The drowned sailor, p.1
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       The Drowned Sailor, p.1

           Benjamin Parsons
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The Drowned Sailor
The Drowned Sailor

  by Benjamin Parsons

  Copyright 2012 Benjamin Parsons

  * * *

  I

  The best comedies always end with weddings, but it does not follow (I hope) that the worst always begin with them, because this must, as I am at a loss how to start it anywhere else. The scene was the Westcountry of England, and the date, twenty-first of March: all was overcast above, and bright and green below— a happy setting for a wedding.

  It was the eve of the special day, the last of the engagement, and the anxious fiancés were embowered together in blissful contemplation of the marital pleasures to come— that is, they were quarrelling. Well, you must know that lovers often love to hate and hate to love, and so it was with this couple: Clare Belmont sat by the window overlooking the slate-sea, red-cheeked and vexed with crying, and waiting for him to notice; while James Trevick stood on the other side of the room, arms folded, sulking magnificently.

  This Trevick was handsome like thunder and lightning: stern and glowering even on his best days, with stormy brows, a curling lip and eyes quick to dart fire. His hair, black as rain clouds, was ruffled as though by tempests, and such a head, atop a mighty frame too, was aptly suited to petulant tempers and moody silences— he was the king of them, and could bring them to bear in any lover’s dispute with fatal power.

  In the face of such onslaughts, Clare must fall back on her own best artillery, namely, hysterical tears. She had no patience with brooding and silences, and must always give vent to her feelings. She was an orphan, but as a darling beauty adorned with auburn ringlets, had been indulged and spoiled from the cradle by all manner of compassionate relatives, so the withholding of affection or attention would invariably invoke a sobbing tantrum until she could attain her own way. She was not tyrannical, however, and rarely used her peevish power simply to keep her friends and family dancing attendance; in fact, she was usually as placid and easily led as a child when people were kind to her. But in these instances of apparent neglect, the foot would stamp, the tears spring up, the voice rise an octave and the curls tremble like a medusa’s— all symptoms particularly irksome to Trevick— so they were perfectly attuned to infuriate each other.

  Upon this happy couple happened Ravella, cheerful friend of the bride-to-be. Her appearance prompted an immediate appeal from Clare.

  ‘Ravella!’ she cried, starting up. ‘I can’t bear it another second! I can’t bear him— he doesn’t love me, he doesn’t care if I live or die! Why should I marry a man like that? What am I going to do? What am I going to do?’ —at which he snorted, she sobbed anew, and Ravella asked in some surprise what the matter was?

  ‘Oh! Well!’ exclaimed her friend then, ‘I suppose he would say there’s nothing the matter, only that I’ve been crying my eyes out and breaking my heart this quarter of an hour— I feel sick with it, but he hasn’t so much as looked at me, even asked me what’s wrong— and he’s supposed to love me! Love! Is that love, Ravella?’

  Ravella glanced at the gloomy monument in the corner, who was tapping his foot impatiently, and ventured to say that it was anybody’s guess what love was, in the end.

  ‘Well it’s not what I call love!’ returned the unhappy lady. ‘Freezing me out, turning his back, drumming his fingers while I’m sobbing aloud for anybody to hear! I don’t know how he can stand by, and not care— I couldn’t do it —no-one with a heart could!’

  ‘Perhaps his heart’s stopped, and he’s died, just standing there?’ suggested Ravella.

  Clare concurred that he might as well be dead for all she knew, and in her frustration snatched up a coaster from the windowsill and threw it at her fiancé. The missile bounced off his shoulder to no effect, save deepening his frown.

  ‘It seems he has passed on after all, as we feared,’ said Ravella. ‘Well, it’s best I begin the post-mortem at once. First and foremost, the cause of death, and that’s clear: you’ve killed him yourself.’

  ‘Me!’ Clare gasped.

  Ravella nodded. ‘You don’t think he’s done it on a whim, do you? He’s obviously died of happiness, and you’re the cause.’

  ‘Happiness! He’d better not be happy, I’ve been telling him off all morning.’

  ‘Ah, now we come at it,’ said Ravella. ‘Why have you been scolding him?’

  ‘For making me miserable! He makes me so angry, Ravella, he drives me mad!’

