Saturday, May 30, 2020
Welcome back to the riverbank my chuckaboos. It’s another all new episode of The Delta Pearl. This one was not part of the original novel.
Several newer readers have asked that I include a list of past episodes. There are many reasons why I don’t do that. (Those of you who asked — I know I could trust you implicitly.) Piracy is at the top of that list. Yes, it’s all still online, but the least I can do is not make it even easier for thieves. I’m saddened that slight protection also makes it harder for you. However, I’ve always kept a category link on the right-hand margin of the page. Click “Delta Pearl.” There’s still a lot of scrolling to get to old episodes, but it’s somewhat less effort. The good news is that it’s also still free each week.
Here are the “random reader things” for today. First we have Wild Clouds from Tim Price. Tim did an entire post of these gorgeous cloud-scapes at his blog Off Center and Not Even. Also, when this steampunk voyage first got onto the river Dan Antion suggested Clock with a Broken Hand. I’ve been searching for the right place to put that clock all these weeks. Today it finally came along.
Last time, Émeraude and Victor — and the Needlemans, who volunteered to chaperone them went ashore in Cairo, Illinois. Émeraude hoped to find information about the magical portrait that so fascinates her. Randall Needleman knew of a gallery where they might learn something. Unfortunately it was closed down… except for a mysterious malachite clockwork scarab. Will they give up? Let’s see.
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 35 — Frown
Where had it gone? I stretched and craned my neck, trying to catch sight of the skittering bug. Most people would have wondered if their eyes had played a trick on them, if they saw a clockwork scarab. However, I was no stranger to such novelties.
“Thank goodness Amethyst wasn’t here. She might have tried to chase it, and exposed herself,” I muttered.
I looked at Victor T. Elam’s puzzled expression.
“Malachite,” the inventor began. “Do you really think the scarab with a carved malachite back might have belonged to whoever attacked the Captain and the Dealer at your sweet sixteen party? Not many people have automatons, not even small ones. Although if anyone might have one, he might be a candidate.”
Randall and Eliza Needleman caught up with us before I could caution him not to mention the scarab. I gave his arm a squeeze and hoped he understood what I was trying to say.
“Good heavens, don’t tell me the place has closed down,” Randall Needleman complained as they strolled up to us.
“What a disappointment,” Eliza commented as she tried to peep between the boards on the window.
I silently hoped the scarab did not make another appearance. Although I expected it had gone to inform its master.
“Don’t lose heart, Émeraude. We can still visit the library. There’s no need for that frown,” Eliza told me, patting my arm. “Didn’t you say it’s about a block away from here, husband?”
If I had been frowning, then there’s no telling what expression my face held when I looked up and saw the wild clouds that filled the sky.
Victor followed my gaze. He caught my unease.
“Umm, while all of you go to research Émeraude’s painting, I think I shall try to get some components for my, err, my tinkering,” Victor said.
When he started to move away, I was still holding his arm.
“Don’t be long,” I told him with another look at the sky. “I’m worried about the weather. Maybe we should go back to the Delta Pearl early,” I dissembled about the reason for my concern about the clouds.
“You’re looking a little all-overish, my lad. Hold up just long enough for us to properly see the ladies to the library. Then I’ll go with you,” Randall suggested.
“Dear, I know you’re hoping to pick the poor boy’s brain about inventions again,” Eliza told him and pretended to roll her eyes with disdain. “Promise me you won’t be a burden,” she added.
Eliza Needleman winked and boldly kissed her husband on the cheek ― in public. Her audacity was thrilling.
“Me, a burden?” Randall cried in mock astonishment. “Why, I’ll even be a beast of burden and carry any heavy equipment he needs.”
I felt better about the situation if he was going along with Victor. Needleman was strong looking. A self-made man, I was sure he wouldn’t run from a fight, if any trouble befell my little inventor.
Our chaperones chuckled and reminisced about their courting days. While they were occupied, Victor spoke quietly to me.
“The weather is more reason for me to get supplies. Those strange clouds… they don’t seem natural,” he whispered. “What if there’s another attack? What if that noxious brown cloud returns? I need to create something to combat the effects. If the Captain should get another lungful of that poison, he might now be as lucky again.”
I shuddered at the memory of Cecil Perlog gasping for breath after he went into that sooty cloud to defend the riverboat.
That day, Jaspe had quite literally thrown me to the Captain, telling him to get me away from the hurricane deck. Then he launched himself into the cloud. However, when it sounded like the Dealer was in mortal danger, the Captain followed him.
The buried idea that I had somehow been the cause of that event came back to mind. My eyes filled with tears, which I quickly brushed away, before anyone could see.
A loud whistle startled me. I was surprised that it came from Randall. He hailed a growler that was a short distance behind us. The Clarence carriages were larger than the two-person Hansom cabs. People called them growlers because of the noise its wheels made on the cobblestoned streets. He flagged down the driver as the carriage approached.
“Perhaps Émeraude is right to be concerned about the weather. Those clouds are rather threatening,” Randal explained.
A short while later the men parted company with Eliza and me at the library. Our boot heels clicked as we crossed the marble floor. I paused at a window. I could see the Clarence cab making its way down the other side of the hill.
“Shall we talk to the librarian?” Eliza suggested.
Turning to face her I saw the main desk across the large room. The wall behind the desk was a clock with a broken hand. I couldn’t explain why, but it added to my feeling of disquiet.
We moved toward the librarian, but I looked over my shoulder to the window. Abruptly I stopped dead.
“Is something the matter?” Eliza asked me, turning to follow my gaze.
Outside I saw a tall, reedy man wearing a voluminous overcoat. His mustache grew into his bushy sideburns. It was the standoffish passenger ― Benjamin Dundas. I had been distrustful of his furtiveness from the first moment I saw him.
He was exiting a business of some kind. He seemed angry as he stopped in the doorway. The other man glared at Dundas as he shut the door firmly behind him. I tried to read the sign beside the door, but it was too faded for me to make out the name. I asked the librarian about the place.
“My dear, you want nothing to do with that establishment. It’s not the sort of place ladies would care to visit,” the librarian told us, and wiped his spectacles as though the mention of the place got the lenses dirty. “It’s a jeweler’s, but not one I would recommend.”
He also appeared to see Dundas. The librarian cleared his throat.
“It draws a… questionable clientele. I’m not certain that the owner is concerned with legitimate business,” he added quietly.
When I turned back toward the window, Dundas had disappeared from view. I stared vacantly at the broken clock as thoughts ticked through my mind.
End Chapter 35
I love hearing from you — and hope you will leave a comment. However, I’ve been “multi-tasking” in the extreme the past few days, so forgive me for being slow to answer comments this time. 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.
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