11.10.2008

A New Look and A Useless Conversation

I still have very few answers about what is happening to me, Dear Reader, but perhaps some amount of hope. When I woke this morning, I had a plan, but could not implement it til the nighttime. It was agony, thinking about it all day and being unable to do anything about it, but at last it is done. Now I hope and pray that it will work!

Not long after Captain Belleclaire left my room yesterday, a woman entered without knocking, and so quietly that I was startled by her when I turned around, having been fixing my hair in the tiny mirror on the wall after putting on the fine clothes brought for me.

"Goodness!" I exclaimed, putting a hand over my heart. "You startled me. Are you a captive here too?" I asked, no other thought in my mind since she was a woman.

"I am first mate," she said in an unusual accent. Her long black hair was coiled up in several braids and buns at the back of her head. There was a ring in one side of her nose, a couple in her eyebrows, and many in each ear, all the way up the sides. Her eyes were thickly lined in black, which was drawn out into points beyond the outer corner of her eyes, and she was dressed in a loose silk dress of various lovely jewel tones; beneath it I could see a matching pair of what appeared to be silk bloomers. Her skin was a dark olive, and she wore a red dot on her forehead, above the bridge of her nose. She was barefoot, and carried both a pistol and a sword on a belt strapped across her chest.

"I am to dye your hair now," she said abruptly, and came toward me.

"What? No, you're not dying my hair!" I backed up against the wall, then moved down the length of it as she advanced. She had a bowl in her hand full of some sort of dark green paste, and in the other hand she had a little jar, and a towel.

"I am," she said calmly, her expression never changing. "Captain's orders. Sit."

I realized, then, what was going on. "You're disguising me!" I cried. "The clothes, now my hair. Who do you think will recognize me up here in the middle of nowhere?"

"We cannot be too careful. Now sit." She put the things down on the table and reached out for my shoulder, but I twisted away and backed up quickly. I wasn't sure if she had locked the door when she came in, and I was inching toward it. "Do not try it, girl," she barked, and I flinched, not expecting the shout. "The captain gave me leave to restrain you, if necessary." She grimaced, showing her teeth, and drew out a length of rope seemingly from nowhere. Belatedly, I realized the horrid expression was her idea of a grin.

"I'm not having green hair," I insisted, still inching toward the door even as she came slowly closer.

"It will not dye your hair green," the woman said, sounding disgusted with me. "It will become a dark red."

"I don't want red hair, either."

"That is not up to you. Now sit!" She stretched the rope out between her hands, drawing it taught, and lunged at me.

"All right, all right!" I cried, cowering. I had not forgotten, after all, the pistol and the sword. "Will it hurt?"

She snorted. "Will it hurt," she muttered. "Of course it will not hurt, stupid girl! Does your hair have feeling? Sit."

I sat, and allowed her to unpin my hair so it fell down to the middle of my back. She draped the towel over my shoulders, I assume to protect my clothing from the dye, then began painting the strong-smelling paste onto my hair with a thick brush. The jar she'd brought contained something that was both sticky and oily--this she first smoothed along the skin at my hairline, and said it would prevent the dye from staining my skin.

"I do not know your name," I said quietly after she had worked for some time.

"Reva," she said simply.

"Is that your given name, or your surname?"

"Given name, as you would say."

"I feel I cannot call you that. What is your surname, please?"

"You would only mangle it," she said, sounding more and more frustrated.

"I can try."

She sighed, and pronounced it for me.

She was right. I cannot even write the sound of it here. I fell silent and she continued to work on my hair.

Eventually, she pulled open the little curtain obscuring my tiny window.

"Oh, please don't!" I cried, for this was part of my plan. "I'm deathly afraid of heights and cannot bear to look out!"

"Your back is to the window."

"But I know it is there!"

She sighed again, as if the weight of the world was upon her shoulders. "I need the light. Close your eyes if it makes you feel better. I will not argue this further." I noticed, however, that she closed the curtain again after she finished.

"Do not move about, and do not touch it," she said when she was done, and my hair was piled atop my head, stuck to itself with the green paste. "It will stain your clothes and skin if in contact with either for but a moment. I will return in a few hours to wash it out." She left without another word, and I tried the door just in case, again to no avail.

I re-read the periodicals from my case, but did not dare try writing here in case that should disturb my hair. Eventually, Reva returned and rinsed my hair again and again with a pitcher full of water, with me bent over a basin and holding my breath so water did not go up my nose. I combed my hair out after it had been dried with a fresh towel, and then my supper arrived, which I devoured. A man with a shiny bald head and nondescript cream-coloured clothes delivered my breakfast to day and both dinner and supper yesterday, and said not a word the entire time, no matter how I questioned him. Very peculiar.

The captain returned to my room after supper last night, as he said he would, just as I was finishing pinning my hair up in its usual braid wrapped around the coil at the center back of my head. "It suits you," he said, noting my new hair colour.

