Short Story – “Oscar Baily: Gentleman Adventurer”

Ladies and Gentlemen, we present you a Sunday Steampunk Short Story. If you wish to submit your own prose for the reading pleasure of The Pandora Society please following the instructions at the end of this tale . . . 

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“Oscar Baily: Gentleman Adventurer”

By Joe Clemons

 

Oscar Baily sat in the dark listening to the hum of motors and the calls of the sailors as they brought the ship in for a landing. He wondered what planet they were stopping at. He hoped it wasn’t too out of the way; he wanted to be on Blackstone in time for the Worlds’ fair in three weeks. He got up off the bunk and peered through a small porthole, the ship had just come out of the clouds and far below he could see the hazy outline of a jungle.

Great, he thought. Some backwoods planet with nothing but savage aliens and dirty pioneers. He was never going to get to the Worlds’ fair now.

The ship landed with a jerk, upsetting Baily onto the berth. He sat waiting till he heard footsteps coming. It was the captain who unlocked the door.

“Come on, card shark! We’ve reached your new home.”

“And what is the name of my new kingdom?” he asked with a cheerfulness he did not feel.

“I haven’t the slightest idea, It’s called MT-67E-01 on my star chart.”

 

The captain escorted the gambler to the deck where he finally had a look at where they were marooning him. It was nothing but a jungle. And that was about all there was to say about it.

“Are you just going to leave me in the jungle to die?” he asked, starting to get alarmed. The captain laughed and turned him to face the starboard side of the ship, on this side he could see the ramp that led down from the dock. And in a clearing, gashed out of the jungle, a squalid village stood looking very small against the foreboding jungle.

“Off you go!” said the captain and gave him a shove, sending him stumbling onto the ramp. “Set sail!” He bellowed, and immediately the clippers engines started whirring and the sails filled with air as the ship rose towards the sky.

 

Oscar stood looking dazedly after the ship as it rose into the sky. He could see something being tossed over the railing. It hit him in the head and fell to the ground; it was his carpet bag. At least they had given his luggage back. He opened the bag and made sure all was still there, clothes, dice, tumbler, extra packs of cards and his pistol charger were all still there.

He was in a bad way, but he had been in tight situations before and he was confident he could talk his way out of this one as he had always done. So, adjusting his john-bull hat and re-buttoning his green vest, he strode confidently into the settlement.
All the buildings were made out of metal shipping crates, some even had several crates joined together making larger houses. Nothing was moving in the street except a small repair bot that was endlessly running against a wall. Walking up to the first house, Oscar banged on the tin side and called out,

“Anyone home?”

A old woman poked her head out the door and said in a hostile voice, “What business do you want here?”

Oscar put on a pleasant smile and made her a bow.

“Good evening, madam. I am but a poor, stranded traveler seeking shelter for the night.”

“Were you on der ship that landed?” she asked, a bit more kindly. The woman had a heavy German accent.

“Indeed, I was. There was some sort of mix up and I ended up being put off here.”

“Ah, that ist unfortunate for you.” Now completely melted by his gentlemanly ways. “We thought that you were pirates. That’s why all der women are hid.”

“Where are all your men?” He asked.

“They are away working in the fields or the Linkherhoen mines. Only the women are in the village during the day.”

“Well,” said Oscar, “I may be here awhile, there wouldn’t be such a thing as a hotel in this town I suppose?” The old woman cackled.

“Nien, There ist not such a thing in our village. But come inside and I will give you something to eat. You look like you could use it.”

“I thank you, dear lady.”

 

The old woman’s name was Mrs. Thorwald and after feeding Oscar a very good meal she took him around the village to show him off to all of her friends.  Most of the women in town were married with small children. In fact, he didn’t meet anyone else as old as Mrs. Thorvald or any unmarried young women.

But Oscar was a smooth man and by sundown every woman in town felt like his mother and every little girl in town was in love with him.

 

Late in the afternoon a group of girls came into town. They were all older than the little girls that Oscar had met in the town already. One girl was older than the rest, she was a pretty lady of eighteen or twenty with long dark brown hair tied in a single long braid.

All of Oscar’s new friends were eager for him to meet “Miss Volsung” as they named her.

They pulled him up to her and all of the little girls spoke at once. She silenced them and then said to Oscar with the same Teutonic accent as the other villagers.

