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The Point of The Sword

A Love Story


Debra Tanis Milligan

Copyright 2017 Debra Tanis Milligan

Smashwords Edition


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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Table of Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven



For My Beloved


Chapter One

The salt in the sea air told her that she must away from this place, far away to a land where he could not find her. And yet, she loved him too much to go, to flee him.

He’d become her life now. She’d scarcely wanted this life. Now she wanted to run away from him. He’d not pursued her. Indeed, he’d stood there, tall and strong and brave and beautiful as this lighthouse that he’d guarded for years. She’d come to him. And now she could never look away, turn away, go away. He’d become the captain of her heart, a heart that was now a frigate bound for war.

It had begun innocently enough, with a smile and a caress upon these white sands, the sands of time, sands that now felt like sable, soft as a lullaby in her soul’s memory. She knew, however, that her love for this man was wrong, as wrong as a love could be, for he was taken, not by any woman in the present, but by a woman of his past, a wife who had died, at sea. And she could not compete with this woman, a lass whose name remained unknown to her.

So strong, so fiercely potent was the weight of this lost love in the wardroom of his heart that she knew it was hopeless to even try to compete with a dead wife who’d been lost at sea.

You see, he’d blamed himself for her death and there was no way to convince him otherwise that her drowning had not been through his hand of neglect. Her ghost still stalked him on nights of summer, the season of her death, like white horses, pounding the whitecaps of the sea, the only body that this man truly loved, the body that his body had surrendered to, had loved more than any woman he’d ever let into his storm-tossed heart.

Oh, no, she did not hope to compete with that waterlogged corpse or with any woman, least of all the woman known as the Sea, that white-tipped cathedral to which his heart had belonged e’er since he was a wee boy.

He’d been afeard of the ocean. He’d trembled as a four-year-old lad in the upstairs, dormer room of the brown-shingled cottage of his childhood in Kent, England. Watching the waves from the white-trimmed window, he’d shuddered in front of the dingy plate glass and he’d cried out to the waves, to each wave, rushing closer, closer, ever closer to the house, to him. He could not become convinced that the waves would not come into that house and reach up into that room and overtake him and, then, take him.

He’d been an orphan, left in the care of his Aunt Adelaide. This woman of quiet blonde beauty had held this child, this boy birthed by an older sister who had died young, too young, through her own hand. Adelaide had softly assured this gently shaking boy that the water would not come into the house. The waves would not reach this humble Victorian cottage in Margate. The water would not gobble him up.

How could he think that she, his Aunt Adelaide, would stand there and watch the waves o’ertake him, her beloved nephew? Did he not see that she was there, with him? If there was truly danger, she would leave this house, and take him with her. Because there was no threat from those waves pounding the shoreline, she was there with him; and she would stay there with him, until the storm passed. She would not leave him if ever there was danger.

He’d smiled a small, quick smile and he’d nestled into the embrace of her arms. Gradually, he fell into a restful sleep in those small, strong arms. Silently, his tears stopped. Slowly, his aunt wiped the tears from his cheeks, even as the tears rolled down hers.

She loved this nephew more than anything in the world, a world that had known very little love or happiness. She’d taken this child into her house when he was just over two years old, aware that his need for his mother would never be fulfilled. A month earlier, his widowed mother had killed herself in that ocean, and she was not coming back to him.

One day, Adelaide would tell him. One day, she vowed, he would know this tragic truth of his life. That day came, when he was ten, two years before the death of his father, who worked as a railway engineer in the railway station in Margate. The man was savagely killed by an oncoming train, a freak accident that no one tried to explain to this child, to anyone. Adelaide then became the sole protector of this boy. Her husband, a fisherman, loved the boy, not as his own, but with enough gentle discipline and stern guidance that granted this child the semblance of fatherly love.

When this surrogate father died at sea during a fishing expedition, the boy was on the cusp of becoming a man. The loss was bitter, and it likely played a large hand in the decision of this eighteen-year-old to join the Royal Navy.

Adelaide had loved her darkly handsome husband dearly but, through no fault of her own, she’d loved her only nephew more. He was, after all, blood kin. And she gave her heart, her all to him. Her love for her life’s mate had been strong and durable, but lacking in the flame of passion that might have produced a child. Thus it was that her maternal love so easily and naturally flowed to this little boy after the suicide of his mother.

