Here, Craig Waltman takes a hilarious look at some pompous, yet courageous, early hot air balloners, venturing over the Thames River.
The Hot Air Misadventure of
Fladdeus and Sir. C. L. Smear
(The Mystery of The Flying Duck)
Craig A. Waltman
“By Jove, Fladdeus, it’s a blustery day! I fear if the wind doesn’t halt itself our balloon race will bedelayed.”
“Fear not, Sir Smear,” said Fladdeus,” for my bunions feel a change in the air, and they’ve not been wrong more than once or twice I swear.”
Soon the day did fair under a crisp, autumn sky, upon the rolling green of Queen Victoria’s lawn. But before the event was to take place and such was the queen’s etiquette, that there was arranged before them a most scrumptious feast, which all did enjoy with all its pomp and pageantry and sundry delights and dainties from the queens far flung empire.
“Don’t look now, Sir,” said Fladdeus, “it’s Ludwig Vonn,” as he tipped his tea in a toast them. Long and tall he was as he loomed there as a grim specter all clad in his finest blue, with his dark eyes swirling they were as two venomous, icy pools under his fleecy brow, and to make matters even more frightful he wore a face in which only Grendel’s mother could adore...indeed, most dreadful he was.
“I shan’t hide behind a tray of crumpets,” said Sir Smear,” I’ll certainly bid him a cheery hello” – even though they were bitterly sworn enemies from youth…from their earliest memory’s dawn they were.
Now believing in fair play, Sir Smear spoke in his most proper English and said,” A good day my fine fellow and the best of luck to you.”
“Ah luck…nothing to it you nattering ninny! May the best man win and you’re looking at him!” declared Ludwig Vonn with a tongue sharper than a pickax and twice as cold it was.
And then who should they happen upon, but none other than Calvin Bamboozle, a man you would never turn you back to…a scoundrel who was told to have stolen his very own mother’s red hot stove, when she went to market to fetch a pound of mill. (The very mill in which she was preparing for his evening supper).
“Oh Sir,” said Fladdeus,”I do believe it can’t be worse.”
“Hold your tongue, man.” Sir Smear said, and then both of their jaws dropped. For then walked into plain view, for all to see was Field Marshall Kaiser, the absolute worst of the unsavory lot. For giving occasion, he would bring new heights to villainy…his track record was unrivalled as recorded in the realms of discourse, and being of the straight and narrow he was, indeed, a fishhook with the strongest bend.
“Oh dear Sir,” said Fladdeus, ”what now shall we do?” – as then they by some miserable chance intersected with the paths of the former pirates, One Eyed Jack, and Peg Leg Ramses his first mate, which all full well knew and was privy to the fact that they had turned privateers to escape the hangman’s noose.
“We'll naturally watch our backs, of course. And most certainly not have them cross our T again,” cautiously responded Sir Smear, as they now made their way down to their propeller driven balloon. Where, indeed, busy was now the buzzword, it was a scurrying anthill of excitement, a perfect cacophony of stoking fires and squeaky valves being hammered into place.
Then finally, when all had arrived and when everything was made ready did Chief Chamberlin wobble out onto the field. A nervous, round little man he was, who detested the brouhaha of crowds and their rumpus rackets, and so it was he hastened without delay and then promptly ordered them all, “Be off with you!” as he thus cocked his head and plugged his ears with his pudgy finger and stout shoulder, and with his eyes fastened shut, he triggered his service revolver, at, indeed, a most hazardous angle, now toppling his derby with its recoil. All the while the spent cartridge’s sulfurous fumes ringed about him as a cloudy halo which singed his nostrils bare. Then, alas, all the engines fired a dozen or more…no one really kept score for no one really cared, it was all about the thrill, the danger, for the bragging rights, of course.
“Tallyho!” they all shouted from every scallywag, to every gentry, as they began their perambulation through London’s soaring skyline. Now up the Thames and around the Big Ben and back again was the plan. “More steam!” Sir Smear cried.
”Aye, aye, Sir!,” said Fladdeus, as the sparks flew and the fire blazed as a great fluming volcano aloft with cinders buzzing all around them, as so many fire flies scorching their hair.
Then suddenly a most frightful sound was detected, such as the sound of a crack followed by a snap. Fladdeus and Sir Smear fell flat on their top hats, as snug as they were as rugs on the smoothest of floors were they now. All the while the great balloon swayed and lurched, teetering in the sky as a tilter world wildly spinning lose from its place.
“Great, slithering slugs, man,” yelled Sir Smear, "someone cut a notch in the strap and filled it with candle wax!”
Fladdeus too agreed, as he inspected the nefarious scene and said, “How ignoble of an act if there ever was.”
