Saturday, August 3, 2019
Welcome, my chuckaboos! (If you are new around here, “chuckaboo” is what the Victorians called a dear friend.)
As most of you know, I’m reworking an unfinished novel The Delta Pearl for this serial. Since I have a good bit of material that I want to keep, my secret hope was that many of the “random things” you readers leave would already be in the story. For once luck was with me! In Chapter 1, a very minor change let me use old pal from David J. Rogers. Using dubbed from Jill happened in a similar way.
Also a particular item has a rather significant part in the story. I was sure someone would eventually use it as a thing, but would it happen in time? Thankfully, Maggie did leave it as a thing — cameo! I was so excited that it was hard for me to keep that secret until now.
If it sounds like I had it easy, that isn’t the case at all. There was plenty of writing to make the “river” flow properly for a serial.
To keep me encouraged, and on point with the story, Dan Antion sent one of his kitties for the role of Delta Pearl crate inspector. She wants to make sure the riverboat is shipshape before we go aboard. Dan is letting me use as many of his photos as I can for this serial. Thank you so much, Dan and MiMi or MuMu (not sure which).
Last time, the Prologue introduced us to our heroine (and narrator) as a young girl. Chapter 1 opens with her as an adult, on the Delta Pearl. How she came to be there is one of several mysteries that layer the story. You’ll also meet two more characters who are central to the story — Jaspe and Amethyst.
Without further ado… All aboard!
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 1 — Dance
A silver thread glittered as the morning sun streamed onto the deck. At the end of the filament was a purple clockwork spider. Briefly, a sunbeam illuminated the amethyst that made the spider’s back. It skittered across the wooden floor before vanishing behind a crate.
I stepped lightly on the spot where the spider had been a moment earlier. In the hands of a truly expert dancer, I twirled and spun until the world whirled dizzily with me.
My partner’s impeccable sense of balance never faltered. We danced high above the river, on the hurricane deck. Dozens of fluffy white clouds blurred into one as he twirled me rapidly around and around.
A decidedly immature giggle escaped my lips. At that moment in time, life was all beer and skittles. I wouldn’t convince anyone of my maturity if girlish giggles became a habit
Sunlight reflected brightly on the strands of triangular waxed flags strung above the deck.
Like diamonds, I thought as I tilted my head back.
The sound the flags made as they fluttered in the breeze reminded me of startled birds taking flight. It took my mind to the day, years before, when I first saw the Delta Pearl.
I missed a step. The Dealer stopped our dance. He looked at me with what passed for concern on his less than mobile features. He blinked before speaking in his quasi French accent.
“Émeraude, are you well? Do you tire? Perhaps the sun is too much?” the Dealer asked.
“No, my chuckaboo,” I forced a smile and assured him. “I was merely distracted.”
A slight change in his eyes let me know that he didn’t believe me. Happily, he did not pursue the matter. The Dealer knew I did not like memories of my early years. He usually seemed to know when my thoughts traveled where they shouldn’t.
One would never realize it just by looking at him, but the Dealer was compassionate and nurturing. Sometimes I felt he was too consoling, though that quality had benefits in his occupation. Yet, I had to admit that I seemed to receive more of his fostering behavior than did the rest of the crew.
Between the Captain and the Dealer, I had not just one, but two father figures. Damfino how a girl was supposed to have any fun…
Of course, he had a name besides the Dealer. He called himself Jaspe. To my ears it sounded like he pronounced his name ZASH-pah. However, more often than not he was simply dubbed the Dealer.
I smiled and shook my head before speaking.
“You are a much better dancer than I,” was my response.
“Ah, but cher, I am named for a rock — jasper,” he reminded me, using the English pronunciation to refer to the semiprecious gem. “I claim no more talent than the rock whose name I bear,” he replied, self-deprecating as always. “Besides, I have had so very long to perfect the steps. You are much improved,” he complimented me with a graceful, sweeping bow.
The Dealer gazed at the horizon. He raised a white gloved hand to shield his eyes from the bright sunlight. I knew he saw much more than I ever could. Jaspe stared at one spot too long. It made me wish for a spy glass.
