04/01/2007 - Charlotte stood on the shore of the island watching as Crayford rowed away without so much as a farewell. The surf gently washed up over her bare feet, a feeling she usually enjoyed, but today she didn't even notice. She didn't understand why, having known him for so long and never having brought him trouble that she could recall, he would desert her like this. She turned to survey the landscape and discovered her heart had not yet sunk as low as it could, for it took yet another plunge as she recognized desperation of her situation. The island seemed like nothing but a small spat of land in the middle of a world of water, and for a moment she felt like the only civilized being still in existence.
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Recalling what her father had taught her about survival, lest she ever find herself in such a circumstance, she picked up a coconut that had fallen from a nearby tree. Thirsty and knowing saltwater would not quench, she could almost taste the uniquely flavored milk inside as she attempted to open the strange fruit with a rock. She continued until her arms were so tired she could barely swing them, but the coconut was still intact. Sweaty and exhausted, yet not willing to bed down for the night though the sun was swiftly setting, she ventured in among the trees to explore this new and, hopefully, temporary home.
Duke was standing immediately behind the Captain at the wheel of the Charlotte. Though Captain Rogers had not wasted one moment on this journey to retrieve his daughter, Duke sensed a renewal of determination. Captain Rogers' eyes were fixed dead ahead and though the Silverado was still within sight, he seemed to not even know it existed. He was pursuing an entirely different target now as fast as the ship would go.
Duke had so much he wanted to ask, but felt almost afraid to.
"Captain, it's very near nightfall. Are you sure we shouldn't pick up this pursuit in the morning?" Matthew asked taking Duke by surprise, for he had been very silent as he approached. "The crew is exhausted."
"The crew may sleep," Captain Rogers replied. "We're so close! I won't let Crayford get away now!"
Matthew hesitated as though he wanted to speak further, then turned and left as if in surrender to the fact that there would be no negotiating at this point in time, though his concerns were for the Captain's own good.
There were a few moments of silence before Duke said, "Captain I wanted to thank you. I'm not quite sure why you helped me in that battle, seeing I was a pirate, but I'm in your debt."
The Captain smiled with a fatherly affection that made Duke feel as though he really had grown up as a son. "Duke," he began, "You're not in our debt...you didn't know you were the reason we came after the Silverado in the first place?"
Duke looked up, bewildered. "I was?" he asked, doubting the Captain's words.
But the Captain was in earnest as he said, "All this time we thought you were dead, but Charlotte insisted that she had seen you during the raid, so we decided to perform one last search and rescue in the hopes of having you restored to us, and here you are." He looked as if he were about to cry, but maintained self control with difficulty.
Duke looked down at the floor, partly in shame, feeling unworthy of the love shown, partly in amazement at the idea.
The Captain continued, "We had searched so hard for you. We loved you as though you were born to us and we grieved for you as we would have Charlotte. We even had a beautiful memorial service for you. Having you here with me now again brings me so much joy." Then the tears finally spilled over as he dropped his head. "I only wish I had you both now," he almost whispered.
Duke's thoughts traveled down another path as he thought about Charlotte and why she was missing and he said more to himself than the Captain, "I was jealous of this Crayford man when I first saw him. I felt unworthy to care for Charlotte as I did when he seemed so far above me. I wonder why he did this."
The Captain replied, "Crayford is a gifted young man...if only he had used those gifts to help people rather than hurt them. I saw a lot of potential in him, but I also saw he was restless and strong-tempered. I suspected his heart might not be with us for long and I was right."
Then Captain Rogers turned and looked Duke in the eye, saying, "You know...I owe you a thank you as well. You came back for me when you could have fled. You were injured, and you had reached safety away from the Silverado, but you didn't leave me behind." Then the Captain looked up and appeared deep in thought as he told Duke, "You know, that is proof of what kind of a man you are. Anyone has the ability to talk big when all is running smoothly as it should, but when faced with real danger, and the question of what really matters to us, you did not shrink back. For that you've earned my respect."
Duke shifted uncomfortably. Looking back at his life he did not see it as respectable. Maybe there was still hope for him after all.
