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this should not be recreated in any form without prior consent from Jane Lark
The next three weeks passed slowly, merging into monotony as there was so little to do, with only the occasional storm to add interest and difference to each day. Though those storms were nothing compared to The Cape, they were mild disturbances in an otherwise brisk sea. They did not even bring on Rita’s sea-sickness. The Cape seemed to have cured her.
After only a week Rita had been back to full health and the pain in Emerald’s head had reduced, though the wound itched, which Dr Steel said was a good sign as it meant it was healing. Her mother was still in bed. Then by the end of the second week Emerald’s bruises had faded to yellow stains and any pain left was merely discomfort from the pulling of the stitches, which Dr Steel insisted stay in one more week. Her mother was no better.
When the third week came Emerald’s stitches were removed but a growing fear was gnawing at her. Her mother was weaker––frailer––and her breathing seemed difficult. Something was really wrong. Yes, she had been thrown about as they traversed The Cape and unwell before, but surely after three weeks she should feel at least a little better.
Whenever Emerald had broached the subject of her mother’s health with Dr Steel at the end of the first and then during the second week, he’d brush it aside, telling her not to fret. Then Mr Farrow had said, “listen to Dr Steel he knows what he is doing”. They had saved Emerald’s life. She trusted them. She wanted to believe them––but her mother was not getting better.
“Stop worrying,” Mr Farrow had ordered one afternoon as they promenaded about the quarterdeck.
He’d spent more time with her and her mother since The Cape. He would sit with them some afternoons, reading or playing cards. Or sometimes just with Emerald as her mother slept. Emerald felt close to him. He spoke of her father and their business, asked her about the things which interested her, and when she questioned him, he shared his knowledge of the world. There was a look in his eyes when she met his gaze, a smile and intensity which whispered to her––though there was now nothing in his manner, apart from the time he spent in her company, which indicated a particular sense of closeness on his part. Yet there was the look in his eyes.
At night, though, when she lay in her bunk in the dark, his face hovered in her imagination beside memories of his embrace, and she heard the endearment he’d uttered as he’d carried her, ‘sweetheart’. Then she thought of all the conversations they’d had and all he knew and had seen. She longed to have seen and done the things he had, and those thoughts always drifted into her dreams, with the steady rocking of the ship. He interested her in a way no one else ever had, she enjoyed their conversations––and when they talked, for hours at a time, she stopped worrying about her mother.
When the sun set on the Monday of the fourth week, Emerald’s mother was still in bed and she left her dinner entirely untouched.
Emerald’s patience broke.
She had dined with the men in the second week after The Cape, because her mother insisted on it, but after a few days she had stopped doing so because her mother ate nothing if Emerald was not there. So since then, each night Emerald was faced with the battle of making her mother eat, as well as facing that battle in the morning, and at luncheon.
“Mama, you have to eat something. You peck at your food, moving it about the plate and put nothing in your mouth. Do not think I don’t notice. The weight is falling off you.” She had expressed those arguments and sentiments, numerous times, over so many meals, urging and pleading. But tonight she attempted to feed her mother, only for her mother to keep pushing Emerald’s hand, and the fork, away.
“You have no more flesh to lose! Why will you not eat?” Emerald shouted.
The men’s voices in the day cabin next door fell silent. They had heard her. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Mama, you have to eat to live. Where will you get your energy from to get well? It is no wonder you are so lethargic, no one can live without food.”
“Emma,” her mother gently held Emerald’s wrist refusing the fork again. “I am exhausted, let me rest.”
Her mother’s fingers were skin and bone, her cheeks were sunken and her skin, grey. She had become little more than a skeleton.
Tears suddenly welled in Emerald’s eyes.
Her mother’s fingers lifted and pressed against Emerald’s cheek, seeking to offer comfort, but Emerald’s focus was not averted. She met her mother’s gaze and whispered, “Will you eat some of the ham if I cut it smaller?”
“I’ll try, dear, a few pieces, that’s all, sweetheart. I’m too tired.”
Emerald’s gaze fell as tears rolled on to her cheeks and she cut a piece from the slice of salted ham. “Tell me what is wrong? I don’t understand why you are ill. Why are you not feeling better? You should be well enough to eat, or is it not eating that has made you so ill?” She looked up and held out a tiny piece of the ham on the tip of the fork.
“Emma, darling, do not upset yourself.” Her mother’s hand lifted again, and her thumb brushed away one of Emerald’s tears. “It is the journey that is all. I am getting older and it takes longer to recover. I shall bounce back in a few days, you’ll see.”
She ate only four pieces of the ham. She would hardly bounce back to good health on four tiny pieces of ham. But Emerald then helped her lay down and she almost immediately fell asleep.
Emerald let Rita undress her, watching her mother sleep as she listened to the rumble of the men’s voices next door. Fear formed a deep, dark, empty space in her heart.
She slid between the sheets on her bunk and lay there, listening to her mother’s breathing and the men talking as Rita prepared for bed.
It felt as though a lifetime had passed since they’d left India. India felt not only distant but unimaginable.
She longed to go back. To be at home with her father. He would be fretting too if he were here. Her father would insist her mother ate. But he was not here and Emerald was. She was the only person who could insist her mother fought against whatever this was. Emerald had to keep her mother fighting, for her father as well as herself, he would be broken hearted if… Emerald could not bear to complete the thought. It was unimaginable. She would not let anything happen to her mother.