Saturday, June 27, 2020
Welcome back to the riverbank, my chuckaboos. This segment continues the adventures of the passengers and crew during their shore leave in my fictional, Victorian Era version of Cairo, Illinois.
Delightful blogger and fascinating person, Pat at e-Quips recently did a post about bells. I stumbled upon it after I wrote this chapter, but Bells was a perfect random reader thing for today. I only had to make a minor adjustment to use it.
Also, I was finally able to use a “thing” that was sent months ago from one of my original followers, author and translator, Olga Núñez Miret. She comes up with such fabulous things, like Papyrus!
I have one character that leaves most of us undecided — and I doubt this chapter will change that. We’ve learned not to be a trusting bunch! I’m talking about the wealthy intrapreneur, Randall Needleman. Look at Tissot’s painting used above, and consider whether you would cast any of those men as Randall. I’ve always seen him as a tall, barrel-chested man. However, if I had to choose from these… I’m thinking the man standing on the step at the far right (gray top hat). Or the very handsome man seated on the left end of the sofa, chin on fist (black top hat).
Thanks to Dan Antion for the use of his photos.
Last time we left Émeraude in quite a mysterious tangle and losing consciousness. (Chapter 38 — Tangle) Shall we see how she’s doing?
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 39 — Rise
Shouting voices rose up from beneath me. I’m not sure if it was the voices that woke me or the pain in my shoulder and head. The world around me shifted and drew close.
Stars danced before my eyes. My ears rang like a ship’s bell. Although my head hurt, it was not as bad as my shoulder. I cried out when I moved it.
As my vision cleared, I looked upward ― it felt like I was rising. Light glinted dully from a gray metal ball. It drooped from a cord, to which it was attached. Several of them dangled above me.
“That’s what hit me,” I muttered as consciousness returned. “Lead weights. It’s a net! But where did it come from?” I exclaimed.
The weight that knocked me on the head must have been a glancing blow, else I would have been unconscious longer. I didn’t think I had been out more than a moment. I moved my shoulder gingerly. I dreaded to see the bruise that would soon be there.
Shouts intruded on my dazed thoughts. I looked down toward the voices. Regardless of how I came to be in the predicament, I was scooped inside a net. It was being drawn up to who knew where or what.
Already I was higher than Victor T. Elam could reach. I saw him on the ground, jumping, trying to grab hold of the net. It was mere inches beyond his grasp.
Jet Fischer stepped out of the library, summoned by the commotion. Shock painted his expression when he looked up toward me. His gaze seemed to travel up beyond me. From his different vantage point, I wondered if he saw something the others could not see.
The librarian ran back inside. A moment later he emerged carrying an odd shape by a strap. He hurried to the edge of the stairs, but he was farther away than anyone.
A bright flash hit my eyes, a reflection. Amid the chaos, I thought I glimpsed a pair of brass wings. However, the bright spot flew back toward the docks.
Onyx? I wondered, but the clockwork owl never traveled far from the Delta Pearl.
As suddenly as the bright wings appeared, the owl darted away. I heard the high-low-high emergency klaxon from the Delta Pearl, and knew that drew him. Any crew within hearing of that horn were to return to the riverboat immediately. My heart lurched. Not only was I trapped, but there was trouble aboard my home!
Then something tugged at my knotted mesh prison. I saw the handle of Eliza’s parasol hooked through the net. Unfortunately, the net still rose. In seconds Eliza dangled above the ground.
Victor wrapped his arms around Eliza’s legs, in effort to keep both of us from being pulled away. That caused my prison to lurch wildly.
Randall Needleman had been on the curb, beside the Clarence carriage, ready to help his wife climb into it. If I had been captured a minute later, he and Eliza would both have been inside the coach. As it was, Randall was a step away from the horses when he saw the young inventor and his wife, both struggling to prevent the net from pulling me up into the sooty cloud.
Jet gave a shrill whistle as he waved the odd shape he carried. Randall turned toward the librarian. Jet pointed up at the brown cloud and then jiggled the thing he held. Randall nodded his understanding. Jet swung the object by its strap and then threw it hard. The roundish shape hurtled toward Needleman, who caught it with one hand. To my astonishment, he strapped it over his face.
A breathing apparatus? I remembered fireman who was a passenger, years before. He saved the life of a wealthy man who gifted him passage on the riverboat. The fireman told us that fire departments were using “Neally’s Smoke Excluding Mask.” He described how the mask had a small bag of water that was suspended by a neck strap. Connected to the water bag were two sponge filters that were kept wet when the bag was squeezed. Air was drawn through the filters to the mouthpiece in the face mask.
For an instant I wondered what they could be thinking. Then I realized that I squinted to see through the haze. The air around me was had gotten smutty. I coughed.
Acting quickly, Randall hopped onto the back of one of the horses. Standing there gave him enough height that he was able to launch himself from the horse and grab hold of the net.
“Let go, Eliza! It’s getting too high,” he called down to his wife.
I heard Eliza groan out the word “No!” as she fought to keep her grip on the parasol. However, with Victor’s weight pulling her down she was not able to hold onto it.
Yes, Eliza was several feet into the air. Although Victor, whose arms were around her knees, was not at a dangerous distance above the ground. When Eliza lost her hold, they both tumbled to the earth, unharmed.
Or that is, with the exception of Eliza’s broad feathered chapeau. It was dislodged when Victor grabbed onto her legs. The lovely hat floated safely to the ground just a moment before Victor and Eliza tumbled earthward. Victor landed squarely on the hat, and Eliza landed on him.
I coughed incessantly as I was drawn up closer to the noxious brown cloud. I remembered how sick the Captain had been after he went into such a cloud when it descended on the riverboat during my sweet sixteen party.
I choked off a scream when a monstrous face with two big eyes and a long snout popped up beside me. Then it laughed and I knew the voice. It was a gas mask.
“Lean back, Émeraude. Make sure I don’t nick you,” Randall instructed as he clutched the net with one hand.
He held a long switchblade in his other hand. The knife gleamed sharply. Randall began to slice the tough fibers of the mesh.
As Randal worked the blade to cut the net, I heard a clicking sound just above me.
“The scarab!” I whispered as the clockwork beetle scrabbled down the netting toward me.
The green scarab stopped to hide several inches above my head. It dropped a small papyrus scroll, which landed in the ruffles of my neckline. I tucked the scroll farther inside my gown so I wouldn’t lose it, just as Randall pushed his torso inside the net.
Randall saw that I held my shoulder protectively. He nodded as if he understood it was injured. He removed the freakish looking mask and put it over my face, quickly tightening the strap.
“Put your good arm around my neck,” he told me and then he put an arm around my waste.
Randall pressed a button, which retracted the knife. He quickly put it inside his waistcoat. He reached outside the net to retrieve the parasol.
“Don’t look down,” he warned.
Of course, that’s precisely what I did. I gasped seeing how high above the ground we were. We had also drifted out beside the river. There was no guarantee we would land in the water. From my vantagepoint, I thought we were almost as likely to plummet to the hard earth. Falling from such a height, even if we did hit the river, that would not be a gentle landing by any means.
“You’re as bad as my dear wife,” he said with a chuckle. “Didn’t I tell you not to look? Don’t worry. I’m a good swimmer,” he added, but his claim was small comfort.
An instant later Randall pulled me free of the net. Far below, I could see the shapes of people running in our direction.
Then we both fell.
End Chapter 39
Real Steampunkery Tech
Gas masks with self-contained apparatus and filters weren’t successfully in production until around 1910. That’s why I used the term “breathing apparatus.”
Various configurations were invented as early as 1824. That was from a miner, John Roberts, who came up with a “smoke respirator.” They were usually intended for miners and firemen. These masks tended to be hoods or helmets.
The one I chose for this episode, “Neally’s Smoke Excluding Mask,” was produced in the 1870s. I didn’t find a drawing of it, but I expect it would look more similar to what we imagine today when we think of a steampunk gas mask.
Well dash my wig, we’re hanging from another cliff! Or rather, plunging through the air toward a most uncertain fate… But really, don’t you know me by now? Of course I had to do that.
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.
This serial is made possible in spite of (not because of) the deplorable lack of Internet service from TDS Telecom. They are even worse than the government about claiming no problem exists in the face of failure. TDS Telecom meets every complaint and service call by saying they find no problem. Their technicians come to my home and refuse to do any work or replace equipment, even when their offsite managers have instructed them to do so. They brought equipment that they openly state does not work properly. My letters, emails, and tweets go unanswered. Dear readers, please do not comment here in response to this paragraph. Just be aware of my awful experience with this so called provider.
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Copyright © 2016 and 2020 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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