Sunday, April 20, 2008


“My God, it’s a fine day, isn’t it?” Reeve said, inhaling lustily as they stepped back into the busy street. Hollee inhaled as well, a little more cautiously as he had just spotted a cart full of fish going past. “A good day to be alive and be American!”

Hollee stepped onto the pavement. In an instant, Reeve was beside him, and in order to prevent another trot like the one they’d just had, Hollee was forced to take a dancing step backward. In order to cover his awkwardness, he put on a grin and waved his hands. “Spoken like a man who hasn’t been on a ship in a few days. If you’d seen the doldrums we’d come through, you would not speak so well of this weather.”

“Ah, well, this is true,” Reeve said agreeably. Really, he wasn’t a bad man, he was just so terribly…enthusiastic.

“Captain Reeve, as delighted as I would be to accompany you to dinner, I feel I could not bear to disappoint you yet again. You must let me plead indifference and return to my ship.” There. That should be sufficient. But Reeve refused to accept this. He cocked his head sideways and smiled at Hollee.

“Am I really such an insufferable table-fellow?” he said. “My dear chap, I was rather under the impression we were friends and that—if I may flatter myself—I am quite the only soul you know in this city. I would be terribly disappointed if I could not at least take you to supper and catch you up on the gossip of this town. And I shall do my best not to convince you to emigrate here, if you like!”

Hollee was fairly certain that Reeve would forget that last statement as soon as they stepped into the tavern, but the man had a point. Who else did Hollee know in this town? What other plans for tonight had he? Hollee had very few male acquaintances who weren’t his own sailors. It would rude to turn Reeve down after he had spoken so honestly, but more than that, Hollee couldn’t stay locked away in his own cabin forever. Shrugging his shoulders gamely, he smiled.

“Capital!” Reeve said, managing to restrain himself to patting Hollee on the shoulder instead of thumping him on the back.

A half hour later, they were cozily seated in front of a banked fire at the Bunch o’ Grapes, a half-drunk bottle of very acceptable wine on the table. Around them, other small clusters of men were engaged in small talk, cards and dice moving among half-eaten plates of food. Smoke mingled with laughter mingled with low voices hushedly discussing business. Reeve had managed, to Hollee’s surprise, to keep to his promise of not attempting to recruit Hollee, but it was costing the Navy man dearly. He had nearly run aground on the forbidden topic many times, causing Hollee no small amount of private amusement. In order to avoid it, Reeve was chattering animatedly about the various ships which called in Philadelphia, mixed in heavily with his own experiences as captain.

“…and the Angel, you know, she runs out of Charleston as well, but she’s a slave-trader. We’ve no truck with her, which is a pity, as her captain, Captain Thomassen that is, he’s as quiet and as friendly a man as you could meet. You’d never know her business unless you saw her unloading and you’d never believe such a quiet man could traffic in human lives! Ah!” This last exclamation was over the appearance of their meal. Reeve made a space on the table for his food (he had ordered two dishes for himself) and tucked in happily. Hollee picked up his turkey leg and began to gnaw on it. It was, as advertised, extremely fresh. “Now there’s a meal worth putting in for,” Reeve sighed happily, attacking a pile of kidney with relish. “Care for a bite of mine, Captain?”

“I should like to try it, thank you,” Hollee said. He turned to find their serving-girl and gestured for a mug of ale. They continued to eat steadily for several minutes.

“I declare, Bell, I’ve never seen you eat with such an appetite,” Reeve said, oblivious to the carnage that was occurring on his own plate.”

“As you say, a meal worth putting in for,” Hollee replied. “Adam,” he said suddenly, his thoughts jumping ahead. “Have you ever heard of a man named Nelson? A British captain?”

“Nelson? Is he new?”

“I rather think he is. He’s captaining the Boreas down in Nevis, and I shouldn’t be very surprised if it’s his first command. He was at the party on Nevis, at President Herbert’s house. Not that you had a chance to introduce yourself.”

“Well now,” Reeve said, smiling roguishly. He set his fork down and scanned through the prodigious wealth of gossip stored in his head. “Now, let’s us see. If it’s the same Nelson I’ve heard of, then he was captain in the Vanguard, blockading Spanish Florida during the war. Not very much action, unfortunately—drives a young captain quite mad, from what I’ve heard—you spend your time patrolling and drilling your men and nary a prize in sight! What’s he doing on Nevis?”

“He’s been sent by the King to enforce the Navigation Acts,” Hollee said. Both men ignored the fact that as an agent of the United States of America government, Reeve should not be encouraging acts of piracy. “With Mannington I knew exactly where I stood, but with Nelson I’ve no idea. I suspect that he may enforce the Acts more stringently than his predecessor, but I’m not entirely certain. I haven’t returned to Nevis since his arrival, but I suppose I shall have to at some point.” He sighed. Reeve, aware that the conversation was steering close to a topic had a promised to avoid, stayed silent but smiled helpfully. “If it was just a matter of a larger bribe I could adjust accordingly, but I’ve no wish to spend time in an English gaol.”

“Nor me neither,” Reeve said. “There is talk—oh, rumors, really—that as Americans we should work to free the West Indies from the rule of King George and absorb them into the colonies. But I think that is just senior captains spoiling for a fight. We’ve no money, really, none at all.”

“Is this why you’re so eager to recruit me?” Hollee said. “The Navy gains and experienced captain without having to lay out money for a new ship?” Now he was teasing Reeve, but he knew that he had hit the mark.

“Ah, why do you think it’s taken so long for the Liberty to get repaired? No money. Can’t even get it on my own credit. I tell you, Hollee, it’s enough to make a man think of piracy! Begging your pardon.”

“No offence taken. Now I understand why you are so eager.”

“Oh, but it’s not only the Windsong, Bell,” Reeve said, leaning forward. Hollee moved back slightly, out of the range of the onions Reeve had consumed. “Not just the ship alone, but you yourself, Bell. I think you might do very well in the American Navy. The English are just a load of gentlemen who are more interested in prize money and climbing their ladder and their precious gold braid. But you’ve got principles, you’ve got ideals. You know that there are things out there worth fighting for!”

“Like what?” Hollee couldn’t stop himself, the words were out of his mouth before he knew he’d spoken.

“Like your right to sail anywhere you like. We know we ought to respect the governments and the monarchies and the claims of anyone who says so, to each island, each state. But we—“ Reeve made a complicated hand gesture that Hollee understood to include them both and any other captain who had made his home upon the seas “—we also understand that the ocean is open and free to any man who dares her. Who can stop us when we are about in our ships? Some landlubber, in an office in the Strand? I don’t think so. That’s what I’ve been trying to explain to you, Hollee—we believe in your freedom as well. A commission in the Navy wouldn’t pin you down, it would give you even more horizons, respect and the right to go anywhere you chose.”

Hollee thought for a moment. He had never heard Reeve speak so impassionedly. Enthusiastically yes, but behind this speech was a genuine glow of a fire that burned for his new country. His broad face was no less open than before, but it was softer, more honest. For one odd, fleeting moment, Hollee had the feeling that Reeve was about to lean forward and kiss him, but then the captain belched loudly and reached for the bottle again.

Picking up his knife and fork, Hollee refocused his attention on his plate. “I think you overestimate me, Adam. All I have ever wanted to do is sail. No more, no less. I appreciate that right, but I do not think I could fight for it.”

“But you have!”

“If you are referring to the incident where I rescued you and your sailors, I simply happened to be passing by at the time.”

“And you were good enough to drop us off in Baltimore instead of turning us over to the authorities!”

Hollee sighed. “I suppose I should have sailed all the way across the Atlantic with a hold full of prisoners?”

“Come, Bell, you cannot deny that you feel some stirring of patriotism when you think of our new country!”

“Your new country, I still sail under the Union Jack.”


“Even so. And if I were to carry your new flag, I would have less freedom than I have now. I could not, for example, return to Nevis.”

“Why not? I stop there all the time!”

“And leave hastily every time.”

“Harsh words!” But Reeve was smiling. Hollee, on the other hand, was growing more somber.

“You overestimate me, I tell you. If I am such a believer, as you say, then why have I chosen to come here to Philadelphia? Where I know no one—saving yourself, of course—and where I have no business? Am I merely enjoying my freedom, as you seem to think, or am I avoiding returning to the Indies?” And if I am avoiding returning, Hollee added silently, then why?

“Why, fate has merely conspired to keep you away from Nevis, that is all,” Reeve said compassionately. “You were engaged to bring Annie here, and you will take her back and you will return to Nevis. You’ve been away for long periods before this—why the sudden soul searching?”

“If I am searching, it is your fault,” Hollee said, smiling faintly. “I was ever so content to sail, but now I am expanding my horizons and enjoying my freedom. All I want is to sail!” he said plaintatively. “I do not wish to start revolutions.”

“I suspect that is what General Washington said as he set up camp on the Boston Neck,” Reeve said, rumatively. “But I know how you feel. All a sailor wishes to do is sail. But—even occasionally—we must put in, mustn’t we? We must touch terra firma no matter how much we wish to keep running before the wind.”

It was such an odd expression that Hollee was quite struck with the poetry of it. Their feasting had subsided into the slow, muddy thoughts that often accompany a heavy meal, and they sat back now, listening as a fiddler struck up a tune in the next room.

“I think,” Captain Reeve said a few moments later, fishing for his tobacco and his pipe, “that Bell Hollee must figure out what he is running from.” Aware that he had struck a chord, he lit his pipe and studied Hollee over the bowl. Hollee was not meeting his gaze, but Reeve could see that the tall man was thinking. His arms bent reflexively across his chest, his long narrow fingers folded over his maroon sleeves. “And why, dear friend, are you so afraid of whatever it is?”

Hollee had never let anyone into his most intimate confidences before, and he certainly wasn’t about to do so now, and especially not to Adam Reeve, captain and notorious gossip. But Reeve could see his questions taking hold in Hollee’s brain. Somewhere, in the back of Hollee’s brown eyes, ideas and memories that had been quite landlocked were breaking free and coming to the surface. Whatever nerve Reeve had touched, it was humming now throughout his brain, and slowly Hollee was admitting things to himself that he had never dared consider before. It wasn’t fair, he thought. Reeve believed so passionately in his causes and his country that he was unable to see the difficulties and the dangers. But Hollee was too sensible a man to let himself be distracted by high rhetoric—although for a fleeting moment he was jealous of Reeve’s boyish enthusiasm, his absolute belief the United States and in his place in the world. How simply things must appear to him. Hollee knew too much to believe the world divided into black and white, but perhaps…perhaps…

A wish sprang up in him so violently he had to put his hands on the table to steady himself.

