Chapter Fifty-seven



It was not quite eight o’clock on a beautiful warm early-autumn morning, and still a small group of young men were standing on the beach and gazing out over the vast expanse of water. Spyke, Galen and Jordan could be found here as often as chores would allow in hopes that the anticipated supply ship would arrive well before its slated date. 

“I see it! I see it!” Jordan hollered, jumping up and down and pointing towards the dark speck on the horizon that had not been there moments before.

Once the others could see for themselves that their friend was not just imagining it, their exhilaration grew as the approaching ship became easier to see. It seemed as if they’d been waiting its arrival forever. Truth be told, the supply ship had originally been scheduled to arrive the first week of October and so by rights was actually arriving several days early.

Raythe shook his head as he pulled on his clothing. The swim had been refreshing but now he just wanted to get back to helping Brock finish up the tanning process so the pelts and leather could be given to Nathan for winter clothing. Besides, he just wasn’t able to generate the same level of enthusiasm as did his companions. He had already seen more such vessels than he would have liked and none held pleasant memories for him.

“I w-wonder if there’s going to b-be any new exiles on board,” Galen mused, digging his bare toes into the sand.

“I hope so,” Spyke declared as he held a hand up to shade his eyes from the sun shining off the water. He knew he would not personally be receiving anything, but then few of the men expected to.

Jordan remained silent on the subject. He didn’t like meeting new folks, finding most of them intimidating. However, he was looking forward to seeing what new supplies they had been sent.

Raythe shrugged. He really couldn’t have cared less if there were new arrivals or not. “I’m heading back to camp,” he announced and turned toward the well-trampled trail they all used to access the beach.

“Let Thomas and W-walker know the ship’s here,” Galen called out to him and grinned when he received a wave of acknowledgement that his request had been heard.

Several minutes later, all five members of the council and one ex-magistrate had joined the young men to form a welcoming committee.

“I think ‘twould be best if ye greeted our guests wearing something other than yer birthday suits,” Aiden suggested as he grabbed up Spyke’s clothing and tossed them over to him. Spyke hurriedly got dressed and Aiden was pleased to see the other two lads follow suit.

“The ship is so slow,” Galen complained after what seemed like an hour had gone by, but in reality had only been fifteen minutes.

Thomas wrapped an arm around his beloved’s shoulder. “Patience, Galen, it will be in soon enough.”

It was another half hour before the ship came close enough to drop anchor. Soon the unloading process would begin. By this time, most the island residents were waiting on the beach, their excitement steadily increasing.

A smaller craft, as yet unseen, unexpectedly appeared off the starboard side and slowly made its way to shore amidst the shouts and cheers from the younger men impatiently jumping about on the sand. As it came nearer, a few men ran into the water to assist in dragging it ashore.

The first to step off was a larger-than-life man carrying a leather-bound book. He removed his Captain’s hat and bowed to Walker, before stepping forward and embracing the island’s chef. “How are you, my friend?” he asked in a booming voice that could be heard by all.

“It is good to see you, John. We’ve all fared well since being dropped off here almost six months ago,” Walker replied. “Come, there are those here I’d have you meet.”

“All in good time, Walker; we have a lot of business to discuss first.”

“Then at least let me introduce one of the men, as he will be the one you most definitely have to keep informed.” Walker signalled for Thomas, who immediately responded to the summons. “Thomas, I’d like you to meet a long-time friend and one of our foremost benefactors, Captain John Birmingham. John, meet Thomas Fields, the head of our council.”

The two gentlemen exchanged pleasantries and then at the Captain’s suggestion moved over to a shady area where they could converse in relative privacy while the ship was being unloaded.

Aiden assumed the responsibility of assigning tasks to various members of the community. Each man was given something to do in their fields of expertise when at all possible. If uncertainties arose, they were told to seek out Larry or Aiden for advice. There was a good two hours’ work ahead of them, as well as the time it would take to get everything unpacked.

Lakota and Yancey together with their partners, Gille and Brodie, would oversee the cataloguing of medical supplies and the moving of them to the recently built infirmary.

