His melancholy office complete, Porter stood, contemplating the utter beauty and wonder of the moment. Out on the darkening sea the Creator had begun to unfurl a banner of stars from the blue velvet horizon. Behind him the last clear October rays of a tenacious sun streaked pink over the town. Beneath his feet, Baker’s Island lay at the junction of night and day.

He filled his lungs with salt air and thanked Him for the splendor. One of the oarsmen grunted and motioned toward the boat. They wanted to return to the shore before the last light faded. Porter nodded and stepped toward the boat, took another look at the small Oriental men who would remain with their charge until morning, and then stepped into the craft between four oarsmen. A torch was set in the stern and with a heave the boat was launched toward the harbor.

It would take nearly an hour for them to reach the remains of Crowninshield Wharf. Porter withdrew a packet of papers from his coat and held it in the torchlight. Such a life, he thought, so full of adventure, romance, beauty and hardship, and humor.

He smiled, and began to read:

3 October 1888
Mr. Artemis Porter, esq.
Salem, Massachusetts

My dear friend,

I call you my friend because, despite your profession, you have proved your value to me as a lawyer and your loyalty to me and the women I loved. I am aware of the many times you came to their defense against the vile gossip and calumnies they endured during my absences. And for that, I will always be grateful. I know this illness will be my last, and once we three are reduced to ashes and our spirits released to the wind and the sea, we will quickly fade from memory. I would not allow us to be committed to any burial ground on land. You have the documents which provide for our daughters, the house I leave to you and yours for your work and kind consideration, and the remainder I bequeath to the Mariners Aid Society.

I leave this world with no regrets; I apologize to no one for living by my own lights, loving whom I chose to love. But, for you, for your illumination and any who might benefit, I leave an explanation, perhaps, of my life.

Your friend,

Michael Killaine

Porter placed the letter back in the packet, and lifted out another, thicker document. He held it up to the torchlight, and began to read.

* * * * *

I don’t know my true age. It was not an event deemed worthy enough of note, and besides, who would have noted it? We were all illiterate back then, living in hovels, when my mother expelled me into the world. That it may have slipped her mind to mention my arrival to the parish priest the few times she got to the village and Mass, I cannot fault her.

I loved my mother, I loved that she coddled me for a while and sang to me and kissed me frequently, but I was only one of a series, and had to make way for the next whelp to come along. My father, what I remember of him, was a prodigious maker of babies, and my mother was more than up to the task. They had nothing else, I suppose, but the comfort of each other’s bodies and so made the most of them.

All I can say for sure is that I was born in that afflicted and benighted nation of Ireland.

As soon as I was able I was put to work on the earl’s land. It was determined that I had a way with cattle, and would be put out in the fields with them to see after them. I didn’t mind spending all my days and night’s with cattle. They were a benign society; not a lot of intellect to stimulate a lad’s thinking though. The work was not hard, and I have only a solitary memory of distress, the night I came down with the cow pox, and shivered with fever throughout a rainstorm. It passed quickly, however, and I was none the worse for it.

It was an easy, but lonely life that came to an abrupt end. The lady of the manor herself rode out to retrieve me that day, accompanied by four mounted servants.

Lady Ashtonford was as kind a being as ever walked this earth, and, despite her betrayal, I cannot, nor ever will think, much less say, an unkind word to her memory.

I remember at first glance that she was plain in features and very plump, and seemed to slide precariously with every gate of her mount.

“Dear child,” she greeted me. “You must come with me.”


“You are an orphan, dear one, alone in the world. But fret not, I will see to your needs.”

The next moment I was flung up behind a hulking bruin of a servant and we set off toward the manor. Along the way, my lady told me my family was dead, all taken by the smallpox, and when she heard a surviving child toiled amongst the cattle, her heart broke for me.

To say I was amazed at all this would be to much understate the case. Landlords were not famed for their kindness. Orphans were left to fend for themselves across the country; babes allowed to perish at the breasts of their dead mothers.

It was a grand house. My lady bid me to take some time alone and grieve for my parents and my brothers and sisters. She showed me to a drawing room and left me there. I grieved as best I could, but couldn’t muster hardly a tear. They had become so distant to me.

After a while, I was fetched by the great behemoth of a servant who led me to the kitchen, where I was fed to bursting, then to a place where I was bathed for the first time in my life. The warm water and the feeding had a hypnotic effect, so I dozed. I awoke briefly in the dark in such a cocoon of softness that I thought I must have passed out of the world. I was in a fine, big bed, with satin coverlets and boiled-soft linen sheets.

I gave myself up to slumber once more, and no orphan who’d been so suddenly torn from his kin was ever more content. Dawning light pierced the gloom of the room and I sat and looked around. The bed was immense, a sea of comfort and all around were fine furnishings, draperies and silken-finished wallpapers.

As my senses cleared I realized I was quite naked and cast about for my clothing. There was none to be found. Then a mound of bedclothes shifted and a well-fleshed arm snaked around my middle and tugged me down gently, but insistently. My lady’s head emerged from the bedclothes.

“There you are, sweet one. Now settle yourself beside me. The day is much too young.”

My lady, I discovered, was quite naked too. She held me to her ample bosom like a babe and closed her arms about me. We lay there for some time and dozed, I afraid to move and disturb my benefactress.

A slight rap at the door brought her to wakefulness. She sat up as I slid beneath the bedclothes to hide from the intruder. But my lady threw them back, exposing myself and her to a frail, gray-haired woman who placed a tray by the bed and brought a morning robe to my lady.

“Fanny, please have Thomas bring some suitable clothes for our guest.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the woman replied, not even affording me a glance.

Thus began my happy and all-too-brief life at the manor. I quickly learned, and the rest I surmised, that the Earl—for that’s what we were to call him, though he was no earl—was often away in London. Most likely attempting to buy the title he already affected on his lands.

Lady Ashtonford was kind, as I already said, but she was lonely. And the woman could not sleep by herself. It wasn’t that she required husbandly services, per se. She just needed the warmth of other flesh, and the assurance of another body beside her, to hold and cuddle and kiss and stroke as she felt the need.

She had adopted me as a bedmate when her husband was away, and on the rare occasions when he was home, I was sequestered in a room far from the master’s chamber, but no less comfortable. Meanwhile, I was fed and clothed and played with.

Lady Ashtonford told me her husband’s absences and neglect were assuaged somewhat after her daughter was born, for it was she whom she cuddled and smothered with affection in bed, until her daughter had come of an age when she felt the need to distance herself from the mother who had given her life.

I, however, had no objection to the arrangement; although, I did have to endure some of the lady’s idiosyncratic enthusiasms, such as occasionally dressing me like a girl, or a baby, or even a rabbit. But mostly we bedded together naked and I slept coddled and cushioned by her ample folds of flesh.

As time passed she invited me to explore her body, and guided me to “secret” places that she said were held as treasure by all women. In time she instructed me on how to give her much pleasure from the manipulations of these secret folds and protuberances.

She in turn taught me about my own body and the functions and uses of various appendages that I had never considered before. Her touch was so gentle, her voice so soothing. One night she stroked my cock until it tented the bedclothes. I awakened with a rigid cock most mornings, but it was much less rampant after I’d relieved myself.

This time I did not need to relieve myself but ached for release of another sort that I knew not. Then the fluid rocketed out of my cock; the instant relief was instantly replaced with an indescribable terror. What had happened? Had I broken something, was I now secreting my innards like jelly? I was terrified.

But my lady calmed me and explained what had happened, and declared me a “healthy young man.” She explained how a man planted his seed in a woman, and I was eager to plant mine in her, but she shook her head. “No, that is the one thing we shall not do. It would not be seemly for me to have a babe in my belly not calculated to my husband’s visits. But, I will show you other ways we may enjoy your lovely, healthy cock.”

Lest you think my education was only in the category of carnal delights, let me say that my lady was as fine a tutor in letters and mathematics as any who aspired to that calling. I was taught to read and write and figure proficiently, and supplied with books of prose and poetry and philosophy that made my head spin.

Sometimes I would read these to my lady while I kneaded her bounteous arse, or she would read to me as she played with my balls and teased my cock until I begged for relief. She would then declare me a “wicked boy” and insist on slapping my own arse. She was quite fond of this ruse and the slap of her palms stung, but I thought it was worth the little discomfort to please a lady who had been so kind to me.

