Episode 19: A History Lesson | Scryer's Gulch

Annabelle was waiting for Misi when he slipped back in the window. He stretched out into his humanoid form and told her the story. "Remind me never to get crosswise with Charity Bonham," he said. "She's a bad customer."

"She's up to no good, I'm sure," said Annabelle, "but I doubt she has much to do with the business at hand. What did you find out?" Misi quickly gave her the gist of his conversation with Mamzelle. "We know who the werecritter is--Deputy Runnels. There's only the one, then," she said. "More importantly, we've got a timeline for the tainted ore. The contamination started almost two years ago, and stopped six months ago. Now we just have to figure out the correspondence. We need to find out what happened two years ago that might've stopped six months ago."

"Who would know? Who's been here that long?" said Misi.

"I think I'll make a social call tomorrow on Mr Lockson."

"The newspaper guy? What for? That newspaper wasn't here two years ago--this place was a widening in the mud then."

"Yes, and now it's a sprawling in the mud, but a sprawl with two newspapers. You can't report on the present without knowing the past. The town's history is Lockson's business. The other paper is Bonham's creature, and I don't want him hearing what we're up to on any account. Since tomorrow's Saturday, I believe I'll stop by the newspaper office on some pretext or other and pick Mr Lockson's ample cranium."

In point of fact, L. Luther Lockson was possessed of an abnormally large head. Were you to enquire at the local haberdasher, you'd discover that it was upwards of a size seven and seven-eighths, depending on the hat. That's in the neighborhood of twenty-five inches. Don't ask me about centimeters. That's un-American. I like to hang onto a few remnants of national pride.

Oh yes, it's me. It's always been me. You kids, you never pay attention.

But I digress.

L. Luther Lockson, as I was saying, had a big noggin. Purple prose stuffed the brain inside, but he wasn't a bad newspaperman. He knew his town inside-out, and did his unsuccessful best to stay out of politics; he itched to leave his stamp on the town, but wanted to hold onto his paper. The Voice of the Gulch considered itself independent, though the town, and certainly Jed Bonham, considered him in the pocket of Mayor Prake; certainly the Voice's editorial page agreed with the Mayor and boosted his ideas.

But while Jed out-and-out paid Rowland Barnes, the publisher of the Independent Mountaineer, no one supported Lockson but himself. Had Bonham wished to starve Lockson out, he could have persuaded the local business owners that advertising with the Voice was bad for their health, or he could have just sent goons to smash the presses. But as long as Lockson didn't make too many waves, Bonham left him alone, if frustrated.

It was with some surprise that Lockson received the schoolteacher in his office this Saturday. "Why, Miss Duniway! What can a simple newspaperman do for an erudite lady like yourself? Classified ad, perhaps? No, no, I shouldn't think so. Why, Miss Duniway, it is a stroke of good fortune, a miracle not far removed from that of the Prophet of the Method and His Delivery of the Good Woman of Persia from the Fiery Furnaces of Indecency, that you have sojourned to our offices today. Yes, Miss Duniway, let me assure you that I have longed this month to approach you for the purpose of acquainting my audience with the details of your life, one of education and perspicacity I am sure, a saga that would be a most edifying one for our readers."

"Come again?" said Annabelle.

"I'd like to interview you," said Lockson.

"Oh!" she said, appearing flustered. "I can easily be found, Mr Lockson, at the Hopewell--no miracles needed. Actually, I came here to interview you myself, Mr Lockson."

"Interview a simple newspaperman like myself? Why, Miss Duniway, I am surprised and gratified you would think anything I have to impart to your students would be of any utility whatsoever. Perhaps I might convey my advice on clarity in writing? As a newspaperman, I am in constant employment of whatever writing talent the Method has seen fit to bestow upon me, but while raw talent is of great use, practice, technique and study are of far more use. I would be happy to speak to your students."

"In point of fact, sir," said Miss Duniway, "I was hoping you might tell me a little about the history of the town, though it be short. I think my students would like to know."

"Oh," said the deflated Lockson.

"I cannot imagine anyone knowing more about Scryer's Gulch than you, you see."

"Oh!" he said, puffing back up again. "Well, my dear Miss Duniway, that is correctness in itself, I assure you! You have heard the saying, perhaps, that journalism is the first draft of history? I take this charge with the utmost sincerity, ma'am. I have only been in business here for six months, and yet I have made the town's abbreviated history my passion, my vocation, as it were. With what facets of our town's past may I make you acquainted?"

