Love is Indefatigable
Becoming a man was not going to be easy - she had no delusions on that account. The face, the cracked and dirty mirror revealed, was not very masculine in appearance. The cheekbones were too high and the jaw too soft, the lips too full and the nose too delicate with its smattering of a few pale freckles and unique turned-up tip. The long hair, as black as the wings of Night itself, was too thick and shining, even plaited roughly as it was and tied with a soiled ribbon. The fashion now was to have it shorter to just past the collar, tied into a ponytail but many men still wore it in the old, long plaited style.
But even with the smooth porcelain skin that showed a life of luxury and idleness, she saw with a smile of satisfaction, that she could just pass off as a 16 year-old boy, even if an effeminate one. She would, however, still have to be almighty careful. Her eyes at least were not that of a demure young girl. Hard and steely grey as the ocean itself, they held a restless, ambitious glint, known to flash with a fiery temper, so that only her father could hold her gaze for long as he matched it with one as penetrating of his own. Her father: what had he said when he had found her note?
She was dressed in one of the second-hand, extremely ill fitting uniforms, the landlord had acquired for her from that dark, disreputable little shop at the bottom of Drury Lane. The others were packed neatly into the battered old sea chest that had seen better years itself. She sighed. This was the first time she had ever known poverty, even if it wasn't genuine. She had money enough from her mother but it wouldn't do to arouse suspicion in a new expensive uniform. She looked every inch the nervous new midshipman on half-pay.
Her breast had had to be bound of course, somewhat roughly by the landlord's wife, and she still wasn't quite used to the uncomfortable tightness around her ribs· But it was something that had to be endured. On reflection, wearing the tight corsets of her expensive gowns had been not much better. Mr Burton and his wife, Fanny, had been so surprised when she had turned up at their humble tavern in the hackney coach and expensive finery, asking for accommodation. They had helped her and broken the law for her and she was very grateful. They would never tell of her secret, even if she had had to pay well to ensure their silence and not all their benevolence was profitless for them.
She lay down on the patchwork bed, one hand resting gently on her stomach. With a pang she realised that she would miss home in Ireland. The home that she had been trying to escape from for so long. Her father's strong ruling personality, no longer kept in check by her mother's charms and calm, sensible good humour and her sisters' ceaseless inanities and chattering made sure she didn't regret her actions though. It was her mother's death that had made her realise that getting away and enjoying the life of excitement and thrill wasn't just an impossible dream. She shut her eyes and remembered the moment, 1 year ago·
A dark room. The smell of death hangs in the air despite the bunches of lavender hanging around the large four-poster bed. Everything seems still and the room empty but the pools of candlelight falling around the pillows reveal the occupants of the room. A woman, she looks old at first glance but closer inspection reveals her to be of middle age though consumption's angry passage through her body has left her frail and aged, lies still in the bed. Her long black hair is without grey as it is plastered to her head with sweat, and her eyes roll listlessly while, desperately, she tries to focus them on the young girl kneeling beside her.
The girl is 14 or so in age, with hair as black as the figure in the bed. Her grey eyes are sad as she looks at the dying woman. Her jaw is stubbornly set against emotion as she listens to her mother's hoarse voice.
"My youngest and most favoured girl· Fate has decreed that I die before bearing a son, if it was not too late for that anyway· But I swear to you now that the lives of all the brothers you could have had are nothing to yours· I love you most dearly·I see your frustration daily· Your father's spirit trapped in a female frame·" She managed a weak smile, thinking of her husband. The girl made to interrupt, but her mother cut her short. "Do not fret child· You shall find your place in the world· Your brain is quick and never idle. You have a keen wit and your charms are numerous· You are of sound body and ample beauty and your character is fair· Praise is my gift for you as all that you deserve from me in years· To come has been usurped·Go· When you have your chance· Take the monies that I leave you on my death and· Make your life, as you will·I am dying child· Pray for me child and go with· God·"
Breathing had become a labour and she coughed violently
as the consumption invaded her lungs once more. Her daughter's
eyes widen and she gasps slightly, takes her mother's hand and
presses it to the bodice above her heart. A tear rolls gently
down her cheek and her mother's convulsions finally cease. The
child sobs, rises to her feet and gently draws her hand over her
mother's eyes drawing the lids closed. Slowly and deliberately
she walks to the door, opens it and with one final glance to her
mother she leaves, quite calm but for her gentle tears, in search
of the physician.
