After a week of waiting they finally sailed. They had been allowed up on deck for only an hour each day in groups of ten. Though they wore leg irons and were chained together making movement difficult, it felt heavenly having fresh air blowing in their faces.
Maryanne had not been able to speak with Jake Smith again, but she often saw him. The longing to get to know him better grew as each day passed. He took over her thoughts during the day and haunted her dreams at night. Those burning green eyes followed her every movement, even when he was in a work party loading stores.
“Well, this is it,” Libby said as she and Maryanne clung together on their bunks. “I don’t think any of us will ever see old England again.”
This comment intensified the moaning and wailing of several women who had left husbands and children behind. Word spread below decks like wildfire. They were making ready to put to sea. The shouted oaths of sailors, the noisy activity somehow permeated the closed in darkness of their prison. There came a loud groaning of timbers, and a tremor shook the ship as it lifted and rolled, causing Maryanne’s stomach to plunge.
Within an hour most of the women were sick and vomiting. “Isn’t there something we can do?” she asked, using some of her precious water ration to dampen a rag so she could wipe Libby’s face and mouth.
“I’m going to die,” the Irish girl moaned.
“No you won’t.” Maryanne reassured, swallowing down on her own queasiness.
If they could get some fresh air it would help. Dare she ask one of the soldiers for permission to speak with the ship’s surgeon? Surely he could give them something?
I won’t be sick, I mustn’t. Libby looked to be in a dreadful state. If something happened to her they would both die. I’m doing this for Libby. She squeezed her friend’s hand. I would be dead by now if she hadn’t looked after me. With the ship rolling and pitching so badly when they had scarcely travelled any distance, it did not bode well for when they were out on the open sea.
“I’m going to see if they’ll let me speak with the surgeon,” Maryanne said.
“What’s the use, I’m going to die.” Libby started retching again.
“No you aren’t. Remember our pact. We will survive. Come on.” She took hold of the Irish girl’s hand. “Repeat after me. We will survive. We will survive.”
“Oh, God, not feeling like this I won’t.”
Puddles of vomit squelched under Maryanne’s feet. The ship pitched and swayed even more dramatically, so as not to lose her footing, she grabbed on to the berths and edged along sideways. Fortunately, they were fairly close to the hatchway otherwise she never would have made it.
“Guard, are you there?” she yelled.
“Wadda ya want,” he growled from somewhere up above.
“Could you get the surgeon, most of the women here are sick.”
“Get the surgeon for scum like you?” He laughed harshly.
“Can’t you get anyone at all? I tell you some of these women could die.”
“Let them, and good riddance.”
“You unfeeling brute, I demand to be taken to your superior officer.” Her pleas went unheeded, and she racked her brain trying to think of what else to do. Jake wouldn’t give up at the first obstacle.
I’ve got to do something to attract attention, she reasoned, staring up at the iron barred hatchway. What was the most feared thing on board a ship? Scurvy? Plague? Fire? Dare she?
“Fire, fire,” she shouted, and several women took up the call. A few of them must have really believed they were in danger, because they screamed hysterically.
“What’s going on down there?” A voice snarled through the hatchway.
“I want to speak to the officer in charge.” Maryanne shouted to be heard above the din.
“Someone said there’s a fire down there. I can’t see any smoke.”
“I think it’s down the back,” she lied.
The hatchway grated as it swung back, and Maryanne darted forward when a guard came down the steps.
“There’s no fire. Lying whores, you’ll pay for this.”
“It was my fault. I wanted to get attention for…”
“Oh, Miss Uppity is it? Heard all about you,” he sneered. “You’re the parson’s daughter who tried to kill her old lady. Well, you’ve got your wish.” His arm shot out and grabbed a handful of hair. “Right.” He yanked her up the steps. “We’ll see what the Captain’s got to say about this, you’ve almost started a riot.”
The male prisoners had started making as much noise as the women. They truly believed there was a fire and they would be trapped and incinerated below decks.
Armed guards rushed in from everywhere as Maryanne was dragged along the deck by the hair. A sudden, strong gust of wind unbalanced her, causing her to stumble, but the guard kept his merciless hold. He did not release her until they came to the Officer of the Watch, a thin man with a horrible pock marked face.
“She.” The guard shook Maryanne vigorously. “Nearly caused a riot by screaming out fire.”
“I did it to get medical attention for some of the women. They’re dreadfully sick.”
“The surgeon does not go below decks,” the Officer of the Watch dropped the words slowly one by one. “Anyone who’s sick goes on sick parade each morning.”
“They couldn’t wait until…”
“Enough.” He caressed a vicious looking whip. “How would you like a taste of this across your bare back?”
“You wouldn’t dare.” She tried to still her quavering voice so he would not detect her fear.
“No?” He pushed his face right up close to hers.
She recoiled as his pock marked skin nearly touched hers.