Copper, the Alchemist, and the Woman in Trousers is the currently running “interactive” serial on Teagan’s Books. The story is purely spontaneous, unplanned, pantser fun. Readers send three “things” or “ingredients” and I write each episode spontaneously according to what the things inspire. This lets you, the reader have an interactive role in what happens.
It’s also a culinary adventure. So every episode will feature a recipe, usually related to one of the things. Where possible, readers have also provided the recipe.
Having this reader participation allows me to promote others every weekend. When a reader sends their “things” I feature them in an introduction (which only appears on the individual episode post) and share with you their books, blogs, or causes.
This page is a repository, a “homepage” for all the episodes of the serial. In addition to the individual episode posts, I add each episode here as it is published. This is a place where you can do catch-up reading if you miss an episode.
1. Stilton Cheese, Mare’s Milk, Calamari
(From John W. Howell http://johnwhowell.com/ )
I was having second thoughts. The fishing town was too small for my unconventional presence to go unremarked, plain and simple. That was apparent as I watched a single carriage pass by on the dirt road and the driver turned to stare. It was downright obvious from the shopkeeper’s scandalized expression when I stepped inside Best’s General Store.
Yes, I knew I should limit my wanderings to large cities. However, I was weary of the crowds and odors. And the noise! I was desperately tired of the clamor and clang of cities.
It was a pleasing little town with a salt tang in the breeze and cozy houses. I liked it the moment I set foot there. I took a tidy suite in the Belle Inn.
There was even a store where I unexpectedly found the most marvelous Stilton cheese. Cornelis would be delighted with that find. For once, he might not be so grumpy when I wake him, I thought.
However, as I stood in the general store and watched Mrs. Billie Best and her customer from the corner of my eye, I foresaw that my stay in the charming township would be brief. I blocked any distractions from my mind so I could hear their conversation. I already knew they were talking about me. How could they fail to comment on my mannish waistcoat and trousers?
It always raised eyebrows when I dressed that way, but I wanted freedom of movement that I’d never have whilst restricted by the yards and yards of fabric that made a proper skirt and bustle. Besides, my first thought that morning was “I’ll be damned if I’m going to squeeze myself into a corset today.”
I pushed back my top hat, pretending to read a label while I listened to the two women speculate about me and my strange apparel. They had the most outlandish conjectures about my foreign accent and from whence I’d come. A smile quirked my lips and I tried not to laugh out loud.
The proprietor of the Belle Inn stood across the room shaking his head at the foolish conversation. Ignatius Belle made a good first impression when I checked in at his inn. He stepped over to me. I hoped his housekeeping staff had as much respect for guest privacy as he seemed to have. I’d hate for a curious maid to wake Cronelis. That would be most unfortunate. Actually it could get quite ugly.
“Ma’am, you were right about the mare’s milk,” he said loud enough for the women to hear. “Doc said there was a fungus in the grass she was eating before she foaled,” the innkeeper said in a respectful voice. “He said that’s likely what caused the problem. The Johnsons have a pregnant mare, and they’re going to foster the foal.”
My relief that the little horse would be well was genuine. I was glad my off-handed comment had been helpful. Cornelis always complained that I spoke before I thought, and that I drew unnecessary attention to myself. Yet it ended well that time, and there was the added benefit that now at least the innkeeper accepted me. Although I still doubted I would remain there for long.
“Your dinner is on the house tonight. Whatever you want, and as much of it as you care to eat. Your comment likely saved the foal’s life,” he said then looked suddenly shy. “Just a humble way of saying thank you.”
The burst of bashfulness was rather endearing on a man of his stature. Ignatius Belle did not fit my image of a proper innkeeper. They should be rotund, pink-cheeked men with aprons. My host however, was tall and well-made and he wore a suit and a Bowler hat. He barely gave my trousers a glance. Interesting.
The bell affixed to the shop door chimed and a wide eyed moppet came cautiously inside. She might have been seven years old or she may have been nine. Disgraceful as it may sound, I knew nothing about children.
An unfortunately familiar odor reached my noise when she walked past me. The bouquet was dreadful, but it gave the girl my full attention. She hesitated in her walk, just one step, and then she moved toward the counter. The shopkeeper frowned and her patron became even more disdainful — if that was possible. However, their scorn was not due to the odor I detected. They hadn’t noticed it, but I was sensitive to such things.
She had hair the color of a new penny. There was a smudge of dirt on her little nose. Her stylish cape was made of peacock blue wool, embroidered in cream silk thread, with a cream colored tassel on the hood. Her eyes twinkled with intelligence.
And she reeked of death.
At that very moment I knew that little russet haired child was the reason why I’d come to the out of the way little town. I didn’t know how it would come about, but I was certain — she would be the heart and soul of the next adventure!
What would Cornelis make of the girl? He despised anyone who was weak, and children by definition were weak. So the Dutchman detested children.
I smiled again — broadly.
“Your daddy spoils you too much Copper Hixon, letting you wear your Sunday best when you go out to play,” said the storekeeper from behind her counter. “Flaunting his wealth on clothes for a child, when there’s others as have to put their noses to the grindstone to get along.”
A barely audible remark came from her customer. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” the other woman mumbled. “She’d best be glad her pa recovered from that influenza last spring, else she’d be in the orphanage, and no fine clothes there,” the customer added in a resentful whine.
“Old Hixon should’ve taken another wife,” Billie Best declared. “There are plenty of women here abouts who’d make him a good wife,” Billie Best replied with a mystified shake of her head. “But he’d have none of them after that dance hall floozy died birthing this one,” the storekeeper said with an unconcerned wave toward Copper.
“I’d not have that evil child in my house,” said the other woman. “Any child that kills the mother birthing it is the devil’s own, you mark my words.”
The girl’s eyes widened at the mention of the orphanage and she was clearly afraid. Copper swallowed hard. “I need… I mean Daddy sent me to buy food to make dinner,” she stammered.
I noticed that she didn’t specify what food nor did she have a shopping list. But why would she? The odor that clung to her was faint. However, I had no doubt about its origin. No one told the child what to buy for dinner, but she was hungry enough to think of shopping for it.
The woman behind the counter looked at the girl and her mouth turned down in contempt. “Did your daddy send you with money to pay his bill?” Mrs. Best asked, emphasizing the payment. “He’s months behind. No?” she said when Copper shook her head and looked confused. “Well, you go back and tell him that hard working folk have to be paid. Not everybody was born with a silver spoon in their mouth. He’ll have to pay off the bill he’s run up before he gets another crumb from Best’s General Store!”
“Now was there really any need to speak so harshly to the child?” the innkeeper asked.
The child turned and fled the store. The tassel on her cape caught on the door and was left behind as she ran. I excused myself to my new landlord. Quickly picking up the cream colored tassel, I followed to see which direction little Copper went. Then I turned and ran back to the Belle Inn.
When I opened the inn’s door, the aroma of fried calamari slowed my stride. It wafted to me from the kitchen. It made my mouth water. I reigned in my haste. There was no need to run. The child wasn’t going anywhere. Not yet.
I popped into the kitchen, profusely complimented the cook, and asked if dinner could be sent up to my room. Cornelis hated it when I ate in my room, but he didn’t have much choice in the matter. I couldn’t resist the calamari!
My hatbox was on a high shelf. I carefully took it down and opened it. An object that appeared to be a ball covered by a satin scarf was inside. My top hat would fit around it, as a form to keep the hat’s shape. But in truth it was no such thing. I removed the scarf and held up a human skull.
“Cornelis,” I exclaimed. “Adventure is afoot! This is no time to be lazy, Cornelis Drebble. Wake up!” I said and placed the skull back in the hatbox.
My eyes closed against the bitter chill that blew through the room. A moment later I looked into the eyes of the Dutchman. Though he stood no taller than me, his presence was forceful. He was a handsome man. He had light hair with a mustache and pointed beard, much like a Musketeer. However, the disgruntled expression on his face belied his gentle manners. He gave a polite bow, yet managed to make the movement seem sarcastic.
“Why such haste?” he asked drolly, and smoothed back hair that perpetually looked mussed from a nap.
“Don’t be such a grump,” I said, and holding up the parcel of Stilton cheese I watched his nose twitch in anticipation.
To the Dutchman’s consternation, I held back the cheese. I wouldn’t share that until I got what I wanted. When I handed him the cream colored tassel from the girl’s cape he was hardly mollified.
“This bauble does not seem so portentous,” he complained.
As one eyebrow climbed toward his hairline, I knew he’d been won over, despite his sullen look and tone.
“Stop sulking and tell me about the girl,” I said, trying to be firm. One had to be firm with Cornelis. If he saw the slightest weakness…
“Ah, so that’s it is it? You think it’s her? Bringing on a child would complicate things enormously,” he asked, finally showing interest. “It seems awfully — how to describe it? So unassuming,” he said with a little twist to one side of his mouth as he looked at the tassel. “Do you really think she is the one?” he asked, his tone softening.
“You tell me,” I prodded.
Cornelis shimmered and blurred before my eyes, as his mind traveled. Then with a sharp pop he disappeared.
Recipe: Baked Oyster Mushroom Calamari
Photo and recipe credit: One Happy Table
2. Soup Pot, Kitchen Sink, Mail-order Wine Club
(From Kathryn at https://anotherfoodieblogger.wordpress.com/ )
Cornelis Drebbel, shimmered and blurred before my eyes. Then the alchemist popped out of my suite at the Belle Inn. I do mean that literally. He disappeared with a pop sound. Though he acted put upon when I asked him to do such investigative errands, I knew he secretly relished getting out on his own. As I waited for his return, I gazed speculatively at his skull, which rested in my hatbox.
There was a light knock at the door. It was one of the Belle Inn’s staffers bringing up dinner. I was infinitely glad she hadn’t come a moment earlier. Though I flaunt tradition and wear trousers as I please, it would still be hard to explain having a man in my room. Or at least what would look like a man from the maid’s point of view.
She brought the tray into my suite and sat it on the small round table. It was laden with several covered dishes of food and an ornate little bell. The aromas escaped tantalizingly from the dishes.
“Thank you. It’s very kind of you, miss. It smells delicious,” I said as my stomach made a noise of agreement.
“Oh, just call me Bitsy — everyone does,” she commented as she uncovered a generous portion of the fried calamari I ordered.
Bitsy only glanced at my trousers. That was rare. Reactions to my usual attire ranged from bulging eyes, to gasps, to righteous rants. Once a woman even screamed hysterically. Yet the maid barely seemed to notice. My eyebrows went up just a bit. Naturally I was surprised by the lack of reaction. However, I was also gratified. I’d have to make sure and give her a generous tip.
“Mr. Belle said to make sure you had plenty of anything you want from the kitchen. That was some smart thinking you had about the little foal. Even Cookie was impressed,” the maid chattered, merrily jumping from one subject to the next. “You didn’t mention it, but I brought you a treat from Cookie’s soup pot,” Bitsy said. “She makes lovely soups, a different one almost every day. After all, woman cannot live by calamari alone — regardless of how delicious it may be,” she added with a grin.
The aroma of the soup was lovely indeed, but my attention fell upon the bell. The intricate design of the silver bell was unexpected. Even the patina of the silver was unusual. The young woman told me to just ring it if I wanted anything at all. Bitsy picked up the bell and gave it one ring to reinforce her words.
The bell had a very strange, almost harmonic sounding ring. As I commented on how unusual looking the bell was it occurred to me that I had seen all manner of bells about the Belle Inn. Bitsy laughed when I mentioned the fact.
“Oh yes, the bells of the Belle Inn,” she said. “I only moved here six months ago, so I don’t know the history of the place that well. But it was the whimsy of one of Mr. Ignatius Belle’s ancestors to collect all sorts of bells, being as their family name was Belle,” Bitsy said.
“The Belle family’s been in this town forever, but Mr. Ignatius Belle was from some other branch of the family tree. He inherited the inn and moved here. But he took to things like he’d been here since childhood. He’s very fond of those bells. I’ve seen him gather up a bunch of them, and ever so carefully clean and inspect each one,” Bitsy went on about her employer. “I thought it was sweet. You know? A big, strong man with a highfalutin education being so taken with little bells,” she said with an impish grin.
It might have been interesting to learn more of what the maid knew of the proprietor and all those bells. After all, Ignatius Belle was a fine figure of a man. However, I gave my sincere thanks to Bitsy and hurried her on her way. It would not do for her to be here whenever the Dutch alchemist reappeared from thin air.
A moment after the maid left I heard another pop, and Cornelis materialized. He looked at the large tray of food and then rolled his eyes at my selection. I reminded him that I had gotten the Stilton cheese of which he was so fond, and he was somewhat mollified.
“Well?” I urged. “What did you learn?”
He pursed his lips considering whatever he had seen. “She’s clever, that one. Reasonably resourceful. Definitely determined,” he said of Copper, the young girl I saw at the Best’s General Store. “Though I am not sure I have the same conviction that you feel,” he added.
His lack of positivity made me feel deflated. I plopped down on the side of the bed and slumped. That poor posture was not something I could manage in proper female attire. The boning of corsets did not tolerated a slouch.
“So you don’t think it’s her?” I said, not sure whether or not I was asking a question.
“I don’t know that she is,” the Dutchman said seeming to contradict himself. “Yet I don’t know that she is not. It bears investigation.”
“How so,” I wanted to know what had stirred even a small amount of interest in the jaded alchemist.
“Because of the dead man at the desk in the study,” he replied in a tone that suggested that should be obvious.
“Oh, so that’s why she positively reeked of death. What an awful thing for a little girl to find,” I murmured sadly. “It is her father?” I made it a question, though I was sure it must be so. “That would explain why she was so frightened when the women at the general store mentioned the orphanage.”
The Dutchman shrugged as he absently tossed the cream colored tassel from Copper’s cape into the air and caught it. “I don’t know if the deceased is Calvin Hixon. I can’t say who the man is. He is slumped over the desk, face down. He does, however wear a signet ring that indicates he is part of the family,” Cornelis supplied that tidbit.
One might think Cornelis would have bothered to move the body enough to get a look at the man’s face. However, he was unexpectedly, and often inconveniently, squeamish about such things.
“I didn’t think there was any family, just Copper and her father,” I said, perturbed. “I suppose it must be him then. You didn’t see anyone about the house or grounds?” I asked, but Cornelis shook his head negatively.
“There had been a governess up until a couple of months ago,” Cornelis offered. “Hixon wrote a glowing recommendation for her, but there was no clear reason for her dismissal. Except of course the money troubles.”
“Money problems? Why didn’t you say so?” I asked. The man could be infuriating. I knew Cornelis delighted in holding back the important facts for dramatic effect. And doubtlessly to watch the expression on my face. “What kind of financial problems did Calvin Hixon have? Could you see that?” I asked to the Dutchman’s obvious delight. He loved to have an audience.
“Oh my,” he began. “There were unpaid bills for everything but the kitchen sink!” he said. “Calvin Hixon had clearly been having financial issues for months, possibly years.”
Curiosity finally got the better of Cornelis Drebbel and he investigated the tray of food the maid left. He seemed quite pleased by the soup. He looked hopeful when he spotted the bottle of wine, but his smile faded in an exaggerated way when he read the label.
The Dutchman had a mind filled with ever changing wild ideas for things, inventions and new ways of doing things. He had brought many of those ideas into existence before an accident of alchemy had radically changed his own existence. The look on his face told me he was having one of those inventor-type ideas.
“How is it that we end up in so many places that don’t have a decent bottle of wine?” he grumbled in a droll tone that was edged with exasperation. “Why has no astute businessman gathered all manner of fine wine and made it available to back-of-beyond places like this one? It wouldn’t be so complicated,” he complained, but his eyes twinkled with his idea.
“What do you mean?” I asked, though it was usually a bad idea to encourage him. Whenever Cornelis had an idea, he would go on about it until he had laid out a five year plan for its creation. “Through the post, like purchasing things from a catalogue? Sent to individuals, rather than businesses?” I pondered aloud, realizing all the while that I had let him draw me in once again. “So what you’re suggesting is a mail-order wine club. Things are different than in your day, Cornelis. All the taxes and levies would make it impossible,” I commented, once again the voice of reason to his wild ideas.
I felt rather guilty when I saw the disappointed expression in his eyes. It actually wasn’t such a bad idea. It was much more reasonable than his underwater boat device or his floating bomb. However, I frowned because I shouldn’t have let myself be sidetracked. I had to figure out Copper’s situation.
Cornelis gave me directions to the Hixon estate. Hopefully Ignatius Belle would let me borrow a horse. I had to travel by more mundane means than the alchemist. Cornelis would meet me there.
I wrapped up a large portion of the calamari and freshly baked rolls, and when Cornelis wasn’t looking, I packed some of the Stilton cheese I had gotten for him. It seemed obvious that the child didn’t have any food left. A good meal might also help me gain her trust. She had seemed skittish at the general store, even before the surly comment from those women about her going to an orphanage. How she was involved in the grand scheme of things was a mystery to me, but I was certain that Copper Hixon played a key part.
The alchemist had such a twinkle in his eyes when he dematerialized that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him rub his hands together in anticipation. Instead he gave the tassel from Copper’s cape a toss toward the ceiling and disappeared. When I realized it would likely land in the soup, I jumped off the bed to catch it. However, Cornelis reappeared before the tassel came back down and he caught it.
“Oh yes,” he said as if he’d never left. “I need a look at that harmonic tuner. I may have seen its counterpart at the Hixon estate. So do be a lamb and bring it with you,” he said drolly.
“The what?” I asked.
He pointed toward the food tray on the table. “They seem to be using it as a dinner bell,” he said.
I cautiously picked up the ornate bell that had such an unusual ring. I had thought of the sound as harmonic and perhaps with good reason.
“A harmonic tuner…?” I repeated, looking curiously at the unusual bell.
Click above for the recipe
Photo and recipe credit: Another Foodie Blogger
3. Quail’s Egg, Wurlitzer Organ, Hydrofoil
From Lord David Prosser at https://barsetshirediaries.wordpress.com/
The dapple mare Ignatius Belle loaned me cantered at a pace that seemed comfortable for the horse. We traveled along a river. Water lapped gently against the shore making a soothing sound. I reigned in the mare, stopping under a large shade tree beside the main house of the Hixon estate.
For a moment I considered how I should approach a frightened child. I decided to simply knock on the front door. I expected that convention would outweigh Copper’s skittishness, especially within the familiarity of her home. After all, when there was a knock at the door, one tended to answer it.
Though it irked me, I dressed in socially acceptable feminine attire. Under the circumstances I realized that was best. However, I still refused to wear a corset, and I absolutely did not ride sidesaddle! If someone was upset about the sight of a bit of stocking showing above my boots, then they could look away.
After I dismounted the horse, I adjusted the full skirt and bustle. The dark green and cream colored stripes were attractive, even if the design was utterly impractical. I touched the smaller lady’s version of my favorite top hat. It sat at a jaunty angle on my head, and was adorned with ribbons, feathers, and tulle.
Through the multicolored stained glass inset on the door I saw the shape of a small person approach after I knocked. Sure enough, the door opened just a crack. Although I thought I already knew the answer to the question, I asked if Mr. Hixon was available.
“Um… no. No ma’am,” Copper said through the crack in the door without giving further information.
While I knew nothing about children, I expected that most youngsters who had nothing to eat and a dead body in the study would like to have an adult to fix things. I held up the basket of calamari and rolls.
“I’ve brought my lunch, but there is too much of it. Perhaps while I wait for Mr. Hixon, we could share it. Maybe in the kitchen?” I suggested.
Cornelis had mentioned that the study and the kitchen were on opposite sides of the house. I hoped the idea of me being in the kitchen would seem less threatening to the girl than letting me into another part of the house.
Indecision painted her face, along with the smudge of dirt I saw on her nose at the general store. She bit her lower lip as she looked from the basket and back up at me. The aroma of its contents was making me hungry again, so I knew her mouth must be watering. A gurgling noise came to my ears. That was surely her stomach growling.
“Governess?” Copper finally repeated.
“Yes. You know how busy your father is. He’s been looking to get a new governess to help with things, and to help look after you,” I said, hoping she had liked her former teacher as much as I expected. Hixon wasn’t likely to have written the glowing recommendation Cornelis mentioned if the child didn’t like her.
“Um,” she began and licked her lips. “Won’t you please come in,” she said in a rehearsed formal way. “But you must make sure not to disturb my father,” she added with a frightened look in her eyes.
When I crossed the threshold I detected an unappealing scent. It smelled like sweet oil, overlaying a vague odor of something that was rotting. Forgetting my resolve to take things slowly, I turned to follow my nose. Copper gasped and grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the kitchen and away from the odor.
As might have been expected the kitchen was a horrendous mess of dirty dishes and disastrous attempts at cooking. The shell of a quail’s egg lay on the floor. Flour covered the work surfaces, part of what appeared to be an unsuccessful attempt at pancakes. By the look of things, Copper must have been on her own for a while. By the time I recovered from the shock of seeing a kitchen in such a state, the moppet had already eaten most of the food I brought. The poor thing was ravenous.
I twitched with a shudder when the disembodied voice of Cornelis was suddenly in my ear. He warned that someone was coming. I could hear him more clearly than I usually could when he sent his voice without his body. Usually his voice sounded rather far away in this circumstance, but at that moment he was loud and clear. However, I heard a distracting faint chiming sound in the background and I wondered what it was.
“Who said that?” Copper asked with a start.
It surprised me that she heard him. I told her that it was just a friend, but she pelted out of the kitchen. I followed Copper as she ran to the front parlor to look out the window. A small coach and a man on horseback approached. Cornelis spoke into my ear again stating that the rider was the sheriff. I asked who would be in the carriage, but he didn’t know. Copper must have thought I was speaking to her.
“The orphanage,” she whispered wide eyed.
She looked likely to run again. I knew I’d never catch her in that retched skirt and bustle I was wearing, so I quickly took hold of her hand.
“Don’t worry. Whoever it is, I won’t let them take you,” I assured her.
Copper looked up at me with frightened eyes that were filled with tears and a spark. That spark seemed like a trace of hope that I sincerely would protect her. How could anyone resist that face? However, I needed information, and I needed it fast. The slow approach was no longer possible.
“Is there some other reason why the sheriff might be here?” I asked. “What about your father? Are you sure he’s just busy? Is he… Is he well?” I asked the scared girl.
Her eyes moved to the direction of the study, where Cornelis said a dead man was slumped at her father’s desk. “Copper has anything happened to your father?” I asked. I realized that I might be pushing too hard, but I tried to make my voice gentle. “Is he in the study?” I asked and that was as close as I dared come to asking if her father was dead.
“I don’t know! No,” she cried sounding confused. “I don’t know where Daddy is. When I came back inside from playing he was gone.”
That surprised me. “That isn’t him in the study?” I asked much too bluntly.
“No!” she screeched.
“It’s alright,” I reassured her, but I had to hurry and get some facts before the sheriff came into the house. “How can you be sure that isn’t him? You didn’t see his face did you?” I asked.
As soon as I said the words, I wished I could take them back. Cornelis was right in saying that I spoke before I thought. It was a poor choice of words, but Copper didn’t react as strongly as I feared.
“No. His hair. Daddy doesn’t have hair like that. His is gray and thin,” Copper said.
The voice of Cornelis supplied the detail that the corpse had luxuriant brown hair. Then he reminded me about the signet ring.
“Darling, have any relatives come to visit? The man wears a family ring like your fathers. Does he have brothers, nephews?” I had to ask since it was only hearsay that there was no family. Copper shook her head, unable to take her eyes away from the view of the coach and the rider.
The coach driver climbed down, ready to open the door and help his passengers alight. I turned away from the window and took a step toward the study. There was no more time to handle the delicate situation in a slowly paced, gentle way. I had to investigate the room where the unknown corpse rested immediately; else I might never get another chance once the sheriff was on the scene.
A pop sounded and Cornelis Drebbel was suddenly in my path. I ran right into the Dutchman. Copper gasped. It wasn’t like the alchemist to reveal himself to anyone. I thanked the stars that Copper had only gasped. She might well have screamed loud enough for the sheriff to hear. I was sure that he and the coach would be at the gates by then.
With a flourish Cornelis bowed and took my hand. That was also unlike him — behaving flirtatiously with me, I mean. “You will need this,” he said and placed a beautifully carved ring on my finger.
“Cornelis, what—?” I began, dumbfounded.
Could the Dutchman have lost his mind? I didn’t get to ask him at what foolishness he was playing, because he pointed dramatically at the window.
“You will need this,” he said of the ring but before I could comment he continued. “The people who are about to step out of the carriage? The moppet is correct. They are from the orphanage. And the presence of the sheriff indicates that they have a serious purpose,” Cornelis said.
Copper shrieked. The child didn’t utter a word when the alchemist materialized out of nowhere. But mention an orphanage and she screamed. All I could do was shake my head. I hoped she wasn’t heard outside.
I ran to the study. To my surprise, Copper followed even as I opened the door and entered the room where the dead body was. The smell of sweet oil was almost overpowering. It was as bad the odor of the corpse. I saw the empty oil bottle lying on the rug at his feet. Then I noticed that the back of his head looked greasy, and an oil stain ran all the way down the back of his waistcoat.
I almost laughed. “Copper, did you pour the sweet oil on him?” I asked the child who stood a foot behind me.
“He stank,” she said simply but emphatically.
I hurriedly scanned the room for anything obvious. However, I wasn’t sure for what I should be looking. Neither was I certain of my purpose in this situation. I had been drawn to this place for a reason, but it was unknown to me. I didn’t think my purpose was merely to solve the riddle of the dead man at the desk.
First things first, I told myself as I turned my attention back to the body. I had expected to see a pool of blood, but the top of the desk was clean. The dead man’s left hand rested on the desktop. Something seemed wrong about the position of the hand. It had been moved.
Hadn’t Cornelis said he wore a signet ring? Without looking I could feel the cool metal of the ring the alchemist placed on my finger. “You’ll need this,” he’d said. My eyes went back to the naked hand of the dead man.
“You moved a ring from the finger of a cadaver and put it on my hand?” I exclaimed, but Cornelis was nowhere to be seen.
After extracting a promise from Cornelis to watch over Copper, and a dire warning of what he’d face if he let her run away, I sent the two to the back parlor. A moment later I heard the Dutchman exclaim, “Oh look! It’s a Wurlitzer!”
There was no telling what Cornelis was talking about with that comment. I thought he must have been saying something silly to get the child’s mind off the situation. I hoped Cornelis would be responsible in looking after Copper. He wasn’t always reliable.
An official seeming knock sounded at the door. I took a breath and moved to answer it. The “visitors” were clearly surprised to see me, particularly the people from the orphanage. They included two women and a man. The man, who was standing farthest back, mumbled that there was not supposed to be anyone there except the child. I got the impression that he had plenty of courage to accost a child, but not so much if he had to confront an adult.
The sheriff was an ordinary looking man, with the exception of the shiny badge and a thick mustache. He had the air of a man who was simply doing his job. He glanced at my stylish frock and seemed to notice a horse hair that clung to my cuff. He bowed over my hand in a formal but obvious ploy to get a good look at the signet ring.
I introduced myself as Copper’s aunt, her father’s half-sister, Mina. Yes, Mina. That was the first name that came to mind, though I’ve no idea why. Of course my assertion was met with astonishment. However, Calvin Hixon had not been born in the little town. They couldn’t know much about the extended family.
At least the sheriff seemed to think it plausible enough. He glanced again at the ring on my finger and nodded his head. Whatever these orphanage people were about, from the sheriff’s point of view, a long lost relative showing up would simplify things for him.
I raised one eyebrow expectantly when none of them introduced themselves in return. The sheriff understood, but the other three silently — and arrogantly stepped across the threshold. The sheriff cleared his throat and they hesitated.
“Pardon my lack of manners,” he said awkwardly and began making quick introductions.
The county sheriff was Alvin Bullard, also part owner of the local grist mill. The other man was Claude Dinkley, a board member of Merciful Haven Orphanage, as well as the county truant officer. He had a slim build, a weak chin, and his starched collar was too tall for the length of his neck. He also looked like he’d tremble in fear of one of the women.
That woman was Ethel Farthing, chairlady of the board and owner of the Merciful Haven Orphanage. She was of average height and build. Her movements were stiff and choppy, though she did not appear to be arthritic. Ethel Farthing positively radiated bossiness and was the first to shoulder her way across the threshold uninvited. She made a sarcastic comment at which the other woman gave a honking laugh.
Which brings me to the last visitor. She was a tall willowy woman, Gertrude Hobbs, administrator of the orphanage. Her wire rimmed spectacles sat far down her nose. She was very quiet, but nodded sharply to everything Ethel Farthing said. She had a small head with a prominent nose and a long neck. Those features combined with her honking laugh and the large bustle of her gown reminded me of a goose, a greedy goose waiting for a chance to peck away at something.
But why were those people here at all? How could they know Copper was on her own? Did the authorities already know something about Calvin Hixon’s disappearance? Why did they have such an interest in Copper? Although I supposed if they established themselves as her guardians, they could take over the Hixon estate. They looked like a covetous lot. They were likely unaware of the financial problems Cornelis discovered.
As I motioned toward the front parlor where I planned to lead them I saw the sheriff’s nose twitch. I had not anticipated him being an experienced lawman. He recognized the odor of decomposition beneath the heavy smell of sweet oil. His hand moved to the holstered gun on his hip as if reflexively.
He gave me a cold look. “Is there some problem here, Miss?” he asked levelly.
There was little I could do, except tell the truth — mostly. “Actually Sheriff, there is. I arrived only a short time ago,” I began and I saw him take note of horse hairs that stubbornly clung to my gown. Hopefully my unkempt attire corroborated that much. “And I came into a terrible thing. I’ve spent all my time trying to calm the poor child. She was in hysterics. Heaven only knows what she’s been through,” I said with a grain of truth.
“Do continue,” he said flatly when I paused. He was definitely the no nonsense type.
“I found a stranger in my brother’s study. The child has been too distraught to tell me what happened or where her father is. I assumed he went into town to get help,” I said, though it didn’t look like the sheriff believed that.
“What stranger?” Gertrude, the bird-like woman asked.
I chose to ignore the people from Merciful Haven as much as possible and focus on the sheriff. I only wished I could ignore the doubtlessly ironic way the facility was misnamed. Sheriff Alvin Bullard was the one with the real authority. I led the sheriff to the study. The others followed. They gasped and nearly retched when they walked into the room.
“Nothing appears to be amiss,” I told Sheriff Bullard, and hoped against hope he would not to the kitchen where it looked like Armageddon had been fought. “Well except of course for… I assumed the poor man was struck by a sudden death, a heart attack, or a stroke perhaps,” I said with a distraught wave toward the dead body, trying to give the impression that I was just a helpless woman.
Making my eyes as wide and sad as possible, I looked up at the sheriff. Oh yes. That had him. His shoulders relaxed and he took his hand away from the gun at his side. He gave the corpse a cursory inspection.
The orphanage people recovered themselves enough to start complaining about my presence. Their assertions about concern over the welfare of the child sounded hollow at best. Based on the expression on the sheriff’s face, he thought so as well.
“No sign of a struggle,” the lawman murmured as he looked at the body. “No apparent injuries, no blood from an attack,” he observed. Then he took a close look at the man’s face and at the desk and nodded again. “No traces of vomit to indicate poison. Not so much as a hair out of place. I have to agree that the poor soul must have died from natural causes,” he said with a due amount of reverence and he looked at the others as if silently suggesting they follow his example of decorum.
“You said you attended the child,” he said to me and I nodded. “I’d like to speak to her,” he added.
I made a reluctant, concerned face. “I’ve only just given her a tonic to get her to sleep. It would be best not to wake her. Perhaps I could bring her to your office tomorrow?” I suggested and Sheriff Bullard reluctantly agreed.
The others were not so amenable. A veritable caterwauling ensued. They demanded to see Copper and determine her welfare for themselves. Then they demanded some kind of identification from me. Fortunately, it was in no way unusual for a person to be without such documents.
The voice of Cornelis whispered into my ear. “Prime these fools for what I’m about to do,” he said but I couldn’t ask what he meant. Thankfully he continued. “Get them to face the corpse, and say something about making the dead unhappy,” he said.
I couldn’t imagine what the alchemist had in mind. However, I moved to stand behind the body so they would have to look at it.
“It was my late brother’s wish that I come here as soon as I could. As for this poor man, well that is up to the sheriff,” I said, unsure how to fit words to the alchemist’s unknown plan. “It’s unwise to have such antagonism and animosity in the presence of the so very recently deceased!” I said in wide-eyed fearful seeming warning. “It is dangerous to anger the spirits before they have had time to move on to the heavenly plane.”
As my words ended, a shrill harmonic sound vibrated. It seemed to be within my own ears, but I saw everyone else react to it as well. The sound escalated into loud eerie music that thundered within the room. The volume was so strong that it vibrated through the floor and up through my boots. I felt as though I stood in the middle of a gigantic cathedral pipe organ.
I finally understood the exclamation Cornelis made when he entered the back parlor. He’d found a Wurlitzer organ and was using it to grand effect. Somehow he had amplified the sound and made it seem to come from within the study. A glint of silver caught my eye, and I spotted the ornate bell Cornelis took from the inn — the one he said was actually not an ordinary bell, but a harmonic tuner.
Bass notes emanated from the Wurlitzer in an ominous way. When he managed to add a sound like a howling cry on the wind the people from the orphanage nearly trampled the sheriff trying to get out of the study. They stumbled and fell repeatedly in the hallway as they made for the front door.
The sheriff looked rather confused by the loud music. I saw him look around the study for the source of it. He seemed mildly uneasy as I walked him to the front door. He seemed calm enough when he said he would send someone to take the body. However, his footsteps became very quick as he went to his horse. By then the dust stirred by the coach was all that remained of the officiaries from Merciful Haven Orphanage.
I returned to the study. Something had caught my eye on the desk when the sheriff moved the corpse to check his face. It was an envelope addressed to Calvin Hixon. I had only glimpsed the return address, but I thought I’d seen a notable name. I grimaced as I moved the corpse enough to retrieve the letter.
That was interesting, I thought as I read the envelope. I had not been mistaken about the sender. I removed the stationary from the envelope. It was a businesslike missive, complimenting Hixon’s project. I had no idea Hixon was an inventor. Perhaps it was a hobby. The letter was an offer of collaboration to improve a design belonging to Hixon that the writer called a hydrofoil. The letter was signed by Alexander Graham Bell.
“Ah yes,” I thought. “The telephone man. And another Bell.” It seemed that bells of one kind and another had surrounded me ever since I arrived.
I reread the letter, trying to comprehend the idea of a boat that sat on “foils” that lifted it out of the water, allowing it to reach amazing speeds. Could it actually be made to work? Hixon’s invention had attracted the interest of someone like Alexander Graham Bell, so it must be worthwhile. Was it related to his disappearance? Did it have anything to do with the corpse beside me?
At that moment Copper ran into the study, followed by Cornelis. Both laughed merrily at the fright they had given the child’s would-be guardians.
Cornelis picked up the intricate silver bell and gave it one harmonic chime. The organ in the back parlor responded by making a comical oboe-like sound.
Recipe: Ginger Sesame Coquelet with Korean Quail Eggs
Photo and recipe credit: Cooking in Sens
4. Artist’s Palette, Pease Pudding, Owl-Shaped Lamp
From Andrea Stephenson at http://harvestinghecate.wordpress.com/
The hand of a heavenly painter colored the evening sky, dipping the brush in an artist’s palette of pink, orange, and gold. Squinting in the fading light, I wondered if doing so would give me wrinkles as everyone claimed. I didn’t particularly care. What was a face without a bit of character?
I lifted the skirt of my dark green and cream striped gown as I picked my way through the barn, wishing I had brought a pair of trousers with me. As I squeezed between the wall and a work table, a space I should have been able to navigate with ease, the wretched bustle got caught. Carefully, I extricated myself.
