My sincerest apologies for my inexcusable delay in responding to your inquiry after the celebrated carousel of the Margravine of Blois. The truth is—and I write this with utmost regret—that the reports responsible for so much distress in your admirable person are accurate in every respect. I myself bore witness to the destruction of that most miraculous clockwork, and what remains—a handful of silver gears, and a pair of bay horses with the most phenomenally lifelike coloring and expression—allows only for positive identification.
As for the events that permitted such a wrenching tragedy (your words, madame, but I find them wonderfully apt) to occur, I enclose some pages which I wrote from the seventeenth of September to October fourteenth of last year, in faith that all will be clarified. In this, madame, as in all things, I hope to show myself to be
Your most Humble and Obedient Servant,
Antoine Aristide de Saint-Pierre
The lady Porphyrogene’s house is called Summerfall, and it stands at the end of a long white drive lined with plane trees and elm. To the east, bare hills roll up to meet the lowering autumn clouds; to the west, the land slopes sharply to the sea, where clear waves fold over reddish weeds and palely colored stones—lavender, glass-green, dogwood-blossom pink. The front lawn is left barren, the better to show Summerfall’s magnificent façade. In back are the gardens, and in the center of the gardens, the carousel of the Margravine of Blois.
“Most of them want to see that first,” Porphyrogene said the moment I stepped down from my carriage. She took up my bags, two in each hand, and headed for the central stair. “I trust your tastes are not so common, M’sieur Saint-Pierre.”
“No,” I said, hardly sure what I was agreeing to. I have concluded, over the full three hours of our acquaintance, that this is quite common with Porphyrogene. She is a smaller woman than her letters led me to expect, with whitening hair and skin the color of cream-clotted coffee. I must confess, I anticipated a woman of greater beauty, familiar as I am with my hostess’s many amorous conquests. Apparently, Porphyrogene’s expectations were the reverse.
“You’re rather handsome, for a professor,” she said. “I suppose some pretty, dithering little fiancée will be sending you love letters to interrupt your work?”
“Have no fear on that account, madame. I was widowed last April.”
“Oh.” She said it quite flatly, and gave me an odd look over her shoulder. “My condolences, m’sieur.”
Presently, we reached my apartment—a series of six rooms at the top of the eastern wing, damp-smelling and paneled in sage-colored wood. My bedroom, library, and private parlor all overlook the sea. By ingenious design, or my own imagination, the faux-balconies covering the windows are like cast-iron bars.
“You will be spending most of your time alone,” Porphyrogene said. “Business keeps me outside the house. Perhaps you would prefer to take your dinner here?”
“Yes,” I said, “if that can be arranged.”
“It can.” She paused for a moment, one hand on her hip, the other tucking a white curl behind her ear. “I would prefer it, m’sieur, if you left the north wing to itself. The rest of Summerfall is yours to investigate. If you need anything…” She pointed to a frayed cord hanging over the bedside table. “Ring for Jean-Baptiste.”
Such is the living mistress of Summerfall. Tonight, I expect, I shall be introduced to its ghosts.
I found no ghosts last night, regrettably, and sleep was not much more in evidence. This house must have a thousand clocks in it; I’ve counted over a dozen in my own apartments, chiming and sending out miniature automata processions on every hour. I know little enough of the Clockmaker’s art, but judging from the uniform and uncanny realism in the tiny figures, I believe they were all crafted by the same hand.
And while my pen dwells on uncanny uniformity: It is my conclusion (from an admittedly hasty collection of data) that every room in Summerfall has at least one portrait of the same woman in red. Her features are very distinct: dark skin, pillowy lips painted scarlet, two severely straight eyebrows, of which the left is always raised a fraction of an inch higher than the right. I am sure this woman is no relative of Porphyrogene—nor does a past lover seem likely, as my hostess is not the sort to cling sentimentally to old mementos.
