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Amos Dagliesh, master of the sailing vessel the Galatea turned his sea-weathered face to his questioner, one of the passengers on the ship that he had just brought safely across the Atlantic from England to the Virginia colony.
A frown deepened the line between his bristling, brick-red brows as he reluctantly took his attention from overseeing the unloading of cargo to the slender young woman looking at him with dark, anxious eyes.
He regarded her intently for a moment before answering.
The rose-lined bonnet that she was wearing framed a rounded oval face with a porcelain pink complexion. She had a small arched nose with tiny flared nostrils and her parted mouth, rosy and sweet, revealed pearly teeth.
He had been curious about her the whole trip. She had been a late arrival, boarding the ship with only an hour to spare before they had sailed. During the long journey she had kept to herself, never mingling with the handful of other passengers. Her ticket, identifying her as Miss Dora Carrington, had entitled her to one of the few single cabins and there she had remained, emerging only for meals and a twice-daily walk around the deck.
Their crossing had been fairly smooth, except for afew stormy days mid-ocean. Although several of the passengers had been seasick, the young woman had proved to be a good sailor.
In one rare instance when he had engaged her in conversation, she had told him she was going to relatives in America. Yet there had been no one to meet her when they docked in Yorktown harbor.
Strange! for such an obviously wellborn young lady to be traveling such a great distance alone. His frown increased almost to a scowl.
"You'll have to ask at the Inn, miss," he replied. "You'll find it easy enough-just up the hill from the dock. There's a sign. I'd have one of my men escort you, but as you can see, I cannot spare one just now."
The girl straightened her shoulders and looked in the direction he pointed.
"Oh, I didn't expect assistance, Captain," she said quickly. "Thank you just the same. I'm sure I'll find it with no trouble."
A practical Scotsman, Captain Dagliesh was not a man much given to idle curiosity, and yet he found himself following the slim figure of his departing passenger with narrowed, speculative eyes. Though simply dressed, he mused, she held herself like a princess, confident, composed for all her youth. This thought quelled the small prick of conscience he felt in not sending one of his officers to accompany her through the crowded seaport town.
Then some clamor below deck caught his straying attention, and he shrugged and resumed his command.
The object of the captain's speculation felt none of the confidence he had attributed to her. As she descended the gangplank, her heart was thudding within her, her pulses racing. Everything around her was new and frightening. She had never seen black people before, and the sight of the dock hands shouting to each other in an unintelligible lingo as they unloaded cargo was terrifying.
The heat of the Virginia sun this spring morning beat down upon her mercilessly as she picked her way carefully through the cluttered dock, holding her wide skirts with one hand while balancing a small wicker reticule with the other.
At the edge of the dock, she paused uncertainly. Accustomed to the cooler English climate, she dabbed daintily at the moisture on her upper lip with a lace-trimmed handkerchief. Then tucking one straying damp curl back under her bonnet, she squinted in the glaring sunlight toward the long hill she must yet climb.
Behind her loomed the tall ship from which she had just disembarked that for the last six weeks had provided her some small measure of familiarity, security. Ahead lay only an unknown future.
Fighting the tears that threatened, a spontaneous prayer welled up fervently: "O Lord, protect me, lead me, guide me in the way I should go." Her own words-but drawn from her well-learned Scripture. The Psalms had been her sustaining comfort and strength all through this perilous journey.
She bit her lip to keep it from trembling, then shifted her reticule to her other hand and started up the cobblestone street. As she neared the top she saw a rambling, slope-roofed building where a wooden sign swung on a post in front. That must be the Inn where she could obtain the information she needed.
Warm and breathless from the climb, she paused at the top and shielded her eyes against the dazzling sunlight. Looking forward she saw the figure of a stocky man, leaning against the doorframe of the entrance. He glanced up, regarding her curiously as she approached. But his countenance was cheerful, she noted with some relief, and his ruddy-complexioned face seemed kind. Sandy-gray hair was queued carelessly, and he was dressed in a homespun shirt, a worn leather vest, and stained breeches.
At her question about the stagecoach, he replied jovially, "You're in luck, miss. The stage for Williamsburg will be leaving within the hour. They're hitchin' up the team in my stables just now."
"Could I send someone to fetch my trunk of the Galatea just docked?" she asked, getting out her little drawstring purse and noting with alarm how light the contents were becoming.
"Shure! I'll send my boy fer it." The man extended his hand slyly.
Quickly she handed him a coin, which he took, fingering it and turning it over, squinting his narrowed eyes. "And in what name should the boy be askin' for the trunk, miss?"
Thus preoccupied, the innkeeper failed to notice her moment's hesitation.
"The captain will know. My belongings are in the name of passenger Dora Carrington," she answered quickly.
Excerpted from Ransomed Bride by Jane Peart Copyright © 2004 by Jane Peart. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted January 17, 2004