Joe's books

Chapter 20 New York City…1884 P239~250

It was a rare occasion when Jon Mason came to the city,
its activities, whether it was day or night held little
appeal for him. The city, to him at least, always seemed
somewhat loud and assaulting to his senses and he
preferred the open sea or better yet, the quiet of his own
home and the company of Mai-Ling.

As the handsome cab he was in moved down the street,
he tried to think of a reason the owners might want to
see him.
He doubted it was about Aesop
MacDonald replacing him as captain. Aesop had a good
reputation and in the past they had always respected
Mason’s judgment on matters pertaining to the ship. As
far as the hunting was concerned, the last two cruises
had been very successful both he and they had made a
profit and that was the whole idea behind the venture in
the first place.
He sighed maybe it was his
retirement in general. Many thought Mason was a lucky
captain and luck was an easy thing to grasp and believe
in. There were those who believed if he continued
whaling his luck would hold and money could still be
made, but Mason didn’t think so. He had been at sea for
a long time and was looking forward to being ashore.
Over the years he’d made money, enough to buy the
owners out of their shares of the SHY LADY. With Aesop
in command, he could make up lost time with Mai-Ling,
work in his garden and watch his investments. At least
that’s what he hoped.

Looking out the window of the cab he watched the
street scenes outside the glass, individual faces becoming
one in the crowd, the Italian grocer, the Yiddish orange
girl, the street cleaners in white uniforms and large push
brooms. Sweat shop workers and prostitutes,
businessmen and social workers, policemen, thugs and
children. It all blended together, reminding him of dolls
in a toy store, something fragile and amusing at first but
latter with age they would be cast aside and forgotten
like so many other things in life.

The handsome cab slowed and then the driver, reining
the horse and maneuvering the vehicle near the curb,
stopped. They had arrived at the building of Roland,
Hughes and Jones, Ltd.

“We’re here sir,” said the cabman simply. Mason
jumped out of the cab, parcel in hand and looked about.
He hadn’t been in the city for a number of years but not
much has changed. He paid the cabbie and after assuring
him he no longer required his services, he went inside.

The lobby of the building was crowded, that it was a
place of business, there was no doubt. Well groomed men
moved about with machine like efficiency ignoring
anything that did not fall within their realm of
responsibility. Bells rang, machines, clicked, books closed
and papers shuffled. Mason saw some men talking into
strange contraptions which looked rather silly, of which
he was later informed were electromagnetic telegraphy
machines or as they were sometimes shortened to
“telephones”, invented by some fellow named Bell. Mason
raised an eyebrow, looked more like toy than anything
else. He didn’t think it would be too useful in the future,
telegram was as good as anything else, he thought, if a
person wanted to send a message.

Mason walked to what appeared to be an information
desk and spoke to the well groomed young man behind it.
“Excuse me, my name is Mason, I have an appointment
with Mr. Roland. Could you direct me to his office
please?”

The well groomed man smiled, then again, Mason
thought he would smile at anything, tell this fool he was
about to lose his legs and he’d still give you that stupid
grin. “Of course Captain Mason, you are expected.” He
snapped his fingers and a uniformed boy appeared. “Take
Captain Mason to Mr. Roland’s office. He’s expected.”

The boy bowed his head slightly, “Yes Mr. Purmain.”

They walked across the floor to an elevator which took
them to the fourth floor, to the offices of Roland and his
associates. Getting off the elevator (it was the first time
Mason had ever been in one and was amazed at all the
modern conveniences the building contained, he guessed
if Roland, Hughes or Jones could afford something they
wanted then they needed it) Mason handed his coat and
hat to an attendant and was shown into a boardroom
where Roland, Hughes and Jones were waiting.

“Good afternoon Captain Mason, thank you for coming,
it’s been a few years.” Said Roland with a smile.

Mason nodded. “Yes Mr. Roland, it has. The
contraption I came up in is new.”

Roland grinned, “The elevator? Yes, we had it installed
two years ago. Certainly easier than going up and down
those damned stairs every day.”

Hughes gestured to a chair, “Please have a seat sir.”

Mason on guard, sat down followed by the other three
and wondered what they were up to.

“Did you have a good trip?” asked Hughes.

Mason nodded his head, “It was fine Mr. Hughes.”

“Can we offer you anything to drink Captain?” asked
Jones.

“No thank you, Mr. Jones.”

“Well then, let’s get down to business shall we?” said
Roland, “Do you know why you are here Captain, the
reason for this meeting?”

Mason shook his head, “Frankly sir, I do not. The
outlays for the last two voyages were minimal with a
high profit on each return. I’ve brought my books if you
gentlemen would care to inspect them.”

Roland held up his left hand, palm out. “Rest assured
Captain, we have no complaints with you or the SHY
LADY.”

“That’s good to hear sir.”