As expected, Quentin took on the duty of maintaining an inventory of all other items. He delegated the listing of books and teaching aids to Troy and Levi Harris.

Two gigantic barge-like vessels pulled up to the shore almost simultaneously. The first was loaded down with a good assortment of animals, including two draft horses, while the second one groaned under the weight of a two-wheel plow, a riding cultivator, a horse-powered mowing machine to replace the scythes they were using, a reaper for cutting grain, a threshing machine, a baler, a binder and a large wagon. The barges would make several trips back and forth, returning loaded down each time.

Galen, Spyke, Raythe and Seth willingly accepted the chore of herding the new livestock to their waiting pens, releasing several cows and sheep, as well as an abundance of beef cattle into the one large fenced-in area.

“Someone’s going to hafta find a lot of grazing land for these guys,” Galen murmured as he looked over the crowded field.

Mitchell led a huge bull through the woods and eventually had him settled in one of the paddocks near a newly constructed barn.

Meanwhile, Hendrik had hitched the horses to the wagon so it could be put to immediate use in getting items moved a quarter mile inland to the locale of the new lodge.

Kevin oversaw the relocating of farming equipment and the storage of numerous bags of animal feed with the help of Dallas, Samuel, and Wayne.

Preston and Brock assisted Thad and Jordan in moving all new household items to the lodge, including a huge cooking stove. It was more than double the size of the one Walker had been making do with.

Nathan spent at least an hour happily unpacking several crates of material and sewing items and storing them in his newly allotted space for working his craft. He was thrilled beyond words when he discovered a brand-new, Singer treadle sewing machine and set out immediately to fetch Wes who’d been helping with the unloading.

“Do you even know how to use this thing?” Wes ran his fingers lightly over the frame of a compact weaving loom.

“Of course, and someday soon you’ll be able to use it too. “ Nathan laughed at the curled up lip.

“And just what is this?” Wes held up a smoothly finish piece of wood shaped like a toy canoe. 

“A shuttle,” Nathan responded. “This will make one less item for Aiden to build.”

Meanwhile, not far off from the hustle and bustle of unloading, a lengthy conversation was taking place as Walker and Thomas were brought up-to-date on the activities of their benefactors. Many of the men were in for a number of surprises, not all of them pleasant.

“I’ve a great deal of news to share with you,” Captain Birmingham announced once the three of them were comfortably seated out of hearing range of the others. “It is difficult to decide where to begin.” He looked closely at Thomas for a moment before opening the book he had brought with him. “Thomas, you will learn soon enough of a certain shipment as all will look rather familiar due to it previously being owned by you. Your brother-in-law, George Ryan, lost everything. His cronies heard about his acquisition and rushed in like vultures to collect the money he owed them. The sale of your property only covered some of his debts and as he was unable to pay the rest, he presently resides in the local jail. Our group was able to save the small parcel of land the cottage was built on for your sister. As well as taking in an elderly lady to care for, she has chosen to supplement her income by opening a small millinery shop in her home. Most the farming equipment and a good portion of your livestock was purchased by our group when it went to auction. I am sorry to be the bearer of what must justifiably be distressing news for you. I understand the land had been in your family for a number of generations.”

Thomas felt as though he’d been punched in the gut. The family property he’d sworn to his father that he’d care for and protect was forever lost. Not that he was surprised that his low-life brother-in-law had driven it to ruin, but he never would have thought it could happened so quickly. He swallowed down his anger. “Thank you for informing me; but mostly I thank you for coming to the aid of my sister. Though her situation is not ideal, I can at least take comfort from knowing she has a roof over her head and a means of survival. I wish only that I had the means to repay you and your friends for your kindness and extreme generosity. I hope that someday we will be able to produce goods here that we can provide to you in some small payment for what you have done for us.”

