A few days of hanging around his ship, and I wasn’t sure if I’d made any headway. I might as well be playing a junior-high game of “is that boy looking at me?” But if there hadn’t been any sparks of chemistry, there also hadn’t been any sparks of conflict. On the balance, I’d take it. The first step in taming a wild animal, as I understand it, is to accustom it to your presence. I may not have had a single word out of Obadiah over the past three days, but at least his look of consternation had worn off.
Maybe Obadiah wasn’t the only one getting tamed. It didn’t require an effort of will to get myself out the inn door, and my hairpins didn’t seem like my enemies every morning.
It was hard to imagine living on that ship, though. I might spend hours there every day, but I could still treat it as an extension of the town. I could still sit on grass, shop in the market, walk the streets, choose what food to eat. All that would end when this ship cast off its shorelines in a month. The luxuries of shore would disappear the way the conveniences of the twenty-first century had vanished in June—so I savored them. An apple. My pitcher of fresh wash-water. A full-sized bed to myself. An introduction to someone new.
I’d have a limited cast of characters in my life, and I was learning six of them. Franklin still worried me—just a bad vibe there. I found myself wondering what his captain thought of him, what kind of judge of character Obadiah was. Rawley continued curious but gentlemanly, a hard worker (and equally hard task-master) as the small crew worked through the tasks of prepping Obedience for more years at sea. Dickson, the third mate, certainly fit the bill of “able-bodied seaman,” with a physique girls of my time might describe as “ripped.” He didn’t show evidence of a lot of action between the ears, but I noticed he spent his nights ashore, and I figured he was getting some action elsewhere. Clarke, the other harpooner, was a talker—between his Irish lilt and Holokai’s Pidgin cadence, crew conversations sounded downright musical.
And Obadiah. The character who concerned me most—and who spent the least time onboard. He naturally wasn’t taking part in the manual labor under way, but I noticed him hanging around when he had no more apparent reason to be there than I. I’d given up pretending to work on my “commissioned” drawings, but they’d all gotten used to me being there. I asked plenty of questions, and managed to insinuate myself into some of the less-messy goings-on, like working on supply stores. My propensity for list-making made the project a natural fit, and Rawley welcomed my involvement.
“This will be the steward’s to see to, but we don’t have him yet,” he explained, looking harassed by the added responsibility. Assured that I didn’t mind, he returned with evident relief to painting something, and I surreptitiously added more coffee to the shopping-list.
I didn’t know how to open conversation with the captain. He would answer direct questions about the ship and voyage, but never ventured beyond the bounds of what an “underwriter’s agent” would want to know. He never asked about my sketchbook, and he never made a personal observation about anything. I watched him for a clue that he had any interest in anything aside from the preparations around us, but he maintained what I was privately calling his “captain-face,” nearly expressionless with a touch of stern. None of the dislike or irritation he’d showed at our first acquaintance, but no hints that anything particularly pleased or interested him. Still, here he was in the middle of a morning, and it didn’t take the men’s sideways glances to tell me he wasn’t expected.
What little I did know of him, I’d gleaned from talk with his crew, and with sailors in the common rooms, where I’d taken to asking questions. Clarke provided the most interesting tidbit, with his comment about “the cap’n’s flowers.” A full week had passed, and the most intimate thing I knew about my future husband was his habit of pressing plants. Short of presenting him with a posy, I still didn’t have anything to work with.
Until he crashed my party.
It was a picnic of sorts, which I arranged with Mr. Alford at the end of a long hot day. I’d been belowdecks with my lists, and the men aloft tarring ropes, and I liked the idea of a companionable dinner with such friends as I had. So I treated. Two boys from the Gull brought cold meats and cheeses, loaves of bread and bottles of cooled ale, and a lovely bunch of grapes, and I set “table” on a pair of hard-tack barrels as the five men came climbing wearily down from their work. None of us expected the captain so late in the evening, and his appearance brought an instant hush as if we’d been caught in a guiltier act than supper.
He stood surveying us, looking uncomfortably captainish, and then to my surprise—I think to everyone’s surprise—he sat down. The Captain’s Table during the voyage would include some of these men, so eating with them wasn’t “beneath” him. He just felt like an awkward addition to what had been (at least up to that moment) a party atmosphere. Well, I got stubbornly determined that he wouldn’t spoil it. So I handed him a bottle of ale and went on with my story.
The next day he asked me a question for the first time, and I felt a surge of relief. We were talking.