The Alarming Clock

I, Ebenezer Crackington, am by trade a clockmaker.  I have worked at this trade since I completed my apprenticeship in the beautiful city of Paris, France, many years ago, at the age of twenty-two.

For eighteen years I made a reasonable living producing table and mantle clocks of the finest quality, encased in glass domes so that the mechanism could be viewed by the owners.

One memorable day, however, my shop was visited by none other than Lord Horatio Backgammon.

Imagine my amazement as this great gentleman entered the door and removed his hat, just as any lesser person might do.

I bowed to his lordship and offered him a chair, wishing that I had some upholstered seating, rather than the plain wooden variety.

Nevertheless, his lordship deigned to sit upon this humble piece of furniture with no complaint and addressed me in the following manner: 
“Crackington,” he said, “You have been recommended to 
me by certain gentlemen at my club as being a first rate craftsman.  Would you say they are correct?”

No doubt my face reddened rather at this most unexpected compliment, but I kept my head and replied, “Why I certainly believe it to be the case, Your Lordship, judging by the testimonials I have received from satisfied customers.”

“Good show,” Lord Backgammon responded.  “In that case, I have a most particular commission for you.”

I promptly availed myself of a pen and my order book, hoping that my exterior appearance remained calm, despite my inner excitement.

Lord Horatio Backgammon informed me that, for reasons he was unable to disclose, he needed to wake and rise at a various times during the night in order to attend meetings of an extremely significant nature.  His prompt arrival at these rendezvous was of the utmost importance. 

Unfortunately, his lordship was a very heavy sleeper and was having great difficulty waking on time.

He asked whether I had any experience in constructing adjustable mechanical alarm clocks.  I assured him that I had served as apprentice under M. Antoine Redier, the inventor and patent holder of such devices.

“Well they are useless!” his lordship informed me.  “I require a device at least ten times louder than such paltry machines and one which involves a further element of surprise.  Can you do it?”

I assured him that I could, and would start work on it that very day.

Lord Backgammon left his card and a generous down payment and departed.

I commenced by using a double bell for the alarm mechanism, with a strong beater which alternated between the two.  I then constructed a large claxon, which I fashioned from a trombone horn, which moved about in a haphazard and suitably alarming fashion when activated.

Since I was concerned that the ensuing noise might perforate his lordship’s eardrums, I installed a decibel gauge, which would shut down the alarm if dangerous sound levels were reached. 

Lord Backgammon was delighted with his device and pronounced it satisfactory in every respect.

 

Thus I find myself the inventor of the Ebenezer Crackington Alarming Clock.

Steam Birds to you and me

Silver-bellied lesser-hatted shriek in a 2cm glass dome.
www.steampunk-shrunk 
#steampunkshrunk #steampunk #bird #miniature #modelling“Ornithological taxi-chrono-polymy.”

Henry stared blankly at Charles.  “You lost me somewhere around the taxi,” he admitted.

Charles grinned.  “So you understood the ornithological part?”

“Yes – birds, and I can SEE they are birds of various kinds.  Nicely mounted, too. I like the glass cases. Kindly explain the rest of the title.”

Taxi- means to organise or put in order,” Charles responded. “You are familiar with taxidermy, no doubt?”

“Obviously – stuffed animals and such,” huffed Henry.
Another of the miniature birds
www.steampunk-shrunk 
#steampunkshrunk #modelling #miniatures #bird

“So taxidermy is, etymologically speaking, the art of organising a deceased creature’s skin (that’s the dermy part) to make it look lifelike by – yes – stuffing it carefully, adding glass eyes and whatnot.  Well I haven’t used the skins of dead birds for my process.  I’ve used watch parts, which is the chrono, and a substance known as polymer clay, which you brought back from one of your time-travel excursions to the twentieth century.  I decided polymy would be a suitable term for that. Simple really.”

“Hmm, if you happen to have eaten a dictionary,” observed Henry. “It doesn’t exactly slip off the tongue, though, does it?  Surely you need a simpler name if you’re planning to market these handsome creatures.  Steam Birds, for instance.”

“STEAM birds?” spluttered Charles. “Where the devil is the logic in that? They don’t relate to steam in any way.  They merely sit in their cases and look decorative.”

Last of the birds for now.
www.steampunk-shrunk.com
#steampunkshrunk #steampunk #bird #miniaturesHenry paused for a moment, looking pensive. Then a large smile crossed his face.
“Yes,” he said, firmly. “It stands for Small Technical Experimental Avian Models.  Avian refers to birds, Charles, as I’m sure you know.”

Charles regarded him for a moment, then erupted into peals of laughter.
“Touché, old chap!  Most ingenious!  Very well, then – STEAM Birds they will be.”

The crested red-backed cogfinch.
www.steampunk-shrunk
#steampunkshrunk #modelling #miniatures #steampunk #birdIf you are planning to visit any of our forthcoming Steampunk-Shrunk sales (see home page for details) in the next few months, you will be able to see and perhaps buy one of Charles’ ingenious little birds, such as the Crested Red-backed Cogfinch shown here.

