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Authors: Alexis Harrington

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BOOK: The Irish Bride
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She realized that she was warm because
she lay nestled against Aidan’s side with her head pillowed on his
chest and his arm looped around her waist, a fact that made itself
plain when he came awake with a start as well. Hastily, she moved
away and sat up. Her skirt had wound itself around her legs and she
freed them, then pulled her shawl closer to her
shoulders.


What’re they saying, then?”
Aidan asked, instantly alert. He was only a dark silhouette in the
feeble light of the ship’s few lamps.

She tried to see beyond his shape
where crewmen scurried. “God above, I think someone has fallen into
the sea.”


Jesus.” Instinctively, he
crossed himself, then pushed his dark hair off his brow and stood.
He held out his hand to help Farrell to her feet, and they went to
the railing. But there was only a scrap of moon, and the stars were
overlaid by a gauzy film of clouds. They didn’t provide enough
light to see much. Another gurgling cry sounded, faint and
indistinct.


Can ye see anything?” she
asked, her fist at her chest. “Can you see the poor soul?” How much
more fragile life seemed when cast into an immense expanse of black
water.

Closer to the bow, life buoys and a
crate splashed into the water. Aidan still held her hand in his, a
strong, warm hand that gave her odd comfort, and instinctively she
squeezed it, her fear momentarily overriding her desire to keep her
distance from him. Around them, the other passengers asleep on deck
woke up, confused, asking questions, speculating.


Lord save us, someone’s
gone into the ocean.”


A passenger?”


I don’t know. Maybe it’s
that poor old Paddy Hannigan. He’s been so seasick, he’s spent most
of these past six days hanging over the railing and—”


Bring her up into the
wind!” came an order shouted from the first mate, Mr. Quisenberry.
He stood on the quarterdeck, barking commands over the frightened
murmuring of other passengers. “Haul up the mainsail! Brace aback
the after yards!”

All the nautical talk
sounded like a foreign language to Farrell, but replies of
aye-aye
were followed by
the slap of feet running across the deck and ship’s hands
scrambling up the rigging.

With some adjustment of the sails, the
ship began to slow her headway. Two crewmen clambered into a boat
and were lowered to the ocean to pull the hapless victim aboard.
Lantern light from the little rescue craft bobbed on the waves like
a fairy’s magical glow over the peat bogs back home. A crewman held
the lamp at arm’s length as they searched the swells.

The men in the boat circled the ship
several times and backtracked over its wake while passengers
watched anxiously from the rail. Farrell never took her eyes off
the little light. But after a half-hour, Mr. Quisenberry called the
boat back in. “More than twenty minutes in that icy water would
freeze the divil himself.”

Captain McCorry had turned out at the
first alarm, but Quisenberry was handling the matter. After a bit
of investigating, it was determined that the ship’s cook, a kindly
bulldog of a man from Liverpool known simply as Doctor, had gotten
drunk and fallen from the fantail. He’d been generally well-liked,
always ready with a joke or a smile.


Oh, no,” Farrell mourned,
still clinging to Aidan’s hand. “Not Doctor. Please, God keep him.”
For the moment, she was grateful that Aidan, solid and steadfast,
stood with her, someone from whom to draw strength and
courage.

McCorry, who didn’t hold with the crew
drinking at sea, declared that he would have keelhauled the man
himself if he hadn’t drowned. “Aye, well, it’s one less mouth to
feed. Let that be a lesson to any seaman who might be entertainin’
the notion of having a wee nip. The fishes’ll be havin’ him for
tea.” He added tersely, “I’m back to my bunk, and I don’t mean to
be disturbed again this night.”

Quisenberry said nothing but when
McCorry left the quarterdeck, his tight expression spoke for
him.

Those passengers who’d witnessed the
proceedings huddled together by the gunwale amidships and grumbled
among themselves about the captain’s attitude. He treated them as
human cargo and this was just another example of his lack of
feeling.


