The Sally Malone, Black ‘47
“None o’ yer baby tears now, lad.” The stern voice hissed into Declan’s ear and crawled across his soul. The hand clamped on his shoulder bit into his chilled skin. “Be a man now.”
Declan caught back a sniffle as he tore his gaze from the churning gray sea and stared fearfully at his father. Didn’t Da care about anything—even the fact that Ma’s lifeless body had just been tossed overboard into the foaming, hungry sea?
Declan shivered as the brisk wind tore through his ragged shirt. He was so cold. Hunger and fear gnawed at him. They’d been on this terrible dark ship for weeks now. Would they ever reach America?
His mother’s face had lit with hope when she spoke of America. “There’s food there, Declan. So much food ‘twill fill all our bellies and be some left over for the next day, please God. There’s work in America too, so there is, for those who want it. And there’s a chance for ye, Declan lad, the chance of an education. Sure, there’s no tellin’ what ye might become with an education.” Tears flooded Declan’s eyes and grabbed his throat in an iron fist as he saw again Ma’s body sliding into the sea.
Da’s long, bony fingers dug into his shoulder. “D’ye hear me lad? I’ll not have ye blubbering like a wee babe. Ye’re ten now.”
Declan bit the tremble from his lips. He wished he was home again, in the tiny cottage in Clare, instead of here on the ship. Massive sea gulls wheeled overhead and screamed a mournful lament, and the salt wind whipped his cheeks and stung his chapped lips. “I’m sorry, Da.” The wind snatched the whispered words from his mouth and carried them away.
But someone had heard.
“Go easy, Brendan.” Sean Greely, his own face streaked with tears at the loss of two of his children, shook his head at Da. “Sure, the lad’s just lost his ma. ‘Tis only right he be allowed to grieve.”
Da glared at the man whose son had become Declan’s bosom friend, but he didn’t snap at him, to Declan’s vast relief. Declan knew what Da was thinking. Sean Greely was more than just one of the hundreds of desperate immigrants fleeing famished Ireland. Declan had heard one of the men say there were over four hundred of them crammed into the ship’s hold. Sean Greely had been a good, strong farmer before the praties failed. An educated man who knew how to read and write, and who’d taught his children as well. A man who was respected even on the coffin ship, a man with a few coins put by.
“Go ye now, lad,” Mr. Greely said quietly, his gaze firm on Da’s face. “Off you go now with the other boys.”
Declan cast a furtive glance from his father to Mr. Greely. Then, not daring to argue, he darted off to join his new friends.
He had to be strong. Had to be a man.
He mustn’t make Da angry.