The evening Captain Harrison Fleming came to supper at Devon House was the night Juliette Hamilton finally made up her mind to run away.
That had been three weeks ago.
Now Juliette held her breath, her heart pounding an erratic rhythm against her chest, waiting silently in the shadows as a small group of sailors, laughing and talking in boisterous tones, walked by oblivious to her presence. Oh, God, she was really doing this. She was actually leaving. Leaving her sisters. Her family. Her home.
A strange thrill coursed through her veins and she took a deep breath of the briny night air to fortify her shaking legs. She peered cautiously from her hiding space on the dock behind a stack of large oak barrels filled with she knew not what. The moonlit water glistened as still as glass beside the now empty dock.
All her planning had come to this moment.
There was the Sea Minx, docked just where Captain Fleming had said it would be. For some reason, it looked smaller than she had imagined.
When the last sailor had disappeared up the gangway of the ship, Juliette pulled the black cap down over her head to heighten her boyish disguise and took another deep breath, before scurrying on silent feet after them, up the ramp onto the deck of the Sea Minx.
Juliette had somehow managed a minor miracle by reaching the dock and boarding the ship without being detected. Now began the more challenging aspect of her plan. She needed to remain hidden until they were well out to sea, when it would be too late for Captain Fleming to turn back and bring her home. Unsure where to go next, she hesitated for an instant before she ducked through a low doorway climbed down into a narrow and dimly lit passageway. Suddenly hearing male voices and heavy footsteps approaching, she opened the nearest door in a blind panic and quickly found herself inside what appeared to be some sort of small storage room.
Once again she held her breath, not daring to move until the voices passed by, as her eyes slowly adjusted to the dimness. When the passageway quieted and she no longer heard voices, Juliette softly exhaled before daring to draw another breath. Now what? Her plan had not been so detailed as to exactly what she would do once she finally boarded the ship, aside from keeping out of sight until they had already set sail. Now she fumbled about in the cramped, dark space awash in briny smells until she found a small wooden crate upon which to sit. Thrilled with this bit of good fortune, she sat and nervously patted the little satchel she had managed to bring with her. She had packed enough food to sustain her a few days if she ate sparingly, a photographic card of her family which was taken at her sister Colette’s wedding last fall, letters with her friend Christina Dunbar’s address, a change of clothes, and money. She had more than enough funds to last her quite a while. Her brother-in-law had settled a rather large amount of money on her and she had gone to the bank that afternoon and, not sure how much she would need, she had withdrawn much of it. Once she reached New York City she would seek out her friend at her house on Fifth Avenue.
Then her adventure would really begin.
She had finally done it! She had successfully boarded Captain Fleming’s ship! She hugged herself in disbelief, a little stunned that she had actually accomplished her goal.
A rather strong pang of regret filled her at the thought of her four sisters. When they discovered the note of explanation she had left in her bedroom her sisters would undoubtedly be overcome with worry and panic at her unexpected departure, but there was no help for it. It was time. Juliette had had to seize this opportunity to leave. She simply had no choice. She wished to be free and independent and this was the only way.
As she sat in the dank and brine scented gloom, she felt the ship suddenly begin to rock beneath her and pitch forward. Loud shouts and excited cries could be heard above deck. Her heart lurched. This was it! There was no turning back now. The Sea Minx was sailing out across the Atlantic Ocean to America. Her fate was sealed, for better or for worse. For a fraction of a second she regretted her crazy desire to venture out and see the world, but then she held up her chin and grinned to herself in the dark.
She had always longed to break free, to have an exciting adventure, for a chance to visit exotic locales, to meet new people. However, she had not envisioned doing so in such furtive secrecy.
But that night at Devon House three weeks earlier she knew within an instant that Captain Harrison Fleming had unwittingly presented her with an advantageous opportunity to escape her stultifying existence.
Perhaps it was while Captain Fleming described his beautiful clipper ship, the Sea Minx. The color of his eyes seemed the exact shade of the ocean on a stormy gray afternoon. Or maybe it was when he regaled them all with tales of his life at sea and his adventures in ports around the globe. He had actually been to exotic and foreign lands. India. China. Africa. The Caribbean. America. Captain Fleming was living the life she had only dared to dream of and it fascinated her to hear him speak.
Juliette’s brilliant scheme had come to her in bits and pieces throughout the lengthy eight-course meal. She could not quite pinpoint the exact moment that the idea to stow away on his ship popped into her head, but by the end of that intimate supper party at Devon House, the beginnings of her plan had everything to do with the charismatic Captain Fleming. As soon as she learned that the adventurous sea captain planned to return to New York shortly, Juliette knew just what she had to do. She might never have this chance again.
He was her only means of getting to New York. She had to sail with him.
She had barely been able to finish her dessert for containing her wild excitement at this revolutionary idea.
“Look at Juliette, would you? She looks like the cat that ate the canary,” Lord Jeffrey Eddington had remarked to everyone gathered around the dinner table, an amused smile lurking on his boyishly handsome face, his merry eyes dancing. “Tell us now what is going on in that pretty head of yours, Juliette. Whatever are you scheming about now?”