The Girl with the Windup Heart Page 9


That part of her that was still fairly analytical knew it was ridiculous—running away because her feelings were hurt—but that other part of her, the one that was still new, and all girl, couldn’t spend another moment under his roof, knowing he would never feel the same way about her that she did about him. It was simply too painful. She told herself that she wouldn’t repeatedly smash her fingers with a brick, so why should she continue to watch Jack with his girls, knowing she was never going to be one of them.

No, not one of them. She wanted to be the one. The pain was knowing that Jack wasn’t going to let that happen. He didn’t see her as a real girl, and he never would. He saw her as a child, or worse—as a thing—and that she could not bear.

There was this emotion she’d begun to experience a lot as of late—it was the one called pride. Like most things, her understanding of it that day was better than it had been the day before. What a surprise to discover that she’d had an abundance of it long before she knew what to call it! But she did have it, and Jack...Jack had ground his boot heel into it when he’d basically accused her of not knowing her own mind. If there was one thing Mila knew it was her own mind. It might not always know her, but she was always well aware of it. Maybe other girls said things they didn’t mean and pretended they weren’t as smart as they were, but Mila didn’t understand the motivation behind such behavior, unless it was to make the males of the species feel smarter.

So maybe this stupidity Jack exhibited extended to all men. Was it a flaw in their biological composition? Or was it an evolutionary mutation permitted to persist by the fact that women had looked after them for centuries, such that the need to think lapsed behind the need to procreate? It was a sound thesis—one she might have to explore in greater detail. If she could prove that right, then she could blame Jack and not herself.

Maybe he just didn’t find her pretty or interesting. Maybe it wasn’t him, but herself that was the problem.

Oh, but she wasn’t ready to think on that. Right now, she planned to explore London in greater detail. Eventually, she planned to find her way to Griffin’s door and ask if she might stay for a bit, at least until the rest fell into place, but not right away, because that was the first place Jack would look for her—not because he knew her so terribly well, but because King House was home to the only people she’d even begin to call her friends. It wasn’t that Jack denied her the benefit of society, it was the fact that he had no friends himself. He had people he did business with, people he had a grudge against and people who wanted to use him, but no friends.

Except for her. Without her he’d be all alone again.

Mila paused in the middle of her packing and glanced toward the door. Maybe... No. Setting her jaw, she stuffed a pair of bloomers into the valise. Jack Dandy had managed to look after himself for years before prying open the lid to her crate. He’d do just fine when she was gone again. In fact, he’d probably be glad to be rid of her, and return to some semblance of normalcy. No more telling people she was his ward. No more hiding her, or explaining her presence to his “women friends.” Once he’d told a girl wearing too much rouge and not enough dress that Mila was his cousin from Yorkshire. They looked absolutely nothing alike, but the girl had believed it. Jack was good at lying, but perhaps he’d enjoy a break from it with her gone. No doubt his repair bills would be a lot shorter and less expensive without her around to break things.

She couldn’t take everything she owned with her—Jack had been generous with his gifts—but she packed the most important things—several changes of clothing, tooth powder, soap and her favorite book, The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. She’d discovered it when she was with the automatons. Jack had given her a brand-new copy with beautiful illustrations when she moved in with him. He’d given her many books, in many languages, but this was the one she treasured most. She didn’t need an extremely advanced logic engine in her head to understand why. It was only natural that she feel a connection with the puppet who wanted to be a real boy.

She wanted to be seen as a real girl, and the only way to achieve that was to go out and learn how to be one. Jack wasn’t about to teach her. And she’d rather be just a machine again than go to Finley for help. Jack’s precious “Treasure.” Of course he’d want Mila to be more like her. She was strong and beautiful, and knew what words meant. Mila might be able to lift a steam carriage over her head, but that didn’t make her unique, it just made her a freak.

