Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Riverboats Part 10: Change Tack

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I can’t remember those few days until we came to London. I cried and cried as if I would never stop, spending hours sprawled on the bed or curled on the floor, unable to move. I was near useless. I could do laundry, and Mary let me help her prepare dinner, but I was a sorry sight and try as she did, she could not console me. I didn’t eat. I slept in the pantry as Christian had done, and I avoided Isabel as much as possible.

When I saw her, she didn’t look me in the eye.

Harriet seemed to despise me, giving me the stern look that was as close as she ever came to a glare. Helena and Frances were awful.

‘Please, Edie, don’t go,’ Frances said. ‘We like you here, we need you here. Please, just come with us!’

‘It’s all stupid, this Laneham thing,’ Helena said. ‘Stay with us, stay with the Captain. She’s always treated you right. It’s stupid to get so worked up over him.’

‘As if you have any say on the matter,’ I said. She went red and looked down, but they kept pleading and pleading. I would not hear any of it. They only ever left when I started sobbing again, saying how I couldn’t let them kill each other, I couldn’t, I couldn’t.

*

We arrived at port. My belongings were gathered. My eyes were red, but all the grief had been cried out of me, leaving only a fatal determination.

‘Edie,’ Isabel said softly to me as I went outside, ‘please, reconsider–’

‘I can’t.’

‘I love you, Edie!’ she said, and I looked at her and could not feel a single shred of sympathy for her angst.

‘I love you too,’ I said. ‘And that is why I have to leave. I won’t be a part in your death, Isabel.’

The others came out before she could reply. We said our muted goodbyes. I hugged no-one. I turned my back on them and walked away, and the cold air hit my warm cheeks like a slap, a slap that I needed to keep me going. I was done with it. I was done with sitting quietly and wringing my hands over people killing each other needlessly, with listening to tears and accounts of death, with splitting my loyalties in half. No more.

I did not walk to my parent’s home. I walked far away from port, far away into town, farther than I had ever been in my life. I walked and felt the chill on me and knew there was no turning back.

I walked to Scotland yard, home of the London Metropolitan Police.

*

Christian McNeil was shocked when he was called out of the office to see me.

‘Edie – Edie Heinlein? What on earth are you doing here?’

‘Could we speak in your office? I asked.

‘What for?’

‘I think you know what,’ I said. He gave me a worried glance, obviously unnerved by my change in demeanour, and took me into the back room.

‘Now,’ he said. It was the middle of the day and most of the police were out – I had been lucky to catch him indoors. ‘What on earth brings you so far into London? So far off the boat?’

‘I have been sacked from the Endeavour,’ I said, my head held high, ‘because I refused to participate in the killing that is going to happen. And I came here to warn you of it.’

‘Killing? What – who?’

I explained to him what was going to happen, how Isabel was going to storm the Sunrise. He listened to it all with a solemn look.

‘You tell me this,’ he said. ‘And if we can prevent death, then we should, but – what can we do? We work on land.’

‘Precisely,’ I said. ‘Catch them at port. Catch them all at port. Take them in.’

‘But Miss Heinlein, most of the crew have not even participated in any crime, we can’t take them in with no reason.’

‘Then I’ll give you reasons,’ I said. ‘Every single person on every single boat has information relating to a murder that has happened. Every single person will be able to give you information to solve a crime. Isn’t that a reason?’

‘With all due respect, we can’t take that many people in at once–’

‘Then only take three,’ I said. ‘Just three.’

‘Three? I assume you mean the captains, but who–’

‘There is a man on board the Sunrise who is believed to be a murderer. Mr Alexander Strong.’

He sighed and moved some of the papers that were sliding off the desk beside him.

‘Edie, please,’ he said. ‘Be honest with me. You’re acting out of personal interest.’

‘I don’t deny it,’ I said. ‘But shouldn’t protecting people be your first priority?’

