UPON YOUR HONOR Chapter 1 on Eat Sleep Write

June 30, 2014

Upon Your Honor - Chapter 1 by Marie Lavender

August 27, 1891

Chloe Waverly made her way along the gangway of the dark ship, trying her best to look as inconspicuous as possible in a pair of brown trousers, a matching coat, cap, and boots. The starch in the fabric made her skin itch, and the clothing felt large on her small body. She had always cursed her size. She hated that she wasn’t as tall as other women around her age. At nineteen, she was very petite with a cloud of blonde tresses flowing around her heart-shaped face and hazel eyes. It was difficult to hide her hair underneath the cap she wore. She needed to look like a sailor or at least a man that belonged there. This was the last place she was supposed to be and, fortunately, the last place Lamonte Beckett would search.
The man she was betrothed to would be angry when he discovered her missing. That house was the last place she wanted to be. Ever since her father’s passing a few months before, she had been trying to dodge Lamonte. His advances had become a tiresome yet fear-filled reality. He was a scoundrel and she simply couldn’t understand why her father would entrust her protection and the rest of her life to that man. Chloe had heard rumors of his behavior from the maids, not to mention that she had once witnessed him ravaging one of them, only a young girl of fifteen. And of all times, during her father’s convalescence.
Of course, she’d intervened. She had outraged against the injustice then, and swore he would not carry on so with such indiscretion in her house. He had been angry with her, but she was far too distracted with caring for her father at the time to heed his threats.
Her plan now was to get as far away from Lamonte as possible without drawing too much attention. If she could reach New Orleans, then she could locate her grandmother, who would take her in. A few days before she left, Chloe had sent a letter off to Nana to warn her of her possible arrival. Nana, her father’s mother, had always been kind in her occasional letters she sent to the house and she knew very little, if anything, of the arrangement between her father and Chloe’s fiancé. She didn’t know what kind of reception she’d have if her grandmother knew she was affianced and to marry within the next few weeks.
Leaving had proven to be very difficult. Chloe had no allies in the house. All of the servants worked for Lamonte now, so she couldn’t enlist the help of any maids. Her own nursemaid, Veronica, had quickly become controlled by her fiancé after her father’s bout of pneumonia. He made it clear that it was better to be loyal to him than to Chloe. Therefore, when she began planning her escape, she did it alone. She had to wait until Veronica had gone to her own quarters and everyone else in the house was asleep as well. Of course, as she’d assumed, Lamonte would be preoccupied with his own pleasures and so he wouldn’t notice her leaving.
She gathered what she could and wrapped it in a makeshift sack that she slung over her shoulder on a pole. She had retrieved the items while observing the gardeners a few days before. That was also when she had discovered the extra men’s clothing lying about. They were clean and simple, but they would do. She hid everything under the bed so that a maid wouldn’t find them. She had left the house tonight and had taken one of the spare horses to the docks. Luckily, the boy who guarded the stable was asleep.
Chloe chose a ship called La Voyageur. It was large enough and it appeared to be a cargo ship of some kind, but she could not be sure. She figured she could hide easily enough among the shipments or pretend she was a sailor at least for a while until she could find a way off.
Now, on the ship, she tried to look busy or move out of the way of the sailors moving crates around. She ducked her head to avoid eye contact with any of the men. She feared that if enough attention was drawn to her, they would notice she was not who she claimed.
Chloe moved towards the back of the ship and went down the companionway below only to shrink back when a massive form came into view. His dark auburn hair was rakishly drawn in waves over his head and he had the darkest eyes she’d ever seen. Her heart raced, and her breath came in small gasps. Stunned, she tried to get control of herself, but she came to the realization that she wanted to drown in that gaze.
“What are you doing there, boy? Get some cargo moved in here. We have work to do. We’ll be leaving shortly, as you know.”
She tried for her best sailor dialect. “Aye, Captain.”
One eyebrow rose sardonically. “You know damn well I’m not the captain, sailor. But, you still have to follow my orders.”
“Aye.” She discreetly discarded her sack, saw some small crates nearby and bent to pick one up. Aware of the heft, she struggled under its weight.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you before. What’s your name?”
“Uhh…Charlie, sir.”
“Well, Charlie. I suppose you’ll learn soon enough. Did Captain Hill recruit you?”
She had to seem convincing. She tried to look as if the question was natural. “Aye, found me down by the harbor poking around, he did. A fella can’t help where he finds a meal.”  Chloe grinned, feeling silly.
He nodded. “Like I said, you’ll learn soon enough. Those crates will do good in the back store room. It’s nearly full. I’ll let the others know there’s no more room there.” He looked her over once more. “I’m keeping an eye on you, boy.”
“Aye, sir.”
