(here the Foretops audition for a part on the editing staff of A Word with You Press)
Good Morning from the Towers that are A Word with You Press.
The fifth of our semi-finalists is Bobbie MacBride, courtesy of Wendy Joseph, who came across this ancient journal quite by chance and recognized its literary merit. (for an explanation of the discovery, and to view the prologue that advanced this story to the semi-finals, please investigate here: http://www.awordwithyoupress.com/2014/04/18/wendy-joseph-discoveries-secret-manuscript/ )
We (Moi) will be posting a few other first chapters as well from those who forgot, at the time they submitted their prologue, to include a graphic description of the gratuity offered to advance in our contest, but none-the-less want to share their work on line.
But Wendy’s entry really sprit my bow with it’s lush language and narrative. Sea if you agree. Here is
The Diary of Bobbie MacBride
As discovered by Wendy Joseph
Being — the Journal of
Robert MacBride, née Barbara Brigid MacBride,
Wednesday, 7 Sept.
Having now shipped aboard this vessel, I have been given a berth in what is called the forecastle, or ”folk-sul,” without having my sex discovered. Thankfully I do not have to share a hammock. There is precious little room here, but then my belongings are few and my person of slight build and stature, so I am not in the way. The smells aboard would not, I am sure, be tolerated in a royal residence, but are really no worse than a stable that has not seen a cleaning in some months.
I am told we will be here re-provisioning for several days before setting sail, and have already been assigned my watch for sea. This is to be the four o’clock to eight. When I ventured to ask whether that meant the morning or the afternoon four o’clock, I was met with laughter from the rest of the crew, and was told that it was both, sea watches being four hours each with eight hours in between to do the chores of the ship, sleep, mend clothing or attend to other personal duties. The other watches are the eight to twelve and twelve to four, again both daytime and night, and I believe I recall from Captain Cook’s account of his voyages that he instituted this four hour revolving watch system. But as long as we are tied up ashore, all working hours are from sunup to sunset.
It seems the English have taken no notice yet of this American ship in their waters, as she is flying a friendly Portuguese flag, but spies are said to be about and one can never be sure. I have made some inquiries aboard and ashore, as discreetly as possible, of the whereabouts of my Johnnie, but no one seems to have heard of him. I am not daunted yet, as I have not yet asked of everyone on board, nor inquired at every public house. Mayhap I shall find some news soon.
Thursday, 8 Sept.
I have made my debut in the rigging. The Bosun, a rather sinister looking man by the name of Noah Sparhawk, took me aloft today, in order to tar the foremast shrouds and ratlines. These last are ropes woven across the former, lengthwise ropes in what looks to be a long piece of spider webbing, and upon which we climb to the higher parts of the masts. The foremast is the shorter one, closest to the bow or front of the ship. The shrouds go up and down, the ratlines are horizontal, and we coated them with a mixture of tar and tallow, which left my hands and patches of my clothing a brackish brown that does not wash off. I am afraid I am already acquiring the roughened hands of a sailor, but that is well, for no one is likely to suspect a lady’s white hands lurk beneath the grime.
Going further aloft on the foremast, I held on to the up and down running shrouds, my feet on the ratlines, and thence to a demonic construction called the futtocks. These are a short section of the aforementioned ropes that stretch back outwards to a platform above, and one is nearly upside down over the deck some thirty feet below, with no securing line. I managed, by a bit of divine intervention no doubt, to attain the platform, which is called the foretop. It was with tremulous knees, but I made it.
Although we did not go to the top of this mast, I found the height a challenge, the Bosun being forced to render obscenities at me, the majority of which I will not repeat. Merely let it be said, the further up we went, the more manifest was a pronounced trembling in my knees, coupled with an unaccustomed hollow pain of the innards, which made the climb progressively slower. Some of his words ran as thus: “Haul your a——, boy! Or I kicks it back to the cradle ye fell out ‘a! Wouldn’t be a floggin’ ye’d be lookin’ for already? I’ve a mind t’ give ye one, just fer the exercise ‘o me arm! Fly, boy, fly! Sprout wings and fly!” I dearly wished at that point that I could do so, and fly straight to my Johnnie. But I clung to the shrouds, did my best to keep my feet on the ratlines, and managed to finish the job to the Bosun’s meagre approval.
When I ventured to ask what the reason for our labour was, he sent me a look that I am sure would have fried the devils in Hell, and said, “To keep the sun from eatin’ the lines, the water from rottin’ ‘em off, and to choke any sharks that gnaws on ‘em, arrgh!”
I am keeping my distance from the Bosun.
Friday, 9 Sept.
I have news of my Johnnie! Today I was sent to Galway town to help the cook buy and carry provisions, which were of such quantity that we were obliged to engage the service of a wagon, which I drove, the cook having an unaccountable fear of horses, poor man. We were loaded for several trips to the ship with a goodly number of barrels of potatoes, more barrels of flour, a quantity of lard, plus three rounds of cheese and a tolerable quantity of salted fish. There were also several bushels of fresh carrots and turnips, a barrel of apples, and a case of preserved pears. Lastly we loaded an exceptionally heavy barrel I was told contained cabbage pickled in brine, which acts as a preventative for the scurvy. Nearly all the fresh stores, I learned, were destined for the officers’ larder. It does not look to be a voyage of great feasting for the crew.
