Warning: Mature Adults only
PART II: ACRE
A boat from the lead ship met them at the beach, and they were quickly rowed out to her. She was a beautiful second-rater of eighty guns, and Harper could see from her name, Tigre, that she had begun her career in the French navy. A rope ladder was lowered, and they scrambled aboard, as filthy and bedraggled a pack of refugees as the sailors had ever seen. Bromley was first. Harper could hear his voice from the deck as he reported.
"Lieutenant Bromley, late of HMS Culloden, has the privilege - Sir Sidney, is that you, Sir?"
He hauled himself up in time to see Lieutenant Bromley warmly shaking hands with a small, slender man in the undress uniform of a Captain in the Royal Navy. A single silver star was pinned to his breast. He had a quick, intelligent face under a mop of dark hair, and seemed to radiate boundless energy.
"Joshua Bromley, as I live and breath! We had given you up for lost months ago!"
"Well, after six months in a French prison in Cairo, it seemed like we might miss the rest of the war. But I had some stout lads with me, Sir, and we received help where we didn't expect it."
"I'm well acquainted with French prisons, Lieutenant Bromley. I'll look forward to hearing all about it over dinner. I dare say you could use a good English meal! And these are your men?"
The remaining thirteen marines were now all on the main deck in line, standing at attention. Bromley addressed them.
"Lads, this is Sir Sidney Smith, as bold a captain as I've ever served under! I was with him at the close of '93, when the French revolutionaries captured Toulon. We burnt their dockyards, their main armory, and fourteen of their warships right in front of their noses, while they hammered down on us from the heights. I'll never forget that night's work, Sir Sidney. But what brings you here, if I may be so bold, Sir?"
"I'm serving as liaison between His Majesty's naval forces and those of the Sublime Porte in Constantinople. I've been given the Alexandria blockade from Captain Troubridge. My intelligence has revealed that Bonaparte is making his way up the coast of Palestine to attack the port of Acre before the Turks can launch their own invasion force from there. I'm taking the Tigre and the Theseus there to put some spine in Djezzar Pasha's defense. You've come at an opportune time, Bromley. In another few hours, I would have been well up the coast. If you're game, you and your lads are welcome to join me. We can always use more marines."
"Gladly, Sir! I can say with confidence, that any service under you will be an adventure not to be missed."
"Then get your lads below decks for a good meal, and then a shave and some fresh uniforms. Dinner is at eight bells, and I'll expect you in the aft dining room."
And so Harper and his companions came under the bold, eccentric, vain, and supremely confident command of Sir Sidney Smith.
Harper felt like a new man after a meal of good English beef and bread, and after scraping the stubble off of his chin and being thoroughly doused with sea water, he was issued the largest marines' uniform on board the Tigre, which he of course promptly split when he inhaled, and which was just as promptly patched.
Bromley came looking for him some time later. Harper was still getting oriented to his new quarters and had not yet been assigned any duties.
"Good news, Private Harper. Sir Sidney has a Nock gun on board, and I've persuaded him to issue it to you."
"Thank you, sir."
Bromley reached into his coat and brought out a worn, sealed envelope.
"There's also this. Sir Sidney remembered it when I showed him the roster of marines I had brought on board and he saw your name. His older brother, Charles, is in service to Lord Cornwallis, the Viceroy of Ireland. The Headmaster of Trinity College in Dublin gave this letter to him, with a request that he forward it to Sir Sidney upon his taking up command here in Alexandria. It is addressed to you, on the off chance that you might turn up."
Harper's eyes widened as he took the envelope, recognized the wax seal of Trinity College from the other letters that his brother Owen had sent home, and further recognized his own name in Owen's unmistakably elegant handwriting.
"Saints bless you, Sir!"
As soon as Bromley had left, Harper hastened out on deck and found an unobtrusive place before the foremast. News from home! It had been so long, and now he could write back and tell them he was alive and all was well. He opened the letter with tender care, lest he tear so much as a corner of it, and began to read.
