Chapter 2.3

Henri noted the slight flush in Ryan’s cheeks when he mentioned Eliza’s name.

“So you no come see Henri last night anyhow.”

“I was coming down here to get you to come up to the music hall with me, then lunchtime Mr Higgins comes in and suddenly I’m  shaping, building hammering, sandpapering all night.”

Henri shook his violently, his pony tail whipping from one side to another. “Henri no go to music hall. Bad place for him.”

“Not if you were with me. I’ll look out for you Henri.”

“Why take Henri to music hall?”

“To show you Eliza.”

“Ha!” Henri bought his hand down on the table top and the tea set jumped.

“Ryan tired enough to tell Henri interesting things tonight. You like Missie Eliza.”

“I think so Henri. Did you ever, you know… like someone.”

“You ask if Henri ever think of marrying. Yes and no.”

“Were you ever married Henri?”

“Sadly no.” For the briefest moment, grief rippled through Henri’s sunny expression. “Henri never marry. If Henri married wife take care of tea and Henri and Ryan sit and talk, no worry about making tea.”

“Why didn’t you marry the woman you loved?”

“You assume Henri want to marry someone.”

“Of course you did. You are being cagey.”

“Cagey. Henri not understand.”

“When you come close to telling me something about yourself, something important or something you don’t exactly want to share… you talk around or away from it. So who was she Henri.”

“Henri meet Lily on the beach. Henri no free to marry Lily. Lily no free to marry Henri. So Henri choose no marry anyone.”

“But you’re free to marry someone now.”

“Henri too old to marry now. Henri set in his ways.”

“But you just said a wife would take care of us. I mean, you.”

“And wife also want Henri do stuff, Henri no want to do. Henri happy. Henri happier now Ryan here.”

“You must have other friends here.”

“Plenty customers. No friends.”

“Why not?”

“Henri no fit in. Bit like Ryan, eh?”

“I work too hard to make any proper friends.”

“Henri work hard too. But Henri and Ryan friends now. Proper friends.”

Henri poured more tea and then standing, stretched for a moment and went to an ornate set of drawers by the wall. Henri’s furniture fascinated Ryan… all the small drawers, the intricate carvings and inlays. When he had money he intended to ask Henri to find him a piece like the one he was at now, though it seemed an extravagance in his simple canvas home.

Henri lay an old book on the table, three ancient coins on the top, scraps of paper, a quill and ink.

“Book of Changes… Chinese book like bible. Time Ryan look through see truth.”

“What are you talking about Henri. I’m not interested in any Bible. I had enough of that with my mother.”

“No like Christian bible. Henri gift to you.”

“You’re giving me an old book and some odd coins.”

“No… Henri give  wisdom. Ryan ask question and flip coin six times. Book guide you.”

“I’m not sure Henri. I don’t think my mother would approve.”

Henri laughed. “You think devil in here.”

“My mother would. She believes it is the devil’s hand in cards, dice, palm reading… all that gypsy stuff.”

“No gyspy stuff. No devil. Just wisdom. Chinese long tim use Book of Changes. Bring new perspective. You need new perspective.”

“I need sleep.”

Ryan began to rise and Henri’s hand shot out to hold him down.

“You sit and listen Ryan. Henri no kook. You no see clearly. Tell Henri about ice and steam.”

“Why don’t you tell me about the book and the coins.”

“This here change way you think.”

“Maybe I don’t want to think like you’re God.” The tiredness made him irritation and the talk of bibles and Gods rankled him. He wanted to be home in bed asleep.

“No, no no.” Henri shook his head and yanked at his ponytail. “Ice and steam. Tell Henri about them.”

“I don’t know Henri. One’s hot and one’s cold.”

“What else?”

“I’m tired Henri and I’m not good at rhymes. I don’t know.”

“Look differently. Ice. Steam.”

“I don’t know Henri.”

“Ice. Steam. Water… different states. But water. You not see big picture. You need look differently at bad boss and Missie Eliza. Here,” Henri passed the three coins over to Ryan. “You throw coins. Six time.”

“And what are you going to do?”

Chapter 2.2

“You look… more tired,” Henri said as Ryan stepped into the shop with an uncommon heaviness. “Come, come”  motioned the beaming man, directing Ryan through the shop towards the lean-to living area attached to the rear of the shop, where a low table was set for the two of them to take tea.

