The Girl from the Sea – Chapter 6
The Captain’s breathing was laboured as they neared his front door, but that was mostly out of fear, he thought. This load was nothing to what he could normally carry. Joe’s breathing was laboured too but only because he was carrying so much stuff. Perhaps Mrs Captain didn’t need to see all this after all.
The Captain booted the front door open and elbowed his way in. “Esther, are you here love?” They tumbled into the front room of the cottage. It was the only downstairs room with the kitchen in one corner, a small dining table for two and one armchair and one rocking chair pulled up to the fire. But the things that were in that room! Joe loved it – the Captain was the only grown up person he knew who was allowed a treasure trove at home.
The Captain said that it was all things from his travels and each piece held a story. An enormous bone from some monstrous sea creature hung on the mantelpiece over the fire; the wheel of a ship hung on another wall and alongside it the figurehead and name plaque of a boat once owned by the Captain; ornaments and shells of every shape and colour adorned each surface; the bookcases were crammed with piles of paper, old maps, compasses and other things used in the Captain’s trade; paintings of ships and harbours hung on every wall; multi coloured glass bottles were filled with various potions and lotions, herbs and spices; the tiniest of ships had been captured in a bottle somehow – Joe had never been able to work out how that had happened. Surely the boat was too big to fit through the narrow neck of a bottle? Playing cards, chess pieces, oars from a boat, lanterns, coloured pennants – the list was endless. Every time you went there you could find a dozen new things to see and hear the stories from whence they came. All these treasures sat alongside the normal everyday items which were in Joe’s home too.
“I’m here Emos. Lord, what have you brought home with you now? Haven’t we got enough of your bits lying around here already? Hello there, young Joe. Is this your doing? Taking him treasure hunting were you?” Esther bustled down from an upstairs room with a pile of laundry in her arms. Mrs Captain was a small lady with a neat grey bun of hair. Everyone always said that they looked like an odd couple with Mrs Captain only coming up to her husband’s middle. She was a friendly soul, who spoke kindly and Joe knew that she meant no harm with her words. Her eyes sparkled with humour as she spoke. She started unloading Joe’s treasure from him and making piles of driftwood by the fire. The Captain was standing by the doorway looking uncertain.
“The Captain found the most amazing thing today Mrs Captain! Before I could get to it!” Joe blurted out excitedly. The Captain gave him a warning look that told him he’d said too much.
“Really?” She queried. “Now that does sound exciting! Well bring whatever it is in Emos, and let’s have a look.” She moved to take the driftwood off the top of the pile of cloth in the Captain’s arms, and stacked that next to the fire too.
She went to pull the cloth out of her husband’s arms and gasped. “Emos, It’s a girl,” she breathed, and hurriedly untangled the unconscious figure from her wrappings. “Mercy, the poor thing. What on earth has happened here?” She eyed her husband and the boy in a no-nonsense fashion.
“Explanations can come later, but no stories mind. I shall expect the truth!” She moved into action with the efficiency of a woman who had had to deal with all sorts of things through the years. “Lay her down here by the fire, Emos. Joe, go to that chest and bring blankets and pillows. Hurry now! We need to get her warm.” She pulled her outer clothes off her with ruthless efficiency and started rubbing her all over. “Ice cold. Frozen stiff. Must get her warm again. Emos stoke the fire and put a pan of milk on. Add some rum to it – just a small amount mind.” She never stopped rubbing the girl’s translucent skin.
Coming back from the blanket box, Joe had been watching Mrs Captain intently. She wasn’t surprised by the mermaid at all and as he came back closer to the fire he saw why. Well, she was just an ordinary girl! Like his sister after all that. No mystical tale or fins, just layers and layers of fabric clinging to her legs. Imagine the disappointment! Mrs Captain had almost got her down to her undergarments now.
“Joe, make up a bed right here by the fire – cushions, a sheet and lots of blankets.” He rushed to obey her. There was a horrible sense of urgency in her voice now. Even the Captain was rushing to obey her and had a pan on the stove. Joe spied him take a sip out of the rum bottle before he added it to the milk, but didn’t think it was wise to mention at the moment.
Mrs Captain popped the young girl into the bed next to the fire. Her skin had lost the horrible translucence it had had on the beach and looked to be regaining some normal semblance of colour, but her bruising stood out vividly against the pale background. Mrs Captain gently sat behind her to prop her up and fed her the milky rum concoction slowly with a spoon, not even noticing that most of it fell out of her slack lips onto the blankets. Eventually the slack lips appeared to take a small sip of milk on their own.
“That’s it my love,” crooned Mrs Captain, as if she were talking to her own baby. “Just a little more.” The girl’s eyes flickered open briefly and then rolled upwards and shut again.
“Is she…? Is she…? Is she dead?” stammered Joe, fearful of the answer.
Mrs Captain stared back at him with unblinking eyes and pulled the covers tighter around the girl, hugging her tighter.
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