The barn was empty of life, except perhaps for a few mice. It was easy to see that the horses had been gone for a while, evidence of the financial problem Cornelis uncovered. Surely Hixon kept at least one for his own transportation, I thought. Had he left on horseback then? Was he abducted? I came full circle to the first question I faced when I came to the estate – who was the dead man in the study?
Since I had no idea what I was looking for, my intention had been to search the storage building and barn for anything that didn’t belong. However, Calvin Hixon was a man of extraordinary interests and tastes. Not belonging was a description that could be applied to nearly everything he owned. I supposed that made all the strange articles and artifacts actually belong, in that way.
Secretly I thought it would have been better if Cornelis had sorted through all the oddities in the outbuildings. The alchemist had remarkably broad knowledge of such things. However, Cornelis would have taken days with the task, getting consumed as he looked at each object. So it was just as well left to me.
I searched the barn and the larger storage building. There was another shed on the opposite side of the grounds. I had not inspected it yet. So far I had seen many interesting, if unexplainable, gadgets and oddments, but nothing that gave me a clue as to what was going on. At least I found a stash of canning jars — and some containing food. In the dim light they looked unspoiled. The hungry girl had eaten everything I brought earlier, and I hadn’t seen much else in the larder except some dried peas. I put the jars in a burlap sack and hefted it over my shoulder.
The food was welcome, as it was unlikely that I would spend any time at the Belle Inn when I went back for my things. No matter what the obstacles, I had to return to the inn to get my hatbox. I couldn’t leave the area without the hatbox. It contained the skull of Cornelis Drebbel.
Leaving the barn, I gazed in concern at the beautiful sunset. How much time did we have? Sheriff Alvin Bullard was going to send someone to attend to the body of the still unknown man. As he left he indicated that might take a bit of time, but how much? A few hours? A few days? To my knowledge, there was no doctor in residence in the little town. The veterinarian was half a day’s ride away. Perhaps they used him as the coroner.
With a sigh I headed back to the main house. I walked through the rolling lawn to the back of the house and its broad covered porch. I recalled that the child, Copper, had been out at play somewhere. When she returned home she found her father gone and the stranger at his desk in that most unfortunate condition. That was all Copper knew.
My heart lurched for an instant when I heard Copper’s shrill cry. However, the exclamation became a gale of giggles. While it was the last thing I could imagine happening, Cornelis Drebbel took a liking to the child. The Dutchman was supposed to be investigating the sprawling manor while I looked through the outbuildings. I began to wonder if the entire time he and Copper had been playing whatever spontaneous games the girl invented.
When I opened the kitchen door my nose met a shocking smell. I was stunned because the aroma was delicious. “Cornelis?” was all I could manage. I was at a loss for words.
The kitchen still looked like a battleground for Armageddon, but the smell was tantalizing. The Dutchman had a smug look on his face. He gave the tip of his pointed beard a twist as he smirked. “Haven’t I always told you I was a good cook? Yet you never believed me,” he said and gave a sly glance at Copper who giggled again.
“I didn’t think there was any food to cook,” I said, trying to ignore the alchemist’s self-satisfied behavior. “Admittedly it smells good. What did you manage to make?” I asked.
He removed the lid from the pot to display a perfect pease pudding. Then I remembered seeing the uncooked peas the first time I entered the horrifying mess of the kitchen.
“But we don’t have any bread to spread it on,” Copper said in a disappointed tone, but she quickly cheered when Cornelis waved the pot’s lid to push more of the aroma to her nose. “All we need is a spoon,” she decided with a grin.
“Oh, but my dear, you are mistaken,” Cornelis told Copper.
Judging by the disorder, Copper had looked through every inch of the kitchen in search of food. It was no wonder she looked surprised by his words. The Dutchman pointed to a wooden breadbox atop one of the cabinets. It was a little out of my reach, but I spotted a small stool in a corner. I had the box in hand in no time.
“It’s stale,” she said in disappointment when I opened the breadbox.
“It’s not so bad that we can’t make toast from it,” I told Copper and her eyes lit up.
A short time later we were all happily stuffed with pease pudding and toast. I asked Cornelis if he had found anything interesting while searching the house. Or if he found anything that gave a clue to what might have happened to Copper’s father. Or that business of the letter from Alexander Graham Bell and the bizarre hydrofoil contraption.
Cornelis gave the back of my hand a sharp tap with one finger. It gave an unpleasant static shock when he did that. He refused to tell me how it was done. However, it might have been one of the extraordinary things he was able to do after that accident of alchemy left him in his current state. At any rate, he meant to remind me to think before I spoke. I made a poor choice when asking about Copper’s father in the child’s presence.
“I mean a clue to where he might have gone,” I stammered, trying to backtrack. However, the child was more concerned about getting the last bit of her pease pudding onto the remaining toast.
“What could possibly be more interesting than that wonderful Wurlitzer organ in the back parlor?” Cornelis exclaimed. “It’s no ordinary musical instrument, you know. It’s perfectly keyed to the harmonic tuner you found at the Belle Inn. Why, there’s no telling what the two could do when used together. If only I had the second harmonic tuner,” he said wistfully.
“The second one? Do you mean there is another of those odd sounding little bells?” I asked.
“Naturally my dear. Harmonic tuners are always made in pairs. A single one will do remarkable things, but the pair together – and in combination with a harmonic amplifier like that very special Wurlitzer. Why there’s no telling what could be done!” he said with enthusiasm.
I was never sure when Cornelis was onto something that held importance to a situation, or if he was being carried away by passion for his wild ideas and inventions. Clearly the organ was something exceptional, but was it relevant?
“We found this too!” Copper cried, happy to be able to contribute.
Cornelis had that self-satisfied expression again. I knew he had been holding back. Copper got up and ran to a table in the corner. Amid the clutter I had not noticed the addition of an object. She picked it up carefully and brought it over to me.
“What have we here?” I said and for the girl’s sake I showed much more interest than I felt.
“It’s a lamp. It’s supposed to look like an owl,” she said.
“Well, it’s certainly a curiosity,” I commented. “It looks like it’s carved from some sort of rough mineral,” I added.
“It’s salt — Himalayan salt,” Copper told me. “Daddy said it is special salt and when it gets warm, it gives off healthful vapors.”
My interest grew as I examined the unusual piece. The Dutchman murmured something I didn’t quite hear in his usual droll tone.
“It’s even more interesting if you turn it over,” Cornelis repeated pointedly.
When I upended the owl-shaped lamp, I found an opening. Some very old documents were tightly rolled and inserted into the lamp.
I was about to pull the ancient papers out of the lamp’s cavity when I heard a door bang open. My immediate thought was that the coroner had already arrived. However, it had been an interior door. The sound came from the direction of the study, unless of course it actually was from the study. The crash of the door was followed by strange sounds that steadily drew closer. Thump-drag. Thump-drag. Thump-drag…
An earsplitting screech preceded a cacophony of similar sounds. Scrabbling feet and overturning furniture followed. The front door slammed open so hard the stained glass window rattled. I looked at my companions. Copper seemed curious but not alarmed as she ran her finger around the pot, getting the last bit of pease pudding. Cornelis Drebble returned my questioning gaze with wide eyes and a knitted brow.
I dashed to the door and looked into the hallway. I heard Cornelis depart with a pop. The first thing I saw was the open door to the study, where the unknown cadaver had been left, sitting at the desk where we’d found him. A table in the hallway was overturned, breaking a vase that held flowers. The front door stood wide open. I saw movement at the porch stairs, so I hurried to the door.
“What the bloody…” he began. “Stop! You lot! Stop that this instant!” Cornelis ranted at the chimpanzees.
They stopped and looked quizzically at the alchemist. One scratched its head. They chattered briefly to one another.
“Now put that back where you found it!” Cornelis demanded regarding the body. “This instant!” he added.
It looked as though the chimps might actually do as he said. The alchemist dashed to the top of the stairs and motioned to the chimpanzees. He certainly had their attention. Cornelis switched to an encouraging tone.
One of them took hold of the body’s foot and started pulling it back up the stairs. It looked like the other two might follow suit. Then a horrible shrill screech sounded right behind me. Something bounded into me. It knocked me down and my head banged against the doorframe. A fast moving blur of fur hurtled past me and launched into the Dutchman, sending him tumbling down the stairs.
I heard a flat sounding pop, and Cornelis was gone. I had only heard that particular sound one time before, and that time the alchemist had been seriously harmed. It seemed that I was about to become insensible as well. My legs wouldn’t hold me when I tried to stand. When I touched my temple my fingers encountered blood.
Falling again to my hands and knees I saw the fourth chimp join the other three. While the porch floor seemed to spin, I watched as the furry quartet danced a jig. Then the naughty chimps dragged the unknown dead man away. The whole world swayed and went dark as one chimp gave a parting screech.
The mysterious woman in trousers is out cold. She found the “flat sounding pop” with which Cornelis Drebbel vanished disturbing. So what happened to the alchemist? You’re invited back next weekend when Sally Georgina Cronin at “Smorgasbord – Variety is the Spice of Life” provides the things and ingredients — and the recipe too.
Here’s this week’s promised culinary delight, and featured cooking blog. Be sure to check out “Two Fat Vegetarians.”
Recipe: Pease Pudding
Photo and Recipe Credit: Two Fat Vegetarians
5. Corset, Irish Soda Bread, Steam Engine
From Sally Georgina Cronin at https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/
I was worried about Cornelis Drebbel. Whenever he appeared or disappeared it caused a pop sound, like champagne being uncorked. I couldn’t tell you why. He refused to discuss the accident of alchemy that caused him to be in his unique state. However, it gave him several inexplicable abilities. I didn’t even know the extent of those talents. He wouldn’t talk about them either. The one thing I did know was the only other time his departure was accompanied by that strange flat sounding pop, he was almost lost forever.
After that thought the pounding in my head took center stage in my mind. A drop of water landed on my face, causing me to open my eyes. My field of vision was filled by two enormous blue orbs. The tear-filled eyes were so close to my face that I reflexively drew back, bumping the back of my head. As if I needed another lump there.
“Copper?” I mumbled, trying to focus my blurry vision.
I jumped again when I saw something that my rattled brain took for a fat hairy snake, inches away from my face. I nearly screamed, but before the cry escaped my lips, my vision cleared. The furry snake was Sheriff Alvin Bullard’s thick mustache.
The sheriff helped me sit up. The porch and the world around it lurched when I moved. My hand shot out wildly, trying to catch my balance. I felt like I was falling, but then I remembered that I was already prone on the floor of the porch.
Copper’s tight hold on my arm didn’t budge even as Sheriff Bullard helped me to a sitting position. I leaned back against the wall of the house. When he stood he noticed the blood on the doorframe where I hit my head when the big chimpanzee careened into me.
“You took quite a knock on the head,” Sheriff Bullard commented and I groaned in reply. “Did someone attack you?” he asked.
I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself. I was intensely glad that I refused to wear a corset. Wearing one of those hideous things, I would never have been able to get enough air into my lungs. It was no wonder so many women suffered from “the vapors.”
Abruptly my head cleared. I remembered the four large chimpanzees and them dragging the cadaver away.
Soft footsteps moved close to me. I thought perhaps it was Cornelis. The world swayed when I looked upward. It was not the alchemist. Rather, it was Ignatius Belle, the attractive and most un-innkeeper looking proprietor of the Belle Inn. Copper’s grip on my arm got even tighter as he approached. I wouldn’t have thought she was that strong. Her hold on my arm was downright uncomfortable. I shifted in attempt to dislodge the girl.
“I won’t let you take her from me!” Copper shocked me by yelling at the two men. “You can’t take—” she said with a tiny hesitation. “You can’t take my Aunt Mina!”
That was astonishing. Could the child be that quick on her feet? Copper apparently heard me introduce myself as her father’s half-sister, Mina, when I opened the door to the people from the Merciful Haven Orphanage. However, when I met Copper, I told her I was there to apply for a governess position. She had to know that at least one of those things was a lie. She must have been terrified of that orphanage to think so quickly.
I wanted to ask Copper if she had seen Cornelis after he vanished with that off sounding pop. However, I didn’t want to draw the sheriff’s attention to the Dutchman. Where was the alchemist? He had the power to speak directly into my ear without showing himself. If he was unharmed, then why hadn’t he made himself known to me?
Ignatius Belle stooped down and tried to reassure Copper that he and the sheriff were only there to help. A handsome man like Ignatius, with his kind smile and those soft eyes would have been enough to make most grown women melt. A young girl should have been putty in his hands.
Copper however, drew away from him distrustfully. I found her reaction intriguing. I considered the innkeeper from a new perspective, wondering if there was more than met the eye. However, I saw nothing that caused me concern — quite the contrary. I liked what I saw.
“The child’s been going on about some flight of fancy,” Sheriff Alvin Bullard said. “She says monkeys took away the dead body from the study and knocked you down,” he said with a tolerant smile for a child’s whimsy. “Though she’s a little old to tell such tales,” he added in a mildly chastising way for Copper’s benefit.
I tried not to react when I saw Ignatius and Sheriff Bullard exchange a look. Their expressions didn’t seem to indicate that they fully believed Copper’s explanation was simply a product of an overactive imagination. Did they did they secretly credit her story about the chimps? What could the men know that would allow them to believe the preposterous truth? However, my head throbbed so much that I quickly forgot about that unspoken exchange and the twinge of fear it gave me.
The neigh of a horse distracted me. Twilight had deepened while I lay senseless on the porch. In the diminishing light I saw an enclosed wagon with lanterns affixed. It was a hearse.
“Weren’t you going to send the coroner to remove the body?” I asked the sheriff.
Then a startling thought made me look at Ignatius Belle. So far, most of the townspeople I had met held more than one role. For instance, the sheriff was also the local grist mill’s owner.
“You are not innkeeper and undertaker are you?” I asked the tall man, suddenly unsure how attractive I found him. After giving careful attention to the set of his shoulders and the line of his jaw, I decided that didn’t matter if he was also a coroner.
“I inherited the wagon, but the duties of coroner or undertaker are beyond my skills,” Ignatius told me and held my gaze longer than was absolutely necessary.
Sheriff Alvin Bullard looked from me to the innkeeper, lifted one eyebrow, and cleared his throat pointedly. “We’d only been here a short time when you regained consciousness,” Bullard said. “May I help you inside?” he asked.
At first I reached out to take his offered hand, but when I moved the world took such a turn that it nearly took my stomach with it. I shook my head negatively and that only made it worse. “I think I’ll just rest here for a moment longer,” I said ruefully.
Ignatius Belle stepped quickly to the hearse. He returned with a suitcase, a hatbox, and a basket. I recognized the first two items as my own. I felt a stab of worry that he had opened the hatbox. It contained the skull of Cornelis Drebbel.
I lifted my hand reflexively toward the hatbox, but forced myself to rest the wayward appendage in my lap. It took all my self-restraint to let the hatbox sit untouched. I wanted to open it and see if anything had been disturbed.
Taking a deep breath I reminded myself what anyone who opened the hatbox would find. They would see my favorite top hat. Inside the hat was a round satin covered form, which helped keep the hat properly shaped. They would have to remove the hat and then the satin scarf before knowing the “form” was actually a human skull.
“Why?” I started to ask, but for once thought before I spoke. “It’s very kind of you to bring my things. I would have retrieved them tomorrow. I didn’t mean to cause you any trouble,” I told Ignatius. “I didn’t want to presume on my half-brother’s hospitality, since there was no way for me to let him know the exact date I expected to arrive. Besides,” I dissembled. “You can imagine… meeting with family one hasn’t seen in so many years… I felt the need to settle my nerves before coming here, so I took accommodations at your inn,” I said.
The sheriff gave a knowing nod to my explanation. Ignatius was turned away from me as he placed my belongings next to the door. Copper watched him intently.
“Alvin, I mean Sheriff Bullard, told me what had happened here when he asked me to bring the hearse to pick up the um…” he stopped short and looked at Copper. “The you know.”
“You mean the cadaver?” Copper chimed in, emphasizing what was apparently a new and interesting word in her vocabulary.
Ignatius cleared his throat. “Err, yes. He explained that you were Calvin Hixon’s half-sister and would be staying here to look after the girl. So I expected you would need your things. If you plan to come back into town I’ll simply take them back with us,” he said with a smile. “Maybe you really should consider coming back with us. No offence, but you don’t look well.”
“Oh, I’m feeling better already,” I assured the handsome innkeeper.
I didn’t know what kind of monkey business I had stumbled into, but those people from the Merciful Haven Orphanage clearly hoped to get control of Hixon’s estate. I didn’t want to risk having Copper in town with them. There was no telling what they’d do with an opportunity like that. If Ignatius had conveniently brought my belongings to me, that saved me having to retrieve them. However, it did create another problem. He would be taking his horse back with him, and I’d be without any transportation.
Finally I felt like I might be able to stand. Ignatius took my hand and all but lifted me to my feet. Maybe I wasn’t ready yet after all, I thought as I swayed. He put his arm around my waist and I leaned into him until my equilibrium equalized. And maybe just a little while longer.
The unfamiliar basket sitting next to my bag and hatbox caught my eye. It didn’t belong to me. I was about to tell Ignatius that he must have picked it up by mistake, when he followed my gaze.
“That’s from Cookie. She and Bitsy were there when Alvin told me about the dea— about the situation you found here,” Ignatius began then glanced at Copper. “Cookie could manage the inn singlehandedly if she were of a mind. She could manage the entire town for that matter. She has such a head for details and anticipating needs. It was her idea to send dinner.”
Copper, Cornelis, and I had eaten our fill of pease pudding and toast, but the aromas wafting from the cloth covered basket were tantalizing. Ignatius picked it up and handed it to me. I couldn’t resist peeking inside. I gasped with pleasure when I found pork roasted with onions and apples, roasted potatoes and carrots, and an entire loaf of Irish soda bread.
“Are you sure you’re alright, Miss Hixon? I have to agree with Ignatius that you don’t look well,” the sheriff asked me, and with the nasty bump to my head, I nearly ruined everything by not knowing who Miss Hixon was.
Oh yes. Miss Hixon was supposed to be me, Mina Hixon, Calvin Hixon’s long lost half-sister. “Yes. Yes, I’ll be right as rain in no time I’m sure,” I said.
“I’m worried about leaving you alone,” Ignatius Belle said. “I think that head injury is worse than you’re letting on. At least let me send one of the maids to stay the night and look after you. I’m sure Bitsy wouldn’t mind.”
I wondered at the solicitous offer, but I politely declined.
The sheriff insisted on looking around inside, since someone had been in the house and attacked me. I didn’t want him snooping around, but it would look odd if I refused. The dead body was his province as well. So I ushered them inside.
Sheriff Bullard purposely took the lead as we walked down the hallway toward the study. The broken vase and flowers were strewn across the marble floor. The study door stood open. Once inside the room we saw the window had been pushed wide open. The desk chair was overturned. The papers and other items that had been on the desktop were scattered across the rug. The desk drawer was open and the contents had obviously been riffled. Books had been pulled from their shelves and discarded haphazardly.
That explains the fourth chimpanzee, I thought. It lagged behind to search for something. Then it slammed into me as it hurried to catch up with the other three.
Yet, could the creature be intelligent enough to do something like that? Perhaps they could be trained to recognize particular objects and retrieve them. But for what had the chimps been searching, besides the corpse?
As the two men looked around the study I drew Copper aside. “Copper, it’s important that you don’t talk about the chimpanzees,” I whispered. “I’m afraid it will cause trouble if they know,” I whispered about the sheriff and the innkeeper. “Do you understand?” I asked and received an eager nod in return.
When the sheriff asked again if I had seen my attacker, or whomever took the body away, I maintained that I had seen nothing. If the lawman knew about the chimpanzees, I was certain that it would do more harm than good. At minimum I’d be branded a lunatic and unfit as Copper’s guardian, and the orphanage people would waste no time in getting control of the Hixon estate.
Besides, someone was controlling the animals and to my thinking, the law could only get in the way.
After the men left, Copper and I set about putting the disaster of a kitchen to rights. I had a lot of thinking to do, and it helped if my hands were busy. It also helped distract me from worrying about Cornelis Drebbel. Copper told me she had not seen him since “the naughty monkey” knocked him down the stairs.
Copper sat at the table. She had the owl-shaped lamp turned upside-down. It was proof of my hit on the head that I had forgotten about the lamp and its hidden compartment. Before I could caution her, Copper pulled out the documents.
“Be careful with those. I think they’re quite old. You wouldn’t want to tear them,” I said, and complimented myself on keeping my voice gentle when I was startled enough that I might have snapped at her.
We spread the papers on the kitchen table. One was a letter written in an unknown language. I had no idea what it said, but it looked quite official, with an embossed crest. However the document was so old that the embossing was unclear. The other pages appeared to be plans, drawings for strange inventions.
“A magnifying glass would be useful,” I murmured.
“Daddy keeps one in his desk,” Copper said helpfully. “Do you think the monkeys will come back?” she asked, her tone edged with fear.
“We’ll go look together, shall we?” I said with a smile.
As we stood I heard a pop, then a little electric shock at my neck when a finger tapped it.
“Cornelis!” I said, barely stopping myself from hugging the Dutchman. “I was worried half to death. Where have you been? Are you all right?”
Copper’s eyes were wide as she regarded the alchemist. Her brow knitted and she looked suspicious. The blue eyes narrowed and she looked at Cornelis intently. “Are you a ghost?” she asked bluntly.
The Dutchman grinned impishly. He gave a twist to his pointed beard and wriggled his eyebrows. Copper’s expression relaxed.
“That’s rather hard to say,” Cornelis told Copper. “I never died. However, my body stopped living hundreds of years ago.”
Copper tilted her head, thinking about the strange answer Cornelis gave her. I got the feeling that she would study the matter until she understood it.
“Oh! What have we here?” he exclaimed excitedly over the ancient papers. “Don’t tell me this is what was hidden in the lamp!” he cried and Copper and I both nodded, taken aback by his enthusiasm. “Really? The audacity! To hide such treasures that way. Don’t you know what these are?”
“I couldn’t read the language,” I defended myself. “I know a smattering of the Romance languages, but I haven’t had time to decipher the texts.”
“Well, I suppose it isn’t any wonder,” he said agreeably enough. “These are so old that the language has changed a good deal. You really have no idea what they are?” he asked genuinely surprised. “My dear, these are the work of Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci! They are valuable beyond belief.”
“The Leonardo da Vinci?” I couldn’t help asking. “Then they must be at the core of whatever is going on here,” I said with certainty.
I asked copper if she could reach dishes to set the table in the dining room. She could, so I busied her with that task so I could speak to Cornelis.
“I’m even more concerned about Copper’s father now. I can’t imagine he would leave without this carefully hidden treasure. Or Copper either for that matter,” I said quietly.
“Perhaps he meant to lead whomever away from the child?” Cornelis offered and that explanation made sense, but it didn’t feel right.
“If he has been abducted, we don’t know who they would contact for ransom. So, their next move would be to take Copper and threaten her life to make Hixon give them the da Vinci papers,” I speculated.
“Yes, but that is assuming there are only two factions,” Cornelis said. “These papers are so valuable there might me multiple parties involved, each working against the other,” the alchemist said.
That idea was complicated enough that my head pounded harder. The pain had finally eased off, but it came back with a vengeance. I groaned. Cornelis took my elbow and led me to the dining room. Copper had even arranged the food Cookie and Bitsy sent via Ignatius Belle.
As we ate, Cornelis spoke in a very matter of fact tone. I was sure he did so to avoid alarming Copper. “I mentioned that I thought there were multiple factors involved?” he said as if he was talking about something utterly boring. “I also have a hunch that they will converge here. So I think we should begin a journey, an adventure,” he said smiling at the girl. “We should set out as soon as we can.”
“But we’ve no transportation. It will attract attention, but we’ll have to hire a coach,” I said.
“Too bad Daddy didn’t get the steam engine to work right,” Copper said surprising both of us.
“Steam engine?” Cornelis and I echoed in unison.
The alchemist found lanterns where Copper said they would be. He blocked the girl’s view of what he was doing as he used one of his tricks to light them quickly. We hurried to the outbuilding. The chimpanzees had been very large and amazingly strong. I couldn’t help glancing uneasily into the darkness, wondering if they would come back that night.
Soon we reached the building. It was locked, but breaking a lock was also within the range of the Dutchman’s unearthly talents. The building was small, and apparently only had one room. A machine of some sort filled most of the space. I lit a lamp to see it better.
I marveled at what the light showed. The contraption looked very much like a steam locomotive. However, it was closer to the size of a stage coach. It had a tall column in front for the steam. There were two wheels in front, supporting the engine, an area for a few passengers, and two much taller wider wheels in back.
“What on earth is this thing?” I asked of the strange contraption.
Cornelis had that look in his eyes. I mean that obsessively excited look he got about inventions and wildly impossible things. “Isn’t it wonderful? It’s a traction engine,” he said quickly before vanishing.
“It’s a road locomotive,” Copper informed me. “Daddy always said this part was the trouble,” Copper said pointing at something I couldn’t see, but Cornelis was suddenly looking over her shoulder making an ah-ha sound.
The alchemist abruptly looked away, distracted. I could feel the air around Cornelis Drebbel vibrate. The sensation made the hair on my arms stand on end. I knew he was somehow investigating the odd engine — what worked and what did not. I heard a clang from somewhere inside the machine. Then he muttered happily to himself.
“Do you think you can make it work?” I asked after a moment.
“Oh yes,” he said. “In no time at all,” he added with a smile that twitched his mustache.
As I looked at Cornelis his form blurred and became transparent. I had come to realize that meant he was somehow present in more than one place at a time.
“What is it?” I asked once I could see him properly again.
“There are people coming. More than one group. From more than one direction,” he said sounding like he was still trying to understand what he saw. “We have to hurry.”
But don’t forget this weekend’s recipe! The afore mentioned lovely Sally didn’t just give us “things/ingredients” – she kindly supplied this recipe as well. Bon appétit!
Recipe: Slow Cooked Roast Pork
Photo and Recipe Credit: Sally Georgina Cronin
Preheat the oven to 230C/210C for fan assisted ovens or Gas mark 8
You can use any pork joint that has a decent amount of fat under the skin so that you can produce great crackling to eat with your pork. Because you will lose the weight during the slow cook aim for a larger size joint around the 3-4 kilo mark for 6 -8 people.
Crackling.. Take a sharp knife and cut one direction across the skin down to the fat level and then score again in the other direction so that you have a diamond pattern.
Then rub olive oil into the skin and well into the cuts.
The Rub. 1 teaspoon each of Pimiento Dulce which is mild, Garlic powder (you can rub the crushed cloves into the skin but it can be too powerful) Salt and Black Pepper.
Take your mix and rub in thoroughly over the skin and into the cuts.
Place your pork on two rough chopped onions and on chopped cooking apple which will help flavour the meat but also provide a very tasty base for gravy later.
Give the pork 30 minutes at this temperature and then reduce to 150C/130C for fan/Gas 2 and continue to roast for another 2 to 3 hours depending on the size of the joint.. I use an hour per kilo as a general rule.
After this time – increase the temperature back up to the 230C/210C for fan/Gas Mark 8 and give the crackling a last blast.
Take out and put on a rack covered in foil and leave for around 20 minutes to let the meat rest. Take off the Crackling and divide into portions and carve.. The meat will be so tender that you need a very sharp knife.
Make a gravy with the juices from the meat, onions and apple. Serve with Roast Potatoes, carrots and greens.
6. Soup Bone, Destiny, Ceramic Statue
From Mary J McCoy-Dressel at http://mjdresselbooks.wordpress.com/
“Copper!” I called. “We have to hurry. Where are you?”
I had climbed the narrow stairs up to the tiny room at the top of the turreted tower of the lovely Hixon estate. I wanted to get the best possible view of the land around me, but I didn’t hold much hope of seeing anything in the dark.
Opening the window, I leaned out precariously. Although I needn’t have been concerned about falling out — the wretched bustle on my skirt wouldn’t fit through the window. I exhaled in exasperation at the convention of fashion I had to adopt.
When I looked to my right, I saw a small light. At first I took it for a firefly, but it wasn’t. It was too far away, I wouldn’t see a firefly at such a distance. Then I saw another light near it — and two more. Torches. They moved steadily toward the house.
I twisted my torso and looked to my left. There I spotted more lights, coming from the west. One lantern held still and several others moved toward it. I had no doubt that the group of them would also begin moving toward the Hixon estate soon.
However, Cornelis detected three groups, each approaching from a different direction. Quickly I walked across the round turreted room to the other window. I stretched out as far as I could, but I didn’t see anything.
If only there were more stars, or a bigger moon, I thought. Well then, if I couldn’t see, perhaps I could hear. I held very still and strained to hear, isolating the sounds of nature, the insects and owls. Faint and far off I heard growls and barks, but they were only canine. Probably two dogs fighting over a soup bone.
Abruptly the dogs gave a startled yip. Then I heard the familiar screeching and chattering of chimpanzees. I still couldn’t see anything. I wondered how far away they were. Of the two groups with torches one seemed to be about as far away as the other. I could only guess about the chimps. Their cacophony might carry a long way in the quiet of the night. Or for all I knew, they might be nearer than the others.
I hurried down the turret stairs and headed for the bedrooms to find Copper. When I told the girl to only get the most important things, I’d meant clean nickers, stockings, and a change of clothes… However, she struggled to carry a sizable carpet bag. It was black with a floral design done in cheery shades of mauve and red. It also looked too heavy to contain only the “important things” I told her to gather.
Shaking my head I looked at the bag. “Copper, there’s no time for me to sort through your bag and get the things you really need,” I said resignedly. “I hope you chose well, because it certainly seems you chose enough.”
The girl tried to mollify me by holding out the harmonic tuner — the erstwhile silver dinner bell from the Belle Inn. In truth I was pleased with her quick thinking. No one told her to look for it. I smiled despite myself. I didn’t know what to do with a harmonic tuner, but Cornelis did. It might prove very useful.
When Copper shifted the heavy bag I heard a muffled but pretty chime. “That doesn’t sound like something ‘important’ now, does it?” I said and with a groan hefted the heavy carpet bag.
“Yes it is!” she insisted. “Daddy gave it to me. It’s the most important thing I have.”
Previously the Copper I had come to know was logical, creative, and resilient. To my surprise the girl’s lower lip began to tremble. How could I be so insensitive? She really was just a kid. Copper had been through enough in the past few days to make any adult a nervous wreck. And now Cornelis and I were about to tear her away from her home and run headlong into parts unknown.
Feeling ashamed of myself, I put the bag down and put my arms around Copper for a hug, which she returned with a sob. “Go ahead and cry if you need to,” I said softly.
She sniffled, shook her head, and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “I’m fine,” she said.
Copper opened the bag. I saw with relief that she had packed the owl-shaped lamp, the base of which held the priceless letter and drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. She removed whatever made the chiming sound. I didn’t get a look at it because she was quick to secret it inside her blue cape. I felt like such a heel when I thought she must be afraid I’d take her father’s gift away from her.
“May I see it?” I asked, trying to make amends.
It was an ornate bell with detailed carvings of the fabled three mystic apes — see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. After dealing with the real life chimpanzees, I could have wished the design was of anything but apes. However, I wasn’t the girl whose father had made it a cherished gift. Even so, it was artistically rendered in a style that made me think it was a Japanese antique. It was likely quite valuable.
I nodded appreciatively. “Of course you should keep it with you. Put it some place safe, so you don’t drop it,” I said.
“You’re right. We do have to hurry. Those stinking naughty monkeys are getting close,” Copper added causing me to smile at her bravery. “I mean chimpanzees,” she amended, no doubt remembering Cornelis correcting her.
With a chill I realized she was correct. The chimps moved faster than I expected. Their eerie screeching filled the night.
My suitcase and hatbox were sitting in the hallway. Copper picked up my suitcase, which was less than half the weight of the carpet bag she had dragged through the house. When she moved to get my hatbox too, I hastily said that I would get it.
“I need you to get the doors,” I gave my excuse. “So you’ll need a free hand.”
The truth of the matter was I never let anyone carry my hatbox. It contained the skull of Cornelis Drebbel.
We stepped quickly down the stairs. I hesitated so I could adjust the heavy carpet bag and make sure I had a tight hold on the hatbox. I saw Copper turn back to gaze at her house. She looked up at the beautiful home with large sad blue eyes.
“I’ll bring you back as soon as everything is sorted out,” I assured her.
Copper shook her head. There was something very grown up about the way she stood and the expression on her face.
A simian scream split the air. It came from the far end of the lawn, from the shade tree where I had tied my borrowed horse when I arrived at the Hixon estate. At that moment I could have wished for a fast horse, but Ignatius Belle had taken his dapple mare back into town with him. I heard simian screeching in the distance, growing closer and ever wilder. It made my skin crawl.
Two pinpoints of light seemed to stare at me from the high branches of the tree. I shuddered when I realized it was one of the chimpanzees. It must have come ahead of the others, like some kind of advance guard. I was amazed at how well the creatures were trained. Who could possibly train and control animals in such a remarkable way?
The chimp must have seen me looking back at him. It started wreaking havoc in the branches of the tree, jumping up and down and screeching bloody murder. His fellows in the distance screamed back excitedly. It sounded like there were a lot of them. I remembered nervously how strong they were. I hoisted the carpet bag, putting its strap over my shoulder so I could take Copper’s hand. I had to make sure we weren’t separated.
An earsplitting screech made me look over my shoulder. However, the noise was not simian; rather it was a metallic sound. Then I heard the shrill whistle of escaping steam. The doors of the outbuilding where Cornelis was working burst open. The road locomotive moved toward us with a loud clickity-clack clickity-clack. As it increased speed, the clicks and clacks blurred together into a continuous noise.
Copper squeezed my hand. I followed her gaze. The chimpanzees had amassed at the shade tree. They milled curiously as they watched the road locomotive. One and then another would chatter to the others. I had a bad feeling that they were working themselves up for an attack.
One very large chimp moved far ahead of the rest. Standing alone, he gesticulated wildly. He paused, screeched and repeated what seemed to be the same set of motions. It did seem a little odd to me, but the antics of angry apes were not something I had time to consider, not in those circumstances.
“Daddy…” Copper murmured.
Poor Copper, I thought, pleading for her missing father. “Everything’s going to be fine,” I shouted to be heard above the chimpanzees and the noise of the approaching road locomotive.
Cornelis built up speed with the engine and charged directly into the group of chimps. The apes scattered with wild complaints. The accident of alchemy that left him in his strange state, also gave him some otherworldly powers. When he blew the locomotive’s whistle, it belched a long gout of green flame with a sound so shrill and loud my ears rang long after the noise was gone.
“Don’t hurt them!” Copper shrieked, and I supposed she hadn’t grasped how strong and dangerous a pack of attacking and very large adult chimpanzees actually were.
“Those are no organ grinder’s monkeys!” I cried.
“Chimpanzees!” Cornelis corrected me.
Yes, he corrected me at a time like that. The alchemist could be absolutely insufferable with that kind of thing.
The Dutchman blew the locomotive’s whistle a second time and it went to an escalating pitch that climbed until I could no longer hear it. However, I could feel that the awful sound was still there. The chimpanzees screamed in pain. The group of them scattered and ran away. Or I thought they did.
The alchemist brought the road locomotive back around to where Copper and I stood. He jumped down from the engine, grinning ear to ear. He was quite pleased with himself.
“Isn’t it an amazing machine!” Cornelis exclaimed.
“How did you do that? With the green flame and the sound,” I asked as I rubbed my fingers inside my ears.
“You liked?” he said with bobbing eyebrows. “I could have done more if I’d thought to bring the harmonic tuner.”
At that comment, Copper retrieved the device that looked like a decorative silver bell and handed it to the Dutchman. He bowed and thanked her effusively. I saw that she also held the monkey bell her father had given her.
Cornelis lithely climbed back onto the locomotive. He held out his hand for Copper but she couldn’t quite reach, so I gave her a boost from behind as I climbed. Then I saw the apes. Three of them remained, undeterred from whatever their mission was. I had to assume they meant to capture Copper.
A very human-like, extremely strong hand grabbed my ankle before I could get onto the engine. When I looked down, all I could see were the big chimpanzee’s bared teeth.