‘Of course. But if we don’t have the resources? If we don’t have the backing? As awful as it sounds, in a few years one family will have been killed into submission, and an easy monopoly will form with the boats, and no more trouble. Why should we do this?’

I was appalled. I struggled, so astounded at the complete lack of humanity in what he said, when the other sentences came back to me. Resources. Backing.

‘My God,’ I whispered. ‘You’re cowards. You don’t want to anger Mrs Hunter of Mr Cooper.’

He reddened.

‘They are powerful, both of them. They control a great amount of trade – enough to have a huge influence with those who control the money in town. It is in our interests to gain the wrath of neither.’

‘My God,’ I said again. My legs seemed to lose feeling, and I backed into the wall. ‘You don’t care. You don’t care at all.’

I couldn’t think of anything more to say. We seemed to have come to a standstill, and I had no way to bargain with him. I struggled silently with what I should do, and he sighed again and stood up.

‘Miss Heinlein, go home. Go home to your parents and reconsider. You still have time to get on the tub again. We all have to choose our loyalties in life.’

His words hit me like a bolt of lightning, causing a flash of agony and bursting me into life. I stood up, and knew I could not allow myself to be beaten.

‘Christian,’ I said, and he blinked at the confidence in my voice. ‘What is worth more to you – remaining subordinate, a plain bobby forever, or being reknowned?’

He only frowned. ‘What-‘

‘What is more important,’ I continued. ‘The respect of the police, and their independence, or kowtowing to every magnate in town, no matter who they kill?’

‘Edie–’

‘Listen to me!’ I cried, walking towards him. ‘You help me. You take in Isabel, Laneham and Mr Strong. You question them all. And you find the people behind all they say. You find Archibald Hunter. You find the Bainbridges who dumped you in the river. You find all the Coopers and Hunters and associates who are involved in this mess. And you jail them. You get the witnesses, you trial them, and you jail them. Within two months, you will have the most respected police force in all the country.’

‘But this – this will go all the way to Mrs Hunter and Mr Cooper!’

‘Then you question them too! They are not above the law, are they? If they have committed any crimes and we can prove it, then you jail them too! Justice doesn’t bow to money, Mr McNeil!’

Silence rang out after I finished. Christian stared at me as if I had suddenly shone light and sprouted wings. He thought for a very long time, and I had spent all my energy and could think of nothing more to say to him.

‘You know how to capture a man’s heart, Miss Heinlein,’ he finally said. He sounded defeated. He sighed.

‘We will do it your way. I will send a few men to the next few ports along, and take in Isabel Eynham, the Mute Laneham, and Alexander Strong. Then, if we do not find anything that can help us, they will immediately be set free to kill each other at their leisure. Understand?’

My heart thumped.

‘And, if it is possible – could I speak to them all? Please?’

He sighed.

‘You’re lucky I like you, and that it’s none too busy around here lately. Fine, I’ll play your game. You get to help.’

For the first time in days, hope flooded my system – I breathed in, and out, and closed my eyes for the sheer relief of it. It had worked. I would have died had it not worked – and I came so close to failure.

‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘Thank you so much. I will never, never forget what you’ve done for me, Mr McNeil.’

He smiled, then stood up off the desk, and walked out into the foyer with me.

‘Tell the boss I’m going to meet Carter and Morris and their men,’ he said to the man at the desk. ‘We have a new job.’

*

I don’t need to recount what happened when I went home. My parents were very sore with me, and found the leaving money I had been given to be little recompense for my disgrace.

‘So who would you have had me support? Isabel or Laneham?’

My mother looked down but my father said:

‘We have to say Miss Eynham, Edie. She’s the one we owe you to.’

‘Not the boy you thought would take over your ship and marry your only daughter?’

He shook his head.

‘Times change, girl.’

Of course they did. I would make sure of it.

*

I was called in two days later. Christian looked glad to see me.

‘Both Miss Eynham and Laneham refuse to cooperate unless you are here,’ he said. ‘And that Bainbridge boy insisted on coming for translation.’

