Life Among The Savages, Part 10.
Though I was unsettled by this second intrusion of the mysterious voice, I took its recurrence as a boon in several ways. First, having heard the voice speak again, and at a time when my person was in good health, I could dispel any misapprehensions or doubts I had about the voice’s existence. Clearly, this strange entity was no phantom or hallucination, but a real, living person. Second, again due to my state of bodily refreshment, I felt less threat from the mysterious voice, as I was more properly able to defend myself, should the need arise, and did not suffer the disadvantage of infirmity as I had some days ago. Third, I could better assess the true nature of the mysterious voice, as my senses were now keen and unmuddled by pain and fatigue, and I was confident that, through the application of reason and calm observation, the enigma of the voice beneath my bed would come to be something, if not commonplace, then at least easily explained.
Confident in my faculties, I responded to the voice. “Indeed I do feel your blows against the bedframe, sir, and I would request that you explain yourself, as I have grown weary of your ill-mannered entreaties!” I said, with great sternness in my voice, so as to further dislodge the owner of the voice from the intimidating position in which I imagined he sat, or laid, depending on his size and bodily arrangement.
A long period of silence then ensued. At first, I was glad at the quietness. I had spoken with authority, and the mysterious voice, thanks only to the way in which I had uttered my command, was compelled to respect me as the speaker, though in truth there was no real basis for my commanding tone. That my feint had been successful in curtailing the voice’s intimidation filled me with satisfaction. I felt certain that now, with the operator of the voice now viewing me as his equal, we could move beyond the immature threats and furniture antics and I could begin to determine what this entity’s true purpose was. Clearly, the person had stowed away aboard the Holy Diver, and his intent, though unclear, just as clearly tended toward the malevolent. Discovering the mission of this interloper would be a service to all on board; I could then reveal his presence to the captain and deliver him into the hands of the crew to be properly disposed of, for the benefit of all.
As I contemplated the possibilities of this strange person and his delivery into my hands, I slowly became aware that, in the aftermath of my stern challenge, the voice had made no retort, in the form of either verbal retort or striking the bed’s underside, and I began to wonder if perhaps my words had swayed him too much. To invite the voice to speak seemed as if it might suggest some weakness on my part, so once again I put on my artifice of swagger and called out to the voice, “What, have you nothing more to say for yourself?” I smiled — how ironic that the voice, after numerous efforts to verify my presence and contact me, was now struck dumb when I presented him with exactly what he sought!
A reply came, though after another silent interval, and when the voice spoke, its tone was uncertain, even timid. “I am sorry to have troubled you. Think nothing of it, forget that I was here,” the voice said.
I must admit, this was not a response that I had predicted. Was the voice engaging in more deceit, some kind of “Double-Bluff” that might once again give him the advantage? Recalling our interactions, I could think of nothing truly threatening in the voice’s words or deeds, only ill timing as he had approached me at a time of personal weakness. Perhaps I had misjudged this voice, assuming that he meant harm only because of his peculiar situation. No matter his motives or plans, I knew I could not let this person continue to dwell in secret beneath my bed, so I endeavored to coax him toward revealing more of his character, that I might know better how to proceed.
I said to the voice: “I am afraid, good sir, that I cannot forget you, as you appear to reside within my bedframe, and I cannot determine what you mean to do there. I would ask that you set aside whatever offense you feel toward my sudden vocality, and explain how you came to be enclosed within this cabin’s furniture. With that knowledge, we can best dispatch the situation.” I hoped to achieved a combination of assertiveness and compassion that would encourage the owner of the voice to elaborate on his current station, and after another shorter period of contemplation, the voice spoke again.
“I am afraid, also, sir, afraid that you will find my story so unbelievable that you will immediately retrieve the captain and have me thrown from this vessel. For all I mean to do is pursue a journey of scientific discovery, one whose goal is so fantastical as to be scoffed at by all to whom I have previously revealed it. However, ill fortune has laid me low and left me unable to pay my way honorably, so I am forced to skulk and hide amongst the floorboards and conveniently hollow furniture of sailing ships to continue my quest.”
It will come as no surprise that I immediately felt a sympathy with this strange man, and begged him to further continue, introducing myself as a man of scholarly bent on my own journey of knowledge and adventure, and further adding that if ever there was a sympathetic ear for his plight, I had not one but two of them. “Tell me, good sir, what is your name and what is it that you hope to find?”
His voice came clearer now, and I could hear a growing confidence in his voice as he said “My name is Martin Garrett, Esquire and I am searching for the mysterious Land of R_______.”
I restrained myself as best I could, but it required a Herculean effort not to tear the bed apart and free this new compatriot! That I had found means to seek out that enigmatic nation was luck enough, but now, to have found a colleague who shared my goal was an astonishing turn of events. I said as much to Mr. Garrett, and I thought I heard a few brief sobs from within the bedframe.
“The Lord has truly blessed me. Truth be told, I am trapped beneath this mattress. I found this secret compartment before you were brought to this room, not realizing it would lock behind me. I have found no release for the latch and feared I would be entombed within this bed. Finally, I realized I stood a better chance asking for the captain’s mercy than continuing to try to find my own escape, so I called out to you when I thought you were alone.”
“If only I had known!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, if only. But no matter now. The hatch release is in the carvings on the footboard. The sea serpent’s eye on the left side! Press it in, that I might be released!”
I leapt to action, searched the footboard’s intricate carving for the proper notch (there were many sea serpents entwined in the woodwork), all the while Mr. Garrett asking me how the search was progressing. While his excitability was understandable, it was also quite distracting, as his voice became increasingly insistent. A few moments and I located the hidden switch and applied pressure. The compartment itself was, at least in part, a large drawer that slid forward revealing Garrett’s feet and then the rest of his legs. Eventually the opening was wide enough for him to crawl out from his accidental prison, which he did with my assistance. He was a thin and somewhat haggard-looking man, as circumstances might suggest, with a considerable gray beard and unkempt hair. His eyes, though, were large and lively and he was dressed in a curious admixture of formal dress and some kind of military uniform, the original nation of which I could not place. I shook his hand heartily and welcomed him. “It is a privilege to meet you face to face,” I said.
“Do you have a chamber pot?” Mr. Garrett asked.
“What? Oh, of course!” I said, and directed him to where the chamber pot was stored. After several minutes, during which he was audibly relieved after his confinement, he turned back to me and sighed a contented sigh. “Now then. Where we we?”
I was about to remind him of our conversation concerning the land of R_________ when, with unexpected speed, he pushed me against one of the walls of the cabin with one arm while procuring a large and well-maintained knife from his tattered topcoat, which he then placed against my neck. He smiled in a particularly malevolent fashion.
“Ah yes. I was going to hold you for ransom. At the very least, you’re worth a rowboat, I’d wager. Of course, on the other hand, I could slit your throat merely for the thrill of it. I’ve cut throats before, so I know just how thrilling the deed can be. Such decisions!” said Mr. Garrett.