Make your own free website on

 Chapter 19

    “I need to go below to see if I can get Sheila to eat a wee bit,” John informed Mary quietly.  “She has not eaten at all for the past two days.  I fear she is taking a turn for the worst.”

    “Me as well,” Mary answered worriedly.  “Kate has been an angel to look in on her for the past few days.  Even she said Brigid’s mother looks as if death already has a firm hold on her.”

    John looked back at Brigid, who slept peacefully behind them.  “At least Brigid seems to be recovering.  Her fever has been much less today and she seems to be sleeping and eating much better.”

    “Aye, herself does at that.”  Mary gently touched her friend’s face with a smile.  “Much better.”

    Brigid squirmed slightly at the light touch.  The bright morning sun poured warmly onto the slumbering lass.  She rolled onto her side facing her friends and opened her eyes slightly to the brightness.  A small smile cracked her flushed lips.  “Morning,” the weak lass whispered hoarsely.
    Mary smiled lovingly back at her friend.  “Maidin mhaith,” she answered.

    “In English,” Brigid returned, rising tentatively on an elbow.  “Only English now. . . America.”

    John smiled hugely at the determined lass.  “Only English now,” he agreed.  Mary nodded affirmatively in unison.

    A small puff of white cloud shaded the sun briefly, casting a swiftly moving shadow across the sun splashed deck.  A light breeze tousled the trio’s grimy hair and noisily ruffled the full sails.  Brigid weakly held up a hand to shade her eyes from the sun as it erupted from behind its quickly moving cover.  She took in a deep breath and sat up slowly, leaning back against the forecastle wall.

    Pulling the blanket up to her neck, Brigid closed her eyes and took in another deep breath.  John and Mary watched the lass happily, feeling that she must be doing much better.  Brigid opened her eyes once again, shading them against the glaring light.  John repositioned himself to block the bright rays from the struggling lass.

    “You must be feeling better,” John quipped with a broad smile.

    “Better?” Brigid answered forcing a smile in return.  “Yes, better.”  She shifted her position and shivered slightly under the thin blanket.  “My mother?  She. . .better?”

    John’s smile diminished quickly.  He looked over to Mary as if looking for direction.  Mary looked sadly back at her friend.  He quickly redirected his attention to Brigid.  “No,” he started honestly, “your mother is not doing well.”

    Brigid looked back at him puzzledly.  “Better?” she questioned.

    “No,” Mary joined in.  “Not better.  Still very sick.”
    Brigid’s shoulders slumped slightly as her eyes lowered to the deck in front of her.  A tear slipped down her cheek and onto the blanket.  “What do?” the saddened lass asked, slipping her hand from under the blanket and pointing to herself.  “Me, what do?”

    John slid beside Brigid and put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her tightly against his chest.  “You,” he answered lovingly, “get better.”  He pointed to her playfully, trying to break the suddenly sullen mood.  “I am going to see your mother in a few moments.”  The lad pointed to himself and to the stair shroud.  Brigid looked him sadly in the eyes and nuzzled warmly against her friend.

    Mary moved in beside the couple, unwrapping her food bundle.  The stores of biscuits that came from the ship’s pantry had become inedible.  They were hard as stones and, more than not, had mold growing in hairy spots all over them.  Most of the passengers had begun to just fling the tasteless things into the sea.  The industrious lass had begun to follow the example of the other passengers and prepare a hard pan bread or corn meal gruel from their daily rations of cornmeal and water.  The option was even more tasteless, but at least it was safe to eat.  Breaking a corner off one of the small loaves of pan bread, Mary offered the morsel to Brigid.

    The ailing young woman took the tidbit and sat up slightly away from John.  She shielded her eyes once again from the glaring sun and leaned heavily against the forecastle wall.  Brigid then accepted a small chunk of dried meat and ate her tiny breakfast as her friends watched.

    John smiled up at Mary, happy to see the signs of recovery from their friend.  “I am going below to check on Sheila,” he informed the lass softly.

    Brigid looked quickly to the lad.  “Me go?” she asked weakly, trying to stand to her feet.

