From: Call Of The Sea

EXCERPTS FROM CALL OF THE SEA>

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Ch. 1, p. 1

From far out in the Atlantic, winds drove piles of clouds roiling the ocean waters, loading up the skies with rain, whipping the raging froth down into the New England coast. The sea hurled massive waves against shore rocks where they exploded into white foam towers against the night. It was the first nor’easter of the year. In Newburyport, sheets of cold rain crashed over the cobblestone streets. Rivers and lakes sprung from wherever the stones let them. Boats in the harbor bucked nose into the wind wrestling with their moorings.

At the Eagle Inn, only a few customers remained. Sailors temporarily without boats. The rest stayed on board to deal with whatever that nasty mistress might bring. Captain McKeever nursed a mug of rum. McKeever was a heavy-set old man who rolled when he walked as though the ocean were under him even ashore. As a youth, he fought with John Paul Jones in the Revolution. His face was leathered by gales, his dark full beard graying and his fingers gnarled with arthritis. His ship, the Molly O, lay safe in the yard having her bottom scraped and sealed. A big black cat snoozed near the still hot embers in the stone fireplace, no longer surprised by the raging wind outside. The inn’s door was bolted against further visitors. Jubal Coyne, the owner, sat near the fireplace. He was a lanky man with a patch where his left eye had been. His sleeves rolled above the elbows, revealed tattoos on each arm, reminders of voyages to the South Seas. He hoped his guests would finish up soon. He wanted to close the bar, put out the lamps and listen to the winds howl from the comfort of his warm bed.

Then came the pounding. Something loose in the storm? No, the pounding was too insistent. The big black cat raised her head, ears upright. The stragglers looked at each other and listened.

“It’s the door,” one spoke up.

Jubal called out “Closed.”

The pounding continued. “Closed, I said!”

More pounding. He stepped behind the bar and reached below for a belaying pin before going to the door. Drunken sailors could be trouble. Coyne slipped back the bolt and tried to open the door slightly. KAWOOSH. In came a rush of wind and rain and before he could push back the door again, a bundled figure staggered through. From behind a scarf, black eyes peered vacant and hollow. Rivulets poured from the bundle’s every fold. As they stared, the bundle started forward only to drop hard onto the floor. A body trembled beneath the heavy wet clothes.

Captain McKeever, Jubal and a sailor named “Dog” dragged the soaked bundle to the hearth and unwrapped the clothes.

“Hey, who are you? What are you doing here?”

The eyes were closed. Wet hair plastered to a wet hot forehead. Lips moved but made no sound.

Jubal’s wife, Maude, rushed out from the kitchen. A plump, red-faced woman with darting eyes and fidgeting hands. From a bunk under the stairs made private by a curtain, a yawning, stretching Liz Wade emerged.

“Why, he’s only a boy, only a boy!”

Maude put her hand to his cheek. “Hot as Satan’s pup! Get him upstairs and out of those wet clothes. Put him into a warm bed.”

Liz helped the men pull off a blanket that was his outer wrap and then his waistcoat. “That’s enough for you, young lady. Fetch a dry blanket and hang this one up to dry. You fellas carry him upstairs.”

The men carried him to the upper floor where Jubal pulled off the rest of his clothes. Maude dried him, wrestled one of Jubal’s shirts over his head and shoulders and helped her husband lift him into a narrow bunk. Liz brought dry blankets.

“What do we know about him? Nothing. And now he’s wearing my shirt and laying in one of our best beds and hardly a coin in his pockets. You’re a good Christian woman, Maude, but he could be a bandit or a fugitive carrying some disease. Ever think of that?”

Liz let out a “humpf” putting her hand to her face to hide her grin. Maude frowned but she had already turned away.

“Remember your Bible, Jubal. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan who helped the victim lying by the road. Don’t you give me any more trouble. We don’t know but he’s been delivered into our hands for a purpose -- just like poor Liz here. Where would she be if we didn’t take her in when her parents died? An orphan begging by the road or worse.”

Liz groaned. “Should I make hot tea for him?”

