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.
It did not. But we are free.