Sunday, 31 August 2008

A fate worse than death

It seems that with each adventure my debt to society grows, with my attempts to deliver us from the scourge of the plagued hand I came close to unleashing the disease in a far more potent form; now it seems that my involvement with the "ridiculous" rumours of the cursed amulet have resulted in a death. I must explain it here, excise this from my mind before I lose what resolve I have once more.

Having recovered the amulet a few days ago I felt strongly that the poor young lady should be recovered her vicious murder investigated and her remains committed finally to the earth, or perhaps to fire and so it was that yesterday afternoon I engaged the assistance of Miss Dagger once more to help raise the remains to the surface. We met on the jetty at Port Babbage and I explained my plans to her.

"I have prepared a casket from some old brass plate and we shall use this to recover the remains and prevent further damage. While the pneumatics of my suit are more than able to bear the weight it would be better for you to assist the ascent as the motor coordination is not fine enough for small adjustment, I do not wish to shake her to a pulp, if you'll excuse such course imagery."

Miss Dagger assured me that she was happy to assist and agreed with the plan. I also advised Miss Dagger that since our last encounter with the corpse its posture had relaxed, no more was she sitting akin, as Miss Dagger keenly observed, to an Indian mystic, but instead she was laying in repose, silent and peaceful. After a final check that we both understood the hand signals to be used we descended

In the gloom of the depths my suit lit the area and revealed our corpse in its new "sleeping" state, there was something odd about her body, by all accounts she must have been interred beneath the waves for more than half a century and yet her skin seemed relatively firm and, if I am honest, firmer now than when we encountered her previously.

We arranged the open casket nearby and as carefully as this suit allows, lifted her body into the brass coffin. I was careful not to bring the body too near to Miss Dagger, before our descent she had commented that her suit gave her less insulation than my own, very true, but I had assumed that she was concerned for the temperature and had simply waved the comment away with an assurance that we would work as fast as conditions allowed. It was not until our descent that it occurred to me that she was perhaps referring to the danger presented by a "cursed" body, and thus I took great care not to expose her any more than I must.

DEspite the preservation of her body, it was clear that her clothing had not fared so well her skirt fell away in tatters as I lifted her, catching on the lid of the coffin and any thing else that it wrapped around. I lay her gently in the casket, arranging her rags as best I could to preserve her dignity, I paused to laugh at my own primness.

I knelt by the casket, pausing briefly to sniff back tears of sorrow for someone who I had never even known. Kneeling by her side, I pulled the lid back into place and sealed the casket.

Miss Dagger stepped forward ready to lift. Taking the weight of the casket with my assisted suit I waited for Miss Dagger to signal her readiness and then holding a thumb aloft signalled the start of our ascent.

We rose slowly to the surface, as those who have spent any time in the water will know it is important for ones health to rise slowly when diving without the aid of a hard suit. I hoped that I was taking the weight of the casket as Miss Dagger needed only guide the ascent, if indeed she bore more load than I had hoped not once did she complain or show any sign of flagging; I have a great deal of respect for Miss Dagger from the manner in whcih she has involved herself in this endeavour.

As we rose toward the surface the dim sunlight offered up a fitting view of the wrecked hull of the vessel from which our young lady had been thrown. The paranoia and superstition of the crew guiding their actions but ultimately failing to save their sorry lives, it is perhaps fitting that those that condemned her shared her fate.

We broke the surface as the afternoon sun began to dwindle into the evening light, a small crowd had gathered to meet us. I had told Mr Whitfield of our operation and he had agreed to meet us on the jetty, but he had also been preceded by Miss Cappalini and a friend, whose name I cannot recall.

At the surface, I briefly opened the casket to ensure that our "cargo" had arrived intact. A hush fell across those gathered, Miss Dagger was visibly drained, perhaps through the exertion of the lift, perhaps being over-wrought by the events of the afternoon. We left her to recover and carrying the coffin (now drained of water) alone, I followed Mr Whitfield to his premises in Loner Lane.

I placed the body upon the table while Mr Whitfield prepared for his grisly part in the days work. It was uncomfortable to be present as first the remainder of the young lady's clothing was removed leaving her naked before us all, there truly is no dignity in death, and then as Mr Whitfields knife made skillful incssions, opening up her body, revealing her past. As uncomfortable as these events may have felt, and I certainly have no wish to make this a regular occurence, there is a morbid fascination that draws ones eyes to the work of a skilled surgeon while your own body and mind struggle to comprehend what it is witnessing.

I will now record the proceedings to the best of my recollection, though my thoughts at times may be disturbed.
Mr Hengest Whitfield stood to the side of the body examining her condition
"There appear to be major contusions."

He pressed his fingers to the flesh - "There's deep swelling, possibly implying fractures."
then taking a frightfully large knife, he sliced into the decaying body revealing bone that has obviously reset after being broken, he indicated the areas of fusing where the breakages had occurred.

I shook my head, "Poor lass, I felt she may have been bound and weighted when she was sent to the bottom.". I realised quickly that a dead body does not heal, that these must have been older wounds.

