The Journal of Gerald Keegan: Part One
"The famine was heavy upon all the land." According to the chronologists more than three thousand years have passed since the event recorded in those words. Strange that, after so long a period of time has gone, the world has made so slight an advance in providing food for the mouths it contains. At school today there was not a scholar who was not hungry. When I told Mike Kelly to hold out his hand for blotting his copy, he says, " I did not mane to: it was the belly gripe that did it." I dropped the ferule and when the school was dismissed slipped a penny into his hand to buy a scone at the bakers. The poor school I had this winter takes the heart out of me. My best scholars dead, others unfit to walk from their homes for weakness. For men and women to want is bad enough, but to have the children starving, crying for the food their parents have not to give to them, and lying awake at night from the gnawing at their little stomachs; oh it is dreadful. God forgive those who have it and will not share their abundance even with His little ones. I came home from school this afternoon dejected and despairing. As I look round me before opening the door of my lodging, everything was radiantly beautiful. The sunshine rested on the glory of Ireland, its luxurient vegetation - its emerald greeness. Hill and valley were alike brilliant in the first flush of spring and the silber river meandered through a plain that suggested the beautiful fields of paradise.Appearances are deceitful, I thought; in every one pf those thatched cabins sit the twin brothers, Famine and Death. As I opened the door, Mrs. Moriarity called to me that my uncle Jeremiah had been twice asking for me. Poor man, I said to myself. He will have to come to borrow meal for his family and I will not have a shilling in my pocket until the board pays my quarter's salary. I respect Jeremmiah, for both he and his brother in Canada were kind to my poor mother. How I wish all the family had goone to Canada; cold in winter and hot in summer, they say, but there is plenty to eat. I took up a book and had not long to wait for my uncle. He did not need to say a word, his face told me what starvation meant. I called to my landlady tp roast another herring, my uncle would share our dinner. He came neither to beg or borrow, but to ask my advice. After high mass on Sunday the proctor got up on a stone and told them their landlord had taken their case into consideration and went on to read a letter he had got from him. In it, Lord Palmerston said he had become convinced there was no hope for them so long as they remained in Ireland, and the only means of doing better was to leave the country. All in arrears who would agree to emigrate he would forgive what they were due and pay their passage to Canada. Are you sure, I asked, this letter was really frm Lord Palmerston?
"We have just the Proctor's word for it. Well", my uncle went on to say, "the most of us jumped with joy when we heard the letter and we all begin talkin as soon as he drov off in his car. Tim Maloney said nothin. He's a deep one, Tim, a pathriot, an rades the papers. What hav ye to say, Tim? I'm considerin, says he, the likes a this must be deliberated on. Sure, I spakes up, the besht we can do is to get away from here. In the wan latter I iver got from the brother in Canada, he tould me he had two cows and three pigs,an a pair of oxen and as much as they could ate. That's not the pint, Tim, affer prisints itself to me as a plot to get us to leave the land widout equitable equivilant."
With doubt thrown on the landlord's good faith, the poor people went on arguing among themselves, until a majority decided to stand out and demand better terms. On hearing this, the agent sent word they must decide within a week. If they rejected the offer, it would be withdrawn and no new one would be submitted. My uncle had come to get my advice. "For sure", he said, "You are the only scholard in the family." I comprehended the infamous nature of the offer. The people did not own the land but they owned the improvements they had made on it and had a right to be compensated for them. I knew my uncle when a boy had rented a piece of worthless bog and by the labor of himself and afterwards of his wife and children, had converted it into a profitable field. Should I advise him to give it up for a receipt for back rent and a free passage to Canada? I tried to find out what he thought himself. Are you for accepting the offer, uncle?
"That depends", he answered, "Give me a crop of spuds such as we had in the ould times, an niver a step and I muv."
