Land of the Midnight Sun
April, 1865. The wind whipped rain and spray off the sea down the Liverpool streets. In the twisting ginnels behind the docks, Kitty Wright dodged wagons and stray cats as she hurried past the warehouses towards the far end of the docklands. Out in the bay, ships ploughed back and forth, impatient for room in the docks. Big trans-Atlantic liners, cutters returning from India, whalers. In port, the ships creaked and groaned, exhausted after their long journeys, while the men on the dock loaded them with fresh cargo—wool, rolls and rolls of cotton, iron, steel. The wind blew the smell of smoke and exotic spices into Kitty's face.
She turned the corner and arrived at the Anchor of Hope. This was it. Just this morning Kitty had left St Anne's Home for Orphaned and Destitute Girls, in the middle of Liverpool near the market, to work as a maid at the Anchor of Hope, right by the docks and "pay her debt to society" as matron put it.
She had looked forward to this for years. Finally getting out of the dark, echoing orphanage halls which smelled of grief, away from the fierce matron. Down near the docks where Kitty's beloved ships sailed to the furthest corners of the Earth. But she was nervous. She, Kitty, who prided herself on never being nervous. She had never met the people at the Anchor of Hope before, had never had a proper job. Suppose they didn't like her? Suppose she didn't like them? Suppose they were cruel the way some people were cruel to their maids? She inspected the outside of the Anchor of Hope. It looked like a dozen other pubs in Liverpool, dark, dingy, with a faded, rain-flecked sign outside. Even though it was a Sunday, a few sailors were hanging around outside, and the noises inside indicated that the Anchor of Hope was doing a roaring trade.
Kitty glanced at her reflection in a muddy puddle. Her hair was still in the two tight plaits matron had tortured it into—indeed, she didn't think it would ever come out of those plaits. Her frock was still clean. She looked presentable enough, it wasn't as if she were going to work in the entourage of the Queen.
She ducked inside.
The Anchor of Hope was just as she had expected it to be. A low ceiling, a dim room cloying with cigar smoke, huddles of dockers and sailors clustered round the table, playing cards and dice and talking.
Kitty made her way to the bar, almost unnoticed. A tall, hard-faced woman was pouring drinks for a group of dockers. When they moved away she looked up and saw Kitty.
"What do you want?"
"New girl, ma'am."
"Hmph!" The woman looked Kitty up and down and her expression softened a little. Clearly Kitty had made a favourable impression on her. "You're clean."
"The last girl they sent us had dirt on her face." She glared at Kitty as if she had sent them the last girl. "But you don't," she admitted. Her voice rose. "Well, come on, don't stand there all day."
Kitty hurried round the bar.
"I'm Mrs Worthing," said the woman.
"How do you Mrs Worthing?" said Kitty, going to shake hands. "I'm Kitty Wright."
Mrs Worthing did not shake her hand. She looked indignant. But she only said "I don't think there's much to say, really. You know what you're here for. No slacking, no skiving, don't even think about stealing anything. I'll pay you thruppence a week and you'll get three meals a day. Turn up for work on time, keep yourself clean and treat me and my husband with some respect."
"All right," said Kitty.
"All right!" Mrs Worthing looked scandalised. "I should think it is all right, girl, that you weren't put on the street. I expect you ready for work at eight in the morning and you will work until I tell you we're done, understood?"
"On Saturday night you'll have your bath and then on Sunday mornings, you go to the Church of England church in town, you understand? If you're Roman or something, you can take your work somewhere else."
"Fine. You have Sunday afternoons off. No getting drunk, no stealing, no men friends. Understood?"
Kitty nodded. The idea of her getting drunk amused her—the matron at St Anne's would have been scandalised.
"Right. I'll take you to your room."
She led Kitty up a narrow, winding flight of stairs, then another, flimsy and dark, up onto a pitch-dark landing with an uneven floor and up a ladder. Here was a tiny room under the eaves. Mrs Worthing couldn't stand upright and even Kitty had to bend her head. There was a pile of blankets on the floor in the corner, a little chest of drawers which looked as if it would disintegrate should she try to open it, a tiny round window, with such thick grainy glass it was hardly possible to see out or get light in. A tin washbasin and jug and a candle stood on top of the chest of drawers. That was it. But it was dry, it would be warm next to the chimney-pipe and it was hers. Kitty had never had her own room before. At St Anne's they had dormitories.
"You'll keep it clean and tidy, you understand girl?"
"Right, today's Sunday, so you can come and have your lunch and take the afternoon off." She looked sharply at Kitty. "I assume you've been to church."
"Oh, yes." Kitty giggled. "I don't think matron would hear of my doing anything else. I think she feared I would be going in among a bunch of heathens and wanted to be sure of my soul!"
"Sure of your soul? You mean you haven't been confirmed?"
"With matron around? I've been confirmed all right. She doesn't let a girl leave St Anne's without being confirmed."
"Well, that's all right then. Come and have lunch."
Lunch was a big plate of stew and potatoes. Kitty devoured it, with all the appetite of a healthy thirteen-year-old girl. Not nervous any more, now she had seen what the lions' den had to offer, she began chatting to Mrs Worthing.
"Have you heard any exciting stories, Mrs Worthing?" she asked. "Ma'am," she remembered quickly.
"What do you mean exciting stories?"
"From the sailors here. They must have told you all about sea serpents and things like that."
"Do you think I have nothing better to do in my life, girl, than listen to a bunch of sailors' long tall tales?"
"Have you seen anyone who went on the Ross expedition?"
"What do you mean anyone who went on the Ross expedition? Oh, you mean that mad man who went to Antarctica? Goodness, where have you heard of him?"
"Read, do you? Hmph! Some funny things, it says in books… Well, I've got better things to do than go chasing round after Antarctic explorers, too. No, I can't say I ever have seen anyone from the Ross expedition. Not that I would know them if ever I did."
Kitty attempted to get some good sea stories out of Mrs Worthing, but Mrs Worthing was far too on her dignity to make conversation with her maid.
When Kitty asked her all about the history of the Anchor of Hope, about Mr Worthing and whether he was still alive how they'd met and when they'd got married, her voice became very stern, but at the mention of her husband, her eyes softened.
"Yes, he's still alive," she said. "He's getting up in the world, he is. That's why he's not here. He's in town, talking to the bank about getting investments in shipping companies. He's a good business-man, my Eddie, we won't be running this bar forever. We've already got a small share in Irish shipping. P&O. Good returns, we're gonna get. You'll meet him this evening."
Then Mrs Worthing, annoyed at being lured into conversation, hurried away and Kitty got talking to a sailor who had killed a whale with his penknife and found a floating island of gold.
When the sailor left, Kitty left too. She wandered around the dock for a bit, watching the ships go in and out, the tall, graceful sailing ships bobbing like swans and the tubby little steamers chuffing around self-importantly.
"If I were a boy," she said to the ships—for they could hear her, of course. "If I were a boy I'd sail on you, to the ends of the world and beyond."
But seeing as that was out of the question, she headed into town, to the William Brown Library and Museum. It was free to get into, and every Sunday there were people like Kitty, enjoying one of their few free days at the Museum.
Every time she entered the Museum, Kitty felt the same rush as she reached in the smell of old books and stuffed animals. Welcome home. She spent too much time here, that was what matron said. Too much time looking at those nasty stuffed animals and looking at crumbly pagan statues.
But it was a beautiful building, filled with light and air, and even without the fascinating exhibits that would be reason enough to come back again and again. Just to see the towering ionic columns, the gleaming white marble balconies, the funny-shaped rooms crammed with book, with narrow staircases and precarious little balconies.
Every week, it seemed, there was a new exhibit at the Museum. Someone brought a stuffed monkey back from India or funny little hopping things back from Australia or something. Today, an exhibition in the back corner of the long gallery appeared to be devoted to Antarctica.
Antarctica. Since reading MS. Found in a Bottle and The Sea Lions at the age of eight, Kitty had wanted to go to Antarctica more than anywhere else in the world. She read every book she could find on the subject, even though most of them she barely understood, for Miss Harper, who taught at St Anne's, was barely literate. The charts, maps and diagrams, though, needed no explanation. Vast expanses of ice, or green fields and lush rainforests, rising out of the sea, with sketchy outlines and, hovering in the middle a big, tantalising question mark. How she wished beyond all the riches in the world to be the one who laid the question marks to rest!
Today's exhibition seemed, in so far as Kitty could tell, to be based on speculation about what might lie inside the continent which learned minds accepted existed at the bottom of the world. Rocks of various kinds were lined up in glass cases, with hand-written notes giving long, polysyballic Latinate descriptions which made Kitty's head spin. Whales' teeth, seal bones, each with pages and pages of description about the taxonomy of the animals and the water temperature they were found at. Kitty gave up trying to understand these descriptions, but the objects were enthralling. A whale's jawbone, longer than her arm, found off the tip of New Zealand. She could picture that, a giant creature, the size of a small house, sliding through the waves as easily as the gulls soared through the air above Liverpool. Around the whale the Sun glittered on huge pyramids of ice. It flicked its tail, waved a flipper to Kitty, and was gone. Complete fish skeletons. A stuffed Southern giant petrel, found off Cape Horn, its wings still held out proudly like a small, ugly angel.
But there was more to this expedition than simply collecting and assortment of bird and marine life found in the Southern Ocean. One thing Kitty clearly understood. There was a serious proposal to go back to Antarctica and finish what Ross had started.
More than that, apparently this was all to do with the latest mad quest to discover human origins. It seemed that the scientific world was not yet satisfied on that question, although Kitty couldn't for the life of her follow the lengthy arguments back and forth between scholars, a mixture of careful reports on ape bones found in far-flung places and personal abuse by scientists to other scientists who disagreed with them.
"Amazing, isn't it?"
It was a young woman, with a sleeping baby on her hip, who had just found the petrel.
"Yes," said Kitty. "Amazing."
The young woman, eyes shining with wonder, wandered off to look at a case of fish bones, and Kitty reached the end of the gallery. A shiny plaque hung on the wall.
"Professor… Whetherfield… Professor of Natural History," she read carefully. "I think you're a genius, Professor Whetherfield," she said loudly, though she knew he couldn't hear.
Underneath was a paper notice. "Lecture by Professor Whetherfield on the importance of further Antarctic research. Tuesday evening at six, here at the Museum. Entrance, 2s."
"Oh, if I were rich…" Kitty whispered.
Then she turned towards the reading room, sitting curled up in an armchair with a pile of books until the Museum shut for the night.
That evening, she was introduced to Mr Worthing, a rather crushed-looking man whom Mrs Worthing nagged from the moment he set foot in the door until they got to bed after mid-night.
When Kitty sat down on her blanket on the attic floor, next to the chimney pipe, she opened one of the books on the Southern Ocean and the great Terra Incognita that lay beyond, and was so absorbed she fell asleep with it still open.
The next day Kitty was woken up at the crack of dawn by the bells ringing in the little church across the alley.
She leaped up, washed, scrambled into her clothes and was down for breakfast before five 'o' clock.
"See you're up early," said Mrs Worthing, as if this were a bad thing.
"Morning," said Kitty.
"You're going to start earning your keep today," Mrs Worthing told Kitty with grim relish as she ladled out a vast plate of steaming porridge.
"Yes ma'am," said Kitty.
At that moment Mr Worthing appeared.
"So you've finally decided to put in an appearance, have you?" said Mrs Worthing.
"I was out feeding the hens, dear, as you told me to."
"Hmph! Well, I didn't tell you to take all day about it."
"Good morning dear."
"Hmph!" But when he kissed her she blushed and almost giggled.
"Good morning Kitty."
"You needn't fraternise with the servants, it encourages soft discipline."
"Servant, dear, there's only one of her."
"Well, you'll need to keep her disciplined then, won't you?"
"Good morning, sir," said Kitty. Mr Worthing smiled, Mrs Worthing frowned.
Kitty's first job was to give the men staying at the Anchor of Hope their breakfast. The first drinkers of the day arrived before she had finished dealing with the breakfasts. She spent a hot, flustered half an hour rushing back and forth from the kitchen where the big metal stove blasted out heat, to the bar, with its growing queue of thirsty men, upstairs, back to the bar again.
Mrs Worthing became crosser the whole time. "Change the gentleman's money," she shouted over the noise of a card game beginning. "Don't you dare let that porridge burn! The glass is over-running!"
Kitty just got back from clearing plates of porridge off a table when Mrs Worthing let out a great shriek.
"He's left without paying! Room 4! He's left without paying!"
"Oh dear," said Kitty, feeling that some response was required.
"Well, go after him, you stupid girl. Go and get his money!"
"It's not me who's been stupid, ma'am! I wasn't the one who gave him his breakfast and collected his money."
"Are you calling me stupid, girl?"
"I'm not calling you anything, ma'am. I'm simply pointing a few things out." Kitty grinned and swung on the kitchen door-frame.
"Now, listen. I did not haul you out of the gutter to insult me and destroy my door frames."
"This thing's solid rock, it would take an elephant to destroy it."
"Just get after the man."
So Kitty got after him, darting down the alley to the docks, skidding round wagons, nearly knocking into hawkers. She was an expert jay-walker and wove back and forth across the street like a drop of rain-water through the crowd. She reached Room 4 just he arrived at his ship, a cutter bound for India.
"Hey!" she yelled. "Hey! You haven't paid your money!"
A few of the dockers and sailors looked around to look at what promised to be an exciting scene.
"What are you talking about?" said the sailor. "I haven't seen you before in my life, you stupid urchin."
"I'm from the Anchor of Hope," said Kitty. "You were there this morning."
"I was not," said the sailor, but the growing and attentive crowd seemed to be siding with Kitty.
"Give the child her money!"
"If you don't give me the money you owe me," said Kitty. "I'll break your neck."
The sailor burst out laughing. So did the crowd, but sympathetically.
"That's right, pet!"
"You tell him!"
The sailor looked around, realised the mood was against him and flung two shillings at Kitty. She caught one in her hand, bounced the other off her elbow and caught it in her other hand.
She grinned, curtsied and ran back to the Anchor of Hope, the money clutched in her hand.
"That took you long enough," said Mrs Worthing.
After breakfast, things settled down a little before lunchtime.
When Kitty finally got the chance to sit down and take a breather, it was to another heaped plate of stew.
"Eat up," said Mrs Worthing. "Need to get your strength up."
"Yes, ma'am," said Kitty. Even eating was a duty in this place.
"You'll be pleased to know," said Mrs Worthing, "we finish early today".
"Why?" said Kitty.
"What do you mean "why?"? Would you like to work all night?"
"No. I was just wondering. I mean, presumably it's something other than your desire to slack off early."
"That Professor fellow's coming to tea."
"What Professor fellow?" Kitty was really interested now.
"That Professor Whetherfield. You know, the mad Antarctic one."
"Why on Earth," said Kitty, looking round at the dingy bar, "is Professor Whetherfield coming here?".
Mrs Worthing followed Kitty's eyes. "Are you insulting my pub?"
"He's planning a new expedition. He wants investments."
"And are you planning to invest?"
"Invest in some lunatic going to the South Pole to chase fairy stories? Shares in these completely imaginary miracle minerals he isn't going to find. Not I! Mad man will probably never come back… But my Eddie, the minute he heard this Professor chap was after backers to run this expedition he said he'd think about it." Her voice dripped scorn. "That's the sort of man my Eddie is. When he isn't getting carried away with this mad man's fairy tales, he's writing poems."
"He writes poems?"
"Mmm. Utter rubbish, too, but you won't hear me say so." She glared so fiercely at Kitty that she wondered what she had done wrong. "I'm a loyal wife, I wouldn't insult my husband's poetry, even if it is only fit to go on a bonfire. But he will not-" she aggressively informed the beer glass she was cleaning "having anything to do with this mad man. He'll think about it, and then he'll say no. Or I'll say it for him". With that she stormed out of the room, presumably to harry Mr Worthing some more.
So the Anchor of Hope closed that afternoon at half past three—not before Kitty's hands were red and raw and her thumb was burned—and she was left in the kitchen to prepare and serve tea, while Mr and Mrs Worthing took Professor upstairs to their own parlour.
As for Kitty, she was gripped with greater excitement than she ever remembered feeling. She was going to meet a real life Professor, a Professor of Natural History. Admittedly it was just to serve him tea and crumpets, but perhaps… perhaps she could say, if Mrs Worthing weren't too fierce, "I've seen your exhibit and I think it's wonderful". She became quite dizzy at that thought. Yes, she would do it. She would say it.
At four 'o' clock, as instructed, she brought the tea in. Mr and Mrs Worthing were sitting at the round table next to the parlour window. Beside them, sitting in an armchair by the fire, was Professor Whetherfield.
He was an elderly man, rather small. Did he really propose leading an Antarctic expedition? But he seemed quite serious about the idea, leaning forward across the table like an enthusiastic sparrow after crumbs, peering into Mr Worthing's face as he spoke, quickly and with great earnestness. While Kitty didn't really understand what he was saying, and judging by their expressions the Worthings didn't either, she sensed that Professor Whetherfield did, and felt very strongly about it.
Then she realised that she had been standing in the door-way for a full five minutes, with her mouth open and the tea tray in her hands.
"Come in!" said Mrs Worthing.
"Yes, ma'am." Kitty came in. "Professor…" The words died in her throat. "Professor, would you like… like some tea?"
Mrs Worthing rolled her eyes.
The Professor smiled. "Thank you very much, yes please, I'd love some."
Kitty came forward to pour the tea, as slowly as possible, so she could catch as much of what the Professor was saying as possible.
"Various accounts have existed, since Classical antiquity, of lost continents and lost civilisations. These accounts usually describe a continent which has since been submerged, such as Atlantis, or exists in some mysterious, vague location. The lost civilisation or civilisations seems to have a pleasant climate, highly advanced science and sophisticated art and architecture, but beyond that to be extremely vaguely explained. My proposition, quite simply, is that these lost civilisations have a basis in fact, which must, logically, be in our only remaining Terra Incognita, Antarctica."
"But surely that's too cold to support a civilisation," blurted Kitty.
Professor Whetherfield turned to her, eyes shining with enthusiasm. "Ah, but it needn't be," he said. "You say that von Bellingshausen and Ross went to the Antarctic and round nothing but ice?"
"Miles and miles of it," said Kitty.
Mrs Worthing was frowning at her, but she didn't care.
"But they merely travelled along the coast, they never ventured into the interior. And they never ventured into the interior, because they believed there was nothing there worth looking for, proving absolutely nothing. The Arctic, you see, is an ocean. Men have searched there for years to find land and it seems reasonable now to state that there is no land there to be found. Antarctica, however, is land, or at least, there is land there. Bellingshausen saw it, Bransfield saw it. Ross named two mountains. How do we know that the climate on the Antarctic landmass isn't hospitable?"
"You think there could be forests?"
"I'm almost certain of it. Simply because the coast line is cold, there's no reason to believe that hot springs, great rivers teeming with life, volcanic micro-climates, cannot exist in the interior."
"Isn't it? I'm very glad, Miss, that you at least appreciate the significance of what this could mean for science, for our understanding of the world, of the life that inhabits it." He was becoming so excited he looked as if he might explode. His enthusiasm was infectious. Kitty wanted nothing, nothing on this Earth, more than to be going to Antarctica with him. The tears choked in the back of her throat and she swallowed them down.
"That's amazing," she repeated, forcing herself to sound cheerful, when she could easily have collapsed on the floor and cried.
"You're interested in science, Miss?"
"Yes! I've been to see your exhibition, in the Museum about Antarctica. I thought it was brilliant."
Professor Whetherfield looked absolutely ecstatic at this. Kitty thought he might break down and cry. "You liked it! You liked it! That's wonderful, that's… that's marvellous."
"Lots of people liked it, sir, there were lots of people at the Museum to see it. Some people" she raised her head so she was looking square at Mrs Worthing "don't think it matters very much if we go to Antarctica, but most people think it's brilliant, so you shouldn't get discouraged or anything".
"I assure you, Miss, that I have no intention of getting discouraged. The Antarctic expedition will go ahead, whether it receives the support of wider society or not."
"It certainly will not receive the support of wider society," said Mrs Worthing. She had a bright red spot on each cheek and was gasping for breath through indignation. "I've never heard such a down-right stupid idea, not in all my life, as just… gallivanting of down there in the hope of finding something, and Kitty I'm ashamed of you. If you can't just shut up and serve tea when you're asked to, you might at least support me, rather than encouraging that… that mad man in his silly ideas. As for you," she rounded on the Professor, "I think it's best if you go now!".
"Dear," said Mr Worthing, his hands fluttering gently like butterflies. "I think you're being a bit harsh on the poor man."
"Well, really, he's so absurd. He doesn't even know if there's anything there. I mean, I can understand why people go to China and places, because they have things there, but anyone who's ever been to the place before says there's nothing but ice and rocks and it goes on for miles and miles."
"They didn't know there were things in China when they first went there!" said Kitty. "That's why they had to go!"
"Another word out of you, Miss, and you'll go straight back to St Anne's."
"Well," said Professor Whetherfield. He looked slightly deflated. "Well, naturally, if my expedition is truly of no interest to you good people, I shall of course take my leave. As for you, Miss," he turned to Kitty. "I suggest that you keep up that interest in science of yours. I'm delivering a lecture at the Museum to-morrow night, raising public awareness of the importance of the expedition and I was wondering…" He blushed and looked rather shy. "I was wondering if you would…"
"I'd love to come," said Kitty. The tears were threatening in the back of her throat again. "But it costs two shillings…"
"Sir," said Mrs Worthing. "You've finished your tea, now the rest of us have business to attend to…"
"Yes, of course." Professor Whetherfield looked deeply miserable now. "I'll get my coat…" He gathered his things together and began to take his leave.
"Oh, do excuse me…" He felt in his pockets. "I must tip the maid…"
"I don't see why," said Mrs Worthing. "She's a dreadful maid."
Professor Whetherfield said nothing, but pressed two shillings into Kitty's hand. She nearly choked. She could barely force out a "thank you". She met his eyes, blushing furiously, then scampered off as a good maid should, to do the cleaning and cooking.
That night, when Kitty went to bed, she lay awake for a long, long time, staring at the ceiling. She had met her hero. She had two shillings to go to his lecture at the Museum to-morrow—which she would go to, permission or not, eight years had St Anne's had taught her how to sneak off, if nothing else. So why did she feel so gut-achingly sad?
She looked out of her little window at the stars. Glittering little points of light. How cold they must be, those distant worlds, how lonely. Right now Kitty longed more than ever to escape cold, lonely Earth. Or at least her attic in the Anchor of Hope.
The next day, at half past five, Kitty slipped away. It was the busiest time in the Anchor of Hope, and in between the men coming in and out of the door-way, nobody noticed Kitty leave. She grinned as she wound her way through the crowds and the inevitable Liverpool drizzle and made her way to the Museum.
The Museum was crowded with people who had come for the lecture. There were a few sailors, there were some families with children, there were a few well-dressed young men who looked like students, there were a few journalists. Kitty, small and ragged, wandered un-noticed through the crowds, made her way into the gallery, paid her two shillings and sat down.
The Museum curator appeared, nervous-looking and flustered, clutching a page of notes. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the William Brown Library and Museum. I'd like to thank you all for coming, and it's my great pleasure to introduce one of the greatest men of science of our age, Professor L. Whetherfield, who will speak on the subject of the importance of Antarctic research."
Polite applause. Kitty clapped her hands raw.
Professor Whetherfield took to the stage. He blinked in the glare of the lamps and smiled shyly at the floor.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," he said quietly, apparently to his shoes. "I'd like to speak on the subject of Antarctica, and its importance to scientists today. Recently Europe seems to have lost interest in Antarctica. Since Ross, more than twenty years ago, virtually no efforts have been made in a Southerly direction. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a grave mistake. Recent research into the origin of species has unearthed many fossils of extinct creatures…" Professor Whetherfield continued, gradually stopping talking to his shoes and becoming gripped with the same enthusiasm as in the Worthings' parlour, until once again, he looked as if he might explode. This time, however, he failed to take his audience with him. At least, he failed to take Kitty with him. The idea that the interior of Antarctica might have a different climate from the exterior was one she could more or less grasp, although she wasn't entirely sure what a hot spring was and "micro-climate" had her lost. She would have asked him to explain if Mrs Worthing hadn't turned him out of the house…
The Professor's lecture however, when he was in full flow, was beyond her. Mostly at least. Which only made the flashes of lucidity, covering such thrilling ideas as dinosaurs, and lost cities, and more on micro-climates, and human origin and a whole lot more besides, all the more frustrating. Never had Kitty felt so bitter over having a semi-literate ex- prison wardress as her teacher, or more ashamed.
The lecture went over. Applause, a gracious speech of thanks by the curator, the crowd got up and began to file away. It was now past nine 'o' clock. A few of the students went up to the front of the lecture hall to talk to the Professor. Kitty wondered whether to wait, or quietly slip away. Pride told her to slip away, then the Professor need never know how ignorant she really was… But for some reason she still lingered. It was half past nine before the last student left.
Professor Whetherfield turned to collect his things.
Kitty came out of the shadows. "Sir," she said.
He turned. "Hello, Miss. You're the young lady from the Anchor of Hope, aren't you?"
It was the first time in her life that anyone had called Kitty "young lady".
"You remembered me…" she said. "I mean… yes, sir… I am."
"Can I help you at all?" said the Professor.
"Could you explain again?" said Kitty. "What you just said? Please?"
"I didn't understand. I don't know anything about these fossils you keep talking about, and I don't know what a micro-climate is and you talked some funny language half the time…!"
"Some of it was German" said the Professor. "The rest was Latin. The international languages of science."
"I don't know anything about science. So I was just wondering… if you've nowhere to go… and it wouldn't be too much trouble for you… would you mind giving your lecture again, only with more explaining in it…?"
From the expression on Professor Whetherfield's face, it would not be too much trouble. Indeed, nothing would give him greater pleasure.
So he offered Kitty the comfortable chair by the projector as ceremoniously as if she were a young princess he had met at a tea party, and he pulled up a stool himself and, in the empty Museum in the middle of the night, gave the lecture again but with more explaining in it. He explained until his throat was sore and his eyes were shining bright as two gas-lights with enthusiasm.
He explained about the Sun's rays hitting the Earth's surface, causing it to heat and how less Sun-light falls on any given area at the Poles than at the Equator, so the Arctic and Antarctic, as far as anybody knew ("but only as far as they know, Miss") were bitterly cold, about the axis of the Earth being tilted, producing long polar winters. He explained about magma building up the Earth's surface, causing volcanic eruptions, and how volcanoes can cause milder weather and fertile soil around them. He explained the principal of natural hot springs—that took a while. He explained the theories of evolution by natural selection in On the Origin of Species, and then the new evidence in Man's Place in Nature that "we must have evolved from something you see". He explained that long ago the Earth had been inhabited by "great fossil lizards" called dinosaurs. Now people were digging up the remains and discovering more and more species, were naming them and categorising them and making deductions about their behaviour, that they were not all fierce and terrible monsters, but some were gentle creatures. And he explained, at great length and in great detail, the quest of nearly every human civilisation for the civilisation that had gone before, "steeped in fanciful legends, Miss, fogged but not forgotten".
He showed her slide after slide of creatures he had found, travelling the world, and showed her how to work the machine. He showed her fossil bones and let her hold them in her hands, feel them rough and heavy and unimaginably old.
Kitty listened enraptured. After mid-night, the janitor came in with a world-weary air. "I'm locking up, Professor," he said. "I don't know if you want to go home or if you're one of these scientific fellows as never seems to eat or sleep and will be staying here all night."
"I'll be coming shortly, thank you," said the Professor. He turned to Kitty. "Did that help, Miss?"
"Yes, thank you," said Kitty. "Thank you very much."
"The pleasure is all mine. Sometimes I wish my under-graduates would pay half your attention to the things I say."
"Seriously, you're a bright girl. Why have you never been encouraged to use your mind?"
"Because the teacher in St Anne's was lousy, that's why."
"The orphanage. I used to live there. I went to the Anchor of Hope the day before you arrived."
"You're an orphan, then?"
"Mm-hm. Real charity case, me." She rolled her eyes.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
Kitty shrugged. "Swings and roundabouts," she said.
Professor Whetherfield shrugged. "I… I suppose."
"Will you be going to Antarctica soon, sir?"
"In a week or two. Hopefully only about a week. As soon as I can get a ship, essentially."
"When you come back, will you give another lecture?"
"Will you give one here? In Liverpool? And then I can come to it?"
"You're really very keen on Antarctica, aren't you?"
"Yes. I like reading about places a long way away… Looking at maps and stuff." She shrugged. "And I always liked Antarctica best. It's pretty. If I were a boy, I would be a sailor."
She nodded. "Mm-hm. Dad was a sailor. Drowned off Cape Cod."
Kitty thought back to her last memory of her father. She was only three, but she remembered it crystal clear, because he had brought her a present. Joseph Wright returned to his wife and child, gave them a box of dried mango from India, with a ribbon round it. He kissed them goodbye, his young wife Amanda and his little girl sticky-faced from the mango and more interested in it than him, and went off to America and never came back. Drowned off Cape Cod. And for as long as Kitty could remember, she had wanted to do that too. Hopefully without drowning.
"And your mother?"
"Lasted a couple of years. Then died of grief. I was five." She remembered that, too. Nursing mother who had always nursed her. Helpless and bewildered when she cried. Horribly alone and frightened when she died.
"So now you're a bar girl?"
"It's lousy. I nearly got sent off to Canada with a whole bunch of orphans, but my name wasn't picked."
"I'm sure it is." The Professor was frowning at her. "I need a secretary," he said. "How do you want to come to Antarctica with me?"
It knocked the breath out of Kitty.
"Are… are you kidding?" she whispered, and her breath seemed to come from very far away. For a moment she thought she might actually faint.
"But… but…" Her head was whirling. This all seemed to be happening too fast for her to think. "But I can hardly write… I can't spell… I'd be hopeless as a secretary…"
"Doesn't matter. I can teach you that. I don't just want some smart girl to write my reports and check my sums. I could invent a machine to write reports and do sums. I want somebody who actually understands what this is all about. Who wants to come… Whom I can talk to about my discoveries. Who can inspire, who… well, be of some use, to a discoverer, a scientist…"
"Sir." Now Kitty had found her voice, had almost accepted that she wasn't dreaming and realised exactly what she wanted to say. "Sir, I'd love to come. It would be… totally, totally brilliant. Thank you… I…" She tailed off, strangled with joy.
"The pleasure is all mine."
"When do we leave?"
"Well, I'm not sure exactly. I have to go back to Oxford, I have a few people to talk to back in London… I dare say you want to get out of that wretched bar as fast as possible, though… Tell you what: go home—go back to the Hope and Anchor or wherever—and pack your things. Then meet me here at eight 'o' clock to-morrow morning. We'll get the train to Oxford and then we can go to London and you can meet the Royal Society, when I try to argue with them for the sixth time about getting some funding for the expedition. If you're not there by five past I'll come and pick you up, understand?"
"Yes sir." But a doubt had crept into her mind. "What happens if you don't get any funding?"
"I have some savings. Not much, but we can buy a fishing boat and sail her South ourselves if we have to. It won't be properly equipped, we won't be properly supplied, if we return we'll probably be arrested, but I'll get to the Pole, Miss… er…"
"Wright. Kitty Wright."
"Miss Wright or I will die trying." He was skipping like a child sent out to play on a sunny day.
"You mean it?"
"I mean everything I say. I think it's best I make that clear now, or you'll be doubting every two minutes if you continue at the current rate."
A grin spread over Kitty's face. "That's agreed then. I'll see to-morrow, sir." She looked at the clock. "Today."
And she skipped away, past the janitor who was just locking up, through the dark streets, past the wagons which still rumbled back and forth, past the beggars and street vendors, to the brightly-lit, noisy Anchor of Hope.
Mrs Worthing was furious. "You ungrateful, idle, miserable brat. How dare you run away like that? Have you any idea how over-worked I was? Have you any idea how busy we were this evening? This was not your afternoon off… How dare you…? I'm speechless…"
Kitty snorted sarcastically, which did not improve matters.
"I've got a good mind to send you straight back to St Anne's. In fact, I will." Mrs Worthing drew herself up to her full height. "This is the last night you will spend under my roof my girl."
Kitty laughed. "Don't care. I'm going to Antarctica to-morrow."
"You're going where?" Mrs Worthing turned pale. "You can't."
"As you've said yourself that you're sacking me, I can do whatever I like."
"It's mad. You'll die…"
"Don't care," said Kitty. "Anything's better than this."
And she strode up two flights of stairs and a ladder with her head held higher than she had ever held it before.
That night, she lay on her heap of blankets, stared out of the little window at the stars and cried with joy.
In the morning, she packed her little bag with the few clothes she owned, her handkerchief, her comb, and set out to the railway station at Lime Street.
She was there well before eight, it had just gone seven. The station was already packed, though. All the factory and dock workers had come from the slums on the edge of town or the villages in the Lancashire countryside, into the centre. They scrambled off the trains and rushed out of the station into the smoky, rain-washed air, chattering and tripping over boxes and bags.
The emigrants stood in small, bewildered-looking knots. Some from the banks of the Mersey or from nearby Manchester, some from the small mill towns and villages dotted all over the Lancashire moors. Kitty had learned over the years which ones these were. They were the ones who stared round them, mouths open and eyes wide, at being in such a big city with so many people. Some from Ireland. A few of the emigrants had trolleys laden with belongings but most just had a few bags. The adults stood trying to read the ferry timetables while the children darted about in between their knees, laughing, or stood and clung to their skirts, looking scared.
Then there were the goods trains. Mountains and mountains of coal, raw wool, raw cotton, woven fabric by the bale, great of raw fish. Kitty slipped on fish guts as she wended her way across the platform.
Trains left. Commuters set off for work, emigrants to the ferries, goods to the factories and docks. The number of people on the platform dwindled slightly. Then another train thundered in and screeched to a halt and once again the platform thronged with people. Kitty, quite used to crowds, felt sorry for the poor country-folk who weren't used to the pushing and shoving and were jostled along the platform looking unhappy.
It was half past seven that the Professor arrived.
"Hello, Miss Wright. Goodness, you're early…"
"Yes, sir. Well, there was nothing much keeping me in that hell-hole."
"Well, splendid that you're here, of course. How do you do?" He shook her hand as if they had never met before. "Still got half an hour until our train is due—I always like to be early you see. Have you breakfasted yet?"
