Saturday, October 24, 2020
Thanks for coming to the river, my chuckaboos! We could sit back and do some fishing while we wait for the riverboat. Oh, but wait. The sign says “No fishing.” Hmmm… that explains why the heron has a guilty look on his face in Dan Antion‘s photo.
When this riverboat first got on the water, we had some vague knowledge of Émeraude’s past. We knew that life wasn’t good in her early years, but we didn’t know very much more than that. Today, she explains a little more.
I don’t like to do long explanatory episodes, but sometimes they are necessary. Besides, remember my purpose here is to rewrite the novel, not just give a serial. Some passages will work better in the novel form, and this is one of them.
Random Reader Things
Several weeks ago, Mary J. McCoy-Dressel, provided Arbuckles’ Coffee as a real-world thing. Then G.P. Cox gave us a word, but a fun word will do nicely as a random reader thing, especially when the word is Persnickety.
Now that that patent troll, Dundas has been fished out of the river, let’s get back on the Delta Pearl and see what else is afoot. There’s more to this chapter than learning additional details of our heroine’s past.
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 53 — Saw
Noise from a motor added to the tension of the night. The Delta Pearl’s naptha launch sped back from the riverbank. Amid all the chaos of Benjamin Dundas jumping overboard, I didn’t realize the launch had gone. Garnet Redford, the Chief Porter, came back aboard holding a thick rolled up paper. He hurried up the stairs to the pilothouse.
Seeing Jaspe dive into the river to retrieve Dundas had stirred my early memories. I couldn’t stop my button-boots from heading toward the old portrait.
When I was a very young girl, the Delta Pearl was a legend in my rural home. It was a fable, or so we believed, because it was not possible for such a large vessel to navigate that part of the river.
The riverboat was said to be a portend of various things. Since hardly anyone truly believed those who claimed to have seen her, the Delta Pearl was used to support whatever prediction or warning might suit an attention-seeker. They might claim it as an omen of disease or severe weather, or conversely of a good harvest. Or a predictor of death… whenever someone turned up missing, folks said they had seen the huge riverboat.
The first time I saw the Delta Pearl I was eight years old. I didn’t tell anyone about the sighting. My mother was already angry with me for asking her if my very recently departed grandfather had seen it. So, it remained my treasured secret.
I went to the river obsessively. Every time I got the chance, and many times when I was pointedly told to stay away from the river, I went. I trekked down the little pig trail that led to the riverbank almost every day — often more than once in a day.
The stranger the abuse I endured became, the more determined I was to sit at the river’s edge, hoping for another sight of the Delta Pearl.
I kept it to myself. There might have been a temptation to share my amazing secret if I had been less isolated. However, I wasn’t allowed to see much of anyone, other than family.
As for the people I was allowed to be around, they would have never believed I had seen the legendary riverboat. They would pass it off as another story from that diminished child, Emerald Perlezenn. My mother got charity on a regular basis by claiming her child was mentally defective. She did other things too.
I wondered if I might never see the riverine craft again. Then came the day when I could no longer cope with the various components of my strange abuse, or with the fact that no one believed me.
“No mother would do such a thing!” someone yelled at me when I got up the courage to ask for help.
That was the day that I could take no more. I went to an outcropping high above the deepest part of the river. No one was nearby. The cliff was empty and so was the river. I hopelessly dove from the precipice to the cold water far below.
I don’t remember falling. Nor do I remember hitting the surface of the water. I do recall going down and down, farther into the depths of the frigid river. I did not fight the descent.
Something caused me to look upward. I didn’t know what it was, but something was streaking down toward me. Abruptly I felt myself being pulled upward. For an instant I struggled against it, but then I surrendered and let it take me.
Gasping for air I breached the surface of the river. A strong arm held me as I splashed. I’m not sure I would have been able to tell who it was. Between fright and the water in my eyes, I could barely see. A life preserver splashed into the water next to me. I grabbed the ring shape as it was pulled. That was when, for the second time, I saw the Delta Pearl.
An old woman with a silver Gibson Girl bun and radiant alabaster skin wrapped me in a warm quilt. She put a cup of steaming Arbuckles’ coffee in my hands.
“Never mind if they say children shouldn’t have coffee. Sometimes it’s called for,” she whispered, and with a smiling nod to the Cook, she left the room.
Then Agate, with her Scottish accent, fed me a bowl of soup.
