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"Smoke from a distant time"
J.D. Wardlaws in Southern Arkansas
“Smoke from a distant time”An historical fictional series based on the life and times of our Wardlaw ancestors.
by George W. Craig
Through our veins runs the blood of Wardlaw ancestors both known and unknown; real people who lived real lives. As real and alive as you and me, these are our people...who through this story have become more real to me than just a name or number on a page. Intertwined in their lives was the balance and outcome of the times and events that eventually lead to us...to you. We are a noble and proud people. We are unique in the world. We are Wardlaws.
These are the continuing stories of those brave souls who came before us. These are their tales brought to life with many factual references but also with a bit of poetic and dramatic license by a grateful descendant who remembers. We owe it to those countless many who will surely come after us to preserve this grand legacy; the pride and the knowledge of our wonderful past.
In writing this particular adventure of our ancestors, Robert and William Wardlaw, I must say that I have gained a powerful affinity for them both and I hope that this little series of short stories about their lives will endear them to your hearts as well. As I write this, I am with them on that mighty ship which sailed away from Scotland nearly 300 years ago. It is a journey that I hope your imagination and love for them will allow you to take as well.
The blood of Robert Wardlaw, and his young son William, is ours. The same blood that sustained them as they made that treacherous voyage to the New World so long ago, runs within you even now. We were there, Wardlaws, all of us, seminally, with Robert Wardlaw and young William. We were there, departing Scotland with them, bound for that brave new world far away...
Part One: The Departure of Robert and William
The port they were approaching smelled of rotting fish and appeared as if it were being overrun by sea-gulls as the birds plundered their way greedily and viciously through fish heads, animal parts and scraps of rotten food freshly swabbed from the deck of the ship that sat at the end of the dock. The vessel itself reeked of unspoken death and disease and the stench carried forth like a great cloud on the morning breeze rolling off the River Clyde. Although the ship had been in port for nearly two weeks loading supplies and provisions, the evidence of the filth and desperation from previous voyages still lingered like an unseen presence about the ship.
There was profit to be made in the task of transporting emigrants to The New World and more than one ship's captain had ordered the hasty installation of additional floors to their ships, thus accommodating as many refugees as they could handle without capsizing. Space was a finite component of great worth on converted transport ships, and it behooved one to arrive early in order to claim a prime location in a cot or hammock, one of many hundred, crammed tight into every nook and cranny of the ship's added passenger decks. One person received a cot in an area barely two feet wide and six or so feet long in the bedstead.
Robert Wardlaw, tall and distinguished, held one end of a beat-up storage trunk while his son William walked behind him, holding on tightly to his end and struggling desperately to keep it from dragging the ground. With one hand William squeezed the trunk handle, in the other he held, albeit precariously, a hastily-potted thistle. The seedling was to be the last little part of anything of Scotland that he had left to hold on to, and little William's priority at the moment was to remain focused and intent on not dumping it.
The old cow bell he'd used to pot the little plant had been leaking water and mud from it's bottom for most of their trip to the dock. The ooze had managed to run down the entire length of William's arm, clean to the elbow, and had formed a dried, caked layer of muck. Robert had to stifle a laugh when he took a glance back at the struggling boy.
They had arrived at the dock, as planned, three hours early from their home outside Glasgow but were still met with a long line of boarders, two dozen deep, consisting of desperate, pitiful and downtrodden souls.
They assumed their place in the boarding line and lay the trunk gently on the ground. William sat down on the trunk, cradling the beat-up old cow bell which held the little thistle. Beneath him, in the tired old trunk, were stashed several fresh apples and oranges that their friend, old man Craig, had given them for their journey (“...ta ward off the scurvy!” he'd told them), along with several pounds of dried fruit, several more pounds of jerky and six containers of water.
In an effort to ignore the ship's stench, William concentrated on gently packing the soil tight around the thistle's base with his fingers. He had been at this for several minutes, strangely unable to take his eyes from the little plant. The smell from the ship had thankfully begun to diminish with the shifting winds but it was still strong enough to be nauseating for young William. And the thistle, dreadfully enough (and to his great dismay), gave off no fragrance to cover the foulness.
They were close enough to the ship to see the crew fairly clearly and William's attention was eventually drawn to them. He could see their faces which were hardened and weathered by years of seafaring life; their eyes cold and calloused from the daily suffering they not only endured, but witnessed. With time the crew had grown apathetic and complacent to the dreadful plight of their passengers, the masses who regularly filled these ships to capacity in their quest to escape oppression. The thought of being amongst the seemingly frightening crew and breathing the foul stench of the ship for the better part of seven weeks or more seemed dreadful to little William.
