Into the Shadow of Innsmouth
1 – A Party and a Prologue
By 10 O'clock the party was in full swing. The sound of some fancy string quartet was flouting through rooms where the distance between the Nouveau Riche, and what the Americans here like to call 'Old Money' was beginning to show itself.
The men and woman born into their wealth were standing around exchanging pleasantries and witticisms over cups of coffee that would never be drank. Those that worked for their fortune were drinking, some lightly – a glass of wine never leaving their hands, and the wine never appearing to be drunk. Others may as well have had their heads under a beer pump. I could just imagine them as a cartoon caricature, slurping wine and brandy from a trough.
This was the type of party I hated, and the type of party I had seen a lot of (too much of) over the past few days. I was staying with an old university friend by the name of Daniel Osgood in his family mansion. He was born into his fortune, and was inheriting his father's numerous textile factories that seemed to stretch from one side of New England to the other. Myself, I was a salesman, catering specifically to the rich for Supermarine Aviation Ltd, trying to sell Seaplanes. I was staying with my friend for a night or two and catching up, though I suspect Daniel was also showing off, as he liked to do. It was rather pleasant, that I cannot deny, but at the same time I was in no way used to this. The type of party with fake pink Flamingos dotted on the lawn, waiting some drunken member of the 'idle rich' to catch and make them fall over.
Still, saying this, these parties that I had been subjected to lately were not altogether dull, and there was even a sense of intrigue in them too. In this part of the world (a kind of colony for the rich just north of Ipswitch Massachusetts) there was an urban legend if you will. And that was a man: Robert Marsh. Members of this small wealthy community would often say someone was 'harder to find than Robert Marsh' when someone was absent for long periods of time. I kept hearing about the man in passing, but on the last night, during a party at Osgood's beachside manor, I heard about him more than at any other time, and they came so close together that I couldn't help but find myself intrigued. It was something of a mystery.
I was walking to the library, looking for Daniel. Bach was being played in the background and I was listening to the melody, trying to get a feel for the tune when an elderly woman approached me. I didn't even notice her until she tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to her, before I could apologise she said: 'And how are you enjoying your stay with the Osgood's Mr ...?' she trailed off.
'Mr Brain Phelps' I smiled and held out my hand. She didn't take it. I smiled. It was a fake smile, and I think she knew.
'Ah yes,' she said, 'I have never been good with names. Mr Phelps.'
'My mother was the same,' I said, 'always forgetting my name' she chuckled but let it die quickly. I could tell neither of us liked the other.
'And, I trust the music is to your taste.'
'Sorry, have you seen Mr Osgood? I'm looking for him.'
'I have not,' she said, 'sometimes that man is harder to find than Robert Marsh. I suspect he is in the library. Mr Osgood does love his books.'
'Thank you I said, I was actually on my way there,' I said. We exchanged pleasantries and I turned and walked quickly away from her. I didn't have any reason to dislike the woman exactly, but I find some people are just like that – you want to get away from them, even if you don't know exactly why. Daniel might have said it blunter than I, he would have said they were 'boring'. I cannot really disagree.
When I entered the library I walked into a conversation that was becoming heated between two men. One was holding a book in his hands, the other was standing by the wall-long bookcase shaking his head. There was a third man, listening, and not contributing very much to the discussion. I imagined he, like Daniel, enjoyed listening to literary discussions slightly better than taking part in them. The library itself was large, and housed many classics and fine old books that are the hallmark of a wealthy English major who prided himself on a collection of at least 1,500 strong. Daniel himself though wasn't in the library. I walked over to the three men to ask if they knew where he was, but instead I found myself listening in to their conversation. Presumably, this had happened to the quiet man too.
'Pope is better I tell you, he is,' the man by the wall-long bookcase was saying, 'his wit is unsurpassable.'
'More than Donne?' the other man said. The man by the bookcase scoffed and said:
''tis curious is greater want of skill-'
'Appears in writing or in judging ill,' the man holding the book butted in, 'Essay on Criticism.'
'Indeed, and how can you not-'
'-You have it wrong.'
