A Matter of Time

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

 

Crane leaned against a barrel and gazed appreciatively at his almost completed sailboat.  Diego stood back from his ‘duty’ station and perused his caulking job with a critical eye.  Then he looked down at his clothes and decided that more of the caulking had gotten on his calzoneros than on the sleek looking boat.   When he had offered to help his friend with more than just the supplying of the materials and the financial backing, he didn’t really think that the American would take him up on it.  However, while Diego knew he lacked in workman’s ability, there was no lack of enthusiasm.  He had truly enjoyed the experience and had learned a great deal.  Most of his father’s friends had shaken their heads at this latest aberration of the de la Vega heir, but as before, he had ignored them.   He was duly grateful that most of the same head-shakers had quickly believed the stories that had discounted him being Zorro. 

Lee continued to gaze at the boat in satisfaction.  San Pedro’s oldest, and until recently, only, boat maker walked around from the other side of the little vessel, and joined him.  The man had been convinced to help, even though he had pretty much left the harder, day-to-day activities to his sons.   “It is small, but it is a very good, solid design.  Even José, Luis and Isadore would approve.”  He had, at first questioned the sanity of the man who had only wanted a boat that he would take out himself, simply to ride the waves, as the Americano had put it.  He still did, but had to admit that the craft was a good one with an excellent design.  The old man had pestered Lee for the background, but Diego knew that his friend had only mentioned something vague, like designs from back home.  Nothing that wasn’t true, Diego thought with a slight smile.  But the old man didn’t know that back home entailed more than a hundred and fifty years in the future.   

“It should virtually fly on the water,” Lee announced with a grin.  He gathered up his cane and walked around her for what was probably the hundredth time. 

This was freedom, Diego realized, in the American’s prison of time and injury.  While swimming in the ocean had been therapeutic as well as strengthening to his friend’s damaged leg the past four weeks, he was still confined to no more than a couple of hundred feet from the shore.  Diego knew that Lee wanted more—much more.  The present-day Seaview II would provide that.   Diego couldn’t help it; he laughed.   “It should, you have worked hard enough on it.”   Indeed, Lee Crane had worked almost as one possessed.  On every aspect of the construction, he had been there, not only supervising, but also working alongside the carpenters that he and the old shipbuilder, Fernan Costa had carefully chosen.  The thumping of the cane that Lee now used was almost as common a sound as the cry of the gulls overhead, or the slapping of the water on the pier.  He was every inch a captain when directing the men at their labor, and yet he had not been the least bit hesitant to pitch in and help. 

“Do you remember when we laid the keel?” Lee asked quietly when he had finished his latest inspection.

“Yes,” Diego answered, wiping his sweaty brow with a cloth that Bernardo handed him.  That day, not quite a month ago, had been a turning point in the American’s focus.  Whereas before he had been despairing over his circumstances and most particularly his injured leg, from the point that the keel was settled into the builders’ cradle, his focus had changed dramatically. 

Even as he asked, Lee was tenderly stroking the bow end of the keel, just as he did that first time.  “I wasn’t a keel holder of her namesake,” he murmured, his mind and thoughts elsewhere.  “I remember reading about the laying of the Seaview’s keel in a newspaper and wishing I could have been there.”

“What do you mean ‘keel holder’, Lee?” Diego asked, although he thought he knew what his friend was talking about.

“Usually a crew, or a good portion of it, is selected before the ship is constructed.  When the keel is laid, those so selected are designated keel holders, or plank owners.  They are the original members of the crew, those who go out on the maiden run.   I came on board after Seaview had been commissioned and done duty for some months.  I was her second captain.”

“But you have been her captain the longest,” Diego presumed. 

“Yes.”

“Now that your new craft is almost finished, when do you plan to launch her?”   Diego knew how eager Lee was to go out and test the small boat. 

“Well, we can pretty much finish today, install the sail and ropes tomorrow.   We will not be able to launch her on Sunday, so I would say Monday.”