After several long moments of contemplating this, William said, “I'm scared, da.”
“Scared lad?” he said, nodding. “Aye, ye should be. This will be a terrible voyage. Death and disease will soon join us as shipmates. Many people standing in line with us will die. It will be so until we get ta where we're goin' so ye wipe that look from yer face lad, and remember what I told ye: Keep yer eyes on the deck and out of the gaze of the crew. Never leave my side, even for a minute. Sip yer water and keep it hidden; make it last. Don't get into the dried foods without me bein' there. No one must know we have it. If somethin' shauld happen to me, get this coat off of me and put it on quickly; sewn inside of it is all we have, our life savings.”
William was panicked now, “Da, dinna die! What would I do, I-” he said.
“William!” He lifted the boy by the shoulders and shook him once. “Stop yer crying, lad! These are things ye must know, ye must do as I say!”
Their conversation had begun to draw attention. Robert released William and they both sat down on the trunk. Robert lowered his voice but kept it firm. “It's time fer ye ta grow up. Stop bein' a lad and start bein' the man I need ye ta be.”
Robert had been hard on William but the boy was about to both witness and experience unspeakable horrors and endure unfathomable hardships, events which would change them both and leave an indelible mark upon their souls. He did not want to leave William in such a fragile state, unprepared.
He softened a bit, stood, and lowered his voice. “We will make it, William. But it'll take both of us bein' strong and brave. We've got ta have our wits about us from now on.”
William digested what he'd heard as best he could then turned to glance down at their meager crate, his eyes slowly tracing the outline of the large “W” carved into the lid. Everything they had left in the world was with them in that tattered old trunk.
It was important to appear impoverished to avoid attracting attention, and indeed they did appear so, but the amount of money that Robert had managed to save had not been so meager. Over time Robert had sold everything they'd had, including the home he'd built for his family and the land he'd worked so hard to cultivate and nurture. Apart from the substantial savings he'd accumulated, Robert had managed to set aside more than enough of the profits from the prior season's harvest to secure them passage on the last ship of the year out of Glasgow to depart for the colonies. And their departure had come none too soon.
The oppression of the English had been increasing steadily, more pervasively, over the preceding years. The massive project the king's army was undertaking to build roads deep into the Highlands in order to finish their rout of the Highlanders, the continual raids and the rounding up of 'instigators'; that was all just the beginning. The high rents and even higher taxes harshly imposed by the crown of England had become the final straws for Robert. The new English impositions had forced him to take his kilt and sword, items declared forbidden, and bury them in the ground at a location just outside of the land he'd once owned. He had hoped to be afforded the opportunity to retrieve them before their departure, but the risk of running into checkpoints and random search and seizure raids on their journey to the boat kept him from doing so. They could not be caught with such things. To do so would mean his imprisonment in some dank English prison somewhere and young William would be left to fend for himself.
Sadly, Robert was forced to leave behind more than every Scottish trace of their former lives. There, within the very soul of the land he loved, he had also left a small fragment of himself. That deepest, purest and innermost part of his heart would remain; detached, lingering, roaming forever amongst the thistles and wild lands of Scotland.
This was it. There was no going back. It was Robert and wee William, their trunk and meager possessions and the grueling journey to the colonies ahead of them. Death and disease would constantly surround them aboard ship; threats of gale-force winds and high seas lurked as well. No journey of that magnitude with that many people crammed aboard would be easy. But the prospect of a better life in the New World made everyone standing in line that morning more than willing to take their chances on the task of surviving the arduous journey. An opportunity to forge a better life in a new world outside the clutches of the oppressive, often brutal forces of the King's army was much too tempting to let slip away.
Risky as the journey would be with the odds of survival not in their favor, Robert was determined that they would endure. They would survive. They would arrive, together, alive and intact in the New World. There could be no doubting it, there could be no questioning it. It simply had to be made, even willed so.
Finally the ship stood ready, its crew perfectly synchronized in their final efforts to get the ship underway. All that remained was to herd the passengers aboard, hoist the main sails and press ahead into the perils of the mighty Atlantic.
Scottish history abounded with a plenitude of Wardlaw beneficence. Tales of bishops and cardinals, of kings and nobles; of brave hearts that fought the battles of Falkirk and Stirling and gave all in defense of their beloved country, were strewn throughout its pages. And it was these things upon which Robert pondered while he looked over his shoulder, gazing for the last time upon Alba; his heart knowing pride and sorrow, hope and regret.
