Steemjammer: Through the Verltgaat (2 page)

BOOK: Steemjammer: Through the Verltgaat
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Chapter
2

 

BEVERKENHAAS

 

 

RING RING RING! WHEEEEEEEET! CLONK CLANK, CLONK CLANK! In the house with the towering smokestack, the hour struck. With it, a clamor of bells, whistles and gadgets erupted throughout the rooms as dozens of cuckoo-clock-like contraptions came to life. Unlike ordinary timepieces, these were powered by
steam
- steam that came from a large boiler in a brick-lined basement and flowed throughout the house in a tangle of metal pipes.

One pipe ran up a wall by the main staircase to a clock. That it was a clock, however, had to be taken on faith, as the contraption lacked hands, numbers, or any features normally associated with a timepiece. Instead of a face, someone had fashioned a rocky mountain peak with a dark cave. Out flew a shiny mechanical green dragon on a rod, flapping its wings. It breathed three little puffs of steam, one for each hour past noon.

The pipe continued down the hall into the library, which held an even stranger timepiece on a table. An army of colorfully painted tin gnomes marched out of houses in their tiny porcelain village and traveled down little bronze tracks to work on wheezing, spinning machinery. How one was supposed to tell the time from this remained a mystery, since the owners had long forgotten.

The pipe traveled to the living room and crawled up the high walls to a copper fixture at the center of the ceiling. Dangling by a flexible tube was a miniature war zeppelin made of hide, mahogany and brass. Vapor blew out little jet nozzles, and it circled the room, firing three loud steam-blasts from a miniature silver cannon.

Throughout the house, belt drives, clockwork style gears, and bicycle-like chain drives cluttered the ceilings and lined the walls. Pulsing, noisy, filled with machine smells and moving parts, the house seemed to have a life of its own, and thus it had a name: Beverkenhaas, which translated literally to “working house” or “house of works.”

It was Dutch, according to the head of the household. When a woman from Amsterdam had told him it wasn’t real Dutch - or any Dutch she’d ever heard – he’d suggested it was perhaps “a rare type of Old German from the Black Forest,” which only confused her further.

Throughout the day, Beverkenhaas’s devices whirred and thumped, with the occasional hiss of steam, filling the rooms with an eclectic symphony. To an unfamiliar eye, the arcane machinery seemed to serve no practical purpose. But the contraptions kept the house’s residents quite comfortable, at least most of the time.

September was one of the hottest months of the year in Ohio, but in spite of a roaring fire in the basement and pipes circulating scorching steam, Beverkenhaas stayed quite chilly. In fact, the cooling system was behaving erratically that day, and the temperature had dropped to forty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. The inhabitants had to wear thick, handmade wool sweaters.

“And why is our cooling system working so well?” asked a tall man with thinning, sandy hair that stuck out in several directions and resisted any effort to comb or control. He had three strong hair-swirls, called “cowlicks” after the whirls cows get from grooming themselves with their tongues.

Named Hendrelmus Steemjammer, he went by Henry. His bushy eyebrows needed trimming, his lower teeth needed straightening, and his entire body seemed slightly crooked. A smudge of black grease went unnoticed on his cheek, and his hands, heavily calloused and scarred, had two knobby fingers that pointed at odd angles from old breaks. The spaces under his nails and between his fingerprints were filled with a permanent layer of black gunk from frequent work on the marvelous but sometimes treacherous and always well-greased machinery of his beloved Beverkenhaas.

“Dad,” a teenage boy said, looking up from a paper full of formulas which he calculated by the light of beeswax candles, “we were doing math, not science.”

Henry made a perplexed blink. “Math?”

It was all too common an occurrence when he home-schooled. His mind not only wandered, it seemed to his children to actually teleport from subject to subject.

“Indifferentials,” said his son, Will. “I don’t get it.”

