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Odyssey

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At first it was very hard.

You see, I heard what happened. I heard Miranda realize that the tall clock that had come to us when I was six or seven had been hers, had been taken from her home by my father after he made sure that her husband was taken to a madhouse for having reasonable ideas. That's the thing about having an education; you learn to distinguish reasonable ideas from unreasonable ones. Miranda Hamilton had always been kind to me, but she was also reasonable. The one time she raised her voice to my father, she was being reasonable – as well as angry. And I did not blame her.

I did blame the man who shot her, and his subordinates who clubbed James to the ground. And I screamed. Why shouldn't I? They were the only people I knew, and they had been treated abominably. She was dead, and he was unconscious.

I was bundled back into the bedroom they had given me, as if I were an infant, and told to be quiet, as if screaming when one saw one's friends shot and clubbed in a dining room were not a reasonable reaction to such events.

***

I had spent weeks imprisoned, first when I was on the pirate ship that captured me, where I was kept drugged and insensible, and then at the fortress. I could not blame anyone for what had happened to me, but I had to learn to keep my anger inside, anger at how I had been treated like a sack of flour, instead of as a sensible human being. I had to do this to survive, to pretend to be weaker than I was. Compared to Miranda's life, what I had endured had been nothing. She had lost her husband, and everything that was hers, and had had to flee with James, and had to change her life completely – because of my father's political ambitions. When I heard the shot that ended her life, the anger rose up in me again.

I faced down my father. I told him I knew about his lies. His response was to bundle me off to Savannah, to stay with his friends, the Ashfords. I knew from his reaction that it was because he did not want anyone to speak the truth, or to know it.

***

When you are imprisoned, all you can do is think.

I had no idea how long I'd been drugged by the one-eyed pirate and his crew -- thank God that Miranda and her friends had a different dress for me to wear, and clean underthings, for being drugged and confined without a chamber pot was horrible – but in the weeks afterward, I tried to think of what I could do.

Up to this point I had always been the dutiful daughter, the attentive pupil. I had never had to stand on my own, like Eleanor, like Miranda. I had no references other than them.

None of the books I had read for my teachers had covered the difficulties of dealing with imprisonment, so they were of little use. I had little knowledge of other literature, but I remembered some of the French poetry I had translated, and a little of the Latin, and said that over again to myself as the ship sailed south to Savannah. It was a small ship, staying within sight of the land the whole way, and then turning to go upriver.

It had seemed impossible for me to be rescued, because I had been small and weakened from little food, and knew nothing of guns or swords or fisticuffs except to look at them. I had not thought there were other ways to fight. But Eleanor had rescued me, with a fierceness that astonished me. Clearly women could do things that I was never told about. Eleanor was a woman of my own class, yet she ran businesses, and she faced down Charles Vane's anger. I did not know where she found such courage. I think it was not only her upbringing on that island – I suggested that to her and her response was a not-too-ladylike snort – but something of her own. It was, then, possible for a woman to do things in the face of men's anger and make them stick. Women did have choices, and could take action on their own, without a man telling them what to do.

Why had nobody taught me this?

Now I was imprisoned again, taken from what was to have been my home and sent to stay with my father's friends, the Ashfords. How was this any different than what I had just been through? I had no choice in where I went, and if I did not go willingly I would be compelled to obey them, because they were men, and larger and stronger than I was. The only difference this time was that I had clean clothes and a bondservant, Sadie, to travel with me and take care of the clothes. She and I would have food that was better than what I had endured in the fort. But neither of us were allowed any choice in what happened to us.

My anger, which had flared at my father so briefly, grew within me.

***

The news of what had happened in Charles Town was slow to reach Savannah. So few had lived through the bombardment that what was left of the settlement was struggling to attain food and shelter. Their slaves had been freed and had run to the deep forest; they had not returned. The survivors had sent a ship to Boston for supplies, and another to England, but had not sent word to Savannah. Perhaps they thought they would bring Charles Vane and his pirates to us; perhaps they had no faith in Savannah's supplies. Certainly they had no money with which to purchase anything, since the fires had taken most of the buildings; if there were fireproof strongboxes, it was unlikely they existed in such a new settlement.

A month after I arrived, Mr. Ashford sat down with me and told me that my father was dead, that Charles Town had been all but destroyed by Captain Vane's men, and that they, Captain Vane, and Captain Flint had escaped. He asked if I had any other family than my father, and I had to admit that I did not. My mother's family had disowned her for marrying him and would not accept me, and my father's only brother had drowned in a sailing accident when I was a child. I knew of no cousins left to whom I could turn. Mistress Ashford said that I was welcome to stay with them as long as I wanted, and I agreed to do so for the present.

I could not say aloud that I was glad that James lived, even as I mourned for Miranda. I could not say any of it. I played the quiet orphaned daughter, overcome by the news, but within myself I was thinking how my father had no longer been the honest man I had known, and how his dishonesty had cost me my friends James and Miranda. And Thomas also. I had memories of him from England, tall and blond and laughing at a joke, then leaning over and gently asking me if I wanted something to eat or drink, or a book to look at. He listened to me, and then reached up to a high shelf to get me a book with many illustrations of animals.

Why is it always those who are kind who suffer so? Those who do not deserve such pain?

I had suffered, on the pirate ship, in the dank ugly dark cell in the fort. I had been threatened, and drugged, and thought I would die there. I had been helpless and afraid until Eleanor brought me out of captivity, and until Miranda gave me the journal, gave me somewhere to say what I thought.

I had to think about what I wanted to do next. Maybe I could be like Eleanor, and find a place for myself. All I knew was that if this was civilization, condemning Miranda and James, then I did not want to live in it any longer than I had to. But where could I go?

***

I had spent my time in England receiving the education of a lady – learning which fork goes with which food, learning Latin and French and a bit of mathematics, learning to play the pianoforte and to sing (which I was never good at) and to paint with watercolors. I knew the uses of the globes and the names of countries far far away.

All of that made me suitable as a governess for Isabella Ashford, who at 11 was eager to learn about the world outside Savannah, and interested in everything. Teaching her gave me a place in the family, or, rather, with the family, and an occupation that I had not thought of. It compensated somewhat for my lack of money, and by custom it meant that the Ashfords might buy me clothing or whatever I needed that I could not otherwise afford.

Sadie remained with me, taking care of my room and my clothing, and also helping in the kitchen when needed, though she made it clear that she belonged to me, not the Ashfords, whenever there was a question about that.

And so the next few years passed.

***

At 15, Isabella was nearly as good at Latin and French as I was, although her knowledge of classical literature was a little less, since the books were not available. She could sketch well, and paint, and her father promised her a piano when one could be found and brought from England or Germany for her.

She was also being readied to go to England to finishing school, after which she would make her entrance into society as a woman, a few months away.

I could see the writing on the wall very clearly. At that point there would be no need for me in the Ashford household any more; there were no younger children since an epidemic of the fever had taken them the year before I arrived. I would not be turned away – Mistress Ashford would not do that, I believed – but I would either have to marry or I would have to find someone else for whom I could serve as governess.

And so, for the only time in my life, I told a lie.

I forged a letter from a supposed cousin in Jamaica, who had moved there from Surrey. This cousin had only now, several years late, learned that I had survived the horrible conflagration of Charles Town, and asked me to come for a visit and to stay for a while. The cousin's name was genuine; the fact that she had died of extreme old age some decades ago was not well known, and since her name was one that had been repeated in the family over the generations, it was not out of the question that there should be a younger Lillian Ashe in the world.

Sadie found me some sealing wax and a small carving of a bird to press into it; the stableboy had carved it for her as a gift, and the wings were particularly well detailed. It looked official enough, but not weathered enough to have traveled so far, so Sadie took it with her one day and made it subtly aged around the edges. And then we waited, she and I, until the Serena was in port at Savannah.

When I broke the seal, and told the Ashfords that I had been offered a place in Jamaica, they were startled but happy for me; it took only a little persuasion to get Mr. Ashford to pay me what I was owed for teaching his daughter for four years. He generously offered to cover my travel cost as well, and I accepted; extra money would always be welcome.

Sadie had already checked with the sailors on the Serena; yes, it would go to Jamaica, but after that it was headed for New Providence Island.

