Letter #4 – Panamanian Pandemonium

December 10th, 1851

Dearest Tiberius,

Fortune has smiled upon this voyage over the past few months. My last correspondence (an embarrassing three months ere) was riddled with ill-tidings and misfortunes so, in the spirit of the upcoming Christmas holiday, this letter will be of Yule-tidings and good fortunes. Bully! As it stands, the Salty Beggar made it through Cape Horn and Drake’s Passage with little complications save for a generous sized rip in the foretop sail. It took a matter of days to patch her up and has lasted through until we made it to port in Panama no more than three days ago. There is a lot of hustle and bustle in Panama. It would seem, according to the locals and newspapers, that a group of financiers from New York came a few years ago and started what they are calling the Panama Railroad Company. The plan is to connect east to west via a railway line. They say that the railway is being built to expedite the travel of country, company, and common man alike. Sounds like just another step in eliminating the usage of ships to me. The newspapers are also scattershot with stories of the El Dorado amounts of gold that is being found in California…It sounds like, if I may be so bold as to voice my opinion, that the railway and its constituents have the same intentions as a toll on a taxed roadway. The building of the railroad after the discovery of what is said to be endless amounts of gold seems to be more than just a coincidental conjunction of events. I very well could be wrong though. I would be more than pleased to be in err about the intentions of this railway and would admit it openly if that were the case. However, such predictions as mine are founded in the bosom of experience which, in mine and the opinion of greater men than me such as Leonardo DaVinci, Ferdinand Magellan, and Nicholas Copernicus (to name a brief few), far outweighs the learning of secondhand book knowledge. Experience rarely steers a man wrong. Please do not take my opinion on book learning to be contemptuous towards graduates such as you for, they are not. Such learning has vast advantages when paired with experience. Yet, it gives me great pity and grievance when students can become masters by book learning alone and without the proper and due experience. I know that you are of the former and not the latter in that you have combined experience with book knowledge which is why my statements could not possibly be in regards to you. You may see my words as drowning in negative thought but, oh dear brother, nothing could be further from the truth. It is not with a negative heart and thoughts that I pen these words of wild wisdom, but instead with an astonished heart and concerned thoughts. What will the future hold if the world contains nothing but inexperienced, self-proclaimed, book learned masters? Pandemonium is the answer to that question, Tiberius. Again, my mind drifts…but what do you expect, I’m on the sea! Bully again I say!

