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In my research I've been lucky enough to come across some of the actual letters written to Peter LaMee by Fin Button during her sojourn at sea. Though the original letters have suffered an extreme state of decay in the centuries since they were written, I have managed to transcribe much of their content. Where the language was either unclear or the original text too decayed to recover I have used my best judgement to maintain the flow, style, and probable intent of the text.

Although historians have claimed that many of the letters are fabrications created by charlatans of years past for the purpose of reinforcing the outlandish folklore and some of the more romantic notions surrounding the legend of Fin Button, I present them here because I feel that they offer insight into the persons, places, and events of
The Fiddler's Gun that are ancillary to the text of the book. Their worth, while questionable, ought in the end be left to the determination of the reader.

The letters are presented below in chronological order. Where the dates have been lost, I have attempted to order them as accurately as possible by contextual examination.

A.S. "Pete" Peterson
Author, Transcriber of Postal Antiquities

November 9th, 1775

We sailed from Savannah on the 7th. Jack, he’s the First Mate, he says we'll make port in Philadelphia tomorrow. Can you believe I’m on my way to Delaware? Or is it Pennsylvania? Or Maryland? Maybe I slept through too much of Sister Hilde’s schooling after all. Wouldn’t she preen and sneer to hear me admit that. Don’t you dare tell her I said so.

The Atlantic is bigger, and more frightening, and more wonderful than I ever imagined. It’s just as often lovely as it is terrible. Sometimes it's iron grey and all the waves have white caps like teeth and other times it turns so blue that you'd think the wind had taken you right up into the sky. Still other times it goes glassy calm and it’s like a window into the soul of the earth.

[
unreadable] ...went topside there were two British ships no more than yards away. My heart jumped up so quick I had to clap both hands over my mouth so it wouldn’t get away from me and go sliding across the deck and into the sea. I don't think anyone noticed but just to be safe I snuck down to the gundeck to stay out of sight until they passed. I heard the captain said they...[this part of the letter is torn away.]

I reckon Sister Hilde would have a fit if she saw me here and knew all I've gotten into. I've done enough running, climbing, and spitting to make up for a year of her lectures and I'd love to see her nose twitch to hear about it. There's a lot of work to do though, more than at the orphanage if you can believe it. Already, though, I enjoy this work more than I ever did working in the kitchen, even with Bartimaeus keeping company.

I only have one friend to speak of, a man named Tommy Knuttle. Everyone just calls him Knut. The rest of the crew don't seem to like him too much because he's a halfwit but I like him just fine. He's the one that shows me what to do and how to do it and I think he’s got more wits than he lets on about. If the others keep giving him lip and pushing him around I'm like to give one of them an earful of knuckles. I’ve managed stayed out of trouble so far, though.

The sun is near gone so I’ll save the rest of my news for another letter. I hope you won’t worry after me. I’m well and I’ll be back when it’s safe. Wait for me Peter.

Yours,

FB

November 12th, 1775

Hope you are well. I wish I could tell you where I am but after reading the latest gazette in Philadelphia (turns out it’s Pennsylvania after all) I’m worried the British might lay hold of one of my letters and that could lead them to me. I know you wouldn’t want that and I surely don’t either. Just know that we’re back at sea today and sailing south.

[
A goodly portion of this letter has been burned away]…Marque from the Continental Congress. […] whether we want to or not. There’s money in it at the […] on the lookout and some are worried it could be more dangerous than the [here the letter seems to warn against either piracy, pliability or perhaps pancakery—none of which sound terribly wholesome.]

[…] happened this morning. I woke up to discover the unsettling sight of someone hunched near my hammock and sniffing at my boots. I had to rub my eyes a while just to be sure I was seeing right. My boots! Can you imagine what they smell like? I hope not. But someone on this ship can do a good deal more than imagine.

So as soon as I seen it was my boots being sniffed at I yelled at him to leave them be and he run off out the hatch and up the companionway before I could see who it was. Sniffing my boots. Don’t that beat all?

We had quite a time in Philadelphia. I’m sorry to report that I didn’t manage to stay clear of trouble though. As I feared, one of the other sailors got my blood running and we had blows. He was a big one but when have you known that to hinder me? He’s one I expect I won’t be making friends with, he was pretty sore over it.

I did find myself in company of some other sailors and made a better impression. One named Tan I liked especially. I’ve got it! Now that I’m telling it to you, I remember Jack introducing one of the other men and saying he called him the 'Boot Snuffler'. That’s got to be the man that had his way with my boots. I can’t remember which of them it was though. And why would he be snuffling my boots?

Now that I’ve thought of it, I’ve got to know more. I’ll write again later and tell you what I’ve learned. Take care, Peter. Keep the letters secret. Keep them safe.

Yours,

FB


November 13th, 1775

[While the original document is undated, it clearly follows the letter of November 12th, 1775 in quick succession]

The first person I asked about the Boot Snuffler was Knut and he wasn’t any help at all. When I asked him all he did was stare at the floor and work at cleaning out one ear with a braid of rope. So I asked him again and he just looked up and said, “Never knowed boots to be snuffled at much.”

You can see that didn’t answer the question so I asked him once more. “Knut, do you know who’d be snuffling my boots? Had someone in them up to the eyebrows this morning. I seen it clear as the day.”

He didn’t have no answer. Went back to sticking that rope in his ear like he aimed to hide it in there. So I had enough of him.

I went topsides and found that sailor I was talking about named Tan. I put the question to him, same as I done Knut. But again, got nothing for my asking.

“Now why’d any man at all want to go snuffling another’s boots? That’s damnable odd,” he told me. Then he leaned himself back on the larboard rail and grinned at me like maybe I was about to do a trick or something. I know I said I liked him before, but I might have judged him too soon. He near about got him a knuckle on the lip for all his grinning.

