God Must Be Punishing Us
The mood was solemn that late morning as the ship swayed gently, more from the wind as the seas appeared calm for once. Jeanne watched as sailors wrapped the bodies of four young women in harsh jute tarps, bounding them with thick thread. They had passed in the night, silently without anyone’s knowing, for anything could have taken them, even the fear of marrying a stranger that was awaiting them at their destination, but now there would be four men with broken hearts, both from the loss of a wife and the cost it took to bring them here.
New waves of emotions hit her as the last body was tossed overboard. She spoke a quick prayer before facing her aunt and uncle. They both stood silent, her aunt praying and her uncle looking grim, as the total of women lost was now well over the double digits since they had set sail. How many men would there be waiting for women never to come.
“Jeanne.” Her uncle called to her. Sir George Yeardley was a thin man, his face full of harsh lines made him look older than he was, something he took with pride as it made him look only more respectable to those below him. He rubbed a hand over his thick strawberry blonde mane as Jeanne neared, her own fiery hair gently blowing in the breeze. “Take care of the women today please, they will be more unsettled with these latest deaths.”
Jeanne nodded. This had been the most deaths in one day, the highest before was only two, yet now with four gone after such a long journey, and with a calm seas hinting at a storm to come, many of the women would be on edge, fearing for their very lives. Jeanne spoke a quick goodbye to her aunt and uncle as they both returned to their private cabin, and Jeanne began to make the rounds, first spotting the young Alice Kett trying to comfort a retreating woman. Alice was a sweet brunette woman, always caring for others with her words, this had allowed the two to become close friends fast, but who’s to say that such a caring nature would allow one to survive in a land riddled with lonesome men.
Jeanne approached her. “How is she?”
Alice sighed, moving to sit on of the loading hatches. “Not good, none of them are. It’s been too long a journey and many fear they will never see land again.” She looked past Jeanne, spotting the only other redhead on board, Verity Bridges, snatching up some hard biscuits from a sailor’s plate, and giving Alice a wink when she noticed she had been caught. Alice tried to hide her laugh, but Jeanne snapped her head to see the back of Verity as she fled below deck.
“I could report her you know.” Jeanne turned to Alice, the brunette giving her a fake look of shock, causing the both of them to laugh. There was no reason to report Verity. Most of the young women they had on board were hungry, some even having died from it, so a little bit of extra food for them would do them all some good, as long as the little thief remembered to share. “There will be a storm tonight, so I’ll need your helping keeping the rest of them calm.”
Alice looked at her quizzically. “How do you know?”
“Seas are too calm, even the wind is going. Feel how the boat has stopped rocking?”
Alice took in Jeanne’s observations, realizing the woman was right. The ship had stopped moving around to how it was earlier in the day, and even her hair wasn’t being blown from where she had pinned it. “Four deaths and now a storm, God must be punishing us.”
“Guess I need to tell Verity to stop stealing or she shall sink us all.” Jeanne joked.
The storm had hit harder than Jeanne had originally thought, rocking the ship with such force, it held many off balance when they made an attempt to stand, and the ice cold water forcing itself though the tight gaps between the wood drenching them, causing the women to huddle together to keep warm. Though the women were down below deck, the men working above to ensure their safety were heroes in Jeanne’s mind. She looked towards Verity, the woman frowning as she pressed herself into the side of the hull to keep herself stable, and eyes squeezed shut to ignore the world. Jeanne stood from where she was helping a young woman who had been suffering from a panic attack only moments earlier, and glanced over to Alice as she helped another dealing with sea sickness.
“This isn’t getting any easier!” Jeanne yelled over the loud thunder to Alice as the brunette stood, giving her fiery friend a nod before turning to a blonde woman who was huddled off to herself. Jeanne took in the sight before her, seeing the scared faces that surround her of the women. “Mary mother of God, bless us women with your grace and protect us from this storm.” She mumbled to herself.
