By Gil C. Schmidt
The bosun’s mate had drawn the late watch, the tragic hours that end the night. He noted with the absent mind of experience how the sails luffed and snapped in the sighing wind, the Clipper rising and dropping with steady rhythm as the stars drifted quietly. With the promise of good weather, they could be in Boston a day early, maybe two. All was still ‘round the wheel and even the crow’s nest was silent, but Higgins decided to let the man rest. He left the wheel to check the forecastle and riggings. Making his way along the narrow deck, his thoughts turned to the port cabin’s passengers. A strange pair…He reached the foremast and nodded in satisfaction, then leaned against it easily, scanning the horizon.
The pair…She, a sylph-like maiden of barely 16 or 17, maybe less, made as if of porcelain from the Orient. She spoke to no one, not even coming aboard, her eyes downcast under a large bonnet, her long cape unable to conceal the fine figure God gave her. Beside her a beast of a man, Vulcan to her Aphrodite, a gnarled mass with a cragged face and a staggered walk composed partly of misshapen limbs and a veritable hump twisting his shoulders. They made their way quickly to the only passenger cabin the Crucible had, and in the fortnight from port, had only emerged twice. Each time the lovely girl was ‘neath bonnet and cape, while he glared at every man who passed nearby. Not even the Captain, bonniest lip in Cape Cod, could get a word from man or maiden. What I’d give to meet her…Daughter, niece, ward or God forbid young wife trapped in tragic marriage, it made no difference. His desire grew day by day.
Suddenly, a scraping sound behind him caught his ear. Too large for a rat, too small for a ladder or loose spar…He crouched and waited, but no other sound came to him past the wind and waves. Higgins crept to the stern. From the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of cloth, too dark to be a sail, just above the stern. He stepped forward smartly and caught a tiny flash of dark cloth again, heavy and swirling. Higgins had long experience with the tricks the sea and the moon could play on a sailor’s night, but he knew this was no trick. Someone was next to the stern…maybe even climbing over it! He rushed forward, realizing that the flash of dark cloth he saw could have been the young maiden’s cape. She was trying to end her life! Racing to the stern, Higgins whirled left, then right, searching for the girl. He leaned over the stern’s railing and saw… Yes! Her cape! Too far to reach down…He tried mightily to grab it hoping, hoping…
Two small hands pushed Higgins in the back, tumbling him into the icy ocean. The blast of frigid seawater tore the breath from his lungs and when he breached from the ocean, the night’s cool air iced his voice. Struggling for breath, he watched as the Crucible’s stern drifted quickly away, his eyes stinging as he watched the young maiden deftly unravel her cape and cast it about her shoulders, a stern nymph watching Higgins as he faded away in the dark.
Back in the portside cabin, the damp and chilly maiden closed the door softly. On the cabin’s narrow cot sprawled her husband, his enormous head split by a leering grin lacking some teeth, his wrinkles and scars befitting a broken body. “The bosun’s mate?” His voice was a groan upon the Styx. Her nod was barely perceptible. “I saw ‘im lookin’ at ye, hungry like a wolf,” he repeated as he had for days. Grunting a sour sound he said: “I’ve seen the captain eyein’ ye.”
The young girl’s body shivered, then trembled. Her eyes closed, mouth twisting in agony, hands clasped as if clinging to Life’s bitterest edge. “No,” she gasped, “Please. No more.”
The brute chuckled, like bones rattling in a coffin. He pulled the huge knife from his ragged jacket and placed it atop the tiny table at his side. “No? Ye’ve said no before, so ye know what needs be done.” He pointed two times as he said “Ye take the knife. To ye’re face.” Another bony chuckle. “Then ‘no more’ it shall ever be.”
She collapsed, a sodden heap upon the cabin’s timber floor, the deep sobs of despair contained by hopelessness. He watched her cry and ignored her pleas with a smile few men could eye with impunity. And in the misty dawn, the girl arose, her only action the stiffest of nods.
The bony chuckle lasted longer as the man handed his wife a tiny flask and told her how she’d accept the captain’s invitation to dine on the night they made port…
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Gil C. Schmidt has been a regular submitter to Yesteryear Fiction since the early days when it was a daily magazine. His story "Evil Heart" is also featured in his book "Thirty More Stories."
Labels: Gil C. Schmidt