Daughter Of Conwy – Episode 09

“There really is nothing to worry about,” Merlyn called, pulling herself upright. Her ribs were bruised and it felt as if the breath had been knocked from her body. The Daughter Of Conwy swayed, turning this way and that with the outgoing tide. The paddle next to her hung motionless; the engine was silent. Around her, murmurs of alarm were growing from the passengers.

“We will be on our way in a minute or so,” she added hastily.

“The tide is always very strong here,” Iona put in.

She met Merlyn’s eyes. They both knew that, dragged helplessly in the tidal race, the paddle steamer would not stand a chance if it crashed into the pillars of Mr Telford’s road bridge. With the rush of water so strong, any passenger flung into the river would be sucked under or swept out to sea.

The woman next to Iona clutched two small children to her and began to cry. Iona gently lifted the boy in her arms, a look of determination on her face as they braced themselves for the screech of wood and the chill of the water.

“We’ll be back on our way soon,” Merlyn repeated, steadying an elderly woman as the boat swerved towards the bank.

A loud rattling reached her ears, followed by a chug and a chunter. Merlyn fought the urge to shut her eyes and pray. That would not help the passengers, nor Taid, battling to save them all in the engine room.

“We are all perfectly safe.”

A rumble shook the boat. Was it her imagination, or was the race beginning to slow? The rumble came again, louder this time. Beside her, the great paddle began to turn – first slowly, hesitantly, then faster. The boat steadied and turned back to face the river head on.

“There, you see,” Merlyn said as the paddle steamer began to make her way upstream once more.

A burst of applause went round the little deck, followed by the loud chatter of voices. The boat moved steadily, the paddles gaining their rhythm. As calm was restored and the passengers took their places to watch the scenery once more, Merlyn made her way as quickly as she could towards the engine room.

As she reached the door, she paused for a moment to soothe the anxiety from her face and steady the shaking of her legs.

“There you are, Mr Griffiths, that should keep her steady for now.”

Merlyn blinked into the gloom. David Ross, hat and jacket flung to one side, was hunched over the controls.

“I’ll get one of my engineers to have a look over for you tonight, just to check if there might be any more problems.”

“I don’t want to put you to any more trouble,” Owain muttered.

“It’ll be no trouble,” came the voice of Mr Stephenson from the far side. “Ross is right. A couple of the men have worked on paddle steamers in Liverpool. I know Carlton has worked on them all his life. If there are any problems, Carlton will find them. It’s the least we can do.”

“Very well. Thank you. I thought I’d got to know this engine inside out. Clearly not, it seems. It would give me peace of mind to know a true expert had looked it over it, too.”

“Good.” David Ross straightened, cleaning his hands on a rag. “I’ll speak to them as soon as we return.” He glanced up.

“I came to see if everything was all right,” Merlyn said.

Without his jacket, David Ross was less severe, and younger than she had at first imagined.

“As right as rain, cariad,” Owain replied. “Thanks to Mr Ross and Mr Stephenson.”

“It was Ross you had to thank,” Stephenson replied. “I’ve never seen a man move so fast! You and he had the thing in hand, Mr Griffiths, before I had even arrived.”

“I hope the passengers weren’t too alarmed?” David Ross appeared slightly embarrassed at such praise.

“They are happy now. Miss Tudor was very helpful in calming them down. They are all back to watching the view. I don’t think any of them had any real idea of the danger they were in.”

Ross shrugged on his jacket and reached for his hat, with every sign of accompanying Merlyn back on deck. She glanced past him. Taid and Mr Stephenson were deep in conversation over the finer points of the engine’s function, and already moving on to the intricacies of building the span of a bridge with sufficient strength to take any number of locomotives. Taid seemed to have forgotten already that he was speaking to the men responsible for their loss of livelihood and all their troubles.

Merlyn straightened her shoulders. Mr Ross might show every sign of wishing to hold her in conversation, but she had no desire to return the favour. The less she knew of him, she suspected, the safer she would be.

“I’d better go and see to the passengers,” she muttered, scurrying back on deck.

Alan Spink

I am a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. I enjoy working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, I also write fiction and enjoy watching football and movies in my spare time. My one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.