old are ye, John?" Their hammocks swung in unison above the deck, dimly lit
by a single lantern at the end of the cavernous space; crammed tight with
unwashed sailors, the air's reek was penetrating but familiar.
"Hmmm... not certain sure," Cotton answered, low-voiced, to Gibbs' query.
"No more'n thirty, I reckon."
"Is yer mum still livin'?"
"Oh, aye, Lord willin', she's still in Bostontown, keepin' th' ladies in
village all a-twitter with her gossip o'er tea, e'ery Thursday. Last I heard
from m'sister, she was spreading terrible rumors 'bout the vicar's new young
bride, shipped in from Southampton."
Gibbs merely grunted in response. Cotton's life seemed so blessed, t'weren't
just desserts for a life spent with nobbut a care. The feller had joined the
Navy of his own will back in '93, and received the generous bounty, had
friends aplenty both at sea and ashore, kindly kinfolk at home, and some
slattern, sloe-eyed girl seemed to gaze to him in every port. Cotton were a
lean, handsome lad, and the girlies all seemed t'fancy 'im.
Nay, t'were hardly fair, all told.
Not when he'd not a soul left, himself, now that his own mother had gone to
Cotton reached across the narrow space of inches between their swaying
canvas bedding, and laid an understanding hand on Joshamee's shoulder.
"Navy's your family now, Josh. Not to worry, man, not to worry."
"I always thought I'd be headed home, on back t'London, when me time came
fer musterin' out," Gibbs said. "But there's nuthin' there fer me now. No
kindred an' naught else."
"It's jes' the way o' things. Not as thee or me would have it, but by the
"You shut yer gob, an' leave The Lord out o' this, Cotton!" Gibbs' voice
rose loud in the enclosed territory. His watchmates grumbled complaint at
the disturbance, then subsided. Gibbs continued, sotto voce, "I prayed He'd
preserve her until I got t'see her once more, but oncet more, just me own
mum. And he spat on me! He's done nothin' me whole life but spit on me an'
shit on me an'..."
"Hush, Josh," Cotton reassured. "Hush, now. Blasphemin' won't be bringin'
her back, nor will it help ye none in the hereafter. The Lord'll forgive a
heated word when ye've lost a loved one, but best ye be holding that tongue,
fer Cap'n Hamlyn won't spare ye the lash if word reaches his ear."
Gibbs subsided into simple oaths and curse-words, burning off the last of
his anger at the exigencies of incomprehensible Divine Will.
After a moment or two of silence, John spoke again.
"Come with me fer th'next shore leave in Boston, mate. Ye can stay with me
at m'sister's husband's place. It'll be grand."
Gibbs merely rolled a little in his hammock, ignored the invitation.
T'was eight months more before the Chetsworth made the northward run
up past Nag's Head and Chesapeake and the Hudson, laden with rum and gold,
for the Massachussetts colony.
T'was eight months and a few more days, before the lads were given a shore
They missed Cotton's mother's funeral by 22 days.