I struggled to hang onto the locomotive. Copper grabbed my arm to try and help, but then I feared that if the chimp pulled me free, that she would be dragged down with me. I was relieved to notice that Cornelis still had her other hand.
“Cornelis! Go!” I yelled and he saw the three chimps.
The locomotive jolted back to life. I was afraid I would lose my grip if I moved, but I kicked backward with my other foot. My boot heel thudded softly against something and the chimp’s hold on my ankle loosened enough for me to dislodge him.
In the commotion our lantern fell to the grassy ground. A small fire spilled around the torch, but it was slow to spread, as the weather had been damp throughout the week.
The three chimps looked at one another and chattered. One of them motioned with his simian hands. I recognized him for the same chimp who had gestured so insistently before. He fiercely looked right into my eyes. Was that the same set of motions he made earlier? I saw their muscles bunch as the trio of adult chimpanzees readied to jump onto the locomotive. I knew we could not fight off all three of them.
The alchemist began muttering odd sounding words that I quickly recognized for the strange language he used when he was about to do something that would either end horribly or be extraordinary.
He held the harmonic tuner in one hand, but still held protectively onto Copper with his other hand. The “bell” began to make that strange multi-level sound it had generated before. I could see an aura vibrate around it. The sound and sensation doubled. I realized half of it was coming from a second source.
That was when I saw that Copper held the cherished “mystic monkeys” bell her father had given her. It was the second source of the harmonic sound. A tri-colored aura made a rainbow around the bell and the girl. The sound seemed to vibrate through the entire world. Then I felt it inside my throat, and wondered if my voice would take on that dual harmonic sound when I spoke.
“Dear God,” I said in a strangely pulsating voice that sounded odd to my own ears. Cornelis only glanced at me, so focused was he on his task. “It’s another harmonic tuner!” I said just as the alchemist finished the magic he was working.
He looked at me with a wide eyed expression of shock at my words. I was jolted and nearly fell from the engine as an aura that matched the one surrounding Copper quickly engulfed the three of us and the road locomotive too. I felt more than saw something radiate out from the aura. It stretched, expanded, and then contracted abruptly.
The harmonic sounds staggered as they dwindled. The auras vanished. The world was incredibly quiet after the bombardment of sounds. Nature did not stir. The noises of night were silent. As I looked down from the engine the first thing that caught my eye was a shining spot of celadon green. It was our lantern, it lay where it had fallen with flickers of what once had been flames in the grass around it. The little fires were cold and unmoving.
I started to climb down from the road locomotive. Cornelis reminded me to use caution. I scanned the area, but I didn’t see the chimps anywhere. Then I saw it. I jumped down from the engine. A large celadon green ceramic statue rested on the ground. Three wise monkeys, see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil stood transformed.
“Are they still alive in there?” Copper wanted to know of the transmuted chimpanzees as she looked over my shoulder.
Cornelis and I exchanged a knowing glance. Copper looked inexplicably dismayed, considering how the creatures had been attacking us.
“Possibly so,” the Dutchman told the girl and she looked less upset. “Quite possibly so.”
She brushed a tear from her cheek. “Daddy!” Copper cried. “He was saying ‘daddy’ when he waved his arms around,” she said to my astonishment.
“Do you mean sign language?” I asked incredulous, but Copper nodded.
“I think so,” Copper said. “He wasn’t doing it right, but it looked like he was trying to say daddy.”
The idea of an ape communicating through sign language was preposterous. I thought it was wishful thinking on Copper’s part. I could have thrown something at Cornelis when he made a comment that basically encouraged the fantasy. I frowned and made a face when my next thought was that the trickster would just use one of his tricks to let anything I threw pass right through him.
“He likely wanted you to believe he could lead you to your father,” Cornelis said. “But you know they were naughty monkeys, and you could not trust them,” he added and Copper nodded her reluctant agreement.
“Chimpanzees,” I said because I couldn’t resist turning the Dutchman’s correction on him.
His eyes narrowed but he didn’t respond to my taunt. Instead, he looked past me. “We’ve no time to doddle,” Cornelis reminded us. “The other two groups are mere minutes away.”
When I turned to look I saw the torches again. There were two groups, one larger than the other. They still approached from different directions, but they were indeed much closer.
The question remains — who controls the chimpanzees? Was it Copper’s fertile imagination, or did the chimp really try to use sign language to say something about her father? Who are the other two groups of pursuers? Will our trio escape? Only the things and ingredients can say.
Don’t leave yet. Here’s a point of interest for this episode:
Washoe and the family teach Loulis to use sign language
Since Mary’s food-related thing (ingredient) was soup bone, I couldn’t resist sharing a link to one of my two favorite soups of this winter. Its creator is Suzanne at A Pug in the Kitchen. Suzanne also sent “things/ingredients” for a future episode but it is a few weeks away. Bon appétit!
7. Muff Pistol, Sourdough Pancakes, Airtights
From R.C. of New Mexico
Just because I find long full skirts and bustles inconvenient and impractical it doesn’t mean that I don’t relish fine things. I disdain corsets, but that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying an elegant gown. I actually do have an appreciation and an eye for quality workmanship and materials. So why would Cornelis and Copper give me such incredulous looks when I delightedly produced a lovely royal blue velvet fur lined muff from an open crate filled with finery. Really, their reaction was rather offensive.
There was a pocket inside the muff made especially for a gun. Unfortunately, I had not had a muff pistol for a long time. A pity that — the inconspicuous firearm could come in handy. But I ramble. That ‘s a story for another day.
“Huh. Huh. Huh,” Cornelis gasped in advance of a sneeze and I cringed.
Cornelis Drebbel couldn’t precisely get sick, due to his unique state of existence. However, he could get the equivalent of a very bad head cold. The effects of which ranged from alarming to amusing.
“Ah-choo!” I inadvertently finished for him, as my own head cold was the genuine article.
“God bless you — and everybody around you!” Copper exclaimed, her favorite blessing for a large splashy sneeze.
I took out my handkerchief and blew my nose in a most unladylike way. Then it happened. Cornelis abruptly finished his sneeze, with no preamble whatsoever. Before the sound died away, before the rain of spittle settled, the effects of the alchemist’s mighty “AH-CHOO!” were revealed.
Every sneeze had a different result. Knee-high stacks of sourdough pancakes surrounded us, the manifestation of his first ah-choo. It would have been nice if the subsequent sneeze rained syrup onto the pancakes, as they looked quite delicious. But I supposed that was just as well. It would have been dreadfully messy.
Instead, the next sudden involuntary expulsion of air from his nose and mouth created a hail of doorknobs. That was rather dangerous. Cornelis got a goose-egg on his head from where one landed on him. For once the wretched bustle of my skirt was useful, as it deflected two knobs that would have assaulted me.
An electric crackle in the air was the only warning alchemic sneeze effect. I put my arms over my head when I heard it. I held my breath, wondering what this sneeze would bring. Something smacked against my forearm. I noted with relief that it was neither hard nor heavy. Hundreds of delicate thumps sounded as chrysanthemum blossoms rained down all around us.
How did Cornelis Drebbel and I come to have head colds, you might ask? It happened something like this…
Clouds blocked the light of the moon. Rather than risk blindly heading into the darkness, Corneils and I chose to follow the nearby river. At least that way we wouldn’t become lost. However, that route took us closer to one of our three groups of pursuers.
We still had no idea who any of them were. Cornelis had made the group of chimpanzees scatter with the magically enhanced road locomotive, and their three leaders became a ceramic statue of “wise monkeys.” However, I didn’t think whomever controlled the chimps was out of the picture.
“Over there!” a man shouted.
We’d been seen. Cornelis muttered in the odd sounding language he used to work his tricks. I felt an odd sensation that made the hair on my arms stand up. Suddenly the road locomotive lurched in an impressive burst of speed. Copper squealed with delight. Our pursuers were quickly left far behind — whoever they were.
Lights shone from every window in a building ahead. As we got closer I saw that it was the local grist mill. “I wouldn’t expect anyone at the mill this late,” I commented but Cornelis didn’t understand me because of our noisy conveyance.
“Look,” the Dutchman said. “Someone is at the grist mill. Doesn’t the sheriff own half of it? Maybe we should stop there, get the authorities involved.”
I mouthed the word “No.” As soon as I heard the word “sheriff” something fell into place in my mind. I had heard a vaguely familiar voice amid the distant shouting of our pursuers. Suddenly I realized that voice sounded a lot like Sheriff Alvin Bullard. Could the sheriff be involved in whatever was going on?
Leaning close to Cornelis Drebbel my lips were a hair away from his ear so I could make him hear me above the noise of the traction engine.
“I always knew you were sweet on me,” he teased drolly before I could speak.
The temptation to swat the alchemist was strong. However, I voiced my concern about the sheriff. Cornelis made an appropriate face and nodded. “Onward then,” he said and gave the locomotive another burst of speed.
I pieced things together, and I believed everything that had happened was connected. Mr. Hixon, Copper’s father, disappeared. People from the orphanage were keen to take Copper before anyone should have known her father was missing. An unknown dead man was found in Calvin Hixon’s his study and trained chimpanzees spirited the corpse away. Three groups of adversaries converged on the Hixon estate, presumably to abduct Copper. I believed all those things were related to the priceless Leonardo da Vinci papers that were hidden inside the owl-shaped lamp.
The road locomotive had been traveling at an astonishing speed for quite a while. The grist mill was long gone, and I hadn’t seen another building in some time. Shouting to be heard above the noise of the engine, I suggested that it was safe for us to slow down. In answer Cornelis gave me an all too familiar sheepish look.
“Don’t tell me…” I warned the Dutchman. I was right. He didn’t know how to slow down the road locomotive.
We careened across the country side. The clouds drifted away from the moon. I saw that there was a bend in the river ahead. “Lovely,” I commented sarcastically. “Now we’ll leave the course of the river and get lost in the countryside,” I said assuming the locomotive would continue to travel in a straight line.
“No, but that would be preferable,” Cornelis called back to me. “The engine is following the river. It won’t veer from that course. And we’re going too fast to take that curve!” he cried just as the traction engine teetered onto two wheels.
My hatbox flew out of the engine and into the river. With an oath that was in no way feminine, I dove into the frigid darkness of the water after my hatbox. There was no choice. The hatbox contained the skull of Cornilis Drebble.
The hatbox wasn’t heavy, and apparently a pocket of air had been trapped inside, preventing it from sinking fast. I was able to get my hands on it without diving to the deepest reaches of the river. However my heavy skirt and bulky bustle hindered me rising back to the surface.
As my heavy clothes pulled me down, I struggled to remove them and still hold onto the hatbox. However, I wasn’t having much success. Something tapped my neck and gave me a tiny electric shock. When I turned I saw a thin filament of glowing green. I associated the luminous verdant color with the Dutchman’s tricks. But the tendril was so slim; I didn’t see how it could possibly help me.
Yet with no other help in sight I tentatively touched the glowing strand. It wrapped itself gently around my wrist, and pulled me easily to the surface of the river. Then it continued to lift me upward and onto the road locomotive. I noted that the engine had stopped.
Copper applauded enthusiastically. Cornelis took a bow as if the entire catastrophe had been part of a show, while I sat shivering, soaked, and sulky. My frock was ruined, along with my favorite top hat. Even the dratted bustle was a loss, as it was the least uncomfortable one I had ever found.
The alchemist’s skull was safe and sound, if cold and wet.
With another surge of magical speed, Cornelis drove the engine past the next few towns, staying on the outskirts. The engine was noisy, and naturally we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves, particularly since we didn’t know who was chasing us. However, it zoomed by the towns with such speed, that I doubted anyone could have figured out what caused the sudden noise.
Far out into the countryside we came upon an abandoned church that seemed to watch protectively over a few other buildings that were within the same tumbledown stone fence. One of the buildings was quite large and part of the back wall had fallen. It was easily large enough to conceal the road locomotive.
The building held a number of old crates. Each was tagged with owner’s information. Apparently at one time the building had been used as private storage space.
Cold and still damp from my dive into the river, I leaned against a tall crate, suddenly feeling extremely weary. Then I sneezed. By the time I had wiped my nose, Cornelis was sniffling too. The minute I looked at the alchemist I knew that he had the nearest thing to a head cold that is possible for him to catch. I sneezed again, knowing I had the real McCoy…
So now you know how we came to be surrounded by old crates and impossible stacks of sour dough pancakes.
I grabbed my suitcase and hid behind a stack of crates to change into my trousers and a shirt. It would have been worth a dunk in the river to get back into my preferred clothes, if not for my top hat being ruined.
That’s when I started paying attention to all the crates. Many of the wooden storage boxes were opened or damaged, probably from whatever caused one of the walls to fall. They contained all manner of things. From one opened crate random items of apparel spilled to the floor, including the royal blue muff I mentioned. There was a label on the side of the crate, Property of Alastair Wong Sr.
A packet of letters was tied together with a red ribbon. When I picked them up I detected a trace of lavender perfume. Love letters, I thought as my curiosity pressed me to open one and read it. I looked at the return address and found they were to the afore mentioned Alastair Wong from a Phanny Idelle Peabody in Savannah, Georgia, USA. I put the letters down when something more important caught my eye.
Another was packed with airtights, as a cowboy friend of mine called them — canned goods. Several of the jars contained preserves. Those magical stacks of sourdough pancakes wouldn’t go to waste after all. Not all of them at least; there were far too many for three people to eat, even with Copper’s voracious appetite. I wondered if the pancakes were still warm.
“Do it again!” Copper said enthusiastically to Cornelis.
I couldn’t help laughing at the sad, red-eyed expression on his face when the girl wanted him to sneeze yet again.
“It is no game,” Cornelis told Copper in a stuffy nasal voice.
Suppressing another sneeze of my own, I took pity on the alchemist. I held up a jar of apricot preserves and asked Copper if she’d seen any cutlery in the opened crates. Her mouth made a silent “Oooh,” when she saw the jar and the girl hurried away in search of a fork.
Judging by the disarray and debris, most of the crates had been searched for valuables after whatever catastrophe happened to the building. The damage looked old too. There was an abandoned feeling about the place that I found mildly disconcerting.
“What sort of place do you suppose this is, Cornelis?” I pondered aloud. “Have we sheltered in some sort of ghost town? One would think a religious compound like this would be part of a town. But I get the feeling that there isn’t another soul for miles around.”
The alchemist nodded affirmatively. “Indeed. I get the same sense of things,” he agreed. “It will be dawn soon and the light of day will tell us much.”
Cornelis plopped down on a pile of clothing as if it were a bed. Apparently the clothes had been sitting there for quite some time. A cloud of dust puffed up when he landed on them. The dust tickled my nose and I put my finger firmly between my nose and upper lip.
“Don’t you dare!” Cornelis warned me. “You know that — huh — if you do — huh — then I will too!” he said just as we both sneezed loudly.
I looked at Cornelis Drebbel. He looked at me. Nothing happened. Copper ran back so us, carrying several forks and even some plates. She stopped and stared expectantly at the Dutchman. He and I looked at each other again. Still nothing happened. Copper looked disappointed. I sighed with relief.
Then elsewhere in the building I heard a wet splat. And another. A funny little guttural sound traveled to my ears. It was followed by several dozen more wet splat sounds, and the sounds were coming closer. A splat sounded right beside me. I turned to see Cornelis wearing a sad-eyed long suffering expression. His eyes rolled to look upward. A frog sat squarely on top of his head.
“Ribbit,” the frog looked at me and said. A chorus of ribbits from all around the building answered.
Copper laughed with delight. I chortled despite myself. However, my merriment stopped as, splat-splat-splat, frogs rained down upon us.
Don’t leave yet! Here is this week’s recipe. Bon appétit!
Recipe: Sourdough Pancakes
8. Short Ribs, Eggplant, Red Pepper
From Elini Herrera at http://elenisculinaryjourney.com/about/
Cornelis Drebble rolled his watery eyes up toward the frog that sat atop his head. “Huh. Huh—” Cornelis began and quickly put his finger under his nose in attempt to forestall yet another sneeze. The frog wisely jumped down from his head.
“For pity’s sake! There’s no telling what will rain down on us if you sneeze again!” I said, though I knew the alchemist couldn’t help himself.
“Ah-choo!” was the answer to my plea.
Another wet splat soon came. What smelled like a very savory reddish brown sauce splashed onto the legs of my trousers. I drew back, annoyed. I finally had been able to put on clean dry clothes, and they’d already been stained. Cornelis bent down with a curious expression on his face. Copper left off playing with the frogs to see what new wonder was produced by the sneeze of the alchemist.
He picked up the sauce covered thing that made the wet splat. I asked what it was as I tried to clean the warm goo from my pant legs.
I made a disgusted face. “Since that is the product of your sneeze, isn’t it rather like the equivalent of eating your own buggers?” I asked; just to see how he would react.
Copper burst out in a gale of laughter. Cornelis looked at me. One side of his mouth turned down in an expression of contempt. Cornelis raised an eyebrow and cast his eyes downward at the ribs. Then he shot a glare at me and took a big bite of the meat, licking his fingers for good measure.
Then the second wave came. Short ribs fell all around us. They landed on my shoulder and in my hair. They pelted the alchemist, who suddenly had sauce smeared across his nose. Even Copper wasn’t spared — nor were the frogs. Riotous ribbits ensued as the amphibians leapt for cover from the rain of ribs.
After calm returned, Cornelis and I discussed the three groups who converged on the Hixon estate. We both agreed that their only logical purpose would have been to abduct Copper. I supposed that was good at least in as far as it should mean her father was still alive. Of course that was no guarantee, as Cornelis quickly pointed out. Fortunately the girl had gone back to playing with the frogs and didn’t hear that comment.
Suddenly I beheld the strangest sight, and mind you, I have seen some very bizarre things since the alchemist came into my life. Hundreds of frogs made a procession toward the huge wrent in the building’s wall. Several hopped huddled together as they balanced an eggplant on their backs and heads.
Copper skipped along beside the strange spectacle. I told her not to go outside. She stopped and nodded regretfully as the frogs carried their eggplant away. I asked Cornelis what that could possibly be about.
“One sneeze doesn’t always produce a singular effect. The eggplant could have come from the same accident of alchemy that created the frogs,” he said.
The Dutchman shrugged it off. Even so, something nagged at me.
The frogs continued to stream out of the building. I followed in the opposite direction, tracing the line of amphibians to their source. Cornelis followed my lead. Ever curious, Copper came along too. With a ribbit, a last frog hopped out of a crate. The large wooden box was almost intact. Only one corner of it was broken.
I started to try and pry the crate further open to get a better look. Then, eyes bulging, Cornelis tapped his finger on the label he’d found on the container.
It was marked κόκκινο πιπέρι, and I thought the address was Macedonia, but I wasn’t sure. “What’s wrong? I don’t recognize the language,” I said.
Cornelis shook his head and pursed his lips. “Your education was sorely lacking,” he complained.
“This, κόκκινο πιπέρι or kókkino pipéri if you will, is Greek,” he informed me. “It means red pepper. So show a bit of mercy and do not open that crate. I don’t think I can bear another sneeze!”
“Then move away,” I told him with a motion of my arm. “I have a hunch.”
I had removed the priceless Leonardo da Vinci papers from the owl-shaped lamp. It was best that I carried them in the thin leather script that was tucked into my long coat.
“Copper, did there happen to be a magnifying glass among that carpet bag full of things you packed?” I asked the girl.
Apparently there had been. Copper hurried away to the place where our things lay. She was back in a moment with a lovely ornate magnifying glass. I imagined it was another of the treasures her father had brought her from his travels. Although perhaps it was not of the magical variety, as was the “bell” carved with the three wise monkeys which was in fact a harmonic tuner.
I opened the leather script and took out the embossed letter. Moving this way and that, I tried to get into the best light. As I held the magnifying glass to the faded seal embossed onto the letter I found the word Macedonia.
Was there finally a clue to the mysterious goings on? It didn’t feel like a coincidence to me.
Where will our trio go from here? Jump on-board next time when the “things” are from the incredibly creative Suzanne Debrango at “A Pug in the Kitchen”
Now for our recipe! In addition to things/ingredients, lovely Elini was kind enough to also provide a truly creative recipe to go with this episode. Bon appétit!
Recipe: Chocolate Chili Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Photo and recipe credit: Eleni Herrera
9. Pâté, Profiteroles, Olives
From Suzanne Debrango at http://apuginthekitchen.com/about/
Cornelis Drebbel and I argued. Again.
“This is a perfectly good place to make a stand and fight,” I said. “We can’t just keep running away to who knows where. Especially when we aren’t even sure who we’re running from. That will lead to us walking right into their clutches! We have to know who the enemy is. One of us should circle ‘round and come up behind them and at least find out who they are.”
The alchemist rolled his eyes heavenward. “They were coming from three different directions – which group do you want to get behind?” he asked in a testy voice. “And how far back do you want to go to get behind one of the groups, if you can even find them. You know we out distanced them by a long way,” Cornelis reminded me.
“And just how do you propose we make a stand?” the alchemist acerbically retorted. “We don’t know how many of them there are, but the one thing we do know is that we are sorely outnumbered. Knowing their identifies is of no use if we are overwhelmed by our foes in the process of learning who they are,” Cornelis said, and I realized he had a point, though I hated to admit it.
A frantic honking noise interrupted our disagreement. “Where is Copper?” I asked, suddenly worried.
“I’m over here,” a small sad sounding voice said from the other side of a stack of wooden crates.
She same out from her hiding place, doe-eyed and most unhappy looking. I felt horrible when I realized she had been listening to us fight.
With a deep sigh I shook my head. “No, this is for us to worry about, Copper,” I told the girl. “It’s just part of what we’re supposed to do. You, on the other hand, are only supposed to be young. You aren’t supposed to have to worry about such things,” I said and tousled hair the color of a new penny when she looked up at me.
The honking noise escalated. “Is that a goose I hear?” I asked.
I hadn’t seen any sign of people living anywhere near the abandoned church and its buildings. We were still in the large one with a missing wall, where the road locomotive was hidden. How would a goose come to be in such a place?
When I voiced the thought, Cornelis was sure a goose could do perfectly well on its own. Copper said that it was chasing some of the frogs.
My inquisitive nature took over and I went outside to investigate the commotion. Apparently the tables had turned from when Copper saw the goose chasing the frogs. Row upon row of frogs lined up to confront the fowl. The goose honked furiously at them.
I felt sorry for the poor bird. Looking at the frogs versus goose tableau, I realized just how right Cornelis was about us being extremely outnumbered by our adversaries. If we took a stand at that juncture, we would make no more progress than the goose against the hoard of frogs.
I had never been around geese. The tale about a goose laying a golden egg was about as much as I knew about the species. Stepping gingerly, because I didn’t want squished frog on my boots, I made my way to the goose. I picked her up and tucked her under my arm.
“Don’t you fret,” I told the still honking bird. “We’ll find a spot where the frogs haven’t eaten all the good bits.”
Then the infernal goose bit me! I screeched and released her. The goose settled to the ground and looked up at me with a very annoyed squawk.
“Why you ungrateful wretch!” I exclaimed as I rubbed the bitten spot on my arm. “I should make pâté of you!”
At that threat, the goose flew off somewhere beyond the abandoned church. A pop told me that the alchemist had appeared behind me.
“Do you see my point now?” Cornelis Drebbel asked with a nod to the assembled frogs.
“Why you!” I sputtered. “You arranged that entire thing didn’t you? How dare you have that dreadful goose bite me!”
“Now, now,” Cornelis chided. “You had the poor judgement to pick her up in your arms. I didn’t do anything to make the goose bite you,” he said. “That was just icing on the cake,” he added with a smirk.
I clinched my fist and took a swing at the Dutchman. I already knew what he would do, so don’t ask me why I swung at him. Cornelis immediately became semi-solid and my fist passed through him, throwing me off balance. I nearly landed on my face in a pile of goose droppings. It was lucky for him that I didn’t fall into that mess.
He looked distractedly toward the river. There was my moment! I leapt, tackling the Dutchman while he was fully solid and preoccupied. We both landed on the grass with a thud. I grinned wickedly when I realized that he had landed in the goose poop.
Cornelis glared at me and with a pop he disappeared. A moment later I spotted him close to the banks of the river. He discretely hid behind a tree as he looked at the waterway. Then I heard the sound of a rhythmic splash coming steadily closer. That slight noise must have been what distracted the alchemist.
I hurried to where he stood behind the tree. I was enormously glad to finally be wearing trousers again, rather than full skirts and a bustle. Looking at the river I couldn’t see what made the faint sound. Was it a beaver, or perhaps an otter going sleekly in and out of the river? In a quiet voice I asked I asked what it was.
The Dutchman didn’t seem concerned about being heard. So whatever it made the sound must have been unlikely to hear us. He said that someone was coming toward us on the watercourse. He said the sound was from paddles going into the water.
“Surely that rhythm is too fast to be an oar,” I commented as the sound became more audible.
“Not an oar,” he said, once again looking pleased with himself to have deduced something I had not. “It is a paddleboat. A small one, granted, but still steam powered with a paddlewheel,” Cornelis said with certainty.
Soon the odd looking boat came into view — a paddle steamer. It was moving much faster than any rowboat would have moved. It was a narrow vessel, with a mast for a sail, but no canvas was attached. On each side was a red paddle wheel that sat nearly as tall as the enclosed bridge. Behind the bridge stood a tall yellow steam stack.
Who piloted the craft? I had yet to see who was onboard. Was it one of our adversaries catching up with us? It seemed too much of a coincidence for some random person to suddenly appear, heading toward us, from the direction we had come.
I jumped when something grabbed my long coat. Looking behind me I saw that it was Copper. She peeked around me looking at the boat. I felt her stiffen. She looked intently at the craft and I could tell that she saw more. The girl had keen eyesight, I thought.
“What’s wrong Copper? Who pilots the boat?” I asked.
“I don’t like him,” Copper said flatly.
“Who?” I asked, but by then I could see a familiar figure standing on deck at the boat’s wheel.
It was Ignatius Belle. I remembered that Copper had reacted strangely to the handsome innkeeper before, though it made no sense to me. I didn’t perceive anything untoward about the tall dashing man. Quite the contrary. He had been kind and considerate to me from the moment I checked into the Belle Inn. He had an easy relaxed smile that I thought of as a strong indicator of honesty. His soft brown eyes were surely the windows of his soul. My intuition about such things was never wrong.
I stepped out into the open. Cornelis hissed a caution at me. I hissed back to the Dutchman that he was being ridiculous. The man looked to be alone on the boat, and he was clearly not under any duress, if my friends feared our adversaries had forced him to pilot the boat to our destination.
Cornelis sputtered and then narrowed his eyes as he stared at Ignatius Belle. Copper’s expression matched the look on the alchemist’s face. I shook my head, trying not to be annoyed. It was easy to put on a bright smile as I walked toward the riverbank.
Really, I thought. Those two… of all the silliness.
By the time I got to the riverbank Ignatius had come ashore. A wicker basket hung from his arm. I hoped it contained a peace offering that would win over the suspicious girl.
I led the innkeeper up the sloping green. Belatedly I remembered that Copper was the only one from the town who had met Cornelis Drebble. Perhaps I should have kept the alchemist hidden, but I was so piqued about the way he and Copper acted about Ignatius that I really didn’t think about it.
“You remember Copper, of course,” I said and smiled encouragingly at her. I think I tried by force of will to get her to smile at Ignatius Belle. Apparently my will was not up to that task. “And this is my… Allow me to introduce my associate, Cornelis Drebbel,” I added with a motion toward the Dutchman.
The alchemist mumbled a noncommittal sound. I tried to glare at him without letting Ignatius see the warning look on my face.
“I don’t believe we’ve met sir, but your name seems familiar to me,” Ignatius said politely to Cornelis.
The alchemist cleared his throat, taken off guard by the near-recognition. I discretely poked my elbow into his ribs as a warning for the fierce frown he wore.
“One of my ancestors achieved a slight amount of acclaim,” the Dutchman said. “Perhaps you heard the name mentioned in passing, or in a very boring lecture when you were a schoolboy,” Cornelis said with a wave to dismiss the issue.
I was relieved that encounter went as well as it had. I gave a small sigh that I hoped Ignatius didn’t notice. Before things could get tense again I changed the subject.
“What have you in that very interesting looking basket?” I asked Ignatius, but turned my gaze to Copper. “Dare I hope for something from Cookie again?” I asked but that time I gave an ever so slight flutter of my eyelashes to the dashing innkeeper.
Good, I thought when I glanced at Copper, she was curious about the basket. I was sure she remembered Ignatius bringing that basket filled with lovely food and Irish soda bread. Perhaps whatever he carried now would win Copper over or at least make some headway.
With a flourish, Ignatius lifted the checkered napkin that covered the basket to reveal delicious profiteroles. Chocolate glistened darkly, covering the cream puffs. I could see a bit of the luscious creamy filling where it was piped into one of the pastries.
He held the basket out to Copper and she wasted no time taking one of the profiteroles. Chocolate quickly adorned her mouth and nose, but she still looked suspiciously at Ignatius. I gave a sigh of resignation. Then I consoled myself with one of the pastries.
“What brings you here, if I may ask?” Cornelis asked the innkeeper with no preamble.
“I knew Mina and Copper were alone at the Hixon house,” Ignatius began. “Then I heard there was some strange and noisy commotion there. I accompanied the sheriff when he went out to investigate.”
Once again I had to think fast to remember that Mina was the alias I took to allow me to stay close to Copper — Mina Hixon, half-sister to Calvin Hixon and Copper’s long lost aunt. Quickly I gave Ignatius a smile of appreciation for his concern.
However, if Ignatius went out to the estate with Sheriff Alvin Bullard afterward, then the familiar sounding voice I heard could not have belonged to the lawman.
“We found the estate deserted,” Ignatius continued. “The grounds were so trampled it almost made one wonder if there’d been a riot. Then I spotted broad tracks from what had to be very heavy wheels. I followed them to the river, where I saw that they continued a good distance following along the river. So I got my steamboat ready and well, here I am,” he explained. “Is everything alright? You gave me a scare.”
Should I tell Ignatius about the confrontation, I wondered. I didn’t distrust him in the same way as Copper. And Cornelis was naturally suspicious of everyone and everything. However, that didn’t mean it was a good idea for him to know everything. How much information was too much?
To my surprise, Cornelis answered him. “We avoided an altercation,” the alchemist said in a very grave voice. “It was evident that there were many, shall we say, unpleasant people nearby. So we followed the thinking of discretion being the better part of valor and left with all haste,” Cornelis said.
I was relieved with the Dutchman’s explanation to Ignatius. It was just vague enough. I don’t know why, but I was glad he didn’t mention the road locomotive. Although, considering the steam powered paddle boat in which the innkeeper arrived, he might be acquainted with that sort of contraption. I wondered if he would have been able to deduce our means of transportation by the tracks he saw. However, I put the thought aside as unlikely.
Besides, our locomotive had the benefit of magically enhanced speed. No one should be able to figure out how we traveled or how fast we went. They would have to know exactly when we left the estate, and when we arrived at the old churchyard. For all Ignatius knew, we had only been there a matter of moments.
I just didn’t like the idea of letting people know about the road locomotive. So I manufactured a story about Cornelis arriving at the estate for the purpose of bringing my horses. He saw a number of unsavory types nearby when he neared the estate. Reacting in fear, we left the estate. However, the horses were unfortunately stolen when we stopped for the night at the abandoned church compound.
Ignatius seemed to accept that. It was really a very logical explanation, not to mention the only one of which I could think. Ignatius was even charmingly angered about the theft of my supposed property.
“For a moment I had a wild image of you escaping on one of Mr. Hixon’s inventions. You knew he was an inventor didn’t you?” Ignatius asked.
I nodded, but gave it a dismissive wave of my hand. I hoped I had implied that I thought my half-brother’s tinkering was frivolous, to keep the conversation from that topic. I suddenly felt cautious. Not distrustful if Ignatius, mind you, just cautious.
However, Ignatius wasn’t ready to be diverted. “I hear he was always designing amazing machines. Word was that Alexander Graham Bell once contacted him about his design for a hydrofoil,” Ignatius said.
Cornelis made an impressed face. His mouth formed a silent Ooo. Cornelis wasn’t a bad actor. As soon as the alchemist had appeared at the estate, he had learned about the hydrofoil and the letter from the already famous Alexander Graham Bell.
Still trying to change the topic of discussion, I asked what else was inside the basket.
“Well, if you’d rather have salty than sweet,” Ignatius began and we exchanged a suggestive look that caused Cornelis to clear his throat in annoyance. “Cookie packed a jar of olives and some Stilton cheese,” he finished.
I made a production of serving the food, in hope that the subject would finally change. Ignatius might not have won Copper’s heart with the pastries, but he might have made inroads with the Dutchman. Cornelis was particularly fond of Stilton cheese.
Really, I should have expected what came next. It was such an obvious thing, but it took me by surprise. Ignatius insisted on taking us back “home” on his boat. He said it should be safe, that there was no trace of the people who had caused the ruckus at the estate.
However, I knew that we daren’t go back. Cornelis and Copper were well aware of that fact too. We turned a trio of blank expressions toward the innkeeper.
How could I refuse without either seeming utterly ridiculous or giving away more information than I wanted to disclose?
And now for your recipe treat from Suzanne. Bon appétit!
Recipe: Small Plates- Tapas
Photo and Recipe Credit: Suzanne Debrango at “A Pug in the Kitchen”
10. Bicycle, Mauveine, Shepherd’s Pie
From Christine Elizabeth Robinson at http://cerobinsonauthor.com/
The silly standards of our society baffled me. Something that was perfectly ordinary for a man was out of the question for a woman. Whether I wore a cumbersome skirt with a ridiculous bustle, or my preferred trousers shouldn’t make a bit of difference to anyone. Neither should anything about how I led my life.
Everything was always so caught up in propriety, and really had nothing to do with me. Honestly, I thought. People and their moralities. The fact that people judged me for traveling with Cornelis Drebbel astounded me. They always assumed impropriety when there was none. That’s why I had taken to keeping the Dutchman’s presence a secret for the most part. That was fine with the alchemist. He wasn’t exactly a people person.
The alchemist and I were not a pair, not romantically involved. My, I thought, a romance with Cornelis after the accident of alchemy that put him in that strange state. That would be tricky to say the least. I blushed when I caught myself pondering the whats and hows of it.
“It’s unseemly for a woman to go traipsing across the countryside with a man,” Ignatius said heatedly.
The argument seemed to have escalated while I considered the implications of a physical relationship with someone in the uniquely nonphysical condition of the Dutchman.
That last remark offended Cornelis Drebbel if his bulging eyes and the throbbing vein in his forehead were any indication. I realized I had best step into the fray.
“Mina, if you’ll not allow me to take you and Copper back into town, then at least come downriver with me. I have business to attend anyway, so I may as well take care of it straight away,” Ignatius said, using the alias I had provided.
I didn’t feel like a Mina. Whatever had possessed me to come up with that name?
Ignatius took me by surprise and I blurted out what I was thinking. Cornelis was right that sometimes I had no manners in that regard. However, I’d never let him know I agreed. “Business? What sort of business?” I asked; all curiosity and no tact.
The tall innkeeper smiled disarmingly, as if I had been perfectly polite. Maybe he saw my curiosity as acceptance.
“It’s just a small business transaction. I sometimes buy items and resell them. I’ve bought some aniline purple. Are you familiar with it? The synthetic organic chemical dye?” he asked.
“Oh, do you mean mauveine? I simply love the color,” I said with what I hoped was just enough enthusiasm to make up for anything he may have perceived as rudeness.
“Precisely. The dye will fetch a good price. The color is quite popular. Perhaps a hundred years from now, people will think of mauve as the color of our era,” Ignatius said with just a touch of whimsy.
Cornelis rolled his eyes and muttered something about “Marvelous mauve.”
