Saturday, January 12, 2013

There's Treasure Everywhere

Seabrook stood off to the side of the cabin, hesitating to enter.  The captain wouldn’t like what he had to report.

After the skirmish with the British frigate, nearly all forward momentum had been lost, which was just as well, because all of their weaknesses had been exposed and it was time to regroup, preferably in harbor, in their safe haven, Rose Cove.  The ship still held together, but barely.  The cannon had been lost.  For intents and purposes, they were now defenseless.  So much for being pirates.

Seabrook knew as well as anyone that the problem was the captain, who had been distracted for months, contradicting orders and putting them to port at every opportunity, so that all their careful planning came to nothing, every passing vessel left unmolested, all the precious cargo intact.  He’d been locked up in that cabin as if it gave him immunity to all the world’s real concerns, and his crew’s growing disenchantment.  Everyone knew he’d only listen to Seabrook, but even Seabrook knew there were limits to his influence.  The captain cared about only one person, and that was the wife he’d left behind in Gloucester to haunt the waters of the Caribbean, fifteen months ago.

“Beggin’ yer pardon, Sir,” Seabrook muttered at the threshold.  “We’re all wonderin’ if maybe we ought t’ shove off for Rose Cove.”

There was only silence in response.  It was just as well.  Many of the crew had begun to believe that the captain was no longer onboard.  He hadn’t been seen in weeks, might have slipped away in the night, with or without the help of Seabrook.  

“It’d be a blessin’ t’ us all t’ hear from ye,” Seabrook continued.  The first mate, a role never made official in the ship’s ranks but generally assumed to have been occupied by Seabrook on account of his relationship with the captain, shifted uncomfortably in his boots.  The deck beneath him seemed to give way.  There was mold in all the planking of the ship, where the British frigate hadn’t blasted it away, at least.  The feel of it always made Seabrook uneasy.  He came from a long line of sailors, of the legitimate kind, who’d fished New England waters for a century. 

Almost imperceptibly, the captain acknowledged Seabrook, who had served with him long enough to catch all the necessary subtleties.  The captain had been eccentric from the staart, but most of the crew hadn’t bothered to notice until it affected them directly.  He was also exceptionally young.  It was rumored that he was not far removed from reaching his twentieth year.  If Seabrook knew his full story, the first mate had chosen to be discreet about it.  Now he would need to decide how he would react to the thud of a fist banging faintly against the grand oak table he knew to stand at the center of the cabin.  There could be only one interpretation of this gesture.  The captain was in one of his moods again.

Whatever else he did or did not know, Seabrook understood what troubled the captain.  It was the wife left back in a lonely home on land.  She had never forgiven him for abandoning her, after the miscarriage.  They had two other children, growing up without a father, but the loss of the third had driven them in opposite directions, him to sea and a life of piracy, and her in her grief and desperation to the market, where she was forced to pawn her father’s silver plate, the one thing of value the family had ever owned.  It was the act of an ultimatum, revenge for the betrayal of her mate, at the time of the captain’s departure left in the air, but no doubt carried out not long after.  This was the affair that troubled him now.

If Seabrook cared to, he had no doubt that he might hear the sobs as well.  They were a constant refrain with the captain, never in front of his men, but so frequent that Seabrook swore that they had left tracks on the captain’s grimy face.

“Please, Sir.  It’d mean a great deal t’ us all,” Seabrook whispered, knowing that the longer he stood at the cabin’s door, the worse it looked, especially as he was forced to carry on a demeaning, one-sided conversation. The winds were picking up.  Seabrook pulled his coat tighter around him.

“This is only a setback,” he said, almost to himself now. He wasn’t even confident that the captain knew the full extent of their predicament.  It began to occur to Seabrook that he would have to take charge.  For all intents and purposes, the captain was lost, and there were decisions that needed to be made.  The longer they remained in their present location, the more vulnerable they were to another encounter with the British fleet.

Just as he was turning away, Seabrook heard the cabin door shove open.  “Ye come inside,” a hoarse voice called behind him.  He didn’t hesitate a moment to obey.  He was headed into near-darkness, but fought the urge to bring a lamp with him that hung just outside of the cabin. 

Once inside, Seabrook looked around, saw that everything, so far as he could tell, was in perfect order.  It was more than he had anticipated.  The captain was standing at the oak desk, and looked be groomed for the first time in months, every hair in its place, and his waistcoat buttoned.  He was holding himself with unpracticed dignity.

“There are new orders, Seabrook,” the captain said, suddenly clear in diction.  The whole portrait was inscrutable.  “We’re headed back t’ Gloucester.”

“But Sir…!” Seabrook stammered. 

“Don’t look in m’ eye and tell me what madness looks like,” the captain said.  “Doubtless ye have many questions.  Doubtless, too, ye’ve had many answers, m’ good man.  I trusted you.  Keep that in mind, Mr. Seabrook.  Now, go an’ tell t’others.  I’m sure they be interested t’know what I had t’ say.”

The last words came with a snarl attached to them, the only ones to reveal the captain’s true disappointment in Seabrook.  The first mate stumbled the first few steps, and then seemed to almost trot the rest of the way to the open deck, where he called in a loud voice for an assembly, and gave his report.  Dumbfounded expressions greeted him, and Seabrook wondered if he shared it.  He was going numb all over.  It was a surprise to him that he even registered the captain’s presence behind him.

“You all want to know why,” the captain said.  “Ye believe ye deserve an explanation.  I told ye when ye signed on for service with me that there was treasure everywhere.  Ye were not deceived.  Ye have just had a taste of it.  Ye have been rattled and ye have been frighten’d.  Ye have tasted the future, mateys.  There’s a war on the horizon.  The British won’t stop until every last one of ye are fast below the waves.  Ye are all Americans.  Ye thought ye were escapin’ the war.  Well now ye know.  Thirty years ago our fathers sacrificed everything so ye could spit on their graves and abandon yer country in its moment of need.  Ye weren’t snatched to serve under the Union Jack, but ye chose to serve under it all the same.  Omission is the same as sin.  We have all just had a taste of t’ war.  I hope ye liked it.”

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