Saturday, September 7, 2019
Hello, my chuckaboos! Welcome back to the #steampunk riverboat, The Delta Pearl.
I was pressed for time this week, so let’s get right to it.
This week’s random reader things
G. P. Cox gave us a thing that was a name, Sir Reginald La Felin. That actually continues last week’s thing from D. L. (Denise) Finn a Black Cat. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel added Smokestacks to the setting. Then Deborah M. Zajac gave us Jelly Babies — yes they were around in the Victorian Era! Doctor Who would be envious.
Thanks to Dan Antion and for letting me use some of his photos.
If you need to review, click the link for Chapter 5 –Read. The introduction includes a recap of the passengers.
This chapter is longer than the past few have been. Consider yourselves warned. Without further ado… All aboard!
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 6 — Listen
Sun glinted off the spotless leaded glass panels. That’s where the Captain was — up there inside the transparent enclosure of the pilothouse. He prepared to take the Delta Pearl out of port.
Onyx, the clockwork owl alighted on an open window. He hesitated briefly when the Cook approached the pilothouse. She carried a silver soup tureen. Onyx seemed to find that more interesting than the pilothouse. He fluttered over to the Cook’s shoulder.
Agate used her elbow to knock on the glass.
“He’s an adorable little metal thing, but he’s always putting his little brass beak into everyone’s business,” I muttered.
I didn’t realize Hyacinth Harvey was beside me. Fortunately, she wasn’t listening. It wouldn’t do to call a passenger’s attention to our clockwork creatures.
However, her attention was fixed on her new husband. Harrison Harvey followed Randal Needleman. The wealthy, middle-aged man had caught up with Victor T. Elam. They were engaged in an animated conversation.
Although the young inventor seemed willing enough to talk with the entrepreneur, Mr. Harvey seemed out of his element with either man. Mrs. Harvey made a displeased noise when she noted her husband’s lack of success in engaging Needleman.
“Did you see that black cat over there?” Hyacinth asked. “I hope it doesn’t bring us bad luck.”
“What?” I began. “Oh, Sir Reginald La Felin!”
“Pardon? Is there a lord onboard?” Mrs. Harvey asked eagerly.
She adjusted her feather-topped chapeau and twisted the blond ringlets that rested on one shoulder. She looked around expectantly.
“No, I’m sorry. I meant the cat you asked about. That’s what I call him, Sir Reginald La Felin. It’s Reggie for short. He belongs to the Dealer. I promise you there is a sufficient amount of white on the cat. There’s no need to worry,” I added in a playful tone.
I excused myself and headed toward the pilot house. I had been concerned when the Captain sent word for mt to take his usual task of greeting the passengers, so I wanted to check on him. However, after meeting our guests, I also wanted to ask for his thoughts about them.
As I climbed the stairs, I understood why the Captain delegated the first face greeting to me. From that higher vantagepoint, I could see that the port was more crowded than I realized.
Our riverboat was docked in a tight spot. The smokestacks of large steamships were on both sides of us. He wouldn’t have wanted to trust anyone else with the tricky job of navigating the Delta Pearl out of such close confines.
From the pilothouse, engine orders were sent to the engineers stationed on the main deck below. Captain Perlog could speak commands into a tube designed for the purpose, or transmit them via a series ringing bells.
I was on the stairs, just below the pilothouse when I heard voices. Of course, I stopped to listen. That’s only human nature. Then when I heard my name, I certainly wasn’t moving.
“Is that Cook’s cock-a-leekie soup I smell?” the Captain asked, startling me with his booming voice.
I was just barely out of their view. The Captain was easy enough to hear. If I concentrated, I could understand most of what everyone else said.
I recognized the cadence of Jaspe’s Creole accent along with the Captain. I didn’t hear anyone besides those three most senior crew members in the room.
“Bitch the pot, if you please, Jaspe,” the Captain continued. “I could do with another cup of tea. How about you? And you Aggie?”
“Cecil! Mind your language. You know how I feel about slang,” Agate chided. “No, thank you. I can’t sit long. There’s too much work to be done in the kitchen.”
The table where the tea would be set up was across the little room. The Cook arranged it that way because she said he drank too much, causing him to sleep poorly. I heard his chair move as he stood, probably to take the tea the Dealer handed to him.
“She’s almost sweet sixteen, but you can’t be giving her that horrid thing as a birthday gift! She’s a young woman now Cecil. Can you destine her to spend her life on this boat?”
I gulped at the emotion in the Cook’s voice. I had stumbled upon a serious conversation, and I was the subject. What “horrid thing” could she mean? Plus, what was all that about my destiny?
“Why not? It already bears her name,” the Captain replied in a cajoling voice. “Aggie, darling, I would like to make her my heir… but not my prisoner. I don’t mean to take away her life. The girl has such potential. I can’t help believing this is the best place for her.”
The Captain’s voice was edged with concern and something even more unexpected ― uncertainty. That frightened me, because he was always sure of himself.
