THE LUSTS OF PROMETHEUS.
London had for many years been a province feared by it’s populace for the manner in which it chose to exact justice, a reputation wrung from the climate of antipathy towards which the blessed fraternities enjoined to dwell amongst it’s feathered halls were preternaturally inclined, a process of imprisonment, trial and execution that the capital had indulged without restriction throughout much of that which would be considered recorded history, a policy, both facilitated and empowered by the many bastions of civil institution over which the city wielded jurisdiction, a retinue of transparent administrative concerns that inevitably led forth to the blind Palladian archways and trellised corridors of Newgate jail, a Hell in which wrath could, despite wiser predilection, yet defy the inadequacies of a finer paradise.
Michael Drew, a sailor once decorated for his service in the navy, sat quietly in the corner of a small room, his gaze passing distractedly across a sheaf of documentation that had been presented before him earlier that morning, a selection of papers bound loosely with twine, their vellum marked distinctly with the crest of law.
“June the twenty sixth”, he muttered disconsolately, glancing up at an attendant that stood standing in the centre of the chamber, “I am to be hung on June the twenty sixth”.
The attendant frowned impassively casting his eyes vacantly into the middle distance before perfunctorily grunting “Sir”.
Michael lowered his head into his hands issuing a low moan of despair, before weakly announcing, “there must be some form of a mistake, surely I cannot be condemned with such certitude when even I am not be sure of the nature of my crimes”.
The attendant remained silent, his aspect unmoved
“It is a travesty of justice I tell you, a prettification of death”, whined Michael, his voice betraying a note of pathos, “I will send an envoy to the admiralty post-haste, they will secure my release”, he reached shakily for a pencil and frantically inscribed a message upon a sliver of paper, “give this to the warden”, he whispered, urgently thrusting the note into the attendant’s hand, “tell him that he will be rewarded if he forwards it at once”.
The attendant duly took the envelope from Michael’s hand and placed it in his pocket, “Sir”, he said affecting a brisk salute before turning to leave.
Michael turned to glance out of the window as the attendant departed, his gaze falling upon a flock of birds that had descended, amidst tirades of nebulous profusion, to feast upon the fragmentary refuse which littered the ground, “what price liberty?” He muttered beneath his breath, “what chance damnation?”
He paused momentarily in a state of morose suspense before reaching hastily across to the table to examine the treatise which had been left upon it’s surface.
“Michael Drew”, pronounced the document in austere block capitals, “twelve year service with the Royal Navy, second mate aboard H.M.S Skylark, first mate aboard H.M.S Uriel, midshipman aboard H.M.S Hornet. Sentenced to trial in accordance with the twenty second act of Parliament for crimes against the British people and the security of the British nation”.
Michael furrowed his brow perplexed, leafing through the documentation slowly, but could find no further evidence amongst it’s pages to suggest what those crimes could be, their specific eluding his inspection like a blind decree, and, after some time, he drifted into a light sleep, his mind fatigued by the imponderability of physical extinction that thoughts of execution were inclined to inspire.
As Michael lay recumbent upon a sparsely fashioned bunk which furnished the finer aspect of his room, he dreamed of the proceedings which would lead to his demise, the parade from the building in which he now languished escorted by a contingent of uniformed officers to be brought before the arbitration of Swain’s Court by the Thames where he would receive sentence, a moment of respite meted by degrees beneath the pretence of civilized practise before finally being ushered forth towards the wall of cages that lined the river bank for a day of baiting heckled by the many crowds which, in seeking entertainment, often frequented it’s shores, a tenure through which he may yet wring reprieve from the fickle fancy of common sentiment or be doomed to trace file out towards Tyburnia upon the outskirts of the city for public execution.
