Muse – Brittany Cavallaro

When George Washington is crowned sovereign of the First American Kingdom, he decrees that his country be separated into provinces, each led by a Governor selected from his most trusted lieutenants. As new territories are claimed for the Kingdom throughout the nineteenth century, King Washington—and his heirs, the King Washingtons that follow—draw new borders and appoint new white men to lead. To the west, Alta California and Willamette; to the south, Nuevo México and the tiny duchies of West and East Florida. Livingston-Monroe, named for the men who purchase the territory from France, make up the country’s heartland. St. Cloud stretches down the Mississippi River, while the seat of the King, New Columbia, extends along the eastern seaboard. Once Washington is declared King, elections cease altogether. In the years that follow, Governors pass on their territories to their sons, who become Governors in turn. Hungry men, these new Governors: eager for glory, eager for progress and for action. These Governors are skeptical of what they call “foreigners.” These Governors are determined to keep power however they can. All except for Remy Duchamp, the youngest Governor in the American Kingdom. He is interested in intellect, invention, innovation; he is less interested in maintaining the armed borders of his province, St. Cloud. Now, in 1893, he looks to put on a great Fair the likes of which the world has never seen.

But the great Fair is months late, and St. Cloud has grown restless. There are rumors of trouble on the western border. Rumors of war. And in St. Cloud’s largest city, Monticello-by-the-Lake, a girl holds the nation’s future in her hands. One APRIL 1893 It was death to stop at the corner of Augustine and Dearborn in the city of Monticello-by-the-Lake at the end of a working day. Claire Emerson knew that, standing beside her best friend, Beatrix, in the crowded road. Even now, as she stood on her toes to look up at the posters pasted onto the brick wall of the Campbells’ building, she had her elbows drawn in to her sides. Not to clear a path for the horse-drawn carriages; not to make way for the electric trolley squealing up the street, its cables throwing off indifferent sparks; not as a courtesy for the people streaming past—the working girls off to the dressmakers’, the men with their hats and coats and grim, sun-scrubbed faces, the newsboys waving their rags, the scientists smelling like ambition and smoke, the soldiers like last night’s liquor.

Not to make way even for the lumber cart rattling along down the road, its long, bristling logs threatening to break free and roll like the thunder of God himself straight down Augustine Street to the glistening lake beyond, flattening every last thing in their way. It had happened last week, killing two horses, three steelworkers, and a seven-year-old orphan. It would happen again whether or not Claire cleared a path. She was folded up onto herself on this street corner because, while she wanted to see the new posters pasted to the Campbells’ building brick, she didn’t want anyone to steal the package in her arms. She didn’t have a lot of control over her own life, but she could control whether tonight her father slapped her full across the face again. “But then,” she said to Beatrix beside her, “if he notices that I’m missing one of the socket wrenches he paid for, he might do it anyway.” “Hush. He won’t notice, you know he won’t even look through the bag until the morning. And besides, you know I’m good for it.” Beatrix craned her neck, trying to get a better look at the poster.

“I’m never going to get this engine working if I have to rely on my own coin for the materials. Let’s consider it a donation.” Claire smiled, despite herself. “Is it a donation if you’ve forced me to do it?” “I’m not forcing you. I’m forcing Jeremiah Emerson. And we hate him.” She said it like it was fact. Claire supposed it was. She shifted the knobby bundle to her other arm. “I still can’t see what it says.

We can come back tonight, after the day’s died down.” “Your father won’t be home yet, you don’t need to rush. And anyway, it’ll be about the Fair.” “Of course it’s about the Fair. It always is. It’ll still be about the Fair when we come back. And besides, I’ll be gone by week’s end, does it really matter if—” “Everyone will know already,” Beatrix said, and as if the thought spurred her on, she propelled herself forward. Though she was tiny, her wild blond bouffant made her easy to follow. It had survived both her work at the stockyard and her long, hot walk home in a boater hat. Now her hair survived the crowd, sure and steady as a halo above her pale face.

