michael Parker. Michael’s whip was again saving her.
For as they hunkered into each other, a loud roar began to build, even above the sounds of massive hail and booming thunder. The cellar doors rattled violently as first tree branches and debris from the alleyway and then pieces of housing began to batter. The lamp blew out as the increasing winds whooshed through the cracks. In the darkness, peppered by flashes of lightning, the horrific presence of an approaching cyclone caused Kate’s head to fill with pressure.
Her ears popped as the cellar doors were ripped away. Miss Cutt’s screams could barely be heard above the din. Their blankets were sucked outside with several other random contents of the cellar. Their bodies lifted and were thrown against the beam, but Kate’s whip and the Driver’s strength held them in. Random bits of debris peppered them as the massive tornado ripped through Lafayette Square. Kate clenched her teeth as her fascinator was ripped from her hair. The whip dug into her hip as the ferocious gales tore apart the lovely painted ladies that surrounded Lafayette Park.
Suddenly the Members fell to the floor in a heap. The Driver stood and dusted himself off, his dark silhouette trembled in the sporadic lightning in an area once occupied by the cellar doors. “Ladies?” He pulled some dry matches from his pocket and struck it against the cellar wall stones. Miraculously, the lamp that had blown out from the wind, sat untouched on the shelf where Kate had left it. He lit it and the glow showed various lashes on his body. These marks would later earn him a Senior promotion for his gallantry.
Kate shook as she untied the other end of the whip. “Oh, oh dear.” Miss Cutt remained on the floor and cried into the dirt. Kate tapped her on the shoulder. “Just stay here, we’ll be back.” Kate clutched her bag and motioned to the Driver towards the stairs.
When they reached the top, a cold driving rain fell upon them causing Kate’s cuts to sting and cake with dirt. The pair gazed at the tremendous damage. Kate felt lightheaded as the crushed houses seemed to spin around them.
“Whoa, whoa. Steady Lady Wilson.” The Driver grabbed her elbow.
“I’m alright.” Kate shook her head stubbornly and forced herself to look beyond the rain. Off to the east, the black cloud continued to tumble while taking away everything in its path with it. In every other direction, piles of rubble blocked alleyways. Muffled shouts and screams of survivors could be heard. Kate stumbled along the alley to the once wide Park Avenue. It was filled with busted trees, dead animals, telegraph lines, bits of carriages, and turned over trolleys.
Her mouth fell open at the sight of Lafayette Park. Every single tree had been felled in two. The lush green gardens were puddles of mud. Kate’s head buzzed as tears rolled down her cheeks. Her beloved park, the one where she’d kissed Lord Wilson for the very first time, had been blown to bits. She hastily pulled out her timepiece. It hadn’t changed color. Lord Wilson was alive.
“Miss, oh Miss?” A voice behind her groaned.
Kate turned and gasped as a man stumbled from a pile of rubble. His clothes were torn to shreds, streaks of blood ran along his body, and his left arm dangled by a thread of skin. A flash of lightning and immediate boom of thunder rattled the poor soul just enough for his arm to relieve itself of his body and flop to the street like a dead fish.
Kate felt nauseous and weak again. Before her Driver could catch her, she collapsed on the debris covered sidewalk.
Miss Cutt came running from the cellar, too afraid to be alone. She saw the Driver attending to Kate on the ground while the mortally wounded man slumped to the dirt as the last of his blood poured down the street with the rainwater. Miss Cutt began to mumble her incomprehensible thoughts as panic set in. Her voice grew louder as no one responded to her cries for help.
It was almost 5:30pm.
“Even our secured lines are down, Sir. Lafayette Park has been levelled. The matrix probes failed.” Dr. Harrington rushed around the messaging center as Lord Wilson, Director Roth, and several other Seniors assigned Engagements for every available Member. “The first damage was southeast. Then it hit Tower Grove Park. By the time it roared into Lafayette Square and onto Soulard, the reports say, well, it was devastating. The Society grounds have some minor damage.”
“I’m leaving then.” Lord Wilson pulled the Director aside. “My watch hasn’t moved. I’m assuming Lady Wilson is alive.”
“Yes, go find her.” The Director urged and returned attention to dispatching the needs of the Society.
Lord Wilson double checked his waistcoat pocket for a vial of Serum, ran outside the Hall, and took the first carriage available. “Driver, be prepared. We are not to stop for anyone but Lady Wilson, and perhaps her Driver.”
“Yes, Sir.” The carriage clattered over fallen limbs and brush that the Groundskeepers and Gardners rushed to clear from the Society drive.
Lord Wilson scanned the streets furtively, noticing that the further east they went, the worse the damage. As they passed through the eastern side of Grand Avenue, he tried not to panic. It was here that people were rummaging through fallen trees. By the time they reached Jefferson Avenue, people were openly weeping in the streets and begging for the Society Members to stop. The Driver kept on, but now it was at a snail’s pace, avoiding as much of the crumbling buildings and felled landscape as possible.
Even Lord Wilson was shocked at the wide swath of devastation borne by the cyclone. They had to stop on Park Avenue about halfway past the park.
“There’s just no way to get through, Sir.” Bemoaned the Driver.
“Stay here. I’ll go on foot.” Lord Wilson bolted around a massive tree that blocked the road. He leapt over countless limbs and bits of once glorious houses before finally seeing Kate in the arms of her Driver with a wildly gesturing Miss Cutt running in circles around them.
“Driver! Lady Wilson!” He shouted as he ran a last stretch of cluttered street. He panted as he approached.
“She’s out cold, Sir.” The Driver grimaced as Miss Cutt shrieked behind him.
“Here, I’ll take Lady Kate. Calm her down, now!” He nodded toward the new Member as he gathered Kate in his arms.
