When Jack Mallory crosses the path of notorious sea raider James Logan, his young life is changed forever. His father is murdered before his eyes, his mother kidnapped. So begins Jack’s odyssey to avenge his father’s death and rescue his mother.
John Mallory’s young eyes stared in wonder at a pod of whales off the Dolphin’s larboard beam. The mammoth gray creatures, dark and craggy, slid gracefully through the sun-sparked, rolling surface of the Atlantic Ocean, easily keeping abreast of the Dolphin at six knots. Plumes of water erupted from their blowholes into the morning breeze; their backs leisurely arced in and out of the water, as if in slow motion, the ocean sheen flashing upon their hide.
“Have you ever seen the like, lad?” the first mate asked him from where he stood next to John in the main top. “Them are humpbacks.”
Nearly breathless from not only the sight of the mysterious goliaths but from the tenuous climb up the shrouds and the dizzying height of the mast, all thirteen-year-old John could do in response was smile in wonder and shake his dark head. Up here in the shadow of the main topsail, he had a different feel of the vessel. The sway of the mast, its slight strain and gentle moan, the low song of the rigging…it all thrilled him. He no longer felt like a small, insignificant boy but instead he felt a part of something important. He hoped it would take him and his parents forever to reach their destination in the American colonies, for nothing on land could compare with this excitement—certainly nothing had back in London and perhaps nothing would at their destination in the new world. But, alas, they were only two days from Carolina.
He asked the mate, “Can we see the pirate ship from here?”
“She’s a brig—two masts, mind, not three like this here vessel. And if you squint your eyes against the haze you’ll see her fine on the larboard quarter.” The man grinned at him. “Now don’t be saying ‘pirate’ ‘round your dear mother. After all, we don’t know what that brig is from that many leagues away still.”
John craned his neck to the northeast and saw white sails against the vague horizon. Indeed if the mate had not told him the brig was there he might have missed it entirely in the blur of sea and sky. During their two-month journey, they had seen many sail and spoke several other merchant ships, but there was something predatory about the vessel they had first spotted just before sundown the previous night. And the fact that the other ships that had left England with them had been scattered in a storm two days previous left the Dolphin’s crew feeling exposed and vulnerable, especially when this mysterious brig refused to draw too near.
“John!” His mother’s worried voice flew to him from the deck, amazingly keen for the distance. “Come down from there at once before you fall!”
John sighed in frustration. He wanted to shout to her that the ocean swell was not so disagreeable today, that there would be few safer times than now to be aloft. But he would never be so impertinent; he knew she was simply concerned, not badgering. After all, it was rebellion enough that he had climbed the rigging since she had forbade him from doing so since the day they had left England. His father had turned a blind eye on his daring disobedience, for he understood John’s desire for adventure after a stifling existence in the close harshness of London. While John’s mother also understood his yearnings, her mortal fear of losing her only child overrode that understanding.
“You’re gonna get your hide tanned now, lad,” the mate said with sympathetic amusement.
There was irony in the words, for John’s father was a tanner by trade. With a twist of his lips, John chanced a glance over the edge of the top to see his parents, his mother’s face upturned, blue eyes desperate upon him, one hand poised to extend the shade offered by her hat. The breeze tugged at her blonde hair, pulling some of it free from its pins to dance about her beautiful face, a beauty not lost upon the twelve-man merchant crew—John had heard the men’s comments below deck. The captain himself had forfeited his cabin, a somewhat spacious area, for the genteel sake of his only female passenger and her family, an offer she had refused in vain. Even now the first mate leaned over John to view her willowy form in her pale blue dress as the breeze playfully pulled the garment in various directions.
Though John would have liked to stay in the top all day, he instead obeyed his mother’s persistent demands to descend, which he did with the mate’s help, though John was confident he did not need assistance. He was not in the least afraid and indeed felt almost at home aloft.
“Next time,” the mate said, “I’ll show you how to slide down a stay. Won’t that turn your dear mother’s hair gray?” He chuckled.
John wisely hid his collusive smile as they reached the deck and he faced his parents. He could tell his mother wanted to project indignation, but she had seen the happiness on his face and perhaps was reluctant to ruin it. She glanced at her stoic husband for support, but he managed to look everywhere except at his son. He had never been much of a disciplinarian, too busy with long hours of work, so the precious time he spent at leisure with his son he did not use a heavy hand.
