As you’ll recall from Chapter One, our troubled twelve-year-old, Phineas Caswell, points the loaded pistol, is trigger-finger itching, squarely at the running away back of Alfred Townsend, the unarmed bully that has made his life a living hell.
“Here, now, what’s this?” Uncle Neville’s voice bellowed in Phineas’ ear.
The booming voice made Phineas jump and squeeze the trigger. The pistol’s bark split the morning stillness like the crack of a whip. He looked around him, thunderstruck by this sudden change of circumstances.
“Wha… what?” he stammered.
“Easy,” said a tall man in a faded blue jacket standing next to Uncle Neville. Another man, this one a short, stout sailor, stood behind him. Uncle Neville himself gaped at Phineas in surprise. His pale face almost matched the white lace-edged shirt he wore beneath his faded green coat. His blue eyes flashed at Phineas.
“Pistols, is it?” he asked. “Mr. Lourdburton, secure that weapon.”
“With pleasure, sir,” the tall man said and smoothly snatched the still-smoking pistol from Phineas’ grip. The man’s hand glinted in the morning sunshine, and Phineas gasped. It wasn’t a hand, but a hook.
“What in heaven’s name is this?” Uncle Neville roared angrily. “Here I have come traipsing all over this blinkin’ village, lookin’ hither and yon for thee, and what do I find? What do I find? Pistols! And you, fixin’ to shoot that blighter in the back! A fine discovery this is!”
“Shall we pursue that other fellow, Captain?” the tall man asked simply. “We could still use another hand.”
Uncle Neville smiled but shook his head.
“I think not, Arthur. I don’t know who his family is, and it would make trouble for Bethany should we take him off to sea.”
“To sea?” Phineas croaked in horror.
“This is a fine weapon,” the tall man said as he examined the pistol that belonged to Putnam’s father. The thing dangled from the man’s hook like a fish on a line.
““My nephew has good taste in pistols,” Uncle Neville agreed. “We’ll stow it in his dunnage.”
The hooked man nodded and handed the pistol to the sailor standing behind him. The sailor took it without comment and shoved it in his belt.
“But…bu…bu…” Phineas muttered, sensing that this would be the last he’d see of Putnam’s pistol.
Uncle Neville turned to face him. Multiple chins spread out beneath the heavy-set sea captain’s jaw as he looked down at the twelve year old. He had dealt with ruffians before. He huffed loudly.
“It appears to me we’re just in time,” he said, placing his hands on his hips. “Shooting pistols with ruffians. Bah. Bad enough I had to search the whole town. Now we’re like to miss the tide!”
“It would have been all right,” Phineas replied sharply. Nothing had worked out the way he planned. He realized that Alfred had run away from Uncle Neville and his sailors, not because Phineas was about to shoot him. Uncle Neville had messed everything up.
“Stow it, matey,” the stout sailor said. His harsh, unshaven face, square and dark, and nastily glinting eyes were positively startling.
“Now see here,” Phineas responded angrily. “I don’t know who you are, sir, but this is none of your business”
The sailor looked at him in surprise, and then grinned.
“Pinch of salt in this one, eh?”
“Not a word, Phineas,” Uncle Neville interrupted. “We’ll talk no more about this. I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and by my faith I believe we were just in time to save ye from…”
“You have no right to come barging out here…”
“Stow it, lad,” the tall man with the hook said firmly. “We doesn’t want to hear it.”
Phineas stared at him in surprise. He opened his mouth to make a sharp reply about butting in to family business, but the confidence in the man’s dark eyes made him stop.
“Now, Bethany, I mean, my sister, I mean, uh, your mother packed your dunnage, lad,” Uncle Neville said, more cheerfully, “and we’ve got it stowed aboard the carriage. We’ve got to get a move on else we’ll lose the tide”
Without a further word he grabbed Phineas by the arm and spun him towards a carriage parked just off the commons. The carriage was a forlorn looking affair, battered and black and dusty, with an old rust-colored horse in the rig. A sailor, wearing a white shirt with horizontal blue stripes, sat on the driver’s seat and idly slapped the reins.
