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.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Hollee looked confused.

"But that is precisely what I am proposing to do."

Saturday, February 23, 2008


John did not argue with him.

“I have other things to worry about—my business,” Hollee hurried on, trying to explain himself. “Which may seem selfish, but think of our reputation—think of our crew. I cannot allow myself to get distracted just now.”

“Fan’s a distraction now, is she?”

“You know what I mean. Up until yesterday we were friends, nothing more. Now it is most confusing.”

“So you’d rather things carried on as before, only instead a’ visiting her by her Uncle Herbert, you’ll do it in a house you buy for her. Sounds clear as mud to me,” John said. Hollee sighed.

“She is a woman, she is supposed to be looked after by her kin. I don’t know why she wants me to help her out.”

“Did she ask for your help?”

“Not directly, no.”

“Perhaps she’d like to be kin to you, Bell, did y’ ever think a’ that?”

“I don’t even understand why she is so worried. Certainly she must have money left to her by her husband. Surely she could fend for herself.”

“And who do you think’s looking out for her money right now? D’ y’ honestly think she could walk into a bank and open an account there? And what about when Josiah gets older and needs a father? She’s thinking about him as well, Bell.”

Hollee opened his mouth to speak and then paused. The memory of the night before flashed across his mind—his hair is the same colour as yours—funny that, for he had been thinking precisely the same thing about Fanny’s hair.

“…determined to be stubborn, then leave the poor woman alone. Y’ can’t set her up in a house you bought for her and not expect her to expect certain things. You’re right, you know—you’re no kin to her, you’ve no reason to feel like you need to help her. So stay away from her.”

Friday, February 22, 2008


The events of the night had been sloshing around in Hollee’s brain, and now they started to form a coherent pattern. “I did. I think we have a problem, John. The man is named Nelson—and he is the king’s man through and through. He swore to me that he was duty-bound to uphold the king’s laws. I don’t mean that he is an honest man, only that he has a very clear sense of what is right and what is wrong. His king is right, and so, therefore, we must be wrong.” He sighed. “It is very discouraging.”

John considered. “The way I see it, y’ have two choices. Y’ can either take on a cargo and run your chances, or, y’ can stay away for awhile, and see how other captains fare.”

“I could also abide by the law, don’t forget.”

“Tha’s true,” John said unhelpfully. He slurped his coffee. “There’s plenty a’ colonies left, after all. No sense in running up to America if it’ll only bring you grief. Why not think more on what Mr. Maccaby was saying? You could sell the Windy, buy a new ship, start running in and out a’ England. Or Africa, if you like.”

Hollee blanched. “I would never consider becoming a slaver!” he said vehemently.

“Did I say slaves. I did not. There’s other things come out a’ Africa besides slaves, I’m bound.”

“I was thinking about buying a house, actually.”

John looked at him, surprised. “Were you now? What brought that on?”

Hollee realized the turbulence in his mind had less to do with that man Nelson (Nelson he could handle when the time came), than it did with the image of Fanny looking at him, so disappointed and so beautiful in the moonlight. He leaned toward his first mate, intending to convey the conversation of the night before when his field of vision was once more cut off by Queenie’s calico-covered bosom. She heaved a plate of sausages and beef onto the table, followed by a bowl of hard-boiled eggs, then a small wooden trencher of salt and finally, another mug of coffee. Hollee pulled the coffee towards him and sipped it delicately. It burned his throat, but the fresh, strong taste was worth the pain.

Queenie sat down on the other side of him. She was wearing a red calico dress with a flamboyant yellow apron pinned over the top of it. Her grizzled grey hair was tied up under a piece of the same material. It was rumored that her mother had been the most famous beauty in the whole islands, and her father had been a Navy admiral, but the only hint of her parentage left was her flawless, coffee-with-milk coloured skin and her startling hazel eyes. The only wrinkles on her face appeared when she smiled, pointing directly to those eyes. She patted Hollee on his arm and gave his hand a squeeze.

“Now then, Master Bell, it is good to see ye,” she said approvingly. “I can’t remember t’ last time you been in here. I been looking out for you ever seen Captain Reeve came looking for you last week—“ Hollee groaned inwardly—was the whole island to know he knew that dreadful man?—“and then, last night, Mr. John here comes in for supper and I says ‘Now where is your captain, John?’ and bless me if he doesn’t tell me you’ve been invited up to Mr. Herbert’s big house. Well! You could ha’ knocked me over wit’ a feather, that’s the truth. Aren’t we moving in some mighty fine circles now, aren’t we?”

“Mr. Hollee was just about to tell me about tha’ party, Queenie,” John put in, his eyes glowing mischeviously.

“I thought I had,” Hollee replied peevishly.

“Only that you did not care for the king’s new man, on account a’ he’s determined to uphold the king’s law—which is no reason to dislike a man, Bell.”

“Is that what everyone’s so hot under t’ collar about?” Queenie said. “No one tells me anything. Yesterday, it’s all my mens can talk about—this captain, that captain—I can’t keep all a’ ye straight!”

“Captain Mannington is going back to England—“

“Oh, I never liked him, he never come in here.”

“—and he is being replaced by a new man, who, I suspect, you’ll not see in here either,” Hollee finished succinctly.

“Oh, then I don’t like him either.”

“Just so.” Hollee took another sip of his coffee and when he found it had cooled somewhat took a larger gulp. “See John? No sugar, no milk—just the way God intended.”

“If God had not wanted me to have sugar, he would not have made it taste so wonderful,” John said reasonably. “But come now—surely you did not spend all night disliking the new fellow. What’s the news up at the Herbert House? Did you see Miss Fanny?”

“Do you mean Mrs. Nisbet?”

John grinned impishly. “The very one.” Fanny had actually had the grizzled old sailor to tea one afternoon, an event which John never quite got over—the beautiful young woman serving him tea in fine bone china, his callused fingers so thick he could barely hold the delicate teacups. “I hope you passed along my compliments.”

“I did not, unfortunately, because you forgot to send them.”

Queenie smacked him affectionately on the back of the head. “You be no gentleman, Bell Hollee!” she crowed.

Hollee inclined his head, shrugging. “You can’t say fairer than that.”

John looked at Hollee’s face. Hollee’s expression had gone from its normal peevish haughtiness to something a little sadder and more unguarded. “Hollee—you did speak to t’ woman last night, did y’ not?”

“Of course I did, John, she was the only person there I knew!”

“And she’s all right-she’s not sick or anything, is she?”

“Not to the best of my knowledge.”

Queenie had picked up on the subtle clues that were passing between John and Bell with a woman’s intuition. She leaned back slightly and put one weighty forearm on the table. “Bell Hollee, you be in love wi’ that woman!” she said, aghast. Bell Hollee had never, to the best of her understandings, been in love with anyone.

“Oh, for God’s sake, Queenie!”

But Hollee might as well have jumped up on the table and reciting poetry, for his swift outburst only confirmed what Queenie could see written across his face, plain as day. Her eyes quickly retreated back into their crow’s nest of wrinkles as she smiled broadly. “Well, that is the beatenest thing, I do declare! Bell Hollee—in love. And she? What does she think of that?”