The Driver grasped Miss Cutt and pulled her to the front of what was once her new shop.
“Kate, Kate darling.” Lord Wilson cooed as he carried Kate over to a large overturned washtub and sat with her in his lap. He brushed her hair from her battered face as he pulled the Serum discreetly from his pocket.
Kate blinked and groaned as she came to. “There was a storm, you know.”
“Yes, yes, I know. Just open your mouth a little.”
“Oh, yes. Serum.”
“Shh. A sip.” He poured it on to her tongue. “Drink love.”
“Hmm.” Kate closed her eyes again. “There’s a man. Just a bit away, in the street. He needs help.”
Lord Wilson looked over at what he thought had been a pile of laundry caked with mud. With a squint he could see it was the man whose last sight on earth was Kate passing out before him.
Kate’s Driver had pulled her out of the street. For the next ten minutes he stood there speechless as Miss Cutt completely broke down, ranting like a wounded cat, until Lord Wilson arrived.
Kate swallowed and opened her eyes fully. The blue of her eyes looked radiant against her dirt caked skin. The Serum began to work.
“There now, a bit better?”
“Um, yes.” Kate sat up and whispered. “This really happened?”
“Yes. We need to hurry back. I need you to be strong, Kate. Miss Cutt is having a break down, so we’ll take her with us. But we need to leave now. Can you I help you up?”
“Yes. I am strong.” Kate’s familiar mantra escaped her lips as she grasped her Senior’s hand and they stood.
“Driver, can you help Miss Cutt along? The carriage is about two blocks this way.” Lord Wilson took his wife’s hand and began to lead.
“Yes, Sir.” Kate’s Driver threw Miss Cutt over his shoulder and followed them.
Sirens and bells began to wail as police and firemen finally arrived. Lord Wilson knew they had to hurry back to his carriage before it was recruited for other means. As they approached a couple of men were already questioning Lord Wilson’s Driver.
“Excuse me gentlemen, these ladies need medical attention.” Lord Wilson yelled, pushed the neighborhood men aside, and put Kate into the carriage. “Please, we need to go now.”
Miss Cutt yapped incessantly as Kate’s Driver put her down.
“Can you fit anyone else in there?” One of the men begged.
“This other man here needs attention as well.” Lord Wilson motioned to Kate’s Driver to get into the carriage. “He rescued these ladies without realizing he needed help himself, look at the gash on his back, for God’s sakes!”
Kate leaned out to see and indeed, her driver had been deeply cut by her whip as he’d held them all in the cellar. A huge slash of vermillion oozed through his shirt.
“Yes, Sir, so sorry. Send help if you can!” The two men backed away as the Kate’s Driver and Lord Wilson jumped in.
“Driver, now!” Lord Wilson bellowed.
As they pulled away, the small crowd of survivors clung to each other in a sea of destruction.
Miss Cutt stared out the window with wide eyes. “Can’t we help them? Why can’t we help them?” She wrung her hands around her muddied apron.
The other Members were silent. Kate resisted the urge to speak, as she felt the same. Far too many people needed assistance.
“Surely we’re coming back?” Miss Cutt’s hoarsened voice disturbed the interior of the carriage again as it rolled past blocks of decimated architecture.
Lord Wilson reached over and pulled the blinds on the window.
“Wait, I want to see—” Miss Cutt reached for the pulley.
“No, Miss Cutt. You need to relax. We need to get you to some medical attention.” Lord Wilson spoke in a languished fashion and grabbed her hand.
“I assure you I am fine, we need to help—”
“Miss Cutt, you must listen. I have something for you that would help you now.” Lord Wilson pulled a small blue bottle from his pocket; one that Kate hadn’t seen before. “Drink this.”
“Well, then.” With a huff, Miss Cutt took a long swill and swallowed the elixir as a disgusted look crossed her face. She’d barely given the bottle back to Lord Wilson, when she passed out onto the lap of the Driver.
“A temporary fix.” Lord Wilson popped the bottle back into his waistcoat. Not another word was said on the remaining journey to the Society compound.
“Kate?” Lord Wilson’s muffled voice started to break into Kate’s returning consciousness.
“Ugh, yes, yes.” The room appeared to slide sideways as Kate attempted to sit up.
“Alight now, lay back darling. We’re at the Manor, you’re safe. Strax is downstairs with the Leeds. Here, a spot for you.” Lord Wilson graced a few drops of Serum on Kate’s lips.
The warm medicine made her mouth tingle as her eyes opened fully. “Better.” Kate mumbled. “How is everyone?”
“Well, the Grounds sustained some minor damage. One Member died on Engagement. St. Louis is devastated; many dead, thousands more wounded. But we have one special survivor.” Lord Wilson grinned. “And it’s because of the cyclone that Kenneth Murphy survived. His captor had tied him up in a cellar of a home in Soulard. He’d kidnapped the boy on his paper route this morning. The molester stole his coin and decided to try and gamble with it, as you know. The fool was drunk and never did make it through the storm. However, Kenneth, safely below ground was found by rescue groups about an hour ago. The whole house had blown away. His binding kept him alive. Ironic isn’t it?”
“A miracle.” Kate whispered.
“You’re my miracle.” Lord Wilson’s sturdy hands embraced hers. “Rest a bit. I’ll bring some food up. You’ll be back up in no time.”
The tenderness of his kiss upon her forehead made Kate grin. “I’m certain I will. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Lady Kate, the pleasure is mine.” Lord Wilson teased as he left their bedroom. But as he walked down the hall, his troubled mind prayed that they would both be able to weather the storms ahead.
Victoria L. Szulc, “The Countess”, is a multi-media Steampunk artist/writer and is the resident artist and a tour guide for Haunted STL Tours. You can follow her works, social media links, and shop links at mysteampunkproject.wordpress.com.