Read Captain adam Online

Authors: Chidsey, Donald Barr, 1902-1981

Captain adam

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To a different Deborah,

daughter of Dean and Virginia Graves,

is dedicated this little lesson in


Captain Adam


The Freedom Suit

He had a chip on his shoulder, a grudge against the world; yet as he dressed in the darkness, putting on his freedom suit again, Adam Long had to admit that here, this moment, he couldn't complain. He was right on the edge of glory. Nothing could stop him now.

The freedom suit was made of linsey-woolsey and he'd had it only a few weeks, though he was twenty-three. The added months of apprenticeship since his twenty-first birthday had been imposed as punishment for offenses that otherwise would have been long since forgotten—and Adam didn't give a hoot anyway, now. For he was free at last. What's more, he was master of a vessel. In a few hours he was going to get a chance to show the world, the big world outside of this town, what he could do.

But first he had to see Elnathan Evans. He knew Zeph would be away from home now. He was smiling as he strode over to the Evans house.

"I've come to say good-bye, Elnathan," he said as the woman opened the door, and drew him into the house.

"Oh, Adam, can't you stay awhile? He won't be back for a couple of hours. Our last time—"

"It's partly to see him I'm going. The owners. At Blake's."

"What time do you sail?" bunup.

It was hard to keep from singing. But with the woman it was different; and when after a while she spoke again the catch in her voice startled Adam. Elnathan Evans was not a demonstrative female by day. Folks just didn't associate emotion with her. Yet here she quavered.



"How long will you be gone?"

"Can't say. Two-three months, maybe four."

"You'll be careful? You won't get killed?"


"They tell it's mighty tricksy down in those waters, Adam."

He grinned, and found one of her hands. He could scarcely see her.

"I won't get killed," he promised. "And another thing I won't do—I won't forget who it was talked her husband into getting me the command. Seth Selden would've had it, wasn't for you."

He kissed her.

"And you'll be back, Adam."

"Oh, sure."

Chuckles clucked around inside his throat and chest. He reckoned he felt right sorry for Elnathan, in a way. She did seem cut up about his going, and he was touched by this, as any man might be. But he teemed with excitement; expectation yeasted within him; he could hardly wait for the time when he'd be ordering the hook up, to put out in the blithesomest boat ever built. Though he had made two voyages aboard of GoodvAll to Men—the only ones the schooner had logged, one a coaster, the other to the sugar islands—and though his apprenticeship to Mr. Sedgewick had ended, formally, such a short time ago, Adam Long for some years now had not been taking many orders. On land as a carpenter, at sea first as a hand and then as mate, he had known his business, shining as one who was best left alone. But he had not been giving orders either, to speak of. And it seemed to him that he was born to give orders.

Wasn't he, in the opinion of some, if not of others, a son of the Earl of Tillinghast? He believed this anyway. The story hung about his life like a wispy fog, coiling away soundlessly whenever you tried to touch it, drifting back again in long languid ribbons; but he thought that it had been his mother—she died when he was five—who told him. There was no mention of it, of course, in the only paper she had left—a copy of her indenture contract. There was nothing here on this side of the Atlantic to prove the story or even point toward its proof. Some day he would prove it! He'd go right to England, to Tillinghast, the castle, and demand a settlement. But he wasn't going to do this hat-in-hand, wheedling, an unwanted bastard who sneaked in through the scullery. When Adam went to Tillinghast it would be with a sword at his side, gold in his purse.

He smiled as he touched lovingly the solid woodwork of the handsome house, and looked out the broad window facing the sea.

It was like being between two worlds. On his left was warmth, comfort, security, even luxury, he reckoned, though it could scarcely be thought luxurious in comparison with homes at Home, from what he had been told of them. On the other side was a prim garden, clipped grass, the street and trees all silent, a vague glow that was Blake's tavern, and the bay itself, bland, beautiful, silvered by the moon, peppered now with lo

sloops that scarcely rocked; while beyond, out on Goat Island, half awash, yet still seemingly reluctant to be submerged, still struggling to stay out of the muck, swung the triced remains of Thomas Hart. Adam himself, together with hundreds of colonists, had watched the tuming-off of this pirate two years ago, since which time, as required by law, the body had dangled infra fluxum et refluxum maris, between high tide and low. On a quiet night like this, when the changing waters turned it, you could sometimes hear the Hnks squeal. But the stink was gone. Everything was gone except the gallows, which had lurched out of kilter in the shifting mud, and the chain, and the trussed white bones that the sea refused to take.

