Dipping the quill into the pot, he brushes the excess ink against the edge, then leans over the large leather-bound book. The first page lays before him, blank and waiting.
Upon the first available space, to the upper and left, he writes, September 13, 1720. Then he stops.
He looks at the words upon the page. He is unsure of what next to say. Really, he had only gotten so far as the whim to open the journal. The book has been in his possession some months now, a purchase made with little thought and less intention. He has kept a log before, but that was of course by necessity. This is something different, now that he is faced with the truth of the thing.
And the truth of the thing is that it is two inches thick, nothing but white pages whose only purpose is to be filled.
He sits back in his chair. The quill rests on his hand, and he gazes at the journal, wondering if it would be for the better to put the thing away. Place it on the shelf with his small collection of books, and chalk this up to an ill-considered notion.
A bird trills just beyond his window. He looks through the muddied glass, unable to see the thing. He does not know the animals here. Very little about this place he finds himself in is familiar.
And it has been so very quiet.
With a quick sniff, he leans forward, shoulders still straight, and begins to write.
It is twelve days since I arrived in this house. I have not said a word, and wonder if I should lose the use of my voice, if this state continues. This vexes me little, as I have no desire to commune with the nearby inhabitants of the village. I have not come here to begin again; I have come here in retreat.
It is eight months since the vote that cast me aside in favour of Silver. It is three and a half months since I reconciled myself to the truth: that all I struggled and fought for those many years was folly. It is twenty odd days since I made port and began my journey inland, towards this place at Mr. Evers’ recommendation.
For twelve days, I have done little beyond try to salvage this small house that I purchased at what I will admit was a fair price. The property is meager but suits my needs. I intend only to remain here until I can determine my next
He pauses. With a slight crinkle of the brow, he strikes through the last sentence.
I do not know how long I shall remain here. In the meantime, I have repaired the roof, patched the holes in the walls, rehinged the doors, and most importantly have done something about the fences. There is the gate at the road that leads to the house, and a small fence that surrounds the building itself. The latter comes no higher than my knee, and would certainly do nothing to repel invaders, but I find it gives me some small measure of comfort.
While I was repairing the gate at the entrance to the property, several people passed me by on the road. One tried conversation, but was quickly dissuaded from the attempt by my lack of response. The others merely nodded, saying, ‘Sir.’ I think that perhaps they can sense him on me. I wore the other for so long that maybe there is no being rid of him, no matter what I might have claimed in the past. Those to whom I promised such an endeavour have gone. I have no one now to keep promises to. This is a satisfaction, as well as a strangeness.
The man who lived before me in this place was named Henderson. As I understand it, he was a cooper who contracted a pox and perished not ten feet from where I now sit. He was unmarried and childless. The house had remained empty for a year until my arrival. It is unattractive to the locals due to being so far from the center of town. I am the furthest from village that one could be while still considered part of the township. The others live in homes and businesses that cluster outwards from their meetinghouse or more importantly the tavern. They live in fear of the previous occupants of this land, who I have yet to encounter.
As it stands, I feel more that I am in the wilderness than in anything resembling civilization. I see no one, and the house is surrounded by trees. There is the occasional animal, I know not what, that cries out in the night. Sometimes, when there is a wind, I will in the evening hear some soul playing a fiddle, but it is a mournful thing, and I do not welcome its song. I admit that I have placed myself somewhere quite bleak and unfamiliar.
This was in fact my intention. Is this not where a man in exile should be? Where nothing is known, and there are few friendly faces?
I must admit that the last few years of my life have been devoid of friendship. Since
His instrument stops again. A small blot begins to dot the page. Lifting the quill, he frowns at the now permanent stain. If he looks at this page again, he will see the exact place where he hesitated.
Shaking his head, he continues, writing her name in distinct, solid letters.
Miranda, I have not known companionship. Every encounter has been an ever shifting play of allies and enemies. Since her death, I have not known love, and have encountered or granted others little in the way of kindness. I was so set on my ambitions that I thought nothing of such things. I am unsure if I even think of them now. Only I remember that they were things I once had, and now lack. I am now without even the familiar.
