But we return, now, with chapter 14, in which, I fear, Reginald and his crew come off as a trifle unsympathetic in places. But I suppose that's for you, the audience, to decide for yourselves.
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June 11, 1912, Aboard The Regal Swine II (provisional), off the coast of England.
The remains of the day went about as smoothly and uneventfully as they might have been expected to. Jack and Helmut continued their childish caterwauling about “shadowey figures”, even once we were aboard the new ship, but soon enough I had heard quite enough of their “We’re all in serious danger” and “will you stop ignoring me” nonsense and had them both confined to below-decks until they could learn to relax and enjoy one of the more peaceful elements of an adventuring lifestyle often fraught with danger, untidiness and unavoidable contact with uncivilized foreigners: the ocean voyage.
Which is not to say that the voyage was without its small frustrations and misadventures in and of itself. Far from it. I was of course familiar with Blackhawk’s refurbished freight ship, having faced it in battle from across the waves in the past, and so had developed a not-inconsiderable loathing of the ship prior to ever setting foot aboard her. An impression which I am sad to say was in no way diminished by a first-hand experience with her.
When first my team and I boarded the vessel, we were veritably assaulted by a pungent stench which seemed to permeate the entire interior of the great black ship high and reeking, it was like unto a curtain hung from the door frame, composed of a collection of all of the foul and unclean things on Earth, vapourized and suspended in the air for the dubious enjoyment of the deranged and mentally diseased.
“It smells like a goddamn chicken coop in here,” Jack commented, the first to put words to what we were doubtless all thinking.
“That’s it! The very thing!” Miss Elliot responded, holding a handkerchief to her nose in a futile effort to block out the reeking miasma. “Mister Blackhawk, what on earth is that horrid stench?”
Blackhawk, imperturbably, inhaled deeply of the very fumes which, even now, saw Professor Rutherford retching violently over the railing of the gangplank. “Horrid, you say?” he asked. “Personally, I find it altogether intoxicating. If you are curious, I would be more than happy to show you. Or at the very least, those of you who feel they have the fortitude to bear witness to something altogether remarkable.”
There were few takers; most of my men seemed to have some ready excuse or another, and opted instead to be shown to their quarters. Only Ivan, whose own natural aroma seemed to be fighting a valiant and apparently winning battle with that of the ship, Barty, whose boyish curiosity as pertains to all things vile and unpleasant overcame his revulsion, and Miss Elliot, who I’m not altogether certain understood that she was being led closer to the source of the stench (and seemed to think that this would somehow spare her the worst of it) dared to brave the belly of the particular beast. I, myself, naturally, though no less nauseated by the stench than I was by Blackhawk himself, refused to be dissuaded by anything as fleeting as my own violent gagging, and was glad to accept.
As the others saw their belongings squared away, we four were led deeper into the bowels (and never was such a term more appropriate!) of the ship, until at last we came to a wide open area which seemed to be open to the sky above via a sort of skylight in the middle of the room, and which, on this rainy evening, was lit by electric lights all about. The scene which was thus illuminated was a surreal one: The central hold of this former freight vessel had been converted into a vast and sprawling aviary. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of bird cages of all sizes and descriptions, containing an equally varied menagerie of birds, ranging from the colourful and fanciful Birds of Paradise of New Guinea, to the monstrous and seemingly-demonic Emu of Australia, to even more exotic and bizarre avians which I was not certain modern science yet had names for. The noise was all but deafening, and no less overpowering than the reek of dung which hung, choking, over the entire room. Even as I watched, a half-dozen sailors scurried about the bizarre marine aviary, changing food and water dishes, cleaning out slops and otherwise maintaining the grand spectacle. As overwhelming an experience as all of this was, however, there remained one curiosity which towered, both figuratively and literally, above all others.
“What’s in that one there?” Barty asked, pointing at a giant cage, perhaps two stories tall an proportionately wide, which dominated the centre of the room and which was covered by an equally giant tarp. “That where you keep your big fat mum when you’re not buggering her?”
Blackhawk gave a sort of choking noise at this and then forced a bit of a laugh. I could not help but smile as Blackhawk grated out “Precocious child! No, young man, what I keep in here is something rather special.”
“Is that what you call your mum? ‘Cause the guys I spoke to said her bum was nothing special.”
“Kingsley!” He shouted, his eyes wide with fury. “Discipline your brat! His manners are atrocious!”
“Discipline him? He hardly seems to be the one in the wrong here. After all,” I grinned at him like a Cheshire cat, “He isn’t the one who has indecent relations with his own mother.” Barty smiled at me broadly, and I fondly placed my hand upon his shoulder. “After all, his mother is dead.”
By this time, Ivan was barking out great loud laughter, and Blackhawk was going red in the face with fury. I noted with some satisfaction that even Miss Elliot, though plainly offended at Barty’s salty talk, could barely stifle her own laughter.
Encouraged, Barty began chanting in a sing-song voice “Fucks his big fat mum in her big fat bum! Fucks his big fat mum in her big fat bum!”
