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All is Fair in Love and Revolution
By Shanna Swendson
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2015 Shanna Swendson
All rights reserved.
IN WHICH I FACE BANDITS AND BUTLERS
If I'd let myself think about what might lie ahead for me, I'd have been terrified. So, instead of thinking, I lost myself in the book I'd bought at the train station newsstand — the kind of pulp novel I'd have had to hide behind a copy of The Odyssey if I'd still been at home in New Haven. Now, though, I could read what I wanted without my father having any say in the matter. My life had improved in that way, at least.
Although the motion of the train made it difficult to keep the paperback book steady, I defiantly held it with the lurid cover clearly visible as I read about a daring gang of bandits terrorizing stagecoaches. I was so engrossed in the story that when I heard a sharp noise and raised voices, I initially mistook it for my imagination bringing the story to life. Then I looked up to see a group of masked, gun-wielding men rushing through the connecting doorway at the front of the car. A thrill shot through me. I had told myself my life would be more exciting beginning today, but I hadn't really believed it. I picked up my bag and dropped the book into it so I wouldn't miss a thing.
"Seal the door!" the tallest bandit ordered, and one of the masked men turned to throw the latch. He held his hands over it, and I thought for a moment that I saw a shimmer beneath them. A shiver went down my spine, making me gasp. Could that have been magic? No, I decided, only the magister class could use magic, and that class held most of the property in the British Empire and controlled the magical power that ran all industry, even here in the American colonies. Magisters shouldn't need to rob trains. When I looked again, the shimmer was gone. I must have imagined it.
While the man who'd sealed the door stood lookout, the tall bandit who'd shouted the order strode up the aisle, heading toward the rear of the car where I sat. Abruptly, he stopped and raised his pistol at a man sitting three rows ahead of me. "I'll take that," he said in a soft but firm voice as he grabbed a slim black leather case the man held in his lap. The man clung to his case, and it looked for a moment as though he might put up a fight, but the bandit cocked his pistol with his thumb and held it closer to the man's face. The man released his hold on the bag. The bandit gave him a disconcertingly polite nod as he lowered the gun and took the case. He then continued up the aisle, seemingly unaffected by the swaying motion of the train as it slowed to round a bend.
He stopped directly in front of my seat, and I gripped the handles of my bag as my heart beat wildly. The bandit stood so close to me I could see his eyes through the slits in his mask. They were an icy, pale blue, hard and cold, with little flecks of gray around the pupil and a band of darker blue around the outer edge of the iris. I had never met a killer, but based on every novel I'd read, that was how I imagined a killer's eyes would look.
When the bandit stepped toward me, I reacted instinctively. I rose to my feet, swung my bag at him, and then felt the shock go up to my elbows when I connected with his head. He staggered backward, and I felt light-headed as my breath came in shallow gasps. I shrank away, fearing retribution.
Instead of being angered by my assault, he smiled wryly and holstered his gun. The smile made his eyes look much less icy and hard. With a slight bow, he said, "My apologies, miss. I did not intend to alarm you."
"They're coming!" the lookout called from the front of the car. "Hurry!"
My bandit glanced over his shoulder to see the railroad guards attempting to open the locked door, then returned his attention to me. "And now, if you will excuse me, I need to make use of your seat to reach that hatch." I followed his eyes upward to see a hatch in the car's ceiling, directly above me. The bandit put the case he'd taken on the seat near me, stepped onto the seat, placed his hands against the hatch, paused for a moment, and pushed. The hatch flew open, sending a gust of wind rushing into the car and jolting me back against the window. I worried my hat would fly off, but I was too afraid of letting go of my bag to secure my hatpin. "It's open, come on!" the bandit shouted to the others as he climbed down.
The rest of the gang ran toward us, and I clutched my bag against my chest as, one by one, they jumped onto the seat and hoisted themselves through the hatch onto the roof of the car. A couple passed heavy-looking sacks up to other gang members before climbing after them. When the others had all gone, the bandit I'd hit reached for my gloved hand and brushed my knuckles with his lips, whispering, "I hope the rest of your journey goes smoothly, miss," before he climbed onto the seat, passed the stolen case up to a colleague, then pulled himself through. The hatch closed behind him with a clang and the car instantly grew quieter.
Breathless and quivering, I sank slowly onto my seat, resting my bag on my knees. I absently rubbed my left thumb across the knuckles of my right hand, where the bandit had kissed me. It was the first truly romantic thing I'd ever experienced.
The guards finally made it through the door, and they ran down the aisle. The man whose bag had been taken leaped out of his seat to accost them. "I am a courier on official business for the Crown, and those bandits took my case of priority dispatches!" he shouted, his mustache bristling in fury. "I expect better protection than this when I travel!" The other passengers joined in, adding their complaints at high volume.
