Monthly Archives: February 2018

Log #49: Gifts and Departures

Log

Ah gods, devils, my heart – my brain – my eyes!

‘Tis all too much. Surely some dam must burst, some wall crumble. An inferno will rage forth, and flesh will melt and bones will char, and perchance the Earth will open and swallow me whole. I hope it does.

It is not – pain. It could be pain. Part is. The heart – there is pain there. But there is so much else. All in the same moment – and in the next, twice as much again! Thrice!

I will close my eyes. Perhaps oblivion, even for a heartbeat, will save me from exploding.

Later – eight bells o’ the first watch

I am better now. Stab my liver, but I must have been a spectacle an hour gone! There were tears rolling down my cheeks like rainwater, my breath bellowing and steaming like a bull’s. I could not hold my limbs’ shaking nor keep my eyes from rolling. A proper madman, I was.

I am.

No. I will not think it all, nor allow it to overwhelm me anew. I am but a man, and weak – but I am a man. Weakness will not rule me.

One at a time, then. And bless this humble pen and paper: ’tis my crutch, my balm, my confessor and confidante. I do not understand why it should be that writing out my sorrows and my vexations in ink should lessen their weight on my heart, but it is so, and has ever been since I began this log – aye, two months ago? Is’t all? Christ’s tears.

Aye. One at a time.

My heart aches. ‘Tis hollowed out, a gourd emptied and dried and left to harden and wither to stone. It was so full; this is why it is now so very empty. I did love Meredith Vance – aye, still and all I do, in truth – and she did begin to love me. I know. I did see it in her eyes. ‘Twas the gift I gave – and perhaps the leavetaking after. Many’s the time I have seen strong men weep and hard women soften, as the ship sails from harbor and the loved one shrinks from sight, diminishing and dwindling mile after mile but still visible all the way to the horizon: ’tis the hardest way to say goodbye, to watch them fade from sight over a time, bit by bit by bit. And such a leavetaking makes the heart swell and tear and burst as the love is drawn forth from it, drawn to the departing one like iron to a lodestone, like an anchor torn loose from its mooring by the inexorable pull of the tide. To say goodbye is to know the strength of your love, and so, methinks, it was with Meredith Vance. Sure it was so for mine own love, mine own heart now torn asunder.

Aye, the gift: our passage departed in the eventide, about three bells of the first watch, and so we had this past day to ourselves, as Meredith was employed once more. I did look to the sky more this day than before, and I wondered: is that speck a bird, or a winged beast-wagon filled with madmen and imminent saints? By Hermes, they fly. She flies. She captains a ship that sails on aether. No – I cannot. One thing, each for itself. The gift.

We three – Lynch, MacManus and I – made use of Sir Thomas’s guiding maps, and we found our way to streets of shops, where we purchased what was needful: new clothing for all three – closer to proper finery ’tis, but the boots – fah! If one be not a woman, this world offers naught with any spirit or flair. Square and clunky as a Spanish galleon in dead calm, my feet are in these – boots. Ugly as a warthog and half as soft, as well, and the color of an ill babe’s shite – why do they wear these? Fah. Hades take them. But aye, we purchased attire, and some small supplies – the grocer, when we inquired as to food prepared for journeying, proffered us items called granola bars and beef jerky – ship’s biscuit and hardtack, says I, but I give them their due: in all my years of eating ship’s biscuit and hardtack, this is the most tasteful and savory I have struck. Easier to chew, as well.

By Athena! I cannot stay on a single thought. There is too much! This was the thought, and the sensation, that tortured my mind two hours ago, ere I slept. Aye – I slept, did I not say? Driven to slumber by exhaustion of mind, of body, of soul; driven to sleep despite my surroundings and circumstances. And the madness that consumed me was this: there is too much on which I must think, and too many errant thoughts that capture my mind and steal it away from its intended and useful heading – I fall off the course of my thoughts at the smallest sight, at the merest oddity, and fall to rapt contemplation of same, like a small child given a new toy who then casts it aside to play with a pretty stone, which is in turn abandoned for a puddle of water. And because the whole world is new to me now, there is distraction – everywhere. I cannot grasp it, for too many fall to my hand. I cannot steer straight, for the winds come from all directions, all at once. It is mad – I fear I may be mad, soon if not now. When my heart is filled, as well, as it was with the sorrow of my departing love – well, my cup runneth over, so they do say.

But: once more, I will attempt focus, once more sally forth into the swirling madness of my brain to seek out a path that may lead me to safety and surety. We did visit the shops. We bought clothing and shod our feet, and found supplies (The which we did not need, it obtains, but later for that.). ‘Twas then, after the grocer, that I found a pawn shop, much like Morty’s of Florida – but with a proprietor who was courteous and helpful, rather than a black-hearted bastard with acid in his tongue and an arsehole for a mouth. There I bought gifts for Margaret and Meredith – and for Lynch and MacManus, too, for they have been stout and true, following me loyally despite my floundering, my failure to lead so well as they follow. For Lynch – who had seemed most irritated by the purchasing of attire, as he could find naught that fit him well, particularly shoes for his feet: all were too large for those dainty flappers of his and would chafe him raw where he to wear such; we did at last find a decent shirt and breeches in a shop that sold to children, which near slaughtered his pride – for Lynch I found a proper pair of boots, decent leather if a bit cracked, with turn-down tops and brass buckles, and a finely tooled belt to match. They fit him perfectly, and he flushed with joy at the gift, the soft-hearted lad. For MacManus I found a cane, the which he needs, as he was limping badly ere the end of our excursion, and we have many miles yet to go – ah, but to assuage his wounded pride, and to serve our needs well, as even an injured MacManus is a warrior both doughty and ferocious as the situation commands, this cane is in truth a weapon: the top hand-and-a-half make up the hilt of a sword which draws forth from the rest of the cane, which is scabbard for it. ‘Tis good steel, a full two feet in length, near as well-crafted as my Libertad. ‘Twill serve MacManus well, and thus all of us. He is as pleased as Lynch.

For our kind savior and hostess, Margaret Boyle Flanagan, I found a draughts board carved from ash-wood by a proper Irish craftsman: ’twas decorated with Celtic knots and suchlike, the counters each carved with the likeness of trees native to Ireland, rowan and holly and oak and pine. ‘Tis a lovely thing, but still far short of the debt we owe her. Still: Meredith assured me that she will adore it, and so I am satisfied.

And for Meredith. For Meredith I found a necklace, a thing of beauty surpassing any such accoutrement I have yet seen in all my years of plundering. ‘Tis a fine silk ribbon, in a deep green that complements the maid’s beauteous eyes, that carries an oval carved of ivory and circled by reddish gold filigree, and on the oval is carved an image – a dark shadow of a face. The proprietor called it a cameo, and the shadow a silhouette, words he kindly wrote out for me. ‘Tis a gorgeous piece, but what’s more – what brought it to my hands, calling out for to grace my love’s delicate throat, was this: that shadow, that silhouette – it is hers. Aye, it was carved a century before, yon pawnman told, but I swear it is Meredith’s true likeness.

I gave it her on the porch of Margaret’s home, as the sun shone through the trees and set her hair alight with golden glory amid the flames of her tresses. I told her that now her beauty would last, carved in ivory, for a thousand years – as it would last in her for all of her life, and would last in my heart for all of mine.

She kissed me, then. Her fire set me alight. I burn still.

I cannot write more of this.

But an hour later, we found ourselves at the – the station, Meredith called it, the place where the trains arrive and depart. ‘Twas there that my mind filled, as my heart had, for – a train? That is what they name this?

A dragon, says I.

It is as long as a road – longer by far than any man-o-war or ship of the line, longer than anything I have seen built by men, even in this time. It is steel, from end to end, though pierced by glass windows – ’tis finer armor than anything worn by the noblest cavaliers of King Charles’s court. The beast must weigh more than London Bridge. And it moves. It screamed as it arrived, and hissed out breath; it chuffs, like a bull readying to charge, as it moves – and it is as fast as the beast-wagons which it dwarfs.

Our departure on the dragon was somewhat troublous. We arrived at the station a full turn of the glass before the appointed hour for casting off; indeed, the monster was not yet there. Meredith went to a magic window set in a sort of cabinet; she pressed various switches and touched the face of the magic window here and there, and soon the cabinet ejected three rectangles of stiff parchment – our tickets, Meredith named them. But as she gave them us – each printed with our own names – her movements slowed and she frowned at one of the parchments. Her consternation tugged at me, and I placed a hand on her arm. “What is it, lass?”

She looked up, past me, to a place where large doorways opened to the outside, and where a number of folk were in a queue, leading to a man in livery behind a counter. “Shit,” she said. “I forgot about that.”

My touch became a gentle squeeze – and such a fool am I, even this set my blood racing. “What, lass? What’s amiss?”

She turned to me and said, “You can’t get on the train here. I forgot, you need eye-dee.” My query clarified this to identification, such as the portrait cards of St. Vincent’s. Just then, as if to illuminate our need, the train arrived, with a shriek and a hiss that had we three Irishmen, with our stout hearts and battle-hard nerves, pale and shaking, though babes and grannies but smiled at the horrendous sounds. We saw yon steel leviathan creeping by, through the doorways beside the queue and counter, and we exchanged a wide-eyed glance.

“Come on,” Meredith said. “Hurry.” And we departed through the door by which we had entered, away from the dragon-train, at a near run – as near as Lynch and MacManus could handle.

Meredith stopped us again, just without. The station-house was a long, low building of brick and stone, not terribly large, perhaps two hundred paces in length and fifty in breadth. To either side stretched a sort of screen, of bright metal in a checkered pattern, like a wall of chainmail links. ‘Twas near the height of a man, and did naught to conceal the mighty beast that crouched behind it, which immediately arrested we three.

“You can’t take the bag,” Meredith spake, her words quick and terse. “Here, over here.” She drew us to a corner of the station-house, somewhat concealed, and there opened the bag wherein we had put our old clothing, our supplies, and the atlas she had given us – along with our pistolas and the wooden box holding our remaining dollar-papers, some three thousand after our purchases. She rummaged through the bag, withdrawing the box and handing it to me, and the two pistolas, which she thrust at MacManus – who, not expecting her agitation, dropped them a-clatter at his feet. Lynch stooped and retrieved them, tucking one in his belt and handing the other to Shane, with somewhat more success this time. To me, Meredith said, “Take the cache out, leave the box. Hurry.” I quick opened the money-box, took out the dollar-papers and thrust them in my pockets, dropping the box atop the bag of now-discarded goods. I grasped her design as she stood, then, and walked to the linked-chain screenwall. She looked around briefly for observers and then placed her fingers and toes in the holes in the screen, preparing to scale it.

Ah: a surreptitious entry. This was a task we grasped. “Not there, lass,” I called. I looked around more carefully than she, and saw two men smoking tobacco-sticks; they had spied us rummaging through the equippage, and watched us now. We needed better cover for this subterfuge. I motioned to my men, and led our party to a place I spied a dozen paces farther along, where a pair of stout trees grew close by the screen wall, which would offer assistance in climbing and concealment, too. The two smoking men had turned away, losing interest – now was the moment. We scaled the barrier behind the trees’ cover, with main ease, though MacManus turned pale and sweated with the exertion, and Lynch grunted and stumbled when he dropped to his feet on the far side.

There before us was the dragon, massive steel body stretching away for – five hundred paces? More? Longer than the station-house, it was, and my mind boggled at it. Meredith had to coax us into movement, but we quickly recovered from the shock sufficient to trot after her, to where the orderly queue within had become a milling crowd; we slipped into their midst, and none the wiser about our uncommon approach.

Meredith steered us to another liveried man – an officer of the dragon-train, I surmised – and we proffered our tickets, and were instructed to enter the portal in the monster’s side. We took our leave of my lady – of which I cannot write – and we made our way into the dragon’s belly.

And within? Every creature comfort, we found! There are – toilets, just as the houses here possess, for elimination. With sinks! With water! And there are cushioned seats which lay back into near-beds, and lights, and a voice that speaks from the air and announces to the passengers – of which there are hundreds, perhaps a thousand, all carried in safety and sheer sumptuousness inside a dragon’s belly – announces to them the sights that can be observed out of the windows, and – I could not believe it, I would not believe it, had I not heard it with my own ears and, driven by irresistible curiosity, confirmed this with my eyes – food. Supper, a meal service, a fine, fresh-made repast, served at table, on plates, with cutlery, with liquid refreshment of various potations of wine and ale as well as water – and milk! – served hot from kitchens, in a place named the dining car. Served as we fly forward, rumbling and clacketing, hissing and screeching, occasionally trumpeting out a call louder than any beast that walks this Earth. We ride inside a dragon – and we feast.

