Saturday, January 4, 2019
Happy New Year, my chuckaboos! May the new decade and the year 2020 bring 20/20 vision.
I’m still crawling back to the surface after Santa brought me a big bag of the Everything Flu on Christmas morning. The “stomach flu” part of “everything” is still hanging on. So let’s get right to business.
The “random reader thing” that drove this chapter is from Jill at J-Dubs Grin and Bear It. Weeks ago, in a comment she mentioned Coquettish.
If you need to refresh your memory about the previous episode, click here for Chapter 18 — Bump. Are you ready?
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 19 — Flirt
Every available lamp was lit and each window fully exposed. The library was not vast, but it comfortably held several cozy places for passengers to read or engage in quiet pursuits. At that moment it had only one occupant. A peculiar bespectacled man took over the largest table, and eventually brightened the room to his satisfaction.
The ostensibly mild-mannered inventor weighted down the corners of a large sheet of paper to prevent it curling back into a cylindrical shape. The leather tube that previously held the paper began to roll across the floor as the Delta Pearl gently moved on the water. Without even looking at it, Dr. Victor T. Elam stuck one foot out to stop the canister’s motion. Such was the intensity of his gaze on the big document.
I lingered unnoticed beside the open door. The soft clicking of the clockwork spider, Amethyst, urged me to go inside. It was Amethyst who let me know where Victor had gone after he abruptly left the tearoom. I raised a hand toward the door, but drew back at the muffled footfall on the hallway.
The Chief Porter, Garnet Redford, stopped beside me. His eyebrows lifted in a silent question.
Garnet was already part of the riverboat’s crew when I came aboard as a little girl. Since I had grown up around his extraordinary good looks, I didn’t think much about how handsome he was.
However, I was the exception to the rule. Passengers and crew alike, women tended to get positively giddy about his tall, athletic build, chiseled features, green eyes, and reddish blonde hair. Add his soft English accent, and women had swooned ― sometimes literally.
Maybe that was why I felt I could act in a coquettish way with him. I knew Garnet would take it in the joking way that I intended, because there was never a shortage of women who were truly interested in him.
Even the Cook was not immune to the Chief Porter’s appeal. Garnet was usually treated to a “preview” serving whenever Agate baked any of his favorite pastries. This was evident by the flaky golden crumbs on his jacket. I dusted them off and shook my head.
Garnet gave a little smirk. I knew he wasn’t taking advantage of the Cook’s goodwill, but that didn’t mean I would not tease him about it. Agate loved to bake, and I suspected that it was also her way of flirting.
I rolled my eyes. He chuckled.
“The flirting would have been more effective if you had batted your eyelashes, rather than rolling your eyes,” he told me with exaggerated patience. “But don’t let the Dealer know I made such a suggestion. He’d have my hide.”
Amethyst stretched her legs so she could lean closer to Garnet without leaving my shoulder. She made a clicking sound, apparently indicating another crumb on his chest.
I flicked away the crumb. I imitated Garnet’s smirk and lifted eyebrows. His strawberry blonde brows climbed another inch closer to his hairline in return.
The man was British through and through. My enthusiasm for copying his manner deflated. I knew I’d never be able to imitate him.
“Been to the galley for a little cupboard love, have you? Did you ever stop to think the Cook might be trying to fatten you up for her own nefarious purposes?” I joked.
“Agate is a force of nature. I wouldn’t risk her ire by refusing a pastry,” Garnet told me. “And you know that I’m only half joking. Besides, it’s good to take the Cook’s mind off the thievery of that ruddy-cheeked cherub, Hershel. Although, it’s better to have him pinching food than trying to cause the guests to slip on banana peels.”
Garnet tilted his head toward the library and the young inventor inside.
“I’m not sure that one is quite right in the head, Émeraude. Maybe you don’t want to be alone with him in there,” he whispered. “You never know about the quiet, bumbling types, particularly when they’re brilliant…”
“Garnet, I’ll be fine,” I whispered back and patted the side of my thigh, where it was known among the crew that I often carried a small holstered pistol.
