The Private Diary of Elizabeth Quatermain, vol. IV: Only in America
by Lady Norbert
A/N: Greetings to readers new and old! I hope you're enjoying the series, whether you're reading it for the first time or revisiting it like an old friend. This volume should have plenty to surprise, interest, and maybe even delight you. There's going to be all sorts of crazy stuff happening, and remarkably, Elizabeth actually manages not to almost get herself killed.
This volume is going to be very unusual in another manner. For the first time, you, the readers, get to see what Skinner is thinking and doing at given points throughout, in a companion edition written from his point of view. Skinner doesn't keep a diary, of course, but the alternate version will be what his would look like if he did. The reason for this is that he and Elizabeth will be spending a fair amount of time apart during this volume, and a lot of things will happen for which she won't be there. In order to give the readers a complete picture of what the heck is going on, I think it's necessary for you to see Skinner's version of the events, so do be sure to read it once you've finished with this..
Also, this volume will be different because each chapter is dedicated to a different person. This first chapter is dedicated to Teri the Wonder Beta, my friend who helped to edit a large chunk of the series, with thanks for all her help; Tom's new nickname for Elizabeth and the business about the rabid gerbil are included especially for her.
As usual: If you recognize it (except for Elizabeth, whom I think you all recognize by now), I don't own it. On with the show!
20 March 1900
We continue our progress back up the Amazon to the basin. Tomorrow we should be crossing the border out of Peru and into Brazil.
The rainy season is concluding, meaning that we are able to spend a bit more time up on the deck than we have been. This has been good for observing wildlife; this afternoon I spotted a Brazilian tapir roaming through the trees. We also observed several monkeys and a rabid gerbil. I don't know what a rabid gerbil would be doing in the Amazon, but Skinner swears that's what it was. Indeed, he had Tom and myself laughing to the point of tears with his insistence; he proceeded to tell us at great length about the gerbil's sorry life history and how it came to dwell in the Amazon. His ability to invent such wild fantasies on the spur of the moment fascinates me, and is a source of great relief on the days which keep us below deck.
21 March 1900
Today was remarkable only in the sense that we celebrated Tom's twenty-first birthday with a cake following dinner. There is something entirely appropriate about his having been born on the first day of spring. But now that we are no longer the same age (not for another six months), he seems to find it amusing to refer to me as his "little" sister. I'm pleased, of course, that he seems to like the fact that I regard him as my surrogate brother, but I'm about as enamoured of being addressed as his little sister as I was when Rodney first started calling me Bess.
On the other hand, if that comparison holds true, I shall probably grow extremely fond of the title within two months' time.
23 March 1900
We should reach the basin in another three days, I am told.
Last night I went stargazing. It was fantastic. I remembered learning, years ago, that the constellations are different in the southern hemisphere (where we are presently) than in the northern (where I have lived all my life), and I wanted to see for myself. So around midnight, I left my room with an astronomy book I had taken from the library, went up to the deck, and just watched the sky for hours. It was gloriously clear, for a change, and there was no moon so the stars were absolutely brilliant. Everything does look different down here.
Using the book as a guide, I identified Cassiopeia, Centaurus, and the Pleiades. I could also see the Milky Way very clearly. For the most part, though, I just stood admiring the heavens, and didn't trouble myself to try to recognize too many constellations. It was overwhelmingly magnificent, and I fully intend to repeat the experience when we are out in the ocean once more.
25 March 1900
By this time tomorrow, we can expect to be back in the ocean and sailing north. Tom is very excited about showing us his America. We will dock in the capital city of Washington, D.C., and the rest of us will tour the vicinity while Tom reports for a few meetings with his fellow agents. He might even be meeting with the President of the United States himself. After a week in Washington, we will board a train which will carry us west to the state of Missouri, and we will spend a number of weeks visiting Tom's hometown of St. Petersburg. He has already sent a telegraph to his cousin Mary, telling her of our plans; she no longer lives in St. Petersburg, but it seems quite likely that we will get an opportunity to meet her nonetheless.
Pretending that things are the same as they've always been between Rodney and myself is sometimes not as easy as I might wish. This afternoon was a good illustration of that.
I was in the library, reading. It was quite comfortable, actually; I was curled up at one end of the longest davenport, thoroughly lost in the story. I don't know how long he was there before he decided to make his presence known.
"There you are," he said at length. "Have you been down here since lunch?"
I glanced up, startled, at the sound of his voice. Only the clothes showed me where he stood. He was leaning against the door frame, invisible hands in the pockets of his trousers, sleeves rolled back.
"What time is it?"
"Half past three." He crossed the room and sat at the other end of the davenport. "What are you reading, anyway?"
"Sense and Sensibility."
I resisted the urge to smile at this, and pretended to be interested in my book again. After a minute or so, however, the silence bothered me. "What brings you down here?"
"Hm? Oh. Nothing, really. Just a bit bored."
"So read something."
He made a funny noise, like he was resisting the idea. "Like what?"
I put my book down, thinking. "Well...let me see...I know. Have you ever read A Tale of Two Cities?"
"That doesn't even sound good."
"It is, honestly." I went to the shelves and, after a moment's searching, found the title. "Here, try it." Feeling suddenly impish, I added, "You might like it. There's a character, Sydney Carton, who's extremely shady but very honourable underneath. Reminds me of someone I know."
He gave a snort for a reply, but - whether out of curiosity or merely to humour me, I do not know - he opened the book and began turning the pages. Satisfied, I sat down and resumed commiserating with poor Elinor Dashwood.
