bTHE WAKE OF THE BONNY LASS
Copyright © Frank O. Dodge. All rights reserved
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I know. It's an old sea-story, many times told. But
there was a difference with the brig, Bonny Lass, out of Kennebecport, Maine....
The seagoing yacht, Hawk's Nest out of Boston, rose and fell to the gentle swell as she plowed lazily along, fifty miles at sea. Jeremy Hawkes, lolling half asleep on the foredeck, opened one eye, and squinted up at the boy leaning out of the diminutive crow's nest. "What are you blabbering about?"
Fourteen year old Harry Hawkes pointed off the starboard bow. "There's a dense fog bank off to starboard." The boy let out a sound of surprise. "Holy Toledo, Dad, there's a sailing ship, coming out of it! A two-master. Square-rigged. That's a brig, isn't it?"
Jeremy sat up in the deck chair, and peered to starboard. He could make out the top-hamper of a vessel emerging from the thick wall of vapor. A brig? Well, he thought, that's a novelty. How many of the old-timers were still plying the sea-lanes? Not many, that was for sure. He swung up the ladder to the tiny wheelhouse.
Picking up the binoculars, he grinned at his wife at the helm. "Something for Harry to 'show-and-tell' at school ... where's the Polaroid? Come right about five degrees."
He went out onto the starboard wing of the bridge as Marion Hawkes saluted, "Aye, aye, Skipper."
She altered course.
From the higher elevation, the small sailing vessel was clear in the glass. Jeremy swept her from stem to stern. The snowy sails billowing in the light breeze were breathtaking in their loveliness. Her bowsprit rose and fell as she breasted the gentle waves. The figurhead was a pretty girl, carefully carved and brightly painted. Young Harry looked down at his father. "I didn't know there were any more like her."
"Neither did I ... that's funny."
"There doesn't seem to be anyone topside." Jeremy adjusted the binocular to bring the ship closer. He focused on the quarterdeck, and drew in a sharp breath. "Even funnier ... there's nobody at the wheel."
"How's she keeping on course?"
Jeremy looked up. "She's running before the wind." He called into the wheelhouse. "Helmsman, bring us parallel to her course."
Marion Hawkes grinned. "Aye, aye, Skipper."
The brig, a short thirty yards away, doing a scant four or five knots, still showed no signs of life. Little icy feet ran up and down Jeremy's back. "Honey, bring us closer."
Marion laid the yacht close aboard. Jeremy cupped his mouth. "Ahoy the brig!"
Only silence answered. Up in the crow's nest young Harry echoed his father's call. "Ahoy, there."
Jeremy looked at his wife. "Weird. Lay us across her stern, let's take a look at her starboard side."
Marion let the engine idle, and lay to, allowing the slow-moving brig to gain headway.
The Hawk's Nest took water over her bow as she breasted the little ship's wake. Something stirred in Jeremy's mind as he read the name blazoned across the stern ... Bonny Lass ** Kennebecport. He again hailed. "Ahoy the Bonny Lass." Still no response.
He exchanged glances with his wife. Marion swallowed. "What do we do now, honey?"
"Lay us alongside the waist, I'm going aboard."
Marion Hawkes expertly brought the yacht gently against the brig's side amidships. Young Harry slid down from the masthead. "I'm going with you, Dad."
Jeremy hesitated a moment, then nodded. "Okay."
The two scrambled up the vessel's low side, and Marion pulled a few yards away to keep a parallel course. Jeremy and his son stood at the rail as the small ship rose and fell to the scend of the waves, searching the deserted deck. All was shipshape and Bristol fashion, all rigging taut, all lines neatly belayed, all brightwork gleaming, the deck recently holystoned and swabbed. Jeremy noted that the two small lifeboats were snugged down and covered. The sails slatted momentarily as a gust of breeze hit them. Harry sucked in a deep breath. "Spooky."
His father laughed shortly. "I'll put that down as the understatement of the decade." He looked aft to the un-manned wheel. "Let's have a look around."
Keeping close to his father, Harry followed Jeremy to the quarterdeck. The older man peered down the ladder leading to the Captain's quarters. "Let's see what's below."
