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She had just fallen asleep when there was a knocking on the door. She slowly got up and staggered to the door. On opening the door she saw three ladies standing on the stoop. She did not know them as Pat and she had just moved into this small village called Tain. The first to speak was a tall, elderly woman. She said, "I am Effie McKay, and I am on the grief committee of our village. Ian McGregor just notified us of your loss. None of us have known you and your husband, but all of us have lost our spouse. We know how brutal it is to be suddenly left alone in a strange place. We want to help you any way we can as we know how desperate your feelings might be at this point in your life." Geri didn't feel desperate, but the kindness of Ms. McKay's voice comforted her. She didn't say anything at first. Slowly tears flowed down her cheeks, and Effie embraced her and comforted her. The other ladies went about the cleaning, cooking, and taking care of Robert. Slowly Geri relaxed and started talking about herself and Pat.
She said, "Pat and I were born and raised near Copenhagen, Denmark. We were childhood sweethearts and married when we were just eighteen. We were only married one year when Pat came home and said we were moving to Ireland. His sister had written him a letter telling him that they were immigrating to Nova Scotia, and he could have their house if he wanted to come to Armagh, Ireland. We said yes and immediately packed up our belongings and came to Armagh. It was a wonderful house, and we were very happy. Over the next two years Pat became a master stone mason. They were building a large Cathedral in Dublin and invited Pat to come and work on this project. They said he would have work for at least ten years. We liked Dublin and planned to live there. A few months ago, Pat heard of this small cottage that was on ten acres of land. He had always wanted to own land, and we decided to buy it. The cottage is only two miles from his work so here we are." She started crying again.
The next two years were difficult for Geri. She had a baby and no way of earning a living. Her first thought was she could sell their house in Armagh. She wanted to stay in their little cottage as long as she could. Effie became a good friend and helped Geri. She worked at various jobs, and Effie took care of Robert. Geri was just 22 years old, but all during those two years, she was not able to find a husband. There were many married men in the village that wanted her to be their mistress, but no one was interested in marriage to a widow with a baby boy. She was despairing of her situation when she received a letter saying there was a person that wanted to buy her Armagh House. In March, 1833, she finally sold her house in Armagh. The money she received for the house opened new opportunities for her. Pat's sister had written frequently. In one letter she said, "Geri, you are a young widow woman with a baby boy. There are many single men here, and you will have a good chance of finding a husband in Nova Scotia. You should come here." At first, this seemed like a farfetched idea. One night when she was unable to sleep she decided that she had to move on, and the idea of going to Nova Scotia seemed like a good idea.
The purser didn't think she was able to buy such an expensive ticket as she was shabbily dressed, but to his amazement she paid for her ticket with gold. He found himself warning her to be careful how she showed her gold filled purse. Geri replied, "Sir, I have worked hard all of my life, and I learned how to handle a pistol when I was twelve years old. I pity the person who tries to take my gold from me." With that she walked proudly aboard the ship and went to her cabin.
With the evening tide the sailing ship, Brig O'Dorcas Savage, set sail for Canada. The first night at sea went well. The winds were coming from the east and they were traveling due west. All sails were up and full pushing the ship at a speed of eight knots. The next morning came, and there were red clouds in the east. When Geri and Robert came on deck, they were greeted with cold winds. The winds were from the north, and the waves were rising to swells of four to six feet. This excited Geri as she had sailed in the Baltic Sea and loved to sail with a brisk breeze. Captain John Limon was walking the quarter deck when he noticed Geri and her son. They were walking the deck as if they were veteran sailors.
As he was noticing this, his purser walked up and said, "That woman and her son are the ones I told you about who paid for first class passage with gold." The Captain didn't say anything and continued to observe his barometer. The shifting winds concerned him, and he feared that they were moving into a storm. In the next hour the winds increased to a near gale force. The Captain ordered that all loose gear be stored, and he sent the crew aloft to reef the topsails.
As the crew was securing the main deck, they were also checking the lashing of the lifeboats. A lifeboat near midship had its tarp in slight disarray. They had to take it all off in order to lash it down tightly so that it would not fill with water from the bad weather. When they stripped it off they found a stowaway. It was a young red haired girl with flashing defiant blue eyes. They hauled her out of the boat and brought her before the Captain. In a gruff voice he inquired what was her name. She replied that her name was none of his business, and she had no intentions of telling him who she was. Her anger irritated him, and he told her that this ship did not tolerate stowaways, and she would spend the voyage in the brig.
Geri had witnessed this and interrupted saying, "Captain, I have need of a servant, and if this young lady will bond herself to me until she has repaid her passage fee, I will pay for her a ticket in the steerage." Captain O'Rourke replied, "Mrs. Hogg we have no room in the steerage; we just have room in the brig." Geri replied, "I know that there is no room in the steerage, and I will let her stay with me in my cabin, but I will not pay first class for her to stay there." The Captain looked at his purser and said, "I will accept the stated conditions."
