Welcome back to the Victorian Era. I’m so happy to be here with all of you. Thank you for coming back after my weekend away. I’m glad to report that I accomplished a lot on “Atonement in Bloom,” my current work in progress — or one of them, that is!
I’ve never given a shout-out for something local to me, because nearly all of you are far away. However, the three “things/ingredients” Sally Georgina Cronin provided for this episode had me frequently thinking about one of my favorite places, Best Buns. They have a truly lovely Irish soda bread and a wonderful salad, and fabulous apple monkey bread, and… Well you get the idea. The list goes on and on.
Sally is such an extraordinary woman that I can’t find words that are adequate to describe her. So I will invite you to check out her blog and let her posts and books do the talking for me. Sally’s aptly named blog, Smorgasbord – Variety is the Spice of Life, is a veritable buffet of information and entertainment. So I’m sure you will enjoy your visit there.
Now it’s time to get our steam locomotive back on track with Episode-5 of Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers. Once again, watch for fun informative links, some are hidden in the images. Also, you can do catch-up reading at the serial’s homepage. Just click on the button at the top of this page.
From last time…
I heard a flat sounding pop, and Cornelis was gone. I had only heard that particular sound one time before, and that time the alchemist had been seriously harmed. It seemed that I was about to become insensible as well. My legs wouldn’t hold me when I tried to stand. When I touched my temple my fingers encountered blood.
Falling again to my hands and knees I saw the fourth chimp join the other three. While the porch floor seemed to spin, I watched as the furry quartet danced a jig. Then the naughty chimps dragged the unknown dead man away. The whole world swayed and went dark as one chimp gave a parting screech.
5. Corset, Irish Soda Bread, Steam Engine
I was worried about Cornelis Drebbel. Whenever he appeared or disappeared it caused a pop sound, like champagne being uncorked. I couldn’t tell you why. He refused to discuss the accident of alchemy that caused him to be in his unique state. However, it gave him several inexplicable abilities. I didn’t even know the extent of those talents. He wouldn’t talk about them either. The one thing I did know was the only other time his departure was accompanied by that strange flat sounding pop, he was almost lost forever.
After that thought the pounding in my head took center stage in my mind. A drop of water landed on my face, causing me to open my eyes. My field of vision was filled by two enormous blue orbs. The tear-filled eyes were so close to my face that I reflexively drew back, bumping the back of my head. As if I needed another lump there.
“Copper?” I mumbled, trying to focus my blurry vision.
I jumped again when I saw something that my rattled brain took for a fat hairy snake, inches away from my face. I nearly screamed, but before the cry escaped my lips, my vision cleared. The furry snake was Sheriff Alvin Bullard’s thick mustache.
The sheriff helped me sit up. The porch and the world around it lurched when I moved. My hand shot out wildly, trying to catch my balance. I felt like I was falling, but then I remembered that I was already prone on the floor of the porch.
Copper’s tight hold on my arm didn’t budge even as Sheriff Bullard helped me to a sitting position. I leaned back against the wall of the house. When he stood he noticed the blood on the doorframe where I hit my head when the big chimpanzee careened into me.
“You took quite a knock on the head,” Sheriff Bullard commented and I groaned in reply. “Did someone attack you?” he asked.
I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself. I was intensely glad that I refused to wear a corset. Wearing one of those hideous things, I would never have been able to get enough air into my lungs. It was no wonder so many women suffered from “the vapors.”
Abruptly my head cleared. I remembered the four large chimpanzees and them dragging the cadaver away.
Soft footsteps moved close to me. I thought perhaps it was Cornelis. The world swayed when I looked upward. It was not the alchemist. Rather, it was Ignatius Belle, the attractive and most un-innkeeper looking proprietor of the Belle Inn. Copper’s grip on my arm got even tighter as he approached. I wouldn’t have thought she was that strong. Her hold on my arm was downright uncomfortable. I shifted in attempt to dislodge the girl.
“I won’t let you take her from me!” Copper shocked me by yelling at the two men. “You can’t take—” she said with a tiny hesitation. “You can’t take my Aunt Mina!”
