Chapters 1-3, JACK: BOOK TWO
(Book One (see cover below) was published in August, 2015 and is available free for a limited time at: Dorion’s Writing Store
Master Whittemore was in good spirits. He was at last on his way to the deep and open expanse of the sea after what seemed an eternity on land. He hated being confined on land. Men become locked up there, cultivated, pruned like an English rose garden, he thought, circumscribed, attending religiously, monotonously, to the social niceties and conventions, moralities, ethics and laws which spring from daily integration and social intercourse. The sea brings a certain forgetfulness. At sea for any length of time and a man will become an island unto himself, formidable, impenetrable – a rock jutting out from the water but anchored in the deep and surrounded below with exotic life and above by limitless sky. Men go to sea to touch the infinite, the face of God, Whittemore reflected, to remember who they are and from whence they came.
It was hard to imagine man’s inhumanity in the face of such beauty. But that is the human condition for you, thought Whittemore. Men find brief moments away from the ordinary, touching the divine before corrupting it, he thought. Like the pursuit of the whales, truly one of the great wonders of the deep, and yet men mercilessly hunt them down for oil and profit. Why not leave them be? No, they cannot or will not. Men are driven by greed for more – always more – they seem to never be satisfied right up until the day when life starts to subtract its gifts and the man’s health withers like a dying vine in the forest.
After Jack and Jeremy went below deck, Master Whittemore sat on a roll of hemp rope at the bow beneath a lit hurricane lamp whose dim light at least allowed him to write in his diary. He felt the ocean spray on his face and loved the way the ship rolled up and then down. The air here is so clean and salty-smelling, he thought. “Jeremy, Jack and I stood moments ago in awe of the expanse of starry sky and water out there,” Whittemore told himself, “and of the gulf of ocean and air that separated each of us from one another and from the land, remaking us in that moment into lonely, remote islands in the turbulent ocean of eternity. How is it that Jack scored his great victory over me and now it’s like we’re friends? Two days ago we hated one another as mortal enemies might. Now he’s part of my conspiracy. We found something in common.
“Soon – maybe just a few weeks – there’ll be a living hell in the airless, cramped hold for the slaves that the ship would carry. I have to try to stop it. But not now. Tonight is a moment for breaking the chains of ordinary being. Like being in virgin territory, untouched. I’ve instructed them to remember what they see and hear on this devil ship.”
The Sermon: The Infinite Sea
“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”
– Marlow, The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad.
On Sunday Master Whittemore gave the most troubling sermon I had ever heard anyone give because I think he made enemies, telling’ them exactly what they didn’t want to hear. I later found the only copy of this sermon. I will say what it said. The men had massed on the open deck beneath a drizzling, ominous sky that hinted of hurricane as the ship sailed off the coast of Cuba heading south to Jamaica. All of the crew, and even Captain Pendleton, were anticipating what this sea preacher who rode a half-dozen other slave ships in times past had to say. The captain watched from his lofty position at the forecastle with his chief mate, a smirk on his face, drinking his coffee from a tin, comfortable in the assumption that Master Whittemore’s views of slavery still comported with his own. He was in for a surprise.
In a thunderous voice, Master Whittemore, looking skyward with his arms stretched out from his shoulders perpendicular to the deck, palms turned toward the grey skies, said:
“Slavery is the blackest of all evils because, not only do the enslavers rob others of their freedom, their spirit, their families and even of their lives, but they first rob and enslave themselves bowing down on their own diseased bellies to the false god of greed! Three years I preached to slavers like yourselves on the open waters of the great oceans about what I lyingly said were the great benefits of slavery to civilization! Know now what it took a lifetime for me to learn – that slavery is a curse and participation in it will leave you hollow and cold as death! Awake from this ignorance and worship of the god of greed and find yourself work you can be proud of shipmates!”
About half of the stunned crew at that point walked away. One sailor said with a scowl, “This here is the wrong place and the wrong message mister. You ain’t no preacher! You’re just some crazy abolitionist! Com’on men! Let’s get away from this fool!“
But Master Whittemore’s voice thundered even louder so that as they were skulking away they turned around, realizing there was no place topside they could escape the sound of master’s booming voice. The wind drove the drizzle sideways into faces.
“In the name of money men will commit any abomination!” the preacher shouted, now on an unstoppable course like a ship pulled into the gale.
“Mates, I used to preach for slavery on slave ships just like this and I even spent some time on this bucket as some of you may remember! Three years! After that I became a teacher. I came back because I found out what I really knew all along: slavery is a curse upon the human race! It destroys men’s spirit!”
The crew became uneasy and several looked up to the forecastle to see how the captain would respond. But he just looked on, smoking his pipe, and you wondered what he was going to do. But he did nothing.
Master continued, “The sea itself is part of a divinity that is infinite so why should we enslave men in the midst of such an awesome presence? It’s a crime against nature, it is!
