toward Nat. "Did you know that while you were away this summer, Dyce crewed
for a boy only two years older than you?" Dyce went on pumping. The inhale
of the pump sounded like heavy breathing.
At that moment
Nat was afraid. It couldn't have been because of his father's remarks—he was
used to them and they were unusually obvious today, anyway—but suddenly he
realized that the summer was almost over. He had never before regretted the
passing of time, and he knew at once that this was the first step, not in
growing up but in growing old. An era ago, in the spring, he had fought being
sent away to camp, saying that he wanted to stay home and sail in the junior
program, but he had fought feebly. Was it because he was afraid? He was going
to die by drowning. He knew that as a fact—he could feel the salt water burning
his throat—but he was afraid of something more imminent than drowning. Fear,
Nat sensed, was something that his father had known and put behind him long
ago, but never had forgotten, the way that you put behind you the problems of a
race already won. You might scorn them, but you never forgot them. What was it
his father said? On the morning of a race he could tell, the instant that his
eyes were open, whether he would do well that day or not. Well, Nat's eyes were
opening—but he couldn't tell.
"Who did he
crew for?" Nat asked. The boy's name might break the spell.
Good fellow, did well in the juniors. That's a thought. I may not be the first
champion in the club after all. I'm telling you, that boy may beat me to it—in
the Lightnings. Mark my words, he's one to watch."
Only an inch of
water in the bilge, not enough for a pump. Dyce took the sponge and handed it
to Nat, seated on deck, to wring over the side.
not a bad idea to crew for him." Samuelson looked at his son. "Still, a
younger boy.... Well, it's more than I could do."
Eight more trips
for the sponge—careful, squeeze, don't wring, so the sponge will last longer.
The bilge water felt surprisingly warm against their hands.
but no skipper." Samuelson was talking into the wind, and half his words
were blown behind him. "Sailors, not skippers. That's worse."
mopped up the last of the bilge water, replaced the empty sponge, replaced the
floorboard, made sure the coil of the mainsheet ran free behind his father's
feet, disappeared into the cabin for an instant and then returned with the
spinnaker pole in his hand. It was a wooden pole eight feet long, and Dyce
balanced it in one hand while he climbed onto the foredeck.
Nat saw him
again, standing on the bow like a Viking with a spear in his hand, his forearm
as rigid as the pole. Suddenly it occurred to Nat that his brother was the
stranger—a stranger who had sprung from the merchant father behind him at the
tiller, six inches shorter, 40 pounds lighter and somehow innocent of four
thousand years of history. Words, deals—Dyce had nothing to do with them,
nothing to do with the doubts that made up his family's history, nor with the
suffering, either. No one who believed in suffering could walk along that
foredeck in a force 5 sea without holding on to the rigging.