The woman stood at the bow holding a rope, her feet planted firmly on the thwart. Sometimes as he rowed, Hook turned to look at her. She was different to the Vandemonian women. Her face was thinner, her hair straighter and she didn’t wear the strings of tiny, shining shells about her throat. Instead, so tightly thonged that it dug into the hollow between her collarbones, she wore the whitened skull of a newborn baby.
The crew wriggled the boat in beside the Governor Brisbane. The wind had come up in their absence and it blew the ship off again. Hands grabbed for flying ropes on the next try and fastened the vessel. The Kangaroo Island woman pointed to the salt and let Bailey know in good English that she’d collected it herself and it should be looked after. She had him on the edge of nodding in obeisance before he scowled. Hook saw Mary glaring down at her orders, from the deck. He knew Mary had been boss of the other Tyreelore on Preservation and could almost hear her thoughts. Who was this sprite?
The woman threw one of her dogs from the whaleboat up to the ship. The short, whiskery terrier landed on deck and turned to snarl at Hamilton, then looked over the side at the woman, wagging his tail. On her next throw the bigger dog, a lean brindle hunter, hit the planks and dropped shrieking into the sea. A cry of dismay from her. Bailey laughed. The dog swam around the little boat, shaking the water out of its ears. She hauled him in by the skin of it's neck. The islander Everett grabbed at a rope dangling from the gunwales and she tied it around the dog’s chest. She nodded to a black jack who hauled up the animal, its body hanging from the elbows, tail between its legs and looking down at his mistress with a wrinkled brow.
Once her dogs were safely on board, she nodded again at the salt. “Don’t drop that salt. Plenty hard work.” Then she looked at Hook. “You no white man.” She pointed a good, true east with long fingers. “You from over there?”
“K’ora,” she said, grinning, her teeth as white as the skull of the infant, and Hook grinned back in spite of himself.
Rope ladders were thrown down. Hook watched her climb and wondered how many rope ladders she’d climbed in the cover of night to see a white captain: a man who scribbled in his books about timber and soil and wallabies and winds but never about the black girl who climbed from a boat, onto his ship and was shown to his cabin.