The unhelpful lot of information I got out of those two had me in mind to run round the ship putting the question to every man aboard and I’d have done just that had Jack not got to blowing his whistle and clapping his bell for general quarters.

Turns out the captain had spotted a British merchantman and set us to capture it. I don’t remember her name but it was a nervy affair, I...
[this portion of the letter has been eaten away by vermin]...a cannon once but no man had to fire his musket or draw his blade. We had their entire hold, mostly sugar and salted fish, and set them off to sail home empty-holded. [once more, odious vermin have despoiled the original document]

That kept us all busy the rest of the day and I’ve not had time to put two thoughts in order until just now. Rest of the crew looks to be drifting off to sleep and waking anyone to ask about something so strange as a snuffled boot ain’t likely a good idea.

Best leave it for tomorrow. Stowing my boots in the fiddle case tonight to see they go unbothered.

Yours,

FB

November 23rd, 1775

I can’t stop thinking about this boot thing. After I wrote you last, I made the rounds. I put every man I could to the question and boy did I get some of the strangest answers. Suppose that’s to be expected given the oddity of question.

So the first one I asked was a skeptical old goatish looking sailor named Art Thomasson. I was skittish because I didn’t really know him much but ask him I did.

“You know who’d be snuffling my boots and why?” I asked.

“Never been no boots snuffled here aboard and never will be. Leave me be and don’t let the captain hear you spreading that scuttlebutt.”

He was cutting his eyes all over the ship while he said it like he was afraid somebody might hear and when he was done he put a look on me that meant I best not ask him any further.

Then I spotted a man across the deck with three...[
this section has been chewed at by a deplorable sea urchin and could not be recovered.]

The next I asked was a man I met in Philadelphia and even had a drink with. His name’s Flanders Topper and he’s a fat one. You’d be amazed how nimble he can be when it comes supper time, though. Reminds me a bit of Sister Carmaline in that way. Same as her, he’s likable and easy to speak to so I didn’t have no trouble asking him about the Snuffler. Soon as I had the question out though, he lost his good mood and went shifty like Art done.

“Snufflin’! Ain’t been no snufflin’. Not at all. Why no one would dare and anyway, why would they dare it if they did? You keep that talk quiet, now. Captain don’t like to hear of that kind of thing and he’d be harsh on a new tar like yourself to find you spreadin’ such. No, sir. No, snuffled boots. Not aboard this ship.”

He hurried off while he was still talking until I only heard the last few words as he climbed through the hatchway at the far end of the deck. “Snuffled boots? Never heard such!”

I asked nearly every other man I seen and got the same but you ain’t heard the oddest of...[
this portion seems to have been eaten at by sharks]...sun gone down and dinner was done, it was my turn to swab down the galley. So I did it and when I went to stow my swab back in the locker someone run up behind me and pushed me inside. They threw the door shut and held it there so I couldn’t get out.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t calm about it. I banged and hollered until I heard whoever it was whispering at me through the planks of the locker door.

“Listen!” the voice hissed.

I argued and kept on putting my shoulder to the door but when I seen it wasn’t no use, I did finally settle myself and do like he said. So I listened and got an answer to my questions that was odder by far than all the rest.

“Ye been snuffled have ye? Ye’ve not been the first and nor will ye be the last. There’s a Snuffler lurks the holds and lower decks and nary a man nor his boot can escape the sniffle-snuffin’ once it's laid upon him. Mind the hairs o’ yer toes laddie, lest the Snuffler come a sniffin’ and find the scent o’ the far flung isle upon yer feets. Keep your footwear close and your questions closer, or ye’ll find yer end at the Captain’s Mast.”

Then whoever it was that was holding the door let it loose. I kicked it open and jumped out ready to put a knuckle in someone’s eye but the galley was empty. He was gone.

So my question now is, why the fuss? Why’d anyone care if I asked about all this? And why should the captain care? Like Tan said, “Damnable odd.”

Though it’s against my nature, I think I best lay the questions to rest. I’ll play him quiet-wise and lay a trap.

Yours,

FB

Captain's Log, The Whistle, December 2nd, 1775

[Note: this is an entry from the captain's log of the British merchantman, Whistle. It was discovered in the National Museum of Maritime Mercantile Logbooks in Beaufort, South Carolina. While it is not a 'letter to Peter' it does inform a particular event early in the career of Fin Button and is therefore presented alongside of and in chronological order with the other historical documents presented here.]

Today we have had villainy. My blood runs thin and hot in my veins to think of it. Never in my captaincy nor my score of years before the mast have I witnessed such unpleasantry.

We were running out of Williamsburg and had just found fair sea and made good advantage of a stout wind out of the south and west. I ordered the headsails set and we put her at a strong clip moving eastward and intended to let nothing slow our progress till nightfall. Some two hours into our headway, however, a man of the second watch cried ho for contact bearing upon us from the south.

I took no concern for the matter initially. It is far from uncommon to make sight of another ship so near the coast and it generally cheers the men to do so. Within the hour, however, it became clear to me that this was no mere passing of ships to ports unknown one to another for this interloper had the wind and was making easy headway in our direction and no other. It was clear that their intended destination was our very own Whistle.

When they came nearer, my worry grew. The vessel was a frigate of some twenty guns and more troubling, its mizzen flew no ensign. Where a ship goes without address it goes to mischief. And yet still, I hoped only that they might be in need of assistance, or perhaps bore some urgent news from ports southward, and so I did not alter course and allowed them to close their pursuit.

When they came near enough they ran along our larboard and curse their livers they loosed a shot of ball across our deck that nearly unheaded one of the crew. What was I to do? They had the wind and the guns upon us. What flight could we have made or fight could we have raised?

And so I gave the order to bring us to full stop. We hauled down all sail and waited to see what the villains would have of us.

