Saturday, September 2, 2017
1st 5 Pages September Workshop- Singrey
Name: Abigail Singrey
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Title: Finding North
The wind whipped through the cobblestone streets of Plymouth, England, tearing the tri-cornered hat right off the head of the old man selling vegetables. The wind roared between the shops and houses on Market Street, banging an unfastened shutter. It billowed through Nate’s too-big jacket, sending stabbing shivers down his spine. The sky darkened as the first cold raindrop plunked down on Nate’s head. The hurricane had almost arrived, and Nate had one last errand he needed to run.
Nate broke into a run. Perhaps today he would finally get some news.
Masts lined Catwater Harbor. Nate 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 at the end of the row. The Falcon. The St. George. The Susan.
His heart skipped a beat. It was true. The Susan had docked in Plymouth harbor. 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.
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 drank in the ship with his eyes, taking in the name, faded paint on the side, and the masts and the hull. Somewhere within those wooden boards, his father had lived, breathed, laughed. He memorized every detail so he could call up the ship in his mind later.
The bells of St. Andrew’s church rang, reminding Nate that ship or no, he needed to get home to help his mother shutter the windows and prepare for the storm. He clutched the basket of bread he’d bought earlier. If he didn’t arrive soon, his mother would have his head. 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 took one last look at The Susan, the last ship his father had sailed on. He needed answers more than he needed oxygen. Why hadn’t his father returned from Barbados? What had happened?
Nate walked the streets by memory, lost in his thoughts, knowing which cobblestone stuck out above the others, ready to trip unsuspecting travelers, and where to turn to reach home. The wind pulled and tugged at his clothing as he walked, almost as if she was a pickpocket searching him for something of value.
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. He didn’t know how to feel about it yet, so he wasn’t prepared to deal with anyone else’s emotions, either. 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 his growth spurt, he’d seemed too big. For both his bedroom and his life here in Plymouth.
Nate threw open the lid of his father’s sea chest, which was empty except for a small leather-bound book. 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. He flipped through the pages.
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. 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. Tired of not knowing what happened. Nate needed to find a ship to take him to Barbados so he could see for himself.
His mother’s voice called him back to reality. “Nate! A little help here!” He sighed and walked back down the stairs to help serve dinner. His mother bustled around the kitchen, putting soup into bowls. Nate started to grab a bowl, but his mother batted his hand away.
“Fasten down the shutters!” she said. “Then serve food.”
Nate sighed, glancing out the window. Rain splattered the window, and he could hear the shutters banging against the house. The ominous black sky told him he didn’t have much time. He headed outside, struggling to wrestle the shutters into place.
Then movement caught his eye. A tall, bundled-up figure hurried along the streets, heading straight for his mother’s lodging house. From the rolling 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 back to the shutters, when he caught a glimpse of the man’s face. He stared. Was it . . . Nate’s teeth clenched, then he spat.
Captain Williams stopped in front of the lodging house, staring at the sign, peeling paint and all. Then he nodded to Nate and opened the door and walked. Nate stood in shock for a moment, then took a deep breath and followed him in.
Mother stood frozen 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.