Saturday, February 22, 2020
Welcome back to the #steampunk riverboat, my chuckaboos!
Many weeks ago Kevin Cooper left Christmas tree as a random reader thing. I’m almost certain that another reader also left that as a thing, but if that’s the case, I don’t have it in my story matrix — and I apologize.
I see the riverboat headed to the dock. Today the Captain has some business to attend.
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 25 — Talk
Talk that the Delta Pearl somehow kept the crew, or at least some of them, from leaving wasn’t limited to the conversation between the Captain and the Cook. It was practically a legend among the younger staff. It was a scary story to tell in a dark cargo hold by the light of a lone lantern.
I couldn’t help thinking of that overheard conversation again when I thought of the Mate. For some time, we had been concerned about Blue John Bolton’s mental wellbeing, and Captain Perlog had just called an all hands meeting.
It was extremely unusual for the Captain to hold a meeting of the entire crew, unless it was Christmastime, or some important or otherwise special event had occurred. However, there was no Christmas tree, no holiday or event of any sort. That could only mean the meeting was about something bad.
Inwardly I cringed. I was sure the Captain would announce Blue John’s departure. I really hated to see Blue leave. Although I recognized that it was selfish of me, I quietly hoped he would change his mind and stay.
Yet, that was not the topic of Cecil Perlog’s all hands meeting after all. When the Captain revealed the reason for convening the staff, it seemed like a strong reaction to a trivial matter. However, things had escalated.
The Harveys’ deceptively cherubic looking nephew, Hershel, had become more than a pest. It was not just the black eye he caused the Chief Porter to get.
Mrs. Eliza Needleman cornered Blue, the Mate, insisting that a ranking crew member walk her dog each day — because Hershel followed her whenever she walked the animal, pleading to be allowed to take it elsewhere and play. I couldn’t blame Eliza a bit for not trusting the boy with her small dog.
Then there was Mrs. Harvey herself, forever trying to pawn the boy off on any and everyone else, crew and passengers a like.
Mrs. Needleman asked that the Captain or someone else of rank confront the Harvey couple and their nephew. She felt that would mean someone trustworthy, and she believed such a person could be firm enough with the little scoundrel to make him back down. Worse she implied that her wealthy husband had some business scheme in mind involving the Delta Pearl — a scheme she would back if the Captain did not comply with her request.
Eliza had hinted to me that her husband wanted the riverboat. Although I didn’t see how that could make good business sense to a man like Randal Needleman. I hated to think that she would take part in such a scheme.
Even that would not have caused the Captain to convene the entire crew of the riverboat. The Captain would have handled that sort of situation personally and quietly.
His reason became abundantly clear when Cecil Perlog told us that the Delta Pearl would be making an emergency stop.
The “angelic” little Harvey boy sneaked into the kitchen while the staff was in the dining hall. Hershel pilfered the largest container of cooking oil that he could carry and poured it across a well trafficked part of the Chandelier Deck.
One passenger slipped and fell. However, he blamed it on his somewhat inebriated state and therefore said nothing about the slippery flooring. The next person to step into young Hershel’s trap broke his wrist and cracked the back of his head, much to the little imp’s delight. The Delta Pearl’s physician set the broken bone, but insisted that the guest be hospitalized for serious concussion the fall had given him, hence the emergency stop.
I myself had fallen over the banister of the upper deck. It might well have been a lethal accident. That happened before everyone was aware of the seriousness of the child’s so-called pranks.
However, word spread among the crew and everyone gave me significant and sympathetic looks. They all suspected Hershel as the cause of my incident. A cold, almost feral but protective gleam in Cecil Perlog’s eyes when he glanced my way told me he was sure the boy had been responsible.
In light of the badly injured passenger, the Captain decided a “talking to” was not sufficient. The newlyweds already realized what foul mischief the boy had done and did nothing to stop it.
While one certainly did not want to offend a customer, you couldn’t very well let them go about pestering another of your customers… particularly not passengers as wealthy and influential as Mr. and Mrs. Needleman, or an injured guest who might well instigate legal proceedings.
So, the Captain decreed that the Delta Pearl would make one more additional stop after leaving the injured passenger at the closest hospital. There was a location that was actually much closer to the town where the boy’s grandmother lived than the rendezvous point where the newlyweds planned to give Hershel to her. The couple was unaware of it, as it was not a usual stop for the riverboat.
The Harveys would disembark there and be “invited” not to return to the Delta Pearl. The Mate was already making arrangements for a carriage to take them to the grandmother’s home, and wiring her to make sure she was prepared for the schedule change. The Captain also said their passage would be refunded in full. That seemed too generous to me. However, Cecil Perlog was an astute businessman.
While there was nothing abusive, loud, or illegal about the Harvey couple, excepting what Hershel had done, they were the most stressful people I had ever encountered aboard the Delta Pearl.
I sat with my eyes firmly affixed to a spot behind and just to the left of the Captain’s head. I feared that if I made eye contact with him, then he would assign me the delicate task.
“How much longer until we reach the place where the brat is delivered to the grandmother? It’s gone too far. The little wanker’s theirn. The responsibility isn’t ourn,” Blue asked in the accent of his Derbyshire home.
The Captain gave the Mate a pointed look for his choice of words. Blue John Boulton was a good man, but he was not the most diplomatic.
I had tried to study Captain Cecil Perlog. His huge stature and unruly hair did not give a first impression of superior intelligence. Yet I had seen more than one fool be undone by underestimating the Captain. His reasoning was often unexpected, yet it was always flawless. I admired his quiet wisdom. I wanted to understand how his mind worked, and learn from it.
How would he handle this touchy situation? The Captain’s size and booming voice would make him seem overtly intimidating to the Harvey couple if he made any criticism, no matter how mild.
Perhaps the Mate… His appearance and manner were suitably professional. However, he was far too direct. He knew how to be diplomatic, but if annoyed, he would likely slip and say something offensive. Besides in his current state, he was sure to slip.
Perhaps someone whose sympathy was easily apparent. The Cook was always perceived as empathetic. Yet she was a force of nature and could stand her ground. Yes, perhaps Agate was the best choice. Although, she might well take the little imp and spank him.
As I gave myself that mental exercise of figuring out what the Captain would do, I was running out of choices. I sank in my chair, even more fearful that the Captain would hand the task to me, just because no one else would want it. He walked closer. As I stared at the floor, I heard him chuckle softly. Sometimes it seemed like he could read my thoughts.
“Jaspe, would you kindly ask the Harveys to keep a tight rein on the boy? Explain that they are ultimately responsible for his safety, not any of the other passengers,” he said to the Dealer.
Of course, I thought.
Jaspe was poised and polite. Yet his manner was so matter-of-fact that it would be difficult to take his words personally. I breathed a sigh of relief — but it caught in my throat.
“Émeraude,” the Captain called my name, deflating my momentary sense of security. “Go with the Dealer, if you please. In such a situation, it’s best to have a witness. Plus, it will be good experience for you. Just stand by, watch and listen.”
End Chapter 25
Well, that’s one problem soon to be resolved. Although on this magical riverboat, it’s hard to predict anything. Thanks for visiting. I hope you’ll leave a comment to say hello, before you leave, my chuckaboos.
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