(I'm unsure of the title. Don't judge me.)
Klara and the Clockwork Djinn; or,Matchmaking at the Museum
The whalebone corset hung loose and unlaced over Klara's cotton chemise. She'd grown thin enough so as to not need it, but Maman would surely whip her should she go without. Her heart pounded, wrists and neck throbbing, and she leaned her forehead against the bedpost a moment to muster her strength. The foxglove was on her dressing table in a dropper-bottle, next to a pitcher of water. Five steps across the room, but some days it was so hard.
Sweat beading on her forehead, Klara managed, one silk stockinged foot at a time. Daisy would be in at any moment with breakfast and to help her dress. She must be ready to get in the carriage and go to the private clockwork djinn showing at the museum with Papa and Maman.
The dropper chattered against the lip of the glass, and she laid it on the tabletop and drank down the sticky sweet water. Her pulse roared in her ears, and she thought she would faint. Hands guided her to the nearby bench, and stroked her hair until the attack subsided.
"Miss, shall I send for the doctor?"
"I'll be all right. Lace me, and I'd like the blue dress." Klara caught her breath, finally. She only had to pause once more while dressing, and she was able to descend the stairs to her waiting parents. Her father handed her into the carriage with particular care; her mother was already ensconced. "I do hope we're not late," Maman said, fanning herself.
"It wouldn't matter if we were," Papa said firmly.
They bumped over the cobbled Cape Town streets to the museum offices. Klara watched the carriage hounds run alongside, tongues flapping in boundless enthusiasm. Most were black spotted, but some were locally bred lion dogs with their backwards ridge of tawny fur. Papa did enjoy his hunting, though he hadn't much time for such recreation, with the railroad construction he needed to attend. The goal was for the railroad to connect with where the rail left off in Egypt so the full of Eastern Africa had service. He would have to leave again in the next months, as the railroad moved north, leaving Klara alone with Maman.
The museum was a grand colonial building with a statue of horses in front. Two carriages were there already, drivers in livery sharing around tobacco, dogs reclining in the meagre shade. "I didn't realize it would be so crowded," Klara said.
"You'll be meeting Lord and Lady Blackmore's son Reginald," her mother said. She cast a skyward at a flying machine coming down from the cloudless sky to land behind the museum. "That's probably him now. He's one of those sky jockeys."
"What should I know about Blackmore?" They'd gone through these motions several times.
"They've an estate in England, though I'm told they've bought a coffee estate in Mozambique. That's why the son is here."
"Perhaps I've underdressed."
Maman looked at her critically. "No, the blue suits you, especially with how pale you've become. You could do with more jewelry, but it's too late now."
"Klara looks just lovely," Papa said, lifting her from the carriage and planting a kiss on her cheek.
"Thank you, Papa."
The halls of the museum were blessedly cool. Klara was sweating again and tried discreetly to dab at her forehead with her handkerchief. Maman started to remark, but was interrupted by the approach of a waistcoated young man, flight goggles hanging rakishly around his neck. "Pardon, are you the Deventer family?"
"We are," Maman replied from behind her fan. She hated airships, truly.
"I'm relieved! Reginald Blackmore. Mother would have my head if I didn't meet you." He bowed and kissed Maman's hand, to her blushing surprise, and then he turned to Klara and offered his arm. "Let's sneak a look before our elders get bored with their hors d'ouvres."
"Our elders?"" Klara tucked her handkerchief away in her waist pocket and tried desperately to remember when she might have met Lady Blackmore; it was hard to rely on her memory some days. Papa had already steered Maman out of earshot.
"We're the youngest ones here. I'm sure they think we'd make a delightful couple."
"Matchmaking consumes most of Maman's thoughts," Klara sighed, leaning more heavily on his arm than she'd meant to. She was so tired already, and her buttoned boots pinched her ankles. They crept past the reception parlor, and Reginald nodded to the guard at a red roped door. The guard unclipped the rope and allowed them past, fastening it again behind them.
Reginald, smiling, led her to the corner exhibit. "A beauty, isn't it?"
The clockwork djinn's craftsmanship was cunning, comprised of hammered plates of brass and silver, with fully jointed fingers, fiery topaz eyes, and blousy red silk pants. It even had a curling, acid-etched mustache. "I've never seen anything like it," Klara breathed.
"There's a coin slot for you to make a wish." He pressed a sixpence into her hand, his fingers so very warm against her cold ones.
"What should I wish for?" she asked.
"Whatever you'd like." He really did have a nice smile.
Klara dropped the coin into the slot, and the djinn shuddered, turning its turbaned head to regard her as a little steam engine began to run a whistling calliope. She could sense her mother draw nearer, disapproval palpable, and her heart gave a little shudder. "I wish for a cup of coffee," Klara said."From Mozambique." The topaz eyes seemed to flare brighter for a moment, and Reginald laughed.
"Is that all? I've got more coins if you'd like to make more wishes."
"You should make a wish of your own. A girl's wishes are her business."
Reginald took another sixpence and dropped it into the coin slot. "I wish I had flying companion." The eyes flashed again, and the door behind them opened.
"You should be chaperoned," said Maman.
"Reginald would never do anything untoward," Klara said, smiling, a faint flush of color in her pale cheeks.