The cabin was as shipshape as the topside. Uniforms hung neatly from pegs in the bulkhead, swaying a little to the motion of the ship, the sheets on the bunk taut enough to bounce a coin, and on the table bolted to the deck, a meal laid out, untouched.
Jeremy felt the coffee cup. "Impossible!"
"It's still warm!"
The boy stared around the cabin. "Come on."
Jeremy went to the chart table against one bulkhead, and studied the map unrolled on it. "We're on course a little north of Boston."
Young Harry shivered. "Dad, what's happening?"
His father looked around. "You're asking me? Let's check the fo'csl."
The two went forward to the forecastle, the crew's quarters. Here again, everything was neat and tidy. The hammocks triced up, the deck newly swabbed ... the meal on the table freshly served, and ... uneaten. Jeremy fingered dark stains on the hammocks.
Harry asked curiously, ""What's that, Dad?"
"Do you know why old-time sailors were called 'tars'?"
"Because in the old days, they put tar on their pigtails to keep them from coming loose." He wiped the sticky stuff from his fingers.
Jeremy gripped his son's shoulder. "Come, on, let's take the way off her, and try to see what else is right here, as wrong as it is."
Topside, he waved to his wife and shouted, "Bring her alongside, sweetheart, Harry and I are going to lower the sails, and we need a good sailor to help."
As the yacht bumped the brig's side, Harry dropped to her foredeck, and tossed his father the bow painter. Jeremy belayed the line as his wife cut the engine. She and Harry scrambled aboard.
Marion looked around the empty deck, then with a shiver, pressed against her husband. "Honey, what's going on?"
Jeremy hugged her for a moment. "She's completely deserted ... unless her company's hiding in the hold. Let's get those sails down, and find out."
Her sails lowered, the little brig lost headway, and rolled gently to the calm sea. Jeremy glanced about. "Unless we find her crew cowering in the hold, she's deserted. Know what that means?"
Marion shook her head.
"It means she's been abandoned. That makes her salvage, and as the first to re-board her, we own her. In her mint condition, I can't even guess how much she'll bring at auction!"
His wife pressed against him. "Jerry, something's terribly wrong here."
"I know. Let's see if we can find out what."
It took only a few minutes to remove the battens, and peel back the tarp covering the little ship's hold. Jeremy and Harry lifted away the hatch boards, and they looked at the boxes tightly lashed down. Jeremy grinned. "Well, scratch the crew hiding out theory. She's abandoned, and she's ours."
Harry dropped the couple of feet onto the top layer of the cargo. "I wonder what she's carrying. I wish I had something to pry open one of these boxes."
His father straightened. "Wait a minute. I saw a cutlass in the cabin. Be right back."
Jeremy handed his son the short, heavy, curved sword, and put his arm around his wife. The boy inserted the point under the box's lid, and pried. With a screech, the nails pulled free and Harry lifted off the boards. The crate contained long packages wrapped in oiled paper. The youngster unwrapped one. He looked up at his father with an expression of bewilderment.
"Muskets?" He handed it up to his father, wiping oil from his hands on his shorts.
The three stared at the long-barreled firearm. Jeremy pointed at another, smaller crate. Harry pried it open. Powder horns. Another. Flints. Jeremy stared at the cargo of obsolete weapons. He looked at his wife. "Honey, do you get the feeling we've intercepted a shipment of arms to Washington? George, that is?"
Marion squeezed her husband's hand. "Don't talk like that." She shuddered. "Jerry, what's going on? You said the food is still fresh."
"Why do people keep asking me?" He gave Harry a hand, and pulled the boy on deck. "I have to get a look at the Captain's log."
Jeremy searched the drawers in the chart table, and grunted. "No logbook." He looked around the cabin, and snapped his fingers. "The quarterdeck. Hang loose."
He went topside, and returned in a moment with a ledger in his hand. "In the quarterdeck stand. Here it is. Captain's log, Brig Bonny Lass, out of Kennebecport, Maine. Owner, Sampson Brothers, Captain, Mordecai Olsen." He opened the book to the last entry, and looked at his wife and son. "Curiouser and curiouser."
Marion clutched her husband's arm. "Jerry? What is it?"
