Authors: Helen Goltz
By Helen Goltz
First published in 2016.
Copyright © Helen Goltz 2016
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian Copyright Act 1968), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval systems without the prior written permission of the author or publisher, Atlas Productions.
Greenslopes QLD 4102
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry: (paperback)
Goltz, Helen author.
Ophelia Adrift / Helen Goltz
ISBN: 978-0-9943762-5-1 (paperback)
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or where locations, characters and incidents are based on experience, history or established locations, they are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental. Any news events or historic characters cited in this novel have been fictionalised and any slight of specific people, research or organisations is unintentional.
Also by Helen Goltz
The Jesse Clarke series:
Death by Sugar
Death by Disguise
The Mitchell Parker series:
Graveyard of the Atlantic
The Fourth Reich
Three Parts Truth
The Clairvoyant’s Glasses
For Mark, my brother
Adrift: broken loose from the moorings
From A Dictionary of Sea-Terms
One minute I felt numb, the next I felt scared ... I wish I could just feel numb permanently. I can see another train station coming into view; sometimes the signs go by before I can work out if it is the one I want.
. This is it. It’s just like Uncle Sebastian had said—large, red brick and around it green hills and homes in the distance. So quiet compared to the main railway station at home.
I could stay on the train forever, just keep going, riding this carriage until I am old and die. But I’ve resigned myself to my fate.
There he is. That must be him. I grabbed my book and pulled out the small photo I had pressed between the cover and the back page. It was an old photo of my mother with her brother, Uncle Sebastian. Yes, that was him, I think. He might be handsome if he lost the large black rim glasses he wore in the photo and still wore by the looks of it.
I waited until the train had completely stopped ... delaying the inevitable, and then I was out of time ... I had to get off. I reached up and grabbed my red suitcase from the rack above; my hands were shaking, crazy. I took a deep breath and checked out Uncle Sebastian again. He looked nervous too, and a little bit like Mum. I felt a bit sorry for him as he stood with his hands shoved in the pockets of a long black, wool coat, rocking back and forward. His black and grey streaked hair was windblown but there seemed to be a fair mop of it; wild hair ran in the family. I bet he’s not that excited about having an orphaned niece show up on his doorstep cramping his style.
I took another deep breath and waited for the last two passengers in the carriage to pass me towards the exit. Pain ... just a wave of homesickness ... if only I was a few years older, I could have stayed in our home ... I could have looked after myself. Go, I coached myself. I walked towards the exit, stepped from the train carriage onto the platform and looked over at Uncle Sebastian. He was gone.
I don’t know anyone here... what do I do, just get back on the train and go ... where? Now I was panicking!
I found him; breathe again. But Uncle Sebastian was walking away arm-in-arm with some other woman. I was about to call after him when someone grabbed my arm.
There’s one thing I don’t like about Ophelia Montague—she likes her feet firmly planted on the ground. She likes the solid feeling that it won’t move or sway beneath her, it gives her comfort, yet she comes to me, to a seaside town where the ocean beats upon the shore and shipwrecks hide below its depths. Where I live.
I knew she was coming; I had the power to feel her presence long before she arrived. I’m not psychic, I’m ... well, I’m her soul mate. She’s beautiful ... blue eyes, long dark and wild hair, and skin that said she was from the city. I had been waiting a long time for her to arrive.
Ophelia didn’t see me, but I watched her and studied her reflection in the train window. She looked haunted; her blue eyes too large for her face as though the shock had set them permanently round and her skin was a pale as ice.
She had not torn her gaze from the train window for hours, studying every town, checking the signs and now she was seeing for the first time the town of Warrnambool as it came into view. When the train began to slow down I felt her heart rate sore. I breathed her in; I want to hold and protect her and one day I would.
Her uncle was there to collect her; he would take her by car to our home town, to Port Fairy, just short of thirty kilometres away. I watched as she wheeled around in fright, squinting as she looked up into the sun at a tall stranger holding her arm.
“Sorry, I’m late, Ophelia, I can’t blame the traffic, there is none, but I’ve always run late, your mother used to say I’d be late for my own funeral, but that’s not the best thing to say at this time is it? I don’t know why I said that!” Sebastian stumbled on. “My you are a young woman ... last time I saw you, you must have been eight, yes it was your eighth birthday and you insisted we call you Princess Lia, remember? But you are here now, that’s wonderful, did you have a good trip? Let’s get your bag.”
Sebastian reached for her suitcase drawing a breath for the first time. Then he stopped to look at her.
“You look like your mother.”
Ophelia smiled, it was the first time I had seen her smile in the whole month I had been studying her. “Hello Uncle Sebastian. I remember you now,” she said.
Sebastian grinned; he looked pleased and kind of embarrassed, running his hand through his hair. He pushed his thin, silver framed glasses further up his nose.
