It was their last night aboard the Sea Bear, and people had stayed awake as long as they possibly could. The able-seamen were sent off first, when Dorothea’s nodding head had nearly sent her plaits into her cocoa, and Roger’s penny-whistle had dropped from his hand twice. The elders sat up a while longer, but finally Captain Flint ordered everyone (including himself) to bed, so they could set off early in the morning. And despite their protests, they all fell asleep as soon as their heads touched their pillows.
In the middle of the night, though, Nancy woke. Had someone been talking in their sleep? Or was it something outside? Silently, she slipped through the cabin and up the companion ladder. Everything seemed peaceful, and she stopped in the bows to look out across the dark waters, savouring having the deck to herself once more. The last time, most likely… At the thought, she felt suddenly, deeply, miserable.
Wait! was that someone moving?
“Who’s there?” she hissed.
“Nancy? Is that you? It’s only me,” Susan said quietly, and a dark shadow resolved into the ship’s mate as she approached.
Nancy breathed a sigh of relief. If it had been Uncle Jim, or John… No reason why she shouldn’t be on deck, of course, but this traitorous tightness in her throat was hard to hide.
“Is everything all right?” Susan asked.
“Thought I heard something, but everything seems fine,” Nancy replied, then quickly added, “Stubbed my toe, though.”
Susan nodded, seeming to accept the excuse for the catch in her voice. “Funny to think tomorrow we’ll be sleeping in houses again.”
“Let’s mutiny again and sail off,” Nancy said, not entirely joking. “We could go round the world!”
“Like with Missee Lee? I wish we could… without the fire and pirates, maybe.”
“Jib-booms and bobstays! Where’s your sense of adventure?” Nancy teased.
“You’ll have to make do with Oxford for now, I think,” Susan said, smiling. “I did wonder if you’d choose Cambridge instead.”
“Because of Missee Lee? That was to annoy Uncle Jim, really. But if I’m doing the work, I want a degree!” She leaned against the railing, back to the sea. “You’re right, Oxford will have to be enough adventure for now. And you’ll have to make an adventure of being Head Girl!”
Susan grimaced. “I wish I weren’t… I know it’s an honour and all that, but I’d much rather be an ordinary prefect. I like being Mate, not Captain.”
If the Walkers came to the Lake next summer, Susan would have to captain Swallow, Nancy thought but didn’t say. Growing up had to happen sometime, and she would make it an adventure, but… did it have to happen so soon?
“You’ll be fine. Titty’s jolly proud of you, you know,” Nancy finally said, turning to look at the sea again. Was that the first light of dawn, over in the east? “And you needn’t worry about it just yet, there’s still one last day of sailing.”