Louis panicked a little bit when he saw that his door was ajar. He moved forward slowly, praying that the floor boards wouldn't creak beneath his feet and betray his approach. If it was just Phineas and Ratty cleaning out his room, then he had nothing to fear, but anyone else...He would no doubt pay for his deception with the loss of his life the moment word got out to Mr. Rotherham that his guest wasn't who "she" said she was. Once he was close enough, he stole a glance around the corner. All he could see was a shadow, but it was too tall for Phineas or Ratty. His heart sank. He began edging away, his mind calculating rapidly in an effort to come up with an escape plan on such short notice. He could get to one of the longboats, perhaps, and make for the nearest land. With any luck, the Demon Breeze would not make chase before he'd managed to travel a good distance.
His heart sank even lower when he remembered that he had left the letter to his father on the desk. It would give away everything - his disguise, his mission - absolutely everything. He was doomed without a doubt.
The shadow moved, and disappeared. Instead, Louis found himself face to face with Beatrice, who had a stack of neatly folded white bath towels in her arms. She looked down at him very intently, and he stared back, wondering how he was going to make his escape now.
"Joanna," Beatrice said at length. "Care to join me on the quarter deck for a stroll?"
"I, uh..." Louis fumbled for his words clumsily. "I just...it..."
"Now, Joanna," Beatrice said, smiling sweetly. Louis glared at her, but found himself agreeing in spite of himself. Beatrice set the towels down outside his door, remarking that Mister Bones would be by soon to take care of them, and looped her arm through Louis' elbow. "Let's walk," she ordered. Louis walked.
They went outside, blinking a little as they adjusted to the brightness of the sunlight, and strolled casually along the main deck, greeting the crew as they passed. When they reached the top of the steps to the quarter deck, Beatrice tightened her arm around Louis and pulled him a little quicker. "Aren't you thirsty, dear?" she asked. "Let's get something to drink." There was a table with lemonade and muffins set out under a small umbrella, obviously meant for Ramona. Most of the muffins had been eaten, but the pitcher of lemonade was mostly full. Beatrice poured herself a drink, then handed one to Louis. "Sit," she ordered.
Louis sat, miserably, and sipped his lemonade.
Beatrice waited until he finished the entire thing before she began talking. "Joanna," she said in a businesslike manner, "Please be kind enough to tell me what your name is."
"Stark," Louis began, but she cut him off with a raised hand.
"Don't insult my intelligence," she said. She leaned forward and looked directly into his dark eyes. "Young boy, tell me what your name is."
Even though Louis had been expecting the question, it still made him jump to hear her say it. He shifted uncomfortably and avoided the sharp, brilliant green of her eyes. "Louis," he whispered. "Smith."
"Louis Smith..." she tested, contemplating the name as she rolled the short, easy syllables off her tongue. "Too easy," she decided. "Short, commonplace. You made that up just now."
"I didn't," he protested, though there was clearly no use.
Beatrice leaned in even closer, forcing him to make eye contact. "Louis Smith, then," she whispered. "There has got to be a good reason for you to be disguised as a girl, and as a passenger on the Demon Breeze. You're working some clever little plan against Mr. Rotherham, our dear captain, aren't you?"
"I don't have to tell you anything," Louis said.
"Ah, but you've already told me your name," she smiled, and resumed her original upright position. She waved cheerily at someone behind him. Louis didn't dare turn. He sat very straight and still and concentrated on the muffin in front of him. "Listen, Louis," Beatrice said after another moment, presumably after the intruder had gone. "I know it'll be difficult to believe, but if you are working against Mr. Rotherham, I'm glad."
He looked up at her at once. "I'm sorry?"
"I found the letter to your father," she explained. "I didn't read all of it - only the first page, especially when I realized what it was, and then I hid it. But I know that your father has sent you here on a mission of some kind, and it involves Mr. Rotherham. I'm not going to turn you in, Louis. I promise," she said, when he turned away angrily. "I want to help you."
"You could just as easily be lying to make me give myself away," Louis muttered. "And you think I'm going to trust you simply because you 'promised' something? I may be young, but I'm not stupid."
