The Private Diary of Elizabeth Quatermain, vol. II: The Egypt Chronicle
by Lady Norbert
20 September 1899
As is so often the case, one of my friends has done me a great courtesy today. Only last night, after writing of our travel plans, I was disappointed to realize I had reached the end of my diary's pages. As the Nautilus is to depart these waters today for the shores of Egypt, I had reluctantly accepted the prospect of going without a new one until we reach Cairo -- if, indeed, one could be purchased even there.
This morning I was discharged from the infirmary; Henry says that, in body at least, I am fully recovered from my recent misadventures. I returned here to my quarters, and almost the first thing to greet my eyes was this new book of fresh pages! The inside cover is stamped with the name and address of a stationer's shop here in Paris, which means the purchase must have been very recent. My anonymous benefactor further gifted me with a fine new pen and inkstand, and all three items have now been put to their first use. No note accompanied the present, so I cannot say for certain to whom I am thus indebted -- though I could hazard a guess. I am almost positive it is one of two people, but which of the two is a mystery.
In any event, I will of course be certain to thank the giver at this evening's meal. I have thanks enough to dispense already, so when I conclude my remarks, I will mention the gift and offer my thanks to the relevant party. I shall be careful in my phrasing to avoid any embarrassment, should the giver wish to remain nameless.
I should set aside this diary now and attend to my herbarium. I have been in the infirmary for well over a week, and though I doubt not that Nemo will have thought to have one of his men look after my plants during my confinement (are all ships' captains so marvellously kind and considerate? I find it very difficult to reconcile the Nemo I know with the pirate of infamy), I am eager to resume the task myself. When I lived in London, the care and use of my herb garden was among my chief pleasures, and it still remains one of my favourite tasks.
21 September 1899
It is morning, and we have lately completed breakfast. I have some time to myself in which I can detail the events of last night. It started out most disagreeably, but ended on a rather pleasant note.
Throughout the afternoon, I was able to keep busy both within my quarters and outside of them. I spent an hour or so fussing over my herbs, then joined Mina in her laboratory for the first of her promised lessons in chemistry. (Later today I am to begin to give her the lessons which I promised in exchange.) I did a bit of reading in the library and joined the others for a good supper. All in all, it was a pleasant day.
Then I came back here, to my room. I went through my usual routine to prepare for bed, enjoying the luxury of a bath for the first time in several days and donning a fresh nightdress before evening prayers. My only deviation from the norm was that I did not put my hair into its customary braid; my scalp is still somewhat tender from the blow to the head I received some days ago, and it will be a few days yet before I will be able to style my hair at all.
But once I was in bed, with nothing more to occupy my attention, I am sorry to say that de Gaulle's words returned to haunt me once again.
"Have you thought you were alone in the darkness of your room, little sister? Did you believe you were safe?"
His invisible cohort was in here with me, at times when I had thought myself alone. What had he seen? Had he watched me undress? Bathe? Sleep? It was unbearable to contemplate.
But he is dead, I reminded myself sternly. In the warehouse, Skinner intervened before the faceless one could take certain liberties with my person, and then Tom killed him. I am safe now. Only one invisible man remains aboard the Nautilus, and he would rather die himself than allow me to come to harm -- my dear, devoted friend.
Nevertheless, and in spite of this infallible logic, I could not sleep. I left my bed and drew on my warmest dressing-gown, then slipped from the room and made my way to the portal leading to the deck. I climbed the ladder and, with a bit of difficulty, pushed open the door to step outside.
The moon was brilliant on the water. The ocean rippled softly in the silver glow; France was already beyond view, and nothing could be seen for miles except the grey-black gleam of the waves. I leaned against the railing, smelling the sea and letting the breeze play with my hair. There was something very soothing about it all.
I lapsed into a reverie for some time, admiring the night and the moon on the water. How long I was there I do not know, but I was so deep in thought that I failed to notice I wasn't alone until I heard an amused Cockney accent.
"You know, I would have thought you'd learned your lesson about being alone on the deck with an invisible man."
I turned, startled, and couldn't suppress a smile when I spotted Skinner. "I don't expect you to pick me up and toss me over."
He regarded me with an expression I could not interpret, mainly because his face was partially obscured by shadow. Then he crossed the deck to stand beside me at the rail. "Lovely evening."
It was such an odd remark, and he sounded so awkward when he said it, that I could not help but laugh. "It is, at that."
"What brings you up here?"
"What brings you up here?"
"I asked you first."
This was inarguable, so I told him about the uneasiness I'd experienced in my room. He had been present for that particular speech of de Gaulle's, which meant I hardly needed to explain what had caused my discomfort. "I know it's silly of me," I concluded, "but I can't help it, anymore than I can help regretting all that happened."
