What you have heard, thus far, can only be unharmonious recollections and rumors. Trust neither. They will emerge as a confluence of interests. Your mother will tell you heroic fables. Through the inadvertent devices of your father and the thrones and shepherd’s crooks he venerates, you will have heard slander. I am fond of your father, but we agree only on the point the other is misguided. His echoes of slanders will be free of thorns as he will wish to excuse me of malice if not of error.
Heroism and a muffled villainy are the notions left for you to build me. An old song of dual natures will confront you. Considering many motives is imposing and often left aside. Imagining the world in some likeness of its actual complexity is a daunting, exhausting, endeavor.
I would ask you to consider undertaking this endeavor as a more likely avenue through which to understand my purposes. Let me assure you, I was neither continually heroic nor villainous, and in climactic flashes, I was both. Forget those old tales, and consider what I write here with fresh, sharp, eyes.
You may know I was born on Ginnesbrooke (now called Shuttley), one of the island colonies, just commandeered from our ancient foe at the time of my birth, in the mysterious Novus Mundi. My father was a merchant. He was not a merchant as depicted in heroic fables. He did not export exotic spices, slaves, or gold, meeting alien peoples, and fighting pirates with sword and muskets. His charter included hemp for paper, rope and linens as well as cane sugar and fruits. He disliked sailing and journeying. He was a sedentary man, though made strong and straight. His adventures were restrained to a dim, small office and desk. He was always the hub in a nest of papers and books. He was a coin man with little imagination and less good humor. He was very stern, taciturn, and as I recall he wore a perpetual frown. I must confess I cannot recall much about his manner or behavior, just the atmosphere in his presence. I was too young to understand any causes for his frown. From this vantage, I can relate he planned for me to follow designs, to become a credit to my family name and our place but as with many plans his were tattered and made worthless.
My mother was proud and vain, both in my memory and from the descriptions of others who recalled her. She was young and considered beautiful for her time. I have few likenesses of her left, but as a boy the main house was a temple of paintings in her homage. As I understand her history, she was the favorite daughter of wealthy yeomen and treated accordingly. Her marriage to my father was arranged for influence both through progeny and land acquisition. In those times, and even now, I suppose, plague was the gamblers tool for advancement. It was not hoped but supposed, a certain quantity of family would be lost, and it would be wise to benefit from their losses. Thus, lands could fall to the inheriting families of properly assigned unions.
I recall many things about my mother. I recall the small things I said to her as a young child, but I recall little of her replies, or her embraces, or anything beautiful. Motherhood is such a fond subject today. Mothers are graces, so they say, but I can’t pull any gracious memories from my childhood regarding my mother. She was another person passing before my eyes, in some ways uninteresting and in others I recall her with a tinge of urgency.
My parents were married with solemn ceremonies and with God as witness, but there was little affection evident. The cult of love was left in the hinterlands and small houses. Love in marriage among the families and societies wasn’t accepted by many persons, it still isn’t, contrary to many rumors. I have often suspected that my father loved my mother and that his love was unrequited, I considered this as being the cause of his demeanor, but this is a speculation. Perhaps he was a bitter, frustrated, man, perhaps he was natively dour.
My mother had little to do with me after my birth. She was ill prepared to be a mother. Certain woman should not be mothers. As I am sure you are aware children are a messy, runny, loud, business. This has never been a suitable situation for women whose attentions must remain on perfectly painted faces, artful hair sculpting and perfect dress. “Upkeep” was how it was discussed, as if old gardens or manner houses in danger of falling into dilapidation if not diligently attended. My mother was not a woman with fortitude and wisdom. She was equally lacking in patience and tolerance as I remember. Many nursemaids and nannies were assigned to attend to my needs.
Though I should like to state otherwise, I was not an overly bold child. I was not a hero springing toward manhood. My father’s glares terrified me, my nannies bullied me mercilessly, and my mother ignored me or conversely, found me a nuisance. I recall in a very darkly tinged and indistinct memory, maybe it didn’t happen it is so unclear, that I told my mother she was very pretty and she snapped angrily at me and caused me to cry. She screamed for my nannies to get me away from her. In this memory my nannies are the only clear images and their shocked, frightened, faces seem to say much to me now. What a strange time it was then. It seems so indistinct. It is a time of slowly waking into being. I recall this as though imagining the events of a familiar but fictitious story, and certainly not as my own tale. How strange memory is.