Perhaps he was capable of believing in some things after all. Things which would conquer all difficulties, all dangers. But not a country, not a cause. Adam Reeve’s passion was too unwieldy and fanciful for someone as sensible as Hollee, but in some way he was right. Hollee needed to believe in something. For too long he had been running before the wind, with nothing solid to touch down on. But finally walls were crumbling in his memories, walls that held each of his emotions and beliefs in separate compartments. He pictured Fanny’s face in his mind, and a second later a rush of feeling moved through him—but for the first time, Hollee understood this feeling to be love, to be the passion and excitement that the poets spoke of, albeit expressed in his typical understated way. And what’s more, he finally believed that she loved him. He could hardly believe that it had taken him so long and so many miles before he accepted the fact that she loved him, and he loved her. That in fact, they should be together, for their emotions were equally matched. Hollee was in love. And, more miraculous still, he believed himself to be loved.

Reeve, who quite mistook Hollee’s epiphany, thumped him on the back, thinking him to be choking on a piece of turkey. Hollee waved him off.

“Stop, stop it, man.”

“Only you looked so pale all of a sudden.”

“I believe I begin to understand what you’re saying,” Hollee admitted carefully.

“Ah! Then you’ll join us!” Reeve leaned forward, his pipe dangling dangerously from his lips.

“Only you looked so pale all of a sudden.”

“I believe I begin to understand what you’re saying,” Hollee admitted carefully.

“Ah! Then you’ll join us!” Reeve leaned forward, his pipe dangling dangerously from his lips.

Hollee leaned forward, exasperated. He wanted to fly to Nevis that instant and tell Fanny everything—she was the only one who could possibly understand how he was feeling now. Instead, he was forced to consider Adam Reeve’s red face, grinning at him expectantly. Emotions rushed after each other—first exasperation, then anger, then a sweeping wave of indulgence, all within the span of a heartbeat. Hollee was spinning, he was in such turmoil. Quite uncharacteristically, he threw his head back and laughed, then drained his wineglass in one and held it out for a refill. Reeve was so amazed at his friend’s performance that he nearly poured wine onto the table instead of into the empty vessel.

“Adam, how long have we been friends?”

“Well now, ever since…I’d say five years? Good Lord, has it been five years?”

“Yes, all right, and in all that time, have you ever known me to change my mind? When it’s important?”

“Certainly, there was that one time you…oh, no, hang on…”

“Precisely. And now I’ll remind you of your promise not to speak of the Navy while we’re dining. I allowed you some leeway, but, really, Captain Reeve, you must try to restrain yourself.” All this said with a grin that Hollee could not quite contain plastered across his face. Reeve threw up his hands and reached for the bottle.

“Good Lord! You led me down that path, you old tempter—you know how my heart bleeds—bleeds—“ he took a swig of red wine for dramatic effect “—for America. Sometimes, literally. Say, Hollee, have I ever shown you my scar?” And he reached for his buckle, only to be stopped by Hollee’s laugh again. “What has gotten in to you? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so merry!”

“Can’t a man be in a good mood?” Hollee said expansively.

“Not if he’s you. Bell Hollee has only two moods. Serious and disappointed.” This was accompanied by a long frown and a puckered forehead, a perfect imitation of Hollee’s normal way of appearing.

“This is extremely good wine,” was all that Hollee would allow, smiling.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

chapter 7

[Author's note: Hello readers! After being away for awhile, I am happy to announce that I am back, and so is Bell. I'm afraid that the joined up bits are showing a little, but I hope that it's not too confusing. Enjoy!]

Keith Cobb had given Hollee a letter of introduction, and the captain set off now to present it to the first respectable merchant he could find. The city around him fairly crawled with excitement—a different excitement from Nevis and Charleston. Most cities will have a certain bustle around their ports, but Philadelphia seemed especially busy, her self-importance evident. Servants in bright livery rushed around, some of them speaking foreign languages, soldiers—veterans—of the recent war walked proudly down the streets, their coats brushed. Carriages hurried past, each more fashionable than the last, an inch of lacquer blinding passersby. To Hollee’s untrained eye, it appeared that Annie was correct about Philadelphia’s place in the fashionable world: certainly the women here wore some outlandish costumes. A few were so low cut as to make the modest captain blush for the women wearing them, although they appeared otherwise to be respectable and unconcerned with the figure they cut. Everyone seemed eager to cast off the drab clothes forced on them by war and hardship, as they had cast off an outdated form of government.

Not normally a modish man, Hollee considered himself in a shop window while he waited for a carriage to rumble past. Fanny had spoken well of his appearance the night of the party—was it really nearly two months ago?—but would she feel the same way if she could compare him to the dandies rushing past now? Nothing had changed about his appearance, but he felt a certain disquiet, the same feeling that had prompted his purchase of white silk stockings. It was followed by a strong desire to see Fanny, to describe to her what the Americans were wearing, to ask her opinion on the new fads. To hear her voice. A week spent in the company of Annie Cobb had made Hollee grow used to a woman’s voice, a woman’s opinion constantly being offered even when it was not solicited. Fanny, of course, would never say any scandalous thing about what she was seeing, although Hollee could practically see her raised eyebrow that would convey everything she was thinking. Almost subconsciously, Hollee smiled, his eyebrow raised in a familiar arc—and then he looked across the street and saw Captain Reeve bearing down on him.

Damme! Hollee thought frantically—there was no hope for escape, the man had spotted him and anyway, the street was too full for Hollee to get away without pushing people over. Besides, Captain Reeve was waving now, quite enthusiastically, and hallooing his name. Hollee waved back weakly, indicating that he would wait and praying that Reeve would shut up. People looked at him curiously as he went past, churning through the crowd like an eel through a school of tropical fish. If anything, Reeve was even fatter and taller than he had been when Hollee last saw him, as though determined to settle into the life of a gout-ridden gentleman naval officer as soon as possible.

“Hollee! My God! Never for a moment thought I’d see you in Philadelphia!” Reeve squashed Hollee’s hand in an effusive handshake and for one horrifying moment, Hollee thought he was about to be hugged. “What on God’s green earth brings you to Philadelphia? And why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”

“I did not know myself until a week ago, and then I did not know where I could find you,” Hollee said, leaving out their last meeting where Reeve had very nearly been strung up on the mainstay of a Royal ship, “I thought the Liberty was cruising south of here?”

“Lost our foresail in a storm,” Reeve said cheerfully, as though it were a wonderful stroke of luck. “The spare had gone to the Franklin two weeks before, so there was nothing for it but to make port. But what chance we should meet now! And on friendly ground!” he added, growing serious (or as serious as Reeve could ever be), “now we may discuss my little proposal at length and without fear of being overheard.”

“My answer will remain the same,” Hollee said hastily.

“But surely you cannot deny me the pleasure of attempting to change your mind?” Reeve said. “The Bunch o’ Grapes has fresh turkey, I’ve heard, fresh today.”

“I would love to join you, but I’m afraid I must attend to some business,” Hollee said, seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

“But surely you do not have a man here?” Hollee was forced to shake his head. “Well then! Let me recommend Mr. Keifer. He is an honest man, or I am not, and a friendlier soul you could not wish for. Capital! Well, that’s settled—let me take you to him and then we’ll to the Grapes!”

Reeve took Hollee in hand, steering him through the streets with one ham-sized fist firmly lodged in Hollee’s back. Perhaps his effervescent nature had expanded since the last time they met—or perhaps his good nature did not quite extend to the belief that Hollee would show up at the tavern, should he let Hollee out of his sight for a moment. Hollee was unable to extricate himself without great personal embarrassment—and probably no small physical harm, either—and so he was forced to endure being driven through the streets like a sullen donkey.

Philadelphia, Hollee recalled dimly, had endured British occupation at one point, and the scars of that presence were hastily being erased. Hollee had never seen such a flurry of building before, as though the citizens were determined to scrub every trace of England out of the very boards and sawdust. The whole town was simultaneously being torn down and built up. Hollee liked Philadelphia because of its neat, logical grid of streets, each given a sensible number or an easily remembered name of a fruit-tree. And he was surprised at how much he approved of the new buildings being thrown up—he, Hollee, who despised anything new or changing. But he could see how the new buildings would present a clean face to any passerby (even a passerby traveling as rapidly as he), sweeping away the dirty alleys and corners that existed in any city, even the port city of Nevis. It would be tidy and orderly, once construction was completed, beautiful in its symmetry and logic.

Reeve’s perambulations took them to a little shop a few blocks north of the harbor. Mr. Keifer, Hollee was relieved to see, was a sensible, dour little Scotsman, who shared a sympathetic glance with Hollee as Reeve made his enthusiastic introductions. Hollee liked him at once, and they concluded their business quickly.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

[author's note]

Hello readers. I am currently in the process of moving, and I don't know when I'll be able to continue the story. Please check back and I hope to have the rest of it up soon. Thanks for your support!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The Windsong was flying a Union Jack, naturally, but she also wore a couple other flags that identified her as a merchant ship out of the Indies. She hadn't been to Philadelphia recently, so Hollee was unsure of protocol. Compared to the other ships which were plying up and down the Delaware, it appeared that a ship of the Windsong's size could expect to anchor in the middle of the river. As Hollee scanned for an appropriate location, he spotted a rowboat making its way toward them, a man standing in the prow waving.

"That must be the harbormaster, or his clerk," Hollee said to Annie, "They don't recognise us." He hallooed to the man and told his sailors to back sails. The Windsong's speed died away and the rowboat caught up with them. The two men in the ship were exceedingly tanned, and they were accompanied by an exciteable black dog (which Hollee was glad to see would be staying in the boat).

"Lannon, George Lannon at your service sir," said the man who had been standing up and waving. He had leapt over the side of the boat with the agility of a man half his age. His hair was bleached white by the sun, but his eyes were merry. "I represent Mr. Coster, the harbormaster."

"Bell Hollee, your servant, sir. Spend most of your time intercepting strange ships, do you?" said Hollee, smiling.

"I do indeed sir! And a great deal of traffic we've been getting lately. I would be pleased to tell you where you may make berth if you'll tell me your business." Lannon had pulled out a well-worn notebook and a pencil.

"This lady is my business, Mr. Lannon, this is Mrs. Annie Cobb, of South Carolina, who has taken it into her head to go shopping here in Philadelphia. So I was engaged to bring her here. Although, I must also add that both her husband and myself could not bear the thought of an empty ship entering this harbor, so I also have several barrels of rice, and some cotton dress lengths."

"Very good, sir. Well then--" Mr. Lannon consulted his small notebook. Then he took out a small spyglass and scanned the bristling docks. "I can offer you a berth on the far dock there--do you see?--if you come up on the larboard side, you'll have no problem. You'll have to offload and then anchor in the river, however, space is at a premium here."

"I can see that, sir, and I assure you we will make haste."

"Excellent. I'll send Roger to fetch your men off the ship when you've anchored, so you needn't worry about your launch. There's only the harbor-fee..." Hollee handed over some coins "...and you're all set." He made another mark in his book. "So sorry, what was the name of the ship again?"