    “Níl,” John responded, pulling her gently back to the deck.
    Brigid frowned at the insistent lad.  “English,” she replied sharply.

    John smiled softly and acknowledged his friend, “English, I know.  You stay here and get better.  I will check on your mother.”  The young Irishman gathered himself and stood to his feet.  Mary quickly took his place beside Brigid.

    Both young women looked up at him, squinting at the bright sky that he stood against.  John picked up his food bundle and water jug, then turned toward the stair shroud amidships.  He caught sight of Eileen and Martin standing at the vessel’s railing. It had been several days since they had spoken, so the lad turned their way.  “Good morning, sister,” he hailed on his approach.

    The young couple turned, hand in hand to greet John.  “Fine morning, isn’t it?” Eileen greeted happily in return.  “Where you off to?  Would you like to join us for a while?  We just saw some lovely dolphins swimming beside the ship.”

    John smiled warmly at his sister.  “No thank you.  I am off to check on Brigid’s mother below.  She seems to have taken a turn for the worst.  And I promised Brigid I would take good care of her.”

    “I do not know how you manage to go down there,” Martin answered honestly.  “I hear people say the fever is going around below.  Take care of yourself lad.

    “I shall,” John answered, his face becoming more stern.  “I have not been below for a few days, but it almost seems I can still smell the stench from the last time I was down there.  If it were not for my promise to Brigid, no hounds from Hell could drag me down there again.”

    Eileen smiled at her brother.  She turned and hugged his neck lovingly.  “You will be a fine, faithful husband,” she acknowledged softly into his ear.  “I hope I can always be as trustworthy to my friends.”
    “You shall,” John answered, “I know you that well, sister.”

    The lad turned to continue his duties.  Stopping briefly at the door to the stair shroud, he drew a long, deep breath before entering the dark, rancid bunkroom.  He gingerly fingered the still tender wound on his arm, triggering the dark memory of rescuing Brigid from that fetid pit.  One last deep breath and John opened the door to the stairwell and plunged into the dark portal.

    He held his breath all the way down the stair, stopping at the base to allow his eyes to adjust to the eternal gloom.  Unwillingly, John exhaled slowly, then tried a small sniff of the still air.  The putrid thickness suddenly stuck in his throat, forcing him to cough and turning his stomach with repugnancy.  He tried another shallow breath with the same result.

    Unable to stomach the putridness any longer, John shot back up the stair into the welcome sunlight and sweet sea air.  He burst through the door, coughing and shielding his eyes from the intense glare of the bright sun.  The lad turned, placing his hands on the edge of the shroud roof, swallowing hard to stifle the regurgitation threatening to erupt from his throat.  He leaned heavily against the structure, breathing in deeply and trying to clear the thick stench from his lungs.  John spat onto the deck at his feet, attempting to eradicate the horrid taste from his mouth.

    There had to be another plan.  He could not leave Sheila unattended.  John turned toward the forecastle.  He quickly traversed the deck toward Mary and Brigid.  He would have to cover his nose and mouth to stand the stench below.
    Mary watched her friend approach with puzzlement in her eyes.  Brigid sat against the forecastle with her eyes closed.  John approached silently, holding a finger to his lips to keep Mary quiet.  He hoped not to disturb Brigid with his return.  Quickly, he retrieved the tattered, blood spattered shirt he had been injured in.  As quickly as he could, the lad turned back toward the stair.  He could feel Mary’s eyes staring at him the whole way back.  His odd actions seemed to have attracted several curious onlookers.

    Numerous passengers watched as John arrived once again at the doorway to the stair.  He looked around at the mostly empty looks in their eyes as he tied the spattered shirt tightly around his face.  The thickly folded material made his breathing a bit more laborious, but, at least it should help him bear the stench below.

    A haggard, middle-aged woman slowly approached John from behind, startling him when she spoke.  “Please sir, my husband is still down there.  Will you be so kind as to check on himself for me?  He would not let me come near after he became very ill.”  Her raspy voice grated on the lad like a dry twig on a sun bleached rock.