I clearly recall toys were forbidden me. It is often imagined of children that they sit in gentle reveries knocking painted wooden toys about, singing or laughing. Fanciful images of costumed, joyful, children, embracing dogs, singing while herding sheep, stare at me from these walls as I write. I had no part in this. My earliest memories are drudging hours of lessons. How I hated it. My father had planned that I should be honed for business. I was an adequate student but I recall little of what I learned then. Some men are very silly and imagine their sons will repair their own disappointments, or amend their own disadvantages, and believing this enforce habits on their sons that damage and create disadvantage. With the tiresome instruction I was given, I was also made to follow strict training of my body. My father could read and this reading included descriptions from ancient men regarding their perfect societies, and the strength of their perfect bodies. My father thought it important to have me perfected. Likewise, he thought a robust, strong, boy would be welcomed in academy. Arrangements had been made to send me to academy when I became the age of five. Academies were subtly different in purpose then. Their concerns were both preservation of traditional philosophy among aristocrats (or paying yeomen), and introduction of newer discoveries by natural philosophers. We were not the industrious men produced from academies as today. The traditional titles and snobbery still exist today, but its application is mercantile. The characters and oppressions of academies will continue immutably regardless of party rule, or family ascension, but the purposes of academies change with the weather vane.
Academy would have to wait. An unfortunate occurrence on damp, temperate, islands is the rapid spread of pestilence and black humors. Malady feeds on warmth. Late in the year, before I was to leave for academy the colonies were ravaged by a great dying. The ships delivering the news to our island delivered the agent of death as well. Infected men, animals and goods quickly dispersed among the crowds and death seeped through the shadows and the cracks. As soon as the word reached my father I was hastily gathered and placed on a ship heading for a place I had not yet seen, Home. I don’t recall much more of this time except a sight from the ship as I departed: the bonfires had begun. Near the dock many bulging, stained, shrouds were burning among improvised winding cloths including carpets rolls, beds, and skins.
One of my nursemaids was sent to tend to me. She was a taut, squinting, sneering, roaring, young woman. Her red hair was always straggling around her head in a wiry crown. Her clothes never varied from somber gray. This made her ruddy complexion stand out like a great soreness, or like she had been abraded until intolerably chapped. Her disposition matched her appearance. She was given pay and instructions for when we achieved our destination. I know this because she repeated this often, as though it were direct authority from a great magistrate giving her license for anything. She would volunteer this information at every opportunity.
I have no recollections of our voyage in length or of weather. It seemed long as does any unfamiliar voyage or new road.
It is my understanding a currier vessel sped to the port town of Huan with news of our impending arrival, as well as confirmation of general good health. Messages were eventually sent back to the surviving families regarding our welfare and requesting further instruction for the newly orphaned, widowed or destitute.
As I later learned, Huan was spared the suffering of the people of Ginnesbrooke. There Death was sweeping. Many souls were lost especially among the native men. Both my parents suffered it. It was unusual that both survived. The plague did not touch my mother without leaving its imprint. She began to behave very strangely. As I have been informed, the changes were subtle, at first, but very rapidly she declined. She was “touched”, the savages said. Her up keep and “eyes” consumed her every free thought. She would sit for hours applying paint until it was cracked and flaking over her face. Her graceful stances were carried out in extremity. And not long following this every mood and action became expansive and exaggerated. She became like an animal that yowled, and begged and roared, scratched, and played. This brought her great respect among the savages who worked the house, and they believed she was moved by a favorite Goddess or demon, but my father was disgraced.
I did not despise my parents, as I hope is clear. I do not suspect they were deliberately malicious or carelessly cruel, and I do not look at their misfortune without pity. I cannot reply to any meanness. How could I, so long after, try to distinguish petty meanness, or folly seen by a child? I don’t want it to appear I have thoughts of some justice in their sorrows. I cannot judge the adult world in which they lived, I can guess the subtleties that pressed them, but those guesses would be aloof. The distance between this dying man and that child are too great to clearly determine with any justice. I can write, when a child they were my world; separation from them was terrible. It is a child's nightmare to be apart from the family that rears them, regardless of how cruel the family may seem to others, or even themselves. I can imagine they saw me as a lazy, selfish, brat, and yet I clearly recall my father looked in pain as he saw me off. I was his burden and also his son, which idea of me he dreaded to lose I cannot discern. Preference seems as a pendulum.
From Huan we voyaged “Home”. What this was, in opposition to what I considered my place to live, was mysterious. I was shipboard for several weeks, but I remember little of this. I remember little at all of the following months of change. The confusion I felt still disturbs me upon intense reflection, though I could not say anything terrible or alarming occurred.
