“ ‘Damn the sloop, we must sink her,’ ” drawled Hendricks, pretending to be engrossed in the battered Gazette he held before him, and clearly not reading a single word, “ ‘And she might be of use to you. Though you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws –’ ”
“For Heaven’s sake, Captain.”
“ ‘ – By laws, which rich men have made for their own security.’ ”
Nellie Treat grabbed the Gazette from his hands with an undignified huff, looking around to see that no one else had heard. But the room outside Mr. Bishop’s office was nearly empty – empty certainly of Minot, his student, who had scuttled from his allotted desk at the first whiff of trouble, and now, likely, was pinned between Mr. Bishop and his opponent in a towering row. Poor lad. The only other occupant was Susannah – who had come with Nellie on her errands, and was knitting in an unobtrusive corner, concentrating as though the breaking of the seven seals could not move her from the task.
Hendricks, meanwhile, propped his boots on the cold fire-grate with a cheerful whistle, and Nellie rose to pace the room. It was two short weeks until Mary’s wedding, and though there was no rational reason for Nellie to fret, over the legal arrangements and the money to be settled and property transferred and a dozen little things – the fact remained she was. As her worries went, it had two things chiefly to recommend it: first, a successful marriage to a smart, well-established young man was a thing to be celebrated, and it gave Nellie joy to think she had, in part, given to her sister this greatest gift: not only choice in matrimony, but the ability to be discerning; second, Nellie, like the rest of Boston, was uneasily waiting to see what would happen next, regarding the squadron and the enforcement of duties, and she’d worn herself out on worries there.
So she had gone to Mr. Bishop, to go over the settlement one more time.
“Do you know who he’s speaking with?”
Hendricks shrugged, before observing no one would be able to hear them over all of that.
“And you are taking this opportunity to quote Samuel Bellamy at me.”
“I had heard you were speaking of him, and piracy, of late,” said Hendricks, smothering a grin, “And in such elevated company, too!”
Nellie spent a moment wondering how Hendricks had heard what conversation was on the table at the dinner some few days ago, before her friend took pity on her: “Mary reported it all to Polly, and Polly, as an able lieutenant, told me, when I had come to call last and found you out.”
“Did my daughter also ask you what ‘impressment’ meant?”
“No. Did you tell her to?”
“She asked Commodore Norrington what impressment was,” Nellie replied, rubbing her temples, “I hope you’ll forgive me for thinking that it seemed like something you would have found – amusing.”
Hendricks snorted, not even bothering to laugh behind his hands, and Nellie – very generously, she thought! – waited a few moments before cutting off his mirth with a sharp remark, which rolled off her friend like water off an oil-cloth cloak.
“How did she find the Commodore’s answer?”
“Informative enough that she’s been asking me why Englishmen allow something so unjust.”
“From the mouths of babes, eh, Mrs. T?”
Nellie sat down opposite Hendricks with another dramatic huff. “If you had children of your own, Captain, you wouldn’t find this a tenth as amusing.”
“Ah, but I’ll never marry, and so I expect I’ll never find out,” he replied, dismissively, before Nellie reminded him that if she perished she’d hold him at least partially responsible for raising Polly and Sam – and he shot back that the Bendishes would take the sprogs in first, and, anyway, he couldn’t imagine having him as a guardian would at all set Polly and Sam up in a respectable life, which Nellie had to shamefully concede was correct.
“And besides,” Hendricks said, fishing out his pipe, “You’ll outlive us all, out of sheer spite.”
But this was too close to too poorly closed a wound, for both of them, and they left it behind quickly for happier memories – at least in part, for they eventually found their way back to Captain Johnson and Sam Bellamy, and how well the children had been enjoying the book.
“Whatever happened to Samuel’s copy?” asked Hendricks, after a time. Nellie twisted her rings.
“Lost, somewhere along the way.”
Tens of thousands of sea-miles, two homes, three different ships – setting aside Captain Treat’s generous nature, fast friends with almost everyone he met. Nellie had no proper idea, but she only had one strong memory of that volume – in the Sally’s cabin (which she had found cramped before seeing where Hendricks, then Captain Treat’s mate, slept), in near-darkness due to the violence of the storm, her new husband and Hendricks traded off reading to her while she suffered through her sea-sickness, and Mary clung sniffling to her side. An auspicious start to a marriage, she’d thought miserably, praying the Almighty would see her craven soul for what it was and strike her down, if only to stop the nausea.
It had been Bellamy, then, too. She remembered: it had been some great joke between Hendricks and Captain Treat, about dread deities and tipples and thunderstorms being a drunken row, quoted in passing as one man shucked off his oilskins and the other donned them, and Nellie, sat up in Captain Treat’s cot, asked what the meaning of it was.
“You’re in for it now,” Hendricks had said, on his way out the door with a cheerful wink – and her husband had gone to his chest, and fetched out a then-new volume.
