BVC Announces The Ladies Who Got Away by Jennifer Stevenson

The Ladies Who Got Away by Jennifer Stevenson
The Ladies Who Got Away
by Jennifer Stevenson

Four historically-set short stories about women who escape their preordained roles

A Princess of Wittgenstein
A steampunk romance where the metal meets the meat

Ileen is a chambermaid on the run, and a promethean. She is faintly blue all over, and her left arm is not the arm she was born with. She knows she was probably assembled from dead people. But who was she?

Fortunately her new London employers have open minds: Dr Penderby, respected associate of Dr Polidari, works extensively with prometheans and automata, and his wife Mrs Penderby is the founder of the Society for the Broader Definition of Humanity.

Only one person might ruin Ileen’s new life: Soames, the Penderbys’ automaton butler.

Next, two short stories set in a fantastical pseudo-Byzantine city, where the powerful and beautiful Monatin is the proprietrix of an elegant putatorium

The Harlot Escapes
Monatin gets more customer than she bargained for.

The Harlot Deserts
Monatin leaves her putatorium to wage war against her city’s enemies…only to return and find the war on her doorstep.

Finally, an erotic romance about an unconventional pair

Perfect for Her Setting
The Earl of Southford is looking for a new mistress. He interviews Olympia, a courtesan at the height of her powers, a high-flyer famous for refusing any man who cannot satisfy her. Olympia tests him as he has never been tested…except once.

Buy The Ladies Who Got Away at BVC Ebookstore

Read a sample:

A Princess of Wittgenstein

“Now, Ileen, the Penderby residence is capacious, so you will sleep in your own room, rather than share with the other maids, as is more common in London. I gather that things were otherwise for you in…Paris?”

“Yes, M’sieur Soames, very different. I am most happy to serve in the house of the great scientist Docteur Horace Penderby.”

“Er, yes. Although it is to Mrs Penderby that you owe your position here.”

Quoi?”

“Mrs Penderby is a founder of the Society for a Broader Definition of Humanity.”

“I assure you M’sieur Soames, I am human.”

“Er, yes. Of course.”

“As are you.”

“I see you are curious. Very well, on this one occasion I will satisfy your natural question.”

“Thank you, M’sieur Soames, I should like to be satisfied.”

“Although in future it would be impertinent to pursue the matter.”

“Yes, M’sieur Soames.”

“If you would accompany me downstairs. As you have guessed, Ileen, I am one of Dr Penderby’s automata. He endowed me with the equivalent of an Etonian education and one additional year of Oxford in his own specialties, so that I may assist in the laboratory. I have a chassis which satisfactorily mimics the human frame, such that visitors are not unduly alarmed by my appearance, and a minute understanding of etiquette, household management, London society’s practices and customs, in short, everything necessary to make the ideal butler for such an establishment as this one.”

M’sieur Soames is indeed marvelous.”

“I am also capable of handling the wild beasts which reside—through this door—in the laboratory, which was once the ballroom. Currently, we have an orangutan, a crocodile, rabbits, agoutis, and smaller mammals and lizards. It will be one of your duties to assist me. I trust you are not afraid of God’s creatures?”

“But no. I, too, am one.”

“Er. Of course.”

“And did Docteur Penderby provide you also with a soul?”

“Automata do not require them. I have a mandate to which I refer, which aids in my self-direction.”

“But Docteur Penderby is the author of They Are All Alive—”

“Those pamphlets were penned by Mrs Penderby. It is a topic on which master and mistress…differ.”

“Oh.”

“Do not look so stricken, girl. Mrs Penderby will discuss your soul, if you choose, as exhaustively as you could wish. Dr Penderby is easily satisfied, provided his staff do not faint, scream, or indulge in hysterics above once or twice a week.”

M’sieur Soames is satirical.”

“I fear not. We suffer rather a high turnover of staff. It is the orangutan, principally. He forgets his trousers.”

“He does not mistake the maids for orangutans, does he, M’sieur?”

“I am gratified to report that he has stopped short of such an outrage. Er, Ileen.”

“Yes. M’sieur Soames?”

“Have you—that is to say, you seem to me—er, where are you from originally?”

“Wittgenstein, M’sieur Soames.”