"Nope," said Kitty. "Mrs Worthing didn't give me anything and I haven't any money."
"Was she peeved at your quitting her employment?"
"She was peeved at my running off when it wasn't my evening off."
"Ah, yes, well… I think we ought to have breakfast."
So they set off to the buffet and the Professor bought them both some hot toasted tea-cakes, melting with butter, and some cocoa. Kitty had never had a toasted tea-cake before. As far as she was concerned, this was the lap of luxury.
It was also the first time Kitty had ever been on a train. They scrambled on board as soon as it got in, and Kitty sank back into the red velvet-covered seat in Seventh Heaven. She pinched her arm hard to make sure she wasn't dreaming, but she remained sitting in the train.
At eight 'o' clock sharp, the train whistled, screeched, ground its breaks and moved forward, slowly and in state, in a billow of steam. Kitty stuck her head out of the window and watched the countryside gather speed. Now they were moving faster than she could run, now faster than a horse, now… She leaned fully out of the window, oblivious to hot, grainy ash in her eyes and the scalding steam, and watched the world whizz by. The Professor had taken a book out of his suitcase and seemed oblivious to the rest of the world. When the ticket inspector arrived, Kitty had to shake his elbow to make him pay attention. Then she jumped on the seat for a bit, swung off the luggage rack, and settled down to an excellent lunch which the Professor bought off the trolley.
She sat and munched a hot sausage roll, a sticky bun and a bag of sherbet lemons while Birmingham whizzed by the window. Exhausted from so much activity and full with lunch, she spent the rest of the journey in a slight dream.
In the afternoon, they disembarked from the train in Oxford. There was a long walk from the station to the Professor's rooms.
It was the best room Kitty had ever seen. There was barely enough room for the Professor's bed and his desk and chair between piles of strange-looking instruments, rocks, stuffed animals and books. Especially books. Great teetering piles of them which she had to creep round so as not to knock over. Books on every subject, some on languages she didn't even recognise. Scientific works were piled up hugger-mugger with novels, poetry, travel journals. Kitty gravitated at once towards these. There was Humboldt's Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America, During the Years 1799–1804; Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle; Henry Barth's Travels in North and Central Africa. But no sooner had she seen them than her attention was distracted by a huge rock with a beautiful whirled pattern in it.
"A fossil ammonite."
"Ammonite. A giant extinct mollusc which lived in the sea, billions of years ago."
"A mollusc. Imagine… a kind of squid in a shell. But we can't see the soft, fleshy parts of the animal any longer, only this."
Kitty looked at the lump of grey stone and tried to imagine a living creature swimming through a pre-historic ocean.
"And this?" She turned to a kind of metal grid, oddly bent, with a little telescope in it.
"That is part of the hull for a space steam-ship."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You've seen steam-ships?"
"Of course I've seen steam-ships, I'm from Liverpool!"
"Well, just as a steam-ship has a screw mechanism, so this has a screw mechanism. To propel the ship through space."
"But there's no ocean up in space."
"Well, no… But there's luminiferous aether."
"Well… we don't know. However, it allows light to cross the space between the stars and the Earth."
"I don't know."
"And it… moves… light?"
"Moves light, transfers light, allows light to pass through it."
"And you think that this… this luminiferous thing will allow a steam ship to pass through it?"
"Well, there's only one way to find out."
"We build the steam ship and we go up in her."
"Amazing," said Kitty, faintly, now feeling slightly as if her head were being bent round like a corkscrew. She held onto the table to make sure it was still solid. It was. Now completely overwhelmed, she accepted this bewildering whirl of new ideas.
She turned to a huge, shining pile of metal crouching in the corner of the room. It had springs, cogs, wires and dynamos wherever spring, cog, wire or dynamo could possibly be placed. "What's this?" Her curiosity was insatiable, even as the answers dizzied her.
"That's my new machine which I'm working on."
"What does it do?"
"I haven't decided yet. But isn't it lovely?"
"Yes," said Kitty. It was.
"Do you want to turn it on?"
"There's a switch by the wall."
Kitty found the switch, an appropriately impressive-looking sculpted wooden handle. She pulled on it hard, because it was quite heavy, but as soon as she pulled it down, the machine sprang to life with a whirring and clanking of cogs.
The dynamo spun faster and faster, sparks flew everywhere and danced along the machine like St. Elmo's fire. Steam billowed. Then something deep in the machine exploded and it whirred, coughed reproachfully and settled into dignified silence.
"Did I break something? Sorry."
"No, it doesn't matter. At least we know now that that's the wrong way to do it."
"When we get back from Antarctica, we can keep working on the machine." Professor Whetherfield was calmly rifling through his books and papers as if nothing had just blown up.
Kitty scrubbed the ash off her face with her ashy hands.
"Miss Wright," said Professor Whetherfield, so sharply that Kitty jumped as if she had done something wrong. "I do apologise… your bag… your coat… it's been very remiss of me… I beg your pardon…"
It was the first time in Kitty's life that anyone had said "I beg your pardon" to her. "Granted," she said, bewildered.
"Do remove… may I take your coat…?"
Kitty's coat was a fisher-man's jacket, rather too big for her and much patched, but the Professor took it with as much ceremony as if it had been a fashionable fur and hung it on the antlers of a stag which was near the door.
"You can put your bag… er… I think, being the lady, you ought to take the bed…"
"Are you sure, sir?" Kitty was stunned. No one had ever offered to give her something before. This day just kept getting stranger. First a steam ship which could travel through the luminiferous aether, then the machine of mystery, now a man whom she had barely met was speaking to her with respect.
"Yes, yes… I shall be quite comfortable…" he looked around for square inch not covered by books, instruments or specimens. "Er… here…" He removed a stuffed wombat from the only armchair and balanced it precariously on top of a pile of books. "You go and put your bag down, Miss Wright."
Kitty went into the other room. It barely was a room. The door opened outwards and when she stepped forwards she almost tripped over the low bed, with a cheerful patchwork cover. There was about two inches of space between the bottom of the bed and the end of the wall, so she stowed her bag on the big stone ledge of the bay window. And, oh! the view out the window. All her life she had had good views, over the roof-tops of Liverpool, down the streets to the docks, the ships' masts and the sea. Now was no exception. The view was over the roofs of the Oxford college buildings, over the church spires, down to the banks of the river.
"Please could you go down to the library and get me some books about penguins?"
Professor Whetherfield was already standing next to what Kitty could have assumed was every book about penguins—and books in foreign languages which she could only assume were about penguins—known to man.
"Where's the library?"
"Broad Street. The Bodleian. Everyone knows where it is. You can't miss it."
Kitty hurried off. She knew she made a good errand girl, dodging with the speed of long practice between wagons and groups of people. The Professor was quite right that she couldn't miss it. The enormous dome looked more like something which had escaped from a fairy-tale castle than a library. Inside it was roomy, quiet, full of books and empty of people.
It took longer to find anything in the library than it did to find the library. She wandered past corridor after corridor, slightly lost, but very impressed by the sheer number of books.
Penguins… penguins… "p" for penguin…
"Students!" Kitty turned round. A man carrying a pile of books was hurrying down the corridor towards her. "Students in the library! Students studying!"
He got near her, and the Joan-of-Arc looked dropped from his face, replaced with disappointment. "Oh. You're not a student, are you?"
"No," said Kitty, with pride. "I'm Professor Whetherfield's secretary."
"Oh. Well, can I help you?"
"You work here? I'm looking for books about penguins."
"Oh, he's still interested in Antarctica, is he?"
"He certainly is."
"You want the University Museum for scientific texts."
"Parks Road. I'll show you if you like."
"No, thanks. I'll be all right. You stay and see if any students turn up."
The librarian rolled his eyes at that. "Good luck," he said.
The trip to Parks Road was longer. The Oxford Museum of Natural History was very impressive, though, a big elegant building on sweeping lawns. Inside was like a bigger, tidier version of the Professor's rooms, only most of the specimens were behind glass rather than in armchairs. Cases and cases of stuffed animals, the walls lined with books.
This time a librarian was hovering in attendance by the door. Kitty explained, with still greater pride, that she was Professor Whetherfield's secretary and she wanted books about penguins.
"Penguins?" said the librarian. "There've only been a dozen or so voyages to the Antarctic in recorded history. Does he want them all to write a Bible on penguins? Well, I'll see what I can do…"
They found the zoology department and managed to piece together a few notes, some of them distinctly amateur hand-written things and nothing first hand, on penguins.
"Thanks," said Kitty.
"Not at all," said the librarian. "Glad to be of assistance to Professor Whetherfield. Great man."
Kitty glowed in reflected glory.
She tucked the notes and leaflets under her arm and scurried back to the Professor's rooms. If nosying round the streets of Liverpool had taught one thing to Kitty, it was how to keep a map in her head and she found her way easily.
"Ah, Miss Wright!" The Professor, who was pottering around among his instruments, pushed a small silver lump into Kitty's face. "Thank you very much! Could you check this is working, please?"
"What is it?"
"Keeps track of time at sea, better than a pendulum clock on a tilting boat. Helps to measure longitude, too. Give it a shake… That's it. Perfect."
He took the chronometer from her and placed on a pile of equipment higher than their heads. "Now, Miss Wright. We have here an inventory scientific equipment. Some of it is necessary for the ship, the rest for conducting geological surveys and so on, on land. Apart from the marine chronometer, we don't seem to have very much necessary for a sea voyage, we may have to buy it. If you could kindly help me to go through the list…"
Dark was falling outside the window as Kitty set to work. It must be getting late, she realised, and through her excitement she was getting hungry. There was knock at the door.
A young servant girl entered. "Will you be dining in college tonight, Professor?"
"No, thank you. No… no…"
The servant disappeared.
"I never dine in college," said the Professor. "Regular meal-times are most inconvenient. I eat when I'm hungry and can take a break from my work."
"I'm hungry now!"
"Are you? Well, yes… I suppose you're a growing girl. Would you like to have some dinner, then?"
"Come on, we'll go and find something to eat."
They ate at a restaurant in the middle of town. The food was good and there was plenty of it.
"Not at all, Miss Wright, not at all. Now… I think on our way bay to work, we should get some… what do young ladies like? Cakes? For sustenance… It may be a long night.
It was a long and busy night, but a very interesting one—and the cakes were very good. When Kitty finally slept she felt she had learned more about more things that day than she ever had in her entire life.
The next week was a whirl. Despite the Professor letting Kitty have the bed, neither of them slept much at all. Kitty was not tired, though. She was giddy with excitement. She was going to Antarctica. She was going to sail on a ship. And every day that passed brought that life-long dream nearer to reality.
The next day they went up to London in the train, to have dinner with the Royal Society, so the Professor could put in a bid for funding.
Kitty had never been to London before and she was dazzled. "This is amazing," she said as she took in the sights. "Absolutely amazing." The route from Victoria Station to Oxford Street, where Kitty needed a new dress to have dinner with the Royal Society in, took them past Hyde Park, past Buckingham Palace and St James's, past Piccadilly Circus. There was no time to take one thing in before being whisked on to the next.
The dress shop in Oxford Street was yet another new world. It was quiet, softly-lit and gaspingly luxurious. The dresses! Oh, the dresses! Pink, white, blue, purple. Silk, satin, lace. She looked at them, and then down at her own cotton frock, and knew how Cinderella must have felt.
The Professor left her in the hands of the assistant. "I know nothing about young lady's clothes," he said. "I'd like something, please, suitable for a young lady to wear to a formal dinner."
"Of course, sir," said the assistant.
"Miss Wright, I'll leave that with you." The Professor handed over his wallet and cheque book. "Meet me at St. Giles by noon and we'll go and have some lunch."
So Kitty was left alone with the assistant, a wallet full of money and more lovely dresses than she had ever thought she would lay eyes on. The assistant chattered round her like a sparrow. "The blue lace dress? The pink satin? Better in red?"
After about an hour, Kitty stood and looked at herself in the mirror. She was wearing a purple silk dress, and her hair, always in two plaits, was now piled up on the back of her head. The shoes she teetered in were positively dangerous. Quite possibly many observers would have laughed a little, but to Kitty it was a child-hood dream come true. She stood in front of the mirror and admired, really studied her own reflection for the first time she could remember. She tilted her head his way and that, so as to see it from every angle, then smiled. A little twinge of gleeful shame shot through her. Was this what matron had meant by "vanity, vanity, all is vanity"?
She paid for the dress, changed back into her own things because it would not do to traipse around London in her formal gown and went to St. Giles to meet the Professor, who was laden with shopping bags.
"I thought, Miss Wright, it would be best to wait until you could join me before purchasing any advanced scientific or maritime equipment, so I might have your help and advice, but I've taken this opportunity to purchase a few more prosaic items. Here are tents, blankets, assorted cushions, some mail-order catalogues… It's very difficult to bulk buy in person. Things in tins… How's the dress?"
"It's lovely, thank you."
"Pleasure, pleasure, always a pleasure. You're my secretary, Miss Wright, you need paying for the job."
Kitty hadn't thought of that. The way she looked at it, the Professor was taking her to see the world, and she might have to do a few jobs for in him in return. But to the Professor, she was his secretary whom he'd hired and she needed paying for her work.
They bought lunch, a couple of crumpets oozing butter and honey. As the Professor pointed out, they should only have a light lunch, they would be going to the dinner later.
To while away the time, Kitty and Professor Whetherfield went to the British Museum. "It ought really to be bigger," said the Professor, "we can't fit all the specimens in".
It was quite big enough for Kitty. She had seen the World Museum, of course, in Liverpool, and the art collection at the Liverpool Royal Institution, but any museum was wonderful as far as she was concerned.
At about five 'o' clock, they made their way to a small tea shop. Kitty went to the ladies' to change and then they got a cab—a cab! Could wonders never cease?—to drive to the Royal Society.
The Royal Society was based in Somerset House, by the River Thames, a magnificent stone building, with several carriages already waiting in the drive. Lamps were glowing in every window and several elegantly-dressed people were milling about on the steps.
Kitty scrambled out of the carriage, the Professor tipped the driver, and they went in. Kitty was not entirely sure what proper behaviour was in her role as the Professor's secretary. And as she wasn't sure, she decided the best thing to do was not to care.
She skipped about the hall-way, admiring the glum-looking portraits on the wall. Professor Whetherfield introduced her solemnly to the assembled Fellows as "my secretary, Miss Kitty Wright".
There were an awful lot of Fellows to be introduced to, and whose names she had to remember. The Professor kept up a running commentary on who everybody was.
"Miss Wright, may I introduce Captain Edward Sabine, our president? Captain Sabine, Miss Kitty Wright, my secretary."
They shook hands solemnly.
"May I offer you a drink, Miss Wright?"
"Thank you, yes."
So Kitty drank champagne and talked to a lot of men from the Royal Society, who told her fascinating stories about their discoveries. They asked her about Liverpool, and shipping and she told them about the ferries to Ireland and America, and about the goods ships to South America and China and India, and about how ships built in Liverpool were the finest in the world.
Then they all went into dinner. Dinner was very good. There was a mountain of chicken, potatoes, trifle. Red wine. Kitty ate and drank better than she thought she ever would in her life.
During dinner, conversation was strictly small talk, but afterwards, while the men passed around port and cigars and Kitty thought that if she had any more to drink she would be sick, Sabine cleared his throat in an important kind of way and conversation died along the table.
"Now gentlemen," said Sabine. "We are gathered here, as you know, to discuss the funding for our Fellow Professor Whetherfield's expedition to the Antarctic, which he proposes embarking on as soon as may be."
"Will embark on as soon as may be, Sabine."
"Will be embarking on. I believe his intention is nothing less than to reach the South Pole. Now, gentlemen, perhaps Professor Whetherfield would care to give a short speech on why he has decided to embark on this expedition. Mr Secretary, will you care to take to take notes?"
There were mumbles of agreement. The secretary set himself up with his notebook and pens.
"Now, Professor, over to you."
"Thank you, gentlemen, for your time and attention. I intend to travel, in whatever I can procure on the money available, to the Antarctic."
"Why?" said someone.
"First and foremost, why not?"
Kitty burst into applause.
"Quiet please," said Sabine.
"Sorry," she muttered.
"Secondly, because of the truly incredible things we may find there. I'm sure you all follow with great interest the discoveries over recent years of enormous lizards from days gone by. Dinosaurs, they call them."
Everybody nodded. Everybody in Britain who had ever been to a museum or library knew about dinosaurs. It had been the talk of the nation for a decade or more.
"Naturally enough, most scientists studying dinosaurs believe that none remain alive. But supposing this were not so? Supposing that somewhere, in some unexplored country, dinosaurs remain alive? And the only true undiscovered country on this Earth is Antarctica."
"It's made of ice," said the secretary, with a deeply patronising air.
"It's not made of ice. The Arctic, so far as any body can tell, is ocean covered in ice. The Antarctic, however, is land. There is land under the ice. And land, gentleman, means life!"
"It's a desert!" came the cries. "It's freezing!" "Nothing could live there!" "Nothing sane would try!"
"The penguins live there."
"They eat fish, so far as anyone can tell. That does not mean that the interior contains life," said the secretary.
"There might be minerals. This has the potential to be a worth-while investment, gentlemen."
"And there might not be."
"And there might not be."
"And if there were, how would we get them out?"
"Possibly the interior is warm and hospitable, with rich farmland."
"But the Arctic-"
"Is an ocean! The Antarctic has land underneath. And land means there could be oases of hot rocks."
"It's a vast landmass and you intend to wander around it looking for hot rocks?"
"Yes. If we can find hot rocks and running water, we could settle there. Build cities. Farm the land. Establish scientific research stations."
"But it's dark there for half the year."
"Perhaps the people who live there have artificial lighting."
The secretary almost exploded. "You say there are people living there?"
"I say there might be."
"What people? Why? How?"
"There are lost civilisations in many cultures."
"Yes. Lost! That's the trouble."
"If they are lost, they can be found again. Or at least the remains. Take Atlantis."
"Which sank. Not froze."
"The details don't matter. The point is, somewhere else there might be a civilisation far more scientifically advanced than anything we have seen."
"Scientifically advanced how?"
"Heavier-than-air flight, for example. Splitting the atom-"
"You can't split the atom! That's why it's called the atom!"
"We have not split the atom. That does not mean that, somewhere on this Earth, the atom has not been split. Or… space travel."
"You're mad!" said the secretary.
The other faces round the table looked either bewildered, faintly amused or admiring. Sabine, who had explored himself in the Arctic, searching for the Northwest Passage, looked doubtful, but not contemptuous.
"Not mad, Mr Secretary, merely… logical."
"At the end of the day," said the Professor, cutting across Sabine and the secretary, "we don't know what's down there. Maybe we'll find these terrible lizards and the lost kingdom of El Dorado. Maybe we'll find nothing. But we won't find anything until we go down there and look."
Nodding round the table.
"Very well," said Sabine. "We'll put it to the vote. All those in favour of allowing Professor Whetherfield, say, a thousand pounds of Royal Society money, please raise your hands."
Most of the hands around the table went up, including Sabine's own. Kitty and the Professor raised their hands.
"Professor, Miss Wright, you may not vote," said Sabine.
Kitty put her hand down quickly.
"Well, that was a clear majority," said Sabine. "However, for the sake of form, all those against, please raise your hands."
The secretary and a few others raised their hands.
"Motion passed. Professor, good luck on your journey south."
Kitty leaped up in her chair. They had done it! They had got funding out of the Royal Society! They were going to the South.
"Thank you, gentlemen, for your kindness," said the Professor. "Miss Wright and I shall procure a ship and-"
"Hold on!" said Sabine. "Steady on a minute. What do you mean "Miss Wright and I"? Is Miss Wright going with you to the Pole?"
The other men around the table looked rather doubtful. A few began to mutter.
"Of course," said the Professor, looking astonished. "Miss Wright is my secretary."
"Yes, I know that. Your secretary in Oxford. I didn't realise you were taking her to the Pole."
"Of course I'm taking her to the Pole!" said the Professor. "Don't be ridiculous. Why would I hire her as my secretary and then not take her to the Pole? And why shouldn't I take her to the Pole?"
"Because… it's dangerous."
"Yes. It might well be. I daresay it was dangerous when you tried to find that Northwest Passage, not once but twice."
"That's different, Professor." It was the secretary again.
"It is indeed," said Sabine. "You and I, Professor, are grown men, our lives are ours to hazard as we will. Well…" he frowned. "You might, Professor, be getting rather old for the job…"
"Nonsense, I'm quite able to do the job."
"Miss Wright… Professor, she's just a child."
"And she's one of the brightest, most brilliant children I have ever had the privilege to meet," said the Professor quietly.
"Well… perhaps, but that's no reason to go charging into the jaws of death with her."
The more Kitty heard, the more her heart sank. So near… so near… She looked down at the table so the men would not see how red her eyes were. She would not, she would not be a baby and cry.
"Miss Wright wants to come. I see no reason why the decision should be anyone but hers. I'm her employer, not her nursemaid." He smiled at her across the table and she managed a small smile back. "She doesn't need a nursemaid, gentlemen."
"Why should I be responsible for her? She has a brain of her own, and a damn good one, and she ought to be allowed to develop it. She wants to come South. And she deserves the opportunity. You can't forbid her to go and you can't forbid me to take her. Talent is nothing without the chance to use it. After all, where would Mr Darwin be now without his chance of a trip on Beagle?"
There was a moment's pause.
"Very well," said Sabine. The to Kitty. "Very well, Miss Wright."
The whole room cheered the rafters down, the toasts went on for about ten minutes, Kitty was so happy she could have fainted. This was what she had been living for her whole life.
They got back to Oxford on the milk float in the small hours. Kitty collapsed into bed and got a few hours sleep, filled with dreams of strange flying creatures in exotic jungles, before they had to get up. There was packing to do, more of it than Kitty could ever have imagined was necessary, even for an Antarctic expedition. They had to by furs, candles by the box, a crate of test tubes, some cotton wool, some alcohol for the specimens, compasses, oilskins… The little room was soon so piled with boxes Kitty could hardly move. She sat on the floor while the Professor counted candles and bottles of methylated spirits and answered the deluge of post which came every day. This, she supposed could well be the nearest thing she ever had to do to actual secretarial work.
"The Geography Society offer us their whole-hearted support," she said. "Whole-hearted enough for some twenty pounds too."
"Oh good, it means we get a really good camera. We can show the public magic lantern slides when we return! Educate them… an honour, an honour…"
Kitty put the Geography Society letter on the "helpful" pile.
"The Royal Horticultural Society want to know if we can wire them with our botanical discoveries before anyone else?"
"There are, we can safely assume I think, no telegraph wires in Antarctica, so, no."
Kitty flung that letter at the over-flowing waste paper basket. "At least they offer their whole-hearted support."
"Well, that's nice of them… Could you pass me the Hudson's Bay Company catalogue please? I think it's under the porcupine."
Kitty moved the stuffed porcupine, handed over the Hudson's Bay Company catalogue and gasped. "The Royal Photographic Society have offered us a camera, a free one! But they say we have to not die, it wastes their money."
"Splendid, splendid, you must write back and tell them how grateful we are."
"I will." Kitty was almost crying. Public generosity was truly remarkable. This bunch of complete strangers had faith in them, and the brains to guess exactly what they needed. It reminded her: they were doing this for the public, for their advancement.
The next letter was from the London Missionary Society offering a thousand free Bibles.
"What do I say to them?"
"We might as well accept. I have no intention of indulging in missionary preaching, but I don't suppose it can do any harm."
That letter went on the useful pile, along with letters from the Hearst, Haggin, Tevis and Co. mining people about precious metals, the British Land Company, the Muscovy Company and the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences.
The next day the Professor realised that Kitty couldn't shoot, so they went to a gun-smith's to buy a beautiful pistol for her to take to Antarctica. Kitty had never held a gun before, but the Professor told her that he would teach her on the journey south. That evening, he taught her to strip it down, clean it and oil it.
The next day they went to Liverpool to see the boat. Gloria Mundi was a Steam Auxiliary Ship, owned by the British India Steam Navigation Company. She was a beauty, in need, perhaps, of a lick of paint but a beauty none the less, bobbing up and down in the dock like a duck, cheerful, friendly, squat.
The deck was polished until it gleamed and a representative of the Company, a Mr Price, was waiting for them. A carried an account an account book and had an air of brisk efficiency.
"Here she is," he said, after he had had shaken their hands. "Gloria Mundi, beauty of a ship, real beauty."
"Indeed, sir," said the Professor.
"Full sailing rig, sir, and screw steam—the new thing, you know."
"Most impressive, sir, most impressive."
"Oh, yes, cutting edge. Come below and I'll show you the boilers."
Kitty followed Mr Price down the narrow staircase to the boilers. Everything was very beautiful, lovingly carved, gleaming with polish. How functional it would be, however, Kitty began to doubt. She knew nothing about ships, she had never been on one before. But even she could see that some of the body of Gloria Mundi was not quite as well-maintained as it might be. The boilers, too—lovely things, they must have been, in their day. Their day may have elapsed some years ago. Screw steam really was cutting edge, though. Maybe she had just been left in slightly bad repair. Either way, it did not bode well. The propellers looked… tired, the huge, gleaming boilers themselves… bent.
"Splendid," said the Professor, "splendid, we'll have her".
"You haven't asked him how much filthy lucre he wants for it yet." There wasn't much Kitty hadn't learned about driving a hard bargain.
"Filthy lucre?" said the Professor, horrified. "But we're a scientific expedition. We operate for public benefit-"
"That doesn't mean we get stuff gratis," said Kitty, rolling her eyes. "We do our public benefit, but we pay for the ship."
Mr Price looked acutely embarrassed. "I beg your pardon sir… I didn't mean to cause a misunderstanding… Er… well, now we have to mention it…" In Mr Price's world, money was something mentioned as discreetly as possible. "Well, the asking price is one hundred pounds."
Kitty, who had been bracing herself to drive him down, choked. "One hundred pounds! That's peanuts… that's…" Her voice tailed off, gasping.
"Well," said Mr Price, a touch dryly, "if you would prefer something more expensive, my good lady…"
"What's wrong with her?"
Mr Price looked more and more offended. The BI was not accustomed to deal with such ruffians. "Nothing's wrong with her, my good lady…"
"Then why are you asking peanuts?"
"Well, I think it's a fair assessment of the value of the ship…"
"Miss Wright," said the Professor, "I don't think we can really afford much more than a hundred and fifty pounds, it is perhaps lucky that the gentleman isn't asking much…"
"Sure, I know that, I was gonna beat him down to a hundred and twenty five. It's what she's worth" (Kitty had no idea how much a ship was worth, but she knew what they could afford and she went into bargains and came out victorious) "but you know the first law of bargaining". Seeing the Professor didn't, "ask for twice what you expect to get". She turned back to Mr Price. "She's clapped out. You're selling us a kapputed ship, Mr Price. A beauty I'll admit." And she was, she was the sort of ship Kitty used to sit above the harbour and dream of sailing away on, into the sun-set, to foreign shores and dreams of distant glory, white sails billowing in the breeze. "And I daresay she was a smasher once, but she needed her TLC a long time ago, mate."
"This ship," said Mr Price, "has served this company long and faithfully. Treat her right, Miss Wright, and she'll see you through to the finish".
"Sure, because we're going to drown on her."
"Nonsense, you can't beat a real BI steamer. Life in her yet, Miss Wright."
"Right." Kitty grabbed the wooden railing next to the boilers and it came away in her hand. "But if we die, Mr Price, I'll sue you."
Mr Price showed them over the rest of the ship in silence. It was funny, thought Kitty, how much bigger a ship looks on the inside. On the deck, Gloria Mundi looked barely big enough to fit ten people standing in line, inside there were two decks, a cavernous hold, the boiler room, of course. Mr Price helpfully pointed out the flat bottom in the big cabins on the top deck "perfect for specimens and delicate instruments".
Kitty was delighted. Ship structural integrity notwithstanding. She was lovely, the cabins were large, light and airy (but not droughty), the kitchen was in the bows, as was best on a sailing ship, but not on a steamer, the maze-like warren of cabins and corridors below decks was thrilling. On the deck, the sky was blue, the sun shone, the steam and noise and smell of fish and salt floated to them on the air.
So she parted with a cheque sceptically, but not dissatisfied. After all, this was a voyage of discovery, to see what lay in the vast, undiscovered country at the bottom of the world. And nothing, nothing, could burst that bubble.
Then it was only a few last-minute things to do. A crate of champagne, "for when we reach the Pole", boxes of chocolate, cocoa, candied fruit, garish boiled sweets "for morale", then everything packed into boxes, tied up in parcels with brown paper and string, sent down on the train from Oxford to Liverpool.
Then Sunday, when no trains would run, and, said the Professor, their Captain was unwilling to start a voyage, it being the day of rest. Kitty felt like a champagne bottle herself, mooching round the Professor's rooms, fizzing inside as if she might explode. She felt hot, the room was cramped, the wander-lust seized her and twisted up her guts until she could not sit still, still less sleep, and, with nothing to do, could only pace back and forth, fretful and restless, waiting for Monday morning, when she stuffed her few possessions—comb, handkerchief, a few books, some paper, a pen and ink, carefully wrapped in paper should the bottle break, her hat and her new dress, simply because she couldn't bear to be parted from it, even though there would be no formal dinners in Antarctica.
Then the train.
Getting off the train in Liverpool.
Walking down to the docks, the crowd realising who they were, shouting, cheering.
More and more people gathered on the dock-side. They waved and Kitty waved back. They threw flowers, they waved streamers, they cried. Some of them were calling Kitty's name. Were calling her name. Kitty. For the first time in her life, Kitty found herself an object of interest.
There was a small knot of journalists gathered on the deck, brandishing notebooks and pushing, peering earnestly into the Professor's face.
"So, Professor, would you care to tell the public exactly what you hope to achieve?"
"To reach the South Pole."
"What's the importance of scientific exploration in the Antarctic?"
The Professor's head was spinning from side to side as he tried to answer all the questions thrown at him, while battling his way along the docks to the gag-plank, dragging Kitty by one hand and his suitcase by the other.
"Well, Messrs. Hearst, Haggin and Tevis hope I'll find a silver mine. The Muscovy Company hopes I'll find timber, fish and fur-"
"And you, Professor?" said a smiling young lady journalist. "What are you looking for?"
"You mean fossils?" She was frowning.
"Hopefully live ones."
A gasp went round the crowd at that. Kitty grinned.
Then the crowd stood back. A tall man with piercing blue eyes was striding along the dock-side towards them. He must be the Captain, for the shoving, cheering crowd to clear the way like that. A thin woman with iron-grey hair, in a starched dress, weighed down under two suitcases, followed him.
"Professor Whetherfield? Miss Wright? I'm Captain Seward. How do you do?"
"How do you do, sir?"
"How d'you do?"
They shook hands solemnly.
"May I introduce my housekeeper, Miss Jones?"
Once again, introductions.
"Now get on board," said the Captain. "I'll help you with that case if need be, Miss Wright."
"I'm fine thanks," said Kitty.
"If you're sure, Miss Wright." He turned to a docker, hurrying along through the crowd with a check list. "Got everything?"
"Yes, sir, all on board."
"Very good." Captain Seward's eyes swept the dock. "Foster! What are you doing? Get on board."
A young man was standing under the bows of the Gloria Mundi, nearly pinned against the hull by a girl waving a cheap tin bangle in the air.
"Coming Captain," said Foster. "Don't be daft, Lizzie."
"Oooh!" said Lizzie. "Don't you call me daft, you low-down, faithless cad."
Foster looked slightly uncomfortable. "I was not faithless," he said.
"Oooh!" with even more indignation than before. "Don't you tell lies, Robbie Foster. And don't you call me daft, either. It's not respectful, to a lady."
"Are you going to come, Foster, or am I going to dock your wages for unpunctuality?" called Seward. Miss Jones had already disappeared with the suitcases.
"Well you are being daft-"
Lizzie sniffed. "Broken-hearted is what I am. With reason, too. When you gave me this" more gesticulation with the bangle "you told me I was the beautiful girl in all the world and you loved no one but me. Next thing-"
"I may have said—sorry about this, Captain-"
"Not at all," said the Captain, lighting his pipe. "You take as long as you need." His voice dripped sarcasm. "The Professor here says these triceratopses have waited millions of years down there, so I'm sure they can last a few minutes more."
"I may have said, in a moment of excitement-"
"Intoxication, if you like, that you were the most beautiful girl in the world. But I did not say that I loved no one but you." He re-gained some spirit. "You're just making things up."
A boy had appeared on the gang-plank. He looked about fourteen, with a mountain of boxes, crates and sacks at his feet. He watched Foster and Lizzie with dispassionate amusement.
"You know them?" whispered Kitty.
"I know Foster." He grinned. "I've heard of Lizzie."
"He does this a lot?"
"Oh, all the time. Girl in every port."
"Who's fault is all this scrapping, then?"
"I'd guess pretty even to be honest."
At this point Foster detached himself from Lizzie and hurried over, slightly sheepish. Lizzie hurled the bangle back in his face with a last curse.
"Right," said Seward. "If you're quite finished…"
And they scrambled up onto the deck. Kitty was rushed off her feet, dragging boxes down below, setting up the fragile scientific equipment and trying not to break it, occasionally being hauled back onto the deck to answer more journalists' questions.
Kitty was introduced to the other volunteers and nolunteers for the Antarctic expedition. Frankly, they didn't all inspire confidence. As well as Captain Seward and Miss Jones, who would be accompanying the expedition, despite having no previous sea-going experience, as they were desperately short-handed (the original volunteer Mr White had gone to prison on Saturday for two counts of theft and one of murder, apparently he had really wanted to go to Antarctica to escape the law but the law was too quick for him), and Foster, there was the young boy, called Patrick Doyle, and a bent, elderly sailor with darting, hunted eyes, clutching a whiskey bottle in one hand and, apart from his pistol (all Gloria Mundi's crew-men had pistols) an elderly, rusting rifle on his lap. He didn't seem to hear Kitty introduce herself.
"That's Dan Lawson," said Patrick, hurrying past with an armful of boxes. He shouted. "Lawson! That's Miss Kitty Wright!".
Lawson's head swivelled like an owl's and his anxious eyes narrowed into even more suspicious slits.
"I wouldn't worry too much with him," said Patrick. "It's been years since he paid any attention to anything except his own ramblings." He came closer and whispered "do not let him know where the champagne is".
"I won't," Kitty whispered back.
