Kate threw a withering glance at the man standing at the top of the gangplank, eyeing up the women as they passed. It was because of the likes of him that she was here in the first place.
“Welcome ladies,” he bowed extravagantly, “to the Hotel Surrey. Finest floating hotel in all of England.” The men lined up along the rail laughed at his joke.
Fools, Kate thought, Every one of them.
Careful not to draw unwanted attention, Kate kept her eyes lowered. A hand on her shoulder caused her to freeze but it wasn’t until she saw the Bible held out to her that she looked up into the understanding eyes of a young man. She shook her head. What good was a Bible when she couldn’t even read?
My, my! I heard conditions had improved. Both a surgeon and a religious instructor on board.
Sandstone blocks, hand-hewn by convicts and bleached from years in the sun, felt cool beneath my touch. I glanced up at my husband.
“I can’t do this.”
“Yes you can. I’ll be there.”
I shifted my gaze from his face to that of the dark-suited young man approaching.
My husband gently took my hands in both of his.
Placing her bundle on the makeshift bed, Kate looked around. A long narrow room with a fireplace at one end was now home to fifty-three women.
The infamous Female Factory. I won’t be here long.
Tomorrow they would be forced to line up: human livestock for the men to inspect and fight over. She had no intention of becoming just any man’s possession.
Perhaps one of the big houses. Or a hotel …
Hand beneath my elbow, my husband gently guided me toward the seats reserved for us. I felt like screaming as I acknowledged silently the greetings of relatives.
Oh grandmamma …
Kate glanced warily at the tent that was now her home and sighed wearily. They’d erected it close to the soldiers’ barracks - too close.
At least I fare better than the men. They have to sleep chained together outside. I have a tent and a bed. Not that a tent will provide much protection.
Taking a deep breath, I looked around. The sun streaming through multi-paned windows set high in sandstone walls cast patterns across the wooden floor, planed smooth after a century of use. Beside each pew, engraved plaques told the story of the church’s history. Faded by time, I could barely make out the names of those on the plaque nearest to us …
Erected to the memory of Samuel and Kate …
Kate spun around at the sound of someone approaching. She had learnt to be wary of the slightest sound, the smallest movement. But instead of the soldiers or settlers who usually forced their attentions, she found herself looking into the kindest pair of eyes she had ever seen.
In one hand he held a Bible and, as she shook her head, recognition dawned in his eyes.
With a start, I brought myself back to the present.
“… Her favourite passage of Scripture was from the Gospel of John: ‘ In my Father’s house are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you.’* She once told me that dying was like making plans for a vacation: we book ahead to make sure we have secured accommodation at the motel of our choice. Heaven is a little like that. We have to be prepared – we can’t just arrive and expect a place. We must first make a booking and the only way we can do that is through Jesus Christ.”
A smile tugged at my lips: it sounded just like her.
It’s okay, grandmamma, I’ve booked ahead.
“I’m afraid it’s all I have to offer you. It’s not the Windsor Hotel.”
Kate looked around the clean, but small, one-roomed hut.
“Perhaps when they’ve finished the church they could –“
Kate placed a finger to Samuel’s lips.
“It’s perfect. I don’t need a mansion.”
“She wanted you to have this.”
Brushing the tears away I reached out for the Bible that had been her great-grandmother’s and stared disbelievingly at the inscription on the flyleaf:
To my darling wife, Kate,
Who has a mansion in heaven - John 14:2.
* John 14:2 KJV
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