Ryan had not been sure of Henri’s first invitation to tea… thinking of the afternoon’s his mother entertained women from church … taking out the good china, steeping leaves in a special pot with roses painted on the side, rather than the battered metal one they took tea from usually; his mother carefully wiping out any specks of dust from the dainty matching cups she’d taken from a china cabinet; the house smelling of baking scones, his stomach rumbling with the smell and the salivia think in mouth at the sight of his Gramma’s homemade blackberry jam, pots of fresh cream; stern words to keep out of sight and trouble.

He couldn’t see himself sitting down to fine china, scones and polite conversation with Henri. And at night? How wrong he’d been about the invitation. Henri quickly took any European ideas Ryan had of tea drinking and taught him the serious business of tea rituals in China and left him looking forward to the next.

“I make special tea for you. Five flowers,” Henri said as he secured the front of the shop for the night. “Make all cares gone. Now sit, sit. Henri follow once done.”

Ryan slipped easily down and his legs welcomed the relief from standing all day and most of the night. But the first time he sat, it was more effort than it looked to to sit on the low stool accompanying the table and to remain cross legged for long periods of time (their conversations were never short). He’d looked forward to seeing Henri but not sitting at his crazy table.

Henri fussed over the tea when he was done securing the front of the shop. From a small shining urn with a tiny tap at the bottom, he strained yellowish liquid into a teapot resplendent with a red dragon curving around the contours. He placed the pot on the table between them and then sitting, made a verbal offering in Chinese before pouring the tea it into one of the cups cup and passing it to Ryan, before pouring himself one. They both raised their cups and took a small sip. Ryan closed his eyes to get the full effect of the tea, as Henri never made the same tea twice.

“You never same man twice,” was Henri’s reasoning and Ryan, if he thought about it too much late at night, Henri’s foresight into his moods and daily experiences spooked him.

Ryan took a second sip and felt a sense of ease and calm ease radiate through his strung out and exhausted body. He sighed and Henri’s faced pulled into an even bigger grin.

“Tea good, huh?”

“Indeed it is Henri. It would pain my mother to say this, but sometimes I think you know magic.”

“Henri no magic. Henri observant.”

“Observant. Aye, if I were a suspicious man, I’d say you spy on me. You always guess my mood, my feelings and what’s gone on in my day. The tea’s always just right.”

“Henri no spy,” Henri threw his head back and laughed, his slight shoulders shaking hard. “Why Henri spy on Ryan? When Henri time spy on Ryan? Not hard to know Ryan’s life. You work bad boss. Bad boss work you hard. Make you tired, sad, frustrated, resenting… no sleep bad, eh?”

“I’ve never felt so bad,” Ryan said. “It was dawn when I got to bed this morning.”

“You work all night for bad boss. You idiot.”

“Henri you shouldn’t call Mr Hutchinson a bad boss. He’s not a bad boss. He’s just… demanding.”

“Henri no sugar coat. Henri tell truth. When Bad Boss,  good boss, Henri give him new name. He still take money for tools?”

“I need tools to work. I should have come with a toolkit but I didn’t. Why do we have this discussion every time I come here. I’m tired Henri. Can’t we talk about something else this time.”

“Henri tell you… save money and Henri get tools. Better price than Bad Boss. More money saved. You old boss, he make you buy tools.”

“No Messers MacDonald had a fully kitted out workshop. It was amazing the tools they had, some hundreds of years old. The ones I have here are very basic.”

“See. You have bad boss. You should be own boss.”

“Henri, you really shouldn’t call Mr Hutchinson that and I’m too young to be a boss. And I need money to set up my own workshop. Between Mr Hutchinson taking his share, and the tax man his, I’m barely making enough to eat and save a little.”

“New world here. No one too young be boss. No need money. Need investors.”

Ryan sipped at the sweet tea the idea of being his own boss more intoxicating than the strongest liquor in any of the fly grog tents. He’d never thought of asking others to risk their money on him. He’d always assumed he’d save for ten years and then set up shop for himself.

“What bad boss yell at you ’bout today.”

“Mr Hutchinson is under some strain.”

“So is Henri, but he no yell at those who work for him.”

“Henri you work in here by yourself.”

“Well I no yell at self or anger for no good reason. What upset bad boss?”

