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Authors: Barbara Mariconda

The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons

BOOK: The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons
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Dedication

For Thomas F. Lynch, of whom it's been said:

He's a strange blend of shyness, pride and conceit,

and stubborn refusal to bow in defeat.

He's spoiling and ready to argue and fight,

yet the smile of a child fills his soul with delight.

His eyes are the quickest to well up with tears,

Yet his strength is the strongest to banish your fears.

His hate is as fierce as his devotion is grand,

And there is no middle ground on which he will stand.

He's wild and he's gentle, he's good and he's bad.

He's proud and he's humble, he's happy and sad.

He's in love with the ocean, the earth, and the skies,

He's enamored with beauty wherever it lies.

He's victor and victim, a star and a clod,

But mostly he's Irish—in love with his God.

1

J
ULY
1908

A
sharp wind snapped the sails of the
Lucy P. Simmons
, and the chilling mist that swirled across Clew Bay dampened my face and hair. My overalls and sweater clung to my body like a cold, wet blanket. I shivered, then hugged myself tightly. Pugsley shook himself off and hunkered at my feet, stubby tail wagging despite the weather.

After a grueling ten months at sea trying to outrun the threat of the family curse—from Port Lincoln on the southern shore of Australia, across the Indian Ocean, past the great continent of Africa, drifting for the better part of a month on flat seas with not a breath of wind, roasting beneath the equatorial sun—the promise of arriving at our destination made the weather along the Emerald Isle feel almost welcoming. I pulled Father's spyglass from my pocket and pressed the brass-rimmed lens against my eye, searching for a scrap of green to indicate that Clare Island was in sight. I stared until my eyes began to water.

“Pull this around yourself, child—not bein' used t' Irish weather—you'll catch a chill, y'will!” Addie placed a thick shawl about my shoulders, draped her arm around me, and drew me in close. Her face was alight with excitement, despite the persistent, seamless gray gloom of sea, sky, and fog.

The ship's bell began to toll and Grady appeared beside us, his weaselly face screwed in a grimace. “Growin' up here I knows these waters like the back of me hand . . . but this”—he waved a thin, sinewy arm out before him—“this ain't no regular fog.”

Walter ambled up beside me and took his place along the rail, his dark straight hair slicked to his forehead, the mist accumulating on his sweater like a fine white dew. “Aw, Grady,” he quipped, a smile teasing his lips, “what is it this time? We've already seen more ghosts than I care to count, a disappearing specter ship, a deck of talking cards, not to mention—how should I put it?—the unusual characteristics of this ship. I was hoping we might finish this voyage without any more irregularities.”

“It ain't funny,” Grady muttered. “You kids gotta learn some r'spect fer whatcha don't understand.” He adjusted his cap and stared out over the starboard side. A familiar feeling of dread slowly filled me, like cold brackish water seeping into the hold. It sloshed around and caused me to shudder.

“Look sharp!” Capt'n Obediah yelled. “Can't see my hand in front of my face! Tonio, sound the signal! Reds—you two watch well forward! Irish, I need you aft! Listen as well as look!” The crew scrambled toward their posts, each disappearing into the thick gray mist as the warning bell sounded—one ring, followed by two short clangs. This, to alert any other vessels of our presence.

I felt Annie's small hand slip into my own. She'd sidled up to me, her blond hair framing her face in dank ringlets, her blue eyes enormous with alarm. Her brother Georgie appeared on my left, so much more grown up than when we'd begun this quest—still small for ten, but during the entire adventure he'd managed to sprout considerably. Walter reassured his little sister and brother. “We've been through worse than this,” he said.

“But are we gonna crash?” Annie whimpered. My heart did a flip inside my chest. It had been a day just like this, off the coast of Maine, when my life was first touched by the generations-old curse, as the little sloop in which I'd been sailing with Mother and Father capsized, leaving me the lone survivor. Though more than two years ago, the thought of it still had the power to blind me with tears.

“Of course we're not going to crash!”

I turned toward the confident voice of my aunt Pru. She was perched atop the poop deck, peering out beneath a visored hand, her long red hair so like mine, whipping about like the mane of a wild stallion. I took heart from her determined, regal profile, staring out into the unknown.

