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The Arcadia Series (New)

BENEATH THE MECHANICAL NIGHT SKY--Book 2 in the Arcadia Series, coming Summer 2017

That's a long time to wait, isn't it though?


I know!  That's why I've gone ahead and posted the entire first chapter below!  Read on for a preview of the upcoming release, Beneath the Mechanical Night Sky:




Chapter One


                There was no escaping the heat.  Summer had come at last to the city. During the day, the blistering hot sun turned the cobblestones to burning coals, and at night, the humidity lay like a sweltering blanket over those who tried to sleep.


                The apprentices at Mr. Laury’s Mechanical Arts Shop continued to keep the forges burning.  Still, Lock and I preferred the work table inside to the bench Mr. Laury had set up in the courtyard.  At least indoors, there was the welcome relief of tremendous gusts of air as Mr. Laury’s massive pendulum generator swung from one side of the work floor to the other.


                “You’d think eventually one of these chaps would misstep and find themselves sliced in half,” Lock mused.


                Over the summer, my best friend, William Lockwood (known by one and all as ‘Lock’), had become a welcome fixture at Mr. Laury’s shop.  He picked up extra work during our busy periods and sometimes brought the boys and I boxes of day-old doughnuts from the bakery he lived above.  The extra work made him a fixture, but it was the doughnuts which made him a welcome one.


                “Not likely,” I sighed as I contemplated the wiring before me.  “It’s not sharp enough or fast enough either.  I suspect it might leave a fellow feeling a bit banged up, but that’s all—”


                “I disagree!  I mean, you’re not really considering the mass of the pendulum itself.  Remember physics?  You’ve got to consider both the mass and the velocity when--"


                “I don’t remember any physics problems about chaps being sliced in twain by pendulum generators.  Perhaps if I had, I’d have found the class much more interesting!”


                “Well!” Lock scoffed, though after a moment he glanced up at me and grinned.


                The pieces of his project covered one end of the table, while my mostly-finished design took up the other.  From time-to-time, the other apprentices would pause in their tasks and come to stand behind us, peeking over our heads to check our progress.  Lock and I tried to affect a studious and scholarly demeanor during these occurrences.  None of the boys had ever met a college-educated engineer before, and the awe and respect they accorded us was a novel experience for both Lock and myself.


                Sebastian, however, was not like the other boys.  He slouched through the open front door of the shop carrying a package which bore a very familiar stamp and approached our table with a face like a thundercloud.  When he dropped the box next to me, Lock inhaled a sharp, hiss of air and turned to glare at him.


                “Ass!  You did that on purpose!  You know that’s delicate!” Lock accused.


                “Like I have time to help you lot with all your fool tinkering,” Sebastian huffed.  “Got enough to do ‘round here, don’t I?”


                From almost a decade of experience, I had learned that the only way to deal with Sebastian’s foul tempers was to ignore them.  Admittedly, those foul tempers seemed to occur ever more often and were almost exclusively brought on by interacting with Lock or myself.  Sebastian and I had never been thick.  As Mr. Laury’s head apprentice, he often took a perverse sort of joy in pointing out the flaws in my work, or in giving my ears a box for any bit of backtalk (real or perceived).


                I could trace Sebastian’s increased bitterness to the very day he received his letter of acceptance from Arcadia College.  It had likely occurred to him that come the fall, he would become my junior, and for the first time, would stand in my shadow.


                And if I were to be completely honest, the shadow I cast across the campus of Arcadia College, would be hard for him to escape.  During my first year as a student, I’d won honor for the freshman class at the yearly Spring Thaw event.  I was also granted a highly coveted seat on the Arcadia World Fair Committee, and was often seen in the company of the Byzantium Brotherhood—the top fraternity on campus.

 

                Of course, very few of my fellow students knew that behind the popular and confident visage of Mr. Lucien Bolt, hid a young woman who was terrified of being discovered.

 

Lock knew.  As my roommate and dearest friend, his assistance in matters which ranged from the selection of evening wear to standing look-out while I bathed, had been of inestimable value.


The men of the Byzantium Brotherhood knew as well, though the only assistance they had so far leant was in not exposing my true nature to the college administration.  This did not mean that they would not do so in the future.  James Baldwin, their unarguable leader, had threatened as much during the end of my last semester, but as he had subsequently gone to great lengths to avoid me, it seemed I could continue to trust in our uneasy truce.


It did not do for me to think overmuch on James Baldwin.  I’d had no communication from him since the morning I'd left his house- the same morning the man who’d murdered my sister had at last been caught and punished for his crime.  It did not do for me to think overmuch about that either.  The murderer, Gabriel March, had suffered a fate worse than death, and for all I knew, suffered it still.