She was back in moments, face grim, and she took Claire by the arm to pull her away—careful, as always, to make sure she didn’t touch Claire’s skin with her bare hand. “What did it say?” Claire asked, but Beatrix was two steps ahead and affected not to hear. Down Augustine Street, past the orphans from the Home for the Friendless marching in their long gray lines, their lunch pails hanging from their grubby hands. The little girl who had died had been one of them, Claire knew. She dropped a coin into one of their buckets. Through it all, Beatrix moved like a dancer, and Claire her poorly practiced partner. You’d never think she was the one who was half blind, Claire thought, but she supposed it made a certain kind of sense. One only had to look at the cloth-of-gold eye patch her best friend wore to know that Beatrix had to watch her steps. The watchfulness made her graceful, and that grace carried them through the congested streets. Beatrix stopped at the foot of the stairs up to the El railway station, at the end of a very long line of men.

She adjusted her skirts, and then, discreetly, her corset. Claire gave her a sympathetic look. She was struggling, too, to catch her breath under her laces. “It’s going up tomorrow,” she said. “The Fair. That’s what the poster said. It’s going on, as scheduled.” “You were expecting another delay,” Claire said. Beatrix hesitated. “I was hoping for one.

For you. We’ve had so many, and so close to the scheduled start—I was just hoping that if you’d have some good news for him tonight—” Claire hardly heard her. She wasn’t sure why it was such a surprise, that the Fair would go on. But then, when it had been delayed for so long, who could blame her? “I can tell your father for you,” Beatrix was offering. At that, she snorted. “That would make it worse, and you know it. Sunday just needs to come and go without him suspecting anything.” The two of them climbed the metal stairs, slowly, as the crowd boarded the train. It waited, sleepy as a cat, painted as always in the governor’s midnight-blue livery. “He wants to be paid for his work.

” “I understand, but if he won’t get paid until after his Barrage, you’d think he’d want it to happen sooner—” Claire lowered her voice. “There’s still a problem with the Barrage.” “I’m sorry?” Beatrix laughed, shook her head. “No. But you said—” The unexpected April heat, the awkward weight of the package she carried, the long black curl plastered to her temple. The dread of seeing her father not twenty minutes from now. “He swears it will work,” Claire said, fiercely enough that her best friend blanched. “And we’d all better hope it will, because if our creditors come by again, they will break his hands, Beatrix, and God only knows what Duchamp will say—” The woman behind them coughed delicately. “Governor Duchamp will say. Much less the General.

We have a permanent pavilion waiting. It has our name on it. Our name— and if the Barrage isn’t a success, if my father fails, and if Sunday comes and he’s in one of his rages, I won’t be able to—” “All aboard!” The conductor’s voice was a trumpet. “This is a Monticello train, calling at Lordview, Woodlawn, Delaware, and Almondale!” The crowd surged forward, taking the two girls along with it, and as she clutched her package to her chest, Claire seethed. She had never seen anything like this in her seventeen years. So many bodies. People from all over the First American Kingdom, there to gawk at the city Claire lived her life in, like it was an amusement or an oddity. They were there in that train car with her, people from her own province, Monticellans and St. Clouders and the backwoods farmers who tithed corn and soybeans to their Governor; Livmonians, those settlers from the province of Livingston-Monroe, weathered in their muslin shirts; wasp-waisted girls from New Columbia with their parasols, their clutching children; folk from every corner of their country and from Britain and Persia and Japan besides. All of them here for the Governor’s Exhibition and Fair.

They had been here for a month now, clogging up Monticello’s dusty roads, lunching by Monticello’s glimmering lake, making Claire’s life louder and harder and just all-around worse, and tomorrow the Fair they waited on would actually open. The axe would finally fall. “All aboard!” the conductor shouted again, and Beatrix yanked her skirts away from the closing doors, and all at once the train fell silent as it rattled away from the station. “I’m sorry I was cross,” Claire said. She was horribly aware of the man next to her, of the two inches of skin between her gloves and the long sleeves of her dress. How close he was to touching her. “I know,” Beatrix replied. They had said it to each other before. They would say it again. “Come by at eight tonight? One last hurrah.

” “Eight,” Beatrix murmured back. “Don’t forget my tails.” The train had emptied out before pulling into the station at Lordview. The neighborhood had originally been called Lakeview, for its sweeping view of Lake Michigan, until one of Governor Duchamp’s courtiers had been granted the bluff overlooking the bathing beach to build his own mansion. Now, instead of the lake, the neighborhood gazed upon the high walls that surrounded Lord Anderson’s gardens. Some wag had started calling it Lordview, and that was that. As Claire walked down her neighborhood’s dusty streets, she brooded over the package in her arms. The Fair. The Fair, a grand show of American ingenuity, of wonders the public had never even dreamed of. A fair that St.