I bade the Ashfords farewell with every good wish for their future happiness, and Sadie and I set about our last voyage together. It was a swift and peaceful passage, and much of the time we spent on deck, watching the ocean, listening to the sounds of wind and waves, and simply enjoying the unexpected joy of having made a choice and following where it went.

And as the ship moved further from the past and its pains, I felt my anger wisp away with the wind that blew us along. I felt myself starting a new life, as neither a pupil nor a daughter nor a governess, but as something entirely different.

I had made sure to purchase our passage all the way to New Providence Island, so there was no question of our being left in Jamaica. The captain raised his eyebrows, but apparently it was less unusual than I had thought for a woman to travel with her maid, and he treated us with courtesy that I appreciated.

***

When we disembarked at Nassau, Sadie and I made our way up into the town square. The tavern I remembered still stood there, though many buildings seemed to have been damaged and rebuilt. I touched the sleeve of a woman whose long dark hair was wrapped around her head in a labyrinth of braids; she seemed to be in charge.

"Excuse me, ma'am, is Mistress Guthrie around? Eleanor Guthrie? She is a friend of mine."

Her face softened. "I am so sorry to tell you that she is not here; she died when the Spanish invaded two years ago." She sized me up with a look from eyes as dark as her hair. "How may I be of service?"

I had not expected Eleanor to be gone, so it took a moment for me to respond. I thought of her kindness, and her strength, and said, "I was hoping she might have a place for me, some work I could do." When she continued to look at me expectantly, I said, "My name is Abigail Ashe. Eleanor rescued me from the fort."

"My name is Max," the woman said, smiling for the first time. "Abigail, you are very welcome here, and I will find something for you to do. You are educated, am I correct? And who is this?"

Sadie responded with a curtsey and a broad, happy smile. "Sadie Boggs, ma'am. I've been a chambermaid, a cook, and a gardener; if there's something else you need me to do, I can learn." She curtseyed, her hand on the hidden pocket in which she kept the manumission paper that I had written her while we were aboard ship, certifying that she had completed her servitude and with it paid her bond, the price of passage to the Colonies.

"I am sure I can find work for both of you, and a place to live," Max said smoothly. "If you'll follow me, please? I have some people to introduce you to."

She turned and, gesturing to us to wait a moment, tapped on the sleeve of a gentleman with thinning hair, who looked friendly and jovial. "Excuse me." She drew him aside. "I believe you were saying you could use someone to serve as a personal secretary, to deal with the paperwork involved in your position?"

She nodded to us and we stepped forward.

"Mr. Featherstone, this is Abigail Ashe; she is new here, educated and looking for work. I think she'd be an ideal personal secretary for you."

I dropped a small curtsey, and Sadie did the same.

"Very pleased to make your acquaintance, ma'am." His smile was more welcoming than any I'd seen from the Ashfords. "Lately I've seen a good deal of correspondence from the French-speaking islands. I don't suppose you speak French, do you?"

"Yes, I do, sir. Oui, je le parle, monsieur."

"Marvelous! And is this your maid?"

I felt it necessary to disabuse him of the thought that Sadie might be still under bond. "She is a free woman now."

"But you will require an assistant, I am sure." He smiled at her also, and she smiled back. "I meant no offence, miss. We pay wages here for work; there are no slaves in my employ, nor bondservants." I felt relieved at hearing him say that. He continued, "My next meeting is postponed until later; may I walk you to the residence and see you settled in?" He glanced at a man standing by the counter. "Harrison, would you bring the ladies' baggage up, please?"

Sadie and I smiled at each other, handed our baggage to Harrison, who was tall and broad-shouldered and looked disappointed that we did not have more for him to carry, and followed Mr. Featherstone, while he told us a brief history of the island and the city.

He stopped before the largest house I'd seen there, an imposing structure painted white, with a shady porch and two floors. It looked new, and inviting. A man who had been standing near the door opened it and bowed to him.

"Excuse me," I said with some hesitation, "may I ask what your occupation is? I need to understand more about the work I will be doing."

"Oh, I'm the governor," Mr. Featherstone said, and waved us into the house and into the future.

And neither of us has ever looked back.