The three of us are overjoyed that our prey is finally heading north into our trap.
We had plotted our revenge for months, but the reclusive little scoundrel had avoided travel for what seemed an eternity. I had learned from business associates that the one for which I have many appellations was travelling north to New York by steamboat to edit some old Maids poetry and attempt to drum up support for his fantasy; this supposed literary Stylus. We had planned a dramatic weekend for our little friend where the three of us would conduct a tribunal of sorts, each sharing the duties of judge, jury and, perhaps, executioner. We had woven and discarded many plots over literally years to avenge the mangy poet who had slandered each of us in various publications and had repeatedly ridiculed our artistic endeavors.
By us, I refer to my two acquaintances, who became cherished companions simply through the shared enmity for this strange, Southern misanthrope. Thomas English and I had become friends while he operated his fine magazine, The Broadway Journal. We subsequently began to play cards together in a Gentlemens club.
Lewis Gaylord Clark, the other co-conspirator, was the publisher of the eclectic Knickerbocker, a frequenter of fine dining establishments, and a man of refinement and dignity. We met one evening on the lower east side while he was carrying on a public debate with the crazed Southerner. This sparked our conversation, and Lewis and I became friends thereafter.
Such were the seeds that germinated into this orchestrated weekend of revenge.
Thomas had saved a good deal of money and had planned to a remarkable degree for the upcoming event. Lewis and I also made valuable contributions. We were dead serious.
Ill certainly admit that the pitiful one—all three of us had come to call him Pitiful Eddie—had a strange but undeniable talent, but is that any excuse for his acid-tongued invectives? And what of his unpaid debts?; it seems he would rather spend what little money he accrues on a few snifters of brandy than on his numerous unpaid notes.
Our idea was either to lure him to the northeast or allow one of his associates to do the work for us. We knew he would travel anywhere for his dream magazine and we learned in July of his plans to travel this way toward the end of summer. That time has arrived. Tomorrow is our day to abduct the waif and teach him a valuable lesson. I can hardly contain my enthusiasm. There are far too many to name that would aid us in our plan. I feel we will be doing a public service and I best retire now in order to have the energy to carry out tomorrows noble task.
It was such a sublime day, I dont know where to start.
We abducted the scoundrel, hes ours, hooray!
This morning started quite early with Thomas, Lewis, and myself sharing coffee on the outskirts of Baltimore. We discussed what we would do with our enemy once he was in our clutches. Creative ideas flowed and we all laughed aloud several times, causing a stir in the inn, but we were undeterred.
We debated whether to let the pitiful one know it was us behind his kidnapping or just hire some sailors or local thugs to retrieve him. Thomas insisted we let the Southerner know exactly who was behind his predicament or we wouldnt get the complete satisfaction of observing his face contort into a dramatic display of that terrible fear of which he so often writes.
Lewis, on the other hand, argued that we should wear disguises to further increase his torment and informed us that he had spent months procuring them, many of which came directly from the stories of Pitiful Eddie. The man was three-quarters mad; we knew it wouldnt take much to drive him over the edge.
We finally decided to choose the outfits of our choice, both to confound the poet and prevent others from linking us to his disappearance. We settled for simplicity; namely, choosing either a hat, mustache, or spectacles.
As it turned out, much to our delight, local elections were being held today and the lobbyists did a large part of our work for us. We quickly discovered our little enemy ensconced in the lobby of the Old Bradshaw Hotel, imbibing with the local ruffians, apparently in preparation to trade a vote for some liquor. It took perhaps only a half-glass of brandy and our deranged Southern poet lit up as if by a lightning bolt. He proceeded to harangue on several topics in a fantastic, dramatic way, which, I will admit, kept many of these sailors and drunkards spellbound. The three of us sat quietly in the next room, fully disguised, waiting for more patrons to depart so we could make our move.
Soon thereafter, Thomas rose, gave us a wicked wink, and moved toward the madman. He lured him into a basement wing on the pretext of sipping some vintage port when Lewis and I snuck up from the rear and subdued him. We had prepared an ether mixture which renders unconsciousness instantly. We attached him to an old wooden chair and laid his regal cane at his side. As we walked away triumphantly, I noticed a small key drop from his pocket. Strange, I thought, yet I ignored it and returned upstairs with the others to celebrate.
