Bell Rock

byoggbashan©

"OK. I'll leave you to dream."

Amanda climbed off me and started to unfasten the tent door.

"Hey!" I exclaimed. "You can't leave me like this. I can't get out."

"You're my prisoner, Henry," Amanda said. "If I let you out it will only be on parole."

"On parole?"

"Yes. You have to take me out tomorrow. If not? I'll leave you tied up until morning."

"I would be delighted to take you out tomorrow, Amanda," I replied. "But I'd like to be free for dinner tonight."

Amanda's hands fumbled at the draw cord.

"Tonight you're having dinner with me. I'm off duty."

+++

That evening we talked about ourselves, not the Esmeralda, and found our similarities a cause for frequent laughter. Amanda is a junior finance officer in a local council office in Bristol. I'm a recently qualified accountant in an office also in Bristol. Amanda is still studying for her local government qualifications. I completed and passed my accountant's qualification last year.

After the meal we went into her parents' private sitting room. Amanda went upstairs to bring down her current course details and the homework she had to finish before she would be back at work on Wednesday. We spent an hour with our heads close together doing that homework. I thought some of the terminology was weird, or had very different meanings from the same terms used by a normal accountant. Between us we worked out what the differences were, and more importantly WHY they were different. The homework that might have taken Amanda three or more hours was finished in one.

As we worked together I could feel that there was growing respect between us for the other's ability and intelligence. We were appreciating each other as individuals, not just man and woman. I wanted to have more time with Amanda, not just the day out tomorrow.

At one point during our work on the homework Amanda's mother walked through the sitting room. We were concentrating so hard that we hardly noticed her. As she came back she said 'Hello Henry'. We looked up, startled.

"Hello, Mrs Jones," I replied almost as she had left the room.

Amanda went upstairs to go to bed about ten o'clock. She had been working late each evening, finishing about two a.m. She wanted to sleep before our outing tomorrow. We had agreed to start at ten a.m. She kissed me and pushed me out towards the public area of the bar.

I bought a pint of bitter. Mrs Jones pulled it for me. About a quarter of an hour later the bar was empty. She came and sat down beside me.

"Can I have a word, Henry?" she asked.

"Of course," I replied.

"Don't tell Amanda."

I nodded. Don't tell Amanda what? I thought.

"You seem to be getting on well with her, Henry. Please be careful. Amanda was badly hurt very recently. That's one of the reasons why she came home to us. Her boyfriend for the last six months was a lecturer at the college she goes to part time. He wasn't teaching her otherwise he would be in more trouble. He's been transferred to a college in Exeter, partly because of his relationship with Amanda, but also because of inappropriate activity with two other female students at the same time. Amanda and the other two are all over twenty-one years old or..."

I nodded again. I could appreciate Mrs Jones' concern.

"That bastard is married and his wife was looking after their young son at home in Exeter. Their boy had been in hospital after a serious cycle accident. Instead of going home at weekends to help his wife he was having sex with three students."

"Ouch" I said.

"I'd have said something worse but ouch will do. When he was found out Amanda took it very badly. She had thought that marriage was possible. So did the other two. How he kept up the deception with three women? He must have had a smooth line of talk and be an accomplished liar..."

"And an arsehole," I added.

Mrs Jones nodded.

"Amanda is vulnerable at present. She obviously likes you but please be careful with her. Please?"

"Of course I will be. I like her too. I'd like to see more of her. We seem to like the same things and our studies are complementary. But it's too soon to say yet whether we will become more than friends. Tomorrow might be critical. A day together instead of an hour or two..."

"...in your tent."

Mrs Jones was obviously concerned about Amanda having been in the tent with me. I laughed.

"Amanda made sure I wasn't in a position to DO anything," I said. "She bundled me up in my sleeping bag and sat on me."

Mrs Jones giggled. She sounded just like Amanda.

"Good for her," she said. "That sounds like a normal Amanda. She's run most of the men she's been out with -- until they ran away. How would you react to being ordered around by Amanda?"

"I might enjoy it, if she's as gentle with me as she's been up to now. But I'll have to wait and see whether she wants me and whether we will have a relationship or not. I'd like it if she becomes like her mother."

What I might have said next was stopped by Mrs Jones kissing me.

