Taking the Air and Another Bit of Hope

I was taken out for exercise today, practically like a dog would be taken for a walk, complete with leash. When Mr. Miller came with my breakfast, I begged him to ask the captain if I might leave my room for a time. He returned about an hour after he had departed with my empty tray, and held the door open, gesturing at me to follow him.

Delighted, I sprang up from my chair and walked quickly toward the door, but he stopped me with a hand on my arm, then reached for my coat, which was hanging on a peg on the wall. "Oh, of course," I said, and held out my hand for it, but he already had it open in both hands, as if to help me on with it. I wasn't quite sure how to react to that, having never had anyone help me on with my coat since I was too small to do it myself. "I... er, thank you," I said, and turned around with my arms held back. I struggled with the sleeves for a second, but then the coat slid smoothly up my arms and settled on my shoulders. "Thank you," I mumbled again, looking down as I buttoned my coat, then preceded him out the door and onto the deck.

Mr. Miller closed the door behind us, and before I had gone three steps, the captain was suddenly before me. "Good morning, Miss Greenwater," he said, touching the brim of his cap.

"Captain Belleclaire," I said curtly, dropping the most miniscule of curtseys.

"I have decided to permit you an hour of exercise every morning and evening. Zebediah related to me that you were growing tired of your cabin, and I have no objection to you taking a turn around the deck now and then, both for your health and your enjoyment."

"Thank you for your hospitality," I said coldly, not looking at him.

He only laughed. "So stubborn! It is because of this that I must make you the following offer: if you promise not to try and escape, you may roam my ship freely as long as a member of my crew accompanies you at all times. But if I or my crew ever have reason to believe you will break your promise, you will be confined to your cabin for the duration of our journey. In addition, you will be tethered to said crewmember--Zebediah, at this point--until you have proven yourself worthy of my trust."

"Tethered?" I asked, at last looking at him. (Unlike most men, whom I had to look up to, I could look Captain Belleclaire straight in the eyes due to his height, or rather, lack thereof. For some reason this made me feel a little better about the power he held over me.)

"Indeed," he said with a nod. I saw Mr. Miller move from the corner of my eye, and when I looked over at him, I saw he was drawing a thin rope from one of the many pockets in his trousers.

"You said yourself there was nowhere I could hide!" I cried. "There is no need for this! I have given you my word that I shall not do harm to myself, nor shall I run away!"

"That you have," Belleclaire smiled, "but how am I to trust your word?"

"How am I to trust yours?" I countered. "I have done all you asked! I have worn the clothes given me, I have allowed that woman to dye my hair!" The thought of that brought tears to my eyes, for every time I caught sight of myself in the tiny mirror in my cabin, I still had to remember that the face I saw was mine, though surrounded by hair of a deep mahogany red. "I have not put up a fuss, or shouted, or cried!" Though at the moment, I was very close to doing all three.

That same bemused smile was still on his lips, just visible beneath his mustache. "Humour me today, and we shall see about tomorrow. Mr. Miller?" He nodded to Zebediah, then turned on his heel and disappeared.

To his credit, Mr. Miller looked quite apologetic. As if to show that he disapproved of this idea, he tied one end of the rope around his own middle first, then stepped toward me. "Must I?" I asked, my voice nearly breaking. He nodded. "You trust me, don't you?" He hesitated a second, then nodded, but stepped closer nonetheless. He was under orders, after all. I sighed and raised my arms so he could thread the rope around my back, then tie it in front. The knot was loose enough that it did not put me in any discomfort, but not so loose that I could wriggle out of it. It also seemed very complicated, but before I could study it further, he moved it around to the small of my back so I could not see it. He then made a "carry on" gesture, but now I hardly felt like walking at all.

"This is terribly undignified," I muttered. "Not that a captive has much dignity to begin with, I suppose."

Mr. Miller gave a very small smile, though I could not tell if it was sympathetic or mocking, and made the same "let's go" gesture again.

"Would you give me a tour of the ship?" I asked. "I suppose I might as well learn something while taking the air." He nodded, and turned around to show me the little area where my room was housed.

Rather than related the exact events of my tour, I shall instead describe the ship myself, now that I have had time to process it and build a sort of map in my mind.

The ship is in three levels, or three and a half, counting the bit at the rear. My cabin is there, on a level raised somewhat above the deck, as well as the captain's cabin, and what looks to be a formal dining room, I suppose in case the captain entertains guests. Directly below is a kitchen, which I think is called the galley, where the crew cooks and eats for themselves. Next to it, beneath my room and the captain's, is a storage room for food and linens. (I was not previously aware that I shared a wall with the captain, and shall henceforth be very careful and quiet, especially if I am ever plotting something at night again.)

