Romance Sailing on a Steamship (Preview)

Chapter One

“My wife tells me that her favorite diamond bracelet is missing,” harrumphed Master Lionel Waring to the apprehensive lady’s maid standing before his desk. 

“Yes, sir, I know. We’ve been looking all over for it, without success.”

He was a big, blustering, pompous fool of a man, whom she rarely encountered during her daily duties. To be called into his presence now, especially to the inner sanctum of his personal library, didn’t ease the trip-hammer beat of her heart or dilute the taste of pure acid in her mouth. Both of which reactions might be taken, she realized, with a cold trickle of anxiety suddenly joining the blood in her veins for guilt. No matter how much innocence she might protest.

“Yes, so Mrs. Waring explained. Without success. Rather suspicious in itself, wouldn’t you say? Hmmm?”

“If I might mention, sir, the mistress occasionally does mislay pieces from her jewelry collection.” Her voice sounded just the faintest death knell of desperation. “Why, just a few weeks ago, before that big reception for the mayor, Mrs. Waring was unable to locate a pair of emerald earrings.”

“Indeed. And what happened in that case?”

“Eventually, I found them under the dresser, sir.”

“Any idea how they might’ve gotten in such an odd place?”
Feeling unexpectedly ensnared, she hung her head. “I—I’m not sure, Mr. Waring.”

She dared not enlarge upon the truth: that the man’s indomitable, impatient spouse was possessed of a hot, quick temper. Crossed in any way, for any reason, she could instantly fly into a rage, and whatever might be in her hand ended up hurled across the room. Exactly what had happened with the earrings.

“Too many strange occurrences,” said the man, seated behind his desk in all his smug wealth and splendor. “What is your name, again?”

“Ariel Lance, sir.”

He was looking her up and down in an appraising and not-at-all-flattering way. More as a livestock dealer might run his critical eye over horseflesh, up for sale. A commodity to be used and discarded. Her image was reflected in the tall corner mirror, showing thick wavy chestnut hair, done up into a smooth knot; a fair complexion touched by just the lightest tinge of pink; blue eyes whose gaze was fastened upon his face: one by one, he seemed to be mentally ticking off her attributes. Or her flaws.

“And you’ve been here how long?”

“Nearly three years, Mr. Waring.” Her hands, both curled into fists to prevent visible shaking, were straight at her sides.

“Hmmm.” He was fiddling with a paper-knife. A deadly-looking little thing with a shining silver blade and an embossed handle. “Well, this looks bad for you, Miss Lance. Since that bracelet hasn’t turned up yet….”

“Oh, but it’s bound to, sir. Mrs. Waring has no doubt simply misplaced it, and—”

“I don’t think so. I think it’s long gone from the house, slipped out in somebody’s pocket and then given over to a fence to sell. And I do believe I’m looking at the miscreant who did just that.”

Ariel gasped. “Oh, no, sir, I would never—”

“I could have you arrested,” he mused as if the prospect attracted his imagination. “Lord knows, I have reason enough. But that sort of thing gets messy, and often ends up in some ragtag newspaper article which would play hob with my good name. You gather up your personal belongings, Miss Lane, and leave immediately, without a word, and we’ll call it quits.”

“You mean, you—”

He rose ponderously, adding more weight and authority to his indictment. “I mean, I am firing you, girl. This house will not give shelter to a thief. I’ll come with you to ensure that no other small tempting objects make their way out the door with you.”

*  *  *  *  *

Ariel was too stunned by the swiftness and the force of this calamity which had befallen her, out of the blue, to even cry disappointed, frantic tears as she trudged along in the late morning mist of an April day. Mr. Waring himself had escorted her to the cloakroom, where he had waited while she changed from her neat black uniform and white cap and apron into her own faded old dress. He stood guard as she collected her things; from there, the butler, his expression stern and disapproving, had walked her to the front door and out.

What was she to do now?

Expelled without references—without even the bit of wages she had earned this week—how were she and Theodore to survive? It took every penny she earned just to feed the two of them, buy the few bits of clothing a growing boy must have, and rent a small cheap room in Mrs. Pryor’s boarding house. What next?

Of course, she hadn’t stolen Mrs. Waring’s diamond bracelet. Hadn’t even been tempted. After three years working in that house, she had had ample opportunity to abscond with any number of smaller pieces, easily tucked away into a uniform shirtwaist cuff or slipped down into underwear. Not only could such an act, if she were caught, land her in prison for a lengthy term, but the basic fact stood clear: Ariel Lance was no thief. She was honest and scrupulous, to the best of her ability.