“The Higgins’s coffin was not finished quick enough for Mr Hutchinson, even though I worked by lantern last night and Jeremiah left early to go to the music hall.”

“So this why you not come visit Henri last night.”

“I’m sorry. You didn’t wait long did you?”

“When you no show after dusk I know you not coming. I go to bed. I brew five flower tea this afternoon. Know you come visit tonight. And here… Henri see far into the future.” He laughed. “Maybe Henri magic after all.”

The two men laughed and Henri topped up the cups of tea.

“These Higginses… they no happy with boxes you build.”

“No. They were pleased, as well as you can be about a coffin. They’re son died of a fever. They wanted something special. I went to bed at dawn and then back up an hour later to start again.”

“Bad boss. You no argue with Henri. Good boss know sleep important. Mr Hutchinson not just bad boss, bad man.”

“Not tonight Henri. I’m worn through with Mr Hutchinson and Jeremiah today. Especially with Jeremiah for coming into the workshop and doing naught but talk about Eliza Gauge from the moment he walked in to the moment he walked out again. Some of us were not able to go to the music hall last night.”

Chapter 2.1

And the story continues…

Every time Ryan walked into China Town he was entranced by the similarities and differences of the Chinese encampment. Rows of white tents, cooking fires, but wooden lines of neatly sanded poles for hanging washing from, and banners with chinese figures and the ever present smell of incense and strange food.

He walked slowly so as not to miss anything, not matter how many times he made the journey, with Henri at the end, waiting for him in the doorway of his shop, immaculate in white (no matter the time of day), with black embroidered buttons and a thick ebony plat over his left shoulder just as he was the first time Ryan came upon him, welcoming him with exuberant gestures and an unfailing smile.

“I see you coming, Mlister,” Henri said, his unlined face beaming and nodding (months on he continued to use this as his greeting when Ryan came into sight).  The first afternoon, as the sun kissed the horizon and a cool wind picked up, Henri’s small intense black eyes regarded Ryan with interest through the small round glasses huddled at the end of is nose. “You come for good price, yes? You come see Henli, yes?”

“Yes,” Ryan had said. “You offer a fair price?”

“Henli always flare plice, Mlister. Come, come.”

Henri’s store smelt exotic but familiar, of smoke and roses which reminded Ryan of home… the smoke from the kitchen chimney and the scent of his mother’s roses rising in the early morning air. Later Ryan learnt the smell was incense and part of Henri’s spiritual offerings.

The juxtaposition of East meets West permeated every nook and cranny of the immaculately laid out store, which Ryan noted in the late afternoon sun, was free of dust unlike the European competition up the hill. Between the rope and canvas, there were bunches of dried herbs, next to the black iron cooking posts, small boxes of ornate tea pots and tiny cups without handles brightly painted with dragons and foreign symbols. Even the straw brooms looked different, standing next to the galvanised buckets.

When Ryan was done, Henri heaped the items onto a dust-free counter and began to shift beads across a rack.

“What’s that?” Ryan asked, as Henri’s fingers skimmed quickly in time with muttering under his breath.

“Abacus. Ancient counting device. Now shush Mlister. Hen-Lee tinking.”

“No cash register.”

“No need.”

“And those?” Ryan pointed behind the counter to the wall of wooden drawers flanking Henri instead of the shelves with soap, kerosene and matches he’d seen in the other stores.

“Apothcaly,” Henri told him. “I not just tlade in this,” he pointed to the canvas, ropes and cooking bits and piece. “… but in… wellness.”

“Wellness?”

Henri stopped working on the abacus. “Hen-lee help sick people well and well people no get sick. You Eulopeans… you always sick. You get sick Mlister, you come see me, Henli make good. Now Mlister shush.”

“I shall remember that Mr Hen-lee,” Ryan said.

“No Mlister… just Hen-lee.”

“You have my word Hen-Lee. Now, Mlister please shush.”

Maureen Anderson would have initially been proud of her son, for finding a better price. She would have had issue though with her youngest son conducting business with someone like Henri, who she would certainly have believed to be well below the lowest of the low in Aberdeen and not someone to trust in best.

After a time of silence Henri looked up and said. “Vely good, yes, Mlister?” He scrutined the abacus and wrote down strange figures on a piece of paper. “Henli do special deal,” and into the price (which of course was cheaper than his European trading partners) Henri organised someone to help Ryan raise his tent.

