Below is Part 14 of 18 monthly installments for Visitant.
No one whispered about Eliza any longer. At least not in her presence. She had grown into a fearsomely proud woman, with good reason. The Marsh blood made so famous by the exciting exploits of Captain Marsh seemed to have tipped away from the slashed up vein of his direct lineage and into the Orne line. Not that Liza could see it.
They noted the undeniably Marsh features in her countenance and that her hair was the same solid black hue everyone but her father had. But most days all that Liza could see was her dark skin tone. There were so many other things to hate about her face, that sometimes she forgot just why Innsmouth so forcibly shunned her company.
She often caught the eyes of Innsmouth lighting across her with shining malice. As eight year old playmates, Verna had never before pointed out that she noticed how very different Liza looked from her family.
Her eyes became fixed at an odd distance, her nose, uncomfortably noteworthy in its long projection from her face. Her face was missing the flat features and wide, staring eyes of her fellow denizens. There was no likeness between her and blood relatives and it only compounded with age.
When she finally asked her mother about her skin, the woman had looked at her for a long time before answering. Her mother took her upon her knee for the only time Liza could remember and explained that her father did not know both his parents. Liza was an Octoroon or Quadroon, and it did not much matter which in New England.
But her mother had firmly reassured her that “Innsmouth was not like the rest of the world.” Liza never asked what that meant.
Nowadays, Innsmouth seemed to be growing more and more like the rest of the world. Liza looked out the dingy windows of the Marsh Refinery Office from her desk, bored from the tedium and finding no entertainment in the rough-looking bums that occasionally washed up. Usually, she took pleasure in their coarse looks and despair at the lack of begging opportunities in the poorly pedestrianed town.
After the war, the number of vagrants had doubled. It didn’t make sense to Liza. Her father had said they were in a shining era for wealth and employment. There was a surplus of jobs elsewhere he explained after trips to Arkham on business, but somehow new vagrants ended up in Innsmouth week by week.
“Trying to get jobs in the gold refinery, or at the docks. We’ve made sure they don’t come in here when it’s just you working.” A grating voice interrupted her search of the tortured faces in the square. He walked into her view, blocking the window by putting a hand on the desk at each edge of her wall-eyed vision and leaning close to her. His smile was obscenely wide. Pointed teeth shone from his gaping gullet.
He bloviated, “Had a negro in my office this morning. Even if we hired, we certainly would not hire their type.” Liza wished she could ignore him, but Barnaby was her boss as well as her cousin. “Smelled like he was already living at the docks. Ought to check for work there.”
Barnaby used to leave his grandfather’s books out when Liza and her mother would visit. They would always be opened to the illustrations of “Savanna dwellers” and those living in “British Tropical Africa.” When the adults left them alone, he would point to the black people in the pictures and their carefully depicted nudity. Verna would snicker, and came up with all sorts of horrible nicknames based on the Latin words they found in those books.
He had grown no better as an adult. When she was around, Liza’s mother had reminded her repeatedly that Barnaby was under more and more pressure as his father completed his change, and thus had little time to think about the feelings of the women in his family. Liza knew better.
He had grown into a cruel and callous man with even less love for his fellows than those non-Innsmouth poor that trickled in on the tides. Still, this current mode of savagery would serve Liza’s purposes, nicely.
“Where did you send him?” She asked nonchalantly, opening a book of figures and running her index finger down a column.
“Out the front door. He probably went and tried to break into one of those buildings North of town.” He straightened himself. “Well, I’m off for the day. You can hold down the office from here, I suspect.” He left without the courtesy of awaiting her answer.
Liza planned to head across the river and to Innsmouth’s North end as soon as she could, but she imagined that leaving soon after Barnaby was a bad idea. She needed all eyes to be on the country girl the Uxor twins had procured, not Liza, slacking on the job. This would be a good time to make room for the falsified Louvain documents in the drawer they were supposed to have been housed in.
Removing a key from under the blotter on her desk, Liza cast a wary eye out the window. There were less people in the square now and no one seemed interested in the dusty windows of the refinery and records office. She unlocked the top drawer of her desk and removed the precious folders containing the forged documents, then locked the front door.
As the bolt slid into place, she was reminded that the door had been unlocked when she arrived, and Barnaby had misplaced his key. Liza felt briefly grateful no one had attempted to ransack the office. There was nothing of value in the building itself, save the files in the basement, but most outsiders had no idea those documents existed.
It would have been a good cover, though, she thought to herself. Liza could have dropped the newer files in a ransacked pile, and not have to risk being caught depositing them.
She flicked off the electric lights before descending into the basement storage. At the base of the stairs, she flipped on the light and glanced at the black door to the right of the staircase—closed and bolted from the other side, as always.
The drawer containing those few Louvains who had history in Innsmouth was easy to find. She flipped through the records idly, as she had many times before.
The records of Innsmouth’s families were meticulously kept, even with all the holes and scratched out branches of family trees. After 1846, many relations in Essex county began ignoring Innsmouth, and the citizens returned the favor by claiming none outside the city.
On top of this, some documents included names that were no where else to be found, and many children had no parentage or died soon after birth. Many parents were not listed, as their names were too difficult to spell out, or the exact nature of them was too vague to the English speaking Innsmouthian. Still, complete family listings, dead or alive, were carefully kept intact.
Never before had Liza been able to peruse the files without supervision. She flipped forward in the drawer to “Orne,” and was surprised to discover two folders marked “Orne, Eliza.” One was completely empty.
Cross-referencing with the cards kept on another end of the storage, she found one entry had “Younger” as a parenthetical remark in a differently hued ink. This included both the names of her parents and her own birthdate.
The second had the name of her grandmother, “Henrietta Orne (nee Babson),” with “grandfather, Benjamin Orne, Arkham, Mass.” noted below it, along with a hastily scribbled question mark. The birthdate read “31 March, 1867.”
There was a noise from somewhere above, paralyzing her momentarily, but the approaching darkness hastened her. It would be a perilous walk back through the seaside and residential streets North of the river without light. Flying up the stairs, she only dimly perceived that the black door appeared ajar.
She found the front door had been unlocked. Liza assumed that her cousin must have returned and had not ventured into the basement to discover what she was up to. He must have thought she had taken dinner, or taken leave entirely. No matter—whatever he thought was done now—and she had somewhere to be.
At least, she hoped it had been Barnaby.
The younger Eliza Orne put her hat on her head, a scarf around her neck, and secured the door behind her. The sun had begun to slope dangerously close to the horizon. She shuffled off toward the bridge as the light from above began its shift toward blood red.
► Next installment: August 15th | CORA