“Mysterium in mundo,” (mystery’s world) replied Sir Smear, as something other now had caught his discerning eye. For strangely below dangled a few died strands of blue wool caught upon the wicker gondola, in which they flew. “Flaming meteors make a noose,” said Sir Smear, “and I’ll tie a knot and we shall marry them together and make them fast!”
Being no small feat, of course, and with a little ingenuity and a great deal of perspiration they pulled the whole thing off, and when the repairs were made complete Sir Smear said in his relief,” Old chum, we’re back in the race…let’s give them a fight!”
“Aye, aye captain, for Queen and country…a jolly old fight then!” Fladdeus replied.
“Sweet William's Ghost!” no sooner exclaimed Sir Smear, as now they saw contenders falling left and right into the Thames. Now the very waters below them appeared more as an asylum for bedlam filled with stricken airship pilots, all shaking their angry fists towards the sky in their embittered frustration. As even now their yachtsmen rescuers laughed and sang, “No Roses on a Sailor’s Grave for Thee!” which seemed to only further infuriate them to no end…now spurned by their mockery they were. Their prize, their Queen’s adoration, appeared so very far away from them, as they helplessly treaded the Thames chilly waters with nothing now but their madden resentment to keep them warm.
Then, as if by some fowl conjuring, a fog arose from the River Thames, as if from the very pilots' boiling blood beneath them, as thick as gooseberry gravy it was, and so then the race slowed to a withering crawl, into the swirling, grey mist.
“By Dippel’s gruel, Fladdeus, I can’t even see the tip of my nose.” and just then when Sir Smear had not even finished with his tittle-tattle came suddenly hurdling out of nowhere a wooden duck, which flew straight into their propeller blades, jamming it up stingier than the most miserly of wallets.
“Quickly man, get it out, get it out I say!” said Sir Smear.
“I can’t,” cried Fladdeus, “It’s locked up tighter than the Queen’s crown jewels!” he replied.
Yet again, Sir Smear beckoned his friend and said, “Give it the old heave-ho, old man!”
But now unaware to him, in Sir Smear’s fright, and with all the commotion it had plum slipped his mind to kill the engine. And so Fladdeus again pulled with all his might, and then with the shrillest of squeals the duck flew from Fladdeus’ startled hands, and thrown aback hard he was across the gondola for all his strife and toil.
“Good Heavens,” Sir Smear exclaimed in horror, “Count your fingers and wiggle your thumbs!”
And poor Fladdeus did just that, as he then sighed a sigh of sighs and said, “By thundering buzzsaws, that gave me a rightful old scare!” – for most happily, indeed, they were all present and accounted for. No, there was not to be found a single vacancy upon him, not a stump to be seen, and still in his disbelief, as he was yet numbering them again as to make for certain sure, an opening broke within the piling murk before them, as drapery being parted on the southern, sunny side of a unclouded day, and then there it was as the fondest of friends, the tower of London greeting them once more.
Afterwards, in the proceeded of time, was there an air of uneasy peace which settled in all about them, such as the calm just before a storm. "Was it an unearthly quietness so very still that one could hear one’s own very beating heart if they had a mindful ear to listen to it?” did Fladdeus ponder to himself. As now Sir Smear said aloud, “Indeed, old friend, my worry bone is starting to ache as a crooked Wicket whack to my knee. As yet again, seemingly without mercy, they sailed back into a fog gloomier than the first, now straining their eyes into the nebulous void before them, when from out of the smoky darkness their senses were benumbed by a mortifying shriek…most painful it was, such as the sound of broken glass in one’s ears being ground with a rusty spike.
“Howling hyenas”, a then greatly alarmed Sir Smear resounded,” that’ll certainly add some starch to your collar, old boy!”
“Indubitably, Sir, it has a most disturbing twang about it…most disturbing, indeed," replied a troubled Fladdeus with now an undeniably despairing expression upon his winced face. And when the resonance of their words had not yet even subsided in their ears…when ominously their wide eyes perceived a dark shadow boiling in the steamy mist, rolling towards them upon a frontal approach, growing ever larger at a most frightful clip, now threatening to waylay them it was.
“Screaming eagles, Fladdeus, turn it hard to port! “charged Sir Smear.
“It’s another airship!” Fladdeus hollered, as he then swung the wheel hard about with not a smidgen of time to spare, and by what would be considered the slimmest of margins, as the two great balloons brushed against each other, now almost tangling their gondolas together.
“Holy Saint Christopher," Sir Smear exclaimed, "that was definitely the closest of shaves, I do believe I feel the rise of a razor burn!” as he then sorely stroked the flanks of his chin.