“Henli and Mlister be fliends, yes?” Henri said, as he counted out the English money with a gleeful look on his face.

Ryan nodded his head, extending his hand and the two men shook.

“You come tomollow and we have tea. Special tea.”

“After work.”

“Yes in evening. When shops all closed.”

Having organised to collect his new possession in the morning and returning to the hotel room he’d booked for the night, Ryan knew with a sickening certainty his mother would most heartily disapprove not just his business transaction with Henri, even if he got it for a better price, but the promise of friendship with a man like Henri. Like most other Europeans she would consider Henri a threat to commerce and religious and social stability.

Chapter 2.0

Many heartfelt thanks to Jen Brubacher for her interesting prompts delivered daily at her blog. Without it, well Henri’s character may have been someone entirely different. I already see a great potential for this burgeoning friendship (both creatively and politically) Thanks again Jen!

Chapter Three will come to you in four parts! Enough voice over… let’s get the main attraction.

Ryan closed and fastened the makeshift door of his tent, which in reality was nothing more than a flap to keep the weather out. Should anyone want to rob him it would be a simple matter of untying the mess of knots. For a talented woodsmith, knots were something he simply could not understand. Even several months at sea hadn’t turned Ryan into a better contorter of rope. If he thought about it, the bunch of knots represented the best sort of security for only he had the patience to deal with then tangle. There were nights in the first month, when the rum had beat his fingers and he’d spent a cold night on the ground by the door of his tent. Besides, he told himself, he owned so little, there was really nothing to steal.

When he’d first written to his mother from Ballarat he hadn’t experienced the twinge of conscience he’d expected writing he’d found ‘suitable lodgings’. He could have spent hours tied up in the pros and cons of telling his mother the exact truth, that he was living in a tent, dusty in the dry and muddy in the wet, with thousands of other men. The ablutions block consisted of a hole dug in the ground and a bucket of cold water to rinse and shave in.

He’d very quickly stopped the train of thought and penned ‘Suitable lodgings’, knowing a tent in Ballarat’s Shanty Town was just that. He’d seen plenty of men, ragged and starving sleeping rough on the ground with a threadbare blanket. His mother would assume he’d found a nice room to rent if he was sparse on the details, such as exactly what they were, or who is landlord was. And in the letter, he had certainly left out the bit about how he’d brokered his current lodgings compliments of a very generous, but shrewd Chinese shop keeper, named Henri… who he’d accidentally called Hen-Lee for weeks until he’d overheard someone in the high street talking about the Chinese merchant Hen-Ree.

Ryan stood for a moment outside his tent, smelling the cooking fires and listening to snippets of the thousands of small and large conversations, the odd strain of a song or violin or even more occasion burst of laughter carried across Shanty Town.  Turning towards China Town, Ryan left it all behind and let the night air, cool and refreshing, after the airlessness of Hutchinson’s workshop, absorb and carry away the day’s weariness and worry with each step towards China Town. Hutchinson Senior worked him relentless with much criticism and no compliments, from sun up to sundown, while he turned a blind eye to the lazy inepitude of his some Jeremiah who often feigned a breathing sickness to leave early.

On nights when Ryan wasn’t expected at Henri’s it took the last of his energy to drag himself into a chop shop for some overpriced slop and a rasping glass of rum. Only on the nights he agreed to visit Henri did he find new reserves of energy. And always, as he made the trip into China he thought of the day he meet Henri. The day he bought his first home, his first cook pot and ventured into the dangerous realm of racist attitudes with innocent blindness.

Maureen Anderson had been explicit in her belief on blame. She’d raised each of her children to assume reasonability for their actions and suffer punishment for their trespasses, yet Ryan easily fell into the mindset of blaming (and celebrating) his mother’s penchant for a fair price which had led him to Henri. Maureen Anderson never bought anything for the sake of convenience if there was a possibility of a cheaper price further afield. In his youth it was Ryan she sent on errands with a tattered piece of paper in hand looking for a cheaper price. And after his father died, and his mother became the authority in the shop, she enacted an unusual business paradigm to increase the number of customers in the shop. Word quickly got around that Widow Anderson would sell for a slightly cheaper price if you were not ‘local.’ And the numbers of customers seeking commerce with Anderson’s Meats increased.

