Life Among The Savages, Part 15.
[NOTE: If you want to start from the beginning, here's Part 1 or, if you reject linear storytelling, here's a link to all the parts so you can choose for yourself.]
Night had descended upon the Holy Diver while our party had partaken of dinner, and only a few feathery tendrils of rosiness spread across the dark sky as I crossed the deck from the door of the captain’s cabin to the stairs below decks. The only available illumination were the scattered meager lanthorns that the watchmen kept or hung from hooks near the stations. Ominously, the peculiar black plume of noxious vapor, the same plume that Turner claimed had changed course with the ship as Captain Stagg steered hard away from it, was still visible, even in the nocturnal pitch. The night was overcast, so no stars could be clearly seen, but the plume was stood out as a darker area in the darkness above, and from time to time, the vapor phosphoresced with an eerie green glow. The unnatural sight of it unsettled me, and I turned away as quickly as I could.
As I strode with urgent pace across the boards of the mighty ship, I heard Starkey call out to me from his post nearby. “Mr. Starkey!” I responded, and tripped over some loose cordage that had not been properly stowed. However, I was able to maintain balance overall, and did not fully succumb to the rope’s entangling tendencies.
“You leaving supper early too?” Starkey inquired, now walking in tandem with me, and I admitted that I was doing just that. “It’s just as well,” said the able seaman. “I’m bettin’ the dessert course wouldn’t be all that impressive to a cultured gentleman such as yourself.”
“On the contrary, Starkey, under normal circumstances I would enjoy the end of the meal with all due enthusiasm, but there are matters I must attend to currently that will not wait for the consumption of sweets.”
“Does it have somethin’ t’ do with Mrs. von Kant? ‘Cause she just passed by here as well, looking quite disturbed, and in even more of a hurry than you.”
“Indeed it does, Starkey. I fear she may be in danger, if not from other malign individuals, than from her own haunted past.”
Starkey made a small uncertain noise and then said: “Y’know, sir, there are times when I know you’re speaking English, but I’m not quite sure I understand what you’re saying.”
Though I wanted to explain the whole situation to him, as I believed he had a good heart and was a man onboard that I could trust implicitly, I had to defer that conversation to a later time. “Pay it no mind, Starkey, but know that I will try to clarify matters for you when I can. Also, I hope I can count on you should I need assistance, as I did with Martin Garrett.”
I could see Starkey’s proud smile even in the dim lanthorn light. “Oh, aye, you can, sir! Just call out and I’ll be at your side!”
I believe Starkey tripped over another stray pile of rigging at this point, as I heard concussive sounds as of a man falling upon the deck, and Starkey’s voice was no longer beside me but far behind as I reached the stairs and heard him say “I’ll be fine, sir, carry on!”
I leapt down those stairs, but should have proceeded with greater caution, as they (and the corridor they led to) were narrow and dimmer even than above-decks. No sooner did I reach the foot of the stairs than did I collide with someone. The collision was not severe, but it was startling to both myself and my unwitting and accidental target. I heard the person involuntarily expel the air from their lungs, and there was a dull metallic clatter as something the person had carried dropped to the floor. As my vision acclimated to the deeper darkness of the corridor, I realized with shock that the victim of my blind haste was none other than the widow von Kant!
I immediately rushed to her, to determine if she had been injured and deliver my deepest apologies. She assured me she was fine, and I helped her to her feet, though not before she scooped up whatever mystery object she had been holding and obscured it behind her person. Her manner was still somewhat agitated but to a far lesser extent than it had been at dinner. For this I was glad, for it allowed me to make plain my embarrassment, and hopefully undo some of that shame with a well-worded accounting for my actions.
“I will never live down the indignity of slighting you in this way, Mrs. von Kant, and I hope you can forgive me. I felt I needed to attend to you as quickly as I could, after your hasty departure from dinner, and my enthusiasm literally overran itself in bringing me to you. Please accept my apology,” I said. The widow von Kant smiled and said “Sir, you have charms you do not even realize you possess.” I felt my heart’s beating intensify. The grace of this woman staggered my imaginative powers.
“Milady, you humble me with your noble ways. But what of your cabinet? Is it intact? And what is it that you are carrying? I hope I did not damage it in any way.”
“The cabinet is fine. I was just returning from checking on it. The seal is intact, so the captain has not been able to act upon his curiosity.”
“And the object that you’re carrying? What is it, might I ask?”
“Oh, it’s nothing important,” said Mrs. von Kant. She adjusted her grip on the object but kept it hidden behind her person.
Finding her evasiveness about such a simple matter confusing, but not wanting to seem impolite, I said “I do not mean to pry. I only ask so that I might provide restitution if it has been damaged.”
“I appreciate your concern, but it need not worry you. Nothing was broken or damaged.”
Intrigued by the widow’s deflections, I craned my neck and stood on tip-toe to try to acquire a look at the object, but she expertly maintained its secrecy with subtle movements. When I craned my neck in another direction, she altered her position once more. We proceeded in this fashion for some time. I hoped that my actions might seem playful and endearing, while still acquiring the knowledge about the object that Mrs. von Kant continued to conceal, but as my efforts continued, she seemed unamused.
“Your interest threatens to become improper, sir,” she said, a tone of restrained displeasure entering her voice.
I immediately ceased my attempts to determine the nature of the object and attempted to explain my motives. “Madam, I meant no disrespect. I recall with great pride your desire to confide in me some days ago, and I hope to prove myself worthy of your trust. Alas, my excitement at being your closest ally here on the Holy Diver may itself have interfered with that trust, and for that I must once again beg your forgiveness, for being too bold.”
Again, the widow smiled, and even shook her head a little. Addressing me with tenderness, she said, “You are such an inquisitive and… apologetic young man,” and kissed me gently on the cheek.
The effect on my disposition of the widow’s affections, even in this tamest of forms, was profound and immediate. Such elation rose up from within me that I began to laugh uncontrollably, a high-pitched, trilling giggle that reverberated in the cramped corridor, for sufficient duration that Mrs. von Kant’s face began to cloud with concern for my well-being. I too was becoming concerned, as I could not desist in giggling, nor could I inhale adequately for my brain to receive sufficient air. My worry intensified as the giggle persisted, and Mrs. von Kant began to look truly frightened, when I was knocked unconscious by a heavy blow to the back of the head.