I haven’t got a hash on this keyboard. But here is something for Sample Sunday
CHAPTER 2 TRANSPORTED
Most of the voyage was spent in deep gloom. There were several hatches in the deck and when the weather permitted these were opened to allow shafts of light to pierce the darkness of the hold and dimly illuminate the nearest patch of squalor.
The convicts looked with longing upon these pillars of light and the strongest staked their claims to territory closest to their glow. The weakest spent their time watching for the strong men’s attention to waver so that they could snatch a moment in the light. When the hatches were shut the only light came from half a dozen shuttered lamps high up in the rafters, out of reach of the convicts. No candles were allowed below.
Because the darkness thwarted sight other senses became more acute to compensate. This was no advantage; far from it. Jack could close his eyes to hide the sight of ugly faces and dread disease. But he could not close his ears. The hold acted like a vast drum, catching and amplifying every sound. Men muttering in corners, children snivelling with hunger, cries and curses, groans and shrieks, all were picked up, intensified and delivered hot to every aching ear. Some found the noise so intolerable they lost their heads. Their yells and screams added to the stew of sound and made it more unbearable still.
But if the sound of the hold was dreadful the smell was far worse. The air that the convicts breathed was as stale as pestilence. It blocked the nose, lay sticky in the mouth and clung like wet flannel to the lungs. Jack knew he had to breathe to live but every breath was a torment which he yearned not to have to take.
On top of the foulness that was the air, there hung a stench exhaled by unwashed bodies, leaking wounds and bodily waste. The stink felt like a living thing, a vast whale snorting and pulsating. You could not escape this stench no matter how you tried. And still, on top of this, were yet more particular smells, individual, transient, bubbling up to seize the unwary nostril with sickening new surprise.
Chains existed in plenty in the hold. But they were no longer necessary. Every man felt weighted down by the unendurable burden of their surroundings. They barely moved, some only stretching their legs a few times each day. Others, the more determined, would shuffle from one side of the hold to another to keep some grip upon their minds, praying that this voyage would end and that they would still have need for legs and hands.
The oldest and the most exhausted merely sat and stared with clouded eyes, all hope abandoned. They even watched without distress as rats chewed on their toes and fingers. Jack spent long hours frightening the rodents away. But he was never thanked for doing so.
It was worse than a nightmare. The big men like Trench carved out rough territories which they held by fist and boot from all rivals. Offerings of food and sex were given to them. They repaid this tribute solely by restraining to attack and maim their followers. All others in the hold were prey to savage, murderous and unprovoked assault.
A few men like Beresford avoided these dreadful turf wars. These were the few who combined physical strength with a silent determination to remain their own man and refuse to get entangled with the concerns of others. It required strength of character to do this, and those who succeeded did so alone, without the support of others.
Jack was glad that Beresford had taken him under his wing for he knew that he had earned the special enmity of Trench and Crimp. The rest of the convicts troubled him not at all; he could argue better, curse fouler and insult more woundingly than any of them. But these skills had less effect upon Trench and Crimp because they were more stupid than most. Crimp could understand the more obvious insults and sometimes chanced a kick at Jack when Beresford was far away. Trench merely glared at Jack, biding a time when he would be free to swat him like a fly. That time would not occur while Beresford remained watchful.