Things are moving now. Uncle Neville and his sailors have rather kidnapped Phineas from his angst-filled life in Duxbury and are taking him to sea… if he can just survive getting aboard the ship!
The rope jerked in his hands.
“Hang on, ye lubber,” someone yelled from up on the ship.
Phineas scraped against the ship’s side as someone on deck dragged the rope up. The wood planks scraped at his knuckles, his knees, the back of his head, anything that stuck out, as twisted and turned and rose life a fisherman’s net above the menacing waves that licked at his shoes.
It was a painful, nerve-racking haul. Phineas closed his eyes tightly, just hoping they didn’t let go of the rope and drop him in the sea.
“Easy,” Swede yelled in the boat.
Phineas opened his eyes briefly and glanced down to see the men in the boat reach out with their hands to shove the boat away from the ship’s side until he was safe. They roared with laughter.
“Belay,” another voice yelled right above him.
A hard wooden plank smacked him on the crown of his head so hard he almost let go of the rope. He looked up to see the ship’s white-painted rail directly over his head. The men kept pulling the rope until he was dragged bodily over the side.
“Let go, ye lubber,” someone called.
It took a second for Phineas to realize they were speaking to him – that he was the lubber – and he let go of the rope quickly. Exhausted by his seafaring ordeal, he lay back on the ship’s deck in a soggy heap.
“And this’ld be me nephew,” Uncle Neville said proudly. “Uh, stand up, son.”
Phineas slowly got to his feet, shaken and soaked through and through. A pool of water quickly formed beneath him.
The sailors on deck, and there seemed to be quite a few of them, stopped and stared at him. Seagulls wheeled and squawked overhead in the bright blue sky, but theirs were the only noises beyond the creaking of the ship.
An old man, thin and wiry and stooped, with bronze skin and thinly muscled arms, squinted at him.
“He don’t look like much, Neville,” he croaked.
Uncle Neville dusted Phineas off as best he could. He made little clucking noises as he slapped at Phineas’ breeches and waistcoat.
“There, now,” he said finally. “Good as new.”
“I’m all wet,” Phineas replied flatly.
The old man trotted off. Uncle Neville turned quickly to Phineas.
“You’ll take to it, soon enough.” He cleared his throat. “Now, this here is what we call the waist,” Uncle Neville said, and he made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “It’s the exposed part in the middle of the main deck.” He stamped his foot on the solid deck and pointed at the opening in the railing behind him. “That there be the sally port…that’s your way on and off the ship’s main deck. Got it?”
Phineas turned away from the sally port in embarrassment as the boat’s crew lumbered through it, pointing at him and nudging one another. Oh very funny, he thought. I’d like to see you fellows climb that ladder.
Big wooden barrels almost as tall as Phineas himself were stacked neatly on the deck. Above him hung an enormous canopy of ropes that stretched away to the tops of the masts.
“Look up there,” Uncle Neville said cheerfully. “Those are the stays that support the masts fore-and-aftwise,see? Those there are the braces, those are leeches and the buntlines, there’s the top’sl clewgarnet leech line, that’s the…” on and on he went, pointing at every single rope in the ship.
Phineas had no interest in learning anything about the ship. He pointed idly at a big wooden tub upside down on the deck.
“What’s that thing?” he asked with a little sneer.
“That’s the capstan, there,” Uncle Neville said officiously.
“I thought you were the captain,” Phineas replied.
“Not captain, capstan. And I don’t be no captain,” he said, but quickly caught himself. “…well, no, I AM the captain, but, that is to say that I don’t be the capstan, don’t ye see?”
Phineas had already shifted his attention to the boat that rose above the ship’s side. It hung perfectly level at the end of half a dozen ropes. The ropes ran up through some fancy looking wheel devices way up on the poles angled over the deck and down to half a dozen sailors who grunted and sweated as they pulled on them. The boat drifted up and over the side as if by magic.
“Easy, now,” the old man croaked to the men on the ropes. “Easy, easy…let fall.”
The boat dropped with a very slight thump onto a big wooden screen laid across the middle of the waist. It left a long trail of drips on the pleasant gray deck. Phineas examined the deck with curiosity – he’d never been aboard a ship. His father had promised, of course… but, he sighed. Father’s promises. He let his eyes travel along the long boards of the deck. A big balcony stretched from one side of the ship to the other, with a railing across the front, off to his right. Two ladders ran from the main deck up to the balcony, one on either side of the railing.
Uncle Neville followed his gaze. “That there’s the quarterdeck, with the ship’s wheel and the binnacle. It’s the place from which we command the ship. We call those ladders companion-ladders.”
