A Daring Rescue and A Parting of Friends

Apparently I am in the way and the crew desires me to entertain myself elsewhere, so I shall oblige them, being much more courteous to them than most of them have been to me, and will now put down the events of yesterday’s rescue in my diary, Dear Reader. What happened was this:

As I bundled myself up for my morning exercise yesterday, Mr. Miller communicated to me that we were nearly out of the sandstorm. He advised me, however, to put on my wrap and coat and goggles, as we were not clear yet. Having done so, I accompanied him out onto the deck, where it is true the wind was not as bad as it had been before. I was more silent than usual on our walk for a multitude of reasons--our impending landing in Franklin Bay, what I had learned of Zeb--Mr. Mill--oh, hang it! Zebediah the night before, and what Zebediah himself had "said" to me on our walk when he took my arm to help me up the stairs to my cabin--and Zebediah... well, he was as silent as he always is. Somehow, though, the silence seemed rather more companionable than it had previously. Mr. Miller was the only person on the Royal Erebos that did not make me feel like a captive or a nuisance, or, worse, entertainment.

As we were returning to my cabin, the wind stopped as suddenly as if someone had shut off a switch. We could see blue sky all around us, (except for behind us where the storm still raged) and the bright sun overhead. Mr. Miller smiled, and I laughed at the sheer joy of not having grit blown into my teeth and up my nose every second I was on the deck.

As suddenly as the wind had stopped, another dirigible appeared not far from our starboard side, about on a level with us. Apparently we had not been able to see it in the storm, though it had been quite close. The Erebos swung wildly to port, and we lost altitude as well. I cried out and clung to Zebediah’s arm; he steadied me, and looked around frantically, eyes falling on the other dirigible. Upon the sight of it, he began urging me back to my cabin, holding my elbow, and gesturing for me to hurry. “What is the matter?” I asked. He shook his head. “Is it that other ship? Must we get away from it?” A nod.

I was torn, then. These bad men, this bad ship, would surely flee only the law, and only if they had something to hide. I suspected the cargo carried in the hold had something to do with it, but thought that I might play a part as well. And while I did want to be rescued and Captain Belleclaire to get what he deserved, I was also rather frightened. I suppose I was caught up in the moment, carried away by Zebediah’s fear of capture and the wild swerving of the ship.

Either way, it was clear that I must return to my cabin. Zebediah all but pushed me inside, and the last I saw of him was a very worried expression as he shut my door and locked it.

Nothing happened for several minutes, so I took off my wrap and goggles and hung up the heavy leather coat. I sat on my bed and waited, trying not to chew my nails. Then there was a great THUMP that shook the whole ship, and shouting down on the deck. I looked out my little window, but there was nothing to see but the blur of greyish-tan that was the end of the sandstorm, and tiny specks of black and green and blue below, marking out I know not what: cities, fields, and lakes I suppose.

Then a strong, male voice boomed out as if over a huge speaker, “Stop, in the name of the law!” (Just like in the sequential picture books!) I heard footsteps, with my ear pressed against my door. There was Captain Belleclaire’s voice, and Reva’s, and that of the second mate, all arguing with two other male voices. I thought, then, that we had been boarded, though I wondered how one walks from one ship to another so far up in the sky. (I soon found out, and shall tell you.)

“...weren’t running,” Captain Belleclaire’s voice said, coming nearer my door. “It is only that I suddenly realized, once we were out of the storm, that we had overshot our target, that is to say, flown too far.”

“I see,” said another voice, one unfamiliar to me. “And where are you headed?”

The captain named a city I had never heard of, and the other voice ordered someone named Jacobs to check the itinerary of the Erebos. “One other question for you, Captain Belleclaire,” said the voice, which was now quite close to my door. I stepped back, trembling with fear and excitement. These could be my rescuers!

“I shall answer anything it is in my power to answer,” Belleclaire said, his voice dripping with obsequiousness.

“What is the meaning of the distress signals on both the stern and bow of your ship?” My heart leapt. Someone had seen them!

“Distress signals? I am not aware of any of my crew sending distress signals.” Belleclaire sounded nervous. I smiled.