No, more likely, the missing bracelet lay behind a radiator somewhere, or tossed carelessly inside one of Madame’s many handbags.

Ariel had been offered a life preserver, several days before this whole traumatic event occurred.

Carlyle Gibson, a frequent visitor to the mansion in which she served, had often paused during his entrances and departures to speak with her in a friendly fashion. The few words of greeting or farewell had expanded into lengthier comments, questions, even a witty quote or a humorous saying. From the very beginning, he had behaved courteously toward her, with pleasant manners and strict decorum, and she, ever mindful of her position, had responded carefully.

Imagine her surprise when he had accosted her as, bundled up against the late March chill, she emerged from the servants’ door.

In fact, she gasped with the shock of some large figure disengaging from the bushes to come forward.

“Pray, sir, do me no harm. I have—I have nothing to steal,” she had stammered in protest.

The chuckle was familiar. “I’m not about to set upon and rob you, Miss Lance,” Carlyle assured her with a tip of his hat. “I but wanted to walk with you further, and talk more fully than I am able to inside that mausoleum.”

Attractive enough, personable enough, wealthy enough (or so she had heard through the downstairs grapevine), he presented an interesting, though a puzzling figure. Clearly, he was a matrimonial catch in society’s world; what could he possibly want with her, other than something lurid, behind the scenes, and utterly unsuitable?

However, this unexpected—and inappropriate—rendezvous took place every evening from then on, for a few weeks. Ariel appreciated his interest and his protection for part of her nightly walk home to the boarding house room. With the appreciation came a warmth of unanticipated feeling toward this man who had chosen her from most likely a host of others. 

Then he asked for her hand in marriage.

Totally taken aback, she had floundered with an acceptance. Immediately, her imagination conjured up delightful visions of a home where she and Theodore could settle, safe and secure. Where she could live as a wife—and, at some time, perhaps, a mother—lifted miraculously from frightening poverty into comfort.

Carlyle had wanted to rush off, then and there, to secure the services of a minister, a priest, a justice of the peace—anyone before whom they could repeat their vows and step out as a wedded couple.

Giddy with emotion and starry-eyed with the picture that he enthusiastically painted, Ariel could barely contain herself.

“But—where shall we live, Mr. Gibson? And how?”

“No matter,” he had laughed, grasping her gloved hands in his. “I have income quite sufficient to support us. We shall house-hunt once the marriage is certified.”

“I cannot believe…” she murmured, overcome. “All of this is so sudden. I had no idea of your intention or that this might be the outcome.”

“You have stolen my heart, Miss Lance,” he had told her tenderly. “And I believe we can build a beautiful life together, you and I.”

“Ah, but you are aware, Mr. Gibson, that I am responsible for my young brother.” Her voice was light, so as not to burst this bubble of a dream before it could be cast into permanence. “At the age of only six, he—”

“Yes, yes, I am quite aware. And, at such an age, he can perfectly adapt to other circumstances.”

Never, ever, would she forget where and when this interlude had taken place when the hammer fell upon her lovely castle in the air.

As had been Carlyle’s wont, during this secretive and clandestine courting, they had stopped at a nearby park, several blocks away, in a sheltered but unoccupied (due to weather and time of night) gazebo. The sky was dark, but for the glow of street lamps, and the cool mist of early April had softened all sharp edges and dulled all noticeable points.

A cold trickle, forming in Ariel’s middle, seeped out into every nerve, every bone, every muscle, as the words—from this man purporting to be her suitor—sank into her consciousness.

“W—W—What do you mean…other circumstances?”

“Why, my dear Miss Lance, you surely cannot expect me to take on responsibility for a small child, fresh into a new marriage! No, there are orphan homes aplenty in the city, or out of it. We’ll set him up in one of those, and I shall absolutely grant you permission to visit him once a week.”

The warm blood in her veins froze instantly to ice. 

Turning her back on him, she strode swiftly away.

Try to forcibly remove that helpless, innocent boy from her custody, would he? She’d show him! Marching down the street, ashamed of half-falling for his sweet talk, she realized that her heart remained relatively untouched. Perhaps, on her part, no deeper feeling had been involved at all.

Three days later, she had been ignominiously dismissed.


Since then, during these difficult weeks of job-hunting, she had pulled up her stockings, tightened the ribbons of her chemise, and stiffened her spine. All the while still berating her behavior. What had she been thinking, with so many responsibilities, so much grief, still coloring her life? She had hoped for rescue, that was what.