We ride towards my ship, and my men, and once there, I will again take up command. I know not where we will go, nor what we can do to improve our lot.

We ride away from the woman I love, who, it seems, loves me as well – her kiss told me so, and most eloquently. I may never see her again.

My mind is full, and my heart empty. Love and madness, hope and despair.

Ah, gods, ah, devils: take me now.

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Log #48: Cannot

Log

August 31

 

By the gods, what a wonder she is! I know not what great service I provided, what Herculean task I completed, that earned me this magnificent favor, this gift of fortune that allowed me to meet, and – though she knows it not – to love the inestimable, the ineffable, the incomparable Meredith Vance.

I pray none observe me now – I think not; all are abed – for one could not cast his gaze on me and fail to know me for a man in love. I sigh, I pace the floor and pause, my gaze wandering afar through dreams, dreams of her, ever of her. Then I return, to write in this log, of my passions, my inamorata, my joy, my love.

Christ, I am a swooning maiden.

I confess. I find myself hoping that some happenstance might occur which would permit me to woo and win this glorious creature. I know it will not come to pass. I must depart, now, and plunge back into a life of turmoil and travail, where I am beleaguered by enemies implacable, both lawful and malign; where I will, if the gods smile on my once more, return to a world where I would not have her live, even could she accompany me, for my Ireland is no place for a beautiful woman. Not where the English bastards roam the countryside. Like my thrice-damned father.

I have wondered if this, all of this, is but a dream, a phantasm created in my fevered brain by some ailment, by an injury, inflicted on me in my natural time, my natural state; perhaps I am dead, brought down by the Devil’s Lash, and this is – what? Limbo? Elysium? The White Shores of Avalon? Are we on the shores of Styx in Hades’s realm, only waiting for the Boatman to collect us? How could one know if one is in this world, or that world? Or adrift on the mind’s tides?

But here is my hope. Aye: unreal this world seems; in truth, often so. But what mad god would have made this place his Heaven? And surely, if I suffer the fate for which I was named – what infernal mind could comprehend such loveliness as Meredith? Such courage as Margaret? Such kindness as James McNally, or Maid Flora Lopez, or my Lady of Joy? I cannot believe these good souls would share my accursed doom, and I cannot think that Lucifer himself could have imagined them thus merely to torment me.

Nay: this is the world of men, and I merely one such, muddling my poor benighted way through it. I cannot love Meredith Vance, not without dragging that shining beauty down into the quagmire that pulls at me.

Oh, but if I could love her: how I would love her.

Aye: there be reason why I began to record, before my swollen heart overcame me – reason, indeed, why my mind is so whelmed by thoughts of her. ‘Tis she who has proven invaluable in the setting of our course – who has served as the pilot in our lives, illuminating the path through these shoals and to our home – our ship, our friends. Now we must see if we three babes, lost in wilderness, can navigate the course she has set.

I suppose my fevering brain turned such this last night, for I could not rest: my mind raced with questions and fantasies, and scheme after scheme for how we might reach our goal. I was relieved of one fear when I spoke to Vaughn – but then I was filled with new conceits, new fears and hopes, which robbed me of my repose.

Not so my men, thankfully, who need the rest more than I; when the dawn broke, they emerged, looking hale and lusty, color in their cheeks and fire in their eyes. And – of course – they came to me, prepared to hear the plan for how we would reunite with our company. This was the moment I had feared – or at least one such. For I knew not. The night was wasted in idle mindlessness, devoid of purpose, my thoughts a chaos that might meander thus: We must make our way to New York. But we know not the way. This place is so large, so very strange! Would that we were home – but we cannot attempt that trip, not with Nicholas bloody Hobbes straddling the ocean and blocking our path. Gods, keep that bastard from finding my Grace before I can reach her! We must make our way to New York! But we know not the way . . .

And so on, and ever, ever on.

Howbeit, I am no fool to encumber my men with the weight of my own empty pride – for pride has more weight, but less substance, than any other part of man. When Lynch and MacManus came to me and asked after our course, I admitted that I had no idea, and had been unable to see our way. I asked my good shipmates to help me, to give counsel, wisdom, and advice.

And then were we mightily distracted, for Meredith passed through my chamber, where we three sat and talked, in all her beauty, her glorious locks aflame in the morning sun flowing through the windows, her lovely face enlivened by her smile, her womanly charms and immortal grace on display, wrapped in a robe of thinnest silk over the smallclothes she weareth for her Yoga, which fit to her skin like a glove, caressing her supple curves.

Christ! How am I to keep my focus, even now, with such a vision in my poor brain? This is why the Church teaches that women be temptresses, and men be weak; ’tis but the simple truth, shown to us all who have a man’s mind and passions, enflamed and enraptured by a woman’s face and form.

Aye, we stopped our conversation and greeted her politely enough – and then MacManus and I, of one accord, rose and moved to the window whereby we could observe the removal of the robe and her Yoga-dance. We would have stayed there, too, for as long as Meredith’s spell entranced us, but Lynch brought us back. Though perhaps over-snappish he was in doing so: he struck us both on the back of the head, driving our noses into the glass most painfully; when we turned on him, he bared gritted teeth and hissed, “Get your minds on our course, and off of yon gangly trollop! Lucifer’s ballocks, yer pricks are not the compasses we follow now. Let’s find our way to New York, and ye can buy a whore then, if ye have need of such.”

Chastened by a youth – and rightfully so. I am sure the boy has no knowledge of a woman’s embrace, and so has an easier time resisting such wondrous charms as are possessed by Meredith. I did berate him briefly for insulting our good hostess – and my love, though I said naught of that – but I could not fault his naming our foolish distraction away from the vital task ahead. We got back to it then.

And came to naught.

Once Meredith returned from the garden and passed through to her morning bath – and MacManus and I pointedly ignored her passing but for a simple and civil greeting (I already held the image of her dancing in smallclothes burned in my mind; why must I look again with open eyes on her robed form?), we moved to the kitchens, where we prepared our morning refreshment, as has been our wont in our time here. I observed my two men carefully, and saw that my doubts were indeed material.

