Tess stumbled to the main deck of the ship as it rolled heavily in the rough ocean. The crashing waves sprayed her face with a mist and she breathed in the cool air. She looked out over the dark and brooding waters of the Indian Ocean to a possible horizon. There was none; only the constant dark blue and grey waves in every direction she gazed. The storm had been a long seige against the ship and Tess fought to keep her stomach. She stood there, her fingers tight on the rope that served as a railing for the stairs. She felt a wisp of hair flutter against her neck and she immediately reached up to tuck it back while thinking perhaps she have worn a cap or scarf. The ship lunged as it crested then lurched to plunge into the trough of the huge wave. Tess grabbed her middle then covered her mouth.
Wood creaked and the ship rolled. She dashed to the edge's wood rail, holding onto it with all her might. The mid-day meal was now a distasteful memory. Small droplets of ocean water prickled her delicate face and the winds buffeted her dress which she fought to maintain. Tess dropped to her knees disregarding her dress and the coursing waters on the deck. She gazed forlornly at struggling plants, her tears mixing with the salty sea water. The cluster of wooden pots that held her roses appeared even worse now than before the storm. Most of them had yellowing leaves and blackened, dangling rose buds.
"My poor, poor babies," she whispered and reached out to touch one wooden pot.
"Mrs. Davenport," the young officer said.
"Oh! You startled me," Tess replied and pulled the last yellow leaf from a rose.
"You really shouldn't be up here," the officer replied. "Especially when the waves are this rough."
"My roses," she yelled above the gusting wind. "My roses are dying. This sea water is killing them."
"I have fresh water," he replied and smiled. "They'll survive." He offered his hand and assisted her to stand up. "There, there," he said and gently pushed a loose strand of hair back away from her forehead. "You really need to listen to me." His fingers lingered a few seconds at her temple then traced a soft path down the side of her face to cup her chin. He smiled gently at her, his eyes afire.
She closed her eyes and a moment of peace enwrapped her. She remembered Noah and was safe. She smiled at this knowledge. Suddenly she felt his fingers playing lightly against the wet lace that clung to her bosom. She was alert.
"Ensign Wately," Tess said with a devilish smile. "You are much too bold." She politely yet slowly removed his lingering hand. Her breath had deepened under his touch exactly as when Noah touched her.
The studly young man reached an arm around her dainty waist. "Do you want the water?" he asked, then pulled her closer to his body. "There is a bounty for fresh water at sea, you do know that?" The last was more of a command rather than a question. His eyes flared and he look down at her.
"I am aware of our bargain, Ensign Wately," Tess said and pulled away. "You've grown too bold of late. Remember, I am a married woman." She held tightly to the railing.
"And I am a man with certain needs," Wately lashed back. "You tease me; a glimpse here, a coveted touch there. I need more. I want more. I demand more."
He pulled her to him, molding his body against her as one. Then cupping her face with his hands he kissed her roughly, his tongue searching.
She leaned back, pushing him away, breaking the kiss. "Sir, you have become much too familiar." She wiped her hand across her lips as if that were to remove the memory.
"Familiar?" Wately yelled and grabbed her small wrist in his strong hand. "You promised me certain liberties in exchange for fresh water to keep these damned roses alive. Liberties much more exciting than a mere kiss." He let her free.
"Perhaps I should speak with the captain?" she asked glaring at him before noting the sailor on the deck behind Ensign Wately. The man was slightly overweight, balding and had a stubbled beard of a few days at sea. He was leering at them, calculating. "We aren't alone," she whispered and nodded to an area over his right shoulder.
Wately turned to face the intruder. "Get about your business, Hornsby. This is none of yours."
"I have fresh water to offer," the sailor jeered with a wide smile of assorted missing teeth.
"We'll discuss this later, Ensign Wately," Tess said and lifted her skirts in preparation to go back down the stairs.
"Aye," Wately said. "Later. I'll let you know where and when," he whispered in her ear. "You'll come or I'll throw your damned roses overboard and there won't be anything you can do about it."
She stepped onto the first stair and Wately swatted her backside, startling her and causing her to almost stumble on the next step. She could hear the other sailor laughing in the distance. Her face heated with embarrassment.
"Oh, there you are dear," William Davenport said. "In the excitement of the meal I seemed to have lost you."
"I needed a breath of air," Tess replied and took William's hand to finish her finals steps down the staircase. She glanced back up to see nothing but rigging fluttering in the winds.
"Fresh air? Up there?" William asked. "Please, dear, you must remember your place and not go wandering about the ship." He condescendingly patted her hand. "Afterall, the crew are–" William wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Well, they're certainly not of our caliber."
Tess looked up at William, her husband of one year; one excruciatingly long year. He had captured her heart after Noah but not kept it. The marriage was more for appearance and convenience than love. She smiled at him.
"Let me get you back with the other wives," William said and started down the narrow passageway.
