Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Welcome back to Hidebound Hump Day, everyone. I’m happy to see you.
In this chapter I give you a couple of hints for something that will be revealed in the near future. So I hope you’ll remember later in the journey of this #steampunk train.
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
Chapter 16. Ignatius, who volunteered to draw the group of villains away so our heroes could escape, made sure those following fiends could see the direction he headed. Frighteningly, they still stopped very close the trio’s hiding spot. Felicity heard a woman commanding the group of villains, and the voice was familiar to her! Although she couldn’t remember to whom it belonged. Does this clear Ignatius Belle? Since three separate groups pursue our heroes, it’s hard to say. There’s no telling who might be involved.
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
17 — Crinoline, Lye Soap, Caterpillar
For a tense moment, I thought the hydrofoil would tip over when the very large chimpanzee bounded onto it. If the craft sunk, the villains on it would be forced ashore with us. Then we would surely be sunk too.
Any doubts I’d had as to whether or not the commanding voice belonged to a woman dispersed. The person who seemed to be in charge of the group stood abruptly as the big chimp ran toward the vessel. When the chimpanzee’s landing threatened to overturn the craft, my mystery person made a series of sudden movements to regain balance. A white crinoline was exposed. It was certainly a woman.
“Cornelis!” I hissed to get the alchemist’s attention.
Belatedly I realized he was doing something I shouldn’t try to interrupt. His form shivered, wavered, and became translucent. He was in two places at once. I could see Cornelis, his posture, and if he faced me, his facial expressions. However, I could not see what he beheld. He gave me a vacant look, but he nodded to let me know he was paying attention.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Do go ahead,” I told him, as I was sure he was checking on Ignatius Belle and our adversaries who followed the innkeeper on that hydrofoil.
While trying to gather my scattered patience I gazed absently into the heights of a tree that sheltered us. Sunbeams filtered through the branches in a lazy way. Copper followed my gaze.
“What’s that,” she asked, pointing at something amid the limbs.
It took me a moment to see what her keen eyes spotted.
“Ah. Those are cocoons. If the birds don’t eat them, one day they will be butterflies,” I explained.
Copper told me she had learned about butterflies and cocoons from her last governess. I remembered Hixon had let his daughter’s teacher go because he could no longer afford to pay her. Copper had truly liked the woman. That seemed sad to me, it was one more loss for the girl.
The alchemist wasn’t looking at us or paying attention to our conversation. His mouth twitched to a half smile. His unsteady image made me feel a bit queasy. After a moment he turned and made eye contact with me. The expression on his face suggested he’d just had an epiphany. His countenance shifted from puzzled to doubtfully curious, to astonished.
“I have to check on something else,” he said, looking a bit stunned.
“Now?” I demanded. “Take care not to sap all your strength,” I cautioned the Dutchman, aware that there was a limit to how long he could manage one of his tricks.
I knew the alchemist had to have some familiarity with a place before he could look in on it in that fashion. He couldn’t read the minds of our antagonists, or psychically know where they were headed. So did he see something on the hydrofoil that gave him new information? Or had he deduced something that had escaped me?
“Where are you going?” I wanted to know, but the Dutchman was intent on his mission and ignored me.
Cornelis winked out of my sight, but a second later I could see him, standing with his arms folded across his chest, looking up at something. Something about his posture made me think he must be indoors. He put a knuckle to his chin and tilted his head to one side, considering whatever he beheld.
“Cornelis, where are you? What are you about?” I insisted, and he turned to face me with a devilish grin.
“Dutchman, if you aren’t completely honest with me, I swear I’ll wash your mouth out with lye soap!” I made the empty threat — I knew if I tried he’d just dissolve his human form and slip through my fingers, quite literally.
“Calm down, woman. I’m not in the mood for a collie shangle with you just now,” he admonished, knowing full well that it annoyed me when he used slang that wasn’t even from his time. “I’m at the Hixon estate,” he admitted.
“Surely not,” he murmured to himself with a slow shake of his head, and I knew he was not talking about my threat with the soap. “I’ve just one more stop,” he spoke quickly before his translucent form wavered in a rough surge.
Wherever Cornelis went next, he acted as though he searched for something. First he leaned over a tabletop or perhaps a desk, riffling through papers. Then he walked across the unseen room and opened invisible doors to look around in what I guessed was an armoire.
The alchemist put his fists on his hips and tapped a foot. Suddenly he held up one finger and made an “ah-ha” noise. He reached upward with both hands as if moving something on a wall, and then he placed the thing on the floor. He turned back and put one hand on what must be a wall, and leaned his head against it. I wondered if he was trying to hear a conversation in the next room.
After a moment he smiled broadly, turned his back to me and took some items out of the wall. He also searched through those things and read some papers. My patience wore thin and I called his name sharply. I could tell he was in a mood and would not cooperate with me, especially if I was angry. I closed my eyes and counted to ten.
A little electric shock stung the back of my neck. My eyes popped open as I shouted my displeasure at the shock.
“Don’t have a blooming fit,” he said in a smug tone and acted as if he had done absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.
“Cornelis, modern slang does not suit you. Now, did you find out who the woman on the hydrofoil is?” I asked.
“What?” he replied, looking as if my question was the last one he expected. “Oh, that. No. I was suddenly curious about something, and had to look into it,” he commented with a wave of his hand to dismiss the subject.
I gave a sputtering sigh of frustration. There was no talking to the man when he got into one of his moods.
“Anyone would think you’d become the hookah-smoking caterpillar in Carroll’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, you ask such questions,” the Dutchman grumbled.
“That’s not so,” I countered. “Why you’re more like the caterpillar, being all vague.”
Copper watched the exchange between us interestedly. Cornelis stepped over to the girl. His manner changed immediately and she smiled up at him. Copper really did bring out the best in the alchemist.