This was the difficulty. New York lay several hundreds of miles to the north, said Vaughn, and Meredith confirmed. We could not walk the distance. We knew not the management of a beast-wagon. Lynch was for booking passage on a ship, and MacManus opined that we were pirates, and should simply take a ship to sail ourselves – we had seen many a ketch and pinnace that three able seamen could man with little trouble.

But we were not able. My arm ached, my shoulder burned. MacManus could not move without pain, though he endeavored to conceal it; I saw the slowness of his movement, the brief creasing of his brow, the frown on his lips. Lynch was better, the spryness and health of youth serving to speed his recovery, but still he curses when his movements irk his wounded side, and he still cannot move his left shoulder freely – it had been dislocated, his doctor had told him; the arm had been strapped to his trunk for the first several days of our sojourn in the hospital, and has not fully healed. Thus I know we cannot follow MacManus’s advice. We have not the strength to capture nor sail a ship, not even one small enough for three. Lynch’s plan is better – but I fear the Devil’s Lash, should we return to open water. The man has haunted my dreams, and though the ocean is wide, somehow he found us in the midst of it. Perhaps he will find us again, and take us. I do fear this.

‘Twas then that Meredith rejoined us – and though her attire was more modest, still it revealed more than it concealed her ethereal beauty, beauty only increased by the warmth of her smile and her joyful greeting. Surely this woman would be the sun in a cloudy sky, even on a winter’s day in Ireland –

Damn me, and damn my fool’s mind! I cannot keep a straight and simple path even in this log – an hour have I been writing, now, nay, two hours, by the gods! And still I have not recorded what I set out to record. You see? You see the chaos that whirls in my skull? What a desolation is my mind when my heart speaks so loud.

To the point, then. Meredith solved the issue. We laid out our separate plans – I was for purchasing horses, the one land conveyance I know we understand and can manage, though I knew as well that we three had little skill in riding; I hoped to find a wagon of some sort in which we may ride – and she frowned. “Why don’t you get a flight?” she said. “I’d take you myself, but I’m booked up for the next week, and I’m not going anywhere near NYC.”

I misheard her, at first. “A fleet? Is there a fleet headed that way? We could book passage – there may be safety in numbers – ” Lynch and I began to argue this point.

Meredith interrupted us. “No, not a fleet, a flight. You know, a plain flight? What do they call them in Ireland, aren’t they air-plains?”

We looked at her, baffled. I spake first. “A plain in the air? Do you mean plein-air painting? I recall there is a Frenchman who paints thus, methinks.”

Lynch ventured: “Is’t Heaven? The Plains of Elysium, in the air, far above, in those selected – what is’t, Captain?”

“Celestial spheres. Be that your meaning, lass?”

Meredith stared at us as though we were roosters laying eggs. “Come on. You’ve got to know what an air-plain is. You’ve never flown? Haven’t you heard of flying? How did you get here from Ireland, then?”

We exchanged glances. “We sailed on my ship.” I chose not to elaborate further on the journey that had delivered us to these shores. I knew now, though, that this was the cause of the misunderstanding here: Meredith referred to something commonplace in this time, but unimaginable in ours.

These people fly. Through the air, in the sky, miles above Mother Earth, in conveyances like the beast-wagons, but – with – wings.

I cannot conceive of it. But apparently, ’tis the truth. This is what Meredith does, her employment: when she told us she is a pilot, she meant one of those who steer these flying sky-ships; that is what the word means, here and now. I think she has decided that we three are country bumpkins of the most uncivilized sort; I hope that suffices to explain our monumental ignorance. If not, I do not know how to give her the true explanation. She did not ask, any road.

We will have none of this – flight. These America-folk may think themselves immune to the fate of Icarus, but I know better, and my men are not mad enough to seek out such a peril when ’tis not needed, as now. We quickly refused Meredith’s suggestion.

But she gave another. There are large conveyances, like beast-wagons, but far greater and which, she says, ride on rails of iron; they are called “trains.” These trains stay on the ground. We have booked passage on one such which will carry us to New York and to our friends in less than a day’s time. Eight hundred miles! In a day! And yet this transport is not enough for them? They would rather – fly? Fah.

Meredith has made the arrangements for our travel by train. She gave us, as well, an atlas, an entire book of maps more detailed and precise than any I have seen in all my years at sea. She laughed when I exclaimed over its inestimable value, and said it had been hers at school – she has studied! She waved away my protestations, calling it a gift, and a small one at that. Men would have started a war for such a book in my time.

But, one supposes, if you can fly . . . perhaps a map of the land is not so much of a much.

After that, the second book of maps given us was offered with even less ceremony, no more than a hank of cloth given to one who sneezes. We inquired of Meredith as to where we might find shops, so that we could purchase traveling equippage, apparel and supplies; she offered to convey us in her beast-wagon, but then glanced at the clock and cried out that she must go, that she was late; she dashed to a cabinet in the hallway by the front entry, and withdrew a book, called Thomas’s Guide to Charleston, and dropped it in my lap with no more thought than the first princely gift of a book – a book! – of maps. And this Thomas has mapped out every street, every river, every bridge – every alleyway! – in all of this immense city. And Meredith simply – gave it to us. On her way out. After arranging for our passage by train, using the telephone and speaking with someone named Amtrack. Perhaps Anne Track, or Hamtramck, I could not tell.

She is beautiful, beyond the telling of it. She is generous, beyond comprehension. She – flies.

She cannot be mine.

I cannot think, any more.

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Log 47: Beauty, Love, and Grace

Log 30 August 2011

Afternoon Watch, about 7 bells

I grow weary of counting obligations.

This is the reason I captain my own ship, why I am of the Brotherhood of the Coast, a rover, a pirate: because I have no wish to be a tallyman, to count what I owe and what is owed. I owe my shipmates my loyalty, my mother my life, and the English eternal vengeance. That is all. Yet it seems, since my arrival on these far distant shores, that I have found myself again and again in need of some assistance, and thus in another’s debt. Even the difficulty we find ourselves now facing is due to a debt from which we have run away; a usurious and appalling debt, but even if the accountman demands a king’s ransom to fill his coffers, even though I will not pay what he asks, still and all there is a genuine debt: surely St. Vincent’s deserves some recompense for saving our lives, and sheltering us through the storm, as they say.