As he read it, he started suddenly, a shocked look coming over his face. Tears started from his eyes, and he crumpled the letter in his hand. But then, after a time, he uncrumpled the letter, and with an increasingly stony look of resolve on his face, began to read.
I have no way of knowing if you will ever read these words. I can only pray that God has had mercy on you and preserved you alive, that this letter may be put into your hands. We had heard of you "Missing and presumed taken prisoner" and could think of nothing but getting these few pages to where you were last known to be, and pray and hope. Sir Sidney's brother Charles was kind enough to forward it to his brother, bless him for a true gentleman.
Padraigh, there is no easy way to say what I must tell you, so prepare yourself. I have bad news, the worst. Your father and brother Shamus are dead; killed this last month in the unhappy rebellion that has swept our land. Your mother and the rest of the family are alive and well, though the house is lost. This is the telling of it, as I heard of it from those who were there.
It started this last 20th of August. We'd had word that the French were at sea, and that any day now, they'd be landing an army to help us liberate our country. Sheriff Browne was growing more and more frantic trying to find the pikes, but they were well hid, and he'd had no success. That morning, he came into the Diamond at the head of twenty yeomen, in a lather of rage. They seized your father in his own smithy (saints preserve us). Browne set up a triangle in the square and lashed your father to it, he swore that he'd have the back off of him unless he revealed where the pikes were. You know father, how tough he was when his mind was set. He said nothing, so the flogging began. Not so much of a peep of pain did father give Browne the satisfaction of hearing. It went on and on, and father's blood ran down upon the cobblestones. A crowd began to gather, and an ugly crowd it was, for father was well loved. Browne ignored them; he was intent only on getting those pikes, and besides he thought that twenty armed men was enough to hold off the whole town.
Well, he got the pikes all right, but not the way he wanted them. The people brought them out of hiding and slipped them into the crowd, making sure folks held them low. The count of strokes now was up to seventy, and Browne was screaming in father's ear that he'd make in seventy thousand if that were what it took to make him talk. Father spat in his face, and he screamed for the floggers to lay on harder. That's when the people struck. Pikes closed in on the yeomen from all sides, and they only got their one shot off before they were skewered. Browne leaped on his horse and forced his way through the crowd, but only three of the twenty yeomen made it out after him.
The townsfolk cut father down and tended to his back. He called in all the townsfolk and told them there was no going back now, they had rebelled, there was no way to go but forward. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say. They asked him what to do, and he said they should go to Sligo, where the French were most likely to land. They'd throw in their lot with them. Though privately, father had little hope of the French, the only chance he could see is that they would land a big enough force to beat the English to a standstill and force them to negotiate a fair settlement. If they wouldn't grant us full independence, at least we could treat for some redress of grievances, like them reigning in the yeomen, and most important, a general amnesty for those who had rebelled.
The townsfolk thought this good, and within a few hours, father was leading a fine crowd of Donegal men, four hundred strong, down south Sligo-way. They were a grand sight from what I've been told, all of them with springs of green in their hats. Most had pikes, but around forty had firelocks or blunderbusses. Father kept them in good order, almost like soldiers, and told them that any plundering and they'd have to deal with him. He marched at their head and set a good pace, and with his back all torn up and all. Mother and the children would go with him as far as Sligo, anyway.
Sligo, as you know, is nigh on thirty miles from Donegal, and it was sunset of the 22nd when the crowd got there, still pretty much in order, with only a few having dropped out. Father asked for news at a farmhouse, and they told him the French had landed, but another thirty miles south, at Killala. Father set out at once, and we stopped for a few hours late at night. We got to Killala just as the French were pulling out, making for Ballina. Fine looking troops they were, in their bicorn hats, blue uniforms and white crossbelts, and they marched right smartly. But when father saw them, he just stopped and stared. He looked like a man in the dock who's just been sentenced to be hanged. For the French 'army' sent to liberate Ireland numbered but eleven hundred men, plus five thousand Irish peasants they had recruited, and who barely knew what end of the musket the ball came out of, louts stumbling along in no sort of order, their pikes helter-skelter at their shoulders.
