Life Among The Savages, Part 5.
[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.]
When I arose from the bowels of the ship and once again strode the planks of the main deck, the port was receding behind us, and ahead lay a bright early morning sky. The air was thick with salt, and the crew ran to and fro, attending to their duties and ensuring our progress through the water. I spied the lovely widow von Kant at the very apex of the bow of the ship, so I proceeded in her direction that I might enjoin in conversation with her. I passed First Mate Jones, who was leaned against a mast and puffing away on his pipe. He nodded to me, and I returned his greeting. Turner passed me, headed for below decks, and I nodded to him, as Jones had to me. Turner stared at me as he walked, and made no responsive gesture. He seemed to me a man of great contemplation, and potentially a rich and critical intellect; I made a note to myself to attempt to engage him in thoughtful debate on some of the greater issues of our day. Clearly he was reticent of speech, but to me that indicated a thoughtfulness that would lead to great exposition on any number of topics. I wanted to relate to these men, and desired to communicate to them the esteem in which I held them (servants to my purpose though they might be), so I made great effort to treat them as equals. No man should be imprisoned by the nature of his birth, and even in the meanest of the common, a nobility exists to which even the greatest kings and worldly leaders should make at least occasional concession. For who is truly the nobler man: the sailor who serves his captain and protects his crew through competence and dedication, or the dandified noble, born into privilege and rank whose only proof of bravery is the eating of an undercooked meal, or the tightness of his breeches?
It was at this point that a sharp pain in the back of my skull interrupted my reverie on the universal equality of man. I clutched my head and fell to my knees, and heard the deckhands laughing around me. At first I thought some latent injury from my episode with the widow’s parcel had finally made itself explicit, but Jones rushed over and helped me to my feet, at the same time yelling into the rigging, employing language unfit for documentation. Starkey had apparently dropped some implement from a great height, and gravity had brought said implement into rapid and painful contact with my person.
“Why’d you even have that up there, anyway?” Jones screamed, though when I say screamed, the verbiage seems inexact, for while he certainly spoke with volume and bountiful anger, there remained in his tone a flatness or mellowness that belied the urgency with which he spoke, a quality I had already begun to associate solely with the First Mate.
“I didn’t, sir!” Starkey yelled back from near the top of the main mast. “It was twisted in the ropes. I must’ve nudged it. Don’t know how it got up here.”
“I apologize,” Jones said to me, handing me my hat (which had been dislodged in the activity) and examining the back of my skull. “That could have gone very badly. Lucky for you, it was just a glancing blow.” Jones reached down and retrieved the implement. The tool was a length of iron about two feet long, curved at one end and notched at both.
“On the good side, you found the crowbar,” Jones said.
“That was indeed lucky,” I said, wincing. “A inch or two and I would have been struck stone dead!” I laughed at the miraculous timing of my walk, and then my head hurt.
“Ha,” said Jones. “Do you need a bandage?”
“Any dressing you can find will be sufficient, Mr. Jones. I don’t believe there is an urgent need for medical attention.”
Jones made a tentative examination of my injury, probing the edges of the point of impact. “The back of your head feels spongy.”
“I suffered some distress in that area while entrapped in the cabin containing the widow’s parcel. No matter! Bring me a dressing whenever it is convenient for you. I’ll be at the bow, with the widow von Kant.”
“Hmm,” said Jones, and I replaced my hat on my head with only the slightest twinge of discomfort, which Jones showed no sign of perceiving.
The widow Sieglinde Zuckerstück Reiniger von Kant stood at the juncture of the the ship’s two great curves, where both sides of the hull met and formed an edge that cut through the water. I joined her at the railing and, for a moment, studied her beauteous countenance. She stood facing into the sun and headwind, the early morning glow illuminating her face, a faint smile upon her lips. The paleness of her skin, the graceful shape of her features– truly she was a remarkable exemplar of the female form. I removed my hat, and emitted an involuntary yelp. The widow von Kant turned and greeted me.
“Are you alright?” the widow asked. ” You look pale.”
“You are perceptive, milady,” I said, beaming. “I recently received two sharp blows to the head. However, do not be alarmed. My health is intact.”
“Are you certain? Men with cholera have rosier complexions.”
I waved away her concerns and then leaned on the railing for support.
“Also, not to be unnecessarily forward, but have you been crying?”
For reasons unclear to me, the widow appeared to be increasing in stature. In fact, not only the widow but the entire ship seemed to be growing around me. “Indeed, I have, madam, though I beg you afford me some qualification of the matter. The most recent instance was purely reactionary, a natural physical reaction to the sudden collision of my skull and a crowbar, and of course the subsequent pain. My first bout of weeping was an intentional purgative, as I am a man of expansive yet sensitive constitution. Excuse me for a moment, I appear to be shrinking.”
Further investigation revealed to me that I was not in fact becoming more diminutive, but instead was losing the ability to stand upright. This, coupled with a strange distortion of my vision, created the illusion of shrinkage. I straightened my legs, and heard seagulls, or possibly a heavenly choir. Looking skyward, I sighted the birds and was grateful, as I was in no condition to witness any manifestations of the divine.
“Milady,” I said, “I hope I am not taking too many liberties with your person, as I dearly wished to engage in some social intercourse with you, but it appears I am somewhat more injured than I first believed, as I did not expect to be injured at all when engaged in this, our first conversation–”
Before I could complete my sentence, I was enclosed in blackness. I heard the widow von Kant calling for Mr. Jones but her voice was distant and had the quality of being enclosed in glass, and heard a great rushing, as if the sails had caught a powerful wind. I opened my eyes, which I could not recollect having closed, and saw Jones, the widow von Kant, and Starkey standing over me.
“Jones, might I ask for your assistance in locating the ship’s doctor?” I asked. Jones puffed at his pipe and nodded. “Already on his way,” the first mate said.
Feeling the blackness encroach again, I said “Mrs. von Kant, I am about to once again lose consciousness, but before I do, I feel compelled to tell you that you are the most impressive specimen of feminine beauty I have ever witnessed. And I have been to Oslo.”
I believe my sudden declaration surprised the widow and perhaps even overwhelmed her sensibilities, for she turned away from me, one of her delicate hands placed to her lips. A long interval passed before she was able to speak. With a gentleness in her voice as she spoke my name, she proceeded to make some response to my confession, but the words which fell from her well-formed lips reached my ears wrapped in cotton. Once again the deep black shroud of unconsciousness enveloped me.
To be continued…