At first he said nothing, only nodded. Then he asked, "Do you regret all of it?"
"Well...most of it. I can hardly be sorry that de Gaulle sent me the letter, because without it I wouldn't be here now. And I am pleased to have gotten the chance to see Paris and Notre Dame, and to now be on my way to Egypt. No, I don't regret everything. But there are a lot of things that are to be regretted." I rested my chin on my hands, staring at the water. "Mostly, I regret that all of you were put in danger on my account. And I'll always regret that I had to kill someone, even if it was to save you and Tom."
"The first one is always the hardest."
"I should hope to God it doesn't get easier, or people would be killing each other all the time."
That was perhaps the closest I have ever come to being angry with any of the League. I think Skinner understood what I meant, though, because he put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Bess, we've all done it. All of us in the League -- we've all had to take a life in the course of events. It's not fun, and it's not easy, but at times it's been necessary. For your sake, I hope you never have to do it again."
We regarded the ocean in silence for a bit. Looking for a way to relieve the tension, and remembering our earlier banter, I asked, "So, what did bring you up here?"
"I've never been able to resist the urge to chat up a pretty girl by moonlight," he quipped. I laughed.
"True," he admitted. The unease between us vanished.
The door behind us opened, and Tom stepped onto the deck. "I thought I heard voices," he said, looking mildly surprised. "What are you two doing up here?"
"Nothing much," I said. I was suddenly very conscious of my appearance, and I pulled my dressing-gown as tightly closed at the throat as I could.
"Good one, Tom. I was about to take advantage of the romantic setting to ask Bess to marry me, and now you've spoiled the mood." Skinner sighed dramatically. "Another time, I suppose. Best to leave you kids alone for now." He caught my free hand and kissed it with mock gallantry, then nodded good night to Tom and left through the still-open door.
"He's so absurd sometimes," I said, shaking my head and smiling. Tom joined me at the rail, looking out over the ripples of moonlight. He had a strange frown on his features which I found unsettling.
"You know," I said, more to change the subject than anything, "I can't help thinking of my former teacher and schoolmates." I had told Tom some of my school memories during my days in the infirmary. "Can you imagine how scandalized they would be if they could see me now? Here I am, in my nightclothes, on the deck of a submarine with two eligible bachelors and no chaperone in sight!"
The agitation left Tom's face as he chuckled. "Society types are always so fussy and uptight about those things -- present company excepted, of course," he added. "I never understood it, myself. Back home in Missouri, we're a lot less formal. We don't get chaperoned much when we're courting; if a boy wants to be alone with a girl, he usually asks to walk her home from church on Sunday. But I do have to admit, I don't think I've ever stood around with a girl in her nightdress before." I hope the darkness concealed how red my face was undoubtedly turning.
"On the whole, these are peculiar circumstances for either of us," I agreed. "I do believe my whole world has turned upside down more than once in the weeks since my father died."
We were quiet for a minute. Then he asked, seriously, "Are you sorry? That it's turned upside down, I mean."
Quite determined not to repeat the conversation I'd just had with Skinner, I contemplated the question. "No," I said finally. "Certainly there are things I would have liked to change about these recent events. I never would have wished to see you or the others come to harm or danger as you have. But on the whole, my time aboard the Nautilus has been the happiest of my life."
We talked about that for a while. The truth of the matter is that, since dear Aunt Adelaide passed away a few years ago, I have been rather lonely. The friends I had growing up live far away, or are busy with marriages and children. Father was my only living relative after Harry's death, and even if he had not relocated to Kenya, I daresay we would not have enjoyed a close relationship. (That he loved me in his own way, I don't doubt, but he never let himself get to know me well enough to like me. I don't believe he ever really forgave me for my mother's death, or for not at least having the decency to be a boy.) I had already more or less resigned myself to the probability of spinsterhood when I received word of his death.
"But here with the League," I concluded, "I can live my life among friends, which is more than some people can say. And I hope I'll be able to prove myself useful, something I don't believe I've managed to do as yet. If nothing else, I can maintain a written history of the League's exploits." This was an allusion to this diary; I was half-hoping Tom would admit that he was the one who bought it for me.
He made no such confession, but he agreed with my sentiments about being on the Nautilus. "I know what you mean about being lonely. My family's all gone too, and Huck... When I met Allan, it was sort of like I was getting the chance to have a father for the first time." He looked sad, as he usually does when my father's death is discussed.
"And to him, it must have been like he got Harry back for a little while," I said softly. "I think he must have been proud of you."
At that he looked embarrassed, but very pleased. We fell into silence again for a little while.
Then he said, "He would be proud of you, too."
It was quite shockingly late when I came back to my room. Tom went so far as to walk me to the door, which I thought was charmingly polite. I was so tired that, once in bed, I fell asleep without further discomfort.