November 10th, 2019

Beyond the Ocean's Edge

Story Excerpt

It's been awhile since I've posted a story excerpt from the Stone Island Sea Stories.  (Well, I did post one a couple of weeks ago with regards to mentioning or establishing Birthdays for main characters in a story, but...)

Anyway, below you will find the first few pages of Chapter Thirteen of Beyond the Ocean's Edge.
Chapter Thirteen
Port Visits

          
            It was December, but south of the Equator it was summer and quite hot.  Pierce and the officers of His Majesty’s Schooner Island Expedition stood their duties in shirt sleeves, uniform coats being stowed in their respective cabins.  Their desired course was east by southeast as they sought the tiny island of St. Helena.  Unfortunately, the winds came out of the very point to which they were heading, and they were forced to tack across their intended track.  For every mile gained in the desired direction, they sailed three, four, or even five miles on port or starboard tacks.
            It was now that the schooner’s sail plan made its benefits known.  With her square sails furled tight about their yards and nothing but fore and aft sails, Island Expedition could lie closer to the wind and make better progress to windward than any square-rigged vessel.  Because of the nature of the fore and aft rig, tacking or wearing ship was simpler.  More of the work involved could be done from deck, rather than aloft, and fewer hands were needed to accomplish each evolution.
            As the days progressed, Pierce tacked after the forenoon watch was called, after the first dog watch had begun, and finally once the midwatch had been set.  As it worked out, the ship was on a starboard tack twice and a port tack once on any particular day.  The next day it would be on a port tack twice and on a starboard tack once.
            Island Expedition drew ever nearer St. Helena as it described a great jagged path, a hundred miles or more to each side of the line leading directly to that island.  Pierce and the other officers sighted and measured the sun every day at noon.  The position was plotted and slight corrections made to place them on the correct course.  On the ninth day of the month, they determined they had reached St. Helena’s latitude.  Now their desired track was directly east.  They came about and set up close-hauled on a starboard tack.  That would suffice until they fetched the East Indian Company’s outpost.  Practical considerations demanded an occasional short run on a port tack to counteract any leeward drift to the north and keep them to their desired course.
            The wind was fresher, and stirred the sea into choppier larger waves.  Some staysails were gotten in, and at times the officer of the watch was forced to order reefs in the large mainsail and foresail.  Still, Island Expedition thundered on, her port side deep in the water as the wind pressed her over.  She drove her sharp bows into the sea and sent up clouds of spray and foam.  Once in a while she met a particularly large sea, and her bows would crash into it, sending masses of water, spray, and foam washing along the deck to soak those there.
            Pierce found it exhilarating.  He stood on the windward quarterdeck, the wind in his face as the spray whipped about him.  It was refreshing and cool, even while they were in the tropics and the temperature quite warm.  The schooner had settled into a predictable motion, pitching and rolling with the passing of each sea.  He balanced easily, instinctively, as he casually glanced about him.  Yet in that casual glance he perceived many things and knew all he needed to know about the schooner.
            Then his mood darkened.  Even though he was reveling in the brisk excitement of this day at sea, something in his life was missing.  He had never been to sea with anyone special waiting for him.  True, his parents had waited when he had first sailed as a midshipman.  But never had he left a young lady behind.  For the past weeks he had tried to keep Evangeline out of his thoughts, because if he didn’t, his loneliness would drive him mad.  It took a great effort not to think of her.  He wasn’t always successful, and once his thoughts were of her, they would prey upon him for hours.  He would be unable to sleep, despite the relaxing motion of the ship and the wind that made below decks much more comfortable.
            Today Pierce could not prevent his mind from wandering back to England and the waiting Evangeline.  He pictured her in the dress she had worn while standing on the pier when Island Expedition had cast off to head into the Solent.  He pictured her in the bonnet that she wore that day, and how she had smiled bravely and waved.
            He recalled their first meeting, how something had stirred deep within him, and how he had decided that if she did not fit his ideal of the perfect woman, he would change that ideal to fit her.  He thought of her direct honesty and practicality, as when they had met attired in their robes, enroute to or from the bath.  He remembered her skill and mastery of an Oriental fighting technique when they had been waylaid by brigands.
            She had offered to teach him, but in the hectic days before sailing there had never been time.
            It had been wonderful, just to be with her.  He recalled the longing and want he had felt when they were together, and the conflict within, as he balanced animal desire for her with respect, decency, and true affection.  His mind turned to the last days they had spent together and how their passions had come forth.  With sweet pain and sadness, he remembered their first professions for each other, and the sweet deliciousness of their first embrace.   Those next few days until Island Expedition sailed had been pure bliss, and now were a wonderful but tortured memory.
            As he thought more, his mood darkened.  He had known her only a few months.  Their expressions of love had occurred in the last weeks of their time together.  She had promised to wait until he returned.  He in turn had promised to return to her, and he would do just that.  But could a young woman of such grace, beauty, desires, needs, and wants, forsake those urges for the next few years?  Could she stay intent on their beginning relationship and not be swayed by anyone she would chance to meet?
            Pierce began to think he was a fool.  Were her feelings as intense as he imagined, or as strong as his?  Should he have pressed the physical issue to its conclusion, and at least be able to claim memories of that pleasure, regardless of the future?  Perhaps that was what she had wanted as well.  Gone three months now, was he a dim memory, a fool who failed to avail himself of her charms, a fool out of sight and out of mind, perhaps for years?
            He wondered darkly.  What was she doing now?  Was she on the Isle of Wight waiting for and missing him?  Was she enjoying the company of other young men, another naval officer perhaps?  Was she being courted and more by a merchant of Newport?  Was she with a general, an admiral, or a captain?  Could she even be in the company of a common laborer, a private soldier, or an ordinary seaman?
            Pierce checked himself momentarily.  For his entire life he had fought to not make distinctions of rank in such matters.  But he wasn’t classifying them one against another.  He was classifying them against himself.  No matter who it might be, he tortured himself unmercifully to think she could be with someone else.