The Duchess

The Duchess

‘The Duchess’ was sailing swiftly on the sea ripping apart the emerald waters.

Captain Girardelli was greeting the passengers with a cordial familiarity while descending down the metal stairs.

 He caressed the golden heads of children on the deck and marched towards his childhood friend Charles Darwin who had returned from a circumnavigation of the globe. He intended to convince Darwin to theorize his observations for publishing when suddenly, the horns blared! In nick of a second Captain was back in top-cabin in five long strides!  

The deck was teeming with people to enjoy sea, who not knowing what to fear, stood flummoxed till the captain announced about a strange ‘encumbrance in ocean-liner’s path…’  His sentence was unfinished when ‘the encumbrance’ became visible; in plain sight were three gigantic mountains inverted with their snow-capped peaks kissing the waters! 

There’s a collective gasp… then all hell broke loose!

 People ran pell-mell… The wide mountain range had seemed to risen-up from the ocean straight in front of them and was hanging unbelievably topsy-turvy! 

Ladies shrieked, a few fainted, nannies took children inside the cabins and gentlemen went pale with terror! 

The entire structure loomed ahead of them dangling precariously upside-down suspended in mid-air, waves splashing below their peaks, their rocks gleaming a sinister red in afternoon sun! 

Nineteen-year-old Francoise rushed to his father and blurted out that he didn’t want the prestigious family title, but to be a writer. Sweating profusely, his knuckles were white. The Present Marquise D’Albiganc stood rooted looking at him searchingly…

Mrs. Morrison stared agape at the mammoth upturned mountains flaming sinisterly like some unfolding scene of biblical hell and quivered. “Wish, I had left him! Wish, I had lived a little before this…!” She thought with despair.

Darwin, transfixed and petrified, his mind ruing in loud whispers, “…ought to have tabulated my observations about Natural Selection by now! Wish, I had time…to explain the variations in the finches!”  In the same instant, the ship collided with the foremost rocks. 

Everyone closed their eyes clutching rails and handles tightly bracing themselves for the massive jolt, but…nothing happened! 

Even the crystal chandeliers, champagne in the flutes did not stir!  

People were baffled. Perplexed they looked again in their front and behind, but all they could see was Pacific Ocean gleaming in noon-sun like molten gold- once again an exceptionally calm day without a trace of mist or a wisp of cloud! 

The crowd erupted in loud cheers and chatted excitedly about the terrifying hallucination! 

Marquise D’Albiganc hugged his son! Patting his shoulders, they moved together towards ecstatic co-passengers on ‘The-Duchess’. 

Mrs. Morrison slid out the huge sapphire ring off her dainty finger crooked from being frequently stricken by a nobleman’s cane. 

Young Darwin moved towards his writing desk with a purposeful step.

The captain’s log entry read –  

July 1838, Sicily, Italy

” Sighted upside-down mountains. 

Disappeared within two minutes.” 

What was not recorded was how the upside-down experience on ‘The Duchess’ helped in straightening-up of many precious lives forever! 
                                                                ****
Author’s note- 
The upside-down illusion is a real optical phenomenon of forming of an atmospheric duct due to thermal inversion and huge temperature variations which cause a strong mirage to appear flipped or at times in concave spiralling manner.

It’s called ‘La Fata Morgana’ on the name of a powerful sorceress Morgana who was the antagonist in Arthurian legends.
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