“It’s my ma’s cock-a-leekie soup,” Agate told me in those first moments. “Ah, you poor wee bairn, you’re just skin and bones. What are you, eight, nine years old? Well never you mind. Now you just pay attention to what I say — and the Dealer and the Captain of course,” the Cook added with a glance at the tall, thin, but stylish man who stood a few feet away. “You’re safe aboard the Delta Pearl. She chose to rescue you and that’s not a thing that happens to just any poor soul.”
My eyes had gone to the handsome and elegant man. He was so polished that for a moment I didn’t notice that he was soaking wet. I knew he must have been the one to dive into the frigid water and pull me back to the surface. His face was impassive, but there was kindness in his eyes.
Then the biggest man I had ever seen came through the door, dwarfing the room. He was of a height with the tall, elegant man. However, he was broad and barrel-chested. He looked strong as an ox. Yet he removed his captain’s hat and bent to speak gently to me.
I stood before the old portrait, mesmerized, as my first memory of being on the Delta Pearl finished washing through me. The tiny figure painted in the background of the picture moved sometimes. It was jumping off the cliff. Just as I had done.
Recently, several people had told me that the woman on the balcony looked like me. I pondered the decorative wrought iron painted to look like gold, and the fact that the holes in the papyrus scroll that malachite scarab gave me matched a music box cylinder for the song A Bird in a Gilded Cage.
An unexpected voice snapped me out of my reverie. I turned to find the Librarian, studying me as I studied the portrait. The old woman with ageless alabaster skin nodded as if it all made perfect sense to her. Opal’s loosely bound silver hair seemed like a halo.
“Ah, Émeraude. The portrait… it’s easy to understand your fascination with it. And the little jumping figure, so much like you? It was much like me as well,” Opal said in a tone of reminiscence. “You were one of the youngest the Delta Pearl has ever chosen. I was only a few years older than you were when the Dealer pulled me from the water below a cliff similar to yours.”
I drew in a stunned breath. Abruptly, I was confused. Opal had never told me her personal story, but she must be the oldest person on the riverboat. However, it sounded like she meant the dealer was already aboard, and an adult, when she came to be part of the crew. I’m not sure what expression was on my face, but she looked at me and chuckled fondly.
“Jaspe is such a dashing figure. And for a young woman like I was to be rescued by him, and at such an emotional moment… I admit that I carried a torch for him for years,” the Librarian added as I tried — and failed to put my question into words.
“Have you seen my new apprentice, Jet? Actually, you might be able to help too,” Opal continued without missing a beat. “There he is now.”
There was quite a collie shangle at the end of the hallway. The Mate and the Cadet each had Benjamin Dundas by an arm. Although his hands were tied, he still struggled. Victor Topaz Elam and Jet Fischer followed close to them, ready to lend a hand.
Opal motioned to Jet and he joined us.
“Mr. Fischer, I suppose no one told you that it’s dangerous to be outside on deck when the Delta Pearl has gone into a time rift,” the Librarian said with a pointed look at me and a slightly accusatory edge to her voice.
Before I found a way to ask anything politely, she had put me on the defensive.
“Hold up. What’s that under his shirt? It’s too wide for a money-belt,” Victor said.
Victor put his hands around the man’s waste. He yanked free a canvas contraption. It was sewn into a series of thick pockets and buckled around his midsection.
“Thank God it’s been waterproofed,” Victor muttered.
My young inventor opened the smallest pocket and withdrew a leather pouch. Untying it he produced Eliza’s Pharaoh Diamond and held it up for everyone to see.
“Well now,” Blue John commented and gave Dundas a smart jerk when the man tried again to break free. “Topaz, if you please, return the diamond to Mrs. Needleman.”
I gulped. Hearing someone call Victor by his gemstone middle name made a hollow spot in my stomach. I still wasn’t certain if the accidental bonding of the inventor to the riverboat “took.” Neither was I sure whether that was a good thing or a bad one. I was worried that a choice had been made for him, and that it wasn’t one he would have made himself.
“What else does he have in there,” Obsidian Durango asked.
“It better not be―” Victor muttered with an expletive as he opened the longest pouch. “My drawings!”
Victor’s face was so red I feared he might explode as he unfolded the plans. I recognized designs that had been on the large sheet of paper he showed me earlier in the voyage. The drawings were detailed plans for a life-sized automaton.
Theft of the design would have been a great loss to Victor. It would have taken years to recreate them. The plans were so comprehensive that he had even created an on/off switch at the small of the automaton’s back.