The frightened, brown-eyed boy in that upstairs dormer room grew to a brave young man. When he left for the sea and the Royal Navy, Adelaide never quite got over the parting from her life of this adopted child. The sea, and the life at sea, claimed his heart and became his love, his lifeblood. Adelaide knew no longer how to live and she languished, alone, in that house.

She did not take her own life. Five years later, God took her Home, at the age of sixty. That seaside Victorian cottage, with its brown weathered shingles, and its weathered heartaches, and all of its worn belongings, they all belonged to her nephew. Those possessions were all that Adelaide had had to offer to this young naval officer, other than a lifetime of her love.

And because of that love, this man felt at home with the sea, in it, and on it, though not especially looking at it from the upstairs window of this cottage. Whenever he’d gazed out of that white-trimmed window, he did not see the ocean as much as feel it, like a tall ship sailing fiercely fine and free, steered by the stars at night, guided by God.

In 1915, five years after the tragic death of his wife, he’d sold that inherited Victorian house that looked out upon the sea, and he moved to America. He was forty years of age at that time. This sea captain was now fifty. He’d met unexpectedly, on the beach, during a walk in the afternoon, this young woman who wished only to end his heart-aches, sorrows of which she knew little consciously; but the pain was spoken by his eyes each time that he kissed her, each time that he lay with her, each time that he stared out into the darkness and reached for her, once again, to love and to be loved, once again.

She was scarcely twenty-five but she knew that she loved this man with the love of a lifetime that she’d yet to live. It was an intense love, born of her own silence, a love that wished to speak, to sing, to answer the questions in his softly mournful eyes. It was cruel, in a way, to love so deeply and yet so incompletely; but she yearned with all of her young heart to add her own song to the songs of the wind that were so fully the songs of his heart; and she’d heard and loved every one.

Yea, she wished only to be one of those songs. Perhaps her love could create a stopper knot amidst the sorrow, the figure-eight to figure in with all of the miseries from mistresses who took but never gave. She had humble but high hopes. Her heart was filled with love and she sought a noble repository for that love. He was that repository, a man bereft of hope. She hoped only to give to him hope from the surging sea that was the love of her young heart, a love that would, in time, become the love of her lifetime. This sonata then was the song that she wished to compose for him, to sing to him, to grant to him and to him alone.

They’d met by chance that early summer day, in late June, upon the beach where hearts so often come to play. And, yet, they were alone there that day, just they two, with the spume hitting their faces and the sunlit wind biting their skin. From the first look of the one upon the other, they knew, each knew, they could not walk away, one from the other. They’d stood upon the weather deck of this ocean shore, gazing into the eyes of the other’s need; and they vowed silently to not run away from that need, that vast ocean of daring and delight and dreams and desire.

And, yet, here she was, three sheets to the wind, not with strong spirits in her body, but strong spirits in her soul. Twas those strong spirits within her soul that frightened this girl during this hour of a long summer’s day. She stared up at the lighthouse, where he worked, and kept watch, and often slept, and she whispered, “You are my captain, now and always.”

Still she felt so lost at sea, truly like the three-masted ship whose three lower courses have all come loose, three sheets seeking to be held fast, once again, like her body in his arms. She knew that she was a girl, not a woman, because she wished to flee him, and his love, his need for love. She mutely spoke to this fearful child within her, and she commanded the girl to grow, to surrender to the spirit of her soul, that intrepid spirit that hungered for his arms, his strong stern arms.

That day she’d wandered, aimlessly, downwind to this lighthouse, seeking to see him once more, searching his footprints upon the sands of the shore. The seagulls cried over her and she cried with them. She knew he would always return to her. He always did. Again and again and again he returned to her, from the duty of his first love, his truest Beloved, the sea, the open sea that called to him and never left him. And though he sought the sea first, forever, and always, he faithfully returned to this young woman, this girl who had taken his weary heart that summer day, almost one year ago. She had accepted his worn, battered body, like the virile offering of a boy, and she’d asked for no reward, feared no consequence.

She loved him with the ardor of innocence and the knowing of wisdom. And so it was, that because of that unquestioning love, he would return to her that day, late that afternoon, upon that white beach; and she would quietly return to his bed in that brown-shingled cottage. She was filled with love that poured forth from a golden chalice of purity and hope, the sacred vows of love that will not die.