He dreamed of the throng seething invective about the circumference of the gallows, their faces distorted in the thickening of evening, their cries teasing shame from the blessing of the noose, and, as he stood bowed in mute preponderance, his gaze cast down upon the trap at his feet, he thought, for an instant, that he could perceive a dull light cast glimmering across the void, beckoning him forth towards optimistic union and the harbor that it promised, a viable retreat from the crude attentions of the crowd, the abandonment of cowardice for shame, however, as he attempted to identify the source of the distraction, focussing his mind upon it’s incident, he was awoken by the sound of more immediate movement, a bird had entered through the window of his chamber and had become trapped within it’s buttressed confines.
Micheal smiled as the creature cavorted frenetically against the room’s walls, it’s efforts restricted by their obstinacy, “a nice frame of sealed brood,” he muttered absent mindedly, rising to widen the aperture which had granted the bird access, pausing momentarily in mute appraisal before adding, “you would escape death too”.
Shortly afterwards the attendant who had previously stood watch over Michael’s cell returned carrying a parcel containing a bottle of whiskey and a few morsels of food. “I have delivered your envoy sir”, he announced, placing the package upon the table in the centre of the room, “It should reach it’s destination by tomorrow”.
“Excellent,” replied Michael rising to unwrap the gift, “the Admiralty will resolve this situation without further complication”.
“Sir”, intoned the attendant sobrely
Michael tentatively opened the package placed before him and examed it’s contents, “Whiskey”, he grunted approvingly, “now there is something to line the stomach and relieve the brain”.
He chuckled cracking open the bottle and drowning a measure, “I have not tasted good Scotch since I left the Navy”, he said allowing the liquor to bloom against his palate, “to death”, he croaked, announcing a toast, “if a man must die, he may yet choose to die drunk”.
The attendant glanced implacably at the ceiling..
“It’s the wisdom of anciency,” continued Michael slurring slightly as the alcohol reaped effect, “he who cherishes immediacy may cheat the cast of fate, the augur of death can forever live within the present, a misery to persist an age in the shadow of damnation, a joy to prosper in defiance of it’s platitude”, he paused taking another quaff, before proffering the bottle forth towards his companion “Do you want a dram?”
“With all due respect sir,” replied the attendant furrowing his brow, “I should not drink on duty”.
“I apologise,” answered Michael lugubriuosly, “I do not wish to set you a bad example. I will drown my sorrows alone”.
The day progressed in an unexceptional fashion, the attendant leaving and returning at regular intervals as Michael gradually depleted his reserve of Scotch and before long night fell, twilight closing over the horizon in gibbous pleats.
Occasionally, as Michael sat, pondering the rudiment of his plight through the illusion of freedom that the spirit offered, he could hear the sound of movement in the room below his cell, the chatter of hushed confabulation and quiet camraderie that typified communion, as though the attendant were, despite affecting an air of detatched unconcern when within the sailor’s presence, otherwise engaged in discourse with the men of his company upon the ground floor of the house, a series of complicit liasons conducted covertly beneath Michael’s notice as if to mock his solitude with thoughts of conspiracy.
“Supercilious blackgaurd”, muttered Michael turning over on his side, “they think I’ll wring my damp on a man that runs rum sobre and locks shop, but they are wrong. I’ll take my cut clean, clean like a man… and… and,” he paused momentarily, his senses numbed by the strength of the liquor, “…damn them to Hell”.
That night Michael was awoken by a peculiar resonance issuing forth from the window of his room, a noise which, in running channels through the layers of flawed panelling that, amidst fablieus of carpentered eccentricity, skirted his cell, he initially creditted to the sigh of the wind, however as he rose to investigate the sound, his attention was distracted by a light glimmering dimly in the corner of the room, an ambience not dissimilar to that which he had noticed not two nights before when bound amidst the reveries of trance.
“What figment of hallucination is this,” moaned Micheal, leaning forward to the touch light with his fingertips.
