Posts Tagged With: Fiction

Log 50: Madness

Log

September 2

I am glad that no other sees these pages, for the weakness described herein must unman me. I started this log with the intention of cataloging the tale of my adventures, but it has become something else. I know not if I will ever have the opportunity to tell my tale to another, for now the narration must show me for a madman; nonetheless, there is good in this log, for the keeping of it, the enscription of my thoughts, my passions, my woes and triumphs, the description of the vagaries and vicissitudes of this life – this world – this brief time upon the grand stage: it brings a respite to the feverish workings of my poor overtaxed brain. It is a balm to my injuries and a salve to my soul. But for every instance when I have poured my awe and wrath onto these pages – ink splashed everywhere like blood on the arena sands – every narration, when revisited, shows me for a lesser man. To read these words is to know, in meticulous detail, each and every time I have felt fear – weakness – befuddlement – aye, even cupidity. My glories, what there are of them, are drowned and sunk, swallowed up by a thousand failures.

Aye: is that not the lot of man? When counted, one to one to one, are there not always an hundred destructions for each single victory?

Perhaps. Perhaps this is but another example of the human condition. Perhaps it is merely that I must ever be thus; perhaps ’tis my fate. Perhaps it is simply that – I live up to my name.

Howbeit: none will ever see these pages but me. (And I must be sure to secure my larger log, the ship’s log, when I reach the Grace.) None will peruse the chronicle of my imperfection. Especially not those who would call me captain and believe me fit to lead them.

God forbid.

I feel a dark cloud hangs over me, dogs my steps and obstructs the light of hope. I do not know when it began to gather, when it became prodigious enough, heavy enough, to be noticed – but now it cannot be missed. Every breath I draw is dark and dank and leaden. Every sight I cast my eyes upon stands in shadow, black with omen. With doom. My heart feels stretched taut, like a thread of spider’s silk that thrums with the breeze and the falling rain; I cannot fill my lungs – ’tis as though a chain enwrapped me, holding me captive, constrained.

I am trammeled by despair. And I cannot break free.

Perhaps I am too long from my ship. Perhaps I am too long from my home, the land of my birth. Perhaps it is because the time is out of joint: the wheels slip, the hours seem to draw out, and then contract, and so one moment passes in but a breath, and the next moment lasts a lifetime. And always, I am unprepared: I wish the hour to draw out when it speeds, and I wish it to fly when it crawls. All that I do is wrong. All that I attempt fails, and in the failing, I do sink deeper and deeper. Perhaps it is not a dark cloud overhead: perhaps I sink into a sea of black hopelessness. Of slow, agonizing death.

Writing this is not helping. Where is my balm, now?

 

Later

‘Twas sleep that was needful, more than the recording of my sorrows. This last passage I wrote in the dark watches of the night, as I sat wakeful, unable to find my way to rest while I am riding in the belly of this steel dragon. I surmised ‘twould be simple enough; I have a double bench to myself; Lynch and MacManus sit across the aisle – both sleep, now. MacManus snores. The motion, the noise, the closeness and number of strangers – all of this is familiar to me, all circumstances I have known at sea, where I have slept two to a bunk belowdecks, surrounded by strange men, on a ship tossed by storm’s waves and winds.

But there is a strangeness here that I do not know. The motion of this – this enormous serpent that carries us forward, it is nothing like the rolling and rocking of a ship at sea; neither are the noises that rattle and clacket and drive into the ears. They are too cold, too harsh – metal scraping over metal, rather than the gentle, living creak of wood, the splashing of waves and the sighing of wind.

Nonetheless, I did manage a few hours rest. Now it is near dawn, and not so lonely nor cold, for the sunlight will be joining me soon – thank the gods these people put windows into the hide of this beast, to let in the rays of heaven and the comfort they ever bring.

 

Later

The people who surround me – ye gods! I cannot comprehend them. Their bizarreries, their grotesqueries, they stab my eyes, my mind. I cannot look at them, and yet even when I look away, I hear them, and in my mind I can see them still.

They are so fat. Yet I cannot stomach their food. They are surrounded by wonders, yet their eyes are dead. They stare at their magic windows, their magic mirrors, at their Verizon-stones – they look at nothing else. They seal themselves away from the good Earth that birthed them, raised them, fed them; they lock her out, their mother, with steel and glass and plass-tick. Even when they have windows, they do not look – Look! Just now, I glanced up the rows of benches, mainly filled with people now-waked. The light of a dawning sun brightens the sky to starboard, and would fill the train – but for the curtains which are drawn shut to block it out. I look out my window, and I am granted a view of sublime and surpassing beauty and majesty: we ride through a great forest, trees a hundred paces high, leading down a long and gentle slope to where a wide, tranquil river sparkles like gemstones in the sunlight. It is wondrous, and all it lacks is a breath of open air, so that the clean scent of this land could fill me, release the bands prisoning my heart. But the windows do not open, and the air on this demon-train smells old and stale and dead. Like the beast we ride in, which does not live. Like the people who surround me, who do not seem to wish to.

And despite this great beauty outside, when I look up through the benches (set on both sides of the train like slaves’ rowing benches in a Moorish galley) I do not see faced bathed in sunlight. I see corpses – animate corpses – gleaming pale in the blue witch-light of their gods-rotted magic windows. I see naught but blue-glowing rectangles, magic mirrors and Verizon-stones, cell-‘phones and – lap-tops, they are called, as I just inquired of the man in the bench behind me. He wears ivy strands with bulbs at the end in his ears, attached to his magic window; he had to remove these to answer my query as to the name of the thing he was hooked to. One after another, bench after bench – and when I turn and look behind me, ’tis the same: naught but cell-‘phones and lap-tops. Not one even glances outside. They will not open the shades to let in the world. They wish to be devoured, digested, dissolved by this cursed – poxy – rattling steel BEHEMOTH!

I must get out.

 

***

 

I am somewhat more at ease now. I have moved up from the bowels of the dragon to its throat – perhaps its mouth. The metaphor fails. There is not even as much life, as much genuine reflection of the glory of nature’s creation, in this whore-spawned, thrice-cursed train as would be in an infernal hell-beast from the deepest abysses of the Underworld.

I have left my galley-bench and the segment of train in which I rode, as doors allow passage between segments of the train, like bulkheads giving entrance to holds and cabins. I moved through three more chambers of grotesque dead-eyed gluttons blocking out the sun so they could stare at their magic windows; with each chamber, the air felt closer, less wholesome, and my lungs grew desperate, I panted like a hound, my heart racing, my whole body crying for freedom – for release – for air. I think these people exude some miasma, some effluvium that doth poison me.

