Monday, June 20, 2011

From Darkness Into Light (just a taste...)

I decided to provide just a taste of what has been going on here, in case you think I sit around all day doing nothing and watching my computer look for prime palindromes. Hee hee! See what you think.
--Dr. Thursday

"Right now, there's just two things that I'm wondering about," Bernie said, still sitting by the window with his eyes closed.
Now Marty turned. "What, Bernie?"
"First, whether you really can see through that tunnel. And second, just what happened with old Davey-Jack Ludlow and this Vatican Treasure."
"Oh yeah."
John had also turned. "We'll have to stop in the library tomorrow – they have a copy of Dr. Greene's dissertation. That might give us some clue – I wasn't able to learn much from the web. But I can tell you this. If you meet me at the campus gate tomorrow about 4, we'll try to find out about that tunnel. And, unless you guys are too tired for a story, I can tell you the little I know about Davey-Jack."
Marty nodded with glee. "Oh yeah! A pirate story!"
Bernie rummaged in a drawer and pulled out a pouch. "Hey, I'll make some popcorn..."
John grimaced as he went back to his chair by the window. "None for me, thanks; I'll just have some water."

Bernie soon had the popcorn ready; all three had bottles of water. John brought out his dumbbells so he could do some lifting.
"All right. Here's the picture. We've known the Ludlow name in our family for a long time. They've been wealthy for generations, but they always had a certain – let's call it a kind of shadow – on their character. I dunno if there was something odd that happened long ago: maybe one of them was doing some counter-espionage during the Revolution, something like that. Somehow 'Ludlow' came to be linked with 'Chander' – like the black pieces and the white pieces in chess. And you've already heard how Chandler fits in: the founder of Howell, the railroad man..." He broke off somewhat uneasily.
"Sure; he and Fisher... people say a lot of 19th-century American engineering should be credited to them."
"That's one way of putting it, I guess," John said, even more uneasily. "But anyway, Ludlow. He..."
Marty interrupted. "You know, he was the one who did that ASP a few years back; he left a lot of money to our town hospital, and huge chunks of it to a group of students – including Bernie's brother Steve. The two of us might not be going here except for him."
"The ASP? That was Ray – F. Ralston Ludlow, as I recall. Yeah, he was the 'white sheep' of the family. There's others around, but I better not go into that current stuff now, it's risky." He gulped some water. "Anyway, Davey-Jack Ludlow. He was born sometime in the mid 1820s, I guess, since he was in his mid-30s when the War Between the States began, and yes, he was a sea-captain. He had been on a voyage to Europe when South Carolina seceded... and supposedly that was when this theft (or whatever it was) occurred, when he got this treasure. The story I heard said that he stole it from other thieves."
John paused for moment, pumping iron slowly as he considered his next words. "According to the story, his mother was a serious, reverent Catholic; one of her sons had entered the priesthood. But Davey-Jack had been away from her for too long, learning his ropes on one of his uncle's ships. On those sea voyages, this uncle had been dabbling into the works of some distorted philosophers – writers from the period a friend of mine calls 'the Endarkenment' – and this must have infected his nephew..."
John pumped iron violently for another interval. (Bernie felt John's last sentence was incomplete, and he noted how John was biting his lip.) Finally, he set the dumbbells down, took another swallow of water, and continued.
"Even so, Davey-Jack retained some respect for some things, if only as a form of superstition. The story said that he was in a little tavern in an Italian port when he heard two men talking about the theft: it was not just the value which tempted him, or the idea of doing these crooks out of their gains. He had heard them bragging that it was the Church's gold, and they had gotten relics as well as gold. They figured on selling them..." he hesitated. "Uh, they would sell them somewhere for a nice amount, since there were people who did dark things..." He shivered and blessed himself.
Impressed, Bernie and Marty did the same. "I start to see why St. Michael is so important to you," Marty said, indicating John's icon of St. Michael on the wall over his desk.
John smiled with delight. "You do? Oh, yeah. It's nice, isn't it? ... There may be another way of looking at it: Davey-Jack hadn't quite lost his religion; he merely ignored the parts of it he found inconvenient. And more importantly, he knew... uh, the sort of thing that was practiced by some people, especially in, uh, certain parts of Europe. They liked to get relics and sacred vessels..." He stopped and sighed. "Anyway, he managed to con the thieves, and he got their booty. But, instead of returning the treasure, or at least its sacred portion, he finished his business there, and headed back across the Atlantic."
He had been pumping his dumbbells again, but irregularly; now he put them down and sucked down most of his water. "I've seen a letter from him. And this is why I – why anyone would have some doubt about his true stature in history. The rumors always call him 'pirate' – but it might be that he should be called 'naval hero'. I'm sure you know the story of Dunkirk during the early days of World War II, how the little people of England set out in their little boats across the Channel, to rescue their army. There are others who were in the Merchant Marines who did other sorts of service for America... I wonder if, despite his failings, his undoubted greed, that he did not somehow do a like service, perhaps an even greater one, and not just for a single country."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because he kept sacred things out of the hands of men far more evil than he was."
Bernie nodded grimly. "Yeah, that's true. I've heard about some of those dark things – things that still happen in some dark corners."
John twitched at those words, but said nothing.
Bernie paused to drink some water, then asked, "So what happened to the relics? You started to say something about a letter you had seen."
"Oh, yes. The letter was to Joseph Chandler."
Their eyes were wide. "Really?"
"Yes. Part of it was missing – the part with the date – but since it mentions Howell, we know it's from after 1866. It was rambling, what some call 'sophomoric' – Davey-Jack was a widely travelled man, fluent in several languages, and with a good deal of worldly experience, but he did not have a literary mind, and his writing was often, ah, salty. He was very happy with Chandler's founding of the school, and he hoped his son would attend there once he was old enough."
"His son!"
"Sure; he married soon after his return to America – it was his second marriage. His son was named Brian Jonathan, but they called him Jonny. He... uh, but let me finish the letter, then I'll tell you more about Jonny. The important bit of the letter was the P.S., and I will quote that for you verbatim:
My dear Chandler. I write this much later. Since I wrote the above, a man we both know has come. You know the office he holds. He requests my services and my ship, for pay – and as you know I am not in a position to refuse. I have told you about my last European adventure, and what came from it, and where it went. There was a part, by far the more valuable, which I retain. I am sending it to you by the man who brings you this letter. We had spoken of such things once and I know you are the right man to deal with them. If Jonny is brought up right, perhaps he will not fall as I have. Perhaps he will follow his uncle to something higher. You must determine what to do in his case. I am also sending wherewithal so you can make provision for him. But let Rose have the roses, when she is old enough to hear the story. And pray for me.
Your servant. D. J. L."

John was silent for a short interval. Then he sighed and shook his head. He picked up the dumbbells again and began to pump vigorously.
"Where did he go?"
"On another voyage. He never came back."
Bernie let out his breath, and nodded. "Yeah, that's what I figured you were going to say."
"Sure; and that's why the further details of the story are lost."

[from my From Darkness Into Light: Part I Bernie and Marty Go To Howell. Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Thursday; all rights reserved.]


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