|An automaton from the Centre International de la Mécanique d'Art|
Diana Benedict lives in a small suburban Colorado city a mile away from where she grew up. She loves studying magic and history and will take any opportunity to combine them into a good story. She once tried to work a spell inspired by a tale her great aunt told her and has always felt lucky that it only turned her fingers green for a week. Learn more about Diana and her writing on her website.
My name is Francie Wolcott. I am eighteen, three years away from my majority. My parents died in a carriage accident, leaving my brother and me orphans. We made our way from Philadelphia to San Francisco to make a place with my father’s family by traveling with a carnival using the fortunetelling automaton my brother built.
That was going very well, and I found I had a taste not just for traveling but for entrepreneurship. Then a woman died in front of the automaton and wouldn’t pass over, her spirit preferring instead to make her home in the automaton. The machine had been a marvel before, with its gears and carefully crafted mannequin. Now, it is positively magical. And the quality of the fortunes is much improved.
My Uncle Jasper, God bless him, is so involved in his mechanical workshop that details like propriety escape him. And, although I was perfectly comfortable traveling in the carnival, lots of people think carnies are liars and thieves and murderers. Some are, my brother and I found that out, much to our consternation. The rest are just people making a living the best they know how.
Grandmother Wolcott, who took us in, was horrified when she found out how we traveled and that we actually worked for our passage. She forbade me from taking the automaton anywhere. I have to have a place to live, so I have no position to argue from.
When Cousin Cate took me to a Suffragette Salon, I saw lots of working women there. I never understood why women aren’t supposed to work. My mother worked in our family’s mercantile store. I worked there, too. But Grandmama says that women of our station are to marry a mature man, raise children, and make a beautiful home that is a credit to their husbands.
Even before I heard Selina Ellen Solomons, a famous suffragette, speak, I think I should rather die than be trapped that way. I would rather see the world. That’s still my plan--to travel the world with Madame LaFontaine, the ghost that has taken up residence in my brother’s automaton.
Miss Solomons tells women to avoid the myths that men will tell them about why they shouldn’t work. Things like “Women are morally superior and pure and better than any other man. Engaging in politics will ruin you or make you any less womanly than you are.”
Knowing that women are working every day to achieve the vote and manage their own lives makes me that much more certain I want my own life. Not that I don’t want children, I just want to see the world before I settle down.
Now, I just have to find a way to avoid the dinner parties Grandmama takes me to where the older men do everything but check my teeth in their eagerness to marry me and father children upon me posthaste.
Perils for Portents
America in the 1890s is a land of dreams for anyone brave enough and strong enough to make them come true.
After Francie Wolcott’s parents die, leaving her and her genius younger brother, Rooney, penniless, she intends to tour the world with the fortunetelling automaton he built. But first she must bring Rooney to their uncle in San Francisco, where he will have a place to happily tinker and invent things.
With no traveling funds, Francie and Rooney join a traveling carnival heading west, using the automaton as an attraction to pay their way. All goes well at first—until a real ghost takes up residence in the automaton. As the fortunes become eerily more accurate, Francie believes real success is finally within her grasp, but the machine’s prognostications also implicate the carnival manager, Big Jim, in a murder.
Intent on murdering Francie to keep his secret safe, Jim pursues them across the country to the boomtown of San Francisco. Francie must use all her wits and skill to stop him if she has any hope of achieving her dream of independence and of protecting her and her brother from Big Jim’s clutches.