I think father knew, then and there, that he was a dead man, that there was no chance he'd come out of this rebellion alive. The French had promised thirty thousand, enough to force Cornwallis to work out a fair settlement. And these eleven hundred were what they had delivered. Father had been right all along; "Never trust the French." But he was determined to see this thing through to the end, whatever end that might be. He turned to the men of Donegal and told them that they had no chance with so few. Any who wished to do so were free to go back and try to lie low in hopes that they'd be overlooked in the rampage that was to come. They must leave their weapons, though. And it's a tribute to what they thought of father that full two hundred fifty of them stayed. He told mother to wait for him with the children at Killala. Shamus was all for marching with him; you know how serious he is, but father would have none of it, he was barely thirteen. He told him he'd give him a clout he'd never forget if he saw him within ten miles of any fighting.
Father found the French General, General Humbert watching as his men marched out, and presented his force. Humbert was delighted at the extra men and told them to fall in. He promised father that what he saw was just the advance guard of many more to come, and that the end of Irish slavery was nigh. Father held his peace and said nothing. He kept the Donegal men marching together, not mixing with the others, so he could keep them in good order.
Ballina was ten miles to the south, and Humbert found the yeomanry easy meat for his soldiers. They were just louts in uniform, after all. He sent out a scouting party under his second-in-command, Colonel Sarazin, and they set up an ambush. The British garrison walked right into it. The French gave him a volley and then charged with the bayonet. The garrison commander tried to withdraw them towards the town and regroup, when the Irish pikemen who had been concealed in a ditch struck his flank, and the yeomen scampered for safety. Some died, most fled. Humbert entered Ballina without firing a shot. When they entered the town, they found the body of one of the townspeople, apparently one who sympathized with the cause, hanging from his own doorway. Colonel Sarazin kissed the corpse's face, calling him a martyr.
More levies joined us in Ballina, carrying their green branches. All the firelocks had been passed out, and we were hammering out pikeheads in the local smithy as fast as we could. It seemed that the Uprising was turned into a mighty tide, sweeping all before it. Humbert learned that three thousand five hundred regulars were about to advance on him from Castlebar, the county town of Mayo. He determined to strike them first, knock them off-balance. They outnumbered us, to be sure, but they would only grow stronger if we waited.
From Ballina, the coach road runs almost due south, first through Foxford, and then away southwest to Castlebar. But Humbert learned from the parish priest that there was another road to the west of Lough Conn, barely more than a bridle track, leading through the wildest part of the land, across a waste of bog, dark lakes, and high country, then over a ridge close to the peak of Mount Nephin. None but a handful of peasants live there. The priest said that the bridge at Foxford was heavily defended, but there were no troops on this mountain road, and it was just passable for his column.
Humbert announced that he would march down the coast road to Foxford, took the road for a few miles, and then doubled back and continued along the mountain track. He hoped this would throw off any spies in Ballina. The going was as tough as it could be, especially hauling cannon, and the French tied some of the Irish to the traces and had them manhandle the things like they were beasts of burden. They stumbled through the darkness; the only sound the sergeant's oaths. The march was twenty-five miles, and lasted all night, with one rest stop for two hours. There was not the slightest sign of an English soldier. At six in the morning, the 27th of August, they saw the town of Castlebar below them. The British had thrown up trenches astride the coach road, and had it covered with thirteen pieces of artillery. Humbert moved us forward to the shelter of a hill called Slievenagark.
The English recovered from their surprise well, and turned their cannon to fire on us. We were on the crest of that ridge, at maximum musket range, with but one field piece. Humbert knew that holding would just mean being broken by grape and canister shot, so he ordered the Irish levies to charge the guns. We moved forward in a mass, with the French behind us. A ditch along our left flank partially shielded us from their fire, but we were savaged in front by grape and musketry. Many of the levies turned and ran at the sound of the first cannon shot, but father's men held firm, along with a few others. Meanwhile, Humbert had moved his men forward using ours as cover, and now flanked the English. We charged again because we could think of nothing else to do. The French were behind us, driving us forward.
If the defenders had held firm, there's no way we could have won. The regulars did stand, but their Irish militia almost to a man broke and ran, throwing down their muskets and stripping off their packs in their panic. Their collapse threw the regulars and the artillery into confusion, and before they could rally the French were among them with the bayonet. Some stood their ground, but the panic spread through the entire army and soon all, landlords and tenants, generals and privates, all were one in their eagerness to escape. A single gunner worked his cannon at the top of the street in an effort to cover their retreat, but he was cut down. They fled through the streets of the town, the cavalry riding down their own infantry in their haste, and out into the country behind. All their flags, all their cannons, muskets by the hundreds, all their munitions were left scattered behind them, even General Lake's personal baggage. And three hundred of their number lay dead on the field. They didn't stop running till they reached Tuam, thirty miles away. We were exhausted from the long march, and did not pursue them far. We raised the green banner over the courthouse, and the French band played. It was a stunning victory. Many headed for the taverns or took to looting.
Humbert put out word that any Irish recruit who had received uniform and arms and did not return to the army would be considered a deserter and subject to summary execution. Many of those who fled came back, and thousands more from around Castlebar flocked to the green banner and the tricolor. Some prominent citizens joined, and one, Mr. Matthew Bellew, had served in the Austrian and Russian armies. We later found that he was a hopeless drunk who had first offered to join the yeomanry defending Castlebar. They had turned him down. At a victory ball in the assembly rooms at Castlebar, Humbert demanded a contribution from the town of two thousand guineas towards the war effort. There were not two hundred guineas to be had in the whole town, though.
The new recruits acted like the thieving hooligans they in fact were. They broke into the house of Lord Lucan, the local landlord, and chopped up his furniture for firewood. They lit their pipes with the engravings from his picture gallery and paraded in his fancy waistcoats. Every prominent loyalist they treated much the same, rampaging through their houses, gutting their wine cellars, driving their cattle from their parks, and leaving their houses empty, burned-out shells. They broke into the Protestant church in Castlebar, destroyed the Bible, and scrawled foul writings on the pews. Later they held Mass in it.
Through all this, father held the men of Donegal apart, and I'm proud to say, not one of them took part in the looting and mayhem. The other Irish levies grew more and more unruly, they protested against having to surrender their loot, they demanded more food and better lodgings, and they refused to participate in the work around the camp. After a few days of this, Humbert got fed up and shot two of the Irish captains for mutiny. This restored order quickly, I can tell you.
Humbert had been expecting reinforcements from France by this time, but they had not shown up. He knew that Cornwallis would be drawing a noose about his neck by now. We captured three soldiers from a British scouting party who confirmed that Colonel Crauford's cavalry was already on Humbert's tail, no more than a half-day behind. And he was not one to sit still and wait for it. He decided to march northwest to Sligo, and then due west towards Roscommon. He hoped to give the British army the slip, and then cross the Shannon and link up with the Ulster rebels somewhere to the north. By then, surely, the next force from France would have arrived, and they would combine and march on Dublin.
It was hard to rouse the recruits the next morning, for many of them were drunk. Humbert, in a rage, had two who were too far-gone to march flogged and tied to horses. In the span of a night and a day, we marched fifty-eight miles. There were few stragglers, for Crauford was hanging all he caught. We spared no prisoners, either. We came to the town of Tobercurry. Here, we skirmished with the Coolavin and Leyney yeomenry, and we got the better of them. They were sent clattering back to Sligo, leaving their dead behind. They still took the time to hang eleven patriots in the town before they left, though. Folk lined the streets as we marched through, and many cheered in Gaelic. Women ran out to offer us bowls of milk. Perhaps fifty joined us.
