The steam locomotive is still on track. Episode-7 is here, although it seems like only yesterday I sent you a poll asking what kind of serial you wanted to do next.
First I thought I’d give you a glimpse of my world. Since “Atonement in Bloom” will pick up where my novel “Atonement, Tennessee” left off, the setting is wintry. You’d think the view from my window would speed me along in writing it… Sadly I still have a problem with the number of hours in a day.
From My Front Porch
The view here is much the same as it is in many other parts of the USA — cold, snow, and ice. To the right you’ll see Maximilian (my car) partially behind the post. I had cleared at least six inches of snow from him. This was taken 15 minutes later, and it is covered again. (My water resistant parka was soaked, but my Clark’s suede boots were completely dry inside.) I’d say we got at least eight inches of this March snow at my home.
Here’s an extra picture, just because the contrast amuses me. A neighbor cleaned off his little car. It was a lot less work than the driver behind him will have! Also, within an hour of these picture, even the tree trunks became white with blown snow.
The things for this weekend’s episode were sent by my dear friend in New Mexico, RC. Whether it’s things or ingredients, she always comes up with wonderful ideas, but then she’s one of the brightest, most creative people I’ve ever known.
Once again I searched the WordPress countryside, this time for a recipe for sourdough pancakes. I found a vintage recipe that was done with a nice post. However, I haven’t heard back from the blogger, so I doubt the blog is still active. That’s a pity, because she was doing great work. I’m including her link at the end of this episode anyway.
Lastly, I’m getting over an unfortunate head cold that caught me last weekend, and it also became one of our things. Because of my cold-muddled mind, the story didn’t exactly advance. But then, every tale has to coast now and then. The train is still on track.
From last time…
“He wasn’t doing it right, but it looked like he was trying to say daddy,” Copper said of one of the chimps.
“He likely wanted you to believe he could lead you to your father,” Cornelis said. “But you know they were naughty monkeys, and you could not trust them,” he added and Copper nodded her reluctant agreement.
“Chimpanzees,” I said because I couldn’t resist turning the Dutchman’s correction on him.
His eyes narrowed but he didn’t respond to my taunt. Instead, he looked past me. “We’ve no time to doddle,” Cornelis reminded us. “The other two groups are mere minutes away.”
When I turned to look I saw the torches again. There were two groups, one larger than the other. They still approached from different directions, but they were indeed much closer.
7. Muff Pistol, Sourdough Pancakes, Airtights
Just because I find long full skirts and bustles inconvenient and impractical it doesn’t mean that I don’t relish fine things. I disdain corsets, but that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying an elegant gown. I actually do have an appreciation and an eye for quality workmanship and materials. So why would Cornelis and Copper give me such incredulous looks when I delightedly produced a lovely royal blue velvet fur lined muff from an open crate filled with finery. Really, their reaction was rather offensive.
There was a pocket inside the muff made especially for a gun. Unfortunately, I had not had a muff pistol for a long time. A pity that — the inconspicuous firearm could come in handy. But I ramble. That ‘s a story for another day.
“Huh. Huh. Huh,” Cornelis gasped in advance of a sneeze and I cringed.
Cornelis Drebbel couldn’t precisely get sick, due to his unique state of existence. However, he could get the equivalent of a very bad head cold. The effects of which ranged from alarming to amusing.
“Ah-choo!” I inadvertently finished for him, as my own head cold was the genuine article.
“God bless you — and everybody around you!” Copper exclaimed, her favorite blessing for a large splashy sneeze.
I took out my handkerchief and blew my nose in a most unladylike way. Then it happened. Cornelis abruptly finished his sneeze, with no preamble whatsoever. Before the sound died away, before the rain of spittle settled, the effects of the alchemist’s mighty “AH-CHOO!” were revealed.
Every sneeze had a different result. Knee-high stacks of sourdough pancakes surrounded us, the manifestation of his first ah-choo. It would have been nice if the subsequent sneeze rained syrup onto the pancakes, as they looked quite delicious. But I supposed that was just as well. It would have been dreadfully messy.
Instead, the next sudden involuntary expulsion of air from his nose and mouth created a hail of doorknobs. That was rather dangerous. Cornelis got a goose-egg on his head from where one landed on him. For once the wretched bustle of my skirt was useful, as it deflected two knobs that would have assaulted me.
An electric crackle in the air was the only warning alchemic sneeze effect. I put my arms over my head when I heard it. I held my breath, wondering what this sneeze would bring. Something smacked against my forearm. I noted with relief that it was neither hard nor heavy. Hundreds of delicate thumps sounded as chrysanthemum blossoms rained down all around us.
How did Cornelis Drebbel and I come to have head colds, you might ask? It happened something like this…
Clouds blocked the light of the moon. Rather than risk blindly heading into the darkness, Corneils and I chose to follow the nearby river. At least that way we wouldn’t become lost. However, that route took us closer to one of our three groups of pursuers.
We still had no idea who any of them were. Cornelis had made the group of chimpanzees scatter with the magically enhanced road locomotive, and their three leaders became a ceramic statue of “wise monkeys.” However, I didn’t think whomever controlled the chimps was out of the picture.
“Over there!” a man shouted.
We’d been seen. Cornelis muttered in the odd sounding language he used to work his tricks. I felt an odd sensation that made the hair on my arms stand up. Suddenly the road locomotive lurched in an impressive burst of speed. Copper squealed with delight. Our pursuers were quickly left far behind — whoever they were.
Lights shone from every window in a building ahead. As we got closer I saw that it was the local grist mill. “I wouldn’t expect anyone at the mill this late,” I commented but Cornelis didn’t understand me because of our noisy conveyance.
“Look,” the Dutchman said. “Someone is at the grist mill. Doesn’t the sheriff own half of it? Maybe we should stop there, get the authorities involved.”
I mouthed the word “No.” As soon as I heard the word “sheriff” something fell into place in my mind. I had heard a vaguely familiar voice amid the distant shouting of our pursuers. Suddenly I realized that voice sounded a lot like Sheriff Alvin Bullard. Could the sheriff be involved in whatever was going on?
Leaning close to Cornelis Drebbel my lips were a hair away from his ear so I could make him hear me above the noise of the traction engine.
“I always knew you were sweet on me,” he teased drolly before I could speak.
The temptation to swat the alchemist was strong. However, I voiced my concern about the sheriff. Cornelis made an appropriate face and nodded. “Onward then,” he said and gave the locomotive another burst of speed.
I pieced things together, and I believed everything that had happened was connected. Mr. Hixon, Copper’s father, disappeared. People from the orphanage were keen to take Copper before anyone should have known her father was missing. An unknown dead man was found in Calvin Hixon’s his study and trained chimpanzees spirited the corpse away. Three groups of adversaries converged on the Hixon estate, presumably to abduct Copper. I believed all those things were related to the priceless Leonardo da Vinci papers that were hidden inside the owl-shaped lamp.
The road locomotive had been traveling at an astonishing speed for quite a while. The grist mill was long gone, and I hadn’t seen another building in some time. Shouting to be heard above the noise of the engine, I suggested that it was safe for us to slow down. In answer Cornelis gave me an all too familiar sheepish look.
“Don’t tell me…” I warned the Dutchman. I was right. He didn’t know how to slow down the road locomotive.
We careened across the country side. The clouds drifted away from the moon. I saw that there was a bend in the river ahead. “Lovely,” I commented sarcastically. “Now we’ll leave the course of the river and get lost in the countryside,” I said assuming the locomotive would continue to travel in a straight line.
“No, but that would be preferable,” Cornelis called back to me. “The engine is following the river. It won’t veer from that course. And we’re going too fast to take that curve!” he cried just as the traction engine teetered onto two wheels.
My hatbox flew out of the engine and into the river. With an oath that was in no way feminine, I dove into the frigid darkness of the water after my hatbox. There was no choice. The hatbox contained the skull of Cornilis Drebble.
The hatbox wasn’t heavy, and apparently a pocket of air had been trapped inside, preventing it from sinking fast. I was able to get my hands on it without diving to the deepest reaches of the river. However my heavy skirt and bulky bustle hindered me rising back to the surface.
As my heavy clothes pulled me down, I struggled to remove them and still hold onto the hatbox. However, I wasn’t having much success. Something tapped my neck and gave me a tiny electric shock. When I turned I saw a thin filament of glowing green. I associated the luminous verdant color with the Dutchman’s tricks. But the tendril was so slim; I didn’t see how it could possibly help me.
Yet with no other help in sight I tentatively touched the glowing strand. It wrapped itself gently around my wrist, and pulled me easily to the surface of the river. Then it continued to lift me upward and onto the road locomotive. I noted that the engine had stopped.
Copper applauded enthusiastically. Cornelis took a bow as if the entire catastrophe had been part of a show, while I sat shivering, soaked, and sulky. My frock was ruined, along with my favorite top hat. Even the dratted bustle was a loss, as it was the least uncomfortable one I had ever found.
The alchemist’s skull was safe and sound, if cold and wet.
With another surge of magical speed, Cornelis drove the engine past the next few towns, staying on the outskirts. The engine was noisy, and naturally we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves, particularly since we didn’t know who was chasing us. However, it zoomed by the towns with such speed, that I doubted anyone could have figured out what caused the sudden noise.