Perhaps Miss Capalini realised the history of violence implied by this as she visibly shivered and turned her head aside, peering back over her shoulder.

Hengest Whitfield continued, "There are multiple fractures - they appear to have occured over a length of time. Some appear to be very old."

I felt quite ill at this point struggling to contain my reaction to the images before me.

"Most of the damage to the skin and flesh I would say has been caused by sea creatures feeding on her... although that damage appears to be relatively recent."

Canolli Capalini spoke up, through hands covering her mouth, choking back her own repulsion as I fought mine. "How long did you say the body had been underwater?"

"If we are to believe the records ... the best part of half a century." I replied as Mr. Whitfield stepped closer once more, and opened the chest cavity to give access to the organs. "The myth claims the amulet that she bore had restorative powers, Mr Whitfield, was she dead before she was dumped? Did the crew murder her and dump the body?"

With this Mr. Whitfield draws his blade through one of the lungs, a deep red tissue which he observed was in surprisingly good condition.

"This is most perplexing. I'd say she drowned in the last few days."

Canolli Capalini gasped and I fell quiet, the evidence before me had suddenly fallen in to place. I have trouble recording the rest but must do so, for this journal it is my only counsel, my refuge and my confessional.

" god..the amulet...", I spluttered, barely comprehensible, "I killed her!". I hung my head, ashamed to meet the eyes aroud the room.

"It appears that the legend is true.", intoned Mr. Whitfield, "unless there is a more reasonable explanation as to why her body remains so well preserved.". He paused, taking in my comments, "You killed her Miss Janus?".

By this time I was beside myself, struggling for self control, "She all but gave it to me, a motion, I...I... thought was, the water, b..but she wanted to die, I don't think she could die until she had given the amulet to another."
Miss Dagger gasped, she had caught up with us and entered unseen.

Canolli Capalini, looked toward me, searching for the right words, "Surely a trick of the imagination, Miss Janus".
"No, in taking it from her, I sealed her fate. I am not one for supersticion, but it fits both the rumours and the evidence.".

"The amulet is in safe hands, I trust?", asked Mr Whitfield.
"Yes, it is lodged with Babbage's finest.", I replied, my disdain for the previous efforts of the Bow Street force lost in my hope that they truly could deliver on the promises.

I staggered back, the suit whining to keep from falling over, without it I would surely have collapsed.
"It does not bear thinking about, that poor girl has been shackled on the ocean bed alive and yet dead for so many years"

The kind Miss Capalini tried to asuage my guilt, "If that is what happened, Miss Janus.. Perhaps you were actually doing her a kindness."

Miss Dagger, stepped forward, "The thought of being immortal, but trapped on the floor of the ocean is...maddening.", Miss Capalini nodded in agreement, her face grim.

"Miss Dagger, do you recall that I mentioned her attitude on the sea bed, one of repose, as if a burden had been lifted, I hope, for my own sake that it correct, I gave her a blessed release.", I do not know if this could be true, perhaps we never will, if there is an after life I will answer for my actions, I hope the trueness in my heart shines through.

Miss Dagger nodded, "Certainly so....but there are so many troubling parts of this."

I had had enough, my mind was swiming, overcome by the physical and emotional strains of the day I wanted to be out of that foul room, away from people, no matter hwo they might be.

"Mr Whitfield are you complete in your investigation? I feel quite overcome all of a sudden and feel I should perhaps retire now."

Mr Whitfield concluded his examination, "I can only guess that her broken bones were caused by years of persecution - ignorant minds turning against her when they found out her secret. I am satisfied with the examination - I can find no further injuries to indicate an alternate hypothesis."

"Thankyou sir, can I ask that you prepare her body for burial, I will arrange this. I feel she should be committed to the land, she has been with the sea for too long now. I wish we knew more of her background.". With that I turned to leave.

"I have rubber-coated sacks that will prevent foul odours poisoning the air - I'm afraid she must remain in one of those until the coffin and grave is prepared.".

"Please, send your bill to me Mr. Whitfield thankyou for your services this evening and please do as you must."

"No charge Miss Janus. My services and skills are at the disposal of the community.".

Canolli Capalini stepped towards me as I walked towards the door. "Miss Janus, Please allow me to offer my services as a carpenter. I can make her an appropriate coffin."

"Miss Capalini, how wonderful, thank you.".

I left the building and hurried as fast as my suit would allow back to the sea, walking back slowly across the sea bed lest, through the tunnels, I might meet another person. As I walked, my lights illuminating the sea bed before me, the enormity of the suffering of the poor girl was clear. Mr Whitfield was right to a point, her bones had been broken many years before, but perhaps not as part of her embattled life, but as part of her drawn out death. It is my belief that at least some of the fractures were of her own making, a desperate act to release herself from the shackles that had kept her from discovery. In her tormented life/death state she had broken her own limbs to escape and bring the amulet into the open. It did not bear thinking about, I banished the thoughts, Mr Whitfield knows best, her life on the surface had been equally violent and perhaps no less horrific.

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