Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Isabella Beauchamp - The Tom Thumb Robot

(This is the second episode/chapter of Isabella Beauchamp's adventures. They are set in a slightly different 19th century England. I'm posting with almost no editing and revision, so try and overlook any glaring problems in that department. I've also noticed that the formatting is spotty after transferring to Blogger, but I don't have the time now to fix it.

The stories are meant to be a nod to Victorian era serials. I'm shooting for fun and quick to read without too much complexity. This a bit of an exercise for me. I have a journalism background and have found that I write better when I'm actually doing it on regularly - preferably with a tight deadline. This project will, I hope, help.)

Sanjeep carried the silver tray down the hall toward the double doors. The sound of shuffling feet, stomps and metal hitting metal grew louder. As he reached the doors he heard Isabella’s labored voice and the crash of breaking glass. He paused at the doors, sighed and pushed one of the doors open.

The large room was a disaster. A beautifully carved mahogany side table was overturned and a 17th century Chinese vase lay in pieces on the ground. A figure, clad in black, wearing a wire mask and wielding a sword was, advancing on Isabella, who was backed nearly to the far wall.

Suddenly, she was driven all the way to the wall by the ominous, sword wielding figure. The black figure was clearly a man – large and skilled with the use of his deadly instrument. Sanjeep watched as he lunged toward Isabella, sword extended in a finishing thrust.

She ducked to the side of the sword and deftly slid behind the man as his sword implanted itself in the wall.

“Chai Miss?” asked Sanjeep casually.

Isabella spun towards him, green eyes blazing, and quick as lightning let fly a knife. Sanjeep saw it hurtle end over end towards him. He felt the slight breeze as it whizzed past his head and heard the thump as it struck point end first into the wall behind him.

“Yes,” said Isabella. She shook her long, brown loose and it tumbled down around her shoulders. “Chai would be very nice. Thank you Sanjeep.”

“And for Mister David?” said Sanjeep to the man in black.

Isabella’s cousin David Ambrose pulled off the fencing mask with a grin.

“You know I can’t resist that bloody Indian concoction of yours,” he said. “What do you put in it anyway, opium?”

“Of course, Mister David,” said Sanjeep smiling. “And many other mysterious and potent drugs of the far East. It is the secret of the Rajas.”

“Okay,” laughed David. “But someday you’ll tell me how it’s made.”

“Sanjeep will never break his Hindoo oath of secrecy,” said Isabella. “Isn’t that right?”

With his free hand, Sanjeep mimed turning a key to lock his mouth shut and set the tray down on a table that hadn’t been jostled in the sparring.

“I do hope that Miss remembered tonight is the appearance of the miraculous Mr. General Tom Thumb at the Egyptian Hall,” said Sanjeep.

Isabella saw the look of concern on her butler’s face and knew better than to kid him about the show. Sanjeep was obsessed with Tom Thumb, the diminutive side-show performer. She knew he kept a rolled up poster from Tom Thumb’s previous London appearance in 1844 and had been dreaming of seeing him since the current appearances had been reported. He had a ticket for this same evening and had been trying with mixed success to keep his excitement in check.

Tom Thumb was all the rage and his appearances had been drawing crowds all week. In fact, he had been invited to Buckingham Palace the following night at the request of the Queen herself. Isabella was to attend the appearance at Buckingham Palace.

She suspected that Sanjeep’s fascination was rooted in his Indian background. She was partly correct. As an Indian, Sanjeep grew up in a highly stratified society with firm castes. The fact that a midget could become such a celebrity struck him as a wonder of the modern age. But, he also had heard of the slapstick the short man was famous for and couldn’t help but be drawn in. Sanjeep loved silly comedy.

“Of course,” said Isabella. “We can manage from here. You go prepare for the big night.”

Sanjeep gave a small bow and started to turn for the door,

“David,” said Isabella. “Don’t you have something for Sanjeep before he goes?”

“I say,” he said. “”That’s right. Nearly forgot.”

He reached into a pocket and pulled out a sealed envelope.

“Take this with you old chap,” he said. “Show it to the stage manager at the back door after the show. He’ll take you in to meet Tom Thumb personally. Do enjoy yourself.”

Tears of gratitude welled in Sanjeep’s eyes.


David and Isabella dined together that evening at the Ship and Turtle in Leadenhall Street – one of the best places in London for real turtle dishes. As cousins, they had much to talk about – family, common friends and, of course, Sanjeep’s big night out.

“That was wonderful of you to arrange that meeting for him,” said Isabella.

“It was nothing at all,” said David. “Barnum had been to the house on their last tour and was kind enough to write the letter.”


“Come on,” he said. “We both know Sanjeep is positively daffy about this Tom Thumb. It was the least I could do for him.”

“I do hope he’s having a good time.”

“I’m sure it’s something he’ll never forget,” said David raising his glass. “To the adventure of a lifetime.”


