Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Welcome back to Hidebound Hump Day. Find your seat on the #SteamPunk train. We’re headed for another episode of Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers.
Many have been enjoying the imaginative art from Eugene Ivanov. I found several available as public domain images. However, this is the last one I have. It’s been a pleasure to shine a spotlight on his wonderful artwork. This one is especially appropriate to the story. That’s because in the 1600s, the real-life Cornelis Drebbel invented the first navigable submarine!
For weeks I’ve been dropping subtle hints about the character Ignatius Belle. This episode will reveal something about the handsome innkeeper. But will it add transparency to the tale or will it thicken the plot? Will it be a reason to trust him? You’ll have to decide for yourself, because the steam locomotive has reached the platform.
(This episode is somewhat longer than usual. You might want to look for a spot to mark your place if you’re pressed for time. I wouldn’t want you to miss the important revelation. Wink! )
Previously with Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
Chapter 19. Previously the Alchemist intercepted a raven carrying a spy’s message about our trio. Then new/old character Alastair Wong found his way into the story. Finally we learned the surname of “the Woman in Trousers.” What will the “things” bring us next? Let’s find out.
Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers
20 — High Button Boots, Washtub, Coffee
I stood on the banks of the crystalline lake and looked at the building in the golden light of evening, its beauty nearly took my breath away.
I explored the grounds of the replica of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, which Alastair Wong called home. At first it seemed strange that anyone would build a copy of a Buddhist temple in an out of the way corner of the Pacific coast. However, for that moment in time, it felt like everything about the place was perfect.
Copper ran down a manicured path that wound through Japanese maples. Their crimson leaves were a darker shade than the new penny color of her hair. She wore a yellow frock and high button boots. I wondered at her change of dress, because I didn’t think those clothes had been in the big flowered carpet bag she packed before we left the Hixon estate on that frightful night.
“Felicity, Felicity!” Copper cried.
Having learned my real name, Felicity Deringer, it was as if Copper couldn’t say it often enough.
“You look fetching in that yellow,” I commented as she skidded to a stop beside me. “I don’t remember that dress.”
Copper twirled, making the full skirt swing out to a circle. Apparently she thought that was answer enough.
A tiny woman dressed in a beautiful kimono had showed Copper and me to the rooms that would be ours during our visit. Copper was fascinated with the woman and she in turn seemed quite taken with the girl. Perhaps the woman gave her the frock.
“Cornelis asked me to find you,” Copper told me. “He says it’s time to get dressed for dinner.”
I still wore the travel stained duster and trousers in which I’d arrived. In my room I found a brush and used it to clean my clothes as much as I could. However, I didn’t feel presentable enough for a dinner table… certainly not for the elegant affair I expected Alastair Wong would want to have in honor of Cornelis Drebbel. Wong seemed to almost idolize the alchemist. I sighed and followed Copper on the uphill path toward the house.
Copper led me on a circuitous route. It certainly didn’t lead directly back to the house, but I had no objection to wandering a bit. Our path crossed another paved walkway and the breeze brought me a burst of humidity and an unexpected scent. For a moment I thought it was lavender, though I had not seen any growing on the grounds. Then I recognized it for detergent scented with lavender.
“Do you smell that?” I commented, thinking out loud as I followed my nose down the new path. (If you want to know more about Victorian laundry…)
Ahead I saw a row of small but well-kept outbuildings. They were designed in a similar way to the main house, and were painted a golden yellow. Moving a few steps closer I saw a hot spring and the steaming pool of water it fed.
An older woman and a young man rolled a washing machine away from the hot spring and into one of the little buildings, apparently finished with their laundry chore. They had been making good use of the natural water feature.
The young man ran back outside and hurriedly picked up a washtub. I heard the woman tell him to put the tablecloth in it to soak. He managed the task in a couple of quick motions. Then he closed the door to the storage building and ran up the path to catch up with the woman. I noted she was remarkably spry for her years.
I was tempted to stop and soak my feet in the steaming pool of water. Actually, a bath in it would have been even better. Just as I had the thought, I realized that the other two outbuildings might be changing rooms for precisely that purpose. I expected they were filled with towels and bathing accessories.
“I might have known you’d find this place,” he commented drolly. “You’d best come back and change. We don’t want to offend our host by being late for dinner. There’s certainly no time for a leisurely bath in a hot spring,” he chided me as if he knew I had been thinking of doing exactly that.
The Dutchman’s tone was mildly annoying to me. The fact of the matter was he probably meant to irritate me.
“Cornelis, don’t you think I should make an excuse and skip dinner. I could claim to have the vapors,” I suggested reasonably.
“Don’t be absurd!” the alchemist said indignantly.
“But look at me!” I insisted, spreading my arms to show my rumpled dirty clothes.
Cornelis Drebbel made a little tut-tut noise and shook his head, looking put upon.
“Well you don’t think I meant you to wear that do you?” he asked drolly, with a wave of his hand toward my grubby attire. “That’s why you need to hurry back and change. Honestly… How you underestimate me,” he added with a pout. Then with a sharp pop he disappeared.
