The salty air in my face. The smell of fresh sea air in my lungs. But the feeling of wondrous freedom was short lived as I had to duck down into a box full of apples. I pulled my knees up to my chin, praying no one would find me. If I was caught it would ruin the whole reason why I disguised myself as a boy and came to the dock to get on the Mayflower and set out to the New World.
I first heard about this expedition when my father came home. I’d always wanted to see what was beyond England. I would always listen to the tales my brother would tell of school, father had forbidden me to go, this made me bitter, as I had a deep thirst for knowledge. I started stealing my brother's old school books and taught myself how to read and write. This increased my thirst even more to explore the New World.
For weeks I thought of idea after idea of how I could go, I knew if I ever asked my father he would call the idea derisory and send me back to my room. I was starting to get desperate when I heard there was only a week until the Mayflower’s departure. I consoled my brother who always listened to me.
“If only we could switch places than you could go,” he said glumly.
“Wait! That’s it!” I cried, jumping up.
“What’s it?” Edgbert asked, staying seated. I did not reply as I was already at the door. When I got to my room I sat down on the dirty floor, my room was the smallest in the house so I had a small old bed and a moldy box to store my things in. If I could somehow disguise myself as a boy and sneak into the ship. I stayed up all night thinking through the plan.
The eve before the ship was to sail I waited until everyone was asleep and snuck into the kitchen and pulled out the scissors. I creeped over the floorboards back to my room. I stared at my reflection in the window and, my hands shaking, brought the scissors to my hair and cut it all off.
I pulled something from under the bed cover, Edgbert had given me a few pairs of clothing so I could blend in. I put on one and stuffed the others in a small bag. I walked carefully out of my bedroom and to the front door. I paused listening to the sounds of the night. An owl was hooting in the distance. The grunts and snores of my sleeping family members. My hand hovered over the door handle. I took a shaky breath and plunged into the night.
And now I’m here with my knees wedged in a barrel of apples. I could almost hear the worried voice of my mother fretting about where I had gone. My father saying I’d finally cracked and ran away. And my brother remaining quiet as he had swore not to tell no one where or what I had done.
I felt a jolt as the barrel was being lifted onto the ship. I could hear muffled voices saying what I hoped wasn’t ‘throw this barrel overboard.’ I hit my head as the person slammed the barrel down. I suppressed a groan.
I sat scrunched in the barrel for what felt like hours. My heart pounded whenever I heard footsteps coming nearer, worried they would find me hiding. My mouth felt like sandpaper but I didn’t want to risk eating any of the apples. I couldn’t hear any sounds from outside and I was desperate for something to drink.
Deciding it was safe to go out I slowly pushed the top of the barrel open. The sky was a navy blue with stars starting to twinkle. The cool breeze picking up the salty ocean smell. I lowered the rest of myself onto the upper deck. I looked around, searching for water.
“What are you doing?” asked a voice from behind making me jump.
“Oh uh I’m just looking for water,” I replied, lowering my voice.
“And who might you be?” the man asked, squinting into my face.
“I-I’m William Robert,” I lied, using my great-grandfather's name. The man still looked suspicious.
“Where do you come from?” he asked.
“I live near Plymouth,” I replied.
“I haven’t seen you around,” said the man, leaning closer to me, he smelled highly of cigars. Before I could do or say anything else he gripped me firmly by the arm and dragged me to the captain cabins.
“You’re going to talk to the captain,” he said gruffly, giving me a shake. I was nervous, if I talked to the captain he would surely know I wasn’t supposed to be on the ship. Would he throw me overboard? I didn’t want to think what would happen if he didn’t let me stay.
The man led me to a small, brown door with a round window. He knocked and a gruff and tired voice said, “Enter,”
Pushing open the door, the man led me into a round room, with a desk at the middle and a man sitting behind the desk. The man had a bushy brown beard and a matching mustache. He had a commanding air about him, making even the stubbornest of people want to follow his directions.
“What is it Andrew?” the man behind the desk asked, staring at papers.
“I’ve found a stowaway sir,” said the man called Andrew, he was wearing a smug expression.
“A stowaway?” the Captain repeated, looking up.
“Aye captain, wandering ‘round the deck like a chicken without a head,” Andrew replied.
“Who might you be?” the Captain asked, turning his burning gaze to me.
