She ought not to look, but Ibbie is looking at a yacht next to the ship. The sun has slipped behind a cloud, leaving nothing but a hazy whiteness, the sky full of rain. She had imagined herself embarking on their journey in this, her best gown. But now she thinks of her skirt becoming sodden, her dirty shoes kicking silt onto its hem.
“Belongs to some nobleman, no doubt,” Da says as if reading Ibbie’s mind.
Brightly painted with gold leaf, laden with cannons, a coat of arms carved upon its stern, the yacht bobs up and down, its new sails a brilliant white. Ladies in splendid laced and ribboned frocks walk about the deck. One throws a piece of bread to a small dog. There’s a swirl of red and blue, the white dog a blur as he runs to and fro. And the music: a hornpipe plays as one of the women moves in time to it.
“Does thee think we’ll see him?” Ibbie asks. Her nervousness makes her touch her dark hair, shined with apples and suet. Vanity. And pride. All her faults before her. No wonder she thinks of gowns.
“Who?” says Ezra.
“Just as well we don’t.”
“We’re no longer to be part of this world. Where women throw bread to dogs when they might give it to those in need,” Ezra says with finality.
Ibbie swallows back a lump in her throat. A shadow may alight on her at any moment: shame. She feels the quickening inside her. The feathery movements remind her of a whisper that only she and Ezra can hear, the two not even betrothed.
“Welcome is a contrast,” notes Da.
Ibbie looks at the ship’s dirty, salt-stained sails; a small flag indicates its humble origins.
A man steps up to take their passage money. “Mister Penn will be your fellow passenger.” He winks at Ibbie as if she were the recipient of some special bargain.
Ezra looks pleased. “That I didn’t know. Fortune and Providence smiling upon us,” he says.
The man stifles a chuckle, Ibbie telling herself she doesn’t hear it. She eyes the crowd that has gathered on the shore with them: one hundred souls—their wagons have clattered to Deal upon the same trail as Da’s. “Does thee think they look frightened?” she asks Ezra.
“Nay, not to me.”
Ibbie smiles at the women, their faces full of resignation and resolution, their clothes dull and ragged. She imagines Ezra’s mother washing the shabby shadbelly coat he now wears. He looks more slight than usual in this unfamiliar setting, his chin smaller, his gray eyes duller.
“They look respectable, like us,” Ezra says, nodding.
“Look more like travelers than yeomen,” Da remarks.
“Come, Ibbie.” Ezra’s manners are still in place, but his eyes dart to Da’s as if Ibbie might turn around and go back to Oxton. “Thee must say goodbye.”
“Now?” she asks.
“They’ll want us on board . . . to sort us out. I’ve been advised to find a place where we can see a bit of light.”
The clouds now send down a steady stream of drizzle, warm September rain that drops a kind of scrim before them. Ibbie steps into the rowboat that will ferry them.
“Ibbie!” Da shouts from the shore. “Ibbie . . . and Ezra . . . do not fear!” As if he is reciting Scripture. “Be of good courage.”
Ibbie forces a smile. “Da!” she cries, waving to him. He knows her as well as any father does a daughter, knows her very thoughts before she speaks them. But he does not know about the child.
“We’ll see thee soon,” Da says, waving. “’Tis only a little journey.” He turns and walks back in the direction of the wagon, Ibbie staring at his back.
On board the Welcome, the crew crowd the deck, smoking clay pipes, clasping flasks of strong drink. They scurry about their routines like ocean creatures: all instinct and routine. Some seem intent on work; others stroll about in a sleepy stupor, passing the young couple with nary a glance.
“No man’s better than another,” Ezra says, looking from them to Ibbie. He pauses. “Thee looks . . . disappointed.”
“Ah no,” she says. No turning back. The money gone. The child on the way.
Below deck, Ibbie finds Friends squeezed into the smallest of places. “So many in a tiny ship,” she remarks, looking about the dark cabin.
Still. The music in her head, the music she heard drift over; it’s found its way into her mind where it turns over and over, taking up a spot where there should be silence, or direction, or the Word. Had the ladies looked up to see her? She’d never seen anything like that yacht before.
Her eyes further adjust to the dim cabin. The close air stinks of piss and must. “Where are the hammocks?” she asks Ezra.
“I don’t know.” Ezra looks bewildered.
Everything. A week ago, she thought he knew everything: how to please her, what lay ahead. And yet—he knew nothing of this ship. He was as innocent as she.
Ibbie puts down her bag. She’s packed her writing quills, paper, an apple, some wool. “Thee’s brought nearly nothing,” she says.
“They’ve set my trunk below.” He pauses. “I’ve my family’s Bible.”
“They’ve let thee take it?”
“They’ve hope for us.” Ezra now lays a larger coat on the cabin floor, as if making a home for them. He unfolds it with a flourish of wealthiness he does not possess.
Ibbie sits down on it, looking at its frayed seams: Thomas’s. His dead brother’s coat.
“Why are thee here?” Penn asks. It seems an odd question. “My soul answered, ‘wherever thou pleasest,’” Ibbie answers, speaking of God. But she is looking at Ezra.
“I just think thee should have more than hard tack,” Ezra is saying.
“We had fish and turtles First Day. I mustn’t take more than others.”
Ezra scoffs. “How does thee even know it was First Day? I’ve seen no meeting on this ship.” He’s grown irritable.
“Thee didn’t see it because thee has been sick. They did worship,” Ibbie answers, though she’d felt too weak to join them, even in silence. She hardly knows what day it is either.
“Pass the pot!” a woman cries.