Today we have made a small start, merely a first step, in balancing the scales. Last night Bucky played host for us following our acquaintance and conversation, offering a supper prepared in his establishment; something he called “frahd catfish an’ hushpuppies,” which at first drove us back from our trenchers in disgust, until Meredith explained that it was a fish named for a cat, and simply a sort of biscuit made of corn – grain, in other words, though it was coarser and sweeter than bread from wheat. Yellow, as well, though perhaps that was somewhat else in the receipt. It was hearty and savory fare, any road.

Then once more, at Meredith’s insistence, we bedded down at Lady Margaret’s domicile. Another debt owed, though practically speaking, an unavoidable one, as Meredith pointed out: the hospital and la policia surely seek us still, and we are too weak to sleep on hard ground without shelter, while keeping watch for our enemies. But though we must needs take shelter, Meredith and Margaret need not offer it us, and thus. once more, we owe.

This morning, though– after a surreptitious and entirely sublime observation, as Echo loved Narcissus from afar, of Meredith at her dawn Yoga – we made good on at least our debt to this house and its kind mistresses for the roof o’er our heads. Meredith departed this day to her employment, leaving us unaccompanied in the home; I was curious as to her occupation, as her hands are too soft for a washerwoman’s work or a maid’s, and she is too untrammeled a spirit, too bold and forward to be a lady’s maid; but I did not wish to pry into her personal matters and did not inquire. She went to work – and then so did we.

The first and most obvious task was Lynch’s: this house, untenanted by its owner for some days, required a good dusting, and as Lynch recovers his strength, he is the most agile and dextrous among we three. The youngest, also, and lowest-ranked, for which reason I also set him to polishing the silver, once I discovered a container labeled as efficacious to that purpose.

MacManus’s task is to hone all the blades in the house – kitchen, gardens, any others we come across. I discovered a whetstone with a handle of wood, much like a marlinspike, a dull-tipped rod about a foot in length and the circumference of a man’s smallest finger, and set MacManus to work: not only does it allow him to remain seated and thus rest his injury, but the task is sorely needed, as well, and MacManus, the former soldier, well-suited to it. If there’s one thing that man is familiar with, it is a sharp edge on a blade.

For myself, as the most hale and ambulatory, I took the most physically daunting task: the gardens. The grounds are, once we knew what we saw, quite battered by “that bitch Irene,” as Bucky called it; tree limbs broken, leaves stripped and strewn in piles and damp streaks, debris caught in shaggy, untrimmed hedges. I spent my day in the sunlight, making it ship-shape. By midmorning, I had an audience of two: Lynch and MacManus moved their labors out to the parapet – Meredith names it a porch, as Pompey’s in Rome – as the vapors from Lynch’s silver polish had dizzied them both, enclosed within, and MacManus joined him in chastising and harassing me at my work, pointing out places I had missed and berating me for my sloth and clumsiness, calling my stone-clad arm an “excuse for puling.”

‘Twas a most pleasant day.

Later

Last dog watch

We are still becalmed and alone. Though not hopeless – not yet.

We returned to Bucky’s Bait Shop well before sunset, and dined once more on “cats and dogs,” as MacManus termed it, to much jolly laughter –this time Meredith provided for us all, as thanks for our work at her grand-mother’s home, the which we protested was but fair payment for her kind hospitality; but she expressed outrage that we would so insult her or her grandmother, implying that we were incurring a debt simply by accepting the generous gifts of friendship freely offered. We were chagrined and silent, myself particularly (Glad I am that she has not clapped eyes on this log!), until Meredith calmly thanked us for our own kind and generous gift of friendship, namely our labors on her grand-mother’s behalf.

But apart from filling our bellies, the excursion was for naught; the telephone did not ring.

Gods, let my Grace be well. Let my friends be safe.

August 31

Morning watch

By Danu and the Morrigan hag, by Hera and Aphrodite and Pallas Athene, by Saint Bridget and Mary, the mother of God – what a woman!

At Meredith’s urging, as I was waking and gave her good-morning as she passed through my chamber on her way out of doors for her daily dance of beauty, I did join her in her Yoga this morn. And to my utter amazement, her beauty, already grand and enchanting, did increase with every stance, every pose, ever moment that she instructed me to watch her carefully, and every time – and there were many indeed – when she placed her gentle hands on my limbs, on my shoulders, on my waist (Gods! Mere writing of it further inflames my passion!), to move me into proper position. Ah, what glory, what magnificence! What grace and poise! And what strength – I found I simply could not perform many of the movements, lacking sufficiently flexible joints and strength enough, as well, though my balance is fine and more than adequate to the task. Fortunately, my failures earned me no mockery, while my successes won effusive praise from my lady, as noble as she is beautiful. Beauty-full, in truth. God’s truth.

But even that, perhaps the most enchanting and uplifting time I have ever known, was not the last of my joy in loving this wondrous creature. As we retired within to refresh ourselves with cool water, Meredith spoke of her employment, making some comment to the effect that she was glad she did not have any long flights – the which, I confess, befuddles me still. But when I inquired as to her meaning, she told me – she is a pilot! Aye! She sails! She is Poseidon’s daughter even as I am his son. I know not whether she guides ships into harbor here, or if she navigates aboard a single vessel, the which she may be currently helping to outfit for departure – oh, thank the fates that she was not gone a-voyaging when we came to Charleston, else I would never have met her. But – just think – if I could win her! She could come with me, aboard my beloved Grace – I need not abandon my love, my heart, my family ashore, as I have watched so many men do when ships depart.

My heart is full. My mind races – too far, too far; too fast! One matter at a time is all men can achieve. We must make contact with Vaughn and the Grace, or we must find the means to track them and follow in their wake. We must know the fate of our shipmates.

But oh: I will woo her. As I have never wooed before. My Siren. My Calypso. My Aphrodite.

Later – Last dog watch

SHE LIVES! The Grace of Ireland, by the mercy of the gods and the swift minds and ready hands of her loyal crew – and despite the storm named Irene, called the bitch – is still afloat, and overall well.

She is damaged, though, and trapped in a harbor in this place called New York; she sprung leaks and lost an entire mast, and the rudder was badly cracked and wants replacing. They strapped a sail ’round her middle to slow the leaks, and then received the gift of a tarp, I think he said, which appears an improvement over canvas for the temporary sealing of leaks; thus they are afloat but cannot sail. But she lives, and all my men, as well.

