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FREEDOM AND NECESSITY
By Steven Brust Emma Bull
TOR BOOKS Copyright © 1997 Steven Brust and Emma Bull
All right reserved.
Chapter One From The Times July 26, 1849
Mr ROEBUCK also begged to enter his protest against this ill-considered and crude piece of legislation, which he described as the result of a specie of cant which was almost as dangerous as vice.
Mr MOWATT had also felt himself obliged to oppose the bill, because it was calculated to mislead the people for whose benefit they affected to legislate, namely, the parents of females in humble life, by teaching them to dispense with the moral education and training of their children, and lean only on the legislature. (Hear, hear.)
LATEST FROM PARIS by Electric Telegraph
The sentence of death pronounced by court-martial on four privates of the 7th regiment of Light Infantry for having resisted the arrest of Sergeant-Major Boichot, and a similar sentence passed on a grenadier of the 15th of the Line, for having deserted his post in presence of the insurgents of the 13th of June, were confirmed by the Council of Revision held on Tuesday.
A Socialist writer, named Louvet, has been sentenced by the Court of Orleans to imprisonment for two years and to pay a fine of 4,000f for having published an incendiary address to the people, exciting them to revolt against the established Government.
The posting-house the Grey Hound Langstone, near Portsmouth 9th October, 1849
My Dear Cousin,
I wonder how you will greet these words; indeed, I wonder how you will receive into your hands the paper that bears them, as I think you cannot be in expectation of correspondence from me. You have always been a hardy soul-body and mind-and so I don't imagine you the central figure in some Gothick tale, clutching at these pages and your disordered locks and changing colour six times in a minute.
I am sorry; I am too frivolous; I shall begin again, taking care to keep better governance of my near-ungovernable fancy. But truly, what ought I to anchor my senses to but nonsense, in a situation so out of common, so utterly outside of the natural, as the one I've gotten myself pitched into?
In short, I have been given to understand that I am believed dead by all my family and acquaintance-that I was seen to die, in fact, or at least, was seen to sink beneath the water a last time, and my corpse never recovered, though long and passionately sought for. You may imagine the fascination with which I heard this account, though you will imagine, too, that my fascination was accompanied by horror, which is far from the case. I cannot tell how it is, but though I know the thought of myself as a corpse should by all rights cause me distress, I find it holds only the interest, raises only the feelings, that such a thing might in verse or fiction.
What should distress me yet more, and what may, as my sensibilities recover somewhat from the curious flattened state they are now in, is that, for all I can recall, I may indeed have drowned. I have no knowledge of any act, any word, any thing at all that occurred between the conclusion of that pleasant luncheon on the lake shore, and my discovery-rediscovery-of my wits and person at the bottom of the garden behind this respectable inn at an hour when almost none of the respectable inhabitants of it were conscious. I have read, I suppose, too many fables and fairy-tales, for the first thing I asked of the good landlord, upon gathering my straying thoughts and finding my voice, was the month, day, and year. How relieved I was to find I had not been whisked away for seven times seven years, but for a scant two months! And yet, how and where were those two months passed? For any thing I could tell, I might indeed have spent them happily in Fairyland, but for sundry signs about my person that it might not have been an unalloyed happiness.
You must choose how you, and even I, proceed now, for I confess I cannot. I have trusted in that natural reserve and discretion that I know to be so strong in you, that others of our family have wrongly termed coldness or even slyness, to keep the source and contents of this letter from the knowledge of any other, unless the time and company be such as to recommend their revelation. I pray you, Cousin, re-introduce me living to my family-or do not, as seems wise to you. I know you are wise; and though I may be clever, cleverness owes something to experience, and the experience of returning from the dead has not come much in my way previously. If it is best that my existence and abode be known only to you at this time, I shall keep silence-very like the grave, I suppose.
