Gracious! You startled me!
Apologies, dear friends. I was expecting this old city watchtower in Steampunk’d Lancaster to be empty when we entered. Ah, but given the conditions outside – all those flesh eating Liver Birds plaguing the skies and the Sugar-Zombies roaming the streets and spreading their curse like a plague – I can’t blame you at all for taking refuge here.
Permit me to introduce myself. Jan Stone, story-maker and general assistant and dogsbody to a group of diminutive steampunk ladies and gentlemen who know me as Mrs Euphoria Steampunkle. I have brought a few of them with me tonight to provide some much needed help and protection. You’ll see them more clearly once I get the lantern burning.
As I’m sure you know by now, some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in this watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords. Tonight is my shift.
Luigi, would you be good enough to pass me a lucifer? No, best I strike it, I think, given your long, flowing sleeves. There, that’s better. We can see one another more clearly now. Feel free to shuffle closer and warm yourselves slightly. Let the little ones come close to the flame; they look half-frozen.
But why are you huddling in that corner, whimpering and clinging to one another in that desperate way?
Oh, bless you, no! These are not flesh eating Liver Birds! I admit at first glance they have a slightly corvid-like appearance, but they are good plague doctors who have travelled all the way from the disease-ridden city of Roma to lend us support and assistance, having heard that we too are in dire circumstances at present.
No Giulio, I don’t think kissing the urchins on each cheek would reassure them of your friendly intentions at all, although it was a kind thought.
So you see, my friends, we are in safe hands for this night at least and since we will be here in the watchtower together for a while, let me tell you a little about my work, to pass the time.
‘Mwumph mwah gruphg.’
Luigi, I think it would be best if you left the talking to me. I agree that your English is coming along splendidly, but those masks, stuffed as they are with wormwood, make it quite hard for others to understand what you’re saying.
‘Gaph gogh eegha eegg!’
Exactly, Paolo, that’s why you carry your sticks. They allow you to show people what they need to do to keep safe. And obviously they are also fearsome weapons, are they not? No? Ah. Well I’m sure you will protect us perfectly, should the need arise, and if all else fails, we have a good supply of books we can hurl at any assailants.
So yes, I divide my time between curating these gentlemen and their fellow steampunk characters and accessories at The Steampunk Dolls House – a virtual shop located in the aether which exports worldwide – and writing blogs, books and so forth.
In fact, I have recently published a novel aimed at 8 to 12 year olds called The Glassmaker’s Children. Perhaps the urchins would enjoy listening to an extract from it? Here is a section from near the beginning, in which we are introduced to the Glassmaker and his craft:
He had a workshop right down by the coast and each day he would fire up the great, enormous furnace to a temperature you can’t even imagine. He had to wear special leather gloves and a heavy helmet and apron to protect himself. Imagine having all those thick clothes in such heat!
Once the furnace was roaring away, he would take his cart down to the beach and collect masses of soft, white sand. These days, all kinds of strange substances are added to sand when it is heated to make glass, but back in their times, it was usually just sand plus heat. He would tip the sand into the furnace and it would melt into a bright, glowing sticky liquid, like pale treacle.
Carefully, carefully, the glassmaker would take great globs of the glass out of the furnace with a long hollow pole and blow it and turn it. It was like a big, wobbly balloon. He would shape it and move it and stretch it, quite wonderfully, into whatever the villagers wanted – windows or drinking glasses, jugs or mirrors, bottles or ornaments.
Sometimes he would bring home gifts he had made for the children. For Ruby, he made a pair of glass slippers, so she could pretend to be Cinderella. (Her mother thought this was the stupidest gift she could imagine and worried that the child would fall and cut herself horribly each time she wore them.) For Stellan he created a magnifying glass with a silver frame and a brass handle, so that he could explore all the tiny wonders he found in the garden, and the mother was happy with that.
The children thought their father was a very clever man, and so he was.