At breakfast this morning, I was introduced to the shadowy figure of Porphyrogene’s valet, Jean-Baptiste. He is a man as gray as his livery, and he moves with an unpleasantly mouse-like scurry.
“Where is Porphyrogene?” I asked, pushing a reluctant clump of dry eggs around on my plate.
“Madame is occupied in the gardens today.”
“Enjoying the last flowers of the season, I expect?”
“Perhaps. I couldn’t say.”
My eggs, deeply dissatisfied with their treatment at the tines of my fork, promptly made their dissatisfaction known by plopping onto the parlor rug. I dropped my fork in surrender. “Would it be possible for me to join her?” I asked—purely for the sake of politeness, as I could not imagine permission being denied.
“Oh, no, monsieur,” Jean-Baptiste said. The weather, he intimated—and it truly is horrendously gray and chill—might affect monsieur’s mood in undesirable ways, and wouldn’t monsieur rather spend such a dreary day before a roaring fire in monsieur’s well-apportioned library?
In truth, he sounded much like Violeta’s old maidservant—though Jean-Baptiste, at least, does not seem worried that I am going to walk purposefully into the ocean. Whether such a possibility continues, nearly a year and half after I first voiced the intention, I cannot say. Though I do know this: It is good to be hunting again, good to be seeking a ghost whose tragedy has nothing to do with mine.
September 18, later
I think Jean-Baptiste is right, and the miserable weather is exerting an unpleasant influence on my nerves. I woke moments ago from a most disconcerting dream.
I was standing on a beach of gray stones, and as each wave rolled in it stained the rocks a different hue—powder-pink and eggshell-blue, cream-yellow and sage-green. The water felt warm against my feet, over my ankles and up to my knees. I bent and spread my fingers in the prickling foam.
Suddenly, I caught Violeta’s scent mingling with the brine—the smell of lavender soap, the sickly-sweet tinge of sweat. I looked up from the stones—they were dark colors now, crimson and cobalt and golden as egg-yolks—and turned to my wife, my heart pounding beneath my tongue.
The woman beside me was not Violeta. Her black skin, her red lips and gown, her left eyebrow lifted in vague amusement…it was the woman from the portraits.
I woke a moment later to the chiming of a hundred clocks.
Porphyrogene took her dinner with me yesterday afternoon. She must have come in from the gardens without stopping to dress, as her hair and gown were positively soaked.
“Have you found anything yet?” she asked. It would be difficult to overemphasize the impatience in her voice; it was as though her sleeve had caught fire, and she was asking after a pitcher of water. “Sounds, apparitions, cold spots in the doorways?”
“Nothing of that variety, no.” I felt unaccountably reluctant to mention my dream of Violeta. We sat for a few minutes in silence, before the clock on the table between us began to chime four. “Who is the woman in the portraits?”
Porphyrogene looked faintly startled as she glanced at the nearest specimen, hanging in an oval frame between the parlor windows. “She was the Margravine of Blois,” she said, and took a slow sip of champagne.
“Was? The Margravine of Blois is dead?”
She chuckled softly over the rim of her glass, but her eyes looked pained. “Yes, rather.” A pause. “She died six years ago—here, actually.”
“I didn’t murder her, m’sieur, if that’s what you’re implying.” Her fingers drummed on the glass’s stem. “That’s not to say I didn’t want to. Perhaps you are too young to remember, but it was quite a scandal when she left me twelve years ago. A popular rhyme or two was made about it—they say I still keep the blankets turned down on her side of the bed, waiting for her to come home.”
“But she did come home.” I leaned back in my chair, gazing at the portrait. “If she left you twelve years ago, why did she come back six years later to die?”
Porphyrogene sighed—deeply, from her chest. “Well, I’m sure it wasn’t to see me again. Perhaps she wanted to be near the carousel.”
“And what is so special about the carousel?”
Porphyrogene shook her head. “Everything.”
