Authors: Jessica Wolf
The Shipmaster’s Daughter
Copyright © 2016 Jessica Wolf
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: 9781535236720
For John Edward Hogue—
I know you see this and are proud. Thank you for teaching me how to be a better person. I miss you every day.
And for Wanda Marie Hogue—
You are my hero. I love you.
1908. Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
orceful waves slammed against the side of the
and sent the ship into another dreadful lurch. Luciana Renaldi’s stomach churned. She groaned, burrowing her head further under her pillow. With every turn and sway the boat took, her stomach recoiled and bile rose in her throat. Her father had promised sailing wouldn’t be so bad. Either he lied outright or forgot to take sudden thunderstorms into account. When another flash of lightening struck the air, followed by a boom of thunder, Luciana bent over the edge of her bunk and retched into a wooden bucket.
“Ack, Lucy!” Massimo, Luciana’s eldest brother, turned around from the small writing desk near the wall. His dark mass of curls bounced as he shook his head. “Toss that outside before it stinks up the whole place.”
“I can’t help it,” she said, slipping out of bed. The back-and-forth swaying of the ship caused her to lose her balance. She reached out and grabbed the wall to steady herself.
From his cot on the floor, Piero, her second brother, cursed. “Watch where you’re going with that,” he said sharply, pulling his long legs from out of her path.
Luciana somehow managed to make it to the small, square window despite the intense rocking of the ship. Bracing herself, she flung the pane open and dumped the contents of her bucket into the dark ocean. Wind howled as it rushed inside, sea spray coating her face. She grunted as she pulled the window back into its place and secured it.
“This boat ride is making me sicker than I thought it would.” She slumped back to her bed.
“You never prepare, Luciana,” Massimo muttered, his head bent over his writings.
Luciana ignored him, her eyes on the ceiling. As
sped through the vast waters of the Atlantic ocean, the promise of a better life kept her from going insane. Luciana’s father had been one of the most prominent shipbuilders in all of Viareggio. Until it all went sour. On a hunch that America would provide something more, he’d packed up Luciana and her brothers and put them on the next boat out of Venice.
At twenty-three years old, Luciana had been tempted to stay behind. She was of age, certainly, but her father needed her, just like she needed him. They were a pair. She wouldn’t leave him to begin again in a whole new country with only her brothers for company.
They had been on the boat for five days. Five long, salty, smelly days. She didn’t know how much more her mind or her stomach could take.
Massimo blew out the only candle in the small room as he rose from his chair. Darkness swallowed the cabin. Luciana drew her cover closer to her chin, reminding herself to breathe in and out. Her fear of the dark had always put her on the receiving end of many a nasty joke. Friends and siblings alike couldn’t understand why a woman with such a sharp tongue and inquisitive mind would cower when entering a dark room.
“I’m going down the hall to check on Papa. Lucy, do you need anything for your stomach?” The gentle tone of his voice tore her eyes away from the ceiling. It was uncommon to hear such caring words from her brother.
She shook her head anyway. “No, but thank you. Tell Papa I said goodnight.”
“I will. Piero, why don’t you walk with me?”
Piero groaned. “I was nearly asleep.”
“The walk will do you some good. Your stomach is starting to round out too much.”
Luciana chuckled, rolling onto her side. Piero muttered under his breath, but followed his elder brother out into the hall. The door closed softly behind them and Luciana was left to her thoughts. She sighed heavily and closed her eyes. Above, she could hear rain slam against the upper deck. It pinged against the window, seeping through the cracks in the walls.
was an old ship, not heavily manned or well equipped for a journey across the ocean. But the Renaldis were in no financial position to buy tickets on a nicer and safer boat.
Eventually, she fell asleep, calmed by the rhythmic patter of the rain on the deck. She dreamed of Italy and the world she was leaving behind. She could almost smell the scent of fresh bread drifting from open windows, and she could almost hear the hustle and bustle of the town square.
A trunk banging into the opposite wall woke her.
Luciana sat up, chest heaving. She pushed her hair out of her face and whirled. She squinted into the darkness. None of Massimo’s soft snores filled the air and the continuous rustling of Piero was absent, as well. As the ship’s creaking and groaning continued, she slipped out of bed and made her way to the window. She expected to see nothing but darkness. Instead, she saw the faint pink light of day on the horizon. Rain continued to pour down in sheets.
She frowned. Where were her brothers?
A crack echoed on deck. Luciana looked up. Water slipped through cracks in the ceiling, landing in a puddle before her feet. She swallowed, stepping back. Something wasn’t right. Something was wrong. Without a second thought, she rushed from the room. The hallway was flooded with sea water to her ankles. Cold, frigid water shocked her skin and stole the breath from her lungs. A shriek escaped her mouth and she reached out to brace her hands against the wall.
“Papa!” she called. His cabin door hung wide open. She scrambled to it, tripping over her own feet, and poked her head inside. Empty and stone cold. Had they left without her? Were they dead?
She pushed such thoughts aside as she struggled to make it to the staircase at the end of the hall. Water rushed over the steps like a waterfall. She slipped once, her elbow and knee hitting the corner of a stair. Blood dribbled from her elbow, but she continued on. Once on deck, she was met with a terrible sight that stilled the breath remaining in her chest.
Fire engulfed the mast and sails. Sailors rushed about on deck, yelling and pointing. Luciana felt her throat go tight. The bow was tilted to the left at an angle that gave a third of the boat to the sea.
Luciana turned around, her slippers nearly giving way. What on earth had happened? She cupped her hands over her mouth. “Massimo! Piero!” The roar of the fire and wind drowned out her frantic voice.
With tears and rain blurring her eyes and fear clogging her throat, she worked her way toward the quarter deck, away from the rising waters. A man whizzed past her, his shoulder hitting hers. With a grunt, she lost her footing and tumbled toward the ground. A hand reached out and grabbed the shoulder of her robe, pulling her back to her feet.
“Stand up, girl, and don’t let go of my hand.”
The sailor took a firm grip on her hand and dragged her toward the quarter deck. Stabs of pain shot through her lungs as she gasped for air. The rain beating down on her head and shoulders made her head pound. She threw a quick glance over her shoulder. The fire had spread down the mast toward the deck. It crackled and popped in the air, adding to the urgency of the drumming rain. Salt and smoke stung the inside of her nose.
Stopping short, she scanned the deck. “Papa,” she shouted, wrenching her hand from the sailor’s. “Papa!”
Where on earth was he? Hot, uncomfortable tears blurred her vision. Her chest felt tight and nausea once again claimed her stomach.
The sailor took her hand again. “Your father is gone, girl. Keep moving.”
Luciana followed the sailor to the quarter deck. When they stopped, she mustered enough energy to speak. “What do you mean? My papa isn’t gone.”
The sailor, middle-aged and greasy, wrinkled his nose. “I’m sorry, miss. Your father and brothers were some of the first off of the ship.”
Luciana blinked, shaking her head. She felt her heart skip a beat. “I don’t understand. What happened?”
“The mast was struck by lightning and caught fire. Someone was readjusting the canons below deck when it happened and one went off, blowing a hole in the side of the ship. I imagine your family left with the rest of the passengers.”
Her chin quivered as her mind struggled to grasp the man’s meaning. “That’s a lie, a dirty, rotten lie.”
He shook his head, taking her wrist in his hand as they moved out of the way of a group of sailors. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. “In all the hurry they must have forgot.”
“Stop lying! They would never... They wouldn’t just leave me to die.” Luciana’s stomach twisted and sour bile rose in her throat. She pushed it down. Her eyes darted through the crowd of men around her.
The sailor was wrong. They wouldn’t have left her. Not alone, not to die.
She caught a glimpse of salt-and-pepper hair in the crowd, like that of her father’s. Starting forward, she shouted, “Papa! Papa, I’m over here.”
The sailor caught her hand again, pulling her back. “No, miss. You’re going to have to jump. The ship is sinking and we don’t have anymore life boats.”
Luciana froze. “Jump?” she breathed. “I’m not jumping. My family—they’re somewhere on the boat and I can’t–”
His fingers squeezed her shoulders painfully and when he spoke his voice was callous. “Your family is gone. They left you and paid the price for it. Unless you want to die too, I suggest you jump. We’re a few leagues from the coast, so make a swim for it if you can.” He pushed her toward the edge of the ship.
Panic grabbed Luciana as her feet slipped. She struggled against him. “No, please,” she said. “Please, you can’t do this. My family is somewhere on the ship and I have to find them. Please don’t do–”
He pushed her.
Everything around her froze. She knew she was falling and she knew she was falling fast. But all she could see was fire consuming
, men jumping from all sides of the ship, and the sun rising in the sky. There was no sound, no feeling. Only falling and emptiness.
Then her back hit the water. The impact stung and her eyes watered in pain.
In an instant, everything changed. One moment, she was safe and warm inside of her cabin. The next minute, she was struggling to keep herself afloat in the Atlantic Ocean.
She treaded the water as best she could. Water filled her mouth as she bobbed up and down, up and down, in the waves. Her nightgown and robe weighed her down as it clung to her skin. Gasping, she forced herself to stop flailing her arms and legs. She looked up.
The fire had reached the deck and taken hold, its bright orange light blazing in the new-dawn sky. What crew that was left on board screamed for mercy, their gasps and cries causing Luciana’s heart to lurch. A low groan pierced the air as
took her final bow. Then she tipped into the air and slipped into the murky depths. Gurgling water was the only evidence a ship had ever been there.
Tears stung Luciana’s eyes. Her limbs felt like stone, heavy and cold. She was alone, in the middle of the ocean, without her father or her brothers. They were dead, hundreds of feet below her on the ocean floor, and she was going to die just like them.
She swallowed her sobs, turning to look up at the ruddy face of a sailor. He sat on top of a large section of wood. Behind him, two other men sat on a similar piece. Burns marked the sailor’s face. He extended a slender piece of driftwood to her, repeating her name.
“Miss Renaldi, take hold of this. We’ll take you to safety.” He pulled her onto the wood and then turned to the other sailors. “The rain’s died down. We can make it if we paddle all night.”
Luciana hugged her quivering arms around her middle. “Make it? Make it where?” She glanced around. Everywhere she looked she saw water. In the far off distance, though, she could see the outline of large, craggy rocks sticking out of a shore. Land—most definitely land.
The sailor began to paddle. “England, miss.”
or Reed Hargrave, spending the day picking seashells with his daughter sounded like heaven as opposed to reviewing the house books. A heavy mist hung over the rocky shore and a chill bit the air. The adverse weather did nothing to despair Esther, though.