“I’m sure I haven’t changed,” he shrugged. “There’s a big difference between eight and sixteen-years-of-age, but not much difference between thirty-five and forty-three except some grey hairs and maybe some weight gain—have I put on weight? Yes I’m sure I have. Come then, let’s go home. Well to my home, your home now too. I hope you will make it your home, Lia, you are welcome, very welcome. Do you still call yourself Lia? It’s much easier than saying Ophelia.”
I saw tears well in her impossibly huge eyes and she smiled at him.
‘Lia is fine, and I’ll call you Uncle Seb instead of Sebastian then?”
“Indeed yes or just Seb,” he agreed. “Of course you’ll meet Adam tonight, he couldn’t come to meet you, he’s at work. I did tell you about Adam didn’t I? He’s a boarder; his parents are nomads ... took off as soon as he finished school.”
Sebastian turned and walked towards the footpath where three cars were parked: a sporty little dark green Jaguar, a red 4WD and an old cream-coloured Rover. Ophelia blinked away her tears and headed towards the Rover; it looked like the type of car her uncle would drive, I would have put my money on that one too. But instead, he went to the red 4WD. Ophelia’s eyes lit up and Sebastian noticed.
He laughed. “You thought I was in the dodgy Rover did you? Well, you would be right normally, but this is a company car, a tax benefit,” he shrugged and opened the door for her. Ophelia slid in and waited as Sebastian put the suitcase in the back and slid into the driver’s side. “I’m on the road a bit with my work; I have to drive to the surrounding areas and often inland. Plus, the dogs like to get in the back. I love dogs. Do you like dogs? I have two, Argo and Agnes, from the same litter. They run the house really; Adam and I are just allowed to stay with them.”
“I like their names,” Ophelia got a word in.
“They’re named after ships, of course. The
was a 17-ton wooden cutter actually built in Port Fairy where we’re heading, but it was wrecked on Portland beach in a storm in 1883. We’ll go visit Portland, it’s not far. The
or as it was actually called the
Margaret and Agnes
, arrived in Portland Bay in 1852 when it was blown ashore. It lost all its cargo—potatoes, flour and bran. Imagine all that coming to shore or sinking?” He shook his head. “ There are lots of shipwrecks in the area, that’s why I’m here, of course,” Sebastian looked towards Ophelia, before pulling away from the curb.
Sebastian talked way too much, not surprising he was a bachelor.
“Your mother said I talk too much,” he said as if reading my thoughts.
“Being a researcher I don’t talk to many people with my work, sometimes none all week—not one— unless I’m getting groceries or the petrol, so she used to say that I use up as many words as I can when I meet a person,” he stopped for breath. “The point of that story is that you must butt in if you want to get a word in because I’m not sure if I’ll run out of words or if I’ll talk like this always.”
Ophelia smiled and then she began to laugh. A smile and a laugh in one day, things were looking up. Sebastian turned towards her and grinned, then her laugh became infectious and they both laughed until tears ran down their cheeks.
Ophelia was crying for her mother and father, and for new beginnings.
I couldn’t wait until she met me—that would change her life, for the better.
I was lucky I guess, it was a pretty area. Along the way, Uncle Seb kept pointing sites out to me. So many green pastures, filled with black and white cows grazing that resembled the small ones that were in the toy farm sets. On the top of the rises were the occasional farm homes drinking in the ocean views. We came into Port Fairy itself; the little seaside cottages were sweet, some were timber like my home—my former home—and others were stone that Uncle Seb called bluestone. We drove through the town and I spotted a little house just like my old home—timber with a bullnose veranda. It looked as though a strong gale from the ocean would topple it, but the bluestone houses with their iron lacework were solid, there to stay.
Uncle Seb drummed his hands on the steering wheel; I think he was more nervous of me than I was of him, moving city, State and leaving my friends behind. All I wanted to see was his house, my new home. We drove towards the ocean.
“Almost there,” he said reading my mind. “In fact you can see it now in the distance.” He leaned down, looked through the windscreen, and pointed up the road to the top of a rise. “There she is”.
“Seriously?” I breathed out.
He gave me a concerned look trying to read if I was enthusiastic about the house or freaking out. It stood alone on the horizon—in front of it, the ocean curled in-and-out, beating on the rocks that framed either side of the house. Further up the road was a smattering of houses. The road to it was winding but the house stuck out from its neighbours.
“That one there? On the rise?” I asked him.
“Yep, that one there. The only one there,” he smiled with a glance in my direction. He steered the car along the winding road; the house falling in and out of sight.
“It’s ... amazing. Will it blow off or wash away in a gale?”
Uncle Seb laughed. “It hasn’t yet, although there was one time I had to evacuate. She’s a beauty isn’t she? Been in our family for many, many years, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to afford a house and land with ocean views here, these days. But when my great grandfather bought it—our great grandfather, although you get one extra ‘great’ I believe being a younger generation. Anyway when he bought it this area was not as trendy as it is now of course.”
