So, it was war again. War with France was nothing new. Its wrath had been almost continuous for more than a hundred years. But the conflict was as inconvenient as the persistent ache of a rotting tooth, throbbing and pulsating, always there. Attaining power again, the younger William Pitt called for an Anglo-Austro-Russian coalition against France to stop Napoleon’s insatiable thirst for conquering the continent. So, war was as inevitable as the sun rising in the east. And that meant, sooner or later, merchant trade with other countries would be affected. And when trade was hampered, everyone suffered—the importers, the exporters, and the multitudes of people who yearned for their merchandise. Yes, war was damned inconvenient.
Fall 1804, England
Thirteen-year-old Beth awakened slowly while a vague feeling of depression weighed heavily upon her mind. Listlessly she crawled out of bed, opened the heavy drapes, and encountered a thick misty fog that shrouded the landscape. The summer birds of the past few weeks had flown, for the only sound she heard was the mournful cawing of ravens in the distance.
Suddenly, the full realization of death flooded back upon her. Tears welled up from the hollow pit of her stomach and burned at the back of her eyes. The long-awaited joy of a baby brother or sister had mutated into a soul-wrenching ache. Her beloved mama was dead. Today they would bury her with the small body of the stillborn baby cradled in her arms.
“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die,” the Anglican priest solemnly intoned.
The early morning mist thickened until a cold, drizzling rain engulfed the countryside. Mourners slowly trailed behind the black-clad priest and the coffin to the gravesite. The bare oak trees were skeletal; the ancient tombstones, like ghostly sentinels, waited to welcome another into their midst. Beth shivered. She had always taken pleasure in coming to the family plot in the spring to place flowers on the graves. Reading the names and dates of long-dead ancestors was an amusing pastime for a child. She would never enjoy that task again.
“Lord, Thou hast been our refuge: from one generation to another. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made: Thou art God from everlasting, world without end.” Small rivulets of mud from the heaped earth splattered on the coffin, and like the ticking of a clock, slowly tapped the time to eternity.
Chilled to the bone despite the thick black wool of her dress and cloak, Beth tightly clutched her father’s hand and felt him quiver. A reserved man, he had no patience with emotional displays, deeming them signs of a weak character. Over the years, when childhood calamities befell, he had always advised Beth to be strong and keep a stiff upper lip. So, she stood stoically beside her father. He quivered again. Beth looked up and was stunned to see him silently weeping.
“Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God in His great mercy to take unto Himself the soul of our dear sister here departed, we therefore commit her body to the ground.” Heavy mud thudded hollowly on the coffin. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ...” The deluge roared down in heavy sheets, drowning out the words of the priest.
Beth wanted him done and everyone gone so she could bury the hyacinth bulbs she’d brought in her pocket. She wanted the delicate beauty of the flowers to adorn her mother’s grave each spring.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore.”
Mourners paused only briefly in the driving torrent to give condolences to the new widower, then hastened away, black capes billowing in the wind.
Beth quickly buried the bulbs and stood. Her father, staring at the grave, appeared rooted to the ground as solidly as the hundred-year-old oaks surrounding them. Gently tugging his hand to gain his attention, she said, “Come, Father, we must go. Now that Mama’s gone, I’ll have to look after you. If we stay much longer, we’ll both catch our death.” The bleak words lingered in the cold air momentarily then were snatched away by the ghostly hand of the wind.
Fall 1804, America
The ship’s cutter bumped alongside the Angel Star and Bradley Anderson clambered aboard, the box that contained his sextant snuggled close to his chest. Exultantly his eyes swept over the decks. The Angel Star was a beauty, and she was his. She was of a new design. The high rounded bilge and somewhat flared topsides gave a heart-shaped look to her midsection. The stem and stern were considerably raked and low-sided with a sharp ended hull. This made the deep draft greatest at the heel of the rudder. Forward the draft was half that of the ship’s aft end. Being heavily sparred and canvassed put her in a speed class of her own and made her the desire of every merchant captain in America.
Few men received command of a merchant ship at twenty-two years of age, and no one could say Bradley Anderson had not earned his place in his father’s fleet. From earliest childhood, the boy had seized every opportunity to accompany his father to the shipyard and the docks, avidly asking questions of the crewmen and officers. Impatient to embark upon a life at sea, Brad was twelve when he stole away from home and signed on board his first ship as a cabin boy. That first voyage lasted eight grueling months, long enough to break a boy or make a man. The youngster who returned home was no longer a child but a young man who clearly knew his course in life. The ensuing years were demanding. Brad was shunned by the common sailors for being the owner’s son and considered extra baggage by the officers, even though he labored twice as hard as any man to prove his worth. Captain O’Malley, in trying to break Brad, was ruthless in his demands only to find his young charge possessed the perseverance of few men O’Malley had encountered before. Slowly grudging respect grew between the two and finally, over the years, a genuine friendship.
Now, after three arduous years of serving as Quinn O’Malley’s first mate, Brad had earned the right to command a ship. He possessed the leadership needed to obtain instantaneous obedience from every man on board, had learned to make coolheaded decisions, and had acquired the hard- bargaining skills needed to make a good profit. These were all important qualities for any merchant captain.
But Charles Anderson did not see eye to eye with his son’s desire to work at sea and was appalled by his plea to command the new ship. Brad must learn to oversee the business from shore, the older man contended, and outright refused the request.
Flabbergasted by the idea of sailing a desk instead of a ship, Brad determinedly argued his case for hours. He was steadfastly rebuffed. In the end, exasperation flashed like lightning in Brad’s stormy gray eyes, and he thundered, “From the time I was just a boy, I’ve dedicated my life to learning everything there is to know about commanding a merchant ship. I’ve worked every job on board and know as much as any gape-tooth old salt alive. Now you want me to throw it all overboard. But the sea is in my blood, and by my word, if I don’t receive command of a ship from you, I’ll take my services elsewhere.”
“I won’t be threatened,” Charles slammed his palms down on his desk, aggravated by his son’s obstinate outburst.
Brad responded hotly, “It is not a threat. I mean what I say.”
For ten long minutes, Charles regarded his stubborn son, too livid to speak. Finally, in a tight voice, he growled, “Quinn O’Malley is the best captain I employ, and I see he taught you well. You drive a hard bargain because you know I’ll not have you work elsewhere. You may have the new ship. But remember, this business will be yours someday, and you have the responsibility to learn the administration. You can’t pursue your present course forever.”
“I know, Dad,” Brad said quietly with a self-satisfied smile and crossed his arms over his chest. “But I’m still young. Just give me some time.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish