Plot birdy that came to mind after hours of catching up on Downton Abbey. A bit odd, but some of you may enjoy it!
The Magnus estate was relatively quiet early in the morning, with few disturbances daring to break the soft silence of the old house. Sunlight streamed through the window, casting soft colours across old wooden floors and creating a soft warmth of most of the rooms on the eastern side of the house. A usual early morning for the household, the smells of breakfast just breaking through and the birds beginning their usual chirps amongst the trees.
Startled awake, Helen blinked against the harsh sunlight filtering through the curtains that had just been jerked open. She groaned with a soft scowl crossing her face, turning over to bury her face in her pillow.
"It's far too early, Elizabeth."
"I beg your pardon, milady, but you have an unsuspected visitor most eager to see you."
"Who on earth that this hour?" She muttered, curling tighter to her pillow. Bugger.
"I'm sworn to secrecy, ma'am."
Helen Magnus was not often fond of surprise guests. The future countess had far more than enough on her plate at the time being. She'd assumed the last of the mourners over her brother's death had come and gone – her distant aunt had been the last. She'd had her moment, alone, in the bed she was currently unwilling to leave because of the exhaustion of the past weeks had finally settled in on her. It clung to her, threatening to drag her into bed and never let her go. It was still hard to believe that Henry would no longer be in her life – her little brother. How harsh fate was, to pull him away young when their mother had given their life for him.
"Come on, Miss. Helen. I wouldn't keep him waiting." Elizabeth urged, a soft smile on her face. Something was up, clearly. Helen sighed, but pushed herself from bed, her own curiosity getting the better of her and pushing through her drowsiness. Elizabeth had already laid out one of her many outfits, and reached for her dressing gown before her feet had even touched the floor.
Perhaps one day clothes would exist that she could dress herself in.
Layers were pulled over layers, blonde hair done up in usual soft curls. Elizabeth had gotten rather well at dressing her with speed, mostly because of Helen's favored habit of sleeping in later than most of the rest of the house (even if she was still expected to be on time). Helen stifled several yawns throughout the process, trying to keep herself awake – it didn't help she'd been up half the night reading, either.
"Your father also wishes me to remind you of your meeting together this evening after dinner, when he returns from London."
"Of course." Her father had frequented London, taking care of things regarding Henry and his affairs. Helen had been taking care of things at the estate, as she would continue to do so that day until his return.
"Go on, then. Your visitor is waiting in the parlor."
Curiosity growing, she ventured from her rooms and down the hall, finally more awake. The house was large and immensely beautiful inside and out. It had been built several years ago by ancestors, out of love of one man for his wife, on acreage that stretched in every direction with woods, gardens, and various other markers littering the property. Inside, warm rooms were filled with all sorts of treasures and trinkets and plush furniture. Helen had grown up in the place, and couldn't imagine a better place in which to remain – but her desires were elsewhere, away from the confines of London society.
Down the stairs and through the entry hall, her hand paused on the parlor doorknob. Who on earth could it be at this hour? Only one way to find out –
A friend of the family, Dr. James Watson stood there with a bright smile on his face and arms extended toward her. Helen embraced him tightly – it had been months since his last visit, mostly because he'd been out traveling and had his hands busy with the influenza sweeping through.
"It's fantastic to see you." She smiled warmly, taking his hands in her own. "You look brilliant as ever – but I'm afraid father's gone off to London."
"I'm well aware, m'dear. But my visit is for you."
Helen arched a brow.
He withdrew an envelope from his pocket, the official Oxford seal on it. Her heart jumped into her throat as he passed it to her.
"I bring news." He grinned as she refused the urge to rip into it immediately. Instead, she calmly steadied herself and opened it with a hesitant look, glancing up to the still smiling James as she continued and pulled out the folder letter. He spoke before she could even finish scanning it.
"I've pulled some strings, as has Gregory. You'll be allowed to start auditing classes in the fall. A start on the very long road you have begun to pave for yourself."
She tossed her arms around him in an unladylike manner, hugging him tightly with a soft laugh. Classes. At Oxford. To be the first female to do so was thrilling – and she would eventually become the doctor she very much wished to be. Hopefully. It would be a rough road, yes, but the determination she held for it and the callus feeling she had toward societal norms would make it a touch easier. She feared not what they would say about her – she would be a doctor. Just like James, just like her father. She'd wanted nothing else.
