Freedom Pioneers : "Expeditions" [Ch5ii]

CHAPTER FIVE Continues …..

He was not his jovial self when he entered Michael’s cabin for diner. Rhiannan was there, demurely dressed in her usual blue dress, her hair returned to a severe knot, adopted in the heat for its coolness, and her layers of cotton fully restored; so stark a contrast to the previous sight of her, so tortuously hauntingly similar. She said nothing to him, he said nothing back. Unaware of anything amiss, Michael was in an unusually chatty mood and filled in the unsuspected awkward silence, between his guests, with talk of the equator celebrations and then tales of the past ones. It moved onto other celebrations that he had shared since meeting Maloney. Sadly for him he realised they had been few and far between in his life and he avoided his sixteenth birthday all together.

Finally, the meal over, Maloney excused himself and left them almost abruptly.
‘I wonder what the matter is with him.’ Michael inquired

Rhiannan had no words. She couldn’t very well tell Michael that the man had walked in on her in her cabin for he had often done so in the past, Michael also. Aboard a ship usually only full of men, privacy was not always respected without obvious direction. A courtesy she was sure Maloney would never again neglect. So it would mean telling Michael about the dress and that would be too difficult for words to admit to; so she sat mute and simply let the comment pass.

‘Shall we take a turn of the deck and watch the sun set?’ he offered and she smiled in agreement, anything was better than sitting remembering her shame of being caught so indecently brazen.

He stood and helped her to stand and then escorted her out of the stuffy cabin. They walked slowly to the bow where she stopped to look over the edge and he stood beside her holding the rail and watching the waves break as the prow carved through the deep black ocean.

‘Rhiannan.’ He began and she looked up at him half expecting a rebuke for being partially responsible for Maloney’s malaise. ‘When we reach Australia, what plans do you have?’ he leant close to her so the wind would not whip his words away.

She stared at him wondering where this line would lead. Stealing time before she felt too compelled to answer she moved back from the prow and discovered in the lashed down cargo a small nest where men obviously took time out to play cards or the like. There were a few make-do seats; coils of rope and a box or two. On the table, made from a crate chickens once lived in, was a hurricane lantern waiting for use later when the men came to play their cards. She sat on the nearest coil of rope and he took a seat on the box beside it. Behind them stacked stores and canvassed barrels of rum created a wind break.

‘I suppose I would first procure work and a home, establish myself and get my bearings; is that not every one’s agenda for reaching the end of their journey?’
‘And then?’
‘To investigate my mother’s situation.’
‘You’ve already tried that once and look where that landed you.’
‘I must try.’
‘What if you find she has expired?’ he asked gently
‘Then at least I would finally know.’
‘And if she hasn’t what shall you ask of her?’
‘I ask of her? Why nothing but to have her brought there if she is not already there.’
‘There must be a more pressing reason to find her and reunite yourself with her. People in this day and age loose contact with their family so very easily. Sometimes it is better to presume death than continuously fight for hope to reunite.’

She sat for a long while. She had no idea that he was speaking from experience. The longing inside him to find his little sister yet his mind telling him the desire was fruitless. To deny his reasoning would be useless, she felt compelled to see her mother and ask forgiveness from her. To do whatever she could to make her mother’s existence more restful so that her passing would be peaceful.

With all the patience in the world, Michael sat and watched his guest in the glowing light of the setting sun. She was just so beautiful and in such a pensive pose his heart ached to touch her.

Finally she spoke again. ‘I need her forgiveness for killing them both.’

Michael’s blood ran cold as the breeze lifted against them rising goose bumps on his skin.

‘Killing who?’ he asked in a soft prompt, when it appeared she was not volunteering any further.
‘Herself and the man she’d been with.’ She replied almost too softly for him to hear.
‘But she’s not dead yet if you are still searching for her.’
‘But the other man is and she’s paying the penance for my crime. That is killing her slowly and it is therefore as much my fault as if I laid the noose about her neck.’

Michael had seen gruesome death; had even himself killed another, always in a fair or, as it worked out, unfair fight. But to think this pure innocent sweet hearted Rhiannan could possibly be a murderess? He just couldn’t believe it.

‘How?’ he asked inaudibly and swallowed ‘How did you kill him?’

She stared at the golden colours of the setting sun racing up the clouds of the evening sky; so like the flames of her little fire. Her warm little fire, how proud she had been in providing it, building it, lighting it and being warmed by her labours. How could she anticipate it would destroy her existence and change her world so completely? And suddenly she realised thankfully for the better.

‘I was seven. I brought coal home.’ She said simply. ‘It fell off a wagon and I gathered it up in the water bucket and brought it home. I laid a fire, our first since Hogmanay, and warmed the whole house.’

Michael saw the innocence in her eyes at the memory; the pride of achievement. He’d known that pride when, at eight years old, he had brought home his first brace of fish, caught all by himself on his first day fishing alone. He knew what it had meant to the family; the tightness of their poverty, his hunger eating him every day as viciously as the chilblains in his feet in the winter snow. But even as he was recognising it in her it was dying in her eyes as she went on to explain what happened next.

‘But they … he wanted me. Mother fought him. She sent me running. When I returned, I found the fire had burnt the whole house. He’d died after, in a horrible agony. Mother was sentenced.’
‘And you?’ Michael whispered not daring to move least her trance break and she said no more.
‘I wanted to find George.’

Michael sat back in surprise.
‘Who’s George?’
‘The man I loved and I know loves me.’