"The Windsong sir, out of Port Royal. And her captain is Bell Hollee."

"Not Edward Hollee's son?"

"His nephew, sir."

"Ah, of course. He had a daughter, didn't he?"

"Yes, she lives in England now. Married, five children."

"My, my. Old Captain Hollee used to spend a great deal of time in Philadelphia--before the war--I think he preferred it to the Indies, personally. But of course, he had the Mary Teck then, and that was a smaller ship. Well then. Welcome to Philadelphia! Captain, Madam," Lannon bent over Annie's hand, "your servant."

As they watched the rowboat speed off to intercept another ship, Annie patted Hollee's arm. "What will you do in Philadelphia, Bell?"

"Well, if you can spare me, I thought I might take a cargo. I'd be gone for two weeks, would that give you enough time to find everything you need?"

"Two weeks should be more than sufficient, I think."

"Then that's settled. Your husband has given me a letter of introduction, so now all that remains to do is introduce myself to one of the merchants here and see if anyone has a shipment to go out."

"Or you could stay here in Philadelphia and enjoy yourself."

"I just had a holiday on Nevis," Hollee said, unaware that his voice had become softer. Annie, with her woman's intuition, turned her head and looked at him. His eyes were still darting over the water, but they were focused inward. "Now I must stay busy."

"Will you go back to Nevis, do you think?" Annie said, as Sally handed her a shawl. The Windies were working their way up the Delware, aiming for the dock that Lannon had pointed out. Hollee was pleased to see that no one was neglecting their knots.

"Eventually, I shouldn't wonder. It's the closest thing to a home I have."

"Keith told me somewhat of your concerns, with the new agent."

Hollee looked down at Annie. There was something frank and open about her, a friendliness and ease that he felt with no other woman. Perhaps it was her perfect contentment in her marriage, or the fact that she built no barriers against him, but he knew somehow he could confide in her. Annie Cobb had all the artful frankness that a woman should possess, but there was also real intelligence behind her eyes, an understanding of how people interacted and how the world worked. If she had been a man, she would have been formidable in business or politics, or anything she had set her mind to. It was pleasant to be able to speak on equal terms with a woman, to never wonder if there was some subterfuge going on behind those eyes.

"Oh, there are a half-dozen reasons why I should stay away from Nevis," Hollee said. "It appears that I must start thinking about the future of my business, whether I wish to expand or perhaps branch out into another area. But really, I'd rather stay as I am. Sailing back and forth, for as long as the winds will take me."

"No thoughts of marriage?" Annie thought she spied the real reason behind Hollee's reticence.

"Thoughts, naturally. Nothing...concrete, however," he added lamely.

Captain Hollee had to excuse himself at this point to oversee the crew. They worked up to the dock and tied off, the manoevre easy compared to earlier moorings. Hollee prepared to go ashore to find an agent for his small cargo as the men lined up for their pay--only a pittance this time as the cruise was so short, but Hollee liked to be fair.

"John, will you go with Mrs. Cobb this week?" Hollee said to his first mate after he had paid the last man off. "I know she has Sally with her, but I'd feel safer if she had a man to look after her. And to help her with anything she needed, of course."

"Why, I could go!" Pritchard had overheard and he came scurrying across the deck. "I'd be willing to help out Missus Cobb, if she'd have me. An' I can carry a great deal more than John, anyway!"

"Aren't you planning on visiting your wife?" Hollee asked, raising an eyebrow. Pritchard dithered for a second, then grinned disarmingly. "Well, I've no argument if Mrs. Cobb doesn't."

"Argument with what?" Annie said, coming out of the cabin. Behind her, two men were carrying her luggage. She had made preparations to stay at a small, respectable inn, and a coach was already waiting for her on the shore.

"Mr. Pritchard has volunteered to stay with you for the course of your visit," Hollee explained. "I would feel much better if someone went with you while you were wandering around Philadelphia, and Pritchard won't be too much of a distraction."

Annie smiled broadly. "I think it is a capital idea."

"Very good, then it's settled." Annie moved carefully over the gangway, Sally following closely behind. Before Pritchard had a chance to follow, Hollee grabbed his arm and pulled him close. "And I'm counting on you, Pritchard, not to let her out of your sight. If I find out you give Annie Cobb the slip to go to a tavern, I'll leave you here in Philadelphia, so help me, with your wife."

Looking suitably chastised, Pritchard hurried after the bobbing yellow figure walking briskly down the dock.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


The Windsong set sail soon after Annie Cobb came aboard. Hollee had been correct in predicting his crew would be pleased at the thought of an additional week aboard, but there was some muttering when he announced the addition of a female passengers. “’s bad luck, it is,” Pritchard had said under his breath when he thought Hollee couldn’t hear him. If there had ever been a woman more accommodating than Mrs. Cobb, however, Hollee couldn’t think of one. She arrived at the dock in her husband’s coach and immediately pronounced herself pleased with the entire outfit, from the crew (well-scrubbed in her honor) to the tidy ship. Hollee had volunteered to give up his cabin for the duration of the cruise, and she was even impressed with the tiny space, exclaiming over the charming bunk and the bright windows. Her maid, Sally, was less impressed, as she would be forced to sleep in a hammock, but the two women soon made themselves comfortable. Hollee was gratified that Annie had taken his advice to pack lightly to heart, and her reticule was compact enough to fit into the space allotted without too much trouble.

“A painted floor!” Annie was saying as he came to check on their progress. “How clever. I do like this white and black pattern, perhaps I shall do your room the same, Sally, what do you think?”

“I think it’d be the devil to keep clean, ma’am.”

“Not at all,” Hollee said, inclining his head. “The floor is covered in old sailcloth. If it ever becomes irretrievably dirty, we simply tear it up and lay new cloth.”

“How clever!”

“Mist’ Cobb ain’ gon’ let you cover up his nice parkay floors, not two months after he got them laid.”

“This is very true. But something to keep in mind for the future, perhaps.”

“If you’ll allow me, Mrs. Cobb, I merely came down here to inform you that we are about to leave Charleston, and I wondered if you wished to say farewell.”

“Of course, Captain, how thoughtful.”

The Windies had loosed the massive ropes holding the ‘Song to the dock and were now being taken in tow by a harbor barge. Their movements were fluid and practiced, as they scurried about the deck, securing the odd rope or crate, or going aloft in preparation for the moment when the sails would fly. Hollee, as he came out of the dark cabin, watched them with a practiced eye, and thought perhaps it might be time to conduct refresher drills on the proper sequence of events for leaving a harbor. Annie, on the other hand, was delighted. She stood watching the men from under the parasol Sally handed her, as gulls swooped around the ship, looking for fish stirred up in their wake. The day was bright, but muggy, and a low haze was settling on the water, making the sun hotter than it seemed.

“But why aren’t you setting sail?” Annie turned to Hollee, her eyes keen.

“There’s not enough wind to carry us forward,” Hollee explained. “The wind here is not strong enough for us within the harbor, and it is dangerous to be under our own power when the harbor is so narrow and there are so many ships about. We will be towed past that point there, and then we’ll make sail and you shall see some speed.”

“They’re very good, aren’t they?” Annie said brightly, as above her head young Tom missed his grip on the platform, and fell from the futtock shrouds into the ratlines. He grabbed on to the ropes, his eyes wide, and Campbell reached down and hauled him back up onto the mainyard by the back of his shirt. Hollee blinked. Twice. Less sewing and more time aloft, he made a mental note. Even Annie could not fail to notice Pritchard’s frown as the seaman went by them, carrying a coil of rope. She looked back up to Hollee. “Captain,” she said, loud enough so that her voice carried. “I’ve heard that it is bad luck for women to travel on board ships, is this true?”

“That is a legend, madam, but I assure you, my sailors have no such truck with such blatantly untruths.”

Annie moved over to the side of the ship, seemingly oblivious to the dozens of ears (and eyes) that were trained on her. “That seems hard to believe—after all, the ocean is full of mysteries, and to discredit one would be to discredit them all. I think,” she continued slowly, “the problem is not so much with women as it is with the fact that certain people do not respect the ocean as much as they ought. And, naturally,” she turned back to face Hollee, “since women generally do not go to sea, they are less familiar with the respect required of all her passengers and so they appear to bring bad luck. But if a woman understands the ocean—rather, understands she must respect the sea and it’s traditions, why, then perhaps her presence would not be so disruptive. I have a deep respect for the sea. The sea touches us all, Captain Hollee, whether we ride upon her back or merely gain from those who do. I do not pretend to be an expert upon the currents of the ocean, but in my ignorance I try to be respectful and understanding and do all I can to learn what I ought.” And she blushed prettily, as though embarrassed by her speech and tucked a stray curl behind her shoulder. Hollee felt rather than saw Sally rolling her eyes behind him at her mistress’ speech, but later that day he overheard a conversation between Pritchard and Waggs where the sailor allowed as how “Missus Cobb wasn’t as stuck on herself as most women generally were.”

By this point the Windsong had reached the narrow opening to the harbor. The wind was freshening, and if the ship was a horse, she would be perking her ears up, eager for a gallop. Hollee called all hands to prepare to cast off and sent the rest of the men into the shrouds. The wind was east by north east, and they would have to tack once they got back the furthest point of the land, but in the beginning they could run ahead of the wind without a second look back. Hollee saluted the captain of the barge as it pushed off and headed back for Charleston.

“Now, Mrs. Cobb, you will see some real speed.”

At a call from Hollee, the hands released the sails, and they came down in a smooth cascade of white. The haze which stood in the harbor was lifting past the point, and the sun beat down hotter. The ship began to pick up speed, her hull rising and falling over each crest, creating a wake that drew a straight line behind them. Hartleby steered the great vessel directly eastward, the sun a few points starboard of his shoulder, squinting into the brightness. Hollee’s feet, long accustomed to walking on the rollicking deck, paced back and forth, eyeing the speed and efficiency of his crew. They were capable men, but they needed to work more closely in tandem. He knew that they understood the necessity of working together so that the ship might go forward, but they did not understand what kind of speed and efficiency could be got by precision. Perhaps if he drilled them. What I need, he mused, are a few ex-Navy men, then we would see some quality. Hansen had neglected one of his knots and a corner of the mainsail was flapping in the wind, causing John Waggs to shout at him until the man had hurriedly tied it. Hollee turned to Annie to see what she thought of the ride so far, but there was no longer anyone standing beside him. He frowned for a moment, but could not look for her for long, as the moment was fast approaching when they would tack onto a north-northeast path.

Once the crew had completed this maneuver, however, Hollee could look more earnestly for his passenger. The men were still aloft, preparing for the moment when they would tack onto a more easterly route (this would continue until the wind shifted), and the decks were relatively clear. She must have gone below, Hollee thought, or gone overboard—and this thought was so momentarily paralyzing to him that he actually took a step toward the rail before he realized that someone would have spotted her. Then he saw Sally exiting from the cabin, carrying a vessel which she emptied over the side.