"Thank you." She said, smiling, but composing herself into something more proper. "This is absolutely brilliant, James – I can't believe you've managed this."
"You deserve it, Helen. If there was anyone who could do it, it would be you." He squeezed her hands affectionately. "More arrangements will have to be made, of course, but it is only March and classes don't begin until September. Plenty of time."
"I hardly want to wait."
"Summer will pass us by before you know it."
"One can only hope. Now, what's say we celebrate with a bit of breakfast? Something smelled absolutely marvelous coming down the steps and I'm afraid I want to investigate." She smiled and James chuckled, offering his arm to her. She slid hers through his, her Oxford letter still clutched in one hand. She would read it multiple times over in the near future, assuring herself it was not to be any sort of dream. While auditing classes would not get her a degree right away, it was certainly a start.
Led from the parlor, Helen couldn't help but consider the vague idea that things were for once acting in her favor.
As her father would be absent the rest of the day, it was merely her and James at breakfast, servers coming and going in their usual silent fashion. Helen listened as James recounted stories of his travels, eager to eventually have her own travels with the way he spoke of them. She'd only ever been to New York, but there were far more many countries to see and visit. They could hardly protest her travel if she were a doctor coming to tend and assist with the sick, either.
"And I ought to mention – I have a guest coming from the college this evening." James began after another relatively comfortable silence between them. "Your father approved and is eager to meet him – utterly brilliant. He's in the country before continuing on to New York to pursue further ventures and extended the offer of meeting Gregory and yourself."
"So I suppose this means I must be on my best behavior?"
"Are you ever, Helen?"
"You're one to talk, Dr. Watson." She quipped.
"At least I don't run through muddied lawns and get my skirts dirty."
"If you were wearing skirts than it would be an entirely different problem."
The corners of her lips turned upward into a faint, teasing smile. Another visitor was not precisely what she wanted to deal with, but the way James seemed enthused to his arrival would make her give his guest a partial chance. She'd put on her usual smile and get through dinner with casual conversation and bid them good evening. She'd done the routine many times over with the ones that had come to offer their condolences for Henry's death. Perhaps this time would be a bit easier than the last.
"In the meantime, however," She began after another moment, dusting her hands free of biscuit crumbs with a mischievous grin and a glint in her eye. "I do believe you owe me a rematch on horseback after you cheated the last time."
"I did no such thing – if anyone did, it was you."
"Utter lies, James Watson. If you're so confident, then why not agree to a rematch? Afraid I might win fair and square this time around?"
". . . Very well. You have twenty minutes to be downstairs and ready before I shall take a head start."
"You wouldn't dare."
"Payback, I believe – you're wasting time, Helen. You could have been halfway upstairs by now."
She narrowed her eyes briefly at him, lips parted in brief protest. He tapped his pocket watch and she stood from the table, excusing herself in a soft blur to dart upstairs and ring for Elizabeth.
After a rather close incident in which Helen had nearly been flung from her easily spooked horse (but she'd still beaten James in their rematch of a race) the pair returned from the excursion on horses across the fields. Her father had returned, but locked himself away in his study and had refused to be seen. Helen briefly entertained going against this, but James surprisingly volunteered instead, disappearing into the room and leaving Helen standing awkwardly in the corridor for a moment until Elizabeth came along to draw her a bath – ah, yes. They had company coming over for dinner, and she would need to look presentable, instead of appearing in a muddied riding outfit.
"Did you see my father when he came in?" Helen inquired, studying Elizabeth in the mirror of her vanity as she braided her damp hair back and down the side.
"Yes, ma'am. He looked a bit upset."
"Did he mention why?"
"I'm afraid not. Simply wished not to be disturbed until dinner."
It wasn't like her father to be reclusive as such. Generally he was quite forthcoming, but Helen had the sneaking suspicion something in London had happened. Something with Henry's affairs, likely. Legal things were always so frustrating and annoying, she'd discovered in the time she'd had to briefly work with them herself. She knew how it all worked, of course, but it didn't make it any less annoying.