Will ye listen to that?”
Farrell whispered to Aidan. “Could he not say a word for the poor
man’s soul? You’d think he’s the Holy Trinity rolled into one to
hear him talk so!” She clapped her hand to her mouth, aghast at her
own blasphemy.

Aidan lifted a brow. “I imagine you’ll
feel the need to be sayin’ a few Our Fathers for that bit. But,
aye, ye’re right about McCorry.” His face hardened in the low
light, and the shadows around his eyes seemed to grow darker. “He’s
no better than the landlords back home, working people like
animals, without a single care for what happens to them. May they
all rot in hell for their cruel ways.”

An awkward silence fell between them.
They had both made a point of avoiding the subject of Michael’s
death since they left Skibbereen, but now it rose between them like
a ghost.

Farrell realized then that she was
clutching his hand like a frightened child. When she tried to
disengage her fingers, he tightened his grip. Her heart froze in
her chest as their gazes locked. She was his wife, after all. If he
was of a mind to touch her, had the right. She could object but
would it do any good?

At last, he shrugged and loosened his
hold. “The first mate seems to be a decent enough man, at
least.”

While Alfred Quisenberry did indeed
seem to be a gentleman, as did Charles Morton, the second mate, the
ship’s master was as crude and rough as he’d first appeared during
their meeting in The Rose and Anchor. He’d promised nothing fancy,
and it was a promise he’d kept.

They’d been at sea for six days, and
so far had not seen another ship. The first night out, there had
been music and dancing in steerage. Some of the men played jigs on
pipes and fiddles, and another had produced a keg of good, stout
porter. An air of hope and anticipation had radiated from the
passengers. Yes, they were leaving Ireland, dear as she was, but
they were bound for a new land, a new start, where it was said that
every man had a chance to make something of himself.

The merriment hadn’t lasted long.
Seasickness had claimed nearly everyone, including Farrell. Aidan,
on the other hand, had not been troubled at all by what one
passenger called mal de mer. In fact, he’d been quite unruffled by
the ordeal, but he’d been surprisingly attentive to her.
Fortunately, she’d managed to get her sea legs after a day or two.
Others were not so lucky, and many of them, already weakened by
hunger and poor health, could do nothing but lie on their hard,
narrow bunks and suffer.

After almost a week at sea, the foul
odors of illness, spilled slop buckets, and close-packed bodies
made life unbearable in steerage. If they closed the hatches, the
air became so thick and fetid, no one could breathe. But when left
open in bad weather, rain and seawater washed across the deck and
down into the hold, contributing to the wretchedness. The crew
manned pumps but that only kept the quarters from
flooding.

So Farrell, Aidan, and the other
passengers who were able, remained on the crowded deck rather than
descend into the miserable conditions below. Unless rain prevented
it, they slept outside, too.


Come on, lass. Let’s try to
get more rest before the sun rises over us. There’s naught to do
for that poor wretch now.”

Farrell followed Aidan back to their
blankets on deck with a heavy heart. When she lay down, she was
careful to leave a foot of space between them.

And tried to forget how nice it had
felt to rest against him.

* * *


Tell me, Mrs. O’Rourke,
could ye be givin’ me a piece of bread for me wife? I know that the
captain says as how we’re not allowed more than our ration, but
it’s the seasickness she’s had for days now. The bread seems to
help.” Ryan Dougherty spoke to Farrell in a low voice.

Farrell stood at the ship’s stove in
the galley, passing out today’s menu, boiled potatoes, from the
galley doorway. Barely two weeks at sea and she’d found herself
working as ship’s cook for a shilling and six pence. “The chamomile
didn’t help, then?” She had made a tea for the ailing Mrs.
Dougherty from supplies she found in the medicine chest, which was
also kept in the galley.

Dougherty’s face was typical of so
many she’d left behind in Ireland. He could have been any age
between thirty and sixty, but weather, worry, and hard times had
seamed his features like a walnut shell. “Och, aye, some it did.
But bread is all she can keep down.”