“Miz Cobbs feelin’ poorly,” she explained succinctly. Sally did not look well herself, her face was slightly yellow under her dark complexion, but unlike her mistress she did not have the luxury of laying down. “She in your cabin.”

“I will have John make up some soda water, that will help calm her stomach,” Hollee said, nervously. That the flamboyant Annie Cobbs would—or indeed could—be brought low by seasickness was something he had not contemplated. “And some for yourself as well, perhaps.”

“Oh, don’ be worryin’ ‘bout me, now. I ain’ got nothing wrong with me. Just don’t like ships, is all.” Hollee noticed how Sally had backed away from the railing and was eyeing the water suspiciously. “I tol’ Miz Cobbs she shouldn’t be leavin’ Charleston at all, but she ain’ gon’ listen to me, nossir, and then Mist’ Cobbs said, ‘Well, if you got to go, then take a ship, it won’t be so bouncy,’ thinking maybe it’d be better for her and the baby. We’ll see.” Sally shrugged, oblivious to the tumult she had thrown Hollee into. Oblivious of the fact that not everyone could spot an expectant mother as easily as she could, she took it for granted that Hollee was aware of Annie’s condition. Up until that moment, however, Hollee had not the faintest clue. He reeled from this information, a thousand worries crowding in on him on top of the ones he had already considered. Baby! God! Did she need any extra care? Did she require special foods? What if something would happen? What that something might be Hollee did not dare contemplate, and he forced himself to stop picturing the scene in his head where a thunderous Cobb called him out for losing his wife and child.

“You have me at a disadvantage, Sally, I did not realize that Mrs. Cobb was…” Hollee could not bring himself to say something so indelicate.

Sally seemed to realize his difficulties, and her face softened into a smile. “Oh, she real early yet,” she said soothingly. “Don’t you worry—Miz Cobb is as strong as a horse. She ain’ gonna have no problems, no sir. You just leave her to me. And get yer man to bring me some of that soda water. I’ll have her up and about in no time.”

“Perhaps she should remain in her cabin? Lying down?” Hollee called after Sally as she went back into the cabin, but she just smiled and kept walking.

Matrimony and now children, Hollee mused as he went to find John Waggs and tell him to break into his surgeon’s chest. Everything was changing so suddenly—only he himself remained the same, endlessly sailing his ship on a changing ocean.

And John. John who was currently shouting at some of the new hands, exhorting them to work faster as they struggled to splice a fraying rope. But even John looked older, his voice not quite so booming as Hollee remembered from his youth. Everything changes, even here.

John seemed relieved to be removed from the vicinity of such obviously obtuse sailors and he quickly hurried away to fetch his medicines, leaving Hollee to take the fraying rope into his own long hands and demonstrate the proper way to splice it. The rope seemed to fly back together by magic under his thin fingers, and the sailors meekly fed it into the pulleys without a word. The sun was hotter now, even though the movement of the ship was creating a strong breeze, and Hollee rubbed the back of his neck with his kerchief where the sweat had gathered. His queue seemed especially long and heavy today, laying between his shoulders like a dead weight.

When John came back on deck, Hollee hurried over to him. “Did you speak to Mrs. Cobb?” he said quietly, mindful of the ears around him.

“I did. She said she’s expecting, did y’ know that?”

“Good God, do you honestly think I would have agreed to take her to Philadelphia if I’d known she was with child? What do I know about children?”

“Unless you plan on sailing around in circles for the next seven months, you’ve nothing to worry about,” John said calmly.

“What if something should happen?”

“I think you do not give Annie enough credit. She’ll be fine.”

After a few days, John’s prediction proved to be the true one, and Hollee’s worries began to fade. Annie had reappeared the next morning, refreshed, she said by a long sleep and John’s ministrations. Her old sparkle returned soon after. Hollee and Sally nearly had to physically restrain her from following Pritchard up the rigging onto the platform two days out from Charleston, and soon her favourite spot on the ship was near the bow, spray splashing in her face. The voyage was dogged by poor weather—although the wind continued to blow strongly, it was never as northerly as it might have been, and the sun shone hotly without relent. The ship plowed through water thick as molasses, rolling up and down, side to side with a constant, heady rocking motion. Biased as he was, Hollee thought privately that Cobb was a wise man to send his wife by ship: the jolts of a coach journey would shatter bones, but on the ocean the rocking motion was hardly noticeable once the voyager grew accustomed to it. Sally never got over her distrust of the endless sea, and stayed mostly in the cabin or seated on a crate just outside the door, her sewing in her hand.

The journey took a few days longer than expected. The wind dried up a day out of Philadelphia until the Windsong was barely making two knots, agonizingly slow for a crew accustomed to a good five or six or even seven. Annie by that point had completely won the crew over, so much so that she had begun to solicit them for advice.

“Now Mr. Pritchard. What is your opinion on colors? For myself, I should prefer a vibrant yellow in my dining room, however I am told that the fashion of today is blue and I dearly hate to be out of fashion.”

“Now, Missus Cobb, well, if it was my dining room, I’d paint it anything I wanted, and if anyone said otherwise, I’d say ‘I’m starting a new fashion!’”

“Why—that is a brilliant idea! What a ingenious solution you’ve hit upon!”

Before Pritchard could follow up his brilliant idea with another equally amazing he was sent aloft by Hollee to spy for land. Soon after the shout came down, and the crew grew busy again, preparing to enter Delaware Bay.

All harbors are different, and the one at Philadelphia was particularly tricky. The city was located far up the Delware River, which was a narrowing of Delaware Bay that connected to the Atlantic. Even at their low speed, the Windsong found it necessary to winch in their sails and reduce speed so they would avoid hitting any of the numerous vessels going in and out of the city. Even Charleston could not compare to the sheer amount of traffic that plied up and down the Delaware. Philadelphia had taken on an air of importance after surviving an attack by the British to become the de facto capital of the new country. The Windsong was joined by countless other merchant ships, small fishing boats and mail packets. The smaller vessels zipped around the larger ones which moved sedately through the water, French and Spanish ships of the line, their hatches opened in the spring sunshine, glimmers of cannon peeking out. Diplomatic ships from a half-dozen other countries (Hollee spotted the Dutch, Portuguese and Russian flags among them) were anchored further up the bay, their exotic crews performing familiar tasks as they waited for ambassadors to be received or denied. There was even a cluster of British ships, slightly segregated from the others as though they were gathered defensively, their ensigns waving proudly nonetheless.

Monday, March 3, 2008

5.3 & chapter 6

“Captain Hollee, you must allow me to invite you to dine tonight. Annie will be so pleased to see you.”

“I intended on leaving as soon as I could get a cargo,” Hollee said ruefully, “And if you have a cargo bound for the Indies, then that could be tonight.”

“Always business with you! Do you never stop for a moment’s pleasure?”

“I’ve just had a week’s holiday, Cobb, what more could I ask?” A momentary flash of Fanny’s face—now several hundred miles away—sped across Hollee’s mind and disappeared.

Cobb forced his face to take on a serious look, an attempt that was not entirely successful. “Well then, to business. Shall we haggle like a pair of fishwives on the wharf?”

Cobb’s warehouse and office were larger than Mr. Maccaby’s, but they were not so neatly kept. Instead of Mr. Maccaby’s imposing green ledger, Cobb pulled a tightly bound sheaf of papers out from behind his desk and set them down, shooing away a small tabby cat. Hollee sat across from him and pulled out his own small journal, where he kept a list of the goods he had transported across the ocean. He read off the items he had for sale and Cobb told him in return what he would pay for them. For a few minutes the two men were lost in a web of back and forth business as prices and descriptions flew between them. But in the end, both were mutually satisfied. Cobb made marks on various papers in front of him, and then offered Hollee a slip of paper with a credit drawn on his bank. While Hollee trusted Mr. Maccaby to keep his money safe for him, he could not, alas, extend the same courtesy to Mr. Cobb. Cobb was a fair, shrewd, honest businessman, but he was also prone to fits of forgetting. Hollee accepted the credit slip gracefully and slipped it into his pocket without looking at it.

“Now then, Captain Hollee, I have emptied your ship. And I think I have a novel way of filling it up again.” Cobb was leaning across the desk, his face beaming like a bear that has just landed a juicy trout. “Go see to the unloading of your ship and then we shall have dinner and I will tell you about my idea.”

“If it’s indigo, I’ve told you already there’s no market for it in the Indies.”

“It’s not indigo.”

“What then?”

“Soon enough! Soon enough! Go now and mind you’re careful with my rum!”

Hollee could see that there was no possibility of getting it out of the man when he was like this—his face was sparkling with a secret in the same way that small children grinned when they are keeping something from their parents. Shaking his head with a smile, Hollee clasped the man’s hand and took his leave. The Windies would be glad to hear the cargo had been dealt with so efficiently and that they were virtually at liberty already. Hollee walked back toward the harbour. In many ways, Charleston was similar to Nevis—there was that same bustle and hurry near the docks, but there was also an affected air of respectability. Liveried servants ran through the streets importantly, carrying messages. Sedan chairs wove in and out of the stopped carriages, servants shouted to one another to give way. The closer Hollee got to the dock the shabbier the buildings became, and he saw fewer and fewer carriages. The women moving along the sidewalks were no longer hurrying past him, clutching shawls and packages, but drifting up to him and insinuating services in low voices that made him speed up without making eye contact. As the masts and spars of the docked ships came into view, Hollee passed by the slave pens that held fresh cargo from Africa, the faces as frightened and confused as those of the animals which were housed a little way away from them. Their voices were raised in foreign languages, adding an extra layer to the din that already accompanied life at the docks. Laborers were working to lift cargoes into or out of sea-going vessels. Vendors and peddlers were shouting, proffering their wares to anyone who would pass. Young boys operated efficiently, picking the pockets of the inattentive. The different impressions came so suddenly to Hollee that it was impossible to pick out any one sound or image to focus on. He felt as though he were moving through a play, on his way to make an exit, a bit player with no lines, merely there to give dimension to a scene, and then gone.

How different the feeling from Nevis! He felt comfortable here, unafraid, but he did not feel as though he could comfortably belong here for longer than was necessary to unload and take on different cargo. Although Mr. Cobb might count him among his dearest friends, he was intimate with very few other people. And there was little chance of his breaking into a higher level of society. For a moment Hollee amused himself wondering if Nelson would even deign to greet him, should they cross paths here in Charleston—an impossibility, since no British warships had been seen since 1780. For a moment, Hollee wondered what would happen when he and Nelson crossed paths again—if he would be allowed to dock at Nevis—or if he would be unable to ever set foot on Caribbean soil again. What then? Should he try to make a home for himself in America? Charleston was most likely out of the question—although Captain Reeve might insist that every man was equal in this new world, privately Hollee had not found it so. The city was a curious mishmash of the old with the new slapped on top of it. The changes of the War for Independence had come so quickly the town had not had time to acclimate. Nevis, on the other hand, wore her age gracefully, accepting change gradually, like a dower matron watching scandalized while her granddaughter parades new fashions. What a strange world this is, Hollee mused as he sighted the Windsong, and all of it connected by the sea—the only constant in an uncertain world.

