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The Mystery of the White Tulip
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Cecile Landgrebe
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Joined: 07 Feb 2008
Posts: 156

PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2009 6:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Miss Brown looked at her ticket and then at the brass number on the door of the cabin. Number seven. On the far end of the carriage she saw Miss Felice-Lytton enter a cabin. She quickly glanced at the shiny number on the door the blonde had entered. Number two. “Stubborn girl,” Miss Brown muttered. She stuck the umbrella under her arm, turned doorknob and opened the door. Halfway open, the door struck something with a thud.

“Careful!” Came a muffled voice from inside the cabin.

Someone shuffled and bumped inside. Miss Brown stuck her head through the opening to look in. The cabin looked cheerfully cosy. Against the far wall under the window were two small purple velvet arm chairs and a tiny nut wood table upon which an assortment of brown-papered parcels had been heaped. One of the parcels fell to the cabin floor with a cracking sound. The pette inside made an exasperated sound. On each side of the cabin Miss Brown noticed the contours of the beds folded into the walls. In the center a brunette of middling years stood bent over in a sea of boxes. She was shoving the boxes that had been blocking the door over the purple-carpeted floor towards the far wall. As she turned from the window back to the door she noticed Miss Brown’s head peeping through.

“Oh, hello.”

“Good morning.” Miss Brown replied.

“Please forgive me, young miss. I shall move these boxes away instantly.”

“Of course. Please take your time. I am in no hurry.” Miss Brown quickly looked over to the cabin Miss Felice-Lytton had disappeared into before sticking her head through the door again. “I say, do you need any help with these…objects?”

Ignoring the offer, the brunette said, “I always intend to travel lightly but then the head curator generously allows me to oversee the transport of her collection of zoological artefacts to Viktorya and –“ the brunette stowed the last of the boxes under the little table and turned toward Miss Brown. She wiped her hands on her skirt and pushed loose strands of light brown hair behind her ears. “—and that is why you find me here, rudely blocking your entrance with this collection of boxes.” She looked around raised her arms and let them drop back to her sides with a sigh. “I believe this will have to do for the moment. Do come in Miss…”

Miss Brown pushed the door open and entered the cabin. She walked over to the brunette carefully avoiding stepping on any of the objects still littering the floor. “Eliza Brown. How do you do?”
The brunette took the hand the Miss Brown held out and shook it. “Jane Fieldstone. Doctor. How do you do?”

Miss Brown put down her carpet bag and umbrella beside one of the little armchairs and took off her gloves and hat. “It seems quite a comfortable little cabin. Do you travel often, Dr. Fieldstone?”

Dr. Fieldstone dropped herself in the other chair and moved some of the parcels covering the table onto the floor.

“I used to travel extensively in my younger days. Now I travel only once every year or so, for scientific purposes. My assistant does most of the travelling for me. She used to, in any case. It was her job to take the zoological exposition to the Viktoryan Natural Museum.”

Miss Brown looked at the parcels. “This is the exposition?”

“Why, yes it is. Part of it, in any case. Most of it is stowed in the luggage car but a few items are too delicate to leave in the care of carriers, so I took them on board with me. I do hope you’ll forgive me for taking up so much space.” She smiled ruefully. “Some of them are too delicate to leave in my care, evidently.”

Miss Brown returned her smile. “Of course. Please do not worry. I do not need much space myself. I shall try to be careful around your exposition.”

“You are too kind, Miss Brown.” Dr. Fieldstone blew her hair out of her face. “I am getting too old for this. Look at me, completely dishevelled after moving a few boxes.”

“You said your assistant was supposed to take the exposition to Viktorya. What happened?”

“Oh, it’s a long story. We were on an expedition in the far south of Amazonia. She got rather attached to one of the local blondes. You know how it goes. I brought her back home to Loveton but after four months she decided to go back to be with her girl.” Dr. Fieldstone raised her arms in mock despair. “Young brunettes these days!” She sighed and looked at Miss Brown. “But what can we do about it? I do hope she will be happy with her blonde. She is a very fine lady and I wish her all the best. Pretty horrid of her to leave me stuck with this job though. I thought that my time of peace and quiet study had finally come but here I am lugging boxes for the head curator.”

“You work for the Arcadian National Museum?” Miss Brown asked looking keenly interested.

“Yes I do. I’ve worked there for years. I am an anthropologist and work as a curator.”

“How interesting!” Miss Brown leaned forward. “I daresay you have seen many strange lands.”

Dr. Fieldstone laughed. “You are quite right. I have measured the heads of tribes from north to south and pretty much everything in between.”

“You actually do that? Measuring heads? I thought it was only a myth.”