Phineas looked about in panic. Although his uncle’s grip on his arm was not severe, he resented the idea of being manhandled, particularly when he had finally found the nerve to deal with that bully Alfred Townsend and Uncle Neville messed it up.
“Where are you taking me?”
Uncle Neville chuckled cheerfully and shook his head.
“Phineas, my boy, you’re on your way to sea!”
“No!” Phineas yelped. “Not to sea!”
“Now your mother and I have discussed it and it’s all settled. We’ve to get aboard Kathryn B so that we don’t lose the tide.”
“But,” Phineas stammered, “You can’t take me to sea! I HATE the sea! I don’t want to go to sea…I’ve got to stay home and take care of Mother. I’m the man of the house. I will not go to sea!”
“Sure you do, lad. Of course you want to go to sea. You’re just like your father.” He turned toward the tall fellow. “Wherever he is,” he muttered.
The tall fellow raised his eyebrows slightly and nodded.
“I am nothing like my father,” Phineas snapped angrily.
The tall man took his other arm firmly. Without a further word, the two men dragged him towards the coach.
“Mr. Santorini! I’m apprenticed to Mr. Santorini! I have to help him in the shop!” Phineas yelled.
“Bookbinding can wait,” Uncle Neville said simply. “I discussed matters with Master Santorini. He says ye can take up where ye left off when we return in October.”
“October?” Phineas bellowed. “It’s only July!”
They were halfway to the carriage.
“What is Mother to do without me? My education! I can’t just leave in the middle of my education! Exams! I have exams next week!”
He stopped walking, digging his heels into the grass. Uncle Neville and the tall fellow both took a half step beyond him.
“You cannot make me go to sea,” Phineas said firmly. The thought of Mother, alone in the house without him, suddenly crowded out everything else. “I utterly refuse.”
The tall sailor rolled his eyes and grabbed him by the upper arm.
“Utterly refuse,” he mocked.
“Now, Bethany and I have been all over that, lad,” Uncle Neville said soothingly. “Your mother will be just fine. Alexander Remington said he would check in on her every day. And so would Sophie McGann and Emily Townsend. And the Hickmans will send their boy ‘round to make sure her wood is chopped… she’ll be just fine. You’ll see.”
“We really must hurry,” the tall man said.
“Bu… but… I don’t want to go to sea!”
“Never mind that,” Uncle Neville said calmly, and he and the tall sailor took Phineas’ arms and dragged him the rest of the way to the carriage.
The carriage squeaked dreadfully as they clambered in, Uncle Neville, Phineas, and the tall fellow in the faded blue coat. The stout sailor climbed up next to the driver and sat down on the squeaky driver’s bench.
“Mind yerselves, gents,” he called. “Weigh anchor, Mr. Grueyere.”
The carriage lurched abruptly, jostling Phineas against the tall man. They turned sharply and clattered off down the main road towards the harbor.
“I believe introductions are in order,” Uncle Neville said cheerfully. “Mr. Lourdburton, I’d like to present me nephew, Phineas Caswell. Phin, my boy, this is Mr. Lourdburton, my first mate and sailing master.”
“A pleasure, Phin,” Lourdburton said with a smile and held out his right hand. The tall man’s clear, dark eyes, so austere and commanding, smiled warmly from within his long, deeply tanned face that seemed full of barely hidden worries. He looked friendly, enough, smiling gently beneath a carefully tied queue of dark brown hair.
“ It’s Phineas. Not Phin. Not Phinny. Phineas.”
Phineas did not shake his hand, but looked angrily out the window.
“Oh, I see,” Lourdburton replied. “Well, Phineas, you may refer to me as ‘Sir’.”
