Saturday, October 6, 2018
Welcome back to Hidebound Hump Day, and another episode of Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers. If you enjoyed my 1920s stories about Paisley Idelle Peabody, aka Pip — keep an eye out. My characters begin to feel left out when I start new stories. Keep an eye out in this episode.
This time we finish with the last in the set of “three things” — Airtights.
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
Felicity pieced events together and concluded that their foes were after the priceless Leonardo da Vinci papers that were hidden inside the owl-shaped lamp. She also figured out that a familiar voice she heard (when they came dangerously close to one group of their pursuers) belonged to Sheriff Alvin Bullard.
We are about to learn how they came to be surrounded by old crates and impossible stacks of sour dough pancakes, when the previous episode began with Felicity’s head-cold induced ramble.
When we left, we learned that the alchemist didn’t know how to stop the rapidly careening road locomotive. Dare we join them?
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
11 — Airtights
We careened across the country side. The clouds drifted away from the moon. I saw that there was a bend in the river ahead. “Lovely,” I commented sarcastically. “Now we’ll leave the course of the river and get lost in the countryside,” I said assuming the locomotive would continue to travel in a straight line.
“No, but that would be preferable,” Cornelis called back to me. “The engine is following the river. It won’t veer from that course. And we’re going too fast to take that curve!” he cried just as the traction engine teetered onto two wheels.
My hatbox flew out of the engine and into the river. With an oath that was in no way feminine, I dove into the frigid darkness of the water after my hatbox. There was no choice. The hatbox contained the skull of Cornilis Drebble.
The hatbox wasn’t heavy, and apparently a pocket of air had been trapped inside, preventing it from sinking fast. I was able to get my hands on it without diving to the deepest reaches of the river. However my heavy skirt and bulky bustle hindered me rising back to the surface.
As my heavy clothes pulled me down, I struggled to remove them and still hold onto the hatbox. However, I wasn’t having much success. Something tapped my neck and gave me a tiny electric shock. When I turned I saw a thin filament of glowing green. I associated the luminous verdant color with the Dutchman’s tricks. But the tendril was so slim; I didn’t see how it could possibly help me.
Yet with no other help in sight I tentatively touched the glowing strand. It wrapped itself gently around my wrist, and pulled me easily to the surface of the river. Then it continued to lift me upward and onto the road locomotive. I noted that the engine had stopped.
Copper applauded enthusiastically. Cornelis took a bow as if the entire catastrophe had been part of a show, while I sat shivering, soaked, and sulky. My frock was ruined, along with my favorite top hat. Even the dratted bustle was a loss, as it was the least uncomfortable one I had ever found.
The alchemist’s skull was safe and sound, if cold and wet.
With another surge of magical speed, Cornelis drove the engine past the next few towns, staying on the outskirts. The engine was noisy, and naturally we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves, particularly since we didn’t know who was chasing us. However, it zoomed by the towns with such speed, that I doubted anyone could have figured out what caused the sudden noise.
Far out into the countryside we came upon an abandoned church that seemed to watch protectively over a few other buildings that were within the same tumbledown stone fence. One of the buildings was quite large and part of the back wall had fallen. It was easily large enough to conceal the road locomotive.
The building held a number of old crates. Each was tagged with owner’s information. Apparently at one time the building had been used as private storage space.
Cold and still damp from my dive into the river, I leaned against a tall crate, suddenly feeling extremely weary. Then I sneezed. By the time I had wiped my nose, Cornelis was sniffling too. The minute I looked at the alchemist I knew that he had the nearest thing to a head cold that is possible for him to catch. I sneezed again, knowing I had the real McCoy…
Now you know how we came to be surrounded by old crates and impossible stacks of sour dough pancakes.
I grabbed my suitcase and hid behind a stack of crates to change into my trousers and a shirt. It would have been worth a dunk in the river to get back into my preferred clothes, if not for my top hat being ruined.