It could not last.

The arrival of Lady Patricia Ashtonford numbered my days of happiness. My lady’s daughter was of unsurpassed beauty. She was willowy, with dark, chestnut hair that framed her pale angelic face in a cascade of soft curls. Her eyes were blue violet and flashed with glints of reflected light. My heart stopped at the sight of her, and fell at her first words.

“Mother, who is this insect?”

“Patricia! Can’t you try to be kind to those less fortunate? Michael is an orphan.”

“Very well, mother. Why father tolerates your taking in of strays evades me. Keep him out of my way.”

She stepped past me with a sneer on her lovely face followed by a train of servants and luggage.

My lady warned me to be circumspect during her daughter’s visit. But neither of us could have been prepared for the morning when she let herself into the master’s chamber unannounced.

“A-hah! Mother! How could you?”

I sat up, groggily. A shriek snapped me to wakefulness. I was frozen before the horrific glare of young Lady Ashtonford at the foot of the bed. Quickly I glanced at my lady, she glanced back, then glanced at her daughter, then back to me.

Then she unleashed a wail as though a convocation of banshees had invaded the hall.

The next moment I was being struck by my lady; first by her fists, then objects. Young Lady Ashtonford shrieked again in harmony with her mother and called for the servants, and a pistol.

“Depraved little imp!” my lady shrieked. “How dare you!”

I did not understand any of it, but my brain told me to flee, run as fast as I could. I snatched up my clothes and bounded through a window heedless of the height. I landed hard but unhurt on the ground and bolted straight toward the horizon. I know not how long I ran, but finally tumbled exhausted into a depression. Some distance away I heard shouting, and hounds. I stumbled along the shallow gully without any idea of my destination. As evening closed about I happened on an empty hovel and took shelter there.

What had I done? I did not understand then, only later with the passage of time. But I understood my idyllic life had ended in an instant. I wept like a babe and truly felt orphaned. I fell asleep still sobbing.

I left the hovel at dawn and followed the road down to the sea, dodging behind walls at anyone’s approach. I was ravenous after two days traveling with no food until I came to a town set beside a narrow bay. I had never seen so much water in one place before, but knew from my reading it was not grand enough to be the ocean.

The town was all astir. I happened upon a leaflet posted to a public board. It was a crown warrant for … me. I was wanted on a charge of rape and theft. I was not sure what they meant by rape, but I knew I had stolen nothing. Then I became afraid that the town was astir to find me.

A woman ran past me. A loaf of bread tumbled from a basket she carried. She did not notice, and neither did anyone else. I retrieved it and ducked behind a cart where I devoured it in four huge noshes.

The woman flailed her arms as she talked with the other. I wiped the crumbs—evidence of my crime—from my lips and crept closer.

“It’s a Yankee privateer! Moored itself to the great wharf as bold as you please. They’ve come for supplies, and lads.”

“You don’t say? And none has gone to tell the garrison?”

“Not when they’re paying hard money. Pirates they are, but they want no contention with the Irish.”

“And since when have the English been at war with America?”

“You know the English. They’re always at war with someone or other.”

The women hurried along with the crowd and I found myself taken up in the surge toward the harbor.

A two-masted vessel, a schooner I learned later, was tied to the wharf. Hulking, hard-looking men took hold of crates and baskets paid for in coin by two men on the dock. It seemed the whole town vied to sell them various wares.

A tall, slender man with a black wide-brimmed hat strode up and down.

“I’m Captain Crowninshield of the privateer Peggy out of Salem. We need lads to replace those who have taken our prizes home. Will any man of you join us for a share in our next prize?”

“You’re pirates!” a man shouted.

The captain laughed. “Not according to President Madison and the Congress of the United States. So, will you join us, boys?”

No one stepped forward. I looked up at the striped banner that flew from a line at the stern; then a hard, meaty hand clapped my shoulder.

“Got your arse! You perverted Irish shite!”

The man’s face glistened with a slimy sweat. His breath stank.

“Constable!” the captain hollered. “What’ll you take for the lad?”

“Nothing from you, you damned pirate. You’ll swing soon enough yourself.”

“What could a lad of such tender age have done?”

“Raped a lady of standing, in her own bed.”

“Ha! That lad? He’s barely weaned.”

“He’ll hang, and so will you all. Nothing will equal the reward posted by Sir Richard Ashtonford.”

“Lad, do you want to sail with us?”

Desperate, I pleaded, “Aye, yes sir!”

“Unhand the boy!”

The constable pushed a pistol beneath my throat. “Dead or alive, one’s the same as the other … Don’t try to take …”

There was a knock and a wet splitting sound. The constable shuddered and fell to his knees as I stepped out of his grip. I turned to see blood still pumping from the canyon made in his skull by an elaborately carved hatchet.

A blood-curdling shriek such as I never heard set the crowd scattering in a panic. Then a strange man appeared beside me like a genie out of a lamp. His face was painted in red and black stripes. He yanked the hatchet out of the constable’s head, took my arm and pulled me aboard.

Then I was standing before the captain.

“Who … what?”

“Your savior, lad? Call him Sam—for Samoset. A Narragansett.”

The captain turned on one heel. “Cast off!”

The sails unfurled and the schooner coursed along the inlet and then, before my eyes, the great ocean opened and continued toward infinity. A boom echoed behind us. A man in the rigging above us shouted down. “A lumbering barque. She shows the British ensign.”

“Let them waste their powder,” the captain laughed. “We’re for home, boys!”

* * * * *

The Peggy knifed into the wide Atlantic leaving the only land I had known to diminish behind the curve of the world. In the midst of the ocean I felt an overwhelming awe at the immensity of the world and of my own place in it. Over the weeks we sailed west I was taught the ways of a ship, the names for each line and sail. I was also taught the use of various weapons, pistols, cutlasses and rifled muskets, but of all these the one that most fascinated me was Samoset’s tomahawk. In time I also became proficient with the deadly tool and steeped in the warrior lore of the Narragansett.

Captain Crowninshield took me under his wing and bade me to tell him of my life and how I became a wanted man. He laughed heartily when I told him about Lady Ashtonford and my downfall.

“The English are depraved!” he declared, laughing. “No more or less than the French or the Spaniards, but depraved they are.”

During the evenings when I stood watch he would often appear on deck and take the time to point out the various stars and their names and explain celestial navigation.

“My wife lies in her bed beneath that star,” he said, pointing to a twinkling white-yellow point above the horizon. “I shall be glad to return to her. God willing, she has a new babe at her breast.”

He put his heavy, muscular arm around my shoulder and laughed, “And I’ll be glad to put another one in her belly.”

As dawn broke one day in our journey a sail was sighted ahead of us. We closed smartly on a clumsy British packet bound for Halifax. A warning shot from one of our four cannon was enough to make her heave to and strike her colors.

The Captain worried that we did not have enough men to take her. As cocky as you please, he told the captain of the packet that he would send two men over to her, and would hold him to his word to follow the Peggy into port.

I nearly fainted dead away when he chose me and his nephew among the crew to take command of the packet. Samoset armed me with a tomahawk and a brace of pistols. Young James Orne also pushed a pistol into his belt along with a cutlass.

The packet’s erstwhile captain and crew carried as usual as James and I strutted about like peacocks. The wife of a British officer on her way to join her husband in Halifax more than once had to admonish her young daughters for smiling at us with undisguised admiration, or so we believed.

As the days unfolded the Peggy had to sail circles around the lumbering packet to maintain escort, but eventually the smell of land enticed us and a long forested coast punctuated by gleaming, naked granite rose into view. We continued south until we came to a bay guarded by an array of rocky islands.

The Captain shouted, “Salem, boys! We’re home.”

A cheer rose from the decks as the Peggy coasted between the granite islands followed cautiously by the packet.

The harbor was a forest of masts and vessels darting about each other like water striders. Somehow the Peggy found a place to moor along a wharf, while the packet weighed anchor aside the channel.

James and I and the prisoners were ferried to shore. Before we even set foot in the town proper, the packet had been auctioned and its cargo apportioned and sold.

