Aboard the Providence

Here is your FWF prompt:

You find yourself in the lower level of an old ship. A calendar on the wall says  1682. There is a small window, and the view is nothing but open sea and a setting sun. There is a staircase and you can see daylight at the top…

“Oh God,” I whimpered as mine eyes opened to the darkness of a room filled with countless other bodies, from I knowest not where. I saw the slightest bit of light coming from a small round window just above me head, as well as a thin ray of light that shone down a staircase. ‘Twas like a beacon of fresh air in the midst of this cramped, stench-filled room. The very floor beneath me seemed to rise and fall. Yea, it even rolled as though it had a mind of its own that knewest not where it wanted to go.

The rolling motion of the floor, combined with the abominable odors rising from nearly every body and crevice therein, caused me stomach to churn and revolt in disgust. Never, in the six and one score years of mine existence, had I ever felt such sickness from within and without. As mine eyes momentarily glimpsed the rolling and churning sea beyond the porthole,  I quickly placed me right hand over me mouth, whilst me stomach lurched violently. Desperately, I looked around for a chamber pot or some private area within that God forsaken room, to expel the vile remnants of me last meal. Verily I frantically searched ’round the filthy bowels of that horrid place, seeking a place to disgorge meself and still maintain a remnant of dignity, but lo, the bile relentlessly forced its way upwards, ’til I had no choice but to retch noisily and painfully, before everyone.

Verily, verily, ’tis a fact that by then, I was feeling so deathly ill, that me dignity no longer concerned me. ‘Twas survival I sought henceforth, as wave after wave of nausea and vomiting encompassed me. Yea, survival was sought by each and every one of us wretches trapped within that foul ship’s hull. Even children and infants were packed into that revolting place, spewing their insides out, just as I was.

Amid such squalor, how could anyone hope to recover? For perhaps the hundredth time, I thought of me former husband, James Walker, the blackguard responsible for me current circumstances. After being married for nearly a decade, with no children to show for it, he falsely accused me of adultery, so he could be rid of me and marry a younger lass, that might possibly give him a child. Unjustly convicted, based on the lies of James and his scoundrel friends, the judge granted the scalawag a certificate of divorcement. Indeed, the only good thing to come of this whole debacle was that I was rid of that reprobate once and for all, and henceforth, I would be known by me maiden name, Bonny Brown. I was then given the death penalty, unless I agreed to set sail to the Americas as an indentured servant on board the Providence. Verily, because the life of an indentured servant was preferable to death, I had no choice but to agree to seven years of servitude, and assuredly, seven years of servitude to a stranger couldn’t be any worse than the ten years I’d endured with me former husband, James, the miscreant.

“Heavenly Father,” I cried out in distress, “Thou knowest all things, and Thou art a God of justice. Surely Thou wilt deliver me from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence!” Though I had prayed without ceasing from the moment I had learned of me nefarious spouse’s evil intentions, it had all been to no avail. Yea, even those who knew me to be faithful and true to the knave me father had forced me to marry, nearly ten years ago, had turned their backs on me, when he began his wretched assault on me character. No amount of prayer could stop him from ridding himself of me at all cost.

As wave after wave of nausea and vomiting overcame me, I continued to pray throughout the horrible days that followed. “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for Thou art my praise.” 

britgale_restored‘Twas the most deplorable time of me life, and yet, the Lord was with me, and after eleven miserable days and nights of the most painful stomach cramps, nausea and non-stop vomiting, I awakened on the twelfth day to the warmth of bright sunlight shining through the porthole window on me face. I couldn’t help but give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindnesses. “I will praise Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all Thy marvelous works.” Weakly, I arose from the defilement of me defecation and regurgitation, and with shaking hands, tried to smooth me matted golden hair away from me face.

As I stood in the midst of the mass of human waste and agony, I straightened me back, thanked the Lord again, and set about doin’ His work. I found a bucket of salt water and a mop, and began moppin’ up some of the refuse from the floor. After cleanin’ as much of the foul matter as possible, I made me way to the staircase, from whence the sun’s rays were shinin’ down. Perhaps I could find some help at the top of the staircase.

As I looked around at the poor miserable souls cramped in this space with me, me heart broke for them. Confined in this dreadful place in the same circumstances as I, mercy flooded me heart as I prayed for them. “Father, from the depths of me soul, I cry out to You to have mercy on these poor wretches, who are sufferin’ so. Save them and heal them, Lord from their pain and sufferin’. And please be with the wee little ones, who don’t stand a chance of survivin’ lest Thou wouldst deliver them.”

Unsteadily, I made my way to the stairway, and clutching the rail, I headed toward the top of the stairs, where I saw a sailor standing guard lest any of us try to make our way up to the deck of the boat, thereby escaping the hellish prison below. “Halt!” he barked gruffly, for all appearances, nothing more than a black silhouette, as the bright sun shone behind him, momentarily blinding me. “Come no further, wench,” he commanded.