There was another young man about Foster's age, called Edward Carington, who announced his presence five minutes after everyone was supposed to be on board, dropping a box of canned condensed milk down a hatch and nearly knocking himself out jumping down after it. It soon became apparent to Kitty that Carington was a complete waste of five thousand pounds of education, knew nothing about sailing or science and hadn't wanted to come at all—his father had donated two thousand pounds to the expedition to take him and, he'd hinted, leave him there.
So that was everyone. Six men, two women and a fat, sleepy cat who looked as if she hadn't done any mousing in a while, called Theodora, after, whispered Patrick, the Captain's ex-girlfriend. They were going to the wildest, least-known continent on Earth.
Seward was hollering in the little bridge. There was a clattering of chains, the cheering on the shore crew ear-splitting, the band was playing Leaving of Liverpool loud enough to be heard in Antarctica. Kitty dashed up onto the deck to get once last look at the city that had been her home for her whole life, the lead-grey sky heavy with rain-clouds, the grey and brown wind-swept buildings on the quay, the people who stood in the cold, damp morning air to cry, bless and blow kisses to people they had never seen before and—if anything were to go wrong—would never see again.
But at that moment the thought of anything going wrong was a dim, hypothetical prospect. For a moment the sheer glory and excitement of it all over-whelmed her. She waved and waved, she blew kisses back, she could barely breathe through her pounding heart.
"Good luck, girl!"
"Do us proud!"
"Send us a post-card when you get there!"
Then the sails heaved, the Gloria Mundi groaned and strained her timbers. The wind picked up, lashing at Kitty's face. They were off.
Sea travel took a while to get used to. The deck swayed constantly, up on the crest of a wave, then down the other side, then rolling as she settled herself.
Kitty went down to her cabin to un-pack. She was sharing one of the two nicest, roomiest cabins, in the bows, with Miss Jones. Ladies' privilege.
The other best cabin was the Professor's room and laboratory, as he needed so much room for his equipment and specimens. When Kitty had un-packed, which only took a couple of minutes as she had so little, she went to the laboratory to help him set up his instruments. This was difficult, as the instruments were fragile and the Gloria rolled around constantly. Everything had to go in cupboards and drawers, which then had to have massive bolts across the front to stop everything falling out, or else had to be clamped to the desk.
"So," said Kitty, nervously lifting a microscope out of the box, "we're on our way".
"Indeed we are," said the Professor, "and I think it's marvellous. I have great confidence about this trip".
"What do you make of our companions in adventure?"
"Oh, they seem charming people. Absolutely charming. I couldn't wish for better people, really."
"Well… splendid." She pulled a few empty specimen jars out of their box. "I'm glad we've started at last."
"So am I. Very glad." He sighed. "I've dreamed about this, Miss Wright—where did I put my set square?"
"In your hand."
"So it is, thank you. I've dreamed about this for years. When I was a child I had a fever. In my fever dreams I flew across oceans and continents. I watched the whales play in the Southern Ocean and I saw the Antarctic mountains—or what I thought they looked like, anyway—plain as day." For a moment he stared off into the distance.
"We're going to see them now," said Kitty. "For real."
The Professor beamed. "Won't it be wonderful?"
Kitty looked out of the port-hole. She could see no land, only boundless grey-green sea, where the little white foaming waves ran back and forth.
"It'll be incredible."
Up above there were assorted crashing noises, squeaking, clattering, swearing. Kitty hurried along the passage to see what was going on, nearly colliding with Patrick as he ran down the ladder from the deck—the ladder, Kitty would come to learn, was an absolute death-trap, the people coming up couldn't see who was coming down against the glare of the light and the people coming down couldn't see who was coming up, in the dark.
"What's the matter?"
"Coming to see what all the banging noises were."
"Banging?" He grinned. "You've never been on a ship if you think that's banging."
"I've never been on a ship before."
"Ship's always make noises. It's a funny thing, but you know something's really wrong when the noises stop."
"This ship," said Foster, peering over the edge of the hatch, "makes more noises than most. On her last legs, she is". He lit a cigarette. "Not that you should let that bother you."
"This ship," Seward arrived, smoking his pipe and looking grim, "is a real lady, I'll near no word to the contrary-".
"Or you'll throw us over-board," said Patrick.
"And you think you're joking. A real lady, I say, and you're paid to work, boys, not gossip."
"A lady in distressed circumstances," said Foster.
"A lady none the less." Seward looked around the deck, with a slightly softer expression on his normally stony face. "Stood me in good stead for years, this ship. Now, back to work."
Foster and Patrick rolled their eyes at Kitty and scrambled up the ladder to the deck. Kitty returned to the laboratory.
There was a dispute about who would make lunch. Miss Jones wanted to do it, but so did Foster.
"I've always done lunch for the Captain," said Miss Jones, glaring around the bridge. "Whenever he's at home."
"Well, he's not at home, is he?"
"Hmph! Silly young boys, tramping around my kitchen, interfering with my work. I've got to do something on this expedition and as I can't sail or science I'll at least cook. I haven't come here to live like a lady of leisure, you know."
"But I'm a good cook. It's my job."
"My saintly mother," said Miss Jones, "always taught idleness was a sin". And she swaggered off in triumph to the kitchen.
Miss Jones' soup was dreadful, worse than the cheap whiskey which everyone else seemed to like but made Kitty feel sick. Kitty endeavoured to be polite about it, so as not to hurt Miss Jones' feelings, but the thought of living on the stuff for the rest of the voyage was too much to bear. Not too eagerly, or she might seem rude, she said "Perhaps, Miss Jones, you want to take the tea shift off".
"Take the tea shift off!" said Miss Jones. "Whoever heard of such a thing?"
She looked at the Captain for support, but the Captain looked around at the faces of his crew and must have sensed mutiny.
"Miss Jones, your soup was delightful," he said.
"Liar, liar," shrieked Lawson, snapping out of his immobile reverie. "I told you having a woman on board was bad luck, like a banana. Only been a few weeks-"
"It's been two hours," said Patrick.
"Don't pretend you can tell the time better than me, William, I know when it's been weeks. And we've all… been…" he inhaled and tried to stay upright "poisoned".
Miss Jones looked outraged.
"Your soup was delightful," continued the Captain in a louder voice. "However, you have many other jobs to do on this ship such as" he cleared his throat and if he were desperately making something up he gave no sign of it "the mending".
"What mending?" said Patrick. Kitty felt the Captain kick him under the cramped table.
"The ironing, the-" he suddenly coughed "general house-work," another cough, "such as," a final cough "polishing". He sat back looking relieved.
Miss Jones looked mollified. "Well, of course, Captain, I never realised there would be quite so much for me to do. Naturally if you think other work is likely to take up so much of my time I wouldn't dream of interfering."
"So in future, Foster, you cook."
Foster's lips moved. It might have been "hallelujah".
But Lawson was not finished. He stood up suddenly and glared round at them all. "Bad luck, I tell you!" he said. "We're all doomed."
"At least you've now accepted you haven't, alas, been poisoned," said Patrick.
"Shut up William," concentrated fury carved on his face. He glared round again. "Doomed!" And he stormed off, reeling slightly, his half-empty bottle cradled in his arms.
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"I like this ship!" said Carington, beaming round at them all. "She's exciting!"
"Why does he call you William?" asked Kitty.
"Because he had a ship's boy back in the day whom he hated, and he gets us mixed up. Sometimes he gets me mixed up with Elijah if he isn't annoyed with me, for a miracle. He was another ship's boy from back in the day, whom he didn't hate."
"Well, I'll wash up, anyway," said Miss Jones. She gathered everyone's plates into a neat pile and carried them out to the kitchen.
The minute she had gone Foster burst out laughing.
"What?" said Seward.
"You! You think you're so tough and then the minute it's a question of Miss Jones' feelings you're meek and mild as a lamb."
Seward blushed and scowled. "I hate to offend a lady."
"What, are they that scary?" He did an impression of Seward, which was actually rather good. ""Your soup was delightful." The rest of us just get threatened with hell-fire and double duty."
"Speaking of hell-fire and double duty, you'll get both if you don't learn some respect." Seward pushed back his chair and stood up. "You pack of horrors don't have finer feelings, that's the trouble with you. Never met such an insensitive bunch. And you especially, Foster."
The soup that night was excellent, and the food over the next few days just got better—though everybody was careful not to say that to Miss Jones.
That evening there was another diversion. They were sitting round the table after tea, talking, when Patrick sat upright and frowned. "Is it just me, or is she tilting?"
Kitty opened her mouth to say it was just him, when her mug of whiskey—barely sipped—fell over. Not suddenly, as it might from a wave. It gradually and carefully tilted, wobbled and fell.
Seward leaped up. "I'm going to the hold. Foster, with me. Doyle, get the Professor and the ladies up on deck, and Lawson, if you're feeling kind. We might need the life rafts." He hurried off.
Everybody except Lawson, who was staring into a whiskey-fogged middle distance, was tense. Patrick seemed more anxious and puzzled than in mortal terror, but Miss Jones was keening under her breath as they clambered up the ladder onto the deck (it seemed "the ladies" included Theodora, because Patrick grabbed by the stomach from where she was snoozing by the lamp and hauled her, struggling and undignified, after them).
"Don't worry, ma'am," said Patrick to Miss Jones. "Half the time, it's just something come loose."
Outside it was very dark, the wind whistled in the sails and stung cold on Kitty's face. She went over to the rail and looked down at the sea, which she could barely see below her. On the one hand, she thought, having to take to the life raft might be jolly exciting, really quite like a book, on the other, the thought of having to abandon the Antarctic Expedition on the first day and return home filled her with dread.
The Professor had begun to fuss about his equipment. "Some of it, you know, absolutely irreplaceable, of great value to my work…" he told the world in general.
"Relax, Prof. Look, if she's really sinking…" She lowered her voice and whispered. "We'll go and get your stuff."
"I should think so!" said the Professor. "My beautiful new camera!"
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that," said Patrick. "Going back for stuff is the one big no-no on a sinking ship, and naturally it's what everyone does."
At this point, Seward and Foster came back, Foster grinning, Seward scowling, but both alive.
"Who opened the sea-cock?" Seward exploded.
Everybody turned to look at Lawson. Kitty had no idea what a sea-cock was, but she suspected him anyway.
"What? No, I haven't opened any sea-cocks. Back on the Unstoppable, now, then we had a leaky sea-cock. Unstoppable sure stopped then. Adrift, we were, for fifteen days. Fifteen days without drink." That reminded him to take a swig of his whiskey. "No, I haven't opened your bloody sea-cock-"
"Language," muttered Seward, but not very loudly, with an eye on the whiskey bottle.
"This floating hell-hole isn't worth sinking."
Seward re-doubled his glare on the rest of them. "So who was it, then?"
"What's a sea-cock?" asked Kitty. She couldn't remember having opened anything, but Seward was making her feel slightly guilty anyway.
"It's a Kingston valve-" He broke off. "It's a little flap. With a handle attached."
"Ah," said Carington. "That might have been me."
"Why?" A despairing wail.
"Well, you said go and wash the bottles…"
"I didn't mean out the sea-cock!"
Carington opened his mouth and then closed it again. "Sorry," he said eventually.
"Where are the bottles?"
"Er… in the sea?"
Seward took several deep breaths. "When I ask you to wash something—which is unlikely, now—I mean go to the rainwater tub and wash it there. Right." Another glare at the assembled company. "You'll be pleased to know we're not going to die. Now get below and bail… No, I didn't mean you ladies. Or you, Professor…"
"It's all right," said Kitty. "I don't mind bailing."
They spent the rest of that evening bailing. Well, Lawson didn't bail, just stood around rambling about times he'd been cast adrift, some of them wholly convincing, some of them sounding suspiciously like the plot of some sea stories Kitty herself had read.
Kitty loved her cabin. It was so low Miss Jones had to stoop, and even at high noon never seemed to get enough light, but it was clean and neat and trim and really quite cosy when she smuggled into her bunk—there was no mattress, but she didn't care—and wrapped her patchwork quilt around her. She had the top bunk, as Miss Jones said the thought of it made her feel ill—she would have made sure she got the top bunk in any case, sleeping on the top of a bunk-bed was a golden child-hood dream. She never got ill on the whole journey, she liked the rocking motion of the ship, it soothed her.
As they sailed south past Wales and Cornwall and out into the North Atlantic, Seward had precious few opportunities to use double duty as a punishment for disrespect, as everyone was practically on double duty anyway, as they were so desperately short-handed. Everyone, of course, except Lawson, who huddled up on deck in the stern with his whiskey bottle and his scowl. Kitty avoided him. Seward scowled every time he personally had to kneel down and scrub the deck, but he clearly thought it beneath his dignity to complain, or else knew he would get little sympathy from his harried crew.
Sometimes they passed other ships, or saw them in the distance, and Kitty waved, even when she knew they were too far away to see.
The Professor and Kitty spent a lot of time bird-watching, perched in the bows—until someone moved them out the way—with the telescope and a few guide-books, Kitty, as secretary, making notes.
"Of course," said the Professor, "all these specimens are known to science, most of them very common, in fact, but it can't hurt, of course, to make a few notes on the location and behaviour of the birds. I want us to build up—ooh, look, there's a cormorant—a really clear picture of bird migration patterns in the North Atlantic. Any little helps…"
Kitty continued to scan the sky-line for storm petrels.
"There," she said, as a small, dark grey shape wheeled into view. "It's beautiful…" With its tiny, fluffy body and long, elegant wings it looked far too fragile to be buffeting the fierce Atlantic wind, but it skimmed happily over the surface of the water, tilted its wings, rose swirling in graceful loop-the-loops, calling thinly over the wind, and swooped again.
She passed the telescope to the Professor. He stared at the petrel with awe. "Amazing. I've seen stuffed ones, of course, but I never thought I would really get to see one, in the flesh."
They watched the beautiful petrel out of sight.
The next day, Kitty saw whales. They were so huge that for a moment she took them as rocks or waves, then one dived and she recognised a tail.
"Whales!" she shouted. "Whales!"
The Professor came running. "Lord! They're lovely."
They frolicked around the boat. Kitty hadn't expected anything so big and blubbery to be so graceful, but they were. They moved easily, sliding through the water like birds in the sky. There were about half a dozen of them, gliding along by Gloria, playing. They bobbed up out of the water, squirting jets up into the air, then rolled over onto their backs and chased each other round and round.
The whole ship was assembling round Kitty. Even Captain Seward's sternness relaxed a little. Lawson lurched over to the rail.
"Love whales," he said loudly. "Got an offer from a whaling captain once. Couldn't agree. Ended up in this miserable hulk instead."
Kitty, watching them, could understand what he meant.
"Look," said Patrick. Kitty looked where he was looking and saw a tiny shape sliding in between the whales.
The baby whale bobbed up out of the water right next to Kitty. If she leaned over the rail she could touch it, brushing gently against the hard, warm, rough skin. The baby whale chirruped, flicked its tail and was gone. The whales melted back into the dull grey of the North Atlantic, but it was some time before anyone could speak.
"Amazing creatures, whales," said the Professor. "In many cultures they're very important creatures. Some of the myths surrounding them are quite fascinating. Still more fascinating to see them in the flesh."
"They're like people," said Patrick. "Swimming people." He laughed. "I know it sounds daft…"
"No, I know what you mean," said Kitty. "They look at you like they want you to play, too."
"I've heard of people who did play with whales," said Patrick, wistfully, as the ship's crew went off to their duties and the Professor went to put his sketches of the whales in his log. "They rode on them. Of course, it could have just been a sailors' story, you hear all sorts in these bars."
"I can believe it was true. But then, I don't really know how to judge which sailors' stories are true and which are nonsense."
"There's a grain of truth in most of them." Patrick leaned against the rail and stared off into the far distance. "The ones you really have to take with a pinch of salt are the ones about catching giant fish. The fish grow by four feet an hour in my experience."
Kitty thought back to a few of the fish books she had read in the library at the William Brown Library and Museum. She had swallowed them so totally at the time. Now she suspected some of it might be made up.
"Have you ever seen a giant fish?"
"No." He laughed. "The most exciting battle I ever had was with an aggressive crab in the Malabar Coast."
Kitty laughed too.
"And you Miss Wright? You must have heard exciting stories in Liverpool, even if you've never sailed the Seven Seas. Sea serpents? Mermaids? The Flying Dutchman? I promise not to be too scornful."
"Oh, I've no exciting stories. I'm just a bar-maid."
"Doyle!" It was Seward. "Doyle, what are you doing here? Why aren't you working?"
"Just explaining to Miss Wright about how not to believe every sea story she's told. Did you know she's never sailed before? She worked as a bar-maid."
"Well, get back up that rigging and actually do some work. You're not paid to explain anything to Miss Wright."
"Long time since I've been paid at all, sir. If I get back alive from this here expedition, I'm told I'll get paid then, but what's the betting they'll remember?"
"You'll get paid less for every word you say, boy, so move."
Patrick turned to Kitty. "I'll see you after work."
"When's that, then?"
Patrick rolled his eyes. "God knows!"
"After work" did eventually come, quite late, it was dark already, and Patrick met Kitty in the laboratory and took her up to the fore-deck. There he told her sailors' stories, and she badgered him for more while he racked his brains for half-remembered conversations in barns. Eventually they had to go to bed, where Kitty lay in her cosy bunk, wrapped in her quilt, and listened to the sea sing her to sleep, and Patrick lay in his hammock with Theodora, wondering whether he would meet Kitty again to-morrow. Of course, he would meet her to-morrow, because it was a crowded little boat, but whether he would get the chance to talk to her again. Alone… about… well, then he fell asleep.
The next day Kitty was in the laboratory with the Professor, studying sediments from the bottom of the ocean floor under the microscope.
"Interesting," muttered the Professor. "Very interesting."
"Looks like a little worm."
"It is a little worm. Of some kind. Let me see…" He hauled a weighty tome across the desk towards him and leafed through. He seemed to know what he was looking for, peering from the sketches of worms in the book to the little fellow wriggling around under the microscope. At first, all the pictures looked the same to Kitty, but by looking carefully at the diagrams she realised that they were different shapes, the faint, sketchy lines of their internal organs were different, they were indeed more different species of worm than Kitty had believed possible.
"Do any of these seem to you like our little fellow?" the Professor asked.
"I can hardly tell. They don't stay still in real life the way they do for diagrams. Do they to you?"
"No." The Professor slowly put down the book. "Miss Wright, I do believe that we've found a new species."
"Really?" She grinned. "We're really progressing, aren't we, with the exploring?"
The new species wriggled his tail at her in a friendly way and she waved back down the microscope, surveying the little worm with maternal pride.
There was a knock at the door. Patrick appeared. "Is Miss Wright free or do you need her? Because if she is free, we're cleaning the boilers and I was wondering if she'd like to have a look?"
Kitty looked at the Professor. "Am I needed for secretarial work, sir?"
"No… no… you go and look at the boilers. I'll put this little fellow in a tank… give him some tasty algae."
Kitty followed Patrick down to the boiler room. This was a low, dark room under the bows. The boilers weren't running right now, they were travelling under sail. They stood hulking in the dark, looking, as they had the first time she had seen them, in slightly bad repair.
Seward and Foster were bustling about with buckets of water and brushes, looking efficient and important. Carington had climbed up on top of the boiler like a child on a haystack. "There you are," said Seward to Patrick. "Still shirking your work to hang around with Miss Wright, I see. Now get scrubbing that boiler before I am forced to express my disapproval!"
"I don't see, sir," said Carington. "Why if we haven't used the boiler yet, we have to clean it?"
"Nobody does except the boss," said Foster, rolling his eyes. "It's just one of the things that keep him happy. Now get down off that boiler."
"But I want to help."
"You're not helping," said Seward, with sternness bordering on panic. "If you help I'll jump over board right now. We struggle to keep these boilers in one piece as it is, without you helping."
"I can help, though?" said Kitty.
"All right, if you like." Seward handed her a brush and a bucket. "You help."
So Kitty scrubbed down Gloria's boilers, while Patrick explained to her how it worked.
Kitty had scrubbed floors before, but cleaning boilers was different, taking care as well as elbow grease.
"The steam runs up this pipe here," said Patrick. "Then it turns the propellers."
It was the first time Kitty had come face-to-face with the internal working of a ship. On the surface, they looked so simple, just gliding around, and underneath… all this. What genius had discovered that by heating water, one could move a huge ship? Looked so simple and obvious, was so clever.
Carington scrambled round the boiler to look at the pipes. "And then the propellers connect to that?"
"Oh no," said Foster. "Don't mention that."
Patrick crossed himself.
"Why not? What's that?"
Kitty didn't know what all the fuss was about either. "What is that?"
Patrick seemed to be in pain. "That's the R-U-D-D-E-R."
"And why are we not allowed to mention the rudder?"
Patrick sighed. "You're not allowed to mention the word. It's an absolute pile of crap."
"Language!" said Seward. "And don't insult this ship. She's a real lady I tell you."
"Oh come on sir, if you asked the BI people once for a new word, you've asked them a thousand times. And do we get one? No."
"Well what do you expect?" Seward slammed the bucket of water down and glared round at them all, as if each and every one of them were personally responsible for the failings of the BI people. "We're a cargo boat. You all know how we work."
"Load her to the limits," said Patrick, as if he were repeating a mantra. "And full speed ahead."
Seward growled in his throat and glared at the sparkling boiler. "Right, done. I want you gents up on deck. You know what Lawson's like."
"You mean you left him in charge of the sail things?" Kitty nearly choked. "But they're important, right?"
"Absolutely vital," said Patrick.
"And Mr Lawson's drunk the whole time, right?"
"Absolutely hammered. Booze ate his brain away about twenty years ago."
"Right…" said Kitty. There were plenty of habitual drunks in Liverpool, but it didn't reassure her to know that one was steering the ship. "I really hope there aren't any massive rocks in the way."
Foster grinned at her, then sighed. "Welcome aboard, Miss Wright." He sounded a bit like a kind-hearted hangman.
"May I walk Miss Wright back to the lab, sir?" said Patrick, who was already at the door.
"It's a few corridors away," said Seward. "How much walking does she need?"
But Patrick and Kitty hurried past him down the corridor. They then dawdled back to the lab.
"Come in," said Kitty.
His face lit up but he looked completely bewildered. "Can I?"
"Come on in," said the Professor, looking up from the notes he was writing.
Patrick wandered over to the Professor's desk. "What are you writing?"
"Notes on the new species of worm we discovered this morning."
Kitty thought she might burst with delight and pride at that "we".
"How much is there to write about a worm."
"Detailed anatomical notes, exactly where and when we found him, and of course what I think we should name it."
"What do you think we should name it, sir?" asked Kitty.
"Fluffy?" said Patrick. "It's a joke…" when he saw Kitty's face.
"Fluffy… yes.. good name," said the Professor thoughtfully. "Myself, I was considering Bartholomew and Bob.
"I thought, sir, you meant the scientific name."
"The what name?" said Patrick.
"Scientific name. Every species of animal and plant has to have a scientific name, based on… Latin, I think?"
"Yes, yes," said the Professor.
"Why? It's just another name to remember."
"Because," said Kitty, who hadn't thought about this herself. "Scientists come from all over the world. And in English a cow is a cow, and in German it's… something else, and in French it's… well, do they even have cows in France? They must do… Anyway, this is how they can all understand what animals, or plant or whatever, they're all talking about…" She tailed off, afraid she was talking nonsense. "Sir?"
"Oh, yes, yes," said the Professor, not looking up from notes.
"So… what scientific name are we going to give it?"
"Well, I'm reasonably sure it's of the phylum Nemotode, possibly Adenophorea. The great trouble comes with the orders within Adenophorea… I suggest that, until further research can be done, and hopefully more specimens from the class of nematodes discovered, whih hopefully they will be, I hold out great hope for the hot springs which I hope to find in Antarctica, or the fresh-water lakes and inland seas which may be on the land-mass… In fact, speaking of in-land seas, we really need to do more work on the Dead Sea… Where was I?"
"Until more specimens from the class nematode…" said Kitty. She and Patrick were standing by the little jar, full of algae, watching the new species through the microscope, as, oblivious to the fuss being made over him, he trundled about among the algal blobs.
"Oh yes, well, I suggest that we suggest the name Adenophorea Wrightea."
"What does that mean?" asked Kitty.
"It means Adenophorea of the species of Miss Wright."
It was like being whacked in the lungs with a rainbow. She was completely breathless and she assumed the tears jerking out of her eyes meant she was happy.
"Well," said Patrick. "It'd damn well better be a new species now."
"Thanks sir," said Kitty. "But… I'm not Latin."
"Well, they're Latin names, aren't they?"
"Oh," said the Professor. He laughed as he put away his notebook. "Scientific names don't actually have to be the Latin name of the animal or plant. Otherwise how could we have Latin names for kangaroos and wombats, which the Romans never knew about?"
"Didn't they?" said Kitty who had no idea what the Romans had or hadn't known.
"No. The name just has to be based on a Latin grammatical structure. Sometimes the name is based on Classical Latin, as in the genus Canis, but it doesn't have to. Often, it's named after scientists."
"It's very complicated…"
"Well if even you admit it's complicated…"
"I'll teach you Latin, though, then you'll be able to understand better."
"Scientific Latin or dead Roman Latin?"
"Well, it's more complicated than that, because there are dead Roman scientists, who wrote, in Latin, about animals and plants, and they had Latin names, which weren't, actually, necessarily, the actual Latin name."
"Now that's just beyond a joke."
"I give up," said Patrick. "I really do."
"No don't!" said the Professor, suddenly becoming very anxious, hopping up and down. "Don't give up under any circumstances. You must keep thinking about it, keep exercising the brain."
"Doyle!" Seward's voice, laden with menace, floated through the open door. "How long can it take you to walk Miss Wright back to the laboratory?"
"Coming sir." Patrick sighed at Kitty, muttered "thanks" to the Professor and hurried away.
The first Sunday aboard, Seward preached a fierce little sermon at the assembled crew and passengers. He preached on the dangers of sin, the fires of Hell and the vital necessity of devotion to God, because, he pointed out, one never knew when evil might strike, like a bolt from above. Patrick caught Kitty's eye and grinned and she almost giggled. The image of Seward being struck by a bolt of evil from above was just too hopelessly funny. Carington went to sleep and Foster had to prop him up against the wall, so Seward wouldn't notice.
Seward offered a very heart-felt prayer, so Kitty felt a little guilty about nearly laughing, but bolts of evil was just going too far… By the end of the sermon, she was admiring the shape of the clouds.
That evening, she and the Professor went up on deck to do some astronomy. Patrick and Foster had been drinking. She could hear Seward shouting at them. "Disgustingly drunk! What were you thinking?"
"Very little, sir." Foster sounded slightly drunk.
"God help you both, that's what I say. Finished the bottle… Stupid… dangerous…." He tailed off, lost for words.
"Oh, come on, sir," said Patrick. "Not your problem is it? It's not as if I drink like Lawson, is it?"
"You will do, though, if you keep this up. Exactly like him. You drink too much Patrick Doyle, you hear? Evening Miss Wright, Professor, by the way."
Patrick and Foster went below, still arguing with Seward. Kitty and the Professor were alone, to draw charts of the stars in their note-book.
The further south they sailed, the nicer the weather was. The sea and sky went from steel-grey to blue. The rain no longer blew in through the port-hole in Kitty's cabin whenever she opened it.
Kitty followed their progress daily on the chart on the bridge wall—Seward hated her bothering him in the bridge, but she just ignored him. The places they passed had such wonderful names. Casablanca, Agadir, the Canary Islands. Not that they saw any of these places, they sailed right on by, Kitty standing at the rail, squinting towards the horizon for a sight of land, alone in their little blue world, blue sea, blue sky. But the names alone were wonders enough for Kitty, who saw the places in her head, hot, dusty, smelling of roses and spices, jagged white towers looming above the desert, in the distance a camel train, dusty and weary, the camels groaning softly to themselves and sighing heavily as they clumped across the desert to the glittering ivory spires. Kitty had only ever seen pictures of camels, in a few travel books from the library, but she pictured them quite clearly, warm, breathing living animals, with kind if haughty faces.
She and the Professor had settled into their scientific routine. They were busy now. As the Professor pointed out, there was no reason to wait until they reached Antarctica before studying the ocean. The Atlantic was a greater mystery in many ways than the movement of distant planets. Every day, they measured depth, with a rope marked in fathoms. The Professor tied the rope to Gloria's funnel and Kitty lowered it gently over the side. She read the number of fathoms off the rope and wrote it down in what she had christened the Sacred Notebook. It made her feel very professional, actually to be measuring things with a measuring instrument, even if it was a rope with lines on.
Sometimes they trawled over the side for specimens. They mostly found fish which were already well-known to science. Sturgeons, for example, and lampreys. They could eat them, though, and it was Kitty's job to take them to the kitchen where Foster skinned them and gutted them and put them in stews. Some of the jellyfish, however, were very interesting. They were still months away from Antarctica, only near Africa, and already they had jars full of jellyfish. Live ones, too, swimming around in glass tanks. Every jellyfish had piles of notes, detailing where it had been caught—latitude, longitude and depth—length, shape, colour. They were fed on plankton and, at first, ground-up ship's biscuit, but it rapidly became apparent that they died a lot when fed on ship's biscuit, and had to be preserved in jars.
Other jars contained plankton, tiny worms, various types of microscopic life. Fluffy the Adenophorea Wrightea was beautifully and proudly labelled, and had a jar in pride of place in the middle of the shelf.
Taking sea temperatures was great fun. It was also very difficult. The thermometer went down into the sea easily enough, because they took it slow, and adjusted itself fairly quickly to the water temperature. The tricky part was hauling it up without dashing it to pieces on the side, because they had to see what it said before it got back to air temperature. They only had two thermometers and if one were broken… well. Then they would only have one. Kitty read the temperatures and noted them down, then the Professor would attach the thermometer again and lower it deeper, while Kitty counted off the fathoms.
The water was normally warmer at the top—50s or 60s, Faranheit—than deeper—20s, 30s or lower. This, the Professor explained, was because the sun's rays heated the surface of the ocean more than the deeps beneath, which, Kitty supposed, made sense.
Not always, though. "Undersea hot vents," said the Professor.
"How do hot vents work, then?"
"The Earth… allow me to draw a diagram…" The Professor took a pencil and a sheet of clean note-paper. "The Earth contains hot molten rock. Of this, we can be reasonably certain-"
"Volcanoes, mostly. These volcanoes emit lava, which cools into solid rock, such as extrusive basalt."
"Type of igneous rock."
"Rock formed from lava, outside the Earth, called extrusive igneous rock, or from cooling magma, called intrusive or plutonic."
"Cooling magma?" It all sounded vaguely, maddeningly familiar to Kitty from her trips to the Museum, but she didn't really understand.
"Right… perhaps I'd better explain from the beginning. Here, on this paper, I will draw a diagram…"
"Usually have to start at the beginning with me, don't you?"
"No place like the beginning, Miss Wright. No place like the beginning at all. See here. This is the Earth."
Kitty studied the circle on the piece of paper and nodded. That was the Earth. Well and good.
"From Ancient times, scientists have studied volcanoes. Empedocles claimed that they were a manifestation of Elemental Fire. However, subsequently scientists have failed to uncover further evidence of this Elemental Fire of which he spoke. However, the lava which volcanoes emit undoubtedly comes from somewhere."
"Now, it seems fair to assume that this molten rock exists inside the Earth. But to clear up igneous rock, first. "Igneous rock" comes the Latin ignis, meaning fire."
"As in "ignite"?"
"Exactly as in "ignite"."
It was as if a piece of the world, admittedly a small pieces but all pieces are small and that doesn't make them less important, had slotted into its correct place in Kitty's head. She now knew that "ignite" was "ignite" because of ignis. You learn, she thought, something new every day.
""Igneous rock" therefore, means "rock formed from fire", essentially. Now, this magma can either extrude through the surface of the Earth as lava and cool to solid rock, called extrusive igneous rock, or intrude into cracks and fissures within the Earth and cool to solid rock there. This is called-"
"Intrusive igneous rock?"
"Exactly. Granite, for example, is an intrusive igneous rock. Basalt, however, is extrusive."
"However, the molten rock. How it got there in the first place. What exactly's in there. Yes… that's the real question. Now, there are two main theories. One is that this hot rock forms pools or lakes inside an other-wise hollow Earth."
"I've read books about the hollow Earth."
"Indeed. Many books have been written about the hollow Earth. Both fictional and scientific. Frankly, I doubt it. Far more likely is the second major theory: that the Earth is full of this hot magma. It must, after all, be full of something. Otherwise, we would surely be squashed by gravity."
"Only one way to find to find out, sir."
"To go and look? Naturally." He smiled out at the waves and sky, and Kitty smiled too. "I expect that when we return from this expedition, we'll be able to go on an expedition to the centre of the Earth and see what's there. In the mean-time…" He sighed. "There's nothing like direct observation," he said.
"No," said Kitty. "That's why we're on this trip. To go and directly observe, rather than guessing."
The Professor nodded, then frowned. "What was your original question, Miss Wright?"
"Er… how do hot springs work?"
"Ah, yes. Well, this magma, it heats the water beneath the Earth. On land, the hot water emerges through hot springs. Some of them are very large. There is no reason to suppose similar things can't exist in the sea."
Kitty nodded. "I see…"
"Some day, some one will have to go and have a look."
There was a pause as they stared out at the sea.
"So. Thermometers. How do they work?"
"A thermometer is simply a glass tube with water in. In a warm environment, the mercury expands."
"Something to do with the heat. We don't really know. It may well be to do with the molecules. But then… it may not."
"OK. Let's find out!"
"Indeed. When we return from… everything else, thermodynamics it shall be!"
That night, Kitty took the little notebook she kept by her bed—not the official scientific log, her own notebook—and wrote "Hot springs. Ignis = fire. The Professor and I plan to go on a journey to the centre of the Earth".
The main source of scientific interest was the birds.
The next day, Kitty was working in the laboratory, weighing a jug of sea-water to work out salinity, when there was a knock at the door.
"Come in," called the Professor.
Patrick burst in, breathless. "Tons of birds, if you're interested. Black noddies. Swarms."
Kitty abandoned the bucket of sea-water and scrambled down the passage up onto the deck.
The sky was black with little birds, elegant as dancers, twisting and diving on the wind.
"Beautiful!" The Professor climbed through the hatch after Kitty. "Aren't they magnificent?"
"You get a lot of them," said Patrick. "I just thought you'd be interested. Knowing how keen you are on birds and all that."