Now, with that hope callously dashed, she must forge ahead on her own, with young Theodore a valiant companion. Much as she would appreciate the support and succor of a mate, a man who could provide what she was seeking just as she would provide the same for him, she must turn that thought aside for the moment. Time enough for any stirrings of romance once the Lance siblings reached their destination.

Feeling too discouraged even to lift one foot in front of the other, on this morning after being almost literally thrown out of the Waring house, she paused under the shelter of a market’s awning to collect her thoughts.

The rich and powerful could make any unfounded accusation against the downtrodden, treat the poor who served them with any indignity or degradation, and go on their usual way, taking what they wanted and to Hades with anyone who might protest. Injustice flourished everywhere, but mostly in the mean streets of New York, already overflowing with immigrants who could not speak the language and had no redress in the court for wrongs they had suffered.

“Hey, you there! Get away. You’re blockin’ me windows!”

An irate shopkeeper had actually emerged from his door to shoo her away. As if she were some stray dog looking for handouts.

Actually, right now, she wasn’t much better.

What was she to do? 

The numbness of her abrupt dismissal was beginning to wear off, crowded out by creeping despair. For herself, she might be able to drum up some sort of employment. But working a schedule around the needs of a six-year-old, currently in the school room until mid-afternoon, would be almost impossible. Whatever the failings of her housemaid work at the Waring mansion, she had been allowed the freedom to fetch Theodore when necessary. 

Deeply discouraged, she plodded along past various shops and push carts, many blocks from the upper crust and rarefied air inhabited by all the Warings of the world. 

The brief illness and sudden death from cholera of both parents, Benjamin and Caroline Lance, just three months ago, was a devastating blow for their daughter. Her financial and emotional burdens, heavy enough before the tragedy had befallen their family, were now almost crushing enough to sink her into the brine. She would fight tooth and nail to keep Theo with her, in her care, rather than let him be taken away to some orphan’s home. Her sweet little brother, dumped into a place like that? God forbid!

Somehow, she must keep their bodies and souls together. But how?

No assets remained after those tragic deaths—only debts. Her father had served as an untrained laborer with no special talent or liking for any particular work; her mother had taken in laundry to supplement the meager family income. 

Here Ariel was, at the age of eighteen, wrestling with adult problems of survival, alongside all the others, those poorest of the poor. 

With but a few coins in her handbag, she slipped inside the neighborhood market, where postings for help were stuck up with pins onto a board placed especially for that purpose. In the back of the store, of course, so she had to walk past rows of so many items unattainable, such as tins of milk and vegetables and boxes of fresh fruit.

Stretching her small frame on tiptoe, Ariel searched amongst scraps of paper, most of them fairly easy to read but a few illegible. Employment for males abounded—dray drivers, loaders and unloaders, street sweepers, lamplighters, leather workers, garbage haulers, and the like. A couple of notices seeking house servants, but placed here instead of with an agency, meant that neither would be from a house with a good reputation or high standards. A washerwoman was wanted, but in an area too far away to be feasible.

Ariel sighed.

This was her most pressing need right now, to find a position, to earn a salary.

Meanwhile, she must paste on a cheerful face, no matter how frightened she felt inside when she went to collect Theo.

Chapter Two

Two weeks of pavement-pounding, door-knocking, and employment-seeking followed.

To no avail.

It seemed that employment for women—even the lowest type, such as scullery maid or artificial flower maker or bindery girl (hired at minuscule wages by book presses to sew book pages together)—was simply non-existent inside the bustling confines of 1916 New York City.

 Ariel had heard a flat “No” at so many turns and had doors shut with a bang against any beseechment. The few bits of paper money and coins she had put aside for a rainy day were disappearing into a great void, paid out for food and rent. God help both of them should some illness or accident strike, because, in such an uncaring world, neither would survive. The youngest Lance siblings had barely survived the cholera epidemic, which had mowed down so many victims.

“Am I gonna be taken away to some orphan’s home?” queried Theodore one evening during their nightly game of checkers. “Or to a workhouse?”

He was a handsome, intelligent child, sensitive to atmosphere and nuance and subject to the poverty which ages any youngster beyond their years. Doubtless, he had seen others in his small school simply vanish, due to death or disablement of responsible family members, leaving a trail of unanswered questions behind.

Shouldn’t it be written somewhere, thought Ariel with sharp bitterness, that the joy and innocence of childhood ought to be protected from all harm? They ought to live their lives in love and comfort, with great healthy grounds to play upon and plenty of food to stretch their growing bodies.

