Excerpt from Stowaway by Karen Hesse, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Karen Hesse

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  • First Published:
    Aug 2000, 302 pages
    Jun 2002, 320 pages

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The servant boy was gone in an instant, but not before he'd dropped some hardtack and a piece of junk into my hand.

WEDNESDAY 24th TO THURSDAY 25th [Plymouth]
More wind and rain, and the air thick and heavy on my chest. I stink worse than a London gutter. I wish I could just shut my eyes and sleep until everything was right again.

I told Francis Haite about the servant boy who found me.
"That would be John Charlton," Francis Haite said. "He's a good lad. He won't give you up."
Francis Haite is an old man, older than the Captain, with crooked and missing teeth and a face well lined. He clasped my shoulder for a moment. "Be patient, lad," he said.
I shall be patient. Father thinks me worthless when it comes to sticking with a plan. He says I run from everything. Well, I did run from Reverend Smythe's school. And from the Butcher. But I had good cause on both counts. And unhappy as I am, cramped in the hard confines of the Pinnace, I am better off than I was with the Butcher. And so I shall remain, recording my trials in this journal. I shall prove to Father that I am not a quitter. That I am good for something. That I am more than a Butcher's boy.
Finally, the rain has stopped. Empty casks taken off. Fresh supplies of Beer and Water brought on. This afternoon, at last, we weighed anchor. Now there are new sounds to join with the others. The wind clapping the sails, the men singing out in the rigging, the water churned by Endeavour
's prow. Fine sounds. Sailing sounds.

FRIDAY 26th [Off the Coast of England]
Samuel Evans, who has the largest hands I have ever seen, larger even than the Butcher's, found me at my journal, which has suffered from the damp despite its wrappings. He cannot read nor write and thinks it wondrous that a boy of eleven can do what a grown man cannot. "I could teach you," I told him. "When I am out of hiding."
He laughed and nodded his large head. "Time does sit heavy on a seaman some days. It'd be a blessing to read away the hours."

SATURDAY 27th [Off the Coast, North Atlantic]
Fair-haired John Ramsay, the youngest of the three men helping me, shipped out the first time when he was but eight.

There are several Gentlemen aboard. I often hear the name of Mr. Banks called. He's a very educated man from the sound of him. His brown hair goes wild in the wind, and his dark eyes are lit with an eager curiosity. Mr. Banks's Company watched porpoises off the side this afternoon. From my hiding place I could hear their remarks and see the pleasure the Gentlemen took in their sightings. I only wish I might have stood at the rail beside them and seen what they saw.
As I write, the sea is ever in my ears and in my bones. Endeavour
creaks and groans and sighs as she goes. I creak and groan and sigh, as well, but I must do it all in silence.

SUNDAY 28th [Off the Coast, North Atlantic]
Gale in the night. But today the rain gave way to haze and a light breeze, and I dried out a bit. Mr. Banks and his Gentlemen dipped up some seawater and discussed the creatures found swimming in it. The Gentlemen were full of exclamation and wonder.

MONDAY 29th to Tuesday 30th [Off the Coast, North Atlantic]
The weather has turned foul again, and the ship heaves and tosses. I am sick. The Gentlemen have been sick, too. Been at the side regularly. I can say now that Gentlemen heave the contents of their stomach same as eleven-year-old stowaways.

WEDNESDAY 31st TO THURSDAY 1st SEPTEMBER [Lat. 44°56' N, Long. 9°9' W]
All day the sea rose, breaking over the deck. Captain had the men everywhere in the rigging, trying to save the ship from being torn to pieces by the wind.

Just before first watch the Bosun staggered to the side and shook his fist at the sea, cursing it for stealing his skiff. But ship's cook, Mr. Thompson, was angrier still. A dozen of his hens drowned in the storm. Mr. Thompson kept muttering how he was never to feed the entire Company if the sea kept killing his livestock. I'd never seen ship's cook so close before. He has but one hand!

Copyright © 2000 by Karen Hesse

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