Malachi leaned over the railing and retched mightily. His already empty stomach insisted on attempting to expel what was no longer there. He groaned in self-pitying agony. A swell, imperceptible to all but Malachi’s stomach, took his legs. He collapsed to his knees, praying for the sweet release of death. His mother looked down at him. Her face a picture of pity warring with amusement with a soupcon of scorn.
“Malachi my boy, that’s Fastnet Rock over there. You are missing the last part of dear old Ireland that’ll you’ll ever set eyes on.”
“The devil can take it and Ireland too. Just let me die in peace.”
His mother shared a knowing smile with those who packed the deck with her. It was a thing common known, that there’s always one. She gave a glance at the retreating rock, then sat beside Malachi. She spoke quietly into his ear.
“Now I’m not one to harp on about things my boy. May the Lord strike me down if I ever become one who throws the past in a man’s face, but I can’t help thinking you could be less of a martyr.
Malachi looked at her angrily.
“You can keep the looks to yourself Malachi. You had only to sell a necklace and we’d have been set for years. But no, you had to haggle and act the big man, until every thief and informer in the province knew what you were up to. If we’d eyes that could see far enough, I’d wager we’d see RIC men tapping out an arrest warrant, for us, right now. Even New York won’t be safe for us anymore.”
“They can do that?”
“Ah Malachi, I know you are a big ignorant farmer, but that don’t mean you have to act like one.”
The Mother stood and dragged Malachi up by the arm.
“Right boy, let’s find our bed and some food.”
Malachi groaned and bent over the railing again. The Mother shook her head and walked away muttering to herself.
As the sun began to set, Malachi made his slow way down the several flights of stairs to the Third Class compartment. With every tiny swell he stumbled, reducing him to gripping the railings with both hands, as if for dear life. He found the crowded and stench ridden compartment. To his dismay there were no more railings for him to hold but to his relief he saw his mother sitting in an alcove. She was chewing on Cruibins with some relish. Malachi took several deep breaths to steel himself for the walk and the proximity of pig extremities. He sprinted across and near dived onto the bed. He burrowed under the blanket and tried to shut the world out.
“Ah Malachi tis finally yourself. Will you have a trotter?”
She was answered with a groan and she grinned maliciously. Malachi shifted his body and brought his head near to his mother.
“I am right sorry mother. I’m surely am.”
His mother shrugged. She placed a hand on his face and forgave him with a smile.
“Ah sure, we might like this America. Tis supposed to be fierce big.”
“Do you really think the police will be waiting for us?”
“If they are, they are Malachi. I’ve never been hanged and I mean to keep it that way.”
“Sorry mother, but I have to go up again. The smell here is cruel.”
“Off you go, you’re right about the smell. I’ll join you in a while.”
Her last words were said to his disappearing back. She looked around the crowded compartment and wrinkled her nose in disapproval. She stood up. She shared a nod or two with the women who might be considered her peers and she walked after Malachi.
When she saw him, she stopped in surprise. He was bent over the railings, a well dressed young woman stood beside him, with her arm around him, rubbing his back. She looked at the woman and judged her to be in her early twenties, a townie and most likely traveling Second Class. She wondered if she had a young man with her who might take exception to Malachi receiving such attention.
She joined them.
“Now Malachi, what have you done to merit the care of this young lady.”
“My apologies Ma’am, he appeared to be in such distress that I could not help myself. I hope I have not given cause for offense?”
“I’m not the one likely to be offended Miss. Do you not perhaps have a young man with you, who might though?”
The young woman stood up and looked hard at The Mother.
“I can assure you Ma’am that I am traveling alone and even if I were not, my aid was charitably meant, it is not something salacious.”
Her cheeks coloured in anger and The Mother had to stifle a grin of approval at her spirit.
“Now, now Miss. I meant no insult. Only that men being men, are quick to see what isn’t there, when it suits them.”
The young woman relaxed.
“You are correct of course Ma’am. My name is Penelope Reagan. You’re son said his name was Malachi, I think. Though I fear the words were somewhat garbled. I’ve never met a man so troubled by the mal de mare.”
“Mal de mare Miss?”
“My apologies, Sea Sickness.”
“Ah, sick of the sea he surely is. Lost his breakfast before we’d even cast off.”
“If you think it not inappropriate, I have some remedies in my cabin. If you would join me there, I may be able to do something for him.”
Malachi groaned in oblivious distress. Penelope could see The Mother was unsure.
“I could also offer you tea Ma’am and the milk will still be fresh.”
Penelope knew she had clinched the deal, when she saw The Mother’s face light up.
“Well, I won’t say I wouldn’t welcome a good cup of milky tea, but tis only my concern for Malachi that brings me to impose on you Miss Reagan.”
“Oh that’s kind of you, please call me Mother.”
Between the two of them, they carried and led Malachi to the Second Class Deck and down the narrow corridor to Penelope’s cabin. Penelope opened the door to the tiny room and they walked in. Malachi immediately slumped onto the bed, leaving only a chair for the two women.
“Please take the chair Mother, I will start the tea.”
The Mother nodded, then sat. She watched Penelope use the small stove to boil some water.
“Where does this door lead to Penelope?”