The new beginning upon which they were embarking - this most horrible of journeys, the endless possibilities for him and his progeny in the New World, risking everything including their lives - was to be the last great hope of a brighter future for the Wardlaws. Everything depended upon him, upon their survival, upon their successes in the New World.
In the mind of Robert Wardlaw burned questions. Where will we settle and what will I do. What will become of my descendents within the shores of this newly-budding land. Will they remember William and I on our desperate voyage; will they remember and honor the traditions of the Old World. Will they live as proud and honorable Scots, just as I have. Will any of them return to walk the lands where the Wardlaws of Scotland once walked. Will they stand, someday in the distant future, in the same place that I had once lived and remember me.
Yes, he believed they would. He was somehow sure of it. Someday, someone would!
The boarding had at last begun and Robert was drawn back to the present. After presenting their tickets, stepping aboard and following the direction of the crew members, he had quickly located a place for he and William to be best positioned for the journey. Hardly any time passed before the rest of the cots began to fill with haggard refugees from all points of Scotland, nearly four hundred in total by the time the ship was fully loaded.
The place was already beginning to reek with the pungency of such a multitude of bodies crammed together in already-rancid compartments. Always there was stink it seemed.
Their cot sat against a wall which stood perpendicular to the foot of the narrow staircase leading to the main deck, and Robert pushed their precious cargo gently underneath it. At least they had a wall at their backs. They could breathe here, better than they could on decks lower and the sea breeze, thankfully, would make its way down the dark wooden stairs and into the dim sub-deck which housed them.
There was barely any room to move about in the sleeping area, which also had to make do as an eating area, and one had to stoop low even to walk about. The crew had left no doubt in the passenger's minds regarding the terrible fate which would befall anyone who strayed above decks before it was time, so everyone made it a point to stay below. Passengers would only be allowed on the main deck in rotations, doled out by sections from each sub-deck, to breathe and relieve themselves and stretch. Robert had chosen the uppermost of these sub-decks. Their cot's position afforded them another key advantage; they would not be in the dreaded lower parts of the ship, subject to the drippings from retchings and involuntary releasings of bowels that were sure to fall upon the indentured passengers and others who had been forced to be housed there as a result of delays in their arrival. As it was they'd have to put up with seawater and fish entrails flowing through the cracks of the main deck just above them. Their position was certainly far better than it could have been. He and William had been blessed thus far in that respect.
The deck officer barked an order which released the massive sails. They unfurled and fell into place and were secured by the coordinated actions of the crew. Robert felt the strong southeasterly winds take hold and the ship lurch forward, hailing the start of their journey. He laid back on the cot, propped himself up on one elbow and slowly lost himself within the pitiful scene of broken humanity in the darkness that surrounded them.
An ancient tune, the opening passage of The Highlanders Farewell, came to life within the quiet solitude of his thoughts. He let the tune carry on, over and over until it dominated his mind. It had been years since he'd heard the tune sung by his grandfather or played on the pipes by the highlanders themselves. But it had a deeper meaning this time. He gave leave of his thoughts and attention, to become lost in the haunting melodia. Robert Wardlaw began, ever so quietly, to sing unknowing.
“O where shall I gae seek my bred?
Or where shall I gae wander?
O where shall I gae hide my head?
For here I'll bide nae langer.
The seas may row, the winds may blow,
And swathe me round in danger,
My native land I must forego,
And roam a lonely stranger.”
William sat and quietly watched, finding himself soothed and absorbed in his father's farewell lament. And then it came to a slow, quiet end.
“Are ye cryin' da?”
“A wee bit, lad.” Robert sniffed. “A wee bit.”
William had never before seen such emotion swirling and churning behind the windows of his father's soulful eyes. He had never seen his father this vulnerable.
There were several more wordless moments before Robert said, “Our eyes have seen the last of the Highlands and the lochs, the last of the thistle fields and the castles of our ancestors. Alas the last of the life and times of everything we once knew are no more for us.”
William and Robert began to realize, inexpressible in word but in thought and emotion alone, the true scope of their endeavor and everything it implied. After a time, Robert reached out, took William's quivering chin in his hand and raised it gently until the boy locked eyes with him. “I've always been proud of ye, lad.”
“And I ye, da.”
“I want ye ta remember our lives in Scotland, son. Never forget the things I taught ye and the things ye learned from the nobles and the clansmen. Never forget the things ye've seen and done.” Robert's eyes grew weary, solemn. He drew in a long, labored breath and exhaled.