Things were very quiet and comfortable for the next ten minutes or so. Now and then one or the other of us would turn a page, but otherwise, the room was still.
And then he snored.
The noise, though not terribly loud, came so unexpectedly that I dropped my book in surprise. I looked over and saw that he had slightly stretched himself out, the Dickens volume about to fall on the floor, and had plainly fallen asleep. I was torn between disappointment and amusement, for I really thought he might like reading about Sydney Carton, but I know well that the opening chapter is a bit dry. I retrieved my own book and set it aside, then got up to collect his from where it dangled in his hand.
As I bent so close to him, however, a rather dangerous thought entered my mind. I could not see his head, but when I moved to take the book from him, his breath swept over my face, and I realized our faces must be only a little way apart. The audacity of the thought which followed this one - that I would only need to turn my head and move a tiny bit closer - utterly paralysed me, and for a few seconds I stood frozen, shocked at my own mental impropriety.
Somehow I managed to take the book from him and move myself away, back to the shelves to return it to its place. I could not have allowed action to follow thought - and yet, even now I wonder what would have happened if I had.
In any case, when I turned back after putting the book away, he had rolled over and was facing the back of the davenport. I was possessed by conflicting thoughts for a second time. I didn't wish to disturb him by returning to my place on the same piece of furniture, but I also (and I admit this reluctantly) had no desire to leave. On this matter I allowed myself a compromise; I took my book and relocated to another chair, not far from the davenport, and there I continued reading until teatime.
As to the book I had chosen, I had never occasioned to read Sense and Sensibility before today. It was an appealing story, and I found myself sympathizing not only with Elinor, but also with her friend, the estimable Colonel Brandon. Elinor is in love with Edward, a fine young man who is regrettably affianced to someone else, and Colonel Brandon is in love with Elinor's sister Marianne, whose affections are elsewhere engaged for much of the novel. Brandon's plight, in some respects, moved me even more than Elinor's; though his love for Marianne is genuine and honourable, he is willing to stand by and watch her marry the man she loves, valuing her happiness over his own.
27 March 1900
Out of the Amazon, and back into the Atlantic Ocean. More and more I come to think of the sea as home. I have really grown to understand Nemo's love for this ship and his nautical lifestyle. When I consider how I spend my days in total leisure - sailing the world, indulging my tastes in literature and study, pursuing whatever manner of occupation pleases me best at any given moment - I feel like a princess in a moving castle. No other girl in the world is as thoroughly privileged and indulged as I am, and I am inexpressibly grateful to my guardian. Indeed, I have spent more time in Nemo's company in the last several months than I spent with Father in my entire life, and so I suppose it is only to be expected that in some respects, I have actually grown fonder of the captain than I was of my natural parent.
We will submerge tomorrow morning, so tonight is my last opportunity to go out and look at the southern sky. I mentioned it at luncheon, but I do not think any of my companions are particularly interested in joining me; Nemo has seen it before, and the others do not seem inclined to stay up that late.
28 March 1900
I was wrong about no one joining me on the deck last night, though initially I was alone. I had been out for perhaps twenty minutes when I heard the door open.
I admit I was surprised to see Tom. He flashed me a grin as he crossed the deck to where I stood. "You were right, this was worth staying up for," he said, looking at the stars. "Man, that's pretty."
"It's so different from what we're both used to," I observed. We leaned against the rail, saying nothing. The night around us was inky and dark and cool. Suddenly, one of the stars fell out of position.
"A shooting star! I don't believe I've ever seen one before!"
"Make a wish," said Tom.
"I have, for all the good it does me."
I flushed, realizing what I'd said. "I mean, really, what do I have left to wish for? I have everything in the world I could possibly want, right here on this submarine."
He cast a sidelong glance in my direction. "Yeah, I guess you do. I just didn't think you knew it."
I kept my eyes firmly on the stars, refusing to voice the question that was begging to be asked. "Of course I know it. Who could fail to notice when everything they ever wanted was placed in their hands?"
We stayed silent for a time. At length I said, "I am looking forward to visiting your America. Are you glad to be going home?"
He folded his arms on the rail, rested his chin on them, and gave me a little smile. "I'm home right now, li'l sis. Same as you."
"About this little sister business, Tom..."
"What? You're the one who started it."
"Well, yes, I suppose that's true."
"And you are little. I'm a full head taller'n you."
"Besides, Skinner calls you Bess all the time and you don't complain. 'Course, I've heard you call him Rodney now and then, so I guess you're even."
"Yeah, I know."
I suddenly noticed I was clutching the railing rather tightly. I had not said anything particularly revealing, but the tone of voice in which he said "I know" made me think that, quite possibly, he does. A gentleman to the last, however, he did not press the issue, for which I was most appreciative.
"Oh, if you want to call me that, I suppose I don't really mind it." I smiled at him. "It sounds better coming out of your mouth than it did coming out of de Gaulle's."
He frowned for a minute, apparently not placing the name. Then he grimaced. "Geez, Elizabeth, I didn't know he called you that."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."
"No, really, Tom, it's all right." I patted his arm. "I've had a lot of time to think it over, and there is nothing in the world that will ever convince me he was my father's son. But as far as I am concerned, and in all the ways that really matter, you were."
The anxiety left his face then, and in a truly brotherly gesture, he put his arm across my shoulders. I leaned against him a bit, and we watched the stars together.