An Old Friend and A Vile Plot

Dear Reader, you will never, ever guess who I met on my walk yesterday! Not if I gave you twelve guesses and then told you it was someone I thought I would never see here, of all places!

It was not Miss P___ or Maggie, nor was it anyone I knew at Saint Anne's. It was not Adelaide Kynton or any of her family. No, you will never guess, so I shall tell you.

Zebediah Miller emerged from the woods at the edge of the lawn yesterday afternoon on my walk! His clothes were very dirty, more of a grey colour than the off-white they are supposed to be. There was a hole in the knee of his trousers, and one of his fingerless gloves was coming unraveled at the cuff. There were several scratches on his face, and dark circles beneath his eyes, but his posture improved when he saw me, though I noticed he still kept his left arm close to his side. Evidently the gunshot wound in his shoulder still pained him.

"Mr. Miller!" I cried, and I had to shout loudly for I was near the building, and he was many metres away. He waved with his good arm and limped toward me as I wondered what on earth had happened to him, why he was here, and how he came to be here.

I met him in the middle of the lawn, and when he was close, he held out his hand to me. I took it gladly, clasping it between both my own gloved hands. "Are you all right?" I asked. "How is your shoulder?" He nodded, though he looked pained. "My goodness, come in, please. However did you find me?"

You know, I do not know why I always ask him questions. I know he cannot answer unless there is a piece of paper before him and a pen in his hand. He can communicate somewhat through gestures and expressions, but of course he cannot reply to specific questions. I am sure he is used to it, especially from people he just meets, but it must get tiresome. I shall try to do better from now on.

To continue: I brought him into the parlour where Captain Winters and I took our meals. Unfortunately, the Captain was already there. We hadn't taken two steps into the room before he was on his feet with his pistol drawn and cocked. I assured him that Mr. Miller meant no harm, but the captain sent me to the far side of the room and made Mr. Miller empty all his pockets (and they did not contain much), gun drawn all the while. When at last he was satisfied, he allowed me to ring for tea, which was brought shortly. The captain thought it would be wise to call Professor Eberhart, and so after a while, he arrived as well, though he could only stay briefly as he had a class soon.

I explained to them both how kind Mr. Miller had been to me while I was aboard the Royal Erebos, and how he had been shot by Jacobs in the fray during my rescue. Captain Winters looked pleased at this point in my tale, but I ignored him and continued on to tell of how Mr. Miller emerged from the forest in this state, and how I found him.

"Well, what have you to say for yourself?" Professor Eberhart asked. Of course I had told them both that he was unable to speak, so it was merely a figure of speech.

In answer, Mr. Miller turned to me and touched his fingers over his heart, then pointed at me. "Mr. Miller," I murmured, blushing, but he leaned forward and shook his head, then repeated the gesture. "I am sorry, I do not understand," I said. Was he saying he loved me? Why declare it in front of two strangers? How was one to react to such a thing?

But it was not that at all. Looking as though he were suppressing his frustration, Mr. Miller rose and took my coat from the coat rack near the door and brought it to me. He tapped the outside of it, the part that would lay over my heart when I wore it, then reached into the inside pocket there and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "Oh my!" I cried. "You were telling me about this!" I felt very much a fool then, for thinking he had declared himself when all he meant was for me to check my pockets. How stupid I was! The thought never crossed my mind, that he meant something in the coat itself, and not my own person. He must have put it there the night before we were to arrive in Franklin Bay, or even earlier, when he helped me on with my coat.

I have here copied the contents of the note, though I cannot imitate his strange, all-capital writing where bits and pieces of letters are missing:

"You are being taken to Mr. Victor Bergstrom , in Franklin Bay. He was a staunch Loyalist during the war, but talked and bribed his way out of any charges, though he was deeply involved. You are Gifted, Miss Greenwater, and those Gifts must not be used for Mr. Bergstrom's benefit as he intends. I will make sure I am your personal escort on the way to his home, but I know of a place where we can slip away in the crowded city, and then flee. Stay close by me, and trust me. I do this for your safety, and indeed for the safety of our country. Destroy this letter by fire as soon as you have read it, and never speak of it to me until we are well away from Captain Belleclaire and the Erebos."