It doesn't pay to be a pirate, folks said. Maybe it doesn't pay to be a fornicator either? He was too happy to care.

From here, too, Adam could see the breastworks and redoubt they were building on the island; they planned to call it Fort Anne after the new monarch. He could see the guns there. For everything these days was war. It would come any day. The world waited for it, fascinated. Nobody could have told you why it was coming—something to do with who should be King of Spain—but coming, for whatever reason, it assuredly was.

He put his arms around Elnathan, held her close and kissed her a long while.

"Good-bye, good-bye," he said and was off down the street.

It was a comfortable down-sloping street which led direct to the bay, not such a street as they'd have at Home, from what Adam had heard, but a good street, or lane, lined with trees. It was cool now, for this was getting close to ten o'clock, and darkish, the ruts and dust all dappled with egg-shaped moon spots. There was no sort of pavement. On either side, though Adam couldn't see them well, were firm rectangular houses, shakes-roofed, clapboard-walled, some of them even painted, set near together and near the street, houses that respected themselves and expected to be respected. In the making of more than one of these the apprentice Adam Long had had a hand.

He drew a deep tremulous breath. He thrust his hands deep into his breeches pockets. He was about to start for the tavern—when he remembered that he had another appointment.

"Seems like it's my night for meeting women," he marveled.

Deborah Selden, who lived right across the way, was, however, no Elnathan. Nor was she by anybody's description saucy. It had startled Adam Long no little to receive a note from her this afternoon. The note had been noncommittal, only asking him to meet her at her house at nine that night and to treat this appointment as confidential. He assumed that it was something to do with the schooner, her father, Obadiah

Selden, being a quarter owner. It could be a message to somebody down in the islands or a request for some certain fruit or for dress goods. Women were always asking sea captains such favors. But why the secrecy? It was not like Deborah Selden, what he knew of her.

Admittedly he didn't know much of her. Nobody did. She had heaps of handsomeness and a bosom that was unsettling, yet already she was nineteen and not wed. That could have been her father's fault. A widower, Obadiah Selden guarded his only chick with an assiduity virtually fanatical. You could almost hear him cluck as he fussed around her. He forbade her to bundle, which in itself was enough to keep many of the lads away. You never did meet up with her at the raisings and huskings and bees, the weddings and funerals and christenings; and if she went to some distant place, like say the Providence fair, it was in the company of her father, who hated to let her out of sight and acted to be afraid she might fall down and get broken like a set of false teeth you couldn't replace. So nobody knew Deborah well.

The Selden house, which Adam faced now, was half in darkness, half alight. It was a one-story house, as firmly foundationed as Obadiah's own fortune. On the right, as Adam knew—though he had never been in the house—were the parlor and kitchen, and here tonight there was light, where no doubt Obadiah was poring over papers in preparation for the sailing. The left side contained two bedrooms. They were dark.

"Mister Long!"

It caused him to jump. He had never before been so addressed. True, he rated the "Mister" now; but he was not yet used to it.

The voice, a woman's, had come from the Selden house, the unlighted side. Squinting, peering, Adam stepped across a patch of grass.

"It's me, over here."

"Oh, it's you?"

Deborah stood in a nightrail, and she had her dark hair in two braids hanging down front, which made her look a whit like a Narragansett, only of course not anywhere near as dirty.

"Can't sleep?" he asked politely. "But there's no pinkletinks."

For this was April.

Her smile, though shy, disconcerted. She was looking directly at him. It wasn't right, her standing there in such a garb. He sure hoped that she was blushing. She ought to be.

"I—I just thought I'd say good-bye, Mr. Long. Or maybe I ought to call you 'Captain' now?"


