The situation has grown complicated.
It well may be that these complications began with my first action upon our arrival here. Had I, rather than attempting to woo my lady Meredith Vance (with the ultimate object being the same, namely to win her assistance with our effort to reach Bermuda and win back the Grace; I grant myself that much consideration, holding fast to the belief that this is my true aim, my first cause), simply approached her and asked for her aid, then well might she have granted it; then in the course of making ready to weigh anchor and cruise to Bermuda, I might have found an opportunity to pursue my other object, the winning of Meredith Vance’s heart. But my impatience and my desire won me over, and now, perhaps, I have lost – all.
As a consequence of my lapse, Dame Margaret has striven to show us that her hospitality and gentility are beyond reproach; for my part, I have striven to assure her that such qualities were never in doubt. Still she strives, however: she has fed us, entertained us, granted a chamber to the Grables and a second to my three men, so that our party can refresh and recreate themselves after our journey.
As for my accommodation, Dame Margaret took me aside as she showed the men to their rooms. “Mister Kane,” quoth she – alas that I, who had been Nate to her goodness, was now held off as Mister Kane! – “as it seems that there is some personal connection between you and my granddaughter, of course I cannot ask you to stay beneath my roof alongside her. I cannot risk scandal.” Then she stabbed me with a look. “And no matter how discreet we might think we all are, I will not risk any hallway-creeping in the middle of the night – something I think very likely, to be frank, knowing my granddaughter as I do, and being somewhat acquainted with charming rogues like yourself.”
I could not but duck my head, having earned all of her disapprobation and caution. “Of course, my lady. I trust honor will be sufficiently preserved if I make my bed in our wagon this eve.”
Dame Margaret shook her head. “That is precisely the trouble, Mister Kane. You trust that honor will be sufficiently preserved? Honor must be cherished. Pursued, with a full and eager heart. Either honor is held above all else, or it is dragged through the mud. You work hard to find what you can get away with while still seeming honorable, as my granddaughter does, but honor is not preserved simply by appearances. If no one knows of one‘s dishonorable acts, that does not make one honorable.”
Ye gods and devils, I wished to sink beneath the ground, then, so that my ragged, battered cadaver could be as low as my soul felt. Dame Margaret saw this in me, and granted me the mercy of saying thus: “The wagon will be fine, Mister Kane. Please do enjoy the evening.” Then she rested a hand lightly on my arm, signifying that I was not so loathsome that she could not abide my presence. ‘Twas a comfort.
Thus did I spend that evening doing my uttermost to show honor to my hostess and my men. I was the soul of civility, and, I think, a pleasant companion to the room. I did not brood on future struggles, nor did I pine for Meredith; I made merry with those present, all of whom are close to my heart – even the Grables, who have grown to be a valued part of our wandering crew. I did make an especial effort to be good to my friend Balthazar Lynch, as the lad has lost his good opinion of me – or rather, I lost it, when I failed to assist the maid in the next room at the inn. I did win a true smile from him by the evening’s close, the which I consider a victory.
But regardless of my standing and reputation among those closest to me, the true object of our visit to this place was not achieved, for Lady Meredith did not return to join our gathering. Only after all were abed did I, in my lonely monk’s cell in the beast-wagon, hear the sound of her beast-wagon’s growl approaching Dame Margaret’s demesne. I emerged from the van, but mindful of Dame Margaret’s words regarding honor and honor’s loss, I did not approach Meredith. She emerged from her beast-wagon, looking bedraggled and forlorn; she stopped suddenly, having looked up and seen myself. I raised a hand in greeting, and she did likewise; but then she ducked her head and hurried indoors without another glance. I could do naught but watch her go, and then return to my wagon-cell to sleep.
I was determined to find a moment to speak with her with the break of day, but I was awakened from my slumber by the rumble of her beast-wagon departing ere the sun could strike through the windows of the van.
I do not know how severely I have scuttled this endeavor, but I fear I may have sunk this ship entirely. Perhaps we should swim to Bermuda.
For the travails we face, the complications I have raveled into this skein, do not stop with Lady Meredith and Dame Margaret. No, I seem to attract troubles to me as a lodestone draws iron. Though of course, this trouble was drawn to my Lady Meredith, and I simply stood between it and her.
I must say that I stood stout, immovable, impassable. At least I may say that much.
We were on the porch close to the road, my men seated at their ease, I pacing as I fretted over Lady Meredith and her refusal to meet with me. My men were making mock of me, which I had not the time to rail against for the sake of dignity or propriety, nor the heart to gibe back at them. I could merely pace and fret, fret and pace.
At last, Shane MacManus said, “Captain, if this road will not take us where we must go, might be we should seek another way.”
Lynch pounded a fist on the porch’s rail and said, “Aye!”
I shook my head. “Nay. We’ve no need of that. Meredith and I are bound. She will give me what I need from her.”
Lynch jutted his chin out at me. “Captain, I –”
I cut him off. “Meredith will give it to me!”
At that very moment, a new voice, speaking in the slow accents of this place – like a mixture of English and French, it seems to me – spoke from the path behind me. “Now I know you boys aint talkin’ ‘bout my girl like that.”
I spun about and faced the interloper. He was a tall, broad-shouldered square-jawed ruffian, with a sanguine face and thews bulging like a stonecutter’s. He wore a sneer on his lip of the sort that one instantly wished to knock off of the face that carried it. I stared down at him from the porch, and he met me glare for glare.
“I do not know you,” I said at last. “What business have ye with this House?”
He snorted and raised his brows. “My business? My business is findin’ out your damn business. Who the hell are you, and what are you doin’ on my girl’s property?
I frowned at him, feeling an unwelcome tightening in my gut. “Your girl?”
