Tuesday afternoon was granted for free time. Ezra’s eyes glowed as he attacked his ledger work with more than his usual vigor. Inside, he felt as though he were a vat of boiling maple sap, growing more intense as the time wore on. To keep himself focused, he pretended he was an army officer, pouring over the figures brought to him of the enemy in order to execute an effective counter attack. He must figure out what the strength of the enemy was, and how much force was needed to counter it, and what co-ordinates would be the ideal battleground. As the imagined smell of candle wax in an army tent grew stronger in Ezra’s nose, the regular bustle of shop business and ever-increasing chatter of an excited George transferred themselves into the clinks and footfalls of soldiers, and the exchange of passwords and orders. Ezra was startled to find a hand on his shoulder, and looked up to see what new report might be brought in from the war front. He had to blink several times before his brain registered that the man standing over him was actually Benjamin.
Benjamin’s eyes carefully scanned Ezra’s work, and then he gave a satisfied nod.
“You seem to have a good head on you for numbers. Finish that column, and then you and George may be gone.”
“Thank you, Mr. Straight.” Ezra returned to his work with a fervor that rendered the work less orderly than before. Finished, he thrust his quill away and shoved his chair back, but as he stood, Ezra paused for a moment to quickly check his work. It would not do for him to leave a slovenly record and reputation for the cause of a few moments of thrill. Satisfied, he flung himself towards the door, skidding to the side to give way to a pair of ladies coming in just then, and then hurtled himself out of the doorway.
Ezra breathed in deeply, eyes glowing. Surely the whole world lay at his fingertips today. In a seaport like this were links to not only everything in the seventeen states, but also from nearly every country as well.
Ezra did not have long to contemplate the opportunities before him before George emerged from the shop. “Let’s go get something to eat!” he called. “I know just the place for you to get your first seafood meal.”
The two headed out, zigzagging through the streets.
Soon they came to the docks, where the waves changed from a subtle background to a pervading music. The wheeling gulls screamed dominance.
“I should have brought my sketch book.”
“Do you draw?” asked George.
“I like to document surroundings, and my sister Patience would love to get a picture of such a bird. Look how gracefully it curves its wings as it lands.”
“Gulls are pests.” George dismissed the thought with a wave of his hand. “Watch that one doesn’t make a mess on your hat.”
George directed their steps to a stand selling clam chowder. Ezra had to agree that it made a good meal.
“As my father has always said,” George proclaimed as he elegantly gave his fingers a lick, “no one can hold a candle to the provision of the sea. On the coast even the pauper is a king compared to the poor inland souls. Though,” he added in a lowered tone, “I make an exception for squid. It is beyond my understanding how anyone can stomach that beast. Just don’t let that become public knowledge.”
Ezra grinned evilly, but gave a swift shake of his light-brown head.
“So, where shall we begin?” George was eager to show off his knowledge of the city.
“I would like to spend some time here,” replied Ezra. “I’ve never been this close to the sea before, and besides, this is like the doorway into the rest of the world.”
“Yes, the sailors here have been all over the world,” George remarked airily. “Or at least some of them. Others are merely local fishermen. Let me introduce you to some of the sailors in my uncle’s employ. A ship recently came in. We should be able to find some nearby.”
Sure enough, in a few minutes George had located a wizened sailor, sitting with legs spread wide on a cask, plying his needle to mend an old shirt. Looking up, he raised his matted white eyebrows.
“If it isn’t the young Master Oliver with some young sea pup in tow. D’ye have the day off to play steersman for a guest?” called the grizzled old man. His beard bushed down into a tangle onto his chest, and Ezra thought it would be all too easy to accidentally catch one of the wiry hairs in the needlework his hands were employed in.
“This is Ezra Trippe.” George indicated Ezra with a grand flourish. “He is my Uncle Raleigh’s new apprentice.”
“Ye seem a might old to only just be startin’ yer trainin’.” The old sailor critically eyed Ezra up and down. “But then I’ve heard tell the sea steals them young.”
“This is but a continuation of my apprenticeship. My former Master, Meldon Somers, had the sad misfortune of a fire devouring his shop, and was unable to keep me under his tutelage. He then sent me to Master Smith in order to finish my learning. Mr. Somers said Mr. Smith owed him a favor, and that it should be no problem in his estate.”
“This is Silas Eben.” George motioned towards the old man. “He sails on my uncle’s ships, and has seen nigh to every port in the world.”
Silas’ mouth broke into a wide smile that multiplied his wrinkles fourfold.
“An’ that’s the truth of it. I had been on the seven seas by the time this young whippersnapper’s father first set foot on the deck of a vessel. Many’s the storm I’ve seen, and sights from waves that would look down their noses at the highest buildin’ in Boston, to birds that seem as though they had flown in from heaven itself.”
“And adventures!” interjected George. “You’ve had all sorts of adventures. Shipwreck, pirates, sea battles…”
“Now see here, ye grouper-mouthed lad”—Silas shook a callused finger at him—“I’m no barnacled navy-man, am I. Though,” he chuckled, his eyes drawing down to slits, “I have seen a run in with a boatful o’ French.”
