Saturday, August 31, 2019
Hello, my chuckaboos! Welcome back to the #steampunk riverboat, The Delta Pearl.
So far we’ve met passengers who include a young, but somewhat nurotic prodigy of an inventor, Dr. Victor Elam. He’s a little older than Émeraude, and she is quite intrigued, despite his imperfections. Or maybe because of them. Can anyone so young truly be so accomplished?
Also, we met a very wealthy couple, Randal and Eliza Needleman. Oh, and their little dog. Randal earned the respect and gratitude of Sid (the Cadete) through his personality and a generous tip, when the dog got loose. Eliza seems companionable in her interaction with Émeraude. Are they as down-to-earth as they seem?
Then there was a young couple on their honeymoon, Harrison and Hyacinth Harvey. Unfortunately they were stuck with their nephew Hershel. Don’t tell, but I suspect the cherubic kid is a really brat.
Next were an inexperienced governess and her charge, Azalea Morton and Alex Rice. Other than being young and nervous, they seem ordinary enough. Émeraude has a different “read” on them. Why does she feel there is more than meets the eye when it comes to those two?
This week’s random reader things
Thanks to Dan Antion and Faith Antion for letting me use their photos.
If you need to review, click the link for Chapter 4 — Greet.
We have another passenger to meet today. Although he seems to want to avoid us. We’d better hurry to the steampunk riverboat before he slips away. All aboard!
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 5 — Read
Tall for his age, but thin, the boy kept his head down. The river’s breeze tugged at his cap. Young Alex had attractive if rather delicate features. With a narrow hand he pulled it down, obscuring large eyes I only saw for an instant.
I recognized the Rice name. They were financially prominent, but avoided the social limelight. So, I was unsure of how many children they had, let alone their names, ages, or genders.
It was a minor mystery, but my mind latched onto the it. Suddenly I felt inspired. I dissembled in hope of prompting more information.
“I was expecting someone else…” I told Azalea in a tone that implied I was distracted.
Miss Morton’s eyes widened. That was her only tell, as the Dealer might say.
“The usual governess was suddenly taken ill,” she said quite smoothly, if very quietly. “I am second to her position, and was fortunately free to take her place.”
Throughout this exchange the boy’s head hung down. His gaze was fixed on the planks of the deck. He glanced up at my clearly unexpected comment to his governess.
Perhaps I was reading too much into the anxious young passengers. Mechanical clicking from Onyx, the Captain’s clockwork owl, brought me back to point. Although they were temporary, I still had duties to perform as the first face our guests saw.
Mr. Needleman said something to his wife that I didn’t hear. With a few long strides, the entrepreneur caught up with Victor Elam.
“The illustrious Doctor Victor T. Elam?” the rich entrepreneur asked as he walked up behind the younger man. “I’ve long admired the imagination behind your inventions, sir. Perhaps you would grace us with your presence at dinner?” Randal Needleman asked.
Based on the way Victor at first drew back, I thought he would decline. The inventor really was as shy as my first impression suggested. However, he warmed to the attention. He adjusted is spectacles then smiled and accepted Needleman’s invitation.
Interesting though they were, most of the men who boarded the Delta Pearl were either quite successful in business, or born to wealthy families, or sometimes both. They tended to have egos sized to match their financial abundance.
The inventor had a humble way about him. I found it refreshing. Although, from what I had read about Dr. Victor T. Elam, he was a well-off man, but there was nothing pretentious or egotistical in the way he acted.
“Boys and their toys,” Eliza Needleman commented companionably as she walked up to me. “My husband has again abandoned me in favor of his scientific interests. He has no gift for it, but the man truly is infatuated with the new technologies.”
Eliza Needleman was indeed a strong, capable, and confident woman. I wondered if she ever felt annoyed at the limitations that were placed on women. I certainly did.
Ladies were expected to always be escorted by a man. However, I had seen a few who playfully took one another’s arm when no man was available. So, as ladies sometimes did, Mrs. Needleman and I walked arm-in-arm as we made our way across the deck.
How anyone ever came to the conclusion that a woman was better off on the arm of a man (or failing that another person) than on her own was something I never understood.
Perhaps I was a little flippant about the subject. I had to admit the Captain had always ensured I would come to no harm. He had also made sure I was both capable of and willing to defend myself. The Dealer, whose grace could be deadly, took a hand in my education as well. Though I had no talent for martial arts and was no dead-eye with a gun, I learned self-defense and how to shoot.
Briefly I pondered the idea that not many women had the benefit of that kind of instruction. Then as my duties required, I redirected my attention to the idle conversation of my guest.
Abruptly it occurred to me that I had seen another passenger on the list. Yet, no one else came forward when I asked for introductions.
Onyx, with his tiny top hat, looked at me from where he perched. I heard the soft sound of gears whirring. Could the Captain really have sent him to keep an eye on me?
The Captain required the ritual greeting and introductions. He said he could see much in a person by the way they introduced themselves. Maybe he would be upset that I missed one of the guests.
The little owl’s head turned a full circle on his shoulders. He hooted once.
“Shut your little bazoo,” I muttered and he flew away.
I reminded myself that attending the greeting was a custom, not a requirement. Their passage had already been paid and registered. As proof they had boarded, passengers would again sign in at the reception desk. (That was my usual station, rather than first face.) It shouldn’t be of any consequence. Should it?
Then I spotted him. Standing in a shadow, apart from the other passengers was a tall, reedy man. His big mustache grew to meet his bushy sideburns.
A mustache comb could be put to good use, I thought uncharitably.
The clothes he wore suggested he was a workman of some kind. The day seemed warm for it, but he wore a loosely cut overcoat. The fabric did, however, seem to be light weight. I supposed the coat was utilitarian.
Covertly I watched as the tall man’s eyes surreptitiously followed Mrs. Eliza Needleman — or perhaps the huge Pharaoh Diamond at her throat.
I told myself not to react with suspicion. The diamond was eye catching. Anyone would notice it and be fascinated.
What really surprised me was the fact that the man’s gaze transferred to Dr. Victor T. Elam. He studied the inventor even more intently than he gazed at the yellow diamond.
Having reviewed the manifest, I knew the identities of the passengers before they boarded. The man with the unruly mutton chop sideburns would be Benjamin Dundas.
I was in no way bothered by what his social or economic status might be. However, despite the fact that I looked directly at him, he never met my gaze. That more than anything gave me pause.
The clockwork owl flew high up to the pilot house. Onyx alighted in an open window. His brass head turned 180 degrees as he looked at the deck. The owl’s gaze was not directed at me though.
I moved to see what would be in his line of sight. Onyx may have been looking at Benjamin Dundas. Then again, he may have simply noticed the black cat that prowled among the crates.
End Chapter 5
Meet me at the riverboat dock next weekend, my chuckaboos. There’s more to come!
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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
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