While a few of the crewman have taken their week’s leave to nurse their more unsuitable habits (whoring, excessive drinking, gambling, and the like), many have remained aboard to prepare for the next leg of the journey, including myself and Mr. Bradley Newton. The good Doctor West has joined the band of few and is potentially sulking over his wrongful diagnosis of the sled dogs through the bottom of a bottle or between the legs of some hammertoe hussy (he was very adamant before he left that he would either be doing one, the other, or both). Most of the time, I feel no compassion toward the doctor’s overall attitude, but when he left the ship he looked as though the wind had been let out of his sails, in a manner of speaking. It was a new look for the doctor and not a suiting one at that so, I empathized with the man even if in silence and at a distance. I suppose I am the reason for taking the wind out of his sails so I should have offered to buy the poor man a drink at the very least. I would spare my money on buying him a whore as that is more foolish than a drink and twice as dangerous. Not that I would know personally as I lack experience with whores, but I’ve known plenty of men that tell of stories best kept between their mouths and God’s ears. Back on topic, the doctor was more than assured that the dead sled dogs I spoke of in my last letter had died of the unnatural sun poisoning he says happens near equatorial areas. Where he attains this knowledge, he still has not revealed. However, my theory was more grounded in the idea that there was foul play about. In the end, with the help of Mr. Bradley Newton, my theory won out. What the doctor fails to understand is that as his Captain, I could easily sentence him to months in the brig for his outbursts of insubordination. I do not do this for the simple facts that it would only worsen relations between me and the doctor and that the doctor’s assistant is nowhere near as skilled as the doctor himself. For all the naysaying I may do about the doctor, his skill in his profession is unrivaled so far as I’ve seen. Even compared to you, dear brother, he could still cast a shadow over your skill. Do not take that as negative criticism toward you, as you are a greater doctor than most, but you must realize there will always be someone better. I only wish that you were here so that you might learn from the man as your attitude is far superior to his. In any case, two men came forward and admitted to slaying the sled dogs and making it resemble the uncanny deaths of three crewmen in order to cover it up. The names of the slayers were John Steeple Tonmil and Thomas Treehorn. It was through a brilliant strategy of Mr. Bradley Newton that we were able to coax the culprits into confessing their crimes. He spread a rumor that anyone who had come into contact with the dead sled dogs was potentially poisoned by some fictional blood disease the dogs carried. Had the men realized the folly in their coming forward, I do not suspect that they would have ever been found out. In the end, their fear of disease overcame them and they admitted to killing the dogs. Though, their story as to why they killed the dogs was compelling to say the least. To avoid any collaboration of stories, Mr. Newton and I took the two men and questioned them separately. During my sessions with the men, I invited Doctor West to join me and listen to the testimonies. He was hesitant at first, but eventually came and listened. These two men, caretakers for the dogs no less, claimed that the dogs had gone mad over some trinket that a fellow crewman had shown them. In frankness, they said that the entire team of dogs went raving mad at the sight of this supposed trinket, but it was only the two that managed to escape and chase after them. At that point, they say it was kill or be killed and thus slayed the two dogs. There were so many questions left unanswered which put reasonable doubts in the story. For instance, where is this trinket, nay, where is the crewman that owns the trinket that drove the dogs mad? To this, Mr. Tonmil and Mr. Treehorn could not answer. If the dogs had broken out of the cages, why were the cages still intact? Again, they could not answer. Why was it that neither one of them (or all three of them was the case in their story) were injured by the pursuing dogs? Two large men (or three) running down the narrow corridors of the ship being chased by two smaller animals that have more room to move seems ill matched. Someone would have gotten bitten, mauled, or at the very least scratched. If the dogs were mad with rage as the men claimed they were. Yet, after an examination by the doctor, there was not a hair out of place on either Mr. Tonmil or Mr. Treehorn. For this, neither of them could account. Regardless, they spent a meager 35 days in the brig and have found their permanent port of harbor in Panama. I do not wish to have those sorts of men aboard my ship. Although they did admit to killing the dogs, they would not, even under threat of spending more time in a jail in Panama, admit that their story was fabricated. Makes a man wonder sometimes what drives a man to believe his own lies even when he has nothing left to lose. Needless to say, the testimony of the men is the cause for the doctor’s melancholia.

Against my better judgment, I have taken on a passenger that is traveling to the Sandwich Islands. His name is Mister Vermillion H—. A travelling snake oil salesman, if you ask me, he claims to have “secret remedies and knowledge of things unknown.” His words. Not mine. He has added a formidable amount of food provisions and medical supplies as payment for his passage of which I cannot complain about. He also tried to pay me a fair amount of gold although I had to refuse his offer due to his other contributions. Beware the Greeks bearing gifts is all I can think. It is in my nature to be wary especially around these parts. Mr. H— is a Panamanian and though his English is not spot on, his style of suit is. I am sure he is often times mistaken for a powerful businessman as opposed to a travelling healer. I have not had much time to talk to the man but the weeks ahead will provide more than enough time to better get acquainted with my guest. It was a strange way that he found my ship to begin with. As we docked, he seemed to be waiting there as though he knew the Salty Beggar would be his transport. I cannot quite explain this properly. All I can say is that Mr. H— is a strange man indeed. I hope that this letter reaches you well and that your holiday is one of joy and prosperity. Give my love to your wife and child.

Sincerely,

Capt. Edgar P. Wright

One thought on “Letter #4 – Panamanian Pandemonium

  1. Fellow writer and imagineeer,

    From my perch, I see scenes that are constructive, making one visualize in their own mind what you want the to see (descriptive words matter in good writing). Characters are curious. And I love the use of native tongue (vernacular), featuring seldom heard words, such as “scattershot.”

    You know by now how sincere I am: Ryan – you are creating in the right direction. Keep up the good work matey. Ha!

    Your Encourager,
    el-john-o, protecting the border of your imagination (but, you know that)

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