The Captain supervised the unloading of the Peggy then clapped me across the shoulders and dropped eighty Spanish dollars in my hand.

“Your share of the packet, lad. You’re a wealthy man, now. But will you stay that way?”

“I … I don’t know …”

“Come along, lad, you’ll stay with me until you find your own berth.”

And so we strode together, me with more wealth jingling in my pocket than I could have ever dreamed of. After a time the din of the waterfront faded and we came to a fine brick house, not anywhere near the size of the Ashtonford manor, but within it’s setting mighty and grand.

The entrance door opened and I took a step back as a girl, her skin dark as pitch danced on the top step calling out welcomes to the Captain. I had never seen such a creature and wondered if I touched her, would her color stain my own skin.

But my eyes were wrenched from the black girl by the most beautiful woman they had ever beheld. She was more beautiful even that Patricia Ashtonford, and fuller. Her bosom heaved as if ready to spill over her linen bodice and the gown she wore clung jealously to her thighs in the sea breeze that followed at our back. Her hair was so dark, almost like ink, and so were her eyes, but her lips were pink, pouty, and the tip of her tongue wet them in a way that caused a tickle in my cock such as I hadn’t had since my last night with Lady Ashtonford.

Her smile made me fall in love with her, though she hadn’t spoken a word. But it was not for me, it was for the Captain.

“Husband,” she said, her voice silken.


“I thank God for bringing you home safe to me again.” She held a sleeping child against her shoulder. “Your daughter, sir.”

“Aye, thank God for preserving you both for me. And, the rest of the children?”

“At Rev. Bentley’s school.” She handed the babe to the black girl.

They stood before each other a moment, then fell into each other’s arms. Their lips joined, and such a kiss, as if all their loneliness and longing dissipated in that passionate embrace.

When their lips parted, he continued to kiss her bare shoulder, neck and nibble at her ear as she moaned.

“Heavens, sir! You will scandalize me.”

“My dearest love.”

He stepped her back through the door and together they disappeared. The girl held the baby and grinned at me.

“Uh, I’m Michael.”

“Well, don’t just stand there, Michael. Come to the kitchen. I’ll feed you.”

* * * * *

The black girl’s name was Tildy. She led me to the kitchen and sat me down at a heavy oaken table. In an instant bread and slices of meat covered an array of pewter plates before me.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. “May I …?”

“What you say?”

“Could I just …” I reached out and touched her arm, then investigated my fingertips.

“Lord, child, it don’t come off.” She squealed her laughter. “What tree in what forest did you fall out of? Ain’t you never seen anyone like me before?”

“No … never.”

“Where you from?”


“Well, that must be some backward place. Now, don’t you get to thinking you can just touch and feel—I don’t care how curious you be. And don’t be thinking I’m a slave neither.”

“Slave? Why would I think that?”

She frowned. “Cuz people … people like me … they be kept as slaves. My grandma was a slave, but not my daddy and not me.”


“Cuz in Massachusetts we got a law says no one can be born into slavery.”

“Is that where we are … Massa …?”

“Child, you are so ignorant. This here is the port of Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts—the commonwealth of.”


“Well, of course America!”

As her laughter faded I thought I heard a voice humming a sweet melodious tune. We each looked up and I realized it was the lady of the house. Such moans and angel sighs that echoed through the house.

Tildy grinned. “Miss Lydia and the Captain … they making up for them months the Captain was away at sea. I ain’t never saw any man and woman that loved each other so much. Poor lady, he’ll be putting another baby inside her. They already got seven … and they all lived too, who ever heard of that before?”

A cry sent both our spines to shivering. Then there was silence. Tildy smiled. “They’ll rest, then they’ll be at it again till suppertime. It’s always the same when the Captain comes home.”

Tildy and I sat in the garden most of the afternoon. She took it upon herself to “educate” me about this new society I found myself in. From what she told me it was a bustling community of merchant-adventurers inconvenienced by the war presently, but eager to reach across the world again. Until then they would repay the British for the interruption in their business by fitting out privateers to prey on British trade.

Before supper, Tildy showed me to a modest room with a bed and soft feather mattress. A bowl of water was provided to clean myself.

At table, I was properly introduced to Mrs. Crowninshield. Such a radiant lady, I was falling so precipitously in love with her. So gracious, she was, and kind, and always attentive even with a herd of toddlers tugging at her arms and climbing into her lap.

“My husband tells me he hopes you will join his next crew. You’ll become a rich man soon, Michael, if God favors you. Before long you’ll have your own house and proper wife. Not like me.” She giggled. “But, don’t judge me too harshly by my behavior this morning. It is just … my husband …”

The couple smiled at each other, for an instant oblivious to all else in the room.

“Then the lady laughed. I hope you won’t think me a strumpet.”

“Lydia!” The captain coughed, then laughed out loud.

“No … no ma’am. Never.”

We talked after the meal. The Captain said he would send me the next day to Rev. Bentley to repair any remaining faults in my education. I did not relish instruction by any clergyman, but I would endure it for this man who had plucked me from death or worse and welcomed me into his home. And I would most assuredly do it for his lady.

We retired again, and I fell into a fitful slumber, to a lullaby of Mrs. Crowninshield’s moans and whimpers echoing about the halls.

* * * * *

Rev. Bentley was like no man of the cloth I had encountered before. For one thing, he had a good sense of humor, and he was as warm, decent, and disinterested a human being as I’ve ever known. He said he would have wanted to teach me Latin and Greek, but time was wanting since the Captain told him he would require me for service within two weeks.

So he endeavored to erase my ignorance of geography. I was astounded at the distances I had traveled when he pointed out Ireland on the great globe and the vast ocean between it and Salem. He also taught me the history of this new country, and spoke with pride of Salem’s role in it.

“These knights of commerce,” he called the merchant mariners of the town. “Will travel to the farthest ports of the Indies and beyond for fortune and profit. They hold it as proof of the regard the Almighty has for their nation. They are but a few generations removed from their dour witch-fearing Puritan grandfathers, yet they parlay on equal and respectful terms with the Mandarins and satraps of the east. Aye, they love profit as much as they love their wives and families … and they dearly love their families.” He winked.

My days spent with Rev. Bentley were happy, and I believe I educated him as much as he did me, for he was always curious, always asking me questions about Ireland. He was appalled at my experiences with Lady Ashtonford, but allowed as I was an innocent and in no way to blame. Blame for what, I could not reckon, but I let it go.

The Peggy was outfitted and ready for another cruise, and I was prepared to go with her and the Captain. Then word came that the war had ended. Salem rejoiced, and was eager to get back to its primary business—trade.

Captain Crowninshield explained his new venture at suppertime. Mrs. Crowninshield did not speak or smile. I thought I detected a tear welling in one eye.

“The family has purchased a new vessel, Essex-built as an Indiaman. We’ll make straight for Sumatra and return with a hold full of pepper.”

“Pepper?” I asked.

“As good as gold,” he replied with a grin and glint in his eye. “One cargo will make a captain rich, and the trade has been depressed by the late conflicts in the Atlantic and Europe. And you, Michael, shall invest those Spanish dollars in the voyage. I promise you, they will be multiplied like the loaves and fishes and returned to you.”

Mrs. Crowninshield lifted a handkerchief to her eye.

“Wife?” The Captain reached his hand to her.

“This voyage will not last for months,” she said, her voice about to fail.

“No, darling, a year at the least, perhaps … perhaps more. But, I promise, I will to sea no more after this voyage. It will have made our fortune secure so I will spend my days fat and content to invest in others’ voyages, counting my money and our children.”

At last, she smiled. “Then I will endeavor to endure.”

The Captain slapped his hand sharply on the table. “Our ship is not yet named; Michael, what do you say we call her? Something classical, perhaps, Athena, Circe?”

“I think … Lydia.”

Mrs. Crowninshield put her hand in mine, and the Captain reached for hers.

“Well and done. Lydia it is.”

* * * * *

The Lydia was a sleek, black hulled Indiaman, twice as large as the Peggy. Rev. Bentley showed me how far we had to sail to Sumatra, half way around the world.