"It's very interesting," said Kitty and she didn't think that statement warranted how pleased Patrick looked.
She ran over to the rail. Below, the sea glittered silver with fish. The noddies wheeled over-head, plunged, so nearly landed in the sea that she thought they would fall in, and rose again, drifting on the wind in a satisfied manner, clutching a plump wriggling fish.
Kitty had watched birds dive for fish before, there were sea-gulls on the harbour in Liverpool, but never so many beautiful birds so near the ship.
"They're not afraid," said Patrick. "They're not nervous around people."
Sure enough, one flew right down to Kitty's face and bobbed in front of her. She stared into its bright, intelligent eye and the little bird cocked its head. Who are you?
"Kitty," she said. "How d'you do?"
Patrick laughed. Kitty, realising she was talking quite earnestly to a bird, joined in. The bird flew away, offended, leaving Kitty and Patrick still laughing, not because there was anything in particular to laugh at, but just because they were happy, which was, Kitty thought, nice.
"I don't think we can shoot a specimen of these, Prof, they're too cute."
"Very well," said the Professor. "We'll just have to take observation notes."
The other thing the Professor taught Kitty to do was shoot. Every day they went up on deck in the morning for half an hour's shooting practice. Sometimes Patrick and Foster would escape their work to talk to them and help.
"Hold her steady," said Patrick. "Relax your elbow or you'll strain something."
Kitty fired and hit the target bang on. "Oooh!" She bounced up and down, stunned by her own ability.
The Professor and Patrick applauded.
"Brilliant," said Patrick. "You're a natural."
"How did you learn to shoot?"
Patrick shrugged. "Sort of thing you pick up on the tea run. Arab Sea's full of pirates. So's the Bay of Bengal if we have to go round there."
Pirates! Stuff of child-hood adventure stories. "Have you ever seen pirates?"
"Only in the distance, I-"
"Doyle!" It was Seward. "This deck won't polish itself."
Patrick dashed off
So the weeks passed. It got warmer. Kitty took the blanket off her bed. They usually ate up on deck, in the sun-light, Kitty wearing her sun-hat, firmly strapped on under her chin so it couldn't blow off. They saw whales more and more often, sometimes prancing in the distance, sometimes bobbing along right by Gloria and diving underneath her.
In the evenings, when they had no work to do in the laboratory, she and the Professor sat in the galley after dinner, watching the men play cards or Foster play his fiddle.
Every Sunday, Seward delivered a fierce little sermon while they all stood on the deck. This was usually very boring, it reminded Kitty of the orphanage. She had thought, from reading endless adventure stories, that one wouldn't have to listen to sermons on adventures, but apparently she was wrong.
Every Saturday the men had to clean Gloria even more thoroughly than they did every day, to make her extra-specially clean for Sunday. Seward was very fond of the saying "Cleanliness is next to Godliness". In fact, Patrick muttered sometimes, he had probably got it mixed up and what he really thought was "Godliness is next to Cleanliness". Seward had a daily inspection of every part of Gloria, to check there was no mess anywhere. The only two rooms he left alone were Kitty and Miss Jones' room and the Professor's room and laboratory.
As they drew near the West African coast, they saw more and more ships. Going back and forth from America, said Patrick. He had worked out when his schedule of work allowed him to meet Kitty in the evenings. They could talk, of course, at meals, but she liked to meet him alone anyway. Sometimes Foster was there, but much as she liked Foster, she preferred it when he wasn't. Not that she would ever have said so. Sometimes it wasn't until very late, and he told her she didn't have to sit up, but she waited anyway, reading or sitting on deck with the telescope. Sometimes it was just after tea. Kitty always felt slightly guilty about leaving the Professor then, because he usually hadn't finished with his experiments, but he never seemed to mind.
"Sorry sir," she said, returning at about eight 'o' clock from playing snap with Patrick (Patrick was very good at cards, snap was the only game he knew for two players, and he was staggered when she said she didn't know it—she had won, though).
"What?" The Professor looked up from his notebook. "Oh, it's you."
"No matter. No matter at all. You young people need your fresh air and exercise. Take a look at this jellyfish."
Kitty helped the Professor feed the jellyfish on shrimps and put him in a neatly labelled jar, then they had some cocoa, from powdered chocolate and dried milk, and went to bed.
The next day they stopped at Cape Coast, to take in supplies.
Kitty ate her breakfast on the deck, listening to the gulls screaming and Patrick and Foster talking about the last time they were in Cape Coast (it involved heavy drinking and Foster nearly running off with a drug smuggler's girl friend).
"Why do they always sound so cross?"
"Drug smugglers?" said Foster, looking up from his coffee. "It's the lifestyle."
"No, sea gulls."
Patrick grinned. "My mother used to say they were all the girls whose fellows had run off to sea and abandoned them. They flew out to sea to look for him and they were so cross that they shrieked and shrieked and eventually turned into little grey birds with sharp beaks who could do nothing but shriek and shriek."
Kitty laughed, and watched the gulls bickering amongst themselves. "I can believe it. They sound like a charity stich and bitch."
"Language!" from Seward.
"You been to many charity stich and bitches?"
"You bet. One of the perks of living in an orphanage. Every lady in Liverpool wants to have a go at her neighbours in the name of philanthropy."
"You are not paid to gossip!" It was Seward. "Up off the deck."
"For God's sake, sir," said Foster. "We're having our breakfast."
"How much coffee do you need?"
"I have a head-ache!"
"And if I know you, you'll be getting another one the minute we get into Cape Coast. Now move."
The boys hauled themselves up and turned Gloria's nose due East. They were running parallel to the coast now, the low, green hills with clouds clinging round the top rising above the waves. At the foot of the hills were long, golden beaches, beaches where clear blue waves danced on the shore, playful and friendly, beaches which Kitty, on the wind-blasted quay of Liverpool, had only dreamed of.
"Is there hidden treasure on these beaches?"
Patrick laughed. "I wish. Mosquitoes and a few casks of smuggled rum, perhaps. No hidden treasure."
"Don't let him kill your dreams, Miss Wright." Foster hopped down to the railing by her side. "We'll find hidden treasure yet. I once found a very interesting shell on the beaches of the Gold Coast."
"That's not treasure," said Kitty.
"Precisely," said Patrick, rather muffled from where he was undoing a knot with his teeth.
"It's a start," said Foster, very solemnly, then grinned.
They were drawing near Cape Coast, now. Huts straggled along the beaches under the palm trees. If Kitty squinted, she could see ragged people were fishing in the bay, or simply sitting in the mouth of the hut looking out to sea. Some of the children waved at Gloria and Kitty stood at the rail and waved back.
Now they were dodging and weaving through other ships—tea clippers, modern steamers, trans-Atlantic cargo ships, steam-auxiliary ships like Gloria, trampers up and down the coast, local fishing boats. A ship had come loose just along the quay and the dockers were trying to control her before she drifted away. Seward, Foster and Patrick were deep in concentration as they manoeuvred Gloria up to the quay and anchored her. Even Lawson seemed reasonably sober today, putting his back into it like everyone else. Carington was bouncing around offering unwanted advice. Miss Jones, fussing with her shawl, her hand-bag and her sun hat, emerged onto the deck. The Professor, with his collecting nets, boxes and notebook, joined Kitty at the rail.
"Hopefully, we should at least be able to find some specimens of African bird life, even we're only staying here for a little while."
Thus, with creaking and groaning, they finally docked.
"Lower the gang-way Doyle."
Patrick hurried past Kitty and the Professor and lowered the gang-plank.
"Miss Wright," he said, going rather red and offering her his hand as stiffly as the gentleman who had walked out with Miss Sarah at the orphanage.
Kitty, her face suddenly very cold and rather damp, took his hand—elegantly, she hoped—and allowed him to help her down onto the quay.
Her legs buckled and she reeled and nearly fell into a crate of barrels. Patrick grabbed her arm.
"Whoa, Miss Wright."
"Lord." She sat down on the crate of barrels, ignoring the man—presumably the owner of the crate of barrels—who scowled at her, and tapped her feet against the joltingly hard ground. "I feel sick."
Patrick grinned. "Land-sick. You'll get used it."
"I'm not really used to… the ground staying in the same place."
"Everyone gets it bad their first time at sea. You'll get used to it."
Now Seaward had scrambled down from Gloria and begun bustling about on the quay, Lawson lurching after him.
Miss Jones nearly collided with the Professor on the gang-plank. He frowned, mumbled "I do beg your pardon" and, instead of moving out of the way, held out his hand, resisting Miss Jones' attempts to step round him.
Bewildered, she transferred her umbrella to her other hand and took his hand and he pushed her down onto the deck, looking slightly bewildered.
"He's mad," said Foster, as one who has received conclusive proof.
"Completely," said Kitty. "But he's brilliant."
The dust and grit were blowing in her eyes, flies buzzed round the crates and barrels of fish. It was swelteringly hot, she had just stepped ashore and even with the sea breeze she was already sweating.
This wasn't quite what she had pictured—the imposing ruins of long-lost civilisations rising out of the jungles, framed by mountains against the clouds, ringing with the ghostly howls of monkeys.
The docks in Cape Coast reminded her of Liverpool docks, and she almost felt at home. Wooden splinters, dead rats, old bits of fruit, ox dung were ankle-deep on the key. Wooden and mud huts huddled in the shadows of the grand colonial villas, piled up higgledy-piggledy, with clumps of palm trees in between them. The palm trees were definitely exotic. One didn't see palm trees in Liverpool. It was an odd mixture of eras and styles. Overlooking it all was a gleaming white fortress.
"Cape Coast Castle," said Patrick, turning to see what she was looking at. He had been here before, many times. It was Gloria's usual first stop, before the Cape of Good Hope and India.
"It's very… grim."
"It's meant to be."
"This place reminds me of Liverpool docks."
"There's a universal dock atmosphere. No matter how distant or exotic, if you feel at home in one dock, you'll survive them all."
Noise and bustle. The smell of booze and spices. So many people.
Some of them were black Africans, some of them were British, some were Irish—she could pick out the accents as they shouted at each other. There were a few Arabs, some Chinese, Europeans—she guessed Portuguese, a few Spanish, maybe French.
A few were well-dressed, most of them were ragged and the taverns and shops along the quay-side looked squalid. Women peered out the doors of the houses and ducked back in again, children played in the dirt in between the carts, or wandered back and forth down the street, looking for money or food. Tiny birds, brilliant as jewels, hopped and pecked and fluttered in the dirt. Monkeys scrambled over boxes, clambered over people as if they were rocks or sat on leashes at the stalls. As Kitty watched, one ambled up to a hawker, stretched out a careless arm and seized an orange. It scrambled off and leaped up onto a villa roof, before the stall-owner could stop it. It's wrinkled little face under a spiky fringe reminded her so much of some of the wicked two-year-olds at the orphanage that, for all she commiserated with the stall-holder, she couldn't help laughing. There was a knot of what were clearly British soldiers further along the quay, lounging against the harbour wall. They looked as if they had been drinking too much, to be honest.
It was all oddly familiar, but all so bewilderingly, so thrillingly, so intoxicatingly new.
This is why people run away to sea, she thought. This is why they run away to sea and don't come back. Because how could anyone who has seen this, seen the world, bear to come back to England?
She stood up off the barrels—rather wobbly still—and tilted her head back, so the African sun could shine full on her face, squinting against the glare. She burst out laughing.
"What are you laughing at?" asked Patrick, who had been listening to Seward lecture on getting a few barrels of water and a bit of booze as if he were planning a military operation.
"Touch of the sun?" said Seward.
"I'm in Africa. Me. Kitty Wright, in Africa. The sun's shining. The bloody sun's shining!" She spluttered into incoherence.
"Right," said Seward, glaring. "Well, is that settled? Doyle, you're on potatoes. After that you can go for a drink. Mind, I want you back at half eleven and we sail at six to-morrow. Understood?"
"What am doing?" said Kitty, who hadn't been listening.
"You're passenger, not crew. You're free to do what you like. I assume you'll be bug-hunting with the Professor of something."
"Say, Miss Wright, how long will you be bug-hunting?" asked Patrick, with an air of casualness which made Kitty feel slightly uncomfortable, but in a good way. Which didn't really make sense to her, never mind anyone else.
"Pretty flexible, I think," she said, striving for the same tone. "Right, sir?"
"Oh absolutely. You can go for a drink with Mr Doyle at your convenience."
"What?" The Professor sighed. "I just try to be helpful."
"Well…" said Kitty. "I'll see you later, then."
Kitty spent the rest of the morning with the Professor, in a clump of trees under the walls of a crumbling old villa. They collected little lizards and put them in bags to take back to Gloria. Some of them wanted to escape and wriggled and squirmed and shed their tails. Some of them were friendly and inquisitive, they waddled up to Kitty and scampered all over her hands, tasting her skin with ticklish little tongues. Some of them were grumpy and sleepy.
They inspected them, studied the pattern of their scales and the number of their toes and made careful notes—"your spelling is very good, Miss Wright," said the Professor.
At noon, they made their way back to Gloria.
The others were already there. Miss Jones and Seward had just got back, Miss Jones was undoing her shawl and piling up her shopping on the deck. Patrick and Foster were hauling boxes and sacks down below, bumping and cursing.
"We couldn't get any normal spuds," Patrick was explaining to Seward. "So we got a couple of sacks of these sweet potatoes instead."
"That'll do fine. Ah, Professor, Miss Wright, how was your morning?"
"Brilliant, thanks," said Kitty. "We'll just put the lizards away and we'll join you in a minute."
Foster had an enormous bunch of hibiscus which he had bought for a girl whom he had met that morning and was going to meet after lunch.
"I can't believe you bought them," Patrick was saying. "They grow all over everything round here."
"One can't just pull flowers off a wall and present them to a girl."
Kitty went to the laboratory, put the lizards away in their cages, fed and watered them and wrote out labels for each case.
"Why did Mr Foster have an enormous bunch of wilting hibiscus?" asked the Professor.
"To give to a lady he likes."
"And what will the lady do with the hibiscus?"
"Nothing. It's just… a kind of tradition. It means he likes her."
"Dead foliage is indicative of affection?"
"So I've heard. I haven't experienced it personally. Will you be needing me any more this afternoon, Professor?"
"No, of course not, Miss Wright. You go and explore."
Kitty hurried out into the corridor, then paused. Quietly, guiltily, she slipped into her own room. It was empty. She peered into the little looking-glass above the dresser. Her hair was dis-arrayed and her face had a bloody line where a lizard had scratched it. There was nothing she could do about the scratch but she dragged a comb through her hair and re-tied the ribbon, half-up, half-down, in the fashionable style.
Then she hurried up the stairs. Patrick was waiting for her on the deck and she wasn't sure whether she hoped he would notice that she had combed her hair or hoped he wouldn't.
"Hello, Miss Wright."
"Hello. Have you finished packing up the supplies?"
"Yes, just finished."
So she hadn't kept him waiting.
Foster sidled up the Patrick. "You might have a third wheel," he hissed.
Kitty, who had never heard that expression, was alarmed. Patrick looked indignant.
"I tried to hint, but I don't think he can take hints…"
"Who?" asked Kitty.
"Listen here," said Patrick, in a very fierce whisper. "I don't know what you're talking about third wheels for. I asked Miss Wright for a perfectly friendly and sociable drink. Carington is quite welcome to come along if he wants to. Hell! The whole of Cape Coast can join us if they fancy. Understand?" And he swept down the deck, Kitty hurrying to catch up.
"Wait… are you sure you want to take her to Hell? It's a bit rough…"
"Where else am I going to take her? It's the only bar in Cape Coast. And we're sure as Hell not going to that triple-damned temperance hotel. I'd rather be marooned on a desert island. We've got our guns, anyway."
And he swept off again.
"What's a third wheel?"
"It doesn't matter, he's just being stupid."
"Ain't Mr Foster going out?"
"Oh, he's going to meet a lady. He says he's going to meet friends, but we all know what that means…"
Patrick, who knew Cape Coast fairly well, led them down the maze of alleys behind the harbour-front, past ware-houses and shop-fronts and a fortress-like building labelled "Temperance Hotel".
More bewilderingly new things… huge butterflies, street vendors trying to sell her wooden beads and bottles of mud—"Saint John's blood", they shouted—, a huge snake lying stretched-out and sleepy on a wall. As they rounded a corner, she felt a tap at her knees. Looking down, she saw a monkey, hanging onto the hem of her skirt. He cocked his head and looked longingly up at her, a cheeky look in his twinkling eyes.
"Hello, darling," said Kitty.
"Oh, the monkeys are right pests," said Patrick, but he was smiling.
The monkey looked at her a few minutes more, then, unmistakably, it waved.
Kitty and Carington gasped and waved back frantically. Kitty was overwhelmed with a longing to scoop the little furry thing up in her arms and carry it away, to hear it call her "Mother".
"It's only copying what everyone who comes through Cape Coast does to it," said Patrick. "It can't really understand. It just wants you to feed it." But there was a rather soft look in his eyes.
"Will it let me touch it?"
"It has fleas and it'll probably have your finger off."
Kitty ignored him. She reached out, and very slowly and gently, as she might have done to stray cats in Liverpool, stroked the soft fur. The monkey cooed. It did not have her finger off.
"See?" Kitty grinned up at Patrick. "Friends for life. Do you think… oh, do you really think he'd like to come back with us?"
"Probably love it if he gets three square meals a day out of it," said Patrick.
At that moment, a fruit hawker appeared, and Kitty's new-found friend for life bounded off onto the fruit barrow without a backward glance.
She looked up, feeling slightly disappointed, and saw…
A line of them. They blocked the narrow street, sighing and grumbling. They were slightly dirtier than the camels of Kitty's imagination, with slightly more flies. But the essence of the dream had come true. The mutant sheep things did exist outside fairy-tales, they really did have a hump growing out of their backs.
"Don't stroke them," said Patrick. "They'll kick you and the camel driver'll try to sell you something."
"Aren't they beautiful?"
"I suppose they are."
They fluttered their long, languid eye-lashes at her like world-weary music hall singers and sighed, shifting from foot to foot.
"Hello," said Kitty.
The nearest camel gave her look like a duchess who has been spoken to by the kitchen-maid at a garden party.
"Oh, be like that," she said, and Patrick led them down a narrow alley.
Here was the bar. It appeared to be a corrugated iron hut, leaning against the back wall of a grand villa. The whole front was open onto the street and the spindly little tables spilled out the door to take nearly the whole width of the alley-way.
As Patrick led them into the low room, Kitty squinted and choked through the smoke. Most of the tables were occupied by men who seemed, even in the afternoon, to be drunk.
A few seemed to be asleep, a few were playing cards and dice, some were singing along to the maudlin strains of the fiddler in the corner by the bar, a few were talking in quiet, purposeful tones and gave Kitty hostile looks when she came in, even though she hadn't meant to interfere. One or two sat alone, with far too many empty glasses in front of them. Judging by their mournful expressions, they hadn't succeeded in driving their daemons away.
Kitty picked her way between the patches of blood and broken glass on the bare dirt floor, following Patrick who strode, supremely confident, up to the bar, which ran along the entire back wall of the room. The back wall, so far as Kitty could make out beneath the multi-lingual graffiti, the "Wanted" posters and out-of-date advertisements for various singers, stuck on the only wall in the place solid enough to support them, was simply the outside wall of the villa.
Patrick addressed the bar-man in a language Kitty couldn't understand. "What'll you have?" he asked her.
"I'll buy," said Carington.
"No you won't," said Patrick.
"It's fine, honest. I've got," honestly, "lot's of money".
"If you like," said Kitty. "Thank you. Come on, Mr Doyle…"
"Mother wouldn't like it. She taught me not to sponge."
"Not even from a millionaire?" She had never thought about Patrick having a mother, or any family at all. She had never heard him mention them before.
"Not from anyone."
Kitty sighed. "I never thought I'd see you getting all high-minded."
"What'll you have, Miss Wright?"
"Do they sell lemonade?" Looking around, she doubted it.
"No, I'm afraid not."
"It's a bit early in the day for booze…"
The bar-man said something to Patrick and he replied. Kitty looked at Carington, and it appeared that he had no idea what they were talking about either.
Patrick turned to her. "There's lamujii. Made of ginger."
"That would be grand."
The bar-man poured some lamujii from a jug, and Patrick and Carington ordered whiskey.
Kitty rummaged in her purse for some money but Patrick batted her hand away.
"I'm paying for your drink, Miss Wright."
"Thought your mother taught you not to sponge."
"You're a lady, this is different."
"Well, thank you, Mr Doyle."
He and Carington paid and they made their way to a little table in the corner of the room, followed by the stares of all the other clients.
Kitty stared back, some eyes flickered away, some were friendly, some just drunk, one or two faintly hostile. This was the sort of dive she had avoided in Liverpool.
"Are we safe here?" she muttered.
"Probably not. But the alternative is going to the Temperance Hotel…" Patrick knocked back his whiskey.
"Fair enough." Kitty sipped her lemujii. It was nice, spicy and a bit sweet. It reminded her of ginger ale, but it tasted more of ginger. She took a bigger gulp.
They sat in the bar for a couple of hours, talking about the weather and the scenery, but Kitty struggled to think of anything to talk about with Carington there. It was faintly uncomfortable and not as enjoyable as she had hoped.
"What's that language?" she asked Patrick.
"How did you learn it?"
"Sailing. Nearly every tea run we make to India, we stop at Cape Coast and the Cape. Bloody long way it is too. Sooner they open that canal to India, the better, that's what I say."
Kitty felt a twinge of envy. The orphanage had struggled to teach them English. And Patrick had just picked up Akan.
"Is it hard?"
"Well, I don't know really. I only know enough to get by. You know, buying drinks and supplies, and haggling a bit…" He looked embarrassed.
"I think it's brilliant. Do you know any more languages?"
"A bit. Afrikaans. Marathi. You have to learn a bit of foreign languages, or go without food." He shifted in his seat. "You don't have to look so impressed!"
"It's impressive. How long have you learned them for?"
"I've been a sailor for a couple of years."
"Must be brilliant."
"Do you think so?" Patrick looked stunned.
"Yeah! You get to come here… and… and to India and… all over. You talk languages I've never even heard of. I've had the best time on Gloria I've ever had." She felt her eyes smarting, and it wasn't just from the smoke.
"Really?" Patrick looked faintly puzzled.
"You don't think so?"
"It's good work, I admit. It pays. But… well, it's sailing. It's not… well, it's not much of a show for a nice young lady."
"I think it's the best show going."
"Well, think about it. How would you like never to have been a sailor? What would you have done? What would you have missed?"
"I'd probably work in a mill…" He looked thoughtful. "In Lancashire. Well, maybe I'd have got bored eventually."
"In Liverpool. Where all the ships go in and out every day, and I was never on one. That was the worst bit. The great sea-faring city, and me the only one who never fared the sea." She looked around the dingy tavern. "Great life, this. I could have this life." She sipped her lemujii. "You love sailing. I can tell you do."
Patrick thought, then laughed again. "I could never have done anything else. No matter what there is back home, the sea gets its teeth into you, and there's no going back."
After Patrick and Carington had drunk another whiskey, and she had dunk another lemujii, they made their way back to Gloria.
Patrick stopped off to buy a small, painted wooden doll from a hawker.
"You can't possibly like that," said Kitty. "It's awful."
"Not for me. For Ellen."
"And who's Ellen?" Kitty surprised herself by how fiercely the words came out. She hadn't meant for it to sound like that. She didn't understand why it would.
Patrick looked faintly offended.
"My little sister. She's seven."
Ah, yes. Family. Not everyone was an orphan. Some people had mouths to feed. She cursed herself silently for being so stupid.
"Siblings? Three too many. Two brothers and Ellen. All younger. Joe's twelve. He sails this summer. You?"
"Mercifully, no. I'm an orphan."
"Oh. No mouths to feed."
"No. On the other hand, no one to feed me for years except the orphanage people. So it's not all a bed of roses. Parents still alive?"
"Ma is. Sweet Jesus, the way she goes on about her bad back… Mind that camel dung."
"Well, perhaps it is bad," swerving round the camel dung.
"I've no doubt, but nobody's back's that bad unless they've had a mast fall on them."
"I don't think you should talk that way about your mother. It's not kind."
Patrick gave her a martyred look. "It's all very well for you to talk. You don't have any of your own."
Another market trader called out to them as they neared the harbour. "Beads! Nice beads! Pretty beads! Going cheap!"
Kitty was already learning to close her ears to market traders and Patrick walked past as if he did not exist. These really were nice beads, though. They were amber, nothing special, but they sparkled prettily in the sun-light and they were, well, nice beads. Pretty beads. Only two shillings. And Kitty had never had a necklace before, or any money of her own to spend on one.
She wandered over to the stall.
"I'll buy for one shilling," she said.
After half an hour of fierce bargaining, she got it down to a shilling and six-pence. She handed over the money, took the beads and slipped them into her pocket. She felt them there, heavy and jangling, all the way back to Gloria.
When they arrived back at Gloria, they found Miss Jones sitting on the deck, wrapped in her shawl in the heat, sketching in the fading light, Seward cleaning the bridge and the Professor in his laboratory.
"Had a good time?" asked the Professor.
"Yes thanks," fastening the beads round her neck. "What's that you're doing?"
"Polishing the telescope." The Professor had various bits of wood and glass strewn on the desk in front of him, and was wiping a small glass disc carefully with a soft cloth.
Kitty sat on the other side of the table to watch. "I didn't know there were so many bits to a telescope."
"Telescopes, apart from the outer casing, have two mirrors and a corrector which need polishing, as well as the eye-piece."
"And here's me thinking they were just tubes with two pieces of glass in the end. All right… what's a corrector?"
"Well, you understand that the light comes into a Cassegrian telescope and bounces of the primary mirror?"
"I do now."
"Now, the primary mirror, this thing," he held up a small piece of bent glass, "is concave".
"What does that mean?"
"Well. Here, look at it." He passed it to her. "Concave means that it bends inwards."
The little piece of glass looked a bit like a bowl, with the mirror on the inside.
"All right." She passed the primary mirror back.
"Now, the rays of light strike this mirror and bounce off."
Kitty imagined rays of light, yellow beams, descending from the sky, hitting the mirror and bouncing off. "All… right…"
"The primary mirror has to be concave so that the light bounces off in the right direction to hit the secondary mirror. The secondary mirror is here…" He passed it to her.
"It bends the other way. Is there a name for that, too?"
"Yes. It's called convex. When the light bounces off that mirror, it goes into the eye-piece. Here."
"The corrector is important, because otherwise the concave primary mirror would produce hopeless optical aberrations. The corrector is very slightly bent, but nearly flat. It's attached to the back of the secondary mirror. It corrects the optical aberrations caused by the primary mirror."
"For more information about light generally, I recommend Euler's Nova Theoria Lucis Et Colorum."
She hopped up onto the table and watched the Professor lovingly wipe flecks of dust of his corrector.
"What's a third wheel?"
"I have absolutely no idea."
As they sailed south, Gloria came to feel more and more like home. Kitty usually spent the morning in the laboratory with the Professor, working out whether jelly-fish could be taught to respond to light signals (inconclusive) or how sea slugs mated (it wasn't exactly a romantic novel). Everybody ate lunch on deck and sometimes, if Patrick managed to evade Seward's vigilance, they would meet after lunch.
He and Foster would climb the rigging and sit at the top, a precarious perch but one with a good view. When she scrambled up to join them, Foster was usually seized with a work ethic she found rather surprising from him and left. He usually had a broad grin which Kitty found rather embarrassing, though she couldn't have said why.
At first it was alarmingly unstable and vertiginous, but she got used to it quickly and began to find Gloria's tilt and sway exhilarating.
The Sunday after leaving Cape Coast, she and Patrick had just scrambled up the rigging, where Foster was watching dolphins, after Seward's usual sermon.
"When he retires from sailing," Kitty leaned back against the rigging and wriggled her feet into secure holes, "I swear he's gonna be a preacher".
"He should be a missionary," said Patrick.
"He reminds me of the pastor at the orphanage. He used to be a missionary."
"Got too old?" asked Foster
"And came down with some tropical fever."
"He means well," said Patrick.
"He may mean well," Foster took a swig from his hip flask and passed it to Patrick. "But the fact remains, when I went to sea I thought I'd be spared this religious zeal."
"Is that why you went?" asked Kitty. She took the flask from Foster and nervously took a swig. It burned her throat, but she had learned to put up with that.
"One of the reasons. I used to live in this village in Cornwall. The vicar there taught school, the only other thing in the village was a tin mine. There wasn't even a pub for ten miles. The vicar was one of these religious zealots. If he weren't Church of England, I could have sworn he had retired from the Inquisition. Stuff this, says I. Run away to sea. First ship I find, there he is, preaching like the Fisherman's Mission."
"Well, it was his job," said Patrick. "He was a vicar."
"He took things to excess, though." The flask went round again. "I say he ran the school, Hell, he ran the village. Told us when could sow the spuds, when we could take them in, who could marry whom, which field to put the sheep in. It was like the Dark Ages. And there was nothing, you understand, nothing, but sheep and spuds on this moor."
"And a tin mine," said Patrick.
"And a tin mine. My dad went down that tin mine, William went down that tin mine, Jem's probably there now. I was not going down that tin mine."
"You are so melodramatic," said Patrick.
"Mate, it was ten miles to the pub. Ten miles." This reminded him to pass the flask round again.
"You ran away?" said Kitty. "You really ran away to sea like people in books?"
"Exactly like books. I thought I would make my fortune. I ended up carting tea from Bombay to Liverpool."
"When was this?"
"Oh, nine… ten… nearly ten years ago? I was ten, I think."
"And in ten years you still haven't made your fortune?"
The flask went round again.
"You can't make your fortune at sea. I'll tell you a secret." He leaned round Patrick, so Kitty thought he was going to fall off, but he didn't. "You can't make a fortune at sea. The way to make a fortune is to buy shares in a shipping company and stay on nice dry land yourself."
"So why don't you go home?"
"And make my fortune in a tin mine? As if."
"But… do your family know where you are?"
"No. And I don't expect they care. I'm quite glad for them not to know. My dad was a bit of a bastard. No, I'm quite happy at sea, thank you very much. Better than living in a shack on a moor under the thumb of a mad-man who still believes in witch-craft."
"He does. He'll show the burn-mark in the church-yard where they used to burn them in the good old days. Well," Kitty took a swig from the flask and passed it back to him, "I've got work to do. Oh, keep the whiskey".
He slithered down the rigging and went aft.
"Why does he never stay here when I come?" asked Kitty. "Doesn't he like me?"
"He likes you. He's just being a damn fool."
Patrick was scowling, she wasn't sure she dared ask for further clarification. "Are you two in a fight?"
"No. He's just being a damn fool."
Kitty and Patrick passed the whiskey back and forth. Kitty realised that she had forgotten how much she had drunk. The bottle looked much lower than when she Foster had first passed it to her. But it didn't seem to matter. Nothing much did.
They watched birds and fish and talked about things Kitty couldn't remember later, they stayed there until it was dark. She told him about what they hoped to find in Antarctica and how amazing it would be, and Patrick told her second-hand sailors' stories about dreadful doings in foreign bars, ghost ships and sea monsters. They both laughed, but Kitty didn't know whether it was because they were saying anything funny, or Gloria's soaring, bouncing motion and the height of the mast, or the beautiful blue sky, or the booze.
Eventually, they had to go in for their tea. Getting down from the rigging was rather more difficult than Kitty remembered it being, and the deck felt hard and jolting under her feet. She ambled back to the laboratory and it took several tries to open the door.
"Hi Professor. Sorry I'm so late. Pat- Mr Doyle and I were talking."
"Oh, it's quite all right. Quite all right. I don't want you to get over-worked. Are you all right? You look a little unsteady."
"Never better, Prof. What's to eat?"
Normally, Kitty took second helpings of everything she was given, but though the soup was delicious, she didn't feel like having any more. She would rather just go to bed.
From somewhere, she could hear Seward shouting at Patrick. "Bone idle… disgustingly drunk… any more of that and I'll lash the spine out of you."
"I don't think you can. This isn't the navy. We're a merchant-man. We were a merchant-man. Now we're a research vessel." Patrick sounded vaguely bored, Kitty had heard them have this argument before.
"I don't care… lazy… you're not paid to lounge around the rigging with the passengers. Listen lad, this ship doesn't run by herself."
"You're not exactly a temperance hotel yourself."
"It's not only that. You're far too keen on hanging around with Miss Wright. If you're seen with her drunk I don't know what people will think."
Something in what he was saying made Kitty feel vaguely uncomfortable, but she was too sleepy to really listen.
"What people?" said Patrick. "There's no one here."
Seward cut across him. "I know that Foster's been setting you a bad example but you, young man, I intend to keep my eye on… Indecent."
Then a door slammed somewhere and Kitty couldn't hear any more and anyway she was asleep.
When she woke up in the morning, Kitty felt really ill. Her head pounded when she opened her eyes. Miss Jones heard her groan.
"Are you all right, Miss Wright? You look ill."
"I am. Oh, God… my head…" She shuffled down from her bunk and collapsed on Miss Jones' bunk.
Miss Jones smiled, more warmly than Kitty had ever seen. "You should maybe take it a bit easy today, Miss Wright. And go easy on the booze."
Kitty forced down porridge in the laboratory, her hand in her hands, and had just curled up in her chair to ail, swearing never to drink whiskey again, when Patrick burst in, bright-eyed and enthusiastic.
"We'll cross the Equator, soon! You all have to come up on deck and watch! It's a tradition."
"What is there to see?" Much as she was keen on watching Gloria cross the Equator, she didn't feel like getting up.
"Well, it's not so much that there's something to see, as that it's a tradition. You know, when Gloria reaches the Equator."
Kitty dragged herself up from her chair.
"Are you all right, Miss Wright? You look ill."
"I'm fine," said Kitty.
The walk up on deck was the slowest and most painful it had ever been. All she wanted to do was go back to bed.
The sea air was bracing, however, and, while she still felt ill, she began to liven up. The birds were diving off to star-board and the waves were gentle and playful, rushing up under Gloria, dropping her and rocking her back. The sails swelled slowly but steadily. The sun was warm. It was good sailing weather.
Patrick and Foster were crowded round Seward's instruments in the bridge. Kitty was leaning over the rail in the bow, as if she could see the Equator. When Gloria crossed the Equator, she wanted to be first.
A great cheer went up from the bridge.
"We're across," shouted Patrick.
Seward strode across to Kitty, smiling as he rarely did. "That's the Equator, ladies and gentlemen, we're in the Southern Hemisphere, now."
