“How long did thou say she’s been like this?”
A girl younger than Margaret, around sixteen, sadly stared at Cecily’s sweaty body. Her name, Victoria. A pretty little thing too delicate to embark on a journey such as this thought Margaret and questioned how the girl was able to survive the odyssey they’d been put through.
The lass kept to herself most days and Margaret hadn’t seen her much. Perhaps once or twice before with a tall, brown-haired, young lad, who could be her older brother.
“Going on five days,” Margaret pushed the red hair off her face rebraiding it tightly behind her and placed a white bonnet to keep it in place.
“The covers are wet,” Victoria noted. Her voice held a note of compassion. “May I help?”
“Yes. Grab the bucket full of seawater. It’s by the stairs.” Freshwater must be spared, they were quickly running out of it.
The girl nodded and did as was told. Swiftly she brought it over, then watched Margaret dipped a few pieces of a torn, white sheet, folded them, and placed them on Cecily’s forehead.
“I changed her covers a few hours ago. She’s sweating the fever out of her body,” Margaret explained. “She’s been delirious and in and out of consciousness. She mentions her mum quite often.”
Once or twice, when a patient was ailing from something simple; like a headache or a minor burn, Cecily had asked for Margaret’s help. She’d paid close attention to what her friend was teaching when she did and Margaret was proud to say, she learned quite a lot about illnesses from those experiences. The knowledge Cecily passed on to her then, was what was keeping her alive at the moment.
“I know,” slowly the lass nodded. “My eldest sister was very sick, not too long ago.” Carefully, Victoria sat on the bed opposite Cecily and Margaret.
“How has thou been feeling?”
Margaret eyed the girl with concern. The dark hair against her white skin gave the illusion her blue-green eyes had sockets deeper than what is normal on a human face. A grey hue sat under them just above her cheekbones. The thin frame in the pale-rose dress perhaps made her seem younger. Her body got lost inside all the fabric because the clothes were a few sizes too big, especially in the bosom area.
“Have ye been feeding properly? There isn’t much to eat but thou looks like a corpse. Your attire needs to be adjusted some.”
“We didn’t have time to meet with the semesters before we set sail. This one, a piece of my sister’s wedding attire,” Victoria said uncomfortably and adjusted the waist of it stretching it down with her palms. “She should’ve been here, with her fiance—not I. But she passed six weeks before we set sail ...” her voice trailed.
“I am sorry, Victoria. May she rest in peace.”
Victoria gave an inaudible comment in appreciation while doing the sign of the cross.
“It was brave of thou to make this journey. To say it has been unstable is an understatement.”
“It-it was not by choice.” She teared up and played with the golden band around the ring finger of her right hand.
Perhaps it was a sign of rebellion on the young girl’s part to wear it on the right after King Edward the VI declared the wedding ring must be worn on the left hand during a wedding ceremony. The Protestant church chose the latter because it wanted to separate itself from the Catholic practice of wearing it on the right hand.
“I- I was ordered by my father to take her place instead.”
Margaret’s eyes narrowed. “Ordered to take her place?” She quickly rubbing one of Cecily’s hand between her own to warm it up. When she let it go, it fell limp at her side. She then picked up the other arm and repeated the movements.
Her eyes watered then tears rolled down Victoria’s face and she glided an index finger along the bone of one of her cheeks to stop them from reaching her chin. “The protestant priest married us before we set sail. He, my husband, was supposed to bring her, Evie, to the new world with him ... but now it is I who wears the ring and her dresses.”
Margaret cringed. She knew a thing or two about a bad marriage. Worst yet, a forced marriage where there was no love. “Thou are but a child!” Margaret’s anger, evident. “Does he treat thou well at least?”
Victoria shyly nodded, “I’ll be eighteen in a few weeks and, he—did love her. Christopher courted her for a year with my mother or me as a chaperone. He was good to Evie and gentle—he and I, we-we barely shared a few coy hellos when he arrived in the afternoons to see her but after Evie’s passing, he suggested we chat and get to formally know one another,” she shrugged. “Before he and I, you know—” Victoria blushed crimson, “before we took this voyage. But, there was no time really. We found ourselves extremely unhappy concerning her death and burial arrangement. He and I barely spoke a few words to one another each time we met.”
“So he’s not bedded ye yet? I see ...”
“I’m a devoted daughter to my father and a servant to an all-mighty God. I accepted this fate and must convey a new religion and spend my life with a man I do not love.” She forced a smiled which crinkled her freckled nose.
Victoria gave a small, bitter chuckle. “The possibility to flirt with Christopher or think about him in that way never crossed my mind. He was my sister’s fiance for goodness sake! I must admit engaging in conversations has proven to be—difficult.”
Margaret paused what she was doing and took in a deep breath before turning her full attention towards Victoria. “There is no need for embarrassment, Victoria. I am not going to judge thou regarding a situation which was forced upon you. Thou did not choose this fortune and I understand. Believe me, I do.”
Victoria’s voice shook. “It feels quite good to admit my uncertainty to someone other than myself and the Lord. It could be because of the misery this ship has brought me. Perhaps I miss my sister or it might be I've isolated myself for most of the journey. I do not know but I would like to stop questioning His will.”
