Saturday, 20 August 2016
Where a long voyage (ideally several weeks!) allows for the kindling of emotions in a confined space among a limited cast of characters...
A potential liaison hovers - enticingly - in The Housemaid's Daughter. Cathleen Harrington is sailing from the UK to South Africa in the early 1900s. She's due to disembark in Cape Town and marry Edward, her longstanding fiance, on the very day that the ship docks. Her wedding dress is ready. Her chaperone on board is the minister who will marry her. Even so...
Will I still love Edward? she confides to her diary.
Will he still love me?
And here comes distraction, to add to her uncertainty.
The company on board ship is charming. In particular one Colonel Saunders, on his way to rejoin his regiment in India. How strange that I should spend five years serving my betrothal in Ireland and just when I am allowed to go to Africa to marry Edward, I find myself waylaid by another suitor.
As they covertly eye one another, the Union Castle liner wends its way slowly down the dramatic coast of Africa. The sunsets are awesome, the sea breezes are refreshing and Cath struggles to remain unmoved. The colonel is far less restrained.
Stay on board, Cath, he urges, after declaring his love for me. Come with me to India! We'll marry as soon as we arrive.
But Cathleen is a woman of her time, and duty - plus the vigilant chaperone - weighs heavily. But she does toy with the idea.
I could if I wished. For he is considerate and not a rake, and he knows my grown-up heart better, I daresay, than does Edward. I confess I am more than a little in love with him.
Cape Town looms closer. The passengers are encouraged to rise at dawn to see Table Mountain appear on the horizon. Cath makes her choice.
I have refused Charles Saunders, and he understands that I must do my duty.
But I shall always wonder how it might have been to marry a man with whom I felt a quickening such as I've never known before...
A dash of truth gives fiction an extra fizz.
"But why, Granny," I remember my childish voice saying to my grandmother, the inspiration for the character of Cathleen, "why didn't you? If you loved him -"