Authors: Louis A. Meyer
Tags: #Adventure, #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Historical
Once again, for Annetje…and for my editor, Karen Grove, without whom Jacky would still be out beggin’ in the streets
December 1, 1805
Any old port in a storm.
That’s what I’m thinking as I carefully weave my little boat through the ships in the crowded harbor. I’ve seen many ports and I’ve weathered many storms and good old Boston Harbor is looking right good to me at this moment.[_ Hmmm…be_] wary, though, girl. There’s three British warships lying over there at Long Wharf. Got to steer clear of them, for sure, as the men on board could have heard of the price that’s on my poor head and might be of a mind to try to collect it. My head, that is…Imagine that…a reward of two hundred and fifty pounds, and all for the body of one insignificant girl—a full Royal Navy captain’s pay for a year, and wouldn’t some lucky sailor like to nab that?
p. As I clear the end of Long Wharf, I pull my cap further down over my face and sail on.[_ Don’t mind me, Sirs. Just_] a[_ simple fisher lass heading home, nothing more._]
Now I start working my way over to the land. I’m remembering that there’s an open bit of gravelly beach between Howard’s and Codman’s wharves, and that is where I’m of a mind to land. The wind is fair and my sail is drawing well and I’m cutting neatly through boats and ships that are anchored out. I pull in a bit closer and look over at the warships. They could see me from where they lay, if they cared to look.[_ But who cares about some fishmonger’s dutiful daughter out plying her family’s trade?
] That’s what I’m thinking. Or hoping.[
But, oh Sirs—you, my fellow countrymen and fellow sailors—if only you knew what has happened at Trafalgar, you would not be sitting so peacefully here._] It’s plain they haven’t gotten the word yet.
Codman’s Wharf passes on my port side and I throw the tiller over and bring the sail in close-hauled. When I hear and feel the scrape of the bottom on my keel, I loose the sail and the[_ Morning Star_] slips her nose up elegantly onto the beach.[_ Pretty neat sailing, old girl,
] I’m thinking, patting her gunwale affectionately.[
I know it’s been a long trip for the both of us, from Trafalgar to here, that’s for sure, and now you just rest._]
For a moment I sit there in wonder at being back in Boston again, then I go forward and loosen the halyard, letting the sail and its booms collapse to the deck. I’m about to gather it in and wrap it up, when there’s a noise behind me and I spin around in alarm, my shiv out of my vest and in my hand.[_ By God, they’re not going to take me without_]
But it is nothing but a boy. A very ragged and dirty boy, to be sure, but just a boy. He is the very picture of a wharf rat, a breed with which I am very familiar, having once been one myself, back when I lived under London’s Blackfriars Bridge as a member in good standing of the Rooster Charlie Gang of Naked Orphans. Blackfriars Bridge was real close to the docks on the Thames, so, yes, I know this kind of boy quite well.
“Need some help, Missy?” he says with hope in his voice. It’s plain from the ribs sticking out under his too-short shirt that he hasn’t eaten in a while and he looks real willin’ to earn a penny. Well, I can’t argue with that, as I’m all for youthful spunk and enterprise. I slide my knife back in my vest.
“Well, maybe. Help me stow the sail.”
He leaps on board to help me wrap the sail around the boom, and we lash it down tight with the mainsheet and secure it to its stay post.
“There, Missy, tight as a drum. Anything else? Polish your brass, shine up your brightwork, varnish your oars?”
This one is younger than me—maybe thirteen, fourteen. His hair is held back with a piece of old twine and I can see both his knees through the rips in the trousers that end raggedly at his calves. He is, of course, barefoot.
“You can see, young Master Wharf Rat, that the[_ Morning Star_] has neither brass work nor brightwork, nor do her oars need varnishing,” I say severely, in my best Naval Officer voice, “but you may, if you wish to earn a penny, watch over her till I return, which might be today, or might be tomorrow. If you know a place where she can be moored…”
“Oh, yes, Missy. See that pier over by the market? I’ll tie it up there. So many fishing boats go in and out of there that they’ll never notice us.”
“All right,” I say. I dig in the purse that hangs by my side and pull out a penny and flip it to him. “Go spend this on something to eat first and then tend to moving her. And mark me—This is the[_ Morning Star_] and she is a[_ her,_] not an it. Do you get that?”
“You can do it by yourself?”
“Oh, yes, Missy, I’m a thoroughgoing seaman! I’ll get her anywhere you need her.”
I give a quick snort. “Very well, Seaman…What is your name, boy?”
“Tanner, Missy. Jim Tanner.”
“Why are you not in school?” I ask, suspiciously. I can’t let anything happen to the[_ Star_] after getting her all the way here.
“Done with that. Learned all I needed to. I can read and cipher some. That’s all a seaman needs, I figure.”
“Who are your parents? Where do you live?”
“My mother died havin’ me. Dad was lost at sea a year ago. Ain’t got no other people. I sleep under the docks, mostly, sometimes in woodsheds when I can find one that ain’t locked.” He looks a bit defiant when he says this.[_ Hmmm…_] dirt poor but possessed of some pride, at least.
“Surely you could find a better place to sleep, up in the town.”
“Maybe, but then Wiggins’d catch me and indenture me to some farmer and I don’t want that. I’m a seaman, as I told you.”
I know the fact that I am dressed in my serving-girl gear is why he’s being as familiar as he is being. Time to put him straight. “Very well, Seaman Tanner, you may carry on with your duties. When I return, you shall see another penny. But I warn you, if you try anything cute, like stealing my boat, then things will go very hard for you.[_ Very_] hard.”
He nods, unconvinced, I know, of just how hard I could make things for him should I want to. I decide to convince him of this.
“Do you know of a John Thomas? Smasher McGee?” I ask, drilling my eyes into his. I name a few more of my more colorful Boston pierside acquaintances. “They are my
good friends, and they would do anything for me, anything—including running down, gutting, and making fish bait out of a treacherous wharf rat. Do you take my meaning, young Master Tanner?”
It is plain that he knows at least some of these sterling individuals, for he gulps and nods. “I wasn’t gonna mess with your boat, Missy,” he says, looking hurt.
“I know you weren’t, Seaman Tanner,” I say, more kindly now and feeling a little bit sorry for doubting him, “but I was just making sure.”
With that I turn to go down into the cuddy to change. I dive into my seabag and choose my black school dress, black bonnet, and lace mantilla. I have to leave the hatch open for light.
“Turn around, Master Tanner, and face away,” I call out to him. He ducks his head and does an about-face.
After I have put on my clothes, I come back up and I look him over. He stands there expectantly, shuffling his feet. I decide to trust him.
“I now leave the[_ Morning Star_] in your hands, Jim Tanner. Take good care of her, for she has taken good care of me. And maybe she will take good care of you, as well.” I put on my bonnet and throw the mantilla over my shoulders. “And, by the way, my name is Nancy Alsop. That is[_ Miss_] Alsop to you.”
With that I once again place my foot on Boston soil and head up toward Union Street.
No, I didn’t sail the[_ Morning Star_] all the way from Cape Trafalgar on the coast of Spain to here in America. I’m good with a small boat, but that would have been sheer folly to attempt, even for one as foolhardy as I. What I did was steer blindly for the transatlantic shipping lanes as soon as I was clear of the scene of that horrific battle, where scores of ships were still burning and sinking, and the men trapped in them were screaming and dying, and the very sea itself ran red with blood. As grateful as I was for my deliverance from death and capture, my heart was still low, very low, from having seen so many of my dear friends killed or wounded, and from knowing that I, myself, by the act of joining the battle, had caused the death and wounding and maiming of many of the enemy’s men and boys. I know I will have a lot to answer for when my time of accounting comes. And then I thought of seeing Jaimy, maybe for the last time, looking out at me as I made my escape, but still…still I managed to steer the lifeboat in the right direction.
Wiping the tears from my eyes, I made myself take stock of the boat and my situation. The boat, which was about twenty-, maybe twenty-two-foot long, was rigged as a catboat.
