Archive for March, 2011

1789 – Somewhere in the Indian Ocean

Captain Philip Morris lay in his bed on board a ship sailing somewhere in the Indian Ocean. He could hear the water lapping against the hull. Or at least he presumed he could hear the water. The boundary between reality and fantasy had been blurred for many weeks now. He had been in India, he was sure of that, as an officer in the British Army. It was entirely possible he still was; in the army anyway. He did not think he was in India now. No, there was the sound of water. However, that could be the rain. It was monsoon season, he thought. That was why he was so very warm. No, he was hot because he was ill. He had been ill for weeks now and, if he was completely honest, he could not remember being well. He was in a ship and returning to England because there was no need for him to be in India any more. The army had no use for sick men. He was returning to England because he was useless now.

He shifted slightly. There was no comfortable position to be found. The ship was rocking too much, or at least it was in his fevered mind. He was not sure. He was trying not to move as it made breathing difficult and caused red-hot bolts of pain to shoot through his body.  He placed his hand on his stomach where the worst of the pain was felt. It was still bandaged. He had forgotten about that. Or had he? It was always bandaged now. He could no longer remember what his skin felt like there. He presumed that he still had skin there. Perhaps that was why bandages were ever present. Panic threatened to overcome him. He did not know whether he was still intact. The army surgeons back in Bombay had taken his skin! No, no, that made little sense. It was not possible to be without skin. But, they had sliced at him with their knives. He remembered that. To remove the bullet, they said. Or the infection? Both, probably. It had happened more than once. He was unlikely to ever forget that. The pain was more than real, even if any other awareness had been suspended. There was always pain nowadays, pain and a mind so clouded he was not certain of anything anymore. Was this to be his life now? He had vague recollections of being told, or hearing, about a miraculous survival. His survival, he supposed, because he did remember being left alone to die. He had been shot and they took him to a room but had then left him. He had called out but they did not return because he was not supposed to remain alive for so long. He had and they were astounded. Then, there was so much pain, more than when he had even been shot, and it had barely abated since. And he was alone again. But not in Bombay. He had to remember that. This was a ship. Weeks, no, months had passed since he had been injured and it was now no longer Bombay. He was alive, he presumed, and returning to England and home.

He was alone. Why did they leave him like this? Nothing made sense and he needed somebody else’s sound mind because his was sadly departed but nobody remained with him. He had a valet. Where was Prescott?

“Prescott?” he croaked.

There was no answer. Where was he? He was sure Prescott was his only friend. Even though he was only supposed to be his servant. But Prescott was the only kind face he remembered. The army surgeons and his fellow officers offered no gentleness because he was in the army and it was not required. Or something to that effect. Perhaps Prescott was resting. He was supposed to be sleeping but that was difficult these days. Rarely did he ‘sleep’ but rather ‘lost consciousness’ due to pain or fever. It was never restful and he seemed to think that is what sleep should be. Still, nobody came. He could hear voices but nobody ever came. Perhaps the voices were only in his head. That was possible. It was becoming a regular occurrence, along with seeing things that were not there. Nothing made any sense anymore.

Maybe he was dead? Was this his personal hell? Or purgatory? He felt that he deserved hell or purgatory. He had killed his mother. No! No! It was not murder, he was only a baby. He did not mean to cause her death by being born. That is what his father assured him. But his brother thought differently. Stephen hated him for that reason. He did not know who was correct. It was too much for his mind to comprehend. A man who caused another man’s death was a murderer. No! A man who deliberately caused another man’s death was a murderer. He did not intend for his mother to die. He convulsively grabbed a handful of sheet. Why did nothing make sense anymore? He had dwelled upon his birth and mother’s death frequently in the recent weeks. It was not helped by the fact that she kept appearing to him. But how could she appear to him when he did not know what she looked like. Who was appearing to him? He struggled for breath again. It was so dark. No wonder he saw things that were not there. Anything could be lurking in the shadows. Perhaps that was where everyone was. Why was it dark? There had been light in Bombay because they could not keep it away but here on the ship they could keep him in the dark. Maybe they thought it would be healing. It was not. It made him feel even more delirious than usual, even when he was not. It was dark, the ship was constantly rocking and he could not see a thing. He would ask Prescott for a candle when he returned. If he remembered. That was unlikely. He felt unusually lucid and he knew that it would not last. The laudanum was wearing off. It was now a choice between coherency and pain or laudanum and blissful oblivion. He was afraid that he would become addicted.

He wondered where the ship was. The passage of time made no sense to him. He had no idea how long it was since he left India. Not that it would make any difference. He could not remember how long the journey was to England. Or did they reach somewhere else first? Perhaps. Not that it mattered. He would not be leaving the ship until England. His ability to stand and walk had long since departed. Along with the capability to do anything else. He was truly useless now. Oh, how he longed to be in England. At least he had his family there. They would not mind if he was weak and infirm.

He dwelled upon the thought of his family. A wife, a son and a daughter. He was fortunate. The thought of them was the only thing that kept him alive. His son would be nearly seven years old now; how he must have grown since he saw him last. And his daughter; he would be meeting her for the first time. Catherine had been pregnant when he had left for India. She should have forgiven him for leaving her by now. He frowned, something bothering at the back of his mind, but soon returned to other thoughts. They could start afresh. Catherine had disliked his position in the army. She seemed to be the only woman not swayed by a uniform. Would Frank remember him? He had to be a better father now. As bedridden he would likely be at least he could now be the husband and father they deserved.

Only one thing worried him about returning to England. It tormented him in his lowest and most painful moments where his mind played tricks upon him. India had been a way to escape his brother. He was returning home weak and defenceless; Stephen would only take advantage. The deliria of the past months had turned his brother from a common bully into a ruthless tyrant. He was afraid that the latter would turn out to be true. What if he ended up at his brother’s mercy? Stephen had the potential to be very cruel.

He thought that maybe he regretted leaving for India. If he had remained in England then he would have been with Catherine when she had died.

Where did that come from?

Catherine was alive. No, she was not. He remembered receiving a letter with news of her death a few years ago. Or did he? Perhaps that was a false memory caused by the fever. No, he would not imagine something so horrible. She was dead. However, he had dreamt of so many other terrible things that maybe this was one of those. She had come to him before. No, she had not. Or she had, but as a ghost. But then, so had Stephen and he was unfortunately very much alive. He did not know! He could not remember if his own wife was still alive! Why must he remain in this continual state of confusion? Would there ever be clarity again?

The door opened and he watched as a candle, seemingly suspended in mid-air, came into the room. He frowned, unsure as to whether it was another hallucination.

“C-Catherine?” he asked, weakly, trying to raise his body from the bed.

The candle came nearer and a familiar face was illuminated. “No, sir.”

“Prescott.” He sank back down. “She is dead?” He could see Prescott sadly nod in confirmation. This had been a frequent occurance in the past months. The captain had often called out for his wife and father (both unfortunately deceased) or worse, imagined their presence.

Prescott put the candle down. It gave Captain Morris the light he had so craved before. He now had something upon which to focus and it helped against the rocking of the ship.

“I called for you,” he said.

“I was resting,” Prescott told him. He placed a hand on the officer’s forehead. “You have been feverish for the past few days. But better now.”

“I am sore,” the captain said. “But I know how you will solve that.”

“I only act on the doctor’s orders,” Prescott replied. It was fortunate that he had been in the service of Captain Morris for many years now otherwise he would object to playing nursemaid. “And he does prescribe more laudanum.”

“I am weary of the fog it causes. Now it is worn off I am almost thinking clearly,” Captain Morris said. “Is it so necessary?”

“We are nearing the Cape. The conditions there are said to be particularly bad,” Prescott told him. “The doctor believes the increased movement of the ship will aggravate your injuries. You will require something for the pain.”

“The Cape? So soon,” he said. “But then, I no longer have any concept of time.” Although he was in pain he wanted to delay Prescott’s intention to drug him again. He recognised the necessity but it was a blessed relief to experience clarity of mind again.

“We will be in England before you know it,” Prescott said.

“I intend to start afresh, Prescott, now the army will no longer have me,” he said. “I refuse to become the useless second son.”

“There is only room for one useless son in your family and your brother fills that position admirably.”

“He is the earl now,” Captain Morris said. “Apparently that means he serves his purpose.”

Prescott gave a half smile. “The birth order in your family has its deficiencies.”

“He would not have survived in the army,” Morris replied. “Which would have been fortunate for me.” He closed his eyes, the new-found strength and clarity waning rapidly. “Prescott?”

“You will have to sit up,” Prescott replied as he produced a small bottle. Captain Morris did as he was told, albeit very slowly, and took the bottle. It was about time he started dosing himself.

He then lay back down with a smile. “This stops when we return to England.” He needed it to survive the journey back. He was well aware of the implications of that necessity but now was not the place or time to remedy it. “Otherwise I shall become quite the opium fiend,” he muttered as he drifted back into the realm of unconsciousness. At least Prescott was there to deal with the insane ramblings that were bound to return.

(Philip Morris is a character from a Pride and Prejudice continuation I have written – The Matter Of Courtship)

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