CHAPTER SIX Continues ….
Their ship slowed and then almost went dead in the water and the ship behind them pulled to their starboard side. There was a violent rocking as their ship was tossed by the other’s wake and then they heard the clunks of grappling hooks as the two ships pulled along side.
‘What the …?’ Michael stopped himself from using a string of expletives that Maloney would have paled at.
Rhiannan looked up at him and saw his face white with anger, his mouth a thin ugly line his eyes steal blue and hard. The fury she felt from him scared her but she dared place her fingertips on his arm. The soft movement was at first ignored by him but as they heard the sounds of men boarding their ship he looked down to her, his brow pulled together in a deep furrow.
Then suddenly he was hunting in the draws beneath the bunks, finally finding Maloney’s older clothes. He pulled out trousers and hose, a leather belt, linen shirt and heavy coat.
‘Change’ he said to her.
‘There is only so long that you can remain hidden on a ship as a woman. But as a cabin boy you will go unnoticed.’
Staring at him Rhiannan realised the seriousness of his suggestion and the reasonableness of his request, and began on her buttons. He watched her eyes until he realised even if he could help her to change faster he shouldn’t and neither should the leering little man behind her. He stepped past her and grabbing the back of Jake’s head rammed his ear to the table keeping the man’s eyes facing the door.
‘Don’t look’ he told the man belatedly and ignored the man’s struggles. ‘And one peep and I swear it will be your last!’
But now he was too late. For in front of them was the mirror reflecting her relatively fast change. He couldn’t reach it, couldn’t get around the man to block it. Grabbing a handful of the greasy thinning hair under his hand, he turned the man’s eyes to the table top, squashing the ugly nose into the wood. But that didn’t prevent Michael from seeing. He tried to look away but the vibrant purple of her corset stunned him. And then it was off and he could see her creamy white back and then registered that for just a flash while her arms were pulling the shirt over her head he could see the soft creamy round of one breast and he gulped. He looked a little closer wondering if it had been that weight in the cell, he hadn’t remembered it so beautifully round. Realising what he was doing, he mentally slapped himself and dropped his eyes to the man’s hair beneath his hand, fully knowing that if he saw the skirts drop from her legs it would be his complete undoing.
In the years with Maloney he had indulged in the sins of the flesh on copious occasions but the women were willing, were seductresses, were there for pleasure and then gone from his mind. He hadn’t even bothered to undress fully. Did they have names? Did he bother to inquire? None of them had been attractive enough to entice him to stay or to think beyond his own relief. He’d learnt that lesson with the farmer’s daughter. But he knew that this woman was the one for him. Despite the night they had shared in his cell where he became her sexual manservant, the protectiveness he felt for her, enhanced by the desire building inside him like a tempest conflicting with the moral tight rein he struggled to contain it with, enslaved his heart body and soul. He wanted this woman with a fierceness that scared him yet he daren’t touch her with any more strength than the tenderest of caress least she vanish like the softest snowflake.
He flicked a look up to see the last dainty bare foot slip into the trouser leg and then the pants to be pulled up.
‘Blast. The pants an this shirt’s too big!’ She muttered then spying her sash from her dress she wrapped that about her waist over the shirt catching the pants beneath; its pale blueness contrasting with the dirty tan brown of the trousers and the faded dun yellow of the shirt. He watched her fasten the ties of her shirt and then turn and sit on the chair to pull on the grubby white hosiery and the shoes, the wooden heels clumped pulling the red leather off her small feet easily.
‘Could I not wear my own shoes?’ she inquired holding up her serviceable black short boots and looking up at him.
His throat had gone dry. Just knowing there was only the linen of the shirt between him and the beauty of her breasts was making his ability to think beyond it very difficult. Speech would be the hardest so he just nodded and watched her slide her feet from the ugly red cracked shoes into the softer black leather. How would he handle the other men knowing she wore so little and thus made touching her so easy? He knew he would explode and kill any man who tried to sully her. Was it his wishful thinking or were the curves of her breasts seeming to be accentuated by the pull of her shirt from her elbows being in the air as she used a ribbon and pulled her hair together into a high dock on the back of her head. Then stepping past them she stood before the mirror and expertly tied a green bandanna about her head cleverly hiding her masses of hair yet leaving the tails poking out below the edge as how a boy with short hair would look. She’d even given herself a forelock that flopped across her forehead and into her eyes.
Smiling at him she grabbed a cloth and first wiped it on the floor and then all over her face; which made a grubby mess of the creamy beauty. Michael at first made to stop her but the result was just as fetching as she looked like a street urchin, but also completely convincing as a boy. The coat was far too big but she didn’t really need it for, without the corset emphasizing her female curves, she did not appear obviously as a woman unless, as he remembered, she raised her arms.
Then suddenly she was a whirlwind of movement stowing everything female from about the cabin into the trunk. Michael watched her in surprise, not realising just how feminine she had made the small room appear, and came to the realization that it was not so much it looked feminine but merely homely. She turned and smiled at him as she finished and, if noting else, that moment consolidated for him that for the rest of his life he wanted to come home to her. As he returned the trunk to under the window he realised she created home and not cluttered him up with demands of his energy even to the smallest degree of just seeing so much about, as was the custom the fashionable home decor was coming into.
The young Queen Victoria was a hoarder and she loved beautiful things to be on display, and because she did it, everyone else did it too. It astounded him at the amount of places he’d been in already where you couldn’t move for furniture and trinkets, small or large movement was tricky negotiating occasional tables and display cabinets. How the women did it in the new fashion of wide crinoline hoops was beyond him. The memory of the stupidly wide skirts reminded him of seeing Rhiannan coming onto the deck in hers, although it didn’t seem as wide as the ones the women of the American south wore. How she got up and down the steps between decks in it amazed him.