Jean-Baptiste brought breakfast to my rooms this morning—a small blessing, as what little sleep I can afford is soured with unsettling dreams, and by dawn I am in no shape to navigate Summerfall alone. In addition to its usual burden of cold coffee and overcooked eggs, the tray carried four or five keys on an iron ring. They were old work, plain but sturdy, with a faint shield-shaped impression on the bows that may have been Porphyrogene’s coat-of-arms.
“For the library, monsieur,” Jean-Baptiste said, indicating the largest of the keys.
I glanced at the door in the back of my parlor, eyebrows raised inquiringly.
“No, monsieur. The library in the north wing.” He held up a delicate hand to forestall my protestations. “Madame told me to offer. She thinks it will allow your investigations to…progress.”
How delightful, I thought sourly—as if it were due to some intellectual ineptitude on my part that Summerfall’s ghost had failed to manifest. I’d have her know, in seven years of investigations I had never once lacked results. Still, curiosity always has gotten the better of me; I took the key with profuse thanks, finished my breakfast, and went down to the north wing just as the clocks in the corridor were chiming nine.
By sheer volume, the north wing must have more clockwork than the rest of Summerfall combined—a peculiarity that does not, most fortunately, continue into the library itself. It is a very handsome set of chambers, spreading over three stories and a charming mezzanine. Pale walnut shelves, naturally, take up most of the walls, though the mezzanine has seven long windows of colored glass, and a few panels near the fireplaces are covered with creamy damask. Desks, armchairs, and pink plush couches are scattered throughout.
One room in particular captured my interest. It is, I believe, the farthest north in Summerfall, and one massive window would look out over the gardens if I could successfully manhandle its brocade curtain aside. The desks were lost beneath an avalanche of books which bore no conceivable relationship to each other—the collected romances of Roland, an anonymous sheath of ballads, Christopher of Cloud’s celebrated treatise on clockwork. I paused on finding this last, as it lay open to a page with innumerable notes scrawled in the margins.
Here is what I have managed to copy of the page’s text:
It is a frequently criticized aspect of the automatic arts that only the smallest clockworks are self-perpetrating, that is, may continue their so-called lives without their Maker’s interference. [Here, Monsieur Cloud makes a digression on the religious parallels evident in this circumstance.] To this, we reply that no other state could be desired. What Clockmaker fails to remember the case of Malory Gerard, whose automata king went mad one day, escaped the music box for which he had been built, and proceeded to do battle with Monsieur Gerard’s collection of exotic songbirds? (This breed of insanity, incidentally, seems most common with automata whose tasks are ceaseless and repetitive. The jaquemarts of an actual clock have fifty-nine minutes between each hourly procession in which to stabilize, whereas Madame Gerard’s king waltzed constantly to the same facile tune.) While this anecdote is rather amusing, it takes little imagination to provoke a shudder at the thought of what a life-sized rampaging automata might do to his erstwhile masters.
Most of the scribbled notes were illegible, but I could make out two or three: patronizing idiot—Malory Gerard’s taste in music would drive anyone mad—hold the bloody thing in place and you wouldn’t have this problem! The handwriting was distinctive, not for its illegibility, but for the qualities that made it illegible: a hard leftward slant, trailing loops in its y’s and q’s, an overall suggestion of hastiness that came not from negligence, but from an intelligence too avid to work slowly. It should come as no surprise, then, that when on another pile I found an entire folio volume filled with the handwriting of the Margravine of Blois, I took it back to my rooms for further study.
Here is the title, embossed on crimson leather binding in a heavy copperplate:
A Catalogue of the Works of the Celebrated Margravine of Blois, compiled by Herself in the house called Summerfall.
Two entries in particular caught my attention. I reproduce them here, with their accompanying marginalia.
The Clock of the Bride of Death is kept in Summerfall’s guest apartments at the top of the eastern wing. [My apartments—from the following description, I gather this is the clock by my dressing table whose incessant humming disturbs my sleep] It is the most populous of the house’s clocks, with over fifty individual automata, and the only one set to music—the late Évariste of Blois’s “Waltz for Dead Lover.” The key figures are as follows: the skeleton dancers, one couple for every hour; Death with his mask and violin; the Bride, who emerges at midnight with a shower of miniature rose petals; and Évariste, who leads each reprisal of the waltz from his perch at the stroke of twelve.
