Chapter 1: Obadiah


My wife never did say how she knew me, that first day in the market. I confess I was put off by the bold address of an unknown woman, falling in step with me and hailing me cheerfully by my name. There was an air of suppressed excitement about her, and undoubted purpose, though I didn’t at the time know what her purpose was. She told me later (though I thought she jested) that I was her purpose—she had set out that morning to marry me. I gave no credence to such an absurd statement, but now I am looking with a new eye. The woman often seemed so certain of things that would happen, and I attributed her sureness to her own indomitable will having known few defeats. Which was it, though? Did she have a supernatural knack of sight, or did she merely bend circumstances to suit her vision?

She kept pace with me easily that day, though in my irritation I made no effort to accommodate a woman’s more delicate steps. Truth be told, there was little of the “delicate” about her—she was nearly as tall as I, strong-boned and with something approximating a sailor’s gait. Her face was on the fair side of plain, until she smiled. Something about the crinkles around her eyes, the spark (of mischief?) in those same sea-blue eyes, and the openness of her visage when she seemed prepared almost to laugh… Something about that smile arrested my attention despite my irritation at her address. Her one conventional feminine beauty was the mass of glossy dark hair tumbling down her back, unconstrained by the conventions of bonnet or bun, and reminding me of the girls of Pacific Islands.

I quickly found I had no choice but to talk with her; to my surprise she identified herself as the agent for the underwriter of my upcoming voyage. The Coffins on whose ships I sailed had been approached by a landowner from Barbados who wanted to try his luck in the whaling trade, and seeing the opportunity to foist the risks of a voyage onto someone else, they accepted his offer of investment with alacrity. So much I understood, but the inexplicable appearance of this female person intruding into my affairs did not sit well with me, to say the least.