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Proserpina

The Lees’ rooms are small and bright. Madeleine Havisham is not large, but she barely fits on Elijah’s mother’s little mattress, curled up with a hand at her mouth.

“Thank you for this,” says Proserpina.

Elijah says nothing.

“She can’t stay here,” says Proserpina. “They’d just–I’ve talked Mr. Buchanan into taking her on as my tutor. On the steamer with us. I think she’ll accept.”

“Don’t you,” says Elijah, and his voice shakes. “Don’t you need a porter? Me fetch carry very good, Miss Lady. Only two dollar–”

“Elijah,” she whispers, and tries to kiss him. His lips are cold.

Proserpina

“Mrs. Macnair!” says the hotelier smoothly. “Do you require assistance?”

“I want to know what my daughter is doing here with these–people.”

“Mother!” says Proserpina.

“I thought I’d ride the train out early and take you shopping for summer clothes,” says Mrs. Macnair. “Now I find you not only out of school, but in disreputable company!”

“This is important!” says Proserpina. “My teacher–”

Her mother’s grip on her shoulder is sudden and tight. “That’s enough, young lady.”

“Proserpina?” says Elijah.

Proserpina has frozen, face white, just a fourteen-year-old girl remembering: this is the woman who broke my arm.

Proserpina

“She smells like the shade of death,” says the hotelier. He jerks his head at Elijah. “We won’t have them here either. Try the flophouse at Oaks.”

“This woman is ill,” Proserpina says again. “If you’ll give her a meal, a bath and a room you’ll be compensated tomorrow.”

“You should get back, dear,” mumbles Miss Havisham, barely standing. “It’s time for class.”

“Didn’t think we even had any opium dens here,” the hotelier sniffs. “Much less with trollops.”

“I will ask once more.” Her fist tightens, and–

“Proserpina,” says her mother, in the doorway. “What on earth are you doing?”

Proserpina

“You’re a deus ex machina,” Miss Havisham whispers.

“We are not yet,” says Proserpina tightly, “out of the machine.”

They can’t get out the way they came in. Emily-Jane’s already had to break an orderly’s nose; more must be coming soon–

And then, suddenly, Elijah is standing in a delivery door. “Come on,” he says. The world outside is surprisingly sunlit.

“I’m taking her into town,” says Proserpina. “Elijah?”

He nods.

“I have to get back to school,” says Radiane. “Georgette, Euphrania, you can help me cover–”

“I’m going to tell my father,” says Iala, pale and sick and furious.

Proserpina

Proserpina’s grades have not improved.

One stolen Saturday, Elijah takes her ragged disguise of a sleeve and leads her up on top of the cinema, then over a series of other roofs to a viewpoint down on Maple Street. Horse drovers and motorists shout elaborate curses as a phalanx of silent women march very, very slowly, bound together by a hand-stitched banner: SUFFRAGE.

“They’re mad,” says Elijah admiringly. “Half-dollar says one of them gets her head kicked in.”

Proserpina doesn’t think Miss Havisham makes eye contact from the front of the ranks, but at this distance she isn’t sure.

Proserpina

“And anyway,” she says, “I’m only fourteen, and more anyway, I already have a–a suitor, if you must know.”

It would be different if he were threatening her somehow: she’d know how to deal with that. But instinct tells her that fists are not the proper tools for this situation. Proserpina, exasperated, wishes she knew how to counterpunch a grin that makes her back tingle.

“So which is it,” Elijah says, “you’re too young to pursue, or already caught?”

“Neither,” she finds herself whispering.

Her overall impression of kissing is that it is sort of wet, and rather defuses everything.

Proserpina

He shows her where the film feeds from its reel into the intricate wheels of the Kinetoscope, and holds the stock up before a single hot bulb to show her the nearly-identical frames.

“Now blink like this,” Elijah says, “that many times a second, and watch–”

His hand is on hers, cranking the handle; Corbett’s fist withdraws before her eyes, and Fitzsimmons’s head whips around.

“I should be getting back,” Proserpina says, at last and with regret.

“Come by Saturday,” he says.

“You know I can’t–”

“Say I kidnapped you.”

“They’d never believe,” she says dryly, “you won that struggle.”

Proserpina

“Knew you wouldn’t miss tonight,” he says, as mustachioed men circle and sweat. “You’ve got a thing for Black Jack Sullivan.”

“I came to tell you I won’t be attending these fights anymore.”

“Oh, I see,” says Elijah, “now you have your own league in there to keep you entertained.”

“In fact, it’s because you made clear the risks–”

“Which risks in particular?” he says crookedly.

Proserpina’s pulse pounds in her healing eye. “Don’t try to be coy.”

“The risk of getting chased around by some squint-eyed cinema boy?”

“The risk of getting caught and–” she hesitates. “By some what?”

Proserpina

“Elijah,” he says, and sticks out his hand.

“A gentleman, Elijah,” says Proserpina, “would take my hand first.”

“You’re not one for the gentle,” he grins.

“That’s an ugly assumption,” she says. Behind her, Radiane hammers the bell and yells for the combatants to break their clinch.

“I’ve seen you at the fights, in your smudge and breeches. Not fooling everyone.”

“Don’t follow me again,” she says coldly.

“I don’t have to, now.”

“You’re displaying an unseemly interest.”

“Another thing we have in common,” he says, and attempts to disappear into the shadows, except she watches him all the way out.

Proserpina

“They’re going to end up on the floor,” says one of the watchers dryly.

“Have a little faith.” Proserpina smiles. “Iala will want to mess up her face a little first, and this way they can’t use their fingernails.”

“So what are their sandwich board names? Messface McRichiegirl and the Scratcher?”

Proserpina realizes, with a motionless shock, that her interlocutor is a boy–around her age, long arms draped over the scaffolding, dark shirt and suspenders blended with the shadows of the large and dusty hall.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” she says.

“Neither are you,” he points out, correctly.

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