“At one point in your lives as merchant sailors I know you all felt this divinity! It is not too late to feel it again! It’s in you and it’s out there!” he said pointing to the sea. “The sea lanes are vital to the slave trade as you know! No-one knows that more than us. It is not too late to reject the high wages you receive, the thirty pieces of silver paid to betray your fellow man! It is not too late to refuse to become a part of the evil trade in human beings! Slave ships must cease to run! They are illegal in the United States of America and in other countries! Men save yourselves and your souls and abide by the law! Slavery is as much a disease of modern life as it was in antiquity and it runs dead against the idea of a free America! No man of courage would permit another to be enslaved! Land-bound men seek out social intercourse and ceaseless activity to stave off the feeling of remoteness and isolation and, unlike you all, are afraid to plumb the infinite depths and heights that confront one eventually at sea. You love your freedom and to you it is life itself so why do you chain up your fellow men and deny them any freedom at all?
“Slavery is driven by greed for profit and a contempt for others because they seem different and in being different, you are told, inferior, thus and you think you can do whatever you want to them,” Whittemore, his voice even louder now than before, shouted at the dozen men who stood with hands in pocket and afraid to look at the “crazy” preacher. “A man enslaves others partly to make himself important! He fears seeing his own un-importance, fears seeing as small his own part in the great drama. Slavery is a crutch in our southern society! Many, who don’t own slaves, say, “My life might be bad but I’m much better off than the Negro slaves!“ It gives them a false importance. It’s a false god because someone is forced to be lower than us and we’re somehow better because of it? We foolishly believe we’re elevating ourselves in that way! t’s the reverse men! We destroy ourselves because we attack our own dignity! Slavery isn’t any healthier for white people than for black! It’s a disease for all humanity! To be truly free you must value freedom for all men. If you support enslaving others, you are more the slave than the Negro slaves because you chose your form of slavery, which is moral enslavement. Men come to their deaths not out of choice usually but greatly fearing for the loss of their freedom and self-importance! Better to blend into the infinite hoping to expand one’s awareness in a final noble act. Live nobly, I say to you! Listen to the soft wind blowing in the infinite sky and be not afraid to touch that which has no beginning nor end and into which we will all merge one day. And dare to allow all others to do the same! The currents will continue their infinite journey around the world washing up onto the continents and back again toward some other shore in some other distant land. See the wonder of the infinite sea and forget thyself for a moment – gaze upon eternity and be grateful as to your existence! The waves will continue to wash the shores and cleanse the earth no matter how much man wars against himself and his predicament! Each starfish, every eel, and every urchin should be grateful for its existence. They may never be again! But they exist now! They share the magical gift of life! Rejoice then and be glad of your abundance rather than harping upon your insufficiency which is sheer ingratitude! To rejoice not is to be almost dead and therefore dangerous! No truly happy man, steeped in the gladness of his being alive, would think of enslaving a man or animal. Such a man is a grateful one! What would happen to a most exotic tropical flower such as the delicate orchid, arrayed in its peak splendor, if suddenly it resolved to be ungrateful? It would lose its mystery and much of its life and beauty and even intelligence. It would become weaker. The ungrateful have been given a gift and yet they squander it and savage others because they feel cheated by men or fortune!”
Some of the men started to leave but Whittemore stopped them. “What are you afraid of there, mates? Are you afraid of peering into the looking glass to see your soul’s reflection? Or are afraid of your own captain and his lackey, the first mate? Stay, won’t you, and let me have my say and then at least you will have the full argument and your decision would be better informed. The captain has ordered you all here just like every Sunday so your continued presence will not result in any harm. I merely ask that you hear me out.”
“Men, what this gentleman is saying is opposite of what he used to say – directly opposite, some would say that is crazy,” Captain Pendleton finally said. “But go ahead, stay and listen. I ordered you here. You are free men. Think what you like and any of you can get off of this ship any time as soon as we dock in Kingston. Just remember, your first three days of liberty you will get paid, but only if you are true to your contracts and finish this voyage. You may continue , preacher!”
“As I was saying mates, all play a part in the great drift towards ever-increasing awareness and in the equally ever-increasing drift towards forgetfulness; every anenome, every chunk of coral, and every grain of sand at the bottom of the deep has its part in the universe becoming aware of itself. The sea has a profound awareness that comes from a multiplicity of life forms. The man and the whale are brothers, as should be the black and the white man, the Indians, the Orientals, each going their way and making their contribution to the growing awareness, the unfolding of the great unconscious, as in darkness becoming light. What is forgotten and what will be forgotten are large questions. And yet darkness again overtakes the light.
