Louis poked his head through the oak door and peered through the crack at the scene outside. Mr. Rotherham was engaged in a heated debate with a greasy-looking stranger wearing large boots. The discussion had apparently become so frenzied that both men decided to carry on the conversation with swords, rather than with their rapier wit. Mr. Rotherham didn't look very upset or impressed as he dueled calmly along the (1st) deck. The stranger, on the other hand, grew greasier and and more disturbed every minute. Louis watched carefully and noticed that his arm was wearing down far too quickly for him to expect any success. The captain clearly noticed this, as well, and in the next few seconds he had deftly disarmed the man, then sliced through his neck. Louis scowled fiercely from his place as the man slumped to the ground and lay in a pool of his own scarlet blood.
There was a deafening noise, and a small army of equally greasy men leapt onto the ship, baring swords and pistols and any manner of weapon they could find. They descended upon Mr. Rotherham at once, but the crew was too quick for them. They were at the scene in an instant, swords drawn and prepared to fight to the death. Foil brought his blade down from behind upon an unwitting attacker, who looked very surprised in his last moments of life.
The fight began in full force. Louis pushed the door open a tiny bit wider, and angled his head until he could see the ship alongside them. It was three times smaller than the Demon Breeze and definitely unable to fly.
And suddenly Louis remembered - the plans! Rotherham's study was abandoned, and would be for a while it looked like, so he had plenty of time to search for Rotherham's blueprints.
Louis swallowed hard and tentatively pushed the door open. He poked his head around the door frame and did a quick scan of the perimeter - the room seemed to be empty. Unless Mr. Rotherham had someone lying in wait for him somewhere - which was not a pleasant thought. He felt for the knife at his hip, then remembered that he was wearing a dress and could no longer keep things hooked in his belt. Girls' clothes were such a bother. There was an iron candlestick on a shelf nearby, which would make a decent weapon if he needed one. Knowing that the longer he stalled, the greater the chance there was of his being discovered, he stepped inside.
Curiously, he looked around at the room. It wasn't every day that he got to explore the study of the most evil pirate in the world. There were maps and charts on the walls depicting things he didn't even recognize, spyglasses and globes and all manner of odd gadgets scattered across the large, highly polished desk, and several model airships hanging from the ceiling. He stepped closer to the one that looked most like the Demon Breeze and examined it carefully. It was slightly wider than the Demon, and in place of the propellers there was a pair of small, collapsible wings jutting out from the sides. He titlted his head to try to get a glimpse of the decks, and suddenly noticed that there were tiny people crawling all through the rigging. And there - he could just see it - a tiny figurine of Ramona, standing on the balcony of the stern gallery. It was a little bit unnerving, as if the ship could come to life at any moment and grow until it was just as deadly as the real ship. Two such weapons of destruction loose? Louis tried not to think about it. Rotherham caused enough trouble already on his own.
A shout from outside jolted Louis back to his task at hand, and he tore himself away from the ship and began poking into corners and crannies where he might find a safe. He knew to check for false bottoms in drawers and cupboards, and how to listen for hollow places in the wall, but neither of these tactics produced results. He even felt around in cushions for anything that crinkled or - heaven forbid - ripped. Nothing.
The floorboards - he hadn't tried that yet. He dropped to the floor at once and began running his fingernails along the cracks between the planks, feeling for anything loose or for hidden catches that would reveal a secret trap door. He succeeded at getting a lot of thick black dust under his nails, and he found a small hole which turned out to be the home of an ancient, decrepit rat, but other than that he came up completely empty-handed. He sighed and sat back on his haunches, wearily remembering to adjust his skirt before it ripped.
Suddenly, there were footsteps outside the door. He looked up in alarm - he wouldn't have time to get out before he was found. He scrambled to his feet and poked around for a hiding place. All he could think of was the space behind the long drapes at the window. They dragged the ground, and so would cover his feet as well as his body. He slipped into the narrow space, grateful for once for his extremely thin frame. A soft voice sounded just outside - possibly Beatrice's, as it sounded feminine. The words were too muffled for him to understand them, but he heard a deeper voice answer before the footsteps began again. They were dying away - they weren't going to come in - he let out a breath of relief.
Then the door creaked open. He hadn't remembered it creaking when he came in, but there was no doubt that it was the same door. He stood very still, wishing he could see what was going on, as a figure quietly entered the room. He sensed its presence, and could tell when whoever it was - he hoped and prayed it wasn't the captain - drew closer to where he was concealed. He held his breath for good measure.
"Silly me." The soft voice spoke, clearly enough for him to understand. It was Beatrice, it had to be, and she was talking to herself. "Mr. Rotherham would never misplace his key. What was I thinking? I'll have to ask him for it."
He was confused, and understandably so. It was impossible, and silly to even think of, really, but it seemed that...perhaps...she was trying to tell him something. As if she knew he was there and was giving him a clue. About a key? Why would she do such a thing? Why would she want to help him - or, as he realized she must think of him - Joanna? He would have tried reasoning it out in his head, but he wanted to focus all his attention on the current task at hand: not being caught. And consequently killed.
After a pause, during which Louis racked his brains to try to figure out what she was doing, Beatrice left without another word, coded or otherwise. He waited until he could no longer hear her in the hallway, then practically fell out of his hiding place. He stumbled across the room to the door as fast as he could and let himself out, heart pounding from the suspense of being trapped behind a curtain. It's an uncomfortable and thrilling experience, I can assure you. Particularly when your enemy is also in the room, and seems to be sending you secret messages.
