Introduction by Meredith Talusan
Morgan Thomas’s stories often start with a historical premise but are not historical per se, as they tackle not just the souls of the dead but of wildly beating hearts across generations. Their forthcoming collection, Manywhere, is a landmark not just due to its daring travels across space and time but because the tracks Thomas’s stories leave in their wake refuse to fade, made as they are of subterranean desire.
“The Daring Life of Philippa Cook the Rogue” exemplifies the most innovative qualities of Thomas’s art—its transparent shifts from back then to now, its moorings and unmoorings, its passing of gender wishes like a runner’s baton across time. The story’s title character attests, “I am a man and a woman,” while living in early 17th-century Jamestown, Virginia, before fleeing north after being charged with lewd misconduct for lying with a maid. The story of their life catches the interest of a modern-day actor named Mo Silver, who takes their own parallel trip across the Atlantic to procure Cook’s letters, probably counterfeit, while leaving a life and a partner of their own. The story thus becomes a tale of what it means to desire the ineffable, and to journey toward a state of being as undefined as a gender one wants but can’t quite name.
– Meredith Talusan
Author of Fairest
The Daring Life of Philippa Cook the Rogue
“The Daring Life of Philippa Cook the Rogue” by Morgan Thomas
Wherein is treated how they came to be a Rogue, and by being so what happened to them.
Deposition taken before John Pott, Esquire, Governor, James Town, on this 2nd day of April, 1629
I am Philippa Cook, and yes, I know something of devils. I am twenty years old, or thereabout. I am both a man and a woman, as I said already to the Captain Clayborne when he did ask, and as the three ladies sitting among you in the court might also attest, having after some bickering and contention amongst themselves come to a consensus of my sex based on three independent inspections.
The court charges that I, on the Feast of St. Nicholas in the house of Captain John Clayborne, did lie with the maid of John Clayborne, the woman known as Great Bessie. As I, before and during this unfortunate lay, was attired as a man, the court proposes to charge me, as a man, with lewd misconduct before the jury, an unmarried servant being unfit to lie with any woman.
I do not contest the charge that I, on the Feast of St. Nicholas in the house of Captain John Clayborne, lay with his maid, a woman named Bethany. I have loved in my life both women and men, and I have known the Goodwoman Bethany. However, I fail to acknowledge the court’s ability to try me as a man simply because I was clothed as one. I currently live so attired, because the Claybornes hired me as a man to work their tobacco fields. I still venture out on occasion in women’s garb to get a bit for my catt.
After this testimony, the court ordered that it shall be published in the plantation where Cook liveth that he is a man and a woman, that all the inhabitants may take note thereof, and that he shall go clothed in man’s apparel, only his head in a woman’s coyfe and crofcloth with an apron before him, and that he shall give sureties to the court of his good behavior from quarter court to quarter court until the court release him.
From: Shoo Caddick [firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Mo Silver [email@example.com]
Fri 12/5/2018 7:46:42 PM
I received the scans of Philippa Cook’s letters and can’t wait to read them. To think they’ve been in the Netherlands all this time. Yesterday, I booked passage to Amsterdam on a cargo ship. I’d like to see the original letters in person and, if we can agree on a fair price, purchase them. I’ve wanted to visit Amsterdam for years now. I’ve heard it’s a great place to be queer.
A bit about me: I’m an actor, not a historian, by training. I came across Philippa’s story while playing the servant in a manor home in historic Jamestown. Philippa fascinates me. My girlfriend, Reed, says I’m possessed by them, and I do think of myself sometimes as a sort of reincarnation. I’m not connected to them like you are, not an actual descendant, but I left home at sixteen, like Philippa did. I’ve worked half a dozen odd jobs, and I’ve left very one of them. Like Philippa I understand it’s impossible to make a life in Virginia. Philippa left Virginia and never looked back. That’s my plan, too.