So Geri would have a companion and a servant for the rest of the voyage. Geri, Robert, and their new servant went to her cabin. The first thing Geri asked, "When did you last have any food?" She didn't answer but said, "I am very thirsty. I have not had water for two days." Geri immediately got her water and encouraged her to drink slowly. When she had satisfied her thirst she said, "I haven't eaten for three days." Geri left and went to the galley and asked for some food. The galley cook knew about the stowaway and had prepared some food for her. When Geri returned with food, she found Robert playing with his new friend. Nothing was said until all of the food was eaten. The stowaway had been eating so intensely that she was completely unaware of her surroundings. When she finished eating, she looked up and felt embarrassed. She was a proud girl and was ashamed about her behavior. She said, "I know that I must appear that I have no manners, but I was so hungry I couldn't control myself. You have been so kind to me, and I want to tell you why I am here under these conditions. I come from an important family in Ireland, and we have come under hard times. My father was just barely able to feed us, and he told me that he must bond me to a rich merchant in Belfast in order that I might have food and shelter. I was to be a house maid, and I would be given some education. I agreed, and I was a maid all right, but I was to have other duties. My master wanted me to sleep with him. When he told me this, I knew that I had to escape that very day. He sent me on an errand, and I went down to the dock. It was mid day, and the crew of this ship was not on deck. I slipped on board, and I was in the lifeboat for two days before they sailed. I remembered hearing a policeman coming by asking if they had hired any new people. They said no, and inquired about whom were they searching. They said a bonded girl had run away, and her master had offered a large reward if she was found and returned to him. Her name was Amy MacMoyre. You can see why I didn't want the Captain to know my name."
Robert said, "Mommy, I like Amy. I don't want her to be taken away." Geri felt sorry for Amy, and she wanted to help her. She told Amy that she was a person of limited means and was immigrating to Nova Scotia. She had no relatives there, but her sister-in-law was going to help her get started. She continued saying, "I am determined to make my own way. I know I am a good sailor, and I hope to be able to start my own fishing business. I can use you as a member of my crew and any other activities that may come about. There is a severe storm coming up. I am going to see how well I can handle myself in this storm. I intend to stay on deck as long as I can. I will need you to take care of Robert during this time." Amy was very excited. She was to have a job and maybe a family.
After talking to Amy, Geri got up and put on her oilskin clothing. When she appeared on deck, there was a remarkable change in Geri. She was no longer a shabby, depressed woman who looked like she was thirty years old and worn out. She looked like a twenty-two year old young woman who had a strong vibrant look. She said nothing to anybody and started performing deck duties with the skill of a master seaman. She could reef sails, secure the main deck and did all of this efficiently and professionally. Captain Limon thought that she was one of the crew and asked the First Mate who was that sailor. The First Mate didn't know and went over to Geri and was surprised to find that it was a woman, their new passenger. He didn't say anything to her and reported back to the Captain who the sailor was. Both were surprised and taken aback by what they had discovered. The Captain decided to say nothing and wait and see how long Geri would continue to work. By now the storm was in full force. The waves were ten to twelve feet high and water from the waves and the strong wind washed the deck and made it hard for the crew to keep their footing. Amazingly, Geri was weathering this very well. In fact she seemed thrilled to be on deck. At eight bells the deck crew was replaced and Geri worked on. It wasn't until second crew was replaced that she went to her cabin.
Geri got up slowly and began stretching and flexing her arms and legs. After loosening up her muscles she sat down and ate a hearty breakfast. She asked Amy how things were going with her, and Robert. Robert answered by saying that he and Amy were friends. They talked a little longer, and Geri started putting on her oilskins. She was on deck and working by 9:00 a.m. The ship was in disarray. The storm had broken some of the lashings on the lifeboats and Geri went immediately to work. After securing all of the lifeboats she started securing the random items that had broken loose. The Captain and First Mate marveled at her competency. The First Mate said she was the best one of the deck crew. The Captain wondered if she was skillful at piloting. The main pilot was having trouble maintaining the ship's point of sail. The beam wind was coming from the north and the ship was going due west. He was having trouble keeping the ship on course as the ship wanted to turn to the direction of the wind.
The First Mate approached Geri and said that the Captain wanted to talk to her. She went immediately to the quarterdeck and approached the Captain. He said, "With your work on the main deck, you have helped us immensely, but now we have a serious problem. Our pilots are having a hard time holding our ship on course. They need help in order to steer the ship. Have you had any experience with piloting?" Geri replied, "Captain, I sailed with my father on the Baltic Sea from the age of ten to the time of my marriage which was eighteen. In my last two years of sailing, I was his chief pilot. I am aware of the trouble the pilot is having, and I know that I could be of help." The Captain replied saying, "We need you to help our pilot; would you be willing to do this?" She responded in nautical terms saying, "Aye, Captain" and went aft to the pilot. She told him she was there to help him steer the ship and immediately got into a position that relieved a lot of the pressure he was experiencing holding the ship on course. As they progressed the pilot experimented with Geri's skill. He would ease up on what he was doing and see how she responded. To his surprise the ship kept its course and there was no slack to the wheel. Geri knew exactly what he was doing and acted as if nothing had happened. He tried other maneuvers, and he was surprised at how quickly she could respond to the change. When he was relieved, she stayed on with the next pilot and went thru the same testing. When she had been at the wheel for sixteen hours, the First Mate relieved her and was pleased there were no objections from the pilots as to her skill.
Excerpted from The wanderers by Charles Samuel Betts Copyright © 2011 by Charles Samuel Betts. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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