Monday, October 17, 2016

Typewriter in the Sky - Chapter Three - A Day with the Carstones

And we go from two ten-page chapters to a yuge thirty-page chapter.  Mike wakes up in an enormous canopy bed, freshly-washed and bandaged, and a bit slow on the uptake.  He considers going for a golf game since the weather's so warm - almost tropical, in fact - and doesn't react when a black servant sticks his head through the curtains, helps Mike sit up, and sets down a tray of coffee and snacks.  It's only when he suddenly remembers the encounter on the beach and hears the distant pounding of surf that Mike has a little freak-out.

No, Mike isn't shocked to see a black man playing meek manservant, he only tries to remember which of his friends employs people of color in such servile positions.  Nor does he try to engage the man in conversation.  This came out in 1940, remember.  The bad old days.

Mike manages to not send melons and sweet buns flying everywhere, then notices a lavender-scented envelope on the tray that turns out to contain a letter from a Lady Marion.  It's written in half-assed old-timey English - "I am grieved at the discourtesy which greeted ye upon our land and beg to tender my sympathy and the hope that your woundes paine you not this day" - but eventually Marion gets around to requesting to visit the "gallant captain" if his fever "not be too great."

Between this and the head injury, Mike decides to have some wine as he ponders the situation.  First, he's definitely missed that piano audition.  Second, he's pretty sure he killed two guys on that beach, which "In his realm" would get him hanged.  And third, his life is in danger in this realm too.  Mike overhears a commotion outside, and when he asks that Negro servant about it, learns that "Them people from de town" are demanding that the master of the household give up the "Spaniard" prisoner for execution.  Mike insists that he is in fact an Irishman, and decides to meet with Lady Marion to try to clarify the situation.

This will require getting dressed, and while the bad news is that Mike's outfit - which he isn't confident he was wearing the other day - is a ridiculous mass of black silk and lace and gold, the good news is that the servant is around to help Mike get dressed.  Once that's done, our hero takes a moment to examine himself.

The mirror gave back the tall, supple image of a Spanish gentleman, aristocratically handsome head backed by the upstanding lace collar, pale but strong hands barely showing under the folds of gorgeous lace, slim and shapely legs backed by the flowing cape which dropped from one shoulder.  He was Mike de Wolf, but somehow he wasn't Mike de Wolf.  There was a commanding poise about him which was an intensification of his usual manner, and in his face showed a pride of being and a consciousness of station which the old Mike de Wolf would not have had at all.  He was grand and handsome and dashing and, all in one, he was quite confused about it.

This is what I wanted on the book's cover, a swashbuckling hero in all his finery but betraying a fundamental confusion about his situation.

Adding to the weirdness is that Mike's impractically fancy rapier now has a scabbard when yesterday it did not, and he's also confident that he wasn't wearing that cape on the beach.  And there it is again, that sound of a typewriter clacking away overhead.  But at least he's dressed now, so he tells the servant to let Her Ladyship know it's safe to visit him.  She enters to find Mike striking a heroic pose gazing out the window, he thanks her for saving his life, and Marion assures him that the Carstones aren't murderous savages and will be happy to send their noble Spanish prisoner back to his people for just a "slight ransom to remove the stain of guilt from his lordship."

And then, Mike goes off-script.

He almost introduces himself as Miguel Saint Raoul Maria Gonzales Sebastian de Mendoza y Toledo Francisco Juan Tomaso Guerro de Brazo y Leon de Lobo... and if he tried to fit all that on his sword he'd have to carry around a claymore.  But instead of rattling off all that, Mike insists that while he was aboard the Natividad, he's actually Michael O'Brien, grandson of a Spanish castaway who married into an Irish noble family, seeking his fortune in service of Spain.

It doesn't seem to be a conscious decision - he's bewildered at the Spanish name on his lips, but then Mike hears himself deny being a Spaniard, so it's like there are two different autopilots fighting over the controls. When the incredulous Lady Marion asks if he was commanding the Spanish vessel, Mike denies it even though he "knew that he lied, but was powerless to correct that lie."  So I don't think Mike is fighting back against the story at this point, my guess is that he's feeling the effects of Hackett changing the specifics of the plot between talking about the story and writing it.  Also, Mike hasn't realized he's in a story yet.

Marion is relieved that the hostile sailor who killed two of her countrymen is Irish instead of Spanish, because what reason would the Irish have to dislike the British?  She says Mike is welcome to stay as long as he likes, and invites him to dinner with Lord Carstone that evening.  The way she leaves the room, walking in a graceful manner which makes Mike "warm all through," and after she's gone he flops down on the bed to exult over her poise and crown of red hair and dazzling eyes.

But eventually Mike's focus shifts back to his bizarre situation, and he decides he's hallucinating after a head injury or something, and will have a good story to tell next time he sees Horace Hackett.  And then Mike remembers Hackett talking about his pirate story and how Mike was perfect for its villain, so he concludes that this is all a dream.  He tries to go to sleep to wake up, only to emerge from a nap several hours later in the same bed, with that manservant alerting him that supper will be ready in an hour.  When asked the date, the "Boy" ("Mah name Jimbo, suh.") reveals that "I heerd somebody say this was somethin' like sixteen hunnert and forty, suh, but Ah wouldn't know."