I grimaced. I did not want to be near Clark, but then I thought it over and realised it could be to my advantage.

‘Please,’ I said, ‘let me talk to both Laneham and Isabel at the same time, with Mr Bainbridge there to translate.’

His eyebrows lowered even further.

‘You know that is not wise.’

I nodded but did not bend from my plan. He sent a man to fetch them all and we started walking towards the meeting room.

‘Please sit in with me, for my protection,’ I said.

‘Of course. If you truly plan to take this further, for both the reputation of the police and your own safety, I will need to be in with you. For all official accounts, I am in control here and you are an involved bystander.’

I smiled.

‘You are too good, helping me with this.’

‘Don’t be fooled,’ he said. ‘If I get this done with, I’m looking at a promotion at least, if not something tastier.’

‘I don’t mind your motives. I just want the killing to stop.’

He smiled ruefully at me.

‘You’re too pure, miss.’

‘Exactly the opposite,’ I said, as we reached the door. He looked puzzled, but didn’t ask any more.

We opened the door and the first thing I saw was Isabel sitting at one end of the long table. She started up when she saw me but Christian barked, ‘Remain seated Miss Eynham,’ and she sunk back down. She looked awful: pale, worried – I realised with surprise that I had never seen her anxious before.

‘Oh Edie, please, please don’t say you’re behind this,’ she started. ‘I know I got rid of you, and it was wrong, but it was all I could do to keep you from interfering and–’

The door opened again and two men escorted Laneham and Clark to the other side of the table. She was silenced as she looked at them in shock, then both parties glared at the other. Laneham started to sign and Clark started to translate but I spoke over them.

‘Don’t talk,’ I said. ‘I’ve brought you all here so we can finally end this.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ Clark snorted. ‘You can’t end-‘

‘She said, be quiet,’ Christian said, and Clark shut his lips. I was relieved to see there was someone in my view that he would listen to.

‘I asked Christian to take you in. My first priority was making sure you didn’t kill each other. Now, my plan is to use you two – you three – as starting points for ending this needless feud.’

‘One question,’ Isabel said quietly. She did not look at me; her gaze was fixed at the opposite end of the table.

‘Yes?’

‘Why is he here?’

‘We need to come to a conclusion together.’

‘No,’ she said, that beloved quiet intensity coming back into her voice. It rattled me, feeling the animosity sparking between them all. ‘Why is Clark Bainbridge here?’

‘He is here for impartiality,’ I said. ‘He will translate for Laneham, but if he mistranslates or ignores him – as he has been known to do – then I can translate as well. I didn’t think you would trust a translation from me, knowing my bias.’

‘I trust you more than him,’ she said.

‘That is beyond the point. I want to remain as outside this as possible.’

‘That’s stupid,’ Clark said. ‘You’re not impartial at all.’

‘Shut up and let her proceed,’ Christian said. I swallowed, feeling the stress settling on my shoulders and seizing them up. All my nerves were steeled, but already I was failing inside.

‘Here is the deal,’ I said. ‘Alexander Strong is in our custody. Isabel, I know there are many questions you have about the nature of your brother’s death. That is why I am going to allow you to talk to him – supervised, and with no weapons, so you cannot harm him. However, I will only allow this on one condition: that you disclose all you know about the whereabouts of Archibald Hunter.’

Isabel started to speak and Laneham started to sign furiously while Clark spoke his own thoughts and Christian had to shout at them to regain control again.

‘Isabel, what do you say?’

‘I can’t,’ she said, and she finally looked at me, her eyes full of pain. ‘You know how much this means to me. I do want to talk to him – I need to know why he killed John – but I can’t tell you anything about Archie. My entire family would disown me!…or worse,’ she added, and my heart shivered at the thought.

‘You will not be implicated at all,’ I said. ‘We’ll go after him on our own terms, and after we have more information. He’s implicated in many crimes that the police know about, and likely more. Once we’ve interviewed more people, we’ll have enough information to bring him to court.’