Maybe she should find some other freaks. Maybe then she’d feel as though she belonged. Maybe they’d accept her just as she was. And maybe the ache in her chest that she felt every time Jack failed to understand her would go away. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Either way, there was a world out there, and she’d never understand it, never be part of it, if she didn’t go out into it and live.

Once she had packed everything she wanted to take, she opened the bottom drawer of the dresser and removed a small locked box. From it she withdrew a wad of pound notes. Jack gave her what he called pin money but since he bought her clothes, she’d never spent any of it. He fed her, let her read his books and made certain she had everything she needed—there was no need for money, so she’d put it aside. She had planned to buy him something with it one day.

Mila’s resolve wavered. She was going to need the money now. She was going to have to look after herself. Surely she could do that. She had to do it. The only way not to be a pet or a doll, or a burden, was to go out and prove herself.

One thing Jack had taught her was that people liked money—and they’d do almost anything to get it. Stealing was a concept she understood—machines took what they needed to improve or enhance themselves without much thought to the consequences, unless the outcome lacked logic. Money was necessary, and people might very well try to steal hers. She hid part of the money in one of her boots, another bit in a secret pocket inside her corset, and the smallest amount in the little purse tucked inside her jacket. Then, she set a derby hat on her head, swung her valise over her shoulder and headed for the door. She didn’t stop to look back at the room that had been her home for the past couple of months. If she looked back she wouldn’t leave.

And she had to leave, otherwise Jack may as well set her on a shelf and let her collect dust. She wouldn’t put it past him to pack her up like a doll. She’d been boxed up once, and the idea of having it done to her again was terrifying. So dark and close and lonely. There was a world out there and she wanted to see it. She needed to see it.

And she needed Jack to realize that he’d done the one thing he swore he’d never do—he’d hurt her. He had said that he’d always be there for her, and now she understood that he’d meant that like a father to a child, not as a man to a woman, or even a friend to a friend.

Downstairs she was intercepted by Mrs. Brooks. The older woman looked as though she’d just been taken out of a box, she was so neat and tidy. Mila hadn’t looked that creaseless when she came out of her crate.

“Going somewhere, dear?” There was an edge of alarm in her voice. Of course she was surprised. Other than the odd outing with Jack, Mila had never left the house unaccompanied before.

Say no, whispered a voice in her head. Ask for some cake and tea, and then go back upstairs where it’s safe and familiar. “I’m leaving.”

The woman’s eyes widened as color...drained from her face. “When should I tell Mr. Dandy you’ll return?”

Mila forced a smile. “I don’t expect to return, Mrs. Brooks. You may tell him that.”

“But...I don’t understand, child.” The woman wrung her hands. “Has he been cruel to you? Has he done you ill?”

“He hasn’t hurt me—not intentionally.” How did she explain when she didn’t quite understand herself? “He doesn’t see me—not as I am.”

Mrs. Brooks nodded as though she understood. In fact, a small smile curved her thin lips as her posture visibly relaxed. “Ah. And you hope your leaving will give him a little perspective, is that it?”

“Perspective,” Mila repeated, impressed. “That’s a very good word, Mrs. Brooks.”

“Thank you, my dear. Is there anyplace I should send the mister if he gains perspective quickly?”

“I... No,” she confessed. “I’m not sure where it is I’m going.”

The woman with drew a pencil and paper from her apron and wrote upon it. “My sister owns a boardinghouse for young ladies near Covent Garden. This is the direction. Can you read, child?”

“Yes.” It came out a little defensive. And then, with a little too much pride she added, “Five different languages.” She didn’t know how she knew them, she just did. Unfortunately, she only knew the words that she had already seen. It was as though she had a built-in translator engine, so that as soon as she learned a word in English, she learned it in her other languages.

“Plenty of jobs open to young ladies who know languages. You could become a governess.” Mrs. Brooks offered her the paper with the address written on it. “There are also those who would take advantage. You will be careful, won’t you?”

