To Cross The Western Ocean?
Galway, Ireland, 1850
“Come with me.” Robert stopped walking, turned and took her hands. “Niahm, come to America.”
“You know I can’t, Robert. ” She sighed, frustrated at him, but also at her circumstances, their circumstances. “You know what’s expected. Whom I must marry. Maybe not a Marquess! But a noble; or a landed gentleman, at least. And a Catholic. You’re a Protestant with almost no land.”
“And you’ve almost no dowry.” His eyes danced.
Laughing, her mood lightened, she chided, “The cheek of you.”
“We can settle on new land. There’s nothing but land in America, in The West. Good farming land in Oregon, and free to those who become citizens. Think of it, American citizens with our own homestead.”
“You could certainly farm any land my Love, you’re so….” Her words froze on her lips.” Of course he couldn’t farm any land. Not diseased land. What an utterly thoughtless thing to say.
He looked away, tugging at the cuff of his simple shirt. “Everyone is gone. I can’t blame those who were able to walk away, and I wish them luck. It’s time I walked away too.”
“We none of us would’ve expected this, when we were young. This loss.” She picked up a stick and struck it against a tree. “My cousin and her husband left in ’44. Went to Oregon. ‘I could never leave,’ that’s what I thought then. But now everything seems bleak. Sometimes, on dark days, before I met you, it seemed like life would never get better.”
She hurled away the stick and clasped his hands.
“There’s such misery in our country,” she continued, a catch in her throat. Their eyes met and her pain was reflected in his.
“Then join me,” he beseeched. “We can start over. Where no law nor man will call our children bastards.” A shadow crossed his face. “It can easily be arranged. We’ll sail from Liverpool.”
Her heart clenched. “Please no. Don’t go! Dear God, don’t make that crossing! You know they call those boats the coffin ships.”
“Think of a new life though, darling. Of new hope.”
“I doubt those dying in Boston feel much hope.” Why was she snapping at a time like this?
“Were they any better off in the workhouses?” he countered.
“I’m sorry. All I know is my father cares for his tenants. He’ll probably bankrupt us before long.” She couldn’t see the shoreside castle through the trees but she felt a stab of trepidation for its future, for the future of the estate. “Then I will truly need to marry well. Or go to a convent.”
“You’re no nun,” he teased, but this time her tension didn’t fade.
“Be serious. Please. We helped some of the tenants leave for America. They wanted to. But the stories that come back to us…” She bowed her head, weighed down by regret. “Little Molly Murphy, barely off the ship. Buried three thousand miles from home. Continuing, if they’re lucky, in canvas wagons? I hear things you know. I can read the newspapers.”
“I am well aware of this.”
“The dysentery… The accidents… The group who were trapped in the snow….” She banished the images and crossed herself.
“Their mistakes won’t be repeated.” His voice was firm, brooking no more objections. “Niahm I want you by my side. As my wife. You know this. You want it too.”
She did. But did that matter? And must it be across the Western Ocean?
Can a story be told in just 50 words…?
(Prompts via The Scottish Book Trust.)
I shivered and leaned on his arm, picking my way through the snow.
Responding, he pulled me to him, and lifted me. He spun me around, confident, firm in his footing, looking only at me. I raised my face towards the canopy of twinkling lights above.
“Better?” He asked.