Friday, February 12, 2010

The Last Night of the Emily Rose - Part 5

The Last Night of the Emily Rose


For Rolf ~ Happy Christmas darling {}
by Ranger

The boat bumping into the bank eventually made them let go – Jonah grabbed for the tiller, but he kept hold of Daniel with a grip that felt like it didn't intend to let go any time soon. A few yards down the canal stood a willow tree with its branches touching the water, and Daniel threw the snatcher rope around its trunk, pulling the Emily Rose close against the bank and mooring her there. The horse, further down the towpath, paused and gave them an inquiring look. And then moved to the grass beyond the tow path and lowered its head to graze.
Jonah leaned back against the cabin roof and pulled Daniel back to him, and things like the cold and the awkwardness of pressing so close together in such a narrow space became entirely irrelevant. They left the cabin doors ajar when they finally stumbled down the steep steps into the cabin itself, warm from the last embers in the stove, and in the narrow space beside the bunk Jonah shrugged off his jacket, pulled his scarf free and Daniel fumbled at Jonah's shirt, dragging it off over his head. He was aware that Jonah's hands on him were a good deal more efficient and knew exactly what to do where Daniel was simply making enthusiastic guesses, but from the sounds Jonah made he was a quick learner. The bunk had been designed for two to sleep together, the blankets were soft and scented with the dried lavender and beyond that Daniel had no real awareness of his surroundings or anything else but Jonah.
The first time, both of them hurried and too urgent to wait, felt to Daniel like some glorious fight, involving wrestling and mouths that bit and kissed hard enough to bruise and two bodies long enough to tangle on the bunk. Still in a tangle afterwards they both slept, collapsed where they were, and when they stirred a while later, cold as the stove finally went out and clutching each other for warmth, naked on the bunk, they settled under the blankets and quilt and this time was slow and gentle and seemed to Daniel to go on forever.
He woke a long time later, blissfully warm and rocked by the sway of the canal beneath them, curled against the full length of Jonah's body. Long, lean and muscled, the skin like velvet. Fen tiger. Fully capable too of the purrs and snarls, Daniel had heard them several times over. It was growing dark outside, and the air in the cabin was cold. The horse snorted on the bank and from the huff of its breathing it had wandered back to stand close to the Emily Rose. Jonah, breathing softly and slowly with his hair still wilder than usual on the pillow, didn't stir. Daniel slid very gently out of his arms without waking him, stretched and dressed rapidly in the chill of the cabin. As softly as he could he raked out the stove, set coals and lit them, before he went up onto the Emily Rose's decks.
He could free her mooring without needing to step off the gunwale, the horse seemed pleased to see him and when Daniel clicked, gladly set off down the tow path, leaving Daniel to stow the rope and take the tiller, guiding the Emily Rose away from the bank. The route was easy and no locks occupied this section of the canal. It was well over an hour and he had lit both of Emily Rose's lamps when Jonah came out of the cabin, still sleepy and fastening his jacket, and without comment bent to collect a kiss from Daniel before he settled back against the cabin roof.
Mile on mile on peaceful mile. No other boats passed them, although many were moored on the banks. At Rickmansworth, coming back into the Grand Union canal from the Regents Canal , they moored outside an inn and Jonah took the horse around to the warmth and rest of the stables. The inn was brightly lit and warm inside, a small group of boatmen were gathered by the bar with a violin, squeezebox, drum and flute and the noisy crowd inside were singing lustily a mixture of the boating songs and Christmas carols. Daniel and Jonah squeezed into a table by the window, far from the warmth of the fire but well used to the cold, and one of the serving girls brought them coffee, bread and bowls of thick, steaming stew. Holly and ivy garlands hung from the beams and around the doors, and as they left the inn much later, as the landlord turned out the last of the revellers, the men called to each other as they walked towards the boats and the villages.
"Merry Christmas!"
They were making the Emily Rose ready to leave once more when Daniel caught a glimpse of grey, moving swiftly down the towpath into the night mist. The woman again in her long cloak, her hands hidden, the hood raised. She looked back over her shoulder at him for an instant and even at this distance he saw her smile.
"THERE." He said sharply, grabbing for Jonah's arm. "Her! That's the woman there!"
Jonah looked up. The woman faded into the mist, her rapid walk carrying her beyond sight and Daniel wondered again if he had actually seen her at all. Then Jonah let out a breath beside him.
"I saw her."

