Wednesday, August 29, 2018
“Hidebound Hump Day” and “Straightlaced Saturday” —
Re-Beginning “Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers”
as prelude to a new serial.
Last week we reached the end of the line, with the final episode for the Jazz Age Wednesdays serial Hullaba Lulu. It was a dieselpunk series, set in the Roaring Twenties authored by yours truly, and illustrated by Rob Goldstein. It was a wildly fun ride and everyone who was on the train has my heartfelt thanks for being part of the journey.
Rob told me that he already missed the characters. We both loved it, even though it was a huge, time intensive effort for both of us. I thank Rob yet again for the delight of working with him. Here’s a video Rob made as a finale.
Although Rob may well be back to collaborate on occasional short stories, he said his brain was tired. Mine is too—
With Hullaba Lulu taking all my writing time, I haven’t been able to finish the editing and proofing of Atonement in Bloom. That’s another reason I need to make a change to Jazz Age Wednesdays.
Complicating my conundrum — my Saturday posts. Several months ago, when I ended Thistledown Midsummer Bedlam, I took a poll. I gave readers several options and asked their help in choosing what I should do next. The “winner” was for me to serialize the third of my Atonement novels the “three things” way, to help me write that story. I meant to go with that reader decision but… I can’t “pantser” that story online without giving spoilers about the other two novels. So, I’m using my prerogative to change my mind. Atonement-3 will not be my next serial.
That said, rather than going forward, I’m going back, before the Roaring Twenties. For several weeks to come, my midweek posts and my Saturday posts will be tied to the Victorian Era. Announcing…
Hidebound Hump-Day and Straightlaced Saturday
Don’t fret, I’m finally bringing all this blah-de-blah together. I’ve decided on what to use for the straight-laced, hidebound Victorian theme — and I’ve decided what my next serial will be!
Some of you will remember my serial about my fictionalized version of Cornelis Drebbel, Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers. To let my brain rest while I work on the books that are nearly ready, I’m going to re-run that serial. It will post on both Wednesdays and Saturdays. If you’re new, you’ll meet Cornelis and company.
If you already know this steampunk story, you can get reacquainted for when I’m ready to launch… The Skull of the Alchemist! I’m going to go the three things way with finishing the second story for Cornelis and Copper.
Simmer down, that isn’t ready yet. First I get a lighter work load for a while by rerunning the first serial. In that story, Cornelis has several different fun steampunk vehicles. Best of all, that means I can still say — All aboard!
Allow me to re-present…
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
1. Stilton Cheese, Mare’s Milk, Calamari
I was having second thoughts. The fishing town was too small for my unconventional presence to go unremarked, plain and simple. That was apparent as I watched a single carriage pass by on the dirt road and the driver turned to stare. It was downright obvious from the shopkeeper’s scandalized expression when I stepped inside Best’s General Store.
Yes, I knew I should limit my wanderings to large cities. However, I was weary of the crowds and odors. And the noise! I was desperately tired of the clamor and clang of cities.
It was a pleasing little town with a salt tang in the breeze and cozy houses. I liked it the moment I set foot there. I took a tidy suite in the Belle Inn.
There was even a store where I unexpectedly found the most marvelous Stilton cheese. Cornelis would be delighted with that find. For once, he might not be so grumpy when I wake him, I thought.
However, as I stood in the general store and watched Mrs. Billie Best and her customer from the corner of my eye, I foresaw that my stay in the charming township would be brief. I blocked any distractions from my mind so I could hear their conversation. I already knew they were talking about me. How could they fail to comment on my mannish waistcoat and trousers?
It always raised eyebrows when I dressed that way, but I wanted freedom of movement that I’d never have whilst restricted by the yards and yards of fabric that made a proper skirt and bustle. Besides, my first thought that morning was “I’ll be damned if I’m going to squeeze myself into a corset today.”
I pushed back my top hat, pretending to read a label while I listened to the two women speculate about me and my strange apparel. They had the most outlandish conjectures about my foreign accent and from whence I’d come. A smile quirked my lips and I tried not to laugh out loud.
The proprietor of the Belle Inn stood across the room shaking his head at the foolish conversation. Ignatius Belle made a good first impression when I checked in at his inn. He stepped over to me. I hoped his housekeeping staff had as much respect for guest privacy as he seemed to have. I’d hate for a curious maid to wake Cronelis. That would be most unfortunate. Actually it could get quite ugly.
“Ma’am, you were right about the mare’s milk,” he said loud enough for the women to hear. “Doc said there was a fungus in the grass she was eating before she foaled,” the innkeeper said in a respectful voice. “He said that’s likely what caused the problem. The Johnsons have a pregnant mare, and they’re going to foster the foal.”
My relief that the little horse would be well was genuine. I was glad my off-handed comment had been helpful. Cornelis always complained that I spoke before I thought, and that I drew unnecessary attention to myself. Yet it ended well that time, and there was the added benefit that now at least the innkeeper accepted me. Although I still doubted I would remain there for long.
“Your dinner is on the house tonight. Whatever you want, and as much of it as you care to eat. Your comment likely saved the foal’s life,” he said then looked suddenly shy. “Just a humble way of saying thank you.”
The burst of bashfulness was rather endearing on a man of his stature. Ignatius Belle did not fit my image of a proper innkeeper. They should be rotund, pink-cheeked men with aprons. My host however, was tall and well-made and he wore a suit and a Bowler hat. He barely gave my trousers a glance. Interesting.
The bell affixed to the shop door chimed and a wide eyed moppet came cautiously inside. She might have been seven years old or she may have been nine. Disgraceful as it may sound, I knew nothing about children.