“Welcome to our village stranger. I am, Beatrix Volsung, daughter of the Burgomeister.”

Oscar stood and looked at this girl, struck by something. He had seen many women in his time, fine ladies and much more beautiful than this peasant girl dressed in a grimy work dress, but something made this girl different. Finally he came back to himself and took off his hat with a flourish.

“Very pleased to meet you Miss Volsung. My name is Oscar Baily, Gentleman Adventurer!”

She laughed at this introduction.

“We have never had a “Gentleman Adventurer” in our town before.”

“There aren’t many of us left,” he said proudly.

“Well, I must go and clean up. We have been working in our gardens all day.” He then noticed she was carrying a mattock.

“Allow me to carry that for you, miss,” he said gallantly.

She laughed again.

“I have carried it all day so I think I can make it to my house.” He made her a bow and she walked on. He watched her go; he didn’t know why but he just had to make that girl fall for him.

 

He put Miss Volsung out of his mind as he saw that the men of the village were coming back. Most were walking, but there were three massive tractors with rows of steam pipes fanning out the backs like peacock feathers, and these were pulling long wagons filled with dark green rocks.

“Greetings! I am Oscar Baily ,Gentleman Adventurer!”

Within an hour he had half a hundred pounds. Gambling was something these backwoodsmen didn’t get to do very often and they were all very exuberant. He wanted to meet the Burgomeister but he was informed that he would not be back for days as he was out with a hunting party. Mrs Thorwald let him stay at her house. She was a widow and all of her children had grown up and left. He slept on a trundle bed that was much too short for him but he slept well all the same.

 

He woke very late in the morning.  All of the men and older boys in town had already left for their daily work and the girls were preparing to go work in the nearby gardens. Taking the opportunity to speak with Beatrix and nobly offering his services in helping with their garden work. All of the girls were delighted. A handsome stranger was something new and they made much of him. Soon he was leading the gardeners down the path, trundling a wheelbarrow in front of him and chatting amiably with Beatrix who walked beside him.

 

He worked harder in the next few days than he had ever worked before, none of the tasks were very strenuous, but he was completely unaccustomed to doing any kind of labor. He stuck at it for one reason, that Beatrix Volsung would notice him. And she did notice him, though not like other women noticed him. Most of the girls in town would all but faint if he just asked them how they were doing. Not Beatrix though. He had many a conversation with her, he told of all of the different planets he had visited and some of the exciting adventures he had been in, and she told him of the planet she called home, of her father, and her dead mother.

 

On the eighth day after his arrival. Oscar woke up and realized something, he was in love with Beatrix Volsung. This surprised him; he had always been a loner and the thought of having an inexperienced girl traveling with him scared him. But he was resolved. He was going to marry her, and then he would take her off this miserable place and show her the wonders of the galaxy. For once he had woken early so, making his way to Beatrix’s house he found her in a small shed preparing for the day’s work ahead.

“Beatrix,” he began. “I am a man of great prospects and could do anything I put my mind to, until now I’ve not really had any motivation to do anything great. But if I had you as my wife I could conquer the galaxy if you wanted me to.” He said this in a great rush and then stood waiting for her answer. She stood looking at him, shocked.

“Well?” He said after a long pause. “What do you say? Do you not like me?” She came out of her silence at this. “It is not that, I do care for you very much but, I cannot marry anyone without my father’s consent. And I do not think he will consent to you.”

“Very well,” said he coldly. “I will await his return then.”

He then left and went back to Mrs. Thorvard’s house. He did not go to the field. He spent the day sitting moodily around in the shade.

 

When the men came in from their work he brightened up enough to get some games of chance going. Long after dark, a small band of tired men came into town. They were loaded down with several grey animals akin to deer but with long snouts. One of them immediately came to Oscar. He was a short, dark haired man with lines on his face and powerful shoulders.

“I’m Markus Volsung. I’ve been informed of you.”

Giving him a smile, Oscar shook his hand and said

“Oscar Baily, gentleman adventurer, at your service, sir.”

“Yes, yes,” Markus said, quickly shaking his hand. “I know your name. What ist going on here?”

“Just some friendly games I’ve been showing your excellent townsmen,” Oscar said innocently. Markus sniffed and looked at the dice and cards distastefully.

“I would assume you want to leave our boring, little planet as soon as possible?”