"I thought it was my mother." Daniel said, still peering into the dark and aware his hands were trembling. "I've seen her over and over walking ahead of the boat. She was in the cathedral- it was seeing her that made me see my mother there."

"Yeah." Jonah stared for a moment with him into the dark and then went back to unwinding the snatcher rope from the mooring peg, although Daniel could hear his voice trembling. "If I'd seen her before I could have told you. I know that woman's not your Mam. She's mine." 
Alone on the canal Emily Rose glided away down the canal with her lanterns lit, in between the lit boats from which came fragments of chatter and music and singing. An hour later, Daniel from his perch on the cabin roof lifted his head at the sound of church bells far away in the distance. Midnight . It was Christmas Day.
The lock keepers cottage at Nether Heyford had a small and homely look to it when approached by canal. James Pytchley's immaculate garden and vegetable patch was under a heavy frost in the first of the St Stephen's day morning light but smoke was rising steadily from the chimney. Jonah stepped onto the bank and moored the Emily Rose, put a hand out to steady Daniel as he stepped ashore, but stood where he was, giving the Emily Rose a somewhat sad look.
"That’s the last of it. Last night I'll spend on her. I'll take her to Weedon this afternoon and hand her back to the owner there."
He sounded matter of fact, but Daniel heard the tone beneath. Jonah had grown up on the Emily Rose, he handled her with the same care and strength as he – well, did various other things that sent anticipatory flashes through Daniel at the thought of them.
"We might not need to." Daniel said quietly. "Don't give up on her yet."
Aware they were now within sight of the village, Jonah dropped an arm around Daniel's waist and hugged him, discreetly but hard.
"If it were the last night then I'm glad it were with you."
 Maria Pytchley was in the kitchen and gave Daniel her usual sniff and nod at the sight of him.
"You're back are you? Jonah, your Grandfather's in the parlour. He's been fretting about you."

Jonah went through the door to the parlour at once. James Pytchley came into the kitchen, pulling his jacket on, and gave Daniel a brief nod as he passed him towards the back door. Often in a day that was the sum of their conversation: nods and grunts of acknowledgement as they lived around each other. Daniel followed him out of the back door and up towards the lock, shutting the door behind him.
"I saw my Mam in London ."
James' stride halted briefly, then he carried on towards the lock. Daniel kept pace, watching him pause at the lockside to judge the water levels.
"She was with a man there. Sir William someone."

"I've no doubt." James said shortly.
That was the closest Daniel had ever heard him come to criticising his wife in Daniel's hearing. Surprised at how much sympathy that raised in him, Daniel sat down on the lock gate and watched James open the sluice to the river that would raise the water levels in the canal.
"She recognised me and remembered you. She wasn't sorry, she didn't much think it mattered. All she said was that she thought you'd raise me better than she would."
James didn't react to that at all. In all honesty, Daniel couldn't blame him.
Watching him work, James seemed a little older – a little less invulnerable, just as the house seemed smaller and the fields around it wider. Daniel was aware too he was looking at them with very different eyes. What had seemed to matter so much the day before he left on the Emily Rose now seemed not to matter at all, there were many possibilities, many roads open to him, and he needed James' permission or agreement for none of them.
"I'm going with Jonah to Weedon." He said gently. "If his Grandfather agrees, we'll work the Emily Rose together, him and me. That'll be enough to keep us both and his grandfather, and to work them out of the debt on the house and the boat if they'll give us time to work it off. If not, we'll look for another boat for hire. It's what we both do best, canals and boats."
"Aye, you know what you're doing with the water." James said shortly.
"We'll take up his Grandfather and move on then." Daniel said, getting up. There was nothing more to say. James didn't look round. There were no possessions of note in the cottage that belonged to Daniel other than his Sunday clothes, very little to collect and nothing that would say afterwards that he and James had lived here together. He wondered again, not for the first time, how James and his mother had come to be married. He had no memory of it. It seemed to him most likely that James had found her in straits desperate enough accept his protection, been enchanted by her and taken her in accepting with her the little boy, and for a time she had been grateful enough and entertained enough here.
For the first time in his life too, his sympathies were entirely with James. A good and a decent man if not one it was possible to be fond of.
"She was right." He said to James' back. "You did far better for me than she ever would. I do thank you for that."

