The tillermans gift, p.1
The Tillerman's Gift, p.1C J Brown
THE TILLERMAN’S GIFT
By C J Brown
Copyright 2013 C J Brown
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Thank you to my family for their encouragement and editing of my writing (although I accept full responsibility for any enduring errors).
THE TILLERMAN’S GIFT
December 1900: Somewhere off the far north coast of the Colony of New South Wales
The storm continued to rage as the heavy turbines of the SS Halfpenny gradually wound down to a dull drone.
Captain William McIntyre smoothed his beard and knocked loudly on the door of the Governor's cabin.
McIntyre opened the door and, removing his hat, stepped inside. He held an ornate silver tray covered by a matching domed lid. The Governor of Queensland sat at the polished rosewood desk reading over his speech. The heavily embroidered velvet and linen curtains were drawn around the large, four-poster, parcel-gilt, mahogany bed.
"Your Excellency, the winds are strong and the waves high. We are taking shelter in a bay until it is safe to resume our journey."
"Thank you for keeping me informed, Captain. For how long will we be delayed?"
"I expect the storm to last only two, maybe three hours at most, Excellency."
"Good. I have no wish to be late to Melbourne for the Federation Ceremony and we…” he glanced fleetingly at the drawn curtains, “… we would rather not have to cut short our shopping days in Sydney.”
A loud sneeze sounded behind the curtain.
"I trust Her Ladyship is not unwell,” the Captain frowned.
"A simple allergy, Captain. We believe it may be the cats."
"The cats, Your Lordship?"
"Yes, the cats. Her Ladyship is allergic to cats. I wonder, Captain, do you think it would be asking too much to ... shall we say cull the clowder?"
The captain looked blankly at the governor.
“Cull the clowder, My Lord?”
"Yes, minify the moggies, so to speak. Clear the clutter. Lighten the litter."
The captain looked increasingly confused and stroked his chin as though it might somehow help him to understand the governor’s meaning.
"He means get rid of some of those damned cats, Captain!" The shrill, nasally voice took Captain McIntyre by surprise. He had not, until that moment, heard Her Ladyship speak. More kindly-disposed folk described her as aloof. Others thought she was rather stuck-up.
"The cats, Your Lordship?"
"Yes, Captain McIntyre, the cats."
"But …but, Your Lordship,” the Captain stammered, “the cats …catch the rats."
"Captain, I have seen no rats."
"My Lordship, that would be because the cats catch the rats."
"Indeed ... yes, and a fine job they do." Another ear-piercing sneeze and the captain thought the heavy bed curtains ballooned out at least ten inches. He winced and pressed a protective forefinger to his ear.
“Our journey…” the Governor looked sideways towards the source of the unpleasant noise, “would be considerably more agreeable for all concerned.”
The captain nodded sympathetically. He turned to leave then stopped, realizing why he had come to the cabin in the first place. “I beg your pardon, Your Excellency, I almost forgot. The cook has prepared a sweet treat for you and her ladyship. He recommends it as a suitable accompaniment to a hot cup of tea.”
The governor motioned to the side table and the captain set the silver tray down, removed the lid and revealed a most unusual sight.
“Simple sponge cake, My Lord, with a layer of chocolate icing. The cook has sprinkled a little coconut to remind her ladyship of home.”
The governor’s eyes widened. “My dear, come, look at this!”
After another sneeze, the governor’s wife parted the curtain, nodded perfunctory acknowledgement of the captain and walked over to the side table.
“How delightful!” Lady Mary Lamington forced a thin smile. “It almost certainly is snowing in Scotland at the moment. Please pass my thanks on to the pastry cook.”
“Certainly, Your Ladyship. And I shall look into the cat situation as soon as possible.”
“As soon as possible, Captain?”
“Um, that is to say, immediately, Ma’am.”
With that the captain took his leave and went in search of the cabin boy.
The heavy rain drilled into Flynn's face and arms as he held the first cat by the scruff of the neck and dangled her over the side of the ship.
“That one…And that one too!” the captain had ordered a few minutes earlier, pointing at the forlorn and mangy creatures sheltering under the lifeboat. “They’re nothing but fur, fleas and flatworms, those two. Toss ‘em over, boy!”
"Sorry, girl. Captain's orders. In you go and good luck. Maybe you'll be better at catchin' fish than rats."
Flynn watched the bedraggled form splash into the water and disappear only to resurface a few seconds later. He did the same with the second. "Maybe you can get the sharks before they get you."
The scrawny unfortunates, selected for being the least proficient rodent hunters on board, clung to each other as wave after wave swamped them and forced them below the surging waters. But each time they kept resurfacing.
Flynn felt a pang of pity as the cats clawed at the side of the iron vessel and looked up at him as though pleading for forgiveness for their unknown transgressions.
"I s'pose it's only fair to give you a fightin' chance," he said out loud and, looking around the deck, he found a small, wooden crate under a canvas. He ran back to the side of the ship and threw it into the water. To Flynn it was a piece of rubbish, a small pine box that would not be missed and would in all likelihood fail to hold together for more than a few minutes. To the cats it was a life raft that would provide the possibility of survival, if only for a short time.
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