I booked passage without asking Reed. I don’t think you need to ask your girlfriend every time you decide to cross the Atlantic. Reed, apparently, does. When I told her you had two letters written by Philippa, and I was going to Amsterdam to get them, she said, Did you consider me while making this plan? I had. I’d considered her, and I’d considered the timing was shitty. Reed defends her thesis next month. Still, I thought she’d be excited. Philippa brought us together, once. Reed liked to remind me they were a colonist and had probably raided the Mattaponi and the Pamunkey. I liked to remind Reed they were indentured, so if they’d raided anybody, it was only because they’d been ordered to. Reed liked to remind me that didn’t absolve them. We agreed on one thing—we both loved a Rogue.
Your letters didn’t interest Reed. Most likely forgeries, she said, which is just like an academic, so skeptical. I don’t understand why you want to be like Philippa, she said. Their life was a tragedy.
Tragedy. That’s a big word. You don’t see me going around saying whose life is or isn’t a tragedy.
You need Philippa, Reed said to me. You need to believe you’re from somewhere. She’d said that before. She’d said that a hundred times, and I think we were both a little surprised to find ourselves, at the end of her saying it, uncoupled, facing each other across the threshold of her apartment. Me in the hall outside. Her with her hand on the door, closing the door, which was her right. She paid for that door. It was her right to close it and leave me to figure out my own shit in the cold.
Before she shut that door, Reed said, I knew you’d take off. Like Philippa did. Like a man. Like the worst sort of man. I should have argued with her, but I didn’t, because when she said, Like Philippa, I felt a surge of pride.
I should arrive in Amsterdam on December 20, assuming no delays. Hold the letters for me, would you?
From Governor John Pott, James Town, to Peter Minnewit, Director, Dutch West India Company, on this 8th of May 1629
Please be aware of the probable arrival of a servant of this colony by the name of Phillip Cook, who was judged by the quarter court of James Town to be guilty of misconduct with a maidservant, which did result in a child, and so sentenced to a probation with regular presentations at the quarter court. He has disregarded the presentations, the contract of his indenture, and the responsibility of his fatherhood, fleeing across the Chesapeack. We believe he intends to evade the law by taking up residence in your colony.
Given his departure, it was thought fit by the general assembly here in James Town—the Governor himself giving sentence in Cook’s absence—that Cook should be branded a Rogue and stand four days with his ears nailed to the pillory, and I do ask that you make haste to return him that he might stand this penalty.
I warn you also that this person Cook does wield his sex and clothes as another man wields a sword, striking with first one blade then the other, as is most convenient for him. Though I’ve not had the opportunity of inspecting him myself, I’ve heard from sources I trust not only that his sex is aberrant, but that at knee, where the leg joins the thigh, he hosts a pair of lidless eyes, and his feet are like the talons of a bird, which is the reason he avoids the bath. I trust you will undeceive him of the notion that your colony offers respite for the criminals of James Town and send him back at once.
Jan Braeman, Secretary of Isaack de Rasieres, Provincial Secretary, dwelling upon the Heerengracht, not far from the West India House, to Governor John Pott, James Town, 18 June 1629
Philippa Cook did arrive in this colony not three days after your letter. I appreciated the forewarning, as it saved us much confusion. Soon after she arrived, she presented herself at the church. She looked not unwell but weary from her travels, which she’d made without ample food or companionship. She denies the crime of which you accuse her, and she denies fathering any child—this latter point comes as no surprise, as she is such the woman in face and dress.
I fear the days of the Director and members of his Council are much taken up with the managing of this colony. It’s been left to me, then, to translate your letter and determine how best to handle this matter. I hope you’ll give me leave here to unburden myself of a sorrowful circumstance. It pleased the Lord, seven weeks after we arrived in this country, to take from me my good partner, who had been to me, for more than sixteen years, a virtuous, faithful, and altogether amiable yoke-fellow; and I now find myself alone with three children, very much discommoded, without her society and assistance.
I must see, then, this Philippa’s arrival as a blessing of the Lord. I have two small daughters, and there are no maidservants here to be had, which makes Philippa’s service invaluable and greatly decreases any concern she’d take up with one. She’s a fine seamstress and a good nurse to the children. They especially enjoy her tales of the Battle of Rhé, which she recounts with the blunt and bluster of a seasoned army man. She has determined to start a garden come spring and is planning the rows and the vegetables, which she calls by the queerest names: Sea Flower and Muske Melon. It’s a quiet life for her here, which helps an excitable woman.
