Cain’s Jawbone: Two Pages   9 comments

I really want to get to a point where I can say “this is general logic and structure behind Cain’s Jawbone”, just so I have something substantial to think of in a history-of-game-design sense. However, the book is really elusive and I’m not sure I’m probably going to need to do more guesswork than I like. For this penultimate post I’m going to throw out two pages to look at in detail, and I’ll try to get at the whole mystery of Who Are the Narrators for my finale.

Cain killing Abel with a jawbone, from the British Library. The actual tradition of a jawbone of an ass being the weapon of choice in the very first murder dates to the 7th century.

Speaking of the Narrators, that’s something I’m definite on now: there are multiple narrators. How many is still an open question. Page 3 talks about “my meeting with Clement yesterday” (and is clearly not a dog or a brand of knife or some other trick) while page 24 says:

I had always thought that to carry the name of fourteen popes and two anti-popes meant nothing to me either way. To share it with Giulio de Medici might sound more sinister to the uninstructed.

The number of anti-popes is actually fuzzy, but only one name was on fourteen of the regular popes, that of Clement. So the narrator on page 24 is being referred to by the narrator on page 3.

On one bit I quoted earlier, page 91, I need to backtrack a little:

In my youth I had been worried that I bore the same name as Newbolt’s admiral and Shakespeare’s sergeant, and it had irked me when, in my student days, I had been known as the Smiler with the Knife. Afterwards I found it better in practice to capitalise my third letter. The Blue Rocket was still going down next day ; in fact, I knew too much to let it go up. It even seemed to be succeeding. The snowy-banded, dilettante, delicate-handed?

Somehow I was misreading on the Admiral-Shakespeare portion and I came up with Henry; while there’s a chance one of the narrators is a person-Henry (rather than a dog) the actual admirals referenced by Newbolt in Admirals Are are

William Howard of Effingham
Richard Grenville
Walter Raleigh
Francis Drake
John Benbow
Cuthbert Collingwood
John Byron
Robert Blake
Horatio Nelson

It is unclear if first or last name is meant here. If we go for the big one, the Lord Admiral Nelson, it turns out “Horatio” has an interesting Shakespeare connection, from Hamlet, speaking to the aforementioned character:

I am dead, Horatio. —Wretched queen, adieu.—
You that look pale and tremble at this chance,
That are but mutes or audience to this act,
Had I but time (as this fell sergeant, Death,
Is strict in his arrest), O, I could tell you—
But let it be.—Horatio, I am dead.

Is Shakespeare’s sergeant death? Then, as Nina Reid noted in the comments given the odd reference to the third letter being capitalized, the name here could be De’Ath. (The family name comes from the town of Ath in Belgium.) Death also fits well with the “Smiler with the Knife” clue.

This nearly feels like a slam dunk to me except the surface level text isn’t quite perfect. “I bore the same name as Newbolt’s admiral and Shakespeare’s sergeant” implies that the same name is for both the admiral and the sergeant, and what the logic above does is use the name of Newbolt’s admiral as a clue to find a reference to Shakespeare’s sergeant (of death). However, keep in mind (as I indicated in an earlier post) the cryptic crossword format wasn’t airtight as to rules yet, so a slight deviation might be acceptable here. (At least, for the moment, for my final character list, I’m including De’Ath as one of them. The name also allows for the character to potentially be referenced later in a punny manner where it isn’t clear otherwise who it is.)

On to the two pages! The first one I wanted to bring up is marked page 1, and it does read as if it is the beginning of something, or at least the start of one narrator’s thread:

I sit down alone at the appointed table and take up my pen to give all whom it may concern an exact account of what may happen. Call me nervous, call me fey, if you will ; at least this little pen, this mottled black and silver Aquarius, with its nib specially tempered to my order in Amsterdam, is greedy. It has not had much work since it flew so nimbly for the dead old man. As I watch the sea, Casy Ferris passes with down-dropped eyes. Of course, to-day is the day. Her father reminds me of a valetudinarian walrus. But she has, I suppose, to have somebody. St. Lazarus-in-the-Chine is full, no doubt, already. I think she is rash ; but it is none of my business. Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are crying, my heart remembers how. Strange that he comes into my head so much to-day. I hope it’s over some flotsam fish that the birds are making whaupee. But all the nice gulls love a sailor. Ugh.

The “mottled black and silver Aquarius may be referring to this type of pen, although Peter De Wachter points out that the actual name of the pen is Waterman and Aquarius is just the English translation for the constellation. Given how many names are twisted in the story that doesn’t mean it isn’t the same one, though.

It has not had much work since it flew so nimbly for the dead old man.

This implies the same pen was once held by another; are they one of the other narrators who (at the time of the writing of this page) is now dead? Or is this a reference to the farther past?

As I watch the sea, Casy Ferris passes with down-dropped eyes. Of course, to-day is the day. Her father reminds me of a valetudinarian walrus.

This feels like it should be all sorts of clue in terms of an exact day of writing (“to-day is the day”) perhaps indicated somehow by “Casy Ferris”. But who is that? I would think there is some sort of pun/wordplay and the author is referring to something or someone specific, and the father being a “valetudinarian walrus” is another wordplay-addled hint to the same. Anyone with wordplay skills see something useful?

(Incidentally, one of the wordplay elements I have not been looking for but was used by our author in crosswords was hidden words, that is, where words are secretly put within the exact letters used. “Melon garden hides a secret” could indicate “LONG” as hidden in the letters MeLON Garden”.)