"Thank you, Henry. Be careful. I run my husband and this pub. Amanda would be as demanding. Off you go to your lonely tent..."

Lonely tent? If the ghosts from the Esmeralda returned my tent would feel crowded, not lonely.

Mrs Jones kissed me again at the doorway.

+++

In my tent I went to sleep in minutes. It seemed that I was back in the dream almost at once.

I was back in that cold hut but it was still daylight. Abigail was pounding up and down on my again. But something had changed. Abigail seemed more like Amanda than my previous dream, and she was obviously pregnant. Why hadn't I noticed her bump before? On board the Esmeralda I had barely seen Abigail and she had been fully dressed. This morning I had been swamped by three naked women with Rose's breast and shoulders in my line of vision. But Abigail was pregnant, not that it seemed to diminish her obvious enjoyment.

I was vaguely aware that Abigail and I were alone in the hut and the door was ajar. Abigail reached her climax shortly before I did. She slumped across me. I wrapped my arms around her body as we rested. I closed my eyes very aware that I had a desirable woman on me.

It must have been a quarter of an hour later before Rose and Sarah returned.

"Abigail, Richard, we have some good and bad news for you," Rose said.

I peered at her.

"The bad news is that the boat has gone. We didn't pull it up the beach far enough."

I was relieved. The boat could link us to the Esmeralda and I was with three escaped felons.

"The good news? We're on the mainland, not an island. There's a faint path leading up the valley beside a small stream. We didn't go far but there are no houses or buildings for at least half a mile inland. The path must go somewhere. We ought to find out where before it gets dark again."

"I agree," I said blearily. "We need more food than ship's biscuits that have been lying around for years. We ought to get away from the coast before people start hunting us."

"Us?" Abigail queried. "They might be hunting escaped women prisoners, but not you."

"Me too," I replied, "As far as anyone knows I helped you to escape. Unless the officers survived to say I was threatened by your pistols, I'm an accomplice. I doubt they would have survived. We were very lucky to reach land."

"Oh," Sarah said. "I didn't realise we had implicated you, but we have, haven't we?"

"Yes," I said. "My career as a ship's officer is as wrecked as the Esmeralda, and I can't keep my name either. Nor can you."

"Changing our names? That's easily done. No one here will know who we are," Rose said.

As Abigail and I got dressed there was a discussion about what names we should take. We ought to have our names settled before we met anyone.

I, as Henry, knew what names they had taken. I, as Richard, was part of the discussion.

"Oh blast!" I said suddenly.

"What is it, Richard, sorry, Robert?" Abigail/Anne asked.

"If we are going to be other people we need to earn a living. I can't be a dead ship's officer, and as Robert I don't have the paperwork to be a ship's officer."

I felt in my trouser pocket and produced the pitifully few coins. I counted them carefully.

"Seven shillings and five pence three farthings isn't going to go far," I said ruefully.

Sarah/Susan and Rose/Ruth laughed at me.

"I'm serious," I said. "That's all the money I've got..."

"But not all we've got," Susan answered. "Remember the heavy bags we took in the boat? We took the ship's payroll, all of it to pay the crew, the warders, the officers -- everybody. We haven't counted it but..."

"That's theft!" I protested.

"Who knows that it didn't go down with the Esmeralda?" Susan retorted. "Money doesn't tell tales."

Before we set off to walk up the path Ruth opened the smaller one of the bags. There were hundreds of coins in it and many of them were guineas. She put a handful of coins into her skirt pocket. We hid both bags carefully.

The path followed the stream, gradually climbing up the valley. After two miles we could see a church tower in the distance and a smoking chimney halfway between that church and us. The chimney was at a crossroads between the path that had turned into a poor quality road, and another road which was nearly as badly surfaced. There was little sign that either had much use.

The chimney was on a public house. It was a largish building that had obviously seen better days in the distant past. The roof was sagging and had missing tiles. Some windows were broken. Only part of it looked occupied. There were stacks of tiles piled against a garden wall and other building materials obviously unused. We walked in with some unease. I had taken my jacket off and was carrying it folded because it identified me as a ship's officer. It didn't look like a place that would accept women. It didn't look welcoming for anyone.

There was an elderly woman sitting in front of the smoking fire. She was wearing black clothing. She looked up as we entered. Her face was lined. Her expression was sad.

