Saturday, November 2, 2019
Hello, my chuckaboos! Happy November. I’m so glad you came back to the The Delta Pearl.
This week’s random reader things
I didn’t make it a “thing,” but Diana Peach recommended an explanation of how the tempest prognosticator works be added to the story. I try to keep a faster pace in serials, but for the story to stand on its own (without serialized blog introductions), I could see that she was right. That conversation was a few weeks ago. In this chapter I finally worked my way to that.
There are also random reader “things” to fuel this voyage of the steampunk riverboat. First we have Rum from Resa McConaghy. Then we have Chicanery, which could only be supplied by John W. Howell! Finally, a tasty Apple Pie from Dan Antion. Can you guess how I’m going to use these things?
Émeraude was feeling annoyed that the Captain and the Dealer seemed to know about every little thing she did. We were pretty sure that was because Onyx had been sticking his little brass beak into her business. Meanwhile the riverboat still had an odd moment or two as she neared a boundary. Thankfully, Victor was at work, repairing the leech barometer.
I’m giving you fair warning — this is a long episode. Although friends of Amethyst, the clockwork spider might be pleased. Find a picture to mark your place if that helps. For those who don’t like to read, I’ll give you plenty of illustrations.
Let’s get back on the riverboat and see what happened after that. If you want to review, click the link for Chapter 12 — Prognosticate.
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 13 — Agitate
Beyond a porthole, I saw a high cliff the river had carved into the ancient rocks. The white sandstone cliff was crowned with evergreens, in sharp contrast to the rock wall. I gazed admiringly at the spectacle, as the Delta Pearl passed it.
With the damage to the leech barometer, I was surprised that Captain Cecil Perlog added an unplanned stop. I wondered briefly if we were out of rum. Once that caused an extra stop.
Although, after I eventually learned the reason for the delay, I could understand. However, I digress.
Tempest prognosticator sounded much better than leech barometer. Although the fancy name did not eliminate the objectionable critters.
I had gone with the Captain to listen as Dr. Victor T. Elam explained the workings of the strange device. The young inventor adjusted his spectacles, and cleared his throat more than once. The room was filled with interested onlookers.
“A tempest prognosticator uses leeches in a barometer,” Victor began nervously. “We have a dozen leeches in these little bottles,” he explained, indicating squirmy movement inside the apparatus. “As you can see, our leeches are quite agitated.”
Although I tried to keep a pleasant face, I couldn’t help cringing at the leeches. So, I tried to focus on the beauty of the elaborately decorated piece.
A dozen glass bottles were arranged in a circle beneath a large bell. Each little bottle was filled with rain water ― and of course, a leech. These bottles were topped with small metal tubes, which contained a piece of whalebone and a wire. That way, they were connected to small hammers positioned to strike the bell.
“As each leech becomes agitated by the electromagnetic state of a stormy atmosphere, it ascends, trying to escape,” Victor explained.
I watched in fascination as the restless leeches squirmed upward. As one reached the top of its bottle, it triggered the bell. A moment later a second leech did the same.
“Since the leeches react independently, I like to call them a jury of weather councilors,” the inventor joked, although he received scarcely a chuckle in return. “They seem to be in agreement with one another, despite the lack of a cloud in the sky. Perhaps it’s a bit of worm chicanery,” he added a trifle awkwardly after the first failed joke.
“No clouds,” the Captain began in a whisper only I could hear. “But despite the slow current, we’re drawing close to the border. The Delta Pearl is a lot more upset than usual.”
“We’ve made this trip many times with no problems,” I said into his ear. “But this time we were a good ways from any boundary when we started having,” I hesitated, searching for the right word. “Disturbances? You know, those odd shifts and ‘bumps’ in the river? Is that the Delta Pearl having a strong reaction to the border? But why?”
Captain Cecil Perlog met my gaze levelly. Watching his changing expression was disconcerting. His light blue eyes were bright with intensity. Yet as he looked at me, they filled with kindness.
The force of his gaze had always made me feel secure in his strength. The gentle expression had made me feel warm and safe since the day I met him as a little girl. However, the kindness in his eyes changed to something I had not seen there. Worry.
My eyes widened. If the Captain was worried, then I was frightened. When I started to speak again, he made a quiet shushing sound. He motioned toward Victor, who was still speaking.
