The Maudlin Rose
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” -William Shakespeare
Today I was blessed with a bit of natural splendor. Sunrise over the Susquehanna River. Almost always a treat! It got me thinking, and even a little bit Inspired. So today, a little bit o’ sunrise inspired flash fiction. We join the crew onboard the Maudlin Rose, as they approach Forster Island Airfield.
— The Maudlin Rose —
The Maudlin Rose swung southeast around a bend in the Susquehanna River just south of Clark’s Ferry. Her single blade propeller drove her along the downstream course of the water. Just ahead were the twin outcrops that pinched the river like two giant’s fingers squeezing a sweetheart’s bottom. Dead ahead the sun was exploding from its slumber. The V shape formed by the opposing cliffs was filled with a dazzling array of pink, purple and orange.
It was this sight and the countless variations of it that brought Captain Eugene Howard to the sky. Every flight had its moment like this. His first mate, Christian De La Croix, held the ship’s wheel with a light hand. The other hand absently stroked the pencil thin mustache that decorated the Frenchman’s upper lip.
Captain Howard sipped a steaming mug of coffee with slow deliberation. The Maudlin Rose was a sixty-foot dirigible, Scout class. Light in cargo and lifting capacities, she was quick and agile with a long flight range. The few instruments mounted just in front of the wheel glowed red with the nighttime running lights.
“Bring her down to one hundred feet Mr. De La Croix,” said Captain Howard.
“Aye, mon Captain,” replied the mate.
Christian pulled on the release lever to jettison some of the gas and hot air that filled the lift bladder above the gondola’s roof. The Captain turned to face aft where the rest of his crew performed their duties. Smitty, the ship’s gunner was polishing some part of the Gatling gun as part of his normal routine.
“Everything all right there, Smitty?” called the Captain softly, so as not to disturb the sleeping passenger.
“Jus’ fine, sir,” answered the gunner. “Cleaning ol’ Mabel out. Can’t have her all froze up iff’n some air pirates show up to dance.”
The Rose dipped lower toward the green-brown water that reflected the blaze of glory in the sky. The dour faced engineer fiddled with his valves and firebox, coaxing the engine into an even steadier rhythm. A small pipe dangled from the corner of his mouth and small wisps of smoke trailed out mimicking the stovepipe exhaust from the firebox that jutted up and back from the tail of the Maudlin Rose.
“Try to wring more speed out of the old girl, Franco,” said the Captain.
They were close to port, but in his opinion, they could not get there fast enough. Although the atmosphere inside the cabin was peaceful, it belied the urgency to their task. Dozing on the metal bench was an Army Ranger. The airship dropped him off several days before and flown support for his scouting mission in the woods and hills near the Thompsontown rail station. The scout signaled for extraction late afternoon the day before.
Weston, the scout, came aboard late in the evening. He looked like he rolled down the mountain face first on his way to the airship. There were cuts and bruises all over his face and upper body. Breathlessly he told the crew about his discovery. It was what Weston found that made him signal for pickup several days early. It was the reason that the firebox was full of coal.
Captain Howard squinted down the aisle at Franco. True the engineer was cantankerous to the point of being almost unbearable. Yet there was a change in his demeanor that the Captain could not explain. Franco was even less talkative the past several weeks. Perhaps, it had to do with his brother’s death and the recent trip to Pittsburgh, carrying the man responsible for Franco’s loss.
Whatever the case was, the Captain started watching Franco’s performance at the engine. To date, nothing out of the ordinary caught the Captain’s eye. He did not require his crew to be pleasant, only effective at their duties.
A glaze of ice decorated the lower portion of the forward windscreen. At present it was nothing to be concerned about, however if ignored the curved glass in front of them could become coated and impossible to see through. Another reason to be glad they were approaching Forster Island. It was the nature of the Scout class airships to be colder up front and warmer aft. Having the engine in the rear made it either terrible (during summer) or blissful (during late fall and winter.)
In the next hour, Captain Howard and Sergeant Weston would report to Colonel Witmore at Fort Couch. Christian nodded at the Captain’s mug, “The coffee, she is pretty good, non?”
“Aye, Mr. De La Croix, it is good coffee. What did you do to it this time?”
“I mixed in a leetle bit of Cinnamon,” said Mr. De La Croix.
The sound of something wet and nasty hitting the floor attracted the Captain’s attention.
“Something you wish to add, Franco?”
“No, sir,” replied Franco nastily.
“Good, then you’ll be happy to know that you are on cleanup detail when we land. I want this cabin spotless. I mean eat off the floor clean. Do you hear me?”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
“Very well. A little altitude if you don’t mind, I’d prefer not to scrap any trains off the bridge this morning. Always puts a bit of a kink in my day if I do.”
“Qui Mousier,” Christian said.
A few minutes later the Maudlin Rose crossed over the Rockville Bridge in a stately manner, safely above the smokestack of a freight train, which happened to be crossing from east to west. The Rose continued on her way to the airfield at Forster Island.