Chapter 1: 1

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 882

Darkness. It is the start and end of everything, sometimes comforting, sometimes filled with despair. Before we are born, not a single ray of light reaches us, whereas death causes the light that surrounds us to fade to black. From darkness I awoke to look into the eyes of the one who would later lock me away, leave me behind surrounded by shadows – But without darkness there can be no light.

__________________________________________________________________________

still far away from the dazzling lights that filled London´s ballrooms, I spent day by day watching the great dark river whose water carried ships from strange, far-away countries past our little red brick house. Standing on the tips of my tiny toes I would patiently check every single day for months on end until an excited shriek would escape my lips: Our brother had finally returned from !

Taking two steps at a time I hurried down the wooden stairs to greet him, once again letting pictures from deep within my imagination appear before my inner eye: Would his stories match a young girl´s daydreams of that miraculous, endless country where dark-skinned men rode on towering beasts, where the plants formed a concert of colours and scents and where surely nobody had ever tried a good English biscuit? And most importantly: What would he bring back with him from this fascinating world? Such thoughts occupied my mind, maybe a little too much, when suddenly I was being pushed aside by a pair of small, pale hands. Catching myself on the wall, I saw Rebeccas head of blonde hair escape through the door. I figured I would get my revenge on her later and followed her hastily. If she was to carry out her villainies unseen I would surely do the same. There she stood in her blue dress, courting Henry´s attention in hopes for the best gift. As the I was I naturally did the same and in that we followed him into the house begging him for just a tiny little hint on what he was carrying under that old, ragged blanket. He greeted our parents heartily and, as usual when any event differed from the daily grind in the slightest, our mother seemed quite close to fainting from „excitement“. That was what she called it. „Excitement“. Hysterical was what I named it, not knowing how much I would wish I had never known that word one day. That ugly, sinister word.
We all sat down around the dining table, us sisters staring like hungry wolves at the little bundle that he had now placed in the middle for everyone to see, the blanket still covering it. I was entirely sure I would burst if Henry made us wait any longer.

finally he revealed the treasures he had found for us on his trip to the Indies. I do not even remember what mother and father had gotten as a most irritating noise distracted me. Rebecca had grabbed a small cage in which a tiny, green bird was now fearing for its life, rather screaming than singing as she pressed her face against the bars, her nostrils squeezed together by two of them.
I chose to ignore her, now leaning over the table myself to see what was left for me. And my brother had certainly not disappointed me! Maria Mordaunt was now the proud owner of a beautiful little jewelry box. The lid was covered with complicated red and blue ornaments that I followed with my fingers repeatedly. The smile on my face did not quite seem to disappear until I had finally fallen asleep that night, one of my little hands holding onto the box that I had put on a wooden chair right next to me.

The next morning until breakfast my sister and I spent next to the fireplace, us children sitting on the floor together while Henry sat in a chair in front of us like a king on his throne. And that he was to us. The king of adventure, the king of stories. His voice took us to that otherwise unreachable place with him, allowed us to explore just like he had done. Elephants, forests and temples, it all came to life with every word our brother spoke. We enjoyed the time we had with him and dreaded the day he would leave us again. Mother´s shrill voice shattered our dream world, made us return to reality almost painfully quick. The maid had helped her to create a most impressive meal, another great advantage of having Henry, whom they tried to please after having been gone for so long, home in London. Delighted, Rebecca and I looked back and forth between cakes, toast, and of hot chocolate and tea. Father´s expression hardened as he watched us girls. He likely knew it would not take us long to get into another fight – and right he was. Some of our blonde hair would have ended up ripped out, her light one next to my reddish streaks, had he not ended this conflict with a glare before either of us could raise a hand. We respected this man who could be so very kind and seemed to know the solution to every problem a person could face. The turmoils of life had made him the way he was known to us: Despite being loving he expected the same discipline he had been forced to have since his early childhood. And the look in his eyes alone had the desired effect: Both his daughters had taken a seat in no time, now miraculously peaceful as two lambs.

The days flew by and before we knew what was happening Henry was preparing to get back onto his ship. Mother cried and so did we children as we wished him a safe travel. Everyone in our outwardly safe city had heard one story or another about the dangers of a long journey on sea and of course the stay in this unpredictable country that he had decided to work in. How often had mother tried to convince him to find a safer occupation closer to the place of his birth – and how often had she failed? It seemed that in this matter Henry was more hardheaded than she was.
No matter how often he had told me that such supposed dangers were nothing but a childish fantasy, a product of my yet untamed imagination, I could not help but wonder if maybe, just maybe the true danger was not storms or diseases, but sea monsters and witches that he had just not caught sight of so far. Whatever danger he would have to face I trusted my brother would be able to overcome. The world was full of luck and happiness for a child like me when innocence still shielded my heart from the evils of reality. We waved Henry goodbye as his ship grew smaller and smaller until it was finally out of sight. Every once in a while he would return, bringing new souvenirs with him, and the wooden shelf above my bed slowly grew cluttered with most curious objects: Next to the box there were eggshells that, in their original state, would have formed an egg larger than my own head, a piece of ivory that someone had carved a picture of a ship into and many more things that I diligently kept free from dust. I held my treasures very dear in the years of my childhood, but the one that followed me into adulthood 
was the little painted box that had been given to me.

 

Shadwell, the district we lived in, resembled an adventure playground to us children. Piles of wood were the houses in our games, jute sacks the beds. Mother could warn us as much as she wanted and anxiously lock the door behind her as often as she pleased, we loved that place. We loved the ships that carried the smells of faraway places, we loved the different tongues that were spoken all around us, mixed and turned into a muffled murmur, resembling the sound of waves at sea. This alone distinguished the parish from Soho and Mayfair whose sounds were harsh and unpleasant.

In our home, taverns and breweries lay there wall to wall, their owners greeting us with a smile whenever we passed their establishments. Those were a harbor for lost souls whose ships had already reached theirs. The smoke from the chimneys of all the workshops that produced for theseafaring made everything seem weirdly grey, supporting the general impression of hopelessness. Drunk sailors would cross your way all too often, forgetting every hint of modesty. After a little walk, however, the gloomy streets turned into beautiful nature that no one would have suspected anywhere near London. We spent wonderful days having picnics out there in the countryside, especially if our parents let us buy some biscuits in one of the bakeries beforehand. It was a most curious thing that happened to people who left the city: While surrounded by it everyone just attended to their daily business, only ever reacting to what the endless rows of houses, people and carriages put in their way. But once their feet touched green, lush grass, people seemed as if a heavy weight had been taken from them. They were delivered from a prison that they´d later return to way too readily. If anyone consciously noticed I do not know. Maybe this was only for philosophers and children - or a lunatic. 

 


Submitted: September 27, 2017

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