I told him potatoes had been the ruin of Ireland, that placing sole dependence upon them had made her farmers neglect the proper care of the land and the raising of other crops. When the rot came or even a hard frost, such as they had in 1837, when potatoes froze in the ground, they had nothing. My uncle was a sample of his class. The lessons of providence had been lost upon them. They would go on planting potatoes and hoping for days that would never return, for the land had become, by years of cropping, potato sick. Now, uncle, that Tim Maloney has had time for deliberating, what has he decided to do?
I mit him at O'Calaghan's lasht night", replied my uncle, "an he told us to reject the offer after an jine the Toung Ireland min. There'll never be peace and plinty in Ireland, ses he, until she's free."
"May be", I remarked, "but you and your family will be dead from starvation before Tim and his friends free Ireland." I cast the matter over and over in my head while we were eating our bite of dinner, but could not decide what advice to give my uncle and those who were going to be governed by what he did. Escape from the dreadful conditions under which they suffered would be a great blessing. On the other hand, my sense of what was fair revolted at the idea of their giving up their holdings, their homes for generations, for a nominal consideration. When my uncle rose to go, for he had a long walk ahead of him, I said I could not decide then; I would think it over and on Sunday, I would go and see them.
When Sunday came, I rose early and let myself out quickly, for I had a good way to go. The walking was heavy, so when I came in sight of the chapel, I saw late comers hurrying for high Mass. At the alter, to my surprise, I saw my old companion Tom Burke. When the sermon came it was like his old self, strong and bold. He compared the afflictions of the people of suffering Ireland to those of the Isralites in Egypt, ascribing the famine to an alien government, which wanted to wipe them from the face of the earth. It would prove as futile as all past persecutions directed against the Irish race, which would continue to cherish their faith and their love of country. He carried me away with him, but his hearers listened with countenaces stolid and heavy. It was the hunger. They could think nothing but their craving for food. Father Tom noticed me, for when I was going out the door the man whispered to me to spet into the sacristy. Passing the word with my uncle, that I would be at his house in the afternoon, I joined my old fellow student, who would have to break my fast with him. He had come on temporary duty and I went with him to the priest's house. Over the table, we recalled old times at Maynooth and were living those happy days over again with joke and story, when our laughter was checked by the housekeeper coming in to say if we were done with our dinner, Mrs. Murtaugh was waiting to see for what his reverence wanted her. "Send her here", he ordered. A broken down woman, haggared and in rags, stood at the door. "O ye have come, have ye, Mrs. Murtagh". "Yes, yer reverence"; Mrs. Maloney tould me ye wanted me and I didn't know what for."
Oh, you know what I wanted for you, if Mrs. Maloney did not. I wanted to see what kind of baste you were that you would go to the soupers- what kind of Irish woman you were that you would sell your faith to thim white-livered divils."
Father Burke here rose to his feet, his face lit with wrath, and his hand moving to grasp his cross. The woman sank on her knees at his feet. "Don't put the curse on me , ye reverence", she entreated.
"Why not? What have ye to say?"
"The childher were crying all night for a bite, but it wasn't that. Little Tim was adying on my breast, an I cadn't bear to have him tuk from me. I wint out, I tried everywhere, I could get nothin, an thin, I wint to the soupers. It was to keep the life in Tim ter reverence. I burned their thracks an never tasted what they gev me."
With a piercing cry the woman fell prone on the floor. Father Tom's anger passed as quickly as it rose. "Take her away", he said to the housekeeper who hastened in, "I'll see her after vespers."