So it was in his blood to seek out a fairer price when it became apparent the first trader he inquired with had, as Rum mentioned, tripled and then tripled again the price of the canvas and rope he sort to fashion a home (of sorts.)

“I’m only asking for canvas and some rope, not bloody sandstone and the services of a mason,” Ryan had blurted out, his cheeks immediately colouring for his profanity.

The shop keeper non perturbed simply said, scratching his beard, “You’re new around here, eh lady? Well go find a better price somewhere else then,” and laughed as Ryan left to do just that.

The entire day, Ryan traipsed up and down the high street, and all the smaller streets and alleyways which radiated outwards, criss crossing into a rabbit warren. Ryan’s boots made it in out of every trader’s store until dispirited and realising his hard saved money was going to be all but eaten up organising the simplest of living arrangements he sunk down on the edge of a watering trough and looked down across Shanty Town. It was then he saw the satellite cluster of tents further down the valley. He stood, jamming his hat on his head and strode down the hill and into the Chinese camp.

If there were any Chinese living in Aberdeen, he’d never seen any on his travels and they had been further than any lad in his neighbourhood thanks to his mother. He tried not to gawk as the passed him in their strange long coat-like shirts, loose linen pants, topless shoes and long black hair snaking down their backs like women. They viewed him with suspicion from beneath their odd wide brimmed hats, looking at the ground when Ryan tried to smile. Later when he told and retold the story of how he came to meet Henri, whoever he was drinking with at the Cock and Bull would look both appalled and fascinated.

“I was just looking for a better price,” he would say, with a shrug.

“More like looking to have yer throat slit by one of them slant eyes,” someone would say, or a comment in the same vein.

Ryan would shake his head, “No, they’re not like that.”

“Sure, sure Ryan.”

“You were just lucky,” someone else would add.

“More like you were all just ripped off lads, and you’re a might jealous of my good fortune,” Ryan would say with good-hearted cheer, raising his glass and immediately direct the conversation to something else. He quickly learnt his association with the Chinese community was viewed with contempt.



Chapter 1.3

And so it seems, Ryan has reached his final destination…

The letter from Rum Hamilton, to his brother George, folded carefully and pressed up against Mrs Anderson’s silver cross jabbed into Ryan’s thigh as he leapt from the back of the bullock dray, boots hitting the dusty street with a satisfying thud. He’d made it to his journey’s end. A smile crossed Ryan’s face, as he adjusted the position of the letter and cross in his pocket. The idea of Rum and his mother sharing such an intimate space together gave him much amusement, mostly because his mother would rather die than have to entertain someone like Rum socially, much less tolerate his presence in the same room as her… or his pocket!

It had taken weeks for Ryan to work out why Rum kept bringing up his mother. Once or twice he’d seen the way Rum’s eyes would shift slightly to the side when we brought Maureen Anderson into the conversation. It was those quick shifts of eye Ryan thought about, lying awake in his bunk. Clues to the fixation. In the end he concluded (right or wrong) Rum’s obsession with his mother had more to do with the fact he never mentioned Mrs Hutchinson than the facet he mentioned Mrs Anderson too. Ryan imagined the odd camaraderie struck up with the bosun had more to do with a shared maternal scarring than anything else. He wondered just what Mrs Hutchinson was like and how similar she was to his mother. Other nights he’d think he was wrong that Rum just liked the rise he got when Mrs Anderson was mentioned. Whatever facilitated the unlikely friends, Ryan was simply thankful. Although the letter in his pocket may have been penned by the Captain, (for Rum made it clear he was not a man of the written word) he knew it came from Rum’s mouth and the man’s black and white ideas on honour. Ryan had learnt the rough bosun may not have been a man of letters but he always kept the word he gave.

Ryan grabbed his bundle of belongings, and pulled hat his over his wild hair, and paused to look up the street at the chaotic collection of misshapen building wondering where to find George Hutchinson and Sons. Ballarat was even less civilised than Melbourne. More a town of tents than anything else.

Ryan drew alongside the bullock driver and nodded his head.

“Much obliged, sir.”

“Any friend of Rum’s is a friend of mine. Now you take care, lad.”