His intent gaze and motionless stance worried me. I drew a breath to question him. However, after a moment he spoke.
“We will be in port soon. Best we get to work, eh?”
It was impossible not to watch his graceful movements. I wanted to ask just how long he had been perfecting his dancing, how old he was. His name, Jaspe, was French, and his accent clearly bespoke New Orleans. Yet, I knew he discussed neither his age nor his origins.
No doubt the Captain knew from where Jaspe hailed. However, I had failed more than once to sate my curiosity there. Our skipper was not inclined to gossip.
I turned to look again at the spot that had held the Dealer’s interest. Something about his manner, along with the fact that he seemed determined to deny noticing anything did not bode well.
Of course, I wanted an answer to my unspoken question ― just as I wanted to know his age and origins. However, the question to which I most wanted an answer about the Dealer was not the number of his years.
What I wanted to know was whether or not he was in fact a man at all.
Descending the gracefully curving staircase, I marveled at the carpet for the umpteenth time. The yarn was a deep shade of red, almost but not quite burgundy. Golden scroll designs were worked into a border pattern on each side.
I couldn’t help stooping down to touch the plush fibers. What gave me pause? I had grown up on the Delta Pearl, lived most of my life there, so I knew the carpet had never been replaced. Yet it did not fade nor did it develop signs of wear.
As I stood, I realized I was beside the old portrait again. The subject of the painting was a beautiful woman. She was from some undetermined past century.
The woman looked vaguely familiar to me. Yes, she definitely reminded me of someone, but I had never been able to place the person from my past or present who resembled her.
The artist painted her luxurious hair so that it shined like a halo about her lovely face. Around her neck was a ribbon from which an intricately carved cameo hung.
With an effort, I brought my mind to the task at hand. We would be in port shortly and I had to be ready to greet our guests. I skedaddled to my rooms to change.
My quarters were much larger than most of the cabins on the Delta Pearl. Which, is to say, considering the size of accommodations on boats, I had a little elbow room.
Moments later, as I applied the finishing touches to my ensemble, I opened my jewelry box. I touched a cameo so similar it could have been a twin to the one in the portrait. I ran across it at a shop in a port of call. When it reminded me of the painting, I had to buy it even though it cost me a month’s wages.
My cameo was carved from some exotic shell I couldn’t name. It was the same blueish purple color as the one in the portrait to which I felt such an affinity.
That feeling of connection wasn’t something I could easily explain. When I looked at the woman in that painting, I felt as if the image of an old pal, someone who knew me completely, gazed back at me.
Outside my porthole, signs of civilization slid past. When I saw a white picket fence near the riverbank, I knew we would dock momentarily. I tied the cameo around my neck and headed back to the staircase.
At the bottom of the stairs I glanced at the portrait. For an instant, I thought the woman in it moved. Breathlessly, I approached the painting.
The purple clockwork spider peeked from behind the frame.
“Amethyst, darling… I must have seen you crawl across the portrait,” I murmured to the spider. “Now you light a shuck and stay out of sight. Go on now. We don’t want any of the guests seeing you, do we? There’d be quite a collie shangle if one of them tried to take you home.”
The clockwork spider clicked at me. There was something unusual about the pattern of clicks.
Someone called my name. That and a glance at the window told me I needed to hurry to my post. Moving toward the deck, I looked back over my shoulder at the clockwork creature. Before she scurried behind the portrait, two of her four twinkling eyes winked at me.
End Chapter 1
If you haven’t already done so — or even if you have, I invite you to leave a random non-modern thing, to help drive the story. Please limit your description of the “thing” to two words. Remember any technology-thing you offer needs to be appropriate to the Steam Era.
Next weekend you will meet more of the crew and maybe some passengers too. I’ll meet you at the dock, my chuckaboos!
Now for the obligatory shameless self-promotion…
Universal link to my Amazon Author Page
USA: Atonement in Bloom
USA: Atonement, Tennessee
(E-book still on sale at 99¢ )
This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2019 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
Dan Antion’s images Copyright © 2019
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