The Doldrums: the Sailor and the Virgin Ch. 12

Amateur

Chapter 12

A cock in the hand is worth two in the bush

Author’s note: Several months ago, I left off this story after chapter 9. Thanks to the encouraging reader feedback, the muse has returned, and I have finished the story.

*

They fled the nightmare of the city.

The Singing Selkie proved herself a nimble and true boat, surging out into the brisk fall night, fast leaving the lights of Toronto behind them. There be a good northerly wind, and Liam ran the Selkie eastward along the north shore of the lake on a fast beam reach, with naught but the stars for illumination. His eyes frequently searched the darkness behind them, but he saw no sign of light or motion, and heard no sound of engines to suggest that they were being pursued.

He had urged Anya to go below and sleep, but she would have none of it. She was huddled in the forward corner of the cockpit, leaning against the cabin. He had succeeded at least in removing the cold, damp pea coat and trousers from her, wrapping her in the ulster and a blanket, and putting a pair of his long drawers upon her. They be so big upon her that the legs covered her feet — and happily so, for she was without shoes or stockings. ‘Twas too dark to tell whether or nay she slept at all. No words were spoken between them.

He felt his exhaustion, but tense with fear and fight, he remained vigilant. For miles he stood behind the wheel, his senses attuned to the sounds and motion of the water, the wind, and the boat. After several hours, the horizon in front of them started to glow pink, and the sun rose. The Selkie be alone upon the shimmering grey water. By and by his fatigue started to press through, and he found himself pinching his wrists and shaking his head to stay awake. Calculating in his mind, he ken where they be — there be a cove nearby in which he had sheltered last year during a gale. ‘Twas a natural cove, not a port town — an apt refuge, so it was.

“Anya,” he called softly. “We’re going to be changing course — I dinna want ye to fall off the seat.”

She stirred, her pale face and big brown eyes emerging from the blanket wrapped round her. Blinking at the rising sun, she sat up.

“Are ye well, love?”

She stared out over the water and nodded.

Turning the wheel, Liam pointed the Selkie northward, and they started tacking back and forth to the mouth of the cove. In the shelter of the pine covered bluff, the wind eased. Finding a spot out of sight of the lake, he had Anya hold the wheel while he dropped the sails, letting gravity assist, where his broken ribs could not. Likewise the anchor. For the first time in his life upon boats, he did not furl the sails; so exhausted he be, he simply left them crumpled upon the deck where they fell.

He guided Anya below. The cabins were in disarray from Strachan’s search, but apart from the sheet from his berth, he found nothing else missing — ’twas evident that their intrusion had had a clear intent. Taking a sheet from another cabin, he made his berth, adding additional blankets, and boosted Anya in. She slid groggily over as he undressed and climbed in. Within minutes they were both gone in sleep. Sleep…a sleep so profound that they scarce moved…dreaming not…and waking not till the sun set and rose twice more.

As Liam gradually regained consciousness, he was first aware of the gentle lapping sound of water upon the hull, then felt the shimmer of sunlight through his eyelids. Opening them, he found himself warm in his own berth upon the Selkie, and was briefly confused. Then it all came back to him. He turned his head quickly — and caught his breath at the pain in his throat. Anya was there beside him, safe, sleeping — the blankets pulled up to her nose. His eyes closed and he breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Silently he slipped from the berth and dressed. His entire body protested in pain from the sequelae of his encounter with Strachan. The bruise upon his chest was wider and deep purple, and bruises were now visible along his temple, shoulder, and flank where he had been kicked, and upon his neck from the cane. His wrists were abraded and purple. In addition to the cuts upon his arm, he saw lacerations upon his scalp and eyebrow. He located the jar of balm and applied some to his injured flesh to stave off corruption.

Crawling stiffly topsides, he found the Selkie peaceful, alone in the cove — but with the sails haphazardly piled upon the deck. Had he left her that way? He couldn’t remember. ‘Twas afternoon, he saw, but what day was it? How long had they been asleep? In defiance of his sore body, he put himself to work, slow going though it be. He boiled water, made tea, and ate bread and butter, taking a dose of willow bark tincture with it. Cutting strips from rags, he bound his chest to splint against the pain of the broken ribs. On deck he furled the sails and coiled sheets and halyards, frustrated at the slow, painful work.

