On a night like this, with the wind a-jiggering the sails and carrying the rough words of sailors over to me, I can’t stop tears pouring from my eyes and washing the decks as much as the sea. I fear my thin bones will snap in the storm and the tossing will push my shins through my knees. My name is Beggar Charlie, and I be twelve years old or thereabouts.
The Devil makes times like this so he can laugh when a small boy like me slides into the railings and falls among the sodden ropes tangling on the decks. I kick the debris around me and begin to scream because Satan must be hoping to make a home for me among the fires of everlasting torture.
“God be with me,” I holler as loud as I can. “Bless those that sail on the sea.”
Everywhere coarse men hang onto something that will keep them from falling into the great ocean beyond the ship. When I finally manage to lift myself, I’m awash with salt from the waters and slip with each crest of a wave until I make the captain’s cabin. I dry my spindly body and think to rest in the corner where Captain Butler lets me sleep.
I hunker by the wall, pretending that the storm be but a dream, and I’m a-cradling on my mother’s bosom while she sings me to sleep. If she hadn’t died, I would still be with her, and the thought of her can rescue me from the dreariest of thoughts and the most mortal depressions. Her face in my mind makes the year I had to beg melt away and makes the press-gangers seem as unreal as I hope my life could be. If she were still alive, I wouldn’t be here on this ship with all these hard-eyed and rope-burned men and all their bitter thoughts at being stuck on the sea, when what they want is a pint of ale and all their bewildering talk is of warm women.
Their shouts come to me, even through the wet wood of the cabin, and I hear the masts creaking with the plundering winds trying to wre
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