“Excellent.  I know that father, for all that he prefers being land-bound on de la Vega property, will enjoy a ride on Seaview II.  And I wouldn’t miss it.  After you have tried her out, of course.”

Lee nodded appreciatively to his friend.  Indeed he would prefer to take her out alone on her first excursion.  He had to prove that he could handle the boat on his own, not only to his own satisfaction but so that he could do something independent.   He knew that the others didn’t have near the affinity for the ocean that he had and he didn’t want Diego, Alejandro or anyone else feeling they had to do something with which they really weren’t comfortable.   “Señor Costa, you will be able to come for the launching of Seaview II?”

The old man rubbed his chin, then grinned like a child.  “Wild horses and typhoons would not keep me from it.”   He looked at the sky, the birds screeching overhead and added, “It will be a bit foggy and breezy in the morning, though.  I suspect that will not keep you from trying your little boat out?”

“Maybe if it was a typhoon,” Lee replied with a chuckle.   “But not a freshening breeze like this.  I have to see what this boat can do.”   Even if she will never take the place of her namesake.  “Where would there be a good place to keep her berthed when I am not using her?”

“There will always be a spot near Luis’ fishing boat,” Costa assured him.  

While fish was not a mainstay in the diet of these people, Lee knew that the Costa family made a comfortable living from the sea.  They hunted for otter fur on the nearby Santa Rosa and Santa Catalina Islands during part of the year, and supplied fish for the poorer families and the occasional rancher the rest of the time.  On occasion they also supplied the larger ships that came to port.  Then they would reap great benefits from their ocean enterprise.

Monday morning was indeed a little gray and overcast, but that made the air cooler than it had been for weeks and Lee relished the feel of cool spray and the salty tang of an ocean wind in his face.  The August heat had been almost unbearable at times, even for those used to it and had grated on the nerves of almost everyone.  Even now, the beginning of September, it was still hot. 

Diego had had a comfortable, lightweight outfit made for him that would give Lee great freedom of movement while sailing.  The pants were dark blue; almost as dark as his dress blues had been, while the shirt was a simple white shirt.   Don Alejandro had provided a bottle of fine de la Vega wine for the occasion of the little sailboat’s launch.  Even Sgt. Garcia showed up. 

It seemed that Crane had been accepted into the community, maybe not with totally open arms as they would with one of Spanish background, but nonetheless, he was accepted.  Lee’s mouth quirked into a crooked smile.  He had heard the gossip about him—that he was the eccentric sea captain in search of his ship that sank without a trace.  That he was looking for the treasure of his ship, which had been carrying much gold, that he had been addled by the loss of his vessel and friends, that he had been bewitched by the sea.   Perhaps there was a bit of truth in all of the gossip.  He had laughed over a glass of wine in the de la Vega library late one night about a week ago, but later he had thought soberly how close these tale-mongers had come. 

Ah, well, he now had his craft, a bit of freedom in his past/present day prison.   How long had it been?  Right about four months?   Maybe a week longer than that.  Regardless, he needed to stop thinking of this as a prison and begin making it his home.   He also needed to find a way to pay back Diego and Alejandro for their extreme generosity and hospitality.

He brought his mind back to the present and the group of friends and the curious who had gathered.   “The ship I formerly captained was commissioned with a great deal of ceremony, but since this is only a small vessel, and one that was not built to see combat,” Lee said to those assembled, “I will only say a little before she is put to sea.”  He gazed directly at Diego, and then to Alejandro before he spoke his next words.  “I wish to thank Don’s Diego and Alejandro de la Vega for backing this venture of mine.   They have been more than friends to me; they have been family.”   He turned back to the small craft and continued, “May this vessel always feel the currents of the ocean as lifeblood, may she carry those aboard with swiftness and sureness and may her tenure on the waves be as long as that of her namesake.”   It was then that Lee had an uncontrolled urge and began to sing the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” in English.  He knew that none of the assembled would most likely recognize any of the words, except Diego, but Lee felt it was his means of parting from what he had striven for all his teenaged life to attain.   It tore at his soul, and yet as he sang, he gained a measure of solace and felt a little of the despair drain from his heart. 