    ‘There are many people below and I do not know your husband,” John answered, hoping to get out of the dark chamber as quickly as possible.

    “I will tell you where he is,” the hag begged, “he is not far from the stair.”

    John closed his eyes in dismay and shook his head affirmatively.  The woman pinpointed out the bunk where her husband lay as John listened half heartedly.  “Thank you very much, lad,” she praised him, reaching up to mistakenly grasp his sore arm in appreciation.

    John moaned, quickly pulling away from her grip.  ‘My arm is wounded,” he quickly explained.

    “I am so sorry,” the woman apologized.  “When you come back out, I will fix it for you.”

    “Thank you,” the lad responded, trying to be polite.  He turned for the door, taking a deep breath before entering.  He did not know how effective his mask would prove to be.  However, he had to remain long enough this time to complete his duties.”
    Quickly opening the door, John entered the darkness of the stairway.  The shaft of diffused sunlight streaming from the door helped break up the gloom somewhat.  He turned, reopening the door and propped it open for light.  Slowly, the lad descended the stairway, allowing his vision to adjust as he went.  The rancid odor, though still noticeable, was at least bearable with the mask protecting his breathing.

    The guarded lad reached the bottom of the stair and gazed around the gloom-filled room.  A low moan from across the hold was the only break in the ominous silence.  John’s apprehension piqued as he could almost feel the cold fingers of death rake down his spine.  Something was surely amiss, he could feel it in his gut.  Another low moan sent a cold shiver up the spooked lad’s back from head to toes.

    John took a step toward Sheila’s bunk and stopped once again.  He could feel someone watching him.  Another shiver raced up his backbone.  His breathing raced through the thick mask.   His body shivered severely.  After two quaking moments, John forced himself forward into the deepening shadow.

    The lad felt something lightly grasp his shoulder in the darkness.  He turned to find someone’s hand reaching from a nearby bunk and loosely gripping his arm.  His heart pounded.

    “I am sorry, I cannot help you,” he stammered.  But the hand would not release its grip.

    John reached up and grasped the icy hand, trying to extract himself.  The attached limb was stiff as an oak tree.  A cry stuck in the lad’s throat.  He looked quickly into the bunk where the limb originated.  The eyes of emaciated death stared back at him.
    He gasped, pushing the dead hand roughly away.  Instantly, he shot down the aisle toward Sheila’s bed.  John looked behind him several times as he traversed the dark passage.  His journey to the woman’s bedside seemed like an eternity.  His legs felt weak and his labored, erratic breathing rasped in the stillness.  The only sounds he could hear above his own breathing was an occasional muffled moan from somewhere in the room and the sounds of heavy footsteps on the deck above.  The ominous feel of death now completely surrounded him.

    John finally arrived at Sheila’s bunk, his heart pounding with apprehension.  The woman lay unmoving at his arrival.  The nervous lad peered in at the woman through the shadow.  He could detect no sign of movement from her breathing.  A bolt of dread shot through his chest.  Her eyes and cheeks were sunken deeply into her face and a fleshless arm rested awkwardly across her body.  Tentatively, he reached out and touched the woman’s forehead.  Her skin was cold as ice.
“Holy Mother of God!” he whispered, crossing himself rapidly several times.  “Sweet Brigid, do not let this be.”

    John backed away from the bunk, bumping into the row of bedframes across the aisle.  “What do I do now?” he asked no one in particular.  The lad crossed himself once more and turned quickly for the exit.

    Another low cough and moan sent chilblains up John’s spine once again.  He reached the dead man’s arm that protruded across the aisle and ducked quickly under, crossing himself again as he rose to full height.  The frightened lad broke into a run toward the base of the stair.
    The mask restricted his breathing to the point where he felt faint as he reached the stairway.  John stopped for a minute to regain his senses, lest he take another tumble and injure himself once again on the steep steps.  His rapid, shallow breathing eventually began to regulate.   Turning his eyes toward the dazzling opening above, he took a couple of quick steps up the stair toward the exit.

