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.

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