A short story from: Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019. © Rosemarie Nervelle, 2019 All Hands on Deck, photographic art by Ramona du Houx Clouds scuttled and raced northwest on the high winds in black contrast to the leaden sky. The waves pounded and roared in angry protest against the tempest herding them toward […]
A short story from: Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019.
© Rosemarie Nervelle, 2019
All Hands on Deck, photographic art by Ramona du Houx
Clouds scuttled and raced northwest on the high winds in black contrast to the leaden sky. The waves pounded and roared in angry protest against the tempest herding them toward the land, unleashing their fury on the rocks above the beach. Spray and foam advanced and retreated from the ever-changing beach below the frail, solitary figure standing on the headland against the powerful storm.
Eliza stood unsteadily on the bluff, her skirts and cape billowing out behind her, head and face wrapped in a woolen shawl. She shivered in the cold and waited, as she had every year for five years, on April 23rd, no longer believing that her husband, Silas, would return—if she faithfully kept a vigil on the anniversary of his disappearance. He had sailed on the whaler Osprey out of Nantucket in 1880, promising to return with riches beyond her imagination. Today, Eliza vowed she would come nevermore to this place to wait, straining her eyes toward the horizon on latitude with the coast of Spain.
Expected home by dark, she realized she must leave now to find her way across the moors. As she turned to leave, Eliza’s keen eyes caught a flicker of light in the distance, like a mirror reflecting the sun. She had experienced these false alarms before; a fishing vessel coming home late, a pleasure schooner beyond a shrewd course. But this light was different, brighter, causing Eliza to hesitate to leave her watch. She raised her glass.
A four-masted schooner rode high on the waves one moment and then disappeared into a deep trough the next. Its white, translucent sails strained in the wind, and Eliza wondered what fool captain would navigate under full sail in such a storm. As the ship sailed closer, what she saw was not men struggling with ropes and sails with great waves crashing over the bow; she saw wispy, ghost-like sailors clad in white, billowing shirts, loading wooden chests from a sunny deck onto a dory, ready for launching. She adjusted her glass.
“Osprey! It’s Silas’s ship, Osprey!” Breathless with excitement, Eliza descended the treacherous rocks to the beach, where she calculated the dory would come ashore.
“Hallo! hallo!” she called, running through the wind and rain, strands of her long, black hair wrapping themselves around her face. The sailors appeared neither to see her nor hear her voice but began to unload the contents of the dory into a cleft in the bluff.
“Hallo!” She came closer. “I’m Eliza Sweete. I’m looking for my husband, Captain Silas Sweete. Do you know of him? This is his ship, Osprey. He sailed five years ago today. Surely, someone knows the name?—”
As Eliza watched, an old sailor with flowing white hair and watery green eyes appeared from the cleft. He approached her and whispered softly, “Yes, madam. I know your husband. He described you well. He sends a message that you must end your watch on this April 23rd and sail with us on the evening tide. Silas awaits you.”
Eliza was delighted with this news. The old man was someone she could trust, as Silas had trusted him to bring her to his ship. Eliza and the old man were now alone on the beach. He held out his hand. At her touch, the wind immediately died to a balmy breeze, and the surface of the ocean grew calm. Eliza felt content and happy with the prospect of reuniting with her husband. The old sailor smiled at her, and Eliza felt herself rise from the beach.
The ship loomed large above them, as they approached. Once more the old man took Eliza’s hand. As in a dream, she rose from the dory to the snow-white deck of the Osprey. Voluminous sails billowed in the dazzling light. Standing at the helm, Silas beckoned Eliza into his open arms. The breeze filled the brilliant sails, and the ship turned east, guided by a beam of golden light to the horizon and beyond.
Eliza’s body lay face down in a tangle of seaweed just offshore. She was buried in the little cemetery in the shadow of Sankaty Light, her grave marked with these simple words:
Beneath this stone
Now no one waits for Silas Sweete.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019 was published after a contest for writers to create stories to accompany art photography that depicted Rockland and the coast in its myriad situations, moods and emotions. This story was published in the book along with 27 others.
An overwhelming 88 stories were submitted for the contest. In the end seventeen writers were chosen. Their stories are told with depth, insight, candor, irony, wit and humor. Anyone who has every visited Maine’s coast will be able to relate to them. They’ve put humankind’s instinctive emotional connection with the sea into words.
The Maine Humanities Council provided a grant for our project that enabled the Solon Center to donate books to libraries across Maine. MHC is a statewide non-profit organization that uses the humanities, “as a tool for positive change in Maine communities.”