 

Tinkering with Time

George Entwhistle, a patents clerk by day, had always enjoyed tinkering.  The trouble was, tinkering could be a somewhat noisy activity.  Living as he did in a terraced property, he had to contend with frequent complaints from neighbours and visits from members of the constabulary.

In consequence, he’d been banned from hammering, sawing, welding or producing anything with a tendency to explode between the hours of 8pm and 10am, and all day on Sundays.  This, given the long hours he worked at the patents office, made it difficult for him to achieve anything of note.  George felt cheated by life.

All this changed, though, the day he realised that the blocked up door in the sitting room did not, as he’d always imagined, lead to the parlour.  Careful measuring and still more careful (and virtually silent) plan drawing showed that there was a two and a half foot gap between the blocked door and the parlour wall.

Working only between the hours of 7.30 and 8 in the evening, George carefully prised open the mysterious door and discovered, to his great amazement, a staircase leading down.  Eagerly, he availed himself of an oil lamp and the poker from the fireplace, and cautiously descended.

Cellar Outlet, Gang, Dark, CreepyImagine George’s surprise and delight as he discovered a further door at the base, which opened quite easily, revealing a large cellar!

Certainly it was cold and uninviting, but the walls were thick.  George raced upstairs, grabbed his noisiest intruder alarm – one of his most unpopular inventions amongst the neighbours during the testing stage – and took it down to his newly discovered domain.  Here he set it off and left it in the cellar, shutting the door behind him and returning to the sitting room.  Despite the deafening clang of bells and shriek of whistles echoing around the empty space below, there was virtually no sound to be heard from either the sitting room or parlour.  Despite it being 8.30, not a single neighbour banged on the wall or hammered on his front door.
“Eureka!” exclaimed George.
“Quiet in there or I’ll summon a constable!” came an angry shout from the occupant of number 28.

From that day onward, George worked to transform the cellar into a tinker’s workshop.  He extended the heating pipes downwards to power a boiler, which not only heated the workshop, but allowed him to brew a much-needed cup of tea from time to time.  He constructed a doorbell with a wire connecting it to the front of his house, so that callers could be heard.  He made himself a shelf and workbench and even installed a clock and mirror.  The result was a commodious and most agreeable work space.  George was a happy man.

He is currently busying himself with constructing a clockwork time machine.  He’d long had a plan, gleaned from a combination of the failed ideas of several other tinkers.  Working in a patents office did have certain advantages.

As you can see, his contraption is well underway, and he’s able to fire it up for short periods.

“Only a matter of time,” George mutters to himself, smiling slightly at his own wit, “Now that I no longer have to suffer time restraints, soon I shall be the master of time!”

Time will tell…

 

Should you wish to inspect George’s cellar workshop and the items he is creating there, do come to any of the Steampunk-Shrunk stalls at various events over the coming months.

The details of venues, dates and times can be found on the home page of this website.  

Oh, and if you come along, do ask George to demonstrate the time machine.  He loves to show off his workmanship.

 

 

A Point of Honour

Freddy.
Www.steampunk-shrunk.com 
#steampunkshrunk #steampunk #miniatures #modellingFreddy Huntington-Groff casually selected one of the silver-handled screwdrivers from his breast pocket and lifted the bonnet.

“Hang on, old chap,” Tobias cried, leaping from the driving seat and vaulting over the door.  “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Fan belt needs tightening. Can’t you hear it when you start her up? Won’t take a jiffy. There. that should do it. Start her up again old boy. She should purr like a kitten now.”
“I’ll check later. Got some pressing business to attend to right now,” muttered Tobias savagely as he strode away.

Yes, tensions were building. Tobias had always viewed the car as his ‘Angel’ but now, with Freddy’s arrival on the scene, he appeared to have a rival.

Freddy was quietly spoken, handsome, suave – some would say oily. He knew all there was to be known about cars, and when he slipped on his driving goggles, took his place at the wheel and tossed his top hat on to the passenger seat, he looked as if he belonged there.
“Don’t mind if I take her for a spin, do you?” he’d enquire, casually, while Tobias stood by, smouldering.

It happened that the Admiral’s wife, the lovely Josephine Cholmondeley, was observing these events.
“Gentlemen,” she murmured sweetly, when Freddy returned from his drive with a barely-concealed smirk playing around his lips, “Surely there is a dignified way for you to settle your differences?”

Both men turned to look at her. It was difficult to look anywhere else when Josephine was in the vicinity.
“What are you suggesting, Madam?” asked Freddy, somewhat cautiously.
“I believe Lady Josephine is suggesting a duel,” said Tobias, his eyes glittering more dangerously than ever. “Am I correct, Your Ladyship?”

