"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 18 Greenland…1884 p210~220

It was Sunday, and for Captain Adam McCloud of the
Scottish whale ship HARMONY, it was always the best
day of the week, more than that really, the Sabbath was
the most important day of the week. On his knees before
his bunk, he prayed. He prayed for the souls of his men,
for those who had come into the fold and for those who
had yet to see the true way to salvation. He’d beg
forgiveness for his blasphemy and cursing over the last
week, for his lustful and impure thoughts. He’d pray for
the heathens that he had saved, he’d pray for the ones he
had yet to.

There was a knock on his door, which he expected.
“Enter,” he said in his most pious voice. A sailor came in
and informed the captain that the men were assembled.
McCloud nodded his head and with his bible in hand, he
left the confines of his cabin and walked forward, the
ship gently swaying at anchor and taking his place
standing aft of the trypots, he looked out among the faces
there. Fourteen men including the Eskimo, Keelut who
had seen the error of his heathen ways and sought the
Lord, good! Very good indeed!

“It is good to see so many of you standing before me,”
began McCloud. “Though for many of us far from our
homes, we find the path to salvation is a difficult one,
but with inner strength and the help of the Lord, I’m
sure we shall prevail. Let us pray.”

The fourteen men bowed their heads and clasped their
hands in front of them and began to speak in one voice.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in
heaven.”

“Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts,
as we have also forgiven our debtors.”

“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from
the evil one.”

“For thine is the Kingdom and the glory for ever and
ever. Amen.”

McCloud motioned for the men to be seated and
standing above them cleared his throat and began. “I
speak to you from the book of Matthew, chapter 8, verse
18. When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave
orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a
teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will
follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have
holes and the birds have nests, but the son of man has no
place to lay his head.”

Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and
bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Follow me and let the dead bury
their own dead.”
McCloud stopped and looked at the men before him. “I
speak here of what? I speak of the cost of following Jesus,
our Savior…” The litany would last another two hours at
least. First mate Charles Walters watched from the
wheel situated aft. They had been in Greenland for two
months and in that time, Walters watched the master of
the HARMONY go slowly insane.

It had started simply enough, the captain reading the
bible in his cabin, but as time went on he spent more
time in the cabin with the book and bottles of brandy and
began to speak of his intimacy with the Almighty and the
futility of opposing the will of God. Walters wasn’t sure
what had pushed his captain over the edge, it might have
been all his time at sea, the loneliness of Greenland or
the pressure of command. Whatever it was, it was
putting them all in danger. In this environment the
captain of all people needed to be in command of all his
faculties and Walters was trying to figure how to stop
what was happening and quickly, short of relieving the
captain of command, which would endanger his career if
he could not prove his accusations. There were no rules
against finding religion. The only one who had any
influence with the captain lately was that native, Keelut
and Walters sure as hell didn’t trust that mangy son of a
bitch. His conversion to Christianity was about as real as
Father Christmas.

Walters looked ashore, a trypot was smoking tended by
some of the Eskimo women and another one was being
prepared. On a rocky beach, some Eskimo men and
whalers were butchering a couple of whales. The
Eskimos were led by a resourceful hard working half
breed, whose father was reputed to have been a whaling
captain from years past which may have been true, not
that Walters really cared as long as the work was done,
his chief concern was getting out of this place with or
without his crazy captain. He heard McCloud’s voice
rising forward.

“…and as stated in Isaiah, chapter 53, verse 3. He was
despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and
familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide
their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

The captain’s voice became quieter and Walters turned
away shaking his head. He could make no sense from the
man’s ravings and doubted they made any sense to his ill
collected congregation. By evening, most of them would
be passed out from too much rum which for some strange
reason, the captain cheerfully condoned, once telling
Walters “that better a weakness for the drink than the
flesh in such a sinful place as this,” whatever the hell
that meant.

The cook came on deck and careful to avoid the
preaching captain, moved farther aft and after checking
the direction of the wind, dumped a bucket of slop over
the side. Wiping his hands on his shirt he walked toward
Walters.

“Good morning, Mr. Walters.”

Walters nodded his head, “Good morning, Smith.”

“Ahh, Mr. Walters, I was wondering if I…” began the
cook, but stopping in midsentence.

“Wondering what Smith?”

