She knows they watch her when she goes up on deck to take in the bracing sea air. She can feel their eyes sliding across the heavy material of her dress, see their rough work-hardened hands twitch as they imagine how soft her skin must be underneath the covering layers. When they turn away, grabbing and hauling ropes to displace their unspoken lust, she smirks to herself.
It started as a game, a way to amuse herself on this long voyage. The novelty of being at sea had worn off in the first week, and soon the lure of her embroidery hoop or the few books she had been allowed to bring, had faded into the shadows of her gloomy cabin. Dining at the captain’s table of an evening, she had begun to notice the sidelong glances cast at her and an occasional tremor in the hands that filled her wine glass or cleared her plates.
“It’s bad luck to have a woman on board” they’d muttered darkly at the beginning of the journey. Bad luck indeed, to be in such close proximity to one and yet forbidden to touch. Hammocks swung busily when the afternoon watch was stood down and minor squabbles frequently broke out among the deckhands who refused to trade watches with those shipmates who had yet to catch a glimpse of her.
She can hardly remember her husband’s face, he has been gone for so long already. She had written him letters of passionate longing, to which he had replied with tedious detail of his new life as Governer of the fledgling colony. Married only three months before he was called away by duty, she has been more alone since her wedding than at any time before. The deckhands will not speak to her, having been vigorously threatened by the First Mate as to the dire consequences if any such impropriety were to be considered. The Captain is wholly absorbed by his inanimate cargo, the weather, and the possibility of pirate attack; which leaves no conversational room for such subjects as she is able to engage upon.
Pirates! The idea carries a thrilling fear, a grubby romance. Thieves and savages who prey upon merchant ships, plundering with violence and taking what is not theirs by right. While she can appreciate both the moral disapproval of the civilised citizen and the anxiety of the commercial-minded shipping agent, she cannot help but romanticise these highwaymen of the high seas, fantasise about their scandalous swordplay, their lusty larceny.
Lately, these ideas have taken hold and will not be dislodged. It seems she cannot pass a coil of rope without imagining its loops twined tightly around her limbs as she sprawls unclothed and wanton on canvas sailcloth. The sight of a knife in a rigger’s hand as he scales the ladders to made repairs atop the masts causes her to catch her breath, for if that knife were held to her throat, what could she do but obey the man who wielded it? And the masts themselves…..well, if ever there were a more tantalising structure to be held against…or tied against….or flogged against….well, she cannot think of it. Her mind is too full of the crack of the leather bullwhip against soft exposed skin, of the leers and harsh breathing of the men gathered to witness her downfall. She eyes the long guns, wondering how it would feel to sit astride one, and trails her fingers across the smooth sun-warmed timber of the sturdy rails.
She discovered last week that the boards which make up the door of her cabin have warped and bowed over time; that there are one or two cracks just wide enough to set an eye against and see within. She likes to think that this knowledge is not confined to herself and that it is common lore among the sailors who battle with each other for the privilege of pressing their faces against the wood. She binds her handkerchief across her mouth to muffle the sounds of her labours in a pretence of modesty; yet her moans are forceful enough to escape their cloth confinement – which only spurs her on to greater lust. Some kindly soul has been thoughtful enough to furnish her bedside with a pair of particularly substantial candles, one of which she lights, and the other she uses to even more illuminating effect, carefully positioning herself so that the flickering glow of the one is cast upon the sojourn of the other. She fancies she hears shufflings at the door, and spreads her legs wider apart, at the creak of a floorboard she winds her long hair about her throat or sucks on her glistening fingers; never once looking anywhere but the beams of her cabin ceiling.
In two months, she will arrive at her destination to take up her duties as the most respectable wife of the Governer.
She prays daily, for the pirates to come.