Preview of Scattered

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Chapter 1

Near Sable Island, Nova Scotia, May 1882

Maggie shoved the hatch open and peeked out across the saturated deck. An icy wind whipped her cheeks and caught the edge of her woollen headscarf, twirling it round in some danse macabre. She blinked against the driving rain. Sailors rushed back and forth a few yards in front of her, but she couldn’t make out their faces. She tried to shield her eyes, but raindrops slapped her fingers, forcing her to close the hatch and retreat back down the companionway. Maggie stepped into the saloon and unwrapped the drenched scarf from around her shoulders.

‘Don’t stand there, girl,’ Mrs Plowhurst shrilled from her perch at the table. ‘What’s my husband doing?’

Maggie hung the dripping scarf over the back of a chair in front of the pot belly stove and tried to rub the chill from her arms. ‘I’m afraid I don’t know, ma’am. It’s chaos up there and I couldn’t see the major.’

Five-year-old Ruby grabbed the hem of Maggie’s skirt. ‘Has Papa gone away?’

Maggie bent down and took the little girl’s hand. ‘No, my sweet. He’s busy helping the sailors.’ Or blaming the captain for the storm, more likely. ‘I’m sure he’ll be back down here directly. Why don’t you help Edward?’

Ruby knelt next to her little brother and picked up a wooden soldier.

‘He goes there,’ Edward said, pointing to a worn spot on the Oriental rug.

Maggie joined them on the carpet and lifted Essie into her lap. She stroked the infant’s feathery hair and rocked her in time with the rhythms of the ship. Lord, please help us through this night.

The floor of the saloon rose and fell, toppling Ruby onto her back and sending Edward’s soldiers in all directions. Retching sounds came from Mrs Plowhurst, and Essie started to whimper. Maggie rocked the baby gently. ‘It’s alright, my darling. The waves are just playing with the ship.’

Ruby righted herself and scrunched up her face. ‘If the waves are playing, why are they so angry?’

The ship lurched again, ramming Maggie feet-first into the bulkhead. She shielded Essie from the impact, but couldn’t stop Edward and Ruby crashing into each other. Ruby’s wails curdled the sludge of porridge in Maggie’s stomach.