“Assuming you mean to hire a coach at the next town, I can either take you there. It won’t put me out of my way, as I had planned to go there to pick up the dye anyway. Or I can take you back home. Really, it’s the only reasonable course of action. What will people think of you wandering the countryside with your… associate,” Ignatius said, echoing the words I used when I introduced Cornelis Drebbel.
“Why, the same sort of thing they’d say if she paraded down the river on a paddle boat with an innkeeper,” Cornelis said drolly.
“Mina, you can’t mean to tell me that you would rather walk to the next town!” Ignatius exclaimed, but then he shook his head and grinned. “Surely you are not afraid of the steamboat. You don’t seem like a woman who would be intimidated by technology,” he said. His voice and facial expression became softer. “Oh Mina, I promise you it is perfectly safe,” he said encouragingly.
I glanced at Cornelis Drebbel. An aura started to shimmer greenly around him. It wouldn’t do to let the dashing innkeeper see that. Quickly I moved so that Ignatius would have his back to the alchemist. I was astonished that Cornelis would use one of his tricks in front of anyone. However, that aura meant that he was up to something.
An instant later a pigeon fluttered down, alighting on a bush next to the Dutchman. A closer look told me that it was not just a pigeon, but a messenger pigeon. Cornelis hummed a happy sounding tune as he removed a note from the tiny container on the bird’s back. The alchemist looked inordinately pleased with himself.
“Ah good,” Cornelis said jovially, so I knew he was fabricating something. “They are on their way.”
“Who?” Ignatius quickly demanded. “Who would be coming to this Godforsaken place?”
It was fortunate that the innkeeper spoke abruptly, because that prevented me asking the same question. I would have spoiled whatever story Cornelis had in mind.
“If you must know,” Cornelis began acerbically. “We were not, how did you put it? Wandering the country side. With that strange unrest at the Hixon estate, it was a good time for a holiday. So, we were going to some old friends of my family. Then, as Mina mentioned, our horses were stolen when we stopped here.”
“And how…” Ignatius started but paused, looking at the pigeon. “Do you mean to say you used a pigeon post to communicate to these people?”
“Why of course. I’d never go anywhere without some of my birds,” Cornelis said affably and stroked the pigeon’s head.
Cornelis even cooed to the pigeon. I thought that was laying it on a bit thick.
The tall innkeeper’s eyes narrowed as he looked down at Cornelis and the bird. I wondered what Ignatius was thinking. The fact that he seemed to think the name Cornelis Drebbel was familiar gave me pause. It was possible that he knew of the Dutchman’s acclaim as a long ago inventor, but it was unthinkable that Ignatius could deduce anything about his unique situation.
That paddle steamer proved his interest in technology and tinkering. However, something Ignatius said when he first arrived nagged at me. Ignatius Belle had mentioned Calvin Hixon’s inventions. I told myself that shouldn’t bother me. The entire town thought of Hixon as an eccentric. The inventions were surely common knowledge. Perhaps Ignatius simply admired the brilliance that Copper’s father evidently possessed.
The innkeeper looked charmingly perplexed as he studied Cornelis. I couldn’t help smiling. The Dutchman noticed my expression and rolled his eyes heavenward. “Do try and control yourself,” he murmured using one of his tricks, so that only I could hear.
Ignatius Belle inclined his shoulders to speak to Copper. She drew back and based on the look on his face, he was genuinely hurt by her negative reactions to him. I felt a little sorry for him. He had been very kind.
“Have you ever been on a paddle steamer?” he asked Copper, meaning the boat that unexpectedly brought him to us. “We could do some fishing from it. Maybe catch something for our dinner?” he asked her, though Copper’s brows knitted in a skeptical expression.
“I have my bicycle onboard,” the innkeeper continued undaunted. “There’s enough room to ride it a little on deck. I could teach you,” he offered.
I was taken aback by the way he suddenly seemed to want to entice the girl onto his boat. However, Ignatius had been consistently generous. He thought I was Copper’s aunt. If he was interested in me, then it was only natural that he would want to win over my “niece.”
Copper looked intrigued about the prospect of learning to ride a bicycle. Cornelis noticed the minute change in her expression and took half a step, inserting himself partly in front of the girl.
“Neither fish nor fishing will be necessary,” Cornelis said. “Unfortunately we’ve little time for bicycle riding on boats. We were just about to eat. Won’t you join us?” the Dutchman boldly invited the innkeeper. “I’m sure there’s more than enough.”
What was Cornelis thinking by inviting Ignatius for a meal? Thanks to his alchemically affected sneezes we had not gone hungry, but did he really mean to offer leftover pancakes and short ribs?
Cornelis waved toward a shade tree. Beneath the tree a blanket was spread and at its center was a large picnic basket.
“Umm! What’s that smell?” Copper asked.
“That, my dear, would be shepherd’s pie,” the alchemist said with a genuine smile for the girl. “Would you like to unpack the basket so that we can eat? Perhaps our… our guest will help you.”
The suggestion was enough for Copper. It seemed like the child was always hungry. To my surprise, she grabbed Ignatius’ hand and half dragged him over to the tree. Cornelis may have accidentally smoothed Copper’s unaccountable distrust of the innkeeper. The same thought occurred to the Dutchman if the pursed twist of his lips was any indication.
“I didn’t think your tricks included the ability to make real food,” I whispered. “I thought you only did things like that accidentally. You know, like when you sneezed and pancakes appeared.”
“That’s quite true. Conjuring edible food is not a skill I’ve mastered,” he said. “Despite two centuries of attempts,” he added in a very droll tone. “I have to— Think of it as reaching in and take something. I have to take something that already exists.”
“So you stole the pie?” I asked. “Cornelis Drebbel, I’m shocked. Did you steal some family’s dinner?”
“No, nothing of the kind,” Cornelis defended himself. “It wasn’t a poor family. They had a huge feast laid out. And I didn’t simply take it,” he added with a pout.
“Oh?” I asked, eyebrows raised.
“No. I did not. In return for the shepherd’s pie I left them a very fine laying goose, and the makings for all the frog’s legs they could possibly eat,” Cornelis said, lifting his chin.
And now for the Episode-10 culinary delight. I’m pleased to share Christine’s personal recipe choice. It’s dated 1912!
Recipe: Shepherd’s Pie
Take a pound of cold mutton, a pint of cold boiled potatoes, one-half an onion grated, one or two cooked carrots; cut the mutton and potatoes into small pieces and put them with the onion and carrot into a deep baking dish. Add a cupful of stock or water, salt, pepper and a tablespoonful of butter cut in bits.
Pare and boil four medium-sized potatoes, mash and add cup of cream, salt and pepper to taste, beat until light, then add enough flour to make a soft dough. Roll out and cover the dish with the dough, make a cross cut in the center to allow pie steam to escape, and bake in a moderate oven one hour.
A modern shepherd’s pie is made like the above with the addition of a few capers and a stalk or two of celery.
A note from Christine regarding the oven: I question the one hour in moderate oven. Ovens are hotter today so I’d think maybe 45 minutes based on crust brownness.
11. 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 a fascinating 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.
“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.
“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 added of 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 was a good deal taller than the doll, but from a distance it should be quite convincing. “She would love it,” I commented as I looked around for the girl.
I spotted her 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. However, there was no time for me to ask any 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 chimpanzee cavorted and gesticulated wildly.
And now for this episode’s recipe. My search of the WordPress countryside too, me to a lovely blog. Though you are not likely in Cypress, you are sure to be intrigued – and it has a recipe page, Chef’s Choice Cypriot Recipes. Bon appétit!
Recipe: Stuffed Vine Leaves
Photo and recipe credit: Cypriot Recipes at The Foreign Residents in the TRNC
12. One Lone Dandelion, Free Verse Poem, Candle Wax
“How did they find us?” Copper asked in a whisper when the hydrofoil came into our sight.
One lone dandelion grew in our hiding place. Copper picked it and nervously plucked it apart. I could tell she was silently playing the “loves me; loves me not” game. However, I wondered what she was thinking. Did she ponder whether or not someone loved her, her father perhaps? I reminded myself that she was only a young girl. Even an adult might feel abandoned in her circumstance. Or perhaps she asked the flower if we would find her father, find him; find him not.
“The road locomotive is heavy, so it left a lot of tracks, especially where it nearly fell over into the river. Cornelis used a trick to cover our trail to some extent, but I doubt it would have been difficult for an experienced tracker to trace our path along the river,” I told her.
“Or they might simply have followed Ignatius Belle,” Cornelis said through lips that held a sardonic twist. “However, that also leads to the question — how did Belle know where to find us? Is the man an innkeeper, or an expert tracker? Does a woodsman lie beneath his fine clothes? And why does he seem to know so much about Calvin Hixon? I suppose he’s an innkeeper, woodsman, and inventor!” the Dutchman said in a droll tone, but his face wore a pout.
“Why Cornelis Drebbel. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were jealous,” I needled the alchemist.
“Jealous! Don’t be absurd,” Cornelis objected. “And I hope you realize it wouldn’t hurt you to use a little objectivity,” he added though my eyes widened. “I’m surprised you don’t burst with a free verse poem when you think of him. You act as though you’re positively smitten with the dandy.”
“Smitten! Now that’s just ridiculous,” I snapped. “I have never been smitten in my life. I’ll have you know that I—”
“Shh!” Copper hissed at us both. “They might hear,” she whispered, pointing at the hydrofoil which by then had nearly reached the spot where Ignatius Belle had stopped with his paddle steamer.
“Don’t worry dear heart. They’re too far away to hear us, and the little trick I used to keep them from seeing us will also dampen our voices or any other sound we make,” Cornelis told Copper to sooth her fear.
“What other sounds?” she asked, just as Cornelis intended.
“Oh, any sound,” he said with wriggling eyebrows. “The snap of a twig, or a hearty belch,” he assured her.
Of course, Cornelis Drebbel couldn’t resist demonstrating a “hearty belch.” To which Copper collapsed in a gale of giggles. Abruptly she covered her mouth, still concerned that she might be heard. I rolled my eyes heavenward at the Dutchman’s behavior.
However, I secretly admitted that he really did have a good way with the girl. As I recalled, during his human lifetime he had four children, or rather four who reached maturity. I supposed he had plenty of practice entertaining and distracting them.
Suddenly I wondered if he missed his children, but surely he did. I stubbornly stamped out the thought. Every time I thought about Cornelis remembering his life as it was before the accident of alchemy that put him in his current state, it made me sad. This was no time for me to indulge myself in emotions, particularly not in morose thoughts about which I could do nothing.
To my dread, the hydrofoil slowed as it drew near. I still couldn’t tell who manned the craft, except for one erratically moving figure. A chill went down my spine when I could see for certain that it was a very large chimpanzee. Do not underestimate the size and strength of an adult chimpanzee. I shuddered at the memory of the hoard of chimps bearing down on us at the Hixon estate. The chaos of their mob, their shrill cries, their inhuman strength, it was something I’d rather forget.
The hydrofoil stopped. The vessel lowered toward the water.
“What an amazing machine,” I whispered, awe overcoming my fears about the dangerous chimp.
Cornelis was eager to explain such things, but I was rarely patient enough for his invariably long winded explanations.
“The hydrofoil rises as the speed increases. So the pressure around the foil changes until even the pressure on the top surface can become very low. That lets the aerated water create a bubble and break down the lift on the top surface of the water. At that point one might lose as much as two-thirds of the lift. At that speed the vessel will drop back into the water,” he explained.
He snapped his mouth closed when he noticed my level expression. He pursed his lips in annoyance at my lack of scientific enthusiasm. Ignoring him, I craned my neck to see the people on the craft. I couldn’t tell how many passengers it might hold.
The people on the hydrofoil wore rain gear. I guessed it protected them from the spray the vessel created. A man leaned over the edge, looking at one of the foils that lifted the craft out of the water. His movements made me think he was concerned about it. He jumped to the riverbank and continued to look at the vessel from that angle.
The chimpanzee eagerly bounded to the shore. It cavorted on the riverbank for a moment, and then it sniffed the air and turned directly toward the spot where the three of us hid. The man shouted harshly at the ape. It reluctantly returned to the shore. The man finally shook his head and shrugged as he inspected the hydrofoil. I wondered if they had suspected a problem, but found none.
The man turned his attention to the banks. Ignatius had deliberately scraped his steam boat against the shore, leaving big marks. “He was here,” I clearly heard him call to someone on the vessel.
The tone of his voice led me to believe the person to whom he spoke was in charge. A muffled reply came to his words. I couldn’t make out any of it. The man continued to examine the shore.
Meanwhile the chimpanzee had our scent again. The ape looked fiercely intent as it resumed its tracing of our steps. Fortunately Copper had run all around the site in her adventure of picking flowers and finding the whale’s tooth amulet. That seemed to confuse the chimp, slowing his progress toward our hiding place.
“Do you have candle wax in your ears man? Let’s go!” came an angry sounding command.
Cornelis and I looked at one another in open mouthed shock. That was a woman’s voice!
The voice was vaguely familiar. I knew it was one I had heard since coming to the quaint little town. My mind raced through every woman I had met since I arrived. It didn’t seem to belong to any of them. I reminded myself that a woman wouldn’t have used such an imperious tone in ordinary company.
I played a mental image of each woman in my mind. There were the two women at Best’s General Store, Billie Best and I never knew her customer’s name. The two gossips had been unnecessarily hateful to Copper. The memory irked me, but I didn’t think that voice belonged to either of them.
Then there were Cookie and Bitsy from the Belle Inn. I remembered Bitsy’s bubbling laugh and impish grin. It was difficult to imagine that commanding tone coming from her. But I supposed it could; the pitch might have been about right. No. That just didn’t seem possible.
Cookie was not only a talented cook, she had impeccable organizational skills. She would be capable of directing such goings on, but she had spoken so briefly I wasn’t sure if I would recognize her voice.
My mind turned then to the dreadful people from Merciful Haven Orphanage. The cowardly man, Claude Dinkley had a tenor voice. Could I have mistaken I higher pitched male voice for that of a woman just then? After all, I only heard it speak one phrase.
There was tall willowy Gertrude Hobbs, whose honking laugh combined with her long neck and weak chin made me think of a goose. When they tried to take Copper away, she mostly echoed the proclamations of Ethel Farthing. It was difficult to imagine Gertrude issuing imperious commands, but perhaps her subservience was an act.
While I pondered the voice and the women of the town, the chimp had crept frighteningly close to the place where we were concealed. The trick Cornelis used could only work up to a point. The chimpanzee was confused but determined. It screeched loudly in frustration. The man looked toward us with an quizzical expression on his face. He took a step toward the ape.
A sharp whistle blew loudly from farther along the river. That would be Ignatius at the bend of the waterway, making sure these adversaries did not lose him.
The chimp whirled toward the whistle. It ran with astonishing speed and hopped aboard the hydrofoil. The man followed quickly. In a moment the craft sped away.
Recipe: Warm Dandelion Greens Salad with Pears & Raspberries
Photo and recipe credit: Sara at Homemade Levity http://www.homemadelevity.com/
13. Crinoline, Lye Soap, Caterpillar
For a moment, I thought the hydrofoil would tip over when the very large chimpanzee bounded onto it. 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.
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 said.
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?
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.
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 Dutchman.
“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.
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.
But 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.
“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 the Dutchman’s jealousy of Ignatius, of which I had already accused him, but I contained myself. 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 ask 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.
Katie Loves Cooking. https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/about/
Recipe: Cooking with Kids – Cheesy Caterpillars & Snakes
Photo and recipe credit: KatieLovesCooking.com
14. Pen Knife, Indian Head Penny, Brocade of a White Lion
I wondered if my insides might fall out, so jarred was I from the rough ride of the road locomotive. The green countryside went by in a prolonged blur, so fast did the alchemist propel the road locomotive. 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, 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 must have 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 little steam engine 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.”
Cornelis took the folded pen knife and its white mother of pearl handle reflected the green glow. 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 fallen body of a raven. It reeked with the odor of carrion it had eaten.
“Is it dead?” I asked.
“No, it shouldn’t be. Although it is stunned,” the Dutchman replied.
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 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. 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.
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 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. They have a broad wingspan so they’re fast, but they don’t have the magically enhanced speed that we used. So it seems more likely that the raven was flying due north from the riverbank, and intersected our path here,” Cornelis suggested.
“I neither like nor trust coincidences,” I muttered.
The raven stirred slightly as we turned and walked away.
“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.
We walked back to the steam engine. 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.”
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.
“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 said. “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. 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 gushed. “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 an honor indeed.”
Cornelis waved his hand modestly, denying any honor 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 him 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.”
Here’s the recipe. Bon appétit!
Recipe: Cheat’s Choc Cherry Trifle
Photo and recipe credit: Please Pass the Recipe.com
15. High Button Boots, Washtub, Coffee
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. As 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.
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.
Copper twirled, making the full skirt swing out to a circle. Apparently she thought that was answer enough.
“Cornelis asked me to find you,” she 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. 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.
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. (A word 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 here 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 which 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.
Roasted Corn – Wild Rice Cakes with Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Cream
Glazed Breast of Quail on a bed of Baby Greens with
Wild Huckleberry Vinaigrette
Pistachio Encrusted Veal served with a Red Onion Orange Compote, with garden fresh vegetables
Assortment of Cheeses with Grapes, Port Wine
Coffee, Tea, Tisane
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’ll return there eventually,” he reminded the alchemist, 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. 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 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 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 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 longsuffering 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? So 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 badly 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 said 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; 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, but 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.
“So 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 it was a son he never knew he had. 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.”
Don’t leave the train yet! Here’s this episode’s recipe. Bon appétit!
Recipe: ToFu Fa (Sweet Soy Pudding)
Photo and recipe credit: Chowtimes.com
16. Moustache Cup, Apricot Charlotte, Mangle
The tiny woman who had shown me to my room when we arrived at the beautiful family estate of Alastair Wong appeared with a coffee and tea tray. She had told me she was named Victoria, after the Queen. She motioned more than asked if I would like more coffee. Victoria seemed rather excited when she turned to the Dutchman. At first I thought it was simply because of Mr. Wong’s admiration for the alchemist. However, it turned out there was a little more to her enthusiasm than that.
“Sir, mayhap you like this cup?” Victoria suggested to Cornelis as she lowered the tray to our table.
Smiling brightly she picked up a teacup with the same pattern as the rest of the dishes, but it was of a slightly different shape. It must have been specially made to match the rest of the china, and she was obviously both proud of the cup and delighted to have the chance to offer it to a guest. Inside the cup was a semicircular ledge. The ledge had a half moon-shaped opening to allow the passage of liquids and to serve as a guard to keep a mustache dry.
“Look Cornelis! Why it’s a mustache cup,” I exclaimed.
Cornelis Drebbel had a mustache and a short pointed beard, and bushy blonde eyebrows. When he was in a playful mood, or a sarcastic mood, he wriggled his eyebrows.
Where Sheriff Bullard, back in Copper’s home town, had a very thick mustache — as was the fashion, Cornelis wore his neatly trimmed. While Bullard would have desperately needed the special cup, it was not as much of an issue for the Dutchman. However, I gave him a little nudge with my elbow when it looked like he might decline the cup. With another look at the tiny woman, he seemed to realize that it was important to her.
So Cornelis, bushy brows wriggling flirtatiously, made over the cup and smiled when Victoria filled it with coffee. The woman was obviously overjoyed to have someone use the cup. I thought she must have put a lot of effort into having it made.
A soft chuckle caused me to turn. Our host, Alastair Wong had come back downstairs. He carried a large roll of paper.
“I thought you were going to turn in early, my friend,” Cornelis told him.
The tiny woman turned at the sound of Alastair’s voice. She was still all smiles. “I feared that tonight no one would eat dessert — and it turned out so well. It would have been a shame that you did not get to enjoy it,” Victoria said as she hurried away, presumably to get the dessert.
I gasped when I saw what she brought. Sticky sweet glazed apricots peeped out from a golden brown cinnamon sugar crust, dusted with white powdered sugar. When I asked what it was called, she told me proudly that it was an apricot Charlotte. It was irresistible, so everyone had at least a bite before going back to the reason why Alastair had come back downstairs. “So did you find a second wind, as they call it?” Cornelis asked.
“It was my intention to retire early,” Wong admitted ruefully. “However, sleep eluded me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the raven you told me about — the one that tried to carry a message about your whereabouts. I kept wondering where it might have been going. When I realized you were still up, I thought it might be helpful to look at a good, detailed map,” he added and motioned for us to move to a long table where he unrolled the map.
“This is a beautiful work of cartography,” I admired the map, which covered part of California, Oregon, Washington, and southern British Columbia.
“We are here,” Alastair said pointing to a golden dot on the map. “And I expect you were approximately… here when you were spotted?” he asked, pointing to another location and Cornelis nodded. “So we know the bird was headed north of that area,” Alastair said motioning in a large circle.
“That covers a lot of ground,” I said in a dejected tone.
The alchemist reached into his coat and produced the device that looked like an intricately worked silver bell. Wong’s eyes widened in obvious recognition.
“The harmonic tuner!” Alastair exclaimed interestedly. “My grandfather told tales of its magic! But wait. It is not going to cause the large gong to sound again is it? The hour is late, and I wouldn’t want to disturb the household.”
“Neither would I, my friend. This time the tuner will have a different purpose,” Cornelis said, but I knew how often his tricks didn’t go as planned.
A subtle green aura emanated from the alchemist. He turned the harmonic tuner onto its side and rolled it around on the map in the area Wong indicated.
“Where were you going, raven?” the alchemist murmured.
At his words, the topography on that part of the map blurred and became three dimensional. Then a part of that area took on a phosphorescent glow.
Although mesmerized by the magical transformation of the map, I was vaguely aware of faintly padding footsteps. I turned to see Copper, wearing a dressing gown and slippers. She clutched something wrapped in a scarf to her chest.
“Miss Copper,” Alastair Wong addressed her in a playful tone that was likely meant to distract her from what we were doing. “You needn’t have come down here,” he told the girl and then turned to Cornelis and me somewhat awkwardly.
“I suggested Copper go back to bed when she saw me in the hallway. I apologize that I made a bit of noise, and she got up to see what the bother was. Copper I hope I didn’t frighten you, in a strange place, trying to sleep,” Wong told her. “I said that I was bringing boring grownup things to show you,” he said to us.
The girl must have begun to worry that she was about to get into trouble for leaving her room at so late an hour. She hadn’t even noticed the phosphorescent glow on the map, but then, Alastair may have blocked her view.
Suddenly I realized that Copper held her cherished “mystic monkeys” bell, which her father had given her. It was an ornate bell with detailed carvings of the fabled three mystic apes — see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. It was also a harmonic tuner. The night we ran from the Hixon estate, the two harmonic tuners being in close proximity had a profound effect.
I glanced at Cornelis for his reaction. The alchemist was so focused on his trick with the map that I wasn’t sure he had even noticed Copper’s entrance. He was completely absorbed in his work. “What will we find here?” he muttered over the map as he rolled his harmonic tuner across the glowing area.
“Here it is,” Copper said proudly, and before I could shout a warning, she unceremoniously plopped the second tuner right onto the map on which the alchemist worked his trick.
The existing harmonic sound from the Dutchman’s tuner quadrupled. A varicolored aura made a rainbow around the bells and the map. The sound seemed to vibrate through the entire world. Then I felt it inside my throat, and just as before, I couldn’t help wondering if my voice would take on that dual harmonic sound when I spoke.
Alastair must have felt the bizarre sensation as well. He put his hand to his throat. The tiny woman dropped her tray to the paved terrace. Fine china shattered, the sharp noise blending with the harmonic sound.
In the distance I heard noises that I couldn’t quite define. It reminded me of the sound of men scuffling, but it sounded heavier than that. Then I heard a crash from that area. The din was followed by clacking and clanging sounds. The louder noises were enough for me to know the commotion came from the hot spring.
Everyone turned at once, ready to race toward the sounds. Thankfully I had the presence of mind to tell Copper to stay there. Even better, with a wise wink the tiny woman took the girl’s hand and led her to the kitchen with the promise of a serving of the apricot Charlotte. I heaved a sigh of relief and followed Cornelis and Alastair toward the disturbance.
When we reached the hot spring I saw that the door to one of the small gold-painted buildings was off its hinges. The washing machine had somehow bumped and thumped its way out of the storage building. It looked as though it had clambered around until it was caught between two maple trees. Every few seconds it gave a futile bump to the trees.
“There’s something in the mangle,” Cornelis muttered.
“What’s that you say? Oh yes, the mangle. Here they call that part the wringer,” Alastair said absently as he looked in astonishment at the rogue washing machine and the damage it had done.
The washtub had been dragged along by the washing machine, halfway to the spring. I remembered the young man putting a tablecloth in the tub to soak. I suspected that was what hung from the mangle, or wringer. When I cautiously walked over to the still grumbling machine, I found that I was right.
Cornelis held out his harmonic tuner. A faint current of green streamed from the tuner to the washing machine. That had another effect on the washing machine. It wobbled, gurgled, and creaked. The wringer started to turn again, pulling the tablecloth on through as we watched.
He was correct, there was something on the tablecloth, but it wasn’t simply dirty. It looked like writing — phosphorescent writing. Cornelis flicked the tuner with his fingernail, causing a faint ting sound and then the tuner cast a bright light like a torch. The Dutchman shined the light on the cloth as it finished rolling from the mangle. In large glowing green script I read the word aloud.
Where will the mystically inscribed word, Daddy, take our characters? I hope you’ll be at the station when the steam engine returns to the platform. The next “things” are from author John W. Howell. What kind of trouble can Pistachio, Penne Pasta, and Porcini create?
And now, here’s the recipe for this episode. Bon appétit!
Recipe: Apple & Apricot Charlotte
Photo and recipe credit: Taste.com
17. Pistachio, Penne Pasta, Porcini
My first thought wasn’t exactly a thought. All cogitation was clogged in a bottleneck of befuddled ideas. The first thought that got through the blockage was relief that Copper was up at the pavilion. It would be awful if the supernaturally printed word, Daddy, got her hopes up for no good reason.
I wasn’t feeling too optimistic myself, and to be honest, I was losing my sense of trust. And that single, magically written word brought out all my suppressed concerns. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I experienced occasional twinges of distrust for Ignatius Belle (who turned out to be Copper’s half-brother), it also bothered me that I had begun having doubts about Copper’s father, Calvin Hixon.
Granted, if Hixon was abducted, he probably had no chance to leave a warning or reason. But what if he left of his own accord? The notion was so awful — had he willingly left his daughter with no explanation, and worse left the child on her own?
Other than his unfortunate money situation, Calvin Hixon appeared to be utterly brilliant. Could the circumstances be more complicated than an abduction? Did Hixon stand to somehow see a financial gain from the situation? Could he be involved in his own disappearance? Oh surely not, I told myself. I’m over-analyzing things.
Most often the simplest answers are the correct ones. But was running away as simple as being abducted…? Had Calvin Hixon suddenly run away from his adversaries, perhaps thinking he would lead them away from his daughter, thereby keeping her safe? I’m still over-analyzing, I admonished myself.
“Felicity,” I heard my name and realized that Cornelis had called it more than once while I pondered the unpleasant thoughts about Calvin Hixon.
“Do step back,” the alchemist told me. “Something unexpected might happen,” he said as he reached into that supernatural void through which he sometimes fetched things.
“Unexpected?” I said sardonically, knowing how often Cornelis’ tricks tended to go awry.
To my surprise he produced the long map we had been looking at on the terrace. The area on which he had used the harmonic tuner still gave off a greenish glow. However, the phosphorescent script “Daddy” on the table cloth had begun to dim. Cornelis noticed that with a frown. Hurriedly he placed the map atop the cloth.
He held up the harmonic tuner and gave it one sharp clear ring. The tiny ping of a sound reverberated and grew. I felt the vibration at the base of my spine. I could feel the sound spreading outward all around us. In the distance the big gong in front of the pavilion gave a mighty boom, the volume of which was magically transported into our midst. I put my hands over my ears, involuntarily squeezing my eyes shut.
Cautiously, I opened one eye. The map was copied onto the tablecloth. At first the drawings of topography overlaid the word “Daddy,” but then the script blazed through the map. The word shone with eye-searing chartreuse light, before stabilizing and diming to a flat pistachio green.
I don’t know if it was a meteorological effect or if it was residual magic from the previous night, but when I got up the next morning, the sky above Alastair Wong’s home blazed with yellow clouds at sunrise. No wonder they called it the Golden Pavillion, I thought.
Cornelis said he wanted to get an early start, but judging by the activity of the household staff, I suspected they were always up at that hour. As I admired the sunrise, the alchemist drove up in the little steam engine.
It didn’t seem like there could be enough room, but Cornelis, Copper, Alastair, and I all managed to get on the road locomotive. To my surprise, Victoria, who was so taken with Copper, insisted on coming along. I wouldn’t have thought one more person, not even a tiny woman like Victoria, could fit on the locomotive… and she carried a large picnic basket too. Yet somehow the tiny woman and the big basket managed to fit. When I saw the hint of a green aura surrounding the alchemist I understood how the group of us managed to get onboard. One of his tricks had made room for everyone.
We would part company with Alastair and Victoria when we reached the Pacific. Wong would take the road locomotive back to his pavilion estate for safekeeping, while Copper, the alchemist, and I continued our journey.
I looked a question at the basket Victoria carried. The night before, all the noise and vibrations from the harmonic tuners had given me a headache — and I still had it. So I was probably frowning fiercely. Victoria looked a bit uneasy.
“It will be past time for a meal before we reach the ocean. Copper is a growing girl and must eat,” the tiny woman said with a sharp nod that would have settled any row. I tried to reign in my smile, because I truly did take her seriously.
“Besides,” she turned and spoke to Cornelis in a flirtatious tone that took me completely by surprise. “You will love what I’ve done with the porcini mushrooms you mentioned earlier,” she added, and the Dutchman’s eyebrows shot up toward his hairline.
“Ah yes,” the Dutchman sighed. “Porcini are God’s great gift to humanity, a mushroom delicate enough to flavor a sauce, yet vigorous enough to stand up to a grilled steak.”
Really…, I thought. Should he encourage the tiny woman by flirting? And Could Victoria actually be attracted to Cornelis? The idea seemed not merely imaginative and impractical, but just plain impossible. I scratched my earlobe as the idea took root. Then I had the wicked thought that I’d like to see an argument between Victoria and Cornelis. The Dutchman would surely get his comeuppance.
“What are you smirking about?” Cornelis asked quietly.
“Oh? Did it seem so? It was just a bit of indigestion,” I said with no attempt to hide my expression.
Victoria held tightly to Copper’s hand as the steam engine barreled toward the ocean. The tiny woman’s eyes were huge with astonishment for the speed at which we traveled. However, it was clear that she possessed a fierce determination. She would not have gone back if the chance was offered.
The sun was directly overhead when Cornelis slowed the road locomotive. We were on high ground overlooking a blue river. Below I could see a collection of log cabins of some sort.
“Look, it’s a fort!” Copper exclaimed.
“Have we really journeyed so far so fast?” Alastair Wong said in a tone of amazement.
“What do you mean?” I queried.
“That is Fort Clatsop,” Alastair explained though I looked at him blankly. “It was built by the explorers, Lewis and Clark and their expedition. They spent a difficult winter there before getting back on their way.”
“And they were hungry, you may be sure,” Victoria interjected, causing Alastair to chuckle as she pulled out the large picnic basket. “That is a fate we shall not share with the explorers,” she said to our oohs and aahs as she opened the basket.
The woman surely could not have a single drop of Italian blood in her veins, but she laid out a feast worthy of any great Italian chef.
“Dear Victoria!” Cornelis exclaimed and bowed. “This is a feast worthy of the 15th-century legend, Maestro Martino de Rubeis!”
“Who?” I couldn’t help asking, even though I knew my question would meet with derision from the alchemist.
Cornelis put on a mournful face and shook his head, muttering about my lacking education. So naturally I had to tweak his nose, so to speak. “Oh, did you know him then?” I made my question a playful taunt.
The Dutchman narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. “The 15th-century, the fourteen hundreds I remind you — that was quite before my time, as you well know. I wasn’t even born until the year 1572,” he said and continued without missing a beat. “Maestro Martino was a culinary expert unequalled in his field at the time. He was quite the celebrity. He was the chef at the Roman palazzo of the papal chamberlain, the Patriarch of Aquileia. The Maestro Martino was called the prince of cooks,” Cornelis lectured.
Then he wriggled his bushy blonde eyebrows. “So of course I did not know the Maestro in the fourteen hundreds,” he said and paused briefly. “I did, however, meet him during his cursed afterlife.”
Though I knew I should not encourage Cornelis, I took his bait yet again. “Cursed? How so?” I asked.
“The poor soul pissed off the Pope. Enough said. Please pass the porcinis,” the alchemist said.
That naturally prompted animated questions from everyone. Cornelis loved to have an audience and he told the tale of the cursed chef and his acquaintance with him most vividly while we enjoyed Victoria’s Italian feast.
Warm Mediterranean Olives with rosemary and lemon zest
Insalata de Compo: Mesclun salad with cherry tomatoes
Penne Alla Vodka: Penne pasta with tomato, cream, and vodka sauce
Risotto Ai Porcini: Risotto with pecorino cheese, porcini mushroom and fresh basil
Salmone in Padella: Pan-seared salmon filet
Menu credit: Scottadito.com
Needless to say, we were all quite pleasantly stuffed. Alastair lit a beautifully carved pipe. I faintly heard Victoria humming what I suspected was a nursery song from her home, as Copper rested her head in Victoria’s lap. I was feeling rather sleepy in the sunshine myself. Cornelis looked infinitely far away in thought as toyed with a last spoonful of penne pasta in his plate.
“What’s on your mind, Dutchman?” I intruded on his thoughts.
He picked up a piece of penne and held it up to his eye, looking at Copper through the pasta cylinder. Copper giggled. I told the Dutchman that he was a bad influence.
“Copper, could I see your mystic monkeys bell?” he asked the girl.
“Why not use the harmonic tuner that is more familiar to you?” Alastair asked quietly in a voice edged with concern.
I was in agreement with Alastair Wong in his newfound concern about Cornelis and his tricks.
“You are right,” Cornelis told him. “Ordinarily, in the working of magic it is best use implements to which one has become attuned. However, in this case the harmonic tuner that Copper has always thought of as her mystic monkeys bell was a gift from Daddy. And that is whom we hope to find. So the more elements relating to him, the better.”
Copper reverently handed Cornelis the second harmonic tuner. A detailed carving of the fabled three mystic apes — see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil surrounded the bell. He looked down at the scraps of pasta in his plate and arranged three pieces of penne end-to-end. Then the alchemist held the harmonic tuner over them and flicked the bell with his fingernail. It gave off a sharp ping sound.
The alchemist picked up the flute and played a trilling series of notes. Then he abruptly stood. “Shall we?” he asked, and we gingerly made our way down the steep hill to the water’s edge.
Once there he piped the same notes again. Cornelis looked at the water unconcernedly. I looked at him impatiently.
“I don’t see anything. What’s supposed to be happening?” I wanted to know, but the infuriating man ignored me. “Should you do it again?” I asked motioning to the jade flute.
The Dutchman’s mouth twitched to one side in a dissatisfied way. “Perhaps I should…” he speculated.
As Cornelis raised the flute to his lips the water started to bubble and gently swirl. He lowered the flute without playing another note. He wriggled his bushy eyebrows and grinned.
Wong looked somewhat apprehensive. After all, he certainly had reason to be concerned, after the wayward alchemy caused his washing machine to break down the storage building door, and do assorted other damage at his hot spring. But he quickly caught the contagious gleam of excitement in the Dutchman’s eyes.
The movement of the water became intense. Something was rising to the surface. Involuntarily I took a step backward. Victoria took Copper’s hand and pulled her several feet away from the shore.
For a moment I thought a whale was breaching. Then I realized it was no living thing. Wong beheld the sight with gaping mouth, but I had the impression that he at least thought he knew what was coming to the surface. Expressions of worry and wonder were at war on his face.
When the entire large shape was in full view, I still didn’t know what it could be. “Cornelis…” I began, but found I was at a loss for words. “Wha—”
Cornelis Drebbel clasped his hands and a gleeful expression lit his face, as if he beheld something he had long missed.