There is now only time. It stretches before me, limitless and unknown. For so long I lived beneath the crushing pressure of time. I did not realize there could be something more terrible: a life without purpose.
It is too much.
He drops the quill to the side of the journal, self-disgust creeping inside, and closes the pot of ink. Falling back in his seat, he shakes his head. This is one hell of a sad state of affairs he has found himself in. Revealing himself to a journal, of all things.
He pushes himself up from the chair, and walks across the boarded floor of the small home. It sat untouched for a year, yes, but it was well constructed. It was only superstition that kept people from occupying the place—well, that and fear for their safety.
But the property is located between the village and the road east. There is no road from the village west. This is the edge of where the English have gone. If the natives ever strike, as the villagers fear, it will be from the west.
He doesn’t fear the Indians. Or the villagers.
Or being alone, for that matter. Or even the quiet.
It takes two turns before he realizes that he is pacing. He comes up abruptly, then scratches his brow. God, this is going to be an excellent way to go stark raving mad, is it not? All alone in the woods, far from the sea, from people, from everything.
The part of him that reigned for more than a decade insists this is a terrible idea. That there is still a chance to take it all. However, the him that came before—it tells him to stay in place. After all, is this not deserved?
He walks over and sits down heavily on the side of his bed. It creaks perilously beneath him. That is almost a relief. It means a project. Something to put his hands to.
Will that be how he passes the time? Should he be a carpenter, like his father before him? It’s a profession he ran from decades ago. It sounds rather grim. Like walking backwards through time into a box that was made for him at birth.
But if not that, what? He will have to choose something. Winter will come soon here, and he has been told they can be a terror. He has the money to live long and comfortably, if he is careful, without choosing a profession. However, he cannot imagine a life where he is idle. The thought makes his skin crawl.
He rests his elbows on his thighs, bending over in thought. His black trousers are about to wear through at the knees. The black shirt he wears over it is not much better. Pushing up his sleeves, he ponders what could possibly come next in this place. It feels like an impasse and also too much possibility.
For the moment, he decides nothing. He will be idle. Pulling his legs onto the bed, he lays back, though it is not yet mid-day, and stares blankly at the ceiling.
It is silent. The ground beneath him is disturbingly solid.
It is so hard to sleep without the sea lulling him to dream.
It is a little less than an hour later that he hears the approach of hooves on the path.
Rolling upwards, he looks with irritation towards the door. Perhaps he needs to make the gate somewhat more intimidating, to ward off visitors. There can be no doubt that everything he has done since arriving here has been designed to keep the others at a distance.
He is unsure how firmly he will be expected to reinforce the request.
Standing, he strides over to the door, opening it. A breeze slips past him, and he can hear the leaves shiver all about him. There are different colours here than he is used to. In the south, there was little more than green and blue, and at sea, nothing but blue. Sky and ocean, endless, intermingling.
Here, the trees are moving from green into shades of red and gold almost shocking in their vibrancy. He noticed it, briefly, upon his arrival, but it has not been a thing he has paid attention to since. Instead, it sits at the back of his head, another thing about this world that is not quite—right.
Instead, James watches the man on horseback come down the lane. He makes no effort to move from the doorway, watching with unblinking eyes at the stranger’s approach.
It is informal out here. The one time he ventured into town, he saw no wigs, though he did spot several hats. The man wears a simple tricorn hat with no embellishment, though from his clothes James can discern this is not a lower class man. Not exactly upper, either. He wears a pale waistcoat and brown breeches, but no cloak or coat.
The horse is a giveaway too. James spent too much money on a fine stud that caught his eye when he came ashore. It is the only true extravagance he has allowed himself. The stranger, however, rides a horse that is unfortunate at best. A mare with stubby legs, meant for very, very little.
James stays in the doorway of the house, crossing his arms. The stranger approaches the fence that surrounds the house, and pulls up gently on the mare’s reins. Dismounting, he gives her an affectionate pat, then comes to stand outside the fence, adjusting a satchel across his shoulders.
He looks at James straight on, with none of the fear or apprehension or curiousness he has experienced from almost every other person he has encountered these past few months. Tilting his head, the stranger says with a polite smile, “Mr. Moore, I presume.”
