It took me nearly an hour to dispel the after-effects of adrenaline from that encounter, and I still felt tired and mildly depressed even after a good supper. I didn’t imagine Starbuck would return to his ship tonight (and didn’t feel up to another run-in so soon in any case), which left me with no mission, no “to-do” list, no one to talk to, no idea what to do with myself. My room was too warm to go to bed yet, and anyway the mid-summer light would be lingering for another couple hours. Well, I at least had light. Not feeling enthused, but not having a better option to offer myself, I picked up my notebook and pen and headed outside in search of a breeze.
My steps drew me back toward the dock, where I assumed it unlikely that I would encounter Starbuck at this time of evening (surely he had a fancy or a cozy house somewhere in town?). I had thought I would draw Obedience—it’s one way to get to know her—but found myself instead with images of a stormy face repeated across my pages. Stormy Starbuck—and no, I didn’t miss the fact that I’d pulled back from the familiarity of “Obadiah” and was referring to him by his surname in my own head. Apparently we’d both done a thorough job of repelling one another.
I flipped the page and deliberately set to work on the ship instead, so focused on my work that I jumped and gasped when an unexpected voice issued from directly over my shoulder. Note to self: a sailor in bare feet can sneak up on you. It was Franklin, the second mate I’d just met, but my own overloud squeak had overridden whatever he’d started to say to me.
He bent to retrieve my dropped pen, eyes raking the outlines on my page, and handed it back to me with something approximating a bow.
“I startled you.” I wasn’t sure if it were an apology, or if he were just given to stating the obvious.
“I was just…” I trailed off, not sure why I felt I had to explain my presence, or what I would even say about it. I was also suddenly and uncomfortably aware that it was probably exceedingly foolish of me to be sitting here alone in the twilight, not knowing a soul and not having anything fiercer than a fountain pen to hand. I’d been relieved, after my start, to see a familiar face—but
realized I had no idea if it were a friendly one. Right now it looked speculative, and I felt uneasy. I moved slowly but deliberately, closing my notebook, stowing the returned pen, and rising to my feet without breaking eye contact. I nodded to him politely, turned, and walked away from him down the pier with measured, unhurried steps. Wanting to run.
“Good evening, then, Miss Harper!” he called after me a moment later, laughter in his voice. Laughter should be a much more pleasant sound.
I was relieved he hadn’t seen my sketches of Starbuck. If I use art to process emotion, I didn’t need that process (that emotion) laid open to eyes whose gaze made the base of my neck tingle like it was now.
Thoroughly disgruntled by pretty much everything about my day, I found Mr. Alford—still looking harried at the Gull—and inquired about a strong glass of port. I’m not a big drinker, but that night I welcomed the spreading warmth of the alcohol as if it were the solvent that could dissolve the knot in my gut. And after a little while I reopened my notebook to a fresh page and went back to sketching Starbuck. Not his angry side, this time, but as I’d seen him in the moment before I’d accosted him. An upward quirk of the lip as he acknowledged the innkeeper, the relaxed lines of his brows, the pipe between unclenched teeth. I tried to remember, and to draw—and then to focus myself on this version of him. I told myself it was unfair to judge his character based on his reaction to what was, in essence, an ambush.
I had plenty of reasons to want to like him, but I wasn’t sure how well I was succeeding at recalibrating my own feelings. And I knew that wherever he was, he wasn’t busy talking himself out of his dislike for me.
Sometimes everything looks better in the fresh light of morning.
And sometimes it doesn’t. I did not want to get out of bed. But… coffee was not going to come to me, and ultimately that seemed worth getting dressed for.
My world felt a little more manageable by the time I got to my second mug of Mr. Alford’s brew. I was glad I hadn’t finished my glass of port the night before, and I was glad I had left the dock without incident. I even managed to be glad that my initial introduction to a certain whaling captain was behind me. Surely that was the hard part?
I retreated upstairs to put up my hair, with all the gravity of donning armor for battle. And perhaps I was. Whatever I might tell myself about things getting easier, I couldn’t gloss over the unquestionably contentious start. I wrestled the last hairpin into place, wondering how long they’d stay this time, and brushed off my skirts unnecessarily. And stood in place in my room, not wanting to go downstairs or out the door.
