Thy Cradle is Green
Wellard lay on his stomach and listened to the gentle sounds
of the waves
and the constant activity and mutter of the men above, feeling glued to his
hammock thanks to a hefty swig of the laudanum. It didn't do much for his
smarting rear or his hurt feelings. *Why?* he wondered. He thought he was
doing as he should. Lieutenants Hornblower and Kennedy told him he had done
right. How come it didn't feel right? Matthews and Styles apologized for
what Captain Sawyer made them do. He assured them it wasn't their fault,
they had to follow orders. One thing he knew, he needed to stop crying like
a baby and do something about it.
He lowered his head on the pillow, his eyes dry for once.
He hadn't cried
out once when he was caned, he'd barely made a sound, but the tears on his
face betrayed his pain. He'd looked up, seen Hornblower bite his lip and
flinch. He couldn't tell if the brightness in the Lieutenant's dark, fiery
eyes was tears or outrage. Just as he couldn't tell if the shape shimmering
in front of him was a man, a woman, or something brought on by the opiate.
"Johnny?" a low voice whispered. Before him stood
a woman clad in a a
sailor's loose shirt and trousers. Her hair was a rich red, a pile of wild
curls cut short in back, the sides curving inward, framing her face like
parentheses. Her enormous, liquid eyes were of a brown so dark they were
nearly black. She looked around bewilderedly. "Ow. This ain't where I was
last night. Man. Guess I had too mucha dat Poiple Jesus. I feel like I've
falled into a sea epic. Hmm. First *Down the Sea in Ships,* then *It*,
now, this? I hope they don't ask me t'climb up another anchor."
Her way of speaking was harsh to Wellard's ears and he wondered
"Poiple Jesus" was. He was afraid to say anything, his velvety brown eyes
huge in his pale, freckled face. *Why is her hair so short, why is she
dressed like a sailor and why did she call me Johnny?*
"You're not Johnny, sorry. Cat gotcher tongue?"
She sat Wellard's sea
chest, which had slid partway out from under his hammock. Looking down, she
read, "H. J. J. Wellard." Brown eyes met brown as she asked, "That you?"
"Uh, yes. Midshipman Henry Joseph John Wellard. I'd
stand up but I'm a
little indisposed at the moment."
The woman's voice suddenly cracked soprano and gradually fell
back to its
natural contralto honk. "Golly, you're English! New on the set, huh? They
work us like dogs here. I'm Clara Bow, from Brooklyn." Something caught her
attention and she cried, "Holy holy holy, who is that??" For ducking
through the midshipman's berth was a fellow with the most smoldering eyes
this side of John Gilbert. With his tumble of coffee-colored curls,
determined face and full, wide mouth, he could give all the onscreen sheiks
a run for their money.
"Mr. Wellard," said the man in a soft, musical voice.
"I came to see how
you were getting on."
"Lieutenant Hornblower," Wellard said fuzzily. Clara
covered her mouth to
stifle a giggle and Wellard glared at her. Hornblower looked in the
direction Wellard looked but saw nothing but the sea chest. Clara smiled
and waved, coquettishly patting her hair, then returned to her reverie while
Hornblower gave Wellard a drink of water from a metal cup and stretched an
arm across his back.
"Sleep now. Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Bush, or I will come in
to check on you from
time to time." He gave Wellard's queue a playful tug and then turned to
leave, his face like a thundercloud.
Clara watched the handsome man leave, then said, "Hornblower?"
"Yes. Horatio Hornblower."
Clara hunched over, giggling. "Poor guy! Whatta name
to get stuck with! I
take it he never played 'bone in Pee Wee Hunt's outfit?" Wellard looked at
her bewilderedly, and she sobered up immediately. "Sorry. I didn't mean to
make fun of him, I-I-I-I-I really shouldn't. He seems like a nice man. Are
you sick, Johnny?"
"Beaten again. Can't seem to please the captain no matter
Hornblower's a good man, so is Mr. Bush and Mr. Kennedy. And most of the
others too. Cap'n Sawyer's mad as a hatter and I can't get away." He
looked at Clara, seeing she wasn't much older than he was. Maybe
twenty-one. She had cringed at the word "beaten". "Miss Bow...ma'am, why
are you calling me Johnny?"
