Arabella Angarrick leaned on the ship’s rail gazing at the spot on the horizon where the tip of Cornwall was lost from sight hours ago. She searched for the strains of the selkie’s song under the hiss of the sea against the ship, the rumble of engines, and the wind whining in the superstructure. Common sense told her she had far outdistanced the pod of selkies who gathered to wish her farewell, but she was reluctant to give up the tenuous grip on her homeland.
“Oh, Vear,” she whispered. “How am I going to live without you?” Her hands dropped to caress the still flat stomach beneath her coat. “I never had the chance to tell you about the baby. Maybe that’s for the best…” Her voice was lost in the wind and tears ran cold down her cheeks. The deck pitched underfoot forcing Arabella to clutch the rail.
The sun buried itself in the bank of clouds and the chill air cut through her woolen coat. Wiping the tears away with the back of her hand, Bella made her way to the first class cabin her future husband booked in her name. She shrugged out of the damp outer garment and hung it on a hook behind the door. The rise and fall of the floor made her stagger a bit when she crossed to the narrow bed. A folded card on the dressing table informed her dinner would be served at 7 pm in the main dining room. Or if she wished, the lady could order room service from the steward.
Bella dropped onto the bed and hid her face in her hands. How in the name of all that was holy had she got herself into this fix? If only Sarie was here to help her make sense of the conflicting feelings swirling through her. Cold dread settled in her gut as the realization she might never see her best friend again became startlingly clear. She twisted the diamond ring on her left hand with nervous fingers. It was humiliating, that’s what it was. Bella used the anger to push the fear to the back of her mind for a moment. Packed up and shipped off to Canada in disgrace by her da and the parish priest. Just who did they think they were, ordering her around, giving her no say in the matter?
The anger faded and Bella had to admit she was given a choice. “Some choice.” She snorted and glared at the twinkling diamond. “I can marry Daniel Bloody Treliving who is the biggest scut that ever lived, or I can be shipped off to the wilds of Alberta to be the bride of the some rancher who has bought and paid for me.” To be fair, D’Arcy Rowan had provided first class passage for her and ensured she would be met in Halifax and transferred, along with her trunks, onto the first of two trains that would take her half way across the country to some dusty prairie town. Mr. Rowan spared no expense, so presumably he must be fairly well off. She’d thought the ship would land in St. John, New Brunswick and she’d have to transfer to Moncton to catch the train. Apparently this ship was headed to Halifax, Nova Scotia and the connection to the train was better.
What was he like, this man she was supposed to share her bed and her life with? The one letter she received from him was civil enough, and he had a good hand…Unless someone else penned the letter for him? Dear Lord, what if he was totally unlettered and horrible? She twisted the ring on her finger again, drawing it on and off over the knuckle. Maybe she could just disappear when the ship made land? There was a few dollars in her hand bag, not really enough to set her up in a strange place, but maybe enough…She was unsure how the strange looking currency used in the colonies translated into British Pound Sterling.
Bella let the notion die. If only she wasn’t expecting a child, things would be so much less complicated. It would be hard enough to make a living in strange surroundings if she were unencumbered, but with the child growing in her belly and soon to be noticeable to anyone with a pair of eyes, her chances of landing a job was slim to none. She sighed. There was nothing to it, but to carry on and hope D’Arcy Rowan was a decent human being who would treat her well. The man knew he was getting a two for the price of one deal with her, and the fact hadn’t seemed to faze him, so maybe it would be okay after all.
Fresh pain speared her heart. But Vear, oh Vear Du, without him it was like a piece of her soul was missing. He’d never know their love had created a child. Really, there wasn’t even any reason for him to suspect such a thing was possible. A consummated love affair between a mortal and selkie wasn’t unheard of, but it was certainly not encouraged. Oh, yes, she’d heard the tales from Scotland about the men who hid their selkie wives pelt so they couldn’t return to the sea. And women who did the same. But it had never been like that between Vear Du and herself. No pelt hiding, or trying to hold him against his will. No, he’d come to her willingly and pledged to stand by her. Until the damned Council of Kernow intervened.
The council of immortals banished her selkie from the world of man for his transgressions, she snorted in derision, and there seemed to be nothing anyone could do about it. Bella’s problem was of no concern to them, the bastards. Of course, they didn’t know about the baby. They might have been a bit more concerned with her if they realized she was carrying a half-blood. A shiver coursed through her. Lord only knew what they would have decreed if they’d realized the full scope of Vear’s crime. She lifted her lip in contempt. What crime was there in loving someone?