Jeremy pushed aside the dishes on the table, and sat down. Brimming with curiosity, Marion and Harry sat. "Dammit, Jerry ...."
"Just a minute." For several moments, he leafed through the book. "Left Kennebecport ... destination, Calais ... calm seas ... arrived Calais .... Okay, return trip ...."
Jeremy looked up. "27, April, 1777 ...."
Marion broke in, "Jerry, that's two hundred years ago. There must be another logbook somewhere. The food on this table is fresh,"
Jeremy held up his hand, showing traces of tar. "Honey, so is the tar on the hammocks in the fo'csl ... so is the oil on those crates of muskets ... "
He returned to the log. "27, April 1777 ... Calais, France." Listen. "Completed taking on cargo. Three thousand Brown Bess muskets with ramrods. Three thousand bayonets. Three thousand powder horns. Five thousand flints. One hundred kegs gunpowder. One half ton lead bars for musket balls. One hundred kegs hardtack. One hundred kegs salt beef. One thousand wool blankets. Five hundred wool uniforms, blue and white. Water barrels filled. Rations for ship's people loaded. Ready in all respects to put to sea. We sail on the evening tide. God bless the Colonies."
Jeremy turned pages, running a finger down the entries. "5, May 1777. Calm seas, fair winds ... more routine entries, daily fixes, course changes ...." He moved on. "Okay, listen up. Here it is. Twelve hundred hours. Sighted first sail since leaving Calais. Masthead reports British man-o-war overhauling from port quarter. Rigging identifies her as the twenty-four-gun frigate, H.M.S. Seasweep, Captain John Barrister commanding, holding blockade station off Boston Harbor. Did not expect to find her so far out to sea. All hands topside to crowd on sail. 1310 hours, Seasweep almost within cannon range. We are unarmed. Captain Barrister will not waste powder and shot. God help us. Those not summarily hanged as rebels will be pressed into His Majesty's Navy. 1330 hours, masthead reports thick fog bank off starboard bow. There may be a chance for us, yet. Altering course to ...."
Jeremy looked at the uneaten meal . "Well, we know why they missed lunch."
Marion jogged his shoulder. "Go on. Don't leave us in suspense."
Her husband shook his head. "That's it, honey. That's the last entry."
Young Harry blew out his breath. "Do you guys feel as freaky as I do?" He picked up a spoon and stirred the soup in one of the bowls. "This hasn't been here more than a couple of hours."
His mother stared at him. "Do you know what you're saying? That all this happened two hours ago ... two hundred years ago ... two hours ago? Harry, that's crazy."
A shudder ran through the little ship as though she had struck something, and a swirl of dense fog entered the cabin. The air around them seemed to flicker, and they heard the sounds of running feet overhead, yells.
A faint voice shouted, "Deck there, I can still see Seasweep, but the fog's thickening."
Faint hail from the masthead again. "Deck there, Seasweep's opened fire!" Another, closer, voice roared, "Hard left rudder! Hands to the braces!" The creak of blocks as sails were trimmed. The little ship heeled sharply as she changed course, throwing them off balance.
An eerie rushing, whooshing sound whistled overhead. Jeremy swore. "The Britisher's got the range. That was a cannonball!"
"Mind your luff, helmsman. Keep her steady." An exultant laugh. "Blast their eyes, they'll never hit us now!"
Marion clutched her husband's arm. "Jerry, this is utterly insane!"
Jeremy put his arms around his wife and son. "That may be, but it's happening."
Marion squeezed her husband's hand. "Jerry, how the devil did we get into this mess?"
Harry listened to the orderly confusion topside. "And where's the Hawk's Nest, Dad?
She should be towing alongside. Why hasn't anybody reported her?"
Jeremy Hawkes looked upward. "Why do they keep asking me questions that have no answers?"
There came another, louder whirring and the sound of splashes close aboard. The three ducked involuntarily. "That was a broadside," Jeremy exclaimed, "Seasweep's firing blind."
"What if she hits us?"
"She didn't. We found the Lass untouched, remember?"
One last fusillade on the part of H.M.S. Seasweep splashed short. Jeremy chuckled. "Looks like we're in the clear ..." He looked at the fog swirling down the companionway. " ...uh .... so to speak."
