Farah Mendlesohn/ October 18, 2019/ / 0 comments

by Karen Ovér

Book Cover: The House on Shipwreck Hill

1910

On a hill in San Francisco sits a house. Dark, derelict, it waits for just the right family.

In England, Jonathan Hamilton desires to break free of the rigid path laid ahead for a second son, Nigel Hamilton is fleeing abuse and the marginal position of an illegitimate son and Jason Dent has left behind a family that won’t acknowledge what he is, while in San Francisco Anne and Emily Jenkins both want to make new kinds of lives and new kinds of family.

Karen Ovér is currently living and writing in New York City. Her work has appeared in the anthologies Fairy Tale Riot, From a Cat's View, Bubble Off-Plumb, and From a Cat's View Vol. II, and is available at amazon.com and balletsandbogeys.weebly.com/golemwerks

Available at Amazon UKAvailable at Amazon

Available from your favourite online store via Books 2 Read

 

 

When not in the midst of negotiating with the cat for desk space, she can sometimes be found clinging to a ballet barre, attempting to realign the vertebrae sent in all directions by hours of maniacal word processing.

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Excerpt:

Summer, 1911

At Sea - RMS Olympic

So much for moving up and out, Nigel thought as he took up his shovel and entered a coal bunker. Though far below the water line, the stokehold was incredibly hot. For the next four hours he would shovel coal into wheelbarrows to be taken to the boiler rooms, taking care to unload the bunker evenly to keep the ship in trim - balanced on her keel - hence his new job title of coal trimmer.

"Shift it, Hamilton! We're going full ahead!"

Nigel swung his shovel in a steady rhythm, quick enough to satisfy the lead fireman, but not so fast that he dropped from heat exhaustion. His name wasn't the only answer he'd fudged when questioned at the White Star pier in Liverpool.

"Sixteen, are you?" the officer queried, with a look Nigel was all too familiar with.

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"I might be a day or two shy, sir," he'd replied with the barest of winks. One corner of the officer's mouth twitched. Nigel grinned, looking him right in the eye, knowing this was the one.

"Welcome to the black gang, son. If the stokehold doesn't take that cheek out of you, I'll take you in hand myself."

"Much obliged, sir. I do aim to please."

It didn't take long to learn why the stokehold crew was called the black gang. Nigel thought their shower baths novel until he watched the water turn black as it sluiced down his body after his first shift. Rather than a luxury, it was the only way to keep the men and their quarters reasonably clean.

Nigel was no stranger to coal, having kept the scuttles of Hamilton Manor filled during the winter months. Being shut away below decks was another matter. By the time Olympic returned to Southampton, Nigel knew how much he didn't know about the world.

James, the officer who signed him on, made sure Nigel was part of the short crew kept on for the three days required to prepare the ship for the return crossing. He went ashore to collect his pay, and James caught up with him at the White Star offices. "Let me show you around a bit. What's your fancy, eh? Nickelodeon? Hippodrome show?"

"Is there a botanical garden?"

They went to Central Park, then to James's hotel. "Don't get used to this. Captain Smith may seem like everyone's favourite granddad, but you don't want to cross him. Goes by the book, he does. And this, you and me, is definitely not in his book."

The tiff came in September. As Olympic left Southampton on her fifth voyage, she passed close to the incoming HMS Hawke. The massive propeller wash of the giant liner pulled the small battle cruiser out of control, until Hawke's specially reinforced ramming bow buried itself in Olympic's side. No one was hurt, and the liner limped back to her berth to disembark her passengers.

Nigel breathed a sigh of relief. For the past week he'd been troubled with visions of the ship sinking. Now the crisis was past, the watertight doors and bulkheads and the electric pumps doing the job they'd been so expertly designed for, keeping the ship afloat until she could reach safety. But the extensive damage left him with a problem his faerie gifts hadn't warned him about. Olympic would have to go to Belfast for repairs, which meant the crew was now unemployed. Nigel slipped through the crew passages to the officers' quarters and found James packing his kit to go ashore.

"What are we going to do?"

James never even looked up from his task. "We? I'm off to visit the family for a few weeks. Any longer than that, they'll give me another assignment. Adriatic is in port. Go hang about the gangway and wait for a spot."

There were plenty of other ships, but there were also nearly two hundred stokers now scrambling for berths. Stung by James's indifference, Nigel joined the scrum, but found himself giving way to men who had families to feed. He was considering the odds of finding a generous gentleman waiting for the first class train to London when the lead fireman called him back.

"Oy! Hamilton! Get yerself below!"

Too many men had jumped ship. She still needed enough crew to get her back to Harland & Wolff. Grinning, Nigel got back aboard Olympic. When the ship was nudged into the giant dry dock and the officer handed her over to the foreman, Nigel got off with the crew. During the shuffle of stokers trudging off and riveters swarming on, Nigel slipped back aboard. The shipyard workers would all be at the damaged section near the stern. Nigel intended to keep himself near his own berth far forward, counting on the size of the ship and the urgency to get the work done to keep him hidden.

When Olympic sailed again, Nigel knew every inch of her. As they slipped away from Cherbourg, he avoided the passage where he usually met James, following his ears toward the sound of the ship's orchestra. Daring to enter first class, he crept into the dish pantry and peered through a small window in the door to the dining saloon.

The pretty waiter he saw pouring champagne made him forget James. A drunken toff had his hand in the waiter's front pocket, groping. Nigel growled, low in his throat, hoping the waiter would give the toff a dousing, but he maintained his poise, never spilling a drop. Only the faintest of twitches in the corner of one eye betrayed his annoyance. Then both eyes locked with Nigel's, crystal blue depths holding mysteries Nigel longed to solve.

"Here you! What you doin' in my pantry?"

Nigel tore his gaze away from the waiter to find the chief steward frowning at him. Here goes nothing.

"I want to train as a steward, sir. I want out of the stokehold."

"Right. You and every lazy oaf as ever leaned on a coal shovel. Listen you little imp, Olympic's first class passengers get the best service on the North Atlantic run. You don't train on a ship the likes of this, and you sure don't start out serving in first class. Now be off with you afore I call Captain Smith."

COLLAPSE

About the Author

Karen Ovér is currently living and writing in New York City. Her work has appeared in the anthologies Fairy Tale Riot, From a Cat's View, Bubble Off-Plumb, and From a Cat's View Vol. II, and is available at amazon.com and balletsandbogeys.weebly.com/golemwerks

When not in the midst of negotiating with the cat for desk space, she can sometimes be found clinging to a ballet barre, attempting to realign the vertebrae sent in all directions by hours of maniacal word processing.


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