The guards did their best to calm everyone. They interviewed the courier and several of the other passengers. One of the guards climbed onto the seat beside mine — without so much as a word to me — and attempted unsuccessfully to open the hatch. All the while, I kept glancing out the window, wondering where the bandits had gone. The train hadn't slowed down enough for them to jump, and I'd seen no one running away from the tracks.
The connecting door at the rear of the car opened and a well-dressed young man carrying a large brown leather valise entered. He pulled up short and gaped at the commotion. "I say, what's all this?" he asked.
"Nothing for you to worry about, sir," a guard said brusquely. "Please have a seat."
The newcomer glanced around for a seat and took one across the aisle from me. With a sheepish grin, he told me, "There was a baby crying in the other car. I didn't think I could bear it any longer. This looks a lot more interesting." He watched the guards conducting their investigation with great fascination, as though this was the best entertainment he'd seen in a long time. I thought he seemed a little too interested in the proceedings, and his color was heightened, as though he was either excited about something or had just done a great deal of physical activity. Surely one wouldn't get that red-faced merely while making his way through the train in search of a seat. Then I dismissed my suspicions as a flight of fancy. The bandits couldn't possibly have come down off the top of the train, removed their masks and adjusted their appearance in the lavatories, and then dispersed throughout the train as ordinary travelers.
Or could they? This man's height, build, and voice were all wrong for the lead bandit, and I'd paid too little notice to the rest of the gang to tell if this man could have been part of the group. I decided to leave the investigation to the guards. If there was something worth looking into, they'd question him.
The remainder of the journey passed without incident. When the train pulled into Grand Central Depot in New York City, I noticed upon disembarking that the third-class passengers were being searched, so apparently the first and second classes were above suspicion. I was fortunate that my father's last gesture of goodwill to me had been a second-class ticket.
In the depot, I was immediately swallowed by the sea of porters, newsboys, and passengers. After several vain attempts to get a porter's attention, I was finally able to arrange for my trunk to be held. Then I followed the flow of humanity onto the concourse toward the exit, where I paused on the threshold. Seven potential employers had requested interviews based on my letters of application, so I had high hopes of obtaining a position and a place to stay by this evening. Beyond those doors lay my future, and I was ready for it to begin.
I was entirely unprepared for the assault on my senses as I stepped out of the depot onto Forty-Second Street. Horse-drawn carriages and omnibuses and magical horseless carriages clattered up and down the street, their drivers ringing bells, sounding horns, and shouting. Smaller magical roadsters zipped in and out of the traffic, startling the horses. That many horses on the street left a pungent odor that competed with the smell of cooking from nearby restaurants and street stalls and a pall of smoke from coal fires that hung over the city. There were people packed shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalk, all in a great hurry. Scattered through the crowds were the bright scarlet coats of British soldiers.
In spite of my grand ambitions, I now worried whether I was up to the challenge. The city was even bigger, more crowded, and noisier than I'd imagined, and I was so very much alone in those crowds. "I fought off a bandit," I reminded myself as I consulted my map. When I spotted a lull in the traffic I darted across the street in the direction of my first interview.
A few streets away from the depot the traffic and noise were lighter, and once I entered an enclave of fine homes, the stench from horses was gone. Perhaps the city wasn't so intimidating after all, I thought. This wasn't too different from the neighborhood where I'd grown up. It was merely grander.
I soon found the first home on my list, the household that most closely met my criteria. According to my research, they were of the magical class but not titled nobility — probably descended from a younger son many generations back. I hoped that meant this family wasn't so high that they would never consider a relatively inexperienced professor's daughter as a governess. The house wasn't all that imposing, a modest brownstone. I could be at home here, I thought.
Feeling confident about my prospects, I boldly climbed the front steps and rang the bell. A moment later, a butler opened the door, and the way he scowled at me sapped my strength. "I'm Miss Verity Newton, here to see Mrs. Upton. We have an appointment. She's expecting me," I blurted, all in one breath.
He said, "I'm sorry, but Mrs. Upton instructed me to tell you that the position has been filled," then closed the door before I could protest.
"But she never even interviewed me," I whispered plaintively to the closed door. To hide my disappointment, I marched down the steps, my head held high, then strode down the sidewalk with a sense of purpose. This was only the first interview. I still had six more, and none of them could go as badly as this one.
At the next interview, I made it into the house before I was informed that I was far too young to be suitable for the position. That was a slight improvement. The next interview went even better, as I wasn't rejected outright but rather told that I would be considered. It was only after I left that I realized they would have no way to contact me if they decided to hire me. They had only my New Haven address from my initial letter of application, and no one there would know how to reach me.