The Sligo garrison came out to meet us before the town of Collooney. Their commander planted his left flank on the Owenmore River, and his right on a steep and rocky hill. His cavalry was to the rear, his single field piece before his infantry. Our Irish levies circled around the hill to attack his right. The enemy held out bravely against the French frontal assault, until their gun crew was shot down. We charged on their flank and they retreated back into the town. They gave a good account of themselves. About fifty were lost on each side, before Humbert offered the remaining hundred defenders parole back to Sligo if they would surrender. They accepted, and Humbert pushed on to the north. He'd learned that Irishmen don't always run at the first shot, and he couldn't afford many more Collooneys. The surgeons attended to the wounded. Those who could walk with their wounds marched on, and the rest were left to crawl into the hill country to hide, or else be sabered by Crauford's horsemen.
That evening, we reached Dromahair, a few miles to the north of Sligo, and took the first proper rest we'd had in thirty-six hours. The army, if that's what you could call it, crammed into the cottages until there was no more room, and the latecomers lay along either side of the road, some lying on the cold wet earth and waking up with a deathly chill. By morning, more recruits had joined us, three or four hundred, their pikes a leafless forest against the sky. And there, Humbert received news that the Midlands, Longford and Westmeath, in Granard, had risen in revolt. He abandoned his plans to head to Ulster. He would link up with them and then go full tilt towards Dublin.
But on the night of 7th September, the survivors of the United armies of Longford and Westmeath staggered into the camp. The British had smashed them with great slaughter, and only a handful were left. Our last hope had died with them.
Humbert knew that the net was closing in around him. His scouts told him he faced two British armies, Lake's, who was coming up on his rear, and Cornwallis, who was maneuvering to get between him and Dublin. Humbert tried to turn Cornwallis' right flank and slip through the net. He discarded most of his cannon along the road, that he might move the faster. On the night of the 7th, he crossed the Shannon at Ballintra, ahead of Cornwallis' army. Humbert's rearguard tried to burn the Ballintra bridge, but Crauford's cavalry was too fast for them and captured about sixty Frenchmen. I think they were happy to be out of it at last. It had turned into a race, neck and neck for Dublin, with all three armies making only the briefest of stops for rest. But by now, we all knew that defeat was only a matter of time. A sense of fatalism had come upon the army, both French and Irish. Sooner or later, the end had to come. It only remained to make it the best end we could.
It came on 8th of September, at Ballinamuck, The Place of the Pig, where Humbert chose to make his final stand. There was no choice; we were so exhausted that the devil himself couldn't have made us march any further. We camped that night in the village churchyard, and some of the levies dug up bones to burn as firewood. No Donegal man joined them, father saw to that.
In the morning, it was hard to get the levies moving, and the sergeants had to beat them into column with the flats of their blades. We were no longer an army; we just went through the motions of one. We took up positions on Shanmullah Hill and on either side of the road that led to Ballinamuck. Eight hundred fifty French soldiers and a thousand Irishmen who had not fled against ten thousand trained British troops. There could be but one ending. We stood firm with our pikes and beat back Crauford's first charge, so he withdrew and let the artillery whittle us down with grape and canister. The British infantry advanced with the bayonet. Our two cannon got off a few shots before they were silenced. The infantry fired a volley, the French returned fire, but our lads had barely a musket to their names and could only stand and grip their pikes.
Crauford sent his cavalry against the French this time. Humbert fought for half an hour, enough for the honor of France. Just as it seemed that the cavalry would smash through his lines, he put his hat on the end of his sword and held it high above his head in a gesture of surrender. His officers followed his example, and his soldiers laid down their muskets. Crauford rode forward and accepted Humbert's sword. His soldiers would be treated as prisoners, with all the honors of war, and then paroled back to France. But there would be no surrendering for the Irish with him.