Helen stood and turned, arching a brow at the choice of dress Elizabeth had picked – the dark red one she hardly ever wore. Her maid merely smiled in return and gestured for her to turn so she could be clothed and laced up. Impractical things.
"Do you know anything of our guest this evening?"
"Not in the slightest, milady."
"Oh, come now Lizzie. You must know some gossip of some sort." Helen cast an amused look over her shoulder, Elizabeth hiding a faint smile.
"Afraid it's nothing appropriate for the time being. Perhaps when I come to dress you for bed, I'll indulge your ladyship."
"I look forward to it. It's been far too quiet around here the past few days." She mused, doing her best to at least attempt to put herself in a pleasant mood – it was far easier when she didn't have to fake it. But the troubling way her father had locked herself away bothered her in a way she couldn't quite explain. No, something wasn't quite right.
The thoughts made her curious the entire trek downstairs, so much that she hardly noticed the small gathering in the front hall. Her father, James, and a man she didn't quite recognize stood conversing, falling silent upon her approach.
Her father's voice pulled her from her thoughts and she looked up, brandishing a smile by his appearance. He looked exhausted, dark circles under his eyes, but nevertheless he was giving her a tired smile and embraced her warmly when she reached the bottom step.
"Helen, this is my friend from Oxford – Nikola Tesla."
She turned her gaze to the unknown man. He was younger than she'd expected, by far, with dark hair and bright eyes. He took her offered hand and brushed his lips across the back of her knuckles, offering a warm smile.
"A pleasure to meet you, Lady Magnus. James has spoken fondly of you. And if I may say, you look quite lovely in red." His voice nearly made her reel – not quite foreign, but the accent was there, hinted around certain letters. Helen returned his smile, dropping her hand, not quite certain what to make of his compliment.
"Well, I'm afraid he's told me nothing of you – how unkind, James, for you to speak of one and not the other."
He chuckled, shaking his head at her.
"You're impossible to please, Helen."
"I do try." Her lips curved into another cheeky grin, gaze flickering back to Nikola. There was something about him that made her suddenly want to hear more of him – perhaps dinner wouldn't be an entirely dull affair after all.
"If you lot are done lingering in the hall," Her father spoke, amusement hidden within his tone, but exhaustion still detected. "Dinner is waiting."
"Did you not eat in London?" Helen inquired and he chuckled.
"The food is not nearly as appetizing as it is here. In fact, I would avoid it at all costs."
"I rather enjoy it." James mused.
"Then perhaps that's why you're getting rounder about the middle, old friend . . . ."
As James and her father dissolved into chuckles and more teasing barbed comments, Helen took the initiative to step toward the dining room. Not surprisingly, Nikola stepped into place beside her. He didn't speak, but their walking seemed to have spurred the other two behind them into following along behind.
"James tells me you wish to study at Oxford, Helen?" Nikola inquired not a moment after they'd been settled with their meals placed in front of them. Her attention went back to the strange man with a soft, but bright look.
"Indeed. To be a doctor. I just received my acceptance letter to audit classes this morning." The letter now carefully stored away in her room. "I'm to start in the fall."
"I have never seen a woman, especially one of your standard, wish to pursue such a career." He said and Helen arched a brow.
"I've never been one to follow the rules of society, Mr. Tesla. I find it too confining. If I'm the first woman to break free of that to become a doctor, so be it. I'm doing what I love and no one is going to stand in my way of doing such." She replied and he gave a chuckle.
"She's just as headstrong as you mentioned, James."
"I did warn you."
"Do not speak of me as if I'm not sitting in front of you, boys." She said, forcing her tone to be teasing more than irritated. There was nothing more she loathed than to be spoken of like an object, not a human being – a common practice of society she was also determined to break in any way possible. Idiotic things, societal rules were.
Her father steered the conversation away by giving tales of London, but he still did not quite mention what was bothering him so – or at least, what had been bothering him earlier. She couldn't decipher what it possibly was – but she was reminded of her meeting with him that night, and she'd ask then. If she was lucky he'd be in a pleasant enough mood to indulge her.
Glancing across the table, she caught Nikola's gaze on her for the third time and looked away again, forcing her attention elsewhere. One of those types, apparently – vaguely she wondered if his presence at the estate had a purpose.