“Shall I read to her, Mary?” asked Captain Treat as he returned, chucking her sister under the chin with determined good cheer, “It’ll pass the time, and I expect the storm will blow itself out soon enough.”
Mary, pleased to be treated as an Authority on her sister’s well-being, had replied that of course he must, and so Captain Treat had wedged a chair into a corner, and wedged his great frame into that, so that he would be safe from the violent pitch and roll brought on by the waves. “Here it is,” he had said, coming to the appointed page, “Black Samuel Bellamy and his men weathering a storm, far worse than the present one – ‘but among these Wretches, the Effect was different, for they endeavoured by their Blasphemies, Oaths, and horrid Imprecations, to drown the Uproar of jarring Elements. Bellamy swore he was sorry he could not run out his Guns to return the Salute, meaning the Thunder, that he fancied the Gods had got drunk over their Tipple, and were gone together by the Ears.’”
“That was very bad of them,” Mary had said, and Captain Treat had laughed uproariously at that, agreeing that Bellamy and his men were not quite the paragons of virtue she and her sister were, and they had gone on in this way for some time, until Mary finally had fallen asleep against her side, and Captain Treat, scarcely looking as though he had neither slept nor eaten for a day, had moved his chair so that he could hold her hand in his great ones and tell her they would be safe in Boston soon.
“You’re a brave woman, Nellie,” her husband had said, when he had to leave her, “And I swear to you, we’ll be home soon.”
Nellie was abruptly yanked out of these reminiscences by the slamming open of the office-door, and a man she belatedly recognized as Mr. Loring storming out the door under a black cloud of bad temper. She hastily checked under her eyes for traces of tears – though there were none, she noted with bittersweet relief.
Captain Hendricks turned to her and raised his brows, before gathering himself up at Minot’s summons into Bishop’s office. “We’re departing for the West Indies soon,” he reminded her, “Come see me when you can.”
After her conversation with Mr. Bishop, which both parties agreed bad-temperedly was an unwarranted waste of time, though Bishop was the richer for it and Nellie was a little soothed by hearing that she had well taken care of some parts of her life, she went to the Bendish house to speak with Aunt B. She’d had little opportunity to speak with her Aunt since the dinner, and, as she had been waging her campaign of reason and kinship on Margaret Hutchinson as Aunt B had asked, it was high time to report – and to hear whether or not it had had any effect on Thomas Hutchinson’s wavering disposition.
Nellie, truthfully, still could not say whether she hoped she’d succeeded. Nibley’s autocratic conduct was a thing she only saw and understood by its effect – much like a cold wind from the north, when she was snug before the fire – and so while she wanted his domineering curbed (especially as Aunt B had taken care to remind her that Nibley was able to behave in such a way because of his parentage, which grated at her sensibilities) she still worried more about Commodore Norrington’s inexorable campaign against smuggling. That campaign, if not suspended, had certainly been curtailed these last two weeks – and the air had been the sweeter for it! She’d had a few good night’s rest, which had made her feel almost a new woman – though some of that had assuredly worn off as the tensions on the waterfront wormed their way inland, rotting her peace from the inside.
Aunt B met her in the parlor, with tea laid out on the table. They exchanged pleasantries, and Nellie summarized where she had gone and what she had heard, over the past few days: social inanities, waterfront gossip, and her visit to Mr. Bishop. “Mr. Loring was there, rowing with Mr. Bishop over something,” she concluded, with a tight, humorless smile, watching her Aunt sip her tea, “I really cannot consider the man’s interest in me seriously. His temper’s more violent than a storm.”
Aunt B said that Nellie would stand a better chance against him than whatever poor young miss he ended up marrying, but let the topic drop for the time being. “And how is Margaret Hutchinson?”
“Have you spoken at all with her husband?”
“No, though Mr. Bendish had the opportunity to speak with Mr. and Mrs. Oliver, who have had quite enough to deal with from his uncle Belcher to be useful.”
Mrs. Mary Sanford Oliver being Mrs. Margaret Sanford Hutchinson’s elder sister, Nellie’s family connection would have been useful there as well – but Andrew Oliver’s mother was Governor Belcher’s sister, and Aunt B had reasonably judged that the Olivers had too much riding on that family connection to risk the Governor’s displeasure at the moment. The Hutchinsons, then, had remained Nellie’s target in persuading continued support for the naval squadron. Just as well. Captain Treat had agreed with neither Oliver nor Hutchinson, though he and Nellie had gotten on a little better with the latter than the former.
“I wrote to Margaret Hutchinson, and took tea with her,” Nellie replied, fussing with her own dish, “She is well – and her daughter.”
Aunt B said she was pleased by the report, and inquired after Nellie’s success or failure.
“I cannot say. Mr. Hutchinson’s position in the Assembly is uncertain, but Mrs. Hutchinson believes he will never befriend Mr. Cooke’s old popular faction, and so he has little to gain by trying to curry favor regarding Norrington – not when he still intends to keep speaking out against the province’s increasing paper currency circulation.”
“And you supported her in this?”
Nellie, though distressed by inflation, privately thought Hutchinson was being an ass about Massachusetts’ bills of credit, but knew what her Aunt and Uncle believed – and what Hutchinson would continue to do. “I did. Mr. Hutchinson has precious little to gain by publically abandoning his support for the squadron, unpopular though the King’s men may be. Too, I reminded her that tensions with Spain have been increasing, and what protection the Navy affords us. Commodore Norrington may be cursed on every street corner in Boston, but another war, and perhaps we’ll be singing songs to him.”
“Good work, my dear,” Aunt B said, with an approving smile, which turned inward and a little regretful as she contemplated her next words: “Loathe as I am to look forwards towards a coming war, which will both derange commerce and bring death and suffering throughout the Empire, I cannot deny that a war will solve some of Boston’s current difficulties.”
Nellie, who despised the very idea of war from both her Quaker upbringing and her concern for profits, mutinously replied that she had rather deal with Commodore Norrington indefinitely than the Spanish Navy even for a short war.
Aunt B looked at her curiously for a moment, but shook her head as though to brush away the thought. “Which brings us to a less pleasant topic, but I must speak of it with you. You mentioned Mr. Loring this morning, and I accept that he is – not a good prospect for you –”
“ – Not a good prospect for you,” Aunt B repeated, with a cool look, “But the war is coming. Your fortunes will be threatened. Remarriage may offer you some protection from the disruptions of the coming conflict, and preserve what you and Samuel built for your children.”
“Or this future husband of mine might turn out to be a burden. Or he may be ruined by the war, as I may be!”
“You needn’t marry another merchant or captain.”
Nellie drolly replied that if there was another class of prosperous men in Boston, she had yet to encounter it, which Aunt B waved away with a reminder that she had been transplanted once before – and so Nellie shot back that her friends and family were here, and she cared more for them than she ever had her family in Newport.
“You might marry a lawyer, then. There is always Mr. Cortauld.”
“I’d go from two to nine children overnight, and if the Lord is unkind, I have fifteen more years in which I might bear a man sons and daughters. A losing proposition on the costs of a good nursery-maid alone.”
Aunt B set aside her dish with an uncharacteristic clatter. “I fear you are not taking this seriously, Elinor. It cannot be that you are unafraid of the coming conflict, since both you and I remember you reacted poorly to that news, and it cannot be that you do not take the precarity of your situation seriously, since you have been at such pains to extricate yourself and your family from the liabilities Samuel left behind – and so, my dear, I am forced to ask a question that I suspect neither of us will much enjoy contemplating. For what reasons are you so set against remarriage?”
Nellie felt the question as a physical blow.
For a few moments, she breathed around the pain in her breast, only barely able to gather her thoughts and her words; there was the new, deeply-rooted pain she could scarcely speak of, and the older memories of her youth that had been so close to her consciousness of late. The former was unendurable; the latter only humiliating – and so, Newport it was:
“My father,” she began, weakly, before perversely gaining surety and purpose under Aunt B’s scrutiny, “You know what my family’s circumstances were. My father wasted every penny my mother, and then my step-mother, brought to their marriages. Mr. Bishop can name you a half-dozen cases, without effort, where a man has made free with a widow’s money after remarriage, in the last handful of years alone. I will not let my children suffer, as I did, because of a man like my father. Polly will have a substantial dowry, such as neither I nor most of my sisters had – she cannot count on being as lucky as I was, a man like Captain Treat willing to take her with precious little but her looks and her wits. Sam will be educated, as none of my brothers were. I can manage my affairs so that they will not want, as I wanted.”
“Your care for your children and your responsibilities is commendable.”
And then came the ambush: “I cannot help but notice now, as you have been doing for some time: you call your husband Captain Treat.”
“I call my late husband Captain Treat,” Nellie said, feeling as though her mind were a china plate that had been dropped and so shattered, with the pieces splintering out hither and yon; all she was left with was a sick feeling that she knew exactly where Aunt B meant to lead her with this line of conversation, and that she would not be able to escape it.
“My nephew’s name was Samuel.”
Nellie pressed her lips together and nodded.
“You have not said his name since he died, I think.”
“I have used his Christian name since then. The burial. Discussing his will with Mr. Bishop. My prayers.”
“But not informally – not in conversation, between you and I. Or with your children, or with Mary.”
Aunt B was holding her gaze in a steady way, at once cool and compassionate, and Nellie knew she was fussing with her rings, but had no way to stop herself. What did she want Nellie to say? What could she say? Her mind, as it had for more than a year and a half, veered off at the prospect of approaching what she had lost – she vaguely knew that at some point, listening to the dirt drum hollowly on her husband’s coffin and then Jenny’s impossibly small one, she had –
Had what? Something had changed, but she’d been too exhausted, too stupid with grief to know it. She hadn’t had time to question it or examine it, either, not with her sister and her surviving children down with the terrible throat distemper, her household in disarray, and herself preserved alone, teetering on the edge of a great internal cliff. Captain Treat had died, and so she found herself – promoted, sole power and responsibility over so much shoved suddenly into her black-gloved hands.
