The Orphan’s Gift (Short Story)

Mrs. Clarke rapidly opened the door to the back courtyard waving her hands at the group of young children enjoying the fresh summer air. “It’s visiting time!” she shouted gleefully. The woman knew that the children cherished their weekly visits.

The youngsters squealed in delight and ran toward the open door. Mrs. Clarke placed her stout hand on each child’s head in an effort to slow down the scurrying.

Henry was the last one to approach the door. He peered up toward the woman his face donning an expression of anguish. Mrs. Clarke smiled at the boy confirming that he, too, had a visitor this day.

He timidly entered the recreation area scanning the faces of the small number of visitors. He instantly saw Edwin, a young man who had become his frequent visitor. Henry ran over to Edwin gazing up at him with much delight.

“You didn’t think I would come?” the young man questioned. Henry’s cheeks reddened as he looked down at his feet. Edwin laughed saying, “I would never miss my weekly visits with you. Not for the world!”

Henry looked up at the towering man and beamed. “Me either!”

Edwin squatted downward to become eye level with the boy. With his hands hidden behind his back he stated, “I have something for you.”

Henry clapped his hands together shouting, “A present? For me?”

“Yes. A present for you,” Edwin replied. As he began to pull his left hand from behind his back he quickly stopped and held his right index finger up. “Now Henry. I want you to know this was used but I hope you don’t mind.”

The boy shook his head anxiously waiting to see what was behind the man’s back. Edwin revealed a small fiddle. An expression of amazement possessed Henry’s face. His jaw dropped open as he struggled to form any type of words.

Finally. “For me?” he asked his voice quivering.

Edwin nodded. “It was given to me when I was a lad your age. Do you like it?”

Tears filled Henry’s eyes as he reached out toward the tattered instrument. He gently took it from Edwin’s hand and cradled it as a mother would a child.

“Thank you, “ the boy whispered. He placed the instrument gently on the chair next to him and wrapped his arms around Edwin’s neck. Hugging him ever so tightly he asked, “How did you know I can play it?”

Edwin leaned back from the boy and responded, “Mrs. Clarke said you had become quite a good player. I thought perhaps you would like one of your own.”

“This was yours?”

“Yes.”

“When you were my age?”

“Yes.”

“And I can keep it?”

“Yes.”

Henry picked up the fiddle and began stroking the strings.

“Oh wait! I need to go back out to my car,” Edwin stated. “I left the bow and case in there. I will be right back. I promise.”

Edwin briskly passed Mrs. Clarke who was joined by Mrs. Appley, the residing director of the orphanage.

“That is Edwin Chadwick,” Mrs. Clarke commented. “The one I told you about. He visits Henry every week.”

Mrs. Appley nodded waiting for the young man to return.

Minutes later Edwin reappeared holding a small, worn violin case. He grinned at the two women as he sped past them. He approached Henry and took the boy by the shoulder.

“Let’s sit over here,” he suggested pointing to an empty table. Henry followed close behind clutching the fiddle to his chest. Edwin placed the case on the table and opened the latch. Henry’s eyes grew large with excitement when he saw not one but two bows in the case.

“They are broken in for you but as you improve we can get you a better bow okay?” Henry stared at him smiling.

“I am sorry to say this but visiting time is over this week,” Mrs. Appley announced. Her statement was followed by boos and groans from the children. The children hoped these visits could last longer and perhaps their visitors would one day offer them real homes.

Sadness crept across young Henry’s face. Edwin placed his hand on the boy’s head and smiled.

“I promise I will be back next week. You have made me so happy today Henry.”

“How?” Henry asked in bewilderment. “You gave me a present. I’m the one who is happy.”

Edwin gazed in Henry’s eyes and explained, “I am happy because you liked it so much. It meant the world for me to give this to you.” The two hugged as Mrs. Clarke motioned the adults to the door.

“Next week!” Henry yelled.

Edwin turned and responding, “Next week!”