I rose to go; he was his old self again and with a hearty word we parted. At my uncle's house I found a number of his neighbors wiaitng and we were soon discussing the subject that filled their heads. The agent had given out he had got another letter in which the lanlord mended his offer, by promising that his agent at Quebec would pay 10 shillings a head on their landing, at that city, and saying the Canadian government would give each family a hundred acres free. There was to be no breaking or separating of families; all would go on the same ship. Against the lure of the free passage, the ten shillings, and the hundred acres, they put leaving Ireland for such a wild place as Canada, and its people in rags the thought of its frost and snow was terrible. My uncle fetched his only letter from his brother and I read it aloud. I had to do so several times, as they argued over particular statements and expressions in it. The account if gave of his comfort weighted with them. After a great deal of talk, my uncle says, "Well boys, my brother never told me a lie and I believe every word of his letter. If ye says, I'm for takin' the offer and lavin at onct." His decision carried them by storm, and the listless downcast men became bright and energetic with the new hope borne within them. As I walked home, I thought it over. There was the possibility of their being deceived by the agent. They were ignorant of business and could easily be imposed upon. Should I not go with them and protect their interests? What was there to keep me in Ireland? Everything I had tried had gone against me. When I was in a fair way at Maymooth, the thought had possessed me the priesthood was not my vocation and I left its loved walls. Failure and disapointment had marked every effort made in other callings since. To give up my situation as teacher would matter little; its salary was a mockery. I would see Aileen.
Feb 28, 1847-Aileen consents. Like myself an orphan, she has no ties to bind her to dear old Ireland beyond those common to all her children. We will be married the week before the ship sails. Gave up my school today. As I mean to keep a journal of the voyage, I sat down tonight and wrote the foregoing, to remind me in future years of the causes that led to my decision.
Narch 8 - Uncle came to see me this morning. What he tells me raises doubts of the good faith of the landlord. The agent was round yesterday with an attorney who got them to put their mark on a paper. A ship is promised beginning in April.
10 - Walked to town to see the agent. He was not for showing the paper at first. It was a release of all claims on the landlord and a promise to give him peacable possession on the 1st April. The remission of what is due for rent and the free passage are quid pro quo of the landlord, but not a word of the 10 shillings a head to be paid at Quebec or the 100 acres per family from the Canadian government. Nothing can be done now; the poor people are at Lord Palmerston's mercy.
April 9 - We were married Monday morning and spent three happy days with Aileen's cousin in Limerick. Arrived here in Dublin today. The ship is advertised to sail tomorrow. Took out tickets for second cabin and drive tomorrow morning to where the ship is lying.
10 - When the car drove alongside the ship, instead of finding her ready for sea, she was a scene of confusion, carpenters at work on her hull and riggers perched on her cordage. There is a mountain of freight to go on board, which she is not ready to receive. It was a shame to advertise her to sail today when she cannot leave for several days. Our second cabin proves to be a cubby hole in the house on deck. We might as well have gone on steerage and saved 5 pounds. It was late in the day when uncle and his neighbors arrived; they formed a large party, and were footsore with their long tramp. The captain refused to allow them on board and they will have to spend the night on the quay. The weather fortunately is dry.
11 - I spoke to the captain on behalf of the emigrants. I showed him they had come on the day advertised and had a right to maintenace. He curtly told me to go and see the ship's broker, who has his office far up in the city. I waited over an hour in an outer room to get an interview with the government emigration inspector. I implored him to put in force the law on behalf of the poor people shivering on the quay. He haughtliy ordered me out of his office; saying he knew his duty and would not be dictated to by a hedge schoolmaster. Came away indigent and sore at heart. Looking over the emigrants, I can see why Lord Palmerston confined his offer to those in arrears for rent and who had small holdings. Such persons must needs to be widows or old men without proper help. His lordship has shrewdly got rid of those likely to be an incumerance on his estates. The company is made up largely of women and children, with a few old or weakly men. The number of widows is surprising.
12 - The weather is cold and showery and the poor people are most miserable - wet, hungry and shivering. I went to Dublin to see the ship's broker. He received me very smoothly and referred me to the charterer, without whose instructions he could do nothing. The charterer I found to be out of town; the owner of the ship lives in Cork. I returned disconsolate. An infant died today from exposure. On going to see the innocent's burial, the priest told me it was common for ships to sail on a day on which they had no intention of leaving. It was done to make sure of getting all of the passengers they could pack into the vessel. They get 3 pounds a head from the landlords, children counting as half and the more they can force on board the greater their profit. His experience had been that charterers of vessels for carrying emigrants were remorceless in their greed, an by bribing the officials, ste the government regulations at defiance. Scenes he had seen on the quays drew tears from all save those whose hearts were hardened by the lust of gain.
