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The storm was as relentless as revenge. Lightning cast menacing shadows over the little ship as Captain Josiah hollered over the roar of the wind for his crew to shift the tiller, pull in the jib sheet and secure their gold and rubies in the lower deck. The crew panicked as the mast splintered with loud popping noises. Two members jumped overboard while others were launched into the sea from the impact of a colossal wave. The black sky was unforgiving as Captain Josiah let out a cry of fright. It began to snow harder-

“What’re you doing? Get off ‘o me cart, you little vermin!” The merchant scolded and waved away the children for playing “endangered sailor” on his cart while he was in the pub for a long deserved meal. Josiah and his friends scrambled away from the bitter merchant and dusted the snow from their raggedy clothing. The sky was giving way to the night and the moon was porcelain. If the boys hurried they could get soggy gingerbread before it was thrown away; the baker’s wife was friendly to the street children of Shrewsbury. It was a village of cobblestones and market places. Medieval in heritage, Shrewsbury was erased from the rooftops of its tutor style stores to its stony street with snow. The little English town was caught in the heart of winter. Candles were lit in windows and the freezing street children retreated to an alleyway to count the day’s earnings. They sat under a halo of light an inn cast into their hiding place from a high window. Their ages ranged from ten to sixteen, all too young to understand the dangerous world around them. “Alright boys, empty the pockets,” declared Sander, the sixteen year old alpha of this shivering clan. They circled up and sent various objects clinking onto the cobblestones to add up to the value of about one or two shillings. The boys rubbed their hands together and let out visible breaths of cold and excitement. Their hands had rags wrapped around them and their feet were covered with the mismatched leather remains of a shoe or cloth tied around their ankles. The boys were lean, dirty, and ignored. They pulled their caps over their ears and beamed over their treasure. “We could buy an armful of burnt sweet rolls and split them tomorrow!” yelled Davey over the wind.

“No, let’s get some twine for a leash if we find a stray!” argued Nathaniel.

“I think we could buy a Dickens book,” said Josiah sheepishly.

“What, a book? What good would that do? Looking for something to do at home with your daddy, Josiah?” taunted Sander.
“Mind your own beeswax,” Josiah mumbled. His cheeks flushed with color from his embarrassment. Josiah was the only boy in the group that actually had a home. His father, Daniel Page, was a writer’s son who inherited a bookstore after his parents passed. They went sailing together one stormy night many years ago on a holiday and never returned. Assumed dead, their bodies were never found. Daniel almost fell to pieces after the loss of both parents but then he met Joyce. She had a raspy voice and a way with words. She was the daughter of the seamstress next door to the bookstore. Daniel’s father put a lot of pressure on him to marry the right girl and take over the family business. Everyone in the village of Shrewsbury came to the store because of Josiah’s grandfather. The Page Family Bookstore, it was called. He would write his own books and tell stories to all of the village children. Daniel took up his father’s love for story telling and looked forward to the day he would tell tales to his own children. After he died, the bookstore’s business slowed but Daniel was persistent in keeping it in business for Joyce. He courted Joyce for several months and she agreed to marry him. Josiah was born within two years, a blessing in his parents’ eyes. Joyce was everything to Josiah’s father. He would write poetry about his love for her and sell his poems. It was at this time that business in the bookstore was the closest to being as good as when his father owned it. Only a short while after Josiah was a year old, Joyce caught influenza and passed in less than two weeks. It happened so fast that Daniel broke; he could no longer find the strength to be a father. He became a street sweeper for a source of income after the towns’ people stopped buying books from his store because he took to drink. The bookstore grew dark, cold and lifeless. Josiah grew up on the streets and only returned home to check in when he needed a place to escape. Each time his father promised that he would earn them a better lifestyle. Each time, his father seemed to spend his promise on fumbled speech and empty bottles. Now twelve years old, Josiah was considering working in the coal mines or in a shipyard. Boats could easily travel in and out of England, and with the booming textile industry, he could easily get fair wages loading ships with exports. Josiah never considered his future seriously and he grew up ashamed of his drunken father and his position as a street sweeper. His father lived in the decrepit, crumbling bookstore. Though the boys of the street didn’t have a home, they would tease Josiah about his father and lie about their own. Because they didn’t have families, they could claim to be the sons of valiant kings and no boy in the group could prove otherwise. “Is that father of yours hanging three sheets to the wind as we speak, Josiah?”
“That man is always tanked; does he carry one with him?”
“Has ale for blood!”
The boys began to imitate a drunken man and barked laughs at Josiah. They were all pleased with their wit. “A book, shall we eat the pages?” Sander pointed and rolled onto the cobblestones with giggles. Josiah turned in fury into the snow and headed in the direction of his dilapidated home. By the time he was at the end of the alleyway, he could only see the light shining through the falling snow.