“Acts as if it’s her personal necessary,” Ezra whispers.
“Better than the prison ship thee might have been upon,” Ibbie remarks. Forty more days at the least, one hundred or so at the most. And the quiet between them: it’s grown. How little they have to talk about, how everyone can hear them, and him––his tired and angry voice.
“Nay, ’tis fine. We’ve all grown weary. But thee looks frail. Here,” Ezra holds out a bit of meat to her. “That woman: she told me to give this to thee. Thee was asleep. I’d almost forgot.”
She stares at the gray, dried lump he takes from his pocket. She’d ripped pieces of her apron to rags to help the woman stanch her courses. Ibbie’s ravenous hunger—who else has noticed it? Her mouth waters. She brings it to her mouth, chewing lustily.
Another woman watches them. “Turkey in the New World,” she says. “And venison, fish, dumplings, stews. Even if we’re starving, we can dream about it: gooseberries, peaches, huckleberries, strawberries, cranberries, apples.”
Crew members move among the passengers. Ibbie awakes with a start.
A man stands over a body that is no longer a passenger but the carcass of a soul.
“Should we take his clothes off?” another man asks. “Seems an ungodly . . .”
“Nay, just the shoes and coat perhaps,” the first one replies. He pauses. “Need weights to sink him.”
The two men lug the body up to the deck in a makeshift stretcher.
“Ezra!” Ibbie whispers.
Ezra stirs, his eyes adjusting to the scene before them. He stands. “Pray Brother: should we not say something over his . . . body?”
The men ignore him.
“They’re a godless lot, the crew,” says Ezra. “And we’ve none for a preacher.”
Perhaps Ezra is recalling his Anglican boyhood. They’ve certainly no preacher now.
“We’ve William Penn,” she says.
Ezra sighs. “No one’s seen him since they started counting the ones with the pox.” He stares at Ibbie. “Ibbie, thee must tell me. If thee feel sick—thee said thy back ached yesterday?”
“Probably from sitting and lying in a ship.” She turns her face from him. “Thee has been sick more often. Thy body is so warm.”
“It’s the ale. The heat . . . all of it.”
He has lain with others. She remembers the cruel girl’s words. She blinks the tears back. Mother and Da—did they now imagine her lying in a hammock?
The men return to carry more bodies. Ten souls. What had God told these Friends? To make their way to America? For what?
“Do not fear death.” A man with a kindly expression is looking at Ibbie. She stares at his fine collar and coat, his hair curled in a fashionable wig. He holds a silver pitcher in his hands. “Water,” he says, stepping forward.
“Thee shouldn’t be down here,” Ibbie is surprised to hear herself say, realizing it is Penn.
“I’ve had the pox already.”
Water. Her throat is parched. She wants to ask for more. “Thank thee,” she says.
“Thee has not had the pox?” Penn asks.
“Loosed from their bodies, they’ll encounter the Light,” he says, looking at another body wrapped in sailcloth.
Should she affirm him?
“Oh death, where is thy sting?” Ezra adds, an embarrassing eagerness in his voice.
“Thee are both so young,” Penn remarks.
“Pray that we’ll be spared,” says Ibbie.
Penn holds out the water to Ezra, but Ezra shakes his head. He’s used to the drink, the ale quenching him.
“Why are thee here?” Penn asks. It seems an odd question.
“My soul answered, ‘wherever thou pleasest,’” Ibbie answers, speaking of God. But she is looking at Ezra.
William Penn (center), founder of Pennsylvania, on his first trip to America, 1682, sailing on the ship Welcome. Illustration by Howard Pyle, 1883.
Stars so bright. They’ve encouraged them to walk about the deck, even at night. For air, for fortitude, she’s come alone. But to the right of her feet, a lumbering turtle, caught for meat, stumbling in the dark, scuttling on the sea-stained wood. She’s slaughtered lambs, of course. But somehow, her throat catches at the sight of it.
On the upper deck, Friends dressed in the ragged clothes they’d departed with two months prior stand under a tattered sail. Women adjust caps and men arrange their hats as if preparing for meeting. The sand dunes of Little Egg Harbor appear. A woman holds a tiny child to her breast: “Seaborn,” she’s named her.
“Thirty-one souls gone.” Ezra remarks.
Two children chase each other. A crew member with a dirty scarf about his head catches one of them about the shoulders. The child’s mother washes her face in a barrel. “Watch your children,” he says to her. Ibbie wonders if his warning speaks of the moment, or of the land they’ll soon set foot upon.
Tiny figures in the distance but as they get closer, Ibbie recognizes them: Friends come to greet them. And there are men and women in strange fur hats. A tavern. Tiny figures at first, they turn from toys to a new world before her. Hundreds of people.
And bare legs. She’s never seen men walking about with bare legs. Has hardly seen Da’s. And Ezra’s only that one time.
“Indians,” Ezra says as if he has seen those men before but . . . the surprise in his face.
Somehow, the music, the music she heard, is still alive in her mind. “Do they see us?” she wonders out loud.
“See us?” Ezra returns. “They’re here to welcome us.”
For the Light has filled him in a place his dead brother had been, his whole family joining the meeting. His old life’s been burned away: the braveries, and the bowing, and the “sirs,” and tipping hats. Ribbons and silk. Needless pockets and superfluous buttons. Colors and Christmas and dancing and music and stone cherubim and fonts. Drinking in graveyards and the mysteries of that other cruel girl’s body. And in their place: silence, Ibbie, and the land.
She reaches for Ezra’s hand.
3 thoughts on “Welcome”
Thank you for the nice story with William Penn….
God Bless You all..
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