14 - The poor people were heartsick and homesick. Today a number of them tried to get on board and take possession of the berths between decks, which were finished yesterday. They were driven back by the mate and the sailors. One man was brutally picked up by the mate. It seems if the passengers go on board, they would have a right to rations, hence they're being denied shelter. Some of the men have got work along the quays, and every sixpence is a help to buy bread. Again ventured to remonstrate with the captain. He said he had nothing to say to an informer, referring to my visit to the government agent. I told him I would report his conduct to Lord Palmerston and have just written a letter to his Lordship.
15 - Matters have been going from bad to worse. Two more children have died from cold and want. Not a soul in the crowd has had a warm\ bit since they left home. Their food is an insufficency of bread, which is a poor sustanence to ill-clad people camped in open sheds. The ship is ready for sea yet they will not let us go on board.
16 - This morning we were ordered to go on board and gladly hurried up the long plank. We had not been fairly settled in her until there was a hurroo and looking ashore, I saw a great crowd of men carrying bundles and babies, with women and children. They were worse clad and more miserable than our own people. To my surprise, they were headed for our ship and were soon crowding into her until there was no room to turn. No sooner was the last chest got on board than the sailors began to unmoor the ship. Before they were done, a tug steamed up to us and passed her hawser. We had moved out into the bay some distance, when the paddles of the tug stopped and we saw a six-oared cutter making for us, and when alongside the government inspector, in blue uniform with gilt buttons, leapt on board. He looked neither left nor right but walked with the captain across the quarter deck and went down in the cabin. My mind was made up. My people had already suffered much at the hands of the shipping men and I resolved to protest against their being overcrowded. I knew the law and knew full well that she had all on board she was competent for before this new arrival. I waited my opportunity and when I saw the insepctor emerge from the companion-way and head straight for the boat, I rushed forward. I had just shouted the words, "I protest___", when I was tripped from behind. As I fell headlong, I heard the inspector say, "Poor fellow, has had a drop too much. Goodbye Captain, prosperous voyage." When I rose to my feet, he was gone and the mate faced me. "Damn you", he shouted, "try to speak to an outsider again and I'll brain you". Mortified at my failure and indignent at my usage, I felt the quarter deck. The tug was in motion again and we were sailing down the bay - fair Dublin Bay, with its beautifully rounded slopes and hills, bright with budding woods and verdant sword. To our surprise, for we thought we had started on our voyage, the tug dropped us when we had gone through the bay a bit and our anchor was let go. Late in the evening, the word went round the reason of our not sailing was that the crew, from the captain on down to the apprentices, believed the ship would have no luck were she to begin her voyage on a Friday.