Finally, Blackhawk could stand no more of this and exploded. “Still your tongue, you insolent brat, or else I shall have you chopped up and fed to my ravenous, flesh-eating emperor penguins!”
Miss Elliot gasped in horror at this, and Barty, bless his heart, had the presence of mind to feign tearfulness as he began to wail at the idle threat. Gifted by the lord though she may have been with womanly compassion and nascent maternal instincts, she had not been so generously endowed with the sort of wits that the rest of those present were, and was as such quick to accept Barty’s small ruse on face value. She moved to hug him to her bosom with her sole remaining arm, and looked scathingly at Blackhawk, who was even now realizing his error. “How dare you, Mister Blackhawk!” She exclaimed. “To say such a thing to a mild and innocent boy like this! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”
Blackhawk, though, was quick to recover his composure. “Oh, I am, Miss Elliot, I am!” he gushed, feigning remorse, “I beg both your and young master Bartholomew’s forgiveness. It is not the boy himself but the inept and careless upbringing which he has received which is to blame, and I should not have been so swift to lash out at him. I was simply offended on your behalf, Miss Elliot; it wounded me to see you so assailed with such uncouth language.”
I rolled my eyes and glanced over towards Ivan, who I saw had lost interest in the exchange; he gently held in his massive hands a sort of emerald and crimson bird which he had removed from its cage, and with great care was prying its ribcage open so that he might observe its frantically-beating heart as it attempted, weakly, to escape his great, paw-like hand. As Blackhawk’s gaze began to swivel about to where Ivan stood, the great Russian swiftly stuffed the still-living bird into his mouth and swallowed it whole, grinning serenely by the time that my nemesis set eyes on him once more. I could barely contain a chuckle of amusement at his antics, and resolved to suggest that Ivan spend as much of his time in the aviary as possible during this voyage.
Blackhawk, for his part, was talking again. “Allow me to make amends,” he said, all unctuous mock-charm once more. He strode towards the giant cage which even then must surely have contained his slumbering behemoth of a mother. “Though it is far too early to reveal the contents ... the true contents”, he added with a small twist of displeasure to his lips, “of this cage, I shall give you one hint. I suggest you hearken well, Kingsley, for it may be the one opportunity you shall ever have, and should you find yourself unprepared, I daresay that you and all of England shall be forfeit.”
“Spare me your charity, you blackguard!” I cut him off, imperiously. “I shall discern the truth of this matter on my own or not at all, and England be dashed if I don’t!” I was by now filled with patriotic fervor, and made no secret of it. “I shall furthermore discern it at a time and place of my choosing, not of yours, and not when the truth of the matter just so happens to be sitting a few short feet away from my face! Neither England nor I nor anyone else shall ever benefit from any act or gesture on your part, you brigand. Now be silent about the matter and continue to sail us to Ireland. I have had quite enough of your so-called aid.”
With that, I turned grandly on my heel and made to storm off out of the aviary, trusting my companions to follow in my wake. Miss Elliot continued to comfort and gentle Barty, whose continued weeping and wailing served as cover for his deliberate collisions with no fewer than three fine gilded cages, each of which were sent toppling to the ground, evidently unbeknownst to the boy, so lost was he apparently in his feigned distress. I was made quite proud of the boy: He was growing up to be a fine little gentleman. I was no less glad to put the stench and noise of the room behind me than I was Blackhawk’s own noxious presence.
My next rude surprise came a short while later as I was nearing the quarters which had been assigned me, and caught sight of a sort of mural adorning one of the corridor walls outside of what I would in time learn to be Blackhawk's own personal quarters. The mural was grotesque, depicting a sort of horrible boar tearing asunder the abdomen of a royal-looking fellow who bore a disturbing resemblance to our late King Edward, and gorging itself hideously upon his innards as the monarch struggled for his life in a distastefully weak and impotent manner. Even more horribly, the appalling regicidal beast wore upon its head a bloodied royal crown, which seemed to fit the animal's head more aptly than it might a human head. Behind and above this dreadful struggle, a gnarled and leafless tree grew, in whose leaves lurked a great black buzzard, whose intent and hungry stare gave no room for doubt as to what it intended soon to be feasting on, and by extension, wherefrom the ship derived its hateful epithet. Below this gruesome scene lay a brass plaque into which had been etched the words “The Time Shall Soon be Upon us...” I could not help but shudder invoulentarily both at the lurid scene and at the treasonous tone of its inspiration. Were I not so intimately acquainted with the moral depravity of the owner of this ship, I might have been shocked in a measure equal to my offense at the sight of it. As it stood, though, I could but marvel at the thought that the owner of such a display could walk freely on the streets of England without finding himself jailed for the offense.
My patriotic spirit quailed at the thought of it.
“An abomination,” I muttered furiously. “Absolutely abominable.”
Miss Elliot, close at hand, gave me a curiously questioning look at this, but offered no comment nor inquiry, which was just as well for my sake. It had been a long and trying day, and I was frankly prepared to lay myself down in whatever accommodations had been made ready for me.
