Authors: Val Wood
Rosa grew up an orphan in a remote, watery island fastness on the wild East coast of Yorkshire. Taken in as a small child by the motherly Mrs Drew, she realised as she grew up that this large and seemingly close farming family contained many troubled souls. Mr Drew, whose religious fervour held a dark secret; Jim, the eldest son, who was terrified of something from his past; Delia, longing to escape from the island; and tall, handsome, confident Matthew, who wanted only one thing â Rosa herself.
But Rosa's background was one of mystery. Her mother, before she drowned in the sea near their home, had always promised that one day Rosa's father would return to her â a handsome Spaniard, with jewels and silks in treasure chests, sailing in on a ship with golden sails. Mr Drew knew the secret of Rosa's past â and so did the two mysterious Irishmen, who came back to the island after many years and who threatened everything which Rosa held most dear.
To the people, past and present,
of the real Sunk Island
My thanks to Catherine for reading the manuscript and to Peter and Ruth for their constant support and encouragement.
Books for general reading:
. Highgate Publications (Beverley) Ltd, 1991
A Sunk Island Miscellany
The Victoria History of the County of York East Riding
, Volume V. Published for the University of London Institute of Historical Research by Oxford University Press, 1984
The Country Life Book of Nautical Terms
THE RIVER'S WATERS
eddied and broke over the bank of sunken sand, covering it with a watery blanket and then retreating. Again it came and drew away. And again. Over the years the sandbank grew wider and higher and the constant rhythmic waves of the estuary surged and flowed and caressed its edges, flooding the greening centre only at high spring tides.
, a bare and empty lonely isle risen from the deep Humber bed. A still land and silent save for the haunting cry of the wild geese who stretched their wings in flight above it.
Tharlesmere. Frismerk. Ravenser Odd's
come again.' The villagers who watched its mystical rising from the marshy mainland shore spoke in whispers of the lost lands of long ago, lands swept away by the swollen waters and their inhabitants drowned. Others shook their heads in disagreement and said that the sea had brought it, washing it down from the eroding cliffs of Holderness and into the estuary.
However it had come, this lonely, mist-shrouded land, there was one opinion on which they were in accord. It was river land and the river one day would claim it back.
NOW, LASSIE, TELL
us again what your ma said.' The Sunk Island farmer crouched down beside Rosa. âWhere did she say she was going? Was she going to Patrington market?'
Rosa shook her head, her thumb in her mouth, her dark eyes gazing into the farmer's blue ones. Why didn't they listen? She had already told them where her mother had gone. She was going to join her da. She took her wet thumb out of her mouth and wiped it on her pinafore. âShe's gone to Spurn to meet my da's ship.'
The farmer rose to his feet and pursed his lips. âIt don't look too good, Mrs Jennings,' he said to Rosa's grandmother. âWhy would she tek it into her head to go all that way?'
Mrs Jennings looked down at Rosa. âShe's been walking by 'river for 'last few weeks. Took bairn with her most times.'
âWe'll organize a search on all of Crown land first, but if she has gone to Spurn we'll have to notify Kilnsea constable. They'll not want us tramping all over peninsula, road's too dangerous. Besides,' he said bluntly, âwe've a lot o' work
on now 'weather's turned. We've more embanking to start as well as 'spring sowing.'
âWe're talking about a woman's life.' Mrs Jennings's voice was sharp. âShe's been gone since yesterday. Doesn't that mean owt to you?'
His face softened. âTha knows as well as me that if Mary's tekken it into her head to go down to Spurn, owt could have happened. She could have tummelled into a ditch or dyke, watter's deep after all 'rain we've had. Or got stuck on 'marsh.' He dropped his voice. âWe all know how she's been for 'last few years. She's never been right since yon foreigner left.
âBut we'll keep looking,' he assured her as she turned away. âWe've got men working on 'river bank and on 'channel. They'll know if she's been down there, they'll have seen her. There's no hiding place on this land.'
âAye,' she said wearily. âI know. I know.'
âWill Ma bring my da back home?' Rosa asked eagerly as they went back into the farmhouse. âWill he come in a ship with golden sails like she said? And will he have gold and silver like he promised?'
âThere'll be nowt like that, so don't be thinking it.' Her grandmother was terse. âYour ma filled you up wi' fancy ideas and none of it was true.'
Rosa sat in a corner and considered. Her mother had promised. She'd said that her da was a Spanish prince and that one day he would come back in a great ship with billowing sails, and sail around the Spurn Point and into the Humber. They would go aboard to meet him and he would dress them in fine silks and jewels and
take them back with him to his own country: a country where it was always sunny and warm and the people sang and danced all day and the women wore flowers in their black hair.
âSpain's not windswept and isolated like it is here on Sunk Island,' her mother had whispered in Rosa's ear, âwhere 'river is constantly beating at our door, and where we do nowt but work every day that God sends.'
It would seem then, Rosa silently reflected as she sat in her corner, that her mother might have gone without her. It was true, as her grandmother had said, that her mother had frequently taken her down to the Humber, where the water lapped at the marshland and where gangs of labourers were reclaiming the land which the river rejected.
Her mother would stand on the embankment holding Rosa fast by the hand if the tide was high, so that she wouldn't fall into the deep muddy river, shielding her eyes from the brightness of the water and staring down in the direction of the peninsula where the sailing ships rounding the narrow tongue of Spurn followed the pilot ships to avoid the hidden sandbanks, and came into the Humber.
âWe'll see him pass, Rosa,' she used to mutter. âHave no fear. He'll pass Sunk Island and send a signal to us.'
But he never came and Rosa grew cold and fretful and tugged on her mother's skirts so that they could go home to a warm hearth and the steaming broth that her grandmother always had on the fire.
Her father had gone away before she was born, but she had a picture of him in her head, painted by her mother in bright descriptive colours. âHe's so handsome, Rosa,' her mother would sigh. âOn our wedding day he wore a black suit and white shirt which showed his sun-browned skin, and his hair is black and sleek, just like yours, and he gave me this ring.' She held out her left hand. âSpanish gold, it is, not base metal like 'fellows round here give their wives.'
And Rosa had listened to the stories for as long as she could remember, and believed that he would come.
It was nearly a week later that there came a hammering on the door of Marsh Farm and a message for her grandmother to go at once to the village of Kilnsea where the cottages huddled precariously between the river and the sea.
âCan you tek me?' Rosa heard her grandmother say to the caller. âMr Jennings is poorly, he can't go and I daren't drive 'trap down that lonely road, I'd be scared of tummelling into 'water.'
âCan I come, Gran?' Rosa asked eagerly, hoping that there was news of her father and his ship.
âNo.' Her grandmother patted her cheek. âIt'll be late when I get back. Stay here and mind 'house and keep fire in and set table for supper and get whatever your grandfer needs.'
Her grandfather wanted for nothing and the fire blazed with dry driftwood and after she had set the table with a clean cloth and soup dishes, she sat on a stool by the fire and waited for her
grandmother to return with her mother and father.
âIt's Mary, right enough.' The boatman came out of his cottage to greet Mrs Jennings, and led her towards his boat shed. âI recognized her straight away even though she's been in 'water for a while. 'Constable's been and agreed wi' me that it was her. I'm sorry for thy loss,' he added, âand for 'young bairn.'