Victor’s hands clinched into fists. I knew that Blue John had seen plenty of roughhousing among the deckhands that escalated to fisticuffs. He looked at Victor and shook his head.
“I know he’s a no-good meater, but it wouldn’t be good sportsmanship to batty fang a man while his hands are tied,” Blue told Victor. “And you! If you spit like you’re about to, I’ll turn the lad loose on you. I’d bet on his dashfire against your bigger size any day,” he told Dundas.
I took a step toward the men, but Opal touched my arm. The Librarian explained that she needed quick assistance finding specific information.
“Come along, my dears,” she told Jet and me. “We’ve no time to spare.”
She moved to a porthole and took a look at the stars in the sky. Opal nodded as if she confirmed something to herself. Then she nodded to us, and Jet and I followed as she led us to the reading room ― and then beyond the hidden door that concealed the Delta Pearl’s true library.
The riverboat’s library consisted of more than books for pleasure reading or ordinary learning. Jet had already told me excitedly that our collection was different in the most extraordinary ways from the public library he managed in Cairo, Illinois.
“Émeraude, dear, would you hand me a pen? That pencil will do. It’s no time to be persnickety,” Opal said when I hesitated, looking for a pen.
Taking the pencil, she scribbled a series of numbers. After a second, I thought it might be a date. However, that made no sense. Such a date wouldn’t even be in our century. Then the Dealer’s words came back to me.
“Latitude and longitude remain unchanged,” Jaspe had said. “However, the Delta Pearl has shifted in time. We are in a time about one hundred fifty years later than our own era.”
When the Librarian subtly chided me about going out on deck, I didn’t notice the roll of paper she carried. It was the same shape and size as what Garnet held when he got off the launch. When Opal spread it out, it was the thickest newspaper I had ever seen.
Practicality registered in my mind. Of course, the Captain would send a trusted member of the senior crew ashore, just long enough to collect a little information.
“Forewarned is forearmed,” I muttered.
“Oh, very good, my dear!” Opal told me. “Back in the fifth century, Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War. I find it applies to so many other aspects of life. He spoke of the importance of foreknowledge. The Captain is very fond of that book. Whenever we enter a time slip, he gathers a little knowledge, if at all possible,” she added, tapping the newspaper.
“This is extraordinary. But why stop at a newspaper. Isn’t it better if we collect all the knowledge we can?” Jet asked.
“Oh, I tired that long ago,” Opal confessed. “I sneaked ashore and brought back a rowboat full of books. The Delta Pearl started spinning and wouldn’t stop until I threw everything overboard. The only thing left from what I brought aboard was a newspaper. As I held it in my hand, ready to toss it into the river, the riverboat stilled. I suppose it’s a compromise. She’ll allow us a little information so that we can be forewarned, but not so much that we can tamper too awfully with the course of events.”
Opal opened a leather portfolio and removed a sheet of paper. It looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I had seen it. She quickly looked at the contents of the folio, comparing it to the list on the sheet.
“Use this date and get any financial information for entities that are large or significant in our own time. Just skim the pages and look for names on this list. It’s mostly corporations, banks, stocks, and such. If you will please. We haven’t much time,” Opal instructed us handing Jet the sheet of paper.
“When the Delta Pearl takes us into a time shift, she doesn’t stay long. It’s the same when she moves to a place where one would think she wouldn’t be able to go,” Opal replied to my questioning look. “Often it happens without many of the crew even noticing. Yes, it’s something the riverboat can control… usually,” she added in a rueful tone. “Else we’d be hopping around through time with every voyage,” she paused and gave me a fond look.
“However, the Delta Pearl always has a purpose. When she took off to that narrow tributary where you lived as a child, Émeraude… The riverboat didn’t get there by any ordinary means, and she couldn’t stay more than long enough to let the Dealer pluck you out of the depths before you drowned,” Opal said as Jet looked on mystified.
“Are we taking on a new crew member then?” Jet wanted to know, but Opal shook her silver head.
“Who’s to say,” she replied. “The information I collect helps me understand that what the Delta Pearl has in mind, if only in a general way… most of the time.”
“Now, my dears, light a shuck. We need to hurry,” Opal told us.
End Chapter 53
Damfino why they’re searching through the newspaper. And why does that leather portfolio look familiar to Émeraude? Oh but wait — we’ve seen it before. That was months ago. I don’t expect you to remember.
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. They refuse to let me talk to a manager. They refuse to promise to send someone other than the previous do-nothing tech. They refuse to make sure the technicians have working hardware with them. 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.
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.