17 - At daybreak we were roused by the clanking of the capstan as the anchor was weighed. There was a light air from the north-east. Sails were spread and we slowly beat out of the bay and took a long slant into the channel, dropping our pilot as we passed Kingstown. Stores were broached and biscuit for three days served. They were very coarse and somewhat mouldy yet the government officer was supposed to have examined and passed them up as the requirements of the Emigration Act. Bad as they were, they were eagerly accepted and so hungey were the people that by night most of them were eaten. How shamefully the ship was overcrowded was now to be seen and fully realized. There were not berths for two-thirds of the passengers, and by common consent, they were given up to the aged, the women and children. The others slept on chests and bundles and many could find no other resting place than the floor, which was so occupied that there was no room left to walk. I ascertained, accidentally, that the mate served out rations for 530 today. He counts two children as one so that there are over 600 souls on board a ship which should not legally have 400, for the emigrant act specifies 10 square feet of deck to a passenger. Why was this allowed? What I heard a man telling this morning exlains all. The government had sent 200 pounds to be spent on relief works in his townland by giving employment at a shilling a day. When 50 pounds had been paid out, the grant was declared to be exhausted. Where did 1.50 go? Into the pockets of a few truly loyal defenders of the English constitution and of the Protestant religion. The British parliament has voted enough money to put food in every starving mouth in Ireland. Half and more of the money has been kept by the bloodsuckers of the English garrison. I get mad when I think of all of this. The official class in Ireland is the most corrupt under the sun. A bribe will blind them, as I saw yesterday, when the inspector passed out ship and stores. Wind continued light all forenoon and fell away in the afternoon to a calm. After sunset a breeze sprung up from the west, but did not hold, and as I write we are becalmed in mid-channel.
18 - Light and baffling breezes from the west and north-west prevailed all day, so we made little progress on the long journey before us. One of our many tacks brought us close to the British coast. It was my first and likely to be my last view of that country. Aileen has made our cabin snug and convenient beyond belief. Her happy disposition causes her to make the best of everything.
19 - The westerly breezes that kept us tacking in the channel gave place, during the night, to a strong east wind, before which the ship is bowling at a fine rate. Passing close to the shore we had a view of th coast from Ardmore to Cape Clear. Aileen sat with me all day, our eyes fixed on the land we loved. Knowing, as it swept past us, it was the last time we would ever gaze upon it, our hearts were too full for speech. Towards evening, the ship drew away from it, until the hills of Kerry became so faint that they could hardly be distinguished from the clouds that hovered over them. When I finally turned away my eyes frm where I knew the dear old land was, my heart throbbed as if it would burst. Farewell Erin; no matter how far from you I may roam, my heartstrings are woven to you and forget you I never shall. May the centuries of your sorrows soon be completed and peace and plenty be yours forever. Land of my fathers, shrine of my faith, a ast farewell!
20 - When I awoke this morning, I became sensible of the violent motion of the ship. Going out, I saw we were fairly on the bosom of the Atlantic and the ship speeding on our course under full sail. I found my fellow passengers to be in a deplorable condition. The bulwarks were lined with a number who were deadly seasick. Going between the decks the scene nigh overcame me. The first time I went below I was reminded of a cavern- long and narrow and low in ceiling. Today it was a place for the dammed. Three blinking oil lanterns cast light enough to show the outlines of forms that lay groaning on the floor, and give glimpses of white stony faces lying in the berths, a double tier of which surrounded the sides of the ship. A poignant wall of misery came through an atmosphere of such deadly odour that, for the first time, I felt sick and had to beat a retreat up the narrow ladder. The cool ocean breeze revived me and and Aileen, who proved a good sailor, had our modest breakfast ready when I joined her. On revisiting the steerage later in the day, I found there were passengers down with more than sea-sickness. There were several cases of dysentery. I asked the steward to tell the captain. He informs me the captain can do nothing, having only a small medicine chest for the crew. However he told him and the captain ordered the steward to give them each a glass of whiskey. I had plain proof today of my suspicions that drink is being sold, and on charging the steward he told me it was the custom of the mates of emigrant ships to be allowed to do so, and he would get me what I wanted at any time for sixpence a noggin. I told him I had taken the pledge at the hands of Father Matthew and considered drink unecessary. My remonstrances fell on stony ground, for the steward, a decent, civil fellow sees no worng in drinking or in selling drink.