“It’s my submarine!” he crowed.
Don’t get off the steam engine yet — here’s the recipe for this episode. It’s something for all the carnivores out there! Bon appétit!
Recipe: Porcini-Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Truffle Butter Sauce
Photo and Recipe Credit: Epicurious.com
18. Feather, Yorkshire Pudding, Absinthe
A highly refined version of the submarine Cornelis Drebbel invented in 1620 breached the surface of the water. I don’t know what I expected it would do after surfacing, but I thought it would at least do something. However, the vessel bobbed on the gentle currents and other wise did not move.
Alastair Wong spoke excitedly to Cornelis, marveling about the machine. Our host clearly hoped for a tour of the submarine.
“This surely was a feather in your cap. It’s amazing that you invented such a futuristic vehicle so very long ago!” Alastair exclaimed and Victoria nodded her agreement.
Cornelis looked unexpectedly worried. That puzzled me, because he loved to show off his inventions.
“You must have a look at it. But I’d best go aboard first to err… to make sure things are in order,” the alchemist said with a distracted smile. “The hatch should have opened by now,” Cornelis murmured as he turned from Wong back toward the submarine.
“Is that scent anise?” she asked no one in particular.
“The king must have been thrilled,” Wong continued, not noticing the tiny woman’s softly spoken question. “Just to think—” his words abruptly cut off.
Though it was far away, it was easy to hear the distant boom of the huge gong at the Wong estate. Alastair turned back in the direction from which we came. His face remained passive at the unexpected sound. A second vibrant hollow tone crashed immediately after the first. Wong and Victoria exchanged a quick concerned glance. For the space of two heartbeats there was silence. Victoria took a relieved breath, but Alastair had not moved a muscle. Then a third beat rang across the countryside.
Victoria gasped. Alastair sprang to life. “I humbly beg your pardon Cornelis. There is trouble at the pavilion. I must return with all due haste,” he said.
Cornelis motioned for Wong to wait. He unrolled the map with the alchemically inscribed word “Daddy.” He produced his harmonic tuner out of thin air and rang it three times. Then he took a crystal salt shaker from the basket that Victoria was hurriedly packing. He sprinkled a pinch of the salt over the map.
The salt began to swirl into a tiny cloud. It moved to the golden dot that indicated the Wong family’s estate. As the salt settled onto the map it became little animated specks. A dozen of them moved steadily toward the pavilion.
“What does it mean?” Victoria gasped.
“A group of people are moving toward your estate,” Cornelis explained.
“For the great gong to be sounded, they are strangers. Not only strangers, but somehow they have aroused the distrust of the guards even at that distance,” Alastair said. “Will the road locomotive get me back there before they reach the pavilion?” he asked the alchemist.
“I’ll see that it does,” Cornelis assured him.
“Umm,” Alastair began. “Will you teach me to pilot it?”
I saw Victoria cringe and roll her eyes. “It would be nice to get there in one piece,” she murmured, but I was the only one to hear her.
Cornelis grinned. “You needn’t worry,” he told Alastair. “Just rest your hands on the controls. The locomotive will remember the way home. I entrust it to your safe keeping.”
As Wong turned to go, Cornelis took his arm to detain him. “It is likely that it is our foes, not any that you may have, who approach your home. I should come back with you,” the Dutchman said.
I knew Cornelis was sincere, but he gave a worried look at Copper. The “foes” that converged on Wong’s estate were most likely from one of the groups that meant to abduct Copper. We all knew that. I only hoped Copper didn’t realize and feel responsible. Wong caught our glances at the girl and he looked down at her with a warm smile, as if nothing whatever was wrong. Victoria put her arm around Copper’s shoulders with a reassuring squeeze.
“My grandfather was once the guardian of your skull, Cornelis Drebbel. It is my honor and privilege to defend you however I may,” Alastair said with an abrupt soldier’s bow, and he and Victoria were quickly gone.
I watched the steam engine in concern as it disappeared into the trees. When I glanced down, I realized Copper was at my side. She turned worried blue eyes up at me.
“Will they be alright?” she asked and I swallowed.
The Dutchman crouched down next to Copper and there was a small glint of mischief in his eyes. He shook his head in mock regret.
“It’s really the people sneaking up on the pavilion that we should worry about,” he told her in an exaggeratedly grave voice.
Copper gave the alchemist a sidelong look that matched my own. “What do you mean by that, Cornelis?” I asked.
“Didn’t you know?” he returned a question. “Why the Wong family business — or at any rate it’s practically their family business. Has been for hundreds of years.”
“What?” I demanded, losing patience.
“Martial arts of course,” Cornelis said with a wave of his hand. “That tiny Victoria is downright lethal. I tell you, she and Alastair alone could take on the dozen people headed toward the pavilion,” he added.
I looked at the Dutchman closely. Such a claim had to be an exaggeration meant to amuse Copper. My eyes widened when I realized that he was perfectly serious.
Copper still looked worried so I tried to change the subject. “After that delicious Italian feast, we might not be able to fit into the submarine,” I commented, joking. “You enjoyed the food, didn’t you Copper?”
“It was strange food, but it was good,” she answered. “But there wasn’t a sweet,” she added sadly.
Cornelis began describing an unusual but elaborate meal he had been served back in the sixteen hundreds. “I was in service to the King of England then,” he supplied. “But now a traditional meal one might serve company for dinner would be much different. Have you ever had a Yorkshire pudding?” he asked Copper and went on to describe such a meal. (All about Victorian dinner parties)
Victorian Menu for a Simple Company Dinner
Oysters on the Half Shell
Soup a la Reine
Salmon with Green peas or cucumbers sliced
Filet de Boeuf and Mushrooms
Beverage: White Wine
Salad of Lettuce or Tomatoes
Ices and Jellies, Cheese
Menu Credit: “The Successful Housekeeper, 1883” via Food Love Laughter.com
I looked at the submarine apprehensively. “Are we going to have to swim out to the thing?” I asked then had a worried thought. “Copper, can you swim?” I asked and she wore a doubtful expression but nodded affirmatively. I didn’t believe her.
“Not to worry,” Cornelis said cheerily. “I can levitate all of us that minuscule distance. I’m thoroughly rested and refreshed.”
We placed Copper between us. Cornelis and I each held one of her hands. I was amazed to not feel any sensation at all. It was as if I suddenly realized that I no longer felt the ground beneath my feet. We floated on a green nimbus over the water to the submarine. As we drew close I could hear an odd sound that was like a combination of chirping and lip-smacking with an occasional snuffle. Then I detected the licorice-like scent again.
“Cornelis,” I began doubtfully as a green tendril wafted up from the open hatch. “What powers this submarine? I could swear that I smell absinthe.”
“Oh no, no. Of course not,” he sputtered. “Well, not exactly.”
“Cornelis Drebbel! Need I remind you that we have a child with us?” I threatened.
“No, it’s not like that at all,” Cornelis hastily tried to explain. “The submarine is powered by the Green Fairy.”
“Absinthe!” I accused.
“No! And yes… The fairy sometimes goes by the name Absinthe. But it is not the liquor, I assure you. The Green Fairy’s magic, along with my alchemy, powers the submarine,” he said. “But do be careful not to startle it.”
“Why?” I spoke the question with raised eyebrows.
“Well,” the Dutchman hesitated. “If the Green Fairy is startled he can spray a strong vapor.”
“Like a fart?” Copper giggled.
“Exactly,” Cornelis said. “But not at all. It’s not a vile odor. However, it will cause…” he paused and looked at me sheepishly. “Intoxication. It’s quite strong,” he finished and wouldn’t look at me.
I looked at the green vaporous tendril and inhaled the anise, licorice scent. I took a steadying breath and tried to gather my quickly escaping temper.
“Cornelis Drebbel, are you trying to tell me that this submarine is powered by a magical creature that farts a highly concentrated vaporous form of absinthe?” I asked and I couldn’t prevent my voice going up a full octave on the last word.
Cornelis twisted his lips over to one side and raised one bushy blonde eyebrow in a cringing expression.
“Well, yes. That’s pretty much exactly what I meant. But he only does that if you frighten him,” Cornelis said, nodding encouragingly.
Now for some real world information about absinthe, and then this episode’s recipe…
How to Prepare a Glass of Absinthe
Recipe: Yorkshire Pudding
Photo and Recipe Credit: RecipeReminiscing.com
19. La Llorona, Coyote, Chupacabra
“We have to help her!” Copper screamed and burst into tears.
Copper couldn’t be allowed to go to that woman. If she did, she’d be killed.
I looked back to the water’s edge. A woman with long dark hair wailed in sorrow as she walked along the shore. Her dress of flowing white was a false suggestion of purity. But no one could hear her intense grief and not feel sympathy as she repeated the distraught cry, “¡Ay, mis hijos!”
“Quickly Cornelis! Pull Copper inside before the magic completely beguiles her,” I called to the alchemist.
His blonde head popped back up from the submarine’s hatch where he had gone ahead of us. He said the Green Fairy would need reassurance, so we wouldn’t startle it. Meanwhile Copper and I were poised, levitated on a cloud of green above the water beside the submarine.
Wide-eyed, Cornelis hissed a warning that the noise we were making would frighten Absinthe, the Green Fairy who powered the submarine. However, a glance at my face was enough for him to know something was wrong. I motioned with my head toward the shore — I daren’t move one of my hands from the struggling girl so I could point. She was already bespelled enough to try and reach the Weeping Woman.
“What is that…?” Cornelis asked, meaning the woman.
“It’s La Llorona! She beguiles children. Hurry and help me get Copper inside,” I urged.
However, Copper twisted free of my grasp. She jumped from our levitated spot and dove toward the water in attempt to reach the sorrowful woman.
“Cornelis!” I screamed.
A thin thread of luminous green shot after Copper. It was same trick the alchemist used to pull me from the river when the alchemically-amped road locomotive had taken a turn too fast and my hatbox (containing his skull) went overboard. I had jumped into the river to save it, but we both ended up with head colds. The alchemist’s sneezes had odd results.
The magical thread wrapped securely around Copper before she even touched the surface of the water. With a couple of hand motions Cornelis reeled her back and quickly pulled her into the submarine. I jumped in behind and closed the hatch.
“Such a tortured soul! How did you know what would happen?” the Dutchman asked.
Cornelis seemed to sympathize with La Llorona. I looked at him closely, wondering if her spell had affected the Dutchman as well as Copper. Her magic was only supposed to be effective on children, but Cornelis was no ordinary human being, so I felt a moment of uncertainty. However, looking into his eyes, I decided he was not influenced, just uncharacteristically empathetic.
“It was La Llorona,” I explained. “I learned the legend from my maternal grandmother. She was from Mexico. Although it seems to be more than just a story,” I said shaking my head in disbelief at the scene I had just witnessed.
“Some say La Llorona was insane with jealousy, but whatever her reasoning, she drowned her children. My grandmother told the story that she came to her senses enough to comprehend something was wrong, and she wandered, searching for them. When she realized what she had done, she drowned herself as well. But her spirit was forever trapped between life and death. So she wanders and beguiles children, leading them to a watery death,” I explained the legend as my grandmother imparted it during my childhood.
“With that kind of bedtime story, you must have been afraid to close your eyes,” Cornelis said and I nodded. “Why, your grandmother was a woman after my own heart,” he said with a lopsided grin.
I rolled my eyes at the incorrigible alchemist. “She would have said you were an old coyote,” I retorted. “And she would have liked you,” I added in a sardonic tone, knowing I spoke the truth.
The Dutchman looked over his shoulder and reminded me to be quiet. “And whatever you do, you must not startle the Green Fairy,” he whispered.
Carefully, I climbed down the ladder from the hatch. I was about to ask where Copper was when I heard muffled sobbing from a corner. She was huddled under a piece of furniture that seemed to be a sort of desk, and she was crying from the influence of La Llorona.
Whether it was a desk or something else, it was an interesting piece. The hutch opened out, wing-like with numerous compartments of boxes and little apothecary type drawers. Those drawers had crystal faces with little brass knobs. The open boxes were filled with all manner of glittering apparatuses. On the desktop two broadly different variations of Cornelis Drebbel’s perpetual motion clock were mounted within shimmering glass domes. (I couldn’t help shuddering at the amount of trouble those might cause.)
The desk had an ordinary desktop supported by drawered cabinetry on each side. The middle, where a chair might go, had a roll-down covering which was part-way down. That’s where Copper crouched, sobbing.
I moved to go to Copper. The poor girl couldn’t possibly understand what had happened, or the spell La Llorona’s wail had cast upon her. However, Cornelis caught my arm. He held a finger to his lips and then pointed toward the space just above the desk.
“Is that…?” I began in fascination. “Is that the Green Fairy? And that tiny thing can power this vessel?” I asked.
Cornelis smiled like an indulgent parent and nodded. “Actually it is our energies combined, mine and his, but I do believe Absinthe could produce enough power to run this submarine and another as well — if he were of a mind.”
I tilted my head and watched in amazement. Absinthe would have fit in my outstretched palm. He looked like a fluffy baby skunk, but where a skunk would’ve had black fur the Green Fairy’s was, well — green. And it was bright green, just like the liquor. On butterfly wings, he fluttered down toward Copper.
Absinthe chirped once as he investigated the girl, who had yet to see him. Copper, sobbing, didn’t pay any attention to the next chirp either. The tiny creature began snuffling at her hair, snuffle-chirp-chirp, snuffle-chirp-chirp.
I edged closer very cautiously, not wanting to interrupt the wondrous display. I detected a faintly sweet aroma like licorice. Apparently all the snuffling and chirping must have tickled, because Copper started to giggle through her tears. I didn’t know if skunks, or rather Green Fairies could smile, but tiny Absinthe looked like he was smiling when Copper looked up at him in delighted fascination.
Cornelis pointed to the roll-down covering where Copper had tucked herself. “He must really like her,” the Dutchman said. “That’s his favorite pouting post. Whenever Absinthe gets annoyed or frightened, he darts under there and slams down the cover,” Cornelis said with a mystified chuckle.
A sharp ping distracted me and I turned toward the sound. Beside what I thought must be a periscope was a multi-limbed brass contrivance. Each arm ended with a walnut sized faceted gemstone. The device gyrated and whirred so much that it was difficult to count its arms, but I thought there were seven, each capped with a different colored gem. The base of the device lit up causing the gemstones to cast a rainbow effect.
Absinthe fluttered toward the colorful machine. Apparently the tiny fairy had failed to notice me until I spoke. “How pretty, Cornelis. What does it do?” I asked pointing at the device.
When I moved my hand to point, the Green Fairy fluttered backward a beat. Luminous emerald eyes widened. Absinthe hissed at me. Then I heard a farting sound. From his bantam backside blew a billow of bright green vapor.
“I told you not to startle him!” Cornelis admonished. “Copper, stay where you are and don’t stand up until that cloud clears!” the alchemist instructed hastily. “Felicity, hurry and open that hatch!”
“Hurry and hopen the hatch how?” I giggled as I wobbled up the ladder.
“Dear heavens it’s too late,” Cornelis groaned as he climbed up beside me.
“I can’t budge the beastly bugger open,” I complained. “Who needs fresh air, Cornelis. It’s fine in here. You’ll just let in that dank, damp… Oh! Watch your hands!” I cautioned as he reached around me trying to get to the hatch handle.
A whoosh of air hit me in the face. When I looked toward the shore I could have sworn I saw a hippopotamus singing to a group of infatuated mermaids who played music upon lyres. La Llorona danced with a chupacabra — a goat-killing blood sucker from another of my grandmother’s stories. Then I wondered how I had ever managed to sleep as a child.
When I turned my head, the world lurched. The green vapors of concentrated absinthe streamed up through the opening around us. When I looked at the alchemist he seemed to be standing at a peculiar angle. He looked back at me and snorted laughter. He took my arm and pulled me upright. Apparently I was leaning far to one side.
For a moment he looked just like a coyote in a silk jacket. I snorted out a laugh, then covered my mouth in embarrassment, then I collapsed in giggles.
I noticed that Cornelis held his harmonic tuner. He looked quite bleary-eyed. “Cornelis you should take better care of yourself. Are you coming down with another head cold?” I asked feeling more than a little woozy.
He held the tuner above our heads and gave it one sharp ring. The sound reverberated inside my skull in an unpleasant way. I groaned as the world around me started to spin madly. Cornelis rang the harmonic tuner again.
“Stop that!” I cried trying to reach high enough to take the damnable bell away from the alchemist.
As the ringing died away the coyote faded with it, leaving only Cornelis. The chupacabra and La Llorona danced a final turn before they blurred and disappeared, leaving the shoreline deserted.
I took a long deep breath.
“I told you not to startle the Green Fairy,” Cornelis said drolly.
Now for this episode’s recipe. With all the whimsical inspiration from the American Southwest, I selected a fun southwestern offering from Kathryn at AnotherFoodieBlogger.com.
Recipe: Chile Relleno Chicken Rollups
21. Ginger Beer, Cast Iron Finial, Backgammon
Cornelis Drebbel’s submarine traveled quite smoothly, I was relieved to note. After having been inebriated by the vapors of Absinthe the startled Green Fairy, I was feeling queasy. So I had worried about travel on — or rather under water.
“Where did you run off to?” I asked, referring to the fact that a moment before the alchemist wasn’t there.
“Good idea, Absinthe,” he told the fluttering fairy, but ignored my question. “Do try and drink it, Felicity. It will help settle your stomach.”
Cornelis absently tossed what looked like a cast iron finial. I raised my eyebrows, silently prompting him for an answer.
“I went to get this,” he said, giving the ornament another toss.
I tried to look at the thing, but Cornelis gave it a spin when he threw it. Several strands of iron reached up and twisted to come together at the tip making an open teardrop shape. Those twisted strips combined with the spin Cornelis gave his throw, made the shape seem to shift in an odd way as it went up and down with his tosses. I thought my stomach would lose its contents.
Absinthe glided down for a closer look at the finial. Then the Green Fairy gave a series of discontent sounding grunts at Cornelis. Apparently he didn’t like the finial to be tossed around.
“Oh, Absinthe. Don’t get testy,” the alchemist told the fairy with as his mouth twisted in a derisive way. “No harm will come to it. Besides, it helps charge it.”
“Why did you need a bedpost finial?” I wanted to know, despite another nauseous lurch from my stomach.
“This is no ordinary piece of cast iron,” Cornelis explained. “At least it is not any more. Once it crowned one of the posts of my bed. You see, many of my ideas come to me as I sleep. For some reason this particular finial gradually took on unexpected properties, although the other three did not,” the Dutchman said with a shrug. “I thought we might use it to help the submarine over the shallow places.”
The Green Fairy sniffed delicately at the finial, or whatever it was. Then he fluttered back to the ginger beer and chirped at me. As I took the proffered bottle, I gave the Dutchman a contemptuous look.
“Have you no shame, Cornelis? You could at least pretend to have a hangover,” I complained.
“As I have no real stomach, I don’t tend to digestive upsets,” the alchemist explained merrily. “But as you know, my skull does exist in this world. So I can get miserable headaches.”
“And head colds!” Copper chimed in, and giggled over the magical results of Cornelis sneezing when he and I were afflicted with that ailment.
The little skunk-like fairy snuffled and grunted in a way that sounded a lot like chuckling. I gathered that he had also witnessed the alchemist under the influence of a head cold.
Copper was giggling so hard it was difficult to understand her words, but the fairy seemed to know what she said. The only words I could pick out from the jumble of chortles were frogs and pancakes.
“You don’t act as though you have any sort of headache now,” I said, unwilling to laugh at the memory that so amused Copper, as I was feeling a bit put upon.
Cornelis chuckled. “I developed a tolerance to Absinthe’s frightened flatulence. When he and I first met, I startled him many times. One begins to get used to the effect,” he said.
As I sipped the ginger beer I gave Cornelis an arch look. I wondered if he may have deliberately “startled” Absinthe on more than one occasion, to cause him to produce those potent poots. The Green Fairy wrinkled up his pointed nose and made a grumbling sound at Cornelis that led me to believe my assumption was correct.
A pinging sound interrupted the conversation. It came from that multi-armed machine. Its limbs shifted. Those capped with blue and green gems lifted and spun while the arms adorned with warm colored jewels lowered unmoving.
“We’ve come to a shallow area,” Cornelis commented moving toward the device. “Umm…” he pondered. “The water is deeper than I expected. We should be able to navigate it without much assistance. However, if anyone should look, we will be easily spotted,” he added. “Absinthe, have we caught up with any of those three groups yet?”
The Green Fairy fluttered to one of the two perpetual motion machines. The glass dome filled with green fog. After a moment the haze cleared. A blurry figure lurched and bobbed. When it came into focus I saw that it was the hydrofoil! I saw the big chimpanzee jumping around and the woman who commanded that small group. I tried hard to get a look at her face, but the image was too small. She again wore rain gear, so I couldn’t even make out her figure to help me ascertain her identity.
The Dutchman looked uncertain. “Absinthe, perhaps we should slow down. We don’t want to get too close to them,” Cornelis said.
Absinthe chirped then made a tut-tut sound. That worried me. Surely we hadn’t…
“What! They’re right behind us? Do you mean to say we’ve gone under the hydrofoil and gotten ahead of them without even knowing they were there?” Cornelis exclaimed and the Green Fairy gave an indignant shrill warning.
Cornelis caught himself and quickly tried to calm the skunk-like fairy before he could spray that intoxicating vapor of highly concentrated absinthe. Fortunately Copper had a soothing effect on the creature as she gently stroked his tiny head with a finger and murmured compliments to him. Absinthe hopped onto her shoulder and snuggled down under her ear, making an occasional snuffling sound. I heaved a sigh of relief.
“I need to create a very good illusion to keep them from seeing us,” Cornelis began. “I think a mirror trick will suffice. A few illusory reflections so that it seems to them that they see the route ahead, but they do not see us. But we’ll have to be absolutely quiet,” he said emphatically. “This illusion will amplify any sounds we make,” he stressed. “We’ll have to maintain silence for quite some time. I suppose that will be easier if we occupy ourselves somehow. Ah! I know,” he said as he hurried to open a drawer in the submarine’s desk-like bridge.
He looked rather pleased with himself as he produced a backgammon set.
“Unfortunately Cornelis, I don’t know how to play,” I told him. “And teaching me will defeat the purpose of being quiet. Oh, but you have some books over there,” I said noticing a bookcase in the corner. “You and Copper can play while I read,” I suggested, knowing that the girl would enjoy the act of pretending to play even though it was unlikely that she actually knew the rules of backgammon.
“Yes, I want to play,” Copper added quickly. “Absinthe and I can play against you Cornelis,” she offered, and the Green Fairy chirped and settled on the backgammon board the Dutchman had just opened.
Absinthe seemed to guide Copper in arranging the pieces on the game board. Meanwhile Cornelis went to the second of two perpetual motion clocks. It was a good deal larger than the first machine. He gave the thing that looked like a cast iron finial another toss and then twisted it onto the base of the clock. It began to spin slowly. It had a rather hypnotic effect. Looking at it made me queasy again.
A green aura surrounded Cornelis. From out of nowhere the alchemist produced postcard sized images of the waterway, the shorelines, and the sky. He placed one hand just above the images and rested the other on the crystal dome of the perpetual motion clock. As the glow around him intensified, one by one the images disappeared and then reappeared inside the dome.
“Wow!” Copper sighed and the Green Fairy made a soft shushing sound.
“I’m sure it’s important that we don’t interrupt Cornelis,” I whispered to Copper.
“Oh really?” Cornelis muttered drolly. “My skills aren’t that limited. Do go about setting up the game. I’ll join you shortly. Felicity, select a book and relax.”
I glanced at the titles. Everything on the first three shelves was dry and scientific sounding. When I looked at the fourth shelf I couldn’t suppress a chuckle. The Dutchman had a small collection of Jane Austen books.
“You’ve an Austen collection?” I murmured in surprise.
“Yes. I met the lady and several other authors. She gave me the books. You’ll see an inscription inside each, written in her own hand,” Cornelis said in a rather smug tone.
I was impressed. “Pride and Prejudice,” I commented. “My favorite,” I said reading the brief note from the author to her “dear friend, Cornelis Drebbel.”
“What’s it about?” Copper asked, moving to my side, apparently already bored with waiting for Cornelis to begin the game of backgammon.
“Shall I read a bit to you while Cornelis sets up his trick?” I asked the girl and she nodded.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”
Abruptly I paused. The term “rightful property” was trying to work past my headache and connect itself to a half formed suspicion about Calvin Hixon. However, Copper interrupted my thought and it was absorbed into my aching head.
“So is it about a man getting married?” Copper asked when I paused, causing me to lose that train of thought.
I gave my head half a shake to clear the jumbled notions inside it, and immediately regretted the motion. “It’s about a young woman, and yes it’s also about a man. Fitzwilliam Darcy,” I told her with a smile as I anticipated enjoying a favorite story.
Copper looked intrigued. “Is he handsome?” she wanted to know.
I saw Cornelis emitting a bright green aura as he worked his spell. He paused in making some very intricate looking adjustments to the perpetual motion machine. The alchemist looked at us and rolled his eyes heavenward.
“Oh yada Darcy yada,” he said derisively, cutting off my praise of the character.
Absinthe suddenly looked up when the alchemist made the comment. The fairy’s emerald eyes grew large and he shrieked.
“Oh bugger,” Cornelis said in frustration as the tiny fairy flew over to him making a series of very irate noises.
“What’s wrong with our tiny friend?” I asked worriedly though my voice came out in a sardonic tone.
“Yadadarcyyada is an incantation. I can’t believe I just said it aloud. If you hadn’t picked that blasted book it would never have happened,” Cornelis complained and the Green Fairy screamed again when Cornelis said the magic word a second time.
The submarine started to vibrate. It shuddered every few seconds. Everything around me looked like reflections from a funhouse mirror; stretching, expanding, contracting, becoming triplicate reflections.
It was more than my upset stomach could take. Apparently the nausea was plain on my face. Absinthe gave a sputtering grunt and a wastebasket appeared in my hands, just in time for me to retch into the container. I had the sneaking suspicion the tiny fairy was more concerned about keeping his submarine home clean — that he wasn’t so worried about my upset stomach.
Cornelis was yelling something about shifting of “the in to the out” and tucking a bit from this reality into the next — just as he had mentioned before.
The submarine began to spin. I lost my balance and landed on the floor. Copper fell down next to me, and I held the child with one arm and used my other arm to deflect books that fell down from the shelves and onto us.
Absinthe seemed to realize Copper was in distress. He fluttered down to us, and landed on Copper’s shoulder. Then he wrapped his tail protectively around her head. A bright green light formed around us. When I touched the aura, I was surprised to find it felt as hard as steel.
As the world around me whirled I saw Cornelis frantically working with the perpetual motion machine and the magical finial. The submarine whirled so fast that everything became a blur. As the force and pressure created by the maniacally spinning vessel became too great, darkness overtook me.
What has the unintended incantation “Yadadarcyyada” done to the submarine and its passengers? Might the magical effect extend beyond the submarine? Will it be enough to allow our friends to get away from the villains on the hydrofoil? Be at the train station next time!
Now here is the recipe for Episode-21. Bon appétit!
Recipe: Ginger Beer,
A Probiotic Summer Drink
Photo and recipe credit: A Real Food Lover.com
22. Corded Stays, Pickled Beets, Cold Cereal
Through the velvet black of unconsciousness I heard my name called. I shook my head to clear it, but found I could barely move. Some unseen force held me fast. I managed to open my eyelids and vacantly looked straight ahead.
Absinthe, the Green Fairy clung protectively to Copper’s head. All I could think was what an odd sight it was. Then memory surged back, filling my mind. The pressure that held me still was from the force of the violently spinning submarine. Even if I could have moved spryly, the Green Fairy had created a protective barrier around Copper, himself, and me.
“Thank God you’re awake. It took you long enough,” Cornelis called from across the chamber where he moved like a maniac to correct the damage of his inadvertently spoken incantation, yadadarcyyada.
The multi-armed contrivance whirred and hummed, shooting rainbow light everywhere. It also shot colorful sparks now and then, which Cornelis adroitly ducked.
I muttered a rude response to the Dutchman’s ill-mannered comment.
“Don’t just sit there!” he complained. “I only have two hands. Have you a corset, woman?”
“I beg your pardon!” I said warningly.
“This is no time to suddenly become delicate,” Cornelis chided. “The thingamajig is on the verge of coming apart. I believe I can use the corded stays from a boned corset to keep its arms in place.”
“The thingamajig?” I repeated incredulously.
“Well, that is the name of the device after all. It is the original thingamajig!” the alchemist said in a tone that suggested that fact should have been obvious. “Didn’t Copper put a corset in that big carpet bag when you had her collect her belongings before we left the Hixon estate?” he asked.
“I believe she did at that,” I answered in a mystified tone. “But how did you know?”
“Never you mind,” Cornelis said and abruptly broke eye contact. “Absinthe, dear boy, could you release that shield enough to let Felicity out?”
The tiny skunk-looking creature snuffled and grunted sounds of uncertainty, but after a moment the bright green light he had formed around himself, Copper, and me flickered. When I had touched the aura before, it felt as hard as steel. I raised a hesitant finger and touched it to find it felt pliable.
“Go ahead,” Cornelis said through gritted teeth, apparently having to put great concentration into what he was doing. “You should be able to move about now.”
As I struggled to my feet, the Green Fairy’s magical shield stretched and preceded me while I moved. It caused everything I saw to take on a greenish cast. I spotted the black bag with a floral design. If I had not been looking through the green of Absinthe’s shield, the flowers would have been embroidered in a shade of mauve. My movements were sluggish as I made my way to the carpet bag. It felt like walking in waist deep water.
When I opened the bag I had the passing thought that Copper had an eye for fine things. She had packed my nicest undies. Despite the fact that I felt corsets were horrid, barbaric torture devices, I looked from the garment to Cornelis regretfully. It really was well crafted…
“Don’t look at me like that, Felicity! You know you’ll never wear the blasted thing,” Cornelis said sounding strained.
I sighed and plodded over to him as if in slow motion. At least two of the gemstone capped arms on the thingamajig waved erratically. They seemed in danger of flying off.
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” he complained. “Don’t sound like such a martyr. No, just put it in my hand and I’ll take care of it.”
“But both your hands are on the machines,” I said just as his hand darted away from that cast iron finial and grabbed the corset from me.
As Cornelis grasped the corset it became engulfed in the rainbows of light produced by the multi-armed contrivance. Then my under garment disappeared before my very eyes. The arms still whirred at blinding speed, but the machine’s movements didn’t seem as erratic.
I staggered as the spinning submarine abruptly slowed. Apparently the corset and its corded stays had been a proper fit to fix the wayward spell that caused the submarine to violently whirl.
“That’s better,” Cornelis murmured as the limbs of the machine slowed somewhat. “Now I just need something to set it. Um… Felicity do you notice anything missing?” he asked in his best professorial voice.
“Cornelis, I hardly think this is the time for an educational lecture,” I began.
“Just look, Felicity,” he said impatiently.
Watching the thingamajig made me queasy, but I could see that something wasn’t right. One of the jewel endcaps was missing. Looking at the rainbow lights cast by the machine I noticed there was no purple amid the numerous colors.
“The amethyst is gone!” I said feeling downright proud of myself, since Cornelis usually got the better of me when he went into professor mode.
“Ah… So it is,” he said sounding drolly bemused.
“You don’t have to sound so surprised,” I countered. “And you needn’t be smug either.”
“Now I need something purple,” he said looking all around.
“I saw a jar of pickled beets inside the desk — or rather the bridge as you called it,” I suggested.
Just as the words left my mouth, Absinthe shrieked. He left his protective perch on Copper’s head and fluttered upward to be at eyelevel with Cornelis and me. The Green Fairy muttered and grunted in an angry sounding way.
Typically the fairy’s striped tail curled over his back, rather like a squirrel’s tail would. The moment he started making those irate sounds, his tale stood up straight. I kept a worried eyeball on Absinthe’s bantam backside and eased backward. However, the submarine had no place where I could escape if the fairy let loose another spray of super concentrated absinthe fumes.
“What’s wrong with him?” I hissed at Cornelis.
The Dutchman hit his own forehead with the heel of his hand as if something he should have remembered had just come back to him.
“How could I forget? Beets are his favorite treat,” the alchemist muttered.
Absinthe fluttered threateningly in front of the bridge.
“Come on old chum,” Corenlis implored, but the fairy hissed. “It’s ever so important,” he encouraged, but Absinthe grunted an irate sound. “I only need one or two. I promise not to take them all,” Cornelis pleaded as the thingamajig swung erratically.
The Green Fairy’s emerald eyes narrowed as he looked skeptically at the gyrating contrivance. He fluttered down to the drawer where his pickled beets were stored and with a dramatic sigh opened the drawer. The jar of beets levitated up to my hands. Hurriedly I went to the alchemist and opened the jar.
Meanwhile Absinthe turned his back. He refused to look at any of us or what we did with his cherished beets.
When the spinning submarine slowed, the Green Fairy dropped the protective barrier he had created. Copper went to the alchemist’s side to watch what he was doing to the thingamajig. She looked closely at the faceted gemstone caps that adorned the machine’s limbs.
“The beets aren’t the same color of purple as an amethyst,” she pointed out the difference.
“So you know your gems then?” Cornelis commented.
“You make a valid point,” Cornelis replied, surprising me, as I didn’t expect him to take the girl’s comment seriously.
The beet was momentarily engulfed in a green glow. When the verdant aura dissipated, the reddish purple hue of the beet became a vibrant royal purple.
“Now if I can just attach the beet to the proper arm without stopping the motion of the thingamajig,” Cornelis murmured.
His hand darted out so fast that I couldn’t say exactly what he had done. However, the wonky motion of the multi-armed contrivance smoothed. Gradually the machine slowed to a gentle rhythm. I spotted the perfect amethyst, which only a moment before had been a pickled beet.
I had not seen the Green Fairy move, but he suddenly fluttered at my shoulder. He made a few clicking sounds that seemed to be a grudging compliment to the alchemist’s skill. Absinthe flew to the opened jar of pickled beets making tut tut noises until Cornelis put the lid back on the container. Then in a rapid blur of motion the fairy grabbed the jar and put it back into the drawer.
Quickly he fluttered from the bridge to the submarine’s brass periscope. Tiny paws made lightning fast adjustments to the crystal knobs on the apparatus. Uttering a nonstop stream of grunts and chirps, Absinthe turned it this way and that, taking a 360 degree view of the surroundings. Abruptly the fairy fell silent. He darted backward a pace, staring at the periscope. Then he shrieked.
“Absinthe! What’s wrong?” Copper cried in concern as she hurried to the tiny creature.
The Green Fairy didn’t appear to be hurt in any way, so I felt puzzled but very anxious. “Whatever is the matter with him?” I asked Cornelis.
The Dutchman seemed rooted to the spot where he stood. Like me, he dreaded what might have upset the fairy to such a great extent.
“I don’t know,” Cornelis began. “But I haven’t seen him this agitated since I tricked him into eating cold cereal.”
Cornelis gently moved the tiny fairy aside and looked through the periscope. He drew back, frowning, eyes narrowed, and brow furrowed. Then he looked again and shook his head slowly without taking his eyes away from the periscope.
The alchemist started whispering to the fairy. Absinthe muttered a series of chirps, seeming to insist that his opinion was correct. Cornelis whispered again and waved one arm emphatically. Absinthe chirped once then widened his emerald eyes and screeched a warning. Cornelis took a step backward, and raised his upturned palms, conceding the argument to the Green Fairy.
Finally the alchemist turned to me. “When yada— ahem… When that incantation worked itself into the spell I was crafting with the thingamajig,” Cornelis began.
“You mean when you accidentally spoke the incantation?” I couldn’t resist inserting.
Cornelis pursed his lips, narrowed his eyes, and looked to one side. He refused to take my bait.
“Ahem!” He cleared his throat pointedly. “As I was saying. Something went wrong with the thingamajig, and we have been transported.”