They came alongside and hurled their hooks and threw down planks for boarding. I demanded the attention of their captain and he was too eager to give it. He came aboard us and kept a brute of a first mate at his side. And then what? A Letter of Marque. He waved the document in my face and I thought to rip it from his hands but for the madness in the man’s eyes. And by what authority was it given? The rapscallion congress of the Americans. These continentals have come to insolence and his majesty will no doubt rout them back to their woods and shanty towns as soon as he hears they’ve grown so bold.

When I declared to him his villainy and my defiance he drew a musket and set its aim upon me. I thought his action surely a bluff but when I looked into his eyes I saw no gentleman captain staring back. It was a dark thing that hid within him and I felt its heat and knew its mind. The blackness of the man itched to spring out and see me dead by the musket. But I would not have it for I feared my death would only entice the slaughter of the entire crew. Think you not that I feared death for I have not, nor ever will. It was the death of my crew that kept my hand and the scuttle of the ship I hoped to stay.

And stay it I did. I gave way to the mad captain and may I rue it until I draw the last breath of my days. He sent his brigands upon us and they emptied our holds. I shall include in the postscript of this log entry the precise inventory of which we have been lightened. They left us nothing.

When the thievery was complete the mad captain lowered his weapon. He smiled evilly and withdrew.

I am a fool not to have changed our course at the first sight of them. I shall tender my resignation upon our arrival in England. I have failed in my duty and shall throw myself upon the mercy of Lord Eddington. Perhaps he will find me a position in the clerks office or upon the quay, I deserve my captaincy no more.

As the villains cheered and fired their brute weapons at the sky in victory I gave order for our sails to raise and in silence we went about our duty. The villains ship turned back upon the south and in the evening light I read the letters, “Rattlesnake” upon the transom.

Ware you well the ship for they are, to his majesty’s fleet, pirate one and pirate all.


Captain Gregory Burleson






Undated Letter

[This letter was discovered among a bundle of documents in the possession of Herr Wilbur Schilling of the Georgia Salzburger Society. While the writer and addressee of the letter are technically unknown due to the poor state of the document, the content suggests that authorship other than Phinea Button is exceedingly unlikely.]

I’m so worn down I can barely hold this pen.

Remember the day we made a rope out of all the linens and tied them to a tree near the river to use for a swing? Sister Hilde came in from town that afternoon expecting all the beds made and found us in the water, muddied and half mad with mischief. She screeched like a terror and near about pulled her own eyelids off in anger. Then she tried to switch my legs all the way up the hill to the orphan house but I outrun her and laughed all the while.

The next morning she had me scrub all the linens by myself. I had to fetch my own water, cut my own wood to heat the water, and even make my own soap to scrub with. She wasn’t satisfied until every one of them was white as new and it took me the better part of two days to see it done. Do you know how many buckets of water have got to be hauled up to wash the mud out of three dozen sheets? I do and won’t ever forget. When it was done I was sore in my bones in ways I didn’t even know sore could get. I think even my hair hurt.

That’s about how I feel right now.

The ship ought to have a lot more hands than it has. Knut tells me it used to have a crew of eighty. That sounds about like heaven to me because as it goes we’ve got less than thirty. So what’s ought’n to be done by eighty gets done by less than half that. It’s no terrible thing when the wind’s light and the captain’s at his ease but neither has been the case for days.

The wind is hard and shifty and the captain is eager to put it to use. He’s not happy with any point of sail for more than moments it seems. We’ll close haul to the wind, heeled over with the whole crew hiked out, and then run round to set her at a broad reach back down the wind. It’s maddening to some but even when I’m aching and drenched it’s a fine wonder to see her go. I love to hear the belly of the mainsail snap full with her tell-tales set awhistling and her lines pulled taught as a fiddle string. The ship charges up the one wave and pounds down another and shudders and groans and breathes like she’s alive.

I wish you could see it.

My hands are blistered by the ropes. My face itches of the sun. My legs are shaking from going aloft. Next watch in two hours and I hear the captain calling out for a trim of sail. Have to sleep. Feel I’ve been scrubbing Hilde’s sheets for days.

[The letter ends here without signature or valedictory.]




December 14th, 1775

[Note: This letter was discovered among a pamphlet of documents withdrawn from a secret panel in the chancel wall of an abandoned church outside of Ebenezer, Georgia. Among the other documents recovered were notes on a sermon by George Whitefield, a musical notation of A Mighty Fortress is Our God written for the pipe organ, and this curious list of names and chores.: Owen – Floors, Delly – Windows, Lachlan – feed horses, Peter – haul water, Fin – everything else and more if I can think of it. That monstrous child has gone too far this time.]

Finally, some time ashore! I better not tell you where we are, though. The English are bound to be sore over the prizes we’ve had in the last month and the last thing any of us need is to give away what ports have received us. Heard Jack tell that the dockmasters can be bought easy enough but he don’t want the English lurking around to drive up our price.

And guess what? I got paid.

Back in Philadelphia when the captain told us he aimed to put the ‘Snake in the way of the war, the crew looked side-eyed at the whole business, me included. But now that it’s done, he’s really delivered. Jack and the captain went ashore right off to settle accounts and came back an hour later with a bag of coins for every man (by every man, I mean me, too.) I never had no more money than what Sister Carmaline gave me to pay the blacksmith or the butcher but now I got a whole bag of the stuff and hardly know what to do with it. I bought some new boots and some better clothes but I reckon I’ll save the rest for Goshen knows what.

Yesterday we took on a new hand. He’s even greener than me. Think he must be a city boy sort, he’s got hands like a woman and skin so pale you’d think he was half ghost. I got no idea why Jack would bring him on board but I did hear something about him being a distant relation of Art’s, don’t know if it’s true (did I tell you about Art? An odd one.)

The boy’s name is Wilberforce Albemarle, and he insists that everyone call him Wilberforce Albemarle. So we call him Willy. I know it’s terrible but it’s the devil’s end of fun to see him turn beet-like and pout about it. I’m not all meanness though, I set him up a hammock next to mine and I been showing him the ropes.