"You're sailing tomorrow, isn't that right?"

"Aye. Sunup."

"For the islands?"


He could be chattier than this; but he was wary, alert. After all, this was Obadiah Selden's daughter; and it had been Obadiah, won over by his neighbor Zephary Evans, who in turn had been won over by Elnathan his wife, whose vote had given Adam the captaincy over Obadiah's own brother, Seth, incidentally himself a one-eighth owner of the schooner of which Adam Long owned but a sixteenth.

Adam did not aim to buss anybody's behind, but at the same rime it never did any harm to have manners.

"You—you love that vessel, don't you. Captain?"

"Aye," soberly. And he added: "I helped build her."

"I know."

"Yes, I reckon I love her all right."

"Like she was a woman?"


Had she seen him come out of the Evans house? He smelled trouble. She kept smiling at him, but it was a small smile.

"No doubt you're wondering why I sent for you, Captain? Well, I'll tell you. I want to ask you a question. A very important question."


She leaned close, her hands white on the sill, and her eyes, dark brown, all but black, were enormous in the darkness. She swallowed carefully, deliberately, then said:

"Will you marry me?"

2 Man is a vain animal. Adam Long's first feeling, aside from

the shock itself, was one of joy. He was pleased, he tingled.

This only for an instant. Immediately afterward anger flooded him, so that his temples throbbed and pounded, his eyeballs ached, the very hair of his head seemed to crickle; and he lowered his face to hide the tears of rage, the dark flush of fury.

So he came cheap, did he? If a husband had to be had, and that in a hurry, why not Adam Long, the son of an indentured servant long dead? How could he resist? What friends did he have, what patron, or property? Why, the fool owned nothing in this world save the clothes on his back— and a one sixteenth interest in the schooner Goodwill. Your own father

owned a quarter of that schooner, and his friend Zephary Evans owned another quarter, while your uncle Seth, who had dearly wanted the captaincy, owned an eighth. The captain, then lucky to he a captain, was perforce a man who'd do as he was told.

It was plain to Adam too why she had written him on the very eve of the saiHng. Oh, she was no fool! Just before he had the final meeting with the owners, a matter merely of hours before sailing time, he would be likelier to panic. A week earlier, even a few days earlier, and he might have been able to wriggle out of it, argue himself clear, or even uncover her true lover. But now, tonight, truly he was trapped. He could take her—she must have planned it this way—or he could lose his command.

Adam kept his head down. He must wait until he could speak clearly, without any chokiness.

He did not, of course, even consider this unexpected offer. Aside from the rage into which it threw him, the insult it constituted, there were plain hard realities to be considered. Adam was much too young to think of marrying. Marriage was marriage, something that once done you couldn't change; and when he took unto himself a bride it would be on his own terms. Deborah Selden, even though pregnant, could be esteemed the coziest catch in Newport, indeed anywhere in the colony, but the ambitions of Adam Long went a long way beyond Rhode Island. Colonials, even the very best of them, were not for him. He would rather be the second man in Rome, or the third or fourth or fifth, than the first man in a little Roman village.

Presently he heard a sob, and looked up.

"I'm dreadful sorry to hear you got in trouble."

She shook her head, added waves of color sweeping her face.

"Oh, no," she whispered. "It isn't that!" She patted her belly. "Not this, Captain!"

He thought it in bad taste. Wasn't it enough that she took him for a slavey? Did she have to pretend to take him for a fool as well? But he swallowed carefully, concentrating on the need for quiet, for manners.

There was too much at stake for him to let his temper snap.

Deborah was looking right at him, nothing furtive about her.

"No, Captain, it's unmaidenly, I grant you. A lady shouldn't speak up. But what else could I do? You can pick the girl you want to marry, and try to win her. I'm supposed to sit and wait. I can't even place myself in men's way. I've tried to attract your eye, Captain. I couldn't."

"You're thunderation pretty," Adam muttered.