“One is written just outside a small window at the bow of the ship, painted onto the wood, it seems. The other,” I heard footsteps striding up to my door, “is displayed in the window of this room!” My doorknob moved slightly, but did not turn. “Why is this door locked, Captain?”

“That is... my niece,” said Belleclaire. “She is unwell, if you take my meaning. We are bringing her to hospital. I thought it best we keep her door locked, so she did not do any harm to herself while aboard.”

Infuriated, I stormed back up to the door and shouted through it, “I am not his niece! My name is Bernice Sophronia Philomena Greenwater and I have been kidnapped by--”

There was shouting outside, and my voice was drowned out. I heard bits and pieces: “for her own good!” and “right now, or I swear I’ll,” and “no right to search my...!” And then everything got very quiet and I heard Belleclaire say softly, “No need for that, good fellow, I shall be perfectly cooperative. Here is the key, unlock the door as you wish.” The key turned, my door swung open. I stepped back, looked up, and saw...

Dear Reader, I think I must have swooned! The next thing I remember, I was lying on my bed, moaning and holding the side of my head. There was a bit of a crowd inside, and when I sat up, between heads and shoulders, I saw Zebediah near the open door, arms crossed over his chest, looking very concerned. Then I saw who was standing at the head of my bed, and nearly swooned again! It was Jack Winters, more wonderful than I can ever have imagined him!

“Miss Belleclaire?” he asked, bending over me a little.

“Hello!” I cried, beaming up at him.

“Yes, hello,” he said, frowning. “Are you all right?”

“I’m perfectly lovely! That is to say, wonderful. It’s such a pleasure to meet you!” I held out my hand, and he took it, looking bemused but also a little awkward. Jack Winters held my hand!

“Thank you, lovely to meet you as well,” he murmured. I realized, belatedly, that he was trying to extract his hand, and immediately let go. “Now, is this man your uncle?” he asked, and gestured to Belleclaire, who was standing behind him.

I glared at the captain. “No, he most certainly is not,” I said firmly. “He had me kidnapped and is bringing me to Franklin Bay on the orders of a man he will not name. And also I think you should check the hold, for I’ve reason to believe that he--”

“Yes, Miss,” Jack Winters said. “We’ve found the dye and the gunpowder.” My eyes widened; I had not known it was that bad! “Both will be confiscated, I assure you.”

“And you’ve come to rescue me? You saw my S.O.S.?”

Belleclaire laughed. “Silly girl!” he said, as if speaking to a small child or a particularly stupid puppy. “You are not kidnapped! We are going on holiday, remember? To the nice place in the country!” To Jack, he added, “I told you she was a little, you know,” he tapped the side of his head.

“I am not!” I cried, standing up. That made me a little wobbly, and I held the side of my head again, trying to regain my balance. I felt a hand steadying my elbow, and looked over to see Zebediah beside me, his face impassive. “I am not mad,” I said, glaring at Belleclaire. “I was taken onto this ship against my will, and I very much wish to leave it!”

Before the captain could say a word, Jack Winters turned to face him. “You have already proven yourself untrustworthy by lying about what we would find in your hold,” he said. “I think this young lady should come with me.”

I stepped forward, overjoyed. “Do you mean it, sir?” I asked breathlessly.

“I do,” he said. “ Gather your things.” I did so, with all haste; all I had was my case containing my personal effects, the lovely grey wool coat Belleclaire had given me, the clothes I had worn onto the ship, and the ones currently on my back. I put on the coat and held the case in one hand, the sack with my old clothes in the other.

“I think the captain here should join us,” said Jack Winters. “I have a few more questions to ask him.” He nodded at his men, who came forward to stand on either side of Belleclaire. But before they could take hold of his arms, silver flashed through the air, and they both cried out in pain. I saw Reva with her sword held high and dripping red, a terrifying grin on her face. One of the men fell to the floor, and the other doubled over when Belleclaire brought his knee up into the man’s stomach. A gun fired and I screamed, then was hurried out of the room. I did not realize it was Zebediah that had me until we were stumbling down the stairs onto the deck.

Again, I was terribly torn. Zebediah was my friend, yet he served Captain Belleclaire, my captor. And Winters and his crew had come to rescue me, so I could not go with Mr. Miller. “No!” I cried, “let me go!” I pulled away, but his grip on my arm did not loosen as he pulled me toward the hatch to bring me below deck. “I must go with them, you have to understand!” I shouted, but still he tugged at me.