The resonance began to alter it’s pitch running through a repeated refrain as Michael reached forth, a sound within which the syllables of crude articulation could be discerned, their significance feinting through the meter of a submerged melody before finally coalescing about the weft of a single intonation, a phrase of such clarity that Michael withdrew from the perimeter of the spectacle clasping his hands about his ears.
“Confound it”, cried Michael groggily recovering his senses, “I am yet beleagured even in my darkest hour”.
“Hush child”, throbbed the light, it’s incandescence rythmically subsiding and intensifying through degrees of subtle correspondance.
“What manner of devilry is this?” Cried Michael attempting to address the voice, “Who are you?”
“I am…” the voice stuttered and faded, consumed by the melody within which it floundered before gradually re-gaining coherence “I am the sea”.
“This must be some form of a trick” screamed Michael feverishly, “show yourself”.
“I am the sea,” repeated the voice simplistically, it’s timbre shifting through the shingle of a slow sympathy, “come to me”.
“Ha”, laughed Micheal deleriously, “but for the walls that serve to hold me here I surely would”.
“I will bring you,” answered the voice sombrely, “come to me and I will bring you”.
“The sea is an indiscriminate power,” cried Micheal attempting to locate the origin of the voice, “it claims vintage and locks file, paying scant regard to the predilections of it’s freight. What would such a power want with an old sailor like me?”
“A currency passed in exchange for rare pleasure is indebted to my horde,” replied the voice simplistically, “those that sail upon my surface remain forever mine”..
“You have come to claim my soul,” whimpered Michael glancing up into the light.
“As I requisition so do I dissolve”, replied the voice serenely, “the soul is but an expression of my will”.
Michael pinched himself in efforts to assert whether or not he was not dreaming but the light remained glimmering implacably in the corner of the room, “You say that you are the sea, a personification of nature, but the oceans of the earth are nothing more than formless voids, expanses strafed wantonly by heedless tides. That such a morass should bear a human apparel is preposterous, nature has no identity beyond it’s circumstance”.
“A riddle”, replied the voice pausing momentarily before adding “if intellect be good”.
“You invade my darkest hour garbed in the raiment of divinity and claim puzzlement to be your purpose,” cried Michael becoming agitated, “I should know better than to accept such mockery. Begone foul spirit, back amongst the depths from which you have stolen vain distinction, leave me in peace”.
“You cannot see me but I see you”, came the voice louder than before, “I see all who venture forth in genius and abandon upon my gilt spun tides, all who, in stark fortitude, dare to brave my thrall”.
“You are but a candle”, replied Michael regaining his copmposure, “I will blow you out”.
“Ha”, replied the voice, it’s tone betraying a note of contempt, “you think that you can kill me but you are mistaken, a fly would as soon brave a maelstrom.
“Begone I tell you”, cried Michael covering his ears, “return back amongst the the realms to which you once owed origin”.
As Micheal spoke, bidding the spirit riddance from his presence, the light began to fade receding against the patina of the room’s walls as though claimed by some influence which remained separate from it’s mass, a retreat which, after some moments of gutteral hesitation, left the cell in perfect darkness, a gloom of such profundity that the sailor could perceive nothing within his vicinity, a benighted intimacy which, in divesting Michael of sight, granted him grace to ponder upon the collusion of events that had allowed the spirit access into his domain.
“I remain trapped here to fester with despair where a phantom may intrude as it pleases,” he muttered reaching out to purchase equilibrium,”what manner of prison is it that would hold a vestige of obeyance yet permit the encroachment of forces which have never known law?” He paused, his mind laboured with fatigue, “such things are the concessions of folly, the delusions of the mad”.
The next morning Michael woke early, his head singing in the aftermath of intoxication, and rising to check the calendar that lay upon his table amongst the sheaf of legal documents which had been left by the attendant, noticed that the date of his execution was drawing near, it’s macarbre procession about the streets of London commencing not two days hence, a brief parade along Seething Lane pilloried by sour sentiment and public resent followed by a march out towards Tyburn pole and the irreconcilability of the noose.
