Deep in the city, dressed more or less as a sailor, I toured some slimy taverns with my eyes and ears open. I was not learning much except that most places watered their rum. At a place called “David’s Flag” I knew the inn-keeper, and we exchanged lies for a bit. Then a brown-haired girl came to his shoulder, bobbed up and down and asked, “What now, sir?” in the accents of the West Country. She was a soft, young beauty, about shoulder high and dressed in a tattered gown, short corset and apron.
“Who’s this?” I asked him, reaching down the pat the girl’s firm behind. She flinched but stood her ground.
“One of a pair,” he said, “Pretty near fresh off the boat. Bought their paper for a song t’other day; cap’n was in a hurry to weigh.”
I asked the girl her name, and she looked at the bar man before she cleared her throat, sniffed and said, “Nancy, sir,” with another quick curtsey.
“Don’t drop your knee to me, girl,” I told her. “We don’t do that on this side of the water.”
“Sorry, sir,” she said quietly, almost doing it again.
“Don’ you spoil ‘em, y’big galoot,” my sometimes-friend cried, slapping my shoulder. “I ain’ even broke ‘em good and proper.”
Behind the girl, another appeared, dressed and looking much the same, rather wan and a bit frightened. “This is Becky, Rebecca,” the first girl said. “My sister.”
She bobbed up and down and how-dee-doed me. I put a crown on the counter and shepherded both of them off to a corner table along with three glasses and a pitcher of ale.
“Tell me your story,” I asked Nancy. I patted Rebecca on her firm thigh, and she looked at me big-eyed.
“Yes sir,” she said, nodding. “Our parents died of a fever along with our younger brother about six months ago. Isn’t that right, six months?” she asked her silent sister who was still looking at me oddly as my big hand rested on her leg. The girl nodded and licked her lips.
“So our uncle, Uncle Peter, he became our guardian. She’s fifteen and I’m eighteen; I was seventeen when they died. He didn’t want us, but ‘e did want our land. So, well, I’m not sure exactly what happened next but we ended up on a ship headed for America as indentured along with fifty or sixty other people and a cargo of cloth and sewing supplies I think, scissors and needles and such.”
“The captain was a friend of Uncle Peter,” Becky said. Nancy nodded agreement.
“Well, we were both sick for about a week and then, when we could keep some food down, they started on us.” Nancy stopped and looked at me, very sad-eyed. “They started rogering us, every day, several times every day.”
“The mate was the worst,” the younger girl said. “A heathen.”
“It was awful,” said Nancy. “We were both virgins, and we cried every night and prayed that we could die.”
“But we weren’t brave enough to jump in the ocean,” Becky said as a tear coursed down her cheek.
I filled up their thick glasses.
“It took about a month to get here, maybe longer; it seemed longer,” Nancy said.
“Are either of you,” I hesitated, “with child?”
She both shook their heads. “I don’t think so,” said Nancy. “She’s sure.”
“What happened when you reached port?” I asked.
“They sold us, all of us, I mean of them, most to a Scottish factor, but we went separately to the man here, Mr. David. That was just yesterday. He did us both before we slept, and then had her again this morning.”
Rebecca nodded and looked down at her clasped hands.
“Stay here,” I said. “Drink your beer.”
I went back to the bar and got the owner’s attention. “I want to buy them,” I said, “both of them. What did you give?”
“None a’yer business,” he said with a smile. “They ain’ fer sale. Not many coming in these days.”
“Ten pounds, hard money,” I said. “Five quid a piece.”
“A piece it is, too,” he said. “That young one’s a tiger in bed once you get ‘er to stop crying.”
“Ten pounds,” I said. “Silver.”
“Make it twenty,” he said.