Footsteps sounded on the companion ladder, and a stocky middle-aged man in a blue box-coat and tricorn hat entered the cabin. He looked at the interlopers, and removed his hat. "Welcome aboard Mister Hawkes." He bowed to Marion. "Mistress Hawkes, Master Harry."
The three gawked at Captain Olsen, dumbfounded. Jeremy blurted, "How the ... uh ... what ...? ... How the blazes do you know who we are? And why the bloody blazes aren't you surprised that we're here?"
The Captain grinned ruefully. "Because, my dear sir, this is the third time this has happened. We sight Seasweep, and escape into the fog. We can go in to this blasted fog, but we can't seem to come out of it. There's no point in trying to steer a course, because the blasted compass swings in all directions ...." He looked at Marion and young Harry. "Then I lay below, and find the three of you. You, sir, explain how you come to be aboard ... that you found the Lass unmanned and adrift ... two hundred years in the future."
Captain Mordecai Olsen took a large handkerchief from the tail pocket of his coat, and wiped his forehead. "I'll say goodbye to you now, sir, as you'll disappear any moment, and then, Mister Hawkes, we'll again find ourselves sighting Seasweep, and hiding in the fog."
The fog from topside filled the cabin, pressing wetly against their eyes. For a moment, Jeremy waved his hand in a ridiculous attempt to push it away, then ....
Jeremy Hawkes knew one thing. What he had experienced had been no dream. He opened one eye and looked up at the boy in the small crow's nest. He sat up. "Harry."
"Nope." The boy made a sweep of the horizon. "Well, yeah. Three dolphins, and about a dozen gulls."
"No bank of fog?"
Jeremy climbed up to the bridge, checked the horizon himself, then put his arm around his wife at the wheel. "Head her in, sweetheart. There's something I have to check at the office." He leaned out the door. "Harry, come to the wheelhouse."
Jeremy finished his recital, and his wife and son stared at him. "It was a dream, Jerry. It had to be a dream. We've just been mooching along. Nothing's happened."
"It happened all right." He ran a hand through his hair. "Honey, it's too detailed to be a dream. Too clearly detailed. I felt a twinge of memory as we crossed her stern and I saw her name, and when I read the name of the owners in the ship's log. The Sampson Brothers were the original founders of Hawkes Shipping in the early seventeen hundreds. The offices were moved from Kennebecport to Boston, and the name was changed to Hawkes by a great grandson shortly after the Civil War."
Jeremy slapped his hands together. "We still have all the old records going back to 1703, but they were transferred to microfilm in the seventies. I've got to get a look at them."
Marion squeezed her husband's hand. "Do you hear what you're saying, Jerry? Science fiction, honey. A time warp? A ship that sailed from 1777 to 1997? A ship that Harry and I didn't see? It has to be a dream."
"It wasn't, Marion. And I'm going to prove it, somehow. You and Harry went aboard with me ... according to Captain Olsen, not once, but three times. Okay, I admit it's crazy." He laughed. "Just bear with me for a couple of days before you call the doctors."
Marion stood on tiptoe, and kissed his cheek. "Okay, Skipper. I don't mind having a nut for a husband."
Harry grinned. "I believe you, Dad. Think we can get back aboard the Bonny Lass?"
Jeremy squeezed his son's shoulder. "I think we don't have a choice. This thing seems to be a cycle, and we'll keep going aboard until I can find a way to break the cycle."
The boy shook with excitement. "I hope next time Mom and I really go with you."
Marion and young Harry crowded close to Jeremy as he flicked the ancient records through the microfilm viewer. He grunted. "Here it is, 1777 ... 6, June 1777 ... Brig, Bonny Lass, eluded blockade 30, May, and transferred stores for Washington at appointed rendezvous. Captain Mordecai Olsen reported to Hezikiah Sampson, senior partner, the success of the voyage, and introduced three passengers whose identity is to be kept in strictest secrecy."
Marion giggled. "How do they keep a whole shipload of sailors from talking about us?"
