Authors: Barbara Mariconda
To Annie Dichele and Alphonse DeJulioâ
for being the wind in my sails,
be the seas calm or stormy
he ship's bell clanged riotously as we dropped anchor in the Port of Boston.
Marni, Walter, Addie, and I had maneuvered the
Lucy P. Simmons
respectably past Winthrop Peninsula, around Deer Island, between a three-masted, wooden-hulled barge and more two-masted brigs than I could count, all the while flanked by fishing schooners, a deep-water cargo carrier, and even a steam-powered tug. Father would have been proud!
Of course, I wondered, how much of this seamanship was actually the result of our sailing skills? After all, the
Lucy P. Simmons
was no ordinary ship! And ours, no ordinary voyage.
“Play us a tune, Lucy!” Annie shouted. “To celebrate!” She looked from me to her brother Georgie, her blond hair whipped by the wind, blue eyes sparkling.
“Yesâthe one where we join in on the ending,” Georgie urged.
From the pocket of my overalls I pulled the flute of whalebone and hardwood that Father had carved during his days at sea. As the hull of our schooner creaked and moaned against the pilings, I put the instrument to my lips. Gazing at the hustle and bustle on the pier, accompanied by the cries of raucous gulls, my fingers flew over the tone holes, improvising a lilting melody. As always, I finished with that mysterious tune Father had taught me, the one so old the words had been forgotten, except for a snippet of refrain:
A la dee dah dah .Â .Â . a la dee dah dee. .Â .Â .
My makeshift little family hummed along on the wordless verses, then, as always, sang out on the
la dee dah dees.
Pugsley ran in circles around us, his small curly tail wagging wildly, howling along with each high note.
“Enough!” Marni ordered. “No time for dawdling! We need to dry her jibs, swab down the deck, hire a crew, and buy provisions enough for a lengthy voyage.” Marni's long silver hair hung along her back in a single braid, and her weathered face gave her the look of a dignified, wise Indian brave.
Addie patted my shoulder reassuringly. “'Tis a lovely tune, Miss Lucy, I'll give ye that! But Marni's right. There's much to be done if we're goin' to sail away and find your auntie Pru. Australia's a long way off, it 'tis! We'd better be gettin' on with it, lass.” Aunt Pru! Addie was rightâthere wasn't a moment to lose!
Annie and Georgie's older brother, Walter, was already lowering the gangplank, providing a bridge from deck to dock. After the strange and spectacular events back at Simmons Point, and our resulting overnight sail down to Boston, it would be good to feel solid ground beneath my feet. And to get a bite to eat. My stomach rumbled and groaned. What with the extraordinary events that took place, it was hard to recall when we'd had our last full meal. “What about Pugsley?” I asked.
“Best t' leave 'im 'ere, where he won't go and get himself lost,” Addie replied. “Ye'd all be brokenhearted without the wee pup, ye would.”
With a flimsy length of rope, I tied him to a brass cleat on deck. “Stay, Pugsley!” I commanded. Annie pointed a finger. “STAY!” she repeated. Though he shimmied and whined as we marched across the gangplank, I was unworried. The dog had an uncanny sense of being in the right place at the right time.
The six of us headed along the pier and cobbled streets lined with rows of brick warehouses, pubs, and shops. The whole of the waterfront was abuzz with activityâdraymen drove mules hauling flat wagons piled with wood and bricks, rough-and-tumble sailors in sturdy work pants topped with billowy shirts and neckerchiefs moved barrels of pungent salt cod and salmon. Seamen pushed provision carts loaded down with canvas-covered parcels of every size. Others flowed in and out of the grog and ale shops, their tongues and joints loosened from the spirits served. Here a pile of granite blocks from the Maine quarries, there a cargo of grain from the Midwest. Farther along we passed a coal schooner tied up beside a sleek Hawaiian vessel loaded with sugarcane, gazed up at the tall spars that drove it across the wild oceans. Cattle lowed from the hold of another ship, while salesmen onshore hawked their wares and services: “Yachts to let by the hour, day, or season! Competent skippers furnished as desired! Come to Robert Bibber's Beach House!”
“Stay together!” Marni commanded, grabbing Annie's hand and tugging Georgie, who had stopped to gape at the crisscross webs of rigging and the spearlike bowsprits aiming toward shore from the prows of many ships. I noticed a group of old, ruddy-faced men crouched in a circle mending nets, singing another song of the sea that Father had taught me:
Â Â Â Â Â Â “
The ship it was their coffin and their grave it was the sea!
Â Â Â Â Â Â
A-sailing down all on the coasts of High Barbaree.
