Lt. Holroyd organized a search of the entire ship. The boy was not found, but Bayard discovered a large smear of blood and a patch of hair with scalp attached on a beam in the gunroom. The general consensus was that Dandyfunk had somehow struck his head, been rendered dazed by the blow and wandering out on deck, had fallen overboard unnoticed. None of the crew, as far as was known, bore Dandyfunk any animosity; he was well liked, mischievous as an ape, and something of a pet among the lower deck hands. Captain Jeffcott put the death down to misadventure in his log. The boy's pitiful effects were auctioned off to the crew according to custom, and a cross was placed beside his name in the muster roll.
It was shortly after the auction that an ordinary seaman, John Thomson, was caught in the hold with a fornicatory doll he had made from a stolen nightgown belonging to Elizabeth Gilliard. The doll had been daubed with cheap scent, and stuffed with straw and cloth to mimic a womanly form. This dame de voyage was somewhat worse for wear; the batiste chemise de nuit that composed its outer shell had seen hard use. Thomson was accused of theft and sentenced to walk the gantelope. Naturally, none of the officers or the captain were indelicate enough to speak of the seaman's offense when Sarah or Elizabeth was present, but Dr. Vallance's habitual loquacity ensured that the ladies were kept awareof all the happenings. For her part, Sarah had no wish to witness ship's discipline being carried out; she had no curiosity left to be satisfied, but Elizabeth proved too persuasive to be denied. On the beautiful day that the sentence was to be carried out, Sarah found herself standing on the quarterdeck with Elizabeth at her side. They hung back to avoid being noticed and ordered by Jeffcott to go below, as flogging was considered too harsh to be witnessed by ladies.
The crew had been piped to witness the punishment, which was a formal affair as befitting a ship of His Majesty's fleet. The hands slumped in groups in the waist, divided by larboard and starboard watches, their attitude one of collective dégagé. Resplendent in scarlet, the Marines stood at attention with their bayonets fixed, a bristling steel forest glinting in the bright light slanting across the poop. The wardroom officers, along with the captain, were gathered on the quarterdeck, each of them in his best uniform, cocked hat and sword.
Lt. Holroyd read the requisite Article of War pertaining to the offense, which stated, "All robbery committed by any person in the fleet shall be punished with death or otherwise, as a court martial, upon consideration of the circumstances, shall find meet."
Jeffcott's manner was cold, his voice colder as he asked, "Have his officers anything to say on Mr. Thomson's behalf?"
No one spoke for the unfortunate Thomson, though one of his mates could be heard comforting the accused with the observation that if he had been caught with the ship's goat, it would have been a hanging offense. A grating was rigged at the gangway. Thomson was stripped of his shirt and seized to the grating by the quartermaster, who tied him there spread-eagled while the bosun shook the cat-o'-nine-tails out of its red baize bag and gave it to one of his mates. Thomson's shoulders tightened. Sweat gleamed on his forehead.
"A dozen strokes," Jeffcott said, "then Mr. Thomson may walk the gantelope. Bosun's mate, do your duty."
Phlegmatic and pitiless, the bosun's mate drew back his arm, then let the cat-o'-nine-tails fall across Thomson's back, driven by power of his upper body. Thomson cried thickly, "Jesus," at the first blow but said nothing else while the bosun's mate delivered twelve strokes, pausing to comb the bloodied leather tails through his fingers a few times before the end. When the flogging was finished, Thomson was untied and brought to the mizzen mast. The crewmen formed two lines stretching from the waist to the forecastle; each man was armed with a home-made knittle, a length of plaited rope yarn with knots embedded in it. A Marine was poised behind Thomson, bayonet held at a threatening angle. While the drummer rapped out the Rogue's March, Thomson was prodded forward between the rows of his mates, none of whom seemed inclined to show him mercy.
The gantelope is a terrible punishment, Sarah thought. The knittles rose and fell with appalling regularity, each man spurred on by the rest to viciousness. Thomson's back resembled raw beef. Blood droplets marred the deck, dark scarlet on holystoned white. When Thomson stumbled and nearly fell, the blows rained down on him without pause. By the time he reached the forecastle, he was panting, his face grey with strain. Dr. Vallance was waiting to sponge his lacerated flesh with aromatic vinegar. Turning even paler, Thomson crashed backwards, unconscious. Vallance drafted a pair of stout sailors to carry the wounded man down the hatchway to the sick-bay.
Beside her, Elizabeth shuddered. "Such suffering over a nightgown," she said under her breath. The wind blew her curls forward, hiding her eyes.
Sarah had witnessed floggings; the punishment meted out to slaves on the plantation was equally harsh, if not harsher, than Royal Navy discipline. Before she could respond, Jeffcott addressed the assembled men, bidding them sternly not to resort to thievery, that being a sin in the eyes of God and, more importantly, the Admiralty. Two guns were fired to leeward to complete the ceremony, the hands were dismissed, and Sarah caught Lt. Holroyd watching her. After a moment, she realized he was actually watching Elizabeth. Several fleeting expressions crossed his countenance before settling into neutrality. Sarah followed Elizabeth back to the great cabin, thinking about Holroyd.
She was certain she had seen hatred in the sharpening of his features, the narrowing of his eyes and mouth; then there had been envy, a flash of possessiveness, a glimpse of his salacious appetite. There was no simple answer to the question of his motivations. Had Holroyd switched the focus of his lusty attentions from Sarah to Elizabeth? The notion made Sarah gasp against the pain that cramped her belly and fisted cold around her heart. It was jealousy that made her feel as if she had been hollowed out on the inside. Her lips firmed into a tight line. Should Holroyd so much as touch Elizabeth, he would pay for his temerity. If Sarah made a complaint against Holroyd, her husband would have to defend her honor, and she remembered that Vallance had said Jeffcott was an excellent shot.
"Did you see that?" Elizabeth asked, taking Sarah's arm and startling her out of her thoughts.
"What is it?" Sarah glanced about; they were alone in the great cabin, which smelled appallingly of mold since its wetting during the storm. No amount of scrubbing or swabbing seemed capable of getting rid of the sour scent. Blue-green fuzz marred the seams in the wainscoting, and mildew had begun to creep along the edges of the drugget. She shrugged carefully out of Elizabeth's grip, took off her hat and laid it down on the desk.
"Over there, in the corner of the gallery," Elizabeth said, nodding in that direction. "I vow I saw Joe Dandyfunk standing there with a woman." She shook her head. "The doctor would tell me that an excess of heat has rendered me non compos mentis."
Sarah looked but saw nothing out of the ordinary. "I thought you said you did not see as much as sense hostile intentions. Was I mistaken?"
"No, I told the truth. No doubt poor Mr. Thomson's suffering has played a trick upon my nerves." Elizabeth let out a low chuckle. "Unless Orpheus was a slave ship in her past . . . "
The casual remark struck Sarah hard, leaving her gasping and gaping. "What did you say?" she demanded, whirling around to face the other woman, who stared at her with something approaching shock on her face.
"Are you quite well?" Elizabeth asked instead of answering Sarah's question. "You have gone so pale . . . perhaps a glass of wine . . . "
Sarah shook her head, filled with foreboding. "What did you see? Speak to me, Lizzy," she said. If what she suspected was true, it could bode nothing but ill. "Did you see a woman with Joe Dandyfunk?"
"Yes." Elizabeth stared at her, clearly assessing. Finally, she went on, choosing her words with care, "A dark-skinned women in a white dress."
Lilias, Sarah thought. She asked, "And you saw her?"
"As I see you. Sarah, what is it?" Elizabeth glanced into the corners of the cabin, apparently unsettled. She went to sit on the stern gallery seat, pulling Sarah along with her. "Is this to do with the woman you cry out to in your dreams? Is her name Lily? Lilith?"
