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The Brittle Sea: Third Instalment

image of front cover for The Brittle SeaThis is the third instalment extracted from The Brittle Sea a romantic drama by Tom Kane.
Once again it’s a first draft so if you find the odd type, let me know.

You can read the first instalment here and the second here.

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The News Travels Slowly

Bad or good, news travels slowly once it reaches sparsely inhabited areas of the world and Kiev was no different in this respect. The sinking of the Titanic did not reach the Asparov family until ten days after the event, but that didn’t make the news any less dramatic or painful. Pokotilova, in the Uman district was quiet and respectable, change happened at a slow pace and time almost stood still. That was until a messenger made his way to the Asparov family small holding, on the outskirts of the town. When he arrived, he brought the full force of the epic tragedy of the 20th century with him.

Magda’s future husband, Ballantine, had bought Magda’s ticket to the new world but to her family he had bought them a new life and a prosperity they had never known before. The Asparov family had heard the stories that the Titanic was unsinkable, but that information neither impressed or made any difference to their daily lives. What had impressed Magda’s father and mother was the amount of money Ballantine was willing to pay them for their daughter’s hand in marriage. The news of the demise of so many people, Magda included, had devastated them and had a profound impact on their son, Peter. Put simply, Peter adored Magda. It was an old but true saying, he had worshipped the ground she walked on. He was eighteen and had aspirations to go to America himself, with Magda’s help. All that was gone now. But in spite of the odds, he held a glimmer of hope that Magda may still be alive. He didn’t understand where the hope came from, but he could act on that belief. He determined, even before the family tears had dried to be replaced by that empty feeling, that he would seek her out. He would run away to America and find his sister.

Peter’s parents paid him little heed at the best of times, he could do as he pleased so long as he earned some money to pay his keep. Peter spent the next few weeks working as hard as he could at any work that came his way, but kept most of the money himself, giving his still grieving mother as little as possible.

On the ninth week after the news of the tragedy had reached them, Peter packed a small bag, slipped it over his shoulders, took some cheese and stale bread and left his mother and father.

It would be the last time Peter would see his parents and it would be the beginning of his education into a new world and an introduction to a new dawn of terror, death and mass destruction.

***

As these events unfolded in Russia, the Lady Jane was getting closer and closer to New York and at the same time, Captain Richard Blackmore and Maggie were themselves moving closer and closer to each other.

It was the last night on board before the ship docked and Maggie was in a reflective mood when Blackmore called on her in his old cabin.

“I see you’re up,” he said, closing the cabin door quietly.

“Yes, I must get up and move about, I don’t want to leave the ship looking like an invalid. I want to walk and make my own way in life.”

Blackmore nodded. “Good idea. Have you thought further about my proposal?”

Maggie smiled and Blackmore’s stomach flipped with the anticipation.

“If I am to stay in your apartment, with you, then I must pay my own way.”

“I’m not asking for payment, I simp…”

“Yes, I know, you are doing this out of sympathy and a genuine desire to help me. But I do insist on paying my own way. As I have no means of support, then at least let me act as your housekeeper. If nothing else I can do that and who knows, maybe my memory will come back to me.”

Blackmore opened the cabin door. “Very well, Maggie, you are, for as long as it takes, my house-keeper.” He smiled and then left the cabin.

Maggie’s smile quickly became a frown. She had no idea who she was, where she came from or what it was she did, if anything, for a living. However, for certain, there was one other thing she was sure of… she had no idea how to be a house-keeper.

***

Matthew Ballantine was tired of trying to get information from the New York offices of the White Star line. They insisted all passengers alive had been accounted for and therefore the list of the dead/missing was correct. There was, they had no doubt, no hope that those missing would actually turn up alive. In fact, in a few short days missing would indeed become deceased and that was that, as far as they were concerned.

“But surely, you cannot say with certainty there will be no more survivors,” Ballantine said, thumping the desk of the grey haired old man White Star was using to fend him off.

“Of course we can say that. Have you no idea how cold the North Atlantic is this time of year? Nobody could have survived for very long in those waters.”

Ballantine pointed out that Magda was in fact Magda Asparov, not Ballantine as they had listed her. The White Star general manager had no explanation as to why there had been a change made, except that the change was made in Southampton and had been completely out of his control. But it did not change the fact, his intended had most certainly perished in the freezing Atlantic waters.