Upon arrival in an unfamiliar port city, on a gloomy dark day, my nurse and I disembarked onto Home. We were met by my new guardian, my Uncle Uzziah. He was my father's brother. Uzziah was ten years older than my father, but in no way you could discern. He was more robust, active and lively. He had a loudness that could be seen. He smiled often and this was not an indulgence taken by my father.
Uncle Uzziah was a witty, humorous man, of a keen intelligence. "Smarter than God" I once heard a man in a carnival mask declare. He and my father bore little resemblance to one another. This does not indicate a black mark against my father. Uzziah was the First Born son, and favored. He did not squander this advantage. However, I would be hesitant to write the differences between the two were due to circumstance alone. Uzziah was a rare man.
He met us on the pier as we descended the gangplank. He was very tall and his posture was leaning. He squinted over a crooked, pursed, smile as my nanny dragged me by the right arm. I can clearly recall she often tugged and pulled by that arm.
My uncle gazed down at me with a benign, somewhat reserved, smile. I was shy and attempted to hide behind my nanny. She dragged me from behind her and aimed me, with little gentleness, at my uncle. My memory informs me of his curious glance at her slightly disguised rage. He stared in puzzlement, perhaps considering that I was a bad child, or perhaps he judged her. It was a stare indicating more puzzlement than condemnation. He looked back and forth at us as we stood in presentation before him. After crossing the space between us he crouched to my eye level and brought a wooden toy from his pocket. It was a toy shaped in the likeness of a savage man of my former home. Its features were exaggerated to appear clownish. The toy man stood hovering above a toy drum, and from beneath the aborigine there hung a string at whose end hung a wooden weight. When the wooden weight was made to swing, the aborigine's arms would tap the drum. He offered the toy to me.
He said, "A gift for your arrival. Perhaps this small bribe will earn me some favor." He smiled widely. I reached for the toy with uncertain hands. My nanny was unused to this indulgence being spent on me, as my father was in favor of discipline, and restriction. She was used to having power and charge in a world of servants.
She grabbed me by the wrists and spun me to face her. She leaned over me, her face ruddy in rage. What she yelled at me I cannot recall, but what she said and she faced my uncle is very clear to me. "I have been given charge of this boy to make certain his days away from his parents are not spent in idleness! I was given warning of you by my master. He gave me instructions to disallow any..." My uncle strode forward until he was barely a thumb’s width from her. He stared into her eyes for some short while waiting for the violence of his presence to bring her to stillness. When he finally spoke it was even and low. “To whom are you speaking in such a tone? You are in the presence of an unfriendly master, and someone in such a predicament would do best to keep her silence." She was stimmied, and as happens with many persons under threat she sought to redirect his burdensome presence to one still weaker, and I was the nearest candidate. She jerked me by the arm, "You stupid boy! Take the master’s toy and be quick, and respectful!"
The look she gave me was a familiar one, it spoke in silences: "You will be paid back for this!" or some equal threat.
Around us a small crowd of interested persons were watching the small event as it unfolded. I don't believe they were expecting what came next. As she had grabbed my arms by the wrists, so my uncle grabbed hers. He held both her wrists in one hand. She struggled little in utter bewilderment. With his free hand my Uncle grabbed the nurse's bonnet and pulled it over her face. He then spun her, gave her a small shove, and kicked her squarely on the posterior. The crowd drew closer laughing and chirping sounds of approval. The kick was not hard but a gesture. Though she stumbled away, she did not fall. As she recovered her balance it was clear she was deeply injured, though her limbs were intact. Humiliation was a terrible and deep wound for her and she cowered beneath it.
People alone are shabby, but crowds are worse. They howled and laughed. Uncle Uzziah stood apart from her pointing his finger like a condemning prophet. "Gather yourself and your things, I have no use for you." He reached into his vest pocket and produced a card. He tossed the card to the sobbing woman who was my nanny. "Contact this man, he will make arrangements concerning your wages and your return to your master."
My uncle took me firmly but gently by the hand and led me away to his waiting coach. His attendants spread out around us, gathering our few goods, and when packed on the coach, we departed. She was gone and lost to my further knowledge forever.
This moment stands out starkly in my young memories. Understand, I did not turn my back on my nurse in with indignation; I didn't set about a new freedom giggling and without care. I felt very sorry for her; I sobbed as she sobbed. It is true I never liked her. I felt as one always feels in the presence of a petty tormentor: discomfort, intimidation, contempt, but at the same time I pitied her, I felt sorrow for her sufferings, I wished the events hadn't occurred to send her from me. Perhaps my uncle reckoned something of this as I wept. He said to me, "Be still, nephew, calm yourself. She will be well enough, she is unharmed.” We were silent in the coach for a long while before he spoke again. “Let this come as a new kind of lesson: Everything is changing. Nothing is certain. The world behind you is gone forever; tomorrow is full of worries. But you are safe for now. That is the nature of every good moment, it is surrounded by hardship. Relief comes at hard cost in some way or another. Weep if you need, but not for too long, only as long as your losses merit.”
