I Pray This Finds You Well
Our ship departs today for what the captain assures us will only be a six month voyage. I have my doubts but I am not the captain and though I am to be the bosun, my word counts for little around here.
I cannot promise how often to write. Several of my shipmates have learned I can write and I fear I am to be press-ganged into handling correspondences for them. I think I am the lesser of all evils insofar as they are concerned.
That brings me to our crew, I suppose. As you know this is to be my first trip with this captain. I think him too optimistic and the first mate too quick to jump to punishments. I shall be the one doling out these punishments and with any luck the captain shall temper them.
I have walked the ship and find her well provisioned though that is not my jurisdiction. Still, the state of provisions is important and I am pleased to see them so well handled. I have met most of the crew, minus the few late arrivals that the captain and the first mate are negotiating for.
Tomorrow it shall be six months behind the mast though as I have said I hold reservations in regards to this. We make for the land they call Tierra del Fuega and I must admit it has an ominous ring to it. If our trip is successful, we shall reconnoiter with the Essex, a goodly ship from Nantucket and already held lucky in the eyes of those that sail her. From there it shall be exchanging supplies for her repair and then we shall set sail to return home.
The ship, the Angelis is a goodly ship herself though this shall be her first voyage. I attended the christening ceremony yestermorn and it seemed half of Boston turned out to see her. I hope to bring you to Boston on my safe return. You shall like it here, I am sure. The town is growing though not yet at the rate of our home. They are a close community here but I have found they are not as suspicious of outsiders as I have found Nantucket to be. I think we will enjoy a life together there. I know it, Evangeline.
I do worry for you but I shall write you as often as I can. I think of you often and I only wish I could have arranged for you to come here sooner. I wish I might have seen you and you might have seen me off. I shall think of you whensoever I might be able to do so without jeopardizing the safety of the ship.
All my love and ever yours,
Seth P. Kilcuddy
The crew has settled into our tasks. The first few days were more spent in moments of confusion than was necessary. The green hands have taken to the work well but there is always an adjustment to be made. To summarize, I have spent much of my work time and free time as well assuring myself that this crew shall be up to the tasks we have.
There is not much I can tell you for nothing much has happened. We lost sight of land for the first time yesterday. We still follow the coast but we have moved further seaward to avoid the congestion of the traditional lanes. The moment was a trying one for the greenhands, who have never been so far asea. But there is promise amongst them and I feel confident that they shall work themselves out.
The waters are good and the winds are better. We are making better time than we hoped and the captain waxes enthusiastic. The first mate is less pleasant but thus far I have not had much chance to run across him.
I must get back to work but as always I shall think of you whensoever I may. You remain the light in my life and I count the days until we might be together again.
My love eternal,
Seth P. Kilcuddy
We have lost sight of land these seven days. The crew grows restless but that is to be expected at the start of a voyage. My services as one that metes out punishment have not yet been employed though I can see that there is discontent between the captain and his first mate. There has been no cause to hand out punishment and thankfully they both appear to agree on that though I have seen them argue between themselves when they feel they are not being observed.
We saw our first blow. Big sperm whale, bull if I know my marine life. If this ship were equipped for such, I have little doubt that we would have gone for it. As such we took down the coordinates, prepared to pass them to the next ship we hail. I feel the captain would best like to hand off to a ship from our own company but the state of things such as they are, we are most likely to give over to the first we make contact with.
I intended to finish this yesterday but we made contact with a ship and I regret that the events took a morbid turn. I hesitate to tell you of this but you have oft told me how you long to know everything and I fear I must mix the unhappy with the rest.
The ship we hailed was a frigate out of the Southern Americas. The captains met and came to ours to have a meal as is custom. The captain spoke our tongue quite well. His crew was less educated in the English language but many were versed enough that we of the crew had pleasant repast. The crew were fun loving and joked of both their lack of understanding and our limited understanding of their own language.
I say they were fun loving and that was true but for one man. He was smaller than his comrades and he seemed strangely withdrawn, as if there were something he were thinking of. Knowing how readily my own mind turns to you, I merely attributed it to a certain lovesickness. From his comrades I was able to determine that he had come from another ship which had befallen misfortune. He would have been considered unlucky in our own standings but though his shipmates spoke quietly to him as though he were a beast and they afeared of spooking him, they treated him with no other noticeable difference.
Our young greenhand, Francis Morgan whom I have been writing letters for, took it into his mind to befriend the sailor. I did my best to warn him off. I do not always believe in the superstition that a sailor from a ship that ran across misfortune is now cursed but there was something oppressive about the man.