    An old woman’s face peered back at him through the bright portal.  At first John thought it was a delusion.  Then he remembered his promise to check on the old woman’s husband.  The reluctant lad turned back down the stairway in search of the old man.

    He reached the bunk described by the old hag and peered in.  An emaciated old fellow looked weakly back up at the lad through the dark.  “Have you come to help me, lad?” the old man asked weakly.

    “Aye, sir,” John answered softly, “I have indeed.”

    The old man smiled slightly, lifting a boney hand to the lad beside him.  “I could use some water and a wee taste of food,” he begged.

    The weight that had been crushing John’s heart fell off like a stone.  He smiled back at the gentleman.  Looking down at the bundle of food and the water jug he still carried, the lad took the old man’s hand and helped him sit up on the side of his bunk.  “Here, sir.  This is all I have, but you are welcomed to it.”

    “Such a fine lad,” the man lauded.  “Thank you very much!”  He took the water and feebly pulled it to his lips.  John assisted the man, intentionally feeling his skin for temperature.  He seemed too cool to have a fever.  Maybe he would pull through.

    “How do you feel, sir,” John asked with concern.

    “Much better than a few days ago.  I sent my wife away a week or so ago.  She left me what little food she had and I have managed to survive on that, but I have had nothing for the last two days.”

    “Saint Brigid bless you, sir,” John blessed the man.  “Your wife asked me to stop and check on you just a short time ago.  I can now take her the good news.”  John opened his food bundle and took out one of the pan breads that Mary had prepared.  “Eat a little of this to get your strength and then we will get you out of this darkness and back to your wife.”

    “The blessings of all the Saints and Angels on you, lad!” the old man responded, taking the morsel from John.  He quickly finished the small cake of bread and took another drink of water.  “Ahhh, lad, ‘tis a grand gift you give me.  I think I am now ready to return to the living.”

    John smiled.  That statement meant more to him than the old man could possibly know.  He helped the fellow gingerly slide off his bunk to the floor.  The old chap’s wobbly legs would hardly support him.  Wrapping a steadying arm around the fellow’s waist, John directed him toward the stairway.  The old woman still peered through the doorway into the darkness below.

    The old fellow looked up, spotting his wife’s face and called out to her.  “Colleen!  I am coming up Colleen!”

    “Seamus?  Is that you, Seamus?” Colleen cried back, hardly disguising her enthusiasm and excitement.  “Saint Michael and all the Angels of Heaven, thank you!”  She crossed herself and stood anxiously at the doorway as the two men slowly plodded up the steps.

    John and Seamus stepped through the small doorway, shielding their eyes from the blinding sunlight.  Colleen rushed the men, throwing her arms around both of them.  Tears streamed from her sunken eyes.  “I thought you dead,” she cried.  “Thank you, lad, for bringing him back to me!”
    John stood in her embrace, untying his mask with one free hand and feeling slightly embarrassed.  A small group of passengers began to gather around.  They all seemed to be friends and family members of Seamus.  John noticed the lad, Douglas, who had antagonized him earlier, was amongst the group.

    Seamus slipped out of John’s grasp and into the waiting arms of his faithful wife.  “Thank you very much, lad,” he repeated.  “I am forever in your debt.”

    John just smiled at the fellow and turned toward his waiting friends.  Douglas hurried to his side, putting a friendly arm across his shoulder.  “John, is it?  Thank you for helping my uncle.  I am sorry that I gave you such a miserable time earlier.  I was just frightened and listening to Connor.”

    “Forgiven,” John answered simply.  “I have got to go to my friends right now.  I will see you later on deck.”

    Douglas patted him stoutly on the back and turned back toward his uncle.  John spotted Mary standing where he had left her, anxiously awaiting his return.  Brigid was sitting upright once again at Mary’s side, looking slightly stronger and more wakeful.  Mary noticed his return and waved broadly at the lad.

    John’s heart suddenly sank once again, the elation of aiding Seamus faded as he thought of Brigid’s mother.  He stopped short of his friends, motioning Mary to come to him.  She looked quickly down at Brigid and stepped away to join him.

