Chapter I: Time of Departure
Her happiness, like that of most of us, was ever in the future,—never reached but always coming. – Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now
Geneva, Switzerland, 18–
Victor Frankenstein had always been an odd boy. Even when his mother Caroline was alive he had been distant and withdrawn.
"He's just shy," Caroline had said when people commented on this. "He'll grow out of it."
By the time he was twenty he still hadn't grown out of it. Alphonse had been sure sending Victor to Ingolstadt was just what he would need. But then Caroline had died, and Victor only became more and more cold and silent.
Elizabeth had tried to understand him. She was his cousin, his parents' ward, and his intended bride; she of all people should be closest to him. But he was always distantly polite to her, never letting her see past the walls he had built around himself. The only thing he was truly interested in was science, as far as anyone knew, and that was an interest Elizabeth didn't share. He never listened when she tried to tell him about her interest in engineering. No one did.
When her parents had died her aunt and uncle had taken her in. From the minute she set foot in their house they made it clear that they wanted to raise her to be a suitable bride for Victor. Elizabeth had no choice in the matter. She didn't particularly mind; she liked Victor, and she hoped they would be happy when they married.
Victor disappeared while plans were being made for the wedding.
Alphonse couldn't find him.
So Elizabeth decided she would look for him.
"You want to what?" Justine stared at Elizabeth as if she'd announced her intention to go to the moon. "But you– you–"
Elizabeth continued calmly folding up her clothes and placing them in her suitcase. She would have to travel light, without most of her heavy, bulky dresses. Two dresses would do. Two pairs of shoes – neither of them sturdy enough for long journeys; she would have to buy new ones. One hat. Two pairs of gloves. A scarf. One corset. Only one petticoat; the one she was currently wearing would do for a while. Money; one thousand Swiss francs she had taken out of Victor's account with a forged signature. She wasn't proud of that, but this was an emergency.
"I'm going to look for Victor," she repeated. She looked at her selection of coats. Which one would be best for travelling? "He might listen to me sooner than to Uncle Alphonse."
Justine hovered in the doorway, wringing her hands in despair. "You can't just leave, Miss Elizabeth! You don't know where he is! Where will you go?"
"To Ingolstadt." Elizabeth had already planned out her course of action. "His friends and professors there must know something."
The older woman shook her head. Justine, like Elizabeth, was an orphan taken in by the Frankensteins. Unlike Elizabeth, she had never been fond of Victor. Why anyone would run away to search for him was beyond her. "It's not proper for a young lady to travel alone."
Elizabeth had spent much of her life hearing some variation of those words. It's not proper for a young lady to study machines. It's not proper for a young lady to ask how locomotives work. It's not proper for a young lady to take apart a light to see how it works. She would never have done anything she wanted to if she hadn't learnt to ignore those words.
She closed her suitcase and pulled on her coat. For a moment she paused as she did up the buttons. Her room with its faded blue wallpaper, the view of the lake and the mountains through the window, the scratches on the door-frame she had used to measure her height as a child... All her life these had been the things she knew. She saw them every day she was at home. When she walked out that door this evening, she would probably never see them again.
She stood up straighter and steeled herself. It was too late to turn back now. She had made up her mind; it would be humiliating to admit defeat.
"Please don't tell Uncle until tomorrow," she said, picking up the suitcase and turning to face Justine. "I've written a note explaining everything. Please give it to him after you tell him."
Justine wrung her hands. Her brown eyes were wide and full of worry. "But Miss Elizabeth-"
Elizabeth hurried past her, pretending not to hear. If she stayed a minute longer she would start to reconsider.
Down the stairs, taking care to dodge the one that always squeaked. Down the hall and past Alphonse's study. He always spent an hour or two there each evening. The door was slightly ajar, allowing a bar of light to fall across the hallway. He was playing a recording of an opera; The Tales of Hoffmann, if she wasn't much mistaken. The music covered the noise of her footsteps as she passed the door.
She had already decided not to use the front door. Instead she pushed open the door of the dining room, taking care not to make any noise.
Years ago Caroline had decided to install window-doors in the dining room, so they could look down on the gardens and the lake. Now Elizabeth pushed back the curtains and took the key out of the cranny in the wall where it was placed every night. A click as the lock opened, a soft whisper as the door slid aside then back into place, and Elizabeth was out on the porch.
No one saw her cross the lawn. By the light of the faint moon she opened the gate and stepped out onto the road.
None of her family ever saw Elizabeth Lavernza again.
The train went first to Bern, then to Zurich, and finally to Stuttgart. There Elizabeth had to change trains to travel to Munich. She had to wait five hours before the train left.
She'd never been to Stuttgart before. She had heard people talk of it, but she had never paid much attention. Now she stood alone in a crowd in the Centralbahnhof, with no idea where to go and no one she knew to ask.
None of the people hurrying to or from one of the trains paid any attention to her. The porters occasionally looked over at her as they passed. But she had no heavy luggage and made no attempt to get their attention, so they assumed she needed no help. Elizabeth pressed against the stone wall behind her to stay out of everyone's way. An overwhelming feeling of being lost and bewildered filled her.