Presently Escort Sincan he paused to sit upon the cockpit coaming, forcing himself to take deep breaths, coughing a little. Pneumonia be the last thing he needed now. He scanned the wooded shoreline, then brought out the spyglass to rescan it, but found no evidence of human activity.

Suddenly there was movement in the main cabin — Anya be awake. Going below, he found her standing by the library bookcase, staring at it. Nay, not quite at it, more like through it. She was wearing his long drawers and Nicholas’ shirt, both overlarge upon her petite body; she held the waistband of the drawers up. Her long dark hair was tumbled about her face and shoulders. So faraway was she that she started when he touched her arm, her frightened eyes registering his presence. “Are ye well, lass?” he asked, his voice hoarse from his battered voice box. Mutely she nodded.

He put the kettle on to make tea, then returned to stand before her; she stood unmoving, her eyes downcast. Stroking her hair gently, he looked down at her tenderly. Her lip was still swollen, with a bruise next to her mouth. Examining her wrists, he saw that the abrasions were better, but he put balm upon them nevertheless. “Are ye hurting? Let’s check your other wounds,” he murmured, getting down upon a knee before her and reaching for the waistband of the drawers.

All at once she shrank back from him, clutching tightly at the drawers, her big brown eyes welling with tears. Bewildered, he stared up at her for a moment, then briefly dropped his head, chastened. Rising to his feet, he retreated to the galley to prepare her tea. “I’m sorry Anya,” he rasped. “I didn’t mean to…” He brought the tea to her at the dining settee and watched as she wrapped her hands round the warm cup and stared into the steam. Putting some willow bark tincture in water, he gave her that cup too. He tried to find a banal topic of conversation with which to more pleasantly engage them, but he struggled, and his throat felt raw. At last he said he would be up on deck if she needed him.

The sun set as he slowly walked up and down the deck in thought. They needed to keep moving, as far away from Toronto as possible. As soon as he could raise the sails they would leave this hiding place. In the meantime, he would put his mind to getting their strength back forthwith, both his and hers.

He examined the companionway doors; the wood was splintered round the lock where Strachan’s men had broken in. He would have to repair them to have some sense of security. Soon darkness fell, and he went below to the galley.

He made a simple, but nourishing supper for them. Anya scarce touched her food — she simply sat and stared into the distance; he found himself repeatedly urging her to eat, at which she took a few bites, before her attention drifted away once more. After supper he found a book filled with Audubon color plates of birds and placed it upon the table before her. Sitting beside her, he opened the book and showed her some of his favorite drawings, hoping to provide her a diversion from her troubled thoughts. She spoke not, but the book seemed to draw her curiosity. As she turned slowly through the pages, he brought the chart book over so that he could be near her as he studied the chart of Lake Ontario and began plotting a course to the east. They sat thus occupied for some time; her eyes frequently drifting far away, then eventually returning to the book.

By and by, he started yawning and suggested they retire. He would check up on deck, then be down in a few minutes, he told her. But when he returned from his inspection, his cabin and the main cabin be empty. Confused, he noticed the light on in the forward cabin that she had previously occupied. He found her there, clad in her nightgown and the ulster, trying to put the bedding to rights. She stopped when he stepped in. “Do ye want to sleep here tonight?” he asked, endeavoring to conceal his disappointment. He must not press her — none could fault her for fearing all of mankind at this juncture. She nodded without looking at him. Inwardly he sighed…how he yearned to simply embrace her and comfort her…instead he had to content himself with assisting her with the bedding, lending the longer reach of his arms to the task of straightening the blanket. He lit the kerosene heater. After bringing her another blanket, he retired to his own cabin.

Sleep eventually overcame his vague sense of disquiet. But in the wee hours of the night he was suddenly startled awake by muffled sounds of screaming. He scrambled out of the berth and to her cabin. Anya was screaming and tossing back and forth in the berth, kicking her feet and clawing at her belly. “Anya!” He shook her. “Anya, wake up! ‘Tis Liam.” He stilled her flailing limbs, gathering her against his chest as she came to. She whimpered as he rocked her gently. “‘Twas naught but a dream, love. Ye be safe here Sincan Escort with me.” Heedless of his sore ribs, he scooped her up and carried her small shaking body in the white nightgown across the main cabin to his berth. “In with ye, lass,” he said in a soft, hoarse voice, laying her upon the mattress. She cowered back further into the berth when he climbed in, naked. He kept to his side, but found her hand under the covers and squeezed it. “Ye be safe now, Anya,” he murmured. “I’ll nay let any man ever harm ye again.”