“There are secret things about the Delta Pearl that we can’t comprehend. This is not the time or place for such a conversation,” the Captain muttered.
The bell started to ring repeatedly. The repulsive worms were indeed agitated. Victor drew back in surprise at their commotion. The inventor cleared his throat again, and then stuttered something unintelligible.
The Captain stepped in and discretely ended the young doctor’s presentation, before anyone could get too worried about all the bell-ringing leeches.
A short time later, I was at my station in one of the riverboat’s lounges. I gazed upward, relaxing for a moment. That room was probably the brightest of all the salons on the riverboat. Sunlight reflected on the white lacquered walls. The ceiling was decorated with arched carvings so delicate they might have been white lace. These were spaced every ten feet. A glittering crystal chandelier hung at the main entrance, and another was positioned half way down the long room.
“Mr. and Mrs. Harvey,” I greeted the newlyweds as they entered the lounge area. “It’s a pleasure to see you. Are you already settled into your cabin? Do you need anything?”
Harrison Harvey asked his bride what she would like and moved to the bar to get drinks. Hyacinth gave me a somewhat shame-faced look.
“I know we agreed to look after Harrison’s nephew. I don’t really mind, but our honeymoon was cut short. This trip was supposed to make up for that,” she confided with a sigh that told me that she did in fact mind very much.
Abruptly I was sorry that I asked if they needed anything. Clearly Hyacinth “needed” to get rid of her nephew. That kind of service was not what I meant to offer.
“I was so hopeful when I saw that governess boarding with us. I hoped we could engage her to look after Harvey from time to time. We would have paid her well, and Harrison’s brother could have wired her a bonus at the end of the arrangement. Yet she flatly refused.”
When I murmured that it was probably just as well, Hyacinth gave me an odd look. Fortunately, she did not ask me to elaborate. She was easily diverted back to the subject of her husband when I guided the conversation in that direction.
From the brief dialog that followed, I gathered that Harrison’s older brother inherited the bulk of the family fortune and doled out shares to the younger brother in a miserly fashion. Harrison’s inheritance would be held in trust until his thirtieth birthday. The young couple was sad that the big day was six years distant.
Harrison came back bearing a tray with three champagne glasses. He also brought apple pie. It was an odd combination to me. However, I had to admit the dessert smelled delicious, and it was nice of him to think of me.
Depositing the tray on a table, Harrison put his arm around his bride’s waist in a manner that was a little too familiar to be acceptable in public. I smirked in appreciation of that rebellion against straitlaced Victorian Era manners.
Hyacinth blushed and pushed his hand to a more appropriate spot. However, she reached up and tenderly brushed back an unruly russet curl from his forehead. He pulled her close, causing her to giggle.
I wondered if their romance was so new that they couldn’t keep their hands off one another, or if he was just a randy, disrespectful rich boy resistant to growing up. . I found myself comparing him to Victor T. Elam. Then I wondered if the inventor would be too reserved. Harrison did have a charm that was just wicked enough to be appealing.
Although I didn’t mean to do so, I also gave Hyacinth a measured but discrete appraisal. Despite the fleeting blush, I wondered if her modesty was an imitation. Perhaps the elder Harvey brother had good reason for keeping a tight leash on Harrison’s inheritance.
Beyond the etched glass windows, I saw Dr. Victor T. Elam moving slowly toward the lounge. A vague expression was on his face. It was one I had come to know well. I motioned to a waiter and sent him for ginger ale. Victor Elam was not taking well to the motion of the Delta Pearl.
The retiring inventor looked like he might bolt for the door when I took his arm. The reaction could have been from shyness or from the impulse to hang his head over the railing. However, the waiter returned with the requested ginger ale. I insisted that the doctor should drink it. Ginger ale was not a beverage that was known to everyone. He took a tentative sip.
“An interesting drink,” he commented. “And you say it helps the stomach?”
“I think it’s partly to do with the fizz — I mean the carbonation, but the ginger is very good for the tummy,” I used the childish word to get him to smile and it worked. “The Cook makes ours from scratch. It’s especially good.”
“Cook? I expected multiple chefs making the Delta Pearl’s renowned cuisine,” he admitted sounding surprised.
