Log #57: On the Wagon

Log

September the 18th, in the year 2011

Oh, what a glory it is to ride! What a wonder is a wheel, and a wagon upon it. What a relief to recline upon a bench, and watch the world unfurl before you, the tapestry of time embroidered with the lives of men, in colors dyed and thread spun by the gods – or perhaps by the men themselves, who can say? As this lovely day’s travel has come to pass thanks to our chosen acts, I believe I will believe that men are the masters of their fates, and the weavers of the web of the world.

‘Tis remarkable, how the words flow, how the thoughts rise up in the mind, when one is not stumbling to sleep, footsore and exhausted. How easy it is to think and write when one has ridden all day, rather than marched mile after mile. My favorite object in this world is still my Grace – but methinks this wagon comes just behind her. I wonder if I should keep it, lash it to a line and float it behind; ’tis wooden, and ‘twould wade over waves. Though that does leave me caring for horses aboard, or else forcing my men to pull the wagon when ashore. Perhaps the latter, if I can find more crew. Ah! I recall now a conversation I had with Brother Bob, in the midst of one of our long slogs afoot, one which I had not the wherewithal to record at the end of that day, and do so now.

We were discussing my ship, and my need for crew. I had told him – and Lynch and MacManus, as well – of my intention to gain the Grace and make straight for Ireland, and home, regardless of the risk; at mention of this risk, the which I would not detail for him, not wishing to seem a madman with tales of ancient enemies and witchcraft and ships that sail somehow through Time itself, he inquired as to the opportunities presented by such a lovely craft as my Grace, for I have told him everything about her, in the hours we have spent staring at the road ahead and feeling every foot of the road behind. I told him that before I could pursue any alternate course, I would need more men; I can only pray that Vaughn and O’Gallows have not lost any more, for if so, we will hardly be able to steer her homeward, even without the threat of the Devil’s Lash and his dark shadow. But in these times, I do not know where to find the men; I do not think, first, that anyone knows the style of ship I sail, the tasks that keep and steer her, nor the commands that drive the crew as a single body, as these Americalish keep only boats that move as the Coast Guard’s iron ships, without sail, or at most a single-masted pinnace, barely more than a ship’s boat; in all our time on these shores, we have seen nothing else, nothing like my Grace. However, that is not so much of a much, as I would trust my ship and my crew to teach a good man the ins and outs of sailing after our manner: the question is, where to find good men, in this age, in this land? There’s the rub.

But it was to this point that Brother Bob had somewhat of a suggestion. He told me that there were many men – thousands of men – who had served their country in the Americalish armies, fighting abroad or guarding the borders of the nation against incursion. And though these thousands of men, these veterans, were purportedly venerated as their bravery and their honor deserved, still many and many a man found little chance of prosperity after turning his sword to a plowshare.

I understand this. There are thousands such in Ireland, as well, and more than a few in my own crew: men who served in the wars against the English, men who took up arms to guard their homes, only to see their homes burned, when all their efforts could not stop Devil Cromwell. And when the conquest of our home was completed, and there were no more left to fight, what could these men do? They had sought honor in battle, and had found only defeat; many of them felt there was no other chance to win honor anew, to wipe away the stains of past failure. Too, there were those who had won victories, here, there, even if only from a small skirmish – still, in Irish eyes, a victory in a skirmish, if it be a victory over the English, is an honor unmatched – and once their days of fighting for their homeland were ended, by injury of by the infirmity of age, what then could they do to recapture that glory? Aye, ’tis Achilles’s curse, living on through every fighting man, even to the world we find ourselves in this day. A man who seeks honor and glory in battle must choose: a short life and a proud one, or many years of humility. Such is the soldier’s way. Aye, and the pirate’s too, no doubt.

So I told Brother Bob, and commiserated with him over these poor lost souls, the which, I expect, count myself and my crew among their number – for a pirate knows his life will end atop the gallows or beneath the waves, and in short order, most like – and we understood one another. But Bob had a different thrust to his conversation: I could hire these men, he said, these veterans of foreign wars. Many of them retired from the fray in their youth, between 25 and 30 years of age – in truth, a good age for a sailor, especially if a man has grown accustomed to following orders and maintaining discipline. He told me there were places where such men gathered, sometimes informally, sometimes with a purpose, and that many of them were seeking employment they could not find, for the Americalish nation is beset by hard times, it seems. He avoided that subject, though; Brother Bob has opined several times over these last days that men should not talk of religion, nor of politics, if they seek to remain friends. I think back to Ireland, and the discussions in the taverns of just those two issues, and I think of the brawls and brouhaha that inevitably followed; I think perhaps Brother Bob is correct.

Should I, therefore, find myself aboard my ship and in need of men, I will seek out these veteran soldiers, and offer them employment as pirates. Though perhaps not in those words. But then, Squire McNally did say that pirates be somewhat beloved of the people, these days. Perhaps I will simply stride into a gathering place of soldier-men, in all my finery with my sword drawn, and ask them who wishes to join me pirate crew. I wonder: would there be any who would stand and say Aye?

Yes, Brother Bob has accompanied us well, these past days; offering pleasing conversations and excellent guidance, and unflagging cheer to help pass the miles on our poor benighted feet. That is, until this day. This day, he has not been a cheerful nor a pleasant companion. This day, he has been a shrew, and a bother.