“I hate to tear myself away but, alas, I must be on Blackstone within the next fortnight. Is there anywhere on this planet where ships come and go?”

“There ist,” said Markus. “At the village of S1, farther south, there is a cargo ship which will be there until the end of this week.”

This was good news. He had been afraid that there was no way off this dreadful little speck.

“If you would be so kind as to provide me with a guide to this town, sir, I would like to make it in time to be on that ship.”

“I can’t give you a guide. It would take two days to get there and we have had a run in with the Grunvolk. They have taken Theodor, a young man of our village.  I must lead a rescue party and I can’t spare a man to guide you.”

This put Oscar out, he was hoping he was about to get out of this dirty hole, but it seemed it was not to be.

“That is most awkward,” he said with exasperation. “I don’t suppose you could give me a guide once you get back?”

“I’d take you myself,” said Markus. “But I don’t know if we’ll be back in time.”

“What about one of the women?” Asked Oscar.

“Absolutely not!” said Markus. “It’s a dangerous trip. And I won’t allow it!”

Oscar sat down on a barrel and crossed his arms. He was mad and Markus knew it.

“I’ll tell you what,” said he. “If you come with me and help us, we’ll be done that much quicker. I’m sure you have some experience in this sort of thing, being a ‘Gentleman adventurer.’” The gentleman adventurer snorted, grudgingly.

“Come, now,” Markus said. “I’m sure a man like you could help us simple farmers.”

Oscar was not a coward but he didn’t like to get into situations. It was true, he had been in situations of grave danger and he was a deadly shot with the pistol he always kept strapped to his shoulder under his coat. He had even been involved in a rescue mission or two.

“Fine,” he said reluctantly. “I’ll help you if you promise to get me to the ship afterwards.”

“I will take you myself!” the Burgomeister said. “Come! The sooner we go the sooner we get done!”

 

They left that night just as two of the planet’s six moons started to rise. All of the men in the village went, there were eighteen, including Markus and Oscar. They were not very well armed, most had nothing more than saw poles which they used to clear brush. There were also a few long range rifles used for hunting. However, these were awkward to use at close range and would only fire once before they had to be reloaded, which took some time. Oscar was the only member of the party with a real combat weapon. It could fire six shots in succession before overheating and was deadly accurate. They traveled all night through the deep jungle. The gentleman adventurer did not like it at all. Thrashing his way through the thickets and scrambling over logs, by the time day broke his clothes looked ghastly and he was exhausted. Markus saw the condition his men were in and allowed them a few hours sleep before continuing on, but not long enough, Oscar thought.

 

Walking in the night had been enough for him but now that it was day there were swarms of bugs always attacking him, and the terrain was much more rugged than that which they had traversed during the night.

“How much further?” he asked one of the men.

“We should catch up with them by nightfall.” said he and kept trudging along scanning the ground closely.

 

Most of the pioneers were excellent trackers and the man was right. The sun had just set when Markus called a halt.

“Look, smoke, out of that hollow over there,” He pointed off to the left and Oscar followed where he pointed and could just see smoke slowly filtering out of the trees. Within half an hour, Markus had all his men spread out around the hollow with himself, Oscar, and the other five men who had rifles positioned up on the ridge looking down right into the camp. From where they stood, they could see a fire burning in the middle of a clear space and about twenty Grunvolks around or near it. To the right, they could see a figure tied to a tree that must be the captive villager. Oscar finally got to see what natives of this planet looked like. The Grunvolks were a green skinned people with long faces and long thick hair and six fingered hands.

“What are they armed with?” asked Oscar.

“Bows mostly,” replied Markus. “But some carry axes.”

“This should be easy then!” said he, feeling a little bit better.

“I wouldn’t count on that,” Markus said. “They are deadly with those weapons, and they’re stronger than we are.”

Marcus’s plan was simple enough. He and his snipers would fire from the ridge while the other men would attack from the left taking the Grunvolks by surprise. And with any luck they would completely rout the native warriors. Oscar was to go in with the men and use his own weapon to effect. He slipped off down the hill to where the other men waited and explained what they were to do. As soon as they heard the first shots they were to charge.

 

He waited. His stomach was very tight and he felt a great rush of adrenaline. Fighting always made him so nervous. Then it came: bursts of electric sound, and flashes of light from the ridge. Oscar pulled his pistol out.