“Isn’t that good? That woman with the hydrofoil and that vicious trained chimpanzee were right on us,” I reminded him.
“Well, yes. Yes, I suppose it is at that!” Cornelis stammered but Absinthe hissed a warning at him. “All right, all right,” he said to the fairy and then turned back to me. “I admit that the mechanics of the situation are beyond me.”
“What are you trying to say Cornelis?” I insisted worriedly. “Where are we? Oh no-no-no… You are not telling me that we’ve moved through time are you? Like Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Vril, the Power of the Coming Race or some other science fiction story?” I asked, my eyes widening.
(Get Vril, the Power of the Coming Race free at Project Gutenberg)
“No Felicity. We haven’t fallen in with some sort of superior subterranean master race,” Cornelis said drolly. “And it’s not so much about where we are, or even when we are. And we haven’t gone to some other planet. Or at least, not exactly,” he said incomprehensibly and climbed the ladder to the hatch.
“Well, don’t just stand there,” the alchemist said. “It’s much easier to show you than it is to tell you.”
He turned the brass wheel that opened the submarine’s hatch. Copper scurried up the ladder behind Cornelis. I took a look over my shoulder at Absinthe, hoping for some hint that would help me understand what was happening, for some pearl of wisdom. The fairy plopped down on the desktop of the bridge in a dejected seeming way. His wings settled on his back. He looked at me and gave a resigned sounding chirp. Then he started eating the rest of the pickled beets. They were clearly his comfort food.
Copper’s musical voice came down to me when she beheld to landscape before her. “It’s an amethyst world!” she exclaimed, but I couldn’t imagine what she meant. So I climbed up to the opening.
My first concern was that the people from the hydrofoil would be there to attack us, but there wasn’t another soul in sight. I looked all around, speechless.
Everything was purple. It was like looking at the world through rose colored glasses – except I saw a landscape in purple, rather than pink.
I tensed as the vegetation parted about fifty feet away. A figure wearing a three piece suit with a starched collar and a bowler hat immerged. The hat and the suit made me think of Ignatius Belle, but I was also reminded of the portrait of Calvin Hixon. But the person’s gait was nothing like either man. He moved awkwardly in a loping walk.
He started motioning with his hands, repeating a pattern of movements that I had seen before. As he came closer the three of us gaped in astonishment. It was no man. Rather it was a very large purple chimp wearing a suit, hat, and spectacles. He made the motions again. Sign language.
Copper, the alchemist, and I spoke in chorus. “Daddy?”
Recipe: Pickled Beets
Photo and recipe credit: Megan at “Homestead Living“
23. Broken Knife, Sea Urchin, Potable Water
“Oh! You can speak. How wondrous!” was the delighted exclamation of the purple ape who wore a man’s suit, hat, and spectacles. “And what remarkable coloring you have!”
“Of course we can talk. But it’s amazing that you can!” Copper called out in reply as she clambered down from the submarine hatch, too quick for me to stop her.
The alchemist stood in gaping astonishment. I pushed past him and hurried after the girl, although I didn’t know how I could protect her from something as strong as the ape. I had no weapon on me, not so much as a little muff pistol.
Abruptly I remembered my pearl handled pen knife. It wasn’t much use as a weapon, but I reached quickly into my pocket. However, the pen knife seemed to have been damaged during the chaos of the spinning submarine. When I tried to open it, the broken knife fell apart in my hands.
The creature seemed genial enough, but who could say? I had no idea into what sort of place we had been cast by the accident of alchemy that sent Cornelis Drebbel’s submarine off course with rogue magic.
“Have a care, Felicity,” Cornelis hissed, as though he’d finally come back to himself.
“Of course I’ll be careful. Why didn’t you stop her?” I said through my teeth, trying to hide my anger with the Dutchman from the strange primate on the shore.
“But Felicity! I like him. He’s funny,” the girl pleaded. “I’m sure it’s perfectly safe,” Copper added in a rather good imitation of an adult.
“How can you think a purple ape — in a suit no less, is perfectly safe?” I whispered as I caught up to the girl and took her hand.
Cornelis cleared his throat loudly. “That’s not what I meant. I wasn’t talking about the ape when I told you to be careful,” the alchemist said urgently. “Doppelgängers!” he exclaimed, using his trick of casting his voice directly to my ear.
“What’s a doppelgänger?” Copper wanted to know as she looked from Cornelis to me and then back over her shoulder at the very large purple chimpanzee.
“It’s a sort of lookalike,” I told her.
As I gazed into the shallows of the sparkling amethyst water I noticed a violet colored sea urchin. Here even fishes and such are one color of purple or another, I thought. The water itself took on the hue of lavender from the sky it reflected. That alone was enough to make it a stranger place than anything I had ever imagined.
Cornelis seemed to be permanently adhered to his surely uncomfortable position, halfway out of the submarine’s hatch. I could hear Absinthe inside chirping excitedly, but I couldn’t tell if the Green Fairy was anxious, angry, or simply feeling chatty. Then a bottle levitated up from within the submarine. Cornelis snatched it out of the air and thanked the Green Fairy in a droll tone.
“Absinthe thinks you should take this potable water with you, as it might not be safe to drink anything here,” the Dutchman commented. “I think it’s a bad idea for you to leave this vessel at all.”
At the shore, the chimpanzee shifted his bowler hat and placed his walking stick in front of himself with both hands propped on its crystal top. Naturally the crystal was an amethyst cabochon. He looked curious, but quite patient and relaxed.
“Whatever are you talking about, Dutchman?” I looked up at Cornelis and asked while Copper stood staring at the chimp in a suit.
“If you meet your doppelgänger it could be dangerous,” the alchemist said.
“Why on earth would I meet my double?” I asked feeling piqued, with Copper pulling me forward and the alchemist holding me back.
“I think it’s the nature of this world, this place,” Cornelis explained with exaggerated patience. “It probably has its own versions of all of us. Purple versions, but still…” he added with a shrug.
“Why is it purple?” Copper interrupted. “Is there a purple fairy, like Absinthe is the Green Fairy?” she asked, eyes widening in anticipation.
The Green Fairy stuck his tiny nose out of the hatch and bit onto the alchemist’s sleeve, pulling it as if he wanted Cornelis to get back inside.
“Alright, alright,” he told Absinthe. “Copper, I suspect there is a good reason for the purple coloring, but the important thing you need to understand is that everything around us could become — well you could say the place may get unstable, just because of our presence. If any of us met our doubles it could be,” he paused, probably looking for words a young girl would understand. “Bad. It could be very bad,” he finished, but looked dissatisfied with his choice of words.
“Cornelis, aren’t you coming with us?” I asked with an uneasy eye on the large, strong chimpanzee, who had moved forward to the very edge of the water.
“No, Felicity. Were I to meet my doppelgänger it wouldn’t be dangerous,” he replied, and closing his eyes he took a deep breath. “It would be catastrophic.”
Seldom had I seen the Dutchman so serious. I don’t pretend that I fully understood his vague explanation, but I knew it had something to do with alchemy. So I didn’t press.
When I looked at Cornelis he curled his lips inward in a rueful grimace and raised his bushy blonde eyebrows. Then he pursed his lips and inclined his head pointedly toward the purple primate. The ape shifted his stance. Suddenly he reminded me very much of the portrait of Calvin Hixon.
The purple primate saw us looking at him and raised his voice to make sure it carried to us. “I’m sure it’s most unsettling, having your vessel run aground. And clearly you aren’t from here,” the ape began. “Or from any place of which I’ve ever heard…” his voice trailed off as he shook his head wonderingly. “But I assure you it really is perfectly safe, just as the young err… the young lady said.”
Had the ape hesitated to call Copper a young lady? Could it be that he perceived us as we saw him — as strange animals? Profound thoughts crowded my mind.
The ape looked remarkably like the portrait of Copper’s father. With of course the exception him of being an ape.
The suit-wearing creature bumped his palm to his forehead as if something obvious had just occurred to him. “Oh! If you are concerned that you don’t see people like yourselves, please don’t fear. We thought your species was extinct. I can’t tell you how delighted I am to know that is not the case! And that extraordinary coloring you have. This is so exciting! But pardon me. I digress,” he said in a gracious apologetic voice.
At the primate’s comment Absinthe fluttered up and out of the submarine. He chirped and grunted excitedly. The Green Fairy hovered around Copper’s head briefly. Then he darted toward the purple ape. Absinthe made several passes around the primate to inspect him, grunting the while.
“How delightful!” the very large chimpanzee exclaimed, taking off his spectacles since Absinthe was mere inches from his face. “What a colorful little chap. Why you’re like a very tiny, very green version of the purple people eater,” he said and Absinthe gave a disagreeable chirp. “Well no, I suppose that’s not true at all. But you seem to be the same sort of fae being.”
I couldn’t sense any animosity from the ape… and judging by the crash landing of the submarine we were going to need some kind of help. So I allowed Copper to lead me to the shore where he stood. The suited primate bowed politely to us, doffing his bowler hat.
Absinthe settled in his protective position atop Copper’s head. However, the ape’s attention wandered to the submarine. He was so intrigued that he waded out into the shallows for a better look. “You know,” he said in a self-deprecating tone. “I’m something of an inventor myself. What sort of vessel is that? It looks almost as though it’s meant to sail under the water,” the ape marveled.
Cornelis never could resist showing off one of his inventions and the ape was clearly a willing and eager audience. Abruptly the alchemist appeared at his elbow. The purple primate jumped with a start.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the Dutchman said. “I’m Cornelis Drebbel and I’d be delighted to show you the submarine.”
The ape gasped. His eyes grew large and his mouth opened silently. The primate’s eyes narrowed and he looked intently at Cronelis. “With this outlandish coloring, how could I suspect,” he murmured. Then he bowed extravagantly to Cornelis.
“Cornelis Drebbel, Lord of Alchemy, I welcome you to these shores. Please accept my humble apology for not recognizing you. No one has seen you for over a hundred years. It was feared that the purple people eater had… well… But how foolish of us to think you would have been bested by any beast, no matter how fearsome.”
Don’t forget this episode’s recipe! Since the food related thing, or ingredient, was “potable water” I chose one of Kathryn’s seafood recipes. I really appreciate that she often shares simple recipes made from things I might have on hand. I know you’ll enjoy this one.
Recipe: Spicy Canned Tuna Ceviche
Photo and recipe credit: Another Foodie Blogger
24. Straitlaced, Queen Anne Style Architecture, Harper’s Bazaar
The suited, bespectacled purple primate was a willing listener for Cornelis Drebbel. I wouldn’t have expected an ape to speak our language, even if he could talk. Nor would I have thought we would understand him. When I was about to ask, a significant look from Cornelis caused me to realize it had to be one of the Dutchman’s tricks at work, allowing us to communicate with one another.
The alchemist gave the primate a full tour of the submarine. The amethyst ape soaked up every detail as Cornelis explained how the many inventions onboard were used in the navigation and other workings of the submarine. The ape seemed to have an astonishing scientific comprehension of what the Dutchman said in describing his inventions.
Cornelis had gone on about doppelgängers and was genuinely concerned about the consequences if one of us met our double in this perplexing purple place. I remembered Copper’s giggling exclamation comparing the straitlaced ape to her father. I thought it simply childish fantasy, but then I recalled how the Dutchman reacted to her words. He curled his lips inward in a rueful grimace and raised his bushy blonde eyebrows. Then he pursed his lips and inclined his head pointedly toward the purple primate. At that moment the ape reminded me very much of the portrait of Calvin Hixon.
I studied the primate’s face and tried to imagine a human version. My eyes grew wide. The amethyst ape was Calvin Hixon’s doppelgänger!
Cornelis was quite adept at reading facial expressions, no matter how fleeting. When he glanced my way he raised one eyebrow and gave half a nod to indicate he knew I had caught on to what he had figured out the first moment he saw the ape. It was no wonder he’d frozen in amazement when Copper and I had gotten out of the submarine. I finally understood why. I tried not to stare at the ape version of Copper’s daddy.
After Cornelis had shown off his favorite inventions, the ape invited us to tea. Cornelis wasn’t quick enough to hide his reluctance to disembark the submarine. The ape tried to encourage him by describing the setting and the Queen Anne style architecture of his charming home. I couldn’t help wondering if this amethyst world had held a purple primate version of Queen Anne, and suspected that it actually had. However, Copper was beside herself with excitement.
In a very discrete way, the alchemist worked the conversation around to inquire about the ape’s family life and whether he lived alone. Abruptly the purple primate puckered his face, looking very contrite. He bumped his palm to his brow and apologized profusely.
“I was so amazed and excited that I forgot to introduce myself. Can you ever forgive my lacking manners? Cal Hicks — at your service,” he said with a bow. “Penny will be devastated not to have met you. That’s my daughter. She’s away for the week, visiting her brother Nate and his wife.”
When the ape — or I should say Cal Hicks, mentioned his daughter-in-law he gave me the strangest, quizzical look. “Something in your manner puts me very much in mind of my delightful daughter-in-law,” he told me with a twinkle in his eye.
I was speechless. Could there be a purple ape version of me? And was she married to an ape version of Ignatius Belle? Surely not, it was incomprehensible! The ideas were a bit too much and I suddenly had a headache.
The ape didn’t know the reason behind the alchemist’s concern, but what he disclosed about his family reassured Cornelis that it was unlikely for any of us to run into our doppelgängers. With a little more please-pretty-please urging from Copper, Cronelis finally agreed. So we set out with Cal Hicks, the primate equivalent of Copper’s daddy, to have tea at his home.
A violet complected chimpanzee housekeeper graciously served tea with all the trimmings. She seemed delighted to have a chance to show off her skills, and served the perfect pot of tea to complement each course.
Sandwiches and Savories
Smoked Salmon with Dill Butter on Dark Bread, garnished with Dill (open face half-moon sandwich)
Ham and Chopped Watercress with Basil Butter on Rye Bread (finger sandwich)
Thinly Sliced Cucumber & Chopped Mint with Mint Butter on White Bread (open face round sandwich)
Chopped Egg and Diced Black Olives on Whole Wheat Bread (pinwheel sandwich)
Scones and Breads
Flavored Butters (Fruit, Herb & Spice)
Raspberry Preserves and Rose Petal Jam
Served in a champagne or martini glass:
English Trifle with Heart-Shaped Hazelnut Shortbread Cookies
My cup rattled against its saucer. I was embarrassed to I spill my tea. Charming and hospitable as Cal Hicks was, the entire situation was unnerving. I almost wished I had stayed behind at the submarine with Absinthe. Cornelis was downright twitchy — probably still worried about doppelgängers. Copper was the only one who took everything in stride.
Several portraits hung in the hallway. It seemed that Cal Hicks enjoyed a much happier, devoted family life than had Calvin Hixon. The son was presumable born out of wedlock, since this place seemed to reflect our own world. But unlike Ignatius Belle, Nate Hicks agreed to become a true part of the family. And since Penny was visiting Nate and his wife for a week, I assumed that she did not share Copper’s dislike and mistrust of her half brother.
A purple primate version of Harper’s Bazaar magazine lay on a beautifully crafted mahogany table. The deep color of the wood had dark purple highlights. On the magazine cover was a woman-ape wearing a fashionable ensemble. A painting hung above the table. It was a portrait of Cal Hicks’ son and daughter-in-law. I had to admit the young ape in the portrait bore a vague resemblance to Ignatius Belle. However the female looked nothing like me whatsoever.
“Look Felicity! She looks like you,” Copper enthused.
Looking away, I tried not to let the ape see how aghast I was at the girl’s comment. With narrowed eyes I watched Corenlis. His mouth twisted in any number of ways as he tried to stifle his laughter. I knew it was our host he didn’t want to offend. He certainly wouldn’t be concerned about my pricked ego.
To hide his mirth, the Dutchman tapped his fist to his breastbone, pretending to stifle a burp. Then he asked our host if we might stroll around the grounds to help the fine repast he’d provided settle. The amethyst ape was happy to oblige.
As we toured the property we came upon a church. “That doesn’t look like it’s been used in quite some time,” I commented about the chapel.
“Ah yes. That was indeed a tragedy,” Cal Hicks replied sadly, and Copper was quick to push for details on a topic we adults may have deemed too delicate.
“It happened during the last confrontation with the one eyed one horned flying purple people eater,” the ape said then turned to Cornelis as if concerned. “Do you not remember it?”
“Err…” Cornelis hesitated, but a spark in his eyes told me he was about to dissemble. “I must confess,” he said looking so sad and sincere that I almost rolled my eyes. “An accident of alchemy brought my submarine back to these shores. Sadly I have no memory of the events that happened here,” he explained. “Oh now, there’s no need for concern, I’m sure the memories will return in due time. Such is the way of alchemy,” he assured our worried looking host.
“Well, perhaps a refresher will help it along then,” Cal Hicks said with a hopeful nod. “I mentioned that we had thought all of your species,” he said turning to me, but hesitating when he looked at Copper’s wide eyes. “Well, um, that the one eyed one horned flying purple people eater had, um gotten them,” Cal said and seeing that Copper didn’t look frightened, he continued. “However, there was one more confrontation with that huge purple fae creature. You, Cornelis Drebbel, cornered the magical beast, and with your alchemy intended to transfigure it to something harmless.”
“Let me guess,” I said with a wry grin. “The alchemy went awry.”
Cornelis glared at me, but the ape remained perfectly serious, continuing his narrative. “The Lord of Alchemy insisted that everyone take refuge in the chapel while he confronted the monster alone. Meanwhile, I ran to retrieve his harmonic tuner. It’s a magical device decorated with a carving of a trio in the classic mystic people pose — hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil.”
The ape suddenly looked overwhelmed with regret. He moved his spectacles to wipe a tear. “In my haste, I tripped. The harmonic tuner flew from my grasp. It rang as it flew through the air. However, you, Cornelis Drebbel, caught it before it fell. So I thought all would be well, and that my mishap had done no harm,” Cal Hicks told us in an apologetic voice.
The ape dabbed his nose with a silk handkerchief and took a deep breath before continuing. “The purple people eater vanished, presumably vanquished. You, Lord of Alchemy popped off, as was your habit, to make sure the beast was gone for good. But you never returned,” he said, looking like a repentant child caught in mischief. His expression gladdened as he looked up and added, “Until today that is.”
Cal Hicks turned somber eyes to the chapel. He shook his head slowly. “When the loud harmonic noise of the misused tuner dissipated, I realized there were no sounds whatsoever coming from the church. To my horror, I found it empty. Everyone inside had vanished along with the purple people eater,” he said.
I gasped despite myself. The ape seemed to think I found his telling of the story that shocking, and he seemed gratified to have at least told it well. Although it was obvious that he blamed himself to a degree for what happened. So I tried not to let on that the story wasn’t the reason for my gasp.
“Cornelis!” I whispered to the alchemist. “That army of chimpanzees back at the Hixon estate. What if they weren’t trained,” I said but paused, looking for the right word. “What if instead, they were actually translocated?”
Felicity has figured out at least part of the mystery of the “trained” chimpanzees, but we still don’t know who was using them. Can the ape version of Calvin Hixon somehow help our trio reach Copper’s real daddy? Will seeing the portrait of primate doubles of herself and Ignatius Belle influence Felicity’s capricious feelings about him? I hope to see you at the platform for the train to the Victorian Era again next time.
Hot and humid… day after day, night after night – it’s just that time of year here. So when I saw a beautiful post from Suzanne at A Pug in the Kitchen for “Nicoise Salad,” it seemed like the perfect recipe to share with this episode.
Recipe: Nicoise Salad
Photo and recipe credit: Suzanne Debrango
25. Babylon, Toothpick, Alpine
Cornelis Drebbel had that look in his eyes — the twinkle-eyed look that never failed to worry me. That expression would make you think he came from ancient Babylon — powerful, affluent, and downright sinful. However, he actually wasn’t born until 1572. I knew that expression meant he thought he was being clever. While the amethyst ape, Cal Hicks was distracted by Copper’s animated conversation, the alchemist cast a considering gaze his way.
“What are you up to Cornelis Drebbel?” I narrowed my eyes and whispered in a warning tone.
“It’s important that we get back to our own world, don’t you think?” he asked drolly. “If there was a version of myself here, then that me would have had a laboratory or a workshop of some sort. I suspect this ape knows where it is. But how to get him to disclose the information…” the Dutchman pondered.
“Why not just ask him?” I sputtered in exasperation. “There needn’t be any subterfuge. He already believes you are, well… you.”
The Dutchman’s mouth twisted to one side. “Oh, I suppose you’re right. You do have a way of taking the fun out of things, Felicity,” he said drolly.
“Dear one, please do call me Cal,” he said in a fatherly tone and added a little bow.
That felt the tiniest bit creepy to me, but I smiled and nodded agreeably. “Would it be possible for you to show us to the Lord of Alchemy’s laboratory? Cornelis doesn’t like to admit to having lost so much of his memory — temporary though it may be. I think being among his things would help him remember. Besides, he dotes on this submarine and would love to repair it,” I said.
The amethyst ape was eager to comply. I gave Cornelis a sidelong look. “See,” I told him. “Simple as that.”
Surprisingly, Absinthe seemed to object. He fluttered around the alchemist’s head, chirping excitedly. Remembering how impossibly potent one of his poots could be, it made me nervous to see the Green Fairy so agitated.
“Calm down old boy,” Cornelis said soothingly to Absinthe. “Everything will be fine. If I so much as sense something a hair out of the ordinary, I’ll come back here right away.”
As we exited the submarine, Absinthe followed. He seemed torn between flying protectively around Copper and Cornelis. The girl turned back and gasped delightedly.
“Look at the submarine!” Copper cried. “Isn’t it beginning to turn purple?”
Absinthe zipped through the air and quickly circled the submarine. He came back, with nervous sounding chirping. He hovered six inches away from the alchemist’s nose, looking quite excitable. Cornelis looked from Absinthe to the submarine.
“It’s becoming part of the amethyst world,” Copper said in awe. “If we stay will we turn purple too?” she asked in a way that made it clear she found the prospect of such a transformation delightful.
I thought he had gone to hide when Absinthe darted back into the submarine. However, a moment later he emerged with a seabag floating behind him. The tiny fairy seemed to be handier with levitation than Cornelis. Absinthe continued to levitate the bag until he reached me. Then he unceremoniously dropped the bag at my feet.
The seabag came open and out rolled a frightful looking head. I nearly screamed, but closer inspection showed it to be some kind of hideous mask. It had two big round goggle eyes and a long snout that ended at a flat circle and a leather strap to hold it to the wearer’s head.
Absinthe levitated the mask over to Copper. She was quick to understand that he meant her to wear it if needed. When I saw that the bag also contained several bottles, I thought the Green Fairy was still concerned about this strange environment. When we first arrived, he had given us bottled water; fearing things of this world would be harmful to us if consumed.
As I returned the bottles to the bag, I discovered a charming silver toothpick holder. It was shaped like a little gazebo with a domed roof supported by columns. Within was a crystal bird with wings outstretched. Tiny holes in the rounded roof held toothpicks.
Cornelis suddenly appeared at my elbow. He knew it annoyed me when he did that. It was always disquieting, and it always entertained him to startle me. He smirked.
“Absinthe isn’t far off the mark,” Cornelis whispered. “There is a very real danger that we could become trapped here. However, we would have to be here for a very long time before that potential became a reality. This is a measuring device,” he explained, pointing at the toothpick holder. “If the toothpicks begin to turn purple, it is a warning.”
Seeing my widening eyes, he was quick to elaborate. “Many of the effects can be mitigated,” he waived away my concern. “For instance, a little lavender hue is of no real concern. But if all the toothpicks turn purple we are in serious danger of being unable to return home. Should the bird turn purple,” he added pointing to the crystal ornament in the center of the gazebo. “Well, then it is too late,” he finished with a wry twist of his mouth, which suggested that was a real possibility.
The Green Fairy was still agitated, but the purplish color of the undersea vessel seemed to have changed the cause of his worry. Absinthe fluttered over to Cal Hicks and chirped once. The ape chuckled, still marveling at the tiny fairy.
“You are the most delightful shade of green,” he said in a mystified tone.
“He wants you to lead us,” Copper translated.
“Ah! So he does. This way then,” directed the purple primate as he adjusted his bowler hat and pointed with his amethyst topped walking stick.
After about fifteen minutes of walking we reached a clearing. In its center was a sprawling building. It was only one story tall, except for a broad, towering dome in the center. Cornelis gazed at the facility in childlike wonder.
The sound of clamoring hooves and the clanking of a bell made everyone turn. A lavender Alpine goat ran out of the building and barreled into Cornelis. The Dutchman landed on his back with a thud. The goat sniffed happily at his face. She made the oddest warbling behh sound.
I had become accustomed to the amethyst ape’s warmhearted chuckle. So I was surprised to hear him laugh uproariously. He recovered himself somewhat and turned to me to explain.
“The Lord of Alchemy allowed us to keep a herd of milk goats behind his laboratory. There was something about the grass there that improved their milk greatly. I’ve always pondered if that was because this grass has a greenish tone,” Cal Hicks told me, but then shook his head.
“But I digress again,” he apologized. “Cornelis Drebbel made a pet of this particular goat. However, I always told him that it was she who thought he was the pet. She’s quite possessive of him.”
Cornelis clamored to his feet. The lavender goat gently head-butted the Dutchman and nearly knocked him over again. She nibbled at his coat sleeve and pant legs, ignoring his attempts to brush her away. From time to time she uttered that strange warbling behh sound. It really was funny, and I couldn’t help laughing.
Copper had no compunction about offending anyone. She wrapped her arms around the goat’s neck, hugging the animal. The girl laughed so hard she toppled over. Fortunately the goat seemed to take to her. The next thing I knew, the large goat had maneuvered Copper onto her back. Copper sat astride the goat as if she was about to take the goat for a gallop. The oddest part was that it looked perfectly natural.
All the laughter was abruptly cut short by a trumpeting screech. I looked to the amethyst sky from which the sound came, but saw nothing. Cornelis looked apprehensive. The ape, Cal Hicks, trembled fearfully.
“Get inside,” Cornelis ordered pointing toward the building that was the laboratory of the version of him that inhabited this world. “Quickly,” he added with a sharp pat to the goat’s rump. “Hang on tight, Copper!” he called.
The lavender goat bolted toward the laboratory, carrying Copper on her back.
“What was that?” I exclaimed.
Cal Hicks came to himself as we all ran behind the goat. “I was so sure it was dead,” the amethyst ape said. “That was the hunting call of the one eyed one horned flying purple people eater!”
I wondered what kind of recipe I could possibly use for the “three things” that drove this episode. So I searched the Google countryside. I found the most delightful blog. Please visit Claire at Eats from the Streets http://eatsfromthestreets.com/
Recipe: Texas Toothpicks
Photo and recipe credit: Claire Williams
26. Glass Eye, Silver Vinaigrette, Sextant
“I feel funny,” Copper said and indeed she looked pale.
The one eyed one horned flying purple people eater roared a terrible screech a moment before, though the creature was not within our sight. I thought all the excitement must be too much for the girl. Copper, Corneils, Cal Hicks, and I hurriedly hid from the beast in the huge laboratory that belonged to the amethyst world’s duplicate of Cornelis Drebbel.
Copper got down from the lavender alpine goat that had playfully carried her into the building. She really did seem unsteady. Absinthe had been concerned about us consuming the water of this strange place. I wondered if something she ate or drank at tea disagreed with her.
Frantic cries from outside caused Cal Hicks to dash to the door. When he opened the door, the violet complected chimpanzee housekeeper rushed inside. She was in a terrible state, having heard the roar of the flying beast. She sank to a stool that was nearby.
“Viola! Whatever brings you out here? Were you hurt? Did you see the beast?” Cal Hicks asked in a single breath.
The housekeeper shook violently. I stooped down to see if she was hurt or unwell. That was when I first noticed that she had a glass eye. (Of course the eye was purple.) It was also the first time I realized that she must be elderly. There were broad strands of pale lavender in her reddish purple hair. It was not until that moment that it occurred to me that those pastel streaks would be the same as gray hair in our world.
Cal Hicks turned to us and described how the purple people eater had attacked the village where Viola grew up. She had been among the casualties. He discretely indicated that her eye had been one of her wounds. It was no wonder just hearing the creature frightened her to such an extent.
The amethyst ape seemed to know his way around the laboratory quite well. I thought he must have worked closely with the purple version of Cornelis Drebbel. He went directly to a table that held many intriguing devices. Cal opened a drawer and removed an intricately designed silver vinaigrette. An invigorating scent drifted over to me when he took the vinaigrette to Viola. The aroma seemed to revive her.
“Smelling salts?” I inquired.
“No, not precisely. Rather than ammonium, it’s a restorative herb,” Cal explained.
Assured that Viola was only over-excited and not injured, I stood up again. As I moved I felt suddenly lightheaded. There was also an odd hollow feeling at my heart. My ears were ringing. I closed my eyes, placed my hand to my solar plexus and took deep breaths. When I looked up I noticed Copper sitting on the floor, the lavender goat nuzzling at her hair affectionately.
I tottered a little as I stood. Viola handed me the vinaigrette and patted my arm in a grandmotherly way, but I wasn’t experiencing the vapors as she had. Whatever I was experiencing it was not from the emotional response that upset the housekeeper. She nodded, encouraging me to inhale the scent. I found that it actually did help. I took it over to Copper, suspecting that whatever had overcome me was also the cause of her discomfort.
“Viola, you must have run to catch up with us,” Cal said. “Whatever was so important?”
“It’s the family. They’ve returned. I wanted to make sure they got to meet your extraordinary guests, but I wanted it to be a surprise for them. So I hurried here, only telling them that I was going to fetch you,” Viola explained. “Then I heard that horrid beast. I’ll never forget that awful day!” she cried, tears leaking from her good eye. “So I ran the rest of the way, fearing for your safety — for all of you.”
When Viola uttered the word “family” Cornelis paled. He looked from me to Copper. “You’re not feeling well,” he said and it was a statement not a question. “They are too close,” he muttered worriedly.
“Who do you mean?” I asked unsteadily. The dizziness was making it hard for me to think.
“Your doppelgängers! They are too close. That’s why you feel ill. A hollow feeling? Dizzy, ears ringing? Am I right?” Cornelis demanded and I nodded apprehensively. “You must not get any closer to your doubles from this world!” he said, including both Copper and me.
At the excitable tones from Cornelis, Absinthe poked his head up from the alchemist’s jacket pocket. The tiny fairy stretched his wings and then fluttered to a long worktable that was covered with charts, maps, and scientific looking implements. The Green Fairy inspected the maps and drawings carefully. He was just as thorough when he began to examine the contrivances scattered across the table.
He was also remarkably silent. Though I’d never heard him utter an actual word, the tiny skunk-looking fae usually muttered, chirped, or grunted most of the time — especially if he was intrigued by something. However, Absinthe seemed quite serious as he investigated the strange implements on the long table.
He stopped abruptly when he came to a gleaming brass sextant. It was beautifully decorated with amethyst cabochons. The navigation instrument was supported by two exquisitely formed gold mermen. The apparatus sat on a wooden base of purple streaked mahogany.
Absinthe checked the sextant closely, finally muttering very quietly. However, he still didn’t seem to be himself. For a moment I wondered if he had a doppelgänger nearby as well. Then the Green Fairy sighed resignedly. He looked up at Cornelis and chirped something that the alchemist seem to understand. They exchanged a sad look.
The Dutchman moved to examine the sextant. He muttered in much the same manner as Absinthe. Finally he nodded. “Yes. This should do the trick,” Cornelis said with a decisive nod.
He turned gravely to Absinthe. “Can you take care of the err… the Purple Fairy?” Cornelis asked the tiny Green Fairy, and Absinthe nodded, again with that sad resigned attitude.
“What Purple Fairy?” I wanted to know.
The amethyst ape seemed to grasp the fact that was eluding my dizzy noggin. I struggled to catch up to their thinking, but I felt so woozy. I vaguely remembered the amethyst ape calling the purple people eater a fae — a fairy.
“Oh you don’t mean?” Cal Hicks gasped with a horrified expression.
Viola echoed Cal’s sudden inhalation, putting a hand to her mouth. “No. You can’t mean that very small green creature is going out to confront the giant one eyed one horned flying purple people eater!” the violet chimpanzee housekeeper exclaimed. “Why the poor little thing won’t last a minute. Please! Can’t you call him back?”
27. Silver Locket, Green Chartreuse, Salmon Koulibiac
Cornelis Drebbel wore a grave expression as Absinthe popped off to confront the Purple Fairy — also known as the one eyed one horned flying purple people eater. Our ape host and his housekeeper continued to murmur worriedly about the safety of the tiny Green Fairy.
I looked at the Dutchman. His mouth twitched. Then he smirked. As I drew a breath to ask him what the devil he was thinking, Cornelis burst out laughing. What preposterous behavior! I was speechless, my question utterly forgotten.
Viola clutched a silver locket suspended from a chain around her neck. A tear from her good eye trickled down her cheek. She looked like she might swoon again. Cal Hicks patted her shoulder, trying to comfort the violet chimpanzee.
She was so distraught that I said the first thing that came to my mind, meaning to distract her. “What’s that pretty thing you have there?” I asked, meaning the locket she held tightly.
Viola sniffled and nodded as if she acknowledged the fact that she should compose herself. Then she opened the locket. Within was a narrow plait of reddish purple hair.
“It belonged to my son. He perished that day,” she explained softly and touched the corner of her glass eye. “I wasn’t able to protect him!” she added on a wail. “Oh that lovely fluffy green fae; so unique and beautiful. And he’s so noble too,” she said with a glare at Cornelis who was still chuckling.
I was stunned that the alchemist would laugh when Absinthe had left in such a state. Could the Green Fairy really mean to sacrifice himself, as Viola and Cal assumed?
Cal Hicks cleared his throat. A parade of expressions marched across the amethyst ape’s face. He looked confused, then appalled, and then scandalized before his features turned again to a perplexed expression.
“Lord of Alchemy,” the ape began but stopped to clear his throat again. “Is the Green Fae so powerful that you have no concern for his safety?” Cal asked sincerely. “Even against the one eyed one horned flying purple people eater?”
“The little fellow’s poots are perniciously powerful!” Cornelis exclaimed with delight, but no one laughed. “Absinthe is—” Cornelis paused as if he chose his words carefully. “Absinthe has encountered the Purple Fairy before. He’s well aware of the creature’s capabilities.”
“That would explain why the poor little thing seemed so sad!” Viola exclaimed in a sarcastic and irate tone before sinking back into her usually reserved manner.
The Dutchman laughed again, but he finally seemed to grasp how truly dismayed Cal and Viola were. His mouth twisted any number of ways as he fought unsuccessfully to contain his mirth. I thought he was about to explain his incomprehensible attitude. However, he became serious immediately when he turned to see the reason for a loud behhh from the lavender alpine goat.
Copper had said she wasn’t feeling well, and neither was I. Cornelis said it was the physical effect of our doppelgängers being too close. In the scant moment since the girl sat down on the floor, she had completely lost consciousness. The lavender goat made a sound that was very similar to a baby’s cry as she nuzzled Copper’s bright new-penny colored hair.
I sank to the floor beside Copper. The truth is I meant to kneel beside the girl, but I was in a poor state myself. Once my body started downward, I had little control over it. I put my hand to Copper’s forehead. However, she seemed neither warm nor cold. Abruptly I realized that we both had the same condition, and perhaps we also had the same temperature, whatever that was. My thinking was foggy and I found it irritating to try and reason out the situation.
I put my fingers to Copper’s wrist, feeling her pulse. It was very slow. Cornelis deduced something with a single glance. The alchemist vanished with a sharp pop, but he reappeared almost immediately.
He knelt down beside Copper. Cornelis produced several crystal shot glasses and a bottle of liquor. He poured green liquid into three of the shot glasses, handing two of them to Cal Hicks and Viola.
“Go ahead,” the Dutchman encouraged them. “Drink up. It will set you straight — fortify your nerves,” he added and they obediently drank.
