Inventions and a Decision
"I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success…Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything,"-Nikola Tesla
A Little bit about me-
As long as I can remember I have been fascinated as to how things work. I think back to when I was little and the first time I recalled seeing the Shmand-Fair. I must've been four or perhaps five years old at the time. Tante Matilda and Oncle Gerard had taken my cousins Marc and Genevieve (he's six years older and she's two months older than I) and myself to the nearby town of Marck to pick up goods for the tavern.
The Shmand-Fair begins in Marck and leaves the town heading into the countryside. It is made up of two side-by-side metal tracks that are joined by long, worn out timbers. The tracks stretch far into the distance and skirt several sets of ruins along the way. Though I find these tracks to be interesting, I find that the large box-like structures on wheels are of more interest than the tracks themselves. These great big boxes sit on top of the tracks and are joined to one another by metal sections. Some of these boxes have two sliding doors, one on each side, into which can be found a large space to fill with goods that are taken to and from one place to another. The other boxes have doors and windows, some of which are broken, and seats on the inside.
The front of the lead box is where a group of twelve horses is harnessed so as to pull the boxes along. Once the boxes are moving eight horses are unharnessed and the remaining four horses continue to pull the boxes. Also up front is a place where two men can sit and pull on a brake to slow the boxes down if they come to a decline.
I often wonder how old the Shmand-Fair is. It looks aged and weather beaten but no one seems to know when it was made. I imagine that it must have been made long ago during Les Temps des Troubles. No one really speaks of those troubled times except to say that many people had died of war, starvation, and disease. Still it seems as if there is something missing to it. It is pulled by a troop of horses but it seems that there must be another more practical way of moving it. Maybe our ancestors knew something that we do not know now.
I have noticed that when a kettle is placed over heat the lid will rattle around and sometimes be lifted off by the steam that is produced by the heat. If a little steam could move a metal lid then why can't a lot of steam move the boxes? I shall have to work on this question and find an answer.
I have always been different than the other children in the village. Most of the other boys enjoy carousing, playing soccer, and fishing (as Escalles is on the coast, being a fisherman is a common occupation). I am not a loud or rowdy person, soccer is fun but I admittedly am not very good at it, and instead of fishing I work at my Tante and Oncle's Tavern.
This brings me to my Tante and Oncle: When I was a baby a terrible fever swept through the area and my parents succumbed to it. I was then taken in by my Tante and Oncle. Tante Matilda was my mother's sister, and she and my Oncle raised me alongside their daughter Genevieve who as I mentioned is two months older than I. Marc is 19 and now lives down the street with his new wife Louise. He is part of a fishing crew and she works at an inn.
My adopted family treats me well but I feel that they do so out of obligation rather than affection. I do not mean to say that they are bad people but I feel little warmth from them with the exception of Genevieve. She says we are practically twins seeing as we are close in age. She is a kind and helpful girl who has always been good to frère adoptif. Like me she works here at Le Pelican Perche, which is the name of the tavern; Marc even carved a four foot tall pelican on a perch out of wood, painted it white, and nailed it to the wall nearest the entrance.
Earlier I said that I was different from the other children. I usually prefer to be on my own with my thoughts. If someone looks at a boat they can see that it floats. I on the other hand like to know why it floats. Everyone takes the Shmand-Fair for granted as something that has been there as far back as anyone can remember. I on the other hand want to know who built it, why they built it, and what really moved it along. People frown on my curiosity; they say that curiosity killed the cat. I always reply, 'But true love brought him back!' My true love is making things. I will get to my making things soon.
Living in a coastal town brings in people from across the channel. We get ships coming in from England and the people there speak English (obviously) as opposed to French. Not many of these sailors and fishermen seem to try to learn any French other than, 'Je Veux boire un verre' or 'Je vais avoir un autre'. Oh well, it is their buying drinks that keeps the money coming in.
