Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Welcome back to Hidebound Hump Day, my chuckaboos! (I do love the Victorian vernacular, even if it is harder to use than Roaring Twenties slang.) Find your seat on the #SteamPunk train. We’re headed for another episode of Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers.
Do you remember I told you that it was many episodes into the serial before the “things” brought me the name of the woman in trousers — Felicity? Have you noticed that she didn’t have a surname? This episode caused her to need a last name. Also, remember the “clues” I’ve been dropping? Here comes another one. On with the story.
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
Chapter 18. Last time we learned that a raven that was being used to spy on our heroes and relay a messages as to their whereabouts. However, Cornelis intercepted the bird, and the raven is never more. He hoped that had bought them enough time to catch their breath. Do you think it did? Let’s find out.
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
19 — Indian Head Penny, Brocade of a White Lion
We walked back to the little road locomotive. Copper was still where we’d left her.
“She’s truly a delightful girl,” he commented, following my gaze. “And such a gorgeous head of hair,” he added with a sidelong glance at me.
I nodded my agreement and smiled, mildly surprised at his words. Cornelis was more likely to compliment someone’s intellect than their appearance. Copper looked at us, cherry goo decorating one corner of her mouth. I chuckled and shook my head.
“The group with the hydrofoil seems to have taken Ignatius Belle’s bait. I suppose he did a good job of leading them away from us,” he added, looking rather surprised to hear himself speak those words.
He stepped up into the road locomotive and sat on its floor, feet dangling boyishly.
“Do you really think he might be working against us, Cornelis? After all he’s done?” I asked of the tall handsome innkeeper.
My question was only half rhetorical. Cornelis Drebbel could be churlish, obstinate, and infuriating. However, I knew full well what a quick mind he possessed. I would be foolish to completely dismiss his opinion, no matter how unjust I felt it was.
“Something has been bothering you ever since you shimmered off to the Hixon estate and wherever else you went prowling. You looked as though you’d had an epiphany,” I said with a perplexed expression on my face. “Why do you refuse to discuss it?”
“You actually do have a good mind,” he gave me unexpected praise. “But you really must learn to use it more efficiently. Try not to bubble around so much.”
Of course, he would give a compliment with one hand and take it away with the other. I sighed in exasperation.
I often thought that after I obtained the skull of Cornelis Drebbel, he felt an odd sense of responsibility for me. Likewise I felt responsible for him. I supposed things could be utterly miserable for Cornelis if the wrong person possessed his skull. I had never used it to coerce him — well, not often anyway. I had certainly never misused it or caused him discomfort. I mused that each of us recognized our responsibility to the other.
A faint green glow surrounded Cornelis. That meant he was ever so lightly touching power. Perhaps he needed to replenish himself after scouting the area and bringing down the raven, I thought.
Cornelis hopped down from the locomotive. I heard a tiny metallic ping. Something seemed to have fallen from his pocket. However, I knew that the alchemist didn’t tend to carry anything on his person. He could just reach into that magical void and bring out most anything he needed. He turned to pick up the small thing from the engine’s floor. Then he tossed it to me.
“For luck,” he said as I caught the bright new Indian Head penny.
The sunlight glinted radiantly off the penny. For a moment I was reminded of the coppery highlights in Ignatius Belle’s hair during that moment when the sun shined down on him in the abandoned church. It transformed him from a handsome man to one who looked angelic.
When I looked up I saw that Cornelis was watching me intently. I turned and walked away before he could make another comment about me being “smitten.”
The road locomotive roared up to an iron fence with a large ornate gate. I felt we were in the middle of nowhere, so I wondered what sort of property lay beyond the gate. If the iron work was any indication, it was an impressive estate.
Perhaps, I abruptly realized, it was not as remote as all that. There was a light salt tang in the air. We were near the Pacific coast.
I gazed at the iron, artfully crafted into twists and swirls. At the center top was the letter W. As I looked from the massive gate to the alchemist the question must have been plain on my face.
“When I told your dashing innkeeper that I had old family friends in the area, it was no lie,” Cornelis explained. “Although it wasn’t exactly true to say they were on the way to rescue us.”
During my acquaintance with Corenlis Drebbel I had met few people that he admitted knowing well. I was quite surprised that he had a friend there, in a place that was so foreign to him.
“Don’t worry. I sent word that we were coming. We are expected,” Cornelis reassured Copper and me.