Whatever her guilt, I cannot recommend that she be returned, nor can I ensure that if you send men into this colony after her they will be welcomed. We at the Manhattoes have no men to escort back to James Town those pitiable servants which slip through the fingers of the English.
From: Shoo Caddick [firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Mo Silver [email@example.com]
Fri 12/13/2018 2:24:07 AM
I hope my last email didn’t put you off, as my writing was fueled not only by my excitement but also by a box of cheap wine.
Philippa’s letters aren’t what I expected. Not bad, just unfamiliar. It’s like the sag I feel after I have sex with someone for the first time and realize we’re not perfectly matched, not two halves of the same whole.
It hasn’t changed my plans to come to the Netherlands, though my ship’s delayed. Stuck in its port of departure. It might arrive three days or ten days from now. When I told Reed about the delay, she said I might have flown for twice the money and a tenth the time, which I think she could have kept to herself. I asked if I could stay with her until the ship came. She said she didn’t think that would be healthy. Unhealthy. Like I was the grease soaking into her gluten-free pizza. So I’m crashing with my friend Nina.
It didn’t take as long as I expected to undo my life. In a few hours, I’d pawned my things worth pawning and packed the rest into a duffel I carry slung over my shoulder. With the rest of my time, before the ship arrives, I’ll busk as Philippa outside historic Jamestown, where Reed volunteers on the weekends. I’ve made myself a bonnet from a linen napkin. It was easier to make than I expected, almost like someone else was moving my hands. Like Philippa was moving them. Then Philippa moved them right over this dress of Nina’s, the front panel of which has become my apron. If Nina misses it, there’ll be the devil to pay. That’s what Philippa would say.
Philippa Cook to Rupert Cook, 7th October 1629, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Westgate, third house on the left, use the side door, watch the top step, give my mother a kiss from me.
Brother, I write to you from the colonies to describe the circumstances of my departure from my indenture, about which perhaps you have heard. This is the truth of it, whatever other tales you might encounter. I have seen the devil, brother. The devil is a babe.
When Bethany came with it in a sack, I thought it was currants. She said it’s a baby. I thought it must have come stillborn, which would have been a blessing, given it’s not cheap to bring up a child in the colonies. She, being indentured, would remain indentured all her life for that child, then the child indentured also. Then I saw it move. It thrust one arm against the cloth.
I asked to see it, which she allowed. There was nothing of me in the face or in the sex. Satisfying myself on that account, I handed it back to her. She said she wanted me to sew something for it to be baptized. Doesn’t have to be big, she said. I could have sewed her a swaddle from two handkerchiefs, that’s how big it was. I agreed.
I asked her was it Clayborne’s babe. She said I had no business asking questions like that, which I contested given the nature of our relationship. It’s a devil, she said. I said it wasn’t, but now I think she had the right of it. Devilish, it was. Maybe it’s yours, she said, as if teasing me, but I heard the trick behind her teasing, and I said it couldn’t be. She said it had to be somebody’s, considering the natural laws of these things and the cost of a child, which she couldn’t bear alone. Somebody has to help me with it, she said, looking at me. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t help her, and I said that. I wouldn’t allow her to put on me half the burden of this babe, tether me to the child and to this cursed place and to my indenture for all of this life and into the next one.
I offered her another solution. I know how it’s done. You can use a rock or you can use a pillow or you can swing it against a post. No need for Clayborne nor any person of the house to know. She looked at me like I was suggesting an impossible thing. Do you remember the uniformed devils at Rhé, who knew the ladders were too short for the castle walls, but ordered us boys up them anyway? Do you remember how we set them up against the wall, and the boys went up one after another, climbing climbing like they didn’t know they’d end at a face of white stone? Her face was like theirs when I suggested ridding her of the babe. Like I was calling upon her to climb and climb, knowing it would lead nowhere.
She said she’d bring the babe to Clayborne if I refused to help her. I said she should do as she wanted, as it was not my affair. I should have known by then the game she meant to play. She went before Clayborne with the child, and she told him it was mine. He agreed with her. He had reason enough to agree. He’s married with four sturdy children still in England. Clayborne is a man like a bull who once locked and charging must charge on until his horns meet some wood or flesh, and he locked those horns on me. He insisted the babe was mine, insisted I go before the quarter court to answer for it. The court made me a fool in all but name, so I left.
