Saturday, May 9, 2020
Welcome back to the weekly serial about a #steampunk riverboat, my chuckaboos. Last time, The Delta Pearl reached a spot at my fictional version of Cairo, Illinois where there is a confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
Dan Antion of No Facilities sent some of his photos to illustrate that kind of meeting of rivers. If you follow Dan, you know he has experience with riverboats. In one of his posts you will see the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers as they form the Ohio.
As you’ll recall, the Dealer reminded us that the Pearl, can be just as sensitive to that kind of convergence as she is to borders and boundaries. We saw proof as the deck of the riverboat came to life and grabbed Èmeraude’s ankle when she started to go ashore with Victor.
I was able to use a “random reader thing.” It’s from Priscilla Bettis, who suggested hobble skirts.
Now, let’s see if our heroine can get free of the riverboat’s grasp.
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 32 — Grasp
My body was moving forward, but my ankle was held fast. I landed on the deck with a thud. I pushed myself up onto my elbows, confounded by what had just happened.
Victor ran toward me. I don’t know how to describe the assortment of thoughts and fears that ran through my mind. It was paramount that no one outside the senior crew know the extent of how special the Delta Pearl was. To say she was no ordinary riverboat was a vast understatement.
As the inventor reached my side, I hurriedly pushed my green skirt over my foot. I babbled and tried to push Victor’s hands away from my foot.
His motions as well as his facial expression froze when he felt the hardness of the decking that had attached itself to my ankle. I knew there was no use trying to hide it, so I stopped protesting.
Victor moved my skirt enough to uncover my boot. He gasped when he saw how the deck grasped my foot.
The inventor sat back on his heels, stunned. When I looked from his shocked face to my imprisoned ankle, I was speechless. The words “the Delta Pearl may not allow her to leave” cut sharply through my mind. A tear of frustrated anger ran down my cheek.
Onyx, the Captain’s clockwork owl fluttered down on brass wings. His little top hat slid to one side as he tilted his head to look at the wooden vice around my ankle.
The appearance of the owl made me think Cecil Perlog might be behind the riverboat’s astonishing action. However, I thought differently when Onyx started pecking at the wood. The little owl tried to free me.
“Move your little bazoo, Onyx. Let me examine this,” Victor told the owl, placing his hand between Onyx and the part of the deck that held me.
Stubborn as ever, Onyx gave Victor’s hand a single peck, drawing quite an expletive from him.
“Just when you think life is all beer and skittles, a riverboat comes to life and grabs your sweetheart’s leg,” he muttered incredulously.
“Am I your sweetheart?” I asked before I could stop myself.
Luckily, the inventor was so fascinated by the phenomenon that he didn’t notice my question. At first, he touched the wood tentatively. Then his hands encircled the wood that held my ankle. He muttered something about the smoothness of the wood.
“There’s no gap, or even a seam. It’s like a perfectly formed cuff,” he murmured.
A finger-sized piece of the wood lifted from the rest of the cuff. The wooden digit moved to caress Victor’s hand.
I drew in a sharp breath. At the touch, Victor let go and drew back in fright.
The wood pulled itself apart into finger-like tendrils. It flexed almost like a wave ― a flirtatious wave.
Behind me I heard the worried voice of Eliza Needleman as she hurried toward us.
“Émeraude are you hurt?” she called as she ran.
The pressure around my ankle suddenly released. As Victor and I watched, the wooden deck board withdrew. It was absorbed back into the deck.
Victor and I looked at the suddenly normal boards of the deck and then at each other. I glanced at Eliza’s elegant but rapidly approaching form. I made a shushing sound at Victor and hoped with all my heart that he wouldn’t say anything.
“I knew you’d fall the instant I saw you running on the deck,” Eliza cried as she hurried toward us.
“Yet, you ran as well,” her husband chuckled, stepping quickly to catch up with her. “Maybe that daft Frenchman who sent you those fashion drawings has the right idea,” Needleman added with a snort. “A woman wouldn’t be able to run in one of those things. With the skirt all tight around the knees? Absurd. You’d have been hobbled like a horse. He should call them hobble skirts!”
“I could out run you, dear husband, even if I wore a hobble,” she taunted in a saucy tone.
“I like your fire, beloved. I’d never try to change you,” he prudently replied.
By the time the couple reached us, the deck looked normal. I couldn’t believe the riverboat would reveal that much of her nature to the inventor. Regardless, I was sure the Delta Pearl would not mean for Mrs. Needleman to know as well ― particularly not after her husband tried to buy the riverboat.
I wondered if the woman’s approach was the only reason why the Delta Pearl withdrew her grasp. Had the riverboat just given Victor T. Elam her approval?
No, I thought. My imagination is running away with me. The Delta Pearl is extraordinary, but she wouldn’t have that level of… I was at a loss to explain it to myself. Is “awareness” the word I want?
End Chapter 32
If life seemed complicated for Émeraude last time, it’s triple that now… Feel free to leave a random Steam Era thing to fuel this riverboat. Or just leave a comment to say hello, before you leave. Be well, be happy, 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
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