He knew that he did not deserve her, or her love; and yet he knew that he could not, would not refuse her love or her naïveté. It was her naïveté that inspired her love, and he durst not taint either of those precious gifts. He wanted only to love her until the end of time, until the end of his time.

His was a desire that wished to give only of itself, and to ask nothing in return. He wept at night, long into the night, during the nights when she did not lay with him in the small soft bed of this dormer room. He wept at the knowing of the fullness and the tenderness of her love, and the knowing that his old heart and his aging body could not love in return with the sweetness of her love,

It had depth, though; his love had depth. His love was a profound wealth, as deep as the seas, and he knew that it would, in time, grant back to her the fullness and the richness that she now gave so completely to him. He knew, in time, once he was gone, that she would think upon him, and love him even more without end.

The spume of life and the song of the wind that had blown her heart to him - those vital forces had proffered life anew to him. And the touch of her hand upon his face, the smile of her eyes, the lasting kiss - those necessities were all he needed now to make his life complete. And she knew, as surely as he knew, that they could not deny the other anything now, not his call to her, not her call to him.

She was his woman, the wave upon the shore that could not leave those sands of time. Those sands, shifting before they met, could never alter now because of their love for each other. Those sands where first they met, those sands where first they’d made love, those pure white sands now held the imprints of time, of love, of eternity. The dunes of destiny were where he would live and die, until their time on earth was over.

In the noonday sun, her eyes rose upon the lighthouse, taking in the height of it, this grandness first engineered by General George Meade. And she knew of a sudden, with somber duty, that she could not flee this place, nor its guardian. Never would she leave him or his love, her love, their love. This love she now believed was not wrong, but was so very right. It was a love that brought life to him, and inspiration to her.

For as long as the life that carried the sea upon the shore of this beach; for as long as the fish swam that sea; for as long as the waves brought upon those white sands the starfish; for as long as the cockleshells and the sailor’s bell were within her sight and sound and touch - she would love this man. Her love would guide him through the breaking waves, the plunging breakers, the darkening deepening swells of his beloved sea, onward, evermore, toward and into the harbor of her arms.

She would keep the watch. She would protect him. She would defend him. With luck and love and Godspeed and with every vow that her heart could find to fulfill, she would steer this captain safely to his home.


Chapter Two

Her name was Sabine Marie-Thérèse Mercier. She was not beautiful. Her face, however, expressed the loveliness of love with such gentle purity that she was deemed quite feminine and alluring, in a way that captured hearts without her knowing of the conquest. This effect had been powerful and immediate upon the heart of Captain Andrew Derwent York.

Her diamond-shaped face was finely built and gracefully proportioned, but her long nose was too large. Her thick dark eyebrows overarched her deep-set blue eyes, overpowering them, not permitting enough expression from those large, wide-set orbs. The full lips of her broad mouth created an overly sensual pout that contradicted the gamine quality of those eyes. At times, Sabine felt that her face was not properly understood and, at times, it was not.

Captain Andrew York understood perfectly that face. He’d first looked upon it as it faced him, squarely, on the white sandy beach of Ship Bottom, New Jersey. He’d gone to that beach to walk, to relieve the bored despondency of the hour of four in the afternoon, when the shadows began to lengthen in his brown-shingled Victorian house, the one that was located three houses down from the beach.

He’d chosen to live in this cottage because it so reminded him of the house of his childhood, but, at that time of the day, he sought refuge from it. That refuge he found on the hard, compacted wet sand of the beach, where the incoming tide had just begun to turn toward going out to sea; and he wished to go there with it, to the outgoing sea.

He’d been a captain of the Royal Navy, though he’d not left his commission of his own choosing. The point of the sword had ushered him out of the noble service to his native land. He had never forgotten that day. He’d never forgotten the sense of betrayal, accused of purloining supplies to sell on a black market. He fully drank away a full five years in trying to forget that day, that sense of betrayal, and the sense of isolation that overwhelmed him whenever he looked at an anchor, a ship, the sail of a ship, even the sea.

The day came, however, when the bottom of the bottle was going to mean the bottom of his life. And he knew with a sense of torment how his mother had died, flinging herself into the ocean with despair over the death of her second-born infant. He promised his Maker he would not bring that same curse upon himself, the sin of despair. Walking the sands of time, the white sands of this beach, was his means of avoiding the temptation to yield to that fate. One step at a time, he believed, he could walk away from the lure of gloom, the sickness of heart that would only spread to other parts of his body.