We ordered snifters of cognac and enjoyed several toasts while the poor writer lay unknowing in the hotel cellar. We continued to devise our illustrious weekend for at least another hour before Thomas finally convinced us we should begin to depart. He, ever the practical one, had arranged a carriage to transport us to his lovely summer cottage in the beautiful Baltimore countryside where our pre-planned adventure would take place.
On this mild breezy night, Thomas and I loaded the mad poet, explaining away his drunkeness to the driver while carefully concealing his face with his top hat. We propped him against a door, trusty cane at his side, and commenced our trip to the woods. We laughed and sang all the way to our destination while Pitiful Eddie rocked back and forth to the carriage undulations.
My heavens, I have much to record on this eventful day. When we arrived at the summer cottage, we were all exhausted. The combination of the busy morning, the exciting anticipation, and the considerable brandy had each of us stumbling into the cabin with barely the combined energy to drag the still-unconscious captive behind us. Lewis and Thomas had drug him to the cellar where they shackled and gagged him as planned before we found our beds and most assuredly fell immediately into deep, dark slumbers.
When I finally awoke, I could hear a muffled clanging coming from the cellar. I sensed instantly that our little friend was awake and in God-knows-what state of mind. My head was throbbing from the excesses of the previous evening and the clamor was piercing my brain. I shuffled out to the dining-quarters and found Thomas and Lewis slouching over the table, obviously nursing hangovers themselves.
They had brewed some fine, strong Indian coffee, of which we all indulged heartily as we crowded around the grand oak table. I was admiring the rustic and comfortable surroundings of Thomass place when a long, muffled, yet violent, wail from below jolted me from my reverie.
Lewis stood up, took a long gulp of coffee and said, I will confront him first.
Dont forget a disguise, said Thomas, prompting Lewis to open the hall closet.
The door literally burst open, revealing an astonishing assortment of costumes, wigs, mustaches, animal skins, and hats. Lewis hesitated briefly, then bent forward and howled with laughter before grabbing his head, being painfully reminded of his headache. We began laughing after that; the humor of the costumes combined with the strong imported coffee had lifted our spirits and eased our suffering.
Our rigorous planning has paid off, exclaimed Thomas as Lewis tried on various disguises.
Suddenly Lewis stopped, saying, Lets keep him blindfolded for now. Maybe well use the costumes later, but theres too many to choose from and I think it best he doesnt see the inside of the cottage.
Thomas and I concurred. As Lewis headed toward the stairs, I said, Just disguise your voice and well all be fine.
Lewis tiptoed gently down the stairs as Thomas and I listened intently. The strange noises had ceased, leaving an eerie silence. Once Lewis lifted the gag, a moaning, miserable, tearful plea instantly ensued that could not have come from a sane man. He begged not to be harmed, cried profusely, bemoaned his poor, sick mother and kept repeating that he suspected we had followed him on the steamer; for he had heard voices speaking very low several rows behind him.
Apparently Lewis could not stand it, for suddenly the pleading ceased. Then a clomping up the stairs followed, and within seconds, the madman appeared, still blindfolded and gagged, as Lewis nudged him from behind.
I couldnt help but chuckle at the sight. Thomas also had a smirk on his face. We all glanced at each other, apparently sharing the same thought, maybe that of achieving our initial goal, before breaking into further hysterics, falling to our knees in a communal guffaw. Our plan and dream of revenge had begun and we all shared that feeling of triumph. It was then time to begin the execution of the little game plan we designed to honor our beloved guest.
We gently sat him down at the round table as he shook with anxiety. I assured him we meant him no harm. In fact, I declared that we had moved in to save him, since we had actually heard of a plot on his life. No sooner had I said this than I realized you typically do not shackle those you are rescuing.
Before I inserted my foot further into my mouth, Thomas rescued me by saying, Lets get some good food and coffee for our honored guest and then just sit and talk. He motioned to Lewis and I to go to the costume closet and don disguises. This we did before Lewis removed the blindfold.
The poet opened his large, liquid, gray eyes to a strange sight. He was surrounded by a court jester, a frog, and a clanky automaton, all characters from his strange writings. He literally jumped from his chair and looked like he was going to let out a terrible scream, but apparently got a hold of himself and quickly sat back down with a look of resignation. He looked at us with sad, weary eyes and exclaimed in a subdued voice, Why must you torture me so? Ive done nothing to hurt anyone.
