Bill Todd -- Adrienne: A Novel of the Markets
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 Chapter 15

At Sea

In readiness for departure, the sloop was anchored in the outer harbor. Heston insisted on personally rowing us out in an old-fashioned rowboat. I sat in the bow, perched on the seat with my feet on the luggage. Brad, seated in a more dignified fashion in the stern, conversed with Heston while he rowed.

The boat was loaded heavily, but Heston propelled it easily. Brad and I were both impressed, and, by cross- questioning, we discovered that Heston had once been a member of the Harvard crew. It somehow had never occurred to me that he had even been to college.

It got rougher out toward the sloop, a little spray coming on board. We still ploughed through the waves, surmounting some and crashing through others, until we got into the lee of the sloop. Then Heston shipped his oars and we bumped against the massive black hull. She was now low in the water with her cargo of stone, and Hiram, as he greeted us from the deck, was hardly above us. The boat continued to bump and heave, but we got the baggage over. Then, before either Heston or Hiram could help me, I bounced over the rail. Brad wasn't so agile, and we had to virtually haul him on board.

It was now just about noon, a fine summer day with a fresh southwest breeze. I watched Heston, the wind now with him, as he scudded along, the lightened stern of his rowboat being pitched up in the air by each wave. When he finally disappeared among the moored boats and wharves, I went below.

Brad already had his things stowed, and he pointed out to me all the funny little spaces that could be used. When we came up, a small motor boat was alongside. Three people came over the rail, a man and two women. These were the other passengers, and we introduced ourselves. Rick and Ruth Wenninger, a couple a little older than myself, looked like the sort of people one would want as fellow passengers. At any rate, it seemed unlikely that they would play loud music at night or make uncouth noises at the table.

The other woman was Rick's sister, Olga, and I wondered about her. She had a sour expression, and it occurred to me that she might sulk and complain. Making a mental note not to get cornered by her, I followed along as Hiram introduced us to the crew.

The man called Dai, the Thai ex-fisherman ex-pirate, was so small, and given to smiling so broadly, that it was hard to believe that he had ever been dangerous. On the other hand, he looked agile. Giving way to a racist image, I could imagine him scrambling around aloft like a monkey.

The woman's name was spelled 'Nguyen,' but was pronounced, more or less, 'Gwin.' She was even tinier. I remembered that Hiram had said that she had much more character and intelligence than Dai, and she looked it. She was also the cook, and I looked forward to some interesting experiences at the table.

By the way in which the Wenningers dealt with the hired hands, I could see that they weren't yuppies who had signed on for the cruise simply because it was expensive and had become fashionable. They were relaxed and friendly, but not apologetic about their difference in station. They would certainly have money to invest. I quickly decided not to tell them we were getting a free ride.

As Hiram and his crew were busying themselves about the deck, Brad and I drifted into conversation with Rick Wenninger. He was a big man, reeking with self-confidence, who seemed to go a little out of his way not to sound too authoritative or knowledgeable. I commented on the height of the mast, and he replied,

"I believe that the original Connecticut stone sloops didn't have any square sails or yards. The builder of this sloop liked square sails, so he changed the rig. I think he may have made the mast taller while he was at it."

That didn't sound like Heston, and I remarked on it. Rick laughed and replied,

"I know the man Heston bought it from. He sold it because he got frustrated trying to sail it. It takes a lot of skill."

With that, he glanced admiringly at Hiram. The latter was standing at the base of the mast looking upward and yanking at a rope. Beyond him, looking out to sea, were the other two passengers. Ruth Wenninger had her arm around Olga. Rick, looking in the same direction, said,

"Olga's just been divorced. We thought this would be good for her."

He knew that we would soon find out that something was wrong with Olga, and, since the trouble was such a commonplace one, he stated it. But there was still no note of apology for inflicting a newly divorced woman on us. His manner seemed to say that divorce had become everyone's problem. He had warned us, and we were free either to ignore or help soothe Olga. In the event, Olga seemed to recover quickly from her moment of weakness, and showed interest as the crew prepared to set sail.

