The Bengal Bridegift
A few days later, Juno was reading with Aditi when she felt the ship begin to come about. Lifting an arm to brace herself against the cabin’s wall, she exclaimed, “Heavens—we’re turning out of the wind. I wonder what’s happened?”
“I am not finished,” Aditi complained.
Because Juno’s Bible served as the only available reading material, the reading lessons had been painstakingly slow. Aditi was not overly familiar with current English--let alone seventeenth-century English--and the close-set type only added to the girl’s extreme frustration.
Then, Juno happened upon the story of Judith, the Old Testament heroine who seduced Holofernes, and then cut off the enemy general’s head whilst he slept. Enrapt, Aditi heard the story again and again with bloodthirsty relish, and was now determined to learn the words so that she could read them herself. It was not exactly an appropriate bedtime story for potential children, but it was a start, and the girl was rapidly making progress.
“Let me go investigate, Aditi—perhaps something is amiss.” Juno stood, and made her way above-decks to investigate the ship’s sudden cessation of movement. As she emerged from the companionway, she could hear raucous laughter and voices, and could see that another ship had pulled alongside, the crews from both ships swinging grappling hooks so as to pull them together.
Oh—I suppose they saw our request for provisions, she thought. Shading her eyes, she saw that Jost stood on the forecastle, shouting in a language Juno guessed was Dutch, as his counterpart on the other ship roared back with equal gusto. The other captain was a huge bear of a man, with a full red beard, and a smile that revealed missing teeth.
“Klootzak!” the other shouted, “Zoon van een hoer!”
Jost leapt across just as the two ships were brought together to be lashed, and it seemed evident that the two captains were well-acquainted, particularly because their greeting involved socking each other in the chest with a great deal of force.
After spying Juno in the companionway, Horry came over to stand beside her, and she asked, “Who is the other captain? Do you know?”
“I haven’t a clue. He must be Dutch, too.”
“Evidently,” Juno agreed, and then watched as the red-bearded man threw back his head to laugh uproariously at something Jost had said. To her surprise, the man turned to scrutinize the Minerva’s deck, then pointed and shouted something unintelligible upon spying Juno in the stairwell.
“Oh, dear,” she exclaimed, as color flooded her cheeks.
“Better go below,” said Horry, taking her arm. “I hope Sir Jost hasn’t offered to trade you for the provisions; I don’t think I could best either of them in a fight.”
But their retreat back to her cabin was interrupted by Jost himself, who bounded down the steps after them, two at a time. “Juno—Juno, wait. You will marry me, yes?”
After a startled moment, Horry laughed aloud, whilst Juno gazed at Jost in bemusement. “Oh—oh; is that what this is all about?”
“Captain Spoor, he says he will marry us.”
Unable to suppress a delighted smile, Juno curtseyed to Jost in form. “You do me great honor, sir.”
Jost tilted his head. “This is ‘yes’?”
“Of course it means yes,” interjected Horry. “Give over, Juno.”
“Now?” Juno looked from one to the other, finding that she could not contain the effervescing happiness that bubbled within her breast. “This moment?”
“In the time of nick.” Jost held out an impatient hand to her. “Make haste—you come too, Horry.”
Blushing before the interested scrutiny of both crews, Juno followed him to the gunwale and hoped her petticoat was not on display as he lifted her from her feet and handed her over to the other captain, who did not hesitate to run his gaze over her body with approval, as he set her on his deck. “Sappig,” he declared, and smacked his lips in a manner that required no translation.
Horry and Jost followed her over the gunwale, and the wedding party assembled on the forecastle deck of the Dutch ship, whilst both crews gathered to watch, exchanging rough but good-natured raillery in both languages. Captain Spoor grinned, the spaces between his teeth prominently on display as he directed a question to Juno, which Jost translated as he took her hand. “You are ready, Juno?”
“I am,” she replied, because indeed she was. “Are you here, Horry?”
“Right here,” her brother assured her. “In Papa’s place.”
The captain said something to Jost, and Jost translated for them. “He does not know the English so well, so I will tell you what he says.”
