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A Man In Full: 1. Prologue: The Channel
Author's Note: As you read this story, you may find yourself wondering what the devil it has to do with JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. For the answer to that question and a clue to the identity of Andreas Ribeiro and his faithful manservant you might first want to read my previous story Not Fade Away.
A Man in Full
"O God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small."
I am an old man -- sixty-six years this past March -- and I feel every one of them in my bones when the bitter east winds blow in off the Channel. I feel it in my lungs on those nights when the fog settles in over the town, smothering sight and sound alike in a tattered yellow coverlet. Too many years of smoking my pipe I suppose, but when a man has led as hard a life as I, he deserves a few pleasures.
I may be old, but I am a goodly way from having one foot in the grave. I said as much to that impertinent fellow who rang up from the Admiralty, wanting to requisition the Sundowner and sail her to Dunkirk under a younger master. "Not bloody likely!" I told him. "She's my ship, and I'm sailing her, risk be damned!"
That earned me one of Sylvia's patented 'Charles Herbert Lightoller, behave yourself!' looks, from the big easy-chair by the fire where she sat with her knitting. Dear old girl, my Sylvia! She has put up with a great deal from me during our marriage. Long absences at sea, constant worry, and diminished expectations as her reward. The last thing she needed was an old sea-dog's salty language profaning her genteel parlour, even if I have ended my days as a chicken farmer and land speculator rather than as Master of one of the mighty passenger liners as had been my dream.
I am not in my dotage. So I know that my eyes did not play me a trick, nor did my mind that day out there on the Channel, even though my logical brain tells me that what I saw was impossible.
She was the next in line to mine as we cleared the breakwater and set out into the chop of the open Channel. Although it was the end of May, a stiff breeze chilled us and the water was cold, although nowhere near as cold as I'd once dealt with.
She was a longer slender craft, fifty-five feet to the Sundowner's sixty, with graceful lines that seemed designed to cut the water like a knife. Indeed, she seemed to handle the swells better than the surrounding boats, as if the sea itself embraced her into its cradling bosom. Her motor board identified her as the Lasgalen, out of Weymouth.
Then I saw the figure at the wheel, standing proudly tall, as if daring the Luftwaffe to take a shot. The long bright hair blowing in the wind might have fooled one into assuming a woman had been rash enough to join the flotilla, but what woman ever stood well over six feet tall? Something about that defiant posture tugged at my memory. I gave the wheel to Roger, my eldest son, and pulled out my glass to train it upon the person for a closer look. When the face came into focus, I gasped despite myself. It could not be. It simply could not be, and yet I found myself traveling back down the corridors of memory to recall the sensation of my stiff White Star Line uniform collar and the smell of fresh paint . . .
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