his questions a function of simple curiosity, or disbelief that a woman should have access to such instruments at all? None of the seagoing men who had passed through this room in the years she’d spent in it had ever shown such interest in its contents. They were only interested in getting their chronometers working, and paying a fair price for the service.
When he didn’t elaborate, she went on with her questions, wanting the interview to be over.
“How long will the Pearl be in port?” she repeated.
He shrugged. “We were to be leaving next week,” he said. “But today I am learning there is a delay.”
“What sort of delay?”
“Money. Repairs. As always. I am not certain. I am speaking with Mr. Leary this morning and he say perhaps a fortnight, or two. Or four.”
Hannah wondered where he passed his days and nights— if he’d let a room somewhere or if he had family here on Nantucket. She doubted it. Whalers from faraway lands drifted in and out of port like tides, with about as much emotion. This man, however, seemed worried, even sad, as he contemplated the uncertain stretch of time before him.
“What shall you do?” she asked, her voice softened by an unexpected rush of sympathy.
“I shall work at the smith. Mr. Vera has been generous.”
Hannah nodded. Hot metal clanged and sizzled at Vera’s shed from morning to night, horseshoes and harpoons springing forth at astonishing speed.
“Are you Portugee, then?” she asked, writing down 2-4 mo.? on the line next to Time in Port. Hannah doubted it. Joseph Vera and the other Portugee she knew were white.
“Nooooo, not Portugal,” he said, clicking his tongue. Stooping, he examined a stuffed pheasant under the mineral shelf, though he did not touch it. “Azores.”
She doubted that her tongue could replicate what he’d said, and she wasn’t about to embarrass herself by trying.
“You call them Western Islands,” he added.
“Oh!” She tilted her head at him, not hiding her surprise. “Is that where you come from?” She knew the place as a stopping point for provisions on the long road to the Pacific whaling grounds. Ships bound for home carried news from there, and letters, from those newly en route.
He nodded, but repeated in a low voice, “Azores. That is the name.”
Hannah nodded to show that she had understood. Rolling the word in her mouth, she broke it into parts. Ah. Soar. Ays.
“And what is your name?” she asked, keeping her eyes on the page in front of her.
She wrote his name in the ledger as if there were a place for it there.
“And your place?” she asked, pretending she did not remember from the day before.
“I am second mate.”
Hannah nodded, and waited to see if he had something else to say. When he remained quiet, she wrote his station below his name in her tight script, then reached for the chronometer and the soft cloth by its side.
“It was five and a half seconds off,” she said, bundling it up. “You might want to tell Mr. Leary that the escapement has a bit of wear on it: nothing to be very concerned about, at least not for this voyage. But when he returns to port, he might want to see about changing it. Or you might.”
She passed the bundle and Isaac accepted it, but didn’t move from his spot. Instead, he slowly replaced the chronometer on the desk in front of her and pointed at it.
“You are fixing it?” he said.
“Yes. It’s perfectly accurate now.”
“Can you show me?”
“Show you what?”
“How it works.”
“You wish to know how the chronometer works?” she repeated.
He clenched his jaw, crossing his arms over his chest and staring at it as if it was about to sprout wings.
“Well, I suppose I can.” Hannah looked around, flummoxed by such a strange request. It was the last thing she’d expected him to ask. “Wait here.”
As she extracted another stool, grimy but solid, from the corner, a trill of excitement ran through her. Brushing it off with