Hollee refused to answer, instead cutting up his sausages and delivering them to his mouth with a speed which quite defied imagination. Queenie refused to be put off. She leaned forward to speak around Hollee to John, with the effect that Hollee was even more squashed between the two. “Did you know anything about this?”

“No, I never did, by my soul. All I thought they was was friends. What do you think about it?”

“I think Miss Fanny could do worse. Oh—she could do better too, that’s the truth.”

“D’ you know, Mr. Hollee just told me, just now, tha’ is, that he was thinking about buying a house. I was wondering who was going to look after the place while he was at sea, well, now I know, I guess.”

“You are jumping to wild speculations. You have nothing to back up your claims, which are most spurious at any point, and false, and I should call you out for infamy, John, if you weren’t so ancient and you, Queenie, if you didn’t suffer from a most ill-timed malaise, by that I mean the curse of your sex, by that I mean—oh—“ for Hollee had gotten quite lost in his sentence by this point, “Oh, cease this at once. You are being foolish. And there is nothing further to discuss.”

Queenie had been chuckling softly, but she stopped when she saw that Hollee was really—truly—angry. Her face grew serious and her voice came more softly. She patted his arm. “Bell,” she said, “You know how I care for ye, and I worry about ye, and not just when you’re gone for weeks at a time, no. You a man who needs looking after. You a man who could benefit a great deal from a wife, just remember that.” She patted his arm again and rose. “I get you some more coffee.”

As she moved away from them, John leaned in. Hollee turned, ready fend off his jokes again, but the sailor’s face had grown as grave as Queenie’s. “I jest, Bell, but is it true? D’y’ love her?”

Hollee did not look directly at him. “It hardly matters where my feelings come into this, it appears,” he said dryly. “Fanny told me a most disturbing piece of news last night—a secret I cannot share with you, John, I’m sure you understand—“ John nodded “—but if it’s true, she will need a new place to call home by the end of August.” Hollee paused. “I cannot think so ill of Herbert, but I have no doubt that what she told me of his conduct is true. And I cannot bear to think of Fanny out on the charity of her poor cousins, or worse, working for herself. So perhaps, I could buy her a house. A small house, to be sure, but a place of her own. There—living on her own, or perhaps with another lady, she would be quite protected from harm or the winds of change.” Hollee put his hands flat on the table, staring down at his half-eaten breakfast. “She would like to marry me, John. I believe she loves me, and I even…I could even go so far as to say I have feelings for her.” Hollee raised his eyes to his friend’s. “But I cannot marry her.”

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Bell Hollee has slept aboard his ship. He had walked back to the port feeling oddly ill at ease, and had decided to sleep alone rather than face the jocularity of the Anchor and Crown. He had stripped of John’s coat and his own cream waistcoat, folded them neatly and put them over the back of a chair, then taken off his silk stockings. As he lay down the last thought that rose up out of the tumult of his mind was—“I shall never get to sleep tonight”—and as so many before him who have laid down with that thought, he was out almost immediately.

When the sun woke him the next morning, he was lying in practically the same position in the narrow bunk, lying on his back, his arms loose beside him. He got up and dressed in his “uniform” then went quickly on deck. No one was about except for the lad who had been stationed on the dock by Mr. Lamb to ensure that no one boarded the Windsong. He tugged his forelock at Hollee as the captain passed, in an admirable imitation of a seasoned sailor. Hollee nodded at the boy. He had drunk just enough wine last night to make the sun unpleasant, bouncing off the water and into his eyes.

When he finally entered the Crown, the first person he laid eyes on, thankfully, was John. His first mate was tucking into a plateful of bread smothered in molasses and fruit with relish, a huge pot of coffee by his elbow. Hollee removed his hat and went over quickly to sit beside him.

“Well now, here’s a sight! I thought you’d stay here last night, but we didn’t see you come in. Queenie had a song circle going last night, you missed out on some good tunes.”

“Did I,” Hollee said absently. As if summoned by the sound of her name. Queenie appeared. She was even larger than Hollee remembered—but then again, perhaps his perception was somewhat altered by the fact she was engulfing him in her giant bosom.

“My dar’ boy! How are you! Oh, it be so good to see you—I told Johnnie here we’s better see you this time, or I’m going to have to come down to t’ Windsong myself!” Queen backed away, her hands on her hips. She scrutinized his face. “Oh no. Oh no—this will never do, you are too thin by half. Will you take some breakfast like Mr. Waggs here, or do you want a proper feed?”

“Bacon would be lovely—or beef if you have it,” Hollee said, sharing Queenie’s despairing looks at John’s odd breakfast. “And eggs. And—coffee!” he shouted, for Queenie had already begun to make her way back to the kitchen. She cut a swath through her patrons, her backside shining like a stern beacon through the drab colors of the men’s suits.

“Coffee?” John said, pushing his mug over to Hollee. He raised it to his lips, then scowled.

“You’ve put sugar in it.”

“Tis still coffee.”

Hollee considered the truth in this statement and took another swig.

John continued plugging away at his breakfast. “So,” he said, with a mouthful of food. “Did y’ meet the new man?”

The events of the night had been sloshing around in Hollee’s brain, and now they started to form a coherent pattern. “I did. I think we have a problem, John. The man is named Nelson—and he is the king’s man through and through. He swore to me that he was duty-bound to uphold the king’s laws. I don’t mean that he is an honest man, only that he has a very clear sense of what is right and what is wrong. His king is right, and so, therefore, we must be wrong.” He sighed. “It is very discouraging.”

John considered. “The way I see it, y’ have two choices. Y’ can either take on a cargo and run your chances, or, y’ can stay away for awhile, and see how other captains fare.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

chapter 3

When Hollee stayed on Nevis (which was rare, he preferred his cabin aboard the Windsong), he stayed at the Anchor and Crown, a rambling pub and hotel which had started out as a three-room building and gradually been added on to over the years. The clientele were men much like himself, seafarers, largely sensible men with wives and children back home, who needed a clean place for a night or two. The tiny rooms were undecorated and had hardly anything to recommend them, but the pub was the other extreme, packed with a mishmash of tables, chairs, lurid posters and broadsheets covering the walls while heavy wooden chandeliers cast light over the assorted guests. The stone floor was covered in dried reeds, and a huge fireplace at the end of the room was hardly ever lit, owing to the heat generated by the usually full room. Instead, a stuffed vulture perched on the grate while soot steadily blackened his red head. More animals were scattered around, an owl stood guard over the door and a fox kept watch over one end of the bar. Squirrels were abundant, and a few sad fish had made their final home in niches carved in the wall—far from their native element. Bell found the atmosphere of genial anonymous fun relaxing after being constantly watched on deck of the Windsong.