"I'm sorry?"

"What would you like to know?" he said. "And, please, please sit down. May I offer you coffee?"

As Miss Duniway perched on the office chair and sipped the execrable coffee that had been sitting on the Voice's woodstove this past five hours, Lockson filled her ears with a not-at-all abbreviated version of the main events of the town's past. Had he been paying attention, Lockson would have sensed a fit of the fidgets coming over his listener, until he got through the geologic formation of the area, the history, or rather the non-history, of the Natives of these parts, and the first year of the hermetauxite strike and white settlement, to the events of two years past. "We knew we were prospering as a metropolis when the New Valley Printing Ethergraph Company saw fit to send Mr Prake the younger to town with Mr Morton to open the town's first ethergraph office two years ago."

Lockson stopped for breath, and Miss Duniway interjected, "The ethergraph office opened two years ago? You mean Simon Prake, I take it. Who is Mr Morton?"

"Oh, Cole Morton was young Mr Prake's business partner. They opened up the ethergraph office, and to support their endeavors until such time as the office could support them, they opened up Morton and Prake, the second but certainly the best hardware store in town. At that time, the ethergraph office resided within the hardware store, but business grew much faster than either supposed, and the rest of the Prake family followed within the year. Mr Morton packed up and left not long after that--I do believe it was about six months ago."

"Indeed," blinked Miss Duniway. "And where did he go?"

"I believe he went back to Jackson. Perhaps you might enquire of Mr Prake the younger. Now, on the heels of the ethergraph office inaugural, Parson William Billson founded the Methodic Church, a much-needed regulator on the town's more coarse nature..."

In all, Annabelle sat through two hours of Scryer's Gulch history, and still Lockson only made it up to the first year and a half of the settlement. She frowned to herself as she walked back through the town to the Hopewell, avoiding the mangy dogs slinking around corners, and doing her best to keep the hem of her dress from the muck. It didn't look good for Simon Prake's innocence, and the name "Cole Morton" nagged at her. She frowned further as she sat in her room, poring over her code book as she wrote up an ethergram to Daniel Howman. But she smiled as she handed it over to Simon late in the afternoon to send to Washington DC.

"How are you this Saturday, Miss Duniway? Enjoying a day off?" said Simon.

"I spent a most...edifying, I think might be the word, morning with Mr Lockson, learning more about the history of the town," she answered. "I'm hoping to relate its history to that of the nation, and perhaps use it in spelling lessons and the like."

"Very resourceful, ma'am," said Simon. A minute or more of small talk, she paid her fee, and left. Simon wondered for the first time how a schoolteacher could afford so many ethergrams. Perhaps, he thought as he tapped out the message, that's why Sheriff Runnels was so interested in her communications. He sighed, folded the message in thirds, and slipped it into an envelope to give to Runnels that night.

Comments

Katie's picture

Embodiment

one step closer.

My hubby's hat size is 7 3/4. Heh.

Clare-Dragonfly's picture

Supplicant

I like how all the purple prose just flows out of Mr. Lockson, but when he needs to clarify, he actually knows how to clarify. A writer indeed!

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

Another dunner!* Loved the verbal purple prose, and I'm a-fire with curiosity about Mr. Morton. I haven't gone back to look it up yet, but he is the gentleman that Simon was writing a sentimental note to in previous installment, wasn't he?

Yeehaw!

*As in, dun dun DUN running through my head at several points during the chapter, especially, of course, at the end.

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

... to the DUNing: Cole is not only Simon's former business partner (and apparently lover). Shortly after they split up, Cole took up a job at the Treasury that was so secret that he couldn't tell Simon about it. No wonder then, that the name is vaguely familiar to Ms. Duniway.

I'd venture a guess that Mr Cole Morton is the Treasury encoder who identified and analyzed the poisoning in the hermetauxite, and who devised the detection bracelet that Ms. Duniway has been wearing on occasion.

In other news, if triple-L's newspaper is written in the same style as his vocal offerings, it's no wonder his business isn't doing better (Jed's influence notwithstanding): the guy likely needs thrice the amount of pulp and ink as his competitor to tell the same story, and none of his customers are bound to understand a word of what he writes. Blum 3

Zandu Ink's picture

Embodiment

I must say I am in love with Mr Lockson. I feel like I'm going to be him when I grow up. A plethora of 50 cent words when a half dozen 10 cent ones will do? Yes, please.