21 - The first death took place last night, when a boy of five years succombed to dysentery. In the afternoon a wail suddenly arose from the hold - a fine young woman had died from the same cause. Both were dropped in the sea at sunset. There are fewer seasick today but the number ill from dysentery grows. Cornmeal was served out today instead of biscuit. It was an injury instead of a substance,for it being impossible to make stirabout of it owing to no provision having been made for a gallery for the passengers, it had to be mixed with water and eaten raw. Some got hot water, but most had to use cold. Such food when dysentery threatens is poison. Had a long talk this afternoon with a very decent man who is going to Peterbough, Canada. He thinks it is not disease that ails the children, but cold and hunger. Food and clothes is what they need, not medicine. The number of sick grows. Sighted 2 ships, both too far away to speak to them.
22 - Why do we exert ourselves so little to help one another, when it takes so little to please? Aileen coaxed the steward to let her have some discarded biscuit bags. These she is fashioning into a sort of gowns to cover the nakedness of several girls who could not come on deck. The first she finished this afternoon, and no aristocratic miss could have been prouder of her fine silk dress than was the poor child of the transformed canvas bag, which was her only garment.
23 - This is Sunday. The only change in the routine of the ship that marks the day is that sailors gave an extra wash down to the decks and after that did no work except trim the sails. The spent the forenoon on the forecastle mending or washing their clothes. During the afternoon, it grew cold and with a strong wind from the north-east, accompanied by driving showers. Towards sunset the sea was a lather of foam, and the wind had increased to a gale. When the waves began to flood the deck, the order was given to put the hatches on. God help the poor souls shut in beneath my feet. With hatches open, the hold was unbearable to me. With it open, what will it be by morning? It is growing so dark I cannot see to write more, for a light is forbidden to us. The wind is still rising and the thump of the waves as they strike the ship's side grows more violent. The shouting of orders, the tramp and rush of the sailors to obey them, the swaying of the ship, the groaning of her timbers and masts, and the constant swish of water rushing across the deck, combine to make me most melancholy and forebodings of evil darken my soul. Aileen is on her knees, the calm of resignation of a saint resting on her face. There is a faith in God that rises above the worst of the world's trials.
24 - We had a dreadful night and I slept only by snatches. At midnight the tempest seemed to reach its heighth, when its roar near drowned all other sounds. The ship swayed and rolled as if she would capsize, while over and anon she shipped a sea that flooded our little cabin and threatened to tear the house, of which it forms part, from its fastenings and carry it overboard.How I prayed for daylight! When at last the dawn of another day came, the wind lessened somewhat in its force, but the waves were higher and stronger, and while the ship was still shuddering from the dreadful blow dealth by one, another struck her, and made her stagger worse than before. Peering out of the side-scuttle I could see naught but a wild tumault of waters- yawning abysses of green water and moving waters crested with foam. Thw writhing, ceaseless activity of the raging waters deeply impressed me. Our ship at one time seemed to be about to be engulfed; the next moment she towered above the highest waves. So far as I could make out she was driving before the gale under her forsail, close reefed. It was noon before it was safe to step out on deck. The wind was dying away but the ocean was still a wild scene. With little way on the ship, she rolled and pitched, so that to keep from falling, I had to clutch at whatever I could get a hold of. The sails were slatting against the masts with a noise like thunder. It was late in the day when a breeze came up, which steadied the vessel and caused the ship to more water, when the mate ordered the hatches to be opened. I was standing by, concerned to know how it had gone with my people. The first man to come up was my uncle. He was anxcious to see me. His wife had taken ill during the night, and he was afraid her trouble was the fever. I hurried down with him and found her pulse high and her body racked with pain. All that we had in our power to do for her was to give a few drops of laudanum from a bottle Aileen had brought with her, which eased her pains and gave her some rest. Aileen wanted to go and see her but I would not allow her to, the sights and stench between decks being revolting and past description. Uncle says the passengers passed a dreadful night. The seams opened in the forespeak and the water coming in caused a panic, the belief being the ship was about to sink. One old man was thrown against a trunk and had three ribs broken and a girl, sick from dsyentery, died, during the worst of the storm.
