I laid her out alongside the deckhouse, and checked her breathing and her pulse. Then I had to tend to the boat. Wahini was wallowing uneasily in the swells, heading up to the wind, losing way, and falling uncomfortably back again. I topped the mainsail again and sheeted it in. The wind was up to force four and freshening, and shifting around further to the south. I pointed Wahini a little higher than a broad reach. That would give her a reasonable motion while I tended to my unexpected guest, and would carry us more or less in the direction of Bermuda.
The cruise ship was below the horizon by now. If I strained my eyes, I could just make out a smudge of light where it had gone.
The girl had not stirred. She lay in a pool of salt water with her long hair knotted and tangled about her. I had been aware of her nakedness in the water, but I had been too busy keeping the two of us alive to think about it. Now, however . . .
Her hair was coarse, black, heavy, and long. Her cheekbones were wide and her nose arched slightly. Her mouth was just wide enough to balance the rest of her features. Her breasts and the muscles of her flanks and thighs were firm and resilient. She was wearing French-cut panties, soaked to absolute transparency. Her skin was coffee-and-cream with a lot of cream; the kind of color that comes at birth. No tan could be that perfect. When she woke and spoke, I would bet on an Hispanic accent. She looked to be in her early twenties.
You don’t get to rescue a mermaid every day. If the fates let you pull a girl out of the ocean, it would be unfair if she were less than beautiful. I did not feel cheated.
I untied the line from around her shoulders, but she didn’t respond. The cold water, the shock and fear, had sapped her strength. I slid the hatch back and hoisted her onto my shoulder, bracing awkwardly against the motion of the boat. She was a handful of slippery, sweet-smelling girl. I was breathing heavily for more than one reason by the time I got her toweled off and into a bunk. Her shoulders and sides were crisscrossed with angry welts where the rope had dug into her. She cried out when the rough towel hurt them, but she didn’t come to full consciousness.
I stuck my head out of the hatch to look for other ships. There was nothing in sight that wanted to run us down, so I stripped, toweled off, and put on dry clothes.
On deck again, I hung my wet clothes and the towel from the shrouds. The wind had shifted another point to the south and Wahini was pinching. I eased the sheet and let her fall off. At this rate, Bermuda would be directly to windward in a few hours.
I had gone to a lot of trouble to avoid Bermuda. Six weeks refitting in Jamaica had shown me as much island paradise as I cared to see for a while. Will Hayden was waiting in Marseille for me to deliver Wahini, so I had sailed through the Windward Passage and headed due north, picking up the Gulf Stream and swinging a big arc above Bermuda before lining out for Gibraltar. Now I was over a hundred miles northwest of Bermuda, and facing into a rising wind.
To judge from its course, the cruise ship had been heading for New York. I had no intention of making a thousand mile side-trip to deliver my mermaid back to whoever was waiting for her there. That left only two options. If I could make Bermuda, she could fly home. Otherwise, she would have to go on to Europe with me, and find her way home from there. more tomorrow