A tap on the cabin door interrupted her miserable thoughts. Running her fingers through her wind tossed hair, Bella got to her feet and smoothed the skirt of her dress. A glance in the tiny mirror showed her she at least looked somewhat presentable, so she crossed the rolling floor and opened the door.
“I’m here to escort you to the dining room, Miss Angarrick,” the uniformed steward informed her with a stiff half bow. He extended his arm. “The sea is a bit rough this evening, miss. Allow me to assist you.”
Bella took the proffered arm, slipping her hand into the crook of his elbow. “Thank you, Stephan.” She read the polished name tag on his left lapel.
“This way then, miss.”
* * *
The crossing was miserable in Bella’s opinion. Although the steward and other passengers assured her the seas were fair, to her it seemed all the ship did was pitch like a horse with a burr under its saddle. The thought made her miss Raven, and Sarie, which in turn sent her to her cabin in tears more than once. She spent the five days it took to cross the Atlantic writing to Sarie. The letters couldn’t be mailed until she made landfall in Halifax, but it was comforting to be able to share her experiences. In some small way it made her feel less alone and abandoned.
She often woke in the middle of the night with her heart pounding and the pulse roaring in her ears louder than the wind and waves pummelling the ship. The last night at sea found Bella unable to sleep at all. She huddled in her berth, back against the wall with her knees pulled up to her chin, wrapped in the blankets. The cabin was all greys and blacks in the faint light from the tiny night light by the door. Bella buried her face in the quilt and gave in to the despair which overwhelmed her. How in the name of all she held holy was she to marry some man she had never met? Vear, her heart cried. Am I supposed to lie with this strange man, let him touch me in those intimate places and act as if I like it?
Throwing the covers away, she got to her feet clutching a rail for support as the ship rolled. The other hand cradled her stomach and she was glad she had forgone dinner as bile rose in her throat. Letting go of the rail, she paced the tiny cabin, staggering now and again on the unsteady floor. I can’t do this, I just can’t. Better I should throw myself overboard tonight than face what the next days will bring. What is there to live for anyway? I’ve lost Vear, I’ll never see Sarie again, or Raven… The bleakness of her future crashed down on her, she crumpled to the floor landing on her knees, the carpet rough on her forehead. Bella wrapped her arms around her middle and gave in to the wracking silent sobs that shook her.
“Bella, my sweet Bella. Don’t weep so. Even though we are apart, I am always with you.”
Her sobs broke off abruptly and she glanced wildly around the shadowed cabin. The wind wailed outside the small porthole and the sea thundered against the bulkhead. “Bella, don’t despair.” Her heart leapt painfully in her chest and she used the edge of the bed to lever herself upright. Surely the shadows in the far corner were more than shadows. They seemed to have a solid substance to them. Wiping her bleary eyes Bella wobbled toward the corner where the darkest shadows gathered. Anguish surged when her searching fingers encountered only the polished panelling of the cabin wall. “In your heart, dear one. I am with you. Dream of me and I will come.” The soft voice faded and she slid down the wall to curl into a ball on the floor.
“Vear? I love you,” she whispered. “You may never know this, but our love grows inside me.” The baby, I can’t give up. I can’t end things by leaping into the sea. I have his child to live for and this D’Arcy Rowan has promised to accept the baby as his own, no matter if it’s girl or boy. Sarie would say I owe it to the poor innocent that depends on me for its life. She would say, I have made my bed and now I must lie in it. And so I shall, I guess. At least it’s not Daniel Treliving’s bed I’m forced to lie in.
Too exhausted to try and gain her feet, Bella crawled across the cabin and dragged her body up onto the narrow bed. She lit the tiny bedside lamp and began yet another letter to Sarie.
Although this passage only takes five days and tomorrow we’ll make landfall in Halifax, I feel like it has been forever since I saw you. God, I miss you so much. This must be the hundredth letter I have written to you. Some of them (most of them, to tell you the truth) I have torn into pieces and tossed into the sea. When I re-read them I realize all I have done is whinge and complain about how unfair this all is and I am embarrassed for you to see how I have wallowed in self-pity most of the voyage. So you remember how fearless we were, you and I? We outwitted Da and the odious Daniel by hiding in the cave in Lamorna Cove. When I think of it now, I can’t believe I actually climbed out my bedroom window and slid across the roof tree to escape my fate. You were there with me every step of the way.