I fall into nonsense again-I am heartily sorry for any distress it may cause you; it is meant only to fend off any of my own. Weigh this matter for as long as you will, knowing I am very comfortable where I am. The landlord and his wife are kind people and disposed to be uninformative about curious doings, as I suppose must be often observed of those who run public houses near the coast. When you write or come, make your enquiries for Jack Cobb, as I have chosen that for my nom de discretion. You will laugh-at least, I believe you will laugh-I am employed as the new head groom. Were you to share that fact with my Aunt Louisa, I know that the role in which I could not cast you, that of High Gothick tragedian, would be quite satisfactorily filled after all.
I cannot write more; you know, I hope, how much I would wish to say, what a multitude of questions I would ply you with, which of our mutual acquaintance I would most urgently enquire after. I trust you to do what you can for me, as you always have done, in good fortune or adversity. Merely addressing you on the page has served to clear away some of the fog which besets my thoughts, and to give me greater resolution altogether. Though my gratitude is beyond any measurement, it is still less than you deserve, and you will, as a result, find me always
Your most faithful relative and friend, James Cobham
Melrose Hall Thursday
My Dear James:
So you have cheated death once more, proving that the child is, indeed, the seed of the man. Well, I am delighted, but I cannot pretend to be surprised. Each time I would receive a letter from Aunt Margaret she would seem more persuaded that you had perished beneath the waves, and Mother was positively hysterical; whereas I would remark to Kitty, "James cannot drown, however drunk he got himself." And now I find that I am right.
And yet, you have lost two months of your life? My dear James, that is excessive. A day or two now and then I would say nothing about, but two months! If you continue, you will become a greater shame on the Family Name than I-what would my Uncle your Father say? And what of my reputation? I should have to pay off my debts and marry Kitty and become respectable, God forbid!
But you say nothing to imply that this missing time could have been the result of a debauch, instead making ironic comments about Fairyland-a subject, my cousin, that is best not treated lightly, whatever your own opinions are. My dear fellow, if it isn't simply the result of a debauch, then we have a regular mystery before us, don't we? I can imagine that, were it I who had lost two months of my life, I should have some curiosity about how I had passed the time.
Ah, James! Do not be fooled by the complaisant tone of my words. Truly, I am relieved and moved; but you have asked what action to take, and it is to action I must address myself. Let me be as cool, dispassionate, and rational as David Hume himself, assess the facts we know, and see what is to be done. It seems that there are only two possibilities: you have either been the victim of a freak accident on the part of nature, or the victim of an enemy; and until we know which of these it is, I think it imperative that you remain hidden. As for finding out, that is more difficult. What enemies do you have who could treat you thus? You speak of signs about your person, but what do these signs indicate?
Another matter to consider is this: Habits are ingrained in us without our awareness, so examine your habits. Are you finding yourself doing things that you didn't use to do? If so, what are they, and what can they tell us? Also, if your last memory is of that luncheon, what exactly do you recall about it that may be significant? Did anyone say anything that struck you as unusual? Especially, did you eat or drink anything worthy of note? My memory will be of no use to you, because all I remember of the affair is the pleasant haze from the port I consumed, and a few words I exchanged with David that would have led to me putting a ball between his piggish little eyes had not someone-was it you?-jumped in to prevent it.
Other than those few suggestions, I have no idea how to proceed. Shall I come out there and join you? Or are there useful investigations I could make from here? I repeat, you should not show yourself until we know more, and yet I am, frankly, at a loss as to how we can learn anything.
