“Seriously, this is starting again?” Jock asked in disbelief. “You really don’t want me to go with you to any of these ’meetings’?”
He really doesn’t like to be left out and he knows I get squeamish about walking by myself after dark. “Sweetheart, I appreciate the offer, but the instructions were most specific, and of course, Hilda will be there.”
“The instructions from Sir Walter Raleigh…” he clarified.
“Yes,” I nodded, “and the previous hauntings … visits … whatever you want to call them … have gone relatively well. I mean, no violence. It was a bit unnerving getting yelled at by the ghost of President Johnson, but I mean physically, other than that, it has been fine.”
“OK.” Jock raised an eyebrow and took a gulp of beer. “Did he ever even step foot in North Carolina?”
“Johnson? He was born in Raleigh.”
“No, Raleigh. Did he ever even visit the new world?”
“Um, no. That’s still sort of sticking point with him and his cousin, Richard Grenville, apparently. 400 years and they still haven’t let it go.”
So, let me back up a minute: Hilda and I were walking home from the bed and breakfast one evening when a man fell into step with us.
“Agh!” I screamed, in a logical and classy manner.
Hilda stopped and looked up at our interloper questioningly but didn’t bark at him. Turning, I beheld a man with a Vandyke beard in a doublet and hosen, with a rapier on his hip.
“Forgive me for alarming you,” he bowed with a flourish. “I am Sir Walter Raleigh at your service, Mistress Gwenyfar. Hilda.”
Not again! I thought.
“Forgive me, I really did not mean to frighten you.”
“Is there a reason y’all keep picking me for these visits?” I managed to ask, referring visits over the last two Octobers from Presidents Tyler, Polk, Johnson and Wilson (plus Adlai Stevenson). “Can’t you go bother Dr. Fonnieville or Beverly Tetterton or somebody else?”
He smiled. “I believe President Tyler told you we like reading encore.”
I nodded my thanks. “Well, I am sure the editor is happy to hear we are popular with the dead.”
I sighed. “OK, so what’s this about?”
“I have a message for you.”
“Of course you do. Do you mind If we keep walking while we do this?”
He gestured before him with his hand, “Lead on.”
I will say, for 16th Century manners, they are gracious and will make a girl feel a little lightheaded. Hilda diligently inspected our neighbor’s front border while we walked.
“So? To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” I asked.
“Well, it is an interesting time in the world. We are looking at your General Assembly, right here in North Carolina!” he thumped his chest with pride. (I didn’t know ghosts could thump their chests, but live and learn.)
“Yes, they meet in Raleigh; you must be very proud.”
“I am, Mistress Gwenyfar, I don’t mind telling you, I am indeed.” He nodded. “After we lost the Roanoke expedition—you know Grenville and I well—we both took it a lot harder than most people realized.”
“It must have been awful.”
I paused and contemplated the next question very carefully. “Have you gotten any answers in the afterlife about the fate of the Colonists?”
“Oh, yes. Yes. Now I know, but not knowing and the sense of failure and responsibility was unbearable in life. Richard blamed me, you know.”
He looked at me sideways and answered carefully. “Like all mortals, they played out their fate.”
“That’s all you’re going to say?”
“I know you asked Virginia Dare the same question and if she wouldn’t tell you … well, I think that’s her story to tell more than it is mine.”
He smiled at me. “Besides, as she pointed out, who would believe you?”
“Fair enough. You can’t blame a girl for trying.”
“I certainly don’t, Gwenyfar. Besides, that’s part of why we keep coming to visit you.”
He smiled at me again. “You know, you remind me a lot of Bess.”
“Your wife or the queen?” I asked.
“Um, both, actually.”
“Well, thank you for the compliment. Of course, Hilda is the true redhead.”
“Yes, Hilda.” He scratched the dog’s ears affectionately. She gave him her signature one-eyed wink and wagged her tail.
“But the reason I am here is we are concerned about your General Assembly, the Impeachment and the looming break up of the United Kingdom.”
“Well, that’s a tall order, but in all honesty, frankly, so are we … worried, I mean.”