The man moved past her. When he took the companionway to the upper deck, Chloe breathed a sigh of relief. She carried the crate to the back room he’d indicated and set it on a stack of other crates. Then she transferred another two crates to the same room and set her pack of clothes hanging on the pole near the door. She closed the door to the room and set about to find a space where she could hide that wouldn’t be too closed in. She needed air too. Near the back wall, there was a porthole and after moving some of the crates around, she made a space where she could lie. She then made a pallet out of the clothes she’d brought.
Chloe hoped the man who confronted her would forget he’d seen her. She could only hope his memory wasn’t perfect because if he searched the ship for the boy he’d spoken to, he’d eventually find her. With any luck, that would take several days. If he did find her, she would still need to look like a boy. And what if someone did discover her sooner? Although they were finished loading crates in the room, that did not mean that they would not enter it.
If that man did discover her true identity, she didn’t know what he’d do about it. Did they punish women for stowing away on ships like they did with men? Perhaps it would be worse for a woman. She wasn’t that innocent. She knew it was dangerous for a woman to be aboard a ship full of men who hadn’t had a woman for months, maybe even years. Perhaps by the time they reached New Orleans, which she knew might be on their agenda based on the sailors’ talk that she’d heard on board, she wouldn’t have to worry about any of that. Perhaps it would be a good idea to block the door besides. She moved some crates around and brushed her hands on her trousers. Then she returned back to the pallet.
She could still hear the bustle of the men above moving around the ship and doing chores. It seemed like hours before the ship pulled away from port. She could feel the groaning and creaking of the wood around her. Chloe lay down, satisfied that even if she was found in the storage room, they would be well away from New York and returning would not be likely. The gentle rocking of the ship began to lull her to sleep.
Chloe dreamt of that large man who’d confronted her before, only this time he was dancing with her in a waltz. They were in a large ballroom drenched in shades of burgundy and gold, and people stood watching the couples dancing. Soon, with every dip and turn they took, the spectators seemed to just fall away and disappear. Chloe and the stranger were alone.
She turned her head up towards him and his face lowered by degrees, and then he was kissing her. She was so lost in his kiss that she didn’t notice that he tensed until he gripped her arms, nearly pulling her down with him to the floor. It took a moment to realize that he had collapsed, unconscious. Chloe knelt, wondering what had gone wrong.
Her gaze drifted from the stranger as something else caught her attention. Across the empty ballroom stood a man in an old war uniform with a bedraggled appearance.
It was Lamonte and he held a pistol up towards the couple.
Chloe gasped. “Oh, God.” He had found her. She looked down at the stranger who had held her in his arms just minutes before. A red stain spread slowly across his chest. Was he dead? She couldn’t tell. Before she knew it, Lamonte was behind her, fisting a hand in her hair, his words grating out their own punishment, spittle flying to her cheek.
“You’re mine. You’ll never be free.”
With a racing heartbeat, she turned and saw that it wasn’t Lamonte, but her father instead. The same stain was spreading across his chest and then she looked down to see the pistol in her own hand.
Chloe shot up from the pallet, choking on each breath. Gradually, the room became apparent, and the gentle jostling of the ship alerted her to her location. The effects of the nightmare slowly fell away. The torment and fear from the night had gotten to her. For several moments, she pulled her knees up, hugging them into her body.
She recalled the day her father had died. It wasn’t like she’d ever really forget. He’d gone riding a couple of days before and had stayed out too long. He caught a chill and got sick afterwards.
He had seemed to always advocate for Lamonte, begging her to submit to his wishes. When she would not, he did not press further. The day he passed on, Lamonte held a private office with him. Gradually afterward, her father became weaker and weaker. For a while, everyone thought he was improving. Even the physician, who had come a long way to see him, thought as much.
Phillip Waverly just got worse though. Nothing could cure him, not even his daughter whispering words of love and encouragement at his bedside. He got progressively worse and sometime in the night, he moved on to another place. Through her tears, Chloe had seen how peaceful he looked and she knew it was better than the world he had been in. Life had been so hard for him after her mother’s death. He never seemed happy again after that; strong perhaps, but not a happy man.
An hour had barely passed before Lamonte confronted her about the marriage. Outraged, she banished him from her father’s room. Days later, he presented a signed certificate stating her father’s wishes for them to be married, as well as a demand that Lamonte would be in control of things if anything should happen to him. Later, the will would reinforce that decision. She had never believed that her father would knowingly place her in danger if he knew any better. Perhaps Lamonte had simply waited until the old man passed on to show his true character. In any case, Chloe quickly realized she couldn’t trust him to treat her well and she was alone in her predicament.
Now she began to wonder if something had happened between Lamonte and her father that couldn’t be accounted for, something malevolent. What did he need her for anyway if he already had money and a position? Was it possible her father simply didn’t die of natural causes? These questions weighed on her mind until she began to grow hungry. She needed sustenance.