Instead, she could hear the boy moving restlessly in bed at night, probably haunted by the same specters of fear and worry which kept her awake, as well, through so many dark hours.

She had managed to keep him fed and warm during these damp, smoggy days. He received the lion’s share of whatever portion of bread and meat she managed to secure. That was as it should be, as far as she was concerned. 

Ariel had not been too proud to beg for any extras from local restaurants—bits of turnip or carrot that, not fit to add to soup, would have been thrown out; or an apple too battered and bruised to sell. A few chefs actually gave in to her pleading voice and pretty face; most were tired of being bothered by the poverty-stricken and chased her away. 

Without employment, without funds, she had been accosted for the second time in two days by Mrs. Pryor, their dyspeptic landlady, looking for the rent payment. Ariel had managed to stall her off, but the two Lance siblings were now out of options. They would be forced to leave. They would be homeless.

The next stop was the streets. The filthy, dangerous streets, beleaguered by other homeless people, all fighting amongst themselves for the crust of a stale loaf or a place to hide, come darkness.

Ariel subconsciously shuddered. 

How was she to protect, feed, clothe, and educate a small, vulnerable child in such a place?

She reached across the tiny table, which was holding a small cheap checkerboard, to ruffle his blondish hair in a teasing, but reassuring, gesture. “Theo, dear, that will never happen. I vow to you, I will never let such a thing happen. You and I will be together until I can finally marry you off.”

The boy fetched up a small smile which clearly did not hold a great deal of belief. “Okay, Ariel. Just so’s we can stay close. Look, I won another game.”

“Oh, you rascal, you. When I wasn’t paying attention, you crowned that last king. Very well, so it’s another hundred dollars I owe you.”

Much later, once he had washed, put on his nightshirt, and slipped into bed, Ariel crept around the room, gathering up clothing and personal possessions, a small pack of non-perishables she had managed to put together, and a canteen of water. Tomorrow, before dawn that they might evade Mrs. Pryor’s demanding presence, they must depart this single familiar space of sanctuary left to them and make their way into the world. 

These past two weeks had not been spent only in pursuing employment or painfully begging for handouts. She had also been collecting information, asking casual questions here and there of the more respectable males whom she encountered, picking up bits and pieces of gossip overheard.

So, she had a plan.

If only it would succeed.

*  *  *  *  *

At four a.m. on that cool mid-April morning, the sky was still dark. Somewhere, miles away, a few stars were probably still showing their twinkle of lights, but not here. Not buried in the bowels of a city which never shut down.

Since, riddled with anticipation, she had slept so poorly during the night, and since this was normally the time she would arise anyway, to trudge the many blocks to Waring mansion, she was not overly affected by beginning her day at such an early hour. Her concern was being able to get Theodore out and away while making as little noise as possible.

The boy dragged himself from his warm bed and behaved like a champion. Told that he and his sister were embarking upon a great adventure, he yawned, nibbled on the sandwich of bread and cheese that would serve as his breakfast, and hastily dressed in whatever garments she had laid out.

Her heart twisted and turned inside her breast as Theodore did his best to comply with her whispered instructions. Ariel had deeply grieved the sudden loss of her parents. But, immediately, the responsibility for this infinitely precious little fellow had fallen upon her shoulders, and she’d hardly had time to think about them since. To survive each day, she had pushed any idea of mourning into the back of her mind, and by focusing on his needs, she had been able to endure the trials of each day. When she had time, she would deal with her sorrow. Until then, too much lay ahead for her to do. 

And she loved this young child with a fierce hot devotion, as if he were her own.

“You’re doing just fine, Theo,” she said softly. “I am so proud of you. Here’s your cap, sweetheart. Can you carry the canteen for me? Good. Now, we have a bit of a walk ahead of us, but we’ll rest whenever we need to. All right? Then let’s—let’s take our leave….”

In the gloom, she cast one last look around, saying a silent farewell to this place, this city, and the two parents who had given her life, now buried in Potter’s Field.

Escape was more easily managed than one might have thought.

At this dark hour, no one was stirring anywhere on the boarding house’s three stories. Even the street lights—few and far between in this neighborhood—seemed dim and anxious to die out at the first glimpse of the sun.

Over the past few days, Ariel had located which floorboard would squeak if trod upon, how slowly the door must be unlocked, and the knob turned to remain as quiet as possible. So, in absolute stillness, the pair slipped over the threshold and down the stairs into a world seemingly new-made.

