He thought of his mother. He remembered her face, her smile. She didn’t want him to go to sea. She thought he was too fragile and sensitive. She thought it was better that he stay home and work in the store with his father, after all it was a good business people always needed food and various other items. His father understood the boy’s sense of adventure and arranged for him to ship out on the GREEN LEAF in a menial position. Missing school for a short period of time wouldn’t hurt him and he thought it was the best way to get it out of his system. When the boy saw how hard life really was at sea, he was sure his son would return with a longing to stay on dry land and work in the store.
He remembered his mother’s tears when he left their small home. She had made sure he had all the proper clothes and all were well packed. She fretted over him until the last moment. She hadn’t wanted him to go…but…he left. It made him sad that she would weep again. His father would take it hard. He would blame himself for the loss of his son it would be difficult for him not to. He was sensitive to such things and Robert knew the older man’s guilt would plague him for the rest of his life and that was something that Robert did not want. The situation he found himself in was not the fault of his father.
The days were hot and long, the merciless sun beating down on him, bringing to mind the Devil’s anvil. He looked about him there wasn’t much wreckage anymore, pieces of wood here and there drifting without purpose. Menacing dark fins began to slice through the water around him, the fish to keep him company. The boy tied to the spar rolled his head and giggled, why not? There wasn’t anybody else around, what did it matter?
How long had he been in the water, one hour, two hours, one day or two? Or was it longer? Certainly it was much longer than that, one week or one month? Water would be nice he thought and then gave a dry croak which was supposed to resemble a laugh. I have all the water I need! All a person could want, all I could want, all I could want! The water…water…
How long had he been in the water? It was a tiring question. It didn’t really matter, not really, no… no, it didn’t really matter… not anymore. It was over.
Four days after the unfortunate encounter between the bonded whaler NORTH STAR and the typhoon that hit them, one hundred miles off Sumatra the crew of a ragged Chinese junk pulled a young boy tied to a floating spar out of the water. Sunburned and suffering from dehydration, he wasn’t expected to live. The Chinese themselves would not want the obligation of saving the life of another but for some reason known only to the captain of the junk, he decided not to leave the boy’s fate to the Gods and the wide expanse of ocean and had him taken below while the crew salvaged what they could floating on the surface.
The boy was vaguely aware of strangers about him, speaking a tongue that was unfamiliar to him. With strong hands he was laid on a coil of rope and water was forced between his lips which at first he coughed up. He was given another ladle which he forced himself to drink more slowly, his body absorbing the liquid like a dry sponge.
“Thank you,” Robert rasped. The sound of his own voice in the confines of the vessel was strange to his ears, like sandpaper scraping stone. Someone threw a tattered blanket over him, one that smelled of mildew, dirty and foul. He pulled it close to him taking comfort in the fact that others though he did not know them, were moving about, speaking, yelling…living. This was not a dream, or imagination of that he was certain. The hard deck, rough wood and smells, the clanking of metal and shouted commands were all real and that brought a smile to his face.
Robert Wyatt, thirteen year old cabin boy, late of the American clipper ship GREEN LEAF out of San Francisco, California, former prisoner of the Confederate raider ALABAMA and exwor king passenger of the whaling ship NORTH STAR fell into a dreamless sleep not caring where he was. The only thing he did know for sure was that he was no longer in the water and that suited him just fine.