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It was a hard comin' I had of it, that's for sure.
It was hard enough comin' up from the brig, the cell down below where they had me kept these past few weeks, squintin' into the light to see all of the dear Dolphin's sailors lined up along the spars of the great masts and in other parts of the riggin', all four hundred of 'em, bless 'em, my mates for the past year and a half, all cheerin' and hallooin' and wavin' me off.
It was hard, too, walkin' across to the quarterdeck, where the officers were all pulled up in their fancy uniforms and where the midshipmen and side boys made two rows for me to walk between on my way off the ship, and there's Jaimy all straight and all beautiful in his new midshipman's uniform, and there's Davy and Tink and Willy, the boys of the Brotherhood to which I so lately belonged, and there's my dear sea-dad Liam lookin' as proud as any father. The Bo'sun's Mate puts his pipe to his lips and starts the warble to pipe me off the Dolphin, my sweet and only home, and I start down between their ranks, but I stop in front of Jaimy and I look at the Captain and I pleads with my teary eyes. The Captain smiles and nods and I fling my arms around Jaimy's neck and kiss him one last time, oh yes I do, and the men cheer all the louder for it, but it was short, oh so short, for too soon my arm is taken and I have to let go of Jaimy, but before I do I feel him press something into my hand and I look down and see that it's a letter. Then I'm led away down the gangway, but I keep my eyes on Jaimy's eyes and my hand clutched around his letter as the Professor hands me up into the carriage that's waitin' at the foot of the gangway. I keeps my eyes on Jaimy as the horses are started and we clatter away, and I rutch around in my seat and stick my head out the window to keep my blurry eyes on him but it's too far away now for me to see his eyes, just him standin' there at the rail lookin' after me, and then the coach goes around a corner and that's all. He's there, and then he's not.
That was the hardest of all. I put my fingertips to my lips where his have just been and I wonder when they will again touch me in that place. If ever...Oh, Jaimy, I worry about you so much 'cause the war's on again with Napoléon and all it takes is one angry cannonball, and oh, God, please.
I leave off what has up to now been fairly gentle weeping and turn to full scale, chest heavin', eyes squeezed shut, open mouth bawlin'.
"Well," says Professor Tilden, sittin' across from me, "you certainly have made a spectacle of yourself today, I must say."
...don't care don't care don't care don't care...
"You should compose yourself now, Miss. The school is not a far ride from the harbor. Here," he says, handing me a handkerchief, "dry your eyes."
The Professor is taking me to the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls, which is where they decided to dump me after that day on the beach when my grand Deception was blown out of the water for good and ever and I was found out to be a girl, which was against the rules. Being a girl, that is. They being the Captain and the Deacon and Tilly. I felt that I should have been allowed to go back to England with them. I wouldn'a caused no trouble-they could have kept me in the brig the whole time if they wanted. But, oh no, that would have been too easy, too reasonable for the Royal Navy. No, far better to kick me off thousands of miles and an ocean away from my intended husband, that being Midshipman James Emerson Fletcher, Jaimy for short. I take Jaimy's letter and put it in my seabag for readin' later, 'cause I know that if I read it now, I'll break down altogether and be a mess.
I know old Tilly, who was the schoolmaster back on the Dolphin, sure liked me much better as a boy. He gets all nervous and fussy around me now, now that I've become a girl. He's right, though. Must pull yourself together now, Miss. Can't show up at the school, where they're gonna make a lady out of me, lookin' like a poor scrub what just crawled out of a Cheapside ditch, and so I takes the bit of cloth from his hand and dabs it at my eyes. I wants to blow my runnin' nose on it but don't want to mess up Tilly's handkerchief so I just snarks it all back and swallows with a big gulp. Tilly shudders and shakes his head.