25 - Tired and worn out as I was, I had a broken night's rest. I woke with a start from a dream that uncle's wife was dead. So impressed was I that such was the case that I dressed hurredly to go see. As I stepped on the deck 8 bells were struck, indicating midnight. The column of heated air that rose from the hatchway was peculiarly fetod but I did not hesitate to descend. Except for the cries and groans of the sick, stillness prevailed. Exhausted by the watching of the preceeding night all who could were asleep. On getting to uncle's berth, I found him sleeping heavily, his wife tossing by his side with the restlessness of the disease. I tried to catch the words she uttered and found in her delerium she was back in Ireland and to the happy days when uncle was a wanter and was coming to see her. I searched high and low before I found a pammiken of water. I raised her head and held it to my lips. She drank it to the last drop. Slipping back to my bunk, I slept till it was late in the day. My first thought on opening my eyes was that it was my duty to speak to the captain, and hope of success. I kept on deck, watching my chance. The captain came up only for a short time at noon to take the sun and then the mate was with him. I knew it was no use to speak when that fellow was near. After dinner. I saw the mate go to his cabin for a sleep and waited anxiously for the captain. When he did step from the companion and had taken a round or two on the poop, I stepped up. He looked surprised and as if he resented my intrusion. Before he could speak I said- "Pardon me captain for coming here. I thought you might not know what is on board ship>"
"What do you mean?", he asked roughly.
"There is fever on board", I answered quietly. He paled a little and then shouted, "You lie; what do you know about fever? You're not a doctor."
"Come and see for yourself", I said, "you have not been 'tween decks since we left Dublin".
With an oath he retorted, "Do you mean to tell me what I should do? I want you to understand I know my duty."
"For heaven's sake captain, do it then. fever is on board and unless a change is made, half the passenegers may die."
"What change?", he asked sulkily.
"The steerage wants clensing and the passengers need better food and more of it."
"Grumbling eh; what do they expect? Roast beef and plum pudding? The beggars got the government allowance. Bygone, sir".
I was trembling with repressed indignation but for the sake of those I pled for I kept my cool. "Captain, the poor people ask nothing unreasonable. Go and see for yourself the biscuits and water served out to them and I am sure you will order a change."
Complain about the water too! What's wrong with it?"
"It's foul", I told him, "it smells and bad though it be, there is not enough served out. The sick are calling for water and not a drop to be got."
"Not enough served out- what do you mean?"
"That the allowance is srimped."
He clinched his fist and raised his right arm as if to strike me. "This is to me, on my own ship; that the passengers are cheated in measure."
"Strike me captain, if you will, but by our common faith I implore you to consider the case of my poor people. There are children who have died from starvation and they have been dropped into the sea. There are more dying and you can save them by ordering a larger ration of sound biscuit. There are men and women lying stretched in the fever, will you not ease their agony by letting them have all the water they can drink? They have suffered everything flesh and blood can suffer short of death. In fleeing the famine in Ireland, do not let it be said they have found harder hearts and a worse fate on board ship. When you know a cup of water and a bite will save life and will make hundreds happy, sure captain, you will not refuse to give them.
"You vagabond", he exclaimed, his eyes flashing with anger, "if you insinuate I am starving anybody I will pith you overboard. The passengers get all the government regulations allow them and more they shan't have. Bygone sir, and do not dare to come on the poop again."
One word, captain. I've been told you have a wife and children. For their sweet sake, have pity on the little ones and the women on board."
"Do you hear me?", he shouted. "Leave the poop or I will kick you off. I'll have no mutiny on my ship."
I tuned and left more sorrowful at my failure than indignant at my usage. My appeal did some good, however, for before the day was over windsails were rigged at the hatchways, which did a little to freshen the air 'tween decks. A sail ahead hove in sight during the afternoon and we rapidly gained on her. At six o'clock we were abreast of the stranger, which was not over half a mile away. She was a small barque and lost her foretopmast during the gale. She signalled us but our captain took no notice, and as soon as wel left a long way astern. Asking the boatswain why she wanted to speak to us, he said she likley was short of sails and spars to repair her damage and wanted to get them from us. "And why did the captain not help her?" The boatswain smiled. "They cost money and supplying them would have delayed us." I had my own thoughts about the sailor who would not give a helping hand to his brother when overtaken by misfortune. If that ship be lost for lack of spar or sail, then that little tyrant who struts our quarter deck os accountable.