"Tell me of yourself, Mr. Tesla." She said after another lull in conversation. "What is it you do that James calls so 'brilliant'?"
"I'm an inventor." He replied. "I work with the new element of electricity."
"He says you're going to New York after a brief period here to pursue it?"
Nikola nodded. "Yes. I've been offered a job at a company there interesting in looking into more with electricity. I hope to be put to good use."
"I'm sure your skills are invaluable – you are the first I've heard dealing in such an art." She raised her wineglass to her lips. "Makes you quite unique, does it not?"
"There were not many others in my field in school, no." He returned. "Add that on top of my Serbian heritage and I'm likely one of a kind."
"How fortunate for you."
"I imagine you'll be just as rare on campus as I was." Nikola said and Helen smirked.
"I look forward to it. I've always enjoyed a challenge." Another sip of wine and she glanced toward James and her father, who was watching the pair of them intently.
"I can tell."
She arched another brow.
"What precisely is that mean to mean, Mr. Tesla?"
"Nothing negative, certainly." He backtracked and she shot him a brief look, still uncertain how she felt about this odd man. He seemed more interested in her than bragging of his work – which was both a good and a bad thing, in the back of her mind. He was a mix of polite and insuffering, it seemed, switching back and forth quite easily.
Dinner went on, ending without incident. Her father had extended a invitation for Nikola to remain until morning since his return journey would be tiring, something he accepted, much to Helen's surprising dislike. He shot her a grin across the room when her father had announced it in his study, where they'd retreated for further drinks and discussion. Nikola had quipped something against her gender once more and Helen currently sat frostily in her spot, even after he'd apologized.
No, she certainly didn't like the high and mighty genius who'd come waltzing into her home. Whereas he hasn't been bragging at dinner, he had started in now and while his experiments sounded interesting, Helen forced herself to feign indifference. Judging by his look, he was well aware of such a fact. She shifted, smoothing the folds of her dress and resettling, gaze flickering back to him. He was still watching her, it seemed. If he had something to stare about, perhaps she would give him a reason -
"If you gentlemen will excuse my daughter and I," Her father began in and Helen nearly breathed a sigh of relief. "We have a previous meeting set up to discuss some things. William can show you both to rooms for the evening."
"Thank you for your hospitality, Dr. Magnus." Nikola spoke, giving a brief bow before he turned to Helen with another gentle smile. "A pleasure meeting you, Lady Magnus. Goodnight."
"Goodnight." She said, a bit tighter than she'd intended. She amended her tone for James. "Goodnight, Dr. Watson."
Farewells said and father and daughter left alone in the study, Helen turned her gaze to him. He sank into the chair behind his desk as if a great weight had settled against his shoulders. Concern settled across her face.
"I'm afraid I have depressing news, my dear." He said, leveling his gaze with her after a moment. More concern and worry flickered across her face, fingers tightening around her glass.
"You know how the law works, Helen," He said, as if he expected her to know the answer. So it had been something to do with Henry's affairs, then. Her brow furrowed as she attempted to recall the plethora of information she'd seen, but not quite retained.
"Remind me." She said after a moment. Another sigh escaped Gregory's lips – she did not like that sound. Or that look.
"With your brother gone, there is no legal heir to the estate. It cannot legally go to you – we've had this discussion before."
A heavy weight settled into the pit of her stomach. Oh, she definitely didn't like the way this was going.
"As of right now, his Lordship Montague John Druitt is set to inherit everything, the way it goes – or so I found out in London."
Helen remembered the name. His family owned most of the property in the area, her family having inherited it from his own ages ago. They were on relatively acceptable terms with one another, the families, as Helen had met them a few times at social events. She'd played together with John when they were younger – and if she remembered correctly, he had been the one bad sheep out of the entire family. A troublesome boy who's had far too much of a temper for her to play with him long – not to mention the rumors that circulated about him most recently.
"We can't let that happen." Helen said after a moment of trying to gather her voice.
"There is only one way for it to remain within the family, Helen. To remain in your name, for you to properly inherit all of it, including your title." Gregory stared at her, and she felt the colour drain from her face. Somewhere, somehow, she knew precisely what was coming.
"You'll have to marry him. Immediately."