Read Ocean's justice Online

Authors: Demelza Carlton

Ocean's justice

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Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Updates

About the Author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ocean's Justice

 

Demelza Carlton

This book is dedicated to Oma, for inspiring me to immortalise toilet paper. No shipboard birthday is complete without it.

 

Copyright © 2014 Demelza Carlton

Lost Plot Press

All rights reserved.

 

 

One

If I never saw the sea again, it would be too soon.

"She's too much trouble. Too turbulent to do what she must. Send her away somewhere so she can learn obedience. Then she may return."

"She's too young – barely eighteen. She's still upset over his death. Surely we should wait before we send her anywhere."

"No. She did what needed to be done and he's dead by her hand. She's understandably upset, but that will fade. He was only a man. I say we send her away and see what she's capable of accomplishing. What say you, child?"

My mouth still tasted bad at the words I'd spat at the vicious old women, but I'd say the same thing again in a heartbeat. "I hate you. I loved him. He didn't deserve to die and I will NEVER obey your orders again."

My defiance was futile. What did it get me? A small raft drifting across the Indian Ocean, with nothing but the sound of waves and the smell of salt and coal-smoke.

Smoke meant a ship. I was saved.

I squinted into the sunlight, but the waves hid the vessel from me. Maybe I was looking the wrong way. I didn't have the strength to sit up and see.

Rough hands seized me. I struggled, but my weakness won.

Blue eyes drifted above, the same colour as the ocean below. A tangle of wiry seaweed obscured the rest of the man's face.

"It's all right, lass. I'll take care of you."

Darkness took me first.

 

 

 

 

Two

"Miss? Can you tell me your name? Can you even hear me?" A clammy hand touched my forehead.

I focussed on the words and tried to translate them. I responded to the only one I understood. "Maria."

"Your name is Maria?"

My neck felt stiff as I nodded and opened my eyes.

"I'm Charlie. Charles Seaborn, but everyone calls me Charlie. The other men said you wouldn't live, but Mr McGregor said any girl who could rig that raft and survive long enough to be rescued wasn't going to die in her bed. Mr Allchin, the cook, is going to be furious when he finds out I won my bet. When we reach the Cape, I'm going to use the money to pay for my first woman and...beg pardon, miss. Maria, I mean." The boy reddened, but it didn't slow his words. "Some of the other men are saying you're something supernatural, seeing as you look like Venus and all, on account of having no clothes. Not like them skinny flappers. You have bosoms. The men talk about them a lot. A few say you're bad luck and we never should have rescued you, because you'll doom us like your last ship, but if you were going to sink ships, you wouldn't be floating around on a raft with no clothes and no food or water, a breath away from death. Doesn't make sense. Are you hungry, miss?"

Charlie held out a round, flat piece of metal, topped with a smaller, brown, oval slab. "It's bread, miss. Bread with marmite." He broke a small piece off the slab and popped it into his mouth. He pulled a face. "I don't like marmite – my mum makes me eat it for my health, she says, and Mr Allchin says you must eat it so you don't get beri-beri after so long at sea. Can you remember the name of your ship?"

I still didn't understand his words – but I did register that the slab was food. I reached for it, inclining my head in gratitude to the boy, before I gingerly took my first bite of marmite sandwich. It was the consistency of sponge and it tasted like the sea, but I chewed, swallowed and forced myself to take another bite. My mouth was as dry as dune sand and the additional salt didn't help. Swallowing was painful.

"Drink, miss?" Charlie held out a cup of liquid.

I seized it and sat up, tipping the cup's contents into my mouth. The second mouthful of salty, sponge-like sandwich went down far more smoothly than the first. I wished for the sweet flesh of a fresh fish, but it looked like only marmite was on the menu, whatever that might be.

A choking noise made me look up at Charlie's red face. He seemed to be staring at my chest. "Um, miss? Maria? The Captain found some clothes for you, seeing as you don't have any. Men's clothes, as we're all men here. To protect your...modesty, miss." The boy reddened further as his hands described the curves he couldn't tear his eyes away from.

The rough blanket that had previously covered my body now bared my skin to the waist, so I pulled it up again. This seemed to break the boy from his trance and he stepped away to retrieve a small pile of folded fabric. He shook out a creamy-coloured item that turned out to be a shirt similar to his, which he held out to me. I took the shirt and slipped it over my head, thankful that I didn't have to fumble with the shell buttons under his watchful eyes, for they were already fastened. Next came the pants, which were almost identical to those he wore – including the length of rope threaded through the belt loops. I shifted to the edge of the bunk, so I could put these on, too. The sight of my bare legs seemed to mesmerise the boy almost as much as my breasts had. Perhaps he'd never seen either before.