As long as they could reach their destination without incident.

A young woman and a child would be fair game for any ruffian out and about, any pickpocket hoping for an easy take, any hooligan eager to make a conquest.

Again, contemplating the future of living on their own, bereft of whatever kind of weapon for defense, Ariel had slipped a small but effective sheathed knife—one of the very few tangible possessions bequeathed by Benjamin Lance; he had used it occasionally, she remembered, to whittle objects from stray pieces of kindling—into the pocket of her skirt. Expedient? Absolutely. She couldn’t go out into the unknown, a little boy in tow, without some sort of protection.

God willing, she would find her footing elsewhere, footing and stability, and, most importantly, the security of a salaried position. But, until then, she would be forced to live by the law of the streets.

“Are you ready, Theo?”

A small, scared nod, a small, scared face. 

“Then let’s set off and seek our fortune, young man.”

Both had prepared for travel by donning extra clothing, rather than adding the weight and bulk to carpet bags which must be carried. He was wearing his favorite (his only) newsboy’s cap, vest, and a long-sleeved shirt, tweed wool knickers, brown socks, well-scuffed black boots, and a sweater. She was wearing a simple and somewhat shabby walking dress of faded royal blue, its slim skirt reaching to mid-calf; long sleeves and a square neckline set off by ecru lace added a slight touch of richness to the costume. Her straw wide-brimmed hat with its navy ribbon trim served not only to provide shade but also to provide shelter from any prying stares.

Attired neatly but inconspicuously, Ariel could only hope that no one would give them a second glance, nor wonder, burdened with baggage as they were, if the pair were skipping out on an overdue rent payment.

This area here seemed almost empty of human habitation. But, as the pair strode bravely along with their packs and bundles, swift, stealthy movement could be glimpsed in the shadows of garbage-strewn alleyways. Animals, no doubt, hunting for food—homeless cats and dogs, rats, perhaps a derelict soaked in wine dregs and stowing away somewhere off the main thoroughfare. Few and far between street lamps cast faint cones of light—not enough to be reassuring or provide a sense of security.

Smells abounded. The harsh strong scent of lye soap from the laundry hung out to dry overnight on lines strung here and there. The damp aroma of new cement poured somewhere, as sidewalk or brick support, blocked off against use until the substance had thoroughly set up. The faint stench of rotted cabbage heads and turnip greens, thrown out as inedible. The whiff of coal smoke, emitted from questionable chimneys, out of a few fires burning in cookstoves,

Farther on, traffic moved in, crossing and crisscrossing: delivery wagons, a few of those new-fangled motorized vehicles which caught Theodore’s attention, horses and horseless carriages fighting for territory in the broad avenues, Model T cabs passing through the more respectable, high-toned sections.

“Ariel, I’m tired,” Theodore, so staunch and obedient for this journey of so many blocks, was now beginning to fuss a bit, whining for attention.

As was she. Tired, that was, not whining. The bags full of possessions were growing ever heavier, and her arms were aching. 

“Can’t we ride, Ariel? My legs hurt.”

“We’ll sit here for a while, Theo, and rest. How’s that?” She wasn’t about to burden this boy with worries about the lack of coins in her purse and the need to stretch what cash was left. “The sun is coming up, and things don’t seem so scary now, do they?”

Having proceeded through a commercial district, holding department stores, financial offices, grocers, hardware shops, and the like, they had reached something of a boundary between that and a more prestigious residential area. A wide walkway intersected what might have been considered a park, bordered by grass turned green by spring rains, trees sending out buds of leaves and flowers, and a small circular fountain whose waters were set to spring forth within another few weeks—once the danger of freezing temperatures was past.

Gratefully, Ariel sank down onto one of the benches scattered about, and, with a huge sigh of relief, Theodore sank down beside her. For a few moments, they simply sat in silence, soaking up the atmosphere and the gentle warmth of the rising sun. Later, uniformed nannies would be pushing their tiny charges in perambulators, and other nannies would be watching over their older children at play. But, for now, at this early hour, pedestrians were few and far between.

Eventually, the boy roused enough to ask if it was okay to eat something.

“Of course, Theo,” Ariel, stricken by remorse, immediately exclaimed. “Here, an apple, perhaps? That will help hold you until we can get a proper meal.”

Solemnly he looked up, with those big, long-lashed blue eyes which never failed to stir her emotions, over the bites he had already taken from the fruit. “Do we have enough money?”

Oh, she had tried in every way to hide her anxiety from him. Clearly without success.