Henry didn’t fully understand the math lesson, either. Calculus, taking differentials and whatnot, was easy-peasy. He could do that in the morning before his first cup of kaffee, when his brain was nearly paralyzed.

But incalculus, hah! That was a tricky discipline indeed. With incalculus, if one side of an equation actually equaled the other, there was a problem. The truly mind-numbing part was grasping exactly how one side should not equal the other, because that actually mattered.

Henry usually ran such problems through the Variable Engine, but he didn’t want the boy to know he could cheat. Better if he actually learned how to do it himself, Henry thought, but not right now.

“Forget the math,” he said with much enthusiasm and only a slightly foreign accent. “Why is it that our wonderful cooling system works so well?”

Will, whose full name was Wilhelmus Anselm Steemjammer, got up to stretch. Tall and sandy-haired like his father, he had hard muscles from working long hours in the yard and house. He’d recently turned fifteen, and Henry noticed that his boyish features were fading as he turned into a young man.

“Too easy,” Will said.

“Help me teach your sister, then.”

“How about a snack, first? This chill’s making me hungry.”

Henry smiled. “Bring us all something, then.”

How much like his mother he looked, he thought, as he watched Will go to the kitchen. He had her dark gray-green eyes and straight nose, thank goodness. Henry felt his own bulbous nose was odd looking, and his large eyes bugged out a bit too much.

The boy shared his father’s triple cowlick, but one was on the front, where it naturally combed over. Still, the back cowlicks tended to stick up like turkey tails! Steemjammer hair-swirls were unlike others and seemed to have wills of their own: every morning he faced a battle before the mirror, armed with a comb and homemade gels.

“Angelica,” Henry asked, “how goes your math?”

“Too easy,” said his daughter, who spoke, like her brother, without a trace of accent. “I’m doing Dutch.”

A golden blonde, the ten-year-old girl had a rare septuple cowlick, causing her long, wavy hair to stand straight up, fanning out a bit at the top like an expensive hairdo from a fancy salon. A few strands went sideways, which she braided and tucked into the lofty thatch of the rest of her hair.

Her bright eyes were large but didn’t bug out, and Henry found them lovely. Their color depended on the lighting and hues around her; her irises could range from soft green to gray to a near-amber. As long as her nose resisted the temptation to bulb out like a garlic root, her father thought - and it seemed it would stay straight - she’d grow up to be a real beauty.

“Ah, goot,” Henry said. Good. “Hoo gaas oo verkamer op de Dutch?”
How goes your studies in Dutch
?

“Horrible,” she complained. “Why can’t they keep it simple and just add an ‘s’ to make words plural, like English? Why do I have to memorize all these other ways?”

“English is simple? What about ‘cacti?’ And if it’s ‘geese’ for ‘goose,’ why isn’t it ‘meese’ for ‘moose?’”

“Dad.” Angelica knew she’d never win this argument, so she changed the subject to something that had been bothering her lately: “Is this real Dutch?”

Henry’s bright blue eyes, which were already big, grew even larger as they opened wide with shock. “Of course it’s real Dutch! Straight from Bavaria.”

“Bavaria?”

“Ach, that’s not it. Indeed no. I meant, um – hmm. Well, strip my gears! I’m blanking.”

“Holland.”

“Ya, that thing. Good old Holland.”

“Anyway, I was talking to Brie-”

He arched an eyebrow. “You speak with cheese?”

“Huh? It’s a name.”

“Ya, for a moldy French dairy product.”

“She’s a
girl
.”

“Do her parents realize what they’ve done?”

Angelica sighed. “Maybe not. I was trying to say that she showed me the Internet-”

“The what?”

“The Internet, and please don’t ask me if it’s for catching fish! It’s a computer thing.”

He blinked, not understanding. “Is it electricity-powered, leef?”
Dear
.

She nodded.

“I wouldn’t trust it, then,” he stated firmly. “Electricity is treacherous. Extremely dangerous.”

