Our voyage home with the whalers was a deluge of hard work, high winds, and cramped nights. We sailed the high seas back toward Cape Horn. As we all expected, the waves were fearsome as we rounded the horn.
“Max, would you climb up the mast and help Peter secure the back sails?” called the captain.
“Yes, Sir!” I shouted back.
As I climbed up the mast, Dash helped some of the seamen secure cargo by tying it around the masts when a wave washed over the deck.
“Dash!” I cried.
He managed to grab on to the roping, saving himself from the hungry sea. Hearing me, he waved to signal that he was alright.
“Dash, you have to go below decks!” I shouted from my precarious perch.
He complied, putting me at ease as I climbed up the slick wood. Heights were never a fear of mine, but as I climbed higher, the idea of falling off made me cringe. I joined Peter at the top, grateful that we were still above the ocean’s highest waves. I used all my might to secure the heavy, water-soaked canvas.
“The sea has no mercy,” cried Peter. “You’re a good lad, Max!”
We climbed back down the mast as the wind whipped us with cold rain. Then our feet hit the drenched deck. Seeing us shivering, the captain ordered us to go below decks and take a hot drink. We complied. Carrying my steaming coffee with a blanket wrapped around me, I found Dash in his hammock. Hearing my approach, he sat up.
“You’re a good sailor, Max,” he said.
“You think so?”
“You climbed up that mast without hesitation, while keeping an eye out for me. You’re quick and brave. You should ask the captain if you can stay aboard. The war is over now. You have no more duties to the Navy, and they’d pay you well here.”
I leaned against a beam, studying him. The ship creaked and moaned in protest of the storm, but being with him made any setting feel quaint.
“I suppose you’re right. If I return home, I’d be in the same predicament. I long to visit Ma, though, before I sail away again.”
“You should go see her, but do yourself a favour and stay on with this good lot. I want to know that you’ll be earning a decent living … after we part.”
I crossed my arms. “Our parting is still a month off.”
“One month can pass like the blink of an eye.”
I nodded sadly. He was right. Time could pass quickly, and although it was painful to think of our eventual parting, it was a reality that I had to face. He needed to go home. I had to see Ma before signing myself over to another ship.
Once we reached Atlantic waters, our time on the Phoenix went much better than we expected. Dash adjusted well to the crew, doing every task that he could. His perseverance to work as hard as everyone else earned his respect among the men. Though I was the smallest and youngest aboard the ship, I was treated with respect for my work. The crew even agreed to pay us for our labour.
At night below decks, Dash and I talked about every subject under the sun before climbing into our swaying hammocks. I felt so close to him, yet so far away.
The end of our great adventure arrived on the day that we spotted the shores of France.
“That’s your port, Dash,” said the captain after peering through his spy glass.
“Home,” breathed Dash.
The sadness in his tone tugged at my heart strings.
“All good things must come to end, aye?” said one of the sailors, elbowing both of us in the sides.
Fontaine gave Dash a purse of coins. “For your hard work and dedication.”
“Thank you, Sir. I feel like I should be paying you for your acceptance of me.”
Turning to me, Dash slipped the purse into my hands. “Keep this. I won’t need it.”
“But Dash …”
He patted me on the back with a grin. Then they got him into the rowboat so quickly that we barely had time to say a proper good-bye. Our final moment together was torn away.
“Good-bye, Dash!” I called.
The melancholic tone of his voice played over and over again like a melody in my head. I knew I would miss him so, but no words could describe how I felt as they lowered his boat to the water. He gazed at me with his invisible eyes. Then they rowed him to the port.
France wasn’t so far away from England, I told myself. We would meet again.
Standing upon the docks of Portsmouth, he faced the HMS Phoenix as we sailed off to England. His final words would echo in my mind for days and I would cling to them. A dull ache inflicted my whole body as I drank in the sight of him one last time. There was magic in the way he waited for the ship to fade into the distance, even though he could only see it in his mind’s eye. I longed to stand there and watch him until the shore disappeared, but a sailor had no such privilege. The most precious things were temporary and that was why they were special. I turned away from him as he looked onward, feeling my heart tearing into shreds like a beached ship in a violent storm.
As I worked hard under the sun later that day, I prayed that God would grant him a safe trip home. Our ship sailed to the foggy, glum island of England, which no longer felt like home. I had a feeling that no place would ever feel like home again.
A tempest surprised us shortly after sunrise the next day. The Atlantic’s tall waves raged around us as every man and boy aboard battled against them.
“Somebody secure that sail now!” screamed Fontaine.
He pointed at one of the boys to climb up and secure it. I reached out and stopped him.
Finding Peter in the crowd of sailors, I waved for him to come help me. We climbed up the mast as the chilling mists and strong winds drenched our clothes. I held on to the rigging for dear life as I slowly made my way up with Peter behind me.
“Good man, Worrell!” shouted the captain from below.
Struggling to breathe against the forceful gale, I wrapped my arms and legs around the vertical spar as the loose topsail flapped above us. I reached out for the stays, betting my very life on the hope that I would catch them. Somehow, my hand grasped onto one of the flailing ropes. I pulled it down and tied it down with my numb, shaking hands.
Straddling the spar, I took a moment to thank the Lord for saving me from death yet again. Taking a deep breath before starting my ascent to the main deck, a dark wall appeared through the mists. I was so cold and exhausted that I didn’t understand what it was until it was too late. The great wave hit me, knocked me off the mast, and swept me into the ocean. Instead of terrible pain, I felt as though I were floating in a peaceful sea of black.
A soft light appeared in front of me. I swam toward it and a dark-haired boy wearing a French navy uniform walked toward me. I was no longer cold and wet as I walked to him on solid ground. His burn scars were gone. His dark eyes smiled as that rakish grin of his set the butterflies in my stomach to flight. I touched his tanned face to make sure that he was real. His smooth skin was warm on my finger tips.
“Max,” he said, beaming.
“Dash,” I breathed. “I always saw you this way. I always thought that you were beautiful.”
“Dash, will you write out our story? I don’t think I’m going to be able to start that novel …”
He nodded as a solitary tear slipped down his cheek. “You aren’t alone, Max. And I promise you that I will write our story.”
He held me as the darkness thickened around us. A soft, melancholic tune sang me to sleep.