The Margerite was not at all what I expected. When Sofia had left, John had went into a depression that seemed only to life in the sunshine and with a good, strong wind at his back. He took me to Marseilles for a fortnight and spent much of his time either sleeping or sitting in contemplation on the balcony of our rented rooms. From there, we could see the ships coming and going. He would sit, with wineglass in hand, and murmur the types of ships as they came or went. My cloudy memories had conjured for me a huge five-masted ship with white sails and a long red flag fluttering in the breeze. The Margerite was not this ship. Over time, I grew used to the faded gilt on the railings and deck, but I actually felt a little guilty for my first impression of her.
'This? This will take us to America whole and safe?' My heart fluttered in my ribcage, but Nicholas's hand squeezed mine and I swallowed my words.
My first impression was that the Margerite was rather like an old whore wearing one too many coats of rouge. The captain loved her, obvious in that the ship had been repainted many times. She was a rather garish ship, with sun-bleached sails that once were red. She had been beautiful when fresh from the shipyards, but now she was a lady past her prime. She was an old woman clinging vainly to her youth.
All this, but I still boarded with my heart in my throat. Nicholas and I were shown to a small room with a bed against a wall and a table hanging from ropes from the ceiling. It was a small, dingy closet, but it was the first real room I would share with my intended. I was satisfied.
The hour of six eventually came and went, but it felt like it would never arrive. We laid low in the cabin, nestled together on the bed, waiting for the ship to undock and leave port. When I felt content enough, I stood and urged Nicholas to join me on the deck. Together, we watch Cherbourg slip away. Just like that, my connections with everything I knew were severed. The sun set on the land of our births. Little did either of us know, we would never return. At least, I wouldn't while I still drew breath.
Later, after the sun had sunk, and the moon had risen brilliant over the ocean waters, Nicholas and I took another walk on the deck. This time we strolled, leisurely, hands clasped. We had taken no time to greet the other passengers as we had hurried aboard. Now we found people milling about, trying diligently to stay out of the way of the crew. We mingled, with Nicholas introducing me as his wife. I glowed with girlish pride, and chatted, and shook hands with the kind of vivacity that only the newly married can have. We met a family that was starting anew in America. They were protestants, and had lived in secret, as religion was always a sore point of contention in Europe. The state of affairs in France had frightened this married couple. They sold everything they owned to finance their passage to America. We met merchants and businessmen, along with their wives, who were seeking the rich agriculture of the New World.
For the most part after that night, however, Nicholas and I kept to ourselves. The opportunity to love each other without shame and without fear of discovery went to our heads. We spent nearly all our time in our room, making love, talking, making plans. We emerged to eat, and to walk the decks for exercise. During all this time, we never noticed the lonely little group that always occupied the for of the ship at night.
A month into our voyage, I began to vomit in the mornings. Since I had never been on a ship before, Nicholas dismissed it as lingering seasickness. I had spent the first week of our trip with my head hanging over the railing, emptying my stomach into the sea. The crew and some of the passengers laughed around us as Nicholas rubbed my back. I had tried to take it in good spirits. Those more experienced with sea voyages recommended hard bread and weak tea to settle my belly. Some said that if I did not feel like eating, I should not, only to drink water and tea. When I recovered, I ate as robustly as ever. Thus you must understand how it troubled me to wake and feel a sudden, alarming roiling in my belly. I was a good sport, but I did not wish to endure any more good-natured ribbing.
Around this time, I also began to notice that my breasts were sore. It was a pain to cinch my corset and some days I did not even bother to put it on.
One evening, Nicholas lay reading on our bunk while I bathed. Sharing a sleeping space the size of a closet with someone changes your idea of privacy. The functions of daily life become more open, and I only ejected Nicholas from our room if I needed to use the chamber pot. So he lay reading while I loosening the bodice of my dress and began to bathe. His eyes strayed to me from his book from time to time, and I pretended not to notice if they lingered.
"Father deCarey…what are you reading?" I asked this as I was knotting my hair at the crown of my head. I felt his eyes on the back of my neck and I tried not to flush under his gaze.
"Some…selections by St. Augustine.." His voice sounded distracted, and I turned my head to look at him. He stared at me with a heat in his eyes that brought a blush to my neck.
Here and now, this was one of the good times in my life. I would remember this moment forever.
I smiled to him, and turned away on my chair to finish undressing. I removed the long hose that I had taken to wearing in the chill of the ship. My dress came off over my head, and I at last stood to remove the layers of petticoats. As I turned to speak to him, I hear him choke.
"Nicholas?" I look at him, laughing at first, then my smile fading as I caught sight of his face. His gaze was riveted on my bare body, but specifically, my bare belly.
I realized in a flash.
I gaped down at myself, at the lump of my stomach that was protruding far past my hip bones. Oh, how we tend to neglect ourselves when we have no one to preen for! Though Nicholas and I made love as often as we breathed, it was just as likely that we would be nude as clothed. Though we had seen each other's bare bodies often, regularly even, it was not until I was silhouetted against the lamp that Nicholas saw how my belly had grown. And myself! Here I had thought only that my inactivity aboard this ship was merely making me fat.
No. Here within my body was a spark of life conceived in the arms of love.
I did not hear Nicholas rise from our bunk, and I did not realize until his hands touched me that he had moved to me.
"There is…no one aboard this ship who can marry us." He spoke at last, his voice cracking. Though the ship's captain could indeed marry us, he could not. We had come aboard this ship as married, and now I would be big with child when we could in actuality marry.
Though I was still numb, I fumbled for Nicholas's fingers. I clasped his hand very tight, and stared at him.
"What shall we do?"
Sin upon sin we committed. We came from the lax French court, but we tried so very hard to be good.
Nicholas's face suddenly looked very determined. He kissed the ring finger of my left hand.
"Solange, you are my wife. Body and soul. And I am your husband. You gave yourself to me. Me! Penniless except for what John would give me. And you would have had every right to resist me, to point me out as a corrupt priest sniffing at the skirts of virgins. But you didn't."
He reached around me, bent to retrieve the dressing robe I'd planned on changing into. The velvet settled around my shoulders.
"You could have exposed me as a witless, little whore." I whispered as he covered me. "You could have ruined me."
"I have ruined you." He sighed. His fingers slid up to tug gently on my hair. I collapsed against the warmth of his body. I did not speak to tell him he had not ruined me. We both knew he did not believe that.
"Let our rings be the deeds we've done." He said to me. "Instead of wedding bands, we have the knowledge of the things we've given up for each other. You could have married well, lived rich, and died with a title. Duchesse. Comtesse. I would have spent my life in the libraries, pouring over books and teaching the brats of the court. These very sensible, safe things, we gave up for each other."
I buried my face in Nicholas's chest. His words were bringing tears stinging up to my eyes. I could not speak.
"When we are settled and safe, I will fetch a priest. We will marry in secret. But we'll say our vows here."
So there in the lamplight of a small shipboard room, Nicholas and I murmured vows to each other. He said the proper words to me, and told me what words to say. Then we kissed a very chaste kiss with our child pressed between us.
Instead of "consummating" our marriage, we lay together on the bunk. My bathwater grew cold and the lamp eventually went out. We were warm in our love, however. This moment, however simple, was grander to me than any elaborate wedding could have ever been.