You’re too old, too fat, and you dress funny…
What? But wait — it gets even better. Let me put this into context. While not an exact quote, it is close. It was meant to be a pep talk from a friend at work when I was upset about not being able to get interviews for promotions or jobs at other agencies. (That’s right — interviews. This wasn’t even said about people who have actually seen me in all my glorious wrinkles, fat, and bizarre blazers. Oh, and yes, I did say it was a pep talk.)
“I know I’m old and fat and that I wear colors,” I replied to the words of encouragement, and by colors I meant the fact that every other woman wears what I call DC drab. “But they have never even seen me.”
“It doesn’t matter whether I think you’re fat. They want people to look good to represent their organization,” said my helpful friend.
“But they have never even seen me!” I repeated, still unheard.
Fortunately for me, my fifth floor office window is made so that it cannot open…
Perception. Everything is about perception. I can’t hold it against this friend, because they just don’t get it. This person has no grasp of how their words come across, or in this case how very harmful they were. This friend sincerely meant to encourage me. This is a kind and intelligent person, and in their eyes they were building me up. At least they tried. That’s more than I can say for 99.5% of the people there.
Update… about four months later: Sadly it seems the many of you who said this destructive criticism was intentional — you were right. The same coworker was just in my office, bragging about all the important things she is doing… all related to the kind of jobs for which I have been applying (the kind of work I had done in the past). …The kind of jobs she so kindly reminded me that they want people to look a certain way for, and where age is a factor. Yes dear readers, you were right and I was being far too generous.
What do you see in the drawing above — a pretty young woman or an old hag? Copper and the woman in trousers each perceive the handsome Ignatius Belle differently, even though neither of them really knows the innkeeper of our serial.
The wildly different perceptions of words and characters are the most marvelous things about novels and stories. I love that while I think David Eddings was wonderfully funny in the characters he created for The Belgariad — the guy next to me was so appalled by their lack of moral fiber that he could barely finish the first book.
It’s terrific that we can see so many different things in a single story. Although I do hope you think mine are entertaining and that you see this blog as a sanctuary where you can safely relax and enjoy a fanciful moment.
Today’s “things” are from one of my favorite people and bloggers. I admire Suzanne Debrango’s work with her blog as much as I’m wowed by her skills as a chef. The recipe for this episode is also from Suzanne’s blog, A Pug in the Kitchen, so be sure to read all the way to the end for another delightful dish!
No more time for my ramble — I think I hear that train to the Victorian Era coming. All aboard!
9. Pâté, Profiteroles, Olives
Cornelis Drebbel and I argued. Again.
“This is a perfectly good place to make a stand and fight,” I said. “We can’t just keep running away to who knows where. Especially when we aren’t even sure who we’re running from. That will lead to us walking right into their clutches! We have to know who the enemy is. One of us should circle ‘round and come up behind them and at least find out who they are.”
The alchemist rolled his eyes heavenward. “They were coming from three different directions – which group do you want to get behind?” he asked in a testy voice. “And how far back do you want to go to get behind one of the groups, if you can even find them. You know we out distanced them by a long way,” Cornelis reminded me.
“And just how do you propose we make a stand?” the alchemist acerbically retorted. “We don’t know how many of them there are, but the one thing we do know is that we are sorely outnumbered. Knowing their identifies is of no use if we are overwhelmed by our foes in the process of learning who they are,” Cornelis said, and I realized he had a point, though I hated to admit it.
A frantic honking noise interrupted our disagreement. “Where is Copper?” I asked, suddenly worried.
“I’m over here,” a small sad sounding voice said from the other side of a stack of wooden crates.
She same out from her hiding place, doe-eyed and most unhappy looking. I felt horrible when I realized she had been listening to us fight.
With a deep sigh I shook my head. “No, this is for us to worry about, Copper,” I told the girl. “It’s just part of what we’re supposed to do. You, on the other hand, are only supposed to be young. You aren’t supposed to have to worry about such things,” I said and tousled hair the color of a new penny when she looked up at me.
The honking noise escalated. “Is that a goose I hear?” I asked.