Well. I could stand here until I needed another round of coffee (or the privy), or I could go already.
I had no more detailed plan than to spend a lot of time around Obedience. Her captain would have no choice but to spend his time there too, and it’s what I could think of. Still, I was relieved to find that neither he nor his second mate were aboard when I arrived. The first mate, Mr. Rawley, gaped at me when I called out for permission to come aboard, but handed me gallantly over the rail without questioning me.
“Cap’n told us who you are, Mum. You needn’t be askin’ permission.”
I smiled gratefully, having been somewhat apprehensive about procedures. “It seemed only polite, my first time coming aboard by myself. But thank you—I expect I’ll be here often.” An eyebrow rose at that statement, but he still didn’t question. Here was a man with manners.
“So, er… What can I be doin’ for you, Mum?”
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about me, I’ll keep out of your way. I’m commissioned to provide some drawings of the ship—I’m just going to work on those.” Let them get accustomed to my presence before I started poking around.
Opening my book carefully so the previous night’s drawings wouldn’t display to Rawley’s curious eyes, I settled in to sketch, outlining the rigging and working my way to details. I’d taken it into my head to put Obedience on my brooch from Mrs. Molly, and I wanted to get her just right.
If I’d had a German Shepherd’s ears, they would have been swiveling, alert for any of the approaches I anticipated or dreaded. In the former category: the harpooner I’d met yesterday, almost certainly Hawaiian. In the latter category, the creepy Franklin. And in both categories, their captain. The side of my palm left sweaty imprints on the page, though the day wasn’t yet near its height of heat. I wanted to be anywhere else. I’d sat facing the dock, where anyone might appear over the rail, but Holokai the harpooner emerged from steerage behind me.
“An’ here dat waheenee again,” he observed aloud, pulling his incongruous suspenders up over his shoulders. Incongruous in that they—and his whole sailor’s get-up—seemed like strange garb against his extensive tribal tattooing. It may have been my first genuine smile in days, responding to the comforting cadence of Hawaiian Pidgin. Even speaking English, the inflections of a Hawaiian differ—I’ve been told on the mainland that I have an accent, and mine is just the merest echo of the tune.
“Good morning! I didn’t think sailors slept in.” I’d actually assumed everyone was ashore.
“Dat Rawley, he stay on watch. I wen’ moe-moe till time fo’ work.” My grin at his turn of phase caught Obadiah Starbuck full in the face as he swung aboard. I shriveled a little, but hung on to the smile as if I hadn’t seen him. “Holokai—is that really your given name?” I’d been curious since our introduction. Move on the ocean, it translated—or seafarer.
“No. No, I wen’ need one name haole can say. My muddah, she call me Kaleokeahi’aoloa.” I laughed—English-speakers would find that a mouthful, all right.
“My mother called me Puahikialani,” I confided, “but that’s not the name I use either. Same reason.” I can’t even describe his expression. Like the Mastercard commercial says, Priceless.
“Yo’ muddah, she Kanaka?”
“Hapa,” I answered. Half. He closed the distance between us and pulled me into what would have looked like an embrace, but I recognized the traditional Hawaiian greeting—a shared breath. Not a European cheek-kiss, but an actual inhalation beside my face. It’s what “aloha” literally means—to exchange breath.
“E komo mai, cuzzin,” he greeted me formally, stepping back again to a respectable distance but still grinning. Cousin. Here I stood without connections or outside resources, but suddenly I had a cousin.
I couldn’t interpret the expression on Starbuck’s face, but disapproval had to be in it. A whaleship might sport an unusually diverse demographic compared to settlements ashore, but that didn’t mean a New Englander would approve of an unmarried woman hugging his Hawaiian harpooner.
I decided in that moment that I didn’t care. A cousin in the hand is worth two husbands in the bush, or something like that. I couldn’t control Starbuck’s reaction to me—I could only be me. As obvious as that sounds, the revelation lightened me. I saw him watching me as the crew set to recaulking the sides of the ship, but my gut didn’t have the knots of the day before.