Nellie knew herself to be a woman not much prone to self-reflection; she had always done what needed doing, and accounted herself grateful she had been blessed with considerable ability – and the luck that someone had seen it and loved her for it. After the cold earth was thrown in those graves, there was – there had been nothing to be done about – there was nothing to be done about –
“He is gone,” she said, stupidly, after moments of choking on the unearthed pain.
“And he wouldn’t want you to suffer, my dear –”
She made a miserable, inchoate noise of protest, which went unheeded as Aunt B went on in a low, soothing voice.
“– Samuel wanted you and the children to be safe and well cared for. He never would have wished for you to be alone forever, or for Polly and Sam to grow up without a father.”
Then he shouldn’t have died!, she thought – but couldn’t say, though by God she wanted to. It was ridiculous to turn her anger on him – he’d had no choice in the matter. His choice was in trusting her with everything, to manage it all as they would have in tandem.
And yet – there was anger mixed in with the grief – anger with no point or path, no proper target, simply sitting and curdling in the corners of her soul.
“You’ve done well since he passed,” Aunt B continued, still softly, “But your circumstances are changing. Your cleverness and luck cannot sustain you forever. You must be practical.”
Nellie bristled, welcoming the feeling of the grief giving way to thatanger, and the clear vent her Aunt had unintentionally given her. “I have been practical,” she replied, sharp as glass, “I have done what needed to be done for nearly two years. Why can you not trust me, as Captain Treat evidently did?”
She didn’t wait for an answer, but collected Susannah and stormed out.
Nellie paid her home a flying visit, after she recalled she had left her account books locked in their drawer when she had need of them to consult with Captain Hendricks, which hardly cheered her, or improved her mood. Polly and Sam, coming to the door to welcome her home, were sent hurrying back to their lessons – and Nellie nearly struck the china out of Mary’s hands, when she apologetically approached with a cool dish of tea, left over from the morning. Her sister’s eyes went wide and brimmed with tears, and Nellie – so happy to let her grief turn to directionless rage on the walk back from the Bendishes – found herself bereft of everything but shame. She apologized incoherently, found her books, and fled.
On Long Wharf, she found the Watch and Wait at the center of a buzzing hive of activity – barrels rolled out of warehouses and swung aboard in great grape-like bunches. Mr. Johnson, Hendricks’s mate, stood at the bottom on the gangway and nodded to her and Susannah as they passed, and Hendricks himself waved them up towards the quarterdeck, where he’d set up an impromptu office from a few chairs and barrels not currently being stowed in the hold. Nellie laid her books and notes out there, for Hendricks to peruse; he attempted conversation in between writing notes of his own on what he might expect to sell last year’s corn for, and what price molasses and coffee and sugar commanded in different ports, but Nellie, though she had calmed herself since her earlier outbursts, was still rattled by her Aunt’s insinuations and her bad-tempered reaction to them – every lure and gambit he tried, she rebuffed.
Eventually, Hendricks had enough.
“All right, Mrs. T. Out with it. What’s got you in a mood? Old man Winship making difficulties for young Jabez and your sister, or challenging you on Holly and the Constance?”
Nellie wondered for a moment how Captain Hendricks would have heard of her spat with the senior Winship over command of the Constance, before remembering that Hendricks and Holly were at least friendly. She huffed a sigh, fussed with her mourning rings, and admitted that, “Aunt B has indicated to me that I ought to consider remarriage sooner, rather than wait too long, while conflict with Spain is so close in the offing and my living will be disrupted.”
“And how was her advice received?”
“She found my reaction – hostile.”
Hendricks laughed, but there wasn’t much mirth in it – more like an echo of a laugh, or a memory of one, before making a fond but unflattering comparison to a common barnyard mule. His sketch of her character was unerringly correct, she owned, but she didn’t have to like it – and not when he took his pipe from between his teeth and sighed. “Your Aunt is right, you know.”
Nellie frowned and denied it.
“If war’s coming – and it is – you’ll count yourself blessed if all you face are increased costs. The Spanish Navy and their privateers out for blood? Won’t matter how good a trading partner we’ve been to them these long years. If I had cash to wager, I’d put good odds on losing at least one vessel.”
“I have done those calculations, Captain.”
“And how will you take the loss?” Hendricks did not have to remind her of her remaining debts, the already-existing conditions of precariousness that had shadowed her dreams and waking moments alike – and he did not have to say either she couldn’t or with great sacrifice. She was sure he could read that all over her face, for he said, impossibly gently (for a man she’d been able to hear bawling orders in the teeth of a gale, once): “We all know why you are going on in this way, Nellie.”
She wouldn’t hear it – and she wouldn’t weep in public, for all of Long Wharf to see. Biting back a curse, Nellie consciously reached for her fears and anger instead, hissing, for the second time in as many hours: “Because my father was a drunk and a spendthrift who squandered the little my mother and step-mother brought to the union on the Lord-only-knows-what, and I will be damned before I let some interloper sit in my home and help himself to my money to flatter his own vanity and conspire to push my two living children out. Captain Treat trusted me to dispose of our ships, our investments, our children, in the way I judged best and safest. I will not betray that trust!”
Unthinkingly, she banged the barrel-table – hard enough that her hand smarted, and that she started, surprising even herself. Hendricks merely reached into his pocket and handed her his handkerchief.
“God love you, Mrs. T,” he said, crossing his arms before him, bidding her to wipe her eyes before the hot tears welled over, “I remember where Samuel found you, and you and I know that’s an old story between us. The war is a certain threat to you and the children’s well-being; remarriage only a possible one – which you might avoid by your own cleverness and the assistance of Mr. Bishop in legal matters.”
“There is a difference,” she insisted, mulishly unwilling to see what her Aunt and her friend were laying out before her.
Hendricks favored her with a look that was no less kind for all its sharpness.
He gestured for her to explain, which she resented, for she could barely explain it herself. “The war is someone else’s doing,” she said, hesitantly, “But should the man I choose prove worthless –”
“You feel that ruin would be your doing?”
Nellie nodded, relieved Hendricks had said it and she had not had to fumble after the words – and further relieved that he seemed to be willing to let it drop, after the single evocation of Captain Treat’s fond nickname for her. ‘Nellie’ alone was enough that she knew that Hendricks had the same suspicions Aunt B had had; that her refusal to entertain the possibility of remarriage was not pragmatic reduction of risk alone.
Hendricks left her alone to manage some of the cargo for a time, returning with a careful quip, thrown out like the lead-line, about finding a rich old widower who’d leave her in peace before too many years might pass. She rejected that with a scoff and wave of her hand, which her friend evidently took as permission to continue.
“Why not marry some handsome young man who’s got more money than brains, then? The sort who’ll be only too happy for you to do as you please, and be grateful to you for it? You’re worldly enough and just old enough to terrify some wealthy ne’er-do-well into being a creditable member of society.”
“You cannot be serious.”
“I am serious.”
“Fine. If you’re determined to have a laugh at my expense, then you ought to marry me,” Nellie said tartly, aware that Hendricks was teasing her out of her temper, “We’ll be terrifically unhappy together, but at least I’ll have the comfort of a known quantity.”
“Alas, we neither of us have what the other wants,” replied Hendricks, “I’ve no ambition beyond what I’ve achieved, and you are far too enterprising for me.”
“If I am too enterprising for you, then I’ll happily take my information elsewhere.”
“And leave your oldest friend in Boston out to dry with the wash? For shame, Mrs. T.”
They squabbled companionably for a few moments more, Nellie feeling more herself than she had since stepping into the Bendish parlor –
And then Hendricks leapt to his feet, nearly knocking the books off the barrel they’d appropriated for a table, looking over her shoulder with a growing grimace. “What on …” he began so say, looking to Long Wharf – and then, flatly, “Fuck.”
“Stay here, Mrs. T, or get below. Susannah! – you too, if you please. There’s about to be a riot or a murder, and no mistake.”
Nellie, of course, did neither (though waved at Susannah to stay aft and out of the way) – darting forward through the mess of the Watch and Wait’s preparations for sea. Hendricks made a half-hearted attempt to turn her back, but that was as good as bailing a boat with a thimble – from Long Wharf, she could hear raised voices – as the rest of the ambient noise of the waterfront fell away to a low, portentous rumbling – in sound and evocation every bit the sound of distant thunder.
By the gangway, she finally caught sight of what was happening: It was Lieutenant Nibley, late summer sun catching on his gold braid, speaking with one of the Watch and Wait’s men – Dooley? Doodle? – who was flanked by two scarlet-coated Marines. The poor sailor’s weathered face had gone pale.
“ – we were on the Ajax together, weren’t we? Not so long ago? Five years, maybe six?” Nibley was saying, in a tone that only sounded friendly.
“No,” replied Doodle, “Never been the King’s man.”
This was a lie – Nellie knew it, had heard Hendricks tell her Doodle’s history. She looked over to her friend, who, at Doodle’s words, pressed a belaying pin into her hands with a Look and took off down the gangway with a bellowed, “What the hell is the meaning of all this?”
Nibley ignored Hendricks. “You ran in Port Mahon, as I recall.”
“Never been in the Med.”
“Lieutenant Nibley, why are you harassing my man?” Hendricks put himself between Doodle and Nibley, with a volcanic look. He was not a large man, but he had a way of convincing those around him he was. Hendricks was doing it now, with a reassuring glance towards his sailor.
“He’s not your man. His name isn’t even Doodle. Tom Hawkins, wasn’t it? You were a topman.”
“No, sir!” protested Doodle, who tried to break away, only to have the two blank-faced marines hold him by his arms more firmly – and around them, the crowd flared and surged, and Nellie uneasily noticed she was not the only body present clutching a pin or a club – as though men needed that to fight.
“Where’s your proof, Lieutenant Nibley?” Nellie watched Hendricks look about himself at the uneasy gathering, clearly realizing he had numbers on his side – and then added, for the crowd’s benefit, as they continued to surround them, “Let him go. He’s no deserter and he’s signed my ship’s articles.”
“Not a deserter? Either you’re a liar or a half-wit, Captain Hendricks!”
Hendricks only bristled – the angry throng around him shouted and surged forward, hurling insults towards Nibley and actual projectiles alike. Nellie watched, as if from a far greater distance than the few arms-lengths that separated her in the waist of the Watch and Wait from the pandemonium breaking loose on the wharf: the rest of Nibley’s party bunching together, phalanx-like – Nibley shouting imprecations back at the crowd – one of the two marines holding Doodle had dropped his quarry and was reaching for his musket –
“Lieutenant Nibley,” came a loud, marrow-freezing hail – for a moment, Nellie couldn’t place it for its volume, until she caught sight of another naval party further down the Wharf, though approaching with all speed.
Nellie had never been so glad to see Commodore Norrington’s over-braided coat or hear his voice in her life – though her flush of relief was swiftly tempered by the ice-cold realization that the crowd surrounding Nibley was still clutching their clubs and staves, still surging and muttering and ready for a fight. They might have deserved it – having been pushed so far – certainly, the crowd expected one. Perhaps the Commodore knew this, for he left Lieutenant Groves and his marines behind him with a word, approaching the Watch and Wait on his own, unarmed and alone.
What – ?
She should have been terrified to do that herself, but then, Norrington’s usual opponents had pistols and cannons trained on him; Nellie wondered, at a remove from herself and the present, what a restive crowd of men bearing clubs looked like, to him.
Norrington slowed as he approached, surveying the crowd and Nibley’s party with deliberate coolness. They had quieted, and no one was hurling detritus or curses anymore, but it was plain to Nellie, from the restlessness of both parties, that one inciting word would resume what had been heading towards a riot.
“Pearson,” said Norrington, addressing the marine who had his piece half-brandished before him, “Shoulder your firelock.”
The man, Pearson, did so, with a nervous air about him, and Norrington rounded on his officer with a cold, hard look.
“Lieutenant Nibley, you will oblige me with an explanation for the present disorder.”
“This man, Hawkins, is a deserter, sir,” Nibley replied, drawing himself up to his full height under scrutiny – nearly impressive, but the Commodore was taller yet, and obviously more used to commanding. Nibley had to look up at him, ruining the effect of his gesture.
“From the Teal?”
“No, sir. From the –”
Norrington impatiently interrupted. “From the Garland, then?”
“No, sir. The Ajax. I remember him, sir.”
“Have you proof of this accusation?”
Nibley made no response for several long moments. Nellie was holding her breath, she belatedly realized, and shifting the belaying pin between her mitted palms. “Only my memory, sir.”
Norrington nodded, in such a way that Nellie suspected he’d already known the answer - and perhaps, she thought, the Commodore had only asked the question in order to have Nibley admit his wrong-doing aloud. Certainly, Nibley seemed to think so – he was looking venomously at Norrington – an expression that only intensified as Norrington address both him and the crowd.
“You are a zealous officer, Lieutenant Nibley,” he said, in such a way that it was clear he meant no compliment by it, “And you will report on the Garland immediately. You – Moore – let the man go.”
This the other marine did, and Doodle wasted no time making for safety and the Watch and Wait with nary a backward glance. Nibley and his party retreated to their boat under Norrington’s sharp eye – at which point Norrington turned, and said something inaudible to Hendricks, who nodded stiffly in return. Her friend called for the work of preparing for sea to continue.
As watched Hendricks retreat up the gangway to the Watch and Wait, Commodore Norrington caught sight of her – evidently surprised, for he glanced her way twice before acknowledging her with a polite half-bow, and strode off towards the Garland’s boat.
Hendricks came up to stand with her and worked his jaw, watching the naval parties make for the Garland, and the men on Long Wharf to slowly disperse, still discontent. “We’re gone tomorrow, or the day next,” he said at last. “Pick up the rest of a cargo in Philadelphia; I’ve got some credit there. Give Doodle a chance to jump ship, though I doubt he will.”
“Family? A Mrs. Doodle?”
“Just so, Mrs. T. You’ll keep an eye or an ear out for her, will you? Make sure that prick doesn’t harass her about her husband. I’ll leave something with you, just in case – you ought to avoid Long Wharf for a bit, let tempers cool – I’ll be by before we leave.”
