Billy

13 Oct

When Paddy McGuire left the Workhouse he promised Billy Cattell that he would look out for some work for him; he knew it was Billy’s ambition to go to sea and could see no reason why a healthy lad of thirteen should not be on his way to earning a living.
‘I’ll ask around the Docks for you Billy lad.’ He told his young friend as he left, and true to his word, Paddy found him work as a ship’s hand. Billy stayed at the workhouse for a bed at night, but now he was able to spend his days around the place of his dreams. The first born of John and Mary Ellen, and ten years of age when Auntie Lizzie left him in the Workhouse, he felt betrayed and bitter. The hurt felt as deep as the oceans he longed to sail and the hatred he nurtured for his father was like a dormant sea monster, submerged, awaiting an awakening. Those who knew him would never have believed him capable of such feelings. He was a warm and likable boy whose cheerful, mischievous spark had not been extinguished by the suffocating regime he had endured.
Darkly handsome and quick to smile, he was popular and made many friends among the inmates. Friendships forged in adversity and strong enough to last a lifetime. But the memory of scouring the bars of Liverpool with Catherine and Alfie , in search of their father, would never leave him, and although the longing to find his father remained, he knew he could never forgive him for deserting them.
The boat was a bright red steamer called The Coral, which carried passengers from Liverpool to Amsterdam. Tom Featherstone, the Captain, was always looking out for lads ‘with the sea in their blood’, as he put it, and sensed that Billy was just that.
‘You’re no stranger to the life here Billy.’ He had remarked, ‘I’ve watched you at the rigging, you know what you’re doing!’
‘I spent my childhood here Captain. Wanted to learn everythin’ so I could be a seaman.’
‘Work hard for me Bill and soon I’ll take you on a trip. I like to keep the ship clean and tidy. If we look after her, she’ll look after us.’
‘I’ll do me best Captain.’
In his bed at the Workhouse, he felt the faint stirrings of hope, a new sensation, like life returning to a long numbed limb.
On The Coral, he cleaned the deck polished brass and mahogany, checked the rigging and waved her on her way like a proud father as she bobbed, bright red on the choppy River Mersey.

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