We took turns trying to convince him we meant him no harm. Thomas told him we merely wished to whisk him away to get his opinion on some literary issues, and that the masks were merely to ensure his cooperation and prevent him from ever attempting any lawsuits. I assured him that after a beautiful weekend at this summer paradise he would be thanking us rather than thinking about legal action. He seemed to accept this, and with his enormous ego, was flattered by the literary ruse.
We spent the entire afternoon, after a good deal of food and coffee, in relative enjoyment, fishing, horseback riding (Thomas had procured our mounts from a neighbor for the weekend), and hiking in the woods. Since our masks bothered us, we took turns separating to get an occasional fresh breath. Except for periodic stares where the eccentric poet attempted to penetrate our disguises, he was calm and polite and seemed to be enjoying himself. He rhapsodized eloquently on a variety of topics, although much of his discourse could only be described as fantastical. Indeed, everything went too kindly—
Until the dam broke.
The ruckus occurred after we had returned to the cottage. As twilight approached, Lewis ignited a large number of ivory candles that decorated the cabins interior. We sat around the impressive table and each poured ourselves a nice, warm snifter of cognac. Quiet and lost in thought, everyone sipped their first glass and nibbled on a snack Thomas had retrieved from the pantry.
Everyone, that is, except the pitiful one.
He avoided his beverage for several moments, then guzzled the entire contents in one fell swoop, grimacing and puckering all the while as if fulfilling some awful penance. We then poured another round and it wasnt until his second painstaking inhalation that his personality cracked wide open. Never in my days have I seen such a dramatic and immediate transformation. He began loudly slurring accusations at us, ranting and bantering, attempting to guess our identities and purpose. None of us reacted at first, but simply observed, as if watching a one-man play.
It wasnt long, however, before he physically attacked Thomas, ripping at his disguise and screaming like a hyena. Lewis and I jumped to Thomass defense, and it took all of us to subdue our captive. Wiry, strong, and bolstered by the spirits, we had little choice but to shackle and gag him once again. Using some hemp rope, we tied him to one of the dining chairs. I muffled him with strips from an old sheet I found in a hall closet.
What came next was a scene so deliciously macabre and disturbing that mere words are grossly inadequate to describe the special ambience that prevailed. I will attempt the task nonetheless.
Lewis, who was quietly seething with anger, disappeared momentarily while Thomas and I sat, attempting to regain our wind. Shockingly, from the back bedroom emerged a galloping, deep-orange orangutan wielding a barbers razor. He lunged threateningly at the terrified poet as if to slash his jugular. One could see fear bursting from Eddies soul as his huge gray eyes swelled to twice their normal size and blazed. The frightful orangutan then retreated and hopped about the room in triumph. As the candles flickered in the twilight, the shadow of the ungainly beast danced along the cabin walls. In stunned silence, Thomas and I observed Lewis playing the crazed ape to perfection. He alternately lunged and retreated from our enemy until finally felling him by pushing him into a spasmodic, writhing mass of anguish and tears.
The furry ape quickly disappeared among the shadows at the rear of the cottage. But Lewis wasnt finished. As the pitiful one lay writhing on the floorboard at our feet, Lewis returned to stand defiantly over him. He pulled a dueling pistol from under his hairy arm, violently ripped the mask from his face, and exclaimed angrily, Im sick of this facade. Take a look at me. Now you know who I am, and if you cause any more trouble, I wont hesitate to shoot. Lewis looked over at us, still sitting on the oak chairs and catching our wind, and demanded we remove our costumes. The charade is over.
Thomas and I resolutely complied, and when our prisoner saw the totality of his tormentors, he exploded in rage. He bucked like a stuck pig. His contorted mouth struggled beneath the gag cloth, which restrained a violent wail.
The three of us realized this was a perfect way to end the day. We helped our prisoner to his feet, escorted him to the cellar, and secured him. We left some brandy and water—either of which he could drink from a paper straw—then retired to our quarters. Though exhausted, Im sure I wouldnt have recorded this information if it wasnt for the strong British tea and lemon juice Ive been steadily sipping. I think Ive now done the day justice and I must get some rest.
