Varkrael’s eyes gleamed. ‘And what might be the name of this uncle of yours, Lireh?’ He asked. ‘Ours is, of course, a profession with many risks. Not all return to their families. Some through mischance, others through intent. Come, how was he named?’
‘Grandfather always referred to him as Ches. I’m not sure what his full given name was. He doesn’t talk about him at all, nowadays.’ Responded Lireh, promptly. ‘Why, do you think you might know him?’
‘I know many men, and know of many more. Ches is a common enough name, I’ve come across a few. Find someone who can give you a good description of him, and come back tomorrow morning. We’ll talk again. Mayhap I’ll have encountered him on my voyages.’
‘Thank you, sir. I’ll visit my old aunt this afternoon and bring Uncle Ches up in conversation and see what I can learn. I’ll be back about the same time, if not earlier, tomorrow. My thanks again. ‘Bye
‘See you in the morning, Lireh.’ Said Varkrael, more confidently now that the captain had taken to Lireh.
The captain put his hand to his cap, and turned away. ‘If you don’t have something to occupy you, Varkrael, I’m sure I can find you something.’ He said as he moved astern.
Varkrael grimaced at Lireh, waved, then disappeared below decks. Lireh walked through the now bustling streets, where street traders were setting out their stalls. The journey back to the pub seemed shorter than it had, as her busy mind schemed how to arrange a visit to Aunt Jinny, and, more importantly, how to bring up the subject of Uncle Ches.
Although usually a willing worker, Lireh found herself anxious for her tasks to be over, so that she could escape for the afternoon. The cook, who came in for the midday session, had come up with a new potato pie just a couple of days ago, so she thought she would offer to take some over to her aunt. This would seem reasonable, and she could then take the opportunity to lead the conversation round to Ches.
So, when the rush of regulars had abated, Lireh kissed her grandfather, and left for the hills above the port, where her aunt kept a guest house. The roads were steep, but Lireh had never known any other roads, so the walk didn’t exhaust her; and within an hour, she was sitting enjoying a cool lemonade with her aunt on the terrace overlooking the bay.
‘I’ve decided to create a family tree, Aunt Jinny’, she said. ‘I wonder if you could help me with some dates? Grandfather says he hasn’t got the time for it.’
‘What dates do you need, dear?’
‘Well, all of them, really. Grandfather won’t even tell me what year he was born! I know when his birthday is, and we always celebrate it, but I don’t know how old he is.’
‘He’s 58 this winter, though sometimes he acts as if he’s so much older. He hasn’t had an easy life.’
‘Great. And what about you? How old will you be next month?’
‘I’ll be 36, my dear. As my greying hair can testify to!’
‘Oh, you’ve hardly any grey hairs at all. Not like poor Mum, she was very salty.’
‘Well, it’s kind of you to say so, child, but my mirror tells a different story.’
‘And what about Uncle Ches? I don’t know his birthday at all.’
‘He was born on New Year’s Day, and was just two years younger than me. It’s been twenty years, now, since he left us.’ A cloud fell over her soft face as she remembered. ‘It still hurts your grandfather that he left so suddenly, and we don’t know if he’s dead or alive.’
‘No, Grandfather never talks about him. Do you think he would look like Grandfather, or did he take after Grandmother more, like you?’
‘He’d be the spitting image of your Grandfather, I should think, with black hair, though, still, I should hope! All the men of our family seem to be of the same mould. They look alike, and they’re all as stubborn. Look at my son, Daryl; hair and eyes as black as the kelp on the shore, and stubborn as the mules that pull the carts.’ Her smile belied her words. She doted on her only child.
An hour later, after making several notes on second cousins, and relatives on her grandmother’s side of the family, Lireh made her excuses to leave.
‘Thanks, Aunt Jinny. There isn’t anyone else I need to know about, is there? If not, I’d better get back to sort out ready for the evening trade.’
‘I think you’ve got us all down, now, pet. Mind how you go down the hill. Give the old fool a hug from me, will you?’
‘Of course.’ Lireh hugged her aunt, and left.
‘Thanks again for the pie – I’m looking forward to trying it tonight.’
‘You’re welcome, Aunt. Thank you for taking the time to help my research. See you soon.’
Lireh almost skipped back down to the port. If Ches looked like Grandfather, he’d be easy to describe. She couldn’t wait to tell the captain next morning.