And then, at the ragged edge of despair, I reached a place awash in bright sunlight. ‘Tis the observation car – where I sit now as I write this. the walls and roof are all windows – true windows, not magic, windows that reveal the free and magnificent world outside this train. The sight has soothed my ravaged nerves. Though still I long for fresh air, for one clean breath.

Anon – I can smell food. Perhaps there is somewhat to sustain and replenish me.

 

BLOODY FOUL FUCKING REEKING WORMS! Gods-damned pox-ridden pig-kissing goat-swiving whoresons, may crows take their useless eyes from their putrid, pustulent faces while DOGS tear out their white and empty livers, the craven, foul-hearted black-blooded mongrels!

Damn me. NO! Damn them. Damn them all. Where is my sword? I need my sword. Good steel in hand, bending to my will – instead of this cursed steel box that ensconces me, entraps me, that is driving me mad! I must get out. I will leave at the next port, at the next stop. I will get off. I will not – NOT – share a train with her.

***

 

We are off now. I spat on that devil-spawned beast as I left it – and then for many minutes, I simply breathed. Ah, gods, the air! At last, true air. Lynch, clever lad, thought to ask the liveried attendant aboard that accursed train where we were, and if another train would come by. We are in Alexandria, in Virginia, a name I recognize (and even that small familiarity makes this place seem more comfortable, more real). The man told Lynch (I was too maddened with rage and desperation to hear, though I stood hard by as they spoke – I think MacManus tried to calm me, to gentle me like a frightened horse or a thunderstruck mule, but I do not remember.) that we were near to a place called Washing-town, Lynch thought it was; the man added a French word, what Lynch thought was dici, though he has only a few words of that tongue (I know not this word, myself, but guess at the writing of it.). Regardless, the attendant told him that many trains passed through this place every day – it is one of the great cities of this land, this Washing-town.

The place we wait now is sufficient for me; a hundred or more people departed the train when we did. But, horror of horrors, at least twice that many got on! I cannot imagine. I know I would have lost my solitary bench in the jostling, and I am sure I would have lost my mind, trapped in steel, without air, and with so many of these stinking corpse-men pressing close about me. Why, I could not have survived it.

More likely, that harridan to whom I spoke in the observation car – she would not have survived it, for I would have strangled the hag and then stomped on her lifeless corpse until I ground her bones to powder.

I was seated before a window – a marvelous window, tall as I and wider than my two arms outstretched – and looking out on beauty. I had found the kitchens in the observation car, on the lower level, and though they did not have the whiskey I so sorely needed, they had the sweet golden juice – ’tis called orange juice, which may tickle my memory; do they have such fruit in Spain? – and a pastry that is achingly sweet, almost too much so. But I did enjoy the food, which was returning my strength to me, and my sanity with it, as long as I sat in bright sunshine.

Then I heard a cough from behind me. I did not wish to converse with these people, who had turned my stomach and addled my wits, so I ignored it. Then I felt a finger poke fiercely at my shoulder, and a girl’s voice – with a tone of speech through the nose which grated on my sore nerves – said “Excuse me!” most rudely. Lucky that she was a lass, or else the poke would have earned a wallop from me for such impudence. I turned, slowly and without word, and arched a brow. A young woman, perhaps fourteen or fifteen, stood – too close! – behind me. She might have been a pretty maid, had she clothed or carried herself in anything like a maidenly manner, but her clothing, where it was not diaphanous, was as tight and clinging as Meredith’s Yoga attire, the which, on a lass of tender age, was merely indecent. Too, she wore an excess of cosmetics and paints on her face, and her jewelry – gods! She wore metal rings and rods thrust through her lip, her nose, and her eyebrow as well as her ears. I have seen savages from the Orient with less strange embellishments.

As I stared in horrification, she pointed impertinently, her hand thrusting nearly under my nose. She thrust out her hip and stamped a foot pettishly. I turned – slowly, again; clearly the lass needed to learn patience – and looked, but saw nothing of import. She pointed toward the base of the window, but there was naught there to see – the trees directly outside were small and stunted and flew by too quickly for interest. I turned slowly back, my face studiously blank. ‘Twas difficult – she smelled. She wore a scent stronger than a midden full of rotten fruit, under which I could still detect, this close, the stench of unwashed flesh.

She rolled her eyes and stomped the other foot. “Could you move?” she quoth. “I need the out-let.” She held up a strange object, a black cord – it looked somewhat like the ivy strands from St. Vincent’s – that terminated in a squarish object, the width of two fingers or so, with two flat pieces of metal protruding. I looked at the object and then back at her, and said nothing.

She gave a harsh exhalation, apparently exasperated with me. “Oh my God, are you deaf or just a retard? I need to charge my ‘phone!” She held up a cell-‘phone.

My temper snapped. I stood quickly to my full height, and she stepped back. I pointed at the plaque in her hand. “You do not need that fey thing,” I said, though I think I growled more than is my wont. “You need that!” and I pointed without, at the sun, the sky, the trees beyond the window. “You damned people with your cell-‘phones! They are naught but a prison for your minds – what feeble wits you may have left to you.”

At first, the girl looked somewhat cowed by my height and my fury, but then as I spoke, she smiled, most sardonically. When I finished, though my anger kept me muttering under my breath all the while she spoke, she said, “All right, wavy-gravy, whatever – hater’s gun a-hate. Don’t blame me if you were like, raised in a cave, and I know how to live in the modern world – the real world.” She held up the black glass plaque, her cell-‘phone. “What did you call this? A cell? It’s an eye-phone, dumb-ass. And I bet I’ve seen more of the world with it than you’ll ever see staring out the window of a train.”

“Bah!” I spat, and stepped out into the aisle. “What does that show but illusion? ‘Tis not real – ’tis not the world, but a picture of it, cast by fey means to enchant your eyes and enfeeble your mind. The map is not the country, the image is not the thing itself. We are creatures of life – we belong in the world!”

She laughed, slouching back and crossing her arms. “Tell you what, loser: you go out, like, for a walk in the trees, and I’ll take an on line class, design a new killer ap, make millions, and then buy up the forest and turn it all into fucking chopsticks and like, coffee filters, O’Kay?” She shook her head and turned away from me, flicking her fingers in my face as though brushing away a fly. She stepped into the seat I had vacated, and thrust the metal protrusions into a matching slot in the wall, at the base of the window where she had pointed. Then she turned to face me again. “Do you even know what year it is? It’s 2011, and you can’t do anything without an eye-phone or a lap-top. Nothing worth doing, anyway. We belong in the world? The whole world is in here, dumb-ass – you don’t have a life unless you’re on line. Believe me, sweetie, if you’re not on line, if you’re not jacked in, then you’re just slowing the rest of us down. You’re just getting in the way.” She looked me up and down, shook her head and smirked. Then she sat and set her eye-phone before those same organs. I ceased to exist for her, being outside of her world.