Ah, but the Glassmaker had secrets. There were secrets about glass that were passed down from one glassmaker to another through the ages. Glass is a magical substance. You can see it, yet you can see straight through it. Sometimes you can even see your own reflection in it.
There’s something more, though – something chemical. Chemistry is hard to understand. What we really need is a chemist to explain it to us. Luckily, there is a chemist hidden in the pages of this book. He isn’t supposed to appear until later in the story, but I think I’ll bring him here for a while, to see if he can make things clear. He’s called an apothecary, which means he mixes medicines and potions and stuff to unblock drains and powders to make cabbages grow enormous and so on.
Here he is.
Good day, Apothecary.
“What? Where am I? And, ugh! What’s that smell, for goodness’ sake? Salt? Seaweed? This is the seaside, isn’t it? I HATE seasides! Nasty windy places with sand getting between your toes and into your lunch… and all those noisy, greedy seagulls. You can’t just pick me up and dump me here! I was in the middle of mixing some cough syrup for little Lily Jenkins. I’m not supposed to come into this story until Chapter 11!”
I’m sorry I shocked you, dear Apothecary, but I’m afraid we need you here, just for a little while, and then you can go back to mixing the medicine and I promise I’ll leave you in peace until your part of the story. You see we are talking about glass, and the Glassmaker. I need you to explain what is special about glass – the chemistry of glass – to our readers. Would you mind?
“Humph! It seems I don’t have much choice. Story-makers! How you mess about with people’s lives! Very well, then. Let’s get on with it, so that I can get back to my work. Glass is an amorphous solid.”
A WHAT? I think that’s a bit too complicated for us, Apothecary, dear. Could you make it a bit easier to understand?
“Oh blah! Well, let me see. Remember when the children and their mother made biscuits? The squishy mess went into the oven to be heated and came out as crisp golden biscuits, didn’t it? A chemical change. The dough turned into solid, tasty little shapes. Is that simple enough?”
Yes, we understood that perfectly. So what about glass?
“Glass is far stranger. Sand goes into the furnace and is heated up until it melts into a very hot goo. When it comes out of the furnace, it gradually cools down and becomes almost a solid thing.”
“Yes, almost. That’s the strange thing. No matter how much you cool it, it never turns completely solid. Certainly it feels solid, when you tap on it or drop it or drink out of it, but it isn’t. That’s what an amorphous solid is – something almost solid, but not quite. It’s like a frozen liquid.”
Beautifully explained! Thank you so much, Apothecary. Would you like me to move you back to your proper place in the story, now?
“Well as I’m here, could I just take a peep at the Glassmaker at work? Such an interesting job.”
I suppose it wouldn’t do any harm, but don’t spoil the story, will you?
“Oh don’t worry! I’ll just look through the window. Ah, there he is. I thought he might be blowing some glass. I love watching them do that, but – hang on! What is that in his hand? Is he doing what I think he’s doing?”
There, I knew this wasn’t a good idea! Please don’t give his secret away just yet. I was building up to that.
“But he has – unless my eyes are deceiving me… No, it really is. I’m certain of it. He has a sly-glass! That’s outrageous!”
Oh! Enough! Right, I’m sending you back to Chapter 11. We’ll see you later. Thanks for all your help.
Oh dear, I hope that hasn’t ruined the story for you. I suppose, then, I’d better tell you the Glassmaker’s other secret.
As you have discovered, glassmakers are very talented people. They work with this not-quite-solid stuff in all sorts of ways. They know the many secrets of this magical substance and a few glassmakers – a very small few, luckily – work out how to make the most magical and dangerous thing of all. They discover how to make a sly-glass.
I can’t tell you exactly how it’s done. It’s something to do with smoke and mirrors, but it doesn’t usually end well.
And if you want to discover what happens to the Glassmaker and – far more importantly – to his children as a result of his unfortunate discovery, you can search for The Glassmaker’s Children by Jan Stone on Amazon, where it is available as a Kindle e-book or a regular paperback.
