Saturday, November 23, 2019
Welcome back to the steampunk riverboat, my chuckaboos! Thanks for returning, after my detour last weekend to work on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Then I took time out from both — to revise my “Books” page. I didn’t realize how woefully overdue that was!
If you’ll remember, last time Émeraude had a little too much “tea.” You can review Chapter 14 of The Delta Pearl, here.
In this chapter we learn a little more about Émeraude’s past.
Thanks to Dan Antion for the use of his photos.
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 15 — Groan
Sunlight streamed through the porthole in my quarters the next morning. I awoke muzzy-headed. My mouth felt as though it had been dried out in the desert sun and then stuffed with cotton. I winced and turned over. However, every normally tiny noise seemed like thunder. With a groan I remembered the discourse with the Cook the night before… and the vodka. It was no wonder I suffered with such a head.
How much could I possibly have drunk?
Thinking back, I could only count two or three. That would not be enough to have such a bad effect on me. However, Agate certainly would not have been above slipping me a few more shots of vodka while I wasn’t paying attention. That would be particularly true if she thought it was for my own good, or if she was bent on me getting relaxed.
Coffee, my half coherent mind pleaded.
I got dressed and headed for the kitchen. When I looked at the clock the time was later than I thought it would be. I usually awoke on my own, well before breakfast. We avoided disturbing the passengers at an early hour. However, kitchen staff were always sent to quietly make sure all the Delta Pearl’s crew was awake and well. I supposed that the Cook might have told them to let me sleep late.
Agate darned well should have given me that consideration. This headache is all her fault, I thought uncharitably.
The triple mirror of the vanity showed much more of my reflection than I’d like to see. The dressing table might be called a vanity, but I had little. That trait was either good or bad, depending on how one looked at it. However, the three mirrors did help with creating the intricate hairdos of the day. I was not a grand lady with a personal maid to style my hair for me.
My gaze rested fondly on the brush and mirror set. The Cook had given me the entire set shortly after I had become part of the riverboat’s crew. Or perhaps I should say when the Delta Pearl chose me. Amid the intricately worked designs on the silver casings were rich green crystals.
“Don’t ye be aboot to think those are real emeralds, Emmie,” Agate told me that day. “They’re just pretend, but the green crystals will do to remind you of who you are. You aren’t the same person you were a few days ago. You have a fresh start now. So be proud of who you are. Do yourself up nice each day. Now you’ve got the proper tools for that,” she said as she picked up the brush and set about teaching me to style my hair.
I ran my finger absently through the cream colored bristles of the hairbrush. I smiled remembering that day. However, a chime from my clock reminded me that I had to finish up and get to work. While I used the brush to sweep my hair upward, my stomach growled loudly — as if I needed a reminder that I was ravenous.
My jewelry box sat on the vanity next to the brush and mirror set. I opened it intent on wearing my cameo necklace. It looked exactly like the necklace the woman in the old portrait wore. Naturally whenever I looked at the cameo I thought of the painting and the ever so familiar looking woman who was its subject. Once again I tried to figure out in what other painting I may have seen the model, or to whom she bore such a strong resemblance. However, the answer continued to elude me.
I ran my finger across the blueish purple carved shell of the cameo. The lovely carved face seemed to scowl at me judgmentally. I put it back into the jewelry box. I didn’t like the color with my frock anyway.
Moving toward the door to leave my quarters, I hurried back to the dressing table. I took a piece of dark pink ribbon and rubbed it against my cheeks to transfer a bit of the color to my face. It wouldn’t do for the Cook or the Dealer to see me looking so pale. I was not in a mood to have either of them acting like a mother hen.
I hurried out onto the deck and narrowly missed stepping on a banana peel. It was rather obvious against the wood of the deck, but I supposed if one was not paying attention they might have slipped. I stooped to remove the potential hazard. All the crew pitched in for the tidiness of the Delta Pearl. If someone saw a problem, they corrected it whenever they were able.
As I stood back up, I heard a muffled sound from behind an elaborately carved support post. When I peered around it, I found Hershel Harvey sniggering.
All I did was hold out the banana peel and give the imp a significant look. He shrieked and ran away. It was clear how the peel had gotten there.
Boot heels clicking firmly against the decking, I followed Hershel, though I didn’t run. My intent was to let him know that he had been truly found out, to frighten him just a tad.
He fled down the stairs to the less expensive cabins, disappearing from my sight.
After I descended the staircase, I caught sight of him darting up the stairs at the far end of the hallway.
I would have liked to drive my point home, but I had no more time. Besides, my head throbbed to beat the band. Leaning against the wall, I collected my scattered thoughts. The cherry paneling felt nice and cool against my poor noggin.
After a moment I became aware of an odd sound. It had a rhythm ― thump-thump-thud. Two lighter bumping noises were followed by a heavier thump, which I termed a thud. The thud was actually hard enough that I felt the vibration of it through the wall. Thump-thump-thud it repeated several times.
It sounded oddly like a man taking two steps forward and then running into a wall or a door. I realized that the thought was utter nonsense. Perhaps that idea only occurred to me since I had so recently walked into the doors of the gaming area, I thought with chagrin.
Having exercised my own mischievousness in pursuit of the dratted prankster I did not travel back up the staircase with as much gusto. I plodded toward the Cook’s domain.
The moment I entered the kitchen, I knew something was off kilter. I could tell before I looked around, even with my muzzy, hungover head.
A couple of kitchen maids and a busboy giggled to each other as they worked. When they glanced at me, their laughter stopped — for about a second. My brain was too fuzzy to figure out whether or not I was the object of their merriment.