“Remember yer ma,” he breathed. “Remember the adventures with yer friends and the times we shared in our little home. Pass on all that ye have learned and all ye remember ta yer children lad, so that they too can learn and remember. Tell them of the beauty of Scotland, tell them of our long voyage ta our new life. Teach them ta be proud Scots, as we are.”
He let go of William's face but kept his gaze. “Write of yer experiences, William. Both of our past in Scotland and of our future in the New World. Write every day in yer journal, just as ye've done since ye started it. And pass that journal, yer story, on ta yer children when ye've grown auld.”
William and Robert huddled quietly together while the ship creaked and moaned its way down the Clyde and out into the Atlantic; out into the dangers and perils that lay beyond the sight of Scotland's shores...
Part Two: The Incredible Journey
The heat had made the daylight hours of their first two weeks ones of sweat and misery; the nights engulfing the ship in merciless dark cold and sleeplessness. And the sun had claimed victory in its quest to draw out every layer of foulness that had accumulated over the years from the deepest parts of the wood. No one smelled good. No one could. Most of the passengers had stripped down to nothing but their skivvies and hardly anyone moved or spoke. They simply remained in the spaces that they had claimed or been assigned and listed from side to side with the movement of the ship. Over and over, day after day it was the same: heat, stench, listing. Food and water supplies were dwindling but misery was served in abundance.
The jacket which Robert had vowed would never leave his back remained there but he had taken to rolling up its sleeves as far as he could get them. The boredom was palpable; maddening. With the exception of the relentless listing, the seas had been mercifully calm thus far and the winds had been fair. By late afternoon of this first day of their third week, everyone had been rotated out and onto the main deck to breathe and relieve themselves and the last few stragglers were making their way back to their respective spots.
Robert had taken the opportunity to sip some water and gnaw on some jerky while most everyone else was above. He and William had been the first up on deck and the first to return; one of the advantages of being nearest the staircase. But it was William that had Robert worried. A sickness had begun to make its way through the ship's population, affecting the captain - and nearly half the sailors - so that the ship was operating at skeleton-crew capacity.
Nearly eighty percent of the food stores had gone rancid, a result of improper preservation, and were thrown overboard the week before. Individual rations, cooked and served by the ship's crew, had been reduced to nearly nothing, and that nothing came once per day, if at all. Even the water had begun to turn black.
The spreading sickness, the dwindling supply of edible food and the spoiling water were taking their toll on passengers and crew. Already one elderly man and seven children had perished from either sickness, malnutrition or dehydration. Frail to begin with, the elderly man had succumbed to disease rapidly and died a slow, miserable death. And the children who'd perished, already sickly from malnourishment, had died slowly and painfully. William had watched in horror as crew members carried the old man and the seven poor children's lifeless bodies up the staircase. The loud splashes and the horrible cries of the surviving family members rang deep within his mind as he sat wide-eyed and unmoving against the hard wall.
By noon the next day the sickness had found it's way to William. He had grown cold and clammy since the morning and was running a fever. Robert had had to take the boy above-deck several times so that he could wretch.
“Da,” William began, shivering under the tightly-wrapped blanket. “Am I ginna die too? Are they ginna throw me overboard as well?”
“No, William,” he said, forcing himself to speak with a surety he did not feel. “No. Yer ginna be fine.”
Reaching into a jacket pocket, Robert drew out a small flask of water and a clove of garlic and peeled the skin away from the herb. He broke it in half and said, “This will taste harsh, but you must eat it. It will help you.”
“What is it?” William said, sniffing it carefully.
“It's garlic. It will act as a tonic for your body and help ye ta get better.”
“But I dinna like the smell, Da!” he yelled.
“Sh! Ye've got te keep yer voice down, son! There's barely any food left on the ship an' no one must know we have anything,” he said in a loud whisper. “Now eat it. Chew it well. I'll be givin' ye some water te wash it down with.”
Reluctantly, William accepted the garlic, his face contorted while he chewed. “Da,” he said, “this is horrible!”
“That concentrated? Aye, it would be.”
William forced the chewed garlic down his throat and uttered one strained word: “Water.”
Robert slipped him the flask and leaned over to conceal William from view while the boy drank. “Drink slowly and drink as much as ye can. All of it.” He gave William a chance to breathe between gulps and continued to force the boy to drink until the container was empty, carefully avoiding contact between the flask and the boy's mouth.
“Da,” William said, horrified. “Please dinna make me do that again.”
“Ye will be havin' some more later. Now sleep while ye can.”