Her eyes opened at the bitter memory though the pain had long faded ö there were no more tears to be shed on her mother's account. She had loved her dearly and her mother had always returned that love. Her mother was all that had kept those blazing arguments with her father under control. She had had to leave after her death. Still reclining on the bed, she remembered the night a few months later·
The girl looked up from her book at the gentle tap on the door. The door to the chamber opened slowly and a woman, ghostly pale in appearance, slipped into the room. She turned and shut the door gently behind her. She curtsies and in the better light afforded in the room than the shadows of the doorway we see she is a servant. The girl rises and walks over. The maid reaches into her apron and wordlessly hands the girl an embroidered purse. The purse is heavy with gold. The girl looks quizzical.
"Mistress· It's from yer Ma· Before she passed away, she bade me give you this when I found occasion·" A heavy Irish accent slurs her words. "Your Ma had her own family income, money yer Da never even knew about. On her sickbed, when she was free of fever she pledged it te you, mistress. T'is only a little of the entire sum· I can send ye the same amount again every six months. You just write to me and give me an address. It would seem yer Ma had a small fortune on her own good father's death·"
The girl's mouth is slightly open. She tries a stammered thanks.
"If Da ever found out what you're doing for me· I cannot thank you enough·"
"There's no need to thank me. It's the least a can do in the memory of yer good Ma. She was a great woman, god rest her soul·" With that the maid departed as silently as she had arrived. The girl stood still for a few moments, appearing to stare into space. She stirred from her reverie and moved over to a large chest beside her bed, already packed with her belongings for travel.
She had made everything ready to leave that night, but the security and comfort of her birthplace was harder to leave than she had ever imagined and the nagging fear that she wouldn't make it in her new life grew ever stronger. A few further months had passed. She continued with her studies, singing, dancing and horse riding on Calypso, the horse she had called after her father's frigate, all under her father's stern gaze.
She even persuaded him in a moment of weakness, so very rare to his character, to allow her to learn swordplay, claiming that it was not unladylike but merely so she might defend herself against robbers or bandits (or wicked stable hands). Her father, tired as he was with grief and always having been himself suspicious of the designs men had on his daughter, hadn't had the heart to refuse such a trivial thing.
She smiled on the bed: her father, the great naval hero! He was a post-captain held in high regard by his Majesty the King's Navy. How she revered him. When she had been so small, he had always seemed so big and heroic. His pride, temper and stubborn resolve, so like her own, made him fierce. But she had never quailed before his Irish temper like her sisters, but had soon learnt to hold her ground.
They respected each other but there could never be any love between them. Her mother used to exclaim, whilst always remaining respectful to her husband, in exasperation at their tirades that there was no room in the whole of Ireland, never mind under the one roof, for the two of them!
But the playing field was never equal. She was his daughter. Being younger and female meant she never had had a choice other than to back down to him. That was part of the problem she thought· She was female. Undoubtedly she was his favourite daughter but that just wasn't enough· He wished she was the son he never had and it made him bitter.
Her gender was and insurmountable barrier for him, but she would overcome it! In this she was resolved: Not to remain idle in childhood, marriage and old age but to leave her cloistered existence in search of adventure. It had always been her dream, to follow her father out to sea. There was no adventure in the stuffy classroom. Hours disappeared as she dreamed of the life at sea that she could never have.
It had been on her 15th birthday that the dreaming had stopped. Her father had told her. She was to be married. A great Irish Lord had asked for her hand in marriage and her father had consented. She had never even met the man! In her outrage her mind was finally set. That night her trunk had been loaded onto a coach, an explanatory note had been left and had rode with the speed of a broadside towards London· And here she was.
She remembered the note:
I am gone and I will not tell you where. No one knows of my whereabouts save myself. I will not be married! I will not be owned! Sold of with a dowry like baggage? Could you even think it, Da? You know me not if you thought I would agree to this injustice. Don't try to find me. All the militia in Ireland couldn't find me now and it would be better for the both of us if I wasn't found. If you can't forgive me then don't try to, but you will never find me·
A sharp knock on the door jolted her upright. "Excuse
me· sir." It was Fanny. "Your coach is waitin'
te take yer te Spit'ead."