The pants were much too wide at the waist – I had to hold them up to prevent them from puddling around my ankles. I pulled on the rope, ending up with the length of hemp in my hand and the waist of my pants clutched in the other.

"Ooh, miss, you have to thread it back through those bits there and then tighten it with both ends and cross the ends over and..." Charlie's hands gestured as he attempted to illustrate the words I didn't understand. Bewildered, I tried to follow his hand movements, but the pants slid down and hit the deck.

Deep laughter erupted from behind Charlie and we both turned to see who found my ineptitude funny. What I'd mistaken for seaweed was the man's bristly beard, now tamed to a short pelt across his chin and upper lip. Ocean-blue eyes regarded me with amusement as the man who owned them strode into the cabin. "Caught with your pants down, boy. Very compromising for the lady's honour, especially when we don't even know her name."

"Oh, no, Mr McGregor, you see, she was putting her clothes on and I was trying to help, only I don't think she's worn men's clothes before and these don't fit so well and I couldn't explain how to tie a rope belt and..." The boy continued with his endless sentence-story without pausing for breath, but Blue Eyes had eyes for no one but me.

His gaze was frankly curious, but arrogant, too, in a way that turned my confusion and fear to courage. I straightened, returning his gaze with all the pride of my position. No matter what I wore or where I stood, I wouldn't let this man cow me. Instead, I wanted to tell him to stop his insolent scrutiny. As I lacked the words in his language, I let my stare convey the message for me.

Charlie fell silent and moved aside. Blue Eyes stood before me, close enough to touch, yet he didn't lift his hand nor break the lock that held his eyes and mine. "I think this lady has a lot more honour at stake than we first thought. My lady, what's your name?"

I opened my mouth to answer, but I found my throat too dry to make a sound. This man did strange things to my body with merely his voice and his eyes.

"Maria," Charlie supplied. "That's the only thing she's said. But she was so hungry she ate a whole marmite sandwich and drank all the water."

"Fetch some more water for Lady Maria, boy. And tell Captain Foster she's awake and receiving visitors."

Charlie nodded rapidly. "Yes, Mr McGregor." He hurried out.

Blue Eyes dropped to a crouch at my feet, gathering up my pants. "Permit me to assist you, Lady Maria. We have no maids and no other women aboard, but I'll do the best I can." He pulled the fabric up to my waist, snaking the rope through the loops and tightening it in one swift move, taking my breath away. "On second thought, you should probably tuck this shirt in. That way, it will hide your assets better." His hand stroked my shirt against my skin, smoothing it beneath the waistband of my pants. Heat flooded my body at every caress and my heart beat faster still.

NO! This man wasn't Giuseppe and I wouldn't betray his memory with this strange man, despite his warm hands and ocean-coloured eyes.

He noticed my sudden stiffness and said, "I'm sorry, Lady Maria, but I'm not used to dressing ladies. You must think me very clumsy. I don't mean to take liberties. I'll be as quick as I can." He tied the rope at my waist, avoiding touching me again. "There."

The pants hung from my hips, but they didn't fall, and the shirt ballooned out from my shoulders to my waist, almost hiding my breasts completely. I looked like him and Charlie now. I wanted to thank him, but I didn't know the words to use. Nor did I know Blue Eyes' name.

I patted my chest, as Charlie had when he told me his name. "Name Maria," I said, wishing I knew more of his language.

"I'm delighted to meet you, Lady Maria, and I hope you don't think too badly of us for offering the best we have. If we knew we'd have a female passenger aboard, we might've..."

I shook my head, tears of frustration springing to my eyes. "No lady. Name Maria. Name?" In desperation, I reached out and touched the front of his shirt. I felt hard muscle beneath. "Name?"

He glanced down at my hand before meeting my eyes. "You mean I've seen you undressed, touched your body and helped you dress, but I haven't had the good manners to tell you my name? Good God, what you must think of me. I'm so sorry." He covered my hand with his. "My name's William McGregor, lass, and I'm not normally such a brute. I don't know if you remember, but 'twas I who pulled you off that raft. We thought you were dead, but I swore I'd check anyway, and I was never so relieved to see those blue eyes of yours staring up at me in terror. I didn't mean to frighten you then, lass – but you gave us all a good scare first."

So many words that I wished I knew the meaning of. I tried to repeat the ones I wanted. "Will...William. Mug....Mug..." I closed my eyes in defeat. I hadn't understood the man's name – I'd lost it.

I felt his fingers tighten around mine. "That's right, lass. You can just call me William if you like. Much easier than McGregor for those who aren't used to it. Unless you tell me your family's name, I'll be calling you by your Christian name, too, so it's fitting."

I bowed my head, feeling my lips lift in a smile for the first time since Giuseppe died. "William."

