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.