I said nothing. I did nothing. If I had not turned and left the observation car that instant, I would have wrung her neck with my empty hands. All of the hatred I felt – I feel – for this time, this place, these people: it all focused in her wretched form. Even when I returned to my bench, I could not keep from my mind the thoughts – the happy thoughts, pleasant thoughts – of collecting my wheel-gun from Lynch and returning to blow a hole in her skull, to empty her head – though likely of naught but dust and rubbish – onto the window she refused to look through, to take her out of the world she so despises.

That is why we had to leave the train. My nerves are too frayed, my judgment gone, my prudence, my forethought – I have nothing left of will or restraint.

I must

 

 

I dont no wat haz hapind. Captin Cain is gon. This iz hiz log it sez so. He is gon. I fown this on the grown in the train-hal but he iz gon. Thair iz blood on the grown. Me and Macmanis ull go look for Captin.

Pleez God maik him saif.

– B. Lynch

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Categories: Book II, Captain's Log, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 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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Log #44: Escape

Log

August 26th

 

Blast our weakness to the darkest depths of Neptune’s realm. I should be writing this as a free man, but I am not. I bide, still, in this accursed hospital. Indeed, my circumstances have worsened: I am now prisoned in this room, with a guard at my door, wearing a pistola.

We were discovered in our attempt this latter night. We got MacManus out of his bed and into the wheeled chair that Lynch had used – the which was a most troublesome endeavor, as it obtained, requiring time and effort and quite a fair piece of forbearance through pain on MacManus’s part, particularly when he himself drew the invading tube from his manhood. Thank the gods I was shot above the waist. But he did draw it out, and bit back the screams; and we did move him into the chair, and then we made our way down the hall and along a second corridor, all without detection. We reached the dressing-rooms, and here we divided, at Lynch’s urging: with his youthful frame, quoth he, he required a more diminutive suit of livery, which he would be unlikely to find among the masculine apparel; and so for him, the distaff chamber.

‘Twas our undoing. For as MacManus and I quickly changed apparel, fitting ourselves into our assumed guises quite readily enough, in my case, and with somewhat greater effort and not a little agony on Shane’s part, Lynch crept into the women’s chamber and there was he discovered, en déshabille, as it were. Some noise of alarm was transmitted to our chamber, and so MacManus and I were largely unsurprised when Lynch came a-gallop from his dressing-room, hissing that he had been seen and that the observer – one of the nurses who had our charge, and they had each recognized the other – had eluded his attempt to capture and subdue her, slowed as he was by his injury. She had made off, back down the hall to the nurses’ station, where reinforcements awaited.

I calculated quickly. Shane was still pale and breathing harshly, clutching at his hip as he slumped over the wheel of his chair; Lynch was pallid, too, and sweating, though he bore two patches of red high on his cheeks – shame at his failure, I thought. But he crouched as well, bent over his wounded gut. And I myself – I favored my right arm, that shoulder made painfully sore by the night’s exertions, particularly the maneuvering of MacManus into his current berth. I made a decision.

“We surrender without fight,” I told them, and overrode Lynch’s outraged cry. “Stay! We surrender, and laugh at this. We wanted a drink, is all. ‘Twas but a lark.”

“But Captain, now they be aware of our intent, ’twill be the harder to find the chance,” Lynch argued.

“Aye, ’twill indeed, thou cursed scrawny pup, and whose fault be it? No matter,” I said vigorously, squelching the boy’s contradiction. “For if we but jest now, the careful watch they put over us will not be wary. That will give us our chance.”

Just as I finished, two lusty stalwarts in blue burst through the door and accosted us, followed by the nurse, hands on hips as was their wont. I threw up my hands and laughed as I gave myself into their custody without struggle; my men following my lead after a trifling pause. Good lads. But a bit unlucky. So now there is another obstacle to be overcome.

This hospital would oppose my will, would captain the course of my life. Very well, says I – Lay on, MacDuff. And damned be he who first cries “Hold, enough!”

 

28th August, after midnight

I must write quickly: we have little time. We are making good our escape – and this time, we may not retreat, for not only will we have made them wary, but full wroth, as well.

We waited a full day and night, and through a new day. MacManus needed the time to recover, and Lynch as well, aye. I spent such time chatting with my guardian – the hospital marked me as the wellspring of our rebellion, and so only I received such accompaniment – an amiable fellow named Jackson. He ushered me to my visit with Margaret in the gardens, and chaperoned our promenade along the white-stone path most politely as I regaled my friend with the tale of our escape attempt. I did try not to let my gaze linger on the trees that bounded that pleasant space, through which we plotted our course to freedom; now I would that I had looked closer!

Any road, Yeoman Jackson sat by and watched our game of draughts, participating in our conversation and relaxing his watchfulness moment by moment.

In the meantime, MacManus was declared fit enough to evacuate his own bladder, and relieved at last of his torturous tether. ‘Twas a relief to me, as it would speed our movements – but ’twas a far greater relief to poor Shane, in truth. Lynch, too, was much recuperated: he is able to move about without his sittable conveyance now, though not too far, and not too long. Long enough and far enough, for the nonce.

That night, my guard changed, and that man was less friendly. So it must be on Jackson’s watch that we made our move, I knew. I had had a visit from the Accountman Sanderson, and he had seemed suspicious of my levity regarding our first attempt, though he had not questioned me too closely over it; he still awaited confirmation of my claimed identity and station – and wealth, of course. Thus, it must be soon, or Sanderson would surely have us locked away, or manacled, or whatever else this place does to its delinquent custom.

Jackson returned this past evening. I took him for a constitutional, and we did pass by the rooms of Lynch and MacManus, where I gave my men the signal. Jackson and I strolled briefly through the gardens – Margaret was not then present – and then returned to my chamber, where we divided, I to my bunk, and Jackson to his post outside my door.

Soon enough, Lynch arrived. As we had discussed, we three all had feigned greater discomfort from our hurts than was true, so as to further lull suspicion; Lynch came in as bent over as an old gaffer with the gout, alist and shuffling like an arthritic badger. I waited as the door eased shut behind him, ere he was halfway to my bunk, and then I sat patiently as he continued to belabor his slow way to me. He arrived at last, looked up from his own feet to meet my gaze – and grinned.

