This is part two of “Stories Of A Stewardess: A Bonnie Stowaway”.
Part one was featured in last week’s Fiction newsletter.
When the girl at last awakened out of the deep sleep into which she had fallen, she was surprised at her surroundings.
It was a somewhat difficult task to soothe her. She had evidently received a fright down in the hold, for her nerves were all unstrung.
Upon questioning her, I found my conjectures as to her presence on board the Sultana were quite correct. My kindness had been the chief magnet that drew her back to the ship, and trusting in it she decided to hide herself on board.
However, she had not bargained for the company of the rats, and she had been nearly scared to death before we found her.
Her story was a very sad, although by no means uncommon, one. Brought up in comfortable circumstance and well educated, she had been left friendless by the sudden death of her father.
The little money she inherited was gathered together, and she foolishly left her native home in Scotland to try to earn a livelihood in London.
The rest of her story was heartrending. In vain she tried to find employment. Her want of any specific training was against her. So daily growing poorer — daily becoming more and more wretched and down-hearted, she sank lower and lower, one little speck in the great seething human mass.
“I had wandered down to the docks,” she said, telling her story in even-measured tones. I think her want of emotion told how terribly she had suffered. It was as if she had exhausted all her energy, and had none left to waste in self-pity.
“I had wandered down to the docks, just because I had nowhere else to go. It was dark and foggy, and — the water looked so — you understand? Ah! But I couldn’t. I seemed to see mother’s face watching me, and I couldn’t pluck up nerve enough to do it.
“And then I saw the Sultana lying, and a sudden thought struck me. I would see if I couldn’t get a job on board as under-stewardess. And that is all; you know the rest.
“But,” she asked, suddenly, as a thought struck her, “will they punish me? I know I did very wrong. Will they do something very terrible to me?”
“That depends on Captain Steele,” I answered, laughing to hide my tears.
No one knows what passed between the skipper and the stowaway. She entered his cabin a pale, nervous creature; she came out of it radiant and smiling.
“Well, Bessie,” I asked her, “and what is to be your fate?”
“Oh, you dear old darling,” she cried, as she hugged me, “how ever can I thank you? I’m to be Mrs Pickering’s maid this voyage, just as you have arranged. And then I am to return with you, and Captain Steele says he will find something for me to do after that.”
In spite of my efforts to make her post as easy as possible, poor Bessie Spens found that her voyage out was not all unalloyed pleasure.
Mrs Pickering was no easy mistress to serve, and she kept the girl busy. But, although sometimes tired and dispirited, Bessie was on the whole a very sunny-hearted, contented girl.
Much to Mrs Pickering’s chagrin, she refused to accompany her up country, even although that estimable lady offered her a salary which was just about one-third of what she had been in the habit of giving.
It was during our stay in Calcutta then that I really saw the city. Captain Steele, Bessie and I together explored its strange streets and beautiful temples.
I’m an old maid, but, bless you, I wasn’t born one. I was young once upon a time. And, remembering this fact, I used to let my two companions often wander away alone, and wait until, penitent and a bit shame-faced, they rejoined me.
The old, old story sounds much the same, I suppose, in every land — sounds just as sweet under blue Eastern skies as amid the less brilliant English scenes in which I had listened to it years before.
Our homeward voyage was pleasant and uneventful. Bessie had found occupation in acting the part of mother’s help to a delicate Anglo-Indian lady who was taking her three little children home.
During the voyage she was prudence herself, and gave Mrs Grundy not the slightest food for talk.
The week before we reached home, she sat down beside me one evening.
“Well,” I asked, smiling, “what do you want now, puss?”
“I’m going to ask you something very terrible,” she said, as she buried her face in my lap.
“Stay,” I said, “I’ve got to ask something of you forst. Will you come home with me for a few days after we land?”
“Oh! You are good,” she cried. “Will you really let me stay with you until — until—”
“Until he comes for you. When is it to be?”
“As soon as ever Charlie can manage it,” she whispered, “but there are some tiresome formalities to be gone through first.
“And just guess where we are going afterwards? Yes, north. Back to my old home to see all my old friends. But what a witch you are for guessing!”
Three weeks later I stood wet-eyed, with a strange feeling of desolation in my heart, on the steps of a quiet little city church. As I gazed through my tears on the fast-receding cab that bore the happy couple away, I sent up a fervent prayer for their future happiness.
I’m not ashamed to own that I envied them both, although I never grudged them their happy lot. Even the handsome silk gown the skipper had made me a present of failed altogether to satisfy me.
“But God bless them both,” I said, as I turned to go home. “God bless our kindly skipper and his bonnie stowaway.”
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