“Charge!” he shouted, and they all rushed down into the hollow. The Pioneer men far out distanced the gentleman adventurer, being more used to the jungle, and he soon found himself at the back of the charging line. So by the time he came out of the thicket, most of the men were already engaged with the tall Grunvolks, wielding their pole saws with practiced hands. He saw one of the men fall to the ground with a deep gash in his leg from an axe. Before the Grunvolk warrior could finish him though Oscar leveled his pistol and fired, the alien fell to the ground with a long cry.

Leaping over a fallen body, Oscar quickly shot down three more Grunvolks and then rushed to release the young man who was tied to a tree on the far side of the clearing. There were two warriors standing in front of the captive with raised axes, Oscar fired at both of them, one crumpled to the ground, and the other dodged with lightning speed, avoiding the deadly laser. The warrior bellowed and charged at him. Oscar fired again but his gun was overheated, that had been his last shot. Behind him was the fire, in front was the charging Grunvolk. He leaped to the left and rolled, coming back to his feet immediately. He now had the fire between him and his attacker. They both circled for a moment, then the warrior leaped forward over the blazing fire, Oscar saw him coming and kicked the fire with both feet sending up a shower of burning sparks,

The Grunvolk landed on the other side of the fire with his long hair smoldering, this gave Oscar a chance to cast about for a weapon. Beside a fallen warrior he found one of their long curved axes which he picked up. By now the Grunvolk had put out the fire in his hair and was coming at him with murder in his eyes, But Oscar didn’t wait for him. He charged forward and swung the axe underhanded at the warrior’s jaw. The charging savage stopped suddenly and sprang backwards in a split second and Oscars blow missed by more than a foot. The Grunvolk immediately took the opening and swung with his own axe at his hip, Oscar barely blocked it in time, It left a long, painful scratch on his hip where his own axe had been knocked back against his body. This brash move of the Grunvolk had left him far over extended, leaving a very easy target. Oscar swung his axe down on the outstretched arm shearing it off clean.

The loss of his limb didn’t seem to faze the giant warrior at all; he merely lunged forward and grappled his attacker around the neck with his remaining arm, throwing him to the ground. He now had Oscar trapped underneath him and was slowly choking the life out of him, suddenly the Grunvolk jerked sideways and fell to the ground, dead. One of the snipers had shot him. Oscar jumped to his feet gasping for air, he looked around. There were still a few of the Grunvolks fighting, but most had fled or been killed.

 

Oscar stood there feeling wretched, his throat was on fire and there was a big purple bruise on his neck. The fighting was over and Markus came off the hill.

“We did it, Baily!” he said jubilantly. “You are quite the fighter!”

“Just get me off this planet!” said he sourly.

 

They had made it back to the village, traveling all the night at a quick rate so that none of the Grunvolk would be able to overtake them. Oscar slept for the rest of the day and following night. On awakening he immediately went and found Markus.

“Will you take me to S1 now?”

“I would be happy too. We will start immediately. I must be taking my daughter as well. I have kin living in the town and she will stay with them. The Grunvolk attacks are getting worse and I don’t want her here in danger.”

 

They left almost immediately, not only accompanied by Beatrix, but also by two brothers named Ludwig and Wolfgang Matoven. They traveled along a well worn dirt path through the jungle with the sun occasionally peeking through the trees as it rose towards its zenith. Walking on the path was much easier than it had been trudging through the jungle like they had when pursuing the Grunvolks, so Oscar was in good spirits. The day slipped by pretty peacefully and they saw no signs of any enemy.

 

After dark they stopped and made camp beside the path between two huge roots. Markus gave the first watch to Oscar and told him he would take the watch in four hours. He took up position on one of the roots with his back to the tree. Beatrix came and sat down.

“Where will you go when you leave this planet?”

“I’m going to Blackstone for the Worlds’ fair. It will be a blaze of lights, thousands of people, and a great opportunity for gentlemen adventurers.”

“I think it would be grand to see,” she said wistfully.

“Then run away with me!” he said, excitedly. “I’ll show you the galaxy!”

She sighed.

“I can’t. You must ask my father.”

“He’ll just refuse,” he replied emphatically.

“You do not know that!”

He sat for a minute.

“You better get some sleep.”

She got up without a word and went back to the camp.

 

Four hours later the Burgomeister came to take the watch.

