by Cecilia Dominic
Leah Worthington kept forgetting the corpse in front of her was real and the boy beside her wasn’t.
The stained-glass cleaner lay on his back, his head twisted to the side at an angle that meant he simply must be a dummy and not the remains of a human. His left hand clutched a rag, and his right an unexpected object.
“Isn’t it odd he would have tweezers?” she asked the clockwork boy, who was modeled to look like Andrew Essingham, son of Duke Essingham and one of London’s most eligible bachelors.
“You’re absolutely right, my dear,” faux-Andrew said with heavy-lidded indifference, just like the real one.
Leah stifled the urge to roll her eyes. It was a response she had to the real Andrew, who had snubbed her at a garden party, as well. It had surprised her when he’d consented to allow his likeness to be used for an automaton, due to his reputation as a traditionalist. She knew she didn’t have much time before the constabulary appeared, so she sat faux-Andrew in a pew.
“Sit. Say a few prayers for me. I could use them,” she told it.
It sat back, crossed an ankle over one knee, and stretched out an arm along the back of the pew in a pose of aristocratic arrogance. “You’re absolutely right, my dear.”
She stifled a giggle. Her father, the clockwork boy’s inventor, was going to install some more phrases, but this was all it had. He’d put more attention into the artistry of the thing, and between the carefully molded contours of its face and the tight-woven linen skin, it looked very similar to the real Andrew.
She pulled a magnifying glass out of her reticule and slung her skirts over her left arm so they wouldn’t trail through the dust and bring down the wrath of Madame Leroux again. Leah had been banished to the church to practice her sketching for daring to question Madame’s assertion that young ladies didn’t need to learn mathematics.
Young ladies should also not be finding corpses in churches. If this gets out, I might be suspended, or worse, expelled. But I don’t expect the constabulary will do an adequate job of this, so I may as well have a look.
Her brief investigations only led to the conclusion that an unfortunate accident had ended the life of the poor window-cleaner. But what were the tweezers for? She pulled them out of his fingers and examined them under the magnifying glass. They had tapered ends as though designed to pry something out of a socket. Her father had a pair like them.
“Leah!” Her friend Amy Devert called from the vestibule of the old church. “Are you here?” She swept into view on the arm of faux-Dean Loblolly of the Ironhead Loblollies: last year’s model, but still serviceable. The small red top hat with posies bounced atop her light brown curls as she rushed the faux-Dean to the front of the nave and Leah.
“Say, take a look at this poor chap,” Leah said and straightened up.
Amy’s eyes widened, and she covered her mouth with her hand. “Is he…?”
“Quite.” Leah straightened and put her magnifying glass back in her reticule. She stepped away from the corpse and let her skirts fall. Not that the faux-boys would care if they saw a bit of ankle. The clockwork boys didn’t count in the eyes of most of society, although a scream would bring them to defensive mode, automaton soldiers that could incapacitate most enemies with soporific darts, and, if necessary, more extreme measures. Leah had seen the results of the tests and had been put off rare roast beef for several days after.
A blast of organ music made Leah jump.
“Are they repairing it today?” asked Amy. She spoke quickly, as though relieved for the chance to change the subject. She fanned herself and looked anywhere but at the corpse.
Leah pressed an index finger to her left ear to make it pop. “It sounds like it. That’s good – it’s been silent too long, and it is the oldest steam organ in the country.”
Amy sat faux-Dean beside faux-Andrew. Both stared ahead in heavy-lidded silence, faux-Andrew in his arrogant aristocrat pose and faux-Dean with arms crossed. Amy focused on her fan.
“One of us should get a constable,” Leah suggested.
Before Amy could respond, the door from the Rectory opened, and Father Bryan Borrowman entered the church.
“Ah, Leah and Amy, have you been banished again?” he asked with a grin. It had become a weekly occurrence, and it never took him long to appear whenever the girls did. Leah suspected he had a more than spiritual interest in Amy.
“Leah was,” Amy told him, smiling but still pale. “I just came along when I finished my French exercises. I could use some sketching practice, too.”
“Do you know which you would like to draw?”
“Well, this one seems particularly intriguing,” Leah said, nodding to the one in front of them.
“Why is that? Oh!” He bent over the window cleaner and made a sign of the cross with his right hand.
“Did you see what happened?”
Leah shook her head. “I’ve only just arrived, as has Amy.”
Father Bryan glanced at the clockwork boys. “And you brought them?”
“Yes,” Leah said and tried not to smirk. She knew the Church didn’t entirely approve of the automatons, but with young ladies having increasingly become the target of crimes, the ministers grudgingly accepted their necessity.