“Well sir, if after dinner, I could go ashore to…maybe
get some extra grub as it was, if it was alright.”

Oh yeah, thought Walters, this place was just
brimming over with fresh vegetables and eggs. He knew
the cook had a woman ashore and just said, “Yeah, but
make sure you’re onboard before breakfast, the steward
can’t cook to save his arse.”

“Aye sir, thank’ee,” said Smith and went below to
prepare lunch for the crew aboard.

Walters sighed and turned his attention back to the
beach, maybe Smith had the right idea, go ashore and
get some extra grub.

From the shore Peter watched the HARMONY at
anchor. The size of the vessel never ceased to amaze him,
the tall masts and the rigging or the fact that his father
had been captain of such a ship. To him it was quite
remarkable that men could build such things. The thing
Peter and others found annoying was the presence of
Keelut on the whale ship and the influence he seemed to
have over Captain McCloud.

It had been two years since Keelut had disappeared
and Allawah had become Peter’s wife. In that time,
things had changed. Their small band which had
numbered eleven now numbered thirty and Peter was
now their leader. He and Allawah had a son whom they
named Tah. Over time they continued their usual hunts
and when an opportunity presented itself, such as now,
they worked for the whalemen.

And so it was when the HARMONY dropped anchor,
causing excitement at first and then dread when they
saw Keelut. Those who remembered him or had heard
stories about him feared the worst. Keelut ignored Peter
and went through a less competent man when he gave
instructions from the outsiders to the Inuit, knowing well
that if there were any mistakes Peter would be blamed,
regardless if he knew something or not. As Peter’s
English was limited at that time (something he and
Ahnah decided they would correct very quickly), he had
little in the way of any recourse, and endured the insults
of Captain McCloud when things did not go his way.

Peter knew his people depended on him and couldn’t let
his personal feelings interfere the work, the band needed
it. Allawah was afraid and though Sedna hadn’t said
anything, he knew she was worried. Ahnah also
remained quiet but kept her wits about her. If Keelut
was near, bad things were sure to follow.

Peter sighed and turned his attention to the task at
hand, butchering two whales on the black gravel shore.
The men were all good with a knife, but even with ten
men on one and twelve on the other, they were still going
to be busy for quite a few hours. It wasn’t bad though,
the men laughed and joked, took time to smoke and if
they had it, an occasional nip from the bottle. The water
off the beach was red with blood, the whale flesh cut into
strips that could be managed the woman cut them into
smaller pieces and threw the blubber into the boiling
trypots, stirring them like witches in a Greek tragedy.

Peter looked at the ship once more before returning to
work. Ahnah had told him their destinies involved such a
ship, the questions were which one and when?

“The time draws near when we must reluctantly finish
our service. I’ll finish from the book from which we
started, Matthew, chapter 18, verse 10. See that you do
not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you
that their angels in heaven always see the face of my
Father in heaven.”

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep,
and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the
ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that
wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is
happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine
that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in
heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should
be lost.” McCloud stopped for a moment to allow the men
some time for private meditation. After five minutes, the
master/minister of the HARMONY raised his head.

“That concludes today’s service. I hope this leaves you
with your souls more refreshed, your thoughts more
serene. Go with the Lord and ask for his guidance in all
things, peace be with you.” The Sunday service aboard
the HARMONY was finished.

The men melted away in silence, some to attend
various duties required of them, others to share a drink
in the forecastle. McCloud stood on deck and breathed
the air, Keelut stood near him like a faithful dog waiting
to please his master.

“Good words Captain,” said the Eskimo.

McCloud smiled. “I thank you Keelut, but I am only a
humble messenger, they are not my words but those of
better men then I. It gladdens me that you take them to
heart.”

“Words that foolish men ignore, I not foolish, Captain.”

“No my friend, you are not. Sometimes I think you are
the only one that truly understands me. You are
definitely a gift from God, proof that the heathen can
cast away their dealings with the Devil and be civilized
and accept the true gospel as it were.”

“I…” Keelut stopped for a moment to think of the
proper word,
“grateful Captain McCloud for your…kindness.”

“It is no less than what you deserve my friend, no less.
Now, I’m afraid I must retire to my cabin for
some…private meditation.
I’ll see you tomorrow morning my good friend Keelut.”
The master of the HARMONY retired to his cabin.

