Julia Wallingford's Intelligent Powers of Observation
“Madame, there’s a peddler and his horse and wagon flying in front of us!”
Julia Wallingford felt her butler Sebastian’s cool robot breath on the back of her neck as he wheezed and whistled trying to snatch his breath from the rushing wind. He sat behind Julia’s high bicycle seat in the back basket of the Kybernetes, Julia’s steam powered flying bicycle and the force of the wind rocked him back and forth. Julia had just put more coal in the fire box to produce more steam and they were flying along as fast as a stone thrown by a horse’s hoof.
Julia adjusted her flying goggles. “Sebastian, I told you it’s easier to let your arms hang out instead of folding them at your sides,” Julia said. “I’m sorry that your seat wasn’t ready. They told me at the shop that your seat would be ready in a few days.”
“Madame, I am severely disappointed that they underestimated the time it would take to prepare my seat,” Sebastian grunted as he grabbed his black and white checked hat with ear flaps as it sailed by.
“I’m sorry that I took so long at the suffragette rally, Sebastian. People kept asking me questions and I had to answer them.”
“I wish to return home as quickly as possible, Madame,” Sebastian said.
“We’re on our way, Sebastian. New York City is only about 460 miles from here. We’ll be home by tomorrow night.”
Kybernetes zoomed over two overstuffed white clouds.
“We can pick up your seat the very second we get home,” Julia promised him. Truthfully, she felt sorry for Sebastian, but she also felt sorry that he had come with her to the suffrage rally in Danford, Ohio. Life went much more smoothly when Sebastian stayed peacefully at home with Lulabella and looked after the house and grounds while she went off on her suffragette speech making trips. But on this trip Sebastian had insisted that she was in danger and he had also insisted on coming to protect her. After all, Wilfred had spent the almost forty years of their marriage protecting her and he had paid to have Sebastian created to his specifications and hired him to run their house and protect her.
“Madame, I’m going move my arms so we can ride the wind faster.” Sebastian worked his left arm free and rubbed his fingers over his bronze nose. “We’re catching up to him and I shall endeavor to protect you.”
Julia shifted on her high seat and her fingers gripped the pink polka dotted parasol that she used against any probable and possible enemies. It opened with a flick of her finger and when it did two scissor blades sprang out on from the center of two of the polka dots on either side.
“Thank you Sebastian, but I can protect myself,” Julia said. She adjusted the tinted goggles that she always wore when she flew Kybernetes. “We’re nearly upon him, Sebastian. Should we run him over?”
“No Madame, let’s just run him down,” Sebastian said, moving his arms up and down like he was pumping water from a dry well. He created enough wind to propel Kybernetes alongside the flying horse and wagon. Through her tinted flying goggles, Julia caught a fleeting glimpse of the lettering on the side of the wagon. The lettering said, “ Peddler Jim, All Things Tin.” Peddler Jim himself pulled on the reins and the wagon came to a standstill. “Whoa!” said Peddler Jim.
The horse stopped on a penny and the horse, Peddler Jim, and the wagon started to fall to the ground. Sebastian moved his arms faster. “Bon Voyage,” he said.
Julia didn’t take the time to say anything. She shifted gears and dove underneath the falling peddler’s horse and wagon. Ignoring Sebastian’s protests, she and Kybernetes carried the peddler, horse, and wagon down to a grassy meadow full of dancing daisies. Kybernetes, Julia, Sebastian, the horse and wagon and Peddler Jim landed with a thud and a thump.
“Whoa! “ Peddler Jim pulled the reins and the horse stopped pawing the ground and stood still. It found a clump of grass and began to munch it. Peddler Jim jumped off the wagon seat and ran around to look in the back of it. Julia heard a rumble and a rattling noise as he ran his hands through his tin stock. Julia dismounted from Kybernetes and walked over to Peddler Jim and his wagon.
Peddler Jim, who had a body like a bowling pin with a gray wig on top, whipped a red bandana out of his pocket and wiped his red face. “Sure and Begorrah, my tin is still there for which I thank the Good Creator and you, Madame, he said bowing to Julia. “May I present myself and thank you for saving me and Esmeralda from becoming a pancake?”
Julia dusted off the seat of her bloomers and took off her flying goggles. Sebastian wheeled up behind her and slipped her umbrella in her hand. “I’m Julia Wallingford and this is my butler Sebastian.”
The peddler bowed. “I’m Jim of Everything Tin and that is my horse Esmeralda. James O’Reilly, at your very service, Madame.”
“Why were you flying?” Sebastian spluttered. Your horse isn’t Pegasus and you aren’t his father Poseidon!”
Julia patted Sebastian’s hand. “Never mind the Greek fliers, Sebastian. Apparently other people fly as well. The more important question is how were you flying Mr. O’Reilly?”
“Just call me Peddler Jim. “ Peddler Jim wiped his red face again and it gradually faded to a sunset pink.
“Why were you flying, Peddler Jim? And how? Julia asked him.
“I’m flying to warn you of impending danger. And how I’m flying, I beg pardon, Madame, is none of your business.”
Julia walked over and stood beside Esmeralda. She reached under Esmeralda’s saddle and pulled a knob and suddenly Esmeralda’s side opened to reveal a firebox that resembled the one behind Kybernete’s high bicycle seat.
“We have the same idea about fireboxes,” Julia said. “Do we have anything else in common, Mr. O’Reilly?”
“I know who you are, Mrs. Wallingford. I saw you at the women’s suffrage rally in Danford.”
“Why did you follow me and how did you get a steam powered robot horse?”
“I followed you because you are in danger. I invented Esmeralda and built her myself. She does much better than a real horse with tired bones and an insatiable lust for hay.”
Julia patted Esmeralda’s head and she felt the hard tin bones underneath the outside horse hair. “You are an attractive horse, Esmeralda, for all that you are tin bones instead of horse bones.”
Esmeralda whinnied a thank you.
“How do you make her whinny?” Julia asked Peddler Jim.
“I put a music box with a timer in it in her mane. Every time someone pats her on the head it plays a whinny.”
“That’s a pretty smart idea, don’t you think so Sebastian?” Julia said.
Sebastian sniffed. “I think it’s time for supper but we are here out in the middle of the meadow and woods with no inn in sight.”
“I’ll tell you what, I make the best Mulligan stew you could eat this side of heaven or Danford,” Peddler Jim said. Why don’t you partake of supper with me?”
“It will just prolong our need to find an inn,” Sebastian objected. “We need to get a good night’s sleep so we can hurry home in the morning.”
“We could start for home after supper,” Julia said. “I don’t mind steering all night and the wind has died down so we don’t have to use your arms for sails, Sebastian. You can sleep while I pedal. Besides, I have to find out what kind of danger I face.”
Sebastian sniffed again. “There is no need to hurry,” he said. “I’ll protect you from any danger that confronts us.”
“We would be pleased to stay for supper, Peddler Jim,” Julia said. “May I help you cook something?”
“Perhaps you and your butler could gather some dandelion greens for salad, Mrs. Wallingford.”
“Where does one find dandelion greens for salad?” Sebastian asked.
Peddler Jim’s hearty laugh startled a pair of robins in their nest and sent a deer crashing from the edge of the meadow back into the forest. “You find dandelion greens with dandelions, of course. There is a whole meadow full of them.” He pointed to the meadow where Julia saw hundreds bright yellow dandelions dancing in the wind.
Dangling her goggles in one hand, Julia plunged into the meadow and began to pick dandelion greens. Sebastian tiptoed in her footsteps, trying to avoid getting dirty and clucking disapprovingly when Julia plopped down and knelt in the dirt gathering dandelion greens. When they returned to Esmeralda and the wagon, Peddler Jim had built a fire and a delicious smell floated from a bubbling tin pot hung on a tripod over the fire.
“Ohhh, you’ve collected a lot of the dandelion greens,” Peddler Jim said. “Wash them in that pot of water there and put them on that tin plate. “
Julia washed and Sebastian dried the greens with a dish towel that he found in Peddler Jim’s wagon.
“The Mulligan stew’s ready and so is the coffee and tea. Come to dinner,” Peddler Jim said, ladling stew onto tin plates and handing Julia and Sebastian each a plate. Put some dandelion greens on your plate and come and sit down in the wagon. I got a rocker and a bench and a bed. Chose the one you want for a sitter.”
They brought the bench and the rocking chair from the wagon and sat them in front of the fire. Julia and Sebastian sat on the bench and Peddler Jim rocked and ate in the rocking chair. They sat watching the fire send streams of light into the night sky.
With a clunk, Julia sat down her tea cup on a flat rock. “Now tell me how you invented Esmeralda,” she said firmly.
“Don’t you want to know about your danger first?” Peddler Jim asked.
“Tell me about Esmeralda first,” Julia said, glaring at Sebastian to keep him quiet.
Peddler Jim leaned back in the rocking chair and lit his pipe. “I needed an all weather horse, so I invented Esmeralda after Tilly died,” he said. “She came natural to me. I already had the tin. I just melted down some plates, molded them into a horse shape, installed the fire box, and there was Esmeralda’s skeleton. Then I glued on some horsehair and she stood finished before me.”