Right. I've got to put my mind on other things, like this, my first carriage ride...imagine...Jacky Faber, ragged Little Mary of Rooster Charlie's gang of beggars and thieves runnin' all wild through the streets of London, the same sorry little beggar here now, in her first carriage ride, her bottom sitting on a fine leather coach seat. That selfsame bottom is also sitting in its first pair of real drawers it's seen since That Dark Day when my parents and my little sister died and I was tossed out into the street to either live or die. These drawers come down to just above my knees and got flounces on 'em, three on each leg. The dressmaker said that the ruffles were there to keep the dress from clinging too close to the legs. Can't have dresses clinging too close to the legs in oh-so-proper Boston, now, can we?
My dress, now, is surely a fine thing-all black as midnight and waisted high up under my chest and falling in pleats down to the tops of my feet. The bodice comes down low-much lower than I would have thought for Boston, but I've given up trying to figure out that kind of thing as there never seems no sense to it-I mean, we got drawers with ruffles to keep the legs from being too noticeable down below, yet we have the chest in danger of spilling out up top. Don't ask me to explain, 'cause I can't. Anyway, the sleeves are long and end in a bunch of black lace at the wrists. It is the school uniform and it's the finest thing I've ever had on me and I got to say I'm proud to be in it, and I know Jaimy was proud to see me decked out this way on the quarterdeck today. I could see it in his eyes when he looked in mine and the way his chest puffed up under his tight black broadcloth jacket with all the bright gold buttons gleamin' on it.
Deacon Dunne took me out the first day we were docked in Boston, to get me fitted out, as Tilly warn't up to the challenge of being alone with the female me in a female dressmaker's shop. The seamstress there was amazing fast, with her tape whipping all around me up and down and all around. Pins put here and there and chalk marks, too. She got all of my stuff to the ship today-two pairs of drawers, two pairs of black stockings, one dress, one nightshirt with nightcap, one black wool sweater, one chemise, and one black cloak with bonnet-and two hours after it arrived, I was off the ship. They couldn't get rid of me fast enough, the sods.
Everything that I ain't got on is packed away in my seabag with my other stuff that I've picked up along the way-needles, threads, awls, fishing lures, my concertina, my blue dress that I made myself and my Kingston dress, my pennywhistle, and, yes, me shiv, too, 'cause I can't figure out how to keep it in its old place next to my ribs in this dress. Not yet, anyway. And my sailor togs are in there, too-my white dress uniform that I made for myself and the boys and my drawers with the fake cod and my blue sailor cap with HMS DOLPHIN that I'd stitched on the band. And Rooster Charlie's shirt and pants and vest that delivered me from the slums of London and my midshipman's neckerchief and even a midshipman's coat and shirt and britches and cap that I'd got off Midshipman Elliot, who'd outgrown them. I think about that middie's uniform and how everyone on board thought it was such a great joke that I was made a midshipman before they discovered I was a girl. Everyone but me. I earned my commission, I did, and I didn't think it was a joke. Still don't.
Ain't no money in my seabag, though. After paying for my clothes, they gave the rest of my share of the money from the pirate gold to the school to pay for my education in ladyhood. Wisht they had just given me the money and let me make my own way in the world like I always done, but, no-I'm a girl and too stupid to take care of money. That's a man's job, they say. Like I'd be gulled out of my money, me what's as practical and careful with a penny as any miser? Not bloody likely.
Oh, look. There's a row of taverns at the end of that pier. They look like places where I might be able to play my pennywhistle and concertina and maybe make some money after I get settled and know the lay of the land...and look there-there's one called The Pig and Whistle and it's kind of seedy lookin' but it's got a sign with a fat jolly pig playing a whistle just like mine and he's dancin' about and he looks right cheerful.
Ah. There's a bookseller's. And a printer's next to it. Maybe I could pick up some work there, if I have any time off from the school. I wonder how confined I'm going to be. The school couldn't be as tight with its students as the Navy is with its sailors, though, could it? Wonder if the school has lots of books. Coo, wouldn't that be something-all you ever wanted to read right at your fingertips? It's a school. It's got to have a lot of books.
Copyright © 2004 by L. A. Meyer
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