“Trendy?” I turned to face Uncle Seb. Maybe, just maybe, I hadn’t come from the city to the backwater.
“Yep. Only three hours from Melbourne and the place has been taken over by city dwellers who want to escape here for a weekend. It’s packed in summer.” He shook his head as though the world was moving too fast for him. “Did I tell you we’ve got Wi-Fi at home? I work from the home office a lot, so it might look like a sleepy little town to a city girl, but everything is wired and reachable ... if you want it to be.”
Things were looking up. Uncle Seb’s voice dropped. “I love the house; she has a bit of a sad story attached to her, I’ll tell you one day, but she looks after me, Argo and Agnes. Of course Adam is rarely there—he starts work early and wanders in for dinner at dusk. But if you are lonely, you can borrow the car anytime you like, I don’t go out that often for work, just down to the maritime museum, the one in Warrnambool, but when I do have to go out for work, I’m often away for a few days at a time.”
“I don’t have my licence, yet, I’m not old enough to drive.” I think Uncle Seb might be truly clueless about teenagers.
“Really?” Sebastian frowned. “I must be thinking of France where they drive really young. Oh well, you can take the bus or train to Melbourne and there’s a push bike in the shed for getting around locally. Plus the bus goes right past the bottom of the driveway if you wait near the letterbox and wave it down. Wave early though—Reg, the driver is not as young as he used to be or perhaps he’s just colour-blind and can’t see you if you are wearing a red jumper against the red letterbox.”
“Right, wave early,” I repeated after him. I checked out Uncle Seb at close range. If he had a makeover he would scrub up okay. He was tall and handsome in a geeky sort of way. Mum always said he was eccentric but Dad was less flattering of Mum’s side of the family—saying Uncle Sebastian was from a strange gene pool.
“Can I ask you a question?” I broached the subject of his love life. Might as well get it out there.
“Of course, anything,” he said, taking another corner a bit too fast.
“Do you have a girlfriend or wife or boyfriend?” I thought I had better cover the whole range.
“Nope. None of those. I like women, but I don’t really have time or seem to meet women,” he said. “I’m not so big on people ... not you of course ... other people ... I’ve just never been one for the company of many,” he steered the car along the long beachside road.
I nodded. “I get that. Mum and Dad ... they were party people; we never had an empty house. I’m okay with my own company.”
I saw the house come closer in view now; huge and rambling. Along the top level were two huge panoramic windows and on the level below, a single door looked like a mouth—a house with a surprised expression. The timber boards were bare; paint may have once adorned them but the house was stripped by wind and salt air. The nearest house was behind and at the end of the road, where three small properties edged along the roadside.
“We’re here,” Uncle Seb said turning into a winding driveway.
As we neared the house, I could see two huge dogs sitting like statues on either side of the front door.
“Wow, they’re huge!” I exclaimed.
Uncle Seb smiled like a proud parent. “They won’t eat you. That’s Argo and Agnes—Great Danes, a fine breed. They weigh about 65 kilograms each those two, much more than you, but they’re a very gentle breed, and very loyal. Did you know that dogs resembling the Great Dane can be traced back to monuments in Egypt dating back to 3000 BC? The breed originated in Germany, lots of good things come out of Germany ... cars for one and ...” he stopped. “Sorry, I’m ranting again. You must pull me up. We should develop a codeword for that, for pulling me up. Anyway, I always leave the back door open for them, but they like to look at the sea. What word can you use to stop me raving ... I’ll think on it.”
The two dogs came alive, their massive tails wagging.
“Your welcoming party,” Sebastian said. He pulled the car into one of the carports and cut the engine.
The dogs bounded towards him and he greeted them enthusiastically. “Now Agnes, Argo, allow me to introduce our new member of the household, this is Miss Ophelia Montague. You may call her Lia, I’m sure.”
They approached me enthusiastically. I held out my hand to each dog, allowing them to inhale my scent and patted them hello. I looked up at the house and around.
This was going to be my new home.
I watched Ophelia and Sebastian as they stood outside the large house—two levels and an attic. She looked so tiny framed by Sebastian, the dogs and with the house towering above her. Her arrival went better than I thought; perhaps Sebastian’s endless banter proved a good distraction. And then the house wailed.
She looked up, eyes wide with surprise, if they could be any larger.
“That’s the house welcoming you,” Sebastian told her.
“It is wailing!” she exclaimed.
“It does howl, but with delight most times,” Sebastian assured her. He turned, looked out to the ocean and inhaled. “Lovely.”
I swear that man has salt water in his veins.
Ophelia turned to look too and I saw it—she shuddered. It was going to make my job much harder. I tried to see it from her perspective: the ocean went for as far as the eye could see in front and on the sides of the house. It grew darker in colour quickly, showing off its depth and the waves crashed into the shore and rocks not far from their front door.