He offered me the third glass. I felt woozier by the minute. Adding the effects of alcohol seemed like a bad idea. “What is it?” I inquired.
“Green Chartreuse,” he supplied the name of the liquor. “Um, maybe you’re right,” Cornelis muttered as if he knew what was on my mind, and then he upended the shot glass of green spirits himself.
The alchemist asked Cal Hicks for the ape’s harmonic tuner. It was similar to the one Copper cherished as a gift from her father, except Cal’s tuner didn’t have three mystic monkeys postured to see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil. Rather it had three mystic humans in the poses.
Cal Hicks wore a worried but excited expression as he handed the alchemist the mystic humans tuner. Cornelis examined the ape’s tuner and a bemused expression briefly came to his face. He poured another glass of the Green Chartreuse. Then he held the device over the liquor and delicately flicked the harmonic tuner with his fingernail.
The tuner produced a very quiet sound that steadily grew in volume and resonance. The glass of Chartreuse vibrated until the tone from the crystal shifted to match the tone from the harmonic tuner. I saw a green aura surround the glass.
I blinked hard, thinking something was wrong with my vision — after all, the effects of my amethyst world double being nearby wreaked havoc with all my senses. I started to think the green aura was actually the color of the sound produced by the tuner! It seems strange to say, but I could also taste the sound. It was like coarsely ground raw sugar.
Giving my head a sharp shake to clear it, I nearly fell over. Cornelis glanced at me briefly, still intent on the glass of green liquor. The vibration stopped as the tone dissipated. Cornelis took a spoon from his jacket pocket.
The alchemist started to speak to me but twisted his mouth in a derisive expression. “Never mind,” he commented though he hadn’t said anything else to me. “Your hands won’t be steady. Cal, could you get Copper sitting up and help me get two spoonsful of this into her?” he asked, meaning the alchemically treated Chartreuse.
“I’ll do it,” Voila insisted, following Cal Hicks to the girl. “Sometimes a small medicinal dose of spirits can benefit a child.”
The alchemist’s eyes were still on the green liquid when he replied to Viola. “It is liquor no longer. The vibrations from the harmonic tuner have transformed the green Chartreuse,” Cornelis informed us.
In a moment Copper was resting unconscious in Viola’s lap as Cal held her mouth open. Faster than humanly possible, Cornelis had two spoons of the green liquid in her mouth. Viola pushed the girl’s mouth close, and gently stroked Copper’s throat, easing the liquid down and into her system.
“Felicity, drink the rest of it,” Cornelis instructed, handing me the shot glass of special Chartreuse.
I’ve described the effect of my doppelgänger being too near as a combination of lightheadedness and an odd hollow feeling at my heart. My hands really were shaking, that hadn’t just been Cornelis taking a jab at me. I tried not to spill the green liquid down my chest — I had only packed one other shirt.
I downed the contents of the crystal shot glass. At first I felt nothing from it. I looked at Copper. She was still unmoving in Viola’s care. After a moment I saw the girl’s hand move. However, I looked away when something suddenly surged up inside me. The hollow feeling at my heart seemed to stretch, becoming bigger and longer until it was pulled outside of me. I staggered and found myself prostrate on the floor.
Yet within seconds my head felt clear. The hollowness was gone and I felt solid, complete inside. I turned to see Copper. The girl was sitting up petting the lavender goat.
She looked at me as if she was about to say something that surprised her. “I know it hasn’t been long since we had that very nice tea, but I’m hungry,” she said emphatically.
My stomach growled as if in answer and I realized that I was famished too. Cornelis smirked and raised one bushy blonde eyebrow at the sound from my tummy. “It’s a side effect of that particular alchemy. Everything you’ve eaten today was consumed by the spell,” he informed.
Viola smiled broadly. She may have been helpless to cure our condition a moment before, but she knew how to remedy an empty stomach.
“I have a lovely salmon koulibiac waiting. We can have dinner early,” the violet chimpanzee said, sounding very pleased with herself.
Everyone smiled and laughed. However, the moment of relief was cut short.
A thundering roar split the air. The sound was so loud that the laboratory building shook. Dust motes rained down from the high dome. Whatever made that sound had to be tremendous.
“Absinthe…” Copper whispered worriedly.
A broad gout of flames shot past the long row of windows, scorching the ground in front of the laboratory. I knew it wasn’t safe, but I couldn’t stop myself from running to the windows. Where the sky had previously been dotted with pastel lavender clouds, now the beast that made that resounding roar took up my field of vision.
For just an instant I thought I saw a sun, but the sun had a black slit in the center. A purple cover blinked down and I gasped. It was a golden eye; a single eye. Its proximity to the window was so close that when the great beast snorted the window shook. It gave another contemptuous snort as it backed up enough for me to see the face of the cyclops-looking creature. On its forehead, above that eye was a fat curved onyx horn.
Flapping broad wings, the creature rose heavenward. The entire sky seemed to be occupied by an immense one eyed one horned purple dragon.
“A dragon?” I gasped.
“It’s the one eyed one horned flying purple people eater,” Viola said with a shudder.
A tiny green blur shot up thirty feet from the ground. Absinthe. The Green Fairy looked too small to even be a snack for the titanic purple dragon.
I couldn’t imagine what good it would do for little Absinthe to confront the giant purple fairy. I knew he was able, along with Cornelis, to power the submarine. I had seen him do small magic, like levitating things and making a shield around Copper when the submarine spun out of control. However, I couldn’t imagine how he could hope to fight a huge dragon.
Absinthe must have used some kind of magic to boost his volume, because the little sounds he typically made were easily audible to us inside the laboratory. He shrieked at the dragon in a forceful tone. The beast roared, and its breath blew the Green Fairy back quite a distance.
In a green streak, Absinthe zipped back closer than before to the purple dragon. The chirping from Absinthe took on a consolatory tone. For a moment I thought he was negotiating. A contained rumble came from inside the dragon and I feared it was about to produce another gout of flame. Then I realized it was more of a low growl of anger.
Something in the tones of the two fairies made me believe they knew one another quite well, despite one being tiny and green and the other being huge and purple. And that there was some sort of bad blood between the two. That was even worse. The Green Fairy facing the gigantic purple people eater was horrible, but for the tiny skunk-looking fae to contend with a tremendous creature that was angry with him — that was much worse.
“They know each other!” I exclaimed.
Cornelis nodded his head. I was aghast to see that the Dutchman was once again holding back his laughter. “Oh yes,” Cornelis said, drawing out the words. “He knows her alright.”
To my consternation, the alchemist even snorted. “Cornelis Drebbel!” I yelled despite myself. “How can you be so callous? Absinthe has been your friend for centuries!” I cried, but my volume dwindled when I realized there was more to what Cornelis said.
“Wait, wait,” I said, backtracking. “You said she? She! Do you mean to say that is a… a she-purple people eater?” I demanded astounded.
Cornelis twisted his mouth to one side and raised both of his bushy eyebrows. “Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d. Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d,” he quoted Shakespeare.
The purple people eater flapped her broad wings and arched her back, fiercely roaring heavenward. Then she belched an enormous ball of fire that spread out above her and Absinthe like a lethal flaming dome. Suddenly, both Absinthe and the purple fairy dropped from the sky, the burning dome hurtling downward, ever closer to them.
The fire was so bright that it dazzled my eyes. I could only see glowing spots. As I stood there blinking I felt someone rush past me.
“Lord of Alchemy!” Call Hicks yelled as Cornelis used one of his tricks to run right through the door without opening it.
“Cornelis, no!” I screamed. “You’ll be burned to a crisp!”
Video: Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls Of Fire.AVI
Recipe: Salmon Koulibiac with Lobster Sauce
Recipe and photo credit: Jim and Deb Cianciolo
28. Well-bred Man, Courtship, Horseback
Cal Hicks yelled at me that it wasn’t safe. His expression immediately became rueful and he apologized profusely for his tone. Hicks truly was a well-bred man — or rather ape. However, my feet had taken me to the door before my common sense caught up with them.
When I opened the door I saw Absinthe and the one eyed one horned flying purple people eater hurtling toward the ground. The vast dome of fire continued to descend.
The tiny green skunk-looking fairy shrieked something at the purple people eater and grabbed onto the tip of her tail as they fell. Absinthe used a trick like the one Cornelis sometimes used to send his voice. Though I didn’t understand him, I clearly heard him snuffle and grunt to the Alchemist.
Both Cornelis and the dragon looked at Absinthe doubtfully. Cornelis held up the harmonic tuner and gave it one sharp ring. Absinthe echoed the tone and the pitch of his voice merged with the harmonic sound. I could see a emerald aura stretching up from Cornelis to the Green Fairy. Absinthe glowed verdantly and the intensity of the aura doubled. I was sure they had somehow combined their powers.
The she-dragon looked at Absinthe as he clung to the tip of her tail. She snorted a puff of purple smoke that briefly circled her one-eyed one-horned head. Then she flicked her tail, launching the tiny Green Fairy even closer to the flames above.
Absinthe summersaulted as he soared pointing his bantam backside toward the dome of fire. He lifted his fluffy tail and proceeded to produce one of his powerfully potent poots. The forceful fairy fart flew against the flaming dome.
I had first-hand knowledge of the fairy’s flatulence. When startled or threatened, the Green Fairy produced a spray that was essentially a very highly concentrated form of the liquor, absinthe. I was fearful to see him aim that fart at the flames. I was certain it would only make the fire worse.
Cringing, I looked over at Cornelis. The Alchemist drew a deep breath and then blew upward. I couldn’t see his breath, but I remembered Cornelis telling me that his alchemy sometimes worked to exchange or transform one thing into another. As I watched, the cloud of green vapor from Absinthe’s bottom expanded to the width of the flaming dome.
My arm went up reflexively to cover my face when the green vapor met the flames. A blinding flash and a loud crack of thunder shattered the air. I braced myself for the blast of a huge explosion, but the opposite happened. The alchemically charged green vapor caused the dome of flames to implode.
The immense Purple Fairy and the tiny Green Fairy settled to the ground, singed but unharmed. I heard a long sustained grumble. After a moment I realized that the sound was a low growl from the dragon. Absinthe snorted and snuffled and the Purple Fairy continued to growl. I gathered they had not yet settled their differences.
Glimmering green powder slowly drifted to the ground. It settled on the two fairies, though they didn’t seem to realize it. I stretched out my hand, watching as it dusted my palm. Unexpectedly I felt content and happy.
“What is this shimmering powder?” I wanted to know.
“It’s residue,” Cornelis said with a shrug. “It’s what was left of Absinthe’s defensive spray after it caused the flames to implode. Have a care not to inhale the powder. It’s not as potent as the concentrated absinthe vapors that Absinthe sprays, but it’s still intoxicating,” he cautioned.
Copper ran to the doorway, with Viola right behind. The violet complected chimpanzee tried to grab the girl’s arm, but Copper was too quick. Happily she stopped well away from the one horned cyclops Purple Fairy.
The sharp point of the dragon’s fat curved black onyx horn gleamed in the sunlight as the two fairies continued to make odd noises at one another. However, they did seem calmer. I thought I could see a bit of greenish dust on the black onyx horn. I wondered if the powder had the same comforting effect on the fairies as it had on me.
“Don’t they like each other?” Copper asked.
“She’s his mate,” Cornelis said of the gigantic purple fae. “They had a disagreement and both stormed off their separate ways. Each was too stubborn to seek out the other.”
“You mean Absinthe was married to that big dragon?” Copper asked incredulously.
“Well, that would have been quite an unusual courtship, wouldn’t it?” Cornelis began. “However, Aubrieta — that’s the Purple Fairy’s name — she wasn’t always a dragon. I’m not sure how Aubrieta wandered into this place. However, something about the combination of her particular magic and the nature of this amethyst world transformed her. Of course, that situation made it even less likely for them to patch up their differences,” the Dutchman added.
Cal Hicks cautiously stepped out of the laboratory building. Cornelis assured him that all was well. He sketched a bow toward the two fairies, but did not approach them.
“Lord of Alchemy, you named the Purple Fairy Aubrieta?” the amethyst ape asked and his mouth twitched and puckered. “Aubrieta is a tiny purple flower,” he whispered but failed to completely suppress a soft chuckle. “No offense. It’s just that I enjoy the irony of a one eyed one horned gigantic fairy being named for a tiny flower,” Cal said.
The mannerly ape composed himself and became businesslike. “My family surely heard the commotion down at the main house. That fireball was probably visible for quite some distance as well,” Cal reminded us. “Since the effects of being too near their doppelgängers made young Copper and Lady Felicity so ill, I’m sure there is great merit to your assertion that bringing any of the two together would be dangerous indeed.”
“I’ll take care of that,” Viola called out as she came around the corner of the building leading an aubergine coated horse. “Swift and I might be long in the tooth,” Viola began and patted the horse. “If Nate and his wife and Penny are faster than us, we’ll still meet them on the trail. I can turn them back, or prevent them trying to come in the first place, whichever the case may be,” she said as Cal helped her onto the horse.
We watched as Viola left on horseback. However, our attention quickly transferred to the fairies. Absinthe made a series of consolatory sounding chirps. Then he fluttered up and perched on the curve of the dragon’s black onyx horn. Aubrieta rolled her single eye upward at the tiny green fae.
I thought she was coughing. A puff of smoke came from her snout. Absinthe started chirping happily and flew backward several feet from Aubrieta’s face so she could see him better. The dragon’s mouth curved and I realized she was not coughing, but laughing.
With an awkward pucker, Aubrieta spat out what looked like a purple grape. She breathed lavender smoke onto the grape. Absinthe chittered encouragingly. The grape grew and grew to the size of a house. It continued to expand until it finally exploded into a purple mist.
Aubrieta was suddenly transformed into a winged purple skunk-looking fae as tiny as Absinthe. She still had only one amber eye. In her dragon form she had a fat curved black horn, but it was changed to a golden unicorn-like horn.
As the purple fog settled, dozens of big chimpanzees could be seen. They had the coloring of our home, not the hues of the amethyst world.
First one or two, then most of the chimps realized their nakedness. Clearly embarrassed, they tried to cover themselves and hide. However, a few stood boldly and cheered that they had returned home. When they saw the one eyed one horned flying purple people eater, they too scattered and ran away.
“Are those…?” I began but the power of speech left me.
“Those naughty chimps!” Copper exclaimed.
Cornelis Drebbel folded his arms across his chest in a self-satisfied posture. “Aubrieta, the purple people eater, didn’t devour the chimps, or rather the folk of this place,” Cornelis explained. “However, she was angry at the way she had been treated here, and she used her power to banish them. They of course ended up in our world.”
“So the chimp who was gesticulating what looked like sign language for Daddy—” I started to ask a question but the Dutchman finished my sentence.
“That clever chimp had figured out that Calvin Hixon, Copper’s father in our world, was the doppelgänger of Cal Hicks here,” Cornelis said with a nod.
Copper moved to the amethyst ape and took his hand. “Can you help us find my Daddy?” she asked him with wide imploring eyes.
As the chimps fled into the distance I saw that their fur was already turning various shades of purple. That reminded me of the device that looked like a silver toothpick holder. It was shaped like a little gazebo with a domed roof supported by columns. Within was a crystal bird with wings outstretched. Tiny holes in the rounded roof held toothpicks.
It was a measuring device; if the toothpicks started to turn lavender, it was a warning that we had been in the amethyst world too long. If all the toothpicks turned purple we were in serious danger of being unable to return home. Should the bird turn purple, it would be too late.
I quickly took the detector out of the Dutchman’s bag. The toothpicks were lavender.
Video: Love potion number 9, The Searchers
Now that the army of naughty chimps has returned to their amethyst world, how does that effect the search for Copper’s missing father? However, the meter device that detects the danger level of their exposure to that world has begun to turn lavender — a warning sign. Will our trio be trapped forever in the strange land where everything is purple? Be at the train station next time to learn more.
Don’t leave yet — we still have a recipe! I briefly wondered what kind of “food” I could take from the three things that fueled the story-line of this chapter. The obvious answer was bread. The next thing that was clear to me was where to get a recipe. That was easy! I turned to the wonderful Chitra Jagadish of Chitra’s Healthy Kitchen where I’ve often seen lovely bread recipes.
Recipe: Garlic Parsley Flat Bread
Photo and recipe credit: Chitra Jagadish
29. Cornbread, Champagne Glasses, Astrolabe
The amethyst ape looked in the direction his violet complected chimpanzee housekeeper rode away on an aubergine coated horse. Viola went back to his grand house to make sure the doppelgängers of Copper and myself did not come any closer. Their proximity had made us quite ill, but Cornelis alchemically altered some green Chartreuse, which set us back to rights. I wondered if the ape versions had also felt ill.
Cal Hicks shook his head regretfully. “Poor Viola,” the ape murmured, causing me to ask what he meant.
“She showed you the locket containing a bit of her dead son’s hair,” he said as a reminder, so I nodded. “He was lost in the battle with the one-eyed-one-horned purple-people-eater; the dragon. Though I cannot reconcile that in my mind with the tiny Purple Fairy, Aubrieta. Whatever changed her form to the dragon must have also held uncontrollable sway over her personality as well. We should feel pity for her, not resentment,” Cal added as if to himself, then cleared his throat.
“Viola’s son was not in the chapel with the apes that disappeared that day,” Cal said, going back to his point. “Nor was he among those returned by Aubrieta’s magic. Viola said she felt his death a short time after the chapel apes disappeared. I hoped she was wrong, but she must have been correct,” Cal told me.
“More’s the pity,” the amethyst ape commented, again shaking his head. “Viola’s son was a scoundrel, though I liked to believe he had a good heart. He never got the chance to correct the path on which he’d put himself. He never reached his potential,” Cal spoke sadly.
Cornelis Drebbel got that look on his face. Though his skull was safely in my hatbox, I knew the expression on his face meant he was having an inspired thought. Abruptly he held an ancient looking leather portfolio. That was where he kept his drawings. He opened the folio and handed two sketches to Cal Hicks. One drawing was of a chimpanzee and the other of a man.
First I recognized the man in the drawing as the person we found in the study at the Hixon estate. The man had been dead when we arrived. The rogue chimpanzees carried away his corpse. The second thing I noticed was a strong resemblance in the drawings of the dead man and the chimp.
“Is this, by any chance, Viola’s son?” the alchemist asked Cal Hicks of the sketch of the chimpanzee.
Cal gasped. “Why yes! As always, Lord of Alchemy, your talents astound me,” Cal replied. “Do you have news of him?”
“We found his doppelgänger dead, but that’s as much as I can say,” Cornelis told him.
A few of the returned apes moved uneasily, but they were reluctant to leave. They stayed nearby, hiding their nakedness as best they could. Their coloring had fully reverted to various shades of purple, as was natural for them. Cal Hicks stepped into the laboratory and quickly returned with several pairs of coveralls for them.
Hicks invited them to go to his house for a hot meal. However they refused, saying they couldn’t take advantage of his hospitality. They watched Cornelis Drebbel closely, almost as if mesmerized.
“At least have some bread and wine then,” Cal Hicks told them.
The amethyst ape uncovered a basket containing all manner of loaves, muffins, and cornbread. Hicks insisted that the returned simians at least eat some bread. He told them that being translocated had surely depleted their reserves. Since Hicks wouldn’t take no for an answer, they drank and ate a little, but they looked much more interested in Cornelis and the two fairies.
Aubrieta and Absinthe cuddled near the laboratory building. The Purple Fairy and the Green Fairy were both tiny now. The alchemy that imploded the dome of fire also allowed Aubrieta to remain in her natural winged skunk-looking form.
Absinthe stretched and touched his green nose to the golden unicorn-like horn that was above Aubrieta’s single amber eye. They both made muttering noises that sounded remarkably like giggles. The erstwhile purple-people-eater she-dragon and Absinthe entwined their fluffy tails as they muttered and snorted softly to one another.
Cal Hicks looked at them wonderingly. “It’s a pity Viola isn’t here to witness that,” he murmured.
Cornelis gave a wicked grin. He reached into nothingness and produced a tray with etched champagne glasses. His arm disappeared up to his elbow as he reached into that magic space again and came back with a bottle of champagne.
“I wouldn’t pop the cork on that just yet,” I told him.
To remind them, I held out the measuring device Absinthe had insisted we take with us when we left the submarine. It looked like a silver toothpick holder fashioned to have a gazebo with a crystal bird inside. Tiny rods that resembled toothpicks protruded from the roof of the gazebo. It measured how much we were being influenced by the amethyst world. If we stayed too long, we might not be able to return home.
The words of the alchemist echoed in my mind. “Many of the effects can be mitigated,” Cornelis had said, dismissing my concern. “For instance, a little lavender hue is of no real concern. But if all the toothpicks turn purple we are in serious danger of being unable to return home. Should the bird turn purple,” he added pointing to the crystal ornament in the center of the gazebo. “Well, then it is too late,” he’d finished with a wry twist of his mouth, which suggested that was a real possibility.
The metering toothpicks were lavender, and not a pastel lavender like they were the last time I looked. Cal Hicks gasped, his face painted with concern. Absinthe and Aubrieta fluttered over to me and inspected the device closely, muttering the while. Cornelis puckered his lips in an expression that made me think he was about to sidestep something.
“The lavender hue is of no real concern. It could be from your doppelgängers being too near, or even from what we consumed at tea,” the alchemist said in an unconcerned tone, but he cast a sidelong glance at the device.
Several feet away, the small group of coverall clad apes conversed quietly but animatedly among themselves. I got the feeling that the group had come to a decision. A very large dark purple chimpanzee came forward. I thought there was something reluctant in the way he moved.
“Begging your pardon, Mr. Hicks. We heard the Lord of Alchemy mention doppelgängers. When we—,” the chimpanzee began haltingly. “Well, it’s Von, sir — Viola’s son. When we were in that strange world Von met his double. They both ended up dead, although none of us saw exactly how it happened,” the chimp said and hung his head.
“You saw nothing at all?” Hicks questioned, pushing for information.
The chimpanzee looked contrite, as if there was something he did not want to disclose. “Von had that family ring he stole from your son. There was a man who seemed to recognize the ring. He tricked Von into giving it to him and then ran off. Von slipped off to track him. We found them at a fine home that looked a lot like yours. But when we got there they were both dead,” the chimp explained.
“We took both bodies and hid them,” the chimpanzee added. “We were afraid of what might happen if the residents of that world noticed the two were doubles.”
Cal Hicks made a tut-tut sound and slowly shook his head. “Von was a scoundrel and a petty thief,” Hicks commented. “But he was Viola’s son. Even after he stole the signet ring from my son Nate, I wouldn’t have wished him dead.”
I looked at my hand. I still wore the signet ring Cornelis removed from the hand of the cadaver we found in Calvin Hixon’s study. Cornelis gave it to me so I could pass myself off as Copper’s aunt, and prevent the people from the orphanage taking her away.
The ring was much too big for my finger, but I had taken to wearing it on a ribbon hung around my neck. I pulled it out from inside my shirt. Removing the ribbon I handed the ring to Cal Hicks. “Is this the ring?” I asked.
“Lady Felicity! Why yes. That’s the ring I had made for Nate. How did you come to have it?” Hicks asked.
He tried to give the ring back to me. I took the amethyst ape’s large hand in both of mine and closed his thick fingers around the ring.
“It clearly belongs to you, or your son. I only borrowed it as a way of helping Copper. We don’t need it anymore,” I said.
Excited chirping and snorting came from the two fairies. Suddenly Aubrieta popped out of sight. I heard an agitated screech from inside the laboratory. Absinthe snorted and then disappeared. An instant later both tiny fairies reappeared. Between them they supported an intricately designed astrolabe. Aubrieta chirped excitedly. They flew over to Cornelis, and the alchemist gingerly took the apparatus from them.
“What is that thing?” Copper wanted to know.
“It’s an astrolabe,” Cornelis told her. “They’re used by astronomers, navigators, and astrologers. Its many uses include locating and predicting the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars, determining local time given local latitude and vice versa, surveying, and triangulation,” he explained.
Copper looked blankly at Cornelis and blinked. Absinthe gave an exasperated snort at the Dutchman, clearly dissatisfied with the appropriateness of his definition. Absinthe fluttered onto Copper’s shoulder and nuzzled into her hair.
With a longsuffering sigh, the Dutchman revised his explanation. “They’re used for solving problems relating to time and the position of the Sun and stars in the sky,” the alchemist clarified and Absinthe seemed satisfied that that explanation was suitable for Copper.
The girl looked at the Green Fairy in hopeful astonishment. “We can use this to find my Daddy? Is that what you mean, Absinthe?” she asked the little fairy.
Aubrieta flew to them and hovered near her newly reconciled mate. Both of the fairies chirped happily to Copper in what seemed to be affirming noises.
“Hopefully the astrolabe can help us get home as well,” I said wryly.
Then I held out the measuring device. A third of the toothpicks had darkened from light lavender to royal purple.
Recipe: Zucchini Corn Bread Muffins
Sorry – no photo this time. Just browse around Cheryl’s blogs – you’ll find plenty to drool over!
30. Herbs, Kitchen, Texan
Through an accident of alchemy, the submarine in which we traveled crashed on the shores of the amethyst world. The Green Fairy and Cornelis Drebbel had an animated conversation about the submarine Cornelis invented, and whether it could be repaired quickly enough. If we didn’t leave the strange purple place soon, we might be trapped forever. After a moment they rejected using the submarine as a means of departure.
When the missing “chapel chimps” were returned to the amethyst world, a few of them hung back to talk to us. Cal Hicks sent those chimpanzees back to submarine to retrieve our belongings. The two fairies, Absinthe and Aubrieta, fluttered ahead of the apes, leading the way. Copper watched from the laboratory window as they disappeared from view.
The girl stood at a table in the far corner of the long building, tying string around a small bundle of herbs. I noticed a number of varieties hanging to dry. Unexpectedly, Copper seemed to know what she was doing. When I commented on the fact, she told me that she used to help her governess dry herbs.
“Is Viola coming back?” she asked Cal Hicks, the amethyst ape.
“I’m sure you’ll see her again,” Hicks answered. “You two became friends very quickly,” he prompted.
Copper nodded as she tied the string into a bow. “She reminds me of Violet, my governess. I didn’t want her to go away, but Daddy said she was going back to live with her son Vaughner,” Copper told him with a sad look in her eyes. “Daddy shouldn’t have let Violet go. I heard him say her son was a criminal.”
“He did?” I was surprised into saying. I felt like my brain was pulling threads together that I couldn’t quite grasp.
“Yes. I heard him tell your boyfriend,” Copper answered with a distasteful twist of her mouth and the glimmer of a dare in her eyes.
“My what?” I exclaimed with a strangled chuckle, but then I remembered her distrust of Ignatius Belle.
There had not been more between Ignatius and me than some light flirting. In fact, when I saw how focused he had become on Copper, and apparently wanted to lure her away, I felt he had tried to use me. I had developed my own mistrust of the tall handsome innkeeper, and learning that he was really Copper’s half-brother did nothing to allay my concern. However, considering that father and son were somewhat estranged, I was surprised to learn Calvin Hixon had confided that information in Ignatius Belle.
“Daddy shouldn’t have made her go live with Vaughner. I don’t think she wanted to,” the girl said of her governess. “Anyway, I think Viola looks like her,” Copper added with a sudden grin. “Or she would if she had been a chimpanzee.”
Another idea clicked into place when Copper spoke. I looked around for Cornelis Drebbel, but he had popped off somewhere. Where was the alchemist? He’d finish my sentences for me and this would go a lot faster.
“He asked me if the laboratory had a kitchen,” Cal answered my question. “I think the Lord of Alchemy was feeling a bit peckish.”
“Trust Cornelis Drebbel to go looking for a snack at a time like this,” I complained.
Without the alchemist to be my sounding board I spoke my thoughts aloud as I sorted them. “So… Copper’s father dismissed the governess she loved because he could no longer pay her wages,” I remembered Cornelis figuring out that in the past. “That woman’s son was a reputed criminal, as Copper told us…” my words trailed away as I continued to assemble jumbled bits and pieces.
“Meanwhile, here in this amethyst world, Voila is the double of that governess. Viola’s son was a ‘scoundrel’ as you commented,” I added turning to Cal Hicks. “And the son of the governess a criminal,” I repeated and Copper nodded.
I paced as I untangled the mess. “So Viola’s son Von met his doppelgänger in our world… and that doppelgänger was the dead man in Calvin Hixon’s study — and he was Vaughner, the son of the governess!”
What a moment of crystal clarity! If I’d worn suspenders on my trousers I would have given them a snap of satisfaction. Copper had a wide-eyed expression on her face, but she seemed to have kept up with my summation. Cal Hicks nodded every step of the way, an intelligent man for certain — or rather ape.
“Vaughner was surely up to some duplicity, since Copper heard her father calling him a criminal. He stole the signet ring from Von so he could pass himself off as a member of the Hixon family. He was in the house, sitting at Calvin Hixon’s desk when he died. So he must have been looking for something. But did he find whatever it was he wanted?” I questioned.
“I don’t think so. You’ll see when the chimps get back,” Cornelis Drebbel said as he materialized at my side with a sharp pop.
I jumped, startled. The Dutchman grinned, as it was his intention to disconcert me.
“Cornelis Drebbel! Will you please cease doing that,” I insisted for the thousandth time. “Where have you been?”
The alchemist, originally from the 1600’s, was attired in knee britches with his favorite doublet, which had broad velvet sleeves, slashed with satin. The broad brimmed hat that matched his ensemble was exchanged for a Stetson, and he wore tooled leather cowboy boots on his feet — both hat and boots were purple, of course. Seeing me stare at his apparel Cornelis twisted his pointed blonde beard and wriggled his bushy eyebrows, clearly pleased with himself.
“I found my doppelgänger’s closet,” the Dutchman said with a twirl to show off his borrowed accessories. “He has the most marvelously eccentric taste, don’t you think?”
I tried not to laugh, but I failed. “Cornelis, you look like a Texan who fell into a Shakespearean fair,” I said and he pursed his lips, deciding how to react.
“I think they’re rather smart,” Cornelis replied, sticking out his lower lip. “Copper, don’t you agree?”
There was a commotion at the front door of the laboratory. The coverall clad chimpanzees brought in our belongings.
“Ah, good!” Cornelis said. “You’ll see what I mean.”
He went directly to the large carpet bag Copper had packed with all manner of things. Cornelis retrieved the owl-shaped lamp. I gasped. Inside that lamp, were hidden valuable drawings made by Leonardo da Vinci.
Cornelis upended the owl lamp and removed the priceless da Vinci papers. He smoothed out one in particular.
“Oh no,” Cornelis corrected me. “It’s an aerial screw. I think it is the key to finding Copper’s daddy. And it might be how we get back to our world.”
Recipe: Fish and Herbs in Soy Sauce
Recipe and photo credit, Phuong Le Callaway
31. Purple, Diary, Kitchen
My finger traced the edge of a purple leather portfolio I found. Now the case held the priceless drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, which were previously hidden in the owl-shaped lamp. I nearly dropped the folio at the sight before me.
In open-mouthed wonder I stared at the riot of possessions and the general confusion of what might have been the alchemist’s bedroom. It was such a mess that I wasn’t completely sure it was a sleeping chamber. I thought that was a bed under a stack of shoeboxes and a pile of clothing, though I couldn’t imagine anyone managing to sleep on it.
I came to the conclusion that the meticulously way in which the laboratory was organized was not the doing of the alchemist — or I should say the version of Cornelis Drebbel that inhabited the amethyst world. I shrugged. After all, our Cornelis kept the most haphazard scheme of things, whether on his submarine or anywhere else. So I expected it was only natural that his doppelgänger would be a slob. Alright… that wasn’t very generous of me to use such a word to describe my traveling companion. Shall I say untidy?
Thank goodness his skull, which was safely in my hatbox, wasn’t capable of disarranging things too. Then I had an uneasy thought. What if the skull had capabilities of its own? I firmly pushed that idea into a dark corner of my mind. There was more than enough trouble at hand, without borrowing even more. But I digress.
No, I thought, the orderly one must be Cal Hicks, the amethyst ape of the strange purple world of doppelgängers where we’d run aground. Cal was also the double of Copper’s father, Calvin Hixon.
I tapped my foot in a restless rhythm, annoyed with myself for wasting time, yet drawn to the room nonetheless. My intuition had become a feather, tickling a sleeping notion in my mind. That feather suddenly woke the notion and in the full light of thought, it quickly morphed into a certainty.
“Ooooh…” I murmured aloud, stretching out the word.
Abruptly I was sure that the alchemist of the amethyst world was with Copper’s missing father! However, the question remained — where? How they got together in the first place was a secondary matter. I hoped to find some sort of clue in the personal quarters of amethyst world’s version of Cornelis Drebbel. Unfortunately I had no idea what I sought, and the disarray of the room didn’t help.
A soft snuffling sound alerted me to the presence of Absinthe, the Green Fairy. He fluttered around the eyesore of a room before perching on a shoebox. Absinthe looked at me and gave a derisive snort, clearly an opinion about the state of the bedroom. I laughed. For once I understood the little fairy.
Then Aubrieta, his mate, flew into the room. Her purple wings missed a beat when she beheld the mess. Aubrieta gave a little scream before recovering herself. I had to agree.
I felt a moment of comradery with the two fairies. They seemed to understand everything I said, but I could not interpret their snorts, grunts, and snuffles at all. However, emboldened by that friendly feeling, I told them my thoughts about the alchemist of the amethyst world and Calvin Hixon being together somewhere. I opened the portfolio of Leonardo da Vinci’s mechanical design drawings, and said that I felt one of the designs might also be involved.
When I added that I thought there might be a clue somewhere in the disarray of the bedroom, the fairies went quickly to work. They busily looked through every pile and opened every box, cupboard, and drawer.
While they looked through the room, I turned to the closet. When I opened the door I almost shrieked like Aubrieta. Boxes and all manner of other things toppled out of the closet as soon as I opened the door. Cases and trinkets continued to tumble for what seemed like an unnaturally long time. A purple feather boa draped across my shoulders as it fell. Aubrieta snuffled appreciatively. Apparently the little skunk-looking fairy thought it looked good on me.
As I held out the purple feather boa, Aubrieta wriggled the single eyebrow that was between her one eye and her golden unicorn-like horn. Static ran through the feathers and with a spark the boa was transformed to a much smaller size — just the right length for the Purple Fairy.
By the way, I never mentioned that the Purple Fairy is a title for Aubrieta, just as Absinthe is the Green Fairy. Though I had yet to meet them, there were other purple and green fairies, but our tiny companions held some particular distinction among their kind.
I bent down to pick up a full sized feather that was dislodged from the boa. That’s when I saw the corner of a book. Its cover was made of tooled lavender leather. In the center elaborate script spelled the word diary. It should be the journal of the Cornelis Drebbel doppelgänger. Shouldn’t it? Although, the Dutchman was a wily fellow. It might belong to someone else.
Though it didn’t really help, I took a deep breath to steady my nerves. Cautiously I opened the lavender tome. The handwriting inside was a match for that of the alchemist of my world. I surreptitiously looked over my shoulder. I bit my lower lip, as with a bit of apprehension I began to read the diary.
However, the journal didn’t seem to be terribly personal. (I admit I was a little disappointed.) There were a lot of what I supposed were alchemy related notes, and symbols I didn’t understand. Then I found a section of spells. At least I could understand the language with those.
Turning the pages faster, I focused my search. I hoped to find some mention of Cal Hicks, or even better, Calvin Hixon. Unfortunately I hadn’t found either name. However, I was skimming the pages awfully quickly. I could easily have missed something. I began to notice repeated references to “Cu” but that made no more sense than the rest of the text. It seemed to be more of a name than initials. I shrugged. The inhabitants of the amethyst world did seem to be fond of very short names, like Cal and Von.
As I turned pages I also saw drawings and diagrams. Some of the sketches reminded me of the da Vinci drawings. I slowed down, paying closer attention.