    “What is wrong?” Mary asked, concern wavering in her voice as she approached.

    “It is Sheila,” John answered dejectedly, turning his back so that Brigid could not see his sadness.  “She. . .she is dead.”

    Mary gasped.  “Holy Jesus!” she replied, crossing herself quickly.  “Is she still. . .ah, still down there?”
    “Aye, and she is not the only one,” John answered sadly.  “I know there is at least one more dead, and probably more.”

    “Can we get her up here?” Mary questioned.  “She should have a proper funeral.  Even though we have no priest.”

    “I am not going back down there!  ‘Tis horrible!”

    “We need to do something!” Mary prodded.  “We cannot just leave her down there to rot!”  She looked around to check on her impatient friend.  “We also must tell Brigid.  We cannot just let her think everything is all right.”

    “Aye, agreed,” John confirmed.  “Might as well get it over with.”  He turned toward Brigid and slowly sauntered to where she sat.

    “Mother?” Brigid queried, a glint of sparkle returned to her eyes.  “Mother all right?”

    John sat silently down beside the lass and took her hand.  A dark look began to overtake Brigid’s brightened demeanor.

    Deep sadness filled John’s eyes as he looked into his friend’s worried face.

    “Brigid,” he began painfully.  “Your mother was very sick.”  He could tell she did not understand by the look in her eyes.

    He decided to start over and just be direct.  “Your mother, she is. . .uh. . . .”  He was having a very difficult time just telling the lass that her mother was no longer alive.  John cleared his throat, the look of anguish steadily growing on Brigid’s face.

    “Your mother has died,” he finally forced out as tenderly as he possibly could.  “Understand?”

    A look of uncomprehending anguish completely clouded the lasses face at that point.  She looked up at Mary, who had taken a position standing behind John.  “Mother?” she directed toward Mary.  “All right?”

    “Níl,” Mary replied sadly.  “Is bás ag dó mháthair.”
    “Bhí sí marbh?” Brigid answered, stunned.

    “Is sea,” Mary answered, offering her condolences.  “Tá brón orm.”  The lass looked away from her friend, large tears welling up in her eyes.

    Brigid sat staring at Mary, disbelief written across her face.  Suddenly she erupted into deep sobbing.  The lass’ weak body quaked with the violence of her lament.  She let go a wail that attracted the attention of most others on the ship.
John and Mary took a place on either side of the grieving young woman, wrapping loving arms around her in consolation.  Brigid melted between her two friends.  Her tears flowed freely.

    John was heartsick.  He felt he was the constant bearer of bad news.  Would this plague of death never leave them?  How much further was it to this ‘new world’?  No one gave any indication that they had another day’s journey or another month.  If it was another month, how many more Irish would die aboard that boat.  If they were to confront another fierce storm that required everyone to go below, what then?  What of the dead bodies below?  Would anyone ever go down to retrieve them?  His disgust for the current state of humanity was beginning to overcome his sorrow.

    John looked slowly around the deck.  More than a hundred passengers milled around the restricted enclosure.  Most of them feeble and at the verge of starvation.  More passengers than not were dressed in rags, hardly fit for wearing.  Fortunately, the weather had stayed relatively warm and dry for the past couple of weeks, allowing those that would to sleep and remain up in the fresh air.  He felt grateful once again that he and his sister had been relatively healthy when they boarded the ship and had managed to stay that way.
    Brigid’s crying had subsided greatly and the weakened lass shifted, curling up across Mary’s lap.  John rose gently to his feet so as not to disturb her.  The lad knelt quietly beside Mary and whispered into her ear.  “I will go tell the Captain that there are dead below.  Maybe he will send some crewmen or someone else to retrieve them.”

    Mary silently nodded her agreement.  John turned and quietly walked away.  He spotted Eileen and Martin sitting together with Paddy and Honor around one of the extinguished fire pits.  Deciding he could use a little moral support, the lad decided to join them for a few minutes.

    “Hi ya’, John,” Paddy greeted as the young man approached.  “Come join us for a while!”