It had the mast placed well forward and only one sail, and that sail was gaff rigged. All of which was to the good, for it made the boat easy to sail single-handed. Just haul on the sail halyard and the top boom goes up, and the bottom boom anchors the sail. Then pull in the mainsheet till the sail goes full, tight, and stiff, and you’re sailing. Easy to reef, too, when the wind starts blowing hard.
Which it certainly did that first awful night after the Battle of Trafalgar.
The wind had started picking up around dusk and increased in volume hourly after that. I shortened sail and went to inspect the cuddy cabin up forward, but if I had any thought of crawling into the cuddy and sleeping, that was cruelly dashed by the onset of the storm. At least I managed to get on my oilskins, stow my seabag, and batten down the cuddy hatch before the sheets of stinging rain came slashing at me. I don’t ever want my friends to worry about me when I’m away from them and in possible danger, but on this night I could not help but wonder what was going through Jaimy’s mind as he saw the storm approach, and me being out there all alone in a small boat.[_ Well, I gotta tell you, it’s gonna be rough, Jaimy, but better out here than back there, bound and trussed and ready to be delivered back to London for a certain date with a noose._] Or so I thought.
That night was one of the worst I have ever spent, be it on land or sea. It was all I could do to keep the boat’s bow on to the waves, with huge swell after huge swell rolling at me over and over, one after another, and all it would take is one slipup with the sail and tiller so that the waves could take me broadside and I would be rolled over and lost, lost in that cold, dark water. It was hour after hour of desperation and terror, until at last I lost all hope and heart and gave in to deep despair and counted myself finally, after all my struggles, doomed to die.[_ Good-bye, Jaimy. I hope you have a happy life without me, for I know you shall see me no more. But please know that I died happy in the knowledge that you did love me…You will think of me sometimes, won’t you? Oh, but don’t think of me as dead and gone, think of me instead as having drifted down to the bottom of the sea, to once again lie on the deck of my beautiful, lost_] Emerald…
I guess when I start waxing stupidly poetic, it is a sign that things are about to turn for the better, and sure enough, it was then, as I snuffled and whined and said my last tearful goodbyes, that the sky started to clear and the seas grew calmer and I could see the stars once again. Through a break in the clouds I could see Polaris, the North Star, and I steered for it as the dawn began to break. As the sky lightened and the stars began to wink out, I saw Venus, the morning star, shining up there, as always, the last to disappear. It was then that I named my sturdy little boat after her. I gave heartfelt thanks for my deliverance, trimmed sail, and continued heading for the sea-lanes.
On the first day, I spotted a British warship tearing down to Trafalgar—a[_ bit late, lads, to share in the glory, but on the other hand, very lucky for your own dear bodies, which did not have to share in the carnage that paid for that glory in blood and pain and death—_] and I stayed well clear. They soon disappeared over the horizon, having absolutely no interest in a foolish fisherman who was far, much too far, at sea. I kept steering both north[_ and_] westerly ‘cause I wanted the ship that picked me up to be too far out on the ocean to kindly consider taking me safely back to England. That would be very gentlemanly of them to do, of course, but would be disastrous for me, the Admiralty having made it very plain that, while they wanted all of me back in the warm embrace of their custody for interrogation, and, I suspect, torture, they would settle quite nicely for my head in a sack.
It was on the third day that I spotted what was to be my ride across the Atlantic. I was quite hungry and[_ very_] thirsty by then and was willing to settle for any kind of floating garbage scow, but what I found instead was a big, trim merchantman under all sail on a fine day and heading for America.
I tied down the mainsheet, secured the tiller, and let the[_ Star_] sail herself while I rushed forward, put on my serving-girl skirt and hooded cloak to cover up my lieutenant’s jacket—had to be presentable, of course, or else I would be treated badly, and, after all I had been through, I certainly didn’t want that—then I sailed toward them, waving a white petticoat back and forth over my head and[_ hallooing_] loudly. I was soon gratified to see the glint of a long glass lens that could only have been trained on me, followed by the sight of their sails going slack and the great ship slowing and then stopping.