Josephine laughed softly. “It would indeed be an honourable solution, Mister Blasthorner. Shall I arrange a little tiffin party?”
“Ah, what type of weapon did you have in mind?” Freddy enquired.
“Cows, naturally,” replied Josephine.
“What else?” smiled Tobias, grimly. “Cows it is, then. Four o’clock Saturday?”

Freddy’s state of confusion and alarm was not lost on Josephine. “If you’d just accompany me on a perambulation around the grounds, Mister Huntington-Groff,” she murmured sweetly, “I’ll explain the uh, intricacies of the rules of tea-duelling as followed in these parts. I know they can sometimes vary from place to place.”
Gratefully, Freddy took his place at her side.

“Ahem, tea-duelling, Lady Chol-?” began Freddy, when they were out of Tobias’ earshot.
“It’s pronounced ‘Chumley’, dear Sir, and yes, a tea-duel is a most noble way to settle differences in an honourable manner.  No one is injured, but the results are absolutely binding, you understand.”
Freddy nodded, marginally comforted.
“But – cows?” he ventured.
Josephine gave her tinkling laugh. “Malted milk biscuits. They bear the image of a cow; hence the name. Each duellist is given a keg of tea – I always use fine bone china cups. I should have mentioned that I am a certified Tiffin Mistress, qualified to preside at these events.  Very basically, you both dunk your chosen weapon on the command, leave it in the tea for my count of five.  You win by being the last to take a clean nom, or bite, from the biscuit.”

Josephine went on to explain more of the rules, which you, dear reader can discover by watching the cinematographic production above.

The following Monday, I was approached by Tobias.
“Madam,” he said solemnly, “It seems that Huntington-Grof is more suited to working with The Angel than I.  I feel my talent lies more in creative pursuits than fumbling beneath car bonnets.  I have decided to travel to the Steampunk Dolls’ House.  My hope is that from there I will move on to a new home, where my talents and advice will be appreciated.  I hope you understand.”
“Indeed I do, Tobias,” I told him. “I’ll miss you, but I’m sure you’ll be very happy amongst the ladies and gentlemen there.”

The Steampunk Dolls’ House can be found by clicking here.  Car interior complete. 1/12 scale.  The map can be removed from the leather pocket.
Www.steampunk-shrunk.com 
#steampunkshrunk #steampunk #miniatures #vintagecarTobias and several other members of the Steampunk – Shrunk community will be joining the others there within the next few weeks, while Freddy,  Josephine and The Angel will remain with those of us who visit craft fairs, steampunk events and miniatures sales.

 

Tobias and The Angel

This is how Tobias looked when he first arrived at Shrunk Towers.  I think his name was probably Paul or Richard.

After a bit of Steampunk-Shrunk magic, he ended up looking like this – fine leather coat, hand-stitched black wool trousers, satin waistcoat, cravat and a serious facial makeover.

As they are transformed, the little people’s personalities change too.  Tobias oozes charisma, but he does like to call the tune.  That’s why I ended up with The Angel.

There’s a town I visit when I need to replenish my raw material supplies.  It’s the only town I know that has two large branches of Poundland in one street, with Wilko and a bunch of charity shops in between.  It’s that sort of town.  As all my raw materials are bargain-basement, other-people’s-idea-of-rubbish items, it’s the perfect place.

I’d barely started browsing, when I saw the car in a shop window.
“Buy it!” hissed Tobias.
“That?” I asked. “I mean it’s very lovely, and I can see it’s just your size, but look at the paintwork.  It’s dreadful – needs a load of work.  And I don’t DO cars.  And anyway, it isn’t cheap.”
“So haggle,” he replied calmly and insistently. “You can do it up.  It’ll look great.  Just imagine it as the centrepiece on one of your stalls with a driver in a leather coat and goggles…”

So, just to shut him up, I went in and asked what their best price would be.  They offered ten per cent off and – still doubting the wisdom of this – I bought it.

Gleefully, Tobias sat in the driving seat.  “I’ll call her The Angel,” he smiled.  “You won’t regret this, you know.”

Every spare minute was given over to The Angel during the next three days.  Shiny gold and silver nail varnish covered the blotchy detail paintwork.  Gold cord trim made the upholstery look neater.

No automatic alt text available.

The dashboard (two metal washers, two tiny bolts and a strip of tin) was replaced by an array of dials, ‘lights’ and switches, a clock with cogs and a deep blue leather map pocket, complete with removable map.  The scrap jewellery box was raided to create headlamps (a pair of pearl earrings painted over with more nail varnish) and fog lamps.  My signature copper tape (sold as slug repellent) trimmed the details and was used to fix the clear acrylic windscreen in place.   No automatic alt text available.Tobias declared himself satisfied with the result and, pulling down his goggles, climbed back into the driving seat for a photo-shoot.

 

Molly – by Herself

by herselfFinally I’ve got a job!  More than that, it’s the best job in the world, because I get to do what I love doing more than anything else in the world – reading.

