Saturday, October 5, 2019
Hello, my chuckaboos! Thanks for coming back to the The Delta Pearl. Let’s get right to it.
This week’s random reader things
Thanks to Dan Antion for letting me use some of his photos. He staged a photoshoot especially for an item at the end of this chapter. Be sure to visit Dan at No Facilities.
This installment ties back to Chapter 1 — Dance. Émeraude is reminded of the enigmatic Dealer’s odd reaction to something she couldn’t even see.
Previously on The Delta Pearl (Chapter 1)… 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.
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.
Last time Émeraude found the source of the moaning. It wasn’t an injured passenger. Rather it was the governess and her ward, in some passionate dirty-puzzling. However, she still doesn’t know the identity of the giggler.
If you still need to review, click the link for Chapter 8 — Think. Shall we get back on the riverboat now?
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 9 — Secure
Clouds swirled as I leaned back. Round and round I whirled in the dance.
We were high above the river, on the hurricane deck. The perfect dance teacher, Jaspe’s movements never faltered. With every step engrained in his memory, the Dealer needn’t pay attention. I only became aware that his mind was elsewhere when turn after turn I saw that his gaze was fixed at some faraway point on the shore.
Abruptly I remembered he had the same distant gaze, after we finished our previous lesson. Once again, I turned to look at the spot that had held the Dealer’s interest.
Previously he pretended there was nothing. I drew a breath to inquire. However, before I could ask him what he saw, Jaspe excused himself, cutting our lesson short. That was something he never did.
“Forgive me cher,” he began. “A matter requires my attention. You’ve worked hard, have you not? It’s a good time to go inside for a snack. Agate has made beignets. They should be ready now.”
He looked over his shoulder with a last glance toward the shore.
“Next time we will work with tap shoes,” he added as if the comment would disguise his parting look into the distance.
With that, he gracefully descended the stairs.
As I had on the other occasion, I looked for 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.
Vaguely, I heard the Mate call my name from the pilot house. For a moment I stood staring at nothing. Then I saw a smudge on the horizon. If the Dealer hadn’t acted so strangely, I would have never noticed it.
Blue John called my name again. I stood transfixed. The smudge became a small dark cloud that rose up from the shore.
“Émeraude!” the Mate called a third time, louder and more insistent.
I went to the pilot house, forgetting the smudgy cloud. By the sound of his voice, I half expected to find pandemonium.
Blue John, the Mate, looked frazzled as he rolled charts and tidied up the bridge. Though his usual dash-fire was missing, his bluer-than-blue eyes twinkled when he looked up from his task.
Onyx, the clockwork owl perched on a sextant. His brass head rotated 180 degrees. The owl hooted at me as I entered.
“Who-who?” Onyx vocalized.
I knew that was the owl’s version of “Who goes there?”
At one point, Captain Cecil Perlog fancied teaching the owl to talk like a pirate. He reasoned that the normal rules of nature did not apply to clockwork creatures. Thankfully, the Mate and I managed to convince the Captain that human-like speech was more the province of parrots than owls.
“Oh really, Onyx. It is not as if you don’t know who I am,” I chided the unrepentant owl.
“Who-who?” the owl asked again, but I ignored him.
“Blue, are you all right?” I asked the flustered Mate.
For the most part, Blue John was cool and composed, but seemingly random events could sometimes agitate him. Some might even say the Mate was paranoid.
Even though his eyes were the most magnificent shade of blue, that was not how he came by the name Blue John. His parents named him for a unique form of fluorite mined in Derbyshire, where he was born. The name of the gem was Blue John. However, he was usually called the Mate, or simply Blue.
Blue John Boulton had been the first mate of the Delta Pearl for as long as I had been aboard the riverboat. He still had the particular English accent of the Derbyshire area. His dialect produced more than a few unexpected and often archaic sounding turns of phrase.
