It’s Race Day in the town of Darbyfield, and after an accident, heiress Alice Peavley and her gnome valet Macalley jump into the race behind the wheel of a friend’s motorcar. They’ll have to go up against five other racers and confront dangerous roads, dirty tricks, and a hungry bear. It’ll take all of Macalley’s brainpower, and all of Alice’s wits and determination, for them to win the Thorn Harbour Road Rally!
The photograph that appeared in the Emerald Dell Courier the Wednesday following the race may not have shown me at my worst, but Macalley’s remark that I seemed “a trifle disheveled” was another of his marvelous understatements. My hair is a fright after having been confined in a borrowed helmet, my face is covered in dirt and dust except for a goggles-shaped patch around my eyes, I am standing lopsided due to missing my left boot, and the parts of my lovely white sundress that aren’t smothered in straw are covered in stains from a variety of fruits. In spite of all that, I am smiling.
To explain why, I need to go back to the beginning, and the founding of the Thorn Harbour Road Rally. It started with Rodley Talbot, who was one of the top motorcar enthusiasts in the Emerald Dell. Inspired by the legendary chariot races once held by dwarven inventors and other madmen, Talbot had come up with an idea that was just insane enough to be brilliant and persuaded several sponsors, and then the leaders of both Thorn Harbour and my home town of Darbyfield, to go along.
His idea was to stage a motorcar race. The route was to start in Darbyfield’s town square and run along the main road to the center of Thorn Harbour. It would leave the city by a different route, a more scenic and rugged path that wound through the Windward Forest before rejoining the main road back into Darbyfield, finishing where it started in the town square.
Six drivers had put up the money, 50 crowns apiece, to enter their motorcars in the Thorn Harbour Road Rally. One of them was Talbot, who then turned over the operations of the race to an independent committee. They decided to keep the identities of the other entrants kept secret until the start of the race in order to build suspense. The winner would get 200 crowns, a small but still gaudy trophy and, most importantly, a magnum of elfish champagne.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from such a spectacle, but it sounded intriguing and I had no other plans for that Sunday, so I decided to attend the race. I asked my dear friend Priscilla Wentworth to join me and watch the proceedings. Priscilla was no fan of motorcars, having had her share of close calls with them, but there was a public coach from Thorn Harbour that she could take to Darbyfield for the race. I had persuaded her to come with the best of all possible bribes, namely the promise of a fine bottle of wine and a meal prepared by Macalley. We would watch the start of the race, have our lunch, and be well-fed and just a touch tipsy in time for the conclusion.
Macalley and I arrived an hour or so before the start of the race. As Macalley had put so much effort into fixing our lunch, I had driven the motorcar from the manor into town. It was a lovely May morning, with barely a cloud in the sky, and I was wearing a delightful cloche hat, white in color with a black band that matched my driving gloves.
Priscilla was waiting for us when we pulled up and greeted me warmly. She had kind words for Macalley as well, though those were spoken with one eye on the picnic basket he carried. “So where are we watching this race?” she asked.
“I reserved seats for us in the grandstand, across from the starting line,” I said. “It looks like the crowd is thinner than we expected.”
“I suspect that many of them will be arriving later to watch the conclusion of the race, madame,” Macalley said.
“By then, the most important part of the day will be done,” Priscilla said.
I smiled. “The sandwiches?”
“And the wine.” We both laughed as we walked through the crowd, followed by Macalley.
At this point, I suppose I should explain about Macalley. When I inherited my dear uncle Clarence’s manor after his passing, I discovered that it came with a valet to handle its care and maintenance, a slender gnome of a quiet and sometimes sardonic nature. I had my reservations about Macalley at first, but they faded as I grew to know and appreciate his magnificent brain and his skills in many other things.
One of those was baking. Macalley’s croissants were the envy of my friends, and more than once the cakes he had prepared for charity functions stole the show. It was possible he could concoct a loaf of bread from spiderwebs and thistle; the ones he baked using the proper ingredients made a tasty sandwich even tastier. For our lunch, he had prepared one of his specialty sandwiches, a blend of chicken and tuna which I knew from experience included celery, relish and mayonnaise. The mere aroma of that sandwich had been known to single handedly destroy diets. He had also brought a salad, a selection of fine chocolate for dessert and a bottle of seltzer water for himself.
As we walked towards the grandstand, I heard a familiar voice say, “Alice!” I turned and saw Augustus Thurston approaching us. He was the publisher of Darbyfield’s weekly newspaper, The Emerald Dell Courier, and seemingly knew everyone in and around town.
We exchanged pleasantries. “Are you excited for the race?” I asked him.
“Very much so.”
“You must be looking forward to writing about it.”
“And taking part in it.”
“Your pardon?” I must have looked shocked. I glanced at Macalley; he had raised an eyebrow ever so slightly, and I knew that meant he was quite surprised.
Augustus smiled and rubbed his hands. “I thought it would be a more exciting story if it were told from a participant’s point of view. And also, I’m doing a favor for a friend.”
“It may be easier to show you than to explain. Come along. I’ll introduce you to the racers.”
Augustus led Macalley, Priscilla and myself into a roped-off area, nodding at the guard as we passed. There was quite a sight there—six motorcars, more than I’d ever seen in one place at one time. Motorcars had not been that common to begin with in Darbyfield before the Great Relocation, and I knew of one that had been wrecked some months back, though I had no part in doing so. Many of those that had survived were still in garages or barns, their owners waiting to convert the fuel sources of their engines from petrol to the magic energy we know as dwimm, such as had been done to my motorcar.
I was in for quite the surprise when I saw who was working on the motorcar nearest to us, a four-seater similar to my own but painted in a lovely shade of blue. It was Clarinda Topping, who was in charge of Darbyfield’s town library. “Clarinda?” I said.
She looked up from the engine of her motorcar and smiled. “Alice!” she said. “What a surprise to see you here!”
“I dare say I’m more surprised to see you,” I said.
“Are you implying that librarians can’t have exciting hobbies?” Clarinda winked at me. “I’ve always been a fan of motorcars, and I’ve been working on this one in my spare time for years. You should see it go!”
“It’s fast, then?”
“Rabbits only wish they had its speed.”
“I told her about this race,” Augustus said, “and she immediately registered.”
“Should I win, I’ll donate everything to the library fund.”
“Except for the champagne?” I said.
“Of course!” Clarinda said with a touch of mock reproach. “Don’t be foolish.”
I chuckled in agreement. “I know who I shall be cheering for, then!” The rehabilitation of the Darbyfield Library had been one of the causes I had tried my best to support. I do believe that no city or town should be without a public library, for they do so much good for so many people. “But where do you enter into this, Augustus?”
“I’ll be traveling with her,” he said, “to fulfill the rule that there have to be at least two people in each motorcar.”
“And to get what will hopefully be a terrific story,” Clarinda added.
“So who are the other racers?” I asked.
“I’ll show you around,” Augustus said. “It’ll keep me out of Clarinda’s way while she does the final tuning up.”