On board Expectant, so named by the waggish Sir George, the young George creates distractions for the cargo and crew to help ease the boredom of the long voyage. Underway across the wide Pacific Ocean, all goes well until a storm of death-dealing force dooms the ship. Many lives are lost. What survivors there are manage to reach the shore of a small island. This group includes George and Tommie, the ship's cabin boy. Work begins to make the island habitable for humans-food, fire, and sharks present enduring problems.
After many weeks of waiting for news of Expectant and his son, Sir George makes a bold decision-he will search for his boy. In the company of his two closest friends, the knight sets sail on a quest that suggests little hope for success.
Ever present is the evil shadow of Sir Barton Blackmer hanging over the heads of everyone. Blackmer is constantly obsessed by his hatred of Sir George, whom he blames for all the troubles besetting him. When the Black Knight and his band of cutthroats come face-to-face with the defenseless castaways, the senseless slaughter begins.
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An Historical Fantasy
By Clarence E. Stephenson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Clarence E. Stephenson
All rights reserved.
* * *
William Leigh, only son of a Welsh farmer, was the designated Captain of young George Maxon's ship, Expectant. He was intelligent, thoughtful, resourceful, well spoken, a fair and honest man. He was chosen to serve as Captain for the Australian journey because Sir George knew he was highly experienced, and absolutely unbiased in dealing with people, high and low. Leigh had spent much time in England's Royal Navy, a shipmate of Sir George. During his career he had received numerous commendations for his dedicated, distinguished work. Leigh was liked and respected by everyone. No man was a better example of sound judgment in time of crisis. For his friends and fellow sailors who got into trouble or ran afoul of the law, he was there to offer unwavering support, help and understanding. Expectant's captain was wonderfully knowledgeable in the ways of the sea, contrary winds and inclement weather. He was assured without being arrogant, confident without conceit and prideful without pomposity. If anyone could face the hazards of guiding a ship successfully out of harm's way it was Captain William Leigh.
He had never married, not because he did not like women – he liked them very much – but the sea was in his blood, and he chose that life deliberately. It was the life of a sailor in the British Navy. At the conclusion of his period of service, he continued his dedication to the waterways of the world, working his way up from the rank of able seaman to that of captain. He did this through the agency of England's enormous mercantile fleet. Here, he furthered his reputation as a fearless, practical man who had faced countless dangers, emerging from them still hale and hearty and much wiser from the trials and tribulations he had successfully endured.
Without question, Leigh was a man anyone would be proud and thankful to have as a friend. Sir George felt most fortunate to have Leigh assume the responsibility of captaining Expectant for his Australia undertaking. For the old knight, William Leigh was the very best man for the task.
* * *
Dr. Harold Franklin was nationally, even internationally, known as one of the finest physicians to be found anywhere. People came from all over, including Europe, to seek and benefit from his expertise as a trusted man of medicine. There was very little he did not know about the human body – how it worked, why it worked and what he might do for ailing patients who came his way to keep it working.
The doctor was ever curious, wanting to know all he could of those things possessing the power to make him a better diagnostician and healer. He liked nothing more than an opportunity to increase his medical knowledge.
Franklin was a strong believer in the use of certain herbs and plants for treating various physical and mental problems afflicting his patients. Experimentation was his constant companion in his unending quest for medicines capable of relieving human pain and suffering. The doctor willingly shared his great store of information with other medical men in the hope their patients would benefit from his studies, insights and experience.
Compassionate, a diligent worker, very intelligent, totally dedicated to his profession, unshakable in the professional duties of his calling, Dr. Franklin represented the finest to be found in a human being. Sir George had managed to secure Franklin's services for the Australian adventure by appealing to his curiosity and deep desire to help people – new things to learn, new frontiers to face, new methods and techniques to employ in the practice of medicine. Dr. Franklin unselfishly devoted his life to the benefit of others. These men, women and children could not have asked for a better champion in their search for good health and happiness.
* * *
John Roberts, Expectant's cook, was a wizard with food stuffs, seasonings, and pots and pans. There was no disputing the fact: the man had an amazing ability to make the leavings of the last night's dinner taste like the newest sensation from the illustrious kitchens of France. In a few, but hardly adequate words, Mr. Roberts was a culinary genius, as he would demonstrate time and again within the confines of Expectant's small, unimpressive galley. In his capable hands, the mundane became the remarkable.
Before Sir George's pleadings, and money, convinced him he should sign-on for the Australian trip, Roberts had worked in the kitchen of a small inn located in Surrey. His fame as a cook of unusual talent and endless imagination spread rapidly in that area – then it carried far and wide, with people coming long distances to partake of Roberts's delectable stews, mouth watering pot roasts, and savory pies, not to mention the delicious sauces he created to accompany them.
