Happy Ada Lovelace Day!
Radiation Level: Free and clear
Listening to: Royals by Lorde remixed
Yes, today’s the day we celebrate all those fab women of tech!
I usually write about Ada herself, but since I’m in the middle of writing the novel about her, I’m going to include an excerpt so you can get a sneak-peek!
From AdaL by Shanee Edwards:
After breakfast, Ada and Puff climbed out an attic window, reaching my rooftop. Ada thought today would be a fine day for human flight as a flock of pigeons soared through the overcast sky then landed on my uneven stone chimney. Ada brought with her several papers and other materials she would need for her latest science experiment.
Ada laid on her stomach and wrote in her notebook entitled Flyology. Ada paid no mind as Puff chased the birds dangerously close to the edge of the roof. Still in her soft cotton nightgown, Ada’s long, wild caramel-colored hair tangled in the breeze. Her mop of spidery tresses belied the brilliantly organized brain beneath them.
Next to a drawing of a pigeon, she wrote length 11 inches, wingspan 18 inches. Next to a drawing of herself as Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (wearing clothing, of course), her arms and legs outstretched inside a square inside a circle, she wrote length 61 inches, wingspan equals X and completed an algebraic equation. With a ruler, Ada measured a pair of large paper wings attached to a harness then trimmed them accordingly. Ada strapped the winged harness onto her back and tied it tightly around her chest.
“The world will refer to me as the first flying lady. Don’t worry, I’ll say I knew you when,” she said to her kitty-cat.
Puff trotted in the opposite direction, scattering the birds. My fox-shaped weathervane pointed eastward. “All I require is a little wind,” said Ada.
In my poppy garden sat Ada’s mother, Annabella and Dr. Cole, who also resided here, at Fordhook. Annabella was in her early forties and had a fragile beauty to her, much like an aged porcelain doll. Her features were small and delicate, her teeth nearly perfectly straight.
Dr. Cole was a rather tall man in his fifties, with a receding reddish-brown hairline and wore a beard year-round. He had been employed by Annabella for nearly seven years, attending to her many nervous ailments (we’ll explore more of those later).
On this morning, Dr. Cole glanced up from his Holy Bible to see the scattering birds. As one of the pigeons landed on a plate of biscuits, Annabella forcefully shooed it away. “Bloody scavengers,” she said with a huff just as a ray of sunlight cracked through a cloud overhead. Her grey-blue eyes glistened like shards of glass, broken and sharp.
“Gospel says birds will fly you to the Kingdom in the sky,” said Dr. Cole.
Annabella quipped, “I’d prefer to walk.”
On the roof, Ada felt the breeze on her face. Determined, she took a running leap into the sky. With her winged harness she soared. Briefly. It was exactly 2.4 seconds before she crashed into my hedge next to where Annabella and Dr. Cole were seated. Her paper wings busted with a loud crunch. “Ow!” she screamed.
“What in heaven’s name?” said Annabella. “Ada?” she called as she raced over to the hedge. Dr. Cole followed right behind.
Ada, with knotted hair and pink face, clutched her ankle. “It hurts!” she blurted. Dr. Cole picked up the girl and rushed her into the house.
As Dr. Cole carried her up the staircase, Annabella barked at Miss Stamp, “She fell off the roof!”
Miss Stamp jumped to attention and began to follow them up the stairs. She said, “But why was the girl on the roof in the first place?”
Ada called, as if it was perfectly normal, “Testing my flying machine.”
Miss Stamp replied, “Needs work I take it.” For which Annabella shot her an irate look.
Dr. Cole poured Ada onto her bed which was in my Scapegrace room, nicknamed for all of the original owner Lord Bloodwood’s ornery nieces and nephews who would visit every summer. Currently, the room appeared to be a mad scientist’s laboratory dedicated to the science of Flyology. Broken wood and paper wings in a multitude of shapes and sizes littered the floor. The walls were filled with sketches of birds in flight, insects buzzing and even a sketch of a steam train with wings. Ada prized her pigeon skeletons that sat on a shelf between her beetle collection and jar of mostly live moths. She herself boiled every dead pigeon she could find until just the bones remained.
Miss Stamp pulled the broken wings off Ada’s arms while Ada rambled to herself, “My wings were directly proportional to the pigeon’s. I had wind, speed. What was I missing?”
Dr. Cole removed Ada’s left boot, causing Ada to scream in pain. He examined her ankle. Annabella sunk her head into her hand as she sat on the edge of the bed. “She’s going to be hard enough to marry off without being a cripple,” she said.
Ada looked over at her and said, “I almost made it!” with indignation.
Dr. Cole interjected, “Everyone calm your nerves. Appears to be just a sprain.” Annabella sighed with relief. “She’ll need to stay in bed for a least a week, he said.
“But tomorrow I’m fixing a pair of wings on a steam engine,” Ada said vehemently. Annabella picked up a hand mirror from Ada’s dresser and held it in front of Ada’s face.
“Look there. What do you see?” Annabella asked.
“See?” asked Ada, not grasping her meaning.
“In the mirror, child.”
“Me,” answered Ada.
“Any thing else? Feathers? A beak?
“Of course not,” quipped Annabella. “Because you are a girl. Girls do not fly.”
With that, Annabella thumped Ada on the head with the silver-backed mirror.
Ada scrambled to make her point, “But Flyology will change the word!” she said.
Annabella collected various books and handed them to Miss Stamp to dispose of when Annabella, using a handkerchief, reached for a dead crow on Ada’s shelf. Ada shouted, “Don’t touch that!” and jumped up to stop her mother from taking the crow, but her ankle gave in and she fell short. Underneath the crow was a book. Annabella stared at the book for a moment as a slow fury built on her face. The book was Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Lord Byron. Knowing the book for forbidden, Ada looked at Miss Stamp for help, but she scuttled out of the room.
Dr. Cole also felt the need to escape and offered, “I’ll get a cold compress.” No soul with a sound mind wanted to witness the tongue-lashing that was sure to follow.
Annabella closed her eyes and shook her head. “Now I understand everything.” Ada took a moment to gather her courage. This was the showdown she’d been waiting for.
Calmly, Ada asked, “Is it so wrong for me to read my own father’s poetry?”
The question hanged in the air for what seemed like minutes (unlike Ada’s flying machine). For seventeen years, Annabella anticipated this question, secretly hoping it wouldn’t be asked. But now was the time to reveal just a morsel of Ada’s dark history.
“Lord Byron is so dangerous a poison, I do not wish his name to even touch your lips,” she said with a solemn certainty Ada had not witnessed from her mother before.
Ada replied, “But Miss Stamp says he’s the most brilliant and handsome man in all of England.”
Annabella’s fragile facial features grew severe, “He is a monster. There’s a reason God marked him with a clubfoot. His mangled toes are evidence of his vile soul. He…” But she could not finish her sentence and simply left the room, taking the book Child Harold’s Pilgrimage with her.
Ada called to her mother, “Please, I need that book!”
But Annabella was gone and Ada couldn’t walk on her damaged ankle, making her consider her father’s clubfoot. What exactly was a clubfoot? Could it be walked upon without the assistance of a cane? Could it be repaired by a surgeon? Or should it be amputated altogether? A clubfoot must look like a club, but how much so? Does it have all five toes? Are the toes monstrous? Or, is a club foot a regular foot that appears to be beaten with a club? If only she knew. Cursed or not, Lord Byron was her flesh and blood – her father. Ada couldn’t help but feel as if she were also cursed.
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