To avoid her gaze he threw his glance to the left. Light slitted out of the Selden doorway only a few yards away, the other side of a clump of lilac, and spewed across the grass—Obadiah Selden in the front room, 14

beyond question, going over his accounts. What a jolt he'd get if he could hear this!

"And now you're going away. So I spoke." She patted her belly again, quivering the nightrail. "But it's not this, Captain. No."

He did not reply, only stood there looking sideways at the slats of light on the lawn.

After a time he became conscious of her silence, and it occurred to him that she was waiting to hear his answer.

"I'm filled with dehght," he said cautiously. "Never knew you was eying me. But—we sail at dawn."

"The sailing could be put off."

This was true. The law required that public notice of a marriage be posted fourteen days in advance, and the men had already been signed on the Goodwill, so this would-mean fourteen days of victuals for them; but it was not a large crew and Adam could find things for them to do.

Adam wetted his lips.

"Even if I was in a position to wed, which I ain't—even if we had time—your father'd never consent."

"My father would never agree to my marrying any man at all."

"That's what I mean."

"But he would have to agree if I told him I was going to have a baby by you."

Now Adam Long was no prude. The son of the late Aramead Long, whom folks sometimes referred to as "The Duchess" because of the airs she'd put on, knew his Newport, waterfront and back country alike. He'd had as much schooling as any there, more than most. He had visited, on the coasting trip. New York and Philadelphia, and also Perth Amboy in the Jerseys. He had been down to the islands. Though not much of a meeting attender, he was a child of his environment; and Rhode Island and the Province Plantations at this time were a hodge-podge—or a hot bed, if you will—of queer and generally liberal sects. In addition to the members of his own church, Adam all his life had known Seventh . Dayers, Anabaptists, Methodists, Sabbatarians, Huguenots, Congrega-tionalists, Seekers, and the Lord only knew what else. Newport itself, notoriously, was cluttered with Quakers. Why, there were even a few Jews.

This was the frontier, after all, where men being busy called things what they were, neither they nor the women seeing much profit in concocting other names for them.

It was esteemed no sin, though indeed the preachers preached loudly against it, to be pregnant before marriage—the awkwardness entered only when the girl stayed single—and many a wife serenely boasted, afterward, that she had caught her husband by getting herself caught first.

But such a suggestion as that just voiced—saying they'd done it when they hadn't at all—Adam had never before heard. He was shocked.

"Maybe we shouldn'tVe started talking about this at all."

"That means your answer is—no?"

"Yes, ma'am. I reckon it docs."

She turned away, and the darkness engulfed her, so that Adam was left facing a blank space, agape. But he remembered his manners, and gave a little bow.

"Good night, ma'am," he called softly.

He heard a sob, that was all.

3 Adam had not been permitted to enlist his own crew, as a

proper captain should: they were assigned to him, for one reason or other, by the money men. But Resolved Forbes, the mate, Adam surely would have signed on anyway.

Forbes was twenty, smallish, abstemious, almost ostentatiously clean. He might have been taken for a Quaker—unless you'd seen him, as Adam had, in a fight.

"Young Rellison aboard?"

Forbes nodded.

"Bond? Mellish?"



"Well, they're sleeping now."

"Peterson? Waters?"

"Going to have trouble with those two," Forbes offered.

Adam nodded, and hoisted his jack. He took a deep gulp.

"Aye," he said.

A lubber was bad enough, a sea lawyer was bad; and a couple of lubberly lawyers at sea would be unbearable. However, he would reach an understanding with Waters and Peterson later—off soundings.

He looked around, squinching his eyes against the smoke.

Commercially this was the center of Newport, after dark the convergence of the counting houses. Call it the town's Rialto. There was nothing la-di-da about it. The walls were unpainted. The ceiling was low. There wasn't any floor: there was just dirt, packed as hard as rock. Two quartets of long pine boards laid on sawhorses were the tables. There was a serving bar at one end, and behind that the barrels and bottles— and Blake himself. A bench ran around the other three sides. There were i6

a few joint-stools, but most of the customers who did not use the bench sat on empty kegs or else stood at the bar. No woman ever was allowed in the place, praise God. The prices were fair, the liquor generally good. It was an orderly ordinary: you seldom saw a fight there. Yet so poor was the light—Blake was parsimonious with his candles—and so crowded the benches, causing men to lean close to one another with lowered voices, so thick, too, was the tobacco smoke, and so low the ceiling, that Blake's to an uninstructed outsider might have looked a very den of conspirators and thieves.