When he finished it was quiet, except for the gulls and the soft sighing of the waves.  Then Lee turned to Diego.  The hacendado had not forgotten his part.   “Man the ship and bring her to life!” Diego cried out the Naval command that Lee told him was customary in his future day.

With a grin, Lee saluted and all of those who had helped to build the small boat guided her into the water.    Before she had been finished, the craft had been tested in the water, so Lee knew she was tight, now he would see how well she handled.  He tossed the hated cane aboard and then hauled himself after it, reaching for the boom and unfurling the sail.   The northerly wind filled it and began to blow the boat parallel to the shore.  Lee pulled the control rope and swung the boom around to get the full affect of the wind and then tied her off.  He reached for the tiller and turned the Seaview II toward the open ocean, also adjusting the mainsail again.  

Vaguely, Lee heard the cheers of the small crowd, but he concentrated on working the craft in the increasing wind off shore.   It had been many years and yet, it seemed like yesterday when he had last gone out solo in a sailboat during his academy days.  He found himself laughing as he remembered the mistakes he made that first day.   There were the times he and Chip went out together and raced against another pair of middies.   Now it was just himself and his thoughts, and he felt a small bit of contentment.  As long as he had the sea, Lee thought.  The sea and his memories….

 

 

“Do you think he will be all right, Diego?” Alejandro asked after everyone else had left. 

“Yes, eventually, Father.   It has to be very hard.”

“Do you think his people will be able to eventually find him?”

“No,” Diego replied simply. 

“That is why you have worked and been with him so much these past months,” Alejandro said.   “That is why Zorro has not ridden as much of late.” 

“Zorro has not been needed as much anyway,” Diego murmured.  “Only Diego.”

That was a statement that didn’t need an answer and Alejandro didn’t venture one.   Instead he changed the subject.  “I thought you said that we would need a bottle of wine to ‘christen’ the boat.”

“Lee told me that such was sometimes done, but what we did was good and apparently he didn’t think breaking a bottle of good de la Vega vintage was necessary after all,” Diego said with a slight smile.

“Then we will save it to toast the maiden voyage of the Seaview II with Captain Crane when he returns.”

Diego just nodded and watched the diminishing sail in the distance. 

 

That night a very tired, but happy Lee Crane sat in the library with his two benefactors, holding but not drinking more than a sip of the same wine that had been selected to christen the sailboat.  The American was too excited.   “The waters near Santa Rosa Island were crystal clear,” he declared.   “I swear you could see detail for at least fifty feet below.”

“Did you find anything?”

“Found out I need to work on my face mask a bit more,” Lee said with a grin.  

Diego smiled knowingly.  During the days that he had been working on his sailboat, the American worked at night on various pieces of equipment that he said he would need to have to dive.  The thing he called a mask had been a broken piece of glass that he had enticed the pueblo’s glazier to round and smooth on the edges and then he had worked with the man to find the best medium to house the glass so that he could wear it on his face.  Swim ‘fins’ were just as difficult, with Lee continually grumbling that there should be something like rubber around.   “What about the fins?” Diego asked. 

“They aren’t as effective as in my day—well, so to speak, but they worked.  I guess if Ben Franklin could figure out how to make some in early eighteenth century Pennsylvania, then I can make do with what I have.” 

“You were limping a bit more this evening,” Alejandro jumped in, the voice of reason.

“You use the muscles a bit differently when you have fins,” Lee explained coolly, not about to let anything deflate his good mood. 

Alejandro just nodded, not wishing to pursue the matter.  “Here is to your successful maiden voyage.  May your other voyages be just as successful.”  He raised his glass and the other two men did the same.

 

In the weeks that followed the launching of the boat, Lee went out every almost every day.  Sometimes Diego went with him, helping him with the ballast, usually a large rock that would get the diver to the bottom more quickly, and sometimes just admiring the view.   Lee never went to exactly the same spot, but it was always in the vicinity of Santa Rosa Island and Diego knew that Lee was hunting for the wreck of the Orbe de Oros. 