“Mr. Volsung,” Oscar said. “I would like to talk to you about your daughter.”

“I know what you would say,” he replied. “You want to take my daughter and run off with her, is that it?”

“Well…” he started but Markus cut him off.

“You are not a good man, Baily. I would not let my daughter marry you. Perhaps if you stay here, and work with us and change your ways then I might change my mind. But until a time when I see a real man instead of the “Gentleman” I see now, I will never give my consent.”

Oscar opened his mouth to speak, and suddenly an arrow sped out of the night and clipped the side of his scalp. Markus instantly pushed him over the side of the root and dove over himself crying at the same time.

“Awake! Grunvolks!”

Beatrix and the Matoven brothers were awake instantly and scrambled quickly behind the huge root with the two men. Markus motioned them to follow him and they crawled silently around the base of the tree. They were now back on the path. In the half light of the two moons they could see a pair of warriors standing on the path. The two brothers pulled hatchets out of their belts and crept silently forward when they were close enough they both leaped onto the warriors and they both fell to the ground with a soft thud. The brothers stood and beckoned the others out. They stole noiselessly onto the path and made off through the jungle towards the town.

Before they had run a hundred yards a figure loomed up out of the darkness in front of Oscar, It raised a bow and aimed right at his forehead, he reacted instantly, pulling up his pistol, he fired without taking aim. There was a flash of golden light and a cry. Leaping over the body, they continued as fast as they could. There were shouts behind them. They were being pursued now.

Through the jungle they ran, with the Grunvolks close on their heels. Oscar’s lungs burned and his feet felt like lead but he knew that if he stopped he was dead. Several times he had to fire at some of their pursuers that were getting close enough to shoot arrows at them. But most of the time they stayed too far ahead.

 

It was dawn, they were all tired but they knew they couldn’t stop. Then up ahead they saw a break in the trees. They rushed out of the jungle and saw the settlement ahead of them. Unlike Marcus’s village, this had a short wall made of sheets of rusty metal and was somewhat larger.

“Come!” cried Markus. “We must make it to safety quickly or we will be shot!” They all ran for the gate, Oscar, glancing behind, saw the Grunvolks coming out of the dark jungle and stopping to aim with their longbows. He turned and let off a quick shot at the foremost archer who jerked back suddenly and his shaft flew high into the air. They were almost to the gate now and they could see men on the walls shouting to those below to open the gate. Then all rushed in and the gate slammed behind them with a bang.

“That was close!” Beatrix said, out of breath.

“Yes,” replied her father. “But we made it alright, you go to your uncles house quickly. Take the two Matoven boys with you. I’ll take Baily, here, to his ship and then come to you.”

“Yes father.”

She turned to leave but Oscar stopped her.

“Wait! Will you at least say goodbye.”

She stopped and turned half way round.

“Goodbye Oscar Baily. I will miss you.”

He took his hat off made her a bow.

“Farewell for now. I will return for you one day.” She did not answer, merely turned and walked off down the street.

“Come, the ship is leaving very soon.”

Oscar nodded, still looking after Beatrix.

 

They were on the platform, the huge cargo ship was making ready for departure. Oscar Baily stood with his carpet bag in hand, ready to embark.

“Goodbye, Baily,” Markus said. “I hope you won’t think me rude but I wish to never hear from you again.”

Oscar smiled a sad smile.

“You may not get your wish sir.”

Before the man could reply there was an explosion from the far side of the town, Both turned to see what was happening. Down below on the road towards the ship dock they saw a figure running towards them waving and shouting. When he came up closer they saw that it was Wolfgang.

“Burgomeister!” He shouted. “The Grunvolk, have broken into the city and taken your daughter!”

Oscar didn’t know what to do. He was torn, on one side he wanted to rush madly after Beatrix and save her, but then the   “gentleman adventurer” came back in and spoke reason, her father was a much more capable man than him for the job. She would be fine and, besides, this was his only chance to get to the World’s fair. Markus seemed unaffected by the news. He simply turned towards Oscar.

“Farewell. I must go seek my daughter.”

With that, he ran down the ramp and towards the wall. Oscar turned slowly towards the ship and took several slow steps, then he stopped. His carpet bag dropped, and he turned around and ran after Markus, leaving the “gentleman adventurer” with the carpet bag, lying on the deck of the ascending airship.

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