“Would thee mind helping me with the last of those charts?” Blue asked, but I was already rolling them up. “Ah, you’re a true gem, Émeraude. Yes, I’ll be fine,” he added with a smile and a wag of his head.
“Although you know how if something’s going to go wrong, it will happen at the worst time. We’re about to border another state. Thou knows how the Delta Pearl can get finicky about such things. I don’t know why it should matter to her,” Blue explained in an uneasy voice. “But I’ve seen it a time or two, when she reacts strongly to crossing a line of demarcation, like the borders between states. And that’s nothing compared to how she gets with time zones.”
Admittedly, odd things did tend to happen aboard the Delta Pearl. I couldn’t blame him for being a little worried.
The Captain’s attitude about him was more generous. He said the Mate was a “lateral thinker.” Blue’s thought patterns tied minute details together and forecasted sometimes bizarre conclusions. So, it was not the first time I had seen him in a dither.
However, I had not previously considered the connection Blue John mentioned about our riverboat and borders. Thinking back, I supposed he was right.
“When will we reach the boundary for the state line?” I asked.
“Right about dinnertime, all factors remaining constant,” the Mate told me.
“Well, there’s no need to run around like a chicken with its head cut off. There’s plenty of time. What can I do to help?” I asked.
As soon as I spoke, I realized that the Mate probably took precautions of which I had been unaware.
“Is that another of your Peepaw’s sayings? I love it when you talk like a southern belle,” he told me with a saucy wink, seeming more like the Blue John I knew rather than the anxious mess that stood before me.
“Just make sure any artifacts,” he stressed the word but paused when he saw the perplexed expression on my face. “That’d be anything, any item, decoration, or furnishing onboard that you just knew was dodgy somehow. You know, anything that’s ever given you one of those strange feelings. Anyhow, make sure anything like that is properly secured.”
That seemed like an overt reaction, even for Blue John.
“You don’t truly think there is that much cause for alarm, do you?” I asked, trying to keep the incredulous expression off my face.
“Better safe than sorry, Émeraude. Better safe than sorry. That includes the clockwork creatures,” he replied.
Onyx gave a triple hoot of protest at Blue’s words.
“Nen mate, now then old boy. I’m sorry about that,” the Mate told the owl. “It will only be for a short time,” he added consolingly before turning back to me. “Em, if you can possibly find Amethyst it would be best to store the spider somewhere safe and secure. I know she’s a hard one to find when she doesn’t want to be seen. So just give it a try.”
I turned to go, but Blue stopped me, his eyes wide.
“Oh, and that portrait you’re always looking at,” he added. “Yes, you do know which one I mean. The one of the woman wearing a cameo like yours — make sure you cover it up! The whole thing, just hang a sheet over it, or anything you can get your hands on quick. That’d be the main thing right there. Cover the portrait,” he declared.
I made a noise of protest. I’d have him know that I never stared at that painting. It was only that it was detailed and interesting. Really, the gall of the man, to suggest I’d engage in immature flights of fancy.
“Thou art kind, Émeraude. I appreciate the help,” he said over his shoulder and returned to his work.
The Mate’s anxiety was beginning to rub off onto me. I told myself that Blue John Boulton was indulging in paranoid hysteria. He was the one being childish. I didn’t have time to indulge in such silliness.
However, I heard the ring of truth in his voice. Goosebumps rose on my arms. I headed quickly toward the stairs, obliged to rush to the laundry and fetch a sheet. I hoped that would do to cover the portrait.
Then I realized that the laundry was all the way at the other end of the riverboat. Was that really what I should do? I didn’t understand the Mate’s insistence on haste. Yet I felt his urgency. I turned around a full circle in my flustered indecision.
“Nen mate, Émeraude!” Blue shouted. “Would thee hurry it up a mite?”
I hiked up my skirts and ran.
End Chapter 9
Thanks for reading, my chuckaboos. I hope you’ll leave a comment — and if you want, include an appropriate random thing to go in a future chapter.
I’ll be waiting for you at the steampunk riverboat next time!
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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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