8:2 The Captain’s Table

THE PACIFIC OCEAN  |  1889

The unlikely pair found Fox holding court in a large salon illuminated by immense skylights made up of intricate patterns of cut glass. Several of Edison’s lamps hung in matching chandeliers adding to the disorienting kaleidoscopic effect.

Upon noticing his charge enter the room, Fox suspended whatever web of nonsense he had been spinning out and rose from his leather swivel chair.

“Ah, Philomena!” He exclaimed. “I trust my daughter has caught up with her sleep.” Fox turned to his coterie of ruddy companions and gave an aside. “Ocean travel is so hard on the girl, she has spent most of her short life landlocked, poor dear.”

Well cognizant of the game Fox was playing, Philomena aimed for the back of the room, sensing subtlety would be lost on the lubricated assembly. “Yes, father,” she swooned, “the salt air is ever so troublesome.”

“Perhaps the poor child needs some nourishment,” a pale woman with cheeks etched with the evidence of several gin and tonics offered. “It is almost time for supper and I would just love if the two of you would join me at the captain’s table.” Not waiting for an answer, the woman rose and attempted to straighten her bustled skirt and woolen vest as she led the way.

Before she could react, Philomena found herself sitting before a profusion of silver cutlery—most of which she could imagine no use for—listening to the idle chatter of the idle class.

“So tell me, dear,” Mrs. Gin and Tonic suddenly probed, “how is it that you have never been to sea? Where has the good reverend been hiding you?

Philomena let an unnecessary sharp look from Fox glance off her countenance, imagining it landing on and even cracking one of the thousands of glass facets.

“The Central Valley, ma’am,” she purred. “I find that a drier clime better suits my constitution.”

“Oh, I know what you mean,” the woman took the bait and began to unspool as much line as she could. “My husband and I just returned from the Grand Tour, that’s Europe you know … we just adored Spain … ”

Philomena had been around adults enough to know that they didn’t really care what she thought and most of them only liked to hear themselves talk. She kept her contributions to a minimum throughout the rest of the meal, mostly a small, random farrago of “hmmm” and “is that so?” She couldn’t tell if Fox was enjoying putting her through the uncomfortable dinner, or was completely oblivious to her clues and cues. In the end, it didn’t matter; she was stuck either way.

Suddenly, out of the patterned ether, the conversation took a surprising turn and Philomena scrambled to climb out of the fugue she had been steadily drifting into.

“I don’t want to upset the girl,” Mrs. Gin and Tonic slurred, “but I’ve heard that there’s a ghost on board this ship.”

For his part, Fox produced the first frown Philomena had witnessed since they began their ocean voyage. “Madam, I must implore you … ”

“I saw it!” Philomena exclaimed.

“Saw what?” a lanky Danish man in a starched white uniform that matched his closely cropped hair and beard inquired as he pulled out a chair for himself. “I must apologize for my tardiness, I had unavoidable business to attend to.”

“I saw the ghost!” Philomena exclaimed while Fox noisily cleared his throat. “It was … ”

“My dear,” the man interrupted, “we are not sitting around a campfire telling stories. This very ship, if nothing else, proves that we have finally entered an irrefutable age of science. Thomas Edison himself installed these electric lights so that we might—once and for all—dispel the mysteries that lurk in the shadows.”

“But … ”

“Please allow me to introduce myself,” the man addressed the table at large, “I am Captain Kasper Munk.” The captain then turned toward Philomena, “but you, my dear, can call me Captain Kasper.”

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