Calm is the sea
by Young Avenger
Author's note: I know, I know, I said I'd do a Steed story next. I can't help it - I just find it easier to empathise with Emma than Steed. This one is set a couple of years after Pegasus, lets say around 1958. For those who know or care anything about the geography of the Lizard, this story is set in Falmouth in a complex that hadn't yet been built. Neither the song nor the title belong to me. They come from "Calm is the sea", words by John Guard.
Whether or not you like this story, all the blame rests with UCAS. Without them I wouldn't have been trying to decide what to do with my life so I could write my personal statement. I also wouldn't have been so stuck that my mind drifted onto the kind of choices Emma would have and unleashing this onto the world. As a result, I'm dedicating this to everyone who's gone through the hell that is a UCAS application and I hope they're all successful.
Calm is the sea
by Caroline Williams
"You must be so proud..."
"But it will be nice to rest on your laurels now..."
After half an hour Emma couldn't take any more of the empty formalities. She excused herself rapidly and headed down to the pontoons as fast as her legs would carry her.
Reaching her goal she stopped abruptly and paused to look around. All around her the harbour was a hive of activity, full of people making the best of the remaining hour of light. Some were moving their boats to the outer marina, ready for an early start in the morning, others were tying up after a day's sailing. She didn't recognise many of the boats but then the ones in the outer marina were always changing; it was a temporary home, somewhere to moor if you were only stopping for a few or days or if you couldn't moor in your usual spot.
A dog's barking aroused her from her reverie. Emma located the sound then watched as a seagull departed with an angry flap of its wings. She smiled. That would have been Pip, defending his home from marauding seagulls. Because of him, his master had one of the cleanest boats in the marina. They lived on their boat most of the year, only taking her out occasionally. Pip spent most of the day on deck, watching the birds and the boats, cadging snacks from friendly passers-by.
Her attention caught, Emma wandered along to look at the other boats. The usual range of rowing boats, dinghies and yachts were there, of course. Surprisingly, somebody had moored a catamaran as well. Cats weren't that common, falling into the domain of racing enthusiasts or the very rich. Emma wondered if its owner was at the party she had just left. Maybe she could persuade them to take her out on it. A little further along a 100 foot yacht had just tied up. She looked at her admiringly. Yachts her size didn't arrive every day. As she was moored on the end the bowsprit stuck out quite a distance, ready to catch unwary dinghy sailors. They probably wouldn't come this close to the pontoons though - they weren't popular with the boat owners here, too likely to damage their own boats. Examining her more carefully Emma tried to estimate the cost of such a boat. Half a million? A million? She couldn't begin to guess.
Suddenly she noticed the crew returning her gaze. She looked down at herself and blushed slightly. Full evening dress wasn't exactly the outfit most people would choose to go walking on the pontoons in. Well, there wasn't much she could do about that now and it wasn't as if she planned on getting wet. Kicking off her shoes she sat down and paddled her feet in the water. Even in August it wasn't that warm. The fish didn't seem to mind though. There were hundreds of them in the Carrick Roads, making fishing a popular activity. The fishermen had long since returned home but she could still see a few visitors straggling in. A movement to her right caught her eye. The tugs were bringing in a destroyer. Emma wondered idly what she was in for. The docks meant that there was a steady stream of ships coming in for repairs or refuelling. Sometimes the reason for their visit was obvious as they limped in to dry dock. Not this time. But then the destroyer was being led to Duchy Wharf anyway so it couldn't be that serious.
"Not celebrating?" The casual voice behind her made her jump.
She turned round to look at its owner. "What's to celebrate? I only did as expected."
Paul laughed softly. "You only did better than everybody else, myself included. I'd have thought you had plenty to celebrate."
Emma shrugged. "I did the work, I got the results. It's over now. In any case, I celebrate much better by enjoying the scenery than answering inane questions."
They fell silent. After a while she patted the space beside her. "How did you find me anyway?"
