Authors: Robert Barclay
The long, unmeasured pulse of time moves everything.
There is nothing hidden that it cannot bring to light,
nothing once unknown that may not become known.
Nothing is impossible.
New Bedford, Massachusetts
Her name was Constance Elizabeth Canfield, and for as long as she could remember, she loved gazing at the ocean.
No matter the weather, Constance found the froth-topped waves reassuring and filled with promise. In her world she could rely upon few things, but the waves were always there. She loved their consistency of purpose, and their constant determination to assault the rocky shoreline that lay so near her house. She also found them exciting, because they would one day bring her husband back to her. So she patiently watched and waited as they worked their welcome magic on her lonely soul.
She had invented an enticing fantasy in which she sometimes indulged while watching those never-ending waves. She liked to imagine that one of them had actually touched the hull of her husband's ship, no matter on which of the earth's four corners the vessel had been venturing. And, like some God-sent message in a bottle, that same wave had somehow reached her shoreline to confirm that her husband remained alive and well. Sometimes she would even pick out one such wave, thus pretending so, and watch it closely until it destroyed itself against the rocks.
These imaginings were pure foolishness, of course. But she had not received a letter from Adam for a long time, and such dreamsâsilly as they might seem to othersâwere important to her. One had to be the wife of a whaling captain to understand.
Now, she stood on the porch of Seaside, her home on the ocean. She had put her blond hair up, but the strengthening wind had caused several errant strands to caress her face. The weather was threatening, so she had donned a comforting shawl because sometimes the seawater would splash against the rocks so forcefully as to mist her porch. This was not yet one of those days, but her instincts said that it soon would be.
Just then she heard a pair of gulls cry out, and she looked up to see their feathered underbellies as they soared high above the coastline. They seemed to ride the air currents effortlessly.
If only those ocean winds could make Adam's return to me so simple as well,
Given the worsening weather, she had known that she would become damp and windblown. Even so, she would not be dissuaded from this twice-daily ritual, these interludes with which she always fortified herself, just before climbing the stairs to the widow's walk that graced the roof of her beloved home. She realized without looking that the sun had nearly set, and as the wife of a sea captain she always knew the time of day without the need of a clock. Before she lost the light, she would take up her husband's old brass spyglass and make yet another hope-filled pilgrimage; the same journey she had made each morning and evening, every day, for the last two years.
Constance lovingly touched the scrimshaw locket that hung about her neck on a gold chain. Adam had made it himself during his previous voyage. She opened it, and for the thousandth time since Adam's latest departure, Constance looked at the small portrait that lay inside. He was a handsome man, with a dark beard and welcoming brown eyes.
Adam had been first mate aboard her father Benjamin Monroe's ship. Benjamin, also a whaling captain, had taken an immediate liking to Adam. Their marriage was arranged by their parents, and it had not been love at first sight for the nervous bride. Adam was thirty, she had been twenty-four. But to her surprise and delight she soon came to love him deeply. He was strong and kind, and he treated her well; qualities that her unmarried woman friends had long searched for in men, but never found. Constance's lone heartache was that she was thirty-two now, and still childless.
She closed her eyes for a time while remembering her wedding night. She had possessed no illusions about whether Adam had been with other women before. He was a roguishly handsome sea captain who had sailed much of the world, and she would have been very much surprised to learn otherwise. As for her, she had come to the marriage untouched, and to this day Adam was the only man she had ever known. That first night, he had shown her the jagged scar that lay upon his left upper arm, the product of a fellow crew member's mishandled harpoon. To his pleasant surprise, Constance had immediately found it endearing. Because it was a part of him, she had said, it would also be a part of her love for him.
With help from his father, John, she and Adam had purchased their large house by the sea, just outside the town of New Bedford. They had thought long and hard about what to call it, and at last they decided on a name that was simplicity itself. “Seaside.” Very soon after moving in, Seaside and Adam became Constance's entire world.
Before her marriage, Constance had been a very successful midwife, a valuable skill taught to her by her late mother. Several times a year, women of Bedford would still call upon her talent, and it was a service that she loved doing. She never charged a fee because she always considered it to be a privilege seeing a new child brought into the world. She was very good at what she did, but occasionally a child would be lost despite her best efforts. And although that broke her heart, she had no choice but to accept it.