“Oh, Agate is a great chef. Her kitchen staff is large and includes other chefs,” I assured him. “The Cook is actually the head chef. Her nickname, the Cook, took hold long before I arrived on the Delta Pearl.”
“You’re using it as a proper name?” Dr. Elam confirmed.
I had to smile at his ingenuous manner.
“Yes, you will find that kind of thing happened with many of the longest serving crew members. Their position became their name. The Dealer, the Mate, the Captain, and so on,” I explained. “But Agate, refused to be called chef. She’s an old fashioned and humble sort. She said that Cook would do just fine.”
“What of you?” Dr. Elam wanted to know. “Have you been bestowed such a moniker? Surely you are too rare for such common titles,” he complimented me and then his face was engulfed by a crimson blush. “I mean— Oh, I’m terribly sorry. Do forgive me! I didn’t mean to be forward.”
I gave his hand a reassuring pat and asked the waiter to bring more ginger ale.
The inventor kept looking at my shoulder. I had forgotten about the clockwork spider until he commented on it.
I cringed. Amethyst refused to be found earlier, yet she chose the worst time to sneak up on me.
While they were not secret, the Captain preferred not to draw the guests’ attention to the Delta Pearl’s clockwork creatures. To me they so much a part of the crew, that I tended to forget their uniqueness. So, there I sat with a famous inventor at my side and a clockwork spider on my shoulder!
“What an unusual broach,” Victor said as he leaned closer to Amethyst. “That’s not ordinary jewelry,” he commented gravely as his gaze became unexpectedly piercing. “It’s clockwork, isn’t it?”
His abrupt intensity surprised me. Victor Elam seemed like such a milquetoast. At that moment I could see how the shy young man could be a great inventor. Although, since it was directed toward the clockwork spider, it was also disconcerting.
“Please don’t let on, Dr. Elam. The Captain doesn’t like them to attract the attention of the passengers,” I pleaded in what I hoped was a beguiling way.
It would not have gotten me into serious trouble ― that Amethyst was discovered. However, the Captain wouldn’t be best pleased if he knew I greeted a guest while wearing one of the clockwork creatures on my shoulder, whether or not it was an accident.
“You mean there are others!” he exclaimed in a whisper.
I groaned. I wondered what was wrong with me. How could I let my guard down like that? It was his awkwardness. It made me forget what an acute mind was behind the inept appearance.
He gasped in wonder when Amethyst crawled up to my ear. She whispered in a tiny voice, which I was sure only I could hear.
“He makes automatons,” Amethyst said conspiratorially.
Some intuition made me think that by automatons the spider meant something much larger than herself.
Dr. Elam stared in astonishment as the clockwork spider climbed down to my hand. She tilted her head this way and that as she gazed at the inventor. Amethyst was behaving in an exceptionally bold way. She was curious but always watched people covertly. I had never seen her openly inspect a stranger before.
“She seems to like you,” I told him.
“She? It has gender?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Amethyst just seems like a she to me,” I replied and then held the spider so that she faced me. “Amethyst, this is Dr. Victor T. Elam. Treat him just as you do everyone else. I mean kindly,” I added.
It suddenly seemed like some kind of instruction would be a good idea. I hoped the spider would get my hint and not be too trusting. She was obviously intrigued by the man. It would not do for her to get too friendly with an inventor, particularly if Amethyst was correct in the report that he made automatons of any kind.
“Oh, please don’t stand on formality. I hope you’ll call me Victor,” Dr. Elam said.
Amethyst made a clicking noise and hopped over to Victor’s sleeve. That clearly pleased the inventor. He looked like a child on Christmas morning. He sat very still as she examined the fabric of his jacket. The little clockwork spider moved up to inspect his silk cravat. She even stretched to take a closer look at the pale blue gem of his single earring.
I suddenly remembered that his late parents owned a gemstone mine.
Then Amethyst unexpectedly saw her reflection in the inventor’s spectacles. She moved back a step. Suddenly she made an impressive hop back to my shoulder.
I watched his reaction to Amethyst with great interest. True, many women would not have thought Victor Elam was handsome. Even so, I found the man appealing and I was not even sure why he intrigued me. However, I was quite fond of the purple clockwork spider. How Elam reacted to her might influence what I thought of the man.
“By the way, might I ask what your middle initial ‘T’ stands for?” I asked curiously.