That was astonishing. Could the child be that quick on her feet? Copper apparently heard me introduce myself as her father’s half-sister, Mina, when I opened the door to the people from the Merciful Haven Orphanage. However, when I met Copper, I told her I was there to apply for a governess position. She had to know that at least one of those things was a lie. She must have been terrified of that orphanage to think so quickly.
I wanted to ask Copper if she had seen Cornelis after he vanished with that off sounding pop. However, I didn’t want to draw the sheriff’s attention to the Dutchman. Where was the alchemist? He had the power to speak directly into my ear without showing himself. If he was unharmed, then why hadn’t he made himself known to me?
Ignatius Belle stooped down and tried to reassure Copper that he and the sheriff were only there to help. A handsome man like Ignatius, with his kind smile and those soft eyes would have been enough to make most grown women melt. A young girl should have been putty in his hands.
Copper however, drew away from him distrustfully. I found her reaction intriguing. I considered the innkeeper from a new perspective, wondering if there was more than met the eye. However, I saw nothing that caused me concern — quite the contrary. I liked what I saw.
“The child’s been going on about some flight of fancy,” Sheriff Alvin Bullard said. “She says monkeys took away the dead body from the study and knocked you down,” he said with a tolerant smile for a child’s whimsy. “Though she’s a little old to tell such tales,” he added in a mildly chastising way for Copper’s benefit.
I tried not to react when I saw Ignatius and Sheriff Bullard exchange a look. Their expressions didn’t seem to indicate that they fully believed Copper’s explanation was simply a product of an overactive imagination. Did they did they secretly credit her story about the chimps? What could the men know that would allow them to believe the preposterous truth? However, my head throbbed so much that I quickly forgot about that unspoken exchange and the twinge of fear it gave me.
The neigh of a horse distracted me. Twilight had deepened while I lay senseless on the porch. In the diminishing light I saw an enclosed wagon with lanterns affixed. It was a hearse.
“Weren’t you going to send the coroner to remove the body?” I asked the sheriff.
Then a startling thought made me look at Ignatius Belle. So far, most of the townspeople I had met held more than one role. For instance, the sheriff was also the local grist mill’s owner.
“You are not innkeeper and undertaker are you?” I asked the tall man, suddenly unsure how attractive I found him. After giving careful attention to the set of his shoulders and the line of his jaw, I decided that didn’t matter if he was also a coroner.
“I inherited the wagon, but the duties of coroner or undertaker are beyond my skills,” Ignatius told me and held my gaze longer than was absolutely necessary.
Sheriff Alvin Bullard looked from me to the innkeeper, lifted one eyebrow, and cleared his throat pointedly. “We’d only been here a short time when you regained consciousness,” Bullard said. “May I help you inside?” he asked.
At first I reached out to take his offered hand, but when I moved the world took such a turn that it nearly took my stomach with it. I shook my head negatively and that only made it worse. “I think I’ll just rest here for a moment longer,” I said ruefully.
Ignatius Belle stepped quickly to the hearse. He returned with a suitcase, a hatbox, and a basket. I recognized the first two items as my own. I felt a stab of worry that he had opened the hatbox. It contained the skull of Cornelis Drebbel.
I lifted my hand reflexively toward the hatbox, but forced myself to rest the wayward appendage in my lap. It took all my self-restraint to let the hatbox sit untouched. I wanted to open it and see if anything had been disturbed.
Taking a deep breath I reminded myself what anyone who opened the hatbox would find. They would see my favorite top hat. Inside the hat was a round satin covered form, which helped keep the hat properly shaped. They would have to remove the hat and then the satin scarf before knowing the “form” was actually a human skull.
“Why?” I started to ask, but for once thought before I spoke. “It’s very kind of you to bring my things. I would have retrieved them tomorrow. I didn’t mean to cause you any trouble,” I told Ignatius. “I didn’t want to presume on my half-brother’s hospitality, since there was no way for me to let him know the exact date I expected to arrive. Besides,” I dissembled. “You can imagine… meeting with family one hasn’t seen in so many years… I felt the need to settle my nerves before coming here, so I took accommodations at your inn,” I said.
The sheriff gave a knowing nod to my explanation. Ignatius was turned away from me as he placed my belongings next to the door. Copper watched him intently.
