A case of curiosities

A case of curiosities by Allen Kurzweil

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Authors: Allen Kurzweil
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harpsichord, Claude discoveted that the yew-tree owl always hooted in B-flat.

9
    IT WAS DURING the study of steam sounds that matters at the mansion house went terribly wrong. So wrong, in fact, that Claude was forced to abandon his phonic investigations and return to the art of the sable brush.
    The Abbe and Claude had assembled the mansion house's considerable range of distilling apparatus — retorts, alembics, a pressure cooker—to create as many heat-genetated hissings, splutterings, and spumings as they could. The assumption was that liquids bubbling in differently shaped pieces of copper-and glassware would augment the seventy-four entries already recorded in the section on Vaporous Bruits. Additionally, the Abbe could take the opportunity to evaluate personally a method of gin production recently outlined in the Transactions .
    Because of the experimental commotion—the hissing was all but deafening — the testers failed to hear the pteemptive warnings of Kleinhoff, who shouted from a fruit tree while fighting an onslaught of dread smotherflies. Nor did the testers hear the battle cry of Catherine, who interrupted her conversation with Marie-Louise to alert the pair. And because steam rising from the testing pots filled the workroom alcove with a thick mist, neither Claude nor the Abbe observed their enemy until it was too late.
    "Aha!"
    Claude, in shock, dropped a glass pelican on the stone floor.
    Amid the liquid chaos, outraged at the deception, stood the accountant. "Caught you, have I? Failed to set up the falsified image of The Enameler's Art? I am incensed! Your plots and conspiracies are over." The accountant bubbled with a ferocity that rivaled that of the heated liquids. "We had an agreement, drawn up for your benefit. What of your creditors?" The accountant was too angry to withhold confidences, and so Claude learned the gravity of the Abbe's finances. "Discrepancies, very serious discrepancies, fill the books. You agreed to use this boy for the Hours. Where are they? Where are the designs you promised? Livre the bookseller is yelling in Paris. The Duke is yelling in Milan."
    "And you are yelling," the Abbe interjected, "in my residence. That I cannot permit."
    "Yes, I am yelling as well! And by my rights I shall continue. In the last year you have spent more than twice your annual income. And for what? Fossils and artists' supplies. I have yet another Cherion invoice right here."
    The accountant accounted: "2 reams post paper; 3 bottles poppyseed oil; 1 handrest . . ."
    "It was only two bottles of poppyseed oil," the Abbe said.
    "Very well, I will make a note." The accountant pulled out another invoice. "You were granted credit from the Globe on condition you sent Livre piecework Hours you have not yet produced. There are bills for instruments of measure, curiosities of nature, and extravagant comestibles. You must have entertained an army."
    "There is an overdraft?" the Abbe inquired.
    "How can you ask? There's enough debt to bury Mont Blanc. Have you forgotten the conditions of your tenure under crown lease? You have not been granted any fiscal immunities. In the neighboring parish a full third of the peasants' gross incomes is paid out in obligations. What are your figures? Recall that you receive no mark of office, no prebend, no support at all from the Church. When I agreed to take over the finances of the mansion house, I proposed a reasonable course of action. Agriculture. I provided a detailed breakdown of the costs to manure the nearby close. You ignored it. I wanted to exploit the three W's—wine, wheat, and wood. You laughed. What was your reply? You said, 'The only W I am willing to plant is wonderment.' The practical outcome of that witticism is that your fields are rich in nothing more than weeds."
    "It is true that my stay has not produced great profit by your standards."
    "By no one's standards. Profit indeed." The accountant was offended by the Abbe's misuse of a term quite dear to

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