The morning I left, I went to Bethany’s room, but the child was there beside her, its eyes open and watching me, old old eyes, no babe’s eyes those. I knew the way you know a thing in your bones if I took a step closer it would wail for Clayborne, call him down on me and watch with no pity as he swung the bully club into the backs of my knees. Bethany was peaceful, sleeping. Loath was I to disturb her. Loath was I to stay.
Do not worry the family about me. They are kind enough here. Still, I’d give any limb to be home with you. If you have the coin, buy return passage on the next ship bound for the colonies and send word to me. I’ll await her at port.
Give my love to mother, to father, to sister &c.
From: Shoo Caddick [firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Mo Silver [email@example.com]
Wed 12/17/2018 11:45:14 AM
Are you receiving my emails? Let me know as soon as possible, immediately if possible. My ship has come. We shove off in an hour’s time, and I can’t afford to pay for internet on board.
I’ve made enough, busking, to buy the letters at the posted price. Raising that money took some doing. At the start, I kept to Philippa’s script. I recited the court transcript and the letters, which I’ve memorized. I improvised only when a boy tried to join me on my milk crate or a man tried to strip me of my apron. But the people walked right past me, turned their backs on me any time a carriage rolled by, so I elaborated. I hiked up my apron and jigged. I peppered in jokes from Philippa’s time, like the one about the captain who had his arm shot off and, as the wound was being dressed, started laughing. When asked what was the matter, he said, I’ve always wanted my penis to be longer than my arm, and now it is. Then, I had a crowd. Then, the bills dropped into my bonnet. One man left a hundred-dollar bill clipped to a note that said, Nice show, kid. Buy a corset.
Yesterday, Reed came past right as I told that joke to a crowd off a Philly tour bus. Reed stopped in front of my miniature audience. Reed had once loved my jokes, had once laughed so hard she pulled a muscle. Now, she was serious, disapproving. She said, loudly, What are you doing, Shoo? The bus crowd, sensing a domestic altercation, fled without dropping so much as a dime into my bonnet.
I stood there in front of Reed, a little out of breath from the routine. You ruined the show, I said.
She said, You look ridiculous. I did, I’m sure. The Jamestown court ridiculed Philippa. That was the point. Still, just like that she punctured that warm feeling I had, that puffed-up feeling of performing for an audience that’s on your side, that feeling you could make them laugh or scream with a word, with a twitch of your shoulder. You look like a boy, Reed said. Reed doesn’t like boys. What are they good for? she’s asked me more than once. Why do we need them?
I am a boy, I said, which was one of my Philippa lines.
Philippa never dressed that way, Reed said. Philippa left Jamestown so they wouldn’t have to dress that way.
What’s your point? I said.
Are you making fun of them?
I’m making money. I’m trying to get to Amsterdam. I pointed roughly east, to emphasize this. Reed knocked my hand away, and right there something glinted. She had started something, touching me that way, roughly.
She said, There are other ways to make money.
Are those my earrings? I said, pointing to her ears, and they were. A pair of silver hoops.
Reed’s hand went to one earring. No, she said.
I said, Bullshit, and a woman walking by paused to ask Reed if she was all right, like I was bothering her. Maybe I was. Bothering her. The earrings were mine, even if Reed wouldn’t cop to it. She stood there, the nerve of her, with her research grant and her downtown apartment and everything a person could want, refusing me a pair of plated silver hoops. I felt not anger but a ruthless sense of injustice. I walked right up to her, and she froze, startled. You’re scaring me, she said. This made me sad, but not sad enough to stop me reaching out when I got close and taking the earrings, quick but gentle, from her ears. She caught my wrist, and we hovered there for a moment, wondering would she twist my wrist, would I pull back, would we hurt each other? We didn’t. She let go.
People think it’s brave, Reed said, picking up and leaving. It’s not brave. It’s the easiest thing to run away like that.