“Alvin, I mean Sheriff Bullard, told me what had happened here when he asked me to bring the hearse to pick up the um…” he stopped short and looked at Copper. “The you know.”
“You mean the cadaver?” Copper chimed in, emphasizing what was apparently a new and interesting word in her vocabulary.
Ignatius cleared his throat. “Err, yes. He explained that you were Calvin Hixon’s half-sister and would be staying here to look after the girl. So I expected you would need your things. If you plan to come back into town I’ll simply take them back with us,” he said with a smile. “Maybe you really should consider coming back with us. No offence, but you don’t look well.”
“Oh, I’m feeling better already,” I assured the handsome innkeeper.
I didn’t know what kind of monkey business I had stumbled into, but those people from the Merciful Haven Orphanage clearly hoped to get control of Hixon’s estate. I didn’t want to risk having Copper in town with them. There was no telling what they’d do with an opportunity like that. If Ignatius had conveniently brought my belongings to me, that saved me having to retrieve them. However, it did create another problem. He would be taking his horse back with him, and I’d be without any transportation.
Finally I felt like I might be able to stand. Ignatius took my hand and all but lifted me to my feet. Maybe I wasn’t ready yet after all, I thought as I swayed. He put his arm around my waist and I leaned into him until my equilibrium equalized. And maybe just a little while longer.
The unfamiliar basket sitting next to my bag and hatbox caught my eye. It didn’t belong to me. I was about to tell Ignatius that he must have picked it up by mistake, when he followed my gaze.
“That’s from Cookie. She and Bitsy were there when Alvin told me about the dea— about the situation you found here,” Ignatius began then glanced at Copper. “Cookie could manage the inn singlehandedly if she were of a mind. She could manage the entire town for that matter. She has such a head for details and anticipating needs. It was her idea to send dinner.”
Copper, Cornelis, and I had eaten our fill of pease pudding and toast, but the aromas wafting from the cloth covered basket were tantalizing. Ignatius picked it up and handed it to me. I couldn’t resist peeking inside. I gasped with pleasure when I found pork roasted with onions and apples, roasted potatoes and carrots, and an entire loaf of Irish soda bread.
“Are you sure you’re alright, Miss Hixon? I have to agree with Ignatius that you don’t look well,” the sheriff asked me, and with the nasty bump to my head, I nearly ruined everything by not knowing who Miss Hixon was.
Oh yes. Miss Hixon was supposed to be me, Mina Hixon, Calvin Hixon’s long lost half-sister. “Yes. Yes, I’ll be right as rain in no time I’m sure,” I said.
“I’m worried about leaving you alone,” Ignatius Belle said. “I think that head injury is worse than you’re letting on. At least let me send one of the maids to stay the night and look after you. I’m sure Bitsy wouldn’t mind.”
I wondered at the solicitous offer, but I politely declined.
The sheriff insisted on looking around inside, since someone had been in the house and attacked me. I didn’t want him snooping around, but it would look odd if I refused. The dead body was his province as well. So I ushered them inside.
Sheriff Bullard purposely took the lead as we walked down the hallway toward the study. The broken vase and flowers were strewn across the marble floor. The study door stood open. Once inside the room we saw the window had been pushed wide open. The desk chair was overturned. The papers and other items that had been on the desktop were scattered across the rug. The desk drawer was open and the contents had obviously been riffled. Books had been pulled from their shelves and discarded haphazardly.
That explains the fourth chimpanzee, I thought. It lagged behind to search for something. Then it slammed into me as it hurried to catch up with the other three.
Yet, could the creature be intelligent enough to do something like that? Perhaps they could be trained to recognize particular objects and retrieve them. But for what had the chimps been searching, besides the corpse?
As the two men looked around the study I drew Copper aside. “Copper, it’s important that you don’t talk about the chimpanzees,” I whispered. “I’m afraid it will cause trouble if they know,” I whispered about the sheriff and the innkeeper. “Do you understand?” I asked and received an eager nod in return.
When the sheriff asked again if I had seen my attacker, or whomever took the body away, I maintained that I had seen nothing. If the lawman knew about the chimpanzees, I was certain that it would do more harm than good. At minimum I’d be branded a lunatic and unfit as Copper’s guardian, and the orphanage people would waste no time in getting control of the Hixon estate.