“If you please, Uncle, is there a place I can go to lie down? I don’t feel very well.”
“Ahem,” Uncle Neville said with a little cough. “On board ship I don’t be your uncle, you see. I’m to be called Captain, or sir.”
“I don’t quite understand,” Phineas replied. His head ached where they had bashed it against the rail, and his back hurt from scraping up the ship’s side, and his shoes were wet and he was thoroughly unhappy, and he simply had no interest in anything to do with the stupid ship and it’s idiotic rules.
“Ye’ll get the hang of it,” Uncle Neville said apologetically.
A big man, fully six feet tall and almost as wide ambled over to Uncle Neville. His tattered white shirt had almost as many stains as the gray trousers into which they were tucked, and was only slightly less horrific than the sight of the man’s horny bare feet.
Phineas repressed a shudder. Was this the sort of man they hoped to make out of him? The big man opened his mouth to speak, and Phineas shuddered and had to look away – all of the teeth, top and bottom, were missing from one side of his mouth.
It being 1706, and Duxbury being in the English colony of Massachusetts, Phineas had seen his fair share of people with dental problems. But this man’s teeth were so evenly misarranged that it looked as if they were removed almost on purpose. Looking back, he saw that the man’s face was terribly scarred on that same side, and that his long, black ponytail started much farther back on that side of his head than it did on the other.
“Hexcuse me, Cap’n, but the water be stowed, and I laid in them pigs, for which I be thankin’ ye,” the man said gruffly. He childishly bobbed his head as he spoke.
“Well done, Mr. Duffy,” Uncle Neville replied. “Here’s our new cabin boy, Phineas.”
The pale blue eyes that fixed themselves on Phineas’ were clear and direct. They peered at him with intelligence and candor.
“Welcome aboard, lad,” Duffy said with a lopsided smile.
Phineas nodded uncertainly. He had heard the term cabin boy, and was still uncertain about the man’s teeth and those horrific feet.
“‘E don’t say much, eh?” Duffy said after a moment.
“He’s, uh, new to the sea,” Uncle Neville said apologetically.
“Oh, ‘e’ll come ‘round, right enough,” Duffy said.
“I’ll send him your way after I’ve shown him around a bit.”
“Aye, sir,” Duffy replied and ambled off towards the front of the ship.
“Sailing master, coming aboard,” someone called.
No sooner had the words finished than Lourdburton’s head appeared at the side of the ship as he climbed up that slippery ladder. He looked down disapprovingly at the puddle Phineas had made, and followed the trail of water to its owner. His face darkened.
“What’s all this, then?” he asked sternly.
“He hasn’t never climbed up a ship’s side before,” Uncle Neville said, and spread his hands as a sort of apology.
Lourdburton looked coldly at Phineas.
“I’ve entered him on the watch list as a lubber.”
“Well, now, Arthur,” Uncle Neville said gently, “I reckon he’s a might young for that, don’t ye think? I rather imagined he’s serve as a cabin boy. How about that?”
Lourdburton looked at Phineas again. His jaw worked from side to side. After what seemed like an hour, he turned his dark gray eyes towards Uncle Neville.
“Very good, sir,” he said pleasantly. “I’ll change the entry on the ship’s bill. Need I find space for him in the fo’csle with the other hands?”
“Uh, no, Arthur,” Uncle Neville said, “I’ve rather had Mr. Sturgis rig up a cot in the great cabin. I reckon, it being his first voyage and all…”
“No need to explain, sir,” Lourdburton said.
“Excuse me, cap’n,” someone behind them said, and Uncle Neville turned to speak with the old, tan sailor again.
Lourdburton leaned in close to Phineas.
“You will listen to me, boyo,” he said quietly, firmly. “We’ll have none of your cheek, do you understand me? The captain may be your uncle, and you may have a certain value, but that won’t keep you from kissing the captain’s daughter, understand?”
Phineas nodded quickly.
“The proper response is ‘aye, sir’” Lourdburton said quietly. It was so quiet that it was almost like a threat.
“Aye, sir,” Phineas squeaked in response.
“Well, come along,” Uncle Neville said abruptly, and grabbed Phineas by the shoulder. “We’ll be stowing your gear in my cabin.”
Uncle Neville led Phineas underneath the quarterdeck and up the right side of the ship towards the back. He pointed out the three cannons pressed up against the wall.
“That’s the starboard side aft battery,” he said, proudly. “That’s what Mr. Lourdburton calls it. There are two more cannons on each side up under the forecastle.”
Phineas stumbled along behind him, stepping over ropes and iron bolts on the floor, ducking below swinging lanterns, and trying to make sense of the dim wooden world into which his uncle was taking him. Men shuffled past in the ship’s gloomy interior, knuckling their foreheads and grunting “mornin’ cap’n” as they went by. Uncle Neville nodded politely to each one.
“Now Phin,” he said quite seriously. “When we’re aboard ship, I want you to use shipboard language. Do you think you can do that?”
“What’s the matter? Don’t they speak English?”
“Well, now, it don’t be no joke. Most things onboard ship have a special name, and I want you to use ‘em. The left side of the ship is the port side, and the right side be the starboard side, for instance. When you travel this direction you’re moving aft, and when you go to the front of the ship you’re going forward. The front is called the bows,” he pronounced it so that it rhymed with ‘cows’, “and the back is called the stern. Do you got it?”
“I don’t know…” Phineas answered slowly.
“Good,” continued Uncle Neville. “When you go up into the rigging you’re going aloft. When you go down into the hold you go below. Got it?”
“Uh,” Phineas figured he’d learn it eventually. “All right,” he said.
“There’s the good lad. You’ll get the hang of it yet.” Uncle Neville opened a louvered wooden door at the aft end of the deck. It opened into a wonderful room, as wide as the ship at twenty feet, about ten feet deep, with wide windows across the back that overlooked the ocean beyond.
“This is me cabin,” said Uncle Neville, proudly, “and now it be yours, too. We’ve slung a cot here by the bulkhead,” pointing to a wooden box hanging by four ropes from the ceiling. Phineas looked up at the ceiling… it looked like the underside of the floor above. “You can sleep in her as gentle as a wee little baby. See?” he swung the wooden box. “Since she swings, you won’t have to put up with the motion of the ship at night.
“You can stow your dunnage there,” he finished by pointing at the deck underneath the hanging box. “You make yourself at home. Should you need to relieve yerself, the gallery’s right there.” Her jerked his thumb towards a small, open doorway at the side of the cabin. “I’ll give you a few moments to get acquainted with the ship. But then ye’ve got to get yourself up to the galley in order to report to Mr. Duffy. Understand?”
Uncle Neville left the cabin without waiting for a response. Phineas looked around the room. It was a most curious place. The tall windows across the back were mullioned like the ones at home, each one made up of dozens of panes. A heavy oak desk, very nicely crafted, sat in front of them. He looked for a chair, but couldn’t find one. Uncle Neville obviously sat on the broad blue canvas cushions on top of a bench, a sort of window seat, which ran the width of the room.
Two smaller compartments, one on either side of the cabin, extended out beyond the side of the ship. Each had its own windows, but had no furniture. Instead, a smooth wooden seat perched on top of a simple box-like pedestal in the middle of the floor. A fresh breeze drifted up through a hole in the middle of the seat, which, upon examination, was actually the end of a wooden tube that ended in the fresh air below. Looking down the hole, he could see waves gently flicking against the ship below him.
Uncle Neville had referred to the room as the gallery, and had said that Phineas could relieve himself there. He recoiled in sudden horror. There were no pictures in this gallery. He had been examining the toilet.
Excusing himself from the restroom, he walked sadly back into the cabin. At least he was away from that awful Alfred Townsend, he thought. And he didn’t have to shoot him. But now there was this Lourdburton fellow, and that frightening Duffy.
He had survived the boat ride, even gotten wet and hadn’t been killed. He looked around the room, eyeing the charts on the desk and wondering what he should do.
There was no getting off the ship – that was clear. If he managed to pry open one of these big windows, he could only throw himself into the sea, and that was certain death. The ship’s boat had already been put away, so there was no chance to hide out there and stow away back to Duxbury.
He looked at the maps and charts scattered on the desktop, along with brass dividers, pencils, and a brass sextant. Maybe, if he could find out where they were going, he could plan his escape for when they got there. That could be his only hope.
The charts were interesting – maps of shorelines with hundreds of tiny numbers out in the water. Odd little sayings, like “sandbar” and “soft bottom”, were inked in around some of the features. There seemed to be plenty of town names, but nothing that showed what country the towns were in.
A sudden chill ran down his spine. Here he stood in the cabin of a real sailing ship, looking at real charts of real places far, far beyond any place he’d ever been. He felt a tiny tinge of excitement to think that he might see the world, but this was not what he wanted. This was the opposite of everything he wanted.
A pit grew in his stomach. He did not want to go to sea. He did not want to leave the land – he had things set up so perfectly in Duxbury. He did not want to leave his friends and his mother. A wave of anger returned as he remembered that he was, in fact, being abducted by his uncle, kidnapped and forced to labor for the sea cook.
“Hands to the capstan!” a voice, terribly loud even though it came from somewhere outside the cabin, bellowed.