William frowned and rolled over, drawing the blanket up tight around him. Robert repocketed the flask cautiously, making sure no one had seen.
Within minutes William was asleep. Robert looked down at him, allowing the deep fear he felt to encroach upon his face. Gently he stroked the boy's head, humming a tune he'd heard his wife sing to William so many times, so many years ago...
. . . .
He could hear them - most likely the others couldn't but Robert could - the murmurings of the crew. Their conversations and the urgency within their voices had increased in-time with the dwindling light from the sun as it sank lower in the early-evening sky. They were worried - the crew - Robert could tell. And with the fear in their voices and the darkening of the skies he knew what was happening.
Within an hour's time the seas began to grow rougher, more disturbed, the wind cooler and swifter. Clothes, carelessly strewn across the deck or hung haphazardly over support beams, had been quickly retrieved and put back on and worried looks had been set amongst the expressions of the passengers that Robert was able to see. There was a storm coming. And from the sound of it, a bad one.
Within minutes everyone aboard had begun to feel the effects of the storm. Where once it had listed lazily to and fro it now shook and shuddered violently as the sea began to pick up the mighty ship and slam it back down into the water. Almost instantly, the mass of cots and people began to slide from one end of the deck to the other, bunching themselves up and crashing in to one another as if they were rogue bumper cars without steering wheels. Robert steadied himself, removed his belt and tied one end of the cot as tight as he could to the support beam near them. He was careful to run the belt thru the handle of the trunk before synching it so tightly to the beam that it cut deep into his hand. Now all that remained was to keep he and William on the bed and out of the way of the shifting mass of unsecured cots and passengers.
The wind howled with increasing ferocity and giant waves continued to break over the bow. The crew's dialogue grew steadily louder, more frantic. The scene repeated itself for several hours; the sliding and crashing of the cots, the relentless up and down movement, the giant waves slamming into the ship. Steadily too had the sun been setting. This was not good.
A seasoned, healthy captain would be able to put his experience to work and keep the ships bow directed into the mighty waves; in the daylight, when he could see them. But the captain, a short, stocky man with an unkempt beard and thick English accent was barely in any condition to stand, much less guide the ship properly through the massive waves and torrential rains. Still, he appeared from his cabin, steadied himself against the ship's wheel and began to give orders to the crew.
Everyone had shown themselves, sick and well they manned their stations; all with the same grave look in their eyes. Even though they were heading west, chasing the sun, in minutes it would outdistance them and be gone, leaving them to fend for themselves against the ferocity of the sea in total darkness.
The first of many giant waves broke violently over the starboard deck this time, consuming all that remained of the few, far-reaching corners of the sub-decks where water had not reached. In these recesses a few lanterns still managed to burn.
Everyone on the decks below prayed that the torches would hold out, to light their way if only long enough to at least see what was coming at them as the weighted mass of cots and helpless bodies slid from one side of the ship to the other.
The cries of agony and fear were heart-wrenching, but there was nothing anyone could do except try to hold on to something. Some of the more desperately injured were too far away for Robert to help but even if he could, he was extending himself far beyond his physical abilities just to keep he and William on the cot. William had not yet regained consciousness and the weight of his limp body was not helping the situation.
When the ship was tossed back to starboard, Robert seized the opportunity and drove his leg hard between two slats in the stairs and wedged it in as hard as he could. The violent list back to port nearly wrenched his leg from the hip-joint. He cried out but endured the pain and held on to William. With the ship rolling back to starboard a second time, he used the momentum to quickly move his leg into a better position. It was jammed there now and there would be no moving it, not until the storm was over. He would have to muster his remaining strength just to maintain his grip on William and keep his leg from snapping from the strain of their combined weight.
The storm raged throughout the next day and had intensified by midnight, as did the screams of agony and terror and the relentless tossing of the ship. Hour upon hour the storm continued, slamming waves hard into the ship, crashing it about and causing every piece of wood that was the aged vessel to creak and moan in protest. Every living soul aboard was certain that the boat would eventually break in half and they would all be consumed by the fury of the Atlantic. The captain, overwhelmed by sickness and exhaustion had somehow managed to keep the ship from capsizing until dawn had broken behind them in the eastern sky.
By the time the sun had released its grip on the horizon, the storm had finally passed, churning it's way further toward the northern horizon. With the light, the captain could better steer the ship into the subsiding waves and bring some relief to the poor souls below.
When the tumultuous ocean had come to a manageable level, the captain shouted one last order to the crew and fell from his post, out cold from sickness, hunger and exhaustion. Several of the crew came to his aid and carried him off to his quarters where they righted the bed and laid him gently upon it.
