Saturday, June 20, 2020
Welcome, my chuckaboos, to another episode ashore in my fictional, Victorian Era version of Cairo, Illinois.
Last year, just as this riverboat left the dock, Rob Goldstein left an amazing “random reader thing.” It’s Telectroscope. Read on to learn what that is.
Now we return to Émeraude and Eliza. I think Victor and Randall are about to join them. Without further ado…
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 38 — Tangle
Following the clockwork scarab, I ran out the library door. I barreled straight into Dr. Victor T. Elam, my young inventor. We both landed on our backsides.
Randall Needleman, the wealthy entrepreneur and Eliza’s husband, looked down at us. His expression was startled yet bemused. His mustache twitched. I knew he was trying not to laugh – because I could see for myself that it was a comical thing.
“Miss, are you hurt?” asked Jet Fischer, the librarian.
The bustle and the voluminous fabric of my gown had tangled me. At the same moment, both Jet and Randall bent to help me up. Victor was also getting to his feet, but he tried to avoid stepping on my skirts. That caused him to stumble into Jet, who then lost his balance and fell into Randall. A second later all four of us were in a heap at the entrance to the library.
A street urchin ran to his friends, shouting “Fight! Fight!”
Eliza caught up with us. She took in the sight. She and her husband made eye contact, and they both burst out laughing.
Despite the gallantry that surrounded me, I was the first one to get to my feet. Eliza leant a steadying hand while I righted my skirts and my hat. Then she made a humorous display of helping her husband to his feet. Eliza flew in the face of social convention whenever she could. Jet and Victor followed her lead and made a joke of helping each other.
The street urchin and his friends came running back. They looked confused and disappointed when there was no collie shangle to entertain them.
I stopped smiling as I gazed skyward. A sooty cloud blotted the sun. Something small and green spread its golden wings and flew into the cloud.
“The scarab,” I whispered.
Victor followed my gaze.
“Randall and I found most of the components I need for my tinkering,” Victor cleared his throat and began. “Or I should say, our tinkering, because he has offered to participate.”
“How delightful, darling. You shall be a great inventor,” Eliza told her husband, her sense of fun still evident. “Perhaps the gentlemen can create something that speeds the drying of a lady’s hair,” she added in a self-deprecating voice as the wind tugged her chapeau. “I’d hate for anyone to see my hair just now.”
“The wind would dry it. Perhaps an electrical fan, but one small enough to direct the stream of air… yet powerful enough…” Victor replied innocently.
His voice trailed away. I could almost see the gears turning in his mind. I smiled.
“So, what tinkering materials did you gentlemen find?” I asked, with an apprehensive glance at the sky.
I tried to sound calm, but the color and texture of that cloud was distressingly familiar. Eliza’s expression became serious when she looked at it too. She made eye contact with me, but didn’t speak. I was sure she remembered when last there was such a cloud.
“We’re going to try and make a telectroscope. You know, the optical telephone Louis Figuier imagined,” Victor started.
“A telephone device for distance seeing,” Randall interjected upon seeing my knitted brow.
“A device that allows objects or people anywhere in the world to be seen anywhere ― by anybody? How marvelous!” Eliza exclaimed, and my puzzled expression shifted to her.
The woman’s progressive attitudes and scientific understanding never failed to amaze me. Her smile faded as she looked down the steps that led up to the library.
“I think we should be getting back to the Delta Pearl,” I said, unable to stop myself from looking at the sooty sky.
We all started down the stairs. Randall had asked the Clarence carriage he hired to wait for them. The driver stepped down, ready to help us.
“Speaking of such, isn’t that the odd tall fellow from the riverboat? He’s headed our way. We should offer to let him ride back with us. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve forgotten his name. What was it? Dundas?” Randal asked, turning to see what caused the change in his wife’s demeanor. “Balderdash, the man could use a barber,” he muttered as if to himself. “Wildly unkempt facial hair like that makes a bad impression in the business world.”
My bustle felt crooked from landing on it a moment before. While the others continued the sidewalk, I stopped several stairs before reaching it. It’s difficult to be discrete about adjusting one’s bustle, but I tried.
The others had reached the curb and were about to board the carriage. The Victor made a surprised noise. Eliza gasped. Randall lifted a shielding arm and stepped in front of her. They all looked toward me with expressions of shock and surprise.
“Really, can’t a girl fix her bustle without causing shock and awe?” I murmured.
“Émeraude!” Victor shouted.
It felt as if something large pressed against my entire body. My hat was knocked off and landed on the steps. I fell on the abused bustle again. Then something small but very heavy hit my shoulder just as a weighty covering pushed me the rest of the way to the ground. Then another of the heavy little things hit my head.
“Émeraude!” I heard my name called by all my friends, but the voices blurred together.
My world went dark.
End Chapter 38
Real World Note
Telectroscope. Also called an electroscope it was the first conceptual model of a television or videophone system. The term was used in the 19th century to describe science-based systems of distant seeing.
I love hearing from you — and hope you will leave a comment. Everyone is welcome to leave a random “steam era” appropriate thing. Be well, be happy, my chuckaboos.
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