An Excerpt From Rebels Rising
I was completely surrounded by the enemy. At least, that was how I felt. It was an odd feeling to have at a ball, but all the other guests were high-ranking magisters, members of the magical ruling class. I was there as a chaperone, so I was more or less invisible, but I couldn’t help but wonder what these people would think—or do—if they knew what I really was.
For one thing, I was a magical half-breed, a person whose very existence was illegal. For another, I was affiliated with the Rebel Mechanics, as well as a rebel group among the magisters. I wrote for the unauthorized radical newspaper under a pseudonym. I was a spy who used my position in a magister home to gather intelligence on the government that I passed to the rebels. I’d helped a prisoner accused of treason escape, which meant I would be considered a traitor, as well.
And yet, all these people walked right past me, barely acknowledging my existence, entirely unaware that I was working to bring down their society. I hid my smile behind my fan.
My charge, Lady Flora Lyndon, returned to her seat and gave a not very encouraging smile to her dance partner, who was clever enough to read the signs and leave her be rather than pushing his case. “How much longer do you think we must stay, Miss Newton?” she asked me. “These men are all so very shallow.”
A few weeks ago, I’d never have believed that Flora would become my only ally in a situation like this, but she’d taken on the rebel cause with great enthusiasm, and I was beginning to believe that it wasn’t merely because she’d met a rebel she found appealing. Now, it was all I could do to stop her from wearing a Rebel Mechanics insignia and shouting revolutionary slogans at society functions.
“Perhaps two more dances would give you an excuse to plead exhaustion,” I said. “We really must keep up appearances.” That wasn’t merely about social status now. Across the room were the two men I’d come to think of as Inspector Stout and Inspector Tall, who’d been watching us ever since Lord Henry Lyndon, my erstwhile employer and Flora’s uncle, had disappeared. I saw them outside the house, lurking on a street corner. One of them followed whenever I went out with the children. Now they were at the ball, dressed in military uniforms. There was a third man I thought of as Inspector Nondescript because he did a much better job of blending in. I imagined he was watching the house, ready to catch Henry sneaking home.
Flora paled ever so slightly. I’d managed to keep the younger children from noticing the followers, but Flora was well aware of them. “Of course.” She turned a dazzling smile on the next man who passed, and soon she was sweeping around the ballroom in his arms. In order to allay suspicion, we made every effort to behave like carefree girls, which meant that we’d attended far too many balls, luncheons, and tea parties for my taste lately. Even Flora, who usually enjoyed socializing, was wearing out.
“Excuse me, Miss Newton, is it?” I glanced up to see a young man looming over me. He actually knew very well who I was, as he was one of Lord Henry’s close friends, Geoffrey, Viscount Hayes. “I don’t suppose I could get you to plead my case with Lady Flora.”
I had to struggle to keep a straight face because Geoffrey was extremely unlikely to be interested in Flora. “I’m not sure how much good it would do you, as she seldom listens to me,” I replied.
“Even so, you have more of an opportunity to talk to her than I do.” He took Flora’s vacated seat next to me and leaned over to whisper, “Have you heard anything?”
“Nothing,” I replied. “But we’re being watched, so I’ve made no effort to get word.”
“Ah, I’m afraid I’ve been doing the same. I must admit to being somewhat worried.”
“We surely would have heard if anything had gone amiss.”
“I hope you’re right. We’re still meeting, but we’re being very cautious who we let into our circle. We can’t risk another betrayal.” He stood and bowed slightly. “I appreciate your assistance, Miss Newton.”
“Here’s Lady Flora now, if you’d care to dance with her,” I said, unable to resist the temptation. Flora batted her eyelashes at him and allowed him to lead her to the dance floor. He looked like a man being forced to bite into lemons. I couldn’t help but grin. This was the most enjoyment I’d had since I’d said farewell to Henry.
I turned to notice another man standing next to me, Philip Spencer, who was also a part of Henry’s circle. “You really must dance with me, Miss Newton,” he said with a gallant bow. “I don’t consider it a successful ball unless I’ve danced with every eligible young lady present.”
“I’m hardly considered eligible,” I demurred.
“Well, you’re young and pretty, so you must dance with me.”
I suspected that what he really wanted was to talk to me, so I reluctantly acquiesced and took his hand. Just as I thought, as soon as we were dancing, he whispered into my ear, “So, Verity, have you heard anything from our friend?”