Last night after we came off watch and was settling in for sleep, I was just near to drifting off when I heard Willy holler. I looked over to see him snatch his boot out someone’s hand and the someone run up the companionway before I could get out my hammock to grab at him. But I chased him this time. I run up after him and jumped out the hatch ready to spot him and tackle him down. But the whole deck was busy with hands trimming the sails and there wasn’t no way at all I could see who I had followed up, not in the dark anyway.

Topper had his hands at the helm and I asked if he’d seen who came out the hatch but he swatted me away and claimed he couldn’t spare his eyes.

So I’m stuck again. But I got an idea. The Snuffler ain’t come back for my boots cause I reckon he had a good snuffle and didn’t need another (neither would you if you smelt my boots), but from what I gather out of putting questions to Willy, he didn’t never have time to get his nose near the boots before he run off. I’d bet three bear’s teeth he’ll be back.

So before I put my head back in my hammock, I tied a line round Willy’s boots and fastened the other end to my wrist so I’d come awake if anyone came asnufflin’.

He didn’t come again last night. But he will. I know it. And I’ll be ready when he does.

Yours,

FB



December 19th, 1775

[Note: This letter was discovered along with a wealth of other documents hidden away for years in the courthouse of Savannah, Georgia. Among the other items discovered were a poorly written first draft of Common Sense by Thomas Paine, an instruction booklet for the brewing of tasty beers by Samuel Adams, and rather forgettable song sheet by Francis Scott Key entitled, "The Flag with Bunches of Stars".]

Wilberforce Albemarle. The boy is like to be the end of me.

Earlier today we went aloft to haul in the topsail. When we'd got a gull-bird’s flight up in the air, the empty-headed bugger let a foot slip and before he could say “Save me, Jesus!” he was turned bottom up and swinging from a line by an ankle and a prayer.

I reckon he’s lucky the line had mind to hang onto his ankle, else he’d be broke-necked on the deck. So there he swung with his arms flapping and his face gone purple with scare. He screamed and hollered and let a few words fly that I was surprised he even knew.

“Hang on, Willy,” I told him and even in that predicament he found the words to shout back at me that it was Wilberforce Albemarle needed helping and no one by any other name.

So I let him swing.

Not for long, mind you. But I did let him swing a wee bit longer than was properly nice. Then I reached out and grabbed hold of the rope that held him up and tried to aim him in a swing that’d let him get hands on the main sheet where he could steady himself and get upright. Did he do anything of the sort, though? Didn’t even think of it. He grabbed onto my leg first chance he saw and near about pulled me out the ropes to my own death.

That got me more than aggravated and just shy of furious mad. I tried to reach out again and swing him to safety and one more time he made like he was going to snatch me down. I had enough of that so I waited on the ‘Snake to roll over to the portside where he’d swing close to me and when he did, I let him have an eyeful of knucklebones that put him quiet and still and swinging gentle like a sack of potatoes.

Tan was watching the whole amusement from below and soon as he seen it was needed he fetched a block and tackle and run it up to me. We rigged it to the yardarm and tied Willy by the free leg to lower him down.

I helped carry him below and put him in his hammock. The boy is still out. He’ll wake up to a shiny, black, right eye and he’ll like it if he knows what’s good for him. I’m laying by him now while I write this. I’m going to bed down till morning but I’ve got his boots laid out in plain sight and trapped like I have the last three nights. Been no snuffler seen yet, but I’m ready and waiting and I’ll know soon as he comes around.

Yours,

FB

December, 1775

[Note: This letter was discovered in a store in eastern Tennessee called "Antiques, Collectibles, Junk? You Decide". After a thorough inspection of the establishment I have decided that the entire inventory resides comfortably under the category of "Junk" with the sole exception of this singular find. While it is not a "Letter to Peter", it does provide a fascinating perspective on particular events in the life of Fin Button.]

Lucilla,

I’m afraid we are delayed. As you know, we arrived in Savannah without incident and were met promptly and courteously by Aunt Matilda-Beth and her children. She bustled us all away to her home and extended great concern for what she termed our “thinning to the kettle-bones.” Though I’m certain her worry was exaggerated, it is true that the passage from England was difficult and we went upon bread and thin soup more often than I care to recall. At catching my image in a store window in Savannah I confess that I scarcely knew the man cast back at me.

Aunt Matilda-Beth remedied our ill-nourished bones in handsome fashion, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed. For the three days following our arrival I remember nothing more than the acres of food laid out for us and to think back upon it now I fancy I can still taste her rhubarb pie on my tongue.

So, famously fattened on Matilda-Beth’s hospitality, we set out. As you suggested, we struck north from Savannah to keep along the river roads in hopes of joining you before Christmas. One of my great worries of the over-land portion of our sojourn has ever been trouble with Indians. The stories one hears back home are of the most terrifying sort and the notion of having them come upon us in savage aspect has troubled many of my nights. How curious then that our trouble has not come from the natives but from those we feared the least, our own King’s men.

Not a day’s journey outside of Savannah we entered New Ebenezer, a small town of German immigrants, whom I had been told were quiet and honorable and tolerant of passers-through. But at once I felt there was unpleasant business afoot. The streets were empty of townsfolk and the entire air of the place seemed taut enough to pluck a note from.

The only persons about the town were those of the British Army. Soldiers guarded many of the homes we passed. I was proud to see King’s men in execution of their duty for I had read much of the unrest and revolutionary rhetoric of the American rabble-rousers in Boston and Philadelphia. I raised a hand in salute to more than one soldier but was met with no return but clenched jaws, narrow eyes, and more than one upturned lip.

As we approached the town center an officer intercepted us and bade us dismount our wagon to be searched. We complied with grace and as his men prodded the content of our wagon with their bayonets I inquired of the lieutenant in hopes of learning the reason for our being suspect.

