It was perhaps ten years ago now. I can remember Ansi Cornwallah working on Stonecutter Wharf. He was a nice young fellow, originally from somewhere near Prae Ducis in Partann. He’d lived in Port Naain for about a decade. He’d fitted in well and felt at home here. Indeed he had married a local girl three or four years previously. At the time I first met him; his wife had just given birth to a daughter. I came across him because his workmates were virtually frogmarching him into one of the quayside bars to drink to his good fortune. It wasn’t they were expecting him to pay; they were willing to stand him a drink. Yet he was one of those men who are so dutiful, so hardworking, that he felt it was wrong to do this when they should be working.
Anyway he stuck in my mind after that and occasionally I’d see him as I passed to and thro and we’d always exchange a greeting. I even met his wife Sanjisi and his daughter a couple of times when he was working late and she’d bring his supper out to him on the wharf.
She was a pretty young woman, always neat and tidy. Given the hours Ansi worked money shouldn’t have been a problem, but wages weren’t high and ordinary labourers had to put a lot of hours in just to get by.
Still it came as a shock when she came along Fellmonger’s Wharf asking after him. Apparently he’d left for work that morning and had not come home again. For the next week she haunted the Old Esplanade in case his body was found.
People felt sorry for her, when no cadaver was washed ashore the assumption was that she’d been deserted rather than widowed. I suppose it happens, but it did come as a surprise to us all. Indeed I think we all preferred to think that he’d had an accident of some sort and died. It reflected better on the Ansi we knew than just abandoning his wife and child for another woman.
Months went by and then she appeared to be more cheerful, apparently somebody had seen Ansi sign aboard a boat trading to Partann. Now this did make sense. After all he was from Partann, indeed he had a kinsman who was involved in trade and who used to regularly stay with them when he was up in Port Naain.
We still saw her occasionally on the Old Esplanade, but apparently she used to go regularly out to Nightbell Point where you could stand and watch the ships coming and going. When a boat came in from Partann, she’d always ask the crew if they’d heard anything of her husband.
The final blow came when the Sea Weaver was overdue. Sanjisi came down to the Old Esplanade every day to see if anybody had any news. Indeed she was talking to Shena when word came through that the boat had been posted missing, presumed lost with all hands.
Apparently she went very quiet and just sat there, unmoving. Finally she announced in a small voice that she’d had word from a kinsman of her husband that Ansi had been on the Sea Weaver and was coming back to Port Naain to collect her to start their new life together in Port Naain. Shena hugged her and a couple of the lady shore-combers walked her and her daughter home.
A month later Ansi’s kinsman came north to Partann. He was a handsome enough young fellow, almost dashing, and with money to throw about by the look of it. But to be fair to him he’d come with an offer from the family. He would escort her to Prae Ducis and there she could settle in the house Ansi had acquired. It meant that Ansi’s parents could have some time with the granddaughter they had never seen. After some thought Sanjisi agreed to go back with him to meet her husband’s family; she sold the furniture, gave up the tenancy of the house and a week later she was gone.
You know how it is, people fade from memory. Her twelve months of tragedy had gripped us for a while, but now she was gone, the sadness of others took centre stage and I don’t suppose any of us thought much about her.
Until, three years after Sanjisi left, the new tenant succumbed to the nagging of his wife. The attic in the house was stuffed full of old sail canvas. Now some people do this, it makes reasonable insulation and helps keep the house warm in winter. But in the case of the new tenant, his wife had plans to use the attic for storage and wanted the canvas out. So he climbed into the attic occasionally and carried a bundle of it down to the Old Esplanade where he burned the rotten stuff on the beach.
It was only when he had almost cleared the attic that he found some of the canvas had already been bundled up. He got it down to the beach in his handcart, but somehow the bundle seemed heavier than it should have been. So when he got it down to the beach he opened the bundle before setting fire to it. As he opened out the canvas, there lay the mummified body of Ansi Cornwallah.