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Guiding Light Part 1
Guiding Light Part 1

Guiding Light Part 1


Southern England, 1922

The ship had been wrecked long ago, but the sea around her was still treacherous. Her timbers protruded from wave washed rocks like bones of some huge beast. Her crew had been rescued by a lifeboat but it had been a close call. At low water, people sometimes tried to reach her but this was dangerous. White chalk cliffs rose behind her. A falcon soared above her, looking out for prey. Seeing none she turned and flew inland, over clifftop woodland. While scanning a path she saw a young couple walking along it.

Drifts of indigo flowers grew on either side of them. It looked as if a giant sapphire had shattered and fragments of it had scattered across the woodland. Up above, new leaves glowed as only in spring. The year was young, like a fawn fresh from its mother's body.

Nye turned to his girlfriend and asked "Cathy, about that song I suggested last week."

"Its a bit of a dirge, do you not think," she replied. "After the war and the flu people need cheering up."

"Its not misery for misery's sake," Nye retorted. "I want people to know so things can be changed. I was in a pit disaster myself, remember." They hadn't met then, but he had told her about it.

"Nye, I know there's a lot wrong with the world but we can't take all on ourselves. You broke free from your Dad and the pit. I don't want you goin' through all that again."

She broke eye contact and strode on. A white tailed bumblebee flew across her path and landed on a bluebell. Nye followed with downcast eyes. This was about more than one song, more than the choir they sang in. Nye had suggested a number of Welsh songs for their repetoire. At first the others had been happy to adopt them. Then he put forward songs with a political dimension. His fellow choristors hadn't been so keen on those. Cathy said he had broken free, but had he? He had started work in a coal mine before leaving his teens. He had sustained major injuries due to an explosion deep underground. Nye would never forget that. Did he want to break loose altogether? Back home the miners operated a Medical Aid Society. Every working man paid into it, and so created a fund that paid for any medical treatment for any member. This guaranteed treatment for people who couldn't otherwise afford it. Without that society Nye would have died from his wounds. He felt proud to have paid into it. Did people here understand? Did even Cathy appreciate it? There was no such society here in southern England. He had learned to sing back home in a Welsh choir. But for that he wouldn't be performing here along with her.

"Nye! Nye!" Cathy's voice brought him back to dappled woodland. "Did you 'ear what I just said?" A nearby tree had two thick branches protruding in opposite directions. To Nye they looked like arms thrown out in frustration.

"Er, no, I'm sorry."

"I said I'm goin' to visit Cousin Daisy! I want to see the new baby. You don't 'ave to come but I want you to bloody well know."

"That's all right Cathy," Nye assured her.

Nye had met Daisy only once and they hadn't taken to each other.

"You can meet me at the station an' 'elp with my cases," said Cathy.

"Yes dear," Nye replied with a touch of irritation. It would be nice to be asked, he thought.

They walked on in silence. Nye's teeth were gritted. A lizard sat basking on the path. Gentle breezes carried salt from foaming breakers that lay below. This brought back memories for Nye. He unclenched his molars and strong muscles relaxed. He remembered bobbing on a fishing boat that belonged to Cathy's father. The older man was teaching him to fish. On bright summer days, blue waves sparkled as if sprinkled with diamonds. Feathered bellys of gulls shone pure white. Nye's back would be warmed by a high sun. Fresh air would fill his lungs. If he was really lucky, dolphins would swim alongside the vessel. On recalling them he managed to smile.

Time passed. Cathy visited her cousin. After a few days she returned gushing about how lovely the baby was. Nye went out with Cathy's father, learning as he did so.

Then one evening, Nye answered a call for help. He was on the crew of the local lifeboat, "Blue Dolphin." A bell tolled and a flare went up. Nye joined other men as they ran through the town. They recieved a report of a child trying to reach the old shipwreck and getting trapped. Shouts were particularly stressful when children were involved. James Millward arrived in a smart uniform as he was a waiter. He quickly changed into something more practical. Men piled into the long, open boat taking lanterns and compasses. Powerful horses pulled them down a ramp and into shallow water. Hooves crunched on shingle. Odors of sweat rose from equine bodies. Men unhitched black and white animals, then led them back to dry land. Cox fired up an engine but the others pulled on oars to help out. Oars rose and fell like timber wings. Nye sat next to James for they were friends. The latter wasn't always popular at work for he made heavy demands on those working around him. In an emergency being a perfectionist could be a strength. Nye understood this.

As he rowed, Nye silently asked who did Cousin Daisy think she was? The way she looked down her nose at him raised hackles on his nape. She had married the owner of a local hotel and their business was expanding. They had just bought a guest house nearby. Even so, she came from a family of trawlermen, not the Sultans of Zanzibar. Apparently she had given Cathy much needed support before he came, when Cathy's mother died. As a result, Cathy wouldn't have a word said against Daisy.

Was Nye rushing into this relationship too quickly? He had only recently turned twenty-one. Then again, he had already experienced a brush with death down the mine. The Great War had killed many people only a few years older than he. Even at twenty-one he didn't know how much time there might be.

Nye made himself concentrate on the boat and his crewmates. They were in sight of the old shipwreck. Streaks of foam poured over submerged rocks as if racing each other. They steered Blue Dolphin further out for there were hidden rocks close by. Deep underwater they sheltered a conger eel that resembled a marine python. The sun had already set. Nye lit his lantern and others followed suit. Cox judged that they were close to the wreck so they halted. Men called out and scanned the area. There was no response. Cox gave an order. Nye and James left Blue Dolphin and, lanterns in hand, scrambled over slippery rocks. Wet algie didn't help. Both slipped and fell but they got up and continued searching. Nye pulled himself up by gripping rough but sodden timber. His right knee throbbed but he kept going. There was no sign of anyone else om the reef. Their crewmates' lanterns helped them to see.

After a long and stressful but thorough search, Cox called Nye and James back to the boat. Either they were too late or it was a false alarm. Everyone hoped it would be the latter. James and Nye took their oars, ready to help in rowing home.

Then it happened. A large wave loomed out of pitch darkness, hit the boat and overturned her. Foam engulfed her like a giant white glove. Bodies hit salt water with loud splashes. Frigid sea went through heavy pullovers. Intense cold reached into everyone's bones. Men cried out, thrashing, coughing and spluttering. They became disoriented. All of them, even Cox, were afraid. Lanterns and compasses sank to the bottom.

Somehow the crew regrouped. Fighting for breath they clung to Blue Dolphin. Cox shouted instructions. Terror gave them extra strength. They pushed till they feared their biceps would burst and righted their craft. Cork and buoyency chambers in her hull made it, not easy but possible. Sodden wool clung to aching muscles. Teeth chattered. Everyone paused, gasping and shaking. Then James asked "where's Nye?"

Horror spread through the vessel. The youngest among them was nowhere to be seen.

To be continued.

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31 Mar, 2024
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