Now, I am adrift without you to anchor me. Sarie, I’m scairt. So bad I think I will go mad. It is all I can do at times not to run screaming and tearing my hair out down the blasted corridors of this Godforsaken ship. I’ve no bravery or daring do in me anymore. Tonight I seriously thought about throwing myself overboard. The seas are stormy (in my estimation at least, the steward assures me the seas are actually quite mild) and I believe it would not take me long to succumb to Poseidon’s embrace.
But the strangest thing happened. I know you will think I’m barking mad, but I swear it is true. I heard Vear Du as if he was right here in the room with me. Then I remembered that I carry a part of him growing within me and realized I couldn’t selfishly give in to my desires. I know what you are thinking and what you would say if you were here. You see, even though I may never see you again, you are still my lode stone, keeping me from being a total wreck.
Should you be able to get a message to my selkie please let him know where I am and that I didn’t leave Cornwall willingly. Perhaps Gwin Scawen has ways? But don’t let him get himself in trouble over this and please, please, don’t tell him or the selkie about the baby. You see, I am finally thinking of someone before myself. You must be astounded, I’m sure. I just can’t imagine what the bloody Council would do to him if they discovered my secret.
Thank you, dear Sarie. Although you won’t know this until I can post this letter and it finds its way to you, you have once again helped save my sanity and enabled me to find a way to go on.
She folded the thin sheets, pulled open the night table drawer and tucked them between the pages of the novel along with the other missives to her friend she planned to mail once she was on dry land once more. Closing the drawer with a snick, Bella checked the time on her watch and propped herself up on the pillows. She pulled the quilt up to her chin and stared into the darkness waiting for the dawn she wished would never come.
Bella scrunched her eyes shut and cursed under her breath when the steward rapped on her door.
“Breakfast is being served, Miss Angarrick,” he called. “Will you be going to the dining room, or shall I bring you something to the cabin?”
“Thank you, I believe I will go to the dining room this morning,” she answered.
“As you wish, miss. We’ll be in port in four hours or so.”
“Thank you,” she repeated. Swinging her legs out of the bed, she washed and dressed, selecting a suitable outfit for travelling. With a glance at her things strewn about the cabin she tossed her head and closed the door behind her with satisfying snap. Time enough to set things to rights after she ate, it would fill the time before they reached Halifax, and give her something to think about besides the horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach.
The dining room was crowded but Bella found a place at a table by the wall. She ordered tea and toast along with some pastries. The strong sweet tea was hot and warmed the cold pit of her stomach. The pastry was enticing, but she found the raisin scone stuck in her throat. The waiter refilled her tea cup and Bella contented herself with nibbling on the toast. Around her the conversation rose and fell, excitement pitching the voices higher and louder than usual.
When her nervous stomach dictated she should eat no more, she folded her napkin and placed in on the table before allowing the waiter to pull her chair back. She stood on slightly wobbly legs, smiled at the man, and made her way back to her cabin.
The sight of the mess she left earlier that morning was depressing. Her gaze swept over the confusion of personal items, odds and bobs, and clothes flung every which way. Heaving a sigh, Bella dropped her small purse on the bed and began to set things to rights. During her absence someone had brought her trunk up and it stood open in the middle of the small room. In quick order she folded and stashed her clothing neatly into the bottom before replacing the divided tray which fit over them supported by an inner lip. Here she packed some books and papers which she wouldn’t need until she reached Alberta.
She pulled a small valise from under the bed and began to fill it with a change of clothes and some toiletries she would need on the train. Having a change of heart, she removed the novel with the letters to Sarie tucked inside from the trunk and shoved it into the side pocket of the travel bag. The letters could be mailed from Halifax and any other messages she composed in the days that followed could be mailed once she reached her destination. A surge of homesickness almost brought her to her knees when she thought of Sarie and the wind swept cliffs of home.
No, not home any longer. Cornwall was her past, and now she needed to figure out how to survive her future. Hands on hips she surveyed the now uncluttered cabin. One last check of the drawers and tiny cupboard as well as under the bed assured her all her possessions were safely packed in either the trunk or her valise.