“I’m William Robert, sir,” I said, keeping my voice lowered. The Captain said nothing but continued to survey me over his mustache.
“Why did you come onto this ship?” he asked, this question took me by surprise and I took a second to respond.
“I-I came because I wanted an adventure, to see the New World,” I replied.
“Do you know how to read?” the Captain asked. I nodded in reply.
“How old are you?”
“Eight in a half sir,”
“Welcome aboard the Mayflower son, I’m Captain Jones,”
“Thank you Captain,” I replied but he seemed not to have heard me because he turned to Andrew who was standing right beside me who was wearing a look mingled of fury and disgust.
“Andrew, I would like you to get William some hard tack and beer,” Captain Jones said.
“But sir, we can’t just let this scum onto our ship, for all we know he could be a spy,” Andrew growled.
“I believe I’m the Captain therefore I give the orders, you are dismissed.” Captain Jones said, his voice with a note of finality in it. Andrew looked like he wanted to say something back but decided against it. He motioned for me to follow him out the door. My heart was on clouds, I wasn’t going to get chucked off the ship. I was going to see the New World and nothing but the endless sea stood in my way.
Andrew led me to the area which I believed to be the forecastle, one book I stole from my brother was a book about ships, which was filled with barrels. I wrinkled my nose as the odorous smell of mixed meats filled my airways. Andrew opened two of the nearest barrels and retrieved a small bottle and some dried up looking crackers. He handed them to me and I took them, holding the sickly sweet smelling drink, which I assumed to be beer because my father kept a stash under his bed, at arm's length.
“That’s all you get for now, and don’t even think about stealing any,” Andrew said gruffly, leaving me standing in the room full of acrid smelling barrels. Thinking it was best if I wasn’t found in the forecastle alone I quickly left and went onto the upper deck.
Waves were rocking the ship back and forth. The wind catching the sails. I sat down in the middle of the deck and closed my eyes, listening to the soothing sounds of the ocean lapping against the sides. It all seemed to melt my fear away, bringing a sense of calm and bliss.
All too soon the feeling ended as the sound of footsteps came closer. I turned and saw the Captain walking with Andrew. They didn’t seem to see me so I just sat there trying not to listen to what they were saying, but their voices carried over to me and I couldn’t help but hear. It sounded as if they were having an argument.
“You’re going to sail right through the storm,” Andrew said, sounding worried.
“There’s no other way around it,” Captain Jones replied, sounding irritated.
“We can just turn around and go back until the storm clears,”
“And what do you think everyone will think, us giving up because of one tiny little storm,”
“I’m not saying we give up, we just go back and wait-” Andrew stopped mid-sentence, they had finally noticed me, silently sitting there.
“Scram kid, you shouldn’t be up here,” Andrew snarled, I scrambled to my feet not daring to look into their eyes and I quickly went below deck.
The floor was crowded with people who were either sleeping or pretending to. I stepped cautiously around sleeping bodies to a somewhat empty space between two children who look slightly older than I.
I layed down on the hard floor, fear bubbling inside of me. My thoughts swam with images of storms and the ship breaking apart. I thought of the conversation I had just heard. Was Captain Jones really going to set aside everyone’s personal safety as not to damage his pride? I wondered. It was hard to hear my own thoughts over the thunderous snores around me. I fell into a restless sleep filled with dreams of waves sinking ships and ships hitting rocks.
The next following days I was kept busy, mopping the decks or coiling ropes. It wasn’t quite the adventure I had hoped for but the journey was not yet over. I did my duties with a smile on my face, and soon whistling as one of the sails taught me how.
Everyone was kind and welcoming, except Andrew who was quite keen to keep me busy. I noticed whenever Andrew was around he was always looking at the horizon and was very jumpy. I knew exactly what he was thinking, the storm could come at any moment and all the lives of the passengers were at risk and the Captain was doing nothing about it.
I couldn’t ignore the fact that dark gray clouds had started to form. And a mist had started to creep over the sides, giving the ship a ghostly look.
The passengers spent more and more time below deck for warmth. A sense of tension floated in the air, no one dared address their concerns afraid they might come true.
I met a boy who was three years older than I. His name was David and he is very kind and nice, and always listened to what I had to say. I was getting antsy as the sky grew darker and finally confined my worries to him.