Farthest from bar and door alike, no more really than an end of one of the long tables, was what was known as the Adventurers' Corner. This was not meant for common seamen (who only adventured their lives) but rather for men of affairs, who adventured their money. It was here that voyages were planned, profits counted. Nothing marked it off from the rest of the room, yet no man who was not an investor in the deal-at-hand would have the temerity to cross even a corner of that space, much less to sit there.

Adam Long, who had never before been there, now as a part-owner of the schooner rated a seat in the Adventurers' Corner.

Zephary Evans was there, a lank slabsided man with lugubrious eyes. Zeph was a shrewd business man, even though he did permit his wife to lead him around by his very large long nose. Every now and then he would swoop that nose down toward his pot, at the same time half raising the pot toward the nose, and he'd make timorous contact with his ale, acting as though he expected it to explode in his face. Then he'd put the pot down, and he'd straighten and stare in somber resentment at it.

Next to Evans was Seth Selden, a smallish man with a face as malicious as that of a monkey. They did say that Seth was sprightly off soundings; but for all Adam knew of him, the man, w'fh his ramrod back, his holier-than-thou cold eyes, truly belonged in Boston, your proper port for disapprovers. Here in the ordinary tonight, disappointed as he was, outraged to have been passed by for a younger man, Seth sat straight, mouth drawn, chin high, while his nostrils seemed to twitch as though he found the odor of the place objectionable.

There were three others in the Adventurers' Corner, owners of small parts of the schooner. Indeed, they were all there excepting Adam Long and Obadiah Selden. Adam was in no hurry.

"Everything's ready, then?"

"All bung-up and bilge-free, sir," said Resolved Forbes.

"Good. Go back aboard. I'll be along soon."

When the mate went, Adam did not move. He sensed that he was being looked at—or if not looked at, thought about. He'd known the

feeling before, sometimes even in church. Oh, he had some friends, though he had never sought friends! But in any given gathering here in town he could feel hke a straining pile the weight of the dislike of him, the jealousy of him. Tonight it was worse than ever. Though no man glared at him, the air fairly crackled and spat, as with summer lightning. They said he was too big for his breeches. He didn't care. He'd be on the high seas soon.

Obadiah Selden came in.

Obe was a man of bulk—square, firm, solid. He walked as though wading through ankle-deep water, and his eyes, under busy brows, habitually were cast down. His lips were intwisted and tight, like those of a man who holds a mouthful of verjuice he doesn't dare either swallow or spit out.

Ignoring his associates, he came directly to Adam.

Adam rose to greet him. This was not merely because of respect for an older man. Obadiah Selden carried a heavy oak stick.

"Captain Long," in a very low voice, "may I see you outside?"

Adam said nothing, only went around the table and followed the man out, stepping aside to give him precedence at the doorway.

Every eye in the tavern was on them.

They went back to the place where Ben Blake had his well. There was a low wall around it. Even before they got there, before the older man spoke, Adam Long knew what Deborah had done; and in spite of himself, and his rage, his fear, too, he couldn't help admiring her.

Still Obadiah Selden did not look at him. After a moment Obadiah said in a low voice: "My daughter has told me about—about you."

Adam said nothing.

They couldn't see the bay from here, but they heard the querulous squeal of the chains by which Thomas Hart's body hung.

"The sailing must be postponed, so's you can get married. After that I'll pack you off fast enough! And keep you off! I'll send you here and there and everywhere— The child," added Obe Selden, dropping his voice again, "will be brought up to be a true God-fearing Christian. We can do that much anyway."

It was so easy. This merchant would move him, the sailing man, from place to place on the surface of the globe, as readily as though he were a wooden piece in a game of draughts. No hint of examination. No breath of doubt. What was the word of a propertyless bastard? Why even ask for it?

