Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Happy Halloween, everyone! Welcome back to the spontaneously written, #SteamPunk serial, Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers. Everything about the story is driven by the random things that were sent by readers, back in 2015.
When I say everything, I mean it — even the location. Although no one seemed to notice (or at least they didn’t seem to mind), after all those weeks, I still had not gotten a “thing” that guided me to where all the zany events were taking place. Author and translator, Olga Núñez Miret sent the “things” for this chapter, and I finally saw a general location for the story. Which of “Old Family Bible, Carved Whale’s Tooth, and Vine Leaves” do you think gave me the location? Read on and find out.
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
Chapter 14. Ignatius Belle seems a little too intent on getting Copper to visit his paddle steamer, anchored at the riverside near the abandoned church compound where our trio took refuge. Or is it just that he believes the girl is Felicity’s supposed niece, and thinks being nice to Copper would endear him to Felicity?
However, Cornelis invented “old family friends” who are on the way to transport the trio to a fabricated holiday. So the handsome innkeeper will surely have to part company with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers. Or will the “things” create more complications?
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
15 — Old Family Bible, Carved Whale’s Tooth, Vine Leaves
There was a ragged hole in the roof of the old church. Sunlight poured through the opening, engulfing Ignatius Belle. He had taken off his coat and his white shirt caught the light so that it almost glowed. The effect made him look tall, safe, and… angelic.
I stared at him without realizing it. Apparently I gawked for so long that it made him uncomfortable, because he chuckled and looked askance at me. I stuttered, trying to explain without embarrassing myself by telling the man that he looked like an angel.
“It’s just that— Your shirt is dazzlingly bright in the sun’s light,” I stammered, then I reached up and wiped a drop of the shepherd’s pie from his collar, pretending that was the only thing on my mind.
“You’re right,” he agreed. “This is an interesting ruin, but it is much too fine of a day to be indoors,” Ignatius said and surprised me by taking my hand.
He led me toward the front doors of the abandoned church.
“Oh wait. What’s this?” I asked, stepping into an aisle where something was left behind on a pew.
At first I thought it was an old hymnal, but it was too large. I carefully opened the book and turned thin, fragile pages. Dates were recorded for births, deaths, and marriages.
“Look, it’s an old family Bible,” I commented in fascination.
I turned another page and my eyes were drawn to a name. “Agustus Belle wed Antigone Stewart—”
“Please, let me see that,” Ignatius said, gently but eagerly taking the antiquated book from my hands.
He squinted and moved back to the place where the sun shone through the damaged roof.
“Those were my grandparents,” he marveled. “They eloped. No one was ever sure where they went to get married. I wonder who this Bible belonged to,” he murmured, delicately turning the pages.
“It doesn’t appear to belong to anyone now. The congregation, and apparently whatever village was nearby, they’ve all left long ago,” I began, as I looked up into serious brown eyes. “I think whoever owned this book would want you to have it. A tie to your grandparents,” I affirmed with a nod.
Ignatius took my hand again, smiled, and led me outside. He held the old Bible under one arm, and pulled me close to him with the other. I looked up, with sun-dazzled eyes as he lowered his head toward mine.
“Aunt Miiiina!” Copper cried my alias on a sustained note as she ran toward us.
I gave my head a sharp shake to bring myself out of the drowsy, mauve-colored moment.
Of all the bad timing. But it was probably just as well, I thought.
“Look what I found!” Copper declared excitedly.
There was dirt under her fingernails as if she had been digging in the ground. Tiny bits of rich soil littered the front of her dress. The yellow petals of a black-eyed Susan stood out against hair the color of a new-penny. She had tucked the blossom behind her ear. I imagined her accidentally pulling up the flower by its roots, and spraying herself with dirt in the process.
Ignatius bowed playfully to Copper.
“Miss, that is a lovely flower, but it beauty pales next to your own,” he told the girl in a whimsical tone.
Copper tilted her head to one side and looked at the innkeeper as if she didn’t understand.
“He’s paying you a compliment,” I told her and tried not to laugh. “Say thank you.”