Sanjeep hadn’t laughed so hard in years, maybe even ever. It was all he had hoped for and more and now he was about to meet Tom Thumb. The stage manager led him back to the dressing room where the star was changing after the show. The big man rapped quickly on the door and opened it.

“Well go on in then,” he said.

“Yes,” said a higher pitched voice inside. “Come in.”

Sanjeep hesitated and then stepped into the dressing room. There, sitting on a miniature child’s chair in front of a mirror was the star himself. Sanjeep was tongue tied for a moment, but managed to get out his name and express that he was a big fan.

Tom Thumb, for his part, was the model of a gentleman through and through. He quickly made Sanjeep comfortable and the two fell into a lively conversation while the performer removed his stage makeup. They talked about New York City, the wilds of India and the miniature carriage that P.T. Barnum had made for his small star. The diminutive steam carriage caused stares whenever he took it out on the London streets. He planned on appearing in it at Buckingham Palace the following evening. He knew it would be a hit since the miniature horse carriage he appeared in back in 1844 had the Queen in stitches.

Nearly forty minutes had passed with the two conversing like old friends when suddenly the room went dark. Sanjeep heard the shuffling of feet just before he felt something pound the back of his head. Then he heard and felt nothing.


Sanjeep gingerly opened his eyes. The room he was in was dark, but there was enough light coming in a pair of windows set high in the wall to make things out. It was some sort of warehouse building. The last thing he remembered was talking to Tom Thumb.

“Mr. General!” he gasped. He tried to get to his feet and found they were tied with rope. His hands, he realized, were tied behind his back.

The light from the windows made him realize that it was day time. What day he didn’t know, but it was a start. He was lying on his side, that was something too.

Looking into the gloom, he could make out all manner of strange things. He saw a mummy case and various Egyptian looking artifacts. He also saw a giant wheel with four iron shackles on it. There were knives stuck in it’s front surrounding a painted outline of a person. He had seen this thing before, but where?

His brain was still fuzzy and he couldn’t place it. Then he remembered where he had seen it. It had been used in a magic show he saw some time ago at the Egyptian Hall. He realized then that he was in a storage room for items used at the Egyptian Hall. It didn’t seem likely that this was part of the hall itself. It must be a warehouse somewhere else in the city.

Sanjeep rolled over and looked at the other side of the room. He saw a small steam carriage with a little man inside.

“Mister General!” he yelled. “Mister General Tom Thumb!”

“Mmmmmph,” was the response. “Mmmmmver mmmmere!”

But the response didn’t come from Tom Thumb. It came from…Tom Thumb! The little man was leaning against a crate, bound and gagged, off to the side of the room.

“Mmmmmver mmmmmere.”

Sanjeep rolled like a log over to the little General.

“Are you okay Mister Tom?” Tom Thumb nodded his head.

“But why are you tied up? And how can you be over there too?”

Tom Thumb couldn’t answer with the gag in his mouth so Sanjeep got no immediate answer. Using the crate, he slowly worked himself upright and then over to Tom Thumb. He could just reach the knotted cloth keeping the little man silent. With the knot behind him, he blindly maneuvered the knot loose and got the gag off.

“Dynamite,” said Tom Thumb. “There’s dynamite in the steam carriage.”


“The Queen…Buckingham Palace!”

It all became clear. It was the next day now and Tom Thumb was supposed to appear at Buckingham Palace in the early evening. An elaborate dummy was in the carriage. It must have been set up to steer itself onto the grounds, up to the front entrance and when the Queen and her guests greeted it…

Looking up to the windows, Sanjeep could see that the light was turning red. It was nearing sunset. They didn’t have much time.

He tried to think. Isabella would know what to do. She could always be counted on to come up with a plan. But she wasn’t here. Isabella, Sanjeep remembered had planned on staying with David’s family last night. Their home was closer to the palace. She wouldn’t even know he had been abducted and she would be at the palace to greet the carriage.

“Think,” he said out loud. “Think you dimwitted man.”

Just then there was noise outside. Someone was unlocking the outer door.

“Pretend you’re asleep,” Sanjeep whispered to Tom Thumb as he rolled himself down onto the floor.


The door opened and was quickly closed. Two men had entered the room.

“Check them two out,” said the first man. “I’ll start this ‘ere boiler.”

The second man walked over to Sanjeep and Tom Thumb.

“Oi, they’re still out cold. The little one’s lost his gag though.”

“Never mind that. It won’t matter once we get this thing out of ‘ere. It’ll only be a few minutes before the boiler’s ‘ot enough. Let’s wait outside. I ‘ate this place, gives me the Willy’s it does.”

As soon as the men left, Sanjeep got himself upright again.

“I have an idea,” he whispered to Tom Thumb. The little man nodded.

“You need to pull out this pin on my jacket with your teeth,” whispered Sanjeep and nodded down to an exotic looking pin on his lapel. It was serpent -the color of rich, high-karat, Indian gold and had two gleaming jewel eyes.


Tom Thumb quickly worked the pin out and held it in his teeth.

“Now pass it to me.”

Sanjeep leaned forward and took the pin from Tom Thumb’s mouth with his own teeth.

