Saturday, March 28, 2020
Welcome one and all, to the steampunk riverboat, The Delta Pearl! It’s wonderful to see you, my chuckaboos. Thanks to Dan Antion at No Facilities, for letting me use some of his photos in this series.
In this chapter of my serialized re-write of the novel, I’ve added two “random reader things.” Valentina Criasola gave us cul de crin. She also has a post about the item at her blog. Sometimes I enjoy a comment so much that I use it as a thing. That happened with Mary J Melange and What?
Are you ready to get back on the riverboat?
“Amethyst, you don’t mean Eliza Needleman’s big yellow diamond has been stolen, do you? The Pharaoh Diamond?” I asked incredulous.
The mechanical spider bobbed her entire body up and down by straightening and then relaxing her legs. That was her equivalent of a nod...
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 28 — Shatter
My thoughts spun. The Needlemans probably didn’t realize anything was wrong, else there would have been a commotion.
How would I broach the subject of the Pharaoh Diamond to Mrs. Needleman? What could I possibly say? My pet clockwork spider told me your diamond had been stolen? Even if that didn’t sound ludicrous, the passengers weren’t supposed to know about the clockwork creatures.
By the time I got up the stairs to the first-class deck, I was panting. The Delta Pearl was a very large riverboat and when Amethyst came to me, I was as far away from the Needleman suite as I possibly could be. As I rounded the corner into the proper corridor, I glimpsed the back of Randal Needleman. He had the fuzzy little dog on a leash, taking it for a walk. He turned the corner at the far end of the hallway.
I held up my hand, intent on calling out to him, but I couldn’t gather enough breath to do more than groan. He was already out of earshot, particularly since I wasn’t able to yell loudly.
A moment later, I reached the wealthy couple’s suite. I tried to knock on the door without collapsing against it. Eliza Needleman answered it right away.
“My dear, why did you knock? What have you forgotten this time?” was her good-natured question as she opened the cabin door.
It was obvious that I was not the person she expected to see. Her husband had left only minutes before.
Mrs. Needleman seemed relaxed and pleasant. She wore her dressing gown, during her preparations to get properly attired. That garment, to me, was as great a statement of wealth as her huge yellow diamond.
Her dressing gown was a breathtaking creation of lavender silk charmeuse and chiffon. It included one of the newly fashionable cul de crin, bustles ― a shaped, padded cushion rather than a hard frame. The elaborate housecoat boasted yards and yards of handmade lace. A broad satin ribbon tied it together in front at her waist. Why it even had a train! I’d never considered a dressing gown having a train.
I still didn’t know how to ask about the diamond. She wasn’t wearing the priceless gem, although she was not attired to go out anywhere.
“Émeraude,” she corrected herself with perfect poise. “This is a surprise. Won’t you come in?” Eliza Needleman offered with a wave for me to enter the cabin. “Is something wrong?” she asked, looking at me curiously as she closed the door.
A glance in the mirror that hung above the marble fireplace mantle showed me that it was easy for her to guess that I was not there on a social call. My face was flushed and my hair was in disarray from running the entire length of the riverboat, including several staircases.
As I entered the suite, the slim heels of my lace-up boots clicked on the broad area of marble tile that surrounded the hearth. However, they made not a sound on the plush carpet that covered the rest of the floor.
“There is a rumor,” between breaths I blurted out the half-truth, since I couldn’t tell her the information came from Amethyst. “They say your Pharaoh Diamond has been stolen.”
A shocked expression came to her face. Eliza Needleman put her hand near her collar bone where the diamond often rested.
“Surely that is impossible!” she exclaimed. “The diamond is safely in its jewel box. No one other than my husband and myself has been in our cabin. I’ve even seen the jewel after your maid came in to clean,” she added as she walked to a desk that had a locking drawer.
She inserted a key and brought out a box made of enamel and inlaid with mother of pearl. The top of the box bore a mosaic depicting a scene of Egypt. Despite her assurances that the diamond was still in her possession, she looked relieved when she opened the box.
Inside was a huge glittering yellow diamond. I tensed at the impossible sight. Amethyst was not able to lie.
Perhaps I misinterpreted what she meant, I thought. After all, she was quite excited.
“There,” Eliza said with a smile. “It is right where I put it last evening.”
The clockwork spider moved ever so slightly where she sat crouched on my shoulder. Foolish though I knew it to be, I tried to will Amethyst to be still. Whether the minute movement drew Eliza’s eye, or if it was her apparent distaste for what she previously assumed was a broach, I did not know.
