Book by: Miranda J Taylor
Genre: Historical Fiction
The next morning, Finely knocked at Kit’s door and waited on the verandah. He removed his hat and shook off small droplets of water and looked out at the drizzling rain. Out on the ocean, dark grey clouds seemed to move towards the shore in drifts as though in sync with the waves. The drizzle that had dampened Finley’s hat turned to heavy slanting rain. He turned up his coat collar and replaced his hat. When the door opened revealing Kit and Clara standing solemnly dressed in black from head to toe, Finley again removed his hat.
“No need for proprieties with weather like this.” Kit gestured with her head at his hat. “Best put that back on. Looks like we’re in for a miserable day.”
“The dray has taken the coffin … pardon me, the dray has taken Jimmy to the cemetery, and I’ve prepared a plot beside Robert,” Finley said.
Kit unfurled her umbrella, the black lace trim folding under as a gust of wind swept across the verandah. “Well then, we best get a move on.”
Clara peered up at Jimmy and attempted a smile, but her lips barely moved.
Finley looked once again out to sea. The grey clouds had blackened and formed a sheet as though darkness was moving in to smother daylight all at once.
At the cemetery, a small group huddled under the slim protection of a sickly camphor laurel, a gift to the quarantine station from a Chinese gold-seeker who’d lost his brother during their voyage. It stood behind his gravestone, and the group would have received more shelter from the other side, but were unwilling to step upon his grave.
As the trio approached, Tom moved from under the branches with Laura on his arm. They walked to the graveside followed by Father Dixon, Blinker, and three of Finley’s co-workers.
Blinker stepped forward to greet Kit. “I’m so sorry, ma’am. I looked after him the best I could.”
“I know you did.” She tipped the point of her umbrella to the ground and stretched onto her toes and kissed his cheek.
He smiled briefly and lifted a package from the inside of his coat. “It’s from the sale of the cottage. It’s all there, bar the cost of the coffin. He wrote on the note inside that he wanted me to give it to you.” He handed her the small canvas satchel. “I can’t stay, you see, that’s why I’m giving it to you now. I’m not good with such things.”
“I understand, Blinker.”
“I’ll get going now. If I’m lucky I’ll get ahead of this storm” He tipped his hat and walked towards the dray. He helped Finley and his men remove the coffin and place it on the ground before hurriedly moving the horse and dray to the track.
As the group finished taking a place around the gravesite, a mighty clap of thunder burst overhead. It sent a large flock of corellas screeching out of the tops of the trees.
Father Dixon looked to the heavens and clutched his bible in front of him. “In light of the ominous weather, I’ll keep this brief.” He peered from the top of the hole to Kit standing at the other end. “That is, of course, if it is in agreeance with you, Mrs Monahan?”
Kit closed her eyes and dipped her chin slightly.
Father Dixon spoke briefly of Jimmy’s hard life in England until he met the love of his life, and they made a family together. His illness was mentioned but not how he met his death.
Finley and his workers lowered the coffin on ropes to the bottom of the hole. It sank onto the muddy bottom leaving his head resting slightly higher than his toes.
Kit came forward and took a handful of the sodden earth and threw it onto the lid, followed by Clara.
The slanting rain turned to large drops and then a thundering onslaught. The group split and made for shelter.
Father Dixon unfurled an umbrella and hurried back towards town.
Kit and Clara followed behind Tom and Laura heading to the hospital. Kit looked behind her when she realised Finley was not with them.
Finley stood beside the grave with his workers and filled his shovel with the dripping mud. Water drained in a thick rivulet from the brim of his hat as he tilted his head down to throw the mud onto the coffin. He looked up at Kit and gestured for her to leave.
She nodded and hurried after the others.
Inside the hospital Laura fetched towels and handed one to Tom.
Tom wiped the back of his neck. “I don’t know how The Sea Empress is going to fair out there today.” It’s the second time she’s been at an anchor here. The last time her captain barely navigated her safely past the rocks at the heads.”
Kit sat by the fire with Clara. “Is there a pitcher of water in every room, Laura?”
“Yes, ma’am. I saw to it personally. We’ve made every provision for their arrival.”
“I forgot to ask Finley if he’d managed to fix the boiler in the drying room,” Kit said.
Tom hung his towel on the back of a chair. “He did." “It only took three days to wash and dry every piece of the passengers’ clothing from the last ship, and it proved it’s worth with the bed linen too.”
Laura turned from the window. “It’s getting worse out there. The wind is blowing something fierce. I can barely see the ocean anymore for the sea spray.”
Tom placed his arm around Laura’s shoulders. “It’ll be all right. The captain can weigh anchor and ride out the storm if he has to.”
“I think we should have boats ready in case the worst happens,” Kit said.
Tom raised his eyebrows. “You’re being a bit dramatic, aren’t you, Kit?”
“Perhaps, but why not be prepared?”
“You’re talking about the ship sinking, aren’t you?” Laura said.
Tom lifted Laura’s chin with his finger and peered into her tearful eyes. “That’s not going to happen. There’s really no need to worry your head about such things.”
They all turned when Finley strode into the room. “The wind’s got up. She’s blowing at around sixty knots already.”
“Which way is it blowing?” Kit asked.
Laura handed Finley a towel.
He removed his hat and ran the towel over his head. “South westerly.”
Kit stood and faced Tom. “Towards the rocks!”
"Finley," Tom said, "get every available boat and take it down to the shore. Send one of your men into town and see if he can get volunteers with boats to do the same. We’ll also need extra men.”
Finley threw the towel onto a table and replaced his hat as he headed out the door.
© Copyright 2023 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.
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The author Miranda J Taylor painted a beautiful picture of the funeral during a lightning storm. And she nicely set up the drama of the ship The Sea Empress in the harbor that was in danger of being blown into the rocks. I didn't have to guess what era the book takes place because of the imagery of the coffin drawn by dray horses and the mention of a camphor laurel sent by a Chinese gold seeker.
Well done. The Quarantine Station looks like a historical fiction book I will enjoy reading.