"No, and neither is your father," she said. "It's a brilliant plan, really. And it has worked wonderfully so far. I commend you both for it. Please believe me, Louis, I want to help you. I hate Mr. Rotherham more than you could imagine."
"Of course you do," Louis said sarcastically, folding his arms. "Especially since he told you to say that."
"He did nothing of the sort," she said, starting to get a little bit angry. "So if nothing else will convince you..."
Louis turned curiously.
"Mr. Rotherham killed the king," she whispered. "I saw him do it. And the king...Edward..." her lip trembled slightly and she paused. Louis stared at her. "I knew the king," she continued. "And Mr. Rotherham knew that I had seen too much, so he held me prisoner on his ship. Ten years, it's been... Never a day of freedom. With time he appointed me as his daughter's governess, and gained a little trust in me, but it's a fragile situation. I could be killed simply for talking to you, if he knew who you are. And I'm certainly not going to tell him."
Louis was silent.
"Do you see now?" Beatrice asked gently.
He nodded. "I suppose so."
"I really do want to help you. I actually -" she gave a short laugh. "I've actually been trying to do just that for days. I had my suspicions not long after you arrived that you weren't quite what you seemed, and - forgive me - I did a bit of my own spying to try to figure out what you were doing. I had never found anything as explicit as the letter, though." She winced. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right," Louis said. He was still struggling a little with what he had learned. "It's just...very sudden, this bit of news. I mean, that you're...well." He drew a deep breath. "I'm awfully confused at the moment. I hardly know how to behave. Here I am, dressed in girls' clothes -"
"Do what you've been doing," Beatrice urged him. "It's brilliant. Really. On a ship full of men and idiots - or both at the same time - I doubt that you'll be discovered. And even if you are, it won't be for a good, long time. I'll make sure of that. Ramona will never suspect I thing, that's for certain, so you don't need to worry about her. She fills her head with plenty of other meaningless things."
"All right," said Louis. "I know I can do it, it just seems so...pointless now."
"Don't give up. Remember, you've got me on your side now. I'm further undercover than you can ever hope to be." She smiled and patted his shoulder. "I am sorry I startled you the way I did. But I had to keep up a convincing act for...you know. The others. And I'm sorry for behaving so nastily all this time. I didn't know what you were up to, and it made me nervous."
"It's really all right. I understand now. And if you want to keep pushing me around and snubbing me, that's fine because it will be like a little joke between the two of us."
Beatrice laughed at him. Louis managed to crack a small, weak smile at his own humour.
"Ah! Beatrice, Joanna!" Ramona suddenly appeared behind them. "Good afternoon," she greeted them loudly.
"Good afternoon, Ramona darling," Beatrice said sweetly, kissing the girl on her forehead. "Care to join us? Joanna and I were just enjoying the lemonade. We were afraid to try the muffins, though, for fear you might want the last of them."
"Oh, thank you, Beatrice," said Ramona, squeezing between the two chairs. "I don't mind if I do. Thank you for thinking of me." She plopped down in the seat opposite them and grinned at Beatrice. "It's so good to see you've come round."
"Pardon?" said Beatrice.
"With Joanna, I mean," Ramona said, gesturing to Louis while stuffing a large bite of muffin into her mouth.
"Ladylike bites, dear," Beatrice reprimanded her.
"Sorry." She swallowed. "I mean, you weren't very friendly to her those first few days. It's nice to see you getting along together. May I ask what changed?"
"Oh, I simply wasn't in a very generous mood, I suppose. It's difficult for me to share my darling girl with anyone else."
Ramona giggled and took another bite. "You're too kind, Beatrice."
"Isn't she just?" Louis spoke up. Both young ladies looked at him, and he shrugged awkwardly. "I mean..."
"Oh, yes," Ramona gushed before he could say anything more. "Joanna, I'm so glad the two of you have made friends now, because you will find that Beatrice is the most wonderful person alive. Aside from my father, of course."
"Of course," Louis echoed with a hint of mockery. Beatrice raised her eyebrows warningly, but Ramona didn't notice one single thing amiss.
"Now we shall be able to do everything together!" she exclaimed happily, once again busy with her muffin.