The crew, tired and shaken, solemnly went below-decks in pairs to begin the process of retrieving the bodies of those who had perished during the storm. In all, four children and three elderly adults had lost their lives, beaten to death or crushed under the weight of bodies and cots as they were tossed about the decks in the near total-darkness of the preceding days and nights.
Yet again, bodies were brought forth from the bowels of the ship, followed by the families of the deceased. The main deck had become a makeshift morgue, each body laid carefully next to the other until all seven had been retrieved. Exhausted and starving, the surviving family members were allowed a precious few minutes in which to say goodbye to their departed loved ones. A multitude of lamenting prayers mingled together to form an incoherent cacophony of words of grief and despair.
Eventually, the last of the bodies was given up to the sea. Many of the families stayed clinging to the rails of the deck, their eyes fixed upon the body of the one they'd lost until it disappeared from view or sank out of sight beneath the waters of the Atlantic.
Their lamentations went on, some for hours, others for days. Parents who had seen their children dropped into the ocean, husbands who had lost wives, would find no rest in the earth for their loved ones. And even the hearts of the most hardened among the crew had bled at the sights and sounds of the pitiful scene.
“Such misery and grief should not be laid upon the hearts of men,” one of the crew began. “But we beseech Thee, O Lord, to bring to thyself the souls of those lost, and to be with those of us who remain as we journey onward. Have mercy on us, O Lord...have mercy.”
William Wardlaw awoke to the words the sailor had spoken on behalf of the lost. Robert had been praying fervently and had not noticed William's stirring until the boy said, “Da. Where are we?” Robert instantly turned his puffy red eyes to the boy. “Where's ma?”
“Lay back down, lad. Yer mother's not here.”
“But where did she go, da? She was just...she was singing to me.”
His hand immediately went to the boy's forehead. He was burning with fever. Robert quickly refilled the flask of water while he had the chance and stashed the trunk back under the cot. He reached in his jacket and brought out the other half of the garlic clove. Spots had broken out all over the boy; red, angry blotches that spoke of measles.
Robert used a piece of splintered wood to scrape lice from William's forehead. The damned things had nearly overrun the ship and were thick upon every blanket and every soul aboard. Many of the passengers, including several women, had taken advantage of a shaving razor, being passed around the population, to scrape themselves bald; ridding themselves of the maddening infestation.
“Here,” the woman on the cot next to them said, “take the razor. It may be dull but it'll get the job done.”
Robert smiled and took the razor, “Thank you,” he said. Even bald the woman was beautiful.
“Watch out for the broken part,” she said, pointing to a cut on her scalp, “it's sharp.”
William continued to moan incoherently, the only recognizable words were him still asking for his mother.
“Yer ginna be fine, William. It's ok, lad.” He broke up the clove and pushed it gently into William's mouth. “Eat this, quickly” he said.
The boy did not protest this time, he didn't even wince at the taste for he had none left; the fever and sickness had taken it from him.
“Chew it up good and get it down ye.” The boy continued to chew, then swallowed, but did not respond.
“Ma? Ma, where did ye go? Ma...”
Robert ripped away a small part of the flimsy blanket, doused it with water and laid it upon William's forehead. He put the flask to William's mouth, “Drink this. All of it, again,” he said.
He sat the half-conscious boy up and helped steady him while he drank the flask dry.
A crew member had been watching from behind, unannounced. “We had a terrible outbreak of measles on the last voyage. Worst we've ever seen. And this storm, worse one I've been in in years. We're lucky to be alive.” The ragged crewman leaned against the wall considering William. “Tend him well,” he said.
Robert nodded and the crewman moved on in search of passengers to attend to.
It happened on the last voyage as well, he thought. So what would be spreadin' it again? There has to be a source... Stroking the boy's head, he considered what the sailor had said. Minutes passed while Robert mumbled aloud, trying to put the answer together in his head. Was it the wood? The food? The water? After nearly an hour of mulling it over, it dawned on him. There was only one thing that made any sense. The blankets! He ripped the blanket from the boy and held it up, “It's the blankets!”
He'd shouted so forcefully that several people bolted upright in their beds.
“It's the blankets! It's the blankets!” he yelled again. “The fever! It's in the blankets!”
Robert flew up the flight of stairs as fast as his injured leg would take him, looked around, and spotted the crew member he had spoken with earlier.
“Crewman!” The sailor looked back at him, confused. “The blankets! They got the sickness in 'em!”