Paul laughed again as he sat down. "I was suddenly surrounded by a group of people congratulating me and asking about my future plans. I figured you couldn't be there any more otherwise half of them would have been talking to you. When I finally got out onto the balcony to look round, you weren't difficult to spot. There aren't that many 5'8" auburn-haired beauties in evening dress wandering round." He paused to gauge her reaction.
Emma grinned widely. "Does that mean the rest of the party are going to use me as a beacon and converge on us, glasses in hand, all eager to know what we're going to do next?"
"Something like that. Of course my answer's pretty straightforward. It's Sandhurst for me."
"You've lived down here all your life yet you're not joining the navy?" she teased.
To her surprise, he took her seriously. "I don't know. After a couple of broken nights because the maroons have gone off outside your window you stop joking about the sea. The lifeboat doesn't always bring back survivors. In fact, the crew don't always come back alive. If I'm going to put my life at risk I'd rather do it on dry land."
Emma considered it then nodded. Many locals would only go to sea if paid for it, considering the risks too high.
Paul tried to lighten the mood again. "So, what answer have you been giving the guests?"
She paused then smiled wryly. "I didn't need to. The women all told me how nice it would be to give up all that hard work and join in the social scene. Their husbands then waxed lyrical about the joys of setting up a home and family. I don't think they were very interested in my plans."
"So what are you going to do?"
Emma pondered the question in silence. Eventually she started to reply. "I'm not sure. I could..."
At that moment a voice called out from behind them. "Emma, Paul! That's where you've got to! Your parents are looking for you!"
Paul turned round to see one of his parents' friends swaying towards them, champagne in hand. He grimaced. "Now, which one of us gets to lead her back upstairs?" he asked rhetorically. "As a gentleman I'm duty bound to see that somebody stops her from falling off the end."
Emma flashed him a smile. "As a gentleman I think it's your duty to escort her upstairs on your arm, accepting all congratulations gracefully and inquiring about her own children with interest."
He groaned. "In that case I'd better go and turn her round before she trips over her dress and wastes some perfectly good champagne on the fish. I'll see you later."
Emma watched him go. He had a very good point. She wouldn't recommend a floor-length dress and very high heels out here when sober, let alone after several glasses from her host's cellar. Speaking of feet, hers were beginning to feel distinctly cold. She draw her legs up and rubbed her feet vigorously to warm them up.
By the time she had finished, Paul and the guest were safely back inside so she resumed her contemplation of the river. The light was almost gone now and lights were appearing on the shores. The breeze that had made for good sailing earlier had now dropped, leaving the sea smooth as glass. Her thoughts returned to Paul's question. What was she going to do now school had finished?
She could do as everyone upstairs had assumed and enter the social whirl of a debutante. A couple of years of balls, dinner parties and charity events then find a husband and settle down. It could be fun, she supposed. She'd be up to date with all the gossip, meet the stars of the day. Yet somehow it just didn't attract her. After all, she thought wryly, if she could only stand half an hour of pointless chatter tonight, how would she manage to make a career of it? Of course it wouldn't always be like tonight. There would be opportunities to discuss more interesting things than her own achievements. Some of the people she would meet would be like her mother, strong intelligent women who were interested in the affairs of the day.
Emma sighed. She couldn't fool herself. She'd be bored. Although her mother loved her family, Emma knew she'd always regretted not taking another path. That was why Lady Knight stayed down here on the farm, only going up to London occasionally. She wanted to play an active role in what went on. Emma wouldn't enjoy Society more than her mother did. But an entry into Society was what was expected and what her mother wanted. Her mother had been looking forward to seeing her debut for years, if only to see how much she surprised everybody.
What did that leave? Her father was keen for her to join Knight Industries, presumably so she could take over from him when he died. Nobody would expect her to do that. She'd be dealing with real life situations, real people. If she was lucky she'd get to work in the research division and study the things that interested her. So why wasn't she desperate to start?
Her thoughts were interrupted by Paul's return. "I've been sent out as a search party. People are starting to wonder where you are. After all, this party is more to celebrate your achievements than mine."
