Memories of Cornwall

Joe tugs, playfully, at the drawstring of Maggie’s apron as she tends to the fire, rekindling the flames, which crackle and flicker, with an armful of dry twigs.
Maggie straightens, brushing away the woodlice which cling to the grey sleeves of her dress, and turns toward him. Her blue eyes flash in the firelight, “you are a devil, aren’t you Mr Byrne?”
“Aye”, Joe replies with a wink, pulling her onto his lap, “not even six months in her majesty’s prison could flog the devil out of me.”
Maggie tangles a finger through Joe’s sideburns, “You must be hungry after six months on bread and water.”
Joe nods, as the ache of his belly grows stronger, “I don’t want to put you through any trouble though lass.”
Maggie kisses him softly on his forehead, her lips warm against his skin. “Nothing is too much trouble for you Joe.”
Joe watches as she moves toward the door and locks it, the iron pin echoing as it is bolted down through the chain.
Joe turns toward the hearth and takes the fire poker from the hook, prodding at the blackened sticks, as his mind fills with thoughts of Maggie. He looks up toward the grandfather clock; his eyes following the bronze pendulum as it moves backward and forward.
Joe strains to listen as the sound of footfalls edge closer. From the corner of his eye, Maggie’s figure glides into the parlour, his ears catching on the gentle humming that escapes her pursed lips. Joe turns in the chair, his gaze locks on the plate clasped in her hands, brimming with stew.
Maggie sets the china plate in front of him, the sweet-smelling aroma of meat and potatoes wafts up to him and into his nose. Joe’s eyes flick up to her, “I am very grateful lass.” He murmurs.
She sits beside him, taking the knife and fork from the fold in her apron and hands them to Joe, the metal utensils glinting in the kerosene light.
Joe closes his eyes as the warm stew fills the hungry void that resides in him, memories of cold, prison gruel, replaced by the tender chunks of beef that melt in his mouth.
When he has finished his meal, Joe leans back against the chair and takes Maggie’s hand, stroking his thumb over the soft skin of her palm.
Joe’s eyes narrow, “Your accent…” He begins, “it has been mulling in my mind. Australia, it is not your native place is it?”
“I’m from Cornwall.” Maggie smiles, “Julia Clarke…ah, McKinnon, is my full name.”
“Cornwall.” Joe repeats, holding her gaze, “I’ve read about it in Macaulay’s England from up at Ingram’s bookshop in Camp Street.”
“Do you enjoy reading?” Maggie asks.
“Nothing better than a good book,” Joe replies, running a rough finger over the back of her hand. “Since I was a little fellow I’ve loved to read. Me ma didn’t like the questioning it brought though. I had a few books which examined religion and ma found them.” Joe shakes his head at the memory, “well, she threw the lot of them into the fire, and berated me for having devilish ideas.”
Joe’s eyes flick up to Maggie, who smiles regretfully. He watches as she begins mustering the crumbs from the table with a damp cloth. His fingers move along the milky skin of her forearm, pushing the grey woollen fabric up around her elbow, and come to rest on a raised red mark.
“What happened here lass?” Joe asks, his brow furrowed as he traces his index finger over the wound.
He looks up at Maggie, her eyes fixed on the shadowy stretch of floorboards.
“My husband, Jim Clarke, was a heavy drinker…” She closes her eyes, “When he was drunk he would accuse me of being unfaithful to him. As punishment for this unfaithfulness, he would hold me down and brand me with a heated fire poker.”
Joe’s fists curl at his sides, his jaw clenching tightly. “Where is the bastard now?”
Maggie turns from him, but he cups her face, his steely blue eyes stare deeply into hers. “You must tell me lass,” He looks down at the burn on her arm, “a man that does this to a woman cannot be allowed to live unpunished.”
“He’s still in Cornwall Joe.” Maggie replies, composed, her fingers thread through his. “I left to escape him. I boarded a ship bound for Australia as a stowaway, using the alias Maggie O’Riley. When the ship disembarked in Melbourne my sister, Claudia, took me in to live with her for a while, until I found myself good employment. It was Claudia, actually, who found me the advertisement for General Servant here, at the Vine Hotel.”
For a moment Joe is silent, the strength of the woman seated in front of him jolts his core. He longs to hold her, to feel the softness of her skin against the hardness of his.
“You know Maggie”, Joe begins, his voice shaky with the weight of the words, “I would never…”
She places a finger over his dry lips, “I know Joe…”
Maggie leans forward; her fingers grasping the lapels of Joe’s tweed jacket, as she kisses him tenderly, while Joe’s hands clasp around her aproned waist, pulling her onto his lap. Maggie nestles into Joe’s prison hardened chest, her blonde hair soft against his lips as he breaths in the sweet scent of her.
Joe closes his eyes, the memories of Cornwall burning in his mind.

One thought on “Memories of Cornwall

  1. Reading about how life was in general and for women in particular in the 1800s makes me appreciate how strong and resourceful they were. So many of them made what must have seemed an endless journey across the seas to an unknown land, with no idea really what they would find once they got there.

    Maggie took charge of her own fate and I can see how that might appeal to Joe. Her sharing part of her past has obviously helped them establish a deeper connection through common ground, with both of them ‘exiled from home’ in a sense.

    Another poignant vignette that rings true. Thank you for sharing Georgina.

    Liked by 1 person

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