He meant to help me all along, and I was ignorant of it all this time! Captain Winters, of course, felt that his way of rescuing me was far superior to that of a pirate's and a deserter's, and dismissed Mr. Miller's plan as foolish and dangerous. (He is unaware of Mr. Miller's true capabilities, so I would indeed have trusted him to get me away, but Captain Winters need not know that now.)

Wisely, Professor Eberhart stepped in before anything could happen between the other two gentlemen. "Right now, the heart of the matter is that Mr. Miller knows Miss Gardener--Greenwater," he amended at Mr. Miller's puzzled look, "is Illuminated. Yet if I understand correctly, you hold no formal title on the Erebos?" Mr. Miller nodded. "So you are not normally privy to all the details of the, ah... jobs... you are hired to do, only your part in them?" Another nod. "How, then, did you come to learn of Miss Gardener's circumstances and vow to help her?"

"I"ll explain about my name later," I said softly to Mr. Miller, and he held out his hand in the same sort of gesture one would use to tell a dog to "stay," which I understood to mean, "I shall wait." He then asked, by pantomime, for paper and pen, which I quickly procured. Rather than copy down what he wrote, I shall tell it in my own words:

Most of their jobs on the Erebos involved smuggling: pick up such and such cargo from such and such a place at such and such a time, and transport it to such and such other location. Occasionally they smuggled people, but mainly people--adult men--who had done some wrong to their employer, for which the employer wanted repayment or even revenge. (He declined to go into details as he was in the presence of a lady.) So when a young woman, defenseless and entirely ignorant of the reasons she was brought aboard, was their quarry, his suspicions were raised. Belleclaire trusted him implicitly, and would never think that Mr. Miller would betray that trust. However, he did so by looking into the captain's log book, which told him that I was Illuminated and was to be delivered to Mr. Bergstrom for his own personal use.

The sight of those words on the parchment, which Professor Eberhart, Captain Winters, and myself were all crowded around, chilled me to the bone. "For his own personal use." I could not bear to think about it, and returned to my place in the chair next to Mr. Miller feeling somewhat faint. The professor had been right, then, in telling me that the other side would want to use my Gift for their own advancement.

He went on to say, as I found when I could breathe normally once more and finish reading the parchment, that the Erebos, too, had docked in Orangeburg to refuel and restock shortly after we did on the Tourbillion. He left the ship then, without being noticed, and it was his hope that they would not realize he was absent until they had been in the air for some time and it was too late to go back. All he had to go on was that I had told him my intentions to go to Eastern Madison Academy. If he did not find me here, nor any trace that I had been, he would have at that point reevaluated his options. Whatever happened, he knew he must warn me of Mr. Bergstrom's intentions. Belleclaire never returned to his clients empty-handed, and so Mr. Miller said he must be on the hunt for me as well.

I thanked him as profusely and as well as I knew how. Even though I was well and safe now, he had not known that, and had risked much--all!--to ensure my well-being. Hearing my praise of his courage and virtue lit his eyes up from the inside, and he looked a little less tired after hearing it.

However, that did not mean he was not really tired. Professor Eberhart called the housekeeper again to request a room for the new guest, and also that laundry services should be deployed post-haste to take care of his clothing. Mr. Miller bid us farewell for the time being, then retired to his room.

We have dined together thrice since then, supper, breakfast, and lunch, and it would be like "old times" if Captain Winters was not here. However, he said he will be rejoining the Tourbillion tomorrow in a town a few hours off by carriage. He will have to hire someone to bring the glider on as well, and will leave very early in the morning.

That is quite a lot that I have just related! And while I would like to record my recent attempts at using my Illumination, I cannot put it into coherent words now. Last night I did indeed practice with Professor Eberhart for another hour and one half, then fell into bed exhausted. However, I can now chose any object in a room and make it soar through the air as if it weighed nothing, merely by thinking of it! Tonight we are to move onto something more difficult: I shall begin to learn how to control the elements!

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Horrah! What fabulous news! I'm sure that you must be relieved (as I was) to see Mr. Miller again. Perhaps Jack will hire him for his crew!

I can not wait to hear of your practice tonight.

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