"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 19 New Bedford, Massachusetts…1884 P227~239

The SHY LADY was tied up pier side, gently moving
with the oily water surrounding it. Between the hull of
the ship and the pier, bottles, pieces of paper and other
bits of assorted trash floated, kept in place by two
seemingly large and unmovable bodies. The ship itself
looked far different from the one that had arrived twenty
days earlier. Freshly scrubbed and painted, one would
hardly guess that the vessel had just returned after a
two year absence.

Mason and MacDonald sat in the main cabin, smoking,
drinking coffee and going over the account books,
matching numbers, gains and losses, boring but
necessary.

“The crew was paid off?” asked Mason looking over
various receipts.

MacDonald grinned and nodded. “Yeah, you know how
that goes.”

“Any problems?”

The first mate stretched his legs, “Ahh, the usual
bitching, you know, from the “educated” ones.”

Mason smiled. Whalemen were not paid wages like
most sailors or laborers, they received a share or what
they referred to as a lay, a predetermined allowance of
the total value of oil and bone taken at the end of the
voyage. It was considered a good incentive for crews to
work hard and bring back as much oil and bone as they
could. The “educated” ones were usually green hands,
new to the business, with absolutely no knowledge of the
trade, who insisted, though Mason and MacDonald did
their best to persuade them otherwise, on the longest lay
they could possibly get thinking that the higher the
number in the lay meant more money at the end of the
voyage. Needless to say, they were often disappointed at
the results of all their hard work. It didn’t always
happen though, for some there was a guiding hand. For
many seamen, shipping out on a whaling ship was a last
desperate measure that few wanted to experience.

“Well, that’s to be expected. All these years I don’t
think I’ve ever seen a completely satisfied crew, any
other news?”

MacDonald shrugged his shoulders, “The oil and bone
sold well. The repairs are coming along and I was able to
buy another boat to replace the one we lost.”

“You’ve been busy Aesop I hope you’ve had some time
with Bess.”

At the mention of his wife’s name MacDonald smiled.
“The homecoming was well worth the wait Captain.”

“Yes, I know what you mean,” said Mason. “Man does
not live by bread alone.”

“Amen to that!”

Finishing their business at hand, they closed the books
and put away their papers. Mason poured them both a
whiskey.

MacDonald raised his glass, “A dead whale.”

“Or a stove boat,” replied Mason. They clinked their
glasses and downed the amber fluid.

“Any idea where we might be going next season?”
asked Mac-Donald. He knew Mason was considering
retirement, but as of yet nothing was official. Until they
knew for certain, they planned their ventures together.

Mason nodded his head, “Yeah, I’m thinking south,
round the Horn and into the Pacific.”

“Cabo San Lucas and Sandwich Islands,” nodded
MacDonald with approval. “Been awhile since you an’ me
hunted them waters.”

“I figured a change wouldn’t hurt us none, but I’m not
sure yet. I’m going to New York tomorrow, so when I get
back I may be able to give you a clearer answer.”

“Why you going to New York? Seems a bit strange.”

Mason shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know, the
owners want a meeting but they didn’t tell me why.”

MacDonald flashed a bright smile, “You know this
might be a good thing Jon, you’ve got the money, you can
buy them out.”

Mason nodded his head, “Maybe. I haven’t brought the
subject up with them yet. If I do, the big question is will
they sell?”

“They’d be damned hard pressed I’d say, if Jon Mason
couldn’t convince them,” said MacDonald.

Mason laughed, “That may be so old friend. No, I think
this is about you becoming master of the SHY LADY. I
sent them a letter of recommendation last year when we
was in Rio.”

“I’m flattered Jon, but are you sure you want to retire?
You’re only thirty-six.”

“I won’t be completely retired, I’ll watch over interests
here. When you bring back a load of oil and bone, I’ll get
us a good price for it, try to make both our lives a little
easier.”

“Well, I won’t argue with that,” said the mate.

“Watch over things until I get back, I’ll fill you in then.”

MacDonald nodded, “I’ll see you when you get back.”
They had another drink and went their separate ways
for the remainder of the day, leaving Davis aboard to
handle any problems that might arise.

MacDonald was quite familiar with New Bedford, he
considered it home. He hadn’t been back to Georgia in
many years. Both his parents had passed on and he had
no brothers or sisters, everything he cared for and valued
was in New England, his wife, their home, their friends
and his trade. On the way, he stopped at a dry goods
store to pick up some coffee and flour, his wife had asked
him to get. Looking at the shelves he spied a can of
peaches and had that added to the bill, he knew Bess
wouldn’t mind. Sweet peaches were one of MacDonald’s
few weaknesses. He also bought a half pound of sugar
and some dried peas. With packages in his arms, he
stopped one more place that he thought necessary before
going home, a small jewelry store. Bess would never ask
for anything such as fancy jewelry on her own which was
why MacDonald took it upon himself to buy something
for her, in this case, a gold and pearl broach he thought
she might like. The purchase didn’t take long, the
manager complimented MacDonald on his choice and
after wrapping the item, the mate continued on his way
home.