Then there was Queenie, an enormous old mulatto woman whose cooking was famous for a thousand miles. She ruled over the establishment—and her husband—with a personality that was like a hurricanoe. Many times her patrons had been woken by her early in the morning as her voice rose in argument with the village’s greengrocer, haggling over the price of fresh vegetables. Her husband ran the brewery out back, and his ales were only slightly less famous than his wife’s cooking. He was nearly as big as his wife, and not shy about raising his voice to match hers. Together they quarreled, laughed and worked together, creating the most successful establishment on Nevis.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Hollee stopped at the edge of the patio, feeling acutely as though he were invading on some private scene. It was not just the press of Navy uniforms either, he felt as though he was watching the polite dance in front of him through a thin veil. There were not enough partners for the ladies, and some of the men were standing off to one side, observing and smoking thin cigars. They seemed so perfectly of this world for a moment Hollee felt an irrational urge to dash a glass of red wine all over those neat buff waistcoats. He was suddenly very aware of the perfidous document in his pocket as though it were smouldering and burning him through the fabric of his coat. He couldn’t fit in with these peacocking Navy men, had no desire to fit in with Reeve’s unwieldy armada, all he wanted was to be left alone, to his ocean, his Windsong, to travel in peace. He wondered if the Navy men were talking about him, murmuring rude questions about the odd man out in the green coat who had been pulled away from the party. He had only been gone for five minutes—but the party had moved forward without him, leaving him behind, foundering.

And now he noticed that Fanny was dancing with Nelson. Hollee had no sense for such things, but he supposed the man moved well enough—although he looked rather odd, being an inch or so shorter than Fanny. He appeared to be doing all the talking. At least, his mouth moved continually as they moved through the different sets of the dance. Captain Hardy was making a decorous turn with Mary who was smiling and working her dimples at him. Either the man was blind or unaffected because he kept his face politely straight.

Fanny had such a lovely uncomplicated life, Hollee mused as he slunk off to the buffet and busied his hands with a small plate of cheeses. He chased that with a few slices of mango, then reached for another glass of wine. The niece of the president, she could move in any social circle she wished—yet without performing the stringent duties of a hostess. An opportunity to meet as many eligible bachelors as she could wish. With her calm good manners, but lively interest in society, she would be a welcome addition to any gathering. And there was no pressure on her. No one could deny that she had been a wanted woman—her son Josiah, who was presently being relieved of a glass of wine by his wearied nurse was proof of that. Not like Herbert’s daughter, who laughed gaily at the slightest remark said by any man of rank. That was it, Hollee decided, she had no need to marry every again, should she choose, and so she was free to be her own sweet self.

The last thought was not analyzed by his swift moving brain, but floated across his mind and disappeared like a soap bubble so that he hardly realized it had occurred to him to label her “sweet.” The minuet ended and the dancers applauded the musicians, who rose to take a brief intermission. Nelson turned to make some remark to Fanny, only to discover that she had left his side and was walking towards Hollee. The captain offered her his glass and she took it, taking a sip of the wine.

“It’s warmer out there than it looks!” Fanny said, fanning herself and smiling. “Where were you? What happened with Captain Reeve?” she added, dropping her voice.

“He attempted to press me into the American navy,” Hollee said, returning her smile. “I told him I was not interested in becoming a traitor to the British crown, and I asked him to leave you alone.”

“Did you really?” Fanny said, looking a trifle disappointed.

“Don’t tell me you enjoy his company!” Hollee said.

“He has such thrilling stories, you know, they quite break up my day.”

“I assure you, he is making half of them up.”

“Oh really? And what about yourself—I hope you are not making up your stories as well.”

“I should hope not. I have enough drama in my life without embroidering upon it.”

“Captain Reeve does not embroider. He has a very difficult job, protecting such a new nation.”

“Fanny, next you shall tell me you are about to move to Boston and become a rebel against our king!”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Fanny waved her hand vaguely and a damp curl stirred in the night air. “It’s all rather confusing. I try to read the newspapers that Uncle gets from London, but they’re full of so many names, so many politicians shouting against one another. But when you describe it—when Captain Reeve explains it—why, then it makes perfect sense.”

“What makes perfect sense, if I may be so bold as to enquire?”

“Your justification for breaking the king’s law, naturally. After all you have been trading in these waters since you were sixteen, and your uncle before that. Why should you stop now just because the king—who has never been to the West Indies, so far as I know—passes a decree?”

“My God, Fanny, you are a patriot.”

“I’m certain that trying to avoid the British navy is not an enviable task—“

“Smugglers avoid the British navy, I am a legitimate trader. Why, even today I was boarded by Captain Mannington, who looked over my papers with a most scrutinizing eye before he let me go on my way. But not after a long and, I must say, tearful lecture about my duty to the British crown and the Acts which govern our lands—“

Hollee had let himself carry on a bit, watching a smile spread across Fanny’s face, so that he did not realize that Nelson had crept up to stand beside him until he heard the man say “Yes sir! By God! Just so, sir!” Hollee was so startled he nearly leapt back. He turned his head quickly and gazed at the naval man who was standing next to him, ramrod straight, his eyes shining with a fervent light. Fanny seemed nearly as surprised as Hollee was and after his outburst, Nelson seemed slightly embarrassed and more subdued. But he continued to stand as straight as a poker.

“Sir, I’ve no doubt you’ve heard that Captain Mannington was removed from the Boreas for failing to adequately enforce the king’s laws,” Nelson said quietly, delicately. Hollee nodded.

“I am sir, and I am sorry to hear it. The captain and I were good friends. Indeed, I have had the priviledge of knowing him for nearly my entire career. You have the misfortune, if I may make so bold, of filling a very large pair of shoes.”

Nelson nodded solemnly. “I have no doubt but that I am ready for the challenge,” he said, with no trace of self-mockery. “I am glad to hear that you at least understand the importance of extending England’s laws even to the most remote of her isles. It would pain me greatly, sir, now that I have had the pleasure of meeting you, of having to arrest you!” And he gave a sort of hoarse laugh, the first sound of merriment that had escaped from his lips that evening.

“But sir,” Fanny said, her expression going somewhat empty and blank, “would you not say it is unfair to those poor merchants who have plied their trade between America and the Indies for so long now, only to have them be cut off from their sources of income?”

“Unfair?” Nelson frowned again. “I do not say what is unfair or not. It is not up to me to decide such matters, it is up to me to enforce the law. It is Parliament--the king--who says what is fair and what is not—and he has made it most ardently clear that he does not wish rebel colonists to gain by trading in his waters.” Fanny’s question had made Nelson look at her suspiciously, but she continued to imitate her empty-headed cousin and smiled at him so that his fears were assuaged. “Shall we toast the king?” Nelson cried, reaching for a glass of wine. He leaned back and included his fellow Naval men in his question. “Gentlemen? I give you—the King!”

They drank heartily, and went on to toast the Queen, her children and England, and each time Nelson threw back a quantity of wine so that he had quite finished the glass by the end of it. Hollee on the other hand sipped quietly. After the toasting was done, the musicians picked up their instruments again and set off into another minuet. Before Nelson could ask, Hollee had scooped up Fanny’s arm and was leading her onto the dance floor.

So that was how it was going to be—there would be no bribing this man. All his fears were coming true. Nelson and he might agree on loyalty to the king, but their agreements faded the further away from London they got. Whereas Nelson saw only the firm outlines of red British colonies all over the world, where laws were meant to be enforced equally from Calcutta to Nevis, Hollee saw the holes where the map had worn through, where there was room to maneuver and room to make allowances.

Bell Hollee had been taught to dance by John Waggs, a secret that he guarded feverishly. Where John had learned to dance, Hollee had no idea, but the first mate had dragged him into the cabin one afternoon when he had received an invitation to a soiree and had said, “Now then. If you’re going to go mixing with polite society and quality folk, you’re going to need to learn your steps.” Hollee had been a sullen pupil and—to his horror—a very good one. Dancing had come as naturally as tying knots, as balancing on the deck of a rolling ship. After being accepted into “polite society” there had been no need for a refresher course, for the ladies, as soon as they saw what an excellent figure he cut on the dance floor, were eager to teach him the latest steps.

Fanny moved gracefully through the other ladies, her grey eyes demurely on him. They came together and sprang apart with a light touch, his hand on her back, now on her shoulder. Fanny was right, it was hot out here, but Hollee suspected his temperature also had something to do with his roiling mind. He forced himself to focus on his partners, moving down the line until it came time to swing Fanny around again. He was able to accomplish this much more easily than Nelson, being several inches taller than Fanny and a small, mean part of his mind was glad for it.

After that dance came another, then another, and Hollee found himself quite unwilling to let Fanny go, although the gentlemanly thing to do would have been to share her, as there were not enough females in the party. Nelson continued to stand by the buffet table, making small talk with the other captains, although he joined in for the last dance when Captain Hardy begged off an ardent suitor. Then it was time to go inside. The servants brought the gentlemen glasses of port and several of the ladies made noises about going home. But Mistress Mary had been practicing a new solo and she was determined to end the evening with a recital. So the company ranged itself on a selection of chairs in the parlor and paid polite attention.

Fanny accompanied her cousin. Josiah, defying the odds and his inclination towards sleepiness, had been appointed page-turner and was sitting next to her. His back was straighter than Nelson’s, his eyes feverishly bright with pride at being given this most important task. The song began, a quavery one about love lost or some such nonsense. Hollee was fairly certain he had heard the song on Aruba several weeks ago. Mary held her hand theatrically to her bosom and squeezed a well-timed tear out of one eye, her audience sighing with appreciation.

But Hollee was distracted by Fanny. Something about her had changed, he didn’t know what. It felt as though—it felt as though he was seeing her for the first time, although he had been looking at her steadily for the past hour. Something about the arc of her neck, the glow of the candles on her face, even her small nods to her tiny son were painfully familiar and yet at the same time, undeniably new. He felt the same way he did the first time he had stepped on the Windsong as her captain. They had just buried old Hollee and he had returned to the ship to take her into St. Kitt’s for a new cargo, but the second he stepped aboard the familiar boards they seemed to ring with a new importance and expectations. Yes, that was the feeling exactly—and as before, he had no explanation for it.

The song ended. Applause—Hollee joined in a beat too late. Mary gave several gracious curtseys and then she and Fanny rose to see their guests out the door. The carriages had been made ready while Mary was singing, and they were standing outside. President Herbert was in his element, shaking hands and pounding men on the back, extracting promises of return, assuring everyone that they would meet again soon. The furor was quite overwhelming—so much so that Nebuchanezzer had forgotten Hollee’s hat. He apologized profusely and shot off to fetch it.

“I daresay you’ve had enough on your mind tonight,” Hollee said when the man returned. Nebuchanezzer bowed and Mary came forward, swooping in to kiss Hollee on the cheek.

“You were magnificent! Squiring cousin Fan about all evening. What a gentleman!” she cooed. “You must come back again. I shall speak to Father—we must have another party soon!” Hollee was grateful that Fanny seemed distracted with Josiah and did not hear this. He smiled and nodded.

“Another party?” Herbert boomed, “Capital idea. Just give me long enough to lay in another supply of cheeses—these fellows have quite cleaned me out, but I daresay you can’t blame them, eh?” He grinned and was greeted by shouts of approbation. There was a loud crack! and the carriages began to move off. Herbert shook Hollee’s hand, his face red with excitement and too much brandy. Already Nebuchanezzer was waiting patiently to take his master to bed. “So good to see you, man! What a night, eh? Eh?”

Hollee had nothing to say to this, so he merely attempted to meet the force in Herbert’s grip, with no success. Herbert nodded one last time and turned away, Mary swooping up to meet him.

Hollee turned to look for her and she was there.

“I thought I might walk with you until the end of the drive,” Fanny said softly. “If you don’t mind.” Hollee offered her his arm. Josiah scampered on in front of them and Fanny waved away the nurse.

It was darker in front of the house, the road a silver path through the black trees. They paused, allowing their eyes to adjust to the darkness.

“Josiah, don’t go too far ahead, there are tigers in the forest!” Fanny warned. The little boy came running back. He launched himself into Hollee’s arms, wrapping his arms around Hollee’s neck and nearly unseating his hat.

“Are there really? Really tigers?” he asked anxiously.

“Oh now,” Hollee said frowning. “No. No I should think there are not. No, I think they were all eaten by the dragon, weren’t they, Mrs. Nisbit?” Josiah, terrified, burrowed into his shoulder while Fanny hid a smile.

They walked on, cool night breezes swirling around their ankles.

“What did you think of Nelson?” Fanny asked quietly, breaking the silence. Hollee frowned, he did not like the man invading their private minutes together.

“I did not like him,” Hollee said honestly, “I found him too ambitious.”

Fanny laughed. “I rather thought he reminded me of you,” she said. “You’re both very proud, very eager to do what is proper and right. Although you have different ideas about what is right and what is proper.” She patted his arm to show that she meant no offense.

“Do you find me proud, then? I did not mean to give offence.”

“I do not find your pride offensive. It is endearing, because you are so proud of your ship and your travels. You are very eager to please.”

“Am I now.”

“You want everyone to love you.”

“Fanny, I must confess, the more you strive to explain yourself, the less I like the explanation.”

“Oh, pray, do not be offended. I am merely elaborating on my meditation of your character. You are steady and proud of your steadfastness.”

“I sound like a very boring fellow.”

“Not at all. Did you see how Nelson flitted about, talking of his accomplishments to anyone who would listen? Now, he is a proud fellow, but proud of himself, of what he’s accomplished. I don’t think he had been there twenty minutes before he was spouting off about some action with the American navy, when everyone knows their navy is nothing to speak of. And he is a terribly poor dancer.”

Hollee was inexplicably pleased with this statement.

“I found your piano playing most enjoyable.”

“Thank you.”

“And you, Master Josiah, your page-turning was to be commended.”

But Master Josiah had fallen asleep on Hollee’s shoulder and was curled up there like a worn-out puppy who’s been playing too fiercely. Hollee lifted his eyes to Fanny’s face and found she was staring at him with a sad half-smile on her face.

“Tuppence for your thoughts.”

“Oh, you’ll think I’m silly. Just a mother’s foolishness.”

“When have I ever thought you silly?”

“You will.”

“I won’t.”

“Well then. I was merely thinking how similar Josiah’s hair colour is to yours.”

Hollee was quiet for a second. “Does he take after his father at all? I always thought he looked rather like you.”

“No, Mr. Nisbet was much given to fat, he had very round cheeks. Not like my little whippet here.” She brushed some of Josiah’s curls out of his face. Hollee realized she was fighting off some inner emotion.

“Fanny, what is it?” A war had broken out within him—part of Hollee’s soul urgently wanted to know what could have made Fanny look so sad, and another part of him warned that if he asked this question their friendship would never be the same. But what kind of friend would he be if he did not ask it?

They had reached the end of the drive and Fanny sat down on the low stone wall there. She slipped off her dancing slippers and sunk her feet into the sand, just as Hollee had done hours previously. “My uncle has sworn he will not feed me past the end of the summer,” she began quietly. “He is quite adamant that I must marry and get out of his house, that he has fulfilled his duty as my relative, but that the time has come as he put it. He says—oh, you mustn’t think harshly of him, Bell, he means well, but he is under a terrible amount of strain and he says things like this when he is upset. He says the most terrible things and shouts at me and suggests that perhaps I do not want another husband that I am not trying like…like Mary…” Fanny’s eyes remained dry, but her voice trailed off and she sighed. “I am very sorry to burden you with this, Bell, but I know I can trust you to keep a secret for me. It is quite embarrassing. The truth is, I have never found another man I wished to have as a husband. I was quite happy with Mr. Nisbit, we—“ but here her voice abandoned her completely and she blushed. She might be willing to take Hollee into her confidences, but there were still things it was not decent to speak about.

Hollee stood in front of her awkwardly. He had begun to grow warm where Josiah was lying against his breast, the hot little body pressed into his cream-coloured waistcoat and borrowed jacket. The child was draped over him so trustingly, so naturally that Hollee was acutely aware that when Fanny looked at him, she would not be able to tell easily where her son ended and Hollee began. Holle was also aware that this was a moment when something could be said—something should be said, for she was looking up at him so trustingly, so beseechingly. But there was—there was— That newness about her had not left her, and it made her beautiful in the moonlight.

“I am very sorry for your worries,” he said. His voice was loud. It cut into the tranquility of the night. Fanny’s brows furrowed; that was not quite it. “I wish there was something I could do to help you.”

Something closed up in Fanny’s face and she smiled politely. “Yes, well. Thank you for listening to me. You always were a good friend.” She reached up for the sleeping Josiah. For a fleeting second their hands brushed against each other, and then Fanny leaned in and brushed her lips against the corner of his mouth. She had aimed there deliberately, allowing him to choose whether it should be a gentle peck on the cheek or a romantic, full-blooded kiss, but he did not turn his head, and her lips landed on the corner of his, her touch as light as a feather. Although she was the one who had instigated it, she became uncertain, pulling Josiah closely to her while she watched his face. For a second, Hollee thought she was going to shake his hand.

“Good night,” she said, backing away into the darkness.

“Farewell,” said he, lifting his hat to her. The kiss—and her smell—lingered in the darkness like powder after cannon fire. His heart was leaping about in his chest, adrenaline surging through his veins. Her perfect figure was a white shadow disappearing as she moved away from him, but he could not stop himself from watching her. Good God she was in love with him! The sudden knowledge hit him like a rolling wave and nearly knocked the breath out of him. An uncertain, unbidden grin rose up to his lips, only to be wiped away as more thoughts crowded in. He could marry her. He could—she wanted him to marry her. The stupidity that occasionally blinds men lifted like a curtain and he saw each of their previous meetings in a new light, each look, each touch, each laugh, each shared grin-- He could marry her. He could run after her right now, sweep her up in his arms, kiss her, wake Josiah, laugh, whisper into her ear that he wanted her, wanted her for his wife, beg her to be his—

Bell Hollee squared his shoulders in his familiar way.

And set off up the road back to the port and the Windsong.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


His anger carried him through the door and onto the patio. The night had well and truly set in by now, and the only lights came from the flickering candles within the colorful lanterns. Hollee was so incensed that he hardly realised the trio had struck up a lively minuet and the partygoers were dancing.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Hollee did not bother to wait and see if Reeve made it out the front door, but turned hurriedly and walked back into the party. He was inwardly fuming, half-considering marching up to the nearest post captain and revealing Reeve as a traitor and pirate, but his good manners stopped him. He could not interrupt the evening, as much as it would give him pleasure to see Reeve hauled before a magistrate.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


[For more info on Nevis, click here.]

The house made a kind of L-shape, presenting its long verandah to the road. Behind, facing the sea, a small courtyard was ringed with low bushes, and a green lawn spread away to the white sand beaches. Hollee cut up onto the road so that he approached the front door. The carriages which had passed him were just disappearing into the stable yard, led by a pair of capable Negroes, and Hollee could hear the voices from the party already started drifting up from the courtyard.
He went into the house, which had its shutters open in the evening. Candles gently wafted in the breeze, the white curtains fluttering in front of freshly whitewashed walls. He handed his hat to Nebuchanezzer who made a low bow and and murmured that the party was “just through there.” Hollee had been to the house several times. To his left was the family wing with its bedrooms. To the right was the kitchen and dining room, the detached “summer kitchen” a few yards further on. As he walked through the double French doors he passed the library and the sitting room, where he had taken tea on numerous occasions with Fanny. The parlor was filled with fresh flowers and unlit candles, waiting the moment later in the evening when the party would move inside. The harpsichord was open, signaling there would be music later. Outside, lanterns glowed in the darkness, and a string trio beckoned him onto the patio. Small tables and chairs had been scattered around, each with their own candle and bouquet. A buffet stood along one end of the patio, groaning under platters of food: sweetmeats, cold cuts, fruits, vegetables soaked in vinegar, small candies.

Fanny had not underestimated her uncle’s party, for twenty or more people stood outside already, gathered in small groups. Hollee’s first impression was of a multitude of gold braid catching the failing light. The men outnumbered the women, but each group boasted at least one member of the fairer sex, all the better for the naval commanders to boast of their exploits. The ladies were doing their best to lend excitement to the stories, gasping and waving fans as each turn was described. Mary was already hanging on the arm of a particularly tall captain. Fanny, however, was holding onto Josiah and speaking in turn to a captain and a lieutenant who had taken up stations on either side of her. They took it in turns to attack the buffet table with all the enthusiasm men who hadn’t seen unpreserved food in weeks could muster.

Behind the sparkling, chattering groups, silent servants passed, filling glasses with white wine or taking empty plates as required. Hollee found a glass of wine pressed into his hand and he moved forward into the assembly. Since Fanny was the only person he kenned at this point (save Mary, and she was clearly not missing him), he headed in her direction. As he moved through the gathering, he could not help shooting covert glances to the right and left of him. Who was the new captain of the Boreas? Hollee nervously sipped at his wine. He rather thought it might be the tall captain Mary was hanging on. IT was clear the man knew no one, and he looked extremely uncomfortable. Hollee looked at him again, took another gulp of wine and found himself standing in front of Fanny.

“There you are, Captain,” Fanny said, looking pleased. “I was beginning to think I might have to give you up.” At this moment Josiah gave a yell of pleasure and launched himself from his mother’s arms, evidently transported with ecstasy that Bell Hollee had joined their party. Hollee caught the boy as he wriggled through the air and suffered himself to be hugged. Fanny snatched him back as soon as she was able to disentangle her son’s limbs. “I am terribly sorry, Bell,” she said, “I told him he might stay up to say hello to the new captain, but only if he behaved, which so far he has been unable to do and if he keeps this up, I shall be forced to send him to bed directly.” Fanny placed grave emphasis on all the words which would stick in her son’s ear with a practiced mother’s tongue and Josiah kissed her by way of apology. Fanny gestured to the nurse who was hovering nearby and handed the small boy over. “My apologies, gentlemen.”

