Chapter 21 New Bedford/Onset, Massachusetts…1884 P251~260
The dinner was good and filling, thick steaks, mashed
potatoes, carrots and peas, fresh baked bread and plenty
of butter. The four at the table were enjoying each other’s
company, something that they had missed all together
over the last two years.
“Bess, this is simply wonderful,” said Mai-Ling. “I don’t
think anyone sets a table better than you in the whole of
“Thank you Mai-Ling,” said the other woman with a
smile. “I’m glad you like the dinner, we haven’t done
this for awhile and I thought it was rather a special
“If you keep feeding Aesop like this Bess, he won’t be
able to get into a boat!” said Mason.
MacDonald laughed, “I don’t think gettin’ in the boat is
gonna be a problem, but gettin’ out sure as hell gonna
“So, I understand you ladies went to Boston while we
were gone,” said Mason, cutting into his steak.
Bess nodded her head, “Yes, Mai-Ling wanted some
furniture and books and I wanted to look at some china
“Did you buy any?” asked her husband.
Bess MacDonald sighed and shook her head, “You
eatin’ off it Aesop!”
“Oh!” said MacDonald a bit sheepishly, “I thought this
Mason grinned at his old friend and then turned his
attention to the women with a little more seriousness.
“Be careful both of you, when you go to the city.” He
didn’t have to elaborate anti Chinese sentiment was high
at the moment and the feelings towards most negroes
“You needn’t worry Jon,” said Mai-Ling. “We took quiet
John as our escort.”
Mason nodded. Quiet John was the mute strong man
who worked the docks. He was an old friend of
MacDonald and Mason and could be depended on to
protect the two women from harm.
The conversation continued over unimportant and
trivial matters, the weather, some minor points on the
trade and item or two concerning the local school teacher,
Miss Julia Craig and a blacksmith named Homer Ford.
Some new city ordinances that some of the local
population found annoying and some recent labor
disputes that had made news lately.
“That broach is simply beautiful Bess, where did you
get it?” asked Mai-Ling.
“Aesop brought it home for me,” said Bess.
“Well, Aesop, you certainly have good taste,” said Mai-
Bess smiled, “I know he does.”
When dinner finished, the woman cleared the table
and the men went to the parlor for cigars and brandy.
Mason told MacDonald about his meeting in New York.
MacDonald exhaled some smoke and shook his head,
“Jon, a whale’s graveyard? Hell, there ain’t no such
Mason nodded, “Yeah but they are convinced that it
“Christ, from some old map?”
“I know, but the more I’ve been thinking about it, the
more I’m thinking they might be on to something.”
“Ahh, Jon, not you too?!” said MacDonald.
“Aesop, nobody’s been to the geographical North Pole,
who knows what’s up there? Hell there might be just
what they say is there.”
“And maybe nothing.”
Mason shrugged his shoulders, “Maybe, but the only
way we’re gonna find out is to go up there and look,
besides they’re paying for it and damn well too.”
“Yeah, I know Jon, it just seems a hell of a long way to
go to see nothing that’s all, but as you said, it’s their
money and I ain’t gonna say no to twenty thousand.”
Mason smiled, “I didn’t think you’d mind that, oh and
one more thing Aesop, were gonna need Isaac Dunn for
MacDonald shook his head, “He don’t go out no more
Jon, you know that.”
“Yeah, well you’re gonna have to change his mind. I
think the only way this is gonna work is if we got him
with us. You’re his friend, he’ll listen to you. You know
where he’s at?”
“I heard he was teaching school in Onset,” said
“Yeah, look Jon, you know I hate going up there, that
place gives me the creeps.”
Mason nodded, in the last few years Onset had become
a popular gathering place for spiritualists and those
involved with the occult, it was considered by many, a
spooky place. “Still, I want you to go there tomorrow.
With Davis leaving to take up that first mate’s billet on
the BETTY, we’re gonna be short a man. Offer the
position to Dunn, he knows his business.”
