“Keep an eye on the horizon, darling.”
Jamie tried to do as his mother said, but it was hard to do, since the horizon was nothing but water, as far as the eye could see. And if he looked too hard at the water, the waves would start to make his wame churn again.
He didn’t like being on a ship. At first, it had seemed like a grand adventure. Da called it charting a new path . Jamie didn’t quite know what that meant, but it had sounded wonderful to him.
It wasn’t wonderful anymore, though. The ship taking them from Scotland to America was smelly and rocked back and forth nonstop. At first the rocking wasn’t so bad, it reminded him of being in a wagon, but after a couple of days, it made him queasy and miserable.
“I want tae go home,” he said, not meaning to whine, but he was already starting to miss Lallybroch, and his dogs, and his friend, Ian.
“We are going home,” his mam said, bouncing his wee brother Robby on her hip. “Our new home is going to be in North Carolina.”
That wasn’t what he meant, but he knew that she knew that, so he didn’t say anything more.
“I canna wait tae get tae America,” his older sister, Jenny said, but then, she always agreed with whatever Mam and Da said, just to be their favorite.
“Chin up, laddie,” Da said, chucking Jamie’s chin with his knuckle. “You’ll see, this will be the start of something new and exciting.”
Jamie smiled, hoping Da was right. He was excited to see America. All his life he’d barely ever even left the farm. Well, Da said he did visit his uncles once, but that was when he was wee like Robby, and Jamie didn’t remember.
Turning away from the horizon , Jamie wandered off, his boredom slowly overcoming his upset belly.
Most of the men on the ship ignored him, but he was used to that. No one ever paid attention to bairns, but Jamie was hardly a bairn anymore. No, he was five years old...nearly six...in eleven months. Maybe soon he’d grow tall like his older brother. People would pay more attention to him, then.
He found Willie among some of the cabin boys, playing a game with dice.
“Can I play?” Jamie asked.
The cabin boy playing with Willie frowned at him. “Awa’ wi’ ye!”
“Leave him be!” Willie snapped. “Come here, now Sawny. Blow on my dice for me, will ye?”
Jamie didn’t know what he needed to do that for, but Willie asked it of him, so when he held out his hand with the two dice in it, Jamie puffed out his cheeks and blew.
Willie threw the dice down on the deck. Jamie didn’t have time to count the dots before some of the boys were cheering, while others moaned. What mattered though, was it seemed like Willie had won.
“Ye did, Sawny! We won!”
Jamie grinned, puffing out his chest, happy to have helped.
“William!” came the sudden deep rumble of their father’s voice.
William winced, and turned around. “Aye, Da?”
Da grabbed Willie by the shoulder. “Just what th’ devil d’ye think ye’re doing? Gambling? While ye’re brother watches?”
“It was naught but for pennies, Da,” Willie said. “Just tae pass th’ time. Jamie was my good luck charm!”
Da scowled. “Weel, no more! I’ll not have ye behaving so. Now come, it’s time tae go to supper. Ye let me catch ye at this again, I’ll have ye over the rail wi’ a strap tae your hind quarters, ye hear me?”
“Aye, Da,” Willie said.
Da released him, and Willie flexed his shoulders, grinning at Jamie. “Come on, we best no’ keep Mam waiting.”
Jamie frowned at the thought of food, but followed regardless.
“Your wame still upset?” Willie asked. He squinted up at the sky. “Dinna think it’s going tae feel much better soon, look at those clouds. T’will be a storm.”
“A storm?” Jamie asked. “Will it hit us?”
“Nay,” Willie said, cuffing him playfully. “And even if it does, this ship is big and strong, we’ll be fine.”
The clouds did look scary, but Willie wouldn’t lie to him. Willie was eleven, and knew everything.
When the storm came, everything went to hell...as Da would say.
Jamie was in his bunk with Willie, trying to sleep despite the tossing and turning of the ship. Then suddenly Da was picking him up and Jamie rubbed the sleep out of his eyes to see that the floor was all water.
They rushed up the stairs, Mam carrying Robby, Da carrying Jamie, while Willie and Jenny held hands. Jamie wanted to be on his feet like his older siblings, because he wasn’t a babe, but Da wouldn’t let him go.
Everyone was yelling, the ship rocking so much it felt like it was spinning. Da almost fell twice, so Jamie stopped trying to get down, and held on tight instead.
Through all the screaming, Jamie heard someone yell “to the boats!” But they were already on a boat...what did that mean?
“It’s sinking!” Mam cried, sounding more scared than Jamie had ever heard her. “Brian...what do we do?”
“You’ll get on the lifeboat,” Da said, kissing her forehead. “Wi’ the children.”
“What?! Without you ?!”
“The women and children go first, my love,” Da said. “Go, it’ll be alright!”
“No! Not without you!”
“Da!” Willie screamed. “Let me stay with you!”
“Go wi’ your mother, Willie, take care o’ them, aye?”
“Ellen,” he said softly, kissing her mouth, then Robby’s head, then Jamie’s. “Go.”
They ran to where little boats were being lowered into the angry-looking ocean. But that didn’t seem like a good idea...Willie said the ship was big and strong. Those boats looked like the wee ones Willie took him fishing on sometimes. Everyone was screaming and pushing, fighting to get on one of the wee boats, but Da was taller than most everyone, and pushed all them forward, and suddenly Jamie was being almost tossed into one of the boats.