As I sit to write this evening, I realize that today was indeed stranger than the previous. Truth is undeniably stranger than fiction.
The company again assembled at the breakfast table for some strong, fresh brew and delightful danish. As the pitiful one lay shackled below, we eventually agreed this would be a good day for the trial. We all had specific accusations to raise and issues to settle.
While Thomas teased Lewis about his wifely abilities—he had prepared some terrific eggs and ham—I strolled outside to determine the probable weather. Despite a bit of fog hanging over the woods, the temperature was comfortable; it appeared we would have a beautiful autumn day. I walked to the side of the cabin and glanced at the symmetrical garden plot. It might have been beautiful once, but had fallen into a state of decay.
As I stood musing, a swift breeze passed without warning, and for some unknown reason, it produced in me an unpleasant feeling, an eerie feeling. I shook my head to rid myself of these peculiarities, and as I started to approach the front of the cottage, I heard a mighty shriek from the heavens.
I looked upward. An enormous raven hovered overhead. I could have sworn that, for a minute, the bird was peering at me, but within seconds it disappeared. I shook my head in disbelief before reentering our weekend home.
I intended to tell Lewis and Thomas of my strange experience; instead, I was distracted by the pitiful one slouching on the chaise against the front wall while Lewis and Thomas dined heartily. I went to get a closer look at the disheveled madman. He looked awful in his mangled clothing, with his head thrown back and his eyes closed, while still murmuring strange, indecipherable sounds.
Thomas declared, Hes been delirious since we brought him up. I think hes finally gone over the edge.
We let him lie and indulged in our coffee and oatmeal. Thomas mentioned that our supplies were dwindling rapidly and that we would have to end our adventure within a day or two. We were anxious to conduct our mock trial. I told my companions that the decaying garden would be the perfect spot.
An hour or two passed before the crazed one began to regain his senses. It was like he had finally awakened from a dream or perhaps a drug reverie. He eventually took some coffee and warm gruel, which no doubt helped improve his physical state. His mental condition, however, was something else entirely. In weary and defeated tones, he again pleaded with us, repeating his claim that his family desperately needed him and that he had pressing work to accomplish.
I was about ready to oblige the poor soul. When I mentioned such an action to Thomas, he said, Lead the defendant to the appointed courtroom.
I relented. After a good deal of dawdling, we led the Southerner to the garden and sat him in a comfortable chair we had carried from the dining quarters. Though still a bit dreary, the day was warm enough, with just the beginnings of beautiful autumn colors starting to appear among the trees. Our captive had indeed regained his senses, but remained in a dejected mood.
Thomas started the proceedings and wasted little time with pomp or histrionics. Do you, Sir, or do you not personally owe me more than $200 since the collapse of the Broadway Journal?
The defendant muttered something low and incoherent.
And did I or did I not once tan your hide for your vicious lies? Thomas continued.
The mad poet perked up to say, I recall it differently, Sir, but whats the point of all this nonsense?
Just answer the question, Sir, and well make this as painless as possible, Thomas responded.
So this was the beginning of the mock interrogation. Lewis and I took our turns questioning, asking the reasons for his personal insults in a variety of journals in both Boston and New York, but we received little or no response. In fact, the staged trial didnt last as long as we had hoped simply because we did not receive the combative, defensive reactions that we, quite honestly, had awaited. The pitiful one was languid and morose. He sat stone-faced, and would only occasionally mutter something, typically begging—imploring his release. We actually yearned for those bitter rebukes of his to spur our vengeful hearts, but none were forthcoming. The only interest he showed was toward the environment as he sometimes scoured the heavens or peered intently into the woods.
As the afternoon waned, the wind increased, the temperature dropped, and dark thunderheads filled the sky. This weather change, combined with our friends reluctance to take the proverbial bait, caused us to abandon the trial and return indoors.
Being in a bit of a solitary mood, I retreated to my bedroom to do some reading. I became engrossed in a western by William Cullen Bryant, and before I knew it, evening had arrived. I returned to the living quarters and discovered the rest of the party engaged in similar solitary habits. Our captive sat quietly by the fire, reading an aged manuscript.