I did not reply, only stared at him, hoping to convey how I felt about being forced to change my hair colour. It was previously a very nice shade of dark brown, I thought. It looked like my mother's hair, and now it was different, and that affected me in a way I cannot even put into words.

"Come." He gestured toward the open door, which he held open. "Run if you must," he said, and it was like he read my mind though I had not moved, "but know that you cannot go far. You are on this ship, for better or worse, until we reach our destination. There is no where you can hide that my men will not find you, and if you do anything so drastic as to throw yourself off the edge, it will be a lot of trouble for everyone, so save the dramatics, hm?"

I set my jaw firmly and looked him in the eye, then strolled past him and onto the open deck. It was very cold, but he settled a wool coat over my shoulders before I could even wrap my arms around myself. "Thank you," I muttered, and slid my arms through the sleeves.

"Would you like to see the view?" he asked, apparently intent on making small talk until he got to the heart of the matter.

"I am terribly afraid of heights," I lied, for one of my favourite places to get away from everything at the orphanage was to climb out the window of the dormitory and onto the little patch of roof before it, leaning against the slope and watching the people in the street below. If I was in a very bad mood, I would throw down pebbles.

"I am sorry to hear that," he chuckled. "We shall stay here, then, I suppose." He folded his arms and leaned back against the wall, looking out over the railing which was some twenty feet before us.

The night was mostly clear, with a few clouds on the horizon ahead of us. The sky above was deepest black, and scattered with stars like diamonds on velvet; it is a wonder to me how anyone can tell their way by such things, which all look the same to me. I heard, as always, the distant hum of the engines powering the propellers, and a shouted command now and then for the men to lower this or raise that or shift the something-else. The captain explained to me a little of how his ship worked, but I have forgotten most of it, having been going over my plan while he spoke.

"We are going East," he said at last. "As far East as one can go without reaching the ocean. To Franklin Bay, in fact, right next to the capital."

"Why?" I asked, wondering if I could even trust what he told me as the truth. "There is no one that will pay ransom for me. I have no family, no friends, even, having left behind all I have ever known a little over a week ago. I am an orphan, and have no redeeming qualities, nor anything of value. Why have you taken me?"

Something about my speech apparently amused him, for he stood for a moment trying to hide his smile beneath his thick mustache. "You do have redeeming qualities," he murmured, and I drew back a little, thinking he must mean what all villains think of pretty young ladies in their power. But he went on to say, "And that is why we are delivering you to.... our boss. He has a special interest in you, and in what you can do."

"What... I can do?" I echoed. "What would that be?" I was not as accomplished as many young ladies are, nor even as much so as some of the girls from Saint Anne's. I could neither sing nor play the pianoforte very well. My embroidery was sub-par, my sewing mediocre, and my drawing only passable. I knew very little Gallic and was terrible at sums, though I had a good mind for memorization, and excellent spelling and grammar skills.

"Our boss is not interested in such things," Captain Belleclaire told me once I had related all of this to him. "There is something else about you, but he made me swear I would not speak of it to you. That privilege he has reserved for himself, when you meet him."

"And when I meet him," I asked, "what is to happen then?"

"That I do not know for sure," Captain Belleclaire answered. "But as I have told you on this ship, no harm will come to you. You will be in... in our boss' care, and he has every reason to treat you well."

"So the fine clothes come from him?" I asked. They were very fine indeed! Much finer than anything I had ever dreamt of wearing. A skirt of black wool and a crimson blouse, all the buttons on both being of real (I think) silver. I was given very smart black leather boots to wear, and crimson stockings! A luxury I never thought I would have in all my days! And now, apparently, this grey wool coat was mine as well.

"They are," the captain replied. "And there is much more to come, when we arrive in Franklin Bay." There was a shout from further down the ship--which I shall describe later, when I am not so tired of writing--and his expression changed. "You must return to your room, now," he said, beginning to escort me back to my door. "I am needed."

"You said you would answer all my questions," I protested.

"Later," he said, opening my door and reaching into his pocket, I assume for the key which would lock it. "Go on, and be a good girl."

As I am fully eighteen years old now, and have done very well on my own for more than a week--up until the kidnapping, of course--I took great offense at that, but before I could say a word more, he pushed me inside and shut and locked the door.

Hours and hours later, when all was quiet but the sound of the engines, and my eyelids were drooping with exhaustion, I got out of bed. (I had been pinching myself and slapping my cheeks to keep myself awake, though I may have dropped off a time or two, briefly.) I searched the room for something suitable to use in my plan, and came up with very little, but decided it would have to do. I sewed four of my handkerchiefs together, quickly and messily (Miss P___ would have been horrified), then used a couple of dark-coloured hair ribbons to spell out "SOS" on the white background, tacking the ribbon down with little stitches so the letters would show as well as possible. I then sewed the hankies to the back side of my curtain, the side that faced outward. It was a long shot, but all I could think of. Hopefully something better will occur to me soon.

I have been writing most of the morning, and must rest now whether I like it or not. I shall write more when I know more.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Oh my! What an ingenious plan with the SOS sign!

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