Mountains of Memories
Copyright © 2015 by Parker Sheaffer
The Cameroon was quite a bit smaller than the Bonnie Lass and didn't make runs across the Atlantic. She mainly sailed to Cuba, the Bahamas and Jamaica, bringing home sugar, rum, tobacco, cacao and coffee, while delivering flour, cheese and manufactured goods. Lucas was very happy to learn the she had never been part of the odious slave trade.
Captain Perez was rather a young man to be a ship's captain, and it was because his family owned the Cameroon, as well as two other ships. He was friendly enough and welcomed Lucas, asking about Captain Johansson and Lucas' experience aboard his ship. Captain Johansson's letter misrepresented the number of years Lucas had been with him so that Perez would not see anything amiss.
"So you've had some experience, I see," said Captain Perez. "Unfortunately we are not in need of a cabin boy at this time. I can use you as an aide to the cook, if you don't object to working in the galley. Can you cook?"
"Some, Sir. I helped the cook on the Bonnie Lass quite a bit," Lucas replied earnestly.
"It doesn't pay much, I'm afraid, and the work is hard and dirty, but if you want the job, you can have it."
"Thank you, Captain. When would you like for me to report?" Lucas asked.
"We sail in two days, but the cook needs you today if you are ready."
"Yes Sir. I just need to go get my gear and I can come right back."
The captain was happy to see that the boy was amenable and seemed ready to work. He took Lucas to the galley, located in the deck house, and introduced him to the cook. Lucas was pleased to see that he was a handsome young sailor.
"Trevor," said the captain, "I've brought you a new helper. This is Lucas and he's had some experience. He's going to go fetch his gear and then you can show him where to stow it."
Trevor gave Lucas an approving nod and the captain left them.
"You'll have to share my little room, but you'll have your own bunk, small as it is, and a locker. Hurry back and you can start peeling some potatoes," Trevor told him with a friendly smile.
His friend, Silas, was sorry to see the boy go, but that was the way of life in a hotel. People were always temporary visitors. He wished Lucas well as he headed down the street with his duffle bag over his shoulder.
Back on board, Lucas settled in quickly to life aboard the Cameroon. He and Trevor got along well and their mutual attraction became obvious during that first few days. At first there was cautious touching, casual and seemingly accidental, but that progressed to friendly caresses and eventually, more.
Trevor was fond of saying that at sea a sailor's favorite things were "rum, bum, and tobacco," which Lucas found amusing. There were other young men aboard who didn't seem to share that interest, including the captain and the officers. Not even the third mate, who was not much older than Lucas.
Although he enjoyed the warmer temperatures and mostly mild weather, sailing to the Caribbean was sometimes hazardous. Not only were there storms and seasonal hurricanes, but also still some danger from the occasional pirate. At their present time, the main worry was the war in Cuba and the naval conflict between France and Prussia, but trade was too important to be interrupted by either country's enmity. They did have to be careful while in Havana harbor because of the civil unrest there.
When Lucas went ashore he was always accompanied by a few of the older men, including Trevor, and he never strayed far from the docks. The young men of Cuba were very attractive and often available, but Lucas was seldom tempted to follow any of them. Trevor introduced him to fine Cuban cigars and Lucas enjoyed those immensely.
Most of the other islands were more peaceful and Lucas discovered a love for the exotic food that was available, especially in Montego Bay. Besides delicious pork and chicken and goat, there was an amazing array of fishes and fruits. He found that he loved lobster and crab, especially served with coconut and mango. The food on board the ship was much less tasty, except for that which was prepared for the officers and the captain, so Lucas made sure to dine heartily whenever he could.
He also loved the colorful people of the islands and their music and songs. It was the life of adventure that he and Lester had always dreamed about, and now that he was living it Lucas was grateful.
It was on their second voyage to Jamaica that they ported in the city of Kingston for two days to take on a cargo of molasses and fresh water. Lucas and Trevor went out to explore the town and felt quite safe. It wasn't long, however, before they encountered two drunken men, dirty and unkempt, loitering outside a dilapidated bar. They immediately turned and walked back down the street, but the men followed them and began making rude comments about them in loud voices.
One of them said, "Here's a pair of comely lads, pretty as any I've seen."
"Aye, Henry, why they are as pretty as a couple of girls. I wouldn't mind a little kiss from that younger one," replied his mate.
"A kiss? I reckon I could do with a turn in that lovely backside. I'll bet the captain takes his pleasure there."
"Oh, I say he do, I say he do. How about it, lads? Let's all step into this alley and have a bit of fun, what say?" As the man spoke he quickened his step and got in front of Lucas and Trevor. He and his partner tried to steer them off the street.
"Why don't you boys just grab that wall there and let us give you a quick stand up? And while you're at it boys, hand over your purses," Henry said, brandishing a large knife.
Lucas was frightened, but Trevor quickly pulled out a knife of his own and sliced the man across the arm causing him to drop his weapon and curse.
The other assailant lunged at Lucas and gave him a slash across the ribs. He cried out in pain, but before the man could stab again Trevor's knife took him across the face and left a deep gash from nose to jaw, causing the man to scream and fall to his knees. Trevor then spun around to kick his man in the side as he tried to close in on them. Henry stumbled, but recovered enough to grab his friend, who was clutching a dirty bandana to his wounded face, and together they limped away, bloodied and humbled.
Trevor was still in a rage and almost chased after them, but Lucas collapsed, frightened by the blood that seeped freely between his fingers as he tried to apply pressure to the wound. The young sailor gave him his bandana to use as a bandage until they could get back on board. It took the ship's physician twelve stitches to close the wound.
Trevor was very worried because wounds like that often became suppurated and people died from them, but he kept a brave face in front of the boy.
He told Lucas, "When you get healed up in a few weeks I'm going to have to teach you how to handle a knife. You might get caught like that again someday when I'm not around."
To everyone's surprise the gash to Lucas' ribs healed very quickly. Both Trevor and the physician, a scholarly man named Robarts, were amazed at his recovery. In a single week the cut was gone and there was not even a scar left to show where it had been. Lucas told them that it hadn't been as deep as it looked, but they knew that it had indeed been serious. Their amazement told Lucas that it was almost time again to move on. Unfortunately, he had grown extremely fond of Trevor and, for the first time, he was truly reluctant to part with someone. Trevor had become dear to him, his first real lover, so Lucas hoped that their wonder at his recovery would pass and be forgotten.
When he was fully back to normal he made Trevor follow through on his promised lessons in knife fighting. They were living a rough life and mixing with lawless, immoral men so it was of paramount importance that he be able to defend himself. Trevor showed him how to hold the knife and strike upward with it instead of down.
"Keep your eyes on his blade," Trevor repeatedly warned him. "He'll try to distract you with his other hand or fool you with his movements, but don't take your eyes off his knife, and wait for an opening. Above all else, don't be afraid to cut him and cut him hard. If you don't, he'll cut you and try to kill you. Remember, it's you or him."
Over the next three years, a period which Lucas had decided was unwise to exceed in one place, Trevor and Lucas practiced defending themselves. The other sailors were frequently happy to offer advice and took turns sparring with them. They had become fond of Lucas, with his handsome looks and sweet nature, and wanted to see him safe.
It was an investment in time and effort that was to pay off quickly for him. He killed his first man that very winter.
Because of his size and apparent vulnerability, Lucas was always careful to not travel alone when they were in port and to avoid being out at night when there were lots of drunks lurking in the dark streets and alleys. But one evening he was running an errand for the purser and it took longer than he expected. Hurrying back to the ship he was suddenly confronted by a very ugly man.
The stranger was drunk and dirty, and the stink of rum and old sweat emanated from him like a brown cloud.
"Give old Ben your purse, little fellow. Give it to me and I won't hurt you," he man wheezed.
When Lucas tried to dodge around him the man laughed and pulled out his big knife and blocked him. Lucas drew his own knife, fisting it as he had been shown, and waited. The man snarled and attacked. The steel of their blades flashed in the moonlight as they silently lunged and parried several times until old Ben grunted loudly and looked down to see Lucas' knife withdrawing from between his ribs. His strength drained from his muscles and he fell to the ground.
Lucas didn't look back as he ran on to the ship. Lying in his bunk he shivered and felt sick to his stomach for having killed a man. Trevor understood and comforted him.
Finally the day came when Lucas knew that it was time to move on. Arriving in Boston, the two friends parted ways and Lucas was moved to see the effort Trevor put into hiding his feelings of grief at his going. The young sailor wished Lucas well and offered him a firm handshake, but there was moisture glistening in the corner of his eyes and a bit of tremble in his voice.
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