When I asked him what he was perusing, he slowly broke from his concentration, and after giving me a rather disgusted look, said, A fine short story called The Sphinx, written by the brilliant Voltaire.
I chuckled, though wasnt sure why. I informed him that I certainly couldnt fault him on his taste.
When I looked at Thomas, who appeared to be mending a pair of riding boots, I realized just how tired I was, so I informed everyone that I would retire for the evening and wished them pleasant dreams. As I meandered to the bedroom, I noticed that the Southerner was chained to an iron clamp just outside the fireplace. I smirked, realizing how practical and prepared Thomas and Lewis always were. Ive spent more time updating my diary than I anticipated but now an overwhelming fatigue is forcing me to climb under the covers.
Nervous excitement over this ordeal has obviously taken a toll on my energy reserves. By nature, I am not a sound sleeper, but this weekend I have been slumbering like a bear in winter. Today I awakened quite late, and when I emerged from my room, the cottage was empty. I suspected that Thomas and Lewis had decided to pursue their next venture without me, so after eating a light breakfast and quickly dressing, I ventured on a brisk hike. It was a partly cloudy day with an occasional gusty breeze, ideal for a refreshing stroll in the woods.
I discovered some interesting trails through the beautiful New England forest and was also visited by a variety of wildlife. A gentle young doe stood statuesque in the distance before scampering away to safety. Rabbits and hedgehogs frolicked in the underbrush. Life seemed to be teeming a bit strongly for the beginning of winter, but perhaps the beasts were enjoying the mild weather while there was still time.
My enjoyable stroll was abated completely, however, when I stumbled across the carcass of some four-legged victim, now crawling with a plethora of ravenous insects, which nearly caused in me that revolting gagging reflex. I sprinted away from the horror and decided I should steer myself back toward the summer home. I wondered why nearly all that is beautiful in nature has its counterpart in the world of ugliness and death. Its already been a strange weekend, I thought.
When I returned, I noticed Thomas and the poet indulging in a game of cards at the dining table. They informed me it was simply a friendly poker game and that Lewis and I should join them. I was struck immediately by the poets renewed energy and lively tongue. I approached him, I noticed a half-empty snifter of brandy resting by his elbow. Thomas also had a snifter, which incited in me a small fit of laughter.
I added playfully, Ah, drinking and gambling again, I see.
Thomas assured me they had just opened the brandy and that he was simply abiding by our honored guests wishes to allow him a chance to recover some of his incurred debt. Lewis appeared shortly thereafter, and soon the four of us surrounded the big oak table, each with his chosen liquor by his side, indulging in five-card stud. We used matchsticks to represent currency, and judging by the proud poets lack of initial kindling, I didnt expect the game to last long.
Much to our surprise and dismay, however, the mad captive seemed either to be a remarkable card counter or have an exceedingly lucky streak. After about thirty minutes, it seemed like Lewis had increased his matchsticks slightly, while Thomas and I had taken significant losses. Eddie enjoyed the greatest winnings. We then took a short break to replenish our drinks and stretch. The Southerner sat calmly with a slight grin on his face as he counted his matchsticks.
Suddenly, a violent clap of thunder shook the room. With this, the subdued poet sprang to his feet and darted to the window where he stared out intently. Thomas cautioned him to calm himself, while Lewis chuckled and poured himself a glass of burgundy. At this juncture, Thomas surreptitiously motioned to us, then whispered his plan to allow Pitiful Eddie to imbibe heartily of the spirits, since he would certainly lose his senses and, consequently, his luck at poker.
We agreed and resumed the game. Eddie continued to stare out the window at the now-roaring storm, and it took a near-scream from Lewis to awaken him from his trance. He turned and immediately began ranting about the daughter Electra of the Pleiades constellation before he looked into our eyes, shrugged as if to say never mind, and returned to the table. Thomas made certain the neurotic poet had a full snifter of brandy while Lewis dealt the next hand.
The tide of the game changed quickly. Pitiful Eddie began to lose; his earlier abilities dissipated swiftly while the alcohol worked its magic. The looseness of his tongue increased in proportion to the decline of his reasoning abilities. He started babbling in a disjointed manner on topic of astronomy, while becoming increasingly abrasive.
