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.