Dear great-great granddaughter…
What would a young Victorian woman have written in a diary dedicated to her descendants? This historical serial starter for The Story Mint was partially inspired by Samuel Richardson’s 1740 novel Pamela.
The year is 1873 and Pearl Farrell, Londoner, is immigrating to New Zealand.
Dear great-great granddaughter,
Forgive my long absence from this record. The ship has been bobbing like an apple all night and I’ve had a wretched time of it! Before dawn, the nausea welled up again. I fled up to the deck and vomited into the dark waves, praying that no one was awake to witness my shame. God didn’t answer my prayers. A sailor came to my aid with a cup of water. In its reflection, I saw the day was as grey as my complexion. I slowly raised my head. The horizon was veiled by a long line of thick, white cloud. At that moment, it began to part. Could it be? Were those snow-capped mountains or was the light deceiving me?
“Is that…?” I whispered, gesturing forward.
“Aye, miss,” nodded the sailor, leaning on his mop. “That’s New Zealand.”
My innards cramped. Now I was here, I couldn’t be certain which was worse: endless sea sickness or the future that awaited on shore?
It was a future of my own making, but, my dear descendent, could you deny your father’s last request?
It was an equally dismal morning six months ago in London when I last wrote to you. I closed my diary and went to Father’s bedchamber to ask if he would like a little chicken broth for supper. That was when he told me that Dr Hanley had asked for my hand.
“But he’s…old,” I protested.
“Who will care for you when I’m gone?” Father tried to sit up. “There is no one, Pearl, no one!” He broke into a coughing fit, spraying the blanket with flecks of blood.
As I hurried forward with a handkerchief, he looked up at me with such troubled eyes that it was as if he were the child and I the parent.
One week later I watched them lower Father’s coffin into the ground with no one for company except Dr Hanley.
“I’ve been offered a position in New Zealand,” Dr Hanley said quietly as the sexton added the last shovelfuls of earth. “They are in great need of physicians and want me to sail within the month.”
I nodded. I didn’t even know where New Zealand was.
“We needn’t wait a year until we marry. Out in the colonies, practicalities tend to take priority over mourning etiquette.”
I tossed the rose I’d been holding into Father’s grave. Glancing down, I realized how tightly I’d been clasping it and pressed my bleeding thumb into the black folds of my dress.
“Well, that is a relief. This colour does not become me at all,” I replied, far too lightly.
However, the day before we were due to sail, I slipped on a frozen puddle and broke my leg. Dr Hanley’s passage could not be delayed, so he sailed alone. I was to join him as soon as I could walk.
How far away it had seemed, my dear descendant, and how frighteningly close the shore is now.