“Yes, sir,” Phineas answered testily. He was a little afraid of this man, but not so much so that he could set aside his anger at having been dragged, bodily dragged he reminded himself, away from his home. His temper rose again even as he thought about it.
“It’s ‘aye, sir’,” Lourdburton said gently. “On board ship the phrase is ‘aye, sir’. Got it?”
“Yes…I mean, aye, sir,” Phineas replied. “Although, technically, we are not on board a ship.”
He glanced briefly at the hook, and up at Lourdburton’s face. The smile had vanished.
“As I told you, Arthur, he’s Patrick’s boy,” Uncle Neville said apologetically. Lourdburton looked out the window without comment.
The carriage lurched along down Wells Road. Phineas shifted awkwardly on the dusty bench seat, trying his best to keep from bumping into the awful Lourdburton.
Mother had mentioned his going to sea several times, but she always sounded so vague, not as if it would actually happen. The last time she said something about it… he squirmed in his seat. It was just last night! He had been so worried about getting Putnam’s pistol to Alfred, and coming up with some way to fix things that he hadn’t really paid attention to what Mother was saying. But she had spoken so earnestly at dinner.
“You’ll be a good boy, promise me,” she’d said. “And always try your hardest. A boy,” she sighed, “this a man’s thing you’re doing. Your father, bless his blaggard soul, has come to no good. But I know thou’lt do better.” She sniffed loudly. “There is no life for ye here.”
Tears welled up in her eyes, and she dabbed them with a napkin from the table. Her eyes sparkled wetly in the flickering candlelight. The sun had set, and half a dozen candles softly illuminated the dining room.
He looked at her in surprise and not a little alarm. Of course he hadn’t dared breathe a word about the pistol to her. She’d have forbidden it in an instant. But here she was, speaking to him as if she knew all about it. He bolted down the rest of his dinner, hoping she wouldn’t talk about it any further, and threw himself in bed.
Now, jolting along in the carriage, he realized that she hadn’t been talking about the pistol at all, but about his going away to sea.
She had kissed him goodnight so fondly. Of course she did – she was kissing him goodbye.
“Mother,” he said suddenly. “I didn’t get to say goodbye to Mother.”
“No, uh, lad,” Uncle Neville said hesitantly. “There weren’t time for that. If ye’d been home this morning like you was supposed to be, why, she’d have been there. But now we’re running late on the tide – we’ll be lucky do we make it out of the bay.”
“It did take us quite a while to find you,” Lourdburton nodded. “Visiting the school was a stroke of desperation, really.”
“Aye,” Uncle Neville chuckled. “Who’d of thought of school kids going to school on Sunday.”
“Except to shoot one another,” Lourdburton said with a little scowl.
“What in the devil was you doing with that pistol?” Uncle Neville blurted suddenly. “For all the world it looked as if you was going to shoot that ugly fellow in the back.”
Phineas looked at the worn wooden floor of the lurching coach. It had seemed like such a good idea, shooting Alfred Townsend dead. It felt so good to see him run away, afraid of the death he was about to face. But he hadn’t fired the pistol. Couldn’t bring himself to squeeze the trigger that last little bit that would have killed Alfred. At the very last second, the most important one, his courage had run out. He sighed heavily.
“Everything is ruined… ” he said sadly.
“Stow it,” Lourdburton said again in a low voice.
“So, we’re putting to sea in the Kathryn B,” Uncle Neville said cheerfully.
Phineas did not reply, but looked out the windows as Duxbury lurched by. A new idea struck him.
Very slowly, very carefully, he slid his right hand along the carriage wall until he felt the door handle.
He glanced at the men to make sure no one had noticed. They continued gazing out the windows as before.
The door handle made a single click as he jerked it hard. He kicked the door open and rose up to jump from his seat.
“We’ll see about that…” he started.
Lourdburton’s firm hand on his coattails dragged him back inside the coach. Uncle Neville slammed the door shut.
“Everything all right in there, gents?” the sailor at the reins called.
“Carry on,” Lourdburton said.