“Art thou a-ready now, Master Cripple?”

He saluted. “Aye, Captain. I stand ready for all.”

I stood, and gathered my meager armament. And my will: I was fond of Jackson, and was not eager for this next task. But we must escape, so – “Then down with ye, O Maudlin Limper.”

Lynch threw himself to the floor, with a crash made largely by the action of unbalancing my supper tray and scattering its contents. He cried out as in pain, and I called for Jackson. The man came in at a rush, and I backed water away to reveal the poor pitiful wretch, who had managed tears for his eyes as he clutched at his ankle with the one hand, and the side where was his true hurt, with the other. Jackson went to him with a kind man’s natural instinct, and knelt, with his back to me. And I, who am no kind man, slipped the loop, fashioned from the ivy tube (which gave slightly when pulled taut, but had the main strength) and hid in my right hand, over Jackson’s head and around his neck. I pulled, bringing him arching back; Lynch was ready, and as Jackson’s hands went naturally to the cord about his throat, my shipmate relieved the man of his pistola. I loosened my strangle, then, and when Jackson slumped forward once more, coughing, I drew back and brought the club which the good doctors had fashioned from my left arm crashing down on his skull.

It worked, aye; Jackson was well and truly a-slumber, but he was breathing well and the blood pulsed in his neck when pressed, as I had hoped. But I was ill-prepared for the agony which coursed through me when I struck; I thought the wrapping was to protect the limb from harm! Hard as stone, it seemed! ‘Tis not. This club-arm is not a weapon I will use again.

But all was as planned, and Lynch helped me raise Jackson into my bunk and remove his uniform. Then Lynch went out, now moving far more easily and quickly, and slipped down the corridor to the dressing room once more – this time he would collect his livery from Eve’s side, once he had determined it to be unoccupied, and then move to Adam’s chamber to effect the change; it had occurred to us that the staff here are far more frequently feminine, and so the traffic through their room subsequently greater, and so too the chance of discovery. I strapped my dreaming friend into the restraints on my bunk, and then, as I had watched the nurses do to me a hundred times, I slid an ivy prong into his vein and set the liquid within on a slow course through his body – ’twas the stuff they set in me anight, to let me traipse off to Dreamland despite the ache in my wounds. So far as I know, good Jackson slumbers still.

I donned his uniform – a decent fit, for we were much of a size – and made my way, quickly but not furtively, to MacManus’s room, gathering a wheeled chair along the way. I was soon joined there by Nurse Lynch (Which name we enjoyed applying to the boy, for his face reddened each time – especially when MacManus requested a sponge bath.) and we maneuvered MacManus into the chair after dressing him in the shirt and breeches which Lynch had liberated from the tiring room.

That was when Nurse Winslow came into the room, her head bent over a clip-board – ’tis a thing they often carry and refer to its cryptic contents, somewhat akin to a pupil’s slate but covered with papers bearing hieroglyphics instead of words or ciphering – until she looked up and saw the three of us, frozen with surprise, standing in our transparent disguises before she who knew us all in an instant.

Thankfully, I recovered first, and remembered my new-won pistola. I drew same and aimed at her heart; she but looked in my eyes, and then, aye, she saw me, for the first time, as I am: Damnation Kane, scoundrel and captain of scoundrels. She did not struggle nor cry out as Lynch and I restrained her in MacManus’s bunk, after bandaging her mouth shut.

I will say there are abundant resources in this hospital for those who would kidnap, restrain, and confine their fellow men. Most useful.

From there, ’twas an easy jaunt down the corridor with Nurse Lynch pushing Invalid MacManus, flanked by Guardian Kane. Until, that is, we came to our greatest obstacle: the stairs. MacManus was sure he could manage stairs, with the help of a rail to cling to and a shipmate to assist him, and indeed, ’twas just so that we achieved the first flight of steps, with Lynch bringing the chair; but our progress was too slow, as MacManus could not manage more than two steps in a minute, so very painful was the motion on his injury, and, we discovered, my shoulder prevented me from taking his weight over it, as I have done countless times for shipmates injured or inebriate. Too, the chair was almost Lynch’s undoing – he lost his grip upon it when his wound twinged of a sudden, and was only just able to keep his own balance as the device went crashing down with a clatter that must have woken the dead. And we faced a second flight of steps, then.

This time we put MacManus in the chair, gripping the wheels to slow them; Lynch clutched the handles in the stern and tipped him back so he could remain upright, and I crouched on the steps, set my back against his feet and braced him. Then we rolled down, one step at a time, with curses and cries of pain and fatigue from each of us growing louder and more profane with every step, every drop down a stair. That bastard kicked me in the head a dozen times, and Lynch lost his grip twice, leaving MacManus’s entire weight once on my poor back, once falling back onto Lynch, though Shane caught the rail before he slid and shattered himself.

Then, just as we reached the bottom and were panting, sweating, and cursing our way to an upright alignment, lo – the door before us opened. We three froze once more, just as we had when Nurse Winslow interrupted us, and then turned slowly to face our discoverer –

‘Twas Margaret’s buffoon, the worthless devotee of the Verizon-stone – what Margaret had most aptly named a cell.

He did not spare us so much as a glimpse. His head jerked momentarily in our direction, his eyes torn from the face of his beloved for but half an instant – long enough to recognize the shape of us, but no more – and then he turned and pressed his back against the door, and waited. Holding it open for us.

We thanked him kindly as we passed by, and made our way to the passage which led to the gardens. He did not look up, merely nodding and grunting in response to our thanks; the only element of his being in motion, his thumbs, caressing the stone again and again. Aye, a cell of the mind, it be, and that fool be well and truly imprisoned.

We won through to the gardens, after straightening our attire, wiping away as best we could the sweat and dirt of our descent – though the wheel-marks on my back were still visible on Jackson’s blue uniform shirt – and we headed toward freedom! When a voice from the shadows arrested us – and, very nearly, our hearts in our chests, so sudden and unexpected was it.

“You’ll never get out that way,” the voice said.

We must have been quite a sight, as MacManus leapt nearly out of the chair and then subsided back with a groan of pain, and Lynch spun entirely around and then fell to his knees; I reached for my pistola, but unfamiliar with the sheath that held it to the belt, I fumbled the weapon, and it fell to the ground at my feet. A proper mummer’s troupe were we, aye, ‘struth.