As he had predicted, the Windies were much heartened by the news that he had concluded their business quickly, and offloaded the cargo with a will. They lined up at John’s table and collected their pay, then disappeared into Charleston’s underbelly to spend it in the few hours ashore that they had. Pritchard had had the nerve to ask Hollee if he had any parties to attend, prompting the captain to ask Pritchard if he had any other ships he intended to crew, and the seaman had gone stomping good-naturedly down the dock.

“He’s got a wife in this city, y’ know,” John said, as he closed his small strong-box.

“Does he?” Hollee said, surprised. “I never knew that.”

“Well, it’s hardly an appropriate topic ay conversation on board a ship now, especially when I’ve heard he’s also got a wife in Philadelphia,” John noted sagely. He noted Tom looking at him with interest. “Don’t ye go getting idears now. And don’t y’ go wandering off too far. I’d rather face a hungry wolf than Queenie if she finds out I let y’ go wanderin’ around Charleston on yer own.”

“Do I get paid, sir?”

“Y’ d’ not, not as ship’s boy. Y’ stay on for a year, learn yer trade, and we’ll sign ye up as an able seaman and then y’ can expect some pay. Well, that’s doesn’t mean we’re gonna let y’ starve!” John added hastily, noting Tom’s crestfallen face, “I’ll take y’ to the Rover and if y’ can finish a plate ay their stew, I’ll give y’ a shilling.”

The boy’s eyes widened at the thought of such riches, causing both John and Hollee to laugh. “Will ye join us, Captain?”

“I would love to, John, but I’ve been invited to dine with Mr. And Mrs. Cobb tonight.”

“Mrs. Cobb, now, who would that be?”

“That would have been Miss Annie Hallam, who married Cobb sometime after our last voyage.”

“Oh, well, that makes sense. It’s about time, then. Now Tom, go put your shoes on, and we’ll be off.”

“Oh, Mr. Waggs, must I?”

“Yes, and trust me, y’ don’t want to be wanderin’ around Charleston with yer bare feet on.”

Tom did as he was bid. As soon as he disappeared into the hatchway, John turned a worried eye on Hollee.

“Bell, I don’t suppose you could see yer way to lendin’ me a shilling, could ye? Did you see that boy’s face? He’ll win that bet in a second—I forgot how young boys eat.”

Hollee laughed and handed over the coin.

Chapter 6

The Cobbs lived on a quiet side street, far enough out of the center of Charleston that the voices and music from the taverns did not reach their tall windows. Hollee had thought briefly about donning his new silk stockings again, but decided against it at the last minute. The walk was slightly longer than he thought it was, and he arrived a few minutes late, much to his displeasure. The second storey windows were open to the cool night breeze, translucent white curtains fluttering in the breeze.

When he was admitted into the parlour, Hollee found his hostess seated in a neat wooden chair, a basket of neat sewing at her feet. Annie Hallam was a beautiful vivacious woman without much of a fortune, but she had more than compensated for that by her outgoing and engaging personality. She was also, according to some, incredibly headstrong, and more than one suitor had been discouraged by her quirk of telling every man exactly what she thought of him. Few men—like Mr. Cobb—were either man enough to laugh off the slights, or possessed such excellent characters that Annie was unable to find fault with them. It was obvious that matrimony suited her, Hollee thought. She fairly glowed with the pleasure of greeting him and welcoming him into her house, attentive to his every need.

“Keith sent word that we were to expect you for dinner,” she said, when the greetings had subsided. “I was so pleased to hear you were in town again! It has been far, far too long.”

“Yes, it has,” Hollee said, relaxing. “The last time I was here, you were entirely unattached, and now I understand I have the pleasure of congratulating you on your marriage.”

“Oh—well,” Annie said, blushing prettily, “As to that, I suppose Keith simply found he had the courage to ask me once and for all. Not that I answered right away,” she continued, impishly, “No, I left him dangling for several days. And then, when I did accept—why Captain Hollee, you would not believe some of the stories I heard after I accepted. Mr. Cunningham, who has been a very close friend of mine, you know, he threatened to call Mr. Cobb out, and Mr. Lee (that would be Fabian Lee, no relation to the Richmond Lees) actually sent me a letter telling me he was considering self-harm!” Far from looking horrified by these anecdotes, Annie Cobb looked quite pleased at herself to have left such a string of broken hearts beside her. Hollee reflected it must get rather boring to be a desirable young lady and be sitting around waiting for proposals. “Mr. Cobb is unfortunately working late tonight. I cannot believe that he is as late as this! I have had notes from him all afternoon—one telling me you were coming, and another saying he would be late, then another saying he would be quite late and even one saying he wanted to—“ But she stopped abruptly and looked down at her hands, her ears turning pink. Hollee chose to ignore the abrupt silence. What on Earth made women feel so comfortable confiding in him? Hollee couldn’t quite figure it out—like any man of the time, he was entirely comfortable with the fact that there were large swaths of female mysteries that were unknown to the male mind. Mysteries that should stay that way.

Fortunately, they were saved from further awkwardness by the arrival of the master of the house. Keith Cobb came in through the front door shouting heartily for Annie, and his wife rose from her chair to greet her. Hollee found it quite necessary to avert his eyes for a moment while the two newlyweds greeted one another. Then Cobb turned to Hollee and treated him to another crushing handshake.

“So glad you could make it! I’m so sorry I am late! I only hope Cook has managed to save our supper without drying it too much!”

They retired to the dining room almost immediately. The massive table could have easily have sat a dozen, but the servants had set one end of it in a cosy tableau of plates and silver. Early blossoms spilled out of a vase, their faint perfume wafting through the air like a song. Cobb called out for the soup to be called as soon as they were seated. Apparently the delicate formality of some society houses had yet to be adopted here. But the servants were no less efficient than their counterparts the world over. Food appeared and wine was poured by silent hands, faces concentrating on the movement of the vessels.

Cobb launched into his business proposal without preamble, the same way he had called perfunctorily for dinner to be served: “So, Mr. Hollee, what do you think of my house?”

“I find it very beautiful sir—and much improved since the addition of Mrs. Cobb.”

“You do not find it bare, sir?”

Hollee thought that an odd question, and in response he took another look around the room. Now that the merchant had pointed it out, the room did appear sparse. The grand table stood forlornly alone in a room that could have easily have held a pair of sideboards or a cupboard. The parlour, visible through the open doors, looked practically empty without Annie’s buoyant personality, a pair of wooden chairs flanking a forlorn table.

“I see what you mean,” Hollee said slowly. “It appears that you have not quite finished with the furnishings.”

“But that is precisely what I mean!” Cobb said, lowering his wine glass to the table. “You’ve got it in one. Annie and I have been so busy we have been unable to furnish our home properly. Why, you should see our bedroom—we have been forced to sleep on a—“ But he was cut off abruptly, accompanied by what sounded like a small female foot being brought down forcefully on top of his boot. “Er—that is, I mean to say—we are in a bad way all over. Now, I do not wish to demean the merchants and carpenters of this town, but they are, I am ashamed to say, sadly out of date with the latest fashions. Or so my dearest wife tells me. So she would like to go to Philadelphia to buy furniture. And I would like to engage the Windsong to take her, and bring back her purchases. Philadelphia,” he continued, adopting a sage tone of voice, “has had the benefit of several years of culture, in the form of various ministers and foreign ambassadors, an infusion, if you will, of European sensibilities. And their styles are among the newest and most fashionable of the day. Just the thing for my Annie—who has always had a good eye for such things.” Hollee rather suspected that Cobb’s views on Philadelphia were formed entirely by his wife’s but he did not say so. “What do you say, man? Will you allow me to hire your ship?”

“Why, Mrs. Cobb,” Hollee said innocently, “I am surprised at you. Here America has thrown off the yoke of European tyranny and you are all eagerness to continue to be a slave to their fashions?”

“Oh Mr. Hollee, you are teasing me!” Annie cried, splitting Hollee’s face into a wide grin.

“Naturally. What do I know about furniture or fashions? You may buy your chairs from India and I would not be able to say if that was wise or no. But I can tell you that I would be most honored if the Windsong carried you to and from Philadelphia.”

“Excellent!” Cobb said, beaming.

“Now I do not know if I wish to go aboard Captain Hollee’s ship, if he is going to be so hateful to me,” Annie pouted.

“It’s true, I have not been to Philadelphia for quite some time,” Hollee said, relishing the hot food in front of him. The beef was only slightly dried out, but the potatoes were excellent and the small bowl of fresh salad greens was most welcome. “Perhaps the fashionable capital of America has moved? Have you considered Boston? Or—of course, if you truly wished to have the finest house in Charleston, there is no substitute for Paris. But before you ask—the Windsong is too small to make that voyage safely or without a convoy.” Annie was not entirely clear what a convoy was, but she was polite enough not to argue with Hollee.

“No, it shall be Philadelphia,” Cobb said. “Annie has been writing letters, she has catalogues and descriptions from the merchants there. She’s already ordered our new bed! A week or two should be sufficient for her to spend my fortune, and then home again.” Cobb sighed heavily with feigned despair. “A lifetime to build up my fortune and she’ll have it gone within a week!”

“And then I shall be able to entertain properly and everyone will say ‘Oh, doesn’t Mrs. Cobb give wonderful parties!’ And they will think that you are a wise businessman to be able to afford such lavish entertainments and they will all want to do business with you.”

“My partner,” Cobb said affectionately, and Hollee felt a sudden stab of jealousy. Not for Annie, for though she was lively enough for a night’s entertainment, her mercurial moods would be wearing in longer doses. Mr and Mrs. Cobb presented such a cosy picture of domesticity that Hollee felt he was standing in front of a painting, looking in on a scene he could never hope to enter. He felt—for lack of a better term—lonely, although both people in the room were now looking at him attentively, waiting for his answer.

“It appears then, that I am engaged,” Hollee said, smiling broadly. “And I am most happy to be of service. As soon as you are ready to go, we shall set sail. I am at your service.”

The rest of the meal was vaguely celebratory. Cobb could barely take his eyes off his wife, who was clearly excited over the prospect of a shopping trip. She kept running over lists of furniture that were absolute necessities and other items which were only secondary—although there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she would come back with everything she mentioned. Hollee could offer little more than encouragement, while Cobb mentioned this or that advertisement he had seen and vague opinions on what he would like to see in their house.

