The little girl, whose ratty hair had never felt a brush or a blade, had no trouble with the waves that sent the great wooden ship rolling and pitching. Hand over hand, she pulled herself up the hemp ladder, toes and fingers wrapping around the rough rope. At least once per day she scaled this mast, the only tree she had to climb. Today the wind was calmer than days before. The sails were down. What drove the ship forward were the oars sticking out of the side like legs of a centipede, dipping and sweeping the ship forward.
She paused halfway up to call down. “Ma! Ma, look! See me?”
Like the girl, the woman swinging the lash below had long dark hair — not a nest of straw, but clean and oiled, and pulled up against the back of her head. And her same dark eyes. The girl had never really seen her own face as anything but a blurry reflection in a polished kettle, but she knew, because she’d been told, that her mother’s face was her own.
“There you are, Pea!” her mother said. “Climb on up to your Pa.”
Up she went. From her vantage near the top, the vast ocean presented an endless circle around her. A lock of her hair had escaped the twine binding her pigtail and she shook it out of her face. Something appeared in relief against the blue of the water: a seabird, musty gray and white, flattened almost still against the horizon, afloat just out of her reach, bobbing slightly like a toy held up on a pole. She hadn’t seen one for as long as she could remember, which was just a couple turns of the moon.
“Pa!” she called, climbing faster now and finally reaching the crow’s nest her father shared with Sargent Pow and poking her head through the opening. She spat a length of hair out of her mouth and shouted, “Pa! A bird!”
Sargent Pow stiffened and searched the air in all directions. “Where? Where do you see it?” He was long-faced and buggy eyed and his sharp nose was filled with hair.
“There” she said,” leaning out with one hand to track the seabird with her finger. “A bird.”
His eyes followed her hand to the gull, and then his shoulders loosened. “Just a gull, captain.”
The girl looked at her father, who crouched motionless in the cramped basket, one of his big green eyes held to a long scope. “Pea,” he said. His was the softest voice she knew. “Did you bring me my pipe?”
“Uh-huh,” she said, wrapping her leg in the rope to steady herself. She unhooked her shoulder bag and removed a long wooden smoking pipe. She had filled it with her own hands from jar he kept in his bunk. Now she pulled out a cloth bundle and unwrapped a metal can that held an ember from the cook’s fire smoldering in bed of sand. She lit a straw, dropped it in her father’s pipe, lifted and puffed once as she had been shown, then she pressed it into his hand. He took it, but still he hadn’t looked away from the eyeglass.
“What are you looking for?” she asked.
“The thing I’ve dreamed of, Pea. Something very special. The claws of God.”