Friday, February 12, 2010

The Last Night of the Emily Rose - Part 4

The Last Night of the Emily Rose


For Rolf ~ Happy Christmas darling {}

by Ranger

They reached the Paddington Basin at shortly after two in the morning, the canal widened there to a lake and multiple wharves where many boats were moored, but many more barges were visible now, loading, moving in slow lines, into the Grand Union canal or up into Regents Canal, their lanterns flickering in the dark.
They were the only boat waiting to go through the Maida hill tunnel, and Jonah loosed the horse, sending him off alone on the path over the hill where he walked without a glance back. Daniel pulled down the legging board and they walked the boat through the tunnel by the lantern light – a far shorter tunnel than Blisworth that they traversed in minutes, and without any sight of ghostly entrances inside. Regents park was full of trees that caught the light from the city in its branches, although the park was silent as the Emily Rose wound her way through it. It was approaching five am when Jonah touched Daniel's shoulder and nodded at the lights coming up on their left.
"There. That's Camden."
The wharf was busy, and they had to wait for unloading space. Jonah untied the horse and led him somewhere behind the wharf, Daniel didn't see where but Jonah returned alone. Daniel sat on the gunwale and watched with interest the goods being unloaded. Fruit and vegetables. Flowers, carefully wrapped in paper. Coal, unloaded into barrows and taken to carts pulled by horses standing patiently in the dark street beyond the wharf, their heads down in the nose bags strapped over their ears.
"What's the load?" A man with a notebook asked as Jonah and Daniel guided the Emily Rose into a loading bay with the ropes. Daniel scrambled onto the quayside and roped her tightly, drawing her the last few feet to the wall. The market smelled strongly of the freshness of vegetables, the dusty smell of coal and beyond the scent of bread and flowers and roasting meat and the canal itself all mixed together.
"Apple logs, holly, apples and cider." Jonah called, unknotting the ropes over the side cloths. There was an answering shout from the quay and a man came forward, waving to several men who had been lounging on their barrows some way from the quay.
"That's for us. Hello Jonah lad, where's your grandfather?"
"Had an accident back up the canal, this is Daniel. Friend of mine."

The man gave Daniel a nod and Daniel climbed down onto the Emily Rose's deck to help Jonah pull off the tarpaulins. The men with the barrows moved with the speed of the well practised, cold and brassed off who intend on getting done as fast as possible and going somewhere warmer. Within fifteen minutes the barrows were loaded with the logs and holly, the cider and apples were boxed and the barrows vanished rapidly into the dark, wheeled by the men into the streets beyond the canal.
"The market's just over there." Jonah said, seeing Daniel watching. " Camden market. Although most of those barrows'll go up west. The markets up there are where the money is."

The man who had called Jonah by name came to him as Daniel pulled the last tarpaulin straight over Emily Rose's now empty deck and Daniel heard the jingle of coins.
"There lad, as agreed and in good time. Give my regards to your Grandfather and merry Christmas to the both of you."

Daniel heard Jonah reply in kind and then the quaymaster shouted to them to move the boat, barges were queuing several deep now across the canal, waiting for loading space. Jonah took the long pole from the Emily Rose's gunwale, stood on her rear deck and Daniel watched him punt the boat slowly through the maze of waiting barges and across the canal to the far bank where a few mooring spaces stood vacant. Daniel sprang to the bank as soon as it was in reach and tied the Emily Rose to one of the mooring posts, knotting the rope as tightly as he could. Somewhere in the town a clock struck five. Christmas Eve morning.