‘Twas the laugh I recognized, even before Margaret came out of the shadows. I introduced her to MacManus – after I retrieved my weapon and shared a look of both accusation and shame with my shipmates; some pirates, we, scared out of our wits by a sick granny – and she explained what she had meant. Out for a walk alone, as Morpheus’s kind embrace eluded her, most nights, she had watched us emerge, recognized Lynch and I and then discerned our intent from our demanor and our attire, which she knew to be but paltry disguises not fitting our station; thus must we mean to escape this place, by means of the forest that girded the gardens. But –

“There’s a wall, all around, just beyond the trees. You’ll never make it over with your injuries – especially not your friend in the wheelchair,” Margaret said. At this intelligence, we three were cast down by despair. The front entrance, we knew from MacManus’s recollection of arrival, was well-guarded, and our disguises surely inadequate to slip us past. No patient moved in this place without papers, and no staff without a portrait-card attached to their tunics, and we lacked both. And surely the Accountman had alerted the gate guards to our erstwhile escape attempt.

But then our discoverer proved to be our savior. Margaret (rather shamelessly, I thought – but then, gray hair grants great license) bid us back to her chamber, and would hear no demur. We went, having no alternative, and there that good lady made use of her telephone to contact her granddaughter, the lovely – and tractable, it seems, as she hearkened to her granny’s call after midnight; though perhaps she is simply a good lass who feels proper loyalty to her blood and respect for her elders – and providential Meredith Vance

Now we wait for her arrival, with a beast-wagon to bear us away; Margaret has made known to us that at the bottom of the stairs – alas, more stairs! But a single flight, however, and we be driven forward by the spur of freedom so close – is a door offering egress, which will, upon opening, sound a fire alarm, as Margaret called it; in the ensuing confusion, which Margaret assures us will be prodigious and profound, we will make good our escape. Fortunately, Margaret was not seen in our presence this night, and so will not be held accountable for aught, so long as we are not discovered here, or with the fair Meredith.

We have all offered this wondrous lady our most solemn gratitude, which she waves off; most humble, is she, and most kind. All she will accept in recompense is a game of draughts with each of us – and, now that she has destroyed Lynch as she did MacManus, it is my turn. I think, with my mind sore fatigued from our activities, that my only hope is that Meredith’s call will interrupt my drubbing.

 

Later

It did not. But we are free.

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Log 15: Joyriding

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”

It came to be known that the keys for the beast-wagon lay in the miscellany of odds and ends we had taken from the Dominicans’ pockets before locking them in; we identified the correct ring, from among several small rings of tiny-seeming keys, with Shluxer’s guidance. Then I must needs ask for volunteers, with myself as first example – though all gods in heaven and earth know that I would rather dive into a whale’s mouth from the crow’s nest than ride on that thing. But I cannot ask my men to do a thing the which I would not do; if not for honor’s sake, then simply because they would refuse to do it, with mine own example as sufficient justification. But with myself standing tall, and Shluxer smirking at us, soon enough Kelly stepped forward, with only a slight stagger to reveal the source of his courage; and then my good friend Ian took a surer step to join him. Lynch tried to step up, but I ordered the youth back into line. Such heart in a small and youthful chest shamed two more men into taking the step, Lochlan O’Neill and my cousin, Owen MacTeigue. I chose O’Neill, as he is a fast friend of Donal Carter and could sway the man to listen to reason; also I trusted MacTeigue to stay behind and supervise the fortifications of the Palace should all this go for naught.

Kelly offered to sit on the rear of the wagon, where a footman might ride if it were the carriage it somewhat resembled, but Shluxer refused him and demanded we all crawl inside, after he used the key to open the – doors, I suppose they are, though damned if they don’t more resemble a bird’s wings, or the fins of a fish.

Perhaps this thing is fashioned from the skeleton of some fantastic beast?

Any road, Shluxer and I were trying to coax Kelly into the sternward bench when there was a crash of glass; on the port side of the beast, Ian O’Gallows was knocking out the last few fragments from the sternward fin-door with the butt of his pistol. I feared for a moment that this attack would anger the beast – and my men stepped back with me, all eyes on O’Gallows – but Shluxer cursed and said he would “roll down the fucking windows.” Which made no sense as one cannot roll glass. While we discussed it, however, Kelly found a mount to his liking: he stood on the metal edge below the bench, with one hand grasping the open door-fin-wing, and stabbed his dagger through the – the scalp? The back? The thin metal (or perhaps bone) plate atop the beast, whichever side of the thing one calls it. It gave him a fine hold, and he declared himself ready to weigh anchor. Shluxer yelled and swore again, but I and my men took heart: this further injury once more provoked no response at all from the beast. Perhaps it was not to be feared.

We all took our places, Ian behind Shluxer on the port side and Kelly hanging off the beast’s starboard side behind me, with O’Neill white-faced between the two sternward stalwarts. I took the forward bench beside Shluxer, who sat behind a wheel, though I know not how that could steer the beast. He said, “All right, hold on to your butts,” (at which saying we all took hold of our pistols) and then applied the key; now we heard the beast roar and growl. Mysteriously, we also heard a blast of music, but Shluxer poked the beast in the mystically-engraved panel facing us, and it stopped. Once Shluxer coaxed Kelly back onto the thing’s flank, he having leapt off and drawn his iron at the sound of the thing’s roaring, my new navigator plied his hands and feet in an arcane manner, and – we were off!

It was, at first, simply a wonder. Shluxer somehow made the glass window beside me vanish, and then, as we moved farther away from the Glass Palace at a speed faster than a grown man’s trot, I could feel the wind, though only from my side. Straight ahead I watched the ground move, the trees coming closer, and yet it seemed unreal – the motion too smooth, and without a direct wind in my face coming from the forward quarter, it felt wrong to me.

Then we reached the road – we had been moving along the track from the Palace, which was lengthy and narrow; this that lay ahead was a smooth-paved road four times the width, at least – and turned to starboard, and suddenly we were moving faster than I have ever moved before on this Earth, faster than a horse at the gallop, faster than ever the fleetest ship raced before the wind and tide. At first I felt near a swoon – a sensation increased, along with my terror, when I saw another beast-wagon apparently aimed directly at us and charging, before it missed us just to our port side, as though we were jousters in the lists. It was followed by another beast-wagon, and another, and another. The road turned to the left, and then the right; the beast-wagon barely slowed, and with each turn, I and my men drifted to the side, like green sailors in their first swell, with cries and murmurs of alarm. It was the most frightful experience of my life, saving only, perhaps, the encounters with Hobbes and the Sea-Cat.

Then Ian started laughing.