The sailor's eyes widened in sudden realization and he tore past Robert and down the stairs. “Blankets!” He yelled. “Give 'em up, all of 'em!” and he began to rip them off of the passengers, both asleep and awake, as quickly as he could.
“You there!” He yelled to a stout man in his early twenties. “Get below decks and start grabbin' blankets. Get 'em up on deck and toss 'em overboard!”
The man hesitated, stuttered.
“Now! Or I'll toss ye overboard with 'em!”
The man leapt to his feet and immediately went below decks to carry out the desperate order.
And you!” he shouted to another man of like stature, “get down there and help 'im! Make it quick!”
The other scurried off nearly as quick.
. . .
William's breathing grew shallow and labored. He thrashed about on the cot and mumbling strange things. Robert's prayers and tears had grown more impassioned as he helplessly watched. He could not lose the boy. And the very thing that he had kept wrapped so tightly around William had turned out to be the very source of the boy's sickness. William screamed and began to convulse. Robert lifted William's upper body and hugged him. It was the sickness; it was ravaging his body and killing him. Robert rocked the boy back and forth, crying and praying and holding him for several long minutes until the tremors grew less. The convulsion eventually subsided and the boy settled back down into a fitful sleep, trembling.
Gently Robert kissed William's forehead and laid him carefully back down. With the source of the disease removed Robert knew that the boy's chances of survival were better now, but he continued his prayer while wrapping William in the jacket he had sworn never to remove. When the garlic did what he knew it could do, the body of his young son would be cleansed and better able to fight off the sickness. He just had to keep him here, with him and warm, protected, until it was over.
The crewman Robert had summoned ran by with a pile of blankets in his hand and sprinted up the stairs. The two who had been sent to collect the rest came running by a few minutes later. Almost immediately they came flying back down the stairs. The process repeated itself for nearly twenty minutes until the last of the blankets had been gathered and tossed into the sea.
A few hours later, with Robert exhausted and William still unconscious, the crewman came back down the stairs and stood by their cot. “That was smart of ye that was; knowin' the sickness was in the blankets. This round was much worse than the last. Ye mighta just saved the lot of us.”
Several people around them nodded in agreement, their smiles an unspoken thanks.
“We should make port in about a week in Newfoundland,” he continued. “The first mate says the winds have shifted. We got 'em at our backs now and every sail has been set.” He glanced down at the rip in Robert's pant leg and the deep gash that was beneath it.
“How'd ye get that?” he asked.
“Stairs,” he said, exposing the gash and seeing its severity for the first time. “Dinna realize it was that bad. Had te hold on te somethin' durin' that storm, had the boy in my arms.”
“I got some whiskey here in me flask,” he said, handing it to Robert, “Scrape out the maggots and douse it with that or ye'll suffer the infection.”
Robert did as the sailor said, taking the piece of splintered wood and scraping away the mass of maggots and flicking them on the floor. He groaned as the alcohol entered the wound and began cleansing it. He handed it back to the crewman with his thanks.
“Keep that clean,” the crewman said, stomping the maggots into the deck. “We got the captain tended to and his fever's broken.” The sailor looked at William, “How's the boy?”
Robert felt William's forehead again. “Seems the fever is subsiding a bit now, I think he's ginna make it. I be getting' us both shaved and ye can have yer razor back soon.” Robert considered the dull, rusted razor. “It'll be good te be rid of 'em, at least on the head anyway.”
Robert began with himself, first by hacking away at the locks as close to the scalp as he could, then doing the same with William. The pile of hair on the deck became larger, as did the number of nicks on their scalps, but the old razor was getting the job done. Soon they would be rid of the maddening irritation and misery of the lice.
The crewman bent down and picked up the pile. “I'll get rid of the hair for ye. Just keep the razor goin' around when yer done.”
“Wait,” Robert said. “I want to keep a lock of his hair.”
The crewman bent down so that Robert could access what he needed. “What for?”
“I kept a lock of his mother's hair when she died. I guess I just wanna piece of his, from the voyage; a piece of his to put with hers.” Robert pulled a folded handkerchief from the breast pocket of his jacket and showed him the curled-up lock of his wife's hair. He placed some of William's in a different fold.
“What are ye gonna do with it?” the crewman asked.
“Keep it, give it to William when he's older. Something to remember his mother by, something to remember our voyage by.”
“Well then mate, ye should put some of yer's in there.” The crewman pulled a lock of Robert's graying hair from the pile and handed it to him. “I think the boy may want te remember his da as well.”
Robert took the lock and placed it in a separate fold, then redeposited the handkerchief back into the breast pocket.