Here is a link to the UK site: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Glassmakers-Children-Jan-Stone/dp/B08HTM1LNK/ref=sr_1_1?crid=23CSEKIU0C17K&dchild=1&keywords=the+glassmaker%27s+children&qid=1600758506&s=books&sprefix=the+glassm%2Cstripbooks%2C351&sr=1-1
Should you be more interested in the 1:12 scale hand-crafted steampunk miniatures and other delights at the SteampunkDollsHouse, you will find them here: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/SteampunkDollsHouse .
If you’d like to connect you can find me here:
https://opentheboxweb.wordpress.com/ (story-maker blog)
https://steampunk-shrunk.com/ (website and blog about the steampunk miniatures)
Well it has been a delight to meet you. Thank you so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m afraid that’s my shift over for the night. No doubt the ferocious appearance of my three companions here kept even the most audacious adversaries at bay.
I’ve heard some authors have had their spines ripped to pieces up here by those Liver Birds and there was tell last week of an artist who fell foul to a hoard of sugar zombies and is now best avoided… although his artwork apparently is better than ever…
Stay safe friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own….
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since those dreadful land pirates, The Chronic Agronauts, utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning are two very special guests who have travelled all the way from the Lucerne Academy, Miss Lucy Etherington and her mechanical protégé Eve! Now do please have a seat here at the table ladies and I will put the kettle on. I hope your journey to our dimension was a good one and you had no trouble from land pirates or skyway men?
L: Thank you my dear and it’s a great delight to meet you in person, I must say. Stalwart work you are doing here for the dear young urchins.
There were a couple of, er, incidents in our journey, I must confess, but fortunately my companion Eve, being entirely mechanical, has the strength of several steam-powered elephants, so she was able to dispatch our would-be attackers very promptly. I suspect that our journey home will be far less eventful.
Oh dear I am sorry about that, thank the goddess that Eve was there to put them in their place! Now then, I see you have you brought some soup to share with the orphans?
L: My dear Eve made up a batch of her glorious lentil and mustard soup before we left the academy. It travels rather well, we find, but it’s very thick and, er, robust. You may want to water it down slightly before serving it. Eve, dear, perhaps you’d like to share your recipe…
E: I’d be delighted. You simply cook dried lentils in 4 times their volume of water, with a little salt for at least two hours. Add in any vegetables you have to hand (I used chopped carrot, celery and tomatoes, as I know children are sometimes put off by more exotic tastes), along with a few of tablespoons each of butter, genuine tomato ketchup and the finest mustard you can obtain. Then cook for another hour.
Oh how clever of you, Eve! Mmm, it smells delicious, I’m sure the little urchins will enjoy it immensely. Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you tell us a little about your work at the Academy Miss Lucy?
L: Certainly. I was hired to teach deportment, geography and natural sciences. I must confess, I give little attention to deportment, other than to lead by example, but the other subjects have been tremendous fun. The board of governors was somewhat taken aback when I explained that I would need to take the girls on at least three major field trips a year. But how is one to learn geography other than by traversing the Amazonian jungle or the Russian Steppes? The young ladies have used their science lessons to create a veritable arsenal of ingenious defensive weapons – for use only in the direst emergency, naturally – and their latest group project has been the design and construction of a mechanical submersible vehicle, which will enable us to explore the depths of the ocean and observe the many wondrous beasts which inhabit it.
It must be marvellous to know that you are inspiring young ladies to become the inventors and explorers of the future! If only women were allowed to study here in Ire but sadly the towers of magic are only open to men.
L: That is indeed a great pity. Perhaps we could smuggle a few of the most daring young women back to Lucerne with us. I’m sure the Principal would never notice one or two extra girls at the Academy and our balloon’s gondola is very capacious…
Now that is an idea! But I am guessing you have not always worked at the academy, and surely Eve is not your only creation?
