After the Royal procession passed by, pursued by a ragtag assortment of yapping mongrels and feral children, the crowds of people that lined the streets began to disperse back to their humdrum and ordinary lives, but now forever touched by the spark of divine that close proximity to royalty is bound to produce. On the flat roof of the building Lizzie where had climbed to observe the passing of the Princess, the girl wrestled with the observation of her friends Bobby and Tom. Could it be true? Could she truly be a twin for Princess Victoria, an exact double?
“You boys are mistaken,” said Lizzie, but after a moment’s consideration, continued, “Still, it has been a long time since I’ve seen myself in a proper looking glass. I do think there may be some similarity in appearance between the Princess and myself.”
“Surely you see as sure as I did?” said Tom, and for the first time Lizzie heard the slightest lilt of an Irish accent in the young man’s speech. Could Tom be an Irishman? The thought both repelled and excited the poor girl.
Lizzie turned from the edge of the building and composed her thoughts. In truth, she thought, the coincidence of her appearance matching that of the Princess meant nothing. How was such a fact, if fact it was, supposed to affect her life as a seller of matches on the dirty streets of Whitechapel? It was as Lizzie considered such ideas that she finally turned her attention from the streets to look at the roof on while she stood. At last she noticed the assortment of colorful kites of various shapes and sizes that littered the space around her. In her rush to observe the Princess, Lizzie had somehow missed them.
“What a lot of kites!” said the girl, bewildered by the unexpected display of colors and shapes. There were indeed a great assortment of kites on the roof. Large and small, square and circle, box kites and razor kites, even kites in the shapes of clowns and animals were spread about the roof in an array of colors that would put a rainbow to shame.
“It’s what I do,” said Tom, with no trace of an accent, “I design and build kites for MacHinery’s Toy Store.”
“Cor, Blimey!” said Bobby, running towards a bright red box kite.
“Don’t touch!” admonished Lizzie, stopping the boy in his tracks.
Tom gave Lizzie a gentle smile. “It is all right to touch them,” said the young man, “but be gentle.”
“I know MacHinery’s toy store,” said Lizzie, after a moment watching Bobby to be sure that he was gentle with the kite he touched. “The dolls in the window are beautiful. But old man MacHinery dislikes street urchins such as myself standing and staring outside his window. He claims that we frighten away proper children, and so he chases us off.”
“I doubt he will be frightening away any more children, Lizzie,” said Tom with a rum smile. “Old man MacHinery was my father, and he died two weeks ago. The toy shop is mine, now.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, Tom,” said the girl, “but your father was a very cross man, and will not be much missed.”
It was at this moment that the grey clouds in the early afternoon sky, that had all day been threatening to rain, began to let loose a light sprinkling of drops.
“Tarnation,” said Tom, “I had hoped the weather would clear up. I had thought to test some of these beauties against the wind this afternoon. Instead it has begun to rain. Say, Lizzie, would you lend a me your hands to get these kites inside? I could certainly use the help.”
“It is the least I could do, Tom, seeing as how you allowed me to use your roof to view the Princess so recently.”
Together Lizzie and Tom began to gather up the kites and bring them down the stairs at the rear of the building and in through the back door of MacHinery’s toy shop. Patches watched from the shelter of a very large Chinese style dragon kite, the largest kite Lizzie had ever seen. Bobby, as usual when there was work to be done, had disappeared, probably hiding behind the fearsome dragon kite until such a time as there was nothing more to be done.
As Lizzie and Tom worked to secure the kites the breeze picked up, and the rain began to come down harder. Puddles were forming on the roof, and Patches was beginning to look worried. Lizzie knew the look on the mongrel’s face all too well – a real kicker of a storm was coming.
The Dragon kite was hit with a strong gust of wind even as Lizzie shouted to Tom. “We ought to hurry! There’s a big thunder storm coming!”
“The dragon kite is too big to fit in the shop. I have a canvas tarp to cover it with. That should protect it,” said Tom.
Lizzie and Tom wrestled with the wind and the rain, unfurling the tarp and attempting to cover the dragon kite. As the wind blew and the kite swelled with air and struggled against its tethers. The dragon’s artfully painted face took on a fearsome, life-like appearance.
Suddenly there was a loud sound, like an explosion, and lightning curled across the dark, rain swept sky. Patches began barking furiously, running in tiny, tight circles in his panic.
Another huge gust strained the dragon kite and then there came the sound of snapping ropes as it suddenly came loose from the roof and took dramatically to the air, rearing up and over the heads of Tom, Lizzie and Patches.
Tom yelled, “Lizzie! Don’t!” but his call came too late. Without thinking the brave girl ran forward and gripped the middle of the dragon kite, hoping to hold it in place. Instead the kite, now completely free of its moorings, took to the air, taking the surprised girl with it. Lizzie looked down at the roof of the toy store, and caught a glimpse of the startled Tom and barking Patches before the the sight of them was obscured by the other buildings passing beneath her feet.
There was an even more powerful wind and the kite rose up higher and higher and entered the clouds far above the city of London. The storm closed about her and Lizzie was lost to the darkness.