 The first logical thing to do was to sleep – neither of them had slept for over forty eight hours and the Emily Rose required hard physical work to sail. Both were exhausted, but in an odd kind of way there was no question of staying aboard the boat. The wharf was growing busier by the minute, the barrows were filling and leaving in a steady stream, the market further down the road was coming alive with voices and lanterns assisting the streetlamps in dispelling the morning dark and at the front of Daniel's mind was the clear fact – this was London. A place he had only ever heard about and now stood in at dawn on Christmas Eve morning beside Jonah Ballard.
Jonah didn't seem any more inclined to stay with the Emily Rose. Digging his hands deep into his pockets against the cold he walked across the lock and Daniel followed gladly, keeping pace with him as they trailed the barrows into the street and down into the market. Compared to Weedon market, Camden Town market was like a castle beside a cottage. Stalls were being loaded in every direction under the lamp light, stall holders in aprons and coats bustled with boxes, crates, baskets and barrels, laying out a variety of things some of which Daniel had never seen. Frequently he stopped to stare, aware of Jonah standing with amusement behind him, tolerantly waiting for him to look his fill. Whole fish lay amongst salt, all shapes and colours and far larger than the trout and pike which swam in the streams at home. Fruits and vegetables were laid out in rows. Fresh bread, pies still warm under cloths, stalls of cheeses, tables full of brightly coloured sweets. Wooden puppets, gaily painted, stood beside open barrels of ale and a brazier where a man roasted chestnuts, and around huge rush baskets women huddled together and chattered while they tied up bunches of flowers and green fresh from the barges – holly wreaths, mistletoe, chrysanthemums and Christmas roses. Jonah dug a hand in his pocket and stopped a man with a tray of pies, and Daniel accepted the one he was handed, hot enough for his numbed fingers to thaw against it and blissfully rich when bitten into. After a day and two nights of bread, cheese and apples the meat was more than welcome. And eating, they walked on, moving through the market and into the streets beyond where more of the barrow pushers were walking, their wares covered with tarpaulin sheets. A barrel organ was starting to play Good Christian Men Rejoice on the market corner, a carol Daniel had heard sung and seen danced every Christmas of his life at Nether Heyford.
It grew light as they walked, and as they reached the broader London streets where shops with their glass windows looked into the street house servants carrying baskets were evident, scuttling between shops and stalls and barrows. Carriages and carts were beginning to run in the streets and in the side alleys where the houses and shops pressed close together the shop keepers were opening their shutters with the heavy poles. Shoulder to shoulder Jonah and Daniel stayed close together, moving through the growing traffic and Daniel peered with fascination into the shop windows that were filled with goods that never reached the sleepy villages near home, not even with the peddlers. The streets were as misty as the canal had been but with smoke from the many chimneys and wood burning fires stood on the street corners and by the doorways of the shops. Horses in heavy harness wove in between the people and the noise – was as much unlike the few shops of Nether Heyford as it was possible to imagine.
On Ludgate hill a dome began to loom above the foggy roofs and spires and chimneys, and by the time the street was fully light a white stone cathedral emerged among the shops and houses. Its size alone was astounding. Staying close to Jonah in sheer awe Daniel trailed him up the steps and through the open door. Boys voices, high and pure came from the near the altar across the mighty, marble polished floor.
Adeste fideles, Laeti triumphantes,
Venite venite in Bethlehem
Natum videte Regem Angelorum
Venite adoremus! Veniste adoremus!
Venite adoremus Domimum.
It sounded like the voices of angels inside a palace – Daniel could find no other comparison. The cathedral was filled with flowers and by the door a wooden crib stood with the statue figures of the holy family. People came and went to the trays of candles nearby, using the tapers to light them, some of them moving deeper into the cathedral's halls. Women in bright coloured cloaks and bonnets, carrying muffs; men with tall hats and caped coats, carrying shining walking canes. Children with buttoned boots and caps and fur on their collars. A woman in a grey cloak, her hood raised, her hands hidden in her sleeves. Daniel's breath caught at the sight of her. She walked past the candles, some way from where he and Jonah stood, but turned her head as she walked and for a moment her dark eyes caught his. And then she was gone, behind a small, pretty woman in a red cloak and bonnet and a white fur muff over her hands who was laughing at something the man beside her was saying. A high, pretty laugh, pretty clothes, a pretty face in a slight boned and rather simple way – curls and wide eyes like a little girl and a pouting, red lipped mouth.
It was the laugh that Daniel knew.
Abandoning Jonah, he darted across towards the candles, unable to help himself, and as soon as those kitten blue eyes fell on him he knew that she knew too. It had been over fifteen years, but there must have been something in his face. The round eyes went wide, the red mouth forgot to pout and for a moment she stared up into his face in blank surprise.
"Alice?" the man with her said after a moment.
Later when Daniel thought about it, he must have been a startling sight – he had stood there in his cords, shirt, jacket and scarf, untidy, soiled from two days work on the Emily Rose, but there was no question that she knew him. When the man spoke she seemed to pull herself together and laugh, a high and uneasy sound.
"I'm afraid you have the advantage of-"

