The Captainess

July 2, 2008
By Elizabeth Meehan, Homewood, IL

We boarded the Paradise Isle in England. I was captain for the first time. We boarded the splendid ship with a crew of six. There was me, of course, Elizabeth Macaby, and a young man, my age, John Stenning. There was also the assistant captain, Tom Becker, and Ben Smith, Peter Roland, and Charles Abbot. All respected and trusted me as their captain. However, John Stenning loved to tease me. “Yes, Captain,” he would say, with a broad salute, and an unstifled grin. On the third day of our voyage, he tricked me into showing I cared for him. He was climbing up to the crow’s nest for his watch, and pretended to lose his balance. He swung to and fro on the ropes. “John Stenning!” I cried. I ran over and steadied the ropes. But he was already laughing. The rest of the crew was, too. I glared at him, but that made him laugh even more.

Our fifth day at sea, a huge storm raged. The skies darkened around noon. Tremendous waves built up, then crashed down with great force. Wave after wave hit the ship, and tossed it around like a toy. Suddenly, a huge wave hit the bow. While we couldn’t see the damage, everyone could hear the splintering wood and the water rushing in. “To the lifeboats,” shouted Tom Becker, ”She’ll be sinking soon.” Everyone climbed in and John put us into the sea. It wasn’t until we were in the water that we realized John hadn’t gone into the boat at the last minute. I looked up to see him standing on the shaking deck. “John Stenning,” I shouted above the howling wind, “Come down!” He looked at me and dove into the sea. John came up struggling and coughing feet away from the boat. He was just out of reach. “John!” I cried. I went to the side of the boat, and held out my hand. “Elizabeth!” he shouted, and grabbed my hand. Startled, I pulled him on the boat. I searched his face for humor, but found none. John caught me looking at him. “What?” he asked, shivering. I took off my jacket and wrapped it around him. In a low voice, so only he could hear me, I whispered, “You called me Elizabeth.” He smiled weakly.

When it was John’s turn at the oar, I watched him. He was tired and struggled with the oar. When it looked like he couldn’t row any longer, I quickly walked over to him. I gently touched his shoulder. “John,” I whispered, “I can take the oar. You rest.” I helped him to a bench and sat him down. “Thank you, Elizabeth,” he said, gratefully, and fell asleep.
Two days later, another storm met us. As we were rowing, I noticed a long, still, land-looking object, with tall trees. “Land Ho!” shouted Peter Roland. “Sail toward it,” I ordered. The men at the oars rowed toward the land. But with each row of the oars, the island looked stranger and stranger. “Pirates!” Ben Smith shouted. I looked up in fear to see the big black flag with the skull and crossbones billowing atop what wasn’t an island at all. It was a ship. A pirate ship! “Turn around,” I demanded, “Sail quickly.” We sailed as fast as we could, but it was too late. They’d spotted us. A distant booming reached us. We paid it no mind, thinking it was thunder. However, seconds later, a splash of water burst up, just left of us. Moments later, another splash, to the right of us. “They’re shooting at us!” shouted Tom. We sailed faster. They shot at us three more times, and missed, except for one, which we wouldn’t notice until later. The ship was swallowed up in the waves behind us, but we didn’t care. We sailed quickly. A series of waves went over the boat, and before I knew it, I was swept out into the water. I swam to the surface and struggled to keep my head up. I looked around for the boat. I couldn’t find it. Nor could I see the crew members I knew had fallen off with me. I wept for the crew members who had drowned. While I was crying, I heard a voice. The voice shouted over the thunder, over the sound of the crashing waves. The voice that had once mocked me was now coming to my rescue. “Elizabeth,” shouted John, “Elizabeth Macaby, where are you?” “John!” I yelled, between tears. Now they were tears of happiness, for I was about to be saved. “John, over here!” Rowing over the waves, came John Stenning in our lifeboat. He rowed up beside me, and pulled me onto the boat. I don’t know what happened. One moment I was sitting beside him, being asked if I was all right, and the next moment, I had thrown my arms around him and wept. “John. John.” I whispered. I heard him sniff, and in a shaky voice, which showed me he was crying, too, he said, “Elizabeth Macaby, you’re safe now.” I pulled away, but kept my arms around his neck. “What happened to the rest of the crew?” I asked. “They drowned right away,” John explained, “There was no time to save them. I knew you’d be brave and keep your head up so I tried to find you.” He dried my tears and continued, “You’re strong, Elizabeth Macaby. You can face anything.” He dried my tears again. I tried to smile, but couldn’t. John noticed this. He smiled, and joked, “Captain.” I glared at him. “John.” I warned. I smiled, then, and said, “I missed that.” He touched my cheek, and I hugged him again.