Even so, Constance had few regrets in life. She lived in a beautiful home, and she and Adam lacked for little, provided she judiciously handled the funds he always left in her care. She had many friends in town. Nonetheless, she mourned her lack of children, for they would have fulfilled her and greatly assuaged her loneliness.
She worried what would become of Seaside should she and Adam die childless. If that occurred, the house might one day fall into disrepair, because it needed constant attention due to its nearness to the sea. She smiled slightly as she thought about Adam forever scraping and painting every time he was home. In a way, Seaside had become their child, their mutual object of love and attention. The house had been neglected when they bought it, and returning Seaside to its former glory was hard and expensive work. Nevertheless, Adam had toiled diligently, sometimes hiring idle whalers to help him. Now Seaside was a beautiful, comfortable home, and Constance loved living here.
As the daylight waned, the oil lamps hanging on the back wall of the porch seemed to glow brighter because of it, their comforting radiances causing her to smile. Those burned whale oil, harvested by Adam and brought to Seaside for their personal use. Whenever Constance filled the many house lamps she again thought of him, the emotions coursing through her heart always bittersweet. So far he had always returned. Even so, entire crews were sometimes lost during their hunts for the great whales, and every time Adam put to sea she feared that she might never see him again.
She then thought of the guesthouse that lay on their property some fifty yards west of the house proper and of Eli, Emily, and James Jackson, the three Negroes living there. Eli and Emily were husband and wife; James their young son of eight years. Adam's father had been a southern tobacco farmer who freed his slaves and came north to New England to find a more honorable way of life. Although emancipated, Eli and Emily chose to come with John and his wife, Clarice.
With the passing of Adam's parents, Adam had offered the Jacksons continued employment and lodging in the guesthouse. Eli and James maintained Seaside and her grounds, while Emily helped Constance with the cleaning and cooking. But even though the Jacksons provided a constant presence in Constance's life, her deep loneliness for Adam continued unabated.
Just then Constance remembered the huge, bright red pennant she had made for Adam before he departed on his current voyage. She spent many nights sitting by the fire, hand sewing that piece of fabric, all the while teasing Adam slightly by refusing to tell him why. Only upon finishing her work did she allow him a proper look at it, telling him that on his return to the harbor, she wanted him to fly it from the very top of the mainmast. She could then charge her carriage straight for the wharves without a second to lose. Even so, for more than two years there had come no ship bearing such a pennant. Her loneliness had become so acute that she had begun wondering whether it had all been a dreamâthe making of the pennant, her giving it to Adam, and even his promise that he would indeed fly it when he returned to her.
Suddenly feeling foolish, Constance shook her head
make that pennant. I also know in my heart that one day I will see it flying from my love's mainmast, announcing his long-awaited return .Â .Â .
As the wind rose and the sky darkened, she took a moment to look down at her dress. The pink leg-of-mutton sleeves and broad skirt accentuated her narrow waist, which lay imprisoned by stiff, whalebone corseting. On her feet she wore low, square-toed slippers made of fabric. She always dressed formally, though her friends would tease her about it. Constance would only smile and tell them it was because she enjoyed dressing this way, but in truth there was a secret reason for it. When Adam's ship finally appeared, she wanted to waste no time preparing.
At last she picked up the brass spyglass that lay on the neighboring chair.
It is time,
After taking another wistful look at the waves, she finally left the porch and went into the house, where she lit each of the first-floor lanterns. With her spyglass and a lantern in hand, she climbed the set of stairs leading to the widow's walk. Putting her items down on an old table that stood there, she cast her hope-filled gaze across the restless sea.
By now, the sky had darkened, and it had begun raining. The waves were stronger, striking the rocky shore with even greater intensity and literally exploding into infinite numbers of salty droplets. After again gathering her woolen shawl closer, she pulled open the old telescoping spyglass and put it to one eye.
Although protected from the rain by a shingled roof, Constance knew that the worsening weather would make searching the harbor difficult. The rain was coming nearly sideways, stinging her face and soaking her dress. Even so, she would not be dissuaded from her task. Hoping to improve her view, she stepped closer to the railing, but the darkness and the raindrops collecting upon the lens of her spyglass conspired to make searching the harbor increasingly difficult.