Roberts fearlessly ventured to produce combinations of ingredients no ordinary chef would have the courage or intelligence to attempt. Disparaging comments about chef Roberts's cooking remained unsaid –there just were not any. Roberts was a bold man – he had the assurance and confidence to predict satisfaction.
Roberts loved being with people, especially those who found pleasure in the food he put before them. Instinctively he knew how to combine herbs, spices and seasonings with various natural foods to bring out the best tasting creations imaginable.
The history of this gifted man was illuminating. Roberts was the first child in a family of eleven offspring. Being the oldest in the group, he often assisted his harassed mother in obtaining and preparing food for the large family.
His father was a man of modest means who worked in a business where wheels were constructed for carriages, wagons, carts and other conveyances. Mr. Roberts's typical day began early in the morning and concluded at eight o'clock in the evening. John assisted his mother every day with the meals and household chores. It was in John's blood, then, to care for and cook for large numbers. He served a late apprenticeship at an inn located in Stratford where Sir George chanced to dine of an evening.
Sir George was proud of the fact he was a trencherman of longstanding achievements who knew a superior roast of beef or a tasty lamb stew when he encountered one. Sir George hired Roberts to assume the position of chief cook on Expectant. John's financial reward for agreeing to accept the duties Sir George described amounted to a princely sum. John's elderly parents and their numerous children were suddenly financially comfortable for the rest of their lives!
* * *
Sir Edlington Unterwood was invited by Sir George to accompany his son on the voyage to Australia. He accepted readily for he realized such a trip would give him many fine opportunities to indulge in the practice of his favorite occupation – an examination of the heavens in all its vast endlessness.
Coming from a very wealthy family, Sir Edlington had the time to read, study, and learn to his heart's content. And he had a large heart.
He could speak seven languages fluently – English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Greek and Latin, and he was teaching himself Russian. He knew more about the stars than any other male or female living in the world. The constellations, movements, relationships, seasonal changes, names – the heavenly bodies contained no real mysteries for him. Others in the field came to him seeking answers to perplexing questions, asking for advice and deriving inspiration from his voluminous knowledge and special insights. His well-stocked brain was in no way diminished by his seventy-three years; his mind was active and ever young.
Many stood in awe of him, he was their hero. To himself, he was an unabashed lover of life and everything connected with it. It was not his habit to carp or criticize. The world, to him, was always astonishingly beautiful, as was every single person in it. No matter what the odds, no matter what the situation, no matter if all hope seemed lost, he never failed to give his very best to Life in a positive manner.
Navigation at sea by means of the position of the stars was but a simple matter for Sir Edlington. The only time he was ever reduced to consulting a compass was when the skies were completely overcast.
A truly fascinating fellow, Unterwood was a jovial, warmhearted, kindly, fun-loving person who appreciated a bawdy story as much as the next man, but no one ever heard him tell tales of this type. He listened and laughed with the rest, but that was the end of it.
Women did not really interest him in a romantic way - the stars were his first and only love. Every night when the sky was clear, he spent as much time with them as he could. These lovely beacons of light seemed to feel the same affection toward him as he felt for them. They were almost always there waiting to participate in the pleasure of his company.
Sir Edlington Unterwood was convinced there was good in even the worst of men. But on this point, he was wrong, terribly wrong.
* * *
Originally, most of those on Expectant had no idea who Sir Brian Douglass was or why he had been invited to participate in the Australian adventure. But it was not long before the word spread; Sir Brian was the personal financial representative of the elder Maxon.
Quite naturally, since a large sum of money and promissory notes were to change hands once the ship reached its destination, Sir George thought it wise to have Sir Brian present to be sure the business dealings went smoothly and in the knight's favor.
Sir Brian was an interesting and complex man. He was a little over six feet tall, slim and well-favored. His attitude toward life in general and people in particular was positive. His manner of speech and word choices were deceptive, sometimes giving the impression of a bumbler. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who were of such an opinion, held it out of ignorance and unfamiliarity with the man himself.
Sir Brian was blessed with an amazing mind for numbers; he could easily do sums in his head more rapidly than any machine in operation at the time. No matter what the nature of the business transaction might entail, it was Sir Brian who walked away with an impressive profit. Each one of these monetary experiences proved much to the advantage of Sir George Maxon. Sir George was never disappointed or dissatisfied with the work of his gifted employee. The knight trusted the man completely. Sir Brian never abused or violated this trust.