 

 

Three

"She's awake and up and about, just like Charlie said. I thought the boy was exaggerating, yet here she is. Good to see you survived your ordeal, miss," the older man with a peaked cap said as he stepped into the tiny cabin. He held his hand out to me. "Captain Foster of theTrevessa, miss."

I took his hand, as I knew was the custom, and swallowed. "Maria, Captain Foster."

"Can you tell us what happened, Maria? How did you come to be floating on that raft in the middle of the ocean? There are no ships reported missing, though with the storms we've seen since we left Fremantle, it's surprising. Were you on a smaller vessel – a yacht, perhaps?" Captain Foster asked.

I looked from one man to the other, wishing I could answer, but I didn't understand a word. Both men seemed to be waiting for me to say something, yet I had no idea what.

Captain Foster coughed. "Half the crew are saying that you're some kind of sea monster, that you murdered everyone aboard your last ship before you sank it and that you'll do the same here. Are you here to kill us all, Maria?"

"Captain!" William roared so loudly that I jumped. "The girl's been through quite an ordeal. I hardly think you should be accusing her of things only a superstitious native would believe."

The captain's voice remained calm. "Yet you're the one shocked, not her. Either she did sink her last ship or the girl doesn't understand a word I just said. You don't speak English, do you, Maria?" His eyes appeared to bore into mine, as if he might extract his answers this way. I stared back calmly. I needed to learn their language so that I could communicate – if only to tell this man that I didn't understand. He cleared his throat. "German, maybe.Fräulein, Sie sind hier, um uns zu töten? Or Dutch -mevrouw, bent u hier om ons te doden?" (Miss, are you here to kill us?)

I understood a little of this and tried to reply. "Niet doden. Levend." (Not dead. Alive.)

Captain Foster burst out laughing. "By God, her Dutch is worse than mine. We pick up a shipwrecked girl and she can't understand a word we say, nor tell us what happened. What do you suggest, McGregor? You fished her up."

"I'll go up against any man who wants to throw her back," William said fiercely.

The captain seemed uncomfortable as he shifted position. "It may come to that. They're a suspicious lot and the fog when we left Fremantle made many of us uneasy. I have a ship to run and no time to protect the girl. This ship is no place for a woman, but while we have one on board..."

"I'll take care of her, captain. After all, I'm just a passenger aboard your ship – what else do I have to do during the voyage? At least she's easy on the eyes and she doesn't say much." William extended his elbow toward me and I stared at it, uncertain of what he wanted. After a moment, he took my hand and laid it on his forearm. "I'll show her the mess, so she knows where to find what passes for food on this tub." Towing me behind him, he led the way along a metal tunnel and up the ladder to where I could hear the clamour of many voices. William smiled at me, tightening his grip on my hand. "Time to introduce you to the rest of the crew, lass. Just flash that pretty smile and you'll enchant them all, same as you have me."

I swallowed and passed through the doorway with him. A few heads turned to stare and silence fell.

"This is Maria, lads. Now, she doesn't say much and we don't think she speaks English, but that's no excuse not to treat her like the lady she is." Benches scraped across the deck as every man in the room rose – more than thirty of them, I guessed. I smiled and inclined my head in response to what I recognised as a gesture of respect. "That's right. She's been through a lot before we found her on that bit of flotsam she used for a raft, so remember your manners and help the lady if she needs it."

One man said something in a low voice, his hands describing enormous breasts in front of his own flat chest. The man beside him guffawed loudly, which drew the attention of many other men.

"Anyone who doesn't show her proper respect will answer to me," William continued, fixing his gaze on the two men who'd made noise.

Silence lasted for a few seconds more before William pulled me toward the back of the room. The scents of what the men were eating intensified with each step toward the source – a counter that held metal pans of unfamiliar food. No, not all. One held..."Beras!" I exclaimed, recognising the rice.

The white-hatted man behind the counter stared at me. "If she eats that, she'll get beri-beri. She needs to eat more of my marmite..." He reached down and produced a large jar filled with the unpleasant paste I'd eaten earlier.

I stared the man in the eye and shook my head. I pointed at the rice.

William laughed and passed me a metal plate. "Allchin, if the lady wants rice, that's what she gets. She might want a taste of your stew, too. I'll take my serving of stew with bread, thank you."

Allchin ladled a thick, lumpy, brown liquid onto William's plate and handed him two slices of bread. I received a mound of rice, which was quickly swamped by a sea of brown liquid. "Looks like the demon's tit, where you're going, McGregor," Allchin said, nodding at my plate. "Christmas Island, paradise for bird crap and crabs."

William laughed again. "I've heard those crabs are good eating. It'll be a damn sight better than your cooking, man." He grabbed some clinking metal things and guided me to the empty end of one table.

