It's been a while since I've posted an excerpt from the first Stone Island Sea Story, Beyond the Ocean's Edge. Today I'm continuing with posting something from each chapter. This comes from Chapter 15. Pierce, the passengers and crew of Island Expedition have arrived at and begun settling in on the mysterious long lost island they've set out to find. Today, they have word of a strange craft approaching the island...
As eight bells sounded, Pierce again went aboard His Britannic Majesty’s Schooner. He exchanged formalities and a few pleasantries with Andrews, who now had the watch, and went below to his cabin. He fetched his best glass, returned to the deck, and immediately climbed the main shrouds.
He reached the main topmast crosstrees and made himself comfortable. He hadn’t been aloft in some time, but the instinct and habits learned in years at sea were not forgotten. Soon he felt he as if had been aloft daily for the past several months. What bothered him was pressure on parts of his body not used to such a perch. He trained his glass at the point where the strange craft should soon appear. Pierce did not have to wait long. He had lowered the glass momentarily to wipe away the tears caused by the cool stiff breeze. When he resumed scanning the headland, the canoe was visible.
As he watched, the canoe altered course gradually, and it now headed almost directly at him. It drew closer, and with his glass he was able to distinguish many details. It was a large craft, forty or so feet long, as estimated against the figures on board. Closer examination showed that the craft was not one canoe, but two. The two hulls, each carved from a single giant log, were connected by a sturdy platform that ran slightly above the gunnels for nearly the entire length. A single sail was set on a stay leading from the bows to a bipod mast that stepped well aft. It was in effect a single gigantic jib or staysail. To Pierce it may not have been the ideal rig, but it obviously aided the men along each side, who paddled strongly in unison.
Sore from his unaccustomed time aloft, Pierce returned to the deck. He came sedately down the shrouds rather than hand over hand down the backstays. He no longer trusted the strength and sureness of his grip to do as he had done when a midshipman.
On deck he spoke with both Hotchkiss and Andrews. He cautioned them to ensure the hands acted properly, that they showed proper respect for the approaching visitors, and that they did not allow the strangers’ appearance or attire to affect their decorum. Then he went ashore and passed the same request to Mr. O’Brien for the watch below, busy within the colony.
Back on board he went forward and again trained his glass on the canoe. It was closer now and he could make out more detail. While it was hard to get an exact count, he estimated that eight or nine were along each side, digging their paddles forcefully into the water. Another dozen or so stood on deck between the hulls. At times he could see an individual seated upon an elaborate chair forward of the mast. Most were dressed in what looked like buckskin. The strangers resembled North American Indians as pictured in the book that Hotchkiss’ father had. The bows were carved into stylized representations of various animals and were painted in bright and nearly garish colors.
By four bells in the afternoon watch, the canoe was close enough that Pierce could hear the rhythmic chant as the paddlers drove it rapidly through the water. As the paddles lifted in unison, their wetness caught the sunlight and flashed brilliantly.
Off Island Expedition’s port bow, a word was shouted in an unknown language. The paddling stopped instantly. Swiftly the huge single sail was gotten in, the mast unstepped and stowed, and at another word, the paddles resumed their work. A drum set the tempo for the paddlers’ stroke. A new and different chant accompanied it.
The strange craft passed smartly along the schooner’s port side.
One of the hands detailed to grease the forward carronade’s elevating screw observed, “No doubt, Jack! Gotta be them noble savages we been hearin’ about.”
“Aye, Tom. But noble?” answered his mate.
As the comment was made, the individual on the chair turned slightly and looked directly at the schooner. His face remained blank and he resumed his forward gaze.
Pierce glared. “Belay that, I say! You will keep your opinions to yourselves. Report for duty with tomorrow’s watch on deck!”
“Aye aye, sir!” They were embarrassed at being overheard by their captain, and most assuredly dismayed that they would have another day’s duty before any liberty was granted.