Valentine’s Day Flash Fiction: The Music Box

Did you just read Jude Knight’s lovely story, connected to her book When Dreams Come True in Storm & Shelter? Wasn’t it lovely. Thanks for sharing that, as we go around our blog circle.

For those who are starting with me, keep following the links at the end of the post, until you come back here when the circle is complete.

Here is my story. It focuses on two minor characters from my novel The Bennet Affair. In that story, Mr. Mendel is a genius clockmaker who helps Darcy and Elizabeth break a spy ring. But even a genius needs a love story, right? Don’t forget to comment to enter the draw for the Grand Prize a USD75 gift card, and follow the links for more romantic Valentine’s Day flash fiction!

The Music Box:
Jacob and Judith Mendel’s Story

Supplement to The Bennet Affair

© Riana Everly 2021

London, 1787

Jacob Mendel bowed before yet another in a long line of gentlemen and their ladies, come to admire his unusual creations. He was a mere clockmaker, albeit one with a bit of imagination and creativity, but his music boxes and small clockwork toys had of late become the toast of the ton. When he had set up this exhibition at his friend’s suggestion, he imagined two or three bored lower gentry in their long coats and powdered wigs casting a half a glance at his wares before yawning and heading back through the door. “Silly little foreigner,” he imagined them whispering to each other. “To think us interested in… that!”

But reality had proven otherwise. The space he had rented for the event was crowded with wealthy merchants and aristocrats alike, all eager to see what he had made, all cooing and raving over this device or that one, all lined up to make appointments to commission something special. But there was one other attraction that brought the well-heeled to his little exhibition: the music of Miss Judith Hirsch.

The Hirsch family had their apartments across the mews from his own small set of rooms. While theirs faced the street with an elegant portico, his backed onto the alleyway. But when his window was open, he could often hear Miss Hirsch playing at her fortepiano in the family’s music room, and he had fallen in love with her through her exquisite playing.

How he had summoned the courage to invite – no, he corrected himself, to beg – her to play music for his exhibition, he would never know. Her family did not lack for funds, and she herself was a music teacher much in demand by the upper classes. He had even brought her a small gift to entice her, a sort of clockwork device that emitted a loud tick with adjustable frequency to help her teach her students to keep in tempo.

To his surprise, she had accepted with a great smile, even before he presented his offering to her.

Now he glanced over to where she was finishing a set of dances to see her smiling at him once again. She was a pretty enough young woman, if nothing uncommon, but her eyes were her glory: great, dark, luminous eyes that danced in delight when something pleased her. And now, as she sent a quick grin his way, they were sparkling. His heart pattered molto allegro and he hoped he did not look too besotted as he turned to yet another viscount hoping to request a commission.

At last the day was over and the door closed for the final time. Asher, Jacob’s assistant, set about straightening the shelves, while Miss Hirsch’s maid Ruth went to dust fingerprints off some of the larger toys. Jacob had offered her a good supplement to her regular wages for her assistance and she seemed pleased enough to help.

“You will have to bring more of your music boxes from the storeroom.” Miss Hirsch spoke from behind him. He spun about to beam at her.

“Indeed I shall. I had no idea…” He waved a hand at the lacunae on the shelves where only hours ago, so many of his little creations had stood.

“You should not be surprised. They are wonderful.” Miss Hirsch was, upon first acquaintance, quiet almost to the point of rudeness, but upon growing comfortable with her company, she became gregarious and at times, outrageously opinionated. “Even that silly marquess, with his pink hair and orange brocade coat. He looked like he was dressed by a three-year-old allowed to run loose in a fabric warehouse. Even he knew enough to purchase your finest music box. Here, this one is almost exactly like it.” She walked over to where a small box sat upon a counter. It was an appealing enough piece, covered in a thin veneer of gold beaten into the new elegant Grecian style. Lovely, but not particularly special. Until one wound the clockwork and opened the lid.

Then magic happened. Inside the box was a panel, painted in beautiful shades to resemble flower-covered fields, through which ran a stream that meandered about the perimeter of the panel. In the very centre, a circular disc slid sideways, and up through the resulting hole emerged a cloisonné goldfish, gleaming and shining and encrusted with tiny gemstones. As the internal music box played a jaunty little tune, the cloisonné figure moved so as to resemble the swimming motions of a real fish. The head swung this direction and then that, as the tail did the opposite, all the while the fins gently fluttered and the little mother-of-pearl mouth opened the closed.

When the marquess’ bank draught came through, it alone would keep Jacob in comfort for a year. Then there were the scores of commissions and requests for appointments. If only half of them came to fruition, he would be a rather wealthy man.

Other lovely items sat on other surfaces, some already claimed by purchasers, others waiting for new owners. A simple music box, a bird in a cage that flapped its wings, a butterfly that circled an enamel flower on a long stalk, all were marvels of engineering and objects of beauty.

“You will be the talk of the town before long,” she grinned up at him again.

“If I am, it is because so many came today to hear your music.”