Josiah couldn’t tell if his tears were from the hurtful words or the icy wind stinging his eyes. They felt like frozen stones rolling down his cheeks. The street was deserted by the time he opened his house’s door. It used to be a tidy, pleasant home when his grandparents owned and ran their book store from it, but it was devoid of care since his mother died. The windows had dust piled in the panes and the wind whistled from under the door, slightly off its hinges. Old books littered the ground, only the ones his grandfather wrote were cared for, stacked on a shelf in the front room. He never read them, let alone opened them. Yellowed pages stuck out from the walls as insulation. There was a lone candle on a wooden table in the center of the front room. The wax spilled over the table as if it had been lit for a long period of time. Daniel’s back was to the door. His shadows cast dark, moving shapes with each flicker of the little flame. A draft shot through the room and Josiah took a sharp breath. There were no bottles today. A newspaper sat in front of his father on the table. Josiah swallowed the frog in his throat and said as bravely as he could, “Father, I’m home.” Daniel turned slowly to face his son with a wide smile on his face. “This time my boy, I have found a way to keep my promise.” He help up the newspaper and shook it as if it were worth a thousand shillings.
**********

Daniel Page woke up outside the city pub slumped against its wall facing the street. Fortunately, he managed to save the majority of his money for food next week. He was shaken from his slumber because he could feel the cold of the stone seeping through his thin jacket. His pants were wet from the snow and his head burned with the ache of too much drink from the previous night. The bartender must have kicked him out. To his surprise, Daniel found two pennies that were thrown into his hat from some rich slick. Daniel pocketed the coins and leaned over to his side to use the pub’s wall to bring himself to his feet. He picked up his hat, smacked the snow off it and slouched down the street to retrieve his broom for his street sweeping duties. Women in feathered hats and men in tailcoats made a beeline in opposing directions as he shuffled onward. Daniel didn’t notice, he was busy thinking about his son. He wasn’t a good father, and he knew it. To say he was a father at all was only a technical term. Life seemed so unfair because it made admitting the truth so difficult. It must have been about noon, judging by the congestion on the main street and the sun riding slightly below the zenith of the sky. The tremendous “gong” of the Anglican Church’s bells confirmed his assumption. He picked up his equipment at the workhouse and went down the road to sweep and listen. Because Daniel couldn’t share his thoughts with strangers due to their disgust toward him, he resorted to listening to their conversations. Two gentlemen appeared to be very excited and hovered over a newspaper on the street corner. “Did you hear? They’re recruiting men to work on a boat leaving Plymouth called the Beagle. It scheduled to go to South America!”

“That’s the ship the famous naturalist, Charles Darwin is boarding, is it not?”

“The very same. He was recruited by the captain, uh, a Mister Robert FitzRoy, to accompany him earlier this summer, it says it here.”

“That Darwin fellow is from these parts. I suppose that’s why they bother to recruit this far south.”

“Makes sense. Do you reckon they pay well?”

“Depends, I would think. There needs to be various crew hands to provide maintenance for the ship. I used to work on a fie vessel and the crew members who could tell the best stories were always the most liked.”

“You thinking of enlisting?”

“Not with the fiancé at home. She has a fitting for her wedding dress at the seamstress’ today.”

Upon hearing this, Daniel stopped sweeping. He suddenly felt awake and energetic. He always feared the ocean since his parents lost their lives. The comment about the seamstress seemed to be a sign from Joyce to be brave and pursue this thought: He would be a crew member on the ship and would earn those wages to support his son the way he should. There was no doubt in his mind that he would be able to write incredible stories about their journey. He became so excited he promptly threw his broom to the ground and ran in between the two talking gentlemen and yelled over his shoulder, congratulating the man on his betrothed. Sprinting the entire way, Daniel reached the newsstand out of breath and braced himself over his knees. Using his pocketed change, he purchased his first newspaper in a long time. He felt alive, purposeful. Daniel ran all the way to his house, swung open the door, and stomped over the threshold. Mice scurried away from the light and the winter wind poured in through cracks in the dusty windows making the front room as frigid as the cobblestone streets. He lit a candle which was frozen and cracking. It flickered, sputtered and then sprouted a honey gold flame. Daniel pulled up a rotting stool to the table in the center of the room and opened the newspaper to the article about the recruitment. It was dated December 20, 1831 and claimed that the boat was scheduled to leave on December 26. He didn’t have much time; he reasoned that he should leave immediately. Josiah crossed his mind and he planned to inform the baker’s wife of his journey and give the message to his son. Though Josiah didn’t live with him, he visited. In fact, it deeply worried Daniel that he was unsure of his son’s whereabouts. When he was reminded of this he usually used whiskey to chase away those dark clouds from his mind.
A plan was formulating in his head: He would pack a small satchel with the essentials, leave tomorrow, enlist, and become a better father. Daniel wished more than anything to do his own father’s soul proud. Whenever he thought of his father, his heart went to a dark place. Ceremoniously, Daniel pried a leather bound book from the only shelf in the room. It was a difficult task because the book stuck to the shelf with age and cold. His father wrote it about a sailor who traveled the high seas in search of his long lost love. Daniel would soon be a sailor, only he was searching for profit. He wished to be as successful as Charles Darwin, smart and sophisticated. Perhaps then, his son would look up to him as Daniel had always looked up to his father.
Nighttime peeked through the windows as Daniel read the book and the newspaper by the light of the candle. He was startled to hear the door squeak open behind him because the silence was broken so suddenly. “Father, I’m home,” whispered Josiah.
Daniel swelled with apology for his son. It occurred to him that he would miss his son as much as he missed Joyce. To ensure his safety, he planned to pay off the baker’s wife to keep an eye on him with the money he saved from the previous night. She would let him pay the rest when he returned, she was kindly that way. He was excited to tell stories to crew members because he missed the pleasure of transporting listeners to other places with words. Stories were precious and sacred to the Page family. First, Josiah would need to hear them. Turning slowly to tell his son of his course of action, he held the book his father wrote behind his back. It would be his son’s first Christmas present.





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