Our rooms are at the rear of the ship; at the front is a little cabin full of all sorts of controls and dials and switches, as well as three wheels, one large one in the center, and two smaller ones on either side. The cabin is glassed-in so one can see all around from inside it. Between that room and my cabin is the main deck, with many supports which hold the big gas-filled balloon which keeps us aloft. The reason I can hear the sound of motors in my room so well is because the huge propellers which send us forward through the air are attached to the rear of the ship.

I have just remembered that the rear is called the stern and the front is called the bow; alternately, aft and fore. Mr. Miller conveyed as much to me by "writing" on the deck of the ship with his finger at these points, spelling the words out, and also at both sides; when facing the bow, port is left and starboard is right.

Below the deck are sleeping quarters for the crew. There is really very little privacy, only hammocks strung between the supports keeping the roof (deck) up, with an aisle down the center. There were several men asleep in their hammocks, and I assumed they were resting during the day because they were on duty at night, which Mr. Miller confirmed for me when I asked him in a whisper. There is a closed-off space at the fore end of the sleeping quarters; Mr. Miller pantomimed showers, and the flushing of a toilet to convey what it was for.

The bottommost level is for storage: all the food that can be kept long-term, from which the smaller stores in the kitchen are taken; barrels of water; and many crates and tanks and various other containers which hold I do not know what. Probably whatever they are smuggling when they are not kidnapping orphaned girls.

It was an interesting challenge, going up and down the narrow ladders leading from one level to the next and being tethered to Mr. Miller at the same time, but he was a gentleman about it, for all that he is a mercenary or a pirate. When going down, he allowed me to descend first, and when going up, he let me go second, as I am in skirts and it would be improper to do otherwise. I had to keep close behind him (or he close behind me) because of the length of the rope, but we did manage it.

I thanked him heartily for the tour once he had brought me back to my room and untied me, and he nodded and gave a very formal bow, which impressed and shocked me so much that I did not say another word until he had shut and locked the door behind himself. I think he must have had some honest occupation before joining the crew of the Royal Erebos, one that taught him excellent manners. From the way he helped me on with my coat, and the way in which he displays my meals thrice daily, I think he may have been a butler or a gentleman's gentleman. I wonder how he ever came to join a pirate crew.


It is night now, and I have risked another attempt for my rescue. On my evening stroll about the ship, once again tethered to Mr. Miller, I asked to be taken below decks again, claiming that life onboard a dirigible fascinated me, and I wanted to attempt some sketches of various places on board. I made a show of studying the hammocks strung between the supports, and examining the small piles of personal belongings and clothes against the far walls. (No one was in the room but us, as the night crew was already awake and working, and the day crew was likely eating supper or playing cards, or whatever a ship's crew does at the end of their shift.)

After a while, Mr. Miller acted as though he were drawing on his hand (or a tablet) with an invisible pen, and nodded toward the stern of the ship, to ask if I wanted to return for my sketchbook. "Oh no, that is quite all right," I said. "I would like to work on my powers of memory, and see if I can accurately depict the place without seeing it before me." He nodded, and continued to follow me as I nosed around.

Once I had reached the bow end of the ship, where the water closet was, I asked to be allowed in, saying it couldn't wait for me to return to the stern of the ship and my cabin. Mr. Miller knocked on the door and listened, then opened it and peeked in. He nodded, since it was empty, and began to untie me, though not without giving me a significant look, first. "I promise I will not try anything," I told him, and he smiled and nodded, as if to say he knew I would not.

However, I lied to him. As I had imagined, there was a small window above the row of toilets, which I managed to open with very little sound. I had thought about bringing a paper with another "S.O.S." on it, but thought it would be torn off with the wind. Instead, I had brought my bottle of precious ink. Knowing that someone would notice if I used my fingers to paint the letters, I had actually cut off a bit of my hair that afternoon (from the back, and underneath, so it would not be noticeable) and tied it to the wrong end of a pen with a bit of thread. It was a messy brush, and had already begun to fall apart a little in my pocket, but it served its purpose. By standing on the back of a toilet, I was able to lean out the window a little and see to paint the letters on the outside of the ship. I did get a little ink on my hands, but resolved to keep them in my pockets til I returned to my room and could scrub them well. I flushed the stained hair and thread down the toilet when I was through, hid both bottle and pen in my pocket, and came back out to Mr. Miller.

Now I have distress signals both at the fore and the aft of the ship. We have passed several other dirigibles on our journey, but none were very close. Still, I hold out for hope of a rescue. It is the only thing I can do now.

No comments:

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