I looked down doubtfully at my travel stained long coat and trousers. Copper had tiny bits of mud splattered on her face from a large puddle the steam engine crossed. I took out a handkerchief and wiped her face. The girl drew back, annoyed. However, she relented when I reminded her that she was about to meet friends of Cornelis, and should look her best.
The alchemist reached into the large carpet bag Copper packed when we left her home. It was black with a floral design done in shades of mauve and red. He produced what looked like a fancy silver dinner bell. However, I knew it was actually an alchemically amazing device — a harmonic tuner. He gave it a single ring, and it produced the harmonic tones that inspired its name. I was sure the Dutchman’s tricks combined with the properties of the tuner to let it be heard much farther away than was natural.
In the distance beyond the iron gate, a large deep gong sounded in answer. A green aura flickered around Cornelis and the heavy gate swung open. The green glow intensified when he started the road locomotive. I felt the steam engine shift and lift slightly.
“Are we levitating?” I asked in surprise?
“Not completely,” the Dutchman replied. “It wouldn’t do to ruin a fine lawn with tracks from this machine, now would it?”
These people must be special friends indeed, if Cornelis is showing so much concern for the grounds, I thought.
Soon we reached an amazing structure built in the style of a Buddhist temple. The noonday sun made it seem golden where it sat on the edge of a clear blue lake. The beauty of the structure and the serenity of the setting left me speechless.
“What a funny house!” Copper exclaimed. “But it’s pretty. I wonder what it looks like inside.”
“You shall soon see,” Cornelis promised with a smile. “It’s a replica of Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
“Kenny-coco-jeez?” Copper attempted the foreign name.
“That’s actually better than my first attempt at saying the name,” Cornelis chuckled.
An attractive Asian man of indeterminable age stepped out of the house to greet us. His traditionally styled silk robes bore a brocade of a white lion as a border at the hem. He smiled broadly at Cornelis then bowed hastily before hurrying forward. The two men shook hands and bowed to one another again.
“All my life I heard stories of you, Cornelis Drebbel,” the man enthused. “It is such a great honor to meet you. I think a small part of me doubted that my grandfather once possessed your skull. No dishonor intended to my ancestors, of course. To finally meet you! It is a pleasure indeed.”
Cornelis waved his hand modestly, denying any acclaim was due him.
“I’ve looked in on your welfare many a time Alastair. Unfortunately, up until now I have not been able to pay a proper visit,” the alchemist told the man. “Ladies, I present to you the descendant of the revered Koxinga of the Seas, descendant of Po Tsai — one of my peers in life, and grandson of Sung Wong, this is the illustrious Alastair Wong,” Cornelis announced grandly, causing the other man to blush and protest humbly.
I murmured what I hoped was something appropriate. I confess that there was something regal about Mr. Wong’s bearing that brought out my awkward side. I curtsied in response to his bow.
Copper tried to imitate the bow, causing the man to smile and wink. Cornelis continued the introductions.
“And now I present,” he said with a flourish that caused Copper to giggle. “The inimitable Miss Copper Hixon, and the irreplaceable Miss Felicity Deringer, who makes my existence bearable,” the alchemist added to my astonishment.
Alastair Wong bowed over my hand and kissed it in a most courtly way.
“Miss Felicity Deringer, it is my great pleasure to meet you.”
Real World Notes
Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. “Temple of the Golden Pavilion,” officially named Rokuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple), is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. It is one of 17 locations making up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which are World Heritage Sites.
The Koxinga of the Seas, Cheung Po Tsai: In this episode I gave the series cross-over family, the Wongs, a rather roguish history. Cheung Po Tsai was a navy colonel of the Qing Dynasty and former pirate. “Cheung Po Tsai” literally means “Cheung Po the Kid.”
Enthuzimuzzy: Satirical reference to enthusiasm.
Fifteen Puzzle: Not the game you might be familiar with, but a term meaning complete and absolute confusion.
Fly Rink: An 1875 term for a polished bald head.
Follow-me-lads: Curls hanging over a lady’s shoulder.
Hmmm… I wonder if Felicity is thinking about Ignatius Belle now? The intriguing Mr. Wong might take her mind off the innkeeper. This set of things stopped just short of the expected revelation about Ignatius Belle. So I gave you another hint. Did you find it? (Be careful not to spoil the fun by telling anyone else if you figured it out!)
Come back next time to see what kind of trouble the “things” High Button Boots, Washtub, and Coffee create for 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.
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