She made a quick movement that might have passed for a curtsey and mumbled her thanks. Then Copper held her cupped hands toward me. I hesitated, wondering if she dug up a mole and made a pet of it.
“Look! Cornelis said it might be magic!” Copper said in a whisper that could have been heard at the riverbank.
In her hands was an ivory figurine inlayed with abalone shell, and not quite four inches long. It depicted a man reclining on two humpback whales. The style of the piece reminded me of Aztec artwork.
“I found it in the ground when I picked my flower. Cornelis said it was an amulet,” Copper explained, testing the sound of what must have been an unfamiliar word.
“May I see it,” Ignatius asked.
Copper drew back slightly. My warning look encouraged her to give the figure to Ignatius. “It might well be magic of a sort,” he agreed in the tone sometimes used by adults encouraging children to believe in the supernatural.
The girl’s eyebrows went up expectantly and she moved a step closer to the handsome innkeeper.
“You realize we’re not far from the Pacific coast,” Ignatius said turning to me before continuing his examination of the ivory.
“This looks like the work of a coastal tribe to the north of here. You see the little man?” he asked Copper who nodded interestedly. “He is a shaman, and he is resting on the backs of his spirit animals — these two humpback whales, placed end-to-end. Their eyes are made of abalone shell. Oh, and look here,” he added in childlike excitement. “You see where the shaman rests his head against the whale’s head? That connects them and his mouth is the blowhole for the whale! So this is meant to be the shaman traveling to the spirit world upon his whales,” Ignatius said to Copper’s amazement.
“So then,” I began. “Is the ivory actually a carved whale’s tooth?” I asked and Ignatius affirmed with a smile. “Copper, I’ll have to find a ribbon for you so you can wear this amulet around your neck. After all, that’s how magic amulets are supposed to be worn,” I promised to her delight.
A shrill whistle interrupted our examination of the little carving. At first I couldn’t tell from where the sound came, but I wasn’t looking up far enough. The sun glinted off polished brass, high in a tree near the river.
“Cornelis Derbbel, of all things!” I declared when I spotted the alchemist in the upper branches of the tree.
The Dutchman whistled again and motioned for us to come to him. By the time we reached the place, he had climbed down. Or at least he pretended to have climbed for the innkeeper’s sake. The alchemist probably descended via a less mundane means. His face expressed a combination of excitement and worry that only Corenlis could achieve.
“You won’t believe this,” he told me. “It would be wonderful if it wasn’t so horribly wrong. But we have to hurry. They’re only ten minutes or so away!” the Dutchman babbled.“Cornelis, what are you talking about?” I demanded.
He calmed down minutely and held up his brass spyglass.
“I saw them headed this way on the river. And they’re using a hydrofoil!” he added almost dancing in his enthusiasm. “I can’t tell who it is though,” he added before I could ask.
I watched the attractive face of Ignatius blanch at the alchemist’s words.
“No. It can’t be,” he groaned and paced a few steps as if torn. “I should get you to safety. But the hydrofoil can outrun my paddle steamer,” Ignatius fretted as he paced.
He seemed genuinely worried for our welfare. I shot Cornelis a challenging look for his distrust of the dashing innkeeper.
“We actually do have transportation,” I confessed. “It’s just that we felt it had to be kept secret. It’s one of Hixon— I mean my half-brother’s inventions, and I don’t think he was ready to show it to the world,” I told Ignatius a partial truth.
His eyes widened.
“Don’t tell me! Do you mean to say that he finished the road locomotive? That he actually got the steam engine working?” Ignatius cried.
I wondered how it was that the innkeeper knew so much about Calvin Hixon’s inventions.
“Well, mostly. Cornelis put on the finishing touch, correcting a small problem with the design,” I said looking askance at the Dutchman who nodded with a wide grin.
“Then go! Go quickly. No, wait!” Ignatius faltered. “The road locomotive makes a tremendous noise, does it not?” he asked and we all nodded emphatically. “I’ll lead them away. Hide and wait until they are well past. I’ll make sure they see me. If they think I have gotten the girl, they are sure to follow,” he said, and then inspiration lit his brown eyes. “I can even make two bundles. I’ll put hats on them or something so they can be you and Copper,” Ignatius said turning to me.