After a short time, Thomas took a break to replenish our snifters. He returned to deal a few more hands, and when he just barely nipped the deranged, alcoholic poet with a higher two-pair scenario, mad Eddie flung his cards on the table and dove at Thomas, taking him to the floor in a frenzy. As he shrieked about cheating, Lewis and I pulled him away. Again, we had no choice but to return him to the cellar, shackled and forcibly subdued.
When we returned upstairs, Thomas said our time was running short and that we should escalate the stakes of our revenge. He said we had been too kind—the true nature of the poet was only revealed under the influence of alcohol and we needed to make certain he wouldnt attempt anything against us once we returned him to Baltimore. The only way to do this, Thomas continued, is to show him we have total power and that we could kidnap him again, if necessary. We also had as our ally his well-known mental instability, which would assist us if he revealed the truth of this long, lost weekend. People simply would not believe him.
With these thoughts in mind, we confidently retired to our rooms. I cant believe Im still scribbling some two hours later. The storm has ceased and only silence remains. I now realize how tired I am and will retire to dream about the morrow.
This cloudy morning began as most had during this sabbatical; the three of us drinking hot coffee, eating scones, and discussing what events to consider for the day. We left our prisoner in the cellar for some time while we relaxed. I spent time brushing my clothing and organizing my belongings.
Once we had gathered our collective wits and prepared for the day, we descended the staircase to rouse the shackled madman. I grew dismayed when we came upon him. He was still unconscious, slouched and looking tattered in his now-ragged clothing, his face inordinately pale with deep-gray circles surrounding the eyes and wild, matted hair springing from his cranium. I actually pitied the wretch, and suddenly realized my feelings for him varied from pity to loathing based exclusively upon whether he was drunk or sober.
We roused him and assisted him up the stairs. He was in that limbo state, characterized by the irrational mumblings and glazed look. We helped him with a hot bath, some strong native tea, and a solid country breakfast, and after nearly an hour, he began to come around. I could tell he was still angry about last evening, as he was more sarcastic and combative than usual for a sober state of mind.
He became even more piqued when Thomas entered the dining area in an authentic court-jester costume. I cant believe you went to the trouble to acquire clothing from characters in my stories, and although I admire your ingenuity, I must say, you gentlemen are a desperate bunch.
I smiled as Thomas pranced proudly about the room.
Then, the disturbed poet made an unusual proposition. Suppose I challenge one or all of you gentlemen to a competition—maybe an athletic one—and if I win, you immediately see that Im safely returned to Baltimore.
And if we win? interjected Thomas.
The poet hesitated. I truly dont consider that much of a possibility, although, if your company wins, I will promise to never again write one unkind word about any of you so long as I live.
Lewis sarcastically replied something to the effect that his word was useless. At this, the poet lunged at Lewis and grabbed him by the throat. Thomas and I immediately pulled him off.
The madman yelled, Im sorry, I just lost my head for a moment, forgive me. After he calmed somewhat, we freed him. Ill have you know, gentlemen, that I am many things, and perhaps have many faults as a man, but I do not, and have never, gone back on my word. My word is a covenant that I always keep.
Thomas interjected that we would not again question his word, then suggested we get comfortable while we discussed the nature of the competition.
Lewis brewed some Brazilian roast and we were silently sipping when the poet began speaking. I will challenge any of thee to a broad-jump contest, or maybe some distance swimming if the water isnt too cold. We could even indulge in fisticuffs, if you prefer, but I will compete only with one of you per competition to keep things fair. Again, if I win the event or the majority of the events, I will be immediately returned to Baltimore.
And if we win, Lewis reiterated, you will never slander any of us again.
While Lewis began scanning books on a shelf, I considered the emotional imbalance of our captive and how he had no ability to hide his anger, an emotion he stored in abundance. After a bit more verbal jousting between Thomas and the mad one, I assured Eddie we would accept his challenge. Thomas told him we would not keep him long after the competition as the weekends main goals had been achieved. Lively discussions continued, and before long, all had agreed that Thomas and Eddie would first compete in a broad-jump contest. Both contestants considered themselves to be talented in this event, but as I knew Thomas to be a fine athlete, I saw no way Pitiful Eddie could compete with him.
