But by the time she had washed and changed her clothes, the wind had turned to the east, the heavens crackled with lightning, the rain came on in torrents, and darkness closed over the ship like an ebony lid. The captain, his face gray with exhaustion and care, descended to invite his wife to the wardroom, where he and his first officer sat down to a hurried meal. Ah-Sam rushed in with the coffee pot and a slab of hard cheese wrapped in a cloth, and then disappeared in his self-effacing fashion. The captain's wife poured out the coffee, declining the mate's offering of tinned meat and soft tack. "Ah-Sam brought me some lovely broth," she told her husband. "Did you tell him to do that?"
"I just told him you were green," he said. "He knows everything there is to know about seasickness."
"Well, he must, for he has cured me," she agreed.
When the men were gone, the captain's wife sat at the table for some time, listening to the fury of the storm and comparing the sensation of being in a ship to that of lying in her bed at home on a tempestuous night. No wonder, she thought, the men who went to sea were sometimes so contemptuous of landsmen. As the night wore on, she persuaded herself that it was only a matter of time before the storm must abate and she might as well go to bed, as it was impossible to hold a needle, or a pencil, or even a book. She undressed and crawled back into the bunk. After what seemed a long time, but was barely an hour, she slipped into a dreamless sleep.
When she awoke, the room was dark and to her surprise her husband lay by her side, one arm draped across her waist, sleeping soundly. She moved close to him and kissed his cheek. His hand strayed to her thigh, grasped the flesh just above her knee and pulled her leg over his hip. He whispered her name, nuzzling his mouth against her breasts. The noise of the ship was hushed; the violent pitching and rolling had resolved to a soporific churning that made her think of a child, her child, rocking in his cradle. He was too big for that now. She wandered into sleep again.
At some point in the night, her husband turned over and she did too, so that she faced his back. Distantly she heard the clock strike six bells. She opened her eyes to find the room bathed in a shimmering aqueous light. The storm had passed.
She was wide awake, brimming with vitality, but she didn't move, unwilling to disturb her husband, who had slept so little and had only an hour before he must take up his duties again. She pressed her lips against his back; her drifting thoughts settled on breakfast. Brown bread, plum jam, she'd brought seven jars on board herself, and butter. Oat porridge, hot coffee with heavy cream. I'm starving, she thought, amused by that. How good to be safe, warm, hungry, alive. Her husband groaned in his sleep and a shudder ran down his spine. "Are you awake?" he asked softly.
"I am," she said. "You've got another hour. Go back to sleep." She eased her leg from his hip as he turned heavily to face her.
"No," he said. "I'll get up."
They were washed and dressed when the steward arrived with the coffee pot, the porridge and the bread. The captain went on deck to look at his ship, his crew, the sky, and the sea. When he returned she had the table laid with bread, the leftover cheese, her home-made jam and butter, the pot of coffee and the squat ewer of porridge wrapped in a towel. "Is all well?" she asked as she poured his coffee, resting her fingers on his neck before turning to her own cup.
"For the present," he said. "It's squally to the south east and we're headed for it."
"Can't we stop?" she asked.
He smiled at his wife's naiveté, then, sensing that she spoke in jest, turned and swatted her skirt with the back of his hand. "No, Miss. We can't stop. It's not a horse you're riding."
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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