Dr. Fieldstone looked amused. “Anthropology is not just about measuring heads. I am specialised in myths and legends. The stories that are told in communities are much more interesting than the measurements of their bodily features.”

“How unusual! I never imagined anthropologists would study stories.”

“All fields of study are essentially about stories. If an archaeologist finds a beautiful mask she will look for the story behind the mask. I find a story and look for the meaning of that story. What fears do the people have? What fascinates them? What are their ideals and how do these stories reflect all of that.” Miss Brown noticed Dr. Fieldstone’s eyes light up as she spoke.

“Stories can’t be kept in museums, can they?” Miss Brown asked.

The older brunette sighed and leaned back in her small chair. “Stories are not the typical artefact to be put on display. One needs a little more imagination. The mask I just mentioned can be put on display with a pretty little tag saying what it is and where it is from. Not very interesting. I always want to know the story behind the mask but the tags are too small. One would need a guide to tell the story. If one wants to exhibit a story one would need many objects to illustrate the story. So one starts with the story and finds objects to illustrate. It is a different approach. Not all curators approve. It is not the traditional way of exhibiting.”

“It sounds wonderful! You must know so many stories, doctor.”

“Are you travelling alone, Miss Brown?”

“No…er…yes…I mean.” Miss Brown fumbled with her gloves. “It is a long story.”

Dr. Fieldstone raised a hand. “Say no more! Sometimes it is better not to know the story. Are you travelling to Viktorya?”

“I am on my way to the Kronaberg region.” Miss Brown said with a relieved sigh. “I stay in Viktorya for one night before the next train leaves.”

“The Kronaberg region?” Dr. Fieldstone scratched her neck. “Now there is a place full of stories.” She reached under the little table and took a box from the pile. She quickly looked at the label and put it back, reaching for the next box. She looked at the label, frowned and rattled the box. “Yes, this is the one I’m looking for.”

Miss Brown started back into her chair as Dr. Fieldstone smoothly drew a knife from her pocket and cut the string keeping the box closed in one flickering movement.

“You’re handy with a knife, Doctor,” She commented, hiding her momentary alarm.

“Oh, do forgive me!” The doctor put the knife back into the pocket she had so very quickly pulled it from. “Sometimes I forget where I am. But look at this.” Out of the box came the figure of a large bat with spread wings. Its feet were attached to the branch on which it was displayed. “This bat came from Kronaberg.”

Miss Brown looked at the scruffy stuffed creature propped on the branch. Its leathery wings spread out unnaturally. It seemed as if the bat was not very happy to be stuffed in this crude manner. Miss Brown looked closer and noticed two enormous fangs protruding from its little muzzle. They were quite disproportionate.

“Oh my.” Miss Brown said. “Do these creatures really fly around in Kronaberg?”

Dr. Fieldstone grinned. “No, they don’t.”

Miss Brown leaned forward. “But you said it was from Kronaberg.”

“Yes; the bat was found there, but look at this,” Dr. Kronaberg brought her hand to the bat’s head and took one of the fangs between thumb and forefinger. Very easily she pulled it out of the bat’s muzzle and held it up for Miss Brown to see. “This part does not belong to the bat. I believe, in fact, that somewhere in Kronaberg a cat is missing a couple of teeth. Poor thing.”

Miss Brown looked puzzled. “But what are Kronaberg cat teeth doing in a stuffed bat?”

“Interesting, isn’t it?” Dr. Fieldstone said, musingly. “I can tell you.”
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Cecile Landgrebe
Splendid Contributor


Joined: 07 Feb 2008
Posts: 156

PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 5:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Outside, on the platform, Miss Brown heard the guard sound her whistle. One by one the doors of the train were shut. With loud puffing sounds the locomotive came into action.

Miss Brown looked at the stuffed bat with the strange fangs. Little flecks of sawdust came trickling from the hole left in its muzzle after Dr. Fieldstone had pulled out the cat tooth.

“This bat has been altered to resemble a Kronaberg bat. It is meant to scare pettes.” Dr. Fieldstone disclosed. “Who do you think would do such a thing?”

“Oh, students no doubt,” Miss Brown said. “Pranksters out to scare their blonde sisters.”

Dr. Fieldstone nodded. “Yes, that is what most pettes would say. ‘Just a silly brunette joke.’ But it isn’t. This bat was assembled by a serious scientist from Kronaberg University.”

Miss Brown frowned. She could not imagine a serious scientist trying to scare pettes with a cheap trick.

“Strange, isn’t it?” the doctor offered at Miss Brown’s disapproving look.

“Indeed.”

“It has everything to do with the myth of the vampire.”