“Nothing at all,” I murmured. “Which is probably good news.”
“Do you think it’ll be safe to meet up with your other friends anytime soon? I’m feeling awfully cut off, and we need to get things moving. It’s getting interesting in our world.”
“Oh, yes, by golly. That news about the missing colonial funds really shook things up. There have been calls for the governor to resign. My father said that it even came up on the floor of the Assembly, and what’s really surprising was that my dear father didn’t seem to think it was a bad idea. You may have noticed that flock of swine flying over the city.”
I wasn’t sure whether the governor resigning would be such a good thing for our cause. As it was, he was the grandfather of the children I taught and chaperoned, which gave me access to his inner circle. I’d gained much valuable intelligence from my position. We wanted to topple the government, not merely get new leadership. I said as much to Philip. “What we want is a governor we elect to rule our own nation. It doesn’t help if we merely get a new one appointed by the Crown.”
“Baby steps, Verity. Get them opposed to this governor, and they get used to the idea of opposing the government. We’ll get there someday.”
The orchestra ended the song, and we had to stop talking. He escorted me back to my seat, where Flora had already retreated after dancing with Geoffrey. “Now may we go?” she asked.
“I believe we have—” A fanfare cut me off. Everyone in the room stood and faced the entrance.
“Oh, bother. That’s Grandfather arriving, isn’t it?” Flora said. “Now we can’t leave. It would look rude, and I’ll have to greet him.”
Looking rude didn’t appear to be a concern for everyone. The applause at the governor’s entrance was weaker than I’d ever heard, and as soon as he’d acknowledged it and taken his seat, the crowd on the dance floor thinned dramatically. A good third of the guests departed, none of them paying their respects to the governor before they took their leave. I barely caught myself before I asked Flora who they were, and then I remembered that while she was aware I had rebel connections, she didn’t know the full extent of my involvement. All I could hope was that Philip and Geoffrey made note of those who might be potential sympathizers.
As Flora and I made our way across the room to the governor so she could greet her grandfather, I couldn’t help but overhear snatches of conversation along the way: “Do you think he’s responsible?” “He knows exactly where that money went.” “You have to wonder what else is going on that we don’t know about.” “That’s what happens when your officials are accountable to no one.” I barely stopped myself from turning around to see who’d made that last statement. It sounded like someone who might harbor revolutionary ideas.
The crowd of well-wishers and sycophants around the governor was smaller than normal. I almost felt sorry for the man. My guilt was somewhat exacerbated by the fact that the intercepted letter that had revealed the whole scandal was currently tucked away in a secret compartment in my desk, and I was the one who had revealed its contents to the world. He’d never been anything but kind to me, and sometimes I had trouble reconciling my beliefs about his position with my feelings for the man.
He looked genuinely glad to see us when we approached, which made me feel even guiltier. “Flora, Miss Newton,” he said, rising and moving to greet us. He kissed Flora on both cheeks and nodded to me. “Are you enjoying the ball?”
Flora gave a languid sigh. “I suppose so, though it’s not the most stimulating entertainment. We were just about to leave.”
“You’re starting to sound like your aunt,” he said with a hearty laugh. Lady Elinor, the younger sister of the children’s late mother, was an invalid who seldom left her bed. Since she’d stepped in as guardian to the children in Henry’s absence, I’d learned that she was in perfectly good health, aside from getting a headache at the thought of dealing with society. She played the invalid to avoid having to take on the role of her widowed father’s official hostess.
“My aunt can be very wise,” Flora said.
“I hope you aren’t planning to leave now that I’ve arrived,” the governor said, taking Flora’s arm and escorting her to the chair next to his. A footman moved to unobtrusively situate a chair behind hers for me. It seemed that we were trapped for the time being.
Flora being seated next to the governor brought renewed attention from the male guests, and soon she was being escorted to the dance floor, with a plaintive look at me. I wondered how long I needed to wait before I could claim a headache that would make Flora insist she needed to get me home. The governor went to dance with the hostess and some of the higher-ranking ladies, leaving me alone.
Although most of the people who remained at the ball were apparently supporters, not all of them held the governor in good opinion, and they didn’t seem to notice me when they talked about him in his absence. I forced myself not to react in any way that might remind them that I could hear what they said as I eavesdropped on the conversations around me.