He nodded slowly, as if speaking to an imbecile. “Yeah, boy, my girl. Meredith. Meredith Vance. Who I do hope is not the one you were sayin’ is gone give it to you. ‘Cause my girl don’t give nothin’ to nobody ‘cept for me.” Then he grinned the most vile, contemptible grin I think I have ever seen on another man. “And it’s too damn bad for the rest o’ ye’all, ‘cause aint nobody give it as good as my Merry do. That girl is a red-hot fireball in the sack, that’s for damn sure.”
Of course there was but one response to this: I drew my wheel-gun and took aim on that filthy grinning mouth of his. “You lie,” I proclaimed. My men had come to their feet, and Lynch did say warningly, “Captain,” as I am sure he was wary of the dangers in disturbing the peace, and in spilling blood on Dame Margaret’s flagstones; not least was the likelihood that someone nearby would summon la policia. But none of that had any import: I could not allow this smear on Meredith’s honor. Not from the noblest man in Charleston; never from this cur.
The cur had courage. He did not blink in the face of my armament – which is quite contrary to what I have seen on these shores. He met my gaze levelly, and said, “You callin’ me a liar?”
“Aye,” I rejoined without pause. “And a bilge-tongued dog not fit to wash the feet of Meredith Vance. Who, I’ve no doubt, has never set eyes on you, you whom she has never mentioned to me.”
He shook his head. “Aint nobody callin’ Brick Calhoun a liar and walkin’ away with all of his teeth. Come put that pea shooter down so’s I can knock your fuckin’ teeth down your throat.”
I had to smile at that. “I am not in the habit of offering terms to liars and slanderers. You will turn and walk quickly off of this property, or,” and I lowered my aim to his knee joint, “you will never walk quickly again in this life.”
His face screwed up into an ugly red-flushed snarl. He spat on the ground between us, and then turned and began to walk away – slowly. He kept his glare on me every moment, over his shoulder as he sidled away. I came down to the flagstones to encourage his departure. He raised a hand and pointed at me. “We’ll fuckin see ‘bout this, you cocksucker. Soon’s I talk to Merry, we gone see who’s got bidness on this p’operty. And ‘bout who’s a fuckin’ liar.”
I strode towards him. He stopped and turned to face me square. “Ye’ll not bloody speak to Meredith, ye goat-swivin’ bastard!” I admit that in my rage, my civil tongue abandoned me, and I reverted back to the common sailor I be at heart.
His eyes bulged. “That aint fuckin’ up to you, is it, you pussy? You coward! Can’t even face me ‘thout your fuckin’ gun!”
“It falls to me to defend her from pig-faced shite-buckets like you!”
“You aint defendin’ her from me, fuck-stick, I’m her man! She’s wearin’ my ring!” He lifted his hand, waggled his fingers at me. I was so startled by this claim that I looked: and indeed, he wore a ring that was the mate of one I had seen often on the hand of my Meredith.
Perhaps she is not my Meredith.
But that was a thought for cooler blood to consider; in the moment, I could not stand any more. “Lynch!” I called, and as he came to the top step behind me, I tossed him my wheel-gun and said “Stay back!” I turned back, and in the same motion, struck that dull-eyed pustule square in his gob.
Then was battle joined. He tried to grab me – he was the taller and of greater bulk, and would likely have done me some harm: if he could catch me. But I was the quicker, and I bent under his groping ape-arms and struck three more swift blows to his middle and ribs. Three was one too many: I gave him time to strike, and his great fist mashed into my jaw like an oaken gaff swinging in a gale. Made me see stars, he did. A second blow grazed my eye, split the skin of my brow; had he hit square, I’d have been flat. But instead, I stayed on my feet and withdrew out of his reach. He kicked me then, the base coward, and stole my balance; I fell back and he attempted to stomp on me, but I rolled out of the way and started to come to my feet. He closed swifter than I had expected, though, and caught me first with a kick and then with a two-fisted overhand blow across my back. ‘Twas a sore blow, and it threw me down to the earth.
But then he stepped astride me and grabbed at my hair, likely meaning to drive my face into the ground, but I was able to turn over, like an eel – and since we were, it seemed, kicking in this kerfuffle, and his groin was right above me, well.
He fell back, clutching himself, his face even redder. I rose to my feet, took his shirt in hand, and then dealt him my mightiest blow, and then another, and then still another: at the third he fell back, stunned. When I stepped forward to strike once more, he held up his hands in surrender.
I clutched at his right hand and twisted the ring off his finger, the one that was the mate of Meredith’s ring. He bawled, as strips of skin came off with the band; I was none too gentle, which was as he deserved. Speaking slush-mouthed, he grunted out, “Fuck your mother, you asshole.”
I drew back to strike once more – but a hand caught my arm. I spun about to look at who had stymied my revenge and my triumph, and there were my men, come down from the porch to surround me. ‘Twas Kelly who held me, and he shook his head; I cursed and stomped away. Behind me I heard Shane say, “Time to be gone, boyo. And ye’ll not be wantin’ to come back, aye?”
I heard the pig snort and spit. But I glanced back and saw him rise to his feet and limp away. Shane followed close behind until he had gone, and then we adjourned inside the house to address my hurts.
The men didn’t speak to me beyond joining me in cursing the filthy bastard. But the ring I held, taken from him, brought silence to us all. They didn’t need to say aught. I knew what was in their minds, aye; it was in mine as well.
What if he spoke truth? What if it was Meredith who lied, who had played me false, tried to make me cuckold her betrothed?
If so, what were we to do? How would we reach Bermuda and the Grace?
What could I do? How could I ever regain my honor? Or my heart?
So do I keep this log as I wait for Meredith to return. I am attempting to think of what I should say to her.
I know not.
I do not know.
The situation has grown complicated. And I do not know how to unravel this knot.