He knew that there were times when God had carried him over stretches of that beach, when the footprints were not his own, but those of his Creator. Andrew was not an atheist, nor even an agnostic. He knew that the Lord had provided each day to him, and each night, proof of His abiding love. There were days, however, nights as well, when Andrew Derwent York wished for a second set of footprints beside his footprints on this wet, white sand: the tender-footed imprints belonging to a woman.

He knew it was an impertinent request, but he also knew it was an imperative one. He believed that he was not was long for this world. He wished to love, truly love, before he left this world. Since the death of his Beloved, during a sailing trip off the coast of Wales, he’d lost hope of love. He’d wooed and bedded women, all with the hope of trying not to fall in love. It had been a shame-filled crusade against his own heart. He’d felt unfaithful to the wife he could not disown. He knew now that he needed that hope of finding love once more, perhaps even more, than the one and only time before.

Andrew felt the distress of melancholy because of his realization that with the loss of that hope for love, he’d lost hope for life: He’d surrendered a part of his will to live.

He was an intelligent man, a stubborn male of keen instincts and strong passions. He’d not wished for revenge against the Royal Navy or the man who had falsely accused him of theft, an act that led to an unjust court-martial and the even more unjust sentence. The point of that sword might just as well have been plunged into his heart.

The accuser himself had stolen the naval supplies and received, in exchange, gold bullion. Captain Andrew York had wished only for a fair start in a new life after his raw humiliation and swift ejection from the Royal Navy.

He’d not been able to find that fair start. He’d worked as the keeper of this lighthouse, Barnegat Lighthouse, for five years now. The work was routine. The lighthouse was stunningly beautiful, tall, painted white on the bottom half, brick red on the top half. The structure was, however, threatened by the chronic problem of soil erosion. He feared that one day, and that day would come all too soon, Barnegat Lighthouse would no longer be in service. Its fate would be less ignominious than that of Captain York, but, like this sea-faring commander, it would no longer serve a purpose.

How many more missions in life could be taken from this man? Could he bear to try to find another one?

To live well and not hurt: he knew that task was not possible. As he walked the sands of this beach, those thoughts ran through an almost fevered mind. He knew that the darkest night would lead to the brightest day if he kept faith in the assurance that he was never alone in this world. It plagued him, the sensation, the fear, that he might truly be alone, in any world.

And then he looked up from the sand shifting ‘neath his feet, and he saw this girl of medium stature and solemn face. Her light brown hair was long and wavy and lustrous, her light blue eyes just short of questioning. She said softly, “Kind sir, you are in my way.”

He looked at the rope attached to a small dog, and he thought first of the rope that moors a small dinghy. He then heard the dog bark. It was a small bark for it was a small dog, champagne-colored and sweet, with dancing steps upon the sand.

Captain York nodded to this girl. “It was not my intention to stand in your way.”

Their eyes were now slowly focused upon each other and they knew, even then, they would always see the other, again and again, no matter where each of them would go.

The dog jumped onto the pants leg of the man.

“Terry,” the girl said sternly. She pulled the rope attached to a leather collar. “She has gotten your pants wet with sand.”

“She has greeted me,” the Captain said. “The pants are already wet with sand.”

And they laughed.

The wind whipped fiercely about them, and they each called out, in turn:

“My name is Captain Andrew York.”

“I am Sabine.”

Their names did not matter, however. They could have been called absurd appellations. Their eyes spoke the language of love. Sabine was young, too young to comprehend the accents of this language, but she knew its message. Captain York was too old to not know all the permutations and pure tones of this passion that had just been sparked.

He looked away from her.

Surely, he thought. I am a fool to even think that someone this young, this foolishly young, could care for me.

Sabine did not think much of anything that day. She picked up her dog, laughing with carefree glee at the wet sand that fell from the paws onto the pale green and beige striped skirt of her long dress.

“You’ve some sand here,” Captain York touched her cheek with an awkward gesture.

She eyed him, not with suspicion but with curiosity. He was a tall man, thin, perhaps too thin, but his eyes were dark brown with the lustre of love that had languished too long. It hurt her to look at him in this way, with questions in her eyes about the answers in his eyes.