He related to me that in recent days a woman of the town had spilt the blood of King’s soldiers and had yet to be brought under the arm of justice. I bade him describe the murderess that I might keep a sharp eye and assist and learned that she was a young woman, reddened of hair, thin, and so named as Phinea Michaels.

Then the lieutenant informed me that presently no travelers were permitted out of the town and he directed a local townsman by the name of Bolzius to grant us room and board until the matter was resolved.

We have been one week now in New Ebenezer and still the criminal goes unhung. All manner of tales recount her actions. One man claimed she shot six men through with a single ball while they marched in file upon the road, another claims she came to them in the night and took them one by one as they slept under the stars, yet another dares claim she teased out the souls of a dozen soldiers by playing a fiddle under moonlight to weave a witches spell. But of all the outlandish tales that haunt the conversations of this town, the worst are those that call her the War Woman and elevate her to the status of a national hero. Give me Francis Drake or Walter Raleigh if I require a hero for my nation, not an ill-mannered farm girl.

I have petitioned the lieutenant each day for leave to pass on and I daresay he is near to permitting it. I dearly hope we will not be detained much longer. We think of you each night and pray for your health. The children are anxious for your laugh and for your songs, as am I, and for other things as well. If the lieutenant and the weather allow, we may yet embrace before Christmas morn. The Lord grant it be so.


With Love,

Charles


Christmas Day, 1775

[Note: This letter was recovered from a rusty file drawer deep in the bowels of the USPS Dead Letter Office. The presence of the letter in the office suggests that it was never delivered, though something of a mystery remains as the letter clearly dates to the winter of 1775 and the office did not exist until 1825. It is possible that the letter was mis-addressed (though that seems unlikely) or that the legibility of the address was damaged while in the hands of the postal service (very likely) and as such remained in circulation for fifty years before at last finding rest when the Dead Letter Office was established.]


It’s Christmas Day and the whole crew is moping around and sick for family and friends far off. Jack petitioned the captain to have us put in at Charleston so those with kinfolk near could visit and the rest of us could take some ease and time ashore. To the captain’s credit he allowed it but things went sour before he could make it good.

We slipped up the coast to come upon the harbor from the south but no sooner had we spotted the Folly Island lighthouse than a British man-o’-war eased itself our way and spooked the captain. I don’t think they knew us or meant to interfere but the captain would take no chance. We spilled our wind and held well south ‘til the British turned north and were away.

Jack urged the captain to let us on into Charleston now that the way was safe but the warship had got the captain’s hackles up and he wouldn’t be moved. So back out we went, and are still.

This morning, Topper got himself a whole gaggle of other hands together and they sang carols to the wind. It put me in mind of Sister Carmaline and her singing at vespers, only not so likely to produce a painful ache between the ears. Topper’s choir, though ragged and poorly tuned, had a lonesome quality to it that set us all amid thoughts of times long past.

Knut is sitting near me now. As I write he’s got a faraway grin on his lips and he’s staring into the sunlight through the porthole. Seems he knows nothing at all most of the time and remembers little more than what’s in front of his eyes, but I fancy that right now something of him remembers a Christmas years gone that he’d like to go back and visit.

If I could go back and know a Christmas once again, it’d be the one we spent this winter last before the soldiers and the guns all that came between us. I remember we sat in the house as it stood half-built, roofless, and cold. I played you a song and you tried not to laugh. You gave me that ridiculous wooden hair comb you made of a plank from old chapel. You made me promise to use it, though you thought I never did. The truth is that I did try that very night but it broke in my mess of tangles and I didn’t have the heart to tell you.

Breaking things seems to be a talent of mine. But I’ll fix it one day, Peter. I’ll fix it all, I will.

I hope you’re warm and well.

Merry Christmas

FB

January 5th, 1776

I got him, I got him, I got him!

This morning I was laying in my hammock and wishing I had a new woolen blanket when I felt the cord tied to my thumb jerk. At first I figured it was Willy getting up for his watch and pulling on his boots. I couldn’t resist the chance to get his morning started off right, though, so I peeked my head out of the threadbare blanket failing to keep me warm and whispered, “Morning, Willy,” fully expecting a delightful tirade about the respectable history of the name Wilberforce and a complete list of all its dreadful virtues.

What I got instead was silence. The cord on my thumb fell deathly still and that’s when my sleepy eyes finally realized that it wasn’t Willy I was looking at. He was still sleeping in his hammock, happy as a summer dog in a cool shade. But there was someone else squatted still and quiet with one of Willy’s boots tucked up to his chin.

It took my brain a while to put all this together, mind you. But when I did get it put together, I couldn’t decide if I ought to jump up and try to tackled him down, or if I should lie quiet-like and see if he’d turn around where I could get a look at his face.

Before I could make up my own mind the cord jerked on my thumb again. I reckon the Snuffler thought I’d got back into my snooze. As I watched he tilted the boot up and stuck his fat nose way down deep inside it. Then I heard a few short snuffles very like the sound of a horse blowing in the heat.

Now, having lived most of my life on a farm and among a gaggle of orphans, I have seen, heard, and done some terrible strange things. But in all them years I have never witnessed something quite so unsettling as a man with his nose buried deep in another’s boot.

While I was contemplating the strangeness of the whole affair, the Snuffler removed his snout from Willy’s boot and set the boot back down on the ground next to its mate. Then he slowly turned his head around, probably to check that I was still asleep, and he saw that I wasn’t, and I saw who he was.

His eyes popped wide in surprise and I opened my mouth to loose my accusations. But he threw a stubby finger up to his lips and with a pleading look begged me to silence.

So I whispered, “Flanders Topper, what are you doing!”

“Don’t tell nobody, Fin. ‘Specially not the captain.” He put his hands together like he was praying and I’m sure I could have made him cry if I had put my ornery to it.

“And what would I tell? Snufflin’ boots in secret? Why would you do that, Topper?”

“I’ll tell you. But you got to keep quiet.”