Her hold was filled with cargo: pitch, tar, flour, rice, tobacco, butter, claret wine, bar iron, sugar, oil, chocolate, brandy, beef, rum, bacon, ham, candles, soap, fish, beer, porter, and pork, an eclectic selection of goods from New England and the world. The Captain would make for Cape Town or Isle de France, sell the cargo and perhaps take on freight for the East India Company for Bombay. Then we would proceed to Sumatra with specie to bargain with the Malays for the pepper that grew wild in their tropical forests.

I was third mate, and afforded my own cabin, though barely larger than a coffin. During the first weeks of the voyage, the wonder I felt for being at sea became tempered by the hard work and tedium.

When we landed off Africa the Captain negotiated the sale of the cargo and settled on contracts to carry freight. And I beheld such sights, and such peoples, such dark people, and I decided there were more of them than there were of fairer races. Who would have known? Africa, Zanzibar, India. Salem and Ireland seemed so far away, as if they existed on other planets.

And the longer we voyaged the darker became the Captain’s mood. At these latitudes we had lost sight of the star that shone over his home and his love. Letters were written and dispatched to the trust of other captains, with no expectation of their reaching home until months had past.

At last we sighted the coast of Sumatra. We made for the northern end of the island and were hailed from shore by a decorous people in colorful sarongs. Their women were a wonderment, utterly at ease with their breasts bared, enticing our crew like the sirens of legend.

The Captain and I and four others put ashore to negotiate with the local chief, or datu. He was a well-fed man with many wives attending him. Around us nearly naked maidens and small, wiry men smiled and nodded pleasantries we could not understand.

But the Captain cautioned us. “Don’t let their pleasant ways deceive you; they are born pirates, treacherous and murderous. Do not let your guard down.”

A Frenchman was brought to us, his hands tied with vines and his neck yoked. A young Malay girl was also brought to us unbound, but she was treated roughly and pushed about.

The Captain said nothing. But the datu motioned to the Frenchman.

The man nodded as best he could toward the Captain. “Capitaine, I am Levesque of Quebec.”

“Levesque of Quebec—of course, everyone’s heard of you.”

“I crewed on a British Indiaman, but I was marooned with the capitaine and three others after the crew mutinied.”

“So, you were loyal to your captain. Uh-huh. And what happened to your captain?”

“He died of brain fever soon after. The others wandered off and I never saw them again. I wandered into a Malay village where I was sure I’d be cooked and eaten, but this one …” He motioned toward the girl. “She looked out for me in exchange for a promise that I would help her.”

“Help her do what?”

“She is … how do you say? … a witch? A shaman. It is said she cursed some relatives of the datu, sapped their potency. The datu wants to kill her, but he is of a … what you say? … a dilemma. He is afraid she will curse him with her dying breath and his cock will wither.”

“And what is all this to us?”

“Please, capitaine, he will trade me for silver. The girl also.”

The Captain said nothing for a moment, then, “Very well, I’ll buy your release, which you will repay in labor on my ship.”

“Oui! Merci!”

“The girl they can keep.”

“But … they will kill her, burn her …”

“Sir,” I interrupted. “You just can’t leave her … She’s just a girl …”

“Michael, we can’t bring a woman on the ship. Sailors are superstitious enough; women are bad luck, and a Malay at that. Out of the question. Besides, these are her own people; she’s transgressed according to their law; we are not to judge.”

I looked at the girl. I could tell she understood.

“Captain,” I said. “What would Mrs. Crowninshield say?”

His face turned as dark as a thundercloud. I was about to apologize for my impertinence when he replied, “Very well … you pay for her.”

I nodded and took my last two Spanish dollars from a purse sewn into my belt. I held them up to the datu and pointed to the girl. He grinned and pointed to an Ivory-handled knife I’d bought in Bombay. I handed it and the dollars over to one of his retainers.

The yoke was removed from the Frenchman and his bindings cut. The girl was left as she was. As we walked back to our boat, the Frenchman said, “Captain, they will delay delivering the pepper until the tide turns. You will be forced to wait until morning to set sail; before then they will attack you and kill us all.”

“Could she be in on their treachery?” the Captain said, nodding at the Malay girl.

“No, capitaine, it is she who told me of the plot.”

The Captain glanced at me. “You should have told me sooner, the lad would still have his knife and dollars. What is the girl’s name?”


“The girl.”

“Hoo, capitaine.”

“The girl! Who do you think?”

“The girl’s name is Hoo, sir.”


The girl sidestepped into that Captain’s path and cupped her breasts in her hands. “Me Hoo.”

“She speaks English?” the Captain asked, astonished.

“Oui, she speaks many languages, but none so good.”

“Hoo!” The girl grinned.

* * * * *

We boarded the Lydia and waited while the Captain gauged the tide. Our shallow mooring would not permit us to sail at any less than mid-tide. I and the rest of the crew were otherwise distracted by Hoo, who had scrambled into the rigging and was swinging from line to yard, twirling in mid-air.

“She’s a damned monkey,” a grizzled old sailor declared.

At last, nearly at sunset, the datu and, it seemed, his entire village appeared on the beach and signaled to us. We put out a pair of boats and rowed ashore. One boat carried our scale. The Captain waited aboard. He would not bring the specie until the price was settled.

That done, the Malays rowed our cargo out and heaved it aboard. They were not allowed onto our decks. The work lasted much of the night done by the light of torches, and by the time all the pepper was stowed, the Lydia’s keel scraped bottom from the weight. Exhausted, we awaited the morning tide. But our exhausted men could not be permitted to sleep except in shifts as we awaited the Malays’ treachery.

With false dawn glowing dully on the horizon, we sensed the Lydia lift with the incoming tide. We began to breathe easier; some men dozed at their station. Perhaps the Malays would not come.

The Captain would not let us relax. He made his rounds, shaking men awake. As the horizon lightened, the gloom of the land and sea to shoreward deepened.

A shrill cry above us rattled our spines. It was Hoo, high in the rigging, “Kreese! Kreese!”

We all know what that meant—the kriss, a short stabbing sword used by the Malays. They were upon us, but we still couldn’t see. More torches were lit. There must have been a hundred boats closing on the Lydia. Our cannon, two on each side, were loaded with grape and shards of scrap metal.

“Fire!” the Captain ordered and the wicks were touched to the guns. Their flash blinded the Malays, and the booms were followed by much shrieking and wailing. The Malays made a dash to our sides and began to climb over; they were met with musket shots from above and pistols and cutlasses at the sides. But they were like ants roused from their nest. There seemed to be no end of them in the dark.

About twenty got onto our deck and the fighting was vicious. Pistol fire faded and the sharp collision of bladed weapons created a constant metallic din. A surge of mad, murderous anger charged our men’s efforts as we pushed the intruders over the sides onto their fellows. Everywhere, mayhem and murder.

I turned just as a Malay sprinted toward the Captain’s back, his kriss at the ready. I raised my pistol, but it misfired. The Malay was nearly upon him when he was brought down by a small body that fell out of the sky, fists flailing. It was Hoo. The Malay tried to shake her off, but the Captain turned and ran him through.

Another Malay, incensed, shouted angry, insensible epithets and dashed across the deck. He grabbed Hoo by the hair and readied to gut her with his kriss. Hoo screamed and squirmed to escape his grasp. The Malay continued his tirade, no doubt telling her how much he was going to enjoy murdering her. That was his undoing. It gave me enough time to yank my tomahawk from my belt, take aim and let fly. It cleaved the man’s skull and he began to convulse, dancing a death jig on the deck. Suddenly all went quiet as Malay and crew alike stood stock still at the sight of what was in fact an animated corpse. Blood pumped from the wound in geysers, then stopped. The Malay did too and fell into a wet red pile on the deck. Hoo wrenched the tomahawk out of his skull, held it for her countrymen to see. She shrieked, “Hyah!”

The Malays fled, tumbling over the sides and into the sea. The attack was over. We had lost none of our men, though one was wounded in his side. Hoo tended to him. He was reluctant, but the Frenchman reassured him. “She is a healer.”

The rest of us gave thanks for our survival, but were nonetheless perplexed.

“Was it the tomahawk …?” the Captain said. “Or her?”




“Oh, never mind. The tide’s with us now, let’s away from here.”