Curious, Chloe began to pick through the crates, tearing at the hinges with a nearby crowbar until they opened. After a few failed attempts that resulted in her finding frivolous items or cotton bales, she located a container filled with dried meat, one with boxed tea biscuits and another with rum. Though she wasn’t used to liquor, she needed something. When she couldn’t get one of the bottles open, she broke off the top against the wall to access it.
After she had eaten her fill of food, she rose to look out the porthole. Light streamed through. It was definitely morning. She must have slept for some time. She couldn’t see any land so it was obvious they were on the open seas. Storms might be possible, eventually, and she’d have to allow for that. After a while, another situation arose with a pressing need on her abdomen and she rushed to find relief somehow. An empty bucket in the corner provided an option. It was little more than a chamber pot. These were horrid conditions, she knew, but it was all necessary to get where she needed to go, to get away from Lamonte. She just hoped it wouldn’t be the end of her.
As the day wore on, Chloe thought she would go mad inside with nothing to keep her mind occupied. Why hadn’t she thought to bring a book from her father’s library? She had a few books by Lewis Carroll in her room that her father had given her as a child, and occasionally she liked to revisit them and escape into those fantasy worlds.
With little else to do now, she napped off and on. When evening came, she contented herself, sitting on a crate beneath the open porthole, listening to the sailors sing sea shanties. Sometimes the words were slurred, as if the singers had had too much rum. She shook her head and giggled at the lyrics.
As I walked out on South Street, a fair maid I did meet, who asked me please to see her home, she lived on Bleecker Street. And away, you Johnny, my dear honey. Oh you New York girls, you love us for our money.
I said, ‘My dear young lady, I'm a stranger here in town. I left my ship just yesterday, from Liverpool I was bound. And when we reached the barroom, boys, the drinks was handed round. That liquor was so awful strong, my head went round and round. When the drinking it was over, we straight to bed did go. And little did I ever think she'd prove my overthrow.
When I came to next morning, I had an aching head. And there was I, Jack-all-alone, stark naked on the bed. I looked all around the room, but nothing could I see but a lady's shift and apron which now belonged to me.
So come all you bully sailormen, take warning when ashore. Or else you'll meet some charming girl who's nothing but a whore. And away, you Johnny, my dear honey. Oh you New York girls, you love us for our money. Your hard-earned cash will disappear, your rig and boots as well. For Yankee girls are tougher than the other side of Hell. And away, you Johnny, my dear honey. Oh you New York girls, you love us for our money.”
  Original, she thought, though the situation occurred all of the time, she imagined. Prostitutes around the harbor were common enough, as were female con artists. Sailors were easy prey due to the long trips at sea, and once they were on shore they had a hankering for the ladies. Ladies though they weren’t. Chloe was familiar with it all. She had spent enough time around the harbor. She had seen many men taken in by scantily clad women.
She thought of that man with the striking dark red hair, and wondered if he had ever been with that kind of woman. Then she chastised herself. How silly to wonder such a thing, as if she had a hold on him or should even care what he did. She didn’t know the first thing about the man, but there was something in his eyes that made her want to trust him. However strong he was, he looked safe.
Chloe shook her head. She was being fanciful, that was all. There was little else to do in the cargo hold but eat, sleep and listen to the sailors working or singing. When they worked, they sang. When they ate, they sang. When they rested, why, she assumed they sang then too. She wondered if at some point, she could trust any of them. It didn’t matter. Soon enough, she would be in New Orleans or if they reached a port before then, she would find a way off of the ship. That was the plan, and it was good enough for now.
She moved to her makeshift bed, however uncomfortable it was, and settled in. With the sound of male voices in the distance, she drifted off.
* * * *
Chloe came awake with a jerk. The ship was tilting. She slid over the floor. She struggled to her feet, tried to get upright. When she was standing, she assessed the situation. The ship was moving erratically, and the cargo hold was filling with water. She raced to the porthole and closed it.
Cursing because she was soaked from the waist down, she tried to put the crates back where they’d been as well, but they fell anyway. As she looked out the porthole, she could see rain and waves. The loud crack of thunder shook the ship. Dear God, she thought, a storm at sea. What day was it? She tried to think of how long she had been there. Not more than three days surely. And suddenly there was a storm? Great. Just great. Her stomach rolled with unexpected nausea. She had handled being at sea fairly well, thus far, but being tossed around wasn’t helping matters.
Chloe latched onto the nearest wall, but there really wasn’t much to hold, just the hinge of the porthole. And she feared if she pulled too hard, it would come undone and flood the room completely this time. The storm was turbulent, thrashing the ship around like a young boy demonically terrorizing his sister’s doll.
The ship tilted and she stumbled once more. She heard a sudden crash and then her world collapsed. As she lay there, trying to discern what happened, everything went black.