Dear readers, tonight we witness something a little different. The protagonist of the novel, Miss Devine, a 19th century governess for small children, is interviewing one of her new charges.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
Well, I don’t rightly remember England as such. Da brought us out to Australia when I was no higher than Grace is now but I do remember the sea. Oh, Miss Devine, how much that sea threw its cold hard hands around our ship and how the wind wailed! I asked Ma what she thought the wind was saying to me but she shut me up with a knock and told me to take little Robbie down below. She was so scared the sea folk would steal her boy away. I got scared watching the way her eyes lit on him like the sea folk were going to steal him away right then, right out of her hands and she’d have no cause to hold on tight, having lost most of her feelings in the bitter chill.
Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?
There’s always been too many children for us to have toys, Miss Devine, but we made do. I remember a tree that grew out of the hard ground near the docks in Hobart. Ma used to let me climb it when Da’s boat was due and ‘cause I spent so much time in that tree, I got to know it’s branches and it’s colours and it was sort of like a living thing to me. Now, don’t look at me like that, Miss Devine. I know you think I take a fancy to things that aren’t always what you can see with your eyes but you don’t know what’s out there. I swear that tree breathed. In summer I watched it shed its bark like it was growing through its skin. I picked up the brown curling back and put it near my other collections, somewhere near the house so Da don’t find it when he’s had a lick too much to drink and think it’s rubbish.
What do you do now?
What a funny question, Miss Devine! You know what I do now. Nothing’s the same since we all came to the lighthouse together, you know that. I found something, something I can do. Like, when Mr Johannsson asks me to do the weather observation in the morning, and I know how to judge the swell height and the size and shape of the waves and the names of the clouds that sweep around that piece of land over there – see, Miss Devine, that rocky ledge where the blue sea breaks? The clouds get caught on the trees sometimes and their underneath hangs down, they remind me of Grace’s skirts when she’s been running in the sharp bushes after Roger, and Ma growls at her because she’s ruining more clothes we don’t have. Anyway, I love helping Mr Johannsson and I love it here at The Sentinel.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
Oh, there’s been so many, Miss Devine! How about that time when the Madeleine almost foundered and all those poor souls nearly lost their lives? Or the time when the storms hit and we didn’t see the sun for days and Da got so mad with me for helping Mr Johannsson? I thought we were lost then, Miss Devine. But Mr Johannsson, he always comes through for us, don’t he? I wish Da didn’t make me stop seeing him but Mrs Dawson, I know you don’ t trust her, but she’s kind to me and she said she’d talk to Da about me going back to help Mr Johannsson in the weather room.
What did you first think when you saw the Sentinel?
It was a magic sight, wasn’t it? Remember how we all stood on the deck of the Lady Miriam as we rounded the lighthouse and we looked up at the tower and it was as if the world was going to be alright. I thought I was going to live in a castle but even when we got here and I saw our house, our very own little house at last, I knew it was like coming home.
What is the worst thing about living on the Sentinel?
Miss Devine! How can you ask such a question? There is nothing bad about it! The wombats play every evening around our house. Ma tries to chase them away but they like the vegetables too much and they come back as soon as her back’s turned. The storms that drench us with their greyness pass over us so quick and leave the earth cool and wet and when the sun breaks through it makes the raindrops sparkle. Everything you might think is bad, the loneliness, the wildness, the emptiness, is not. It’s what makes this place so special.
What is the best thing about it?
The lighthouse is everything, isn’t it? We wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t here. Everything we do we do in service to the light. We have to keep the light burning bright so the poor souls out there in that ocean are safe. And Mr Johannsson knows so much and he teaches me about it every single day.
Tell us a little about your friends.
Well, there’s you and Mrs Dawson and, of course, Mr Johannsson. I wouldn’t call myself friends with the other keepers or Mrs Johannsson but I don’t mind. I’m happy, Miss Devine. I never thought I’d be friends with a man older than me Da but that Mr Johannsson’s been so kind to me and taught me so much, he’s the best friend I ever had.
Any romantic involvement?
Oh, Miss Devine, don’t make me blush! As if! And even if I could, who would my sweetheart be? There’s only the other lighthouse children and they’re too young. You’re getting ahead of yourself, Miss Devine.
Whom (or what) do you really hate?
Hate’s too strong a word, Miss Devine. I don’t hate anyone. Sometimes Da gets mean and he – well, I don’t want to say what he says to Ma but that’s only the drink talking, that’s not really what Da’s like at all.
What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?
You know, Miss Devine, I have two favourite places to go. There’s the grotto that you and I know about where the sea sounds so close it’s like we were inside it, and there’s the weather room. You haven’t seen inside it have you? Oh, it’s just glorious, Miss Devine, it’s like a piece of sunshine came down to earth and landed right inside that little room, and the view! I could stare at it for hours. The sea and the sky, they’re always changing and I never, ever get tired of it.
What does the future hold for you?
We talked about this, didn’t we? You know I can’t go to school having to help Ma out with the baby and all but what I wish the most of all, is that I could stay here on the Sentinel for ever and ever and ever.
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
Sometimes, Miss Devine, when I’m in the grotto or the weather room, I pretend I’m Mrs Dawson with her fancy walk and her soft way of fluttering her hands when she sings. I wish I was like her, Miss Devine. I wish I was fancy. Back in the real world, who’s going to want a girl like me – so poor and no education? No, here is where I belong, Miss Devine, and here on the Sentinel is where I want to stay forever.
Your questions were funny, Miss Devine but I hope I done a good job answering them for you.
Jacqueline Hodder is a writer, blogger, teacher and reader based in Melbourne, Australia. She has been writing since she was a child. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing (University of Canberra) after winning the Mary Grant Bruce Short Story Award for Children’s Literature. She has worked in many different industries but writing has always been her first love. Jacqueline loves transporting her readers into the past and showing them the intricacies of life in bygone times. Her meticulous research and in-depth character studies bring realism to the worlds she portrays and make her stories a joy to read.
You can find Isabella on the pages of The Sentinel.
Join us next week to meet a library assistant who witnessed a plague of dead rats. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.