Damn me but I hate to look a fool in front of a woman. Having done so twice this night, I cannot decide if it is worse to play the fool before a woman I respect and admire, or before a woman of great beauty, of surpassing loveliness of face and form, and who, too, I admire, though it is admiration of the most penetrative . . . the most – overwhelming. Underwhelming? – Fah! I know not what I say. These women, this night, have me all in a dither and a twist. I curse myself for a fool when ’tis any soul who thus beholds my folly, or indeed if none espy me but the empty sky above and the fallow earth below.
First there was my idiotic escape attempt, wherein I cleverly led my men, who could barely make their way down a flight of stairs, to a garden enclosed by a high wall, a wall the which I had failed to discern in all my wandering there, despite every promenade around the garden paths that I made with my lady Flanagan. She knew of the wall, even with her ancient eyes: she had seen it and recognized how it would foil our plans – plans she had descried in mere moments, just as quick as she pierced our disguises. ‘Twas she who kindly saved us, this past night – and she who, with kindness all the greater, said naught and laughed not, but simply came to our aid.
And then, but an hour later, we feature the second act of this great farce entitled “The Illimitable Folly of Damnation Kane –An Addlepated Ass In Two Eras.”
We waited in kind Margaret’s chambers until her grand-daughter – noble and loyal, she is, albeit not so much as she is lovely – arrived and informed Lady Flanagan by telephone. Then Margaret brought us to the stairs, where we said our farewells with many thanks and a sweet kiss ‘pon her soft cheek; then made we our slow, clumsy way down. Upon opening the door at the bottom, the building awoke in lights and shrieks as if bogeys and ban-sidhe had arisen from the very walls! Thank the gods that Margaret had forewarned us that opening the door would set off the fire alarm, else we might have frozen in panic and been apprehended once more, and aye, e’en more ignominiously! It was a close thing, in truth, as Margaret’s concept of a “fire alarm” differs from ours by – aye, well, by three centuries, isn’t it? I and Lynch and MacManus all bethought that a man’s voice would cry out the alarm, such cry being taken up then by several others, with perhaps a ringing bell to carry the signal: little did we know that directly o’er our heads, close enough to touch with outstretched hand as we passed through the door, would be a light as bright as any lantern and red as a cock’s comb, spinning and flashing fit to dizzy a man who, naturally, looks up at such a thing when it comes to life just above him; and with this light – by Lucifer, what a braying! ‘Tis loud enough to wake the dead, split the ground above ’em, and shake their bones back to life! My ears do ring still even now. I have heard quieter cannons. Perhaps they seek to frighten the fire out.
Still and all: we did escape the onslaught of noise and light, and made our way to our arranged rendezvous with Margaret’s grand-daughter, the beauteous and dauntless Meredith Vance. She hesitated not at all, despite our assuredly wild-eyed desperation, but helped MacManus and Lynch into her beast-wagon – a much larger breed than those we knew from the Glass Palace and the House of Lopez – as she directed me to put MacManus’s wheeled chair into the stern, through a hatch the which she opened with a wave of her hand, from which was emitted a strange and otherworldly chirrup, somewhat like the chirping of my ivy box within the hospital, but now coming in two notes, lower then higher (though both equally shrill) not unlike a bosun’s whistle. Alas, I could not force the chair into the cargo space thus revealed; it remained too bulky. Until the enchanting Meredith, finished with her own tasks with remarkable alacrity, came to assist the Fool Eternal with his own smaller duty, and showed me how the conveyance folded into itself for ease of storage. I was struck dumb by my own incompetence, though the genteel maid forbore from comment. She simply ushered me to my place, took her own at the wheel, and ferried us to freedom.
And then began our second display of folly.
To start, MacManus could not describe the dock where we had made landing. He directed Lady Meredith to the harbor, presuming there to be but one such, but her immediate rejoinder – to wit, “Which harbor?” – quickly put the lie to his presumption. He endeavored to peer out the ports of the beast-wagon, attempting recognition of our surroundings, but failing: it has been a fortnight and more since we passed this way, and then it was daylight but now ’tis the blackest night without moon nor stars; and Lynch and I, fevered and unconscious at the time, were of no use to him. I thought to ask how we had been conveyed, and learned that Vaughn had solicited from a local citizen the site of the nearest doctorage, and we had been carried there on litters made of boarding pikes and sailcloth. It had been a painful trek for him, and he remembered little more than discomfort and the odd stares from the people of this time, the which we have grown accustomed but not inured to.
But this gave Meredith a clew, for her mind is as quick and sharp as her face is lovely: she made for the nearest pier, in relation to the hospital, assuming that the men would not have trekked far with such a burden and such scrutiny. And on the second attempt, we struck it aright; MacManus shouted out that he knew the place.