Penelope blushed slightly.
“That’s the WC.”
“The what now?”
“You have your own privy? My that is the luxury.”
“Is the Third Class so bad?”
“Oh tis a fright to god. Cattle as packed in, would rebel and declare an independent republic, if they were treated so.”
“That is terrible. I had heard stories, but could never have them confirmed.”
“Ah sure, them’s that know, know. Them’s that don’t know, are better off not knowing.”
Penelope poured the boiling water into a cup and reached for a small box of tea leaves. The Mother picked up a bowl and poured the cup of water into it and then poured more water from the kettle. Filling the bowl three quarters full. Penelope watched her silently and then spooned leaves into the bowl. She then poured milk into it. The Mother took a sip and sat back in contentment.
“May this journey last forever, while I have my tea. You are a saint and saviour Penelope.”
Penelope smiled at the joy on the other woman’s face. Malachi groaned and Penelope remembered the purpose of their visit.
“Oh my, I must look to Malachi.”
“As you wish Miss, I will abide here.”
Penelope took a bag from under the bed and opened it. She reached in and retrieved a small bottle of clear liquid.
“Is he to drink it Penelope?”
“Oh no, this is not for drinking.”
She knelt by the bed and gingerly began to take Malachi’s boots off. No matter how polite she tried to be, she could not help but grimace at the smell. Determined however, she took off his socks. The Mother watched avidly.
“Perhaps I should wash his feet first?”
“You are welcome to Penelope. It t’would be a remarkable thing to see. And hand on my heart, I doubt that ever his feet were the best clean part of him. For a man like Malachi, the only time he could expect a woman to clean his feet, was in his laying out.”
Penelope nodded at the grim picture and went into the privy. She returned with a basin of soapy water and a cloth. She washed his feet, trying very hard to be clinical and unconcerned.
“Jaysus that’s a grand job you’re making of it Penelope. Tis only a pity that his socks and shoes have kept onto the smell.”
Penelope nodded at her but then an idea struck her. She picked up the socks and shoes and put them outside the door. The Mother laughed.
“Let them thats out there endure what we can’t.”
Penelope then took a deep breath and poured some of the liquid into her hand. She then used her thumbs to manipulate the sole of Malachi’s right foot. She did this for several minutes before working on his left. There was a look of intense concentration on her face. The Mother heard the occasional murmur from her, as if she was reciting from a book. The Mother looked at Malachi and saw that he was propped up on his elbows, looking with fearful confusion at the activity around his feet.
“She’s only giving you medicine Malachi.”
“Through my feet?”
“Whist now, she gave me a big bowl of milky tea.”
Penelope looked up at Malachi.
“How do you feel now?”
“Where did my socks and shoes go?”
“Penelope stored them outside Malachi. Don’t be a feared for them. The man who would steal them, deserves to have them.”
“If you say so Mother. But could someone tell me what’s going on with my feet?”
The Mother looked at Penelope.
“Would you look at the enquiring mind on my son. He must have turned into a science man unbeknownst to me.”
Penelope smiled politely at The Mother and then looked back at Malachi.
“I am using the access points on your feet, to bring order to your disordered organs.”
“Well that’s a mouthful for you Malachi. Everything clear now?”
Malachi continued to lay on the bed, looking confused.
“Perhaps I didn’t explain myself correctly. I am a Practitioner of a new kind of medicine. That’s why I am going to America, to set up my own practice. The New World is the perfect place for new medicine.”
The Mother nodded.
“True enough there, there’s many a man who’ll pay a young lady to wash and rub his feet Miss.”
Penelope ignored the implication.
“We have discovered that every organ in the body in connected to different points on the sole of the feet. By applying pressure to those points one can mend an out of balance organ.”
No new understanding lit Malachi’s face. Penelope sighed and gently took the bowl of tea from The Mother.
“Imagine this bowl of milky tea as your body. With the right amounts of tea and milk, it is in perfect harmony and is exactly to your mother’s taste. Now add too much milk or take some of the milk out, then it stops being harmonious. Now further imagine the kettle as your right foot and jug of milk as your left foot. I use them to balance the contents of the cup, I mean this bowl, to make milky…”
Before she could continue she slumped forward and Malachi had to move with great speed to grab the bowl before she dropped it. The handle of a knife was sticking out from the base of her skull. He handed the bowl to his mother.
“I don’t remember you packing that knife?”
“Sure where would I be without my favourite knife Malachi?”
“Did I hear something about a private privy?”
“You certainly did. We’ve landed in luxury son. How’s your stomach?”
“I could almost forget I’m at sea. I might even risk some of this fresh meat. Though cooking it won’t be easy”
“Tis far from turning our noses up at raw meat we were raised Malachi.”
“True enough mother, true enough, but if you don’t mind, can we leave the hands, considering where they’ve been?”
“Right you be Malachi.”
Malachi looked at the corpse for some time.
“Something addling you boy?”
“Do you think I could find a woman in America to rub my feet?”
She pondered the question for some time. Then with a sigh she looked at Malachi.
“Well now, if someone can believe that your feet are the path to your stomach, then sure why not a woman who believes that your heart leads to your feet?”
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