*****

They passed the next several days in the hidden cove. During the day, he worked upon deck, his pace slowed by his painful ribs. He disassembled the companionway doors to salvage the hinges and lock, then set about making new doors using planks of wood. Over the next few days, these were assembled, sanded, and varnished.

He lowered the dinghy upon the davits, working the block at one side, then the other till the little boat was in the water. Climbing in, he stood gazing at the bold, scrolled “The Singing Selkie” upon the transom. Some two years ago he had painted that himself, so proud he was to be the owner of this beautiful boat. Now he whitewashed over it; later in the day he added a second coat. The following day, he was back in the dinghy with a small can of black paint. He thought for a moment, staring at the blank white transom, then shrugged. He painted “Grace” where the other name had been. “You’ll be my Selkie again someday, me girl,” he promised the boat.

As he worked, he kept a close eye upon Anya. She continued in her trance-like state, listless, gazing off into the distance with her big eyes. For most of the waking hours, she sat upon the cabin top with the Audubon book he had given her — sometimes looking at it, most mostly just hugging it to her chest. At his urging, she had put her trousers on over his long drawers, such that the too long, flapping legs covered her bare feet to keep them warm. “We’ll get ye some boots at the first port we come to, so we will,” he told her. Upon several occasions, he asked her for help in his work, and she responded readily, albeit mutely, holding a board here or a tool there as directed.

They spoke little. ‘Twas not till the second night when she retired to the forward cabin that Liam heard her voice again — when she thanked him in a soft whisper for his offer of hot water for bathing — and realized that her voice be as impaired as his, hers from screaming.

Liam made hearty meals to fortify their recuperation, starting with the perishable provisions, but Anya ate little, despite his repeated encouragement to “nek it, lass” as she stared at a forkful of food. His worry mounted at the sight of her increasingly pale and haunted face.

Her nightmares returned the second night she slept in the forward cabin, and Liam, woken by her screams, again shook her awake and soothed her — again brought her back to his berth and held her hand — held her hand for she struggled and whimpered when he tried to take her in his arms. He sang softly to her in Gaelic — songs his grandmother used to sing to him when a wee lad — till she fell asleep. After the third time it happened, she stayed in his cabin. The nightmares did not stop after that, but seemed to come less frequently. On a few occasions, ’twas he who was shaken awake by her as he kicked and swung his fists in his sleep; he sat up, sweating and gazing at Anya in relief.

But although she now shared his cabin, she remained shy of him, retreating to the forward cabin to dress, undress, and bathe. Moreover, when he undressed, she would turn away in the berth, or, if standing, would avert her eyes and slip from the cabin.

In the meantime, their physical wounds were on the mend. The bruises were turning from blue-green to yellow, and the open skin had sealed. Liam was glad to see the swelling abate in her lip and the marks upon her wrists start to fade. He knew not the status of the cane marks, as she be so guarded now about her modesty. As the pain in his chest lessened, Liam started to test himself upon the halyard: the mainsail was the heaviest and he attempted to raise it first. The first several days, the pain thwarted him, but upon the seventh day after he had woken in the little cove, he was able to hoist it to the top of the mast. They sailed out onto the lake that day.

Heading east, they sailed every day for as long as the sun was up. When the sun set, Liam would find an anchorage in which to stay the night. He saw several other boats upon the lake, and inspected them through the spyglass. They appeared to be fishing boats, and certainly made no attempt to approach or follow the Selkie. As he outlined to Anya, the plan be to leave Lake Ontario, lest they be caught in the winter freeze; they would head out to the Atlantic via the Saint Lawrence River.