As I entered the cabin, I was not altogether pleased. I concede some small measure of jealousy in this; I had of course been quite set upon taking advantage of the finery and comfort of my own master stateroom aboard the Regal Swine for this journey, and the comparatively humble room which I now occupied hardly measured up. Blackhawk, by comparison, must have been sleeping in considerably greater ease and opulence, which rankled me. It occurred to me, abruptly, that I sincerely wished that Captain Guinee had not been so dead-set upon being an irrational woman earlier; her pirating skills could have availed us considerably here, as I should in that moment have been very glad to have commandeered the vessel and to take Blackhawk’s quarters for myself. I decided in the morning I should speak to Jack, who, as a Yankee, was in essence a pirate himself and thus might be able to find it within himself to take care of this matter on my behalf.
More immediately, though, sleep beckoned. I unpacked Cleopatra from my duffle bag, cleaned and checked her ammunition and then placed her at the table by my bedside before settling down for a night of sleep at sea, silently counting, as I did so, the days ahead of me before we would set foot on the savage coast of the Ireland shore.
The second day of the voyage began considerably more pleasantly than the previous one had ended, however, as we outpaced the storm clouds behind ourselves and found ourselves the happy recipients of some pleasant summer weather, the sun shining brightly overhead and the cool sea breeze combining to create an altogether pleasant atmosphere, which it was decided we would take advantage of in the form of a meal taken near the bow, where we could enjoy the view and the vista of seemingly unending ocean all about us. Barty, some twenty feet away, was busy vivisecting a seagull he had downed with a shot to the wing with his pistol. How like a little Leonardo DaVinci he was, always curious as to the inner workings of all living things. He could go through a dozen cats in a week if he were sufficiently bored at home, and it warmed my heart to see that he had determined that his studies were not to be interrupted by our journey.
My father, Professor Rutherford, Miss Elliot, Blackhawk and I were present, and despite certain inevitable tensions, we were, by limiting our discussion to the sorts of pleasant and polite banalities which were a time-honoured and traditional sort of fare in society circles, nevertheless able to maintain a certain level of peace. The Professor and my father were in high spirits, for their parts, recounting tales of their adventures together in their now-remote youth, which Miss Elliot found quite enchanting, and which even Blackhawk listened to in respectful silence.
Or so it went until I saw my father struggling with his wheelchair rolling about with the swaying of the ship, and made what turned out to be a disastrous observation. “Papa,” I began, “you are aware, are you not, that there is none aboard this vessel of consequence who is unaware of the fact that you are feigning your infirmity? There is no reason why you need to confine yourself to your wheelchair...”
His eyes went wide with rage, and he jabbed me in the chest with his walking stick, savagely, standing up from his chair so that he might thrust his face towards mine, bringing it to within a few inches of my nose as he spoke. All around the table, the others went instantly quiet, presumably out of respect for my father and his manifest desire that he be heard clearly. “How dare you!” he screamed, “How DARE you? For you, of all people to preach at me about my infirmity! It is your fault” he bellowed, placing special emphasis on these last two words, “that I am so infirm! Why, before your sister and you came along, I was a young man! Young, and full of life! And now look at me”, he held his hands up to me, as though I had not seen them before. “I am old, now! Crippled and elderly! With death bearing down upon me like a raging bull! And it all began the moment that you… you and your blood-sucking parasite of a sister came into this world and began to leech the very vitality from me! And now!” he shrieked, pointing to his wheelchair with his walking stick, “Now I am confined to this infernal device, forever denied the simple pleasure of standing on my own two feet!” He was pacing about the deck furiously, now, while his wheelchair rolled gently back and forth with the rocking of the ship behind him, “all because of you! And in spite of this” he veritably spat at me, his eyes narrowed in fury, “You have the gall to tell me to stand and walk? For shame, boy! Shame on you, and shame on me for ever having brought such an ingrate as yourself into this world!” He sat heavily back down in his chair at this, and smoothed out the blanket he periodically covered his supposedly-crippled legs with.
“Now fetch me something to drink, boy! And make it strong! I have a bitter taste in my mouth from needing to address you directly!”
“Yes, pa-pa,” I replied, mortified by my own presumption. He was truly the best amongst us, and yet, for all of my best efforts, I seemed incapable of doing aught but infuriate and annoy him. That I had so shamed myself in front of my arch-nemesis and the woman who I hoped to deny him the love of was but an additional thorn in my side. I silently and solemnly vowed to redouble my efforts to be a son worthy of this towering colossus of a man.
It was as I made my way away from the table in search of some refreshments for my father that I noticed that the ship had lost some of its momentum. Curious, I walked to the railing and peered down at the water below, whereupon my suspicions were confirmed: there was but the slightest bow wave about the front of the vessel, and even as I watched, it seemed to still, and it was plain that we had come to a halt. I was about to inquire about this turn of events when I heard the unmistakable sound of gunshots down below, and the sounds of savage screams to accompany them.
It seemed that our pleasant lunch had been brought to an abrupt and premature end, and I resolved to make whomever was responsible pay for the effrontery against myself, my companions, and the sacred institution of lunch itself.