The two navy men on either side of her hastened to assure her that no apology was necessary, and the captain went rather further and described a time when he was forced to lash a powder boy aboard his ship. Hollee found he had finished his first glass of wine. One of the silent servants materialized to refill it.

“Fanny, will you have some wine?” Hollee asked, realizing Fanny had no glass. “Forgive me for asking the hostess, but you appear…” He could not finish the sentence “appear to need one” with two perfect strangers standing nearby.

“Yes, thank you, I will,” Fanny said. “And you must forgive me, gentlemen, I do not mean to be rude. A mother’s perogative, you might say.” She laughed and sipped at the wine which had been handed to her. “Captain Bell Hollee, allow me to introduce you. This is Captain Dylan, of his majesty’s ship Sang Froid and her first lieutenant, Roberts.”
“Gentlemen, a pleasure,” Hollee said, making a small bow which was echoed by the navy men.
“A captain sir? Pray tell—what is the name of your ship?” Dylan enquired politely.

“The Windsong, sir,” Hollee replied. “Nominally out of Port Royal, although we have not seen that city for nearly eightmonth. I prefer Nevis.”

“You spend your time largely in the West Indies, I take it?” the captain said interestedly. Hollee nearly replied that they cruised between the Indies and America, but remembered in time that this would be considered illegal in present company and managed to merely nod stiffly. Lieutenant Roberts was standing at his elbow, as ill at ease as Hollee was. Not only did he have the disadvantage of not knowing anyone, but he was surrounded by at least six of his superiors, and the temptation of food and drink loomed large. It would not do to act dishonorably in such company and he was miserably aware of the fact.

Luckily for him, Dylan seemed aware of the fact and clapped his hand on his lieutenant’s shoulder. “We must drink a toast to young Roberts here,” he said, “he passed his lieutenant’s test last month, and the Sang Froid is his first posting. He has performed admirably well, and I am very much pleased with his conduct—although I daresay you’re looking a bit nervous tonight, my lad! But come, one glass of wine won’t kill you. A toast I say!”

Hollee obligingly lifted his glass and drank. The lieutentant was looking very odd, smiling and frowning by turns, but it was clear he had relaxed somewhat. Hollee found that his glass was being refilled again and leaned into Fanny.

“I had to reprimand one of my men for drunkenness today,” he murmured in a low voice, “Imagine what he would say if he could see me now!”

Fanny’s tinkling laugh broke out over the assembly, ringing into one of those odd silences that sometimes happen to an assembled company. Her whole face lit up with a smile and Hollee returned it, happy to have made her grin.

“Ah! President Herbert!” Captain Dylan said, stepping back and widening their small group to admit Fanny’s uncle. “How very good to see you, sir!”

“Likewise!” Herbert said heartily, grasping Dylan’s hand. “I did not mean to neglect you, only it appears I have had a better turn out than I could have hoped for. Shame Mannington could not make it, eh?” Fanny froze in embarrassment, her uncle winking broadly. “Still—a very handsome turnout, wouldn’t you say? Did I hear that this young man is newly made lieutenant?”

“Yes sir, and a very good job of it he’s making as well,” Dylan said hurriedly, moving the conversation past the mention of the luckless Captain Mannington. “I daresay he’ll be in a ship of his own before long.” The lieutentant, already pink with an abundance of praise, quietly excused himself lest his face should glow crimson in the evening and began to graze in earnest at the buffet table. Dylan and Herbert, who were very well acquainted, having lost large sums of money to each other for the past five years at the gaming tables each Saturday, drew closer together and began to gossip in earnest. In response, Fanny and Hollee moved a step away and surveyed the beach.

“Your gown is very becoming,” Hollee said, feeling he should say something to acknowledge Fanny’s beauty.

“Oh, this old thing?” Fanny said dismissively, “It’s entirely out of fashion. But the blue matches your waistcoast exactly.” She pointed to the small flowers embroidered on Hollee’s garment.

“The blue suits your eyes,” Hollee said, which was not a lie, but he thought that she flushed a little oddly at the compliment. Fanning herself she turned her back to the sunset and looked over the crowd.

“What a lot of stuffed shirts,” she said, and Hollee found the awkward moment smoothed over. “Half of them are new today and eager to get in with Nevis’ ‘society,’ such as we are. The rest are old friends like Captain Dylan”—she gestured to the Captain, who was gesticulating wildly, Herbert nodding frantically in agreement—“who are simply here for the food.”

“Do you know which one he is?” Hollee said, nervously. “The new captain of the Boreas?”

“Your new nemesis, you mean?” Fanny smiled. “He’s standing over there, in that group with Mary.”

“I knew it, the moment I saw him—“

“No, not the tall nervous one, the shorter one standing next to him.”

Hollee stared. The man was of an average height, but slight and thin. He was perhaps Hollee’s age, but his face gave the impression of agelessness—he could have been anywhere between twenty-five and forty. At the moment he was standing stiffly, the toe of one foot turned out formally away from the other, one hand on his hip. He wore an expression of intense concentration mixed with haughtiness, and Hollee had the distinct impression that he was putting on this little routine for the benefit of those around him, a carefully polished pose to convey serious thinking and great capability. How would this man ever be able to command a shipful of men? At a distance of ten yards he looked no bigger than Josiah, his formal posture almost funny in the calm, relaxed atmosphere. At the moment he was attending to a story that Mary was telling. The rest of the group were laughing as she exaggerated the movements of a milliner she had dealt with the day before. The new captain was listening somberly. When Mary gestured toward Fanny, clearly indicating her in the story, he turned, saw her, excused himself and headed their way.

“My dear Mrs. Nisbet,” he began, making a leg, “allow me to present myself. I have the good fortune of knowing your name from your dear cousin, but not, alas, the pleasure of your company.” He made a small bow. “Captain Horatio Nelson, at your service.”

Hollee could feel his jaw clench inadvertently as he prevented a smile from creeping across his face. Nelson’s formality was rarely seen in the company of the king, much less a small party on an island in the middle of nowhere. Fanny, bless her, managed to keep her face neutral as she extended her hand. Nelson bent over it, kissing it perfunctorily.

“I am very glad to make your acquaintance,” she said, her voice steady. “Allow me to present Captain Bell Hollee of the Windsong.”

“Your servant sir,” Nelson said, bowing again. Hollee returned the bow. There was something electrically vital about Nelson, something to do with those startling blue eyes that had taken the edge off his ridiculousness. Hollee found himself reevaluating his first impression.

“I understand you are to take the Boreas now that Captain Mannington will return to England, sir,” Hollee said. “My congratulations.”

“Thank you, sir, thank you. I am very fortunate—the Boreas will be my first command, and I enjoy a great deal of liberty under my orders. A sailor must go where he is ordered, of course, but I dearly hate convoy duty.” He smiled. “I’m sure you understand.” Then he paused thoughtfully. “The Windsong, now, I do not think that his one of his majesty’s ships, is it?”

“No sir, it is a merchant vessel, out of Port Royal. Although I enjoy a great deal of trade here on Nevis.”

“Ah, just so, I have heard of your ship, sir, but I was under the impression that she was captained by an Edmund Hollee?”

“You are thinking of Bell’s uncle,” Fanny said softly. “He passed away nine years ago, God rest him, and left Bell the Windsong. Although many people make the mistake, and so you will often hear them spoken of as ‘old Hollee’ and ‘young Hollee’ though. They are quite interchangeable.” She smiled.

