Life Among The Savages, Part 7.
When my unconsciousness elapsed and I was returned to cognizance, the external world revealed itself to me slowly, one layer of perception uncovered after another, as it were, in mannered succession. I discovered myself supine, on an area of softness. Though I did not yet have the strength even to open my eyes, I determined I had been laid down on a firm mattress of surprising quality, far superior to the sort of mattress I would expect to find on a seafaring vessel. And I could tell I was still aboard the Holy Diver (or at least aboard some kind of ship), as I felt the gentle pull and swell of the waves beneath me. No blankets or bedclothes restricted me, and my own attire appeared to be intact, as much as I could tell it to be so without a thorough visual inspection. Though my mind was still far from even its typical level of operation, I took comfort in my clothéd-ness, for that meant no major surgery had been undertaken while I was insensate. Any invasive medical procedure is “Risky Business” even when attempted by a learned doctor on dry land, and I had little hope of such resources being available on the middle of the open ocean. I could, however, feel my head swaddled in some sort of bandage, and I smiled inwardly at this (not outwardly, for my head was still a area of dull pain). Once again, Mr. Jones had proved his mettle, and done as he had promised.
At this realization, I heard soft sounds, the kind of noises one hears but never pays heed to in the course of a day, the sounds people make as they stand or busy themselves with inactive tasks, the inadvertent sounds that result from living persons merely being alive. I knew I was not alone in whatever cabin I found myself. I opened my eyes as much as I could muster strength to afford, and saw several persons arrayed at the foot of the bed: Mr. Jones, arms crossed and smoking his pipe; Captain Stagg, in a state of agitation; the widow von Kant, radiant even within the dim, cramped confines of the cabin; Starkey, who was inadvertently responsible for my current state, and held his hat bunched in a tight ball before him; and another man whom I did not recognize, stout and bespectacled, whom in countenance resembled a frog, with bulging eyes and a wide, thinly-lipped mouth. They were all transfixed by me and whatever could be gleaned of my condition as I lay motionless on the bed.
Both desirous of news of my health and hoping to cheer my concerned onlookers with a display of improvement, I endeavored to move. I stirred but the activity proved more strenuous than I had anticipated, and I let out a faint moan as I shifted the position of my body.
“He’s having a seizure, we must hold him down!” Captain Stagg exclaimed and surged toward me. Jones put out his arm so that his pipe-bearing hand held back the overenthusiastic Captain, an act for which I was most grateful.
“No, no, Captain, no seizure, no attack of any kind,” said the man whom I did not recognize as he cleaned and then re-applied his spectacles to his nose. “The boy is merely waking up. Aren’t you, son?”
I attempted to nod and felt I was generally successful in doing so. The man helped me to sit up and lean my back against the headboard, and then began to examine me, as well as the bandage which now covered the top half of my head.
“My name is Doctor Blight,” he said, pulling down the lid of my right eye, “ship’s physician, at your service. I hear you had an encounter with a crowbar.”
“Yes, and quite a encounter it was,” I said and chuckled a bit before the dull ache in my head overcame my levity.
“Ha ha, yes, quite an encounter, but with a display of wit like that, you’re surely on the fast road to good health, my boy, isn’t that your official medical opinion, Dr. Blight?” the Captain said. Dr. Blight opened my mouth and pulled out my tongue. He examined the tongue’s surface with a learned exacting stare.
“To be sure, Captain, our unlucky young friend is doing no worse than his new metallic acquaintance –” Dr. Blight released my tongue, stuck a finger in my left ear and twisted the digit “– and I should say he shall fare much better, given the proper recuperative interval.” Blight extracted his finger, examined the waxy tip, then smelled it, and then tasted it, working the sample around his mouth with great determination for several seconds. “You’ve got some iron in you as well, lad.”
“Now that ain’t true, we found the whole crowbar right on the deck –” Starkey said.
“It’s a metaphor, Starkey,” Stagg said impatiently. “Though that does remind me: you are now aware of the whereabouts of the crowbar, Mr. Jones?”
“I am, sir,” Mr. Jones said.
“Then perhaps you can attend to that… business we discussed earlier?”