Jeremy grinned. "Honey, sailors have been telling tall tales since time began. A story of three people who boarded from a vessel that goes forty knots without sails? That ought to be good for many a tankard of ale in many a grogshop!"
He ran through a few more entries, and suddenly stopped. "Whoo, boy! Take a look at this ...."
The three read, "Praise God the Bonny Lass avoided capture. Without the arms she delivered, General Washington's army would have disintegrated."
Jeremy blew out his breath. "Well, that sounds ominous! I don't have a clue as to just what it means, but it definitely means Bonnie Lass can't keep running in and out of that fog!"
He got up. "Okay. According to the record, Captain Olsen showed up with three mysterious passengers. Care to make a guess who?" Jeremy paced up and down, rubbing his chin. "I don't think we have to beat around the bush. The mysterious passengers were ... are ... obviously us. All right. How did we do it? How did we break the cycle? Where are we? Here and now? Or back fighting the Revolutionary war, or both?"
Marion and Harry looked at him, one expression after another flitting across their faces.
Jeremy laughed. "Yeah. Me too." He sobered. "Honey, somehow we've gotten ourselves into a real pickle." He pointed to the microfilm on the screen. "That tells us that you and Harry arewith me on the next go-round."
He resumed his pacing. "How? How do we break the cycle?"
Marion stopped him and put her arms around him. "Jerry, where were the crew when youboarded her?"
Jeremy stared at his wife. "They had to be there."
"Okay, why didn't we see them?"
"Good question. Unanswerable, but a good question."
"It has to be answerable, honey. Think."
"How am I supposed to know how a time-warp works?"
"Two stages? Inanimate objects first, then living creatures?"
"Say ... why not? Anything's possible. The whole thing is out of Heinlein or Bradbury."
He hugged her briefly, and went back to pacing. "Two stages. All right, let's say two stages. Where does that leave us?"
Young Harry cleared his throat. "Maybe we went aboard too soon."
Jeremy stopped and looked at his son. "Too soon? You mean maybe if we'd waited, the crew would have been there?"
Harry shrugged. "It could be."
"But then Captain Olsen and his men would be trapped in the twentieth century ... and they weren't ... they made delivery of the arms, and brought us to Kennebecport ... Blast, this is frustrating!"
Harry worried a thumbnail. "Then, Dad, the solution seems to be to find a way to stay on board. Maybe if we sank the Hawk's Nest, we wouldn't have any place to return to."
"Yeah, and maybe we'd find ourselves swimming in the Atlantic fifty miles offshore."
Harry grinned. "I wouldn't like that very much."
Jeremy stopped his pacing, and snapped his fingers. "Bonny Lass was coming out of the fog! That's it! We didn't board her too soon, we boarded her too late!" He turned off the microfilm viewer, and grabbed his coat. "Come on. We've got a date with a ghost ship!"
The seagoing yacht, Hawk's Nest out of Boston, lay to in the calm swell fifty miles off the Massachusetts coast. Jeremy Hawkes stood on the starboard wing of the bridge. The surface of the sea was as smooth as a pane of slowly undulating glass. "Don't you see, honey," he said to his wife at the wheel, "we boarded the Lass after she entered the fog. Whatever power is doing this time transfer thingamajig is in the fog. We have to board Bonny Lass before she enters the fog."
Marion Hawkes eased the rudder to maintain course. "Okay, genius, how do we do that?"
Jeremy crossed his fingers. "If it works from 1777 to 1997, it also works from 1997 to 1777. What we have to do is go through and meet her on the other side." He scanned the horizon. "Where is the fog?"
Marion looked puzzled. "But that only means that we'll all come out on this side today."
"No. That means we talk Captain Olsen into going around the fog instead of into it. That will break the cycle, and we'll be free and clear."
Marion said drily, "Except for a couple of minor details."
Marion searched her husband's face. "Like we'll be stuck two hundred years before our time, for one."
"Honey, you saw the records. Washington needs those arms or all of our history goes up in smoke."
Marion took a deep breath. "I guess I can learn to make my own clothes. Okay, Skipper, you're the boss. But that still leaves ..." She slapped the wheel in her hands. "... this. What about leaving a twentieth century yacht floating around in the eighteenth century?"