“How long did it take you to get her to fly, Peddler Jim?”
“ Oh, not long. I just considered my pipe and how it draws tobacco and air- the sucking principle I called it – and presto, she was in the air. The horsehair was the hardest part of the whole endeavor.”
“What do you mean, Peddler Jim?”
“I had to sneak around at night with my scissors hidden underneath my vest. Whenever I saw a horse with a likely tail I’d whip out my scissors and snip out a few hairs from their tail. I didn’t want to snip anybody bald so I covered a lot of miles snapping horsehair to cover Esmeralda. I could tell you stories…Maybe someday I will.” He winked at Julia.
Julia ignored his wink and concentrated on her question. “How did you get the horsehair to stick to Esmeralda?”
“I sewed it on,” Peddler Jim said.
“He sewed it on,” Julia said, shaking her head.
Sebastian’s metallic laughter echoed across the meadow, startling groundhogs back into their holes.
“Sewed it on?” Sebastian gasped.
“Sewed it on,” Julia said firmly. I think I know how you sewed it on, Peddler Jim. You made form fitting horse blankets with different kinds of hair and you made them cover Esmeralda’s head, tail, and the rest of her body. “
Peddler Jim’s laughter overtook Sebastian’s. When he finally stopped laughing and wiped his eyes with his red bandana, Julia heard rustlings and slithering noises in the lanky meadow grass that surrounded the wagon and campfire.
Peddler Jim carefully tucked his bandana back into his vest before he could speak. “That’s exactly right, Mrs. Wallingford. Only a woman of your intelligence could figure that out!”
Julia drew herself up to full dignity. “Of course I figured it out, Peddler Jim. You don’t have to tell me how intelligent I am, although you are one of the few men who recognize that fact. Maybe I should call you Professor Jim Everything Tin instead of Peddler Jim.”
Peddler Jim jumped up from his seat and danced up and down. “Sure and begorrah you’ve got it, Mrs. Wallingford! Professor Jim Everything Tin is two classes up from Peddler Jim Everything Tin and the money will match! I’ll change the lettering on my wagon the first thing in the morning.”
“I didn’t acknowledge our mutual intelligence to help you become a better charlatan!” Julia said indignantly. Stop laughing and sit back down!”
Professor Jim stopped laughing and sat back down next to Sebastian.
Instead of echoing Julia’s indignation, Sebastian coughed and then cleared his throat.
Madame, I fear that someone is following us. I distinctly feel eyes as hot as a coal feeding our campfire boring through my back.”
Julia stared into the darkness beyond the campfire. She reached into the wagon for her parasol.
Sebastian cleared his throat again. “Professor, if I may presume to make a suggestion. Perhaps you should take out your scissors if you still carry them inside your vest.”
“The lady didn’t say what kind of weapon she’d be using,”Professor Jim said.
Sebastian spoke in a strong, steady voice. “She is a grand lady, a Wilfred Wallingford lady wearing perfume that smells like the apple blossoms of Hesperedes, the lilies of the magical valley, the petunias or paradise…”
Julia sighed. “She has to be one of the anti-suffragists at the rally. Probably the woman wearing a red dress, no bustle, no stays, and dancing slippers. She wouldn’t stoop to wearing boots like I do so I can run over rough terrain, but she doesn’t wear high button shoes either except when she can take them off and use them for a weapon.”
“Sure and Begorrah, you guessed it right,” Mrs. Wallingford.. She just gave me warning that she was going to stop you. She didn’t say how.” Professor Jim Everything Tin shook his head. “I don’t know why she wants to stop you. You are both women.”
“Women are individuals just like men,” Julia said. “Some women want to be pampered, perfumed, protected, and patronized by patriarchy, especially if they are pretty enough to attract men who award them those benefits.”
“Professor Jim smiled at her. “You, Mrs. Wallingford, are pretty long on the P’s and pretty enough to attract any number of benefits.”
Julia heard Sebastian snicker. Sebastian snickered softly, but the fact that he snickered instead of chuckled or laughed sardonically made her furious, so furious that she forgot to use her intelligent powers of observation. Instead, she picked up one of the left over dandelion greens that had dirt clinging to it that they had not washed for supper and threw it at Sebastian. He jumped back to avoid the flying dandelion greens and when his feet hit the ground again, they toppled over a high button shoe that had been sitting in the middle of a clump of grass.