“Hmph!” Grady responded with his usual disdain. “Fools! Ye ferget that rocky headlands get their names from the ships they destroy!” He leaned forward, extended his skinny neck, pursed his lips, and sniffed at the air, once, twice, three times. “Ye smell that?” he barked.

We all inhaled, nostrils flared.

“Woodsmoke,” he said. “Peat and ash.”

Walter and I exchanged a glance. Pru turned our way, hair blowing straight back off her face. It was true. There was a peculiar burned smell, as though a fire of decaying wood had just been extinguished.

“The Grey Man . . . ,” Grady whispered, his beady eyes narrowed, trying to penetrate the fog. Pugsley suddenly sprang up, the hair along his back rising in a bristly ridge. A soft growl rumbled from his throat. “Even the dog sees 'im,” Grady muttered.

“'Tis nothin' of the kind!” Addie retorted, her face full of indignation. “Ye think yer the only one who knows Irish legends?” She extended a protective arm around the children, glared at Grady and then at the dog. “Sit, Pugsley, and stop yer bellyachin'!” The pup whined, circled around once, and lay back at my feet with a deflated
arrumph
.

“The Grey Man?” I asked. As if in response, a wave hit us portside, showering us with a sheet of cold water.

Grady seemed to take this as an affirmation. “An Irish fairy of the worst type,” he said, pausing to nibble the inside of his cheek. “Sustains hisself on chimney smoke. Wherever 'e passes, he flings his cloak of gray mist over 'is shoulder, sheathing everything in 'is path with the pall of death. Shroudin' the coastline in smoky fog, then laughin' as ships are thrown into the rocks. On land, the Grey Man's presence causes potato rot, turnin' 'em to black mush.”

Annie buried her face in the folds of my overalls. Georgie puffed himself up. “Quaide told me how sailors use potatoes!” he shouted. “In the fog, keep a bucket of taters near the bow, and heave 'em one at a time in the forward direction. If they splash, proceed. If not, tack!”

Marni suddenly appeared, her long silver hair and pale green eyes blending with the seascape. “Sailing and potato heaving have little in common, as I see it,” she said lightly. “And Quaide isn't here, thank the Lord. Let's all calm down. In Ireland, as I recall, the fog can roll in and out in the blink of an eye, isn't that right, Miss Addie?”

Addie, just as she'd done throughout the years she served as my beloved nanny, nodded with an air of reassuring confidence. “Ye got that right, Miss Marni! We Irish women know when foolish sailors take t' talkin' blarney, we do! That'll be all from ye, Grady! Whyn't ye jest focus yer attention on sailin' the ship?”

“Over there!” Pru shouted. “Off to starboard!”

We all turned and gasped. To the east there was a sudden break in the clouds. A scrap of bright blue sky appeared with a huge rainbow arching down toward the greenest land I'd ever seen. My heart swelled with a strange feeling of coming home, though of course I'd never been there before.

“Look, Annie!” I gasped. Marni closed her eyes for a moment, fingering the silver locket at her throat. Walter pounded Georgie on the back and, in an instant, threw his arms around me, lifted me off my feet, and spun me in a circle.

“There she is!” Capt'n shouted from the helm, one hand guiding the massive ship's wheel, the other pointing off toward the shore that had, moments ago, been veiled in fog. “Clare Island!” The
Lucy P. Simmons
seemed to ride the waves with a new confidence, her figurehead carved in the likeness of my ill-fated uncle Victor and aunt Margaret, reaching toward our final destination.

“Y'know what they say,” Addie exclaimed, winking at me. “There's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, there is!” I nodded, offering a silent prayer that we'd find the treasure we were looking for here, and finally dispel the curse that had taken my mother and father from me.

Addie turned triumphantly toward Grady and retorted, “Guess the sunshine chased yer Grey Man away, it did!”

One last wisp of smoky mist swirled around the old seafarer, and a thin ray of sunshine cast his long thin shadow across the deck.

Grady chewed his bottom lip and shook his head, a faraway look in his eye. “Only time'll tell. . . .”

