The wind ruffled Sean’s hair as he bent over the deck. The rough stone in his hands ground against the deck, raising a lather. The blood slowly lifted from the wood, turning the water pink. Sean tried to distract himself with the scenery floating by 500 feet below. There was nothing wrong with the blood itself, fellow crewmen had been shot and stabbed by falling splinters at every battle from Manassas to Atlanta. But there had always been a pressing duty, something to pull his attention, or at the very least a person of a body where the blood had clearly come from. This blood, without any clear source, made him think of the textile mill he had worked in after his father died, of the day when he’d been told to remove a woman’s arm from where it was trapped in the workings. He had been the only one small enough to get into the machine where it had gotten caught. It had taken more than an hour to wash the sticky blood from all the gears. Finally, he sluiced away the soapy pink water and the thoughts of his childhood.
When the deck was clean, Sean walked to where Edmond was standing by the rail. Edmond was inspecting the four cannon mounts spaced along the deck. The advanced mounts provided powered elevation and windage adjustment for two guns per side, but all presently stood empty. The union had taken all four guns before they set the bomb in the engine room. The spaces where the guns used to be (before they were “appropriated”) had been helpful for climbing aboard the night before, but now there were hundreds of feet between the deck and the leafy green world below; the openings were a terror even for those with little fear of heights. Edmond had looped some rope across the opening and was making it fast against the rail.
“Head down below and see what we can eat for lunch if you please?” Edmond asked as he finished the makeshift rope rail for the first gun port.
Sean didn’t need to be asked twice: “Aye aye sir!” He grinned as he entered the spacious kitchen. Ten feet long, and fourteen feet wide, it had a large range and oven, a table for 14, and even an ice box. The union might have taken the guns, but they had left the state of the art kitchen fully stocked. Mold had ruined some of the carrots and onions, but he was able to find apples, potatoes, and salt beef. Sean recalled how his mother had him prepare their own potatoes when they lived on the farm in Ireland as he washed and chopped them.
Edmond descended the stairs as the potatoes came out of the oven. Sean looked apologetic as he explained that the only meat aboard was salt beef, but Edmond simply smiled and sat down. The two men joined hands in prayer as the food steamed on the table. Sean said grace while Edmond sat silently. Quakers were technically protestants, but Sean had never been a perfect Catholic himself, so he didn’t mind.
The hot potato wedges and sweet apple ones disapeared in a moment, so it was over the salt beef that they discussed the state of the ship. It was about five hours till dusk, and Edmond was hoping to finish replacing the planks and handrails with bullets buried in them before dark.
When their tin plates had been scraped clean, Sean and Edmond gathered tools and lumber from the forehold and set to shaping pieces to fit. It was when all the pieces had been trimmed and routered and the two were sanding them smooth that Sean spoke.
“Well, a few more days of work, and she’ll look almost good! No more contraband in the hold, no more discomforting stains on the deck, and in a minute: fixed rails.”
Edmond laughed uncomfortably. “Better to put ourselves to work than lay about the whole way back. But fixing her up doesn’t make her ours. When we land we’ll have to figure out what to do about the legal problem.”
“We could just-”
“Sean, I’m not going to sell the ship without papers proving that we own it. The captain may still be alive!”
“We didn’t steal it from him. It was supposed to be destroyed.”
“And I imagine that is what will happen wen we turn it in.”
“Sir- how can we turn this beautiful ship over to be destroyed? The previous owner may have been a criminal, but we aren’t!” Sean made note of the beauty of the craft, but left out the related fact that it would sell for more than the two of them had made during the course of the war.
Edmond looked from Sean to the deck at his feet, and then to the gap in the rail. He ran his good hand over the replacement piece. The other turned slowly round and round, almost absent mindedly. “Nail this in place, we’re done here.”