A train departed from the platform in front of her. The crowd thinned somewhat. She watched the train move away until it disappeared around a corner. No other one arrived to take its place. The clock above the station entrance declared it was a minute past twelve. Her train didn't leave until five fifteen.
The wall was cold and hard against her back. Its chill seeped into her bones even through her layers of clothes. All the chairs nearby were taken by people chatting or reading the newspapers.
I can't stand here for hours, she thought. Already her feet began to hurt.
She picked up her suitcase and strode purposefully out the door. If she looked like she knew where she was going, people would be more likely to leave her alone.
A warm, cheerful-looking café near the train station was a good place to pass the time. Elizabeth ordered a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Sitting at the table she carefully counted up how much money she'd spent, and how much she had left. One thousand francs would not go nearly as far as she had thought. She had train tickets to buy, lodgings to rent, food, clothes, maps... She needed more money. Perhaps she could sell plans of some of her inventions. True, she'd never built any of them, but someone might be interested in her ideas.
She nibbled at her sandwich and sipped her coffee, making both last as long as possible. The coffee began to cool and grow tepid. She finished it with a faint grimace at the temperature and the bitterness.
More than three hours left. Where was she to go now?
Elizabeth was fairly confident in her ability to speak German – as long as it was standard German and not one of the many dialects. It was impossible to avoid learning the language when she lived in Switzerland, in the same house as Victor, who spent most of the year in Germany. Her grasp of written German was another matter entirely. So going to a library would be a waste of time.
With the instinctive fear of one alone in an unfamiliar city she shrank from the idea of venturing too far away from the train station. She had never seen it before in her life, but it was the only place she knew amongst this maze of buildings. It was her way out of here, and provided her chance to find Victor. Deep down the irrational fear she might miss the train lingered in her mind. For all those reasons she felt safer there than anywhere else.
So she left the café and made her way back to the train station. There were unoccupied benches for her to sit on now. She sat down and held her suitcase on her lap, clutched to her chest. Victor had told her stories of thieves who preyed on travellers. They probably wouldn't risk robbing her in broad daylight, in a place still full of people milling to and fro, but she could take no risks now.
Another train pulled in when she had been sitting there for almost an hour. Elizabeth started out of a half-doze, seized by the fear it was her train about to leave without her.
The newly-arrived train was at a different platform than the one where her train would pull in. She breathed a sigh of relief and looked at the clock. Still over two hours to wait. Never before had she faced two hours that seemed to stretch out before her like an eternity.
For want of anything better to do she watched the people getting off the train. Crowds of men in suits and top hats; crowds of women in long dresses and small hats perched precariously on the tops of their heads; crowds of children wailing, pulling their parents' hands or walking along quietly, according to their age or temperament. There was the usual and unavoidable fuss over luggage.
"I know my suitcase was in that cabin," one woman was saying angrily in French.
"Where do I go to get my money changed?" a man asked in English.
"I want to go on to Berlin," a woman said in German. "When does my train leave?"
All these comments and hundreds of others, in all three languages Elizabeth spoke and many others beside, filled the train station until the walls echoed and resounded with the clamour. It set off an awful ringing in her ears. She couldn't hear herself think.
Occasionally she caught a glimpse of someone or other who stood out from the crowd. A small girl clutching a battered teddy-bear. A porter who almost ran someone down in his haste to get to the other side of the platform. Real beggars in rags, pleading for someone to take pity on them. Pretend beggars looking unusually well in suspiciously clean, new clothes, searching for someone they could con into giving them money. An elderly woman whose face was hidden in a hat bigger than her head.
Elizabeth watched the passers-by with the abstracted air of one who had no interest in them but nothing better to watch. Many of them passed her without her even noticing them specifically.
A person all in black caught her attention. For a second her heart leapt. Victor always wore black since his mother had died. Was it possible– She got a better look at the person, and the faint hope died instantly.
It was a man she'd never seen before. The only similarity between him and Victor was that both had black hair and both wore black clothes. Even without getting a clear look at his face she knew he wasn't her cousin.
What did you expect? Elizabeth thought, angry with herself for being disappointed. You should have known better.
Her self-criticism only made her feel more miserable. She looked down at her shoes and didn't look up again until all the passengers had left.
When her train finally arrived Elizabeth was more than willing to leave Stuttgart. She kept her suitcase on the seat beside her for the whole train journey, unwilling to risk letting any of her belongings out of her sight.
By the time the train reached Munich it had been a full day since she last slept. Her head ached. The lights of the train station made bright spots dance behind her eyelids. It was a struggle to keep her eyes open. Yet she had no money to waste on a hotel room. She got off the train, asked a guard which one she should get to go to Ingolstadt, and waited half an hour until it arrived.
Villages and towns, towns and villages flashed past the window in a never-ending stream. Elizabeth amused herself by imagining the lights were stars and the train was a comet. In this game of pretend a solitary farmhouse became an impossibly distant galaxy. A large town became a nebula. A train station became a supernova. The stretches of track where there were no lights became... became...
Elizabeth's eyes closed. Her head fell against the seat's back. Not even the brightest lights outside the window could keep her awake.