[The last segment is crossed out, and this penciled in above it: Evariste insisted on revising his waltz with each reprisal. He has been allowed to retire to the Clock of Waters in the music room.]
The other entry covers the last pages of the catalogue.
The Celebrated Carousel of the Margravine of Blois contains four and twenty automata, none less than twelve hands tall. Beginning with the pair of blood bays and circling left, they are: the bays, Hesperus and Phosphorus; Prometheus the black bear; the Cockatrice, the Phoenix, the Chimera, the Sphinx, and the Manticore; Terpsichore the zebra, Ambrosias the elephant, Gamaliel the lion, Caesar the panther; the three white horses of the moon, named Artemis and Luna and Selene; the three black horses of the sun, named Apollo and Helios and Sol; the dragons, Boreas and Ariel; Lucien the serpent, Zephyr the eagle, Clytemnestra the ox, and Antigone, the silver dolphin.
[In fainter ink near the bottom of the page: Clytemnestra does not like the current Duke of Cloud. Gamaliel will only carry virgins if their lovers are riding Caesar, and Caesar will not carry men over forty who wear too much musk. Phosphorus will suffer no mistress but my own—the lady Porphyrogene.]
Of the page’s final bit of marginalia, I can only read the name Hesperus, and a word that might be killed.
The weather has become unbearable—the lightning burns the sky without pause, the thunder’s roll is as constant as the sea’s—and today I have found the first evidence of Summerfall’s ghosts.
One manifestation I am quite familiar with, and it points—however unsteadily—to the ghost’s identity. No matter how many times I return the Margravine of Blois’s catalogue to its place on the shelf, it appears on a desk the next morning, always open to the entry on the carousel. This has happened four days now consecutively, and I can find no natural cause. (Of course, Jean-Baptiste will not hear of me spending the night in the library.)
The other circumstance is subtle, so that I hesitate to mention it at all, yet I have gathered enough incidental evidence to be certain that something is in fact taking place. The clocks of the Margravine of Blois are dying.
Having studied the Margravine’s catalogue on the night of the twenty-third, I took an inventory of the thirteen clocks in my apartment. That night, all of them seemed to operate passably; but on the twenty-forth, the Clock of Ravens was missing three of its birds. The next night, the prince from the Clock of the Seventh Slumber would not awaken, no matter how many times his clockwork princess kissed him; and yesterday evening, Death laid down his violin and refused to play. I repeat that I know little of the Clockmaker’s art, and moreover, I do not know if such occurrences as these have been frequent in the past, or if this is a new development. I shall have to read more of Monsieur Cloud before I draw any conclusions.
Strangely, while I am glad to have made some progress in my investigations, these discoveries do not relieve the restlessness that has plagued me for days. When I think of a ghost in Summerfall, I feel—dare I say it?—a sort of vague and simmering envy.
Why should Porphyrogene be haunted by the woman she loved?
Why should I not be?
Dinner with Porphyrogene again. Whatever her business is outside of Summerfall, the rain must keep her from it. She was terribly restless all afternoon, turning every surface beneath her fingertips into an impromptu and poorly-tuned pianoforte.
My news about the Margravine’s catalogue did not impress her—“We all have our lullabies, don’t we, m’sieur?” was her cryptic response—but my report on the clocks seemed to plunge her into melancholy.
“No,” she said in response to my inquiry, “it is not new, though it seems to be accelerating. How terrible…” She closed her eyes and laid a hand across the lids. “Do you miss your wife, M’sieur Saint-Pierre?”
I literally choked on my wine. “Madame, you may as well ask if I breathe.”
“She doesn’t haunt you, then?”