After dinner, the two men retired to the parlour. Without another lady present, it was difficult to justify a post-dinner pot of coffee, and so Annie excused herself and went upstairs to prepare for bed. Hollee sipped on his snifter of brandy. Cobb was glowing with happiness.

“Isn’t she a jewel? My God, Bell, I am the luckiest man in the world.”

“I will not argue with you.”

Cobb had lit a small pipe and he puffed on it meditatively for a second. “I cannot recommend matrimony highly enough, Bell. Have you ever considered it? I thought I should be perfectly content with my business, with my own bachelor way of life, but I never realized how much I was missing.” Hollee’s emotions vacillated wildly: part of him tried to raise and eyebrow and smirk, the other part continued to feel that awkward stab of loneliness. But Keith Cobb’s speech was so obviously sincere and heartfelt that Hollee could no more ridicule the man than he could have sailed the Windsong singlehandedly.

Perhaps sensing he was sailing too close to the wind, Cobb tacked into another topic of conversation. “I must confess that I am surprised you took up our commission with such alacrity,” he said, “I expected you to take up another load and beat it back to Nevis—with the weather we’ve been having, I wouldn’t have blamed you. Annie has been excited to go to Philadelphia for weeks now. I was hesitant to let her go with just anyone, but if you are with her, I will feel as comfortable as if I were there my own self.”

Hollee inclined his head. “I must confess myself flattered that you trust me with your most precious possession. As for my own motives, the waters around the Caribbean have grown somewhat more hostile of late.” And he outlined briefly the new situation with the Boreas’ new captain, leaving out the part where he despised Nelson for being an ingratiating little toad. “I am certain that we will shall be taken should the Windsong cross paths with the man, and so I am eager to avoid that unhappy event as long as I can.”

“But Bell—if that is the case, then come to America!” Cobb leaned forward earnestly. “There are so many ports here for you to trade between, and the trips would be shorter, the time ashore longer. Why bother with the Caribbean and the British at all?”

Cobb had seen most of his business stopped or seized when the war had broken out, and his ambivalence about independence had grown from an ember into a fire, fanned by the mistreatment of his ships and his goods. He was an earnest patriot, not a firebrand like Reeve, and when he spoke now, his genteel love of country shone softly out of his face. Hollee wished mightily he could return that goodwill. He leaned forward as well.

“Keith, your feelings toward Annie—toward your home, your life together—that is precisely how I feel about Nevis.”

“My dear sir, is there a Mrs. Hollee at last?”

“No. I do not mean this about another person, but about Nevis herself. If I ever had to leave her for good, I should feel like you would should your Annie be taken from you.”

Cobb frowned, he did not exactly comprehend how a man could feel so strongly about a place. But he understood love and quiet passion, even if it was directed at an island and not a person.

“Well, we are glad to have you while we can,” he said, breaking into his familiar smile again.


The harbor at Charleston was nearly the exact opposite of the one at Nevis. The town was located at the end of a long bay which was entered through a narrow gap. More than once during the American War for Independence, British ships had taken control of the port and fired on the city, hoping to rouse Loyalist men of the colony. But the city had never fallen and now, four years after the last cannon, the only warships present were French. The buildings rose from within the walls of the city, freshly painted white, gleaming in the late May sunshine. It was easy to imagine dozens of spyglasses pointed at the Windsong as she entered the harbour, curious eyes picking out her lines and then her name. Charleston had been in existence for a hundred years and had adopted genteel airs, but along her wharf, men and boys ran back and forth, shouting, while asses neighed and dogs barked.

The Windsong was taken in tow by a barge, brought alongside one of the longer docks and made fast by her crew. They would not be staying long, and the Windies were eager to unload so they could make the most of their time ashore. Hollee had them begin to bring the barrels of rum and other goods up on deck to keep them busy. Already there were several men on the dock calling to him, eager to do business. And now here came Charleston's version of Mr. Lamb--a stocky man named Cutter who came barreling forward, carrying a ledger and greeting Hollee in his strange South Carolina accent. Hollee felt an odd vertigo as he greeted the harbormaster: there were men all over the world whose employment required them to stay in one place and greet his ship. Men all over the world and the only thing they had in common was him.

Hollee's Charlestonian version of Mr. Maccaby was Mr. Cobb. He was not very much older than Hollee, but he was nearly entirely bald and the lines around his face from smiling made him appear years older. Whereas Maccaby was calm and collected, Cobb was effusive and eager, always quick to shake hands or clap someone on the back with a blow like a bear's paw. When Hollee entered his shop, he was up on his feet in a second, rounding his desk, one hand outstretched, the other raised. Hollee grasped the one and braced for the other.

"My goodness, Mr. Hollee!" Mr. Cobb said, engulfing his business partner. "And how are you this day? Tell me, did you have a nice holiday? How did Mr. Maccaby find my tobacco?"

Mr. Cobb thought it highly amusing that he did business with a man he had never seen, spoken to or corresponded with.

"He found it very palatable and paid us very highly for it," Hollee said, smiling. It was hard not to smile in Mr. Cobb's engulfing presence. "I have brought you more rum, and some sugar, quill-feathers--oh, and a bolt of red silk."

"Red silk?" Mr. Cobb said politely.

"Yes, it is Mr. Maccaby's idea of a joke--he knows it is too garish for colonial sensibilities, but he would insist on sending it. The fabric is quality, but the color--it is like a parrot drowned in fruit punch."

The very color Hollee described suddenly appeared in Cobb's face as he blushed ferociously. "Captain, if it's not too much trouble, I would be much obliged if I could look at this fabric. I might be able to take it off your hands for you."

Hollee looked confused.

"It's not for me!" Cobb hastened to assure him. "It's for my--well, you see, since you've been gone, I've gone and got married. And my wife--Mrs. Cobb, that is, Annie--she dearly loves the color red. She was a very young when the war broke out, and she never had nice things as a young lady ought to. I am afraid I spoil her, but if your fabric is silk and as red as you describe, why then it is just the thing for her."

"But Mr. Cobb!" said Hollee, shaking his hand, "You must allow me to make a present of it to you--to her. To congratulate you on your nuptials. I had no idea you intended to make Annie your wife."

"Nor did it, until she let it drop that she had received several proposals and was waiting to see if she could, erm, get a better offer from me. Naturally, I outbid them to a man!"

Hollee had seen Annie Hallam on several occasions, when he had dined in company with Mr. Cobb, and approved of her heartily. She must be nearly twenty years younger than her husband, he mused, but it was so obvious the man was mad for her that she would have been foolish to take anyone else for a husband.

Friday, February 29, 2008


As the Windsong manoevered away from the dock, her captain fell uncharacteristically silent. John Waggs shouted orders and the sailors, old and new, ran to obey. Hollee watched with a critical eye, but he did not offer corrections or change the course set by his first mate. Small boys ran down the dock, racing the Windsong until she reached the end of the dock and they stopped short, waving and shouting. The sails were let fly, caught, and began to fill with the wind. The whole ship seemed to sigh, relieved to be underway again.

Hollee couldn’t resist looking at Nevis one last time. The ship was picking up speed now, and the water underneath her bow was breaking into white snowdrifts, her wake spreading strongly behind. They passed the Temeraire, due to leave for England as soon as Captain Mannington was ready to leave, and the Boreas, anchored further out, still waiting her captain. The island shrank behind them, and Hollee turned his attention forward. The day was bright and cool, and the Windsong was leaping through the water like a dolphin. Hollee felt his spirits begin to rise, as the distance between himself and Nevis widened. He had not realized how down he felt until this moment, when he could leave all his worries behind, simply go. Freedom to move where he wished, when he wished. He was his own man, and master of the Windsong.

“Mr. Campbell! Lend a hand there! You, Pratt, secure that rope. My God, who tied this knot? It’s a disgrace!”

And so on. Eventually the bustle on the ship that always accompanied a leaving settled down, and the men who were not on watch could go below or above or tend to their own myriad responsibilities. John Waggs had brought a boy on board, one of Queenie’s “orphans,” a young lad of twelve who had sought shelter with her when his mother had succumbed to scarlet fever and his father to gin. Now he was eager to try the sea, and he was quite perplexed when John began his lessons.

“Now Master Tom. We’ll commence with the needle an’ thread.”

“Needle and thread, sir?”

“Ay lad, who d’ ye think is going ter mend y’ shirts out here?”

“Queenie always mended them for me, sir.”

“And d’ y’ see Queenie out here now, you do not. So it’s every man for hisself, and y’ve only yerself to look after yer clothes.”

Hollee, recalling his own arduous sewing lessons at John’s hands, took pity on the boy. “Don’t forget we’ll be needing to stitch sail as well, lad, or leather, or a host of other things. A ship is more than wood, you know.”

And the boy had picked up his bone needle and attended John.

They chased the trade winds up the coast of America, stopping at Cuba for fresh water and becoming becalmed off the coast of Florida for a few days. The men took advantage of this to row into shore and return with a three-foot alligator, which they proceeded to roast for dinner that night. The animal was large enough that each man could have a pair of teeth, and soon alligator teeth necklaces were all the fashion among the Windies. The next day the wind picked up (to much cheering) and they set sail again for Charleston.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

chapter 5


"Seamus O'Brian."

Hollee squinted up at the new recruit. "Irish?"

The man nodded.

"Sign here, please. And I hope you will not be fighting on this voyage," Hollee added, as the man made his X.

O'Brian grinned, revealing two missing front teeth. "Only if ye want me to, sor," he said. He shook Hollee's hand and stood aside.

The navy press gang had managed to miss all of the Windsong's crew (no doubt because they were hiding underneath loose women or, in the case of Mr. Hartleby, in the church), but several men had opted not to sign back on. Hollee had hired three news hands and he was not displeased with them If they could do half the things they claimed, they would fit in well with the established Windies. The tide was tugging at the ship's bottom, the new mainsails sniffing hopefully at the wind. After the rainshower yesterday, the air was fresh and clear, and it was time to leave.


Fanny cocked her head. "Do you mean to tell me, Bell Hollee, that you have been here a whole week and have not come to see me?" She picked up her sewing, smiling. "Captain Nelson has been here twice already."

"Has he?" Hollee said, trying to keep his voice light. "I daresay he'll be busy once he decides to take possession of his ship. It's very good of him to entertain Josiah and let you have some leisure time."

Perhaps sensing she should not have mentioned the navy man, Fanny gracefully tacked the conversation. "And what about you? Where do you go next?"

"Charleston, but pray, do not mention that to Captain Nelson."

"Hollee, have I ever let you down?" she said, frowning playfully. "Why, when Captain Reeve was here the other night--did I ever for a moment let on that you and he were bosom companions?"

Hollee could not prevent himself from rolling his eyes. "It's a wonder that the Navy hasn't hauled you in for questioning, associating with a known American and a smuggler."