Bella glanced at her watch. Only another hour and they’d be in Halifax. She locked the trunk and placed the valise on the bed. Someone would collect the trunk, but leave the bag for her to carry off the ship. Excitement mingled with fear as Bella left the cabin and hurried up to the promenade deck. Other passengers were already at the rail anxiously peering at the hazy horizon, searching for the first sight of land. She joined them, finding a place at the rail by an older couple the woman clinging tightly to the man’s arm.
“Can you see it yet, Harold?” The woman’s voice quivered.
“Not yet, pet.” He patted her arm.
“What if Samuel isn’t there to meet us? What will we do?” Grey hair blew across her face, escaped from the scarf tied about her head.
“Now, Alma. Samuel promised to meet us and so he will. Think how wonderful it will be to see the grandchildren.”
“Are you just visiting, or have you come to stay?” Bella inquired breaking into the couple’s conversation.
“Oh, hallo, miss. We’re immigrating to Canada. Our son, Samuel has been here three years now and he’s paid our passage so we can come live with him and his new wife,” Harold replied.
“Three grandchildren we’ve never met,” Alma added. “But, it’s all so big and strange. What if I don’t like it? What is she doesn’t like us?”
“Alma, her name is Araminta, and Samuel assures us they are both looking forward to our arrival. Don’t go borrowing trouble, my dear.” Harold covered her thin hand with his where it rested on the rail.
“What about you then, miss? Are you here on a visit? Pretty young thing like you.” Alma regarded her with eyes that seemed to miss nothing.
“No, I’m on my way to Alberta to marry a rancher. I’m afraid this move is permanent, not a visit at all,” Bella answered.
“How sweet, on your way to reunite with your sweetheart, are you?” The old woman smiled.
“Umm, yes. Of course—”
“I see it!”
“Dry land at last!”
The excited cries saved Bella from having to answer the awkward question. “It was nice talking with you, but I’m afraid I really must go see to my things.” She took her leave of the elderly couple. “Best of luck in your new home.”
“And you, my dear.” The couple waved in farewell and turned back to the rail.
Bella unlocked the cabin door to find the trunk gone and only her valise sitting forlornly on the bed. It looked as lost and alone as she felt. She found the harried room steward and asked if he could possibly bring her a pot of tea. With ill-concealed impatience he promised to see to it and returned twenty minutes later with a tea tray. He set it on the bed side table.
“We’ll be docking in fifteen minutes, miss. Just make your way up to the gangway once the captain gives the all clear. You’re First Class so you’ll be one of the first. Your trunks and belongings will be dockside. I believe the porters should already have the contact information and paperwork to transfer them to the train station.” He tipped his hat and hurried out.
Bella sank onto the bed and poured a cup of tea with a hand that barely shook. The familiar act of sipping the hot liquid helped steady her nerves, and by the time the pot was empty and the all clear was announced for First Class passengers, she was feeling almost like herself.
“Right, Bella. You can do this.” She gathered up her coat, small purse and valise, pausing before she opened the door to take a deep breath. She closed her eyes against a wave of vertigo and waited for it to pass. Bella opened the cabin door and bravely stepped into the corridor.
A small group gathered at the head of the gangway waiting for the mooring to be secured. Bella joined them, clutching the valise like a life line. Below her, the docks swarmed with life, people of all sorts pushed and shoved their way along. She spied a knot of people who were obviously waiting to greet the newly arrived passengers. The huge red brick building loomed oppressively over the chaos of the docks. How was she supposed to find her escort? There was a name on the paper jammed into her purse, but what good would that do her in the madness unfolding before her?
“Miss Angarrick?” A junior office appeared at her elbow.
Bella stifled the urge to jump and turned to him. “Yes, that’s me.”
“Petty Officer Johnson, miss.” He touched the brim of his cap. “I’m to accompany you to shore and ensure you are safely delivered to your on-shore escort. It has been arranged for your trunks to be transferred directly to the train station, so you have no need to concern yourself with them. Do you have all your other belongings with you?”
“Oh, yes. This is everything.” She indicated the valise at her feet and patted the purse on her arm. “It’s very good of you to see that I’m alright once I disembark. I’ve been ever so worried about getting lost in all this.” Bella waved a hand at the seething mass of humanity below.
“Very good, miss. Ah, it appears we are ready. Come, I’ll take you down first.” Petty Officer Johnson collected the valise from the deck and offered his arm.
“Thank you ever so much.” She smiled up at him and tucked her hand into the crook of his arm.