What follows is a three-page-long freakout.  First Mike rants that he can't be three hundred years in the past, even though the outfits and scenery around him fit the period.  He dismisses the idea of time travel and instead kicks a wall in case he's in a movie set, but of course he isn't.  Then he has to deal with the memories of a naval battle he's also sure he didn't actually experience, and "a sort of strange belief in all this and a belief in his own part in it," since after all he knew how to use his sword and give orders on a ship.  And finally, Mike must come to terms with how everything around him seems right out of Hackett's upcoming story "Blood and Loot," and how if Mike seems to be cast in the role of the villainous Spanish admiral, he does not need to be sticking around this island.

Unfortunately, Mike doesn't have any options.  If he tries to flee the city to the island's forests, he'll get eaten by Caribs, and even though Mike was able to fight off those swashbucklers the other day, now he's decided that he doesn't know anything about swords and ships and muskets, so he can't try to fight his way to a boat.  So he might as well go to the governor's dinner.

Lady Marion of course is wearing a low-cut gown, while her father turns out to be "an overly upholstered giant sculpted out of lard" who "Harumph"s at every opportunity, and they're also joined by a Captain Braumley who is still suspicious of Mike and not eager to dine with a Spaniard.

"Ye'll keep yer evil tongue in yer cheek, sir," said Marion with lifted chin, "or I'll have ye taught better manners by the gentleman himself.  He's no common gutter-bred soldier!"

The captain choked on that one and became purple-hued.  Mike had never seen anyone really turn purple from embarrassment before, and it was really amazing to see it.  Bright purple.

There's not many moments like this in the book, but I still like them.  Take a literary cliche, a phrase like "turned purple with anger," and play it completely straight, see how weird and vaguely unsettling it would be to experience.

Dinner turns out to be a tense affair, with the captain baiting Mike until our hero admits that while he doesn't consider himself a don, he did have a Spanish grandpa.  When Braumley vows to bring the garrison to the manor to apprehend this stinkin' Spaniard, Mike doesn't so much draw his sword as he does catch his rapier after it "leaped from its scabbard," then jumps over the table to block the captain's exit.

So it's dinner and a show, as Bramley insists on fighting Mike right then and there.  Our hero freezes up for a moment because he knows he doesn't know how to fight, but Mike nevertheless is able to hold his own and drive the enemy back.

He knew he needed all his eyes for that magically shifting point which sought his heart or throat and yet he amazed himself by saying coolly, "Your permission, milady.  The beggar seems a bit insistent."

What the devil made him talk like this?  And was that sound he heard a typewriter?

It must be!

In the end, Mike is able to disarm the captain - in less than a page, without a single Hubbard Action Sequence - and slash his ass a bit before throwing the blubbering baddie out the front door.  Lady Marion is of course highly impressed with this swordplay and can only forgive his violence in a dazed voice before going to her room.  And Lord Carstone just pours him a drink and chats for a bit.  And by a bit I mean four pages.  Man, why wasn't this two chapters?  Could've ended the section with Mike taking a nap.

Almost finished.  Carstone rambles, first about how Marion "thinks she's sick at the sight of blood and violence, but what are women but violence and blood, what?"  Then the topic of politics and business comes up, and Carstone admits he's disinterested in religion, and knows that England has no claim to these islands, but he wants Spanish gold and so is willing to back buccaneers to attack Spanish shipping.  He's a little worried about one admiral, someone named Miguel Saint Raoul de Lobo, but Carstone has that problem solved - he's sent for a young firebrand named Bristol and promised him a governorship and Marion's hand if he can bring Carstone the head of the Spanish admiral.

Mike nervously asks how this Bristol will know he's got the right Spaniard, and Carstone reveals that they've taken some Maroons from the Panama coast who served as slaves on the Spanish ships and suffered Spanish raids and atrocities, and they'll happily identify this evil admiral.  Yep, once Bristol shows up, that nasty Spaniard's days are numbered.

"I dare say," said Mike, and memories were stirring uneasily where no past had been.  "And this Bristol will soon be home, eh?"


"By the way, milord, I'd like quite well to stay, but I can't have the town revolting against you because of my father and because of this Captain Braumley."

Lord Carstone tries to entice Mike to stick around with offers of protection and employment as a double agent, but wouldn't you know it but a black messenger runs up to announce that Captain Bristol's fleet has arrived, an announcement made redundant by saluting cannons in the harbor.  And while the is certainly a convenient coincidence done for the sake of drama, somehow it just feels appropriate for this story, doesn't it?  This story about stories, I should say.

So now Mike is coming to grips with the situation, and while he may not fully accept that he's somehow been sucked into a story-in-progress, he's at least aware of where the plot is trying to take him.  And we're getting some instances of what a literary world looks like from the inside out, where an author's choice of words is played completely literally.  But next time we'll take a short break from all of this and check on how Hackett himself is doing.

Back to Chapter Two


  1. So this is that episode of Looney Tunes where Bugs tormented Daffy with a pencil?

  2. Hmm, not quite, Hackett isn't aware he's putting his buddy through the wringer. I think it's more like a Tom and Jerry episode where - if I'm remembering it correctly - the mouse is inside a piano the cat is playing, dodging the hammers and occasionally fighting back against the mechanics of the instrument.

    And now I wonder if those old cartoons are on YouTube.