IV. The Darling of the Abbatoir
Alone in the first mate’s quarters, which had been surrendered to him without a twitch of protest by the one-eyed Mr. Johns at his captain’s order, Martin Dunwood lay in the cot suspended crossways across the tiny little room and tried to acclimate himself to the deep pitch and tumble of The Lady Celeste as it pushed its way across the cresting waves, on its way to the open sea. Somewhere above him rain drummed over the ship, and its crew worked the lines and the sails with the precision — or lack of it — one might expect from a congress of pirates. Martin did not care to speculate on their abilities; he felt sick enough already. Instead he entrusted his fate to God and focused his attentions on better things.
The promise of Alice pulled him across the sea, from his meager home in St. Giles to the polluted stink of London, and then to Tortuga and this wicked man’s vessel; he resolved that he would let it pull him across the whole world before he would ever give up his search.
The light in the lantern guttered as the ship plummeted down a steep trough. Martin snuffed it out before it could spill and light the room on fire. The darkness which fell over him was oppressive, as though someone had thrown a weight over him. The sounds of the water smashing into the hull, and of the raw voices outside shouting to be heard over the storm, became impossible to ignore. It seemed as though the whole ship’s complement had suddenly crowded into his cabin and begun knocking things about.
So he thought of Alice.
He remembered the first time he ever laid eyes on her: she had been standing on a corner outside a grocer’s shop. Her fine clothes and her red hair were disheveled and there was a horror in her expression, her face as pale as a daylight moon. Blood matted the expensive materials of her dress, caked heavily near the lower hem and arrayed in a pattern of sprays and constellations further up her body, as though she had just waded through some dreadful carnage.
Martin, who had been sent to London on his father’s errand the previous day, stood transfixed. He didn’t know what catastrophe had befallen her but it seemed she needed immediate help. He waited for a carriage to pass before he stepped out into the muddy thoroughfare, but immediately came up short — an older gentleman stepped out of the grocer and joined her at the corner. He too was well-dressed, though his clothes were free of blood. He threw an overcoat around her shoulders and hailed a carriage. Within moments he bundled her into it, and with a flick of the driver’s wrist she was whisked away, leaving behind her an ordinary corner on an ordinary street. The drabness of the image seemed to reject the possibility that she had ever been there.
It was not until years later that he saw her again. By that time his father had accrued some money through real estate, and had graduated into more elevated social planes. They had been invited to a party thrown by a local banker, and as Martin lurked unhappily in a corner of the room, resenting the pomp and self-satisfaction of the people around him, he saw her again.
She was standing amidst a crowd of men, young and eager for her attention. She smiled at one of them as he gestured to illustrate some point, and Martin knew at once that none of the fools had a chance with her, that she was wearing them like jewelry. He pressed his way through the crowd until he joined her little retinue.
If she noticed him as he approached she did not show it. He stationed himself in her outer orbit and just watched her. She stood stone still, and although she was properly demure and maintained the comportment of a young lady of her station, she was set apart from everyone around her. She seemed carved from stone. She was acting.
At the first break in the conversation, he said, “Didn’t I see you once outside a small grocer’s in the East End? It would have been a long time ago.”
Her eyes settled on him. They were a pale blue. “I rather doubt it.”
“You would remember this,” he said. “You were covered in blood.”
She betrayed no reaction, but even in that she revealed herself. No shock, no disgust, no laughing dismay. Just a cool appraisal, and silence.
One of the young men turned on him, his blond hair pulled back harshly from his forehead in a bow. “I say, are you mad?”
“Possibly,” said Martin.
“It’s all right, Francis,” she said. “He’s right. I do remember that day. It was quite dreadful. A horse had come up lame and had to be shot. It was done right in front of me and I think it’s the worst thing I ever saw.”
“I don’t remember a dead horse,” Martin said.
“Perhaps you weren’t paying attention,” she said. “So much goes on right under our noses.”
Within minutes she had dismissed her pretty men and Martin found himself sitting some distance from the party, talking to this remarkable woman who seemed to fit amongst these people the same way a shark fits amongst a school of mackerel.
“Why did you say that to me?” she said. “What did you think would happen?”
“I had no idea. I wanted to find out.”
“Hardly the right environment for radical social experiments, wouldn’t you say?”
“I would say it’s precisely the right environment.”
She offered a half smile. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Martin Dunwood. My father owns the–”
“Are you some sort of anarchist, Martin Dunwood?”
“Would it make me more interesting if I said yes?”
In minutes they were in the banker’s bedroom, fucking with a furious, urgent silence. Thereafter they met often, and always clandestinely. She was even more contemptuous of the world than he, prone to stormy rages, and he got drunk off of that rage. It was wild and different and echoed his own sense of alienation from the world. Their illicit sex was as much an act of defiance as it was a hunger for each other. After a month of this she took him to his first Farm, and he saw what she did there.
It was when he watched the blood drip from the ends of her long red hair that he knew he was in love with her, and that he would break the world to keep her.