And so in the midst of a crowd of sailors who stood with their hats in their hands, Juno said her vows to Jost, after he first translated them from the Dutch. Her bridegroom then held her hands in his and made his own promises, his sincere devotion unmistakable. I believe I am going to burst with happiness, thought Juno, who kept blinking away tears so that she could see his dear face. And for once, I am completely unafraid; I willingly bind my life to his, and with a whole heart, I accept whatever is to come.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Jost put his ring upon her finger, then took her in his arms and kissed her soundly--to the cheers of the assembled men, who shouted suggestions which Juno pretended not to hear. They thanked Captain Spoor, and a sailor from the Minerva tossed Jost a bottle of rum, which was then presented to the officiate with a flourish. Juno was given to understand that the man invited them to share it with him, but Jost disclaimed, and the other, eyeing Juno in a lascivious manner, conceded with a knowing grin.
All it wants is for Jost to heave me over his shoulder, thought Juno, mortified, but fortunately, she was spared this humiliation, and instead she was handed over the adjacent gunwales once again, and returned to the Minerva.
As they waved goodbye, she said to Jost, “If you wish to stay and become reacquainted, I do not mind.”
“Assuredly not,” he responded under his breath. “The bottle, if it is opened he will drink for the whole day, and we have no time to lose.”
Juno regarded the gold band on her finger and had to resist an impulse to extend her fingers upward and stare at it, Aditi-fashion. “What a wonderful surprise.”
He leaned in to admire her ring, then lifted her hand to kiss it. “Me, I did not want to tell you, in case it went wrong again.”
Horry interrupted them to kiss Juno’s cheek, and shake Jost’s hand in a formal fashion that made Juno hide a smile. “My congratulations. You are a lucky man.”
“Horry, you are out of my cabin.”
“Understood,” her brother laughed. “First things first.”
“First things first,” Jost agreed, liking the phrase. “Now, second things; you will help Landon reset the course—the sun, it is in the wrong place.”
Jost signaled to Landon, who had stood at a respectful distance, reluctant to intrude. “Make haste; Horry will help you set the course.”
“Such a hurry to make England,” Juno observed, teasing him. “It might cause one to believe you are eager to lay hands on my bridegift.”
“Me, I am eager to lay hands on your bridegift,” Jost agreed, in such a suggestive tone that Juno didn’t know where to look. To spare her blushes, Landon bowed, “My best wishes, Lady Van der Haar.”
“Oh,” said Juno, much struck. “I suppose that is me; how strange.”
Horry offered, “Papa said they gave you a title because they couldn’t let you work for the other side.”
“Which other side is that?” asked Juno in surprise. “The Mughals?”
“Valuable services were performed,” Landon interrupted, giving Horry a look. “Enough said.”
“Then where is your title, for valuable services performed, Mr. Landon?” Juno teased him.
“Don’t know as I deserve one, my lady,” the man responded, deadpan. “Being as how I am merely an investigator for Lloyd’s of London.”
Peyton joined them, offering his congratulations and bowing with the appearance of perfect complacency to Juno, who was reminded she should make an explanation to the man, given as he had been good enough to give her a warning—not to mention an offer of marriage to save her from ruination. To this end, when the others were busy adjusting the sails to suit the new course, she approached him. “May I speak with you for a moment, Mr. Peyton?”
“Of course, my lady,” he said immediately, and came to stand aside with her.
“So that you do not think me mad, I must explain that I have discovered you were mistaken.” She smiled, so that he wouldn’t believe she held any grudge over the confusion.
Bowing his head in acknowledgement, he responded, “I didn’t doubt it for a moment, my lady, and I so I was very happy to see you wed.”
His manner was sincere and forthright, but to be certain he didn’t think her a fool, she added, “He had to claim that he was married in an effort to protect—” here she paused, uncertain as to whether she should broach the particulars “—others who were dear to him. But now the subterfuge is no longer needed.”
She thought his gaze sharpened on hers for a moment. “I am sorry for the confusion, then, my lady, and I am glad there was no harm done.” He shook his head in a rueful manner. “It would have been better to hold my peace, so to speak.”
But Juno disclaimed, and assured him with all sincerity, “No—your intentions were honorable, and you had my best interests at heart. Pray do not vex yourself over it.”
As she watched him walk away, she reflected that Peyton must have been involved in the Algerian matter—he’d made reference to it, after all—so it made sense he would know of Jost’s subterfuge about his marriage to Preya; apparently he had not been aware that it was only a subterfuge.
She glanced at her ring again, and admired it, moving it around her finger with her thumb. Everything has turned out perfectly, she thought; Horry is right, our luck has changed. Feeling as though she was floating down the companionway steps, Juno went to pack her things, and prepare for her wedding night.