His Convict WifeBy: Lena Dowling
‘May the little people come in the dead of night, wrench your evil eyes out from their sockets, and fry them on the griddle for breakfast for what you’ve done.’
Colleen shook her fist at Danny O’Shane, the scoundrel who as good as owned her, and since he was liable to lash out she ducked in behind her cousin Nellie. Colleen was pretty enough but not as comely as her cousin. Danny was far too shrewd to mess up the face of his biggest earner.
He had met them straight off the convict ship where he told the captain that O’Shane’s was a respectable boarding house and they would be working as chambermaids. On account of that he managed to get a Ticket of Leave for both of them written out right there and then.
To start with, Danny only wanted Nellie — the one all the men swooned over — but Nellie wouldn’t go without Colleen. Her heart was in the right place but it meant both of them were scooped up from the stinking stew pot of a ship they had been simmering in for months only to be dropped over the side into the flames.
‘Did I say boarding house? Well now, what I really meant was bawdy house,’ Danny had said, his lips slithering up into a lecherous smile as soon as Nellie and Colleen clapped terrified eyes on the ‘boarding house’.
Colleen would never forget seeing O’Shane’s for the first time. It was as if a giant trapdoor had opened under her feet, dropping her down into a pit below. She and Nellie gasped at all the lamps hanging in the windows and the gangs of sailors drinking rum and gambling on the veranda outside. They might have been poor Irish convict girls, but they hardly had a sack of dag-wool each for brains. They knew a brothel when they feckin’ well saw one.
Looking as frightened as they did, Danny had clocked them for virgins. That night they were auctioned off to the highest bidder. They clung to each other, half out of their wits, Nellie whispering in her ear about what to expect.
But it was the easiest night of their lives compared to what came after. They only had one customer each. One deflowered her, while Nellie satisfied the other with a smear of blood on the sheet after she pricked the end of her finger on the sharp edge of a buckle.
Every night since, Colleen had seen five or six men, and Nellie eight or so, on account of being more popular.
Danny folded his arms.
‘Colleen was deadweight before she got herself in the family-way, but in a month she’ll be worse than useless and she’ll be taking up a bed that could be used by a more productive wench.’
‘She can take her kip with me, like she does most nights anyway,’ Nellie said.
‘And what about feeding her? Will you share your food too?’
‘She’s me own flesh n’ blood. Course she can have half me rations.’
‘What about when the brat comes? How is she going to work then?
Colleen tensed as Danny raised his hand, but instead of using it to strike, he reached out and grasped Nellie’s chin between thumb and forefinger, his enormous gold signet pressing into her cheek as he leered down at her with rat-brown eyes.
‘Even you, the legendary Nellie Malone, couldn’t do enough customers in a night to cover both your keep and hers.’ He laughed releasing his grip. ‘Anyway, I’m doing her a favour. They’ll let her keep the child, for a few years at least, at The Factory.’
That bit was true. At the gaol for convict women, upriver at Parramatta that everyone called The Factory, they would let her keep her baby for a while, but there were seven years left on her fourteen year sentence and she wouldn’t be freed before they took the baby. Likely as not, she would never see her child again.
Colleen clasped her hands to her belly.
‘See — your cousin knows what’s good for her and the little bastard she’s got growing inside her. Look lively and say your goodbyes. There’s a turnkey waiting downstairs, and I doubt it’ll pay you to keep him waiting.’
‘If your ma weren’t dead and buried clear across the other side of the world her spirit would claw its way out of her grave to haunt you, so it would. You’re a low-life filthy blackguard, Danny O’Shane!’ Colleen lunged toward him, blood pumping in her ears, her heart kicking up a jig in her chest, but Danny sidestepped her, heading out the door back down the stairs, and Colleen fell to the planks of the timber floor.