"Lilias," Sarah corrected, startling herself by saying the name aloud. She lowered her voice. Her hands were cold; she folded them together in her lap, grateful for the light coming through the windows. She could speak of things during the day that could never be uttered in the dark. "Her name was Lilias."
Elizabeth shifted until she was pressed against Sarah's side; she was a bulwark of contrasts, both soft and firm, comforting and disquieting at once. "Can you tell me what occurred?" Her lips quirked but there was not a hint of humor in her black-eyed gaze. "I can guess some of it, and I give you my most solemn word, I will never speak of anything you reveal to me to another living soul."
Sarah sighed and held herself upright by an exercise of will. The burden she had carried alone for so many months was difficult to share, but she would try. She was sick of being smothered in secrets. "My father purchased her on St. Domingue to be my companion in the nursery. I remember the first time I saw her, a pretty little black girl with the biggest eyes . . . even then, she was proud, bold, high-spirited and headstrong, and she knew no fear. I thought Lilias was the most wondrous, terrifying creature in the world. I was not . . . I am not a leader but a follower born, and it seemed to me then that I was born to follow Lilias."
"She bullied you."
"Lilias would fly into rages when she was thwarted," Sarah admitted, keeping her gaze locked on her hands. "It is a flaw in my character, that the more cruelly she treated me, the more fascinating I found her, and the more control I granted her until I had no freedom left save what she gave me. She was the mistress; I was her slave."
"How could this be? Surely your mother . . . "
"My mother had her circle of friends and social activities to keep her occupied. Father was busy with the plantation's business. They knew nothing. I had no one apart from Lilias and my nurse Magdalena, an old woman who taught me how to lay the wait-abouts to rest. When we were older, Lilias wanted . . . well, as you said, you can guess some of it. I surrendered to her as always. And when . . . when Father caught us . . . " Sarah broke off, biting her lower lip. She did not know if she was capable of going on. The shock was still too fresh.
Elizabeth put an arm around her shoulders. "He found the two of you . . . you were discovered in flagrante?"
"Yes." Sarah could not forget the bellow of rage, the hard hands yanking her naked from the bed, and Lilias' mocking laughter. "Father had been her lover, too. She seduced him, then betrayed him with his own daughter. It was more than he could bear."
"Your father killed her."
"He throttled the life out of her. I believe he went mad."
"Good Lord." Elizabeth fell silent. When she spoke again, her voice was quiet. "The Church does not consider it adultery, you know, and many husbands do not mind that their wives play the game of 'flats' with their feminine amours." There came another pause. "I suppose your father thought otherwise and married you off in haste to Captain Jeffcott."
"Jeffcott has been Father's friend for many years. He is a good man, Lizzy. He asked no questions save to inquire if I would do him the honor of becoming his wife. I had no choice. Father made it clear that I was not welcome on the plantation or the island, for that matter. It was marry Jeffcott or be put on the next ship leaving Jamaica, to make my way on my own." Her mouth went dry. Somehow, speaking it aloud made her situation more terrifying. "I can never go back. I can never go home."
"Your father will forgive you in time, I am sure."
"No. Father will never . . . he hates me, Lizzy. He never wanted me. He wanted a son but my mother was . . . to be frank, my mother has very little interest in motherhood. Even had she been able to conceive again after my birth, I do not think she would have welcomed a second child. I was an irksome unfetching girl, sullen and possessed of queer moods and silences-not the desired son and not the perfect daughter, either."
Elizabeth grimaced. "Have you any other relations?"
"None." Sarah attempted a poor facsimile of a smile. "I am entirely alone save for my husband's relations. He has a sister who lives near Priddy's Hard in Gosport."
"Sarah." Elizabeth's throat worked as she swallowed. She stood so abruptly, she almost knocked Sarah off the bench. "We must have a glass of wine. Does not the Bible tell us to give wine unto those that be of heavy heart? Mr. Catchpole! Mr. Catchpole, there!"
Sarah sat back, picking at a loose thread on the cuff of her sleeve. She had no idea what the other woman was thinking. Had she shocked Elizabeth by speaking so openly of her troubles? Had she offended with her unfilial attitude? Catchpole came into the cabin, bearing a bottle of the captain's good claret. Elizabeth busied herself pouring two glasses while the scrofulous steward hovered around her, trying to peer down her décolletage without being too obvious about it. From the open door came a loud shout, men's voices raised in confusion. Catchpole ran out without a word, his waist-length queue flapping behind him.
Elizabeth paused; wine slopped over the edge of the glass in her hand.
"Man overboard! The captain's overboard!" bawled the mast-head look-out, loud enough to be heard inside the cabin.
Her pulse pounding, Sarah bolted out onto the deck with Elizabeth following at her heels, the wine rendered unimportant in their haste to ascertain what had happened.
Lt. Holroyd was a credit to his training, he organized the rescue with admirable swiftness, ordering the bower anchors dropped, sending the jolly-boat as well as anyone who could swim to join the search for Jeffcott. Men armed with grapnels, boathooks and a spare dolphin striker leaned over the rails on both sides, probing the gray-green waters in a search attempt which ultimately proved futile. As a last resort, a press-ganged Greek sailor with an unpronounceable name (the others called him Carp) volunteered to dive as far as twenty fathoms, holding a bag of round shot to weigh him down for the plunge into the depths. Carp stripped down to his drawers on deck and his skin was greased with purser's slush-the fat was skimmed from the rations of salt beef as they boiled in the copper kettles-to protect him from the cold. A rope was fastened around Carp's waist. He stepped overboard, the muscles standing out in his stringy arms and legs. Several anxious minutes were spent waiting, watching the wind-ruffled surface of the sea. Sarah felt sick with apprehension.
At last Carp bobbed back to the surface empty-handed. He was hauled back aboard dripping, a tangle of seaweed in his hair. Lt. Holroyd and the other officers removed their hats. Bayard looked aghast; Quillam's expression was stony, and the midshipmen seemed close to tears. Holroyd came to stand before Sarah, his posture erect, his manner formal. "Madam," he began while she stared at his greedy mouth, forming words that she did not want to hear, "I regret to inform you that your husband has been lost at sea."
"'Twas a woman," whispered a grizzled crewman, his voice carrying in the silence that had fallen. "I seen her standing on the waves, callin' to him. Beautiful she was, dark as smoke, dressed all in white. Captain just walked over the rail, simple as kiss-my-hand. She called him, aye, she did, and him without no charm to protect him 'gainst drownin'"
Others joined the refrain.
"The woman in white . . . "
"A curse on't . . . "
"She'll do for us all . . . "
"The woman in white . . . "
Sarah could stand no more. She fled back to the great cabin sobbing, her hands pressed over her ears so she did not have to listen to the whispering that was tearing her life to shreds.
Five days later, for the good of Sarah's nerves, Dr. Vallance prescribed a tincture of hellebore, the drops to be taken on a piece of sugar twice daily, as well as a course of vomiting induced by antimonial wine to avoid an excess of the black bile which was known to cause melancholic humors. Sarah accepted his treatment, bending over a basin and retching for what seemed to be hours, until her belly and her head felt fit to burst.. Vallance muttered over the contents of the basin, asked Sarah to pass water so that he could examine it, put to her a series of blunt questions, and eventually gave the opinion that he did not believe she was enceinte. Sarah had already known this, of course, but she had not wanted to confess the lack of consummation to the doctor, who might misinterpret her late husband's gallantry.
"A pity, madam, a great pity," he said, returning from the quarter-gallery where he had emptied the basin and urine flask, "though time will tell in this case whether I am right or wrong. A child is often nature's way of comforting the recently bereaved."
Sarah sat down in a chair, wiping her mouth with a handkerchief. Bits of hair stuck to her sweaty face. There was an awful taste in her mouth, as if she had supped on dung. "What is to be done now?" she asked after she had caught her breath. Sarah could not mourn Jeffcott, not as a proper wife ought to grieve. Her eyes remained dry. He had been a kind uncle-figure who had offered her protection when she needed it desperately. She was grateful for his help and saddened by his passing, but she was more worried about her future.