Aroused and confident now that we would soon rejoin our shipmates, we stepped out and I offered my deepest and most sincere gratitude to our bewitching savior, while Lynch assisted MacManus in disembarking from the beast-wagon. Lady Meredith – though I quiver to state that she blushed, most fetchingly, as I laid a gentle kiss on her graceful hand – frowned (Still most becoming!) and said, “Are you sure this is where you want me to leave you? There’s nothing here, and it’s the middle of the night.”
I waved away her concern. “Ta, milady, the night is our shipmate, sure. A friend and ally, cloaking us in her shadows that we might find our way unseen by our foes. And we do not intend to abide in this place for more than minutes, I assure you.”
Her smooth white brow furrowed at this, her large and luminous eyes narrowing as her delicate lips made a pretty moue. Then her face cleared, like the dawn sky after a storm. “Oh – is someone else coming to get you?”
I bowed. “Such is our belief and our hope, milady.”
One perfectly shaped brow raised. “But – you’re not sure?”
I shrugged. “What is sure in this life?”
A wry smile crossed her generous mouth, showing the perceptiveness belied and camouflaged by such ethereal beauty. “Tell you what – why don’t I just wait here until your friends arrive, okay? Just in case.”
I shook my head. “Nay, milady, there is no need. I assure you that we are prepared to confront and conquer any obstacle, dare any hazard that may arise in our path, as we have done countless times before.”
Gently rounded white arms, dotted with the faerie-kisses of freckles, crossed over shapely bosom. “Do you all have any other clothes?”
“Nay, milady, but these will suit for as long as needed, to cover identities and protect modesty.”
“Mmm-hm,” seemed to be her response. “Any money?”
“Money can always be found and acquired.”
“Of course. Ever been in Charleston before? Know your way around?”
“I have sailed across the ocean! How difficult could a city be?”
She nodded, her fiery tresses curling becomingly around her angel’s face and smooth white shoulders. “I’ll just wait. Don’t worry, I won’t bother you – I’ll just stay in the car.”
She suited deed to word, the grace in each motion not hidden by the darkness nor lessened by her attire – well-fitted britches of blue broadcloth and a sleeveless sort of tunic of pale green that did not quite cling, and did not quite reveal – but I could live my life in that “not quite” and die a happy man. I shook myself from my reverie when Lynch – rather snappishly, I thought – called my name, and I turned and saw that he had MacManus situated, and was prepared to follow our course from here.
And so we did: MacManus identified the pier where the Grace had docked, we made our way to the very spot, and then I paced while MacManus counted aloud, as Lynch propelled his chair a step behind me. As the directions were simple enough, I could look ahead and discern our approximate destination: ’twas an establishment on the docks, though set back from the actual pier, with a sign naming it Bucky’s Bait Shop and Fishing Tours. Was this Bucky, then, our ally and informant? Had Vaughn left a message with the proprietor? What of Clio, the word left with Lynch?: A momentary survey showed me no sign reading Clio, nor anything similar, nor yet Lynch’s second clew, “setting.”
We completed the count, and found we had moved just past Bucky’s place of commerce; thirty paces to port took us into a shadowed alcove where there was – nothing. Naught but a large container for refuse – I was minded of the Latin Lion I had flogged in a similar alley behind another shop, after tying him to a similar container, back in Florida – and a telephone attached to the wall of Bucky’s Bait Shop.
So this, then, is our intended means of contact. Fine, Master Vaughn. Now what? MacManus is napping in his chair – the escape was most difficult for him, who should still be abed. Good man. Lynch is staring at the telephone and brooding over his useless, meaningless clews, and I record this log with near as much use and meaning to it. We had thought, upon Lynch’s discovery that the number-toggles on the telephone had letters inscribed thereupon, that we could spell out his words to reach Vaughn, but it proved to be of no use. Pressing C-L-I-O-S-E-T-T-I-N-G summoned to the earpiece a woman’s voice, who most frustratingly would not respond to any words of mine, but merely repeated the same cursed phrase over and over: “You must press one before the number you have dialed.” When I gave over my attempts to communicate directly with that ice-throated wench and followed her instructions, she demanded eighty-five scents! Damning her to Hades’ blackest fire-pits served no purpose, of course, though it was somewhat satisfying. Nothing we said would impel her to explain what on Danu’s green and verdant Earth she wanted from us: how in the name of all the saints and angels are we to acquire what she asked? How would we give them to her that demanded them? Frustrated at last, we replaced the handset in its holder, which shut the bitch up, at the least; then we tried, one after the other, C-L-I-O, which brought nothing but a pause, and then that same harridan’s mocking tone informed us that our call could not be completed as dialed; and then S-E-T-T-I-N-G, followed by S-E-T-T-I-N-G-C-L-I-O, both of which brought further demands that we deposit scents. Lynch had the rather esoteric idea that the woman was a witch, and wanted to smell us for some arcane and mysterious reason, but even were I willing to rub the telephone under my arms, the hag demanded eighty-five scents, fifty scents, and ninety-five scents for our three completed pressings. I was certainly not going to find near a hundred strangers and cajole or compel them to press the telephone into their oxters; even were I to do so, I would not then willingly put the same to my face.
