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BTW: The photo art and prose included in any given post are separate creations having nothing to do with each other. Duality and such …
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... previous verses ...
Chapter 1 - The Invention Of The Banana Daiquiri
Chapter 2 - A Fine Tune
Chapter Three (3)(III)
Island In The Clouds
Two days later Jefferson climbed part ways up the mainsail of his schooner as it cut through the St. Vincent straight and turned towards Barbados. He hadn’t needed to climb, had no reason, and maybe shouldn’t have as the ship’s captain and navigator, but he dearly wanted to. It was a perfect day to sail; clear blue sky from horizon to horizon and a fair wind coming fine on quarter propelling the Liberty to better than five knots. The bow of the sleek craft plowed only slightly as it cut through the greater swells of the deep straight, delivering a fine spray that dampened Jefferson’s face as he clung to the mainsail and peered into the expanse of the Caribbean sea. Several smaller vessels could be seen weighing anchor over his shoulder in Kingstown harbor, another one over his other shoulder out of Admiralty Bay, but nothing ahead. Liberty rode fairly high through the water, only a quarter load of Bequia sugar in his hold. He would trade that to a dealer in Bridgetown for hard goods that he would return with to sell in St. Vincent, as well as provisions for he and Lincoln, plus more goods for merchants and friends in Bequia. He would also visit Barclays to secure finances and to transmit the code that would, how he had no idea, make its way to, who he had no idea, that all was well. ‘Well’ meaning Lincoln was still safe.
Jefferson was born to the sea. Conceived in Connecticut to a Freeman, himself a partner to a shipping concern and a sailor and trader, he made his first voyage as a cabin boy on his father’s ship when he was barely six years old. By the time he was ten he had already climbed to the top of the fore mast, past the crosstrees and swung himself backwards up to the fore topgallant instead of using the lubbers’ hole, and finally up standing upon the fore royal, the men on deck far below cheering his accomplishment. He was a quick study with his math and his geometry and map reading, skilled at the sextant before he was fifteen and functioning as ship’s navigator before he was twenty. He crewed trading ships to Britain and to Europe and to the ports of the Mediterranean but to especially, especially to the Caribbean. No one in the employ of the shipping company could read the currents, the winds, the quickly changing weather as well as he. No one could recognize at first glance the scores upon scores of landings across the sea as he. No one could read the dangers and the opportunities, avoid the pitfalls, or seize the potentials. He rose to ship’s navigator, then to both navigator and first officer, then to captain. He sailed and traded with speed and efficiency, rarely setting a course that might unnecessarily extend a voyage, and almost never losing money on a transaction. Seemingly at every port, every landing, he knew what to buy or trade and where to sail on an efficient loop to sell at a profit. One year he accounted for nearly one-third of the company’s profits despite being just one of its ten ships, and not even the largest one at that. He was renowned, too, for captaining a ‘happy’ ship, one in which the best sailors desired to serve. He had only rarely and in the most extreme circumstances had a man flogged and had only once placed one in irons. When a job absolutely had to be done, the company knew he was the man to accomplish it.
So he was not surprised, upon arriving in New York with a cargo of Jamaican rum, to receive a note from the company officers instructing him to sail immediately, without taking on new cargo. What was surprising was that the note instructed him to sail to Baltimore.
Heretofore the company had kept him far away from any port that might be deemed part of ‘The South’. Freeman or not, captain or not, he would not be safe in The South.
More than once, crew had been removed from company craft in Southern ports and committed to slavery. Company officers had successfully traded for the return of most of them, sometimes after years, but only mostly. What ships went South – and the cotton trade required they send some there – kept their Freemen crew below and well-hidden at all times. But they would not risk Captain Moses Jefferson. Not once as captain had he landed at a Southern port, and Baltimore, with its ugly undercurrent of repressed succession, was just far enough South to constitute a risk.
So he sent word of when to expect him, and he hung off the mouth of Chesapeake to time his arrival for night. As he floated to his mooring in the dark, his collar high and a hat pulled down to conceal himself, a launch appeared carrying Mr. Quimby, the company’s chief officer and his father’s old friend, holding a satchel.
“Moses,” Quimby said. “We must speak privately this night.” Quimby was a portly, jolly soul, who seemed to never stop smiling, who had spent many an evening in joyous jocularity with his father, was ‘this night’ grim as a customs agent, his frown pulling his greying mutton chops further down towards his neck, his tone dark. As they moved towards the captain’s quarters Quimby told what crew was near, “More launches will be arriving after I signal and will need to be unloaded, some very carefully.” Then, in full knowledge that ship crews tended to eavesdrop, “Please allow Captain Jefferson and I privacy to talk.”
Sequestered in his quarters, Quimby placed a hand on Jefferson’s arm, looked him squarely in the eye, a pleading expression. “I must ask something of great importance of you. I would trust no one else with what I am asking. Moses, I dare say I am begging this of you, but I will not order you – I could not do such a thing to you.”
The cramped cabin was dimly lit by a small lantern. As they sat at the small wooden desk, the light cast eerie shadows across their faces that exasperated the anxiety between them. Jefferson couldn’t fathom what might be coming. His father had passed half-dozen years prior, and his mother years before that, so it couldn’t be family. He said, “Mr. Quimby, you know you can always count on me.”
“No, Moses,” Quimby held his hand tightly, “You must not say that. Not this time. Not yet. I implore you to listen carefully to what I am asking, and to consider what I am asking with heavy gravitas.”
He released Jefferson’s hand, then opened and reached into his satchel, withdrawing paper. “This is title to and complete ownership of the Liberty schooner which you now captain.”
Jefferson’s eyes went wide, an electric shock surging through his mind. Ownership! The Liberty, his!