He absentmindedly scratched his arm, where a healed scar showed long and white. It had been caught in some spinning gears and badly cut a few years earlier. At the time, he’d said he was lucky it hadn’t been severed.

“Dad, listen,” Angelica said, wondering how he could be so confused, “she showed me stuff in Dutch on her computer, and it wasn’t the same!”

“Ect neet!” Henry said.
No way!
“Not the same?”

“I understood some. It talked about tulips and canals. But if that’s Dutch, how could what we’re learning be Dutch, and they’re so different?”

“Ah, now I see.”

Deep in thought, Henry rubbed his face, unknowingly smearing the grease mark all over his cheek.

“Please don’t make up a story,” she chided. “You’re the one who says to always tell the truth.”

He smiled. “Of course. What we’re learning must be an older version of Dutch, one that our ancestors preserved over many years. It may seem strange, but one day, when we go home, it will all make sense. Trust me.”

 

***

 

Returning from the kitchen with a plate, Will offered them slices of homemade bread and fresh cheese they’d made from their goats’ milk.

“Still too cold for math,” he said, shivering.

“I know,” Angelica suggested brightly, “let’s go outside and practice fencing or shooting the heavy crossbow!”

“Tomorrow,” her father said. “Let’s solve the mystery of our wonderful cooling system. How is it that our red hot boiler, on the hottest day of the year, instead of cooking us into little roasts, makes it delightfully cool?”

“Freezing, you mean.”

Angelica sat by an open window that let warm outdoor air in. Even so, she wore a pretty red sweater that her mother had knitted for her.

“Well, it is working a bit too well,” Henry admitted. “I’ll fix it if you tell me how we get cold from heat.”

“We use the heat,” she said, wrinkling her nose as she urged her brain to remember, “to squish something.”

“To compress a fluid, good,” said Henry, motioning with his hands like he was pressing something together.

“Right, the fluid is … I forgot.”

“Will?”

“The compressed fluid is cooled and then released,” Will said monotonously, “and the molecules are suddenly free to move around. They need energy for this, so they take heat from the area, creating cold.”

“Perfect, except the last word,” Henry said. “There’s no such thing as cold!”

Angelica sat up, puzzled. “Huh?”

“Cold’s an illusion. We make it up in our heads.”

“I’m shivering for what reason, then?”

“Because of less heat. Always remember, there is only heat. More heat or less heat. Cold cannot move into or out of a system. Only heat.”

“Dad, you say ‘cold’ all the time!” Will protested.

Henry started to argue but couldn’t help chuckling, instead. “Flink kint.”
Smart kid
. “It’s hard to go through life not saying ‘cold.’ Just try to keep your mind on the deeper truth, then.”

“But I am c-c-cold,” Angelica said through chattering teeth. “And if we don’t warm up, I’ll catch a cold, too!”

“Right, I wish your mother was here, because she’s so much better at teaching,” Henry almost said but stopped himself. It was a touchy subject, especially with little Angelica. Almost six months earlier, his wife, Muriel, had mysteriously vanished. He had theories as to what had happened, but he couldn’t share them, at least not yet. So much had to be kept secret for their own good.

When he wasn’t taking care of the children or running Beverkenhaas, he spent his time trying to figure out where she was and how to get her back. He needed to do that, soon, he knew. Her absence was hard on them all.

“This home-schooling,” he told them, “is tricky for me. At least you’re learning something practical. The public schools, how utterly and completely useless!

“Ganoof.”
Enough
. “Go outside and finish your lessons while I fix the cooler. Don’t forget your chores.”

A loud, sharp THUMP THUMP THUMP and SNAP came from under the floor.

“Verdoor!” he said.
Oh no
! “Let me handle this.”

He grabbed a brass oil lamp - the kind old train conductors and engineers used, with a wire handle for carrying and a hand-blown glass globe. Stomping down the wooden steps into the basement, he vanished into the inky darkness.

BOOK: Steemjammer: Through the Verltgaat
2.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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