From The Ship of Dreams …………Y/A …novel ..coming soon on Kindle
—— As much a fairy-tale for adults as a rite of passage through time and trauma for teenagers—
A coming of age novel where teenage sexuality and the questioning nature of life is unravelled against a backdrop of Sussex in the 1980’s and the sinking of the famous liner The Lusitania off the coast of Ireland in 1915.
The Lusitania in the Atlantic Ocean May 1915
The white light cleared and steadied, she felt calm and heard something soft and comforting which sounded like the tinkle of crystal. Libby looked up to see the sparkling prisms of a thousand pieces of cut glass on the chandeliers above her head which were gently swaying in a rocking motion. She was sitting on a delicate red velvet chair in a dining room set with white table linen and white and gold patterned plates. On the table in front of her there were six sets of knives and forks, her napkin was on her knee and she heard the sound of laughter, surrounding her.
‘’ Libby, Lilibet you’ve drifted away from us, come and look what your sister Jessica has drawn’’
The voice was soft and comforting and she looked around into the eyes of a beautiful woman dressed in a white lace evening dress with gold silk gloves that covered her fair skin from tip of finger to elbow. Opening her eyes wide she clutched at the hand on her arm, and tried to talk.
‘’ Mother it’s happening again…….’’.
She whispered, two huge tears rolled down her face, as she came to herself with a start and instantly knew that she was with her mother Gracie and small sister Jessica on the big fast liner ‘’The Lusitania’’ on the way to visit their father in London. The Saloon class dining room she was sitting in looked like a ballroom from one of her sister’s fairy tale books, all rounded cornices and delicate filigree designs around the dome of the etched glass roof that towered above her. The table was full of her mother’s New York acquaintances. The theatre set, pretty actresses, a director or two, and included the millionaire Alfred Vanderbilt who was travelling to a Race Horse Breeders meeting in England. It had been a long day for all of them; the afternoon and early evening spent at a party in the rooms of Charles Frohman the impresario hot from his latest Broadway success, taking time off from his busy schedule to entertain them all. His en-suite rooms were littered with movie stars like Rita Calvert. It was the first time she’d ever seen women that were so startlingly beautiful that close up, and although she’d tried not to stare it had been difficult. No one had really noticed the small plump quiet girl with the permanent frown between her brows and the large green eyes; they were all too busy talking in very loud voices to each other and not listening to the replies.
Libby had been allowed one glass of champagne, now she was fifteen she was practically an adult after all, although she hadn’t really liked the bubbly stuff. It tasted bitter and she was relieved when the butler brought her home made lemonade instead. Now the grown-ups were excitedly discussing the possibility of being torpedoed by a German submarine, which made the ladies shriek, and the men appear all handsome and heroic. Several of the passengers had received anonymous telegrams before sailing warning them of German U boat activity, but being American they had ignored it. All of them could have sailed on the American Liner the ‘’ New York’’ which also sailed on the 1st of May at noon, but everyone had agreed that the German’s wouldn’t dare to attack The Lusitania, and anyway the Captain had assured them that the Royal Navy would send ships to defend them just as soon as they entered the war zone.
All this talk of war and drowning had made Libby rather scared but she always cheered up when Alfred was about. Even with her headache coming on she was loathe to leave the table, she was happy just to sit staring at him, she had such a huge crush on him, her first crush as it happened. When he noticed her at all and gave her one of his brilliant smiles she could feel the blush burning her pale skin
If Libby was to admit it she was probably madly in love with Alfred Vanderbilt, he was so handsome, and when he leaned across her to pat her mother’s arm she noticed that he smelt deliciously of after shave. Not the sort her father wore but something exotic and spicy. She’d heard her mother and the maid whispering about his ‘’conquests’’ whereas although she was not quite sure what that meant, she supposed it was to do with all those hot looking clinches she’d seen in the one or two movies that her parents had shown privately at home. According to Gracie he was fabulously rich, adored his horses and was on his second wife, and also was off to England to do something heroic in the war. He professed to be going over there to drive ambulances for the Red Cross, which didn’t sound like much fun, but Libby has decided that there was no fathoming her parents’ generation, they were all totally mad. They seemed to see war as some kind of heroic game they could all have fun with, rather like a large shooting party in upstate New York, but Libby doesn’t think they have a clue as to what they were getting themselves into.
She had sat valiantly through most of the dinner before the coloured lights started flashing across her retina, a sure sign that something was amiss. Gracie was just explaining to Alfred the lure of the evening’s entertainment of amateur dramatics in the music room, and one of the actresses was passing a hat around the tables for tips for the orchestra when the blackness threatened to overwhelm her and she had grabbed for her mother’s arm.
‘’Lucy’’ as the cruise liner was known had charmed her the minute she had stepped on board., The ship was like a floating European Palace, the black hulk towering up into the sky above her dwarfing the carriages and crowds on the dock. Once she stepped foot on board, the inside décor of the first class area, which for some reason was called Saloon class, it reminded her of pictures she had seen of castles in Europe, Palaces that they were going to visit one day when this beastly war was over with. She relived the excitement of getting on the boat in New York, waving goodbye to her Grandmother and thinking how lucky she was to be allowed to visit Papa in London and not be left behind this time. But ever since she got on board 5 days ago she’d been having the blackouts again, and when she came to she couldn’t remember where she’d been. Except it seemed that she’d become stuck in a dark corridor full of shadows, with no beginning and no end. The Doctors had described her as having a rare form of epilepsy, as she’d been having these attacks since she was four years old, but over the last 6 months the periods of darkness have diminished greatly due to the opium and bromide tincture she has been taking.
So they had set sail on May Day, 1915, the date of her 15th birthday, this trip was her father’s present to her, and because she couldn’t be left behind, her annoying little sister Jessica had come too. Luckily the governess and her mother’s maids kept Jessica out of the way most of the time, so that Libby has been free to wander around the vastness of the ship and explore all its decks and cubby holes. She had even discovered a garden on one of the top decks complete with palm trees and pathways to walk through. It was a place where the lovers met at night and occasionally she had snuck out and watched the whispered caresses in the darkness, wondering what it would be like if Alfred were doing that to her.
London beckoned with its shops and theatres and the very real promise of being presented at court. Though in a small private way, as the war had put paid to great shows of ostentation They’d all been slightly perturbed by the notice printed in the newspapers that Gracie had tried to keep from them, warning them of the dangers of crossing the Atlantic: and Libby had cut it out to keep it as a memento and had pasted it into her journal.
Mother had said that the ship could outrun any German U boat, even though they had shut down six of her boilers to conserve fuel, and because of her deep keel she would probably be able to sink anything that came too close. She was sure that Papa wouldn’t have sent for them if he thought there was any danger now would he? She tried to focus on some of the evening chatter around the dinner table including Mr Vanderbilt telling everyone that a warning not to sail on the ship had been sent to his hotel room the night before sailing. The anonymous message had said that there was a German U boat waiting for them off English waters, and the table had roared with laughter at the preposterous thought, but Libby shivered in fear. She thought of the newspaper cutting she had pasted into her journal and quivered again.