Bookworm sat back, feeling a bit pleased for the first time in days. Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs. Sawyer had, late yesterday, finally removed her from the straightjacket. She was still, of course, locked in the cabin, but the freedom of movement was definitely welcome. Mrs. Sawyer had just been in to bring her lunch, and, today, seemed more disposed to answer questions.
“We’ll be reaching Caledon Rothesay soon,” she’d replied in answer to Bookworm’s question of just where they were going. “We stop there first, then make a brief stop in Caledon Southend before ending at Port Caledon. From there, we’ll catch an airship to the States.”
“Ahh,” Bookworm had replied. “Shipping me home, eh?”
Mrs. Sawyer had nodded. Neither of them said anything more, and Mrs. Sawyer left once Bookworm had finished her food. Now she sat back on her bunk, planning. She felt once again at her corset, for the hidden hairpin. Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs. Sawyer had taken care of the blades hidden in both shoe-heel and corset, but thankfully, they’d overlooked this. All she had to do now was wait.
A few hours later, they reached the first port. And Bookworm…did nothing. Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs. Sawyer looked in from time to time as the ship sat at its berth, and each time saw her behaving herself. And as their ship moved away and on to its next stop, the two of them left her alone…just as she’d hoped.
Bookworm waited patiently as the ship made its way along the shore to its next port. And when it stopped at the dock, she…still did nothing. Instead, she waited, patiently, as one or the other of her captors looked in. Finally, she felt the motion as the ship pulled away, and slipped quietly into action.
She listened at the door for several minutes, making sure no one was in earshot. Then she slipped the hairpin out of its hidden pocket and got to work on the lock, soundlessly blessing Tepic for teaching her lock-picking. It took only the work of a minute to force the lock back and open the door a crack. She listened again, then took a quick peek outside. The corridor was empty, so she quickly exited the room.
Not having seen anything of the ship except her room so far, it wasn’t easy to find her way up to the deck, but somehow she managed. She made sure not to skulk–that was the quickest way to look suspicious. She strolled about slowly, as if taking a turn in the fresh air before sleep. She paused often at the railing, as if enjoying the night-time scenery. Instead, she scanned along the rail, and finally spotted what she needed–a long, thick coil of rope wrapped around a cleat.
Bookworm strolled along the rail to the cleat, then leaned casually back against the railing. Behind her back, though, her hands were busily unwrapping the rope from its resting place, feeding it over the side of the ship. Once she’d played it out as much as she wanted, and she was sure it was secure, she waited a few more agonizing moments, until the ship was well into the harbor. Then, after a quick glance around showed that no one was looking her way, she scrambled over the side.
Hands firmly gripping the rope, feet planted on the side of the ship, she hung there for a moment, getting the feel of the rhythm of its movement through the water. Once she was comfortable, Bookworm began her descent, half walking, half rappelling, until she reached the end of the rope, about three-quarters of the way down to the water line.
‘I hope I’m right about this,’ she thought, taking a breath. She wanted to be close enough to the water that her dive wouldn’t make too large a splash, yet far enough above so that she had room to kick out away from the ship, and so avoid being caught in its tow. Bookworm took a few deep breaths, then launched herself away from the side of the ship, legs kicking her out strongly, back arching, arms extending above her head.
She hit the water, ears filling with the roar of the sea. For a few seconds, she was completely disoriented, unsure which way to go to get away from the ship–and to the surface. But then she was able to get her bearings from the shine of faint harbor lights, and she kicked her way to the surface.
Treading water, bobbing with the swells, she looked around. The ship she’d been on was continuing into the harbor entrance, and there was no sign that anyone had seen or heard her unorthodox departure. Grinning, she shed her boots and swam for shore, knifing through the dark water. ‘At least I don’t have to worry about wiggyfish here,’ she thought.
The closer Bookworm got to shore, the harder it was to hide her presence. It would have been impossible at most times of the day, but now, just shy of midnight, activity around the docks had died down a fair amount. Staying in shadows cast by ships and docks, she quietly made her way to a temporarily deserted dock, where she hauled herself out of the water. She immediately dashed off the dock and into a nearby alley, where she ducked behind some crates.
Bookworm took a few minutes to rest, regain her breath, and wring as much water out of her hair and clothes as she could. Now that she wasn’t exerting herself, the chilly air against her soaked body made her shiver almost violently. She needed to get inside someplace…quickly. She poked her head out of the alley, scanning the waterfront, until a sign caught her eye–The Broken Anvil.
She smiled. This had been her destination ever since Mrs. Sawyer had told her their itinerary. All the stories Mariah had told her of her past were paying off. She knew that Caledon Southend was the favored place for smugglers to discretely gather, and that the Broken Anvil pub was where Captain Haviland, the “mentor” for the Caledon-area smugglers, held court. That would hopefully be her ticket home…
((To be continued…))