The students at The Lucerne Academy for Young Ladies sat in a neat and expectant semi-circle. It was not often a visitor came to speak to them, and this one had apparently come at the personal invitation of Miss Lucy.
Lucy Etherington was a legend at the Academy. Her classes were always full; her lessons were endlessly surprising and – while her teachings were sometimes frowned upon by the more conservative members of the college’s governing body – her successes were indisputable. Many of her former students were now world renowned explorers, inventors and scientists.
There was a slight gasp as the visitor entered the room. She moved gracefully and smoothly, almost gliding into position before the pupils. She gave an engaging smile and the girls looked in amazement from her to their teacher and back.
“Miss Lucy,” cried Grace, remembering just in time to raise her hand before speaking, “Are you twins – or sisters, at least? Your faces look so alike!”
There was a murmur of agreement from the rest of the group.
The visitor gave a tinkling laugh, not unlike the sound of tiny metal bells.
Miss Lucy smiled as well. “We are – one could say – very closely connected. Young ladies, allow me to introduce Eve.”
There was enthusiastic applause.
Lucy turned to Eve and said, “We are delighted to welcome you here. Perhaps you would be kind enough to demonstrate some of your accomplishments to the students.”
“I’d be delighted,” replied Eve, still with the soft, ringing voice that was pleasant to the ear, and yet ever so slightly disturbing.
She moved across to the piano and began to play a tune – a piece by Handel, which many of the girls had themselves studied. After this she showed them several watercolour paintings – proficient yet, it must be said, lacking any particular creativity – and passed around some embroidery she had completed.
The clapping became merely polite; the smiles and nods on the girls’ faces grew more fixed. All of Eve’s ‘accomplishments’ were quite charming. They mirrored those expected of the girls themselves by the majority of their parents and tutors. The students were far too carefully educated to fidget or yawn, of course, but this was hardly what they had come to expect in one of Miss Lucy’s lessons.
Lucy, meanwhile appeared to be giving little attention to her guest. She seemed much more concerned with the equipment in her leather bag and was constantly turning dials and pressing buttons. The girls were mystified.
Naturally it was again Grace – the wildest and most impetuous of the group – who gave voice to their puzzlement.
“Miss Eve,” she said, picking her words with far more care than was usual in her case, “I think your music and artistic ability are wonderful, but I just wondered…”
“Yes, my dear?” trilled Eve, with an encouraging smile.
“Well, do you do anything – um – creative? I mean, I know all the skills you have shown us are creative, of course, but I mean, do you – invent, like Miss Lucy, for example?”
There was absolute silence in the room. Grace and her fellow students wondered anxiously whether she had been impolite. They watched their teacher and the visitor with a mixture of fear and anticipation.
Eve smiled. She turned her head and glanced at Miss Lucy. Miss Lucy nodded slightly.
“What an excellent question, young lady,” smiled Eve, and there was an audible sigh of relief from the girls. “Sadly, I am not able to ‘invent’ as you put it – important and vital as such things may be. You see, you young ladies posses something which I do not have. You have the drive and ability to be endlessly creative and to mould your world in countless innovative and brilliant ways. Alas, I do not.”
Grace exclaimed, “But you’re not that old! Miss Lucy is -”
“My friend means,” cut in Katherine, the girl seated next to Grace, hastily, and with burning cheeks, “Miss Lucy has been a wonderful example to us of how nether gender nor age should ever be a bar to achieving great things in life.”
Eve smiled again, and Miss Lucy gave a slight cough which almost managed to conceal her snort of laughter.
“My dear young people,” smiled Eve, “You are completely correct. I am glad that you have listened so carefully to your teacher. However, when I said there was something that I lacked, I was not referring to strength, youth or vigour. Indeed, my strength surpasses that of the strongest of gentlemen.”
To prove her point, she crossed again to the piano, stood behind it and lifted it effortlessly above her head. There were gasps and a few screams from the audience. She smiled and replaced it carefully.
“What I lack, my dears, and what you – and your teacher – all possess in abundance… is a soul. Without a soul, creativity is reduced to mere copying, as the young person sitting there so astutely noticed. I can learn a piece of music or paint a scene perfectly. I am able to conduct a conversation with only a small amount of assistance.”
She glanced once more towards Lucy, who removed her hand from the dial she was adjusting and placed her hands in her lap.
“But to invent,” continued Eve, “to create, to alter the world in the ways that I hope you will all go on to do – for that, a soul is required.”
The audience sat and stared at her in stunned and uncomprehending silence.
“Perhaps it is time to share your secret with the young ladies,” suggested Miss Lucy. “You will NOT require smelling salts,” she added rather sharply, turning to the students and raising her eyebrow slightly. “Simply open your minds and expand your understanding of what is possible.”
The girls leaned forward in their seats.
Eve nodded and gave her tinkling, slightly mechanical laugh once more.
“To do so, young ladies, I will need to turn my back on you, I’m afraid. Your teacher and I do indeed have a very close relationship. I am her creation!”
As she said these words she revolved gracefully, revealing the intricate mechanism set into her back, which had so far remained concealed.
“I am, my dears – an automaton.”
Like all the other characters available from the Steampunk Dolls House, Lucy and Eve, as well as Grace and Katherine are one-off, handcrafted 1:12 scale models, made by upcycling and customising dolls house dolls.
They are currently available at £25 each. Click below to visit their links in the shop: