Authors: Becky Lee Weyrich
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General, #FICTION/Romance/Historical
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
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New York, NY 10016
Copyright © 1987 by Becky Lee Weyrich
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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First Diversion Books edition August 2014
Captive of Desire
Sands of Destiny
The Scarlet Thread
Once Upon Forever
Whispers in Time
Hot Winds from Bombay
The Thistle and the Rose
Forever, For Love
For VINCENT—The next author in the family.
Silver birch logs with bark like thin, dry parchment crackled and hissed in the delft-tiled fireplace. No other sounds, save the occasional rustle of paper, disturbed the morning quiet of the sun-drenched blue breakfast room.
Persia Whiddington’s mother and older sister, Europa, had excused themselves from the table some while before. Persia, too, was impatient to be up and about on such a crisp, white morning. But still she held her place, sipping absently at the cold dregs of chocolate in her Manila-patterned blue china cup and tormenting a congealed lump of egg with her coin-silver fork, anxious for her father to finish reading. He seemed to be taking an agonizingly long time over the newspaper today.
No one in the Whiddington household was allowed to lay a finger to the
until Captain Asa Whiddington had completed his long, thorough perusal of its contents. He claimed that what he had missed most in his many years at sea—besides his beautiful wife, Victoria, and their two lovely daughters, of course—was fresh news. He still bemoaned the fact that he had been at sea for almost a year before learning of Andrew Jackson’s election, which had taken place back in 1829. Eight years later, now that he had retired to the big white house on Gay Street in Quoddy Cove, Maine, he spent hours devouring newspapers the way a starving man might attack a long awaited banquet.
Only Persia begrudged the captain this luxury. She craved the news with his own brand of hunger. Perched now on the very edge of her chair, she watched puffs of blue-gray pipe smoke issue forth from behind the
like signals from one of the newfangled steamship’s stacks.
Suddenly, his voice made her jump. “Ayah, she’ll be putting in today just as I reckoned.”
Persia made no reply to her father’s statement. She knew he wasn’t addressing her. In all likelihood he was not even aware of her presence in the room. He was merely commenting to himself—a habit ships’ captains acquired from long, lonely years at sea when, owing to the loftiness of their positions, they were forced to keep their own council.
Still, Persia knew her father and his habits of speech well enough to be able to decode his cryptic words. He was reading the Marine Journal, her own favorite part of the paper, which told of the arrivals and departures of ships and of those “spoke at sea”—in laymen’s terms, sighted and hailed through megaphones when they passed close enough to another vessel. The “she” referred to a ship that would be putting in at Quoddy Cove today.
The news set Persia’s pulses racing. She left off toying with her cold breakfast and leaned forward in her eagerness to hear more, her chair legs scraping on the floor as she did so.
The sound of the chair disturbing his calm, Asa Whiddington flipped one edge of the paper aside and peered at her over the tops of his wire-rimmed spectacles, his face stern and hard at the interruption of his sacred morning ritual.
“Aye, I might have known it was you, girl. Your mother’s long been about her household duties, directing her crew and getting the place shipshape. And your sister’s undoubtedly stowed herself in her room, making ready for the skating party tonight or doing some other such ladylike thing. But here you sit, Persia Whiddington, watching my paper with the same greediness that a gull eyes a fat mackerel.”
“I only thought when you were finished, Father…”
His gray eyes danced with merriment and the twitch of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth opposite the stem of his meerschaum pipe.
“If it’s the ladies’ gossip news you’re so eager for, you may have it. There’s nothing much there anyway except that Mr. Benoit of Kennebunkport has asked for the hand of Mistress Shute of Peake’s Island, Mrs. Stowe of Brunswick is visiting in Poland Springs with her ailing sister, and Mrs. St. Onge of Skowhegan entertained the ladies of that town with a quilting bee on Thursday last.”
He knew Persia wasn’t the least bit interested in such frivolous fare and was not at all surprised when the gleam in his younger daughter’s china-blue eyes dulled. She shook her head, making the bright sunshine that streamed in through tall windows dance in her red-gold hair.
“No, thank you, Father. I’ll wait.”
She sighed a bit wearily and folded her hands—itching for the Marine Journal. Her eyes were downcast, staring vacantly at the white on white of the Irish damask tablecloth with its pattern of hounds and harps so that she didn’t see the broad smile break over her father’s sea- and salt-chiseled face or the quiver of his full gray side whiskers that always betrayed his amusement.
A long silence followed before the captain said, “She’s been out three years, eight months, and eleven days.”
Persia’s head shot up and she felt a rush of excitement sweep through her. She didn’t have to beg her father for more information. He could see the eagerness in her eyes and would comply, all in his own good and thrifty time.
“One would think you were waiting for a lover coming home from sea, the way you watch the ships, Persia.”
“It’s not that, Father.” She blushed at his teasing. When the ship in the news had left its homeport, Persia had been only twelve or thereabouts—far too young to be interested in the opposite sex. “It’s just that the ships, the sailors, have been
of the world. I’ve never been anywhere.”
“You’ve been to Paris, Lisbon, Norway,” he pointed out, a sly grin curving his lips.
“And not a one of them out of the state of Maine,” she replied with an unamused huff. “I want to see the rest of the world. You’ve told me all about it, but I’m restless to go to all those exotic ports myself.”
Captain Whiddington laughed softly, but Persia knew he wasn’t making fun of her. He admired her curiosity and her sense of adventure. He always had and had made no secret of it, from the moment she’d learned to crawl and claimed his sextant as her favorite teething toy.
“Ah, my cunning child, you should have been a son. Then we’d have made a stout seaman of you. Ayah.”
She felt a little stab of regret. How often she’d wished… But wishing and a penny would buy her a stick of hoarhound candy. She would have to learn to be content with her lot as a female. Still, she could live the sailor’s life vicariously, thanks to her father and the seamen who passed through. They were always eager to share their tales of adventure with a willing audience.
“What ship is it, Father, and where has she sailed?”
out of Boston, under Captain Bartholemew.” Whiddington chuckled and lifted a shaggy gray brow at his daughter. “Ayah! He’ll retire a rich man after this voyage. He took Maine timber down to New Orleans, sold it, and purchased bales of cotton. Stopping off in the West Indies, he loaded sugar. These goods he sold in England, acting as his own supercargo to deal with the merchants. From there, carrying salt meat, he sailed to West Africa for palm oil and white pepper. Tallow from Madagascar, dried fruit and wines from the Mediterranean, coffee and spices from the Far East. Finally, to Bombay and Calcutta, trading these goods for Indian cotton, which he sold at a profit in China, investing there in a cargo of tea, silk, and chinaware. That will bring another fortune when it’s auctioned at Central Wharf to the Boston market.”
Persia’s head was spinning. So many places, such exotic goods. If only she could go and see it all for herself.
“If she was blessed with fair winds and following seas, the
should be making port before noon today, I’d guess.”
Persia didn’t wait to hear another word. Glancing up at the ship’s clock on the mantelpiece, she saw that its brass hands were nearing south and nor’west—ten-thirty, almost five bells. She voiced a hasty “Excuse me, please, Father,” and was up and away.
She raced out of the room and headed up the stairs. Her mother attempted to put a halt to her flight in the second-floor hallway, and Europa tried to detain her with chatter about the skating party as Persia dashed to her room for shawl, bonnet, and gloves. But she would not be deterred from her mission.
Hurrying on to the attic, she threaded her way through trunks of old clothes, tarnished brass birdcages, packing crates filled with straw—the accumulated trash and treasures of half a dozen generations of Whiddingtons and Forsyths, her mother’s family. She found her spyglass on the shelf where she always kept it and headed topside.
A ladder led the way to the very peak of the three-story house. She hoisted her green woolen skirts above her booted ankles and mounted the steps like an able seaman, shoving the trapdoor up with her head and shoulders when she reached the top rung.
With one gloved hand, Persia gripped the sturdy, turned railing of the widow’s walk, hoisting herself up through the narrow opening. The door banged shut behind her. The dim interior of the house was closed away. She had entered another, brighter but more private realm.
Below her and to every point of the compass, the landscape glistened with a fresh blanket of snow that had fallen silently during the long winter night, turning the Maine coast into a crystal fairyland. She shaded her blue eyes with one hand and faced toward the sea. The wind, rising with the tide, whipped her cheeks to a rosy hue and fluttered the lace edge of her flannel petticoats like the froth of a wave beneath the sea green of her skirt.