2

I
t was with tearful farewells that Walter, Marni, Pru, and I disembarked from the
Lucy P. Simmons
, anchored in the harbor at Clare Island. After all the months at sea we'd become like a family of sorts. There were the Reds—identical twins whose crooked smiles brightened many a day at sea—and Irish, with his mischievous blue eyes, all three eager to get back to Dublin. Bald-headed Tonio with the drooping walrus mustache was already making plans to head to Galway to secure a position on an Italian-bound ship. Rasjohnny and his son, Javan, shivering in the Irish chill, longed for their native Caribbean, and would work their way back there in the galley of some other vessel, filling other bellies with their spicy island fare. I'd miss them all as I did Coleman—the quiet man with a paralyzing stutter who sang like a bird. He'd come ashore with us in Australia and decided at the last minute to stay on as a caretaker at Aunt Pru's ranch, perfectly suited as he was to life in the outback.

Equally difficult was saying good-bye to Addie and the capt'n, Annie, and Georgie, even though our separation would be only temporary. All had come to see Addie and Capt'n Adams as a couple, the two being drawn together more and more throughout our voyage. “The young ones are going to love Ballyvaughan,” the capt'n reassured. It had been decided that Annie and Georgie would travel on to the capt'n's hometown and stay there for a time with Miss Addie. After all the months at sea Marni believed that what they needed most was solid ground under their feet, and a little break from all the adventure of the last two years. “My family has a homestead there, Annie,” the capt'n continued, “with sheep, cows, ducks, and a couple of goats.” Annie's eyes opened wide with excitement. Georgie looked longingly between his brother and the capt'n. “Not to worry, Master Georgie,” the capt'n quipped. “I'll teach you to run the tractor and to shoe a horse. You can be both a sailor and a gentleman farmer—just like me!”

“But what about Walter?” Georgie asked.

“Lucy needs me here,” Walter said. “But not to worry. We'll call for you the minute another strong pair of arms is required. With all that farmwork you'll be the fellow with the biggest muscles!” Georgie smiled and flexed his biceps, warming to the idea.

We cut our embraces shorter than we might have liked, not wanting to second guess a decision made in the little ones' best interest. Moments later we found ourselves aboard a small skiff, piloting us toward the island. There was little wind yet I watched her sails flap as though waving farewell. Then our beloved ship, and the figures of the capt'n, Addie, Annie, Georgie, and the crew shrunk from view. Once we were safely deposited on Clare Island, the rest would be spirited off to the mainland to go their respective ways.

“No worries,” Marni murmured, patting my arm. “We'll be sending for them in no time, I'm sure.”

And time was of the essence. With each day that passed, Pru and I felt the threat of the curse pressing in—the malicious pledge of the infamous pirate queen Mary Maude Lee, that had already stolen the lives of my great-grandfather, Edward the First, then grandfather Edward II, and finally the generation once removed from me, taking first Father and then Uncle Victor. Aunt Pru and I were the only ones left. Once we discovered that Marni was the daughter of Edward and Mary Maude Lee, it became clear she had a vested interest in unraveling the curse as well—and in locating her long-lost son, who also could be struck down by the powerful vindictive oath.

Then there was the matter of the missing treasure. Hopefully it would finally be recovered here in Ireland—at least that's where all the clues seemed to point. Just before we tied up at the pier, my fingers instinctively slipped into my ditty bag, retrieving the paper on which Coleman had scrawled the words of the ballad that spelled it all out. I stared at it for the hundredth time, the words nearly committed to memory:

 

This is the ballad of Mary Maude Lee—

a Queen and a Pirate—the Witch o' the Sea.

Tho' fair of face, and tho' slight of build,

many a seafarers' blood did she spill!

A la dee dah dah . . . a la dee dah dee,

This is the ballad of Mary Maude Lee.

 

She fired her blunderbuss, torched their tall sails,

Laughing as mariners screamed, moaned, and wailed.

Off with their silver! Off with their gold!

Off with supplies lying deep in their holds!

A la dee dah dah . . . a la dee dah dee,

This is the ballad of Mary Maude Lee.