"Lt. Holroyd will be acting as captain pro tem until our arrival in England." Vallance took a snuff box out of his coat pocket, opened the enameled lid, and sniffed a pinch of 'comfort crumbs' into each nostril. He dabbed at his nose with a vivid belcher handkerchief plucked from his sleeve, his face contorting as he stifled a sneeze. The effort made his wig slide back a bit, exposing a crescent of scalp stubble. "I will, of course, be at your disposal, madam. He has a sister in Gosport . . . are there any other relations?"
"None, sir, that I am aware." Sarah answered. She accepted a small glass of sherry that Elizabeth gave her and took a sip, grateful to wash away the foulness in her mouth.
Vallance patted her hand. "The captain's prize agent and man-of-business is Addison Garrick. He is to be found in Fareham, hard by the dockyard as I recall. Well, there are many practical issues to be addressed, as you may be aware, but rest assured, madam, that I am your friend and servant in this matter. When we return to England, I beg you will accept every assistance it will be my honor to give you."
Sarah murmured her thanks. Vallance took his leave. When he had gone, Elizabeth gave Sarah another glass of sherry-it was a sweet ximenez, redolent of raisins and molasses-and stood watching her while she drank. "Have you any plans?" Elizabeth asked.
"Other than throw myself on the mercy of a relation whom I have never met, and who has no reason to treat me kindly?" Sarah shook her head, despair eating at her composure. "I do not know what I will do. I am alone."
Elizabeth moved away, resting a hip against the edge of the chart table. She appeared curiously vulnerable in the dim light seeping through the gratings above her head. "Your life is your own, Sarah. As a respectable widow, your allegiance is owed to no man."
"Yes, and how am I to live with this new freedom?" Sarah could not help sounding bitter. "Where am I to go? What am I to do? I have no family, no friends . . . "
"You are not as alone as you imagine. You have Dr. Vallance, whom you may trust to keep your best interests in the forefront," Elizabeth interrupted. "You also have me."
The question was blurted out before she could stop it. "Do I?" Sarah put a hand over her mouth, shocked. She blamed the sherry taken on an empty stomach for her boldness.
"You have me," Elizabeth repeated. "I am not proposing a vulgar intrigue. You may, if you choose, accept my protection, my support, my friendship . . . I ask nothing in return save the opportunity to be of use to you."
Sarah felt the twist of an invisible dagger in her heart. For a bare second, she had been thrilled to discover that Elizabeth still wanted her as much as she wanted Elizabeth. To have her hopes dashed by such a casual rejection made her seethe. Again, she spoke without thinking, "You would support me as a friend, nothing more." Her tone was sharp, conveying her disappointment, but she felt dull inside.
"Oh, Sarah," Elizabeth sighed. "Do you take me for a libertine? It would be too disgusting for me to attempt a seduction when your husband has but lately drowned."
Sarah blushed hotly. "I am sorry," she said. "I thought . . . "
"You are very, very dear to me." Elizabeth sank to her knees beside Sarah's chair. "It is no desire of mine that we should part when the ship reaches England." She put her hand on Sarah's thigh. The heat of those strong square fingers burned like a brand. "When I kissed you that day, I did not ask but took what I wanted without your permission. That was wrong. Afterwards, I deemed it best to wait until you indicated that my attentions were welcome."
"And I was waiting for you to renew your attentions, which have always been welcome." Sarah stroked Elizabeth's cheek, gratified beyond words when the other woman leaned into the caress, rubbing against her hand like a cat demanding affection.
"I've no wish to intrude upon your grief," Elizabeth said delicately, looking at her side-long.
"Jeffcott was like a distant relation, cool and unattached," Sarah said, petting Elizabeth's thick coarse curls. "He visited Jamaica perhaps every other year; the rest of the time, he and Father corresponded. I never really knew him well. I do not think he wanted a second wife; he married me because it was the honorable thing to do."
"Did he know about . . . ?"
"No," Sarah interjected quickly. "He was unaware of the true reason why my father wished me gone from Jamaica. I do not know what excuse Father gave him but it was sufficient to cause Jeffcott to propose marriage to me. I asked no questions."
Elizabeth pursed her lips. "Do you believe the captain was killed by . . . by her?"
Sarah froze, her fingers tangled in Elizabeth's hair. "Lilias, you mean," she said, ignoring the other woman's flinch. "It isn't possible."
"Wait-abouts do not wish to wait. Terrible things happen, you said."
"Mischievous things, like making a bag of flour fall from a shelf, or hiding a piece of jewelry where it will not easily be found." Sarah removed her hand from Elizabeth's head, careful not to pull. "Not luring a man to his death."
Sarah got to her feet and went to the stern gallery to open a window. If they were going to discuss Lilias, or wait-abouts in general, she needed fresh air. A breeze blew into the cabin, warm on her chilled skin. She kept her back to Elizabeth while she tried to formulate an answer that would make sense to the other woman. "My nurse Magdalena explained it to me when I first manifested the power. A wait-about cannot affect the material world as much as a living person. If they are angry enough, or willful enough, they can do small things as I've said. Turn the air cold, move objects, make a noise, perhaps pinch or scratch or prick with pins in extreme cases. That is all."
"And what is to stop a spirit from killing a living person? Say, to thrust a knife into someone, or tip poison into their wine, or push them beneath a moving carriage?"
Sarah listened to Elizabeth getting to her feet. "Because if the dead were permitted to murder the living," she replied, "there would be naught but corpses in the world."
There was a pause. "Do the dead hate the living so much?" Elizabeth asked.
"They envy us, Lizzy. The wait-abouts envy our continued existence because their lives have ended." Sarah took a breath and stared out of the open window, squinting her eyes against the diamond-glitter play of light on the water. "These spirits are in a sort of purgatory; some do not even realize they have died. They are confused and frightened and angry. They cling to this world and want what they can no longer have. Of course they hate the living."
"Oh." Elizabeth came up from behind and wrapped her arms around Sarah's waist, resting her chin on Sarah's shoulder. "What stops them from killing us, then?"
"I do not know. Neither did Magdalena. She supposed it was God's doing."
"The sailors said they saw a dark-skinned woman in a white dress. Was it Lilias?"
"Sailors are superstitious and full of fancies." Sarah did not think Lilias could have encompassed Jeffcott's death. As she had told Elizabeth, spirits did not have that power. "If one of them says he saw a mermaid, the rest convince themselves that they, too, have witnessed a fish-tailed maiden cavorting in the ship's wake. I heard Lt. Bayard declare he believed the captain had become sun-struck and fallen over the rail."
"Or perhaps Jeffcott was pushed."
Sarah's eyes widened. "Who would do such a thing? Lizzy, it cannot be Lilias . . . "
"No. I mean Lt. Holroyd."
Sarah went rigid and turned around in the circle of Elizabeth's arms, so that she was face-to-face with the other woman. "Do not speak of such matters too loudly," she cautioned. "The lieutenant has charge of the ship."
"Do you believe I am the least bit apprehensive of that puppy?" Elizabeth was scornful. "I have faced more dangerous men. My dear girl, I have even donned trousers and had a 'gentleman's encounter' in Hyde Park with sword and pistol!"
"You participated in a duel?" Sarah found this piece of information well-nigh incomprehensible, more fantastic than Elizabeth's assertion of being a spy.
Elizabeth nodded. "You have seen my scar."
Sarah recalled a thin white scar that curved over the other woman's forearm. She had not really considered the source of the injury. "Whose honor were you defending?" Sarah asked, suddenly jealous that another woman had so enamored Elizabeth, she had risked death and discovery, as well as the utter ruination of her reputation for this unknown female.
"It does not matter." Elizabeth released Sarah and walked to the desk to pour herself a glass of sherry from the bottle. "That time is in the past, where it belongs. My point is that I am capable of dealing with Lt. Holroyd should he attempt untoward behavior."
