Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who got on the party bus for the launch of Atonement in Bloom! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate everyone who hosted the launch post, reblogged, allowed me to use images, and otherwise helped me promote my new novel. If you missed the launch, don’t worry. The double-decker bus is still rolling! Just click the back arrow at the bottom of this post. Beep-beep yeah!
Welcome back to the spontaneously written, #SteamPunk serial, Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers. Maybe you’ve heard me mention that I seem to have a physical need for color. I used to wear black occasionally — it’s a color. However, I’ve seen so very, very much of where I’ve lived this past decade, that I mostly avoid it now. If I wear all neutrals, light or dark… well, I just don’t feel very good.
The Victorians had a particular fondness for a certain color. It is one of the random things I was given to drive this chapter.
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
Chapter 13. The handsome innkeeper, Ignatius Belle unexpectedly showed up at the remote location where our heroes were hiding. When he brought up the topic of Calvin Hixon’s inventions, Felicity tried to deflect the subject. She 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. The alchemist wasn’t a bad actor. Felicity knew he was pretending to be impressed. As soon as Cornelis had appeared at the estate, he had learned about Hixon’s hydrofoil and the letter from the famous Alexander Graham Bell.
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
14 — Bicycle, Mauveine, Shepherd’s Pie
The silly straightlaced standards of our society baffled me. Something that was perfectly ordinary for a man was quite out of the question for a woman. Whether I wore a cumbersome skirt with a ridiculous bustle, or my preferred trousers shouldn’t make a bit of difference to anyone. Neither should anything about how I led my life.
Everything was always so caught up in hidebound propriety, and really had nothing to do with me.
Honestly, I thought. People and their moralities.
The fact that people judged me for traveling with Cornelis Drebbel astounded me. They always assumed impropriety when there was none. That’s why I had taken to keeping the Dutchman’s presence a secret for the most part. That was fine with the alchemist. He wasn’t exactly a people person.
The alchemist and I were not a pair, not romantically involved.
My, I thought, a romance with Cornelis after the accident of alchemy that put him in that strange state. That would be tricky to say the least.
I blushed when I caught myself pondering the whats and hows of it.
“It’s unseemly for a woman to go traipsing across the countryside with a man!” Ignatius said heatedly.
The argument seemed to have escalated while I considered the implications of a physical relationship with someone in the uniquely nonphysical condition of the Dutchman.
That last remark offended Cornelis Drebbel, if his bulging eyes and the throbbing vein in his forehead were any indication. I realized I had best step into the fray.
“Mina, if you’ll not allow me to take you and Copper back into town, then at least come downriver with me. I have business to attend anyway, so I may as well take care of it straight away,” Ignatius said, addressing me by the alias I had provided.
I didn’t feel like a Mina. Whatever had possessed me to come up with that name?
Ignatius took me by surprise and I blurted out what I was thinking. Cornelis was right that sometimes I had no manners in that regard. However, I’d never let the alchemist know I agreed.
“Business? What sort of business?” I asked; all curiosity and no tact.
The tall innkeeper smiled disarmingly, as if I had been perfectly polite. Maybe he saw my curiosity as acceptance.
“It’s just a small business transaction. I sometimes buy items and resell them. I’ve bought some aniline purple. Are you familiar with it? The synthetic organic chemical dye?” he asked.
“Oh, do you mean mauveine? I simply adore the color,” I said with what I hoped was just enough enthusiasm to make up for anything he may have perceived as rudeness.
“Precisely. The dye will fetch a good price. The color is quite popular. Perhaps a hundred years from now, people will think of mauve as the color of our era,” Ignatius said with just a touch of whimsy.
Cornelis rolled his eyes and sarcastically muttered something about “marvelous mauve.”
“Assuming you mean to hire a coach at the next town, I can take you there. It won’t put me out of my way, as I had planned to go there to pick up the dye anyway. Or I can take you back home. Really, it’s the only reasonable course of action. What will people think of you wandering the countryside with your… associate,” Ignatius said, echoing the words I used when I introduced Cornelis Drebbel.
“Why, the same sort of thing they’d say if she paraded down the river on a paddle boat with an innkeeper,” Cornelis said drolly.
A fire sparked in Ignatius’ eyes at that comment and I feared the two would argue again. The next time they quarreled, I was sure it would come to blows.
“Mina, you can’t mean to tell me that you would rather walk to the next town!” Ignatius exclaimed, but then he shook his head and grinned. “Surely you are not afraid of the steamboat. You don’t seem like a woman who would be intimidated by technology,” he said. His voice and facial expression became softer. “Oh Mina, I promise you it is perfectly safe,” he said encouragingly.
I glanced at Cornelis Drebbel. An aura started to shimmer greenly around him. It wouldn’t do to let the dashing innkeeper see that. Quickly I moved so that Ignatius would have his back to the alchemist. I was astonished that Cornelis would use one of his tricks in front of anyone. However, that aura meant that he was up to something.
An instant later a pigeon fluttered down, alighting on a bush next to the Dutchman. A closer look told me that it was not just a pigeon, but a messenger pigeon. Cornelis hummed a happy sounding tune as he removed a note from the tiny container on the bird’s back. The alchemist looked inordinately pleased with himself.
“Ah good,” Cornelis said jovially, so I knew he was fabricating something. “They are on their way.”
“Who?” Ignatius quickly demanded. “Who would be coming to this Godforsaken place?”
It was fortunate that the innkeeper spoke abruptly, because that prevented me asking the same question. I would have spoiled whatever story Cornelis had in mind.