“Fancy. I see. Hm. Thank you, Ileen, that will be all.”

~o0o~

“And I told him, ‘Piffle.’ An automaton of one hundred percent synthetic parts is no more nor less a creation of science than one that combines organic and mechanical elements.”

“And why is that, pray, Dr Penderby?”

“Don’t try to look crafty, my dear. It doesn’t suit you. What difference could it possibly make?”

“Indeed, what difference? So the bishop argued that to use cadaver parts would be to risk contaminating your automaton with some remnant of the divine spark that once animated the corpse?”

“Not that word at table, my love. The servants. What must Soames think, or poor Ileen, only here a day?”

“You need not patronize me, Horace. I was your assistant until—until the first time I became pregnant. I saw many a corpse on the slab.”

“Quite so, quite so.”

“That was, of course, before you created your own assistant. A more discreet one than I, I am sure.”

“Gwendolyn, you mistake. I treasure your interest in my work—”

“If it is silent interest.”

“Not silent!”

“Uncritical, then.”

“You wrong me, Gwendolyn.”

“That will never do.”

“Your womanly scruples are a very necessary counter-balance to the cold, inquiring mind of a scientist.”

“I don’t object to you inquiring, Horace. But you were not used to be cold. I fear that exposure to certain scientific minds—”

“My fellows in the Royal Society are of the highest character—”

“Do not freeze me, Horace, I beg you. But if it is not their influence that has chilled you, then whose?”

“No one’s!”

“Then why do you avoid me? If I could have a child, would you—”

“You are imagining things, Gwendolyn.”

“That also will never do. More hot water, please, Ileen?”

“No more for me, thank you. I have—I have a meeting this evening, and must be from home at the supper hour.”

“I see.”

“No, you don’t see—oh, what’s the use?”

~o0o~

“Soames, I shall receive Viscount Whitlake and Mr Danton tomorrow evening in the library. And, er, as Mrs Penderby is attending her own meeting from home, it will not be necessary to, er, trouble her with my guest list. You understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Not that the gentlemen are unwelcome here.”

“Far from it, sir.”

“No. Precisely. Well, I’m off. Put brandy and cigars in the library by nine, and see that the fire is well along. Nine o’clock, mind. No earlier. Mustn’t ruffle Mrs P.”

“No, sir. Thank you, sir.”

~o0o~

“Er, Ileen, have you finished with your duties abovestairs?”

“Yes, M’sieur Soames. You see I am bringing the shoes down to the mud room. That is the last?”

“It is. Ileen, I do not like to ask this in front of Cook or the boy, but there are certain matters of routine maintenance which, er, I feel sure that your Continental mind will be resilient enough to—that is, which you may approach in a purely impersonal manner—”

“Of course, M’sieur Soames. Where I come from, the upstairs maid is often required to service the major domo.”

“Oh, please. You mistake, I assure you. One would shrink from—I am not sure an automaton can—er—in short, here is this oil can. Do you suppose you can reach the back of my neck? It will, I fear, be necessary to remove my collar, for which breach of decorum I deeply apologize.”

“It makes nothing. M’sieur Soames.”

“Thank you, Ileen.”

“This is the hole for me to put the oil?”

“It must be added slowly, one drop at a time. Twenty drops. The oil is very fine, and the mechanism absorbs it slowly.”

“M’sieur Soames is a work of art. I had not before noticed the hole. M’sieur Soames is synthetic?”

“Nearly. Certain organs function better than man’s makings.”

“But the limbs? The—the arms?”

“One hundred percent artificial. Ileen, your arm—”

“It was lost when I died, M’sieur Soames. This one is a substitute. So the skin tone differs.”

“It was not you who died, Ileen. Mrs Penderby likes us to be correct in our speech. The previous occupant of your body died.”

“No doubt, but I have no memory of another body.”

“Were you not then translated into this one?”

“I do not know, M’sieur. I think not.”

“Do not blush, Ileen. Under Mrs Penderby’s roof you must receive due respect as a full member of the human race. Everyone is a person here. Do you—are you soulless, then?”

“I—don’t know. I overheard them talking while I lay on the stone, so I ran away. You are shocked. Will you expose me, M’sieur Soames?”

