Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Thanks to everyone who visited the virtual art show, Under the Sea. I preempted the Straightlaced Saturday edition of this serial for that post, but today the steampunk locomotive is back on track.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bid you welcome to Hidebound Hump Day, where we continue our Victorian adventure from Wednesday last. Horsefeathers… I can’t talk that way unless “Felicity” is firmly in my head — and she’s off trying to keep Cornelis in line. If I had kept going, I think I might have hurt myself.
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
Cornelis Drebbel, the alchemist, and Felicity, the woman in trousers met a curious little girl with hair the color of a new penny — Copper. At her home, they found an unknown dead man in the study, and Copper’s father was missing. People from a hateful orphanage showed up with the sheriff, trying to take the girl away. Although they shouldn’t have had any idea she was on her own. Then some naughty chimps burst into the house and dragged away the corpse.
Previously our heroes found papers and drawings done by Leonardo da Vinci himself! Yet time was running out for them to get away from Copper’s home before the sheriff (or someone worse) returned. Complicating things was the fact that they had no transportation. Then they found an old road locomotive… but it wasn’t working. Can Cornelis use a trick of alchemy to get it working?
“What is it?” I asked once I could see Cornelis Drebbel 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.”
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
8 — Soup Bone, Destiny
“Copper!” I called. “We have to hurry. Where are you?”
I had climbed the narrow stairs up to the tiny room at the top of the turreted tower of the Hixon estate. I wanted to get the best possible view of the land around me, but I didn’t hold much hope of seeing anything in the dark.
Opening the window, I leaned out precariously. Although I needn’t have been concerned about falling out — the wretched bustle on my skirt wouldn’t fit through the window. I exhaled in exasperation at the convention of fashion I had to adopt.
When I looked to my right, I saw a small light. At first I took it for a firefly, but it wasn’t. It was too far away, I wouldn’t see a firefly at such a distance. Then I saw another light near it — and two more. Torches. They moved steadily toward the house.
I twisted my torso and looked to my left. There I spotted more lights, coming from the west. One lantern held still and several others moved toward it. I had no doubt that the group of them would also begin moving toward our location soon.
However, Cornelis detected three groups, each approaching from a different direction. Quickly I walked across the round turreted room to the other window. I stretched out as far as I could, but I didn’t see anything.
If only there were more stars, or a bigger moon, I thought. Well then, if I can’t see, perhaps I can hear.
I held very still and strained to hear, isolating the sounds of nature, the insects and owls. Faint and far off I heard growls and barks, but they were only canine.
Probably two dogs fighting over a soup bone.
Abruptly the dogs gave a startled yip. Then I heard the familiar screeching and chattering of chimpanzees. I still couldn’t see anything. I wondered how far away they were. Of the two groups with torches one seemed to be about as far away as the other. I could only guess about the chimps. Their cacophony might carry a long way in the quiet of the night. Or for all I knew, they might be nearer than the others.
I hurried down the turret stairs and headed for the bedrooms to find Copper. When I told the girl to only get the most important things, I’d meant clean nickers, stockings, and a change of clothes… However, she struggled to carry a sizable carpet bag. It was black with a floral design done in cheery shades of mauve and red. It also looked too heavy to contain only the “important things” I told her to gather.
Shaking my head I looked at the bag.
“Copper, there’s no time for me to sort through your bag and get the things you really need,” I said resignedly. “I hope you chose well, because it certainly seems you chose enough.”
The girl tried to mollify me by holding out the harmonic tuner — the erstwhile silver dinner bell from the Belle Inn. In truth I was pleased with her quick thinking. No one told her to look for it. I smiled despite myself. I didn’t know what to do with a harmonic tuner, but Cornelis did. It might prove very useful.
When Copper shifted the heavy bag I heard a muffled but pretty chime.
“That doesn’t sound like something ‘important’ now, does it?” I said and with a groan hefted the heavy carpet bag.
