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.

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