 

Her coffers grew fat, till Edward, that gent,

Escaped with her booty, and then off he went.

She swore her revenge against that sorry traitor,

Placed a curse on the sons of the cuss who betrayed her!

A la dee dah dah . . . a la dee dah dee,

The sons of his sons would all die in the sea!

A la dee dah dah . . . a la dee dah dee,

This is the ballad of Mary Maude Lee.

 

Mary Maude Lee said, “I'll spit on their graves!”

Then drew back and spat in the white churning waves.

And each generation of menfolk that followed,

Into the sea they'd be chewed up and swallowed!

A la dee dah dah . . . a la dee dah dee,

This is the ballad of Mary Maude Lee.

 

The only real way that the curse can be broken

was revealed in the last words that Mary had spoken,

“If not in my lifetime, then to my descendants,

Hand over my treasure and appease Mary's vengeance!”

A la dee dah dah . . . a la dee dah dee,

This is the ballad of Mary Maude Lee!

 

As always, Father's flute, tucked in my pocket, began to vibrate and hum on the repeated refrain . . .
A la dee dah dah . . . a la dee dah dee . . .
bolstering my confidence that its magic wouldn't fail me.

“Mind yer step!” Grady called, ushering Marni, Pru, and Pugsley across to the wooden dock. I quickly folded the paper, thrust it back in my bag, and waited my turn. When next, I grabbed hold of the thick rope twisted around the piling to hoist myself ashore. Suddenly another pair of hands took hold of mine.

“Lemme help ye, miss! It'll take a wee time fer yer sea legs to adjust t' land. Wouldn't wantcha taken a header overboard and mussin' that lovely head o' hair!”

I looked up into the bluest eyes I'd ever seen, set in a face framed in light brown curls. A smile played on his lips, his eyebrows raised in some rambunctious thought. His face was totally arresting, and it stopped me midway between skiff and dock. I lost my footing, my face flushing scarlet.

Walter snapped, “She doesn't need any help!” He was so close behind me I could feel his breath on my neck. “Have you lost your head?” he whispered. Walter put his hands around my waist, and gave me a forceful boost to the pier, then jumped up beside me.

“Seamus O'Connor,” the young man announced, taking no notice of Walter at all. “Saw yer unusual vessel and decided t' see fer meself who was aboard.” He took my hand as though inviting me to dance. Smiling with his eyes, his gaze never leaving mine, he bent and ceremoniously kissed my fingers. I yanked them back, the thought of my dirty, rough, sunburned skin against his full lips causing me to blush for the second time in as many moments.

“We have a lot to do,” Walter said, his voice gruff and edged with anger. Seamus seemed not to hear him.

Eyeing the three of us, Grady hopped ashore like a nimble squirrel. “Well, I'll be danged,” he exclaimed. “If it ain't little Seamus, all growed up in the years I been gone! Still the charmer, I see.” He turned to me. “Watch out fer this one.” And to Walter, “I can see already ye don't like the cut of 'is jib.” Grady laughed silently, shoulders rising and falling in amusement. “Time t' see me mam. As I told ye's, we can put ye up on the fam'ly farm. Got a few cottages, that is if Seamus here has done 'is job with the upkeep.”

“Good t' see ye again, Grady,” Seamus said, grinning ear to ear.

A large cart pulled by a pair of fluffy-furred mules stood waiting on the dirt road that ran along the shore. “I'll help ye's t' row yer bags in the back,” Seamus said. “Come on, man, give me a hand, wouldja?” Walter glared at him and single-handedly hoisted the largest trunk onto the cart.

But Seamus didn't notice—he was staring at me. “I didn't get yer name, lass. . . .”

“Lucy” was just about forming on my lips when Walter stepped between us. “Where's your trunk, Lucy? I want to make sure it's safe.” I grabbed the handle on one end of my trunk and Walter took the other. As we lifted it off the ground Seamus stepped in and relieved me of my end, flashing me another smile.

“Lucy, eh?” Seamus exclaimed. “A grand name it is!”

“Can we stop all the blatherin' and just get the cart loaded?” Grady muttered.