* * * * *

We were at sea, exhausted, bloodied, but glad to be away from the coast of treachery. Buckets of seawater were required to wash the decks of the sticky gore from the dawn battle, but the exhausted men gladly worked to scrub Lydia clean.

In the light of morning I was able to carefully assess our diminutive savior. She was not quite five feet tall, and sweetly curved. Her breasts small, and her skin the color of butter and cinnamon. Her eyes were almost black, at turns fierce and gentle with a glint of reflected sunlight. Her lips were pink bows, always curved into smile or pushed into a pout. There was nothing neutral about them.

There was no problem with the crew. She was our savior, who had tracked the phosphorescent wakes of the Malays’ boats from above and called out the alarm. She was our good luck charm.

“I stay with you now,” she declared in front of the crew.


“You save my life —two … two …”




“Yes, twice you save Hoo. Now I stay with you … always, until we die.”

“I … well … That’s not …”

“Don’t talk … we sleep now. Very much tired. Come show.”

“But …”

The Captain clapped my shoulder. “Go with her. Most men, when they take a pet from these climes, it’s a bird or a small ape. Not you, Michael. You adopt a Malay.”

“But, sir!”

All around us laughter erupted.

“I would not ordinarily countenance such an arrangement. But …” He lifted Hoo’s chin in his hand. “She’s quite innocent, isn’t she? Angelic … a murdering little angel.”

He laughed. “Take your rest, Michael. Take your friend with you.”

“But …”

“That’s an order, lad.”

Hoo took my hand and grinned. I stumbled, not quite believing what I was doing, toward my tiny cabin, next to Mr. Perkins, the mate. The rest of the crew slept in hammocks below decks. I felt every eye on us.

Hoo closed the door behind us. There was barely enough room for us to maneuver around the bed. She shimmied until the small cloth that wrapped about her hips and shielded her sex fell. Then she lifted my shirt and tugged down my breeches. She made a face. “You smell not too good. We fix later.”

Then she inspected my cock that had sprung to attention, holding the head in her fingers. “Hmm, very good.”


“No talk, sleep now, very tired you.”

She pushed me down on the bed and had me turn onto my stomach. Then her hands coursed up my back and over my rump and in a moment all tension drained from my body. She lay on my back, drawing herself up and then down, sliding her body over mine, her tiny, pebbly nipples traced furrows between my shoulders.

Exhaustion overtook me. Why it occurred to me to ask such a question at such a time, I don’t know, but before I gave myself up to slumber, I asked, “Hoo, why … why did you turn on … kill your own kind?”

“Kind? They very bad … not my people. Very bad to Hoo. Sleep now. No talk.”

* * * * *

A rap at the door startled me awake. It was Perkins. He poked his head in, and assessed a naked, smiling Hoo sitting at the edge of my bed. “Eh, Mr. Killaine, it’s your watch.”

“Aye, thank you, Mr. Perkins.” I turned over and sat up.

She made no move.

“Hoo! For God’s sake. Let me up. Get yourself dressed.”

She hopped up and retrieved the red cloth from the deck. She wound it around her hips, but her breasts remained bare. I dressed and squeezed past her and through the door. It was late afternoon. The Captain motioned me to join him on the afterdeck.

“Michael, the men are quite fond of … your friend. And, I confess I feel a great obligation to her myself. But, they are men after all …”

Before he finished, Hoo ran to join us, her ever-present grin flashing.

“Ahem, as I was saying. Men will be men, so could you ask her to dress … a bit more? We’ve plenty of cloth aboard.”

Hoo nodded. “Yes, men like look at girl, that good.”

The Captain turned to face her. “Not good if it distracts them from their work. You must cover up.”


He turned back to me. “I can’t afford separate accommodations for her; besides she’s apparently determined to remain close to you. I want it understood, especially amongst the crew, that you two are not … well … behaving … in a marital way.”

“Sir, we didn’t … I mean … we haven’t …”

Hoo tugged the Captain’s arm. As he regarded her she rubbed her belly. “No baby here—No!” She pointed to me. “Not him … no … no make no baby.”

Above us a man nearly fell from the rigging laughing. Others within earshot chuckled beneath their breath.

“Mind your work, there!” The Captain reproached them.

“Well enough, young lady. You’ll share space with Mr. Killaine, but nothing else, so long as this voyage lasts. There, that’s understood then.”


“Yes … a lady. A lady wears clothes and … well, acts like a lady.”

Hoo seemed confused, but did not pursue the matter. She was given a shirt and boy’s sized breeches were found for her. She amused herself during my watch by scaling the rigging, climbing high above the yards and scanning the sea. Her nimbleness astounded us all.

At meals she criticized the food, but ate heartily, and then we repaired to my cabin. The Captain asked if we would require a bundling board. I did not appreciate his remark, but he and Perkins chuckled anyway.

The door closed, I prepared to keep my promise to the Captain. I understood his concerns, but this was torture. I had longed for the touch of a woman since fleeing Ireland, and Hoo’s curves and silken skin beckoned me.

“I teach you be strong,” she declared. “You be good man for your woman.”

“What woman?”

“No have woman?”


She shrugged. “Good. When you do, she be very happy. I teach you.”

She pushed me back on the bed, straddled me and took my cock in her hands working it rigid with gentle squeezes and raking her nails gently along its length.

“Hoo … Hoo …”

“No talk.”

“We promised the Captain.”

I was about to erupt, when she squeezed my cock hard. “Ow!”

Then she started again, bringing me to the point of exploding. This time she slapped my cock sharply and I had to grit my teeth to keep from crying out.

“What … what are you doing?”

“This how you learn make your woman happy—last long time.”

Her magical hands worked me to rigidity again. “Oh, Hoo … please … let me … Ow!” She did it again.

I groaned, and she laughed. “Yes, men always cry like babies at first.”

The torture continued until she decided it was time to sleep. I tried to relieve myself but she slapped my hand away. “No! I say first!”

* * * * *

I awoke to a crewman’s rap on my cabin door. “Mr. Killaine, your watch, sir.”

“Aye,” I groaned. Hoo lay asleep, nestled under my arm naked. How could I separate from that soft, silken font of femininity? I wanted to plunder her. I risked touching a breast, drawing my fingers around her nipple. It responded and her lips curved into a sweet smile.

Then her hand was around my cock; she pinched the tip. “Ow!”

“When I say,” she laughed, and bolted up. She donned her linen shirt and tugged her breeches over her hips, tying them at her waist.

I worked my watch, but I was in a murderous mood, sharp with the crew, enduring their snickers. My promise to the Captain had gotten around, and they took amusement from my frustration. The fact that they were kind and solicitous to Hoo stoked my ire further. They treated her, the devil, my cruel tormenting imp, not even like a pet, but more like their child.

As my demeanor soured, the Captain’s lightened. We were headed home to his lady. But that changed when we overtook the Neponset, a trader out of Boston.

Captain Skerry of the Neponset rowed over to the Lydia where letters were exchanged as well as news of markets and ports. When our Captain told him what we carried in our hold and where we were bound, he frowned.

“I regret to say, Captain Crowninshield, that I have encountered three Derby ships returning to your homeport. They all carry pepper.”


“What of it?” I asked.

“Three holds full of pepper, ours will be the fourth … It’s too much. It’ll depress the price; depress it even more when we arrive. No, we’ll have to trade the cargo. Damn it all. But where?”

Capt. Skerry smiled. “Not to fret, sir. A British Indiaman put in to an anchorage at a nearby island to repair a split mast. Her hold is empty. I wager her captain would be glad to take your cargo off your hands for a fair exchange in specie, and shorten his voyage.”

“Aye, thank you, sir. We’ll make for there. But our own voyage is now lengthened. I suppose we could pick up a freighting for the East India Company, perhaps put in to Mocha and take on a cargo of coffee.”

“Why not make for Canton?”

“It takes a lot of specie to trade with the mandarin.”

“The devil take specie. They’re mad for a worm that lives in the shallows of these islands. Enlist enough of the native peoples to gather it for you, and you’ll have your hold full of the slimy creatures in two days.”

“A worm?”

Levesque from Quebec interrupted. “Aye, Captain, bêche-de-mer, a slug. The Chinaman makes soup out of it.”

“Your man’s correct, sir. Mad for it, they are.”

