Chapter Nine


I’m not always to-the-day regular, but eight days seemed pretty definitive. As definitive as I’d get, lacking lines on a pregnancy test.

I had told myself I’d wait for a week before I said anything, and then we got engulfed in the excitement of the hunt and the work of trying-out. Now, though, the ship had dropped the whale’s stripped remains to the sharks—we sailed smoothly southward toward the Cape Verde islands, and I didn’t have any reason but nerves for keeping the observation to myself.

Sharing the observation would somehow turn it into news, and I think that’s where the nerves came in.

I’d known this was coming—but not knowing the birth-date of that first child on my genealogy chart, I’d thought maybe I’d have more time. I also thought I should feel different, but I didn’t yet (aside from those nerves). If I hadn’t been counting days, there’d be nothing different about me at all. Yet I knew something enormous had fundamentally changed. It was my introduction to the understanding that something microscopic can still be “enormous.”

As usual for me, I was operating in the realm of practicalities more than emotions. Specifically, as I scrubbed and scrubbed at Obadiah’s and my oiled-up outfits, it had dawned on me that I hadn’t even thought about maternity-wear. Not that I’d need it for a time yet, but I realized I’d made no wardrobe provisions for what I’d known was coming. If Obadiah thought I looked outrageous now, just picture a bulging belly added above the trousers.

I was certainly picturing it. I kept brushing my hand across my abdomen, as if to assure myself it was still flat, really just trying to wrap my mind around what was happening beneath.

In sand-scrubbed skin and a blessedly clean nightgown, I stretched my toes to the end of our mattress that night and watched Obadiah light his pipe.

“So how do you feel about that first whale?” I asked him. Stalling.

He frowned at his pipe bowl.

“It’s satisfying to have a start at filling the hold. Though we should have had at least two. If Dickson had been less quick to dart, he could maybe have fastened that third whale. Or if he’d been less quick to cut line, perhaps his would have held when Franklin’s lost hold. That’s two errors in judgment in the space of a few moments. I’ll take out that boat the next time.” I knew Obadiah sometimes took a turn in the stern of a whaleboat, and I also knew that this time it would be a humiliation to the mate he replaced.

We both pondered that for a moment, while I rolled up the quilt-top in my hands and wondered how to launch my Big Topic. Obadiah blew several smoke rings in succession (I could never see it without thinking of Ian MacKellan’s Gandalf) and then he turned his head to me.

“Your courses are late.”

I think only the de-jawed whale could outdo my drop-jawed gape. He had naturally known when it last happened, but it hadn’t occurred to me that he counted too.

“I was, um—I was working up to telling you,” I said lamely.

“You were waiting to be sure? Or you were worried?” Wise guesses, both.

“Some of each. But—I’m sure. I’m never this late.” The rhythm had been regular since eighth grade, and voicing the fact made it suddenly more real. Pregnant.

Laying his still-lit pipe on its rack, Obadiah scrunched down beside me on his side and laid his hand on my middle, almost shyly. “Well, then.” Somehow that pair of meaningless words managed to convey a great deal. I’d call it a welcome.

We both looked at his hand—as if there were anything to see—rather than at each other’s faces.

“How are you at midwifing?” I was trying for a joke, but my shaky nerves showed through.

He gathered me up against him, the same soothing instinct he’d showed on our wedding night, and spoke into my hair. “Don’t worry, lass. Don’t thee worry.”

I woke up feeling as though I had a pleasant secret tucked beneath the covers with us. Obadiah’s arm, draped over me as always, still held its comforting promise of the night before, and I felt less apprehensive.

Lying still beneath the quilt and his arm, I reflected on the advantages and disadvantages of my situation. On the side of “disadvantages,” I counted the fact that I came from a time when births happened in hospitals, attended by all the technologies and precautions of twenty-first century medicine. When you’re accustomed to thinking of that as the norm—even the required minimum—it’s intimidating to contemplate the undertaking with nothing more technical to hand than a bed and hot water.

But on the side of “advantages,” I had something that no one else ever had: a sneak peek of the probable future. I had more reason than most to believe confidently that I’d come safely out of labor. Didn’t mean the labor would be enjoyable, so I could still stay nervous about that—but I shouldn’t die of it.

I even had the added assurance that the child herself would make it. And I had a bit of knowledge that wouldn’t be unusual in my own time, but was unheard of now. I knew she’d be a girl.

Having mentally made the move from considering pregnancy a “probability” to accepting it as reality, I gave myself leave to start considering this new, upcoming person. She still felt more like an abstraction than actuality—but in truth, she existed now. Our secret little thirtieth crew member.

And that’s how we began to refer to her, like a code name between ourselves. Trinta. Portuguese for “thirty.”

My whole world had just changed—and yet nothing did.  The mast-head watch kept lookout for sails and whales. The ship’s bell rang every half hour in its increasing increments, and the watches alternated accordingly. The ongoing shipboard repair and maintenance jobs continued—except on Sundays. We didn’t hold anything like a service, and the watch was still kept for whales, but only the sight of a whale would interrupt the one “official” leisure-day of the week.

On this Sunday the men had out their mending, and their scrimshandering projects, and their carvings, and their journals, and in a couple cases their books. I was working on the tear I’d inflicted on a shirt-sleeve when I’d tried my hand at helping to trim sails—and I was wondering how I’d do at crafting baby clothes. Something else I truly hadn’t accounted for in my planning. I mean, it would have been a little awkward to introduce the subject to Mrs. Vanderhagen on a just-in-case basis—but I literally hadn’t considered it at all. It seemed like a glaring hole in my thinking, given what I did know about my own future. Well, it’s not like I’d had a baby before. There were probably hundreds of things I hadn’t thought of.