The man by the bookshelf shook his head. 'No I do not' he said indignantly.
'You do, I assure you.'
'I do not.'
'You do, I assure you.'
The man by the bookshelf-wall turned his head and shouted 'Jameson! Jameson!' we waited, not even daring to breathe, for some reason, and then the silence was broken with 'Honestly, that man. Harder to find than Robert Marsh I take it.'
'What about Shakespeare?' the quiet man said.
'I do not like Shakespeare,' the man by the bookshelf said, 'he is too violent for my tastes.'
'Have you read the Sonnets?' his antagonist said.
'Have you read King-bloody-Lear?' and then shouted 'Jameson!' before turning his eyes back to the other man and apologizing for his use of the word 'bloody.'
A man dressed in a sharp suit appeared at the door leading from the library to the gardens outside. His suit looked very expensive, but he had the air of a man at a job interview, rather than serving a party for the wealthy. 'Yes sirs?' he said.
'Ah, Jameson, where the bloody hell have you been?'
'Serving ladies drinks sir,' he said. He had a strong Massachusetts accent, despite an obvious attempt at an anglicised, Queen's English style of speaking, so his 'sir' sounded more like 'sah'. To an Englishman like myself it sounded rather silly, rather comical, but these Americans didn't seem to notice. Or care.
'Well, Jameson,' the man at the bookshelf was saying, 'I have been shouting for you to help me find the Pope'. I could see in Jameson's eyes that he wanted to say 'Have you tried the Vatican sar?' and I could tell that would have raised a chuckle or two, but he didn't. In his face I could see the unmistakable look of a man who knows what actual, blue and white collar work was, and I knew that Jameson thought if he said the wrong thing, and offended the wrong person, he would soon be looking for a new job. With the nearest town from here being Ipswich Massachusetts, not exactly a commercial hub, that would be a pain. It is safe to say I liked Jameson straight away.
Jameson reached up to a seemingly random section of the bookshelf and pulled a book down. 'This book sir?' he said, handing it over.
'Yes, thank you Jameson' the man said, taking the book and thumbing through the pages. 'Oh hell, it looks like you are right.'
'Sorry, excuse me gentlemen,' I said. I went cold when the man by the bookshelf looked over to me. On his face was a look of disgust. 'But have you seen the host? Daniel Osgood?'
'I don't know, I haven't seen him,' the man said.
The man who was originally holding a book, now giving it to Jameson, and the man at the bookshelf's antagonist said 'You might want to check outside, the dock. He might be there.'
'The man sure loves his boat.' The quiet man said. I thanked them and left through the door Jameson had came in, walking outside onto a balcony I was met with a slightly chilly wind, and the smell of damp, recently cut grass. After that slight confrontation I had had in the library this change in atmosphere rather calmed me down.
Outside there was a swimming pool that children played in despite the slight chill while ladies talked, standing in groups across the garden. I walked down stone stairs onto the garden and moved toward the docks passing a group of woman chatting. It was little more than polite conversation, and nobody out here was drinking much alcohol. It was the type of conversations you hear every day from these 'idle rich' types. But one comment I overheard stuck out and struck me instantly: 'We shall have to invite that Robert Marsh to one of these parties' and I heard a vague sound of agreement.
I didn't see who had said it. It sounded like a middle-aged woman, but that name: Robert Marsh, repeated twice before that night struck me. Suddenly he became all I could think about, and as I stepped onto the wood of the dock I had to bring myself back into the real world. So taken was I by the thought of who this Robert Marsh was.
I say it was a dock was being very generous of course. It was little more than a long jetty on which a rather impressive schooner was moored. But Daniel and his friends liked to call it a dock to make it seem somehow more important than it really was. The rich are like this of course, and this was something I had come to understand, but tonight it seemed somehow childish.
The schooner Daniel had called 'Juno's Rage'. Being so fond of Virgil's The Aeneid Daniel said he couldn't help himself, which caused a chuckle among others when I first heard him say it, but not having read The Aeneid myself I obviously didn't understand the reference. Nevertheless, though, I chuckled along with them like an idiot.
