The door shuddered as it was slammed shut and a young man was thrown onto the floor with aggression in his father’s rage. The woman, who had been going about her household chores, backed away and tried to disassociate herself with the impending scene. She looked away, her dark red hair covering her view of the younger man and the older one, her husband.
“You’re a bloody fool!” barked the father, “A bloody fool I sired! You’d earned a decent keep for Mr. Robertson!”
The younger man got up on one elbow, moving slowly and spitting to a side. From the corner of her vision, the woman saw blood come away with his saliva.
“Decent keep…” said the younger man slowly, “Aye, a decent keep. But what dignity father, eh? I might as well be a Negro slave in the Bahamas!”
“Oh-ho, still dreanin’ of your bleedin’ fortune, are ye, son?” his father jeered, bending down to sneer in his son’s face, “You spit on a wealthy man’s shoes, disgrace him and get your arse fired as Hell out of the man’s house: And yet you still think ye have the courage and the discipline to become a– pray, what did ye call it?” his father mockingly said the word, “Pri-va-teer!”
“It’s not just a dream, papa!” the boy snapped, turning over and straightening, “England and Spain are fightin’ their bloody guts out, and we’re sittin’ around shinin’ some ‘gentleman’s’ shoes! Workin’ on his godforsaken farm and cleanin’ out his pissed-on kitchens! When lads out there – in the New World! – are makin’ a keep by fightin’ for their country! I could–”
“Oh, just listen to your god-damn twaddle!” the father slapped the boy hard across his face, “You’ve any idea what’s lurkin’ about those waters, eh? You have a bloomin’ inklin’ of an idea? You want t’know what’ll ‘appen? I’ll tell you here and now – you’ll end up dead! From what I know of ye – goin’ off at night, drinkin’ your bleedin’ heart to dysfunction, and no bloomin’ discipline whatsoever – ye’ll wind up drowned at the bottom o’ the ocean, with no stone at your head, no Lord in your mind and no family in your heart! Ye ‘ear me, Thomas? Ye’ll not win respect or fortune – it’s for men of a far better quality than ye!”
“What, like you, ye mean!” the young man stood up, “Like you? Who walks about like he don’t care as everybody curses him a tinker and marks him down for his poverty!”
“Hold your tongue, Thom!”
“I’ll not! Here’s a chance to make better of our family – and ye’ll not take it!”
“I’d a chance to better my family when you were workin’ for Mr. Robertson!”
“Oh, bother speakin’ with you!” Thom stomped his way to the back door.
The woman grabbed his arm and said softly, “Son, please. Your father meant well. He’s jus’ upset!”
Thom turned, narrowing his eyes, and snapped, “I am not your son!”
* * * * *
Thom woke from his dream, eyes open and his body pouring with sweat. He hadn’t been startled by it, but it seemed to fill him with a choking sensation – as if taking his every breath took some great effort and great thought. Thom was sure it was well passed the time to rise, but lingered in bed, replaying the memory over and over again whilst staring emptily at the ceiling.
And the more he thought on it, the more it hurt him.
He was about sixteen, then. Those were the last words he’d said to his father since he left for the New World – and, it seemed, the last words he’d ever say to the old man.
His father had passed away that year, a few months previously actually, all of a sudden. The letter had detailed apoplexy, but considering the poor experience of the apothecaries that his family could afford – Thom couldn’t be sure.
He sighed sadly, knowing that this whole event would bother him for the years to come. Thom sat up, his cot-like bed in his cabin aboard, creaking as he did so, and rubbed the back of his neck and the scarce stubble on his chin.
Thom’s father’s wife and his half-sister were being sent to him. They would arrive in Kingston, awaiting his welcome.
My welcome…he thought pensively, What welcome could I offer to a woman who ever sought my acceptance but never received it, and a girl who I’ve never even met? What would I tell them? How could they live by me? Thom looked out of the small, round window placed high up on the wall, When I know that turncoat is combing the ocean in search of me, in some hope that I’ll hang or return a pauper at their mercy?
But no matter how much he pondered on these questions, the decision had already been made for him.
Thom dressed quickly, taking a moment to admire himself in his looking-glass, straightening his hat a little, before stepping out of his cabin and taking the wheel at the helm of his ship.
“Where to, Captain?” asked Malcolm.
“We’re sailin’ for Jamaica,” he replied briefly, as Malcolm barked orders to the other deckhands.
I left home for the sake o’ my family, Thom thought, I’ll not abandon them now for my own sake.