Another blast of organ music, this time at the low end of the range, startled them again.
“Ah, good, the repairman started. Can you send one of the automatons to find a constable?” he asked.
“Sadly, they’re not designed for independent action,” said Leah.
“Then, if you ladies will excuse me, I’ll have to fetch one. We need to have this cleaned up by evening prayers. Don’t go anywhere – they’ll probably have questions for you.”
“Huh, you’d think he’d be more compassionate to the guy,” Leah said after he left.
“Well, Father Bryan comes from aristocratic stock,” said Amy. “He’s a third son or something.”
“How do you know these things?”
“I read the society papers.” Her blush told Leah she had investigated his background.
“Do you have your sketchbook?” asked Leah. She indicated faux-Andrew held hers.
“Yes.” Amy sighed. “May as well do what we came for.” She lowered her voice and nodded to the man on the floor. “He doesn’t look real, does he?”
“Maybe the church is right,” Leah said and retrieved her sketchbook and pencil case from faux-Andrew. His expression didn’t change. “Maybe our familiarity with automatons has skewed our perception of reality. Imagine if they were able to carry on a real conversation!”
“They’d probably talk back.”
“Then you may as well get a real man.”
Amy laughed but put a gloved hand over her mouth to stifle the sound. The organ blasted out a scale as if to protest the impropriety of laughing near a fresh corpse.
Leah sketched an outline of the window, a gruesome Crucifixion scene. Glittering blood dripped from the hands and feet of the Christ on to the leering crowd below.
“Doctor Foreman was right,” Amy said. “It’s much easier to draw when you have the outlines of the glass to fragment the picture.” When she drew, her forehead scrunched in a frown, and she stuck the corner of her tongue out of her mouth. Even so, she was pretty with pert features, and Leah could see why they were never alone in the church for long. She tapped the end of her pencil on her chin and pretended to study the window. Will anyone ever find me pretty? My hair’s too unruly and dark, my nose too long and straight, and I’m the daughter of an inventor, not a businessman or lord.
Father Bryan interrupted her thoughts when he came in with a constable, who frowned with his whole face.
“Constable Davis, these ladies are Leah Worthington and Amy Devert. They found the body.”
“The inventor’s daughter?” The constable bowed to the two ladies and addressed Father Bryan. “So where’s the poor chap, then?”
“Right over here.”
“The two of you found ‘im?”
Leah suppressed a sigh. “I did.”
“What are the two of you doing in a church in the middle of the day?”
Amy smiled and aimed the full force of her dimples at him. “We go to Madame Leroux’s Finishing School around the corner. Our sketching teacher Doctor Foreman suggested we may benefit from practicing with the stained-glass windows.” She didn’t mention the exasperated Madame’s tendency to banish them to the church, where she hoped “Mon Dieu” would exert some sort of divine intervention on her fractious students.
“Quite right.” The constable bent over the supine form of the cleaner. “Looks like ‘e fell off ‘is ladder.”
Leah bit her lip so she wouldn’t comment on the obviousness of the conclusion.
“I’ll go down to the station and have the coroner summoned. We’ll have this taken care of by teatime, Reverend. Ladies.” He bowed to them again and left.
“It might be a good time for you to go,” said Father Bryan, who looked at his pocket watch. “This is probably not the ideal light for sketching.”
Leah raised her eyebrows and started to protest that it was the perfect time due to the sun coming through the window and highlighting the colors, especially the droplets of blood, which sparkled. Amy grabbed her elbow, and she sighed instead. They put away their sketching materials, collected their clockwork boys, and exited the sanctuary.
“How’s faux-Andrew working out for you?” Henry Worthington asked Leah from underneath a boxy appliance the Queen’s kitchen staff had asked him to repair. It steamed dishes clean so they wouldn’t have to wash them by hand. All she could see were his new trousers, already smudged with grease and dirty steamed water. She winced.
“Better than those trousers will,” she said. “Honestly, Father, you just got those!”
He slid out from under the machine with the help of a dolly and took off the protective goggles he always wore while working. He looked at his pants with a rueful expression. “I knew I was forgetting something. But this is an urgent order – Her Majesty is holding a banquet and ball for the new Italian Consul tomorrow evening.”
“Oh?” Leah glanced out of the window, where the bare branches of an oak tree stretched toward the gray sky. “Odd time to travel to England. Was he tired of his unfairly sunny winter?”
“No, and their winter can be gloomy, too.” Henry jumped to his feet with a graceful motion and planted a kiss on his daughter’s cheek. The dolly slid back into place under the machine. “He’s here to assume his duties and try to smooth over the conflict with the Catholic Church over the automatons. And what have you been doing today?”
