Back From Be­yond

This ten­der com­plete story by Mary Ket­tlewell is set in Ply­mouth in 1854. When Josephine met Abel, she was shocked to learn of his past. How could such a kind and gen­tle man be a crim­i­nal?

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

A ro­man­tic story by Mary Ket­tlewell

JOSEPHINE SALT­MARSH stood be­neath the hang­ing sign of her fa­ther’s ale­house in Ply­mouth, the An­cient Mariner. A salt breeze rose from the turgid wa­ters of the dock and caught the dark tresses of her hair. Be­hind her lay the warm par­lour of the inn with its wood fire, rich smell of sea­men’s baccy and wooden benches.

The scene be­fore her eyes was darker. A line of pale-faced, ragged men slouched past, the chains on their an­kles clink­ing dis­mally. Moored at the dock­side and bristling with tough sea­men stood the Mary Lee, bound for a con­vict set­tle­ment in dis­tant Aus­tralia.

Two men stared back, shoul­ders bowed in de­spair, and blew her kisses. Kind at heart, Josephine could not de­prive them of this last pa­thetic ges­ture, for she guessed what tri­als lay ahead for them.

Toss­ing the hair out of her eyes, she touched a hand to her lips. The ramp was hauled up, the hawsers un­knot­ted, a breeze caught the sails of the ship and she eased her way past the Hoe.

Turn­ing on her heel Josephine went back to the bar. Her fa­ther, Ja­cob, was tap­ping a bar­rel of ale in the cel­lar.

“Fa­ther, I have just seen another con­vict ship set sail for Aus­tralia. The poor men looked so down­trod­den.”

“Aye, they would, Josephine. But re­mem­ber, they have all com­mit­ted felonies.”

“The pun­ish­ment is so harsh. One of the dray­men told me you can get five years for theft and life ban­ish­ment af­ter a sec­ond of­fence.”

“That may be so, lass, but oth­ers on that ship have com­mit­ted ar­son, high­way rob­bery and much worse.” His mus­cles bulged as he up­ended the keg. “They’ve brought it on them­selves.”

Josephine climbed the dark wooden stair­way of the inn. Eve, her mother, was pol­ish­ing tankards com­mem­o­rat­ing the Great Ex­hi­bi­tion that had taken place three years pre­vi­ously in 1851.

“Did you see those poor men be­ing herded on to the ship, Mother?” “I did, Josephine. A sorry sight in­deed.” “I know they’ve done wrong, but it’s a ter­ri­ble pun­ish­ment. Fa­ther has no sym­pa­thy.”

“You are not right there. Ja­cob al­ways has a soft spot for the un­der­dog, but an innkeeper has to be tough. We get some hard men in here.”

The ship was a faint smudge on the hori­zon.

“How long does the voy­age take, Mother?”

“Be­tween three and four months, depend­ing on the wind and tides.” Josephine shook her head. “They’ll suf­fer cru­elly for what they’ve done.”

THE fol­low­ing day the SS Hes­pe­rus ar­rived from Perth and the dock was a jostling crowd, amazed to have reached dry land at last.

A noisy group made their way to the inn, or­dered drinks and mut­ton pies and set­tled down on the benches.

Some while later a thin man en­tered. He was in his early thir­ties, Josephine guessed, but he looked older. His skin was burned dark by the sun, his hair un­kempt.

He walked up to the bar sway­ing from side to side with his sea legs. He caught Josephine’s eye and gave his or­der.

“A tankard of your ale and a meat pie, if you please, mistress.”

Just as she placed the foam­ing mug on the bar top a coarse voice rang out from the party of men who had dis­em­barked.

“You don’t want to serve him, girl. He’s a thief – a com­mon crim­i­nal.” Another voice chipped in. “The man’s a con­vict. He should have stayed put in Aus­tralia, not come back here with his thiev­ing paws.”

Ja­cob’s voice was like gravel.

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