“I like the rocks,” she said.
I stored that fact away.
“Me too, I love to climb amongst them,” Sebastian said. “Be careful though, the tide can come in quickly and sweep you off. Your mother would be very pleased I remembered to give you that warning.” He looked satisfied with himself.
“Have people died from being washed off the rocks?” Ophelia asked.
“Oh yes, many,” he said, and gazed out to sea. He said nothing for close to a minute, the longest time he had stopped talking yet. And then he continued. “But the little rock pools can be delightful. In summer you can sit in some of the little wading pools and cool off. Now let me show you around,” he said and grabbing her red suitcase from the car, headed inside with Ophelia and the dogs in pursuit.
I stayed behind as Sebastian began to show Ophelia her new home, her new life. I would have to teach her to love the sea—no easy task. First though, I had to choose the best time to meet her so my life could begin.
“I hope you like your level,” Uncle Seb said.
“My level?” I thought I had misheard him.
“Oh yes, unless you get lonely, but I assumed being a young woman you would want your own space and to have a friend or friends around eventually or to play a bit of music or just do whatever young people do these days ... twittering, internet, Facebook. Agnes likes to have her own places too that are off limits to the boys, don’t you Aggie?” he stroked the white Great Dane with the brown ears and speckles. She nodded in agreement. “She may share with you as you are both girls. You travel light for a female.”
I looked at my red case. “I guess. I just ... I couldn’t decide whether to bring a lot of memories or move on.”
Sebastian nodded his understanding. “Adam was living upstairs but when we heard you were coming, he moved downstairs and took the other side of the house.”
“Oh, sorry, is he cranky?” I asked.
“Not at all,” Uncle Seb assured me. “He’s not here much, besides he didn’t want girl germs,” he said with a wink. “Right then,” he led the way to the front door, which wasn’t locked, but required a good shove to open.
“The salt air,” he explained. “Some days the windows and doors open easily, other days they don’t. Don’t take it personally; I know the house is happy to have another woman present.”
I laughed at the notion, and then began to wonder ... Dad always said Uncle Seb was eccentric, downright weird really. I followed him inside, Argo and Agnes trailed behind and the door closed itself. Must be a breeze somewhere.
I couldn’t believe the size of Uncle Seb’s house as I wandered through; it was enormous and sparse. It was weird but it did feel like a person—a female—and I felt kind of protected inside her. In the entrance way prisms of light danced around the floor from stained glass porthole windows in the ceiling.
“I love this,” I told Uncle Seb and turned in circles following the lights.
The two dogs followed me around as I twirled and Uncle Seb grinned at the site of the three of us in a circle dance.
“Come, we’ll have a tour,” he said, and removed his coat, taking mine as well and hanging them on a coat rack near the door.
In front of the entrance hallway where we stood, a huge timber staircase ran up the middle of the room. Uncle Seb moved to it and placed my red suitcase on the bottom step.
To the left was a large living room with endless ocean views and a kitchen behind it. The living room featured a large iron fireplace in the corner with an equally large rug and two couches, one on each side. His and her couches—Uncle Seb and I might never see each other.
“The living area,” he pointed to the area left of where we stood, then continued through the living room to the open plan kitchen which looked a bit like the galley on a ship—completely white or faded white now, bits and pieces hung from the ceiling, the benches were bare and not a bowl, a piece of fruit or a plate to be seen.
“Kitchen,” he announced.
Sebastian strode back out of the kitchen, through the living room and then crossed the hallway to the room at the front of the house on the right.
“My office,” he announced.
“Oh my.” I stopped dead in the doorway. It too had doors opening onto the front timber deck and a stunning ocean view. It seemed every room and window did. Two long tables took pride of place in the centre of the room and a wide shelf ran around the room at desk height. On every spare surface, a model ship stood—old ships, modern ships, large and small ships, ships with sails, with steam engines and bits and pieces of model ships. The walls were adorned with drawings and paintings of ships and a bench stood near the window where a ship was currently being built.
“Ah yes, it’s my passion. Some might say obsession, but I love the history. They are all accurate models you know. One day if you are interested, I’ll introduce you to them all,” Uncle Seb said.
It made sense that Uncle Seb positioned his office here rather than have his bedroom at the front; he worked from home most of the time and his work was all about ships.
“Right, now for our bedrooms,” he said and showing incredible restraint he turned away from his office and moved out into the hallway again. I had to take two steps for every one of his. I caught up and followed as Uncle Seb walked under the staircase towards the back of the house, pushing open a door on the left and a door on the right as he walked. I glanced in each room; they were enormous and had huge windows that looked further up the coast with endless water views from both sides of the house. In each room, a king size bed featured along with a couch and still there was room to move.