“Sure and Begorrah, where did that shoe come from?” Professor Jim Everything Tin said as he walked over to the shoe.
Julia heard what sounded like a hissing tea kettle noise come from the high button shoe. A flash of insight like the fireflies blinking in the meadow illuminated Julia’s mind and she pushed Professor Jim away from the high button shoe just as the head of a rattlesnake emerged from its open top.
Julia gripped her parasol “Roll over and away, carefully! It’s a rattlesnake! “ Julia said quietly. The rattlesnake crawled out of the high button shoe and slithered toward Julia
“Her name is Rowena, the same as mine,” someone said from the shadow of a pine tree. Julia watched a tall black haired woman in a red dress step from behind a tree.
“Patience, Rowena,” the woman said. “It is not quite your time, but soon, very soon.”
“Sure and Begorrah, it’s a snake with the Rowena woman,” Professor Jim Everything Tin said.
“I gave you my warning,” Rowena said.
“You know about the British legend of Rowena?” Julia asked the woman.
Rowena tossed her head. “Naturally! Do you think you suffragettes are the only smart women? Just because we like men doesn’t mean we’re stupid. In fact, we’re probably smarter than suffragettes because we have to use our wits and our wiles to get along with men every day.”
Julia tossed her head in reply.“Seduction is your wit! British legend says that Rowena was a beautiful Anglo Saxon seductress who acquired the Kingdom of Kent for her people by seducing its King Vortigern.
“You can kill more flies with flypaper than a fly swatter,” Rowena said. She waved her hands and Julia smelled clouds of Danger! perfume. Rowena bend over and took off her other shoe.
“You can kill more flies with a flyswatter than fly paper ,” Julia said, gripping her parasol and preparing to open it.
Rowena walked into the firelight and Julia noted that she had pretty feet and favored them so that everyone would notice.
“You forgot your other shoe.” Julia walked past Rattlesnake Rowena, picked up the shoe, and handed it to Rowena.
“You have solid nerve like your robot’s solid skin, but I have my methods, too,” Rowena said. She walked over to Sebastian drifting Danger! perfume with every step. She stopped and planted a hearty kiss on his bronze lips.
Julia watched closely, but she didn’t see Sebastian’s sensors blink. He sat quietly reflecting firelight, but Julia then saw jets of steam come out of his ears and mingle with the clouds of Danger! perfume floating above his head.
Rowena picked up Rattlesnake Rowena, put her in the high button shoe, and put the shoe on Esmeralda’s back. Then she walked over to Professor Jim Everything Tin, wound her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss.
Professor Jim didn’t even wait for the kiss to end. He pushed Rowena away, raced over to Esmeralda and grabbed the high button shoe with Rattlesnake Rowena in it. He threw Rowena and the shoe as far into the meadow grass as he could throw.
Rowena picked herself up from the ground and raced after the shoe and Rattlesnake Rowena. Julia could hear her hollering, “My baby! I’ll be back for you later, Wallingford!”
Throughout all of this action, Sebastian didn’t say a word. He just sat dreamily in the firelight, sniffing the air.
Julia hurried over to Esmeralda. Professor Jim already was running his hands up and down Esmeralda’s body. He stopped at her swishing tail and then he stepped back from Esmeralda and whooshed out a sigh of relief.
“Is she alright?” Julia asked.
“She’s fine. Her tail is three layers deep. Rattlesnake Rowena couldn’t even get a bite hold.”
Julia sighed a smaller sigh. “Esmeralda’s fine and Rowena’s gone. Maybe we should get some rest before we continue our journey,” she said.
Sebastian smiled in the firelight and spears of light glinted from his bronze body. “She’ll be back soon,” he said sniffing the air for the lingering fragrance of My Heaven perfume.
Julia stared at him. “She got to you,” Julia said.
“Sebastian sighed. “She told me she’d be back soon and I believe her. We could wait until tomorrow morning to start home.”
Julia sighed. “It’s past time to get you home to recover.”
“Sure and begorrah, I hope to see you again and soon,” Professor Jim Everything Tin said to Julia.
“I don’t have to tell you I’m not Rowena,” Julia said.
“Thank the Good God and any saints there may be,” Professor Jim Everything Tin said.
“Then perhaps in our adventuring we’ll run into each other again,” Julia said.
She and Sebastian climbed onto Kybernetes.
Sniffing the air, Sebastian took one last hopeful look around the meadow.
Esmeralda swished her tail.
“Me and Esmeralda saved your trail with her tail!”
Professor Jim Everything Tin’s hearty laugh followed Kybernetes across the sky as Julia and Sebastian raced toward New York and home.