She nodded, glanced at the passengers
lined up behind Dougherty and searched for any crew members that
might be loitering about. McCorry was strict about how much food
was allotted each passenger. The captain and his mates, however,
enjoyed chicken and salted beef and pork along with their potatoes
and bread, and an occasional orange or lime to guard against
scurvy. She tucked a piece of bread under the potatoes on the plate
Dougherty had given her and handed it back to him. “Keep this to
yourself,” she whispered. “I’ll come down to see how she’s faring
later on.”


D’ye think your man might
be having a word with Captain
Stoneheart
to let the ailing have a
little extra? O’Rourke seems to get on with him a bit, though how I
don’t know. St. Patrick himself couldn’t reason with that serpent’s
get.”

Her man
. Farrell tightened her grip on the big cooking spoon. How odd
that Aidan, whom she’d known only for fighting and flirting, had
become the intermediary between the crew and the passengers. “I’ll
ask him, Mr. Dougherty.”

He nodded his thanks and Farrell went
on spooning up potatoes to the hungry. The menu onboard offered no
more than the one back home. Some days they had oatmeal, some days
rice, which was barely enough to keep body and soul together. Most
passengers had brought no other provisions with them and were
forced to make do with what she dished out.

After the cook drowned, McCorry had
put a cabin boy to the task, but although the fare was exceedingly
plain and simple to prepare, the youth managed to destroy every
meal he touched. Since he also cooked for McCorry and the mates,
the captain’s patience had quickly run thin. When the boy had
nearly burned down the galley, he was sent back to his other
duties. McCorry had no other hands to spare, so he recruited among
the passengers for a cook, offering a shilling and sixpence, to be
paid at the end of the voyage. Aidan suggested the job to Farrell,
and when she agreed, he’d approached McCorry, insisting upon
receiving the money in advance. Surprisingly, the master
consented.


With a blackguard like him,
it’s best to have the coin in hand—ye might say,” Aidan had told
her with a sudden grin, after putting the money in the same hiding
place as the rest of their cash. Dougherty was right, Aidan
had
managed to win
McCorry’s grudging respect.

Farrell, who came from a land where
the fey people lurked in mists and shadows, had expected to feel
the dead cook’s presence in his galley, and perhaps his objection
to hers. But as she’d examined and handled the utensils and pots
and stores, no ghost came calling or complaining. Perhaps Doctor
had gone on peacefully to the next world. At least he didn’t seem
to mind that she tread on the one he’d left behind.

And she was glad for the work. The
galley was warm and out of the slashing rain and wind. Cooking kept
her busy and helped pass the time, which was filled with
mind-numbing boredom and occasional queasiness from sickening ocean
swells.

What she couldn’t forget were worries
about the people back home, and the questions rolled through her
mind like an ever-turning wheel. Were the families safe? she
wondered. Had Lord Cardwell given up his persecution when he
realized that she and Aidan were gone? Had Noel returned to
Greensward Manor after traveling to Cork?

Did Liam miss her? Had he come to
regret sending her away, or not coming with her?

Although she would be able write to
the family when they reached America, there would be no way to hear
from them or learn their fate for many months, perhaps even
years.

Worst of all, when she wasn’t fretting
over them, her thoughts turned to Aidan. She told herself it was
only natural that he came to mind, considering the circumstances of
their bond and her frequent contact with him. After all, there was
no place to escape to, really. She had only to gaze over the
passengers on deck and there he’d be, braw and a bit taller than
anyone else, a wee more wide through the shoulders, with a
straighter back and—

Disgusted with herself, she
flopped potatoes onto a tin plate passed to her by a wan, pregnant
young woman named Deirdre Connagher. Those without proper dishes
had brought along whatever they had at hand, since the
Mary Fiona
provided no
eating utensils. She’d seen all manner of items pressed into
service, including a barrel lid, a bodhrán, even
handkerchiefs.

BOOK: The Irish Bride
10.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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