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EDITH SPEERS



Fiction, 'The Sailor's Story'

Once upon a time I was a free man. Soon I will be free again for it is to win my final freedom that I am come here to tell my story. To all who reads this story I will say that I was born of the name William Haws in the village of Stoke on Trent in the year of Our Lord 1711 when King George was king of England.

You finds me first on the road going south from my home village and already I have walked a long way for I have taken the shoon from my feet and I have tied them to carry over my shoulder. I have nothing else to carry. By night I will rest in the hedges and before light I will get up and walk again. I cannot tell you how long it takes me to get to the sea. My mind is all in a maze. I have no food in my belly but what I take in berries from the hedgerow and green herbs from the roadside and the fields. I dare not sleep overmuch in case I’m found. Also I fear the place my mind will go to in my dreams.

I walk the wild ways when I can. I cross fields to go about the towns. I do not speak to any people and I do not go to them for bread and I do not steal from their gardens. I know by the sun and the stars the way that I’m going. I am walking south. I don’t know why that is my direction but that is the way my legs took me when I left the village and my mind in no ways can alter my course. Nothing now can alter my course for I am no longer a free man.

It happens then that I come to the sea. I come to a town on the sea and I walk through the town to get to the sea. I know I have walked far enough and no one has followed me. My prison goes with me and I have no need of any other. This I already understand.

There is nothing for it but to go to sea. That’s how I understand things. I stands on them wooden planks by the boats. A man tells me this ship here is needing crew and so here I stand. Everything is clear now and my mind is no longer in a maze.

I killed Anne Marie and she will kill me. That’s how I understand things. It seems fair to me and I have no argument with it. There will be no prison and no gallows for me. My fate is sealed and all I’ve to do is live it out.

When I was free I worked leather. First I did all manner of work in the fields and around the farms. But I got to be friends with an old man who worked at the stables of a big house and he taught me how to work the leather. I was quick at it. My fingers took to it quickly and it pleased me to cut and stitch the straps of leather and to make the harness and other such things for the horses.

I made a good living by this and things looked well for me. Maybe this is why Anne Marie came to be my wife. I was no better and no worse in my ways than any other man of the village. She showed me no greater favour than she showed the others. But she had my guts skewered on a meat hook and she knew it. Maybe that and my good earnings together decided her on me.

She was a whore in herself and I knew it but it made no difference. I knew her from when she was born and I knew her from when she first started looking at men and there was not much space between the two. I was not the first man to lie with her but as the others went off and married other girls I kept after this one and so I finally got her for my wife.

I called her Fox because of her colour. But she was sly with it.

She had a sly way about her that promised a man more than he could hope for anywhere else. This is how she was.

There was nothing else to her. There was nothing to her. Other girls had flesh on them as white as cream and as rich as butter but Anne Marie was a runt in the litter. There was no meat to cover her bones and the skin all over her body was speckled like a hen’s egg. She had yellow eyes like a cat. I swear I could cover each of her breasts with the flat of my thumb.

She was nothing but she was my wife. She was Fox. The hair sprang away from her head as thick and as red as a fox’s brush. She hated me to call her Fox except when we were lying together. Then she did not mind it so much. Then she let me put my hands on her and let me twine the fingers of my two hands into her rich hair.

But the times got fewer and farther apart. Nor did I get her with child. Her temper and her sharp tongue did not bother me. It did not bother me that she did not work to be a good wife in my house though I knew it was her way of being scornful of me. But what broke me was that two years and more went by and my scrap of a Fox did not grow thick with child.

Then I found she was going to an old witch of the village. We fought about it. We were in a shed with heaped straw because I went and searched her out and that’s where I found her. She was looking for hens’ eggs. She kept looking for them in the straw and she spoke first lightly to me and then sharply because she did not understand my anger. At last she grew impatient of my anger and said not in jest, "Please yourself then. Whose child would you like?"

She named the men but there was no need for it. With her words I saw all the times of the past two years that I knew she was whoring.

Already she was turning to poke amongst the straw. Of course she did not understand my anger because she was sure that what she said was not news to me. How should I be angry now when I was not angry all these two years? She looked at me with a scowl when I put my hands on her neck. She thought I was making up to her, for often I liked to put my hands on the cool of her neck. Also it was the same way that I liked to turn her to me, by the neck with my two hands around the back of her neck beneath the thickness of her hair and my two thumbs touching the pulse on either side of her throat. But now I pressed my two thumbs hard against the sides of her throat and my hands squeezed tight. She stared in surprise and she sank to the straw and I went down with her until I was onto my knees and still I squeezed my thumbs against the pulse on either side of her throat.

I found myself kneeling with my hands covering my face. I said, "I’m sorry, Fox." I lowered my hands and looked at her.

Her eyes were open but when I crouched closer I saw there was dust on them. This is now I knew she was dead. When I saw the dust on her eyes I stood up and knew I was a murderer. Then I walked out of the village and never went back.

This is how you now finds me signing on to a ship by the sea. The man with the book asks my name and I says, "Haws, sir." He says, "Hawser? Are you good with ropes, then?" And he laughs. But I says, "Yes, sir. I have worked with ropes and with harness." So that is how I come by my name and my trade. Now I am Jack Hawser and I am a rope-maker on this ship which is the first ship I came to when I got to the sea.

It’s my fate. I put my mark by my name in the book and it sealed my fate and I will not go back on it. After I made a cross in the book by my name I went with another man who was from the ship. I asked him what manner of ship this was and he said, "Why, she’s a whore of a ship!" May be you too want to know what manner of ship she was and may be I will tell you she was a merchantmen but frigate-built and may be it will mean no more to you than it did to me.

But if you want the truth I will say it plain. She is a whore of a ship. How can she be anything else? Her name is the Anne Marie. She is going to kill me and I have no argument with that. It is fair enough. I only fear that she will not be quick about it.

That is my story. It all happened a long time ago. I died a long time ago. I died because of the Anne Marie and I was right in my fear. She was not quick about it. She made me wait fourteen years. But I lived out my fate and I did not go back on it and I will win my final freedom by telling you my story. Of all the days that I lived out my fate there was not one day that I did not wake in horror at what I had done. This is what I’ve come to say. Don’t murder each other. I killed Anne Marie and she killed me. She sank and I went down with her.