"Going somewhere, are we?"
The sailor with just one eye kicked away the box which Amelie had been hiding behind.
"My, oh my" another seaman, a man with long gray hair, said and stood behind his companyon. "We got some trouble here."
"This lassie got some trouble, you mean" the one-eyed said.
"Exactly where do you think you are going, young miss?" the gray-haired asked.
"To... to Malta" Amelie answered.
"Well, the ship is going to Malta. But you are not."
"Yeah, you are going to the captain. And then the blue sea and the sharks is probably your destination. Or, if you are really lucky, you might just get keelhauled."
"Let's take her to the captain" the gray-haired said.
And the two men grabbed Amelie's arms and led her up from the storage room, up on deck and towards the aft of the ship.
The captain, a middle-aged man with brown beard, was sitting behind his desk in the great cabin. He first had looked surprised at the sight of a little girl suddenly being brought before him, but then his sight had turned more troubled.
"How in the world can a young child manage to hide onboard for more than three days?" he asked his sailors.
"We don't know, captain" one-eye said.
The captain stood up, suddenly looking furious. "What kind of slackers are you? How many other stowaways do we have? Huh?"
"I... I don't think there is any more, sir" the gray-haired said.
"You don't think so, huh?" the captain yelled. "Did you check the ship?"
"N... no, sir" one-eye replied.
"Then what are you waiting for?! Go and search all the storages right away!"
"Aye aye sir, off course sir. But... how about the girl?"
"She's my problem now, not yours. Go!"
The two sailors turned around and left the cabin.
The captain looked at Amelie for a long time. She knew her life was in his hands. She knew she could just be minutes away from a certain death. But she knew all the way this could happen. Her only chance to reach her aunt on Malta had been to sneak unto this ship. She would have died if she had stayed in England. Since her parents died, no one was there to help her. The London streets were rough. Death would have taken her sooner or later. Her only chance had been this ship... but appearantly Death didn't like her to sneak away from her. He would take her anyway.
"How old are you, lassie?" the Captain eventually asked.
"Nine years old, sir. Soon ten."
The captain grunted. "Why are you onboard my ship?"
"My... my aunt lives on Malta. She is rich" Amelie said.
"If she is rich, why didn't she buy you a place onboard a ship?"
"She... she doesn't know that I'm coming, sir."
"Where is your parents?"
The captain looked at her. "Do I look like a person who would accept stowaways on my ship? You might even be a thief, or a murderer as far as I can tell. Maybe you are just trying to avoid justice."
"I'm... I'm not, sir."
The captain threw his arms open. "How could I tell?"
He shook his head and crossed his arms. "The law forbids any kind of stowaways. You are not better than any thief."
The captain took up a pipe from a drawer in his desk. Then he went over to the small fire burning in the stove an lit it. When he came back to the desk, he sat down and said: "If you were adult I would throw you overboard right away. If you were just a few years older, I would put you on the first desert island. But... my conscience don't allow me to. You are a malefactor, but you are also a child."
The captain blew out some smoke.
"You will get thoroughly punished, and when we reach Malta I will hand you over to the authorities to decide what should be done with you."
Amelie didn't know what to hope or think. In a way it would've been better if the captain just decided to throw her overboard. If the authorities on Malta took her, she might spend the next 20 years in a working camp. She didn't think she would survive that. So maybe it would be better if the Captain just let her die here and now.
"Guard!" the capitan yelled.
A man armed with saber and a gun came into the cabin.
"Watch this girl" the captian said. "I have to talk to the men."
"Throw her overboard!" one seaman yelled.
"Keelhaul her" another screamed.
The Captain raised his hand. "The girl will be punished, but kept onboard. And I forbid any of you to harm her."
"But a female onboard, captain" the quartermaster, who was standing right next to the captain, said. "Everyone knows that's bad luck. We might be sunk by a storm any day as long as she is onboard."
"Keep your superstitions for yourself, Anderson" the captain said. "She's just a child." Then he raised his voice and said: "Anyone who inure or try to injure the girl will be thown to the charks. Understood?"
"Aye aye, captain" the crew said, even if many of them still looked reluctant.
"Bring the girl out" the captain said.
Amelie was scared. She didn't know what was coming. How could she trust the captains words? Maybe he would throw her overboard anyway. Even if that was what she probably wanted, she was still not ready to die. She was scared of death. But she was also scared of whatever other punishments the captain could use on her.
The door to the cabin was flung open and two other guards came inside. One of them gave a sign to the other two, which took hold of both her arms and walked her towards the door. When she came out on the sunny deck, she saw that probably most of the crew where gathered there. All of them stared at her.
"She's just a little child" she heard one of them saying to another.
"And you wanted to feed the sharks with her?" the other said.
"I didn't realise she were so young... she's not older than my daughter back home."
Amelie was brought forward to the captain.
"Girl" he said with load voice. "You will be punished hard for your actions."
He took a few steps closer and looked at her. Then he said with lower voice: "I would use the whip on you, but I don't think you would survive that. Guard, go down to the storages. We have a delivery of rattan onboard. Bring a appropiate cane to use on the delinquent."
Amelie swallowed. A cane was better than a whip... but still, it might cause her injuires. She had heard of that.
"Remove her clothes and bend her over the cannon" the captain ordered.
"Aye aye" the guard on her right said.
Without hesitation he tored her dress right off, leaving her totally naked. Amelie could feel the gaze of dozens of men. No consideration of her modesty was shown as the guards led her over to a cannon and bent her forward over it, so that she was placed with one leg on each side of the hard bronze. Strong hands held her down and she had no chance of getting away.
There was a long waiting, and all that was heard was the sound of wind and waves.
"Finally" the captain said as the guard returned with a cane in his hand.
"Sorry for the delay, sir, but they were under many other boxes."
The captain nodded.
"Deliver the punishment" he said.
The guard looked at him.
"How many strokes, sir?"
The captain looked at the naked girl for a moment. She looked so vulnerable. And she was just a child. But she was a malefactor. She had to be punished properly.
"Twenty will do it for now" he said. "But she will gain more later."
"Aye aye, captian" the guard said.
"Twenty strokes" Amelie could hear the captain say.
She swallowed. Someone started to beat a drum.
A whining was heard. She closed her eyes. Then there was a SWOP as the cane landed across her buttocks. The pain was immidiate and strong.
Another stroke and Amelie felt tears falling down her cheeks. She tried to move but the same strong hands still held her down.
She shrieked as the pain increased.
Four. How could she survive another sixteen? Her thoughts went to her mother and father. What would they say about all this? Would they think it was right of her to try to get to Malta?
Amelie couldn't help it, she screamed. The pain was too strong. She couldn't handle this. She would probably die after all.
The captain didn't like to watch the girl's suffering, but he knew he had to, along with all the men. Red lines from the cane had appeared on the youn kid's buttocks. The child screamed from the pain.
At the thirteenth stroke she gave up all resistance and just lay there. The guard who was delivering the strokes looked at him. But he knew the punishment had to be finished, so he gave a sign to the guard to keep on. And another seven strokes were delivered to the poor child.
When the caning was finished the captain called the chief of the guards to come over. "Put the girl in the cell. But take care of her wounds first. Give her three meals everyday. Keep me informed about her recovering."
"Aye aye, captain" the chief guard sayed and went over to the girl. The guards who had been holding her stood her up and led her down under deck. The girl barely walked by herself.