Weekend Wind Down – Nightjar

Kerenza straightened the pillows behind great gran, thinking as she did so how frail was the old lady’s body but how alive were her twinkling blue eyes.
Once the bed was comfortable, Kerenza sat in the bedside chair and smiled.
The old lady patted her hand. ‘It’s nice to see your dimples again, child. Wouldn’t be because your father is off up to London on parliamentary business would it?’
Kerenza blushed. ‘Please Great Gran, don’t make me be thinking undutiful thoughts.’
‘I don’t think it’s my fault that your father is a humourless dullard. Or maybe it is.’
‘He’s not so bad. And mother knows how to manage him.’
‘She does at that.’
The quiet that fell in the room was companionable and, as always when she had leisure, Kerenza looked with great pleasure at the painting that shone like a jewel on the wall above the applewood fire that warmed the room and scented the air.
‘You love my picture, don’t you?’
‘I do Great Gran, and I have often wondered…’ Kerenza let her voice tail off aware that she may have overstepped the mark.
But Great Gran just laughed. ‘That’s a picture of the good ship Nightjar, she was a privateer engaged in ‘free trading’ along this very coast. Your great grandfather had the picture painted for me on our tenth wedding anniversary. Only that doesn’t explain why I love it so much does it? Would you like to hear the story?’
Kerenza nodded mutely and took the old lady’s wrinkled hand in hers.
‘I couldn’t have been much older than you when I first came to these parts. My grandmother was thought to be dying, and my father counted me the least essential part of his household so he sent me to Chegwidden to bear her company in her last days. And, of course, to ensure that nobody was poaching on his inheritance. Granny was frail, but kindly, and I think I knew the first happiness in my life behind the granite walls of her house.’
She stopped speaking and her jaw worked in such a way that Kerenza thought she might be about to cry. When Great Gran got herself together, she squeezed Kerenza’s fingers and smiled a misty smile.
‘I hadn’t been here but a week when I came to know the two men around whom my life was to revolve. I was walking the dogs when I all but fell into the hands of Ludovic StMartin, who was the captain of the Nightjar.’ She smiled reminiscently and her eyes danced as if at some deliciously naughty memory. ‘He was a handsome devil, and didn’t he know it. Thought to steal a kiss, and maybe bring me to heel with his charm. I smacked his face and kicked his shins for him. He didn’t know whether to laugh or spank me. While he was making his mind up I ran away. Which piqued his interest enough so that he invited himself to dinner the next night – brought Granny some lace from Valenciennes, a pipe of brandy, and a bolt of midnight blue velvet. I ignored him. And then the chase was on. All summer he hunted me like a deerhound after a hart. But I didn’t want to know.’
Kerenza was fascinated enough to still her normally busy tongue. Instead of her usual babble of chatter she sat mouse-still and listened.
‘In the meantime I met your great grandfather. He was a little older than me and was quietly mourning the death of his young wife in childbirth. We became fast friends and his was the ear into which I poured my innermost thoughts. He became my dearest friend I all the world. As for Ludovic I think I might just have carried in disliking him had he not had the misfortune to catch a bullet in his right shoulder. The dogs and I found him faint from loss of blood and in very real danger of being caught by the revenue. To this day I don’t know why I decided to save him. But I did. Somehow I got him across the saddle of my mare and brought him to the relative safety of Granny’s house, where I nursed him back to health. And fell in love with him. I think he loved me too – or at least he said he did. Granny knew he was in my room but we never spoke of it until the night he was well enough to leave. ‘Be careful, child,’ she said, ‘the world is unlikely to give you a happy ending if you choose to follow Ludovic’. I remember thinking that he and I would make our own happy ending but I was wrong.’
A slow tear ran down the old lady’s papery cheek and Kerenza began to feel guilty for wanting to know the story of the beloved picture.
‘You don’t have to tell me,’ she whispered.
‘I think I do. And there’s little more really to tell. The Nightjar slipped up the river to meet a rowing boat bringing her captain back to his quarterdeck. As she rode the tide out to sea, a revenue cutter caught up with her in the roads and blew her out of the water. I have heard it said that the explosion was heard from as far away as Plymouth. I thought my life was over too. Although fate had other ideas.
‘It was a sunset as bright as the one in the picture when your great grandfather came to find me where I sat on the cliff top. He proposed to me a marriage of friendship and I accepted. By the time my own father arrived, brought down from London by the rumour his daughter was consorting with a smuggler, our betrothal was a matter of fact – and the daughter Papa was going to discipline with a horsewhip was about to marry the richest man in Cornwall.’
Great Gran settled back amongst her pillows and it seemed to Kerenza that she was a long way from her bedchamber and a lot of years away from the ninety-three years she owned to now. But just when Great Gran appeared to be drifting into sleep she squeezed Karenza’s hand.
‘I often think,’ she said quietly, ‘that I can see Ludovic on the deck of his ship and I fancy that one day he will call my name and I’ll go with him to wherever he may be.’
Kerenza gently patted the thin hand that rested in hers and she was rewarded by the genteel sound of snoring as the old lady drifted off to sleep.
It was to be Great Gran’s last sleep. In the morning they found her peacefully departed with her hands tenderly clasped together and a soft smile on her lips.
It wasn’t until she had finished helping her mother to gently prepare Great Gran for her final resting place that Kerenza looked over to the picture. It still showed a sunset but the Nightjar was gone…

© jane jago

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Start a Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: