In Which a Guest Offers an Alternate Viewpoint on a Particular Experience Shared With Our Benefactor
By Captain Karl Gaartenbach
Our esteemed Sir Epaphroditus Bainton is, at heart, a man of some modesties, and he has relayed to me that the following tale is one he does not wish to personally share as he feels it paints him in an unnecessarily boastful light. This is a falsehood, as the tale in question is one of coarseness and Horrors, leading me to believe that the true purpose of his mysterious reticence is all the more obscure, perhaps motivated by a desire to see his own terrifying actions from the viewpoint of a third party, like a man gazing at his own slack bed-bound corpse from above as his soul rises to the Great Reward. Whatever the circumstance, I hope to provide an alternate perspective on our benefactor, a perspective made all the more jarring by its grim veracity.
Though I am now a Man of the Seas, I once busied myself in the occupation of Entertainments, serving as the ringmaster for a Carnevale of some note. It was through this profession that I became re-acquainted with E. Bainton, a former rival turned friend and compatriot. I could see within Bainton's eyes the distinctive glitter of intelligence, and upon finding that he yearned for employment (his previous career as a Chirurgeon had been rendered obsolete by Progress, though I can attest to his skills in the field of Humours), I quickly set upon finding a suitable task which he might relieve me of. As every Circus must need its corresponding Bread, I decided to offer E. Bainton a career selling Fried and Sugared Doughs at the Carnevale Concessions. Though the work was beneath a man of his standing, he took to it as a Chinaman takes to the Rail, and as I watched the parade of merry Fatmen leaving his sugar-crusted register with thick smiles upon their greasy faces, I realized Bainton was the man I had sought to replace me, as I had grown weary of consorting with the Clownes and standing deep in the dung of the Elephaunts and Jungled Cats. I asked my Employer, the owner of the Carnevale, if she had objection to Bainton replacing myself as Ringmaster. She said she had no reservations regarding my plan.
At this point you are no doubt staggered by my use of the feminine pronoun. Yes, friends, I was in the Employ of a Woman. It remains unclear how she came to own the Carnevale, yet I believe it was bequeathed to her by wealthy aged relatives whose minds were too syphilis-blown to realize the error of their ways. While the “fairer” sex is generally known to be weak of mind and will, this particular example was a craven and venal simpleton, a platonic ideal of cronyism and incompetence. To refer to her as a “pin-head” would be an insult to the microencephalitics who would joyously caper in our center ring. She shall henceforth be referred to as “The Humbug.”
With The Humbug's blessing, I began to train Bainton in the art of Ringmastering, showing him how to utilize Confidence in order to part a man from his purse as surely and righteously as Moses parted the Red Sea. To the surprise of none, he took to the trade quickly, and I had utter faith in his ability to continue the operation of the Carnevale once I had returned to the North Pacific to hunt Steller's Sea-Cow. All seemed well at the Carnevale, until, that is, it came time for Bainton to receive his first pay-cheque, totaled and signed by The Dread Humbug herself. He came before me in confusion, for The Humbug had made him to understand that his added work was in vain, as he would not be taking over the Carnevale as Ringmaster, and to make matters worse, his pay-cheque came out to seven Spanish doubloons less than was previously understood. Bainton was paid less than even the Slop-Man, as though The Humbug wished to not only insult but emasculate him.
Over many Ham-Burgs, which were the food style at this time, we conspired to confront The Humbug regarding her poor treatment of Bainton, who, with each passing moment, seemed to become increasingly enraged at his foul lot. His rage was directed not at the pittance he was paid, as he believes money to be a cipher upon which small men project merit, but rather at the Principle behind the Principal. A man of Principle, as we all know, is a man only a fool would double-cross.
We confronted The Humbug in her office quarters and were surprised to find her with her two small children. Many would hold back their ire upon finding mother and child together, being reminded perhaps of the Pieta, but Bainton's rage was immune to all sentiment. While never raising his voice nor employing a cussed-word, he unleashed a barrage of vitriol upon The Humbug, accusing her of Shenanigans, Japes, and darkest Skullduggery. His words cut with surgical precision, owing, no doubt, to his previous experiences in less metaphorical blood-letting. I watched as The Humbug drew her offsprings to her breast, as though frightened that Bainton would steal them away and devour them in Saturnine fashion, a fear which, I should add, seemed apropos at the time. I had already suggested to The Humbug that perhaps her young ones should retire to my cabin and listen to the phonograph, as I had recently acquired a number of amusing recordings on wax cylinder, some of which ran nearly ninety seconds in length. She demurred, her bearings thrown so far from their axes that she could no longer cogitate rationally, seemingly preferring her children watch their mother's verbal vivisection.
While I remember few specifics of Bainton's heated oration (other than a reference to The Humbug's “obfuscatory duplicity”), I remain struck by the unrelenting viciousness of the whole affair. This put me in mind of when, as a child, I watched my Uncle Durastis beat a crazed dog to death with a small shillelagh that he kept for the purpose of beating feral animals to death. I remember being conflicted at the time; I hated the dog, which had taken to biting and snapping, and I knew it had to die, yet it was difficult to watch beloved Uncle Durastis drive the shillelagh into the creature's skull, as I knew the dog was not intelligent enough to know better, nor intelligent enough to defend itself. The hound, I regret to say, was infinitely more capable of defense than The Humbug.
Bainton left The Humbug in a state of glazed hysteria. We left the Carnevale, never to return in a professional capacity, through I understand Bainton did eventually receive his Doubloons. While I was startled by his capacity for Venoms, I cannot help but admire his conviction, which did not wither in the face of pitiable circumstance. I do not know The Humbug's fate, and I regret that I see Bainton infrequently now, but whenever I am hauling a sea-cow from the oceans and witness a shark-fish tearing the organs from its pasty belly, I offer a brief knowing smile.
Captain Karl Gaartenbach
[When I was a Stripling, Col. Bainton, my esteem'd Father, took me on a Survey of his Lands. There we found a wrecked Acre of vine-trellises, dragged across the tortur'd Ground like a wild Blanket of Green & Purple. He had, in some Years passed, set up a Vineyard here, on top an old Indian Field, but Maintenance had been neglect'd. He pointed with his Cane, and sd only, "Epaph, the World runs away."
So it is with Memory, & thus Capt. Gaartenbach steps from the Shadows of that other neglect'd Vineyard, the Past. The Letter came to me by the Roads & Foot-paths of Bearskin's people, out of Carolina & up the Roanoke, to meet this wild & untest'd Shenandoah. Tho' Gaartenbach now makes his Home at Sea, where there are no Dirt Floors, & the only Naturalls are Cannibal or Finn'd, I think of that noble Corsair often, & from that Time we spent together, do my best to wipe clean the Blood.]
[Gratias Tibi ago to B. R. Williams, previous mention'd Here, for his noble Work in Locating the elusive Gaartenbach, & transcribing his peculiar Style.]