“A spice wind from the Orient,” she whispered, in spite of the fact that its icy bite made her chest ache when she breathed too deeply.
She let her mind stray to warmer climes—to exotic, palm-fringed lands, where brown-skinned natives danced on white sands and bright birds cried as they swooped through tropical rain forests. She had read about all these things in her father’s books and the logs he’d kept when he captained his ships to Barbados and around the Horn. He had spun his fantastic tales for her on a thousand snowy New England nights as they sat before the fire in his library, tracing his journeys on charts spread about the floor.
The cold wind freshened, teasing a wisp of Persia’s flame-colored hair from under her bonnet. The feathery touch on her cheek was like a light kiss. She closed her eyes and her smile glowed. Like many a down-east woman, born and bred, she firmly believed the tales that ghosts of long-lost seamen rode the winds, stealing kisses from pretty girls. Such a phamtom kiss brought good luck. She touched her face. Her flesh felt warm even through her glove.
Opening her eyes, she looked out over the village toward the water. From the rooftop of the house on Gay Street, she could see the tall masts of the ships anchored off Quoddy Cove, like so many leafless trees in a watery gray-green forest. Bright spots of sunlight danced over the waves, shifting and changing from moment to moment. The sight made her ache with longing. What would it be like to ride those sparkling seas southward and around the Cape of Good Hope to India? She could only imagine it in her dreams. And she dreamed those dreams every single night.
“Someday,” she whispered wistfully.
She scanned the water once more and was not disappointed. A tall ship, well sailed, rode the tide, her topgallants puffed with the brisk wind. Putting the glass to her eye, she quickly focused in on the vessel. She could just make out the scroll on the transom that read
Persia stood very still, her spyglass trained on the figures on deck. There was no mistaking her father’s old friend, Captain Bartholemew, on the quarterdeck, his feet firmly planted and hands behind his back as he passed on orders for the crew to the first mate. Persia took her time, observing each of the dozen or so sailors on deck in his turn. Some she recognized as coming from foreign lands by their swarthy darkness and odd clothing. At each port a ship lost sailors to the lure of the land and signed on others to take their places. Perhaps these men were Greek or Italian or even Indian.
Suddenly, the crystal eye of her glass focused on a giant of a man. He was no foreigner, even though his skin was almost the color of the teakwood table her father had brought back from the Orient on his final voyage. The seaman’s brown, wind-ravaged hair was streaked with lighter hues by the same fierce rays that had darkened his body. He sported a full beard that curled upward over his cheeks—rampant, golden, satyrlike.
Persia laughed softly, thinking how horrified her mother would be if she knew her daughter was staring at such a sight. The man was as nearly naked as any she had ever seen. His broad chest was bare except for a gleaming forest of bristling man-hair that spread from side to side, tapering down in a funnel shape to his belly. Canvas britches, cut off at the knee, rode low on his trim hips. She shivered and drew her shawl more closely about her shoulders. How could he bear the cold?
As the man bent at the capstan, making ready to drop anchor, she watched the hard muscles of his back and shoulders strain at the task. The sight sent another shiver through her, but this one had nothing to do with the briskness of the morning air or the bite of the north wind. And it was accompanied by an unfamiliar ache in some secret, hidden part of her. The sensation was new… alarming… entrancing.
She turned away suddenly, rubbing a hand over her eyes. She felt so strange, almost as if she had seen too much all at one time. Clinging to the railing, she forced herself to breathe slowly, evenly, but the feeling refused to pass completely.
When she was calm enough, she looked again. The brawny giant was obscured from her view. Even though her heart sank, she tried to put him out of her thoughts. She forced herself to concentrate on the sleek lines of the vessel—her clean hull, painted stark black, relieved only by a white band at its waist, the gilt figurehead, the tall, square-rigged masts—and the masterful manner in which captain and helmsman were handling her.
How she would love to slip away and hurry down to the dock to mix and mingle with the crew and the people welcoming them home! But, of course, such a thing was unthinkable. If she was lucky, her father might invite an acquaintance or two on board home to dinner. Then she would sit in total thrall, hearing firsthand of the places she longed to see.