And so we became hunters of sea worms. We made first for the British Indiaman under repair and, as expected, her captain was grateful for the windfall of pepper we traded. From there Levesque plotted our way to a tiny archipelago peopled by beautiful, naked human beings. Again, Hoo provided a great service as she recruited scores of lithe native girls to scour the shallows for bêche-de-mer. And, as Captain Skerry had predicted, our hold was full within two days.

The Captain remained dubious that such a repulsive cargo could be traded in Canton, but we made for the fantastical port. Anything would be done, or any voyage undertaken that would bring him home to his love.

Throughout our long days and nights at sea, Hoo continued to torture me, though she insisted it was important instruction. She would rouse me to the point of bursting, then deny me release, over and over until without touching me at all she could rouse my cock, making it rise to iron rigidity the way a snake charmer beckons a cobra. I learned to hold myself right at the edge, and then bring myself back. To what end she instructed me thus I could not know.

One night I held myself erect for more than an hour as she watched, grinning. “Yes, very good. I think you will make woman much happy.”

“What woman?” I growled through gritted teeth.

She didn’t answer but drew her fingertips over the head of my cock so deftly I wasn’t prepared for the charge that rocketed from my balls. I went off like a musket, splashing her hands.

“There, you feel much better, yes?”

I fell back on my bed, spent. The power of my release left me paralyzed.

“Good!” Hoo giggled. “Sleep now. Very tired.” She stripped and cuddled next to me.

I didn’t sleep, but lay awake listening to her breathy snore and hankered for … revenge.

I slipped my arm from under her head and sidled down the bed. The cabin was so small I had to brace the soles of my feet against the door and bend over the front of the bed to where my face hovered over the riotous patch of coarse black hairs above her sex.

Oh so gently, I stroked one finger between her folds until they began to glisten and swell. Her snore had turned to a sigh, but she continued to slumber. Now I worked the nub of flesh as I was once instructed by Lady Ashburton. Hoo’s stomach fluttered briefly and she moaned.

She had just raised her eyelids when my tongue darted within her nether parts. The sound she made was like a high fife note as I began to kiss, lick and devour her sex.

She rained blows onto my head, then clutched handfuls of my hair and tugged as if she wanted to pull my head into her womb. She clasped her ankles behind my neck and squirmed.

She was making so much noise; the whole crew must have heard. A sudden shudder in her belly told me I’d brought her to that place she had denied me all these weeks, and she keened like a banshee. Her body seemed then to melt into the bed.

There was a rap at the door. “Mr. Killaine, is everything all right in there?”

“Aye, Mr. Perkins. Hoo … I think she had a bad dream.”


Hoo lay looking straight up at the ceiling. Her breaths came as feathery pants.

“How … you … do that? You … you … very bad man.”

It was my turn to grin. “Sleep now … very tired.”

I can honestly say I never broke my vow to the Captain. I never penetrated the gate to Hoo’s womb, but we pleasured each other in other ways, with our mouths, tongues, fingers. Levesque was right; she was a witch. But I was at least her match.

Canton was like a fairyland port, crowded with Indiamen and brightly colored junks. To the Captain’s amazement we traded the cargo of worm for bolts of the finest silks, lacquered furnishings and exquisite porcelains. And tea … so much tea: chests of Bohea, Hyson, Souchong, Bohea Congo.

Each man of the crew paid a portion toward the voyage so to be rewarded with a share of the profits rather than a fixed wage. When we left Canton for home, they were a happy crew.

* * * * *

The Lydia seemed as eager for home as we as she ploughed laden through the Indian sea. We put in to Isle de France for water, thence around the cape for the South Atlantic and one last provision stop at St. Helena. Then we made straight for home. The Captain’s star rose every night higher above the horizon.

It was October, the tail end of the hurricane season, but we were favored by sunny skies and fair winds. As we climbed the higher latitudes the air cooled. Hoo had never felt a chill nor experienced a proper autumn. She shivered all the time and wrapped herself in a blanket when on deck.

We skirted Cape Cod and coursed across the bay until we spied Egg Rock and the headlands of Marblehead. By late afternoon we sailed past Baker’s Island and into Salem Harbor. We had been gone two years.

Our cargo was off-loaded and taken to the Customs stores to be assessed. Soon word spread of the richness of our wares. Before long the entire port was astir over the Lydia’s trove.

The Captain, in a hurry to take his leave, left me with Hoo to inventory the items and match the customs tally. It was sunset before we walked toward the Captain’s home.

Tildy greeted us at the door, her eyes widened as she took in every inch of Hoo.

“My sakes, a real Malay? I’ve heard so much about them from the Captain, but never thought I’d behold one with my own eyes. She’s kinda … little ain’t she?”

Hoo stared at Tildy. “This your woman?”

Tildy let out a shriek of laughter as she ushered us inside. Lydia hurried toward us. I held out my hand but she brushed it aside and embraced me tightly and kissed my cheek.

“Michael, thank Jesus he’s brought you back home to us. My dear husband has told me about your friend. Won’t you introduce us?”


“Your friend.”


“Michael, your friend, this pretty little child here.”

“Hoo, ma’am.”

She looked confused.

“Me Hoo!”

“Hoo, you’re supposed to say, ‘I am Hoo.'”

Lydia gave her head a sharp shake. Behind her, the Captain howled great hyena laughs.

* * * * *

Home again. New arrangements. Hoo didn’t understand why she needed to share a room with Tildy and not me, no more than she understood why the air was so cold, but she accounted it as the custom of the land and did not argue.

Our cargo was disposed of quickly. We were rich, whatever that meant. I only knew I had more money than I knew what to do with. But Lydia had some ideas.

Two nights after our return we feasted with other merchants and their wives and Rev. Bentley. The food was delicious, the wine exquisite. Hoo held court, basking in the rapt attention of the ladies who were astonished at her frankness about everything, but especially the marital customs of her people.

Lydia remained with the men, as comfortable and confident discussing trade and finances as she would embroidery with members of her own gender. As the captains took their leave and collected their wives, Lydia sat close to me.

“Michael, you’re a man of means now, accepted into the fraternity of traders.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Michael, you may call me Lydia. Now, you need a house of your own … and a wife.”

“Ma’am? I mean … Lydia. I … I …”

“Shush! I know just the girl. Oh, she’s so sweet. I’ll arrange introductions.”

“Introductions? I don’t even know …”

“Of course, not. That’s what introductions are for.”

Hoo stood at the doorway. “Wife? You find woman for Michael?”

“Why, yes, Hoo,” Lydia’s voice was gentle, but her tone wary.

“Very much good. Michael must have woman. You find good one.”

Lydia’s face relaxed into a smile. “Well, we’re all agreed then.”

Over the next month I reinvested my profits, and purchased a house from the estate of a late cabinet maker. It was a wooden house, well-built and not too large, with a yard and garden on Federal Street.

The evening before I was to be introduced to my life’s partner, a woman I had never set eyes on, I overheard Lydia and the Captain discussing my prospective bride.

“She’s the last of his five daughters,” the Captain said. “but not the youngest.”

“She’s the second oldest.”

“How did they allow her to be passed over for her younger sisters?”

“Oh, darling, they were pretty, so they were plucked sooner. Her parents are rather desperate to marry her off. Their fortunes have been much reduced providing a proper marriage dowry for the other girls.”

“I remember her as a child, all gangly and awkward.”

“Oh, darling, she’s a grown woman. All right, she’s twenty-eight. But, she’s healthy and, darling; she’s such a sweet girl. She’ll be perfect for Michael.”

“She’s older than he?”

“I don’t know. How old is Michael?”

“I don’t know; I don’t think he knows. Oh, well. I take it she’s not bringing a lot into the marriage.”

“Would you have turned me down if my father were poor?”

“Ha! Maybe.”

“Well! Then I shall deny you my bed.”

“Then I will ravish you, dear lady. And I would have married you even if you were an urchin.”

There was no more talk then. Just moans and whimpers.

I retired to my room, undressed and climbed into bed. But I couldn’t sleep. Gangly? Awkward?

I dozed, but was roused by another body settling beside me.


“No talk. Sleep. Dream of new woman.”

Two nights later I was introduced to Captain Jabez Smith and his wife. Captain Smith looked me up and down and held out his hand.


“You’ve made a name for yourself, young man. You’ve done very well.”

“I owe my good fortune to Captain Crowninshield.”

“Yes, well. I would like for you to meet our daughter, Coral.”

I hadn’t noticed her enter the room. The Smiths stepped aside as the young woman took tentative steps toward us.

“Coral,” her father urged her closer. “This is Mr. Killaine.”

She would not look at me, but only nodded her head. Her face she covered with a fan that her mother took from her hand.

She was taller than most women and her hair chestnut brown, straight and draped over one shoulder. She was not strikingly pretty; her face was narrow, divided by a long, but I thought elegantly shaped nose. Her mouth was small and her complexion a pale cream. Freckles sprinkled her high cheeks.

But then she looked straight at me. Her eyes were a bright gray-silver and for a moment I stood transfixed, deaf to all in the room. And in that instant, I thought Coral Smith beautiful.

“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, sir.” She spoke barely above a whisper and she immediately averted her eyes again.

Hoo appeared by my side. She stepped around Coral giving her a thorough visual inspection. Even forcing the Smiths to step back.

Coral’s shyness evaporated under Hoo’s intense gaze, and was replaced with curiosity.

“And who are you?”




“Yes, who?”

“I … am … Hoo.”

“Oh, excuse me.”

Just then Hoo clamped her hands on Coral’s hips. Her mother gasped, but Coral chuckled.

“These … these …”

“Hips,” Coral instructed her.

“Hips! Hips good, wide. Baby no get stuck.”

I thought Mrs. Smith would faint dead away. Her father’s mouth fell open like his chin was a trap door. Coral blushed, but a grin creased her face.

“She’s … quite amazing.”

“You have no idea.”

Later we were given some privacy as we strolled about Lydia’s garden. Coral held a cloak close to her against the autumn chill.

“Miss, I … I am very pleased to have met you. This is, awkward for me.”

“It is?”

“I’m not used to having my life arranged. Captain and Mrs. Crowninshield, they have … well, they are more than friends, they are almost like parents. Lydia thought …”

“Mr. Killaine … you have no need to explain. I must be honest. I am the last of five sisters born to my parents. Two sons did not survive. I do not want to be a burden to them, and I would gladly devote myself to their care in their old age. I … I am not a pretty woman …”

“Who told you such?”

“Sir, I can look in a mirror.”

“Miss … Coral … you are pretty. But there is a grander beauty in your soul; I sense it. Not for arrangements made by others, but would you allow me to court you?”

Those silver-gray eyes held me in their spell. “I … I should be honored, Mr. Killaine.”


“But …”


“All right, Michael.”

I kissed her lips, just a touch. She stepped back, but then leaned into a deeper kiss. When our lips parted she exhaled a little gasp.

“Miss Smith, have you never been kissed before?”

“No … and never like that.”

“I was impertinent.”

“Yes, you were. I … I … should like it if you were impertinent again.”

This time I held her body to mine and kissed her long, but gently, though I could have devoured her.” Voices rose from inside the house, and we let slip our embrace.

“I should like to show you my house. I plan to occupy it soon, Hoo and I.”


“Please, let’s not start that again.”

She laughed. “She’s precious … like a doll. Is she your servant?”

“Oh, no,” I laughed. “Hoo is … Hoo is my friend. She is an orphan, like me, her mother and kin were murdered by her own people. She is cast loose in the world. But she is fiercely intelligent and speaks a number of languages, after a fashion, all she learned from traders on her coast.”

“I should like to get to know you … and Hoo.”

* * * * *

The next morning I rented a carriage and arranged to call on Coral. Lydia and Hoo joined us as we toured the Federal Street house. It was an especially clear October day. Everything appeared bright and clean. We were all in good spirits.

Coral and Hoo together surveyed the fallow garden. I stood off at a distance and listened as Coral enumerated what plants and herbs she would plant. She laughed at Hoo’s bemusement that anyone would deliberately plant flowers. They grew everywhere with no help from the hand of man in her homeland.

They had secreted themselves at one corner, but their voices carried along the brick wall.

“Michael … he saved my life … two … twice. Yes twice. He is very brave. Good man.”

“Hoo … do you … love Michael?”

“Love?” she shrugged. “Michael … he … —must speak good English—Michael save my life twice. I do not know what … what mean … love. I … am … his … friend … forever. You be his woman … I be your friend, too … forever.”

Coral leaned to kiss Hoo’s cheek. Hoo grinned and flung her arms around Coral’s waist, nearly knocking her off her feet.

It would not be a long courtship. I asked for Coral’s hand by week’s end, then sought her father’s permission.

“I adore my daughter,” the Captain said. “I wish I could honor her with a substantial wedding gift. I would toil at sea as a common seaman to do that. But I am old, now, and broken.”

“Sir, your daughter is the greatest gift you can give, and to you I promise to always honor and care for her.”

And then it was done, with a handshake.

Rev. Bentley married us in November. One of the last weddings he would perform.

On our wedding night I sent Hoo to bed. She went reluctantly, like a child, but kissed us both. “Now,” she said, in place of goodnight, “you make Coral very happy girl. Like I show you.” She giggled and was gone.

Coral’s glance demanded explanation.

“I … It’s not something I can … easily explain. Come, Mrs. Killaine.”

I took Coral’s hand. It trembled. Then I led her upstairs. And showed her to our bedroom.

“Call me when you’re ready.”

I sat outside some time before she cracked the door and whispered. “You may come in.”

I heard her footsteps as she dashed to the bed. When I entered she was beneath the covers, which she had pulled up so high they nearly covered her face.

I stepped over to the bed. “Are you troubled, Coral?”

“I … I’m sorry. I’m a little nervous. No … I’m very nervous. It hurts, does it? My mother told me. And there’s blood? I … promise to be a good wife to you, Michael. I’m … just … a little afraid … not of the pain, but that I will not please you.”

“Coral. I will never hurt you. Do you believe me?”


She watched as I undressed. Her eyes widened at my bobbing cock.

“Aren’t you going to put on your nightshirt?” she asked.

“No, Coral. I don’t wear one.”

I quickly sidled in beside her. She trembled, but not from the chill.

“Well, Mrs. Killaine. Your father gave you to me; it was a fairly negotiated exchange. I should now like to inspect the merchandise. You’d expect no less from a competent merchant, would you not?”

“But … what if you don’t like …”

“Don’t say that.” I reached around her and sought the hem of her nightshirt. Slowly I rolled it up her legs, and tugged it past her arse. “Sit up, Coral.”

She did, but her trembling intensified. I lifted the garment over her head. Immediately she crossed her arms across her breasts.

“You … you shame me, sir.”

“No … It’s not shame you feel, sweetheart. It’s … excitement. That’s all. Now, lie back.”

As she did, I lifted the covers and appraised my bride’s body, so pale it glowed within the moonlit room. I took her hands away from her breasts, and lifted a candle beside the bed. They were small, pink-nippled, kissable. Her hips were wide and subtly sloped to her thighs, which were also wide, but tapered toward her knees. Her calves were shapely. I resisted an impulse to lean over and lick her ankles to see if I could tickle her. Her feet were long and slender. She had remarkably long toes.

“Well, Mrs. Killaine, I was not cheated. This is the most splendid bargain I ever made. And now, if you will permit me to worship you. I’ll begin with your toes, all right?”

I parted her feet and leaned to take each toe in my mouth. She gasped, but I thought it a gasp of surprise, and not repulsion. She did not try to retreat from my attentions. From her feet I trailed kisses around her ankles. She squirmed a little, giggled. So, she was ticklish.

I was deliberately glacial as I journeyed up her thighs trailing kisses and nibbles from her knees almost to the junction where the faint aroma of her sex filled my nostrils. Her breaths were feathery, rapid. I lingered, lollygagged. She bunched fistfuls of sheets and whimpered.

“Please, sir, can’t you … quicker …?”

I obliged, nuzzling her sex as I passed it by, sweeping my nose through her nest. I licked the rim of her navel, and trailed my tongue up her stomach, beneath her breasts and swirled it around each stiff nipple.

“Oh, God … Michael. Oh God.”

