. Coronet Gardens
Eleven year-old Wally McNettle froze in his tracks not yet halfway up the hill to the big yellow house at the top. Little Wally, as he was known so as to distinguish the generations, had never heard such an explosion in his life. Fear gripped every muscle, holding him immobile and indecisive. He was unsure whether to continue on his quest or to turn around and run home. He had been sent on a mission to collect a dozen missing bread baskets for his father and he didn’t want to fail. In the echoing silence that fell in the wake of the blast the baker’s son summoned the courage that carried him onward up the hill.
Little Wally didn’t bother stopping at the main residence, he knew Mr. Crumb lived in a cottage on the ridge overlooking the bay. The boy had just rounded the back and was crossing to the cottage when he spotted Mr. Crumb with Mrs. Foehammer. They were up on top of the ridge at the far end of the property. Mr. Crumb was looking at something through a large brass telescope.
Adrenaline carried Little Wally at a full run in their direction. “What happened?” he cried out once he was close enough for them to hear. The excitement seemed to have pinched his voice causing him to speak with a squeak.
“Oh, hello darling,” Martha Foehammer turned and leaned forward, bringing herself nearer his level— and when she smiled Little Wally felt sure he had never seen anyone so pretty in his life. “Look Ezra,” Martha called back, all the while holding Little Wally captivated by the intense brilliance of her eyes. “It’s Walter and Sally McNettle’s young man.”
“He’s come to rob me of my laundry bins, no doubt.” said Ezra, lowering the glass and signalling the boy to approach.
Little Wally, who was timid by nature, seemed hesitant. On the one hand he wanted to please his father by retrieving the dozen missing baskets but he couldn’t help but recall his mother’s warnings to be wary of strange grown-ups. In the end curiosity overcame his trepidation. He had never seen a real telescope before. “Can I look?” It was almost too much to hope for.
“You can and you may. Let me balance it for you.” said Ezra, who held the telescope steady while Little Wally guided the line of sight, aiming for the billowing pillar of thick black smoke rising from somewhere on the south side of the Telford. “Don’t press your eye to the glass, it will blur the view.” Ezra instructed. “Close your other eye. Look more to your right, down towards the mouth of the inlet.”
“I’m not pressing my eye to the glass but it still looks blurry.”
“Tell me if this gets better or worse,” said Ezra, twisting the eyepiece between thumb and forefinger.”
“It’s getting better… I see it! STOP!” Little Wally exclaimed. “I see fire!”
“Yes,” said Ezra gravely, looking over the boy’s head and nodding to Martha. “You were right. It was Perkin’s Frozen Water Factory.”
“How serious is it?” she asked.
“Pretty bad,” replied Ezra. “Something like that— no doubt there were injuries or worse.”
“Will they put it out?” asked Little Wally. “I have to take Mrs. Lanfier some sticky buns. She lives close to there.”
“Oh, honey, you shouldn’t go over there now,” said Martha. “Mrs. Lanfier will understand. Let them put the fire out first.”
“At least they’ll be able to pump water at it from two sides,” said Ezra, still steadying the telescope for Little Wally. “As long as the wind doesn’t shift they’ll have it under control soon.”
“Mrs Foehammer!” It was a young woman by the name of Kettie Shaw who called from back by the house. She was one of Little Wally’s neighbours who used to watch him and his little brothers when his parents were busy. He hadn’t seen her for awhile and supposed she helped Mrs. Foehammer now with her boy Cecil who was the same age as his baby sister Elvira. Coming along with Kettie Shaw were two men, a big barrel-chested fellow with a bushy salt and pepper beard and a smaller, dark-haired man with a slight build.
Kettie strode at a steady pace to join the others on the ridge but didn’t speak again until she could be heard without the need to shout. “By the Builder Little Wally McNettle, you’ve shot up like a beanstalk since I last saw you!” she smiled at the boy, though it was but a brief moment of reunion. Kettie turned to address Mrs. Foehammer. “These two came knocking at the front with a letter for Mr. Crumb. They’re to see him get it with their own eyes, they say. So I brought them back direct on account of me not wanting them to wake up Cecil with unfamiliar noise.”
“You need to see the letter in his hand with your own eyes, Mr. Farquhar?” said Martha. “That sounds rather dramatic.”
“Nice to see you again, Mrs. Foehammer,” replied Whiskey Jack after removing his hat. “This is my mate Randall Flax. The letter is from your husband, the doctor. Randall and me picked it up early this morning at the Dunsany.”
Martha tilted her head as though that statement was sufficient to explain the drama, then, with a sideways glance, “You are in demand this afternoon, Mr. Crumb.”
Little Wally looked up again from the telescope. Like most kids about town, he had heard dark tales of the Dunsany. How children that go there sometimes never come out. He had heard some say there were monsters hiding in the cellar— awful creatures that come out at night and feed on kids who disobey their parents.
“Builder’s bungled blueprints!” cursed Randall, looking out over the Iron Bay. “That must be some fire they got burning— what with all the smoke! Is it the frozen water factory like folks is saying on the street?”
Ezra nodded toward the telescope. “You gentlemen are free to have a look, if the young man is finished with his turn.”
Whiskey Jack handed Ezra the envelope from Dr. Foehammer then took the telescope from Little Wally. He looked for a good half minute then whisted. “At least the wind is blowing it towards the Wheatstone marshes,” the timbre of his voice taking on a sombre quality “Ain’t much damage to be done down that way at least.”
“Are we going to burn up?” asked Little Wally.
“No sir, don’t you fear” Whiskey Jack was the first to answer. He handed Randall the telescope so that he could see for himself. “With the wind blowing to the south and the inlet being a natural firebreak we will be fine. Rest assured, nothing’s going to happen to you.”
“Looks like another fire might have started more to the east,” said Randall, focussing a little further to his left along the south bank. “Yep, indeed! Looks to be the cable ferry just near the rectory.”
“Blessed Builder!” Kettie exclaimed. “That’s my cousin Arnie’s place!” She took the telescope from Randall and held it for a look. Even without the aid of a telescope one could plainly see the thin, dark line of smoke rising from the ferry landing. “Blessed Builder,” she started to intone in a soft reverence “Calibration be thy aim; designer of such stately flushwork…”