I’ve wanted a job for ever so long.  My brother Rufus has one and he’s a whole year younger than me.  After all, I’m eleven years old now, so it’s only fitting that I should be working.

It all came about when I was talking to Mrs Steampunkle one day.  I was telling her that adults say quite ridiculous things sometimes.  I told her Ma says I’ve always got my nose stuck in a book and Pa calls me ‘a proper little bookworm’.  To my way of thinking, both of those sound quite unpleasant and definitely not true.  Why, if my nose was stuck in a book, I wouldn’t be able to read the words and would go cross-eyed trying.  As for being a worm, well everyone knows worms like the dirt out in the yard, not reading books on the rug in front of a nice blazing fire.

Mrs Steampunkle laughed and told me what bookworms really are (which is a terrible thing, and they are actually called book lice, although they’re not lice either, which is even more confusing) so I told her I’d never destroy a book – not even if the alternative was to starve.

She mentioned that she had quite a stock of books, which she sells on market stalls, and asked whether I’d like to see them.

I said I wasn’t particularly keen to see them, but if I might be allowed to READ them, that would be a different thing entirely and yes, I’d like that very much.  So after laughing some more (she does seem to laugh quite often – I’m not sure why) she fetched over a stack of books and told me to read whatever I liked.

Well when I read, it’s as if I somehow become a part of the story.  I feel as if I’m inside it, living the characters’ lives along with them.  Usually people have to shake my shoulder to bring me back to this world.   Even then it takes me a while to remember which one is real (although I think probably they both are).  Mrs Steampunkle had to shake me and shout “Molly!” rather loudly several times to pull me out of the story I was enjoying.  It’s called The Diary of a Tinkerer and it’s all about Henry and how he and his time machine got stuck in a dreadful-sounding place called 2017, where he was only one twelfth of his normal size.

Lost in a bookI can’t wait to find out what happens next.  Luckily, though, I’ll be able to read on, because Mrs Steampunkle said she’d like me to go with her to her market stalls and sit reading her books!  That is honestly all I have to do for this job.  She said when people see me so engrossed in her stories, they will want to buy them and read them for themselves.  She won’t be paying me any wages, but it’s better than that, because in return, she is going to write and print MY STORY!

Imagine that – a real book all about me!  I was rather worried that I hadn’t had any adventures to make a story interesting, but she insisted that she’d got enough material just from talking to me.  She asked me what I’d like the book to be called and I chose Molly – by Herself.  Mrs S says it’s a very good title.

So soon I will have my nose stuck in a book – and all the rest of me too.  Oh, and if you come to any of the Steampunk-Shrunk stalls, you may see me there, although I might not notice you.  Sorry about that.

 

The Magical Mechanical Bird

a young showmanMy pa made the bird.  He’s Mister William Forsey and when I grow up, I’m going to be just like him – a tinker as well as a showman.  My name is Rufus, by the way.  I’m ten years old and I have a very important job.  I run the Magical Mechanical Bird Show in the little fairground booth my pa built.

only Rufus can fit insideThe ticket office is too small for Ma or Pa to get inside, but I fit just fine.  When I grow too big, one of my brothers or sisters will have to take over and I’ll get on with learning my pa’s craft.  Pa’s proud of me.  He wrote ‘Wm. Forsey & Son’ on the poster, so I’d be part of the company.  Some day we’ll have a whole load of automatons and people will come from all over the world to watch and wonder at them.

preparing the mechanical birdFirst thing I have to do is wind up the machine and check that it’s all working smoothly.  Pa says I’m a natural when it comes to knowing where a lick of oil should go or what bolts to tighten.  You see?  I’ve got tinker’s blood in me veins.  I’ll make wonderful contraptions when I’m older.

hiding the bird from viewNext I pull the curtain across, so the bird’s hidden and go out the front to tout for business.  All the ladies love me and they beg their beaus to buy a ticket.  Ma says it’s on account of my fair hair and big eyes.  I think it’s more likely my witty patter that draws ’em in.
Once a lady said, “Is the poor bird trapped in a cage?”
She thought it was a real bird, even though the sign clearly says ‘Mechanical’.
“Oh no, Ma’am,” I told her. “That bird is as free as I am.”
She was so pleased, she asked her gentleman to give me a farthing, and to show off to her, he gave me three ha’pence!
When I told Pa later what had happened, he said it was a good reply I’d given.  I told him it was true, because both me and the bird are as free as each other – stuck in that booth all day.  That got me a clip round the ear, though, so I need to learn when to keep me mouth shut, I reckon.

selling ticketsAnyhow, once I’ve got a good crowd, I go into the ticket office and sell them all tickets to watch the show.  I have to keep the office locked all day, so no one will steal our takings.  Ma took the chain from Grandpa’s old watch and fixed the office key to it, so I can wear it on me waistcoat, just like a toff!  Real silk, that waistcoat is, and me trousers are pa’s old moleskins cut down.  They’re a bit on the roomy side, but I’ll grow into them.

