Now it is very late and quiet, and I am given the opportunity to set down the account that has been, lately, weighing on my mind so much. I feel the need to write in secret, when all are asleep, when everything is still. I need to concentrate, not only for the sake of clarity as much of this is long past, but I wish to bring it all forth again. I will try to step into my memories and live them again, for my own pleasure. With so much flickering out, so much of my life spent, I need something back. Therefore, this dark empty night will be filled with reminiscences.
This account will be a souvenir the next time it is unsealed. If all has come to pass as I have wished, this manuscript has been delivered with several other documents to Master Robert Liventon, upon his coming of age, and acquisition of his inheritance from his Grandfather, myself, Master Adam Liventon.
If another pair of eyes are passing over these pages, it has come to pass that my grandchild has perished prior to his coming of age. In which case, I have entrusted this writing to the care of a gentleman to be unnamed here, and he will have delivered this account to whomever he deems fit to read it. In the meantime, I will continue under the assumption my heir is in possession of this manuscript.
To you, Robert, my death is history, for me it is a looming weight. I sit writing with trembling old hands at a desk. I saw you only a few hours ago, and I know you sleep soundly in a bed chamber above where I now write. What you cannot know is that between the last sentence and this, I looked in at you again. It is difficult to imagine you as a young man, and so it is difficult to address you as a fellow and peer. You are an infant to me, and so I will leave your company.
At the time of this writing I am dying, which may be understood in some sense from what I have written above, but I think it best to be clear, because in what is to come death is all but clear.
It is bitter to leave you so soon after our first meeting, and it is a great regret I will have so little of you. Cruelly, I cannot be comforted by the notion that you will remember me with any love, as you have not come to know me. We are strangers, you and I. I would not have that so. It is a great loss to me, that in death I will lose you, but perhaps in some way, if you desire, you can still know me in some manner. So I will tell you a story. It is not my story, though I am a character in the story, and the story will begin with me. It is a story of adventure and magic. It is a story of the rare and hidden parts of this old monstrous world. It is the story of Captain Monroe.
It may be best, though it is left to your discretion, to keep what is to follow close to the breast, as it is a dangerous story. It is not ended, and its influence is still lurking with great force beneath the still surface of what seem little events. There are open ears waiting to hear hints and news, should you tell recklessly, and then you may find yourself in great peril.
I hope you are the kind of fellow who does not keep things close to the breast, or accept warnings from old dead men.
I will proceed with my end, your beginning. I am unrecognizable as the man I was in my strength. My skin is old and slack. It has a gossamer transparency which has become familiar, though still intolerable, and it makes me think I am far closer to a ghost than a man. Or the man I was, I should write. My once proud scars, my keepsakes, are pale and becoming lost. How can this be, when they were so difficult to win? I thought they, at least, would remain. I am become a tattered old coat.
Everyone who comes calling sees this dilapidated husk of a man. They do not know what happened. Defying this, I still recall I was a strong, alert, and vigorous. The betrayal of my limbs is difficult, the creeping weakness is awful, but I am not dead yet, and I still recall. I recall other days when the skies roared with fire and poured down ash, and for a brief moment the world turned its gaze on me. Deeds were done, the world was shifting and I saw one of its pivots, I acted with its greatest men, perhaps its greatest man, though he is its most damned. This sounds like bragging, but read on.
I marvel in despair how so many moments have vanished. I no longer know anyone in this world as I knew my peers. They are gone: dead. Except perhaps one, but he cannot be counted. He wasn’t ever alive, I think. I feel as the last man on earth, for what I take to my grave will not pass again. It was our time, and I am the last to know it. It cannot become tradition, it cannot be bequeathed. Perhaps it can be something greater still, with you and your time, I cannot say, but it will not ever be again as it was.
I think ahead to what will be left to you, and who you will have grown to be. I hope that you are a good man. Or perhaps I do not hope that. All men have hours when they shine, when they are golden, and all men have moments when they are dark, and without merit. You will not escape this, even if you attempt every moment to outrun the harms you will create, even if you are ever pious. The world will assemble snares you cannot know until blood is on your hands. If I can wish a virtue upon you, let it be the virtue of bravery. I hope you are a rival for the time you live.
You have grown to be a man without the assistance of your grandfather. This suggests many things to me. It is my suspicion you have been reared in a setting of ordinary men. This is the way of your father. He is a kind and gentle man, I’m sure you hold him in high affection as do I, yet he is narrow of vision and simple in his beliefs. Of the bravery I mentioned he has none, though he is charming and decent. However, his decency is in many ways constrained by his fear and passivity. He reckons other men his betters and envies them. Many ordinary men have navigated the course before him. This course is free of obstacles, discoveries, and dire tests. The first man to make the road is the only man who will ever use it; the rest will be his shadow. It is your father’s good fortune he has only known set courses, old paths, he would be mortified to know that the paths are the intruders not the surrounding wilderness.
At this early date, just months after your birth, he has made arrangements for your education and your career. Unfortunately, he knows very little of the institutions where he wishes you sent. He knows nothing of their vulgarity, separation, or petty vanities. He does not imagine their efforts are devoted to quiet crimes. Those caretakers, to whom you will be delivered, may tell you stories, rumors, of your grandfather and his companions; do not believe these stories. I have heard them upon their generation and watched them evolve over these many years.
When first introduced, the tales told were exaggerations but more morbid hints and whispers polluted the exaggerations, transmuted them to lies. I can guess how they have transformed to fit your ears. Likely, as I have heard before, I am called the Devil, himself. And perhaps this is not the worst epithet. Do not let these men bend your ear further, their world is small and their echoes excessively please them.
From your mother, I believe, you will have a different account of your grandfather. She will have done much to inform you of adventure and dreams. She will have told you stories as well. Stories I told her. Your mother is my only daughter, upon whom I have long doted and indulged. I love her dearly. So perhaps you will forgive me when I confess the tales I told her were not complete, and were often told in a way that offered a heroic bias to my part in them. I was not the hero she dreams. I allowed her to believe the tales she heard in my favor. I too wished they were true. They are true, for what little they tell, but I’m sure you have suspicions about the truth, and tales. Anything told will not be complete; only portions can be meted out. Those portions are usually favorable to the measurer. What I will write to you will give you much more of the truth than I have dared to tell so far. The previous, incomplete versions were not wholly my desire, I wished to tell more, and thought to do so many times, but this is not my story alone, and I made oaths of secrecy. As I am not the only one upon whom death has fixed his gaze, I am now free to tell the whole account