"Can I help you?" she said.

Her tone suggested that helping anyone or even herself would be a real effort.

"We're looking for somewhere to stay and something to eat," I said without much hope.

"Stay? This hostelry has rooms but most aren't waterproof. There's a large room with six beds and a small room with two that don't leak -- yet."

"That would do," Ruth said before I could answer. "The large room for we women and the smaller one for him. Food?"

"I have food, too much food. It was for my husband's funeral feast but the neighbours brought far too much for the few mourners."

"I'm sorry for your loss," I started to say.

"I'm not," she retorted. "This place broke him and us. We bought it because the road was going to be turnpiked. We would have had a good passing trade. We borrowed money to improve the building. But the turnpike never happened. The trust's treasurer ran off with the money. Getting the materials here down the old road was too expensive. We borrowed more for the carters. But we had little income and now the bank will throw me out next month. The doctor said Jess died of pneumonia. He didn't. This place broke his heart."

We expressed our sympathy. Eventually the three women helped the old lady to prepare a meal for the five of us. The old lady brightened up when she had eaten.

"I'll go and stay with my daughter and her husband. I can help to look after the grandchildren but I would have liked not to be a financial burden."

"How much do you owe the bank?" Susan asked.

Anne and Ruth winced. That was an embarrassing question. The old woman noticed their reaction.

"I don't mind telling you strangers. Everyone within ten miles knows the mess I'm in. I owe forty guineas. In the last month the takings have been less than half a guinea. Jess and I paid fifty guineas for the buildings and the good will. We had borrowed thirty guineas but now the bank says we..." she corrected herself, "...I owe them forty. They'll take possession in three weeks time unless I have paid them forty guineas by the next quarter day. That's Michaelmass on September 29th."

+++

Over the next few hours we went back to the seashore hut and retrieved the bags of coins. We brought the box of ship's biscuit and the water barrel. We left them in a collapsing outhouse. We had left no trace in the hut of our presence except we had replaced the wood we had used on the fire with some more driftwood. It was wet from the rain but would dry eventually.

Ruth had paid the old lady for our food and rooms, a week in advance. She had also persuaded her to sell us some of the clothing left by her husband and some women's clothing that had belonged to the inn servant girls when they had servants. We were given the use of the best parlour. I lit a fire in there.

The old lady seemed slightly happier by the evening. The three women had dressed themselves in the servants' clothing. I was wearing some of the husband's old clothes. Our clothes would be washed tomorrow morning and hung out to dry if the weather improved.

We talked about what story we would tell the old lady to account for our arrival. We couldn't agree what that story would be but it didn't matter. She didn't ask so we told her no lies.

That night the women and I slept in our separate rooms. We didn't want to embarrass the old lady. We had discussed the possibility that the inn offered. We could afford to pay off the bank and probably buy the building. It would be a base while the hue and cry for the escaped prisoners from the Esmeralda were being hunted. Local innkeepers wouldn't be suspected of being fugitives.

+++

I as Henry was finding this dream complicated. As Richard Jenkins now Robert Jones I had to remember that Abigail had become Anne Smith; Sarah and Rose had remained sisters but become Susan and Ruth Simpson. My brain was whirling as the dream ended with me sleeping alone on an uncomfortable bed in a ramshackle Inn. What I did know was that Inn, vastly improved, was now the one run by Amanda's parents.

+++

Next morning I went to the pub shortly before ten am to collect Amanda for our day out. I had no idea where we were going or what we would do. I thought Amanda would know the locality far better than I did. Whatever she wanted to do? I'd agree. I walked in through the back door because the pub wasn't yet open to the public. Amanda's mother met me. She hugged and kissed me. That was a surprise.

"Amanda will be down in a few minutes, Henry. Coffee while you wait?"

"Yes please," I replied.

"Amanda likes you," Mrs Jones said. "I'm not surprised. So do I."

I had just finished the coffee when Amanda appeared.

"Where do you want us to go today?" I asked.

"How about starting at The Mumbles and then the Gower?" Amanda suggested.

"OK with me," I said. "I might need directions at first."

"No Sat Nav?" Amanda asked.

"I use maps most of the time. I have Sat Nav on the company car but not on my own," I answered.