Liam brooded over Anya’s continued melancholia — nay, that be not the proper term. True enough, Sincan Escort Bayan she was not happy, but none could say whether or nay she be sad. The lass he knew simply was absent from the shell of her body, and the ghost that silently traveled with him weighed heavily upon his protective heart. He faulted her not: he ken that the shock to her mind that terrible night was likely incalculable. He had to remember that she was not like him. Growing up in a county in Ireland rife with sectarian violence, and seeing his share of combat in the navy — both on duty and ashore — he was a man acclimatized to violence. Anya, on the other hand, be a wee lass raised in a sheltered environment, who very suddenly and brutally had been confronted with the depth of depravity to which men’s lust could drive them.

He began to wonder if he had done the right thing — taking her with him from Toronto. Should he have delivered her and Nicholas into the care of their aunt and uncle, after the danger from Strachan and the stepfather existed no more? Let her recuperate in comfortable, familiar surroundings, then someday, fate willing, return to pursue her affections? His mind reacted defensively to this train of thought, for deep down, he ken that his motives were not entirely devoid of self-interest. Underneath the veneer of domestication, he be a virile male animal, hungry to claim this prize female for himself. That didn’t put him on par with Strachan and her stepfather, did it? By Christ, he be a better man than that!

And what kind of man would he be if he had fled Toronto and left her there to face the interrogations of the police on her own? Or should they have not fled at all, but have gone together to the police to explain the events of the night? Not bloody likely! Being whelped an Irishman, he had no confidence in the integrity of the police in general, and the Toronto force in particular had amply validated his opinion. Nay — he be convinced he had made the right proper decision.

Thus it was that three days after departing the hidden cove, the Selkie arrived in Kingston. After breakfast, they made ready to go ashore. Liam looked at Anya: she was dressed in the lad’s kit with his pea coat and a pair of his socks covering her feet. Her lip had full healed. “Here, put your hair up in this,” he said, his voice box by this stage now recovered. He gave her his wool cap. He ken not what to expect ashore — whether there might be police searching for them — a lass in trousers might draw too much notice. Obediently she pinned her hair up and donned the cap, looking as she did the day he met her.

He rowed them in the dinghy from the anchorage to the town landing, where he helped her onto the dock. Turning round, he crouched slightly and bade her climb upon his back. “Ye canna walk about in just socks. Ye might hurt your foot.” Her hesitant hands touched his shoulders. “Aye, that’s it. Hold fast round my neck.” He scooped up her legs under the knees and carried her piggyback. His ribs twinged a bit, but ’twas well worth it to once again feel her body against his, albeit against his back. He could feel her warmth, her breath upon his nape, and the squeeze of her arms and legs round him. As he walked, he imagined that with her thighs thus open, her little mound might be bump-bumping against his back, and the thought gave him a happy thrill.

The first stop was the general store. Here he found stockings and boots for her; she sat wordlessly as he knelt before her and laced them up. Next he guided her over to the clothing. “Which will it be? Lad’s clothes or lass’s?” He looked down at her wan face. Her eyes went from one rack to the other, seeming lost. “‘Twill be easier to move about the boat in lad’s clothes,” he suggested. In the absence of a reply, he went to the men’s and boy’s rack. Two pairs of trousers and two shirts he selected, less oversized than her current garb.

Going over his mental list, he paused and addressed her in a soft voice. “Do ye…do ye want anything for under?” He was uncertain; he doubted she would want a corset, given that she had gone without when she’d had the opportunity to do so during the voyage to Toronto. But the cloth of the shirts be a little rough — would it rub too harshly upon her nipples? He tried to clarify. “For under, to protect your…” he waved his hands vaguely in front of his chest, his face starting to turn red. Small spots of color appeared upon her cheeks too. He quickly ushered her to the ladies’ clothes. His large fingers fumbled as he picked up several flimsy white cotton garments from a shelf and held them up for her to see, till she nodded slightly at a camisole. He grabbed a couple and added them to their pile.

As they were heading for the front counter, he spied a coat that seemed perfect for her. Both of his coats, pea coat and ulster, were so large upon her as to hamper her movements. This be a coat for a lass — warm grey wool, nipped in at the waist and flaring in a short peplum below. Black braiding formed decorative scrolling upon the front, forming loops for two rows of shining brass buttons. “Try this,” he urged. Happily it fit. How comely she looked, like a wee maid army officer — it made him grin.

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