I noticed that most of the people here haven't bothered to learn English. There are a few and they can converse with the foreigners but I think it would help if both Frenchman and Englishman could learn one another's language. I decided to do something about this: I found an old book titled Anglais fait Easy and taught myself. I didn't want to go to someone who spoke English; rather I wanted to learn it all on my own just to see if I can do it. It wasn't difficult although there are some words that don't make any sense to me; what is a plane? What's a radio? Anyway, after several weeks of study and careful practice I decided to try out my new English skills. When Englishmen came to the tavern I went right up to them and asked them in their own tongue what they would like to have. The men were pleasantly surprised that a French boy was speaking their language. They patted my head and congratulated me and from then on I have gotten good tips from the English.
My Tante and Oncle seem to appreciate my understanding of English as it is helpful for business. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of my inventions. I have made, or attempted to make, several things over the years. Here are a few:
I found another old book that spoke of two brothers named Montgolfier who had made something called a ballon. The ballon allowed them to rise into the sky by means of a large bag which was filled with heat from a fire. I noticed from watching the kettle in the kitchen that hot air rises so I decided to take a pig's bladder, dried of course, and place it over the kettle. To my amazement the bladder lifted up and went up to the ceiling before slowly dropping back down. This gave me an idea: I was going to recreate what the Montgolfier brothers had done. I imagined myself floating away into the sky in search of lands where there were no Trois Pattes. Maybe if my ballon worked then Juliet Renault would notice me and I can take her with me, wouldn't that be great!
This did not have the desired outcome. Maybe I was too ambitious but I think that it was a good idea, one that I will have to refine of course. I had taken a big piece of oilskin and fastened it to a small wooden platform on top of which was a brazier. I lit the brazier and stood back to watch. Nothing happened. I waited patiently for the ballon to rise but it just remained on the ground. I know I can make it work and I shall have to find time to make improvements. One day I shall take to the sky!
I have poor eyesight. If something is up close than I have no problem seeing it but if something is more than twenty feet away I have to squint really hard to make out what I am looking at, small things I mean or a person's identity, I can tell what a building is so I am not blind like some of the other children mockingly say.
I wanted to fix this problem but I had no idea as to how to do it. Tante tells me that eating carrots is good for a person's vision; its an old wives tale. This has caused me to eat a lot of carrots. Despite the fact that they taste good, I like carrots a lot, my eyesight has not improved. The only thing I have gotten out of eating so many carrots is being called Le Lapin by other kids.
Mariners use devices called telescopes to see off into the distance. These telescopes are long tubes that can be extended and they have different size round glass pieces inside them. The glass helps the viewer to clearly see something that is at a distance. So I thought why can't I make something like this to help me see?
I spent quite a while looking for and testing out different pieces of glass to see which ones would help me see. I ruled out all non-clear glass as I found having a clear one for one eye and a colored one for the other eye was too disorienting. After several days of searching for the right glass pieces I was rewarded with two that would do the job. However they weren't perfect: one is slightly larger than the other. Just my luck.
The next step was to make a frame to place the glass pieces into so I could wear it on my face. This was a little tricky as I had to find thin, easily bendable metal that I could manipulate into something that I could wear. My perseverance was rewarded in less than a month. I remember the first time I had donned them. Everything that was previously blurry to me was now crisp and clear just as if I was looking at something up close. I went to the washroom and looked at my reflection in the mirror.
A thin, brownish-red haired boy stared back at me through two round pieces of glass. The frame holding the pieces of glass rested on my nose with its arms reaching back to my ears to keep it in place. It looked good with one minor exception: I looked cockeyed. The larger piece of glass made me look cockeyed! I laughed at my appearance and then noticed that my invention made me look a little older. Maybe Juliet would notice me now! I smiled in satisfaction and the boy in the mirror smiled back.
If people had never paid much attention to me before then they certainly began to as soon as I went out with my invention. The first person who saw me with them on was Oncle Gerard who was in the hallway walking toward his and Tante's room.
"What is that-," he paused a moment then continued, "Thing on your face?"
"Like them Oncle?" I said with a sly smile, "I call them Les Lunettes."
He gave me a peculiar look as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing. He shook his head and continued on to his room.
"Hey Lapin what's that on your face?" asked a boy I knew named Marcel.