St. Lazarus-in-the-Chine is full, no doubt, already.

Is this referring to St. Lazarus in China? If so, why?

I think she is rash ; but it is none of my business. Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are crying, my heart remembers how. Strange that he comes into my head so much to-day. I hope it’s over some flotsam fish that the birds are making whaupee. But all the nice gulls love a sailor. Ugh.

Peter points out the “graves of the martyrs” line comes from Robert Louis Stevenson. There is the occasional recurrence of authors and I’m wondering if some of the narrators can be thought to have “preferred authors”; that is, if someone quotes Hardy, they’re a Hardy fan, and only person X is a Hardy fan, so that helps establish which page goes to which narrator. Maybe?

“All the nice gulls love a sailor” is probably a pun on the song All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor. Again, maybe it’s just to indicate what character this is?

The other page I wanted to look closer at is page 54:

I was feeling about as good as man could feel that day. Everything horticultural, in the awful and literal sense of the word, was lovely. Green blood, as I considered before breakfast, I delighted to conserve. I received a letter from Miss Doncaster over the crumbs of toast and the last clear smear of marmalade, telling me that the old man would be coming to-day, on her advice to take mine. I admit that she had stirred me strangely. I lit a Nestor and considered her letter once more. To pestle a poisoned poison behind his crimson lights. That was a nice thing to ask of a comparative stranger. It would have to be scanned. Poor old man ; but everyone must bump up against his Waterloo, and to-day was the day of the meeting at La Belle Alliance. It was not appropriate.

This struck me as the very start to a novel, maybe even the first narrator? It sounds like a 1930s mystery opening, which often has some sort of discussion of a brand new day and a discussion of food. There’s also a clear date indicated near the end of the page; Wellington and Blücher met at La Belle Alliance on the 18th of June, 1815, and I would say “to-day” makes it fairly explicit that the 18th of June is the date of this specific page.

From The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher by Daniel Maclise.

Going back to the text:

I was feeling about as good as man could feel that day. Everything horticultural, in the awful and literal sense of the word, was lovely. Green blood, as I considered before breakfast, I delighted to conserve.

I don’t think there’s any clever puns or secret clues here other than the attitude of the main character (other than it probably is a “man”, and at least one of the other pages might indicate a woman).

I received a letter from Miss Doncaster over the crumbs of toast and the last clear smear of marmalade, telling me that the old man would be coming to-day, on her advice to take mine. I admit that she had stirred me strangely. I lit a Nestor and considered her letter once more.

Is “the old man” the same one being referred to in the pen excerpt?

Nestor Gianaclis was an early cigarette industrialist who put his first factory in Egypt.

To pestle a poisoned poison behind his crimson lights. That was a nice thing to ask of a comparative stranger. It would have to be scanned. Poor old man ; but everyone must bump up against his Waterloo, and to-day was the day of the meeting at La Belle Alliance. It was not appropriate.

This feels strongly like plotting a murder, although the nebulousness of phrase (“poisoned poison”, “It would have to be scanned”) makes me uncertain. If we’re assuming this is the Start of Everything, so to speak — and honestly, this is just intuition and the fact that 1930s British mystery starting with breakfast was a Thing — then maybe this is the first murder that sets things off? There’s reference to a will later, perhaps there is some scheming for money?

I might still be completely off on everything, so feel free to keep contributing comments to the Google Doc which has the text of the novel. Also feel free to simply drop comments here. I’m going to do at least one more post before leaving this behind, and I’d like to have at least a notion where things are going; I’ll probably then keep adding to the Google doc when inspired but will only make future posts if any big breakthroughs happen.

Posted May 29, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Gamebook, Interactive Fiction, Poetry, Puzzles

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9 responses to “Cain’s Jawbone: Two Pages

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  1. I can’t make anything of page 1, but here are some thoughts about page 54:

    “horticultural, in the awful and literal sense of the word”: So not the usual meaning? The word is derived from hortus “garden” and cultus “tilling”. Has he been digging? Did he bury a body in his garden?

    “she had stirred me strangely”: Do we need to anagram something? I’m not sure what though.

    “I lit a Nestor”: He smokes another one on page 6.

    “To pestle a poisoned poison behind his crimson lights.”: Another quote. Tennyson, “Maud”.

  2. Not sure about which “sergeant” is intended with the Shakespeare allusion, though the reference to Death in this case could be what was intended.

    A “chine” is a side of beef, which I suspect would make more sense than a sudden lapse into French to explain the reference to “St.-Lazarus-in-the-Chine” with the definite article. In French the usual way to say “in China” is “en Chine” without a definite article. Perhaps the phrase “St.-Lazarus-in-the-Chine” is reference to the Christian idea of “resurrection of the flesh”?

    Aquarius is traditionally known as the “water-bearer”, since the constellation represents a man pouring out a jug of water. Hence the play on “Waterman”.

    Andrew McCarthy
  3. “That was a nice thing to ask of a comparative stranger.”
    Is this a cryptic crossword-style clue?

  4. Just so everyone knows, I’m still alive — had a busy week (I’m working professionally on a game project) but I should be able to get back in the swing of things soon.

  5. I thought you were smashed down by the Jawbbone. Lol

  6. In addition to “Admirals All”, Newbolt wrote a poem called “Admiral Death”, so I think De’Ath has to be it.
    https://www.poetry.com/poem/35112/admiral-death

    Jack Brounstein

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