“If you must know,” Cornelis began acerbically. “We were not, how did you put it? Wandering the country side. With that strange unrest at the Hixon estate, it was a good time for a holiday. So, we were going to some old friends of my family. Then, as Mina mentioned, our horses were stolen when we stopped here.”
“And how…” Ignatius started but hesitated, looking at the pigeon. “Do you mean to say you used a pigeon post to communicate to these people?”
“Why of course. I’d never go anywhere without some of my birds,” Cornelis said affably and stroked the pigeon’s head.
Cornelis even cooed to the pigeon. I thought that was laying it on a bit thick.
The tall innkeeper’s eyes narrowed as he looked down at Cornelis and the bird. I wondered what Ignatius was thinking. Back at the Hixon estate when I first introduced the two men, Ignatius seemed to think the name Cornelis Drebbel was familiar. Even though he didn’t pursue the issue, it gave me pause. It was possible that he knew of the Dutchman’s acclaim as a long ago inventor, but it was unthinkable that Ignatius could deduce anything about his unique situation.
That paddle steamer proved the innkeeper’s interest in technology and tinkering. However, something Ignatius said when he first arrived nagged at me. Ignatius Belle had mentioned Calvin Hixon’s inventions.
I told myself that shouldn’t bother me. The entire town thought of Hixon as an eccentric. The inventions were surely common knowledge. Perhaps Ignatius simply admired the brilliance that Copper’s father evidently possessed.
The innkeeper looked charmingly perplexed as he studied Cornelis. I couldn’t help smiling. The Dutchman noticed my expression and rolled his eyes heavenward.
“Do try and control yourself,” he murmured using one of his tricks, so that only I could hear.
Ignatius Belle inclined his shoulders to speak to Copper. She drew back and based on the look on his face, he was genuinely hurt by her negative reactions to him. I felt a little sorry for him. He had been very kind.
“Have you ever been on a paddle steamer?” he asked Copper, meaning the boat that unexpectedly brought him to us. “We could do some fishing from it. Maybe catch something for our dinner?” he asked her, though Copper’s brows knitted in a skeptical expression.
“I have my bicycle onboard,” the innkeeper continued undaunted. “There’s enough room to ride it a little on deck. I could teach you,” he offered.
I was taken aback by the way he suddenly seemed to want to entice the girl onto his boat. However, Ignatius had been consistently generous. He thought I was Copper’s aunt. If he was interested in me, then it was only natural that he would want to win over my “niece.”
Copper looked intrigued about the prospect of learning to ride a bicycle. Cornelis noticed the minute change in her expression and took half a step, inserting himself partly in front of the girl.
“Neither fish nor fishing will be necessary,” Cornelis said. “Unfortunately we’ve little time for bicycle riding on boats. We were just about to eat. Won’t you join us?” the Dutchman boldly invited the innkeeper. “I’m sure there’s more than enough.”
What was Cornelis thinking by inviting Ignatius for a meal? Thanks to his alchemically affected sneezes we had not gone hungry, but did he really mean to offer leftover pancakes and short ribs?
Cornelis waved toward a shade tree. Beneath the tree a blanket was spread and at its center was a large picnic basket.
“Umm! What’s that smell?” Copper asked.
“That, my dear, would be shepherd’s pie,” the alchemist said with a genuine smile for the girl. “Would you like to unpack the basket so that we can eat? Perhaps our… our guest will help you.”
The suggestion was enough for Copper. It seemed like the child was always hungry. To my surprise, she grabbed Ignatius’ hand and half dragged him over to the tree. Cornelis may have accidentally smoothed Copper’s unaccountable distrust of the innkeeper. The same thought occurred to the Dutchman if the pursed twist of his lips was any indication.
“I didn’t think your tricks included the ability to make real food,” I whispered. “I thought you only did things like that accidentally. You know, like when you sneezed and pancakes appeared.”
“That’s quite true. Conjuring edible food is not a skill I’ve mastered,” he said. “Despite two centuries of attempts,” he added in a very droll tone. “I have to— Think of it as reaching in and take something. I have to take something that already exists.”
“So you stole the pie?” I asked. “Cornelis Drebbel, I’m shocked. Did you steal some family’s dinner?”
“No, nothing of the kind,” Cornelis defended himself. “It wasn’t a poor family. They had a huge feast laid out. And I didn’t simply take it,” he added with a pout.
“Oh?” I asked, eyebrows raised.
“No. I did not. In return for the shepherd’s pie I left them a very fine laying goose, and the makings for all the frog’s legs they could possibly eat,” Cornelis said, lifting his chin.
To be continued…
Real World Notes
Mauveine. William Henry Perkin discovered the first synthetic dye when he was only 18 years old. The color was known as aniline purple, Perkin’s mauve, or mauveine. It is also among the first dyes to have been mass-produced. Young Perkin was actually trying to synthesize quinine when he made the colorful discovery. He patented it and opened a dyeworks mass-producing it.
Pigeon post is the use of homing pigeons to carry messages. Pigeons were effective as messengers due to their natural homing abilities.
Even though Copper and the Alchemist distrust him, the Woman in Trousers certainly seems to like the dashing innkeeper. Ignatius seems to know an awful lot about the Hixon situation. That bothers me. Stay tuned.
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers will be back again next week for Hidebound Hump Day. Right now, I think I’ll take a break on Saturday.
I’ll be looking for you at the station.
Now some shameless self-promotion.
(E-book still on sale at 99¢ )
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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