An involuntary gasp escaped my lips.
“It’s absolutely exquisite!” I said in awe as I picked up the gown.
It was navy blue velvet. The skirt was heavily embroidered in paisley designs of gold, lavender, and rose, as were the three tiers of the bustle. A smaller scale of the same pattern was displayed around broad cuffs and a deep neckline.
“Cornelis, where did you… How did you…”
I sputtered to the alchemist’s delight. He loved it when he managed to render me speechless.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I found it in one of the forgotten crates back at the abandoned church compound. I popped back to get the crate that was addressed to Alastair,” he explained and I knew he meant his trick of popping or disappearing.
“You moved the entire crate!” I exclaimed. “It was rather large,” I spoke in concern.
The Dutchman waved away my comment.
“It’s not as though I carried it on my back. Besides, all the heavenly bodies were aligned in a most helpful way,” he informed me.
Suddenly I remembered the love letters we saw in Wong’s open crate. They mentioned a woman named Phanny. However, I had not seen a woman at the estate who was likely to be her. I wondered what had happened to that romance. I supposed it was not a particularly happy ending if he was there and she was not.
At dinner I learned enough to gather my own conclusions. Mind you I didn’t come right out and ask. I do have a few social graces despite my rebellious nature. Civility and manners are important. I just can’t abide corsets and bustles. Even if I did wear a bustle with the lovely embroidered velvet gown… Didn’t I did mention that I have a weakness for pretty things? Even so, nothing was going to make me wear a corset.
However, I digress. Alastair Wong was a fascinating man. It was amusing to me that he had a British accent as he sat at the table in a traditional kimono. It bore what I assumed was his family crest — a white lion. As it turned out, Wong was born in England. However, he entertained us with lively stories of his visit to Hong Kong, from whence his family originally came.
“I was surprised to find you back on this coast. I thought you were in Savannah, on the Atlantic coast,” Cornelis commented casually, and a frown flitted across Alastair’s face. “Oh my. Don’t tell me heartache drove you away,” the Dutchman said.
I blushed, feeling Cornelis shouldn’t have brought up such a thing. I pretended to give my full attention to the beautiful plate in front of me. We were served an amazing five course meal.
Alastair sighed exaggeratedly, making fun of himself. He waved it away as if it was nothing, but a deep sadness was reflected in his dark eyes.
“I did come here for a much needed change of scene,” he said, but Cornelis raised a skeptical eyebrow. “And yes, for a bit of healing. You’ll remember that I have family here and in San Francisco. My branch of the family tree adventured to the Atlantic coast. I suppose I might return there eventually,” he murmured and Cornelis nodded.
“Yes, I fell in love. It is well accepted for a man to be many years older than his bride, and not criticized. She was young, this I knew. However, she had been orphaned. I did not know at first that a few years before I met her, she had lied about her age to avoid being institutionalized,” Alastair told Cornelis.
Copper gasped. Our host had just brought up her greatest fear — the orphanage.
“Do you mean they would have put her in an orphanage?” she confirmed, as our host nodded.
“Of course, she was of legal age by the time we fell in love. Albeit that is still a very young age,” Alastair continued. “Even at that, she was several years younger than I thought. But as it turned out, I wasn’t the one who had a problem with it. I would move heaven and earth for Phanny. Regardless of the wealth and comfort I could offer her, Miss Phanny is a woman with her own mind. She doesn’t tend to be one who is burdened by the conventions of society, much as I expect you feel,” he said turning to me.
I couldn’t help smiling. I thought I would like to meet the young Miss Phanny.“So I was surprised and confused that our age difference bothered her so much,” he continued. “I do have a large extended family in Savannah. Perhaps that contributed to her discomfort. Matriarchs can be rather intimidating, particularly to a young woman who is not used to a large family.”
“No doubt,” Cornelis said in a sardonic tone.
I stuck out my foot to kick him under the table. And he said I was the one who spoke before I thought. Really. He was a fine one to judge. As usual, he knew what was about to happen, and made his form momentarily lose its solidity. My foot passed right through him and bumped against his chair. That also caused me to shift in an awkward movement.
“Are you well, Miss Felicity?” Alastair Wong asked in a concerned voice.
“Just a cramp in my foot,” I replied with a quick glare at Cornelis.
In the chair next to me Copper was nodding off even as she finished her dinner, though she denied it emphatically. She reminded me that she hadn’t even had dessert. I felt a little guilty, knowing we adults had talked animatedly throughout dinner. Dessert would typically have already been served.
I promised Copper she would get her dessert the next day. Then the same woman who showed us to our rooms when we arrived at the pavilion took Copper up to her room. The girl smiled brightly at the tiny woman. I knew the two had connected the moment they met.
“Worry not Copper. I will make sure they save you some Daofu fa. It is sweet. You will like it,” the woman told her as they walked down the hallway.
“My day began at an unusually early hour,” Alastair began and stifled a yawn. “Also you have had a most trying journey. I apologize if I have kept you late. I shall retire now so that you may either go to your evening’s rest, or stroll around the grounds to further relax tight muscles. Or perhaps you would like dessert served outside, whatever pleases you,” Wong said with a bow and a friendly smile as he left.
