Authors: Julia Watts
Copyright © 2009 Dianne C. Stewart
P.O. Box 242
Midway, Florida 32343
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Editor: Katherine V. Forrest
Cover designer: Kiaro Creative
As always, for my family: Tim, Steve and Nicky
I am grateful again to Beanpole Books for support and the creative freedom to write exactly the story I wanted to tell.
Many thanks to Katherine V. Forrest, whose expert editing helped Liv, Cal, and Anthony be at their best; special thanks to Julia Watts for suggestions and encouragement; finally, a most particular thanks to the pets who have owned me over the years and inspired the animal characters in this book.
Fall of 1763, twenty miles east of Barbados
Maskelyne’s nerves were frayed to threadbare, and he had come up on deck to be alone.
The two-masted British schooner glided through sparkling aquamarine waters in the far western Atlantic, leaving a graceful wake as she picked up speed to eight knots. At less than one hundred tons, she could run even faster on days when the wind was favorable and her square topsail was removed from the bowsprit and hoisted up the foremast.
Maskelyne rested his elbows on the deck rail and frowned at the sight below: a kelp forest, anchored in the sandy bottom and waving underwater like a woman’s hair in a liquid breeze. Above the surface, an azure sky punctuated by puffy cumulus clouds met shades of turquoise sea, from palest cyan to deep teal.
None of it held appeal for him—not even the ship, elegantly rigged with twin sails, suspended from spars reaching all the way from the tops of the masts toward the stern. Other passengers carried on about the sails’ beauty, but he refused to join in their drivel. There was nothing pleasurable about this voyage.
Sir Nevil Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal by appointment of His Majesty George the Third, had completed his mission with stunning success, though any Huzzah! greeting him on his return home would be shouted in honor of his enemy.
By order of the king, Maskelyne’s island observatory had tested the accuracy of the new timepiece, the latest creation of his rival, John Harrison. If the watch, nicknamed “H4,” kept good time, Harrison’s career and accomplishments might outshine his own.
And the awful gadget had performed three times better than required.
Now the past two months of Maskelyne’s life would benefit the man he hated. He should have spent this time in England, finishing his Almanac and convincing the Board to forget Harrison and use his own lunar-distance method to find longitude. Soon, Harrison would be heaped with praise for finding a brilliantly simple way to determine longitude: the use of an accurate timepiece.
The astronomer was in a mood to despise everything—especially John Harrison, though the macaw digging her claws into his shoulder might also gain that distinction if she bit him again. Deceptively named Precious, she was getting a free ride to England at the express command of His Majesty, who had requested a parrot as a gift for the Queen.
He leaned out over the water. Maybe the nuisance would fall off or blow away. Precious responded with a nip to his ear and a further tightening of claws. He winced, and his spirits plunged to a new low.
He’d endured food poisoning from an outdoor fruit market and bloody fingers from the pecking of this miserable bird. After steaming like a plum pudding in the August heat, he felt limp and soggy from the torrents of rain that had battered the island as the season of tropical storms began working toward its autumn peak.
His insufferable assistant had refused to act properly subordinate and was no longer speaking to him, which made the atmosphere in their tiny cabin unpleasant. He was tired of hot sunshine, tired of the rain, tired of everybody being foreign. Why couldn’t they all just be English?
And the insects. He shuddered as he thought about what had probably crawled on his skin nightly as he’d endured life in a strange land among people and plants he’d never seen before, eating food he wasn’t used to and watching his entire future slip away.
The single agreeable thing left was the cleanliness of the crew and ship. He himself was a fastidious person, and he’d noted with relief that the sailors appeared healthy, with no evidence of scurvy. The galley crew scrubbed and scoured the cooking pots, and the bowls and spoons were wiped clean with a cloth, dipped in a bucket of seawater that was changed every day.
It pleased him, too, that the sailors had carefully careened the ship while they were moored in Barbados, scraping seaweed and barnacles from the hull until it was perfectly smooth. He’d complimented the captain on how fine it looked, then nearly had a fainting spell when he heard why a clean hull was important: to help the ship outrun pirates.
“A schooner’s a wise choice when moving through pirate territory,” the captain had said, crinkling his weathered face into a smile and pulling at his bushy beard with a calloused hand. “She has a shallow draft and she’s easy to maneuver.”
He continued, as Maskelyne fervently wished he hadn’t begun the conversation: “We have a slight advantage of speed, since we’re not loaded down with cannons as they are.”
Maskelyne was uncertain how a little extra speed compensated for a lack of arms and hoped they wouldn’t have to test the captain’s theory.
He sighed and stared at the horizon from the side of the boat. He never wanted to look back at Barbados again, and the prospect of going home to battle Harrison was daunting. The clockmaker’s innovation would likely change the world and might cost Maskelyne his rightful place in history. Bitterness welled up in him like a fire, sending fingers of flame from his stomach to his throat.