I hadn’t found it easy—the delays, no place to stay. I hadn’t found it easy at all, I said. I couldn’t live all my life in Richmond, Virginia, and I said that, too.
It’s a fine place to live, Reed said. That’s the problem with Reed, the real maddening thing about Reed—she’s content. She said, We’re not living in 1629.
You’re not, I said.
You’re not, either.
I told her my ship was waiting for me, though it wasn’t my ship and it wasn’t waiting for me but for a load of cereal grain coming by train from Iowa. Still, I loved the sound of it. My ship. I could see it—the waiting ship, which in my mind was wooden and rigged for sailing. I walked away.
They’re laughing at you, Reed called after me. Don’t you see that?
That’s the point.
You’re humiliating yourself, she said. She sounded so satisfied, like naming what I was doing solved something. Shoo, she called. I didn’t turn. You don’t have to answer when a person calls you, not even if they call you by name. Philippa taught me that.
I rode the train back to Richmond. There was one baby on the train, and I tried to flirt with the baby. I made little faces, puckered my lips, wrinkled my nose. Usually, babies like me. I made a whir I thought it would like, a noise like a fire alarm. It started to cry, at which point the man holding it gave me a look like I’d ruined something that wasn’t mine to begin with.
Let me know when you get this email. I don’t need any lengthy reply, just a note that you’ve still got the letters, that you’ll be there when I arrive.
Mrs. Hendrina Demkis, New York, to Mr. Edward Gant, College of William and Mary, 22nd April 1710
Yes, I am the Miss Demkis that Minerva Clayborne remembers visiting her estate in fall of 1665. I was just fourteen. I was there with my nursemaid, Philippa Cook. It’s astounding Mrs. Clay borne has any memory of that day at all, though I suppose it’s true that as the lanterns darken yesterday, they brighten yesteryear. I’ll share what I remember to help with your history, though I hardly see how Philippa Cook could feature in a history of Jamestonian indenture. Our servants are paid for their work, their every comfort seen to. I can’t say the same of our neighbors to the south.
Jan Braeman was my great-grandfather. He was never a friend of the Claybornes, not that I knew. We’d actually gone that day to visit the home of an esquire, John Pott. Papa Braeman had some need to see him and some business at the courthouse as well.
Papa Braeman always kept characters in his employ, found them at the courthouse or the church house or on the run from an indenturor. A better Calvinist you never saw, but he got airs, Papa Braeman, funny ideas, and when he got them there was nothing to do but go along. For instance, he was in the habit, when he wanted a diversion, of taking his employees out about the town or to prayer meetings, showing them off. That’s the reason I ended up traveling with Nurse Philippa down to Newtowne, Virginia.
When I knew Philippa, she was well advanced in years, and it was difficult to get her to focus on a conversation or a sewing job long enough to finish it, but I have it from my grandmother she made the finest bone lace in all New York, and if the samples she showed are any proof, it’s true.
My grandmother was brought up by Philippa, her mother dying not long after she arrived in the colonies, and her father busy at the council or at his books. She remembered Philippa as something of a fool, a jester, despite being always dour of countenance. Philippa had a habit of tossing her apron over her shoulder when she walked a distance, which gave her a man’s manner and caused my grandmother no end of embarrassment. She set a strange example for the Braeman girls. My grandmother had to learn the hard way not to bunch and tie her petticoat when crossing a muddy road. Philippa thought nothing of things like that.
Philippa had the attic room, from which she would climb sometimes out onto the eaves. Aside from this perch, she rarely left the house. The ones in town did tease her mercilessly and I, knowing some of them from church or school, heard tales of her you wouldn’t believe—that she was on the run from the law in Virginia, that she killed babies and ate them, that beneath her coiffe her skull was broken in three places, and so she wore the coiffe always tied very tightly to keep her brain from spilling, that where a person should have feet, she had the claws of a bird. This last one I believed for a time, given the way she perched on our roof and the size of her shoes. To satisfy my curiosity I convinced her once to let me wash her feet in a salt bath, and though they were wide as a man’s and misshapen with corns, such that her boots had to be three sizes too large, they were human feet.