Leah told him about going to sketch in the church and finding the body of the stained-glass window cleaner. She left out the part about Madame Leroux.
“The poor devil!” Her father rubbed the bridge of his nose. In spite of being some sort of distantly related aristocrat, he’d used his money and title to get an education so he could become an inventor. Leah felt a pang of guilt over upsetting Madame – her father had tried so hard to raise her properly after her mother had died.
“You’re more upset about it than Father Bryan,” she said.
He shrugged. “He’s a third son. No inheritance and no military glory make for a resentful cleric.”
“That’s what Amy said. That reminds me…” She pulled the tweezers out of her reticule. “I found these.”
“Where did you get them?” He raised an eyebrow at her before he put on his goggles.
Leah coughed and hid her response behind her hand. “They were in the dead man’s hand.”
“Leah!” He pulled the goggles down to give her a hard look.
“Yes, Father, but I knew the constabulary would dismiss it. I think it’s something more.”
“You’re absolutely right, my dear,” said faux-Andrew.
Her father glared at the automaton before returning his attention to the tweezers. He examined them beside a lamp and turned them in the light. “These look old but are ingenious. When you press the sides, filaments come out the beveled ends to grab whatever they’re holding. They’d be perfect for extracting something small you don’t want to drop and lose.”
“Who invented them?”
He frowned. “There’s no mark on them, so I would guess they’re foreign. Did you notice anything else unusual?”
“Yes. The organ kept playing itself. Nearly blasted my ear drum.”
“The Saint Genevieve organ? That thing hasn’t worked for decades!”
“Father Bryan said it was being repaired today.”
“Likely for the Consul’s visit. The windows in that church were designed, manufactured, and installed by Italian artisans who came to England just prior to the Reformation. He’ll be attending services there Sunday. By the way, I got a note from Madame Leroux.”
Leah rolled her eyes. “That bat is looking for any reason to demerit me.”
“Ah, yes, but young ladies need skills besides testing their father’s inventions. Did you get any good sketch time in?”
“A little.” She showed him her drawing, at least the start of it. “This is the window he was cleaning.”
“You’re getting better. I may have you help me draft invention plans soon. Would that make school worth it?”
Leah clapped her hands. “Oh, yes!”
“Good. Now get cleaned up for dinner. And yes, I will change my pants.”
“It’s a good thing he doesn’t have anyone giving him demerits,” Leah told faux-Andrew when she sat him on the parlor sofa before she changed for dinner.
The papers the next morning named the deceased as Alessandro Giatti, an Italian stained-glass window expert who had been hired by the Saint Genevieve church council to give the windows a special inspection and cleaning before the Italian Consul’s arrival. They left out who found him, just that it was a couple of students from Madame Leroux’s Finishing School around the corner.
“The old bat’s going to be in a tizzy about this!” Leah imitated Madame Leroux’s French accent to keep the anxiety out of her voice, “Finding ze body, eet ees not somezing a proper young lady would do!”
“Good thing it’s Saturday, then,” her father said, the corners of his eyes crinkled in amusement. “She’ll probably forget about it by Monday.” He slid the society section across to her. “Especially after seeing this.”
“What?” she asked. “I don’t read that stuff.”
“Just give it a go.” His dark blue eyes twinkled above his teacup.
“Oh, listen…” She sighed. “Miss So-and-So has become engaged to Captain Blah-de-Blah, and Mrs. Of-No-Account has been seen visiting the shop of Madame French-Scandal-of-the-Week…” She trailed off, and her eyes grew wide. “And Miss Leah Worthington will be accompanied by the newest Clockwork Boy prototype at the dinner and ball being held by Queen Victoria for the new Italian Consul tonight?” She raised her eyebrows and looked at her father across the table. “Is this a misprint?”
He grinned. “Her Majesty wants to show off ‘the best of English technological advances,’ she said, and she didn’t think taking a distinguished foreign guest into the kitchens to see the dishwashing machine would be quite proper. I spent most of the night installing a waltz algorithm and cooling elements so faux-Andrew’s aether heart and steam engine won’t be taxed.”
“Can I see?” Leah had seen the inner workings of the clockwork boys through their development and knew their systems intimately, the way the heart contained an aether-battery that directed power to the parts that needed it most.
“After the ball. I just sewed him up before breakfast.”
“Did you give him more responses? He’ll be the most boring dinner companion! Can he even eat? Did you install a digestive system?”
