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Celestial Navigations - “Horses"
I don’t feel guilty. I don’t feel guilty at all. I’m sittin’ here in this cell, clapped in irons, waitin’ to be hanged in the morning. And I don’t care ‘bout that neither. It all started the day I signed on a square-rigger that was bound for the New World. The crew told me that on the last voyage, they’d run into the doldrums. Now the doldrums is a place out in the middle of ocean where there ain’t no wind. The sea is like glass in every direction. The sails hang like wilted lettuce in the yardarms and the sun is so hot you can hardly breath. It’s not a very large area but you can’t sail out of it.

On the day we was to set sail, I heard the sound of horse hoofs on the dock. I run up on deck and there they was... 30 of ‘em. I’d never seen such gorgeous creatures before. Their faces was beautiful and their coats were shining…. their movements was like a song. I run straight away to the first mate and asked if I could be in charge? And he said, “’Right.” So we marched them on board down into the hold, into their stalls. And then we set sail. All during the voyage I took care of them. I watered them and fed them and cleaned out their stalls. Put around fresh straw too so they’d be comfy. And everyday I’d rub down their legs. You see, horses was born to run and if they can’t move about, they gets awful jittery. So I’d rub down their legs everyday... they seemed to like that. Oh, each one of them had his own special way about him. And I named them all - Blackie and Brownie and Yardarm and Master Duke and so on. I use to steal sugar out the galley - there was a little brown and white Pinto I called Cloudsey - he used to pick it right out of me pocket. Oh, I loved them all. But there was two of them I think I was a little partial to. There was a beautiful mare I called Jessica. She use to shake her head at me every time I walked by. Then there was a very noble looking gentleman with a white blaze down his face. I called him “Eye” cause he looked me right in eye whenever I talked to him and he’d call me too during the day. He’d go, “Wooouuu, wouuuu…“ And I’d say, “Now settle down Eye boy, it’s alright…. I’m right here.” Oh, we had a lovely time down there in the hold, we did.

One afternoon the storm clouds started rolling in and the sea turned to white caps and by nightfall we was in the middle of a ferocious storm. We was being banged back and forth down there in the hold. Me horses was terribly frightened. They was stampin’ about and cryin’ out and pullin’ on their ties. I went around to each one of ‘em and petted ‘em down and called ‘em by name. And I sang ‘em songs. Bawdy songs I’m afraid they was... the kind I learned in the taverns. They didn’t listen to the words but they loved the tunes. And I calmed them down, right there in the middle of the storm. They trusted me after that. They knew that if I was there they’d be alright. And I was always there. I spent all me time in the hold.

Eight weeks out, we run into the doldrums. The ship come to a standstill and the sails hung slack. Late in the afternoon the Captain ordered me to bring the horses on deck. And I marched them up. Oh, they were so happy to be out in the fresh air. They was prancing about and breathing deep. Then we rigged up a crane and pushed it over the side. And one by one we lowered each one of me gentle friends down into the water. They was strung out in two lines. Fifteen and fifteen and them tied to the bow of the ship. The Captain ordered me out in a long boat and we rode out ahead with them. Ahhh, I was so happy for them. They seemed to be enjoying the cool water. When we got out ahead of them, the first mate ordered me to call to Jessica and Eye who was the leaders. When they heard my voice they started swimming toward me and all together the horses began to pull the ship.

We rowed ahead of them all night long. I held up a lantern so’s me beauties could see me. And they pulled the great ship slowly and steadily through the still black water ... Ohhhh, I wish you could have been there. They was magnificent to see -their heads was held high and their eyes was shinin’ and their ears was erect as they trotted slowly and proudly through the water. They swam all night. Then in the morning it turned light in the horizon and the sun peeped up and they was still goin’ strong. I was so proud. “That’a girl Jessica! Good boy Eye, me proud beauty!” And the ship moved on. Late in the mornin’ I could see they was growing tired and thirsty too. I turned to say somethin’ to the first mate but just then a shout rang out from the ship. And we looked back and the sails was beginning to billow. “Ahh.” I breathed a great sigh of relief. The wind had come up. We was out of the doldrums.

We rode back to the ship and as I climbed on board, the Captain said, “Good job lad.” Right there in front of the whole crew, he did. And I said, “Well, thank you sir but it was me horses done the work.”

We hauled up the long boat then I pushed the crane over to begin pickin’ up me horses who was milling about. When suddenly the Captain sang out, “Cut the lines! Make full sail. We’ve got time to make up.” Someone picked up a hatchet and cut the lines to me horses and we started moving forward. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The men was runnin’ around like crazy tryin’ to get all the sails to the wind. But nobody was paying any attention to the horses. I went forward and shouted at the Captain. The first mate jumped in me way and ordered the master-at-arms to throw me off the bridge! He hit me... knocked me down...then pulled out his pistol and pointed it at me and started counting. I jumped up and ran back to the stern. Me horses was already drifted far back. They was swimming trying to keep up but they were so tired they was losing fast. The sea had begun its giant swells again and I’d see their heads at the crest of a wave and then they’d disappear into the trough and then reappear at the crest of a wave. And each time their heads got smaller and smaller. And then they was gone. I just stood out there at the stern gazing into the empty sea. Suddenly way far back I saw a head at the crest of a wave; it was Eye. He was still swimming strong and he called to me, “Wooooaaaaa...” And then he was gone.

I stood out there in the stern for the rest of the day. Just staring into the empty sea. When the night time came I leaned over and picked up a hatchet that was used to cut the lines to me horses and began makin’ me way forward to the Captain’s quarters.

I opened the door and peered in. All the officers was sittin’ around a candlelit table havin’ dinner. They all turned and stared at me. It was unheard of for a common seaman to come into the Captain’s quarters and he said, “Here now, what’s this?” I walked up to him and swung the hatchet and split his head open down to his chin. Then I swung at the first mate and near took his head off. Then I buried the hatchet deep in the master-at-arms’ chest. There was blood and gore everywhere. No one moved. And I was glad for what I’d done.

So now, here I sit in this cell...waitin’ to be hanged in the mornin’. I haven’t slept a wink since then. Not because of what I done to the Captain but because I still hear me beauties calling to me from over the waves."


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