42. The French

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Aldrick and Elizabeth watched a man in tattered blue clothes lumber in apparent pain along the strand from the north. Then he waded into the water toward them, stopped and shouted, "M'aider! M'aider! Je vous prie de m'aider."

"May Day? What does he mean?" Aldrick asked. "This is September."

"I think he is French, and he is begging for help. I will ask what is wrong and how we may assist." Elizabeth shouted back, "Qu'est-ce qui ne va pas? Comment pouvons nous vous aider?"

"Naufrage dans la tempête." He paused to gasp a breath. "La plupart sont maintenant morts. Il n'en reste que cinq. Deux gravement affligés."

"They wrecked in the storm. Most now dead." Elizabeth grimaced. "Only five of them left, two seriously afflicted." She dropped the lobster and began swimming toward the man. "Come, we must help."

"We are naked."

"They are dying." 

Aldrick nodded and followed her. When they reached the shallows, he said, "Remain belly-down. I will get a bath sheet to wrap around you."

Elizabeth gathered details from François as she watched him stare at her buttocks and legs. When Aldrick returned with a sheet, she said, "S'il te plaît, détourne-toi pour que je puisse me rendre décent." 

François turned his back as requested, and as Elizabeth wrapped herself, she told Aldrick what she had learnt. "Not in this storm. In one many weeks ago. They have moved across the ridge, and they are encamped at the edge of a large rainwater pond about half a league from here."

When they reached the basket, Aldrick picked up Elizabeth's shirt. "I will hold the sheet as a screen while you dress, then you remain here while I run down to fetch some stout hands to assist."

A quarter-hour or so later, Aldrick returned with Charles, Brady and ten hands. After Elizabeth related to Charles what she had learnt, François led the squad northward, leaving Aldrick and Elizabeth alone again.

"How do you know French?" 

"From Mother. On her grand tour, she had found their language beautifully melodic compared to ours, and she coached me as we read together the works of Rabelais, Molière, Madame de La Fayette and others. Also, she engaged a French lady's maid for me, and with her, I refined my grammar and pronunciation." 

"Brady speaks it. His mother was French, so he grew up with it."

"That is a relief. I feared having to do all the translating, and I did not like the way François roamed his eyes over my body, even when clothed. Mother had told me that French men are like that. Very indiscreet."

She curled her lip as she watched the squad slowly recede along the strand. "How far is a league?"

"The length varies among countries, and there are currently two different measures in France, the one a bit less than two and a half of our land miles, and the other a bit more."

"At the speed they are making, they will be well over an hour there and back. Maybe two hours with the injured." She removed her shirt and breeches. "We can do nothing more to assist them until they return. Shall we go fill the sack with lobsters while we wait?"

As they waded into the water, Elizabeth said, "I remember from reading history that we have been at war with France a great many times since the Normans invaded six or seven centuries ago."

"A dozen and a half, and with each war, we emerged the stronger. Not always immediately, but in the longer term. They still have not learnt." 

"But we are at peace now."

"Yes, we have been for twenty years, but the tension is still there. Have you read about the animosity between our new settlers and the original French colonists in Nova Scotia? We are building toward a new war."

"Nova Scotia?" 

"A pseudo-Latin rendition of New Scotland. It is the new name we gave to the colony the French had called Acadia, which they were forced to cede to us at the end of our last war. For more than a century, they had built a prosperous colony and a thriving trade there, but this is now all ours. Also through the treaty, we regained from them exclusive rights to Rupert's Land in northern Canada, a million and more square miles which are rich in furs and timber." 

Elizabeth winced. "Beneath their gratitude for being rescued, François and his shipmates will bear a grudge."

"This is what I had thought. Father and Grandfather always talked about their duplicity and the need to offer them no great trust."

"What will we do with them?"

"Take them aboard, tend their injuries and their health, then land them at a port in Saint-Domingue."

"Where is that?"

"The western half of Hispaniola. The Spanish ceded it to the French a century ago, and the passage to Jamaica goes between there and Cuba. I had intended sailing close to the French coast anyway, so as to not rouse Spanish suspicions that we might be trading in Cuba."

They had continued wading as they talked, and by this time, the water was above their waists. Elizabeth pointed toward the edge of the reef. "Enough about international relations. Let us concentrate on here and on lobsters." She leaned forward and swam away.

Aldrick followed a bit more slowly, hampered by the burlap sack in one hand, and he was still ten yards from the edge of the reef when she surfaced with a large lobster. As she swam toward him, she said, "This is far easier than finding painted pebbles in the Avon."

After placing it in the sack, she submerged again, and in less than a quarter-hour, she had brought up another seven. As she added the eighth to the others, she asked, "How many do we need?"

Aldrick chuckled. "This size, three between us. They are very rich."

"Oh! But we can save some for later." She nodded southward. "And maybe on the big reef, they have not been as successful as we."

"As successful as you."

"Oh, dear! I have not allowed you an opportunity. Give me the bag, and go fetch some up. It is such great adventure."

"For what do I look? I have searched in the past, but I have not ever found one."

"The hard edges of their long lances were the first things that appeared out of place. I now ignore all but them since the mottled colours of their bodies allow them to blend into their surroundings."

Aldrick nodded. "And how do you stay down for such great duration?" 

"By preparing my lungs. Take several deep breaths in rapid succession." She demonstrated, and he copied. Then after further tutoring, on his third dive, he surfaced with a lobster and a broad smile. Then in short order, he had found three more. 

As he placed his latest in the sack, he said, "We should stop here at a dozen. We do not want to be wasteful." 

"We can share with Judith and George, and feed the rest to the French. From François' wasted appearance, they are likely hungry." 

"True."

They each took hold of the top edge of the burlap and turned onto their backs to kick their way slowly toward the strand. As they neared the shallows, they saw Judith and Wilson approaching from the south, and Aldrick said, "They will see our nakedness."

Elizabeth shrugged as she continued kicking toward the shore. "Judith has seen mine many times as she bathed and dressed me, and I am not ashamed to be seen by George. He is discreet and completely dedicated to Judith."

"But how will Judith respond to Mister Wilson seeing you?"

"Or how will George respond to Judith seeing you?"

The water was almost too shallow for swimming when they heard Judith call a greeting. Elizabeth shrugged and said quietly to Aldrick, "There is nothing for us to do at this point but continue. We will soon see their response." She rose to her feet and turned, greeting Judith and Wilson with a melodic, "Welcome to our little piece of paradise."

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