It seemed but a few minutes and the two women were safely stowed away in their cabin after running the gauntlet of stares provided by the men on deck. Alice was particularly perturbed. How dare they stare! And anyway, it was not her fault if her clothes had begun to look a little worse for the wear. How I would adore a bath, she could not help thinking. Perhaps with so much water around, I shall have a bath. Alice was, of course, ignorant of the preciousness of fresh water at sea. One need not whisper that in her ear just yet and she could live in happy ignorance of that fact as she did of the price of wheat and the chemical nature of alum powder.
Lizzie, however, despaired. “Leawn to love this life, my little fwiends,” Captain Bellamy advised the two in his peculiar high-pitched voice. “The men might get a little westless if they think too much about such pwetty ladies hiding on boawd.” The menace in his words was clear if somewhat mitigated by the sound of them. While before they were in the hands of a single ruffian, now they were faced with the horrors of a ship full of nefarious men of undoubtedly low birth and worse morals. The bosun, in particular, with his single eye and black swan tattoo seemed to be particularly ghoulish despite his rather jaunty top hat. He had a tendency to mutter mysteriously as he swabbed past their cabin. If only this were a book, thought Lizzie, I could peek ahead at the next chapter and see if the heroine survived her perilous journey.
With a sudden lurch, the ship was a float. Alice grabbed Lizzie’s hand and the two of them watched sadly as Southampton receded from their view, slowly getting smaller and smaller as the boat crested the waves. The gentle rocking of the ship broadened as they headed out further into the channel. This is life at sea, Lizzie thought, as the wind whistled through their rather small window, the cries of the gulls punctuated the calls of the men on deck, and the sea air filled her with a strange sense of familiarity. It was as if her fear receded somewhat and she could imagine coming to enjoy such a life. There was a freedom in the ship’s movement, a camaraderie among the men that spoke of secret knowledge, of mysteries. Lizzie could begin to understand how men were drawn to its open expanses, the drift of the waves and the salty tang of the air.
Alice, however, began to feel a curious sensation that she quickly realized was going bring the contents of her very light meal much closer to her lips. With a look of mute appeal to Lizzie, she pressed her mourning handkerchief to her lips, sobbed once, then ran to the window and violently vomited out it.
The smartly-hatted bosun grinned up at her like a leering skull and merely mopped her leavings away off the side of the boat and winked (or blinked, it is rather hard to tell with only one eye to go by) at the young woman.
Perhaps I am dead and this is hell, Alice thought, though she could not bring herself to believe she had done anything to deserve such a fate. The next few days would make her wish dearly that she had gone to hell instead of Southampton.