“What about Danny Higgins, he’s gonna think you lost
confidence in ‘im,” said MacDonald.
“I’ll talk to Danny, he’s never been up north before and
there’s a lot to learn, I’d feel more comfortable with Dunn
as second mate on this trip.”
“Alright, fair enough, are we going to do any hunting
while we’re there?”
Mason shook his head, “No, I don’t really see us having
the time for that we’ll be busy enough as it is. If we see
something on the way back, sure, but while we’re up
there I think it would be best to just concentrate on the
job at hand.”
“What about the crew?”
“We’ll take a full compliment with us as if we’re going
whaling. They’ll be paid standard seaman’s wages plus
ten percent. The story is we’re looking for new hunting
grounds. That should satisfy any curiosity anyone might
have and explain why we’re not paying the usual lay.”
“So who’s to know what we’re actually doing up there?”
“You, me, young Danny and we’re gonna have to tell
Dunn. The crew will find out a few things, they always
do but nothing specific.”
“And what if Dunn says no?”
Mason shrugged his shoulders, “From what I’ve heard
I’m sure we can rely on his discretion, and if that’s the
case, we’ll promote young Danny and work from there.”
There was a few minutes of silence before MacDonald
“Jon, I’ve never questioned your decisions before and I’ll
go with you, you know that, I just hope you know what
you’re doing that’s all.”
Mason smiled, “Aesop, this could be the answer to our
“Or the beginning of religion,” said MacDonald.
Meanwhile, in Onset…
The meal was a simple one, ham and beans, not a lot,
but enough. There were three of them at the table.
Conversation amounted to very little during the meal
and even less so when they were done eating. Martha
Svenson cleared the table and from the kitchen watched
her two brothers sitting quietly at the table, wondering
who would break the silence. They were brothers, of that
no one would mistake that, but Martha doubted whether
there were two more different men in the whole world.
The older brother was a heavy set man with a stern
fleshy face and thinning brown hair. His dress and white
collar spoke of a respectable position, one of authority.
He was a man used to being obeyed. The younger brother
was smaller with a stronger build and brown curly hair,
his face showed unhappiness and though he could follow
orders, he was more of a rebel at heart. One did not have
to know them as a family to see that these two men did
not get along. Finally Jabez Dunn, Pastor Jabez Dunn of
the Lutheran church cleared his throat and spoke up.
“How is the teaching?”
Isaac shrugged his shoulders, “It pays the bills.”
Jabez gently rubbed the top of the table with his
fingertips. “I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here,” he
Isaac shook his head, “No, not really.”
“Father asked me to speak to you.”
Isaac took a sip of wine, cocked his head back and after
swallowing his drink, gave a short brittle laugh, “That
don’t surprise me.”
“He’d like Martha…and you to return home,” said the
elder Dunn, “he thinks things would be better for Martha
and…yourself, of course, if you did.”
Isaac looked towards the kitchen, he knew Martha was
listening. She had helped Isaac in the past, she depended
on him now. She had married the good Lieutenant Miles
Svenson after she had turned sixteen and for all intents
and purposes, it was a happy marriage, though they had
no children, she was a good wife and he a good husband.
When hostilities broke out between the North and the
South, Svenson remained true to the Federal
government and stayed with the Union. Major Svenson
of the United States Army, serving in the Army of the
Potomac under Major General Ambrose E. Burnside in
the Second Corps, First Division, under Brigadier
General Winfield Hancock was one of 219 soldiers in that
division killed at Fredericksburg in 1862. For Martha,
the news was devastating, her whole world shattered.
The only man she had ever loved was gone, the one
person she had shared so much with was no longer there
for her and the guilt that she felt at not being with him
in his last moments was overwhelming.
Martha moved back in with her parents. Her husband
dead, older brother a pastor in Illinois and her younger
brother in the Union Navy, she had nowhere else to go.