“I can’t believe he’s showing his face in public, under the circumstances,” one lady said.
“What would you have him do?” a man asked.
“After what happened in the Assembly this week, I must say that I’m shocked, as well,” another man said.
“What happened?” the lady asked.
“There was a motion made to call for his resignation.”
“And the vote was in favor,” a third man said. “It’s nonbinding, of course, but it does put the government in an interesting position.”
Yet another man said, so softly I had to strain to hear, “It won’t matter, as he’s going to disband the Assembly.”
“He can’t!” the woman said.
“The Crown can,” the man said. He was behind me, but I imagined him shrugging. “And they wonder why there’s talk of revolution. The Assembly is the only voice we have in our governance. Without that, it all comes from the Crown.”
“And Parliament,” one of the other men said.
“For which we have no vote.”
I fanned myself furiously, hoping my face hadn’t grown as red as it felt. Disbanding the Assembly? That was huge news, and the best thing was, it would be perfectly safe for me to be the reporter to break it, as it would be the last thing a governess should be expected to learn. I usually had to be careful with what I reported, lest anyone be able to plot my whereabouts against the intelligence reported by my alter ego. The problem would be finding a way to get the news to any of my rebel contacts while I was being closely watched by the authorities.
I scanned the crowd for those I knew to be among the rebel magisters. They might be able to relay word to some of the other rebels. But, alas, I’d already danced with Philip, so he was unlikely to approach me again, and Geoffrey had stayed just long enough after the governor’s arrival to avoid the appearance of rudeness.
When Flora returned from the dance floor, she regarded me, then gasped. “Why, Miss Newton, you look quite pale. Are you feeling ill?” Her wink wasn’t at all subtle, but no one around seemed to notice.
“It’s only a little headache, but I’ll be fine. There’s no need for you to interrupt your evening on my behalf,” I said, allowing myself to sound weary.
“Nonsense! If you remain much longer, your headache will only grow worse, and then you might not be able to carry out your duties tomorrow.” I thought that was a particularly clever touch on her part, as she wasn’t known for being overly fond of me. Her concern for me being able to do my job made the charade more believable. She whirled to face her grandfather, who’d just returned from his obligatory dances. “Grandfather, I’m afraid we must leave immediately. Miss Newton is developing a headache, and if she’s to be able to work tomorrow, she needs to get home and rest. I hate to abandon you like this.”
“There’s no need to leave on my account,” I said weakly.
“I’m sorry to hear you’re unwell, Miss Newton. Flora is correct. You should go home and rest,” the governor said, and I was surprised by just how concerned he did look.
Flora helped me to my feet and supported me toward the cloakroom, where we gathered our wraps. Our carriage waited for us in front of the mansion, and Flora assisted me down the steps. Once we were inside the magical horseless carriage and on our way home, Flora burst into a fit of giggles. “I can’t believe I kept a straight face through all that, and you played your role perfectly,” she said.
“You’re becoming quite the clandestine operative,” I replied. “You were utterly convincing.”
She settled back in her seat. “I believe I can get Grandfather to believe anything I tell him. He’s always favored me, though he doesn’t take me at all seriously. He never agreed with Henry’s insistence on my being educated. I just hope he doesn’t get any ideas about sending me to finishing school abroad now that Henry’s away. I could never abide that.” Her eyes narrowed and her voice hardened. “I’d run away first.”
“I doubt it will come to that,” I said. If it did come to revolution, I thought she might be safer abroad, but I doubted she’d see it that way.
“Did any of Henry’s friends have news of him?” she asked.
“No. They asked me that same question.”
She glared at me. “Do you know anything?”
“You don’t think I’d have told you? No, we’re trying to avoid anything that might link us to his escape, and I’m trying to avoid doing anything that might look like a connection with anyone even suspected of rebel sympathies, so I’ve tried to stay out of it entirely. It’s for his protection.”
She sighed in a way that almost sounded like a sob. “I just wish we knew something.”
“They’d have found a way to let us know if anything had gone wrong, I’m sure. He’s probably safe and having the time of his life without having to worry about his position, for once.” I started to say that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d gone back to banditry, but then I remembered that she didn’t know that her uncle had been the leader of the Masked Bandits, who robbed wealthy magisters and the government to help smaller businesses pay their taxes and to fund Rebel Mechanics inventions.