"Whatever it is it looks weird!" added another boy named Etienne.
"I call them Les Lunettes!" I proclaimed proudly to the pair, "They help me see!"
They came up to me and insisted that I let them look through them which I did only after making them promise not to damage them.
Both boys looked through them and remarked that they were indeed similar to the telescopes that I had based them off of.
I continued on through the village and made sure to let people see just how clever I am.
This wasn't the best idea. Oh sure the kids were impressed by my ingenuity but the adults looked at me as if I was some kind of crazy person. Several looked and just shook their heads and muttered under their breath but the younger people seemed interested.
Now as I said before, this wasn't the best idea. The reason for this was Thierry Beuchamp. He is the son of the town bully and does his best to measure up to his father.
"Hey Lapin," Thierry said to me.
I ignored him. Mistake.
"Hey Lapin! I am talking to you!"
"Sorry I didn't hear you," I lied. Bigger mistake.
"What is that thing on your face? It makes you look stupid."
"No it doesn't. It helps me see."
"Let me see."
"You can see them," I said, "They're on my face."
"Give em' here Lapin!"
Normally I didn't mind if the other kids called me Lapin but when Thierry called me it it made me angry.
"No!" I instantly regretted saying that so forcefully. Nobody tells Thierry 'no' and gets away with it.
His fist hit me in the shoulder and caused me to spin around. He reached an arm around my neck and held me tightly while he lifted the lunettes from my face. He released me and pushed me to the ground.
"These are weird," he said as he looked through them, "Everything looks a little too…sharp."
"That's because I made them for my eyes and not yours," I said from the ground.
He shrugged and tossed them at me and said, "You're weird."
As soon as he walked off I put my invention back on my face, stood, and went home, hoping that Juliet Renault may see me with my invention and come up and talk to me. She didn't.
My next idea was something that I was sure would make me popular: Les Echasses. Many of the boys at school would sometimes get on homemade stilts and form into two teams and play a game called Soccer sur Pilotis in which one would knock a ball around with the stilts until the ball made it into the opposing team's goal (this game is a variation of soccer). Additionally they would whack at eachother's legs in a effort to harass the opposing team. This was a good way for one to go home black and blue…if one would ever want such a thing.
When one moved on stilts one had to lift one stilt with your hand at a time. This caused for slow and sometimes unbalanced movement. My idea solved the problem of wobbly movement: I put springs on the end of mine. I had watched how grasshoppers moved and an idea had hit me: why walk when you can jump?
I arrived at the playing field with my new and improved stilts and was greeted by raised eyebrows and curious looks from the usual crowd of boys. It didn't matter, I was going to show them all just how smart I was. I was picked second to last to play (I'm not a very good player but I am better than Gaspard Moreau-he always gets picked last!) and I couldn't help but grin at the thought of how I would go clear over the heads of the other team. The game began and soon I had an opportunity: A ball had been kicked away and some of the others were steadily walking toward it. Now was my chance!
I admit it: The whole idea looked a lot better on paper than in practice. I made two bounds forward and up, lost control, and came down hard on my right leg which twisted to a degree which it wasn't meant to achieve and promptly broke. I spent the next few weeks either lying in bed or hopping around the house.
Like I said; the whole idea looked a lot better on paper than in practice.
I'm going to turn 14 in less than a year and then I will be presented to Les Trois Pattes and a bouchon will be placed on my head. This is the universal symbol of manhood and from that point on I will no longer be a boy but a man, granted I don't think too many people will listen to a 14 year old man.
As a man I have been told that I must put away childish things. Tante and Oncle are of the opinion that my inventions are a sign of childish curiosity and they seem somewhat wary about what I do.
I have thought a lot about this and I have worried too. No adult makes the types of things that I do. Once a bouchon is placed on my head will I be able to continue with my work? Oncle Gerard once mentioned that our ancestors had made many things that ultimately led them to commit terrible and unspeakably evil acts that nearly destroyed everyone. He told me that it was by the goodness of Les Trois Pattes that we were saved and allowed to live in peace. The pretre at Saint Gregoire's said that God sent Les Trois Pattes as a sign of his divine love for us and that they will shepherd the faithful to everlasting paradise.