"We'll tell 'em in there"—Obe lifted his stick toward the tavern—"that the sailing must be postponed. You're the master. You can think of a reason."

"No," said Adam.


It was the first time Obadiah had actually looked at him, and the look fairly frightened Adam. The man's face was extremely dark, almost purple. He seemed scarcely able to breathe.

"You haven't told me yet what your daughter said."

"God strike you, ye whelp! You know well enough!"

"Maybe if I was allowed to talk to your daughter alone—"

"No, damn your soul to hell! You'll not talk with her again till you marry her—and not after that, either!"

Adam said, very carefully, very quietly: "I didn't get her pregnant. 1 haven't had anything to do with her. And I won't marry her."

"Why, you—"

Adam could easily have avoided the blow. He was never to know why he hadn't. He saw Obadiah raise the stick; but he didn't stir.

He felt it touch the left side of his head like the swift sting of a beer, and slish off his left ear.

"Will ye have wore of that, ye misbegotten mongrel?"

Adam made no answer.

Obadiah raised the stick again; but after a moment, quivering, he lowered it. He turned suddenly, and stalked back to the tavern.

Adam touched the side of his head, and his fingers came away wet. There wasn't enough moonlight for him to distinguish color; but he tasted it, and it was blood all right. So he fetched up the bucket from Ben Blake's well, and using a tip of the tail of his shirt he mopped the wound and cleaned it, and held the cloth there until the bleeding had stopped. Then he patted back his hair, straightened his coat and cravat, and went into the tavern to take his place, for the first time, in the Adventurers' Corner.

4 It was as good as town meeting for the customers, for al-

though the men concerned with the Goodwill tried to keep their voices at a seemly pitch they sometimes let their feelings get the better of them. In any event, even when the very words themselves couldn't be distinguished, everybody at Blake's knew what was being said.

This was no organized association or committee, never had been. Obadiah Selden and Zephary Evans were the largest owners, and ordinarily Obadiah as the older would be looked upon as the chairman or moderator. Tonight Obadiah sat in silence, his chin on his chest.

Seth Selden was no longer there: he had been called away while Adam was out back with Obadiah.

Zeph Evans did most of the talking.

"No need to go over it all again," he told Adam. "Some were for you but most were against. 'Twas said you lacked experience."

Adam made no response. His principal supporter, as everyone knew, had been Zeph Evans, who had won over Obe Selden. Neither Zeph nor Obadiah was likely to entrust any mentionable part of his property to a man who lacked experience; and they all knew that, too.

"And then, you know how we feel about the charter—"

Adam nodded. He did know this. Of the colonies, Rhode Island and Connecticut alone operated under their own charters and were not subject to royal governors, excepting naturally in admiralty matters and matters directly pertaining to the throne, such as treason. There were those in London who did not think this a good thing. The other colonies were sassy enough as it was, these men believed, without having before them such examples of all but independent states. Especially there were Lord Cornberry, the royal governor of New York, who covetously eyed Connecticut, and Colonel Joseph Dudley, royal governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and vice admiral of all New England, who sought to annex Rhode Island. The best way to bring this about—that is, a revocation of the two charters and thus a squashing of the spirit of independence—would be, these two politicians were agreed, to send Home evidence concerning the notorious disregard of the Navigation Acts in these colonies, and especially in Rhode Island, and particularly in Newport. Step on financial toes and the yelp that resulted could be heard a long way. The conviction of Thomas Hart, the pirate, had helped. But there should be more.

Yes, Adam Long knew this. Everybody knew it.

"It's been said around town that you couldn't possibly have made enough money to buy a share of the vessel just by bespoke work here and the wages you made while you was at sea.You couldn't have."

"I didn't," said Adam.

" 'Tis said you must have done a bit of business now and then out at Contraband Cove."

"Why, sure. And so did you." Adam looked around. "And you and you and you and you," he added.

He leaned forward, hands on knees.

"There isn't a man-jack at this table ain't had his share of smuggling. Why make any bones about it?"

Nobody said anything. Nobody dared to.

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