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Emerald awoke to the sound of someone retching near her, and the feel of the ship rising and falling as the sea beneath it lifted in high swells, then dropped away into deep troughs. She opened her eyes. Rita knelt beside the other bunk, still in her nightgown. She held the chamber pot for Emerald’s mother. The small cabin was infused with the putrid smell of her mother’s illness. A desperate longing for the warm clean air of the hills above Calcutta and open skies reaching until the edge of forever filled Emerald. She turned, rolling to her side, and looked up so she could see out of the window along the back of their cabin. Daylight flooded through it, and she saw a narrow window of forever, the horizon now was forever and ever sea.
When her mother retched once more, Emerald turned again and sat up. “Mama…”
After she had wiped her mouth on a loose piece of linen, her mother whispered, “I’m sorry, Emma. I was never ill on the way over, but it seems these things can change.”
“What may I do, Mama? Shall I call for breakfast? Would a little bread settle your stomach.” Her mother looked ashen she was so pale.
“I doubt I could eat it, dear. Rita will help you dress then you may eat and walk on deck together. I shall stay in bed for the day.”
Emerald did not like the idea of leaving her mother alone, yet she obeyed her request, as she had always done, because there seemed nothing else to do, and began getting ready. The water to allow them to wash had not arrived but Emerald did not wait on it, just dressed quickly, as Rita did.
When the boy knocked the cabin door, Emerald advised him to bring breakfast immediately and asked him to inform Mr Bishop, Mrs Martin was ill.
In moments Mr Bishop arrived. He expressed concern and asked what he may do to help. Emerald could not fault his kindness, or his courtesy, unlike Mr Farrow. Mr Bishop agreed to return after breakfast with the ship’s surgeon.
Breakfast was fried strips of bacon and fresh bread. The smell made Emerald hungry and she ate it all, having eaten little the night before, her stomach churning with heartache. Yet unfortunately the greasy smell of the bacon made her mother worse. She was sick again as soon as Emerald and Rita had finished eating. When the surgeon arrived, he said there was little he could do other than recommend a ginger tea with plenty of sugar and a little lemon. “Most people become accustomed to the undulation of the ship as the days go on,” he added in reassurance.
“If I do not, it is going to be a very tedious journey,” Emerald’s mother quipped, making light of her illness.
Emerald stared out of the window looking back at the wake the ship cast through the moving water while a bleak mood swept over her. It was going to be a tedious journey regardless. Yet she hoped her mother recovered.
At eleven, Mr Bishop returned and offered to escort Emerald on deck, which of course meant Rita must go too, as chaperone. Emerald looked back, leaving him standing at the cabin door. It would leave Emerald’s mother alone… She still did not like the idea.
Her mother made light of it, claiming she had been as sick as it was possible to be, so being left alone would do no harm, merely give her chance to sleep. Emerald was then persuaded, after some discussion, to leave her mother.
When she stepped onto the deck the first thing that she noticed, was that there was nothing but sea about the ship. There was no bar of land in the distance now, just water from horizon to horizon, at some point in the night they had left India behind. Emerald accepted Mr Bishop’s arm and to distract her thoughts, she asked him to explain everything about the ship and how it worked, while Rita trailed behind them.
Mr Bishop spoke animatedly, describing it all willingly, with great patience for her questions. He nodded at her words and smiled when she said something naïve, but not in a vicious way as she imagined Mr Farrow would – in an appreciative, understanding way.
She decided she liked Mr Bishop. He was not much older than her, perhaps five years.
When she returned to the cabin, her mother was asleep, breathing softly, although she remained pale. Emerald found out the embroidery she had brought with her, trying to be quiet, while Rita took out some mending to work on.
It was going to be a very long journey. But all she could do was endure it, she had to marry whether it was in India or England, her life would change. There was no choice for a woman, and her mother had made her choice, she wished Emerald to have this wealthy, titled cousin in England. The issue was that the rest of her life was to become something to endure…
When the ladies gave Mark their apologies for dinner, Richard could not decide whether he was glad or annoyed. He had not wished to dine with them and yet the last evening had been reasonable enough. Something in him was looking forward to watching Emma Martin’s expressive face and eyes across the table tonight. However he was not pleased to hear her mother was ill.
Mark had imparted the news while watching Richard and Joseph, Captain Swallow, for reaction, knowing neither of them had wanted the women on board. Richard had seen the daughter with Mark this morning, from the day cabin, but not this afternoon. Mark advised Miss Martin had elected to stay with her mother. It was going to be a bloody long voyage for them if the mother was sea-sick the entire passage. But counting his blessings Richard was grateful it was just the mother and not the daughter and the maid. They’d have no-one to look after them if they all fell ill.