  ‘In what way?’

  ‘He’s so— so close, so secretive! He won’t tell me things, what he’s thinking, or feeling. He keeps it all hidden, and I can’t stand it!’

  ‘What does it matter what he thinks? How he acts is your concern. Doesn’t he act like he loves you?’

  ‘Yes, but he’s so deep and mysterious,’ she complained. ‘He’s keeping a secret from me, even now. He’s been keeping it for ages, and won’t open up, even though he can see how unhappy it makes me.’

  ‘How do you know he’s keeping anything from you?’ was the next question.

  The injured one glared at her future spouse and replied: ‘You know how you know? Well, I know.’

  Ravella raised an eyebrow, but nodded wisely. Then she smiled, took her friend’s hand consolingly, and regarded Trevick. ‘Clare, the great attraction of men like Lord Byron over there is his depth, his mystery. You need his secrets, his passions to be delved, as you well know— so you must endure them! After all, they’ve drawn you in like bait, and now you’re hooked, and want him more than ever. Well, isn’t it true?’

  ‘If only he’d say that he cares about me at all, I wouldn’t be so angry with him,’ protested Clare.

  ‘No,’ said Ravella, ‘but if he told you he adores you every day, you wouldn’t be half so passionate to know it, either. I believe men have their ploys, as well as women, and this is his. After all, choppy seas are generally placid underneath.’

  ‘Very interesting! But I don’t want your opinion, Ravella!’ said Trevick suddenly, finally out of patience.

  ‘Oho!’ laughed Ravella. ‘You see, Clare? I’ve plumbed the depths at once, and knocked my head on the bottom. But you must confess, Byron, that there’s no secret worth keeping?’

  Trevick paced over to the door, and made to part with: ‘If there is, it’s not for you to know,’ —but Clare dashed over and caught his sleeve.

  ‘And not for me to know either, James? How can you keep anything from me?’

  He sighed, and looked at his fiancée earnestly. ‘We’ll be married tomorrow, Clare, and there will be no secrets then. But for now, just leave me be.’

  He made to go again, and she clung to him wretchedly.

  ‘You don’t love me anymore, isn’t that it, James? You don’t want me! Why won’t you just say it?’

  At this he took her by the shoulders, mid-way between a shake and an embrace. ‘I’m going to marry you, Clare— I’m going to marry you! Of course it’s you I want!’ — whereupon she decided the matter, and embraced him.

  Ravella smiled to herself, sat down primly on the chair lately vacated by Clare, and murmured: ‘I know your secret, Byron.’

  Trevick wheeled about with sudden vehemence. ‘Do you now? You can read my mind, I suppose! What are you, a fairy, or a witch?’

  ‘What is the secret, Ravella?’ implored Clare, pouting. ‘If you know it, tell me!’

  Ravella looked downcast. ‘Mr. Trevick hates me, Clare.’

  ‘Why?’ she demanded of him, in immediate defence of her friend.

  ‘I don’t hate her,’ he countered irritably.

  ‘Oh yes, I remember,’ said Ravella quietly.

  ‘I don’t deserve to be teased and tormented!’ cried Clare. ‘Ravella, what does it all mean?’

  Trevick cut in: ‘It means nothing! I’ve had enoug
h of your mischief, Ravella!’

  ‘It means,’ replied Ravella, ‘nothing indeed. Byron here is in a pet because I laughed at him, and his pride can’t bear it. We don’t get on at the best of times, and I daresay his secret involves his feelings for me, and how they might distress you.’

  Clare turned back to him. ‘Oh James, is this it? I wish you two would be friends, and save me from all this grief. How can you not love Ravella?’

  ‘How can he help it?’ answered she. ‘I’m an incorrigible rogue, with very few redeeming qualities, and all the vices— I drink, gamble, smoke and am a fairy and a witch! He must adore me.’

  She smiled, he frowned, and Clare reached to take their hands, to join them amicably together; but Ravella dodged this and joined the couple’s hands instead.

  ‘It was your argument to start with,’ she reminded them, ‘so you must have the reconciliation. Besides, it’ll be practice for tomorrow.’

  But this happy conclusion was blighted when Trevick seemed to catch a gleam in Ravella’s eye, and he snatched his hand away, told her
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