Inside the clouds Lizzie hung on for dear life as the dragon kite whirled through the darkness and the rain. Lightning shot through the clouds, arcing dangerously close to the frightened girl who had no choice but to hang on, and hope for a safe landing. Thunder followed each flash, shaking her bones and rattling her teeth.
Suddenly, above the din, Lizzie heard a voice.
“Lizzie! What’s happening?”
Lizzie looked up towards the head of the kite, and saw, just inside the fearsome dragon mouth, the figure of Bobby, clinging for dear life to the inside of the kite. Instantly Lizzie realized that the foolish boy had climbed inside the head of the dragon to escape the work and the rain, only to now be caught up in the storm that had claimed the dragon kite and herself.
“Bobby!” cried Lizzie, “Hold tight!”
“Don’t worry about me Lizzie. I’m strapped in!”
Around and around the kite swirled through the dark clouds, up and up into the sky, when suddenly the kite burst through the top of the clouds and into a blue sky full of sunlight. The air up here was warm, and the wind was strong and but steady. Lizzie took this opportunity to adjust her grip on the kite, finding a perch for her feet, so her hands were not unduly strained.
Far below Lizzie could see the storm, moving quickly towards the Atlantic Ocean, leaving London wet, but essentially unharmed.
“We are very high in the sky,” said Lizzie to Bobby, who was watching a flock of pelicans fly by.
“This is where the birds live,” said Bobby.
Lizzie thought this a stupid thing to say, but did not contradict the boy. “I’m worried about our landing,” said the girl at last. “Getting up into the sky is easy. Getting down safely seems difficult.”
“Perhaps we will fall into the water,” said Bobby.
“We have little control over where we will land,” said the girl, but even as she said this, she began experimenting with adjusting the placement of her hands and feet on the bamboo frame of the dragon kite, causing it to angle this way and that.
As time passed Lizzie became more confident and bold in her experiments in navigating the kite. Occasionally she would make a wrong movement, and the dragon would keen wildly to one side or the other. Once she executed a full loop, much the the dismay of Bobby, who was becoming nauseated. So much time did Lizzie spend in learning to navigate the kite that it soon became dark, and the sky became full of stars.
“London is long gone, Lizzie,” said Bobby, “All I see below us is darkness. Can’t tell if we’re over water or land.”
“Land, I should think,” said Lizzie, “My father was a sailor. He taught me about Venus, the Eastern star. We’ve been following that star since the sun set.”
“However will we get home Lizzie?”
Lizzie had no answer for the worried boy. “We’ll manage somehow, Bobby. I just hope that Tom is a good man, and that he’ll look after Patches while I’m gone.”
So began a long night of air travel, and Lizzie was glad she was wearing her wool coat, for the air was chilly, and damp. Several times she dozed off, only to wake with a start when the kite tilted to the right or to the left.
After what seemed like an eternity the sky began to lighten in the east, and Lizzie scanned the ground below, hoping to pick out details that might indicate how far from home she had flown. To her disappointment, all she could see was the sandy wastes of what she could only guess to be an endless desert.
“That doesn’t seem like a very good place to set down,” thought the girl, but to her dismay the wind was beginning to die, and the kite was slowly beginning its descent.
Lizzie was hungry, tired and thirsty. Depending on the kind of landing she managed, she and Bobby might be injured as well. She did not like the prospect of landing in the middle of the vile and deadly looking wasteland below.
“Lizzie, look!” shouted the boy from the head of the dragon kite.
Lizzie followed Bobby’s pointed finger and saw, some distance off, the lush green foliage of a forest in an eastern direction. Lizzie adjusted her grip on the dragon kite frame and shuffled her feet slightly, and in an instant she was shifting the kite toward of the lush forest.
Still, the kite was rapidly descending. The wind seemed to just be giving up and dying down. Lizzie had heard about this from her father, who used to call times like this, when there was little or no wind, the doldrums. But a ship at sea was not a kite in the air. A ship could wait for the winds, but a kite depends upon them. Lizzie did not want to land in the desert. For some reason, the thought of touching the sands frightened her. She could feel the hunger and vicious energy of the wasteland below her, and did all in her limited power to pilot her craft towards the safer looking greenery just beyond the desert’s edge.
With a final waft of dying breeze, the kite swooped low over the desert, close enough that Lizzie could see individual grains of sand, then rose up, up, gently above the trees of the forest that began where the desert ended. Then the kite fell, depositing itself, along with Lizzie and Bobby, in a tall tree.
“That,” said Lizzie, “is a ride I will not soon want to be repeating.”
Bobby nodded his head in agreement, then, noticing a ripe apple in the tree they had landed in, reached out a chubby hand and plucked the fresh fruit from the branch. Greedily the hungry little boy bit into the apple and rivulets of juice streamed down his chin.
“It’s good, Lizzie,” said the ill-mannered boy with his mouth full.
Lizzie laughed and reached out for an apple of her own. After the long night of danger and no sleep, the two youngsters ate their fill of delicious apples, and slept in the folds of the cloth of the dragon kite, suspended in the tree branches like hammocks under the warm sun.
To Be Continued