Monday, September 11, 2017
1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Singrey Rev 1
Name: Abigail Singrey
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Title: Finding North
The Susan sailed into Plymouth Harbor just ahead of the hurricane.
Nate heard the news on Market Street. His head whipped around so fast that he stumbled right into a cart, kicking it hard.
The two woman talking stared at him and one sniffed hard. But Nate didn’t care. “Did you say The Susan?”
“Yes?” the woman said.
“What of her?” Nate asked.
“Heard she was back. Been trading in the West Indes. Brought back a load of silk.” She shrugged.
Nate touched the piece of scrimshaw in the pouch strapped to his waist. The carved whale’s tooth was his last – no, his only—gift from his father, and his good luck charm on his voyages. Maybe, if he hadn’t given it to Nate . . .
Nate started to run towards the end of the street, where masts lined Catwater Harbor. He pulled his spyglass out of his pouch, scanning the names painted on the sides of the ships. He skipped the Royal Navy frigates and galleons, their guns pointed outward, ready if the Frenchies attacked. He moved past the East Indiamen, huge merchant vessels that traded with China and the Far East. He stopped when he reached the tiny, two-mast merchant ships. The Falcon. The St. George. The Susan.
Nate’s heart skipped a beat. The last time he’d seen that ship was burned into his memory like a brand from George the blacksmith’s forge. His heart still felt the thud of Captain Williams, that vile man, dropping his father’s sea chest at their front door. The words swirled in his head. Gone. Disappeared. Don’t know what happened. Maybe yellow fever. Deserter. Here’s his things. And Nate’s world had shattered.
A raindrop fell on Nate’s head, as the wind whipped through the cobblestone streets. It roared between the shops and houses, banging an unfastened shutter. It billowed through Nate’s too-big jacket, sending stabbing shivers down his spine. The hurricane had almost arrived. And Mother would need the basket of bread Nate clutched in his hand. By now, the dining hall in the lodging house would be filled with hungry, loud sailors ready to fall on the midday meal like a pack of ravenous wolves.
Nate walked the streets by memory, lost in his thoughts. As soon as he walked into the kitchen, Mother said, “You’re late.” She yanked the basket of bread from his hands and hustled to the table, grabbing a knife to slice it. Her blonde hair fell out of her bun, and soup splatters clung to her apron.
“New ship in harbor,” Nate said.
She nodded. Nate spent every free second running down to the harbor to meet new ships. Nate opened his mouth to tell her it was The Susan, then bit his tongue. He wasn’t ready. Instead, he ducked straight up the back stairs to his cramped attic bedroom. With his father’s sea chest looming against one wall, and his cot and chamber pot shoved against another, every time he turned around he bumped into something. Ever since he turned thirteen and got his growth spurt, he’d seemed too big. For both his bedroom and his life here in Plymouth.
Nate threw open the lid of the sea chest. Mother had sold off everything of value from the chest to help make ends meet around the lodging house, except for the one thing that had no value to anyone but Nate- his father’s diary. Nate smoothed open the salt-stained pages, catching a whiff of Father’s peculiar scent of sweat and tobacco.
Nate had read it so many times he about had it memorized. He’d studied every entry about the weather and how much father won and lost -mostly lost - gambling, searching for some hidden meaning or clue. But he’d only found one, the cryptic last entry that scrawled across the last page as if Father had written it in a hurry. “Meeting Henry Drax . May make my fortune. B. told me where to go.”
Nate shut the diary. He was tired of waiting for answers in Plymouth. Tired of meeting every ship from Barbados at the dock, and interrogating the crew. Tired of everyone saying they hadn’t heard from his father. Nate needed to find a ship to take him to Barbados so he could see for himself.
“Nate! A little help here!” his mother called. Nate sighed and went to help serve dinner.
As soon as he entered the dining room, the stench hit his nose. Spoiled fish, tar and who knows what else. Wet sailor smelled as bad as wet dog. The recent arrivals jockeyed for position by the fire, trying to get the damp out of their clothes, while the dryer ones filled the long table, laughing and calling back and forth as Mother filled their cups.
Then the door opened. A blast of cold air entered the room as a tall, bundled up figure arrived. From hisrolling gait, the man had just gotten off a ship and hadn’t quite gotten his land legs yet. Another customer for dinner.
Nate started to turn, when he caught a glimpse of the man’s face. He stared. Was it . . . Nate’s teeth clenched, then he spat.
Captain Williams stood in the dining room of Nate’s lodging house.
Mother froze in the middle of the room, holding a pitcher with one hand, while her free hand twisted her apron. Her mouth formed a perfect, “O.” She didn’t scream or drop anything, though. She swayed a little, then steadied herself.
The sailors sitting at the table didn’t glance up, distracted by their food, but the three sitting by the fire noticed the tension in the room. They leaned forward, straining to hear. Gawking. Gathering gossip to share at the dockyard . Nate wanted to grab them by their rank-smelling collars and hustle them out, even though they were burly and twice his size. His family tragedy was not for their personal amusement. But they were paying customers, drinking steaming cups of tea.
Instead, Nate stepped closer. Between them and Mother. Block their view a little. His hands clenched into fists. The nerve of that ship captain. Leaving his father in Barbados then coming traipsing in here like nothing had even happened. That moment changed Nate’s life forever. Did he not know Mother still cried herself to sleep at night? That Nate ached to see his father again? He didn’t seem to care.
“Mary, wanted to see how you was doing,” Captain Williams said.
“We’re fine. Just fine.” Mother jerked the pitcher back, sloshing water on a sailor’s sleeve.
“Storm’s a’brewin’,” Captain Williams said. “Pity any ship hasn’t made it in yet.” He shifted his weight from one leg to the other, uncomfortable towering over Mother’s tiny figure.
“What do you want?” Mother took a few steps back.
“Need a bed, a few meals. Ship’ll be restocked .” Captain Williams frowned. Maybe he’d expected a warmer welcome.
“Captain’s room is empty.” Mother pointed to a door.
“Where you shippin’ out to?” one of the sailors asked.
“Back to Barbados. Need another load of sugar,” Captain Williams said.
Mother’s face went white. Nate sucked in his breath.
“I hadn’t been back since, well . . .” Captain Williams’ eyes moved up and down like a ship on the sea until he noticed me. “This Judah’s son?” His eyes focused, zoomed in like a telescope.