Louis told himself that such a notion was downright silly. Beatrice was talking to herself, nothing more. People did it all the time - even he himself mumbled nonsense under his breath to himself on occasion. He decided he was being paranoid.
Even so, when he joined Ramona for tea that afternoon, he could not help asking, "Is Miss Blue in the habit of talking to herself?" while helping himself to a slice of cake.
Ramona was, as usual, thrown off by the use of Beatrice's formal name. "What, Beatrice?" she exclaimed, sinking her teeth into a muffin. "You mean Beatrice? No! What a very odd thing to say. Mango jam? What do you mean by it?"
Louis politely refused the mango jam, becoming more and more confused by the minute. "I was only wondering," he said, "because she seemed to be doing it -talking to herself, you know - when I...saw her earlier today. I just thought..."
"Well, that's strange," said Ramona, with a little furrow in her brow. She finished her muffin and got another one. "I mean, I do it all the time, but everyone knows I'm so scatterbrained that I'm constantly having to remind myself to do things. Beatrice says it's a rather ridiculous way for a girl to behave, and I'm inclined to agree, but I'm in such of a habit that I can't seem to stop. I keep telling myself that I must but it doesn't seem to work. So naturally Beatrice wouldn't, you see."
"Of course," Louis agreed, not sure if he really did. But he didn't press the matter, and Ramona appeared not to give it another thought. After tea she was excited to ask the crew to hang her over the side of the ship in a basket and let her swing along behind them.
"I've been dreaming of doing that for - oh, such a long time! The idea came to me yesterday and I haven't been able to get it out of my head since."
Her request was denied, according to the principles of all sensible people, so then she wanted to sulk in her room for a while. She told Louis, or Joanna, to wander about the ship and get into as much trouble as possible to make up for her temporary absence.
"You musn't give them a moment's rest," she said. "You must constantly endanger your life and health so that their hearts will pound along nice and hard. Otherwise they get bored and lazy, sitting around all the time with nothing to do but play with ropes and sails day in and day out." Then she bid him goodbye and flounced off to her cabin.
Louis took the time instead to ponder about Beatrice. He found a cozy spot on the forecastle where he could make himself comfortable and keep out of everyone else's way, and settled himself in for a nice long think.
He hadn't been there long when his attention wandered and something caught his eye. He got to his feet and leaned over the rail, where he saw what he supposed was a longboat, lashed tightly to the side of the ship. Unlike ordinary longboats, however, this one was equipped with a sail and an engine. And if he was not mistaken, folded against the side were long canvas wings - much like the ones on the model airship in Mr. Rotherham's study. He stood admiring the little vessel for some time, until Mr. Rotherham himself approached from behind and leaned an elegant elbow on the rail next to him.
"Like it?" he said.
Louis hid his nervousness. "Yes, sir," he said, trying to remember that he was supposed to be a girl, not a young man eager to test out a very tempting new toy. "It's very nice."
"Ever been in one?"
"No, sir." He stole a glance at the captain's face. It was stoic and unreadable, as usual, although he thought he detected a faint hint of...something new. He didn't know what it was. "Is that an engine?" he asked, pointing to the mass of pipes and gears.
"It is indeed. Good girl," Mr. Rotherham said. "And those are wings, there on the side, they can fold out like a fan and ride the warm tropic breezes just exactly like a bird."
"It sounds marvellous," said Louis. "It really can fly?"
"It really can."
"It hardly looks it right now. I'd be afraid to get in it."
"Yes, so is my Ramona," said Mr. Rotherham. "In fact, she was crying for mercy the first time she set foot on the Demon Breeze. Certain she was going to fall to her death the moment we lifted off."
Louis laughed, though secretly he thought Ramona was an absolute ninny. "Oh! I expect I would have been screaming if it were me," he said. "New things like that make me nervous. Daddy once took me for a ride on a motorized carriage, and I was sure we were going to crash or burst into flames, we were going so fast. But when it was over, I told him I wanted to go again. I was only four years old, then..."
"Do you feel the same way about flying?"
"Oh yes. I was frightened to death the first time, but now I think I love it more than anything else in the world."
Mr. Rotherham put a hand on Louis' shoulder, giving him what was apparently supposed to be a smile. "Why don't you give it a try, then?"
Immediately Louis sensed trouble. With no one else around, just the two of them, Mr. Rotherham could easily toss Louis overboard to his death. He stumbled back a bit, protesting. "Oh, no, I couldn't! A little thing like that isn't like a ship. I'm too frightened."
"Nonsense," said Mr. Rotherham. "You'll take to it at once, just like you did on the carriage."
"But the carriage was on the ground," said Louis helplessly.
"Come, come, Miss Stark! I'm not going to throw you overboard to let the sharks feed on you! It's perfectly safe. You'll adore it. You just have to give it a try."
"Please, sir! Do not make me!"
Louis' fear must have showed more clearly than he thought, because Mr. Rotherham stopped and raised his eyebrows. "All right," he said, holding up his hands. "Fine. I won't pester you about it if you're really frightened. But if you change your mind you must let me know at once."
"I shall," he replied, feeling a little queasy. Mr. Rotherham bowed slightly, and he dropped a curtsy in return, and then he was alone again. He sank against the rail, taking in deep breaths.