Alice coming up to her snapped her from her prayer. The brunette looked almost as grim as George Yeardley had earlier that day. “That lady, Jocelyn Woodbryg, I think she’s gone mad, she’s talking about having murdered a man.” Alice whispered into Jeanne’s ear, causing the other woman to glance at the blonde, still wrapped up in her tight little ball.
Jeanne kept a straight face. “Tell no one.”
She let Alice past her to go back to helping others, but Jeanne kept her eyes on Jocelyn. If the young Lady Woodbryg did indeed murder a man, it would explain why such a woman of noble blood would dare venture so far from England’s shores. Jeanne would have to keep her eyes on this Jocelyn, as no doubt that woman was going to be more trouble than she was worth to her husband and the town.
Jeanne opened her eyes, she wasn’t sure what day or time it was, but had only noted that the storm had finally finished. She lifted herself off the hay bed where she lay, only for her mind to go blank. She had been in the hull with the rest of the women before she surely let sleep take her. Jeanne glanced around, spotting her aunt Temperance reading her bible at the end of the bed.
“How long have I been asleep?” Jeanne spoke softly, not wanting to disturb the older woman, for multiple of reasons.
Temperance Yeardley didn’t bother to share any of her attention with her young niece when she gave a curt reply. “Not long. You came in here towards the end of the storm and collapsed into your uncle’s arms. He put you to bed.” Temperance finally glanced up, smiling almost sickly sweet. “You did such a Godly thing to help those young girls, you truly are a blessing to them.”
Jeanne could only smile back. She didn’t care for her aunt’s zealous nature when it came to being a Christian. Personally, as long as you did the right thing and treated others with respect, that was Godly enough for Jeanne. “Where’s uncle and the women?”
Temperance went back to her bible. “Your uncle is seeing to the captain, and most of the women are still resting below I believe, it might good for you to go see to them.”
Jeanne wanted to roll her eyes. Yes, she must see to them, cause as if her aunt ever would. It’s all worthwhile to act the perfect Christian, but another matter to be it. The fiery hair girl stood up, straightening out her green embroidered gown before leaving the private cabin. Her first stop was the hull that the women had called home over the several months. Most appeared to be asleep or either just relaxing after the previous night’s storm, and Lady Jocelyn now stood, looking up at the shallow light coming out of the tight gaps in the ceiling. Jeanne wondered if she was thinking about her words the previous night. Had the blonde regretted letting the knowledge of her sinful deed slip, or did she fall into the delusion that she had dreamt it all. Jocelyn had finally noticed Jeanne staring at her, with both women sharing a weak smile with each other before Jeanne left to go on deck, as she knew both Alice and Verity would be up there, seeing as they weren’t with the rest of the women.
Upon reaching the main deck, she noticed her uncle looking over a map with the ship’s captain. Neither man seemed to realize she was there. Jeanne sighed.
“Jeanne!” A happy cry called out. Alice was waving to her from the forecastle, beside her stood Verity, who had a less than pleased look on her face.
Jeanne laughed as she went to greet them. “Didn’t sleep well Verity?”
Verity scoffed. “I ain’t got a fancy bed to lay on now, do I?” The Irish woman took a jab at her, before a huge smile broke over her face. Jeanne loved how easy going Verity was, the woman was playful despite her situation. While Alice joined up to seek a better life for herself in the New World, Verity was to meet the gallows had it not been for her future husband buying her freedom.
“Aren’t you glad, Verity?” Alice turned to look out to the open sea, her friends following her. “Aren’t you grateful that we’re the ones to come to this New World?”
“Hell’s teeth no” The Irish woman spoke flatly. The three of them shared a look before bursting out into laughter, only to be broken from their joke as a sailor from the crow’s nest called out to them all.
The girls followed his gestures to spot a land in the distance. “I wonder if it would be anything like my Highlands?” Jeanne dreamed out loud, causing sweet smiles from the women standing by her.