‘This is hardly fair!’ Clark cried out. ‘To trade an innocent man for a guilty one! Taking Sandy in at all is criminal!’

‘So you deny he killed my brother?’ Isabel spat.

‘That’s completely different,’ Clark continued. ‘You have no idea what happened – how can you go around proclaiming others’ guilt when you’re so ignorant? Your brother was a scoundrel and –‘

Shut up, Laneham signed, hands in his face. Isabel’s cheeks were red and she looked ready to punch him.

‘We’re just here to find out the truth,’ I said, trying to disguise how shaken I was. ‘That’s all. Innocence and guilt will out. These are the terms of my deal, Isabel. Do you take them?’

She tore her eyes away from Clark to me.

‘You promise it won’t get to my family?’

‘I promise.’

‘No, no, you can’t promise that, they’ll know I’ve been taken in,’ she said, shaking her head to herself. ‘They’ll be wary. They’ll know. Aunt Hunter will know, she knows everything.’

‘You’ll be perfectly safe,’ Christian said. ‘There’ll be a time delay between today and when we find him, by the nature of gathering evidence. We’ll protect you.’

She bit her nails for a minute, considering it all, then looked to me.

‘You think I should do this?’

‘I know you should,’ I said gently.

‘But he’s my cousin.’

‘Even you admitted to me that he’s not a good man. This is in exchange for what you truly want – it’s just.’

Laneham silenced Clark as she nodded her head at the desk.

‘Right,’ she said. ‘Right. Then…I accept. I’ll tell you what I know of he is.’

‘Good,’ I said, exhaling. ‘Now, I have one more-‘

Wait.

I looked to Laneham. He was sitting back in his seat, hands resting lightly on the edge of the table, frowning at Isabel.

‘What is it?’

She hasn’t told us where he is.

I had hoped neither of them would notice, but of course that was in vain.

‘She will tell us after you two have been taken from the room.’

What? That is hardly fair. She has her man, and we don’t have ours?

‘She doesn’t “have her man”. We have him in custody. We are going to find Archibald Hunter and take him into custody as well.’

So you’re keeping his location a secret from me?

He looked at me as he signed, his grey eyes boring deep into me, and I had to look away and resist his will, his urge to control me.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘For good reason. I am not going to let you get at him. I won’t let you become a murderer, just as I won’t let Isabel become a murderer.’

‘It’s not murder, it’s justice.’

I shook my head at Clark as Laneham turned and gave him a stern look.

‘There, you did it again. He said “It is worth being a murderer for him.” Are you protecting him?’

‘No, I’m just saying the truth,’ he said, tone sulky that I had caught him out – that he could no longer have free rein over Laneham’s voice.

Please, Laneham signed, untranslated. Edie, do it for me.

‘What’s he saying?’ Isabel demanded, and my cheeks reddened. I forced myself to repeat him. He turned away from me, folding his arms, and Isabel looked ready to jump out her seat.

‘We don’t give police information to civilians,’ Christian stated, his stern voice so welcoming to my failing spirit. ‘Don’t ask it.’

‘We’re going to release you all after we’re done,’ I said, gathering my strength for the final hurdle. ‘But I have a request for the both of you. You don’t have to comply, but it will make my task easier, and help the people you love.’

They all looked to me and I relished the silence.

‘I want you to go back to your ships and ask your crew members to report anything they know, or anything they want us to solve. If they know anything about a murder, or someone close to them was murdered and they want us to find them, they can tell us. Please, use all your influence to convince them. With the right information, we will bring them to justice, I swear.’

‘And if we don’t do this?’ Clark said.

‘Then Christian will use what he can and request information from them formally,’ I said. ‘This just saves us time and men.’

‘You will find John S Cooper?’ Isabel said. I nodded.

‘Then I will help you,’ she said.

As will I, Laneham signed. My crew have seen too much death already.