I straddled her, kissed her, nipped her lips, and she strained to kiss my chest.

I parted her legs with mine. My cock was fortified with the iron I’d cultivated those weeks and months under Hoo’s tutelage. Now I understood.

I lay at the gate of her womb. “Coral, you want me to love you now?”


“You’re not afraid?”

“No … yes … Oh, God. Please.”

I pressed and entered her, just a bit, and held it. Coral’s cry was a sharp high note. I pressed into her again and stopped, held still, kissed her again. Then I pressed again. Her inner gate gave way with little resistance. Now I pressed to reach my limit. Her inner walls closed around my cock.

Slow, gentle, stop, withdraw, stop, hold.

I paid close attention to my bride’s response, her expressions, her breathing. Yes, I wanted to make her very happy. I began a slow thrust and withdrawal, building to a steady rhythm, holding myself above Coral so I could watch the waves of our passion ripple through her body. A roiling began at the base of my cock, I held it in check, and would hold it as long as it took to bring my bride to the edge.

Her orgasm took me by surprise. Her eyes snapped open and she howled so as to deafen the ear I had turned to her. Her body shuddered, and shuddered again. Then she relaxed as I flooded her womb.

I eased myself beside her. She rolled on top of me. Her kisses nearly drowned me.

“It didn’t hurt,” she said. “It was wonderful.”

“You’re beautiful,” I said.

“I am?”

“Oh, yes.”

I held her in my arms the rest of the night … the night we both surrendered our virginity.

* * * * *

Neither my wife nor I ever wore a nightshirt again. We looked forward to night, and bed. Hoo grinned at us each morning with a proprietary self-satisfaction that approached insolence. But, that was Hoo.

We were the happiest married couple, I was sure. But, it couldn’t last.

I was asked to supervise a voyage aboard one of the newer Crowninshield vessels. The captain was known as a shrewd trader who would linger in the east as long as necessary to garner the greatest profit. I was reluctant, but I thought one more voyage would cement our fortunes.

Coral was desperate that I not go. “I don’t think I could endure for long,” she pleaded. “I don’t think I could sleep in an empty bed again. For how long? A year, two, more?”

“My last voyage. I promise. I don’t want to leave you. I have to go for our future, our children. Lydia will call on you while I’m gone, with any news.”

Hoo found us in a tearful embrace. “I stay with Coral. Do not … worry? Yes? Michael. I protect Coral with my life.”

A week later I was at sea, bound for the Indies aboard the Natick, Captain Habakkuk Greer, master.

For two years we plied the Indian seas, trading cargoes, taking freight. Captain Greer got wind of a coffee shortage in America and we loaded our hold at Mocha on the Red Sea. I had received no letters from home, but that was always a haphazard thing, especially the way Captain Greer crisscrossed the Orient.

On our return we put in to Boston instead of Salem. I had to take a coach home and arrived in the evening. The port was quiet as I made my way along the shadowed streets beneath a full moon.

I let myself into the house and was immediately drawn to an odd noise in a room close to our bedroom. A child in a tiny bed was having an animated conversation with the moon. I lifted the child up and she smiled. Her hair a crown of coffee colored ringlets.

Astonished, I whispered, “Little girl … are you mine?” I hugged her to me and put her back to bed.

I hurried to our room and flung open the door. My feet reached the foot of the bed and would move no more.

Coral and Hoo lay together, their arms entwined. The bedclothes had fallen away enough to reveal their bare shoulders, and one of Coral’s breasts, nuzzled by Hoo’s cheek.

Coral stirred, lifted her eyelids and stared, shaking her head as if trying to discern whether the shadow at the foot of her bed was real or a dream. I could see her senses return as her eyes went wide. She screamed.

“Oh … no! Michael! Oh, God … Oh, God, I’m sorry.”

Through all her consternation Hoo slumbered like a well-liquored drunk.

I stepped quickly to the side of the bed and clasped my hand over Coral’s mouth. “Quiet, wife. The child.” I released my hand from her mouth.

“Your daughter.”

“Jesus and Mary and all their cousins. Mine? Her name?”

“Rebecca. Oh, Michael, please let me explain.”

As she spoke I began to strip off my clothing.

“I was so, so lonely … I thought I’d go mad missing you. Hoo began to sleep with me. She … we … we didn’t … I didn’t intend … you must believe …”

I stood naked. “Are you going to let me in?”

“Michael … I’ve shamed you. Shamed myself.”

“How so?”

“Hoo, me … It’s unnatural, you should turn me out.”

“The two women I love most in the world love each other. What is it that you find unnatural?”


“I’ve missed you, Coral.”

Hoo was shaken awake as I made love to my wife. She squealed, “Michael, you are home. I told you I would take care of Coral. I am so happy!”

She patted my rump just as I emptied my balls into my wife.

And that’s how we came to share a greater marriage, a union of souls. We loved each other frequently, and always shared a bed. We followed a pattern after we had put Rebecca to sleep. Some nights Coral would lie in the center and Hoo and I would pamper and love her from head to toes. Another night each lady would bless me with their attentions and charms.

Coral had discovered while I was away that Hoo liked to be tickled. No, she loved to be tickled, to the point I feared it had become a morbid fetish, but she would not be denied. We would tickle her relentlessly as she squealed and squirmed until she became paralyzed with exhaustion.

On one such occasion, Coral held Hoo’s arms above her and looked into my eyes. She nodded, and I straddled my little Malay and parted her thighs. She was too spent to resist. I placed my cock at her gate and sought once more permission from Coral. She nodded and I pressed my cock into my best friend—my other wife.

Hoo’s eyes opened, filled and spilled tears over her cheeks. “No … no, Michael. That make baby … ohhhh!”

Her arms closed around my neck as did her tiny feet at the small of my back. I loved her the way she had taught me, the way I loved Coral. I loved her long, and with a singular dedication. Her tiny body shuddered beneath me, and I spilled my seed inside her.

In some way the act completed us. Nine months later, Hoo was proved ever so correct. We welcomed our daughter Asia into the world. And our girls understood they had a father and two mothers who loved and cherished them. And, just like in the children’s tales, we lived happily ever after.

* * * * *

Our daughters grew, adventurous, independent, the way we taught them. They brought us so much joy, and then they left our nest.

The old town had changed. Once the premier port of the United States, it had become overshadowed by the deepwater ports of Boston and New York. Our shallow draft Indiamen could not keep up with the demand for goods from the east.

The captains and merchants who pioneered the China trade grew old and gave way to their heirs, children who only knew wealth and comfort, but never the adventure or risk. Their families’ wealth was reinvested in railroads, rather than shipping. Soon, the port of Salem was bereft of masts where a forest once rode at anchor.

Attitudes changed too; a new, exclusive and narrow morality took over. It replaced the respect and live-as-let-live principals followed by the gallant merchant captains. Eccentricities were ridiculed rather than treasured. Captain Crowninshield and Lydia remained faithful friends to the end. But Coral, Hoo and I were increasingly isolated.

We didn’t care. We had each other. We also retained a few, very loyal friends. It has been my experience that fewer friends mean better friends.

Coral and Hoo endured whispers, stares, sneers. But only once did I need to thrash some young scion for a remark he made to Hoo on the street. His father threatened to sue. I threatened to shoot the father. Nothing more came of it.

Hoo left us without warning. The illness was brief, and so merciful. I paid to have her kept in a receiving tomb until we joined her. My Coral’s last illness was lengthy, but she slipped away in my arms peacefully after all.

Our daughters are married and live in San Francisco, which from their accounts, abounds in that sprit that once favored Salem.

I have made arrangements when my time comes, for men loyal and true to my wishes, to take us out to the harbor islands, and there set our spirits free on a single pyre.

I go, the happiest man who has ever lived, favored by the love of two extraordinary women. Don’t even bother to say a prayer, my life was blessed.

* * * * *

They tied up to the wharf and Porter gathered the document into his valise and climbed out of the boat. He looked out to sea, but the island had disappeared in the gloom. But then, a point of light burst like a new star on the horizon.

Porter wiped his eye. “No prayers, eh? Well, then … goodbye, my friends. May your souls soar on the winds; you’ve already known paradise.”

© 2008 Robert Buckley. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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