"OK, Henry. It's not difficult except getting to the main road."

+++

As I drove I told Amanda about last night's dream. It was obvious where it was going. The Esmeralda survivors would pay off the bank and buy the Inn from the old lady. Richard/Robert would marry Abigail/Anne before her baby was born. How that would happen didn't really matter. I had the connection between the Esmeralda, the 1852 marriage and the 1861 census. It might be just a realistic dream but the details fitted. Mr Jones and Amanda would be descendants of Richard Jenkins and Abigail Sanders. The more I dreamed about Abigail/Anne the more she looked like the Amanda Jones now sitting beside me.

We enjoyed ourselves that day. The weather was kind. We ate in a restaurant at The Mumbles and walked on a couple of Gower beaches hand in hand. We drove back to the public house owned by Amanda's parents in a comfortable silence.

Amanda and I ate our evening meal together in her parents' private sitting room. It was late in the evening. As I was saying good night to Amanda she stopped kissing me and looked closely at my face.

"There's something I have to tell you, Henry," Amanda said. "I haven't told my parents. I don't know how to."

I didn't know what she was trying to say but it was obviously something important to her. I should have guessed after her mother's warning to me.

"I had a boyfriend at my part-time classes. He was a lecturer on another course. I thought we were going to get married but..."

Amanda's face crumpled. I opened my arms and hugged her. She continued to speak, muffled against my shoulder.

"The bastard was already married with a son. He was cheating on his wife, and even cheating on me with two other students at the same time. The college management found out. I don't know how but they sent him away, back to his wife. The student counsellor told me and the other two women AFTER he had gone. I had loved him. He was just using me like his private unpaid whore. Using us. All three of us. And now?"

Amanda pulled her face away from my shoulder and looked at me.

"Now? I'm pregnant. Not only am I pregnant but I've been ignoring the obvious signs until it's too late to do anything about it. I'm going to have a baby, that bastard's baby, and he's ruined my life. Of course I can get him to pay maintenance but I'm going to be an unmarried mother just when I thought my career was going to take off. What's the point of finishing my qualifications when I'm going to be dealing with nappies, not numbers?"

What could I say? I said nothing just hugged her close and kissed the top of her head.

"I wish... I wish... I wish I'd met you, Henry, before him. Now he's ruined my chance with you before we had really begun to know each other."

"He hasn't..." I said impulsively. "Amanda is still Amanda. She's the person I've been staying here for. Amanda is the person I want to see more of, even when my holiday is over and we're the other side of the Bristol Channel. It's still too soon to say what will happen between us. We've known each other for no more than a few days. I want weeks, months of Amanda..."

"Even an Amanda with a growing bump?"

"Yes, Amanda."

Her lips stopped me saying anything else. It was several minutes before she spoke again.

"Can you come with me now? I need to tell my parents. I need your support while I tell them. Mum will be shocked. Dad will be murderous. They might be more restrained if you're with me."

I wasn't sure but if that's what Amanda wanted, I'd go with her.

She was wrong about her parents. Her mother already knew and had told Mr Jones. They had been waiting for Amanda to tell them. A daughter can't hide a pregnancy from her mother that long. Mrs Jones even had made a reasonable estimate of the due date. Mum and daughter hugged as Amanda cried. I felt that I shouldn't be there at such a significant moment for the Jones family until Mrs Jones needed a hug from me as Amanda and her father cuddled each other.

I was able to get away back to my tent about ten minutes later. Tomorrow Amanda and I could talk about what happens when she and I go back to work. Tonight? Tonight I need to sleep, perhaps to dream of a demanding and pregnant Abigail, now called Anne, who looks very like Amanda.

+++

Richard Jenkins, now Robert Jones, appeared in my dream almost as he had done the first time. Unlike the bedraggled third officer wearing creased salt-stained clothing and with long wet hair and a full beard, he now looked like a middle class civilian in a reasonable jacket. He was clean shaven and his hair was cut short, very short for the period.

"After a couple of days staying at the Inn," Robert started, "we decided that we would buy out Mrs Leigh. Although the prospects for an income from trade looked poor, we had so much money we didn't really need an income. On the next market day at the local town Mrs Leigh and I went with a local farmer taking his produce to market.

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