Bay of Biscay, March 1634
Two days into the voyage and habits were already forming. Meals were done in shifts, with the men usually eating last. Aboard the Grande Dame, Pierre Marion stood in line with a pail and bag to collect the evening meal for the group he ate with. He watched the cook serve out the helpings, one piece of meat and bread for every diner in a group. Captain de Bussy had laid down strict rules that anyone trying to steal an extra serving would be put on half-rations for a week. Fellow passengers made sure the rule was followed.
Rough tables were set up outside the cabins and each table had a bucket to draw the meat ration. Pierre ate with the five other men who made up the informal leadership for the La Chaume passengers. This was his meal to get the pail of pork and the bag of bread. As he leaned against the bulkhead waiting his turn, he could feel a hum from the ship's rigging transmitted throughout the frame of the ship. The tension on the rigging from the wind sounded like the ship was singing. It wasn't the only tension on board. As he watched the people on deck, it was evident that it was not a happy ship. The announcement, as they sailed, that passengers would be charged for the voyage from the money promised for the purchase of their land had left many passengers seething with resentment. The captain had posted sentries throughout the ship as a precaution.
"How many?" Pierre's reverie was interrupted by the cook. It was his turn. The ladle was poised to serve up the pork. "Hurry up, I don't have all day."
The scowl brought a hurried "Six," from Pierre. At lunch, one group went hungry when they angered the cook. Life would be miserable for a week if Pierre caused George to miss his meal. The cook dropped five pieces into the bucket and passed over a full loaf of bread. The cook gave a snort, "Enjoy the bread, it's the last fresh thing you'll get this trip. From here on it's strictly biscuits"
Pierre didn't budge and held out his bucket. "That was only five pieces, I said six!"
"Don't get in a dither. One piece was bigger than the rest. It counts as two. Now if you want extras, they'll cost you."
Pierre looked at the meat. One was slightly larger than the rest, but two were smaller. The sly look on the cook's face gave away the game. If he could skimp on the servings, he could sell the leftovers and no one would be the wiser. It was going to be a long voyage so Pierre made up his mind quickly to stop the scam now. He crowded the cook and said, "The captain said no lying about portions, or we'd be on half-rations. Maybe I should call the officer on watch and see what happens to a cook who shorts a passenger?" Although a head shorter than the cook, he shoved the bucket into the cook's gut to emphasize his point.
The cook backed off and quickly served up another piece of meat. "No need for that. It's a long voyage and the captain wants everyone treated equally." The watch officer was staring at the group to see if trouble was imminent.
Pierre decided that he didn't need to be identified as a troublemaker by the officer so he simply added a last, quiet, comment. "More like the cook wants to skim a little extra for himself. I'm going to pass the word so folks watch you closer." Pierre glanced back over his shoulder as he headed down the ladder to the cabin where his friends waited for their meal. The officer had returned to his previous work. As he reached the bottom, he stumbled over the step that wasn't there. The gloom down below was a sharp contrast to the evening sun. He got his bearings from the argument still going on at his table. He passed a sentry on the way. It was one of Captain Reneuf's men. He paused to chat, but one whiff of the pork and the sentry turned green, stuffed a hand over his mouth and raced up the ladder. Even down below, Pierre could hear the faint sounds of someone getting violently sick over the ship's side. He walked over to the table and set the bucket and bread down.
Phillipe pointed with his knife in the direction the sentry had left. "What did you do to that boy? One look at you and he ran off.!"
"I think it's more like he hasn't got his sea legs and he smelled the pork," Pierre laughed, but then turned serious. "We need to watch the cook. He tried to short me some meat and wanted a bribe to make it up."
Phillipe slammed his knife into the tabletop. "Just like I was saying! Those stinking thieves need to have something done to stop them. If we don't, we'll all be bond servants by the time we land!"
"I know what you think, Phillipe. So does most of the ship." Pierre pointed to the vacant spot where the sentry had stood. "You keep up your loud complaining and someone's going to report you. Maybe they even have already. Reneuf's a good enough sort that he might overlook it. Most others won't." He waved toward the sentry's previous location. "Why do you think he's here? The captain's worried that something might happen."
"And if it does, so what? We Huguenots have always had to fight for our rights. There's enough of us on this ship to do what needs doing. Or are you scared?" Phillipe tried to stare Pierre down.
"You're a fool. The captain's word is law on a ship. What you're hinting at could be called mutiny. The answer for that is a rope. Even if we initially succeeded, there's still the rest of the fleet. We'll get through this trouble. They can't get any worse. Just wait until we land." Pierre pulled out a short knife and started to serve out the meat. "With all the land where we're going, it will be easy to practice our customs without someone watching our every move." Phillipe sat down, but still kept grumbling. Pierre noticed though, that when the sentry returned, his friend kept his voice low.
We're really sorry, but this is only available to up-to-date paid subscribers.
If you're not already a subscriber you need to know that our columns and editorials are free, along with a few other items, but almost all stories and all downloads are paid only.
- The Grantville Gazette Staff