Before I could agree or he could tell anything more, the watch-bell set to ringing and down come the order for us to beat to quarters. There was a prize on the horizon and the captain had set us upon it.

I hadn’t had time to talk with Topper since. We been at the ropes or loading the hold all day and now Topper’s on watch for the night. I’ll have words out of him soon, but I can't think what on earth he'll say to excuse himself.

Yours,

FB


January 7th, 1776

Dearest Mother,

How could you have sent me here? What evil did I visit upon our name that I require so lowly and deplorable a servitude? I know you wish me to see something of the world and find my place as a man within it, but a ship is no place for an Albemarle! There are no beds, only hammocks slung from overhead timber. Foul smells and scampering vermin attend my sleep and keep it light. The food is fit best for dogs rather than men, and as for the crew, there is not a gentleman among them, least of all Uncle Art, your brother.

They have made a game of the noble name you christened me and turned Wilberforce with its tri-syllabate splendor and respected lineage into a thing so crassly imagined as “Willie”. I fancy I can hear father’s ghost shudder and groan each time they corrupt his memory so. Should a vagabond such as these have addressed him thus, a duel and a swift death would have followed, I doubt not.

But what am I to do? You have sent me among wolves and without teeth of my own. Should I stand against the cruelty done my name, I’d surely be bested soundly and set upon my way with more dishonor than I had before. They are men thick of arm and beard, swarthy, often toothless, and quick to anger.

All save one. Fin Button. A bony lad even by comparison with myself. He has the shoulders and voice of a young boy if not a woman, but his lack of weight is more than amended by his unpleasant nature.

Consider this example, some weeks past the captain sent us aloft, Fin and I, a terrible business in itself, and while so engaged my foot became tangled, I slipped, and I found myself hung heels up some forty feet above the deck. When I reached out in my helplessness in hope of receiving aid, I collected instead this cretin’s fist. The odious lad’s punch knocked me sleeping ‘til I awoke some time later poorly attended, laughed at, addressed as “Willie”, and was informed that my life had been saved by such insultuous treatment.

Perhaps, now that I think of it, I can turn the lad’s rudeness to my advantage. Surely such a slight fellow will offer little defense if engaged. Yes, I’m certain of it! When next I am provoked, I shall hold my ground before him and offer a gentleman’s duel of fists (since I have neither sword nor pistol). I shall defeat him soundly and through such show of force win the respect of my name from the crew. I shall be “Willie” no longer and Wilberforce Octavian Albemarle, III shall rise in his place, triumphant.

Pray for me, Mother. I go forth in your name.

Your son,

Wilberforce Octavian Albemarle, III

January 10th, 1776

[Note: this letter was found sequestered in the secret compartment of an antique desk. The desk was among a collection auctioned from the estate of a venerable family of Savannah, Georgia and dates to the mid 19th century. The presence of this well-preserved letter within it suggests that the former owner had some idea of its historical worth as the document seems to have been carefully handled throughout the two hundred and thirty years since its writing. The light it sheds on a previously unknown facet of Fin Button’s career and the history of her crewman, Flanders Topper, is fascinating, but of even greater interest is the crucial evidence it offers of the existence of the legendary Brandenburg Strudel, long thought to be nothing more than culinary folklore.]


We’re in Philadelphia again. It’s one of the few ports where the captain still feels safe to moor the ‘Snake. Jack says if we ever get back to Savannah he’ll see I get time enough to come and visit you. The trouble, though, as you’d imagine, is that Savannah is full of British and we’d be lucky to get within a hundred miles of it without being run off, or run down and hanged.

When we got all settled up at the dock, unloaded, paid, and set loose, I snatched Topper into a corner and advised him how I wouldn’t let him set his toes ashore ‘til he spilled an explanation for his boot snufflin’. He went to sweating right away and hem-hawed around for a while but I finally had it out of him.

“Fin, it ain’t what you think,” he told me, which I thought was odd cause I didn’t have no idea what to think. So I reached out and curled my fingers into his shirt and pulled him up close and put the question to him square.

“Why was you snufflin’ my boots, Topper? And Willy’s, too?”

He shuddered some and squeezed his eyes tight and sweated a bit more then stuck out his bottom lip and said, “You won’t say nothing to the captain will you?”

Why the captain should care at all was beyond me but Topper surely seemed to hold a lot of worry over it. So I jerked him by the shirt and told him that if he didn’t come clean and leave off his snufflin’ that the captain would hear about it as soon as I could knock on his door and offer up the details.

That set his tongue running.

“I wasn’t supposed to be no sailor, Fin. You ever had a pastry? Soft and flaky, warm out the oven and smothered in honey?”

“Course I have,” I told him, impatiently.

“I used to make ‘em. Made ‘em in the morning, made ‘em all day, dreamed ‘em at night. I’m a baker, see? All I ever wanted was to bake tarts and turn-em-overs and sweet pies and cakes and—you ever hear of a strudel?”

“What’s a strudel?” I asked him, less ‘cause I wanted to know than 'cause I wanted him to get to the point.

His eyes rolled back in his head and he sighed and licked his lips.

“The glory of Germany, that’s what. A pastry so supple and soft it melts on your tongue and sends a pleasin’ shiver down your spine. It’s the wonder of the West. A miracle of the oven. A taste of the heavenly realm. The food of gods and angels. It’s the—” He went on and on about the strudel until he was staring off over my shoulder with his eyes glazed over. I’m pretty sure he’d forgotten I was there at all so I stuck out a finger and jabbed him.

“Topper!” I said and he shook his head and snapped out of his strudel-vision.

“An old German woman give me the secret of their making. Auntie Olga was how I called her. I knowed her since I was a youngster sneakin' bakery treats when I thought she didn't see. When I was grown, she taught me the baker's creed and tutored me in the ways of oven-craft and even gave me the yeaster's seed when she deemed the time was right. Then, when she was on the bed adyin' of the consumption, she called for a baker and it was me that came.