"I cannot believe the Navy doesn't have better things to do than to go chasing around after you. Why, there are rumors of a slave uprising to the North--never mind the fact that the Spanish are determined to increase their trade routes through here." Fanny had an instinctual understanding of the political web that overlaid the Caribbean islands, an understanding born of a woman's need to balance parties and conversations between feuding factions. "Honestly--just how much do they think you stand to make with your little ship?"

Hollee told her.

Fanny's eyebrows shot up into her hairline. "I beg your pardon, Bell, I had no idea it was so much."

"I'm afraid I am deceiving you somewhat, for the number is lower depending on many things. Whether the ship needs repairs, the amount of crew, if I must replenish my gunpowder, et cetera, whether or not I must pay bribes. But yes, I manage to do all right for myself." Hollee looked away. Talking about money in polite society, was normally taboo.He had not meant to impress Fanny with his business dealings, only to demonstrate--modestly--that there was quite a bit at stake. Fanny looked thoughtful as she pulled a tiny needle through a ruffled collar. Hollee continued, "That is to say, the number sounds much grander than it is."

"How wonderful to not have to constantly worry about money." This said softly and wonderingly.

"Yes. No worries--only the Navy, pirates, and, let's not forget, acts of God." Hollee smiled conspiratorially. Then he leaned forward. "Fanny. I must apologise for the way I acted last week. It was most improper and rude."

"Not at all--"

"Pray, let me finish. I wish I could give you all the things you ask for. But I cannot. You must believe me when I tell you that I cannot marry you, though I hold you in the highest esteem. I would like to," he said quietly. "But I cannot. I have had you in my thoughts all this week, however, and I believe that I have hit on an idea which I am hoping will be pleasing to you. Earlier I mentioned my riches only to demonstrate that I am quite capable of what I am offering. Which is to say--I would like very much to buy you and Josiah a house of your own, where you can live comfortably without worry about your uncle's temper."

Fanny naturally looked quite shocked and surprized at his statement, which was not at all what she had been expecting. Her sewing was sitting forgotten on her knees again as she looked at him, her eyebrows moving together and apart in confusion as she tried to piece together the logistics of what he was saying. Hollee let her work it out for a second before saying, "Please think about it. Take as long as you like. Don't feel you have to answer me now, but consider it, please."

"A house of my own?" Fanny said, coloring. "With no obligation on my part? A gift--a gift from one friend to another?"

"Yes--," Hollee said, confused, he thought he had made that perfectly clear.

"Oh Bell. What would people say?"

"They will say nothing. They will say, 'Look how well Fanny Nisbet is taken care of!' if they say anything. There is nothing untoward about buying a house for someone."

"Or they will say, 'What has Fanny Nisbet done to deserve such a beautiful house?' and the gossip will start. Thank you for the offer, but--"

"You haven't even considered it."

"There's nothing to consider, I'm afraid. It is a lovely gesture, but I cannot accept it."

"But your uncle--you made it sound quite serious."

"Oh, it is serious, you're quite right there."

"Well then?"

"Even then I cannot accept your generous offer. I would not do that to my reputation--nor Josiah's--nor yours. Don't scoff, Captain, you will spend all your time away from Nevis, you won't have to hear a thing, but I would, and it would hurt me."

"And if your uncle makes good on his threat?"

"Then I shall--" Fanny threw up her hands in exasperation, "I don't know, I suppose I shall go back to England and live with my husband's family. Or become a governess."

Hollee shuddered. "You would leave Nevis--and me--just like that? For England?"

"It is one option."

"I hate England."

"Don't be petulant, Bell, you haven't been in England for sixteen years."

"I beg your pardon. Please consider what I am offering."

"You offer me a house. Nothing more. You will not marry me, but you will buy me a house. Do you honestly think I should be flattered that you are willing to invest your money in me, but not your life? Bell--dearest friend--why are you so adamant you won't have me?" Fanny shrank into her chair, uncertain. Her eyes were locked on his, suddenly frightened. "Are you already married?"

All Hollee could see was his dearest friend sitting across from him, looking petrified, awaiting his answer. Their pause was broken by a yell from outside, then a slow winding cry, as of a small boy who has had the wind knocked out of him, but has finally gotten it back just in time to alert the whole world he has been greatly wronged. Fanny, with a mother's sense tuned to any change, broke her gaze with Hollee and dashed outside. For his part, the captain stood to follow her, but paused. Out on the lawn, Nelson and Fanny were kneeling over the prone Josiah, who had evidently fallen out of a tree. Fanny was alternately hugging him and shaking him, and Nelson was expertly feeling for broken bones. Having decided there were none, the two adults put him back on his feet, where Josiah clung to Fanny's skirts and settled in for a good cry. She picked him up and they moved back towards the house.

" shall have a biscuit, my love, that will make you feel better. And a nice tall glass of lemonade." All over the house, servant ears were pricking up at her words and black hands were already hurrying towards tins and boxes, preparing a tray for Master Josiah. "Captain Nelson, thank you so much for looking out for him."

"Not at all, not at all. I only wish I could have sprouted wings and stopped him from falling altogether."

The little party re-entered the parlor. Nelson was surprized to see Hollee, and it took him a second to remember who the man was. He made a small bow and Hollee returned it, then sat down abruptly in his chair. Josiah was snuffling at his mother's neck and she was wiping his tears away with her handkerchief. Hollee tried not to be too repulsed by the sight of the tiny red tear-streaked boy, a far cry from the obedient little lad who turned pages for his mother in his best coat. Nelson, Hollee also noted meanly, had a grass-stain on one knee, and his queue was quite undone. Nelson seemed to become aware of this fact a second after Hollee noted it, for he quickly brushed his hair back off his face, dislodging some small twigs as he did so.

The Navy captain seemed to regain some of his former poise as he sank into a chair, however. He sat primly on the last eight inches, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth.

"Thank you for taking Josiah outside," Fanny said. She continued to stroke her boy's hair as servants entered with a tray. They set it down noiselessly, replacing Fanny's cold teapot with a fresh one and disappeared. "I'm sure he appreciates it as well. Did you get to hold Captain Nelson's sword?" Fanny said to her son. Josiah nodded somberly, then more eagerly as he remembered the shiny gilt handle. "Was it heavy?"

"I could lift it!" he said and reached for a biscuit. Fanny intercepted his nose with her handkerchief and he blew noisily before finally getting his treat.

"He handled it very well," Nelson said gravely. "I am proud to say the English navy triumphed several times over the Americans this afternoon. Josiah will make a fine sailor some day."

Fanny smiled. "Why don't you go see if Susie needs some help in the kitchen?" she whispered to her son. He seemed loathe to leave this interesting world of adults, but after a few more prods and a couple more biscuits, he darted from the room, clattering down the hallway.

"They won't appreciate that I've sent him to them in the middle of the dinner preparations," Fanny said, smiling. "But perhaps he can be passed off to the barn. Come fall I must think about some schooling--I daresay he will be less than happy to sit quietly all day learning his lessons, but there it is." She decorously retrieved her sewing from where it had fallen in her flight and began to stitch once again.

Nelson was sipping tea, blowing on it to cool off the scalding liquid. Hollee marveled how quickly Fanny had moved through the moods of the afternoon. The emotional outburst between them had been replaced by the frantic worry and then soothing calm of a mother, and now she was once again the picture of the perfect hostess. His own heart was still hammering in his chest just from picturing her startled, drained face, looking at him with that uncertainty after she had turned down his offer. He felt as though he were sitting on a chair of nails--nothing could make him wish to stay, except that Nelson was sitting to his left. The stiff display he had demonstrated the week before was gone as if it had never existed, and he now looked perfectly at ease. Hollee felt an unfamiliar feeling race through him whenever he regarded the man.

Nelson continued to sip at his tea. Fanny seemed perfectly content to sew, and so the two men were forced to regard one another.

"Pray tell me, Captain Nelson, when do you take to your ship?" Hollee said, relieved to hear his voice in its normal register.

"Ah, three days from now. I have already been aboard to go over the ship's log and the papers with Captain Mannington, and to look over the crew, but we are still a few men short. As soon as my lieutenants have rounded up the requisite number, we shall set sail."

"Very good sir." Holle could not resist adding, "I hope you do not find any of my men, sir, we sail tomorrow. That is--if I have a full complement of seamen, naturally."

Nelson looked at him with interest. "Remind me again which ship is yours?" he said thoughtfully.

"The Windsong, Captain."

"Oh yes, of course. You must forgive me--I have met so many captains this past week, it is quite difficult to keep track of them all. Tell me, what is your destination once you shove off?"

Hollee felt the familiar mixed emotions moving within him. Really, for all his social posturing, the man had no idea how offensive he could be. Hollee felt like rising and leaving without saying a word. Instead he forced himself to reply. "Ch--Barbados, sir," he said. He could have bitten off his tongue. Instead of attending to the question he had let his dislike get the better of him and had practically admitted to the captain he was planning on breaking the law!

"Barbados, sir?" Nelson frowned. "Do you intend to take on a load of rum there?"

Hollee, who had blurted out the first island that came to mind south of Nevis, took a moment before he realised that Nelson was delicately asking if he participated in the slave trade. He straightened his back self-righteously. "Not at all, sir! I have a special commission to deliver some goods to Barbados."

"Ah, of course, forgive me."

"The Windsong has never been--nor will never be--a slaver," Hollee said vehemently. "I'd burn her to the waterline before I let her be used thus."

"Well said, sir. I couldn't agree more. It is a nasty, stinking business and no doubt about that." Nelson seemed pleased that they were in agreement on something, and Hollee could see the tally mark which made Hollee an ally in Nelson's fight against law-breakers. "And then off to England, I suppose?"

"Beg pardon?"

"You said you have private business in Barbados--then off to London, I suppose? A ship as tidy as the Windsong, you could sail her right up the Thames into the Pool."

Hollee was finding it harder to deceive Nelson than he thought.

"Bell never goes to England if he can help it," Fanny said softly. "He hates England." Her eyes never moved from her sewing, but Hollee knew he was being paid back for his earlier outburst.

"Hate England, Captain Hollee?" Nelson said, honestly aghast. "How can you hate our mother country? Our home? The country which gave us Magna Carta and the Glorious Revolution, not to say spawned the greatest Navy the world has ever seen?"

"I left England for good when I was sixteen," Hollee explained. "It is simply that I have seen other parts of the world I prefer more. And perhaps there are parts of the world I have not yet seen that I would prefer still more. So, to prefer England above all others when I have not yet seen all the world seems to be somewhat...hasty."

Nelson smiled broadly. "You sound like some of my midshipman--full of life and hope and anxious for adventure and their next horizon." Hollee and Nelson could not have been a year apart in age, and Hollee disliked this man talking down to him as though he were a boy. "You will realise though that the world is small, and we must always have a place to call home."