I kept ringing bells and smiling my way through interviews until there was just one name left on the list, a Mrs. Talbot who was housekeeper for Lord Henry Lyndon. Although I had never imagined I might be employed in the home of a titled gentleman, Mrs. Talbot's response to my inquiry had been encouraging. The address was much farther uptown, on Fifth Avenue at Seventy-Seventh Street. I headed toward Fifth Avenue, leaving behind the clean, quiet neighborhood and reentering the clamor of the city.
When I reached the avenue and got my bearings, I realized that my destination was nearly forty blocks away. My feet cried out for mercy at the thought of that long a walk. I saw a horse-drawn omnibus approaching and decided I could spare a few pennies to avoid walking that far.
The bus stopped and I stepped forward and asked the conductor, "Excuse me, but do you go up to Seventy-Seventh Street?"
"Sorry, miss, but horses aren't allowed above Fifty-Ninth on Fifth Avenue. The magisters don't like the mess in their neighborhoods." One of his team proceeded to demonstrate exactly what mess he meant, and I averted my eyes. The prohibition on horses in magister neighborhoods explained the clean streets where I'd just been. "Though, if you ask me," he added more softly, "it's their way of keepin' the likes of us out of their part of town." Back in a louder voice, he said, "There's an uptown bus on Third Avenue that'll go to Seventy-Seventh."
I frowned, puzzled. "But if that bus goes to Seventy-Seventh, why not this one?"
"Only magisters live around the park up there. Farther east, it's just regular people — that is, until more magisters move uptown and shove them out. You can take a cab." He gestured as a magically powered carriage passed, looking rather naked without any horses pulling it. I knew my budget wouldn't extend that far. As the bus rattled away, I allowed myself a weary sigh before gathering my strength to walk to Third Avenue to catch the bus there.
"Hey, miss!" a voice behind me said, and I turned cautiously. A newsboy stood nearby, a stack of papers at his feet and several held so he could display the headlines to passersby. The banner at the top declared it to be the World, a newspaper with which I was unfamiliar. He wore a flat cap pulled low over his forehead. Dark hair straggled past his collar in the back, and his thin face was smeared with ink and dirt.
He gave me a cheeky wink as he raised the papers he held and shouted to a passing man, "Parliament renews the colonial tax act! Straight off the ether from London! How will it really affect us? You won't read the truth anywhere else!" The man tossed him a coin, which he deftly caught while handing over a copy of the paper. The customer folded the paper and tucked it inside the breast of his coat as he walked away. When the customer was gone, the boy said, "You're tryin' to get up to magpie land by the park?"
I assumed that "magpie" was his slang term for the magisters. "Yes, I am."
"What would you wanna do that for?"
"I have an interview for a position as governess."
He raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You want to work for the magpies?"
"I want to work for someone who will hire me." I couldn't help but allow my discouragement to creep into my voice. "Now I suppose I had better start walking or I'll be late for my interview."
"Don't go just yet." He glanced around, then gestured for me to come closer. "You can get a ride from here if you wait. Some friends of mine'll be along any minute now." He flicked a small gear wheel with a red ribbon tied through it that was pinned to his oversize coat and waggled his eyebrows like he was conveying some hidden meaning. I wasn't sure what the significance of the gear was, but I nodded as though I understood. "Ah, I had you figured for one of us," he said with a grin. He stuck out a hand blackened with newspaper ink. "The name's Nat."
I shook his hand, grateful that I'd worn black gloves instead of white. "And I'm Verity."
Excerpted from Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson. Copyright © 2015 Shanna Swendson. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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Table of Contents
In Which I Face Bandits and Butlers,
In Which I Land Amongst Mechanics,
In Which I Land Amongst Magisters,
In Which My Position Becomes Unexpectedly Precarious,
In Which I Am a Rescuer and Am Rescued,
In Which I Receive Multiple Invitations,
In Which I Sample Strong Drink, Strange Music, and Steam,
In Which I Get Blood on My Hands,
In Which I Overhear Valuable Information,
In Which I Attempt Persuasion,
In Which We Face Young Criminals and Traitors,
In Which Things Do Not Go According to Plan,
In Which the Fight Moves Uptown,
In Which I Reassess Many Things,
In Which I Gain a New Perspective on the City,
In Which I Assist Robbers and Revolutionaries,
In Which I Discover a Dreadful Deception,
In Which the City Falls Under a Shadow,
In Which an Errand Takes a Dangerous Turn,
In Which I Am Reunited with an Old Acquaintance,
In Which We Enter the Lion's Den,
In Which We Must Lighten the Load,
In Which I Must Decide My Future,
About the Author,