Philippa herself told stories scarcely more credible—that she fought against the French on the Isle of Rhé and had gotten a silver medal, as did every man who survived the fight, that her brother went up the ladders to breach the wall, but the ladders were too short for the wall. All around her, she said, boys shouted to pull back the ladders, and the boys on the ladders tried to get down off them, leaping from the tops of the ladders to their death. She says her brother alone made it over the wall. She saw him make it. There was a great lot of smoke from the cannon fire, and when it cleared he’d disappeared into the castle of Rhé or into the sky.
I told her that can’t have been, because only boys went to war, and she said, “Well, I was a boy,” which made me laugh. Sometimes I think she wanted to make us laugh. Other times she frightened me. If I’d been her child, she said, she’d have dashed my brains out against a rock. When I was little, she threatened to do so anytime I misbehaved, and this terrified me. When I was older, I told her it was a horrid thing to say.
The visit Mrs. Clayborne remembers began when Papa Braeman promised Philippa a trip home to Virginia. She didn’t want to go. The whole day before, she was a flurry of nerves. She told Papa Braeman the Claybornes would expect her in men’s clothes. She’d been ordered to dress so, she said, by the Jamestown court. I told her that must have been ages ago and surely didn’t matter now, but she insisted. She said she didn’t want to chance it. Papa Braeman didn’t question it. He let her clothe herself from his own wardrobe, which I resented. I’d asked a dozen times to play that way and always been refused.
When we got out to the Pott estate, the Master Pott said his father wasn’t able to speak with us, that he’d taken sick. It greatly disappointed Papa Braeman, I can tell you. I think he’d been quite looking forward to reuniting Philippa and Esquire Pott. From what he said they knew each other many years ago. Philippa, I think, was relieved.
But here’s the part that will interest you. Later, Papa Braeman had business to attend to, so he left us—Philippa and me—at the old tobacco farm where she had worked, the Clayborne estate. “I worked in the fields,” Philippa said, which I suppose was another fib. The Claybornes would not let us inside. They said they had a child sleeping and asked if we could come another time. I said we’d walk the grounds, which we did. Philippa leaned rather hard on my arm, unused at her age to walking a great distance. We went out a little ways, but she tired quickly, so we turned back to the house.
We found on the back porch a servant woman, with whom we passed the remaining time until my great-grandfather came to pick us up. Her name, she said, was Becca, but Philippa insisted on calling her Bethany, which was enough in itself to make me blush. Then what’s worse, Philippa started speaking to her as if they were the best of friends, saying, “Bethany it’s been such a long while since I’ve seen you, and so many things have happened in my life.” She went on, listing them. She said, “Do you remember the blouse I sewed for you?” The woman was no older than I and couldn’t have known the first thing about Philippa. She said she didn’t remember and was sorry. She said she never knew anyone named Bethany. She was perfectly polite, but you could see she had work to be doing, and Philippa was keeping her from it. Then Philippa asked her what she was going to do when she was finished with the Claybornes, and I blushed red as beetroot, but Becca only said she’d be singing with the angels then. She said she’d better get tea set on the table and escaped into the house.
When I apologized to Philippa that Becca hadn’t remembered, Philippa said, “Well, I remember. I remember all of it.” Then Philippa took a small, well-crafted sack from a hook on the house wall. She folded it carefully and slipped it down the front of her pants. I told her she’d get us in trouble, stealing like that. She shook her head. “It’s not stealing. I made it.”
“It’s not yours,” I told her. I thought of all the bone lace, all the dresses she’d sewn for us over the years, wondering if she thought herself the owner of every one. “It’s stealing all the same.”
“They were never nice,” Philippa said, and in her face something surfaced bright and vindictive and terrible cruel, so that I thought she would have taken more than the cloth if there’d been more left out for the taking. I thought the Claybornes were right to keep us on the porch, to fear her. But a second passed, and the look was gone.
I wish you the best with your history. The Clayborne place was lovely enough to my eyes. Philippa, I’m afraid, was none too fond of Newtowne as it is now. Too built up for her, too populated.