“My apologies, of course, that would make sense. I fought in the American Revolution, you know,” Nelson said, mentioning his service a bit too quickly after apologizing. “And spent a great deal of time here in the West Indies, protecting his majesty’s interests. I am very glad to be able to do so again. It is beautiful here, is it not?”

Bell could not get a handle on his feelings toward the man. As soon as he had determined to dislike him, Nelson would come out with a comment and Hollee’s attitude would completely change. How could he dislike a man who found Nevis beautiful?

“But Bell now…” Nelson was thoughtful shifting his weight, “You’ll pardon my rudeness sir, but that seems to me to be a queer sort of name for a man.”

“My Christian name is Andrew sir,” Hollee said, his inner compass swinging around to dislike once more. “But I was christened ‘Bell’ when I was a boy by my father, and it has ever been my ensign.”

“Oh, do tell the story, Bell!” Mary said. Hollee had not been aware that she had been cruising toward them until she suddenly appeared at Hollee’s elbow, towing the tall taciturn captain. “I dearly love this story.”

“Captain Hollee, allow me to present Captain Hardy,” Nelson said, his body going through its strange gyrations again as he waved his hand toward the captain. Hardy was obliged to dislodge Mary so he could shake Hollee’s hand. Hollee, who was considered tall by many people, was forced to look upward into Hardy’s face, and he thought he could see the ghost of a indulgent smile there, almost as if Hardy too was aware of his friend’s affectations. He instantly warmed to the man.

“Tell the story, Bell!” Mary said. Somehow her other hand had found its way into the crook of Hollee’s elbow so he was obliged to shift his wine to his left hand.

“Well it’s…it’s not a very clever story,” Bell said lamely. “I was taken aboard the Mary Teck when I was—the Mary being the ship Captain Hollee owned before the Windsong—when I was three years old, as a special treat, you know, for a small child, to see the ship and perhaps climb about a bit. After awhile, my parents began to see they could trust me not to fall over the side and so they allowed me more liberty. Perhaps a bit too much liberty, for when they next turned around I had disappeared, and a frantic search ensued. My mother was convinced I had fallen over, and my father thought I was gone below and stuck in the bilge. And so they were in a high state of panic for about a minute until they heard the ship’s bell ringing.” Hollee was uncomfortably aware of Fanny watching him. He knew that she could see a small boy climbing gaily around a ship, unaware of the panic he was causing his parents, and the image amused her. “It was me, of course. I had merely gone around the capstan, and in their haste, my parents and all the ship’s crew missed me until I began to ring the bell. My mother was so relieved she caught me up and began to hug and scold me all at once, and my father tells me that all I could say was ‘bell, bell’ as if I had been denied the world’s biggest prize.”

The group looked at him for a second longer before realizing that the story was over and then laughed politely. Nelson was the last to smile, as though puzzling out some hidden meaning behind the tale.

“Captain Hollee still has the bell,” Fanny said, appreciatively. “It hangs on the Windsong now.”

“I lost Hardy once,” Nelson said, smiling. “We were off the coast of Florida and a gang of Spanish pirates came upon our squadron. The wind was in their favour, and before I knew what had happened, they had boarded Hardy’s ship and taken her as a prize. I fought off another pair of them, but I knew I would never be able to prize him out of their grasp.”

“What happened?” Mary gasped, her eyes opened wide in admiration.

“I was ransomed four months later,” Hardy said unaffectedly. “Not dashing in the least, although Nelson was determined to come after me and had to be quite talked out of it by the commodore.”

Mary drew a little closer to the two captains as naval jargon began to flow between them. Hollee thought her head was quite turned with the gold braid and tales of daring against the French, Spanish and Americans—but he was rather unimpressed. It was clear that the peace with America had depressed the opportunites for young, eager captains such as Nelson, and he was desperate to get ahead although no chance presented itself.

He turned to whisper something witty to Fanny, an inside joke that she could appreciate, but he found that she was watching Captain Nelson interestedly, paying close attention to what he was saying. He watched her watching him, her grey eyes mutedly following the conversation, his blue eyes snapping, occasionally flickering to her, marking that she was watching.

“Hollee, my God, I did not hope to see you here!” A voice rang out from behind Bell and he turned around. A tall, somewhat florid man was dashing towards him, hands outstretched to engulf his in a handshake. “How are you! How are you!”

Hollee excused himself from his small group and went to meet the man. Adam Reeve was a captain in the American Navy, and Hollee could not fathom how he had managed to get an invitation to President Herbert’s private fete, nor why he would want to be here, nor why he should be on Nevis at all. Reeve had wangled a lieutenant’s commission with months left in the American War for Independence and had, through the fact that the Americans were handing out captainships as quickly as they could build vessels, risen to commander of his own ship within six months. He was a peacock of a man, vain of his thick blonde hair, and fiercely proud of his new country. Occasionally he would appear in the Liberty in the West Indies “convoying” one ship or another into a port. Usually his attempts ended in the ship being seized—the Liberty’s presence a sure sign than an American ship was attempting to skirt the Navigation Acts. There were also unpleasant rumors that the Liberty and her captain engaged in acts of privateering, acts which, since few yet believed that the United States of America was an actual country, were considered piracy by most of the civilized world.

Reeve was also responsible for Hollee’s one dash into Baltimore at the height of the War. The Windsong had skirted a battle off the coast of Maryland, waiting until the English ships of war had taken their prizes, firing some, before continuing. When they had disappeared over the horizon, the Windsong had crept forward and Hollee had been astonished to see several boatloads of sailors left behind—sailors for whom there was no room in the holds of English ships. He had taken them aboard (including their Captain Reeve—he had been in the Common Sense one of the ships that had been burned) and deposited them in Baltimore at Reeve’s request. Ever since then Reeve had believed Hollee to be an ardent patriot and would not listen to protestations that Hollee was merely doing the Christian thing.

“Hollee, my God,” he said loudly as Hollee took his arm and forcibly led him away from the assembly. “I did not dare to hope to find you here. I only meant to leave a letter with Mrs. Nesbit, but Nebuchanezzer told me you were here! In the courtyard! Surrounded by the English!” Reeve glowered, then, in a lower voice, “God rot them all and their unholy ships—“

“Mr. Reeve,” hissed Hollee, “Do I have to point out to you that you are also surrounded by the English, English who are sworn, moreover, to capture smugglers, traitors and pirates and turn them over to the proper authorities? You might wear a captain’s uniform, but that carries no water with these men. As for Mrs. Nisbet—“ he hurried on, for Reeve showed every sign of protesting violently, “if you ever include her in one of your mad schemes, I will hunt you down personally and blow you out of the water. She is loyal to England and further more, she has no idea of what vile and traitorous things you get up to and I intend to keep it that way!”

“But Mr. Hollee! Fanny and I are friends! Haven’t we all had tea in the past? And she is terribly fond of you, I know she would not mind taking a letter for you.”

“What’s in this letter that it could not go by regular post?”

“Oh, as to that—well, it’s…it’s just that I never can find you, Bell, and I know you are always calling on her.”

“Well, you have me now, so tell me what is in this letter that’s so important and then take yourself off. You are making a spectacle of yourself.” And indeed, several of the captains were putting their heads together and whispering about Reeve’s appearance.