“Come,” he said quickly. “Let us walk to my cottage. It’s just down the lane. I can make some tea for us. It’s high time for tea.”

Sabine noted the British accent became stronger as he spoke of tea, and she carefully said, “I hardly know you.” She felt instantly that she had spoken a mistruth. With a pang of conscience, she stroked the soft beige hairs of her little dog.

“Few people know me,” Andrew said with a distracted air.

Sabine offered, “Few people have taken the time.”

“Aye,” the Captain nodded.

They paused, reflecting upon the idea of friendship between them. Sabine believed that she might come to know this man more than he’d want her to know him. Captain York sensed that this girl was not fully knowable, but his flaw had always been feeling that any woman is unknowable.

“Perhaps we can find out more about each other while we enjoy a good cup of tea.”

The dog barked with excitement. Sabine carefully set the small terrier onto the sand. Captain York walked, side-by-side, with this girl, up the sloped soft sand of the beach. Their feet slipped a time or two, and they slowed their pace over the mounded impressions in the warm, soft white sand. Their feet sunk slowly with each step; each person had to make an effort to keep a straight line in the forward movement of their walking. They soon became a bit out of breath. Silently, they walked, pushing the sand with their feet to build traction and momentum.

Several minutes later, they arrived at the opening to the gray wooden-fenced pathway of hardened sand that led, like a tunnel for about ten yards, from the beach to an area of hard dirt. That area opened out and onto the paved streets of the small town of Ship Bottom. These two individuals glanced at one another with their focused silence as they left the dunes at the top of the beach and ventured onto the sand-spattered dirt road.

They stopped a few moments to catch their breath. The terrier looked up at her owner and barked. Sabine attentively petted her dog and whispered something inaudible, sounds that the dog understood. She wagged her tail and seemed to smile up at this girl.

“Do you live here?” Andrew asked gently. “On the island.”

The island was Long Beach Island, a barrier island.

“I live here, in Brant Beach,” Sabine glanced down at her dog as this little animal scampered along the smooth sand that covered the road. “I am a painter.”

Captain York stood motionless for a few moments. His dead wife had been a painter of oils, portraits mainly.

“What do you paint?”

“Landscapes. In oil and watercolor. Sometimes charcoal pencil, but I prefer working with paint.”

Andrew shuddered slightly. He looked with pleading eyes at Sabine. “I should like to see your work.”

Sabine bit her full lower lip. She was quite private about showing her work to anyone that she knew. She had no difficulty in selling her pieces to perfect strangers. “Yes,” she said softly, “I believe you would.”

He was a handsome man, she decided. His clipped, dark brown hair showed traces of gray, but not overly so. His mustache was neatly trimmed. In fact, his entire demeanor was neatly trimmed. Everything was ship-shape with this man, she thought. He ran a strict ship.

She almost giggled at her thoughts. She knew absolutely nothing about Captain Andrew York, and yet she felt that she knew him quite well.

His eyes were upon her now in a way that was assessing her, quietly, but with determination. She did not mind the look of his eyes upon her. She was a shy person, but she did not shy away from the muted desire that she sensed in his eyes, even in his hands as they reached to help her up the front steps of this old cottage. They’d reached this destination, his destination.

Once inside the house, Sabine saw that this cottage was an immaculately-kept domicile, with no one living there, not even this man. His belongings and possessions inhabited the space, but it was an absurdly empty house.

She turned to him as he closed the door. The dog ran through the parlor and into the kitchen. Captain York whispered, “Do you trust it would be right for your dog to stay in the back yard for a while?”

Sabine sadly smiled. She trusted very little except that she desired this man more than she ought. “Yes,” she said in a frightened tone.

The terrier pawed at the back door. Andrew walked into the kitchen and opened the door. The dog ran down a short flight of stairs and began to sniff the grassy area behind his house. A fence would protect this terrier from escaping the yard.

Andrew closed the door and turned around. Sabine stood by him. The odor of his shaving soap filled her senses with a scent of lime and salt air. She smiled and stepped away from this man. “You’re a kind sir,” she said softly.

His oval eyes grew sad, and nearly filled with tears. One part of Sabine wished to run away from this man and his desperation. Another part of her wished to feel his desire. Yet another part of her sensed that the desperation and the desire were intermingled, hopelessly, like a lost love that could not escape her fate, or his.

