The heat from the fireplace warms my feet and legs as I sit in the armchair. My eyes close and suddenly I recall a memory ages old.
There I was at my forge. Keeping the coal, the right temperature after adding three hard black bricks of new coal took work, planning, and a little luck on the bellows. My dog loved to watch me press my foot on the bellows and wait for the sparks float into the air like fireflies. It was almost comical the way he would watch the action. When he was a puppy he tried to catch the fireflies in his mouth but a hot one got him good and now he just watches. Over time I learned to place the new bricks under the delicate cracked grey bricks, because forge fire heats from the bottom up. It allowed me to use my forge for at least two extra hours each day. Many of my competition did not use this trick, and still placed the new bricks on top of the old. I can hear them from my forge, laughing, and drinking excessively while they wait for their forge’s heat to grow. I have already made two sets of horse shoes for Issac Stauffer, who showed up just as I was retrieving them from the slack tub. He was happy they were still warm, for Pennsylvania was cold already, and he said chipperly “They should keep my hands warm on the walk back.” Why he never rode his horses, I will never know. Odd ones, those Mennonites, but they bring steady work.
There was always work for those willing to actually do it. Some of the richer folks wanted these new cast iron pots made. These were too expensive to do on a normal basis, and I make myself get payment up front, but always find that I use more in materials then I guessed the price would be. That’s the way of it, “How much they ask?” never considering the time it took me to learn this trade, the materials I must acquire, nor the actual pain in my left arm when I swing that six-pound hammer down on the metal, and it sends the shock right up the tongs into my arm. I often wonder if I should just hit my arm with the hammer instead but, that would be madness.
I shift my weight in the chair as the fire pops loudly. My eyes close again, I am transported to another time, and I am new again.
It was late in the spring, 1810, if I recall. The breeze blew through my hair as I pulled my shirt from my back. I stood there a moment, taking in the idea, I was going to swim the Hellespont. My foot gave me no worry. I looked down at the clubbed beast and smiled at my own deformity. Excitement was building up inside of me, as I walked up and down the ledge of the channel. I heard all the stories before, it is un-swimmable, the currents are too strong, it is suicide. I wondered how cold the water was really going to be since summer did not have time to bake my madness. It was madness, but I wanted to be able to write about it; authors who don’t live with madness, don’t have anything to tell. I slipped off my lower garments, and before the gathered crowd of friends made any jokes, I jumped.
I bobbed to the surface after the seven-foot drop off the ledge. Yes, it was cold, but the water temperature was the least of my concerns. I immediately felt the tug of the current, it was strong. I let out a laugh, so was my madness. For an hour and ten minutes the fires of that madness fueled me, and I swam the short one mile. My deformity was my greatest asset in the strong currents as the water simply failed to pull on the clubbed foot. With every stroke, a new Canto, my mind’s madness was foretelling the epic satire Don Juan. I pulled myself on the shoreline. I should have been exhausted. I should have been dead, yet there I was, full of madness.
Five years later, I spent that madness into my new wife, Annabelle Milbanke. The madness grew, and it led me to the battlefields of Greece as I fought for their independence. Ultimately, I could not tame my madness and it ended me.
I open my eyes to see the log on the fire crumble into pieces. The warmth of the newly exposed ash heats my legs and feet even more. I slid my chair back a few inches. I can feel myself being drawn into the hotness and again my eyes close, as I drift into my ancestral madness.
I had my father’s madness alright, but my mind burned with logic and numbers. Charles had invented this clumsy machine, but he never realized it’s value, I believed it could act upon other things besides numbers, as long as those objects followed the science of operations. It was October 14th, 1842 and I was translating an Italian man’s, Luigi Menabrea I believe, article on Charles’s Analytical Engine. I loved the crisp cool air of October because it eases the madness, that I must hide. I organized my notes with letters as I translated as to hide the madness from the reader. By the time I penned the letter G I was fully inflamed, and my headaches were so great that my vision was blurred. All I could see was Bernoulli’s numbers. Shortly afterwards there it was, in note G, the algorithm to have the Charles’s machine produce them, it would be known as the first computer program ever written.
I had my father’s gift for being someone else’s lover. Even though I was married to William King, my madness drove me to seek men of daring. Men that loved to gamble as much as me. We secretly devised a mathematical model for placing large bets on the horses. The math was sound but the men I chose were not. They cheated me, and I was forced to tell Charles of the late nights and the model. As my unhidden madness took me from this world, I whispered into Charles’s ear that I willed John Crosse my father’s heirlooms.
My eyes flash open with a gleam of madness, as I stare at the smoldering fire. The madness passed down through the ages enabled me to recall all the things that I have never done in this life, yet they are my ancestral memories; forever burned into my mind.