Story of the Month

Taut Rope by Tina Baker


Tobias hears the sound of an English summer, the rhythmic creaking of hemp on bark, of his weight on a garden swing. When he was six, his father had thrown some rope over the old oak’s highest limb and cut a seat from another which had fallen in a storm. He told his son that the rope had been salvaged from a ship sunk by pirates northwest of Cadiz. As he had swung back and fore, Tobias imagined that the creaking of the rope was the sound of the ship’s rigging as it sailed the seven seas.

Tobias hears the groaning of the rope, the fibres of the yarn stretching like the muscles of the men’s arms as they had played tug of war on the village green. It was there he met the only girl he ever loved. Nine months later he had nursed her as she lay dying. He sat by her side for six long days and nights. She had fought for her breath and was afraid and unready, far too young to die. She was buried in the grounds of the old stone church on a cold windswept morning. That same day, furious with fate and God, Tobias left his village and never returned.

His first ship had been a man o’ war, his task to fill the tubs of water placed between the guns in case of fire. The heat and the stench and the fury of the gun deck spent his anger well, but when he lay down he saw his girl dying, and he railed at injustice and his sunken anger swelled.

Tobias hears the shrouds moving against the mast, their low squealing moan as they grate against the oak. His friend had been roped to that shroud after thirty lashes from a cat o’ nine tails. He hung there for three days begging for mercy. When they cut him down and laid him on the deck he was dead. He was only seventeen years old. When the commanding officer ordered his body to be thrown overboard without prayer Tobias snapped and he pulled his dagger across the officers’ throat.

The court-martial was swift, the hanging slow. Rope bound his hands and his feet even though there was nowhere to run. All around the sea was calm. Nine solemn sailors were ordered to haul the rope inch by inch until their load hung under the yardarm.


Tobias hears the sound of an English summer, the creaking of hemp on bark. He feels the sun on his face and the gentle air as he swings beneath the tree. When he was six, his father had thrown some rope over the old oak’s highest limb. The rope was salvaged from a sunken ship.