With his back turned, slumped over and tired, McCloud
could not see Keelut smile. Private meditation meant the
afternoon with a bottle of whiskey. The captain’s habits
suited the Inuit man fine.

One of the boats was going ashore and Keelut jumped
aboard without asking permission, knowing none of the
men in the boat wished to incur McCloud’s wrath. On
Sundays he was a lamb, but come Monday morning he’d
be a lion with a great hangover, and at such a time it was
unwise for anyone to approach the ship’s master with
any problem regardless of how important they thought it
was. Ignoring the looks of those in the boat, Keelut
seated himself and with no more to take on, the men at
the oars started to pull towards the shore.

Walters watched as the Eskimo jumped into the boat,
wondering what he was up to. The mate had been able to
observe the man for quite some time and knew this one
enjoyed planting the seeds of discontent standing back
and watching his handiwork grow. It was something he
enjoyed, the misfortune of others. It was pointless to try
to talk to McCloud about any of his suspicions, as far as
he was concerned the Inuit could do no wrong. Now
Walters was concerned about what kind of trouble the
bastard intended to stir up on the beach.

Keelut turned and looked back at the ship, he could see
Walters and he smiled. The first mate had no control
over him. Keelut would do what he wanted to do no
matter how much the first mate might object, he had the
protection of McCloud, at least for a little while. After
Keelut had abandoned his wife two years before, he
made his way to the coast and after three weeks of
searching, found the HARMONY and after impressing
the captain with his ability to toad to him, he was
allowed to stay. They sailed to the Atlantic and to the
coast of Africa where they hunted, finally coming back to
Greenland on the last leg of their journey home. Now it
was time for Keelut to decide what he was about to do
next as he had no desire to go to Scotland. To him the
whites weren’t really hard to figure out, he wanted the
same things they did and the less he had to work to get it,
the better. McCloud thought him useful as a liaison
between the crew and the Eskimos and the idea that
Keelut had embraced Christianity only improved his
standing with the captain, though he hadn’t fooled
Walters, not that it really mattered. He’d learned what
he needed to know aboard the HARMONY but to
accomplish his plan he would have to go elsewhere and
from listening to others he now had some idea about the
next phase.

As the boat ground against the black gravel shore,
Keelut jumped out. He saw Peter skinning a whale with
the others and grinned, glad to see his former friend at
labor. Served him right for taking his wife! It never
occurred to Keelut that he had abandoned her in the first
place, if he thought of Allawah at all, it was
remembering that she never had food ready when he
wanted it and there wasn’t much of it when she did serve
it up, if she had been a worse wife he wouldn’t even have
had that. He also saw Ahnah sweating near one of the
trypots, he ignored her. Bitch! She would learn what an
important man he was, what he had become, more
important than that wife stealing brother of hers, she
would see.

There was a tent farther up the beach and Keelut
made his way to it, with little care of who saw him or
what they might think. He was above other people, Inuit
and outsiders. Entering the canvas and wood structure,
he found three men sitting on crates passing around a
bottle of rum. By the looks of them, the three men
contained within would never be considered with
overachievers in any group, even the description of
underachievers might be considered generous.

The man farthest from the entrance was Morton
Jenson, a black bearded and foul man, whom few people
would ever consider befriending. His ugliness spread to
all aspects of his life, he never smiled. The man on his
right, Tobias Smith was a thin man with equally
thinning hair and missing teeth. His company was
limited to those who would accept him for their own
sport and amusement. The third man was small and
round with a mop of red hair and a ridiculous short
moustache and a face scarred by acne, his name was
Deacon Rodgers.

“Bout time you fuckin’ showed up!” slurred Jenson,
trying to take the lead of the group. Keelut gave him a
cold stare and Jenson said no more. The Eskimo took the
bottle from Rodgers and took a healthy drink, after
which he wiped his mouth and boxed Rodgers in the
head, simply because he was the closest.

“You listen to me,” he growled, “You want a good life?
You listen to me!” the three men in the tent looked at
their feet. “What you think, huh? You think you know
more than Keelut, huh? My father a chief, I tell you
many times!”

“Yeah, yeah we know Keelut,” said Jenson sheepishly,
“but how’s come you ain’t chief now?”

 

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