“Those no-good French!” George enthusiastically punched at the cask. “They care for nothing but to interfere in others’ business.”
“It came about like this.” Silas leaned back and thoughtfully chewed the whiskers bordering his lip. “We were makin’ a run to the West Indies. We sailed wide o’ Florida so as not to have a run-in with the Spaniards. A thick fog was rollin’ in, though, and even the sharpest-eyed seaman couldn’t see past the tip o’ the prow. The captain was uneasy; the fog had sprung up too sudden like for his likin’. He had no forewarnin’, and the changes o’ weather was as natural to him as scales are to a fish. Why, I’d have said not a drop o’ water could have touched the sea in a hundred score fathoms without him noticin’ it an’ knowin’ whether it be the spray o’ the waves, the fall o’ the raindrop, or the spit o’ a bosun. He had a mighty fine feeling for weather. But he hadn’t seen that fog comin’ until it had hit the ship like a netful o’ salmon.”
A troubled look clouded Silas’ face for a moment. “I’ve never laid eyes on such an uncanny fog as that one,” he mused. But then he shook his head and continued.
“We all huddled about above deck, not wantin’ to wander off too far from the others. It felt as though the fog could well have swallowed up anyone unfortunate to leave his mates’ sight, gone to never be seen again. We couldn’t tell the direction we were sailin’. As far as eye could tell we could well have squared the compass or been sailin’ right off the face o’ the earth. An’ then, on the horizon, we spied a ship.”
“You said you couldn’t see past prow,” objected George. “How could you see a ship on the horizon?”
“Well, ye sure an’certain couldn’t see ought else beyond the prow,” Silas calmly replied. “Not so much as a wave. In fact, ye could hardly even hear the waves. The silence was dreadful like, and what you could hear o’ the sea sounded more like silence than plain silence would. More ominous.”
“You’re spinning a yarn,” scoffed George.
“On no accounts.” Silas looked slightly peeved. “The ship was not as far away as the horizon would ordinarily be, but it was no closer than…I would say five furlongs.”
Silas frowned. “Would ye hear how I came to see a conflict with the French or no?” he demanded.
“Go on.” Ezra leaned in. “Was that the French ship?”
“Nay, or at least not to my knowledge. Some later said that it was a French ship driving us into a trap, but whether it be or no, I shall never know. It was a queer ship, though. It seemed to glow in the darkness.”
“You didn’t mention seeing the ship’s lantern before,” George relented. “You said you saw the ship. A lantern could be seen in the fog.”
“Nor am I sayin’ that now,” Silas said sternly. “It was indeed the ship itself we saw and not merely a lantern. I remember seeing no lantern. It seemed that the ship itself glowed.”
“Ships do not glow,” George said.
“An’ lads who do not listen are not told the ends of accounts.” Silas stabbed his needle into the shirt collar.
“Oh, please,” begged Ezra. “I’m listening.”
“I be finished with the task at hand as it is,” replied Silas, standing up and gathering his handwork. “Perhaps another time I may have the leisure to tell you. If young Master Oliver will have the presence o’ mind to keep his mouth in check in the presence of his elders. Has no one told you, boy, that children are better seen an’ not heard?”
“I am hardly a child at nearly sixteen,” George indignantly protested.
“Nay, ye be yet a babe,” Silas responded wryly. “Off to yer play,” he added as George started to sputter a protest. “I have work yet, and cannot spend the entire day flappin’ my jaw like a toothless fish. Be off with ye.”
And the two boys left.
“Let us go someplace that is more dignified,” huffed George, still put out from being called a baby. “What does he expect us to believe, that there are ghost ships sailing the seas? Crazy old salt.”
Ezra stopped abruptly, frowning.
“It is wrong to speak so of your elders. Where is the honor in such a statement?”
“I did not mean it that way,” protested George. “It’s just… Does he really expect us to believe all of that? He is either spinning an awfully tall yarn, or the sea air has got to him.”
“Do you mean to say that you do not believe such a thing is possible? Mr. Eben never said anything about it being a ghost ship—that was you. And there are many marvels in God’s world that man does not understand. Could this not be another such?”
“The Good Lord gave us reason to use,” snapped George, looking Ezra straight in the face. “Not to ignore and believe every idle tale that the breeze brings our way.”
“You are calling into question the integrity of—”
“Did you just call Silas Mr. Eben?” George’s chin dropped in curious surprise. “Nobody ever calls him that. Everyone just calls him Silas. Or Old Dolphin Tooth. I don’t even think he wants to be called Mr. Eben.”
Ezra looked at George in exasperation. “He’s my elder, and I need to treat him with respect. Unlike you,” he added pointedly.
George sighed. “Fine, fine. I’m sure he did see something he thought looked like a glowing ship. Fog can really play tricks on your eyes. All right.” He backed off under Ezra’s relentless stare. “There must have been something out there for him to see. Now, which shop do you wish to visit first?”