We ventured out into the overcast, breezy, but mild day. An old horseshoe pit in the side yard beyond the garden made for a perfect landing pit. We cleared a path and found an old battered piece of rug to use as a launching pad. We then clamped to the ground the four corners with sharp splinters of firewood. Lewis and I took our stations as judges while the competitors loosened up and removed all unnecessary clothing.
Thomas went first. He took off, bounding with long strides and a serious grimace. He cleanly hit the secured rug and stretched out for a fine jump. Lewis used a yardstick to measure the jump at a respectable 18½ feet.
Next came the crazy Southerner, who had been jogging around and doing calisthenics. He had rolled up his baggy pants and removed his shoes. I thought that a bit dangerous in this open field, but said nothing. He took off like an enraged bat in a belfry. After he had sprinted about 25 yards, Thomas, Lewis, and I all looked at each other, shocked at his remarkable speed. He then sprang catlike and crash-landed a jump that Lewis measured at well over 20 feet.
We all couldnt help but break into a round of applause as he jogged about in triumph and scolded us for challenging his athletic ability. Thomas immediately conceded the event, admitting he couldnt surpass the poets mark, regardless of his number of attempts. Pitiful—but admittedly fast—Eddie asked us to keep our word and return him to Baltimore, this time mentioning that his luggage was missing and that he had an appointment to keep with a spinsterly matron. Lewis stated that the contest consisted of several events and that it wasnt over yet. Though peeved, Eddie reluctantly accepted. One of my few athletic skills was that of archery, so I volunteered to challenge in that event.
Of course, Thomas had all the necessary equipment—to say he was well-prepared was an enormous understatement—so after a brief recess for beverages, we commenced event number two. Thomas had nailed a target to a tree behind the cottage. I had my sturdy English bow and Thomas had a modern American version, which he allowed Eddie to use. As Thomas and Lewis sat amusing themselves, the pitiful one and I had quite a competitive contest. After a solid hour of firing, I had triumphed by the narrowest of margins. Pitiful Eddie claimed to have not used a bow since youth. If this were true, he certainly had a large measure of natural talent which one would never guess by observing him. After this, we began discussing the final contest, each of us sharing wild ideas. Eddie, however, was sprawled on the turf, looking dejected and weary in his ill-fitting clothes.
Thomas made an odd, but intriguing, suggestion. He motioned to the horizontal Eddie and declared that he had learned his lesson, although we had probably made it far too fun for him.
To this, Pitiful Eddie rejoined, Its been sheer agony. Please release me.
Thomas quickly responded, We certainly will, my honored guest, after one more trifle of an adventure. He pointed to the heavens, alerted us to the warming trend, and said he could arrange for us to rent a schooner at Lake Montebello for a delightful afternoon of sailing. Eddie reacted angrily, but Thomas calmed him, speaking of the great enjoyment the event would bring and recommitting to Eddies swift return to Baltimore once the ride was complete.
We returned to the cottage to prepare for this special event. Lewis reminded us to bundle up as the temperature was always 20 degrees cooler on the water, even discounting the wind. Thomas then offered some of his rather large clothing to the pitiful one, who grudgingly accepted. As he changed, he transferred a small key to his new outfit, perhaps the key to the supposedly missing trunk?
As we made to leave, the Southerner looked comical, bundled from top hat to worn boots with slightly tattered, bulky, brown clothing. Thomas apologized, saying that was the only outfit he had left to lend.
This certainly isnt the Southern gentleman poet who always dresses in black, is it? remarked Lewis, as the three of us broke into laughter while Eddie scowled.
Thomas hooked the horses to an old carriage, and within minutes, we were travelling toward Lake Montebello, not far from the Chesapeake Bay. The ride was somber as we did little speaking, engrossed in our solitary thoughts. The pitiful one was especially silent, even morose, as he sat crumpled near the window, staring out and sometimes mumbling to himself. The weather remained balmy and only a few clouds hovered above, although the wind increased. We arrived mid-afternoon, and after some assistance from the dock hand, we were soon floating gently on the pristine waters of the beautiful lake.
Lewis displayed his considerable boating experience by manipulating the mast with great skill. We all assisted, with the exception of Eddie, who laid serenely at the bow, staring at the water in deep meditation. The rest of us had a splendid time, laughing, eating, and drinking, as, of course, we had prepared a wonderful picnic basket.