“And you’ll bring a letter to John and Henrietta?”
“Of course, Mrs. T,” he said, offering his hand to shake, and they did. “Now off with you. We’re working past sundown tonight. Pray for us, if you like. Enjoy your supper.”
“It was a difficult day for you, Elinor, I’m sure,” Mary was saying cautiously, fetching a glass of Madiera from the service on the parlor table, and bringing it to her sister at her desk.
Surreptitiously glancing at Polly and Sam – happily playing knuckles after being given a reprieve from their tasks and studies – Nellie took an unbecoming gulp of the fortified wine, and quirked her brows. Her sister had every right to be concerned – as soon as she’d been through the door, she’d dashed into the parlor and embraced Polly and Sam at once, pressing kisses against the tops of their heads – before catching Mary in a crushing embrace of her own and apologizing repeatedly. At their evening meal, Nellie had tried to be as good a mother and sister as she ever had been, ashamed that she had taken her upset out on them.
“I missed last year’s disturbances over the Market House,” she said, trying for flippant good humor, “It was good of the people of Boston to be so ready to restage their theatrical success.”
“Was it so close a thing?” Mary moved a chair closer to the desk and sat by her, close enough that they could keep their conversation at a low whisper.
“Captain Hendricks predicted a murder, when he saw what Lieutenant Nibley was doing. It was only the Commodore’s intervention on behalf of Doodle, Captain Hendricks’s man, that prevented the crowd from running riot.”
“Nibley’s pushed the waterfront too far. I have no idea what Commodore Norrington will do, but it must be drastic.” Nellie shook her head, and looked down at her letter to John: ‘Autocratickal’ and ‘Present Uneasyness’ leapt off the page, though the line after line of her writing seemed nothing so much as the lapping waves of a rising tide. Unwelcome. She shook her head again, and smiled at Mary. “But he is a conscientious man. I think the Commodore will do what is necessary to calm the waterfront, and you need have no fear of this overshadowing your wedding.”
“I was not worried on my account – and nor was I only worried over what occurred on Long Wharf. What did Aunt Bendish say to you?”
She was sorely tempted to say ‘nothing,’ but rejected the impulse as a ruse that would be ridiculously obvious to her sister, and replied that Aunt B had ambushed her with the subject of remarriage. This was truer to her feelings than Aunt B’s actions, but Nellie was willing to excuse her own pushing the truth in the service of explaining her bad temper.
“You are out of mourning,” Mary said, carefully.
“More a change in my dress than any other thing – And some widows choose to never remarry. I am well-provided for –” another half-truth, but she had been careful to keep her debts hidden from her sister! “– so there is nothing compelling me to do so.”
“And should you wish to?”
Nellie neatly stepped around that suggestion by telling Mary she had quite enough to do with one wedding, and wouldn’t dream of undertaking another while her sister’s marriage had not yet occurred. Mary raised her brows at this, but like Hendricks declined to press, and returned to asking for a fuller account of what had happened on Long Wharf. This, Nellie was happy enough to give, though there certainly was something strange about speaking highly of Commodore Norrington's conduct and judgment! – and so they passed the rest of the evening quite happily.
Whether through the relative contentment of the evening compared to the upset of the day, or through the exhaustion and fear that dogged most of her waking moments before then, sleep came easily to Nellie – who, feeling fragile, had wrapped herself in her late husband’s banyan before hiding under her sheets. She dreamed –
Sitting to her coffee and porridge the next morning, before the rest of the house rose, Nellie felt sure she’d dreamed of – of Newport, somehow, though sorting through the scattered images barely seemed conclusive: busy unformed streets that might as well have been in Boston, the cry of sea-birds, the sharp pungency of molasses about to be distilled down to jewel-colored rum. The two seaports had grown to be much like one another, though, Nellie thought a little irrevently, Newport had more Baptists.
All jesting aside, she wasn’t sure she liked what had brought it to mind.
Tentatively, Nellie reached back into her memories of her girlhood home, thinking of those things that had once brought her comfort through her cold early years. She ignored what she recalled of her father’s house, and imagined herself before the great, white, comforting bulk of the Friends Meeting, door thrown open to its sober interior, as though she might enter, and sit on the old benches in contemplation. It had been – a dozen years? She had walked through that door one last time, before her marriage – not the day of, not the week of, but a full month before. Reverend Clap, of the Congregational Meeting, would not marry a Boston stranger (even one whose own Reverend, Prince, had written in testament of his piety and good character), to a known Quakeress – and so, one cold October day, Elinor Coggeshall had sat in the great, warm quiet for the last time, before letting go of that part of her life – like a weight of cargo, jettisoned to raise a vessel over a bar. Pragmatic. Practical. The next four weeks, she walked alone through bustling Thames Street and up Ann to Spring, before the modest steeple on Banister Street eventual came into view.
