Sunday, December 30, 2007


The day which had begun so promisingly soon darkened precipitously. Black Ethel stood in anxious conferral with the mysterious bosun and her pilot as the winds began to whip about them. Lizzie looked at the small huddle with some trepidation. She was loathe to imagine even a fine ship like the Bonny Read tossed about by a tempest on the wild seas. No Prospero she to command the winds and no Ariel flew to their behest on the bat’s back.

Her anxious glance toward Alice revealed her cousin to be in unaccustomed deep thought. Perhaps it was for the best, Lizzie reflected, as usual sheltering her younger cousin from harsh realities of life. Let her preserve the time remaining in pleasant ignorance, free from concern about the dangers of the ocean. Truth to tell, however, it did seem that Alice had some thoughts that pressed upon her heart with rather more pressure than usual.

Lizzie considered simply turning back to her stitching without distracting her cousin’s musings. They had volunteered to do some mending for the sailors and were quite overwhelmed by the volume of shirts and inexpressibles that had been heaped upon them. Nonetheless, Lizzie had set to work with her usual efficient sense of duty and they had begun making headway despite Alice’s tendency to sew poorly and very slowly, necessitating the removal of many of her mended patches. Lizzie was no brilliant seamstress herself, but long term need had supplied her with sure skills if no great love for the tedious work.

Indeed, Lizzie had once more bent her head to her work -- a rather well-worn elbow of the third mate’s attire -- when Alice herself broke from her reverie and turned to her cousin. “Lizzie, dear, do you suppose that dreams can mean any thing of import?”

“You’ve dropped your mending,” Lizzie said first, pointing to the inexpressibles that had fallen to the deck while Alice had meant to be repairing one leg that was frayed at the bottom. As Alice retrieved the fallen garment, Lizzie cast her mind back to her own reading and quickly recalled a suitable analog.

“In the Odyssey,” Lizzie said with a pleasant sense of authority, something long missing from the tumultuous ordeals of late, “Homer has Penelope talk about the two kinds of dreams.”

“Are there only two?” Alice said, sounding somewhat disappointed.

“Two types, but far more many individual dreams,” Lizzie answered, snipping a length of thread from a spool. “But Penelope says -- ”

“Was she very clever? Was she a professor? I only ask,” Alice said shyly, “because I hope to know the truth.”

Lizzie smiled. “Penelope is not a professor but I will certainly argue that she is indeed clever. And if you recall Professor Slough, you will also recall that the title need not confer wit.” Alice nodded, abashed. Her pupil now contrite, Lizzie continued. “Penelope spoke of the two types of dreams as those which came through the gateway of ivory and those which came through the gateway of horn.”

“Where did the gate lead from?” Alice could not resist from asking.

“From Elysium, which I’m sure you’ll remember from your lessons.”

Alice though it best to pretend that she did.

“The gate of ivory,” Lizzie continued, pleased with her avoidance of another digression, “brought dreams of foolish fancy that had no more substantial weight than a will o’the wisp. But through the gates of smoothened horn come dreams that offer truth to the dreamer.”

Alice seemed almost awed into silence. “How can you know which gate the dreams have passed through?” she said at last.

“It is very difficult to tell,” Lizzie said with a rotund echo of wisdom in her tone, for she could not immediately recall what, if anything, Penelope had had to say on the subject, although she had a vague notion that Chaucer might have been helpful at that moment. “Only time can make you certain.”

“What if the dream was a warning?” Alice asked with some anxiousness betrayed in her tone.

“What was your dream about Alice?” Lizzie asked with a small knell of foreboding. But before her cousin could answer the ship took a sudden pitch in to the air before falling with a sickening abruptness into a trough. A sudden din arose as enormous drops of rain began to pelt the deck.

“Quick, get below!” the third mate barked at the two women as they grabbed their pile of mending and rushed for safety.

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