And so, frustrated and stymied at the last, I sit at a table set out before Bucky’s Bait Shop, and keep my log. And I feel a consummate fool, for here I am, writing these purposeless words in this worthless log, while Lynch stares at that thrice-damned telephone, and MacManus sleeps, fitfully and clearly in pain but too exhausted to care – and a hundred paces away sits an intelligent and genteel and sublimely beautiful woman, watching me, watching us in all our gloriously asinine folly. I cannot bear to look up for shame – even though, by God Almighty, I hear her approach us now. Curse the gods for making beautiful women to be the bane of we dim-witted men.
We have taken advantage of Lady Meredith’s most kind and generous offer of hospitality – and my dear Margaret’s, as well, for it is her domicile where we bide this night, and seek rest, each of my companions granted a bedchamber to sleep in, with a wonderfully cushioned bench for myself – more than adequate to my needs.
The beauteous Meredith spoke to me of the need to stay off of the city streets, as she put it, as we are likely now wanted men; too, she did not need to do more than glance at MacManus, who is in dire need of decent rest, which he could never find in that chair, outside in the damp night’s humors – the atmosphere in this city is most close and pressing! ‘Tis like breathing through damp wool. Though that would smell better, to my nose. Perhaps that telephone-witch sought relief from this city’s stink, with her absurd demand for scents. Did she want perfumes? Bah! The very thought renews my ire, and chases away the rest I need.
I will think of Meredith, and so to sleep.
28th of August – is it still?
As it ever is, all is brighter with the dawn. I am sure we will find the solution to this mystery, and in the meantime, we are free, we are comforted and secure in the house of my good friend – whose generosity I will endeavor to, but fear I cannot, repay – and I am in love. For milady Meredith Vance, I have now discovered, performs a rite called Yoga.
I cannot even describe it. I slept deeply and well, in smallclothes under a thin but soft blanket as Meredith kindly (and ably) laundered Jackson the guardsman’s uniform along with the clothes MacManus wore; Lynch is slight enough to wear some of the attire in this abode – Meredith claims it was her grandfather’s clothing, but I think it likely her own, and I curse the breadth of my shoulders that I cannot let her dress me, as well, in her own apparel. Any road, I awoke to bright sunlight streaming through the many glass windows that pierced the walls of the room – ’tis a parlor, rather than a bedchamber, and thus far more open; though the couch where I lay my head was as soft and restful as any bed I have known. I rose and went to the windows to greet the day – and there, on the lawn behind the house, the which is surrounded by trees and high hedges, there I saw Meredith, wearing little more than her own silken skin, as she – danced.
She is dressed much as the Enchantress was, when I first spied her in her glory as she swum in her pool; but Meredith’s attire, while similarly fitted to her skin, covers somewhat more. She stands on a small rectangular cloth, a thin carpet, perhaps, on the grass; she faces the rising sun. She stands on one leg and raises the other, as she lifts her hands over her head. She is in profile to me, and I can see that her eyes are closed, her face serene. Her hair is drawn back into a tail which spills down her back like a stream of fire. She lowers her arms and her leg, and then – bends over at the waist and touches her toes. Then she leans far to the left, and then the right, just as a swordsman might when he thrusts, but a hundred times slower, with wondrous grace; and to watch the smooth movement of her limbs, the flexion of her taut sinews under such gleaming porcelain skin – my God, I have never seen anything so lovely. I know not how long I watched her slow, lithe movement, but she never opened her eyes, and I never closed mine. Until she finished with her hands folded before her and her head bowed, as though in prayer; I managed to break myself away from the window, then, before she could catch me in my admiration. She came into the house, now covered in a thin robe, and greeted me where I sat on my couch – with the blanket providing modesty to my smallclothes. I inquired as to her health and activity on this fine morning, and she told me she was well, and had been doing her Yoga.
Gods bless that Yoga, and Meredith Vance, as well.
And may the saints preserve me. For I am a pirate, and a fugitive, and a man lost in time, without resources or prospects, or even a shirt I can name my own. And I am in love.