Sebastian snatched up Mr. Laury’s abandoned ledger and retreated to the far end of the table to go over the daily assignments.  He was far enough that he could feign indifference to our work, but close enough to steal the occasional glance at our progress.

 

For all his sharp words, he was nervous about becoming a college man, and though he would never confess it, I had of late noticed a change in the way he carried himself and even the way he spoke.  This occurred around the time Lock began to help out around the shop.  Sebastian might have felt jealous of the worshipful attention the other boys paid to Lock, but he also wanted to know how a college man should act, and Lock, was his only accessible model.


Sebastian glanced up from his ledger just as I looked his way, and when our eyes met, his cheeks flushed as he scowled.


“What are you looking at?” He snapped.


“What are you looking at?” I shot back.


“A lazy, no good duff, what looks like a man and smells like low tide.  Ain’t that obvious?” He answered without a moment’s hesitation.


“Is that it?  Well, I’m looking at a—”


“OY, LUCE!” Mr. Laury called from across the shop floor.  “You’ve company, girl.  Look sharp now!”


“A gib-faced ratbag what reeks of gin!” I hissed as I stood.


Sebastian grabbed the pliers nearest to him and whipped them at me.  I ducked, but his aim went wide, and the tool pinged uselessly off the kindling bin and skittered across the floor.


“Now, now, children!’ Lock chided.


I successfully fought back the urge to make a rude gesture toward Sebastian and stalked off instead.


“Scrapping with Bastian again?” Mr. Laury growled as I entered the storefront.


“Don’t know what I did to make him go bubbling around against me day and night,” I snorted.

 

“That’s the way it is with boys of a certain age—especially between brothers, and you and Bastian did come up together.  He’s having a hard time seeing you be cock of the walk, ‘specially while he’s feeling a bit unsteady ‘bout things.  Be patient with him, girl.  He might have a sharp tongue where you’re concerned, but I’d bet my boots that he’d black an eye before he’d let someone else talk to you that way.”


“I think you’d be poorer by one pair of boots if you made that bet, Mr. Laury.  Didn’t you say that someone’s come looking for me? I s’pose it’s the grocer’s boy from down the street again.  Where did he go?  Did you finally tell him off for me?”


“No, not him.  Some puffed-up, young toff what just got off the train from Tripoli.  He came in asking after a Miss Lucretia Arancini.  He’s waiting outside, said it was too hot in here—oh ho! Now there’s a face I haven’t seen on you in some time.  Are you blushing, Luce?  Ha! Well, go on then, but don’t be gone a month of Sundays!  It might be hot, but there’s still work to be done.”


Mr. Laury was right; I was blushing.  I knew it because I stopped to check the dim reflection of my face in the shop window.  Quickly, tucking loose strands of hair behind my ears, I snatched out a handkerchief, licked it, and gave my face a good once over.


He’d come at last!  After so many months of not even glancing in my direction, James Baldwin had finally recanted and come to call.  Well, I wouldn’t bullyrag him too much.  His pride would probably be hurting, and truthfully, I was greatly relieved that he had finally come to his senses and—


The man who stood beside the hansom cab with his back to me was not James Baldwin.  He was shorter and his posture far less rigid.  He wore no coat, and with his hands clasped loosely behind his back, and his head bare so that one could see his untidy blonde hair, this man had the air of someone a bit careless.


“Mr. Zara!” I called.


As he turned and caught my eye, his face seemed to light up.


“Oh, Lucy!  You did startle me.  How well you look!”


Embarrassed at the compliment, I glanced down only to realize that I had forgotten to remove my work apron and that it was filthy with soot and grease stains.


“You’ve a funny estimation of ‘well,’ I think,” I chuckled, wiping my hands on my apron, and pulling it over my head.  “To what do I owe the honor of seeing you, sir?”


“Oh, I’d been meaning to pay you a visit for some time now.  I’d meant to come sooner, but… well, time does seem to get away from me.  One moment it’s spring, and the next time I look up, the summer’s half done—“His smile was kindly and apologetic, but his eyes were distant-- as though he was thinking on something else even while speaking with me.  “I’ve brought you a few books pertaining to the history of our order, but those are for later.  I’ve asked your Mr. Laury, and he has generously agreed to loan me his apprentice for the afternoon.  If it isn’t too much trouble, I’d like to see where Maria is buried.”


“The cemetery? Yes… of course.  It’s a bit of a ride.  We’ll have to cross the bridge—”


“No matter.  I should think myself fortunate to have the pleasure of your company that much longer,” he agreed.