“Sadly, no, but don’t worry, you won’t have to deal with him at dinner. Now why don’t you test out his waltzing? I fear you’ll have to find partners for the other dances. For some reason, these automatons freeze up with two-four time.”
“But I haven’t anything to wear.” Normally she didn’t care that much about clothes, but this was a ball, after all, and she wanted to be an appealing partner. Perhaps I can show real Andrew a thing or two!
“I’ve ordered a new dress from Madame Costeau for you. She’s bringing it by later and will help you get ready.”
Leah ran around the table to kiss him on the cheek. “Thank you, Father!”
Faux-Andrew waltzed well enough to different tempos, and the dress from Madame Costeau fit Leah perfectly. The royal blue satin highlighted her creamy skin and brought out the dark blue in her eyes, just like her father’s. It accentuated her slender curves with a scooped neck, puffed sleeves, and ribboned pleats down the sides. Madame also helped her with her hair, which she put up with tiny pearls in it.
“My little girl has grown up,” her father said when he saw her. He wore dark pants and waistcoat with a royal blue cravat and pearl pin, as did faux-Andrew.
Leah, at fifteen, knew her father was sneaking her into the society limelight so she could start looking for suitors, but tonight she didn’t mind. She was excited enough about the prospect of dancing and hoped her blue satin slippers would hold up under the assault of faux-Andrew’s shoes. In spite of the elegant waltz algorithm, he had a tendency to step on her toes. I hope the Queen doesn’t want to dance with him!
They arrived at the pavilion where the ball was to be held just as dusk settled over the city. Inside, under a glass dome studded with candles to imitate stars, the royal party architects had recreated an Italian piazza complete with false café and storefronts where guests could “shop” for hors d’oeuvres and wine. Instead of the usual long tables, round ones had been set up, and each place had a name card. As propriety demanded, Leah did not hold faux-Andrew’s hand, but he followed along docilely as they wound through the tables and looked for their seats. Leah was so intent at reading the name cards she almost bumped into a familiar face. For a moment she thought she was seeing double.
“Miss Worthington,” real-Andrew Essington said with a slight bow.
“Young Lord Essington,” she replied with a curtsey.
He regarded faux-Andrew with a smirk. “I’d heard my father gave permission for a likeness of me, but this is, indeed, striking.”
Probably because you’re in love with yourself.
“I trust you’re pleased with it?” asked Leah’s father. She held her breath. She didn’t particularly care for Andrew Essington, but she also wanted him to like her father’s work.
“Oh, indeed, Mr. Worthington. You seem to have captured me perfectly. Does he talk?”
“Yes, that was an improvement with this year’s model over the previous one. Alas, he just has one phrase. Leah, would you show him?”
“Yes, Father.” She cleared her throat, the clever phrases she’d thought of to prompt faux-Andrew’s comment having vanished from her mind. Real Andrew stood and regarded her with a smile. Her heart caught in her throat when she saw the amusement in his dark brown eyes.
“Ahem,” she tried again.
“Are you quite all right, Miss Worthington? Shall I fetch you some punch?”
“I’m fine. Just a little frog in my throat.”
“You’re absolutely right, my dear,” intoned faux-Andrew.
Real Andrew laughed. “I’m in trouble. Who knows what you’ll have me agreeing to?”
“Perhaps a dance with my daughter?” asked Henry.
Leah blushed to the roots of her hair. “Father!”
“I’d be honored.” Real-Andrew held his hand out for her dance card and scribbled his name by two waltzes. “I’ll find you when it’s time.”
“Two!” Henry looked at his daughter with a grin when real-Andrew moved away to greet some acquaintances. “He’s definitely interested.”
“He’s probably more interested in the likeness you’ve made of him,” Leah replied. “I hope he’s a better dancer.”
They found their seats surprisingly close to the head table, where the Queen would entertain the Consul. The doorman announced people as they arrived, and soon the false piazza was abuzz with conversation and the clink of glasses. Several of the nobility stopped to converse with Henry and his daughter about this year’s model and its improvements.
“It’s so refreshing for my daughter to be able to move around the city more independently!” one dowager gushed. “Not too often, mind you, but I just feel she is so much safer with faux-Dean. How do I get on the list for the Andrew?”
“Would that be for you or your daughter?” Henry asked with a wink.
“Oh, you silly man!” She tittered and looked at him over her fan. “For my daughter, of course! She’s sixteen this year, and she simply must have the latest model.”
Leah looked for the daughter in question but didn’t see her. She wondered just for whom the Andrew was being purchased but only curtseyed when the woman moved away.
“Ah middle-aged women, they get crazy over a nice-looking young man, no?” a nice-looking young man with an Italian accent asked from over Leah’s shoulder. She jumped and had to touch faux-Andrew on the wrist to keep him from going into threat mode.
“I’m afraid we haven’t been properly introduced,” she said in her iciest tone.
“Ah, you English and your manners. I am Tomas Ballasini. Perhaps you have heard of me?”
“Oh, the new Consul!” Henri shook his hand. “It’s a pleasure, sir. I’m Henry Worthington, and this is my daughter Leah.”
“And this is the faux-Andrew. I have heard marvelous things. He speaks, yes?”
“He does, but he’s not a great conversationalist,” said Leah.
“You’re absolutely right, my dear.”
“Ah, but I can see he is a smart man. Belissima Leah, it rolls off the tongue, no? Would you honor me with a dance later?”
She looked to her father, who smiled. “I would love to,” she said. She watched how his black curls fell over his face as he signed her dance card, and he looked straight into her eyes – how deliciously forward! – when he bowed over her hand before walking away to greet someone else.
“Looks like your dance card is filling up,” said Henry. “You’d better save a waltz or two for faux-Andrew. Not too many, though. You don’t want to seem like you’re showing off.”
“Father, you’re embarrassing me.” She fanned her face but handed her dance card to him so he could reserve a waltz for the automaton, who didn’t seem too interested.
At dinner, Leah found herself seated next to an older Italian woman who told fascinating tales of her travels.
“I’d love to do that someday,” Leah said, “see the world, go on a Roman tour.”
“That’s my hope with these automatons,” said Henry. “Young women need to be safe enough to move about independently.”
“But then they wouldn’t need husbands!” another woman said in a shocked tone. Her dress was the color of the tomato aspic that had been served as a palate cleanser between the third and fourth courses.
“Oh, women will always need husbands,” said the Italian woman, who was conservatively dressed in black. “Automatons can’t meet all their needs.”
“Francesca,” said the woman in the tomato dress, “your conversation borders on shocking. Young ears, you know.”
That was the end of that conversation, Leah was disappointed to hear. She looked forward to later, when the wine had been flowing long enough so adults’ tongues would be loosened.
Leah danced with her father for the Grand March that led off the ball, and her first dance after was with the real Andrew, as she had started calling him. She was relieved to find he was a good dancer, and when she raised shy eyes to his face, that he looked at her with interest, not disdain.
“I’ve heard some interesting rumors about you,” he said.
“Oh?” She willed herself not to blush as her mind catalogued the hundreds of tiny social transgressions she must have made so far tonight.
“Yes, that you discovered something rather unpleasant at Saint Genevieve’s yesterday.”
She gasped and missed a step. “How did you know?”
He adjusted his own steps to help her recover the dance rhythm. “Everyone knows. The girls at Madame Leroux’s like to gossip.” He grinned, and she couldn’t help but smile back when he murmured, “My sister went to her academy and was banished to Saint Genevieve’s a few times.”
“You’ve caught me, then,” she said but sobered her expression. “It seems a cruel way to die.”
“Did you discover anything else?”
She thought about the tweezers, but said, “No. I am but a silly girl, after all.”
“I doubt that.” He smiled, and her stomach fluttered. “Forgive me for being so forward, but I’m intrigued by a young woman who helps her father invent things and finds dead bodies in churches.”
“The former is exaggerated, and the latter was an accident.” Leah suppressed a sigh. He’s only interested in me for my father’s inventions now that he’s seen himself as one.
The new Italian Consul Tomas Ballasini claimed her for the next dance, a two-step. He had signed her card twice. They managed to have a fragmented conversation.
“You are a lovely girl,” he told her before twirling her.
“Thank you,” she said after she twirled back to him. She thought he was pretty lovely himself with his dark curls and long-lashed black eyes.
“But tell me, is England always this cold in January?”
“Yes, sadly. I was surprised to hear you had decided to make the journey here and leave your lovely Italian countryside.”
“Ah, there is something I am eager to find.”
“Yes,” he said and leaned in to whisper in her ear, “a treasure.”
She looked up at him through her lashes. “What kind of treasure?”
He twirled her again. “One that my family lost many generations ago.”
“And you believe it’s here, in England?”
The dance ended before he could answer, but she knew they would talk again. He escorted her to her father and left with a bow.
“What did you think of him?” Henry asked.
“He’s nice enough.” She didn’t mention how he looked at her with focused attention, and how she appreciated it.
“Did he talk about why he accepted the post at such an odd time of year?”
“Yes!” She looked around to make sure no one listened to them. “He’s looking for a treasure.”