Quimby withdrew more paper. “This is a bank draft. We’ve … that is, some friends and I … we’ve set up an account through Barclays because it is a world-wide financial institution. Almost anywhere on Earth you might sail, Barclays can be accessed at least indirectly. It is an open-ended account from which you may freely draw for whatever you need.”
“Benjamin,” the very serious Jefferson called Quimby by his first name, “This is astonishing! Who are these friends of yours?”
Quimby hesitated. “Let us just say … well, these are not so much friends as very influential people. Very wealthy and powerful. What they need done … what they have come to us to do … is very … delicate. And must be done in complete secrecy.”
“Why did they come to us?” Jefferson asked.
Quimby said, “The company has … certain connections with them. We already had a relationship.”
“And they are paying us?”
“They are paying the company a flat fee roughly equal to three times the value of the Liberty,” Quimby said, “And backing entirely this open-ended account to both accomplish the task and compensate you by whatever price you want. No questions asked.”
“Extraordinary,” Jefferson fairly gasp. A pause between the two men, then, “What is this ‘task’?”
Quimby leaned very close to him and spoke only slightly above a whisper. “Lincoln is not completely dead.”
“Wait … what?!”
“Please, Moses, quietly!”
Whispering, “What are you telling me?”
“Lincoln is still partly alive.”
“When did he die?”
“Do you not know?”
“Know what,” Jefferson began sounding exasperated, “I’ve been at sea.”
“I might have thought another passing ship …”
“I avoid other ships, especially since this war started.”
“Just so,” Quimby nodded. He had forgotten that company strategy for avoiding potential blockade runners. “An assassin shot President Lincoln in the head.”
“My God! When did this happen?”
“Ten days ago.”
“But not killed? By a shot in the head?”
Quimby said, “The assassin was a Southern sympathizer looking for vengeance, and he stepped out of the shadows while Lincoln and his wife sat in a box at a theater in Washington and pulled the trigger at the back of his head at point blank range.”
“It was a small caliber weapon, and the assassin was nervous, so the bullet simply creased the skull and tore the scalp. It bled like a river and hurt like hell, and it looked like Lincoln had been mortally wounded. Looked that way to the entire theatre. Lincoln was screaming his head off in pain. Even looked that way to the physicians at first when they got him to a room in a hotel across the street. Looked that way to his wailing, hysterical wife. But once they got her out of there and Lincoln passed out and they could have a look, just three men there at that moment, they realized what they were dealing with. And then Seward arrived. An assassin had come for him as well, with a knife, but had missed. And it was Seward who knew what to do.”
Jefferson shook his head, dazed by the news, asked, “And what did Seward know to do?”
“Wait … what?!”
“Please, Moses, quiet yourself!”
“Okay, okay. Switch what bodies?”
“Lincoln with a double. A corpse that could pass for a dead Lincoln.”
“Why, on earth?”
Quimby shook his head, “I don’t have all the particulars, know all the motivations. Apparently Seward felt he was acting in Lincoln’s best interest. Lincoln wanted to get away from his shew of a wife and out from under the burden of being president and this was the chance to do it.”
“So the President is really alright?”
“He is no longer the President. He has been declared dead and the Vice-President has been sworn in. So far as the public knows, his body is on its way to Illinois.”
“Where is it, really?”
“Coming on board this ship.”
“Wait … what?”
“He is presently unconscious – has been in and out of consciousness. He’s been carefully wrapped in a gurney and is heavily sedated and men are waiting for my signal to bring him here. If you will have him. If you will accept this task. We want you to take him somewhere he might go unnoticed to live the rest of his life, and for you to stay near to keep him safe.”
Jefferson slumped back in his chair, totally overwhelmed. His own ship; whatever salary he wanted. But at what cost? He couldn’t begin to fathom the responsibilities ahead of him. “He’s alive?” he asked for confirmation.
“Does he know what’s going on?”
Quimby said, “Some. We’re sure he understands some.”
The two men studied each other.
“We want you to carry the wounded Abraham Lincoln, once president of the United States, beyond these shores, to a location only you will know. And once there, we want you to keep him safe and his identity secret that he may live what life God will yet grant him in peace. And anonymity.”
Jefferson gaped at his friend, thoughts racing. Every ship’s creak and grown as it rocked in its moorings amplified in the silence.
“What say you, Moses?”
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Provisions for a three-month cruise were loaded on board, the Liberty’s crew cursing as they stubbed toes and jammed fingers by dim lantern light. Just before dawn, when the night was at its darkest, a lone figure in a gurney was brought up, the crew told reverently that it was a wounded Civil War veteran to be transported, and that they were all to be paid handsomely if they kept it to themselves, which, drawing on his open-ended account, Jefferson would see that they were. He was stowed in the captains’ quarters, a man posted outside to assure he remained undisturbed; that no one would enter. Quimby provided additional papers. First, a series of message codes to be left at whatever Barclays he might use, which would make its way to Quimby’s friends and communicate status. Second, copy of the contract he had signed that, Jefferson would discover, limited what he could do for that open-ended account to remain accessible to him, but he wouldn’t realize that until later.
Jefferson hunched over the body in the dark cabin and watched him sleep. Lincoln took deep, long breaths, peacefully, in and out. The bandage around his head would need to be changed, he knew. Jefferson resolved to provide all care for the man himself. Inside a bag placed behind the bed was a quantity of morphine for when Lincoln’s pain returned – Jefferson knew he would have to ween the great man from that at the earliest opportunity.
He’d already given orders to weigh anchor and move quickly out of the Chesapeake. But where then? He pondered, where to sail after that? Where could he hide this man that would not be a prison in and of itself. And then he remembered a place he’d been only once, a place out of the way and off the major trade routes, a perfect island in the clouds.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.