In a matter of minutes everything we owned was stacked in the back of the old wooden cart. Marni, Seamus, and Grady were seated on the rickety bench in front. Seamus flicked the reins and the cart jolted forward. Walter, Aunt Pru, and I walked behind. I found myself watching Seamus, impressed by the way he took control and asserted himself with ease. The confidence he exuded, along with his good looks, almost prevented me from noticing his threadbare, though carefully patched, clothing. I was intrigued, in spite of myself. He and Grady led us on, Pugsley running alongside, nose to the lush green grass, sniffing out a new adventure.

“Over there,” Grady called, pointing. “See it?”

An old boxy castle stood overlooking the shore, narrow rectangular windows cut here and there, and small lookout holes carved along the roofline. Two chimneylike towers reached from the top of the primitive fortress, and there were several slate-covered sections that must have once been sentry houses.

“The castle of Granuaile—the pirate queen Gracie O'Malley,” Grady said. “Terrorized the high seas fer years. 'Twas her home base, right 'ere on Clare Isle.”

Pru and I exchanged a glance, both of us, I'm sure, sharing the same thought—what better place for a treasure to be hidden but in the shadow of another famous female pirate's stronghold? It seemed it all, in some way, began here. My heart beat a little faster as I gazed at the ancient gray structure. As if reading my thoughts, Grady swept his arm across the landscape. “The Emerald Isle holds an enchantment an' mystery all 'er own. Some, the depth of their desires so grand, their oneness with the place so powerful—those few've been known t' channel 'er force, callin' forth every manner of magic.” He leveled a glance at me, one that suggested his premise might apply, if not to me, I thought, then to my ancestors. The very idea made me feel as though I was walking on hallowed ground—or perhaps a land that embodied the curse itself.

The road hugged the shoreline and then veered to the left, over a patchwork of fields in many shades of green. Everywhere we looked there were flocks of sheep grazing, shaggy heads to the ground. Occasionally a group of them trotted across the road, oblivious to our party. They'd bleat and
baa
and take their time, forcing Seamus to bring our procession to a dead stop.

The cart bumped around still another bend, and Grady pointed. “Over there, on the knoll that drops off t' the water.” There was a scattering of white buildings with thatched roofs, and more sheep dotting the pastureland. “Spent me childhood there, lookin' out t' sea, dreamin' of sailin' away. Still, it always feels good comin' home.” He wiped the edge of his eye with his gnarled finger, revealing a softness in him I'd never seen before.

The two little mules seemed to know their way, turning off the road onto a narrow but well-worn path that snaked across the countryside toward the cottages. In minutes we caught up and found ourselves outside of the main homestead. It was a snug-looking little house, whitewashed and neat as a pin, the large wooden door painted shiny red. Up close the thatched roof topped the structure like a thick blanket of neatly woven hay. Window boxes overflowed with cascades of tiny blue flowers and white lacy baby's breath. A thin wisp of gray swirled from the chimney, bringing with it the distinctive smoky earthen smell we'd detected at sea.

A skinny black, brown, and white sheep dog with a wagging tail bounded around the side of the cottage. For a moment the scrappy hound and Pugsley circled one another, nose to nose, before the two rollicked off across the side yard. “Ah, Old Peader's little collie Miss Rosie'll show that imp around, fer sure,” Seamus exclaimed.

“Lovely place, Grady,” Pru said, “really lovely. Must have been hard to leave here.”

“Well, when ye have the sea in yer blood the land can't hold ye fer long.”

Suddenly the top half of the door creaked open and a strange figure appeared. The long face atop the tall thin body was ancient, wrinkled, and creased like a dried apple, the light gray eyes as sharp as those of a hawk peering out between the folds. Her features drooped at the outer edges, as though gravity had, over a hundred years, dragged them toward the ground. The woman's white hair was parted down the middle, pulled back severely from her face. She held a fringed shawl tightly around her torso.

“Mam!” Grady called. “I'm home agin!”

Seamus placed his hand on Grady's arm. “Just so's ye know, sir. Miss Oonagh's . . . not all she used t' be. There're times her mind gets a bit cloudy. . . .”

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