L: Ah no, I came to teaching quite late in life. Before that I worked with Herr Oskar Kopp as his laboratory assistant. He was the most brilliant man and gave me access to his facilities to enable me to develop my interest in automatons and other inventions. Once I noticed him packing a few of them into a valise, however, to take to a symposium where he was supposed to be presenting his own latest creations, I decided to look for a position elsewhere. I’ve brought you this photograph of my cabinet of curiosities, which contains a few of my gadgets and items I have obtained on my travels.
How marvellous! And Eve, do you help Lucy at the academy?
E: Most certainly I lend assistance where I can. Sadly, though, there is a strong bias against mechanical persons being employed there and the governors have refused to offer me a post as a full staff member on three occasions, despite my excellent abilities.
Oh dear, how disappointing for you! But I must say my dear, you seem to be a very accomplished and capable person, surely you do not intend to remain as merely a companion, what are your aspirations for the future?
E: Well, so long as I can remain properly lubricated, I have an almost infinite existence ahead of me. Certainly I will assist Lucy while she requires it, but I am convinced a time will come when the artificially intelligent are fully recognised and I will be able to take my rightful place amongst humans as an educator and innovator. I should also like to engage in space travel, since I do not need to breathe.
Splendid, I am sure it will not be long before those in power realise that automatons deserve the same rights and respect as other life forms. Ah, now the kettle is boiled, can I offer you both a hot beverage? Or perhaps some oil for Eve? What would you like and how do you take it?
E: I have been engineered to run entirely on clockwork, lubricated by camomile tea. So much more civilised than slurping oil. Thank you for the thought, though. It is also Lucy’s preferred beverage.
L: Indeed it is. We both take it, obviously, without milk or sugar. I enjoy a slice of lemon in mine, but not for Eve. The acid is corrosive, you see.
Oh yes, how lovely! Here you are, now do tell me, where can we read more about your adventures?
L: Ah, I’m so glad you asked, my dear. Our biographer and compiler, Jan Stone, is collecting information about ourselves, some of our pupils and various other acquaintances. These are stored in the BLOG section at a non-physical location known as www.steampunk-shrunk.com
And I hear that our dear friend Jan Stone has made some beautiful doll versions of you both – and many other steampunk adventurers as well, could you tell us a little more about those?
L: Indeed. Jan has long been a ‘snapper-up of unconsidered trifles’…
E: Lucy! That description is of a common cut-purse, from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. I have it my memory files. Surely you are not implying that our friend is a thief?
L: Of course not, Eve, dear. I merely meant that – in true steampunk fashion – she acquires and makes use of all manner of items, in the most unlikely and ingenious fashion. Her little dolls begin as dreary, mass-produced porcelain figures and she transforms them with oddments of cloth, wire, jewellery and watch parts into uncanny likenesses of ourselves. The models of Eve and myself, and many others, can be found at her son Matt’s shop www.etsy.com/uk/shop/SteampunkDollsHouse . I gather she also sells some at craft and vintage fairs and shops near her home in Glastonbury, Somerset.
Wonderful! Well thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, my dears, it’s been wonderful to chat with you and I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins have their rosy noses pushed up against the glass in anticipation so shall we start dishing it up?
L: I suspect their little noses will be even rosier soon; Eve used her very hottest mustard in this batch of soup.
We have thoroughly enjoyed our visit to your delightful kitchen. With Eve to protect me from any lingering land pirates, I hope to explore more of Lancaster’s charms before our hot air balloon leaves at twilight this evening.
E: Although you may find it hard to believe that an automaton can experience feelings, Mrs Baker, let me assure you that meeting you has been a great pleasure and I will permanently store fond recollections of our conversation in my memory banks.
My dear Eve, having spent so much time travelling with my automaton friend Junkie I am well aware that you have the same emotional spectrum as us humans and it has been a great pleasure to have you both here today. Do enjoy the city, but be wary of the lemonade pushers, and don’t wander into a tiffin den by mistake!
Thankyou all for joining us in the soup kitchen today, I hope you will come and join me again next week so until then,
Blessings n your brew my dears!