Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Riverboats Part 14: Sail Away

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Christian thanked me for what I had done. He was the one who was officially recognised for stopping the boat feud, and as such he was promoted and received a large bonus, but everyone at the station and round the docks knew that it was the two of us who had done it, and knew that it would never have happened at all if not for me. I didn’t mind. He offered to always help me if I was in need, but he needn’t have even thanked me, let alone offered that. I already had what I wanted, after all.

My return to the Endeavour was full of joy, in comparison to how I had left. Helena and Mary swamped me, and Frances nearly bowled me over once they were done hugging me. Isabel hung back, and merely smiled at me; I knew I would feel her happiness later. It was good to see her smile like that. It reaffirmed that I had done the right thing by her.

‘Ooh, we missed you, chick!’ Mary said. ‘With you gone, then Harriet gone, it’s been a lonely old boat, this.’

‘How is Harriet?’ I asked.

‘Good,’ Helena said. ‘She’s happy to be home.’

I knew how she felt.

‘Not long now, and we’ll be a full boat again,’ Isabel said.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, and everyone’s smiles grew even wider. Mary quickly disappeared to another room, then reappeared with a sheet of paper in her hand: a letter. She held it out to me with a triumphant grin:

FAMILY SAFE. I’M COMING BACK – JANE

Jane! It felt like an age since I had seen her. How she would laugh at me and all I had done! And how good it would be to have her back. We would be complete again.

‘I’m so happy,’ I said to them all, as I relished having them around me again. ‘I’m so happy.’

*

That night, Isabel said she had had a letter from her aunt, which was also signed by Mr Cooper. All hostilities between the families were to cease, and they were to operate as friendly rivals. If anything more happened, they would be taken to the police at once. I smiled and let her tell me, though I had received a similar letter myself while still at my parent’s house. Mrs Hunter and Mr Cooper, it said, thanked me for my role in stopping the feud between the families. They had discussed the matter between themselves, and both assured me that such a situation would never come round again. Mr Cooper had also sent me a sum of money; I left it with my parents, in recompense for the constant worry I gave them.

‘You hurt all of us, Edie,’ she said. ‘But it was necessary. It is like…like setting a bone. It needed to be righted.’

‘I only did it for myself,’ I said. She denied it, but it was true. I couldn’t have lived if Isabel or Laneham had died, and it pained me how much the feud had hurt everyone around me. I did it to heal myself, but apparently everyone told me it was selfless. I let them say that, since they wouldn’t listen otherwise.

*

The next day we had a surprise visit from Harriet. She came with her son, a boy of four with her blue eyes and angelic blonde hair. He ran around the boat and tried to pull everything apart until Mary took him in hand and sat him down with some knitting needles and a half-finished scarf she was making for her own children, back up north.

‘I forgot how tiring he is,’ Harriet laughed. I don’t think I had ever heard her laugh like that. ‘Sometimes I think how much easier it was back here, and want to run away again! But, he misses me too much – don’t you, James?’

The boy nodded at his name and returned to the puzzle of tearing apart the knitted wool.

‘Aye, and you’d miss him too, as you always did,’ Mary said. ‘Maybe I should head home one of these days, and see my own. But you girls feel more like home to me than any old man-filled hovel up in Barnsley.’

I showed James how to make one knit in the scarf, and he was fascinated and insisted I do it again, and again, and I said I would teach him and everyone else objected, though he demanded it. I laughed. I laughed a lot in those first few days.

Harriet promised she would come visit us when we came by, and we set sail once she was gone. I sat on deck, watching the docks retreat as I had done thousands of times, so glad to feel the rock under my feet once more. I had thought I was free on land, but I had realised that the place was too big for me, too wild, too open. Back on a boat, constantly shuffling along a familiar path: that was what felt right to me.

Isabel came and stood by me. She had been rather quiet since my return: no touch, no kiss.

‘You seemed to like Harriet’s son being here,’ she said, as we looked out together. I knew instantly what she meant. She turned to me: no searing gaze, just the gentle, melancholic look of heartbreak. I could barely stand to see it, but I knew I must.

‘You’ll go back to him, won’t you? You won’t stay with me. You’ll always go back to him.’

I couldn’t reply to her, couldn’t bring myself to break her further. I could end a feud. I could wrestle a loaded gun out of someone’s hand. I could walk through the streets at night and throw myself into a fray, without hesitation. But I could not make the world see our love as correct, and I could not have a family with her. I wanted them both, but I was pushed one way: I had always been pushed one way.

She knew what my silence meant. I struggled with myself, to say something to make it better – if I possibly could.

‘You should forget about me,’ I finally said. ‘There are hundreds of people out there who would adore you, and who would stay with you forever. Anyone else would treat you better than me.’

‘No,’ she said. ‘I’ll never marry, and I’ll never love anyone in a hundred years as much as I love you.’

I hoped she would change her mind, for her own sake. I had made her change her mind before. But truthfully, selfishly, I didn’t want to lose her yet. I slipped my arm around her side, and rested my head against her arm.

‘I feel so empty now,’ she said, softening at my touch. ‘I don’t have revenge to hold me up any more, and I don’t have ending the feud either. When you go…I’ll have nothing left to live on.’

‘I’m not going yet,’ I said. ‘I’ll stay by you as long as I can.’

She met my gaze, and smiled to herself, bolstered by my words. She found my hand, and brought it to her lips, kissing it as if she was my prince.

‘I will fight for you, you know,’ she said. ‘I won’t give in to him so easily.’

‘As long as you don’t have guns pointed at each other, I don’t mind,’ I said, ruefully.

‘When are you planning to leave me?’ she asked.

I kissed her. I was seventeen. I had years left to give, and to do more; I was in no rush.

‘Not any time soon,’ I replied.

***

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Written by G.J.

08/11/2012 at 9:53 pm

Posted in Riverboats

Tagged with , , , ,

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