But Morgan spoke a smattering of their language and tried to draw the man out. I do not know all of that which was said but it seemed to disturb the man and that in turn rubbed off on young Morgan.
I thought little of it but considered talking it over with Morgan once we had a few more days at sea. He would earn himself no friends by consorting with a ‘cursed’ sailor.
That is unfortunately not the end of our interactions with the ship. Once the captains had separated we remained moored close to one another through the night. Morgan was on the night duty and the next morning he told us a story.
He claimed that just before dawn, he saw a figure leave the other ship. He says it dropped into the ocean as surely as if it jumped. He raised the cry and I was among the first to respond. Our sister ship had unmoored and was sailing off, too far gone to make a proper communication. We put down three of the lifeboats but no sign was found and Morgan was the only to have seen whatever there had been to see.
I try not to cast suspicion on men but I understood some of what he and the South American had spoke of yesterday. Enough to understand that the foreigner had been convinced of something evil following him and enough to understand that he seemed convincing. I worry Morgan was influenced. He is young and he is new. I hope to have a talk with him before he can get his head too far into his own fancies.
If the man did leave the ship, there is no way to prove it. The sea takes as she will and I for one have doubts as to what happened. But it will be best if Morgan keeps what he thought he saw to himself.
I miss you terribly, my love, for I know you would know best how to handle this. You have always been a steadying point. As always I think of you and miss you more with each moment we are apart. I will send you these as soon as possible and I look forward to hearing from you whensoever you have the time.
All my love and yours eternally,
Seth P. Kilcuddy
There have been disturbing developments and I hesitate to write to you under these auspices but I must have this down on paper or I fear the record will be distorted. I know what I feel now and I know what I have seen but I fear how perceptions may change for me if things continue in this vein.
It has been a hard week for us. The sea is not forgiving. As you may imagine, it was all surrounding Morgan. I made an effort to talk to him in regards to what had happened with the South American crew but every time I attempted to do so, something more pressing arose. Morgan grew more sullen and distracted. I attempted to draw him out but he showed little desire. As you know by now, I had been writing letters for him and it was through that that I was able to determine what has been going on with him.
In his most recent letter, written for him three days since, he seemed to be bidding goodbye to his fiance. It concerned me and I spoke to the captain of it. Unfortunately, the first mate insisted on being brought in as well. As you know, I have my reservations about the first mate.
Morgan was asked to meet with the captain in private. I requested permission to attend, hoping to be able to provide witness for the young man’s character. I felt I knew him well after so many letters penned on his behalf. The captain agreed but to my displeasure, allowed the first mate in as well.
“Morgan,” the captain says to him once we are all seated. “The bosun has raised some concern for you. He feels that you may be suffering from depression and are considering something unfortunate.”
“It is nothing,” Morgan said. Now that we were in close quarters again, I could not help but be impacted by how changed he was from our first acquaintances. Then he had seemed pleasant and approachable and optimistic as the captain. Now he seemed withdrawn, sullen and morbid. There was darkness in his eyes and I was sad to see it.
“The crew seems to have noticed this as well,” the captain said. “There is unhappy talk going around about you, Mr Morgan.”
“What talk?” I asked. This was new information as far as I was concerned.
The captain looked at me with concern but the first mate appeared irritated. Myself, I just wished to know the full extent of what was happening with Morgan. As I have said, he did not seem a bad fellow and I hoped this, whatever it might be, was merely a passing inconsistency with him.
“Mr. Morgan, it appears, has become convinced our trip is cursed.”
I do not need to tell you how quick and devastating a claim like that can be. My mind flashed on the South American whom Morgan had conversed with during the meeting of the captains. I thought on how he had looked, a haunted, distraught look. It was, I came to realize in that moment, very much the way Morgan looked now.
“This is a cursed voyage,” Morgan said. He spoke with conviction and I felt my skin grow cold at the words. I understood how terrible a claim like that could be.
“That sort of talk is dangerous,” the first mate said.
“It is the truth,” Morgan said. He began to talk, his words rambling yet somehow convincing. He spoke of the sailor, the one who had purportedly jumped into the waters. He spoke of a dark shape he had come to understand was following the ship. He spoke of noises heard late on watch, when the stars and the rear lanterns are all the light in the world. I could have found myself believing them.
It seemed to cast a spell against which the captain and I were both helpless but the first mate was not affected. As Morgan waxed poetic, the first mate slammed his fist against the table and cut off the ramblings.
“This is enough. This is fear mongering and there will be none of this. If you cannot keep this talk under wraps, you will be removed from duty, sequestered to the brig and when we go to port, you shall remain there.”