“The Humanitarian Board has made some very wise investments with monies that originally belong to some of the men exiled here, so there is no need for you to worry about repayment, Thomas. Besides, some of what we have not been able to bring here has brought us a good price at our own auction. It is our mandate to see that this community does not suffer needlessly. And even though you are probably about to start a bountiful harvest; there are a lot of additional staples, as well as things you are unable to grow here, being brought ashore. We have also provided extra animal feed due to the increase in your livestock. It should please you to learn that your beautiful pair of Clydesdales survived the trip unscathed, Walker.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Walker eyes lit up at the mere thought of his prize horses being brought to him.

“I jest not, my friend. Here is an accounting of everything. Your quartermaster, should you have one, can verify his count against this list.”

“Quentin Bradley, an ex-store owner, is our quartermaster. An excellent one at that,” Walker declared.

“Good; and now to move onto the next bit of news. Although there are no men on board who have been sentenced into exile by the courts at this present time, I do have two older gentlemen on board who were so intent on coming to the island, they paid their own passage. They have secretly been partners for many years and would like the opportunity to live freely and openly. One is a photographer and had been a newspaper reporter for many years. And if I am not mistaken, his hobby is bee-keeping. You’ll find him to be somewhat eccentric. Fortunately, the older one appears very stable and well-use to keeping his mate in line. Their names are Wallace Henderson and Alfred O’Sullivan, who is a men’s clothing designer and tailor. Alfred claims he has a nephew, Nathan, already residing here on the island. Is that correct?”

“Yes, Nathan is here,” Thomas answered. “He is also a tailor and from what I understand, he learned the trade from his uncle.”

“Then I’d say Nathan is in for a pleasant surprise,” the captain chuckled. “I have another young man who wants to make the island his home. His name is Halyard Spencer and he is twenty-six years old. He has worked for me for a number of years and is a very accomplished seaman. I knew his father well. Jacob was a fisherman and having grown up on the water like his father before him, Haly loves to fish. In fact, that boat I came to shore on belongs to Haly. It was left to him by his father and will of course be staying here, provided you allow him to stay. He’s even got a few lobster traps on board.”

Walker and Thomas looked at each other and smiled. “He is more than welcomed to remain here,” Walker enthusiastically assured his friend. “I am sure I speak for a good number of the men when saying we look forward to having many meals provided by the abundance of the sea.”

“I already know of a few young men who will be excited to hear about the fishing vessel. To date, they have only been able to construct a small raft which is far from seaworthy,” Thomas added with a laugh, thinking of Galen and his fellow mischief-makers. 

“Haly will be more than pleased to learn of this,” Captain Birmingham declared, happy for the young man he considered a friend. “Now to our final item of business, and I have no idea how you are going to respond to this. The night before we set sail, two young men stowed away on the ship. They hid in one of the lifeboats and were not discovered until our second day at sea. Turns out, our little stowaways are half-brothers. Liang Chen, who prefers to be called Shay, is twenty years old and a cobbler. Liang Ping, who only answers to Jay, is twenty-four years old. Here is where it gets rather difficult. Jay is mentally slow. Although physically a good size, I doubt he will ever mentally be more than a twelve or thirteen-year-old boy. Shaw feels his sexual preference was close to being discovered and feared for his brother’s well-being should he be arrested. He has taken care of Jay since their parents’ death three years ago.” John paused to take note of how this information was being received.

“Well, God only knows we can use a good cobbler here. You say these young men are half-brothers? Exactly what is the older one capable of doing?” Thomas asked in order to ensure he had the facts straight. While it was true that the young men would be permitted to remain on the island, as head of the council Thomas had to be prepared for how much, if any, further burden Jay’s needs might place on the community.
 
“From what I have seen so far, Jay follows his younger brother everywhere and for the most part does what he is told. He’s strong and is more than capable of menial chores but requires supervision. That said, Shay’s fears are not unfounded. Jay would never be able to function on his own.” John glanced from one man to the other, wondering what each was thinking. “I am sure Shay will answer any questions you may have.”

Thomas nodded thoughtfully. “Both these men may certainly stay and we will do all we can to help them settle in. Exactly how we go about doing that will have to be discussed by the council as a whole.”