But, nevertheless, a spark of memory was ignited in their brief passing, for they had recognized the other pilot as the Grand Duke Archibald Fernando with the direst countenance upon his horrified face, and, in fact, the largest arachnid they’d ever seen crawling upon it. Now giving to all appearance that he was frozen in terror as he stood there as still as a marble statue, but all the whiter, of course. For most certainly, indeed, Sir Smear had correctly surmised and said,” Some fiendish felon must have planted a spider in his wig.” And too Fladdeus’ recollection was the very same about him and told, ”Poor, poor Fernando, what now shall ever become of him?”
“It seems” replied Sir Smear, “his mania was his undoing.”
For being a bald man prone to vanity, and his hysteria of everything which scurries upon the earth left him quite vulnerable, recalled Fladdeus and Sir Smear, which, of course, made him a perfect target of the grandness proportion, in no ways a villain could miss, nor resist for temptation’s sake. And all this was by no means hidden; it was, in fact, common knowledge to both friend and foe alike. For he would often make a spectacle of himself over the smallest beetle or the least fly, which would no sooner throw him into a frothing conniption, which frequently left him paralyzed hours on end, as now Sir Smear skillfully reasoned and said,” Some waggish rascal must’ve turned his paranoia against him…diabolical!” and Fladdeus now filled with a most sincere concern replied, “I hope the poor chap soon snaps out of it.”
“Yes, Fladdeus,” said Sir Smear,” before he finds himself somewhere over the middle of the North Atlantic.”
“Heavens forbid, or over an artic wasteland, “retorted Fladdeus, as now
Fernando promptly fleeted from their sight, nothing more but a mere wake in the fog was he when Sir Smear offered him his finale valediction and said,” Adieu, bonne chance (Farewell, good luck) and may your situation improve.”
And so it was as the hours ensued, it became more plausible that it was if they, themselves were abandoned within a whirling, cumulus netherworld of limbo were time became indistinguishable, as the featureless despair which grew ever darker still as the vaporous brume of melancholy surrounding them. Resolute in their reflection were they now feeling shanghaied, upon a doomed ship, forever lost in a labyrinth of clouds. And thus Fladdeus nearly reaching the brink of his wits exclaimed, "Is there no end to this purgatory? At least if we were condemned to Tartarus, its flames would light the way!” as he then buried his face in his fingers, shielding his eyes from the blinding gloom pressing in all around them, which now seeped even unto their very bones with its insidious vapors it did.
But then, quite oddly, but most gladly related Sir Smear,” Cheer up and observe, Fladdeus, and despair not, for behold predawn’s blackest hour yields to the glory of daybreak.”
"Thanks be,” perked up Fladdeus and responded, “and not a moment too soon!” For, indeed, Fladdeus’ claustrophobia was starting to get the very best of him, feeling that he was all knotted up in a drenched blanket and unable to breathe, as even now, yes…yet again they breeched the clouds riding upon crystal skies of golden blue, soaring free from its shrouded encumbrance as a vaulted prison in the firmamental expanse.
But then as quickly as a unsuspecting strike to one’s jaw, it came suddenly and without warning, what then could have only sounded like the roll of canon echoing across the rooftops gave them all a solid jerk, “Look!” said Sir Smear, as Field Marshall Kaiser’s steerage was blown from his airship. Now thrown into an irretrievable spin he was, spiraling out of control, heading for The Tower of London’s most infamous Traders’ Gate.
“Sickening heights!” exclaimed Sir Smear, as they heard the Field Marshall yelling all the way saying, ” Rogue…villainy…mischief-maker! Someone tampered with my controls! I’ll have your hide for this dastardly deed!”
Now that Ludwig Vonn and Calvin Bamboozle were aloft in their separate balloons, they began to wildly laugh as crazed men and jest, "Off with his head, to the Tower of London with him!” and all what the poor Field Marshall could only do was seethe behind his cracked monocle, as he ranted at them. Vowing revenge upon them if that was last thing he should ever do before drawing his last breathe. "Ah, tell it to Sir Walter Riley and give our sweet Bess a kiss, too!” remarked Ludwig Vonn, as he now waved him off for the last and said, “Good riddance, forevermore! I never enjoyed your acquaintance.”
As too Calvin murmured against him aloud and said, “Dream small, Herr Marshall, you’ll never be disappointed again,” as he bid him adieu with a finale, parting peck. And to make matters worse, One Eyed Jack added his two pence worth and said, "Mr. Ramses, give the Kaiser a full broadside!” and they too started to caterwaul and began to sing, "No quarter but the black flag…Nothing but cooled steal and hot shot…Give him the old, long stroll off a stunted plank and do the seamen’s jig before the plop!” and then their sides nearly burst with their giddiness.
