They met at the St. Mary’s Church dance. The year 1853. After the dance, Robert walked Catherine home to her house, they held hands. Catharine was a sixteen-years-old kitchen maid, with long blond hair. Robert was a nineteen-year-old, deckhand with the island herring fishing fleet.
“Can I walk you home after church next Sunday,” he asked.
Her blue eyes sparkled, and her heart raced, “yes,” she answered.
“Catharine,” said her mother the next day, “that boy of yours has devil’s dust in his eyes, he has the eyes of a child taken away by the Snow Queen. Take care, before he breaks your heart.”
Catharine paid little attention. Every Sunday after church Robert and Catherine could be seen happily walking and laughing together. Then one Sunday as they sat overlooking the harbor while the gulls screeched overhead, Robert said, “I have been offered a job on a Schooner leaving Liverpool in three weeks. The ship will be trading in the Pacific, we will only be away for four years.”
“N…o,” cried Catharine. “It’s the devil dust making you go.”
On Tuesday Robert, left. His eyes only on his dream.
Catharine became a cook in a big house, but she cried a lot.
Robert sometimes sent letters to her telling her about his adventures. Then, after he had been away for four years, she received his last letter. He had been washed overboard while rounding Cape Horn.
In Robert’s letter, he explained, “I held on to a rope when I went overboard, it helped me get back onto the ship. While in the water the most of the devil’s dust washed out of my eyes, and I realized how much I loved you.”
It was months later when Catharine saw Robert through the kitchen window as he approached the back door of the big house. Catharine opened the door before Robert knocked. Roberts eyes filled with tears when he saw her, the tears washed the last traces of devil’s dust from his eyes. They held each other tight.
“I have been offered a new job in Birkenhead,” he whispered as he held her. “I may accept it.”
“Where will THAT job take you? she asked sternly.
“I will be Master of the Birkenhead Stage. He replied proudly. Part of my job would be the firing of the 1-O’clock gun. The gun is used to coordinate the time on all ships in the Mersey Basin. It must be fired every lunch-time at 1-O’clock exactly. All shipping movements for the day are planned based on that time.”
Then, with a smile and a gentle squeeze, he added, “it also means that if we had a house in Birkenhead, you would hear the gun every day. You would know how much I loved you and that I would be coming home to you that night.”
There in the kitchen, while the other staff watched Robert asked Catherine to marry him.
“Yes,” she said smiling, “I will.”