I spent the next four years with my Uncle, and we became very close. He was tirelessly curious, and this condition is contagious. His home was filled with thousands of books, paintings, manuscripts written in old tongues, charts, diagrams, musical instruments, lenses of many shades for experiments with optics, extensive gardens and a hot-house. His acquisition of knowledge was tremendous but effortless. His enthusiasm for questions and storytelling was stirring and compulsive. I loved my Uncle. In many ways, throughout my life, I wished to follow his path but I did not succeed in any measure.
For my family on Ginnesbrooke, daily life orbited my mother. My father had sent many letters to my Uncle, and after two years requested my absence from the family become a permanent situation. I still possess these letters but as a child I secretly read them while my uncle was occupied. Admittedly, much of the content was beyond my tiny skills as a reader, but the sense of it was clear enough. The sneaky act of reading my uncles mail, paired with my Uncle’s attempt to soften the awkward situation by overly stating his idea to keep me, made my situation clear.
As described in the letters, my mother had slipped from peculiarity into disgrace. She had conceived a child through disgraces with one of the native men. What became of the child or the father I have never learned. I have left these letters to you with a substantial endowment should you endeavor to discover what has come of my sibling and, doubtless, further descendants of that union. I leave it to you whether you will accept this adventure.
My mother was a madwoman. My father sent her back to her family's estates where she was kept hidden away in a chamber for many years.
Innocently unaware of these events I was quite happy living with Uzziah in his amazing home. He wrote several letters to my father reporting my progress. My entrance to the halls of academy was held off. Uncle Uzziah was a fine teacher and we undertook several subjects: history, grammar, mythology, music, vocal tonics, acoustics, theatre, art, and some philosophy. Uzziah was very much opposed to my entrance in academy at a young age. As he often lamented, "They are prisons for the cruel and unsubtle. They are the dens of predators, who victimize and pollute everyone they encounter." He assured me, as he taught me to fight, that violence is an excellent device when used at a proper moment.
When I did enter into my education I was eight. Due to my Uncle's instruction I was a very good student. But I was sent away to academy and over the next several years I saw my uncle infrequently. He would occasionally visit me on free days such as the Sabbath, or the end of a session. He was a prolific writer and my education was very much enhanced by the post. His influence on me was a good armor against the “pollutions” he mentioned, but incomplete. I can claim a sneering sense of my own importance after a time.
On those occasions when I did visit him, strangeness always greeted me. On one occasion I arrived at the great house by carriage, and Uzziah awaited me. He was masked and he insisted I wear a mask and say nothing. As we approached the house on foot I heard several voices as at a party. When I entered there were several dozen masked persons, puzzling over diagrams and geometries. I mingled with them, a boy slipping as a shadow among babbling demon faced adults. Their conversations were heavily toned with intrigues, secrets, forbidden words. My Uncle took me aside after a time. He spoke to me privately in a corner. I remember his mask with pristine clarity; it was a black laughing bird face with a sun and a moon drawn on each cheek. It bobbed when he spoke. "Do you wish to know the meaning of this, Adam? Do you feel drawn to these persons? Do you sense something of difference here?"
I responded slowly watching the men and women puzzle, argue, whisper, and conspire. My answer was as honest as I could contrive: “They are frightening Uncle, they are hiding things, speaking in codes, they are lying. But there is something exciting, and though I fear them I wish I knew them, I wish they would speak and lie to me so that I could overcome them." My Uncle regarded me a while, his eyes searching. "That is an interesting answer. Perhaps a terrible answer. Consider, Adam, that sometimes a lie is a matter of time, a prediction or a map. A lie today is a truth tomorrow. The substance of lies can be made real. A lie is difficult to tell with any coherence or consistency. If it has those qualities, the dominant property looks a great deal like the truth. It may be that these lies are unnoticed or novel- overlooked-truths. They are contending to have the dominating lie. Do you want to be a part of that?"
There were many of these secret gatherings. Each sodden with a quality of sanctity. In the elaborate rituals he and his guests undertook, there seemed something drawn from the divine. This is inconsistent with my Uncle's opinions, as I understand them. He hated religion he was without God. I am aware of several treatises he wrote and published condemning the ecclesiastical authorities. This has always been dangerous, perhaps somewhat less so then, but he must have had some clear influence in some powerful to be unpunished and so free spoken.