“My pleasure, miss.” He threaded their way through the other passengers and waited for her to step onto the gangway a little in front of him. When they were half way across, the rest of the First Class passengers followed, the gangway swayed a bit under the increased traffic. Bella gasped and clutched the officer’s arm. “Almost there, miss. No need for alarm,” he assured her.
Now she was on solid ground it felt odd not to be moving. The mass of humanity swirled around her, the scent of unwashed bodies, dead fish, and excrement stung her nose. The Petty Officer shouldered a way through the crowd and Bella was grateful to follow in his wake. Presently he opened a door and led her into a large empty hall. It looked more like a huge hanger or warehouse than anything else. Bella glanced around in bewilderment.
“Ah, here we are, Miss Angarrick.” Johnson towed her toward a row of chairs outside an office set into the far end of the hall.
She hadn’t a chance to settle into one of the hard straight backed chairs before she was escorted into the office and asked to produce her paperwork. The grey haired man perused them carefully, his face expressionless. Bella experienced a moment of panic. What if he didn’t find things in order? What was she supposed to do then? Would they put her back on a ship returning to England? Her vision blurred and she fought to control the racing of her heart.
“Everything seems to be in order here, Miss Angarrick. I see here you’re headed to Alberta to be married. Welcome to Canada and please accept my best wishes on your upcoming nuptials on behalf of the Queen.” The immigration official handed her back the bundle of papers and entered something in a ledger.
“Thank you,” she stammered and got to her feet. “May I go now?”
“What? Oh, yes of course, be off with you.” He waved a hand at her without glancing up.
Bella left the office on trembling legs and was relieved to see Petty Officer Johnson waiting for her.
“All set then, are we?”
Bella nodded, not trusting her voice. It was all so very final now, no turning back, no use wishing she could re-board the ship and return to her beloved Cornwall. She walked beside her escort in a daze and blinked in surprise when he led her back out into the sunlight. Johnson paused and glanced about before setting off again. Bella trailed along behind him until he stopped to speak to a man with a fedora perched jauntily over his dark curls. She stood a little to the side and waited until Johnson turned and introduced her to the gentleman.
“Miss Angarrick, this is Mister Adamson. He will take you in hand now and see you safely to the train. It’s been my pleasure to be of service to you, miss.” Johnson touched a finger to the brim of his hat and departed, leaving her valise by the man’s feet.
“Hallo, Mister Adamson.” She extended her hand.
“Call me Joe, Miss Angarrick. Your train don’t leave for a few hours. Would you like me to take you directly to the station, or would you prefer a bite to eat and bit of a tour of Halifax?” Bright blue eyes regarded her quizzically.
“They’ll be offloaded shortly and I’ve already arranged for me mates to deliver them to the train in plenty of time. Nothing to worry your head about. Your man in the west has paid handsomely to be sure you won’t be inconvenienced in the least. Now, what would you like to do?”
Bella checked her watch. She was surprised to see it was half-past one. “Perhaps some lunch would be in order?”
“Of course. Right this way. I know a nice place what serves good food for a good price. Just a short ride from here.” Joe picked up her valise and led her toward a pony cart. He placed the valise in the bed of the cart and offered Bella his hand to assist her up onto the seat. “Hope you don’t mind the mode of transport, it’s a mite easier to find a place to park Horace here, than it is to try and park a motor car,” he apologized and climbed up onto the seat beside her.
Bella clutched her purse on her lap and glanced around as the cart pulled out of the crowded yard. “Oh no, this is fine. I like horses better than motor cars any day.” She smiled at him. The streets were narrow and many of them seemed to go uphill. Once they were clear of the harbour and docks, the houses were clustered close together and painted in a myriad of pastel colours. Her exploration of the city was interrupted when Joe halted outside a corner diner with a huge neon sign emblazoned across the front.
After a hearty lunch of clam chowder and fish and chips, accompanied by non-stop chatter from the proprietor who seemed to be an old friend of Joe’s, Bella climbed back onto the pony cart. She was fascinated by the scenes of everyday life she observed as they passed by. The activity near the docks reminded her of Newlyn Harbour, but on a far larger scale. They arrived at the train station and Joe accompanied her to the ticket office carrying her bag. Bella dug in her purse and produced the ticket D’Arcy had sent her. The ticket master took it, and after checking the document over, stamped it and handed the paper back to her.
