Thursday, March 13, 2008

[author's note]

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

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Not Edward Hollee's son?"

"His nephew, sir."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 6, 2008


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

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

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

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

“How clever!”

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

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

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

“Of course, Captain, how thoughtful.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What if something should happen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 3, 2008

5.3 & chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s not indigo.”

“What then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do I get paid, sir?”

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

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

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

“Mrs. Cobb, now, who would that be?”

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

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

“Oh, Mr. Waggs, must I?”

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

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

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

Hollee laughed and handed over the coin.

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You do not find it bare, sir?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Excellent!” Cobb said, beaming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will not argue with you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

"Red silk?" Mr. Cobb said politely.

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

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

Hollee looked confused.

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

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

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

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