Next is my favourite part.  I come out of the office, draw back the curtain and you should hear the ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ when they see the machine.  The gilded bird sits on a gold tablecloth and Pa has left all the mechanical parts showing, so people can see how amazing an automaton is.  There’s gleaming brass and steel cogs and cams and levers, a little set of bellows that work a Swanee whistle, so the bird can sing, and the cam is fixed up so that as the bird twists and turns, the notes of its warbling change.

I call out, very loud, “And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, for your delight and delectation, the Magical Mechanical Bird will come to life before your very eyes and ears.”
That’s Pa’s cue to pull the knob at the back of the booth to release the crank wheel, and the bird begins to sing and twirl.

All the punters gasp and cheer and clap and I feel so proud of Pa and Ma and meself, for entertaining folks so royally.

 

The Case of the Magical Mechanical Bird will be on display at All Things Miniature in Haddenham, Bucks on Saturday September 23rd. 

A video of the mechanical bird in action can be seen here, on the Steampunk – Shrunk Facebook page.

You are in with a chance…!

The pages have been carefully removedI told you the competition would be small – in every sense of the word.  Let’s just say I’ve yet to be inundated with entries, so you stand a very good chance of winning.

For those who have not yet discovered it, or need to refresh their memories, the details are here: probably-the-smallest-competition-in-the-world.

All you have to do is to write the missing chapter of the book you will find there in less than 1000 words (even the book is small).  It’s open to anyone and you could win a unique copy of the book with your chapter inserted.  True, you’ll struggle to read it, since the book is only 2cm (3/4 inch) tall but the winning chapter will also appear on this site, along with the author’s name and any biographical details they wish to add.

A touching moment for the valiant coupleThe closing date for entries is Monday 21st August, so do get writing.

We are longing to discover how Algernon changed from being a dull, downcast gentleman whose only interest was in horse riding, to become Admiral of the High Skies, a national hero responsible for ridding the airways of troublesome Airship Pirates.

Still Probably the Smallest Competition – Update

Olivia Libris here, author of ‘The Vital Chapter’.

Dear Readers,

I understand that some of you are busily engaged in the task of recreating the missing chapter of my book, in order to enter our diminutive contest.  I await your entries with eager anticipation, having completely forgotten my own version of events and having foolishly failed to save a copy.  May this be a lesson to us all.

One of Steampunk - Shrunk's intriguing room cases, at 1/12 scale.I’m delighted to inform you that The Case of the Missing Chapter itself (a one twelfth scale room in a carrying case) has now been transferred to its new owner – a story-teller par excellence, who took delivery of it yesterday.  

The competition, however, continues apace and you have only a few remaining weeks to enter.  See full details by clicking here.

One final note:  The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that a few more words were missing from the version of the story printed in last week’s post.  In Chapter 3, Harvey’s response to Algy when discussing a possible move to Africa was erroneously omitted.  This fault has now been rectified and the correct version of the conversation is reprinted below for your edification.

Algernon's younger brother, after a long balloon ride“Oh such adventures are just fine for a young fellow like yourself, my dear Harvey.  Nothing to hold you here, no family or obligations to consider.  I’m delighted for you, old boy.  Wouldn’t do for me, though.  There’s this old pile to keep up, the staff to consider, all the horses… and I couldn’t ask Josephine to up sticks and adjust to such a difficult climate.”

“Pah!  Loads of lovely ladies over there!” returned Harvey.  “They have a whale of a time.  As for this old place – sell it up and start afresh.  You’ll make your fortune.  Nothing to lose.”

“Well I’ll give it some thought,” Algernon replied, and promptly left the room and headed back to his study.

 

I look forward very much to reading your competition entries.  Please continue writing and sharing the information among your like-minded acquaintances.

Sincerely yours,

O Libris

P.S. Might I be vulgar enough to insert a brief mention of the splendid Steampunk Dolls House Etsy shop which can be found at this link, where many of Steampunk – Shrunk’s extraordinary one-off creations are available for purchase worldwide?

Probably the Smallest Competition in the World

Here it is, then: the competition to finish off the Vital Chapter saga.

It will be small.  I only do small.

The prize will be small – barely an inch wide or long.  The number of entries will be small, as my ability to publicise on social media is sadly lacking and Steampunk-Shrunk is rather, er, niche, to say the least.

However it will give you the chance to win a totally unique miniature book, which you will have helped to write, and it will be fun, for all of us.

Briefly, then:  I made a 1:12 scale room – a library – in a little case.  It was called The Case of the Missing Chapter and in the room was a very small book, containing the story of one Algernon  Cholmondeley, but with the vital chapter explaining the remarkable change in this gentleman’s fortunes carefully removed by a person or persons unknown.