The concern in the housekeeper’s face made Mila’s throat tight. “I will, thank you.” She tucked the paper into her pocket. “Please don’t tell him where I’ve gone. Unless...unless he seems to miss me very terribly.”

There was a name for the expression Mrs. Brooks wore. It was...sympathy. “Of course. You be a good girl and go straight to that address so I don’t have to worry about you out there all alone, you hear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“All right.” Her tone held an edge of acceptance, as though she believed she could have stopped her if she wanted. Silly, sweet woman. “Take care of yourself. Keep your head up and your eyes open.”

Maybe the woman was right to feel sorry for her, Mila thought as she walked out of the house, into the late-afternoon drizzle. She turned her collar up against the damp and cold and started walking in the direction of Covent Garden. Jack had taken her twice to the theater there, so she knew the way.

Mrs. Brooks obviously believed Jack would look for her. Would miss her. Maybe he would. Maybe he’d be glad to find her gone. Glad to wash his hands of her. It didn’t matter. This wasn’t about Jack. Jack wasn’t her entire world, or rather he oughtn’t be. No, it wasn’t about Jack at all. It was about her. About finding out who she was, about being something more than a bit of metal wrapped in a flesh suit once intended to house a madman’s brain.

It was about relying on herself rather than the charity of others. It was about being the girl she wanted to be.

And if Jack Dandy didn’t miss her, then she was better off without him.

* * *

Death was not what Finley thought it would be.

First of all, there was a decided lack of angels, heavenly choirs and bright light. In fact, the Aether was fairly gray—as if everything wore a layer of ash. It wasn’t depressing, but rather ethereal-looking. It was like walking through a dream, complete with mist swirling about her feet.

She’d never been here in a proper manner before. Always she’d been connected to Griffin somehow—even if it was simply being in the same room. Those times she’d been aware of the real world lurking beyond the veil, but not this time. No layers, just the Aether, and it was as real as the living world.

One moment she’d been in Em’s lab, and now she was standing on a cobblestone path that wound through a forest dappled with silvery sunlight. Or maybe it was moonlight; it was difficult to tell. Regardless, it was beautiful and peaceful, so she wasn’t the least bit afraid. Most people didn’t get the opportunity to discover the secrets of this place while they were still alive. It was somewhat mollifying to realize that the realm of the dead was a welcoming place, rather than a frightening one.

But Garibaldi didn’t know she was there yet. There’d be plenty of time for fear once he did, she reckoned. Griffin wasn’t the only one he enjoyed hurting, and she had no doubt he’d love to play with her, as well. The knowledge of that did not deter her. Let The Machinist come. If he was after her then he couldn’t be torturing Griffin, so she’d take him on anytime. Unfortunately, she needed to do more than think about the bounder in order to find him. She clenched her jaw and took a step forward. She had no idea how long it was going to take to find Griffin and no idea how much time the Tesla suit would give her.

The suit hadn’t made the trip with her, which was odd. A warm breeze drifted across her face as she walked. It was like a pleasant summer evening in the Aether, not at all cold as she’d thought it would be. She was perfectly comfortable in her boots, stockings, dress and corset. Death was supposed to be cold, wasn’t it? Garibaldi deserved someplace cold and dark. Unforgiving and bleak.

As she walked, she caught glimpses through the trees—of what appeared to be little houses with lights on inside. People moved about in front of open windows, some dancing, some laughing or running. Some simply stared out at the forest. What were they looking at, or for? She couldn’t tell—she couldn’t see their eyes, or even much of their shadowed faces.

She came around a turn in the path. A lone bird sang mournfully from the forest. There were no houses visible here—just the narrow road surrounded by dense, lush trees. A girl in a long white dress sat on a low stone wall weeping, face in her hands. Her bare feet were dirty and rested on the nest of moss covering much of the wall.

“Are you all right?” Finley asked, then felt stupid. It was obvious the girl was not all right. She shouldn’t have stopped to ask. She had to find Griffin.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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