I hadn’t seen any sign of people living anywhere near the abandoned church and its buildings. We were still in the large one with a missing wall, where the road locomotive was hidden. How would a goose come to be in such a place?
When I voiced the thought, Cornelis was sure a goose could do perfectly well on its own. Copper said that it was chasing some of the frogs.
My inquisitive nature took over and I went outside to investigate the commotion. Apparently the tables had turned from when Copper saw the goose chasing the frogs. Row upon row of frogs lined up to confront the fowl. The goose honked furiously at them.
I felt sorry for the poor bird. Looking at the frogs versus goose tableau, I realized just how right Cornelis was about us being extremely outnumbered by our adversaries. If we took a stand at that juncture, we would make no more progress than the goose against the hoard of frogs.
I had never been around geese. The tale about a goose laying a golden egg was about as much as I knew about the species. Stepping gingerly, because I didn’t want squished frog on my boots, I made my way to the goose. I picked her up and tucked her under my arm.
“Don’t you fret,” I told the still honking bird. “We’ll find a spot where the frogs haven’t eaten all the good bits.”
Then the infernal goose bit me! I screeched and released her. The goose settled to the ground and looked up at me with a very annoyed squawk.
“Why you ungrateful wretch!” I exclaimed as I rubbed the bitten spot on my arm. “I should make pâté of you!”
At that threat, the goose flew off somewhere beyond the abandoned church. A pop told me that the alchemist had appeared behind me.
“Do you see my point now?” Cornelis Drebbel asked with a nod to the assembled frogs.
“Why you!” I sputtered. “You arranged that entire thing didn’t you? How dare you have that dreadful goose bite me!”
“Now, now,” Cornelis chided. “You had the poor judgement to pick her up in your arms. I didn’t do anything to make the goose bite you,” he said. “That was just icing on the cake,” he added with a smirk.
I clinched my fist and took a swing at the Dutchman. I already knew what he would do, so don’t ask me why I swung at him. Cornelis immediately became semi-solid and my fist passed through him, throwing me off balance. I nearly landed on my face in a pile of goose droppings. It was lucky for him that I didn’t fall into that mess.
He looked distractedly toward the river. There was my moment! I leapt, tackling the Dutchman while he was fully solid and preoccupied. We both landed on the grass with a thud. I grinned wickedly when I realized that he had landed in the goose poop.
Cornelis glared at me and with a pop he disappeared. A moment later I spotted him close to the banks of the river. He discretely hid behind a tree as he looked at the waterway. Then I heard the sound of a rhythmic splash coming steadily closer. That slight noise must have been what distracted the alchemist.
I hurried to where he stood behind the tree. I was enormously glad to finally be wearing trousers again, rather than full skirts and a bustle. Looking at the river I couldn’t see what made the faint sound. Was it a beaver, or perhaps an otter going sleekly in and out of the river? In a quiet voice I asked I asked what it was.
The Dutchman didn’t seem concerned about being heard. So whatever it made the sound must have been unlikely to hear us. He said that someone was coming toward us on the watercourse. He said the sound was from paddles going into the water.
“Surely that rhythm is too fast to be an oar,” I commented as the sound became more audible.
“Not an oar,” he said, once again looking pleased with himself to have deduced something I had not. “It is a paddleboat. A small one, granted, but still steam powered with a paddlewheel,” Cornelis said with certainty.
Soon the odd looking boat came into view — a paddle steamer. It was moving much faster than any rowboat would have moved. It was a narrow vessel, with a mast for a sail, but no canvas was attached. On each side was a red paddle wheel that sat nearly as tall as the enclosed bridge. Behind the bridge stood a tall yellow steam stack.
Who piloted the craft? I had yet to see how was onboard. Was it one of our adversaries catching up with us? It seemed too much of a coincidence for some random person to suddenly appear, heading toward us, from the direction we had come.
I jumped when something grabbed my long coat. Looking behind me I saw that it was Copper. She peeked around me looking at the boat. I felt her stiffen. She looked intently at the craft and I could tell that she saw more. The girl had keen eyesight, I thought.
“What’s wrong Copper? Who pilots the boat?” I asked.
“I don’t like him,” Copper said flatly.