Ballantine left the office exasperated and getting angrier than he had ever been. It wasn’t so much the money as the principle. His anger was getting the better of his judgement and the object of that anger, Magda, was becoming an obsession. Nobody thwarted Matthew Ballantine. Ballantine didn’t know it, but not only was the thought untrue, as his business dealings would attest to, but it meant he had a belief in himself that would lead to something worse than a mere obsession.

As he opened the front door to the office to step out into New York’s cold streets, he bumped into an officer of the White Star line.

“I beg your pardon, Sir,” the young man said as he stood to one side.

Ballantine happened to notice the manila folder in the man’s hands was labelled Titanic. “Were you on the Titanic?”

It was the same old question he had been asked a thousand times it seemed and the young officer’s smile faded. He gave Ballantine a curt nod, trying to avoid eye contact, anything to make the man go away and leave him alone. It had been days since the tragedy, but it was still raw in the young officer’s mind and he was sick and tired of re-living the tragedy every few days with officials and occasional members of the public he bumped into continually asking the same questions. His mood matched the New York weather, gloomy with a bitter chill that made his bones feel brittle.

“Tell me, did you know any of the passengers? I’m looking for…”

The officer made to push past Ballantine, but the broader man held his ground, effectively blocking entry into the building. “I’m sorry, Sir. I can’t go into any det…”

“Magda Asparov is her name, but she was using my name, Ballantine. We were to be married. A beautiful young woman, dark hair and…”

The officer’s gloomy mood lifted at the thought of Magda. “Yes, I know who you mean. She would often walk on deck on her own. Kept herself to herself. So, you are the Mr. Ballantine, she told me she was marrying.”

Ballantine allowed himself a small smile. The officer was obviously British, stiff upper lip and all. “Yes, we are to be married.”

“But she’s listed as missing.”

“I know, but I feel it in my bones,” Ballantine lied. “I know she is still alive and I’m desperate to find here.”

The officer looked down at the folder and sighed. Such a small thing to represent so many lost lives. “This is the new list; it shows she is now considered to be…”

“I know what you think, but you are wrong.”

The officer sighed again, his mood back to black. “I know she was on deck the night it happened. I saw her. I watched her…” his voice trailing away.

“I understand, she is beautiful and you are a young man, both thrust together on a ship in a vast ocean.”

The officer was aghast. “It was nothing like that, Sir,” he said loudly, his free hand raised palm toward Ballantine. “We rarely spoke, but I would often see her due to my duties. She was on the port side where the ship struck the iceberg. A lot of ice came crashing down onto the deck. People were kicking some of it around for fun.”

“Where did she go?”

“Well, come to think of it, it was odd. One minute she was there, on deck. The ship struck and I turned away for a few seconds and when I looked back she was gone and there was a pile of ice where she had been.”

Ballantine smiled inwardly. Magda was indeed alive and this time, he could certainly feel it in his bones.

Ballantine lost little time making his arrangements. He needed to get back home, to Texas, but his trusted bulldog, William Harker, was a great investigator and would find the truth of the matter to Magda’s whereabouts, even if it meant searching every ship that went to Titanic’s rescue. Harker was tenacious and ruthless.

New York

As Blackmore nervously looked on, the New York Port Authority Pilot skilfully brought the Lady Jane to dock as he had done so many times before. Blackmore had allowed Maggie onto the bridge and he suddenly realised he didn’t know which was more nerve wracking, watching the pilot manoeuvring his ship or being close to Maggie. Oddly, he felt like a little boy trying to impress someone important.

Maggie, for her part, said nothing and simply stared at the imposing skyline that came ever closer. Suddenly, a flash of white and a vision of a wall of ice flashed before her eyes and she grabbed the hand-rail, gasping out loud, trying hard to steady herself.

“Are you all right, Maggie?” Blackmore said, the concern in his voice all too obvious to everyone on the bridge. Even the pilot shot a glance at them, raising an eyebrow, before turning back and concentrating on the task in hand.

Maggie smiled at Blackmore and nodded. “A little vertigo, that’s all.”

Blackmore nodded and his attention was then back on ensuring the pilot got his ship safely to dock.

The door to the bridge opened and the radio operator walked in and handed a piece of paper to the Captain. “Urgent message from Mr. Bellagon, Sir.”

Blackmore took the note and studied it briefly, frowning heavily.

“Bad news?”

