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Historical Fiction Drama

‘Ah there she is.’ Liege sank down on the wet sand next to his darling Polly. She was still shivering even though some kind soul had wrapped a blanket around her and had thrust a mug of tea in her hands. The tea was cold. He gently took the mug from her hands and downed the tea himself. He put his arm around her and looked out towards the bluff – towards the sinking ship. In the grey light of dawn he could see how she was jammed against the rocks even though the mist had not yet lifted. Exhaustion had not yet overtaken the strange euphoria that he was feeling, after all he was a hero; he had risked his life to ensure that not one person on that sinking ship had drowned. His Polly had been so brave, standing back so that the other women and children could enter the life-boats first. He held her closer – something was wrong!

“Where are the sovereigns?”

‘Oh the sovereigns,’ thought Polly. ‘Is that all he can ask? Not ‘how are you?’ Not ‘you have been through the most terrible ordeal.’ No. He asks: ‘Where are the sovereigns?’

50 golden sovereigns she had to sew into her petticoats. Oh he could be so persuasive.

“It will only be for three months,” he had said.

Three months on board ship without ever removing her petticoats, even though her belly would grow enormously during that time. He knew that she was terrified of the sea, and an ocean voyage all the way from London to the new world, to new beginnings; Durban, South Africa, was unthinkable. What kind of a selfish brute did she marry?

Polly had to agree that the Great Depression has caused not only thieves, but also cholera to stalk the streets of London. Did they really need to travel across oceans? Surely there were other alternatives. The day that Liege had shown her the advertisement which said: ‘Perpetual verdure covers the face of the earth, and ever-flowing streams carry fertility over the land,’ her heart sank. His imagination had taken flight. Oh he was so excited, and wasn’t she being selfish by holding him back?

In spite of all her misgivings and all her tears, Polly found herself on board the Minerva which was departing in July of 1850. Liege whistled as he set up their bunks and erected sheets for privacy; they were not going to waste their money on a cabin, and after all, socialising with the other passengers would be much more fun, Liege had said.

Liege was having fun. He organized games for the passengers, and thoroughly enjoyed the ‘crossing the equator’ party.

“Come and join us please Polly. Pretty please.” Polly could not resist those soft brown eyes, so she would be as sociable as she could, and when the morning sickness (which seemed to last all day) went away, she even enjoyed herself. Liege started school classes for the children, borrowing books and pencils, and finding ways to keep the children amused; for this Polly was truly grateful as all their whining, crying, and screeching irritated her more than she thought possible.

‘He will be a good father,’ she thought touching her stomach. ‘I only hope and pray that I will be a good mother,’

 At night Polly would lie awake listening to the creaking timbers, convinced that this rust-bucket was splitting apart at the seams; that water would start seeping in through the floor-boards. One night, as she lay in her bunk, Polly looked down to ensure that the boards were still dry and saw something that terrified her more than any sinking ship. Shuddering she covered her mouth trying to stifle a scream; a huge rat was nibbling on her long plait while its beady eyes were staring at her. The rat continued to watch her as she gathered up her plait, found a scissor, and chopped her hair off at the nape of her neck. Only when she tried to hit the rat with her hair, did it scuttle off.

‘A burial at sea,’ Polly thought as she threw her plait overboard. Feeling lighter, she sat down on the deck. There was no wind, not even a breeze; the sea was calm, and slowly she started to feel an inner peace. Lying flat on her back (as it was the only position that was comfortable), Polly looked up at the stars and dreamed about the life that Liege had promised her: A cottage on a farm with a stream running through it, and acres and acres of space. In London she could not even contemplate space, but now, with nothing but sea and sky surrounding her, Polly felt at peace with the world. She breathed in the invigorating sea air as deeply as she could, and slowly the anxieties and the overwhelming exhaustion started drifting away.

Before the sun appeared over the horizon, Liege found her sleeping there. His concern gave way to tenderness when he saw the serenity on her face. He lay down next to her, and she smiled.

“Please forgive me for dampening your dreams.”

Liege was about to answer when the smile on his face became a grimace of horror; what had happened to her hair? Her beautiful long golden tresses were gone. He wanted to shout, to berate her, but other passengers had appeared on deck, and he was not one to cause a scene, so giving Polly a look of scorn, he brushed himself off and went to join the other passengers.

For the rest of the day Polly was left to her own devices, but for a change, she didn’t mind. Her baby felt calmer in her tummy, and she was almost looking forward to her new life. The voyage had become monotonous, especially as Liege was still ignoring her. Well it would take years and years for her hair to grow that long again; at least her head felt lighter even though her body was growing heavier.

She watched Liege as he strolled on deck twirling his moustache and beaming at everyone as though he owned the whole ship; not even a bead of sweat appeared on his brow. Everybody adored him. ‘The beaming benefactor’ she thought resentfully as her petticoats which seemed to become heavier with every passing day, clung to her wet sticky body. If only she could rid herself of this heavy weight.

At last, after three tedious months, when the water had become putrid, and the food was full of weevils – land was sighted. Liege organised another party, but did not even ask Polly to join in.

‘No matter,’ she thought. ‘Tomorrow or the next day we will be on dry land, and this nightmare journey will be a thing of the past.’

She could not have been more wrong. Yes, they would be on dry land – but at what cost?

After anchoring outside the bay for the night, a terrific storm started hammering the little ship, and a gale force wind caused her to drag her anchor. Everyone was called onto the deck with their life-jackets on. Another anchor was dropped, but to no avail – the ship kept drifting closer and closer to the bluff.

The wind has changed direction; perhaps they would by-pass the bluff. Everyone held their breath; even the babies stopped crying – and then there was the sickening crash and Polly found herself flying across the deck. Liege was one of the passengers helping to man the pumps, and organise the life-boats. Polly felt a sense of pride in her husband – but would he ensure that she was safe.

Passengers were being lowered in a basket to the life-boats so far below; at times the wind blew them into the sea, at other times the breakers overturned the life-boats. Polly’s fear kept growing and she kept allowing others to go before her. This ship that she longed to leave had now become her safe haven. Suddenly she felt her husband’s strong arms around her, guiding her into the basket.

 Now he was here on the shore beside her with his arms around her once more, but this time there was a different urgency.

“Where are our 50 gold sovereigns?”

 This time there was a chilling urgency in his voice. Where indeed. Polly looked out at the ship as it was slowly disintegrating, and Liege asked no more questions.

September 18, 2020 16:59

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1 comment

01:06 Sep 24, 2020

Nice story, short and precise love the way of description


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