He’d counted his blessings too soon though. When he and Joseph leant over the charts the following morning, having downed a hearty breakfast, a knock struck the day cabin door. When Mark entered his face spoke the news.
“The maid is ill,” he stated bluntly. Meaning Miss Martin must be caring for her mother and the maid.
“And is Mrs Martin any better?” Richard asked, straightening up.
“No, sir, not at all.”
“Have you sent for Dr Steel?”
“Then have Duncan come here once he’s done?”
Mark nodded then left. Richard’s gaze turned to his captain, his eyebrows lifting. “This is going to be a damned difficult journey. It’s hardly worth the favour Charles Martin will owe me.”
“People recover from sea-sickness, we’ll have to hope, and hope the daughter doesn’t get ill as well. I suppose we’d have to ask Duncan to look after them all. If they are all in one room the niceties will endure.”
Richard looked down at the charts. They were months away from London and heading into choppier seas. “This is a bloody nuisance,” he said to the papers spread across the table. They’d eaten here with the women the night before last.
“But one you cannot change now.” Joseph stated.
It was true, all they could do was get on with it and hope for the best. “I wish I’d not let them on board,” he muttered, pressing a palm onto the charts and growling in annoyance. Joseph laughed beside him. Richard turned his attention back to plotting their course.
When Duncan, Dr Steel, knocked a while later, his news told them little more, except that he was fairly certain it was sea-sickness and not some infectious illness the women had brought aboard. God forbid. Richard did not want his crew going down like flies.
A sound of anger, or annoyance, erupted from the room next door and Emerald looked up recognising Mr Farrow’s tone. He’d be irritated by their illness. They’d become a greater burden. Rita, lying in Emerald’s bunk, groaned, rolling to lean over the chamber pot again.
The room stunk of sickness, making the air rancid. But at least today it was only Rita who was physically sick. Though Emerald’s mother was still not eating and lay pale and listless. As Emerald looked down, her mother’s eyes opened and she smiled weakly. Emerald dropped to sit on the edge of the bed. “You will sip some ginger tea while you are awake.” It was not a request. The Doctor had stressed the need to drink.
Her mother reached for the cup without argument, but her fingers trembled too much to hold it. Emerald helped, holding the cup to her mother’s lips and supporting her shoulders. She took several sips. She’d become so thin. Emerald felt every bone in the hand she held. She had not noticed before. How had her mother become so thin?
“No more,” her mother whispered. Emerald set down the cup and her mother laid back onto the pillows, closed her eyes and fell asleep.
Fear pierced Emerald’s heart with a sharp pain, and loneliness and isolation rested heavily on her shoulders. She was aboard a ship, in the middle of nowhere, with dozens of strangers, all men, and her mother was never sick. It knocked a metaphoric step from beneath Emerald’s feet to see her mother so weak and vulnerable. “It is only sea-sickness,” Emerald whispered, but never-the-less she dropped to her knees, took her mother’s hand, then prayed. She was not particularly religious, but her mother was. When she had finished praying, Emerald stayed on her knees, silent, holding her mother’s cold, thin, frail feeling fingers, and waited for some sign, some word to confirm her prayer had been heard. None came, and her thoughts turned to her father. He would hate to think of her mother being ill.
Emerald closed her eyes, said one more prayer for her father and then put her morbid thoughts aside. Her mother would get well. Dr Steel had seemed very sure. He’d said sea-sickness was common place and not a thing to fear. Emerald was merely afraid because they were not at home and her future was so uncertain. She was afraid for herself and transferring her fear to her mother.
She spent the rest of the afternoon mopping Rita’s brow with a damp cloth, as Rita’s temperature increased a little, while she rolled from side to side, bewailing her misfortune in coming aboard a ship.
As Rita noisily fought her illness, Emerald’s mother let it win, and laid sleeping, quiet and pale.
Mr Bishop knocked on the door thrice during the day and Dr Steel came once more. He felt her mother’s and Rita’s foreheads and urged them both to drink again. Then he sent up some crusts of bread to settle their stomachs and chips from the sugar block for them to suck. Emerald’s mother managed to eat a little, Rita nothing at all. It left Emerald’s appetite deflated too and she refused a proper dinner out of deference for their suffering, instead nibbling on bread and cheese. As she ate she could hear the men talking next door, a deep rumble of masculine voices with the occasional bark of laughter.
They were unconcerned about her mother and Rita. Should Emerald therefore be unconcerned too? Or did they simply not care about the women aboard their ship?
To be continued…
The Marlow Intrigues
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
Capturing The Love of an Earl ~ A Free Novella #2.5
The Desperate Love of a Lord ~ A second Free Novella #3.5
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback and, yes, there are more to come 🙂
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark