August 13, 2021

Amelia Island's Velvet Undertow Excerpt - Carolena Dunnigan and Grey McKenna - circa 1889

 The Goodbye Lie Diaries

(Through the magic of electronics, mental telepathy and a smidge of time travel, Jane Marie is able to communicate with her clan of characters from her  The Goodbye Lie series. The result is The Goodbye Lie Diaries, scattered throughout this blog.)

Fernandina on Amelia Island, Florida

Late 1880s

Carolena Dunnigan writes: 

Dear Jane Marie and Ava,

Carolena Dunnigan
     As you may know, I lean toward the artistic, myself, so I  appreciate your efforts with regard to the watercolor you both showed earlier on this blog.  What with me now working as our
Aqua Verde Passenger Line interior designer of yachts and ships, my imagination is free to combine color and texture and all that encompasses. My reward is seeing our patrons with approving wide eyes when they board our vessels and look about. I boldly pronounce that I am very proud of my contributions to our family business.   


I thought this would be a fine time to share a passage from  Carolena's story below. Read on - Jane Marie 


 AMELIA ISLAND'S VELVET UNDERTOW featuring Carolena Dunnigan  

the year is 1889 ...

   The ride to the Coral Crown gave Carolena little time to reestablish her composure. She knew she must try. 

   The ship's engineer, supervising the last of the coal being loaded aboard, but ever aware of his surroundings, called out, "Cary! What are you doing here at the docks? And with your satchel in tow. I thought you'd be housebound for a long time mourning Grammy. Need a vacation from Aunt Noreen, do you?" he teased.

   Obviously, Grey was busy. Still, his remark, although partly true with regard to Aunt Noreen, could not be ignored. "Grey McKenna! I'm hurt you'd think me so selfish as to desert my family in their time of sorrow. I hoped you thought more of me than that." She really meant what she said. She was disappointed he would ever consider her doing such a thing, although she didn't get the quality of loyalty from her mother. Mother. She forced herself not to frown at the thought. Mother would never again hold the sweet meaning it had.

   "Hey, I meant no harm. We’re about to pull out, so no time to talk. If you’re coming, Cary, get your tail up the ramp. Now!"

   When he took her bag from her, she glared at him for his crass language, not to mention his use of her horrid nickname. She just hoped nobody heard him. Had anyone else spoken like that to her, she'd happily assault them with a scathing attack they'd not soon forget. Grey was a friend and right now, she couldn't afford to lose any more people she trusted.

   Carolena didn't know what cabin arrangements to expect and decided patience was reasonable. Choosing a deck chair, she settled herself in a corner while waiting for Grey to finish his work. Once the Coral Crown was piloted away from Fernandina and out in deep waters, he'd come get her. 

   She tried to concentrate on the sun's slow-motion dive into darkness as Amelia Island faded in the distance. The hours passed. Passengers strolled about; she never noticed them. Stewards offered blankets of woven plaid and warm bouillon to sip, served from silver, but she sent them away. Captain Rockwell stopped by, and she assured him she was fine. When her eyes closed and her head nodded from emotional exhaustion, her miserable meditation didn't abandon her. It lurked inside her dreams.

   A low, long sounding "whooo" entered those dreams. It brought her around and once she deduced it was the bleat of the foghorn, she remembered where she was and why. Her gown was damp from the humid air, and she found herself shivering. Fully awake, anger surged through her. Well, I like that, she seethed. Grey McKenna has completely forgotten me! It certainly seems I have little chance to stir romance in him if he can't even remember I'm on board!  

   She rose and stretched her stiff limbs as inconspicuously as possible. She wondered if this was what Peeper felt like in the mornings when she arose, forever grousing about her achin' this or that. Carolena smiled as she fondly thought of Peep's squawking complaints of constant ill health.

   Her pleasant musings quickly faded. Complain! She would find Mr. McKenna and complain a tad herself! She left her satchel behind the chair and went in search of him. He couldn't escape her on this floating island if he tried! She walked down to the engine room. Straining her voice to be heard against the powerful equipment, she learned from Mr. Casey, who was polishing the bright work to a fine fare-thee-well on some clanking machinery, that it had been approximately fifty minutes since he'd seen Grey. Back up she climbed, her anger firing her impatience.

   She made one pass around the promenade deck, asking several porters if they knew the whereabouts of her prey. She was answered with the same shrug and some vague, "Sorry, Miss Carolena. Last I saw of him, he was in the pilot house."

   She headed to the pilothouse. There, she was steered to the dining saloon. She took in the savory smells and asked for Grey from the man who held the door for her entry.

   "I believe, ma’am, Mr. McKenna was called to the library. There was a ruckus of some sort. If you go down this corridor and take the first left, you ..."

   "Thank you, steward. I know the way." Of course, she knew the way. For a quick moment, she felt a twinge of guilt for having sounded so curt. Oh, she hadn't the time for apologies. A ruckus in the library? Strange. And to call for Grey particularly? Making a quick pass throughout the room, Carolena saw only an old man in a rocking chair, three frumpy-looking ladies and a teenaged boy and girl, who obviously had come to steal kisses between the stacks. She paused to spy, envying the young lovers. Grey wasn't in the library, so she would try the gaming room. He liked to watch the cards even if he couldn’t play while on duty.  The place was lively with piano music, murky with cigar and pipe smoke, and loud with laughter and the sound of clinking chips, toasting glasses, and spinning roulette wheels. She caught sight of the playing cards imprinted with the Aqua Verde crest and thought them to be an elegant amenity. Grey was not in here either.