    “Thank you very much,” John responded with a smile.  “I have but a few minutes and then there is a regretful duty I must see to.”

    “A duty, you say,” Honor replied curiously.  “And what kind of duty would that be?”

    John sat down between his sister and Paddy.  “A very unpleasant one I am afraid,” he answered, the small smile fading quickly from his ruddy face.

    All eyes were on the lad, awaiting his continuation.  John squirmed into a comfortable position and looked around the small group.  “As you probably know, I went down below this morning to check on Brigid’s mother, Sheila.”

    “Aye,” Paddy interrupted, “and what a fine thing, bringing up old Seamus Magee to his wife like that.  You are a brave lad, you are!”  The others in the group sounded their agreement.

    John blushed slightly and looked down at his bare feet.  “Aye, but that is not the problem.”  Everyone quieted as John fidgeted, trying to once again get comfortable on the hard deck.  “You see, the reason I could bring up old Seamus is that Sheila is lying dead in her bunk down there.”  He stopped and looked across the disheartened faces of his friends and sister.  “And, she was not the only one.  I know there is at least one more dead fellow in his bunk, and probably more.”
    Paddy looked away, out across the rolling ocean.  The other three just stared at John, deep sadness in their eyes.  “I was afraid that was the case.  I just could not bring myself to go below and find out,” Paddy commented solemnly.

    John nodded his agreement with Paddy and continued, “I was just on my way to tell the Captain about the dead below when I saw you.”

    “‘Tis a good thing,” Martin agreed, “if the Captain will even listen to you.  He has not paid much attention to our needs or requests up to now.  Why should he change?”

    “This is his ship.  He will have to remove the bodies at some time,” Eileen spoke in her brother’s defense.  “Best to get them up now, before they start to rot.”

    Everyone wriggled their noses at the thought of a rotting human corpse just under their feet.  “Aye, ‘tis true, Eileen,” Paddy agreed.  “Come lad, I will join you in speaking with the Captain.  Maybe a group can convince him of the urgency more readily than one person.”

    John smiled back at Paddy.  “Thank you very much,” he responded brightly.  “I did not relish facing the Captain alone.”
Paddy and John rose simultaneously, followed quickly by Martin, at Eileen’s prompting.  The three men walked quickly to the steps of the quarterdeck.  The Captain was nowhere to be seen.  John moved to the center of the ship in front of the Boatswain, who stood at the railing directing his crew to trim the sails after a slight wind change.

    “Sir,” he called up to the officer.  “I need to speak to the Captain, sir.”

    The Boatswain ignored his request, focusing intently on the ship’s rigging.  He barked out a couple of orders to the sailors stationed on the beams.  His voice was brusque and commanding, as was his demeanor.
    “Sir,” John called again, this time more forcefully, “I have urgent business for the Captain.”  The officer still refused to acknowledge the lad’s presence.

    Paddy shook his head in dismay.  “Sir,” he chimed in, “there are dead below.  They will soon begin to rot and pollute your hold.”

    Paddy’s statement garnered the undivided attention of the Boatswain.  “Dead?” he spat back.  “How many?  How long they been there?”

    “I was down there earlier this morning and I saw at least two dead,” John answered him pertly.  “I am not sure if there are more, I did not stay long enough to look around much.  I know that at least one of them was alive yesterday.  The other, I am not sure.”

    “Stay here,” the officer directed, “I will inform the captain.”

    John and Paddy looked at each other, pleased that they had been heard.  “Thank you for speaking up like that,” John replied, patting Paddy on the shoulder.

    Paddy just smiled back at the lad.  The sound of footsteps plodding up the rear stair of the raised deck signaled the return of the Boatswain.  The officer resumed his place at the handrail.  “Captain will be up directly,” he rasped.

    The head of Captain MacMillan soon appeared coming up the back stair.  He looked across the deck, spotting the three men standing in front of his Boatswain.  The Captain sauntered over to take a spot at the railing next to the officer.  “Are these the ones?” he asked in his thick Scots brogue.