I looked back at him, incredulous; it was in my mind that he had lost his sanity and was in hysterics. But no, he met my gaze and I saw that he was himself. He had thrust his head out through the porthole in the door-wing where he had broken the glass pane, and the wind of his passing was tearing through his hair and blowing out the collar of his shirt. “Try it, Nate!” he shouted to me, grinning like a child on Christmas morning – though he did flinch away from the oncoming beast-wagons, which trumpeted their strange cries at him, or perhaps at our beast. Shluxer cursed and steered us farther to starboard, giving Ian room away from the jousting wagons. Then I heard a whoop from Kelly on the other side, but his head was above the top of the opening he stood in and could not be seen. I glanced at O’Neill, and saw that he was not amused: his gaze was glassy, his mouth open and slack, his skin pallid and rapidly becoming green; I recalled that O’Neill was one of those who struggled with sea-sickness, and I surmised that the beast-wagon’s strange motion was too much for him. It certainly put a flutter in my own gut, though the like didn’t affect me at sea, but this thing jerked from side to side far more rapidly than any ship, and the movement forward pressed us back into our seats before the long turns pulled us to the outward side, and it was all very strange. I clapped O’Neill on the knee, and he met my gaze, swallowing painfully, beads of sweat on his brow. “Will ye live?” I asked him.

He started to nod, then closed his eyes and shivered. “Aye.”

I turned to Shluxer. “How much longer?” I had to repeat the question, as his attention was fixed on Kelly and Ian; Ian was now seated in the porthole, his entire trunk outside the beast-wagon. He and Kelly were shouting back and forth and in unison, no words, just cries of pure joy.

“WHEEEEE!”

“AYYYIIIIEEEEEEE!!”

“YAAAA-HAAAA-HAAAA!”

“Shouldn’t that be ‘Yo-ho-ho?'” Shluxer muttered.

I said his name again, and he glanced at me.

“Oh, right – uh, how much longer? I dunno – five minutes if they haven’t left this road. Maybe less.”

I nodded and then clapped O’Neill on the knee again. “Ye’ll live, man. If ye have to purge, do it towards Kelly.” Then I put my head out the window, as well, to see what all the fuss was about.

The moment I felt the wind on my face, coming from what my eyes and mind told me was the proper direction, rather than blowing from a quarter-turn to the side, then the sensation of strangeness disappeared. My gut subsided its churning, the clench of my jaw eased; suddenly it was as if we were sailing the swiftest ship across calm waters, or riding the fleetest horse with the smoothest gait – I know not how to describe it! Our speed was magnificent, but there was no sense of the motion, none of the up-and-down or back-to-front jerking that accompanied any other means of such speed, whether it be a horse’s hoofbeats or a team pulling a wagon or a ship going over waves and swells. I have never felt anything like it. I presume this is what the birds feel when they spread their wings and glide through the air. It was glorious. Soon all three of us, Ian, Kelly, and myself, were crying out with joy as we leaned out of the beast-wagon and waved our hands in the wind.

But then, as I was seated on my own porthole and turned towards Ian to share a grin, Kelly shouted “Captain!” I glanced to him, and he nodded to the starboard bow quarter and shouted, “‘Tis them, sir.” I turned quickly and spotted my wayward bully boys immediately: there were no other people on this road – reasonable, considering the speed and frequency of beast-wagons on it! These folk must have separate roads for people to walk or ride more ordinary steeds. Their clothing, too, stood out clearly against the dull green mangroves and other trees to either side of us. They had not yet noticed us as different from any other beast-wagon.

I ducked back into the beast-wagon and marked the target for Shluxer, who muttered, “No shit, Sherlock.” I swear, the man speaks an English almost incomprehensible to me. But he turned and stopped, all of a sudden, just as we passed them, bringing us to a dead halt not twenty feet from the four runaways. Remarkable.

Kelly was already off the wagon and facing them, weapons in hands. I opened the portal – after Shluxer pointed out the handle to me – and stood by him; behind his great frame, O’Neill crawled from the beast’s guts and heaved up his own. Ian, his face still red and grinning from the wind, leapt to the top of the wagon and struck a stance, fists on hips. He cried, “What ho, me hearties!”

I looked at my men with somewhat less joy. Of the four, Moran looked the most abashed, and would not meet my gaze. Carter simply stood and looked at us with both equanimity and a certain amount of wonder at the means of our arrival; Burke sneered and smirked; and O’Flaherty clenched his jaw with anger. I strode slowly up to them, looking from one face to the next.

“Out for a wee stroll, are we?” I asked sardonically.

“Aye,” O’Flaherty spat back. “Out to correct that one’s failure,” he said, pointing a thumb at O’Gallows. Ian’s good humor ended instantly, and he leapt down from the beast-wagon and marched toward O’Flaherty with grim intent, but I waved him back.

“You think the provisions he gathered for us insufficient?”

O’Flaherty, who had been sneering a challenge at Ian, now looked back to me. “Aye, o’ course t’were insufficient, man. Ye canna expect a pirate crew to live without spirits. Especially not in the midst of all this madness we go through in this place where you brought us, Captain.” He stepped closer. “And don’t try to foist it off on me, again. Ye put on a nice bit o’ theater for the men, but ye canna have it both ways. If ye be the captain, then the responsibility for our mishaps be yours. And ye knows it.”

I nodded, for he was in the right. “Aye, I’ve made many mistakes, o’ course. Any man in command will do the same. What matter, though, is that I must recognize my mistakes, and ensure that more and poorer choices do not worsen our situation beyond repair – as this little excursion of yours would do. What in the name of all the hells were you thinking, Sean?” I shouted, throwing my hands up in exasperation.

Never one to back down, O’Flaherty bellowed right back. “Your man there said t’were no guards! The boys need a bit o’ cheer, and we mean to get it for them.”

“You daft fool,” spake I, with perhaps less diplomacy than the circumstances asked, “I sent Ian off with mere trinkets, and he traded them for a month’s provisions. Did ye think we couldn’t do the same twice, only this time with rum as the goal? What, do ye not remember the remaining wealth in the Palace we took? – Aye, took under my command?”

O’Flaherty laughed, without mirth. “Trade? We’re not merchants, Nate. We be pirates. We take what we want.” Carter and Burke both nodded at this, and Moran looked as though he wanted to.

I laughed back. “Pirates, Sean? Ye be pirates?” I stepped up and pressed my chest to his. “Then where be your ship?” I shouted in his face. He stepped back then, but I stepped with him. “You know where. She be on the beach. On her side in the sand, wi’ a great hole blown in her flank. You know – you all know,” I said, turning to include the other three with a look and a gesture, “you know that I have no compunction against taking what I desire. The world owes me that, as it owes each of you. Aye?” They nodded again, and from behind me, Ian growled, “Aye, it bloody well does.”

