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TWO: They Embark

John went down to one of the wharves and found a ship, the Fyrey Pentacost, bound for Barbados with a cargo of tortoiseshell and logwood. The captain was agreeable to taking on supercargo at a price, since Leauchaud was one of his ports of call, and since he had already agreed to take another traveler on board. Smiling, he quoted John a price for the passage. John winced but said "Done," thinking of his share.

Early next morning he called for Mrs. Waverly at the Bluebell, and found her waiting with her packed trunk. All the same, they were like to have missed the boat; for it fell out that there were certain sums owed to the landlord that needed paying, and Mrs. Waverly's purse was not equal to the debt. John paid.

"That was very kind of you," said Mrs. Waverly, as they stepped into the street at last. "But you mustn't pay for the hire of a porter to carry our trunks. I believe I can just scrape together sixpence—"

"No need," said John, a trifle brusquely, and swung her trunk up on his shoulder. He tucked his own sea chest under his other arm. Mrs. Waverly looked at him, wide-eyed.

"Oh, sir! Indeed you are a Hercules for strength!"

John was a little mollified at that, but he merely said. "Strong enough, ma'am," and strode off in the direction of the wharf. She followed him. They went crunching through drifts of broken shells, winding their way between the street vendors and avoiding all the unpleasant things folk had thrown into the street overnight.

Emerging onto the waterfront, they faced the brilliant glare of a hazy morning. The plaster walls of the houses reflected the dazzle back on the salt mist coming off the sea, or was it steam? John felt sweat prickling under his shirt, and squinted up at the sails being unfurled on the Fyrey Pentacost. They hung limp as curtains in a parlor.

The crew were getting ready to cast off. The first mate greeted John with a black scowl as he came aboard. He bit back whatever remark he had been about to make, though, when he beheld Mrs. Waverly gracefully lifting her skirts as she stepped up the gangplank. Men fell over themselves to offer her helping hands down into the waist.

"I thank you very kindly," said she, smiling at them all. "Will some good gentleman show us to our cabins?"

"This way, ma'am," said the first mate, bowing and gesturing aft. "And sir," he added over his shoulder to John, in a peremptory sort of way.

Cargo had been pushed back hastily on the underdeck and bulkheads hammered into place to form three cabins, windowless and low. Mrs. Waverly regarded them in dismay, but made no complaint as John set her trunk down inside. She merely opened her trunk and set about making up a bed in the sort of box that had been provided. John set down his sea chest and peered at the tiny space allotted him. He grunted, dug out his hammock, and strung it up instead.

As he was tying it off, there came a double rap at the cabin door. John opened it, ducked down to see who had knocked, and found himself face to face with a sullen-looking black servant.

"Captain Sharp's compliments, and requests the pleasure of your company at table this evening," the servant recited, in a bored sort of way. He had an oddly flat, nasal accent.

"Oh. Right," said John. The servant did not stay for further pleasantries, but stepped away sidelong.

John heard the same double rap, the same formula recited, and Mrs. Waverly's clear reply: "Please convey my delighted acceptance to the captain and assure him I will be prompt. At what o'clock are we to dine?"

"Half past seven, ma'am."

"Thank you."

The same sidestep, knock and recitation, and then a new voice responding: "Oh! Why—well—that's exceedingly decent of Captain Sharp! Yes, indeed. I'll be there. Yes. Thank him, please."

It was a male voice, an educated one. It sounded middle-aged.


* * *


They had to put out boats with sweeps to row the Fyrey Pentacost out of the harbor; they were obliged to keep the oars dipping until they were nearly to Port Morant. At last a breeze freshened and the sails flapped, then bellied as they caught the breeze in earnest.

John was leaning on the rail, feeling pleased that he wasn't one of the poor devils rowing away in the boats, when Mrs. Waverly came up from below, parasol over her shoulder. She put her hand on his arm.

"Dear Mr. James, perhaps we might have a word," she said in a low voice. "I am a little concerned for my good name."

"Have some of these bastards been treating you improper?" asked John, and felt his face grow hot. "Hoping you'll pardon my plain talk."

"Oh, no, no indeed. But there have been inquiries made as to our relations, you see."

John stared at her a moment, wondering why anyone would be asking after his old mother and ten brothers and sisters in Hackney, before he got the sense of what she'd said. His ego sat up and preened a bit. "Well, it's nobody's business—"

"Exactly, but now and again one does encounter a puritanical sort of ship's master who assumes the worst about one," said Mrs. Waverly, coloring a little. "So I have given out that I'm a new-made widow, and you are my late husband's manservant."

John's ego fell, wounded. "Servant?"

"Oh, I know it cannot be to your liking, dear Mr. James; but it will help us avoid scandal, and in any case it's only until we reach Leauchaud," said Mrs. Waverly. "Tom and I had to devise such shifts many a time, as we traveled. Why, on one occasion I was obliged to disguise myself as a boy!"

It was a diverting image. John contemplated it a moment before swallowing hard and muttering, "Well, but things stood a certain way between you and Tom Blackstone."

"That's true. Yet I do count you as a friend, Mr. James; and who knows whether we mightn't become very dear friends indeed?" Mrs. Waverly looked into his eyes. "Please, my dear, go along with the disguise this once, as a favor to me?"