He thought of the H4 watch, now in a small wooden crate safely packed in the trunk beside his bunkbed. One thing seemed certain— never again would a bit of metal in a box alter the course of history as this one would.
“I can’t, Coach—there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Liv Wescott carefully pushed the “Off ” button, then slammed the phone onto the stand. There, that felt better.
She banged her fist on the countertop. Why was this her fault? She was the natural choice for girls’ soccer captain at Jefferson Bainbridge Middle School, so she’d said yes to Coach Donnelly’s offer, knowing that summer practices were part of the package and choosing to believe she’d be there for them.
Should she have known her father would accept the assignment to London? What if her family had stayed right here in Adelaide Village and she’d let someone else have the job she deserved? To be fair, Dad had hinted that they might make the ten-week move, but Liv had seen no reason to shape her summer plans on a maybe.
So she’d made some commitments, and now it was all falling apart. This phone call was her fourth confrontation in as many days.
She’d apologized to the school chorus director who complained because Liv was accompanist and wouldn’t be in town for a couple of important summer rehearsals.
She’d felt genuine guilt when her piano teacher had blinked and said, “You’ll miss a lot of lessons.”
When she’d broken the news to Mr. Harper, English teacher and debate team coach, she’d bitten her lip to stifle her anger at his response. “If you had let me know before school was out, Olivia, I could have had tryouts for your spot on the team. But now the seventh-graders have scattered for the summer, and we were planning on regular practices, as you already knew. . .”
She knew! She knew! Hot tears raced down her cheeks as she turned back to the avocado and pickle sandwich she’d been making before the phone rang. What was wrong with everyone, anyway? She stuffed potato chips into a plastic storage bag and beat them with her fist into tiny crumbs, pouring them straight out of the bag and onto the avocado slices while considering her options.
She could go out and work on soccer moves, but of course she hated soccer at this moment. She could pound out a few frustrations on the piano except, come to think of it, she hated the piano right now, too.
Run. That’s what she’d do. Run until her lungs screamed so she wouldn’t have to scream. Run until she thought of something to say to the people who had the nerve to think she’d let them down.
The click-clack of toenails on the tile floor alerted Liv to a doggy presence. Southpaw trotted into the kitchen, head up, ears alert.
“Hey, boy.” Liv reached down and patted the golden retriever’s smooth chest. “Do you want to go for a run?”
Southpaw answered her question with one of his own, locking his eyes on Liv’s sandwich and moaning. She pulled a piece of avocado from the seven-grain bread slices. He vacuumed it from her fingers, chewed once, and let the drool-drenched blob fall to the floor.
Liv had to smile as she picked up the mess. “Sorry, I know you’re a carnivore. Forgive me?” Southpaw wagged his tail, then loped away to answer a knock at the kitchen door.
On the back porch, smiling and waving, was Cal Bradley. I’m in no mood to put on a good front for him, thought Liv, walking to unlock the door and taking several hits from Southpaw’s thrashing tail. I need time to be angry—about having to go, about teachers who think I need to make their backup plans. And I don’t want to hear him rattle on about how awesome this trip is going to be. A scowl darkened her face as her twin brother’s best friend burst into the kitchen.
“Anthony just called! You’re going to London—London, England! And I’m invited!” He dropped to the floor and wrestled Southpaw, who was excited to see someone excited. They rolled and tossed until Southpaw covered Cal’s face with slobbery kisses.
“That’s it! You win. How about a belly rub?” Southpaw melted onto the floor and stuck his left front paw in the air as Cal rubbed him. Cal looked up at Liv and saw her brimming tears. The scowl had turned into a tight-lipped frown.
“Whoa, what’s up, Liv? I’ve never seen you like this.”
It was true, she thought ruefully. Liv Wescott, rising seventh-grader at Jefferson Bainbridge Middle School, or Bridge Mid, with emphasis on rising. Fearless, bossy, a leader—never weak enough to cry in front of anyone else.
“They think they can just pack us up along with their suitcases and plop us down on the other side of the Atlantic for three months! I have obligations! I have soccer, debate team, chorus accompanying—at least I used to. Everybody’s mad at me right now, and it’s not fair!” She stopped, embarrassed by her outburst, but enjoying a chance to be unreasonable.
Cal stopped rubbing Southpaw and stood up. “Look on the bright side, Liv. This is a great trip! I have obligations, too, so I’m planning ahead. Jacob Stockton may get to be basketball captain now that I can’t practice this summer, but Anthony says we can take his laptop and I’ve found some online basketball playbooks and drills. I’ll run in the parks to stay in shape—you can, too!”
“It’s not that easy,” sniffed Liv. “You have basketball to think about. I’m being pulled in four different directions. I don’t mean it as a put-down, Cal. I just have more to deal with than you do. I don’t expect you to understand.” She stared at her sandwich, her appetite gone.