“We’ll make do, honey.”

“Ahuh.” He was silent for another few minutes, thoughtfully crunching away down to the core.

Then, “Where are we goin’, Ariel?”

“Hmmm.” She had dropped the heavy bags upon the ground at their feet and was shifting her shoulders about in an attempt to ease tight muscles. Amazing, the two of them being so poverty-stricken and so straitened in circumstances, how much there had been to pack. Must be all the books she had stuffed inside.


“I heard you, Theo. Just thinking. I’m not sure just where we’ll end up, but the place has to be better than what we’ve had, don’t you think?”

“An ad—ad–venture,” he repeated her earlier promise.

“Exactly.” She bent sideways to kiss him on the cheek. “It’s exciting. We have so much to look forward to, sweetheart. All these new adventures, just waiting for us to explore.”

“Ahuh.” Another contemplative silence. “Ariel?”

“Yes, Theo?”

“Ariel, do you—” He paused, glanced around to where a squirrel was off rummaging in the grass for acorns, and flung the remains of his apple in the animal’s direction. “Do you ever think of—of Papa and Mama?”

Her heart gave a mighty wrench amid beats. “Yes, I do. And I imagine you do, too.”

“Yeah.” Swinging his legs back and forth, he considered his next question. At the tender age of six, Theodore was a great one for asking questions. “D’ you think they’re watchin’ us, Ariel? I mean, tryin’ to take care of us from Heaven?”

She would have ruffled his hair were his newsboy’s black cap not wedged down so firmly to his ears. “I’m sure they are, Theo,” she softly told him, with one arm around his thin shoulders. “But, here on earth, I will take care of us. Think you’re ready to start walking again?”

Libraries are wonderful institutions. One need not be rich, one need not be powerful, one need not be famous to enter through those hallowed doors with a world of knowledge at one’s fingertips.

Thus, Ariel had acquired what facts she could about all sorts of possible ventures: location of the East River docks, size, and type of sailing vessels, routes to follow, and streets to cross in order to attain her objective. Her mind was fresh, her brain agile. She and her brother would make it.

Having no other choice, they must.

By about noon, having been up and going for some eight hours, the duo was ready for a rest once again. In not such pleasant surroundings this time, however, as their trek from tenements to the commercial shopping district to the residential area had now taken them into a sketchier section. Strictly business here, consisting of warehouses and a few shuttered buildings of no known purpose and loose piles of bricks and construction materials scattered about.

Suddenly Theodore’s little nose scrunched up, and he stopped dead, there in the open, with noisy activity going on all around.

“I smell water,” he announced.

Proudly, Ariel patted his head. “You do, Theo. That’s the East River, which leads out to the Hudson River.”

His eyes rounded. “To the sea?”

“Well—in a way. Eventually to the Atlantic Ocean.”

“Ariel.” He paused again, excitement taking over the expression on his pallid little face, to tug at her sleeve. “Are we goin’ on the water somewheres?”

She managed a chuckle. “Well, honey, I hope we can. But, once we get to the docks, we’ll make our plans. Want to help me scout out the very best steamship in port? And then find out its destination?”

“Ahuh. Ahuh. Um—Ariel. What’s a dest—desti—destination?”

“Well, I suppose that will be wherever we finally end up. Come along. You can catch a glimpse of the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Acres and acres of open space—designated, apparently, as nothing in particular—lay before them. Far in the distance flowed the river, filled with docks, all manner of sailing vessels, and human activity akin to that of a demolished ant hill. Another long, exhausting walk must be accomplished to reach Ariel’s goal, and without nourishment, quite daunting.

“Look, Theo, I spy all sorts of hidey holes—crates, and sheds, and so on—over there, to the left. Let’s slip into the midst of that for a while, have something to eat, and take ourselves a nice nap. What do you say?”

The sun was beating down with comforting warmth; the river’s tang was conducive to nodding off in any nook and cranny considered safe from detection.

Theodore yawned. “Ahuh. I’m awful tired, Ariel. And awful hungry, too.”

“Then we shall resolve both of those problems quickly enough.”

Following the thread of a narrow path—almost like a maze, really—between abandoned pieces of equipment taken over by grass and weeds, around this stack of wooden pallets, past those few small sheds, Ariel located a temporary refuge. Room to stretch out but quite hidden from view of any passerby who might have, for some strange reason, wandered into this wasteland caught in the middle of two separate worlds.

With a great sigh, Theodore collapsed on a patch of ground softened by thick sod. 

