Somewhere Beyond the Sea
by Bill Prindle
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Virgil knocked on the door to wake me. After an instant of panic, I saw that Bess was already gone.
I dressed quickly. Before I went downstairs, I placed my lucky white rock with the dark ring around it on Bess’s pillow.
The five of us had a quick breakfast of eggs and toast. Dad and Virgil talked about how best to repair Sadie, and Mrs. Clement asked me what was my favorite subject in school, to which I answered “history.”
Bess was quiet. When she finished, she asked to be excused from the table and went out to the barn. I became uneasy, because I didn’t know why Bess seemed so distant.
Dad and Virgil set out for the beach. Mrs. Clement told me not to bother washing the dishes and handed me our canvas tote. She’d made some sandwiches and put a bottle of water in with them.
She sat in a chair and gestured for me to come closer. Stubbs curled up at her feet. “We’re so glad you arrived safe and sound,” she said. “Your visit with us will be a fine story to tell your grandchildren, won’t it?” She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. “Bess will miss you, Michael. We all will. Even Stubbs.”
I reluctantly set off toward the beach. A light breeze moved through the sweetgrass like an invisible wave carrying me forward, but from time to time I halted and looked around for Bess. I saw no sign of her and, with each step, I felt a growing ache in my heart.
Virgil and Dad had turned Sadie around so her bow was pointing northward, down the bay and toward home. I looked in vain toward the house.
I asked Virgil if he’d seen Bess. He rested his big hand on my shoulder and took me aside. “Bessie don’t do too well with leave-takings. I’ll tell her you said goodbye.”
I wanted to say, “Tell her I love her” but was too embarrassed to say it.
Dad helped me aboard, Virgil gave us a mighty push, and stood in the water up to his knees watching us drift away.
“Fair weather to ye,” he called.
After we’d coasted out a ways, I dropped the centerboard and fitted the oar between the pins Virgil had driven into the stern. The trysail he’d rigged started to fill with the light southwest breeze that was ruffling the water ahead of us. If it held, we’d sail straight into Dark Haven harbor on one tack.
“You’re captain today, Mike,” Dad said. “I’m your one-armed crew.” Dad had his arm in the sling Mrs. Clements had made for him. The cut on his forehead hadn’t been as bad as it first looked and the swelling had gone down.
As I sailed parallel to the island to get out of its lee and catch the breeze, I looked back and waved to Virgil, and then saw Mrs. Clements waving a handkerchief from the doorway. I was confused and hurt that Bess hadn’t said goodbye but, as we passed the northern tip of the island, I saw her sitting astride Zeus, on top of Mount Olympus. She was a distant figure — red checked shirt, blue dungarees, windblown auburn hair. I waved wildly to her, and she waved to us — just once — and then galloped off down the hill and out of sight.
Despite the sunny day and freshening breeze, I fell into a silent, melancholy mood that deepened the farther we sailed. Dad must have known why and allowed me to work it out on my own. As we sailed by Hog Island, halfway home, we ate Mrs. Clement’s cucumber and tomato sandwiches on anadama bread, each with a generous slice of her homemade cheese. Dad’s had a thick slice of onion too. I reluctantly allowed myself to feel a little better after eating.
A half an hour later, about a hundred yards to port, we saw Alonzo Gray’s open launch, the Bon Ton, headed away from us, and then it swung around and sped toward us. In minutes he’d pulled alongside.
“Where in hell you two been? Half the boats in the harbor been out lookin’ for you.”
Dad said we’d taken shelter from the storm on Hatch Island.
“Why’d you go way out there? Jesus Christ, I told you to keep a weather eye, didn’t I?” Alonzo sounded more annoyed than relieved that we had survived.
He asked if we wanted a tow, but Dad said we didn’t, which kind of surprised me. Alonzo said he’d head back and tell Mom not to call the undertaker and, with that, he roared away.
“Down-East humor,” Dad said.
The breeze held, and we stayed on one tack the whole way home. It was a long lazy sail, with not much to do except watch big cottony clouds pile up and change shapes, Sadie rocking easily in the light following sea. Dad stretched out on the floorboards with a life jacket under his head and snoozed a while.
The clanging bell buoy at the mouth of the harbor woke Dad up. He asked me if I’d be all right making the mooring under sail. I said I would, although I was a little nervous about doing it for the first time.
