When the Chester A. Arthur, the world's first and only coal/steam/paddlewheel-propelled spaceship rose into the skies over Buffalo Falls, Pa., who would have expected what followed? Will Professor Thintwhistle and his crew be able to return to earth? Will Miss Taphammer ever find them? Will Jefferson Jackson Clay's foul plot succeed? And what of the King of the Cats?
Release date: December 17, 2015
Print pages: 320
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Into the Aether
Richard A. Lupoff
Lawns were growing in the lush green of springtime’s resurrection, and the glinting sunlight caused sparkling dewdrops to give back emerald green effulgence to the eye of the appreciative observer. It was a Saturday morning, the twenty-third day of the month, and according to the calculations of the venerated Bishop Ussher, the earth was precisely 5,887 years and seven months of age. As such she bore her centuries with remarkable grace and attraction.
Round about the neatly painted white frame houses of Sycamore Street the tall elms and ashes, poplars and oaks cast rounded pools of cool green shadow midst the Pennsylvania sunlight that warmed and illumined the peaceful town. Brightly tinted birds, returned from their winter’s sojourn to more southerly climes, gave happy song as they worked diligently, constructing the tiny nests of twig and earth in which their delicately toned eggs would soon be placed.
It was upon this scene of innocence and tranquility that there impinged this morning the cheerful tones of a whistling youth. Small children abandoned their hoops and their golliwogs, and the town’s canine citizens interrupted their four-legged frolicking to observe the sight that proceeded down the center of Sycamore Street’s hard-packed earth surface.
For the joyous tune that penetrated the morning stillness this day had as its source a lad done up in the latest and spiffiest of garments available at Jeshaw Callister’s Dry Goods Emporium. An impressive tweed jacket, tortoise-shell buttoned at the breast and belted in the rear, covered a blue-striped camisole with ivory celluloid collar and cuffs.
A patriotically dotted bow tie emerged from the rounded celluloid collar. Beneath the edges of the jacket there depended corduroy knickers, canvas leggings and well buffed but sturdy brogans. The young man who sported these garments was possessed of a fine countenance, a strong chin, even teeth, and straight and steely, well disciplined hair.
Surmounting his admirable physiognomy a straw boater, broad-brimmed and silk-ribboned, was set squarely and, lest a vagrant breeze encourage truant tendencies upon the part of the gay chapeau, an elastic cord ran from its curved brim to the youth’s tweed lapel.
Most remarkable of all, however, was the whistling lad’s means of locomotion, for he proceeded down Sycamore Street, past Washington Avenue, Jefferson Avenue, Lincoln Park and Ulysses S. Grant Square with its Union Soldiers’ Monument, bravely if somewhat precariously perched upon the tall front wheel of a mechanical velocipede. This it was, rather than the tune or the appearance of the youth, however admirable those may have been, which attracted the attention of the young children and canines of the neighborhood, for velocipedes were as yet a rare and much admired sight to the residents of Buffalo Falls at the time of our narration.
While this amazing sight passes before our admiring eyes, let us close our ears for a brief moment to the cheery tune the lad is whistling and eavesdrop instead upon the thoughts passing through that portion of his skull devoted to intellection.
This delight-filled day is certain evidence of our Maker’s benevolent attitude toward mankind, the youth is thinking. I but wonder what activity occupies my mentor this morning.
Ah, it is a clean and pious thought which first crosses the cranium of the young chap. May we never detect there a less worthy! But what can be the meaning of his second inkling, that which reflects a question in the youngster’s mind? Let us not detain ourselves too long in contemplation of this matter, for answers to many questions, most assuredly including this one, are undeniably to be found if we will but persist awhile longer.
For suddenly, as the lad’s velocipede draws even with a dwelling marked by gingerbread decoration of unusual and unexpected design, his orbs espy a sight of such astonishing nature that the rapidly revolving wheel fetches up upon the edge of the neatly planked sidewalk and our young man is deposited, with alarming precipitance, upon that very planking, losing his purchase upon the seat of his velocipede, his natty straw boater flying from his well-parted hair and returning with an unusual sound from the end of its sturdy tether, and a portion of his anatomy which delicacy forbids us to name making violent contact with the sidewalk, to the momentary distress of the young man but, fortunately, without causing visible damage to the corduroy knickers which cover that part.
As the youth rose from the undignified position into which he had been precipitated by his unanticipated mishap, he could be heard to exclaim in a highly agitated voice most uncharacteristic of his more controlled usual tones, the following sentences: “My stars! Is that not a deep and dark excavation which I saw in the yard behind Professor Thintwhistle’s abode? If my senses have not taken leave of their owner, a most remarkable and mystery-filled incident must needs have transpired here!
“And, most distressingly of all to my mental self-possession, what can have happened to the Professor himself!”