“Can I take off my boots?” he asked, deliberately keeping the volume of his voice low. It was as if, following his sister’s lead, he were aware that sound could carry and discovery of their presence, at this point, was undesirable.

Ariel was already pawing through one of the heavy bags for necessities. “You go right ahead, Theo. The cap, too.” 

Shortly, with a small square of wool blanket to sit upon and an Afghan for cover if the air proved chilly, the pair was gratefully munching on more bread and cheese, with a few scraps of pork purloined from last night’s boarding house supper. Another somewhat withered apple came after, along with several sips of lukewarm water.

Theodore, once finished, was rubbing his eyes. “Can I lay down here, Ariel, and sleep a while?”

“You absolutely may, Theo. Put your head in my lap and close your eyes.”

As he settled in, secure in the knowledge that his beloved big sister would ensure his safety and his comfort, Ariel leaned her head back against some sort of huge packing box, ran her fingers lightly through the child’s hair in a soothing gesture, and gave herself up to an uneasy slumber.

The past nearly four months since the deaths of Benjamin and Caroline Lance had been filled with sorrow, uncertainty, and the crushing sense that disaster lay waiting somewhere, just waiting to destroy the two remaining family members. Bad enough, that terrible time, but far worse in the last couple of weeks after having been sacked from her employment. The cold bitterness of absolute fear had left an acrid taste in her mouth for days on end.

Poverty-stricken Roman Catholics, victims of some fresh new calamity, might be able to find some help from their parish priest and mother church. Immigrant tenement dwellers, either of Irish or Polish or some other foreign descent, could at least count on their clan coming together in times of trouble, to support and sustain the afflicted members.

Not so, Ariel and Theodore. They had no one. 

Especially now, having abandoned the old neighborhood for, hopefully, brighter days ahead.

Often, she had felt overwhelmed by the enormous risk of this venture upon which she and Theo had embarked, by the sheer sense of danger at every turn which they must confront.

So, worried by all the unknowns (“Am I doing the right thing? What choice do I have? Where else can I go? Who is there to give me aid?”), she had slept little and eaten less. Her pale complexion, touched by faint color only in her lips and across her cheekbones, showed the effect with blue-tinged shadows and a hollow here and there; her already slender frame, in today’s costume, was noticeably thinner.

In a way, actually taking this great and courageous step into the void, after so many miserable months of doubt, came as a relief. Doing something—even if it proved to be wrong—was better than standing static, doing nothing. 

Slowly relaxing in what seemed to be a semi-safe and protected little niche, Ariel drifted off.

*  *  *  *  *

“You understand what we are going to do, Theo?” Ariel asked in low tones when the two of them awoke sometime later, groggy and headachy, with muscles slightly stiffened from their unusual positions.

Yawning, the boy nodded. “Yeah. We’re gonna leave all our stuff here—”

“Yes, with everything tucked away between these two big crates, so that no one happening by will find them.”

“—and go walk on the docks to look around at all the boats and see what one we wanna take.”

“Exactly. We’ll pretend we’re travelers—well, no pretense there, I suppose, because we are. And you can help me explore. Eventually, we’ll come back here and make a decision. All right?”

“Ahuh. Uh—Ariel…I gotta—you know.”

Understanding and sympathizing, she brushed back his over-long unruly locks, tumbled by his sprawling naptime. “Yes, Theo. Me, too. Let’s take separate sides of the little alleyway beside us, shall we, and answer nature’s call?”

Feeling refreshed and buoyed by renewed energy, both straightened collars, smoothed hair, brushed bits of grass and dirt off garments, and, smiling, gave each other a thumbs-up.

“Have you figured out yet where we’re goin’?” Theodore looked almost jaunty as they emerged from their lair out into the sunshine.

Ariel, taking careful note of just where their worldly possessions had been stored, nodded. “We, my loyal and valiant young companion, are going to California.”

“Cali—California? Where’zat?”

“A long way from here, sweetheart. A place on the far side of this country. We must have hope and faith that we will get there eventually.”

So many different sizes and kinds of sailing vessels lay anchored at various piers: steamships, masted clippers, paddleboats, freighters, barges, smaller pleasure crafts, passenger and mail transports, and so on. So much traffic on this brilliant spring day. A few sloops and cutters were coming in, slowly and ponderously, being directed to a particular wharf; others, loaded and ready for departure, were moving into the broken line to head out to the mouth of the East River and into the Hudson.