    “Aye, Captain,” the Boatswain affirmed.  “That one was below earlier and saw the corpses,” the officer pointed at John.

    “Is this true, lad?” the Captain asked with a deep scowl on his face.
    “Aye, sir,” John responded sternly.  “I saw at least two dead myself.  One of them I know by name.  The other I have never seen before.  There may be more, I do not know.”

    “How do you propose to get these bodies out of my hold?” Captain MacMillan queried gruffly.

    “I. . .I did not propose getting them out, sir,” John stammered.  “That is why I came to you, to send a couple of your crew down to get them out.”

    “A couple. . .a couple of my crew?” the Captain barked.  “To retrieve the bodies of Irish peasants who died of some ungodly disease?  Are you daft Lad?”

    John cowered.  His hope of official aid dropped like a stone in a whirlpool.  “But, sir, how will they. . .uh, who will. . . .”

    The Captain glowered down at the stammering lad.  “I suggest you find the families of the dead and let them retrieve their own damned bodies.”

    “But Captain,” Paddy interrupted once again.  None of our own will venture down below with the dead there.  See, those who have died have no other family and no one else will retrieve them.  If they lie down there much longer they will pollute your hold where you will be unable to use it for a good while.

    Captain MacMillan looked out across the deck into the dark blue sea, obviously pondering Paddy’s last statement.  “I will not risk the life of any of my crew to retrieve any corpses of sickly Irish,” he finally commented with a frightful frown.  “I will double the rations of any four Irishmen who will fetch up those bodies.”  He looked sternly into the faces of John, Paddy, and Martin.

    John and Paddy looked at each other.  “No,” they both answered, shaking their heads in unison.  Paddy started to turn away, still shaking his head.
    “Wait,” the Captain ordered.  “I will triple the rations.”  He looked at the two men awaiting their reply.  After a few seconds without an answer, he amended his offer, “I will also give each man a bottle of whiskey.  But no more.  The Irish can all rot down there if that is unacceptable.”

    “We will ask if any are willing,” Paddy responded, turning away from the officers.  He walked slowly away, followed closely by Martin.

    John stood in place for a few seconds longer as Captain MacMillan and the Boatswain turned from the railing.  “Why could not the oafs wait just three more days to die, after we make landfall,” the lad overheard the Captain comment to his officer.

    Three days? John thought, we will be landing in three days?  Did I hear the man right?  He turned anxiously to catch up with Paddy and Martin.  “Paddy!” he called after the men.  “Wait for me.”  Paddy and Martin stopped, letting John catch up with them in a few steps.

    “I do not think that is what we had in mind, lad,” Paddy addressed John as he reached his side.  “But, I do not think we will get any better.  Ask around and find a few lads who will be willing to go below for their reward.”

    “I will go myself,” John volunteered.  “I cannot let Sheila just lay down there and allow Brigid to suffer any longer.”  He looked sternly at Martin.  “Come with me, Martin.  I need your help.”

    Martin looked dejectedly back at John.  He started to speak and stopped.  “All right,” he acquiesced.  “I will help you, for Eileen’s sake.”
    John then looked to Paddy.  The elder man smiled slightly back at the lad.  “I am an old man with weak knees,” he replied.  “If I thought I could help, I would be first in line.  But, I am afraid you might be dragging me up along with the corpses.”  He looked proudly at his son.  “That is a good lad.  I am proud of you, son.”  Martin smiled back at his father.

    “I just heard something else,” John blurted out.  Both men looked curiously back at him.  “I heard the Captain tell the other fellow that we would be landing in three days.”

    Paddy and Martin’s faces both brightened.  “Three days?” Martin questioned, astonished.  “Are you sure you heard right?”

    “I am sure that is what he said,” John answered happily.  “Three days!”

    “‘Tis grand news indeed!” Paddy boasted.  “I think we should keep it to ourselves at this point, however.”

    “Agreed,” answered both John and Martin.

    “Let us go find two more lads to help you below,” Paddy directed.

 Back to Table of Contents                                                             To Chapter 20