While the cook was inside dealing with the bill, I chanced upon a posted notice offering service in the King’s Navy, stating that an officer would be in the area at a date some month and a fortnight prior to this date, to engage men to take the King’s shilling. While I was perusing this document, an ancient man of the sea, with but one good leg and a wooden peg for the other, came up and let out what can only be described as the sound of a hog in great outrage. When I inquired as to the reason for this outburst, he replied that since nary a soul had appeared at the time and date specified, the officer and his men had waited till the taverns filled at eventide, and thence proceeded to ply the younger, able-bodied men with ale, to the which had been added some sense deadening specific, and that the officer had, in supposed graciousness, offered to take these unfortunates home in his own wagon. When morning came, none of these poor souls was to be found.
My relater of the story said his own grandson Ned had been among those lost to the Crown’s press gang, for that is indeed what they were. He went on to tell of a friend of his grandson’s, but newly come to town, who had also been taken, and described him as thus, “A tall youth, not above nineteen or twenty years of age, with black hair, a goodly curve of which had a persistent habit of falling into his left eye. Both eyes were a blasting blue, as alive as the highest blue in the summer sky. Moreover, he had a lean but proper build for a young man, with shoulders enough to carry an ox, and an uncommon twinkle of mischief in the eye too.”
This is and can be no other than my own John Donnelly!
When I asked the old man where the press gang might have taken them, he replied sadly, “Anywhere in the King’s Navy, lad, and that means anywhere in the wide world, on the seven seas, for that is the reach and expanse of the King’s Navy. My Ned is gone forever!”
I cannot hold his opinion, however, for so many of His Majesty’s ships are lately embarked to the Americas to fight in the war there, and might not my Johnnie be on one of them?
Saturday, 10 Sept.
It is with difficulty I write this, for the pen fits ill in my hand, and not without some pain. Today we cast off, and I was sent aloft to help loose the sails down for the first time. They are attached to and hang from the lengthwise wooden spars, called yards. Each member of the crew bellows, “Laying aloft!” as they begin the trek upward, as an alert to those above and below that someone is on the way up.
I kept hold of the futtocks again by some miracle, and thence was treated to a further test of valour.
After each first yelling, the warning, “Laying out!” we stepped off the foretop and commenced to go out on the footrope hung under the yard, which swayed with the wind, the ship’s motion, and the shifting of our own weight. A fall surely meant death. We untied the gaskets, the ropes which bind the sail to the mast when it is rolled up, or furled, then rebundled the gaskets so as to be out of the way of the sail. After a cheerly “Laying low!” we descended, which was worse than the ascent. Thence to the ropes on deck, and “Haul away, swabs! Haul, ye miserable lot! Haul or be damned! Ye scurvy swine! Haul, lads, haul!” And so we did.
I spent the watch hauling on many ropes, the function of which I knew not. The ropes are a veritable maze, and rough as Galway whetstone; my hands are thus a shade somewhere between flaming sunset and ripe strawberries. Moreover, gloves are an unheard of thing aboard ship. When I asked if there were any about, Sparhawk the Bosun said, “Gloves?” He showed his hands, which looked to be of hardened ox collar leather. “Ye’ll grow some, laddie.” The interim does not promise to be pleasant.
Tuesday, 13 Sept.
We are becalmed, and have been so for the past three days. The expected trade winds have played us false, and we vainly set the sails for a wind that did not materialize. The Bosun has assigned a sailor by the name of Davy Fitzpatrick to instruct me, in the parts of the rigging and other duties. He is of a small and wiry build, with tufted curls of sun bleached sand, bright cornflower blue eyes, and an open, winning manner. His friendliness is offset by the Mate’s somewhat more unpleasant aspects, of which I shall speak later.
The first thing Davy cured me of was referring to all the ropes aboard as ropes. “There be but six ropes aboard this or any other right ship,” he informed me. “There be the bolt rope, the man rope, the footrope, the tiller rope, the tow rope, and the bell rope; all the others be lines, matey, lines.”
He next took me to the rail and showed me the braces, lines leading aloft from the middle of the main deck, which area is called amidships. These braces are fastened, or belayed, onto a belaying pin, which is a wooden peg about a foot and a half long. This pin is stuck through a board inside of the railing, and the line is looped above and below upon the pin three times in a kind of figure eight. There were many more lines besides the braces belayed to other pins on this board, or pin rail, but their function I knew not.
The braces then lead aloft in a reverse fashion, the lines belayed aft going up to the foremast, and the lines belayed forward leading aft to the mainmast. All the lines—six on each side, twelve in total—are attached to the ends of the yards in a system of pulleys, or block and taykle as they are called. Hauling on the starboard forward braces, while letting the port forward braces slide out, swings the mainmast yards around, so the wind fills the sails attached beneath the yards, and blows us to port. With twelve hands at the braces, one to man each, the square sails on both masts can be hauled around together.