“Gentlemen, if you need to converse,” Mr. Herbert interjected, “May I suggest my library? Come, I will show you where it is.”

They had no choice but to follow. Herbert led the way across a suddenly strangely quiet garden, and Hollee could feel the burning eyes of disapproval upon him as they mounted the steps into the house.

“Mr. Reeve,” Herbert said as they crossed the threshold. His voice was low and dangerous. “I believe I made my position on your appearance in my house perfectly clear. As I am a gentleman, I will not have you thrown bodily out in front of my guests, but should you ever dare to show your face here again, I will not hesitate.” He turned and went back into the garden, giving Hollee a significant look, a look that both tarred him with the same brush as Reeve and pitied him. Hollee writhed a little inside. He would not have Herbert’s bad opinion for the world.

“In here,” he said brusquely, pushing Reeve ahead of him into Herbert’s library. The shutters were nearly closed, save for a crack, and no candles were lit. They left the door to the main hallway open, but the gloom was nearly absolute. Dry leather bindings stood sentinel on three sides of the room. “What is it?”

Reeve had pulled the letter out of his pocket and was proferring it to Hollee. “I’ve come with the same question, Bell,” he said quietly, earnestly. “We need you. The American government—we need every man, and I know you believe in our cause.” Bell rolled his eyes in exasperation. They had been over this before—arguing over the same ground countless times. Reeve pretended not to notice. “I have been authorized to offer you a commission in the United States Navy,” he continued, his boyish enthusiasm rising. “We need ships, we need cannon—both of which you have, and a crack crew as well—our government, the government of the people, Bell, we intend to challenge the Navigation Acts. It makes no sense that we are unable to trade with countries in our own hemisphere, and so we are finally ready to make an assault on the ships that convoy here in the West Indies. My God, Bell, this was tailor made for you! Who knows these waters better than you? And your ship—you handle her like she was your right hand. And when we win, there will be no more tariffs, no more sneaking about, no more illegal taxes, we will show everyone—Britain, France, Holland—we are a country to be reckoned with.”

In more exciteable men, Reeve’s speech would have ignited a fire of patriotic fervor, a shouting of huzzahs and a swearing of oaths. Hollee merely stood until he was sure that Reeve was finished, then shook his head. “No. No again, but not, I fear, for the last time. When will you learn, Reeve, that I am perfectly content the way I am? The tariffs are high, but what is the price of what you are suggesting? No. I would not risk it—nor would I ask my crew to risk it. They are good men, but they are not Naval men, and I could not run them like the Navy would ask me to.”

“On the contrary, we are quite lenient,” Reeve said brightly. Then, reflecting, “Perhaps too lenient. But you—“

“No, Adam. And now, you better leave. President Herbert will not complain if an intruder is taken off by the authorities. And my God, Reeve, you blundered into a pack of Navy men, hungry for prizes. What on earth is wrong with you? Do you never think anything through?”

“Ah, Bell. The British are hungry for prizes. But we”—he meant himself and the Americans—“we hunger for freedom.”

“Very well, Adam, but if you don’t flee, you’ll lose your freedom as well.”

Reeve pressed the letter into his hand. “Think about it, Bell.”

“There’s nothing to think about.”

“I know.” And when Reeve removed his hand, the parchment remained in Bell’s hand. To his relief, Reeve did not stay to press his point home, but tipped his hat perfunctorily and exited out of the room. Hollee stuffed the letter into his pocket like it was an obscene broadsheet.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Hollee stared at the white sand for a second and then, with a deliberate decision, sat down and stripped of his shoes and stockings. He would have been decidedly early for the party any way, and it had been so long since he had actually touched the ocean he sailed about in. Carrying shoes and stockings in one hand, he waded across the soft sand. His feet were nearly as pale as the sand around them, small and neat. The tiny particles rubbed up against his skin with a wonderful frisson, so different from the normal feel of wool and leather. The sand became firmer as he approached the shoreline, growing wetter. He left footprints as he moved forward. Now the rushing waves could just touch his feet, the water cool after the hot sand. He stood there for a moment, right on the edge of sea and sand and stared out over the endless blue.

In his window of vision he could see all manner of boats, large ships way out, their sails spread like ladies parasols, smaller fishing vessels coming and going into the port away to his left, and tiny rowboats handled by one or two men who were checking their crawfish traps. The sea was like an endless carpet, but the color would not stay true for more than a second. The blue of the water would flush away to reveal a grainy green or yellow, or rush back with a hurry of cerealean. He had tried to describe this color once, when he was in England, to an acquaintance of his. “It’s like—it’s like—“ he had floundered, casting about for some color he could point to and say, “like that” but nothing had come to hand, not even the clear blue sky. The ocean had a special hue all its own, a color that had to be seen to be believed.

And he had seen it. Just thinking about the miles and miles of sea he had seen gave Hollee a puff of pride and happiness. This was freedom. This corner of the ocean, whose secrets he knew better than anyone else (save perhaps the smugglers), he could sail it with his eyes closed in the dead of night if he had to. The intimate knowledge of the waves permeated his every pore until knowing when to tack and when to run came instinctually. He had never asked for more than to be allowed to range free upon the water, never demanded more out of life, and had been rewarded with the kind of happiness that accompanies hard work and integrity. President Herbert might be the kind of man who, after gaining immense personal fortune, set about to increase his prestige through petty offices and a system of favour, but Hollee could not understand this desire. This ocean—the Windsong—his faithful crew and his slowly but steadily increasing numbers in Mr. Maccaby’s black ledger—that was all he wanted.

The sun was moving more quickly now, heading into the sea, which was growing darker. When Hollee stepped out of the waves, the breeze made his feel cool—not uncomfortably—but the twilight’s temperatures served to remind him time was passing. He ground his feet into the dry sand until they were quite dry as well, then set about knocking the grains off. One by one he slipped into his stockings and shoes, leaning against an obliging palm tree. The white silk made him pause. Was there something else he wanted? He had been so quick to oblige Fanny’s request. But they were friends—had been friends for nearly five years. Her face swam into his mind unbidden, as he had seen her so many times with her long neck bent over a piece of embroidery. Never once had he acted in a manner unbecoming toward her. Never once had she tossed her hair or smiled a coquettish smile like other women of the town, like her cousin. But John had grinned so when Hollee had asked for the loan of his coat, like they were sharing a secret. Hollee frowned uncomfortably.

Beyond the boardwalk lay a road cut through the palm trees. As Hollee approached the wooden platform, a pair of carriages rolled down the dusty road, kicking up a great deal of dust. He paused and watched them pass. They were full of men and women dressed up for Herbert’s party, all laughing and enjoying themselves a great deal. The women were exclaiming over the speed of the carriages, and the men were declaring they would go twice as fast. Hollee caught an impression of a great deal of gold braid and flashing blue overcoats, Naval uniforms. The carriages went ahead quickly, disappearing into the gathering gloom, their passengers’ voices still carrying back to him, now becoming muffled. For a half second, Hollee thought about turning around and returning to the quiet of the Windsong or the relative peace of the Anchor & Crown. But then he thought of Fanny, how she had asked him to come and save her from the boring Naval men, and, squaring his shoulders, he moved on down the boardwalk.