My footsteps were quiet on the plush carpet, so I deliberately cleared my throat when I walked into the library. I didn’t want to startle Dr. Elam. When I got closer, I saw that the paper that so absorbed his attention was a large engineering drawing. It was so complex that I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
Despite my efforts to make my presence known, Victor jumped when I said hello. He blushed and stuttered, clearly embarrassed.
“You are pouring so much thought into this drawing,” I began. “Might I ask what it is?”
At the prospect of discussing something technical he recovered his composure. However, he seemed less than enthusiastic. He looked from me to the drawing. Then he looked over his shoulder toward the door, back to the drawing, and again to me.
“Perhaps I’ve been too forward,” I suggested, seeing his concern.
“Oh no,” Victor Elam sputtered. “It’s just that I have not made it public yet. I hope I can count on your discretion. It actually helps me if I give voice to my thoughts. So, if you don’t mind my stuffy scientific prattle I would be delighted to explain.”
His eyes went to my hands as if he expected me to be holding something. Though his gaze met mine only briefly, I was sure that “something” was the rose Obsidian Durango had given me.
Is a single rose enough to make him give up? I wondered. Victor is so different from any of the men on the Delta Pearl. I need advice, but I don’t have anyone to ask. Maybe Mrs. Needleman. She’s a woman of wealth and taste. And she’s a suffragette! Eliza Needleman would surely be able to help.
Dr. Elam leaned toward to the drawing as he pointed at an especially complicated looking part of the illustration. When he touched the paper, he accidentally pulled it away from one of the impromptu paperweights. The drawing immediately began to curl in upon itself. I quickly leaned over the diagram to hold it in place.
He had the same impulse to catch the drawing and we lightly bumped our foreheads together. I winced more at my clumsiness than at any pain.
Finding myself unexpectedly nose to nose with Victor T. Elam, I had the shocking, horribly inappropriate, outrageous urge to kiss him. Right there, in the library ― just move an inch closer, and plant a kiss right on his mouth.
A light tap at the door caused both of us to turn. It was the Garnet, from a moment before. Dr. Elam and I both straightened awkwardly.
Victor turned his back to the door and fussed over the drawing. I could see the back of his ears and they blushed crimson.
His blush made me think I had very nearly created a situation too humiliating for words. Taking it upon myself to abruptly kiss a man I hardly knew would have been scandalous enough… but if he did not want the attention I would have been utterly mortified.
Garnet had speedily fetched a tray of tea. The subterfuge to check on my safety was obvious. I didn’t know whether to be grateful that he had prevented me making a fool of myself, or furious that he had interrupted the process.
Is the entire riverboat filled with mother hens?
The Cook seemed determined to match me up with Dr. Elam, and the Chief Porter was bent on protecting me from the milquetoast.
The Chief Porter put the tea tray on a small table that was positioned between two chairs upholstered in golden yellow brocade. I shooed Garnet Redford away and poured the tea myself.
“Now,” I began with a motion toward the large mechanical drawing on the table. “I must admit I’m curious. When I look at the drawing, I feel like I should understand what it is, and yet I don’t. I suppose what I mean is that it seems familiar.”
Victor Elam looked inordinately pleased by my comment.
“Yes, you might well find it familiar, Miss Émeraude. Especially considering your charming clockwork creatures,” he added.”
“Do you mean it’s for a clockwork thing?” I asked in an astonished but delighted voice. “But it seems like it’s meant to be quite large,” I added as I rose and went back to the table.
Victor followed me, teacup in hand.
“Indeed, it is for something large. In fact, it would be taller than myself. It is meant to perform functions according to a predetermined set of coded instructions. In other words, it is intended to be capable of a range of programmed responses to different circumstances,” the inventor tried to explain, but the question must have been plain on my face.
“The design is for an automaton,” Dr. Elam stated.
Amethyst chittered and clicked wildly. She pounced from my shoulder onto the drawing. The clockwork spider skittered all around the large design. She rose onto her back legs and hissed. For a moment she vanished beneath the paper. Then saw her scramble across the floor.
I caught a glimpse of Amethyst in the chandelier before she disappeared from sight.
End Chapter 19
Thanks for visiting, my chuckaboos. I’ll be looking for you at the riverboat dock next weekend.
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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