Seven weeks after the maiden voyage of Seaview, Lee tried a site about an eighth of a mile closer to the island than he had attempted before.   This trip he was alone and he tied off the mainsail and tossed out the iron pig anchor.   He had also brought a reed pipe invention that he was trying for the first time—a sort of snorkel that would allow him to get air without constantly coming up to the surface.  As long as the binding held, the pipe would stay several feet above the water line and allow him quick access to air.  He only had enough of the reeds and tar for forty feet, but Crane figured that was eighty feet less swimming per breath.  That is, as long as the reeds held together.  He was counting on the leather bindings around each joint to help hold the contraption together, too.  It took an hour, but he finally got the parts together.  Lee knew it would be tricky with the movement of the boat, pressure of the water, but he figured he could only try and then use it to greatest advantage if it worked. 

Before strapping on the fins, he rubbed his aching leg with tallow, something that served to insulate the injured limb from the cooler water of the depths.  He frowned at the inconvenience.  The blasted stuff smelled, too, he thought sourly, but since it was plentiful and it helped, he used it.  It was getting later in the year and the water was getting cooler, especially down deeper where he spent a lot of his time.  Soon, he was afraid, he’d have to use the grease all over his body.  He finished rubbing down the leg and finished his preparations.  At least, Crane thought, his limited mobility was negligible when he was underwater, although it was noticeable that the left leg had much greater power than the right.  Shrugging, he pulled on the leather mask and tied it behind his head.  He felt his longer hair pulled into the knot and resolved to let Bernardo give him a closer haircut.  While he had tried to keep his appearance as close to the Navy norm as he possibly could, his hair seemed to grow phenomenally fast these days.  Good sea air, he thought with a slight grin. 

Before he slipped into the water, Lee noticed clouds forming to the south.  He wouldn’t have as much time to dive today as he usually had.  With that thought, Lee fell backwards off the starboard side and began swimming toward the bottom.   The water was, as usual, very clear and he quickly got to the bottom of the reed pipe.  He took a small experimental breath.  The air was coming through perfectly and Lee breathed again, then continued toward the bottom, which was about another twenty feet below him.    Kelp grew from nearby rocks, stretching toward the sun, waving gently with the currents.  Just below him, however, the sea floor was uneven sand, smaller sea plants growing in clumps with fish weaving in and out.  He swam along the bottom, trying to get the lay of the immediate area before having to go for air.  Fish swam around him in abundance, orange Garibaldis, huge sunfish, and others too numerous to count.  The depth muted the fishes’ colors, but Lee was familiar with the waters in this area and his mind supplied the correct colors.  As he swam along the bottom, Crane also saw a couple of varieties of starfish, anemones and a few somberly colored alcyonarian soft corals, among which small fish and crabs foraged and found shelter.  But without the proper gear, he couldn’t take the time to study and catalogue the variety of marine life here.  There was a purpose to his explorations, and ocean life, other than to be aware of predators, was not part of that purpose at present.  

He rose to take another breath and then returned to the dimmer, less colorful bottom.  The lumpy, bumpy appearance seemed somewhat unnatural to him and Lee swam among the outcroppings.  Gently, he brushed away the sand and was excited when he discovered that what was beneath the sand and growth was not rock. He rose for another breath and returned to the area.  Uncovering more, Lee discovered a cannon, rotted wooden beams, metal pulleys and other fixtures that had once been used to raise and lower large sails.  His excitement was so great that he almost forgot to go and replenish his air supply until his lungs painfully reminded him of his duty.  When he returned to the spot, he began to explore in a radius around the initial find.  Then, among the kelp, he found the chest.  It was mostly metal, but had been also held with leather straps that were now almost rotted away.  Several breaths later, and with a trip to the boat for a pry bar, he was finally successful in forcing open the old chest, wherein he found a king’s ransom in treasure. 

 

 

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