Senta got up from her chair and found that her legs were decidedly wobbly, her vision was wiggly, and the two helpings of trifle in her stomach were not getting along with the toad-in-the-hole. She started for the door, but found her feet making an inexplicable turn toward the wall. One of the waiters took her by the shoulders and guided her back on track, opened the door for her, and closed it once she was in the outside corridor. It was a short trip from Miss Dechantagne’s cabin to the main deck, which was a good thing; because Senta didn’t think she could have made it much further. She grabbed hold of the railing and walked twenty or thirty steps until she came to the steel dragon, still in his animal carrier box. She sat down on top of it, and scooted down so that she could lie back across it. She closed her eyes on the bright myriad of stars looking down upon her.
She didn’t know how long she lay there, but eventually she had the feeling that someone else was there with her. She opened her eyes to see a pasty-faced man with a very round face and horn rimmed glasses looking down at her. His hair was slicked down and oily looking and he had a pinched expression on his face that made his mouth look unnaturally small. She looked at him for several moments and he looked back and blinked several times.
“Hello,” said Senta.
“Hello,” he replied. “Are you all right?”
“I don’t know.”
The man smiled without showing his teeth. His smile reached from his chin to the middle of his nose. His eyes, magnified by glasses, stayed the same. He had no facial hair or sideburns, but he had several small cuts on his face as if he had injured himself while shaving. His suit was charcoal colored, and slightly shabby; something that Senta wouldn’t have noticed a few weeks before.
“Do you want to try getting up?” he asked.
Senta sat up and immediately threw up at the man’s feet. Most of the vomit splattered across the wooden deck, though a bit of it ended up on his shoes and pants cuffs.
“Gawp,” said the dragon within his carrier.
The man’s mouth twitched to one side, but all he said was, “Feeling better?”
“Good,” he said. “We should get you somewhere where you can get washed up. Do you know how to get to your cabin from here?”
“Then, I’ll take you to my cabin.”
“Um, I don’t know.”
“You wouldn’t want anyone to see you with vomit all over your shoes, would you?”
Senta looked down and, sure enough, she had gotten vomit on her own shoes too. The man took her by the hand and pulled her to her feet. She was still pretty wobbly. He began to walk slowly along the deck, pulling her along with him.
“Gawp,” said the dragon, louder.
They went in the doorway just behind the one through which Senta had exited, and walked down the corridor. Senta started to feel a little better. At the end of the hallway, a set of narrow steps led down to the lower deck. Senta didn’t really want to go down, but the pasty-faced man had her hand firmly in his.
Senta and the man both turned to see Miss Lusk walking down the hallway toward them. Though she was the shortest of the women that had been at the dinner party that evening, Miss Lusk was almost the exact same height as the oily-haired man. Her hat, which was a large straw affair covered in pink chiffon with a flower accent, made her seem a bit taller than him.
“Where are you going, Senta?” asked Miss Lusk.
“We were just going to get her cleaned up,” said the man. “The poor thing got sick on deck and lost her dinner.”
“Good evening, Mr. Murty,”
“Good evening, Miss Lusk.”
“It was very kind of you to help out with a sick child.”
“Oh, it was nothing,” he replied. They stood looking at each other for a very long moment. Senta looked from one to the other.
“Well, we’ll go on and get the child cleaned up,” said Mr. Murty.
“I think I should take it from here.”
“I’m sure it wouldn’t be appropriate for you to take the child below.”
“Wouldn’t be appropriate?” he asked. “Why not?”
“Taking care of children isn’t a man’s job.” Miss Lusk took Senta’s other hand and pulled until the child had both arms stretched out in either direction.
“I really don’t mind. I love children,” said Mr. Murty.
“You’ll make quite a father one day, I’m sure.”
“Let me take her.”
“I’ll take care of her,” said Miss Lusk. “I am a woman.”
“Yes, I keep forgetting,” said Mr. Murty, letting go of Senta’s hand. “Um, what with your, um, mathematics skills and all.”
“Good night, Mr. Murty!” Miss Lusk hurried down the hall with the girl in tow.
Miss Lusk led Senta forward and then down a different set of narrow stairs. They went quickly down three flights and then up the corridor a short ways to a door, which Miss Lusk unlocked and entered, pulling the girl in after her. It was a small room, only half the size of that in which Senta and Zurfina stayed. It held a single chair and a single bed. The red-headed woman set Senta on the mattress and had her lie back.
“Didn’t your mother tell you not to talk to strangers?” She asked.