I have been unable to care for and form the character of your son as we projected over those hot whiskeys at port. He remains an absolute stranger to the fellows on-board. He finds the passengers execrable–an indifferent sample of all that was so boring and uninspired upon land, whose only further recommendation now is a salty baptismal.
To the sailors, he bears a very querulous face. His reaction is two parts horror and one part aristocratic snub; although he swears his only thought of them “is based 100% on smell.” Indeed, his entire deportment is such a mystery to me, that I can think of no right way to encapsulate it in a phrase, or by analysis give you a right idea of its type and temper. He induces a morbid amount of thinking about–and, as the ship’s captain, I certainly have much to think about on so wide-ranging a voyage, the Cape alone should supply my nightmares with material and my days with activity–indeed, I find myself doting on little else, but offers zero revelations.
Here is a sample of our dinner conversation from earlier tonight. His face was slightly discolored and clouded, as though he were withholding a judgement of lightning bolts for the sake of his dinner-table manners.
“So, M. Baudelaire, how are you taking to the sea? This cruise your father arranged for you would seem just the thing after cramped and cold Paris; it’s a very healthy life we provide on shipboard, is it not?”
“It is extraordinary.”
Then my first mate, oblivious to the ambivalence of this response–he is a ‘character’, and 30 years at sea have washed off his more sharp, perceptive edges–chimes in:
“Extra-extra-extraordinary, you might say, young Messier. I remember my first voyage as if it were yesterday and I was sober the livelong day. Everything about the life on board a ship pops out at you like crabs from a dark hole. The sea seems to mean a something extra, as well, like it was all a drama of some, ah, piquancy; ain’t that the gospel, cap’n? Like it all stands out at you; how small you are on the face of the world, and yet, since there is nothing else human around for miles, how concentrated and exact the attentions of the universe seem. Like a drama, like I say.”
“Well, that’s quite an observation, Kreeger….”
“Hell must make a similar impression.”
“Really? M. Baudelaire, please go on.”
“The stunned aloneness of each corroded soul is like this desert of the water; nothing without, and all within. A concentration of the eye on everything inward must soon result.”
“T’ain’t a preacher alive made me feel my wrong so hard, young fella. You goin’ to preaching school in Paris when you decided to jump ship and sail with us?”
“How I passed the time in Paris, I cannot say, for I cannot understand myself. A man would hardly be in hell if he could truly know who he was–and thus avoid himself.”
“Know himself to avoid himself!” ejaculated Kreeger, “bit like a man meeting a mirror, and then deferring at the sight of its contents’.”
“If only I had such a mirror. I would give my life, and all of your lives as well, to possess such an instrument.”
“Don’t you think such a statement,” I interjected, “a bit, well… over-generous? With our lives, that is.”
He looked at me with such a maturity and completeness of ice, that–although it was subtropical, and we were rounding the coast of Africa in its summer season,–I felt my sweat seize up in clear, cold rivulets upon my brow. And down my neck stung the needle of an inner shiver.
“Not a syllable, Mon Capitaine.”
And then he beheaded a shrimp with a clack of his neat teeth.
Tomorrow, we make landfall at Mozambique.