“Don’t go getting any ideas now,” whispered Tom Thumb. “That don’t mean we’re dating or anything.”

Sanjeep grinned and rolled himself over to the carriage. He worked himself up and against the imposter Tom Thumb inside. Up close, he could see it was a good likeness with a wax face and gears to create lifelike movement. He could also see that the carriage was packed with dynamite – a lot of dynamite. As quickly as he could, Sanjeep stuck the pin to the imposter’s lapel. He knew it was a long shot, but it’s all he could do. He rolled himself back to Tom Thumb.

“That’s it?”

“If Miss Isabella sees that pin on you…or your, how do you say, dopelgang…she’ll know something is wrong.”

“That’s a big ‘if’.”

“This is very true,” whispered Sanjeep. “It is out of our hands now. When these men leave, we must remove our ropes and go to Buckingham.”

At the sound of the door unlocking, Sanjeep rolled to the ground and he and Tom Thumbed once again feigned sleep.


The crowd outside the gates cheered as Tom Thumbs steam carriage turned and entered the Buckingham Palace grounds. It made its way toward the group of invited nobility, guests of note, and the Queen herself.

Isabella leaned forward to see better as it approached. Tom Thumb was smiling and giving a jerky parade wave as the carriage passed and drew to a stop in front of the Queen. The setting sun cast a warm glow on the carriage and Tom Thumb. Isabella smiled at the sight. Then she saw a glint of light reflect off a pin on Tom Thumb’s coat. It was familiar somehow.

“Sanjeep?” she said aloud.

“What?” asked David.

“Sanjeep’s pin,” she said. “What is it doing…”

Isabella didn’t finish. She shoved forward, knocking a Member of Parliament into his wife and jostling past several Ladies.

“Get back!” she yelled to the startled group and ran toward the Queen and pushed her away. “Get back!”

“I say!” shouted someone.

“What the deuce!”

Isabella ignored the clamour and jumped onto the carriage. She quickly scanned the machine. Someone tried to pull her off, but she kicked her leg out and caught whoever it was in the face. Spotting a lever, she shoved it forward and the carriage started slowly rolling. It picked up some momentum and Isabella turned the wheel and dived away. The carriage continued forward and then exploded in a fiery ball.

Through the smoke, Isabella could hear the sounds of yelling and then police sirens. She could see men in military dress uniforms and tall, black fur hats whisking the short, stout figure of the Queen inside the palace. David was running over to her as two Sterling Police Broughams pulled up.

“Are you alright?” asked David as he kneeled beside her.

“I think so…” she said. “Is…is…”

“No one is seriously hurt,” he said. “Just some cuts and scrapes. But, I think you may have broken the Prime Minister’s nose.”

Isabella looked at him and he nodded. She managed a small smile.

“Serves him right. Imagine, grabbing at a lady’s leg like that.”

Sanjeep rushed out of the back of one of the police vehicles.

“Miss! Miss Isabella!” he yelled. “Are you…is she okay?”

“She’s going to be fine,” said David. “Just fine.”

“I’m afraid I lost your lovely jeweled pin though.”

“My pin,” sputtered Sanjeep. “You think I’m worried about my pin? Miss is the only jewel I care about.”


Several days later, the whole story came out.

Isabella had, of course, recognized the pin and known that Sanjeep would never give away such a family heirloom – not even to the illustrious Mister General Tom Thumb. She knew something was wrong, but it wasn’t until she jumped onto the carriage that she realized just how seriously wrong. That’s when she saw the imposter Tom Thumb and the dynamite and understood a plot was unfolding to assassinate the Queen and as many dignitaries as possible.

Her quick thinking got the carriage just far enough away that no one was seriously injured. No one except the Prime Minister, whose nose she did indeed break. He harboured no grudge however.

“Better to have a broken nose than have my bloody head blown up,” he was reported to have said.

Sanjeep and Tom Thumb have been able to free themselves quickly enough that Sanjeep was able to set off running toward the palace. He flagged down a police vehicle and they raced to the palace. They arrived just after the two men had set their plot in motion and were making their escape.

Sanjeep recognized the men and captured one while the police apprehended the other. The men, it turned out, were part of an anarchist group. One of them worked at the Egyptian Hall and hatched the plot some months earlier when he learned that Tom Thumb would be appearing there.

The other man was a machinist and created the elaborate gearing that allowed the imposter steam carriage to seemingly steer itself. He simply set the gears to turn, slow down and stop at pre-measured intervals. The dynamite had a timer set to go off after the carriage pulled to a stop.

Sanjeep and Isabella were called to the palace a couple of days later and thanked by the Queen. Sanjeep was knighted and presented with as close a copy of his pin as could be made. Although both he and Isabella knew that mere gold and jewels could never replace the one he had sacrificed, neither said a word of it.

Afterwards, both Isabella and David took great pleasure in irritating Sanjeep by continually referring to him as Sir Sanjeep. And, though he feigned irritation, he was very proud.