‘Thank you,’ I said, from the bottom of my heart. Christian turned to the other men, ready to tell them to escort Laneham and Clark away, but I spoke quietly in his ear.

‘Can I speak to Clark and Laneham alone?’

He frowned.

‘Is that safe?’

‘Laneham won’t let him harm me. I need to speak to Clark. I need more information.’

‘Fine. Carter, escort Miss Eynham into my office, I’ll speak to her there. Weeks, stand outside for me.’

He gave me a concerned look as the other men nodded and moved.

‘Shout if you need me.’

‘I won’t need it,’ I said. I was confident that Laneham would protect me, but more than that, I had seen a hint of panic in Clark’s outrage; plus, I knew he must have decency underneath his contempt for me, and I knew that it would make him heed my request. Isabel looked back at me pleadingly as she left, but I didn’t respond. I would support her at another time, when it was needed. Right now I had something more important to see to.

I moved the chair and sat down closer to Laneham and Clark, on Clark’s side of the table. Laneham moved as if to touch me but I sat back away from him.

‘Clark,’ I said. ‘I know you must hate this, but I have another question for you.’

‘I have nothing to say to you,’ he said.

‘Please. What you say may help Alexander Strong.’

He frowned. ‘Like you care about what I say compared to her.’

‘Tell me the truth,’ I said, ignoring him. ‘You know a lot about his death. Please, tell me – tell me what you know about John Eynham.’

He glared at me, but he spoke, and kept speaking until he was nearly shouting. He spilled the truth, and sunk into himself afterwards. With it laid bare like that, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. Isabel…

‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘Thank you for trusting me. Even if Mr Strong doesn’t tell Isabel this when he sees her, I’ll tell her. I’ll make sure she knows.’

‘Stupid girl,’ he said. ‘She really doesn’t know anything, any of this, does she?’

‘I suppose sometimes we don’t know the most about those closest to us,’ was all I could say. I tried not to catch Laneham’s eyes. ‘You’re both free to go.’

*

Two hours later Isabel was once again sitting at the table. She fidgeted, biting her nails and then sitting on her hands, then pushing her hair back, then twisting it around her finger, then biting her nails and starting it all again. Neither I nor Christian said anything to her; she had forgotten we were there already. Her eyes were fixed on the door.

Carter and Morris came in, and with a man between them. Isabel instinctively jumped up but Christian barked at her to sit down. The man started and coloured at the sight of her.

‘Don’t worry,’ Christian said. ‘You’re safe. We’ll protect you.’

He nodded, but seemed unconvinced, glancing nervously at Isabel as he sat down, as if he had a tiger in front of him instead of a young woman. He kept his head down.

‘This,’ she said incredulously, ‘is Alexander Strong?’

He was small, and wiry, with large eyes set in a baby-like face. Nothing in him betrayed arrogance, let alone evil; instead, he looked a picture of sincere timidity. I could only imagine how he had been when taken from Laneham’s ship.

‘Why am I here?’ he said quickly, looking to the side. ‘I’ve already confessed. You’ve no reason to bring me in here.’

‘We struck a deal with Miss Eynham here,’ Christian said. ‘This is our part.’

Alexander’s eyes grew even larger and he started up, trying to get past the men behind him.

‘No, no, no, this isn’t fair, this isn’t right–’

‘Please, Mr Strong,’ I pleaded, and he started at my unfamiliar, female voice. ‘Isabel won’t hurt you. She merely wants to know the truth.’

He stopped and finally looked at her, met her eye. She was shaking just as much as he was.

‘Is that right?’ he said. She nodded. He sat down, suddenly full of composure.

‘Why? Why want anything that gets in the way of your revenge?’

She struggled to speak, and everyone was silent and watching her, waiting for her answer.

‘I…want revenge, I do, but…what’s more important…what’s been…plaguing me, these years…is why. Why.’ She looked up at him, the intensity back in her eyes.

‘Why did you kill him?’