“No,” I said, remembering my thoughts from last night. “Forgive me, but I don’t think—”
“Do you know that the carousel is broken? It hasn’t worked in twelve years.” She lifted her hand from her eyes. “It’s a terrible thought, isn’t it, M’sieur Saint-Pierre, that all their work dies with them?”
Involuntarily, I shuddered.
“There are days you wish, don’t you, that you had something of hers—a letter, a lock of hair—something you could hold and say, this is her. This exists because she did.” Porphyrogene stood and began pacing between the parlor windows. “The rhymes didn’t lie entirely, you know. I did leave her blankets turned down. As if that was all it would take to keep her here.”
Keep her here, she said—not bring her back. There was a brief silence. I said, quite softly, “I understand.”
She turned to me, and I felt my face heating. “Violeta could have moved the world,” I said. “When she died, I could only watch as it rolled back into place.”
“The cruelest things on earth,” Porphyrogene said, “are that it never changes and it never stops. Grief, M’sieur Saint-Pierre, is a carousel. You get on and you ride as fast and as hard as you can, but it only brings you back to where you started.”
We finished the meal in silence. It must have been clear from my eyes, as I know it was clear from hers, that neither of us was whom the other wanted to see across the table.
That dream again. I am standing on the shore as the sea rolls in, staining the bleached stones with all the colors of a jewel box. Suddenly, the smell of lavender and fever. I turn and see the Margravine of Blois.
This time, I reach for her. Her face becomes Violeta’s the moment before it slips through my fingers like foam.
I have found the bedroom of the Margravine of Blois.
It is at the end of a long corridor in the north wing, which I discovered by means of a concealed passage behind one of the library shelves. I cannot say the existence of the passage surprises me very much. From what I have seen of Summerfall, and of Jean-Baptiste’s miraculous powers of apparition, I’d expected to encounter one sooner or later. On emerging behind a standing clock of prodigious size, I had planned merely to look around, perhaps trying the keys from Porphyrogene’s ring; but upon seeing in one room the distinctive handwriting of the Margravine of Blois, I abandoned caution and went to investigate.
The writing, incidentally, which arches over the bed and would normally be hidden by the curtains, quotes only a line of poetry: Here I took my rest; my joy came in other places. I cannot imagine why, as the chamber itself seems cheerful—enough, I was going to say, but truly a great deal more than that. The walls and bedclothes are covered in golden silk, painted, in the case of the former, with emerald branches that serve as perches for dozens of painted birds. A portrait over the dressing table shows Porphyrogene seated on a garden bench, the Margravine of Blois kneeling at her feet. There is only one clock in the room, standing on a window ledge, its hands formed by a pair of racing blood bays.
As I came closer, I saw that there was a slip of paper wedged into the door of the pendulum box, yellowed and ratty, as though it had been taken out and stuffed back in many times—more times, indeed, than its contents seem to warrant. Here they are, transcribed from the writing of the Margravine of Blois:
Ha!—you see, madame, that I bow as always to my lady’s request. Though your sad little jest alone could not tease laughter from these lips, your command shall be to me as God’s.
Another, my love? Are all your riddles so miserable? Pray bring something more cheerful, lest I am forced to drastic measures to steal a smile from your sweet mouth.
I am forced to reply in kind: What goes on scales in the morning, on feathers at noon, and sleeps at the end of the day on flesh and bone?
A ring, madame: the jeweler’s scale when it is made, to the down box in which I purchased it (at no small cost, I might add), to my lady’s finger, if she is clever enough to undo the knot with which it is bound to Phosphorus’s neck!
And indeed, the miniature bay on the hour hand still wears a silver ring. Though tempted, I did not try the knot.
I have been hesitant to pull the golden cord, but curiosity, as always, has finally gotten the better of me. For days I had pondered a question to which, it seemed to me, Jean-Baptiste would know the answer.
“Why did she ask me to come here?”
He blinked, his large pale eyes moving slowly down and up. “Monsieur?”