Maggie’s question didn’t impinge on Blackmore’s mind at first. Then he looked up and caught her questioning gaze. “Hard to say,” he muttered. Then he handed the note back to Mr. Archer. “Acknowledge this, Mr. Archer and tell Mr. Bellagon I will see him as soon as we have docked.”

“Aye, Captain,” Archer said, and quickly left the bridge.

Blackmore turned to Maggie. “The owner wants to see me as soon as we have docked.”

Maggie said nothing, but could see the news had unsettled Blackmore.

Docking proceeded without incident and Blackmore handed over to his first officer, before going ashore and hailing a cab to take him to Bellagon’s office a few minutes’ drive away.

Blackmore arrived back at his ship two hours later and was in a dark mood. The first-officer couldn’t remember a time when he had seen his Captain so angry. His assumption that the owner, Bellagon, was none too happy at the loss of money due to the Lady Jane’s unscheduled stop was correct.

“How’s the unloading going?” Blackmore said to his first-officer, his voice curt.

“Very well, Captain. Another hour or two and…”

“Well,” Blackmore shouted, “which is it? One or two hours. Time is money Mister.”

David James had been Blackmore’s first-officer for a number of years and had never, in all that time, been shouted at by his Captain. Before he could say anything, Blackmore put a hand on James’ left shoulder.

“I’m sorry, David. My meeting with Bellagon did not go well.”

“Mr. Bellagon’s sister not happy, Sir?” James asked the question with a straight face but Blackmore could see the twinkle in his eye.

“Aye, you could say that.” Blackmore smiled and the two men exchange a rueful glance. “You had better let the Chief out. Tell him he is transferred to The Arabia and that he should get a move on, she’s leaving in two hours.”

“Aye, sir. And The Arabia is bound for? In case our esteemed Chief asks.”

Blackmore liked his First-Officer’s sense of humour, very dry, very British. “Oh, Russia, I believe. Be a little cold I suppose, compared the warm and sunny North Atlantic. Tell him to wrap-up warmly.”

Blackmore could still hear the First-Officer’s laughter minutes after he had left the bridge. At about the same time her caught Maggie’s giddying fragrance and turned as she entered the bridge.

Against protocol… but I don’t care.

Not that she was wearing perfume, there was none on his ship and Maggie had nothing with her. It was just her own sweet smell and Blackmore looked forward to not only seeing Maggie, but also to smell her.

Not very elegant, but true. Her smell captivates me.

“Are you well, Captain? I heard raised voices.”

The voice captivates me, too.

Blackmore smiled at Maggie. Despite having worn the same clothes for several days, though Mr. Lee had done his best laundry service for her, Maggie looked stunning.

The look, the voice her aroma… what is she doing to me?

“No, not a problem, Maggie. We have had orders from our owner, Mr. Bellagon. Our engineer is leaving us and we are in for repairs for a few weeks, which means you get the chance of a proper rest to recover and I get the happy chance to show you New York… if you feel up to it.”

“I can think of nothing I would like better, Captain.”

“Please, Maggie, when we leave the ship in two hours or so, please call me Richard. I will no longer command a ship, indeed, I will be at your command.”

Maggie’s smile radiated from her and Blackmore could have sworn at that moment that the bridge had lit up with a subtle glow.

“So,” Blackmore sighed, trying hard to remain in command of his emotions at least for the next few hours, “what would you like to see in New York? Though I suppose our first port of call should really be the White Star line offices.”

Maggie’s radiant smile faded to a deep frown.

“Is there a problem with that?”

Maggie shook her head. “Could we do that in a few days, after I’ve rested. I’m trying to remember, but I have the feeling I don’t want to remember the sinking of the ship.”

“Very well, we will leave the tragedy behind for as long as you see fit. Come, let me finish off what I need to do and we will then leave ships and shipping to others. Are you hungry, Maggie?”

Maggie smiled at Blackmore’s good humour and nodded.

“Good. We will dine at New York’s finest and then we will see what fate has in store for us.”

A little over two hours later, as the First-Officer watched Blackmore escort Maggie from the ship, he wondered how long it would be before the two of them realised how much they were in love.

As it was, Blackmore knew deep within how much he had fallen for Maggie. But he was wracked with self-doubt and therefore fearful for what the future may hold, a feeling as alien to him as any feelings where doubt was concerned. As ship’s Captain he was in command, in charge and responsible for human lives and valuable cargo as well as the safety of the ship itself. He knew self-control, he knew he was self-assured and he never doubted his own ability. But with Maggie and his feelings for her, all was in reversal. Doubt, fear, anxiety and other feelings he couldn’t even begin to name, let alone explain. All this made Blackmore determined on the one hand and doubtful on the other, in equal measure.