“Interesting.” He tapped his upper lip with his right index finger, his favorite thinking pose. “Would you like something to drink? Your dance with faux-Andrew is up next.”
Leah’s stomach flipped, but she collected the automaton from where she’d sat him at their table once dinner was over. The buzz of conversation dropped to a hum as people realized what was about to happen: the first ever recorded dance of human and automaton. Even Queen Victoria at the head table stopped talking to her advisor. Leah saw the Queen’s gaze on her and immediately dropped to a deep curtsey. Faux-Andrew bowed.
“You will have to inform us, Miss Worthington, whether your father’s invention is a worthwhile dance partner.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Leah said.
“You’re absolutely right, my dear,” faux-Andrew added, and the crowd tittered.
With reddened face, Leah whispered the dance command to faux-Andrew, and he struck the initial waltz pose. Although it was a popular tune, no one joined them on the dance floor. Faux-Andrew danced with somewhat jerky movements, and Leah had to keep reminding herself to lead, but they made it through. At the end of the dance, the crowd applauded.
“We are waiting for your assessment,” the Queen said.
Leah thought about the dances she’d had so far. “Well, Your Majesty, his dancing is average, but his conversation is sadly lacking.”
The crowd waited for a moment, and when the Queen smiled, they laughed and applauded. Leah quickly found her dance card filled by young men who “liked a witty young lady.” Even better, her father gave her a nod of approval. By the end of the evening, she and her father had consented to allow both Lord Andrew Essingham and Consul Tomas Ballasini to call on her the next day.
At precisely two o’clock the following day, Leah sat in the parlor with faux-Andrew waiting for the real Andrew. She wore a dress of green silk and fiddled with the tweezers her father had returned to her. She pressed the almost hidden buttons on the sides to make the filaments stick out of the ends and resisted the urge to try them on the pink pillows beside her.
Real Andrew came first, on time at two-fifteen. Propriety forbade Leah to receive him alone, even with faux-Andrew present, so her father worked at a desk in the corner while they talked.
“How did you enjoy the ball last night?” Andrew asked.
“Some of my dance partners were better than others,” she replied and jumped when her father dropped his pen. She touched faux-Andrew’s wrist to keep him out of alarm mode. “And you?”
“There was one dance partner who was particularly enchanting,” he said. “Sadly, I cannot remember her name.”
She blushed but smiled. Is he flirting with me? “Oh, can you remember what she wore?”
“Ha! You women track everyone by their clothing.”
“True, sometimes, although I usually am so caught up in my thoughts I can be in my own little world.” She poured some tea. “But most people are the same underneath their clothes.”
This time her father coughed, and she could swear it was to hide a laugh.
“Miss Worthington, the things you say!” he said, but he saluted her with his teacup.
“But I am right, aren’t I? We all have hearts and lungs, and we bleed. Indeed, when you consider it, nobles and commoners are more alike than most would care to think.”
“Leah,” her father said. “Don’t you think it’s a little early in your acquaintance to be discussing politics with young Lord Essingham?”
“Oh, it’s quite all right, Mr. Worthington. It’s what I would expect from the daughter of a man who traded his title for an education.” But his tone wasn’t mocking.
It was Leah’s turn to say, “Lord Essingham, the things you say! What are your views on the matter? Do you believe, as the Americans do, that all men are created equal?”
He shrugged. “All men may be, but all women are not.” He leaned closer, but not so much as to alarm her father or automaton. “I was struck by your outfit when I met you for the first time at the Davis’s garden party.”
“But why didn’t you speak to me?”
He looked into his teacup. “I apologize for my rudeness. I had a cold that day and wasn’t up for the conversation of silly girls. That was before I realized you were different and not silly at all.”
For the first time in her life, Leah was struck speechless. Her mind spun through his statement’s potential meanings.
He took her hand and kissed it between her knuckles and wrist with soft, warm lips. It sent a tremor through her body. “Sadly, I’m afraid I have other obligations this afternoon, so I must take my leave, but may I come again?” She nodded yes.
“Before you leave, would you like to see my workshop?” Henry asked.
“I would be honored,” Andrew said and stood. Leah pressed her lips together, the moment lost. Is that what he’d hoped would happen?
“Excellent. I’ll bring faux-Andrew with us so I can see how well your movements match, if that’s all right with you. The devil is in the details, as they say. It will only take a moment.”
“Of course. Miss Worthington.” He bowed over the hand he still held.