“I feel quite confident should extra work be involved in meeting Jay’s needs, there are those we can call on for help,” Walker stated, several men coming to mind.

“The new members of your community will be on the last boat to come ashore, so while we’re awaiting their arrival I’d like to see all you’ve accomplished over the past several months. The folks back home are anxious to hear how you are faring. A brief tour will suffice while I jot down a few notes,” Captain Birmingham requested as he got to his feet, picking up his hat and book.

Walker, if you wouldn’t mind showing the good captain around; I’ll go inform Aiden and Larry of our increasing population. Maybe you would be so kind as to let Troy and Lakota know should you meet up with them,” Thomas proposed. With Walker’s agreement, Thomas parted company with them and went in search of two of their councilmen.

“We also have a list of supplies to go over that Lakota, Quentin and I compiled for your next trip, John. But it can wait until after the grand tour,” Walker explained as he led his friend along the path to the main compound the men had called home since the day they arrived on the island those many months ago.

“Most the tents, which until recently were set up here, have been converted into mattress covers. With the exception of our medical personnel and their husbands who are temporarily sleeping in the new infirmary, we all bunk down in this large mess tent,” Walker explained the somewhat desolate appearance of the area. “The lodge should be completed in approximately one week’s time and we are all getting anxious to move into it.”

“I trust you have sufficient room for five more men,” John commented as they strolled passed the mess hall.

“I am sure we’ll be able to make do. If need be, our tailor and his partner can probably sleep in his recently constructed workshop.” Walker grinned at his friend. “Guess I should say our two tailors and their partners. I am sure the shop is roomy enough for the four of them. The lodge, infirmary, barn and other buildings including both a smoke house and a wash house are a fifteen minute walk from here. A member of our council, Troy Harris, came across this beautiful site the first day when searching for fresh water.”

“I can’t wait to see it all,” John remarked, picking up the pace.

A short time later, Captain John Birmingham stood with a look of disbelief on his rugged face as he slowly took in the sight before him. He shook his head in wonderment. “I can’t believe you’ve managed to get this much done in barely under six months. The committee is going to be very impressed.”

The two men stood in the center of the large gathering room of the lodge where work was still in progress. They nodded at Troy and Levi who were stacking new school supplies in bookcases on one side of the room. They could hear hammering coming from the upper level of the building.

“We have Aiden to thank for most the furniture. He’s a cabinetmaker and a very gifted one, I might add. He is also a bit of a perfectionist. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we’ll be happy to sit at these proper tables with good sturdy benches.” Walker supplied this information as they moved about the lower area of the lodge. “Actually, Aiden designed this entire building. We have a total of fourteen bedrooms, ten average size and four somewhat larger. One of the bigger ones was supposed to be a schoolroom, but that will have to change to accommodate our new arrivals. Our tutor, Troy, is going to be a little let down. I better go give him Thomas’ message. I’ll be right back.” 

John waited patiently while Walker took Troy aside and quietly conversed with him. It didn’t talk long before they were leaving the lodge, intent on seeing the remaining buildings.

Troy let out a sigh as Walker and the captain headed out of the lodge. He distracted himself from his disappointment by taking a moment to admire his husband’s backside as Levi bent over while loading books onto the shelves. When the younger man came back to sort through the last crate, Troy stopped him and pulled him into his arms, kissing him soundly.

“I have news, my love. Along with the new books and supplies on today’s ship, there are five new men who will be remaining on the island. Though more hands will be appreciated, I’m afraid that we’ve lost our classroom in order to house some of them. So it’s back to teaching in the dining area for us.”

Levi thought about the news for a moment and then smiled. “You know, Troy, that won’t be so bad. Though it can be distracting, I kind of like being in the center of things and being near the kitchen. Plus we’ll get to sample the baked goods as they come out of that new oven.”

Troy let out a laugh and gave a gentle swat to the backside he’d been admiring moments before. “I thank God for you every day, my love. You always find the silver lining in every cloud.” He gave Levi another kiss. “Let’s get finished with these books as lunch preparations are probably just now getting underway in the old mess tent.”