***

Blackmore opened the door to his apartment, an old building, one of New York’s oldest high-rise buildings, and escorted Maggie in.

Maggie walked down the hallway and into the main living area. Blackmore followed at a discreet distance. He didn’t want to say anything that may colour Maggie’s view of his home.

Why am I doing this? It’s only a home. Why do I care if she likes it?

He knew the answer, but at this stage he didn’t want to admit anything to himself, nor did he want to get his hopes up only to be dashed. As a ship’s Captain for the last few years, he had never been in one place long enough to become romantically involved with anyone. But all this, since the tragedy of the Titanic, all this was new to Blackmore.

“You certainly have a lovely home, Cap… Richard.”  Maggie blushed a full red and Blackmore smiled and mouthed a thank-you as their eyes locked for barely an instance, but in their thoughts it was an eternity. Time slowed, stood still and then waited for the moment to flourish and bloom.
This is the moment.

The voice in Blackmore’s head had a certainty to it.

The doorbell chimed and the moment vanished, but continued to wait in the wings. Love doesn’t leave without a calling card and both Maggie and Blackmore knew, in that moment, what the inevitable outcome would be.

“Your luggage, sir,” the building’s porter chimed merrily when Blackmore opened the door. The porter looked beyond to see Maggie framed in the inner doorway, he raised an eyebrow to Blackmore as he bundled the luggage into the hall-way, accepted his tip and left with a worldly wink aimed at Blackmore. As the Captain opened his mouth to give the porter a tongue lashing, Maggie tapped him on the shoulder.

“Let’s not get into an argument, let people think what they will, we know I’m here as your guest and your house-keeper.”

Blackmore closed the door and led Maggie to the living area. “Kitchen to the right, fully stocked but not used a lot.” Blackmore led Maggie to the left wall and pointed to two doors. “Two bedrooms, mine is the left one and yours the right-hand one,” he said, opening the right-hand doorway, stepping back and gesturing Maggie to walk in and take a look around. Blackmore turned a small switch and the bedroom was lit by the dim glow of an electric bulb in a heavily shaded night light.

Maggie turned to him and smiled. “Electricity, I am impressed.”

“You have cupboards and a closet for clothes…”

“Except I have no clothes. I have, in fact, nothing.”

Blackmore looked shocked, as if he had missed a fundamental part of social etiquette. “I’m so sorry, Maggie, I forgot completely.”

“Cap… Richard, it’s not your fault. The fact is, I have nothing, not even my own memories. But I am still happy, as happy as I have ever been, at least I think that.”

Blackmore’s look of concern turned to a smile. “Yet, you don’t know that to be true.”

Maggie thought about that and shook her head. “Actually, I do know, somehow. Don’t ask me how I know, I but I know I have never been happier.”

Blackmore nodded. “Then it’s up to me to ensure your stay here, to continue to be happy. Tomorrow we go shopping.”

“For what?”

“For you, Maggie. You cannot be expected to walk around New York in the same clothing, day in day out. No! I will hear no more on it.”

Maggie lowered the hand she had raised to try to stop Blackmore making rash promises. She was happy and she could do with new clothing, as well as other essentials, but didn’t want this kind man to promise something he could not deliver.

“If it’s money you worry about, Maggie. Have no fear. I may not be rich, but I am well-off and receive a good monthly wage from the shipping line. On top of that my ever so rich Aunt Cecilia, my father’s sister, in England, remembered me in her will. Bless her she left me a tidy sum which I see the benefit of in dividends and such. It sits in the bank, never spent, earning more, month in month out. This is what the money was intended for and I will hear no argument on the matter.”

Maggie said nothing, but the glistening eyes told Blackmore she was a sensitive caring soul. It was all he needed to know.

Maggie smiled at Blackmore and closed the bedroom door with a soft click, leaning her head against the cold wood and silently wept thanks for being saved by such a kind man, but also for an unknown world she knew she was destined for, yet would not be happy when she reached there.

Maggie didn’t know it, but her lost memories were struggling within her mind to be free and the personality of Magda was straining to exist once more.

### END ###

This is the third instalment extracted from The Brittle Sea a romantic drama by Tom Kane. You can read the first here and the second here.

Copyright (c) Tom Kane
Look out for publishing dates for my books on my website.

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