She awoke to the comforting rumble of men’s voices and she smiled sleepily without opening her eyes. Then the meaning of the words began to sink in. Da was talking to Pete. They were speaking really low and it was hard for her to hear all their words, but she heard enough.
They were trying to decide what to do with her. The girl had been so relieved when her Da and the men came, that she hadn’t thought about the future. Pete said they should ask her what she wanted, but how was she supposed to know when she had lived her whole life here on this island.
Her Da had tried to take her and her Granny back to Scotland after her mother and grandfather died. But her Granny would not even talk about it. “I was the laird’s wife before Culloden, I willna go back a beggar.” The girl had been disappointed then. It would have been a great adventure with her Granny, but alone?
She also heard Pete talk about the colonies. The girl didn’t know what to think, so she snuggled closer to her Da and went back to sleep.
For the next week, they were busy loading everything from the cave and from the shack that was worth saving onto the boat. When everything had been removed from the shack, the men tore down what was left of it. The girl cried silently as she watched. She had been born in that shack; it was the only home she had ever known.
At the end of the week, her Da led her away from the bonfire and told her he had something to talk to her about. “I am verra proud of ye lass, how ye helped yer granny before and after the storm. I am so grateful for the way ye sent her to be with yer grannda, ye are such a braw lass. Are ye lonely here now, without yer granny?”
The girl nodded as tears poured down her cheeks. He hugged her close and said, “I thought so.” Then he told her that he was taking her with them on the boat this time. The girl smiled a little and so did her Da. But then he said she wouldn’t be able to stay on the boat with him forever. The girl told him that she knew that and asked if Fergus could come too. Her Da said, “Aye lass, wee Fergus must come with ye, he loves ye so.” This made her smile.
Next, she asked where she would go when she got off the boat. Her Da didn’t say anything for a while and a few tears leaked from his eyes, then he finally spoke. “Lass, I love ye more than anything and I will find ye somewhere bonnie and safe. I swear on yer mam’s grave.” And she knew it was true.
The next morning, the sun and a noisy gull woke the girl up. She quickly stoked what was left of the fire and made coffee for her Da and the men. Her father awoke to see her sipping coffee and stirring the big kettle full of oatmeal porridge for him and his men. She looked so grown up and he was so filled with love and pride at the sight of her. “Please God, let me find her a place where she can be safe and happy”, he whispered.
“We can go to the colonies. We ha' kin there. We can stay for a bit and see her settled. Ye could even give up the sea and be a farmer, or ye could take up fishing,” Pete said laughing as he dodged a knuckle to his head.
“Ye think ye’re verra funny, aye? For her I just might do as ye say.” This statement drained all the mirth from Pete’s face. “Get everyone on board; I’ll collect the lassie and the wee dog.”
The girl stood at the rail with Fergus and watched the only home she had ever known get smaller and smaller until she could see it no more. Then she dried her tears and ran to the front of the boat to see what was ahead.
Wee Fergus, as the men called him, was a natural-born seaman and a perfect gentleman. He only growled at the men if they got too close to the girl. Her Da approved of his behavior. "No lads will be gettin’ too close to my lassie with Wee Fergus to watch her," he said to himself with a smile.
After several weeks at sea, Gavin called the girl to stand with him at the helm. "Do ye see that dark spot up ahead?" The girl nodded soberly. "That is the coast of a place called Carolina. We will be stopping in a town called Georgetown tomorrow."
One tear ran down the girl’s cheek, but she made no sound. Her Da wiped it gently with one finger. "Ye willna be alone lass. I ha' decided to bide with ye, at least til ye are settled properly."
"But Da, what will you do? You ha' never lived on shore."
"Aye, I ha' lass, before ye were born. There was a time when I had never been to sea. I willna leave ye alone again."
The tears poured freely down the girl’s cheeks now and her Da pulled her into his arms and held her so close she could feel his heartbeat on her cheek. She had no idea what was ahead of her, but she knew her Da would be at her side and that was enough for now.
As the ship glided into the harbor at Georgetown, the girl and Wee Fergus stood in the bow. The girl had never seen more than two ships at the same time before; here there were at least a dozen ships of all shapes and sizes.
Soon they found a place to drop anchor and her Da and Pete went to the cabin to talk. When they came back, neither man looked very happy, but they each had a smile for the girl. Then the girl and her Da with wee Fergus in his arms climbed down into the boat. Pete and three other men got in and rowed them to the dock and helped them load their things into a wagon for hire. The girl cried as she said goodbye to Pete and the other men.
