Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Welcome back to Hidebound Hump Day and the next episode of the steampunk serial. The next random “thing” a reader left to drive the plot of this story should come as no surprise — “steam engine.” Let’s see if I use it in a way you expect. (winks)
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
Chapter 6. The handsome innkeeper, Ignatius Belle, has caught Felicity’s eye. Yet Copper is decidedly distrustful of the tall man. Who is right? Is Felicity thinking with her head or her… erm… heart? What about that sheriff? Can we trust him? More worrisome than whom to trust and not, Cornelis disappeared with a disconcerting “flat” pop.
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
7 — Steam Engine
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?”
“Yes, yes. Although it took me a bit to… shall we say, compose myself,” he said in a rueful voice.
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, even though I knew I was playing right into his theatrics. “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 privately.
“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, although 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.
“Uh-huh. It’s in the building on the other side of the house,” Copper motioned toward the remaining outbuilding — the one I had not had a chance to inspect.
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?
The next group of things were “Ceramic, Destiny, and Soup Bone.” We’ll see where they take Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers — next week on Hidebound Hump Day!
Real World Notes
Road Locomotive. An early, experimental steam-powered road vehicle. A type of (steam-powered) traction engine, usually referring to those designed for heavy haulage on common roads.
Thanks for getting on the steampunk locomotive for this rerun.
I’ve been posting episodes twice a week. However, for the weekend of September 21st, I’m preempting Straightlaced Saturday, for Under the Sea, a virtual art show featuring the work of Rob Goldstein, who illustrated Hullaba Lulu. This serial continues next week on Hidebound Hump Day. I’ll be looking for you there.
I hope to see you at the art show too. 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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