It started simply enough: he asked me if I was a Christian. I commented that he was opening a discussion I thought he would rather avoid, and he replied – quite coldly – that such a rule only applied when one sought to remain friendly. At the which I could only laugh, and respond that I did not consider myself a Christian. He professed surprise at this, considering my race; it seems my people have won a reputation for devotion to the Church, over the years. I told him that I had been baptized, of course, and had taken the catechism, but that my knowledge of pure Christian men was too deep, too complete, for me to wish to count myself among their number. This silenced him for a time.

Then he took up his true thread, the which he had hoped to tease out using God as his needle: theft.

“All right, you aren’t a Christian, but do you believe in right and wrong? Do you know right from wrong, when you see it?”

“Of course I do,” I replied. We were lounging in the rear of the wagon while MacManus drove with Lynch beside; the countryside was beauteous, though we were fast approaching Philadelphia and so seeing the beginnings of the city’s stone, spread across the earth like the welts and sores of the plague or the pox. Well, and I was lounging; Brother Bob sat upright and rigid, as he has remained since we acquired the wagon. This, I assumed, was the center of his thought, and I was right.

“Then don’t you know that stealing this wagon was wrong? You stole it from Amish men, too – the most harmless people in the world, sworn not to commit any violent act, even in defense of themselves!”

At this intelligence, I exchanged a glance with MacManus; we would remember this in future: the Amish are easy prey, though likely not rich prizes, for the very same reason. “Well, Brother,” I began, as my comfortable feet made me wish to wax rhetorical, “I do see that, and then again, I do not. On the one hand, the men we left afoot, who had been riding previous to meeting us, they are now likely unhappy. Causing misery is indeed wrong, and I do regret that. But then again, if they are so miserable, there are a thousand means whereby they can find joy anew, and if they fail to see even one such way back to pleasure, then I can hardly consider myself responsible for their blindness. I did cause some misery, but not so very much, and the wrong, methinks, is commensurate with the misery – not so very much.

“And then there is the other hand: by that very same act, I made myself, and at least two of my companions, most assuredly happy. Our feet are singing my praises, at this very moment.” Lynch and MacManus laughed with me, at this, though I spoke naught but the truth. “This, then, by the same logic, would be a righteous act – and is not the key to a good life, Brother, simply maintaining the balance, creating good to set against ills?”

“But you stole! It doesn’t matter if it makes you happy, you had no right to this wagon and those horses! You took them by force!”

“I did no such thing. I offered the men aboard this wagon a choice, and they chose. Not one drop of blood was spilled in the taking of this wagon.”

“You pointed a gun at them, or he did, at your order,” Brother Bob said, indicating MacManus, who touched his brow in salute, to acknowledge his part in the acquisition of the wagon (the which he knew earned him only honor from his shipmates, for whom the argument largely stopped where I had placed it, on the line of ‘This act made me and my brethren happy, and therefore is it good.’ A simple life, is the life of a pirate. Alas for Brother Bob.) “You threatened them with violence, and used that threat to take their lawful property. How can that be anything but wrong?”

“Look, Brother: do you believe those two boys –” for the men aboard this wagon when we waylaid it were but youths, no more than a few years above Lynch, and far wetter behind their ears than my man – “those boys were the true owners of this wagon and team? Of course not. It belongs to their father. He gave them permission to use it, and the horses, as well. So those two boys did not shape the wagon, nor raise the team that drew it; they did not earn the wealth to buy it. Their ownership of it came only of possession, and as the result of a choice, a free choice made by a free man, weighing in either hand the benefits and the costs of his choice. Their father knew that giving his boys the wagon would lose him its use for a time, and too, it might – depending on how worthy those boys are – present some risk; perhaps they would drive too fast, and lame the horses, or lose the road and break a wheel, as boys are wont to do. Perhaps they would forget their given task, if the wagon were put into their hands to do a piece of work for the father, which I think likely, and they would wander the roads, costing the father hours or days of lost work, both from his wagon and from his sons. But despite those risks, that father chose to lend his wagon. By so doing, he gave up possession, and thus ownership of it, into the hands of his sons – though of course, he could expect to receive his wagon back from them, assuming they did not ruin it in the meantime through ill use.

“All I did, Brother, was offer those two boys – now the owners of that wagon – another choice. They weighed the costs and the profits of that choice, and they chose. They gave us their wagon, the which we now own, and gratefully so. That was the more profitable course for them, and they knew it, and chose it wisely – which would, one hopes, ameliorate their misery resulting from the loss of ownership of this fine wagon, and the resultant footaches, and the possible heartaches that may come from telling their father of what happened. But then, again, I would expect their father would be happiest that his sons were not harmed, nor yet the horses, if he is a man who cares for his beasts as a farmer should. Thus the misery is again alleviated.

“So I ask you, Brother,” I drew to a close, waving my arms grandly, “where is the wrong in this? I am joyed by the new ownership of this fine wagon and team, and the former owners are joyed by their continued good health. All is well.”

This argument did not appease Brother Bob. Though again, as yesterday, he did not leave our company, and he did not alert la policia to our presence. I think he does not want to see us hang as thieves, and he takes me at my word that he will be allowed to take the wagon and team back to these peace-loving Dutchmen (So unlike the Dutchmen of my own time) when we have reached the Grace. And my sophistry, as well as my desire to keep and float this fine conveyance, put aside, he is right to believe this, for it is only the truth. Brother Bob will not join my crew, and allowing him to right the wrong he believes we have committed, and offering those Amish boys their property back again, will but spread more joy in this world of sorrow and darkness. Therefore it is good, says I.

So say we all.

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