One of Lake's staff officers, bless him, made a kind gesture. He rode up to where the Irish stood and called out "Run away, boys, otherwise, you'll all be cut down." But he was too late, and Lake unleashed his dragoons on us. We stood for a while, but the pressure was unrelenting, and first one at a time, then in whole groups, we broke and ran. They rode us down, slashing with their big swords or trampling us beneath their great horses' hooves, till we lay scattered in our hundreds over the fields and bogs of Ballinamuck, and those taken prisoner, and they were few, were made to draw straws, and the losers were soon hanged.
Father had decided that if he were to die, he'd rather it be on the battlefield than with a noose around his neck. He stood his ground on Shanmullah Hill, with a hundred or so others, determined to sell their lives dearly for Ireland. But whom should he see in the chaos all around, but Shamus! He had disobeyed father and hiked cross-country, joining up just before the battle, before father could spot him. Now he stood on the battlefield, looking like what he was, a small lost boy. Father cried out his name and ran towards him, but even as he came near and Shamus turned to meet his face, a dragoon shot Shamus down right before Father's eyes. Father must have gone mad then; he raised his musket and shot that dragoon dead out of his saddle. Then he picked up a pike and stood over his son's body, daring any to try to touch his son. You would have been so proud of him that day, Padraigh. He fought like ten men, like Cuchulain at the Ford, stabbing and swinging, he knocked three dragoons out of the saddle and speared two more, before they decided to leave this madman in peace and go off in search of easier prey. Then, he picked up Shamus' body and carried him from the field.
I can only imagine what it must have been like for father those next two days, carrying his son full fifty miles back to Killala, traveling by back roads and hiding in ditches as British dragoons pounded by. But the saints were with him, for he made it, and gave Shamus' body into the hands of his weeping mother. He told mother to take the family back to Donegal and give Shamus a proper burying, no Harper would lie on a field for the crows while he had anything to say about it. But he would not be coming with them. He would make his last stand here, in Killala, where the British were sure to come. Mother was almost out of her mind with grief and tried to dissuade him, but you know how father was when he'd made up his mind. He told her that they'd never stop looking for him in Donegal if he went back, and the family would suffer if he were found with them. But if they killed him here, perhaps they'd leave mother and the children in peace. He kissed mother goodbye and asked her to take care of the children, and especially he asked her to give his love to you, Padraigh, and to tell you how proud he was of you. Finally, mother headed north, already as good as a widow.
On 18th September, we heard that the British had recaptured Castlebar, and knew that our turn would come next. There was some talk about killing all the Protestants in town in a final act of revenge, but father and a few others with clear heads quashed that idea.
23rd September dawned a rainy day, churning the road to mud, and they could see smoke in the distance, cabins that General Trench's men were burning as they came, twelve hundred of them they were, with five pieces of artillery. The Irish commander at Killala, Ferdy O'Donnel, made a desperate attempt to surrender. He sent out seven horsemen, bringing with them the Captain of the Killala yeoman, Samuel Cooper, who had been held prisoner since the French had landed. He offered to surrender in return for the lives of his men, and threatened that if this condition was not met, all the captured yeomen would be put to death. The man holding the white flag didn't even get the words out of his mouth before he and one other in his party were shot down, while the rest fled. There would be no quarter shown. Cooper broke away from them and got to the safety of Trench's forces. Some rebels began to execute the yeomanry, and they killed fifteen of them before father and O'Donnel stopped them.
Massed in the streets were the two hundred French soldiers Humbert had left to hold Killala, and eight hundred Irish pikemen under the green standard and the tricolor. Father stood in the first rank, gripping his pike. I think that he hoped that at least this last stand would in part redeem the futility of the struggle. I think too that, at the last, he was happy that no Donegal man had looted or shed innocent blood.