I walked onto the Juno's Rage and looked around the deck. Daniel was not to be seen. I climbed bellow deck and found him arched over a woman on the bed. The smell of something like sweat was in the air and I climbed top deck before they seen me. Instead of going back to the house I stood at the end of the jetty, unsure what to do with myself.
Eventually the two of the climbed out of the boat and onto the deck, I could see both their faces in the moonlight. The woman I didn't recognise, but she was young and very pretty. Daniel seen me, and told his lady-friend to meet him at the 'house' later. 'Hey,' he said, walking up to me, 'enjoying yourself?'
'I am,' I said. I wanted to say 'I can see you are too' but decided not to.
'Sorry if the company seems a bit off,' he said, 'but you know how it is.'
'I guess' I said.
'I'd get a bad name if I didn't'
'Vultures around he-
'-oh like you wouldn't believe,' he said. He said this clearly trying to imitate my northern English accent. I have to say, he was quite successful.
'I see you can still talk like a Brit,' I said, smiling.
'You know,' he said taking a cigarette out of his pocket and lighting it, 'I do miss university. And England. I might go back.'
'To university?' I said, smiling, we shared the bad joke. 'Oh, and by the way, who is this Marsh bloke I keep hearing about?'
'Robert Marsh you mean?'
'That's him,' I said, I was keenly listening now. Daniel just sighted and looked out across the sea. The moon was really high in the sky, and in its light I could see Daniel was thinking.
'He's a mystery,' he said. 'He's the owner of a gold refinery not far from here. The Marsh Refinery in a small town called ... Innsmouth I think.'
There was a pause, so I pressed it.
'Yeah,' he said, wiping his mouth and making a slurping sound, 'he seems to have come across some sort of amazingly efficient smelting method. From what anyone can make out the man actually buys very small amounts of gold ore, and exports large amounts of gold. Well, large amounts for his imports I mean.'
'How's he doing that?'
'If I knew I wouldn't be in just the textile industry,' he said and laughed, 'they say he's a genius, but this gold he exports. It's not quite ... right.'
'How do you mean?'
'Well. My friend in the gold trade, Mr Bickerton, you might have seen him with his head in the toilet, he says that his colleagues don't know what to make of it. It's gold alright, no doubt about that, but it has this strange whiteish colour. It doesn't sell very well, and it's mostly sold nearby and in Portsmouth. Portsmouth Maine, where I hear it's quite a fashion. What's strange is, most of the gold the refinery imports is pure, any fool could smelt it and get fair amounts of normal gold, but this Marsh, he doesn't.'
'Is it not because of the effect of his smelting techniques?'
Daniel made a strained, uncomfortable sort of noise. 'Maybe. But somehow I doubt it. I've heard that once someone tested the metal coming out of the Marsh refinery, and his conclusions are a little ... strange. It's not contaminated. The gold bars coming out of Innsmouth is pure, so the whiteness in the gold isn't coming from contamination. It is the gold itself.'
'Muhmmm,' I said, suddenly I wanted a glass of scotch. Talking had made me thirsty. 'And I suppose a man like that is very wealthy.'
'I honestly don't know,' Daniel said, 'if he has money he doesn't flash it around. I don't think I've ever even seen the man. They say he's a recluse. But, that's to be expected from an Innsmouth boy.'
'Well, the people there have a very strong community I hear. They don't like talking to others, I don't know why. That's just their way I guess, tightly knit. It's a fishing community, and traditional communities like Innsmouth apparently like their isolation. But apparently people from Innsmouth are just a little more strange, a little more reclusive than most,' he said, 'sides, it's a pretty poor town from what I hear' he added as an afterthought.
'So. I can go to this Refinery and introduce myself'
'You can, but I wouldn't expect a warm reception. But I suppose a man like Marsh could use a seaplane' he said, 'if he has the money of course.'
'Well, you want to rejoin the party?' he said and we walked back to the mansion and the sound of voices.