The situation of the passengers at that moment was somewhat ambiguous. Should we offer to help, or should we get out of the way? In most similar situations in my experience, the crew would live in holy terror of being sued, and would want the passengers as far away as possible. But that didn't sound like Hiram. Indeed, after no more than an exchange of glances with Hiram, Rick was at a rope, pulling a heavy yard around. It was only then that I realized that Dai was actually on the yard, loosing the great sail. The wind caught it as it came down, flapping it with alarming cracks, and rattling ropes and shackles across the deck. Brad and I didn't have to be told to get out of the way.

Up forward, I saw Hiram struggling with the windlass to get the anchor up. Of all people, little Gwin was trying to help, her tiny body lifting at the end of a spoke. I ran to help, arriving at the same time as Rick. Gwin then went back to the stern to take the wheel, which had previously been unattended. The three of us at the windlass soon had it clanking over, drawing cable up the hawse-hole and then dropping it through a hole in the deck to stowage below. A jib was hoisted over our heads. It, too, flapped violently, but I didn't let it distract me. The anchor stuck, but we gave a great heave, after which it came easily.

Slowly, the sloop fell off the wind and the jib filled. Then the great square sail, the 'course' as I learned to call it, filled with a crack. The sloop heeled ponderously to port, but didn't seem to move forward. We were headed right out into Long Island Sound, but, as far as I could tell, we were moving slowly sideways toward the land. Dai was now letting loose another sail, the lower topsail, and we struggled hard to tame it, finally hauling its lower corners to the ends of the yard below. Hiram showed me how to make fast the line, and, having done so, I noticed that we had begun to move forward.

In a minute or two we were moving quite well, a nice wave moving off from the lee bow. Where there had been great ugly noises from all directions, there was now a pleasant silence interrupted only by the gurgling of water and the creaking of spars and rigging. Hiram called to Gwin,

"Let her up a little and clear the buoy."

She turned us slightly toward the wind, and there was only a slight flutter at the leading edge of the course. Hiram made some adjustments, and pronounced himself satisfied.

We were soon out in open water, and, Gwin being relieved to go to the galley, the passengers were all given a chance to steer. It was easy for Rick, who soon turned the wheel over to me. The sloop began by trying to turn into the wind, but Dai was getting another jib up, after which the wheel surged oddly in my hands, first trying to go one way and then the other. It took some experimentation, but it wasn't very long before I was steering a reasonably straight course.

Brad had more trouble, and Hiram looked uneasy as we veered one way and then the other. However, Brad persisted and Hiram forbore from intervening. Just as Brad finished his turn, I noticed that we were passing Erika's island. We were too far off shore to have seen Erika, but her house was visible.

As we got farther out into the Sound, the number of sailboats and other yachts diminished. We gradually turned so as to put the wind mostly behind us, and, rolling slowly, we left a broad flat wake that was distinguishable some distance back.

It's always difficult for me to sit still without doing anything, and I had an urge to climb the mast. However, apart from worrying Hiram, there was Brad. If I went up, he'd be under pressure to follow me, and I doubted that he wanted to.

Just as I was beginning to get bored, I noticed that the other two women were talking with Hiram. Rick then joined them, as did Brad and myself. Hiram might complain about his role as entertainer, but he had become a good host. He talked about the sloop, the ocean (which we wouldn't reach until the next day), and the affairs of the people living along the shores.

It was a nice atmosphere, relaxed and distant, and also reflective and dispassionate. It was obviously good for Olga, and it accorded rather well with my own brand of objectivity. I found myself standing on the deck and talking about the people on shore as if I weren't ordinarily one of them. All the time, I could feel the sloop gently twist and undulate as she drove on with her cargo of stone.

We had been asked before embarking if we wanted Vietnamese or American food. All of us had chosen Vietnamese, and the dinner was magnificent. Among other things, it drew Olga out of herself. She turned out to be quite funny as she joked about her recent divorce, and about the girl friends of her ex-husband. One was a former nun who had found both reality and Olga's husband in her new employment as a cocktail waitress.

There were also many questions put to Hiram. The Wenningers were curious about him, and they were good at asking the most mundane and innocuous questions in a way that welcomed additional information. It turned out, for example, that the commander of Hiram's infantry company in Vietnam had been 'fragged,' that is, killed by his own company. As Hiram told it,

"Generally, the officers who were fragged were gung-ho, the ones who pushed too hard and always wanted to attack. Our man, Captain Small, was the opposite. He'd want to withdraw when we'd just about taken our objective. That's the time when it's more dangerous to retreat than to finish the attack."