As the day progressed Michael sat thinking about the phantasmal presence, about how it had entered and departed from his cell when such transgression was impervious to the intrusions of mankind, about how it had stolen all light from the building’s precinct obscuring both the vague incandescence of the lamplit courtyard and the moonlight which filtered weakly through the shutters of his cell.
Perhaps there was an element of truth in the spirit’s boast for it’s incident was inexplicable upon any other term, however such a notion subscribed to the whim of superstition, a suggestibility towards which the old sailor was by nature disinclined, it was more probable that the attendant had roused him from the embrace of drunken stupefaction to humor the delusion that it entertained, and, as Michael sat pondering the conspiracy of forces which served to confound him he gradually became angered, filled with a wrath that could not be appeased, a fury of such insatiable vitriole that he was left shaking feverishly as though palsied by affliction beneath the urgencies of it’s influence..
Before long the date of Michael’s execution arrived, a dismal day, beleagured beneath an unrelenting sense of oppression, a miasma that set heavy over the spires of London, merging with the stench of smog and old sewage to the effect of obscuring all but the most immediate survey, a foetor through which the sailor was led, his wrists manacled to a small wheeled cart reserved for such occasions by the Watch, before, after some minutes of transit, being unceremoniously deposited at the gates of Swain’s Court to be led inside for trial.
There was a moments silence as the court assembled, taking ordered file about the circumference of the hall, before the judge began to speak, “We hereby pronounce that you Michael Drew, one time seaman of the Royal Navy, should be hung by the neck until dead for crimes committed against the security of the British Nation,” he paused, collecting his breath, casting a weary glance across the audience, “The nature of these crimes are as follows. The smuggling of narcotics onto the British mainland whilst in the employ of his majesty’s fleet, the incitement of hostile interest in the affairs of the nation whilst at sea, the exchange of narcotics for currency about the the many provinces of the British isles, the conversion of ports upon the coast of England into dens of iniquity within which such exchange was deemed necessary to sustain livelihood and the further adaptation of many harbour ports to this end, a charge which includes, the sounding of coastlines against marine trespass, the fortification of naval depots to secure narcotic frieght, the establishment of banks to launder the proceeds of illicit trade and the lifting of laws, specifically those pronounced in prevention of homicide, to suit your designs. What have you to say in your defence?”
“I have throughout my career as a sailor, always obeyed command, “ replied Michael simplistically, “my innocence in the issues presented before debate would, as a Naval officer, have constituted rank disobedience”, he paused. “the securement of stowage is an acceptable if not essential procedure at sea, a policy which many Navies extend to the land”,
“An adherence to command is a worthy virtue,” replied the judge furrowing his brow,”but the charges presented before the court are of a seriousness which cannot be ignored. It is of the utmost importance that you understand the penalty for implication in such matters is death”.
“Spare me the formalities, I have only ever been cursed to endure the rituals of trial once before in my life and their idiosyncracies have yet to inspire me”, answered Michael abruptly.
“You have been tried before?” said the judge.
“Yes”, replied Michael, “a moment of transgression”.
“A moment of transgression?” Enquired the Judge gently.
“A matter close to my heart”, muttered Michael stoically,
“Please elaborate” intoned the judge expectantly.
“I would rather digress”, said Michael, “a moment of unreason may infuriate depravity but to face reprimand after having destroyed that which one loves rains scorn upon the weak, eclipsing conscience with a fear of reprisal and purchasing relief in further villainy”.
“Beneath of trial you are obliged to testify the truth”, said the Judge serenely, “witholding information from enquiry defies judicial practise”.
Micheal paused self-consciously, “a man may die as a result of the many misfortunes which life calls forth to confound him , but one condemned to death beneath your edict cannot live, a judge who presumes the audacity to exact fate over the fickle whim of chance can but be defied”.