My mother told me I should never take advantage of others, and I was sure I wasn't. But still, I felt like I was overstaying my welcome a bit, sleeping in Daniel's bed and eating his food. Daniel was always pleasant, and he would never ask me to leave. Besides, I could tell Daniel was enjoying my being here, and, well its 1927! We are living in the time of Jazz, and wealth, and peace. Did our fathers fight in France for nothing? And what could really go wrong?
So, sucking on a glass of Johnnie Walker I called my companies office in New York using Daniel's telephone. Sounds of the party ending could be heard through the walls but this was a telephone call I had to make, noise or not.
Twisting the rings around to single out the numbers and then pressing the golden tube to my ear was something I just wasn't going to get used to in a hurry, but this telephone was quite a good, and nice, piece of kit.
'Hello. You are calling Supermarine Aviation, New York branch,' I didn't recognise the voice.
'Hello, this is Brian Phelps.'
'Brian,' the voice said, the voice clearly knew me, but I was still trying to work out who the voice was. It was clearly a middle-aged woman though.
'Hi. I am calling to say that I shall be adding on another few days to my extended schedule'
'More time with your friend ... you know Brian. We cannot really keep-'
'-No no. Even better,' I said, butting in. The voice was silent. I had her attention. 'A possible sale,' I was smiling.
'Explain,' the voice said. I still couldn't put it with a face.
'Ever heard of a small town called Innsmouth in Massachusetts?'
'Well its home to the Marsh gold Refinery. I hear tell that this Marsh might be a rich man. What I'm thinking is visit this Innsmouth place for a few days, make this Marsh, this Robert Marsh's acquaintance and try to get him interested'.
'Well. If you think this guy is worth following up,' the voice said. I didn't, for some reason. I didn't know why, but so much talk about Marsh really got me intrigued.
'Oh. I do,' I said and I told her about the mysterious white gold. 'So what do you think?' I said when I had finished.
'I think some of your new friends, and more than a few Martinis have gone to your head Brian,' the voice said, 'if you want the honest truth'.
'Well, ain't you a charmer,' I said, doing my best to hear the accent I heard in downtown Ipswich a few days earlier.
'Listen, Brian, if you think this Marsh fellow is worth following up then do it. Thank you for calling in, but you also have to be aware: you have people in,' there was a sound of rustling papers, 'Providence. 10 clients, Bostin, 32, and a few others in the surrounding areas ... you. You have your own schedule.' I understood that that was half a question too so I answered:
'Don't keep these people waiting' the voice said.
'Alright I will not. Now, I have to go, bye.'
'Bye Brian,'. The voice said. I hung up by depressing a small lever on the side of the main device. For the next few minutes I tried to place that voice. Eventually I realised who it was, a receptionist at the office, no one important. I was actually a little angry about that, that it hadn't been someone more higher up, someone who I knew better. But. No.
I sat back on the chair in the telephone room, sipped another cool load of Scotch and looked around. Why was I interested in this Marsh bloke? True, he was a mystery, and what Daniel said to me on the docks had done nothing but made it a conscious entity in my head. Because I didn't think that I'd get a sell out of this Marsh, and I didn't think a trip to Innsmouth would be profitable. I don't know why but despite this talk about white gold I honestly thought I would be just wasting my time. So then why, exactly, was I interested? It could just be the mystery, but I felt there was more to it than that.
Immediately I thought of a load of questions for myself. What was this smelting technique he had found(?)/Invented(?)? What was this 'white gold' exactly? Why was Marsh so reclusive? Or for that matter, why was Innsmouth so reclusive? These were all good questions, and I couldn't help but want answers.
The party was quieting down ever more when I left the telephone room, leaving a half-empty glass of Scotch on the telephone table. All I could think about was Marsh, and Innsmouth, and what my Daniel had said. It had. To say the very least, intrigued me. To say the most I imagined myself some sort of Sherlock Holmes. But there was something else I was unconsciously aware of: there was something metaphysical drawing me to Marsh.
I wasn't consciously aware of it, and I guess you can call it fate, but I recognised it far too late.