And as they were still making merry with him, Ramses replied, “Aye, Captain Jack, the poor bloat looks like a pallbearer at his own funeral clinging to that cornice stone down yonder ways.”
“Here…throw him a lifeline,” One Eyed Jack replied. “Grab holt, grab holt I say!”
Mr. Ramses then commanded the Field Marshall, and as the Field Marshall relented, this, of course, being against his better judgment, he took in faith their tether in hand and straightway he slid down it, as if though he was riding a shaft of lightning all the way to the water gate just below, and thus with a blistering belly flop he entered the canal with the most thunderous splash it was.
“Oh Ramses,” said One Eyed Jack, “it racks your bones doesn’t it!?”
“Aye Captain, he’ll certainly be feeling that in the morning!” Peg Leg replied with his snaggletooth grin. For unknown to him, they had greased the rope which now only made them laugh all the harder and say, “We gave the old screw a good turn didn’t we!?”
Now this, of course, being privy for everyone’s viewing, Sir Smear, alas, responded to their treachery and said, “Certainly, Fladdeus, Cicero would not approve of their methods,” as he then glanced at his watch and thundered,” Tempest fugete (Time flies), man, how time flies…the clock only mocks us now! Swing the wheel hard about to starboard, man…we must excuse ourselves from this war betwixt the ragweed’s,” ordered Sir Smear.
And so the final turn was made in their journey, and now they were all homeward bound.
It was lickety-split, no time quick,
They were all neck and neck, it was too close to call,
Calvin was first and Ludwig was last
And Sir Smear and Fladdeus were second of all.
Then Sir Smear being in a fit of enlightenment slapped his knee, clapped his hands and pointed his finger as an aerial towards the heavens and shouted, “By George, Fladdeus, I know who the saboteur is, why it’s Ludwig Vonn I say, for the blue fibers should perfectly match his overcoat!”
But soon under closer inspection, from under his optical lens he realized that he was wrong, for Ludwig’s fibers were short and these were long, and they had a tinge of gray to them, they were not true blue at all. Then Fladdeus said,” Look Sir, my eyes detect a riddle waiting to be solved” and so too Sir Smear’s vision fell upon that very thing in which Fladdeus was pointing out.
"Great, smiling Mono Lisa, Leonardo Davinci…the truth was staring at us all along!” replied Sir Smear. For it was at Calvin Bamboosle’s pressed sleeve was then spied woolen underwear which bore the exact, same likeness in which the incriminating twines they had
retrieved from the gondola.
“They bare more than just a mere family resemblance. Great Scott, man, they're Siamese twins! And what do you suppose is next to it?” surmised Sir Smear, and thus Fladdeus replied,” A candle wax stain no less. Blazing Jupiter, Sir, we have our man!”
Now there was no doubt about it, it was Calvin Bamboozle to blame, who was now looking quite sheepish and would not even pray venture to left his eyes towards them, as then Sir Smear concluded with has examination of him, being the nosy parker he was and told, “Up Jenkins’ and reveal your coin! Games of chance were never your forte, and let it be said no one ever accused you of being a genus, in which case you now stand innocent of.”
Fladdeus replied, “I do believe, Sir, his poker face is starting to crack…he’s becoming quite the sticky biscuit.”
“That is truth, Fladdeus," Sir Smear said,” and from all portents he was dealt a bad hand, for his countenance proclaims it louder than his sputtering, stammering tongue… now tied in a devilish knot is it?” he further asked. For, on account, Calvin would look off to his left and begin to stutter when he was caught in a lie…in a lie, in which he could not escape, now trapped by his own fiction.
”"Best to stick with playing ‘Snap-Dragon’ with your teeth my friend, you’ll get less burned with a deceitful tongue as hot as yours.” harshly remarked Chief Chamberlin. And thus Calvin remained silent as a muzzled ox with no defense on his behalf. For the more he talked the deeper he dug his hole with his blathering, stumbling tongue, now more like a shoveling spade unearthing the truth. Yes, it was a hole excavated by his own ill-conceived design that he inevitably found himself standing in with both his pigeon-toed clodhoppers planted firm. And now then who should take first place, why Sir Smear and Fladdeus, his most dear friend, the very one and the same, of course. “But who hurled the wooden duck?” A puzzled Fladdeus then asked.
“I guess it shall forever remain a mystery I presume.” responded Sir Smear with a bemused smile upon his face.
“Imagine that.” concluded Fladdeus.
And now your guess is as good as mine, and so it was the mystery of the flying duck remained just that…a mystery, of course, which ran as long and broad and deeper still than the Thames itself…unto this very day.