The voice is as large an indicator as anything else. Mannered, words carefully chosen and confident. If four words are all that is required, James would say London born, firmly middle class. No higher than that—anyone above would not have been so polite.
James says nothing, and the man raises his brows ever so slightly. He is slim, with dark eyes and hair. He has a nose that hooks a little. His face is strange in a way that James does not wish to examine. Not displeasing, just out of place.
Everything here is so out of place.
Undeterred, the man says, “I thought to introduce myself, sir. You and I are neighbours.” He nods to the west. “Ezra Wake. I’m the apothecary.”
He waits for James to respond, but James just gives a single nod. If the man wants more, he may wait until the end times.
Wake looks about, seemingly unperturbed by James’ hostile silence. “I see that you have performed some repairs upon the place since your arrival. I am most pleased by that. Mr. Henderson did take great pride in this patch of land.”
His eyes find James again. James says nothing.
Wake simply smiles, and opens his satchel. “I know you will think this most presumptuous of me, sir, but I noted that perhaps you did not have the time before your arrival to secure dress more appropriate to the climate. Forgive my forwardness, but I thought to lend you a few articles until you had such time as to secure something more fitting.”
He withdraws a little stack of clothing from his bag, and takes the few steps to the gate. Reaching across it, he drops them lightly onto the ground, where James assumes the garden is supposed to be.
That done, Wake steps away, and inclines his head once more. “I’ll leave you be, Mr. Moore. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
He turns and walks back to his horse, holding a hand out to her. The horse steps towards him willingly, almost happily.
James is crossing the space between the door and the fence. “This,” he says, sweeping up the clothes in one hand, “will not be necessary.”
He drops them back on the other side of the fence, turning away.
Presumptuous. That would be one goddamn word for it. The last thing he needs is—
“Consider yourself part of a crew.”
James freezes, almost on his doorstep.
When he turns back around, his tone is quiet, but those who knew him would not have dared speak another word. “I beg your pardon.”
Wake has bent down, picking the clothes back up. He carefully brushes the dust from them with the back of his hand, repeating almost nonchalantly, “Consider yourself part of a crew.” He raises his eyes. “A metaphor, Mr. Moore, if you would indulge me.”
James finds himself moving several steps back towards the man, and has to make himself stop.
“Or rather—consider yourself a stowaway. Perhaps that will be more apt for the point I wish to make. You are the stowaway on a merchant vessel, and after two days at sea, you find yourself uncovered.” His eyes do a sweep of James, and Wake says, “Oh—perhaps by the salt on your trousers, you might have some idea of what I speak.”
Not for a moment does James think Wake just noticed. He has gone from irritated to furious to wary in record time. If he looked down, he would see that his long fingers are straining to form fists.
Patting his other hand on top of the clothes, Wake continues, “So two days at sea, and you find yourself discovered. You worry at first about the consequences of your actions. What will happen to you now—what is to become of me? But the captain says that perhaps this is providence. They are one man short, and now here you are. You begin to work with the crew, and you notice quite quickly that it does not appear they are down one man at all. You’re an addition, but not a needed one. It is the strangest thing, is it not, Mr. Moore? It seems illogical. That they should welcome you amongst their ranks.”
James takes another step toward the fence. Wake is unmoved, looking as calm as if they were discussing the changing of the leaves.
“At first you react with suspicion. Why this kindness? How does it benefit them? It must benefit them in some way. I am not needed, and yet I am kept.” Wake raises his slender shoulders. “And yet, as time passes, you find that these fears fade. You cease to question the hows and whys, and simply live in the world you have found yourself in. Perhaps you enjoy it, perhaps you loathe it. No matter the case, these people you have been surrounded by are your crew. You are responsible for them, though you did not ask for it. You do as they do, you are concerned for their welfare, because their survival is your survival, and vice versa. On the seas, it is considered crew. Here it is community. We do not draw undue attention to ourselves, no matter how attractive that might seem in a moment of self-pity.”
Now James has taken two steps, so that he is nearly at the fence. Self-pity? Who in the hell is this man and what does he think he is talking about? Who does he think he is addressing? No one would dare speak to him like this, not—
Wake meets his glare steadily, and James sees for the first time that the man does not fear him. In the least. It takes him off his guard. He cannot remember the last time the sight of himself did not instinctively strike fear into other men. He does not care for this. At all.