“Objection sustained”, answered the Judge emphatically, “Innocence beneath our law is not condemned to death”
“A collapsible argument”, replied Michael, “the innocent can die”.
“As we exonerate so do we protect”, intoned the judge sombrely, “beneath our gaurdianship the innocent survive the renegations of guilt”.
“They run from the contrivance that your justice represents and, in disproving it’s mercury, rally beneath a transigable ideal”. answered Michael bitterly.
“It is law,” said the judge fixing Michael with a steely gaze, “you suggest that the execution of justice permits a greater threshold of disobedience than any other standard”.
“No of course not”, replied Michael self-consciously, “I merely state that it’s premise is subject to interpretation”.
“In it’s specific, the law stands as testament to a human power of choice”, answered the Judge sombrely, “is reason not, amongst all other virtues, the benchmark of cultural distinction, the sole attribute which serves to divide man from the indiscriminacies of mischance?”
“Such novel distinction is subject to abuse”, said Michael sourly, “a law such as that which I perceive pronounced here in this court does little more than to obscure and supplant the threat of other enmity”.
“Nonetheless”, interjected the Judge, “the law is the law, it’s edict inviolable”.
“Perhaps we can negotiate” interjected Michael his soul suddenly siezed with an acute abjectitude at the significance of the events beneath which he then availed, I am prepared to reward any man amongst this court who can secure my release”.
“A bribe,” muttered the judge amused, “surely such trade misappropriates the nature of it’s circumstance”.
“I apologise for questioning your discretion,” replied Michael hastily retracting his offer, “it seems that my offer is inadequate”.
“Quite so,” answered the judge solemnly before adding, “have you anything more to say in your defence?” .
“No,” whimpered Micheal bowing his head in defeat.
“As you wish,” said the judge nodding his head summarily, “court adjourned”.
Michael was escorted from the courtroom as the judge spoke, led out through the labyrinth of corridors which laced it’s circumference and, after some minutes of hectored indecision, guided towards the trellis of cages reserved for those condemned to die by the perverse wisdom of municipal authority, a skeletal structure composed of countless tiered cells teetering precarious equilibrium upon the bank of the Thames.
Having deposited Michael in a cage designated for the purpose of such distinction, the Watch proceeded to beat him vigorously with an assemblage of short sticks, an assault which although brief, served to bait the old sailor towards defensive action, drawing him through the economies of pugilistic dispute, until, after some minutes of flustered affray, the guards decided to withdraw from their efforts, granting Michael grace to regain his composure.
“Here’s a swab”, said one of the watchmen offering Michael a length of cloth with which to tend his injuries, “it’s infused with a drug to ease the pain”.
Michael dully accepted the offering his head ringing in the aftermath of assault..
“Let me tell you a secret”, continued the guard bending down to whisper into the sailor’s ear, “a touch of deprivation gives a man character”.
“A qaulity of hatred,” replied Michael looking up at the gaurd, “release me from these manacles and I will disprove your assertion”.
“You are weak,” said the guard lowering his voice, “this episode will serve to strengthen you”.
“What need have I of strength?”, replied Michael acidly, “I am sentenced to be hung”.
“Resolve”, muttered the guard mystically, “to strengthen your soul in the hereafter. the gallows are houses of freedom not incarceration”.
“Surely you jest”, said Michael gritting his teeth, “my soul would blacken cess”.
“Ha”, laughed the guard turning to leave, “that’s the spirit”.
There were few members of the public present to audience the last hours of the sailor’s disgrace, the habitual fascination that was ordinarily reserved for such spectacles having been, through some miracle of urbane distraction, appointed towards other concern, an absence which granted Michael opportunity to imagine a strange beauty in the horror of of his plight, a sense of bludgeoned solitude nourished by the scuff of the wind that flirted remorseless seizure against the side of his cage and the convolutions of the tide which rode molten relief some distance below him.