Leah was left alone in the parlor and fingered the tweezers through the material of the pocket that held them. Andrew’s behavior perplexed her almost as much as her reaction to his kiss. What could he possibly want from me? Good different or bad different? It must be fascination with Father’s inventions. He would never be interested in a finishing school failure who gets into trouble and allows her tongue to run away with her.
Thinking about her tongue made her blush again, so she called for a maid to freshen the teapot and change services in anticipation of her next visitor. She heard her father saying goodbye to real-Andrew in the front hall, and he entered with faux-Andrew.
“You made some quick adjustments,” she said, noting the jerkiness had gone out of the automaton’s steps.
“It was easy to figure out once I got a good look at both of them together.” He seated faux-Andrew on the couch beside her. “I apologize, my dear, but I have some urgent work to do for the Queen.”
“Does that mean I won’t be able to visit with the Consul?”
“No, I believe you’ll be in good hands with faux-Andrew here,” her father said. “I suspect the Consul will be honored, and the maid is close by in the kitchen.” He lowered his voice. “See if you can get him to talk more about the treasure.”
She grinned. So that’s his game! “Yes, father.”
After he left the room, she poured herself some more tea and pondered the mystery of the Italian treasure, which seemed more simple than Lord Essingham’s intentions. Her mind went back to the tweezers, and she pulled them out of the small pocket she’d hidden them in and played with them, using them to remove a red candy embedded in a biscuit. She stopped. The candy was about the same size as the drops of blood in the stained glass window at Saint Genevieve’s! What if the blood isn’t glass, but rubies? Her heart sped up, and she stood to go to her father’s workshop and tell him, but the maid let Consul Tomas Ballasini in to see her.
“Bellissima Leah!” he said and bowed over her hand. His breath ignited the nerve endings where Andrew had kissed her.
“Consul Ballasini, thank you for coming to visit,” she said and sat. He did as well. “Would you like some tea?”
They chit-chatted over the weather and other polite but inconsequential topics, and she offered him the plate with the cookies on it. He picked up the one she had removed the candy from and studied it.
“What happened to this poor cookie, Bellissima Leah?”
“Oh, dear, the cook must have missed that the candy fell out of that one. I can assure you it’s still quite good.”
He nodded and dunked it in his tea. “These English parlors, they are so stuffy,” he said. “Take a walk with me!” He winked and added, “I will tell you about the treasure.”
“Oh, I’d love to hear more!” She clapped her hands, and the maid appeared. “Please fetch my wrap. We’re going for a walk.”
“Shall I fetch your father to escort you, Miss?”
“No, I’ll be fine with faux-Andrew.”
“The windows are beautiful in the Saint Genevieve church,” Tomas said, “and it is not too far. Shall we go look?”
“That would be fine,” she replied. “I’ve heard the Italians built and installed them.”
“Yes, the artist who drew up the plans was a Ballasini, and the one who installed was a cousin, a Giatti.” He smiled and shook his head. “Sadly, both were killed for heresy during the Reformation.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” She wondered how to get him talking about the treasure but didn’t need to.
“He was also a great inventor, and it was his treasure that disappeared.”
“What was the treasure?” They had reached the church, and he held the door open for her. The warmth left from the hundreds of bodies who had crowded in for the earlier service enveloped her. She deliberately did not go to the window where she had found the dead man.
“The Ballasini rubies,” he said, and her heart caught in her throat.
“Rubies? How beautiful!” She kept her tone neutral and moved on to admiring the next window, a portrayal of the young Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth. “And you don’t know where they are?”
“Oh, they are here,” he said.
“In England, you mean?” She turned to give him a breathless smile, but his expression was sober, and the warmth had left his gaze.
“We both know better, Bellissima Leah,” he said. “I believe you have something of my ancestor’s. They were unique to the Giatti craftsmen. My relative who was murdered had a pair.”
“What could I possibly have?” she asked and held her hands out in front of her, palms up. It clicked into place then: he had been here in the church the day she had found the body. She imagined him using the intermittent blasts from the organ to cover his movements and any noise he might make to approach Giatti and knock him off the ladder. The notes would have covered any scream that would have brought Father Bryan to the church… Leah had come in then, and he’d hidden.
“I need the tweezers, Bellissima Leah.” He stood close to her, and his voice was low and deadly.
“How…?” And she remembered – the cookie. He saw the filament marks around the candy’s hole. She cursed in a most unladylike fashion under her breath, demerits be damned!
“Ah, you English,” he said and held out his hand.
“Steady, Miss Worthington,” came a different voice. Father Bryan stood behind her with a gun.
“You’re involved as well?” she asked.
“We’re not working together,” said Bryan – she refused to call him Father Bryan again, even in her head. “I suggest you fetch the ladder over there, remove the rubies from the window, and give them to me.”