She didn’t think it mattered but it did. Her father’s
familiar rhyme and reason began to annoy her. She
didn’t believe her beloved husband was in a better place
and she only wanted to be with him. The more she
thought about it the more depressed she became. When
Isaac returned from the arctic after the SPIDER disaster,
it provided her with an excuse to leave the home of her
parents and be with her younger brother and in coming
to Massachusetts, she became exposed to the world of the
occult and spiritualism which soothed her. It gave her a
reason to go on, to be able to communicate with her
dearly departed husband, Major Miles Svenson, U.S.A.
Isaac didn’t take much stock in his sister’s beliefs, but
it hurt no one and made her happy, he let it be. He knew
it was only a matter of time before their father or Jabez
came to fix the situation.
“I can’t speak for Martha, she has to do that herself but
it is my opinion that she is satisfied here,” said Isaac, “as
for me Jabez, there is hesitation in your voice when you
speak of me.”
Jabez straightened his back, his pouting mouth
opening for a deep intake of breath. “I will admit Isaac,
we’ve had our differences, I can’t change the past. Father
and I had hoped that you might become more involved in
the church. Instead…you chose a different path.”
“Much to everyone’s regret,” grinned Isaac taking some
delight in his older brother’s discomfort.
“Isaac,” said his older brother with some anger, “even
you have to admit that your life has been a series of
misfortunes that you alone are responsible for.”
“Jabez, how the hell could I be responsible for the War
Between the States? Or what happened in the arctic?
Besides doesn’t God have to take some of the blame for
us earthly beings?”
“You and your blasphemy!” said Jabez.
“And you and your God damned self-righteousness!”
shouted Isaac. “All my life I’ve been compared to you! I’m
not you and I ain’t pa, so get off my back!”
“Yes, well maybe if you were more like pa or me, you
might be a man that others respect instead of some
worthless town drunk teaching school, I’m surprised the
parents put up with you, but I guess in this seat of
heathen beliefs, there is little choice!”
Isaac stood up and punched Jabez in the mouth
Martha rushed and positioned herself between her two
brothers. “Stop it! Stop it you two!” she shouted.
Jabez stood up, blood coming from the corner of his
mouth. “You’re a disgrace, a black sheep, pa was right
about you, you were the child that was one too many!”
“Jabez!” exclaimed Martha.
Isaac stood before his older brother, disbelief across his
face, so that was it, it finally came out, he was never
wanted to begin with. Martha grabbed her younger
brother. “Isaac, he didn’t mean it! He didn’t mean it!
Please, please sit down, please!”
But Isaac looked at his brother and shook his head,
“No, Martha…he’s right, he’s right.” He grabbed his coat,
there wasn’t any more to say.
Jabez held out his hand. “Isaac, wait,” he pleaded. “My
words were spoken in haste and anger, I didn’t mean it.
What was said was harsh and uncalled for, I take it back,
“It’s alright Jabez, it’s alright,” he said and walked out.
There wasn’t any more to say, there never was.
Martha turned to her older brother, the fires of hate
burning in her eyes. “Get out of my house,” she said
“Now Martha, if we just calm down…” began Jabez.
“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” she screamed, “GET
Pastor Dunn hastily collected his bag and left, wishing
to be as far away as he could be at that moment. Martha
sat down at the dinner table and began to cry. Isaac, poor
Isaac, she knew the goodness that was inside of him, he
always suffered because of others. Her father and Jabez,
they never gave him a chance, never even tried to
understand him and she knew after tonight they never
MacDonald looked about and sighed, the town hadn’t
changed much. He hadn’t been to Onset in a long time,
maybe six years. He hadn’t seen Isaac Dunn in eight
years, but he was always grateful to him. Dunn had
saved his life.
MacDonald had served aboard the SPIDER as a cook
boy, it was his first ship. MacDonald never forgot the cold
and death associated with that ship and at times
suffered through silent nightmares that he told no one
about, not Jon Mason, not even Bess and though the
events happened fourteen years before, it never seemed
that long to the first mate of the SHY LADY.