For the next two days this scene was repeated. From the moment the doors to the exhibition room were opened, the salon was filled with curious men and women. Some, to be certain, came to hover around the fortepiano where Miss Hirsch caressed Haydn sonatas, Mozart variations, and Telemann fantasias from the instrument with exquisite precision and heartbreaking musicality. But most came to ogle at Jacob’s little toys, and to buy and put in requests, until when the door was closed on the very last day of the exhibit, he was exhausted but well set for a great long time. He could give up his small rooms and take something larger, something more suited for a family. Dare he hope?

“Did Lord Bushgrove really request a life-size singing parrot for his London house?” Miss Hirsch asked. “I was resting my hands for a while when I heard him.”

“Ja!” At times, Jacob’s native German crept out, replacing the English he had studied so hard when first he arrived in London. “And the duke has made an appointment to commission a special piece as well – a sort of astrolabe, but round like a globe, with moving orbs about it for the sun and moon. I named an exorbitant price and he agreed without hesitation. I believe…” Yes. He would be brave. If not now, when?

“Yes, Mr. Mendel?” She was looking at him through those thick lashes, her dark sparkling eyes pools of beauty that his finest creation could never equal. Her fair skin was flushed with the palest dusting of tulips, and her rosy lips were just barely parted. He struggled to keep himself from grabbing her right then and kissing her. But perhaps…

“Miss Hirsch, may I show you something? Not here, but at my workshop? Of course Ruth may come. Asher will join us as well.”

She nodded and smiled again, then bit her bottom lip. His heart skipped a beat.

It was cold outside, as the middle of February so often is, and the short walk from the rented salon to the workshop left them all huddling in their heavy winter coats. Asher lit the fire and led Ruth over to it to warm up, while Jacob invited Miss Hirsch to the other side of the room. There, a large object lay shrouded under a draped cloth.

“Please,” he invited her.

She removed the protective sheet and gasped. “Is it…?”

“Inspired by you. Yes. Please,” he said again and gestured for her to wind up the mechanism.

The object was of a young woman seated at a small keyboard, and as the clockwork began to work its magic, the figure came to life. Her head looked this way and then that, and then down at the keyboard, where her fingers moved independently, up and down, as her arms moved from side to side, producing real music from a real tiny harpsichord. This was no music box. It was an automaton really playing an instrument. Miss Hirsch leaned over to touch a key, and was rewarded with the sound of that note.

“Mr. Mendel… it is… astounding.”

“It was a labour of love. Miss Hirsch, may I be so bold? That is, I am no great maker of speeches, but I have come to love you and wondered…”

Her face had gone blank. His heart fell to his shoes. This is not what he had hoped for, but surely, she was too good for him.

He squeezed his eyes closed in despair, but then something strange happened.

He felt hands upon his forearms, and then a gentle pressure on his mouth.

His eyes flew open. She was kissing him!

“Does that mean yes?”

“Jacob, my love! You are a genius in so many ways, but so daft in so many others. Could you not have noticed that I love you too? Yes, of course I will marry you. I thought you’d never ask.”

~*~

Image result for pierre jaquet droz doll gif

I hope you enjoyed my little story. Please comment below for a chance to win the gift card.

And, as a special treat this Valentine’s Day, I will randomly select one person who comments to win an eBook copy of The Bennet Affair. You can read about the book here: www.books2read.com/thebennetaffair

Make sure you leave a way to contact you if you win, or check back here on Monday, Feb 15, to see the winner.

UPDATE: CONGRATS TO ANXIOUS58 FOR WINNING A COPY OF THE BENNET AFFAIR
Please let me know how to contact you.
You can email me at riana.everly@gmail.com

~*~

Now HOP on over to the next blog for another romantic story based on her novel Knight of Runes. You can find Ruth A. Casie at her blog https://ruthacasie.blogspot.com/, and don’t forget to check out her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RuthACasie.

53 thoughts on “Valentine’s Day Flash Fiction: The Music Box

  1. susiesellnergmailcom says:

    I love stories where people are humble about their talents but others recognize and appreciate them. This is a really sweet story!
    susiesellner at gmail dot com

    Like

    • Riana Everly says:

      I remember those little jewelry boxes with the ballerinas from when I was young. Then I started researching 18th-century music boxes, and I was just blown away by the beauty and sophistication. They were outstanding pieces of art and engineering.
      I hope you found something fabulous for your father.

      Like

  2. Lori Dykes says:

    What a wonderful story! I have been fascinated with automatons and love when they are mentioned in stories. To think of creating these are amazing and how the ideas started.

    Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

    Like

    • Riana Everly says:

      Aren’t the automata amazing? The genius and artistry that went into creating them is just humbling, isn’t it? Next time I’m in Paris I need to go to see the Jacquet-Droz automata in person. Have you seen them?

      Like

  3. Riana Everly says:

    CONGRATS to ANXIOUS58!
    You have won a copy of The Bennet Affair.
    I ran all the comments through a random selector, and your name came up.
    Please let me know what format you prefer – Kobo or Kindle – and where to send the book.

    Like

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