Bess MacDonald arched her back and gave a smile of
satisfaction, the laundry was done and hung out to dry,
at least she wouldn’t have to worry about that for a few
hours. After wiping her brow, she grabbed her empty
wicker basket and went back into the house. That old
saying was true, a woman’s work was never done.

Bess was a handsome woman, thirty years of age. Her
skin was light brown in color and her hair was short and
kinky, she still retained a figure that caused men to turn
and take a second look. She had grown up in New
Bedford with a widowed mother and a younger brother
and had been working as a domestic when she met a
young boat steerer with a southern accent and a load of
stories, named Aesop MacDonald. At first she wasn’t sure
she wanted to get involved with a whaleman and did her
best to ignore him whenever he was about, but
persistence paid off and when he asked her to watch the
4th of July fireworks with him, she had run out of
excuses to say no, so she said yes. They were a couple
after that. It took MacDonald two years to make third
mate, another year to make second at which time they
were married. That had been six years ago and in the
short time they had had together they were happy. Her
husband had set her mother up in a small boarding
house and had found work for her younger brother, Caleb,
in a barber’s shop, sweeping the floor and learning to cut
hair. Aesop had a good reputation and with the help of
Mason, they were able to buy the house they now
occupied, a one story building with a parlor, a kitchen
and pantry, a dining room and two bedrooms, it was
enough for them and both felt secure in the fact that
nobody could toss them into the streets and they would
always have a roof over their heads.

“I’m home,” called MacDonald as he walked through
the front door.

“I’m in the dining room, Aesop,” said Bess, returning
his call.

MacDonald entered and saw his wife wiping off the
dining room table. One thing about Bess, she was proud
of their home and she did her damnedest to keep it clean.
He’d challenge anybody to say they had a cleaner home
than the one Bess MacDonald lived in.

“Did you get that flour and bacon like I asked,” said his
wife.

MacDonald snapped his fingers, “I forgot the bacon,
hon. I got all the other stuff you wanted though.”

“Aesop, you always forget something. I told you, write
it down and then you won’t forget.”

“Yeah, well I know Bess, but I forgot,” said her
husband coming up from behind her. He ran his hands
up from her tight stomach to her firm breasts and gave
them a gentle bounce. She could feel him stiffen from
behind.

“Damn, Aesop, I figured you’d be worn out, especially
after the last three nights. You get out of here! I got work
to do.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said, kissing her neck and nibbling
on her ear, he felt her sag a bit.

“I mean it Aesop, I’m busy, ain’t got time for this.”

“You’re right,” replied MacDonald, who turned her
around and kissed her hard on the mouth which she
didn’t fight and instead pulled him closer.

“Alright Aesop, it’s time for me to take a break
anyway,” she said and they both dropped to the floor in a
frenzy, causing the grocery bag to fall over and the
canned peaches to roll out.
MacDonald didn’t care. Some things take precedence
over peaches.

Sean Higgins looked across the dinner table at his son
Daniel and smiled. “I saw Captain Mason and Mr.
MacDonald this morning, they spoke highly of ya, lad.
Mother,” said the man, referring to his wife, “did ya know
our Danny boy here had the watch when they sighted the
last whale they brought in?”

Daniel’s mother dished some boiled potatoes out to her
son, “Is that so Danny? Well, I’m just glad you’re home.
Two years is a long time and I missed my boy.”

“Now Dorothy,” said the elder Mr. Higgins, “Danny’s a
third mate now, Captain Mason said it probably won’t be
long afore he’s a second.”

“I’ve learned a lot from the Captain and Mr.
MacDonald, I’m grateful for them taking me on when
they did.”

His father nodded, “Probably no two better ship
handlers on the waterfront. You know I served with
Captain Mason when he was first mate aboard the
CARMEN and me an Aesop MacDonald was boat
steerers together aboard the old WOOD EYE, those were
the days, I’m telling ya boy!”

“Well, Sean, I’m sure Danny’s got lots of adventures to
tell us about, but I’m also sure he’d like to finish his
dinner as I believe he has some place to be.”

“That’s right, you’re seeing Beth tonight, ain’t ya boy!”

“Yeah, Pa, I’m going to her house tonight.”

“Well finish up boy, finish up,” said his father.

