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Stranger on the Run Part 2
Stranger on the Run Part 2

Stranger on the Run Part 2


Nye and Cathy met up that evening and she showed him around the town. She lead him past Victorian hotels with five stories and Classical windows, shops under glass and cast iron arcades, then to a castle on a hill. There were also caves once used by smugglers. This reminded Nye of a book he had started reading as a child. He had been getting involved in it when Dad snatched it away. The boy shouldn't have been reading a story with an upper class hero.

In the present she showed him the arrow straight pier with various shops, a fortune teller, a Punch and Judy show and a theatre. The theatre had a dome like a bowler hat. They left said pier with fish and chips in their hands. Cathy pointed to a large shed like building at the top of the beach. It was built of timber and its roof was barrel shaped. A ramp lead down from it to lapping waves.

"That's the lifeboat station," she said proudly. "My Dad used to be on the crew. He's retired from it now but he was on it as far back as I can remember."

"Good for him," Nye replied with salt on his tongue.

Couples and families milled around them. Some had baloons, others candy floss. The tourist season had only just begun. An idea was forming in Nye's mind, but then he dismissed it.

Cathy called "watch where you're puttin' your feet!"

She was too late. Nye felt his left heel sink into dog poo and stopped to look down.

"You were miles away," she childed. "What are you thinkin' about?"

"I'm sorry, its a stupid idea. I thought about joining the lifeboat crew, but they wouldn't have me, would they. I'm not a sailor."

"You don't 'ave to be, they come from all walks of life. Dad's a fisherman but you don't need to be. You'd "ave to train hard but there's no rule sayin' you can't apply. Are you over seventeen?"

"I'm nineteen."

Cathy pulled black hair off her forehead, then said "there's nothin' to stop you then."

She explained that the lifeboat was crewed by volunteers and funded by charitable donations. Most of her crew had other jobs, but when an emergency arose they would race to the station and set off to help. In this coastal community most bosses understood that this was important, sometimes life saving, and so allowed it.

A few days later, Nye and Cathy approached the lifeboat station and he offered the crew his services. He arrived braced for rejection but they gave him an interview. The cox who was interviewing glanced at a window and saw Cathy outside. He offered Nye a chance to train and the labourer said "yes" to that. He wondered if Cathy's presence had swayed the cox. Who was he to them? Just a stranger on the run.

Weeks passed. Nye made regular trips to the lifeboat station and trained for the crew. There was much to learn: how to tie different knots, how to navigate, how to apply first aid and more. Nye had to jump into a swimming pool and participate in a staged capsize. That summer was cool so he shivered when wet.

One day Nye was training at the station. He and others hurled long rope ahead of themselves then Nye heard another person join the group. The new arrival greeted them. Nye recognised that voice. He hoped he was mistaken and hurled his rope again. Another man came alongside him and said "try harder, someone's life could depend on getting it right." It was James Millward from the hotel.

Nye gritted his teeth and knotted his brow, then pulled brown rope in faster than usual. He focused on the beach ahead and made another throw. This one was powered by irritation and an urge to prove himself. Heavy coils flew further and with greater accuracy than before. A group of ringed plovers (wading birds) scattered as the rope landed close to them. Millward looked on, surprised in a good way, then made a fine throw of his own. The young Welshman recalled that Millward had fought in the trenches while he, Nye, had not. Nye had a lot to prove here.

Cox came up to Nye and said "make allowances for Millward. He's bin on a shout that ended badly. A young lad was fishin' from the shore an' got hit by a freak wave. The current dragged 'im out to sea. We spent hours lookin' for 'im, but we ended up recovering 'is body."

Nye stopped feeling sorry for himself and empasised with Millward and his crewmates.

The conservatory at Cathy's hotel was finished. Nye found work building houses on the edge of town. His new boss had a brother who was a fisherman and so the man encouraged Nye in his training for the lifeboat.

One summer day, Nye and Cathy met in a lane outside of town. Hedges flanked the earthy track. Hawthorn, wild rose and spindle trees grew there. Leaves glowed in sunlight, as fresh and new as children starting school. Nye sang to himself. "We'll keep the red flag flying he-re!" As he approached a timber gate, Cathy stepped from behind him and covered his eyes with her hands. This made him jump. White butterflies flew up from the ground, then fluttered down like confettie at a wedding. He relaxed and they laughed.

"You've got a good voice Mr Morgan," she said from under a wide brimmed hat. "Ow do you fancy joinin' our local choir?"

He was taken by surprise, then said "I've nothing to wear for it. I didn't bring a dinner jacket or a suit."

"Save up for one then, or borrow one."

"Its not just that Cathy. I've noticed there are quite different politics round here, more conservative than back home. Folk might not approve of my music."

"What's politics got to do with it?" she asked. "Just sing and enjoy yourself."

Nye thought "back home only protest songs were allowed. Some of our neighbours sang for pleasure but our family didn't."

Had his father ever sung in joyful tones? Oh yes, when news came through that the Romanovs had been shot. Dad had sung at the breakfast table.

Nye had protested saying "they killed women and children as well as the Tzar."

Dad had leaned in on him, nostrils flaring, until their noses almost touched.

"Shall I tell you something Nye? Thousands of peasant women and children died of hunger and cold under the Tzar. Those Romanovs deserved everything they got!"

"Two wrongs don't make.... Ouch! No, no! Stop, stop, you're hurting me!"

Cathy's voice brought him back to the present.

"Maybe we're not as conformist as you think. We had suffragette rallies here before the war. Dad and me were in favour of women votin' but Cox was against it. Him and Dad are still in touch but not quite as matey as they were."

Months went by. Nye had to work on shore crew before going out on the boat. This meant watching for incidents and following the crew's progress from dry land, cleaning the lifeboat and the station. He was a little over eager at first. Raising his head at every sound earned him the nickname of Spaniel. Then he took part in a training exercise. He had to slide off the lifeboat, Blue Dolphin, and into cold water, then feign unconsciousness. A cork lifejacket kept him afloat.

As Nye watched the boat pull away fear crept into his brain. All four limbs went stiff and his breathing grew shallow. What was beneath him? Sharks? Powerful currents? Darkness? A wave rose and blocked his view of Blue Dolphin. He fought against mounting anxiety. Memories of screaming men and falling rocks came back.

To be continued

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2 Jul, 2022
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