Linda Hutsell-Manning


Excerpt from

Jason and the Portrait Pirates
Linda Hutsell-Manning

Third in the Wonder Horn Series

(end of Chapter Two)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As Jason stood, he felt cold air against his neck and when he turned to look out onto the lake, clouds of white mist were rolling in. Before they had taken more than a dozen steps, thick fog swirled in on both sides of them.

"We should play," Charlotte said, lifting her flute. "Maybe we'll get that boat ride yet."

Squid started a drum roll and Jason, quickly followed with the horn. Either they would be off again or they wouldn't. The next few minutes would tell.

The marina pier was deserted now and ,as they marched and played, Jason felt that familiar surge of energy down his arm. The notes raced ahead of him again, doubling and tripling with sounds of flute and drum in his ears.

There was no doubt, they were off again, somewhere through time and across oceans, maybe as Charlotte had said, to sail on a boat in some far away place.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

(beginning of Chapter Three)

Suddenly, it was like going too fast down an escalator and they all stumbled and slowed to a walk. Was it day or night? A large dark shape loomed on the left, the fog now a fine mist-like rain. People pushed by them on both sides, ladies in long dresses and capes carrying parasols, men in top hats and fancy black coats, others in tweeds and wearing caps. Dogs ran about barking and they had to step aside quickly as a horse and carriage went by.

"It's a ship," Charlotte whispered, pointing to the towering black shape. "Look up there. Port holes." Jason stared at her dark bonnet and cloak, folds of an elegant long dress visible beneath.

"Where did we slip to this time?" Squid asked, grabbing hold of Charlotte's hand.

"We're in a city or near one, " Charlotte said, looking around. "That's for sure."

"Over there," Jason added, peering ahead. "A great gang plank with people and luggage streaming off."

"This must be a port," Charlotte noted, holding tightly to Squid's hand.

"They're speaking English," Jason said quietly. "I'm sure of it."

"British sounding," Charlotte added, "with funny old-fashioned words."

"I'm wearing a tall hat, Lottie, same as Jason." Squid looked pleased. "We're dressed like twins."

Squid did look grown up in his black frock coat and long pants. They stared at each other and then to others in the crowd. They fitted in, at least, wherever they were.

" I think we should figure out how to get off this pier," Charlotte said, looking in both directions.

They found an empty bench and sat huddled together, staring at the confusion around them. A couple of boys, thin and mud-soaked to the knees, sidled up and tried to grab Charlotte's flute. Jason leapt to his feet, lunging at them and they ran off.

When another rough-looking boy came too close and tried to snatch Squid's hat, they decided to move on.

"Stay close to me," Charlotte said, standing and pulling Squid in beside her. "You go first, Jason and we'll follow."

The closer the came to the gangplank , the more people thronged around them. Everyone seemed to be making their way toward a street and Jason figured if they followed, they might find a safer place to get their bearings. Twice he looked back to make sure the others were following.

"We're here," Charlotte said each time. "Keep going."

The third time, two burly men had moved in behind Jason. As he turned to step out of their way, one grabbed him by the arm while the other pulled a sack over his head and arms, knocking his hat off as they did so.

"What are you doing?"Jason yelled, kicking and twisting himself as they hoisted him up. One of them pinned his legs as they hauled him along. "Let me go. Let me go."

Both Squid and Charlotte yelled, and when a whistle blew, Jason was suddenly dumped on the ground, footsteps and shouting fading into the noise of the crowd.

"You all right?" Squid asked.

He and Charlotte stood looking down at him, Squid still holding the sack while Charlotte had retrieved his hat. Someone else was there too, a tall gentleman in top hat and cutaway coat, twinkling blue eyes staring at them over his hawk-like nose.

"I called a constable as soon as I realized what was happening," he said, pulling Jason to his feet and brushing the dirt from his jacket. "I am so sorry, so terribly sorry."

The crowd moved around them now, most people ignoring what was going on, a few giving them quick sideways glances.

Jason rubbed the back of his neck and took a deep breath. He couldn't feel anything yet, he was still too angry. "Who were they?"he sputtered. "What did they think they were doing?"

"Bad, bad men," Squid said, stamping his foot.

As Charlotte handed him his hat, Jason could see her hand shaking.

"Likely sailors looking for crew," the gentleman said. "I was sure I would catch you as you came off the ship. My apologies again. Lady Lancaster is so anxious to meet you and hear you play."

"Good,"Jason said quickly. "We're more than happy to oblige."

"Let me introduce myself," the man said. "Francis Addington , chief butler of Fairfield Lodge at your service. And my trusty luggage man...Harold Owen."

Owen appeared, short and round with a freckled, ruddy complexion, bright red hair sticking from beneath his cap. "Pleased to meet you," he said, nodding to each in turn. "Your luggage?" He looked about and then back to the children.

"Lost," Jason replied quickly. "Stolen we think."

"Bad luck all around," Mr. Addington said. "I'm sure we can take care of you, regardless."

"Thank you," Charlotte added, giving a little curtsy.

Squid immediately took his cue and bowed.

"This way, this way," Mr. Addington said, smiling and waving a hand toward the crowds and street. "You go first Owen and I'll take up the rear. We don't want any more mishaps at this late hour."

The three children walked together, Squid in the middle, Jason and Charlotte on either side, holding his hands.

"Where are we going?" Squid whispered.

"I don't have a clue," Jason whispered back, "but anywhere will be better than here."

"They think we're someone else," Charlotte added.

"Well , obviously the musicians they were supposed to meet, didn't show up," Jason said. "Lucky for us."

"Well here we are," Mr. Addington announced, as they approached a horse and carriage, the driver waiting beside. As soon as he spotted them, the man pulled off his cap and opened the carriage door, grinning a gap-toothed grin.

They climbed inside, the children sitting on one side, the two gentlemen opposite.

"Is it far to Lady Lancaster's?" Jason asked. At some point, they would have to explain who they were.

"Just a twenty minute carriage ride up to Clifton," Mr. Addington said, pulling out a large gold pocket watch. "We should be there just in time."

Clifton, Jason thought. Is that where they were? Clifton?

"Look," Squid said, pointing out the open window. "A carriage with no horse."

"It's an Oppermann, I believe," Mr. Owen said. "Quite a rig, is it not?"

"More motor carriages in London than here, I would imagine," Mr. Addington added.

"We weren't actually in London... very long," Charlotte began hesitantly. She reached behind Squid and squeezed Jason's arm.

"We've been... on the continent mostly," Jason went on. "Germany and Luxembourg and..."

"We were expecting you to have a chaperone," Mr. Addington said, looking puzzled.

"We think there may be a misunderstanding," Charlotte began. "We are..."

"The Hawthorne Trio," Mr. Addington cut in, beaming. "Highly recommended by the Chartuse and Endersby Music School in London."

"They... they were unable to come," Jason blurted out.

"We had just arrived in London," Charlotte went on, "and they sent us as replacements."

"I see," Mr. Addington replied. It was clear he was not happy or impressed or, for that matter, ready to believe what they said.

"We're the... Octavian Trio," Jason continued. "Quite accomplished. You won't be disappointed."

"The Octavian Trio," Squid repeated, nodding and looking enormously pleased.

"Ah yes," Mr. Addington said dryly. "Well ,at this point, we don't have a choice, do we?"

......... ( under consideration by a publisher )

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