Activity like a swarm of ants, excitement, dock workers calling out, waves churning white and muddy brown, heavy anchors being hauled in place or dumped down to the depths with a loud splash… Ariel, having never visited this part of the city before—actually having had no reason or free time to do so—stood amazed for a few minutes, simply watching, awe-struck.

Theodore, unable to take in all these sights at once, was beside himself. Almost frantic to absorb such a blur of motion, he was pointing out this or that, stumbling over his words, flinging out questions left and right. His sister could only smile at the boy’s contagious enthusiasm.

The main thoroughfare, running north and south as wide as several city streets together, allowing not only all the busy wagons and vehicles hauling cartage and crowds, but also foot traffic, separated the quays and piers from storage facilities farther inland. Small buildings, some partially open to the elements during pleasant weather, with enclosures available against inclement winter, had been established for the use of passengers waiting either to go aboard and embark or for those having returned from distant shores. 

Even from a distance away, Ariel could smell coffee brewing and some sort of foodstuffs being grilled or baked. Her mouth watered. Vaguely, over the impetuous demands for attention from Theodore, she wondered if their scanty savings might be extended to a hearty meal. Their last but one, possibly, here in New York.

With late afternoon drawing in, and the noise of commerce unrelenting, a young woman accompanied by a small boy was barely noticed as they strolled along. Ariel noted the size and shape of the vessels in port and guessed at their probable cargo.

The hour must have been about five o’clock before she caught a glimpse of her probable target. They had already strolled past it twice. Just strolling along. Just taking in the sights.

“The SS Glory Rule,” she murmured as if to herself. 

But Theodore’s sharp ears had caught the words. “I see it, Sis. Izzat the one you want?”

“I do believe so, dear. It’s large to suit our needs, but not too large. Carrying cargo, mail, and passengers. And from what I’ve been able to overhear, its destination is California. San Francisco, to be exact.”

Both paused at a distance to catch the steamship’s full view. 

Dockworkers were either carrying wooden boxes aboard or were guiding the loads, attached by wrist-thick ropes to sizable cranes, lowering freight to the deck. Things were busy; several men in uniform were involved in checking written lists and calling out directions as the crew scrambled to and fro, making last-minute arrangements. She could see that the vessel appeared fairly clean, well cared for (as far as she knew), and well organized.

“Come along, Theo,” she suddenly decided. “Let us order some supper. We deserve it, don’t we?”

Quickly he agreed with a fervent, “Yes, ma’am, we sure do.”

They spent a twilight hour like two aristocrats of leisure, enjoying a plate of beef stew and biscuits, cups of coffee for Ariel, and a glass of buttermilk for Theodore. All the while, she listened to every scrap of conversation in the vicinity while groups arrived and departed. Someone confirmed the Glory’s destination, and someone else mentioned this being their second voyage aboard the steamer.

Lights had been lit for those still finishing up their work for the day.

When Ariel gently urged her brother onto his feet and out, activity around most of the vessels had slowed or stopped altogether. There seemed to be no guards, nightwatchmen, or sentries stationed in the area; this whole area was almost like a city in itself, open and unaccountable. And those facts worked out perfectly for Ariel and her plan.

With more knowledge acquired from the gossip she had overheard, and from answers to the questions she had infrequently asked here and there, the time, the place, and the method were now fixed firmly in her mind. It would be easy enough to gather up all their baggage tomorrow evening, return, and slip from the gangplank onto the ship. Then it would simply be a matter of seeking out some hidden corner in which to stow away.

“Romance Sailing on a Steamship” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the aftermath of a cholera epidemic, Ariel Lance and her brother face tragedy and hardship. In an attempt to escape their dark past, the siblings board a ship bound for California as stowaways. Little do they suspect their lives are about to be changed once and for all.

If only there were a pair of arms to shelter Ariel amidst the upcoming danger…

The ship’s captain, Kentworth Lazlo, is a stalwart man with a passion for the sea. When he discovers Ariel and her brother in the hold of his ship, he is determined to help them; he strikes a deal with Ariel, allowing her to take care of the passengers’ children in exchange for their tickets. Soon, a beautiful friendship blossoms between Ariel and Kentworth

Nonetheless, could it be more than friendship what Kentworth is feeling for her?

On their way to San Francisco, Kentworth encounters a dark figure from his past. With so much more to lose now that his affection for Ariel turns into love, he can only hope for the best as he prepares to face off against his past in a final clash. Will Ariel and Kentworth find their own version of a fairy tale ending, or will their dreams be dashed to pieces?

“Romance Sailing on a Steamship” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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