But since she did not miss that place, she let her thoughts wander – Spring Street to Bridge Street, past the hated gaol, raising the Friends Meeting on her right as soon as she stepped onto Farewell Street. And yet – past the long, shingled rope-walks with the shouts of the gangs, the occasional crack of a way-stick or a club gone astray, there was nothing there for her: the squat, ugly Work House, whose hands curled rough and cold around her heart; then, as the city gave way, green fields all full of tables and stones. She knew who was buried there, though the Coggeshalls had a plot of their own on the other side of the island. Better to turn down towards the waterfront while she had the chance – though Marlborough of course brought her past –
Nellie dropped her spoon into her porridge, and took a bracing gulp of her coffee. Of course – she had not been able to shake the memory of those hangings since the dinner only a few days before, the awful sound those men’s irons had made as they walked from the gaol to Gravelly Point. Some were terrified. Some defiant. She’d shirked off her chores to stand by the road in her drab apron and dowdy cap, holding desperately to her brother John’s arm.
One of the men had tripped – fallen on his face in the dirt of the road, right before them. Someone laughed. John’d grabbed the kerchief from her hand and darted into the street, helping him to his feet with one hand, and giving him the scrap of old linen with the other, to wipe the blood off his face.
“My name is Powell,” the man – who was barely older than John – had said, in a rough, slow voice, “My people – they don’t know – they are in Wethersfield, up the –”
But one of the constables had struck him a hard blow, pushing him along, and a short time later, she saw Powell hanged from the gallows. Harris’s ensign, the skeleton between an hourglass and a bleeding heart, had waved slowly in the dying breeze.
What had become of that flag? She wondered, unwilling and unable to contemplate any other piece of that horrible tableau, and decided there was no chance of choking down her porridge now.
Powell had been Ned Low’s gunner, and the things she’d heard of Low’s crew would have curdled milk – certainly, that terrible summer, the reports left her hugging her own elbows to her chest, thinking that John had chosen the sea for his living, and he would face villains like those. But Newport knew pirates, and they’d been friends to that city within her own memory – certainly no one kicked up too much of fuss asking where Captain Paine’s gold had come from, to help build Trinity Church. But Powell –
Her girlhood self had had no intention of being soft-hearted, incapable of imagining villainy if she had not personally observed it – but perhaps because she’d caught Powell at the brink of Eternity – perhaps because she heard all these tales of piracy at a distance – or because in those days her stockings were all darns and patches, her petticoats turned, and her back always tired – or because she’d seen her father deal a sailor such a mighty blow that his skull cracked – well. She’d nicked an apple or two in her time; she’d been able to imagine without much effort, even as a drab little Quaker miss with her hair still down her back, being willing to steal more. That desperation, when it came, could re-arrange the laws of the world.
She wasn’t desperate – not yet, at any road – but still she felt a kind of rising tide, fear and foreboding both. The last few days had been full of hard reminders and portentous happenings, and though she had much to look ahead to, in the form of Mary’s coming marriage, any glimpse of the future contained so much that was uncertain, and so many half-perceived threats, that it was impossible to look ahead with any contentment. Her present brought no comfort, and her past happiness seemed walled up alive, somewhere out of reach.
Nellie waited the long day for Hendricks, throwing herself into her tasks and correspondences with a ferocious single-mindedness – and yet abandoning her pursuits to run to the window whenever she thought she heard his familiar gait in the street. Late – after supper, with the sun sinking in the West and the children beginning to yawn – her waiting paid off, and Hendricks came whistling into her parlor with polite greetings for Mary and a wink and a joke for Polly and Sam.
“It is a quick visit,” he explained, smiling a bit when Sam frowned and Polly stamped, “We’ll be out with the morning tide, so this is farewell, for now.”
While her family and Captain Hendricks visited, Nellie considered all that had occurred over the past two days – how ashamed she had felt, how angry, how frightened; how she still felt out of sorts towards Aunt B over the issue of remarriage, how Mary would soon leave her for her own household, how lonely she would be with Hendricks away. Being friendly in society was not precisely the same as having friends; the former could not supply the want of the latter.
Too, her incoherent dreams of Newport left her with a deep sense of unease, and as Hendricks was going, that foreboding fixed on him. She knew it was a foolish thing, and tamped it down with some success, able to laugh and talk of piracy and Sir Francis Drake and all manner of adventures in times long gone – only to have that unsettling feeling return, as she pressed her letter to John and Henrietta into his hands and walked him to the door.
“Godspeed, Daniel,” she managed to say, nearly stumbling on his name from disuse, “A safe voyage and a prosperous one to you.”
Hendricks was a little surprised to hear his name, but smiled and embraced her quickly. “Never you fear, Mrs. T. I’ll be back before the harbor freezes. And I’ll give your love to John and Henrietta, shall I?”
Not waiting for an answer, he doffed his hat and made an exaggerated bow, before strolling whistling into the late summer night.