My focus was broken by a commotion elsewhere in the laboratory. It sounded like an argument. Yes, there was some sort of disagreement. Aubrieta made an impatient snuffling sound and winged away in a blur. I figured the situation was safe in the Purple Fairy’s capable hands — or should I say wings? Paws? Whatever, I had no doubt that the one-eyed, erstwhile dragon could use that pointy horn to good effect.
I could hear the raised voice of Cornelis Drebbel, though I couldn’t make out his words. I stood, placing my finger in the diary to hold my place. I knew I’d best go see what the trouble might be before things got out of hand. Then I heard Absinthe shriek an irritated noise.
As I walked quickly down the hallway I tried to determine where the commotion had come from. Beyond the long workroom, the laboratory was a warren of hallways and alcoves. I hesitated when I came to an intersection of corridors.
A teeth jarring screech of unused metal was followed by a crash. The noise came from the kitchen. The shouting was louder, but not coherent until I heard clearly the voice of Cal Hicks. “Lord of Alchemy!” the amethyst ape cried. “No! Please wait!”
I broke into a run.
The “kitchen” of the laboratory was a combination food preparation area, dining room, and relaxation area, with several chaise lounges. Above the wide open room was a clear crystal dome which let in the sunlight. The dome was divided into sections, much like one would cut an orange. The sections were held in place by brass strips.
Earlier, after a meal, I had stretched out on a chaise and gazed up at the pastel clouds drifting in the sky beyond the dome. It was tranquil. However, the sounds coming from the kitchen were anything but calming.
When I reached the kitchen I found Copper and Aubrieta perched on an open wooden packing crate. Another metallic screech caused me to look upward. The sections of the crystal dome slowly spread, opening to the sky. It was a fanciful idea, but it made me imagine a clear flower bud with petals opening to the sun.
Directly beneath the dome I saw Cornelis and Absinthe. They argued. Cal Hicks stood between the two, urging them to be reasonable. I got the feeling that the tableau might go on for a while. There was nothing I could do to improve the situation, and no need for me to be agitated. I leaned against the crate and turned to Copper who dangled her feet from the top of the wooden box.
“What was inside?” I asked her as I stuck my head into the empty container.
“That top thing Cornelis has. I think Absinthe wants to play with it,” Copper said knowingly. “Cornelis is too big for it. He really ought to give it to Absinthe.”
Aubrieta snorted in a derisive tone and shook her purple head. She didn’t seem to think Absinthe should have anything to do with it either. I noticed the purple feather boa had returned to full size and was draped across Copper’s shoulders. The little fairy must have wanted the boa so she could give it to the girl. I was fascinated by the way both of the fae took to Copper.
“What top thing?” I wondered aloud and stretched in attempt to see around Cornelis and Cal Hicks.
The ape and the alchemist finally moved and I saw a working model of Leonardo da Vinci’s aerial screw. It stood about waist high. The “threads” of the screw were made of linen, and it rotated slowly.
“It’s only a model,” Cornelis told Absinthe. “I need firsthand experience of it before we make a full-sized machine,” he said as the Green Fairy snorted and chirped.
Abruptly, Cornelis snapped his fingers. A yellowish green glow surrounded the aerial screw and it gently rose from the floor. With a last whine of metal, the dome finished opening. The aerial screw continued to rise. The alchemist schooled his face to a bland expression and he looked from Cal to Absinthe as the rotating machine rose above their heads.
“If the tiny fae thinks the device is unsafe,” Cal Hicks began, apparently understanding the sounds Absinthe made — was I the only one who didn’t understand fairy-speak? “Don’t you think it would be wise to listen? It needn’t be a long delay,” the ape offered in a reasonable tone.
With a mischievous glint in his eyes, Corenlis grinned. He leaped up and grabbed onto the bottom of the aerial screw. A green glow surrounded the contraption and the alchemist. The device quickly moved up into the opening of the crystal dome. Absinthe gave an angry scream. He fluttered up to Cornelis and pointed his bantam backside at the alchemist’s face in a very threatening posture. A poot of super-concentrated absinthe vapors would surely cause Cornelis to fall, and he was many feet above the floor.
However, Absinthe flew in circles around the aerial screw. The Green Fairy jerked his head around, as if he heard something. He screamed again and pointed. The sound came again, loud enough for me to hear. The linen “threads” of the screw ripped loudly. The aerial screw lurched. Cornelis struggled to keep his grip as the machine darted wildly.
Since one of the three blogs I used as this episode’s three things is a chef’s blog, I’m taking the recipe from it. How could I resist this beautiful lavender colored cake to go with the amethyst world? Thank you Suzanne, for letting me use one of your recipes. Suzanne is a marvelously talented chef. So be sure to take a look at her blog.
Recipe: White Cake With Whipped Cream Icing and Blackberry Lemon Cream Filling
Recipe and photo credit: Suzanne Debrango at “A Pug in the Kitchen”
32. Tumble, Revealing, Description
Cornelis Drebbel dangled from the dangerously darting aerial screw. It looked like he would take a tumble at any moment.
Cal Hicks stood talking to the chimpanzees who stayed at the laboratory after their comrades ran in fright from Aubrieta when she was in her erstwhile form of the one-eyed-one-horned-purple-people-eater. I thought this group was surely the brightest and bravest of the returned chapel apes. (See Episode 24 and Episode 28.)
The coverall clad chimps jumped up and down in frightened agitation as they watched the Dutchman’s predicament above. In their frantic state they overturned the large basket of bread Cal Hicks brought out earlier, just after Aubrieta’s magic brought the chimpanzees home. The remains of a loaf of purple bread fell out of the basket, but the lavender alpine goat made short work of the bread.
Cal Hicks, the amethyst ape, looked from the excited chimpanzees to the sky and gave a horrified gasp. Copper screamed and a tear ran down her face. The lavender goat made a behh sound as she gazed upward with a funny puzzled expression on her face.
All tuned to me in astonishment when I put my fists on my hips and yelled up to the alchemist. “Cornelis Drebbel! Don’t shilly shally! We have too much work to do!”
“What?” I asked in impatient response to the gallery of aghast faces.
Apparently everyone thought I was being callous. However, they had not seen the little measuring device that looked like a toothpick holder. It was made in the shape of a gazebo, enclosing a crystal bird. If we stayed too long in the strange world where everything was one shade or another of purple, we might be trapped there forever. The device measured how close we were to that state.
When first I saw the device, the toothpicks, or rather the tiny measuring rods, were colorless. If they started to turn purple, it was a warning. The last time I checked the device, all the toothpicks had become pale lavender — not a comforting sign. Now many of them had darkened to violet. That meant the amount of time we had was quickly growing shorter. Should the crystal bird turn purple, it would be too late.
“Oh for heaven’s sake… He’s an alchemist!” I turned to the group that had gathered outside the laboratory and defended myself. “All he has to do is pop to safety,” I said with a snap of my fingers.
A yellowish green aura surrounded the aerial screw. I watched in fascination as the rip in the linen “threads” of the screw magically wove back together. The flying screw straightened its course and then gently lowered to the ground.
“See! He was never in danger,” I exclaimed to the gathered simians, and Copper.
Everyone looked at me in a disdainful way. The lavender goat made a long drawn out beeehhhh! I sighed and threw up my hands.
Cornelis was abruptly in the middle of a concerned crowd of simian devotees. The alchemist loved attention, so there was no point in me chastising him. I stalked away.
The two fairies, Absinthe and Aubrieta, chirped to one another quietly as they sat atop the model based on Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of the aerial screw. I looked skeptically at the device that caused all the commotion. However, when I looked up at the two fairies, their chirps and grunts had a serious tone.
“I wish I understood you two,” I murmured.
I jumped. “Copper, you’re getting as bad as Cornelis Drebbel — appearing out of nowhere,” I said and laughed. “Promise me you won’t take on any of his other habits,” I added, causing her to giggle.
The Green Fairy fluttered down to alight on Copper’s shoulder. He really was fond of the girl. Absinthe made a series of chirps, bobbing his head as if in encouragement. Then he flew back to his mate and continued their incomprehensible conversation.
Copper turned puzzled blue eyes up to me. “Absinthe says the flying thing can let us see something important,” she said. “But I didn’t really understand what the meant. He kept something to himself,” she added with a sulky glance at her tiny green friend.
“Show us?” I echoed her words. “Do you mean from a great height we could see something important?”
The girl shook her head negatively. “I don’t think so,” Copper replied.
I heard a sharp pop followed by sounds of awe from the apes. An instant later Cornelis appeared beside Copper. He tousled her new penny colored curls.
“Copper, I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but I see that the Green Fairy has been less than discrete,” Cornelis told her. “In all probability the flying machine, the aerial screw, will be revealing something very important, once it’s working properly.”
Copper and I wore twin expressions as our mouths shaped the question “How?”
“No, no. No questions just yet. There is much work to be done, and quickly,” he said in a serious tone. “I’ve seen the measuring device too,” Cornelis added, looking at me.
As we turned to go back inside the laboratory, I heard the voice of Cal Hicks clearly, as he spoke to the group of coverall clad chimps. Hicks directed his astonishment toward one powerfully built chimpanzee.
“Dear boy! That is an extraordinary tale!” Cal exclaimed as we reached the group. “We should tell the Lord of Alchemy,” Hicks told him, but the strong looking chimp drew back, apparently intimidated by the prospect of talking to the Lord of Alchemy.
“I really wish they’d stop calling Cornelis Drebbel that,” I muttered. “If his head gets any bigger, his skull won’t fit in my hatbox.”
Cornelis naturally wanted to know what had so intrigued Cal Hicks. The broad-shouldered chimp whispered something to Cal Hicks and shook his head nervously.”
“Oh nonsense, son,” Cal told the chimp who was apparently young, though I could not guess their ages. “Lord of Alchemy, Ced here has given the most astonishing description of a levitating boat!” Hicks told Cornelis.
“You don’t mean a hydrofoil?” Cornelis asked.
“Yes, tha— that’s what they called it,” Ced replied haltingly, clearly trying to overcome his awe of Cornelis. “They held me prisoner, and forced me to track you and Lady Felicity and the young miss. I didn’t mean to betray you Lord of Alchemy!” Ced cried sadly.
Recognition clicked in my head. Although his coloring had reverted to the purple that was natural for his world, I recognized the chimp. Ced was indeed the very large chimpanzee who had come so very close to the place where we hid at the river when the group of villains using the hydrofoil caught up with us. (Episode 12.) Thankfully Ignatius Belle led them away before we were discovered.
Cornelis made a tut-tut sound and patted the chimp’s shoulder. The Dutchman encouraged Ced to continue.
“On the river in that strange world, I heard your voices before the shield of alchemy was used,” Ced continued. “So I knew where you must have been hiding. But I pretended not to know,” he said but paused as anger suffused his face. “I was determined to thwart the evil woman! Can you forgive me for tracking you, Lord of Alchemy?”
Cornelis and Cal Hicks spoke to Ced for a while, assuring the big chimpanzee that everything was fine, and his actions were understandable, and were in no wise held against him. Finally Ced sniffled and nodded. Cal set him some task, probably to get his mind off things, and Ced hurried off to take care of the work.
Ced turned back with a new expression of worry on his face. “You should know… When your submarine disappeared from our sight, for a moment we saw the purple haze of this world. That woman and her partners plan to take you the moment you return to your own world. They are certain you either possess something they want, or you will lead them to it,” Ced told us.
I cast a covert look at Copper, hoping that she wouldn’t put that together. So, at least some of the villains who chased us thought we would lead them to Calvin Hixon.
Perhaps our friends would be better off simply staying in the amethyst world. If they get home, remember that three groups of foes chased them, presumably intent on taking Copper. Yet if they stay in the safety of the purple place, Copper will never be reunited with her father. Although, we never understood why Calvin Hixon would abandon his daughter in the first place. Oh, so much remains to be told… So be at the train station next time!
Don’t go away yet. You haven’t seen this chapter’s recipe. None of the three things were food related this time. So I chose to use the purple bread mentioned at the beginning of the episode. Can you believe that I actually found a purple bread recipe? I’m happy because that meant I also found another delightful cooking blog — This Girl’s Gotta Eat! So now I bid you, bon appétit!
Recipe: Purple Wheat Raisin Bread French Toast
Photo and recipe credit: Victoria Orban at This Girl’s Gotta Eat!
33. Toddlers, Queen, Superior
Cornelis Drebbel levitated above a much bigger version of Leonardo da Vinci’s aerial screw. It was attached to a large gondola that contained all manner of fantastical contraptions. Brightly polished brass and crystals glittered in the sunlight that streamed through tall windows from the cloudless lavender sky.
One device looked just like the multi-armed thingamajig from the submarine. I mean that term literally. The device was the original thingamajig and such was its proper name. This one looked newer. The thingamajig on the submarine went through some rough treatment. The one in the gondola didn’t show any wear and tear. (Episode 22) A malfunction in the contrivance was at least partly responsible for landing us in this purple place.
Cornelis waved down to a pair of mauveine complected chimpanzee twin toddlers who observed him in amazement. A young female ape watched them from the corner of her eye as she delivered a basket of food to Cal Hicks. She seemed remarkably unaffected by the floating alchemist.
“Why thank you Itsy,” Hicks told the woman as he took the heavy basket. “This is enough for everyone. Thank you so much, my dear.”
She quickly took each toddler by a hand and moved to meet one of the coverall clad chimps. He seemed smitten by her. She glanced surreptitiously over her shoulder as the chimpanzee handed her something that disappeared into the folds of her skirts. Some token of his affections, I supposed. It was hard to tell with the purple coloring but I thought both might be blushing.
“Tsk, tsk,” Cal said with a shake of his head. “That boy will never win Itsy’s heart.”
“Itsy?” I had to ask.
“Why yes,” Cal began. “She’s taken on the extra work of looking after the twins during the day. Both parents were injured in a carriage accident, and aren’t able to chase toddlers terrible well. Itsy was maid to my son Nate’s grandparents. When they passed on, she came to work for me,” Cal said and then cast an astute glance at me. “I take it Itsy has a counterpart in your colorful world.”
“I believe so,” I said, nodding. “Bitsy is a maid in the inn that belongs to Ignatius Belle. Their voices are rather similar. And Itsy is just as unimpressed as Bitsy,” I added with a chuckle. (Episode 2)
My own words bothered me in some indefinable way. I suddenly felt uneasy. It seemed like there was something I should remember. However, I was distracted by Cal Hicks. He was looking at me in a most curious way. It made me think something was amiss.
“What is it?” I asked worriedly.
His eyes quickly scanned the worktable. The amethyst ape picked up a mirror and handed it to me. There was a smudge of soot on my cheek, and for a moment I thought that was what the straight-laced ape meant. However, with one of his thick fingers he pointed to my hair. A broad ultraviolet streak ran from the crown of my head down the length of my otherwise dark brown locks. The irises of my eyes had taken on a violet hue.
Before I could stop my surprised reaction, I inhaled sharply. I glanced at Copper. I didn’t want the girl to notice my concern. Fortunately she ran over to Cornelis, and tossed some tool up toward him. The alchemist caught it with a glowing yellow-green thread of magic.
I was afraid to look at the measuring device that looked like a toothpick holder. It already showed warning shades of violet. But I forced myself. I removed the device from the flowered carpet bag. The thin rods were various shades of violet and purple. Only one was still lavender. None at all were colorless. At least the crystal bird at the center was still clear. Cornelis said it might be too late for us to leave the amethyst world if the bird turned purple.
Cal Hicks cleared his throat nervously and broke eye contact with me. He called everyone to the basket of food, but hardly ate anything himself. He turned back to work fervently on the improved aerial screw. Though he couldn’t levitate like the alchemist he seemed to work almost as quickly.
Coverall clad chimpanzees ran back and forth, fetching all manner of things that Cal requested. Copper returned to stand at his elbow, handing him various small tools. I suspected that sometimes Cal pretended to need something, just to let the girl think she was helping.
Earlier Cornelis was utterly intense as he poured over an assortment of papers he’d gotten from Cal. There were maps, magazines, playbills, and newspapers. I couldn’t figure out what he could be looking for in such an assortment.
However, the alchemist saw links from one thing to another that I would never see without it being pointed out to me. He seemed to make some alchemical sense of the stack of papers and abruptly levitated up above the flying machine. Suffused by that yellowish green aura he began making enhancements to the aerial screw.
As I looked at magazines bearing images of well-dressed simians, all in assorted shades of purple, I was struck anew by how much like our own world this place populated by apes really was. I couldn’t help smiling when I saw a magazine cover bearing the image of an elegant female ape wearing an intricate lace gown, jewelry including a tiara, and holding a scepter.
“Is this your queen?” I asked Cal Hicks in delighted surprise.
“Why of course,” Cal replied, as if I had questioned the obvious. “That is Queen Triumphia,” he said, immediately recovering his perfect manners. “Haven’t you a similar monarch in your world?”
I grinned at the name Triumphia. “Yes, although it isn’t exactly my queen, the English queen is called Victoria,” I told the amethyst ape.
Cal grinned back at me as he compared the name Victoria to his queen’s name.
Cornelis gave a whoop of success. “This is far superior to the first model!” he cried.
With a sharp pop he disappeared from his spot in the air above us. An instant later he popped into the gondola of the aerial screw.
Itsy wandered closer. She didn’t look excited or surprised like everyone else. Rather, the maid looked worried. “There’s no more time,” Itsy murmured.
She darted to the gondola and grabbed the multi-armed thingamajig. Then I got a look at the secret-something that the chimp handed her earlier. She had hidden it in the folds of her skirt, but it turned out to be the harmonic tuner. Cal Hicks showed it to me previously. Instead of the mystic monkeys tuner that belonged to Copper, this one had people in the poses of see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil. (Episode 24)
Itsy’s actions were so sudden and so unexpected that everyone was too surprised to try and stop her. She ran from the laboratory and out to the area that was scorched and depressed by the confrontation-reunion between Absinthe and Aubrieta. (Episode 28) Itsy held out the thingamajig and clanged the harmonic tuner against the contrivance.
The air in a large area before Itsy shimmered to a glowing hot pink aura. The center of the aura took on a wavy mirror like appearance. Then a wall of water rushed from the aura and poured into the burned out depression. Itsy was swept away by the water but managed to grab hold of a fence post.
With a whoosh sound a hydrofoil sped through the opening created by the magical devices. The moment I saw the craft I knew what had bothered me when I told Cal that Itsy and Bitsy had similar voices.
We had never gotten a good look at the woman leading the group on the hydrofoil. I said her voice was familiar, but I just couldn’t place it, no matter how hard I tried. The tone of the woman leader was commanding and harsh. So it had been just different enough that I couldn’t connect it to the gentle tones I previously heard from that same voice. At that moment I knew the voice belonged to Bitsy, the maid at the Belle Inn!
The hydrofoil rushed, out of control, down the length of the water that spilled from our world. It crashed into a stand of tall bushes. When the woman stood up, I was certain she was Bisy. She bent over and vomited. The nearness of her doppelgänger already affected her.
“Get her away from me!” Bitsy shouted to the men who accompanied her.
The men waded out to Itsy. She seemed to think they were helping her and let them take her arms from the post to which she held. However, when they helped her to dry ground one held a knife to her throat. They spoke threateningly to her and she ran away as fast as she could, disappearing into the woods.
The hydrofoil held more passengers than I had realized. There must have been ten heavily armed men, along with Bitsy. They all moved toward us.
Cal Hicks had my arm. “Quickly,” he hissed into my ear. “Get into the gondola.”
When I turned I saw that Copper was already climbing into the aerial screw. Absinthe and Aubrieta fluttered around her, touching various apparatus with their tiny paws. I looked back at the interlopers from my own world. They were looking right at me.
What will happen to Felicity, the “Woman in Trousers” of the serial title? Her hair is already streaked with purple, suggesting she has stayed too long in the amethyst world. One group of foes has caught up with our trio. Will they grab Felicity before she can reach the gondola? And will the aerial screw fly off without her?
Don’t leave yet! Here’s a recipe. Many times in Lord David Prosser’s Barsetshire Diaries blog, I’ve seen him mention “curry chips.” Now, I’m just not familiar with that dish. So I scoured the WordPress countryside and found a lovely recipe at “Lea & Jay.”
Recipe: Curry Chips
34. Conclusion of Copper, the Alchemist & the Woman in Trousers
The alchemically enhanced, large version of Leonardo da Vinci’s aerial screw powered-on, and with a screech the threads began to turn.
“I’m sorry my friend, there’s no time for proper goodbyes!” Corenlis Drebbel called to Cal Hicks, the amethyst ape. “It will save an enormous amount of energy if we take the aerial screw through the opening the villains created.”
“I understand, Lord of Alchemy,” Hicks told him.
Just then Itsy ran back into view. The chimpanzee rushed straight for Cal Hicks and I thought she meant him harm. I yelled for Cornelis to do something, but he only gave me that pucker-faced contemplative look of his. Itsy slipped as she ran at Hicks. She slid to a stop, sobbing at his feet.
To my astonishment she turned her tear-streaked face up to Hicks and handed him the mystic people harmonic tuner. Itsy seemed to be apologizing, but it was difficult to distinguish her words with all the weeping and wailing.
“What the devil?” I began.
Cornelis cast an impatient gaze on me and I didn’t finish my sentence. “You really mean to tell me that you didn’t know?” he asked with a sardonic twist of his mouth.
“Know what?” I sputtered.
The alchemist gave a negligent waive of his hand at the contrivance above our heads. The threads of the device glowed yellow-green and the noise was magically silenced. I could hear Itsy clearly as she spoke to Cal Hicks, repeating her remorse.
“They said they’d kill you!” she cried. “Ced told me so. Those people are the ones who enslaved Ced. Thinking he was only a stupid animal, the fiends discussed it in front of him. They plan to kill your doppelgänger, once they get what they want. And we think you will die when your double is killed!” Itsy bawled. “I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you Cal— I mean Mr. Hicks.”
“No, no dear child,” Hicks told Itsy as he patted her hand. “It doesn’t work like that with the doppelgängers. If they wanted to kill me, then they’d have to kill me.”
The villains, including Bitsy the erstwhile maid at the Belle Inn moved closer. Abruptly Itsy gave a horrified look at Cal Hicks, and put both hands to her mouth, desperately trying to avoid sicking-up. Still halfway across the burned out yard, I saw Bitsy being less successful at controlling her reaction to the nearness of her double.
“Do you mean to tell me Itsy was in love with Cal Hicks and you deduced it that quickly?” I demanded crossly of Cornelis Drebbel.
The Dutchman of course, only gave a self-satisfied smirk. “I know what they were after too,” he added with a wriggle of his bushy blonde eyebrows at the foes who chased us all the way into the amethyst world.
I tapped my foot, silently waiting for him to answer. I wouldn’t give the man the satisfaction of asking.
“What did they want?” Copper asked, spoiling the point I was trying to get across.
“Why you are standing in it, Copper!” Cornelis said and tousled her new penny colored curls. “We all knew it was a potential, we just didn’t really think they knew about the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci.”
“So they wanted to make one of these things? Will it really fly enough to carry us?” Copper asked.
“Oh yes, Copper. This one will fly and carry us wherever we want to go,” Cornelis Drebbel told the girl and grinned before turning to me.
Copper looked preoccupied with her surroundings. The alchemist moved closer to me and spoke in a faint whisper. “They knew about the valuable drawings all along,” he told me. “But they needed a talented inventor if they were to have any hope of making it work. Calvin Hixon slipped through their fingers. So they set out to kidnap his daughter, planning to use Copper to force her father to do their bidding,” Cornelis finished.
“Ignatius,” I hissed accusingly. “Bitsy got the information from him, one way or another, didn’t she,” I said and Cornelis nodded. “Hixon surely told him about the drawings when he tried to bring Ignatius into the family fold, if he in fact didn’t tell him before.”
“Wave goodbye, Copper. We must hurry and be off,” Cornelis told her and she waved and blew kisses to Cal Hicks, who looked very sad to see us leave.
A horrified expression came to Copper’s blue eyes. “Absinthe hurry — come here! Aubrieta!” Copper yelled to the little fairies.
The last time I noticed the Green Fairy and his mate the two skunk-looking fae fluttered around the upper parts of the aerial screw, making adjustments. However, I followed Copper’s gaze and saw them through the tall window of the laboratory. They were inside the building and investigated the array of gadgets on the long worktable.
Aubrieta, the Purple Fairy who had been trapped in a transformation as the one-eyed-one-horned-flying-purple-people-eater when she first came to this realm, chirped as she darted from one instrument to another. Absinthe, the Green Fairy behaved similarly. The two moved a few strange looking implements aside for reasons only they knew.
The acute hearing of the fae caused them to stop what they were doing and turn toward Copper’s voice. The fairies dotted on the girl. A purple and green aura surrounded the small collection of implements. Absinthe shook his fluffy striped tail at the aura and it disappeared — along with all the devices it covered. Aubrieta nodded to her mate in a satisfied seeming way and the two fairies popped out of sight.
An instant later Absinthe appeared on Copper’s shoulder. Aubrieta fluttered in the air beside her, delicately playing with a strand of her coppery hair. The display was charmingly affectionate, but it seemed sad to me.
A tear rolled down each of Copper’s cheeks. Absinthe kissed one and Aubrieta kissed the other. Without realizing I spoke aloud, I had murmured the word no. Absinthe flew to me and playfully pulled the bright purple streak in my hair. I knew the metering device would turn completely purple if we stayed too long in the amethyst world. But the alchemist never warned me that my hair might begin to turn ultra-violet!
Absinthe turned his bantam backside toward me and fluffed out his tail, pretending he was about to spray his potent potable of super-powered absinthe poot. Aubrieta chirped a warning at him, but both still seemed playful to me.
“They’re not coming with us?” I asked Cornelis, but I already knew the answer.
“Felicity, I do believe you’ve become attached to our farting fae,” Cornelis said. “No they aren’t coming,” he continued. “Well, not right away. They’re far too fond of Copper to stay away. No, they’ll make sure the portal closes properly behind us. We don’t want all manner of riffraff from our world coming into this idyllic purple place.”
“So they’ll join us again in moments,” I said hopefully.
Copper shook her head sadly, but then brightened. “They have a surprise for Cornelis,” she confided in an over-loud whisper that immediately got the alchemist’s attention. “They’re going to stay and fix his submarine. Then they’ll bring it with them,” she told me as a grinning Cornelis turned his back, pretending he didn’t hear.
As the threads of the contraption whirred the gondola lifted up into the air. Cornelis didn’t take it up very high though. The portal through which the hydrofoil entered was not far above the ground. The aerial screw entered the edge of the bright pink aura that outlined the opening to our world. Copper looked intently all around at the crowd of simians.
“Viola’s not here. I didn’t get to say goodbye, and I really liked her. Can’t we go back so I can tell her? Maybe she’d like to go with us,” Copper pleaded.
“No child,” Cornelis told her looking genuinely regretful as the flying machine began to enter the gateway. “This portal can only be used once. If we tried to go back now, we’d be lost between.”
“Between what?” I had to ask.
“Between here and there,” Cornelis said and my mouth twisted, because I should have known he’d say something to annoy me. “I hear it’s not a terribly pleasant place,” he added.
When I looked back toward the laboratory, I saw the lavender sky. Turning my head the other direction I saw a sky of blue. I sighed a relieved, happy breath. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever see that blue sky again.
Just as the gondola finished traversing the gateway, I looked back and saw the hydrofoil charging toward us.
“Oh no…” Cornelis muttered.
I could see Bitsy’s angry face. The men with her held up guns aimed at us, ready to fire the minute they got close enough.
“Cornelis, shouldn’t you put some kind of shield around us. Those guns fire real bullets, you realize,” I reminded the alchemist.
“He wasn’t oh-no-ing about the guns,” Copper said with a light of comprehension in her blue eyes as she watched the scene in wonder.
The hydrofoil entered the portal and immediately the view was dimmed by a foggy veil. The craft lurched violently. Then it rocked as if in slow motion. The fog became so thick we could no longer see inside the portal. The fog bulged out from the gateway and then drew back. I heard the hydrofoil’s engine cough and muffled yelling from the people manning the craft. After a moment there was silence.
Copper, the alchemist, and I stared dumbfounded. Finally the shrill cry of a hawk broke the silence. I gave an involuntary shudder, pondering the kind of place that must sit between the two worlds. I wondered if Bitsy and those men deserved whatever their fate actually was. However, I reminded myself that they were willing to do harm to Calvin Hixon and to Copper to get what they wanted. Suddenly the idea of their fate didn’t bother me so much.
When I looked down I expected to see the tops of giant redwood trees, or the beaches of the Pacific coastal area where we were before we accidentally entered the amethyst world. Yet I didn’t see anything of the kind.
“Cornelis, that doesn’t look like California or Oregon or any part of the Pacific coast,” I pointed down and declared.
“No?” he said and nonchalantly looked down from our vantage point, which was much higher after we went through the portal. “Well, it is not exactly to be expected that the flying machine would return us to the place where we left in the submarine. That portal was opened haphazardly, without professional design or calculations,” he said, finally looking a little bit concerned.
“Actually there’s no telling where it opened or where we are,” the alchemist said with that sardonic twist that curled his upper lip while his lower lip twisted to the side.
“There’s something down there that looks pretty large,” I commented, trying to see through a feathery white cloud.
Cornelis pulled a lever and twisted a crystal knob and the aerial screw moved gently lower. I saw a massive complex of stone buildings.
“Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” Cornelis exclaimed to gales of laughter from Copper. “It’s Windsor Castle. We’re in England. I haven’t been to England in at least a hundred years! Shall we pay them a visit, Copper?”
“I don’t know Cornelis,” I began. “That seems like a bad idea. One doesn’t simply drop in on the Queen.”
Naturally the Dutchman paid no attention whatsoever to my protest. The aerial screw hovered above a green area within the castle walls. They seemed to be holding a small faire on the lawn. I thought it must be to showcase inventions, as several large and unusual things were on display on each side of the lawn.I saw a boat dry docked that looked a lot like the paddle steamer that belonged to Ignatius Belle, as well as a dirigible tethered by a rope so that it floated twenty feet above the ground. There was something made of gleaming metal that I supposed was a steam powered motor car. Then I saw what I could have sworn was our road locomotive!
Our flying machine slowly drew closer to the ground and I could see the people clearly. A tallish Asian man stood before an elaborately decorated seating area. He wore a brocade of a white lion and a very tiny woman stood next to him. “Alastair!” I cried in astonishment when I recognized Alastair Wong and Victoria.
With my shout, everyone on the ground turned to look up at us. I was even more surprised, if less pleasantly so, to see Sheriff Bullard and Ignatius Belle inspecting the strange looking motor car.
However, it was no surprise when the alchemy went awry and Cornelis began having difficulty controlling the aerial screw. Our craft loomed dangerously close to a tall model of the Eiffel Tower. The gondola became ensnared on the tower.
Alastair Wong, nimble as ever, rapidly climbed the scale model of the French wonder. In a moment he freed the gondola and hopped onboard. I stared in stunned appreciation of his feat.
“I hope you didn’t expect me to climb back down,” Wong commented jokingly. “It’s only fair that I get to experience this magnificent machine from up here.”
Of course we assailed him with questions about the event below and the people we knew. We already knew about the money problems of Copper’s father. Alastair informed us that Calvin Hixon had reached out to nobility all across Europe, looking for a benefactor for his inventions. He had kept that mostly to himself, in fear of rejection.
It turned out that Copper’s father had not abandoned her at all. Hixon got a response to one of his requests for a sponsor. He arranged for a woman to take care of his daughter while he, on last minute notice in the form of a royal command, sailed across the Atlantic to meet his new benefactor.
Unfortunately, the woman he hired to take care of his daughter was Bitsy. The conniving maid had already been at work on Ignatius, having overheard conversations between the two men that revealed Ignatius was Hixon’s illegitimate son. She also heard them discuss re-creating Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions. She suspected that Hixon possessed the priceless drawings.
Bitsy intercepted Hixon’s communications so no one knew where he had gone. She made it look like Copper had been abandoned. Bitsy went to Ether Farthing of Merciful Haven Orphanage and put a bug in her ear that Copper had been left on her own. Bitsy had thought that if the orphanage took Copper, the girl would be neatly out of Bitsy’s way. Then Bitsy could search for the drawings and anything else that might be of use in her scheme.
One thing in Alastair’s narration surprised me. I would have thought the mean spirited people from Merciful Haven were involved in the mess. However, it seemed that they were simply bad people, and not otherwise involved.
Cornelis regained control of the aerial screw and the threads twisted smoothly again. We floated slowly closer to the grandstand where Alastair and tiny Victoria were standing when we arrived.
I gasped. “Oh! That’s the Queen isn’t it? Queen Victoria?” I said excitedly and Alastair chuckled and confirmed my brilliant bit of deduction.
Cornelis really didn’t need to snigger at me the way he did. Looking down I saw an elegant man of middle years. He bowed down on one knee before the Queen of England. He seem completely focused on the monarch, hardly even noticing our flying machine.
Abruptly Copper gave a shrill cry, “Daddy!”
Calvin Hixon looked upward toward his child’s cry and a broad smile split his face. Finally he noticed the aerial screw and wonder lit his eyes. The Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India was utterly forgotten the moment Calvin Hixon saw his daughter.
It wouldn’t have been Cornelis Drebbel if we had landed smoothly. The contrivance that carried us gave a loud screech. The Dutchman said he’d have it fixed in a jiffy.
“Cornelis, no! Please, let’s just land as best we can. We’re not that far above the ground,” I pleaded.
“Actually Felicity, we’re at enough of a height to risk serious injury,” Alastair said in a reasonable voice. “I know you wouldn’t put Copper at risk,” he added and I slumped in resignation.
A yellowish green aura surrounded the alchemist. Cornelis climbed to balance on the edge of the gondola. He was doing something to the threads of the screw, but I couldn’t see what he did. The machine stopped making that shrill sound and it appeared to run smoothly.
“See!” Cornelis exclaimed proudly, still balanced on the rim of the gondola. “Simple as that,” he said with a satisfied nod.
The threads of the screw began to rotate rapidly. “Alastair! The brass lever behind you,” Cornelis cried.
Alastair Wong whirled to move the lever. When he touched it the aerial screw lurched violently, but immediately slowed to normal and continued to descend.
However, Cornelis Drebble fell from the gondola when the craft lurched. I saw his body falling rapidly toward the ground. At the last instant he popped out of sight. Sometimes when he popped away like that it was a while before the alchemist could return. I never understood how the pop works.
Alastair Wong, ever a gentleman helped me alight from the gondola — not that I needed assistance thank you. I was just being polite. I was not conforming to the constraints of society.
The diminutive Victoria Wong rushed to join us, delighted to see Copper again. Not to mention the fact that she was quietly pleased with Alastair’s theatrical rescue of the air machine from being snared on the tower.
Copper and her father had a joyous reunion. Hixon had sent an excited telegram to Ignatius Belle when Queen Victoria asked him to take part in the faire that was in progress. Ignatius hurried to join him and let him know the fullness of what was happening at home. However, none of them knew about the amethyst world.
“So where is this amazing alchemist?” Calvin Hixon wanted to know.
I looked around, beginning to feel worried that Cornelis hadn’t yet reappeared. Then I heard a sharp pop. A woman screamed and Palace Guards hurried to her side. When I got a look between the broad shoulders of the guards, I cringed and shook my head.
Cornelis Drebbel had rematerialized. The Dutchman sat in the lap of Queen Victoria.
The Queen’s eyes narrowed as she looked at the strange man who appeared out of nowhere and landed in her royal lap. I feared she’d demand his head right then and there. Then I remembered his skull was safely in my hatbox. He wasn’t exactly alive, so he couldn’t precisely be killed.
I was absolutely aghast when Cornelis Drebbel wriggled his bushy blonde eyebrows at Queen Victoria.
Her eyes widened as she looked at the alchemist. “We are not amused,” she said evenly.
It was even more surprising when a wicked glint came to her eyes and abruptly the Queen pinched his bottom and Cornelis shot up from her lap. For the very first time, I saw shock paint the face of Cornelis Drebbel.
Copyright © 2015 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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