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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meeting at the Blue Coracle

Samuel Cohagan opened the battered door of the Blue Coracle and quickly entered the coffee house. The cool, dark interior contrasted with the bright sun and rank stickiness of Port Royal's tropical atmosphere. Six years after the great earthquake of 1694, Port Royal had returned to its boom days though on a much smaller scale, since the quake had swallowed up three quarters of its former size and isolated it from the mainland.

Inside, Samuel took off his tri-corner hat and mopped his brow with handkerchief taken from he left coat sleeve. Only 10 o'clock and already it had become so hot.

He congratulated himself for choosing not to wear the powdered wig. Instead he had pulled back his own auburn hair back into a short pony tail tied off with a simple black ribbon from one of his daughters.

As his eyes adjusted to muted light, he could hear the murmurs of the sea captains, shipping agents, and merchants who used the coffee house as neutral ground for their sometimes heated negotiations.

"Good day, Samuel!" proprietor Amos Johnston said as he moved  from behind the bar. Clasping his friend's hand, Amos said,  "Have you any news about your son?"

"I thank you Amos for your concern," Samuel Cohagan said, sighing heavily.  "No news since he was taken almost three months ago.  I came to see if there might be word of any new arrivals from Bristol."

"Aye!" Amos said. "There are a couple of new captains here.  I'll point them out.  See! There at the third table."

As Samuel started to edge forward past the first table in the narrow coffee house Jonah called out, "Samuel! I almost forgot!  The gentleman sitting by himself at the rear says he has business with you."

Samuel looked at the last table and saw a bespectacled older man with graying hair and beard laboring over what he took to be an account book. At first glance, Samuel thought him to be a purser balancing his accounts. The man looked up and smiled.  For a moment, Samuel thought he knew him. He stopped briefly at the third table to inquire if any of the new arrivals had come from Bristol.  He tried not to show his disappointment when he learned that they had come from Boston.

Then Samuel made his  way back to the rear table.  The man looked up from his bookkeeping, laid his quill pen down on a small piece of blotting paper and rose.  The bearded man smiled broadly and extended his right hand.

"Master Cohagan,"  the man said shaking Samuel's hand vigorously.  "At long last we meet.  Your papers in the Royal Academy Proceedings on metallurgy as it relates to firearms  have been a inspiration  to me. I feel as if  we are old friends."

"It's strange you should mention that," Samuel said as he sat down. "I had the oddest feeling that I should know you. It's almost as if we could have been childhood friends. Now sir, you have business with me?"

"Indeed I do sir," the man said. "But first I must inquire about your son.  I heard something of your conversation with our host.  My old ears ring from cannon fire, but I can still hear quite well."

"He was taken sir," Samuel said. "A star fell over the bay and it shattered in mid-air with many scattered pieces falling near Spanish Town. There are stories of smiths hammering the metal from falling stars into great swords. With that in mind, Nathan and I set out to find them."

"Yes," the man said nodding, "I've heard of such tales."

"We found where the stones fell to earth and began collecting them.  We separated to cover more ground and some time later I heard my son Nathan call out, 'Huzzah!'  But I grew worried he did not answer any of my replies.  When we found his shovel, it was spotted with blood -- his blood. I knew then that he had been taken."

Samuel's voice rose as he said, "I ran to the beach and saw a small boat making for the anchoring ground of Port Royal.  As my apprentices ran to find a boat,  I could make out the ship that the men in the boat boarded.  I could not get to the ship in time before she sailed. I learned later the name and the captain:  the slaver Vanity mastered by one Captain Billy Blue."

"Oh my!" the man said. "A slaver is a horrible berth. The things he might see and be forced to do. It's hell on earth for the slaves.  So that's why you came today, as you do every time you see a new ship arrive at Port Royal."

"Excuse me," said a short and stocky sea captain, who had entered the Blue Coracle a few moments earlier. "I couldn't help overhearing your tale and the name Billy Blue.  Now there's an evil, lying, cheating, malicious drunkard of a master for you.  He's turned many a good sailor away from the sea by his abusive treatment of his men. I shudder to learn that your son is among his crew."

At those words Samuel's shoulder's slumped. He felt a strong hand thump him on the back.

"Courage!" the man with the graying hair and beard said. "Is there a scripture you've used to encourage yourself?"

"Why yes, friend, there is!" Samuel said. "It's from Psalm 27. 'I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.' I thank you friend, you've reminded me to be strong in my faith, even if my eyes and ears tell you otherwise!"

Seeking to undo his ill-chosen remarks, the stocky captain said, "Mark you, even on that slaver there are a few good men among them. They'll watch out for him. Stand up sir so I can get a good look at you."

Samuel stood, turning so the man could get a better glimpse of his features.

"I thank you sir," the stocky captain said, "I did see the Vanity in Bristol as we sailed out. Her crew was careening her.  I saw a younger version of yourself, alive and doing the work of three men. My eye was drawn to him, in fact.  I take it to be an act of Providence.  He was dressed in rags, but he was hale and unbowed."

"I thank the LORD for this good news!"  Samuel shouted  My son is alive and well!"

Just then, a melodious tune chimed.

"Oh dear!"  said the man with the graying hair and beard as he looked at a large pocket watch that continued to chime. "Recall!  My ship, the Rodger Young,  is leaving.  I must go. Here!  Take this pouch and letter.  The contents of the pouch will pay for the commission outlined in the letter."

As the man scooped up his possessions and scurried toward the door, Samuel hefted the pouch and knew there was a generous amount of gold in it.

"Wait!" Samuel called.  "I didn't learn you name."

The man reached the door then turned back to Samuel and smiled broadly.

"It's in the letter!" he said as he opened the door and disappeared into the bright sunshine.

"That is very odd," said the stocky captain. "There's no ship in the harbor by that name. In fact, I've never heard of ship by that name. Rodger Young, was it?"

Samuel pocketed the pouch and read the letter:

Master Cohagan,

Spare no expense in making two braces of the finest, most accurate pistols you and your apprentices have ever made. The men for which they are intended will have great need of them.  Make out the presentation plate for each brace, one for Samuel Cohagan and one for Nathan Cohagan with the sentiment, "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. Proverbs 3:5."

The LORD will see you and your family through.

Yours in prayer and danger, 

W. H. Hayes

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