I turned back to O’Flaherty. I stopped shouting; we needed to remove the spark from this discussion, not throw it into the powder keg. “But we need the ship. We need the Grace, Sean – need her in the water and catching the wind. Aye, of course I took note when Ian said there were no guards at the Piggly-Wiggly, but think ye we have no enemies hereabouts? If this be a colony, there will be troops here, somewhere; if it be a sovereign nation, they will have militia. Either way, your little raid would bring them down on us. Now, if we could escape to sea in our fair ship, then I would lead the way, and carry a cask of rum myself! I planned to do just that. But not –” and here I shouted once more, as I felt this point deserving of special emphasis: “NOT UNTIL WE HAVE OUR SHIP BACK!”

O’Flaherty and I glared at each other in silence. I knew what he wanted: he wanted to name me coward, shame me with my unwillingness to take this risk when such an easy prize beckoned. But he knew that if he said it, I would draw arms to defend my honor – and he would lose against me, with pistol or with blade, and he knew that, too. So we waited, and I watched him swallow the words he wanted to say to me then. They looked bitter.

Then another voice broke into the tableau we had made: “Hey!” We all turned and looked: it was Shluxer, standing with his arms crossed, his face pale and nervous. “If you dudes, you know, want some booze or something, you know, I can get it for you.”

I raised one eyebrow and asked what we all wondered: “What is booze?”

He rolled his eyes. “You know, booze. Liquor, beer, whiskey, wine, shit like that.” He shrugged. “I can get other shit, too, if you want to get really fucked up. But booze, that’s easy.”

“How much?” O’Flaherty asked, even as I asked, “What risks will there be?” We glared at each other some more.

“As much as you want. No trouble – I got this shit covered, yo.”

I looked the question at O’Flaherty, and after a moment, he nodded. I turned back to Shluxer and said, “Yo-ho-ho.”

So it went: Ian accompanied Shluxer in the beast-wagon, and the rest of us marched back to the Palace, in silence but for some brief muttering between O’Flaherty and Burke, and Burke and Moran, and then a low conversation between Carter and O’Neill, once O’Neill recovered from his illness – which largely came the moment he found he would not have to mount the wagon once more. I was chagrined to see that Carter did much of the talking, but if I walked closer, they turned to silence until I moved away. Perhaps I should not have brought O’Neill.

I am sure this is not the last trouble these four will cause me, but I have no idea how to prevent them.

The situation is fast becoming dire.

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Log 13: Conversations with a Carpenter

Captain’s Log

Date: 27th of June, 1678

Location: Glass Palace

Conditions: Situation improving, but morale flags.

 

I stood before the man O’Flaherty had so basely stolen away. I did wonder if my quartermaster had not, in fact, taken a journeyman, or even an apprentice, rather than the master carpenter; he seemed very young, the skin of his face and hands smooth and unlined but for a youth’s blemishes, of the which he wore several. He was certainly fat enough to be wealthy, which might have brought O’Flaherty’s gimlet eye ‘pon him; Sean has ever had an itch to stab at men of wealth and quality wheresoever he finds them. He was certainly as terrified as any man I’ve ever seen, wide-eyed and sheened with sweat.

Damn your liver, Sean. How could I win this youth over now, to gain his willing assistance? I confess that for a moment I was tempted simply to follow O’Flaherty’s lead and compel the man with the strength of arms; but I will not put my ship’s fate into the hands of a fearful and desperate man. How can you trust the work of men you have pressed into service? We should have to drag him along with us, to compel any further repairs due to his slipshod work – or even sabotage – with an unending chain of threats against his life and well-being. I would not take this man from his home merely because I could not think of a better way to get what I need. I find I have no taste for stealing men away from their homes.

At least the first step to winning the man’s favor was obvious. I whistled up MacTeigue and ordered him to cut the man’s bonds at once, and fetch him a bottle of wine, if any were left. I held Owen for another moment, and whispered further orders in his ear: my cousin was to stay out of easy sight, but keep a close watch in case the man slipped away from me. I did not wish to compel his service, but I could not have him raising the alarm, perhaps bringing a militia or a troop of King’s men down on us.

I made use of the minutes whilst MacTeigue sought out refreshment to tender to the man the most humble and genteel apology I could compose. I pride myself on my apologies; they have kept many a colleen from drumming a beat ‘pon my pate with cookware, as Irish lasses are wont to do when they discover themselves members of a plurality, rather than the sole monarch of an Irishman’s heart. Ah, now, they say it takes a village to raise a child; I fail to see why a man cannot be so raised, as well. Parts of him, at least.

My final flourishes and bon mots flowered the air as MacTeigue returned with a bottle of clear golden wine; I swallowed a long draught to show there was no poison, and then handed it to my erstwhile guest. He took it with a shaking hand and took a sip, grimacing at the taste. I had found several of the Glass Palace’s vintages too sweet, as well, but this one was quite nice; perhaps he had a foul taste in his mouth before. MacTeigue shrugged and removed himself from sight. I sat and invited the man to do the same, the which he did following a moment of wary staring.

“I am Damnation Kane, captain of the ship Grace of Ireland.” I held out my hand to him, and after a pause – which is often occasioned by the first mention of my name – he met it with his own somewhat clammier hand. “Elliott Shluxer,” he told me then (I can but guess at the spelling of it, never having encountered the name before). “Where do ye hail from, Sir Shluxer?” I queried. “We live in The Hammocks,” he said (again, I am unsure of the writing of the name), taking a pull of his wine; its taste, like so many others, was improved with repeated applications. “And you are a carpenter, in truth?” I tried to keep my tone simple and friendly-like, but if his answer here were in the negative, he would shortly find himself clapped with a hand-full of Dominicans, and O’Flaherty would be walking home to Ireland.

After a moment, punctuated by several eyeblinks and the forming of a new sheen of sweat, the man said, “I guess, yeah. I mean, I work with wood.”
Well at least O’Flaherty didn’t attack a pig farmer.

“It is my fondest wish, Master Shluxer, that my compatriots’ overzealous introductions of your good self to our humble band will not destroy the chance that we might work together, you and I, and both be enriched by the experience.” Aye: many a colleen. They may be won by the line of one’s jaw, the turn of a calf, white teeth and a roguish smile – but they are kept by the tongue.

This man, for all that he lacked a grown man’s creased brow, or a working man’s physique, or, apparently, the brains of a schoolboy, still he was no colleen. “You guys are fucking nuts,” was his response to my sally.