"She wrote down the recipe just like she knew it from the old country then pressed it to my hand and died. When I looked at what she wrote, I saw what a treasure she'd given.

"I was all set, Fin. Was going to open me own strudel shop in Boston. I’d have made a fortune. Strudel with chocolate, strudel with honey and cinnamon, strudel with blueberries, with courant, with mayhaws and cider. They’d have come from all the colonies across to have ‘em. I’d have been a rich man, Fin! Rich and happy and I’d have married a plump bakeress and had a dozen flour-doused sons to mind the family business and I’d have grown old on sweet pastries and fruit pies and more strudel than the world ever saw.

“I sold everything I ever owned and bought a shop just off the commons with a little room above it that weren’t much but was enough to make a wife happy when I found one.

"And then the devil come. I woke one night to the crackle and pop of fire. I run down the stairs and my shop was burning. Flames licked up the walls and turned the world black with smoke. Fire chased down my pastries and I watched ‘em wither into charred fists of ash. The heat shattered my honey-pot and its nectar ran across the floor hissing and bubbling like it was spewed out of the burning lake of hell. Then the honey itself was lit aflame and it sent up thick inky clouds of smoke that smelt like attar and stung my eyes.

“There was nothing for it, Fin. The shop was lost. I run through the flames to my recipe cupboard. My recipes were everything. But when I threw open the cabinet door, they were gone. I looked everywhere but couldn’t find them. Then I could stand the heat and the smoke no more and fled.

“As I stood in the street and watched my lovely shop burn, I spotted a figure in the shadows with a box in his hands. It was my recipe box! I called out to him but only heard wicked laughter as he turned and ran. I chased him down the street, through alleyways, across fences, and onto the waterfront until, if you can believe it, I caught him! He was running down the dock to where a single ship awaited and in one last moment of exertion I leapt out and caught him by the leg. He struggled but I held him tight. I had to, didn't I? He had my recipe box, and in it the precious secret of the German Strudel! I clung to his leg and he kicked at me and beat me with his hands. And then, alas, he wriggled his foot free and ran, leaving me out of wind and beaten on the dock clinging to nothing more than an empty boot.

“I tried to gather my breath and give chase but he was already on the ship, the plank was withdrawn, and when I reached the pier side the vessel was slipping away into the moonlight.”

Topper got quiet and his shoulders slumped over. While it was a fine story he'd told, it still hadn’t done a thing to explain his snuffling. I did feel bad for him though. He was near tears at the end.

“What’s all that to do with mine and Willy’s boots, Topper?” I asked him.

He stepped away from the bulkhead and motioned me to follow. He walked across the berth to his hammock and knelt down to unlatch his trunk. Out of it he drew a single shabby boot.

“It’s the devil’s boot. And it smells of him.”

He offered me the boot, maybe wanting me to smell it. I took a step back and waved it off. Then he held it up to his nose and took himself a good snuffle.

“The musk of a man’s foot is like his face,” he said. “God give one to every man unique. I never seen that devil’s face what stole my strudel. ‘Twas too dark when we contended on the dock and all I seen of him otherwise was his back by lantern-light as I chased him. This boot is the only way I got to find my strudel. So when we takes a new tar on board, I snuffles his boot to find if he’s the one. That’s all, Fin. I just want to find Auntie Olga's strudel recipe and go back to my baking. Been three years, though, and ain’t caught a whiff of him yet.”

Don’t that beat all? Topper’s like a human bloodhound to hear him tell it. If that was the truth though, that didn’t explain why he’d need to keep it all so secret.

“So why don’t you want the captain to know? Why all the sneaking around and throwing me in that locker?”

“Captain caught me snufflin’ his boot last year. He ‘bout come out his skin and put me under the scourge for it. Told me if ever he heard of another boot snuffled on his boat he'd see I felt the whip again. And believe you me, the captain’s whip ain’t one you want to suffer. Please don’t tell him, Fin.”

Odd as the whole yarn was, I told him his secret was safe with me. In fact, I felt so bad for the poor, snuffling fool that I promised I’d help him win back his lost strudel—if he ever finds the man that stole it, that is.

So now I’m stuck with a greater mystery than that of the snuffler. Why would a man burn down a bakery (with Topper inside it) and steal a recipe box? This strudel must be good stuff. I’ll have to try some.

Yours,

FB


January 12th, 1776 [page 1]

[Note: This letter was found among the collection at the Amelia Island Historical Museum in Fernandina Beach, Florida. The author is Jefferson Betters, who operated a travelling surgery along the coast of Florida and southern Georgia in the latter years of the 18th century. The mention of Fin Button among his medical records is somewhat unexpected but, given the nature of her career, it is also unsurprising.]

I write to you at the behest of your son, Wilberforce Albemarle, III. I pray this letter reaches you in steady health and good disposition for I fear it bears unwelcome news.

Your son came into my care three nights past when an uncouth crowd of sailors carried him through my door. It is generally not my practice offer service to such men but seeing their manner and urgency I thought it best to provide them the quickest and most direct care I could in order that they might remove themselves at the earliest opportunity.

Your son was unconscious when he arrived in my surgery and upon initial observation I perceived that his wounds were thus:

1. A considerable blow to the head. Evident by swelling and extensive bruising at the hairline.

2. A broken knuckle. Being that of the middle finger of the right hand.

3. Possible drowning. I mention this only because I suspected it upon first seeing him. He was freshly and entirely wettened, somewhat blue-lipped, and wholly unconscious.

The gang of brutes that delivered him to my surgery had each their own words to say in explanation of your son’s injury but as they could not align themselves to speak in turn, they spoke forth all at once and I could decipher no tale of how your son came to his present state. Therefore did I bid them set your son upon my table and leave him to my solitary provision.

I’m pleased to report that I ruled out the possible drowning at once. The boy had his breath, if only by the tail.