“She acts like she has caterpillars in her knickers,” he whispered to Copper, but it was easily loud enough for me to hear.
Cornelis winked and sat down on the ground next to Copper. She asked what he had been doing, eyes still wide with amazement at his previously transparent form.
“I went to your house,” Cornelis said and the girl’s eyes took on a wistful but concerned expression. “Don’t worry. Everything is fine there,” he assured her. “That nice portrait of your father in the entry hall?” he began causing Copper to nod that she knew the one he meant. “Do you know when it was painted? How old were you when it was done?”
I could not imagine what Cornelis had in mind with his behavior or those questions. I began to wonder if after hundreds of years in his altered state, perhaps his mental faculties were breaking down. Unless he was half deranged in the beginning — from some of the things he said, that was entirely possible. However, it had always been my belief that the man was simply incredibly annoying.
“I wasn’t any age,” Copper answered, making me believe the child was a match for his odd way of thinking.
Good lord, was I going to have to deal with two evasive, obstinate personalities like the Dutchman? I wondered. What would Copper be like as a teenager?
“Daddy said I wasn’t even a gleam in his eye when the portrait was painted,” she continued and Cornelis laughed heartily.
Somehow I had the feeling I was missing something. I had a hunch the alchemist had figured out something he wasn’t ready to disclose. That probably meant he had a shadow of a doubt about his deduction.
Yet what about Copper? I got the feeling that Cornelis suspected the girl knew something that perhaps she was not entirely aware of herself.
My impatience got the better of me and I broke into their playful conversation.
“Cornelis, did you see Ignatius? Is he safe?” I interrupted.
By the twist of the Dutchman’s mouth, I could tell that he still did not trust the tall innkeeper.
“I don’t think you need worry about Belle. He turned his paddle steamer down a small tributary to the river. There it quickly narrows and becomes marshy. The last time I saw him he had anchored the steamer and taken to a small punt boat, poling it out of sight. Those snaking creeks and streams could lead anywhere. That ape might be able to follow him, but the men cannot. And that’s if they even spot the right creek. There are countless waterways in that area,” Cornelis described the escape of Ignatius Belle.
Abruptly my shoulders relaxed and I took a deep breath. I hadn’t realized I had been so worried about Ignatius.
“Oh my,” Cornelis said drolly. “Were you truly so concerned? Anyone would think you were smitten by the man. Well, I do admit his hair has quite fine coppery highlights when the sun hits it,” he admitted with a sardonic tone and a roll of his eyes.
For the most part, whenever I had seen Ignatius he had worn his bowler hat, or he had been indoors. Then I thought of an image of him that was so compelling I had kept it shut out, because I didn’t want to feel “that way” about anyone. I remembered Ignatius standing in the abandoned church, bathed in sunlight. His white shirt seemed to glow, and the reddish highlights in his hair sparkled enough for me to imagine a halo.
Cornelis looked at me expectantly. I almost remarked again on his jealousy of Ignatius, of which I had already accused him. However, there was no point to getting mad as hops. If Cornelis was spoiling for another argument, I was not going to participate. He pressed his lips together and shook his head in a resigned manner.
Instead I asked him about the valuable da Vinci papers Calvin Hixon had hidden in the owl-shaped lamp. Cornelis looked rather disappointed that I left his bait on the hook by changing the subject.
“Did you find anything to confirm these people are trying to get the da Vinci drawings or even the letter from Alexander Graham Bell?” I tried to asked delicately.
It was best to avoid seeming to interrogate. without seeming to interrogate. I knew the alchemist could get mulish when asked too many questions.
“Oh those,” he said. “I wasn’t looking into that,” he commented offhandedly, exasperating me. “Don’t look like you just ate a caterpillar.”
He smirked so, that I was sure I was missing something. “Why do you keep mentioning caterpillars?” I demanded testily.
Cornelis pointed up at the branches of the tree. I saw the cocoon Copper had spotted earlier. Abruptly I noticed it was actually one among many. There were scores of cocoons. The creature inside started to free itself from one of the silken prisons. I told the girl she was about to see a butterfly born.
A light came to the Dutchman’s eyes as he watched Copper’s fascination. A green aura appeared around him. I felt a slight stir of static electricity as he gathered a small amount of power. Abruptly all the cocoons began to open at the same time. A moment later we were surrounded by hundreds of colorful butterflies. I felt a childlike delight akin to the joy Copper showed. Cornelis smiled blissfully.
Real World Notes
In my Roaring Twenties stories, I have fun including slang from the era. I’m careful to couch the whimsical phrases in a way that helps you understand them. The Victorians had their own vernacular too. Somehow, it is more difficult for me to use that way. I’ve managed to use a few slang terms, but not as generously as I did with Pip or Lulu. Even though I haven’t used very many of them, here are some of my favorites.
Afternoonified. A society word meaning “smart.” Forrester demonstrates the usage: “The goods are not ‘afternoonified’ enough for me.”
Arfarfan’arf. A figure of speech used to describe drunken men. “He’s very arf’arf’an’arf,” Forrester writes, “meaning he has had many ‘arfs,’” or half-pints of booze.
Batty-fang. Low London phrase meaning “to thrash thoroughly,” possibly from the French battre a fin.
Bricky. Brave or fearless. Can be used for males or females. “What a bricky girl she is.”
Butter upon bacon. Extravagance. Too much extravagance. “Are you going to put lace over the feather, isn’t that rather butter upon bacon?”
Come back next time to learn where the “things” Pen Knife, Indian Head Penny, and Brocade of a White Lion take our trio. Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers will continue next Wednesday on Hidebound Hump Day.
I’ll be looking for you at the station.
Now some shameless self-promotion.
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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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