Not The Best Start

As soon as England disappeared out of sight, I disappeared below deck to check my luggage had been delivered safely to my cabin.  My father would have been shocked if he’d seen where I would be living for the next few weeks during my voyage.  For one I was sharing with two other women, something people of my class just didn’t do.  In theory, I could afford a cabin to myself, but Captain Donelly had insisted that the only cabins available were communal ones, but I would be allocated to a cabin with other women, not men.

For another thing, the room was tiny.  There was only just enough room for the three hammocks hung from the ceiling and our cases, which were strapped down to the floor along one wall to stop them from sliding from one side of the cabin to the other with the sway of the ship.

When I arrived, the other two women I would be sharing a cabin with were already there, one, hardly any older than me, sitting against the wall with her knees pulled tightly against her chest and her head buried into her knees.  Her messy long mousy-brown hair fell over her face and down her arms, which prevented me from seeing any more of her.

The other woman seemed a lot stronger.  I would have put her age at about thirty-six, but I couldn’t be sure.  Unlike the other girl she was strongly built with a curvy figure and strong features.  Her nose stuck out straight from her face and her eyes had thick black eyebrows, matching the colour of her hair, looming over them like dark storm clouds.  She didn’t look impressed as I walked in, dressed in far finer clothes than either she, or the young girl sitting on the floor.

The older woman was dressed in a drab brown dress in last year’s style, which had been sewn up around the hem where it had been ripped, but there was nothing that could be done to hide the fraying edges.

I wasn’t sure what to do so I smiled and walked over to where my trunk was and carefully opened it, taking my sketchpad and pencils from the top and then closing it again.

‘So who ‘re you?’  The older woman asked, her tone slightly accusatory, but I didn’t take it personally, it was probably just her nature.

‘Adelaide Westin,’ I said cheerfully, holding out my hand.  The woman looked down her nose at my hand, her upper lip curling in distain.

‘You’re one o’ them,’ she said, turning away from me and towards her hammock.

‘Excuse me?  What do you mean by that?’  I asked, trying not to sound offended by her rudeness.

‘You’re one ‘o them posh types, thinkin’ they’re better than the rest o’ us.  Well I’m not ‘aving you lookin’ down on me, I’ve paid for my passage, jus’ like you an’ I’m not gonna put up wi’it.’

‘Have I done anything to offend you?  Because I don’t understand why you would make such a judgment about me before you even know me.’

‘I know your type,’ she snorted.  ‘You’re all the same.’

‘Well I’m sorry that you feel that way, but if we’re going to be living together then we should learn to get along.  Please?’  The woman didn’t look at me, not even responding.  As much as I wanted to get on with the other passengers, I didn’t want to push my luck too far with this woman.  Instead I crouched down by the young girl on the floor, who was now whimpering, although I couldn’t work out why.  ‘What’s your name?’  I asked as kindly as I could.

‘Lucy,’ she said nervously, bringing her head up off her knees.  Her hair fell away from her face and I could see an enormous pair of bright blue eyes staring out at me.

‘Hello Lucy, my name is Adelaide.’  She didn’t say anything, but kept looking at me with her big eyes.  ‘How old are you Lucy?’

‘I don’t know miss.  I never learnt how to count.’  Although she didn’t seem educated, she spoke clearer than the older woman did.

‘I’m seventeen,’ I said softly.  The woman behind me snorted at my attempts to connect with the young girl.

‘I wouldn’t bother.  She’s too scared t’ say much.’

‘What’s scaring you?’  I asked, trying to look as comforting as possible.

‘The water,’ she squeaked.  ‘I’ve never been on a boat before.’

‘Do you want to come up on deck with me?’  At this Lucy’s head began shaking from side to side violently.  ‘There’s nothing to be scared of,’ I said reassuringly.  ‘It’s nice up there, I promise.’

‘Please don’t make me go miss,’ the girl pleaded, her eyes filling up with tears.  ‘It’s so scary, I could fall over the side and into the sea.’

‘But there are railings to stop you from doing that,’ I said encouragingly.  ‘It really is very safe.’  At this point Lucy burst into tears and buried her head back into her knees again.

‘Leave ‘er alone.’  The older woman said.  ‘If she don’ wanna go up then she don’ wanna go up.’  I stood up, walking away from Lucy and towards the other woman.

‘Do you promise to keep an eye on her.  I don’t want her to be left alone.’

‘Oh really?’  She said, putting her hands on her hips.  ‘So I’m a servant then?  Wha’ else can I do for you milady?’

‘I was only trying to help,’ I said defensively.  ‘But clearly my help is unwanted so I will just leave you to it.’  I headed for the door, head down and eyes fixed on the floor.  I heard the older woman mutter something I couldn’t hear as I left but didn’t ask her to repeat it.  Instead I followed the path I had come down, so I re-emerged on the deck and resumed my position on the quarterdeck and opened my sketchbook.

Like every young lady in higher-class circles, I’d been trained in music, painting and dance, the three ways, besides beauty and wealth, which would enable you to catch a husband.  People told me I had a great aptitude for all three, but it was drawing I loved the most, and as it was a beautiful day and I had nothing else to do, I began sketching the seascape.

It wasn’t the most interesting thing I had ever drawn, there being only sea birds and the rolling waves to draw, but it passed the time.

The End

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