It was as if the captain and I had both come out from a fog bank to see a sheer cliff before the helm. We stared at one another in horror then our captain seemed to collect himself. Morgan closed his mouth and would say no more. The captain to both my surprise and relief, did not berate the first mate nor did he refute the man’s edict.
This was several days ago and I have not heard from Morgan since. It would surprise you how readily one can lose track of another sailor upon a ship. For my part, I have tried to keep the event from my mind but the first mate continues to look about with serious mien and I do feel concern for Morgan. To be sure, his claims would ruin this voyage, be they true or just fanciful ramblings.
I know of little else to tell you. The first mate has not had to carry through on his threat and it seems that this is to be the end of it. I, for one, am glad to see the last of this lunacy.
Always and eternally yours, in everything I do,
Seth P. Kilcuddy
It has been almost a week since the last instance of disturbance and I yearned to write sooner yet circumstances have but deteriorated. We put into port in Virginia. At that time, Morgan had been quiet, his shifts seemingly uneventful. In light of recent occurrences, the captain has agreed that I should take over his night watch but I am coming to that shortly.
Morgan was as peaceable as you please when we came to port. I was surprised to note there was very little hostility held against him amid the crew. I have seen a crew turn on a sailor they consider unlucky, culling him from the herd as surely as a farmer will butcher an extra rooster. Yet our crew seemed almost indifferent to this man and his superstitions.
So it seemed as though the danger of Morgan was passed. There were no desertions at Virginia and the new supplies were well received. We heard of the South American ship we had passed but it was nothing more than expected.
We left port in good spirits. Even the surly first mate was calmed and seemed to have his bearings once more.
That lasted not nearly long enough. By the end of our second day to sea, we had once more lost sight of land and a change came over Morgan. He at once withdrew but this time he took with him several of the other crew. Primarily two of the greenhands whom I had been writing letters for. As with Morgan, they requested one last letter a piece from me and the subject and dictation was similar to that which Morgan had insisted I put to page for him.
This alone was disturbing enough but I chanced to hear some of what was exchanged between Morgan and one of the senior crew. The gist was much the same as it had been when Morgan spoke to the captain and I. As before I found myself falling under the spell of this skilled orator. Much of what he spoke of seemed natural to me. I myself had no stomach for the art of whale killing and I found that his argument that our mission to further such a craft was wasted, this I found compelling though. I had seen the wonder of the whales with my own eyes and had seen the carnage left in a ship’s wake following the butchery.
But under the same thoughts I had others, ones I had long used to justify the work being done at sea. This is necessary, is it not, my darling? We have need and needs must be met. If there were an alternative, I am confident it would be found and will be found.
It seems to me, writing this now, that perhaps Morgan’s words were not entirely the same as they had been that day in the captain’s quarters. Then he had talked of the dark shape following the ship and he spoke of it again on this occasion but it seemed more of an afterthought this time. His focus appeared to be on the evils of the whaling industry and how in making this supply run, we were extending the reaches of that evil.
It was dangerous, nearly seditious talk yet I could not bring myself to report it. I knew full well that I should. Yet it held me in its sway as surely as if the world had stopped.
As bewitched as I was or perhaps still am, I did come to Morgan the next day hence and bade him cease such talk. He treated me with pity and I found my temper, which you know well is rarely brought to fruition, rising and vain did I attempt to curb it.
I felt the desire to distance myself and I did so, moving to the aft of the ship. ‘Twas day and a cold, overcast one at that. No storms yet rose upon the horizon but the air tasted of them. I stood at the rear of the ship and did my level best to temper my growing irritation. As I did so, I happened to look down into the water. It appeared darker than it should but I turned to see the sun behind me. I had but been seeing the shadow of the ship.
I told myself this many times over the days that followed but always I found myself at the rear of the ship, looking into the water for problems I should not search out.
I have done everything I know to dissuade this feeling and I can think of nothing else so I have requested permission to switch shifts, to work the nights. The captain was pleased by it and allowed it readily. The first mate has approached me in regards to it as well, saying he believes that Morgan is talking with the others, trying to form his own following. I cannot imagine what for as Morgan still seems to think the ship and all its crew should merely set for land and never return.
I grow concerned about this trip, my darling, but I do not say this that you might worry. The ship is well provisioned and we are making good time. I received your letters in Virginia and have sent the most recent to you. I am glad to hear things are progressing so well with your learning and I look forward to hearing more about it in detail when next we meet.