The rain cleared that afternoon, and Trench moved to the attack. For half an hour, the patriots fought doggedly, as men do who know they are doomed, while Trench pummeled them with grapeshot and canister, and then swept forward with saber and bayonet. Finally, they were broken and fled for their lives. The streets ran red with blood, not in figure of speech but in fact. The dragoons hunted them down like animals though bogs and field, and few escaped. Perhaps a hundred ran into the sea and were drowned. Those not cut down were herded back to the wharf, summarily court-martialed and hung on the gallows Trench had erected. It was not till nightfall of the second day that they left off the pursuit. Some six hundred Irish patriots lay dead in the streets. Father lay among them, still gripping his pike. A musket ball had gone through his heart, and I think his death was quick and with little pain.
But the English lust for revenge was not yet sated. Crauford's dragoons raided north into Donegal, cutting down fifty or sixty unresisting countryfolk, and demanded to know where was the home of the detestable rebel leader Donal Harper. When it was shown to them, they burned it to the ground. The saints were with your mother though, and she and your family had already fled into the countryside. The dragoons had brought father's body with them, and erecting a gallows, they hung him at the Ballyshannon crossroads. Late, we cut him down and buried him in secret. When the time is right, Father will be reburied in consecrated ground, as he deserves. Many other cottages were burned before the English were satisfied and left Donegal to itself. Mother, the children, and many other refugees now huddle together in the bog holes and caves of Donegal. Winter is coming on, and famine comes in the wake of war. Times are hard, but your mother is a strong lady; she'll hold the family together.
This is the sad story of the calamity that has befallen our family, Padrigh, and I mourn with you. If my heart is a little less broken, it is only because I've known of these doings longer, and time has done me some healing. I pray that time will do the same for you.
Father had a final message for you, Padraigh. You are to stay in the Marines and serve your term of duty faithfully. Don't come back to Donegal yet, it's neither safe nor wise. Stay in the Marines where you are well fed and clothed, and fight the enemy they put before you. Above all, don't so much as think about taking part in any new Irish rebellion. Father said another time may come, and we must weather the storm as best we can till then, though it be only our grandchildren that see it. I urge you to honor his memory and obey him in this. You can do no good here now, so stay alive to help another day. I would rather have a live brother than a dead rebel hero. If you can, send some money to me, and I'll see that it gets to mother, along with whatever I can send myself.
Padraigh, my heart is heavy from the writing of this, and I must stop. Remember your father's wishes, and keep your family in your prayers, as you are always in mine.
Your loving brother
Harper sat for a long while after reading the letter. He said nothing, nor did he move. He just stared out into space. Tears ran down his face until he had no tears left. After that, he simply stared, dry-eyed.
Finnigan came barreling around the corner, his usual cheerful self.
"There you are, Harper! I've been looking all over the ship. We've got a bold one in Captain Smith, we do! I've been talking to some of his crew, and we're in for a -"
He stopped when Harper didn't respond, didn't look at him, didn't even move.
"Why, what's wrong?" Harper didn't answer, but Finnigan saw the letter, eased it out of his unresisting hands, and began to read it. As he did so, tears formed in the corners of his own eyes.
Finnigan was a good friend, and also a wise one. And so, when he finished Owen's letter, he did not say any of the hundred well-intentioned but foolish things that people often say to their grieving friends. He simply put his arm around Harper's shoulders.
Together, they mourned.
After a long while, Harper got up and went to the prow of the Tigre. Finnigan stood a respectful distance behind. Harper looked out towards the northwest, in what he guessed was the general direction of Ireland, far away across the sea. He recited words he had last heard from his father's lips.
"May the blessing of the Earth be on you,
The great, round earth; may you ever have a kindly greeting
For them you pass as you're going along the roads.
May the earth be soft under you when you rest upon it,
Tired at the end of the day,
And may it rest easy over you when, at the last,
You lay out under it.
May it rest so lightly over you,
That your soul may be out from under it quickly,
And up, and off, and on its way to God."
And thus did Patrick Harper say goodbye to his father and his brother.