Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Welcome to Hidebound Hump Day. Find your seat. The #SteamPunk train is preparing to leave the station. Oh, and buckle up, because we may encounter some dangerous curves.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the USA. No matter where you are, I am thankful to have you on this train. My wish for all of you is that every day be filled with friends, laughter, and an abundance of all good things.
I know everyone is busy, and wants to get to a benjo holiday with all their chuckaboos. So I’ve divided chapter 18 to give you a shorter read. This chapter will continue next week. I’ll get on with the story.
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
Chapter 17. Last time we were able to catch our breath a bit. Cornelis used his alchemy to create a beautiful butterfly show for Copper. In chapter 15, Ignatius volunteered to draw the group of villains away so our heroes could escape. However, in chapter 16 the group of villains on a hydrofoil — and their big chimp came frighteningly close to the trio’s hiding place.
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
18 .1 — Pen Knife
The green countryside went by in a prolonged blur, so fast did the alchemist propel the road locomotive. I was so jarred from the rough ride of the little steam engine that I wondered if my insides might fall out.
Cornelis’ knuckles were white as he tightly held the controls. From time to time he cast a worried glance at Copper or at me. That meant he felt he was doing something that put us in danger.
The unnatural speed at which we traveled had to be risky. I could tell by his grim face and the faraway look in his eyes that he gave his full attention to every aspect of our journey. He used his tricks to scan the path ahead for dips and holes that could prove deadly at the speed we traveled.
Meanwhile he cast his senses out in every direction to check for signs of any of our adversaries. I reminded myself that there were three sets of foes, not just the group with the hydrofoil.
We seemed to have left the woman commander of the hydrofoil, along with her crew and their tracking chimpanzee behind. However, the other two groups might be anywhere. I scanned the landscape anxiously, but everything ran together because we were moving so quickly.
When my eyes moved again to the alchemist’s face, I had another fear. His complexion was gray.
Even the alchemist has his limits, I told myself.
What would happen if he severely overtaxed his energy? Cornelis had used a great deal of vitality, being in two places at once, to gather information about our adversaries. I decided we had traveled far enough to safely take a break. Else Cornelis might break.
We stopped amid several sweet cherry trees, heavily laden with fruit. I climbed onto one of the tall back wheels of the road locomotive so I could reach into the branches. Taking a pearl handled pen knife from my trousers pocket I gathered the bountiful cherries.
Shamelessly, I leapt to the ground. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I wore a voluminous skirt, bustle, and corset! Why women put up with wearing such things all day every day, was beyond me. Yes, I did have a weakness for pretty things, including gowns. However, who would wear such things (especially corsets) all the time, when practical, comfortable trousers were to be found?
A smile spread across my face when I saw Copper had climbed a nearby tree. The sun shone warmly on the bright hair that resulted in her name. Arms and legs wrapped haphazardly around branches, she ate cherries right there in the tree. She was lucky to be too young to have to contend with the culturally required fashions of the day. I wondered if as she grew into womanhood she would rebel against foolish social norms as I did.
Cornelis was unexpectedly at my elbow. His sudden appearance startled me, as it often did. That never failed to amuse the alchemist. His bushy blonde eyebrows bobbed and a smile played on his lips.
“You were supposed to be resting,” I chided. “You still don’t look well. Where did you get to so quickly?” I asked the Dutchman.
“I was just doing a bit of reconnaissance; checking the area for signs of anyone we might not want to see,” he answered. “Call it intuition if you will, but something tickles at the edge of my awareness.”
He leaned against the locomotive and stared absently at the treetops. Suddenly he became rigid.
Without moving a muscle he whispered, “Quick. Give me that knife!”
Cornelis opened the pen knife and its white mother of pearl handle reflected the green glow that engulfed the blade. He drew back his arm and threw the knife. It sailed end over end high into the trees with a whirring sound. As it disappeared from view I heard a soft thud followed by the rustling sound of something falling.
The Dutchman and I ran toward the trees. Copper was still playing in the tree she climbed and didn’t appear to notice what we were doing. We stopped at the corpse of a raven. It reeked with the odor of carrion it had eaten.
There was blood on the bird’s beak, but I didn’t think it was from its most recent meal. It held a bit of fabric from a familiar white crinoline.
The alchemist and I exchanged wondering looks.
“So,” I began in a speculative tone. “This raven attacked the woman who led the group on the hydrofoil? That means at least two of the three groups are actively working against each other,” I said and Cornelis nodded with raised eyebrows and a pursed mouth as he pondered the idea.
“Coincidentally, the raven protected Ignatius when it attacked the vessel following him,” I continued.
“Or perhaps not so coincidentally,” the Dutchman answered to my annoyance. “The raven might well belong to Belle.”
Have I said Cornelis Drebbel could be insufferable? If I took one step forward as far as his attitude about Ignatius Belle, then I took two steps backward. My lips tightened as I paced, trying to control my temper. Normally I’m not so irritable, but I was exhausted, and the events of the past days had been utterly distressing.
“And look at this,” Cornelis said quietly as he removed a tiny brass cylinder attached to the bird’s leg.
He extracted a small strip of rolled parchment from the cylinder and read it silently. I asked what the message was. Cornelis said it was some sort of code.
“It seems to mention us being at the abandoned church and the direction in which we left. The way this is written, I can’t be certain if we were actually spotted there or if someone tracked us there after we left. Either way, they were not far behind us when we left the riverside. Given the speed at which we traveled, no one could have kept up with us,” the alchemist said and his expression became pinched.
It wasn’t helpful, but once again I spoke before I thought.
“But the bird kept up with us,” I murmured, not intending to be in any way critical of Cornelis — his unique abilities had saved us.
Though I tried to extract my foot from my mouth, one side of the alchemist’s mouth turned down in a wry expression.
“Yes, it just might have kept pace with us at that. Perhaps,” he said, sounding deep in thought. “But I took us on a backtracking, convoluted route. Ravens fly ‘as the crow flies,’ that being directly from one spot to the next. Ravens have a broad wingspan so they’re fast, but they don’t have the magically enhanced speed that we used. So, the bird had a bit of good ― or rather bad luck. It seems more likely that the raven was flying due north from the riverbank, and intersected our path here,” Cornelis suggested.
He removed the pen knife and wiped it with leaves. “I think we can relax for a while now. This message won’t be delivered,” Cornelis said and the tiny parchment became a flame that burned and was instantly gone.
Real World Notes
I had so much fun with the Victorian vernacular last week that I’m sharing more of their slang today. I managed to use a few of them in this chapter. Even though I haven’t used very many of them, here are some of my favorites.
Benjo: Nineteenth century sailor slang for “A riotous holiday, a noisy day in the streets.”
Chuckaboo: A nickname given to a close friend.
Collie shangles: Quarrels.
Dizzy age: Elderly. Used if it makes one giddy to think of the person’s years.
Doing the bear: Courting that involves hugging.
Don’t sell me a dog: Popular until 1870, Means, “Don’t lie to me!” Sometimes people who sold dogs would try to pass off mutts as purebreds.
Door-knocker: A type of beard where the cheeks and chin are shaved, leaving a chain of hair under the chin, and upon each side of mouth, forming with moustache. It looks something like a door-knocker.
Come back next time for Indian Head Penny, and Brocade of a White Lion.
The rest of Chapter 18 of Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers will be ready in a week, on Hidebound Humpday.
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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