Seth P. Kilcuddy
We are becalmed. It has been three days since the winds last rippled our sails and I fear it will be more still before we are moved to action. The captain continues to display his optimism and I fear it is growing stale with the crew. There have been no fights but sullen behavior and surly looks are all too common.
Morgan has kept his head down and for that I am thankful. Yet even with his head down and his mouth shut, the greenhand is attracting attention. Others have gravitated to him. I see them with him on the nights, a cluster around the fore while I remain at the stern. I try not to but I still look for the darkness in the water I noticed near a fortnight ago. Still I see it, in darkness and in light, an amorphous shape that flows along behind us. Once we had a good headwind and the shape dropped behind for some length of time, perhaps three, at the most four bells.
I no longer think it merely a chance shadow, though we do continue at an eastern heading, which would put the light before us during most of the day. But the shadow lingers into the evening and at night it is black as tar. I do not know what it might be. I know marine life but this is nothing I have seen before in all my years before the mast. It moves not like a whale nor a shark and tis too big to be anything else, save a school of fish. Yet why follow us at all, were it any of those?
I cannot long stay with that vein of thinking. There might be reasons but none I am willing to acknowledge.
The captain is sure the calm will break. I feel there must be a break or something of that nature. I am not given over to superstition yet I feel that this is an unnatural calm. We are far from the normal trade routes yet though the trade winds are far, far away, there ought to be something. Storms ravage these waters and though I am told they are not due for months yet, the other veteran sailors act ill at ease when we speak of these things. The captain refuses to acknowledge it and the first mate grows tense if it is mentioned.
I do not know when next I shall write. Many of the crew have forsaken my services as a scribe and more of them flock to Morgan and his words.
Yet I find it difficult to write. Even with the free time I am allotted
during this calm, I find myself drawn to the stern, standing at the
aftmost stance and staring down into the waters. I do not know what it
is down there but sometimes I can imagine
We are yet becalmed. The mood on the ship grows more terse and yet the feeling of discontent comes not from the captain nor Morgan nor his growing following. It comes from but one source. The first mate. He has grown suspicious and talks little to Morgan or the others. I am one of the only that he will converse with.
To be honest, I find the entire thing tedious. Stores are running low on the ship and I cannot see how any of the crew may fix it. We were meant to be in Jamaica by this date and we had not provisioned for more than such. Indeed, it seems some of our stores are wearing out faster than others. Clean water remains abundant, thank the heavens but our stores of salt tack have been depleting at an alarming rate.
Morgan comes to speak with me as well, in the moments before dawn, when by some trick of the light, the lights at the rear seem to be entirely extinguished and the stars have faded in the faintest glow of the coming day. He talks little but it is always of the shadow in the water. He seems to understand what the shadow wants of us yet he will not say. Merely he asks for confirmation that I too see the shadow. I do not know why I am so reluctant to give this confirmation to him.
I meant to finish our last letter but I fear I must leave this one as inconclusive as the first. Night is fast approaching and I must be at my post. I do miss you terribly and wish you were here. These are long nights ahead.
Eternally yours in love,
This shall be my last letter
I have learned more of the shadow. I cannot bear to repeat all nor even any part of that which I now know. I know what I must do and none may stop me. I pray you can find it in yourself to understand what I do now. It must be done. I understand why I have been chosen and there is nothing left but to do what must be done. Do not think me cruel. I pray you go on with your life. I am sure you won’t find me too difficult to miss.
Seth P. Kilcuddy
From the Logbook of Joachim Hernandez, Captain of the USS Terra Nova
Rose with the dawn. Good winds to see us north once more. Shall need a new sexton once we put to port. Mention this to Kinsey. Traveled north at a stately clip. No land yet sighted.
Ship spied on the horizon. She does not seem to move much and appears to be flying the US colors though from our distance it might well be the British. Shall see about hailing her come the morning.
The ship did not move. She is called Angelis and we have tried to hail her but no response immediately. Later. Boarded the ship. Only one man alive, a fellow named Cuthbert. Claims to be the first mate. No sign of the rest of the crew. We are not equipped to tow a ship her size and my crew is fearful of the ship herself. I have taken note of the bearings and shall seek to secure a transport for her when we put into port.
The man Cuthbert seems intelligent though he claims that his entire crew simply walked into the water, stepping off the stern. We have secured some personal belongings from the ship, letters and ledgers that will hopefully tell us more of this. Now, we head to Philadelphia.
Still, there is something about the man, a sickness perhaps. I will sequester him with the slaves below. Should they contract it, it will be no great loss and the colonials will be safe.
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