The Height of Absurdity: Penzance 3.1

8 March, 2016 by katelaity

Airships & Alchemy ebook webPenzance

The next morning at our inn I arose and made my usual ablutions, ready for a day of adventure. However, I had not anticipated that today Tansy would be a she not a he, so adjusted my expectations accordingly. Of course, I would soon discover that Tansy was Tansy regardless of the form, as I ought to have guessed before that. Quite made me rethink the whole notion of the weaker sex, but then I have seen more than one daunting matron of a certain age who could wield a brolly with all the skill expected from the best foil of the blues, so perhaps there’s something in what these bluestockings assert.

In any case, Tansy had a calm demeanour and no blows seemed to be imminent as we breakfasted that morning. I’ll admit there was something rather pleasant to sharing the meal with a lovely young woman—for man or woman, Tansy was always the peak of expectations for a fashionable young person. I expect between them Mr and Mrs Bell covered the gamut of sartorial elegance.

‘Where do we begin to look for our elusive goal?’ I asked as I sipped another bracing cup of coffee. They really did get the finest imports down here on the coast.

Tansy looked thoughtful for a moment, wiping the crumbs from her lips with a delicate application of serviette. I found it quite extraordinary how the same person could be so different dressed a la difference as we might say. I could not be certain that Tansy’s lips were more plump as a woman than as a man, but I should try to remember to look and to compare, though one doesn’t want to be seen staring at a fellow’s lips too closely in the main. ‘I suppose we should consult local people in the know. Perhaps our innkeeper would be a good place to begin.’

Having finished our repast, we sought out the good man who was lounging at the bar polishing glasses. It had not escaped my notice that the inn would have run quite competently without the man altogether for his wife always appeared on the spot when there was confusion and deftly sent off the right person for the job, smoothed any ruffled feathers before slipping away quietly.

However, I had noticed long ago that the sort of idler who never busies himself with his own business generally has a lively interest in that of others. Quick, by name if not by nature, demonstrated this to be so, for he had an encyclopedic knowledge of his townfolk and soon pointed us in right direction. He arranged a carriage for us (or rather his wife directed a groom to secure one for us) and we were soon trotting along to the palatial home of a certain Captain Pengelly.

It pleased me beyond belief that the man looked every inch a seafaring hearty. I suppose my tastes were formed by too many stories of buccaneers, for adventure reading has taken up a lot of my time since my studies ended. Not that I don’t read important books, too—or such as I am led to believe they are—but nothing gets the heart racing like a good thrilling well told, whether gothic, explorers or wild sea shenanigans. Captain Pengelly looked as if he might well have a hundred such yarns to tell given sufficient time and the proper audience.

Though he did not wear a nautical hat when we were ushered into his ‘cabin’ as the housekeeper called it, there was no mistaking the marks of his seafaring life. The man had skin like aged oak that spoke of his Caribbean origins, the wiry black hair salting with white and his deep brown eyes almost black and set deep in a nest of wrinkles, yet sharp as an enterprising youth, taking the measure of us both quickly before hopping to his feet with a surprising spryness—particularly considering the wooden leg. I looked about for a parrot but saw none. He took our hands in his huge fists, pumping them up and down with evident pleasure. ‘Ye be most welcome, youngsters. Sit yerselves down and tell me your mission.’

Though colourful in speech, I shrink from the difficulty of rendering his idiosyncratic ways with any skill for the Captain had all the music in his voice that born tale-tellers carry with the additional magic of his island home, a voice that carried its warm breezes and salty water with admirable style. Impossible to capture yet bewitching to listen to, I found myself transfixed. Tansy remarked later that it would be a thing indeed to bottle the old man and sell him as an authentic voice of the sea. But I will eschew all effort to render it as idiomatic dialect for I fear it would distract from the greater purpose of what we discovered from the man himself.

We relayed to him that the innkeeper Quick had pointed us in his direction and calling for a carriage we set out at once. ‘We are seeking to measure the very height of absurdity,’ and pulled out his—or should I say at that moment, her—tape measurer and handed it over to the Captain. ‘It is a point of honour, which is to say we have a wager upon the matter.’

While there were many who would protest the impossibility of such a task, we were certain at once that the Captain would not be among their number. His brow furrowed as the silver eyebrows contracted and he squeezed one eye wide like a saucer to gape with awe and appreciation at the finely crafted device. His other eye remained unchanged; we discovered later that it had long ago been replaced with a glass figment. So finely crafted was the replacement that we had hardly guessed it to be anything but natural, and thus did not understand his strange expression so much like the raging Cú Chulainn until it was explained to us. His expression did not in fact indicate any sense of disbelief but rather a rapt interest in our project, for as events turned out it dovetailed rather neatly in the ambitiousness with a pet project of his own.

‘I think I may be of service to you on this matter,’ he confided as he stumped to his feet and circled the large desk that importuned itself into the center of the room, ‘I have a project that I must share with you, too.’

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