‘It’s a long story,’ he said. ‘Not a pretty one. Not one for you.’

‘I don’t care!’ she cried. ‘I’ve been through hell. I am strong enough to know the truth. And we have all the time we need.’

‘We shouldn’t speak ill of the dead,’ he said. ‘That’s what I was always taught. He lies in his grave and you have moved on in life, and I…am for the noose.’ He gulped, and continued. ‘What more do you want?’

‘I just told you! I want to know why!’

‘It shouldn’t matter why.’

‘”Shouldn’t matter”?!’

Her face flushed scarlet and started to rise from her seat before seeing us and stopping.

‘How dare you?’ she said. ‘I’ve devoted my life to finding you and destroying you, and here, now that I’m deprived of all that, when I ask you the simple why – why you did it – you refuse to answer! How dare you?’

‘You don’t want to know! It doesn’t matter!’

‘You killed my brother!’

‘He killed my best friend! He nearly ruined the people I loved! He was a monster!’

Silence. The ringing aftermath in everyone’s ears. Alexander Strong caught his breath and all the blood drained from Isabel’s face.

‘I didn’t want to tell you,’ he said, looking again at the table. ‘No-one did. Anyone who knew of you knew what a sweet girl you were, and how you idolised your brother. We didn’t understand how you were so taken in. He was a cad. All the Bainbridges and Coopers knew it. He cheated everyone in his business, fiddling numbers and using all dirty tricks. He took up women and dumped them like coal bricks. And he went through money like it was water, borrowing more and more and laughing at anyone unfortunate enough to not have the power to force it back from him. I don’t know how many Cooper-Hunter relations he soured. He was an awful man.’

‘You’re lying,’ she said softly, her voice breaking.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I warned you. We tried to avoid him – me and Tom, Thomas Bainbridge, Clark’s brother, All the Bainbridges are like my family, and I loved Tom like my blood brother. John Eynham had borrowed some money from the Coopers a long time ago, but Mr Cooper said to leave it and treat it as lost, and said it wouldn’t do good to go anywhere near such a man. But he came into a bidding war with Tom over some work and, well, that was that. Tom’s reputation beat his and that lost Eynham a lot of money – and then it was war. It was petty, we laughed about how petty it was, but then one night your brother started firing rounds into the hull of Tom’s boat, drunk and saying he was going to sink it, and Tom saw red and confronted him…’

He swallowed and did not look at Isabel.

‘John shot him dead.’

‘No,’ she whispered, shaking her head. Tears threatened the corners of her eyes.

‘You moved off of port the next day, and the police said they could do nothing, and I – I was so angry! Clark and James and Fred, they were all raging, and decided to go after him – so we skipped work, bought horses and rode on to the next port. Then, when he docked and he went to the public house, we got a hold of him, and I couldn’t help it – when he insulted Tom after everything, I went mad. I shot him, and we ran.’

He rubbed his brow.

‘If you asked me if I meant to kill him, I suppose I would say yes. But any one of us would have done it. And others would have too: swindled merchants, fathers of broken daughters, irate lenders. No-one looked badly on me for it. But then Mrs Hunter absolved all his debts, and gave you your boat, and I heard she wanted you to kill me – so everyone rallied round me and kept me from you…until now.’

He looked up at her.

‘That’s the truth. You can ask Clark or Mr Cooper or anyone you like. Even Mrs Hunter knows all of it.’

‘Everyone knew?’ she whispered. Tears were streaming silently down her cheeks. He looked down.

‘It’s harsh to say how bad he was. No-one wanted you to know because of that. We always felt sorry for you, being so related to such a man, and so taken in by him.’

Isabel turned to me.

‘Edie,’ she said, her voice louder, sounding out all the shaking underneath it, the juddering of her chest as she tried to keep her emotions in. ‘Please, look surprised. Tell me he’s lying.’

How I pained for her! How I detested having to shake my head.

‘Clark Bainbridge told me this, this morning.’