           “Oh, go on!” I scoffed, though I couldn’t help but grin, as I reached for his proffered hand and allowed him to help me into the cab.


            In a moment he was seated beside me, and with a whistle and the snap of the driver’s whip, the cab began to roll.


            “Have you visited Greenwood Cemetery before?” I asked.  “It’s quite lovely.”


            “Can’t say as I have.  I avoid cemeteries as a rule.  I can’t recall the last time I paid respects beside a grave—my memory is poor for those sort of details.” he admitted.


            “You’d remember Greenwood.  It’s very popular.  The gates are beautiful, and there are several decorative ponds and fine monuments.  People from all over the city go there for picnics or to relax.  It is often crowded with visitors—a lovely place, as I said.  Better by far than the potter’s field on Hart Island.”


            “I suppose it is.  People picnicking and taking their leisure in a boneyard… these are indeed strange times.  I’ve noticed that.  The children of this time place a great deal of stock in their death rites, don’t they?”


             “Of course, it’s only proper!  Are you saying it wasn’t always so?”


             “What was it that Irish poet said?  Ah yes… And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.  When I first heard those words, I thought them powerfully true.  When I was a young man, they were especially true.  One was always at war.  Men died violent, horrible deaths every day.  If it wasn’t war, it was famine or disease.  In those days, we buried quickly and forgot almost as fast—death was a contagious thing.  Perhaps we feared that if we paused too long to grieve, it would overtake us as well. Not like you children with your wakes, and funeral processions and graveyard picnics!”


             “The way you talk!  One would think you in your dotage,” I smirked, for I was well aware that beneath Mr. Zara’s handsome, young visage was a mind which had witnessed the passing of hundreds of years.


             Through all our polite talk, I confess that I was merely waiting.  I waited for a proper-size hole in the conversation, through which I might slip a few leading questions and thereby turn the topic to Mr. Baldwin’s whereabouts.

 

   When it seemed we had finally lapsed into a comfortable sort of silence, I saw my opportunity.


   “I daresay Mr. Baldwin has had a busy summer,” I began, “What with all the preparations for the World Fair, and whatever else it is that he does.”


   “Mr. Baldwin?  Yes, I suppose so.  He flies from one engagement to the next these days.  Why I confess that it exhausts me just to glance his way,” he sighed.


   “I suppose that’s why I haven’t heard from him,” I suggested.  “He’s been too busy to think of me.”


   This explanation was not one that leant me comfort.


   “I wouldn’t say that, Lucy.  More likely, he’s kept himself busy trying not to think of you.”


              Though a part of me doubted his words, I found Mr. Zara’s reason far more palatable.


              “I hope that’s true, sir.  I’ll tell you this: I won’t allow him not to think of me when I get back to Tripoli!  I’ll be back early for the World Fair Committee meeting, and if he won’t see me then, I’ll march right up to the Castle and yell through the door ‘til he opens it!”


              “Ah… well… about that…”


               A wrinkle deepened across Mr. Zara’s brow, and his mumbled words trailed off into tense silence.  There was something troubling him, and from the way his fingers began to drum nervously against his knee, he was reluctant to discuss the matter with me.


               Instead of asking him, I waited, never taking my eyes from his face. My apparent calm served only to increase his tension.  Glancing up, he caught my eye and looked quickly away.


              “I wasn’t supposed to say anything… and even now I wonder if I should.  We have lived beneath this curse for ever so long, and though I have great hope that it will end, what I don’t have is certainty.  What I don’t know is if you will remain unaffected if I encourage you in your affection for Mr. Baldwin.  Perhaps he is correct, and you are safer far from him.”


              “Suppose you let me worry about that, Mr. Zara.  I know Mr. Baldwin truly believes that by the words of the curse, anything he loves will die, but you’ve seen for yourself that such is not always the case—and I don’t intend to die, sir.  Not anytime soon.  What is it that weighs so heavily on your mind?”  I pushed.


              “Mr. Baldwin will be leaving the school for at least a year.”  The words tumbled so quickly from his mouth that he said the sentence as though it were one long word.


              “Leaving school…” I repeated.  My hand curled unbidden into a fist.


              “As an investor in the World’s Columbian Exposition, he’s been offered a spot on the commission which oversees the Fair, and he has accepted.  He leaves for Chicago on Friday. They’ve long since begun work on the Fairgrounds there, and he—”


              “But he’ll return.  He has to!  What of our committee?  What about Arcadia College’s project for the Fair?”


              “He’s already transferred his duties to Mr. Mortford, and though he intends to offer his counsel by wire, he has no plans to return to Tripoli in the near future.”


              “No,” I argued, shaking my head.  “NO!  He’s off his chump, he is!  I’m dead tired of his fimble-famble.  I won’t pocket it this time, no sir!  I never would’ve figured him for a tail-down meater!  Run off, will he?  Oh, if I only I really were a man!  I’d give him a bunch of fives right to the bone box or better still, a fizzing blinker!  Run off without a word to me? Thinks I’ll go out of print if he glances in my direction, does he?  Where is he now, Mr. Zara?  Even if he hasn’t a word for me, I’ve plenty for him!  Why, that… that--”


              Peter Zara’s eyes grew larger with every word I spoke.  He cleared his throat nervously, and patted my knee.


              “There, there Lucy.  I can certainly understand your feelings over such a dirty trick, but don’t despair.  He hasn’t gone yet.  As a matter of fact, he’s in the city at this very moment.  He has rooms at the Endicott hotel, though tonight he won’t be available—the annual St. Olga’s Charity Ball, you understand.  I’ve an invitation to attend myself, though I hadn’t planned on—”


              “—pigeon-livered ratbag!” I continued, finding the right words at last.


              “Are you aware that your entire manner of speaking changes when you become… err… impassioned?” Mr. Zara asked.  He was watching me with his head tilted slightly to the side.  “It’s fascinating!”


              “You mean to say that I’m vulgar at such times,” I guessed, making a conscious effort to unclench my fists and lower my voice.  “My apologies, Mr. Zara.”


              “Not at all, Lucy, I find your diverse vocabulary thoroughly enlightening.  Pigeon-livered… ratbag?  I daresay that paints an interesting picture!”


              “I have to see him, Mr. Zara.  I simply must.  I…I love him.  Truly, I do.  I had believed that he would see he was in error and come ‘round eventually, but if he leaves for Chicago, I’m afraid I’ll never see him again.  Please, won’t you help me?”


              I leaned over and clasped his hand between my own as I spoke, hoping to convey the panic which I truly did feel.  Mr. Zara flushed and slowly nodded his head.


              “Do you realize, Lucy, that had Maria lived, our child would have been born this month?  I would have been a father by now.  A child… with my blood coursing through its veins.  Only a year ago, I would have thought such a thing impossible, bound by the curse as I am.  Do you think it would have been a boy or a girl?” he asked, his voice thoughtful and low.


              “Girls run in our family…” I murmured.


              “I would have wanted to name her for my mother,” he sighed, and glanced out the window-- the carriage was quickly approaching the famed gates of Greenwood Cemetery.  When he spoke again, he continued to stare out the window, and for a moment, I wasn’t sure if he was speaking to himself or to me.  “I know that Baldwin and Xander never believed that the child was mine, but they didn’t know Maria as I did.  I believed her.  I believe her still.  If such a thing can happen to me, then perhaps we don’t understand the curse so well as we thought.  Perhaps it is true that we can be redeemed, and if it can happen for me, then it can happen for him.  I will help you, Lucy.  I will help you because Baldwin has lived without hope for far too long, and I believe that hope is something you can give him.  At the very least, you are so lively and full of dash-fire—I think even a curse as strong as ours would find you a formidable opponent!”


              “You’re right about that, Mr. Zara.  Mr. Baldwin confessed his feeling to me four months ago, and in all the time since, I haven’t had so much as a sniffle!  Like I said, I don’t plan on expiring anytime soon.  So you will help me then, sir?”


              “Indeed, I will.  I have an idea, Lucy.  Do you think you can find a way to be free this evening?” he asked.


              “I can and will, sir.”


              “And do you think you might be able to procure an evening gown before then?”


              “An evening gown, sir?”


              “Something nice enough to wear to a ball.”


              My heart sank.  A fine dress to wear to a ball?  I had never owned such a thing!  Even the cheap, black, crepe dress I had purchased to wear to Maria’s funeral was too damaged to wear.  How would I ever be able to—?


              And then I remembered the calling card in my suitcase, garishly decorated with rose blooms and rosy-cheeked, naked cupids… I might not have such clothing, but Miss Eleanor Meier certainly did.


              “I might be able to borrow something, sir.”


              “Good.  Can you be ready by 8 o’clock tonight?”


              “I can try, sir.”


              “Jolly good.  Then, Miss Arancini, will you do me the honor of allowing me to escort you to the St. Olga’s Charity Ball this evening?”


              “It would be my honor, Mr. Zara,” I answered, as the carriage passed beneath the cemetery gates, “And don’t worry about me, sir.  I won’t embarrass you.  I’ll be on my very best behavior.”