“Neither your father nor I gave you permission to go aloft, young man.”
“No, Mother.” John kept his gaze down, his straight, mahogany hair flopping forward into his eyes as it was wont to do.
“In fact we forbade it.”
John’s father leaned sideways toward her ear and conspiratorially winked at his son as he said, “You forbade it, Ella, my dear, not me.”
“Benjamin Mallory!” She glanced from her spouse to the grinning mate who quickly wiped clean his expression and hurried off to his duties. Abandoning hope for support, John’s mother turned back to him. “You will go to the cabin and stay there until after dinner.”
“Yes, Mother,” he mumbled, making sure to infuse an extra dose of contrition. As he made his way to the aft hatch, he sensed the amusement of the men on deck and their empathy for his disobedience. They were all fond of him, he knew, for he had shown great interest in the working of the ship throughout the journey, always willing to offer a helping hand or learn whatever they could teach him.
Left in solitude, he contained his enthusiasm over his adventure until dinner when Captain Hayward joined the Mallorys in the aft cabin. They were the only passengers, and Hayward, a man who seemed to lean toward melancholy, appeared always eager to share meals with his guests and forsake the common isolation of his position.
“I saw the brig on the horizon,” John announced. “Plain as day. Mr. Andrews pointed her out to me, and I could see her even without a glass.”
Hayward chuckled. “You have keen eyes, lad. Perhaps we should use you for a regular lookout.” He chanced a teasing glance at his female guest.
“What do you make of her, Captain?” John’s mother asked, working to hide anxiety behind her wine glass.
Hayward flicked a quick glance toward John’s father across the table from him. Sunshine through the skylight and the three stern windows bounced against Hayward’s bald head, revealing a touch of sweat, whether from the weight of his clothes and the tightness of his cravat or his unease about the shadowing brig, John could not be sure, but he instantly sensed the middle-aged man’s desire to not trouble his passengers. A reassuring smile stretched his wide mouth without revealing his teeth while lines of good humor appeared in the corners of his hazel eyes.
“I’m sure she must simply be another vessel bound for the Colonies.” He lifted his wine glass slightly. “Perhaps carrying new colonists like yourselves.”
A frown marred the plain face of John’s father. “Can you really call indentured servants colonists?”
“Well, perhaps you don’t consider yourselves colonists now,” Hayward said with forced optimism, “but when your service is up you surely will be.”
“You must excuse my husband’s discontent, Captain.” She touched her spouse’s arm in sympathy. “He has always been a self-sufficient man. To be beholden to another man in order to buy our passage does not set well with his sense of honor.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Mallory. A great many colonists, you will find, are indentured. It is upon their backs that the colony will be built. And with those as upstanding as yourselves, I should say there is a bright future on this side of the Atlantic.” He poured more port, careful to time his move with the gentle pitch of the ship. “Do you know much about the gentleman to whom you are indentured?”
“It would seem Carolina exports a great deal in hides and furs. This gentleman—Mr. Clark—has need of a tanner. I know little else about him. I dealt with his business agent; he is the one who told me of this opportunity.”
John interjected, “They say there are red Indians there. Have you ever seen one, Captain?”
Hayward chuckled. “No, lad. I’ve never traveled beyond Charles Town. Not much but swamps and wilderness, I hear tell. I have no desire to come down with the yellow jack.” He noted the alarm on his female guest’s face, so quickly changed the subject. “I watched you go aloft today, young man. You’re a fine climber. Perhaps you could be a topman in time.”
John grinned and started to reply, but his mother’s frown made him swallow his words and regain his polite composure.
“Our son is not bred to the sea, Captain. He is learning his father’s trade. I am hoping America will offer him a future that he could not find in England.” Her eyes rested gently upon John where he sat across from her, next to the captain. John couldn’t help but smile regardless of the glum thought of being a tanner the rest of his life. He knew he was a treasure to his mother, for she had lost several children either during or shortly after childbirth, and her desire for him to work a land-based trade had more to do with keeping him near her than it did any aversion to him being a sailor.
As his father and Captain Hayward controlled the rest of the discussion with talk of the Colonies and their economic future, John’s thoughts wandered. He wondered about the captain’s true feelings concerning the mysterious brig out there upon the horizon. Did he suspect pirates as Mr. Andrews did? Hayward knew these waters, so perhaps he was also familiar with what lurked upon them.