Wednesday, October 17, 2018
It’s Hidebound Hump Day, and another episode of Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers. There was not a Straightlaced Saturday chapter last week, so today we pick up where we left off a week ago.
Remember I’ve mentioned that this serial was originally presented as a “culinary” mystery. All of the random “things” that drove this spontaneously written chapter were food related. How do you think I used all those food things to create a story?
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
The alchemist’s head cold continued to wreak havoc with magical sneezes. However, that didn’t keep our heroes from noticing that someone or some thing was headed their way. Felicity and Cornelis argued about whether or not they should make a stand. Then the woman in trousers noticed that Copper wasn’t there…
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
13 — Pâté, Profiteroles, Olives
Where could she be?
“Copper!” I called, trying to keep the urgency I felt from showing in my voice.
“I’m over here,” a small sad sounding voice said from the other side of a stack of wooden crates.
She came out from her hiding place, doe-eyed and most unhappy looking. I felt horrible when I realized she had been listening to us fight.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I didn’t mean to be such a bother,” Copper said but her perplexed expression told me that she didn’t know what else to do about being a burden.
With a deep sigh I shook my head. Copper had heard me argue with Cornelis about whether we should make a stand and confront the parties chasing us, or continue running. I felt terrible that I had gotten angry in front of the child.
“No, this is for us to worry about, Copper,” I told the girl. “It’s just part of what we’re supposed to do ― to discuss what is the best alternative. Sometimes discussions get rather heated… You, on the other hand, are only supposed to be young. You aren’t supposed to have to worry about such things,” I told her and made sure I smiled.
I tousled that hair the color of a new penny when she looked up at me. The honking noise escalated.
“Is that a goose I hear?” I asked.
I hadn’t seen any sign of people living anywhere near the abandoned church and its buildings. We were still in the large one with a missing wall, where the road locomotive was hidden. How would a goose come to be in such a place?
When I voiced the thought, Cornelis was sure a goose could do perfectly well on its own. Copper said that it was chasing some of the frogs.
“Did you ever see what the frogs did with that eggplant they carried off?” I asked her, still curious about that strange spectacle, but Copper shook her head negatively.
My inquisitive nature took over and I went outside to investigate the commotion. Apparently, the tables had turned from when Copper saw the goose chasing the frogs. Row upon row of frogs lined up to confront the fowl. The goose honked furiously at them.
I felt sorry for the poor bird. Looking at the frogs versus goose tableau, I realized just how right Cornelis was about us being extremely outnumbered by our adversaries. If we took a stand at that juncture, we would make no more progress than the goose against the hoard of frogs.
I had never been around geese. The tale about a goose laying a golden egg was about as much as I knew about the species. Stepping gingerly, because I didn’t want squished frog on my boots, I made my way to the goose. I picked her up and tucked her under my arm.
“Don’t you fret, old thing,” I told the still honking bird. “We’ll find a spot where the frogs haven’t eaten all the good bits.”
Then the infernal goose bit me! I screeched and released her. The goose settled to the ground and looked up at me with a very annoyed squawk.
“Why you ungrateful wretch!” I exclaimed as I rubbed the bitten spot on my arm. “I should make pâté of you!”
At that threat, the goose flew off somewhere beyond the abandoned church. A pop told me that the alchemist had appeared behind me.
“Do you see my point now?” Cornelis Drebbel asked with a nod to the assembled frogs.
“Why you!” I sputtered. “You arranged that entire thing didn’t you? How dare you have that dreadful goose bite me!”
“Now, now,” Cornelis chided. “You had the poor judgement to pick her up in your arms. I didn’t do anything to make the goose bite you,” he said. “That was just icing on the cake,” he added with a smirk.
I clinched my fist and took a swing at the Dutchman. I already knew what he would do, so don’t ask me why I swung at him. Cornelis immediately became semi-solid and my fist passed through him, throwing me off balance. I nearly landed on my face in a pile of goose droppings. It was lucky for him that I didn’t fall into that mess.
He looked distractedly toward the river. There was my moment! I leapt, tackling the Dutchman while he was fully solid and preoccupied. We both landed on the grass with a thud. I grinned wickedly when I realized that he had landed in the goose poop.
Cornelis glared at me and with a pop he disappeared. A moment later I spotted him close to the banks of the river. He discretely hid behind a tree as he looked at the waterway. Then I heard the sound of a rhythmic splash coming steadily closer. That slight noise must have been what distracted the alchemist.
I hurried to where he stood behind the tree. I was enormously glad to finally be wearing trousers again, rather than full skirts and a bustle. Looking at the river I couldn’t see what made the faint sound. Was it a beaver, or perhaps an otter going sleekly in and out of the river? In a quiet voice I asked I asked what it was.
The Dutchman didn’t seem concerned about being heard. So, whatever it made the sound must have been unlikely to hear us. He said that someone was coming toward us on the watercourse. He said the sound was from paddles going into the water.
“Surely that rhythm is too fast to be an oar,” I commented as the sound became more audible.
“Not an oar,” he said, once again looking pleased with himself to have deduced something I had not. “It is a paddleboat. A small one, granted, but still steam powered with a paddlewheel,” Cornelis said with certainty.
Soon the odd-looking boat came into view — a paddle steamer. It was moving much faster than any rowboat would have moved. It was a narrow vessel, with a mast for a sail, but no canvas was attached. On each side was a red paddle wheel that sat nearly as tall as the enclosed bridge. Behind the bridge stood a tall yellow steam stack.
Who piloted the craft? I had yet to see who was onboard. Was it one of our adversaries catching up with us? It seemed too much of a coincidence for some random person to suddenly appear, heading toward us, from the direction we had come.
I jumped when something grabbed my long coat. Looking behind me, I saw that it was Copper. She peeked around me looking at the boat. I felt her stiffen. She looked intently at the craft and I could tell that she saw more. The girl had keen eyesight, I thought.
“What’s wrong Copper? Who pilots the boat?” I asked.
“I don’t like him,” Copper said flatly.
“Who?” I asked, but by then I could see a familiar figure standing on deck at the boat’s wheel.
It was Ignatius Belle. I remembered that Copper had reacted strangely to the handsome innkeeper before, though it made no sense to me. I didn’t perceive anything untoward about the tall dashing man. Quite the contrary. He had been kind and considerate to me from the moment I checked into the Belle Inn. He had an easy relaxed smile that I thought of as a strong indicator of honesty. His soft brown eyes were surely the windows of his soul. My intuition about such things was never wrong.
I stepped out into the open. Cornelis hissed a caution at me. I hissed back to the Dutchman that he was being ridiculous. The man looked to be alone on the boat, and he was clearly not under any duress, if my friends feared our adversaries had forced him to pilot the boat to our destination.
Cornelis sputtered and then narrowed his eyes as he stared at Ignatius Belle. Copper’s expression matched the look on the alchemist’s face. I shook my head, trying not to be annoyed. It was easy to put on a bright smile as I walked toward the riverbank.
Really, I thought. Those two… of all the silliness.
By the time I got to the riverbank Ignatius had come ashore. A wicker basket hung from his arm. I hoped it contained a peace offering that would win over the suspicious girl.
I led the innkeeper up the sloping green. Belatedly I remembered that Copper was the only one from the town who had met Cornelis Drebbel. Perhaps I should have kept the alchemist hidden, but I was so piqued about the way he and Copper acted about Ignatius that I really didn’t think about it.
“You remember Copper, of course,” I said and smiled encouragingly at her.
I think I tried by force of will to get her to smile at Ignatius Belle. Apparently, my will was not up to that task.
“And this is my… Allow me to introduce my associate, Cornelis Drebbel,” I added with a motion toward the Dutchman.
The alchemist mumbled a noncommittal sound. I tried to glare at him without letting Ignatius see the warning look on my face.
“I don’t believe we’ve met sir, but your name seems familiar to me,” Ignatius said politely to Cornelis.
The alchemist cleared his throat, taken off guard by the near-recognition. I discretely poked my elbow into his ribs as a warning for the fierce frown he wore.
“One of my ancestors achieved a slight amount of acclaim,” the Dutchman dissembled. “Perhaps you heard the name mentioned in passing, or in a very boring lecture when you were a schoolboy,” Cornelis said with a wave to dismiss the issue.
I was relieved that encounter went as well as it had. I gave an involuntary sigh that I hoped Ignatius didn’t notice. Before things could get tense again I changed the subject.
“What have you in that very interesting looking basket?” I asked Ignatius, but turned my gaze to Copper.
“Dare I hope for something from Cookie again?” I asked but that time I gave an ever so slight flutter of my eyelashes to the dashing innkeeper.
Good, I thought when I glanced at Copper. She was curious about the basket. I was sure she remembered Ignatius bringing that basket filled with lovely food and Irish soda bread. Perhaps whatever he carried now would win Copper over or at least make some headway.
With a flourish, Ignatius lifted the checkered napkin that covered the basket to reveal delicious profiteroles. Chocolate glistened darkly, covering the cream puffs. I could see a bit of the luscious creamy filling where it was piped into one of the pastries.
He held the basket out to Copper and she wasted no time taking one of the profiteroles. Chocolate quickly adorned her mouth and nose, but she still looked suspiciously at Ignatius. I gave a sigh of resignation. Then I consoled myself with one of the pastries.
“What brings you here, if I may ask?” Cornelis asked the innkeeper with no preamble.
“I knew Mina and Copper were alone at the Hixon house,” Ignatius began. “Then I heard there was some strange and noisy commotion there. I accompanied the sheriff when he went out to investigate.”
Once again, I had to think fast to remember that Mina was the alias I took to allow me to stay close to Copper — Mina Hixon, half-sister to Calvin Hixon and Copper’s long-lost aunt. Quickly I gave Ignatius a smile of appreciation for his concern.
