Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The United Kingdom (01/22/09)
TITLE: Journey to the New World
By Carol Slider
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He put down the pack that held his few possessions. From this vantage point, everything that he had ever known was spread out before him: the hedgerows that lined the familiar lanes; the ripening wheat fields; the stone farmhouses and barns; the village with its church and inn and smithy; the neat rows of half-timbered Tudor cottages; and, crowning the rise behind all of it, the Earl’s great hall with its grey stone towers.
Ned had never passed the borders of his own county, but very soon, he would journey far beyond them. He had planned months and years for this morning.
“What will you do there?” Susan had asked yesterday eve, before they parted.
“Make my fortune! In the New World, you can do anything, be anything. If I stayed here, my girl, what would I do? Farm the Earl’s land, like my father? Never have anything to call my own?”
“His Grace is a fine gentleman.”
“That he is... but I want to be my own landlord, Susan.” Then, earnestly: “Would you have me stay?”
“I cannot ask you to stay here for me, Ned Cantwell,” she had said, with downcast eyes. “If I did, you would always be hankering after something else.”
She had raised her head and tried to smile, for she wanted him to be happy. Still, it had been a hard parting.
Susan had a halo of golden curls and a round face with cheeks like polished apples. She was a good, hard-working girl-–an upstairs maid at the big house, and a favorite of Mrs. Brett, the Earl’s housekeeper. Mrs. Brett didn’t approve, in general, of “her girls” having suitors, but she had approved of Ned. His father, after all, was a respected, hard-working farmer on the estate. It had been thought that Ned would follow after him.
But Ned had other ideas. He wanted to see the world beyond the county, be his own man. He wanted his own castle on some distant hill. And this was the beginning–-the road to London.
He had never been to London, but he could imagine the jostling crowds of fine ladies and gentlemen, country folk, shopkeepers and servants. And the sights: St. Paul’s, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey! Perhaps he would glimpse them before he journeyed to Liverpool to book passage for New York.
He would travel in steerage, perhaps in cramped and airless quarters, his stomach churning from the rocking motion of the waves. But if God granted fair weather, in less than a month he would arrive safely on American shores. He had strong, able arms and work-roughened hands; he would travel west until he found a place to use them.
He had heard that somewhere in those western lands, the able and willing could acquire land for a pittance. He would find this land, and tend it until it produced bountiful harvests. He would build a house... not as fine as the Earl’s, perhaps, but fine enough. And one day, he would return, gather Susan into his arms, and say,
“There is a home for you, as fine as you deserve, just across the sea.”
Strange–-but as he stood beside the road, that vision became more real to him than everything else he had imagined. The wonders of London, the ships of Liverpool, the rocking motion of the boat, the strange city of New York, the fruitful land that he would own... all seemed like kingdoms in a fairy tale. But the homecoming--running through the fields, toward his father’s farmhouse and toward Susan (still young and apple-cheeked)--that was as real to him as the solid earth beneath his feet and the sun that dappled the fields with gold.
A cloud of dust in the distance... a pounding of hooves... the coach was coming! It rounded a bend in the road, and the driver pulled back the reins to stop; but Ned, his heart thundering like the beat of the hooves, held up a hand and waved him on.
The coach vanished in a whirl of dust and dried leaves. Then Ned turned his face toward the world he had chosen-–the old world become new for him–-and found that he was content.
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