Meanwhile, the captain’s admiration for the exiled men was growing in leaps and bounds as he accompanied Walker around the new homestead and made notes. He was impressed by the layout of the infirmary and wrote about it in great detail while Walker relayed Thomas’ message to Lakota. 

“What’s going on here?” John asked as he took in huge pile of clay that was obviously the result of a great deal of digging. “It this going to be what I think it is?”

“Only if you have a root cellar in mind,” Walker laughed. “Aiden started this underground project. Here is where the heavy door will be with steps leading down to the room well below this mound of earth. We hope to be able to store a good supply of vegetables that will hopefully last until next harvest. Over here, a small group of men have begun digging a well. Many of us are getting rather fed up with having to daily cart water over a mile from the lake. A few of the men have also mentioned something about building a bath house, but that may have to wait for a while. I’ve requested a pump and some piping to be brought on the next supply ship in April.”

“Well I’ll just scratch those items off your list, Walker, as your group of benefactors is one step ahead of you. They’ve not only sent you two water pumps of different sizes and what looks like copious feet of pipes, but also a large kitchen sink and three bathtubs.” John grinned at the shocked express on Walker’s face.  

“I guess the bath house won’t have to be put on hold until next Spring after all,” Walker mused. Shaking his head in wonder at all that had been provided for them.

“I trust you have a means of obtaining and storing ice.”

“We do. There is a lake not far from here that we believe will freeze over solid enough to permit us to cut large blocks of ice before winter ends. The council has been very diligent in making sure all the sawdust was collected and set aside to cover the blocks once they’ve been moved to a storage facility that is yet to be built for just that purpose. Why do you ask?” 

“Because there will be a couple of iceboxes unloaded before the day is out.” John would long wonder which of two of them was the most amazed by all that was taking place.

As impressed as he’d been so far during the tour, John was equally awed by the size of the fields where several types of grain and a wide variety of vegetables had been planted. “This is absolutely amazing!” he exclaimed, turning to look up at Walker. “Positively mind-boggling!” There was a note of awe in his voice.

“We’ve all worked well together; didn’t have a choice if we wanted to survive. There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears shed over the past few months. Mind you, it would have proven almost impossible had it not been for the support of our many friends back home.” Walked glanced around and his chest swelled with pride at having been a small part of it all. Then he took in a deep breath in preparation for the next bit of news he had to impart. “On a sad note, we have had one fatality. We lost young Kelby Curtis as a result of a swimming accident in June. It was a difficult time for all of us but the hardest hit was Kelby’s mentor and friend, Quentin, who remains the only single man here.”

“I am so sorry for your loss, my friend.” John sincerely offered his condolences and placed an understanding hand on Walker’s shoulder. “I am sure your quartermaster will find someone eventually.”

“You always were the optimist, John,” Walker merrily commented and slapped his friend on the back.  

“You are probably right,” John concurred with a resonating laugh. “Just now, I think it’s time I checked in with my first-mate to see how the unloading is progressing. By my calculations, the barges should be about emptied for the last time and the final boat landing soon.”

“You do plan to join us for our noon meal, right? I’d like the opportunity of introducing all the men to you and letting them put at least one face to our group of benefactors. I’d especially like you to meet my two partners.” He grinned at John’s raised eyebrow, but offered no further information and none was requested; at least not at this particular moment. Walker knew from experience that John was merely bidding his time.

“Hell, if you’re doing the cooking, Walker, wild horses couldn’t drag me away.”

They kept up a lighthearted banter as they may their way back to the beach, enjoying the camaraderie built over many years of friendship.

Nathan and Wes stood with a small group of men, their eyes on the last barge as it moved slowly out to the anchored ship. They were surprised to see a much lighter vessel being rowed towards the shore.

Like many of those standing with him, Nathan had momentarily forgotten that the captain was still on land and so he wondered what this boat could be bringing.

