You are the best! Yes, I mean you! Last weekend I launched the first episode of our latest “interactive” serial. I was doing Snoopy’s happy dance about the positive responses from all of you. Not only that, but so many of you have been generous with sending three random things and/or food-related things.
Remember, you are also welcome to send Recipes (or links to your recipes if you are a blogger) to share as part of an episode.
As you saw in Episode-1, the things established a setting in the late Victorian era. The things/ingredients also gave us the title characters for this serial: Copper — a young girl, Cornelis Drebbel (borrowed from history) — the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers who narrates the story. Will her name be revealed? Only the things/ingredients can say!
This week’s things are from Kathryn (aka K. R. Big Fish) at Another Foodie Blogger. Check out her fun blog and amazing recipes. KR’s Creamy Cauliflower and Potato Soup has been one of my favorite easy meals this winter. However, you’ll find her featured recipe at the end of this episode. I’ll let that be a surprise for now.
I often say “You’re behind the wheel” when it comes to what happens in the serial stories. However, giving the new setting, maybe I should say “You’re the engineer of this locomotive!”
Now, let’s get back on track with Episode-2.
2. Soup Pot, Kitchen Sink, Mail-Order Wine Club
Cornelis Drebbel, shimmered and blurred before my eyes. Then the alchemist popped out of my suite at the Belle Inn. I do mean that literally. He disappeared with a pop sound. Though he acted put upon when I asked him to do such investigative errands, I knew he secretly relished getting out on his own. As I waited for his return, I gazed speculatively at his skull, which rested in my hatbox.
There was a light knock at the door. It was one of the Belle Inn’s staffers bringing up dinner. I was infinitely glad she hadn’t come a moment earlier. Though I flaunt tradition and wear trousers as I please, it would still be hard to explain having a man in my room. Or at least what would look like a man from the maid’s point of view.
She brought the tray into my suite and sat it on the small round table. It was laden with several covered dishes of food and an ornate little bell. The aromas escaped tantalizingly from the dishes.
“Thank you. It’s very kind of you, miss. It smells delicious,” I said as my stomach made a noise of agreement.
“Oh, just call me Bitsy — everyone does,” she commented as she uncovered a generous portion of the fried calamari I ordered.
Bitsy only glanced at my trousers. That was rare. Reactions to my usual attire ranged from bulging eyes, to gasps, to righteous rants. Once a woman even screamed hysterically. Yet the maid barely seemed to notice. My eyebrows went up just a bit. Naturally I was surprised by the lack of reaction. However, I was also gratified. I’d have to make sure and give her a generous tip.
“Mr. Belle said to make sure you had plenty of anything you want from the kitchen. That was some smart thinking you had about the little foal. Even Cookie was impressed,” the maid chattered, merrily jumping from one subject to the next. “You didn’t mention it, but I brought you a treat from Cookie’s soup pot,” Bitsy said. “She makes lovely soups, a different one almost every day. After all, woman cannot live by calamari alone — regardless of how delicious it may be,” she added with a grin.
The aroma of the soup was lovely indeed, but my attention fell upon the bell. The intricate design of the silver bell was unexpected. Even the patina of the silver was unusual. The young woman told me to just ring it if I wanted anything at all. Bitsy picked up the bell and gave it one ring to reinforce her words.
The bell had a very strange, almost harmonic sounding ring. As I commented on how unusual looking the bell was it occurred to me that I had seen all manner of bells about the Belle Inn. Bitsy laughed when I mentioned the fact.
“Oh yes, the bells of the Belle Inn,” she said. “I only moved here six months ago, so I don’t know the history of the place that well. But it was the whimsy of one of Mr. Ignatius Belle’s ancestors to collect all sorts of bells, being as their family name was Belle,” Bitsy said.
“The Belle family’s been in this town forever, but Mr. Ignatius Belle was from some other branch of the family tree. He inherited the inn and moved here. But he took to things like he’d been here since childhood. He’s very fond of those bells. I’ve seen him gather up a bunch of them, and ever so carefully clean and inspect each one,” Bitsy went on about her employer. “I thought it was sweet. You know? A big, strong man with a highfalutin education being so taken with little bells,” she said with an impish grin.
It might have been interesting to learn more of what the maid knew of the proprietor and all those bells. After all, Ignatius Belle was a fine figure of a man. However, I gave my sincere thanks to Bitsy and hurried her on her way. It would not do for her to be here whenever the Dutch alchemist reappeared from thin air.
A moment after the maid left I heard another pop, and Cornelis materialized. He looked at the large tray of food and then rolled his eyes at my selection. I reminded him that I had gotten the Stilton cheese of which he was so fond, and he was somewhat mollified.
“Well?” I urged. “What did you learn?”
He pursed his lips considering whatever he had seen. “She’s clever, that one. Reasonably resourceful. Definitely determined,” he said of Copper, the young girl I saw at the Best’s General Store. “Though I am not sure I have the same conviction that you feel,” he added.
His lack of positivity made me feel deflated. I plopped down on the side of the bed and slumped. That poor posture was not something I could manage in proper female attire. The boning of corsets did not tolerated a slouch.
“So you don’t think it’s her?” I said, not sure whether or not I was asking a question.