Friday, 14 Sept.
What would my mother think of me and my actions? She herself was an Anglo Irish maid, from a landed and good family, who in spite of her father’s wishes, married the assistant overseer, my father, an up and coming lad, though of the Catholic faith. She fell so in love with him, even to converting to Catholicism from the Church of England, that were she here at this moment, could I look her in the eye, would I say anything else but that she followed her heart; could I do no other?
She was very nearly disowned, but in the end my grandfather relented and allowed her a dowry substantial enough for a small estate, though some leagues from the family holdings. There was little social life for us outside the family, as the Anglo Irish have a permanent abhorrence for Catholics, traveling tinkers and others not of their kind, including of course, sailors. However, I think the education I received at the hands of tutors to be the equal of any high-spun school for girls, with the addition of the finest riding instructor in Ireland, my mother. She it was who taught me to ride astride as well as sidesaddle, with the preventative caution of wearing men’s clothes to do so, and keeping well away from villages and any other wayfarers in the country. I do miss my fine bay mare Kelly Anneand but trust my mother will look after and care for her well.
Saturday, 15 Sept.
I have run afoul of the Mate, and instinct tells me it will not be for the last time. Having coiled a line carefully on deck, I had no sooner finished but that the Mate swaggered up and kicked the line into a formidable tangle, informing me of my error in language very forthright: “This be the work of Beelzebub, ye slitherin’ excuse for Devil’s spawn! Have ye no brains, as well as no brawn? Ye coils line in the opposite direction, around like the hands of a clock, so get to it, and I’ll have me eye on ye from now on!”
I spent a quarter of an hour recoiling the line, then quickly fled below to the galley to see if the Cook (called Cookie here by everyone though his real name is McShaunessey) needed any help in stirring stew, or peeling potatoes, or sweeping up lime rinds, or indeed in anything that would keep me a good distance from the Mate.
Sunday, 16 Sept.
There is no priest aboard to say Mass, no morning or evening prayer, and indeed nothing remains of landside devotionals save the using of Our Lord’s name in vain, which I regret to say is a frequent occurrence. I have therefore determined to adhere to a daily devotion of one Pater Noster, ten Ave Marias, one Salve Regina, the prayer to St. Michael, one Agnus Dei, and one Gloria, spoken quietly or silently, morning and evening. This must serve in the absence of Holy Communion, which I sorely miss; uncomfortable as I frequently was on the stone and wood benches of St. Catherine’s, and eager to be astride fleet and fair Kelly Anne with my John Donnelly riding in pursuit through the fields, I do freely admit now a need for the solace of the Church. But Confession and Mass must wait till we encounter a priest, which I fear will be not until we reach some landfall. What confessions he would hear should the crew line up to speak and divulge their sins, I dare not think.
Monday, 17 Sept.
The wind is blowing up briskly and apace, and all signs do point to a great storm coming shortly. The sky is near to black in the west; all hands were called out this morning to make sure the barrels and crates below were securely tied, fasten the hatches down and make the ship watertight against the rising seas. I managed to avoid the curses of the Mate by staying close by Davy and doing as he did.
Tuesday, 18 Sept.
I hardly know if this is the correct date, and indeed the quill moves most unwillingly in my hand; I have been alternating between my hammock and the rail, and until this day did not think that any human being could send so much of their insides overboard and still hold on to life. The storm has not abated, the Mate has cursed me for a weak livered tavern tart, and I lie here in thorough misery, scarcely able to even puke any more.
The lurching of the ship has been quite phenomenal; side to side, forwards, backwards, on a diagonal, and sometimes straight up! I wonder that our cargo has not shifted, but the crew did its work very well, and even the Mate has no cause to complain there.
Thursday, 20 Sept.
The saints be thanked, I have recovered the use of my stomach, though the storm has not slackened one whit, and I dined on biscuits and tea this morning as heartily as if it were Eastertide after a double Lent. I then went aloft with Davy and the others, and, as the wind fiercely beat on us in an attempt to cast us from the yard and into the gale itself, we reefed the topsails. This is an operation which folds the top, or head of the sail, several times up toward the yard, to which it is then bound with the reef points, short lengths of line attached partway down the sail in two parallel rows running across it. It is very complicated, and we had to haul the yard down and manage it and the sail through the ferocity of the wind, as we worked with other lines, the function of which I do not yet fully understand. Davy sat on the yardarm, the furthest end of the yard, and shouted out the directions over the wind till he was hoarse, until we had the sail bundled and properly tied to the yard with its gaskets. I am proud to say that my knots, which are called reef knots and have an agreeably regular look to them when properly tied, were as tight and appropriately done as the ablest hand’s.
It was not until we had laid low, that is descended from the yard to the deck, that I realized that, though the callouses on my palms are now quite well on their way, though not nearly as thick as Davy’s, the wind had whipped the skin completely off the backs of my hands. Alas, how would they pass at one of Auntie O’Shea’s soirées, as the French have lately termed an elegant evening?