This is Chapter 4 of my NaNoWriMo project. Emmeline has finished reading the note she received in Chapter 1, which was from her mother – ‘to be opened in the event of my death’ type stuff – instructing her to go to Paris and live with a mysterious lady named Madame Blancheflour. Watt was entrusted with the task of seeing her to the ship, and naturally he has done his duty admirably. As our current chapter opens, she is on board, and about to meet a strange new friend…
Emmeline and the Ice-God
A dumbfounded Emmeline stood on the deck of the giant ship and watched the dark speck that was Watt, several hundred feet below. People all around her were yelling, shouting their farewells, pleading for telegrams and letters and visits and lots of other things, but Emmeline saved her breath. All she wanted from Watt was for him to come striding up the gangplank and bring her home, and she knew that was completely pointless. Shouting and shrieking about it would make less than no difference, and so Emmeline stayed quiet and still, like a small forlorn statue.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that she wanted to go home out of love, or affection, or loneliness, or anything like that. She wanted to go home because that’s where her books were, and she didn’t like being removed from them against her will. As she stood on the deck of that ship, she was an angry and humiliated girl, not a lonely and sorrowful one.
Or, at least, that’s what she’d have you believe.
Emmeline sighed and leaned further out over the railing. She decided to wave, on the off-chance that Watt was looking, and then she stepped back out of the crush, her satchel carefully clutched to her chest. As she walked across the boards toward the cabins, a sudden sickening vibration under her feet almost knocked her flat, and she heard a man nearby cry out with what sounded like joy.
‘She’s away!’ he said, slapping his friend between the shoulder blades, making the other man cough. ‘Those’ll be the engines firing up. We’ll be at sea soon enough.’
At sea, Emmeline thought as the guffawing moustache-wearing gentlemen passed her by. Meaning lost or confused, or both.
‘Apt,’ she said, to nobody in particular.
‘Did you say something?’ said a curiously metallic, hollow-sounding voice, out of midair. ‘Only, I thought I heard you say something, and I wouldn’t want to be rude and not reply in a suitably witty and interestin’ way.’
Emmeline looked around. There was nobody within ten feet of her, and absolutely nobody looking in her direction. The only things she could see were a few carefully welded benches, a flotation device or two bolted to the wooden wall in front of her and a curious seagull, looking at her sideways.
‘Where are you?’ she ventured, clutching her satchel close.
‘I’m sorry. Are you talking to me, now, or is there someone else with you?’ The metallic voice sounded no closer nor any further away, but every bit as strange as it had the first time Emmeline had heard it.
‘You,’ she said. ‘I mean – sorry. I mean, dear strange and slightly frightening voice, I am talking to you.’
‘’M not strange,’ said the voice, now becoming a little less hollow-sounding and a lot more clear. ‘I’m perfickly normal, thank you very much. And I’m over here.’ Something moved to Emmeline’s left, and her gaze was caught by a scruffy head emerging from a grating in the wall. This head – the colour of whose hair was impossible to determine – was swiftly followed by an equally grubby body dressed in dusty overalls. The fingernails of this creature were clotted with dirt and oil and his – its? – face was smeared with grease. As Emmeline watched, he slithered out of the hole he’d been hiding in until all of him – and there wasn’t much – was standing in front of Emmeline with a hand held out in greeting.
‘Mornin’,’ he said. ‘My name’s Thing. Who’re you?’
‘I’m sorry?’ said Emmeline, looking at his outstretched hand as if he’d offered her a used handkerchief.
‘Yeah, me too,’ said the boy, in a weary voice. Emmeline blinked, and wondered what was going on.
‘Sorry for what?’ she ventured, after a few silent moments.
‘About my name,’ he replied, taking back his hand and wiping it on his grimy overalls. ‘Wasn’t that what we were talking about?’
‘I’m quite sure we weren’t talking about anything,’ replied Emmeline, adjusting her grip on her satchel, and casting her eye around to see if there were any adults in the vicinity. Not that she had much use for adults, normally, but they could on occasion come in helpful. As she’d expected, however, most people were still hanging over the railings, and those that weren’t engaged in tearful goodbyes had already retired to their cabins. She and this strange dirty boy were like a little island in a sea of handkerchiefs and snot.
‘You need a hand with your bag?’ The boy snuffled, like he had a heavy cold. ‘Only I’m good at that. Giving hands with stuff.’
‘No,’ said Emmeline, aghast. ‘Thank you.’
‘Suit yourself,’ he replied. ‘So, are you goin’ to tell me your name, or have I to guess it?’
‘How on earth would you guess it?’ said Emmeline, taking a step back.
‘Bet I could,’ said Thing, grinning. His teeth were nearly as filthy as his face.
‘Look, I have to go to my cabin now,’ said Emmeline. ‘So, if you’ll excuse me?’
‘No,’ said Thing. ‘Is it Amy? Angela? Angelica? No – wait. Agnes. It’s Agnes, isn’t it?’
‘What do you mean, ‘no’?’ said Emmeline, wishing she had a heavy book to hand in order to throw it at the boy’s head.
‘Well, you asked me if I would excuse you. So, I said no. Agnes.’
‘My name is not Agnes.’ Emmeline felt her teeth start to grind, all by themselves.
‘Betty? Bettina? Bucephalus! Please say it’s Bucephalus. I’ve always wanted to meet one of those.’
‘No. It’s none of those names. You’re not even on the right letter.’ Emmeline’s arm was starting to hurt from holding her satchel so tightly, and she really wanted to find her cabin and go to sleep.
‘Ah! A clue. Right. Caroline. Carly. Christina. Chrysanthemum.’
‘Chrysanthemum is a flower. You really are an idiot, aren’t you?’
‘Lots of girls’re named after flowers. Rose. Lily. Petunia. Gardenia. Viola. Violet. Daisy. Poppy. Lily.’
‘You said Lily already,’ sighed Emmeline, shifting her satchel to the other arm.
‘I was just testing,’ grinned Thing.
‘My name is Emmeline, all right? Now, can I please go? I want to take some rest before we get to Paris.’
‘Emmmmmellllllinnnnnne,’ said the strange boy, rolling her name around in his mouth like he was tasting it. ‘I like it. That’ll do.’
‘Do for what?’ Emmeline’s patience was on its last legs.
‘I collect names,’ Thing replied. ‘Someday I’ll meet a name that I can’t resist and I’ll ask someone to give it to me, because it’ll be too good to keep.’
‘Right. And how many do you have in your collection?’
‘Oh, hundreds,’ said Thing, casually. ‘Thousands, maybe.’
‘When are you going to make your decision?’
‘Well, whenever I meet a name I can’t resist, of course,’ he said. ‘Hasn’t happened yet.’
‘Look, this is fascinating, and all, but I really need to lie down now. Please, can I go?’
‘Certainly, Emmeline. Mind out for that name, now. It’s a long ‘un, and they tend to get caught on things. Like newborn foals, they are. Awkward and leggy. Just watch out for it and see you don’t break it, or lose it.’
‘Thanks for the tip,’ said Emmeline as she squeezed past. Thing smelled like smoke and dirt and sweat, and as soon as she was past him he swung himself back into the hole in the wall. Despite herself, Emmeline couldn’t help but be curious about where it went.
‘Bye, now. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again,’ he said, as he waved and disappeared from view. The grating clanged shut and Emmeline was by herself again.
This time, she felt even more alone than before, and she wasn’t sure why.