A gentle smile spread on Margaret’s lips and she reached to cover Victoria’s hand with her own. She was also a devout woman who had once been a dedicated Catholic, now turned protestant. Opposit to Victoria, she liked the change. For one, it upset her mother considerably. “My apologies, I don’t believe marrying your sister’s fiance was His will.”
Victoria’s eyes widened and her face reflected fear.
“It was not God but your father’s will as well as your soon to be husband’s.”
Small shoulders lifted in a faint, defeated shrug. “My father is a good, fair man,” she insisted. “And my husband has not said to me why he accepted my father’s offer.”
“Have thou asked?” She studied the young girl’s eyes hopeful she could reach into her soul and find out what the girl would not say.
Margaret saw so much of herself in Victoria, except she always spoke her mind. She always asked and probed until she acquired an answer to her questions or a solution to an issue—except with her former husband.
Being outspoken and strong-headed had not released her of their marriage. Instead, it'd left her with a bruise or two. Especially in the beginning. In time she learned what to do not to cross him and keep out of his way, yet not lose herself in the process. Luckily for her, he died before he killed her or her spirit.
“Either of them? Was it for the dowery?”
“The reason why my father offered me instead?” Quickly, Victoria shook her head. “I don’t think so. He has money of his own. I presume my father felt he owed Cristopher a daughter and had given his word for him to marry my sister.”
“And your husband? Didn’t you say he loved your sister?”
“Mmhmm.” Her eyes averted Margaret’s.
Margaret kept quiet. She hoped the naive girl was right but one never really knows the truth behind these matters, until it was too late.
Cecily stirred moaning in her sleep and grabbed both the girl’s attention. Droplets of sweat covered her forehead and below her nose.
“Does thou think she will get well?”
“Cecily? Oh yes! Eventually. She’s a rock. She’s also a healer, did thou know?”
Victoria shook her head, “I did not. She seems like a pleasant lady.”
“She is!” Margaret pipped up. "A proper Apothecary by way of her father and in my opinion, better than most men.” Pride lined her words.
If it wasn’t for Cecily, she’d be a widow with three or four little ones grabbing at her skirt. After marrying her vile husband, Cecily protected her from bearing children ...
“If ye ever need anything, come see her. She will keep your privacy. Cecily will never discuss private matters with thou's husband.”
Victoria blushed at her new friend’s candidness and Margaret recognized the girl understood what she’d said between the lines.
Cecily stirred and babbled in her sleep and Margaret dosed her brow with cool saltwater.
“Cicely, you’ll be well in no time. Perhaps tomorrow and we shall arrive somewhere soon. I promise. I can feel it in my bones.” Gently, she pushed the damp hair off her friend’s warm forehead.
They two girls were quiet for a while immersed in their thoughts. Furthermore, they used all the energy and attention they possessed to make Cecily comfortable. They each took one of her legs and massaged it creating friction up and down it for a few minutes. Next, they moved on to her arms.
“There thou are!”
The gentle but obviously relieved male voice came from behind them. Without turning, Magaret heard him expel a loud puff of air he'd seemingly been holding for too long a time. “I’ve been looking for thou all over. I was afraid sickness befell thee again.”
Victoria shook her head.
At her side came to stand a brown-haired man Margaret had thought to be a relative of hers. He had kind blue eyes which he lovingly set upon Victoria’s face. The otherwise pale skin on his face was covered red reflecting slight embarrassment and sunburned skin.
He looked to be in his mid-twenties and was thin and tall. Although attractive, he was not someone Margaret would usually give a second look at.
“Would ye like to take a walk with me on deck? It’s such a grand day.”
“No, thank you,” Victoria’s responded. “I’m helping Misstress Margaret heal her friend.”
“Oh!” he opened his eyes, impressed. “Christopher Jones at your service.” He extended a soft, clean hand towards her.
Margaret carefully placed her fingers above his and he kissed the back of her hand. “Margaret Miller.” She was courteous while attempting to figure him out.
“Will she be well?” He placed his hands in the pockets of his navy blue pantaloon.
“Yes.” Her eyes narrowed and she straightened her spine to appear taller. “I hope it is no bother your wife is helping me?” Margaret enjoyed testing people and come to her own conclusions.
He gave Victoria a sideglanced looking slightly abashed, “Not at all. I am happy she has found someone to befriend and talk to.” Cristopher lightly touched his bride’s fingers. Victoria’s body stiffened and she cleared her throat uncomfortably looking straight ahead.
“Land! Land!” They heard from above.
Cheers and applause of excitement filled the air and a sense of relief cleared Margaret’s heavy chest. Tears filled her eyes. “Did they say they found land?”
“They did!” Victoria’s eyes watered when she said this.
All three jumped up and down like giddy children. Throwing all formalities away for the briefest of moments, the threesome hugged freely.
“I must see this!”
“By God! Go, go ahead!” Margaret urged them on.
The couple ran too excited to notice they held each other’s hands.
“Margaret?” The voice was raspy and low.
Margaret crouched over her friend and hugged her. “Cecily?! Sweet Cecily! The captain saw land! Soon enough we will arrive! We are almost home.”
Cecily smiled weakly and drifted back to sleep. Expelling a puff of air she’d been holding on to, oo long, Margaret grinned ear to ear. Soon, they would touch land.