Home > The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1)(15)

The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1)(15)
Author: Megan Shepherd

He took my carpetbag. “Come on. Lady or not, I’m going to lock you in your cabin. I don’t trust this lot.”

I followed close. My head spun as we crossed the gangway to the deck. A short walk, but a scary one. The ship’s odd swaying made my legs quake. There were a handful of men on deck, though I hesitated to call them sailors. Pirates might have been more accurate. Montgomery pulled me out of the way of two men loading a trunk.

“You’ll get used to the rocking in a few days,” he said, leading me toward the quarterdeck. My mind whirled at his easy confidence. He carried himself almost as sure as the sailors, though he was far younger than most.

A monstrous barking tore through the air, and I nearly leapt into his arms. A pair of cages stood on the deck, containing three snarling bloodhounds and one matted sheepdog who barely lifted his head, a web of drool dangling from his jowls.

“Quiet,” Montgomery called to the dogs, and then turned to me. “Stay here. I’ll find the captain.” He wove around the cargo toward the rear of the ship.

The dogs had stopped barking at his order. I was surprised to find more cages beyond them. A panther, black fur matted with filth, flattened its ears and hissed from between the bars. And beside it was a small sloth that opened one sleepy eye and shut it again. And others. A monkey. Rabbits. A capybara—an enormous rodent I’d only read about.

I stepped closer, brushing my fingers against the monkey’s cage, both incredulous and uneasy at the same time. A movement caught my eye as Balthasar poked his head up from the hold. He hurried toward me.

“Stay away from the cages, miss,” he said in his coarse English. “It isn’t safe.” A tarpaulin had slid off the sloth’s cage, which Balthasar replaced with great care. “It doesn’t like the sun,” he explained, patting the cage gently.

“These are for my father, aren’t they?” I asked. My uneasiness grew. “For his research.”

Balthasar scratched his ear. Folded his mouth tight. Didn’t answer.

I told myself there were plenty of legitimate reasons a scientist might want live specimens. It didn’t mean, necessarily, that the animals were intended for vivisection. I caught sight of Montgomery coming back toward me, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask him. I wasn’t sure I was ready to learn what types of boundaries my father might have crossed out there in the dark, silent sea.

“Come meet the captain,” Montgomery called, waving me aft, where the grizzly-bearded man waited for us at the hold. The man swayed slightly. The cloying stench of alcohol hovered around him like yellow London fog.

I climbed around the cages and cargo, my steps uneasy on the swaying deck.

Montgomery took my hand to help me over a coil of line. “Miss Moreau, this is Captain Claggan. He’ll show us to our quarters.”

The captain eyed me. He was either shortsighted or sizing me up. “Damn wild animals,” the captain muttered. “Damn lass. Ain’t good luck, I say. If you hadn’t paid up front . . .” He spit to the side and led us down a steep ladder into a low hallway darker than a coffin. “Crew’s quarters at the rear. My cabin’s up top, below the quarterdeck. The hold’s below.” He tapped his foot on a trapdoor.

He stopped at a closed door and jiggled the latch, then threw his shoulder against it with a curse. The door swung open into a tiny room with a small bed and desk, so cramped I could feel the heat from Montgomery’s body.

“You’re all staying in here together, eh?” The captain leered. Blood rose to my cheeks.

“My man and I will sleep above deck, if the weather holds,” Montgomery answered, a hint of red at his cheeks, too. An unwed young man and woman sharing a room together only meant one thing to the sailors.

The captain smirked and left.

Montgomery set the bags on the bed. “We should have free rein of the ship, except the crew quarters and the boatswain’s hold. Just the same, I’d rather you stay here. It’s safer. Passengers have been rumored to disappear under Captain Claggan’s watch.” He hesitated, and I wondered if he might try to talk me out of coming one last time. It was so strange to see him like this, almost grown, capable beyond his years. He couldn’t have had much of a childhood. So much strength had to hide some sort of vulnerability. But then he brushed past me to the door before I could finish my thought. “I’ll be back once we’ve left port.”

I closed the door behind him. My stomach was rolling. I let myself fall onto the bed. By the time I awoke, we were already at sea.


MONTGOMERY WAS RIGHT—IT TOOK time to grow accustomed to the ship’s movement. For the first few days I could barely sit up in bed. Montgomery lashed a lantern to the desk and left a bucket by the bed, though he quickly learned to lash that down, too. Balthasar brought me food from the galley, but I couldn’t stomach the rock-hard dried meat and slimy canned vegetables. At last Montgomery brought up a tin of Worthington’s biscuits from Father’s cargo. It was the only thing besides water I could keep down, and the water turned rancid after two weeks. From then on, it was bitter beer.

After over a month in the dark, cramped cabin, I started going above deck once a day for fresh air and sunlight, but the smell of turpentine and piss usually drove me back even before the sailors started leering. Montgomery came down sometimes, but the ship was shorthanded and the captain kept him and Balthasar busy above deck, never mind that they were paying passengers. Montgomery did the work without complaint. The dogs barked incessantly. I thought I’d gotten used to the ship’s rocking, and even believed we’d make it to the island with no incidents—until the storm hit.

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