The setting sun filtered through the palm trees as Charlotte walked deeper and deeper into their shade. The trees were thicker toward the middle of the island and she was planning to sleep somewhere amid them for shelter, should it storm in the night. As she continued to make her way through, pushing palm branches out of her path while she walked, she noticed something in the corner of her eye that appeared out of place. The angle of the sun was just right to glint off something shiny that was tucked under a nearby rock. Fascinated, she knelt down and gently removed it to find a beautiful, ornate, skeleton key. She picked it up, running her fingers over the swirled designs as she stood up again. She wondered what this unlocked, and found the fantasy land she was swept away into the much favored location over her present one, so allowed herself to remain in it as she journeyed further.
Because of her daydreams it took Charlotte a moment to notice where she was. She had found a clearing in the midst of the palms, with a camp, which appeared to only recently have been abandoned. Immediately Charlotte looked nervously around, wondering if whoever built this camp was still nearby. Was she really alone on this island? If not, who was with her?
"Captain?" Duke said slowly.
Rogers turned toward Duke indicating his attention.
"When were you promoted to your position in the San Mateo Guard?" he asked. His mind was flashing back to the narrative he'd heard from the Pirate Captain aboard the Silverado just before the battle. "Boy, when those foolish men brought ye back to me after the raid eight years ago, it was not the first time ye've been aboard my ship." the old Pirate had said. "If the men're without their commander it can sometimes result in chaos. That is what I wanted, so I took the Cap'n of the Guard, his wife and son." The words were intended to be a clue to Duke...a clue to his past and Duke had needed no further indication.
"The son was me?" Duke had half asked, half stated.
The captain hadn't replied, but there was no need.
Duke remembered later in the discussion when the Captain had said, "I dropped ye off back in San Mateo at the doorstep of a young soldier I 'ad seen who 'ad earned me respect."
Duke looked up at Captain Rogers who truly treated him as a son as he mulled it all over in his mind. He began to search his memory for more details of the conversation. He sighed and rested his head in his hands as he thought it through. The mention the Pirate had made of Duke's father...
"Ye sounded much like ya're father 'ad when I left 'im behind."
"Left my father behind? Where?"
"I don't remember," the Pirate Captain had said under his breath.
"I don't believe you," Duke had shouted.
"Ye don't 'ave to!" was the heated reply, "But that's all I 'ave to say!"
In his mind's eye Duke could see the cramped little room where the talk took place. He could see the plunder from the raids too numerous to count. He could see the painting half-covered in the corner. What did it all mean?
"You were a baby when I was promoted." Captain Rogers said, snapping Duke back to the present. "I remember I felt so inadequate to fill the previous Captain's shoes. He was an excellent man. I had trained under him for so long. Then one day, there was a raid, much like the one where you were kidnapped eleven years later. During the battle something happened to him. To this day I don't know what, but I never saw him again. His wife and son were gone, too. We tried to recover them, to no avail..." here he let out a deep sigh, "...and so the job was mine. It was an unexpected and tumultuous time for us but, with much prayer, we made it through. AND...a few weeks later we received another blessing. We opened up the door one morning and there you were! To this day we have not learned where you came from, but we love you!"
Duke couldn't resist a smile. "Love you, too," he said.
Everything made so much sense. Duke couldn't resist just one more question. "Captain, What was your predecessor's name?"
Duke was studying the Captain's face. Captain Rogers opened his mouth as if to speak. Then suddenly his attentions were elsewhere.
Curious, Duke followed the direction Captain Rogers' eyes pointed. In the distance, offset by the beautiful orange sunset was a small island. "I've traveled these oceans for years," Duke said, amazed, "yet I never knew this was here?" He stood up slowly from a chair nearby where he'd taken a seat during the course of their conversation.
"It's the best kept secret," Captain Rogers smiled knowingly. "I had a brush with it myself...that's how I knew it was here. Not too many ships pass this way. That's why they call it Marooner's Point."
Charlotte sat hesitantly on one of the logs near what appeared to have been a campfire and looked at the key more closely. It was then she noticed an inscription. A few small italicized letter she could not quite make out. She squinted in the fading sunlight and scrubbed the writing with her sleeve, hoping to clean out some of the dust and make the words more easily readable. Finally she was able to decipher the letters. It simply read, Harold Robertson.
...continued next month