“So a group of us have gotten together and are planning to send you some visitors from the early founding of this colony…“
“Just hold on. You are sending me ghosts from the 1500s?” I stammered.
“And 1600s and maybe early 1700s, yes.”
“Let’s just cut to the chase: Is there any chance you are sending Shakespeare? Hilda is a big fan.”
“Yes, we’ve heard that about Hilda.”
He looked at me sideways again. ”I’m sorry, no. We are not sending Will; perhaps that’s for the best. Sometimes, it is better not to meet your idols.”
“Sure, sorry, again, you can’t blame a girl for asking.”
“No, no—of course not. So Dick is planning to come see you.” He began to count off on his fingers.
“Sorry, Grenville—Richard Grenville. We call him Dick. Family name, you know. I would call him Sir Grenville, if I were you; he likes that.”
“So noted.” I nodded.
“A couple of the Lords Proprietors for the Carolinas would like to come chat with you. They are, of course, after my time but nice men. I feel like they continued what we started.”
He looked around. “They seem to have made a pretty decent go of it.”
I smiled. “Just a bit.”
“So that’s what we have in mind.”
He cleared his throat, looked at me uncomfortably then offered: “I know you think the world is dramatically different now, but in many ways it is not. We do have some insight we could offer, if you are willing to listen.”
“I’m sure you do.” I responded. Hilda found something up a tree, and was pointing and wagging at it furiously. Well, at least she’s entertained, I thought.
“I have a bit of a reputation as an adventurer,” he shrugged. “Perhaps that’s not unwarranted. I did enjoy adventure in the sense of getting on a ship, and sailing after treasure and battle and glory. I did bring fame and glory to my family.”
“Yes Sir. You most certainly did.”
“But, when it mattered, I took responsibility for my actions and for the actions of those in my command; I didn’t run.”
I looked at him. A life of court intrigue, including a hidden marriage and subsequent imprisonment and yet, when the shit hit the fan, he didn’t run.
“Why didn’t you take advantage of any of the escape opportunities your friends offered you?” I blurted out. “I would have! Your life was on the line!”
He looked steadily at me and then spoke very clearly. “A leader does not shirk their duty or let those who are their responsibility take the fall for them.”
He paused. “That is true leadership.”
“I’m not trying to be rude, but you didn’t come back for the colonists. Yet, you are proud of getting beheaded for your soldiers?”
“I did send supplies and people for the colonists—just not in time,” he clarified. “It wasn’t lack of effort, but you are right: I failed them. We all failed them.”
He sighed. “Not that it makes any difference to them now, but at least I acknowledge the loss of their lives was on my head. But they knew that in the beginning; it was dangerous what they set out to do. They risked their lives doing it. You accuse me of being a gambler and an adventurer—and that was the ultimate gamble, the ultimate adventure. Not to put too fine a point on it, but would anyone have remembered their small little lives back in England? No. But now they are immortal.”
“I’m not sure if they see it that way,” I noted. “But I agree with you about the difference between actions and responsibility vs. big talk and cowardice. That seems to be something easily confusing to people. Separating posturing from action. But is that so new? I mean, in your time weren’t people just as easily swayed by big talk?”
“Certainly, yes, but I would say in my time people could be put to death for what they said or what they professed to believe. So perhaps many of us were a bit more circumspect.”
“Do you think Henry Brooke would agree with that?”
“Um, well, you know, I never got to ask Henry in court if he had actually said those things. So, under Magna Carta, I never got to face the accuser nor investigate the claims, so I am prepared to give Henry the benefit of the doubt. Again, something perhaps to remember in this time.”
He smiled. “Well, that was quite a conversation. Thank you, Mistress Gwenyfar, for indulging me. I think I am going to meet up with friends. Please, remember you have dates with the Lords Proprietors and bring Hilda!”
He waved and walked backward disappearing behind the corner of the brick wall. I looked down at Hilda who looked up at me expectantly.
“Well, I guess you are going to get evening walks for the next few days,” I sighed. “That was quite an exit, wasn’t it?”
I rubbed Hilda’s ears, and we headed up the path to the front door while I wondered how I was going to explain this to Jock and my editor.