Mr. Jones’ mouth stayed firmly clamped around his pipe as he said: “With all due speed.” After that declaration, he nodded to me, and then to the widow von Kant, and left to accomplish whatever task the captain had spoken of so cryptically.
“Whatever elements, figurative or otherwise –” and here Dr. Blight laughed to himself, though the sound was more a brief sharp exhalation through his nose than a laugh “– might be present in his constitution, it will be best for our injured passenger to recuperate in quiet solitude. So, as the reigning expert in these matters, I must insist that we vacate these quarters and leave this young man in silence.”
Dr. Blight rose as the Captain pushed Starkey out the door muttering what I could only assume to be inspirational threats against Starkey’s person. In the doorway, Dr. Blight and the widow von Kant paused.
“Doctor, might I have a word with him alone before we let him rest?” the widow asked.
Blight considered her request. “Milady, if there were one thing that might aid his convalescence more than solitary rest, I would say it was the company of one as beauteous as yourself.” The doctor held and then patted her hand, and I must admit I felt a short pulse of jealousy.
“Make it brief,” Dr. Blight said, and exited, closing the door as he left.
The widow von Kant smiled and approached me, sitting on the edge of my bed. “I don’t know if you remember our last conversation,” and here she used my first name, and I could not help but smile, though it caused a sharp pain on the side of my head, “but I recall it quite well. You flatter me with your compliments.”
“I only speak the truth, Mrs. von Kant,” I said.
“You are very kind to speak in such a way, and I wished to express my gratitude to you in as private a manner as I could, given our current lodgings. I would speak with you more now, but I don’t wish to be an obstacle to your recuperation.”
I said “You are in no way an obstacle to that, milady. Your very presence fills me with bursts of energy.”
“Such flattery!” she said, and smiled. “But I should leave you to your rest.”
“You don’t have to,” I said..
“No, I must.”
“Even the doctor claimed you have healing properties,” I said.
“No, I truly must. I would very much like you to regain your strength as quickly as possible. I feel it is… a great advantage to me when you are able to move about the ship.” The widow looked about the cabin in a surreptitious fashion and her face took on a grave aspect. “You are one of the few persons onboard whom I can trust.” She was silent for a moment, and then the graveness slipped from her face. “So rest yourself, and rejoin us above decks as soon as you can.” She opened the door and Captain Stagg was crouched there, ear near where the keyhole had been. He coughed and quickly stood up.
“Stout door,” he said, and rapped upon it with his fist. The widow von Kant moved past him into the corridor.
The captain turned to me and said “I’ll check on you after a while, boy. Make sure you’re alright.”
“There’s really no need,” I replied.
“It’s no trouble. Your well-being is my prime concern.” Captain Stagg smiled at me, and continued smiling for several moments, his hands clenched.
“Did you need anything else?” I asked him.
“Just some– no, nothing. At all. Nothing at all.” The captain stood a little while longer. I could see it was another of his fits, and did what I could to bring no greater attention to it. After a few more moments, he exhaled heavily. “Sleep now, knit that skull of yours back into working order!” and he turned and shut the door behind him. I heard the rattle of keys, and the workings of the door’s lock being engaged, and I called out to the Captain that locking the door was not necessary, but he made some muffled unintelligible reply and left.
Alone in the room, I reflected on my conversation with the enchanting widow von Kant and the persistent strange behavior of Captain Stagg and the crew. The widow almost appeared to feel she was in danger. Her veiled concerns, and the secretive directives the Captain kept levelling toward Mr. Jones made me wonder if there was some conspiracy afoot. I was glad Mrs. von Kant had placed her trust in me, and I hoped I would receive an opportunity to prove my worth to her. However, it was difficult for me to believe that she was truly endangered by any of the crew. Despite his handicap, the captain seemed a decent man, and Jones a first mate of strong character. I could hardly seem him engaging in low dishonorable behavior against a lady. At the same time, there were many men on the Holy Diver who were virtually unknown to me, and the remoteness of the sea make many things possible that are unthinkable on land. I swore to myself that once healed, I would investigate these suspicions and do what I could to assist the widow von Kant.
I had just settled in my resolve and carefully adjusted the positioning of my body on the bed so that I could sleep with minimal discomfort, when a voice whispered from beneath the bed: “Are they gone?”
to be continued…