It must be a quality of age, and I’m sure my grandchildren will say the same of me, but Philippa had a number of peculiar ideas. She once told me of a man shot in the thigh, who complained of unbearable pain. When they looked to see what was the matter—beyond his being shot—they found the bud-leaf of a Sea Stocke Gillowflower poking its green head up from his wound. They removed it, taking enough flesh they would not bare the roots, because the Gillowflower is a rare plant. They bound him up again and carried both man and plant home on the Rochel, where on arrival the one was buried in the potter’s field, the other in the Lord’s Garden at Canterbury.
I told her that can’t have happened. It was a nightmare, probably.
“We put them in the ground, and we left them there,” she said. “Not a nightmare, no, it’s just something I remember.”
From: Reed Turner [firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Shoo Caddick [email@example.com]
Wed 12/17/2018 6:23:04 PM
I don’t think we should talk anymore.
I shouldn’t write any more than that, but here I am, hoping this reaches you before you reach the Netherlands.
First, every historian with an interest in Philippa Cook agrees they were intersex and incapable of having children. Second, only one in thirty indentured servants could read; fewer still could write. Philippa Cook left behind no letters and no descendants. You’re crossing the ocean for a fake, Shoo. You have to know that.
Shoo Caddick, SS Argus, Atlantic Ocean, to Mo Silver, Amsterdam, on this 31st December 2018
Reed and I are kaput. I’m sad, but I can’t say I’m devastated. I anticipate my recovery has been aided in large part by the air here, by that line where the sea meets the sky, which blurs in the early mornings; even by the smell of the ship, which is by no means pleasant, and the roar of the propellers on the A deck, which keeps me up at night.
It’s a quiet life. I’m writing this by hand. Yesterday, I tried to spot a group of islands, but there were clouds. Today, I pocketed six biscuits in the mess hall and scattered the crumbs on the A deck for gulls. Even out here there are gulls. We take our meals on rubber place mats, in case the ship rolls while we eat. Yesterday, it was stew. Today, it was southwest chicken. Yesterday, the ship rolled fore to aft. Today, it’s rolling side to side. I’m nearly through the antacids I brought, which I expected to last the trip.
We pull into the harbor today.
I know you might not be there at all. You might have traveled to London for work. You might have moved. You might have had a sudden death in the family. You might not be of Philippa’s lineage. You might have sold the letters. They might have been penned by another Philippa Cook altogether. I might have left Virginia, have left Reed, all for nothing. I lay awake last night, bedeviled by these concerns.
I comforted myself with this thought: Philippa Cook lived a daring life, and I must be at least as daring. And here is another thing Philippa would understand. This morning, standing on the top deck in a light drizzle, watching the rain and wave spray darken the metal of the cereal containers, I was filled with a peace that lasted hours, hours before I could muster any sense of fear at all.
Philippa Cook to Rupert Cook, 2nd April 1630, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Westgate
Brother, I have had no reply to my last letter to you. I think they didn’t send it. I’ve given this one to the eldest girl in the house, who has promised to post it for me. I trust her more than her father, but I can’t trust her entirely, of course.
Yesterday, I was sitting on the eaves just outside my window. I often sit there, looking out over the harbor. I thought I saw you. I saw a boy who looked just like you, and for a moment I thought it was your specter. There’s plague, I’ve been told, in Newcastle, and I wondered if you had taken ill and had come to visit me before trundling on to the stony vaults of Paradise. I called to you, brother, thinking you might rise up beside me, the pull of the Earth no obstacle for a haunt. Instead, the boy turned his face to me and went very still, and I recognized the eldest Braeman girl, dressed like a lad, headed off into town.
I went after her, of course, dragged her home by her collar and paddled her. The nerve of the girl. If her father had seen, I’d be cast out for certain. He’d think it my example. The girl’s face after her punishment, streaked with mucus and wailing, was the face of a babe, and for a moment I thought of Bethany’s babe, of the life I’d fled. I never escaped it, is what I thought. I will die in this house a servant and a woman, a woman for all the rest of my days. A terrific thought, but I know the terror will pass, as terror does, into something sweeter, almost a comfort.
I write to relieve you of any responsibility you may feel to find return passage for me. These days the salt burns my nose, and the wet aches my bones, and my stomach is none too fond of the upset of the sea. I’ll remain here, always your sibling and your friend, Philippa.