“I’ve got something to say to you, Mike.”
I was immediately on guard, because he usually called me “Mikey.” When it was something serious, it was “Michael.” If he called me “Mike,” it was one of those rare moments when he was more open and even affectionate toward me. Still, I was certain I was in for some criticism.
But I was wrong. “I’m proud of you,” Dad said. “You were very brave during that storm. If you hadn’t jibed, we would have gone over for sure.” His voice sounded different, like he was trying to persuade me of something. “That far from shore, we might not have made it. It was all my fault. It was my mistake to try to make it to Hatch, and it was my mistake to keep the mainsail up when it was blowing so hard.”
He put his hand on my knee and shook it gently. “Now look, I had worse injuries when I used to play football. The main thing is, you aren’t to blame. You kept your head and you saved us. Virgil told me you’re just the kind of hand he’d want aboard.”
I was looking down, trying not to let him see I had tears in my eyes. I mumbled, “Yes, sir.” It was the first time he’d ever spoken to me that way.
* * *
In two hours time, we’d tied up at our mooring, and I’d rowed our dinghy to Gray’s float. Mom was waiting for us and hugged me so hard I thought she’d snap my neck. She was crying a little, too. Dad told us to go on ahead because he had to talk to Lon about the repairs.
As we drove away from the boatyard, I looked back to see Lon talking up a storm, gesturing down the bay, shaking his head, Dad arguing back, and then Lon walking away.
In celebration of our safe return, Mom had cooked my favorite meal — meatloaf, baked potatoes, and fresh green beans from Mr. Ordway’s farm. Dad told her about the white squall, but she said it had missed Dark Haven. The big nor’easter hadn’t, though. She’d been so frantic with worry when we hadn’t returned, she even called the Coast Guard station in Portland.
I piped up about how we’d beached Sadie and how the Clements had put us up and how Virgil had made a new plank out of a log and how I’d ridden a horse bareback and milked a cow. I probably mentioned Bess’s name a lot, and they must have figured I had a crush on her. I finished by saying I hoped we could visit the Clements again before the end of the summer.
Mom asked what we’d done after the storm passed. I said Virgil had patched up Sadie while Dad rested and I explored the island with Bess and the next day we sailed home.
Mom looked puzzled. “You left on Friday, were on the island all day yesterday, and sailed home today.”
Dad said, “That’s right.”
Mom left the table and came back with a copy of the Bangor Daily News, which she handed to Dad. He studied it for a moment, closed his eyes, and then touched his fingers to the bump on his forehead.
He fished a five-dollar bill out of his pocket and asked me to run down to Wardwell’s Market and pick up a pint of vanilla ice cream for the blueberry pie. “Pick up a bottle of Bufferin and a comic book for yourself,” he added.
When I returned, Dad was gone. Mom told me he had to run an errand.
“Where did he go?”
“The library,” Mom said. He spent a lot of time there so I didn’t think much of it.
We ate our pie without him, and Mom gave me a second slice.
I could feel her watching me as I ate, and I knew she was thinking something. She brushed my hair away from my forehead and said, “I’m so happy you’re home, Mikey. Dad said you were a brave boy out there. He’s very proud of you, and so am I.”
I was tired and happy and wanted nothing more at that point than to go upstairs, read my new Superman comic, and go to sleep. I gave Mom a hug and a kiss and went to bed. I remember actually enjoying brushing my teeth that night because they’d gotten kind of fuzzy over the past three days.
Late the next afternoon, Dad had a talk with me.
“I was wondering if you could do something for me, Mike,” he said. “The Clements are wonderful people, and we were lucky they were there to help us. The thing is... there’s a reason they’re out on that island. I got to know Virgil some while he worked on the boat, and I think they live out there to be away from the rest of the world.
“If we tell people how beautiful it is out there and how well the Clements treated us, somebody might want to explore their island. But I don’t think the Clements would want that. We were the exception, because we needed their help.”
He asked me if that made sense and I said it did. “For their sake, can you keep what happened to us a secret — just between you, me, Mom, and the Clements? If anyone asks, tell them we fetched up on Hog Island and spent a rough night in Sadie.
At that moment, I would have done anything for my father, so I said, “Yes.” And I kept my word.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Bill Prindle