I joined my voice in their song, until Marni gently muffled my lips with her hand. The old salts smiled toothless grins as she chastised me. “The likes of them are not your mates,” she whispered. “Best not to stir their attention!” Addie reiterated the sentiment, her fingers pressed against the small of my back, bringing up the rear with Walter. A group of younger sailors whistled as we passed, shamelessly ogling Addie's delicate features, golden-brown hair swept into a twist, small waist, and prim carriage. She blushed and trained her hazel eyes steadfastly in the opposite direction, pretending not to notice them.
“Fisher and Fairbanks Rock Cordials for coughs and lung troubles! Buy a tin here!” The man wore a pair of wooden signs that hung around his neck, sandwiching him front and back.
A boy about Georgie's age, in patched trousers and shirt, a cap pulled jauntily atop his bowl-cut hair, waved a newspaper from a large linen sack. “Get your paper here! Read all about it! Freak hurricane destroys Maine mansion! Sightings of a specter ship? Or the ramblings of a madman? You decide! Get yer paper here!”
I stopped short, heart pounding. Addie walked up my heel and bumped against me. “Good lord, child, what is it?” I pointed toward the newsboy and groped in my pocket for a coin, but Walter had already pressed a nickel into the lad's hand.
“Walter, read it! What does it say?”
He folded the paper and tucked it under his arm. “Not here .Â .Â . too many curious eyes and ears.”
“Hardy food and grog!” a busty woman shouted from a tavern doorway. “Hot soup and biscuits!”
“In there,” Marni said, raising her chin in the direction of the threshold. “But wait.” She quickly hid her braid inside the collar of her work shirt. Walter removed the cap from his dark straight hair and handed it to me. “Let's try to pass you off as a boy,” he whispered. “That head of red curls will draw attention we don't want!” I took the cap and shoved my wild tresses up underneath. One .Â .Â . two .Â .Â . three .Â .Â . four attempts before the last of the stubborn auburn locks were concealed.
We headed inside to a table along the back wall. It was a loud, rough-and-tumble establishment, with tables full of mariners and crewmen eating their fill. Some argued good-naturedly, others shouted for second helpings. They ate with much gusto, swabbing their plates with biscuits and rashers of bacon, wiping their whiskered mouths on their sleeves. Others slurped soup and guzzled what was left, lifting bowls to mouths with dirty hands.
“What'll it be fer ye?” a woman called. She sidled up to the table, licked the stub of a pencil. “Breakfast fare or soup and biscuits? Ale or coffee? Hard cider?”
Marni nodded to Walter. “Breakfast for all,” he said. “Eggs, bacon. Hotcakes. Coffee. Milk for the little ones here, if you will, ma'am.”
“Done,” she proclaimed, scribbling on her order pad. And she was gone.
“Let's see what they're saying,” Marni murmured. Walter nodded, spread the paper out on the table, and began to read in a soft, measured voice. We all leaned toward him. I stared at the columns of newsprint as he read:
Portland, Maine August 25, 1906
Freak Storm Destroys Maine Mansion
North of Portland, in a secluded area of mid
coast Maine known locally as Simmons Point, a freak hurricane was reported to have rolled in suddenly, devastating the home of the late Captain Edward Simmons. The storm was unusual in that it apparently only touched shore at Simmons Point, bringing wind and waves so violent as to overtake the shorefront mansion and catapult it into the raging sea. Curiously, the only victim found was that of a local judge, the Honorable Albert Forester, whose lifeless body washed ashore at a nearby beach. The remains of the other inhabitants of the homeâthe heir apparent, twelve-year-old Lucille P. Simmons, and her legal guardians, Victor and Margaret Simmons, as well as the longtime Simmons family caretaker, Miss Addie Clancyâhave not been found.
Annie clamped a hand over her mouth. Walter glanced up at us. “Go on,” I urged. He cleared his throat and continued:
In recent years, the Simmons family had been plagued with a curse of tragic events. Lucille's parents, Captain Edward and his wife, Johanna, were drowned in a boating accident last spring. Accompanied by daughter Lucille, they reportedly set out for an afternoon sail when a squall rolled in. It is believed that the Simmonses, in an attempt to rescue a man in a disabled vessel, capsized, resulting in the drownings of the captain and his missus. Young Lucille was saved by an unknown hero, her near lifeless body dragged to shore.
My eyes met Marni's and she nodded ever so slightly.
Court records indicate that in Simmons's last will and testament, an aunt, Prudence Simmons, was named overseer of the estate and guardian of young Lucille. Unable to locate Miss Prudence, who is said to be a world traveler and adventuress, the court appointed the next of kin, the captain's brother, Victor, and his wife, Margaret, to care for the child and the property. They were in residence at the time of the aforementioned storm. Questions about a reported family fortune abound, evidence of which must have been swept to sea with the house.