“Now, Phineas,” Uncle Neville wheedled, “be reasonable.”
“Reasonable?” Phineas squirmed angrily out from Lourdburton’s hand. “I am NOT going to sea.”
“Oh,” Lourdburton said calmly, almost wistfully, “yes, you are.”
“But why are you taking me to sea?”
“Because, lad,” Uncle Neville said calmly, “your mother and I decided that you might be getting into trouble on land, and that a sea cruise might be helping ye to get your bearings. From what I’ve seen this very day, we’re not mistaken. A sea cruise’ll make a man out of ye, that’s for certain. ‘Tis the best thing for ye. In fact, ‘twas our Mr. Lourdburton what recommended it.”
The tall man cleared his throat roughly.
“Although I wasn’t to mention that,” Uncle Neville said sheepishly.
Phineas sighed heavily and looked out the window as the sleepy village of Duxbury rattled by. The buildings outside became less cheerful as they approached the waterfront. Shops and taverns and inns of the business district replaced the friendly looking cottages. Now they rolled between grim looking storehouses and workshops.
The coach rattled right up to the foot of the pier, lurching to so sudden a stop that Uncle Neville nearly fell off the cushion and into Phineas.
“Well, I say,” he mumbled awkwardly.
“Ruddy brakes are useless,” the driver called from his seat on top. “Sorry about that, gents.”
A cloud of fine dust kicked up by the carriage filtered the early morning sunlight, casting the busy wharf in glittering shadows. Phineas watched the dust clouds disperse, and the shadows through them, and considered which would be the easiest direction in which to run away. A hand fell on his shoulder.
Lourdburton leaned closely in towards him.
“Let us get one thing straight, boyo,” he said in a harsh whisper. “You will board that ship and you will obey orders as given and there will be no more talk of what you do and do not want. If you show me or any member of my crew the slightest disrespect I will personally keel haul you. Do you understand?”
The fingers tightened, and their grip became painful on his shoulder. Phineas nodded quickly, looking down at the dusty ground rather than see what awaited him in Lourdburton’s face. He sighed. So much for running away.
The sailing master straightened up and smiled. The grip eased on Phineas’ shoulder.
“Easy, Swede,” the he said to a sailor in the boat tied to the pier. “That’s the boy’s dunnage.”
The boat, perhaps twenty feet long, wallowed in the small waves, tied by a rope at either end to a pair of cleats on the pier. A blonde young man stood barefoot in the bottom of the boat as calmly as if he was standing in church. The blonde hair that had pulled loose from his long ponytail flapped about his tan face in the early morning breeze.
“Aye, sir,” the sailor said, and pulled a sea chest, which Phineas recognized as one of his father’s, off of the pier and into the boat.
He stared at the boat, watching it bob ridiculously on the little waves that worked their way in from the bay. The thing looked cheerful enough, with its dark blue paint and light blue trim. But a puddle of seawater sloshed about in the center. And that Swede fellow was putting his father’s sea chest right in the middle of it.
“What a mess,” he said softly to himself and shook his head.
“Hexcuse me?” the youngish sailor in the boat said. Probably no more that twenty, the sailor Lourdburton had called Swede spoke in a strange dialect that was hard to understand.
“I’m sorry?” Phineas asked.
“Vat?” Swede said.
“I’m sorry?” Phineas asked again.
“Vat?” Swede repeated.
“I, uh, well, I don’t know,” Phineas replied lamely. “I guess I don’t know what we’re talking about.”
“Dat’s your dunnage, dere,” Swede said and pointed to the large wooden box squatting in the puddle.
“Won’t it get wet?” Phineas asked.
Swede laughed out loud, looking around to see if the other sailors had heard him. No one else had, to Phineas’ relief.
“Dat’s a gud one, dat is. Von’t it get vet,” he cackled.
“What’s so funny about that?”
“Ven you are in de boats, everyt’ing is getting vet,” Swede laughed. “’Von’t it get vet’,” he repeated again.