Thus giving audible voice to his mentation of wonderment and distress, the puzzled chap carefully raised his disarrayed velocipede and leaned it carefully against the white picket fence which surrounded the neat home of Professor Theobald Uriah Thintwhistle, upon having done which he unceremoniously let himself through the latched gate by leaning over it and undoing the latch, and proceeded to cross the grassy plot in order that he might investigate the astonishing hole which so disfigured the well-ordered and neatly clipped growth which surrounded the Professor’s domicile.
The young man advanced to the precipice-like edge of the excavation and, head cocked to one side, body inclined forward to assure him of an improved line of vision, hands placed almost carelessly upon the knees of his corduroy knickers, he peered into the opening in the earth.
From the darkness beneath the grass there emerged a surprising—and even alarming—sound, that of a shovel working upon the very earth, scraping and clattering as it struck the occasional rock which dotted the moist black loam of fertile western Pennsylvania, where was located the town of Buffalo Falls.
“Ahoy below,” called the lad, delighting momentarily in the occasioned use of a piece of nautical slang dredged by him from the latest thriller to emerge from the prolific pen of his literary ideal Mr. G. A. Henty, a thick and thrilling tome titled With Nelson at Trafalgar, which volume the youth had flaunted beneath the noses of his fellow students at the Buffalo Falls Normal School in gleeful evidence of the superiority of the aforementioned Henty over his arch rival for paramount auctorial honors, the equally famed Mr. R. A. Ballantyne.
His borrowed greeting eliciting no response from the darkness below save a continued grating of metal upon soil and stone, the young fellow called a loud “Halloo!” into the pit, which cry was followed by an almost total diminution of the sounds of labor from the hole. Taking heart from the new silence and determining to pursue the thus-far one-sided conversation which he had initiated, the lad inquired loudly, “What is going on down there? Is it you in the hole, O my guru?”
From the hole there emerged a response almost without delay, in a voice indicative of great maturity, breadth of learning, noble refinement and a well-rounded personality. In tones well designed to produce a reaction of confidence and joy in the auditor was heard the statement, “Yes, Herkimer, it is indeed I, for I am able not only to recognize you by your tone and idiosyncratic choice of rhetoric, but am able, from my position here in this place of darkness, to cast upward my gaze into the sunlit day above, and perceive there your intelligent and perceptive countenance.”
Young Herkimer—for that was indeed the nomen by which the lad was known—clapped his hands in joy at the response which his halloo had produced, and, first carefully brushing the grass with his neatly manicured hands to assure himself that he had selected spots from which the morning’s dew had already been drawn by the warming rays of old Sol, knelt upon the greensward beside the hole in the earth.
Leaning carefully forward so that his physiognomy protruded over the edge of the excavation, the lad ventured anew to put query to his admired instructor and preceptor. “What activity occupies you so unaccustomedly beneath your lawn?” he asked.
“Await me for one moment, please,” the Professor responded, for he, as the instructor in dramatic declamation and natural philosophy of the Buffalo Falls Normal School, was well accustomed to providing information and moral guidance to the young persons whose presence in that institution was indicative of their youthful enthusiasm for increased knowledge of the world.
“I will raise myself momentarily from the Stygian excavation,” the Professor continued to declaim, “for I have foresightedly brought with me into this opening in the earth a well-made stepladder of adequate elevation to permit my re-emergence from this hole virtually at will.”
So saying, the Professor proceeded to climb the very stepladder to which he had made oral reference, and, as young Herkimer rose respectfully to a standing position near enough the edge of the pit to observe the emergence while yet retaining between himself and the lip of the excavation a space sufficiently extensive to assure that he would not tumble unintentionally into the hole, Professor Thintwhistle rose majestically from the subterranean darkness, his countenance becoming visible portion by portion as he climbed the ladder step by step.
As young Herkimer gazed admiringly at his elder, the form emergent from the excavation was seen to be surmounted by a liberal thatch of curled and lengthy locks, shading from a virile black through the steely gray of advancing middle years and on into the whiteness that presaged the arrival of a respected and well-earned seniority. A high and noble brow lined by the cares and responsibilities of its possessor’s numerous years gave way to a pair of bushy eyebrows beneath which two piercing and knowledgeable orbs peered through shell-rimmed pince-nez. A well-formed aquiline nose could be observed, and through a still dark beard well salted and peppered with lightening streaks there was seen a mouth firm and strong.
For his exertions beneath the surface of terra firma the Professor had placed a workingman’s smock over his own correct clothing, and as he stepped upon the grassy covering of the earth the older man removed this outer garment revealing his properly starched wing collar, striped cravat, carbuncle stickpin and carnation boutonniere.
Facing the youthful Herkimer, Professor Thintwhistle addressed himself to the lad in terms marked by a careful mixture of solicitude, affection, and authority. “Here am I, young fellow,” quoth the Professor. “What mission brings you to my abode here on Sycamore Street this Saturday morning, and what service or information can I provide for the easement of your presumed mind?”
