The last night under the floor boards of the Dutch fly boat, the swooning “Half Moon,” F. Van Cortlandt curled into that small round version of himself known to everyone else on board, especially to his commander Hendrick Hudson, and hoped to die. The water sloshed around his buckled boots and seeped into his matted fur. He sniffed and gagged on the air; his body was molding like forgotten potatoes in a damp Low Country cellar.
A dirty oil lamp swung back and forth over his head, moving in time with the black waves outside. Sound vibrations were dampened in the hold; the other sailors might be there sleeping or drunk or dead. But then, out of the muffled dark, F. Cortlandt’s head thrust up into the moldy air as concussion boomed overhead, like a crack of lightning or a cannonball crashing into a thousand wooden houses.
Seconds later, the huge ragged end of half of the ship’s upper topsail punctures the deck, opening a hole to the heavens and ending right in front of F. Cortlandt’s tiny pink quivering nose. He sniffs small sniffs, collecting himself and his dripping nose. Then, a squat, square whiskered face — familiar black beaded eyes and pointed cap — appears in the hole in the deck, squeezing around what’s left of the wet, wooden mast.
“Get yer lazy naught good selves from ‘neath the hold and up here!” he says, long front teeth glaring in the moonlight. “Nay, ye do not have all night and yer leisure to set about!”
F. Cortlandt looks around the hold, trying to make out shapes and forms, realizing finally that he is, most unfortunately, alone. And that Commander Hudson expects him to mount the remaining masts and guide what is left of this forsaken, precious “‘Half Moon” from the heaving Atlantic into a bay that no one knows, to the farthest west he or anyone has ever been.