Shading me eyes with me right hand, whilst holding tightly to the rail, I asked for his assistance. “Please, kind sir,” I spoke softly. “Would you be so good as to give me another pail of water, so we can keep the excrement cleaned from the floors below. If we can keep things clean down there, ’twill help to stop infection from setting in throughout the whole ship. Also sir, if you could see your way to getting us a pail of fresh water too, so I can help care for those who are ill, I’d be very grateful to you.”

After checking with his commander, who then checked with the ship’s doctor, we were given another pail of salt water, and a pail of fresh water. After receiving it, I commandeered the help of those men below, who were not in chains, to help mop the floor, whilst I went about taking care of those who were still so sickly. I soon discovered a doctor in our midst, and we set about separating the healthy people from the sickly ones. Some of the mothers were much too sick to nurse their infants, so we found other mothers who were willing to nurse those precious babes, whilst still nursing their own.

‘Twas such a sad time, with so much sickness and dying… so much… Death raged throughout the ship’s hull. With no respect for age, the grim reaper crept about, stealing the life out of the eldest men and women, as well as newborn babes. With every day that passed, people died. Men and women alike were widowed, and sadder still, were those children and babes who were orphaned. There’s nothing harder than to listen to those precious babes cryin’ out for their mamas and papas, knowin’ that they aren’t there to love them and comfort them any longer.

And still, the endless days of the boat rockin’ and creakin’ over the never ending waves of the sea continued with no land in sight. Finally, on the fortieth day, things seemed to take a turn for the better. ‘Twas the first day since we’d set sail from London that no one got sick. I remember waking up that morning, longing for a nice cup o’ tea. I sighed. It seemed like endless ages had passed since I’d held a cup o’ tea in me hands, with a bit o’ cream and two lumps of sugar. “O Lord,” I prayed stretching and yawning. “Please touch the hearts of the one to whom I am to be indentured, and let them be kind. I pray Thee, Lord, that they would be godly, and that they would not judge me based on the lies that have been told about me. Instead, Lord, let them see me as Thou dost. And Father, I thank Thee for allowing me to overcome the sickness that beset me at the start of this journey, and I ask that Thou wouldst do the same for the other men, women and children aboard this vessel. Thou art a good and merciful God, and I pray that Thou wouldst save, heal and deliver these people who have come to mean so much to me. For ’tis in the precious name of Your Son Jesus that I pray these things. Amen.”

Upon arising, I set about the day’s work… nursing the sick ones, praying for the many men and women locked in the hull with me, and singing with the children. I had come to love these people, who like me, were to be sold as indentured servants, rather than enduring a harsher penalty at home. Some truly were criminals, whilst others had been wrongfully and unjustly accused and convicted, as I was. Regardless of whether in truth, they were guilty or innocent of the crimes they had been accused of, the fact remained that we were all sinners, and therefore each one of us deserved death, but for the mercy and grace bestowed on mankind when God gave His only begotten Son to die on the cross for our sins. Therefore, it wasn’t my place to judge anyone aboard this ship. That was God’s business, and His alone. He called me to love them all, regardless of their guilt or innocence, and I did.

However, me biggest struggle was in forgiving the villain who had treated me so shamefully, and was now living it up, enjoying the good life, whilst I was little more than a wretched slave on this lumbering ship voyaging to a place I knew nothing about. After being trapped below for forty days, with the only sunlight to be had coming through a small round porthole, and the few rays that managed to find their way down the staircase in late afternoon, it was difficult not to be bitter.

And so it was, on that fortieth day, as I walked about the ship’s hull, caring for those less fortunate than meself, I thanked God for His bountiful blessings, and asked Him to help me forgive James for his treachery. I also prayed for the motherless babes, and the childless mamas aboard the ship, and ’twasn’t till I saw the late afternoon’s sun rays creeping down the staircase that I realized the great blessing God had bestowed upon us. For on this fortieth day, there were no new illnesses, and indeed, nary a one of those who were counted among the ill had thrown up. Not only that, on this, the fortieth day of our crossing, not a single man, woman nor child had passed away!

Upon this realization, I called out for everyone’s attention in that dark and dreary hull, and shared the good news. As cheers of praise and thanksgiving were lifted to the heavens, almost everyone began singing,

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

~ Martin Luther ~

O, what a blessed time of rejoicing we enjoyed that evening, as we thanked the good Lord for helping us through the midst of the storm. Little did we know that the very next day, we would indeed be caught up in the midst of a most dreadful storm, and had it not been for the Lord, who was by our side, everyone aboard the ship would have perished.

‘Twas Reginald York who first commented on the ominous looking clouds just over the horizon the next morning, and though we were still rejoicing over the wonderful day we had all enjoyed yesterday, many of us felt a chill of fear run up our spines, as we took turns peeking at the horizon from the tiny porthole, throughout the day. After me first glimpse of the fearsome storm clouds, I did what I always do when I’m troubled… I cried out to me Lord and King, the Creator of the Universe, pleading for His mercy by the blood of His precious Son Jesus.