I informed the man – politely, despite his tone, for I was determined to take no offense from his words, my own men having offered offense enough for all – that I was unfamiliar with this particular colloquialism. “You’re nuts, you’re all fucking crackpots. A bunch of crazy fucking lunatics,” he expanded.

“Ah,” I exclaimed, grasping his meaning, “you mean we are madmen.” I laughed at this. “Such was never in doubt, good squire. Nonetheless, I have sailed with many and many a madman afore this, and I have found that their gold spends as well as that of a man in full control of his senses.” I took a doubloon from my purse, then, and let him see its golden shine. “Sometimes,” I went on, and here I added a second bit of shine to my palm, “sometimes it even spends twice as well.” I grasped his wrist, turned up his palm, and placed my two most persuasive arguments therein with a gentle clinking.

Shluxer put down his wine bottle and looked at the coins. “Holy fuck,” he said, an oath I had never heard – and considering the scruples of most saints, including Our Lord and Savior, it was an oath I found rather puzzling. “Are these real?”

“Indeed they are, stout yeoman. And Spanish weight, not Irish, I assure you. For ’twas a Spaniard we liberated them from, along with many of their brethren formerly trapped in Spanish pockets.”

He looked up at me then, his mouth unfortunately hanging agape: unfortunate, for his physiognomy did not vouch to me proof of his competence and intelligence, nor even his comprehension of my words. “You’re giving me these?” he asked.

I resolved to speak slower, and perhaps a bit louder: I could discern the dirt in his ears from where I sat; perhaps his hearing was blocked by effluvia. Or perhaps it was his thoughts. “I am giving you those, and I will give you more of you will agree to work with me.” I accompanied these words with a brief pantomime of sawing and hammering, so my meaning would be clear, it was to be hoped. I gave my belt pouch a jingle, as well.

Shluxer wiped at his brow, and then pressed his hands into his eyes, like a man waking from an unlikely dream into an even more improbable reality. “I don’t fucking believe this,” he muttered. He stared at the coins once more, turning them to glance at the visage of King Phillip IV minted on one side. Then he took another pull at the wine bottle, and met my gaze at last. “What exactly do you want me to do?” he asked me.

I clapped him on the shoulder – perhaps a trifle too vigorously, as he lost his balance and needed to be uprighted, though he had certainly suffered a shock from O’Flaherty’s treatment which might explain his weakness – and rose to show him the task at hand. I guided him to the Grace, offered an introduction to my good friend Ian – who explained the provenance of his surname, a tale which generally wins a laugh, but garnered us merely a stupefied gaze and more doubts as to our guest’s mental capacity – and showed him the hole in the Grace’s hull, and the missing yardarm on the mainmast. He gazed into the hole for some minutes, looking as well at the stack of finished planks the men had placed nearby, the only intelligent acquisition they had made, as my present companion apparently possessed less wit than that same pile of wood.

To wit: “You want me to help you fix the hole,” he said then.

I nodded, slowly. “And replace the yardarm on the mainmast, and help make her water-tight and sea-worthy. Aye.”

“And you’ll pay me for it.”

Another slow, exaggerated nod. “At twice your going rate. Aye.”

He held up the doubloons. “In gold, like this.”

I shrugged. “Perhaps some silver. We generally have a fair motley of coins about us, considering their variegated sources.”

He blinked, and I sighed. “Yes. We will pay in gold.”

“That’s why you kidnapped me?”

I winced. I took a breath, ready to explain that the political realities of O’Flaherty’s rank despite his incompetence and rash judgment, but Ian stepped in then, smooth as cream.

“Of course we will offer you wergild for that offense against your honor, along with the apology you have already received from our generous captain.” This last part came with a glance my way, which met a nod; but Ian could be confident that I would have apologized, first because he knew me for a gentlemen of breeding, and second because he has frequently been apologizing to his own colleen even as I mollify mine. “Or perhaps you would rather have a boon, if there is some service we might offer,” Ian finished.

It was then that I first spied the crafty look come into the eyes of Elliott Shluxer. It was a look I would become most familiar with, to my deep regret. How much would have been easier for me, had I only paid more attention then! I should have known that such apparent imbecility was sure to be joined with a low, animal cunning, and the savage, wanton greed of a starving dog.

“A boon? Like a favor?” Something akin to a smile curved his lips. “What kind of a favor are we talking about here?”

Ian looked my way, unwilling to speak further in my stead. I smiled at the carpenter and raised my open palms. “We have a fine ship and a good crew, once we can set sail once more. We would be honored to transport yourself, or whatever goods you wished, to the destination of your choice. Even back to England, or Spain or France, perhaps.” Ian looked a question at me for this over-generous offer, but I ignored it. I would fill the hold with another man’s profit if it meant I could take my ship and my men home again. “Or we could lend the strengths of our arms and backs, if you need land cleared, or a barn raised or other such tasks.”

But this struck no spark of joy in the visage of our would-be carpenter. I tried again, my tone growing soft and shadowy, like the subject of this speaking – I would offer craft to this crafty man, if it would get my ship back on the water. “Then there are our more surreptitious skills, the which we could offer into your service.”

Shluxer seemed intrigued, and I went on. “Perhaps there are goods of some kind, that are wrongfully in the possession of another man: a situation we could easily remedy. Or,” and I laid a hand ostentatiously on the butt of my pistol, “perhaps there is a personage whose acquaintance you would like to un-make.”

A smile creased the greasy face of my new ally. “Whoa, shit! You guys – you’ll cap someone on my say-so?”

I had to blink at the wording, but how many meanings could there be in this conversation? I nodded, slowly so he would understand me. He did, and rubbed his hands together in unmistakable glee.

This is ever the way, it would seem. If you offer a man a generous profit, advancement for himself and his kin in your right hand – and vengeance, no matter how petty, in your left hand, ’tis always the second hand he’ll grasp in agreement. The sinister hand.

It was while Shluxer was considering his possible targets and I was pondering the chance that I would regret my offer – sadly a most likely occurrence, but what choice had I? – that I heard a voice call out “Captain!” I turned and stepped quickly toward the Palace, from whence the call came; young Lynch dashed out to meet me.

“Captain – it’s the Quartermaster, sir, and the Bosun. And Carter, and Gunner Moran, too. They’ve gone.”

I loosed an oath then that would strike my old granny dead, did she hear it from my lips. “Where have they gone?”

Lynch, who had stopped to admire my swearing, now turned grim once more. “They’ve gone to the Piggly Wiggly, sir. They’ve gone to steal grog.”

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