One soft click was my only warning. Amethyst leapt from my shoulder and into the jewelry box. Eliza Needleman gasped and dropped the enameled box onto the desktop.
“What?” I muttered, surprised.
The clockwork spider held the diamond tightly. I had the fleeting thought that she looked almost possessive. Then Amethyst raised one spindly leg and hit the diamond hard with her tiny sharp foot.
“No!” I cried mortified. “I think she’s scratched it. I’m so sorry. Somehow I’ll make this right.”
“My dear, whatever is that thing?” Eliza asked calmly enough, though she looked stunned at the sight of the clockwork spider.
Then Amethyst, still clutching the big diamond, scampered across the desk and up the draperies. As she ran, the gold chain fell through the bail in the diamond’s setting and slithered to the floor.
From a silver filament Amethyst swung over to the tall marble fireplace mantle where she alighted with the diamond. She seemed to wait for me to make eye contact with her. Having achieved that, she began to tap the jewel forcefully against the marble mantle.
“Amethyst, stop!” I called.
I was answered with a series of clicks. It may be difficult to believe that clicking and whirring sounds can indicate a mood, but I recognized that my purple spider was quite annoyed.
“Amethyst, what has gotten into you?” I demanded as I took a step toward her.
The clockwork spider abruptly used another silvery strand and quickly shot up to the ceiling. She clicked and whirred again. Then to my astonishment, with all her strength she threw the Pharaoh Diamond at the marble hearth.
The gem shattered into a thousand pieces! I knelt amid the shards on the verge of tears, shaking my head.
“This is horrible. I’m so sorry!” I heard myself repeating.
Eliza knelt beside me mutely. After a second we turned to one another is astonishment. Amethyst scampered down from the ceiling and perched on my arm, bobbing her little body up and down ecstatically.
“It would take much more than that to break a diamond, wouldn’t it?” I commented as Eliza’s stunned gaze locked onto mine.
“Indeed, it would. It seems your rumor was correct,” Eliza said.
She walked over to pick up the gold chain that had fallen when Amethyst scampered up the drapes.
“That’s the same chain. There’s a tiny kink in it near the clasp,” she continued but shook her head. “Some sneaky, skilmalink fiend has managed to switch the diamond for an imitation! I can’t even be sure when it was done.”
Speculations ran riot through my mind. Did Amethyst take the diamond? She loved shinny things. Yet that would not explain the fake diamond. My spider was clever, but she could not create an imitation gemstone.
Perhaps someone had paid overt interest in the gem. Thinking that might give us a clue, I asked Mrs. Needleman. However, her response was the same thing I had noticed myself. Everyone looked at the diamond. It was rather difficult to avoid noticing it.
Since we didn’t know when the real diamond was taken, my first thought was the Harveys. Hyacinth Harvey was covetous and commented to me that it would be worth the entirety of her husband’s inheritance. Hershel Harvey bluntly asked for the stone, if only to play with it as a marble. Could one of the Harveys have stolen the diamond? I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, remembering that the Harveys had already been put off the ship and the Delta Pearl had left that port.
When the passengers first boarded, one porter and a deckhand both reacted strongly to the sight of it. I remembered their exchange on deck as they speculated about its worth.
I stepped into the corridor to flag down a passing porter. I asked him to have Garnet Redford, Chief Porter, come to the Needleman suite. I didn’t really suspect either of the young men, but it was important to make the Chief Porter aware of the situation. The porters and maids would be invaluable in a search if that was what the Captain required.
What about the other passengers? Of course, they were more likely suspects than any of the crew. Benjamin Dundas looked at the yellow diamond only briefly, but his gaze seemed covert. Even so, I believed he was more interested in Victor Elam than in the diamond. However, the reason for his interest in the inventor was a mystery.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t noticed Dundas with the other passengers lately. We would have to make sure he was still on the boat. He might well have sneaked ashore when the Harveys disembarked, possibly taking the Pharaoh Diamond with him.
I realized my thinking was biased, but I could not imagine Dr. Victor T. Elam stealing the diamond. Regardless, there was one thing that must be done first.
“Amethyst, my sweet, would you please fetch the Captain?” I asked, and the spider skittered away.
End Chapter 28
Yes, Amethyst is finally back! I wonder if she’s leading Émeraude to another red herring… I suppose we’ll know next time! Thanks for visiting. I hope you’ll leave a comment to say hello, before you leave, my chuckaboos.
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 2020 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.
All images are either the property of the author or provided by free sources, unless stated otherwise.