The driver returned the nod and pulled the whip from beside his seat, cracking it above the backs of the tired bullocks and the dray inched forward, creaking and groaning under its load of dry goods, turning right when it came to the first intersection. Ryan set off up the hill hoping he came upon George Hutchinson’s workshop sooner rather than later. Not just because he was keen to secure employment but because he was looking forward to sleeping the jolts and rattles of the bullock ride from his bones.

Walking and looking from face to face, and shop to shop, his imagination fired, wondering if George would be like Rum… tough but fair, irreverent and more physical than any other man he’d known. His back and shoulders were already glad to be beyond Rum’s rambunctious slapping, clapping and clamping.

Had it not been for the yapping of the dog at his feet he may have walked straight past George Hutchinson and Son’s shop on the opposite side of the street, as his attention was focused on the pretty girl approaching him, smiling and demurely dropping her eyes.

Messers MacDonald, his former employers, had prided themselves on the fine stone building their shopfront and workshops had occupied for more than a hundred years. They were both morticians and coffin makers. Each year the painting on the sign was refreshed and the stone frontage scrubbed clean of grime from the factories in the west. The shop, resided over by Mr MacDonald Senior, white haired, collar starched with an unchanging benevolent expression, was clean and comfortable. The viewing room attended to by the older Mrs MacDonald and a clutch of younger MacDonald women who tended the flowers and helped to ease the burden of grief to family and friends, was simple and carefully decorated. The workshops were orderly and kept clean by the younger Mr MacDonald. The right of passage of all the apprentices was to complain bitterly about allergies to sawdust as they swept the workshop clean at the end of every day. Ryan remembered feeling wrong, after all his mother had warned him about lying, when he saw the wood dust did not affect him, but he repeated the much maligned litany about saw dust until a new apprentice was employed and the job of sweeping was handed on and Ryan sighed in relief that God had not struck him down for the innocent lie.

George Hutchinson and Son’s shop and workshop hardly passed for a shed, much less a building. It was obvious how hastily built the  structure was, groaning with a starboard list,  the rough untreated timber boards of the wall already sun greyed. Ryan hesitated. What had he been expecting? Messers MacDonald in Ballarat.

He reminded himself the township of Ballarat was only a few years old… it did not have the vast history or resources of Aberdeen. And he’d thought Melbourne rough and ready. Ballarat was nothing more than a shanty town. Scrutinising the buildings up and down the street Ryan saw George Hutchinson and Sons building, if you could call it that, seemed to be better built despite showing signs of wear and tear on its impermanence.

Ryan turned to watch the pretty girl disappear into a general store and then crossed the street and stood at the door of the coffin makers. As he raised his fist to knock the door flew open a man, and the antithesis of Rum Hutchinson filled the small frame.

“I’m afraid we’re closed for the day.”

“Mr Hutchinson-”

“Yes, yes I know it’s important. It’s urgent. Death always is, but alas my coffin maker just made off for the Clunes fields. The third this year. Gold lust. It will be the undoing of civilised society.”

“Exactly what my Mother would say,” Ryan said carefully, measuring the tone of his voice. He withdrew the envelope from his pocket and wished he’d not folded it. The envelope pristine when pressed into his hand dockside five days earlier, was now crushed and discoloured and Ryan’s attempts to flatten the crease on the doorstep succeeded only in smudging the ink with dirty finger smears.

“A letter from you brother.” Ryan thrust the envelope at the austere man, who clutched a top hat in front of him, in what Ryan thought looked like a chair in the hands of a lion tamer.

“My brother who professes to know naught of letters of numbers despite a distinguished education in England.”

Ryan caught by the confession of his friend’s brother blurted out, “I thought the Captain wrote it,” then flushing with embarrassment, his hand with envelope, lost in the space between the two of them. Did it put it back in his pocket, or press it upon George Hamilton.

“Indeed. More deception on the part of my brother. But you must excuse me,” George Hamilton said. “I have an impossible task ahead of me and death waits for no man.”

Ryan stepped into the path of Hamilton, in a move he’d ponder for year later and wonder what if he’d just stayed rooted to the stop. “I believe the letter may be one of introduction, sir.” Ryan pulled back the letter and swapped the letter to his left hand and held out his right. “Ryan Anderson, sir, late of Aberdeen Scotland and the services of Messers MacDonald Morticians and Coffinwrights. It would appear my timing could be the answer to your prayers.”