"Daniel." Daniel said bluntly. "Daniel Dunkley."
That silenced her laughing. Jonah's hand touched Daniel's arm, his voice low.
"That's my mother." Daniel said very quietly. The woman's eyes were almost frightened for a moment. And then she laughed again and this time managed to put the merriment into the sound, tugging on the arm of the man beside her.
"Oh impossible! I could never have a son so grown up-"

"Daniel." Daniel said again, sharply. "From James Pytchley in Nether Heyford. Do you remember? I know it was only a year at most you were there."

"Daniel?" the man beside the woman said mildly as though it was a name he knew. "You're taller than I expected my boy."

"His father was tall." Daniel's mother said with that twittering laugh. "Oh you do look so like him, you gave me quite a turn when I saw you standing there. Whatever are you doing so far from home? Does James still care for the lock?"
She said it as if they were casual friends, as though she had seen them only a few months before. Daniel stared at her in shock, as much at her face as at her tone. The man pressed her arm, sounding indulgent.
"Now my dear, it's been a long time."

"Oh forever, I hardly remember the lock or James – except that dreadful little cottage. And poor James. So sweet and so very dull. And such a dead and alive little hole that village was, I could scarcely stand it."

"Was that why you went?" Daniel demanded. The man drew gently at the woman's arm.
"This is hardly the time or place to discuss-"

"Why didn't you take me?" Daniel interrupted, louder. "Why didn't you take me too?"
"Oh you were such a boisterous little boy." Alice gave the man with her a laughing smile. "Always running about and shouting- you were much better with James at the cottage than with me. I knew James would look after you, he so liked you running about at the lock. He was much better with you than I was."

James. Who had silently tolerated his presence and granted him at least bed and keep.   
"This is Sir William," Alice said brightly, drawing on the arm of the older man. "Sir William Grey. He's an extremely dear friend of mine. Whatever are you doing in London ? I never could think what James would do with you, you were such a noisy child it was impossible to tell if you'd be clever or if he'd put you to work at that lock of his-"

Sir William, a good deal more tactfully, cleared his throat.
"Not the place to talk like this my dear. Daniel, let me give you the address of my hotel, I'll meet you there my boy and we can talk properly."

"There's nothing to say." Daniel said flatly, staring at his mother. All this time and he did actually remember her eyes – remembered that laugh. She had seemed enchanting when he was a child. His pretty, vivacious mother, always beautifully dressed, always with that tinkling laugh, everyone had looked after her as she went by. She had stood out like a butterfly amongst moths in the high street at Nether Heyford and been just as out of place there. She pulled now at Sir William's arm, giving Daniel another of those glittering smiles.
"How odd to see you here! Merry Christmas. William dear, I'm cold and we'll be late for the Malin-Joneses –"

"Yes my dear, of course." Sir William patted her hand, at least having the grace to look embarrassed as he offered a card to Daniel.
"Take it my boy – I'm, well, shall we say responsible for Alice ? And I'm aware of what's owed to you, we can-"

Daniel turned on his heel and ran down the steps of the cathedral. It was some time before he realised Jonah was pacing him step for step.