Three days later, another storm approached. “Not again!” yelled John. “The boat’s leaking!” I exclaimed. The water was already up to our ankles. Much to our luck, however, another boat came floating up. The waves were getting bigger, and the boat was floating away. We grabbed it and pulled it over. The water was now up to our knees. “Get in the other boat,” I shouted to John. He got up. “What about you?” asked John. “I’ll be okay. Get in!” John got into the boat. “Take my hand!” he shouted, holding out his hand. I grabbed it, and he said, “Don’t let go.” We rowed the boats through the waves, our hands held. The boat I was on was filling up fast, and tilting to one side. “John!” I shouted. He looked at me. “John Stenning, do you trust me?” “Elizabeth Macaby, I have trusted you since the day I met you,” John replied. I was surprised at this remark, but knew he trusted me. I let go of his hand and fell into the water. I swam to the surface far away from John. “Elizabeth!” shrieked John. “John!” I yelled. He turned toward me and rowed as fast as he could. He pulled me up. “I’m sorry, John,” I said, ”I couldn’t hold
on-“ “I know, I know.” John interrupted. He put his arms around me. I looked up at his face, and kissed him on his cheek. I did it again, but before I got to his cheek, he turned his head toward me and kissed me back. I remembered my surprise and pulled away. “I thought I was a joke to you. I didn’t know you trusted me.” I said. John smiled. “I trusted you, Elizabeth, because you were brave. I could see that right away. That day when I was on the ropes, I knew you wouldn’t let anything happen to me, no matter what I did. Even though I teased you, you helped me into the lifeboat during the first storm. You’re a great leader, Elizabeth Macaby.” “No, I’m a horrible leader,” I said, “Because of me, the rest of the crew is dead. Because of me-“ “Because of you, we’ve made it to land.” John said, smiling. I followed his gaze. There, sitting atop the waves, was a real island. I looked at him and smiled. John took my head in his hand and said, “Because of you, I did something I never thought I would do.” “What?” I asked. He kissed me on the forehead. “Fall in love with a captainess.” He said, smiling. I smiled back.

We rowed quickly to the island. When we got to the island, we leapt off the boat, and ran onto the sand. John took my hand, and I turned toward him. We got close to each other and John kissed me. I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him back. He stepped away from me. “Will you marry me, Elizabeth Macaby?” he asked. I ran into his arms and whispered, “Yes, John Stenning, I will.” And I kissed him.

We found a ship that was heading for England, and persuaded the captain to take us home. I stood on deck and watched the sea. John came up and stood next to me. “That was quite an adventure we had, right, Captain?” he said. I smiled and put my arm around him. He turned to look at me, and I gave him a hug.

When the ship pulled into England, the first person in the crowd I recognized was my father. My father loved ships and watched every one come into port. My heart leapt to finally see him again. I clutched John’s hand. “Father! Father!” I shouted. Father looked at me, surprised. I ran off the ship, with John at my heels. “Elizabeth! Wait up!” he called, laughing. I smiled, and held out my hand to him. He took it, and we ran together through the crowd to my father. I threw my arms around him, and said “I missed you.” “I missed you, too, Elizabeth,” he replied. I pulled away, and held my hand out to John, who was smiling at us a few feet away. He took it and approached us. With his other hand, he shook my father’s hand. “Nice to see you, again, sir,” he said. “Yes, you, too,” my father replied. “Where’s the rest of your crew?” Father asked, “And your ship?” “Drowned and sunk, sir.” John said, his head down. I kissed his hand, affectionately. “I see,” my father replied. “Father,” I said, changing the subject, “John and I are getting married.” “What?” my father asked, confused. “But the last time I saw you, you two had barely even met.” “Well,” I replied, “A lot has changed since then.” John put his hand on my shoulder. “Yes, quite a lot,” he agreed. “Well, I’d like to hear all about your voyage,” my father said. We went to a nearby cafe.

When my father heard the whole story, he turned to John and said, “If you truly want to marry my daughter, you may. You have saved her twice, and I wouldn’t trust her with anyone less than you, John Stenning.” I looked at John, and John looked at me. He kissed me on the cheek. We walked home next to my father. “Dear Elizabeth,” my father said to me, “Do you love John Stenning?” I looked at John. “Yes, Father,” I said, taking John’s hand, “I love him with all my heart.” We got to my cottage and I stopped John before he went inside. “Did you mean that?” he asked me. “Of course,” I replied. I wrapped my arms around his neck and we kissed.

It was the day of our wedding. I was dressed and waiting in my room when there was a knock at my door. “Come in,” I called. John walked in. “John!” I cried. “Hi, Captain,” he said. “You look nice.” “Thanks,” I said, “you do, too.” I walked up to him. “John-“ I began. He pulled me toward him and kissed me. “Remember, Elizabeth, You’re strong. You can face anything.” “That’s not true,” I said, “I can’t stand to be away from you.” “Come on,” he replied, “Let’s get married.” I wrapped my arm around his, and we went to the church.

“I do,” I said, and the rest was a blur for me, until we kissed. I was sobbing by the time we kissed. I wrapped my arms around him and went back to the first time we kissed. It was the second time he saved me, and the day I learned he trusted me. We pulled away and walked back down the aisle. Poor John ruined his shirt sleeve trying to wipe my tears. “John,” I sobbed. He held me tight. “I love you, Elizabeth,” he said. “I love you, too.” I said. We kissed. “Elizabeth Macaby-“ he began. I gave him a look that showed him he had made a mistake. He smiled. “Captain Elizabeth Stenning, I should say,” he corrected himself, “Would you do the honor, my wife, of accompanying me to dinner?” He held out his arm. “Yes, I would,” I replied, linking my arm with his. I kissed his cheek. I did it again, but he turned his head quickly, and I landed on his lips, just like our first kiss.

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