Next, I turned my eye upon his wounded head. The skin was not split and no blood had been lost. I suspected that the wound was superficial but hesitated to make any definitive guess as it is my experience that wounds of the head can often fester injury even where no injury can be seen.

Finally, I turned my practiced eye upon the swollen and crooked knuckle. It is an injury that one need provide little concern over, its mending is little more than a matter of time and careful usage. Thus did I endeavor to set the joint in its proper alignment that it might heal well and thus did your son awaken to the considerable unpleasantry of the setting of bones in his shattered hand.

He cried out formidably.

His protests brought his sailor companions rushing in and I had to urge them back out once more before I could continue. After enduring a deft maritime cursing by your son, I attempted to explain to him the nature of his injuries and the import of my care. I fear he would hear no explanation however and fell to ranting about the injustice done him by someone he named, “Button”. His eyes flashed and darted about in fear and he begged me not let him fall under the gaze of this unseen menace.

Naturally, I suspected that “Button” was his attacker and the source of his wounding and I assured him that he was safe and that his friends would be free to take him back to his ship in little time at all. This produced a spasm of horror in the boy. He wailed that if ever he went back they’d visit all manner of tortures upon him and send him overboard to swim himself home, if he wasn’t killed outright, that is. During all this, the boy could not arrest his desire to keep every part of the room under his watchful eye so that, as he told to me, “he could see that Button comin’”.

I fear the injury to his head has given him phantasies.

After a time I was able to calm his rantings and with the help of a common sedative he settled into a fitful sleep.

It was then that I sought an explanation from his companions. In the time it took me to see to his initial care, the brutish gang that carried him in had elected themselves a spokesman of sorts (for which I am uncommonly thankful.) I took the man into my office and learned that his name was Tan Bough of the vessel
Rattlesnake. I shall relate to you his story as best I can remember it.

[Note: Here ends the first page of this letter and, regrettably, the only page in the care of the Amelia Island Historical Museum. The curator has informed me that the letter was previously part of a collection of medical logs sold to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. I intend to investigate those documents when I return to Nashville in hopes of discovering the fate of Wilberforce Octavian Albemarle, III.]

January 12th, 1776 [page 2]

Once sequestered alone with Mr. Bough, I was relieved to discover that he seemed a man of some intelligence. Certainly, he was far more couth, well-mannered, and precisely spoken than his buffoonerous companions.

By his testimony I perceive that your son has had some difficulty finding a natural and comfortable presence in the company of the ship’s crew. Mr. Bough confessed, quite sympathetically, that Wilberforce’s slight stature was against him from the beginning. The work required of your son is of a long and strenuous nature and rarely suited to a man of his making.

Stature and thickness of arm do not alone devise the entire mettle of a man, however, and this is where your son appears to have fallen afoul of the crew. Mr. Bough wisely points out that the best compliment for diminished size is resilience of spirit. To excel where one’s physical prowess would fail requires of a man a singular power of will that labors not only to overcome the obstacle that dwarfs him, but that works its spell upon the men around in ways that encourage aid, command respect, and foster friendship.

It is this quality that I fear your son lacks. And unfortunately, it is the very quality that another crewman possesses and has caused an anguish of envy in your son.

This other crewman is, as you may have perceived, the one your son names “that Button” and is the source of his phantasies and horrors.

Mr. Bough tells me that Button and Wilberforce are much the same in bodily nature, both slight of frame, small of arm, and rather pitiful to look upon. Because of this similarity they are often placed together upon the watch out of hope that, working in tandem, each will better the other. But the outcome of their pairing has rarely been fortuitous and they have come to blows once already. The incident that brought Wilberforce here today appears to be the explosive consequence of a long-brewing grudge borne by your son.

Mr. Bough relates the incident thus:

“The first mate gave order for Button and Willy to set about polishing the larboard brasswork and Willy took exception to his pairing with what he termed “a lowly heathen”. Button, considering himself neither lowly nor heathen, advised Willy, and rightly so, to clap his eater shut. That surpassed Willy’s common sense, I reckon, and soon as Button turned away, he threw his bony fist and connected it directly to the back of Button’s headbone. There was a loudish popping sound that we all feared was Button’s noggin’ splitting like a log, but the one that went to hollering wasn’t Button, it was Willy. He’d broke his hand. Snapped it clean like a bean fresh off the stalk

So then, in the middle of Willy’s hollering and fussing, he looks up and sees that Button’s head was hard enough that the punch had done nothing more than light his eyes red with anger. Then the red of his eyes spread to his cheeks and then to his whole face and I swear I seen steam come out of Button’s ears near the end. Willy’s face on the other hand had run slap white in fear.

Then Button charged him and Willy done the first smart thing I ever saw him do. He ran. The dim fool ran so fast and so scared that I reckon he forgot it was a ship he was on and when he came to the port rail he didn’t slow down and didn’t stop or jump, he just tripped right against it like he thought he could run it through.

So that didn’t work no better than punching Button. He fell overboard and knocked the tar out of his head against the gunwale. Time we got to the rail to look over and see, he was knocked out cold and floating face down in the water. So I jumped on in and fished him out. When we got him on deck, he didn’t want to breathe too well and he looked a tad blue. That’s when we brought him here.

I’m obliged you fixed his breathing.”

So, ma’am, I trust you see that your son’s predicament has as its culprit, none other than your son himself.

The sailors have returned to their ship and their ship sailed on yesterday's tide. Mr. Bough was kind enough to leave a small sum of money to provide for your son's care.

Wilberforce is mending well and I intend to keep him here in my employ to earn his keep until he is returned to your side. I must beg you, however, to retrieve your son as soon as may be arranged. Your son’s snide manner does not sit well either with me or my patients, and I fear I must be rid of him as soon as may be opportune.

I humbly await your reply and instruction.

Regards,

Dr. Jeffery Betters
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