Kitty had been expecting, foolishly she knew, everything to look different in the Southern Hemisphere. The world to turn upside down or something. But nothing did happen. Gloria continued to glide through the sunlit seas.
"We have to do the ceremony!" said Patrick. "Miss Wright's never been over the Equator before."
"This sounds ominous," said Kitty. "What's the ceremony?"
"Oh, you just get your head stuck in a bucket of sea-water."
"Gentlemen," said the Professor. "You can include me out."
"Me too," said Miss Jones.
"Oh I don't anybody thought you'd agree to stick your head in a bucket of water," said Patrick. Kitty certainly hadn't.
"Miss Wright'll do it," said Patrick. "Miss Wright's a sport."
"Just get your head stuck in a bucket of water" turned out to mean nearly being drowned repeatedly in a barrel of sea-water. When she emerged gasping and spluttering, spitting water out of her mouth, Patrick splashed her in the face. She splashed back and they and Foster and Carington chased each other round and round the deck of Gloria, dripping wet, splashing each other and throwing each other in the barrel until they could barely breathe for laughing.
Patrick had taken his shirt off, Kitty realised it was the first time she had seen a boy do this, and when he scramble out of the tub, which she and Foster had just pushed him in, and grabbed her round the waist, she wondered why her face turned so very hot, and why she suddenly wanted to look at him. Her dress, she realised, was now soaked and stuck to her round the legs.
"Hey, I've got some more whiskey," said Foster. "Who'll have some?"
They all passed the bottle round, especially Lawson, and Kitty was surprised to find that it cleared up the last of her head-ache—she was careful not to drink as much as she had the day before, though.
On the other side of the Equator, there were very different constellations to admire. In the evenings, Kitty and the Professor sat on the deck to watch them, and the Professor taught her what they were all called, how to find them and the stories behind each one—Apus, Carina, Crux.
Kitty wrote this down in her little notebook. When she looked up at the stars at night, she wondered if she could ever sail a ship straight up into the sky—the Professor's space steam-ship, perhaps—and travel among them. She wanted to travel everywhere, see everything.
In the mean-time, the Professor was teaching her Latin. It was difficult, but so many scientific works were written in Latin that she knew she had to try. It was the first time any-one had tried to teach her a foreign language and it was an interesting new experience. The Professor had an ancient Latin text-book who's English was barely comprehensible, but mostly she just used the scientific tomes he kept in his laboratory.
Sometimes Patrick, when he had an evening off, came down to the laboratory and looked around at their specimens. They now had dozens of labelled jars of jelly-fish, little fish, shrimp and little sea-slugs. Kitty surprised herself by how much she knew and could explain to him.
"What's this one?" he asked.
"Some kind of dorid nudibranch. We think it's a new species. We're going to call it Gloria."
Gloria the dorid nudibranch shuffled across the floor of her tank and waggled her front end at Patrick in a friendly way. He waved back.
"What are these?"
"Samples of sea-water. We've tested the salinity and the mineral composition."
"How much salt there is in any given quantity of water."
"What kind of minerals do you find?"
"Magnesium. Sulphur. Potassium."
Patrick poked at the bottles of water and salt. "And this is what you do all day?"
Foster was shouting for him down the passage.
"Got to go now. I think Lawson's drunk himself sick again."
"Why on Earth can't he cut down?"
"I don't know. He just doesn't like the world, I think. There are people like that. They start on the hard stuff on a Saturday night, and then one thing happens to them and then another and then they just live on the bottle."
"Doyle!" yelled Patrick.
"Coming!" Patrick shouted. "I'll see you to-morrow."
"Yeah." She got back to tinkering with the Professor's latest invention—an electric motor attached to a thing like a fog-horn, which was supposed to play music, but neither of them were entirely sure how.
Of all the crew, Patrick seemed the most interested in their work, but the Professor tried to tell Miss Jones about it sometimes at meals. She didn't seem very enthusiastic about it, however. Indeed, often she looked as if she couldn't understand what he was talking about, but she never asked him to explain, and he never seemed to notice that she couldn't understand, only became increasingly incomprehensible while crumbling a sugar lump into his soup, or something equally bizarre.
When Kitty went to bed at night, sometimes she thought she would ask Miss Jones about it, but she didn't want to, somehow.
The next day, she was with the Professor in the laboratory watching him rummage through a box of old rocks, humming to himself.
"What are you doing, Professor?"
"Oh, these are bits of ancient fossils. Dinosaurs and early humans."
"What are you thinking about?" Possibly the Professor was just rummaging through his box of fossils for the sake of it. Possibly he was following some particular train of thought and often if she didn't ask she wouldn't know.
"You mean the early humans?"
"Indeed. Permit me to explain a little thought of mine?" He spoke as if her listening to him would be doing him a massive favour, when there was nothing she would like to do more.
"Go ahead," biting her lip not to laugh at his solemn manner.
"At this orphanage, I take it you went to church?"
"Of course I went to church." Of all the things Kitty had expected the Professor to say, this was not one of them.
"And at this church, they gave you a general idea of where Heaven is?"
"Up there…" she gestured vaguely at the ceiling.
"Interesting. Up there…" He frowned. "Yet I do not re-call—it has been many years since my own child-hood but I do not re-call any many in the Bible of Heaven being in the sky. And yet somehow, it is talked about so often as if it were. I suppose you've heard of saints and prophets who see angels?"
"And where to the angels always come from?"
"Have you ever read the Book of Ezekiel?"
"I said I went to church. I never said I was awake."
"Essentially, Ezekiel saw a cloud of fire and lightening. It came out of the sky. In the middle was metal and there were things living in the fire. Now the Book of Ezekiel was written nearly 600 years before the birth of Christ. The story of humanity's creation is thousands of years older. You know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah?"
"Tell me what happened."
"Erm… three angels came to Abraham in the Plains of Mamre. And… there was a lot of very grievous sin going on there."
"I don't need to know all about the angels. Just tell me what happens to the cities."
"They were destroyed with fire and brimstone. Rain of fire, possibly…"
"Do you know any weapons which can do that to two cities?"
"Erm… the wrath of God? I don't see what this has to do with your box of fossils."
"It isn't just the Bible. Religions the world over describe their God or gods coming down from the sky, usually surrounded by bright lights. And they nearly all have quite impressive destructive capacities. Pre-Christian religions of the Near East had similar ideas. Gods created men to work for them. So these gods aren't omnipotent, they need people to do things for them, just like any other employer. In Hinduism a very ancient faith, the gods and their avatars fly around in vehicles of some kind—vehicles, you understand. In addition…"
But Kitty was distracted. Patrick was strolling, whistling, past the laboratory door. Even though he wasn't looking at her, she felt herself reach up and stroke her hair, then blushed. What was she doing? What was she thinking?
Kitty started. "I'm sorry?"
"Since the seventeenth century."
"What since the seventeenth century?"
"People have hypothesised that there are other… things… out there. It's merely… well, curious. I hardly think I can write it up yet as an academic theory, it's merely an idea of mine…"
"What do you mean "out there"?"
"Well… the Earth, we've established fairly convincingly, is a sphere which orbits the sun. And it is one of eight planets which we know of. There may be more-"
"And if… this sphere supports life…"
But the Professor appeared to lose interest in what he was saying. He was staring into the space in front of him with the air of a lost puppy. Kitty looked up from the fossils and saw nothing but Miss Jones walking past the door-way.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Wright… Er… If this sphere supports life, supports human life, intelligent and exploratory, then… might not other worlds support life?"
"Professor, are you seriously suggesting that there's life on other planets?"
"Merely suggesting. I have no proof that there is. But I have no proof that there isn't. If I can build my space steam-ship, why can't other people, in distant worlds, build similar machines?"
"Except we don't know that your space steam-ship actually works."
"Well, no, we'll have to test it out."
Before Kitty could say anything else, Patrick burst in.
"Albatross! First albatross of the South!"
"Excellent!" said the Professor. "Come on, Miss Wright!"
He seized the note-book and hurried off.
Kitty lingered, thinking about the Professor looking at Miss Jones. There was no reason, of course, why he should not look at Miss Jones. But it made her faintly uncomfortable to think that he—that other people— looked at people in a way that suggested that they might… might feel… the same way about other people as she felt about Patrick. However that was…
"No," she said. "Surely not…"
Then she scurried after the Professor.
The albatross was beautiful, bigger than any bird she had ever seen, with wings as long as her arms. It soared on the air currents, circled up out of sight, then dropped back towards the waves. It hadn't any purpose Kitty could see, it just looked as if it were enjoying itself.
She waved and it tipped on one side, as if it were waving itself. Then it wheeled off to the East while Kitty watched it go and laughed.
The Professor wanted to stop for a day at Tristan da Cunha when they passed it the next day. Kitty gathered all the nets, collecting jars and the note-book together before breakfast, so they could would be ready when Gloria landed. Then she went up on deck to look for land.
There was nothing in sight but ocean. The waves slapped against Gloria's hull. The sky was blue and clear, the salty breeze whipped in her face. Then the top of a mountain rose above the waves.
"Land!" shouted Kitty. "Land ahoy!"
Patrick scrambled along the deck.
"Is it Tristan?"
It seemed it was Tristan. Gloria's nose shifted slightly as she adjusted her course for the bay.
"I've never been to Tristan before," said Patrick, and she wondered if her eyes were shining as brightly as his, with the thought of strange new countries.
As they drew nearer, more and more of the mountain was visible—the higher slopes, then the rocky scree, then the plains around its base. The world really was round, she realised.
Tristan looked bleak, rocky, desolate, but majestic in its way, the single lonely mountain rising out of the sea.
As they drew nearer, Kitty saw the huddle of houses clinging to the shore. There were a few big wooden barns and sheds, some boats in the harbour and that was all. Some people were sitting on the harbour walls or down by the shore, fishing, mending their nets or cleaning their boats. Most of them stared at Gloria and a few waved. Kitty waved back.
Gloria pulled into a small cove just beyond the town and they disembarked. Kitty felt less land-sick than she had done in Cape Colony. The ground was rocky, the grass was sparse and tough.
"Right," said Seward. "The Professor wants to stop here to get some specimens, but I can imagine that it will be useful anyway, we can get some provisions, you know how important this is at sea and there aren't many places to get provisions at the bottom of the world."
"It seems hard enough to get provisions here sir," said Patrick, looking around.
"We could rustle some of those cows," said Foster as a group of sturdy island cattle came into view.
"We'd be breaking the law," said Seward. "Miss Jones, Doyle will take you into town to do some shopping. Get things which will last a long time, please. Foster, Lawson, you help me with the fishing. If you gentlemen will be good enough to assist me, we'll have a good stock of fish which should see us through any delays of any kind. After lunch, I will deal with the provisions. Professor, if you have any more collecting you wish to do, feel free."
"I'd be willing to escort Miss Jones into town," said the Professor.
"That's not necessary, Professor," said Seward. "I know you want to do some collecting. Doyle can look after Miss Jones just fine."
Was it Kitty's imagination, or did the Professor look faintly disappointed?
"What's the town called?" asked Miss Jones.
"I don't think it has a name," said Seward.
"Do you think it has a shop?" Miss Jones' eyes wandered over the huts.
"If you can't find a shop or ware-house I'm sure you'll find some a whaler or a cargo ship stopping off. Or I'm sure a farmer will sell you some dried mutton."
"Very well." Miss Jones looked as if she would rather have gone to a grocer's in Castle Street. Kitty, who welcomed the idea of buying a sheep carcass for provisions and taking it back to Gloria, would have offered to go, only she wanted to go fishing. She also wondered why Seward had sent Patrick. Of course, it might be co-incidental. But it might be a deliberate attempt to keep him away from Kitty—but why would he want to do that?
Lawson had sat down and opened a bottle of whiskey.
"Lawson!" said Seward. "You're not drinking yourself smashed today. Do some work and earn your pay for once."
Lawson swigged from the bottle and turned bleary eyes on Seward. "Oh, fuck off. Why do I have do any work anyway?" He didn't sound angry, just tired and exasperated.
"The Professor and Miss Wright are here to gather some specimens from Tristan da Cunha. It's our duty to help them and stoke up on a bit of fish. So put that bottle down, it's far too early in the day to be drinking."
"Not too early. Nearly eight 'o' clock."
"It's precisely nine in the morning." Seward's voice rose, Lawson was getting on his nerves and Kitty didn't blame him. He even annoyed her, and she wasn't his captain who was supposed to supervise him.
"No, it's nearly eight…." He took another swig. "Nearly eight and the blood-red sun is sinking over the western horizon…"
His tone was so convincing that even though Kitty knew he was rambling, she turned and looked at the western horizon. He was staring past her, at something she couldn't see.
"No it isn't," she said, knowing it was futile.
"The sky fades from violet to purple… as we come" he reeled and nearly toppled, "to the desert island".
"This isn't a desert island," said Seward loudly. "This is Tristan da Cunha, we're meant to be here, the Professor and Miss Wright are here to gather some specimens from Tristan da Cunha".
"It's the desert island," said Lawson, moaning. "The desert island that cost five good men their lives, and three I didn't like very much." He took another swig. "I can see them now, dying of thirst… of madness…" he reeled again, "of the curse."
"Oh, give over." Seward gave up.
"William died that day," said Lawson, suddenly and loudly. "And William's not here, is he?"
"Mr Patrick Doyle is taking Miss Jones into town," said Seward, loudly and clearly.
"He's doomed then," said Lawson with relish. "Not that I care because he was very stupid and in… in… infisshunt….". He took another swig. "We're all doomed," he said loudly.
"Always look on the bright side, don't you?" muttered Foster.
Lawson, perhaps on the realisation that they were all doomed, drained the bottle with a triumphant air and immediately pulled another out of his pocket.
"Oh, forget it, you miserable loon," muttered Seward. "Drink yourself into oblivion if that's what you want."
It was clearly what he did want.
Kitty set to fishing. Where the creek gave out into the bay, the water was shallow and rocky, crammed with fish, surrounded with rock-pools where little lobsters scuttled back and forth. Seward quietly and methodically gathered fish and lobsters into his net, glaring at Kitty when she splashed around in the pools. Kitty didn't care. There was no beach in Liverpool, she had never played in the sea before. This wave-blasted rocky coast was paradise for her. She did actually catch a few fish, some in her apron. She was quick, too. She could catch lobsters before they had time to dart under the rocks.
Carington, anxious as ever to help, was splashing around almost as much as Kitty was, but not on purpose. He was having very bad luck catching fish. Whenever he came close to catching one he was surprised at his own success that he dropped the net.
"I've caught one!" he said, clutching a lobster and waving it around so hard that he nearly had her eye out.
"Oh, sorry!" and he dropped it on Kitty.
She grabbed it and it bit her finger. "If you hadn't apologised, you wouldn't have dropped it, you silly idiot!" She threw it in the bucket with the others.
Carington looked hopelessly miserable. She took pity on him. "It doesn't matter, Mr Carington, it's just, well, you don't really seem cut out for an Antarctic expedition."
"I don't think I am. Here," he offered her a handkerchief for her bleeding finger, but it was covered in green slime.
"Do you enjoy it?"
"Enjoy dropping lobsters on you?"
"No, enjoy the expedition!"
"I'm sure it's very interesting," he said, turning as red as a prize beat-root and looking uncomfortable.
"You don't, do you?"
"Well… Mother told me that I have to mind my manners."
Kitty laughed. "Your mother ain't here. If you don't enjoy it, why did you come?"
"Father wanted me to come."
Carington shrugged. "He wanted me out of the way. I think he hopes I'll die here."
"Why would he hope you'd die?"
"Well," he gestured vaguely at the rock-pools and the creek. "I'm not good at anything. Bit of a waste of money really."
"What did he want you do?"
"Go into a bank. Go into the City. Go into the Civil Service."
"And you can't do any of those things?"
"No. None of the firms father spoke to would hire me. Not even the ones he has shares in. I'm no good with figures. I can't write quickly either. And some of the things I said, people thought they were stupid."
To Kitty it was a different world. She knew what banks and the City were. But she had never met any-one who might have worked there.
"So if you don't die here, what will you do?"
"Law," said Carington, with a tragic gesture.
"And you won't like that?"
"No. I wanted to read English, even I can read books, but I failed the entrance exam. So now I have to do law. But I know I'll fail the bar exam, so there's no point, really."
"What will you do then?" asked Kitty, who had only the faintest idea of what a bar exam was.
"I don't know."
"Is there anything you want to do?"
He looked still more miserable. "Not really."
She had no idea what to say to that and before she could say anything, Seward called, "Lunch-time".
They all scrambled back to Gloria and lunched on potatoes which Miss Jones had found in town. Miss Jones wanted to cook them, but Seward suggested that she might like to rest. Foster cooked them and he managed to make the hard, knobbly potatoes taste delicious.
Then Foster and Lawson wanted to go into town to find something to drink. Seward wanted to look after his ship, even though Foster pointed out she was moored in harbour, and Miss Jones wanted to salt the lobsters and preserve them. Kitty and the Professor wanted to label, study and care for their specimens and Patrick, blushing to the roots of his hair, stammered that he would like to stay too.
Lawson's stupefied face twisted into an expression of vague surprise, but Foster grinned knowingly and Seward rolled his eyes. He didn't say anything, though.
So Kitty spent the afternoon teaching Patrick about some of the specimens they had found. When he asked things she didn't understand, she asked the Professor, who was sitting on the other side of the table, happily writing pages of notes and mumbling to himself. "Can I touch it?" Patrick asked the Professor, admiring a small, wriggly brown fish in a jar.
"Certainly, if you like," said the Professor.
"I thought you hadn't checked to see whether it was dangerous yet, Professor?" said Kitty.
"Well, no," said the Professor. He turned to Patrick. "It might kill you, but you can touch it if you want to."
"I think I'll pass, actually."
Foster and Lawson got back very late. Lawson was drunker than Kitty had ever seen him. Foster had to practically carry him up the gang-plank, while he mumbled and moaned. The only coherent words were "doom" and "another drink".
It didn't help that Foster wasn't in a great state himself, and sang Whiskey in the Jar loudly until the small hours.
"We had great fun," he said, sticking his head round the door. "You should have come along."
Patrick just blushed again.
They departed at the crack of dawn the next day, heading South. They hadn't got as many supplies as they had hoped in Tristan da Cunha, only a few salted lobsters and some potatoes, but they hoped to call in at the Falkland Islands to buy some fish.
Kitty was woken by the sound of rattling chains, creaking sails and Seward haranguing his crew. She sat up and yawned, then wriggled down from her bunk and shouted "Good Morning" to Miss Jones.
She brushed her hair, checked in the mirror that it was neat and went up to breakfast with Miss Jones.
Hearing voices from the stair-well she stopped.
"It's the real thing, kid."
"But you'll come back."
"I know, but suppose she doesn't wait for me?"
Kitty, at the bottom of the stairs, found a hung-over, teary Foster leaning against Patrick's shoulder. Patrick looked tired and faintly exasperated.
"Foster, not for the first time, as got himself a lady-friend and left her in port."
"But this time it's different." Kitty heard his voice crack with pain through the woozy slurring.
"You always say that, either you'll see her again or you'll forget about her. I don't see the need to get worked up about her."
"I talked to her, I didn't just say stupid poetic things about her eyes and her hair. She was born on Tristan."
"You can remember, after the state you were in? Good Lord, maybe it is serious."
"She farms sheep on the mountain here. And she'd like to go to sea, really she would, she said so…"
"Look, sleep it off. I'll cover for you with the old devil. You'll feel better later," said Patrick, but he looked mystified.
"He's never talked like this before," he whispered to Kitty as they went to breakfast.
Lawson and Foster were not at breakfast, which meant that they could have reasonably sensible conversation, and Kitty could mull over the worries of her own life in peace. Such as whenever Patrick smiled at her she was glad she had taken extra care with her hair this morning.
After breakfast, Kitty went to the laboratory with the Professor. No sooner had they settled down to investigate a particularly interesting piece of sea-weed, then Miss Jones crashed out of the cabin across the corridor. "There's a whole load of manky old bits of plant on my dresser!"
She burst into the laboratory. "Miss Wright, did you do this?"
"No," said Kitty.
"The whole dresser absolutely strewn with horrible slimy bits of weed. Awful stuff. Smells funny, too."
"Miss Jones-" began the Professor.
"It's one of those awful, badly-brought-up lads, I'll bet. So careless… why can't Seward keep them in better order?"
"Miss Jones," said the Professor, so loudly that she had to pay attention. "I put them there."
"You put them there?" Miss Jones took a deep breath and drew herself up to her full height. "I always knew that you were mad, but I always thought that you were at least well-mannered and knew how to treat a lady."
"No, Miss Jones-"
"Clean them up at once."
"Miss Jones, you don't understand-"
"Horrible sludgy things dripping all over the floor, Professor. Clean them up at once." And she turned on her heel and swept away.
"Miss Jones," said the Professor to the slammed laboratory door. "You don't understand…"
"So what was all that about?" said Kitty.
"It was dead foliage."
"I could work out that much."
"To indicate my affection."
Kitty's heart sank. She sighed and sat down on the table. "Professor, it has to be nice dead foliage, expensive dead foliage. In a bouquet. And you're supposed to give it to her yourself, not leave it on the dresser."
"I was shy. Besides, I assumed she'd know it was from me. After all, didn't I spend the whole of Thursday afternoon a couple of weeks ago telling her about ocean currents."
"You didn't make any sense."
"I was nervous."
"Oh, is that why you dropped potatoes in your mug of cocoa?"
"Well, when one's in this kind of situation, one can't always think about everything."
Kitty had no idea what to say. She wasn't used to this kind of situation. She felt, knowing it was irrational, that the Professor ought to be able to tell this kind of thing to her. Then she felt guilty. She knew that no part of being a man's secretary meant that he had to tell about people giving each other bouquets.
At lunch, the atmosphere was rather strained, with Miss Jones sulking and Foster moody. After lunch, the Professor said to Carington, "By the way, Mr Carington, I heard yesterday that you wanted to read English."
"Er… yes. But I failed the test, I…" Carington looked nervous and guilty, the way he did whenever anybody spoke to him.
"Come down to the laboratory," said the Professor.
"Er… all right…"
He shuffled into the laboratory looking so nervous that Kitty nearly laughed. "The test tubes won't bite, Mr Carington."
"Mr Carington," said the Professor. "I'm going to tell you something very clearly. You're never going to read English at Oxford."
"Er… all right… Look, I'm sorry, I…" he collapsed into stammering.
"However, there is no reason to curl up in a corner hating the world and reading… what was it?"
"Ah, yes, law. Very boring if you ask me. Nice for people who like dressing up in strange wigs and shouting at each other. What I suggest you do, Mr Carington, is take this…" He rummaged through his boxes of books and eventually pulled out Le Morte d'Arthur. "Read it and come and tell me what it says."
"Haven't you read it sir?" said Carington, allowing the book to be pressed into his hands.
"Oh, yes, many times. I think it's wonderful."
"Then don't you already know what it says?"
"But I want to know what you think it says."
"Right… thanks sir."
"Pleasure." The Professor was already absorbed in his scientific log.
"Is he a bit mad?" Carington whispered to Kitty as he left the room.
"Oh, yes," said Kitty. "But he's brilliant."
Over the next few days, it became colder. The sky was searing, dazzling blue. The sea shone like a jewel. The wind stung icy on Kitty's face every time she went up on deck in the morning. In the mornings, Patrick sneaked past Seward to the laboratory to look around while Kitty told him about their specimens. Sometimes the Professor wasn't there and Kitty suspected that he had gone to talk to Miss Jones. She didn't know why anyone would want to talk to Miss Jones. She didn't have anything against Miss Jones as such, she just didn't see why the Professor liked her so much.
On Wednesday she saw her first iceberg, a huge white mountain, the size of an island but bobbing up and down on the waves. The sun glared off it so bright that it hurt to look at it.
"First one?" said Patrick, coming up behind her.
"Yeah," she wondered why her face went so hot to have him standing behind her, so close she could feel his warmth through her dress.
"Beautiful, aren't they?"
"Yeah," fighting to control her face temperature and just about succeeding.
"You'll remember it for the rest of your life. Folk always do."
"What was the first you ever saw?"
"A few months after I first went to sea. We had a cold winter, I think. Just of the Cape there were tons of them. Sea was dead calm, they just sat there and creaked gently. I'd ever seen anything like it."
Kitty grinned. The iceberg in front of her gleamed in the sun-light, so beautiful, but she knew how deadly they could be from the stories she had read as a child.
"I'll tell my kids about this."
"Your kids'll see icebergs themselves."
"You think? I hope so."
"Doyle!" shouted Seward. "Get back to work."
That day Kitty realised her feet were cold and put shoes on for the first time in her life, smart little seal-skins from London. They felt odd, stiff on her feet and so shiny that she could hardly bear to walk in them for fear of scuffing the bright shiny leather.
Foster didn't seem to be getting over the lady he had met in Tristan da Cunha. Her name, Patrick told Kitty, was Ruth. Foster kept writing her name out over and over again, trying to make his writing neat. He was writing poetry to her and complaining because nothing rhymed with Ruth. "He's got it bad," he said. "I've never seen him like this before."
Love-sick Foster amused them, even if Kitty did feel a little guilty sometimes when he was so obviously suffering, but when Patrick said "Honest to God, I can't see why anyone would care so much about lady, there are lots of them, after all," it cut into her stomach and stung, but something told her not to let it show.
The next day Kitty and the Professor saw penguins of the starboard bow. They gambled in the waves, sliding on and off their little ice-bergs, waddling and braying like donkeys. Kitty stood in the bows and waved to them, and she could have sworn that a few of the penguins standing in the bows waving their flippers were deliberately waving back.
"Saw penguins today," she wrote in the scientific log. "About a dozen of them swimming round and round the ship. They're ever so cute. The Professor says they're gentoos."
One of the penguins leaped up right in front of Gloria, braying and flapping.
"Oh, what a darling-" Kitty began, then broke of when she saw a dark, writhing shape in the water beneath.
A seal popped its head out of the water and lunged for the squealing penguin. Kitty had seen seals before, sometimes they even played in the harbour in Liverpool, and she had always found them cute, but this seal wasn't cute. It lunged at the penguin again, seized its flipper, but it twisted free, looking straight at Kitty and squawking imploringly. There was something horribly human about the podgy little creature in its evening suit floundering and dying in front of her.
Kitty flung her leg over the rail, in a blind motherly panic, but the Professor grabbed her by the back of the dress just as the gun crashed out behind her.
Lawson was lurching along the deck, his rifle clutched against his chest, gazing with satisfaction at the dying seal from his blood-shot eyes.
"Leopard seal," he said to Kitty, who grabbed the fishing net, and, plunging into the bloody water, began fishing around for the wounded, thrashing penguin. "Very dangerous."
"Miss Wright," said the Professor, panting. "Don't ever jump into the Southern Ocean. It will kill you for sure. You have a pistol, anyway."
"Oh yeah. I forgot that."
Kitty had the penguin now, moaning in the coils of the net. She lifted it over Gloria's side and tipped the penguin out in a soggy, bleeding heap at her feet.
"Poor thing." She knelt down and gathered the sorrowful bundle onto her lap. It brayed weakly and gave her a reproachful look, but it was too weak to put up much of a fight. "Do you think its badly hurt?"
The Professor and Lawson knelt down beside her and Patrick and Foster arrived, breathless and panting.
"What's that?" said Patrick.
"A Gentoo penguin. Mr Lawson saved it from a leopard seal."
"I like penguins," said Lawson. "They remind me of children. Can't stand seeing them hurt."
"Pity you're not so conscientious about hurting children," said Foster. "I still have the scar down my chest from when you flung that bottle at me."
Lawson shrugged. "People different. Animals…" He rambled drunkenly.
By now Seward, Carington and Miss Jones, shouting "Who losed that gun off?" had arrived. Kitty and the Professor explained between them while Lawson cradled his gun and gazed off into the middle distance.
"I don't think it's badly hurt," said the Professor. "The wound's bleeding a lot." He probed it gently and the penguin pecked weakly at his hand. "But it's not deep. We'll bathe it, stich it and bandage it. Then bed rest and tender loving care, I feel."
"I'll take it to the laboratory." Kitty carried the penguin down below and she and the Professor prepared to treat the wound. Seward drove everyone else out of the laboratory because they had work to do, but he let Patrick stay, because he wanted to so Kitty said she needed him.
"Is it a boy or a girl?" Kitty asked the Professor, putting her neatest stiches in the penguin's wing.
"A girl, I think."
"What should we call her?"
"How about Primrose?" said Patrick. "Primrose the Penguin?"
"Sounds grand," said Kitty. "Primrose it is. Do you like your new name, sweetheart?"
Primrose brayed softly and snuggled her head against Kitty's hand.
"Good," said Kitty.
She was very weak, so when the wound was all clean and stitched, Kitty "borrowed" some clean blankets from the storage cupboard and put them in a basket in the warmest corner of the laboratory, near the little stove but with a fire guard—"borrowed" from the boiler room—so she couldn't hurt herself.
Then she fetched a tin of sardines from the kitchen and some water and put them in two tin bowels. She put these in front of Primrose, so that she could have something to eat when she wanted it.
"Waahhk," said Primrose.
Then Patrick went to put in the evening shift and she settled down to fill in the scientific log while dusk gathered outside the port-hole. She had got as far as "Gentoo penguin, Primrose, seems to be healing nicely" when she heard Patrick shout up on deck. She got up and hurried out into the passage, nearly colliding with him.
"Hey, Miss Wright, it's the Southern Lights."
She had heard of the Southern Lights in travellers' tales in Liverpool. Apparently they were beautiful multi-coloured lights in the sky. She rushed past Patrick and up the ladder onto the deck.
She stopped transfixed. The travellers' tales had never told the half of it.
Shimmering green curtains of light fluttered across the sky, rippling and twisting, dissolving and re-forming. Behind them the stars shone like little green jewels. Now the bottom of the curtains were tinged with pink, which faded away, now scarlet flickered across the sky, pulsing and bleeding into the green. Kitty was speechless. Whether it was the lights or the cold sharp wind that pricked at her cheeks, she felt tears start in her eyes. One thing she did know: she would remember this for the rest of her life, tell her children and grand-children about it.
A burst of blue lit up the sky and Kitty felt Patrick's hand tighten and wondered how long he had been holding it for, and why she hadn't noticed. She laughed.
"It's amazing! This… is amazing."
Then she looked to see if anybody were looking at them, but nobody was: everybody had gathered in the stern to watch the light play off an interestingly-shaped iceberg.
She and Patrick watched the Lights in silence. There was no need to say anything and nothing to say. And Patrick never moved his hand from on top of Kitty's on the rail.
When the Lights faded, the others turned to go back inside. Kitty watched them leave. She caught the Professor's eye and saw him smile, and for some reason she was pleased and embarrassed at the same time. She knew that he didn't want her to come inside, though. She knew that smile meant "I know that you want to stay out, and it's fine by me and I know why you want to better than you do".
Then she thought, "What the Hell?". What the Hell if the Professor understood more about her life than she did? What the Hell if she wanted to spend all night out on the deck with Patrick? Alone. She would do what she wanted.
So she stayed standing by the rail and Patrick's hand stayed on top of hers. He was keeping evening watch, anyway, so he had the right to be here, in the bows, with his enormous signalling lamp and his alphanumeric signalling book.
In the distance, a warm orange glow flickered on the dark waves.
"Aye, a whaler I expect."
"Can I talk to her?" Kitty reached for the lamp.
"There isn't a problem."
"Then let's tell her that."
Patrick laughed. "All right."
So she took the lamp and signalled "Hello" to the distant whaler.
"Hello," came the reply. "All OK here."
"All OK." Then she grinned at looked at Patrick in the dark. "All A-OK."
The next day they saw no ships. There was only sea and sky as far as the eye could see, ice and mist, which crept down over Gloria in the late afternoon and lingered as the sky darkened. Kitty and Patrick found Foster standing by the rail in the stern, staring at the sea slipping away behind them. Kitty was used to seeing him standing in the stern, searching for land ahead, and she knew he was thinking about Ruth, on bleak, wind-swept Tristan da Cunha. She didn't know what to say to him and nor did Patrick, so she just turned and left him there. Hearing Seward talking, she hurried over to the hatch and peered down.
"I'm not moving in this fog, Professor," Seward was saying. "We'll weigh anchor here tonight and move in the morning."
"Very well sir," said the Professor. "You think this mist's likely to clear, then?"
"Bound to. We hardly ever get mist in the Antarctic. Doyle, Foster, come in!"
Foster dragged himself away from the rail and they went indoors.
Primrose waddled after Kitty, gazing up at her adoringly, and let her feed her some raw fish. Then the humans had some bread and sweets for tea, a mug of tea each and when Kitty looked out the port-hole the last glimmer of sun-light slipped below the horizon.
Miss Jones lit the lamps. Kitty, with Primrose on her lap, curled up in her corner next to Patrick, listened to Gloria creak in the sighing waves. Lawson drank, Foster played patience, nobody talked much. Kitty found herself getting drowsy. They normally went to bed shortly after dark on Gloria, to save on lamps.
"Foster, you take first watch," said Seward. Then the lamp on the port-hole ledge went out.
"Oh, damn." Foster rummaged in his pockets for a match.
"Language, Foster. You never know when the Recording Angel is listening," said Seward.
Foster lit the lamp, the flame flickered for a few minutes. Then it went out.
"Give it here, you fuck-wit." Patrick took the box of matches and lit the lamp again. For a moment it glowed with warm orange light. Then it went out. Not sputtering or guttering, but out as neatly and cleanly as if someone had snuffed out the wick.
"Ha!" said Foster to Patrick.
Theodora, fur on end, leapt into Patrick's arms and clung round his shoulders like a frightened child. Primrose cowered against Kitty.
"Most odd," said Miss Jones. "Never mind. I expect most of us will go to bed in a minute anyway."
The only other lamp was a very simple one on the table, really just a candle in a lumpy upturned vase. They all gathered into its little pool of light, Kitty perching on the edge of the table. Then it went out.
Now it was completely dark in the room. For a moment nobody said anything. Kitty had no idea what to say. When one lamp went out it was annoying. When two went out it was… odd. And she didn't have to be able to see the others to know that they thought so too. She remembered the look in Theodora's eyes.
"Well," said Seward eventually. "That's very odd."
"Why did it happen?" said Kitty, hoping the Professor might have an explanation.