After some hours of uneventful suspense the Watch returned to the side of Michael’s cage, and, releasing it’s clasps, cajoled him from it’s sanctum, muttering a selection of well practised assurances, sentiments uttered as though to spite the barbarity of their circumstance, before, having dressed the sailor down for execution, proceeding out towards the perimeter of the city where the gallows swung ponderously awaiting their claim.
As Micheal stood upon the raised trap of the device, his face cast downwards at a small crowd of spectators who had assembled like vermin about it’s circumference, a shout rang forth through the sullen London air, a protest that went unheeded for some minutes, reporting vacantly about the crooked porticos and shantied alleyways of the surrounding streets, before finally reaching the attention by the execution party.
“Mr Drew”… came the cry steadily increasing in volume as it’s source approached, “Mr Drew, you are free to go”.
“What?” exclaimed Michael, glancing up to ascertain the identity of interloper.
“You are free to go,” repeated the voice insistently, “there has been a reprieve, the execution is no longer to be staged”.
“I am free,” said Micheal bemused.
“Quite so,” replied the interloper, “there was a re-appraisal shortly after your sentence was passed, your punishment was, as a result of evidential inconsistency, considered entirely disproportionate to the gravity of your crime”.
“Oh”, cried Michael breathing a quiet sigh of relief, “oh… I do not know what to say”.
After some minutes of flustered indecision Micheal descended from the framework of the trap and joined his saviour upon the scrub of land cleared for public spectation at it’s base.
“Thankyou,” murmured Michael biting back a flush of tears, “thankyou. I will be forever in your debt”.
As Micheal descended from the trap to embrace the interloper, the pair were accompanied by a third man, an individual, who, in introducing himself as a member of the Watch, proceeded to draw Michael aside in an officious manner.
“So what do you think?” said the watch-man directing his attention towards the old sailor.
“Pardon.” replied Michael confused.
“What do you think?” Repeated the Watch-man, “Did we worry you?”
“I don’t understand?” muttered Michael furrowing his brow..
“Many men become frightened when faced with the noose,” continued the watch-man with an explanatory gesture, “It inspires fear in even the most courageous heart”.
“That’s over now,” breathed Michael nervously, before adding, “why are you so concerned?”
“We often do this,” answered the watch-man looking up at the sailor.
“What do you mean?” said Michael perplexed.
“We often test men’s mettle to assess their potential”, replied the watch-man smiling amiably, “it tries our security”.
“You mean that all this was a hoax”, said Michael incredulously, “that the charges pressed against me were no more than fabrications”.
“Precisely,” replied the watch-man affably, “where men contend compliance we profit from defiance”, he laughed allowing the expression to linger on his palate.
“You wished to frighten me?” said Michael thinly.
“It’s procedural,” answered the watch-man simplistically, “a game in which you can play the hero”.
“I am no hero”, said Micheal struggling to control his indignation, before adding, “now I am afraid that I must leave, I cannot tolerate this place any longer”.
“As you wish,” said the watch-man, casting a genial glance up at the sailor before adding, “good luck in all your future proceedings”.
“Thankyou,” said Michael briskly bidding both men farewell and turning to forge passage back through the small gathering of spectators that remained seething macarbre expectation about the circumference of the gallows.
The three men parted company as twilight descended upon the grotesque facades and sculpted collonades of old London town, casting shadows long into the gloom of mist swept streets and benighted alleys of the slums, the nightwatchman and his accomplice returning back amongst the men of their company to recant the tale of the days events over the warmth of a mead inspired hearth, Michael forging passage out towards the coast in efforts to chart a course into Europe upon one of the many steam ships then designated for that purpose, three souls cast adrift upon different tides, their interests held transfixed in momentary fusion before dividing to follow seperate schemes, two currents wrought foiled through tirades of repulsion to be drawn their respective ways. The benevolence of the Watch, so long in salvation, wrung wry through the mercury of it’s game, the illimitability of the sea, it’s spun multitude, bound threadbare with dilution.