“We realize that it’s as much to your benefit as ours to
profit from these voyages Captain and we have a
proposition which we believe can render a high profit
with low risk. If you’re interested that is.”

“I’m listening,” said Mason.

Roland opened a small wooden box and pulled out an
old piece of parchment, Mason recognized it as a map of
sorts, apparently of the northern polar reaches.

“Have you ever seen this before?” asked Roland.

Mason shook his head, “No, it looks old though.”

“It is,” said Jones, “the writing is Latin. We believe it to
be roughly three hundred years old.”

“Where did it come from?”

“One of our people found it in Rome, in one of the old
libraries,” said Jones, “a second one was found in Madrid
last year, though it’s condition was far worse.”

Mason shrugged his shoulders, “Alright, you have what
looks like an old map written in Latin. How does that
translate into high profit with low risk?”

“The Latin on the map speaks of a whale’s graveyard,”
said Jones, “at the geographical North Pole.”

Mason shook his head and began to laugh, “Gentlemen,
the whale’s graveyard is a myth, a legend.”

The other three men were not laughing.

“Captain Mason,” began Jones, “the people of the past
had knowledge of a number of things that have been lost
over the centuries. Without proper guidance these
secrets have eluded men for hundreds of years.”

“Besides,” said Hughes not wanting to be left out of the
conversation, “why would men speak of such things if
there was not an element of truth involved?”

“Because it’s a dream,” said Mason, “a fantasy. It’s
what men would like to find, to solve their problems, to
improve their lives, but it’s a dream, that s all. The only
way you’re gonna get whale bone and oil is to hunt for it,
it’s that simple.”

“It sounds if you’re afraid of a little ice, Captain,”
huffed Hughes.

Mason laughed, “Mr. Hughes, we’re not talking about a
little ice, we’re talking about a lot of ice. A ship has to
skirt the ice floes that can be anywhere between 60 feet
to six miles across, get through the pack ice and hope
that the ship doesn’t get caught in it and drift with the
current. Not to mention freezing temperatures, pressure
ridges, polar bears, eternal night, disease and insanity,
just to name a few of the problems. Believe me I know
what I’m talking about.”

“Be that as it may Captain Mason, we would be willing
to fund an expedition to the geographical North Pole in
order to find this “mythical” whale’s graveyard, as you
call it.”

Mason laughed, “Oh yeah? And what are you willing to
offer in return?”

“To start with, the papers for the SHY LADY, a down
payment so to speak, and fifty thousand dollars, half now,
the remainder when you return,” said Roland, “this is not
subject to negotiation.”

Mason looked at each of the three men in surprise.

Jones spoke up, “We’ve known for some time Captain
that you’ve wished to buy out our shares of your ship.
Agree to this expedition and you’ll walk out of here with
the papers today, the sole owner of the SHY LADY.”

“And twenty-five thousand dollars richer,” added
Hughes.

“And if I refuse?” asked Mason. An expedition to the
top of the world was certainly not anything the sea
captain was planning on in the immediate future.

Roland shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing Captain
Mason, we can’t force you to lead an expedition if you do
not wish to do so. We shall retain our shares and you
yours, but…” there was a weighty silence in the room
before Roland continued, “We will never approve the
position of master of the SHY LADY to Aesop MacDonald,
as is required by law as we are the majority share
holders and we will use all our influence, as far as we can,
to other ships. Mr. MacDonald will never work at sea
again let alone be master of his own ship, of that you can
be sure.”

Mason thought about what Roland had said.
MacDonald was one of the only true friends Mason had
and depended on him for any future business they might
have. He deserved a chance to command, Mason trusted
him and he was more than capable. One more trip up
north, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, if they had the right
people, equipment and supplies… “Alright, you said down
payment, what else is in it for me?”

Hughes spoke up. “Should you find this land where the
whales go to die, you or whomever you designate, will be
entitled to one quarter of all the bone, ambergris and oil
from said such place for a period of five years, after
processing operations begin, no less, with options to buy
in at a reduced rate of 50% after the five year period
specified.”

“Quite an incentive,” said Mason. “What about my
men?”

“Twenty thousand dollars for your first mate, fifteen
thousand for your second mate, ten for your third. For
the crew, normal merchant seamen wages plus 10%.”
Said Jones.

Mason nodded, “Very generous, you must really want
to find this place.”

“We do Captain Mason, and we’re willing to pay for the
find,” said Roland.

“You’re putting out a lot of money for this, what if we
don’t get to this place, the geographical North Pole? Or
what if the graveyard itself doesn’t exist, what then?”