The Final Haul (Short Story)

Night crept in quietly and quickly. The sky donned its black cloak adorned with sparse pinholes of bright, shimmering light. The eerie silence on the water was interrupted by the sporadic flapping of the worn sails. The heavy ropes slammed in rhythm against the giant masts.

The young man stood perched leaning on the railing of the mighty vessel nodding off in search of much needed slumber. Suddenly he was awoken by the distant sound of canon fire.

“Relax me lad,” the gruff old man sputtered drawing on the pipe clenched tightly between his teeth. “They don’t attack ships at night.” He patted the young sailor on the back and then tottered off toward the stern.

Jacob gazed across the dark waters toward the land as the ship hauled through the chilling winter sea. He could glimpse bursts of light on the land accompanied by a muffled thunder from the canons. Certainly Chief Mate Simpkins is right, he thought to himself.  Besides the Raging Wind is a sturdy and mighty ship.

He continued at his attempt to keep watch.  His mind drifted back in time when he first joined the crew. Initially used as a merchant vessel, the Raging Wind was enlisted to aid in the war efforts carrying mostly ammunitions and supplies to the troops.

Although he had no experience at sea much less working on a ship, Jacob was recruited as an ordinary seaman. But he was eager to learn the ranks and set his sight on becoming an able seaman and maybe one day the captain.

His early duties including swabbing the decks, cleaning, performing maintenance and managing deck equipment. It was his passion for life at sea that led him to developing keen watch standing skills. Not surprisingly he passed the examination and gone were the days of mopping and cleaning. He was now part of the watch crew.

Straining his eyes, Jacob spied troops approaching the shoreline where he had seen the canon fire. The mighty ship continued her haul, and as it approached the front of an inlet Jacob caught sight of something unimaginable. Rolling into the waters was a ship that diminished the size of the Raging Wind.

Jacob sprang to the bell and began ringing it with such determination.

Suddenly he heard Simpkins shout to the crew members on the deck. “Haul the ropes lads! We need to change direction!”

The thundering feet on the deck muffled the canon bursts that had been heard throughout the night. Jacob took his place with the other sailors as they began to haul the ropes in cadence to the lead helmsman who began singing the hauling shanty to keep the men in rhythm.

Captain Atwood leapt from the helm ordering, “To the gunners!”

Several sailors fled the deck to man the large guns as they emerged from the starboard of the ship.

“You! To the crow’s nest!”

Another sailor scrambled up the ropes to the top of the mast and assumed his position.

Jacob could see distress take control of the captain’s face. He turned his attention back to his task of drawing the ropes in an effort to force the sails to change direction.

Without warning, the deck was enveloped with a great spray of the sea water.

“They’re firing on us!” Jacob yelled.

Holding the spyglass up to his eye, Captain Atwood saw the enemy ship fast approaching. “Keep hauling lads!” After that he sped off to the bilge where the gunners were preparing for their orders.

Another spray of water drenched the sailors on the deck causing several to slip from the ropes. The rigging began to burn through Jacob’s hands as he clung on tightly. Then the ship jolted forcing him to the ground. He looked up and saw the great sail thrashing back and forth mimicking a white flag of surrender.

“No!” Jacob yelled. “We are not going down like this!” He regained his footing and jumped for the abandoned rope. Below deck he could hear Captain Atwood yell “Fire!!!”

The deafening roar of the canons led to sounds of thunderous crashes against the rival ship. Jacob was astonished to witness very little damage on the other ship which was gaining speed. The Raging Winds’ canons sounded again but to no avail.

The opposing ship returned the favour and launched several canon attacks on the Raging Wind causing the vessel to tremble. Then Jacob heard a loud cracking noise and watched in astonishment as the huge mast snapped and collapsed across the deck toward the port side.

Heavy artillery ensued destroying the second mast and decorating the ship with huge holes. Sailors were screaming as they jumped from the deck. Then in an instant, one last final blow was cast on the ship causing it to capsize. She descended to her burial ground on the ocean floor as the sea claimed the lives of the captain and all of the crew.