Ah, yes: I write out of joint. Of course, we have made contact with Vaughn, whereby we ascertained the condition and circumstances of the Grace. Our own situation is materially improved thereby, as well. But I should record it proper, if at all.

This day, our second in Lady Margaret’s home without Meredith present, found Lynch and I atop tall ladders, replacing wooden shingles that Irene tore from the house’s walls, as well as a few rotted by wind and rain; MacManus, it obtains, is a dab hand with a needle and thread: thus he has sealed several tears in the screens about the porch and put a stop to the fraying of the curtains in the parlor by adding a new hem. The magnificent Meredith returned from her pilot’s duties – I cannot imagine how she manages to preserve the ivory whiteness of her skin aboard ship; every tar I have ever known has been burned nearly black by the sun’s glare – though alas, too soon, as I had not yet completed the sonnet that I had attempted to compose for her. (I have rhymed “Meredith Vance” with “veriest chance,” but I could not find a word to accompany “dance” in the line about her wondrous morning Yoga. The search continues.) We made our way once more to Bucky’s Bait Shop, where we lingered over a new treat – Bucky acquired what he called ham-burghers for us, which were supremely savory and satisfying, though, strangely, not comprised of ham. Why these people call their fish “cat” and their beef “ham” and their corn “puppies,” I cannot fathom.

But as we lingered over our repast, we were all frozen in surprise when the telephone rang. This momentary tableau lasted but a moment, however, before we leapt up and raced, pell-mell, around the corner of Bucky’s establishment to the telephone. Being more mobile than my fellows, I reached the device first (Methinks Meredith allowed me to best her) and seize it I did, and with such vigor that I nearly detached the handpiece – which would have been a terrible irony, in truth.

But I broke it not: I put it to my ear and my lips and spake, “Llewellyn? Llewellyn, is’t thee?”

I heard a laugh of joy, a familiar laugh, and then my good friend Llewellyn Vaughn said, “Captain! O, my dear friend, it is so very wonderful to hear your voice!” Through the telephone I heard a cheer, as Vaughn told our shipmates that it was I; the cheer was echoed, and reiterated by my companions when I turned to them with a smile and a nod. Even stout Bucky and the lovely Meredith joined in the huzzah.

When Vaughn returned to the telephone, he asked the question I had been expecting. “Captain, since you found your way to this – rendezvous, I suppose it is – I surmise your companions survived. Do you have the word given to them as well?”

“Aye,” I replied, “’tis Clio.” From behind me, I heard Bucky say, “Clio? Like that teevee psychic? What the hell kind of magic word is that?”

“Splendid,” Vaughn said with a sigh. “Forgive me for asking, sir, but I had to be sure. I did not realize I would so readily know your voice. I thought, too, that were you under some duress, you could withhold that word, or give me incorrect answer, as a signal. I suppose now it was somewhat foolish.”

“Nay, man, I know the purpose of the cipher. And we are not under any duress, but are hale and free, in the main. But now I have a question for you.

“Why, by Danu’s alabaster tits, did you give us ‘setting’ and not ‘sunset?’ Or ‘dusk?’ Whatever is wrong with the word ‘dusk?’ ‘Tis a lovely and efficient word, is it not?”

Vaughn spluttered for a moment. “I – but, Captain, that is, I wanted . . . the words needed to be, well, somewhat secret. ‘Dusk’ seemed too simple, and I thought that ‘setting’ would be ambivalent enough, but still could – did – steer you to the proper course.”

I heaved a sigh overboard and shook my head. “Aye, Llewellyn, I thought as much. ‘Twas a fine choice, made no doubt in hot circumstances. ‘Tis only that – fah, ’tis nothing.”

It made me look a fool before the woman I have grown to love. But I cannot blame Vaughn for my folly.

We exchanged information, then, he telling me (and through me Lynch and MacManus, as well as our two friends) of the Grace’s escape from Hobbes, who had not been sighted since the battle that wounded us, and then the terrible storm that so shook and shivered my lovely ship. “Had we not been close to shore, Captain, close to a good harbor such as this, well – we would not be speaking.” They had run up the coast to the north, with Vaughn making landfall each evening to call the telephone he had marked out for our communication; they had had no difficulty – beyond being undermanned and thus reduced in their top speed and challenged in facing adverse seas or winds – until Irene. The last three days had been spent seeking a dock, then halting the leaks (Assistance had been offered to the other ships in need, who had come to the Grace’s aid as well – so those who sail the sea ever guard one another against the assaults of Dame Fortune and Lord Neptune, alike; we know the best hope for a stranded or damaged vessel is the kind intercession of a passing ship; thus we cultivate good will when we can) and then in an attempt to locate a working telephone.

“And now, Captain,” Vaughn concluded, “We await your orders. Should we come retrieve you, once repairs are made? It will take some time, particularly the mast.”

I confess to temptation. Time spent here would allow us to complete our recovery, and would grant me more time with Meredith. Perhaps enough time to win her.

But it was too dangerous to remain. La policia and agents of the accountman sought, and could find us at any time. Too, I could not impose on the kind hospitality of Meredith and Margaret when there was not need.

“Nay,” I said, “we will come to you. Though we lack resources, at present.”

“In truth, Captain, you do not. At the termination of the pier where you now stand, and across the road that lies athwart it, you will find a small garden, with a bench painted white and green. Beside it is a metal barrel, used to collect refuse. Dig beneath that barrel – no more than a foot down.”

I felt a wide grin spread across my face then. “Ah, my dear friend – did ye leave me buried treasure?”

Vaughn laughed. “Aye, Captain. That I did.”

We followed his instructions once more; Bucky accompanied us, to assuage his curiosity, bringing a large metal spoon to serve as digging tool. “Buried treasure, Irishmen and ships, secret meetings and passwords – it’s like I’m in a pirate story!” Bucky exclaimed, and laughed. Lynch, MacManus and I merely exchanged knowing glances.

We found the park, the bench, the barrel; we dug beneath it, and unearthed a small wooden box, which contained five thousand dollar-papers and my trusty wheel-gun. Methinks Bucky was happier to see this revealed than we were, judging by his shout of joy.

Now: we have returned to Lady Margaret’s home, having said a friend’s farewell to the doughty Bucky, to rest and plan. We will need maps, supplies, proper attire, and information.

We are off to New York.