From the deck above came the sound of drumming and a man's choked shout of pain. Sarah winced and crossed her arms over her chest. In the days since Jeffcott's demise, Holroyd had proven his former easy-going manner was naught but a façade. Discipline had become even tighter; there were daily floggings for a variety of infractions, major and minor. The midshipmen were punished more frequently as well; not one of them had thus far avoided the spectacle of having his trousers taken down, being seized to a gun, and his bare buttocks lashed with the so-called 'reduced cat' or, as it was known to the forecastle hands, the 'boy's pussy'-five lengths of smooth whipcord that stung but did not draw blood.
Holroyd had stopped trying to hide his excessive drinking. He spent a great deal of time in his cabin, methodically going through Jeffcott's private wine stock. When he did go out on deck and resume his duty, his mood was foul. The other senior officers were grim, too. Young Lt. Bayard, in particular, seemed to have lost the ability to smile.
At least, Sarah thought, Holroyd has ceased troubling me. The sole interest he takes these days is to be found in canary, hock and claret.
Elizabeth sipped the sherry and grimaced at the taste. She returned to Sarah, leaning their foreheads together. Her breath smelled of alcohol and treacle. "I do not know if Lt. Holroyd had a hand in the captain's death-I suspect it but can prove nothing-however I will not permit him to do you any harm. Do you hear me, Sarah? I will not permit it."
Sarah closed her eyes and put her arms around Elizabeth's neck, drawing the other woman closer. "With you, I feel safe," she said. This confession was the simple truth.
"We will go to London together," Elizabeth said, her voice smooth as oil pouring into Sarah's ear. "I have a residence in the Liberty of the Savoy. You will like it very much."
"And when your master summons you to spy for your country, what will I do?" Sarah could not still her trembling.
"We can travel together," Elizabeth pointed out. "Or I can hire a servant for you, should you prefer to remain in England while I am on the Continent. Please allow me to protect and care for you. You will never be defenseless or penniless. My master, as you call him, will also put himself forward as your patron should I request it of him."
A question remained unanswered. "Why?" Sarah asked. "Why choose me?"
"Because you are beautiful," Elizabeth said. Her hands smoothed along Sarah's back from shoulders to hips, over and over in soothing strokes. "You are kind, intelligent and amiable. I felt a connection at once. And you are also very comfortable."
"Comfortable?" Sarah was unsure what that meant.
"As an agent of intrigue, I often wear a mask, pretending to be something other than I am. The habit has become ingrained. But with you, I can lower my guard and be myself; there is no need for deception. I've begun to think of you as a safe harbor, if you will. I trust you."
Sarah pressed her heated face against the side of Elizabeth's throat. "Will you kiss me now?" she asked. Her trembling had another cause.
Elizabeth's lips brushed against Sarah's cheek. "Do you trust me, dear Sarah?"
"I do," Sarah whispered back, her eyes still closed, her heart full of an affection she had never felt in her life. With Elizabeth, she felt complete.
If their first kiss was a tempest, all flash and violent bang, the second kiss was tender as a summer rainfall. Elizabeth's mouth was a shock of heat. Sarah let out a soft desperate sound when the tip of Elizabeth's tongue traced her upper lip. The caress made Sarah ache deep inside. She sank against the other woman, wishing she could sink into Elizabeth, curl up inside her and wear her like a cicada nymph's protective shell. It had never been this way with Lilias.
"Do not think of her," Elizabeth whispered fiercely, but the kisses she scattered over Sarah's face were worshipful and gentle. "She is not part of us, Sarah. I won't share you with her. I won't share you at all."
Sarah was helpless to resist the possessiveness in Elizabeth's voice. Lightning flared behind her eyes. The stirrings of desire kindled a blaze of want inside of her. Her breath came in short gasps, each made astringent by the green scent of rosemary water that perfumed the other woman's clothes and skin. Elizabeth began kissing Sarah hungrily, like a glutton at a feast; her tongue was thick and velvety, and tasted molasses sweet, a little cloying but not unpleasant. Saliva flooded Sarah's mouth. She swallowed, moaning. They were speaking a silent sensual language; there was a wealth of communication in each touch that dragged at her senses. Any thought other than pleasure was turned to a buzz of meaningless noise inside her head. She could linger here forever following the dictates of Elizabeth's lips and hands, responding to this perfect seduction of heart, body and soul.
Elizabeth's voice was ragged with passion. "Sarah . . . say it. Say you belong to me."
"Only you," Sarah whispered against Elizabeth's collarbone. She was acutely aware of the minute rasp of her cambric shift against her nipples. When she closed her eyes and surrendered to the other woman's ardent embrace, Sarah could almost-almost-pretend she could not smell the acrid scent of burning sugar.
Sarah walked away from sick-bay, touching the scabbed-over wound on her wrist. Vallance had wanted to examine the cut, checking carefully for any sign of mortification. Despite a lack of laudable pus, it seemed to be healing well. After anointing her wrist with an aromatic compound tincture of Friar's Balsam, he had wanted to bleed her but Sarah had refused upon catching sight of the steel scarificator with its sharp pointed blades. Now she was headed through the eternal belowdecks darkness that stank of mold and the sea, forward towards the ladder and the single square of sunlight streaming through the open hatch that could just be glimpsed in the distance.
An arm encircled her waist, and a large hand clapped over her mouth before she could do more than draw breath for a scream that died stillborn in her throat. "Belay that," rasped a male voice in her ear. It was Holroyd.
She tried to bite his palm; the calluses gained by years of shipboard service were hard as horn. He grunted and held her tighter. "Be quiet, Sarah, and do not fight me. I don't want to hurt you but I will if you make me," Holroyd said.
Oh, God . . . Sarah's heart pounded against her ribcage. His smell was an unwholesome blend of wine, tainted meat and sweat-soaked wool, no worse and no better than the rest of Orpheus' sailing men, except he had added the scent of lavender pomade to the rest. Holroyd's hard body shifted along hers; she felt his masculine strength, inflexible as iron, impossible to fight. He pressed himself closer, so that she was startled by a different hardness poking the back of her thigh through her dress. Her stomach roiled around a core of ice.
"Your husband is dead," Holroyd whispered, his stubbly cheek scouring the delicate flesh on the side of her neck. "You need a new protector, Sarah. Someone who will take care of your needs." He rubbed the bulge of his manhood against her leg, leaving her in no doubt as to his meaning. "You need a gentleman who admires you and loves you as I do. You're so beautiful . . . I've been bedazzled since you first came aboard. Did you not feel it too, Sarah? "
She shuddered in revulsion.
He kissed the patch of skin behind her ear. "Do not tremble so. I won't hurt you. I only want to love you. Please let me love you," Holroyd groaned. His free hand went to the pin fastenings that held the bib-front of her gown's bodice to the sleeves. She mewled and went rigid, flailing an arm behind herself to try and hook his face with her nails. He abandoned the effort of unpinning her dress and roughly rucked up her skirt, petticoat and shift, exposing her from the waist down. His fingers splayed across her bared belly, kneading the soft flesh.
Sarah squirmed, wanting to escape the unwanted touch. His fingers moved lower. She kicked backwards, her heel connecting with his shin. Holroyd let out a curse. His grip tightened over her mouth until she was light-headed from pain. "Sarah!" he hissed. "Damn you, do not fight me! I don't want to hurt you but I will . . . "
Suddenly, Holroyd grunted and slipped sideways. Sarah twisted away from him, sobbing for breath. He clutched at the hem of her skirts as he fell. She heard the fabric tear followed by a sickening crack, and she was free, stumbling forward. Someone touched her. She shrieked. The pale oval of Elizabeth's face loomed out of the darkness, illuminated by a lantern's light.
"Sarah! Sarah, are you hurt? Did he . . . ?" Elizabeth asked, her voice low and urgent.