“Destiny,” the Dealer said abruptly. “If the Delta Pearl had not found her, the girl’s destiny would have been death before she was even ten years old. There is no destiny. We make our own.”
Jaspe’s intensity was a bigger surprise than the Captain’s uncertainty. I held my breath as their conversation continued.
“Pshaw! That’s two men for you. Not a single romantic thought in your heads,” Agate complained and I could imagine her waving that soup ladle as she spoke.
“Transferring the stone does not change anything,” the Captain went on in the face of Agate’s ongoing sounds of protest. “At least not for a while. It takes decades for the stone to attune. And it would still be connected to me. Nothing need change, so there’s no reason for you to fret.”
Then all three of them began to speak at once. I couldn’t make out anything else they said in all the hubbub.
Sometimes it seemed like I had always been part of the Delta Pearl’s crew. I was grateful to have a relaxed but respectful relationship with the Captain. Despite his firm hand with the crew, he seemed like a doting uncle to me.
I couldn’t have thought more of the Captain, the Dealer, or the Cook if they were my own blood. Truth be told, I would have thought considerably less of them if they were my blood-kin. Jaspe had been right when he said I would have been dead before I was ten years old, if not for the Delta Pearl.
The people on the riverboat were the only family I cared to have. I had escaped my old life and I would never turn back.
They wouldn’t explain their conversation if I asked. However, I knew I couldn’t keep crouching where I was. I went on up the stairs.
When the Captain saw me come into view, he abruptly cleared his throat. He touched the all-seeing eye pin that held his puff tie in place. That was a habit that meant his thoughts were elsewhere. In this case he was undoubtedly hiding the fact that I had been the subject of their conversation.
It was an intriguing pin. I remembered that it had belonged to his grandfather. An oval white “blister” pearl made the eye, and a large round emerald was the iris. A small black diamond made the pupil. The piece was rimmed by black enamel, giving the illusion of eyelashes.
He started praising the soup Agate had brought him. The Dealer left politely, as if he had already been headed out of the room.
“Well done, Onyx,” the Captain told the clockwork owl. “Well done, my boy. You’re nothing if not determined. I knew you wouldn’t let me down. Thank you kindly, Aggie. This is my favorite of all your Scottish dishes.”
Agate gave an uncomfortable glance at me. However, she caught the Captain’s meaning, and acted as if their conversation had not been about me, only seconds before.
“You needn’t have sent Onyx to me, Captain,” Agate dissembled. “I was already preparing you this small serving of cock-a-leekie soup,” the Cook told him, meaning the heavy silver crock that took both of her hands to hold. “Ha! The little devil did peck anybody what tried to lift the cover on the tureen. Protecting it for his Captain, he was. This should tide ye over ‘til dinner.”
Captain Cecil Perlog had an appetite to matched his huge frame. He was a remarkably large man, both tall and broad. He dwarfed the pilothouse.
I shook my head, bemused. The structure seemed crowded with just the Captain. Add Agate and me, and it felt uncomfortably close. I stood in the doorway rather than go inside, but he motioned for me to enter.
“Emmie, darling, when Coral went ashore, she brought back some Unclaimed Babies for us. Come down to the kitchen when you get a chance. I know what a treat they are for you,” Agate told me with a wink.
The captain had made a chocking noise at the prospect of unclaimed infants being brought aboard.
“Oh, you mean Jelly Babies? I’d love some. I forget that they are called that. Jelly Babies sounds like a much nicer name for something to eat,” I added for the Captain’s sake.
Captain Perlog recovered himself and wanted to know how the greeting went. I didn’t have to bring up any of my concerns or questions about the passengers. He asked me what I thought of each one. He nodded as I spoke, and muttered sounds of agreement.
I moved to leave the pilothouse. However, the Captain called me back before I got away from the door.
“Tell the Dealer to keep an eye on those two,” he instructed me.
“Who,” my mouth formed the word, but before I could ask the question the Captain spoke.
“Jaspe will know who I mean,” he supplied.
Cryptic as ever, I thought.
It irritated me when Cecil Perlog deliberately kept information from me. It thoroughly annoyed me when I thought the Captain did so just to make me use my “critical thinking skills” as he was fond of saying.
Why the Captain would keep such a thing from me was beyond my reckoning. It also left me feeling utterly frustrated.
The big red paddlewheel started to turn, at first slowly then progressively faster as the riverboat got underway. I loved to watch the water churn through the wheel, so I headed toward the railing for a better view.
I heard an odd wooden clatter and the moan of machinery. Irritated and distracted, I failed to see a wet area on the decking. Worse, it was not just water, it was much more slippery.
Just as the Delta Pearl jolted from an unplanned pause, I slipped on the oil. Between the bounce from the riverboat and my skating feet, I had enough momentum that the railing did not stop me.
I went over the rail. Worse, I knew I wouldn’t land in the river. A hard deck two stories below awaited.
The sensation of falling engulfed me.
End Chapter 6
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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