“Ye should get some sleep, mate. You won't be much good to the boy otherwise.”
Robert made to protest, to insist that he must stay awake for the boy's sake, but decided against it. The crewman was right, it had been nearly four straight days since Robert had slept. William appeared to be recovering and would most likely sleep for awhile yet so Robert nodded his thanks to the crewman and laid down next to William. Pulling the boy next to him for mutual warmth, he quickly drifted away...
Coming soon – Part Three: The Arrival at Newfoundland
• © George W. Craig, 2011. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author. Contact the author at email: email@example.com
J. D. Wardlaws in Southern Arkansas
by: Melissa Witherington, Missouri
Mother: Mina Wardlaw, AR (deceased)
Grandfather: Jasper Douglas Wardlaw, AR (deceased)
After I retired, about 8 years ago, I found we had an avid genealogical researcher on my father's side of the family, the Witheringtons. I enjoyed the web site and frequent e-mails with new findings, especially our connections with royalty and nobles.
We had nothing to share on my mother's side, the Wardlaws. One day, I googled “Wardlaw” and found the website. Soon, I received the newsletter and was on my way! Since then, I have downloaded a number of photos and found a few more at home. I sent this to my nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren. We have more Wardlaw houses and castles than Witherington. I am especially proud of my ancestor, Bishop Henry Wardlaw, founder of St. Andrews University where Prince William and Kate met.
Pictures tell a thousand words. The distinguished gentleman is my grandfather, mother's father, Jasper Douglas Wardlaw. Read more about him in the obituary. His brothers are listed.
The family is (left to right) Collins Kilgore, Marjorie Wardlaw Kilgore, Tracy Witherington, Mina Wardlaw Witherington, Ressie Smith Wardlaw. Shirley Kilgore in front. Next is J.D. or “Douglas,” and his mother whom we called Grandmaw Wardlaw.
Above are more photos of Grandmaw and the rest of the family. The house may have been where Douglas lived as a bachelor. Notice he was dressed in dress shirt and tie in all photos and often a suit. He was a minister among his other trades. At one time, he and Ressie owned a general store. He was an intelligent man who could read a book and listen to the radio at the same time. He also liked to read and trade comic (“funny”) books.
Little Shirley was the first grandchild, and she lived until age 79. She died in Little Rock about two years ago. She never married. The red dress she wore to a party in Los Angeles. She was on the staff of Norman Mailer and before that, Governor Francis Cherry in Arkansas. Her mother died at age 29 from tuberculosis, which she fought for nine years.
Fordyce was the hometown of Mina, Marjorie, and Shirley. It was also Ressie's favorite town. She died in Camden – my own hometown. After Fordyce, she remarried at 64 and moved to Ohio and back to Camden to retire with her second husband, Ray Hundley. Ressie did very much genealogical research on her Smith family which included the Repasses and Powells, going back to the Revolutionary War. She apparently did no Wardlaw research.
I met Grandmaw Wardlaw and two or three of Douglas' brothers one time each as a child. Probably because “Papa” died rather young, my family of origin was not very involved with his. Both of my parents, Mina and Tracy, lived a long life.
Here are some pictures of Mina and children. My brother and older sister are now deceased. I was the second, the middle daughter.
GenealogyI found this wonderful piece by an unknown author on Findagrave and it
just says it all about those of us who love research and genealogy. Hope
you are one of these like me!!
"We are the chosen. In each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them live again, to tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve. Doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts but, instead, breathing life into all who have gone before. We are the storytellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called, as it were, by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us, "Tell our story!" So, we do. In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood before now and cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told the ancestors, "You have a wonderful family; you would be proud of us." How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for me? I cannot say. It goes beyond just documenting facts. It goes to who am I and why do I do the things I do. It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference and saying, "I can't let this happen." The bones here are bones of my bone and flesh of my flesh. It goes to doing something about it. It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish, how they contributed to what we are today. It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving up, their resoluteness to go on and build a life for their family. It goes to deep pride that the fathers fought and some died to make and keep us a Nation. It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us. It is of equal pride and love that our mothers struggled to give us birth. Without them we could not exist, and so we love each one, as far back as we can reach. That we might be born who we are. That we might remember them. So we do. With love and caring and scribing each fact of their existence, because we are they and they are the sum of who we are. So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family. It is up to that one called in the next generation to answer the call and take my place in the long line of family storytellers. That is why I do my family genealogy, and that is what calls those young and old to step up and restore the memory or greet those whom we had never known before."