“It’ll be alright, Jamie,” Da said, kissing Jenny’s cheek and lowering her into the boat beside him.
Da made Willie get in next, and after that should have been Mam and Robby, but people kept pushing, and screaming, and cursing.
The boat, which was hanging over the side of the ship by two ropes, started rocking even worse than the ship itself. A man, a big fat man, shoved at Mam as she tried to get in the boat, and suddenly Mam and Robby were falling, down into the dark water where Jamie couldn’t see.
“MAM!” Willie screamed, in a way that scared Jamie almost more than anything.
“ELLEN!” Da cried, leaping off the ship and down into the inky water with Mam.
They started lowering the boat down into the water, and Jamie’s heart raced. He didn’t want to go down there...it was dark, and cold, and sounded angry, but that was where Mam and Da were.
The big, fat man who pushed Mam jumped over the railing like Da, only he landed in their boat. He must have been too heavy, because one of the ropes broke, making the wee boat point downward, the big man tumbling out.
Jenny screamed, and Jamie grabbed her hand, bracing his feet against the seat so that they didn’t fall out too.
Willie climbed to the other end, yanked on the rope there, trying to get it to finish lowering them down.
“It’s stuck!” he cried, grunting. He looked back at Jamie, his face scrunched in fear, but also the same determined look like when he won the game of dice.
“Take care o’ each other,” Willie said, climbing up the rope, and all Jamie could see was the flash of the dagger Da had given him, then suddenly the boat was falling, landing with a crash in the water.
Jamie and Jenny called for Da, and Mam, and Willie, but they didn’t come. The water tossed their little boat around like a toy in a bathtub. They couldn’t even scream, because the water kept pouring into their faces.
Finally the boat turned over, and everything was dark. He’d been holding Jenny’s hand, but then she was gone, and Jamie waved his arms and legs, trying to find which way was up.
But he didn’t know where up was. Everything was just dark. And he was alone.
Jamie took in a deep breath, regretting it when all it got him was a mouthful of sand.
He sat up, feeling sleepy and thirsty, his wame still churning even though he wasn’t on the ship anymore.
Where was he? And where was everyone else?
He was on a beach, but not like any beach he’d ever seen before. There were pieces of wood all along the sand, he wondered if they’d come from the ship. But he didn’t see any people.
Past the beach were trees, but those didn’t look like any trees he’d seen before either! They were long and skinny, with pointy leaves only at the very tops.
Was this America? It didn’t look like the America Mam had shown him pictures of in books.
“Mam?” he called. “Da?”
He walked toward the trees, hoping to at least find someone who would help him find his family.
Jamie was used to playing in the woods, but these woods were strange, and scary. It was noisier than the woods back home, and the noises were so odd.
Jamie walked and walked, his mouth sticky and dry, his arms and legs heavy. He wanted nothing more than to lie down and take a nap, which was silly because it was daytime and he was too big for naps.
So he kept on, but then he felt a funny feeling, like when Ian would sneak up behind him while they played.
When he turned around though, there was no one there. But then...he heard a growl…
Jamie looked up, and on a branch in the tree was an animal he’d never seen before. Like a cat...not a lion or a tiger, but certainly as big as one.
This cat bared huge fangs at Jamie, let out a yowl, then leapt at him.
Jamie turned tail and ran as fast as he could, weaving around the trees. But his legs were already so tired, and he couldn’t run as fast as Willie. He tripped over something and fell, skinning his knees, and he rolled over, trying to scoot away.
The big cat slowed, and Jamie watched as it approached. He started to cry.
But then a big black blur appeared, and there was a roar, a scuffle, and then just as fast as it had appeared, the cat was gone.
The big black blur was still there, however, and it was bigger even than the cat.
This animal, though, turned to Jamie and looked at him with kind, almost human-like eyes.
Jamie thought he’d seen something like it in a book before, but not quite. It snuffled over him curiously, and Jamie might have been afraid, if he hadn’t been so tired .
Jamie hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep until he woke up. For a moment he thought he was on the ship again, but the rocking this time was gentle and soothing, not upsetting to his wame at all.
He was in a nice, furry bed that smelled strong, like a barn.
When he opened his eyes, he found that he was not in a bed at all, but cradled like a babe in the animal’s arm.
There were more of them now, in all sizes and shapes, all looking at him with the same curiosity.
The one who carried him, Jamie thought she was a girl, put him gently down beside a stream.
Jamie almost dove into the water, cupping it in both hands and drinking greedily.
One of the animals, one no bigger than Jamie himself, was sitting beside him, watching him. He then tried to copy Jamie by scooping up the water in his hands, but after a moment gave up, and simply stuck his face into the water.
Chuckling, Jamie decided to copy him instead, and found he got a lot more water that way anyway.
There was a loud grunting noise, and they all looked up.
One of them, the biggest one, bigger than a horse, made the sound again and beat his chest. It must have been an order, because everyone started to move.
Was Jamie supposed to follow? He needed to find his Mam and Da, and Willie and Jenny and Robby, but more than anything he was scared of being alone, especially with things like that big cat roaming around.
So he followed, and the nice one, the girl one, took his arm and hoisted him up onto her back. When Jamie looked around, he saw all the smaller ones did the same thing.
Her back was broad, and soft, softer than a horse. Jamie could lay down on his belly and not feel like he was going to fall, so he closed his eyes to rest. At least for now, he was safe.