“I don’t know that she is,” the Dutchman said seeming to contradict himself. “Yet I don’t know that she is not. It bears investigation.”
“How so,” I wanted to know what had stirred even a small amount of interest in the jaded alchemist.
“Because of the dead man at the desk in the study,” he replied in a tone that suggested that should be obvious.
“Oh, so that’s why she positively reeked of death. What an awful thing for a little girl to find,” I murmured sadly. “It is her father?” I made it a question, though I was sure it must be so. “That would explain why she was so frightened when the women at the general store mentioned the orphanage.”
The Dutchman shrugged as he absently tossed the cream colored tassel from Copper’s cape into the air and caught it. “I don’t know if the deceased is Calvin Hixon. I can’t say who the man is. He is slumped over the desk, face down. He does, however wear a signet ring that indicates he is part of the family,” Cornelis supplied that tidbit.
One might think Cornelis would have bothered to move the body enough to get a look at the man’s face. However, he was unexpectedly, and often inconveniently, squeamish about such things.
“I didn’t think there was any family, just Copper and her father,” I said, perturbed. “I suppose it must be him then. You didn’t see anyone about the house or grounds?” I asked, but Cornelis shook his head negatively.
“There had been a governess up until a couple of months ago,” Cornelis offered. “Hixon wrote a glowing recommendation for her, but there was no clear reason for her dismissal. Except of course the money troubles.”
“Money problems? Why didn’t you say so?” I asked. The man could be infuriating. I knew Cornelis delighted in holding back the important facts for dramatic effect. And doubtlessly to watch the expression on my face. “What kind of financial problems did Calvin Hixon have? Could you see that?” I asked to the Dutchman’s obvious delight. He loved to have an audience.
“Oh my,” he began. “There were unpaid bills for everything but the kitchen sink!” he said. “Calvin Hixon had clearly been having financial issues for months, possibly years.”
Curiosity finally got the better of Cornelis Drebbel and he investigated the tray of food the maid left. He seemed quite pleased by the soup. He looked hopeful when he spotted the bottle of wine, but his smile faded in an exaggerated way when he read the label.
The Dutchman had a mind filled with ever changing wild ideas for things, inventions and new ways of doing things. He had brought many of those ideas into existence before an accident of alchemy had radically changed his own existence. The look on his face told me he was having one of those inventor-type ideas.
“How is it that we end up in so many places that don’t have a decent bottle of wine?” he grumbled in a droll tone that was edged with exasperation. “Why has no astute businessman gathered all manner of fine wine and made it available to back-of-beyond places like this one? It wouldn’t be so complicated,” he complained, but his eyes twinkled with his idea.
“What do you mean?” I asked, though it was usually a bad idea to encourage him. Whenever Cornelis had an idea, he would go on about it until he had laid out a five year plan for its creation. “Through the post, like purchasing things from a catalogue? Sent to individuals, rather than businesses?” I pondered aloud, realizing all the while that I had let him draw me in once again. “So what you’re suggesting is a mail-order wine club. Things are different than in your day, Cornelis. All the taxes and levies would make it impossible,” I commented, once again the voice of reason to his wild ideas.
I felt rather guilty when I saw the disappointed expression in his eyes. It actually wasn’t such a bad idea. It was much more reasonable than his underwater boat device or his floating bomb. However, I frowned because I shouldn’t have let myself be sidetracked. I had to figure out Copper’s situation.
Cornelis gave me directions to the Hixon estate. Hopefully Ignatius Belle would let me borrow a horse. I had to travel by more mundane means than the alchemist. Cornelis would meet me there.
I wrapped up a large portion of the calamari and freshly baked rolls, and when Cornelis wasn’t looking, I packed some of the Stilton cheese I had gotten for him. It seemed obvious that the child didn’t have any food left. A good meal might also help me gain her trust. She had seemed skittish at the general store, even before the surly comment from those women about her going to an orphanage. How she was involved in the grand scheme of things was a mystery to me, but I was certain that Copper Hixon played a key part.
The alchemist had such a twinkle in his eyes when he dematerialized that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him rub his hands together in anticipation. Instead he gave the tassel from Copper’s cape a toss toward the ceiling and disappeared. When I realized it would likely land in the soup, I jumped off the bed to catch it. However, Cornelis reappeared before the tassel came back down and he caught it.
“Oh yes,” he said as if he’d never left. “I need a look at that harmonic tuner. I may have seen its counterpart at the Hixon estate. So do be a lamb and bring it with you,” he said drolly.
“The what?” I asked.
He pointed toward the food tray on the table. “They seem to be using it as a dinner bell,” he said.
I cautiously picked up the ornate bell that had such an unusual ring. I had thought of the sound as harmonic and perhaps with good reason.
“A harmonic tuner…?” I repeated, looking curiously at the unusual bell.
Click above for the recipe
Photo and recipe credit: Another Foodie Blogger
Will the woman in trousers reach Copper, who is surely frightened and alone in a big empty house with a dead body? And what the devil is a “harmonic tuner” and for what is it used? Be sure to tune in again next weekend when the fabulous things/ingredients are from Lord David Prosser of The Barsetshire Diaries fame.
Copyright © 2015 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.
All images are either the property of the author or from Pinterest unless stated otherwise.