Your task, dear reader, is to write that missing chapter!  Algy’s story, along with photos of the dolls, gadgets and settings I ended up making along the way, has been serialised on this website over the past few weeks.  It’s reproduced in its entirety below, to save you the trouble of hunting through the archives.

What to do, terms and conditions and all that jazz:

  • Write your own version of Chapter 4 (max 1000 words) and submit it either in the ‘Leave a reply’ box at the bottom of the page or via the contact form just above it.
  • It would also be very helpful if you would tag, share or otherwise notify one or two like-minded friends of the competition and encourage them to visit this site.  (I’m assured this is how savvy entrepreneurs drum up business.)
  • By entering, you agree that if you win or are a close runner-up, your name (real or pseudonym, as you prefer) and your chapter can be printed on this website, which is available for public viewing.
  • No copies of the winning chapter – other than the single prize edition – will be made or offered for sale and the copyright remains the author’s own.
  • Information you provide (name, email address etc.) will only be used for the purposes of this competition and will not be stored or passed on to anyone else.
  • One winner will receive a one-off printed copy of the completed book including their chapter at 1:12 scale (readable with a powerful magnifying glass).  No cash alternative, as this unique item will be, obviously, priceless.
  • Oh yes, closing date – almost forgot!  All entries to be received by Monday 21st August 2017.  Winner will be notified by 2nd September.
  • Phew!  I think that’s it.  I’m new to this sort of thing.

Should I receive any entries (told you it was small!) Olivia Libris  – the entirely fictional author of the book – will select the chapter that seems to her to fit best with the style, content and general silliness of the original and it will be printed for all to enjoy in a further post.

Here, then, is the story as it currently stands:

The Vital Chapter by O Libris
Chapter 1

Since the beginning of the year, Algernon Cholmondeley had been feeling somewhat out of sorts.

It began when his prize peacock simply keeled over and died in the very centre of the drive on New Year’s Day.  By unfortunate circumstances, many guests were due at The Grey House for a party on that very occasion.  Carriages and steam-powered automobiles had been arriving for some time.  Each driver had been forced to swerve to avoid the bird, which was lurching around and staggering about in the most ungainly manner.  The screeching of brakes and the parping of horns and claxons provided an unwelcome accompaniment to the gentle welcome offered by Algernon and his delightful wife Josephine.

At four minutes past five precisely, the peacock stood still, made a feeble attempt to confound death by opening its once-splendid tail, fell to the ground and flopped untidily on the lawn which lay at the centre of the gravelled driveway.

“Did you know there’s a dead peacock in the middle of the drive, Algernon, old chap?” asked one guest after another as they arrived at the front door.

No seasonal felicitations.  No extended hand offering a friendly shake.  Not even enquiries into the health of the host and hostess.

Some delivered the line with concern, others with wry amusement, a few with puzzlement and still more with unconcealed hilarity.

Nor did it stop there.  Once inside the ballroom, the guests continued to discuss the deceased creature with gusto.  Ladies were heard to express wistful desires for a feather or two to adorn their hats, since the unfortunate possessor of these trimmings would no longer be in any need of them.

“A few of those exquisite breast feathers would set off my new gown quite wonderfully,” one lady was heard to say.  “Just the shade of turquoise I have been searching for.  I wonder whether it would be indelicate to ask.”

The gentlemen seemed more interested in how the bird would taste roasted with an apple and cranberry stuffing, but felt it unlikely that the cook would have time to prepare it for that evening’s banquet.
“Just drawing and plucking a bird that size would take a number of hours, I would imagine,” sighed a gentleman who looked to have consumed more than enough delicacies during the festive season, given the strain placed upon his waistcoat buttons.

Next the conversation turned to possible reasons for the creature’s demise.  The early arrivals were able to give those who had appeared more recently a fascinating account of the peacock’s final hours.  With many sound effects and gesticulations, they re-enacted the problems they had encountered during their attempts to negotiate the drive and park safely.

“Staggering about like a drunk, it was!”  announced Charlie Stammers-Bottington.  “Quite thought I was going to hit the beast.  First it veered one way, then the other, with never a glance towards my vehicle.  And you fellows must admit, it’s not an easy thing to miss.”

Others agreed readily that Charlie’s traction engine was indeed a very powerful presence on any driveway, and would be hard to ignore.

A man in a brown suit, whose brother-in-law was a veterinarian, said he’d heard the aforesaid brother-in-law speak of an outbreak of avian influenza, which had swept across the country from Prussia.  There was a general consensus that this was the most probable cause of death.
“It’ll probably spread to any other birds on the estate,” someone warned.

“Do you keep any other birds, Algy?” Henry Stuffingham called across the room.  “Probably best to have them shot and burn the carcasses.  Can’t be too careful with something like this, y’know.”

Algernon poured himself another glass of brandy and shook his head.  The conversation showed no sign of abating.  His attempts to instigate some lively parlour games fell – if not on deaf ears – on ears that were deaf to any subject beyond the accursed peacock.

Even at dinner, the subject refused – unlike its physical counterpart – to die.
“That roast bird’s a good size,” one wag remarked.  “Not a peacock by any chance?”

The raucous laughter which followed this rather weak joke was the final straw for poor Algernon.
He rose unsteadily to his feet and roared, “If anyone else raises the subject of that confounded bird this evening, they may consider themselves unwelcome in this house, both now and in the future!  Kindly do not allude to it in any way whassover – what sever – oh!  Just drat the thing, that’s all!”

He sank back into his chair, covered his face with his hand and began to weep.

There was the most awkward silence, which seemed to last for an eternity.  It was as if, deprived of their sole topic of conversation, the guests had been rendered quite mute.

Dinner was finished silently, apart from the clanking of silver on fine bone china, which sound now seemed extraordinarily loud.

As soon as was deemed prudent, first one couple then another made lame and hurried excuses for their early departure and left.  There was a veritable stampede for the door, so much so, that quite a queue of vehicles formed, waiting to leave.  All eyes within them stared balefully at the corpse of the peacock, but no lips moved.

It was unlikely that any of these people – his once dearest friends and acquaintances – would ever return, Algernon mused, glumly.  His name would, for all time, be inexorably linked to this bird.

“Oh Algernon?” people would say, “the chap with the dead peacock?”

Sniggers would follow.  He would be a laughing stock from that day forth.

 

Chapter 2

This unfortunate circumstance was, as has previously been intimated, only the beginning of a set of events which seemed to go from bad to worse.

Algernon’s mother-in-law came down with a most tiresome condition, which seemed to involve a great deal of coughing – particularly during the small hours and after lunch – and it was decided that she would have to stay at the Grey House until she was well enough to return to London.

This lady had never been particularly well-disposed towards her son-in-law.  Now that her temper was rendered somewhat shorter, presumably by her malady and lack of sleep, she became quite vociferous in her criticism and complaints about him.

“Why ever didn’t you marry that boy from the East India Company, Josephine?” she would demand of her daughter.  “Much better prospects, I would have said.” or  “Oh my dear, are you still wearing that style?  Surely your husband could afford to buy you something a little less dated?”

Josephine busied herself with bathing her mother’s forehead and preparing herbal concoctions to ease her cough, and looked endlessly miserable.

Algernon couldn’t decide whether this was because she secretly agreed with her mother and was now regretting her marriage or because her mother’s criticisms of her beloved husband distressed her severely, although she was unwilling to contradict her ailing parent.

He considered asking his wife which of these was the case, in order to calm his tormented mind, but – if truth be told – his mood was now so low that he strongly suspected that it was the former, and could not bring himself to have his worst fears confirmed.

In February – in fact on February 14th – the parlour maid and Algy’s favourite groom eloped together.  Algernon was furious at the inconvenience caused by this selfish action. Why should servants run off to enjoy a future together without a second thought for those they left behind?  Now he would have to find replacements for them and the new staff would need to be trained in how matters were conducted at the Grey House.

None of the aforementioned events could be called catastrophic, but together they created a most unhappy state of affairs for Algernon and he became extremely downhearted. He took to hiding away in his study for long hours and even chose to have his meals there on frequent occasions.
“Algy, dear, please don’t punish me so!” entreated Josephine.  “I know mother can be rather tiresome and I understand that you are not in the best of humours, but I do miss your company at dinner.”

Alas, Algernon was deaf to the pleadings of his beautiful wife.  He simply became more introspective and silent.

Chapter 3

Image may contain: 1 personOn a bright morning in early spring, Harvey’s hot air balloon crash landed in the vegetable patch.  He’d been aiming for the meadow, but a sudden gust of wind in the final moments of descent blew him off course.

Harvey was Algernon’s younger brother.  Josephine had summoned him back from the Congo as her alarm at Algernon’s state of mind continued to grow.  If anyone could cheer her husband, it would be Harvey.

“What in the name of thunder is going on?” screamed Algernon, racing out of the French doors to inspect the damage to his property.

“Who the deuce has landed that damned contraption on my land?”

He grabbed his steam-powered plasma gun and was about to fire a volley of shots into the basket when he heard a jaunty “Hulloo” in the unmistakable tones of his brother.

That gentleman emerged rather unsteadily from the basket, pulled up his goggles to reveal a tanned, soot-smeared face and raced over to embrace Algernon, who had – fortunately – dropped his weapon and was standing and blinking in disbelief.

“My dearest boy!” Harvey exclaimed, grasping his brother’s hand in both of his own and pumping it up and down as if trying to start an engine.

“But Harvey…” stuttered Algernon.  “After all these years!  How?  Why…?”

At this moment, Josephine rushed up and warmly embraced her brother-in-law.

“Dearest Harvey, how wonderful to see you again.  Do come inside and have a cup of tea.  We’d just love to hear about all your adventures, wouldn’t we, Algy?”