“But they’re his rubies,” she said, nodding to Tomas.
“Not anymore.” With a swift movement, Bryan turned his gun on Tomas and shot him. The Consul fell backwards and over the edge of a pew and landed with a thud.
Leah put her hands on her hips to hide their trembling, and she spoke harshly to cover the tears in her throat. “And how do you think you’ll cover that up?”
“Tell them your automaton did it,” he said. “By the time they figure it out, I’ll be well away. Now, the rubies, if you please. And no sudden movements. If your automaton attacks, I’ll shoot you before him.”
Leah couldn’t help but glance at faux-Andrew, who looked at her, but not with disdain. His left eyelid flickered in a wink. She bit her lip but got the ladder under Bryan’s watchful gaze.
“I would prefer if you would move to the side of the ladder so you can’t look up my skirts,” she said.
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll catch the rubies as you extract and drop them.”
She revised her mental picture of what had happened as she climbed the ladder. It had been Bryan who had killed the window cleaner. He must have done so when the man started to remove the droplets and tipped him off that there was something unusual about them. Indeed, one had already been half-pried out of the window.
Faux Andrew moved to stand behind the ladder, and tapped a finger on it. One… Two… Three…
Leah jumped to the other side of the ladder from Bryan and landed in a heap of skirts and petticoats.
The ladder fell on Bryan, knocking him to the floor, and Andrew kicked the gun out of his hand. It skittered under the pews.
“Are you all right, Miss Worthington?” real-Andrew said once he’d knocked the ladder aside and subdued Bryan. He had the other man’s hands pinned behind his back.
“Quite, Young Lord Essingham.” She tried to stand, but her left ankle had twisted beneath her due to her skirts knocking her off balance with her landing.
“Allow me to assist you,” Tomas said. She caught her breath – he’s alive!
“You were shot!” she said.
“No, I jumped backwards over the pew.” He rubbed the side of his head, and she saw he had blood on his fingers. “But the bullet grazed me. I was, as you say, stunned.”
“How is it really you?” Leah asked Andrew.
“Your father told me he thought you were in danger when he brought me up to the workshop, but he thought it was Ballasini who threatened you. He agreed with you that the restorationist’s death was not accidental, and it had something to do with the treasure, so he wanted me to guard you while you got the secret out of him.”
“Quite right,” said Henry, who entered the church with two constables. “I’m sorry I took so long – it took me a while to convince these two this was an important matter. Are you hurt, Leah?”
The constables took Bryan into custody, and Leah, with the help of Tomas and Andrew, slumped in a pew. She didn’t care what Madame would say about her un-ladylike posture, but the corset would leave marks.
“I seem to have sprained my ankle. Here,” she said and gave Tomas the tweezers, “you can have them.
That treasure has been more trouble than it’s worth.” Then she looked at Andrew. “How did I not know you had been switched with faux-Andrew?”
“As I said, women only look at clothes, and as you said, you were lost in your thoughts.” Before she could object, he bent over and kissed her. She felt an unfamiliar sensation start in her stomach and move through her body, as though his kiss was made of aether and made her whole self tingle.
“I should probably object,” Henry said, “but he did save her life.” He took Tomas’ arm and moved him away from Leah and Andrew, who broke the kiss, leaving her with a pout and racing heart.
“I’m sorry to have put you in such danger,” he said. “Had I known, I would never have allowed you to be threatened to that extent.”
“Why Young Lord Essingham,” she said once she caught her breath, “if being courted by you is this exciting, I may have to consent to weekly visits.”
He took her hand and kissed it again. “You are absolutely right, my dear.”
Cecilia Dominic wrote her first story when she was two years old and has always had a much more interesting life inside her head than outside of it. By day, she helps people cure their insomnia without using medication. By night, she blogs about wine and writes fiction she hopes will keep her readers turning the pages. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with one husband and two cats, which, she’s been told, is a good number of each. Her debut novel The Mountain’s Shadow, an urban fantasy featuring werewolves with a scientific twist, was released in October 2013; the sequel Long Shadows was published in March 2014, and she is under contract for the third in the series, Blood’s Shadow. She also writes young adult fiction and won the 2011 Mystery Times Ten contest through Buddhapuss Ink with her YA fantasy mystery The Coral Temple.
You can find her at: www.ceciliadominic.com,Wine blog: www.randomoenophile.com, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CeciliaDominicAuthor,Twitter: @RandomOenophile
Cecilia’s books in all ebook formats are available from Samhain Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, and anywhere else ebooks are sold.