Chapter 1.2

Here’s the follow on from yesterday’s post (also written yesterday but only tidied up with the POV change today) Today’s scribblings are from further on in the narrative so its a good thing there are two installments from yesterday to tide over those reading. And to Sam, thanks for reading (and I will christen a character Adam shortly, especially for you!)

A shout came from the crows nest, as the clipper came around the heads of Port Phillip Bay, about a band. Ryan knew it was a false cry, there’d been much talk about what kind of arrival party would greet them, but even he knew there was no way the best telescope could see to that far to the docks.

“What do you reckon they’ll play, the band that is?” Rum Hutchinson asked him, joining him by the railing.

“There’ll really be a band.”

“Possibly, unless we’ve caught them unawares, but mark my words if the Captain with half a day under his belt don’t slow us down just a tad to give them time to organise a proper welcome.”

“He’d do that?”

“Never be surprised at what people will do for a bit of pomp and ceremony, Anderson.”

True to Rum’s word a band waited on the dock and as they drew closer, a stout bandleader in front waved a baton and the opening bars of God Save the Queen groaned across the water to the ship.

“Hells bells… you’d think they could come up with something better than that awful noise.”

“But it’s the national anthem?”

“National anthem and Queen Victoria be damned. What about a rousing version of A-Roving.”

“Or Drunken Sailor.”

“Ahh, you’re a good lad Anderson. We’ll all be that for sure later on.”

Ryan could see his point about the national anthem, especially when the ship’s progress didn’t quite time with the completion of the rousing ending and after a few moments of uncertainty on the part of the bandleader, the brass section launched into a second round of the National Anthem.

“Never knew there were two verses,” Rum joked and Ryan steeled himself for the slap on the back which accompanied the joke. “And as for Queen Victoria, I reckon your Mum would give her a run for her money running the country.”

He cringed at the mention of his mother but the excitement of the moment pushed aside the disapproval which had followed him across the ocean.

Looking at the crowd on the dock,  Ryan saw not only a band, but a lots of ordinary, but excited onlookers clutching streamers and a huddle of journalists. Among the onlookers plenty of pretty young faces. Possibly women his mother would have staunchly disapproved of which made them all the more desirable.

The roar as they pulled in alongside and cast off filled the warm afternoon air and Ryan felt his heart swell with pride at having broken the record, even if his contribution had been sanding, oiling and building a new bookshelf for the captain. He feared his face might ache for days from smiling, especially when he saw several cameras position between the crowd and the ship. Not one for false shows, Ryan couldn’t help but turn their way, smile and wave hoping somehow his face turned up on the front page of Aberdeen Journal.

The mass migration off the boat was just for show and once hands had been shaken, comments given to journalists and photographs taken, they were back on board untying and carting cargo off the shift, minor celebrities back to hard working crew.

“Here,” Rum said, shoving an expensive looking envelope in Ryan’s hand as the light faded and the last of the cargo rolled off the dock. “Don’t let my brother give you no grief.”

I looked at the envelope with the name Mr George Hutchinson, scrawled on the front..

“Best you put that someone safe now, lad. Because we’re off for a rum or three. We’ll have one for you Ma, shall we?”

Chapter 1.1

Today has  been a far better one… there are three installments to share. I caution… I have changed the POV from first person to third person after I found every time I sat down to write I would accidentally begin writing in the third person… lots of interesting potential given this change of view.

Peace resided in the movement and sound of the sandpaper block over wood, in symphony with the crash of the waves. Even the motion of the clipper ploughing through the sea had a certain harmony and connection. Looking down at the dark water churning below, a swath of white foam rising as the wooden hull sliced through the water, Ryan was humble enough to remember it had not always been such a treat and thus I enjoyed his new found affinity with the sea, a respect hard earned.

Three days out of Aberdeen he wondered if his mother had been right about hell on earth… only it was hell on water, his stomach pitching with the boat and whatever resided recently in his stomach shot up and splashed down onto the deck, or his feet or feet of whatever poor soul happened to be too close by. He noted with queasy disquiet how the other crew members avoided him and the rest of the paying passengers did too. It was only the bosun, Rum Hutchinson, with his characteristic wack of the shoulder, who dared to venture close enough to be hit by projectile bile. Rum told him to hang in there, he’d soon find his sea legs. But it wasn’t sea legs Ryan longed for, a sea stomach is what he yearned for, in fact prayed for each evening from his heaving hammock.  He was certain, if found, the rest of his body would follow in compliance.