Soon, Lewis suggested we rile the pitiful one, since this was the grand finale. When I inquired as to how, Lewis merely bent over and grabbed from the supply basket a large bottle of tawny port, smiled wickedly, and lifted it overhead as if in a benediction. Thomas and I immediately nodded in agreement. As Lewis uncorked the bottle and stepped toward the bow, a huge gale arose and violently pounded the sails. I looked to the sky and noticed the approach of large thunderheads. After re-securing the sails, Lewis approached the spellbound one and offered him a drink. He refused and mumbled something about a spiraling vortex. Lewis turned back toward the mast.
Before anyone had time for another drink or bite of food, a brutal tempest rose from the horizon, forcing us to vigorously prepare the sails. I have never witnessed such a swift appearance of so brutal a storm, like a sudden bolt of lightning from above. When the violence struck, the mad Southerner reawakened and came to assist us. We all whipped sails and moved cargo, vainly attempting to steady the rocking boat. The rain came in torrents and this new situation changed our captives attitude, for I witnessed him sprinting to the swaying trunk, grabbing a bottle, and taking a long, gulping swig of cognac. It was to be one of several he imbibed over the next couple of hours as we all frantically fought the elements.
Pitiful Eddie was a great help for perhaps the first 30 minutes of the storm, but thereafter became useless, as he seemed to have finally lost the little bit of rational mind he had left. He began running from bow to stern, screaming and sometimes diving on the vessel floor while water doused him, occasionally choking violently as he cleared his lungs. He screamed crazy, disjointed phrases, and the only word I thought I heard repeatedly was the name Reynolds.
Finally, as miraculously as it came, the storm retreated. After what seemed like days, we reached the docks, where the workers graciously assisted us to shore. We staggered off the vessel, wet and exhausted. Lewis and I were forced to assist Pitiful Eddie, for he was again in his comatose state. We realized we hadnt the energy to return to the cottage, so instead found the nearest inn and quickly retired for the evening. We had to undress Eddie and lie him on his mattress. Within minutes, Ill wager, each of us was asleep.
I rose fairly early to a bright day and have now spent the past two hours updating this rambling diary. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother. I suppose, and truly hope, that no one else reads it; maybe it satisfies some subconscious need—who knows? I now hear some stirring from the others. Perhaps it is time to rouse a crazy poet.
Thomas and Lewis both concurred that they had not slept that soundly in years. They said they had felt like dead men. I agreed. Thomas went for coffee in the hotel lobby and I went to check on our poor captive. I was disheartened to find him curled in a corner, naked.
He seemed to be in the same state as the previous evening, still talking about a Reynolds and how he needed to be saved. I helped him up and assisted him into Thomass old clothes—though badly tattered and soiled, they had at least dried overnight. I also couldnt help but notice that Eddies skin was as hot as a furnace. Yes, I thought, our revenge was complete, yet actually hoped he would recover his physical condition, since he seemed in a sickly state.
After I had dressed him, I joined the others for some nourishment. The three of us discussed future plans and decided it was time to return the pitiful one from whence he came. We had our carriage drawn, paid our fees, and began the sojourn back to Baltimore. As we rambled down the road, I placed Eddies trusty gold-plated cane in his palm and his prized little key that had fallen earlier from his topcoat, into his pocket.
I wondered about his strange trances and how long they had been occurring, but I tried not to feel sorry for him. We soon arrived at the rear of the old Bradshaw Hotel and Lewis helped out the mad one, leaning him against the side of the building. We quickly rallied the horses and galloped away, and as I looked back, I saw Pitiful Eddie staggering toward Lombard Street.....
Okay, Mom, Ill be down in a minute.
Justin put the diary back in the trunk, stood, and stretched. He couldnt believe how long he had been up here reading his great-great-grandfathers diary, but even more so, he couldnt believe what he had discovered. As he walked down the steep, wooden attic steps, he thought, Good Lord, Ive read the stories. Ive heard the history. I know the subject of those lost five days over a hundred years ago. I may, in fact, be the only one in the world who knows the real truth. What should I do? Should I tell anyone?
As he sat down to dinner, he looked at his mom, but his mind was elsewhere. No one would ever believe this without proof, he thought, as those last days were stranger than any fiction, before the terribly tragic death of the late, great Edgar Allan Poe.