“You can have my stripped gown,” I said catching his enthusiasm for the idea. “It’s ruined anyway,” I justified my donation to the scheme.
When Ignatius looked like he would ask how it got ruined I realized I spoke without thinking yet again. I couldn’t tell him about my dive into the river to retrieve the skull of Cornelis Drebbel.
“That’s a long story. But there’s all manner of things in that large building,” I said pointing to the half ruined building where we hid the steam engine. “I’m sure we can bundle up some things that will look like Copper and me, at least from a distance.”
“I’d love a look at the locomotive,” Ignatius said wistfully a moment later when we got to the building.
“Ah, but you realize there’s no time,” Cornelis reminded him with a sidelong look that made it clear to me that he still did not trust Ignatius Belle.
“I found this earlier,” Cornelis began in a sad tone. “I meant to give it to Copper as the next thing to a playmate,” he told us as he presented a doll, about three feet tall, with hair the color of a new penny. “But it’s better put to use to protect her,” the Dutchman sighed.
“Oh what a shame,” I said. “Copper is a good deal taller than the doll, but from a distance it should be quite convincing. Yes, she would love it. Such a pity not to give it to her,” I commented as I looked around for the girl.
I spotted Copper running back toward us, dragging my stripped frock behind her. I reminded myself that it was already ruined. She had also grabbed two ladies’ hats from that opened crate of accessories. The hats didn’t match my gown or the doll’s dress, but that was of no importance.
Suddenly Ignatius pulled out a knife. I gasped in shock and jumped back. Cornelis had a green aura as he gathered his powers. However, Ignatius didn’t see it because he was already running for the gaping hole in the wall of the abandoned storage building. He shouted over his shoulder.
“I saw some vines growing just outside,” he called and he was gone.
Quickly he ran back inside, haloed in green vine leaves. Ignatius used the vines to tie the bundles and they made passable human-like figures.
There was a cluster of bushes just far away enough from the riverbank. Cornelis used one of his little tricks to make sure we wouldn’t be seen as we watched the paddle steamer pull away. Just before it rounded a bend in the river, Ignatius gave a blast on the boat’s whistle. He was making sure whomever piloted the hydrofoil didn’t lose him.
Ignatius claimed that he didn’t know who those people were. He said the hydrofoil had changed hands a few times since all the chaos began. I didn’t get to ask him about his involvement in the disappearance of Calvin Hixon, or any of the strange events surrounding it. Neither could I ask him about his relationship with the man, Copper’s father. But apparently there had been some level of interaction between the two men. That might explain the girl’s distrust of the innkeeper. How I wished for enough time to ask questions!
Too soon, a boat on feet-like skis that lifted it up out of the river neared our hiding place. For the first time I wondered if Ignatius Belle was a hero or a traitor. Perhaps he risked his life to lure villains away from Copper and myself. Then again, he might be meeting them farther down the river, comrades in arms.
Cornelis Derbbel gave a soft surprised grunt. He used one of his tricks to look farther than the human eye could see. I raised the spyglass to see what startled the alchemist. As the hydrofoil drew even with our vantage point, I saw a figure moving wildly on the vessel. A very large chimpanzee cavorted and gesticulated wildly.
To be continued…
Real World Notes
Victorian Dolls. When I was a young girl I always wanted one of those beautifully dressed, elaborately coiffed porcelain dolls. They were also called bisque dolls and were characterized by their realistic, skin-like matte finish. They had their peak of popularity between 1860 and 1900. During the 19th century, dolls’ heads were often made of porcelain and combined with a body of leather, cloth, wood, or composite materials, such as papier mâché or composition, a mix of pulp, sawdust, glue and similar materials.
Could Ignatius Belle now be in jeopardy? Or is he only pretending to lead the hydrofoil away from the others? The question remains as to whether the innkeeper is angel or aggressor. And once again, who controls the chimpanzees?
Come back next time to learn where the “things” One Lone Dandelion, Free Verse Poem, and Candle Wax take our trio. Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers will continue on Straightlaced 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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