“In you go, lad,” Uncle Neville said from behind him, and nudged Phineas towards the boat.
“In there?” Phineas asked. “That thing’s sinking!”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Uncle Neville said with a smile, “it’s just a little water. Trust me, lad, you’ll get used to that.”
“Ya, you get used to de vater,” Swede chuckled.
Phineas climbed carefully down into the boat and sat down on the seat to which Uncle Neville pointed, next to the wooden steering handle in the boat’s rear end. Swede and three more sailors, all about the same age as Swede, took up long oars while Uncle Neville sat down on the opposite side of the steering bar. The boat dipped under him as he sat down heavily and with a grunt.
Phineas grabbed the boat’s railing desperately as it waddled beneath him. It rolled under the shifting weight, and the water whirled and churned alongside. He could feel it rise in his throat.
“Mind, do ye keep a watch for that boom,” Father had said. Phineas had looked around then, quickly identifying the sailboat’s mast, boom, and stays. Father had been so confident, so unflinching in his understanding of the boat and sea. The sea that nearly killed Phineas. The sea that took Father away.
“Give way all,” Uncle Neville barked suddenly. “Ready stroke.”
The four sailors immediately stuck their oars out to the sides of the boat like cat’s whiskers.
“Swede, take stroke,” he said gently.
Swede nodded to the other men, and they, without a word, dipped their oars into the water. Swede nodded again, and the sailors pulled the oars smoothly in unison, as if they’d been rowing for a hundred years. The sun beat down on them, and beads of sweat broke out on the faces of the two barefooted, hardworking sailors that sat in front of Phineas. Their eyes flickered across him, but most often looked down into the bottom of the boat as they concentrated on their stroke.
The boat worked beneath him, thrumming slightly to the rhythm of the oars. It seemed sturdy enough. He kept his left hand on the boat’s side rail, but turned to place his right hand on the rail across the back.
“Goodness, lad, you’re as white as a ghost,” Uncle Neville commented cheerfully. “Oh, this will all take a little getting used to, but you’ll find that a life at sea is a capitol life.”
Phineas looked out over the side of the boat and tried to relax. The early morning sunlight darted through the base of the waves, sparkling and shimmering, reflecting off dust and sand far down, down, in the deep. The water was blue and beautiful, but he knew better.
It got bluer as they moved out into the harbor, and the reflections from below the surface got fewer. He looked around – the small hills around Duxbury stood stark above their gently undulating reflections.
“Look there, boy,” Uncle Neville said proudly. “There she is.”
Directly ahead of them, and perhaps a half-mile away, sat a perfectly beautiful ship. She lay still in the gently swelling sea, her two masts standing up like elegant trees above her brightly painted sides.
She looked like a picture he’d seen in one of Mr. Santorini’s books. She seemed magical, like a fanciful vision of what a small ship should be, rather like a manly layer cake, with a thick white stripe down low, next to the water, then a layer of varnished wood above that, then a pale blue stripe, then another layer of wood, and pale blue rails at the top. Her masts and rigging and sails made her look eager and exciting.
“She’s the Kathryn B,” Uncle Neville beamed, “finest merchant brig on this side of the Atlantic. She don’t be the biggest ship on the sea, but she’s a prodigious good sailer, and as good at deep sea as she is at home.”
Phineas nodded, and turned around to look at Duxbury once more – how far away the little town seemed. He could see the church steeple, and the bell tower at Fotheringham School. There was that clump of trees next to the house. Mother was probably thinking about him, perhaps waving at him from the pier. Perhaps Susannah was there, too. He shook his head. That was just silliness. Still, he looked carefully in case they had somehow shown up and he missed them.
“Easy,” Swede called.
He turned around to find that the Kathryn B suddenly rose above them like a blue wooden wall. A sailor up on her deck pulled on the rope Swede had tossed up to him.