"Well," said John. He looked down at her, in her gown of yellow cotton sprigged with forget-me-nots. "Ain't they going to wonder why you aren't in black?"

Her lip trembled. "I hadn't the money to buy a mourning gown," she said. So then John felt like a cur dog, and said of course he'd go along with the game.


* * *


So John went before Mrs. Waverly to the great cabin that evening, and cleared his throat and announced her, as he supposed a servant ought to do. Four pairs of eyes watched his performance, and hers as she entered. Besides Captain Sharp and the first mate, Mr. Harris, there was the black servant who had conveyed the dinner invitation; also a little mild-looking man of about fifty, wearing thread-loop spectacles, who was introduced as Mr. Tudeley.

"Mr. Tudeley is on his way to Barbados," explained Captain Sharp, as he held out his wineglass. The black servant filled it. "A new position, I take it, sir?"

"I hope so, indeed," said Mr. Tudeley. "My sister and brother-in-law keep a pie-house there, you see, quite a profitable one. They have intimated they require a clerk, and were so good as to send for me after Squire Darrow's plantation failed, I being then at loose ends."

"Why, sir, I hope a pie-house is steadier work than a plantation!" said Captain Sharp, with a wink at the others.

"I, too. There wasn't any fault in my accounts," said Mr. Tudeley, looking miserable, for he had caught the wink. "No fault of mine at all. But Mr. Cox, that was the manager, Mr. Cox had taken to drink, and neglected the place shamefully. I said so at the time. The indentures were insolent and lazy, too. What could I have done?"

"I am sure you did your best," said Captain Sharp. "And may I introduce the Widow Waverly? And Mr. James. Her man."

Mr. Harris looked knowing at that, and the black servant stared in a fairly open way. John scowled, but Mrs. Waverly smiled.

"He was simply devoted to my poor husband, you know, and a better factotum I could not hope for," she said, with a graceful wave.

"Thank you, ma'am," said John.

"And we are taking you out to Leauchaud, as I understand?" said the Captain to Mrs. Waverly.

"Indeed, sir."

"You'll be taking the waters for your health, I dare say?"

"No; I have certain matters to resolve, concerning my husband's inheritance," said Mrs. Waverly.

"Oh, well! You ought to try the waters, while you're there," said Captain Sharp. "I've been, and it did me a world of good. You would think you were in Bath! Mr. Shillitoe's had handsome pools built for invalids, and a pump room beside."

"How charming!' said Mrs. Waverly. "Perhaps I shall call on Mr. Shillitoe."

"Now, is it Mr. Shillitoe runs the place, or Mr. Leauchaud?" inquired Mr. Tudeley, leaning aside as the black servant ladled turtle soup into his plate. Everyone turned to stare at Mr. Tudeley, and he blushed furiously.

"Chah! The name comes from L'eau chaud, hot water," explained the black servant, with a snort of amusement. Now it was Captain Sharp who turned crimson.

"How dare you address my guests! Hold your tongue, damn you!"

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, in which the servant met Captain Sharp's glare with a smoldering look of his own.

"So it is French, then!" said Mrs. Waverly, with a bright little laugh. "Of course. No doubt some Frenchman or other discovered it. Well, well. What a pleasant thought."

"And I'll have none of your insolent looks," Captain Sharp continued to the servant, "or you'll earn yourself a flogging. Now, fetch out the sherry." The servant hooded his eyes and bowed stiffly. He withdrew from the cabin.

"I declare I took no offense, sir," protested Mr. Tudeley. "I wouldn't have the poor slave beaten on my account."

"He isn't a slave," said Mr. Harris. "He's a damned freedman who gives himself airs."

"Freedman or no, he'll find himself cutting cane in the sun one of these days," said Captain Sharp, with an unpleasant smile. "Fetch a good price too, I don't doubt. Well! Let it alone. May I offer you a slice of the smoked pork, ma'am?"

The conversation touched on the price of sugar next, followed by the weather and local gossip. John was largely excluded from the conversation. At first he was relieved, not having much of a knack for genteel chitchat, until it occurred to him that he was being spoken around because he had been introduced as a mere servant. Then he felt a bit resentful.

He was spooning up the last of his soup when he heard a liquid sound on the other side of the bulkhead. The sound suggested certain distinct images; he felt an answering twinge in his bladder. A moment later the servant returned with a decanter of amber liquid, and set it at Captain Sharp's elbow, with a narrow-eyed smile.

"Your sherry, sir," he said.

"Ah. A glass with you, gentlemen?" said Captain Sharp.

"I thank you, no," said Mr. Tudeley. "Not after the claret. I have a poor head for strong drink."

Captain Sharp regarded him in amused contempt. "As you like," he said. "You, my man?" he inquired of John.

John peered at the servant, wary. The servant raised his eyebrows. He gave a barely perceptible shake of his head.

"Er," said John. "Thank you. No."

"You, Harris?"

"Please," said Harris, with his mouth full.

"Sherry for Mr. Harris and myself, Sejanus," said Captain Sharp.

"Certainly, sir," said the servant smoothly, and filled their glasses. "Shall I clear away the soup tureen, sir?"


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