“Who?” I asked, but by then I could see a familiar figure standing on deck at the boat’s wheel.
It was Ignatius Belle. I remembered that Copper had reacted strangely to the handsome innkeeper before, though it made no sense to me. I didn’t perceive anything untoward about the tall dashing man. Quite the contrary. He had been kind and considerate to me from the moment I checked into the Belle Inn. He had an easy relaxed smile that I thought of as a strong indicator of honesty. His soft brown eyes were surely the windows of his soul. My intuition about such things was never wrong.
I stepped out into the open. Cornelis hissed a caution at me. I hissed back to the Dutchman that was being ridiculous. The man looked to be alone on the boat, and he was clearly not under any duress, if my friends feared our adversaries had forced him to pilot the boat to our destination.
Cornelis sputtered and then narrowed his eyes as he stared at Ignatius Belle. Copper’s expression matched the look on the alchemist’s face. I shook my head, trying not to be annoyed. It was easy to put on a bright smile as I walked toward the riverbank.
Really, I thought. Those two… of all the silliness.
By the time I got to the riverbank Ignatius had come ashore. A wicker basket hung from his arm. I hoped it contained a peace offering that would win over the suspicious girl.
I led the innkeeper up the sloping green. Belatedly I remembered that Copper was the only one from the town who had met Cornelis Drebble. Perhaps I should have kept the alchemist hidden, but I was so piqued about the way he and Copper acted about Ignatius that I really didn’t think about it.
“You remember Copper, of course,” I said and smiled encouragingly at her. I think I tried by force of will to get her to smile at Ignatius Belle. Apparently my will was not up to that task. “And this is my… Allow me to introduce my associate, Cornelis Drebbel,” I added with a motion toward the Dutchman.
The alchemist mumbled a noncommittal sound. I tried to glare at him without letting Ignatius see the warning look on my face.
“I don’t believe we’ve met sir, but your name seems familiar to me,” Ignatius said politely to Cornelis.
The alchemist cleared his throat, taken off guard by the near-recognition. I discretely poked my elbow into his ribs as a warning for the fierce frown he wore.
“One of my ancestors achieved a slight amount of acclaim,” the Dutchman said. “Perhaps you heard the name mentioned in passing, or in a very boring lecture when you were a schoolboy,” Cornelis said with a wave to dismiss the issue.
I was relieved that encounter went as well as it had. I gave a small sigh that I hoped Ignatius didn’t notice. Before things could get tense again I changed the subject.
“What have you in that very interesting looking basket?” I asked Ignatius, but turned my gaze to Copper. “Dare I hope for something from Cookie again?” I asked but that time I gave an ever so slight flutter of my eyelashes to the dashing innkeeper.
Good, I thought when I glanced at Copper, she was curious about the basket. I was sure she remembered Ignatius bringing that basket filled with lovely food and Irish soda bread. Perhaps whatever he carried now would win Copper over or at least make some headway.
With a flourish, Ignatius lifted the checkered napkin that covered the basket to reveal delicious profiteroles. Chocolate glistened darkly, covering the cream puffs. I could see a bit of the luscious creamy filling where it was piped into one of the pastries.
He held the basket out to Copper and she wasted no time taking one of the profiteroles. Chocolate quickly adorned her mouth and nose, but she still looked suspiciously at Ignatius. I gave a sigh of resignation. Then I consoled myself with one of the pastries.
“What brings you here, if I may ask?” Cornelis asked the innkeeper with no preamble.
“I knew Mina and Copper were alone at the Hixon house,” Ignatius began. “Then I heard there was some strange and noisy commotion there. I accompanied the sheriff when he went out to investigate.”
Once again I had to think fast to remember that Mina was the alias I took to allow me to stay close to Copper — Mina Hixon, half-sister to Calvin Hixon and Copper’s long lost aunt. Quickly I gave Ignatius a smile of appreciation for his concern.
However, if Ignatius went out to the estate with Sheriff Alvin Bullard afterward, then the familiar sounding voice I heard could not have belonged to the lawman.
