Monday, March 3, 2008


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.

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