Besides, someone was controlling the animals and to my thinking, the law could only get in the way.
After the men left, Copper and I set about putting the disaster of a kitchen to rights. I had a lot of thinking to do, and it helped if my hands were busy. It also helped distract me from worrying about Cornelis Drebbel. Copper told me she had not seen him since “the naughty monkey” knocked him down the stairs.
Copper sat at the table. She had the owl-shaped lamp turned upside-down. It was proof of my hit on the head that I had forgotten about the lamp and its hidden compartment. Before I could caution her, Copper pulled out the documents.
“Be careful with those. I think they’re quite old. You wouldn’t want to tear them,” I said, and complimented myself on keeping my voice gentle when I was startled enough that I might have snapped at her.
We spread the papers on the kitchen table. One was a letter written in an unknown language. I had no idea what it said, but it looked quite official, with an embossed crest. However the document was so old that the embossing was unclear. The other pages appeared to be plans, drawings for strange inventions.
“A magnifying glass would be useful,” I murmured.
“Daddy keeps one in his desk,” Copper said helpfully. “Do you think the monkeys will come back?” she asked, her tone edged with fear.
“We’ll go look together, shall we?” I said with a smile.
As we stood I heard a pop, then a little electric shock at my neck when a finger tapped it.
“Cornelis!” I said, barely stopping myself from hugging the Dutchman. “I was worried half to death. Where have you been? Are you all right?”
Copper’s eyes were wide as she regarded the alchemist. Her brow knitted and she looked suspicious. The blue eyes narrowed and she looked at Cornelis intently. “Are you a ghost?” she asked bluntly.
The Dutchman grinned impishly. He gave a twist to his pointed beard and wriggled his eyebrows. Copper’s expression relaxed.
“That’s rather hard to say,” Cornelis told Copper. “I never died. However, my body stopped living hundreds of years ago.”
Copper tilted her head, thinking about the strange answer Cornelis gave her. I got the feeling that she would study the matter until she understood it.
“Oh! What have we here?” he exclaimed excitedly over the ancient papers. “Don’t tell me this is what was hidden in the lamp!” he cried and Copper and I both nodded, taken aback by his enthusiasm. “Really? The audacity! To hide such treasures that way. Don’t you know what these are?”
“I couldn’t read the language,” I defended myself. “I know a smattering of the Romance languages, but I haven’t had time to decipher the texts.”
“Well, I suppose it isn’t any wonder,” he said agreeably enough. “These are so old that the language has changed a good deal. You really have no idea what they are?” he asked genuinely surprised. “My dear, these are the work of Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci! They are valuable beyond belief.”
“The Leonardo da Vinci?” I couldn’t help asking. “Then they must be at the core of whatever is going on here,” I said with certainty.
I asked copper if she could reach dishes to set the table in the dining room. She could, so I busied her with that task so I could speak to Cornelis.
“I’m even more concerned about Copper’s father now. I can’t imagine he would leave without this carefully hidden treasure. Or Copper either for that matter,” I said quietly.
“Perhaps he meant to lead whomever away from the child?” Cornelis offered and that explanation made sense, but it didn’t feel right.
“If he has been abducted, we don’t know who they would contact for ransom. So, their next move would be to take Copper and threaten her life to make Hixon give them the da Vinci papers,” I speculated.
“Yes, but that is assuming there are only two factions,” Cornelis said. “These papers are so valuable there might be multiple parties involved, each working against the other,” the alchemist said.
That idea was complicated enough that my head pounded harder. The pain had finally eased off, but it came back with a vengeance. I groaned. Cornelis took my elbow and led me to the dining room. Copper had even arranged the food Cookie and Bitsy sent via Ignatius Belle.
As we ate, Cornelis spoke in a very matter of fact tone. I was sure he did so to avoid alarming Copper. “I mentioned that I thought there were multiple factors involved?” he said as if he was talking about something utterly boring. “I also have a hunch that they will converge here. So I think we should begin a journey, an adventure,” he said smiling at the girl. “We should set out as soon as we can.”
“But we’ve no transportation. It will attract attention, but we’ll have to hire a coach,” I said.