The man’s dark eyes are almond shaped, and strange. Almost Oriental. He is a question, and right now James has no patience for questions.
Voice low, Wake says, “If you intend to stay in that house, you will act accordingly. You may not have meant for it to happen, but by proximity you are now part of this community. That means not attracting the attention of outside parties. Your actions affect the lives of forty six people, myself included, and I drew the straw for having to speak to you in a manner you could understand. So, sir—“
He tosses the clothes easily past James, and they land with a thump on the dirt. James does not move his gaze from Wake.
Leaning forward, Wake says, “Put on the goddamn clothes and make the barest amount of effort.” With that, he turns and walks away. Over his shoulder, he says, “As it stands, you look as though you’re about to murder someone, and you are frightening the children.”
He swings up onto the horse as James quietly seethes. Why is he not going over there, pummeling the man within an inch of his life?
Because we are not that man anymore.
“I will expect their return once you find something more suitable.” Wake touches his hat. “Mr. Moore,” he says, then turns the mare and gives her the lightest of kicks. She takes off at a canter, blessedly removing Wake from his land.
James stands there until he is out of sight, then turns around and storms inside. He slams the door after himself.
Night fall arrives, and he is still stewing over the encounter with the presumptuous bastard from down the road, when he begins to hear the words, almost a whisper, at the back of his mind.
Nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, for we are made for co-operation, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and turn away.
He shakes his head, having another sip from his pewter cup. The words are ingrained upon his consciousness like the tattoos some of his men wore. Sometimes the words seem more permanent than the scars he has accumulated across the decades.
The whisper sounds like Thomas—it often does—and he does what he can to ignore it. He is still eating hardtack, because it is at least a known quantity, and he needs that now. Something, anything, that he can touch or taste or feel and not react with dismay.
James puts his head down, taking a bite. And yet, still the damned words come.
This thou must always bear in mind, what is the nature of the whole, and what is my nature, and how this is related to that—
He bites into his lower lip, trying to think of something else. A song he knows. How to season and roast a pig. Anything. Anything whatsoever.
And what kind of a part it is of what kind of a whole; and that there is no one that hinders thee from always doing and saying the things which are according to the nature of which thou art a part.
Smacking his hands down against the sturdy table, he abruptly pushes back and rises to his feet. He walks outside, snatching the clothes off the ground, then strides back inside, locking the door against the evening.
He returns to the table, sitting down with a sigh. By the flickering light of the candle, he goes through the articles left behind for him.
Yes, he knew it was arrogance, and foolishness, not to have changed his dress since leaving the Bahamas. However, it is one thing to shed one’s identity, and another to do it all at once. He failed at the latter. He still wears his leather boots. He is in trousers, for heaven’s sakes.
James props up his head, embarrassed by himself. He is a great many things, and most of them are regrettable in the eyes of the general populace. One thing he is not is a fool. The problem, though, is that he has acted like one. It is one thing to request privacy. It is another to do so while looking….
Like a pirate.
A white shirt, tan breeches, and a grey waistcoat. Cotton and wool. Stockings. He honestly cannot remember the last time he wore clothes such as these. Well over a decade. He has worn sailcloth at sea, coated in pitch when battles came. He has worn leather. It has always been black.
But apparently he scares the children.
Of course you do. You are a monster. Is it not right that you act the part?
If he acts the part, he will be found out. Had he wanted to be discovered by the authorities, he could have turned himself in at any point between Nassau and the sliver of the New Hampshire coast. He has had many, many opportunities to fall upon his sword, and avoided them.
The clothes—it has been a petty rebellion. One that is beneath him.
He holds up the waistcoat. It looks as though it will fit nicely. It certainly does not belong to the infuriating bastard who showed up on his doorstep, who is more slight than he. James has to wonder how many people were involved in the endeavour.
To act against one another—
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he growls. To the empty house, he speaks in defeat. “Fine. Are you happy? Fine.”
Talking to oneself, a thousand miles from home. Yes—this is a recipe for madness.