The wagon took them from the harbor into Georgetown proper. The girl had never dreamed that there could be so many people in the world. And there were so many different kinds of people.
The driver took them to a tavern near the harbor. As she walked into the tavern the girl was overwhelmed by the noise of so many people talking all at once and then there were the smells. She could smell stew and fresh-baked bread, but also many unwashed bodies and the chamber pot waste from the street. She stepped closer to her Da and gripped his hand tightly. It was exciting being here, but she was also a little scared to be in a room full of strangers. “I’m here wit ye. Dinna fash,” her Da whispered in her ear and she took another step forward.
They were given a room with a view of the harbor and the girl stood and watched the boats while her Da cleaned up. Her Da went down to talk to the innkeeper while she washed and changed into a clean dress. Soon her Da came back and asked with a knowing smile “Would ye like to go for a wee walk?”
“Yes Da!” she answered, already walking towards the door.
They walked down Highmarket Street for a short distance, and then turned onto Broad Street. It wasn’t long before her Da stopped in front of a shop, took a deep breath, and opened the door allowing the girl to enter first. A bell rang as the door opened, causing the girl to pause uncertainly in the doorway. She looked back over her shoulder at her Da, who nodded for her to keep moving. Her motion was short-lived, however. She took two steps into the shop’s interior and stopped dead, causing her Da to run into her. She couldn’t decide where to look first. There were shelves on every wall, and tables and more shelves filled the center of the shop. A long counter paralleled the back wall, behind the counter there was a gap in the shelves the size of a doorway, and yellow curtains covered the opening.
These parted suddenly and a man who looked so much like her Grandda that it took her breath away burst through, looked first at her, then her Da, and stopped dead.
The girl’s face had lost all color and Gavin quickly put an arm around her so she wouldn’t fall over. “Lassie, what ails ye? Are ye ill?”
The girl finally pried her eyes from the man’s face to look at her Da’s frightened one. “How did he get here? Is Granny here too?”
It took several moments for her words to sink in. Meanwhile, the shopkeeper had brought round a chair and his wife had been called to bring a cool rag for her head.
“I am verra sorry lass. I dinna think about how much he looks like yer Grandda. I should ha' warned ye.”
“Who….is he?” the girl was finally about to ask.
“This is Rabbie, yer Grandda’s youngest brother.”
This caused the shopkeepers head to snap toward Gavin, then sudden recognition shone on his face. He stepped toward Gavin and encased him in a bear hug.
After several confusing and chaotic minutes of hugging and crying and talking all at once by the adults, the girl was still sitting white-faced on the chair in the middle of the shop. The woman very gently laid her hand on the girl’s shoulder and knelt down beside her. “Ye must be verra confused and a wee bit frightened. The big louts ha' forgotten ye’re here. Men are like that, ye just ha' to put up wi’ them and not clout their heids so hard as to knock the little sense they ha' out of them. That one o’re there is yer uncle Rabbie, who has made ye think ye’ve seen a spirit. I am yer Auntie Maggie and I am verra glad to meet ye. Would ye like to come to the back wit’ me and ha' tea and a wee bite to help ye o’re the shock of meeting yer kin?” She stood and held out her hand and the girl took it. Together they went behind the yellow curtain.
The girl had thought the room at the inn was beautiful, but the room behind the yellow curtain made it look as plain as the shack on the island. Almost everything was shiny and what wasn’t shiny was covered in lace. There was a table of a dark wood that reflected the light from the window. The girl could see her reflection when she looked down at it. In the center was a lace runner with a silver tea service gleaming in the sunlight. The window had two layers of lacy curtains covering it. The chairs were made of the same wood as the table with lacy cushions on the seats.
Once the girl was settled on a chair with a cup of tea and a plate of scones, Auntie Maggie sat down with her own cup and said “Lassie, I didna ask ye yer own name, I am as bad as yon louts out there!”
The girl paused in mid-bite. No one had called her by her name since her mother died. She had always wanted to ask why, but she was a little frightened of the answer. She finished chewing the scone that had suddenly dried up inside her mouth, took a deep long drink of her tea, and said very softly so her Da wouldn’t hear “My name is Charlotte, but no one ever calls me that.”
“Yer Mam certainly had spunk! Do ye ken that ye are named for the Queen of England? What do they call ye?”