The Camden wharf was quietening, the market boats clearing and many in the moored barges settling down to sleep after the night's travelling to bring the morning market loads. Jonah said nothing at all, but he went into the stables as they passed, and without needing to ask, Daniel went to loose the Emily Rose from her mooring ropes, took up the pole and with a good deal less grace than Jonah, punted her across to the wharf side. The horse appeared refreshed and keen to be off; he pushed against Jonah as Jonah put the tow rope to his harness, shook his head and started at a rapid walk down the tow path. Jonah came to the wharf bank and Daniel put a hand to the tiller, bringing the barge close enough for Jonah to step down. And still in silence Daniel steered and Jonah sat on the gunwale, and Camden slid away into the distance behind them. For near an hour, through the bustle of Paddington Basin , they sat together and Jonah occasionally put a hand up to help steer from where he sat. It wasn't until they reached the quiet of the Regents Canal, where the towns and crowded wharves ended and once more they were surrounded by fields and water and little else that Jonah got up and came to the tiller, without comment putting an arm around Daniel's neck, drawing his head down into his shoulder and holding him tightly enough to make breathing difficult.

Later, Daniel was sure that it had been a good length of time that he stood there before he managed to take a few quieter, shuddering breaths and lifted his head, wiping at his face with angry humiliation. Jonah put a large, rough hand against his cheek and his long fingers brushed at the tears with a gentleness surprising in such a big man. They were leaning together on the cabin roof, Jonah with a hand still on the tiller. And as Jonah let his chin go, Daniel turned without thinking and dropped his head directly back onto the hard planes of Jonah's chest. Jonah's fingers combed through his hair, ruffling it slowly from the back of his neck where it most needed cutting.
All those years, wondering: what had she been thinking? Had someone been unkind to her, ill treated her? The hours last night believing she had been murdered, a good reason at last for why she had failed to remember that she had a son. The straight truth was that she was well aware of the child she had casually left in a village nearly eighty miles away, without troubling to worry what became of him. It hadn't mattered. Daniel was well aware of how Sir William was likely to be responsible for her; it was no doubt his money that paid for the expensive clothes she wore. He very likely wasn't even the first.
"She was right," Jonah said in his ear. The weight of his arm was wrapped tightly around Daniel's shoulders, a solid and comforting pressure. "She knew James would look after you and in all fact he has. Likely far better than she would have done.
"He's not even my blood." Daniel said bitterly. "I don't belong there, I never did. I got left with him like a parcel, he just couldn't turn me out."
That was the honest truth. Jonah's chin rested on the top of his head, his breath hot in Daniel's hair and his voice soft.
"Aye and he wouldn't. And now you know. You won't go through life waiting and wondering for her, you'll make your own way."

If there was a way to make. Grown men didn't stay meekly in their boyhood homes, living their boyhood lives. Jonah was barely five years older and he had been working his own family boat, leading his own life since he was in his mid teens. The confidence and certainty in him shone out.
Jonah's arm tightened around his shoulders, feeling the spasm run through him. This was too bizarre to take in. Alice Dunkley stood in front of him in London . The thirty hour sail into parts of the country that Daniel had never before seen. WITH Jonah Ballard. Who was standing right here, holding him as though it was the most natural thing in the world. As if he cared as much as Daniel did about that scene in the cathedral and understood how it felt. Daniel was well aware he should have done the decent thing and stepped away. Thanked him kindly. Pulled himself together as man should. But to lift his head from Jonah's chest was entirely too hard. 
And then Jonah made a stifled, groaning sound and put a finger once more under Daniel's chin, pushing his face up and to Daniel's stunned amazement Jonah's mouth fastened over his, as deep and as gentle as his voice was. For a moment Daniel could have sworn his heart stopped in his chest. Then his hands grabbed upwards of their own accord, fastened around Jonah's wild, fair head and pulled him still closer. 
Continue on to Part 5 of The Last Night of the Emily Rose

Copyright Ranger 2010

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