The thunder of scores of bare feet followed the yell. The thought of dozens of sailors running around the wooden ship with nasty bare feet made him shudder.
“Topmen aloft!” the same voice roared.
A violin squeaked out a rhythmic tune. The floor beneath his feet swayed gently, and then hummed with a gentle vibration.
The yelling, the running, the music, and now the movement of the ship were bad signs. They all meant that they were setting sail, and any chance to get back to Duxbury was evaporating.
He stormed out of the cabin and back out to the ship’s waist, ready to tell Uncle Neville to put him ashore. The sight that greeted him on deck, however, startled him so much forgot his anger.
A dozen sailors marched in a circle around the large, upside-down tub device that Uncle Neville had called the captain. The men pushed on big wooden poles, each about six inches thick and as many feet long, two men to a pole. The ship rumbled beneath his feet as they pushed, marching slowly to the rhythm of the squeaky violin played by a little balding man who sat on the edge of the deck in front of them.
“Catted home!” someone called out from the front of the ship.
“Tops’ls, let fall!” Lourdburton bellowed. His was the incredibly loud voice Phineas had heard in the cabin.
Loud thunder rumbled above his head as enormous white billows of canvas sails dropped from some of the yards, that’s what Uncle Neville had called the poles up there, and fell like sheets hanging from a clothesline. They rumbled and cracked in the early morning breeze.
The ship immediately swayed, her gentle rocking motion replaced with an odd, staggering wallow, like a wooden boat in a bathtub. Phineas threw out his hands, looking for something to hold onto as the deck tilted beneath his feet. The ship’s railing was warm and solid beneath his fingers. He clamped both hands tightly around it.
“Ease her to starboard!” The whole ship shuddered and tilted. “Hands to the braces!”
The men left the captain and dashed rapidly to the sides of the ship. There they grabbed onto the ends of ropes that led somewhere up into the wild tangle of rigging. How they could figure out which ropes to grab was beyond belief.
“Starboard, heave!” Lourdburton roared. “Ease out port!”
The men formed themselves into two groups, six on the right side of the deck and six on the left. At Lourdburton’s command, the men on the right side pulled their ropes towards the back of the ship, while the sailors on the left let the ropes run through their hands.
“Belay! Sheet home!”
Instantly the ship’s wallowing, staggering motion shifted into a smooth, gracefully rhythmic movement as she surged forward, cutting powerfully through the waves. The breeze on deck fell away, and the ship moved elegantly before it.
“Clear the capstan!” Lourdburton bellowed. “Courses, let fall!”
More sails, bigger than the earlier ones, dropped from the yards. The men that had been pulling on the ropes rumbled back up to the capstan and reorganized themselves into groups of two. Each group pulled the long, clearly heavy bars out of the capstan and carried it into the shadow of the forward deck.
The Kathryn B surged forward beneath Phineas’ feet.
The pit in his belly grew heavier as he stared over the rail. The town of Duxbury turned behind him as they sailed out into the bay. Gulls wheeled and screamed overhead, and the wind, fresh and alive, made the sails crack and thunder.
He puffed out his breath sadly. The ship’s transformation from a jumbled mishmash of frantic activity to this smoothly moving, elegant and powerful force upon the sea meant there was no way out of this. He was going to sea. He sighed sadly.
“Still smoking, by God,” Uncle Neville said from the quarterdeck. “Mr. Sturgis, what ship is that?”
“That’d be the Bartolomeo,” replied the skinny old man Phineas had first met. “Some greenhorn dropped a lantern into her hold…”
“Powder magazine,” Lourdburton corrected from the wheel.
“I don’t be so certain o’ that,” old Sturgis continued without looking away from her. “I heerd there was an open powder barrel down there. She’s been ashore and smoking for a week.”
Phineas looked at the large, squarish vessel with no flags at all smoldering on the beach across from them. A thick column of smoke rose out of her middle section, through holes in the middle of her black and shattered deck. A great black hole in the very center of her deck let him see down inside her hull, where waves washed and battered her to pieces from the inside out.
Phineas shook his head in disbelief, wondering in horror what had happened to the people on that ship.
He hung onto a railing in the bow, watching the waves bash against the front of the ship.
“Faith, do ye be mindful of that gunnel,” Uncle Neville had told him. He stood calmly next to Phineas, both feet planted firmly on the deck, his arms folded across his chest. “Ye want to keep a firm grip lest ye goes over the side.”
“The what?” Phineas asked.
“The gunnel – the top railing, there,” his uncle replied, patting the rail. He coughed a short little laugh. “Actually, It’s spelled g-u-n-w-a-l-e, but we pronounce it ‘gunnel’. Don’t that be something?”
“Why don’t you pronounce it gun-wale? That would be easiest.”
“We just don’t,” Uncle Neville shot back in exasperation. “That’s why.”
He stormed off, leaving Phineas to watch the waves bash against the front of the ship. They had gotten much steeper, and the ship’s motion became much more pronounced.
“We’re pushing out beyond the banks now,” Uncle Neville called to him from the quarterdeck rail. “Those are rollers from the open Atlantic.”
“Shouldn’t he be in the galley, working for Mr. Duffy?” Lourdburton asked in his perfectly loud voice, so clearly that Phineas could hear it at the other end of the ship.
“Oh, give the lad a little time to get his bearings,” his uncle replied.
Phineas turned back to face the waves. The big rollers lifted the little ship gently up by the bows, traveled down her brightly painted side, and then raised her stern as they dropped the bow down. It felt like a giant seesaw.
He gripped the rail, Uncle Neville’s gunnel, with both hands and stared at the far, empty horizon. Every wave through which they bashed, throwing a glorious spray of diamond drops in the fresh morning wind, carried him farther and farther away from home. They plowed through wave after wave.
He wondered what he should do. Clearly there was no chance of turning the ship around, or jumping into a boat and going back to shore. His own mother had agreed to the kidnapping. Clearly she and Uncle Neville had planned for his life to be at sea.
He looked around in frustration. Nobody considered what he wanted. Nobody asked him. Instead they just dragged him out to do what they wanted.
“This will never do,” he said out loud. “Something has to change…”
An enormous wave lifted her bow so quickly he had to grab on to the rail to keep from slipping. Just as quickly, the bow dropped as the Kathryn B slipped down the wave’s back, and his feet flew from the deck. Another steep wave followed, slamming him back down on his feet.
“Wo-hoa,” he grunted.
That was actually kind of fun. He calculated when the next wave would hit, and sprung his knees so that he flew a foot off the deck with its impact. He landed just as the bows slid down the back of the wave, making the motion seem much more exciting. He leapt through wave after increasingly steep wave, giggling with each leap.
After just a little while of the ship’s new, deeper motion, little beads of sweat broke out on his forehead. The tips of his fingers began to tingle, and he felt a little dizzy.
“Jumping… too… high,” he gasped and stopped jumping altogether.
Butterflies instantly fluttered in his stomach. An enormous bubble pushed up inside him. The ship bashed through a wave and his knees almost buckled beneath him. He clutched the rail to keep from falling over.
“I… better… go lie…down,” he gasped. Go to the room… the cabin… at the back… stern.
He carefully climbed off the railing… the funnel… and tried to walk back to the cabin. His legs felt tingly and rubbery, and his knees didn’t want to support him. He staggered against the funnel, or gunnel, or whatever it was, and tried to walk like the other sailors.
“You don’t gamble with the sea, lad,” Uncle Neville called. “She always, always wins.”
“He looks like a right sailor to me,” Lourdburton said loudly.
Suddenly, Phineas’ belly convulsed, his eyes teared up, and his head ached terribly. He leaned over the funnel or whatever just in time, retching his breakfast over the side of the Kathryn B.
He dragged himself down the deck to that little doorway cut in the side – it had a silly name…silly port? The sally port, that was it.
He lay down on the deck and hung his head out of the sally port, looking down at the blue green ocean passing alongside. It felt better just to lie here on the warm deck. Another wave of nausea rose in him, and he retched some more. And some more. And some more. He felt better for just a brief second, but another wave rose in his belly and he retched again.
After what seemed like hours, another sailor lay down on the deck next to him. It was Swede, the fellow who helped him with his luggage. Phineas could just manage to turn his head and look at him.
“You?” he croaked weakly.
“Ya,” Swede gasped. His tan was gone, replaced by a gray pallor as pale as the towering sails above.
“I…am…der…sick…” He turned and retched over the side.
The sight was ghastly, and it made Phineas retch again. They lay side-by-side on the deck in that manner for some time – to Phineas it seemed like an entire week had passed.
“Over the side, ye lummox!” Lourdburton yelled behind them. Phineas was too sick to turn around and look at the sailor at whom Lourdburton yelled, and had no idea why he was yelling at all. The man’s strong, strident voice rang painfully like a church bell in his head.
“I yust vant to die,” Swede groaned.
A moment later a third person joined their seasick party – a tall, blonde teenager. Phineas glanced at him as he, too, crawled next to them to lay his head outside of the sally port. His skin had a strange, green tinge to it, and he retched as soon as he reached the port.
“This is simply lovely,” Phineas moaned.