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Log 46: Calling Bucky

Log 

29th of August – Forenoon Watch

 

Aye, of course I am in love: I am a hundred kinds of fool. Lynch’s word, setting – it refers to the setting sun. That is the time of day when we must be hard by the telephone, so that either Vaughn can contact us through same, or use it as a landmark to send a message to us, with the messenger arriving, aye, at sunset.

‘Twas not I who solved this riddle, nor any of my men; for this, too, we required the assistance of the most generous and enchanting Lady Meredith – freely rendered, once more, though I feel our obligations mounting, howsoever our kind-hearted and compassionate hostess tosses them away like chaff. We must do something for her benefit, for our honor’s sake. I know not how to redeem my own unwavering embarassment at showing myself entirely doltish in her eyes: such a simple riddle, this, yet I could do nothing with it but press letters on a telephone, ye Gods!

I confess I could not have solved the riddle this past morn, so distracted was I, so suffused with tender feelings – and aye, with feelings less tender, but they are stronger, ‘struth. I was on my couch once more, supine with my eyelids shut in reverie, remembering the sight of Meredith dancing her Yoga, feeling my heart race and my blood burn through me.

Then her voice – ’tis lovely, as well, have I so said? Melodious and soft, the gentle sibilances and the largo of the local dialect giving her words a generosity similar to that which abides in her breast – did break into my fevered dreaming. “Oh, hey,” quoth she – a phrase I have heard before as greeting and exclamation alike, but still cannot fathom. “I had an idea about your word clews.” I opened my eyes and sat up, right joyed that I could behold her loveliness before me once more, even though its perfect simulacrum lives behind my eyes, and dances to the beat of my heart. She came into the room, and graced me with a smile – even as she proved and explicated my idiocy for me.

“I was doing my Yoga –” Aye, lass, I know it well, I thought – “and facing the sun, because a lot of poses are connected to the sun. And because dawn’s the only time it feels warm but not hot, at least in August. And I was finishing the tree pose and thinking, ‘Next is sun salutation,’ and then it hit me. What if ‘setting’ is for the sun? You know – sunset?”

It is well that I am right-handed, for had I worn my club-bandage on the hand I used to strike myself in the brow, aghast at my own blind stupidity, I would have laid myself out across the floorboards. As it was, I fell back against the back of the couch, eyes wide, staring at the ceiling, mortified that I had not instantly known the meaning of Vaughn’s message – and a thousand times more so, as Meredith had seen my foolishness paraded before her very eyes.

“Do you think that’s it?” she asked, delight in her voice.

I sat up and gave her a smile I pray was not over sickly. “Aye, milady. I have no doubt of it.”

She gave me back a smile as bright as the sun itself. “Oh good! So we’ll go on back over there tonight at sunset, all right? Should be about eight o’clock, this time of year.” Then she turned and retired to her chamber above.

I went to Lynch’s and MacManus’s; Shane I woke, gently, though Lynch was already out of bed and gazing out the window at the beauteous morning sky – though he looked somewhat melancholy, I thought. I summoned him to MacManus’s chamber, where I told them both the sure meaning of our clew – and, I here confess, I berated them both, unnecessarily, for their failure to pierce the paper-thin veil that hid the meaning from us. I did not refer to my own failure in that, nor to Meredith’s success, but let them believe I had solved it. Bad enough that Meredith knows me for a dunce, my men must have confidence in me.

I must do more to deserve it, damn me.

 

Later – First dog watch

We have taken this day to rest; we all three require such after the exertions and exhaustions of the escape. Meredith, after succouring us with the largesse of yet another womanly grace, as she made a large and replenishing meal to break our fast – and by Lucifer, did that taste better than the food of the hospital! – has gone back to St. Vincent’s to pay a visit to her grand-mother, and gather what information she can. Lynch and MacManus and I have been laying on a sort of parapet which encircles Lady Margaret’s home, and allows warm sunlight but has a sort of veil which keeps biting insects away. I think we have recuperated some of our strength, and I am relieved that MacManus has not worsened, shows no signs of fever nor of especial suffering from his wound; I did fear we had forced him to move too much and too soon. But sure and that’s an Irishman, is Shane MacManus: tough as bootleather and twice as salty.

 

Later – First watch

We have met with some success, though we have not yet won the laurel. I have not spoken to nor received word from Vaughn. But we have confirmation that the lovely Meredith did surmise correctly, and correct as well was our navigation of MacManus’s clew: dusk is the hour, and that telephone is the place. This night, howbeit, was not the night, alas.

We made our way in Meredith’s beast-wagon to the pier where the telephone awaits; we three sailors were attired in manner more fitting the locale and the native semblance that that which we had purloined; Lynch wore a tunic and short breeches that, though they may have belonged either to a younger and shorter Meredith (for the whole woman is nearly of a height with me, and a good hand taller than young Lynch) or even to Lady Margaret herself, were nonetheless suited best to a youth like Lynch: the tunic was black and emblazoned with a skull and crossed bones; over the back were the words “Blackbeard’s Cove – Charleston, S.C.” Meredith had frowned oddly when I inquired as to the identity of this Blackbeard fellow; she said, “You know – the pirate?” I had been forced to nod knowingly and plead befuddlement owing to my injury. MacManus and I were simply attired, in white tunics and the ubiquitous breeches of blue broadcloth, the which Margaret had purchased for us – she called them “Jeans” and “tea-shirts” – on her return from the hospital. Yet another obligation, for yet more kindness.

Lady Margaret is well – her health is improving, too – and the guardians of St. Vincent’s have not tied her to our escape, the which is the talk of the hospital; Meredith described the place as “buzzing like a kicked hornet’s nest.”

Thus incognito, we arrived at the pier, and made our way to the telephone beside Bucky’s Bait Shop; the sun was a handspan above the horizon – by design, as we could not be sure of the precise moment when Vaughn would contact us. And there we waited, for an hour or more; the phone did not ring. The sun set, touched and then vanished behind the tall buildings of the city to the west, but no messenger came seeking we three.

We were discussing how much longer we should wait, when a man’s voice hailed us, his accent thick as molasses and at first difficult to comprehend. “Yew all the ones ‘at ‘air ‘phone’s bin uh-rangin’ four?” (‘Tis as near as I can approximate. I will translate the remaining portions of his speech into proper English.) While we three ancient Irishmen struggled with these words, Meredith leapt to our aid. “Yes, we think so. Has the ‘phone been ringing lately?”

