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.