Jeremy frowned in thought. "Okay, I got it. How about we set the iron mike on a course back to Boston, board the brig, and shove the old Hawk's Nest off, heading her into the fog?
She'll come out this side, and leave no anomaly for history to scratch its head about."
Young Harry hailed from the crow's nest. "There it is, Dad. Solid wall of fog off to starboard. Right where it should be."
Jeremy looked at the small radar screen. "Yep, there it is. Okay, helmsman, take us in."
Marion took a deep breath, swallowed, and pushed the throttle forward. She steered for the opaque bank of white.
The wet vapor instantly cut visibility to zero. Marion gasped. "Look at the compass, Jerry."
The compass rose spun wildly back and forth. Jeremy gripped his wife's shoulder.
"Don't panic. Just hold her as she goes." He watched the radar screen, and gave a grunt of satisfaction at the sudden appearance of a blip. "There she is, honey, the Bonny Lass. Five miles dead ahead."
The fog whipped away abruptly, and they saw the little brig in the distance. Jeremy uttered an exultant whoop. "Give her everything she's got!"
Trembling with excitement, Marion opened the throttle wide, and the Hawk's Nest quickly reached her top speed of forty knots, racing toward the other vessel.
Jeremy swept the brig with his binoculars, and laughed. "They're going nuts over there! Can you imagine what they're thinking at sight of us?"
The yacht swiftly closed the distance. Marion cut the speed, and took station thirty yards from the brig's starboard side. Jeremy cupped his mouth. "Ahoy, Captain Olsen. Request permission to come aboard."
The stocky man in the blue box coat and tricorn hat gaped at the impossible vessel alongside. He opened and closed his mouth several times before any words came out. "Who ...? How ...? What ....?"
The ship's company thronged the rail staring at the boat that without sails or oars had made speed none had ever seen before. They filled the air with a babble of wonder. Captain Olsen at last found his voice. "Thunder and devils! Yes, yes, come aboard."
Marion laid the Hawk's Nest against the brig's waist, and set the iron mike ... the automatic pilot ... on course for Boston while Harry and Jeremy scrambled up the Bonny Lass's low side. She grabbed the line tossed her by her husband, opened the throttle wide, and swung aboard the brig. Hawk's Nest roared toward the fog bank five miles and two hundred years away. The door had been closed, the key thrown away. There was no returning to the twentieth century. The Hawkes were committed to whatever faced them in 1777.
Jeremy pushed through the dumbfounded seamen, and made his way to the quarterdeck, followed by his wife and son. He faced the bewildered shipmaster. "Captain, there's no time for explanations now. You must take my word." He pointed off the port quarter. "Any moment now the masthead will report the tops'ls of HMS Seasweep. We have to be gone from here before that happens."
Olsen pulled his wits together. He looked at the rapidly disappearing Hawks's Nest. "It's obvious that that vessel is not of this time." He ran his eyes over Jeremy's clothing. "Nor are you."
Jeremy nodded. "Nineteen ninety-seven. We've come back to ... that can wait, sir. You have only moments to decide if what I'm telling you is true."
The Captain examined Jeremy's face, and grunted. "Very well, sir. We can take safety in yon bank of fog." He turned to give orders to the goggle-eyed helmsman.
Jeremy placed a hand on his arm. "No. No, Captain. That's what you must not do. I will give you a full explanation later. But you can't enter that fog. Skirt around and take cover behind it ... not in it."
The Captain hesitated only a moment. "Hard right rudder! Hands to the braces!" Helmsman, steer clear of the fog."
Jeremy relaxed and looked at his wife and son. "I don't quite know what we've done, do you?"
Young Harry grinned. "Not a clue, Dad, but it ought to be interesting."
Marion leaned into her husband's embrace. "As usual, the kid's a master of understatement."
The Coastguard cutter, USCG Dolphin, found the private yacht, Hawk's Nest, rolling gently to the waves fifty miles off Boston harbor. Everything was shipshape and Bristol fashion, her decks polished, her brightwork shining, her tiny life boat snugged down and covered ... and no sign of her owner, Jeremy Hawkes, president of Hawkes shipping, his wife, or his son ....
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