Far out into the countryside we came upon an abandoned church that seemed to watch protectively over a few other buildings that were within the same tumbledown stone fence. One of the buildings was quite large and part of the back wall had fallen. It was easily large enough to conceal the road locomotive.
The building held a number of old crates. Each was tagged with owner’s information. Apparently at one time the building had been used as private storage space.
Cold and still damp from my dive into the river, I leaned against a tall crate, suddenly feeling extremely weary. Then I sneezed. By the time I had wiped my nose, Cornelis was sniffling too. The minute I looked at the alchemist I knew that he had the nearest thing to a head cold that is possible for him to catch. I sneezed again, knowing I had the real McCoy…
So now you know how we came to be surrounded by old crates and impossible stacks of sour dough pancakes.
I grabbed my suitcase and hid behind a stack of crates to change into my trousers and a shirt. It would have been worth a dunk in the river to get back into my preferred clothes, if not for my top hat being ruined.
That’s when I started paying attention to all the crates. Many of the wooden storage boxes were opened or damaged, probably from whatever caused one of the walls to fall. They contained all manner of things. From one opened crate random items of apparel spilled to the floor, including the royal blue muff I mentioned. There was a label on the side of the crate, Property of Alastair Wong Sr.
A packet of letters was tied together with a red ribbon. When I picked them up I detected a trace of lavender perfume. Love letters, I thought as my curiosity pressed me to open one and read it. I looked at the return address and found they were to the afore mentioned Alastair Wong from a Phanny Idelle Peabody in Savannah, Georgia, USA. I put the letters down when something more important caught my eye.
Another was packed with airtights, as a cowboy friend of mine called them — canned goods. Several of the jars contained preserves. Those magical stacks of sourdough pancakes wouldn’t go to waste after all. Not all of them at least; there were far too many for three people to eat, even with Copper’s voracious appetite. I wondered if the pancakes were still warm.
“Do it again!” Copper said enthusiastically to Cornelis.
I couldn’t help laughing at the sad, red-eyed expression on his face when the girl wanted him to sneeze yet again.
“It is no game,” Cornelis told Copper in a stuffy nasal voice.
Suppressing another sneeze of my own, I took pity on the alchemist. I held up a jar of apricot preserves and asked Copper if she’d seen any cutlery in the opened crates. Her mouth made a silent “Oooh,” when she saw the jar and the girl hurried away in search of a fork.
Judging by the disarray and debris, most of the crates had been searched for valuables after whatever catastrophe happened to the building. The damage looked old too. There was an abandoned feeling about the place that I found mildly disconcerting.
“What sort of place do you suppose this is, Cornelis?” I pondered aloud. “Have we sheltered in some sort of ghost town? One would think a religious compound like this would be part of a town. But I get the feeling that there isn’t another soul for miles around.”
The alchemist nodded affirmatively. “Indeed. I get the same sense of things,” he agreed. “It will be dawn soon and the light of day will tell us much.”
Cornelis plopped down on a pile of clothing as if it were a bed. Apparently the clothes had been sitting there for quite some time. A cloud of dust puffed up when he landed on them. The dust tickled my nose and I put my finger firmly between my nose and upper lip.
“Don’t you dare!” Cornelis warned me. “You know that — huh — if you do — huh — then I will too!” he said just as we both sneezed loudly.
I looked at Cornelis Drebbel. He looked at me. Nothing happened. Copper ran back so us, carrying several forks and even some plates. She stopped and stared expectantly at the Dutchman. He and I looked at each other again. Still nothing happened. Copper looked disappointed. I sighed with relief.
Then elsewhere in the building I heard a wet splat. And another. A funny little guttural sound traveled to my ears. It was followed by several dozen more wet splat sounds, and the sounds were coming closer. A splat sounded right beside me. I turned to see Cornelis wearing a sad-eyed long suffering expression. His eyes rolled to look upward. A frog sat squarely on top of his head.
“Ribbit,” the frog looked at me and said. A chorus of ribbits from all around the building answered.
Copper laughed with delight. I chortled despite myself. However, my merriment stopped as, splat-splat-splat, frogs rained down upon us.
Is Sheriff Alvin Bullard one of the bad guys? He seemed harmless enough with his amusingly thick mustache. Will our trio keep running, no matter how far, to escape the villains who would kidnap Copper? Or will they turn and fight? They’re awfully outnumbered.
Come back next weekend when our things are all “ingredients” from Elini’s Culinary Journey.
Don’t leave yet! Here is this week’s recipe. Bon appétit!
Recipe: Sourdough Pancakes
Recipe credit: Laury at Egad, Sire, Truly — Bits from one woman’s life
Copyright © 2015 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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