Her simple words, innocent in their delivery spoken with true faithfulness, sliced open his heart as surely as if she had done it with a blade. He stopped breathing and stared, waiting for death. The one he loved, loved another; completely and blatantly.

‘He had red hair like me, he was good and happy and warm and safe.’ She went on.
Each description brought a glow of happiness to her eyes. Each glow seared his wounded heart a thousand times.
‘Cook said he was most likely my father …’

There, he could breathe again. George, whoever this man was, he was no competition for her affections. He was most likely her father, a contender for her devotion, to be sure, but not one to hold her intimate love. His heart healed, beating with renewed vigour.

‘But the Urquharts hated him for stealing their sons; and my Grant was no longer the heir and …’ she dwindled off.
‘Your Grant?’ He managed to ask although wondered how he could without air again and with his heart trembling in fear of a second attack at mortal severing.
‘My angel, Grant.’ She looked at him her eyes filled with innocence and that devotion again, like a small kitten begging for love, like a child asking for understanding. ‘He picked me up from the hedgerow and took me on his horse to the castle and there I stayed till I was a woman.’

This tale of hers was bringing her to life in a most surprising fashion. But he was not sure he wanted to know more if she kept bringing up men from her past like long lost lovers. Michael swallowed realising there was possibly someone else who had possession of her heart before him. Perhaps not the George character, he seemed like her father, but this Grant person? Did she love him? Did he love her? Would he reclaim her if he found her? Michael knew he, himself, would; should he ever loose her. But how did he compete with a memory like that? The glow in her eyes when she spoke his name told him this angel was indeed someone special and so the one he would need to compete with for her love. And like any truly committed combatant he needed to know all he could about his enemy in order to find his weakness and attack him victoriously.

‘What happened to Grant?’
‘We moved to London; the whole family except Grant and Jack.’
Jack? Another man? Michael was loosing count.
‘They disappeared. The madam said it was George who stole them and sent me from the house because of it. I worked as a scullery maid for her, and became assistant cook to the house Cook, Maloney’s sister. So she, Cookie, found me work with Mrs Johnson in her pastry shop. I saved up all the money I could and after a year I could commission Grouse to help find my mother and see if he could have her sent to Australia or released. You know the rest.’

Suddenly Michael was empowered with energy. Could she also now include remembering the cell?
‘You paid Grouse but …’ he deliberately got her story wrong and with a small sigh she corrected him.
‘No, when I went to pay him he gave me a drink with something in it. I fell asleep.’
‘Do you remember dreaming?’ Michael dared ask, hoping it would prompt a memory.
‘No. No, perhaps.’ She spoke closing her eyes and frowning a little, as she focussed on the fleeting thought. ‘There was a cold place, damp, smelling. And warmth, unbelievable warmth, in my belly. And such strength; such softness.’ She dissolved her tone into an appreciative hum.

Michael couldn’t believe the feeling inside him, the swell of emotions that threatened to make him vomit or explode! It was her! She had been the one in his cell. He knew it and it gave him the most complete thrill of all. Whoever these men were to her in the past he knew she was whole when she came to his cell. Then the guilt filled him, creating such a vortex that he couldn’t breathe. If she knew what he had done, what they had done, would she hate him? He couldn’t exist if that was the outcome. Did she know? Did he want her to remember and then hate him? If she didn’t remember and he didn’t tell her and then one day she found out would she hate him for not telling her? Would she hate him because she had been saving herself for this Grant? He needed to know, needed to find out and then he could decide if he should tell her, try to help her recover, try to make it up to her. Possibly help her find this Grant.

‘Rhiannan.’
She opened her eyes and looked at him. He couldn’t believe he was asking a woman such a question let alone the woman he himself loved. He took a breath and said it fast so he could actually say it.
‘Rhiannan do you still love Grant?’
‘Love him?’ she looked at him completely perplexed.
‘Yes. Grant; do you still love him?’
‘How can you love an angel in any real way?’ she asked and gave Michael a small smile that freed his conscious and captured his soul.

He could breathe. He felt propelled to a new style, a higher level, a plane of such bliss he dared not move least he fell off it. Taking a deep inaudible breath through his nostrils, recognising the scent of her hair the musky scent of her that had filled his nostrils in that cold damp cell and given him the peace to await his fate, he opened his eyes and saw his future seeming brand new. He looked at her and knew it would always have her in it for she made him complete.

‘I find it extremely easy to love you though.’ He told her honestly and unreservedly.

☼ To again be continued …..
….here

Freedom Pioneers : "Expeditions" [Ch5ii]

adgray

Frankston, Australia

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

For my NaNoWriMo challenge

One Part of a three part novel.
A spin off from my Daintree Daughter’s Book

Chapter 5 continues
First part of Chapter 5 – here
This chapter continues – here
Expeditions starts – here
Ch4

Beware: this is a realistic Adult book & not a pretty tale like my poetry

It tells of the fight to become free and happy, with the leading characters first facing the trials of the ugly side of life, and the shackles of their pasts dragging at them as they carve their own standard of living. But in the mid 1800s it was normal for the children of the poor to see the activities of their parents – good & bad; generally they weren’t sheltered … that came in soon after when everyone wanted to live like the well to do did & hide or ignore the brutality of the ugly side of life.

Remember in Australia, Corporal Punishment was only outlawed 35 years ago! Child abuse is still being fought & wives could not testify against their husbands for anything including marital rape until recent times also.

So all that aside I hope you can enjoy the story! ☼

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