Danger. I should have smelled it. Mayhem, most feathered and fowl, was coming.
I should have smelled it. But I didn’t.
I smelled bacon and sausage, eggs and waffles, toast and tea—the scents we awoke to every morning at the Kennewicketts’ Amazing Automated Inn.
My name is Noodles. I’m a dachshund.
On Saturday, October 19, 1902, the day the Great Mesmer War began, I was sitting on Wally Kennewickett’s lap in the lobby as he perused the pages of an old Scientific American. Wally was reading an article about Percy Pilcher’s last flight in his man-size glider the Hawk.
“Pilcher had built a powered plane, Noodles,” Wally said, “but a mechanical malfunction forced him to fly the Hawk that fateful morning instead.”
You learn a lot of interesting phrases living with the Kennewicketts. Phrases like mechanical malfunction, retractable rail cannon, and flee for your life were used quite frequently around the Inn.
“I wish they’d published Pilcher’s blueprints for the powered plane!” Wally went on.
I licked his ear.
Manned, powered, and controlled flight in a contraption that was heavier than air was an achievement that had thus far eluded the world’s most courageous adventurers and intelligent engineers. It was Wally Kennewickett’s dream to be the first to achieve it. I did not approve. Flight was far too dangerous.
Percy Pilcher’s perilous pursuit had ended when the Hawk’s tail failed and Percy plunged to his death.Wally took his journal from his pocket. He noted, Tail failure may cause tragedy.
I was pondering the profundity of this observation when destiny knocked on the door. Wally tucked his journal back in his pocket, set me on the couch, and stood up to answer it.
“Jump, boy!” Wally said. “You can do it!”
My wagger went wild. It always does when Wally says “You can do it.” But wagging wouldn’t get me to the floor. There are things that nature never intended a dachshund to do. Flinging oneself off a couch is certainly on the list. I raced from one armrest to the other, barking madly until Wally came back and lifted me down. Wally Kennewickett is the kind of boy who comes through when you need him.
Once all four paws were safely on the polished marble floor, I raced ahead of him to the door, expecting to find a Very Important Person on the steps. Scientists, businessmen, and engineers come to the Inn from all over the world, eager to ask for advice from Wally’s parents, Oliver and Calypso Kennewickett.
Oliver and Calypso are inventors extraordinaire.
“Extraordinaire” means that they’re amazing. Oliver and Calypso invented everything in the Inn, from the Dust Bunnies to the Gyrating Generator and the Amazing Automatons. An “automaton” is a self-operating machine. The Kennewicketts are currently perfecting several new designs.
When Wally opened the door that morning, we didn’t find a scientist, leader of industry, or engineer on the step, however. We found a hobo. The collar of his ragged coat was turned up, and the brim of his dusty hat was pulled down. I could just make out a bulb of a nose above a bushy mustache, and perhaps the flash of spectacles.
“Walter Kennewickett,” the hobo said, “I must see your parents at once. It’s a matter of utmost importance!”
It wasn’t surprising that a hobo would know Wally’s name. The Kennewicketts were always kind to hobos.
“Yes, sir,” Wally said politely. “Would you wait in the lobby while I find them?”
“Of course.” The hobo looked at me. “Is this fine fellow your dog?”
“My best friend,” Wally corrected. “His name is Noodles. I’ll return shortly, sir.”
I wanted to follow Wally, but felt it might be best if I waited with our guest. The Automated Inn is conveniently located near a branch of the Union Pacific Railroad, so I had observed many hobos. Some of them were nice, ordinary people. Others put things in their pockets when no one was watching. If our visitor was that sort of hobo, he would soon find out that dachshunds are very good at watching.
This hobo didn’t try to slip anything in his pockets. He patted my head, then walked to the fireplace to ponder the portrait of a pigeon that hung above the mantel. Half of the Kennewickett clan have a particular passion for the birds. Wally’s almost-grown-up cousin Melvin Kennewickett has a shelf full of pigeon racing trophies. Melvin’s twin sister, Prissy, has half a shelf of trophies. They’d inherited this peculiar pastime from their father, Wentworth Kennewickett, who, being Oliver’s elder brother, technically owned the Inn. But it hadn’t been an inn when he’d left it in Oliver’s care, and it certainly had not been automated.
It had been a frightening folly built atop a granite mountain by Oliver andWentworth’s industrialist grandfather, the wicked Mars Kennewickett. Kennewicketts tend to turn out generally good or abominably evil. Oliver keeps a journal of his own, full of notes, observations, and theories about this family phenomenon.
Wally worries about it. Sometimes I find him in front of the full-length mirror on Calypso’s side of the lab, staring into his own green eyes. I know what he is thinking. He is pondering the conundrum of his kin: Which sort of Kennewickett am I going to be?
A “conundrum” is a difficult problem or question. The kind Kennewicketts love best.
Wally’s father is the generally good sort of Kennewickett. At least, he has been since he married Wally’s mother. It was Calypso who had insisted that the cannons be removed from the folly’s turret, and the chains taken out of the dungeons Mars had dug into the solid stone of the mountain.
I felt this had been a step in the right direction. Letting Melvin, Prissy, and their pigeons stay, however, was a step in the wrong direction, even if their father did technically own the Inn.
The pigeons’ presence gave Wally an excuse to spend too much time locked away with his gadgets and gears. Wally is allergic to feathers.
The hobo rubbed his chin, and I realized my mind had wandered far from the issue at hand. Was this the kind of hobo who would slip things into his pocket? I had just decided that he was the ordinary, honest sort when I noticed his boots. They were shiny beneath a thin film of dust—too shiny. The cuffs of his trousers weren’t torn, either. He’s wearing a disguise, I thought.
“Are you a pigeon fancier, sir?” asked Oliver Kennewickett, stepping into the room. Wally and Calypso were right behind him. Walter Kennewickett does not look like either of his parents. Oliver is tall and dark, with flashing black eyes; Calypso is fair and elegant in every way. Wally is small for his age, and his hair is the color of new copper wire.