Sabine looked with cautious eyes around this kitchen. It was a spotless, womanless room. She watched Captain York put a copper kettle of water on the boil, and she waited for him to invite her to sit down at the round knotty pine table with its three matching chairs, captain’s chairs, of all styles!

Why there were three, and not four, chairs, she could not say. He might have lost one of the chairs, she thought. He seems to have lost many things in his life.

And then she wondered about his life, more than she knew she ought.

“Will you not sit down,” Andrew stated. “Wherever you please.”

Sabine believed her choice was a matter of pleasing this captain, and she chose the chair that faced inward, toward the stove, with its back to the window. There was therefore a chair on either side of her.

Andrew quietly, almost obediently, set the table with faded chintz china. He primly put his place setting to the right of her, in the chair that would keep an eye on the door. This girl noticed that there was always a circumspect quality about this sea captain. He watched his steps, and those of others around him.

She watched him pour the tea as if his life depended on it. She wanted to tell him that she’d never seen such beautifully elegant china, or had ever been asked to tea with a gentleman of his bearing. The silent truths, these omissions of admissions, made her suddenly feel quite sad. She smiled, not to cover up her unhappiness, but to regain her sense of cheer that she now felt was akin to a sense of duty to assuage the dolor of this gently rigid man.

They ate scones and blackberry jam with the tea and milk and sugar. She talked very little but Andrew spoke freely, almost handily. This man mentioned, yet again, that he’d been a captain in the Royal Navy, but that part of his life was over. The page had been turned. It was in fact, dead, quite dead. He now worked as the keeper of the Barnegat Lighthouse. And he was a widower. Without children.

All in all, a rather dismal life, thought Sabine. She did not tell him that she was nearing her twenty-fifth birthday. She did not wish to raise any expectation for felicitations. She did not want to garner any attention to herself, solicit sympathy or even concern for her station in life.

When queried about the particulars of her situation, Sabine avowed that she lived alone, with her little terrier. She earned some money from her painting but a small inheritance from her recently deceased mother provided for her in ways that were ample and comforting. Her father had been a loving man but also a distant figure for many years. He too was dead. Sabine then fell silent, and Captain York chose to also remain without words.

Their eyes met in concordance. They were alone, each of them, for reasons beyond their control. They did not wish to be forlorn or forsaken. They sought friendship from one another, but, also something more, something each was afraid to address. At length, Captain York stated,

“You’ve no suitor here, on the island.”

“I’ve no suitor that interests me,” Sabine said a bit bluntly. She stared into his eyes, aware of how much she wanted to feel close to this man who was so alone and so wounded from within.

They quietly finished their tea. Outside the cottage, at the back door, the terrier barked in a yipping tone. Captain York nodded, “Excuse me,” to Sabine.

He strode to the door, opened it, and watched the dog run to her owner.

“Terry,” Sabine almost sang, “You missed me.”

Captain York watched this girl hug her little dog. His eyes grew wistful, in a wounded manner. Sabine caught sight of the tender distress. She stood up and said, “I must leave now. Thank you very much for the delicious tea.”

It was nearly five of the evening.

“I’ll walk you to the door,” Captain York stiffly commanded.

They stood in the opening of the front door. “There will be rain tomorrow,” Andrew said with certainty. “Friday is to be the first clear day, two days from now. If you would meet me, at the beach . . .”

“Yes,” Sabine tightened her hold on the rope that held the dog closer to her. “Four in the afternoon.”

The tip of his index finger touched the highest portion of her lovely cheek. The door closed slowly after her as she left the house. She walked with her little dog down the creaky wooden steps to the edge of the street. Only vaguely did she notice the bright white paint that had just been applied to these stairs the previous month. Her eyes looked upward. The sky was still bright with summer light, softly luminous in a way that made her smile.

Sabine walked down the sandy road with renewed vigor, leading her small terrier. The journey was about a mile to her small bungalow in Brant Beach. This girl felt full of energy but also dull at the same time. Captain Andrew York had fallen in love with her.


Chapter Three

The sword of the captain was the symbol, the ultimate symbol of his ultimate authority, particularly during the mystic aeon of ships with fighting sail at sea. The Captain wore his sword only for battle, for formal ceremonies, and during the most formal ceremony and the most formal battle of all, the court-martial.