“The vampire!” Miss Brown exclaimed in surprise. “I have heard of vampires. They are monsters that live on the blood of young maids. A friend in school knew many stories about vampires. She liked to tell them in the middle of the night.” The young brunette shuddered. “Quite unpleasant stories they were, I can tell you. It left some of the girls afraid to sleep at night. It took the matron quite some time to persuade the girls that vampires don’t exist.”

“The people of Kronaberg would contest that, Miss Brown.”

Miss Brown raised an eyebrow. “The people in Kronaberg believe vampires exist?”

“Oh, they are quite convinced. Hence the fake vampire bat.”

Both brunettes looked at the lopsided bat thoughtfully.

“I don’t understand.” Miss Brown said. “It is not a real vampire bat. How does that relate to the Kronaberg pettes believing in the mythical vampire monsters?”

Dr. Fieldstone sat back in her chair and gazed at the cat fang she was twiddling between her thumb and index finger. “Well, as I said, this bat is made to scare pettes. The vampire is a myth but it is strongly embedded in Kronaberg culture. Whether the vampire exists or not, to the Kronabergers it is a symbol of an extremely dangerous reality. A real vampire cannot be caught, either because it has magical powers or because it simply does not exist. If it cannot be caught…well, an example must be created.”

“But why?”

“To warn those who would doubt the vampire’s existence. To warn you.” Dr. Fieldstone’s voice sounded urgent as she leaned forward. “If this stuffed bat scares you, you will be careful. You will take precautions you would otherwise not think to take. The pette who created this wants us to believe in the vampire so we will keep ourselves safe.”

Miss Brown swallowed. “Is it real? The vampire, I mean.”

With a smile the doctor leaned back again. “Probably not.”

Probably not?

“Well, one can’t really say with absolute certainty. It is unlikely, but the myth of the vampire has persisted for thousands of years. It must have an origin and something must keep the belief alive or else it would have faded from history long ago.”

Dr. Fieldstone pushed the tooth back into the bat’s mouth and then stuffed it back into the box it had come from. It did not fit the box perfectly, a fact which Dr. Fieldstone pointedly ignored, patting the wrapping paper ineffectually around a protruding wing. She turned her attention to her travelling companion. “I am curious about your reason for travelling to Kronaberg, Miss Brown.”

Miss Brown said: “It is a very long story, I’m afraid.” Having already stowed her luggage there was nothing she could do to keep herself occupied enough to forget the previous few days. She really didn’t care to revisit them.

Dr. Fieldstone pulled out her pocket watch. “It is now approaching ten a.m. and we will not arrive in Viktorya until nine tomorrow morning. We are confined to this train for the duration since there will be no more stops along the line and a long story will be a welcome distraction.” She happily beamed at the younger brunette.

--

Miss Brown and Dr. Fieldstone were dining together when Miss Felice-Lytton entered the dining car. She was not alone. Miss Brown observed her friend’s company: a tall, healthy-looking ginger-blonde in a maroon gown and two even healthier-looking brunettes in military uniform. Dr. Fieldstone followed her new friend’s gaze.

“Soldiers. Off to the north no doubt.” She squinted. “Ah, I take it that petite blonde is your Miss Felice-Lytton.”

Miss Brown nodded and returned her attention to her dinner. “I say, this is a very fine quiche. I was a little worried about the food on trains since one hears so many complaints but this is not at all bad.”

“Who are these girls she is dining with? Are they known to you?”

“No. Have you tried the sauce, Doctor?”

Dr. Fieldstone picked up her wine glass and sipped. “Strapping young things, aren’t they? I’m sure that tall blonde is the lady she shares her cabin with. But I wonder about those handsome brunettes. Ah, they are twins! And, it seems, well-decorated for their years. Very handsome indeed.”

Dr. Fieldstone turned to observe Miss Brown, who was cutting her quiche in as many tiny pieces as possible. “Why are you not in the service, Miss Brown?”

“Oh, I did not meet the requirements, Doctor. Not handsome enough.” Miss Brown scowled. She began to cut her parsley into little green shreds, concentrating fiercely.

“Hm.” Dr. Fieldstone looked around again. “My, they seem to be having a lot of fun.”

Miss Brown heard Miss Felice-Lytton’s tinkling laugh over the clatter of cutlery on china and the chatter of the passengers enjoying their dinner. She glanced over to the table Miss Felice-Lytton had sat down at and looked straight into her friend’s eyes. The blonde looked away quickly, putting her hand on the arm of the brunette beside her and whispering something into her ear. Something to cause the brunette to roar with laughter. Miss Brown looked away miserably.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Fieldstone. I am not very hungry. Will you excuse me?” Without waiting for an answer Miss Brown stood up, put down her napkin and left.
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