The friendly voice belonged to Mary Bodley, an Englishwoman sailing with the Lionfish. She told me in a rough accent that she’d noticed me interrogating deckhands and admired my tenacity. Regrettably, she admitted that she didn’t know David, but she thought she could help me find him. She led me down the pier, asking where I’d come from and why I was so feverishly chasing him. She seemed so sympathetic that I told her the truth, more or less. Mary’s skin was as weathered as the men’s, but she walked with a distinct poise.
We came to a rowboat where the largest man I’d ever seen was waiting to ferry us into the deeper water. Before us, a small merchant ship floated serenely, sails furled. On the way, Mary explained that the Lionfish traversed the seas of Europe and met with many a ship of La Royale. If I was to find my beloved brother, she promised, I’d find him with her.
I could barely contain my amazement at the miracle of my progress. Mere hours ago I had been abed at Hotel Bessette, destined for a life of degradation and shame. A few miles’ walk and a penny’s cost later, I was floating in the salt breeze, destined for the Lionfish. The thought of the penny I’d spent on my breakfast reminded me of how few coins I had. It would never be enough to secure passage all across Europe.
“Madame,” I said, “your offer is so kind, but I have little money. I couldn’t hope to afford such a trip.”
She smiled and patted my knee. “Don’t worry about that, little one. I’ll speak with the Captain. I’m sure he’ll be moved by your story, and he’ll allow you to join us as long as you’re willing to make yourself useful.”
I flinched, suddenly fearful of the distance between us and the retreating shore. “I’m not… I won’t sell myself for passage.” She stiffened.
“Of course not. We’re godly folk, and we wouldn’t have such a woman aboard,” she said sharply. “You look strong enough to be useful with a sail, and there’s always cooking and mending to be done. But if you find that objectionable…”
“No, no, I’m sorry!” I was ashamed. She’d been so kind, and done nothing to deserve my distrust. “I will do whatever is necessary. Thank you so much for helping me, madame.”
The deck of the Lionfish was like nothing I’d seen. With every wave, the world tilted slightly. I felt uneasy on my feet, but taking small steps behind Mary allowed me to stumble only a little. Two masts rose forever from the deck, and high above a sailor called down and waved. Mary shouted her hello back to him. A few other men roamed the deck, all strong and weathered.
Mary took me belowdecks, where a few more men were adjusting cargo. Toward the front of the ship, hammocks hung in the dim hold, some of which seemed to be occupied. She led me past them, to the very front, where a torn, repaired, and torn-again canvas roughly partitioned a section of hold just large enough for an empty hammock and below it, a small chest.
“My ‘cabin’,” Mary explained. “You’ll have to tuck your things in with mine or else they’ll roll all over.” She produced a key and unlocked the chest. I tried to peek at what she had, but she simply took my bundle and tucked it in before shutting the lid again. “There won’t be room for another hammock, but the boys are nice enough. They won’t bother you.”
With that, she shepherded me above again, and the afternoon sun was a shock after the darkness below. She took me by the elbow and steered me toward the back of the ship, where the Captain’s cabin sat like a palace above the deck. Mary knocked sharply and was admitted to the cabin. The room contained a proper bed, larger than mine and Sylvie’s at the Hotel, a little sofa, and a table and chairs. It was at the table that Captain Christopher Whitney sat. Captain Whitney was a man of at least forty, with mousy hair and a narrow build. He wore breeches and shirt, but wig and coat were discarded on the bed.
Mary and the Captain exchanged words in English, of which I understand not enough to have followed their debate. The Captain nodded several times, and at the end of a few minutes he bid me welcome in clumsy French. He spoke to Mary in English, and she explained that he required me to be attentive and accept whatever tasks his men should appoint to me, so I could learn their craft and be of use on his ship. I nodded eagerly, and he smiled. He asked Mary a few more questions, which she answered without translating. Finally she asked whether I was Catholic. I hesitated. I had read the bible with Sylvie, but I had rarely attended mass.
“I… I suppose I must be.”
She responded to the Captain with a single word, and I thought to myself that the English word for yes sounds very much like the French word for no.