Young Herkimer cast his own eyes downward in confusion at the warmth and vigor in his host’s welcome; yet, determined to press on undeterred by his own youthful shyness, the lad pursued his initial line of inquiry by putting to his elder the following question: “What were you doing in that deep and dark hole, my revered leader?”
Professor Theobald Uriah Thintwhistle, or “Old Tut” as that element of the Buffalo Falls Normal School student population known as the school wiseacres frequently referred to him when the Professor was not within earshot of their impolite badinage, made response to Herkimer’s polite inquiry after but a moment’s hesitation. The manner in which he responded was not unusually remarkable, as shall be seen when his brief speech is recorded below, but before examining the words of the Professor’s reply, let it be noted that a disquieting thought had its birth in the well shaped and thoroughly stocked cranial dome of the Professor.
This bit of mental inquiry went unspoken, but had it been expressed in audible form, the listener would have heard Professor Thintwhistle ask himself, How can I be rid of this pestiferous nitwit?
Pestiferous nitwit indeed! Ours not to judge the natures of our protagonists; ours merely to observe and report upon their actions, while the reader, undoubtedly an individual of independent mind and well-developed intellect, will form evaluations of his own. Nonetheless, one expects no such thought to cross the mind of Professor Thintwhistle as did in fact have being within his cranial cavity. Let us pursue this matter further, but first let us take note of the words which he addressed aloud to his young questioner.
“In this excavation of my own making, lad, I have been engaged in the pursuit of labors of a highly confidential nature.”
Thus spoke Professor Thintwhistle, a suitable if not overly illuminating response to the question put by Herkimer. But how out of accord with Professor Thintwhistle’s thoughts. For, were we able once more to listen in upon the mental processes of the graying savant, we should once again take note of his thought processes producing a message on the following order: I must dispense with the presence of this young fool!
How now! Perhaps all is not as it seems. One detects a note of unexpected and even unpleasant nature in the outwardly charming and charitable person of Professor Theobald Uriah Thintwhistle. It may be that the wiseacres of Buffalo Falls Normal School had stumbled all by accident upon a truth far greater than merely acronymizing their preceptor’s names when they saw fit to dub the elderly figure “Old Tut.”
Still, reaching into a pocket of his immaculate but bulging coat, the Professor withdrew a huge and blackened briar and clenched large and well-anchored teeth upon its bit. Its bowl all innocent of tobacco, yet the pipe was a familiar prop to the Professor’s students and associates, its presence in the very classrooms of the Normal School exciting wide comment from less eccentric members of the faculty, yet grimly maintained by “Old Tut” as a perquisite of his seniority upon the staff and his unquestioned expertise in the fields of his chosen profession.
With a briskness of step that belied the lines of his countenance and the loss of pigment from his hirsute adornment, the Professor led his questioner in miniature procession to the rear veranda of the white frame building which housed not only his living quarters but his library for the studies of natural philosophy and dramatic declamation. The savant unhesitatingly crossed the wooden portico, passed the lengthy glider which rested upon it beneath a hanging green, and opened the door to the rear parlor of his domicile.
With hardly a glance over his elegantly clad shoulder in the direction of the faithfully following Herkimer, the Professor ejaculated, “Come into the house and I will explain, my lad!” Another brief stride brought the Professor into his house, whereupon he continued, in part to Herkimer and in part to himself, “I will ask Jefferson Jackson Clay to fetch us tea.”
“Oh, boy!” he called to the aforementioned servant, and, when the latter failed to respond immediately, grumbled, “Where has that lazy blackamoor got himself to?”
Hardly had the two companions of the grassy yard entered the parlor and planted their feet upon its thin but tasteful carpeting when there appeared from the pantry the servant whose presence the Professor had but recently expressed his desire to assure. The houseman was of tall and well formed body, properly dressed in white jacket and black bow tie with dark trousers and a perpetual towel draped over his left forearm. A craggy brow and large, widely-spaced eyes marked his dusky face, while a kinky coating of wool protected his chocolate poll from the rays of the daily sun.
Shuffling forward and bowing almost imperceptively to the master of the household, the darky said “Yowsah, Mist’ Pufessah, Ah’s hyah!”
A scowl of anger and impatience crossed the face of the Professor as he stared furiously at the dilatory Jefferson Jackson Clay, then pronouncing his words with clarity and care, the Professor shouted, “Fetch us some tea, you bloody baboon!” Without waiting for the colored man to disappear again into his pantry the Professor turned to Herkimer and explained benignly, “He is, of course, a simple child of nature. As all of his kind, he would be lost without us to provide guidance and discipline.”
Ushering his young visitor to a wicker-work seat and ensconcing himself upon another of the sort, the learned Professor offered a smile of charitable interest and. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...