But the Professor didn't say anything.
"Professor?" said Seward.
"Well, I must confess myself at a loss," said the Professor, as calmly as if this were some amusing intellectual puzzle in a pub quiz. "I would hazard a guess at some atmospheric disturbance, but only because I can think of no plausible other explanation."
"Well, never mind that," said Foster. "Does anyone have a match?"
It seemed nobody had a match.
"You mentioned something once to me Professor, about how once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains must be… er… possible."
"Yes, I might have to work on that one."
"So it must be an atmospheric disturbance."
"I left the matches on the ledge," said Patrick. "Ow… table."
"Maybe it's a sign that it's time to turn in," said Seward.
"He didn't say possible," said Carington, brightly as a school-boy who has got a question right for once. "He said plausible."
Kitty found the difference rather uncomfortable.
"How?" said Miss Jones. "We always have candles to take to the cabin."
"And they won't light?" said Foster.
"And I can't find them," said Miss Jones.
"Where is that triple-damned match?" said Patrick. "Ah-ha!"
Then came a thud. Faint but distinct. Against the side of the hull.
"What was that?" said Kitty.
"An iceberg?" said Seward, more hopefully than convincingly.
It came again. It wasn't a lump of ice, rumbling and crashing up against the hull. It was a definite, purposeful, living thud.
In the darkness, Kitty could hear her own heartbeat. Her own frozen breath rasp in her lungs as she tried to breathe.
"A whale?" whispered Patrick.
Kitty wanted desperately to hold onto his hand, but she couldn't work out where his hand was in the darkness. Besides, it might not be proper.
Then there was silence. Silence that stretched for centuries, but Kitty could tell by the rush of blood in her head that it had only been a few seconds.
This wasn't a whale, idly batting at the hull. This felt… felt horribly like… something trying to get in.
Gloria's sturdy walls suddenly felt horribly thin.
Kitty put her hand on her pistol.
Then the lamp on the table came on. It didn't flicker, waiting for the flame to catch, simply came back to life as easily as one of those incandescent bulbs she had seen at the Museum.
"Ah," said Miss Jones. "As the Professor said, an atmospheric disturbance."
Kitty filled her lungs with air, knowing she was grinning like a dolphin and probably looked like a fool, but looking round at everybody else, so were they. Even Seward was smiling. Foster must be…
"Where's Foster?" said Patrick.
Kitty turned. She barely noticed the lamp on the ledge come back to life. She was sick in the pit of her stomach. A horrible, cold sickness that went all the way to her brain and whirled around.
Foster was not there.
Only when her gun slid out of her hand onto the floor did she realise she was sweating. She felt cold.
Patrick dashed past her, clutching his pistol.
"Doyle!" shouted Seward. "Doyle, get back here!" He dashed after him and so did Kitty, barely aware of what she was doing, knowing only that if something were to happen to Patrick… It was unthinkable, she simply couldn't wrap her mind around the idea, couldn't wrap her mind around anything at all, as she dashed down the corridor, except baffled horror.
She caught up with Patrick as he burst through the hatch onto the deck.
"Foster!" he shouted. "Foster!"
He was nowhere on the deck.
"Where did he go?" He turned to Kitty, his face white, his eyes wild.
"I don't know," she said, her voice higher and more wobbly in her ears than in her head. "He must have gone somewhere when the lights went out."
"I don't know." It was Seward. "I don't know," he said again.
Kitty noticed that for all his face was calm, his voice sounded as if his throat were about to shatter.
"Maybe he jumped over-board," said Kitty. Better for Foster to have met his death in the freezing Southern Ocean than for it to have anything to do with that… that… thing.
"Why would he do that?" said Seward.
"Haven't you notice?" said Patrick. "He's in love."
"Yes. Her name was Ruth." The words tumbled out of Patrick's mouth, louder and louder, faster and faster. "She lived on Tristan da Cunha. She farmed sheep. He wanted…" His face crumpled. "He wanted to come back to her. He wanted to come back…" The tears started in his eyes.
"Calm down," said Seward. "Foster! Foster!" No answer.
"Oh, God, oh God." Patrick's legs gave way. Kitty hadn't the strength to hold him up, so she collapsed with him on the deck.
He made little, gasping sobs, but barely any tears, not yet. Not until Seward, the Professor and Carington had scowered every inch of Gloria and the surrounding ocean, Seward offering increasingly desperate, rambling prayers. Not until Kitty allowed Seward to pull them off the deck and push them below and she made their way to her cabin and, without the strength to climb the ladder, sat on the floor.
Then the tears came. Patrick curled up with his head on her shoulder and sobbed, great heaving sobs that shook his whole body, the tears fell hot and wet on Kitty's lap.
She felt the back of her throat dry up and a noise like a noise like a dying rabbit came from the back of her throat. She realised that she was crying too.
She had known and liked Foster. He was only young, she realised. It was odd to think that. He had always been grown up. Nicer than most grown-ups, perhaps. But still grown-up, and it was only now he was dead, no wife, no children, that she realised how young he had been. So heavy somewhere in her stomach.
Foster had smiled at her, made her laugh, shared his whiskey with her. And now she would never see him again. And nor would Patrick, who had been friends with him for years.
Kitty felt his damp face burrowing into her shoulder and wondered in the back of her mind how many of her tears were for Foster and how many were for Patrick, because he was clinging onto her like a rope in a storm, he needed her, she realised. He needed her to do something to make him better and there was nothing she could do. She had never felt so useless, or so helpless, or so horribly guilty. She felt a responsibility to dry his tears, a responsibility she felt proud of, but knew she was failing because it was impossible.
"You know what I said to him?" said Patrick, blurrily through his tears. "The last thing I ever said to him? "Fuck-wit.""
Kitty could nothing to say. She wanted to wipe the tears off his face, but they were being improper enough already. Theodora curled up on Patrick's head and Primrose snuggled against Kitty's arm, wheezing gently, sympathetically and uncomprehendingly.
"What was that thing?" said Patrick after a while, as if he were thinking aloud, not expecting an answer.
"I don't know," said Kitty.
Miss Jones came in late, but she didn't say anything and the lamp made such a little light that Kitty couldn't see her face in the dark.
Then there was a knock at the door.
It opened and a patch of yellow light shone through.
"Miss Wright?" It was the Professor's voice.
"Yes," said Kitty quietly, so as not to wake Miss Jones.
"Are you all right?"
"I just saw a man die right in front of me—or rather, I didn't see him die right in front of me. No, Professor, I'm not all right."
"I'm sorry, Miss Wright."
"Would you like… a hot drink?"
"No, Professor, thank you."
"Some rice pudding?"
"In the morning Professor."
"Is there anything I can do to help, Miss Wright?"
He sounded so bewildered and helpless that she didn't know whether to laugh or start crying again.
"No, Professor. There's nothing you can do."
"If you want me for anything, I'll be in a hammock with the others. The Captain says we shouldn't be alone tonight."
"Thanks." She didn't see what difference it made whether they were alone or not. Whatever had happened before could happen again.
The pool of yellow light hovered in the door-way for a moment.
"Good night," said the Professor.
"Good night," said Kitty.
The door closed.
Patrick cried himself into exhaustion, then he slept.
Kitty didn't sleep. She sat and held Patrick while he slept. It was the only power of comfort she had, and she could never sleep, with Patrick in the state he was in.
When the sun rose the next morning, Kitty was still awake, Patrick woke when the first pale rays of morning light fell on his face in the cold cabin.
The sea-scape this morning was, if anything, even bleaker and more desolate than it had been yesterday. Blue sky, blue sea. Shimmering mountains of ice.
"Good morning," said Kitty.
"Good morning," Patrick said faintly.
"Come and have breakfast?"
"I'm not hungry."
"Well, you're in a ladies' cabin, so you're going to have to move."
He stood up and shuffled unsteadily out of the cabin.
He didn't go in to breakfast. He said he was going up on deck.
Kitty felt that he wanted her to go with him, but she had to get breakfast ready, as they worked out that she was the next-best cook on board after Foster.
The air at breakfast was tight as a stretched rubber band. The only thing which seemed as usual was feeding Primrose. Animals were always the same, thought Kitty. They were so comforting.
Miss Jones looked pale and wan, and didn't, mercifully, insist on cooking breakfast. Seaward had a dull pain deep in his eyes, so it hurt Kitty's stomach to look at him. She didn't want Seward to hurt, hadn't expected him to hurt, even though she knew Foster had worked on Gloria since he was child. Seward was… old. Grown up. In charge. Pain was for people like her and Patrick. Lawson was quiet, he drank sullenly and determinedly. Kitty had no idea whether he fully realised what had happened or not. Carington looked glum. The Professor came into the room frowning.
He smiled when he saw Kitty, a small, tired smile.
"Are you all right, Miss Wright?"
"Yes thanks. Are you?"
"Thank you, yes." He slid into a chair.
"Lawson!" said Seward. Lawson ignored him. Seward sighed and looked around for someone whom he could order about. "Miss Jones!"
"Go and fetch Doyle."
Miss Jones hurried away and soon returned, leading a sullen Patrick with a tear-blotched face who slid into his place at table.
Seward cleared his throat. "Our Father who art in Heaven…"
They all joined in, except Lawson, who was barely upright. As Kitty mumbled along, she felt horribly as if she were back in St. Anne's Orphanage, where they had prayed every day before every meal. It had all sounded a bit daft back then, but now she was desperate for an answer from the Lord, just as the pastor had always promised them they would get. None was forthcoming, however, not even when Seward paused after "Deliver us from evil" as if expecting his miracle right there right now.
Patrick was holding a big wooden crucifix. He must be a Catholic, thought Kitty. She felt a vague thrill of rebellion at this, because although there were many Catholics in Liverpool, the pastor and the matron had forbidden her to knowingly speak to any, and certainly not do… whatever she was doing with Patrick… with one.
"Right," said Seward. "Professor, what the Hell was that thing?"
"I don't know," said the Professor. "I'm afraid I haven't had a chance to use my laboratory since the… attack. Directly after breakfast, however, that is where Miss Wright and I shall be."
Nobody said "Do you think it will come back?". Nobody had to. It was written on their faces.
Patrick and Miss Jones didn't seem to have any appetite. Kitty decided that that meant more for her, so she ate more, quickly, for all she was hungry unable to shake off that sick feeling in her stomach.
One of the key issues with sailing a ship is that the ship must be sailed, and if one of the crew suddenly dies, then it just means more work for the survivors. There is no luxury of curling up in a ball and shutting out the world.
So Seward, dragging Lawson, and Patrick, went up on deck, probably to swab it or something.
"Are you all right Pat- Mr Doyle?" asked Kitty. She knew it was a pointless thing to say, he clearly was not all right, but she didn't know what else to say.
"No," he said faintly, and gave her a queasy smile.
Miss Jones cleared and Kitty followed the Professor to the laboratory, "Deliver us from evil" still ringing hollow in her ears.
"Right," said the Professor. "We're both horrendously over-tired, which is never good, in science, but nothing is ideal in this world, we must make the best with what we have."
"I'll do my best, Professor."
"Now—would you be good enough to make notes, Miss Wright?"
Kitty opened the scientific log on the correct page.
"Suppose we begin with what we know," said the Professor. The way he spoke, from the force of years of habit, as if he were setting a puzzle to a bright group of undergraduates, reassured Kitty somehow.
"Last night the lights went out, and when they came back on again, Mr Foster wasn't there."
The Professor looked crest-fallen. "It's not much to go on, is it?"
He sighed. "However, it's better than nothing. Step one, the lights went out, step two," he paused. "The banging on the hull, step three-"
"The lights come back on again."
"Now, the way I look at it, this is either some previously unknown type of freak accident, or… it isn't."
"You mean it was deliberate?"
"Well said, Miss Wright! Well said. Because if something isn't accidental, then it must be deliberate." He sighed. "But that opens up a whole different can of worms."
"You said yourself it was deliberate. You called it an attack."
The Professor sighed again. "Well, I don't think we can really buy into the freak accident theory, can we? It's just… so reassuring somehow. Makes me feel like a news reporter. You know, when ships sink and disappear in "freak accidents". That's it, case closed… everybody happy. Except of course, it's not really an explanation at all."
"No. It isn't."
"So before we work anything out, let us consider what we already know, about this… thing… strange force… entity."
"I think we need a better name than thing-strange-force-entity."
"So we do. Have you one to suggest?"
"How about X? Like in maths?"
"Excellent! Yes, X the Unknown." He took his chalk and wrote it in the centre of the board in the corner of the laboratory, where he did his calculations. "Now, what do we know about X the Unknown?"
"It has the power to turn lights on and off."
"Excellent. Write it down."
She wrote it down.
"What are lights made of?"
"Erm… wax. Animal fat… Oil."
"Essentially, simply stuff that we burn. It's like turning off a fire."
"It's not connected to anything… Nothing outside Gloria… They're not connected to each other. There's nothing… there's nothing to turn off."
"I know what you mean."
"What else do we know about X the Unknown?"
At that moment there was a knock at the door. Kitty nearly jumped clear off the floor.
"Come in," said the Professor.
Carington stuck his head round the door.
"Excuse me, Professor, if you're busy." He already looked acutely embarrassed. "But I've… I've finished the book." He held up Le Morte d'Arthur. "And… well… you said I have to come to you and tell you what it's about, only I know you're… you're busy and… anditdoesn'tmatteranywayI'lljustgoaway."
"Come in! Come in!" said the Professor. "Nothing more important when I might be saving all our lives from an unknown threat than talking to you about books."
"I-I.. I'm sorry. Ididn'tmean… it's just… Hang on, that wasn't sarcasm, was it?"
"No. Why would it be? I think you're rather strange, Mr Carington."
"Professor," hissed Kitty. "You can't say things like that about people."
Carington just laughed. "You're not the first, Professor."
"Sit down," said the Professor, pointing to the table—he and Kitty had the only chairs.
Carington sat on the table. "What do you want me to say?"
"You tell me."
"Right… Well, the spelling was a bit of a pain. But other than that, it was all right. The war on Rome was exciting. Mind you, I didn't think the Spaniards were a heathen army of the East."
"I don't expect Thomas Mallory was very good at geography."
"Did King Arthur really become ruler of the Roman Empire?"
"No, I don't think so."
"But Lucius Tiberius really existed, right?"
"No, Lucius Tiberius was made up. He first appears in Historia Regum Britanniae. When King Arthur was supposedly alive, in the fifth century, the Roman Empire was disintegrating. In 476, Romulus Augustulus abdicated to the German warrior Odoacer. That was the end of the Western Roman Empire."
"How many Roman Empires were there?"
"Constantine the Great founded Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in 330."
"Oh." He nodded a couple of times. "Interesting. Well, I liked that bit. I liked the end. It was ever so sad. I think she must have been mad to go and hang out in that nunnery rather than running off with her boy-friend. And then he became a monk—a monk. But that's principle, isn't it? And that's what makes it tragic. I mean, they round around with swords and whatever and then they all end up sleeping around and feeling really really shit."
"Yes. I think that bit's very relatable, even if some bits of it are weird."
"And some bits of it aren't half weird. At one point, he commits mass infanticide, which nobody seems to comment on."
"That's 1485 for you."
"Also, I think that however peeved you are with your wife, burning her at the stake is just a bit much."
"He wasn't much of a hero then, was he?"
"He certainly wasn't a gentleman whom I would allow my daughter, if I were to have one, to marry. But I think it's interesting how times change."
"This Mallory bloke certainly liked him, didn't he? And I suppose he's all right with a sword."
"That is the ideal Mediaeval hero."
"Well," Carington frowned and was obviously making a great effort. "I think… I think that any twit can have a sword. I mean… you have to do… other stuff. Such as… well, not burning your wife might be a good start."
"You mean, perhaps, strength of character?"
"Yes, I think I do."
"Carington!" It was Seward. "Carington, as I'm a man short, you're going to have to help with cleaning the boiler."
"He doesn't sound exactly thrilled about my cleaning the boiler, does he?" said Carington, but he was grinning.
"Well, no," said Kitty. "I don't think anybody would be." She realised that for the first time since last night, she was grinning too.
"Wait, Mr Carington…" said the Professor. "I must give you another book…" He rummaged through a box.
"Do you have anything with easier spelling?"
"Try The Man in the Iron Mask."
"Thanks." He hurried off.
"I'm glad he reads," said the Professor to the closed door. "Nearly everything's in a book somewhere."
"I've never seen as many books as you have."
"I do have rather a lot, don't I? But then, as I said, nearly everything's in a book. When I was your age, I worked as the office boy in the Bodleian. Luckily for me, most students are more interested in going out drinking than in going to the library, so I could read the books…" A nostalgic light shone in his eyes for a moment. "Now, Miss Wright, where were we."
"We might be saving all our lives from an unknown threat," said Kitty, who had been distracted herself.
"Right, yes… Thank you. Now… What else do we know about X the Unknown?" The nostalgia had vanished and his eyes were gleaming like two coals.
"It's physical," said Kitty slowly.
"Genius!" The Professor beamed. "We're dealing with a definite, physical thing."
"But I don't understand how that definite, physical thing got inside."
"Perhaps it didn't."
"Then how… how did it… kill… a man," she couldn't bring herself to say "Mr Foster", "without getting in?".
"I don't know. I think we should go look in the galley, yes?"
They left Primrose in her basket and ran up to the galley.
"What do we do now?"
"I suggest we look round. See if we can find anything that shouldn't be here."
Kitty examined the lamp on the ledge and the other on the window, but there was no sign of anything having been… well, anything. Two perfectly ordinary, healthy lamps.
"Where was everybody standing?"
"Erm…" Kitty thought back, trying to visualise the scene even though it turned her stomach and made her heart hammer somewhere against the inside of her skull. "Well, when the lamp on the table went out… I was here…. and you were… here." Slowly she paced around the table, working out where everyone had been. "But they might have moved."
"But from your recollection, Mr Foster was nowhere near the port-hole when the lights went out? Nowhere near the door?"
"No," said Kitty, and shivered.
"Hmm… Miss Wright, if you would be good enough to examine the walls and the port-hole, I shall examine the floor."
"Examine them for what?"
"The sort of thing which you know when you see. Possibly damage. Possibly… well, I don't know."
"Right." Beginning with the port-hole, Kitty scoured every inch of the wall. There was no sign of… anything.
"Professor," she said eventually, when she had gone right round the wall and got to the port-hole again, "I don't see anything on these walls which oughtn't be here."
"Do you see anything not on the walls which ought to be there?", said the Professor, looking up from where he was crawling along the floor on his hands and knees with a magnifying glass.
"No? Well, it was a long shot."
"Do you want to check?"
"Why would I?" he looked surprised. "You have eyes, don't you?"
Kitty sat down on the table and watched the Professor with his magnifying glass.
"We're stumped," she said eventually.
"Yes. We are."
"We've tried every logical approach, we've cased the joint, we still don't know what X was."
"Perhaps it was a curse," said Patrick.
Kitty hadn't noticed him come in. He was clutching a half-empty bottle in his hand.
"Maybe we're under a curse."
"Such as what?" said the Professor.
"Perhaps we were curse by the mer-folk. Or the spirits of… something. There are spirits.. who live in the sea… and sometimes… they get you. There are strange, spectral… spectres. And monsters who live under the sea that no one's ever seen."
"I thought you took sea stories with a pinch of salt?" said Kitty.
"I did. But now we're living in one."
"Listen," said the Professor. "Curses do not exist. Sprits do not exist. Spectral spectres do not exist. Monsters who live under the sea and whom no one's ever seen just might."
The air in the cabin got a lot colder.
"Oh," said Kitty faintly.
"I can only sincerely hope," said the Professor, "that whatever this is, it does not see fit to bother us again".
"I'll drink to that," said Patrick, and took a swig from the bottle. Then he passed it round.
"Doyle!" It was Seward. "Doyle! What are you doing?" He appeared in the door-way, glaring.
"Sorry," said Kitty. "We… needed him."
"Don't drink when you're working," said Seward.
"I think he needs that, too," said Kitty.
Seward disappeared, Patrick trailing after him with a face which looked as if it had been carved out of stone.
The rest of the day was subdued. Kitty and the Professor continued with their work. It was what they had come to do, after all.
They took depth measurements, temperature, salinity, collected a sample of krill to put in a jar and label.
But Kitty's heart wasn't quite as in it as it had been before.
Darkness descended quickly, while they were still in the laboratory. Kitty felt her heart speed up a little as the light began to fade. She tried to stop her hand trembling. Just breathe, she told herself. Just ignore the dark. You'll do no good fretting. There's nothing you can do… there's nothing you can do… But is that not where the fear comes from? That there's nothing we can do?
Primrose became restless, but Kitty hoped it was just because the felt her humans getting tense, not because she knew… anything.
Kitty's hand shook and the test tube slipped from her fingers and smashed on the table.
"Oh, God, sorry Professor."
"It doesn't matter," said the Professor. "Have you cut your hand?"
"No… I'm all right." She looked up and knew that he understood exactly what the problem was.
"Perhaps we ought to stop for the night. There's no rush with the samples and perhaps we'd be… happier with a few more people around."
"There were people around before," said Kitty. "And… what happened happened."
The Professor's breath hissed and Kitty, whirling round, saw the tendrils of white mist pressing up against the porthole.
Then the warm orange glow in the passage went out.
Kitty felt the air had been sucked out of her lungs. There was an instant's horrible, ringing silence which lasted for years. Then she wrenched herself back from the yawning black void, pulled out her pistol and stood back to back with the Professor. It was instinct, even if it did nothing.
Then the lamp on the table went out.
The moment of utter darkness was all the more hellish for the knowledge of what would follow. Someone was going to die.
She had no idea whether she breathed, for a horrible moment there was nothing but being swallowed by the darkness. When the light came on, a warm yellow glow, red spots swirled before her eyes and the breath rasped in her reeling head. She rushed out of the room with the Professor, just as Miss Jones began to scream.
The rushed out of her cabin, screams dissolving into choking sobs.
"What's wrong?" said Kitty. "Do you know who's been killed?"
"Oh, my God… oh… oh, my God."
"Miss Jones?" said Kitty, louder. "Do you know who's been killed?"
"No, I've no idea," choked Miss Jones, then she collapsed in the Professor's arms in a torrent of tears.
The Professor held her up and stroked her shaking back and the look on his face broke Kitty's heart, even though she didn't understand why. She turned in silence, her own tears starting in her eyes, but she blinked them down, just as Patrick ran round the corner, followed by Seward, dragging Lawson.
"Who is it?" said Seward. "Who's been killed?"
"I don't know," said Kitty.
Seward scanned all the faces. Then he said, slowly, wincing, as if saying it would make it true, "There's only one person not here."
"Carington," said Kitty quietly.
"Let's check," said Miss Jones. "Perhaps… perhaps this time… it didn't take anybody."
The Professor had to half-carry her down the passage to the room the men shared. The hammocks were lined up neatly in rows. Carington's was empty. The Man in the Iron Mask lay open on the blanket.
Kitty's heart wrenched, then glowed because it wasn't the Professor, wasn't… Patrick. Then guilt twisted in her stomach, because she was glad it was Carington, relieved, and she wondered if that made her a horrible person.
"So it didn't leave us alone," said Seward.
"No," said the Professor. "It came back. I wonder what it wanted."
"I think it's quite obvious what it wanted," said Patrick. "It wanted to kill us." The bottle in his hand was lower than it had been that morning.
"How much have you had to drink?" said Kitty.
"Not enough," he said, not looking at her.
"But why does it want to kill us?" said the Professor.
"I don't know," said Kitty.
"Professor," said Seward, slowly and painfully. "Professor, this thing killed one of my men. It then killed again. It might kill more. I suggest we turn back."
The Professor sank down on the nearest hammock. "Agreed," he said quietly.
Kitty knew that it was for the best, that it was to stop people dying, but she couldn't help, as the Professor's words sank into her gut, her heart breaking all over again.
As she turned to leave the cabin, her vision blurring over with tears, she wondered how many times that would happen, could happen, before the pieces got too small to break again. There was nothing she wanted to do more than curl up in a corner and cry, but she didn't. She refused to.
They all trooped up on deck, a clear night now, not a whisp of mist in sight. Kitty went to the rail and leaned over, drinking in the view of ice-bergs and southern stars, which she might be leaving now forever.
What was at the Pole? Was it really a frozen waste? Was there a mythical Paradise of orchards and mighty rivers? A mountain of jewels? Something else?
"Lawson," said Seward, loudly and clearly. "I want you to turn the sail around. We're going back to England."
"No we're not, sir," said Lawson, more respectfully than he usually spoke, with the gloomy relish that Kitty always dreaded.
"What do you mean "No we're not"?"
"I don't think we're getting any say over where we're going sir. Look over there."
Kitty looked. On the north-eastern horizon, the stars were going out. Then she realised, a moment after Seward dashed to the sails, that they were not going out, they were being swamped in massive black clouds.
"Storm!" shouted Patrick. "Storm at sea!"
"Fantastic," muttered Seward savagely to the world in general. "My two remaining men are drunk, my one able-bodied passenger's been killed, and now we're facing a storm."
Just to prove his point, the wind rose to a thin, high whine which Kitty had never heard before. The rigging shivered. Kitty shivered too. The air seemed to be even colder than before.
"All right," shouted Seward. "All hands on deck! And by hands, I mean ladies and drunks."
"I used to love storms at sea," shouted Patrick to Kitty over the noise of the wind and the creaking, groaning rigging. "Me and Foster used to lay bets on how fast the lightning would come."
"Miss Wright!" shouted Seward. "Hold the main-brace!"
As Kitty grabbed the rope he shoved in her face, the thunder cracked and a huge wave rushed out of the blackness and smashed into Gloria side-on.
She had no idea what she was supposed to do with the main-brace. She just clung to it while the waves lashed Gloria's hull, tossing her from side to side like a paper boat thrown off the side of Liverpool quay.
Over the wind, she heard Seward shout to her. He quickly gave up trying to be technical, just saying "Hold this rope!", "Pull this!", "Don't let go of this!".
It was darker than she had seen it outside before, darker than the star-lit nights. She couldn't see her hand when she stretched it out in front of her face. Miss Jones brought lanterns from below, but they went out almost at once in the rain. The flashes of lightning were all that allowed her to see at all, for a few seconds the whole deck was lit bright as noon-day sun, Patrick and Seward battling with the sails, drenched, Miss Jones clutching her lantern with one hand and her prayer book with the other, Lawson, bottle hanging out of his coat pocket, half-way up the rigging.
Seward shrieked in her ear. "Miss Wright! We're going to lower the main-sail."
"Which?" spluttered Kitty through a mouth-full of rain water.
"The massive one in front of you!" shouted Seward. Lightning flashed and Kitty saw him almost smothered by the sail in front of them, come half off the mast and flapping like laundry in a gale.
Kitty seized the nearest rope and examined it as best she could, mainly by touch. She had never handled a sailing ship before, and, interesting as she found it, she could think of better ways to learn than fighting with rain-slicked ropes which she could barely see in a howling gale.
She found a knot, pulled and a ton of drenched cloth descended on her head.
"I think, sir," she shouted, trying to shove the heavy cloth off her, "that I've lowered the main-sail".
"Are you all right?" shouted Seward. "Where are you?"
"Under here." She felt him pull the dripping cloth off her and pull her up. "Thanks," she spluttered as hail pelted her in the face.
"We're going to hold due north," he shouted.
"Which way's that…?" Thunder boomed directly over-head. Lightning rent the sky from west to east. "I said, which way's that."
"Very bloody helpful!" Kitty had no idea which way he was pointing.
"Just hold that rope… Do not, do not let her nose drift to star-board. If she does, shriek."
Kitty wondered how much more she could shriek, her throat was hoarse already.
She stumbled along the deck and Seward forced the rope into her hand and wobbled over to the bridge, where Patrick was clinging to the wheel.
"Doyle, help Miss Wright steer," Seward shouted. "We need to turn her round... Turn her round." A crash of thunder came directly over head. The lightning was so bright it hurt her eyes and she blinked away the floating spots.
She and Patrick wrestled with Gloria, she soon lost track of how long. The storm never seemed to move from over-head. She lost count of how often the thunder rolled. It was still pitch-dark, she had no idea if it were day or night, if it had been one hour or two or five. Gloria didn't seem to move, but she didn't know if that were an illusion in the darkness and her weary mind or because they had actually barely moved. She was dog tired, more tired than she had ever been, every time Gloria tumbled over the side of a mountainous wave, jarring Kitty's knees as she fought to stay up-right, she thought that that was the last of her strength, that now surely, so cold and wet her arms felt like dead weights, she would collapse into oblivion, but when the next wave crashed on Gloria's groaning body, she always braced her muscles somehow, through some animal survival instinct that wouldn't let her give in, even when she could dare swear she had fainted on her feet.
She did whatever anyone told her to do, without understanding how the steering worked or what it was all for, beyond keeping them alive.
Seward lumbered out of the dark. "We're going to take shifts," he shouted between thunder. "There's no sign of the storm clearing up. You and Doyle go below, get some rest."
"Is it morning?"
Kitty looked up into the impenetrable blackness. "Doesn't look it."
In a lightning, she could see him smile and roll his eyes. "No. Not half."
She wriggled down the hatch and slammed it behind her. Down below it was just as dark, a horrible, choking darkness that made her think, for the first time, of X. She nearly screamed. Then she braced her back against the sold wood of the hull—but could X not reach them through solid wood?—and took deep breaths.
Gloria still shuddered and lurched, the darkness was still thick, but she could force X to the back of her mind, concentrate on not drowning today.
Then a wet object collided with her in the dark.
"What do we do now?"
"Go to our cabins I expect. Try to get some sleep."
Kitty felt that that would be easy. Not because it was comfortable inside, for it wasn't. It was dry—the one thing the hull of a ship should never do is let water in—but freezing cold and the lurching was hellish. Because she was dog tired, so much that she could feel herself falling asleep even as she struggled to her cabin, trying not to trip in the dark—Miss Jones had taken the lanterns above for the men to see by.
What she desperately wanted to do was ask Patrick to come into her cabin—when she had changed into dry clothes, of course—and curl up with her on her bunk. Just in case X…
But that would be improper.
At least Patrick seemed fairly sober, this morning.
She was tired enough to sleep in her clothes, but she knew that was stupid, she would catch hypothermia. She wrenched off her sodden coat and dress and shoes and flung them in a corner. She dried her-self as best she could, dried her hair over a Bunsen burner in the laboratory, pulled on her night-dress and when to check on Primrose. She looked cold and miserable. Kitty cuddled her, listened to her mournful "waahhk", fed her and then went to bed, trying not to fall off the ladder to her bunk and break her neck.
She knew that the sensible thing to do was strap herself into the bunk. She tried, but it was too dark and her brain was too foggy to tell properly what she was doing with the straps.
The minute she stopped battling for consciousness, she was asleep.
It seemed barely a second later that Miss Jones woke her up.
"What's happening?" she mumbled.
"Oh, God, of course. Is it still storming?"
"Worse than ever. The Captain's going mad because we're rounding the Horn."
"What?" Kitty knew from her childhood reading that Rounding the Horn was usually lethal. She snapped herself out of her exhausted stupor at once.
"Yes. Get up."
She scrambled up and ran up on deck. The moment she opened the hatch, the wind hit her face and knocked her off her feet. She staggered up, bruised and breathless, only to fall flat on her face as Gloria toppled off the crest of a huge wave.
The wind was ear-splitting.
"Hey!" It was Seward.
"Miss Wright… he paused. She couldn't see his face, but when he spoke he sounded bone weary, with that weariness beyond despair that turned her stomach. "Just try to keep us alive."
The next wave rose right in front of them. Seward grabbed the wheel. Too late. They plunged into it, through it.
The air was knocked out of Kitty's lungs by a block of solid ice. She tried to breathe, choked, the rushing grew to a thundering roar, she had no idea which way was up or down. Then air rushed into her lungs. Her eyes streamed, burned with salt. The wave crashed around her ankles.
Her legs buckled and she dropped to the deck. Then someone grabbed her. She turned and saw, dimly, Patrick.
"Sweet Jesus!" gasped Seward.
Kitty still had no breath to say anything. She could only cling to the wheel and choke.
After a moment, she managed to rasp "Thanks" to Patrick.
"Fine," he mumbled, through a mouth-full of water. Kitty's heart sank when she heard his slurr. He had been drinking again. "Which way are we headed, sir? I'll turn her nose around."
"Headed? Lad, we're rounding the Horn the wrong way. We'll be lucky to stay afloat."
"The wrong way?" said Kitty. "What do you mean, the wrong way?"
"The easy way—easier way—to round the Horn is from west to east. We're going the wrong way."
"Well, that's just fantastic," muttered Kitty. Nobody heard her of course.
Patrick was reeling and it wasn't just from the storm. Seward was drooping over the wheel. When had he last slept?
Frozen, numb, exhausted, she tried to keep them alive. It was well-nigh impossible, and had she been able to think, she would have given them up for lost. But still they battled on: it took the three of them at the tiller, she was sent to drag the others out of bed to reef and open the sails when they wanted it. Miss Jones had to be sent to fetch a whole load of lamps up, which it was Kitty's job to light as they needed it, blinking through the blood which ran into her eyes as the hail lashed her face until it bled.
When the lightning flashed, she saw a huge, jagged rock looming out of the sea to star-board.
No matter how long passed—and she could not see how long passed, it was too dark to look at the nice new shiny watch the Professor had bought her in Liverpool—the Horn never seemed to get any further away. For every wave which flung them forwards, lurching and plunging and jolting, another tossed them back again.
When at last she was allowed to go below and sleep, she sought out the Professor.
"Mr Seward's shattered."
"We're all shattered."
"But he's the only one who knows what he's doing. Lawson's still hammered, of course. I think he's eased off a bit, though."
"Four sheets to the wind—blast him."
"Don't be too annoyed with him. He's grieving."
"I know. But does he have to grieve now?"
The image floated into Kitty's head uninvited, the image she barely remembered and realised she wasn't entirely sure that she hadn't made up, of the pale, careworn woman in the dingy tenement. Her mother. The mother that had forgotten to feed her while she sat there and cried. The image stayed in her mind until she fell asleep.
It seemed she had barely fallen asleep when she was woken, exhausted and hungry, by Miss Jones telling her that the masts had come down. She took this with-out fuss. They were all doomed. Very well. She had something to eat and went back to sleep, until she was summoned on deck again, slightly surprised to be alive.
It was dark then and dark when she went below again. At least Patrick seemed to have sobered up.