“Waiting room for ladies is over there.” He pointed. “You can wait there until your train arrives. Show your ticket to the conductor and he’ll help you find your berth in the sleeping car. First Class passengers eat in the dining car, and there’s a ladies’ lounge car as well. Once you’re aboard the steward will see to your needs.”
“Thank you,” Bella managed to stammer. The whole process was overwhelming and everything was strange and unsettling. Even the accents of the people were odd and she often found it hard to understand them. It was like English mixed with Cockney slang, and a smattering of Gaelic thrown in for good measure.
“Are you okay, miss? You look a might pale, if you ask me,” Joe inquired peering into her face.
“I’m feeling a bit poorly, actually. Do you think I could sit down for a minute?” Bella swayed on her feet.
“Here now, just hold onto me and we’ll find you a seat.” Joe led her to a chair set by the window. “Just sit here now and I’ll get you a glass of water. Just wait here.” He hurried off and returned in a few minutes bearing a carafe and a glass. “Here you are, Miss Angarrick. Just take a sip of this. You’ll be feeling fit as a fiddle in no time flat.”
“Thank you, Joe.” She took the glass he had filled with water from the carafe and sipped it gratefully. Her head cleared and her vision steadied. “I feel much better now. Thank you for your kindness.”
“Think nothing of it. The train should arrive in about half an hour. I’ll make sure you get on board and find your berth and all before I leave you. What you need is a good night’s rest. Come tomorrow morning you’ll be right as rain. Imagine, this time tomorrow you’ll be almost to Montreal. Hardly seems possible, does it?”
“But I’m not going to Montreal,” she exclaimed in alarm. “I’m supposed to get off at Edmonton, in Alberta!”
Joe laughed and patted her hand. “No need to be upset. Montreal is just on the way to your destination. You will need to change trains there, but all the arrangements are already in place to see you safely on your way. There’s nothing to worry about, not a’tall. ”
“How much farther is Edmonton from Montreal?” She stumbled a bit over the unfamiliar names.
“Quite a ways, I’m sure. Takes about three and a half days to get to Alberta from there.”
“That long? How big is Canada?” The sheer magnitude of the distance she had to travel suddenly became all too clear.
“Well, it’s a big place to be sure. Especially compared to the old country. I’ve heard once you get to the prairies there’s miles and miles of nothing but flat land. Can’t imagine it meself. No trees or nothing.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize it was so far,” she said faintly.
“It’ll be alright, dearie. Your man out there has made sure the trip will be as pleasant as possible. You’ll make out okay. A lot better than some mail order brides, I’m sure.”
“I’m not a mail order bride,” she started to say and then thought better of it. Let the man think what he wanted. There was no way Bella wanted to explain the real reason for her flight from England.
In due time the train huffed its way to a halt at the platform. Bella bade her companion farewell after he handed her over to the gentleman in a smart uniform who helped her step aboard. In short order the Pullman porter took her to the sleeping car and showed her where to stow her valise, assuring her it would be quite safe there. Then he demonstrated the method of moving from car to car safely while showing her where the dining car and ladies lounge car were located. He left her sitting at a small table by a window with a pot of tea. She smiled gratefully and leaned her head back for a moment.
Beyond the window life bustled by, oblivious to her inner turmoil. Bella had never seen so many people in one place in her life. The mob seethed in an ever changing sea of motion, every person appeared to be in a hurry and intent on their individual tasks. The crowd pushed and shoved by each other in a single minded purpose. She closed her eyes for a moment, too overwhelmed to take it all in. Fatigue licked at her fragile composure and tears pricked the back of her eyes. She itched to leap up and run away from all the commotion, the inclination so strong she actually started to get up from the chair.
Taking a deep breath, Bella sank back on the cushioned chair. “Where would you run to, idiot woman?” she muttered under her breath.
“Shall I pour the tea for you, madam?” A uniformed cat attendant stood at her elbow.
She looked up in surprise. “What? Oh, no thank you. I can do it.” Bella smiled at the man.
“As you wish.” He nodded and moved on down the car.
Her hand trembled only slightly when she lifted the large silver teapot and filled the bone china cup set on a matching saucer. Both teapot and cup and saucer bore the logo of the rail company. She added generous dollops of milk and sugar to the liquid and stirred with a tiny silver spoon. It was all so very posh and not at all what she was used to. No heavy crockery tea pot and chipped mugs like in the kitchen at home. It just added to the strangeness and feelings of alienation, threatening her grasp on normalcy.