Walking past a brightly polished soup pot I accidentally caught my own reflection. I cringed. The green and black stripped vest that topped my white blouse was not buttoned properly.
Hadn’t I looked in the mirror before I left my rooms? I wondered.
A glance at my hair gave me the answer to that question. I had pulled the front of my hair into a poof and did the rest in a simple braid to hang down the center of my back. Or that was what I thought I had done. The poof had so many lose strands that it looked like I had slept in it. The braid was placed quite noticeably off center.
Paragon of beauty would be the last phrase anyone could use to describe me. I rolled my eyes. That was a mistake. The eye movement sent sharp pains through my already aching head. Hastily, I re-buttoned my vest.
The Cook’s voice finally penetrated the fog in my brain. The tone in which she spoke was different somehow from the way she would have spoken to her staff or any of the crew.
I spotted her stooped on the floor, searching for something, as if what she did was extremely important. Then a second voice reached my ears. For a moment I didn’t recognize the voice. My immediate reaction was a jolt of anxiety that told me it was urgent that I identify the voice.
“At room temperature, the element mercury is not very magnetic at all. My magnets would be of little use in collecting what has been spilled. Mercury has a very small, negative magnetic susceptibility. What I mean is that when you put mercury in a magnetic field, it magnetizes just a little tiny bit in the opposite direction. We say that mercury is a weakly diamagnetic substance at room temperature,” a male voice managed to explain yet make no sense.
I groaned quietly. I knew to whom the voice belonged. I cringed.
“Oh my,” Agate practically gushed. “You are truly the brilliant man everyone says you are. It’s just that those little silvery balls that came running out when the thermometer broke. I can’t risk having any of them running around loose in the kitchen!” she cried.
Dr. Victor Elam lined up numerous silver-looking balls of mercury. I closed my eyes, hoping the hangover was playing tricks on my mind. However, when I opened my eyes the inventor was still there.
How could Agate do such a thing to me? I wailed inside my head.
Anyone who knew Agate would have been suspicious of her hysterical female act. However, there was no reason for a stranger like Victor T. Elam to suspect anything out of the ordinary from the Cook.
Meticulous Agate would never do anything to jeopardize the safety of her kitchen. Even so, I had no doubt that she broke that mercury thermometer deliberately, counted each little silvery ball that the escaping mercury formed, and then placed them strategically. Then she probably had one of the kitchen maids wait for the inventor and get him to come to the kitchen. After all, he was a scientist and would know what to do about the urgently hazardous mess.
Judging by the way she eyed the silvery balls I was sure that she was counting them, making sure none had truly escaped. The Cook’s fiendishness was impressive. How could she contrive a way to throw Victor and me together, having ferreted out my attraction to him only the night before?
The woman was wicked, I tell you. Especially when I looked every bit as hungover as I felt. I shook my head in dismay. Then I groaned again at the pain that came from the motion.
I wanted to back quietly out of the kitchen, but that time Victor heard me. He looked up at me as if he didn’t even recognize me. I cringed even more. The inventor blinked, then adjusted his spectacles.
“Oh dear me, Émeraude. You were so worn out last night I was afraid you would wake with a headache. I can see that you did,” the Cook told me in a motherly tone before turning to Dr. Elam. “This one works too hard, she does.”
Agate managed to steer both of us to a table that stood against a wall and out of the kitchen traffic. I sat down awkwardly and tried not to fidget with my woefully styled hair.
“Bijou, bring some of that tea over here for these two,” Agate told one of the kitchen maids.
I didn’t know whether to cry or just die right where I sat. I was outgoing around people in general, including men. However, that was a different story if I was attracted to a man. I became an awkward and horridly shy if I was interested in a man. Agate knew that full well. Yet she seemed inordinately proud of herself for creating the deplorable situation.
“Bijou,” the inventor muttered before looking at me. “That’s a French word for jewel, isn’t it? An unusual number of the Delta Pearl’s crew seem to have gemstone names. Is this an affectation you take on?” he asked.
“No. Do you really find it so odd when your middle name is Topaz?” I asked.
I regretted the remark right away, as he looked like his feelings may have been hurt. I made sure to speak in a kinder tone when I continued. I had snapped at him because my head hurt but that was a poor excuse.
“They are our given names, or at least variations. I was born Emerald Perlezenn. The Dealer started calling me Émeraude and it stuck. Considering your wealth of general knowledge, you will also figure out that Perlezenn and Perlog both mean pearl,” I told him, though I felt too embarrassed to look up from the place on the tablecloth to which my eyes were glued.
“Humph. How remarkable,” Victor said.
“Dr. Elam if I could impose on your kindness one more time. Please make sure this one drinks the tea and eats her breakfast before she leaves my kitchen. We do so depend on her here on the Delta Pearl.”
Victor stood, bumping the little table as he rose. He bowed to Agate and told her that he was at her service. I held back another groan. I thought the woman must be the devil incarnate to do such a thing to me. I stared at the tablecloth as I blushed scarlet.
“Miss Émeraude, you really do look quite flushed,” Victor told me, displaying genuine concern. “Perhaps you should return to your bed.”
“Thank you, Dr. Elam. I’ll be fine,” I murmured, wishing I could crawl under the table.
“Please. You must call me Victor.”
End Chapter 15.
What was the thump-thump-thud that Émeraude was hearing? Remember that and stay tuned.
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 will definitely go back to using the things soon.
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!
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 © 2016 and 2019 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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