"No," Sarah said, pressing a hand to her chest as if to force her galloping heartbeat to assume a more sedate pace. "No, he did not . . . I am well," she panted.
Elizabeth's gaze flickered over Sarah, taking in her disheveled appearance, then went to Holroyd, who was laid out unconscious on the deck. Only his boots were visible in the circle of light cast by the battle lantern Elizabeth was holding. In her other hand was a boarding ax, the broad steel head narrowing to a wicked point at one end.
Sarah's mouth fell open as relief at being rescued turned to fear for the consequences of that rescue. "Lizzy, did you kill him?" she asked, staring at the man's still form.
"I hit him with the flat of the blade," Elizabeth said. "It was no intention of mine to break his brain-pan." Nevertheless, she sounded savagely satisfied at the result of her timely arrival. "When he wakes, he'll have a sore head and a better appreciation for the requirements of gentlemanly behavior."
"And what will he do to you?" Sarah was aghast. "Lt. Holroyd could have you put in the bilboes and left in the cable locker till we reach England, then you'll be arrested and put into prison. A court will order you to be transported to Botany Bay for attacking an officer of His Majesty's Navy. Oh, I can't bear to think it!"
Elizabeth looked scornful. "Tush! A man like Holroyd will never admit that a lady drew his cork!" She turned and knelt beside him, holding the lantern aloft. Her back shielded him from Sarah's view. After a long moment, Elizabeth raised her head. Sarah's heart made a weird little stutter at the serious expression on the other woman's face.
A movement caught her eye. Sarah looked up and saw Lilias coalescing from the shadows, her voluptuous figure blurred like a smudged watercolor. She was shepherding three other spirits, which were blue and white and flat as foolscap. The temperature dropped at once, cold biting through the thin layers of Sarah's clothing. The paper thin wait-abouts were familiar to her; she recognized Joe Dandyfunk, Jeffcott and Holroyd just as Elizabeth said quietly, "I'm sorry, Sarah, but he's dead. He broke his neck when he fell."
Holroyd's spirit grinned, showing lapis-tinged teeth and cerulean gums.
"He's dead?" Sarah asked, controlling her voice with an effort. Unseen by Elizabeth, Dandyfunk glided close to her, trailing a pale aquamarine mist. The boy had no depth at all; viewed from the side, there was only a thin azurite sliver in the air to mark his manifestation. The stink of scorched caramel grew stronger. Jeffcott watched them from his position near Lilias; the dead man's mouth was a severe indigo slash.
"Yes." Elizabeth's tone was clipped. "An unfortunate accident." She stood, swinging the lantern straight through Holroyd's ghostly form. Where the light fell, the spirit dimmed but did not fade altogether, becoming a mere silver scrawl on the air that winked back into existence as soon as the lantern passed. Elizabeth walked over to Sarah and touched her arm. "We cannot leave him here," she said. "I will need your help."
Sarah tore her gaze away from Holroyd's spirit, which continued to grin at her. Lilias was doing nothing, just standing and watching with her great dark eyes, her manifestation becoming more solid by the moment. "What do you want me to do?" Sarah asked. The question was only partially directed at Elizabeth.
"Take his legs," Elizabeth said. She put the lantern down on the deck; the beam illuminated the dead man's face and the black gaping hole of his mouth. A trickle of blood had run out of his ear. Sarah felt a creeping clammy horror stealing upon her. She did not want to touch him but she squatted and wrapped her hands around his ankles. Elizabeth grabbed his wrists. Working together, blinded by the dark, they managed to maneuver the limp heavy weight of his body forward to the hatch, half carrying and half dragging the corpse. Sarah's arms ached and her shoulder joints were balls of fire by the time they reached the ladder and the weak patch of sunlight that pooled there.
Elizabeth tugged and pulled until she had Holroyd's body arranged at the foot of the ladder in an awkward sprawl. "You must go back for the lantern," she said.
Sarah peered back into the utter blackness that stretched aft beyond the hatch. The lantern was still burning at the other end, its light a feeble spark. Cold assailed her and she clenched her jaw to prevent her teeth from chattering. Her hesitation drew a sigh from Elizabeth.
"Please, Sarah . . . fetch the lantern and return here quickly," Elizabeth said. "We cannot leave it. There would be questions."
Sighing herself, Sarah left the comforting sunlight and plunged into the stifling darkness, feeling her way through the length of the orlop deck. She blotted her sweaty face with the sleeve of her dress. Halfway there, Holroyd's ghost sailed towards her like a playing card launched through the air with a careless flick of the fingers. Sarah ignored him and trudged on, wishing she had brought her shawl. The situation was disconcerting, to say the least; she had never before encountered a wait-about so recently deceased that its body was still warm. And what were Jeffcott and the loblolly boy doing with Lilias?
The frost-plume of her breath mingled with the moon-glow of the ghost's own illumination. He made no sound, just stared at her with his dead eyes and kept pace. When she reached the lantern, she saw Lilias, who beckoned to Holroyd. The lieutenant's spirit flowed behind the slave woman, making it obvious that he was being controlled by her to some extent. How it had happened, Sarah did not know. This was beyond her experience but she was somehow unsurprised. Lilias had a knack for fascinating people when she had been alive. Why should matters be any different when she was dead?
Sarah picked up the lantern and turned to go. Lilias took a step forward, blocking her path. Death had not erased one iota of the slave's beauty. Her skin shone like polished ebony, blue-tinged but flawless. The proud tilt of her head, the jut of her jaw, her hip-shot posture were familiar to Sarah. A terrible sense of foreboding made her stomach twist into a knot.
"What do you want, Lilias?" Sarah asked, wary of the sly expression on the spirit's face.
Lilias gestured. There was a scraping sound. Sarah saw a spare quoin shift into the light. The wooden wedge was usually employed at the breech end of a gun to raise or lower the barrel; the upper edge was worn smooth from use. While she watched, the quoin moved without being touched, sliding over the deck and cracking into the bulkhead. The sound reminded her of the noise she had heard when Holroyd had fallen down.
Sarah felt ill when she understood the purpose of Lilias' demonstration. "It isn't possible," she whispered. "You can't harm the living."
Lilias' smirk was horrifyingly triumphant.
Confused and unwilling to believe the impossible, Sarah was rooted to the spot. The sickening bittersweet scent of burning sugar blasted out of nowhere, a smell so potent it almost obliterated Sarah's other senses. She reeled in place, deafened to everything save the deep pulse of a drum in her ears and the rush of her breathing, too fast and too loud. A measure of understanding came to her as in a fever dream, with Lilias as solid as stone in the forefront while the rest of the world faded into white insignificance.
The slave had encompassed Holroyd's death, whispering her venom into him, urging him to wallow in wine, turning his mind to violence and rape. It had been Lilias who made Elizabeth uneasy earlier, pricking the edges of her consciousness until she had gone down to the orlop deck and found Holroyd attacking Sarah. The boarding ax was laid close to hand. The stage was set for murder. When Elizabeth struck him a non-fatal blow, Lilias moved the quoin so it would break Holroyd's neck. She had also lured Captain Jeffcott and Joe Dandyfunk to their miserable drowned ends.
Death had done more than preserve Lilias' beauty; it had somehow given her dominion over its kingdom, granting her the ability to put other spirits in thrall. Hatred and envy had made her powerful, the embodiment of the darkest, cruelest aspect of desire. She had always coveted everything that Sarah owned; now she coveted every soul who had some connection to Sarah. Lilias had taken her husband, the boy who lusted after her, and the man who wanted her desperately enough to attempt rape. The next victim would be Elizabeth.
"No!" Sarah gritted the denial, fear and anger rising from some previously unknown depths to nestle at the base of her skull, tightening until her skin felt stretched uncomfortably over her bones. "You can't have her, Lilias."
Lilias' smile grew more pointed.