There is little to tell of doings here, James. Thomas was set upon by footpads and beaten soundly a couple of weeks ago, but, aside from some bruises and embarrassment seems none the worse for it. Susan has dropped entirely out of sight, and there is speculation by some (including, I confess, your humble servant) that she harbored stronger feelings for you than she ever let on. David is living at Cauldhurst in your father's absence, which makes me grit my teeth, but legally I can hardly prevent it (of course, you could, should you wish to resuscitate yourself). He says it is only until repairs are completed on the rectory in Dunston, but I think he must have hired the slowest carpenters in the south of England. Brian continues his studies, and I begin to believe we really will have a solicitor in the family before too much longer, but it leaves him with little time for anything else. Henry lost an appalling amount of money to a pair of sharps at the Locket and had to send home for his expenses. Waters has settled down to a sort of life not unlike what mother would wish for me; you may have predicted it, but I am surprised. He periodically asks me over for billiards, and I am running short of excuses. Powers is traveling on the Continent. His claim is that the journey is merely for pleasure, but I have never believed anything he says of himself; on the other hand, I admire him as much as I ever have and cannot suspect him of malice. Calvert makes trouble for everyone around him, but not, I think, this kind of trouble. But the big news is Johnson, who has actually purchased a naval commission and gone off with a ship whose name I forget. The timing of his departure may appear suspicious to you, and if so we can investigate it, but that seems to me to be grasping at phantoms, if I can send your own phrase back at you (and if you have forgotten the occasions on which you used to say that to me, be assured I have not, you Casuistic scoundrel).
James, you must believe that, insofar as I can do anything useful, I am entirely at your service, and, if I had not explicitly said so, I am delighted to learn that you are still among the living-and I am more than a little anxious that you continue in this condition, and until you give me a more clear idea on how I can be of help to you, I must Remain, my Dear Fellow, Your Cousin and Friend,
Richard Cobham The Grey Hound 14th October, 1849
And that's for you, for flourishing Hume at me; here's the Devil quoting Scripture, indeed! You must give my rationality its due now, however. Were I of a mystical bent, my present condition might drive me to madness. Failing that, it would certainly cause me to write the most tiresome sort of letters. Or do I pride myself on an abstinence I have not achieved? Beside your letter, as empirical and sensible as any Rationalist might pen, mine seems full of "a host of furious fancies." Well, I am resolved to let our mystery spin itself out as a philosopher's experiment. If I am a madman in a rational world, I have the consolation of sound philosophy; and if I am sane in a world of supernatural morality and intangible motive force, I will at least have my wits to treasure.
That I entertain the latter idea at all will suggest to you that I am in a weakened state, that I am not myself; and you will be exactly right if you suppose it. I have a shocking bad head. Apple brandy is the cause- No, if I am dead and my character to be reformed by it, let me at least be honest (as temperance has been forestalled)-an excess of apple brandy has done it. My host makes his own. I sampled it last night in the taproom, after full dark had made it unlikely I should have any more travellers' rigs to tend, and after I had seen the nags baited, the mucking-out done, and harness properly oiled and stored and not flung over a rusty nail or dropped on a bench as if it were an old shirt. I may have mislaid two months of my life, but I am more careful with the property of others. (When reading the above scold to the boy who helps in the stable, I nearly said, "as if it were a spoiled cravat," but I recalled, barely, who I was supposed to be. I am trying to be careful with my secret, on the chance-the likelihood?- that it is someone else's as well.)
No, I am not done with the brandy, or the subject of it at least, though I wish I were done with the stuff itself. I sampled it, as I say, and meant only to sample it. It was quite good; it hadn't the refinements that an upbringing in a French monastery will give a brandy, but it was rustic and mellow at once, and had not forgotten the orchard. I said some of this to the landlord-Coslick is his name. He looked at me rather sidelong and sly, and said, "Do ye fancy yourself a drinking man, then?"
I was much struck, as I could not recall Coslick putting a direct personal question to me before. I allowed that I did, on occasion, imbibe.
"Well, ye'll drink with me, then, and if ye fall out your chair, I'll see ye wake safe in your own bed."
Richard, I was put up for membership at my clubs while still at Oxford. If I cannot recognize a challenge of that sort when it is made to me, then I have not profited by the education given to young men of our class. Besides, there was something in the nature of a test about the business, a whiff of initiation, though I could not tell you at this remove what gave me to think so. I rolled up my shirt-sleeves-figuratively, for the literal ones were already up-and set to work.
Coslick is a large man, of the complexion common to men to whom excess is only just enough.
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