   Carolena would check every compartment on this ship if she had to, asking each member of the crew when last they'd seen the engineer. The boat deck grill smelled so good and the banjo strumming was so spirited, she was tempted to have a seat and look for Grey later. She advanced to the winter garden. The glass enclosure was overfilled with lush foliage, exotic caged birds, butterflies, and an aquarium, all meant to impose spring and summer on the passengers year round. Grey was not there. On to the gentleman's smoking room she'd furnished with leather wing chairs, the shooting gallery, the kennel with its own sun deck, the indoor swimming pool of enameled sandstone and mosaic wall friezes, the small hospital, the barber shop, the chapel, able to be transformed for multiple denominations with the sliding of a silk screen, the theatre where tonight's presentation was a musical comedy, the boutique, the print shop that was putting to bed the Crown's own daily newspaper, and even the children's playroom where the audience was enjoying a Punch and Judy puppet show. 

   The only thing left to do was to find the First Officer, Mr. Hastings. He would direct her to a cabin. She desperately wanted out of her limp clothes. Then, she remembered one more place she hadn't checked, the men's gymnasium. Rushing down two decks, she found herself looking at the thick polished oak doors. A gleaming brass plaque declared her destination reached, but Carolena suddenly wasn't certain if she should be so bold as to enter the room. She'd been in this place many times during construction, yet this was different. Men would be in degrees of disrobement and perspiring to boot!

   Oh, pish-posh! Tugging open one door, she noted the paneling and wished it were daytime so the added illumination from the portholes would show off the high quality equipment in the room. There were a few fellows in short pants inside, all preoccupied with exercising. One guest was using the rowing machine, his full face flushed from exertion. Another, quite attractive with banana-blonde hair and soft blue eyes, was furiously punching a bag as if it were his mortal enemy. Realizing she was staring, Carolena's eyes turned to the pommel horse, which went unused as did the brass lion's head mounted on the wall, which held pull-ropes tied to weights. In the far corner, two men wearing mesh-wire facemasks and chest protectors parried, their fencing instructor shouting praises and corrections intermittently. 

   Disheartened at not having found Grey, Carolena pushed against both heavy double doors the same instant they were opened from the outside. She fell into the man who was intent upon entering. Grey! He was quick to catch her in his arms. It took her a few breaths to recover her composure. Then she laid into him. "Where have you been?" she shouted. "All I can say is thank you ever so much for leaving me out in the dark and the cold and damp. I may have caught my death for all you care. And have you gotten me a cabin? Or did it slip your mind that my tail, as you so coarsely put it, was even on board? I've been everywhere looking for you just so I could give you a good-sized piece of my mind."

   Grey was amazed at Carolena's shrewish tone, and she was surprised when he lifted her to her toes by her upper arm and rushed her away from the door and into the passageway. 

   "Let me go! Just because you wrassle equipment and engines and things on this ship, gives you no leave to bully me!"

   He released her once they were a distance from any ship's activity. The smile on his face was gone. "I don't give a good goddamn if your daddy and brother-in-law own this ship, missy, I won't tolerate you talking to me like that." His head cocked as if at the point of discovery. "Fascinating if you don't sound exactly like that Aunt Noreen of yours. Pity the poor fool who finally marries you." His searing look intensified. "It's a lucky thing you're a woman. If you were a man, I'd call you out!"

   "How dare you?" she responded. "Handle me ever again, and I'll have your job!" She was upset. Maybe about as upset as she'd ever been in her whole life. She was so mad, she could spit mud.

   Grey's eyes narrowed, and what Carolena witnessed in him frightened her. Her temper disappeared, replaced by bewilderment. Was she afraid of him?

   Speaking softly and slowly, "No one, not man nor woman, threatens my job." He leaned in closely. "You want to run things, do you? Well here, my dear, I give you full dominion over my responsibilities on the Coral Crown," adding, "with my compliments."  Grey pulled away and ripping the golden crossed-anchors from the collar of his uniform, he seized her wrist, and slapped them onto her upturned palm. A casual about-face and he walked away, leaving her alone in the corridor.

   She stood trembling, unsure of what to do. In all her ups and downs, she'd never before felt faint. At this moment, she was quite certain she was near to it. It was clutching at her, pinching off the breath to her brain. She leaned against the wall to recover. She straitened her sleeve where he'd twisted it on her arm and righted herself. In the event anyone witnessed the spectacle, she spoke aloud, "If that insolent oaf wants to quit and leave hundreds of passengers stranded in the event the ship breaks down, then he's simply showing his true colors. No loyal crewman would abandon his obligations if his feelings got bruised." How I've misjudged him, she thought. He's neither the kind man nor true friend he purports himself to be. He's a beast!

   Calm down, Carolena, she ordered herself. I’ll just have to put Second Engineer Casey in charge, and that’s that! Then it came to her! Who was she to be putting anyone in charge? Yes, she knew about the ship, but all she knew was its interior design. Of its basic construction, she understood only that burning coal in the fire room produced steam, which pushed piston-things, and they turned engines. Her tongue had gotten away from her, and her interference had caused Grey to quit his post. 

   Would Casey take over without talking to Grey? She doubted it because the chain of command was inbred in him the same as in any faithful sailor. When he and the captain learned the reason for the resignation, oh God. What if word gets out among the passengers and back in Fernandina? I can only imagine the rumors. And when it gets back to Waite and Bree and Daddy, I'll be so ashamed, they'll probably ask me to leave the business, and rightfully so. When I was a little girl, I remember Daddy telling me respect can only be given. It can't be demanded.

   What have I done to myself, my family, and the reputation of the Aqua Verde Passenger Line? Beast or not, I need Grey.

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