Diary Excerpt from Captain Canute Glasikis, July 3, 1855
July 3, 1855
One day into The Haul and I already feel compelled to capitalize it. I wonder if we will survive, I really do. While we are but at the beginnings of the task, it has been grim and tiring work thus far. We began the day with much milling about - cigarettes were smoked to bitter end, a flask of the Rot was passed around. I had forbidden drinking amongst the crew, but Jeremiath (of course, Jeremiath) ignored my orders and was flaming drunk with the sun not a handswidth along its daily journey. And the local recruits? Damn me but they are an untidy bunch. They want to help, I’ll give them that much (and not a penny more), but they have little idea how to go about doing so. So they smoke and they drink and they speak in strange tongues. The chaplain tells me they are deserters from half a dozen armies, men from strange locales: Wales and Sardinia, Turkey and France. She has learned enough pidgin speak to communicate with them, after a fashion, but giving them orders is a Herculean task.
Not a task with a happy ending, I must say. Late in the day, when we had gone, at most, half a hard won mile, there was a . . . let’s call it an incident. Eight men were in front of the ship, locked into their harnesses, led (not even remotely the right word there) by the roaring Jeremiath. He was in the middle of bellowing out the chorus of some old drinking song, gamely trying to get the recruits to sing along, when an overenthusiastic shove from behind had the misfortune to combine with a slight downward slope and the old DR seized the initiative to plunge forward.
It slid for no more than twenty feet before we got control back, but that was enough to overrun a recruit and smear him across the landscape. I wish my first reaction had been anything other than “What a fucking mess.” And also that I’d known his name. Or that there’d been enough left of him to bury or that we’d have the time to do so. Alas – not a one of those things was true, and we plodded on our weary way, some pushing, some pulling, some drinking, some smoking and soon all that was left of him was a bloody stain on the hull that grew steadily more obscured with dust.
If there is any good news to come out of the day it is that the process - slow, painful and fatal though it is – does seem to be working. The ship inches along on its rollers. Crew and recruit alike strain in their harnesses, trying to steer the killing mass at their backs. The rest of us push from behind, exhausting ourselves in minutes in this dusty heat, then collapsing on the ground to attempt recovery as another rises to take our place.
There is dedication here. There is heroism. There is Anteas wandering about and babbling about bones. There is the ship, the gods damned ship. There is dust and sun and blood. There are cigarettes. There is alcohol. There is song and jokes and stories in languages I will never live to comprehend. One day, maybe this will be sung of or told to children wide-eyed around a fire. Or maybe one day this will all be gone, vanished into the clouds of dust, dancing like gold in the setting sun.
It is irrelevant. Now there is only this moment, this struggle, this journey.
There is The Haul.