James didn't answer. Leaving him working the sluice, Daniel walked back towards the cottage. He and Jonah had talked much of the night coming up through Northamptonshire. They handled the Emily Rose fast between them, they would easily make two runs a week in her and possibly more as they were both fit and strong enough to manage any loads they were offered. That would work the debt off on the boat and the cottage quickly and be plenty to keep Jonah's Grandfather safe. The question was whether between them they could persuade the owner at Weedon, and there Jonah doubted. The debt had dragged on, the winter had been a hard one, and Daniel had an impression too that Jonah didn't take kindly to asking anyone for charity. But he loved the Emily Rose.
Jonah was helping his Grandfather aboard the boat and the old man raised a hand to Daniel, waved and smiled with the same slow, blazing smile that Jonah had. Jonah straightened up on the bank, looking across at Daniel with that strange look again, save that Daniel now knew exactly what it meant. Turning away quickly to stop the blush before it started, stifling a very private grin, Daniel ran up the cottage stairs and collected the few items he owned, leaving the small bedroom bare and anonymous behind him. In all honesty it had never looked any different. Maria Pytchley was serving breakfast and James Pytchley hanging up his jacket, and it seemed for a moment as though neither would even acknowledge Daniel leaving. Then James abruptly took a box from the mantelpiece, took something from it and held it out.
"Here. These are yours."
Daniel looked down at his hand.
The two rings were plain gold, small but still gold. A man's and a woman's.
"She left hers." James said shortly. "With her note. And I haven't worn mine since. They're yours by right. She left you nothing else, and I'd rather see you put it to use for some good than throw them in the canal. Take them."
Daniel had no idea what those two rings would be valued at but wedding rings were something worked and saved for: those two rings would bring enough to pay off the debt. If not even to buy the Emily Rose outright.
Impatiently James grabbed Daniel's hand and put the rings into them.
"Go on, don't keep them waiting, it's cold out there."
There was nothing more to say. Instead Daniel grabbed James' hand and held it tightly for a moment. And then James Pytchley sat down to eat his breakfast and Daniel pocketed the rings, running down the bank to where Jonah and the Emily Rose were waiting. 
~ The End ~

Copyright Ranger 2010


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this very much, thank you for sharing.

ddarius said...

The thing about your stories is that I never want them to end, even when I know you're right and they should. Thank you for sharing. - C

Ranger said...

awww, thank you. This is one of my favourite stories, I drive around canals like this all day and at this time of year when they're misty and damp they're easy to pull a story out of.

bentley1530 said...

I love this story and have read it many times over the years. In what year is it set?

Ranger said...

Hi Bentley

It would be mid Victorian - 1880ish.

Deb W said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deb W said...

Thank you. Loved it, don't know how I missed it before. So atmospheric and moving. You do fabulous research. Thanks for this advent gift.

Deb W said...

Thank you. Loved it, don't know how I missed it before. So atmospheric and moving. You do fabulous research. Thanks for this advent gift.

Anonymous said...

MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone. Thank you all for you stories and
a big THANK YOU to Tarabeth for the soul touching pictures
that give us a glimpse into your worlds.

Anonymous said...

Such a sweet sweet story. Poor angry Daniel, Jonah is perfect for him! I really enjoyed this, thank you so much for sharing.

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