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Lily woke on Christmas morning to find herself not at home, as she had been dreaming, but on a top bunk in the cabin of a sleeper zep that was crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
She blinked her green eyes and rubbed her freckled face until she felt entirely awake. Then, with her fingers, she began combing out the worst of the knots in her tangled fire-red hair.
Under the thrum of the airship’s purring engines she could hear the beat of her Cogheart: a mechanical heart of cogs and springs that her papa had given her. It sat ticking in her chest like an overwound carriage clock. Because it was a perpetual motion machine, the Cogheart might go on for ever. Lily didn’t quite understand what that meant, but she knew one thing: without it she would not be alive today. Nor would she be taking this trip.
Papa, whose name was Professor John Hartman, was lying in the middle bunk beneath her. He wore a nightgown and nightcap and snored softly in his sleep. His feet stuck out the end of the bed, for he was quite tall, even lying down.
Robert Townsend, Lily’s best friend in the whole wide world, comrade in arms, first-class clockmaker and her co-conspirator in all things adventuresome, was asleep on the bottom bunk wearing blue-striped pyjamas. A coal-black cowlick of hair curved over his forehead like an upside-down question mark.
Malkin, Lily’s pet mechanimal fox, most trusted confidant and a red furry-faced know-it-all, lay next to Robert, curled up beside his pillow. Lily was only relieved he wasn’t sleeping on Robert’s head, which he sometimes did.
Malkin, of course, was frozen still. That was how mechanicals looked at night, when they were run down, before you took their winding key and wound them up again in the morning.
Christmas Eve had been most diverting. The three friends and Papa had set out from Liverpool Airstation on the Firefly airship, for what promised to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure: a four-day flight to New York.
The Firefly was the grandest ship in her class and had all the modern conveniences of the most up-to-date sleeper zep in the Royal Dirigible Company’s Transatlantic Fleet. There was a control room where
the captain and navigation crew worked. A radio room where they sent and received telegrams. An officers’ mess where the crew relaxed. A galley kitchen that serviced a dining room where two mechanical waiters in white silk jackets served breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea, with two different types of cake and sandwiches with the crusts cut off. A port and aft side promenade for exercising. A writing room. A thirty-four-foot passenger lounge, which had extra-light tubular-metal cushioned chairs and a duralumin grand piano.
And nestled on top of the zep was a magnificent viewing platform called the Crow’s Nest, which was accessed via a spiral staircase that wound through the centre of the balloon.
It was rather like travelling in a floating hotel. And Lily loved it.
In New York they would be staying in a real hotel, which she hoped would be just as good. They were due to arrive on the twenty-eighth of December. Robert’s mother and sister, Selena and Caddy Townsend, would join them at the airstation.
Since June, when Selena and Caddy had last seen Robert, the pair had been travelling across the states with their vaudeville act. Selena had written to her son and then to Lily’s papa to invite Robert and the Hartmans to meet them in New York for New Year’s Eve.
Luckily, Papa had been planning a trip to America himself. He’d been invited to speak at the Annual American Conference of Mechanists and Electricians in January at Hardwood University, near Boston. Or was that Aardvark University…? Something like that, anyway. To be honest, Lily hadn’t been listening to that part. Papa took his speech with him everywhere he went. Every few hours, in between his holiday reading, which was a hefty book on Shakespeare, he’d been practising snippets of his speech on Lily and Robert and Malkin. Just the thought of it was enough to make Lily feel like falling back to sleep.
She finished combing her hair and crawled down to the end of her bed. There was a stuffed stocking that she hadn’t noticed before, beneath her thrown-aside blanket. It must’ve mysteriously arrived in the night.
She eagerly examined the stocking, then climbed down the cabin’s wooden ladder to shake Robert awake.
“What is it?” he asked her, sleepily rubbing his eyes and crawling out of bed.
“Santa Claus has been!” Lily whispered. “We have stockings!”
She took Malkin’s key from round his neck and began winding him with it. The fox’s gears and cogs clicked into action and he shook himself awake.