"Not her! I won't allow it!" Sarah shouted, swinging the lantern at the ghost. Lilias and Holroyd disappeared, leaving only a hazy blue glitter hanging in the air. Sarah's face was flushed with heat but the sweat that broke out over her body was cold. She lurched a few steps forward; her muscles were stiff and refused to cooperate. A band of pain squeezed her skull. She moved through the darkness as swiftly as she could, not daring to call out. How could she warn Elizabeth against a foe that she could not see, and therefore could not guard against?
By the time she reached the hatch where Elizabeth was waiting, Sarah was shaking so violently, the lantern had gone out.
Elizabeth made no greeting. Instead, she stood straight and screamed. The sound whip-sawed through Sarah's head. She dropped the lantern and whirled around, hands over her ears, looking in every direction to find the threat which had caused that awful shrieking to pour out of the other woman's mouth. Several sailors appeared at the hatch above, their bodies almost blocking out the sunlight. They looked down, saw Holroyd's body, and one of them began shouting for help. Elizabeth's scream cut off and she hurled herself into Sarah's arms in a convincing faint. Sarah thumped down hard on the deck with the heavier woman across her legs. Quittam and Bayard arrived, took in the scene, and sent for Dr. Vallance.
"A broken neck," was the doctor's conclusion after he examined the body. "I believe Lt. Holroyd must have fallen from the ladder. Was there a witness to the accident?"
"I saw it," Elizabeth said. Her eyes were huge and tear-filled. "He just . . . he slipped and fell. There was a horrible sound and he . . . he . . . " She stuttered to a stop. Sarah marveled at the woman's ability for extempore prevarication.
"The lieutenant smells quite strongly of drink, sir," Bayard observed in a murmur.
Quilliam nodded and stood, crouching to avoid cracking his head on the beams. He looked as if he had aged ten years in a single moment. As Orpheus' second officer, he was the acting captain now that Holroyd was dead. "This has been an ill-luck voyage," he murmured. To Vallance, Quittam said, "I shall be expected to write a formal report in the ship's log. You will make a report of your own for the inquiry court, I presume."
"Yes," Vallance replied. "There is no doubt that Lt. Holroyd perished of a broken neck, the cause of which is misadventure. The lieutenant found the responsibilities thrust upon him to be a burden too great for him to bear. He sought refuge in the wine bottle and it cost him his life."
"Ought we not to be a trifle more delicate in our testimony?" Bayard asked, shooting the corpse a glance out of the corner of his eye. "For his family's sake, I mean."
"There is no need for discretion," Vallance said, heaving himself to his feet. "Lt. Holroyd was unmarried. His sole relation is an uncle in the Impress Service. The true nature of his demise will not cast shame upon anyone save himself."
Sarah made no protest as she and Elizabeth became the focus of the gentlemen's concern. They were escorted by a solicitous Bayard to the great cabin. Once they were safely inside and alone, Sarah clutched Elizabeth's arm. "You are in danger," she said, using the other woman's momentum to swing her around so that they were facing one another.
"I do not believe so," Elizabeth replied. She leaned in and kissed Sarah's mouth. "My dear girl, I refuse to be saddened by Lt. Holroyd's passing. The man would have harmed you in the worst possible way had I not intervened. I am not sorry, no, not in the least. I assure you our ruse has worked; no one suspects either of us of anything other than having the bad luck to witness the man's fall and subsequent demise."
"You don't understand." Sarah pulled away when Elizabeth would have kissed her again. "It's Lilias."
"Lilias is dead, or so I have been informed," Elizabeth said. Her mouth flattened into a crooked line. "Have you decided that an accidental murderess is not an adequate substitute?"
The question was so ludicrous that it took Sarah a few moments to formulate an answer. "Of course not!" she blurted, hurrying to soothe the other woman's obviously hurt feelings. "You saved me, Lizzy. There's no comparison between you and Lilias . . . you are infinitely the better, more wholesome and amiable person. I adore and admire you without reservation of any kind. I'd rather have you than a dozen of her ilk. But Lilias . . . she's threatened you, and I'm afraid for your safety."
Elizabeth's eyebrows rose. "You told me that these wait-abouts cannot do serious harm to living persons."
"I was wrong. Lilias killed Mr. Dandyfunk and Captain Jeffcott. She also made Lt. Holroyd break his neck on a quoin."
"I realize her presence is disturbing to you," Elizabeth said, looking doubtful. "Is it possible she's claiming credit for these deaths that is undeserving?"
"She's not lying." Of that, Sarah was sure. "We must be watchful. Lilias wants to take you away from me, and she'll do it if she can."
"Can you not banish her?"
Sarah shook her head. "To lay a spirit, I must know their true name. Lilias was born in St. Domingue but her mother was African, and I assume she gave Lilias a tribal name at her birth. Her true name is known only to herself."
"Well, I appreciate the need for caution, sweetheart," Elizabeth said, shrugging, "and thank you for your concern, but what must I fear from a dead woman?"
"Anything and everything," Sarah answered.
"I have risked death from living opponents many times; a threat from a ghost does not have the power to frighten me. Having given the matter some thought, I am inclined to believe your original statement. If dead persons were permitted to kill, the world would be unpopulated, so I beg you will excuse me from overmuch concern." Elizabeth smiled. "However, if you feel the need to take precautions, I will not say you nay."
Sarah was aware she was being humored. She moved to the desk, opened a drawer, and removed some pieces of wood and the clasp-knife. The knife's ivory handle was stained with old blood-hers, she thought, staring at the ripples of light glinting on the sharp blade. Desperation rose to claim her. She glanced at Elizabeth, who was watching her with a frown. "I won't let her take you," Sarah said. "I'll protect you." She had no idea what could be done but she did not intend to sit by and let Lilias take what she wanted again.
Defiance was not natural to Sarah, but that would not stop her, either.
Orpheus pitched in an Atlantic thunderstorm, riding the long rolling swells with ease. In the great cabin, Sarah was working on carving the last of four coffin dolls. Thin curls of wood littered the moldy drugget. Elizabeth watched her the entire time, clearly unconvinced of the danger but willing to indulge Sarah's notions.
Elizabeth suddenly sat up in her chair, a pained grimace on her face. "Oh!"
"What is it?" Sarah noticed a silvery-blue shimmer in the corner of her eye.
"I think . . . " Elizabeth stood and yanked up the skirt of her white muslin dress, heedless of the damage she was doing by the rough handling. She reached behind her thigh, her lower lip caught between her teeth. "Lord!" she exclaimed, pulling her hand back. A bent pin was held between her finger and thumb. "I thought it was a particularly bloodthirsty flea. How did this happen?"
Sarah glimpsed a stronger glimmer. At the edge of the cloud was Joe Dandyfunk, small for his age and looking as malevolent as a demon fresh from hell. The flat figure flew across the cabin, headed straight for Elizabeth. The woman jumped and let out a wordless exclamation. Sarah thought she had seen the wait-about, but she was reacting to another pin, this one stuck into the sensitive flesh of her armpit..
Elizabeth pulled a third pin out of her body, this one driven behind her knee. A fourth pin appeared, lodged into her wrist. "Sarah!" she cried. "What is happening?"
Orpheus heeled and Elizabeth's empty chair skidded backwards, banging into the stern locker. Sarah knew where the pins originated; her work basket, full of half-finished darning and sewing, was on the gallery seat, the lid hanging open. She stood frozen, hesitating despite her resolution to protect Elizabeth. All of her life, she had been led. Sarah had never been given a choice. She had been told what to do by her father, her mother, her nurse, Lilias . . . and it had been far easier to acquiesce than argue. Sarah had never been free to act as she wanted, to speak as she wished, to live as she willed.
