Two Months Later
The gown they gave her fit too closely. It displayed her figure with humiliating clarity, but perhaps that would work to her advantage. She had lost so much weight, she couldn't imagine any farmer wanting to invest in such a sickly looking woman.
Several tobacco planters had been on board already to examine the "cargo." The men stood chained on one side of the upper deck, the women on the other. The men were being sold as indentured servants for seven or fourteen year terms, depending upon their sentence.
But the women were to serve a lifetime sentence. They were to be purchased as brides. One bride in exchange for 120 pounds of tobacco leafage, the colony's cash crop.
All except Constance, that is. She had been placed alone up on the half deck, her wrists and ankles shackled, the first mate standing guard behind her right shoulder. The captain was asking two hundred pounds of tobacco for her. Ridiculous.
Her gaze drifted over the indentured men. Uncle Skelly was not among them, of course. How could he be?
Only twice during the voyage had the captain allowed the women onto the upper deck for fresh air. The first time up, she'd passed Uncle Skelly on the mid deck. With a collar and padlock about his neck, they had chained him not only to a board but to three of the most abominable creatures she had ever seen. Jail fever consumed one of those creatures.
The second time up, she had found Uncle Skelly's place on the board eerily vacant. The first mate, Cooper, had confirmed her fears. Skelly Morrow was dead.
Constance swallowed the rush of tears that even now accumulated in her throat at the memory.
"Look lively, maiden. Here comes a'one," Cooper snarled.
She stiffened as a young farmer of but a score or so years approached the half deck. He looked at Cooper, nodded slightly, then turned to her.
She jerked back when he captured some strands of her hair between his long work-roughened fingers. The captain had not allowed her to wear a headcloth this morning. He'd insisted on having her hair loose and uncovered around her shoulders and back.
This display was nothing short of blasphemy. A woman's hair was sacred and a recognized symbol of her maidenhood, only to be worn free while speaking wedding vows.
She'd never felt so naked in her life. Her hair wasn't soft and silky like other women's. It was wild and thick with tightly coiled ringlets that seemed to multiply when unbound.
The bay breeze picked up, causing her hair to swirl around her face. She tried again to free herself from the man's grasp.
"Easy, miss. I'll not hurt you," he said.
His voice was kind, as were his eyes. He did not rake her with an offensive look nor handle her roughly. If he asked to see her teeth, though, she'd be most uncooperative.