But even as I’d told her why we could have no contact with the rebels for the time being, I suspected that my news was worthy of breaking the ban. It had been several weeks, and my cover for meeting with my various rebel contacts had always been friendships and daily errands. I had a network of shopgirls I could rely upon to pass messages to the rebels. I felt it was time to call upon that network again.
The next morning, although it was quite cold, I bundled up Rollo and Olive, the two younger children, and we walked with Rollo to school rather than taking the carriage. Olive and I then took care of some errands on the way home, stopping in at shops along the way. Six-year-old Olive enjoyed shopping enough that she didn’t seem to notice anything unusual about our outing, and she also didn’t seem to have noticed Inspector Stout following us.
“It will be Christmas soon, won’t it, Miss Newton?” she asked as she skipped along beside me. “How will we send Uncle his presents?”
“We won’t be able to, since we don’t know where he is,” I said, perhaps more loudly than necessary, but I wanted to make sure Inspector Stout could hear.
“Will he be able to send presents to us?” she asked, her lower lip beginning to tremble.
“I doubt it. But I’m sure he’ll be thinking of you.”
“It won’t be a happy Christmas without Uncle.”
“Your aunt and your grandfather will do everything they can to make it happy, I’m certain.”
“Might we get extra gifts to make up for it?”
“I don’t know. I can’t speak for your family.”
There were tears in her eyes, and I felt awful for her. It would be my first Christmas away from home, the first since the death of my mother, and I’d been trying not to think about that. It would have been different with Henry around. Without him, and with the cloud hanging over him, it was likely to be a bleak holiday, indeed.
“Don’t cry, Olive,” I said, squeezing her hand. “Why don’t we stop and get some cake?”
“May we? And we don’t have to bring any home to Flora?” She smiled through her tears.
“It will be our little secret.” I bustled her into a small bakery, where she got to select tiny frosted cakes from a glass display case. Inspector Stout lurked outside, and I hoped he felt awkward watching a little girl cry.
But he didn’t come inside the shop—much to my relief, for the girl working behind the counter was one of my contacts. I got Olive settled at one of the tables with her cakes and returned to the counter to select one for myself. The shopgirl leaned over, pointing out the merits of the various flavors. “That does sound good,” I said out loud, then whispered, “I need a meeting, as unobtrusive as possible, as I’m being watched. It’s critical.”
“I’ll let them know,” she whispered in response.
I selected a cake and paid for our purchase, feeling lighter with the success of my errand, though my pulse quickened at the thought of how risky my next move would be.
I didn’t know how long it would take the message to be relayed. The Rebel Mechanics had technology that allowed messages to be sent as fast as light through a system of wires, so there was a chance that they would already have my news by the time I returned home.
Later that day, while the girls were occupied with music lessons, I set out for an afternoon stroll in Central Park, across the street from the Lyndon mansion. It was a habit for me, so I didn’t think my watcher would find anything amiss. Inspector Stout apparently had the afternoon shift in spite of working that morning. I passed him on my way into the park, and I thought I could sense him following me at a discreet distance.
I frequently encountered my Mechanic friends in the park, so there was a good chance they might attempt to meet me there. I walked quickly to keep myself warm—and to make my watcher struggle to keep up. I couldn’t hold back a grin when a well-dressed woman wearing a fur-trimmed hat hailed me from a passing magical roadster. “Why, Miss Newton! Fancy meeting you here,” she said. “And out walking in this weather!” It was Lizzie Flynn, one of my closest friends in the rebel movement.
“I imagine walking keeps me warmer than sitting in your contraption,” I replied.
“It has a heater,” said the driver, whom I recognized beneath his respectable disguise as Lizzie’s brother, Colin. “Hop on board and join us for a spin.”
Knowing how insanely jealous Flora would be, for she was desperately infatuated with Colin, I stepped up on the running board and squeezed into the space on the seat Lizzie made for me. It was a rather brilliant scheme, as Inspector Stout wouldn’t be able to keep up or eavesdrop on us, and the use of the magical roadster would surely keep anyone from suspecting my friends were Rebel Mechanics.
I could only hope that the real owners didn’t report it stolen while we were using it.