An unfortunately familiar odor reached my noise when she walked past me. The bouquet was dreadful, but it gave the girl my full attention. She hesitated in her walk, just one step, and then she moved toward the counter. The shopkeeper frowned and her patron became even more disdainful — if that was possible. However, their scorn was not due to the odor I detected. They hadn’t noticed it, but I was sensitive to such things.
She had hair the color of a new penny. There was a smudge of dirt on her little nose. Her stylish cape was made of peacock blue wool, embroidered in cream silk thread, with a cream colored tassel on the hood. Her eyes twinkled with intelligence.
And she reeked of death.
At that very moment I knew that little russet haired child was the reason why I’d come to the out of the way little town. I didn’t know how it would come about, but I was certain — she would be the heart and soul of the next adventure!
What would Cornelis make of the girl? He despised anyone who was weak, and children by definition were weak. So the Dutchman detested children.
I smiled again — broadly.
“Your daddy spoils you too much Copper Hixon, letting you wear your Sunday best when you go out to play,” said the storekeeper from behind her counter. “Flaunting his wealth on clothes for a child, when there’s others as have to put their noses to the grindstone to get along.”
A barely audible remark came from her customer. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” the other woman mumbled. “She’d best be glad her pa recovered from that influenza last spring, else she’d be in the orphanage, and no fine clothes there,” the customer added in a resentful whine.
“Old Hixon should’ve taken another wife,” Billie Best declared. “There are plenty of women here abouts who’d make him a good wife,” she replied with a mystified shake of her head. “But he’d have none of them after that dance hall floozy died birthing this one,” the storekeeper said with an unconcerned wave toward Copper.
“I’d not have that evil child in my house,” said the other woman. “Any child that kills the mother birthing it is the devil’s own, you mark my words.”
The girl’s eyes widened at the mention of the orphanage and she was clearly afraid. Copper swallowed hard. “I need… I mean Daddy sent me to buy food to make dinner,” she stammered.
I noticed that she didn’t specify what food nor did she have a shopping list. But why would she? The odor that clung to her was faint. However, I had no doubt about its origin. No one told the child what to buy for dinner, but she was hungry enough to think of shopping for it.
The woman behind the counter looked at the girl and her mouth turned down in contempt. “Did your daddy send you with money to pay his bill?” Mrs. Best asked, emphasizing the payment. “He’s months behind. No?” she said when Copper shook her head and looked confused. “Well, you go back and tell him that hard working folk have to be paid. Not everybody was born with a silver spoon in their mouth. He’ll have to pay off the bill he’s run up before he gets another crumb from Best’s General Store!”
“Now was there really any need to speak so harshly to the child?” the innkeeper asked.
The child turned and fled the store. The tassel on her cape caught on the door and was left behind as she ran. I excused myself to my new landlord. Quickly picking up the cream colored tassel, I followed to see which direction little Copper went. Then I turned and ran back to the Belle Inn.
When I opened the inn’s door, the aroma of fried calamari slowed my stride. It wafted to me from the kitchen. It made my mouth water. I reigned in my haste. There was no need to run. The child wasn’t going anywhere. Not yet.
I popped into the kitchen, profusely complimented the cook, and asked if dinner could be sent up to my room. Cornelis hated it when I ate in my room, but he didn’t have much choice in the matter. I couldn’t resist the calamari!
My hatbox was on a high shelf. I carefully took it down and opened it. An object that appeared to be a ball covered by a satin scarf was inside. My top hat would fit around it, as a form to keep the hat’s shape. But in truth it was no such thing. I removed the scarf and held up a human skull.
“Cornelis,” I exclaimed. “Adventure is afoot! This is no time to be lazy, Cornelis Drebbel. Wake up!” I said and placed the skull back in the hatbox.
My eyes closed against the bitter chill that blew through the room. A moment later I looked into the eyes of the Dutchman. Though he stood no taller than me, his presence was forceful.
Cornelis was a handsome man. He had light hair, bushy eyebrows, and a mustache and pointed beard, much like a Musketeer. However, the disgruntled expression on his face belied his gentle manners. He gave a polite bow, yet managed to make the movement seem sarcastic.
“Why such haste?” he asked drolly, and smoothed back hair that perpetually looked mussed from a nap.
“Don’t be such a grump,” I said, and holding up the parcel of Stilton cheese I watched his nose twitch in anticipation.
To the Dutchman’s consternation, I held back the cheese. I wouldn’t share that until I got what I wanted. When I handed him the cream colored tassel from the girl’s cape he was hardly mollified.
“This bauble does not seem so portentous,” he complained.
As one eyebrow climbed toward his hairline, I knew he’d been won over, despite his sullen look and tone.
“Stop sulking and tell me about the girl,” I said, trying to be firm. One had to be firm with Cornelis. If he saw the slightest weakness…
“Ah, so that’s it is it? You think it’s her? Bringing on a child would complicate things enormously,” he asked, finally showing interest. “It seems awfully — how to describe it? So unassuming,” he said with a little twist to one side of his mouth as he looked at the tassel. “Do you really think she is the one?” he asked, his tone softening.
“You tell me,” I prodded.
Cornelis shimmered and blurred before my eyes, as his mind traveled. Then with a sharp pop he disappeared.
To be continued…
The original post featured a (then) first-time participant to begin this “interactive” serial — John W. Howell and his novel from back then, My GRL. I hope you’ll visit his wonderful blog and take a look at his book too. You’re sure to enjoy your stay there.I hope all of you are aboard for this rerun. Hugs!
Now some shameless self-promotion.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 and 2018 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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