‘There’s sickness in there!’ they suddenly heard Maloney call and abruptly Michael sprung into action grabbing Jake and shoving him into her bed, boots and all. There was a pitcher of water and he tossed it over the man’s face and hair, the man yelped and Michael covered his mouth and gave him a glare to warn the devil to behave. Then deciding better he stood up and drew the man partially up off the bed with one hand then holding him, gave him one all mighty punch with the other that knocked him out. He dropped him back onto the wet pillow and Rhiannan attended him, tucking him in as Michael doused his own head in the remains of the water and lept into the other bunk, turning his face to the wall.
No sooner had Rhiannan made sure the bedclothes had covered Michael, the door opened. Rhiannan spun around startled to see two large men; Maloney was one, but a tall dark haired well dressed other and between them an even bigger black skinned man, barely dressed, seemingly hairless and shiny and carrying more weapons strapped to his torso and waist than anyone could ever realistically need.
‘They’re sleeping cap’in!’ she told Maloney in a strangled, somewhat croaky voice. ‘I’ll get more water.’ She grabbed the empty pitcher and scooting almost under the three men’s legs fled.
‘What be they sick from?’ she heard the black haired guest ask
‘Fever and illness, they can’t stand and their piss is red and putrid to smell.’ Maloney replied. ‘One man came down with it and his mate joined him soon after.’
Before Rhiannan was up the stairs the black haired man and his black mate were close behind her. She ran up the stairs as fast as she could. The man hot on her heels, his face inches from her back. When she reached the top deck she side stepped to let the man out past her. He paused on the top step; his eyes studying her; his brows furrowed, his eyes piercing and his red lips pouting almost like an old fashioned fop.
She looked away from him hoping he was not guessing at her gender … and guessing correctly.
‘You there! Boy!’
Scared almost out of her wits Rhiannan improvised and coughed violently as she turned to him.
‘Yes sir?’ she asked brightly but her coughing fit had worked, the man was holding his sleeve to his face and his posture was theatrically inclined away from her in horror.
‘Never mind. Be about your business, away with you .’ he shooed her off with his other hand and gratefully she fled hoping she’d be dismissed from his mind also.
She filled the water and slinking back as best she could, slid past them all to go below. Some of the crew were staring at her funny and the few who were wise to the ploy, be that informed or guessed, soon hushed the others. Women on ships were always trouble.
But as she took the second step unaccosted she overheard the conversation between the guest and Maloney.
‘Yes this ship will do very well. I will have my man transfer my affects.’
‘Even with the illness aboard?’ Maloney asked and Rhiannan could hear the fear in his voice
‘It will do to get me to Rio de Janeiro.’
Rhiannan dared to look over the deck back at the pair. And with that a huge trunk was hoisted from the other ship to land on their deck not four feet from her. Then as she still stood there watching, there was a mass exodus of all the other ship’s crew leaving their ship fully intact with the two strangers standing with the astonished Maloney; the black man looking about warily, his master looking very pleased with himself.
Rhiannan fled back to her cabin that looked like it was now to be shared for the rest of the trip, by Michael and Jake; the realisation dawning on her that she would also have to remain a boy till they docked at Rio and off loaded this character. So much for getting married on the equator!
But as she approached the door a hand shot out and seized the shirt on her shoulder.
‘What have we here? A ship’s boy that we didn’t start out with.’
His voice was calm but she didn’t recognise it and so Rhiannan twisted to look up at Gavin Fairchild the newly promoted first mate.
‘You?’ he hissed in shock.
All she could see was his blue eyes wide in surprise beneath his shock of soft blonde hair. He let her go, his eyes moving down cast from looking at her as he would to any higher than him in station.
‘Pardon my lady.’ He replied softly.
‘Shh, I’m not here!’ she hissed back, annoyed he may give her disguise away and also that he should treat her any better than himself. ‘I’m Sam the cabin boy and nothing else. Who is that man?’
‘Lord George Grey.’
She balked slightly. Was it her George? He could be the right age. She struggled to remember what the man had looked like. Dark hair. No it couldn’t be her George he was red haired like her. She settled her mind and went with her next thought.
‘What is a lord doing swapping ships in the middle of the Atlantic ocean?’ she asked but it was more rhetorical than anything. ‘Never mind, he’s here now and Maloney will let us know the rest.’
Gavin looked at her cabin door then back at her. ‘I offer you my cabin ma’am.’
‘Sam’ she corrected him ‘Thank you but what would a cabin boy be doing sleeping in a first mate’s cabin? It will be fine, I will manage.’
‘It’s a three day sail to Rio in good winds.’ He warned.
‘I said I would manage thank you.’ She reiterated strongly.
He seemed to take that as the end of their discussion and pulling himself to attention touched his forehead and stepped away back up the stairs.
☼ To be continued …..
For my NaNoWriMo challenge
One Part of a three part novel.
A spin off from my Daintree Daughter’s Book
Beware: this is a realistic Adult book & not a pretty tale like my poetry
It tells of the fight to become free and happy, with the leading characters first facing the trials of the ugly side of life, and the shackles of their pasts dragging at them as they carve their own standard of living. But in the mid 1800s it was normal for the children of the poor to see the activities of their parents – good & bad; generally they weren’t sheltered … that came in soon after when everyone wanted to live like the well to do did & hide or ignore the brutality of the ugly side of life.
Remember in Australia, Corporal Punishment was only outlawed 35 years ago! Child abuse is still being fought & wives could not testify against their husbands for anything including marital rape until recent times also.
So all that aside I hope you can enjoy the story! ☼