We could tell by the sound of the sailors scurrying about above us that these clouds did indeed spell trouble for us, and not knowing of any other way to help in this situation, the faithful among us came together in a small circle to pray for those on deck, and for those of us who were held in the  hull of the ship. We specifically prayed for God’s providence upon our great ship, which appropriately carried the same name, Providence. We cried out for our captain, the sailors, and every man, woman and child among us, who had already been through so much.

The thunder rolled and rumbled, coming closer and closer. Indeed, the louder and sharper the claps of thunder and the flashes of lightening were, the more fervently we prayed. As the ship, which had always seemed so large, was tossed about on the giant waves and swells, it seemed to get smaller and smaller, as though the water was shrinking the vessel. Whilst the waves and swells rushed over the deck, and down into the hull, with both the rain and the turbulent seas from the tempest washing over us, we continued to cry out for the Almighty’s mercy, refusing to stop praying until He had delivered us.

When more than a dozen of the ship’s sailors were washed overboard into the tumultuous sea, the captain sent an ensign downstairs to take a dozen of our men upstairs to help them during the storm. And still, we continued to pray. And when it seemed that all hope was lost, and the storm might continue to rage ’round about us forever, we continued to pray, thanking our Lord for His love and  mercies upon us. Finally, well into the nighttime hours, the storm waned and waxed cold. “Praise God!” we shouted triumphantly, elated that once again, our merciful God had risen and shown Himself strong on our behalf.

Afterward, exhausted from our vigil, we searched for someplace dry to rest. Then, as weariness overwhelmed us, we realized that the entire hull was covered in six inches of water, so, exhausted, we sat down in the water, resting our backs and heads against the bow of the boat. Eventually, over time, we were able to rid the floor of the salty sea water.

As one day slipped into the next, we all grew pale and weak. Many of us often spoke longingly of what it used to be like, when we were allowed to walk freely in the sunlight. Our dreams were often filled with loved ones from our past, and many of us grew nostalgic. I often thought of me mum, a poor tired woman, old beyond her years. Her life with me dad had been filled with cruelties, but in spite of that, she had worked hard to protect me and me sisters from him, often throwing herself in the way of his fists to spare us from his violent rages.

‘Twas she who taught me that our heavenly Father was nothing like me earthly dad. As I watched the suffering of that faithful woman, who continued to praise Him despite the pain in her life, I too, began to call upon the name of the Lord. She often shared with me how the Lord spoke to her, and she never stopped prayin’ for me dad’s salvation. Yea, ’twas a couple of years after me dad had forced me to marry James, that he was born again. How me mum and I rejoiced over that good news! After that, me dad stopped beating me mum and treated her like a queen.

I smiled wistfully, as I remembered how me dad had repented and asked for me forgiveness when James had turned on me. He’d even tried to reason with James, but to no avail. ‘Twas me dad who advised me to indenture meself and leave on the Providence, promising that he and me mum would pray that a new and better life awaited me in the new world.

And now, here I was, on the Providence, having endured much suffering. Yet, despite the hardships endured on this voyage, me hope and me faith had been renewed, as I saw how the Lord brought me through terrible sickness, restoring me health, and enabling me to minister to me fellow passengers. The days continued to pass, and one month turned into two. Then, as we entered the third month, late one afternoon, every single one of us heard the lookout’s loud and joyful shout, “Land ho!”

Me heart skipped a beat. Then, as me fellow passengers began rejoicing, I felt a strange somberness settle on me. What would life hold for me here in this strange and new world? Would I ever see these people I had come to love again? What would me new master be like? Would he be as cold and cruel as James? Or would he be a man of God?

Softly, as everyone prepared to disembark the Providence, I whispered, “Only You know me future, Lord. Please help me to be strong and of a good courage. Let me be not afraid, neither be dismayed: for the Lord my God is with me whithersoever I goest.”

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4 responses to “Aboard the Providence

  1. A beautiful tale of perseverance, faith, hope and ultimately love. Well done Cheryl, the joy of our faith shown through the pain, cruelty and tragedy. I loved it the descriptions and the story of ultimately hope of a better tomorrow and simply loving others.

    • Thanks Mark. Your tale was lovely too, as it showed that there is hope even in dying, as long as you know the Lord. As soon as I read the prompt, I couldn’t wait to get started, as the thoughts just kept coming… I suspect it was that way with you as well. God bless you and your family!

      Love,
      Cheryl

    • Thanks Kellie. I actually follow Mark’s blog, and I read his post, (which was very good), and told him what you said. You gave such an excellent prompt this week, that I couldn’t stop the thoughts from coming. Thanks so much for the excellent prompt, and for reading and commenting on my post.

      God bless you,
      Cheryl

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