Nothing could be cooked, so she lived off bread. When-ever the hatch was opened, waves came crashing down the ladder and they had to bail. Kitty lost all sense of whether it was day or night. She slept when she could.
The bridge was smashed to drift-wood and part of the railing was torn away.
She barely had time to talk to Patrick, but he seemed sober, even happy. Perhaps the storm was pulling him round.
Then she went to bed—she thought perhaps it was evening, but she didn't really know or care—and woke up in the morning to sun-light streaming through the port-hole.
The first thing she noticed was the silence. There were no waves, there was no wind, there was no creaking or groaning.
Her heart sank.
She climbed down from her bunk and looked out of the port-hole. There was no sign of the Horn. There was only a wilderness of sea, ice and big blue sky.
Miss Jones came in, her eyes were red as if she had been crying. "The storm's past," she said.
"Yes." Kitty grinned. Whatever state Gloria was in, that was a good thing.
"Come and have something to eat. You must be hungry."
"I am. I've nothing 'cept a bit of bread in…"
She changed and brushed her hair as quickly as she could. She went to collect Primrose from the laboratory, Primrose greeted her ecstatically, braying and flapping.
Then she followed Miss Jones up onto the deck. The air was crisp and clear, the sun felt warm on her face, even though she knew that really, if she were to remove her coat, she would die of cold.
"Miss Wright!" Patrick's face shone. "You're well!"
"Yes, thank you. You?"
Pain flitted across Patrick's eyes. He shrugged.
"Miss Wright!" The Professor hurried up to Kitty and wrung her hands. "The storm has passed, it lasted five days-"
"I know," she said. "Have we got round the Horn?"
Seward, looking exhausted, was slumped against the stump of wood sticking out of the deck that was all that remained of the wall of the bridge. "Yes. We're now in the Pacific."
The Pacific. That hadn't even been on the itinerary. Kitty looked around at this Pacific desolation, so different from the Atlantic one they had left behind. She felt a little warm glow, on top of the one she felt already, because they were alive.
"The Lord has delivered us!" said Miss Jones. "Just as I prayed him to."
"Have something to eat," Seward was saying, pushing a bag of candid fruit and some bread across to Kitty. "I'm afraid we don't have much left, though."
Kitty's heart sank. "How much do we have?"
"About a fortnight's worth."
"Great." She rolled her eyes at fate. Thinking there was no need to starve before she could help it, she stuffed a candied pear into her mouth. "What do we do now?"
Seward sighed. "That is the question."
"The sensible thing to do, sir," said Patrick. "Is to stop somewhere, re-supply, get repairs."
"But we've lost the masts," said Seward. "We can't steer."
"The steam auxiliary, sir?"
"No good," said Seward. "It's… well, it's the R-U-D-D-E-R."
Patrick groaned. "I knew it," he said, with gloomy relish reminiscent of Lawson's. "I knew it."
"We row," said Kitty.
"We haven't any oars."
"No, I suppose not."
"So much for delivered us," muttered Patrick. "Sounds as if we've just got started."
"Have to take to cannibalism," said Lawson, who had finished a bottle of whiskey already.
"No," said Seward. "We will not."
"Where are we, anyway?" said Kitty, trying to ignore Lawson.
"Uncharted territory somewhere," said Seward. "However, according to the instruments, we should come to the sea off the Ross Ice Shelf if we continue in this direction much longer."
"Well," said the Professor. "While you're all deciding how to stop us dying, Miss Wright and I will get on with some research."
It felt odd but vaguely comforting to be back in the familiar laboratory, with the rows of specimens. When she opened the scientific log and saw the notes they had made, she thought seriously for the first time about X. The thought made her blood run cold, her mouth turn dry. The fog swirled in her mind the way it had outside the port-holes.
No, she told herself. They had escaped. X was… an anomaly. A tragic anomaly. A mystery of the deep.
They spent the rest of the day charting the coast-line. This didn't take very long, as they were drifting so slowly and the coast-line was so far away as to be barely more than a thin white line on the horizon. But at least, as the Professor pointed out, they knew that there was a coast-line, which was more than they had known before.
They took depth soundings, measured salinity and tinkered with some of the Professor's instruments. It was interesting, fun. That afternoon, she surprised herself when she laughed.
Seward strung fishing lines over the side of Gloria, hoping to catch something to eat.
Kitty's heart sank that evening. Patrick had been drinking again. She could tell in his eyes, his voice. It didn't seem to make his life any easier, though. He never laughed, he just sat there, wrapped in his own thoughts.
The Professor was talking to Miss Jones all evening. He seemed less nervous, he actually smiled at her, shyly, after tea.
Kitty followed Patrick up onto the deck. Her heart felt heavy, so did her stomach. There was some kind of knot in it, twisting around.
"It is bad, isn't it?"
"What is?" He wasn't looking at her, he was looking out to sea. His voice was hard, brittle.
"Patrick," said Kitty. The knot in her stomach clenched, smaller, harder. It began to burn its way deeper and deeper into her gut. "I-" She broke off. She realised that she had just called him by his first name. Should she apologise? He didn't seem to have noticed, maybe she shouldn't point it out. Her cheeks were so hot she was sure they were melting. Had anybody heard? She glanced around the deck. No, nobody was around, it was evening. Patrick… It was a nice name, she liked it. He had always been Patrick, she realised. From the start. She had never been able to think of him as "Mr Doyle" the way she had thought of the others.
What was she saying?
"Patrick… you have to ease off the booze."
He laughed. Not happily. "Thanks for the tip. Not gonna happen."
"You'll end up like Lawson, just like Mr Seward said."
Oh, God. Wrong thing to say.
"Sometimes I think Lawson's the happiest man on this ship. As for Seward, why should I give a damn what he says."
"Because he's the Captain and he's worried about you."
"Like Hell. Foster's been on this ship since he was a kid. Now he's dead." He spat the word. "Has he ever even mentioned… anything? Once?"
"No, he hasn't. But he's absolutely cut up."
"He doesn't seem it."
"He tried to turn Gloria around because he didn't want you to get hurt."
"He tried to turn Gloria around because he won't get paid if he's dead!" Patrick was shouting now, his cheeks were flushed. He pulled the bottle out of his pocket and swigged. Kitty flinched.
"That's not true," she said. "And you know it."
Patrick smiled slightly. "You're right. I'm not being fair."
He focussed on the middle distance again, and Kitty saw his eyes shining. It bit into her like a thin sharp knife.
"Patrick." She tried again. "Nothing I can say can make you feel better. God, how I wish it could." She bit down the tears that rose in her throat. "But I can't. I know you're upset. But please, just ease off the booze. You've got a family to keep."
"Not by myself. Joe's just started sailing."
"The point is that they need you. I need you." There she had said it. There was no taking it back. "You're scaring me. I've seen the look in your eyes sometimes and I… I can't stand it."
"I'm not complaining about you're being upset. Of course you're upset. But please, please, stop destroying yourself."
Patrick's face crumpled. "It's just… it's just. I want to see him again, so bad. So bad. It's horrible." The tears pelted down his face. "And I want to… just forget about it. It's not so bad in the day. But at night, everything hurts so bad. The dark just hurts… and I keep the dark out but only if I get drunk. And then I don't think any more. I pass out and there are no dreams."
"Just Foster. Talking to me. Just talking… You know, sometimes it's proper crap being the oldest kid in a family. I mean, there's ma, but it's not the same." He started to cry chokingly, Kitty could only hear the odd word. "We just do… stupid things. Things we did together before… And it's not the dreams that are the hard part… it's waking up… and realising… that.. that… it's not real."
Kitty could think of nothing to say. She put an arm round his shoulder and held on while he cried.
"We should go below," she said. "Or we'll freeze."
They went below, Patrick still crying, and Kitty made some tea. It couldn't make anything any better, but it couldn't make anything worse. And it would stop them getting cold.
The next day was colder. They ate, they contemplated their lack of provisions and likelihood of starvation, they went about their work as usual.
Gloria had only drifted a little, but there were some piles of rocks in the sea to chart, and the Professor called one pile Wright Rocks and one pile Jones Rocks.
Patrick looked better. Still sad, angry, crumpled up, but his eyes were bright and clear and he could talk at meals. At tea-time he laughed as he had before. Tea was fish. The fishing line actually had caught a fish. Just briefly, Kitty felt her heart rise. Maybe they would survive.
That evening, Kitty was in the laboratory with the Professor, drawing scientific diagrams of some krill under a microscope, when Patrick knocked at the door.
"Come in," said Kitty.
"Waahhk," said Primrose.
"Hello. I've got no work to do, so I thought I'd come and have a poke round."
"Come and look at our krill," said Kitty.
Patrick peered at the krill down the microscope, laughing at the way they wriggled. "They're cute."
"We're trying to work out how they feed. Is there some kind of even more microscopic life down there, or do they feed of minerals in the sea, or what?"
"The sun?" said Patrick.
Just at that moment, the candle went out.
"There's a draught," said Kitty. "Please, tell me there's a draught."
"There's no draught," said the Professor.
"I really want there to be a draught."
"You're denying the scientific evidence," said the Professor. "There's no draught."
Kitty didn't realise she was holding Patrick's hand until he said, "Ow, your nails are hurting."
"Sorry," she whispered.
X had found them. Just when she thought they were safe. To stave off starvation at least and starvation was better than this.
Not Patrick, was all she could think. Please, not Patrick. She had no idea whom she was begging, but she willed it with all the strength in her.
Better me than Patrick.
The candle came back on. Kitty breathed.
She was still holding Patrick's hand. He was still there. Good.
The Professor was still standing on the other side of the table. Better.
She heard foot-steps in the passage. She ran out to meet them.
Seward was running up the passage, dragging a rambling Lawson by the sleeve. Miss Jones, in tears, was running behind him.
They burst into the laboratory.
"Is everybody here?" said Seward.
"Yes," said Kitty, trying to sound as if she weren't gasping for breath.
"Are you all right?" said Patrick.
Lawson ignored him and took another swig.
"Yes thank you," said Seward.
Miss Jones sank down on the edge of the table and buried her face in her hands.
"Miss Jones?" said the Professor, quietly.
She said nothing.
He reached out and very nervously took hold of one of her hands.
Is he actually? thought Kitty. Oh, God… She caught Patrick's eye and he raised his eyebrows at her. What the Hell…?
She shrugged and grinned.
Miss Jones, still sniffing, raised her head and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. "Professor?"
"Miss Jones?" The Professor blushed and shuffled from one foot to another. "I… I…"
Kitty nearly choked. Something warm and fizzy was floating around in her stomach. She had no idea why the Professor was so attached to Miss Jones. But then, she supposed people must see things in other people which she couldn't. That was how the world worked.
Seward was looking bewildered and increasingly scandalised.
"I… well. I'm sorry that we're likely to end up dead. I would… erm… infinitely prefer you to stay alive."
Miss Jones smiled weakly. "So would I, Professor."
"I… I just want to take this opportunity…" He looked horribly nervous now. "To say… erm… that you're… bright… and… and… I like it when you talk…. I mean, I like the things you say… I find them… thought-provoking…."
Kitty couldn't understand what Miss Jones had ever said that the Professor could find so thought-provoking. She seemed to have little scientific or any other intellectual interest. And Kitty hadn't found her very interesting. But there was no accounting, as Miss Jefferson from the orphanage had said, for taste. And Miss Jones was smiling, she looked… well, happier when she smiled. Warmer. More… smiley. Kitty thought she could almost understand the appeal.
"And… well… what I really wanted to say is this." He stopped stammering and looked, Kitty thought, really rather noble and Sir Lancelot. "In the unlikely event that we do survive, would you do me the honour of becoming by wife?" And he sank down on one knee, took Miss Jones' hand and kissed it.
Patrick applauded. Seward looked scandalised.
Miss Jones was speechless. She clutched the Professor's hand, eyes bright, gasping.
"Say yes," said Kitty, unable to control herself any longer. "Say yes you fool! I want baby brothers and sisters."
"You really do not," said Patrick.
"Oh Professor," said Miss Jones. "I thought you'd never ask." And she collapsed on his lap, flung her arms around his neck and burst into tears.
Even Lawson snapped himself out of his drunken haze long enough to applaud.
Miss Jones stood up, her face tear-blotched, and pulled the Professor up after her.
"Do you have to ask in front of all these people?"
"I'm sorry," said the Professor.
"Nice start to marriage," said Patrick, grinning. "Meek already."
"If I hadn't asked now," said the Professor, "I knew I'd never pluck up the courage to ask at all".
"Is it that frightening?" asked Miss Jones, in a tone which Kitty had never heard her use before. Light. Really almost… teasing.
"It is when you've never done it before," said the Professor. "And I'm afraid I haven't got a ring."
"Well, that's just typical," said Kitty. "We take a camera, a telescope, of course we should have known we'd need a diamond ring."
Miss Jones laughed. "I think having some rocks named after me is enough."
"Should we crack open the champagne?" said Patrick. "I mean, we're probably never going to go to the Pole."
There was a moment's silence, while everybody present, except Lawson, who seemed to have forgotten all about it, contemplated the imminence of death by cold and starvation. But at the same time, there was a proposal of marriage to celebrate.
"If you wish," said Seward, and something broke in the air. It was as if he had admitted it. They would never get to the Pole.
"Professor," said Kitty as they opened the champagne and passed it round. "Why didn't X…?"
"I don't know," said the Professor, just as Patrick said "Hang on, where's Theodora? She always comes for champagne."
"Theodora," called Kitty.
"Theodora," shouted Patrick. He looks at Kitty and she saw the fear rise in his eyes. "Not Theodora," he whispered, loud enough for only her to hear. "Foster was enough… but not Dora…"
"It's all right," said Kitty. She knew they were empty words, she could feel them ring brittle in the air. Patrick was Theodora's favourite. "Maybe she's just asleep. We'll find her."
"She always comes when I call."
They searched Gloria, with sinking hearts and champagne glasses in their hands. Kitty scoured the hold for her, then ran back to the laboratory, where the others were assembled. "Nothing," she said quietly.
Seward was biting his lip, and Kitty remembered that Theodora was his pet.
"Is it true, sir, that you named her after your girl-friend?"
"Who told you that?"
Seward almost laughed, then sighed. "Yes. I named that stupid furry lump after… a lady I knew once."
"Why didn't you marry her?" It may have been the champagne that was making her tongue loose.
Seward shrugged, looking very intently at his glass of champagne. "I was young then. We were… in love. Then I found out that she wore her week-day dress on Sundays. I couldn't marry a heathen now, could I?"
Kitty bit her lip, trying not to smile even though she felt sorry for this young couple she had never met, and now would never have a chance to meet.
"I suppose not," was all she said. What was the point of saying what she wanted to say, about not being a silly fool and taking what you want? If he did decide he had done the wrong thing, he might be more sad about dying. Better to let him think that he had made the right decision.
The party continued in a mixed mood. Beneath the cheering and applause and toasts and Miss Jones and the Professor agreeing to call each other by their first names, there was a great deal they didn't talk about. But maybe that was for the best, because when the champagne ran out Kitty, slightly drunk, was feeling happier than she had done since Foster was killed.
"So, Miss Wright," said the Professor, as the others prepared to go to bed, for it was the small hours, and Seward was grumbling that he ran a tight ship and would never normally put up with this nonsense. "Any thoughts?"
She was interrupted when Miss Jones came and kissed the Professor good-night.
"Scandalous," said Seward. "This would never be allowed in my young day."
"Well," went on Kitty, more quietly, when they were alone. "I have thoughts, but most of them are questions."
"What is this thing and what does it want?"
"I don't know and I don't know, but based on the information we have, we can make a few informed… speculations."
"We can guess."
"We can guess. But that's all right, because guessing is fruitful and right now it's all we have. It's not as if we were going to present this in a scientific paper with properly gathered evidence. If that ever has to happen… well, we'll be pleased to have the opportunity of confessing we have none."
Kitty grinned. "I guess."
"So, what do you think?"
"Erm… Whatever it is, it must be intelligent. It can get into this ship somehow, turn lights out somehow. Never mind how, because we're probably never going to know. Let's concentrate on what we can work out. It can travel, somehow, or at least work at long distance. And it seems to me that it has a plan…" She frowned and hopped up onto the table, gathering Primrose onto her lap, glad of her warmth and her solid body, fighting off the thought of how she would feel if it were Primrose who had been taken instead of Theodora. "I don't really know what it's a plan to do. I mean… I assume that they live down here somewhere. At the bottom of the Earth. I understand that. Because we only met whatever it was when we got down here. All right, so… maybe they've never seen-"
There was a knock at the door. Seward stuck his head round. "Put that candle out."
"We can't have scientific discussions in the pitch dark," said Kitty.
"We're running low on candles."
"Well, we need the candle."
Seward sighed. "All right." He disappeared.
"Maybe they've never seen a human before. Maybe this is some kind of experiment."
"But why one at a time?"
"Well," said Kitty, frowning. "Maybe it's one of those experiments where you find out the answer but you just get another question. Although I can't imagine what the question is… Or maybe they want to scare us." And it's working. "You know, maybe they don't want people here, in Antarctica."
"That might well be the case. But as a warning, it's pretty ineffectual."
"You mean because we've lost control of the ship or just because it's a pretty useless warning? I mean, it is a useless warning. If it can go to all the trouble of doing… all that, why can't it at least try to communicate with us. It must understand that we're intelligent… because surely it knows that we have machinery. Lights and so forth, which can be switched off." She paused and rubbed her aching head. "Am I right?"
"I haven't the faintest idea. That's why I asked you."
"Oh." Kitty felt both pleased and disconcerted.
"One thought." The Professor frowned. "Do you think there is a way to communicate with it—with them—with X?"
"You mean broken English? Waving our arms around in the dark? "Please… X… no… can… drive… boat."? Hmm…"
"What about lights, then. It can turn off a candle. Can it turn off an electric light?"
"Do you have an electric light?"
"I have a bulb." The Professor opened one of his many boxes and produced a light bulb.
"And everything else?"
"We'll make, of course. Now, unless you have any other suggestions, I suggest bed-time."
"Good night, Professor. And..." the words caught in her throat. "Congratulations."
"Thank you, Miss Wright. Good night… Oh, I've heard that mathematical equations are a form of communication independent of native language."
"We're going to spell out "Please spare our lives" in equations, are we? In the dark? And how do we know X from Antarctica even recognises our numbers? Doesn't think we're attempting pre-Raphaelite portraiture?"
"Well, perhaps you're right."
The next day, Kitty woke up very tired and very cold. Breakfast was a crust of bread and half a packet of wine gums between them. Kitty tightened her belt.
She spent all day in the laboratory, helping the Professor with his machine. But she was cold, she was tired, she wasn't concentrating properly.
After lunch, as soon as Patrick could get away from his duties, he came down to the laboratory to help them.
The Professor eventually rigged up a tangle of wires, attached to something which looked like a Mediaeval torture device but was in fact a home-made dynamo with a little box attached for heating water in, with the light-bulb on the end.
If X were to come again, they would be ready. To watch it turn out an electric light. Because, thought Kitty, sucking her thumb which she'd hammered, that was always helpful. But best to do something than to sit around feeling sorry for themselves.
There wasn't much to eat at tea time. Bread. A piece of cheese. Water. Nothing on the fishing lines. But they weren't starving yet. No, that would take a week.
Kitty made herself relax, made herself laugh. She had no choice.
After tea, they sat around the table. They were allowed one candle—Seward's strict rationing. When that ran out, they would have to go to bed.
The Professor put his lamp on the table, holding a bowl of water over the candle under the turbine, and sat there guarding it. The lamp was complicated. Turn it on when—if—the lights went out, the water would not heat up to make steam fast enough. Turn it on now, and the water might run out—X could arrive before they could refresh the bowl.
Miss Jones knitted listlessly. Kitty and Patrick played cards. When she won, she laughed without effort. One day, she would be as good at cards as Patrick was.
Then the candle flickered and went out.
Kitty's heart sank. Oh no. Not again.
The Professor's light came on. For a moment it glowed warm and steady in the dark, a friendly orange glow.
Then it winked out.
Now, sick in her heart, Kitty did what she always did. Bowed her head and begged for Patrick's safety. She reached out, instinctively, because she needed to, and took his hands. Holding them, warm and solid and so human, made her feel a little, just a very little, stronger. She could breathe easier.
The familiarity of the feeling—the darkness forcing its way into her throat when she tried to breathe, filling up her head until she had no idea if five seconds had passed or five hours—was itself terrifying. How long before a woman can get used to going mad?
She heard the Professor speak. "Whoever you are, whatever you are, if you can understand me, we mean you no harm. We have no control of the direction of the vessel. Nor can we survive if we leave this vessel."
There was a long silence. At least, it felt long.
Then she heard the Professor moan. A horrible, choking whimpering, like Primrose when Lawson saved her from the leopard seal's jaws.
"Professor?" she whispered. Her voice so high, so thin. Because she knew, horribly, certainly, like a lead weight slamming through her throat and chest to crash in the pit of her stomach, why he was moaning. But she prayed, frantically, incoherently, that she could be wrong.
The light came on. There was a moment's silence. Than the candle came on.
The Professor was sitting on the table next to his machine. He was staring in front of him, the tears dripping down his face.
Miss Jones was gone.
For a moment, the noise of the waves outside lapping against the hull, the ice-bergs growling against each other, the shriek of some sea-bird very far away faded into nothing. It was just Kitty and the Professor, in the little wooden room on the doomed ship.
She put her hand on his arm. "Professor…" She stopped. There was nothing to say.
He swivelled his head and looked at her. His eyes were dull and glazed, they stared right past her.
"She was going to marry me."
Kitty said nothing. She had a horrible weak feeling in her knees. Tears prickled her eyes but she blinked them back. They weren't her right.
"I couldn't save her. I… couldn't…" His voice broke off. The tears bubbled over, shallow, shocked, breathless gasps became heaving sobs, he crumpled up on Kitty's shoulder. She put her arms around his neck. She could do nothing to help him, but she held him anyway, because she had to do something. He needed her. He moaned into her ear, barely coherent, "Why? Why…? Why…?" He tailed off into choking.
Kitty couldn't hold back the tears any more. They rose and choked her and gushed out.
Seward left. Kitty knew he had a ship to run and was trying to be tactful. Lawson finished his bottle, stared into the middle distance and said, suddenly and loudly, "It never gets any easier. No, it never does. If it helps, believe she's with the angels". And he stumbled out of the room, his eyes shimmering soft and wet.
Patrick sat down on the table next to Kitty. She could see him out of the corner of her eye, looking so sad, that dull, despairing look in his eyes. Slowly he reached out and rested his hand on Kitty's shoulder.
"Professor," said Kitty eventually. "I think you need to go to bed."
"Kitty, I wanted to marry her."
"I know." She did know. She remembered how only yesterday she had toasted the happy couple. Hadn't she known, even then, that it wouldn't last? But it felt different now that it actually hadn't lasted. Her own memory played back, mocking her. Had that really been the Professor, laughing and so nearly care-free? Now he was helpless, shaking… destroyed.
So unlike him. Always calm. Always smart. Always in control or when he wasn't in control making the best of things, accepting the challenge, willing to pitch in. The memories crowded thick and fast. The Professor repeating his own lecture, and then some, just for her. The machine of mystery in the Professor's study in Oxford. The Professor insisting to the Royal Society that she come with him to the Pole. The Professor sitting in his study when Kitty came in late after playing cards with Patrick, saying only "You young people need your fresh air and exercise".
He hadn't cried. He never cried. He couldn't cry. She made mistakes. He corrected them. Because he was a Professor, he was famous. He was old. She felt a stab of annoyance, then guilt. He was upset. But… why does he have to cry on me? I'm his secretary?
It might just have been tiredness, but the boards seemed to shift under Kitty's feet, as if something she was expecting to be there wasn't. Her stomach felt as if she were falling while her feet remained fixed on the boards.
She had to lead him by the arm to the laboratory. He sank down on the edge of the bed.
"Hey, Primrose," said Kitty.
She picked her up and put on the Professor's knee. It was all she could do.
He clutched her reflexively, without looking at her, without seeing.
"Good night, Professor."
"Good night." He plucked at the blanket, wrapped it round him.
She left silently and went to bed, alone now in her cabin, without Miss Jones' breathing. It felt very quiet, very cold without two bodies in the cramped space.
She curled up very small beneath the sheets and, exhausted, fell asleep mercifully instantly.
The next day was a grim routine. Get up. Eat breakfast with the remains of the crew. Check that everybody alive last count was still alive. Survive that day.
The Professor wasn't in at breakfast. Kitty went up on deck and found him there, standing by the rail, watching the ice-bergs.
"Are you all right?"
The Professor shook his head and leaned out over the rail, watching the freezing blue water slip away beneath. "It's just so hard to accept that she's really gone."
Kitty could think of nothing to say to this.
"I… I had such plans for the three of us. Trekking all over the world."
"Come and have breakfast."
"No. I'm not hungry."
"You need to eat. Keep your strength up. Otherwise you die of cold much faster."
The Professor said nothing.
"Are we going to take depth soundings after breakfast?"
"No." He returned his attention to the distant ice-bergs.
"All right… well, I need breakfast." She left, but not before she saw the trapped, dumb, pleading look in his eyes.
The funereal air at breakfast weighed on Kitty's shoulders like lead. Everyone was very calm and everyone was very cheerful and everyone was very self-consciously so. Seward prayed for a full half an hour.
Kitty sighed over her cocoa. Miss Jones' death had shaken her more than she could admit. Who would it be next?
"Make the most of the cocoa," said Seward. "It's our last."
Kitty took depth soundings by herself. She didn't have the heart to measure salinity. It was no fun doing it alone.
Seward was in a gloomy mood. At lunch—the Professor didn't turn up to lunch either—he announced that they were running out of food fast.
"We already know that," said Kitty, trying to keep the exasperation out of her voice. "It isn't helpful for morale to remind us of it all the time.
"I'm just trying to keep you informed."
"All right, give me the doom. How much longer?"
"Depends how long we can make it stretch. If the fish bite, we're rolling in it. If they don't-" "And they don't," said Patrick.
"You said that two days ago."
"That's where stretching it comes in."
"Right," said Kitty. "Great."
"You need to encourage the Professor to eat, Miss Wright. Otherwise he'll die quickly."
"Why don't you make him eat? It's your ship."
Seward shrugged. "I don't think it's really my area."
"What's anybody doing this afternoon?" asked Kitty.
"Don't know," said Patrick. "Anything need doing in the laboratory?"
"Yeah, everything needs doing in the laboratory. I haven't measured salinity…"
"I'll help you," said Patrick. "I haven't anything to do."
The cold lump in Kitty's stomach warmed slightly. "Thanks," she said.
"My pleasure," said Patrick, smiling at her.
She smiled back.
So she and Patrick did the laboratory chores themselves, while Primrose waddled round after Kitty, "waahhk"ing pitifully.
"I know you're hungry, girl," said Kitty. "We're all hungry. But I've fed you all we can spare."
"Waahhk?" Primrose tipped her head on one side.
"Oh all right then!" So Kitty sneaked down to the galley and smuggled fish for Primrose back under her apron.
She noticed the efforts Patrick made to cheer up, the cheerful conversation, the smiles that fought so hard to cover the pain in his eyes. She was grateful, but she didn't know how to say it. Gratitude hurt, too.
She tried looking up sea monsters in the Professor's books, but whatever X was, it didn't seem as if Aspidochelone the giant turtle, the Devil Whale, the Kraken or the Sirens were likely to be X.
The usual tensions rose with the setting sun.
Kitty found that she concentrated more on her breathing, she forced her hands steady. And she was proud of how well she did.
After tea, she and Patrick played cards, Seward tried to read by the light they eked out of the guttering candle, Lawson sat and drank himself into his usual oblivion. The Professor wasn't there.
Kitty sat and waited for him in the laboratory. He came in late, he looked tired, distracted. Drunk. She knew that look by now.
He looked at her, without seeing. He wobbled as he shuffled over to the bed.
He peered around the room, as if through fog.
"Have you been drinking?"
"I wanted to forget." He sounded slurred.
"And have you?"
"Smile. Eyes. Such lovely blue eyes." Kitty realised that she had no idea what colour Miss Jones' eyes had been. "Want to forget." He sounded lost, hopeless. Like the little children at the orphanage who begged again and again for "Mama" who never came.
Before Kitty collapsed into blissful oblivion that night, she prayed. It was short, desperate she realised afterwards that it met no rhetorical or courtesy standards, but she didn't care. Help him. Make it… right. Do what I can't. And save Patrick. The rest of us would be nice, too.
The next day dawned like all the others since the storm. Cold, clear, breathtakingly beautiful.
Kitty felt sleepy and shivered as if the cold had eaten into her bones during the night.
The Professor once again was not at breakfast. She went up on deck and saw him, sitting in a huddle, his cloak wrapped round him against the cold, looking so weak and thin Kitty's throat pricked raw. She longed and longed to help him. She didn't know how. She felt the grief and pain coming off him in waves and it hurt her, too. Physically, it ached.
Seward was at breakfast, but, though he led a lengthy grace, he didn't eat anything.
"Sir," said Patrick. "Why aren't you eating?"
"I'm not hungry."
"You told the Professor off for not being hungry," said Kitty. There was something in Seward's manner that made her nervous.
"I'm not hungry," said Seward.
"Sir-" said Patrick.
"Do not question my decisions!" Seward almost snarled.
"No sir," said Patrick quietly.
"You're at breakfast," said Kitty.
"To make sure you eat," said Seward, with such a glare that she didn't dare say more.
She ate, but was still hungry. She didn't understand how Seward could not be.
"Well," she said eventually, into the heavy silence. "I'd better go and write some notes about science." Alone.
The laboratory was silent. It shouldn't be. It should have the Professor there, rustling through his books, talking to himself, helping her when she didn't understand what was going on. As it was she had to wade through books when she didn't understand and some the impenetrable prose made her head hurt. Even Primrose wasn't in a chatty mood. She curled up in the corner, sulking.
"We're all having to tighten our belts, girl," said Kitty.
Primrose ignored her.
"Oh, be like that," said Kitty. She felt her bottom lip tremble and bit down on it, hard. Rejection, even from a penguin, was the last straw.
At lunch time she went up on deck, found the Professor in the bows and tried to persuade him to have something to eat. But he seemed sunk down into himself and barely seemed to hear her.
She noticed the empty whiskey bottle by his side and went away choking down tears.
"Are you sure you won't have some more bread, sir?" Patrick asked Seward.
"I don't want any more bread!"
"Are you sure?"
"We don't have enough bread."
"You can have some of mine."
"Don't be ridiculous." He was already paler than he had been this morning.
Kitty followed Patrick up onto the deck after lunch in silence. When they got to the stern, the icy wind in her face whipped up the tears she had held down for so long. Shocked and horrified, she tried to hold them back, but she no longer had the strength.
"What's wrong?" Patrick held her arm and she curled up against his shoulder and sobbed.
"Seward won't eat!"
"He's saving more food for us."
"Why- why, does he have to be so generous?"
"Because he wants to look after us."
"Patrick, I think the Professor is going to die."
"He misses Miss Jones."
"I know. But there's nothing I can do about that. She's dead."
"Haven't enough people died? Why do more people have to die?" She clung to Patrick, her fingers digging into his arm, even though she knew that she could not prevent his death. "He has to live, why doesn't he live for me?"
"He took me here. And now… now I don't think he even thinks what would happen to me if he dies."
"Of course he does!" Patrick's surprise made her look up. "He loves you."
"Really? He doesn't talk to me… barely listens to me. Today…" Her tears were drying. She took a great steadying gulp of clean Antarctic air. "Today's my birthday. And I just wanted… him to notice. Do… whatever people do, when they have birthdays. I don't know why, because I never told him that it was my birthday… but then there's never been anyone to care… I might have just mentioned it. You know," she laughed breathlessly, "I always thought my worst birthday would be the one when I was locked in the coal cellar for answering back to Miss Hatherly. Guess I wasn't expecting this".
She looked up at the sky stretching behind them, resting her head against Patrick's shoulder. It was warm and solid, and for all the grief and anger twisting in her stomach, made her feel a little, just a very little better. When he put his arm gently round her shoulder, it felt more real, more permanent, than all the monsters from the deep in the world.
She slid her arm round his waist and felt his heart beating.
"When Foster died you told me to stop destroying myself," he said. "Well it wasn't easy. But I did. Because when I drank to stop hurting, it only hurt worse when I woke up in the morning sober and I realised I would lose more people while I slid away into the pit at the bottom of the bottle. Tell the Professor that. Because if there's one person who means as much to him as Miss Jones does, that's you."
"Doyle," shouted Seward from below decks.
Kitty jumped. She felt her face go hot.
"Coming," shouted Patrick. He grinned at Kitty. "If you had told me that it was your birthday, I would have got you a present."
She blushed still more.
"I'll get you something."
"I want to." And he hurried away.
For a moment Kitty stood at the rail, wondering whether her stomach would ever stop flipping over and over, then she took a deep breath and walked down the deck to the Professor.
He ignored her.
"Professor. Miss Jones is dead."
She knelt down in front of him. "If we were back home in Oxford, I could take care of you. But we're not in Oxford. We're all fighting for our lives, and… we're losing. I know this sounds harsh, because it must be bad-" She knew it must, the thought of Patrick's death was unimaginable. She brushed against the edges of a world of pain and was terrified of what would happen if she were to pursue that line of thought any longer. "But really, you can't just sink into yourself and abandon us. I need you to live."
For the first time he looked at her, as if he could almost see her through the haze of drink. She tried to smile. "I need you to take care of me. The way you always did. Because otherwise-" she was glad she had used up all her tears, she didn't want to cry now "-I won't know what to do Professor. I mean, literally, won't know what to do. With the specimens and all. And I'll go mad." She paused. She was afraid she sounded horribly selfish, but… but she wanted the team back, even the baffled, doomed team.
"All the books in the laboratory are in the most hideous purple prose, and… and I'm so, so worried about you."
"Shorry, Miss Wright," said the Professor thickly. "Shorry I browt youeer. Sorry I can't looaffr ye."
"It's all right. Nobody lives forever. I got to see the Southern Lights before I die. Never mind what's already happened. I want you to look after me, now."
"Gret. I getta fail two people."
"Have something to eat, just keep your strength up."
"How much food we'ave?"
The Professor nodded a couple of times, then tried to stand up, but collapsed against Kitty.
"I'll help you get up, we'll go below, wait until tea time."