“Make way, there,” Uncle Neville said as he stood up carefully from his seat. The rear corner of the boat dropped down under his shifting weight, and Phineas’ corner shot up, tossing him off the seat. The corner dropped, and he landed with a thump at the same moment the oars clacked together and the pool of water sloshed over to Uncle Neville’s corner. The water rushed in a little tidal wave directly at Phineas’ good buckle shoes.
“Heaven’s sakes! We’re sinking!” Phineas gasped.
Uncle Neville sadly shook his head. He reached out and grabbed onto a rope that dangled along the edge of a set of crude steps, like the rungs of a heavy ladder – each about a foot wide and three inches thick, sticking out of the side of the ship like mislaid bricks.
The gentle swell caused their little boat to rise up next to the Kathryn B. The boat’s edge bumped on the bottom step.
“Easy,” Swede said again.
Phineas grabbed the railings even tighter.
Uncle Neville reached out firmly with his left foot. Heaving himself onto the ladder with a loud grunt, he climbed deftly on at the same moment the swell caused the little boat to drop away. He climbed gracefully and quickly up the ship’s side.
“Cap’n’s comin’ aboard,” a voice yelled from somewhere up on the ship’s deck.
Phineas watched Uncle Neville’s big bulk disappear through the little doorway cut in the rail at the top of the ladder. He wondered what came next.
“Up ye go,” Swede said helpfully.
Phineas looked at him blankly. Swede smiled.
“Go on, now. Up ye go.” He motioned towards the ladder.
“Me?” Phineas seriously doubted that they would expect him to climb that ladder. He looked up at the crude thing, wet and slippery. Putnam had once challenged him to climb the bell tower at Fotheringham School, and he’d have done it if Master Bedford hadn’t come around the corner. That bell tower was nothing compared to these slippery stairs. He gulped.
“Ya,” Swede said with a smile. The rest of the boat’s crew grinned at each other. Phineas realized he was going to have to climb the ladder.
He looked at the wet rope, at the wet and slippery stairs, and back at Swede, who continued to smile encouragingly. The swell dropped underneath the boat, causing the ladder to soar up and away from them.
Phineas looked at Swede and shrugged. Swede smiled and shook his head. There was no way out of it. Phineas sighed and half-stumbled across the boat. He stepped over the sea chest, reaching out with his hands like a blind man. One of the sailors grabbed his wrist and helped steady him. The swell sickeningly lifted the boat just as he reached the side, placing the first step conveniently right next to the boat’s side.
The boat’s crew grinned at him like a bunch of schoolboys, daring him to climb the ladder. The wet, slimy rope flapped against the side of the ship, hanging directly in front of his face.
“Take de’ rope,” Swede said. “Dat’s for yer hands.”
Phineas took the rope in his left hand.
“Juse bot’ hands,” Swede said quickly.
The scratchy, slippery rope felt soggy through and through. Water squished out between his fingers as he gripped it.
“Now climb on der ladder,” Swede said urgently.
Phineas reached out with his left foot as Uncle Neville had done, his best buckle shoe squeaking slightly on the soaked wood. He pushed away from the boat slightly, his knee bashing into the wood of the next step.
“I hate this,” he muttered.
“Qvick!” Swede yelled.
Without warning the boat dropped away from under him. The ship rolled away from it, lifting him ten feet above the gesturing sailors.
“Climb! Climb!” they roared at him.
“You clotpole,” one of them added.
The steps were slimy, and Phineas’ foot shot out from under him. He bumped hard against the side, horrified that he was going to fall in. Seawater oozed between his fingers and down the sleeves of his best Sunday coat. He hung, panting, with both hands on the rope and one foot on the bottom step, the other dangling in mid-air.
“Move!” Swede bellowed.
The ship rolled back towards the boat. The swell lifted the boat, and Phineas realized what they were yelling about. The boat rose straight at him on the swell, rising to smash against him.
“I hate this,” Phineas yelled.
He was going to be crushed.