"And why can't I call Nevis home?" Hollee said softly. For the first time, Nelson seemed to pick up on the tension between Hollee and Fanny, and he looked quickly from one to the other. As soon as Hollee saw this, he rose. "I am afraid I have trespassed on your hospitality for too long, Mrs. Nisbet. Pray consider what I have said." He reached down and took Fanny's hand, kissing it gently. "I may be gone for quite some time, so please think of me often and write me a letter when you can." Fanny looked as though she were about to say something, but then thought better of it with Captain NElson in the room with them.

"Thank you for stopping by, Captain Hollee," she replied. "It is always good to see you."

Hollee and Nelson shook hands in a perfunctory manner, and then Hollee was walking down the hallway. He stopped in front of the sideboard where Nelson's hat and his were sitting side by side--his faded brown felt, Nelson's black and shiny with braid. They could not have been more different, just like the men who wore them. Fanny must have seen that. If Nelson had been visiting, she could not honestly still think they were alike in their ambitiousness. But which would she prefer? The familiar, brown hat, or the new, stiff black one with it's braid?

Jamming his hat on his head, Hollee stepped out into the blinding sunlight and started for the port and the Windsong. Ambitious. How could he be considered ambitious? He never wanted to be--he wanted to sail, to trade, to work and to be left alone. Look where ambition got you. He had offered to buy a house for Fanny and she had scorned his offer as though it were an offer to play cards. What would Nelson offer her, Hollee mused, that he could not? The answer came too quickly iand it hurt as though he had been thumped on the back of the head. Of course--marriage to a Naval captain, a man who would always have employment, room for promotion, room for ambitions. John Waggs no doubt would say that Bell was being foolish, that Fanny had only known Nelson a week and anyway, she loved him, but Hollee knew better: Nelson was about to ship out as well, he had to move quickly if he thought Fanny would be a good match. Then no doubt John Waggs would say to him, well, Bell, why do you care who she should marry, if y' will not? John's accent echoed in his head, as loud as a conscious. Yes, Bell thought, what should I care, if I do not marry her, about who does? She's only Fanny, after all.

But all the way back to the port, he was filled with unaccountable sadness. Only Fanny. Dear Fan.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

3.5 & Chapter 4

"Oh?" said John, "And how does the lady feel about this? She wants y' to marry her, doesn't she? What would she say if you told her you were thinking about a house instead?"

Hollee opened his mouth, but before he could reply, John held up his hand.

"I'm only sayin' mebbe y' should ask her first."

Chapter Four

By the time the week of enforced leisure was up, Bell Hollee thoroughly wished that he had never set foot on Nevis. Mr. Maccaby had pronounced himself well pleased with the stores that Hollee had brought ashore and had then spent an entire evening trying to convince Hollee to take several cases of fans to Boston. He seemed put out when Hollee refused, although he managed to sneak aboard a bolt of his famous red silk when Hollee wasn't looking. "We aren't selling to the loose women!" Hollee had said when he finally spotted it. "What merchant in his right mind would carry such fabric? It's blasphemy just to look at it!" But he had not removed it from the ship. Mr. Lamb, on the other hand, had sustained a bite from a cat while out taking his evening constitutional and was convinced it was the Windsong's beast. In his irking, non-offensive way he had conveyed to Hollee that should he become rabid he would hold the Windsong's captain responsible, prompting Hollee to hold out his hand and encourage Mr. Lamb bite him. "That way, sir, if you are in fact rabid, we shall both of us be mad together."

The ship's crew, naturally, finding themselves at leisure for a whole week, did not know what to make of it, and before three days were out, Hollee looked up from his desk to find three of his sailors standing sheepishly before him, their hats in their hands, looking for more pay. Hollee had directed them to Mr. Lamb, who could always use a few extra day-labourers, and had admonished them to follow the example of Mr. Hartelby (the ship's Methodist) next time. Mr. Pritchard at least had the good sense to get arrested with bribe money on him, so that he did not need to send for his captain to spring him out of gaol.

During his free hours, Hollee tidied his cabin, throwing away his old maps and purchasing a new set (so new they were drawn with "The United States of America" in place of the old colonies), sat in front of Queenie's unused fireplace and listened to her rail on about her dead lovers, and walked Nevis' beaches. He stayed at the Anchor and Crown for a pair of nights, waking both mornings with the sensation he was falling from his bunk--a sensation that was caused no doubt by the fact he was on solid land. The solitary actions were extraordinary. He was at perfect liberty to walk where he chose, to say whatever he wished and to sit perfectly still for long hours, options he could not enjoy aboard the Windsong. Perhaps it was knowing this that made him itch for his cabin and the constant attention that the sea required.

Then again, perhaps it was the pair of conversations he had had the first day he was here. Fanny's face continued to move in and out of his thoughts. And John's two cents' worth of advice rattled around as well, so that he was thoroughly confused. John was correct, absolutely, Fanny was no kin to him and therefore no consideration. And yet, he felt secure enough in his reputation that setting her up in a home of her own would reflect in no black mark either on her character or his own. It seemed such an elegant solution. He had enquired generally of Maccaby what sort of house his savings could afford and had learned that a modest dwelling on the edge of town was the best he could hope for. Enough room for Fanny and Josiah and a brace of servants to keep them comfortable. Certainly not the dozen room spread that was the Herbert plantation. But a comfortable dwelling.

"Mebbe y' should ask her first." John's pragmatic advice. Would Fanny be content in a house so small? Or was the more pertinent question--would Fanny be content in a house which he, Hollee, had bought for her? Would that be acceptable to her? It was all very well to create a plan and make enquiries if she was only going to turn him down. And soon, the obvious problem began to make itself clear: Hollee was going to have to return to the house to speak with Fanny. Their last confusing, awkward conversation was going to have to be addressed, clarifications made, explainations offered. Fanny's intentions could not have been clearer--she must be burning with embarassment for she had not contacted him in the past week--but what were Bell's intentions? Marry her. No. A house then. Yes. But what seemed so simple to him quickly became unravled in a tangled mess once he started to imagine the excrutiating conversation which must take place, a conversation which in his mind led more than once to tears and (on one memorable occasion) to his face being slapped.

So it was little wonder that Hollee put off the inevitable until the day before the Windsong set sail. Hollee had anxiously overseen the setting off the newly purchased mainsails that morning. After a fortifying lunch of kidneys, he turned his feet once more toward Herbert plantation. The day was hot and flat, the sun lolling in the sky like a impudent seagull that refuses to move when approached by a pedestrian. Sweat streamed out from under Hollee's hat as he moved briskly down the exposed boardwalk. Even the waves to his left seemed sluggish, they could barely must the energy to slap the wet sand before giving up and rushing back into the ocean, exhausted. Hollee had sent no word he was coming, and now he wondered if he should have at least sent a boy on ahead to give Fanny warning. What if she were in the middle of some project? (Although what ladies might do in the middle of the afternoon on a day like today Hollee had no idea) But, the plantation was coming into sight, it was too late now.

Nebuchanezzer was at the door as soon as Hollee came up the stairs. He seemed nervous when he took Hollee's hat, although he smiled widely as ever. "Mrs. Nesbit be in t' parlor," he said, gesturing. And he disappeared, leaving Hollee to walk forward through the spacious rooms alone.

The French doors leading to the patio were open wide as they had been on the night of the party, although this time sheer curtains moved sluggishly in the lazy breeze. Hollee quickly patted his forehead with a handkerchief, then paused as he turne to enter the parlor. A boy's yell had come from the backyard, and a second later Josiah went tumbling past, wearing a tricorn covered with gold braid and carrying a bright sword. He circled around and leapt onto a chair, brandishing the sword for all he was worth.

"Ye dogs!" his voice was sqeaky with excitement, "Ye cowardly American dogs! Come out and fight like men!"

"Who calls us cowards?!"

"I do! I do! Captain Nisbet!"

"The Captain Nisbet who fought Blackbeard and Barbarossa and beat them off single-handedly in the middle of the night with only a pair of cannon and a rusty cutlass?"


"I hear he is a fearsome captain, but we shall have his ship for a prize and make it the flagship of the American Navy! For England! England!"

Small branches and twigs began to fly at Josiah, evidently "cannonballs" for they were accompanied by the sound of explosions, courtesy of the unseen player. Josiah called for his cannon to be rolled into position and began to return fire with a store of his own sticks. To Hollee's great surprize, the second speaker suddenly hove to into view--none other than Captain Nelson. His hair was askew, his arms were full of ammunition. The battle continued under Hollee's amazed eyes, until it became clear that Captain Nelson (or rather, the scurvy American dogs) were surely getting the worst of it. He sank to his knees--still "firing" valiantly--and Josiah boarded him by running up and dumping the rest of his ammunition directly onto Nelson's buff waistcoat and headbutting him for good measure. Nelson laughed, and his laugh was echoed in the room off to Hollee's right. He turned.

Fanny was sitting in the parlour, in front of the windows, her lap covered with forgotten sewing. Hollee suddenly realised he had been perfectly framed in the parlor door, and Fanny had been watching him as avidly as she had been watching her son play with the navy captain. She smiled at Hollee before turning and calling out the window: "Now Josiah, please, don't sink your prize or he won't come around to play with you. Captain Nelson--pray, if he gets too be a handful, do send him in to me!" She turned to Captain Hollee. "I daresay I am a bit more threatening than the American Navy. It's good to see you, Bell. Tea? Or something cooler?"

Hollee found himself quite wrong-footed. All his imagined conversations had started out with a startled, stammering Fanny needing to be reassured by his quiet, manly insistence that the conversation the week before had changed nothing between them. The smiling, perfectly at ease Fanny before him had been totally unanticipated.

"I..." he said, mentally cursing himself for such a brilliant beginning. "I wanted to speak to you to--to finish our conversation of the past week." That at least, had the effect of fading Fanny's smile somewhat. He hurried on. "However, as you have a guest, we can speak of it another time. Or perhaps I should call again."

"Oh, no, do sit down. We are hardly a party of three, as you can see," Fanny said, gesturing out the window where Nelson had been induced by his conquerer to hoist him into a palm-tree. "Do sit down and visit for awhile. We needn't speak of anything, if you like."

Watching Nelson handle Fanny's son so easily and familiarily made Hollee suddenly want to know how long the man had been there and if he had come before. He forced himself into the room, taking a chair that would not permit a clear view of the yard. A servant entered and left a glass of lemonade on the table beside him. It was cool and sweet when he lifted it to his lips, as much to avoid conversation as to cool his palate.

"I sail tomorrow," he said finally. "In the morning, if my crew remembers, that is. I thought I should be the world's rudest person if I did not call on you."

"I am very glad to see you," Fanny said, and for a second all was mended between them, it was as if no conversation had taken place and no interloper was present in the garden. Bell relaxed somewhat.