Bella stifled the urge to laugh. Normalcy? Would anything ever feel normal again? Somehow, she doubted it. Outside the window, the tempo of the activity seemed to have picked, porters almost running as they rushed to finish last minute tasks and a few tardy passengers hurrying down the platform clutching tickets fluttering in their hands. Bella sipped her tea and concentrated on the scene, willing herself not to think about anything else. Else I will surely go Bodmin. No one in this new place will even know what I mean if I say that. A new wave of disassociation swept over her.
Action on the platform dwindled, the sound of slamming doors up and down the train echoed against the wooden walls of the station. Whistles blew loudly and Bella leaned forward as the train began to move. The progress was slow at first, but quickly picked up speed and left the huddle of buildings behind. By the time she had finished most of the pot of tea and all of the fancy biscuits that came with it, the world outside the window consisted of rolling farmland and forests. In the distance she could often catch the blue gleam of the Atlantic Ocean. The tracks followed the wide ribbon of a river. It seemed immense to Bella, far wider than the Tamar, or even the Thames. She supposed this must be like the Thames estuary, broadening out as it reached the sea. Bella expected the waterway would narrow as they went further inland and was surprised when it didn’t do so.
After a time, she tired of gazing out the window at the landscape and got to her feet. The sky was darkening toward evening and her body demanded food, even while her nervous state rejected the idea. There were other ladies in the car, all of them with travelling companions. The murmur of conversation and quiet laughter rose from the intimate groups gathered at small tables throughout the lounge. Bella was disinclined to speak to anyone, but perversely also felt oddly left out with no one to giggle with. If only Sarie were here, what fun we could have. Bella’s throat tightened and she banished the thought from her mind.
“May I be of service, miss?” The car attendant approached her.
“Which way is the dining car?”
She thanked him after he pointed her in the correct direction and made her way to the indicated car. Tables spread with immaculate white linen and set with fine bone china greeted her. Night had fallen and the shades were drawn across the windows down the length of the car. Many of the tables were occupied, but a uniformed attendant led Bella to small table set for two.
“Will anyone be joining you, miss?” The man asked while seating her and placing a heavy linen napkin stiff with starch across her lap.
“No, I’m afraid. I’ll be dining alone,” she answered. The whole process was slightly daunting. Bella had never been treated with such deference. She felt like she was playing the fraud. It was extremely odd to be treated like the Queen of England when in reality she was pregnant out of wedlock and sent away in disgrace to some foreign place.
“As you wish, miss.” He handed her a large open menu, complete with a gold tassel. “Would you like tea or coffee?” With a deft hand he filled a goblet with ice water without spilling a drop.
“Tea, please.” She smiled at him.
While she waited for her meal to come, Bella entertained herself with examining her fellow travellers. It was an activity she used to enjoy with Sarie on their infrequent trips to Truro, or on even rarer occasions to London. Giggling behind their hands, they would invent wild and crazy stories about the passengers nearby. By long habit, she found herself turning to speak to Sarie, and was bereft when she remembered she was alone. The waiter appeared with her meal on a silver tray. He set it before with a flourish.
“Are you quite alright, miss?” The man peered down at her with a concerned frown.
“Oh, yes. Thank you. Quite alright,” she replied. Bloody hell, I must learn to hide my emotions better if even complete strangers can see I’m upset. What will Mister Rowan think if I walk around with a face on me like death warmed over?
Bella finished her meal and found her way to the sleeping car with a sense of relief. At least safe in her sleeper, she could drop her pathetic attempt to put up a façade of normality and give in to her tears. After using the water closet—what was it they called it on this side of the pond? The bathroom?—she crawled into the berth and lay staring at the ceiling inches from her nose. The repetitive clack of the wheels irritated her and the swaying of the carriage made her slightly nauseous. Eventually, exhaustion overrode her agitation and she fell into a fitful slumber.
She woke early and ate breakfast in the almost deserted dining car. Collecting her valise she settled in the ladies lounge and gazed out the window at the gently rolling Quebec countryside. How odd, she reflected, that most people in this part of the country spoke French. At least that’s what she’d been told and had no reason to doubt the information.