“Be honest, Jean-Baptiste—you know there is no ghost in Summerfall. Certainly no ghost of the Margravine of Blois.”
He nodded slowly. “I suspected so, monsieur. She was not the sort to linger. I myself have seen nothing, mind you—nothing but the clocks, and while they are haunting enough in their own way, I daresay Monsieur Christopher of Cloud could put them in their place.”
It occurred to me to wonder how familiar a servant could be with Monsieur Cloud, but I let it pass. There is no denying that the Margravine of Blois was a genius Clockmaker; perhaps it permeated her conversation, even with her lover’s valet.
Jean-Baptiste was watching warily as I paced the room. “Monsieur? Will that be all?”
“No,” I said. “I know Porphyrogene is no fool. What did she expect to gain from me, if this place isn’t haunted?”
“Perhaps she wants to be haunted, monsieur.”
It took every ounce of self-control I possess to limit my reaction to a raised eyebrow.
“I beg your pardon, monsieur.” He waited until I gestured for him to go on. “Porphyrogene is not grieving for the Margravine of Blois. It seems to me she cried all her tears for the woman twelve years ago. But for the artist, the builder of the carousel? That is a hard thing to let die.”
“I suppose it is,” I said. And weak fool that I am, I began to cry.
October 2, later
In the northernmost room of the library, there is a book by the Margravine of Blois called Clockwork Souls. I have always thought it was a silly concern, and a quintessentially artistic one—what happens to automata after they die. In all probability, they are simply gone, vanished as if they never were. With all my experience, I have never met a clockwork ghost.
Nor have I met the ghost of the Margravine of Blois. Does this mean that she, too, is simply gone? And even her clockwork is vanishing—the carousel is broken, the clocks are dying or dead.
Isn’t it a terrible thought, that all their work dies with them?
And here is a worse thought:
The night Violeta died, I climbed up to the rain-slick roof and looked up at the sky. One-by-one, the heavy clouds were clearing and the stars emerging from the darkness. In a feverish fantasy, I imagined that there had been a time, when the world was young, that stars filled the sky—made it a solid sheet of light arching over the earth. But one-by-one, the stars began to die—and Man, having a poor memory, began to believe that the sky had always been black.
I am a widow. I am the black spot left in the sky when a star has guttered out.
For a week, I have been gone with fever. I need not detail my dreams, save to say that they were the haunting grounds for more than one ghost. I woke this morning to find Porphyrogene standing over me, a moist cloth in one hand and a look of profound unease on her face.
“You were calling for Violeta,” was all she said.
I flopped back on my pillows, and found myself staring at the portrait of the Margravine of Blois hung over my head.
“Why did she leave?” I asked.
Porphyrogene followed my gaze, her lips pressed thin. “An accident,” she said finally. “On the carousel. The simple fact, M’sieur Saint-Pierre, is that all clockwork goes mad eventually, and she built that carousel too big. We thought it was going to be Phosphorus first—he was such a violent, crazy thing, and wouldn’t be tame for anyone but me—but it wasn’t. It was his brother.”
She chaffed her wrists, heedless of the cloth in her hand. “Hesperus was carrying Évariste of Blois—the Margravine’s cousin, son of the famous composer. The carousel had stopped, and the Margravine was helping me down from Phosphorus’s saddle. Hesperus reared suddenly. She managed to roll out from under his hooves, but Évariste fell.”
“Trampled. The corpse was unrecognizable.” Porphyrogene looked down at her hands, then swiftly dabbed at my forehead with the damp cloth, as if that glance had brought it back to her mind. “I begged her to stay, of course. It was a nasty scene all around. She said Hesperus’s madness had been a much-needed awakening, showing how enslaved she had become to me—a gelding, like Phosphorus when I held his reins. Those were the last words she spoke to me. She did something to the carousel before she left, and it hasn’t worked since.”
“You said she died here—because of the carousel.”