The girl had not known that she was named for the Queen, which made her Granny’s reaction to her name make much more sense. “Mostly just lass, or lassie. It twas only me and Granny on the island so it wasn’t very important, we knew who we were talking to.”
“Ye didna ha' any friends of anyone to visit with?” Auntie Maggie asked cautiously.
“No, just the men from Da’s boat when they came home, but they never stayed very long. One day a ship blew in on a storm, but they only stayed two days to repair their ship.”
“Would ye like to make some friends? I’m sure that yer cousins will be pleased yer Da has brought ye here and will want to be meeting ye.”
“I have read about friends in the books Da gave me and I would like to have a real one.” The girl smiled.
“Well, ye just leave that to me.” She went back out into the shop and returned a few moments later with several bolts of fabric. “First we need to ha' ye some new dresses made. ”
When they arrived back at the shop from shopping, Wee Fergus greeted them at the door. “Does this bonnie dog belong to ye, lass?” Auntie Maggie asked with a smile.
“Yes. His name is Fergus. My Da brought him to me when he came back to the island one day. He was just a wee pup. My Da told me that if I cared for him well he would always protect me. He helped me during the storm and when Granny died.” The girl answered while petting Fergus’ head.
Aunt Maggie looked thoughtful, that was the most words that she had heard the girl speak at one time. She didn’t want to press the girl for information, but the child had obviously been through much in her short life.
“He is a fine wee doggie and ye ha' done an excellent job wit’ him. Now we must find the louts and see about some dinner.” Auntie Maggie said putting an arm around the girl’s shoulders and heading into the living quarters.
They found Gavin and Rabbie sitting at the table having a wee dram of whiskey and laughing over some story that Rabbie was telling. Gavin jumped up at the sight of his daughter and hugged her. “I was beginning to fear that yer Auntie Maggie had taken ye away from me.”
“We ha' ordered her four lovely new dresses, new shoes and we picked up some other things she will be needin’. There’s to be a gatherin’ of the clans in twa’ weeks up in the mountains, will ye be going wit’ us?”
“Aye Maggie, they will. I ha' already discussed it wit’ Gavin and we ha' been making plans,” Uncle Rabbie said with a broad smile.
The girl smiled too. Now that she knew Uncle Rabbie wasn’t a spirit she loved looking at his face. He looked even more like her Grandda when he smiled.
“I’ve been tryin’ to get him to stay here wit’ us, but he willna bide.”
“It might be dangerous. I still ha' a wee price on me heid, ye ken?”
“Well, wee Charlotte must stay here wit’ me. And wee Fergus as well. She doesna need to be stayin’ in the tavern.”
Gavin thought for a moment, “Ye’re right Maggie. She would be better here wit’ ye. She has spent a fortnight on a ship wit’ nothing but smelly pirates for company, she could use another woman to talk to.”
“But Da! You will stay here like you promised?”
He got up and walked to where she was standing and hugged her tight. “I’ll not be going anywhere soon. Pete and the men took the ship and left. They willna return until the end of November, ye ha' me landlocked for three months if ye don’t tire of me afore that.”
“Yer Da willna be far and ye will see him every day. Ye’ll just sleep here, ken?”
The girl wiped the tears that had run down her cheeks away and smiled. “Yes, I would like that and Fergus too.”
Her Da and Rabbie set off to the inn with a cart to retrieve her trunk, while Auntie Maggie fixed dinner. Auntie Maggie chatted on and on about her children and grandchildren that she would meet at the gathering. She asked a few questions, but not many. Fergus had found a rug to lie on and was napping happily. The bell on the door rang a few times and Auntie Maggie went to help a customer. The girl enjoyed Auntie Maggie’s company. She talked a lot more than her Granny did, she couldn’t remember much about her own mother, she had been only eight when she died.
When her Da and Uncle Rabbie returned, Aunt Maggie took her upstairs to show her to her room. It was nearly as beautiful as the parlor. Her aunt helped her unpack her trunk and put her things away. Then they headed down to eat dinner.
After dinner, the girl sat with Fergus and listened to the grownups talk until she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer. Auntie Maggie looked over at her and said “I must ha' worn the bairn out today. Poor wee thing canna keep her eyen open. Come lass, kiss yer Da and to bed wit’ ye.”
The girl did as she was told and even though she was worried about sleeping in a strange room, she was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.
This is an excerpt from my novel The Storm. I hope you enjoyed it!