With a quick glance at the other men, I climbed onto the bench seat as William sat across from me. His handful of metal implements clattered to the table in front of me and I reached for them, directing a questioning look at William. He nodded and seized one with pointed tines at one end. He stabbed a brown lump on his plate and lifted it to his mouth.

That was fine for him with his plate full of large chunks of food but spearing the rice seemed like an exercise in futility. I looked down the table and was relieved to see a dark-haired man using a tool with a shallow depression on its end to shovel rice and liquid into his mouth. I picked up a spoon and cautiously scraped a little of the food onto it. My hand shook as I lifted it to my mouth.

The texture was mushy and the taste was bland, to say the least. I chewed and swallowed, spooning a slightly larger serving for my next mouthful. This was nothing like the food from home, which I might never taste again. Warm tears spilled down my cheeks and I wiped them away, not wanting to show weakness in front of so many strangers.

"Not as good as home cooking, is it, lass?" William asked, grinning over a large mouthful of food. His eyes held sympathy, as if he could read my thoughts.

I managed to smile, before laboriously continuing with my meal.

"I should get you some tea," William said, rising. I moved to follow him, but he gestured for me to sit down.

He returned with two cups of steaming, red-brown liquid. "Just the way I like it – brewed thick, like it is in the mining office back home. The tea lady used to say that the bottom of the teapot was still tarred by the first leaves when the mine opened, a century ago."

I accepted the cup and lifted it to my lips.

"No, wait! You'll burn yourself if you –" He tried to snatch the cup from my fingers.

Too late. My mouthful of hot liquid burned both my tongue and the roof of my mouth, but I couldn't emit my wail of pain without spitting the tea in William's face. Whimpering, I swallowed, feeling the heat slide down my throat. Betrayed, I stared at William. Had he intended to hurt me?

His stricken expression told me the answer, followed by his anguished tone as he said, "Did you hurt yourself? I'm so sorry. I didn't realise you wouldn't know what to do with tea. Here, you sip it slowly, like this." He lifted his own cup and slurped a small amount of liquid. I scanned his face for signs of distress or pain, but there was none. "You try it." He took another tiny sip.

I cautiously grasped my cup again and brought it to my mouth with both shaking hands. Slowly, I tipped it so that a tiny trickle hit my tongue. Now it didn't burn me – but I could taste the foul brew. It was like drinking diluted mangrove mud. I think I preferred the burn to the taste. Yet, in the face of William's desperate expression, I drank it anyway and was rewarded by his nervous smile.

"My mum always said a cup of tea could soothe all the troubles in the world. No matter how far from home we are, at least there's tea," he said.

"Tea?" I enquired, pointing at our cups.

William grinned. "An important word to remember, lass. Where there's tea, there's civilisation."

Trying not to grimace, I drank the stuff, wondering what kind of backward people willingly drank river mud.

 

 

Four

Once dinner was over, William escorted me back to my cabin. I noticed he braced his arms against the bulkheads as he walked, to maintain his balance as the ship moved in the stormy swell, and I found myself doing the same. The ship's motion made my stomach queasy, but the feeling soon passed as I learned to move with the ship. After all, my tiny raft had moved far more in the waves and I'd managed to sleep on that. I hummed quietly to myself as we walked, feeling my body relax further as the soothing song did its work.

When we reached my cabin, William closed the door and turned to face me. His face seemed paler than before. He covered his mouth quickly, as if he were attempting to mask the sound of his belch. "Beg pardon, lass." He swallowed a couple of times before he continued, "The captain and I agreed that it'd be best if I stayed here tonight. For your safety, of course."

Between his troubled expression, darkened eyes and rigid stance, I found grounds for a strong premonition of danger. Something was wrong and I didn't trust this stranger enough. I pointed at him, then extended my arm toward the door. "Go," I said.

He stood firm, shaking his head. "No go. Whether you like it or not, lass, you won't budge me. You'll be sleeping in the upper bunk tonight and I'll take the one below you." His pointed finger stabbed at me, the upper bunk, himself and the lower bunk, while his angry eyes challenged me.

I held his gaze for a few long seconds, before deciding to scramble up the ladder to the top bunk. I stretched out on the thin mattress, suddenly realising how tired I was. The ship moved in the waves, rocking me like a mother would a fretful baby. I opened my eyes to find William watching me.

"Rest, Maria. I swear you have nothing to fear from me. I'll be a right gentleman, here below you." With slow, deliberate movements, he lay down on the lower bunk, where I'd been sleeping only a few hours before. "I know you don't know a thing about me, but I'd change that if I could. How about I tell you a little about myself? Let me know if you grow bored, lass." His voice became gentler and more reflective.

Deciding I must have imagined the risk, I relaxed. I was hardly helpless – as he'd find out if he did pose a danger to me. In the meantime, I'd conserve my energy and listen to his melodic voice.

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