“Too bad Daddy didn’t get the steam engine to work right,” Copper said surprising both of us.
“Steam engine?” Cornelis and I echoed in unison.
The alchemist found lanterns where Copper said they would be. He blocked the girl’s view of what he was doing as he used one of his tricks to light them quickly. We hurried to the outbuilding. The chimpanzees had been very large and amazingly strong. I couldn’t help glancing uneasily into the darkness, wondering if they would come back that night.
Soon we reached the building. It was locked, but breaking a lock was also within the range of the Dutchman’s unearthly talents. The building was small, and apparently only had one room. A machine of some sort filled most of the space. I lit a lamp to see it better.
I marveled at what the light showed. The contraption looked very much like a steam locomotive. However, it was closer to the size of a stage coach. It had a tall column in front for the steam. There were two wheels in front, supporting the engine, an area for a few passengers, and two much taller wider wheels in back.
“What on earth is this thing?” I asked of the strange contraption.
Cornelis had that look in his eyes. I mean that obsessively excited look he got about inventions and wildly impossible things. “Isn’t it wonderful? It’s a traction engine,” he said quickly before vanishing.
“It’s a road locomotive,” Copper informed me. “Daddy always said this part was the trouble,” Copper said pointing at something I couldn’t see, but Cornelis was suddenly looking over her shoulder making an ah-ha sound.
The alchemist abruptly looked away, distracted. I could feel the air around Cornelis Drebbel vibrate. The sensation made the hair on my arms stand on end. I knew he was somehow investigating the odd engine — what worked and what did not. I heard a clang from somewhere inside the machine. Then he muttered happily to himself.
“Do you think you can make it work?” I asked after a moment.
“Oh yes,” he said. “In no time at all,” he added with a smile that twitched his mustache.
As I looked at Cornelis his form blurred and became transparent. I had come to realize that meant he was somehow present in more than one place at a time.
“What is it?” I asked once I could see him properly again.
“There are people coming. More than one group. From more than one direction,” he said sounding like he was still trying to understand what he saw. “We have to hurry.”
To be continued
Several different groups converging on our trio? Who could they be? Are they friends or foes? The road locomotive is a bit of “Real Steampunkery Tech” — that’s my made-up word. Will Cornelis get it working before it’s too late?
Come back next weekend for “things” from Mary J McCoy-Dressel. We’ll see where “Ceramic, Destiny, and Soup Bone” take Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers.
But don’t forget this weekend’s recipe! The afore mentioned lovely Sally didn’t just give us “things/ingredients” – she kindly supplied this recipe as well. Bon appétit!
Recipe: Slow Cooked Roast Pork
Photo and Recipe Credit: Sally Georgina Cronin
Preheat the oven to 230C/210C for fan assisted ovens or Gas mark 8
You can use any pork joint that has a decent amount of fat under the skin so that you can produce great crackling to eat with your pork. Because you will lose the weight during the slow cook aim for a larger size joint around the 3-4 kilo mark for 6 -8 people.
Crackling.. Take a sharp knife and cut one direction across the skin down to the fat level and then score again in the other direction so that you have a diamond pattern.
Then rub olive oil into the skin and well into the cuts.
The Rub. 1 teaspoon each of Pimiento Dulce which is mild, Garlic powder (you can rub the crushed cloves into the skin but it can be too powerful) Salt and Black Pepper.
Take your mix and rub in thoroughly over the skin and into the cuts.
Place your pork on two rough chopped onions and on chopped cooking apple which will help flavour the meat but also provide a very tasty base for gravy later.
Give the pork 30 minutes at this temperature and then reduce to 150C/130C for fan/Gas 2 and continue to roast for another 2 to 3 hours depending on the size of the joint.. I use an hour per kilo as a general rule.
After this time – increase the temperature back up to the 230C/210C for fan/Gas Mark 8 and give the crackling a last blast.
Take out and put on a rack covered in foil and leave for around 20 minutes to let the meat rest. Take off the Crackling and divide into portions and carve.. The meat will be so tender that you need a very sharp knife.
Make a gravy with the juices from the meat, onions and apple. Serve with Roast Potatoes, carrots and greens.
Copyright © 2015 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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