"Clara, please. You look like a Johnny I knew."
She sighed. "Johnny was
my bestest friend when I was little."
"What happened to him?" Wellard wondered, then wishing he hadn't asked.
"He died. Where I came from, they was so many of us in
them buildings. My
ma used to beat me and call me a hoor if she knew I was there a'tall.
Johnny's ma wa'n't like that. I used to hear her sing 'Rockabye Baby' to
him when he was a baby, and when he fell down or was sad or somethin'."
Wellard looked thoughtful. "My mum used to sing that
to me until I made her
stop. Shortly after I made her stop singing that, she died of a fever."
"I'm sorry, kid. Your ma sounds like she was real sweet.
My ma called me a
hoor and said I shoulda died, if she knew I was there at all," Clara said
without emotion, as if she had said this a number of times.
Anger flashing in his brown eyes, a flush coloring his sallow
Wellard seized Clara's hand. "No! Your own mother? How could she?"
Seeing the hurt in Clara's eyes, Wellard began to sing in a soft, clear
"Rockabye baby thy cradle is green
Father's a nobleman, mother's a queen
And Betty's a lady who wears a gold ring
And Johnnie's a drummer who drums for the king."
Clara blinked. "I've never heard that one. That's pretty.
You got a nice
"Henry," he reminded her, then quickly said, "Thank
you." Wellard let go of
Clara's hand, letting his own trail on the floor. He wanted to sleep, his
leaden limbs taking on a flotation of their own. *How funny, I feel heavy
and light at once.*
Clara said, "It-it-it was another 'Rockabye Baby' my Johnny's
ma used to
sing to him. When I was nine, one day, his ma was gone that day, gone to
the store I think. Most of us was too poor to find anyone to baby-sit, too
busy..." She looked down at the floor, then up at Wellard. Brown eyes met
brown as she said softly, "I heard him screamin', callin' for me, and I ran
down. He...he was on fire, he musta got too close to the coal stove."
Shaking her head, looking down, then up again, she went on, "I rolled him up
in the carpet and held him. I-I-I-I sang to him like his ma, then he died."
She shifted on the sea chest so she faced away, and sang in a shaking voice:
"Rockabye baby on the treetop
When the wind blows the cradle will rock
When the bow breaks the cradle will fall--"
She bowed her head and finished, "And down will come baby...
Wellard reached for her as her sobs broke his heart. She looked
up at him,
eyes as dark and lost as a forgotten well, tears streaming down her apple
cheeks and let him wrap his arms around her. Wellard was somewhat lost,
unused to being the one who was doing the comforting, except for the time he
held the head of the powder monkey who'd died of a fever. He cried with
Clara, both lost in their desolation, feeling cast aside, unloved, unwanted,
until he fell asleep. Clara let go of the boy, stroked his brown hair, then
took hold of one of the lines holding the hammock and rocked it slowly,
singing the song he had just taught her. A different melody, a gentler song
than one about babies falling out of trees.
Clambering to his side came Hornblower and a shorter, sturdy
man with dark
reddish-blond hair and bright blue eyes. Clara looked at the new man, not
caring to notice him, even though he was attractive as well. She remained
close by, sitting on the sea chest, watching as Hornblower and Kennedy bent
over Wellard, not seeing her.
"Kid's crying in his sleep," Kennedy remarked, his
face angry but his eyes
betraying a deep-seated hurt of his own. Hornblower's eyes were bright, his
lips compressed to a thin line. They each sat at either side of him,
noticing that the hammock was rocking in opposition to the ship's movement
as they watched in their shared outrage and sorrow.
"We have to do something," Hornblower said. "For
his good and the good of
us all.. "
"They're good guys," Clara whispered. "Your
big brothers. Stay close to
them. They love you, Johnny. I must go now..." She bent to kiss her
Johnny on the cheek, then backed away, shimmering into nothing, noticing the
sea looked blue, then green, blue again, then green. *Thy cradle is green*.
"Shine on, friend
The darkening of the light?"