She looked at her watch guiltily. An hour and a half had gone by since she'd excused herself. "Tell them I'll be up shortly. Tell them their questions have given me food for thought."
Paul sighed dramatically. "Very well. I shall be the guest of honour. I shall display enough dazzling wit for the two of us. I do, however, come bearing gifts." At this he lowered his voice confidentially and bent over to whisper in her ear. "I thought you'd be hungry by now so I stole some food from the waitresses." So saying, he deposited a plate in her lap. "What's more, I thought the temperature might have dropped somewhat, so I brought down one of my coats. You don't seem to have brought one, otherwise I'd have retrieved that for you. As it is, you'll have to make do with mine."
Emma smiled gratefully at him, drawing his coat around her. "I didn't plan on sitting outside for a couple of hours. Thanks for the doggie bag, Paul. I'll come up soon."
He straightened up and paused to breathe in deeply. "I can see why you've stayed out. It's a beautiful night. I wonder how many nights people have stood here or on the shore, looking out across the river. It's timeless out here."
Emma didn't reply. "Oh well, I'd better throw myself back into the fray. Don't be too long." With that, he made his way back up the gangway and over the bridge.
Emma returned her attention to the dilemma he had set her. Everybody wanted an answer now yet she didn't have one to give. She made herself calm down. Work through the problem logically, she thought. You've gone through the pros of life at Knight Industries, what are the cons? Firstly, she knew what she could expect there. Its products, goals and employees were as familiar to her as her own hand. Secondly, her father was perfectly healthy - he was going to live forever. There'd be plenty of time to learn the fine details of the business. In the mean time she could be missing out on thousands of opportunities. Thirdly, if she joined now, she wouldn't gain any respect. The men working there wouldn't want to listen to a slip of a girl, especially not one who got her position because of her father. She had nothing to offer. A-levels weren't enough to do research with and she had no practical business experience. But it would be an easy way to get into business, to challenge some expectations. And it was what her father wanted.
The other option was university. Independence. The two words went together. She'd be surrounded by people at the cutting edge of their fields. There weren't so many women doing Natural Sciences that life would be easy, yet there weren't so few that it would be impossible. More importantly she'd be doing it on her own, without her family right behind her. It was an attractive option. Then again, did she want to do without their unconditional support, all their resources ready to help out when it got tough? At university she'd be completely free, and alone. She wouldn't if she stayed at home. Even out here in the middle of the Carrick Roads she still had to go in and conform to convention. Yet those very conventions were a support structure. They protected her from the real world. Did she really want to throw all that away?
"Calm is the sea, no wand'ring breezes disturb the stillness of the deep. The twilight slowly darkens o'er us, and lulls the weary world to sleep. And lulls the weary world to sleep." This time it was men's voices from across the water that intruded into her thoughts. A male voice choir was singing on Custom House Quay.
"Calm is the sea, the tide advancing upon the strand in silence steals. A silence fills the little harbour, and lifts and moves the fisher keels. And lifts and moves the fisher keels" Emma vaguely knew the tune but had never really listened to the words. Now they started resonating in her mind.
"Calm is the sea, the lights of heaven are shining on its quiet breast. O troubled heart! The love eternal, looks down on thee, believe and rest. Looks down on thee, believe and rest." What was it Paul had said? "It's timeless out here." Emma considered it again. No wand'ring breezes disturbed the stillness of the deep. Whatever her choice, it wouldn't affect what she had here. The tide would keep advancing and retreating and the stars would keep shining. She could come back down as society's darling, a captain of industry or a university professor but it wouldn't matter. It didn't matter what she decided, or when. She had all the time in the world.
© Young Avenger 2002
No aspect of this story may be used elsewhere without the expressed prior written consent of the author. These stories may not be altered in any way or sold; all copyright information must appear with this work at all times. Please read disclaimers and warnings on top of each story. Feel free to send constructive comments to the author.. :o)
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