He was totally unprepared for the shock of seeing the familiar faces of the first two men being helped out of the boat once it had been pulled unto the sandy beach. His shock was apparent. His legs almost gave out as he stared open-mouthed at his Uncle Alfred and Alfred’s companion, Wallace.

Regaining the strength in his legs and gasping air into his lungs, Nathan lunged forward to greet them as soon as they set foot on dry land. “I-I don’t understand,” was all he managed to stammer as he shook hands with one of the two older men and then embraced the other.

“We’ll explain it all in good time, my boy. Right now, I just want to get a good look at you.” Alfred stepped back to better see his nephew. There were tears of joy in both men’s eyes.  

“I’ve so many questions and so much to tell you, Uncle Alfred. But most importantly, I have someone I want you to meet.”

“How about we continue this reunion somewhere a little more private, if such a thing is possible,” Wallace crankily demanded. He hadn’t fared well during the voyage and was beyond worn-out.

“He is in desperate need of a nap,” Alfred explained in an attempt to excuse his partner’s lack of manners.   

“My new workshop will be the ideal place,” Nathan offered and began directing his family towards the young man who had been avidly watching in the reunion. “Maybe a short rest will do him until after the noon meal, which should be ready shortly. But first I’d like to introduce you to my partner, Wesley Roy Bentley. Wes, my love, this is my Uncle Alfred and his companion, Wallace; both of whom I have told you about.”

Alfred was pleased to learn his nephew had a special someone in his life and he let it be known. Wes was a tad nervous about meeting these strangers, but got over it as soon as Alfred hugged him. Wallace huffed, tapped his foot and made sure the others were aware of his disgruntlement.

It was almost a relief to finally get him settled on the cot Nathan had set up along the back wall of his sewing room.

As Quentin was checking over the items he had written down in his inventory ledger, he spotted someone out of the corner of his eye. A young man had hopped out of the boat and onto the beach with the swagger only a sailor would have. 

For a moment, the older man stopped what he was doing to pay more attention to the long-haired blond walking toward him.

As he got closer, Quentin noticed the man’s eyes were a sultry gray; a shade that reminded him of a stormy sea. When the sailor stopped in front of him, something stirred inside Quentin that he hadn’t felt for a long time, assuming he’d ever felt it to begin with. It hit him hard. It was more than mere awareness; a magnetism maybe?

“Hi there,” the young man spoke up first. “My name is Halyard and I’m a member of the crew from the ship that brought the supplies. Are you the storekeeper? Cause I was told by the first mate to give you this list.”

Quentin held his breath for a moment before he spoke. He did his best to hide the tremor of excitement in his voice. After all, this young man would soon be gone, so it was best that Quentin just get any fanciful ideas out of his head.

“Hi yourself, and yes, I’m the quartermaster. I control the inventory around here.”

“You got a name?”

“Yes, of course. It’s Quentin.”

The young man gave the older man a seductive smile that set Quentin’s heart pounding. What Quentin didn’t know was that the young man had spotted him when watching the onshore activities through the ship’s telescope and had experienced a similar physical reaction. If Haly was permitted to stay on the island, he was going to make it his business to get to know this man intimately.

“Well, I’ll let you get back to what you were doing. I am sure our paths will cross again; many times if I get to live here. I very much want to do that…stay here that is…but have to wait on word from the captain.”

As Haly walked away, he turned his head to get another look at the man who appeared to be reviewing the list in his hand. Fact is; Quentin was surreptitiously keeping an eye on the young sailor. 

‘Yes sir,’ Haly thought. ‘I certainly want to get to know that man better; a lot better.’ The young man could never be accused of biding his time when it came to something he wanted.

It was well past noon when the men responded to the clanging of the large metal triangle. They impatiently stood in lines to wash up before entering the mess hall. Rumor had it that the community’s numbers were about to increase and most were anxious to have it confirmed one way or another.

Once the men were seated with plates of food in front of them, Thomas got to his feet. “There is no need to keep you waiting any longer, my friends. We now have thirty-two island residents. I have spoken briefly with each of our new arrivals and requested they introduce themselves. At least two were willing to do so. I call upon every one of you to spare some time to make them feel welcome and to help their settling in go as smoothly as possible.” He sat down and nodded to Alfred, giving him an encouraging smile.

