At length, it seems, we have reached the point – foreseen by so many political economists long since – the depletion of Ireland.
- "The Irish Problem", November 5, 1854. The New York Herald
Carrok, British sailing vessel, one month from North American Coastline, Summer 1845
A little girl, her hair a messy dirty tangle of what would have been white hair, sobbed as she clutched her brother around the waist. Looking at the small set of siblings one would have been hard-pressed to see them as anything other than gutter rats.
All one would have needed as an example was her hair. Her hair was a cake in grime that made it hard and frazzled. None would have guessed that it had been almost silver in its whiteness.
Had even once during the three weeks of travel onboard the ship had she been allowed to wash; one would have been startled by it. Yet that was not the only thing that affected by the grime.
Her dress was caked with grime as was her face. The tears left messy trails along her pudgy face. Her fingernails were caked with crude and spots of food were splashed on her clothing. Her brother was equally a pudgy little thing. His hair was also white, although again, the filth did it's best to hide that fact.
The lad also sniffled, but he didn't shed tears. It wasn't that he was incapable of crying. Problem was, he was only three. How did one tell a three-year old child about tragedy and they understand? Even though the ship's surgeon had told them about what had happened, there was no way he really could comprehend what was being seen.
Two white sheets were wrapped loosely around two bodies: the bodies of his Mama and Papa.
Sailors, just as dirty as the two children, towered over them. With a bored expression on their faces, the gripped the edges of the boards and lifted the end, tilting them forwards. And just like that, the bodies disappeared over the railing of the ship and into the sea below. Even as the bodies vanished overboard, the ship slowly rocked up and down on the surface of the sea in step with the rolling waves. All the while the little boy wondered what this was meaning.
"Will they be back?" he asked, doing his best to stifle the sniffles.
None of the sailors answered or even acknowledged him. He wiped his nose with his sleeve.
"Will they be back?" he repeated the question.
Two of the sailors walked off, carrying a board between the two of them. Two others were removing the board as well, chatting to each other as they ignored the two children. A few remained, leaning against the railing of the ship and chatting with each other, laughing at some crude jokes.
"Will they come back?" the little boy said even louder this time.
The ugliest of the three sailors that remained turned to glare at them. He was a man with a big warty nose turned, glaring his one good eye at them. As he did, the two others gave them twin disgusted looks as if the twins were being unreasonable.
"Shut your mouth, you damned little Mic." He spat at them, a wad of a dark browing-black spittle flying from his mouth as he spoke. "And shut your bratty sister up. Her caterwauling is giving me a case of the concerns. I'll dump you twins over the railing and into the cold deep to join your bastard Papa and whore of a mother in Davy Jones' locker."
"Enough of that, Mr. O'Creedy," a man with a big round belly called out, striding towards them along the length of the railing. The man gave an imperious glare at the gathering. "Don't you men have chores to attend to?"
"Bosun," the man said, turning to look at them. "These little mics are being a damned nuisance."
His companions nodded their agreement. The little boy looked back and forth at the men, as his sister continued to sob unconsolably into his shoulder.
"You are a heartless bastard, O'Creedy," the man lifted a finger and waved it in his face. "These children just lost their parents. I agree that all Irish are drunken fools but have some compassion on them."
"They are wee little shites that I would like to…"
"Enough!" The man shouted. He scowled and patted a long, multi-thonged whip that rest against his hip, wrapped in a loose circle around his waist. "Or would you like me to take the cat out of the bag, Mr. O'Creedy?"
A cat? The little boy didn't know there was cats onboard the ship. And why would there be a cat in a bag? He had seen cats before being tied up in bags and tossed in the rivers near his home, but they usually were no older than kittens.
The ugly man shifted his focus from the man he called 'Bosun', to the two children. A glare that was something fierce to behold lashed forth towards the twins. The little boy cowered, trembling despite his best effort at being brave.
Why was this man so mean to them? What had they done?
It felt like an hour that the man glared at them, but it most likely had only been a few seconds. With a snort the man spat on the deck and turning on his heel stormed off, muttering under his breath. The Bosun stared after him until after a few seconds, he grunted and turned towards the two children. He looked down on them and considered them for a second.
"You two better be getting along down into the hold with the rest of the passengers, my lad and lass," he told them. Stepping up, he pointed a finger towards the hold, scars crisscrossing the finger. "Get going, you'll be alright."
There was nothing for them to do except to leave and go below. The little boy grabbed his sobbing sister and turned and headed towards where the ladder was that went into the dark part of the ship. The little girl kept crying, bubbles of snot starting to appear out of her nose.
"Don't worry Na," he assured her, "I'll take care of you."
Except, what was a three-year old supposed to do to take care of his twin sister? They had no family on the ship. They knew some of the other kids, but they weren't friends with any of them. The parents had kept away as soon as Mama and Papa had gotten sick, so that must mean they didn't like them. Yet none of these questions entered the little boys mind.
"I want Mama and Papa, Al," Na cried.
Their full names were Naomi and Albert. Yet they couldn't pronounce each others full names. Honestly, they were barely able to string full sentences together. Albert wanted his parents too, but, he didn't think they were ever coming back, even if they prayed and made sure to wash their hands before eating.
It was a strange new world that they were facing, and there was no help for them.