Hale opened one of the doors and Owen stepped out into the corridor.
"Well, there's no shortage of eager women in this building as of tomorrow. Take one to lunch sometime. City girls with silt still on their hands. Honest and hard-working. You could do worse."
"Thank you for the hospitality today."
"Will you be all right on the elevator? You looked squeamish earlier."
"I think I have the hang of it."
"Good night, then," Hale said, returning to his office.
Owen stood on the landing, aware of the air whistling in the elevator shaft. He took the envelope out of his pocket and broke the seal with his penknife. The typewritten document was thirty pages of minuscule font, separated by headings that indemnified against acts of God, payments to subsequent heirs, delays and failures, et cetera, et cetera. It was hard to tell exactly what the contract proposed. The elevator arrived and the attendant sat slumped on his stool. He gave a cursory nod to Owen and the doors closed. Gone was the ceremony of earlier hours; the pomp had been reduced by the hordes to something shuffling and miffed. Owen was glad for the silence and the light coming from the elevator ceiling. He positioned the contract and traced a finger over the elliptical text. The car swayed downward, stuttering here and there in the windy shaft. The gist of the proposal was buried in the addendum. Jethro Hale Gray to enlist in the voyage as "ship's naturalist," under the direct protection of Owen Graves. An itemized list of desired cargo: shields, canoes, painted masks, tribal weapons, adornments, textiles, et cetera, and there, listed like a handmade artifact or a woven skirt, was the phrase a number of natives, preferably related by the bonds of blood, for the purposes of exhibition and advertising. A single dotted line awaited his signature at the bottom of the page.
Excerpted from Bright and Distant Shores by Dominic Smith. Copyright © 2011 by Dominic Smith. Excerpted by permission of Washington Square Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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