A man who looked to be in his late forties, with dark blond hair and blue eyes, pushed himself up from the table. He placed a hand under another man’s arm and hauled him up to stand beside him. The second man looked to be in his mid-forties; had light blond hair, hazel eyes and a rather pronounced scowl on his face.

The first man began to speak. “I guess since I am the oldest, it is only reasonable to take my turn first. My name is Alfred O’Sullivan and yes, I am related to your tailor, Nathan O’Sullivan. I am his uncle on his father’s side and like Nathan, I design men’s clothing.” He paused long enough to wink at his nephew who was sitting across from him.

“Unlike those of you who have been here for a few months, I am here by my own choice. This man beside me is my partner and has been for over twenty years. I love him; he is my life. For a very long time, I have yearned to publicly declare my feelings without fear of reprisal. Here I can do just that.” Alfred tightened the arm he had wrapped around his lover’s shoulders and made no effort to hide the tears in his eyes.

Clearing his throat of the lump lodged there, he continued. “Wallace does not wish to speak at this time, so I will do so for him. The reason he looks so cranky is because at the moment he is cranky. But with just cause due to the loss of sleep he endured on the voyage. He would never have made a sailor. For that matter I don’t think I would have either. I am sure he’ll be friendlier tomorrow. For those of you who may be interested, Wallace is a photographer and at one time was a reporter for our local tabloid. He is also a bee-keeper. Don’t be surprised if he disappears for hours at a time. He can’t help himself.”

Alfred and Wallace took their seats to a round of applause and a great deal of amiable laughter.   

Haly had no idea of the amount of attention he was attracting. A beautiful young man with blond hair hanging down to his shoulder blades, he made a stunning picture. He chewed his lip as he slowly stood up. “Aw, I’m not used to talking in front of a crowd, so please bear with me. My name is Halyard Spencer, but my friends call me Haly. I’ve spent most of my life on the water. My father was a fisherman and his father before him. I have my own fishing boat which Captain Birmingham was kind enough to haul along for me in return for me supplying fish for his crew. I will do that for you folks too. I love the sea, but figure it’s about time to settle down and find someone I can spend the rest of my life with. The fact I prefer that someone to be a man is why I’m here.” With that, Haly dropped down onto his makeshift chair. He blushed when he received several pats on the back.

The men sat and waited expectantly for the last two young men to introduce themselves. While waiting, they took the time to observe them. One was definitely of mixed parentage. The bigger lad seemed to be part Chinese and part Negro while the smaller lad was of Chinese descent only.

Everyone watched as the visiting ship’s captain went over to the young men and bent down to have a word with the smaller one who nodded his head and stood up, albeit very reluctantly. He glanced around with wide, almost black eyes then down at the man seated beside him who was trying to hide his face in his hands. He started to talk in a voice barely above a whisper.

“I am Shay and this is my brother, Jay. I am twenty years old and Jay is twenty-four. We are cobblers. We learned the trade from our father.” He abruptly sat down with an expression of trepidation spreading across his young face. From what little could be seen of Jay’s face, he looked absolutely terrified.

Taking pity on them, Captain Birmingham took over. As was the big man’s nature, the introduction was short and to the point. “Shay, like the rest of you, is homosexual. He is happy to embrace this part of himself but feared for his brother’s safety should he be found out and exiled. Jay is unable to live on his own. It was Shay’s idea to stow away aboard my ship. If I am not mistaken, it would come in handy to have your own shoemaker here on the island.” John smiled and roughly ruffled both the lads’ hair before returning to his seat. 

The rest of the meal was uneventful as hungry men scoffed down their food while a couple merely picked at theirs. Furtive glances were exchanged by many, the half-brothers garnishing the majority of them. Many of the younger men were curious to learn more, but surprisingly it was Raythe who approached them first and offered a hand in friendship.

TBC…. 

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