Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Captain's Story—Told by Marlena the Peculiar

You'll notice this sample is significantly different from the last. Marlena is the storyteller, conveying it in third person POV. The voice is formal, heavily influenced by Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, which is Marlena’s favorite novel.
The characters—the Captain, a young Venezuelan woman, and a Black slave—are shipwrecked on an otherwise uninhabited island, in the late 1860's.

One night, when a full moon broke through clouds, the Captain woke. He lay restless as a beam of light shone in upon him. Rather than idly torment himself, he went to the ledge overlooking the beach. The sparkling water faded in and out of the moonlight as clouds waltzed like bridal gauze.

Before long, he heard the rustling of Mrs. Lawson.

“Finally, a break in the rain.” She sat beside him. “Do you mind if I join you?”

The Captain glanced at her. Although he was enjoying his solitude, he would be hard pressed to find her an imposition. “Please, do.”

“Tell me Captain Wesley—”

“There is no need for formality. I am hardly a captain any longer.”

“William, then,” her voice lilted. “Tell me, what was it that woke you? The moon or your conscience?”

The Captain shot her a startled glance.

“Ah, the conscience,” she deduced. “The conscience is such a troublesome thing—sometimes it betrays you, condemning when it ought not, and sometimes it’s as lenient as an indulgent parent.”

Was she now reneging on her promise not to speak of his culpability regarding her husband’s death? Or, did she refer to something else?

“I have never been a man at ease with my conscience,” he said. “A calm conscience only serves complacency.”

“And the provoked conscience, a handy device to send men to war—to protect and provide for their families. Tell me, what verdict does it offer when family—when children—are left to fend for themselves?”

Her words grabbed at his heart, squeezing blood to his neck. “What do you imply? That it is better for a man to stand back and watch while others defend and provide for his family? That he should coddle them at any cost?”

“You misunderstand my intent. I mean no accusation against you.” She drew a solemn breath. “It is my own past that torments me.”

“Tell me, that I may gain some perspective.”

She turned to him incisively. “You want a woman’s perspective, but I shall give you a child’s.” Her eyes drifted toward the beach. “I was only ten when the caudillo came and took our plantation. I lost my father, brothers and uncles to the civil insurrections of those feudal lords. There was no one left to fend for me.” Her voice tapered, and her next words seemed to come with hesitation. “Had I not been a beautiful little girl, I would still be working the fields of those outlaws, used up like so many of the girls who had come of age.”

The Captain stared at her, aghast.

“Don’t be appalled,” she said. “Things took a turn for the better when I was thirteen. A fine, rich gentleman, visiting Venezuelan plantations noticed me, and it was he who essentially purchased me. He clothed me in the finest French linens and laces, placed me at his table and fed me exotic delicacies, and he educated me at the best institutions. Yes, he took my virginity, but my innocence was already lost. At least he had the decency to marry me.”

Neither spoke for a moment.

“And Tomas?” he asked.

“He acquired Tomas three years earlier, bestowing upon him many of the same privileges.”

“You make your husband out to be quite the philanthropist.”

She laughed. “Oh yes, he loved to conceal his shrewdness behind humanitarian deeds—that was the guise for luring his investors. That and his charisma—why, even you succumbed to it—to the gold, to the esteem.”

The Captain could not refute her words.

She continued, “As for me, I was merely an investment, as good as a title deed to my inheritance, once the Federalists took control again. A stock in commodities. With his beautiful wife at his right hand and imposing, fiercely loyal Tomas at his left, who would contend with him?”

“Did you love him?”

“I suppose I loved him as much as he did me.”

“He didn’t love you—he used you.”

“And there you have it, William. Now can you see?” she glanced at him. “I am left pondering what a person is willing to trade for security—no matter if that security is in the form of esteem, a home, gold, or…” she looked directly at the Captain, waiting for their eyes to meet, “…or love.”

8 comments:

  1. After reading this, I stepped aside and read "The Gist of It." I am intrigued, and impressed.

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  2. Now, if I can just get an agent to love it…

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  3. Hmmm... in reading the previous excerpt, I hadn't realized it was a period novel... I had been thinking 'contemporary'... or am I getting it wrong?

    P.S. For Marlena, how about Elizabeth Pena? :):)

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  4. Norm, contemporary is correct. This novel contains a story within a story—actually, three tales aside from the central story arc, which takes place in 2001.
    This particular account that Marlena tells—The Captain’s Story—is set in 1867. She later tells 2 other stories (stories for a shipwright), in a more contemporary setting.

    A young Elizabeth Pena might work for Mrs. Lawson, from this excerpt (not to be confused with Marlena). She has an exotic look that could work.

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  5. You are a brave soul, Bridget. I love that you are posting bits of your work. It sounds like others are enjoying it too.

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  6. I have to admit, it does take a little more bravery with this and the next excert--these particular portions, with their divergent styles have, till this point, only been read by my betas.

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