First published in Resurrection Engines, an anthology of Scientific Romance published by Snowbooks, and edited by Scott Harrison.
We were invited to write a steampunk take on a classic of Victorian/Edwardian literature. I decided it was time for a Suffragette take on H. Rider Haggard.
A Tale of Modern Women in the Dark Continent
My beloved aunt, Phyllis Charteris, has received none of the plaudits lavished on the laurel-garlanded heroes who explore the remote heart of Africa. The Royal Geographic Society might deign to acknowledge Mary Kingsley after the success of her publication, ‘Travels in West Africa’ but there is not one quarter-inch of a newspaper column recording my aunt’s achievements.
Such injustice has galled me ever since my return from the trackless swamps of the upper Zambesi. However I was sworn to secrecy for reasons which this narrative will soon explain.
Now Mr H Rider Haggard has published the reminiscences of his Cambridge acquaintance sheltering beneath the pseudonym “Horace Holly”. Consequently I am free to share my aunt’s achievements with the world.
But I am outstripping my story’s proper order. Our family’s ties with the Cape Colony were first established by my grandfather’s brothers, both mining engineers. When my brother Eustace took up a position with Lloyds Bank in Cape Town, I had recently concluded my studies at Somerville Hall in Oxford. I decided to go with him as his housekeeper but in hopes that this outpost of Empire might offer more opportunities for educated women than dismissing us as mere blue-stockings.
I had no notion of how wondrously my hopes would be fulfilled.
Naturally I was mindful of following in Aunt Phyllis’s footsteps. She had travelled out to marry a dear friend of one of her cousins, met when both young men returned home for their university education. Alas, her fiancé succumbed to malaria while she was on board ship. Declining to return to England, she joined her uncle’s household as governess to his younger children.
Family lore relates that Phyllis found herself ill-suited to such domesticity. When the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were discovered, she insisted on inspecting these wondrous remnants of lost civilisation for herself.
That was the last heard of her for over two decades. Now I am able to take up her story and a marvellous tale it is.