Daniel finished the remains of his dinner quickly and
grabbed his hat and coat. His mother wiped some food
from the side of his mouth. “Be on your best behavior and
give our regards to Mr. and Mrs. Miller.”

“Yes, Ma.”

“Now go, but remember, don’t stay too late. Mr. Miller
has to work in the morning, so you should probably leave
at 8:30, 9:00 at the latest.”

“Yes Ma,” said Daniel, who quickly ran out the door.

“He’s a good boy,” said Sean, standing next to his wife.

Dorothy wiped a small tear from her eye, “Yes Sean, he
is.”

Daniel Higgins carrying flowers and chocolate walked
down the street, first fast then slow. While he was in a
hurry to see Beth, seeing Mr. Miller was enough to slow
him down. He was uncomfortable in what was referred to
as his “courting clothes”, he felt that the tie around his
neck was too tight as well as the brand new shoes which
he had yet to break in. He’d known Beth since they were
both children, playing on the same streets that he now
walked and while there was never any doubt in his mind
about the profession he would follow, Mr. Miller had
hoped that the man who wished to wed his daughter
would be more inclined to stay on land. It wasn’t long
before he was standing before the front door of the Miller
residence debating whether he should use the door
knocker or turn and get while the gittin’ was good. The
door opened while he was thinking about it and there
stood his Beth, dark hair in curls which hung to her
shoulders, rose red cheeks and a smile that said welcome.

“Good evening Danny, please come in.”
Higgins stepped in and removed his hat he gave her
the flowers and candy, grateful to be rid of them and
followed the girl into the parlor, where her stern faced
father and smiling mother were waiting. This was going
to be a challenge, thought Higgins. He’d rather face an
enraged bull whale than sit in the same room as her
father for any period of time that much he knew for sure.

“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Miller, I hope you are
well,” he said in an attempt to be friendly. The older
people both nodded their heads, mother smiling, father
not.

“Good evening Daniel. How are your mother and
father?” asked Beth’s mother.

“Their fine Mrs. Miller, they send their regards to both
of you.”

There was an uncomfortable period of silence that
seemed to go on forever. The grandfather clock in the
parlor ticking very loudly

“How was the weather at sea Daniel?” asked her father.

“Ahhh, well..sometimes it rained and sometimes it
didn’t, sir. And other times it was sunny and cloudy…sir,”
said Higgins.

Mr. Miller nodded his head, “Yes, we had very similar
weather while you were away. Sometimes it rained,
sometimes it was sunny. It also snowed if I’m not
mistaken, isn’t that so mother?”

Mrs. Miller nodded her smiling head, “Yes dear, rain,
sun and snow.”

“There was the changing of the leaves in autumn of
course, that is always beautiful,” said Mr. Miller. “The
various yellows and reds and the orange sky is a tribute
to the Lord.”

“Uhmm, yes sir,” said Daniel, “the leaves of autumn
are a sight to behold.”

“I don’t suppose you see many leaves on the ocean, do
you Daniel?” asked Mrs. Miller.

“No, ma’am, as a general rule we don’t see many leaves
at sea.”

“Tell me Daniel, are church services regular while one
is at sea?” asked Mr. Miller.

Young Higgins cocked his head to the side and inhaled,
how could he answer that question?”Well, sir they aren’t
what you would call regular exactly, but most whalers
are well versed in the use of the Lord’s name, so to
speak.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” said Mr. Miller.

The clock chimed which caused Higgins to almost jump
out of his chair, it was 7:00 PM. Mr. and Mrs. Miller
stood as if on cue.
“Well, young man, speaking of church, we have a meeting
this evening. I was hoping Beth would attend with us,
but she had forgot and since you two haven’t seen each
other for awhile, and as two of Beth’s Aunts are expected
shortly, Mother convinced me that it wouldn’t hurt for
you young people to spend some time together. I expect
no improper behavior, I believe that is understood and
will return promptly at 8:30 PM.”

“Oh, no need to worry Mr. Miller, I understand
perfectly. I will be waiting in this chair when you return
sir.”

Mr. and Mrs. Miller left the house with Daniel and
Beth seeing them off with happy innocent smiles. Once
the door was closed, Beth threw herself into his arms, “I
thought they would never leave!” she said, pulling him
upstairs to her bedroom.

“Yeah,” said Higgins, “me too, that clock scared the hell
out of me!”

“Come on,” she said unbuttoning her blouse, “we don’t
have much time!”

Higgins fumbled with his pants, “Christ, Beth, I’m
hurrying, I’m hurrying! What about your Aunts?”

Beth smiled, “I told them 8:00 but they might come
early, so we got to hurry!”

A small group of New Bedford’s sons were home safe
and content, at least for awhile and for them, that was
all that really mattered.

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