“I think…” She frowned, biting her lip. “I think she wanted to reawaken it. She was terribly sick by then—consumption—she knew she was dying. I think she wanted to leave something behind.”
I sat up. It was a slow, laborious process, and it left the room buzzing around me like a swarm of bees. “Why is it so hard,” I asked when I’d caught my breath, “to believe she came back for you?”
Porphyrogene shook her head, smiling or grimacing.
“I’m serious. Why does it have to be the carousel—some unfinished business, left behind for you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. You should get some rest, M’sieur Saint-Pierre, after your fever…”
“I want to be haunted, Porphyrogene.” She looked at me as if I had gone mad—as if I were about to trample something, or go battling songbirds. “I told you that Violeta doesn’t haunt me, and it’s true. Horribly, unbearably true. When I think of everything she was, the quick ripostes over dinner, the magnificent letters she wrote when we were away from each other, her way with languages…it makes me sick. All of it is gone.” I felt a moistness on my lip, and licked it away, thinking it was sweat; but it tasted sweet, the briny sweetness of tears. “Anything that could remain of her, I would take. A disembodied foot-fall, a slip of mist, a cool breeze in the night. A book that could not stay shut. And if I thought here was a man who could draw ghosts to a house—”
“How dare you,” Porphyrogene interrupted, “compare your flippant little wife to the Margravine of Blois?”
“You’re trying to build a ghost, Porphyrogene. You want to be haunted.”
She flung the cloth at me and ran from the room.
All this time, she has been going down to the carousel.
It explains the persistent re-opening of the Margravine’s catalogue, and Jean-Baptiste’s familiarity with Christopher of Cloud—what valet, after all, is not familiar with his mistress’s reading? For six years, perhaps longer, she has been trying to reawaken the carousel of the Margravine of Blois.
The rain let up sometime over the seven days of my sickness, and I went down this afternoon to the gardens. Years of neglect have left them as barren and white as salt flats. In the center of the desolation, as red and black and golden as the Margravine herself, is the carousel and its twenty-four clockworks. Even from a distance, I could see their characters from their poses and expressions: clever Antigone, balanced nearly on her tail, and graceful Ambrosias with his trunk held high, and proud Clytemnestra striding firmly across the metal stage. Closest to me, the bays Phosphorus and Hesperus lay peaceful and dormant on folded legs.
I did not stay long, as I knew Porphyrogene would be coming down shortly. But I will confess, there is something terribly captivating about the carousel. When I lay my hand against Phosphorus’s flank, it felt as warm as living flesh—or as warm as metal that living hands had touched.
This shall be my last night in Summerfall. As I said to Jean-Baptiste, there is no sense in me staying on when the only ghosts are made of metal.
“I understand, monsieur,” he said, then looked at me oddly. “I know she has done little to show it, but the lady Porphyrogene is grateful that you came. It was good to have this bed filled again, if you understand me.”
“I beg your pardon!” I exclaimed, leaping up from the furniture in question.
“That bed, monsieur. It was Porphyrogene’s, while the Margravine of Blois lived in Summerfall.”
“The very bed whose blankets poets satired, I don’t wonder.” Weariness came over me then, and I leaned heavily against the wall. “You know, Jean-Baptiste, I wish I had followed Porphyrogene’s example. The last thing my wife touched was a silk blanket, to pull it closer around her. I wish I had never moved that blanket, so that something could remain as Violeta had put it.”
“Ah,” Jean-Baptiste said, eyeing the bed pensively. “But then where would monsieur have slept?”
October 14, early morning
In my dream, Violeta is riding the carousel of the Margravine of Blois. I am watching her from the gravel walkway, my heart pounding in my throat, and she waves each time she passes me, standing gracefully in the blood bay’s stirrups.
But something is wrong. With each cycle, her color drains a little more. Soon she is nothing but a streak of white, like a tearstain…and then she is gone.
Still, the carousel turns.