It seemed a strange combination of talents to most people, but Sir Brian was as accomplished a player of the bagpipes as he was a financier. In point of fact, he had no equal in either area. Somehow, he had mastered a technique which enabled him to play the bagpipes softly. Other players were confounded. Audiences were transported by the beauty of his transcendent playing. He commanded an inexhaustible repertoire in his head. Compositions of new tunes presented no difficulty for him to memorize or play. He was also an excellent dancer, flying around a dance floor with a grace and exuberance that provoked considerable envy.
At the last, Sir Brian may be described as one who possessed and demonstrated an abundance of genuine empathy for others. A strong streak of sentimentality ran through him; he thought of others before he thought of himself. It was his style to offer sympathy and assistance to all in need.
As can be seen, Sir Brian and his dear friend Sir Edlington Unterwood were special, unique individuals. Yet, they were alike in many ways. All these ways were commendable, praise-worthy ones.
* * *
O'Donovan, the only name by which he was ever known, was an interesting man. Those who first met him on Expectant soon came to regard him as an enigma. Captain Leigh was the only man who ever learned anything about him of a personal nature. Speculation, therefore, was rampant, varied and occasionally outright ridiculous. Was he a Scot or Irishman? Could his heritage be primarily English, perhaps, or could he have come from some European country famed for producing fine musicians as he most surely was. Had he changed his name for some inexplicable reason? If this last were true, then why? Through it all, O'Donovan preserved his charming anonymity. Nor did Captain Leigh ever divulge any of the man's secrets.
Although his background was decidedly hazy, everyone agreed on one point: Mr. O'Donovan was an outstanding man of music in every way. He was capable of playing a variety of musical instruments, whether traditional ones or those fashioned from the workings of his own ingenious mind. By some power within him he was able to generate pleasing sounds from anything he touched. He never failed to enchant his listeners.
O'Donovan was short and stocky; he had strong arms and hands considerably larger than the average man. As to his actual age? Yet another mystery. Guesses ranged from fifty-five to sixty-five. Although some made discreet inquiries on this topic, O'Donovan never gave the slightest hint relative to the number of years he carried; it is entirely possible he had no idea exactly how old he was.
The ship's musician was gregarious, enjoying the companionship of all people regardless of age differences. Members of the crew and cargo were equally comfortable with him. O'Donovan was a special human being.
Those who had the privilege of watching him work were amazed at the speed he exhibited when writing music. The consensus was, too, he was equally at home writing for single instruments, ensembles and the human voice. Composing for the harpsichord was among his favorite occupations. He was sorry Expectant had not been supplied with such a specialized instrument. This did not stop him; he wrote music for it anyway.
When he was writing music, which was the majority of the time, O'Donovan wrote with such surety his creations required few, if any, corrections. He knew what he wanted his music to say and he knew how to say it. His listeners always wanted more; O'Donovan was delighted to give it to them. With good reason, this talented man was respected and loved by the whole population of Expectant.
It was not too long into the voyage before O'Donovan decided it was his duty to confide what he knew of his history to Captain Leigh, who promised his respected musician complete confidentiality. With that, O'Donovan explained when just a mere boy he was found by constables as he wandered aimlessly on London's streets. The officers thought the child to be around four years old. He was dirty – dressed in ragged clothes and generally in a deplorable physical condition. He was kept by the constabulary for several days as they waited for someone to come claim him. No one ever did. Consequently, he was dispatched to an orphanage. There he spent the next eleven years of his life.
The officials of this unprepossessing establishment soon realized the boy was gifted musically. He was able to match perfectly the pitch of any sound or musical note he heard. One waggish orphanage employee hit upon the idea of giving the small boy the remains of a battered violin. It still had three strings in place. The man invited several of his colleagues to witness O'Donovan's humiliation. So what did the little fellow do? He sat down and played the violin! The man's plan had been to ridicule the child as he fumbled ineffectually with the instrument. The boy spoiled their entertainment by playing a recognizable tune, using the correct bowing technique and fingering as best he could with the strings his battered violin still possessed. To say the listeners were flabbergasted is an understatement. They had come to scoff; they stayed to applaud.
As the years passed, several of those on the orphanage staff encouraged O'Donovan as much as they could. They brought him various kinds of castoff instruments, finding to their amazement he was able to make music with every one of them! The orphanage's director somehow was able to procure a harpsichord in rundown condition. O'Donovan repaired it sufficiently to render it functional, playing enthusiastically for the other boys and girls in the institution to their joy and gratitude.
Excerpted from Sensua's Island by Clarence E. Stephenson. Copyright © 2016 Clarence E. Stephenson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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