Kit Tyler has a crush
And she doesn’t even know it. The object of her affection is Nathaniel Eaton, the Captain’s son and first mate of the brigantine Dolphin. After five weeks at sea, she’s bound to notice “his thin wiry figure, his sandy, sun-bleached hair, his agile movements as he swings easily hand over hand upon the rigging” (1).
As an eleven year old reading this book for the first time, these words inducted me into the world of historical romance. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is by no means a bodice-ripper (imagine the uproar in the U.S. public school system if it were), but it certainly has many similarities to what I endearingly refer to as “nautical romance.” I’m sure that in such fine books as Her Master and Commander and The Pirate Prince, there must be some point in the plot where the fine figured hero…er…pirate hero…swings easily hand over hand upon the rigging to the secret admiration of the heroine. This physical description of Nat Eaton launched me into a whole new direction of trashy literature consumption. Twelve years and a stack of pulp romances later, I’ve found nothing to equal the power of Elizabeth George Speare’s brilliantly simple images.
But Nathaniel Eaton is no pirate or any woman’s “Master and Commander” for that matter. He’s just a handsome young man who wants to be captain of his own ship one day. And he has a crush on Kit Tyler too, but he doesn’t know it either… Oh, he’s noticed how well she kept her balance in the storm on more than one occasion.
So begins the early stages of young love: a sweet, bashful, blushing, “awww shucks” attraction. The girl blushes, the boy trips over coiled sea rope (this never happened in the book, but it happened in my mind), and the world is full of possibility.
And then an embarrassing dunking in the waters of the frigid Atlantic sours their budding romance…