They glanced up to find that Papa was yawning and wide awake too. “It’s rather early for gifts, isn’t it?” he asked.
“We’re in the middle of the ocean,” Lily said. “We are neither on British Time nor American. So it is neither early nor late. In my opinion, that is exactly the right time for presents!”
“All right then,” Papa said, getting up and putting on his dressing gown. “I suppose you can open them.”
Gleefully, Robert and Lily fell upon their stockings to see what Santa had stuffed them with.
There was an orange and three whole walnuts in each. Plus a brightly-striped twist of paper that contained a handful of lemon drops, barley sugars, chocolate drops, caramel creams and humbugs. Lily hated eating humbugs, especially on airships, but she would be able to swap them with Robert later.
“There’s more.” Papa reached up into the luggage rack and, from inside his suitcase, produced three finely-wrapped presents – one for each of them.
Lily opened hers first. It was a real magnifying glass, like the kind used by her favourite detective: Sherlock Holmes.
“To help you solve mysteries,” Papa explained.
She tried out the lens by examining the patterns of the carpet. Every minute detail blew up magnificently, even the worn-away threadbare parts.
“It’s perfect. Thank you.” She put the magnifying glass away in her pocket.
Robert opened his present next. Papa had got him a beautiful compass in a gold case. “So you always know where you are,” Papa explained as Robert examined it.
“I found it in a second-hand shop in the village. I think
it was made by your father.”
“It was. Thank you.” Robert ran his thumb over the maker’s mark on the side of the device: T.T. for Thaddeus Townsend.
Tears pricked at his eyes. This was only the second Christmas without his da, but it was the time of year when he missed him most of all.
Last but not least was Malkin. He tore the wrapping from his present with his teeth to reveal a bright green jacket, knitted by Mrs Rust, their clockwork cook and housekeeper back home. Mrs Rust was a legendarily awful knitter, but she didn’t look to have made such a bad job of this. Lily wrestled the jacket onto Malkin, with relatively little complaining and gnashing of teeth on his part.
“There,” she said when she was done, imagining the look of pride on Mrs Rust’s face. This was the first Christmas they’d spent apart since Papa made Rusty. Lily missed her so much, and the three other mechanicals Papa had built and created to look after her – Captain Springer, Mr Wingnut and Miss Tock. The four clockwork servants were like family and Christmas didn’t feel the same without them.
At least she had Malkin and Robert and Papa.
The fox grizzled at the jacket, pulling it this way and that until it sat comfortably across his back. “How do
I look?” he asked.
“Rather smart,” Robert replied.
The scruffy tail part that sat over Malkin’s backside was a bit of a mess – it tangled with his wagging brush. But on the whole, the jacket gave him a raffish air.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have gifts for any of you,” the fox announced. “But I shall give you each a lick on the cheek and hopefully that shall suffice.”
This he promptly did and they laughed at him warmly.
They spent the rest of the morning playing charades in the cabin, before dressing excitedly for the lavish Christmas feast, which was to be served to all the guests in the airship’s dining room.
“Lead on, Macduff!” Papa said when they were ready.
“I think you’ll find it’s ‘Lay on, Macduff’.” Malkin hopped into a little picnic-style basket with handles, which Lily rushed to pick up.
“What are you doing?” Papa asked.
“Joining you for dinner,” the fox said.
“Mechanimals aren’t allowed on deck, you know that.”
This was true, unfortunately. It was a rule on public airships that all mechanimals were to be stowed away in travel trunks in the hold for the whole duration of the journey. But Malkin couldn’t abide such treatment, and neither could Lily.
The fox fidgeted in the basket, getting comfortable. “It’s Christmas Day. A time of goodwill to all creatures great and small. You can at least allow me this little indiscretion.”
“Fine,” Papa relented. “So long as you stay hidden.”
They closed the cabin door and followed Papa along the passage. Lily couldn’t wait to eat Christmas dinner with her two best friends, and the thought of doing so on an airship made a bubble of joy rise inside her, higher than the zep’s balloon itself.

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Book information

Key Stage
ISBN: 9781474964388
Dimensions: 198 x 130mm

Author information

Peter Bunzl

Peter Bunzl grew up in London and lives there with his partner Michael. He is a BAFTA-award-winning animator, as well as a writer and filmmaker. Cogheart is Peter’s debut novel.

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