Noah returns to shore, and reunites with Charles.
Matilda completed her journey in a sort of nightmarish calm. Whatever powers controlled the weather were favourably inclined towards the crew on their return as well; but no calm waters or clear sky could lift the sorrowful spell that the two young men's death had put on the ship. The shanties quieted, the fiddler put away his fiddle, the rude jokes and thundering laughter was no more. If the captain had been keeping mostly to himself before, it was now as if there was no captain on the Matilda at all. Noah saw him only once on the journey back to England, during night watch when most others were sleeping. The captain was standing, quite obviously inebriated and still clutching a bottle, by the gunwale where his son had jumped overboard.
"You reckon he's gonna jump?" Digger whispered to Noah. They had both stopped walking upon spying the captain.
Noah turned to look at him with big, worried eyes. "You think?"
"You tell me," Digger replied, but the very next moment, the captain staggered back towards his cabin.
Noah and Digger remained still for a few moments. Then they both, simultaneously, reached for their pipes.
"You're not gonna stay with Matilda, are you?" Digger asked, as they started walking again.
"Certainly won't," Noah replied emphatically. "You?"
"Nah," Digger shrugged. "Don't suppose many of the men will, to tell you the truth."
Noah pondered it for a while, realising Digger was probably right. Those men who were superstitious, and they were many, would see the deaths as a definite bad omen. Noah remembered how jolly the captain had seemed to him when he first met him, and how very broken he seemed now. If it wasn't a curse, it was still bad enough that many sailors would think so. And for Noah's own part, well, any excitement he had felt to be back at sea was gone for good.
It was the 29th of November when Noah finally walked over the gangway to the London docks. It was a cold and grey day, so foggy he could barely see his hand when he held it up in front of him. But the docks were busy, as always. There were people everywhere; there were strange animals in cages and stray English dogs running about as they pleased. Dirty day-labourers and dirty children looking for work and food. In many ways, it was a picture of hard times and struggle, but Noah was pleased to see it. Finally, he was back in London. Back with Charles. He adjusted the scarf around his neck, and felt pleased that he had put his thick coat on.
He stood a while on the docks, looking around for Charles, but he couldn't see him anywhere. He realised of course that Charles couldn't spend all days there, but he was still a little disappointed. And more than anything, he was impatient. He could keep his longing for Charles under control when he was on board, but now, when he was this close to him, he felt impatient, almost irritable.
He took a good look around before he decided that Charles wasn't there. He tried quenching the worry that Charles weren't there because he didn't want to be. With a frown, Noah grabbed his bag and stopped a brougham, ordering the driver to take him to Charles' place. He thought of how, if for whatever reason he wouldn't be able to stay with Charles, he would have to go back to the docks and find a lodging-house. It seemed a gloomy option.
Every minute that went past, Noah got increasingly impatient. He looked out the window, wondering if there was something on the road that stopped the driver from going any faster. There was nothing, of course, and the brougham drove at normal pace. But Noah wanted it to keep up with his own racing heart.
At long last, the carriage stopped outside the white-chalked façadeof Charles' home. Noah paid the driver – overpaid him, in his hurry – and got out. Now he was standing outside Charles' door. So close, yet still so far, far away. Noah felt giddy, almost lightheaded from anticipation. He was clutching his bag hard in his hand, and with the other reached to knock on the door. Then he withdrew it, raised it again and withdrew, in a sort of nervous loop. His hand rose for the final time, and that's how Noah stood, frozen, just about to knock on the door, when the door was opened.
"Noah!" Charles looked at him as if though he couldn't believe his eyes. "It is you, is it not? You're not just a ghost?"
"Charles," Noah replied, smiling, and wrapped his arms around the man in front of him. "Oh, Charles."
"I was just about to go to the docks to see if today would be the day." Charles took a few steps back, pulling Noah with him, to get them out of sight from the neighbours. "I can't believe you're back."
"I can't believe it either," Noah said, putting his face against Charles' neck, trying not to cry. He couldn't help it. He was so relieved that Charles had indeed waited for him, but the image of two bloody young men jumping over board kept appearing for his mind's eye, filling him with a sense of urgency to hold Charles close.
"Come on, let's go upstairs," Charles said, taking Noah by the hand.
Noah just smiled his consent, allowing Charles to lead him up the stairs. His hand was firm in his sweetheart's, never wanting to break contact again. They arrived by the library, where Charles stopped.
"Are you hungry?" He asked, letting his soft thumb stroke the rough skin on Noah's hands. "Of course you are. I'll have Clarkson get us something. What do you fancy? Do you—"
"Charles…" Noah interrupted. "Could we just… I mean… I just need to… I suppose… I just want to hold you."
"Oh." Charles smiled. "Oh, of course. Yes."
They walked instead to the bedroom, the very place where they had said goodbye four long months ago. When Charles closed the door behind them, turning to Noah with a broad smile, Noah felt more at home than he ever had. The Murcutt cottage, the sea, Kit's flat… He had thought of all those places as his home, but when he fell to the soft bedding with his sweetheart in his arms, he realised that there had always been something missing. The thought moved him, and he grew serious with emotion.