“Nothing,” said Roland, “the SHY LADY is yours, the
men keep their money. This is an investment and all
investments carry risks, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Jones and
myself understand that, sometimes money is lost, but
we’re confident on this. Should the vessel be lost, it
wouldn’t affect our business in any serious way as you
would hold the ship’s papers. The ships in our company
are quite safe, they are not at risk. We believe with our
research and you leading the expedition, this investment
is a sound one. Our only condition is that if the
expedition is a failure, we want no mention of it ever
made. No published memoirs, no surprise adventure
stories. Should the expedition succeed, we will of course
have our version of it, but if it doesn’t, well…there have
been enough failures in the far north we don’t want our
names to be associated with another one. It would be bad
for business, don’t you know.”

“You don’t want to look like fools,” said Mason.

“Exactly,” said Roland. “On the other hand, should you
succeed, I’m sure we will be hailed as men with
exceptional vision.”

“A failed expedition,” continued Jones “would bring bad
publicity, which of course we wish to avoid at all costs.”

Mason looked to the surface of the highly polished
table. “Why me?” he asked, “Surely there are any
number of captains who could do this job?”

“Not one with your experience,” said Roland.

“There a number of ship’s masters with more arctic
experience than I.”

“That’s not what we’re talking about,” said Roland.

Jones opened a file before him and with glasses
perched on the end of his nose, began to speak, “There is
no record of a Jonathan Edward Mason before 1875 in
San Francisco, at which time you removed a Miss Mai-
Ling Yeung, a Chinese prostitute under the employment
of one Madame Wu, from a brothel there.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that’s completely true Mr. Jones,”
said Mason.

“You are correct to a degree,” said Jones. “There was a
child born in 1848, records show that he died that same
year. That child was christened Jonathan E. Mason.”

Mason looked at the three men before him. They knew
his secret, there was no point in denying it, it wouldn’t
get him anywhere. He wondered how long the silence
would last. Finally it was Roland, who broke the eternity
of quiet. “Your real name is Robert Wyatt. You were part
of a prisoner transfer from the C.S.S. ALABAMA to the
American Whaling ship NORTH STAR, lost at sea in
1863.”

Mason eyed Roland as Jones continued the report. “In
1868, you were sentenced to death in a Hong Kong court
of law for acts of Piracy against the crown. You were able
to escape and were next known to be traveling with
Russian fur traders under the name of Pavel Nesterou.
You disappeared for a time and then turned up in Cochin
China in 1872, dealing with stolen antiquities. There was
some trouble and you were forced to leave in a hurry.”

“What was the trouble?” asked Hughes, his question
directed at Mason.

Mason looked at Jones and wondered how much he
knew, “You tell ‘im.”

Jones cleared his throat, “Gaston Bouchard, the name
Captain Mason was using at the time, killed two of his
native crew as well as a Prussian national by the name
of Meyer. He was also accused of theft by a Mr. Richard
Phillips, a businessman of somewhat unscrupulous
means in Southeast Asia. Apparently what he is accused
of stealing provided for a new identity and a means to
live rather well.”

“Correct, Mr. Jones.”

“How did you pass yourself off as a Russian and a
Frenchman?” asked Hughes.

“My mother was Russian, My father was French,” said
Mason. “He changed his name after he came to America.”

Jones shuffled some papers around, “Yes, yes, here it is.
Mother, Russian national, Natasha Novitch, father,
French national Georges Demers, who changed his name
to Wyatt, as Captain Mason has already told us. Both
perished in a fire in San Francisco in 1870.”

“So you could speak French and Russian before you
could speak English,” said Roland with a slight touch of
admiration, Mason nodded his head.

“What do you have to say about these acts of piracy?”
asked Hughes.

Mason sighed and looked at ceiling and wondered why
the fussy old man wasn’t more concerned about his
activities in Cochin China. “I was in the water for four
days after the NORTH STAR went down. Do you know
what that’s like Mr. Hughes, Four days, no food or water,
the sun beating down on you the sharks swimming about,
getting closer all the time?

Hughes shook his head such a thing was beyond
anything he was familiar with.

“I was sure I was going to die, not the most pleasant
thing for a thirteen year old boy to think about but
welcoming at the same time. A Chinese junk rescued me,
the captain, Lau, and his crew were pirates, they weren’t
about to just drop me off at the nearest port. If I wanted
to survive, I had to follow the leader, it was that simple.”

“Apparently you adapted to the outlaw way of life, so
to speak, quite well,” said Jones. “Your name is
mentioned frequently in documents of the authorities in
Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia, the Chinese,
British and Dutch authorities all set a price on the head
of one Robert Wyatt.”

“And as you can see,” said Mason, “they never
collected on it.”

“And the French still have a warrant out for the arrest
of Gaston Bouchard.”

“Nor sir, am I incarcerated, and do not intend to be.”

Roland smiled he couldn’t hide his liking for this man.

“All right gentlemen, you know who I am, and still
want me to lead this expedition? Fine, I’ll do it. But there
are a few more things that I want…” and Mason began to
tell them how this venture just might succeed.

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