That’s when I started paying attention to all the crates. Many of the wooden storage boxes were opened or damaged, probably from whatever caused one of the walls to fall. They contained all manner of things. From one opened crate random items of apparel spilled to the floor, including the royal blue muff I mentioned. There was a label on the side of the crate, Property of Alastair Wong Sr.
A packet of letters was tied together with a red ribbon. When I picked them up I detected a trace of lavender perfume. Love letters, I thought as my curiosity pressed me to open one and read it. I looked at the return address and found they were to the afore mentioned Alastair Wong from a Phanny Idelle Peabody in Savannah, Georgia, USA. I put the letters down when something more important caught my eye.
Another was packed with airtights, as a cowboy friend of mine called them — canned goods. Several of the jars contained preserves. Those magical stacks of sourdough pancakes wouldn’t go to waste after all. Not all of them at least; there were far too many for three people to eat, even with Copper’s voracious appetite. I wondered if the pancakes were still warm.
“Do it again!” Copper said enthusiastically to Cornelis.
I couldn’t help laughing at the sad, red-eyed expression on his face when the girl wanted him to sneeze yet again.
“It is no game,” Cornelis told Copper in a stuffy nasal voice.
Suppressing another sneeze of my own, I took pity on the alchemist. I held up a jar of apricot preserves and asked Copper if she’d seen any cutlery in the opened crates. Her mouth made a silent “Oooh,” when she saw the jar and the girl hurried away in search of a fork.
Judging by the disarray and debris, most of the crates had been searched for valuables after whatever catastrophe happened to the building. The damage looked old too. There was an abandoned feeling about the place that I found mildly disconcerting.
“What sort of place do you suppose this is, Cornelis?” I pondered aloud. “Have we sheltered in some sort of ghost town? One would think a religious compound like this would be part of a town. But I get the feeling that there isn’t another soul for miles around.”
The alchemist nodded affirmatively. “Indeed. I get the same sense of things,” he agreed. “It will be dawn soon and the light of day will tell us much.”
Cornelis plopped down on a pile of clothing as if it were a bed. Apparently the clothes had been sitting there for quite some time. A cloud of dust puffed up when he landed on them. The dust tickled my nose and I put my finger firmly between my nose and upper lip.
“Don’t you dare!” Cornelis warned me. “You know that — huh — if you do — huh — then I will too!” he said just as we both sneezed loudly.
I looked at Cornelis Drebbel. He looked at me. Nothing happened. Copper ran back so us, carrying several forks and even some plates. She stopped and stared expectantly at the Dutchman. He and I looked at each other again. Still nothing happened. Copper looked disappointed. I sighed with relief.
Then elsewhere in the building I heard a wet splat. And another. A funny little guttural sound traveled to my ears. It was followed by several dozen more wet splat sounds, and the sounds were coming closer. A splat sounded right beside me. I turned to see Cornelis wearing a sad-eyed long suffering expression. His eyes rolled to look upward. A frog sat squarely on top of his head.
“Ribbit,” the frog looked at me and said. A chorus of ribbits from all around the building answered.
Copper laughed with delight. I chortled despite myself. However, my merriment stopped as, splat-splat-splat, frogs rained down upon us.
To be continued…
Real World Notes
Airtights. Yes they are a thing! Nicolas Appert was the French inventor of airtight food preservation. Appert, known as the “father of canning,” was a confectioner. A hermetic seal is any type of sealing that makes a given object airtight (excludes the passage of air, oxygen, or other gases). The term originally applied to airtight glass containers, but as technology advanced it applied to a larger category of materials, including rubber and plastics.
Is Sheriff Alvin Bullard one of the bad guys? He seemed harmless enough with his amusingly thick mustache. Will our trio keep running, no matter how far, to escape the villains who would kidnap Copper? Or will they turn and fight? They’re awfully outnumbered.
I hope you saw my big cover reveal. If not then click the arrow at the bottom of the page. Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers will be back again Wednesday for Hidebound Hump Day. 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.
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