She turned back to Alexander Strong. He was looking at her with admirable resolution.

‘It’s the truth?’

He nodded. Her face convulsed. Her hands scrabbled on the table as she tried to push herself up, her chair scraped back, and we all started.

‘I’m sorry!’ Alexander Strong said.

She stopped. Her body was turned to the door, ready to run away, but she had to turn back at such an unexpected phrase.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said again. ‘It seems every man has someone willing to avenge him. I mean, Clark and Laneham were prepared to kill for me earlier. I’m relieved they didn’t have to…I don’t want them to have that weight.’

She leant against the wall behind her, as if she could no longer support her own weight. Alexander Strong did not take his eyes away from her. It was as if he was sapping her strength; he grew in confidence as he kept his gaze on her, while she withered away.

‘I’m sorry, but I did warn you that it’s not pleasant. I don’t hold your anger against you – I understand it. I understand why you wanted revenge,’ he said, ‘if you didn’t know the truth.’

‘No,’ she choked out. ‘No you don’t.’

I could tell she was going to run out of the door before she moved. The last of her pride depended on leaving at that moment. The door shut itself behind her, and Christian raised his eyebrow at me, obviously expecting me to run after her. But I took one last look at the man who had ruined my lover’s life, as earnest as any man could be, and I had to say one last thing to him:

‘Thank you.’

I left before he could respond, the door closing just as I heard Christian tell the officers to take him away again. Isabel had collapsed into a chair just outside the door in the quiet corridor, and I dropped down next to her, not bothering to find my own seat. She had folded into herself, hands over her eyes, hair falling in front of her face, only the tip of her nose visible beyond those two shields

‘It’s not fair,’ she said, so softly and shakily that I barely understood. ‘It’s not fair. He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t – he doesn’t–’

And she leant on her knees, gripped her hair with her hands, and finally let out the torrent of sobs that she had been repressing for so long. I watched her and wished I could do something to make her stop, but there was nothing that could have possibly made her better. I didn’t even dare touch her, in case that slip somehow stopped her from letting this all out. After the first burst, she calmed just enough to speak between sobs.

‘It’s not fair, not right, he doesn’t know, they all don’t know – John was a good man, he really was – they don’t understand, he looked after me, he always looked after me. We didn’t have any help from Aunt Hunter – that’s why he cheated sometimes, and whenever it seemed like we would sink, like we had no money, he would always make some, and I was so hungry and tired and worried I never asked where it came from. He spent it all on me, on the boat, on us, we needed it – we had nothing, no family, no parents, and he had me and I was useless, less than useless! If only I had done something, he wouldn’t have…oh God…’

She paused for breath and sniffed, not attempting to stop the fresh wave of tears. ‘I knew he liked to drink, of course I did, but I thought all men were like that, and I knew he was competitive but I never thought he did anything wrong, he said it was just some little pranks…oh God…oh God…to think that night…that night he had killed someone…to think I couldn’t even tell the difference! But he was a good man!’

She looked at me and shouted it out.

‘Edie, he WAS a good man! I…I swear he was…I…’

She broke anew, and I could resist no longer. I hugged her as tightly as I could, and she held onto me and cried for many minutes more before she stopped completely. I stayed by her side, glad that I did not know her pain.

‘Isabel,’ I finally said, after a few minutes of silence.

‘Don’t say anything,’ she said, breaking from my embrace. She breathed, in and out, in and out, and seemed to inflate to her normal size with each breath, until finally she was sitting up straight, her hair back, and looking forward. Even with her red eyes and discoloured face, she looked so regal that it caught my breath. I loved her – no, more than anything, I admired her to the deepest of my core in that moment.

‘Let’s go, Edie,’ she said. ‘We have to get the rest of the crew down here. We have to catch the others.’ She faced me and for the first time I felt that I met her eyes instead of cowering under them.

‘Let’s end it all.’

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Written by G.J.

07/10/2012 at 10:00 am

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