I fell limp and heavy onto the deck, not knowing what else to do. It was, surprisingly, more difficult to pull me along now that I was not resisting, but lying passively. But he hooked his arms beneath mine from behind and carried me backwards toward the hatch. I kicked and thrashed, and I am ashamed to say that for a moment I saw him only as a pirate who stood in the way of my freedom. Up near my cabin, swords were flashing, shots ringing out. The air was full of gun smoke and shouting, and I could not tell which side was winning and which was losing.

“Let her go!” shouted a man with bright red hair and beard, over a foot taller than me and more than twice as wide, though all muscle. He had a pistol aimed at Zebediah, who froze. I regained my feet and stood, trembling, between him and the man from Winters’ crew. “Please,” I whispered, though I am still not sure with whom I was pleading. Zebediah, to let me go, or the redheaded man (Jacobs, the Tourbillion’s first mate, I later learned) to spare him.

For a moment that seemed like an eternity, all was silent. I took a breath in and let it out. I felt Zebediah’s hands gripping my arms, felt his neck cloth brush my cheek. Jacobs pulled the hammer of his pistol back. I felt Zebediah shift his weight.

A loud BANG made me jump, and the next thing I knew, Zebediah had let go of me. “No!” I screamed, dropping both my parcels and whirling around. Blood, oh, the blood! The sight of so much red on his white clothes terrified me beyond anything I have ever known. I do not remember falling to my knees, but I must have, for next I was holding his hand, staring at the wound in his shoulder, and sobbing. “Why, why could you not have let me go?” I cried. “It is your own fault, you know, you...” I could not speak further until he pulled his hand from my grasp and reached up to touch my cheek. “Zebediah,” I whispered, and I think he must have heard me despite the chaos going on all around us, for he smiled.

“I am sorry,” I told him, though I do not know what I had to apologise for. “I am sorry.” His wound was gushing blood, and I realized how stupid I had been not to stop it up with something. I looked around but saw only my bag of clothes. Not thinking of anything other than that Zebediah’s bleeding must be stopped, I pulled out the first thing--my crumpled white blouse--and pressed it to his shoulder. He winced, but put his hand over mine where I held it, pressing down even though it hurt him.

Two more shots rang out very near, and I ducked, but we were left alone for the time being. It seemed to cause him pain, but he lifted his arm (the one that had not been shot, of course) and placed his fingers lightly over my heart, a look of infinite tenderness in his eyes, even more shockingly blue than usual since his face was so very pale. “Oh, do not say such a thing,” I begged. “You were--are--a great friend to me, and that you must remain.” I think something in my eyes must have betrayed me, though, for he pressed his fingertips more firmly there, looking at me earnestly and again seeming as though he longed to speak.

(I blush to even think it, but I have never had a man’s hand so close to that womanly part of my body, though I was not thinking such at the time, having other things on my mind.)

“Let’s go!” Winters shouted above the din. Someone grabbed my bag from my side, and I felt myself yanked to my feet by someone of great strength. “Come on,” Jacobs boomed in my ear. My bag was thrust into my arms, and I leaned down to pick up my case, but I never looked away from Zebediah til I was hustled too far away from him, and smoke and running people obscured him from my view. I slipped on a pool of blood once, but did not fall. Then I was on a sort of narrow wooden walkway between the ships, with metal rails on either side, thank goodness. I noticed that a pair of clamps had been extended from the Tourbillion and latched onto the Erebos to steady the crossing, but once I was aboard and Jacobs jumped down behind me, the clamps were loosened, the walkway retracted, and the Tourbillion pulled up suddenly, the sound of gunfire ringing out behind us.

I was hurried to Jack’s cabin and left to rest and recover. I am not ashamed to say that I sobbed like a baby for some time, and in writing the account again today, have shed many tears onto these pages, too. It seemed rather exciting in retrospect, but I would not want to live that hour again for anything in the world.

That is enough for today, I think. I must put this away for a time, lest I be overcome again. Goodnight, Dear Reader.

No comments:

All content appearing on this blog belongs solely to Heather Layne, 2008.