“The ‘T’ is for Topaz,” he admitted, his face coloring again.
“How rare,” I replied in pleased surprise.
“Not so much really,” he told me in a self-depreciating voice. “Gemstone names have been popular throughout this generation. Although I suppose Topaz is not terribly usual,” he said.
I guess I’m the last one who should be surprised at that, I thought to myself. Since aboard the Delta Pearl, so many of the crew have gemstone names.
However, I kept the thought to myself. Dr. Victor Topaz Elam had already discovered one of the clockwork creatures. He didn’t need to be made even more curious about anything to do with the Delta Pearl by me bringing up all the gemstone names among the riverboat’s crew.
The mechanical spider eased back toward to Dr. Elam’s mustache. She tentatively reached out with a spindly leg to touch the whiskers. I could tell that Victor forced himself to remain very still while Amethyst inspected his facial hair. By the way he held his mouth, I knew he suppressed laughter. I suspected that my spider’s actions must have tickled.
“There is something strangely calming about this little one’s presence,” Dr. Elam mumbled as he tried to speak without moving his lips any more than necessary. “Or she would be soothing if I were not ticklish.”
“Amethyst. That will do. Comeback now, before someone notices you wandering around,” I told her and the spider obeyed promptly.
She quickly skittered up my arm and onto my shoulder. Amethyst whispered something into my ear.
I did not know the clockwork creature could feel excitement. However, that was the only term I could apply to the agitated gibberish she softly spoke into my ear.
I knew she had an imperative for survival, and so perhaps she could feel things related fear. However, I had to admit to myself that on occasion she had shown minor tendencies toward like or dislike.
Even so, her apparent enthusiasm was most unexpected. She was so excited that I couldn’t understand a single word of whatever she whispered.
Randal Needleman moved toward us. Amethyst darted into the velvet cushions of the settee to disappear. I felt around the cushions, but the spider was gone. I still wondered what she meant to disclose earlier, but she wasn’t always able to retain information for very long.
As it became certain that Needleman was intent on talking to us — or at least to Dr. Elam. I looked at the inventor apprehensively.
“Worry not,” he murmured. “You can count on my complete discretion, particularly about the clockwork creature.”
Randal Needleman surprised me by directing his first remark to me.
“I here there’s to be a Sweet Sixteen party,” the man I secretly dubbed the Dubious Dabbler said. “Oh no, I hope it wasn’t supposed to be a secret!” he exclaimed, seeming genuinely contrite.
I blushed despite my determination to act mature. I murmured words that were probably unintelligible, shaking my head.
Victor wasn’t all that much older than me. Plus, sixteen was considered an adult enough age for most of the things it was legal for a woman to do…
Unfortunately, I was afraid the inventor would think I was too young. Needleman had drawn attention to my age. The inventor couldn’t help noticing that.
Embarrassed, I made a hasty exit.
I felt mortified as only a nearly sixteen-year-old girl can. Of course, no one else gave it a second thought ― but I couldn’t know that. I ran to a deck where I hoped I could be alone.
When I vented my frustration by smacking the wooden rail, I hit it so hard my palm stung. I put my sore hand to my mouth and stared blankly at the horizon. The Delta Pearl was near the unexpected stop the Captain had added to our schedule.
My lips formed an unspoken question when a small black cloud caught my eye. It descended from the fluffy white clouds. Lower and lower it steadily dropped. Finally, the smudgy nimbus settled on the riverbank far ahead.
End Chapter 13
Real World Notes
For more about the tempest prognosticator, check out this video.
Meanwhile, in Teagan’s world, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has begun. Although it’s still actually October as I write this post, I hope that by the time you see it, I will be hard at work on a brand new novel. You’ve probably heard me complain that I’m not a fast writer at all… so an average of more than 1,700 words a day is huge for me.
Thanks for sticking with me, my chuckaboos. I hope you’ll leave a comment — and if you want, include an appropriate random thing to go in a future chapter. Feel free to comment or ask about National Novel Writing Month as well.
I’ll be waiting for you at the steampunk riverboat next time!
Now for the obligatory shameless self-promotion…
Universal link to my Amazon Author Page
Universal link Kindle/e-book A Ghost in the Kitchen
Universal link paperback A Ghost in the Kitchen
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
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