|Cover art for Orphans and Inmates by Ebooklaunch.com|
May 3rd, 1835
With two feet safely on land again after months at sea, Ciara Sloane walked slowly toward the city of Buffalo’s bustling Central Wharf. She had taken each of her younger sisters by the hand as much to keep them close by in the unfamiliar place as to anchor herself and dispel that feeling of the ground moving beneath her feet as she became accustomed to walking on land again. The late afternoon sun shining down did little to ease her disorientation. At the age of seventeen she was in a strange place and now the sole guardian of her two younger sisters, Patricia and Martha. Stunned at the events of the last few months she had no choice but to keep moving forward.
In March she had boarded the ship in
Galway with her three younger sisters and her parents headed for America. Ciara’s parents, Mary and Ian Sloane, were
eager to start a new life in Buffalo, New York. It was arranged for Ian to work at his
cousin's printing business, a vastly different life than that of the farmer he’d
been. It was a chance to learn a trade
and maybe open his own shop one day. Ciara would help her mother keep house and
look after her younger sisters until such time as a suitable husband could be
found. In America, her parents had
hoped, there would be no shortage of potential suitors. While prepared for this eventuality, Ciara was
completely unprepared for what happened next.
Heather Princess, the ship on which they’d sailed, fell victim to typhus fever.
It was called “ship fever” for its
common occurrence on ocean voyages, where quarters were typically cramped and
sanitation was lacking. This was an
ideal breeding ground for typhus, an acute infection spread by lice, the
constant, if unwanted, companions of the rodents that managed to find their way
on board ships. At the height of the
outbreak what few healthy adult passengers remained sidestepped over bodies as
they carefully made their way from one patient to another trying to ease the
discomfort from high fever and severe headache. Seldom seeing daylight, Ciara and her parents
spent most of their time below deck, clutching a candle in one hand and a small
bucket of fresh water in the other as they made their way from hammock to
hammock tending the sick. A week into the outbreak Ciara’s youngest
sister, Katherine, fell ill. At just two
years old, the fever attacked wee Katie with a vengeance. She was dead within two days. Ciara barely had
time to register the loss of her baby sister when symptoms appeared in both her
parents, keeping her in a constant state of motion. Between tending the sick and looking after
her remaining two sisters, she hardly registered the passing of each day.
|The Commercial Slip at the Central Wharf in Buffalo, New York. |
Photo by Rosanne L. Higgins
|Galway Bay, Ireland. Photo by Robert J. Higgins|
|Farm house on Inis Mór, Ireland. Photo by Robert J. Higgins|
Upon retrieving the pocket watch, Ciara went through their belongings and removed their remaining valuables before they were rummaged through and burned by what was left of the crew. Most of the “valuables” had personal rather than monetary value. Tears rolled silently down her face as she removed her father’s clay pipe from the pocket of his jacket. Clinging to it was the faint, sweet smell of pipe tobacco which reminded her of that quiet time right after supper when the family sat around the hearth. Her father would smoke his pipe while her mother read from the Bible when Ciara was just a child. As she got older, Ciara would read passages herself and she and her mother would teach the younger girls to read.
She unwrapped a small linen cloth to
find her mother’s hair combs and a rosary made of tiny wooden beads. The hair combs had been carved by her father
from wood, a present given on their wedding day. She ran her fingers across the tiny roses
etched on the top of the combs. Her mother only wore those on special
occasions. The rosary had been a gift
from her grandparents when her mother was a girl. She gave the hair combs to Patricia and the
rosary to Martha so that each would have something of their mother’s to
remember her by. She kept her father’s
|Irish cottage. Photo by Rosanne L. Higgins|
The tale of the Sloane sisters continues in A Whisper of Bones, The Seer and the Scholar and A Lifetime Again. The fifth book in the series, The Girl on the Shore, will be available on December 14th.