In the event of a battle lost, the Captain surrendered his sword to the Victor of that hard-fought fight. There were times when a captain of defeat threw his sword overboard, rather than hand it with humiliation to the Enemy Captain. If, however, the vanquished Captain deemed his adversary Captain to be a man of courage and honour who had fought the battle well and won it nobly, the Sword of Capture was granted to this enemy as a gesture of infinite respect. The victory, in that case, would have been achieved inch-by-inch with superlative prowess, sometimes in the face of more than three times the number of men. The prevailing captain, like the prevailing wind, had proven himself to be, in sum, several cats above the average.

In the Royal Navy, the most vile surrender of the Sword of the Captain took place during his conviction at court-martial. This accused officer, the master of the soul of his ship, was required to leave his sword, this symbol of his authority over his ship, in its scabbard. The sheathed sword was then set upon the green tablecloth of the rectangular table where the Presiding Officer of the Court-Martial sat during the trial of the accused Captain.

This accused man was absent from the cabin while the deliberations of the Court-Martial transpired, a process whose words and implicit deeds could, indeed and in deed, expire the life’s breath of the Captain. It took a man of superior moral strength and dauntless daring to walk into that cabin and silently face the positioning of his sheathed Sword upon the green tablecloth of that small table.

The Sword spoke the verdict of his life at sea, yea, of his life. Should the Sword rest on the table with its hilt facing the accused Captain, the verdict was Not Guilty. The officer was exonerated of his accused crime. He was free to retrieve his sword, to take hold once again of his naval career, and his life. He immediately resumed his duties as Captain, although, in truth, those duties would never again feel as free nor as finely and fully possessed by any man.

Should the tip of the Sword point, like a deadly dagger, toward the Captain, and toward his heart, the verdict was Guilty. This naval officer accused of a crime was now subject to being stripped of his rank, his sword, his sea, his lifeblood. The punishment formally ranged in severity from censure to dismissal from service to the Royal Navy. During the court-martial of Captain Andrew Derwent York, the point of the sword faced him, and he was forced to leave his rank of captain, forced to leave the Royal Navy.

The charge had been theft of Royal Navy rations for the purpose of profiteering; an additional charge, like a brutal afterthought of affront, was bribery to keep quiet any witnesses to the theft. The charges were brought against Captain Andrew York by the guilty party himself, a ship’s mate who detested this captain and all that he stood for: unreserved discipline, unswerving loyalty to authority, a tough swagger in the face of danger, a large heart that grew overheated in the face of injustice.

That Andrew York lived beyond this verdict was astounding. That he lived to survive a false accusation of theft and an equally false accusation of bribery, therein lay a miracle of sizable worth. Captain York was not a man of small passion and his pride in being a captain was equivalent to his pride in being a man. Those areas of emotion were his nearly fatal flaws. If pride goeth before a fall, this fall did not completely eliminate pride from this passionate man. It might be said that the fall increased the pride, thereby setting the man up for a more perilous plummet, one of his gravely wounded heart.

His ego was not without its arrogance, but he was also a person of kindness and concern for his fellow man. In response to this abject incident, he did not break, but neither did he bend. He spent five years in his new country, America, on the booze, preferring whisky, but also rum, at least whenever he could grab hold of a bottle of the gold, which he drank neat.

Needless to say, Andrew York was far from neat after his bout with the bottle and the brawling that came with the squalor of his life. He went through his share of women as well since liquor and loose women tend to go hand in hand, particularly when there is the large, suave hand of a handsome man buying the drinks. For five years he drank to forget the court martial and to banish thoughts of the tragic death of his wife, but with each swig of whisky the ugly point of the sword came at him from that infernal court martial. And the memory of his wife drowning at sea was at the bottom of every bottle, at the bottom of every glass, at the bottom of every miserable hole that he dug for himself.

Five years ago, he swore off demon run and demon women and even wicked whiskey, forever, and he was making quite good on that promise. That same year, Andrew York started working as the Keeper of Barnegat Lighthouse. It was a beautiful lighthouse. It allowed this man to hold fast to the beauty of the sea, to walk the white sands of the beach on days away from the lighthouse, days when he thought no one else was there, to take away from his pleasure of the ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and its softly sloping continental shelf, the pure beige shoreline.

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