Saturday, September 15, 2018
Did the allure of the word “revealing” lure you to my clutches? I’m giving a shout-out to the fabulous Mae Clair who has just revealed the delicious cover of her next novel!
The big release of the book won’t be until January, but you can pre-order End of Day here. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait — sooo you can go ahead and read Cusp of Night to which the new book will be a follow-on. (Hint-hint.)
Now, Felicity and Cornelis have their hands full so lets get on with the Straightlaced Saturday episode of Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers!
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
Chapter 5. Naughty chimpanzees ran amok, stealing the corpse of the still unknown man, and knocking Felicity out cold. She found the “flat sounding pop” with which Cornelis Drebbel vanished disturbing — and so did I! So what happened to the alchemist? Let’s find out.
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
6 — Corset, Irish Soda Bread
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. Even I didn’t 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 vapours.”
“Something hit me from behind. Something large,” I said, my thoughts still fuzzy. “It knocked me against the doorway,” I added, gingerly touching my bloodied temple.
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.
Most ladies would find the idea repellent. 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, but I couldn’t let anyone else know that.
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 to get up 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.
To be continued…
The Woman in Trousers seems to have taken a shine to handsome innkeeper, Ignatius Belle. Although Copper is decidedly distrustful of the tall man. Is the girl right to be suspicious of him? What about that sheriff? Can we trust him? And most importantly, where is Cornelis Drebbel and is he okay?
Next time we’ll see what I did with the random thing “Steam Engine.”
Real World Notes
The Vapours. Also the vapors is a depressed or hysterical nervous condition. It described certain mental or physical states, such as hysteria, light-headedness, and fainting. Ladies’ tight corsets could squeeze their internal organs, including the lungs, and could restrict breathing causing the wearer to feel faint and suffer “the vapours.” Today, the phrase “a case of the vapors” is most often used either melodramatically or for comedic effect.
Thanks for getting on the steampunk locomotive for this rerun. I’m posting episodes twice a week, so the steampunk locomotive will be at the station this weekend for Straightlaced Saturday, where this serial continues. I’ll be looking for you there. 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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