Apologies again for missing an installment last week – here is chapter seven of Joyce Chng’s serial novella for us, The Basics of Flight.
THE BASICS OF FLIGHT
by Joyce Chng
A Moment Of Lift
The Forresters’ house struck Katherine as extremely intriguing. The moment she walked into the warm interior from the chilly outside, she was met with a study, of sorts, replete with shelves of books and a plain-looking settee. As she walked in further, she could see a large brown door marked “Workshop” with solid black ink on the left. She could hear faint banging and metallic sounds.
The right side of the house was dimmed, lit only with an electric lamp. She could see something glittering – winkwinkwink – and could hear a soft tinkling when a slight breeze whispered through the house. She found herself curious but resisted exploring the house immediately. She was, after all, Alethia’s guest.
Mrs Potts – Alethia’s nanny – showed her the guest room, a comfortably appointed chamber with a goose-down bed and thick warm blankets. There was a table with a Ming porcelain bowl (“For the washing of hands”, explained Mrs Potts to her curious young visitor) and a jug of water (“”For drinking”.)
Alethia bid her goodnight and was guided back to her own room by the older woman. With a sigh, Katherine closed the door and observed her surroundings. It was definitely more comfortable than her room in Dorset. She quickly slipped off her clothing and into a wool shift provided by Mrs Potts for the night.
The goose-bed bed was magnificent. Soft and almost inducing her to sleep immediately. Her mind was still crowded with images of her travels through the London streets. She lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling. London was slowly slipping into slumber.
She awoke, to the smells of breakfast wafting into the chamber. She did her morning ablutions, dressed and found her way down to the kitchen where Mrs Potts shoo-ed her away good-naturedly and bid her stay in the study room. Grinning, she wandered around the house. She remembered the faint tinkling sound she’d heard last night and made her way to the source.
Light from the emerging dawn sun was glistening off crystals. Or clear glass of some sort. She stopped in her tracks and simply stared. She was looking at row after rows of crystal shapes, mostly birds and winged shapes, hanging from the ceiling. They filled the entire area. Like delicate wind chimes, they gave forth a sweet tinkling sound.
It was a beautiful sight.
“It is my garden of crystals,” Alethia’s voice startled her and she wondered how the blind girl was able to locate her. “It is my favorite place.”
“It is beautiful,” Katherine admitted, lingering for a moment to look at the crystal shapes again.
“Yes, it is,” Alethia said with a soft smile on her lips. “Come. There is breakfast on the table.”
Breakfast was hearty scrambled eggs, with freshly baked scones. All from our own garden, Mr Forrester declared proudly. He was a tall man with fair hair and a shocking bush of a moustache. His eyes twinkled merrily when he spoke, much to Katherine’s growing sense of curiosity. Alethia edged ever so closer to her and said that she would elaborate further later in the day.
Mister Forrester retreated into his workshop to work on his new automata after breakfast while Mrs Potts prepared the Yule dinner in the kitchen, together with Marjorie, a maid. Alethia drew Katherine aside, to the crystal garden.
“My father believes in growing our own food,” Alethia began and Katherine blinked, in amazement and total disbelief.
“Surely not in this weather?”
“Come. Let me show you.” Alethia led her puzzled friend to a door, close to the the kitchen. She opened it. Katherine expected it to be extremely cold but the air meeting her face was warm.
She stepped out into a summer’s day.
“Basic sun-lamp and strong netting to keep the cold and garden pests away,” Alethia explained in the background while Katherine looked around, shocked. There were vegetables. Wheat. Oats. Clucking informed her that there were chicken. Plump white plover hens pecking away at seeds. “Our neighbors think we are lunatics. But the idea is successful.” A large flower-like lamp shone down upon the vegetables and assorted crops.
“The turkey has to be bought,” the blind girl said ruefully. “That is our annual indulgence. It is Yule after all. Mrs Potts saves all the feathers and turns them into decorations.”
Katherine shook her head, almost spinning with the influx of new ideas and concepts. There was a summer’s garden right under her nose and flourishing well, even though she knew it was actually winter beyond the netting and the strange sun-lamp. It was definitely a marvelous invention.
Throughout the day, she had tiny tin-men underfoot as well as steel-puppies nuzzling her ankles in strangely canine affection. Sun-fliers, fragilely made like the hummingbirds from South America, darted about, their metal wings beating rapidly. She allowed one to alight on her finger, only to have it whiz away in a blur of bronze wings. The steel-puppies – metallic bulldogs – bowed and wanted to play, their cogs whirling away in excitement while the tin-men marched around, fetching workshop material for Mr Forrester and causing merriment amongst the watchers.
She decided she had grown to like the Forresters.
Katherine played a game of Fox and Geese with Mister Forrester before the Yule dinner proper. Alethia sat quietly on the settee, “listening” to the game-play. All of them could smell the tantalizing aromas coming from the kitchen and hear the cheerful voices of Mrs Potts and Marjorie as they worked over the last-minute preparations. There was an air of anticipation in the house. Outside the window, they could hear the voices of carolers making their way down the street. It was the eve of Yule and Katherine could not help but think about her parents and little sister in Dorset. Would they miss her during this time?
Mrs Potts stepped into the study and announced that the Yule dinner was ready. Katherine led Alethia to the dining room where Marjorie was placing dinner plates on the large wooden table. It was a glorious spread with golden-brown mince pies, a basket of candied fruits and boiled brussel sprouts with a good dollop of creamy butter. They seated themselves with Mr Forrester at the head of the table. He laughed with mirth and had Mrs Potts bring in the turkey.
They joked and laughed as they ate, savoring the splendidly cooked turkey and sampling the mince pies. Katherine had some sweet port that streamed down her throat like warm fire. Soon, Mrs Potts and Marjorie joined them at the table and the humor grew exponentially with the flow of good food and delectable wine.
It was a good Yule dinner, complete with fancifully shaped ices and mints. Mrs Potts made them cups of hot mulled wine, spiced with cinnamon and anise, and plates of freshly-baked fruit cake stuffed with orange peel and raisins, after which they all complained (good-naturedly) that they were full and could not eat anymore.
As she sat on the settee with a delicious warm sensation filling her body, Katherine held her cup of mulled wine close and felt happy. Perhaps it was all the good food and pleasant company with the Forrester family; she experienced a sense of contentment, something she had not encountered ever since she had left Dorset.
She knew that she could not replace her family with a new one. Yet, the Forresters were pleasant and diligent folk of grace and good humor, a quality she realized that dour Dorset sorely lacked.
TO BE CONTINUED… NEXT WEEK!