However, if Ignatius went out to the estate with Sheriff Alvin Bullard afterward, then the familiar sounding voice I heard could not have belonged to the lawman. Could it?
“We found the estate deserted,” Ignatius continued.
“The grounds were so trampled it almost made one wonder if there’d been a riot. Then I spotted broad tracks from what had to be very heavy wheels. I followed them to the river, where I saw that they continued a good distance following along the river. So, I got my steamboat ready and well, here I am,” he explained. “Is everything alright? You gave me a scare.”
Should I tell Ignatius about the confrontation? I wondered.
I didn’t distrust him in the same way as Copper, and Cornelis was naturally suspicious of everyone and everything. However, that didn’t mean it was a good idea for Ignatius Belle to know everything. How much information was too much?
To my surprise, Cornelis answered him.
“We avoided an altercation,” the alchemist said in a very grave voice. “It was evident that there were many, shall we say, unpleasant people nearby. So, we followed the thinking of discretion being the better part of valor and left with all haste,” Cornelis said.
I was relieved with the Dutchman’s explanation to Ignatius. It was just vague enough. I don’t know why, but I was glad he didn’t mention the road locomotive. Although, considering the steam powered paddle boat in which the innkeeper arrived, he might be acquainted with that sort of contraption.
I wondered Ignatius would have been able to deduce our means of transportation by the tracks he saw. However, I put the thought aside as unlikely.
Besides, our locomotive had the benefit of magically enhanced speed. No one should be able to figure out how we traveled or how fast we went. They would have to know exactly when we left the estate, and when we arrived at the old churchyard. For all Ignatius knew, we had only been there a matter of moments.
Perhaps I was over-cautious, but I simply didn’t like the idea of letting people know about the road locomotive. I manufactured a story about Cornelis arriving at the estate for the purpose of bringing my horses. I dissembled that my associate saw a number of unsavory types nearby when he neared the estate.
Reacting in fear, we left the estate. However, the horses were unfortunately stolen when we stopped for the night at the abandoned church compound. Or that was the story I gave the innkeeper.
Ignatius seemed to accept that. It was really a very logical explanation, not to mention the only one of which I could think. Ignatius was even charmingly angered about the theft of my supposed property.
“For a moment, I had a wild image of you escaping on one of Mr. Hixon’s inventions. You knew he was an inventor, didn’t you?” Ignatius asked.
I nodded, but gave it a dismissive wave of my hand. I hoped I had implied that I thought my “half-brother’s” tinkering was frivolous, to keep the conversation from that topic. I suddenly felt cautious. Not distrustful of Ignatius, mind you, just cautious. However, Ignatius wasn’t ready to be diverted.
“I hear he was always designing amazing machines. Word was that Alexander Graham Bell once contacted him about his design for a hydrofoil,” Ignatius said.
Cornelis made an impressed face. His mouth formed a silent Ooo. The alchemist wasn’t a bad actor. I knew he was rarely impressed. As soon as Cornelis had appeared at the estate, he had learned about the hydrofoil and the letter from the already famous Alexander Graham Bell.
Still trying to change the topic of discussion, I asked what else was inside the basket.
“Well, if you’d rather have salty than sweet,” Ignatius began and we exchanged a suggestive look that caused Cornelis to clear his throat in annoyance. “Cookie packed a jar of olives and some Stilton cheese,” he finished.
I made a production of serving the food, in hope that the subject would finally change. Ignatius might not have won Copper’s heart with the pastries, but he might have made inroads with the Dutchman. Cornelis was particularly fond of Stilton cheese.
Really, I should have expected what came next. It was such an obvious thing, yet it took me by surprise. Ignatius insisted on taking us back “home” on his boat. He said it should be safe, that there was no trace of the people who had caused the ruckus at the estate.
However, I knew that we daren’t go back. Cornelis and Copper were well aware of that too. We turned a trio of blank expressions toward the innkeeper.
How could I refuse without either seeming utterly ridiculous or giving away more information than I wanted to disclose?
To be continued…
Real World Notes
Paddle Steamer. In the early 19th century, paddle wheels were the predominant means of propulsion for steam-powered boats. A paddle steamer is a steamship or riverboat powered by a steam engine, which drives paddle wheels to propel the craft through the water.
Even though Copper and the Alchemist distrust him, Woman in Trousers certainly trusts the dashing innkeeper. He seems to know an awful lot about the Hixon situation. That bothers me. Has he won over Copper and Cornelis with food? Stay tuned.
This week there will not be a Straightlaced Saturday episode of the serial. You may have seen my cover reveal for the long awaited sequel to Atonement, Tennessee. Or you might have seen the wonderful Thursday Atonement Doors post Dan Antion did in honor of it. I will officially launch Atonement in Bloom this Saturday, October 20th. It’s no ordinary book launch. I’m having a party bus with a couple dozen of your friends along for the trip. There will also be an Atonement, TN Book Fair, with 18 books from other authors for you to browse!
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers will be back again next week 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.
Copyright © 2015 and 2018 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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