26. - A beautiful morning, bright and milder than it has been. Every sail is drawing and the ship is bowling along at a fine rate. I got up early, being anxious about uncle's wife. Found her no better. Worse than that, there were five besides her ill the same way. There is now not a shadow if doubt that typhus fever is on board. Since we left port, no attempt has been made to clear the steerage, which is filty beyond desription. When I speak to the men to join in and shovel up the worst of the dirt, they despondently ask me, "What's the use?". The despondency engendered of humger and disease is upon them and they will not exert themselves. The steward is the only one of the ship's company who goes down the hatch-ups and it would be better if he did not, for his errand is to sell the drink for which so many are parting with the sixpences they should keep for their landing in a strange country. The day being passably warm in the afternoon the children played on the deck and I coaxed Paddy Doolan to get out his pipes and set them jigging.
27 - A dull, murky morning, with a mist that surrounded the ship as the wrappiing of silk paper does an orange. It was almost a dead calm and the atmosphere was so heavy the smoke of the gallery did not rise and filled the deck with its fumes. The main deck was deserted, save by myself and three old women who sat on the coaming of the main hatchway, smoking their pipes. The cabin boy flited backwards and forwards carrying breakfat to the cabin, where the steward was laying the table. The boy's motions did not escape the women, and I noticed the whispering and laughing as if concocting a plot. One presently went down into the hold, while the other two turned anxious glances for the return of the cabin boy. When he did come, he loaded up with as many skillets and pans as he could carry. No sooner had he disappeared down the companion-way, than the women ran to the gallery, which was deserted, for the cook, having completed his morning's work, had gone to the forecastle, where the sailors were at breakfast, leaving the dishes ready for the boy to take to the cabin as wanted. In a twinkling thw women were out again, one of them bearing a big copper teapot, the steam from its spout showing in the morning air. Hurrying to the hatchway they were met by the woman who had left them, reaady with a lapful of tins of every description. Into those the tea was poured and handed below, as quickly as they could be handled. Curious to view the scene I went to the hatch and looked down, seeing a crowd of grinning passsengers beneath, who carried off the tins as they got them. When the last drop was out of the kettle, the woman who held it ran back to the gallery and dipping it into an open copper of hot water replaced it where she got it. The women did not disppear but resuming their seats on the edge of the hatch proceeded to discuss the tins of tea they had reserved for themselves. By and by, the boy hove in sight and, unsupicious of the change in its contents, carried the kettle to the cabin. He had been away five minutes when he reappeared kettle in hand and went to the gallery. I stood behind him. He looked bewildered. "Begad, I was right; there's no other kettle." "Anything wrong my boy?" Och, yis; it's hot tay water instead of tay that's in the kettle." Going to the sailors' quarters he returned with the cook who, on tasting what was in the kettle, looked perpelexed. Accompanied by the boy he made his way to the cabin to report a trick had been played on him. Telling Aileen of what was affot, she drew a shawl over her head, came out and took her place by me in lee of the the long boat, awaiting developments. The mate, followed by the cook, steward, and boy emerged from the companion. Striding the deck with wrathful haste the mate went to the gallery and after hearing the explanations of the cook, shouted, "I'll flay the ___ thieves with a rope's end." Coming back, he asked me, "What do you know about this?".
"That I had no hand in it", I replied, "nor, I'm sorry to say, even a taste of it." Aileen laughed and eyeing me malignantly, the mate retorted, "You know who it is. Tell me right away."
Read Part Two and find out what happened!