“We found the estate deserted,” Ignatius continued. “The grounds were so trampled it almost made one wonder if there’d been a riot. Then I spotted broad tracks from what had to be very heavy wheels. I followed them to the river, where I saw that they continued a good distance following along the river. So I got my steamboat ready and well, here I am,” he explained. “Is everything alright? You gave me a scare.”
Should I tell Ignatius about the confrontation, I wondered. I didn’t distrust him in the same way as Copper. And Cornelis was naturally suspicious of everyone and everything. However, that didn’t mean it was a good idea for him to know everything. How much information was too much?
To my surprise, Cornelis answered him. “We avoided an altercation,” the alchemist said in a very grave voice. “It was evident that there were many, shall we say, unpleasant people nearby. So we followed the thinking of discretion being the better part of valor and left with all haste,” Cornelis said.
I was relieved with the Dutchman’s explanation to Ignatius. It was just vague enough. I don’t know why, but I was glad he didn’t mention the road locomotive. Although, considering the steam powered paddle boat in which the innkeeper arrived, he might be acquainted with that sort of contraption. I wondered if he would have been able to deduce our means of transportation by the tracks he saw. However, I put the thought aside as unlikely.
Besides, our locomotive had the benefit of magically enhanced speed. No one should be able to figure out how we traveled or how fast we went. They would have to know exactly when we left the estate, and when we arrived at the old churchyard. For all Ignatius knew, we had only been there a matter of moments.
I just didn’t like the idea of letting people know about the road locomotive. So I manufactured a story about Cornelis arriving at the estate for the purpose of bringing my horses. He saw a number of unsavory types nearby when he neared the estate. Reacting in fear, we left the estate. However, the horses were unfortunately stolen when we stopped for the night at the abandoned church compound.
Ignatius seemed to accept that. It was really a very logical explanation, not to mention the only one of which I could think. Ignatius was even charmingly angered about the theft of my supposed property.
“For a moment I had a wild image of you escaping on one of Mr. Hixon’s inventions. You knew he was an inventor didn’t you?” Ignatius asked.
I nodded, but gave it a dismissive wave of my hand. I hoped I had implied that I thought my half-brother’s tinkering was frivolous, to keep the conversation from that topic. I suddenly felt cautious. Not distrustful if Ignatius, mind you, just cautious.
However, Ignatius wasn’t ready to be diverted. “I hear he was always designing amazing machines. Word was that Alexander Graham Bell once contacted him about his design for a hydrofoil,” Ignatius said.
Cornelis made an impressed face. His mouth formed a silent Ooo. Cornelis wasn’t a bad actor. As soon as the alchemist had appeared at the estate, he had learned about the hydrofoil and the letter from the already famous Alexander Graham Bell.
Still trying to change the topic of discussion, I asked what else was inside the basket.
“Well, if you’d rather have salty than sweet,” Ignatius began and we exchanged a suggestive look that caused Cornelis to clear his throat in annoyance. “Cookie packed a jar of olives and some Stilton cheese,” he finished.
I made a production of serving the food, in hope that the subject would finally change. Ignatius might not have won Copper’s heart with the pastries, but he might have made inroads with the Dutchman. Cornelis was particularly fond of Stilton cheese.
Really, I should have expected what came next. It was such an obvious thing, but it took me by surprise. Ignatius insisted on taking us back “home” on his boat. He said it should be safe, that there was no trace of the people who had caused the ruckus at the estate.
However, I knew that we daren’t go back. Cornelis and Copper were well aware of that fact too. We turned a trio of blank expressions toward the innkeeper.
How could I refuse without either seeming utterly ridiculous or giving away more information than I wanted to disclose?
How will the mysterious “woman in trousers” avoid seeming rude to the handsome innkeeper? It sounds like she is more than a little interested in Ignatius Belle. But should she be more like Copper, and distrust him? Come back to the Victorian Era again next time to see what happens to Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers.
And now for your recipe treat from Suzanne. Bon appétit!
Recipe: Small Plates- Tapas
Photo and Recipe Credit: Suzanne Debrango at “A Pug in the Kitchen”
Be at the train station on time next weekend when the “things” are from Christine Robinson at “Before Sundown – remember what made you smile.”
Copyright © 2015 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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