“Um, indeed,” her husband responded weakly, absent-mindedly removing a broad bean tendril from his brother’s greatcoat.  “Yes, of course.  Do come inside.”

 

Half an hour later, they were sitting, sipping tea, around a blazing fire in the drawing room.

Harvey had brought with him a battered map of the diamond mine he had bought in Africa.

“Amazing potential!” he was exclaiming.  “Stunning gems in there.  Worth a king’s ransom!  By Jove, Algy, you should come out there with me.  We could run the place together.  Lord, you should see the engine I’ve got set up for the extraction process.  Such a beauty!  It simply can’t fail.  We’ll make millions!”

Josephine glanced at Algernon.  This was not quite the way she had anticipated that the discussion would go.

Algernon sat listening passively as his brother extolled the virtues of life in Africa.  It was difficult to read his thoughts from his expression.

Finally, he spoke.

“Oh such adventures are just fine for a young fellow like yourself, my dear Harvey.  Nothing to hold you here, no family or obligations to consider.  I’m delighted for you, old boy.  Wouldn’t do for me, though.  There’s this old pile to keep up, the staff to consider, all the horses… and I couldn’t ask Josephine to up sticks and adjust to such a difficult climate.”

“Pah!  Loads of lovely ladies over there!” returned Harvey.  “They have a whale of a time.  As for this old place – sell it up and start afresh.  You’ll make your fortune.  Nothing to lose.”

“Well I’ll give it some thought,” Algernon replied, and promptly left the room and headed back to his study.

“Glad you sent for me, old girl,” Harvey told Josephine.  “I see what you mean.  He does seem rather out of sorts.”

“Oh Harvey, I’m so worried about him!” Josephine cried.  “It is so good of you to have come all this way.  I’m sure it will cheer him up to have you around.  Perhaps you could go riding with him tomorrow, if you’re sufficiently rested.  He’d very much enjoy that.”

“Riding?” asked Harvey.  “You mean horses?  Oh no.  What Algy needs is some adventure.  Give me a day or two to get the balloon sorted out and I’ll take him for a trip in that.  That’ll do him the world of good. You see if it doesn’t.”

Chapter 4: MISSING

Chapter 5

Algernon lifted his telescope to his eye and scanned the horizon.  Just one small smudge of grey over Middlesex.  It was high in the sky.  A less practised eye would have missed it altogether, or mistaken it for a wisp of cloud.

“Pirates at four o’clock,” he called.  “Prime the machine.”

Sure enough, as they moved closer, the unmistakable shape of a steam galleon became clear – smoke belching from her filthy funnels.

“Machine’s primed and ready, Sah!” barked a voice from below decks.

“Good work, Mister Capon.  Keep tracking them.  I’m going to turn her around so they can’t see our profile.  Wait for the order to fire.”

“Aye, Sah!” came the same clipped voice.

Like the rest of the crew, Edwin Capon was proud to serve under Admiral Algernon Cholmondeley.  Their airship was the envy of the fleet and the scourge of the pirates who had, for far too long, held the airways to ransom.

 

Too late, the commander of the pirate vessel – one Sydney Strangefellow – saw what lay ahead.

“Put her about, boys!” he croaked, his fear only too obvious to his crew.

“A trap!  That’s the Algernaut!”

“God save us!” screamed one of the men – an optimistic fellow with a high regard for the generosity of his Maker, since he and his shipmates had spent their lives ruthlessly terrorising the high skies.

Panic broke out on the vessel and men ran helplessly hither and thither.  They knew – every black-hearted villain of them – that nothing, let alone their old rust-bucket of a ship, could withstand the weapon now fixed of upon them.

 

“And … FIRE!” shouted Algernon.

There was a flash of turquoise blue as the plasma gun loosed a volley of shots towards the pirate vessel.

The end was quick.  An explosion of blinding white light and then – nothing.  Not so much as a nut or a bolt remained of the incinerated galleon.

A cheer went up from the crew of the Algernaut and a door opened from a cabin below decks.

“Why the cheers?” asked a soft, sweet voice, as Lady Josephine emerged.  “Have you clever boys destroyed another pirate vessel?”

“We have indeed, your ladyship,” smiled the midshipman, bowing his head deferentially.  The Admiral spotted it miles off.  They didn’t stand a chance.”

“Well jolly good show,” smiled the lady.  “I’ll go straight away and prepare some tea for all hands.  And I’m sure I can find some particularly delicious cake as well.  You boys certainly deserve it!”

“You spoil us, my dear,” said her husband, who had come below to share the good news with her.

“Not at all,” laughed Josephine.  “Thanks to your splendid invention and your excellent crew, the skies above London have never been so safe.”

“Three cheers for the Hadmiral and ’er ladyship!” barked Edwin Capon, and the crew’s enthusiastic cries could be heard far below, in the city that owed its safety to Algernon Cholmondeley.

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