A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 31

The main characters from the serial, including Millicent and Reginald, and Miss Lucinda, with a ship on stormy seas in the background.

The storm was violent. Wind and rain lashed their bodies and the waves rose and fell with sickening force, battering the ship and, at times, surmounting the parapet.

Alice was soaked to the skin, her hair plastered to her round face.

She had wanted to keep her mistress below, but Jenkin and Rawson had cautioned against it.

They had said nothing, but she had seen the looks they exchanged and feared the ship was in danger.

She looked around desperately, but all she could see was the grey sky, rent now and then by a streak of lightning, and the darker waters churning and tossing them around like a toy.

There was no land in sight.

Her mistress had never looked so dishevelled. Her hat had long since blown away and her long hair had worked loose.

She had tied it in a simple knot to stop it flying wildly. She was shivering and sick and Alice was worried for her.

At least tending to Miss Lucinda gave her thoughts some welcome direction away from their imminent peril.

It was hard to be heard above the roar of wind and water, and Alice had lapsed into silence, offering up prayers internally as she rubbed her mistress’s back and held her hand.

The two manservants stood to one side, deep in conversation.

They were shouting at each other, but their words were whipped away and Alice had no idea what they were saying.

Every now and then they pointed to the side of the boat or at the horizon.

Alice began to pace in a futile attempt to calm her fears.

It was then it happened.

A craggy rock reared above the surface. There was a tremendous crack, a splintering, and the boat lurched sideways.

She was flung to the deck, her heart pounding. Had her time come?

Alice’s mind flooded with images of little Thomas – sleeping sweetly in his crib, taking his first steps . . .

She wiped her eyes and tried to rise, then felt a pair of arms around her.

It was Jenkin, but she struggled to break free, looking about frantically for Miss Lucinda.

She was lifted into the air and carried towards the side of the boat, amidst shrieks of fear.

To her relief, she saw her mistress already in a lifeboat, a blanket around her and Rawson at her side.

“It will be all right, Alice. I’ve got you.” Jenkin lifted her in beside her mistress and wrapped her in a blanket.

He climbed in next to her, saying nothing but keeping his arms around her, holding her as the boat was lowered into the water, swinging precariously on its ropes.

She closed her eyes and buried her face in his shoulder.

The huge ship behind them creaked and groaned as it shifted and sank further.

People shouted and whistles were blown, but were any other vessels near enough to hear them?

She shuddered as the waves caught and tossed their tiny craft.

Miss Lucinda groaned.

“Why didn’t I reply?” she said hopelessly. “Millicent might never know how sorry I am.”

Alice took her hand.

“Miss Dumas wrote, and your sister knows how much you love her.”

Lucinda nodded.

“As does Thomas.”

She looked Alice in the eye and it was all she could do to nod in return.

Her darling boy. What if she never saw him again?

She felt Jenkin’s arms tighten around her and was grateful for their comfort and strength.

They sat silently for a time as the storm howled around them.

Water was tossed inside the boat and the men set to bailing it out.

How could they come through this? Alice closed her eyes and prayed. She felt rigid with cold and fear.

After ten more minutes, however, the worst of the storm seemed to be abating. The wind dropped and the waves were less violent.

Jenkin leaned forwards and whispered in her ear.

“Alice, if we come through this, I want to marry you. I truly love you. I don’t care about the past. I would very much like to care for a son.”

She froze. She couldn’t have heard that right. She must be delirious.

She shook her head.

“Alice,” he continued. “Ain’t no-one making me do this. Miss Lucinda only told me what happened so as I could understand.

“I were set on marrying you anyway. I couldn’t be happy without you. You’re all I could ask for.”

She turned to him in amazement.

“You really want to marry me?”

“Yes, Alice. I love you.”

This time she could see that what she had taken for pity and anxiety was concern for her and fear of rejection.

There was no doubting the love in his eyes.

She stared at her feet. Her heart was too full to reply, but her freezing hand stole into his and she heard him sigh with relief.

A smile lifted the corners of her lips. She couldn’t believe that someone loved her, wanted to marry her and care for Thomas.

Suddenly there was a crash of thunder and Alice looked up as an enormous wave reared its crested head high above their craft.

She began to pray.

To be continued…

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