Sea legs came… eventually, with the greatest of relief, after what seemed an eternity. Ryan realised the rest of the passengers settled into the seaward motion, at best, only a week ahead of him.

“Different folk take different times. Be grateful lad you’re not puking the entire trip.”

And he was grateful, especially since sea sickness did not excuse him from the assigned tasks which came with the free passage and occupied all the other times between sun up and sun down when he was hunched somewhere. While Ryan wasn’t technically a carpenter, wood spoke to him, like the sea murmured to sailors (or so they claimed), and he was more than competent in the maintenance tasks required, under the watchful eye of the bosun.

“You’re diligent and hardworking, Anderson.” The voice startled him and looking up Ryan saw the bosun standing watching the care and attention in each stroke. “Was it your mother or father who beat it into you?”

“My mother, sir. I mean she was the one who told us to always work hard… hard work was the passage into heaven. Though she never raised a hand to any of us. ‘Twas the fear of her hand… or more to the point, her wooden spoon which kept us from complaining or slinking away from our chores. That and the all mighty fear of Hell.”

“And your father, Anderson?”

“My grandparents said my mother beat him with her tongue until he was as hardworking and upstanding as any man in Aberdeen.”

“Protestants, huh?”

I nodded, unsure what he was meaning. “My mother is the most Godfearing woman in Aberdeen.”

“Sounds to me son, as though it should be God doing the fearing of your mother.”

I stifled a laugh. I’d never heard anyone make a joke about God… much less God and my mother.

“What are you plans when we make Melbourne? You don’t seem to be the sort sold on a life digging up mud for sprinkles of gold.”

“No, sir. My plan is to find work.”

“You’ve come to make money the honest way then. Well as honest as a man who can triple and triple again the price of his goods or labour.”

I looked at him.

“Ahh, Anderson. We’d better knock some of that innocence off you before we make Port Philip Bay or the whores on dockside will eat you alive before you even make it anywhere near the town.”

The heat seemed to intensify in his face again, and he looked down, focusing on the movement of the sandpaper block in a pitched battle against his embarrassment.

“Tell me Anderson, were you afraid of your mother?”

The sandpaper moved by itself as all his feelings and thoughts of my mother swirled inside his head, like eddies of fog over the sea.

“Sir, if I were scared of my mother,” I finally said. “I’d still be in Aberdeen, working for Messers MacDonald on (what street?)”

“Good lad.” He clapped his massive calloused paw on my shoulder. “When we make Port Philip Bay come and see me. I might have some contacts in Ballarat who may be helpful.”

“A letter of introduction?” Immediately Ryan chastised himself for the impulsive presumption of his words.

“Better than a letter of introduction, Anderson. My brother George Hutchinson is extending his business out into Ballarat. I think you’re just the man he might be looking for.”

“But you’ve never seen me build a coffin.”

“I’ve seen what you can do with your hands, I’ve seen your whataretheycallingit… work ethic. If I were convinced you’d fall in love with the sea, I’d offer you a permanent job on here. But you’re a landlubber.”

“A landlubber?”

“Your feet belong on the solid ground boy. Your heart never gonna belong to the sea like mine does.”

As usual the wrong thing came out of my mouth when I felt uncomfortable. “But I barely feel sick any more.”

I’d never heard another man declare his love for a woman, much less the sea. Because I knew my mother would be appalled at such a thought, I tried to embrace the idea of falling in love with the sea. I imagined writing home… “Shan’t be back in Aberdeen. The sea has stolen my heart and I’m not sure when I will come to my senses again. Love lost and lornly yours, Ryan.”

The bosun’s voice cut in through my musings.“If it doesn’t work out in Ballarat, you can come back on board.”

“It’ll work out, regardless of where I’m going.”

“You’re cocky… that’s good. You’ll need that where you’re going.”

“Not cocky sir, just adamant I’m not going home to my Mother.”

“Good, lad.”

Rum thumped him so hard on the back the air escaped in a surprised wheeze and it took Ryan a moment to refill his lungs again.

“When you’re done sanding and oiling the railings, the Captain’s after a new shelf.”