Cloud had won the rights to host against every other province in the First American Kingdom. A fair that had stood half completed, its great Ferris wheel still just bones and timber when the Governor was laid to rest in the mausoleum overlooking the Jefferson River, when his young son took the reins. It would be years late, and the bane of Claire’s existence. She mulled all this over as she walked the road back to her house, her lumpy package clutched to her chest. The sky was fading from its milky yellow to the milkier red of sunset, and all along Belmont Avenue, the streetlights were turning on. The suburb stretched out in all directions, a plan more than a place. So much of it was still just mud and churned-up dirt. It had been built to grow into. Here and there, a house stood like a tooth in an empty mouth. If she walked more slowly than she usually did, if she let her mind wander, it was because she knew what waited for her at home.

Her father in their too-expensive house, sequestered in his study. Their young maid slaving over the wood-burning stove, trying to turn out a dinner that would make Jeremiah Emerson smile. Nothing made him smile, and the maid resented it, resented that she alone was left to deal with the household while Claire was sent off on special errands. Genius girl, she called her, because when Claire returned home, she was ushered into her father’s study, and there she often stayed until dark. The house came into view through the ever-present smog. It was pretty, she supposed, gabled and painted blue, though as she approached, she saw that the glass in their sitting-room window was cracked. She stopped for a moment to stare. Who had done such a thing? A creditor, surely. Still, it had been expensive to buy a pane of glass so large, and it would be expensive too to replace it. She walked through the wooden door and right through the kitchen, where the maid, hair hidden under a kerchief, was frying up rashers of bacon.

“Have a good day?” Margarete asked. It wasn’t a friendly question. “No,” Claire said, shortly, because she hadn’t, and though the other girl would never believe her, she would have traded their places in an instant. It wouldn’t be a problem if Jeremiah Emerson didn’t heap the work of three servants on his housekeeper’s small shoulders. “Any callers?” Margarete correctly heard “callers” as “creditor thugs.” “Only the one,” she said, her accent lingering at the edges of her words. “We hid. He went away. It wasn’t so bad.” “After breaking the window to send a message.

” “As you saw.” Margarete turned back to the stove. For a girl fourteen years old, she had a surprising gravity to her manner. “He’s in his study, talking to someone from the Governor. Waiting for his genius girl, I’m sure.” “Of course,” Claire said, staring up at the staircase, and then heard what she’d just said. “Margarete, you know that I’m not—you know that it’s a punishment, don’t you?” “A punishment?” Slowly she held up her ash-blackened hands, her skin white beneath. “Let’s talk about punishments, then, the next time I’m to do the laundry. Maybe you can haul the water or work the press.” Few maids would have spoken that way to their employer’s daughter.

But few maids were girls adopted as a sister and then treated as a servant. Claire set her jaw. It was fair for Margarete to say it, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. “I’ll be in his study.” “Tell him I’ll have supper in thirty minutes!” Margarete called as Claire climbed the stairs. Though their house was lavish looking from the outside, on the inside it was spare. The walls were unpainted, the floors unpolished. The Emerson house was one meant to be tended by an army of servants and decorated with an expert’s touch, but there wasn’t any gilt on the trim or paintings on the walls. It looked like what it was. A house purchased with the promise of wealth, left bare when that wealth never arrived.

Jeremiah Emerson wouldn’t be paid again for his Barrage until it exploded its terrifying fireworks across the Monticello sky. Claire lingered in the empty hallway, outside her father’s study door. He would have spent his day down at Jefferson Park, in the pavilion that had been built to house his inventions. When Governor Duchamp had first ordered the pavilions built, they had been little more than wood painted to look like marble. Then the Fair was delayed again, and again, and eventually it was clear that the pavilions needed to be reinforced if they were to survive the harsh Monticellan winters. They became, in fact, the things they had been only meant to reference. Buildings of gleaming white marble, speckled and veined like something out of ancient Rome. Jeremiah Emerson would have arrived with the dawn at the building that wore his name. He would have spent the day inside with his workmen, tearing down and rebuilding his mighty gun, the gun that only fired for its inventor on those days that his daughter had blessed him. And on the days it failed, Emerson would come home and take those failures out on his daughter.

At least today she had a moment to compose herself out here on the landing. The housekeeper hadn’t said who was in with her father, but she knew who it was. The General. He had a name, but no one ever used it. Why would they need to?

.

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