Rage burst out of the embers that had been smoldering inside her since her father brought Lilias home. He had been pleased by his acquisition, she remembered, telling Sarah that Lilias was prettier, well mannered, better spoken. Sarah got the impression that day that had the slave girl not been dark-skinned, Father would have been happy to claim Lilias as his child. He could then have gotten rid of his thin, diffident disappointment of a daughter who did not even have beauty to recommend her. In the end, Lilias had taken everything from Sarah including her father's love. These thoughts flashed through her mind in an instant. She re-focused on the woman across the cabin.
Scratches were being inflicted on Elizabeth, thin red weals on her décolletage, the backs of her hands, her cheeks. She had pressed herself against the bulkhead, dark hair straggling limply on her neck. Jeffcott and Holroyd joined Dandyfunk, all three of the wait-abouts glowing blue and silver, sliding together and apart like shuffling cards-flick! flick! flick! Their pale shining faces were distorted in animal expressions of starvation and unholy glee. Lilias watched smugly from the far corner, arms crossed over her chest.
Sarah's fury turned to a raging inferno. She was Sarah Morgan Jeffcott, beloved of Elizabeth Gilliard, and she had forgotten-or perhaps she had never known until now-that no matter how powerless she was in the world of the living, she had command over the dead. The epiphany cooled her anger, though it was not abated, merely turned to ice that burned behind her ribs and made her hackles rise. She need not wait upon others; she could, and would, act as she deemed fit. Sarah shook off the shackles of a lifetime of self-doubt. It was as if she had spent the whole of her existence trapped in a cage too small to stretch out or lie down, hemmed in by her fears and insecurities; now the cage had burst open, aided by the love she bore for Elizabeth, and she love she had received in return.
She was at last free to follow her heart, and she chose Elizabeth above all else. "Stop this, Lilias. I warn you, stop this at once," Sarah said.
Lilias' contemptuous expression seemed to say without words, Or what?
As an answer, Sarah cried out loud, "Joseph Dandyfunk," and threw the coffin doll at the spirit she had named. "William Emerick Jeffcott. Christopher Prichard Holroyd." Two more dolls thunked on the deck, all of them standing uprights on their bluntly carved 'toes.' Three shadows ran swiftly from the spirits' bottom edges, black waves like spilled ink crawling over to the dolls, which began to spin. For the first time, Sarah actually felt the stirrings of power within her, potent and rich, as intoxicating as the strongest Spanish sack. Better be with the dead, whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, she thought.
The three dolls spun rapidly, gathering the ghosts' spiritual substance within themselves. It was almost an anti-climax, the easy way in which the wait-abouts were drawn into the crude carvings that Sarah had made. First Dandyfunk, scrabbling futilely as he was unwound, then Holroyd who went with a silent sigh, and finally Jeffcott. Sarah did not miss the look of gratitude her late husband gave her as the doll consumed him bit by bit, thread by thread like an unraveled carpet. It was not long before the only thing left of Lilias' victims was three dolls bloated on souls, rolling on the heeling deck.
Sarah felt no elation, no satisfaction-she felt nothing save sadness at the waste of lives. She looked at Lilias, who stared back at her insolently. Elizabeth's cry of alarm caught Sarah's attention. The clasp-knife she had abandoned on the desk was now hovering close to Elizabeth's face, the broken tip menacing the woman's eyes. Lilias' doing, there was no doubt about that. A fresh wave of cold fury filled Sarah to the brim.
And what will you do to stop me? Lilias asked in her silent way. Her dark eyes gleamed with malice. She pushed away from the bulkhead, her hips twitching. Lilias spread her arms wide. What can you do?
Sarah stalked to Elizabeth, snatching the clasp-knife out of the air. She turned to confront Lilias. "Leave us alone," she said. "Just go, Lily!" She hissed as the blade snapped down and sliced into her knuckles, a violent punishment for her temerity. Her hand spasmed open and the knife thumped on the deck. Streams of blood trickled down her fingers. She made a fist. The pain was sharp and bright, forcing her to tamp down her anger.
Elizabeth's panting was harsh in her ears. Sarah touched Elizabeth's cheek with her fingertips, leaving a smear of blood behind. "I know what to do," she said, though she did not feel as confident as she sounded. She did not know Lilias' true name, therefore she could not banish her as she had done the others.
"Be careful," Elizabeth warned, shifting slightly . She was grey with fright, but she remained upright and alert. "I do not wish to see you harmed."
Sarah did not reply. Lilias represented many things to her, none of them good. Bitter betrayal, crushing sorrow, heartache, loneliness... these things had been stored away in Sarah's mind, fattened on unspoken resentment through the years. Sarah had watched from the shadows while Father spoiled Lilias, petted her, had pretty frilly dresses sewn for her so the little girl resembled a French doll. He had dandled Lilias on his knee, feeding her sips of brandy and bites of cake, cajoling kisses from her.
With a start, Sarah realized she had been jealous of Lilias.
It was a much darker realization to suddenly comprehend why Father had strangled Lilias; he had been driven mad by the naked evidence that his lover was also bedding his despised daughter behind his back. Those seemingly innocent interactions between Father and Lilias took on a more sinister aspect when viewed in retrospect. How long had he been forcing the slave to submit to his lusts? Good God, she had been Sarah's age, and unable to refuse her master's commands! Sarah let out a bark of laughter that was wrenched painfully from the pit of her belly. No wonder he had not been able to stand the idea of Sarah remaining on the plantation! She was a visible, breathing reminder of what he had destroyed.
Jealousy had been the mistress of them all.
Sarah smiled at Lilias. "I hated you for a long time," she confessed, taking a step towards the ghost. "You were so cruel to me, so infamous, so spiteful . . . " She paused, then went on, "What Father did to you was wrong."
Lilias flicked her fingers, her expression furious. A pair of three-tined forks rose into the air, followed by the knives, pewter plates and mugs that had been left on the map table after Sarah and Elizabeth's dinner. The remains of the sea-pie they had eaten were thrown across the cabin, followed by the cutlery and the rest. A lantern exploded, showering a flinching Sarah with bits of shattered horn. She threw herself in front of Elizabeth, shielding the other woman with her body. Orpheus bucked and plunged, now driven over a short choppy sea by the capricious storm winds. Sarah dug her fingers into Elizabeth's arms and fought to stay upright.
"I know what he did to you!" Sarah called to Lilias.
Several windows in the stern gallery smashed, letting in cold spray from the agitated waves that were slapping against the ship.
Sarah took a breath with difficulty. "You hated him, and you took your revenge on me because he was above your reach! I understand, Lily."
Elizabeth gasped and her body jerked as if she was being struck a blow. Sarah felt the same blow herself, a doubled fist driven hard between her shoulder blades. The pain was excruciating. More blows followed to her side, her legs, her arms. Elizabeth was being beaten, too. Sarah could to nothing save hang on and endure. Each contact became an ache that spread to encompass the whole of her skin. A nasty punch to her chest made light flare in her vision. She gagged, jamming her bleeding knuckles into her mouth to keep from screaming as her hair was pulled with such viciousness, she feared the strands would be ripped out of her scalp. Heavy slaps rocked her head back and forth.
The captain's shaving glass cracked from side to side.
"I know what Father did to you, Lily," Sarah whispered against Elizabeth's tangled curls, knowing the ghost could hear her. Blood ran out of Sarah's nostrils, painted her mouth, and made her voice thick. A book shot against the bulkhead, pages ruffling noisily. Orpheus shuddered and a blast of wind howled through the broken windows, bringing a lashing of rain with it. "You were a child when it started, weren't you?"
The Windsor chair was hurled at them, narrowly missing Elizabeth's head. Sarah clung to the other woman more tightly, closing her eyes against the splintered debris.
"Father made you his victim," Sarah said, "and you made me yours but I survived, Lily. I survived. Now it's time for you to let go." She turned around, pressing her back against Elizabeth's front. "Do you hear me, Lily? It's over. I know what he did, may God send his soul to rot in hell, but he can't hurt you anymore."