“Of course not. Merely, I am surprised you were able to motivate the, er, body before a soul could be installed in it.”

M’sieur Soames is well informed about a process that is illegal in England.”

“The master and his associates are very interested in the process. Do you not know whose your body was?”

“I remember nothing. And yet, I feel…everything.”

“That must be distressing for you.”

“I contrive.”

“The thought of waking prematurely on the slab in a body so recently mutilated—I can only imagine—”

“There. Twenty drops, and no spills. Does M’sieur Soames bathe? Must the hole be covered? Merveilleuse! And the meat organs, have I said that right? They accommodate satisfactorily in every respect?”

“I apologize if I overstepped, Ileen.”

M’sieur Soames disarms me. In a manner of speaking. You have said nothing about my color, M’sieur Soames.”

“I shouldn’t dream of passing remarks—”

“I am blue.”

“Er, a very attractive pale blue.”

“But not sufficiently attractive? Je regrette.”

“It was never my intention to make light of your situation.”

Mais non, it is I who make light. If one may not laugh in adversity, life—or death—becomes very long indeed.”

“Your fortitude does you credit.”

Absurde. And now to bed. M’sieur Soames is positive he wishes no additional…service?”

“Ileen, really! You must not speak so saucily!”

“Oh, we are special, we two.”

“In this respect we are different! An automaton is well-educated in the laws of decorum. A—a—”

“Promethean? Zombi? Corpse-monster? How do the English call me? The laws of decorum float outside my mind, as it were, in the bubble of my past life. I am aware of them, but I do not regard them. I feel driven to break them all, now, while I may, so that when—if—I am dragged back into my old class and my old decorum, I have at least amused myself with some little disobediences.”

“Disobedience is unwelcome in a servant, Ileen.”

“So I perceive. And yet, one may get away with a certain amount of…sauciness!”

“Good night, Ileen.”

Bon soir, M’sieur Soames.”

~o0o~

“Good evening, Soames. Did your mistress go off to her meeting all right, then?”

“Yes, sir. Er, Dr Penderby—”

“Well, Soames? She didn’t ask about my movements tonight, did she?”

“No, sir. But I discovered a piece of information that might interest—”

“About Mrs Penderby? What?”

“No, sir. About the new maid, Ileen. The, er—”

“Promethean. Although with Mrs Penderby out of the room I can say corpse-monster if I choose.”

“Sir, she is no monster.”

“No indeed. Pretty little thing, apart from the arm.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And the blue skin.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I suppose she must have suffocated.”

“Or drowned, sir. That may be my information. You recall when we removed to the Swiss mountains for three months, for Mrs Penderby’s health?”

“Vividly. The only decent thing I got out of it was meeting Polidari himself, that stormy weekend.”

“Precisely. It is of the storm I would speak. You may recall that a pleasure boat foundered in the storm, and several lives were lost. Among them, sir, was a young princess from Wittgenstein. Princess Elena.”

“Hm.”

“All they ever found, sir, was one arm, wearing her rings. It was assumed she fell into the lake and became entangled with the paddlewheel, which severed the limb, possibly thus causing her demise.”

“Great heavens, Soames! You think our new maid is the missing princess?”

“Just a feeling, sir. The arm. And she mentioned that she comes from Wittgenstein. She also speaks of having ‘waked upon the stone,’ and, hearing men speaking around her, she fled.”

“Great Scott!”

“Additionally, sir, I fancy that I recognize her. She was much present in our hôtel during our stay.”

“What, not that saucy miss with the yaller hair? My word. That is interesting. Whitlake and Danton will be fascinated. Did she say whose soul they meant to translate into her?”

“That is another mystery, sir. Perhaps your theory is correct, and the soul departs the body before its worldly knowledge vanishes.”

“Or dissolves. Or fades. I wonder if she can remember anything between death and the slab? Oh, not consciously. But perhaps under mesmerism she might be made to recall—”

“Sir, I should suggest—”

“Danton is a decent mesmerist. I must suggest it to him.”

“But—oh, there goes the doorbell, sir.”

“Quick, go get them inside before the other servants see them.”

“Immediately, sir. Oh, dear.”

To read the rest of “A Princess of Wittgenstein” and three more stories, buy The Ladies Who Got Away at BVC Ebookstore

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