Thom sat back in his seat, scarcely sipping his flagon of rum as he watched the enchanting dancers sing and spin around the veranda of a tavern.
They had no spell on him today.
From his seat, Thom could see the Jamaican harbour, and he watched it constantly and almost involuntarily. He was in a mixture of moods. Partially, he was rejoicing. He would finally meet the sister he’d heard so much of in words but had never beheld in vision. He knew the color of her hair, the hue of her eyes, the height of her stature and the cheek of her behaviour – but he was excited in actually seeing her, and matching the real image against the image in his mind’s eye.
But when he registered her age… there was a sickness, a churning in his innards.
Ten years old.
Nearly twenty years his junior.
How would she react? he wondered, Would she even see me as her brother? Devil curse me, I’m so old… I could be her uncle, her father.
And then there was the issue of his step-mother. She, being married of to Thom’s father aged fourteen, was relatively young herself – maybe only a few years older than Thom.
Thom had always shunned and resented her. Every kind word was returned by a bitter remark and every scolding was met with a defiant heedlessness. At length, perhaps Thom might have admitted that he’d hated the woman – regardless of the fact that she’d nurtured and cared for him after his mother died of a long-term illness when he was still very young.
He didn’t know.
The final issue was his current… profession. He could not leave it and, it seemed, it would prove quite a challenge to hold on to it. Thom couldn’t hide it, that was for sure. Even a fairly-enclosed ten-year-old would know the difference between a common sailor, and the sailor that way-laid other sailors. He huffed and slouched in his seat, pulling his hat down so that a shadow fell over his face.
“Still broodin’, Captain?”
Thom straightened up on hearing Malcolm’s voice. Malcolm pulled out a chair and sat front-facing against the back-rest, leaning his arms against the polished wood.
“Aye,” said Thom, “that’s one way t’put it.”
“Oi, don’t work yourself out, Tinker,” he said, slapping the captain’s arm, “Ye’ll make a fine brother and a fine son.”
Thom resisted the urge to say, I’m not her son.
“Y’reckon so?” he replied, a little sarcastically, taking a sip of his rum, “Ye reckon my sister’ll make as fine a buccanneer as m’self?”
“Oh, aye,” Malcolm laughed, “What’s wrong wi’ ye today, eh? I ain’t ever seen your face so coloured by feelin’.”
“I’m… I just worry.”
Malcolm indicated outwards with his chin to the dancers, “Plenty o’ sport t’remedy that.”
Thom glanced at them uninterested, “Not my type,” he mumbled.
“Oh, ye have types now, do ye!” said Malcolm, “You must be growin’ old, mate!”
“Quit your jestin’, Malcolm!” replied Thom, supressing a grin, “I ain’t so old I can’t drop an anchor in one o’ them harbours, but… I don’t know. I’ve to set a good example, now, don’t I?”
“Captain, your ship has landed!”
Thom rose from his seat on hearing the caller. He watched the white sails blow gently against the mast of a fine brig. He closed his eyes for a moment and then made motion to leave the veranda.
“Oi, Tinker,” said Malcolm.
Thom turned and waited for him to continue.
“You’re an excellent captain, a fine sailor, and a good man,” the quarter-master held Thom’s arm, “Ye’ll make a good brother too. You’ll make this work, even if ye ain’t yet the man o’ quality to left home t’become.”
Thom raised his brows, surprised, “Thank you…” he took Malcolm’s hand, “Thank you, Malcolm.”
Thom climbed down the steps, his feet feeling like lead and yet a jittering buzz in his legs made him want to go on. As he approached the dock, he noticed his hands were shaking and his palms were beading with sweat. He touched his forehead and took a deep breath, looking at the ground for a moment. He saw something pleasing there, something that perhaps his sister, Margaret, would appreciate. He picked the exotic flowers, and bunched them hurriedly, before making his way to the ship. Thom took off his hat before he beheld the countenace of his sister.
Margaret was not looking at him, but she stood upon the dock next to the ship, looking amazed at the vibrant Kingston. Her auburn hair, her dark blue eyes, her impish look marking her for mischief – just as had been described, but never had Thom dreamed that she would look this way! She wore a bright blue dress and her hair was tied back tightly with a band. He smiled, and carried on his way to meet her.
Thom’s step-mother stepped off the deck of the ship and stood next to her daughter, and saw him approaching.
“Thomas!” Mrs McCarthy cried, smiling broadly but keeping her distance, “Thomas! Bless me, look at you!”
“Madam,” he nodded solemnly at his step-mother, “It is good to see you,” he bent his knee and held out the flowers to Margaret. Smiling and cocking his head to a side,
“I’ve… heard so much of ye,” he said, his voice shaking a little.
“For me?” Margaret took the flowers smiling and sniffed them tentatively. She looked oddly at Thom, “Are you…Are you my brother?” she asked.
“Aye, that I am, Margaret,” her name felt alien to his mouth – as though it were meant only to be written and not spoken – but he relished the new feel to it.
Margaret: my sister, he thought.
Margaret paused a moment before saying, “You look very old.”
He chuckled, “I am old.”
“And you wear such nice clothes,” she commented, her voice curious, “Papa used to talk much of you. He said… he said all you ever dreamed of was going to the New World and making money there. It looks like you’ve got your dream, brother.”
“He’s not all that wrong, I’m afraid,” replied Thom, “I did mean to come back to ye, though. Live out my life in London, but...” he turned his face away a little, his cheeks blushing with shame.
Margaret nodded, “I’m… I’m sure you were busy.”
“That’s… that’s a way to put it, I s’pose,” he paused rubbing the back of his neck, “I can’t say I ain’t sorry – that I didn’t see you grow up and such. That I couldn’t be there wi’ ye when papa died.”
“That’s alright. You’re here now and we’ll have many adventures together!” the girl giggled, “You talk funny, Thomas.”
“Aye,” Thom smiled. He felt a slight stab of guilt, however, thinking on his piracy and the people who were hunting him down, and how this could wholly change young Maragret’s life for the worst. Many adventures, indeed, were on their way. “Aye. Strangeness does you curses and blessings alike, lass.”
“Will… will you take care of us now?” she asked, “Now that papa… now that papa went away?”
He looked at his step-mother, and then touched Margaret’s face, “Aye. The bars o’ Hell couldn’t stop me from lookin’ after ye now,” he looked back at Mrs McCarthy, “Both o’ ye.”
Their conversation would have continued, had Malcolm not come running down to the harbour.
“Captain! He’s here! Hornigold is here!”