“Can’t you see, he’s unable to drink anything? Use your common sense girl. He’s got to sleep through the fever. Go to bed. We need you fresh for the morning.”

Liz went downstairs to her bunk behind the curtain. Herself, now seventeen, she was taller than most, a phenomenon that brought taunts from boys and whispers behind her back from girls. She also had long straight hair, a chestnut that was almost black, and dark brown eyes that said more than her quick tongue. True. She would be another homeless orphan if the Coynes hadn’t taken her in at the age of nine, but, she did her share to make up for it. Nothing at all like Maude, she was nevertheless, Maude’s alter ego. She cleaned, cooked, went to market, carried wood, emptied slops, did laundry and saw to it that no one cheated on the bills. She was an adult ever since she entered their home.

The next day, the boy continued to sleep. Occasionally, he opened his eyes. They drifted across the room and soon closed again. “Try some soup,” Maude prescribed. Liz heated soup. She pulled up his head and shoulders. He muttered something and as he did, she slipped a spoonful between his lips. Some dribbled down his chin, but some stayed in. A few times during the day, Liz repeated the drill. He hardly changed position in the bed. His shirt was soaked with sweat. When she propped him to coax in food or water, his head lolled on her breast, and from time to time, pillowed itself there. She didn’t mind.

The following day, Jubal and Maude took the wagon for vegetables at the Tompkins’ farm, a trip that took several hours. During the afternoon, Liz brought a basket of sewing to the room where the boy lay. He had kicked the covers off and sprawled face down, the sweaty shirt around his waist.

“Well, hello -- what have we here?”

Nasty welts striped the backs of his legs and his buttocks.

“My God, what did they do to you?”

Sure that no one was around, she lay her hands gently on him feeling the welts and the fever’s heat from his bare skin. The bed was damp and so was the shirt. The stale odor of sweat was overpowering. She touched his shoulder.

“Can you hear me?”

No sound.

“We’ve got to do something about this.”

She got a fresh shirt, a sheet, a pitcher of water and a towel. She rolled him over, pulled off the damp shirt and bathed him. At the touch of cool water, his body lurched and his eyes opened.

“Who are you?” he asked.

She whispered into his ear, “Well, I’m not your mother.”

His eyes rolled and he was gone again. When she jammed the cool cloth between his legs, his eyes opened momentarily, then closed.

“Ah then, still hope, eh? I suppose we mustn’t do anything to heat you up.”

His hands were large and callused. “You know something about hard work, don’t you?”

She passed the cool cloth over his feet. Raw blisters.

“You’ve come a ways on foot. A runaway, I’d say.”

When she finished the bath, he was cooler. She ran a brush through his dark hair which was long and curly. The beginnings of a beard shadowed his lip and chin. Otherwise, his body was smooth. She put the fresh shirt on him and a sheet on the bed.

“I wonder who you are, my mystery laddie. You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you? And yet, for the moment you look so sweet and peaceful lying there.”

She placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. “How old are you, I wonder? Old enough from what I’ve seen.”

She sat by him and sewed.

Towards evening, he began tossing and speaking in his sleep, “ . . . stop it! Lookout! Don’t . . . Don’t touch me . . . Take that! . . . uh-oh . . . I killed him! I killed him! He’s dead . . . my God, he’s dead

“So, you’ve got a terrible secret, Bucko. Well, let’s keep it between you and me. Your neck’s too dear for a hangman’s noose.”

Maude and Jubal returned later than they wanted to. She thought the boy was sleeping more naturally and scolded Liz for being late with dinner.

Ch. 4, p.37.

They kissed long, tender and increasingly passionate kisses, losing themselves in this new intimacy. The candlelight chased shadows about the room and across their features. Cheeks flushed. Hearts raced. Fingers trembled. Then, she drew away. Both stood, breathing hard, neither looking at the other.

“I’m sorry, Liz.”

“Don’t be. I’ve never felt such a feeling before. I don’t know what to make of myself.”

“Me neither. I would never hurt you -- it’s just the very touch of you makes me wild. Things happen inside me and it’s hard to let go. Can you understand that?”

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