Cornelis poured coffee for the two of us from a silver pot.
“Shall we take dessert out on the terrace?” he asked.
We moved outside. The Dutchman held the decorative wrought iron chair as I arranged the dratted skirt and bustle so that I could sit at the little table. After he took his seat, he looked at me with a very odd expression on his face.
“Cornelis, are you certain you’re well?” I asked in concern.
“Well? As in healthy? My dear, it’s not as though I’m alive in the normal sense of the word,” the alchemist replied.
The man was so exasperating.
“You’ve been acting strangely ever since you popped off to the Hixon estate and did all that poking around,” I reminded him.
The Dutchman produced a leather portfolio. He opened it and withdrew two sketches. They were beautifully drawn.
“Not so much talent as more than a hundred years to practice. I drew designs of my inventions, but my hand wasn’t very deft until about a hundred years after…” his voice trailed away and I gathered he didn’t want to be diverted from whatever his subject was.
The sketches were both portraits. It came as no surprise that one was of Copper. He had captured her personality perfectly. However, I was puzzled to see that the other sketch was of Ignatius Belle. I praised his artistry again, because I couldn’t imagine why he would choose Ignatius, whom he completely distrusted, as his subject.
The alchemist heaved a great long-suffering sigh.
“Honestly woman, you can be absolutely maddening,” he told me in a droll tone with a sad shake of his head. “I have given you hint after hint,” he grumbled.
“What? Do you mean that you’ve been acting so damnably strange because you’ve been trying to manipulate me into seeing something rather than simply telling me?” I asked, and the only thing that kept me from being angry with him was how utterly his manipulation had failed.
It did make me feel foolish too, but I refused to take that bait. He motioned for me to look at the sketches again. I looked. I shrugged.
“Perhaps if I color them,” he muttered and waved his hand.
Magically Copper’s cheeks became rosy in the drawing. Her eyes became blue. In the other sketch, Belle’s eyes turned brown. Then the girl’s hair glowed with coppery red color. In the other drawing copper highlights came to the hair of Ignatius Belle, then a moment later the brown color followed.
“You’re pointing out the fact that Ignatius has copper highlights in his hair?” I asked feeling befuddled.
Then I suddenly saw what had been there all along. A resemblance. Copper’s face was full with youth, while Ignatius had masculine angles, but their features were very much alike.
“They’re related!” I proclaimed amazed. “And closely I’ll wager. How did you deduce this, Cornelis?”
“It was the portrait of Calvin Hixon,” he told me, and I realized that I had paid very little attention to the painting, as it was so standard and uninteresting. “The coloring of the hair was the same as your innkeeper’s. When I went back, I saw the family resemblances.”
I sipped my coffee as I thought. “Hixon was youngish in the portrait… I remember you asking Copper about it. She indicated that he was much older when she was born,” I commented as assorted bits fell into place. “But he had no previous marriage…” I started but did not finish my sentence. “Oh!”
“Yet that’s not to say that Hixon had no other children. I didn’t just prowl around, as you put it, at Hixon’s estate. I went to Belle’s office at the Inn, and to his bedroom. Based on letters Ignatius kept, he is the illegitimate son of Calvin Hixon,” Corenlis revealed.
“He is Copper’s half-brother? Why would she distrust him so?” I thought aloud. “Sibling rivalry?”
“It’s highly unlikely that she knows about the relationship,” Cornelis told me. “In one of the letters Hixon offers to announce it to the community ― that his long-lost son has come home. Actually, Belle was the one who wanted to keep it a secret. He was the typically prudish Victorian in that respect.”
“However, Belle practically begged to work with Hixon on his inventions. I gather that they spent a lot of time tinkering and inventing, at least for a while. I’m not certain, but something must have soured in the relationship. I just don’t know what, or how important it was,” Cornelis admitted.
“Ignatius Belle is Copper’s brother… or rather half-brother. Why didn’t I see it?” I murmured.
Then I cast a withering look at Cornelis to stop him from making any disparaging remarks about me “not thinking efficiently.”
Real World Notes
The First Washing Machines. Early washing machines were operated manually. They imitated the motion of one’s hand on the washboard, but the machines used a lever to move one curved surface over another, as it rubbed the clothes between two ribbed surfaces. This type of washing machine was patented in the United States in 1846. They continued to be used into the late 1920s.
Gal-Senaker: An 1870s term for a man devoted to seduction.
Gas-Pipes: A term for particularly tight pants.
Gigglemug: If someone is always smiling, they have a gigglemug.
Got the morbs: In the 1880s, this phrase meant temporary melancholy.
At last! Yes, that’s what I’ve been hinting at — our dashing innkeeper is Copper’s half-brother! Although our bricky little moppet doesn’t seem to know it. Why would Copper dislike him so intensely?
Jump aboard the steam locomotive again next time with when the “things” were from Hugh’s Views and News. Guess which of “Moustache Cup, Apricot Charlotte, and Mangle” will create a connection to the blood that links those two characters.
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.
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