I found Porphyrogene out in the gardens before dawn. She had a sheaf of papers spread across Clytemnestra’s broad back, and a stack of tools piled at her feet. I crossed the gravel walkway in two strides and leapt onto the carousel stage with a reverberant clang.
“What are you doing here?” Porphyrogene snapped, not looking up from her book. From where I stood, I could see that the page was rimmed with slanted marginalia. I came up on the other side of the ox and flipped the treatise closed.
“I have a gift for you,” I said, and when Porphyrogene looked up at me, I held out a silver ring in the palm of my hand.
The change in her was sudden and terrible. Her eyes widened, her lips pressed thin and pale, the long bridge of her nose tightened into a web of wrinkles. “How dare you,” she said, snatching the ring from my hand. “How—”
“How dare I what, Porphyrogene? She bought that ring for your finger, not for a clockwork horse.”
“I thought you of all people would understand.” Her fingers closed into a fist around the ring, as though she could crush it. “What harm could there be in keeping everything the way it was, before…?”
“Are you happy, Porphyrogene?” I interrupted.
She shook her head, not looking at me. “How can you even ask?”
I circled around Clytemnestra, past Antigone’s silver tail, and crouched down by Hesperus’s head, where the pile of tools gleamed. A steel pike lay across the top, its slender tip designed to pry open the nearly seamless clockwork. I took it in my hand, feeling its cool weight up through my arm like the trail of a phantom finger.
“There are three things in the world you can never change,” I said. Turning from Hesperus’s wild eyes, I found myself facing the paper-thin membrane of Antigone’s tail. “The first is that the Margravine of Blois lived.”
Swiftly, before Porphyrogene could stop me, I drove the spike through the silver dolphin.
“No!” Porphyrogene shouted, but I continued over her protest.
“She lived, she built this carousel and a thousand brilliant clocks besides, and she laughed at your riddles because you told her to. She loved color and she loved this house and she loved you.” I punctuated each phrase with a blow to one of the clockworks: Clytemnestra’s smooth flank, Zephyr’s outspread wing, Lucien’s undulating tongue. Porphyrogene made no move to stop me, though her eyes were darkening with fury. I could only hope she was listening to my words.
“The second,” I said, “is that the Margravine of Blois died, and her genius died with her.”
Was it my imagination, or did a look of relief come into Boreas’s snarling face as I drove the spike into his belly?
Porphyrogene caught my wrist as I turned to Ariel. Tears brimmed unchecked in her eyes. “And the third?” she said.
“The third is that you cannot bring the Margravine of Blois back from the dead, and it’s killing you to try. That’s the thing with ghosts—even metal ones.” I broke her grip and slashed at Ariel’s claws. “There are things the living and the dead cannot share. The Margravine of Blois isn’t any more dead because her clockwork no longer runs, and she wouldn’t be any more alive if it could. But we have a choice, Porphyrogene—between me and a ghost, between you and a carousel. The living or the dead.”
I held out the spike to her, as I had held out the ring. “Choose however you want,” I said, “but you must choose. You cannot jump on Phosphorus’s back and hope the world doesn’t change anymore while you’re going in circles.”
For a long moment, Pophyrogene looked at me. She opened her palm, slid the silver ring onto her finger. Then she took the spike.
That, madame, is the tragedy of the celebrated carousel of the Margravine of Blois. The remains are buried in Summerfall—where, as you may see from the address on this package, I have decided to stay on. Porphyrogene has begun to expand her library, Jean-Baptiste is designing some small clockworks, and I am continuing my investigations, but the house seems large enough to accommodate all these imperialistic pursuits.
Though there is one room, at the end of a long corridor in the north wing, whose purpose we have agreed upon; it houses a pair of clockwork bays, their elegant legs folded beneath them in repose. Should these be of interest to you, madame, you are most welcome to come some day to Summerfall and we shall introduce you. They are really quite beautiful, a testament to the enduring genius of the celebrated Margravine of Blois.
—Antoine Aristide de Saint-Pierre