Before noon, the train pulled into Montreal and Bella was caught up in the business of leaving one train and boarding another. Once more, there was a man waiting to greet her and smooth the changeover to the train that would take her across the country to Alberta. The gentleman in the tweed cap assured her the trunks were transferred to the baggage car and handed her over the Pullman porter. She stepped up onto the train and went through the process of finding the sleeper car with her berth in it and leaving her valise there in care of the car attendant. She found the ladies lounge and dining car without any fuss this time and settled herself in the lounge by a large window.
She’d no sooner ordered a pot of tea before the doors slammed, whistles blew and the engine steamed out of the station. Bella leaned back, tea cup in hand, and watched the suburbs of Montreal flash by. It was soon replaced by green hilled farmland spotted with black and white cows grazing in velvety pastures. After a time, she wearied of looking at the scenery and removed the novel from her hand bag. One of the letters to Sarie fluttered to the table. She retrieved it and shoved the paper into her purse. She didn’t feel like writing yet another letter and was annoyed at herself for not remembering to find a post office either in Halifax or Montreal.
Bella consulted the schedule in her bag. The train was supposed to have a stop in Ottawa and Toronto, and then Winnipeg. She would have to find the opportunity to mail the letters at one of those places. The novel was a mystery whodunnit, not something she usually read, but it took her mind off her own troubles and passed the time. Tiring of the complicated plot and at a total loss to even guess who the murderer was, Bella wandered to the dining car and ate lunch. Afterward she returned to the lounge car and gazed at the Saint Lawrence River wide and blue sparkling in the sun. Before long they crossed the broad Rideau River into Ontario. The capital city of Canada seemed small and inconsequential so Bella who was used to the ostentatious parliament buildings of London and the imposing presence of Big Ben in his clock tower. Compared to the ancient timelessness of British cities and towns everything here seemed to be raw and new, with no patina of centuries of wear and tear to give it character. It looked as alien as Bella felt.
The tracks ran beside the waterway for miles, the train made a brief stop in Kingston where she could see a fort of some sort perched on a rise by the river. She stopped the car attendant to ask what it was.
“That’s Fort Henry, miss. It’s a historical site now. If you’re planning to stay in the area it’s well worth the time to go and visit it.”
“Thanks, but I’m bound for Edmonton. I’m sure I’ll never get back this way,” she replied.
He nodded and moved on down the car to tend to the other occupants. Bella craned her neck to see the battlements better. Did they have interesting things like this where she was going? It would be exciting to explore. The train rolled on through the gently Ontario countryside, Bella tired of the view and returned to her novel. She looked when the outskirts of Toronto came into sight and the train slowed slightly. When it came to a stop in bustling Union Station in the heart of the city, Bella disembarked after being assured by the Pullman porter that she had plenty of time and the train would not leave without her.
The noise and crowds reminded her of Paddington or Euston, but the resemblance stopped there. Voices rose and fell in cacophony of different languages, even the smell of the city was foreign to her. The huge vaulted ceiling and arches of the main lobby was impressive. She bought a newspaper from a young boy, and after finding a post office and purchasing the required postage stamps, she mailed the handful of letters to Sarie and hurried back to the platform where her train waited, belching smoke from its stack.
The porter helped her up the step into the train and gave her a friendly smile as he released her hand. Bella thanked him and found her way to the lounge as the train pulled out of the cavernous vault of the station. In a short time the scenery passing by changed from pastoral to more rugged country. In a few hours trees and rocks hemmed the tracks on both sides. It seemed the coniferous forests and stark granite cliffs and boulders would never end. Occasionally lakes and ponds filled with water lilies broke the monotony of the sombre spiked spruce and pine that dominated the forests. For a time, the tracks ran beside a huge body of water. The car attendant informed Bella it was Lake Huron, he advised her if she thought it was huge to wait until she saw Lake Superior. The natives called it Gitche Gumee, the big waters. Since she seemed interested he went on to tell her it was the largest lake by surface area in the world and the third largest if measured by volume. Bella listened politely, but with only half an ear. Her thoughts were miles away on Cornwall’s coast with the Atlantic throwing itself at the cliffs. She smiled and thanked the man before he moved on.
The open novel lay on her lap, but the inclination to discover what dilemma the heroine had gotten messed up with deserted her. Bella’s head bobbed sharply startling her. Bother and damn, I must have dozed off. She blinked and turned toward the window. More trees crowded the edges of the railway, the sky above a vivid deep blue that reminded her of the deep waters of Mounts Bay.