Kitty pulled the Professor up. "Jeez, you're freezing."
She propped against her shoulder and dragged him, shuffling and staggering, down to the laboratory.
She let him down onto the bed. He sighed and leant back against the wall. The bags under his eyes were so big that his eyes looked sunken into his skull.
"When did you last sleep?"
"You go to sleep now."
"Professor, believe me, you're dog tired."
"Are you a'right, Miss Wright?"
"I'm fine. I've kept up the depth soundings and temperature measurements."
"Good girl." He smiled. "Dead good."
"It's my birthday."
"Really?" His smile widened. "Happy birthday!"
"Thanks." Kitty couldn't remember the last time someone had said that to her. Maybe her mother had said it to her, once.
"Really? Good age."
"I'll get you sumfn…"
"You don't have to."
"I wanna." He got up shakily.
"No. I'll get it."
"All right…" He sank back onto the bed. "In that box… over there."
Kitty fetched the box down from the cupboard.
"You can have that shqurrl."
Kitty fished the stuffed red squirrel out of the box.
"Ssss yours. Ssss rare shqurrl."
Kitty tried not to laugh. "Thanks."
"You should've told me. Then I'd've…. 've bought somffn."
She put the squirrel in her jacket pocket. "I didn't expect you to care."
"Of course I care."
"Oh… well… yeah… You go to sleep. I'll wake you up at tea time."
The Professor slept all the rest of the afternoon.
Just before tea time, someone knocked on the door.
It was Seward. "Is he eating?"
"I think he'll eat."
"I brought you something."
He glanced round the room. "You're a good nurse."
"Thanks." She took the tray—two bowels of soup, two pieces of bread. Four biscuits. More than they could spare.
"Have you eaten?"
"All right. Thank you. Tell Pat- Mr Doyle that I'll see him after tea. When I've made sure that the Professor's had some food and gone to sleep."
Seward gave her a searching look. "All right," he said eventually, and Kitty could have sworn that his care-worn mouth twisted up at the corner in a small smile.
The Professor did eat, slowly and wearily, and, though twice he reached for the pocket in his jacket where the bottle should be, he jumped when it wasn't there and reached for a cup of coffee.
Kitty turned the biscuits over and over in her hands. She had never had a mountain of food, but wondering whether she would be fed tomorrow was a new feeling as well. Were two biscuits a dangerous over-indulgence? How much faster would they starve? If she were to have one biscuit, could that stretch their lives out by one more day? But she was hungry. She ate both biscuits and wished there were a third.
The Professor finished the soup and the bread. "Would you like the biscuits, Miss Wright?"
"No, Professor. You have them."
"Not even the last one?"
"No, you need them."
"But it's your birthday. If you can't have a cake, you can at least have another biscuit."
Kitty laughed. "Go on then. Thanks."
She devoured the biscuit. "Now you need to go to sleep, Professor."
"Sho do you Miss Wright. You look exshaushted."
Kitty blushed slightly, for reasons she didn't fully understand.
"Will you be all right, Professor?" She wondered if maybe she shouldn't leave him.
"Night Professor." She smiled, a genuine smile, not a determinedly cheerful one such as she had offered these past few days, and hurried out into the corridor.
But she didn't go straight up on deck. She went to her own cabin. For a moment she hesitated. Was she being a fool?
Then she pulled off her dress, tossed it over the bed and took from the cupboard the dress she had worn to have dinner with the Royal Society in. Might as well get a bit of wear out of it.
She had no mirror in her little cabin, so she had to guess how she looked. She undid her plaits, brushed out her hair and, slowly and carefully, twisted it up. She twirled, a couple of curls tumbling out of the knot and brushing against her shoulders. She might not be able to see how she looked, but she knew how she felt. She stood up tall in her ankle-breakers, took a deep breath and wobbled up the ladder onto the deck.
She smiled at seeing Patrick, holding a lantern in the stern, and wider when she saw the expression on his face.
"You… you dressed up." She saw him blush in the lamp-light.
"Well." She shrugged. "It was my birthday."
A wave hit Gloria's hull, she wobbled and instinctively grabbed Patrick's hand.
He laughed. "Can you walk in those heels?"
"I don't think you're meant to walk in heels. I think you're meant to survive."
"Well, here's your present."
"Thanks." It had been hurriedly wrapped in brown paper. She unwrapped it and found a small, stiff piece of card, grubby, yellow-brown. Patrick had drawn a small rose in the middle and cut round the edges of some of the petals, it was obviously meant to be artistic. Probably someone had made fame and fortune doing partially-cut out flowers. That someone was not Patrick.
Patrick had cut jaggedly with his knife across the middle of the rose. He seemed to have used the red dye used on stamps on fish boxes.
It was the most precious thing Kitty had ever owned. All the more so because Kitty couldn't resist laughing.
"Sorry," she said, but Patrick was laughing too.
"Yes, I'll never make an art gallery. But it was the best I could do. And I wanted to do something to make you happy in this death-trap."
"Thank you, you've made me very happy." The words she wanted to say rose to her lips, trembled, froze and died with a weird gurgling noise.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah." She hastily turned her gurgling noise into a snort of laughter and pretended to be looking at the ugly rose. Then she looked over Gloria's side at the reflection of the stars, then up and the sky. He might die tomorrow. Why not just say it?
Then Patrick said, "Is this the bit where we kiss?".
Kitty burst out laughing.
"Because I want to kiss you. I've never wanted anything so bad. But I'm sure that a respectable guide to courtship and marriage-"
"Ain't here." And she kissed him.
His mouth was warm. And soft. She had always pictured people kissing from the point of view of an onlooker. She had never imagined what it felt like physically. The heat. Patrick's heart-beat closer and louder than she had felt it before. His hands trembling. It felt crazy. Like a mad dream come unexpectedly to vivid life. But sort of right. Like being in a home she'd never had, as if she were meant to do this all along.
At some point she had to breathe, so she did.
"Kitty… there's a Hell of a lot of stuff I could say… but most of it's copied from Foster, who knew all about this kind of stuff and made real nice speeches. I'm no good with these here flowery gestures. But, well, if I haven't made it clear… I… I love you."
Kitty tried to say "I love you too" but all that came out when she opened her mouth was a choking sob. Her chest seemed to have swelled up and something hard was bubbling where her lungs should be.
"God," said Patrick. He started to laugh. "Listen to me. Real cliché."
"It's a cliché," said Kitty. "Because people have said it a lot. Because it's been true a lot. I love you too."
She put the rose in her jacket pocket.
"Everything. Anything. Whatever happens."
"So far as I can see, you're not an unknown monstrous creature with the power to turn lights off. So why would you be sorry."
"It seems kind of bad. My ma used to say, never marry a girl unless you're in a position to support her and your children. I've never been further from that position. I'm offering you a really bad deal."
"It doesn't matter."
"Did I tell you're beautiful?"
He kissed her.
Kitty didn't think about dying. She didn't think about X. She forgot the future entirely. She was going to stay there forever, she made herself believe. She could make those seconds last all night, a century. For a moment, she could be immortal. Feel no pain. Couldn't love conquer all?
Back to grim reality with a wrench. The darkness closed in. But now there were two of them in the dark.
"Good night, Kitty."
She wrenched her hands out of his and went down to her cabin. She took off the dress so no one else would see her in it and went to sleep.
The next day was determinedly business as usual. Kitty and the Professor worked in the laboratory. Patrick and Seward worked on Gloria. Lawson drank.
But the Professor was subdued. He didn't whistle in the laboratory, sometimes he looked out of the port-hole and sighed, and Kitty would see the pain in his reflection's eyes. He never met her eyes.
Meal-times were the worst. Apart from Seward's incessant devotions at every meal, every mouth-full Kitty took was one of a finite number of mouth-fulls. If a whaler didn't pick them up soon, they were another meal nearer to death.
To make matters worse, Seward seemed to be starving himself and Kitty was given more to eat than any of the men.
"Are you sure you've had enough to eat?" she asked Seward.
"Yes, Miss Wright."
"This is ridiculous, sir, you're killing yourself." She knew she was fighting a losing battle, but she had to try.
"Just eat your food, Miss Wright. Keep your strength up."
"But I have more to eat than anyone else. This isn't fair."
"You need it."
"What about you, don't you need it?"
"We're men. You're a woman. You take priority."
"But the only thing possible in the circumstances. Now eat your soup or I'll put you in the brig, imminent death or no."
"I swear you've had nothing to eat all day."
Seward looked dreadful. His eyes had sunken into his skull and his face was horribly gaunt. He even sounded less fierce than usual.
"Are you sure you don't want some, Patrick?" she said hopefully.
"No, I'm fine."
"You have a bit, Professor. You haven't eaten in ages."
"I've had some lunch, thank you, Miss Wright."
"Can I convince none of you stubborn lumps?"
"If you were one of my men I'd smash your jaw for implying that I'm a stubborn lump," said Seward, but he said it half-heartedly, out of long habit. He must be in a bad way, thought Kitty.
So Kitty ate, though she didn't feel hungry as such, just horribly cold and tired, with a weakness that she knew instinctively only food could cure.
That afternoon, Kitty met Patrick on the deck when she had finished her work in the laboratory and they went for a walk. When she took Patrick's hand, he looked round to check that no one was watching and kissed her. She giggled.
"Nothing. Just… the two of us walking out. While stranded in the Antarctic."
"I'm sorry there aren't any music halls I can take you to."
The rest of the walk was trying to find conversational topics other than their likelihood of dying. So they talked about the shapes of the ice-bergs and the colour of the sky.
When they had walked up the deck on the port side and back down on the starboard, they went down to the laboratory and looked at the specimens, some of whom were dying of hunger. The Professor was very anxious about this. He was trying to feed krill on bread-crumbs.
"I don't think krill like bread-crumbs, Professor."
"I can but try."
So Kitty spent the rest of the afternoon talking to Patrick about krill. Under ordinary circumstances, Kitty would have fascinated by this, and Patrick would have been fascinated by listening. Today, however, she was struggling to find the mood. The main appeal of the krill was that they weren't trying to kill her.
Even a fish on the line at tea time did little to improve the move.
Does Fate have to play with us like this? she thought.
They gathered that evening with determined smiles. Kitty and Patrick played cards. Seward tried to read, but she could see him constantly looking up and glancing out of the port-hole. Lawson rambled drunkenly to the Professor about his past life, particularly catastrophic sinkings he had been involved in. Kitty was beginning to think that it all being over in half an hour or so was getting off lightly.
Then the lights went out.
"Oh God," whispered Kitty. "Not again."
A faint thud against the hull.
She put both arms around Patrick's neck and clung so tight her hands shook. She buried her head in his shoulder as if she could shut out the dark. But she knew that… that the thing… whatever it was, was still there, that there was nowhere to hide.
She heard Seward mumbling the Lord's Prayer over and over again, so fast that if she didn't know the words she wouldn't have recognised it. "And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil-" He paused for breath.
"Oh Captain," said Patrick in a mock innocent voice. "Is it as bad as that?"
Kitty laughed breathlessly.
No one else made a sound.
Then the lights came on again. Seward was gone.
Very well. Another person dead. Kitty stopped herself. Another person was dead. Surely, there had to be something, some shock, some deep horror? But mostly there was pity and disgust and ever-deepening despair. And she did pity him.
But she was beyond shock, she realised.
All she could say now was "I suppose we'd better go to bed".
It was Lawson's turn to take watch, but he was in no fit state.
"I'll go with him," said Patrick.
"On deck," said Patrick slowly. "To see if any whalers pass and signal with the lamp."
"Oh… sure… sure…"
"Are you sure?" said Kitty to Patrick. "I can go if you like."
"No, you get some sleep," said Patrick.
"Wake me up, we'll swap." Only the crew took watches normally, but Patrick was the only sober crewman left.
"OK. Lawson, you might as well just go to bed, you're in no fit state to do anything."
Lawson ambled off.
Kitty went to bed, snuggled down under the sheets to keep out the cold and fell asleep instantly. It seemed barely a second later that Patrick whispered "Miss Wright".
"It's your shift. If you want. I don't think you need bother. It's not as if we were going to be rescued, is it?"
"No, I don't mind, I'll go."
"Will you be all right up there on your own?"
"I'll be fine. Night."
"She you in the morning."
"Do you want to go all the way down to that empty room?" She knew that Lawson hardly ever went to his hammock, but sat in the galley with his whiskey bottle. "You can go to the lab if you prefer. It's only across the corridor."
There was a moment's pause. "All right."
Patrick padded away and Kitty slipped out of bed, pulled on her boots and climbed up onto the deck.
It was very cold and very dark. The ice-bergs shone in the starlight as if by some light within. They were the only things she could make out clearly in the dark, huge, swaying, grumbling softly to themselves.
Kitty leaned on the rail in the bows, with a good view of the sea on either side and any ice-bergs which might be in Gloria's path. Although it didn't make much difference if there were ice-bergs, because there was no way of controlling the direction of the ship.
Kitty stroked the wooden rail in front of her. "Don't crash on my watch, girl. That would be embarrassing."
Gloria sighed. Or maybe it was just the rush of waves under the bows.
Kitty was glad, in a way, of the solid rail in front of her, the beautiful decoration on the bows. It made her feel less alone, somehow, reminded her that she and Gloria were out here together, she wasn't alone with… with whatever was out here?
After all, hadn't Gloria, crumbling old past-it Gloria, rounded the Horn the wrong way in a storm?
What was out here?
Kitty looked around her and drew her shawl tighter round her shoulders.
Nothing, she told herself. Nothing that could reach her up here, anyway. Lord knew what might be lurking down there in the deeps.
Except X. It had been that night. It had claimed its victim. It would not come again tonight. But looking round the empty, silent deck in the dark, watching the reflection of the moon in the black water as it rose suddenly from behind the mountains, she knew that whatever it was, wherever it was, X was watching them. It could play cat and mouse in between the ice mountains for as long as it wanted to.
Normally Kitty loved the moon-light. One of the few things she remembered her mother telling her was the story of the Moon River. When the moon-light lay in a clear, shining path across the dark water of Liverpool harbour, straight up to the moon, that was the Moon River. And if little girls were very, very lucky, then one night, when the moon was full, they might be able to follow the Moon River right up into the sky, where the stars were made of diamonds and the silver Moon Flowers grew in the meadows on the clouds.
Where did the Moon River lead now, in these desolate Antarctic waters? The moon hung in the sky, as pretty and shiny as it had done over Liverpool, and the Moon River shone as clear as ever, but there were no fairies here, only a storm-tossed, rudderless Gloria drifting ever closer to the land, until she was engulfed by ice or sank.
More than anything else, Kitty wanted to lie down and sleep. But this was watch, she had to stay awake, had to wait for the whaler which would never come. The cold gnawed at her. She knew it was starvation, there was nothing she could do, but she was annoyed with herself, she felt weak, dopey, slow.
The icebergs in front of her eyes started to go fuzzy. She blinked hard. After a few minutes, they started to go fuzzy again. She forced herself to concentrate, but the cold stuck needles into her brain and froze it, until she felt herself sinking down through the fog.
She propped herself up against the rail and kept watching. There was no change. Sea, sky, ice. The hours crept by.
Exhausted as she was, she could never shake off the nagging feeling that she wasn't alone. At last, in the early hours of the morning, she went down the stairs to the laboratory to wake the Professor. Patrick was curled up in the corner asleep.
The Professor's bed was in an alcove in the corner. She crept over to it to as not to wake Patrick. The Professor was crying, faint, hopeless sobs into the pillow.
"Are you all right?"
"No… I-I'm not. I'm thinking about… Miss Jones."
Her throat clenched with guilt at not being able to help him. "Are you going to come up for your watch?"
"Good night." She squeezed his shoulder before she crept away.
Sleep was very welcome that night.
The next few days were grim. Not all the optimism Kitty tried to muster could alter this. The three of them were desperately over-worked.
They had to fill in the ship's log, which Seward had done until his death, look after the ship, keep her clean and tidy, keep up the scientific log, feed the specimens and clean their tanks, while watching their supply of food dwindle day by day. They also had to keep Lawson from killing himself with drink, but there were times when Kitty wondered if this were really necessary.
Patrick and the Professor insisted on feeding her extra, and even Lawson didn't complain when she was given an extra potato.
It was only fair, said Patrick, as she watched him waste away, it was only gentlemanly. She made sure he got enough to get by on.
But there was no doubt that each day, there was a little less food, say six days' worth, then less, say, five, then… four. They ate only two meals a day, but that only made Kitty so weak it took Patrick and the Professor between them to wake her up in the morning, and her lips were swollen and black with cold.
There were no more vegetables, no more sweets, no more coffee. They checked the fishing line, but nothing ever bit.
To make matters worse, Primrose sickened the day after Seward was killed, then died. Kitty held her little fluffy body, once warm and wriggling, now cold and horribly stiff, and cried into her feathers. She weighed hardly anything.
They buried her at sea. Kitty knew that the sensible thing to do would be to eat her, and had Seward been around he would probably have tried it. But she could no more bring herself to eat Primrose than to eat a person, and neither could Patrick. The Professor could be completely out of touch with the real world when it came to practical matters, and Lawson cried as long and hard as Kitty.
"She was a real lady, she was," he howled into Patrick's shoulder. "I met a selkie just like her… when I was down at the dock with Josiah… Josiah was killed by a bar-girl in Casablanca. You've never seen a murder like it, his eye had been hacked out." He descended into rambling. "Poor Primroshe… I've known men I'd rather shee die than that penguin!" He collapsed into a storm of crying. "It's not fair! It'shh… not fair! Poor Miss Wright shouldn't have to see this!" He drank deeply and reeled on his feet.
Patrick held him up. "There there," he said quietly, through his own tears. "It's all right."
"You're a good man, Elijah."
Patrick stopped crying long enough to roll his eyes.
All those people dead, thought Kitty, watching the little bundle splash down into the sea and disappear. All those people dead and they buried the penguin.
So they span out the food, they span out the food, until Kitty had no strength to write a page of notes without stopping to rest.
But the day came when there was none.
Kitty didn't know what she had been expecting. Some final tipping point. Some lurch down to a new level of despair.
But there was nothing. No shriek of the damned. No spectre from the deep rising to rattle his chains.
Just the last food they had. They could eat it now. Or they could starve with it in front of them.
"You have it," said Patrick to Kitty.
"Have it." He looked at her solemnly.
"No. I don't deserve it any more than you do."
"I want you to have it."
"Well what you want can get fucked."
Lawson burst out laughing. "Stubborn girl, aren't you? Good. Means you'll get somewhere in life. Your name's not Sally, is it?"
"No. It's Kitty." For the thousandth time.
"It's just that you remind me of this murderer I met in Madagascar."
"Was she called Sally?"
"No, the girl she murdered."
"You have it, Miss Wright."
"We share it," said Kitty. "As is fair and decent."
"I'm an old man. You're young."
"Eat or I'll… I'll have you sacked."
"As if it matters, now."
"Kitty," said Patrick. "Please."
"You can't play White Knight in the Antarctic, love. Eat it and live."
Patrick looked from Kitty to the last of their food. He was hungry. She could see hunger in every line of his face and burning in his eyes. But he hesitated.
"Are you sure?"
"Patrick, how can I not be sure?"
So they shared it. That was that. Everything they had.
Now it really was them versus… the wilderness.
In a way, as Kitty looked up at the sky, clear and bitter cold, it was a comfort.
There was nothing left to run out of. No end of the line left to dread. There was no hope left to lose.
They were living on borrowed time. The wall of ice on the port bow would by all right and all chances be their grave. And that was it. Nothing left to say. Except that the old man with the scythe hadn't put in an appearance just yet.
Cue the miraculous rescue by the flying pink unicorn.
So Kitty shook the cold from her bones that night by force. She lived until the morning.
And in the morning she woke to the same desert of ice and sea and sky.
The only life she saw was a seal gambolling in the distance. Gloria couldn't chase and harpoon it because the steering had broken. She drifted slowly, maddeningly by.
That night, nobody went to bed. Kitty, Patrick and the Professor sat in the laboratory while Lawson wandered around the deck mumbling to himself.
Later, he came in and sat in the corner, still working his way through his whiskey, faster than ever.
The Professor was silent and sad. He sat with his hands clenched and stared into space. It was left to Kitty and Patrick to try to keep their mood up and stay sane. It was a struggle. In the end, Kitty gave up and let weeks of weariness show on her face.
Patrick reached over and squeezed her hand. She smiled. She couldn't help it. It was the look in his eyes. So hurt at seeing her hurt.
They were running out of candles, they only had a greasy, sputtering stump. So when it went out, Kitty just groaned in annoyance. Useless, wretched thing…
But it wouldn't re-light.
She grabbed Patrick's hand before she had even realised what she was doing. He put his arms round her shoulders and whispered in her ear, too quietly for her to hear, but she clung to his voice to hold her out of the dark as her ears rang and she choked, stomach heaving silently.
She knew he was frightened too. She put her hand on his arm, knowing that no one had ever offered such a futile gesture of comfort before. But she was glad when he snuggled into her, even as she winced at how thin and fragile his arm felt.
Then the candle came back on.
The flame was so dim and smoky that it took a while for her to notice that the Professor was not there.
"Professor!" She didn't recognise the hoarse, choking scream that she knew must be hers.
"Professor!" She spun around, as if he could be standing behind her. He wasn't there. He was gone, he was taken, he was dead.
But still she screamed, as if the noise of her screaming could shut out reality, as if she could demand the universe to bring him back and heal the burning gash across her head and chest and stomach.
She ran. Her stomach lurched, she knew that if she weren't starving she would have been sick. She ran out onto the deck, screaming with all the strength in her lungs, all the strength she didn't have, not words any more but terrified animal noises.
In the bows she stared out for a long, sick moment at the sea and the sky, just visible in the moon-light, to see for sure and certain that the Professor was not there. Then her vision fogged over and she collapsed in a dead faint.
She wasn't sure when she woke up. She wasn't sure if she ever did. She was aware somewhere of Patrick kneeling over her.
"Are you all right?" he said, so weak, so faint that she barely heard.
She tried to say "Yeah". She felt her lips move but no words came out.
"Here." Patrick held a cup of water against her lips. She gulped it down.
"Thanks," she said, barely stronger.
Then she curled up and began to cry.
"Don't cry," said Patrick. He pulled her up-right and propped her against his shoulder.
"I'm sorry. I can't help it."
"No, really," said Patrick. "We're running out of water. You can't afford tears right now."
But she didn't have the physical strength to stop.
She tried to tear her memory away from the Professor, sitting in the dark room, explaining his lecture to her over again, just because she hadn't understood it the first time. She remembered his bright eyes, with their infectious enthusiasm. They never lost that brightness until Miss Jones died.
They had had such a good time together. Seeing the world, the place both of them had always wanted to see.
Think happy, she told herself… Think about what a beautiful place this is. And it was, it really was. She couldn't think of a better place to meet with their doom.
She squinted against the glare of the moonlight on her exhausted eyes and stared at the mountains of ice. They glittered with a rainbow of colours, glowing white against the dark sea, groaning and sighing like living things. Even now they were beautiful.
But now it was a cold, mocking beauty. There was no bubbling, thrilling wonder, invigorating her and making her giggle like a three-year-old for joy. It was the brutal, majestic indifference of nature.
So she cried because she didn't have the strength to stop until she didn't have the strength to cry more.
Then she slept, and when she woke up the moon's rays on her eyes felt as harsh and cruel as the sun. Patrick gave her some water and she felt a little, just a very little, stronger.
She sat up, shaking, and held herself steady.
"Are you all right?" she said to Patrick.
"God knows. Drinking himself to death, I think."
"I miss him, Patrick." She was ashamed to hear herself whimper, but Patrick just squeezed her arm. There was a horrible, dumb, empathetic pain in his eyes. He didn't say anything. What could he have said?
They sat together in the bows, wrapped in their furs. In the darkness and the silence, Kitty had no idea whether she slept or simply sat there until morning.
The next thing she remembered thinking was that it was day-light and Lawson was emerging onto the deck, clutching an empty bottle and reeling.
"Out of booze," he croaked.
"Oh?" said Kitty.
"Out of booze. Clear out…" He swayed. "And what I shay ish…" He pulled himself up-right and, with a super-human effort, made himself sound almost sober. "Why shouldn't I meet the Almighty in my own sweet time?" He reeled again. "I can't stay… vanish like a rat in a cheese… I mean… a rat-trap… with cheese… we don't have any cheese… don't have any booze either…" He stumbled over to the rail.
"Better to just… drown,,,"
Kitty realised what he was doing just as Patrick did, and tried to rise. Her legs gave way beneath her and she could only sit and watch Lawson fling himself over the rail and into the deep blue water. He didn't come up.
Did minutes pass or hours? Was it the same morning or later? Was it the sun she was looking at or the moon?
She didn't feel hungry or thirsty. She drank water at what she guessed was lunch-time because she knew she should.
Physically, she felt only cold. So horribly, deathly cold.
"Patrick, are you drinking enough?" she said.
She looked at him. She had seen dead people look healthier.
"Have a drink."
"But we only have a bit."
"I want you to have it."
"Patrick, we share it."
"I don't want any."
"You need to…" She caught her breath. God, it was exhausting just speaking. "Or you'll die."
"I don't mind."
"No one lives for ever, Kitty."
"Then why should I?"
"Because I want you to. I want you to live and go home."
"Patrick Doyle!" She sounded, for a moment, horribly like the matron at the orphanage. "You drink some water right now."
They shared a few more mouth-fulls of water.
That evening, as the sun dropped over the horizon, the fishing line jerked.
Kitty froze and blinked. Was she hallucinating?
If so, so was Patrick.
He was staring at the fishing line as if he had heard it talk. Although given the hallucinations she knew starving people could have, Kitty wouldn't be surprised if he had heard it talk.
They pulled the line in together. It had never felt so heavy or taken so much effort.
There was a turtle on the end, struggling and dying.
Patrick killed it with his pen-knife.
The hot blood splashed on Kitty's dress and suddenly she was ravenous.
"Have it," Patrick said. He held it out to her.
Kitty's tongue was thick and heavy. "No, you have it."
"All right." He cut a small chunk out of the turtle's flesh. "You have the rest."
"Patrick…" Kitty fought to breathe. "Do we have to have this argument every time…? I don't… have the strength…" Literally. Talking was an effort.
"Love, you're ill. You're shattered. You need some food, just to pull through…"
"What about you?"
"You…" She swallowed, took a deep breath and forced the words out. "You're mad."
"It doesn't matter…"
"You dying doesn't matter?"
"Well, you're the lady, aren't you? I'm supposed… to look after you…"
"I can try." She was having to read his lips now.
"Does it matter? Does it matter who's the lady? We're in Antarctica. We're not at a garden party passing the… biscuits…" She could feel every syllable take its toll.
The old man with the scythe had never been so close, blood had never smelled so good, so warm… She felt as if her stomach were being torn out. She clutched herself in physical pain.
"If it doesn't matter in Antarctica… where does it matter…? Chivalry's… no good at a garden party…"
"Maybe it's no good… anyway… What's it matter? Do the seals…" From the way Patrick was frowning at her, she guessed he was having to lip-read. She tried to talk louder, but there didn't seem to be any air left in her lungs. "And things out here… do this?"
"Maybe not. But it's how I was brought up… And I'm not a seal…"
"Let's be… practical… I have no one… You need to live… feed your family…" Kitty choked at the effort of speaking. She felt as if her throat had been ripped open.
"My family… have ma…" He mouthed something that might be "Joe".
"I have.. no one…"
"You have me… And the Professor… when Miss Jones died… He told me… "Look after her, Mr Doyle, because I can't. If you hurt her… I'm not so useless as I can't kick your arse." So I have to." Patrick reeled and nearly fainted.
So much for looking after, she thought, steadying him.
He nodded, barely perceptibly.
The thought of the Professor made her throat tighten, but she had no tears left to cry.
"He wasn't useless!" she said. "I want… I want him to know…" Her voice gave out. It's too late.
She gathered her strength. God knew where it came from, she didn't.
"We go halves," she said.
They ate. The flesh was tough and leathery but as the hot blood rushed into her veins, she felt herself come back to life. She licked the blood off her hands, feeling it slide down her dry, rough throat. She could feel her fingers again through the cold. Sit up and look around her. With her new lease of life, she began to scan the horizon for rescue ships with new diligence.
It was, she thought, afternoon, but it might have been early morning. No, it was afternoon, late afternoon, evening. She could tell from the position of the sun. That's right, she just had to think.
But thinking was hard. The warm, solid turtle-flesh in her stomach kept her awake for a little, despite the temptation to lie down and sleep. Until night fell. Then weakness and lethargy stole over her, her new lease of life dwindled. She curled up in her furs.
It was bitterly cold on the deck. She wanted to go inside, but she didn't think she had the strength, and they had to keep watch, with the telescope and the signal lamp. Besides, it wasn't any warmer inside.
Patrick put his arms round her and they kept each other warm, as the warm, solid lump of turtle inside Kitty drained away. She felt herself getting emptier and emptier, weaker and weaker, even through the deathly stupor she fell into.
It might have been that night, or maybe the next morning, she couldn't tell, that she woke up, too weak to stand. She knew that for all she was weak, it was probably only the turtle which had bought her that extra dawn. And this, or the next would probably be her last. Unless they found another turtle. Clung to another night. Woke up for another game of cat and mouse. Put off doom a little longer.
She and Patrick took turns with the telescope, while the other rested. They didn't speak. Kitty didn't think she could, even if she had wanted to. They simply passed the water and the telescope back and forth.
Kitty couldn't see through the telescope, could barely see at all. The glare from the ice, the light from the sun, the effort of peering into the distance for passing ships, hurt her eyes and made them foggy.
Kitty knew that Patrick wasn't drinking as much as he should.
He was shaking, exhausted, could barely hold the flask.
She held it out to him. "Drrnk…" she tried to say.
He shook his head. He could barely move.
He looked at death's door. She wanted to tell him that she wouldn't drink until he did, but she didn't have the strength to speak.
She collapsed into exhaustion and pain. A horrible wrenching pain in her gut, which she fought to shut out, to ignore, to hide from, but on that freezing deck under the white sky, there was nowhere to hide.
Patrick's face in front of her, Patrick's face burned on the back of her eyes when she could no longer fight to keep them open. Patrick was dying. Patrick was dying. Patrick was dying. It hit her head, louder and louder, faster and faster like a hammer on an anvil.
It wasn't grief. It wasn't fear. It was sick, dull knowledge, physical pain, pain which she had never known before and she knew she could never feel again. Animal need… more than air, she couldn't breathe, she needed Patrick. Losing Patrick hurt. Not all the numbness, all the cold, all the death, could numb that.
When she slept, Patrick woke her, fed her water. She tried to push his hands away.
"Need to drink," he told her. "Need to drink…"
He had put his jacket over her. He'd freeze. She took his hand. It was frozen.
She wanted to sob. She couldn't and it made it ten times worse.
All the night, all the next day, she sat with him.
She cursed her own weakness. If only she hadn't been so weak, he wouldn't have fed her water that he needed. Now he wouldn't need water that she didn't have. She couldn't save him. He had looked after her, fed her. Now she couldn't look after him.
She lay on the hard wooden boards, covered in ice. She looked at Patrick's face and she couldn't look away. She couldn't lift her head. She watched the ice creep over his face all day. She watched his chest heave as he tried to breathe, then barely move at all. His eyes dulled, froze. Literally froze.
She gave him back his jacket, wrapped it round him. Wrapped her own jacket round him. She poured the last remaining water into his mouth. She couldn't bear to give him that last bit. She would wait a moment… wait a moment more… they might be rescued in a moment, saved by an Act of God. Kitty finally poured the last gulp of water into Patrick's mouth, tried to make him swallow. Then she wrapped her arms around his neck, lay her face on his chest and longed for an Act of God. There were no words to pray, but she had never needed a miracle more than she needed one now.
She ignored the huge black things flying high above her.
She woke the next morning.
She knew that Patrick was dead.
She couldn't move. Every finger was like lead and she couldn't feel her own face..
Gloria was heading straight for land, a sheer white cliff with ice-topped black rocks around the bottom.
She didn't care. She barely noticed. Something had broken inside her. She knew only that Patrick was dead and she wasn't and she didn't understand why.
After all, so many people died. Young people. Happy people. Children in Liverpool orphanages. People who wanted to live.
But she had not died. Not yet.
When Gloria was dashed against the rocks she thought surely she must now sink and she would drown. But she didn't. She just sat on the rocks.
In front of the bows was a black, jagged gash in the rocks. She couldn't see how far it went into the cliffs, but it was the only way to go, for she could not scale the sheer cliffs.
So she rose, slowly, unable to feel her own legs. She took the doll from Patrick's jacket pocket and put in her dress pocket. Maybe she could give it to Ellen one day and tell her how her brother had died. Then she walked slowly along the deck, up onto the rocks and into the cave.
It was pitch dark in the cave. She walked until there was a yellow light and she could see. She had no idea how long she walked. She had no idea of anything.
She was beyond hunger, thirst, tiredness and pain.
She saw animals she recognised, aardvarks and elephants. There were subterranean lakes, caverns of stalagmites and stalactites. Still that yellow light
She walked on, over rocks, which cut her hands and feet and made them bleed, but she felt nothing.
She saw elephants covered in fur, herds of huge, strange animals in the distance.
Once she found herself walking through the middle of a group of them. Huge, bigger than an elephant, with necks almost as long and thin as their tails. They had skin like a lizard, but they moved as lightly, twisting and turning, as birds in flight.
A young one gambolled right up to her and peered in her face, wheezing.
A huge lizard sat on its stomach under a rock. It raised it head, looked right at her, squawked and lay down again.
There were more massive lizards, brown ones, green ones, feathered ones. Huge ones which leapt among the boulders lighter than she had thought an animal so big could move, some with wickedly sharp teeth and claws. Tiny ones which flew through the air fast as the humming-birds she had seen in Africa. Strange scampering things which ran along ridges above her head.
There was an island in a lake glowing with phosphorous which raised a long, snaky neck and flat scaly head.
Still she walked, hauling herself over the boulders, slipping and falling, wrenching her ankle with a jolting crack but unable to feel anything.
The mist was swirling before her eyes now, red around the edges.
She came to the top of a rise and looked down on a city, white and gold, glowing, with shimmering crystal spires higher than any building she had ever seen. There were things like shining cigars floating above the city and strange coloured lights.
Then the fog swirled up in front of her, turned black and she felt her legs give way beneath her. Her last breath slid out and she collapsed.