On Wings of Whimsy
The four naughty chimps probably weren’t as much of a surprise to those of you who have been with Teagan’s Books for awhile. I don’t think I can get more whimsical than a ghost cowboy riding a giant seahorse. I really shouldn’t let those wings of whimsy sprout again, lest you think I’m off my Victorian rocker…
However, I was talking to Mary J McCoy-Dressel, when she provided the “things/ingredients” for this episode. She made an off-handed, fanciful comment and… well… I ran with it. I’ll let you guess which “thing” gave wings of whimsy to this episode.
I hope you’ll check out Mary’s blogs and books. I think of Mary as a romance writer extraordinaire. She has a veritable dynasty of gentleman cowboys and “sensual, contemporary western romance” books.
It’s time to get back on track with this weekend’s episode. Be sure to take the train all the way to the end of the line for this weekend’s recipe. All aboard!
From last time:
“What is it?” I asked once I could see Cornelis Drebbel 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.”
6. Soup Bone, Destiny, Ceramic Statue
“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.
The Empress of Little Rock
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.
“Daddy says that your destiny isn’t always what you expect,” the girl said. “I didn’t get it when I was real little,” said the suddenly mature moppet at my side. “But I think I understand now.”
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.
Lewis Francis Hadley,
the Long-haired Sign Talker
“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!
Recipe and photo credit: Suzanne DeBrango
I look forward to seeing you next weekend. Who knows where the steam locomotive will take us — only three things or ingredients can say.
Copyright © 2015 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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