Tess winced at the thought of joining that gaggle of levity while William pulled her down the hallway. It appeared to her that the other wives considered this nothing more than a big party; they were going to China, how exciting.
"I need to go over the inventory again," William said. He shook his head. "The counts aren't making any sense. Somebody might be stealing." He stopped and with surprised look on his face, quickly peered about and then to Tess. He put a finger to his lips. "Ssssh," he whispered. "I don't need those sailors thinking I think they are filching goods."
"I could help," Tess offered. "I could keep the ledger."
William opened the door. "Oh, dear," he said. "It appears that they've already started the Chinese lessons." He tipped his hat. "Good afternoon, ladies. Father." He hustled Tess into the cramped room. "Learn well, dear," he said, winked at the Jesuit priest and closed the door.
"Ladies, please," the Jesuit priest said. "We must attend to our lessons for we'll be arriving in Hong Kong in a couple of days."
An immediate cacophony of shrieks pierced the room as the women squealed in delight.
"Imagine," Hannah Cochran said. "We will truly be in Hong Kong and among the strange foreigners."
"Yes," Mary Beth Harris said. "All this jibber-jabber we've been learning will finally mean something, perhaps."
"Attention," The Jesuit priest said loudly trying to calm the riot of conversations. The snap of pointer stick striking a blackboard ricocheted through the room. The women were quiet.
"Ni hau," the priest said.
"Ni hau," the ladies replied in unison.
"Father Bernard, do they truly speak the way we're learning?" Tess asked. She batted her eyes at the young priest.
"The Chinese have a most unusual language," he replied.
Tess fidgeted in her chair, her wet dress was becoming irritating. "I mean, they always sound like they're mad. When they speak of love, does it mellow?"
Father Bernard hesitated. He watched Elizabeth Davenport. His mind raced with questions and possible answers. He knew that she would take the conversation into realms that would make him uncomfortable. "Perhaps not today," he thought.
"I am sure that the words, when whispered, don't sound as harsh," he finally replied.
"How would it sound?" Tess asked and smiled at the well built man. "Can you show us how it would sound?"
"Perhaps another time, Mrs. Davenport," Father Bernard said. "Today we are going to learn the words that can be used at a market."
"Could a person buy love at the market?" Tess asked continuing her questioning.
Father Bernard stretched his neck at the restricting collar.
"Elizabeth Davenport!" exclaimed Mary Beth Harris. "Whatever are you thinking?"
"She is in one of her moods," Hannah Cochran said. "I have some needlepoint that I can attend to and avoid all this foolishness."
"Is it foolishness?" Tess asked looking innocently at the other women. "If you remember, love was for sale back in England. Do you think it won't be?"
"My husband has no need to look elsewhere," Hannah said.
"If you say so," Tess replied.
"Ladies," Father Bernard said. "Please, this conversation is not what we should be discussing. The word for apple is–"
"Father Bernard," Hannah said. "I'm not staying here to be insulted by the likes of her."
"Excuse me?" Tess shouted. "What did you say?"
Hannah flipped her fan open. "Good day, father," she said, got up and reached for the door. "Ladies?" She glared at Tess. "Except Mrs. Davenport. Are we in agreement? Yes? Needlepoint awaits us." She fluffed her fan a couple of times. "You needn't join us, Tess. Our conversations I'm sure will be much too boring."
The seven ladies huffed out the door leaving Tess alone with Father Bernard.
"I meant nothing by my question," Tess said. She brought a hanky to her eye to wipe away the false tears. She was inwardly happy; she had Father Bernard all to herself.
"Mrs. Davenport," the priest started. "It always seems that your questions tend to veer off on a trajectory that leaves much to be desired."
"Well, in all honesty," Tess said. "I really do want to know if such can be bought at the market. I know these men. If such is available, I'm sure that they will indulge themselves. Yes, even my boring husband."
Father Bernard removed a hanky from his pocket and dabbed it across his forehead.
"With all due respect, ma'am," he said. "Are you certain that all these men will stray?"
"Will?" Tess echoed. "I am quite sure that all of these men have strayed more than once including my husband. In fact, one of the husbands has already insinuated a tryst with me."
Breathing deeply, Father Bernard wiped the back of his neck.
Tess bent over, the lace of her bosom flopping down to reveal the deep cleavage. She placed her hand on his knee.
"Tell me, father," she asked. "Have you ever considered straying?"
Father Bernard stood up and backed away from her. "I think that this will conclude our conversation and Chinese lessons. I need to bathe and seclude myself for prayer." He reached for the door and bolted out it in less than 3 steps.
Tess smiled. She knew that she had touched an area that made Father Bernard uncomfortable. She unconscienciously touched the area above her cleavage and slowly ran her finger down between her breasts to the wet laced material that confined them.
© 2006 Robert Nailor -- All Rights Reserved