"I'm going below," she said to him, and his eyes, gazing across the bulwark, shifted and settled upon her. He smiled, nodded, turned to speak to the mate who was striding briskly toward them. Clutching the ladder rails, she backed down into the companionway, where she paused a moment, patting down her hair, before entering the cabin. There was, of course, no one there. For an hour she busied herself with sewing, for another in reading a collection of poems. The ship moved around her, above, beneath, rising and settling, picking up speed. A sensation of nausea, no more than a twinge at first, gradually announced its claim on her attention. She stood up, dropping the book on the couch, anxiously looking about the neat little room. She spied a pot hanging from a hook near the table. As she staggered to it, her stomach turned menacingly, and no sooner had she taken up the vessel than she emptied her breakfast into it. "Oh Lord," she said, pulling out her handkerchief to wipe the perspiration from her brow. She carried the pot through to the cabin and poured the noxious contents into the bucket, then closed the lid and sat down upon it. The sailors, when so afflicted, had the option of vomiting over the side, but it wouldn't do for the captain's wife, who wasn't allowed anywhere near the main deck on her own. She pressed the handkerchief to her lips. Another eruption threatened. Best not stray far from this place, she counseled herself. She wondered how long it would last.
It lasted three days, but during that time her stomach was the least of her problems. When at last the captain descended to find his wife flat on her back in the bunk, fully clothed, with a wet cloth draped across her forehead, it was to tell her that he didn't like the look of the western sky. For another hour she slept fitfully and woke to hear the officers talking in the wardroom. Her husband came in to ask if she wouldn't have a cup of tea, which she declined. The ship was pitching bow to stern and he held onto the bedframe as he bent over to press his cool hand against her cheek. "My poor darling," he said. "You're pea-green. What a way to begin your maiden voyage." At the word "maiden," she smiled; it was a joke between them.
"Don't worry about me," she said.
There was a shout from the deck, a clatter of boots in the companionway. The captain made for the door. "Here it comes," he announced as he went out.
It was a squall out of the northwest, which shifted to the southwest and blew a hard gale for eighteen hours. A jib and a topgallant were carried away, as well as a rooster, last seen wings outspread riding backward on a blast of spray. Gradually the wind abated, though the sea was still high, kneading the ship like bread dough between the waves.
The captain's wife didn't witness the storm. When it seemed the bunk was determined to dump her on the carpet, she turned on her side, gripping the frame. All she could hear was the wind howling, the timbers creaking and the men shouting. At last it grew calmer; she lifted her head and glanced about the cabin. Her small collection of books had been scattered widely, as if an impatient reader, pacing the carpet in search of some vital information, had thrown down book after book. There was a knock at the door and to her query "Who is it?" the nasal voice of the steward Ah-Sam replied, "Mrs. Gibbs. I have tea for you."
She scrambled from the bed, relieved to find, as she sat on the chest next to her empty bookshelf, that her stomach, though decidedly tender, was calm. "Come in," she said.
Cautiously, his head bowed and his legs wide apart to keep himself steady, Ah-Sam came in holding a mug between his hands. "This beef-tea," he said. "Good for stomach." She reached out, taking the cup, but before she had time to speak, the man had backed out the door. "Thank you," she said, as the latch clicked behind him. The broth was dark, clear, fragrant, revitalizing. She sipped it, swaying lightly as the ship swayed, and planned her next appearance above deck.
Excerpted from The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin. Copyright © 2014 by Valerie Martin. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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