When they debark him at the mouth of Break-Neck Valley, two or three Miles from the Town, he is more than eager to be off.
He can smell the Town upon the Wind, the Smoke and Muck-Piles, long before he sees it. Awakening from a sort of Road-Trance, he finds himself before the Jenkin's Ear Museum, dedicated to the eponymous Organ whose timely Display brought England in against Spain in the War of '39. Not long after, Robert Jenkin went to work for the East India Company,-- many styl'd it a quid pro quo,-- being assign'd to St. Helena in '41 as Governor, and bringing with him the influential Ear, already by then encasqu'd in a little Show-case of Crystal and Silver, and pickl'd in Atlantick Brine. James's Town wove its Spell. Eventually, at Cards, Mr. Jenkin extended his Credit too far even for Honorable John. There remain'd the last unavoidable Object of Value, which he bet against what prov'd to be a Cross-Ruff, whence it pass'd into the Hands of Nick Mournival, an Enterpriser of the Town.
Mason is chagrin'd to find set in a low Wall a tiny Portico and Gate, no more than three feet high, with a Sign one must stoop to read,-- "Ear of Robt. Jenkin, Esq., Within." Clearly there must be some other entry, tho' Mason can find none, not even by repeated Jumps to see what lies over the Wall,-- to appearance, a garden gone to weeds. Reluctantly at last he takes to his elbows and knees, to investigate the diminutive Doorway at close hand,-- the Door, after a light Push, swinging open without a Squeak. Mason peers in. What Illumination there is reveals a sort of Ramp-way leading downward, with just enough height to crawl.
Owing to a certain Corporate Surplus accumulated at Cape Town, Mason's smooth descent is here and there in doubt,-- each time, indeed, tho' but temporarily stuck, he comes near Panick. At last, having gain'd a slightly roomier sort of Foyer, hewn, it seems, from the Volcanick Rock of the Island, he is startl'd by a Voice, quite near.
"Good Day to you, Pilgrim, and thanks for your interest in a great modern secular Relic. Helen of Troy's face may've launch'd a thousand ships,-- this is but one Ear, yet in its Time, it sent navies into combat 'round the Globe. Think of it as the closest thing you're apt to see to Helen's Face, and for one Pistole 'tis a Bargain."
"Bit steep, isn't it? Where, ehm, are you, by the way...the Echo in here,-- "
"Look in front of you."
"Ta-ra-ra! Yes, here all the time. Nick Mournival, formerly Esquire, now your Servant. Once a Company Director, now...as you see. Fortune's wheel is on the Rise or Fall where'er we go, but nowhere does it turn quite as furiously as here, upon this unhappy Mountain-Top in the Sea."
"You are Florinda's friend. We met before the Battery one evening,-- she is well, I trust."
"She is flown. Some Chicken-Nabob traveling Home with his Mother. Watch'd her work him. Masterful. She knew I was observing, and put on a Show. Her Stage Training,-- humiliating, of course.--
"Well," brightly, "where's the Ear then,-- just have a look if I may, and be off?"
"Dear no, that's not how 'tis done, I must come along, to operate the Show."
"Excuse me,-- Show...?"
Naive Mason. First he must endure The Spaniard's Crime, The Ear Display'd to Parliament, the Declaration of War,-- with Mournival speaking all the parts and putting in the sounds of Cannonades, and Storms at Sea, Traffick in Whitehall, Spanish Jabbering and the like, and providing incidental music upon the Mandoline from Mr. Squivelli's L'Orecchio Fatale, that is, "The Fateful Ear." A Disquisition upon Jenkin's Ear-Ring, "Aye, 'twas never Mr. J.'s Ear the Spaniard was after, but the great Ruby in it. For one silver shilling, you may view this remarkable Jewel, red as a wound, pluck'd from the Navel of an importantly connected Nautch-Dancer, by a Mate off a Coaster, who should've known better,-- passing then from Scoundrel to Scoundrel, tho' Death to possess yet coveted passionately, from the Northern Sea to the farther swamps of the Indies, absorbing in its Passage, and bearing onward, one Episode after another, the brutal and dishonorable Tale of Bengal and the Carnatic, in the Days of the Company,-- till it settl'd in to dangle beneath the fateful Lobe of Mr. Jenkin, and wait, a-throb with unlucki-ness, the Spaniard's Blade."
In the strait and increasingly malodorous space where they crouch, awash in monologue and vocal Tricks, Mason's only diversion is what Mr. Mournival, by now seeming more openly derang'd, styles "The Chronoscope," which, for a fee, may be squinted into,-- here in all colors of the Prism sails the brig Rebecca, forever just about to be intercepted by the infamous Guarda-Costa. Mason's Squint is not merely wistful,-- the ship's name is a Message from across some darker Sea,-- as he has come to believe in a metaphysickal escape for the Seahorse, back there off Brest, much like this very depiction,-- the Event not yet "reduc'd to certainty," the Day still'd, oceanick, an ascent, a reclaiming of light, wind express'd as its integral, each Sail a great held Breath.... Into just such a Dispensation, that far-off morning, had he risen... like a Child...India, all Islands possible, the open, inextinguishable Light...his last morning of Immortality.
"And finally, a salute to the career of Mr. Jenkin with the E.I.C., featuring his brief and not dishonorable tenure as Governor here." Nick Mournival's Tortoise Pick begins to vibrate upon the Notes of "Rule Britannia," as a life-siz'd portrait of Jenkin now shimmers into view, the missing Ear tastefully disguis'd by the excursions of a Wig of twenty years ago, and the Curriculum Vitas is grandly recited.
All this while, the Ear reposes in its Pickling-Jar of Swedish lead Crystal, as if being withheld from Time's Appetite for some Destiny obscure to all. Presently 'tis noted by Mason,-- he hopes, an effect of the light,-- that somehow, the Ear has been a-glow,-- for a while, too,-- withal, it seems, as he watches, to come to Attention, to gain muscular Tone, to grow indeed quite firm, and, in its saline Bath, erect. It is listening. Quickly Mason grips himself by the head, attempting to forestall Panick.
"Aha." Mr. Mournival breaks off his narration. "Good for you, Sir. Some of them never do smoak it, you know. Yes of course Ear's been listening,-- what're Ears for?-- and to be honest, there's not much to do down here-- Ear may look small and brine-soak'd to some, but I can tell you she's one voracious Vessel,-- can't get enough of human speech, she'll take anything, in any language,-- sometimes I must sit and read to her, the Bible, the Lunar Tables, The Ghastly Fop, whatever comes to hand...'tis Ear's great Hunger, that never abates."
"Oh? What would you call her? 'Nose'?"
"I...but wish'd not to speak inappropriately,-- ' Mason's Eyes swiveling about more and more wildly, failing to locate the Egress.
"You're a Sporting Gentleman, I recognize your style, been to any number of London Clubs in me time, how'd you like to"-- his Nudge, in this under-ground Intimacy, comes like an Assault,-- "get a little closer, maybe...tell her something in private?" As much as the Space allows, he now flourishes a Key.
"Ehm, perhaps I'll just,-- could you, actually, kindly, point me to the...Way out?"
Mr. Mournival has unlock'd the Vitrine, and reach'd into the Sea-Glow within. "You ought not leave, Sir, till you've spoken into Ear. She'll be a much better Judge of when you may go. And 'twill cost but a Rix-Dollar more,--
"Be advis'd, I am empower'd to use Violence, I've a Warrant from the Company,--
"Here then,-- take, take two Rix-Dollars,-- why not? only Dutch money, isn't it, no more real than the Cape be, and that terrible Dream that has seiz'd and will not release them,--"
"Don't tell me," shrugs Mr. Mournival. "Tell Ear. It's just the sort of Chat-up she fancies. Treat for you today, Ear!" he cries, startling Mason into a back-twinge he would rather not have. "Go ahead, Sir. Put your Lips as close as as you care to."
"You're not altogether well," Mason points out.
"And more of us on the Leeward Side than you'd ever suspect-- There...so.-- Better? Now whisper Ear your Wish, your fondest Wish,-- join all those Sailors and Whores and Company Writers without number who've found their way down here, who've cried their own desires into the Great Insatiable. Upon my Solicitor's Advice, I must also remind you at this Point, that Ear only listens to Wishes,-- she doesn't grant 'em."
Mason can scarce look into the blue-green Radiance surrounding the Ear,-- in this crowded darkness, even the pale luminescence stuns...and just as well, too, for the Organ has now definitely risen up out of its Pickle, and without question is offering itself, half-cur'd and subterranean cold, to Mason's approaching Mouth. I have surviv'd the Royal Baby, Mason tells himself,-- this can be done. The flirtatious Ear stands like a shell-fish,-- vibrating, waiting.
His fondest Wish? that Rebekah live, and that,-- but he will not betray her, not for this. What he whispers, rather, into the pervading scent of Brine and...something else, is, "A speedy and safe passage for Mr. Dixon, back to this place. For his personal sake, of course, but for my Sanity as well."
Helen of Troy, mutatis mutandis, might have smirk'd, yet even if the Ear were able to smirk, Mason wouldn't have notic'd, would he,-- being preoccupied so with the Metaphysicks of the Moment. Till now, he has never properly understood the phrase Calling into a Void,-- having imagin'd it said by Wives of Husbands, or Teachers of Students. Here, however, in the form of this priapick Ear, is the Void, and the very anti-Oracle-- revealing nothing, as it absorbs ev'rything. One kneels and begs, one is humiliated, one crawls on.
"The Egress you seek lies directly before you, Sir,-- " the Mandoline jingling a recessional Medley of Indian Airs as Mason climbs on. At the moment, all he wants to see is the Atlantic Sky. "Godspeed!" calls Nick Mournival, "- - may you fare better in the life you resume, than ever did I in the one I abandon'd."
Having squirm'd past the last obstacle, Mason finds himself presently at Ground Level in the neglected garden he glimps'd earlier. The Walls are markedly higher in here than he remembers them from the Street,-- whose ev'ry audible Nuance now comes clear to him, near and far, all of equal Loudness, from ev'ry part of the Town,-- but invisible In its suggestion of Transition between Two Worlds, the space offers an invitation to look into his Soul for a moment, before passing back to the Port-Town he has stepp'd from...a Sailors' waterfront Chapel, as some would say. He begins, like a Dog, to explore the Walls, proceeding about the stone Perimeter. Bright green Vines with red trumpet-shap'd Flowers, brighter indeed than the Day really allows...no door-ways of any kind...then Rain, salt from the Leagues of Vacant Ocean....