According to Hiram, one of the platoon commanders had once ignored Captain Small, and had continued to attack. But, then, his platoon hadn't been supported by the others, and had been almost wiped out.

"We thought sure Small would be relieved at that point, but he wasn't. We finally figured they liked him cause he wasn't West Point, and they could give our company the worst jobs. We always had to attack first. Then the other companies came after us and got the glory. But Small was just so incompetent that our losses were even heavier than they needed to be. It was the bloods who first decided he had to go."

Hiram said no more. The 'bloods' were the black soldiers, but the impression one had was that the fragging of Captain Small had been virtually a company decision. Hiram had certainly done nothing to thwart it, and I think most of us assumed that he had cooperated. That, however, did nothing to diminish the festivity of the dinner.

In particular, Brad, who seemed a little out of place on deck, now showed to much better advantage. He was the sort of upstart the Wenningers liked, the kind who didn't flatter, but who listened carefully to what they said. He was also humorous at the right times, a little irreverent toward society in general, but without the bitterness of the social reformer. I realized, with some mixed feelings, that, if they ever bought any stock from either of us, it would probably be from Brad.

It was Hiram, I thought, who didn't like Brad. For one thing, he was convinced that Brad was nautically unreliable. For another, Brad's conversation was sprinkled with occasional historical and literary allusions. Hiram, like many smart uneducated people, had a large vocabulary. But he wouldn't have read Thomas Wolfe or Buckminster Fuller. Such remarks on Brad's part weren't forced, and seemed natural to the Wenningers. But Hiram was used to Heston, who played his education down. Brad certainly didn't do that.

After dinner, as if by agreement, we split up on the deck. Brad and I went forward, to the very bow. Rick and Ruth went to the port shrouds, and sat on the rail. Olga remained aft with Hiram and Dai, who was at the wheel. Brad and I, looking forward, knew immediately when Olga was given a turn at the wheel. I was feeling particularly warm toward Brad, and we were becoming somewhat physical. I whispered,

"Will the Wenningers think this is bad form?"

"I don't think so. I have them in the corner of my eye. They're doing the same thing. Within view of his sister, yet."

"It's nice to see a married couple necking in public. So rare, too."

"They're nice people."

"I thought Olga might be a problem at first, but I've decided she's okay."

"Yeah. Just another divorced woman. She looks happier now. Hiram is helping her steer."

"I thought we had steadied a little."

I felt Brad's hands under my sweater and said,

"Let's go below."

I was sure the others didn't believe us when we said we were tired, but the Wenningers displayed tact. Only Hiram smiled a little.

We had approached the point many times, but this was the first time ever really. In contrast to our other proceedings, we were quickly naked. We still talked and joked, as before, but it was serious this time.

Brad made love to me very nicely, slowly and lightly, with only a little whimsy and quite a lot of what I took to be controlled passion. He even managed it so that I came before he did. Afterwards, in the cozy bunk, it was lovely and warm. Brad said, suddenly,

"Let's get Hiram to marry us."

My thoughts had, indeed, been drifting toward marriage, but I hadn't thought of that particular possibility. I asked,

"Because he's captain of a ship? Is this a ship?"

"I should think so. I don't know what kind of certificate he may have, but he's carrying paying passengers. That removes him from the category of mere yachtsman."

"Yes. And, on the ocean, we're out of the jurisdiction of any state. So we don't need a marriage license or blood tests."

"I imagine we're still in territorial waters, but we'll be out in the ocean tomorrow. How about it?"

"Okay. We'll get killed on our taxes, but okay."

Comfortable as we were, we both had a strong impulse to go up to make our announcement and sound out Hiram.

All the others were still on deck, and our announcement, so obviously the result of our recent descent, was greeted with great pleasure and amusement. Hiram had no idea that he could marry anyone, but he was persuaded to give it a try. No one, however, was sure how far off shore we had to be to be in international waters, if, indeed, that mattered. Rick said,

"It used to be three miles, but I think they may have extended it."