“Yes it is!” she insisted. “Daddy gave it to me. It’s the most important thing I have.”
Previously the Copper I had come to know was logical, creative, and resilient. To my surprise the girl’s lower lip began to tremble.
How could I be so insensitive? She really was just a child. Copper had been through enough in the past few days to make any adult a nervous wreck. On top of that, Cornelis and I were about to tear her away from her home and run headlong into parts unknown.
Feeling ashamed of myself, I put the bag down and put my arms around Copper for a hug, which she returned with a sob.
“Go ahead and cry if you need to,” I said softly.
She sniffled, shook her head, and wiped her nose on her sleeve.
“I’m fine,” she said.
Copper opened the bag. I saw with relief that she had packed the owl-shaped lamp, the base of which held the priceless letter and drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. She removed whatever made the chiming sound. I didn’t get a look at it because she was quick to secret it inside her blue cape. I felt like such a heel when I thought she must be afraid I’d take her father’s gift away from her.
“May I see it?” I asked, trying to make amends.
It was an ornate bell with detailed carvings of the fabled three mystic apes — see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.
After dealing with the real life chimpanzees, I could have wished the design was of anything but apes. However, I wasn’t the girl whose father had made it a cherished gift. Even so, it was artistically rendered in a style that made me think it was a Japanese antique. It was likely quite valuable.
I nodded appreciatively.
“Of course you should keep it with you. Put it some place safe, so you don’t drop it,” I said.
“You’re right. We do have to hurry. Those stinking naughty monkeys are getting close,” Copper added causing me to smile at her bravery. “I mean chimpanzees,” she amended, no doubt remembering Cornelis correcting her.
With a chill I realized she was correct. The chimps moved faster than I expected. Their eerie screeching filled the night.
My suitcase and hatbox were sitting in the hallway. Copper picked up my suitcase, which was less than half the weight of the carpet bag she had dragged through the house. When she moved to get my hatbox too, I hastily said that I would get it.
“I need you to get the doors,” I gave my excuse. “So you’ll need a free hand.”
The truth of the matter was I never let anyone carry my hatbox. It contained the skull of Cornelis Drebbel.
We stepped quickly down the stairs. I hesitated so I could adjust the heavy carpet bag and make sure I had a tight hold on the hatbox. I saw Copper turn back to gaze at her house. She looked up at the beautiful home with large sad blue eyes.
“I’ll bring you back as soon as everything is sorted out,” I assured her.
Copper shook her head. There was something very grown up about the way she stood and the expression on her face.
“Daddy says that your destiny isn’t always what you expect,” the girl said. “I didn’t get it when I was real little,” said the suddenly mature moppet at my side. “But I think I understand now.”
A simian scream split the air.
To be continued…
Real World Notes
The Bustle. Victorian Era women’s fashions were characterized by crinolines (1850-1869) and bustles. By the 1870s, the elliptical crinoline had evolved into a bustle. It was a long narrow cage that rested at the back of the waist. From 1870-1889, the bustle would continue to evolve into a variety of different shapes and forms.
A book of etiquette for ladies of the era describes appropriate dress for the following activities or events: receiving visitors, visiting others, travel, walking, going to market, shopping, visiting new brides, mourning, and going out in stormy weather. Each type of dress was distinguished by type of fabric, presence or absence of trim, and suitability for the named activity. Failure to understand and comply with those rules was the epitome of bad taste (FIDM Museum & Galleries, Nov. 19, 2010).
Soup. The Victorians would say “light” soups were for ladies, while darker heaver soups were given to men. Here’s rhubarb soup the Victorian way.
Our trio still has not gotten away, and the unknown groups will converge on the Hixon house at any moment. However, Copper has collected some (hopefully) useful things for their escape. I wonder if Cornelis has made any progress in getting the road locomotive working.
Thanks for getting on the steampunk locomotive for this rerun. I’ve been posting episodes twice a week. The story continues on Straightlaced Saturday. I’ll be looking for you at the station.
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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