Perhaps it is well to forget our past sins and not think too highly of ourselves so we can go on and do the right thing. Men die and others remember him until they die and are forgotten. Words come and go; sounds, meanings – all are lost on the deep ocean of time. Who will remember them and to what purpose? So others can study antiquity? Light a path to the future? Memory is a great aid to the living but what use is it to a dead man? To a grain of salt? To a drop of water in the ocean? To a ray of light? Or to the infinite darkness? The sun has no memory and yet it shines brilliantly through the ages of men, never asking that it be remembered, or adulated, or taken note of by men. It rises every day and sets every night and asks for nothing. It will shine until it can shine no more. It is grateful in its own right. It does not begrudge another star its light; it is not jealous of Sirius or Vega and does not seek to diminish them. And yet men who are infinitely less important seek to outshine the sun. Men would harness the sun and force it to do their bidding if only they could find a way. The sun is the most essential element in the existence of earth without which we wouldn’t be able to yearn for a better life or for immortality, to write poems, to wage war or to travel the seven seas, and yet it does not ask homage. Little men believe that the sun must bow down to them, that others must bow down to them, that whatever they can take is theirs, that whatever exists was put there for them to enjoy. This is the height of arrogance and self-love and ingratitude.The sun needs no memories and needs not forgetfulness whereas man has a great need for both. The main lot of men naturally gravitate toward the beehive. Great cities rise as a result and civilizations built upon rigid codes which ultimately calcify, to become old, outdated. The slavery of ideas has spread out from the land into the remotest places of the seas. Men become slaves to their ideas, to their own glory and need for self-glorification, as a monument to the immortality they are desperate to achieve, but which eludes them. They enslave others in the name of their sacrosanct ideas about superiority and civilization. The institution of slavery spread its tentacles from the land and swallows up a man’s free spirit even out into the great oceans where the cries of dark humanity are met with savage treatment by white humanity. A man has a great instinct to tyrannize over others in the illusion that his light will outshine them. To what purpose? In the end he will be dust and he will not be remembered nor forgotten. Every atrocity thinkable by man has been committed in justification of this idea of self-aggrandizement. The control of as much of the world’s resources as possible including other humans has become the highest good, the profit ideal. Rather than acknowledge his possibly small role in the grand scheme, and fearing such acknowledgement above all else, a man instead ludicrously and bitterly asserts his enormously important self, imposing it on the world, telling himself that his progeny is of the highest value, that all else must be subordinated to them, bowed down to them andlaid low. He is like a blind man who is so afraid of the darkness who insists that he can see as well as anyone else, nay, better. He denies the darkness in himself and instead sees it within everyone else. This self-love is the condition of a man who has no faith in anything beyond himself, has no faith in himself, and only has faith in his self-love and glorification. A sick being he becomes.
The man who goes to sea to find out who he is and from whence he sprang forth will eventually throw off the illusion of grandiose self-importance. But I do have hope else why would I be preaching the ills of slavery to a crew of dirty slave-runners? Self-importance is a great obstacle to knowledge. Death may be the great leveler that brings a man back to a state of grace from whence he came, back to a state of forgetfulness where he loses the thought of his own overblown value. “A dead man tells no tales,” so the saying goes. It shows that, in death, memory dissipates. Spirit loosens its fetters to blend with the boundless sea and sky. The pursuit of awareness often descends into the troughs of ignorance before rising to the crest of truth. All men want to seek the crest of the highest, mountainous wave in the deepest, remotest part of the sea for all men have the same soul and are but as droplets in the same waters. Men will always go to the sea to be free. Let them be free just as you yourselves want to be free. Piling up riches at the expense of another’s pain and humiliation will only cast a curse on you and your children.
“Woe be to him who stuffs gold coins in his trousers while casting a blind eye toward the suffering and misery of human chattel that he helped along their wretched road to misery. Their hell will be his own and he’ll not sleep a free man ever ‘til he has made peace with his God. His gold will weigh around his neck and drag him down to the deepest darkest part of the ocean. Without seamen willing to do their master’s putrid business, the slave markets in America would dry up. And make no mistake, their crews down to the lowliest seaman are no less guilty as they tacitly agree to make their living on the backs of slaves just as the overseers do on the cotton and sugar plantations. Men, it is on the high seas that the god-forsaken business of slavery must be opposed for slavery has corrupted the very salty air that decent God-fearing seamen breathe and the very water of the deep blue sea. Lads, we must take a stand against this scourge upon men. Refuse to participate in this crime against nature!”
When master stopped talking, the crew hung their heads and slowly, silently returned to their work, each afraid to look the other in the eye and none looked at Captain Pendleton who was talking to his chief mate.
Master Whittemore had resolved to resume his old life on the sea but this time with a purpose to oppose the justification men make of slavery to exist over the land and over the deep. On this Sunday, this self-appointed minister of the Church of the Holy Waters as he christened it, gave his first sermon since he stopped preaching three long years ago. And now, he told himself, I’ve done what I came here for. I will never see the shore again, not in this world.
That night he dreamed that he was being crucified for preaching a message that the powers that be did not want the masses to hear. He dreamed that the crew tied his outstretched arms and wrists to a wooden pole and hoisted him skyward to be lashed to the top of the main mast for all to witness what happens to an abolitionist who stirs the brew on a slave ship on the high seas.