The owner of the voice was a man, white-haired and dark-skinned, large and powerful and solid as a stone tower. He nodded. “Every damn day, just at sunset.” We all exchanged a glance, mine of some chagrin, Lynch and MacManus evincing relief, and Meredith triumphant. “I been answering it, mostly. Nice fellow on the other end, though a mite hoo-doo.” He wiggled his fingers at this last word.

“He means strange, mysterious,” Meredith whispered aside to us in explanation.

“Can you tell us about the man on the other end, friend?” I inquired. We approached closer, and he stood straight. He said, “Well, he talks a little like you do, son. You all both got something of a peculiar accent, you know that?” He grinned, showing his side teeth; he knew, likely from our furrowed brows, that his own speech was none too simple to navigate for we three. The man put out his hand – broad and strong, criss-crossed with more scars than anyone but a sailor would possess – and we clasped and shook. “Name’s Bucky – Abelard Buckminster, for a fact, but folks all call me Bucky, for obvious reasons. This here’s my shop.”

“Fortune smile on you as a friend, Master Bucky. I hope to be such, as well, if we be well-met. I am Damnation Kane.”

He snorted a laugh. “God damn, son, you got a handle as unusual and obscurified as my own. Real pleased to meet you, yes sir.” He released my hand, and I made introductions for my companions.

Then when we all were known, I repeated my query as to the man on the other end of the telephone. “Well,” Bucky said, seating himself atop the table that stood there, his feet, clad in slippers of once-white canvas now more tattered than whole, planted on the bench, “started about – three weeks back, I reckon. That ‘phone started ringing right around seven-thirty, maybe eight o’clock. Now, nobody uses that thing, most days, now that everybody and his granny’s got themselves a mobile ‘phone –” I was forced to ask Meredith later what he had said; I had heard MO-baaahl, and thought our new friend had spoken in some foreign tongue for an instant. Or else was imitating the sounds of an animal, perhaps a goat or a sheep. “But some of my fishing folk leave their ‘phones at home, what with worrying about going in the water instead of on the water, so the ‘phone company keeps it around for them; reckon it makes a few bucks here and there. But nobody don’t never call in to it, not that I heard, not in the thirty years I been sitting in that shack yonder.

“So when it started ringing, and every night, too, around about the same time, I got powerful curious.” He took out a packet of the white tobacco sticks such as O’Flaherty had found when we first came to this land; he placed one between his lips and then offered the packet around; MacManus and I both accepted his kindness. There was some confusion as to which end went betwixt the lips and to which the flame should be applied, but soon enough we three were wreathed in sweet smoke. Then Bucky continued his narrative.

“I got powerful curious, so I answered it. ‘Hello,’ I says. ‘Who is this?’ asks the other side. ‘Bucky,’ I says. ‘You’re ringing my joint. Leastways, you’re ringing one of my walls up something fierce.’ He don’t say nothing for a minute – likely having trouble hearing me with them foreign ears, you know –” We exchanged a grin here, and Meredith laughed – “
and then he says, ‘Were you sent to this location?’ And I says, ‘Only when my wife can’t stand me ’round the house no more.’ Then he says, ‘Do you have the word?” Well, I thought he meant the word of Jesus Christ, and I must admit I got a mite touchous with him. ‘I most certainly do,’ I says, kinda uppity; ‘I am a God-fearing righteous brother and deacon of the First Baptist Church of Salvation In His Name here in Charleston.’ I says to him. Then there’s another longish pause, and then he – he apologized to me! ‘I did not intend to impugn – ‘ I had to look that word up, ‘impugn,’ and dang if it ain’t the rarest word I done heard in ten years, and the high-falutinest. ‘I did not intend to impugn your Christian character, good sir, and I tender my most abject apologies for my error.’ And while I was chewing on that wad, he says, ‘I am attempting to communicate with a dear friend and compatriot who has been lost to us for the nonce. To confirm his identity, and ensure our safety from our enemies, near or far, he was told a certain word to repeat to me. That word was the object of my query, not the Word of the Lord of Hosts.’

“Well, that put something different on it. So I accepted his apologies – told him it was damn near the nicest I ever heard in all my sixty-three years – and then I told him I been here every day, heard that ‘phone ring every day, and ain’t nobody come to pick it up. But I said I’d keep an eye out for people paying special mind to this here ‘phone, and if he kept calling back, I’d answer it and tell him, Naw, ain’t nobody come today. He said he was in my debt, and offered me his friendship in payment, and I took that one, too.”

Bucky shrugged, and dropped the end of his tobacco-stick to the ground, crushing it with his heel. “So he’s been calling every day, and I been answering it. I been trying to guess his magic word, too, just to pass the time. Give him a new guess every day. I hope you all knows it, ’cause I tried everything I can think of – tried Abracadabra, and Shazam; Rumplestiltskin, Open Sesame, Wingardium Leviosa – and it weren’t none of those.”

No, indeed: it would most certainly be Clio. Thus we knew the meaning of the second of Lynch’s clews.

Bucky went on, a frown creasing his brow. “But he ain’t called in three days, now. I missed one a week back, when that screamin’ bitch Irene blew through. I reckon if he’s up north of here, he might be caught up the same way.”

My companions and I were filled with confusion by this; who could this Irene be, that she could hold so much sway over the lives of men? And that he could refer to her, to strangers as foreign as we, and seemingly expect us to share in his knowledge? Which expectation was, apparently, not unreasonable, as Meredith was nodding, in comprehension of and agreement with his words. She caught sight of our puzzled faces and enlightened us.

“It was a hurricane, a really enormous storm. It hit land north of here, about – ten days ago?” Bucky nodded, and murmured agreement. She went on. “It rolled up the coast and flooded the North-East pretty bad. Bucky’s right: if your friend is anywhere up around New York or New Jersey – or even Raleigh, they got hit pretty hard – then he might not even have ‘phone service right now.” Bucky grunted agreement once more, lighting another tobacco-stick as we all stared at the silent telephone.

I pray that this storm has spared my beloved Grace, and all of my shipmates who remain aboard her. Ian, my friend – take care of them, in my stead, I beg you.

I had but one question remaining for Master Bucky, before I offered him my sincerest and humblest gratitude for his good service to us and to Vaughn.

“You name your storms after women?”

He laughed and nodded.

There is, it seems, some true wisdom in the men of this time.

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