And, yes, Capriox, Mr Morton is young Mr Prake's lover, or at least Simon wishes it were so.

Excellent as always, MeiLin. I still want more, but I am patiently waiting for the History to start back again.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

I'm glad you guys like triple-L. Smile He's a bit cliched, but I don't care; it's a cliche I love.

Katie, I have a huge head, too--23".

And Z is right; Cole is Simon's former lover.

Kreyopresny's picture

Petitioner

Something is up with the line: Prophet of the Method and His Delivery of the Good Woman of Persia from the Fiery Furnaces of Indecency.

When I saw the Fiery Furnaces in there I guessed you might have strung a slew of band names together or something, but maybe I'm just projecting my own love of in-jokes and really obscure references onto your writing.

Either way, fun chapter, though from the way LLL tells it it sounds more like Cole is under suspicion than Prake, though that tidbit about him working for the treasury turns it back around.

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

Kreyopresny wrote:
from the way LLL tells it it sounds more like Cole is under suspicion than Prake, though that tidbit about him working for the treasury turns it back around.

... I don't have much of a problem constructing a more or less reasonable, but sordid and clichéd, plot line, or two, or a dozen, that has either Simon or Cole as the culprit, provides a reason why he did it (with or without painting him as the bad guy), and justifies Cole having that job at the treasury.

I would agree, though, that it looks like at least one of those two guys, if not both, are responsible for the hermetauxite poisoning.

kawaiikune's picture

Embodiment

if it's someone near Cole. Obviously it's related to him (or at least the time scale seems to imply that), but maybe he had a family member, or even a pet demon. Further, is it possible that *he* was under the influence of contaminated hermetauxite while he was creating or experimenting on more contaminated hermetauxite?

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

... who was both near Cole and had the means to do this is Simon. Sure, it's possible that we'll learn later that Julian Hopewell is Cole's estranged half-brother and it was all just a bit of sibling rivalry gone awry, but Occam's Razor kinda shreds that theory to pieces right now. Wink

Same for the EUI theory (Encoding Under the Influence) - where did the original contamination come from, then?

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

lol! Friends don't let friends encode drunk - or otherwise contaminated Wink

kawaiikune's picture

Embodiment

I just think that the rule of "there's always a surprise ending" and "nothing is ever as it seems" may actually *rule out* Cole and/or Simon, and I'm considering alternate theories. That likely leaves either someone/thing we don't know about, or a relationship we don't know about.

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

... the facts as we know them also allow us to paint a picture of what's going on that's based on neither Cole nor Simon being the ones who did the poisoning but just being its victims:

Let's say that Cole (and possibly also Simon) were under the influence of the poisoned hermetauxite. The raised passions (and lowered frontal cortex activity) it produces are what kept them a) together and b) in Scryer's Gulch. Once the effect diminished (because no new poisoned hermetauxite came in) they left and broke up. And that may even explain why Simon still pines after Cole - he's still exposed to the stuff, though perhaps on a lower level than before.

But the question remains of where the stuff originally came from, and ruling out both Simon and Cole leaves us with nothing to speculate about. And where's the fun in that? Wink

jj's picture

a idiogram for an image... (took me a while to find it in a unicode character list: code point U+95C7)

Judging from the colour scheme I guess Japansese "darkness" is the correct translation, but it also could mean "dark" in Chinsese

MeiLin's picture

Most High

...was something I pulled out of one ear. I'm still formulating what the Methodic Church is all about (not to mention the Church of Our Lady of the Great Hullabaloo). I wanted to come up with something that sounded like a biblical passage everyone would know about. I kinda mashed up the Good Samaritan and Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego. Don't ask me what exactly the Prophet did; I ain't goin there any time soon.

Gudy, if you read newspapers of the day, L. Luther isn't any worse than most. Smile

Laureril's picture

Supplicant

Our Lady of the Great Hullabaloo...
Mei, this is why I love reading your work. It always makes my day that much more awesome.

Amy's picture

Supplicant

I have to give Annabelle credit for sitting through that. A little bit of it makes for great reading; listening to over two hours of it?? one could almost call it reason for justifiable homicide.

Thanks for another great chapter Mei, I love the alliteration in the name. but then again I love alliteration could be why in SCA circles I am the Constantinia the Wondrous Wandering Warbler of the Rhydderich Hael.

NorthwoodsMan's picture

Embodiment

And lover of subtext....

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