1636 The China Venture – Snippet 20

Soon after Judith descended below, the hatch closed. Her nostrils were immediately assailed. She was not as fastidious as the up-timers, but the smell of sweat and garlic was so fierce that she found herself trying to hold her breath from time to time. The ventilation on the ship was never good, but with a storm on hand, the gunports and hatches were all shut.

And soon afterward, the ship began rolling from side to side, and pitching forward and back, more than it had at any time since Judith had first boarded it. For hours, it heaved, surged and swayed unpredictably. Just as unpredictably, there was thunder, sometimes a brief sharp clap, like a gunshot, and other times a long roll, like fireworks being set off one by one. It made it difficult to sleep.

Nor could Judith read or sketch. Candles were forbidden, lest one fall against something flammable and start a fire, and so it was too dark for such activities. Judith could only talk to her cabin mates, Martina and Eva, but after a while they stopped speaking and tried to doze whenever there was a lull.

It was from one such period of half-slumber that Judith suddenly awoke, and realized that the ship’s motion had gentled.

Judith felt a sudden urge to be above deck and breathe clean air. She grabbed her sketchbook and headed up. The hatch was open.

It was night, by now. She couldn’t tell how late, but the sky was studded with a thousand stars. She wandered back to the poop deck at the very stern of the ship. There was a small cabin aft, which was normally the quarters for the trumpeter and drummer, but with the mission on board, displacing the officers from their normal quarters, a couple of petty officers slept here instead. They were, however, on night watch, so the cabin was empty.

On the roof of that cabin, there was a short bench and, in the middle of it, a lamp post. From this post, an ornate ship’s lantern hung aftward, a beacon for any trailing ships to follow. The lantern mimicked the cupola of a church: it had a verdigris dome and eight glass windows, each window formed of little diamond shaped panes.

She looked past the lantern in the direction from which they had come; there, in the west, lightning still lit the sky.

“It’s nice and quiet here,” said a voice behind her. The words were slurred; the speaker was drunk.

She turned. It was Ambassador Salvius, walking across the poop deck.

“The way the ship was being tossed about, I thought we were going to drown,” he continued, joining her on the roof of the cabin. “It made me think about how precious life was … and love….”

She was cornered; she backed away toward the lantern. “Please, sir, you are married, and I am a virtuous maiden.”

“We may never make it back to Europe, so who cares about civilized convention?” He reached out for her.

Judith jumped aside and screamed, but no one responded. Judith knew that the sailors would have their senses attuned to what lay ahead of them, not behind. They would fear reaching the shoal waters off the coast of Australia ahead of expectation, and running aground, or even tearing open the hull.

“You paint just because you haven’t found a real man yet.” He made another grab, and caught hold of the fabric of her bodice, tearing it. He pulled her close enough so she could smell his breath.

She kneed him in the balls.

He howled, falling back, and as he did so she bolted past him. He recovered quickly and pursued her.

There was no time for a ladylike descent; she jumped down to the poop deck. As she did so, he lunged for her–and missed.

The top of the port bulwark slammed into his stomach; he oofed. Slowly, like a tree falling in the wilderness, he tumbled over the side, and disappeared into the dark waters of the Indian Ocean.

At the sound of the “oof,” Judith looked back just in time to see the ambassador fall. After a moment’s hesitation, she yelled, “Man overboard!”

Again, there was no answer. Judith suddenly realized that it was as though she was trying to have a conversation with someone walking ahead of her. Her words were being carried away so the crew, up forward, couldn’t hear her.

She ran forward, clutching her torn bodice with one hand, and called again from the quarter deck.

“Go forward!” yelled the steersman. He was at the helm, in the high-ceilinged steering place that was nominally on the main deck, inside the ship. It had a high window looking onto the quarter deck, where it gave him a protected view of the foot of the main course. “I cannot leave my post!”

Hearing this, she continued toward the bow, and found several sailors in the waist that lay forward of the main mast, between the sterncastle and the forecastle. “Man overboard!”

They gaped at her for a moment, and then one rushed over to a bell, and rang it. The watch officer appeared a moment later. “What is going on?”

“The ambassador attacked me.” She pointed to her ripped attire. “We struggled, he overbalanced and fell overboard.”

The officer blew a whistle. “All hands!” the officer shouted. “Prepare to heave to!” Heaving to would cause the ship to tremble forward and backward like a falling leaf, effectively hovering in place.

By now, Captain Lyell was on deck. As the watch officer supervised the heave-to, the captain took charge of the rescue.

He tapped a passing sailor’s shoulder. “Signal the Groen Feniks, ‘Man Overboard, Please Assist.'”

“What side did he fall off, and how long ago?” he asked Judith.

“Left, I mean, port. A few minutes ago, I was shouting but no one heard me.”

A boat was lowered, and lanterns hung at its bow and stern. It started retracing their path, on the port side.

The Groen Feniks came into hailing distance, and was ordered onto a parallel search track.

“You look a bit the worse for wear,” said Captain Lyell. “Clothes torn, and you’re bleeding to boot.”

Judith realized that in her last jump, she had gotten scraped. “I was attacked, sir.”

“By a sailor? A soldier?”

Judith shook her head. “By Ambassador Salvius.”

“What a mess this is.”

“It has not been a pleasant experience for me, either,” Judith shot back.

Lyell held up his hand. “I didn’t mean to be callous. The sea is pretty quiet, right now, but it’s dark. Not one sailor in seven can swim, and the chance that a landlubber nobleman can do so and keep himself afloat until we can find him is minimal. Assuming he was even still conscious after he hit the water. The ship traveled many boat lengths in the time that passed between when he fell and when we lowered the boat, so it will be a hard and long pull back to where he entered the sea. And currents may have carried him off our track.

“But I must go through the motions, even though it puts my crew and that of the Groen Feniks at risk. And since he’s a baron, and an appointee of Gustav Adolf, there are going to be political and perhaps legal repercussions. For both of us.”

The heave-to maneuver had startled the passengers, and several, including the up-timers, had come up on deck to find out what was going on. They had heard part of Captain Lyell’s conversation with Judith Leyster.

“Captain, surely you can let Judith get some rest from this ordeal,” said Martina.

“Agreed,” he said. “But I need a written statement from her at her earliest convenience.”

“Tomorrow morning should be soon enough,” said Martina.

“No, I’ll write it now,” said Judith. “I can hardly sleep just yet, anyway.”

“Captain, if the ambassador is recovered, he should be confined to his quarters, with a guard on the door,” said Jim Saluzzo. “Attempted rape is a serious crime.”