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So begin the adventures of young Oliver Finch, born at the stroke of midnight. Believing that Oliver can spy out ghosts, Captain Scratch kidnaps him, bringing him aboard the notorious pirate vessel Bloody Hand. The ship sails the high seas in pursuit of the ghost of Gentleman Jack, who paces his grave where the pirate treasure lies buried. A despicable pirate captain, a mutinous crew, a band of sly sea ghosts—Oliver is determined to outfox them all and get safely home. It's a ...
So begin the adventures of young Oliver Finch, born at the stroke of midnight. Believing that Oliver can spy out ghosts, Captain Scratch kidnaps him, bringing him aboard the notorious pirate vessel Bloody Hand. The ship sails the high seas in pursuit of the ghost of Gentleman Jack, who paces his grave where the pirate treasure lies buried. A despicable pirate captain, a mutinous crew, a band of sly sea ghosts—Oliver is determined to outfox them all and get safely home. It's a tale of treachery, intrigue, and suspense!
Oliver Finch can't wait to go out to sea. He's turning twelve at midnight and is looking forward to a lifetime of adventures at sea. Then he meets the villainous Captain Scratch, who believes that people born at midnight can spot ghosts, and Oliver ships out to sea sooner than he expected.
In which the wind is howling and through the door comes Captain Scratch, a villain if I ever saw one
At cockcrow got out of bed and stepped on the tail of Aunt Katy's one-eyed cat, Jibboom. He let out a yowl and leaped for the ceiling. I banged my shin and raised a lump the size of a turkey egg. That was the way the day started for both of us, and my twelfth birthday, too.
After I finished hopping about on one leg I shucked my nightshirt and pulled on my breeches and wool shirt. The water in my pitcher had frozen in the night, so I didn't bother washing my face. I dug out my father's old spyglass.
I leaned through the window, spying out every whaling ship in the harbor. My father was master of the square-rigged Capricorn. It had been almost three years since he had put out from Nantucket to hunt whales in the far seas. He was bound to be steering for home now—maybe he'd drop anchor in time for my birthday. But the Capricorn was nowhere in sight. There was nothing riding in from the sea but an icy wind to set the shutters banging.
My spyglass stopped at a scurvy-looking ship I had never seen before in Nantucket harbor. She seemed to be neither a whaler nor a trading ship. She was as scarred and tattered as an old fighting cock, and not much larger. One topmast was snapped off and her ratlines were as slack as cobwebs. She rode high in the water, exposing a hull mangy with barnacles and sea grass.
As she swung around on her anchor chain I could make out her name across the stern—the Sweet Molly. That seemed a contrary name for such a beggarlyship. Even as I watched she lowered a boat and her captain started ashore. He wore a beaver hat and a greatcoat. The wind whipped his red beard so fiercely that his face looked kindled into flames.
I shut the window to keep out the cold. Of course, the day was just beginning, I told myself, and there was plenty of time for the Capricorn to heave in sight.
I went downstairs and Aunt Katy had breakfast waiting for me in the kitchen. She gave me a plump and jolly smile.
"Well, Oliver Finch," she said. Jibboorn was winding around her skirts and giving me a wrathy eye. "How does it feel to be twelve years old?"
"Mortal painful," I said. "Especially around my left shin."
We could hear the lodgers begin to stir upstairs and soon they'd be trooping into the public room for breakfast. Aunt Katy was proprietor of the Harpoonees Inn. Her cod chowder was famous among whaling men.
"Aunt Katy," I said. "There's no sign of the Capricorn yet."
"It won't be long now. I can feel it in my bones."
"Today, I'm thinking."
She gave a little shrug. "We can't expect thy father to go whaling with a harpoon in one hand and a calendar in the other, can we, dearlove? But mark my word. He's bound for Nantucket this very minute. Did thee wash?"
"The pitcher froze solid," I said.
"Mercy," she laughed. "If I left it to thee, thy ears wouldn't get washed until spring thaw."
She took a kettle from the fireplace and I fetched the soap and pan. After breakfast she told me that old Mr. Wicks, the cooper, had offered to take me on as an apprentice. I told her I didn't take a fancy to making whale-oil barrels as a calling, and she said she didn't take a fancy to my chasing whale spouts through the heathen seas and cannibal isles of the globe. I said that nothing would suit me more. She said nothing would suit her less. I said my father would settle the matter when he got home and he wouldn't have me go a-coopering. She said here's a bit of something for your birthday, Oliver Finch. It was a jackknife with four blades.
There were ships making ready for sea and others rolling out great hogsheads of whale oil. Bowsprits were run up along the wharves like lances. I shied about, looking over the painted figureheads. Those wooden eyes had seen all manner of strange seas. I envied them. I had never been five miles from home. By thunder, I was twelve now, and that was mortal old. Monstrous old. Maybe my father would take me along on his next voyage. But I'd tar myself a pigtail and run off to sea before I let Aunt Katy apprentice me to a landlubber. Yes, sir!
I kept an eye out for the Capricorn and exercised my new jackknife on a broken barrel stave. I wore the stave down to a toothpick and then picked my teeth. The afternoon stretched before me—plenty of time for my father to make it. I sat at the end of the wharf and waited. Why, half my friends were at sea and Will Touchwood had been clear to China and back. I felt a powerful yearning to go enterprising after the great whale and see the world for myself.
The light began to fail. My friend Jack Crick, the harpooner, let me climb into the crow's nest of the Jonas' Revenge. I kept my eyes peeled for a rag of sail on the horizon. From up there I fancied I could see almost to Africa. I'd be the first to sing outwhen the Capricorn hove into view.