"You're not missing the sea already?" Charles asked, running a hand over Noah's fouled anchor.
"No," Noah said. "I really don't."
"You won't go back?"
"Not unless I have to."
"Will you… Well. It's a tad forward, I suppose… But will you stay with me?" Charles looked down, red roses forming on his pale cheeks.
"For as long as you'll have me," Noah said, smiling.
"Until death do us part, then?" Charles said, looking up. He was serious, of course, but laughing.
"'Till death do us part, sweetheart," Noah replied, pulling Charles close and kissing him. Then he laughed. "Now show me how much you've missed me."
Noah never returned to sea. Instead, he and Charles founded a successful shipping company. They had a small fleet of clippers, sailing between London and Australia, transporting cargo and passengers. In a subtle act of defiance, they named all their ships after men they knew who also had to keep their love secret. Before long, there was even a ship in their fleet named Kitty. They stayed living together in London, enjoying a long, happy life together.
So what of those others we've met along the way of Noah's story? What happened to them; what were their destinies?
Mr Murcutt, Noah's grandfather who sold him to the captain of Achilles, lived another decade on his own in the cottage that he had once shared with his wife, his daughter and his grandson. Did he ever think of Noah, you wonder – did he ever regret sending off a young boy to the volatile sea? He thought of Noah, for sure, but he never regretted sending him away. Mr Murcutt knew better than all of us how ill equipped he was to look after a child. If Noah had stayed with him, who can tell what would've become of him. When Mr Murcutt died, on a pale winter morning in 1858, he was alone. He had neither family, nor friends, not even a maid to help him around the house. When he had been absent from church two Sundays in a row, the menfolk of the village decided to see what had become of him. They found his frozen body in a chair in front of a fire that had died only hours after Mr Murcutt himself. He was buried next to his wife and daughter, in a grave that was immediately forgotten.
Captain Jackson, Thomps and Smokey all met the same fate. The exact nature of what happened to them, no one knows, but they disappeared one stormy night, crossing the Bay of Biscay. Debris from Achilles washed up along the French coast in the autumn of 1857, but the three men we're interested in were never seen again. Noah never learnt of this, and that is probably a lucky thing.
Matches, Noah's unfortunate associate from the lodging-house, managed to scrape up enough money from his odd-jobs to leave for America in 1860. He found himself a wife, the daughter of a Dutch settler, and they had two children together. One of these children later grew up to be one of the greatest authors the New World has so far seen, but considering what has been said of Matches in this story, we shall let the famous author keep his – or her – anonymity. Of Matches' sleeping lodging-house friend, we know nothing. For all we care, he might still be asleep in his bed in the lodging-house today.
Polly, Katty Kit's effeminate friend and partner-in-crime, made a very unlikely change of career and found work in the Metropolitan Police Service. He became a competent and well-liked officer, and most notably worked with the 1888 Whitechapel murders. He never married, but lived a happy life, forever tenderly attended by a manservant named George.
Digger, Noah's friend from Matilda, went back to his native Bath for the winter, to stay with his family. Whilst there, he met a girl and married, before taking off to sea again.
And what of Katty Kit, you ask? Well, we've saved the best for last, because Katty Kit's story is truly the most unexpected one. Not long after Kit split ways with Noah, he was picked up by a gentleman in an elaborate brougham, and brought to a country house a little while outside of London. Upon entering the gentleman's chambers, and, indeed, the gentleman's drawers, Kit learnt that it was no gentleman he was dealing with, but a full-blooded lady. Though his first thought had been to flee, the lady showed him that there was both pleasure and love to be found in the arms of a softer creature, and before Kit had had time to think (or escape), he had fallen head over heels in love. She offered him to stay, and before the year was over, they were married.
They continued their gender-bending games. Sometimes they ventured out, Mrs Matheson in a full frock coat and Mr Matheson in an evening dress, and no one was ever the wiser. They had children, two boys and two girls, who grew up to be perfectly well adjusted and acceptable citizens. The children had children of their own, and those children had children, and one of Christopher Matheson's great great grandchildren might – or might not, for all you know – have decided one day to tell the story of the handsome sailor who shared a room, a bed and a life with Katty Kit for a few summer months in 1852.
Heh. There you have it. That's all I have to say about Noah. :) Now I'm going to spend the summer writing a story I've been planning for the past couple of months, and hopefully I can start posting it this autumn. It doesn't have a name, but it's about a married university lecturer in his mid-30's having the universe throwing a handsome young post-grad his way. If I can be madly pretentious for a moment, I suppose it's about the eternal question of love, duty and what the hell the 'right' thing to do is.
Anyways. Thanks a bunch to everyone who's read and reviewed. Any questions or comments or whatever can either be left in a review or a PM. I'm easy (not like that).