Wind whipped at Sarah's hair, stinging her face. She spat out a mouthful of blood. A strong blue light danced over Lilias, lending her skin a plummy sheen. Her eyes were bottomless black holes in the newly flattened surface of her face. The ghost had lost its roundness, its curves compressed to a paper-thinness that had no depth and cast no shadow. Lilias had become hard edges and sharp surfaces, bristling silver and blue. The air grew cold and colder still, spray freezing into ice droplets when it came in through the windows.
"I know what he did to you," Sarah repeated, taking two steps towards Lilias. If she could only convince her to go . . .
"Sarah." Elizabeth choked. "Watch yourself."
Sarah glanced at Elizabeth. A knitting needle from her work basket, which had tipped over during the Orpheus' heeling, had been thrust through the sleeve of Elizabeth's dress and into the flesh beneath. A crimson patch of blood soaked the white muslin, the metal shaft of the needle poking up in the center of the spreading stain. The woman's face was crumpled with pain; she looked as if she might vomit.
Sarah faced Lilias, both hands curled into fists. The cut across her knuckles throbbed like a sore tooth. Orpheus was thrashing through the storm-stirred sea, running as near to the wind as possible. Even in the great cabin, the wild high hum of the rigging could be heard. A cross-wind nearly took the ship aback. Orpheus rolled and staggered, and Sarah lost her balance. Elizabeth's agonized cry had Sarah scrabbling at the drugget much as Dandyfunk's spirit had done. She clawed her way over to Elizabeth, who was visibly shaking; the ship's movements were jarring the knitting needle in her arm.
"Go away, Lily!" Sarah shouted. "You can't have her! I won't let you!" She pressed her back against Elizabeth again, hoping to cushion the woman from further jolting, and reached for the power that she had felt earlier. It was still there, tickling the boundaries of her perception like far away lightning. Sarah had to admit that Lilias would never stop of her own accord. Some of the spirit's rage had diminished due to Sarah's acknowledgement of her father's violation but it was not enough. It would never be enough. Lilias' appetite was too great to take satisfaction in such a small victory.
Sarah did not know Lilias' true name, but in grasping the power that was her birthright, she realized that knowledge was not needed. For whatever reason, Lilias was beyond her ability to control directly. However, there was another way. Consciously wielding her gift, Sarah flung a web of power outward and sent a silent call to summon the dead.
They came in the space between one heartbeat and the next.
Young and old, male and female, the wait-abouts came in their dozens, gleaming white as lilies and blue as the hearts of glaciers. Their water-logged numbers were legion. They crowded into the cabin, one after the other shuffling into existence while flecks of frozen water danced in the air. Behind her, Elizabeth made a sound that might have been Sarah's name. She felt the other woman take her shoulder in a bruising grip.
"If I die," Elizabeth said in a remarkably steady voice, "there is a letter for Mr. Windham hidden in the false bottom of my primary trunk. No matter what happens, I pray you will remember that I love you, Sarah Jeffcott. You are precious to me, and I love you."
Sarah reached around and touched Elizabeth's side in a comforting gesture. "I could not say it before, Lizzy, but I love you, too," she replied. "You've taught me how. And you aren't going to die-not today, I promise."
Her heart weighted by an aching tenderness for the woman who meant so much to her, Sarah confronted Lilias for the last time. The other spirits had surrounded the slave's ghost, hemming her in near the opposite bulkhead. Lilias made an imperious gesture but nothing happened. She tried again, and again, with no result. Sarah had control this time, and Lilias could not wrest it away from her. The wait-abouts pressed closer. In the forefront was a sailor wearing doublet and hose; next to him were two women in the clothing popular during the Sun King's court. All the ghosts appeared to be animated paper dolls dressed in the costumes of many different eras, flickering blue and silver and white. A near palpable aura of menace surrounded them. Their hungry black eyes watched Lilias, who remained defiant. The slave had used them for her own purposes, and it was clear the wait-abouts meant to make her pay.
"This is your final chance, Lily," Sarah said, holding back the spirits that chafed at the restraint, eager as a pack of hounds poised to rend their prey. "Leave us and never return. Seek your own peace, I beg you, or let me lay you to rest." The remaining coffin doll was at her feet, rocking gently back and forth as the storm outside abated and Orpheus began making headway in a smoother glide. Despite all that had happened between them, despite the wrongs done to them both, Sarah did not want Lilias to suffer further. She bent and picked up the doll, splinters catching on her fingertips.
"Please, Lily," she pleaded, "do not force my hand. I forgive you. Can you not forgive my family for their part in your misery? Can you not let go of vengeance and be at peace?"
Lilias' cobalt mouth elongated into an impossibly long line that went from ear to ear. The ghost's smile nearly cut its head in half; it was the stuff of nightmares. Glistening black yawned in the space behind Lilias' teeth. Sarah did not shudder, nor did she flinch away from facing her tormentor. She was no longer a child. Never again would she allow Lilias or anyone else to terrorize her. That part of her life was done. From this moment forward, Sarah would direct her own destiny and take her place at Elizabeth's side.
"Lily, please." Sarah was not without compassion. "Please go."
Blackness poured out of Lilias' mouth, dripped over her chin and puddled on the deck. A grubby silver streak caught Sarah's attention; it was the second knitting needle, hovering and ready to strike at Elizabeth's heart. That was proof enough of Lilias' unwillingness to surrender with anything approaching grace. Sarah hesitated no longer.
"I'm sorry it's come to this, Lily," Sarah said. "I am so very sorry."
She released the straining spirits and they surged forward in an unstoppable tide, smothering Lilias in gleaming spectral bodies that resembled unfolded letters piled atop one another. Lilias' hand appeared from the struggling heap then she was gone, swallowed by the rest. Honeyed sunlight rushed into the cabin as the last vestiges of the storm passed. The wait-abouts blurred and turned translucent, white running into blue. When they disappeared, taking Lilias with them, Sarah went to the stern gallery. Her legs were rubbery but she forced them to work. The fragile layer of ice on the seat was already melting. She looked out of the shattered windows to the sea, where phosphorescent trails patterned the water. There was no sign of Lilias or the others. She kissed the coffin doll, whispered, "Lilias, I hope you find rest someday," and dropped the little wooden figure into the ocean.
Elizabeth was waiting; the whole sleeve of her dress was soaked in blood. When Sarah came to her, she murmured, "Is it over?"
The other knitting needle had fallen the deck. Sarah kicked it away. "It is over," she said, certain that neither she nor anyone else would ever be troubled by Lilias again. The other ghosts would see to that. Elizabeth's smile made Sarah's sinuses burn with unshed tears.
She had eased Elizabeth away from the bulkhead and freed the woman's arm from the impaling knitting needle when the cabin door opened. Lt. Bayard was revealed standing on the threshold; he was dressed in a tarpaulin jacket and his face was mottled red from exertion. He surveyed the damage in the cabin with chagrin. "The storm is over, thank God, and I hope you ladies are well," he started to say, but cut himself off with a gasp. "Mrs. Gilliard! You are wounded, madam!"
"Yes," Elizabeth replied without a trace of sarcasm. "Would you be kind enough to ask Dr. Vallance to attend me here? I do not feel quite up to visiting sick-bay."
"Of course, of course! At once, madam!" Bayard fled.
Sarah held Elizabeth's injured arm against her chest. "The storm may be over," she said, "but some matters have just begun."
Elizabeth kissed her, softly and sweetly. "It will be a new life for us both, dear Sarah. You will make a home in London, and we will be together, my dear, my very dear girl . . . "
The horizon was a mist of pink and gold, more beautiful than Sarah had ever seen. She had been empty of most emotions save fear alone for so long, and now she was full, filled with love for Elizabeth Gilliard. She had been cast adrift, and now she had found safety in another woman's arms. She laughed under her breath and kissed Elizabeth again, hearing Dr. Vallance's heavy footsteps approaching.
Orpheus was taking them home.THE END