Despite the good things that people say about them, I am frightened by Les Trois Pattes. They stride along the land and tower over the spire of Saint Gregoire's, they cross the water and are larger than our fishing boats, and they are known to make loud booming noises that sometimes resemble the calls of loud brass musical instruments. I don't know how others view them but they scare me. Why should they decide what men can and can't do? God gave us free will so why should they take it away?
I have watched as 14 year olds are taken up into a Trois Pattes during the biannual festivals that our region has. The boys and girls disappear inside and are later returned with shaved heads and the bouchon on their skulls. That will be me soon enough. I lucked out during the last festival because I wasn't 14. I am now slated for the next festival. I won't be the only one; several others will join me including Genevieve.
She doesn't seem to be visibly worried but I think that she is. Maybe I will talk to her about it but then again what can we do? I really don't want to have a bouchon put on my head.
There is commotion tonight at the tavern. Two foreign boys have been captured under the suspicion that they have been damaging some of the local's ships. I got a good look at them and I think they are English. I made eye contact with the smaller of the two boys as I looked down at them from the stairs. Both looked to be around my age and neither wore the bouchon. They were thrown down in the cellar by some of the patrons with the consent of my Oncle. I wonder if they were cabin boys separated from their crew or perhaps maybe they were runaways, but why would they run away here?
I overheard the patrons talking about the two boys. They are planning on getting an English speaking person to interrogate them about the vandalism. After that they discussed punishing them. I did not like the sound of that. One man asked my Oncle if I could speak with them and he said that he would have me speak to them in the morning. I am worried for these two. I know how the men of this town can be. They will make these two pay and I will end up being dragged into it as an interrogator.
My New Friends-
It is late but I cannot sleep. I have too much on my mind: The bouchon, my inventions, Juliet Renault, and the two boys. I can only imagine what will be done to them tomorrow. They will probably be whipped in the public square. I have seen such things, men passing out from the pain as their backs are lashed bloody. I shudder at the thought. I don't know either of them but I am worried for them. I wonder why they are here. I doubt that a ship's captain would leave two of his crew in a foreign port (even if they are lowly ship's boys). I think that they are runaways.
I think that they are running away from Les Trois Pattes and le bouchon. They seem to be my age and they may both be feeling as apprehensive about turning 14 as I am. I'd like to know why they are doing this. Letting curiosity get the best of me yet again I quietly got out of bed and exchanged my nightclothes for my day clothes. I think of Genevieve and consider asking her to come with me but I can't risk it. I grab my oil lamp and tip-toe out of my room.
I can't believe I am actually running away! If someone told me this morning that I would be running away tonight I'd have laughed at them but yet here I am, running away with two English boys, cousins as it turns out, that I had just met.
I had surprised them as they had been attempting to escape from their confinement. I had told them to keep quiet and to follow me. They followed and I led them out of the tavern. I told them that I could take them to a boat but they told me that they wanted to head south so I took them to the road leading south.
The shorter boy asked me if I would get in trouble for letting them escape but I told him that it did not matter. I then asked him why he and his cousin wanted to go inland. After a moment of hesitation he told me that they were going to a place where there were no Tripods and no cappings. I had to go over those unfamiliar words in my mind and then I realized that the Tripods he spoke of were Les Trois Pattes and the caps and capping was Le bouchon. It seemed that these two strangers were as worried about the same things that I was!
It was then that I made the decision that would forever change my life; I was going to leave the only family and home I have ever known. It was funny as to how quickly I jumped at it: I asked them if I could come with them.
As soon as the two boys accepted me into their company I stuck out my hand and introduced myself to them.
"My name-I am Jean-Paul," I said.
The taller boy laughed and said, "More like Beanpole!"
The boy's laugh caught me off-guard. I had no idea why he was laughing but after a moment I laughed too.
I didn't know it then, but these two boys and one other who'd we meet later on would become my best friends and together we'd have the adventures of a lifetime and save the world in the process.