Excerpt 2 - The Portrait of Isabella Simmons

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The Portrait of Isabella Simmons

Chapter 1 – Part 2


Following three days of walking in a direction Johanna believes is east, having listened intensively as she could to her mother’s instructions on following the daily journey of the sun as it crosses the sky to the position of the night stars, she believes she is lost. Most nights she could not see the stars hidden under thick menacing clouds. But with the darkness, she never feels afraid. It empowers her to be ready for the unknown. Johanna has no idea how many days walk it will be to the city of Galway.

Her legs are tired, and after spending some time staring into her satchel, Johanna also believes she is eating too much food and will not have enough for the journey. The warm tears soak her cheeks, dripping into the bag. An unknown emotion overwhelms her, spreading through her body dropping her temperature. With trembling hands, she wipes the tears that almost don’t stop, only to be followed by deep reaching sobs from within her body. Terrible sorrow fused with fear rides her body almost making her sick. The outburst has surprised her, but she believes it’s to do with where she finds herself now. She is alone. She can rely on no one. She only has herself to take care of. She must be strong if she is to survive and make a new start in Galway. There can be no room for fear. Fear will make her weak.

Standing, Johanna pats down her clothes and fixes her hair. Wiping away the final remnants of tears, she stands firm. She must be strong. Picking up her satchel, Johanna remembers spotting a village a short distance back and decides she will journey to it early in the morning to see if there is an opportunity to secure more food for her journey to Galway. Stretching her legs, she rubs the soles of her feet. Can she steal food? It’s something she never had to think about before. She always had food in her little home on the hill top, but she no longer lives within that protection. Perhaps this is the price she must pay for the sin she has committed. She questions if her mother knew the food would not last, but believes she is protecting her by sending her on this journey. Tiredness soon creeps over her body and the night sky turns to darkness.

The coolness of the early May morning raises her early. The sun has started its climb into the sky for a new day. After eating a small portion of stale bread, she retraces her steps to the little village she had spied the previous day. The morning sun has soared upwards in the sky when she arrives at the village with a central market place bustling with people going about their business. The smell of pigs and cattle for sale overpowers her senses, but through the odour wafts, the sweet scent of fresh bread draws her like a magnet into the middle of the market to find the enticing stalls of food, ignoring the words of caution to remain out of sight.

She stops an elderly man standing by a donkey and asks him if she is near Galway city. His response through the cigarette hanging from his lips is enough to tell her she is not anywhere near her destination, but he mumbles the words that she is in the village of Oughterard.

Moving forward, she reaches the stalls of food, the selection of bread stuns her. She has never seen so many types and sizes. Hunger drives her to eat, but Johanna is unsure. Conflicts roll around in her thoughts. She edges closer almost touching the bread. She spends some moments studying the stall keeper and his distraction with customers. She reaches for a loaf of soda bread, while at the same time, a hand grips her shoulder, causing her to jump and drop the loaf.

“What is this?” the stall keeper, having noticed the scene, steps closer.

Unable to move, Johanna eyes the stall keeper who places his eyes on the person holding her by the shoulder.

“Here,” the man’s voice booms behind her, throwing a coin onto the stall for the keeper. The keeper grunts, picks it up and returns to his other customers.

“Take your bread,” the man instructs, releasing her shoulder and standing to her side. He is a bulky man, tall and strong like her father. She reaches for the bread.

“Thank you,” she replies not removing her eyes from his.

“Where are you from?”

“From the west.”

“You alone?”

Johanna remains silent, not sure if she should tell the stranger.

“You can call me Mr. Kavanagh. I’m the land steward for the noble man, Mr. Richard Belfort, owner of Harrington Estate. It’s your lucky day as I’ve been sent to find a new recruit to work in the kitchens of Harrington House. You’ll get a small allowance, have a place to sleep and all the food you’ll want. What do you say?”

Johanna is unsure and casts her eyes around her, but only sees the blur of people overshadowed by the noise of the busy market. “Where do you live?”

“I live east of here, near Moycullen. Look over there, you can see my carriage and coach man.”

Peering through the crowds, her eyes rest on the black coach driven by two horses. One horse is black with speckled grey coat, and the other is a chestnut colour. On top sits the driver.

“I don’t usually mix in places like these, but it’s also a good spot to find help when I need it, and the last time the coach man did the job, the girl he hired was useless, but I’m willing to give you a trial run. You have spirit in you, wild it might be, but it can be tamed, that I am sure. It will be a challenge for old Mrs. Horan, head of the kitchens. What do you say girl?”

“Is Moycullen near Galway city?”

“It’s on the way to Galway for sure. Come girl.”

Johanna nods and follows Mr. Kavanagh to the coach.


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