It was decided that, the next day, we would get as far off shore as possible. We would then be married at sunset. Having so recently been at Jackie's wedding, Brad and I were sure that we could write up something for Hiram to read to us. The pronouncement would be the punchline. This arrangement being agreeable to everyone, we went to sleep in our separate cabins.

The next morning, I awoke early, when the sunlight came in the porthole. I wasn't conscious of having dreamed, but I thought immediately of what had happened the night before. I was still perfectly clear in the head, but, at the same time, all the romantic tendencies which I had held in check so long began to break loose.

The Wenningers, for whom this was an added lark, cooperated to the utmost in making the preparations. One wouldn't have thought this the kind of diversion Olga needed, but, on learning that I didn't have a white dress, she produced a nice one which, being loose-waisted, fitted pretty well.

We were still in Long Island Sound, but the fair wind, more from the west than the south, was blowing fresh. The sloop, hardly healing with her cargo of stone for ballast, drove hard toward the open ocean and international waters.

I was actually quite nervous at lunch, and didn't eat as many of the Vietnamese tid-bits as the others. During the long afternoon, Brad and I remained in the bow, often sitting on the long bowsprit. Brad put a rope around my waist, just in case, but it was really quite easy to walk along the thick spar, holding on to the stays. Once seated straddling the bowsprit, one could hook one's feet in the bob-stay below. In that position, with Brad sitting behind me and pressed against my back, I could sit happily for hours.

As we got further off shore and the waves became larger and longer, the sloop began to pitch slowly and rhythmically, occasionally dipping her bowsprit enough to wet our feet. By twisting our necks, we could look back and up at the full press of canvas reaching high above. There's nothing like a square-rigger, with the symmetry and mass of its sails, for romance.

Dinner was delayed so that Gwin could get together a special wedding supper. We had sailed hard all day, and were far enough out to sea so that the absence of a Connecticut marriage license was entirely academic. Now, as the sun dropped almost perceptibly to the western horizon, the wind conveniently moderated. I came up in Olga's white dress, followed by Brad in white trousers and a navy blue blazer. The Wenningers, too, had dressed for the occasion, but Hiram, as I had expected, stood ready in his fishing cap. It seemed, really, to be to him what a captain's hat might have been to a more ordinary captain, and was thus entirely appropriate.

The text, put together by Brad and myself, was short. It owed a good deal to the Unitarian ceremony at Jackie's wedding, but, in addition, Brad and I undertook to rescue each other from any passing sea monsters.

Dai took the helm and Gwin left her cooking just long enough for the ceremony. Hiram read the text very well. His voice, at once deep, penetrating, and nasal, would have done credit to any cleric or town crier.

The ring, lent for the occasion by Ruth Wenninger, was placed on my finger. Brad kissed me, not ceremonially, but rather hungrily. We signed two copies of the document, one for ourselves and one for Hiram, using the top of the steering gear housing for a writing surface. Hiram added the time, the latitude and longitude, and signed. All three Wenningers signed as witnesses. We then went down to supper.

Gwin had prepared a meal so extraordinary as to defy all description. All of us ate to excess, and some of us also drank to excess. Hiram stuck to his Diet Pepsi, and Ruth and Rick to a glass or two of wine. Olga and I had a bit more, and Brad a bit more than that. Brad, a little drunk, was still fun, but in an entirely different way. He actually told, not only a Polish Pope joke (a man came to the Pope to be cured of his deafness and was rendered blind), but an elephant joke. Ruth turned out to have a silly streak herself, and was particularly delighted.

I realized after a while that Brad wasn't in the least drunk. It was just that, for the first time since I had known him, he was entirely relaxed. That sobered me a bit. I had never thought of myself as a prize so difficult to win that, having done it, the lucky man could allow himself an elephant joke or two. In fact, apart from his gift of the Honda options, I hadn't been aware that Brad had done much of anything in a conscious attempt to win me. In that respect he had been much like the others. Men don't ordinarily go much out of their way to marry a woman who has had five hundred dates, not to mention having one leg longer than the other. But here, I suddenly realized, was someone who had done exactly that. Would wonders never cease!

Bill Todd -- Adrienne: A Novel of the Markets
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