“I overheard the Captain and Andrew talking about a big storm that we’re going to sail right into, and the Captain doesn’t want to turn back. Lives are in danger and he’s not doing anything about it,” I said to David, the minute we were alone. David was silent for a moment then said, “So that explains all the clouds and mist,”
I nodded, I could see David’s eyebrows knitted together in thought. I absentmindedly dipped my sponge into the bucket and started washing down the deck.
“We can warn the others to stay below deck when it starts to rain,” David said finally. I nodded, worried if I opened my mouth all my guts would spill out. Suddenly I felt something cold and wet on my back. For a hot second I thought it was a wave, then I heard cackling laughter next to me.
I threw my sponge in my bucket and I squeezed it, sucking up as much water as it could hold and twisted it over his head.
“Ak! You got soap in my eyes!” he cried, trying to find his bucket. Splash! He found his bucket, and I found myself soaked. I tried to stand but failed, slipping on the soap.
David started slipping and sliding and soon we were laughing and rolling around in the soapy water, shrieking with laughter.
“Y-you laugh like a girl,” David said between bursts of laughter. I could feel myself growing hot in the face. Did he suspect me? I wondered, I did not have time to think about it as Andrew was walking towards us, a look of dislike and agitation on his face.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked, his voice burning us as if we touched a rock sitting in the sun.
“We were just cleaning the deck,” I replied, staring straight into Andrew’s eyes.
“Then why are you all soaked?” Andrew asked, his eyes burning into mine.
“Never said we were good at it,” I retorted, at this David roared with laughter while Andrew scowled.
“Then I guess you wouldn’t mind doing some late night chores,” he growled, stalking off. I watched him leave, imagining a shark jumping out of the water and snatching him into the water.
“Well, at least we’ll be doing it together,” David said, this cheered me up and we continued to do our tasks for the day. The silence bringing the fear of the upcoming storm.
Unfortunately we didn’t have to wait long for the storm. While I was coiling some rope I felt some water drops on the back of my neck. A cold chill ran down my spine that had nothing to do with the rain. I looked over my side to David, and he looked back at me, a worried expression on his face.
I dropped the rope and raced toward the edge of the ship. Waves, fiercer than the ones on a normal day, were crashing against the sides. The wind was howling in my ears blocking out all other sounds.
“Go get the Captain!” I roared at David, he nodded and ran off to the Captain’s cabin. The ship had started rocking harder as the waves grew fiercer and fiercer. I looked around checking for any passengers who were not yet below deck. I spotted a young boy holding onto the side of the ship for dear life. I watched as the boy got flung over the edge. I heard him cry out.
I crawled over to the spot where the boy disappeared, I saw his hands, turning white with effort, gripping onto the side. I quickly grasped the boy’s hand and pulled with all my might, but to no avail.
“Help! Help!” I cried, still holding tight onto his hands. I saw David, Captain Jones, and Andrew running to my aid. We created a human chain, trying to pull the young boy to safety. I could feel the boy losing strength and my hands had grown wet. The waves rocking the boat were harder than ever, the human chain was starting to break.
“I can’t hold on much longer!” I screamed over my shoulder. I could feel his fingers slipping through mine. A ginormous wave splashed down on us breaking my grip on his hands. Soon there was a sickening splash telling us all we needed to know. The human chain broke apart, a sad silence filling us.
When the ship gave a lurch it seemed to bring everyone back to the present. Andrew muttered something about checking for leaks and Captain Jones said he was going to try and steady the ship, leaving David and myself alone. The time had come to tell him what I had dreaded telling him.
“David, there’s something you need to know,” I started before I could back away, dropping my fake deep voice.
“I-I’ve disguised myself as a boy to come onto the Mayflower because my father wouldn’t let me,” I said, speaking to my hands. David started at me, open mouthed. Then he seemed to pull himself together.
“That’s the bravest thing I’ve seen anyone do,” he said, a grin on his handsome face.
“S-so you won’t tell anyone?” I asked, looking up.
“‘Course not, we’re friends, and friends stick together.” David promised, pulling me into a wet hug.
The rocking had stopped and the wind settled, the rain nothing but a memory. It took a few days for the storm to pass but everyone was safe. I was laying on the cold wet floor thinking of the last few days. An understanding coursing through my body, it wouldn’t be easy getting to the New World. For all I knew a cluster of storms could be waiting for me. But whatever was waiting for me, I will take it head on.